Tag Archives: birthday

18 Going On 8: James, My Baby Brother

By: Mary

The other day I was attempting to get James to come with me for a haircut at a Salon in Lacrosse. ” I can’t go with you Mare, I’m a man” was his response. My response was ” No, you are not, you are my Baby Brother.” I am quite certain of this fact. However I do tend to forget that James is 18 now. What I remember more than his age is that he still can’t fry a pancake (but he has finally mastered buttering his own toast!). In a family as big as ours the birth order of each child really molds them permanently as the family grownups, middle children, and the babies. James is the 8th child and youngest boy.

To me he’s still one of the babies. Maybe that’s why I cut him slack even with his slightly marred track record of crashing my car, ruining my computer and lighting my hair on fire all in a years time. He’s not a bad kid at all. The mohawk he usually has in the summer time doesn’t really go with his persona. But it’s something that he does every year once school lets out. I must say, it’s quite becoming on him.

Recently James came home from school and informed me that he was voted best dressed for his high school senior class. This confused me because I am well accustomed to his home version of clothing that can range from trying a scarf on his head to raid a nest of bees like he did the other night, or wandering around doing field work with barefoot with an Amish hat on his head, or spending time outside in a most peculiar state such as this.

Don’t worry, the kid cleans up well. He doesn’t actually tend to wander about in capes. I think the general majority vote from his senior class would agree.

Although James is the shortest of the boys, he’s just as scrappy of a basketball player as any ot the rest of his brothers.

This is his last year of high school basketball and we are all rooting for him (even if his team doesn’t win a game all season which is highly probable).

In May he will graduate from Cashton high school. Maybe than I will start to believe that he’s not my baby brother anymore. What he will choose to do thereafter is still a mystery. Regardless of what he does and where he goes, I am positive that he will achieve great things that far surpass mastering frying his own pancakes and being the best dressed baby brother in the district.

Belated Birthday of a Beauty

by Kate

I can’t remember birthdays, but I do remember a vast collection of verses and  fragments of lullabies. These have been defining characteristics of my role as eldest of nine children. I have managed to consistently remember the birthday of one brother, closest in age to myself, and after that I lost track entirely of the dates, months, and even seasons that marked the entrance of my younger siblings into our family. However, I sang most of the younger ones to sleep on a regular basis, and read all of  The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings out loud on long Wisconsin winter nights and languid summer ones, too.

That is why I am writing this birthday post about my beautiful little sister Colleen today….

instead of yesterday, which was her birthday. I know it was her birthday, because I saw it on facebook today. There is no use pretending anything else, as Colleen knows me too well.

I am thinking about Colleen today, and that although I did not remember her birthday yesterday, I do vividly remember the perfection of her tiny hands and fingernails hours after she was born. I remember the delight in her eyes as a toddler, her thumb in her mouth and her other arm outstretched to greet the world. Colleen never crawled. As the seventh child, she didn’t need to. She scooted about a bit and the rest of the time she was carried on someone’s hip, stretching her arm out imperiously to indicate the direction she wished to go.

Colleen still greets the world with delight, and after she started walking, she never stopped running.

She is exuberant, elegant, and extraordinary, this little sister of mine.

On this day after Colleen’s birthday, I am grateful for the many gifts that she has given me. Thank you, little sister, for teaching me to sing soft lullabies to tired toddlers curled in a pile of blankets. Thank you for teaching me to take long walks with little children, taking time to really see the huge silvery moon hanging over the woods on a snowy evening and the way the clouds roll in slowly over the ridge.

Thank you for playing dress up as a small child, and as a beautiful girl, and for running through the garden in silken rags at any age.

Thank you for the poem you wrote and gave to me at my wedding, when you were a bridesmaid in a vintage ballgown…

The poem that made me cry for an hour, until my new husband said “Kate! It’s your wedding! You are supposed to be happy!” and I tried to explain through my tears that I was.

Thank you for being so happy, and for bringing so much joy and music and laughter into our family.

Thank you for being my little sister, and for teaching me so much.

Maybe next year, I’ll even remember your birthday… ON your birthday. (But probably not.)

Exuberant Daughter

by Kate

The peach blossoms have fallen, the tulips are blooming, and today my daughter turns two years old.

Long limbed, curly haired, and exuberant, this child runs so fast that her feet barely skim the ground.

I have to run to keep up with this child- because she is so fast, because the world delights her so much and she is chasing it with open arms.

We catch her and hold her safe between her wild leaps of faith…

And give her a place to rest.

This year has been full of good things. Lots of books…

And music,

And dancing.

Lots of mischief…

And lots of beauty.

You are blooming, Olympia Julianna. Happy second birthday to you!

And now I’m off to make the chocolate cake I wrote one year ago. You can find the recipe and the story of Olympia’s very first birthday here:

Kate’s Chocolate Cake

A Family Friend So Dear to Us

by Clare

This man is crazy. But in a good way.

Peter Drake has been living with us since I was five years old, and I can barely, if at all, remember a time when he wasn’t in our house. At times this makes me angry, feeling that I shouldn’t have to share my family and my home all my life with a man who’s not even related. But I know that Peter has been nothing but a gift to us, and living here has been a giant blessing for him.

Peter is a very eccentric person, truly one of a kind. After leaving the Navy, he spent much of his money buying an encyclopedia set and read the entire thing. And somehow he retained all that knowledge, spouting out things most people will never know. He loves digging into visitor’s family backgrounds, and gets awful excited when he finds something interesting (he loves to tell everyone about how he is 1/32 African American). He often comments on how much he’s enjoyed meeting our family and our family’s friends, and how these people are some of the best he’s ever met. He especially enjoys telling Ole and Lena jokes, which are always a crowd pleaser.

He grew up in what was probably the craziest town with the craziest people who ever lived, and the stories he tells about his younger days are things you’d think only happen with characters from a ridiculous Hollywood film. A lover of all things Norwegian, he often attends Norwegian events in the area, and loves parish lutefisk suppers.

Peter is not a picky person to house. He eats pretty much everything we serve, and loves it, and it very quiet and peaceful. Except for when he is on the phone. I think he think that for the person on the other line to hear you, you have to shout very loudly and distinctly into the phone. It’s kind of amusing. He only complains when his heater is not heating his room well enough, or if, God forbid, the coffee runs out. For Peter, when the coffee runs out, the world stops.

Peter’s a hater of sports, and couldn’t care less about any of it. My dad teases him terribly about it, asking him if he’s been keeping up with the Green Bay Packers, and if he thinks they’re defense is off or not. This disturbs Peter greatly, and makes him raise his voice and shake is head and state , “I don’t know, I don’t know!” There are often a few swear words mixed in too. Swear words are a regular part of Peter’s vocabulary. I think it’s just a habit. He and my dad have kind of a love-hate relationship. They’ve been friends for years, and my Dad’s the reason Peter’s not still stuck in a nursing home.

He’s also extremely generous, and is always giving away Social Security money to a worthy cause. A convert to Catholicism, he sometimes has trouble making it over across the road to church, because he’s often struck with a sudden dizziness that inhibits him from making the long walk. We call it dizzy disease, but we should call it a mental disease, because its all in his head. There’s nothing wrong with him really.

Fact is, I could tell you a million things about Peter Drake, and I’d still have more to say about him. He’s a character alright, and we’re sure glad to know him.

Happy Birthday, Peter Drake!

Climbing the Silo

By: Mary

For years now I have been eyeing up a lone silo nestled within the woodsy swell of a quiet valley, when running or driving by on  the county road that curves into the said valley. The abandoned image of the silo has enchanted me, and fed into a desire to explore the location instead of simply passing by.

 Recently, I mentioned my hope of climbing the silo to Cale. His response was  “set a date.” Last Saturday, Cale and Clare did just that. Initially, I was reserved to embark on the adventure because of a past track record of adventures with Cale that ended up being a little too much of an adventure. The two of us have had to find out the hard way that police really do show up when offroading….

Putting my apprehension (or logic) aside, I was eager to hop out of my cousins 4-runner and start making my way thru the tall browning weeds.

Clare and I took a moment to pretend that we were Southern. We blew cotton pods into the wind. Pretend is a key word! There was nothing southern about the landscape and us ridge folk adventuring about in the late afternoon sunlight.

Eventually we came to a little winding crick. Cale came up with a way for all of us to cross. He has been saying recently that he wants to get all into being  self sufficient and outdoorsy, so this was  perfect practice. My rain boots are leaky because I have worn them out this season, so I counted on his innovation to get across the water without soaked feet and legs.

After cresting a slope, we hit snarled brambles. Clare did not like this at all. My  wise advice was for her to pretend to be Sacagawea. My little sister didn’t like my wisdom at all.

Finally, we reached the silo which I have come to associate as a fortress. I crawled into the base of it. There I surveyed the plant life and empty beer cans and bottles that are embedded within its dark crevice.

Clare looked at the ladder and vetoed the climb. I was relieved because well… she is my baby sister. I am too possessive of her to think it a good idea for her to climb on an old dangerous ladder just because. But Cale is a carpenter, and spends much of his time on the top of roofs. He had no hesitations about skimming up to the top after me to reach the platform that covers the top of the silo.

From the elevated rim of the little lone silo/tower, the valley view was spectacular.

 The pre-dusk trek and climb was also spectacular. Sacagawea would have been proud.

Until next time,


For Mary

by Kate

Mary Brigid is my summer sister.

She blooms in the spring, when the sun rises over the ridges and melts the snow and cold away. Mary is a farmer, a horsewoman, and a lover of light. In the summer she can leave the farmhouse at dawn and spend the day cutting flowers for a huge ridge wedding or for the altar at church.

Mary slips into the garden with a pair of scissors and quietly creates beautiful bouquets, then places them on a windowsill or the center of the old woodstove, cool and waiting in the warmth of summer. She bakes cookies and cakes and pies for her brothers and sisters and the constant stream of guests at Sweet Ridge Farm, and then she is off. She is full of generosity, and brings great beauty into our lives, but she is elusive and hard to capture, a little like the horses she loves so much.

She will always stop and smile for a certain crowd. For her adoring court of nieces and cousins, Mary is a beautiful queen with long golden hair.

Mary is my summer sister, and when the wind turns cold and the sky turns iron grey and starts to spit sleet and snow, her spirits sink. Without the warmth of the sun, it is so much harder for her to find the beauty and the joy in life. Winter is a hard season for my sister Mary, but Mary is one of the toughest and most generous women I know. She has fought the darkness by opening her arms and heart and going straight into the cold to bring the love of God to others. She spent a winter teaching Native children on a reservation in North Dakota at St. Ann’s Indian Mission and School.  She spent another long cold winter in Wyoming, working with horses and troubled teenage girls. Mary is really good with both skittish horses and teens.

Presumably because Wyoming and North Dakota winters weren’t tough enough, Mary headed off to spend the winter at an orphanage in Vladivostok, Russia.

The darkness of winter and the poverty were far deeper in Russia. Many of the orphans were born with AIDS. All of them needed all the love my sister Mary could pour out, and a whole lot more.

I am so proud of my sister Mary, who is one of the most courageous and loving women I know. I am proud of her for facing the darkness of winter and sadness and fear and striding out to North Dakota, Wyoming, and Russia.

I am grateful to have a sister with such a warm heart, and fierce desire to love God and to love the broken hearted. I am grateful to have a sister who brings such beauty and comfort into so many lives.

Today is the autumn birthday of my summer sister.

My wish for her is to spend a winter in the sunlight.

Kate’s Chocolate Cake

by Kate

The forsythia is in bloom.

I fell in love with forsythia in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in the early spring, when the mountains are blue and grey and white with fog. Before the green starts to steal over the hills the forsythia flames out through the mist, fiery and golden against the dull hues of chilly winter. Last year I noticed the flowers flaming into life as I trudged up the steep hills of Pittsburgh nine months pregnant and hoping to deliver at any moment, and I thought that if I had a girl I would name her Forsythia for this bright bud that explodes with color and dramatically ushers in the spring. I walked down to the river beneath my house and returned home with my arms full of woody stems three feet long, arranged them in a tall glass on the table, and waited for my baby to blossom.

Last year was warm, much warmer than this long cold spring, and the magnolia tree in the neighbor’s yard had burst forth in a lush cascade of blossoms. It was the perfect time for a baby.

We didn’t name her Forsythia, we named her Olympia Julianna.

Olympia is a saints name, after all- a perfectly respectable Greek widow, wise and appealing to my mother who was willing to tolerate eccentricity if it was appropriately linked to a powerful saint of some sort. Yesterday was Olympia’s birthday. It has been a beautiful year. My tiny blossom of a baby has grown into a curly haired staggering toddler, already dancing as she hurtles unsteadily across the floor.

There have been several birthdays already this past month, and Olympia has had ample opportunity to acquire a taste for chocolate cake. I have had ample opportunity to practice making the cakes. Baking is something I utterly neglected throughout my entire 20’s. When I began again as a newlywed bride I was grateful for the many hours I spent baking for my younger siblings as a homeschooler. I was also grateful for a magical cookbook that I received as a wedding present.

This cookbook is a compilation of recipes and a celebration of the life of Kate Hundt. The Hundt family are the royalty of the ridge where I grew up. When my family arrived, new and ragged and Irish and odd, they graciously reached out calloused and welcoming hands. Kate was an elegant and beautifulwoman, an incredible matriarch who raised 11 children on a windy remote ridge. The kids milked the cows and worked on the farm and then went on to a one room school in Middle Ridge, WI and then out into the world to study in Rome, join the peace corp, see the world . Some of the kids moved on to the big city, some of them stayed at home to continue ruling the ridge, battling it out between conventional and organic farming and all possessing an incredible intelligence, work ethic, and strength of personality. Kate was an artist in the kitchen and an amazing painter as well. The cover of the book features one of her paintings, and the pages are full of her artwork and stories gathered from her children and grandchildren, who are roughly as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

One of my favorite things about the cookbook is that it features journal entries that Kate wrote.

I love that the journal entries are a few lines each. This reminds me that I don’t have to write an epic sweep of pages every time I pick up my journal, an and encourages me to do it more often. I also love reading bits of life that remind me of the ridges and the people of home.

Inside Kate’s cookbook, I found what I consider at the moment to be the perfect chocolate cake.  This recipe was contributed by Kate’s daughter in law Dawn, a formidable matriarch in her own right. I have used it as a sheet cake for several birthday parties and festive occasions, and it has been an amazingly easy and consistent recipe. For Olympia’s birthday, I attempted to create a layer cake.

Looking back on my stint as a homeschooling baker, I seem to recall every single layer cake I made falling apart. I crossed my fingers and hoped that perhaps the years would somehow magically have imparted to me vital missing knowledge. This was not the case. Although the cakes coming out of the oven were as fragrant and moist and perfect as ever, my attempt to ease them out of the round pans onto the cooling rack was a disaster and they fell into several pieces. It looked like my barbarian brothers had attacked them, wresting away greedy fistfuls.  However! All hope was not lost. I was determined to try a new chocolate frosting at the request of my husband. The frosting (also from the Kate Hundt cookbook)  luckily turned out to have the thick rich consistency required to architecturally reconstruct the shape of a layer cake.

Having staved off disaster by spackling the cake back together, I needed to let it set. I knew the frosting would harden a bit at a cool temperature, but there was not even a remote chance I could fit the thing into my refrigerator. Luckily for me, this spring has been bitterly cold, forestalling all but the most determined blooming, and the afternoon was chilly with a good chance of snow. The back porch beckoned, but there is something about the thought of setting baked goods outside which perturbs me. I am not sure if this is because if this is because I am a country girl afraid that a stray chicken will attack it, or because as a child I read too many books involving hobos stealing pies from the open window of the pantry. I ignored my instincts, though, and put the cake out to cool and set. An hour later, I fetched it back in. The cold spring air had worked its magic, and the cake was almost perfect, except for the slight fact that my country girl instincts had been correct and a tiny corner of the thick chocolate frosting had indeed been attacked by one happy city mouse- or something. I sighed, and cut off that section of that cake, smoothed out the frosting, and gathered it up for the birthday party. I think that is what Kate Hundt would have done.

And so, Olympia had her birthday cake.

She was wildly appreciative.  Wild being the operative word.

Here is the recipe for the perfect chocolate birthday cake and thick, rich chocolate frosting.

Kate’s Chocolate Cake

4 squares unsweetened chocolate                1 t vanilla

½ stick butter                                                        1 2/3 cup boiling water

2 1/3 cup flour                                                       2 cups sugar

½ cup sour cream                                                 2 eggs

2 t baking soda                                                        1 t salt

Combine chocolate, butter, and water. Stir till chocolate is melted and smooth. Add remaining ingredients and beat till smooth. Pour batter in a greased 9×13 pan or 2 layer pans. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes depending on your oven. You want it to be beyond gooey, but still moist and not overdone. If you are making a layer cake, cool on wire rack at your own risk. If you have any tips on getting cakes out of pans onto wire racks, please please leave a message in the comments with advice on this matter.

A couple notes on ingredients. I often use baking cocoa instead of bars of baking chocolate. I finally researched the substitution ratio for cocoa/bar chocolate and it has been incredibly helpful to me because now I can switch back and forth at will. Sometimes I mix the two forms together to create an added depth of chocolate.  Here is the ratio:

1 square chocolate (1 0z) = 3 T cocoa + 1 T butter/oil/shortening

Haha! Who said homeschoolers can’t do math!

Also, I substituted buttermilk for the sour cream yesterday and it turned out perfectly. Now, onto the frosting.

Thick Chocolate Frosting

3/4  stick butter                                               1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 t vanilla                                                             2 squares unsweetened chocolate

2 egg whites                                                        dash salt

Cream butter and add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and blend. Add vanilla, melted chocolate, and salt. Mix well. Beat egg whites until stiff and gradually add remaining cup of powdered sugar, 2 T at a time. Beat after each addition. If you are incredibly motivated, beat till mixture stands in peaks. Fold in chocolate mixture.

A couple notes on this one. For some reason I rarely buy powdered sugar. I think it has some anti-caking ingredient that may be unhealthy but really I am just cheap and lazy. When a recipe calls for powdered sugar I simply pour some sugar into my coffee grinder and powder it. This works like a charm. As for the eggs- yesterday I discovered that when the eggs are warm, they whip up much quicker. I was using a wire whisk and doing it by hand, so this was an important discovery for me. I suggest setting the eggs you will be using for the frosting out when you begin baking- they will have ample time to warm up a bit.

And with that, I am going to head to the kitchen and cut a tiny slice of leftover birthday cake. Let me know if you have any questions, please tell me how to get the layer cake out of the pans without disaster, watch out for city mice and country mice and hobos. Good luck. Happy Birthday!


For more about the story of Olympia’s entrance into our lives, click here.

Birthday and a Bunny

Today is Clare’s birthday.

Although she will always be the baby of our family it is becoming increasingly clear that she is growing into a beautiful young woman. Happy birthday, little sister!

Birthday Bunny– by Clare

Today being my birthday, I figured I would share one of my most prominent birthday memories.

On my 4th birthday, I received what I consider out of all the birthday presents I’ve ever gotten, to be the best one.

My birthday was usually on the same date as The Swap, an event our family had been going to for a few years, where people mainly from around central Wisconsin brought various kinds of animals to trade or sell. Because I was only 4, I was considered “too young” to go, and was left at home with my mom. But all my unhappiness faded when my dad and older siblings returned, and I found that, to my delight, my brother Raphael had bought me a gray bunny for my birthday. I named the rabbit Hoppy Gray, a step up from Warm Belly, the name I had wanted to give Mary’s pony. I’m still teased about the Warm Belly name, but hey, I was only 4 and that pony did have a warm belly.

Hoppy Gray first lived in a cage outside, and then when the colder weather set in, was moved to the woodbox inside our house, where he was soon joined by Bella, Mary’s goat. Bella and Hoppy Gray got along quite well, and I always liked to consider them as best friends. There are lots of great memories surrounding that gray rabbit, and he was part of the whole family’s life. Mostly because they all had to deal with his droppings on the floor and having to watch where they stepped so as not to step on him. I’m not very responsible when it comes to taking care of animals, and I was just a little kid, so I never really had to care for him, but this did not keep me from making sure everyone knew that he was mine, and so I got to hold him the most, and he had to love me best. So of course I was very unhappy when my cousins would come over, take him out of his cage, and either try to squeeze him to death, or chase him around our downstairs. I remember crying as about 7 of my screaming cousins herded him into a tiny space behind our sink.

Sadly, after a year or so, Hoppy Gray escaped from the cage we had left him in outside. After that, I did see him once or twice , hopping around in our fields, and I still think of him whenever I see a gray rabbit, and wonder whatever happened to him after he ventured out into the great outdoors.


Kate’s note: After reading this I rummaged around in my old journal and found an entry about Hoppy Grey. I thought I would share the entry as well.

April 8th, 2001

Colleen has lost her voice and brought a kitten to bed. We have had Mary’s baby goat, Bella, living in the house for a month and a half. Bella finally moved out the day that Dad and the kids came back from the swap meet with a rabbit, a pigeon, another goat, 4 muscovie ducks, and a mallard. Four of the ducks flew away and were lost forever immediately upon arrival. The pigeon temporarily lived inside until Mom discovered the catastrophic mess under the makeshift birdcage consisting of chicken crates stacked upon each other. The rabbit- Hoppy Grey, name courtesy of Clare- has been given the goat’s former crate in a corner of the living room. Now we have a kitten. It is a general menagerie.