Pumpkin spice and everything nice | September 30, 2021

Fall has officially…fallen; and with it millions of pumpkin spiced Pinterest boards have sprung up featuring porches and front doors and lawns covered in physical celebrations of autumn.  Obviously, I, too am all aboard the trainful of haybales.  This meme (which I did not make) pretty accurately represents my feelings on the matter:

As opposed to apparently all of North Dakota, however, I have no discernible skill when it comes to seasonal decorating.  For example, I am the only person in Grand Forks incapable of keeping a pot of mums alive.  I was lamenting this to one of my (well-decorated) friends and she said, “It sounds like you’re overwatering it,” and so I bought a new pot of mums and didn’t water it and it died and she said, “Well you have to water it a little,” so I bought another pot and watered it a little and it still died and she said, “Maybe you should try dried grass.”

I partially blame my lack of an orange thumb on the fact that I am Jewish, because I just don’t think the Jews are really in the inner cinnamon circle when it comes to celebration-based porch decorating.  I’m lumping us all into a group, obviously, but I can’t think of a time when I’ve gone over to a fellow Jew’s house and thought, “Man, I sure do like that Fourth of July bunting.”  We Jews actually have a holiday that falls smack in the middle of harvest in which decorations are part of the celebration (we hang up garlands and dried fruit and whatnot around a tent-structure called a Sukkah), but it’s less “Martha Stewart’s Top 5 Sukkah Splashes” and more like, “Get the craft paper and yarn so we can move onto the eating.”

I could be projecting these assumptions based on my own family’s lack of proclivity for all things Hobby Lobby.  My dad is an expert-level gardener, and so my parents’ method of decorating consisted of my mom swapping out the front door wreaths and all of us waiting for the next series of plants and flowers to bloom in and around the yard.  This was/is all well and good for them – but, as decades of mums would tell you, I would either need to lean into a theme of “old crone witch living deep in the forest with buckets of blackened roses and cupboards of poison” or invest all of my resources (and storage) into silk flowers.

Nevertheless, I press on.

We’re in a new house with a lovely front porch that is just perfect for decorating.  It’s so perfect, in fact, that the previous homeowner was known across Grand Forks for her amazing holiday décor, which is definitely the type of pressure I thrive on hahahahahahahahahaha.  When we first moved in, I went and got five beautiful bunches of red zinnias and planted them in big white pots in the hopes that it would trick the universe into thinking the old homeowner was still there and make them bloom into bundles of amazingness.

Unsurprisingly, they died.

Fortunately, they held on just long enough for Fall; and so last Saturday, I pulled those poor formerly-zinnias out of the pots (sorry again, plants) and decided that I would focus all of my efforts on putting up the most amazing autumn tchotchkie display anyone has ever seen.  Then, after Pinteresting ideas and reading an insane number of blogs on “DIY Decorating!,” I downgraded this great plan into one that had me setting out a small amount of pumpkins in a way that didn’t look like crap.

With my ten-year-old off playing with friends, my six-year-old and I loaded up into the car and drove 1,000 feet down the road to the neighbors’ houses, who had dozens of perfect pumpkins and gourds laid out across their yard and a “Pumpkins Sold Here” sign.

The pumpkins were neatly organized into $1, $3, $4, $5, $10, and $12 rows, and my strategy for a “small amount of pumpkins” just about went out the window when Six and I realized we liked ALL of the pumpkins and started stacking a gazillion of them into my trunk.  Finally, being a responsible grownup got the better of me, and we put back all but four of them (plus two little green ones) and rolled back home.  We set the pumpkins on the front steps – one per step – and the two little greenies by the door, shook hands, and Six ran off to play.

I stepped back to admire our work – and frowned.  Something wasn’t Pinterest-y enough about it.

I moved the green pumpkins down to the steps and shifted a few of the oranges over to look a bit more random and stepped back again.  Still not right.

I moved the greenies to the columns next to the door and the oranges all lumped together.  Nope.

I put all of them by the columns.  Nope again.

I moved all of the pumpkins to the bottom step.

Across the street, two teenagers were sunning themselves on the lawn.  Around the third iteration, one of them sat up and was watching me intently.

“Put the orange and green one on the top,” one shouted.  I did that.

“Put two by those columns,” he pointed.  I did it.

“Put the rest on the steps,” he said – and, having exerted all of the necessary effort, returned to lounging.

It looked great.

It still looks great.  It looks so great that I’m thinking about adding a front door wreath.  Obviously, I’ll be taking my neighbor to the store with me.

The photo above is Kyle’s artistic take on the green pumpkins.

This week’s news has an Opening Act, Oktoberfest, and a bad word.  Read on.

Mandan’s Brianna Helbling has been writing songs since she was seven years old, and is now gearing up for the quarter finals of “The Opening Act” competition. (KX Net)

Dickinson’s Out of the Darkness Community Walk raised over $30,000 in support of suicide prevention. [A side note on this: I participated in the Fargo walk – they happen all over the country – at the same time.  What struck me is how.many.sad.people. were there walking for each person lost to suicide.  If you are considering suicide, remember that there are so many people who will miss you and reach out to one of them for help.] (Dickinson Press)

For the next month, Medora will be home to Johnny Cash. (Dickinson Press)

A Williston mom got a letter from her Guard son, courtesy of a clerk at the post office. (KX Net)

Four Grand Forks teenagers were given a Saved by the Belt Award for wearing their seatbelts when their car rolled, saving all of their lives. (Grand Forks Herald)

Bismarck’s Madeline Erickson has been named the Youth Advocate of the Year by the national Tobacco-Free Kids organization for her work to eliminate vaping. (KX Net)

Last Saturday was Hankinson’s 19th annual Oktoberfest celebration, which starts with the traditional tapping of the keg. (Wahpeton Daily News)

Belfield’s Ruth Johnson was honored with the fourth-annual Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award, given to “spotlight positive actions done by local people with the purpose to build morale throughout the county.”  Bonus, the story includes a compliment from a former student, who wrote, “My teach is a b**ch and her name is Mrs. Johnson.” 🙂 (Dickinson Press)

Congratulations to North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year, Bret Dockter of Harvey! (KVRR)

Socks | October 29, 2020

I don’t think North Dakotans are under any misapprehension that it gets cold around here; there is, however, some inconsistency as to when it happens.  I personally don’t officially acknowledge winter weather until two things occur: 1) I turn on the furnace; and 2) I need to wear socks.

A few days ago, our digital weather systems – we have two, one in the front of the house and one in the back, because my husband doesn’t trust the sun – both read 24 degrees.  A gentle dusting of snow was beginning to fall from a blue-grey sky.  I was working diligently at our dining room table, wearing both a sweater and a sweatshirt.

“Do you think we should turn on the heat?” My husband, Kyle, asked, blowing on his hands as ice crystals began to form in his coffee.

I looked at the thermostat.  We had turned it from “Cool” to “Off” a while back in our annual fall-time ritual where we make a big show of opening the windows and forcing our children to breathe fresh air.  The digital reader on the thermostat was frosted over, but I’m pretty sure it read 62 degrees.

“No, it’s supposed to warm up,” I said.

“When?”  Kyle asked.

“Well, springtime, for sure,” I said, as a family of penguins waddled through the room.

For someone who goes out of her way to avoid mild inconveniences, I will live with refrigerator-like temperatures in my home if I think there’s even an inkling of a chance for 50-degree weather in the next 30 calendar days.  The thing is this: once I turn on the furnace, I’m acknowledging that I’m cold.  Cold is such a subjective feeling when you’re a North Dakotan because 30 degrees in October is glacial and 30 degrees in March is hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk.  Using that logic, my theory is that if I don’t know that it’s cold, it’s not cold.

I have a similar feeling about socks.

In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book “On the Banks of Plum Creek,” as soon as the frost is out of the ground, Ma packs away the children’s shoes and Laura and her sister go barefoot until the following winter.  A recurring theme in our marriage is Kyle’s disappointment in my shoe choices.  It’s a fair concern – I once went pheasant hunting in ballet flats – but I’ve come to realize the problem is much less with the shoes, and much more with the lack of socks.  Because, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, I will only wear socks if there’s three feet of snow on the ground.

Case in point: it was snowing the other day when I dropped the boys off at school, and so I naturally put on a down coat, stocking cap, and gloves to keep warm.  I also wore flip-flops, because it’s October and not January.  When I got home, I noticed that Kyle tucked my flip-flops in the hall closet and set out my much-more-sensible-but-requiring-of-socks boots.  I have since compromised by wearing slippers, because it’s definitely not cold enough for socks.

Speaking of socks, here’s an older story of one of my chillier Halloweens.  And speaking of October, I was sitting at the aforementioned dining room table when the sun came over the trees just right and turned everything a brilliant gold – the photo is above.  And speaking of North Dakota, here’s this week’s news – about National Adoption Month, some young honorary deputy sheriffs, and ornament makers.  Read on.

November is National Adoption Month, and so the Roman Family in Jamestown is holding a toy drive to make sure that foster kids have something of their own. (Jamestown Sun)

Even though Homecoming has been cancelled, NDSU students are getting out to “Serve the Herd” around the Fargo area. (KVRR)

Seventy-two North Dakota National Guardsmen are off to Washington D.C. for a national mission. (KX Net)

Three Glen Ullin teenagers helped a deputy sheriff with an arrest, and got an award for it. (Bismarck Tribune)

Have a field photo that you’re itchin’ to share?  The ND Corn Growers Association is looking for corn-related photos for their annual contest. (Jamestown Sun)

Minot’s Nancy Pietsch has published her first poetry book. (Minot Daily News)

My sons will bypass two bathrooms to go outside to go to the bathroom, so they would be all over this fancy outhouse in Harvey. (Fargo Forum)

There are 30 children in North Dakota looking for families through Adults Adopting Special Kids, an organization which helps place kids that are older, of a minority race, in a sibling group, or have physical, emotional, or psychological needs. (KFYR TV)

Mandan 4-Hers are beading up ornaments for the State Christmas Tree at the Morton County Law Enforcement Center. (Bismarck Tribune)

A good reminder for Katie Pinke to say thank you to the people who keep us humming. (Dickinson Press)

Twelve artists have been hired to paint murals in Bismarck’s Art Alley, including Mahalia Mees, who is featured in this article by KFYR TV. (KFYR TV)

Congratulations to Shawnee Kasemen, the newly-crowned Miss North Dakota! (McIntosh County Star Tribune)

Ten North Dakotans were honored by the National Extension Association for Family and Consumer Sciences for their work on health and nutrition programs for children. (McKenzie County Farmer)

(Like the story above?  Check out last week’s tale of a rad Halloween costume.)

Mums | October 8, 2020

I absolutely love autumn’s orange mums, and I absolutely cannot keep those mums alive.  Every year I come home from the garden center filled with hope and a pot of chrysanthemums.  Using every bit of knowledge known to man and Internet, I lovingly care for my mums every day, and then toss out their withered and brown remains two weeks later.

This year after a vase of cut flowers lasted longer than my mums, I decided to throw in the trowel and replace our fall décor with something a little less likely to die.  Specifically, hay.

I came to this decision totally on my own when I was at home both browsing Pinterest and watching our neighbor hay his field.  My husband was in town, and so I called him up to, you know, “Say Hay.”  Here was our conversation:

Me: I’m going to decorate the front stoop with hay bales.

Kyle: Sounds great.

Me: I need you to pick me up some bales.

Kyle: No problem.

Me: They will probably have them at Michael’s.


Me: I’ll text you a coupon.



Kyle: Do you care if I get them somewhere else?

For some unknown reason, my normally very-easygoing-of-a-shopper husband will go out of his way to avoid stepping foot into Michaels (or any of its competing craft stores).  I can only assume he’s afraid the scrapbooking materials will become sentient, band together, and transform into some kind of papercutting Godzilla.  That, or he doesn’t like mini shopping carts.

In this case, though, his feelings on hay-related shopping had nothing to do with avoiding silk flower displays and everyone to do with the fact that he wanted the real deal: big, beautiful, genuine North Dakota hay bales.  Hay bales that we could use by the front door in the fall, and as seating at our outdoor hockey rink in the winter, and as ignition for a bonfire in the spring.

In less than an hour, he had found a hay bale hookup, and so we piled the whole family into the truck to take the 5-minute drive to Reynolds to pick up some hay (and ice cream).  We pulled into a farm site piled high with golden-green bales.  Kyle and the owner chatted a bit about harvest-y stuff while our five-year-old ran around to get out his sillies, and then together they loaded up as many $3 bales, no coupon required, as could fit in the truck bed.

Now our front door looks nice and cheery, I don’t have to worry about watering anything, our nine-year-old can (and does) use the stacks as an army base, and Kyle lives to tell the tale of another missed Michael’s trip.  A photo is above.

Speaking of nice, this week’s news has a lifesaving story that could be a scene straight out of a movie, Rugby’s first female driver, and a request for donated masks. Read on.

Grafton nurse Mary Jo Schapp was awakened by gunshots and immediately went out to help – first saving the life of Officer Lucas Campoverde at the scene and then driving the ambulance to the hospital. (Fargo Forum)

As if a new school year isn’t big enough news, the kids at Williston’s Lewis & Clark Elementary also donated 6,000 food items to area food banks. (KX Net)

Rugby’s Dale Niewoehner has honored Millie Holbrook with a gravestone marker to signify her role in the suffragette movement – as both a local business owner and the first woman to drive a car in town. (KX Net)

Students at Fargo’s Josef’s School of Hair, Skin, and Body cut hair for free outside of the area Salvation Army. (Fargo Forum)

Have any unused masks lying around?  The North Dakota Veterans Home in Lisbon is looking for 110 cloth masks for its residents. (KX Net)

Four Minot firefighters traveled to Oregon for three weeks to help fight the wildfires. (KFYR TV)

Did you know Highway 91 in Harvey is (probably) the shortest highway in the U.S.? (KFYR TV)

Dickinson State athletic trainer Colby Wartman is now one of only 130 Power Athlete Block One Coaches in the world. (Dickinson Press)

The UND Environmental Law Society will be showing 13 films for free from the annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival on October 22.  Register by clicking here. (Grand Forks Herald)

As you know, I love murals – and the latest Fargo mural is designed both for visual interest and to raise awareness in breast cancer monitoring. (KVRR)

Here’s an interesting fact: there are only three historic Danish Mills in all of the U.S. – and one of them is in Kenmare.  Last year, the inside of the Kenmare Mill caught fire, and the community came together to get it fixed up. PS – this is an older article, but now is the perfect time to go and visit this beautiful mill. (Kenmare News)

After a terrible harvest last year, it’s great to see that the 2020 sugar beets are coming in under perfect conditions. (Grand Forks Herald)

(Like the story above?  Check out last week’s tale of an Icelandic fishing trip.)