Dirty Hands and a Green Thumb

Gardening! Who’d have thought this would be something would be throwing myself into? Certainly not me!

We’ve always had some gardens, but traditionally, it’s been Mark who plants some tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, onions, peppers and whatever else he could fit in the spaces in the back yard. He’d start off all meticulous and attentive, but eventually the weeds would take over. Not that this prevented the plants from producing or anything. We always enjoy summer tomatoes, and cucumbers, if we managed to pick ‘em before they grew to the size of footballs. And we’ve had some incredible home-grown squash by fall each year. We’ve just never had gardens that looked like they were well cared for.

Flowers have always been my job. I buy some hanging baskets of petunias and plant a few pots of geraniums every year; just enough to give the yard some color. A little watering. No weeding. Low maintenance.

I have never been all that interested in the preening and pruning, weeding and watering of gardens. It could be that, growing up, my parents always planted this enormous vegetable garden (relative to the size of our not-so enormous yard.) They would send us kids out to pick green beans (which I hated. Still do.) Worse, they would send us out to do the weeding. No kid wants to weed a garden. There is zero fulfillment in that! And you could just never get them all. You’d weed one day, and there’d be more sprouting up the next day. Frustrating! And during the Minnesota summers, weeding the garden could be a hot and sweaty, itchy kind of job. There were mosquitoes, spiders and various other creepy-crawlies to freak me out. The garden was definitely the last place I wanted to be.

I don’t know what hit me this spring, but I had an urge to be more involved in the vegetable gardens. I think it was the cucumbers that motivated me. I like cucumbers – on a salad or sliced up with onions and a homemade dressing. I kept thinking about overgrown, too-fat, yellowing cucumbers full of big fat seeds that were picked from the vine and tossed straight in the trash. What a waste. I told Mark that I was sure he was buying the wrong variety and that I would help pick out something that wouldn’t grow out of control so quickly. And that’s where it all began.

We overdid it, of course. There are six tomato plants, two cherry tomatoes, six green pepper plants, plus a yellow and an orange. There are radishes and onions, kale, and the rhubarb that comes back all on its own year after year. Later this summer, we’re going to have more vegetables than we know what to do with. The beauty of this is, everyone loves fresh, home=grown produce. There’s always a neighbor or coworker willing to take the excess of our hands. And if we’re lucky, Mark will make some of his famous rhubarb custard pies.

We’re trying peas this year for the first time. The rabbits have chomped down a few of the seedlings, but some of the peas have survived and begun to climb the trellis already.

017a

… and there are sunflowers, just for fun.

023

The sunflowers don’t look like much yet, but I hope they’ll be bright and happy later this summer. A friend suggested I plan on roasting the seeds this fall. Hmm… Maybe!

A few bell peppers are already starting to grow. I’m really looking forward to the orange and yellow ones.

024

There’s a pot of sweet basil on the deck that I look forward to cooking with. And Kacey planted some cilantro too.

 

Yesterday after dinner, I spent a couple of hours weeding and watering and everything looks fresh and tidy again. It’s supposed to rain throughout the weekend, so the plants should be happy, happy, happy.

This could be the beginning of a new interest for me! Maybe there’s a green thumb inside me somewhere after all!

Sunshine and Bovines

Lucy came to wake me up at 5:30 this morning. I patted the mattress to let her know that a few more ZZZs were in order and she was welcome to join me. She respectfully declined but allowed me another hour of sleep before coming back at 6:30 to see if I was then ready to greet the day. I could see daylight seeping in the windows as I looked down the hallway. It was time to get up.

We were expecting clouds and rain this weekend, but this morning showed no signs of either. I slipped into some yoga pants and a t-shirt and pulled on a hooded sweatshirt before saying the words to Lucy. I still needed to brush my teeth, but I couldn’t resist the thought of her prancing around my feet in excitement and the way she begs me to hurry up.

Wanna go for a walk?

As the electric toothbrush hummed in my mouth, Lucy danced and pranced around me. She nudged against my legs and whined with joy. I found a pair of sunglasses for myself and coaxed Lucy into her harness. As soon as the leash was clipped on, Lucy tugged me out the door and through the garage before the garage door was fully open.

And we were off. I’m not sure why I call it a walk. It’s more of an adventure in hanging on while Lucy runs, tugs, pulls, chases squirrels, sniffs all the smells and stops abruptly to mark her territory. I read an article yesterday that said if you’re serious about getting a workout, you shouldn’t take your dog along. Whoever wrote that article never met my dog. We definitely burn some calories when we go out exploring.

Anyway, it was a great morning to be out in the neighborhood. We crossed paths with five runners, three of whom appeared to be high school kids (probably in training for the Track team.) Each of them waved at us and offered a friendly Good morning as we passed by. Such a simple gesture, but it sure makes me smile when others reach out in that way. Camaraderie among the morning people!

I just love this time of year and having the chance to be awake and outside during the early part of the day. Non-morning people won’t get it, but there’s just something about being outside before the day gets into full swing. The suburban noise hasn’t yet begun but there is so much sound to enjoy, like the singing of birds. The grass is covered in dew and it glitters under the rays of the morning sun. It reminds me of  a Robert Frost poem, which I’m sorry to admit I would never know if it weren’t for S.E. Hinton.

Grass in the morning sun

“Stay gold, Ponyboy… Stay gold!”

Lucy and I even got to say hello to the cows today. I don’t know if the neighbors bordering the farm feel the same way, (certain country smells and all,) but I think we’re really lucky to have a bit of rural life right in the midst of our neighborhood. Actually, we owe our thanks to these farmers for the fact that we have a neighborhood to call our own. We now live on what used to be a piece of their farmland.

Anyway, the cows don’t often hang out so close to the path, so it was a rare treat to see them this morning.

Cows 2It is definitely a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Blossoming

The world outside is coming to life again and so am I. As much as I try to fight it, the winter months quiet me. The long stretch of cold, sharp months make it hard to find my energy and motivation. Many of those days find me slogging through my daily routine. And I don’t even often realize what a rut I’m in until the air begins to warm, the sunshine visits more frequently and suddenly I feel as if I’m exiting a long, dark tunnel.

Spring makes me feel alive again and I know I’m not the only one. A coworker who was tanning during the last weeks of winter told me, “I know it’s bad for me. I just need the light and the warmth right now so much more than I care about the health hazards.”

Last weekend, as Kacey and I were running errands, she exuded joy when she exclaimed, “It’s so good to see the sun! It just makes me so happy!

I know what she means. Just a little sunshine and warmth is all it takes sometimes to make me realize what a cocoon I’ve been in the last several months.

It’s been warm this week. It’s been a no-jacket kind of week (and what a treat that is!) It’s been a week when I welcome the sound of the alarm clock, lace up my running shoes and head to the gym. (It’s still just a bit too dark and cold at that hour of the day to do my exercise outdoors.)  It’s been a hop in the car, roll down the windows, crank up the tunes and sing along like nobody’s watching kind of week.

The robins are back!

The robins are back!

It’s rainy and overcast this morning. And tomorrow will bring a dip in temperatures and I may have even heard there’s a slight chance of the S-word. But it’s not going to bring me down. The extended forecast calls for more spring-like temperatures. Winter’s in the rearview mirror now!

Snowfall

The deep freeze went away. Last weekend, Lucy reveled in the freedom to run and play in the back yard without freezing her cute little paws off. I think we made it past the thirties! And believe it or not, I saw a few people in shorts on Saturday!

007b

Looking for a stick in the brush pile

Sniffing scents in the snow

Sniffing scents in the snow

Last night and early this morning, a snowfall came to our area. It was pretty typical as far as snowfalls in Minnesota go and it left a few inches of clean, white fluff on the ground and a bit of a dip in the temperature. During the week, I get up for the day while it’s still dark outside. There’s a street light on the corner across from our house. So the first thing I did was to go to the window and watch big, heavy, wet snowflakes rain down in a slant beneath the glow of the street light. It was pretty. And I knew the drive to work would be slow.

It was a small challenge just getting out of the driveway. The lines separating the lanes on streets and freeways were invisible. I listened to the radio, laughed at the morning show antics and sang along to favorite songs as my car crawled along in traffic along with hundreds of others. It’s a good thing I left early. My usual twenty-minute to half-hour drive took an hour.

It was a busy day at work and I was immersed. Lunch break passed me by. I ate while I continued working at my desk and it was time to go home before I realized it. When I went out to my car, it was a simple pleasure to see daylight. The sun has been scarce lately or I’ve stayed at the office long enough to miss it. Thankfully, the roads were cleaner and drier for the drive home. Unfortunately, the driveway wasn’t.

The unspoken division of duties at our house means Mark usually handles the outside stuff and I cover the inside stuff. I expected him to tackle the snow in the driveway before he went to work this afternoon, but he ended up starting earlier than planned. The driveway was not visible when I pulled up after work. I had to gun it to get my car up the slight incline and into the garage. I knew that when  Jake got home, he would have trouble getting his car through the crusty lip of snow that, thanks to the snowplow, edged the end of our driveway. And then he’d have to navigate the blanket of snow the covered the rest of it and into the turn-around where he parks at the end of each day. I thought I might clear it out for him before he got home.

My parents have a snow blower. This is what Mark uses to clear our driveway and theirs, when he does the snow removal. I don’t know how to run it, and besides, it’s finicky. I bundled up and grabbed one of the many snow shovels from the selection hanging on the garage wall.

Our driveway doesn’t seem so big. Until I’m shoveling it by hand. Then it feels enormous! As I scraped and pushed and scooped up snow, I heard the whir of snow blowers all around the neighborhood. I wondered if nobody just shovels snow anymore. Neighbors drove by periodically, honked and waved. True or not, I felt like somewhat of an oddity. About halfway through the job, I was sweating, sniffling, and the cold air felt sharp in my lungs. I was getting tired! Thankfully, Jake pulled into the neighborhood just then. He left his car on the street for the time being and grabbed another shovel. Together we cleared the rest of the snow away. It’s true what they say. Many hands make light work.

Just before we finished, I realized that dusk had fallen and the moon was hanging in the sky, just behind the neighbor’s tree. It was picturesque.  I stopped a moment to appreciate the moon, recognizing the hush of winter around us. I might not have noticed the moon or the hush had I been pushing a snow blower, and for sure wouldn’t have if I had been warm and cozy in the house instead of outside in the cold.

Winter Moon

Winter Moon

That moon can come back any time it likes. I won’t mind if the snow doesn’t.

Minnesota State Fair 2013

Mark and I visited the Minnesota State Fair on Sunday, admission compliments of my employer. And speaking of my employer and State Fair-related things…

Yay me!

We woke up bright and early on Sunday morning. We like to get to the fair early in the day. We drove to our usual free park-and-ride spot, a little gem we discovered a few years ago. Oh, sure, you can drive right to the fairgrounds and wait in an endless line to pay nine dollars or more to park and then walk for blocks before arriving at the actual entrance to the fairgrounds. OR you can park at one of the free park-and-ride lots only a mile or so from the fair. There, you can get on a lovely air-conditioned coach bus, ride for free, and get dropped off right at one of the fair entrance gates. When you’re ready to leave, after walking and sweating for hours, one of those air-conditioned buses will be available about every fifteen minutes to take you back to the parking lot where you parked. Can’t beat this deal!

Sunday was another hot and steamy day, one of the hottest of the summer so far. But the weather didn’t keep us away and judging by the crowds, it couldn’t intimidate many others either. The blustery winds from the day before were still hanging around and we were grateful. And since it was shaping up to be such a warm day, we decided to do “inside” stuff first. We headed for the grandstand to check out the fair’s wares.

We didn’t find much of interest to buy, but we did get sucked in for a little health assessment. Mark tried to walk on by but I was actually interested, so we agreed to watch a short video and then have our skin scanned to measure the level of advanced glycation end-products in our bodies. (The video had explained that these were bad!) The scanner would then produce a reading that would indicate a person’s “TruAge” as opposed to their actual years. I gathered that the expectation was that most people would read older than their actual years. And if so, there was a nutritional drink available for purchase that will help bring your reading down to one that meets your actual years of age or, hopefully, even lower. I placed my arm on the scanner, thinking of the greasy, sugary mini-donuts we’d just consumed and wondering just how old I was going to “read.” Shortly afterwards came my reading.

TruAgeb

 I had actually measured sixteen years lower than my actual age. All I could do was laugh as the salesman informed me that I had a gift! Mark measured only two years above his age. The salesman kindly informed us that he couldn’t sell us anything. I had to appreciate his honesty, even if I didn’t have any idea whether the things he’d just measured truly meant anything health-wise, since I’d never heard of them before. And so we moved on, with full intentions to eat lots more greasy, calorie-laden treats in the hours ahead.

Next, we made our way to the 4-H building. Caitlin, the fifteen year-old daughter of our former next-door neighbors was performing in a 4-H musical production. We’ve known Caitlin since the day she was born and she’s like family to us. Since she was performing on the very day we would be at the fair, we wouldn’t think of missing her show. It was a great little production, full of history, humor, popular music and valuable life lessons.

IMG_1281We fully enjoyed the production, but by the end, we were sweating. It was time to get back outside. Our travels led us to the biggest pumpkins I’ve ever laid eyes on! If I remember correctly, the blue ribbon winner was over 800 pounds! (Wonder how they transported that baby?)

IMG_1287bWe walked through the horse barns and sat for a while in the coliseum to watch some horse shows. We people-watched, which can be endlessly entertaining. All kinds of us are drawn to the fair and I’m sure we’re each fascinating in some way to someone else. We found things to eat, such as deep-fried cheese curds and an amazing steak sandwich offered by a locally famous char-house, Mancini’s. We tried one of the fair’s newest offerings, deep-fried, cream cheese-stuffed green olives on a stick! (Only $6.50 for six olives! Hey, no one ever promised bargain prices at the fair!)

IMG_1291And thanks to the heat, we drank what seemed like gallons of water and gallons of lemonade. Lemonade has never tasted so good to me! And the chocolate malt we shared didn’t taste too bad either!

Our travels continued on foot until I let Mark talk me into taking a ride across the fairgrounds on the sky ride, which is a colorful chairlift that carries riders high above all of the attractions and fair-goers. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I agreed. I have an insane fear of heights and after trying briefly to enjoy the view, I spent the remainder of the ride squeezing my eyes shut, sweating profusely and attempting not to hyperventilate. If I weren’t gripping the safety bar with a death grip, I would have punched Mark when he lied to me and said we were almost to the end. Obviously, there are no pictures as I couldn’t loosen my grip long enough to take out my phone and brave an aerial shot.

I have to admit, though, that the terrifying sky ride was worth it. It brought us close to the car dealerships where we checked out several models for the purchase I’ve been planning to make for months, but still haven’t. I think I’ve got it narrowed down to three fuel-efficient, decently priced models. And we collected free t-shirts and drawstring backpacks for our efforts, not to mention three coupons good for a $50 gift card when we go take a test drive at our local dealerships.

After wandering, eating, drinking and seeing so much, we took a break under a shady tree to watch the daily parade.

The Budweiser Clydesdales

The Budweiser Clydesdales

A BIG steer!

A BIG steer!

The Minnesota Wild mascot

The Minnesota Wild mascot

After the parade, we realized we were bushed. I’d applied industrial strength deodorant before leaving the house and it was no longer even remotely effective. It was time to go home. We were already near the gate where we’d entered the fairgrounds early that morning, so we walked the short distance back to the spot where a lovely air-conditioned bus was just waiting to take us back to where we’d parked. Although the fair continues through Labor Day, it’s over for us this year. One day-long visit is enough for us, but we’ll eagerly do it all over again next year.

And this brings us up to speed

Summer is in full swing here. We’ve had two weeks of sun, heat and humidity with the occasional thunderstorm mixed in. I love to slide into my car after eight hours in an office where the air conditioning works too well. For just a few minutes, I welcome the feel of the car’s heat surrounding me like an oven. As I drive out of the company lot with the windows rolled down, the hot air washes away and the car’s air conditioning kicks in. Feels good!

Mark continues to carry on the A/C battle at home, although I think it’s just become a joke to him now. We’ll watch the news and hear the weather man say, “Tomorrow is going to feel like a hundred!” Then Mark chimes in. “Should we turn off the air?”  I think he just does it to get me riled up and hear me yell, “Don’t you DARE!”

The summer days are passing by too quickly, as they always tend to do. In the nine days since I’ve documented any bit of my life here, much has happened.

My dad had a short hospital stay and while he was there, my mom took a pretty good fall. Both are better now, but in the midst of it all, there was a good amount of coming and going to check on everyone and make sure all was okay.

Gina came from Ohio for a visit and we were able to squeeze in some much-needed, much-missed girlfriend time. It felt so good to catch up with my best friend. There’s nothing like the feeling of talking endlessly about everything and nothing with the person who has known you so well for so long. She’s recovering well from her bout with breast cancer. She looks and acts more like the old Gina than she has in a long while. She and her husband are building a new house. Her kids are doing well and she seems happy. I still miss having her in close proximity, though. Fourteen hours distance from my best pal is just too much for my liking, but I am happy that things are going well for her.

Brad and Heather came home for the weekend. They had hardly been here an hour when the doorbell rang. It was Brad’s old baseball coach. Mark had run into him the night before and mentioned Brad would be home for the weekend. Coach came by to reconnect with one of his favorite players! Over the weekend, we also squeezed in a trip to the farmers’ market on Saturday morning and a graduation party in the afternoon. Brad managed a fishing trip with his high school buddy, Joe. And we all enjoyed a visit from another of his high school pals, Justin. Justin is getting married in September and Brad has the honor of being a member of the wedding party. Justin and his fiance, Jenny came to have pizza and catch up with everyone. I went to bed long before the kids were done visiting.

On Sunday morning, Heather joined her girlfriends in the local Color Run 5K. After the run, Brad met up with Heather and friends for pizza at Cosetta’s. While they were out of the house, I enjoyed some quiet time with “the girls.”

Dacotah and Lucy in a rare still moment...

Dacotah and Lucy in a rare still moment…

Sunday was a beautiful day and I spent some of it doing “activities.” Activities is Heather’s way of describing sun-worshipping. Brad has declared that none of us should purposely sit in the sun. “I don’t want any of you developing Melanoma!” he says. But after enduring snowfalls into the month of May this year, I sometimes feel as if I’m still thawing out. I can’t help but want to soak up a little bit of sunshine and Vitamin E. Not too much; just a little – with some sunscreen. And as soon as the kids were back from lunch, I moved out of the sun and under the shade of the canopy to sit with the family around the patio table. We snacked a little bit and laughed a lot until it was too warm to sit outside any longer. By late afternoon, it was time for Brad, Heather and Dacotah to head home again.

We still have some fun stuff ahead of us this summer – a weekend at a friend’s family cabin, our annual vacation in Bayfield, Wisconsin, and the Minnesota State Fair. Of course, the fair marks the unofficial end of summer, so I’m not looking forward to that too much just yet. The long, snowy winter is still too vivid in my mind. I can sometimes still feel the cold in my bones. So I am just taking this summer one beautiful, warm day at a time.

Fourth of July Morning Sky

001bI was up early enough today to catch the sunrise. I opened the patio door with plans to go out on the deck and give the pot of petunias a drink of water. I looked up and thought, “Fourth of July sky!”

I’m grateful to have a day off from work, a day to remember and celebrate the freedom of living in America. It’s often easy to forget how fortunate we really are to live here, to have opportunity, to have choice, and the freedom to express ourselves in almost any way.

I remember looking forward to the Fourth of July as a kid, when extended family would all gather together. The adults would relax in lawn chairs in the back yard, with paper plates of picnic food and coolers of cold beer nearby. We kids would guzzle root beer or grape pop, leaving purple smiles on our faces. Pop was a privilege we only enjoyed on special occasions and we made sure we got our fill. The adults would shoo us off to go play and we’d pound caps on the front sidewalk with rocks, competing to see who could create the loudest bang until one of the adults told us to give it a rest. And when the sun went down and darkness fell, we’d light sparklers and run through the yard with them, drawing flashy pictures in the air that dissolved almost as soon as they appeared.

Today feels like one of those days from my memory. Simple. Peaceful. Happy. The weather has been absolutely picturesque this week. I’m thrilled that this stretch of warm, sunny weather came along and stuck around so that we can really enjoy a summer day at it’s finest. Mark and I will spend it with friends, Paul and Megan at Square Lake (which has some of the clearest water in Minnesota) and afterwards, we’ll share a picnic dinner out on our back deck. Tomorrow we’ll fall back into our usual routines, but today, we will remember and celebrate.

 

The Corn Man

I’ve been meaning to buy some paint for a couple of projects I have planned. I needed Mark’s handyman expertise for the paint purchase, so I asked him if he wanted to accompany me to his favorite local home improvement store. Of course, he did.

“Should we go see if the Corn Man is around first?” he asked.

We were planning to grill steaks for Sunday dinner and I had twice-baked potatoes in the works too. Fresh corn on the cob sounded like the perfect way to round off our meal, so I quickly agreed.

We visit the Corn Man several times every summer and we’ve never been disappointed. Up until just a few years ago, he sold his produce from the back of an old pickup truck parked on the corner of a busy intersection. A hand-painted sign advertising “Fresh Sweet Corn” was all he needed to attract business. He must have done well all these years. He keeps coming back and we look forward to seeing him every summer. As we pulled up in Mark’s pickup truck, windows rolled down so we could enjoy the perfect summer day, Mark called out to the Corn Man, “Hey, you got yourself a stand! You’re movin’ up in the world!”

Corn Man 2“Yup,” said the Corn Man with a big smile.

We got out of the truck and approached the stand. There were some tomatoes on display, fresh blueberries, asparagus, and muskmelon. There were a few ears of corn, but not many.

“Ya got more corn?” Mark asked.

“Sure do,” said the corn man, reaching down behind his produce displays to pull out a crate stuffed full of big, fresh ears of summer corn.

“Where’s it from?” Mark asked. “Is it good?”

“This here’s from Georgia,” said the corn man, dumping the crate of corn into the bin. He picked up an ear and peeled the husk back and took a bite.

“Mmmm,” he said and handed the ear to Mark. “Try it.”

Mark took a bite and handed the ear to me. They both looked at me, expecting me to follow suit and all I could think was, “I don’t want to bite off of that now!” But, I did anyway. I just peeled the husk back a little more and bit out of a lower section of the ear. And it was good! I couldn’t believe how sweet and juicy the corn was, even before it was cooked.

“We’ll take a dozen,” Mark said. Other customers lined up behind us while the Corn Man filled a plastic bag with ears. He and Mark chatted about how soon the corn might be coming from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Not for a while, yet.

The bag was filled to full when the Corn Man said, “I’m giving you an extra, in case one of the ears is poopy.” In reality, there were a few extras. “Don’t cook it too long,” he added. Mark took the bag and handed over some cash, tossing in a few “extras” himself.

“Need any strawberries?” the Corn Man asked. Mark looked at me, and I shook my head. I didn’t really, and there were others waiting to buy things. We thanked him and Mark pulled his truck door open. Before I made my way around to the passenger side, the Corn Man handed me a big, red, ripe tomato.

“Here. A tomato for the tomato,” he said with a smile.

“Thanks,” I said, laughing. I wasn’t sure what he meant by calling me a tomato. I’d become a little sunburned earlier in the day. But when he added, “Don’t tell your husband I said that,” I was pretty sure he wasn’t referring to the color of my skin. Out of curiosity, I looked it up when I got home. The Corn Man’s comment was apparently meant as something of a compliment. Good thing I didn’t know to be offended, and he’s really such a good-natured,  friendly guy, I’m still not!

It had been a picture-perfect summer day and we ate our dinner under the shade of the canopy out on the deck with Kacey and Connor. The food was spectacular and everyone raved about it, eating until we could eat no more. We will definitely be visiting the Corn Man again this summer!

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (plus men in little clothing)

Look at this big guy who was hanging out at the bird feeder on Friday morning! There must have been a shortage of discarded french fries and/or roadkill out on the street!IMG_8481bLucy and I really enjoyed our morning walk today. The air was perfectly comfortable and there was a slight haze in the sky so the sun wasn’t so hard on the eyes. (I hate wearing sunglasses when I’m out walking. They always fall down my nose.) We encountered a few other dogs along the way. They greeted Lucy from their yards and she strained on the leash in an effort to get closer to them. A big man in nothing but his bathrobe stepped down off his front porch to tell “Julie” to stop her barking and go sit up on the porch while we passed. She did as he said, stopping once or twice to turn and yip-yap one more time in Lucy’s direction.

We went out early, while it was still quiet in the neighborhoods. I love how peaceful it is in the early part of the day, before the hustle and bustle of life takes over. Lucy followed the trails of various scents along the way, nose to the ground and sniffing loudly. I admired the way the rain has promoted full, green lawns. They look so manicured after a fresh mowing. Flowers and plants have grown past their budding stages into full, colorful bloom.

When we first moved into our house, the neighborhoods in our area were just being developed. There was always new construction to watch and we would take walks just to see what kind of projects other new homeowners were working on, sometimes taking home ideas to put to use ourselves. These days, the trees are tall and strong, those that weren’t taken down by last week’s storm, anyway. There’s a definite sense of establishment. The storm couldn’t take that away, hard as it tried. As we walked, I admired the different ways people give personality to their yards and homes with colorful flower gardens, decks full of comfy patio furniture,  carefully patterned brick patios and even a few pools here and there. One home had a volleyball net set up in the side yard, and a back yard with a swing set and sandbox, and children’s toys scattered everywhere.

As we neared the corner to turn toward our house, another dog began to greet Lucy. My neighbor, Pat stepped out the door, bare-chested and wearing only a pair of shorts, scolding his dog and pulling him by the leash back inside the house. He waved as we walked by I said, “Hey, Pat!”

A few homes and properties in our neighborhood have fallen into disrepair. I guess that’s normal as a place begins to age. But for the most part it feels comfortable here. It feels settled and most of the time, it feels safe too. I am grateful that this place is where we call home.

Summer Storm

I had a long week and was looking forward to attending neighbor Genna’s graduation party after work last night. Genna lives across the street from us and we’ve known her for her entire life. She was born on the day of Kacey’s second birthday. It’s hard to believe that this   beautiful, talented and generous young woman is the same little munchkin who used to make chalk drawings on the driveway with her sister, Maggie and Kacey. And now she’s graduated from high school!

This seems to be the summer of clouds and rain for us. Yesterday’s weather forecast predicted rain and possible thunderstorms. I prayed all day that the rain would hold off until Genna’s party was done, particularly because two years ago on the day of Maggie’s party, it rained the entire day. That was the year Kacey graduated high school, and we had been invited to six different parties that day. I can only remember being unable to shake a cold, damp feeling as we made our way from one party to the next. And I especially remember how frustrated Maggie and Genna’s mom was after working so hard to coordinate what she’d hoped would be a lovely outdoor party for Maggie’s graduation.

As friends, family and neighbors began to gather across the street, Mark and I walked over to join them. The food was plentiful and delicious. The spread included representation of Genna’s Polish family heritage. I especially enjoyed the homemade Pierogis! It was nice to sit and relax and have a chance to really talk with some of the neighbors whom we normally just give a passing wave and shout hello. Clouds covered the sky but they seemed to be doing their best to refrain from opening up. Some of our group began to disperse and so Mark and I headed back home too. He wanted to catch a nap before going to work for the night. I wanted to shop for a pair of sandals that will go with a summer dress I’ve been wanting to wear to work.

I made the quick drive to the nearby shopping district and spent a good half hour wandering a shoe warehouse trying to decide on a pair of sandals. I found a pair that felt like a dream and then, thinking about the fact that Jake and Kacey were both gone for the night and I’d only be going home to a sleeping husband, decided to go wander around another favorite store. As I drove the short distance, a light sprinkling of drops appeared on my windshield. I quickly parked and hurried inside the store before the skies really opened up. And within minutes of my arrival in the store, they did!

I could hear the rain on the roof like the pounding of a thousand drums. I overheard a store employee remark about the intensity of storm. I, along with other shoppers, wandered leisurely around the store looking at anything and everything. Even if we were to brave the elements to get back to our cars, it was the kind of rain that made it impossible to drive. You’d never see three feet in front of the windshield!

tiki manI picked up a couple of new things to wear to work and a Tiki man to add to the Tiki lounge decor out on the deck. Connor’s been wanting me to get this guy ever since he first saw him when helping Kacey buy my Mother’s Day present. He’ll be happy! See what happens when I’m stuck inside a department store and can’t get out? Thunderstorms are clearly good for the economy.

While I wandered the store, I noticed water seeping under an emergency exit door. I was growing restless and wondering when the deluge was going to subside when my cell phone rang. It was Mark, asking where I was.

“Gordm@nn’s,” I said.

“Stay there. It’s bad outside.”

“I know, I can hear it and I can’t even see the parking lot from the front entrance, it’s coming down so hard,” I replied. “I’ll hang out here until I can get back to my car and then I’ll be home.”

“Be careful,” he said.

“Whatever,” I said, thinking he was being just a little bit of an alarmist. “It’s just rain and I’m not going to try to drive in it while it’s coming down in sheets. I’ll stay put until this blows over.”

When I was finally bored of shopping and had the things I really wanted, I decided to go pay for my things and see if I could make a dash for my car. Every time it sounded as if the rain was letting up, the storm would experience another resurgence and I ended up standing in the lobby with my purchases and a few other shoppers, just watching the rain pour down, backlit by the parking lot lights and periodic flashes of lightning. When it finally let up just a little bit, I decided to make a break for it. Other store patrons stood propped against door frames and walls, looking bored. I bent down and slipped off my shoes, dropping them into one of my bags. As I was rolling up my jeans, another woman asked me, “You gonna go for it?”

“I am,” I said, smiling and feeling a little self-conscious as everyone turned to take notice. I picked up my bags, nudged the door open with one shoulder and sprinted through the flooded parking lot to my car under a still-steady rain.

It had let up enough now to drive and I made my way out past the storefronts to the main road. With windshield wipers working furiously, I drove with caution toward home. Just a few minutes down the road, I crossed another main thoroughfare that brings me closer to my own neighborhood and that’s when I began to realize how serious this storm was. The road I was on dipped down into a valley and cars ahead of me were slowing almost to a stop and pulling off to the shoulder. I couldn’t see enough to know what was happening. It was dark out and the rain was still falling, but I soon saw the lead car in our little line-up was making a u-turn. I craned my neck to try to see why. The two cars ahead of me proceeded slowly and I quickly realized what was going on. A flood of water was pouring from a neighborhood that sits up on a hill and a river of water was flowing over the road. I slowly followed the two cars in front of me and managed to pass through the flood without incident.

After crossing the “river,” I had to steer around fallen branches and entire trees. To both sides of me, I saw trees that had been snapped off at their bases or completely uprooted from the ground. A wooden play set  in one yard lay in pieces on the ground. I made a left turn toward home, and grew more nervous. I was only blocks away from my own house and I was seeing yards that were flooded and broken or fallen trees everywhere. It occurred to me that while I was shopping, thinking there was only a heavy rainfall happening outside, there was actually a dangerous storm raging in our area.

As I pulled into my own garage, I saw the last of Genna’s grad party guests huddled inside her family’s garage. Mark was just getting into his truck and I asked where he was going.

“Your mom and dad’s. They lost a tree. Are you coming?”

I was still barefoot from my race through the store parking lot, but grabbed my purse and hopped in. Mark steered the truck slowly through a narrow aisle bordered by the vehicles of Genna’s party guests. One block away, I could see my mom through her front window, hugging herself and talking on the phone to who I assumed was my dad. He’s on a mini-vacation, fishing up north with my brothers. A large tree was laying across my parent’s street, reaching from neighbor Vivian’s yard almost to my parent’s front yard. Mom’s garage door was open and she met us as we walked through to her back yard where one of her trees was now laying on its side, sprawled down the embankment of my parent’s property.

The pictures aren’t great. I only had my iPhone to snap photos and night had fallen. But I could see enough to know that this was one scary storm. People were out everywhere, walking the neighborhood or inspecting damage in their own yards with a dazed demeanor about them. When we were assured that my mom was okay and had agreed there was nothing that could be done about her tree for the time being, we went back home. Mark trekked around the yard in the dark to be sure there was nothing that needed our attention right away. Amazingly, we suffered no damage. My potted flowers are leaning a little bit but otherwise, everything remains where it belongs. There are a few small tree branches scattered around the yard, but they’re not from our own trees. And I find myself amazed at the force of nature and the way it seems to pick and choose where to inflict itself.

This morning there’s the sound of chain saws as neighbors begin to clean up fallen trees and I am feeling extremely grateful that our property was spared.