Tasting Memories

My cousin taught Ivy and I how to make deer hunter candy this weekend.

Only handed out to deer hunters during the gun season, the recipe is simple: equal parts of four ingredients, covered in chocolate, cut into slices and wrapped in wax paper.

We made the traditional treat together laughing and snitching bits as we did so and then, of course, we had to sample the final product. We wouldn’t want to give all those cold hunters a sub-par product.

I ate a few pieces but I still remember Grandma telling me I wasn’t to take any candy, it was only for the hunters. She didn’t reprimand often and her corrections stuck.  I still had a twinge of guilt when popping a piece into my mouth and it came with memories of Grandma’s scolding so vivid I could taste them on my tongue.

Some people scoff at tradition but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who tasted memories when we handed out that peanut butter treat.

Ivy’s First Deer

I’ve been completely negligent.

My eldest daughter did something she’s never ever done before and I didn’t even mention it… for weeks.

Ivy shot her first deer! 

My brother Tyler was her mentor and the two of them had a great time together getting ready for the season. Tyler says it’s the most excited he has been for deer hunting in years. And then Ivy shot her first deer, using a crossbow, with her uncle by her side coaching her through it.

It’s a bit of a surreal mothering experience. As much as I’ve been around and about deer hunting and as much as I’ve shot guns and gone bird hunting and butchered deer, I’ve never been an actual deer hunter. But I can tell you it’s a proud moment to watch a kid go off and do something you’ve never done. Especially when they come back full of grins, a cooler of food for the freezer (Thanks again for that Tyler!) and announcing that they want a “real” bow for next year.

Character Building

Deer hunting is a great time of year to have children experience the joy that comes with survival.

Taking a two-hour hike through the woods, falling in a freezing swamp, possibly getting lost but getting back on track.  Finally arriving at the house with boots full of swamp water, soaked and shivering to jump straight into the sauna. And then, once thawed, telling stories of deer jumping up out of the bushes closer than they’d ever seen, helping the hunters find a down deer, and the pride that came with knowing they helped the hunt.

Sure, it was cold, and hard and painful but they did it and that comes with it’s own special joyIvy and Clara

Don’t believe me?

Ask them about helping on the deer drive. They’ll start talking a mile a minute about the terrors of the hike – but they’ll be smiling.

Also we processed the six deer from yesterday’s drive today and  I didn’t include a single dead deer or meat picture in this post.

You’re welcome. 

Frozen Fingers and Wide Smiles

My shoulders sag as the heat seeps in and the tension flows out. Then, just as I sigh with relief my teeth clench and eyes squint against the pain as feeling comes back to my numb fingers. I hold them in the bucket of hot water until the pain subsides and they are warm again. “Ow! Ow! Ow!” Half in pain, half in sympathy with my cousin who is doing the same in a bucket of her own. Giggles mix in with the “Ows,” and we remove our dripping fingers wiping them dry as we bounce around trying to feel our toes. I can only feel two of the ten I know should be down there. So I jump up and down on the cold cement floor and laugh and tease until the next half-frozen hunk of meat lands on my cutting board.

I dive back in, trimming and cutting, turning a leg of deer into a roast, stew meat, hamburger, with a bit of suet set aside for the birds. I listen to recipe ideas from my uncle, tease my mother, catch up with my aunt and dive for the bucket of hot water every few minutes when I can no longer feel my thumbs. In the rays of sun that feel like they almost warm the garage, we compare fingers to see whose are whit-er, blue-er, cold-er and I laugh and work alongside my cousins and husband. I run to the house for more hot water and bring back one of the kids to learn to cut strips of meat for the grinder, label a package of hamburger and the importance of bringing candy and hot drinks to the workers.

The hours pass and the cold seeps deep into us, just as pervasive as the ever-present smiles on our faces, until finally, the job is done for the year. Freezer ready packages are loaded into cars as hugs are given all around. Back in the warm house, Grandpa tells us we must have sisu to have been working in the cold so long.


I think about it on the long drive home with the kids sleeping in the back and the heater blaring in the front. I think about it now, hours later when my fingers are still burning from the freeze/thaw cycles they endured.  But my cheeks still hurt from smiling too. It might be sisu that keeps us out there in the cold, but only because it runs in the family.



My Dad’s side of the family is Finnish and sisu is one of those non-translatable words.  I went searching online and liked how Finlandia University defined it:

“Sisu (pronounced – see’-soo) is a unique Finnish concept. It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.

Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character.  It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost.”

Three Cheers For Meat!

It wasn’t intentional, raising such a meat lover. It just sort of, happened.

I mean, it’s true, I never ate anything green until I was 12, 24, 30, but vegetables now routinely infiltrate our meals. And, along side those much contested vegetables are the animals. Birds we’ve been out hunting go straight to the table and everyone agreed that Archibald tasted delicious. So while vegetables have often been a sore subject around the dinner table, the girls have grown up knowing where their meat came from and occasionally what it’s name was. Something that turns others’ stomachs has been a fact of life for the girls for so long as to be a non-issue.

Now deer season and the source of most of our red meat for the year has arrived. Personally, I have yet to be convinced that waking up early and sitting in a tree in the cold would be a super fun plan, but one morning John left the house to do just that. When the girls asked where he was, I told them he was out hunting and maybe, if we were lucky, he’d bring a deer home

“Yay!”, Jane cried.

“Yay for meat!”, she cheered as she jumped up and down.

“Meat! Meat! Meat! Meat!”

I guess, thinking back to her involvement last year, I shouldn’t be surprised. Jane helping grind meatThe picture might be a year old but she’s lost none of her enthusiasm for the rewards of deer hunting!

Princess Jane

Jane is in a no holds barred, girly, princess, ballerina phase.Jane grinds meat

She refuses to wear anything but dresses and skirts.Jane grinds meat 2

She begs for makeup and nail polish.Jane grinds meat 3

She spends her days twirling and dancing in frilly dresses.Jane grinds meat 4

And she helps grind meat.Jane grinds meat 5

Like a true princess she never got anything on her dress but she could use lessons in decorum. I hardly think yelling, “Are we havin’ TACOS!?!” is befitting of royalty.

Family Time

Here in Wisconsin we’ve survived another ten days of a family gatherings and deer hunting, culminating in our big Thanksgiving meal.

It can run you through the wringer, a week of that.

While spending time with family is always pleasant, it can sometimes be a bit bemusing…


A night of human foosball can leave you feeling like this in the morning…Ivy pretending to sleep

There are always some great times…John with spike buck

But there is this thing about spending time with family. Sometimes, no matter how much you love them, they can be a bit like… well… a bit like having someone take a drill to your head.Clara "drilling" Johnny

Hope your holiday was great and that your “drill moments” came with as big of smiles as ours did!


Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpectedbutchering deer in greenhouse

We just discovered an unexpected perk to the greenhouse.

It’s the perfect place to process deer.

I have helped turn an ugly carcass into nice little white packages to put into the freezer in many dark basements. I have boned shoulders in very cold garages. And I have even attempted not to make a mess of a few kitchens while completing the final packaging.

But until today I have never, ever done any of it in the sunlight.

Possibly only those of you who have stood on the solid block of ice that is masquerading as a cement floor, tried not to lose a finger as you felt your way though the process in the dim light or ran buckets of water back and forth from the house, inevitably spilling some on your already frozen toes, can understand the luxury of it all.  Plenty of counter space, hot running water, hooks in the ceiling for the gambrel, sunlight, and then when the sun when down and it got a bit chilly- a nice big heater to keep it above freezing.

Unexpected and delightful- I’m never setting up shop in the garage again!


I look at the following picture and think- “Mmm, loins on the grill, meatloaf, pot roast, tacos, bacon wrapped tenderloin and a handsome man!”

It’s possible you may look at the picture and think- “Ick, dead deer and a guy dressed as a pumpkin.”John with two does

There’s no accounting for taste.

Gotta Have A Story

If there is one thing I’ve learned growing up in a family of hunters it’s that if you don’t come home with something dead you’d better come home with a good story – if you can swing both so much the better.

So, yesterday afternoon when I found myself watching a pheasant and opossum having a stare down while I was out hunting with the dogs, I figured I was set. “This is going to get interesting!” I said to myself as the dogs came crashing through the cattails toward us.

And then it didn’t.

The pheasant, upon seeing me, dashed off into the cattails.

The opossum climbed a tree, a very small tree.

The dogs ignored the opossum (good dogs!) and sniffed their way after the pheasant.

Storm went on point in the cattails and I couldn’t find her.

The bird flushed – I missed.

The dogs passed by the opossum, stopped, looked up, and carried on (good dogs!).

I went to the opossum and took a quick picture.

Then we tracked down the pheasant and even though I was unaided by any sort of pointing from my dog (bad dog!) I got the bird.

Trip retrieved it, (good dog!).

Then he blasted off through the cattails and ran down another until it flushed -waaaay away from us (bad dog!).

So we looked for it, until the dogs stunk of swamp, I had cattail fuzz up my nose and we were all covered in burrs.

Then I got a phone call that I was needed at home.

I returned home to find my entire family in the field “helping” gut the buck our friend shot (nice work Jeff!).

We spent the rest of the night cleaning swamp muck and burrs off the dogs.

Today the dogs are tired and on drugs to combat the beasties in the swamp water that are disagreeing with their systems and I’m left reflecting that my unexciting opossum/pheasant stare down turned into an interesting evening anyway.

After all, I got my bird and I got a story.