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Friday, November 7, 2014

Moving North!

Well, I guess this blog might need a new name. Farm Girl in the Far North? Farm Girl on the North Shore? Today is Drew's last day in the office. Below is the email he sent to our coworkers.

To all my dear PropTax friends (and others),

I have had many significant, life-altering things happen to me during my life. But I was either too young or too dumb to recognize them as being significant at the time. I guess I must be getting old, and perhaps my brain has finally developed beyond the adolescent stage, because this is the first time in my life that I remember actually stopping to take the time to think about a decision and how it will impact my life going forward. And I don’t like it one bit.

This stopping and thinking about stuff is really hard. Because now I have to think about how I am going to miss everyone here so much. And I have to remember all the great things that this division does, and all of the acts of generosity and kindness that I have witnessed here every day over the last 7 years.  I have to think about if this is the right choice; to say goodbye to something that has given me so much and to the people that have become like family. Will I ever find a place like this again? Will I ever find someone to hire me again? What the heck am I going to do with my life!


So I am done thinking about it. I will leave the thinking to the philosophers and those really deep, introspective poet-types. Instead, I am just going to do what I have always done: savor the past, enjoy the present, and let the future bring what it will. I’m not worried about it. It’s like my good buddy Danny Kaye said,  “Life is a blank canvas, and you need to throw all the paint on it you can.”  And that’s what I’m going to do, start splashing paint like I’m Jackson Pollock. Happiness to me is an ever-changing horizon, the thrill of going around that corner and not knowing what is on the other side, and those butterflies in your stomach the moment you drop off into the unknown. And so I’m going to venture down the road and let all those unknown bumps and curves shape who I am. To what end, only time will tell.

So that’s it. This is goodbye for now. I am so thankful for what everyone has done for me, and what they will continue to do for this great state. I was lucky to be part of it. I wish everyone the best in everything that they do. If you find yourself in Duluth, look us up and come hang out. We’ll go jump in the big lake. It’s totally rejuvenating, trust me. Bon voyage!

What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

This is the super cool photo the Department took of me to accompany any articles I submitted to assessment magazines.

Angela and I in front of the state seal, the state flag and the American flag on one of the biggest days of the year for my division (State Board of Equalization).

I will miss the close proximity to the Capitol. I've enjoyed many lunches on the Capitol Mall and was able to head over to the lawn the day the Marriage Equality Amendment passed. Minnesota is awesome, and I am proud to have been part of the public policy process in some small way.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

TBT: Butterheads old and new

One week from today the gates to the Great Minnesota Get-Together will open wide. Today is also Throwback Thursday. What a great day to talk about the state fair, and more specifically, butterheads past and present.

Growing up, my Dad offered to pay us $5 for every calf we successfully trained. At the time, I thought he was funding our state fair dreams. In retrospect, I think he greatly valued the amount of time we spent towing uncooperative calves around the yard “training” them, and as such, leaving Dad to work in peace.

For country kids, the fair was, and remains, a very big deal. The fair is the one week all summer parents allow, and even encourage, their children to spend time at the fair with their 4-H pals. Of course, a good deal of work is required to keep their animals well cared for at the fair, but there are plenty of opportunities for rides, malts, and hijinx as well.

For a dairy farmer’s daughter, the only dream that exceeds a Grand Champion Ribbon at the State Fair, is the opportunity to serve as Princess Kay of the Milky Way. To be eligible to represent the dairy industry as Princess Kay, you must work on an active dairy farm. Each county sends three young women to compete at the state level. Some counties have more than three contestants at the county level; however, the county must narrow it down to three candidates to send to the statewide competition. Of the 261 eligible candidates, only 12 finalists are selected to represent the dairy industry at the state fair. The 12 finalists compete for the title Princess Kay of the Milky Way. They are judged in 7 categories: etiquette, mock media interview, panel interview, extemporaneous remarks, panel interview, speaking ability, writing ability, and a one-on-one interview.

Bonnie, my older sister, was a finalist for Princess Kay in 2001. All 12 finalists have their likeness sculpted into a 90-pound block of Grade-A butter. The process takes 6-8 hours in a 40 degree, revolving room. It is a must-see at the fair.

Bonnie: Butterhead ’01

I was lucky enough to be a finalist in 2006. I was not selected as Princess Kay, but I did receive an ice cream cone charm made of Swarovski crystal, which is basically the next best thing, am I right?

Amanda: Butterhead ‘06

For three blissful years, the butter avatars coexisted in a freezer in my parent’s basement. Yes, my parents actually bought an extra freezer to store all 180 pounds of buttery goodness.

I had big plans for our butterheads. It was a long-term plan. Very long-term. I wanted to save our butterheads just in case my younger sisters followed in our footsteps and brought home their very own malleable statues. When Bonnie was crowned in 2001, our youngest sister Katrina was only two years old. As I said, long-term. Anyway, my big idea was to put all four butterheads together- a Mount Rushmore of sorts. For good measure, I thought we could put Santa hats on the heads and send out the most epic Christmas Card of all time! It would read, "Hope you have a Dairy Good Year!"

But alas, my sisters did not share my dream. More importantly, my parents did not support the idea of purchasing another freezer to warehouse butterheads. So the day after Bonnie's wedding in 2009 we had a giant corn feed and butter Bonnie bit the dust. In 2012, I followed suit the day after our wedding. I was not happy about it.

While it may be too late to create a Mount Thoemore Christmas Card, my younger sister McCayla is a finalist for Princess Kay this year. We are all so thrilled and excited to see her pursue this childhood dream. Princess Kay will be crowned next Wednesday, the night before the State Fair opens. Regardless of the coutcome, McCayla will always be my little Dairy Princess! XOXO Sista!

McCayla Thoe: Butterhead Coming 2014



Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Drew's 2013 Christmas Letter

The day was November 9, almost three full weeks before the Thanksgiving Holiday even took place, when I opened up the trunk of our car and discovered it was crammed full of Christmas decorations. I thought to myself, “surely Amanda plans on storing these decorations in here until after Thanksgiving.” I discovered how wrong I was moments later when my dear wife, with a look of holiday-induced fanaticism on her face, anxiously informed me that we had to hurry up and get the decorations up post-haste and while I’m at it I better get started on our annual Christmas letter. “Geez” I thought to myself, “how can I start our Xmas letter when there are still practically two months left until Xmas and a lot could happen between now and then –  like I could get a motorcycle and take it on a cross-country trip to Seattle where I would trade it for a small sailing skiff which I would use to sail across the ocean to Tahiti where I would trade it for a surfboard and become famous for surfing the biggest wave ever.” I was about to express these concerns to Amanda when I looked into her big beautiful blue eyes and became acutely aware that if her eyes could speak they would say something along the lines of, “I dare you to argue with me, chump.” “Yes dear, I’ll get started right away” I said. You learn a lot in your first year of marriage.


And it has been a great first year. First and foremost, Amanda graduated and received her Master’s degree in Applied Economics from the University of Minnesota. Her program was very grueling and stressful and when it was completed we not only celebrated her great accomplishment, but the fact that she would be able to live a normal life again. I wish I was able to tell you more about what she studied, but the extent of my knowledge concerning the intricacies of applied economics is that it involves some impossible form of mathematics brought to Earth by space-aliens in an attempt to make our puny human heads explode.


While Amanda was advancing her career opportunities by becoming more educated, I was trying to strike it rich with a new business venture I learned about on the backstreets of St. Paul. It’s called Pedal Cabbing (or bike taxis if you prefer). Basically, I ride a bike with a giant bench seat around town and try to pick up people that are too inebriated to walk. The “striking it rich” part hasn’t quite come to fruition like one would imagine it would, but it has been good exercise and entertaining to say the least.


We also got a new dog named after the Norse god of mischief, Loki. So far he has lived up to his name. His favorite game is stealthily breaking into our closet to steal our socks. I don’t appreciate this game as much as he does because I am already perpetually suffering from a severe shortage of socks. Our dog trainer told us to put hot-sauce on the socks in an attempt to deter this behavior, but I don’t like this either because the hot sauce burns my feet. I think the secret is to not wear the socks.


We also did a bit of traveling this year. Most notable would be our trip to Nova Scotia. Why Nova Scotia you ask? Well, we saw it on the cover of a magazine once and it looked nice. What other reason do you need, really? It turned out to be a great trip. We kayaked through uncomfortably large swells in the Bay of Fundy and camped in secluded coves right on the ocean; we boiled fresh lobster in the very saltwater from whence it came; we went whale-watching on a Zodiac raft that went 10,000 nautical miles-per-hour and when the maniacal captain wasn’t doing his best to launch us out of the raft we got so close to the whales that I could have dropped a marble right down their blowhole; we had a close encounter with a giant bull moose; and we met amazingly nice people who were more than eager to invite complete strangers (us) to their homes to help ourselves to their woodpile. In the end, we did not want to bid farewell to Nova Scotia.


There was also a little trip down to Charleston, South Carolina with our younger sister, McCayla. We took the trip because Amanda can do space-alien math and some other smart people wanted to hear her speak about smart stuff at a big conference for smart people down there. While Amanda was hanging out with those nerds, McCayla and I hit up the beaches. The first day on the beach I did some surfing and some sun burning. McCayla did some tanning and some laughing at my freakishly red skin. The following days McCayla continued to do some tanning while I hid from the sun underneath fishing piers like some grotesque ghoul muttering in the shadows about how much I loathed everyone with bronze skin. When Amanda was done with the conference we all had a good time paddle-boarding with dolphins, playing in the waves, touring a “haunted” Civil War era prison, and generally enjoying Charleston’s old-south charm.    


We did some other stuff too, but I won’t bore you with those details. Okay, maybe just a little. The Alaskan Imes’ made their way down to the Lower 48, so we enjoyed time spent with them. We were also blessed with a new nephew, Lane. He is a real cool dude, but I will let his folks, Bonnie and TJ, tell you more about him. What else? Oh yes, we started a book club in which we meet with friends to have very loud, ultra-dorky conversations about the books we read. As for the future, I will be coaching a snowboard team again this winter and Amanda will continue to rock out in her new band, Adults on Bikes. We still work together at the Minnesota Department of Revenue because we just can’t get enough of each other. Who knows, maybe I can even convince her to jump on the back of that motorcycle with me. We’ll be in Tahiti in no time.


---Merry Christmas to you and all your loved ones Drew and Amanda Imes

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Perfect Christmas Tree II

Footage from our second-annual Christmas Tree Quest with the Austin Family!

Here's the link: The Perfect Christmas Tree II

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. All you have to do is show up in some elastic wasted pants, eat until you physically feel ill and enjoy the company of family and friends. That is, unless you are hosting.

This was the second year I “hosted” Thanksgiving. I’m using quotes here because this year we were at my Mom and Dad’s house, so I co-hosted with my mom this year. My primary responsibility was to take care of the meal essentials (turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing etc) and my mom took care of everything else. (My mom is pretty awesome like that.)

My favorite part of hosting is decorating the table. It’s the time of year you can really whip out all the things from your wedding registry and put them to good use!

Last year, I went a little crazy and carved out dozens of tiny pumpkins and turned them into candles. It made for very romantic lighting but was also a major fire hazard.

This year, my mom and I had a great time mixing and matching her place settings with some things from my house. We used two table cloths from Grandma Luker. We used my mom’s china and silver place settings with my chargers. The mix of new with old was a little different but somehow still worked.

I was extremely lucky last year and somehow, the timing of everything worked out perfectly so I naively thought, “wow, hosting Thanksgiving is such a cinch! I can definitely do that again!” This year, things didn’t go quite so smoothly. I over-roasted the garlic (see: burned) and dumped it into the mashed potatoes anyway. As they say, a little garlic goes a long way, but I forgot that little piece of advice so the potatoes were very-very-garlicky. As in, none of us need to worry about vampires for a few months. The stuffing turned out great- all four varieties! Once again, I went a little overboard on the stuffing… but everyone likes leftovers so no problems there. I drove 45 miles one way to pick up these rolls from my favorite place, Omar's Café in West Concord, MN. Totally, completely worth every mile.... mmmm....

Both years I’ve used the brine recipe from Pioneer Woman (basically bay leaves, rosemary, apple cider, garlic, brown sugar, pepper and orange rind).  After I pull the bird out of the brine, I lather it up with a mixture of soft butter, rosemary, sage and thyme. The real key is to lather the bird under the skin. Both years this has made for a very moist and delicious bird! I probably left it in for a bit too long this year, but it was still yummy. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t great. Guests arrived but I wasn’t ready for about half an hour. The mashed potatoes had cooled a bit and the turkey didn’t have ample time to cool before we carved it. I guess the timing is one of those elusive things that sometimes you are able to nail and other years you totally botch.

All-in-all I just want to reflect on the new appreciation I have for the people in my life that have hosted countless holiday meals without a flaw. Candace Ryan and Jim Luker stand out where hosting is concerned. They somehow manage to make you feel completely at home the whole time they were slaving away in the kitchen without ever exhibiting even the slightest sign of stress. Of course my parents and grandparents have also pulled off parties for more than 40 guests year after year.  I think you cannot fully appreciate a good host until you’ve attempted to host yourself.  So thanks again for all those past parties people!

Here is a cool picture of the amazing apron my mom made me as a hostess gift! (Also my adorable nephew Lane and my sister Bonnie!)


Unfortunately, I do not have the same grace as the hosts listed above. It is safe to say that I definitely show signs of stress and anxiety throughout the entire process. This year, my dad and Bonnie helped me remove the turkey from the brine, lather it in butter, insert the stuffing and place in the roaster. My dad kept telling me to relax and at one point Bonnie told a story that I completely ignored and my dad suggested I work on my listening skills. “This is NOT the time to relax or to listen to stories, if anyone should be listening, you should be listening to my instructions!” I retorted! (See, I’m a hostzilla, a turkey monster!) I apologized and everyone forgave me because deep-down they sort of knew I was half-right. Later my grandma even took my side, saying that getting the turkey into the oven on time is not a good time to relax.

I am pretty pumped to be ‘into the fold’ or ‘in the big leagues’ or a quasi-real-adult- however you want to say it. I guess I’m a grown up now and I think it’s pretty awesome and fun.  Roasting turkeys, setting tables and getting jazzed up about things like a perfect pie crust. 

One last pic of my slightly burned turkey just for fun! Now... on to xmas!


Monday, October 14, 2013

Lefse- A Norwegian Family Tradition

On Sunday the women of the Thoe family gathered to practice the time-honored tradition of making lefse.

Our great-aunts have been making lefse for family gatherings, the church bizarre and smörgåsbords for years. When we put together the lefse party, we didn’t realize that my great-aunt Martha’s lefse is something of a legend, and her recipe a well-kept family secret.

I headed to Grandma’s house on Saturday night to boil and rice the potatoes. Grandma filled me in on Martha’s prowess in the art of Scandinavian culinary delights. I then suggested that we could use our lefse at the family thanksgiving, but Grandma didn’t know if our lefse would be suitable to serve guests. I started to sense that I was in over my head…  

We all gathered the next day, added the flour and started rolling balls. The aunts started to discuss the going-rate of lefse over the years. They figured $1.25 was the current rate for a package of 3 lefse rolls, but they also acknowledged that really good lefse could go for $1 apiece. After our first few attempts, Connie remarked, “Well you wouldn’t get a dollar for that one!”

It was a really wonderful day, and Michelle and I have high hopes that someday soon we will be able to make lefse suitable to serve to guests!

Bonnie made an awesome video of the day, you can watch it here: Lefse- A Norwegian Family Tradition

Thanks Grandma, Loretta, Connie & Martha for such a great day! xo


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nova Scotia

A little overdue, but I wanted to put a recap of our trip to Nova Scotia together.

We arrived in Halifax late on the 5th and began our adventure bright and early on the 6th. We headed out in our little Fiat toward the Bay of Fundy. Almost immediately we were enchanted with the charms of Nova Scotia, a place where you can eat lobster at almost any restaurant, even at the local McDonald’s.

We made it to the quaint little town of Five Islands on the Minas Basin by 9 am and decided to pull into the Five Islands Provincial Park. When we arrived the coast was blanketed in fog, but luckily the fog lifted about a mile into our hike. We had a great hike to the Red Head and were reluctant to leave before the free clam digging lessons.

We then continued down the coast, stopping at Spencer’s Island to visit the Mary Celeste lighthouse. The lighthouse was  named for a very famous ship that was found floating, completely intact, without a soul onboard in December 1872. Our final stop before reaching Advoucate Harbour was at the Cape D’or Lighthouse. While the road that takes you out to the Cape is a bit treacherous at times, the views from the lighthouse were breathtaking. 

Finally, we made our way to Advoucate, where we planned to spend our first night. At the gas station we asked if we could buy some wood for a campfire. The sales clerk looked at us in confused astonishment and then simply said, “well, if you go to the beach wood is free.” We paid for our things and as we were leaving she came bursting out to tell us that we should just stop by her house if we couldn’t find any wood on the beach. Nova Scotians are really, really nice.

We left the gas station and headed to a little campsite and asked if we could buy some wood. She gave us a smirk and said, "well, I shouldn't be telling you this, but you can camp on the beach for free and there's plenty of wood along the beach!" We camped out on the beach the first night and made a fire out of driftwood. 

The next morning we made our way to the Cape Chignecto Provincial Park to meet our kayaking crew, Nova Shores Sea Kayaking Adventures.   The road to Cape Chignetco is also a bit treachorous at times, but worth the drive. our kayaking adventure was wonderful. The paddle was difficult and at times the waves were quite large, which made for a really fun trip. We kayaked past the three sisters, pictured below. 

Kayaking past the Three Sisters.

Beach Picnic prepared by our guides.

A restroom with a view at Cape Chignetco Provincial Park.

The beach at Cape Chignetco Provincial Park.

 That evening, we met up with our kayaking group on the driftwood beach. We enjoyed lobsters boiled in saltwater right on the beach. That evening, we headed back up the road a bit and camped in a cove on the ocean. 

Campsite #2

Reluctantly, we left the Bay of Fundy the next morning and made our way up the coast to Cape Bretton Island. We drove the Cabot Trail, stopping frequently to take pictures and enjoyed the view. We made it to the Skyline trail at dusk and debated whether we should risk the hike. We knew the hike would take a few hours and we'd have to hike back in the dark. We decided to go for it and took off down the trail. We devised a master plan in the event of running into a moose (climb the nearest tree as fast as you can). Just a mile into our hike, we entered a clearing and sure enough, a bull moose was munching away not thirty or forty yards away. We froze, unsure of what to do. After standing there silently for about twenty minutes, we finally decided that the moose didn't really care about us so we decided to quietly slip past. We made it to the end of the trail just as the sun set, and were so thankful we decided to make the hike.

 The next morning, we took a zodiak whale watching tour. We were the only two on the first tour and made the mistake of telling our captain that we had been hiking and camping throughout Nova Scotia. I think he decided we were the adventurous sort that would appreciate a wild ride, and a very wild ride it was indeed... I honestly felt a little afraid that I might fly out of the boat on the 4 mile ride out into bay. We saw dozens of pilot whales, at least ten of which were within an arm's reach at times. For great whale watching, Pleasant Bay is the place to be. There are several whale watching tours, larger boats for families and small zodiacs for other yahoos like us.
 After whale watching, we stopped for a dip at Ingonish Beach and took a nice hike out to Middle Head.

Finally, we made our way back to Halifax for our last day. We loved our little rental Fiat, we sure put it through the ringer! In Halifax we enjoyed sea food, poutine, the naval museum and watching the ships come and go. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is a must-see in Halifax, as Halifax has been home to several historical maritime incidents. (Rescue ships were sent from Halifax to pick up Titanic survivors and bring home the deceased. In 1917, a French munitions ship accidentally collided with a Norwegian ship, setting off the largest explosion prior to the atomic bomb, devastating the city and killing thousands. There have been 10,000 recorded shipwrecks off the coasts of Nova Scotia, which also makes for some very interesting exhibits and history.) 

We also took a tour of Keith's brewery. Founded in 1820, the brewery is now one of the oldest commercial breweries in North America. The tour was far from your run-of-the-mill brewery tour. Actors guide you through the brewery and portray the dress and customs of the first patrons of Keith's brewery, thoroughly entertaining you while also providing you very large samples of Keith's ales.  

We were very sorry to say "farewell to Nova Scotia" but we are very certain that we will be back to camp on her shores once again! 
Cleaning up the fiat before returning it to the rental company!

One of the actors that led us through Keith's brewery.

Drew aboard the CSS Acadia, the only ship to survive WWI, WWII and the Halifax explosion of 1917.

Drew, sampling some poutine! 

Our route.