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Phynix Blog

Apple picking! Please?

Heather Neufeldt

This weekend the weather was beautiful. (A relative rarity in Minnesota.) So we decided to go apple picking. First off - I was loving being outside. It wasn’t cold it wasn’t hot it was sincerely perfect. I have two teenage daughters and we also have a teenage exchange student from Berlin and she’s wonderful. That said our house is basically drowning in hormones. Sometimes that’s great … ok truthfully it is never great, we are lucky if it is not loud emotional insanity inducing on the daily. I grew up in the dark ages, apparently, so I don’t understand anything that my kids are facing. According to them (exchange student excluded) I was a baby, a little kid, an adult and then a Mom. My husband and I must have skipped over the teen years because we are clueless about the world that our girls are facing. I have now gotten to the stage where I tell people that my favorite parenting years were the ones when the girls couldn’t talk (since now all they do is talk). Sanity is optional and most days they tend to opt out. If I suggest that my eldest works more hours at her retail job I am tactfully informed (at the top of her lungs) that I must want her to fail out of high school (cue door slam). My other daughter regularly reacts to small perceived slights (what do you mean ok) with fury - complete fury - I swear that girl could clear a city block. Thank goodness that we live in the country or the police would be called out to respond on a regular basis. The drama is R E A L.

You can probably imagine what our apple picking experience was like then. First getting everyone ready to walk out the door at the same time was a small miracle. My hubby is German so when he says you have thirty minutes to get ready he means 30 minutes and not a minute longer. This presents the first challenge. Eldest daughter is in a quandary about which skirt is more ‘Instagramable’ - that’s a thing? The exchange student is attempting to help while also asking about which shoes would be best. My husband and I said boots. The weather was perfect but it hasn’t been so perfect leading up to our outing. ‘Buzzer’ wrong answer. It was converse high tops according to my youngest daughter. She was ready in five minutes flat but then went down to our basement and began playing piano. Normally I am thrilled that she enjoys practicing but today this is NOT a good thing. When she’s playing nothing else exists. She plays and the house could be on fire and she’d still be sitting there finishing the piece she was working on. The end analysis is that she’s going to finish what she started whether or not she is finished within hubby’s timeline. AND I needed a shower - my own iPhone does not recognize my face when I wake; up so going out without a shower is not an option. I decide to prioritize my shower; my husband has already been out and about so he’s showered and ready to go. I hop into the warm water and BOOM eldest daughter has a crisis that only I can deal with “Where is my cute ochre skirt? Mom this is serious and Papa never knows where anything is!” Ok I wrap a towel come to the door and scream out a few places that she should check. Truthfully her room is basically a topographical map of clothing - there’s a mountain of jeans right next to the valley of makeup that butts up to the river of underwear. I do my best to never ever go in there in the fear that I’ll end up getting swallowed up by the sweaters! She yells back that she neeeeeeeeeds me to come help her. Ok sweetie no, just no. If you can’t find it wear something else. This was not an acceptable answer and was followed by an emotional outburst she could have won an Oscar for. I get out of the shower to hear hubby yelling down to the youngest that she has ten minutes before we leave so she needs to wrap it up. To this update of status the youngest gets angry and starts loudly slamming on the keys of the piano. That will teach us - she’s going to ruin the tuning of the piano to teach us a lesson. Very practical response seeing as she is the ONLY person in the house who plays. I have finished my hair and am in the process of considering makeup when time is called. Hubby yells out that it is now time to go and he means it. To be 100% fair to my husband his thirty minutes turned into an hour and a half of emotional outbursts, screaming complaints and tantrums (terrible two’s my ass). Now we are all getting into the car - I did not, in fact, manage to put makeup on. Once everyone has started climbing into the car my eldest says “l think I need to take Mom’s car.” At this comment an argument between hubby and eldest ensues. He says that we don’t need to waste the gas; she implies that she, her sister and exchange student might not want to participate in ‘other’ lame activities after the apple picking. Because really all she needs from apple picking is the photos - she doesn’t actually need to pick apples, right? This was the wrong thing to say to hubby because now he is sincerely irritated by her ‘teen-ness’. It’s my turn now to get involved and simmer things down: Sweetie (husband) maybe it would be a good idea to let her take the car. That way if we want to go somewhere afterward (read winery, dinner, hot tub, pretty much anything we enjoy doing as a couple) they can head out and do their own thing. This was agreed and we finally hit the road - a full two hours after our proposed launch time.

At the apple orchard there are myriad opportunities for Instagram posts with the sunlight in the right direction and the perfect round red apple selected. Photos were taken - girls with arms over one another’s shoulders, girls reaching up to pick a beautiful apple, girls riding piggy-back with one another, girls biting into a delicious apple and so on. This took about ten minutes. Both the older girls were more than prepared to leave - but because the weather was nice and there were apples there were the inevitable bugs. Lady bugs were everywhere in our hair, our boots you name it. So they were ready to go - sans apples. Then we got some seriously blank stares (at this point I am coming to the realization that teenagers everywhere are very similar because we got blank stares from the exchange student as well). Ok it’s time for a compromise let’s actually pick some apples off of the trees and put them into the bags we were provided. That way I can make applesauce, and apple muffins, and apple crisp, and apple pie, and any other recipes including apples that are readily available on the web. Another twenty minutes of quality time with three teenage girls ensued- we had achieved the impossible. What followed was time to weigh and pay. And now at the checkout there are T-Shirts - so we came, we posted, we picked AND we got the t-shirts to prove it. So the math goes like this: hubby expects 30 minutes to be enough time for us to get ready to go - he’s off by an hour and a half - so 2 hours getting ready - 25 minute drive to the orchard and then 20 minutes of photography, social media and apple picking. Two hours and forty-five minutes of quality time with three teenagers; that is a win in my book!

Hubby and I head off to a local winery to celebrate and build up our strength to keep our heads above the raging ocean of hormones that doubles as our home.

Minnesota Misery

Heather Neufeldt

So we are still here, still in Minnesota and still covered in snow. Shortly after my kids “snow-cation” my husband blurts out “if it’s gonna snow I want it to snow in record levels. Like the most snow ever.” I told him then and I reiterate now “Don’t tempt fate!” Well, fate was tempted and she responded (of course fate is a woman, she’s listening to all those complaints and constantly remembering the things we want her to forget) Cue a blizzard. We got something like 12 inches in one day. On the surface that doesn’t sound bad at all, right? A foot of snow should be easy to shovel or move. Um no, just very very no. We have lots of wind over here which means snow drifts. It’s at this point where I seriously recommend watching Little House on the Prairie. Poor Charles Ingalls would have one success then the weather would change and his life would suck again and he’d lose it all (fate can be a real b*&%h can’t she) But, to be more specific, there’s and episode in which the Ingalls family experiences a blizzard. One particular scene sticks out in my memory - there’s a rope strung from the house to the barn; so that whoever goes out to check on the animals can make it back again (that or they had an incredibly smart trained horse - more firewood Bunny (Laura Ingalls apparently had a sense of humor when it comes to naming horses)). In the episode it was snowing and there are high winds so it was freezing cold and you couldn’t see a thing (maybe the horse would have faired better?). Back to non-TV Minnesota and the wind here IS crazy and our snow drifts are now reaching record breaking heights. My husband got his snow; and, for a while, it wasn’t so cold that going outside was life threatening. My older daughter wanted get out to take some “cute instagram pics” but the younger one had more architectural asperations. In the end, my kids dug a tunnel (an actual tunnel) - they proposed digging all the way to my office in the barn for me. I politely declined because I can’t see myself with six or seven glass jars and a hot cup of tea crawling across the yard to my office. . In the end we did get to go outside! Fresh Air and blinding sunlight (when everything is sparkly white the reflections are insane. Sunglasses are definitely called for). Thank goodness: it kept them busy for almost an hour!

As a sidebar: I remember when the kids were babies and toddlers and I would put on Baby Einstein or Disney Jr to get enough time to have a shower. Now my kids are teens who sequester themselves into their respective rooms; yes, that means that I am not seeing everything they do… But now I can’t see ANYTHING they do! Which honestly is more stressful for me. The internet is forever; when they do stupid things there’s a record of it and most probably a picture. My parents had the ‘baby in the bathtub’ pictures; I’m going to have an archive to choose from. My husband and I are in agreement that they should not have TV’s in their rooms. However; that has to be our most pointless rule, because they have computers. That’s, in truth, all they need; with the computer they can access YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. So when they are home I end up ‘accidentally’ going upstairs a lot. “Did you need your backpack?” “I have your laundry.” “I thought I heard you call me.” With them outside ‘sort of’ hanging out together I had an hour off from worrying about the internet and all that goes with it. You can’t text and dig at the same time, right, right? That’s how I feel and what I want to believe so it’s true… la la la I can’t hear you.

My husband did get out his snow blower but after hours of pushing it around he only got the garage pad cleared off. For my part I dug out our porch. When I say dug out I mean DUG out. With the wind we had about three feet of snow piled on our porch - I would open the door and just get a strange look from the dogs “really mom?”. That had to be one of my least favorite jobs ever…ever. While ‘happily?’ Shoveling out the snow I came to the frightening realization that there isn’t anywhere for the snow to go - I resorted to throwing shovels full of snow off of the porch. Essentially that means that the steps and path leading to the porch are covered. Impassable covered, I would say that the pile is around waist height at this point. My office, too, got snowed out; yup one of my lovely dogs managed to open the door and I didn’t notice in time to keep a drift out of there. Of course that needed to be shoveled and swept out - quickly. But whilst walking over to the barn where my office is located I got to a point in the yard where I would have had to swim or tunnel over (too bad my girls were at school, a tunnel would really be handy now). The snow was at my waist and I really feel like there was some more give in there so the next step could end up over my head. I can see the headlines now “Idiot woman freezes to death in her own back yard; only to be discovered by her chihuahua (sad emoji)”. I turned around and high tailed it back to the house; I couldn’t traumatize my chihuahua like that. After returning home from work and watching me struggle for a while my husband ended up shoveling a path to the office. Bless him he spent more than an hour shoveling the snow out of my office ~ sometimes I think I’m so lucky; and then sometimes I think this snow is his fault anyway. I went in and took care of the detail work and generally getting it all cleaned up. When he finally came in sweaty and tired all I could think was: want some more snow NOW? (But I’m a good wife (sometimes) and didn’t say it out loud, so I wrote it here). Happy Winter

Parenting Teenagers in the Morning

Heather Neufeldt

Firstly I have to say that I love my girls; with everything that I am. They are two sweet, intelligent generous kids who will move on to change the world one day. That said - they make me crazy! I am not talking a little I am talking get out the straight jackets and padded cell crazy. The worst for me is the morning. I am not a morning person, never have been. My husband learned early in our marriage that I’m not going to be hopping out of bed in the morning a la Snow White or Cinderella singing with cute birds and forest animals surrounding me. Nope I’m probably closer to an annoyed mole rat - blind (without contacts or glasses), running into things, and randomly grunting. So he approaches me with caution in the morning: cup of tea in hand. My children just have not gotten the memo. My older daughter regularly comes running down yelling about not being able to find a shirt or pair of jeans. (Sidebar - this daughter prefers to keep her clothes in convenient piles on her bedroom floor. Thus making finding things such as t-shirts and jeans ‘easy’ for her?) She will storm - loudly and mostly panicked - into my bedroom and start searching through my clothes. I don’t tend to wear crop tops and jeans that are so ripped they might as well be shorts so I never know why she looks through my things. But this method of waking is disturbing to say the least. If I get up and groggily help her it isn’t fast or thorough enough and if I try to stay in bed I’m a horrible person and I don’t “understaaaaaaand” how important today is for her. Good morning Mom. My younger daughter prefers to play brinkmanship and see just how late she can arise and still make it to school before the morning bell. Another “fun” habit of this daughter is to set her alarm as loud as possible and then ignore it. At one point she had both our dogs from China in her bedroom.; when they woke up at dawn she slept through it. They barked and whined and scratched the door - and they ended up pooping in her room - all while she was asleep, leaving me to come upstairs to get the dogs and still need to wake the child! She also, helpfully, decides to sleep anywhere and everywhere randomly. The basement sofa, the bean bag in the game room, the guest room in the basement and so on. Luckily with her habit of setting her alarm to wake the dead I am usually able to find her relatively easily (see above mole rat reference). Her particular irritating habit is not showering the night before so when she wakes up with three minutes to get ready she gets insanely angry (at both her sister and myself) about not having time to shower. Great, more angry teen angst at the best time of the day for me. I do try to make breakfast. When we first moved back from China I went all in for breakfast. Seriously, I would make French toast, pancakes, poached eggs - you name it and I would make it. But then a minor problem presented itself, they did name it… all of them older daughter wanted pancakes, younger daughter wanted French toast and hubby wanted poached eggs on the same morning. You know those Moms who plan the night before for breakfast and lunch and are prepared for whatever the kids and hubby throws at them? That’s. Not. Me. I am the exhausted Mom who staggers into the kitchen running into the center island who ends up exploding the pod in the coffee maker and swearing her head off. Breakfast is a struggle but I love my kids (who by the way are big enough to make their own breakfast) so I try to pull it off. I will admit I am not successful the majority of the time. But when I do make the effort the usual response is one daughter crying or yelling and the other telling me that they aren’t hungry. I know, I know why try? I still haven’t figured that one out. Once that is finished we get into the car. A while ago my husband cancelled our Sirius XM subscription so I was providing the music from my phone. This, apparently, was not OK. Younger daughter would immediatly put in headphones at a volume so high that you could hear her music from other cars. This habit creates issues with older daughter who can’t hear her music, (she sits in the front because she is the first one dropped off) which she insists on for at least five of the ten minutes it takes to get to school. In addition to music we have the “I forgot my…” or “you took my…” and the perennial “I feel like crap - gag gag gag”. There are honestly days when I want an ejector button. The first fight, tears or whining and bang out they go. I have also toyed with the idea of carrying a squirt gun and squirting them when they annoy me - the same method used for dogs. I have played that scenario (crying because they are wet, screaming at me, or causing the police to pull me over because of erratic driving and if I can’t handle my own teens I am not going to do well with the police) out in my head and it isn’t worth it. Some days are good; like the day we saw a snow rainbow and spent the whole ride singing the Rainbow Connection together. But that’s kind of like winning the lottery while simultaneously being struck by lightening. IE Rare, very rare. Next year my eldest will have her drivers license so my driving the girls to school is a finite experience. I’m sure that I will miss… that is a total lie I am not going to miss it I am going to sleep in.

Stuck in the Tundra

Heather Neufeldt

I have been trapped in my house with my kids during a Minnesota snow/temperature emergency for what feels like forever (for all of us). We are all going full blown bonkers. I’ve moved as much wood as I possibly could (we have a wood burning stove for heat) And we have managed to keep the fire going. Seriously last time the kids were home this much I ran off and adopted a dog! This time I feel like taking said dog/dogs and hibernating in my basement while stuffing myself with junk food and watching tv until my eyeballs fall out. The girls are getting bored and the dogs are getting bored and freaked out. They, the dogs, cry for me to open the door and then I open the door and they look at my like “you don’t seriously expect me to go out there?”. Then they’re off to another door; because, surely it isn’t as cold outside the front door. I understand on all fronts: it’s no fun being sequestered for three days in a row with your mom. Even my youngest daughter, who was thrilled to miss school is getting tired of being inside. And since the cold temperatures have pretty much closed everything down there really isn’t anywhere to go either. They have started coming to me for entertainment. If Netflix isn’t cutting it I don’t know what I can offer: UNO? So far the dogs have been happy cuddling and chasing balls and getting extra chew toys. Lord knows what I’ll do when they get tired of that. I may have to hide in the basement all on my own. The amazing thing about the kids is that they can be watching something on the computer, texting friends and still be bored. Insanity will set in. There was a suggestion of cleaning out their back packs and washing coats to help fight germs when they return to school. I’m pretty sure that I have more than enough to worry about getting done (keeping pipes from freezing, extra laundry from all the days at home, cooking, cleaning and um working) The girls have reminded me that “I couldn’t possibly understand.” I have finally realized once my children passed into their teenage years: I ceased to have any function knowledge of anything. In fact, I am lucky I can still use the facilities! At any rate being in the same kettle of fish has not convinced my girls that we are sharing this particular strain of cabin fever. I have also been chasing the dogs around with a piddle pad desperate to catch them before their little bladders let lose. At -65 degrees I don’t want to be outside, much less, outside up to my ears in snow and attempting to use the toilet. So now I have started wracking my brain to come up with suggestions and activities for both kids and dogs. I’m at least hoping for something that will distract them from the third day inside the same walls with the same people/dogs.

It’s at times like these that my childhood comes rushing back to me. My mom had so much energy. Snow days were full of activities. She was a teacher so there were always exercises or papers to correct and if things got really dire there were the encyclopedias. But she LOVED (still does) the snow. She’d be the first one out the door with a sled ready to go for a ride or start a snowball fight. Growing up in Pittsburgh meant that we didn’t have many snow days - they were to be treasured. Sledding was obviously the top of the ‘snow is fun’ list. Our yard wasn’t particularly large but it was at a distinct angle. And starting from the top of the yard we could really build up some speed. Unfortunately our yard was separated from the patio with a row of hedges. Inevitably one of us would go careening down the hill and right into the shrubs. The sled would continue on its merry way and we would be left trying to untangle ourselves from the hedges. My brother was uniquely talented on this front. He even managed once to go through the hedges and down the concrete garden stairs. Thankfully that time the snow covered the steps so no harm no foul. But mom she was old school: stand up brush yourself off and go again. Or she’d be laughing too hard to say anything. Not giggling; nope, huge belly laughs and snorts. The weirder the landing the hard the laughs. And once mom started laughing we would all join in and the hedgebound sibling would be either stuck waiting for the laughing crowd to extract them or they’d have to wriggle their own way out. I am assuming she developed her love of slapstick in childhood while she was being laughed at by her siblings. In retrospect I think that she forbade my brother and I from watching Tom & Jerry and the Three Stooges; not because she was worried about our reaction but because she was afraid of her own. I think she forbade them because inevitably we’d try some of the jokes or stunts on each other (as long as the resulting injury wasn’t too bad) and she would go into such a fit of laughter that she wouldn’t be able to help us. And honestly I do believe my acorn has not fallen far from her tree. I myself have laughed at my childrens’, sometimes ridiculous, misfortunes. Human nature? Maybe but I have to say I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

If it were only snow as the reason for cancelling school, sledding would be an option, or cross country skiing, or snow shoeing, OR WALKING. But school has been canceled because of, should I say, terrifying negative temperatures and even lower windchills. Each night on the news they reiterate how many minutes you can spend outside before getting frost bite and the signs of hypothermia. The message has definitely gotten through, no ‘playing’ outside. Which after day one leaves us looking at each other like crazy people. We were assured that school would definitely go back tomorrow. No such luck. Tomorrow will be another day at home - UNO anyone?

Two’s company... three’s?

Heather Neufeldt

I like challenges. There, I’ve said it. And I tend to be particularly soft hearted. When we first moved here I had planned on volunteering at the local humane society or animal shelter. That was swiftly, and I might add, correctly vetoed. I am a ‘more is more’ kind of gal. If one coffee mug is good then ten must be great. If one guest for dinner is good then let’s up the ante and have fifteen, and so on. Volunteering at an animal shelter would therefore mean that I brought all the dogs without homes to our home. We’d be overrun!

I had been talking for some time about wanting to rescue a dog from a local shelter. We have lots of space and since I work at home I have more than enough time. Hubby was not on plan. Two dogs was more than he had ever expected to own at one time so a third was out of the question. So I started my campaign. I would find the most adorable posts and photos of local dogs needing homes and email or text them to him. I was sending him at least ten a day. (I can be very persistent - sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not). He was getting really irritated. I was asked to cease and desist.

Then the kids went back to school - or they tried to return. Within the first two weeks both had contracted Strep Throat, ear and sinus infections and lord knows what else. So they spent a lot of time at home. Because I work from home I am used to having my schedule dictated; well, by no one. Heaven help me my sick kids are a nightmare.

“Mom what can I eat that won’t make me sick?”

“How about chicken soup, or miso soup I could do that.”

“Noooooooooo, I don’t feel like eating soup”

“How about some plain toast or saltines?”

“What’s a saltines?”

“It’s a plain cracker sweetie.”

“That doesn’t sound good either.”

”I could make you some tea and you need to drink something before you get dehydrated. Tea or ginger ale or water? And we can see how that sits and then talk about food again later.”

”But I’m hungry and I feel crappy can’t you make something for me.”

”Buttered noodles? (At this point I am grasping at straws and desperately trying to keep myself from strangling her)”

”What kind of noodles? (This was said in a tone of I don’t think that we have any noodles that I like so I am going to turn down anything you offer unless it is the perfect brand, size and kind.)

”We have fettuccini and multi colored spiral pasta.”

”You know I don’t like them. I guess that I will just have to be hungry.”

At this point I am considering hiding in the basement bathroom and pretending to be someone else.

“Well sweetie why don’t you tell me what you want and I can tell you if it’s a good idea.”

”Pizza”

”You have a sore throat, fever and stomach ache and you think pizza is a good idea. No now get yourself something to drink and lay down.”

Sniffling “I don’t understand why you won’t help me.”

At this point she’s lucky to be alive.

Then the other child gets sick. Woo Hoo. I am faced with two sniffling, feverish girls with serious wants who think that I am an idiot for offering them soup and ginger ale. I want to run away after about thirty minutes of the debate above being repeated in tandem. Ahhhhhhhhhh

Whilst all this drama with sick kids is happening, I am still texting and emailing my husband cute dog photos. (I promise that this will all make sense eventually). When he comes home he doesn’t really understand why I am so stressed out. Sick kids just lay around and want to be left alone, right? Are. You. Kidding. Me. I am convinced that when he has to take care of our children that my kids burrow underground and are replaced by perfect android replicas. Thereby discrediting me and having fun underground doing other stuff that they aren’t supposed to do. One night he comes home, both kids have been at home sick one on an antibiotic the other on cold medication and loopy, and he says “You know, those texts and emails are really getting annoying. I’m serious now, don’t you have enough to handle?” At that point in time I was taking care of my kids, dogs and house in addition to working with contractors and sub contractors to refurbish our barn into a studio, work and event space. Not much was getting done. So that was it. I needed a break I was completely losing my mind.

Our two dogs, the mutts from China, are incredibly sweet and loving but they do not cuddle. Let me rephrase: they do not cuddle with me - they love to cuddle together but definitely not with their human family. My last dog was a cuddler and I found at the end of a really frustrating day; sitting on the sofa knitting with a dog in my lap was perfect. It was sweet and calming and no matter who was angry with me or not speaking to me, my dog loved me and thought I was amazing and just wanted to make me feel better. I’m explaining this because this next part might not make much sense unless you know how I feel about dogs.

After three days and a weekend of sick kids and no getting out I decided I didn’t need my hubby to want another dog. I wanted another dog, a cuddler, a dog that would sit on the sofa with me and make me feel better when I felt drained and like I could give no more. And if I wanted another dog I was gonna get another dog. I found this adorable little lab terrier mix in Iowa about thirty minutes away so I decided to go down and look at her. I had filled in all the necessary paperwork ages ago when I started this quest. So into the car go both dogs both kids and an extra friend. I think it was a Tuesday. Everyone was a bit “concerned” when I started loading them into the car. Was Mom really going to drive us somewhere and leave us there? (I may or may not have mentioned leaving them in another state so that I could get a break. Not nice, I know but I had been pushed to my breaking point) I didn’t tell any of them the point of the trip until we got to the shelter.

They say that dogs can smell fear; well I’m pretty sure we all could. There were what seemed like hundreds of dogs, big dogs, small dogs, long haired, wire haired and they were ALL crying. I was pretty sure that if I stayed too long that I would bring them all home. My two were really sheepish, I am wondering if they thought they were being dropped off. We were able to get them into paddock and off their leashes and that seemed to calm them down. Then I stared asking about the dog that I had come down for specifically. The kids at this point were in equal parts excited and outraged. They were extremely vocal about the fact that they had not been consulted in terms of our choice. “Well guess what guys? No one was, this is alllllllllllllll ME!”

Out comes this adorable black female dog. She’s nervous at first and then downright submissive. She lays down infront of my two and pees all over herself and her handler. “Yeah she does that a lot.” Was the helpful information I was given. Ok so that really isn’t going to work. She was terrified of our dogs and would need a full time commitment from her forever family to get her to feel safe. I know that I said I would bring any dog home and that I love them all. I do; but, I can be, at times, realistic. This puppy needed more than I could give. I was completely dejected, I could hear my husband’s voice ringing in my ears: I told you so. Poop. At that point one of the directors came out.

“Do you mind what breed you get?”

”No, of course not, they can’t be too big and they have to get along with my current dogs.”

”Ok, I have a dog that might work, but give him a minute before you decide yes or no.”

Now my brain goes into overdrive. Is this an Alaskan malamute with alopecia, was I going to be looking at a St Bernard with some sort of teething issue. Maybe this was a three legged dog. What if it’s another submissive dog. Good lord my mind went all over the place. And then out comes the director with a tiny dog. I mean tiny like a five pounder. She says that he’s a chihuahua and rat terrier mix. I am waiting for him (the dog) to start screeching and peeing and lord knows what else. I am now convinced that I will have to ride back with three really annoyed and mouthy kids and two dazed dogs who don’t like the car. This tiny dog is cute, I mean he’s adorable. But I was seriously freaking out about him being put down on the ground to play with my two. And then I held my breath and she (the handler) put him down. After the requisite bum sniffing they were off. The three of them were playing like they were long lost buddies. He was jumping on them they were running after him - it was a miracle. I left the dogs and children to sign the paperwork, pay the fees and get all the information for our vet. In the office I am told that his name is Rico and he was in a Kill Shelter in Texas and was shipped up to Iowa when he was about five months old. Oh man I can not imagine having to put down a five month old puppy. When he made it up to Iowa he was adopted by an older couple but brought back. Now I understand not being able to handle a dog. But I don’t understand returning him to the shelter. Way back when I was pregnant with my first daughter 15 years earlier we adopted a submissive little border terrier. She and my older dog did not get along. We gave it our best but it never really jived. So we went to the vet and asked if there were any families looking for a dog like her. Voila a retired couple materialized and they all lived happily ever after. The couple who had adopted Rico had him for like three days and then decided dog ownership was not for them. Back to the shelter he went; and there he stayed for another three months. He was looked at frequently but turned down a lot. We live in a semi-rural area and people prefer big hearty working dogs. Dogs that can live outside and work on the farm. So when we showed up the lady thought we might reject him for the same reason. Nope! He was/is perfect they all fit together like puzzle pieces.

When all the formalities were covered we hopped in the car and headed home. Yay! We have a new family member AND he’s a puppy. I’m super excited and the kids have forgotten their irritation over not getting to choose. They are all busy fawning over the little guy. I’m about halfway home when it hits me… my husband has no idea. I mean none, And to be honest that fact only hits me once I am on our street. Oooops. Ok this won’t be great but it shouldn’t be horrible. He loves dogs and I didn’t really adopt a whole dog he’s more like half a dog. I will take care of him. Now my brain is acting like a ten year old that brought a dog home that they wanna keep. Ok adult thoughts, apply yourself Heather. Ummmmm, he’s cute? Not going to cut it.

I still didn’t have a strategy worked out when my husband got home. He walked in took one look at the dog and one look at me. I held my breath and then… he just started to laugh. Ok great, was it good laughter or crazy I’m leaving laughter. Turned out to be happy. His only comment was “I thought you might do that, what’s his name?”

Needless to say our little Rico has charmed everyone. He cuddles literally everyone of us. He bounces around our back yard like a cartoon and has made dog fans out of “I’m not a dog person” people. Was it extra work? Yup. Was it a little bit crazy just up and getting a third dog? Yup. But it taught me a few things: first off my husband is one great guy and he really loves me for who I truly am; second: our little half dog gives us more than he could ever take, and in this case more really is more.

We’ve been a very happy three dog family for about five months and wouldn’t have it any other way. But now when I feel empty with thousands of people asking things of me and I can’t take it anymore I have Rico and he sleeps in my lap while I knit and makes me feel better.

Brrrrrrrr January 2019

Heather Neufeldt

I can’t believe it but we have been here at the farm for two years. It feels like time has flown. Things here seem to get very busy very quickly. We are lucky because even though we call ourselves Phynix Farm we don’t have any livestock or farm animals. Chickens were contemplated and then rejected on the basis of time management and getting my business going. We are located in southern Minnesota which is now (January 28, 2019) experiencing record breaking cold and all that entails. Schools have been shut down recommendations to stay home have been voiced by state and local government alike. So if you have time in your day; whether you live in a city or the country, spare a thought for farmers here with livestock. Keeping animals healthy and alive during weather like this is an incredible challenge and I would venture to guess that more than one local farmer will end up with frostbite or hypothermia by the time this ‘cold snap’ is through. I have lived in Minnesota several times in my life but grew up in a city so getting to know and become friends with farmers has been an absolute gift. My husband works in an office and tends to work long hours; we like to label people who work quite a lot workaholics. That label definitely applies to people who work on farms because their work IS their life. At any rate I just wanted to dedicate a bit of space to them in their effort to manage through this cold weather.

Country Conundrum

Heather Neufeldt

So we have lived on our ‘farm’ for the last nine months now. And I have to say moving from a city of 25 million in China to a small rural area in Minnesota has been… challenging.  We brought two dogs with us (brother and sister) that are completely lovable mutts. So one of the first things that we decided to do was to install an invisible fence.  They have had run-ins with lots of nature since we moved but recently I have had a giant moral dilemma: baby raccoons. 

Normally the raccoons around here don’t come out during the day and if they do they are sick or injured. That’s an easy answer – put the poor thing out of its misery.  But in this case it’s two incredibly cute baby raccoons: about he size of a small kitten. First off, I should tell you that our house in China was a safe haven for all manner of animals. We saved kittens, injured birds, lost chipmunks and fish. Yup – the kittens were easy enough we put food and water out on our patio for them and when the mama disappeared we brought them in and bottle fed them. When Mama came back the kittens went back out to her. The feral cats in our compound seemed to love our back patio and sort of made it their birthing area, we hosted about six rounds of kittens.  My hubby thought that their use of our patio was my fault after having fed and nurtured the first batch of kittens.  Ok, ok, but nature was hard to come by in China and it was really nice to see baby animals so close. Well, except for our dog, the kittens drove our dog (a barker) completely nuts.  More than once I thought he’d have a stroke from all the barking. But I digress; the feral cats in our apartment compound had attacked the birds we saved. There ended up being two in total. I was kind of guilted into saving the birds since I was the one sort of taking care of the cats. So we just brought them inside fed them and let them heal.  Then, of course, released them back into the ‘wild’ hopefully to stay away from the cats. Chipmunk was a bit of a strange case; he followed my youngest daughter into our apartment.  He was just a baby so I scooped him up put him in a shoebox and got him some milk. There was great debate in the house as to whether or not the chipmunk could be kept as a pet.  My youngest assured me that really that was the only humane way to handle the situation. Whilst my husband went crazy after looking up all the diseases that they carry.  So the chipmunk as a pet thing didn’t really pan out; incidentally that’s how we ended up with our first guinea pig. We also had a pet cricket; but that’s a story for another day.  At any rate, it turned out that his family was living in a tree behind a friend’s apartment three buildings down. So out we went with the box and let his family find him again – job well done.  The fish, well, we had a pond in the central area of the compound and the management had put coy carp in it.  Turns out feral cats and large birds LOVE coy carp and not in a ‘wow they are so soothing to watch’ kind of way. So they were always running or flying away with the fish. This was a more difficult situation; so I put the kids in the compound onto it. We used my daughter’s nerf gun arsenal to shoot at the birds and cats.  This may sound cruel but I promise you it’s much much better than what the management was doing (ie killing anything that went near the pond). So there it is the history of our little animal hospital in China. And as a side note, the locals thought that I was completely insane and I’m pretty sure my husband did too (at least a couple of times).

The baby raccoons are a new predicament. My initial instinct would be to rescue them. Imagine a couple of dogs playing alongside two completely domesticated raccoons. Ah the fun we’d have, we would all laugh at the little monsters getting into the trash and recycling.  They’d run around the yard playing in the trees and be there to cuddle the children after school.  At least that’s how I’d imagine things. My husband on the other hand has a more apocalyptic view of the situation.  Poop and trash all over the house, several trips to the ER for random bites and scratches, and patches of raccoon and doggie fur along with constant growling and crying.  I have to admit that he MAY have been correct in predicting disaster a time or two in the past.  So this situation is clearly fraught.  The kids are desperate to get in there and save them. They lean more in the direction of my blissful delusions.  As for the dogs, well it’s been interesting.  I’ve definitely learned which dog will push the boundaries.  See they know where the invisible fence is and they know that if they cross it they will get zapped.  For the last week every time they spotted one of the baby raccoons they would start simultaneously barking, running to every window and jumping at the door.  I mostly go ahead and let them out.  That’s because I know that the baby raccoons know just how far the dogs can get and they stay well out of their range while still being in our yard.  This usually results in both dogs barking like mad and then MeiMei (our female) running into the fence range yelping jumping back and running in again.  Watching her you would think that she honestly believes that if she does this enough the fence will open and she will finally get her prey.  Nope just running, jumping, zapping, yelping, barking and backing up to try it all again.  DiDi our male dog had absolutely no interest in pursuing the raccoons. He barks but keeps well away from the edge of the fence. When MeiMei gets zapped for the first time he seems to bark in solidarity: “you tell ‘em MeiMei.”  But as time goes on he gets tired of watching his sister get zapped; so he comes up to the front porch and lays down. 

This is the difficult part. What the heck do I do? We live in the country now and in the country (well, to be honest, pretty much anywhere) raccoons aren’t welcome.  I can’t bear to see the babies become road kill or to find them starved to death at the end of my driveway.  I asked my husband if maybe a zoo or animal sanctuary would want them. His response: uninterrupted laughter.  Ok, perhaps that’s a bit over optimistic.  Maybe a circus could take them and train them like monkeys?  Maybe there is a crazy old raccoon lady (aside from myself) who has raccoons instead of cats?  What about using them to kill rats on a local farm (ok they may stray and eat a few chickens but we eat chicken so who could blame them)?  Every time I see them I want to jump out of my car or run down the driveway and scoop them up for a cuddle.  So far I have resisted the urge but I don’t know how long I’ll last.  For now I’m just going to pray and fantasize about a kindly raccoon mama coming along and adopting them.  Then they’ll move into a little burrow in the woods and live happily ever after.  And if I don’t see them again:  THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAS HAPPENED!  I may live in the country and not the city but I have not lost the ability to completely delude myself.  That’s a talent that I seem to bring with me everywhere.