The cold and snow may have arrived a little too soon, but

… if we look closely enough, we can find reasons to smile about it.

It was really cold all this past week. Colder than it should be for November. And we got some snow, though not nearly as much as some other places around the country! I wasn’t quite ready to stop taking my lunch-time walks around the pond behind the office. Word has it that the walking path, even if cleared of the snow gets too slippery to safely walk it, so I didn’t walk last week. But so far, I haven’t succumbed to the desire to stay burrowed under the blankets when the alarm goes off, so I don’t feel too bad about missing my mid-day walks. And I keep reminding myself that some morning exercise gives me a huge energy boost for the day. Plus Florida is only 84 days away. There’s motivation right there to keep that extra layer of winter fat from appearing.

So the furnace kicks in daily. We’re wearing winter jackets and gloves and I’m making good use of my new car’s remote starter and seat heaters. Oh man, I love those seat heaters! They work fast! I can totally deal with the time it takes for the car to really warm up, as long as my butt is hot while I’m waiting!

I’ve been working hard to keep my focus lately only on that which is right in front of me. I’m so done with that tight feeling in my chest that I now realize comes from worrying every moment about what’s next, and how difficult it might possibly be. It’s amazing – truly amazing – how much calm I now feel when I refuse to disaster-fantasize about events that might (or might not) happen, or about how to deal with certain people.  I’ve done this my whole life, and now that I’m starting to know better, I’m constantly wondering why it took me so long to figure it out. I guess I can appreciate that it took me all those years and experiences to be ready to understand this concept.

I think the winter will be a good test of this new mindset. I think it’s a matter of constantly finding reasons to smile. Like when Mark looked out the window and said, “Logan’s been over here.”

After spending so much time with Logan this summer and feeling really great about how comfortable he’d become with us, we worried about seeing our little toddler-friend over the winter. We wondered if we’d lose all that ground we’d gained with this once painfully shy little guy. I wondered how Mark knew Logan had been over when we weren’t around. “Look out the window and see,” he said.

001b

If not for the snow, we wouldn’t have known that Logan still plays out in the front yards, even when it’s this cold. I think maybe Logan and his dog, Gracie were here. And it did make me smile.

Farm Fashion, Belly Fat and Food on a Stick

Yesterday Mark and I made our umpteenth annual visit to the Minnesota State Fair.

Most years, we set aside an entire day and begin our journey to the fairgrounds first thing in the morning. Not so this year. The fair days just seemed to slip on by and here we were this week, heading into the final fair weekend without having yet paid a visit. So I took half a day off from work, extending my long Labor Day weekend by a few more hours.

We quickly learned that the first difference between being early-in-the-day fair visitors and later-in-the-day fair visitor is the parking challenge. All of the good parking lots are full by noon. And even though there are many free park-and-ride lots available, most of those were full too. After driving for miles around the fairgrounds, seeing nothing but Lot Full signs, we began to feel defeated. We then cruised the residential streets near the fairgrounds in desperation, now willing to pay some homeowner an exorbitant fee to park on his front lawn and walk to the fair, but we had no luck with that plan either. Finally, as we sat in Mark’s truck at a red light, waiting to make a right turn in busy fair traffic, with no idea where to go next, we noticed all of the park-and-ride buses zooming to and from the fair entrance. As Mark was finally able to make his turn, a bus moved ahead of us; one that had just emptied of a group of arriving passengers and filled with a group of departing passengers.

“I’m going to follow that bus,” Mark said. “It must be headed back to a place to pick up more passengers. When those people get off the bus, there should be room for more people to ride to the fair. We’ll see if we can park and ride from wherever that place is.”

I don’t often credit my husband with genius ideas, but I have to admit now, this was a genius idea. We followed the bus for several miles to a large church with a large parking lot. As departing fair-goers drove out of the parking lot, we were allowed in. We hopped on the bus and were delivered right to the main entrance of the fair.

Yes! We’d finally made it! The sky was overcast, but rain didn’t appear imminent and that made for really comfortable temperatures for an afternoon of walking around for hours with thousands of other people.

2014 Fair 03

The Minnesota State Fair was originally a celebration of the state’s agriculture industry. It was fun to see that we haven’t lost the agricultural draw. I could tell because of the farm fashion.

The state fair is also a celebration of food! There is SO. MUCH. FOOD! And as you might imagine, the abundance of food attracts people of all shapes and sizes.It seemed to me that there were way more rental scooters scooting around the fairgrounds than I’ve seen before. There are some whose health legitimately prevents them from walking at the fair. But it also seems that there were so many who rode scooters simply because their weight was too much to carry on their own two feet. We stood in the ice cream line in the dairy building behind a family of severely overweight people, both parents trying to squeeze through the crowds on scooters, their kids with chubby cheeks and protruding tummies waiting their turn for another state fair goody. And it made me feel bad about the kind of life that lies ahead for those kids. The state fair can be fun, but it can also be a sad testament to our tendency toward overindulgence in this country.

But the food is delicious! Of that there is no doubt. In the past, we’ve visited the fair with friends, or with our kids. And that makes it easy to try a variety of foods because when there are several of us, we can all try a bite or two of some food, and still have room to try a bite or two of some others. With it being just Mark and me this time, we found ourselves having to eat more of each thing than we’d like to, or throwing some of it away. Still, we managed to down a few favorites as well as taste some new (to us) foods.

There is so much to see at the state fair! In the Grandstand, you can buy kitchen gadgets and cookware, fitness equipment and clothing, purses and footwear, bird feeders and outdoor furniture. The vendors are skilled at convincing you that you simply cannot live one day more without this amazing stove top grill or smoothie mix. One vendor called me out as a runner, which I found amusing since I can only be considered a runner in the loosest sense of the word. She handed me a brochure and insisted I stand on one of her machines. It looked like a form of fitness equipment, but upon placing my feet on the platform and holding on to the handles, all I felt was vibration running through my body. She said that as a runner, my joints were being abused each time I pound the pavement with my feet. For a mere thirteen hundred bucks, (normally twenty-two hundred,) I could have this preventative health device right in my own home. Just fifteen minutes a day of standing on the vibrating platform would provide daily healing to my joints and improve my workouts by some percentage I can’t remember. I accepted her brochure and told her I’d give it some thought.

I think people watching is our favorite pastime at the fair, though. People are such interesting creatures. There were young and old alike visiting the fair, babies in strollers to the elderly. There were people dressed appropriately for trekking the miles of fairgrounds in comfortable clothing and footwear. And there were those who wanted to make some type of fashion statement. We saw crazy patterned leggings on legs, high boots and high heels. We saw drastically fashioned hair cuts and colors. And it struck me sadly that little girls stop being little girls at a much younger age than they used to.

And it also occurred to me, as we noticed babies in strollers and who was pushing those strollers, that parents seem to get younger every year. Or maybe I’m just feeling the effects of my age!

Even though we traveled among thousands upon thousands of people who had come from all over the state, we still managed to run into people we knew from close to home. Mark saw a coworker and we ran into friends from Kacey’s softball days. Of course, technology played a part in bringing us together with friends. My check-in on Faceb00k alerted my good friend, Rosie that we were in the area. After seeing it, Rosie texted me and said, “Where are you? Let’s meet!” We agreed to connect in 45 minutes. And in the meantime, Mark and I just took in the sites and enjoyed what the fair has to offer.

Soon it was time to go find our meeting spot and meet Rosie. The sky had grown darker and I felt a few drops of rain on my skin. And then a few more. And then it was coming down! Mark and I took shelter under the awning of one of the food vendors and tried to wait it out.

It let up for a few minutes and we took our chance to travel once again toward our destination, but the skies let loose again. I had thought to bring a light rain jacket – but had forgotten to take it with me when we parked the truck. We ended up trying to wait out the rain again a few blocks later, but this time it didn’t appear to be letting up. And we did finally connect with Rosie, hiding out under an awning at the agreed upon meeting place. We chatted for a few minutes, but the intensity of the rain was only growing and we’d had enough. Mark and I stopped even trying to protect ourselves from getting wet and made a break for the bus stop to catch a ride back to our parking spot.

We weren’t the only ones with that idea. By the time our bus arrived and we were able to get inside of it, we were drenched! And I mean seriously waterlogged! I felt as if I’d just stood in my shower fully clothed. I sat uncomfortably as Mark drove us home over a partially flooded highway. As soon as we were back and in the house, I stripped out of my wet clothes as soon as humanly possible. It felt great to get into something dry and comfy again!

So, it wasn’t our most successful state fair trip ever, but we can say once again that we did it!

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.