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5-50s – Day one/June 1.

So here is the workout for the June challenge. See below for modifications.

  1. 50 air squats. Just basic but fast squats
  2. 50 situps. Any kind that you can do well!
  3. 50 pushups. I’m going to do floor pushups but you could do countertop or dining table height pushups or wall pushups at the studio
  4. 50 dips or tricep dips. Hands on the edge of a chair (make sure the chair doesn’t slide away) or full on ring dips (I’m gonna do ring dips but with a band for full depth)
  5. 50 oblique scissor legs. Both arms to the side of one leg. Scissor legs – each leg up counts as 1/2. Do 25 on each side.

Go for time. These are not overly complicated exercises so you can get some speed on them if you wish. Post your time (with any modifications) to our FB page.
Should take maybe 15 minutes max. Easy schmeasy.

Ellen’s Fitness 50 Challenge for June

One of our clients – Ellen – has a daughter getting married at the end of June. Naturally she wants to look her best (many of you will remember my own fitness challenge before my wedding) and, since June is the perfect month for a little challenge, I’m using her event as a challenge for all of us.

5 exercises – – 50 reps each – – every day until June 23 (which, coincidentally, is also Gay Pride here in Seattle).

The fine print.

  1. If you commit, you have to commit to EVERY DAY for 22 days.
  2. 1- upper body exercise. 1 – lower body exercise. 1 – ab exercise. And 2 choices. My personal emphasis will be arms, abs and ass – AAA.
  3. The exercises must be done in one session. However, you can break the exercises up however you wish. For example, you could do 10 reps of each of the 5 exercises and go through that cycle 5 times.
  4. You can choose any exercise you want. I know, I know. Most of you want to be told what to do so I will post my suggestions daily on the Blog. You, of course, have veto power of any exercise based on fatigue, time and other factors.
  5. THIS IS IN ADDITION TO YOUR REGULAR WORKOUTS. I will not be doing this during classes at the studio.
  6. You can make it as easy or hard as you want. 50 jumping jacks, 50 situps, 50 squats, 50 countertop pushups, and 50 cross changes would work just fine for a lighter day.
  7. It shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes max and more likely close to 15 min.
  8. You could substitute a row, stairs, run, jump rope. I figure it needs to be 3 minutes of those type of activities.
  9. You will get the most benefit if you do all of one exercise before moving on to the next but this is not required.
  10. You could come early or stay late after class to do your 5 50s – time and space permitting.
  11. I’ll have a form for you here to track your workouts and your time. It is kind of fun to repeat a workout and see if you can improve your time.

It would be great to get 50 people to commit to the Ellen challenge. Are you up for it?

Rhubarb and Mother’s Day

Today, May 13, was Mother’s Day. But it was also the first harvest of my Rhubarb for the year. This is a happy coincidence for 2 reasons. One is that I was able to make my Rhubarb Muffins for our workout today (complete with Mother’s Day Music). But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Rhubarb reminds me of home in Minnesota and all of the Rhubarb dishes my Mom as well as my Aunts make. And so, in honor of my Mom, on to the Rhubarb.

For those of you who don’t know rhubarb, it grows very well here in Washington as well as Minnesota. It’s easy to grow, pretty to look at and has lots and lots of uses. I have 4 plants in my yard that look quite terrific mixed in with other perennials. Just cut or pull out the stalks and cook away.

The Rhubarb Muffin Recipe here is the one I used in my Cafe – 21 Union Cafe- but it originally came from my Aunt Darleen’s muffin booklet – Muffin Magic. Yes, REALLY. I add more Rhubarb than she did and use some cardamom as well. They are very moist so it may appear that they are not done. Since they are so moist, I err on the side of overdone. This makes around 18 muffins, I think. (I am always doubling or tripling the recipe for quantity).

  • 3 C. Flour (I use 1 C. whole wheat and 2 Unbleached white)
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 1/2 C. packed brown sugar
  • 1 C. buttermilk
  • 2/3 C. vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t. vanilla (don’t overdo the vanilla like we all normally do)
  • 3 C chopped rhubarb (maybe 1/4″ or less dice. I think they are better with not too fine a chop so you can get some of that rhubarb ‘bite’. I will even use 4 C. rhubarb although the original only calls for 2 C.
  • 1 C. chopped nuts
  • 1/2 C. brown sugar
  • 2 t. Cinnamon
  • 1/4-1/2 t. cardamom.
  • 1/2 C. finely chopped nuts.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.Combine Flour, soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar, buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Make sure the brown sugar is not sitting in lumps at the bottom of the bowl. In a third bowl combine the last 4 ingredients together for the crumble topping and set aside. Combine, a bit at a time, the wet with dry flour mixture. Try not to over mix but do get it blended. Fold in the rhubarb and the nuts and scoop into muffin cups or greased muffin tins.Sprinkle the tops with the crumble and bake for 25-35 minutes. Take out when the toothpick comes out clean and relatively dry. Let cool.
There are many Rhubarb recipes but I’ll add one more and then link to a couple more of my friend Tom Conway of Vashon Island and his wonderful Tall Clover Farms.
Rhubarb Crisp of course is a staple in many Minnesota farmhouses but Rhubarb sauce is my dad’s favorite. We had it a lot for dessert, occasionally with ice cream. My Dad always would dump a bunch of heavy cream over it instead which we thought was gross because we thought the Rhubarb would curdle the milk. And he loved teasing us and urging us to try it. We never did.
But Rhubarb Fool is a layering of rhubarb sauce and whipped cream in a dessert dish. Amazing and pretty to boot. The sour/sweet of the rhubarb and then the creamy smoothness of the whipping cream make it a real treat. I occasionally add some frozen blueberries to my rhubarb sauce which turns it from pretty pink to magnificent magenta. Tastes great and easy to make. And talk about beautiful presentation. (I know. So gay. Lol)

  • 2 1/4 lbs rhubarb – ends cut off and cut into 4-6″ lengths
  • 1/3 C. orange juice
  • 1 C white sugar
  • 1 C frozen blueberries (entirely optional)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 C cold heavy cream
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 T vanilla (or less)

Dump the trimmed rhubarb in a bowl of cold water to leach out a bit of the acid and remove any grit. Drain and chop into 3/4″ slices (cut the stalks in half if they are enormous)Combine orange juice, only 3/4 of the cup of sugar and a pinch of salt in a saucepan (large enough that will hold the rhubarb) and bring to a boil. Add the rhubarb and bring back to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer.Stir only occasionally (otherwise the rhubarb looses all shape completely) just until the rhubarb starts to break down and is tender – 7-10 minutes.Transfer to a glass bowl to cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until cold (at least an hour)
One half hour or so before whipping the cream, put the bowl and the beaters in the refrigerator to chill. Beat the cream and the remaining 1/4 C. sugar and vanilla in a mixer starting on low speed and gradually increasing speed until you have whipped cream in soft peaks.
To serve, layer rhubarb, whipped cream, rhubarb, whipped cream, etc. depending on the height of your dessert dish but ending with whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Tom Conway has a terrific and entertaining blog about his farm – Tall Clover Farm. There are tons of recipes and gardening information and some of the most beautiful food and garden photography I have seen. (It is his photo that I stole at the top of my post.) Here are links to a couple of his Rhubarb recipes:

If you had been doing Pilates . . .

I assume that by now everyone has heard of Pilates and even tried some version of it – especially the mat work. The core work, the flexibility and the larger range of motion make it a natural supplement to many other forms of fitness and sports.
Apparently not. Today at Crossfit, we were warming up with some simple hamstring stretches – the kind of thing that we do regularly in Pilates. (The single straight leg pull/stretch, for example, combines hamstring stretching along with abdominal strengthening). One of the Crossfit clients remarked “If I had only know about this (these stretches) 10 years ago. . .”
My thought bubble – which fortunately never made it out of my mouth – was, “If you had been doing Pilates for the last 5 years, these stretches wouldn’t seem so painful or surprisingly new!” Pilates, especially among men, has had the reputation of not being hard enough. Too much breathing, too much slow movement and too much stretching. That may be partially true. But in too many cases, it is not strength that is holding a client back but flexibility and functional flexibility at that (the ability to actually go to that larger range of motion with support and control).
Pilates would be such a great help to so many athletes. The awareness, the core and the stretching are critical to ongoing athletic endeavors for aging athletes. I wish I could help athletes outside our studio see that. At Mind and Body Pilates, we may say ‘because strong doesn’t just happen’ but that strength is tested and challenged in ranges outside of normal activity so that you have control of your body in all you do.
Pilates will help you play your sport better, do Crossfit faster, help you eliminate or minimize your injuries. But you have to get yourself to a class. Then we’ll show you how we can ‘Kick your abs’

Fitness over 50.

I am 51. I am in better shape today than I was in my 20s and even 30s. I want to continue to get stronger and more fit as I age as much as possible. I have concluded however, that there are a few principles that I need to adhere to in order to keep moving forward. Most people start giving up at this point in their lives and conclude that they can’t do more and so they do less and less. I reject that concept and believe that it is a matter of working out smarter without giving in to popular wisdom. So here are some of my guiding principles at this point.

  1. Above all, do not get injured. Getting injured means you have to back off, take some time off and, since recovery is longer, you find yourself farther and farther behind the starting line:
    1. I’m judicious on how heavy the weights are.
    2. I try to be very, very mindful when I am working out – checking in with how my body feels.
    3. If I feel anything odd or ‘tweaky’, I immediately evaluate and try to change modify the exercise until if feels painless.
    4. If I, by chance, end up tweaking my body, I stop, take immediate action to keep any injury from expanding.
  2. If I get injured, I do NOT stop everything. I have a pain-free policy. I do not allow my injured area to be painful. However, I keep working out other areas as much as possible. And I back off on my affected area as much as I need but still try to do something.
  3. There are always going to be at least a half dozen ‘hot’ spots that I am going to be monitoring over the course of a day or a few days. If it starts getting worse, I really need to take action of some kind. Yesterday it was my thumbs but they feel fine today. Today my right knee (from a junior high wrestling injury) is a little odd but maybe it will feel fine tomorrow.
  4. When one of my hot spots flares up, I usually stretch first. Sometimes some of my affected areas feel like ‘arthritis’ type pain. But if I stretch, they always feel so much better. And I usually find that the muscles around that area are tighter than I thought. I explore the stretches in all directions to see which feels more effective.
  5. Stretch. My body is not as elastic as it was so stretching is more important. I will stretch my hands and forearms in the car. I’ll stretch my calves for a moment or 2 going up stairs. I move around in my desk chair and stretch my back and arms. Stretching is as important as strength.
  6. Recovery is, naturally, slower. I work out 7 days a week and would like to get more than one workout a day in if possible. While everyone may not want to workout that much, I listen to my body. If it is too sore or, more likely, too tired I just have to accept that and not worry about losing ground.
  7. I try to push how heavy I lift but I am now trying to lift based on 6-8 reps in a set rather than the heavier weights at 2-6 reps/set. It feels safer and better to me,
  8. Drink water, drink water, drink water. The process of aging is, sorry to say, the process of ‘drying up’. Cells lose their ability to retain water but we don’t have to help that process along. Even if you have to force yourself to drink water.
  9. Food, stress, energy depletion, and any kind of debauchery are going to have greater consequences than they did earlier in our lives. Most of us recognize that and give up the late, late nights but all of the things that keep us functioning optimally, while they may be fun, have a great price.

I know it’s a lot to think about but really, it’s just about being smart and aware and listening to your body. Today (Saturday), I am a little too sore from a workout I did on Thursday (which is a little unusual) but I’ll be out in the garden today, so I’ll keep moving and then tomorrow, on Sunday, I ‘ll get a Pilates circuit workout in and also hopefully, swimming in the evening.

The Wall Spring System at Mind and Body – we really were the first!

In 1998, I came back from living (and teaching Pilates) in Hamburg, Germany. I was teaching Pilates at Velocity dance studio and my teacher, Cary Regan, had invited me to join her at her private studio at Velocity. But I also started teaching over in West Seattle on Saturdays in an Iyengar Yoga Studio.

At this particular studio, they had this beautiful wall system of hooks and straps designed for helping students of Iyengar Yoga get more out of the class. But while I was teaching a regular mat class there, I realized that I could attach the springs from the Cadillac (or Trapeze table) to the Iyengar straps. And so it began in 1999. I ordered some extra springs from Balanced Body and we started doing a lot of the classic Pilates Cadillac work in a class setting.

It worked out really well. The studio was small so I had 6 sets of springs and half the clients would be doing some matwork and half would do the Springs and then they would switch. This continued for a few years until I opened up my studio here at 21st and Union in 2001.

When I opened up my studio, I simply screwed 4 inch screw eyes into the studs and away we went. Except this time I added the ‘yoga straps’ which are actually ‘foot straps’ from the Universal Reformer. And we have never looked back. We, of course, have added other exercises to the classic repertoire and developed new exercises to fit our unique Wall system. And we are still using the Wall system in new ways.

When the TRX first came out, I was very interested and looked into this piece of equipment. But I was amazed to discover how many of the TRX exercises that we were already doing: pushups, pullups, rows, abs, etc.

Today, the manufacturer of Pilates equipment – Balanced Body – has their own version of my wall system (designed and created with a teacher in California) but Mind and Body Pilates’ Wall System predates that too. And while many Seattle Pilates studios have incorporated the ‘Springboard’ into their studios, I am proud to say that we are the ‘originals’.

Especially because of this Wall System, I think Mind and Body clients are much stronger in their upper bodies than most other Pilates studio clients.

Farm Stories – #2 – Spring Field Work

It is the beginning of April in Seattle and while it is wet and cold, there are sure signs of life around us. And on the warmest of these days, when I want to get out into my garden and dig around, I am nostalgic for Spring planting in Minnesota.

You never really know when spring has really sprung in the midwest. It could be late or early but almost always (except perhaps for this year so I hear) it involves a lot of mud. As the snow melts and spring rains come on, our part of Minnesota becomes slick with heavy clay. Even today, I can almost feel the weight of my boots as every step collected more mud until finally the mud won and my foot nearly slid out of my boot completely. You become very adept at sensing that and stopping immediately lest you really step out and step into the mud in your socks. Unless of course you have on your special plastic protectors over your socks – i.e. – a bread bag. (I’m serious).

We often had gravel hauled in to spread on the driveways and farmyard to minimize the mud but that clay seemed to absorb whatever you put into it. So going from the farmhouse out to the shop to work on the machinery was an ordeal in itself. Once in the shop though it was fairly pleasant.

Our shop was no ordinary little shop. Since my Dad was an industrial arts teacher, he got lots of decommissioned equipment: drill presses and welders, grinders and hacksaws and lots and lots of tools. And we used it all. When I was young, the shop was in the old pump house (about the size of a single car garage) and it was so filled with tools there was barely any room to move. Later, the new shop was much larger and everything had a place (even if it didn’t get back in place every time).

Spring time on our farm meant machinery repair time. There never was a spring when we didn’t spend a large amount of time fixing something or other. All 3 of us boys and my Dad would work at various tasks in the shop.The disc (lots and lots of sharp steel frisbees stacked on edge and laid out in rows) would often need the broken blades replaced. The ‘shovels’ on the cultivator needed to be changed over. The planter always needed attention since it was the most complicated of the spring machines. Over the years I have done it all – taking apart and putting back together, greasing, fixing – even rebuilding the engine on the combine.

But when the mud dried up enough and the weather turned nice enough we headed for the fields. Since we were there only on the weekends we really had to get it all done so that we could get the crops in the field in a timely manner. And it is all a matter of time. If you get the crops in too late, you start worrying that you won’t have a long enough growing season. If, by chance, you get the crops in too early, you risk it raining heavy enough that that Minnesota clay just seals in the seeds so they rot and never germinate. And then you have to plant again.

So into the fields we went. My older brother would be on one of our Case tractors and I would be on the other, each of us pulling either the disc, field cultivator or harrow on it. Sometimes we would be in the same field but more often than not, he would be one field ahead of me. Maybe he was plowing one field while I was discing the one he had just finished. And I would go over and over that field diagonally across the plowing to even out the furrows and make the field as smooth as possible.

It used to be that you tried to work a field until it was almost as smooth as cement. Once, twice, thrice and more – over the field we’d go with various pieces of equipment. When we were done it definitely looked amazing and perfect. (We have since learned that too smooth a field is a waste of time, fuel and money and it can even inhibit germination and create a hard-packed soil during the growing season making it difficult for water to penetrate that, yes – Minnesota clay.)

But when I was growing up, my older brother would have plowed the field and then I would come and disc it at least twice. And then one of us would often use the field cultivator (with sharp teeth) to dig up or break up any large lumps or pieces of sod. Sometimes, we’d even have to re-disc a field yet again if there were too many lumps. Finally, we would harrow the field at least twice if not three times to get the smoothest surface possible for the planter. (A harrow is a large flat ‘bed’ with rows of 6 inch teeth set about 6 inches apart to smooth out the soil).

When you are going over a field 5 or 6 times, you spend a lot of time sitting and thinking. Or in my case, singing. My brother had those great big earphones from the 70s to listen to the radio but I hated how hot they made my ears. So it was just me and the sound of the tractor. I thought a lot but more often than not, I would sing my way over the fields. Quite often it was Christian songs that I knew and liked the most so I would sing to my heart’s content. In order to hear yourself above the sound of the tractor you have to sing loud. Song after song, I’d make my way across the field back and forth 12 to 16 feet at a time until I’d started getting sleepy. More than once I dozed my way over a field waking just enough to turn around and make the next pass. In our part of the country, there is a lot of low ground which means swamps and ‘potholes’. You want to get the largest part of the field planted for the greatest possible yield so you inch your way closer and closer to a low point and hope you don’t get stuck. There is a real trick to edging your way in and then starting to lift up the disc off the ground a bit at a time so that it doesn’t drag you down. If you do it right, you can sense when you’ve pushed the outside limit. If you do it wrong, you end up stuck.

Getting stuck was such a common occurrence that we became quite adept at getting unstuck. The first step was to raise up the disc or piece of machinery so the tractor could spin its way through. If you blew the first step and the disc was already stuck and you were sinking fast with your spinning tires, you had to stop, unhook the disc and hopefully drive the tractor out and then hook a chain to the disc and drag it out and then of course you had to re-hook up the disc. All of this of course was a terrible time waster. This version of getting stuck could take 15 minutes to half an hour before you were once again back on track.

On the other hand, if you got the disc so stuck that you couldn’t get it unhooked AND if the tractor got bogged down enough that it just kept spinning its wheels then you were in for it. You could try to rock forward and back but that was unlikely to work. If you were lucky, there was another tractor sitting in the field for just such an emergency (or your brother was in the same field working as well) and you could hook it up to the tractor and drag it out. If that was not the case, you had to walk. And walking took time and it also meant you were not a talented enough farmer not to get stuck. So going home to get help was necessary but also meant you were a loser. Fortunately, every farmer has his own stories of getting stuck and some of them are doozies. (A few years ago in the fall, my brother had to get a backhoe to pull his giant combine pulled out of the mud).

Finally it’s a race against Nature to get the field planted before it rains. If it rains hard after you’ve worked the field to perfection but you didn’t get it planted, you will probably have to go out one more time to loosen up the packed soil. I have vivid memories of being on the grain/fertilizer wagon with the seed to make sure the planter stayed full while my brother or Dad raced against the gathering storm clouds to get the seed in the ground. Back and forth, back and forth creating straight planted rows, dust billowing behind and huge dark blue/black clouds coming up from the Southwest for a real downpour.

Seeing a field ready is very satisfying. But seeing a field planted is fantastic. And planting is an art. These days the planters can plant huge number of rows at a time. When I was a kid we were planting 4 rows at a time, each row 30″ apart. A planter would put out both fertilizer from one bin and then the seed (corn or soybeans) from another bin. You needed the rows as straight as possible for the least waste and for the ease of cultivation but also as a matter of pride and beauty.

To plant we went around the perimeter of the field a few times in order to create enough turning radius to turn the tractor and planter around. Then we started at one end of the field and sighted down the tractor on to some point in the distance and drove. We never took your eyes off that sight line lest we create a wavy row. Wavy rows were definitely not a sign of a good farmer. Rows as straight as possible were de rigeur. And later in the year when we drove by the rows of corn, it was mesmerizing to see those straights rows flicker past your eyes.

When all goes well, spring field work is very, very enjoyable. Work, yes. But hour after hour on the tractor, the disc or cultivator turning over the soil, sun shining down, birds reeling and diving for upturned worms – it is all so satisfying. My brother and Dad always wore hats but I hated hats so my nose would always be totally sunburnt. No shirt or hat, I’d end up covered in dust. Mom would bring dinner (that is at noon on the farm) out to the field and we’d sit there, talking, eating and looking at the field and the birds. Yes, spring planting can be one of the most satisfying experiences of one’s life.

To Live is to Squat

Last Saturday, I was at our relatives for a 50th Birthday Celebration. During the course of the evening, fitness and injuries came up as one of the topics. My ears of course immediately zoomed in on this conversation during which I mentioned my phrase – “to live is to squat.”

I have had clients tell me that they are not supposed to squat past 90 degrees or that the human knee was not designed to bend that deeply. My response has either been a. “Well, clearly 80% of the world’s population has not gotten that memo because a deep squat is a way of life in most parts of the world” or b. “And how do you get off the toilet, out of a chair, out of the car, off the sofa?”

I firmly believe that we must continue to work on our ability to squat if we want to continue to have a functional life as we age. In many cases that has meant learning how to squat correctly maybe for the first time in one’s life. What are the parts of a squat?

  1. Butt back – you have to get back on the toilet.
  2. Knees in line with the 2nd/3rd toe – not letting the knees ‘dump together’ as they bend.
  3. Keeping a neutral spine – so that back maintains its natural curve and doesn’t go into a rounded back position.

My knees are in much better shape since I have been doing deep squats and heavy lifting in Crossfit and Pilates. I will definitely not be adding the handicap bars in my bathroom as I age. I will keep my glute and knee strength so I can do a comfortable squat my entire life.

Back at the family gathering, we ended up having a little ‘squat fest’ to practice. The pics are not great but it was a lot of fun.

Another Rant – Hot whatever.

There’s a new trend to do all your exercise in a hot room. First it was the Hot Yoga. Now it’s everything from Pilates to Weight training to Whatever. Use your head. What’s coming out of your pores is not some toxic waste dump – it’s just sweat. And don’t fool yourself; just because you’re sweating doesn’t mean you’re working hard. You’re just sweating.

Maybe a warm room helps your muscles warm up. But that is what a warm up is for – to get your blood from the inside circulating in your muscle cells so they are ready to work. Maybe you can warm up a little faster in a warm room and are able to stretch a little better at the end because you are warm. But please, think for a moment.

If you were to do your same workout in a regular room temperature and you find you are not sweating, it’s because YOUR WORKOUT ISN’T HARD ENOUGH. No Crossfitter would ever request a hot room – they’d be throwing up because their workouts are hard enough without any added heat. They don’t need an artificial way of creating the false illusion that they are working hard. And my Sunday morning Level 2 clients are constantly requesting doors and windows open – even in winter to keep from overheating.

The one other thing I wonder about this heat thing: What happens to your muscles when you go from 100 degrees into the freezing cold? It seems to me that they would tighten up dramatically and then where’s the benefit?

I may end up eating my words but it seems crazy to me. Can’t we just get a good, hard, sweaty workout and leave it as it is?

I’ll step down off my soapbox now.

Farm Stories – #1

Most of my clients and friends have heard me tell stories of growing up on a farm in Minnesota. I think they are amused by the image of me tromping around in workboots, covered in dust, hands dirty and greasy hands from working on the machinery. Or the vision of a grain bin so filled with dust and chaff that you can’t see that there’s actually someone inside until I come out – the only part recognizable is my ever sunburnt nose.

The life on the farm made me who I am. The ability to problem solve and think outside the box are essential for a farmer. Working hard and seeing the rewards of your own labor too are part of the farmer’s life. These and more are part of the fabric of farm life. These stories are part of my heritage and I hope to share them with you.

Truth be told though, I am not an authentic farm boy. While we did indeed farm full-time we actually did it part-time – which means we had to work even harder to get everything done. Let me explain.

As my Grandpa (Dad’s Dad) was phasing out of farming, my Dad started taking over the farm a little bit at a time. We lived in a northern suburb of Minneapolis. My Dad was teaching Industrial Arts in the Public Schools while my Mom taught Home Ec. Grandpa’s Farm was just 50 miles away but a very modest farm (that is another story) for that part of the country. In fact he he had mostly farmed with mules. So on the weekends, my older brother and younger sister and brother went with Dad and Mom up to Grandpa’s mostly to visit but of course Dad was helping out on the farm that he grew up on.

At some point in my early childhood though, our visits to Grandpa’s farm (Grandma had died when I was 3 or 4) became more frequent and at some point we were not visiting but going – not to Grandpa’s farm but to the farm. I don’t remember how it happened but the next thing you know we were farming that farm. I remember riding with Dad on the tractor (by then had 2 small Ford tractors). When Dad would plow the field with a little 2 bottom plow, I would sometimes run behind in the furrow (the 12″ trough that the plow made as it turned over the soil) looking at worms and how smooth and cool that clay soil appeared as the plow turned it over.

I remember riding along in as we combined the soybeans or oats. (Is there anything as satisfying as seeing a wagon fill up with grain? It is a feeling of abundance and security and grace). The next thing you know, I was driving the tractor myself, bouncing over the plowed fields as we got them ready for planting. I really don’t remember how old I was – 10? – except that I had to hold on to the steering wheel to keep from falling off. My older brother must have been on the other tractor in another field and maybe my Dad was busy getting the planter ready. I don’t exactly remember what age we all were but on the farm, everyone starts young. Everyone had a job according to their ability. Weed pulling starts very young.

By the time, I was in 5th or 6th grade (we went to school in ‘the cities’), we had horses which meant we were baling hay. I also think we had 3 tractors by then – including a larger Case tractor. And at some point, our whole summer was spent on the farm as well as every weekend and holiday in the spring and fall. And by the time I was in Junior High School we had bought more land and could be considered a small full time farm. Years later when we started calculating the time spent on the farm versus our time in the city, it really was half time in each location. Sometimes we would even head up to the farm right after school to check on the horses and pigs and then come back that same night since it was only an hour commute each way.

Every Friday, right after school, we got in the car and drove to the farm where we unloaded the car and went right to work until Mom called us in for supper. Saturday morning started early since we essentially had to cram a weeks worth of field work into 2 days. My Dad, older brother and I would go out to the shop to get ready or work on some piece of machinery before breakfast. Saturday morning breakfast was almost always cornbread with butter and syrup and lots of milk from the farmers next door. And then out to the field or the shop to work.

Because my Dad is a talented mechanic, he bought used and often broken down machinery which he then fixed up. Sometimes it did seem that we spent more time fixing than using. But the life of any farmer is not for the faint of heart. Any romantic notion of daintily gathering eggs is quickly squashed when a tractor gets stuck in the Minnesota spring mud and you’ve tried to rock back and forth to get the tractor out only to sink deeper into the ruts. Then you have to unhook the piece of machinery you’re using and you slip and fall down in the mud and your hands are covered in mud because the hitch is down in the mud. And still you’re stuck. So you have to walk home through that mud as it sticks to your boots which get heavier and heavier and it’s starting to rain. That’s farming.

There were many, many times I hated that farm. I wanted to be doing what other kids at school did in the summer. I wanted to go to summer school and work on art projects or build something or just play. I wanted to not have to work. I wanted to sit around and read. And yet. And yet here in my middle ages, I tell people that I grew up on the farm when that is only partially true. And the stories I tell are the stories from the farm. I remember school of course but I actually have very few recollections of the city outside of school.

My memories are of working the fields, singing to the horses, baling hay and harvesting the soybeans or oats. There are vivid images of my sister and I pulling mustard and thistle from the oats field. We had lots and lots of big elm and cottonwood on the farmstead itself. But we often had dinner – which is at noon on the farm by the way – under this big basswood tree right near the house. These are memories of a whole family working together in both strife and harmony. All of these are rich and rare memories that made me who I am today. The varied and ever changing life of the farm was hard and hard work. But I wouldn’t change it now for anything. The uniqueness of that life is maybe more striking today since I’m a ‘big city boy’ now but it is a story of a lifestyle that really is mostly gone. And I feel lucky to have been so close to the earth, the seasons, that cycle of life and the hard work that becomes the life of a farmer.