About Me

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I am a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother and businesswoman with a passion for life. I try to keep my priorities in life straight - Faith, Family, Friends. I love to try new and challenging things, spend time with friends and family, sew, embroider and laugh. I run a custom apparel decorating business from my home. I enjoy spending time with my grandchildren.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Dreaded Christmas Letter 2013

As our young family grew Rick and I tried to instill certain ideas in our children’s heads.  Simple things like:  your father can fix anything; your mother makes the best cookies in the world; and if your mother is cold, you will put on a sweater to name the top ones.  Along the way our four children decided that Dad and Mom can do anything.   That felt pretty good as inexperienced parents, but this summer we learned “Be careful what you wish for.”  Yes, we were called out on it.  Let me back up the truck just a bit.
Family below the infamous canopy

Adam, the youngest of the four, came to us eighteen months ago.  “Alia and I would like to get married on the Shane farm and have the reception in the barn on July 13, 2013.” 
“An outdoor wedding; in mid-July; in Iowa; in the barn.  Sure, why not,” we agreed with apprehensive smiles.  One year later in June Adam arrived from North Carolina to help prepare for the big day.  To say he, Rick and many others, spent a month of hard work would be an understatement.  Many family members, extended ones as well, rallied around him as they cleaned out the century old barn to create a suitable space for our guests.  Stairs and railings were built and the old timbers were power washed from the peak to the floor.   The pasture was transformed to resemble a park set in a cornfield.  “Can you make a canopy to cover the seating area of the pasture,” Adam asked “to protect our guests from the sun?”  And our “we can do anything” philosophy came back and bit us in the backside.   Too many hours to count later, Rick had transformed a pile of rusty pipes into a gleaming, white structure and I had four hundred yards of organza stitched into a ninety-foot by thirty foot canopy.  I had also stitched a forty-five by fifteen foot drapery for the barn door.

2013 - not 1930 Alia, Adam, Rick and I 
“And, oh yeah, it’s a theme wedding,” Adam informed us.  “Come in vintage clothing.  We want to look as if we just stepped out of the 1930’s.”  The challenge was on.  I scoured the internet and found the style of dress I wanted to wear.  No pattern was available.  Yeah, I know what a shocker.   So I learned a skill I had always desired: create my own pattern.  Grandma Kremer would have been pleased.  My dress turned out just like the picture.  Trela, Eric’s wife, decorated my coordinating hat.  I used my new knowledge to create the lavender silk lining for Alia’s cobalt blue vintage lace dress.  Our newest family member was radiant as her parents escorted her along the grassy path.  Adam was waiting and together the two pledged their lives to each other.   The sky was overcast; the drizzle stopped just in time as the guests arrived.  We had a slight breeze to cool the eighty degrees temperature.  The barn resembled an elegant hall and the food was delicious.  It was nearly a perfect day.  Only nearly, you might ask.  Yes, space dictated the number of guests and we were unable to share the joy of the day with everyone in our life.  We had to limit the guest list to two hundred.  And with two dozen siblings between Rick and me, some difficult decisions had to be made.  Rick chose to shower, put on clean clothes and come, but not until the guests began to arrive.

Eric stays busy as a chiropractor.  He splits his time between his clinics in Jesup and Waterloo.  Summit Chiropractic Centers now has two doctors and a physical therapist.  I have gotten to know Dan, the physical therapist, quite well this fall.  And yes, it has helped my back and feet. J  Trela continues to teach middle school in Waterloo, this year in a new position.  She works with talented and gifted students, which meant more classes at UNI for that endorsement.  Kile, age ten, loves math, running and Minecraft (a video game.)  He has reached the age of no kisses, only hugs, but never in public.  I’m okay with getting them at home ‘cause he loves to squeeze the stuffin’ out of me.  At the local town celebration, Farmers Day, he won his division in the 5K.  He’s pretty modest about it, even though he beat his dad’s time.  Cavanaugh, age seven, loves to create.  She excels at messes, but does well with a sewing machine, or paper and pencil.  We enjoy stitching up projects during her visits.  She just shared her clothing designs she drew for her club of kindness friends at school. She knows how to grab my heart.

Dean continues to work as a systems manager for Casey’s General Stores.  All those years he explored (crashed) our computers has paid off for him.  He now asks for dress shirts and ties for work.   Meg, employed by the State of Iowa, enjoys her job, most days anyway.  We are happy for them, having a job you like with reasonable hours, is a good thing.   Lauren, age six, felt grown up as she left little girl ways behind and went to first grade.  Learning to read, helping bake cookies with Mom, and dance lessons fill her time.  She loves it when I play the guitar and sing with her.  I hope she doesn’t hear a professional guitarist or develop a pitch perfect ear for a long time.

Kathy took a job at a preschool in Des Moines this spring. She must be gifted because she can be firm with the kids and they still love her.   Her apartment is five minutes away from work.  She has a knack for acclimating to her new surroundings quickly.  She joined a parish and immersed herself in activities and friends.  She is preparing for a weekend retreat at the parish next spring.

Adam and Alia joined as one as I mentioned earlier.  Adam continues work on his dissertation and Alia works at the rare books library at UNC and also takes classes.  They spent their honeymoon in Italy.  I am sure glad Adam found a gal who agreed to go there.  For years he stated he was going to Italy for his post wedding trip and he hoped his wife would want to go.  I wonder how Alia feels about three sets of triplets in three years, all boys, with two lefties?  (That’s a throw back from Christmas letters in the past, in case you don’t remember Adam wished for that as a teenager.  He wanted his own baseball team.)

Rick stays active in community activities and farming.  I still stitch and print designs for customers, but not as much as past years. I continue to write, getting published in Chicken Soup for the Soul book series twice this fall.  I did a happy dance all around the house when I found out. J  Rick and I managed a couple of get away trips.  We drove to Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina in February, spending time friends and family along the way.   In August we spent fourteen days exploring Alaska with three other couples.  We rented two thirty foot RV’s and saw Alaska our way.  Of course, the scenery was spectacular, the weather was nearly perfect, but my favorite memory will be the helicopter ride to the glacier.  We spent ninety minutes up there at a dog sled training camp.  Riding behind a musher around on the icy landscape behind the team of dogs was a thrill I’ll not soon forget.   In between it all our kitchen was remodeled.  Thanks, John.  We are ready for our families and friends to share it with us.

As this year comes to a close, we are thankful you are part of our lives.  We pray that this season of joy brings love, happiness and peace in your heart today and always.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Promise Made is a Promise Kept

 From the time the electronic gaming systems hit the market my three boys, Eric, Dean and Adam, bugged me to own one.  I was dead set against it.  Why?  I was a mother.  I envisioned our daily routine, "Did you hang up your coat, put away your book bag and change your clothes," or "You've been on that thing long enough, shut it off," or "Have you finished your homework," and still, "Are the cattle fed?  You aren't allowed to play that thing until your work is all done."  I was pretty sure I knew my boys.

  You see, we had auditioned a game system earlier.  My brother, Bob, had an Atari with a few games he no longer wanted, and loaned it to us.  "Thanks a lot, Bob.  I love you, too."  Anyway,  I allowed it.  For the short time it was in our home, the boys were drawn to it like a moth to a flame.  They would rush to the controllers after school, get up early on Saturday so they could play and stare at the screen for hours until their eyes were bloodshot and heads ached.  There was supposed to be a limit of time per day, which I, of course, tried to patrol.

  One Saturday I was called to the field to help Rick.  The boys were told to feed the cattle that morning, usually their dad took his turn with the chore in the morning, but that day he had to rush off and the task was given to Eric and Dean.  Eric was in 7th grade and was quite capable of the task.  I was gone for several hours, as happens when taking repair parts to a farmer in the field.

  "What!  you are still playing the Atari," I bellowed after glancing around the kitchen/diningroom.  The three boys, still in pajamas, were huddled around the television screen with remotes in hand.  Their eyes were bloodshot.  The gallon of milk sat on the table in the midst of scattered cold cereal, juice glasses and spilled juice and milk.  "You haven't fed the cattle, it's after ten,"  I said in my least quiet voice.  "Get dressed, NOW," I scolded as I packed up the gaming system.. "There will never be another system in this house," as stomped to my bedroom to store it until it could be returned.

  The begging began shortly afterward.  For a year I heard  "Please, Mom, we promise to follow the rules,"  and "All I want for Christmas is a Ninetendo."  I began to soften.  They were growing up and showing more responsibility.

  "Okay, I will make you a deal," I said to my  four children.  "If all four of you make the honor roll 3 quarters in a row, I will get you one for Christmas.  That will show me you know how to manage your time and will be able to handle one in the house.  You're all intelligent enough to do it, you just have to put in the effort." And the challenge was thrown to them.  I was fairly certain they would take the bait and work  harder on their schoolwork.

  Many report card came home and many times there was disappointment in our household.  One of the four was not taking biting the hook.  Six Christmas days came and went and no gaming system was found beneath the tree.

 By 2008, the foursome were all in the workforce.  Most had completed college, were working on post college or had been employed for many years.  Rick and I were proud of the adults they had become.  That summer we decided it was time to fulfill the promise made many years ago.  The Wii gaming system appeared to be the hot item that year.  And so the hunt began.  Each Sunday morning I would arise before five and hit the internet.  I scoured all the ads for the day for a store that had them advertised.  Over the next few months we managed to score five systems, one for me and four for them.  We were at the stores when they opened and each would purchase the one allowed.  We came home exhilarated as we planned the surprise.

  It was finally time for our Christmas gathering.  The gifts under the tree looked sparse.  We hid the big packages for a better impact.  I wrapped identical gifts for each family member:  a $4 DVD from the Black Friday sale and a pair of pajamas.  The six adults, for by 2008, Eric was married to Trela and Dean was married to Meg, looked at us as if to say, "what's going on.  This is not how you usually do Christmas."

  "Okay, Eric, Dean, Kathy,Adam, line up on the couch, age order," I instructed them.  Rick left the room and returned with a report card he and I created on the computer. "Read it aloud," I said.  Eric the oldest read all the categories for grades, fashioned to resemble the report cards produced each quarter when they were in school.

  "Straight A's," the four exclaimed as they realized we gave them high marks in all subjects.  Adam grabbed the card, "Wait, read the fine print," he shouted.  "Dad taught me to always read the fine print on any document."

  He squinted and stared,"Wii remember the promise Wii made to you many years ago.  Wii decided it was time to fulfill that promise.  Wii are proud of you and the people you have become.  So Wii purchased these game systems for you.  Enjoy.  Love, Dad and Mom."

  At that point Rick produced four identically wrapped gifts and handed them to Eric, Dean, Kathy and Adam.  Paper was shredded as each one opened it simultaneously to reveal the long awaited gaming system. "I can't believe it,"  "This is so cool,"  "Thanks," filled the room, along with laughter.

  Rick then grabbed four more packages from the hiding place and handed each one another.  More paper ripped as the siblings discovered we had also managed to purchase the elusive Wii Fit game for each.  "I can't believe this,"  This is the best Christmas ever," and "Thank you so much." was repeated by all.

  Yes,  a promise made is a promise kept.  It only took fifteen years.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Picking cars, picking apples.

“Happiness is not the absence of problems, it's the ability to deal with them.”   Steve Marboli

“Why don’t you go on the porch and pick cars,” Mom suggested often to us, usually when her patience was nearly gone.  Eleven children, aged one through sixteen, filled our tiny rented farm home to capacity.  And sometimes nerves were raw.  Shooing the lot of us outdoors gave her a bit of respite from the commotion. 

 My brothers and I lined the edge of the gray faded floor of the tired porch and watched the traffic on Highway Twenty drive by.  A white picket fence separated our lawn from the ditch.  The concrete beyond was a main road in our county and a steady parade of cars, pickups and semis passed.  What we lacked for in space, we made up for in imagination.  A game of collecting the vehicles was one that provided hours of entertainment.  As various types of motorized transportation whizzed by, each of us claimed them for our own.  “I got a convertible,”  “That semi is mine,”  “You got a clunker,” exclamations of our fortunes drifted in the open windows to let Mom know our whereabouts.  The eclectic collections of wheeled treasures, commandeered by unsuspecting motorists, were dictated by the positions we were arranged on the porch.  It was our way of determining fairness.   We would hoot and holler when a fancy car drove by and laugh and tease if a dilapidated one rumbled by.  On occasion Dad would sit in his lawn chair, quietly listening to our game of chance and enjoy the coolness of the summer evening.

Other times my brothers and I retreated to the apple orchard that held a multitude of possibilities for our amusement.  One summer we scrounged for scraps of lumber, tin and cast off carpeting and created a tree house.  We cut, hammered and willed it together until it rested precariously in the apple tree with the lowest branches.  Our creation was just right to hold two pint sized people.  In turn we swung our scuffed knees over the branch and hoisted ourselves in the tree.  We folded our bodies into the cramped quarters until our knees touched our noses.  The remainder of the brood would find rotten apples on the ground and throw them at the structure.  There were plenty of nooks and crannies that allowed the bits of apple to pepper the tree dwellers.  We worked on our aim and the captives in the house hollered in delight when they were splattered.  For some reason we thought this was lots of fun.  Mom never said much, just hosed us off and washed the apple scented clothing.  

 We also fashioned game sticks out of apple tree branches.  We chose slender, but sturdy twigs, using our pocket knives to sharpen the ends.  We found walnut sized apples and slipped them on the end of our whittled branch.  In the spirit of our competitiveness we made a contest of throwing the apple the furthest.  We grasped the two or three foot twigs, launchers to us, with our musket balls apples stuck to the end.  Arms held high over our heads, the windup began.  It was important to release correctly with the right amount of force as our wrists whipped the apple into the air.  Once mastered, the miniature rocket would glide over rows of standing corn in the field.  It wasn’t long before the thrill of sailing our missiles over stationary objects was gone.  “Hey, let’s try and get them to fly over a semi,” one of my brothers suggested as we turned toward the busy road beyond the orchard.  Our attention was devoted to sending the apple artillery over the sides of passing semi-trucks.  All too quickly the excitement faded.  “I’ll bet I can hit the side of a truck,” one brother proclaimed.  This proved to be a worthy challenge and we flung apples from our whipping sticks at unsuspecting truckers and their loads.  “Wah hoo,” we shouted as the thud of the apple against the truck side reached our ears. 

“Oh no,” my brother exclaimed when a badly aimed apple entered the open window in the cab of an eighteen wheeler. The trucker slammed on the brakes and the rig came to a screeching halt near our neighbors’ yard.  We scattered from the orchard in all directions. Later that day, my brothers and I were in the living room when I heard an impatient knock at the kitchen door.  The door creaked eerily as it swung open, followed by the clump of heavy boots on the kitchen floor.
“Mr. Kies,” we heard the deep bass voice boom, “there has been a complaint.”  Six sets of brown eyes opened wide and blinked hard at each other.  

“Yes, sir, what can I do for you,” I heard my dad ask.  The conversation was muffled and we were silent, trying to catch snatches of the conversation.  “You tell them yourself,” we heard dad exclaim and I wished the wool rug on floor would swallow me.  The heavy heels of the black boots resonated on the wooden floor as the tall stranger strode into the living room.  I looked up.  The dark brown pants seemed endless until my eyes reached the tan, buttoned shirt.  A dark brown neck tie pointed the way to the glint of the golden star on his left chest.  I gulped and thought I heard a chorus of gulps around me.  “Line up on the couch,” Dad commanded.  Five tow haired boys in horn rimmed glasses rose quickly and took a seat on the couch. I, with my short straight, chocolate bob and steel blue glasses squeezed in beside them.  No one said a word.  Dad’s face told us he meant business.  The sheriff, with his eyes of steel, loomed over us.  My heart sunk to my toes.  I was terrified we would be taken from our parents and thrown in jail. 

We sat in grim silence, eyes peeled on the officer.  I don’t remember the exact words spoken in the room that day.  I know we were scolded mercilessly by a uniformed officer.  Dad and Mom held their tongues.  The impact of the sheriff’s words was more painful than any punishment they could dole out.  We learned our actions endangered the lives of many, most importantly the trucker who called the authorities.  The apple had hit him.  We were forced to imagine the consequences if he had lost control and hit another car, perhaps a vehicle filled with a family, such as ours.  When the lecture was over, he turned and strode out, nodding to Mom and Dad as he passed.  The silence was deafening, images of what if’s haunted me.  That day was the end of my shenanigans in the apple orchard.  I didn’t need to be told more than once.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What goes around comes around

Life is a long lesson in humility.  ~James M. Barrie

When I was fourteen I went to Clear Lake, Iowa with my Uncle Allen and Aunt Rita Hummel for a week.  We stayed at a house near the lake.  It was my first vacation.  And I was excited! Up til then my only trips more than twenty minutes from home was to my aunt and uncle's farm near LaPorte City or to the Backbone State Park on Sunday afternoons.  And now I was invited to go two hours away for a week go so I could help watch their three children and the five children of the couple that shared the house. So, yes, it was a vacation to me.

We, the younger generation, all stayed in the upstairs in a large bedroom with several double beds and a couple of baby beds.  I shared a bed with their twelve year old daughter.  My cousins were Steve, nine months; Barb, five and Bill, six.  I had done a lot of babysitting by the time I was fourteen and felt up to whatever challenges may come my way.  

I don’t remember much about the trip once we arrived.  I remember the upstairs being pretty warm for sleeping and we kept the fans running all night.  Air conditioning was not common for most homes in 1969.  But I was used to warm nights, it felt like home.  Often our upstairs was too warm for sleeping and we would gather our blankets and head outdoors to slumber under the stars and summer night air.  

The days at Clear Lake were spent splashing at the beach, building sand castles and refueling our sun kissed bodies with peanut butter and jelly on white bread.  Chips and Kool Aid finished off our three course meal. 

Steve, at nine months, was at the stage where he wanted to walk.  He did not understand that he could not.   Steve would crawl to me, pull himself up and grab my knees.  I leaned over with my fingers out stretched and he would wrap his tiny fingers around mine and off we went.  Stubby legs and curled toes pumped up and down as the two of us explored the rooms of the lake house.  

One afternoon the families crammed children, picnic baskets along with coolers of beer and Kool Aid into two wood paneled station wagons for a journey to the city park.  After bolting down the lunch the young folks scattered to the swings, merry go rounds and slides while the adults sat and drank their chilled beverages.

“Monie,” my Uncle Allen’s used his pet name for me, “are you going to be a half-back for the football team in the fall,” he teased.  He always gave me a hard time about my muscular legs.

 “Yeah, right,” I commented back.  “That’ll be the day they let a girl on the football team.”

“I bet you could outrun any boy on the team,” Allen continued.  “I heard you outran all the boys in the eighth grade last month.”

“Where did you hear that,” I sputtered indignantly.  

“Oh, Monie, don’t be so modest.  Why I bet you could race anyone here and win,” he continued.  “Vern, here, is pretty fast.  I bet you could beat him in a 60 yard dash,” as he jerked his beer bottle in his friend and house mate direction.  “Come on, Vern, let’s go.  You and Ramona, right now.”

Vern jumped to his feet and the two of us toed the imaginary line drawn on the grass by my uncle.  Me, a spunky fourteen year old who loved to run, and Vern, a jovial man with a healthy air about him, but a father of five with adult responsibilities.  Elbow to elbow we took position with knees bent, heads bowed  slightly and eyes that peered toward the tree that was our destination.  We waited impatiently for Uncle Allen to lower his outstretched arms to signal start.

“Go,” he yelled and we both took off like a shot.  For the first thirty yards we were shoulder to shoulder as out sneaker clad feet pounded the grass.  I had pulled ahead of Vern when I noticed him go down.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw him roll end over end.  I sprinted to the finish line and raced back to Vern.  I was joined by Uncle Allen, Aunt Rita and Vern’s wife, Ruthie.  “A little too much cold beer and a rut in the ground,” I surmised, but held my tongue.

“That’s a nasty gash,” the women said as the snake of red slithered down Vern’s arm.  “You need stitches,” Ruthie commented and Aunt Rita nodded in agreement.  

“I’m sorry, Vern.”  I felt terrible that I had continued and finished the race.  “I didn’t know you were hurt.  I would have stopped.”

“I would have beat you if I hadn’t tripped on the drain grate,” Vern taunted me as he struggled to stand.

“No way, I was ahead and you know it,” I fired back, hoping my jovial words would mask the sick feeling in my stomach.

Ruthie and Uncle Allen took Vern to the local hospital while Aunt Rita helped me round up the children and  drove us back to the lake house.  Once we were settled she joined the rest at the emergency room.  After what felt like hours, the foursome returned.  Vern’s arm was bandaged and the teasing about the race started up where it had left off.  I felt better seeing Vern was okay.  The rest of the vacation was enjoyed and there were no more foot races.  I returned home to our family farm grateful for the week of vacation.

Years later I would revisit the fateful race on another vacation, but this time the shoe was on the other foot.  My husband and I took our four children on an annual summer camping weekend with a group of close-knit friends.  Between the six families that circled the campfire each night we had twenty-four children, ranging in age from six to sixteen.  One of the teenage daughters of our friends was active on her school’s track team.  One word led to another and soon the challenge of years ago sounded again. 

“Let’s race up that hill,” I challenged Mary Jo.

"I don't know, are you sure," she questioned my ability at my age.

"Let's go," I assured her I was capable.
“Come on, Mona,” Mary Jo taunted me from the top.  I continued the ten yards and panted,
“Let’s try it again, this time going downhill,” I countered in an effort to redeem my running skills left at the track when I graduated high school.

I took off and promptly lost my footing.  I rolled head over heels until I crumpled in a heap at the bottom.  

“Are you okay,” my friends voiced concerned after they witnessed the spectacle.  Mary Jo was worried.  I popped my head off the ground and burst into laughter.

"Now I know how Vern felt,,” I laughed as I recounted the race to them from years ago.  “The only thing hurt is my pride.  My only regret – you didn’t get it on a video.  I’ll bet it was hysterical to watch.”  

The tension was over when all knew I was not hurt.  And I realized that the days of mixing foot races and vacations were over for me.  It was fun while it lasted.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Savoring the memories of home

The way you help heal the world is you start with your own family.  -Mother Teresa

Words greeted you upon entering my childhood home.  “Home – where each lives for the other and all live for God,”  “This house is clean enough to be healthy, but dirty enough to be happy.”   Ceramic plaques  were nestled on the wall with black cast iron fry pans, calico pot holders, a red metal matchstick holder and swing arm can opener greeted visitors to our family kitchen.  The tiny room, barely ten foot by ten foot, warmed more than food.  It was a crowded room, the barn red bead board cupboards with nailed linoleum counters lined the north wall, and a white cast iron sink overflowed with dishes in various stages of cleanliness. Every nook and cranny stored dinnerware, food and items needed to prepare meals.  A four foot square metal table with three mismatched chairs lined the west wall, hosted numerous neighbors, friends and relatives as coffee, cookies and conversations were digested.  The oil cloth hid the scars of the table top and added to the kaleidoscope of color.  Second hand base cupboards and the family refrigerator stood guard to the gas stove that produced nourishment for our family of thirteen.  Chore coats hung from nails in the far corner, next to the doorway to the dining room  the oval oak table surrounded by a hodge podge of wooden chairs where our family gathered each day at the appointed times:  breakfast at 6:30, dinner at noon, supper at six.
What the kitchen lacked for in size and grandeur, it made up in hospitality.  From the smallest neighborhood child who looked to my mother as their other mother, to my aunts, uncles and friends, all who entered spoke the words carved into the plaque,  Home where each lives for the other and all live for God,” and nodded.“This place feels like I am at home.”  “I don’t feel like a stranger here.”  “I feel like I can be me here.”

Yes, my parents created a family friendly environment. Mom welcomed all no matter how much she had to do.  She always had time for a chat.  Most Saturdays I set the table with at least one or two extra plates, squeezing thirteen plus plates, glasses, and silverware. "Throw an extra potato in the kettle," she was often heard to say. My cousin, Donald, spent most Saturdays at our house.  Donald, three years older than me, had lost his mother to cancer when he was only six.  Mom, his godmother, took him under her wing by allowing my Uncle Jim to drop him off early Saturday and pick him up after supper that night.  This weekly ritual inspired one of our family rules.
“I don’t have to help, I’m company,” Donald stated when asked to set or clear the table, carry a laundry basket to the clothesline or do any of the unending chores we children were expected to do on a daily basis.
“You’re here every Saturday.  You’re not company,” one of my brothers said.
“I am, too.  I’m company,” Donald retorted.
And the family rule of inclusion was instituted:  “If you have been here more than three times, you are no longer company.  You are family.”  Translation:  You are expected to pull your weight.  The rule stuck. 
  The revolving door of extra people who spent hours with our gang became part of us.  Each summer mom watched a family with five children.  In addition to caring for her own brood, she added four boys and a girl.  To a stranger it appeared we had five sets of twins, each pseudo sibling matched year for year with one of us.  Our oval wooden table did not hold the small army we fed daily.  Mom took it in stride and made each day a picnic.  Lunch was served in the shade of a nearby tree on the ten foot wooden table with two long benches.   Part of my duty was to fill plates with sandwiches, vegetables, fruit, and pour the fresh, creamy milk into the rows of plastic glasses.  Mom was thrifty.  Most of the bowls were filled with home canned fruits and vegetables, the meat was from our own animals and the milk was direct from the cows Dad and the boys milked twice each day.  When the supply was getting low, I was sent to the barn to dip another gallon out of the balk tank. 
“Be sure to agitate it before dipping the milk or you’ll get all cream,” Mom instructed me.  Stirring milk before using was part of my routine.  The Guernsey milk cows produced high fat content milk, perfect for selling to the local creamery to be made into butter.  We grew up drinking the rich milk in abundance.  Milk was plentiful and we enjoyed it three meals a day and for snacks.
“I made bread pudding today,” Mom called from the laundry room as we stormed into the house, the school bus rumbled on to the next stop.  “It’s still warm.”  She knew how to use every scrap of food in our household.  Bread pudding was a treat we enjoyed about once a week.  Mom stretched the budget by mixing eggs gathered from our hens, milk from the cows, a bit of sugar and stale bread.  She baked it with a handful of raisins and served it with our fresh milk.  It was one of my favorite after school treats.
Summer mornings were spent growing, harvesting and storing vegetables for winter.  The garden seemed to be unending space that begged to be weeded each day.  Mom enticed us to work early by rewarding us with swimming in the pool in the afternoon.  If chores were completed by dinner (noon time on the farm) she would drive us to Independence to the public swimming pool.  A few hours of splashing, diving and swimming gave us the incentive to finish the work upon returning home.  The boys headed to the barn for milking while I folded dry clothing from the line and helped prepare the evening meal.
My older sister, Audry, was gone from home by the time I was twelve.  Eight brothers and three girls in our family dictated my job, Mom’s right hand.  “Do I have to peel potatoes again,” I whined as I stood at the sink in our tiny kitchen.  I  received a nod along with  “go to the basement and get another bowlful,” from Mom.  Crocks stored our daily staple grown in our mammoth garden.  I scrubbed and peeled at least five pounds for each meal.  “Go back to the basement and get a vegetable,” Mom asked.
“What shall I get,” as I headed toward the bathroom where the door to the basement was located.  I hoped she would ask for store purchased can of peas or spinach which sat on shelves attached to the underside of the stairs to the upper floor.  No space was wasted in our bulging home. 
“Bring up a jar of green beans,” I heard her comment as I groaned.  The basement gave me the creeps.  It was made of field rocks with a bare concrete floor.  The shower head hung above the planks in the center of the dungeon like space and the wringer washer guarded the door to the wobbly, cellar stairs to the clothesline.  Wooden shelves lined the walls, crocks sat below shelves and spider webs were plentiful.  I was sure one of the residents would land on me at any moment.  In spite of my fear, I made daily trips to the basement.  I came to admire the neat rows of jars, hundreds of them, filled with beans, both green and wax, yellow corn; red whole tomatoes and tomato juice; beige applesauce, tangy sauerkraut, and the dark brown chunks of canned beef.  These treasures of color and nutrition fed our family and the many pseudo family members for many years.
My parents fed our bodies, but also our spirit and souls.  We learned responsibility, reward and sharing what we had with others.  Now, when someone visits me in the home I share with my husband and comments to me, “this feels like home to me,” I think of my parents and the lessons I learned from them.  I can almost hear them saying, “well done, Mona, well done.”