Hello, 2019!

Happy cows out on spring pasture

And as I typed that, I just realized we’ve been in business for 15 years now! Wow.

2019 has been a year of change. Good changes. The biggest one being that I made a career change! After lo, these many years as a software developer, I accepted a job on the faculty at NIACC as an IT instructor. It’s been a challenging and rewarding change, and I’m loving it!

One nice change that’s come along with it is that I now have a good chunk of my summer off (although, as a new instructor, I’m spending a lot of my summer learning and planning for next semester, plus teaching a couple of summer classes and taking a couple of summer classes.) So I’m excited to use some of that time for farmers market!

We’ve decided to attend as regulars this year at the North Iowa Farmers Market in Mason City on Friday afternoons, after just being there a few times last summer.

And we’ve decided to stay a little closer to home on Saturday mornings this year and attend the Charles City Farmers Market. We used to do this market many years ago. I’d have to really dig in the archives to figure out how long ago that was. I tried to find some appropriate song lyrics… “the boys are back in town”?  Theme to “Welcome Back Cotter”? I don’t know, but I’m excited to see some old and new faces there.

We do still have grass fed beef quarters available! Let us know if you’d like to fill your freezer for summer.

Come see us at the markets this weekend – I’ll be running some market-only specials!


8 years ago:


10 years ago:


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My grandma

Irene Rachel Helen Oeltjenbruns Mehmen
June 8, 1928 – December 25, 2018

My grandma will now forever be our special Christmas angel. It’s hard to imagine our family without its matriarch, the magnet that drew us all together. And yet I’m feeling so much gratitude – for being born her granddaughter, for her example of how to live life, for my 48 years of memories with her.

My earliest memories of my Grandma Mehmen’s house are of people and laughter and music. I loved it. All those aunts and uncles, and later the cousins that came after me. And the food to feed all those people – especially the stacks of sliced fresh-baked bread piled on a card table at the end of the counter. My grandma and grandpa laughing in the middle of the chaos. And no matter the occasion, always music and sing-alongs.

My grandma was loved by many people, and not just her own large family. When she was in the hospital a couple of weeks ago, I stopped to see her after work one day. I felt lucky that I happened to come at a time when no one else was there, we had a wonderful conversation. I don’t think it happened that she was alone often while she was in the hospital, and even while I was there her cell phone rang at least a couple of times. The nurse in the room said to me, “She is one popular gal!” And she was. She told me that day how a while back she had stopped at the gas station in Osage, and one of the residents from Comp Systems saw her and came up to give her a great big hug. “Irene, I’ve missed you!” he said. “Isn’t that something?” she asked me. “It has to have been 15 years since I’ve seen him!” But that was the kind of person she was. She didn’t just care for people, she engaged them. And they didn’t forget her.

I don’t think anyone would say she had an easy life. Leaving home at 14, losing a daughter, being widowed at such a young age, surviving multiple bouts of cancer. But she made it look easy. My grandma was the ultimate example of mind over matter, of how a person’s attitude makes all the difference. I remember when she was undergoing chemotherapy, and I asked her if the treatments made her tired or sick at all. “Oh no!” she said. “They give me so much energy, I come home and clean my house from top to bottom!” I’ve never been sure if that was really true, or if she just made up her mind that that was the way it was going to be, and so it was.

In the face of hardship, she did what she always did and got to work. And she rocked it. When a rule change meant she might lose her job because she hadn’t graduated high school, she got to work and earned her GED. She was around 60 years old at that point. I’ve always been so amazed by that, and so proud of her.

One silly little thing that keeps popping into my head is when one of the little kids would fall and skin their knee or bump their head, and cry about it. She’d say, “Don’t worry, it’ll stop hurting by the time you’re a grandpa,” and she’d laugh and laugh. And it seems like a trite little quip, but from my perspective it really sums up her life philosophy. It says that hard times will come, they come to us all. But hard times don’t last. There are always better days ahead to look forward to. And that’s what you do – you look forward, not back. You hold hope, not worry. And in the meantime, you ride out the hard times with the help of your faith, your family and friends, a few laughs, a few hands of euchre, and a beer or two.

I’ll miss her laughter, I’ll miss her delight at playing euchre with Rafe and Andy, I’ll miss growing eggplant for her in the summers. But I’ll attempt to carry with me her faith, her strength, her amazing attitude, and her love of life no matter the circumstances.

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How to Cook :: Sweet Potato Chili

I’m guessing Santa might be bringing a few of you an Instant Pot for Christmas, so I thought I’d jump on and share this recipe. I’m beginning to feel a bit like an Instant Pot prophet, but we literally use this thing 3 to 4 times a week. And as I sit here now, I admit I’m nursing an enormous food baby. This chili is so good I couldn’t help but go back for seconds thirds.

This is a sweet chili. And a smoky chili, with just the right amount of heat. And then there’s the sweet potato, which somehow takes things to another level.

I made this with ground pork because I’m hoarding the precious few packages of ground beef we have left. Gotta make it stretch until March! But now that I’ve made it with ground pork I doubt I’ll ever make it with ground beef. You don’t mess with a good thing.

As with almost every Instant Pot recipe, this one is super easy to throw together. And it all gets done in the pot, so clean up is a breeze, too.

Set your pot to sauté, and when it’s hot add a tablespoon of olive oil and a large onion, diced. Cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally, then add a pound of ground pork. Cook and stir, breaking up the big chunks, until browned. Then just dump in all the rest of the ingredients.

Cancel the sauté function. Put the lid on, turn the valve to pressurize, and set the pot to High for 9 minutes. When the cook time is up, let it natural release for 5 minutes and you’re ready to eat. But it will be fine if you need to just leave it on “keep warm” for any length of time. So versatile!

And that’s it, really. Not much more to say about a super simple recipe that’s healthy to boot!

How to Cook :: Sweet Potato Chili

How to Cook :: Sweet Potato Chili


  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium-large red pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 1/2 t dried oregano
  • 1/2 t smoked paprika
  • 1/2 t chipotle powder
  • 1 14-15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 14-15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • Cilantro (optional)
  • Shredded cheese (optional)


  1. Set Instant Pot to the Sauté function.
  2. When the display changes to Hot, add olive oil and diced onion.
  3. Sauté a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add ground pork and cook, stirring and breaking up large chunks, until browned.
  5. Add remaining ingredients.
  6. Cancel sauté function.
  7. Place lid on pot and set valve to pressurize.
  8. Set pot to High for 9 minutes.
  9. Allow to natural release for 5 minutes, then quick release.
  10. Top with shredded cheese and cilantro, if desired.

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How To Cook : Egg Roll in a Bowl

We’ve been celebrating the filling-of-the-freezer with pork lately. It’s like Christmas! So I’m going to try and hit you with some of my favorite pork recipes.

But first, a story…

Over a year-and-a-half ago, Olivia and I did a Whole 30 diet. You can read about my experience with that here. As you’ll read in that blog post, Matt did not participate with us.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2016. Liv was experiencing some skin and gut issues that she was trying to resolve through changing her diet. (“I want to treat the cause, not just the symptoms,” she said, which is a whole other blog post.) She was basically following a “Paleo” eating program, which is similar to Whole 30, just a little less restrictive. While she was home for Thanksgiving break, Matt decided to eat Paleo with her to be supportive.

And then he just kept on eating that way.

Being a power lineman, and a former high school football player, achy joints were just “life”. Or so he thought. Since he started eating this way, those everyday aches and pains are gone. Now he really only experiences them on days when he’s done a lot of tough physical stuff at work, or when he’s eaten something with gluten in it. Eating gluten also affects his sinuses, making him feel like he has allergies, or even makes him feel like he has a hangover. Now he sleeps better, he thinks clearer, he has way more energy, and he lost 20 pounds.

So how we cook has changed a bit. Some of the ingredients we use may sound weird, but they’ve become our new normal and replaced things that we no longer buy. This “Egg Roll in a Bowl” recipe is a good example. Coconut sugar replaces brown sugar, and coconut aminos replace soy sauce. But if you decide to use soy sauce, be sure and use the low-sodium kind. Or start with half the amount and adjust to taste. I speak from experience – I once subbed soy sauce 1-for-1 for coconut aminos in a soup and it was so salty we couldn’t eat it. Oops.

You start with by browning 2 pounds of Sugar Creek Farm ground pork in a large frying pan and dicing 2 red onions.

Once the pork is browned, add the onions to the pan along with 2 T sesame oil.  Cook until onions are soft.

Then add powdered ginger, ground black pepper, minced garlic, sea salt, coconut sugar and chicken broth.

Mix well into the pork/onion mixture.

Chop up a medium-sized head of cabbage

and add as much of it as you can to your pan. As I said, you’ll need a large pan!

Cover and let the cabbage wilt down.

In the meantime, shred 4 medium carrots. Does anyone else still have one of these things hanging around?

We got our Salad Shooter as a wedding gift and I still love it so much. I sure hope it outlives me. So shred those carrots, and about the time your cabbage/onion/pork mixture looks like this:

give it a stir, add in the rest of the cabbage that didn’t fit the first time, and add in the shredded carrots.

Cover and cook a few more minutes, until the carrots are soft and the rest of the cabbage is wilted down. Add the coconut aminos, give it a final stir, and it’s done!

Since Whole 30/Paleo preclude grains of any kind, we like to use cauliflower rice. It’s pretty easy to make from fresh cauliflower, if you have a good food processor. In fact I made some from our garden cauliflower this summer and froze it for winter. But I also really like Trader Joe’s brand.

Cauliflower rice is so quick and easy! Just throw it, still frozen, in a pan and saute it 2 or 3 minutes until the “rice” is hot and the water is cooked out of it. Then serve your egg roll mixture over the rice.

So yummy! Tastes exactly like the inside of an egg roll!

How To Cook : Egg Roll in a Bowl

How To Cook : Egg Roll in a Bowl


  • 2 pounds Sugar Creek Farm ground pork
  • 1 medium cabbage, chopped
  • 4 medium carrots, shredded
  • 2 medium red onions, diced
  • 2 T sesame oil
  • 2 t powdered ginger
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 2 t salt
  • 1/4 c coconut sugar
  • 1/2 c chicken broth
  • 2 T coconut aminos


  1. Place meat in large pan and cook until browned.
  2. On medium high heat, add the onions and sesame oil. Cook until onions are soft.
  3. Reduce heat to medium.
  4. Add spices, sweetener, and broth to the pan and stir well.
  5. Add cabbage (or as much as will fit).
  6. Cover and cook until cabbage is wilted.
  7. Add any remaining cabbage and carrots.
  8. Cook 2-3 minutes more, or until carrots are soft and remaining cabbage is wilted.
  9. Stir in coconut aminos.
  10. Serve plain or over cauliflower rice.

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New fence, new start

After 2 long years, the old cattle shed site is cleaned up and ready for new fencing. Matt took a few days off work to get started on it. I helped him stake out the flags, and did some really helpful picture taking of the cats.

Seems a little silly, maybe, but new fence seems like a fresh start in a way. Structurally, it will be nice to have that paddock and the water hydrant available to use again. Mentally, that clean landscape feels like a clean slate, and kind of matches up to how we’re feeling about the farm business these days. We tried so hard for so many years, but the local food scene just wasn’t as far ahead as our vision. And we burned out. We took a hard look at the numbers and finally acquiesced that what we were doing wasn’t sustainable anymore. We scaled back. We came back slowly. The local food scene started to grow. And finally the farm feels like it’s working for us, rather than the other way around.

We have some things coming down the pike I can’t wait to announce. One thing about grass fed beef, it takes almost 2 years to finish an animal so developing product and markets takes time and patience. But having that time allows us to be thoughtful and intentional about what’s right for us and our farm and this stage of our life, and what’s not. Finally, after 13 years.

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Ava :: April 2006 – August 2017

Our Ava passed away yesterday in one of her favorite spots… in the garage in front of the open back door, where she could catch a breeze and keep an eye on the pasture to the west and the driveway to the east.

She’d slowed down to a senior dog pace the last few years, but still made sure Titus remembered she was boss. Even though she couldn’t chase after him anymore, she would stand on the porch and bark at him, making him run circles around her.

She was the best farm dog, always keeping an eye on things. She never barked for no reason, so if I heard her barking I knew that someone had come in the driveway, or a cow, pig or chicken was not where it was supposed to be. I loved that her mere presence was intimidating to strangers and prevented most from exiting their car until one of us came to the door, but in reality she was just a big welcome wagon. There was never a vicious bone in her body.

She was actually Madeline’s dog. She picked Ava out as a puppy in hopes of training her in obedience and agility. They did one summer of that thru 4-H, but it worried Ava so to be away from the farm.  Show dog life was not for her. She just wanted to be at home with her little herd. 

In tribute, here are some of my favorite Ava photos and blog posts (click on the blue links) from the past 11 years…

With no sheep on this farm to herd, Ava takes work wherever she can find it.

Madeline & Ava, 3 months

Olivia & Ava

Rafe & Ava

Ava & Titus making sure the front porch is secure

Today Ava is napping on Rafe’s new beanbag. Ahem.

Ava lives to herd pigs. Sometimes she’s more helpful than others. Pig herder

Ava, on the job. Worry

Cow dog in training

Ava surely loves her pigs. Pig love.

5 minutes in the life of a dog

Winter pig chores


Ava stops eating snow long enough to pose for me

We tried to include Ike & Ava in the Christmas card pic, lol

Madeline & Ava.

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Scrapbook storytelling

I was thinking about my last post, and my love of storytelling. Our oldest daughter has inherited this, and typically when I answer a phone call from her I hear, “Mom, I have stories.” She then proceeds to give me the blow-by-blow of her encounters and adventures of the day.

I think I inherited my own interest in storytelling from my Grandma Carter, the one whose old typewriter enabled me to publish that single issue newspaper. She was the torchbearer of family history, amassing all of the family photos, genealogical records and personal narratives. When I was in high school, she and I went through a huge box of old photographs. Most of them weren’t written on, and I remarked that she should identify the people in the pictures for me. We decided to number each picture, and then as she had time she went through them and wrote on sheets of paper the photo number and the people in the photo. To my great delight, she went a step further and wrote stories about the people in the photos and anecdotes that the photos reminded her of.

Grandma on the left, with her “boy bob” hairstyle

“When I was about 12 it was a fad to have what they called ‘boy bobs’. My uncle Mike Metz was a barber in Stacyville so I went to him and said I wanted my hair cut that way. He asked if my parents knew and I said, ‘They won’t care.’ Well, my mother was very upset and threatened to leave me home all summer when they went places. It wasn’t very becoming to me.”

“We had a potluck at school. I didn’t like what my mother was taking. We had a lady who didn’t have a reputation as being very clean. Mother said to me, ‘I hope you get some of Mrs. Young’s.’ So when we were eating I told this to the people sitting around us. I was in the doghouse for that.”

Many of her stories end with a wry one-liner.

Grandma (left) and her sister Viola

“Viola and I walked to school together and she was never ready to go when I was. She would cry for me to wait as I went ahead of her up the road. I think I can say I was never late for school.”

“My mother’s Aunt Mina was quite tall, stood very straight and always looked very regal. I wanted to be straight and tall like her. I didn’t reach my goal.”

And there are some tragic stories, also told in her matter-of-fact style.

Grandma (right) and her sister Ada

“Of course the death that affected me most was my sister, Ada. She was a couple months past 5 and I was 7-1/2. She died in winter of 1923. She some way got spinal meningitis, the only one in town who had it. People were very afraid of it and we were quarantined. She was in the bedroom on one side of the house. Grandma Metz had Viola (she was 18 months old) and me in the kitchen part. The two Dr.’s in town (Stacyvillle) came and took care of her. She died in two weeks. It was quite a while I couldn’t go to school. The only dream I remember is one I had for a while after my sister died. I would dream a big ball I thought was as big as the world was rolling after me and I was running from it. It would break open and bears would come out and chase me. I would wake crying. They had me sleep with Grandma Metz as I had always slept with sister Ada.”

I gathered up the pictures, genealogical records, and her stories and put everything into scrapbooks. Between her Ruesink/Metz side of the family, and my grandpa’s Bishop/Carter side of the family, I’ve got 5 large scrapbooks covering all of the old family pictures she had, going through her high school graduation. And I’ve made one of them into a printed photo album. I wanted my brother and his family to have their own copy of the stories and photos, plus it serves as a digitized backup in case anything ever happens to the original scrapbook.

Other family storytelling projects I want to tackle:

1. Work with my mom to pick up where Grandma left off, documenting the photos and stories from after my grandparents were married.
2. Get my mom to do the same with the photos from my childhood.
3. Digitizing the rest of the family history scrapbooks I have, so that they can easily be shared with others and so that there are backups of them in case something happens to the physical albums.
4. Getting my own family photos off my computer and into albums, along with all the little stories and quotes from the kids that I have recorded in various places.
5. Scrapbooking Matt’s childhood photos.
6. Documenting family “treasures” – some are in my possession, some are in my mom’s possession or in her safe deposit box. A picture of each item and a description/history.
7. Mini albums for trips and special events.

I’ll be sharing some of my projects here as I work on them. My first order of business is to finish several “works in progress”, some of which I started years ago.

Tell me, do you scrapbook? Do you print your photos or do they all live on your computer? Do you have old family photos?

11 years ago:

Doin’ a “little” raking

7 years ago:

Installment #9 : One of these things just doesn’t belong here

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When I grow up

The typewriter that started it all for me

I mentioned in my last post that I’m exploring the possibilities for a future that will be here sooner or later. Our youngest has started high school. We’ve already got two teenage daughters through high school (and lived to tell about it!), so I know how fast these next 4 years are going to fly.

Thinking about the empty nest possibilities in my own future makes me feel a little bit like I’m back in those high school freshman shoes. What do I want to be when I grow up?

The experts say to mine your past for future career ideas. What did you like to do when you were a little kid? We were laughing one night at our oldest daughter, as she sat on the couch writing lesson plans and putting together folders for the students in the summer reading program for which she worked as program coordinator. When she was little, she would spend hours teaching her imaginary classroom. She had stacks of folders and notebooks, each with a made-up student’s name on it. She would give an assignment, she and her younger sister would actually do the assignment for each kid, and then she’d jump back into teacher mode and correct the assignments. I’m not kidding when I say this went on for hours, for days on end. Next spring she’ll graduate with a degree in Child, Adult and Family Services and go on for her masters in School Guidance Counseling. Given how she spent her childhood playtime, I’d say she’s in the right field.

When I think back to my own childhood, the theme of “storytelling” comes to mind. I must have been 11 or 12 when I conscripted my younger brother (the joys of being the oldest sibling!) and my best friend to write a newspaper with me. We each wrote articles, and I typed them up on my grandma’s old typewriter. My grandparents had a friend named Tom to whom they’d sold a little piece of ground, across the road from their farm next to the river. He would camp there and he called the property “River Run Campground”. Tom loved to write poetry, and editorials in the Globe Gazette, so he was excited and supportive of my young interest in journalism. So much so that he purchased an ad in my “newspaper” for 50 cents. My interest in journalism only lasted that one summer, and that one edition of my newspaper. Probably because it took me all summer to get it “published”.

I loved my composition classes in high school, and my teachers always seemed pretty enthusiastic and supportive of my writing, even sending some of my work in for contests and publications (which I never won.) But I didn’t really think much of it. Teachers are paid to be enthusiastic and supportive of their students, right?

My freshman year of college I took a class called “History of American Music”. Anyone who knows me is not surprised that this was a class I thoroughly enjoyed. The professor was a fun, knowledgeable Jerry Garcia look-alike. Of course some of the assignments involved listening to various songs and artists, and these were the days long, long before iTunes. So I would go to the library, check out the assigned album (on vinyl!), and listen with the provided headphones and turntable in the library.

The culmination of the class was an assigned term paper on any subject of our choice, as long as it related to American music in some way. I chose to write about music censorship. This was 1989-1990, on the heels of the controversial Parent Music Resource Center successfully lobbying the RIAA to slap “Parental Advisory” stickers on album covers. The day the professor handed back our papers, he asked me to stay after class. Um, what? That had never happened before, I’d always been a model student, what in the world did I do?

What he wanted was to ask my permission to use my paper as an example to future classes on how to write a term paper for his class. He liked it. And what he said next I’ve never forgotten. He said, “I want you to take this paper over to the English department and show it to them. This is a really, really good paper. I know you’re a computer science major, but I think you need to be in the English department.”

Well, I was flattered, and I even walked over to the building where the English department was housed. But once I got there I chickened out. I mean, who was I supposed to talk to, exactly? He didn’t give me a name or a contact there. And what was I supposed to say? “Hey, here’s a paper my music professor seems to really dig.” Was I really going to change my major because of one person’s opinion about one paper?

Looking back, I don’t know that I wish I had followed through with it. I don’t feel regret about the situation. Curiosity, yes, but not regret. I’ve loved being a computer programmer. A big part of my identity is in being a “nerd”.


The older I get, after all the years I’ve spent in left-brain mode, the more intrigued I am by my right brain and what might be in it. I think this blog was born as much out of my desire to write as it was about marketing the farm business. But without a farm business to market, I’m left wondering if I even have a story to tell anymore? My life has been pretty vanilla. And I’m not complaining about that. I know a lot of people would gladly trade me their life for my plain vanilla life. But what kind of writer can I be without a story?

I believe that people are placed into your life at certain times, in certain places and contexts, for a reason. This year when a lifelong member of our church returned for his annual summer visit, I had the opportunity to sit down and catch up with him when we got together to collaborate on some music for a church service. After we updated each other on what our kids and spouses were up to, he looked at me and said, “What about you? Are you finding time for your art? Your photography and your writing are gifts. You can’t ever give that up.”

It was like a slap upside the head from the universe, another in a long line of breadcrumbs scattered on the trail of my life. I felt like he had been sent to deliver that message to me at a time when I most needed to hear it.

And then school started, and I got busy with football games and musical rehearsals, and here we are. But. And. I’m just going to keep plinking away at the keyboard when I can and throw stuff out there. Because you just never know what will happen.

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Right now

the road ahead

Hello, it’s been a while. So I thought I’d give an update to any longtime readers that are still hanging around, and my farmers market peeps that I’m not seeing this summer.

Taking this year off from markets has been a good thing. I do miss our customers and the other vendors that have become friends over the years. But getting back the time that not only being at the market takes, but the time that preparation, travel, marketing, etc. takes has made this summer really, really enjoyable. And summer is my most favorite season of the year, so I’m grateful for that. There’s been camping, kayaking, a music festival. I can’t say right now where the farm will or won’t go in the future. For now we’re just going to let it evolve as it will.

As I write this, we’re preparing to send our second born off to college for the first time. Shopping lists are being made, things are being packed into totes, the occasional tear is being shed. (By me, of course. Definitely not by her!) But I think the fact that she’ll be at the same school as her older sister makes it easier on me, plus I’m just super excited to see where life takes her. She’s interested in nutrition, health coaching, and journalism… the sky’s the limit.

Do you remember being that age where the sky’s the limit? I do. And then you get to the season of life of raising your family – and it’s wonderful – but things seem a little more set in stone, and the possibilities seem a little more limited.

I’m looking forward to the next 4 years of having just our youngest at home. He’ll be starting high school, and I’m excited for the new things that will bring for him academically, athletically, musically, socially (and learning how to manage his many interests and talents!) It will be a brave new boy world for me, as the boy-to-girl ratio in this house shifts against me. Fortunately, at least so far, he’s an easy and enjoyable kid to have around, and he still doles out the hugs to his mama freely.

But at the same time, I don’t want to get to the end of these next 4 years, drop him off at college, and then ask, “Now what?” So I’m starting to explore the possibilities again, dreaming a bit, and starting to get back that “sky’s the limit” feeling.

10 years ago:

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The year the music died

The Grim Reaper has been on a tear with musicians in 2016. And it’s only April. At this point people have had enough already and I’m seeing tweets like, “That the universe would form a protective layer around Paul McCartney, we pray.” (@unvirtuousabbey)

But none hit me as hard as the news that Prince had died. I’ve had the all-Prince iHeartRadio station on non-stop ever since, taped the airing of Purple Rain on VH1, read every Rolling Stone article, watched every video I’ve seen shared on Facebook. The depth of grief I felt took me by surprise, and I’ve been thinking about why the past 4 days.

My grandparents gave my parents a stereo the first Christmas after they were married. In 1969, a stereo was a rather large piece of furniture. It took up a lot of real estate in the living room of the tiny farmhouse they rented near New Haven. When I came along almost a year later, they wedged my crib alongside it, end-to-end, because the upstairs bedrooms were too cold for a winter baby. My mom says when I was fussy they’d put me in my crib, put a Johnny Cash or Elvis record on the stereo, and I’d settle down and go to sleep.

“Or maybe we just couldn’t hear you crying over the music. Either way,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.


When I was 15 months old they moved to the farm on River Road where I grew up. There I got an upstairs bedroom, and the stereo lived in the dining room, smack dab in the middle of the house. The soundtrack to my childhood was The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Captain & Tennille. Later it was Willie, Waylon, and Kenny Rogers. Those three still take me back to the farm crisis of the 80’s, and I can feel again the cloud of worry that hung over my parents and the uncertain future of our own farm.

Me in front of the stereo, Christmas 1972

There was always music on, whether it was on that stereo, or the 8-track cassette player in their avocado green Pontiac, or on Saturday morning “American Bandstand” when my mom would have a dance party with me in the living room in front of the tv. I give my parents credit for always being pretty tolerant about what music I listened to. The only albums my mom ever banned from the house were the Violent Femmes and 2 Live Crew (which was actually my friend Susan’s album I had borrowed.) Even then, she just asked that I only play them in my car.

(Although when I brought this up to her she said, “Oh, was the Purple Rain album bad? I guess I never noticed.” Better listen to the song “Darling Nikki” again, Mom.)

When I was 13, the first album I ever bought for myself with my hard-earned babysitting money was Purple Rain on vinyl. I had a little record player of my own in my bedroom. But I preferred to play it on the big stereo in the dining room, lying on the blue-and-brown shag carpet, my ear right up to the speaker so that I could catch every lyric, every instrument, every riff. I had never heard anything like it. The funk style, the raw lyrics that flowed like poetry, the openly sexual themes. My dramatic 13-year-old-self related (or wanted to) so deeply to his frustrations with his parents, with love, and the simultaneous beauty and desperation that is life.

That, I realize, is the reason his death has hit me so hard. His was the first music that was my music and not my parents’ music. And it feels like the end of an era, as I imagine Elvis’s death felt to my parents. Prince was so insanely talented, and creative, and original. Does it make me old and crotchety that, in this moment, I can’t identify that same level of creativity in any of today’s music? Probably.

So I pulled out that Purple Rain vinyl I bought in 1984, and played it on the little record player I have now. I sang along, every lyric still rolling off my tongue as easily as they did at 13. And I said a prayer of protection for Sir Paul McCartney.

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