Hello Farmgirls!

Thank you for your patience since my last post. The main reason I missed it was because my amazing, kind, wise and witty grandfather passed away.  It wasn’t a surprise, but it was shocking to face a world without his presence.  I wrote a post about him that never officially made it up, but you can see it in my chain of posts if you want to know more about the OG Alex!

Since then, I’ve grieved a lot, worked a bit, adventured with kids and most recently reveled in the lovely goodies mother nature has already offered up for our taking.  We are only a few weeks into no-snow weather, but the foraging has been plentiful and pretty easy!

Springtime and the living's getting easier.  Time for sun hats and no snowsuits at the playground!

Springtime and the living’s getting easier. Time for sun hats and no snowsuits at the playground!

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Wooden Nickels

Farmgirl Friends,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog post.  It has been a few weeks, now, but my dear grandfather passed on March 25.  I’ve been wanting to commemorate him somehow, but the emotions were so raw that I couldn’t get out anything very meaningful or coherent.  I am grateful that I have this outlet to urge me to pull it together and create a (hopefully satisfactory) memorial piece for him.

It is surprising to me how deeply I have felt his loss.  We knew he was dying.  It wasn’t surprising when I got notice from my mother that he had passed, but it was shocking. I’m going to get real with you here…my grief was and is palpable.  When I was alone I felt like a widowed Italian–sobbing, wailing with tears flowing, lying prostrate with my hands clasped above my head.  Every beautiful day (and EVERY day was beautiful from the time he died until the day of his funeral) brought me to tears thinking about how he would never see another beautiful day.

Fortunately, my family and I got to visit with him just ten days before his death. Although he was very old and deteriorating fairly quickly from heart, kidney and liver failure, my grandfather was very present.  His eyesight was nearly perfect, and as my mother says, “he could hear a fly fart from twenty paces.”  He was a witty, intelligent and kind man.  Alex Andrew Griffin will be greatly missed.

In the last year since Fern was born (she turned one the day before his funeral), I’ve had several instances where I imagined my grandfather being born to his sixteen year old mother.  My great grandmother Marie had an inarguably terrible life.  By the time she was 14 both of her parents had died (her father an alcoholic) and most of her siblings had died in a house fire. She married my great grandfather (at 15, I think!) and had my grandpa. A few years later she lost a son just one day after he was born and shortly after that my great grandfather succumbed to cancer.  She was a twenty year old widow with a four year old son and hardly any family to support her. Then the great depression happened.  Despite these hardships, I can imagine my little newborn grandpa squirming in my great grandmother’s exhausted arms while she gazed at him with more love than she thought possible.  I imagine her rational brain (she was a reserved, almost stern woman) at odds with her hormonal mom brain, and it is beautiful.  My grandfather entered this world on June 15, 1924 and cried the cry of a newborn that began his Northwoods life.

He and his mother moved into an apartment next door to my great, great, great aunt (my great grandmother’s aunt) in Duluth, Minnesota.  At this point, my grandpa was going by “Jimmy” and he didn’t even know his birth name was Alex!  My grandpa was a great story teller, and his earliest stories are from this apartment.  His story telling was superb, and i can’t do it justice but I remember them so well…Almost every day he and his mom would go next door to have tea and a biscuit for breakfast.  The last visit I had with my grandpa we shared some tea and cookies.  He loved Irish Breakfast tea with sugar so that’s what we had while he shared memories with me.  He said I made excellent tea and I took it as a high compliment!

In Duluth, my grandpa remembers selling five cent newspapers on the sidewalk for some guy.  He was about 5.  He knew how to give change for a quarter, but many people would tell him to keep the change.  Being an innocent little kid (and adorable! of course they let him keep the change!) he would hand over all of the newspaper money to the guy and get a quarter for his work.  The man would also give him cigarettes–and he would smoke them! at five!  Can you imagine this little Irish boy wearing knickers and a flat cap, slinging newspapers and smoking a cigarette?! I can and it’s amazing.

You know how people are super concerned with kids and screen time these days?  How we’ve come to rely on televisions as substitute babysitters?  Apparently that’s nothing new. My great grandma would give a nickel to my grandpa (at five, still), and send him across the street to the nickelodeon.  He would watch little films all morning–Rin Tin Tin is the only one I can remember him mentioning.  He remarked that it was probably a cheap babysitter for his mom.  Another time his mother had made pies and put them atop the china cabinet (I think his father was alive at this point) and grandpa climbed up their to get one and he fell through the top! He couldn’t remember what happened after that–did he get some pie?

After his mother remarried they moved to Crosby, MN–a small town on the iron range situated on Serpent Lake.  He remembered fishing for northern pike there as a seven year old.  A lot of Finnish people lived in Crosby, and he traded stamps with an elderly Finnish woman neighbor who spoke no English.  Up until the last time i saw him he would do little Finnish foot games on babies…”Doller, maller, sculpien, scruplen, tiddle tiddle tiddle tiddle.” By the way–we aren’t Finnish at all!

As a school boy in Crosby grandpa went to school wearing knickers on his first day.  Coming from the big city of Duluth, his mother dressed him up for school.  All of the other kids were wearing jeans and, embarrassed, he refused to wear knickers ever again.  Come to think of it, I rarely saw my grandpa wear anything but jeans.

He lived in this small town during the depression, and the city allowed the residents to live there tax-free and mortgage-free as long as they kept their homes in good order.  Cows lived in the alleys and chickens, too, they belonged to specific families but everyone fed them and got some of the goodies.  It sounded like a nice little community, albeit very poor.  His mother and step father ended up having one more son and four daughters in the following years.

As a teen, Grandpa Jim (we always called him by his nickname) worked for a New Deal work program to build an ice rink and other local spots for his town.  He made something like $17 per week.  Later, he moved back to Duluth to work…I can’t remember exactly what he did…but he made $40 per week and had to spend most of his money on room and board, so he returned to Crosby to work in the iron ore mines.  While working there he froze his feet and got one of his legs terribly crushed.  This is also when he was diagnosed with asthma and got some terrible illness that took almost two years to recover from.  These health problems culminated in him not being eligible to join the army–something that he wanted to do so badly, but I’m happy he didn’t have to fight in WWII.

He later met my grandmother, became the county assessor and moved out to Perry Lake, Minnesota where my maternal grandmother grew up.  Her parents sold 70 something acres to them and they built a house on the lake.  It is the house my grandfather stayed in until just a few months before his death.  He was a great outdoorsman–hunting deer, grouse, squirrel, ducks and geese and fishing year round in the lake.  Even just a month or so before he died he talked about getting out on one more bird hunt.  He taught my brothers the secrets of deer hunting, and I remember fishing with him as a kid, often getting bored and turning to reading and writing poetry while floating on the water.

My grandpa also golfed two or three times per day in his retirement!  He got a few holes-in-one over the years and made great friends with golfing buddies and personnel.  We met a man at his funeral that had golfed with my grandfather for forty years!

He flew on a plane once–from Brainerd to Hinckley MN, probably an hour or so long flight on a small plane.  It was so terrifying that he never flew again! While Ireland called him, there was no way he was going to get there unless he could take a boat.  Besides that, he was a major homebody–traveling to Montana, Canada and Michigan were about as far as he would venture from Minnesota, and he wouldn’t even do that for more than a couple of days.

In his last months, I asked my grandfather what the highlight of his life was–what would he call the “good ol’ days.”  He gave a very him answer–one influenced by the Depression and his love of the outdoors.  I imagined he would talk about his three lovely daughters growing up and having a nice job and house or something but this is what came out: “Ooooh, I’d say 1965 to 1980.  There were plenty of deer and grouse and fish and I could eat all that I wanted!” he followed that up with lamenting that he couldn’t eat all of the good food that was offered in his assisted living facility.

As a kid, my grandpa was always there.  We would stay at my great grandparents house quite a bit throughout the year and we would walk the “old road” (it used to be the highway, but it is now a wide grassy path) to his house or paddle boat to his dock.  He always had ice cream for us.  I remember him walking in the woods with his fly switch–a branch with fly tape spun around it, and doing tick checks after romping outside. He taught my brothers how to deer hunt and he taught me how to shoot a .22.  We caught lots of fish with him and we played lots of Pictionary with him.

I wish I had told my grandfather just how much he meant to me and our family.  He left behind seven grandkids (plus my brother who died 16 years ago) and seven great grandkids.  We are spread throughout the US and all embody different parts of him–his love of nature, his fiscal responsibility, his love of golf, his wit and sense of humor, his reclusiveness, his love of home, his lightheartedness…

It’s hard to believe he is gone, it is hard to accept that he will never be here again.  It’s shocking to experience how real the grief is even when he died an almost perfect and expected death–it is the purest grief I’ve felt…the grief that only relates to loss, not also the circumstances related to the loss.

Here’s to you, Grandpa Jim.  We love you and miss you so.

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Fresh Eats

Farmgirls–I have a new favorite food. And–lucky you! I am going to let you in on this rare discovery.  I haven’t found a new go-to food for quite a while, so it has been fun to add something new into our rotating food repertoire.

No, it isn't cotton candy. We went to the Winter Show Rodeo in North Dakota, though!

No, it isn’t cotton candy. We went to the Winter Show Rodeo in North Dakota, though!

It has only taken me several decades to discover just how delicious this mouth watering creation can be. It is a juicy, savory, and unpretentious all-in-one meal. They can be creative, complex or simple; and–perhaps most notable of all–they are quintessentially American.

Are you teetering on the edge of your seat? What could this amazing food possibly be?

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Who are you?

‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

~Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

I am writing this under the light of the Super Snow Moon–the biggest full moon of 2019.  It is much like the sun this time of year–able to illuminate that which isn’t often seen or hasn’t been noticed in a long time (hello window sills! You need to be dusted).  It also has a slightly stronger effect on things like the tide.  If any of you have seeds sown for transplants (or maybe crops already in the ground if you are in the south or southern hemisphere), you may see a little bump in foliage growth during the few days before the full moon and root growth afterward.  I’m going to keep a jar of water on one of those dusty window sills tonight to get charged by the moon!  Not sure what I’ll do with it…most likely uses: I will drink it, Opal will drink it and then spill it, Fern will spill it, I will water houseplants with it.  All worthy causes.

Often, quotes from other people or places get the gist of a feeling just right.  This is from a fence at a playground on Kauai

Often, quotes from other people or places get the gist of a feeling just right. This is from a fence at a playground on Kauai

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Rocks and Pine Cones

Happy New Year Farmgirl sisters!

I hope this finds you all well and enjoying these days of growing sunshine.  I just read Dori and Nicole’s posts from the last two weeks and they are so inspiring.  Their outlooks, commitment and encouragement are infectious.

I might not be quite as inspiring, but I feel like my story might help those of you who maybe haven’t acted on your inspirations and motivations.  I stand here in solidarity with you.  Plans are easy, execution of plans is hard. We are not in this alone, sisters!

Sisters! Sun! Snow!

Sisters! Sun! Snow!

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Hey Farmg—wait, did you feel that?!

No?  It was an aftershock.

An aftershock to a pretty big earthquake we had in Alaska a few weeks ago.  You might have heard about it on the news? 7.0 with the epicenter about forty miles from here

To put it mildly: it was terrifying and awful and discombobulating.  After lots of reading and discussing and studying, I can imagine being in a bigger one and I hope it is something you or I or anyone never has to experience. We are finally feeling pretty recovered after a few days of adrenaline hangovers, a week of high stress and another week of trying to return to normalcy.  I questioned a few times if the lingering anxiety would ever fade, but with time and less frequent aftershocks it has subsided.

A birthday walk in the snowy woods to find our tree took a lot of the edge off of the 'quake anxiety.

A birthday walk in the snowy woods to find our tree took a lot of the edge off of the ‘quake anxiety.

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Thankful for Sisterhood

There’s something special about the bond between sisters…

I wouldn’t really know because I grew up with all brothers, but I’ve heard and observed that biological sisters can have profound connections.  While I don’t have a sister sister, I do consider myself lucky to have a sizable group of friends that I love just as I love my siblings. These friends are men and women–although mostly women–and are parts of separate and overlapping groups. Some are local and some live great distances away.  Some are parents, some are not. The one thing they all have in common is that they are totally awesome!


Yes, the rare man can be a part of a sisterhood!

A few weeks ago I went on a truly amazing vacation down to San Diego, California. It was so far from my current reality that it took several days to get back to reality upon my return. I went down for six (SIX!) days–solo!–to relax, rejuvenate and reconnect with five of my close friends. Four of them are friends from college and one joined from Alaska.  We stayed in a mid-century mod home up on a hill with a private pool in the backyard and a very glamorous, Mad Men kind of vibe.

The Backyard

The Backyard

The most amazing part about this vacation? It was largely organized by Evan!! I think it’s fairly new phenomenon, but some women have started getting gifts from their significant others for having babies.  They are (kind of disturbingly…) called “push presents.”  The gifts are often pieces of jewelry–usually fancy and expensive.  I am not one to wear much fancy or expensive jewelry as they don’t play well with my lifestyle.  So, in an effort to show his gratitude for all that I do–physically, emotionally and otherwise, Evan got me this trip!  It was practically all planned by the time I found out about it a couple months before we left.  While I really enjoy planning and organizing vacations, I have to admit it was great to have the big parts already nailed down. Furthermore, it’s heartache-ingly beautiful to dwell upon how much Evan loves me and cares for my sanity :).

Rock climbing outside for the first time in a few years.

Rock climbing outside for the first time in a few years.

How do people live where it is always perfect?

How do people live where it is always perfect?

The vacation was relaxing, fun and rejuvenating.  The activities we did were great–rock climbing, went to a funk concert, farmers market (so many beautiful items!), zip lining, wine tasting at a vineyard, yoga and of course hanging at the beach and eating yummy yummy tacos. One of the things I keep reflecting on was how nice it was to be able to just walk outside…any time of the day or night.  It was always a perfect temperature outside and there weren’t any mosquitoes.  I had to pump while I was there because Fernie is still so little, and I could take my little portable pump out to the pool at 6:30 a.m. and pump OUTSIDE! We drank mimosas in the pool and had a bonfire on the beach while still wearing swimsuits.  These are all pretty huge things for me coming from places with pretty extreme weather and tons of mosquitoes.


Coffee and lazy breakfast outside every day.

Coffee and lazy breakfast outside every day.

The best thing about this trip was reconnecting with friends.  It’s kind of a cliche, but it is really easy to lose yourself when you become a parent.  While “mother” is now a part of my identity, there is a purer me that exists somewhere under the labels.  She can be kind of hard to find sometimes.  I also LOVE talking about my kids, as most parents do, but it was a treat to hang out with people and barely talk about my kids!  We spoke a lot about our psyches, our evolving personalities and beliefs, our failures and our goals, our love lives, our side projects and new hobbies.  We hollered our deepest desires at the roaring ocean and we read each others’ fortunes.  I was going to title this post, “Sisterhood of the Rose” as it was a card that was often drawn during our card reading sessions.  Rose was a theme of the trip–I brought rosewater to share, another friend brought rose incense, rose quartz made a few appearances, roses were in bloom and there was a rose balloon marking the spot where our yoga class was.  I did some research into the Sisterhood of the Rose and it’s pretty interesting stuff–with roots in Atlantis and ancient Egypt, but I don’t think I could have done it justice in this post!

Rocks and oracles and spiritual things, oh my!

Rocks and oracles and spiritual things, oh my!

Watching the sunset from a vineyard in the country.  That is Rosemary creeping over that ridge.  The herbs grow into monsters in San Diego!  It is incredible.

Watching the sunset from a vineyard in the country. That is Rosemary creeping over that ridge. Herbs grow into monsters in San Diego! Huge lavender plants, sprawling rosemary and luscious sage as landscaping!

We drank champagne on the beach and lost our cork to this gull.

We drank champagne on the beach and lost our cork to this gull.

Oh, and we laughed so hard! So, so hard!  One of my friends claimed that she almost vomited from laughing so hard.  I noted at one point that these were my healer friends–a medical doctor, a women’s reproductive health rights activist, a public health worker, a therapist and an ayurveda and yoga practitioner.  I have to say that I did leave this trip feeling healed–from what I’m not sure, but I’ve felt pretty grounded and centered since coming home to reality!

Good bye, Mission Beach!

Good bye, Mission Beach!

It was so good.  All of it.  It was equally as sweet to return home to my lovely little family and my sweet baby whose weight I missed in my arms so badly! What a great trip. I’m a fortunate woman and oh so grateful.

I hope this finds your Thanksgiving preparations going well.  I’m thankful for all of you!

Sending peace and love from Alaska,

Until next time,

Alex, the Rural Farmgirl

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Sprouts on Sprouts on Sprouts (Brussels, that is)

Hello Farmgirl Friends!

‘Tis post harvest season up here in Alaska, although we have yet to experience any real damaging overnight frosts.  It’s been an incredibly warm and balmy fall for this neck of the woods.  While Mother Nature is allowing for a longer than anticipated season, we just really didn’t have anything left to harvest.

Warm Blissful days on the farm!

Warm Blissful days on the farm!

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Farming with Kids

I am guilty of having been the best parent before having children of my own.  My kids were going to be the hippest kids around.  They would become the most environmentally-conscious-vegetable-eating-adventurous little bodhisattvas around, for sure.  I definitely knew how to curate kids to embody these traits!

I mean...this could be an album cover!

I mean…this could be an album cover!

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Come Again Another Day

“I’d much rather work outside in the rain than inside during nice weather!”

I found myself exclaiming/reminding myself of this several times over the past couple of weeks.  It has been downright SOGGY up here in the northlands.  One of my friends recorded more than six inches of rain on her small farm between Sunday and Wednesday of last week, and we had plenty of rain on both sides of that window, as well.

Opal finds great joy in taking sips of water from the large brassica leaves.

Opal finds great joy in slurping water from the large brassica leaves.

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