Saturday, February 27, 2010

The House at the Bus Company

I grew up in the house at the bus company in Monticello.

Dad found creative ways to use school buses:  digging the pool.
Apparently the bus was supposed to pull out the tractor.  It worked.

My dad grew up in the house at the bus company too. He left to go in the service and for a time lived in Maryland and then overseas. While he was overseas, my mom lived with my grandparents; I was born in those years. So my first home was in the house at the bus company.

When dad came home, we went to a different house. My first home was just west of KMart at the end of W. Seventh St. When I lived there, there was no W. Seventh St. I'm not even sure W. Seventh St. was an idea yet. There was no Interstate 94 either. That didn't come until the year we moved to the house at the bus company.

The first year we lived in the house at the bus company, I went to Kindergarten. My sister planted her tiny folding lawn chair in the corner of the lot and waited for me from the time the bus took me to Kindergarten until the bus brought me back home. For the rest of the day, we played School.

Staci's graduation party at the bus company.  Cory and Joe attended.

I moved out of the house at the bus company in 1988 when I left for St. Kate's. I never moved back home, staying there for a few weeks during the summers and over holidays. In January 1991, I moved into an apartment with my new husband, and have made my home with him ever since.

Our engagement party in the house at the bus company, 1990. 
I slept
in the house at the bus company for six more nights.

My boys spent many of their early days in that house.  They came with me to work as long as they could.  When it was time for them to eat, we went in the house, unless Grandpa Gordy could convince them to drink a bottle.

Baby Adam letting Grandpa feed him, 1991.  Dad held all the babies in his office at the bus company.

As they got older, they needed something different than a day spent at the bus company, so my sister and I shared a nanny, who helped mom mind my boys and Staci's daughter.  Their early lives are tied to those same rhythms as mine were.

Lots of babies had their first rides at the bus company - not only relatives, but
nervous parents and their soon-to-be Kindergarteners too!

The house at the bus company isn't there anymore; dad gave it to a young couple when the boys were little. They moved it to Hasty, Minnesota. Their payment was to fill in the hole left by the house.

Adam with Auntie and Uncle Fun, Christmas 1992. 
Haleigh was born a month later.

Mom and dad moved to a different house in 1995.  Dad loved that new house, probably because it was the first time he found the peace that being away from the bus company brought.  He's in a new place now, a happier place. 

Yet part of me still lives at the bus company.

I've spent part of nearly every waking day at the bus company. The rhythms of my life follow the rhythm of the school year - the school day.  It would no more occur to me to take a vacation in September or May than it would to shave my head.  My life and my work became indelibly entwined until I could no longer define myself as something apart from the bus company.

I can now.

I am not my job.  Who I am is completely, wholly, and wonderfully separate from my job.

What I do every day, just like what everyone else does, is a job.  When I look at these pictures and remember the events that shaped me, I recognize it is not the place these things happened that matters.  It's that they happened with people I love.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Joy of Cooking

Every now and then we find ourselves home alone.  No kids.  Just Joe and I. 

I think the only time we've ever been home alone was in the months between our January 1991 wedding and Adam's November 1991 birth.

It's more fun to be home alone without the not-so-aptly named "morning" sickness we experienced for most of 1991.

The other night we cooked together.

Joe once wanted to be a chef. 

I love cooking.

Seems like a match made in heaven.

And it was.

I made Potage Parmentier, or Potato and Leek Soup, a recipe I've longed to try since I fell in love with Julie & Julia.

1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced with skins
3 cups leeks, thinly sliced and rinsed in a bowl of water (use white and tender green parts only)
2 qts water
1 Tbsp salt
4-6 Tbsp whipping cream or 2-3 Tbsp softened butter

Boil the potatoes and leeks in the water and salt until softened.  Puree in blender to desired consistency.  Top with the softened butter.  Serve hot, room temp, or cold.
Joe made pork ribs.

10 pork spareribs
1/2 c soy sauce
10 cloves crushed garlic
1 Tbsp dried rosemary
1 Tbsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 lime, juiced
10 spigs fresh parsley
ground black pepper to taste
2 limes cut into wedges

Place the spareribs into a large pot and fill with just enough water to cover.  Add soy sauce, garlic, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves, lime juice, and 3/4 of the parsley.  Bring to boil and simmer uncovered until the water evaporates (about 25-35 minutes).

Remove the bay leaves and brown the meat, scraping up the browned bits and softened garlic from the bottom of the pot.  The garlic will dissolve into the meat.  Remove meat and drain on paper towels.  Season with black pepper and garnish with lime and remaining parsley.
The soup took care of itself.  It was good.  Very, very good.  Jakob loved the leftovers.

Joe let me crush the garlic.  There's nothing like crushing ten cloves of garlic to release some tension.  He helped me squeeze the limes when I couldn't get the last little bits of lime juice.

I would modify a bit.

First, use equal parts potatoes and leeks.  Gently saute the potatoes and leeks in a little garlic, salt, pepper,r and butter before adding liquid.  Substitute chicken stock for water.  I'm excited to try it.

The ribs... melt-in-your mouth delicious.  And I don't normally like ribs.

The companion? 


I love to cook.  I love to cook even more with Joe.


Emerging on the other side of a couple well-earned and long-sought eight-hour sleeps, I wonder...

Is it possible that most drama and trauma rises from the ashes of sleep deprivation?  Or is it just that we're so much better equipped to navigate when we're not tired?

Thursday, February 18, 2010


The word of the day is "nocebo" (I don't have enough funky characters to post the pronunciation, but it sounds much like "placebo").

Nocebo:  a harmless substance that when taken by a patient is associated with harmful effects due to negative expectations or the psychological condition of the patient.

Can we will harmful things into being?

Contrarily, can we will wonderful things into being?

If so, why would we spend so much more time willing the bad things?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One of My Favorite Things

The world around me is not safe.

Our nation is in crisis.

Our business is in crisis, though not one of my making.

My family is in crisis.  Not my immediate family, my natal family.  Still not of my making.

And yet. 

Tonight I was thinking about my favorite things. 

One of my favorite things is my marriage. 

One day a priest said words that made Joe and I one.  One.



We were so young.  We didn't know anything about being ONE.  We just had the hots for each other.  And we wanted a house and babies and family and the future.

Nineteen years later, we're learning - LEARNING - about becoming ONE.

We are in a good, safe, happy place. 

And I am so glad we both choose to be here EVERYDAY.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Feeling Safe

I adore feeling safe and protected.

My husband provides safety and protection.  Most of the time I feel safe.

I even feel safe when the world outside is turbulent. 

Someone should sing Amazing Grace.

And What a Lovely Day It Was

My Valentine Card and Envelope; Joe's been writing my name like that since I met him.
Yesterday Joe and I celebrated Valentine's Day together for the twenty-third time, and it was the most original and most romantic of all our celebrations.

We dressed in our best clothes and I even attempted an updo.  I drew the line at heels though, and attended our date barefoot.  We left our phones and sons in different rooms.

We created a romantic dining area, set up our fondue pot, and broke out the wedding china.  I served Joe bread with cheese fondue for the first course.  Our main meal of ribeye and shrimp accompanied by potatoes and broccoli bubbled in the chicken broth as we sampled our Hurricanes.  We dipped our steak in his mother's mushroom sauce and squeezed lemon over the shrimp.  For dessert I offered him a white chocolate fondue with grapes, strawberries, and pound cake.  It was all delicious.

While we ate, we played a game.  Joe had typed 100 How-Well-Do-You-Know-Me? Questions.  I drew numbers out a dish that was a long ago wedding gift.  Joe read the corresponding question.  My job was to guess how he would answer the question and his was to guess how I would answer it.  We scored nothing when we both guessed correctly or when we both missed the mark.  I scored when I got my half correct and he didn't, and vice versa.  We spent three hours finishing our dinner and game, and the conversation and laughter flowed.

Joe won by seven.

The Recipes

Parmesan Cheese Fondue

1 1/2 cups whole or 2% milk

2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, cubed and softened

1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Combine milk and cream cheese. Cook over low heat stirring often until the mixture is smooth. Add remaining ingredients and serve in the fondue pot with bite-sized pieces of bread.

Mushroom Dipping Sauce

Fresh mushrooms

1 beef bouillon cube dissolved in 2/3 cups water

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup sour cream

Sauté the mushrooms in extra virgin olive oil, using a small amount of salt and pepper to season them. Cool slightly and chop into small pieces. In small saucepan melt the butter. Blend in flour. Add bouillon all at once and mix well. Cook quickly, stirring constantly until mixture is thick and bubbly. Stir in sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, and mushrooms. Heat through and serve hot. Use for dipping fondued beef.
Hurricanes by Sandra Lee

½ shot high-proof rum

1 shot coconut rum

1 shot spiced rum

1 shot silver rum

2 shots pine-orange-passion fruit juice

1 shot red grenadine

Maraschino cherries for garnish

Into a hurricane glass with ice, combine all the ingredients. Stir and garnish with a cherry.
White Chocolate Fondue

2 bags of white chocolate chips

1 stick of butter

1 pint of heavy whipping cream

Almond Extract (to taste)

Combine all ingredients and cook over low heat stirring often until the mixture is smooth. Serve in the fondue pot with grapes, strawberries, and bite-sized pieces of pound cake.
The Questions

1. What is your favorite color?

2. What is your favorite fast food restaurant?

3. What is your favorite “nice” restaurant?

4. What is your favorite fast food?

5. What is your favorite “nice” restaurant food?

6. What is your favorite vegetable?

7. What is your favorite fruit?

8. What is your favorite place to vacation?

9. Where is one place you’d like to go?

10. What famous person would you like to have dinner with?

11. What famous criminal would you like to meet?

12. What is the worst place you’ve ever visited?

13. What would be your ideal job?

14. Name the 5 most important things in your life?

15. Who is your best female friend?

16. Who is your best male friend?

17. Who do you look up to?

18. Who do you wish you could help the most?

19. What is your earliest memory?

20. Who was your favorite high school teacher?

21. Who was your favorite college teacher?

22. If you could live anywhere, where would that be?

23. What is your favorite pet?

24. What kind of dog would you own if you could have any?

25. What is your first pet’s name?

26. What did you do on your first date?

27. Who did you date on your first date?

28. Would you rather spend a night at home or a night “out on the town”?

29. What is the greatest thing you have done for someone else?

30. What is the greatest thing you have ever done?

31. What is your favorite pop?

32. What is your favorite “adult beverage”?

33. What one thing do you regret the most in your life?

34. What person would you like to understand better?

35. What is your favorite sport?

36. What one thing do I not know about you that I should?

37. What is the best gift you’ve ever received?

38. What is the best gift you’ve ever given?

39. What kind of car would you drive if money wasn’t a problem?

40. What was your first car?

41. What was your favorite class in school?

42. What is your favorite room in the house?

43. What is your favorite TV show?

44. What is your favorite movie?

45. What is your favorite actor?

46. What is your favorite actress?

47. What is your favorite place to buy groceries?

48. What is your favorite place to shop?

49. What one thing would you change about me?

50. What one thing do you wish you could change about yourself?

51. What was your best date?

52. What is your best romantic experience?

53. Where was the strangest place you’ve made love?

54. What thing would you like to do romantically that you haven’t done?

55. What thing have you done romantically that you never want to do again?

56. What is your favorite outfit?

57. What is your favorite outfit for me to wear?

58. What is your biggest turn on?

59. What is your favorite game to play alone?

60. What is your favorite game to play as a couple?

61. What is your favorite game to play with others?

62. If you could be any age what would it be?

63. How old would you like to live to?

64. What is your best experience with each kid?

65. What is your favorite cartoon?

66. What is your favorite television station?

67. What is your favorite way to have a potato prepared?

68. What is your best wedding day memory?

69. What is your best honey moon memory?

70. What would your porn name be?

71. What is your favorite meat?

72. Who is your favorite male friend of mine?

73. Who is your favorite female friend of mine?

74. What is your most prized possession?

75. What thing do you own that you would like to get rid of?

76. What thing do I own that you would like to get rid of?

77. What are you most proud of me for?

78. What is my pant size?

79. What is my shirt size?

80. Who is my best friend, not each other?

81. What do I do that makes you the most happy?

82. What do I do that irritates you the most?

83. If you could have on talent you don’t currently have what would it be?

84. What one project would you like to get done around the house?

85. What could I do to make your daily life easier?

86. What is your favorite body part?

87. What is your favorite body part on me?

88. Lights on or off?

89. What is your favorite snack food?

90. What is your favorite candy?

91. What food do you dislike the most?

92. What is your favorite “home” food?

93. What one place would you like to make love that you haven’t?

94. What thing do you miss the most about one or your grandmothers?

95. What thing do you miss the most about one of your grandfathers?

96. What would you like to do more with the kids?

97. If you could be on one game show, what would it be?

98. What would your perfect date be?

99. What was your worst date?

100. What is the limit of what you would do for me?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Little Engine That Could

Fifteen years ago today at 8:26 pm, Jakob Kounkel joined our family.

During the months preceding Jakob's birth, we were living with Grandpa and Grandma Kounkel while our new house was being built.  We accidentally made the decision to sell our house without a really solid plan about where were going to live. 

Adam loved being there with the Kounkels.  It was nice for me too because Joe was gone often to develop his ambulance business, and I wasn't left home alone with a three-year-old boy in the final weeks of pregnancy.  It was strange for the three of us to live in Joe's old room, but I will always credit our stay with the warm and wonderful relationship I have with my mother-in-law.

Adam and Jakob, 1997

We really wanted to try to avoid a second c-section, but the doctor was a little worried about the size of the little parasite growing in my belly.  She recommended that we schedule an induction for Monday, February 13, 1995, and we agreed to her plan.

Induction is never a pleasant experience, imho.  It just makes everything happen too fast and with great intensity.  Joe, not a fan of hospitals or anything that looks like blood, is an amazing partner during labor and delivery.  At the peak of the labor experience, he crawled into that narrow hospital bed and spooned with me.  It relieved the intense pressure in my back so I could relax a little between contractions, and was a testimony of his love for both me and our unborn baby boy.

By dinnertime, we knew we weren't going to avoid the second c-section, so we prepared ourselves for surgery, and Jakob was born at 8:26 pm that night.

The doctor held him over the drape and I beheld his smashed and crooked face for the first time, falling instantly in love with him, even though he was - without a doubt - the ugliest baby I had ever seen. 

Delivery makes me shake intensely, and the doctor was a little concerned about it, so Joe and Staci went with Jakob to get cleaned up, weighed, and measured.  How empty a mother feels while watching her newborn roll down the hallway!

The next day, Joe brought Adam to visit his new brother.  Adam was amazed enough by the tiny baby and really wanted him to open his eyes, so he poked Jakob several times before we could stop him.  They haven't stopped poking each other since.

It was quickly apparent to me that Jakob was a completely different character than Adam.  The infant Jakob could not get enough to eat, and as a result I resigned from the "no-food-before-it's-time club" I'd belonged to with Adam.  Jakob needed food and I needed a break from feeding him.

As soon as he could move, Jakob started climbing.  He climbed on top of everything and everyone.  He adored being on top.  He wasn't interested in sitting down and playing; he wanted to run and jump and laugh with his whole being.  He exhausted us all, even Adam. 

I once left Jakob on the couch next to Adam.  He often cried when he wasn't within touching distance of me, and I needed to make a meal for a sick friend, so I Adam had to help.  When I finally finished the stuffed shells (I couldn't have chosen something a little more simple?), I picked up the fussy baby and he stopped crying.  Tired little Adam asked, "Mommy, can't we just put him back?"  I explained that we couldn't, and Adam spent the afternoon writing me a note on a small post it.  It read, "I hate you, Mommy."  The words were accompanied by an unhappy face with three tears. 

As intensely as Jakob needed to move and play, he also needed downtime.  As a toddler, I would often find him lying on his belly with his face cupped in his hands watching the ants on the back patio, or outside under a tree or plant watching the leaves move.  In nursery school, a very busy place indeed, he "checked out" when he needed a break by moving outside the circle of friends and laying down for awhile. 

Jakob loved his Grandpa Gordy.  Grandpa Gordy would sit at his desk holding Jakob and they had private conversations no one ever heard.  They liked to rub tummies and it wasn't at all unusual to see Jakob's shirt pulled up and Grandpa's shirt pulled up for the tummy rubbing.  Odd to witness, but they were both perfectly content in those moments, moments Grandpa Gordy called his "Jake-breaks". 

Jakob and Haleigh, 2000

As Jakob grew, he channeled his energy into sports, and sports remain his great passion.  He's fairly convinced he'll be a professional athlete.  When I gently encouraged him to have a back-up plan, I discovered he might be right about his future.  Those "in-the-know" think he's a talented athlete.  When he's playing a sport, his whole energy is focused on what's happening in that particular moment, and it's a joy to behold.  He focuses the same intensity we see him use in games to each skill development task, whether it's shooting a three-point shot or hitting a baseball to a spot his dad chooses.  I once asked him his favorite sport, and he replied, "Whichever one I'm playing at that moment." 

Now in ninth grade and the tallest person in his family, he's about to move into a new independence in his life - the driving years.  God bless us all!

This boy has been going places since the moment he was born, and we're looking foward to see where he settles. 

Happy Birthday, Jakob!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fish Sandwiches

This morning the teens sang at the early Mass and the kids sang at the second Mass.  I played the piano for both and I'm so glad I did.

It's not always easy to accompany kids. 

They don't understand musicspeak.  I don't always either, but I can pretend.

I sometimes detest accompanying the choirs.  Mostly when it's Wednesday and I have a crapload list of things that NEED to be done.  AND when they don't understand a rythm and I KNOW I'll have to look over my shoulder to see when they're coming in. AND when I'm not sure who will be present and who will not.


I LOVE music.  I LOVE kids.  I LOVE Catholicism.  How better to combine all three than CHOIR?

This morning the little kids sang FISH SANDWICHES.

Here's part of the song:

Fish sandwiches, what a plan was His!
Fish sandwiches for the  multitude.
Fish sandwiches, what a plan was His!
Supernatural supper for the multitude.
Our kids sang it well - better than they ever have!  They can't help moving when they sing, and so we call it liturgical dance.  They pour all they have into what they're doing.

They sing, they dance, they live. 

We can learn so much from them!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sweet, Sweet Jesus

Sweet Jesus, my Savior, You are my faithful friend
You made me, You know me, You see my every sin
And my soul is amazed by this gift of Your grace
And these arms that take me in
Sweet Jesus, my Savior, You are my faithful friend.

Sweet Jesus, my shelter, You are my faithful fried
The refuge that I run to when my world comes closing in
Why should I be afraid when I know I am saved
By the arms that take me in
Sweet Jesus, my shelter, You are my faithful friend.

Sweet Jesus, my shepherd, You are my faithful friend
You hold me, You lead me, I'll follow till the end
And once more I will say on the beautiful day
When Your arms take me in
Sweet Jesus, my shepherd, You are my faithful friend.
                                                 by Selah, 2006

I cannot imagine a life without prayer, and most of my prayer is music. 


Monday, February 1, 2010

The First AHA! Moment of 2010

I've embarked on a reading frenzy.  I'm eager to post my critical thoughts about what I've been reading on my other blog in the next few days.  I'm finishing Julie and Julia by Julie Powell.  This book makes me laugh out loud and I love it as much as I love the movie.

Today this book gave me my first serious AHA moment of the year.

Julie's writing about a friend, Isabel, who is about to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

Have you ever watched a friend make the single wrongest choice she could possibly make?  All the time she's looking back at you, beaming, happier than she's ever been, surer than she's ever been, and you're watching her foot about to fall onto nothing, onto air, and there's nothing you can do to warn her off the cliff's edge.  You can't say to her, "My God, Isabel, don't screw over Martin, who loves you, for some English punk guitarist you met on the Internet!"              
                                         Julie and Julia by Julie Powel, page 208
I've had the wrong idea all along.  I thought a true friend makes a human roadblock when a friend is about to make a bad or mad decision, literally jumping up and down, waving both arms wildly in the air while screaming "STOP.  DON'T DO IT!"

Truth is, all a friend can do is stand back and watch.