Summer Days

Quiet morning around here.

Kacey’s gone with Connor to his grandpa’s cabin up north, celebrating one last summer weekend on the lake.

Jake is still sleeping, having gone to the races at Cedar Lake with his buddies last night. He came home long after I’d fallen asleep.

I checked in with Brad yesterday to see what his weekend plans were. He told me hunting season opens this weekend. Just last weekend he was here with us. Now I have hunting season to contend with if I want to see my oldest son over the next few months. But hunting season is Brad’s happy place. I wouldn’t deny him this time each year.

The past week felt like a long one. Things at work are hectic. Good, but sometimes overwhelmingly busy. One of my work friends was out all week on vacation and I realized how much she and I tend to bounce our stresses off of one another. I really felt the impact of her absence this week. On more than one occasion, I found myself looking ahead to the end of the day, wishing the hours would pass by more quickly. Not only the hours, I wished entire days would sail by so the weekend could be here sooner. And by five o’clock on Friday, I saw how easy it is to just wish time away. Soon a whole week is gone. A whole summer. Months and years.

In just seven days, my baby heads back for another year of college and the house will be too quiet again. Soon the sun won’t burn so hot.  Leaves will begin to change and fall from their branches. The taste of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers will become just a memory. The grass won’t need to be mowed so frequently, and then the plush greens will change to brittle browns. My jean jacket will come out of the front closet again.

I love fall and I look forward to fresh apples, the reds, golds and burnt orange hues in the trees. I can almost smell cookies and sweet breads baking in the kitchen again. We’ll leave the windows cracked at night and sleep with a cool breeze drifting in through the screens. These are some of my favorite things. But they’ll get here soon enough. I don’t want to miss what’s right in front of me because my eyes are already looking ahead to what’s next.

So when Lucy’s cold, wet nose swiped across my face early this morning telling me she was ready to go out for our morning trek, I didn’t roll over in favor of another hour of sleep. I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and laced up my new running shoes. We went out into the still quiet morning and greeted the hazy summer sky. We filled our lungs with the sticky summer air. We stretched our muscles as I took in the summer scenery, listened to the songs of birds, welcomed the sweat running down my face and back, and counted my blessings . Lucy tried to chase a black squirrel while I did my best to rein her in and keep my shoulder in its socket.

Upon our return home, it felt so good to come back into the air-conditioned house and gulp down a big glass of icy cold water. As I did, I noticed again the crazy sun flowers in the back garden.

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How quickly they’ve grown, starting out only from seeds tossed into an empty space in the garden as an afterthought. The tallest ones seem to be competing with the nearby pine trees to see which can reach higher into the sky. But like all of the plants in our garden, they’ll reach their peak and eventually begin to fade away. They reminded me to embrace the here and now. In spite of the fact that the laziest of days are behind us, there is still plenty of summer left to enjoy before it fades away into fall and then winter. I’m gonna squeeze every last drop out of it.

First Summer Tomato

Maybe because I’ve taken a more active role in the garden this year, I’ve been keeping a close watch for the fruits (literally) of our labor.

There seem to be hundreds upon hundreds of cherry tomatoes. We’ve enjoyed the first of these sweet, red-ripened baby tomatoes. It’s been a good summer for the garden, with just the right amount of rain and sun. We already have more cherry tomatoes than we can possibly consume. Kacey brought some to Connor’s grandma, who lives in a townhouse and only has one or two tomato plants growing in containers on her deck. They don’t seem to grow as well when they’re confined like that and Grandma is always a willing recipient of our extras.

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There have been a handful of sweet bell peppers and cucumbers too.

20140802 veggies

But what we’ve really been anticipating are the first “real” tomatoes. The vine-ripened varieties you can buy at the grocery store aren’t bad, but there is nothing like a home-grown, summer tomato. We’ve had varying success in the past and last year, while the tomatoes were delicious, they didn’t get very big and weren’t all that plentiful.

This year, whether it was the rotation of our back yard crops, or the abundance of rain and cooler temperatures, the tomatoes are coming in big and bountiful. Some are baseball sized, some even bigger! The plants have grown so tall and full, that I have to search carefully through all the foliage to see what might be growing in the under-reaches of our garden jungle. Most are still a light shade of green, but I caught a hint of pink last week and have been keeping an eye on it as the color finally morphed into red. Yesterday, the first tomato of the summer was finally ripe for the picking!

20140802 tomato

That baby was lunch! I rinsed it in the kitchen sink, sliced it thin and spread the juicy slices on a piece of wheat bread with some mayonnaise. Added a sprinkle of seasoning salt, a slice of provolone cheese, and topped it with another slice of bread. Then I brushed the outsides of my sandwich with a little olive oil, tossed it into the Panini maker and a few minutes later … YUM! When Kacey came home from work some time later, I made one for her, this time with a slice of roasted red pepper cheese instead. She agreed that I’m a sandwich genius.

 

Grateful for Summer

Twice this past week, I’ve heard someone complain about the summer we’re having. I guess it’s not measuring up to expectations. In fact, just yesterday, my friend and coworker said, “We’ve been cheated out of summer.”

I thought, “We have? No we haven’t!”

It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. My friend has a cabin on a lake up north where she and her husband spend their time every other weekend. It seems that while we may have had some beautiful, sunny, warm days, they haven’t typically happened on the weekends. Since I haven’t spent much time on a lake these past couple of months, I guess I haven’t noticed.

What I’ve noticed is that I don’t have a chill in my bones. I don’t have to put on extra layers before going outside the house. I don’t have to warm up my car before I’m willing to get in and drive it. In fact, I really love the wave of heat that hits me when I get in the car after work, a welcome change of temperature from the chill of the office air conditioning.

I can let Lucy run around the back yard for as long as she likes without worrying that her paws will get frostbite. I can take her for runs out on the path behind our house. Instead of worrying about the cold, I need to be careful not to take her out when the heat may be too much for her. Between her morning run and chasing squirrels in the back yard, she often wears herself out by the end of the day.

Sleepy Lucy

During lunch breaks at work, every day unless it’s raining, I go outside with a few coworkers. There’s a pretty, peaceful pond right outside our doors and it’s surrounded by an asphalt path. We walk the mile around it, sometimes twice, and get to breathe the fresh air, share space with Monarch butterflies, watch little mice and toads scurry in and out of the tall grass that borders the path. We see turtles sunning themselves on logs in the water and watch flocks of geese float lazily around the middle of the pond. We are graced with the beauty of pretty wildflowers, dragonflies and bumble bees. We blow off steam, laugh, and have serious conversations beginning with questions like, “I wonder if there’s an online poop translator.” (A large poo was seen on our path for two days in a row. We debated whether it was left by an irresponsible dog owner, or something wild.)

I don’t think we’ve been cheated out of summer. No, we haven’t had long stretches of ninety degree days. If we did, someone would be complaining about that too. We’ve had a steady pattern of rain, enough to make it so we don’t have to run sprinklers to keep the grass alive. The trees are lush and flowers gardens are full and colorful.

See these?

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Those are my sunflowers, planted from seed as an afterthought in a back corner of our gardens, next to the shed and our back fence. They’re growing so tall, they’ve risen above the roof of the shed. So I would guess they are somewhere around ten feet tall? Look at how they’re all reaching for the sun! (They’re so tall, and in such a position that I can’t quite get a picture of one of the flowers head-on. Maybe when the flowers get a little bigger and heavier, they’ll drop their faces low enough for me to see them.)

Here’s a look at one from last night, facing west, as the sun was getting ready to go down. Do these seem like sunflowers that have been cheated out of summer? I don’t think so.

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While we may not have had great “water weather” so far, the past winter is still way too vivid in my mind. I’ll take this kind of summer over that any day of the week! I am not complaining!

Weather or Not

Over the winter months when I’m dreaming of summer, I always imagine a nearly cloudless sky, rays of sun that brown the skin and sidewalks too hot to walk barefoot on. I think of how good it feels to come into an air-conditioned house after sweating in the sweltering heat.

We haven’t really had a lot of that kind of summer yet, although according to the local weather girl, those days are just around the corner. I am ready to welcome them with open arms (she says as she enjoys a cool breeze through the living room windows and the sounds of little Logan next door giggling and squealing in his yard.)

We’ve had a lot of rain so far this summer and days that are cooler than normal. Whenever the subject of weather comes up, we talk about it as if anything other than beach weather has no business being here. It’s SUMMER, for crying out loud! When we spent the last few days up north at the lake, we were a little disappointed that it was too cool for swimming and tubing, too windy to fish at times, and that there was downpour in the middle of one of “our” days. Sitting in the cabin playing Scrabble, wearing sweatshirts, watching movies and napping was not what we’d had in mind for our mini vacation.

Then again, when we stopped to think about it, what exactly was wrong with lounging around together and enjoying some new flicks and some old favorites? Nothing! It’s not often we find time to watch one movie, much less several of them. What was wrong with a wicked competitive game of scrabble, with Connor trying to make up words with his most valuable letters? Nothing! (We laughed so much! And I won!) What was wrong with falling asleep in the middle of the day, with dogs cuddled up against us while the rain poured outside? Absolutely nothing! Sure, it would have been way fun to be floating around in the lake with the sun beating down on our shoulders, but we were still having fun, making memories, all that good stuff.

If we count the “good” days only by the weather they bring, we’ll end up missing some really great moments.

Besides, it’s been really good for the garden!

Peaceful Independence Day

Sometimes I dwell on things I can’t control. Sometimes to the point of making myself absolutely miserable. I think I’ve taught myself to believe that if I don’t worry enough – about my loved ones, or particular situations – that I’m not doing something right, and that I’m being selfish. And often, the end result is a BIG failure to live in the moment or appreciate anything else that might be right or good in my world.

I think this is a pattern of behavior that I’ve really honed over the years. And I guess I’ve just continued to do what I know.

I recently began reading a book that a coworker mentioned. She felt moved to share it with a former coworker of ours and came to me because she thought I might know how to reach him. After she described the book, I was intrigued. I said I might pick up a copy myself. She enthusiastically invited me to take her copy. She said, “I’m reading it for the second time. I can read it again later. You take it.”

My desire to read the book had nothing at all to do with the worrying habit I’ve just described. I wanted to read it because I thought it offered promise of easing some guilt over my withdrawal in recent years from the religion of my upbringing. Though I couldn’t easily sum it up here, the book’s been amazing in opening my eyes to an interesting perspective where ‘religion’ and God are concerned. Though I didn’t anticipate the book would help at all with my problem of dwelling and worrying,  it has played an unexpected part. And coincidentally, my arsenal of daily positivity messages that I receive via email and Faceb00k have come together to support a burgeoning idea that I can shift my pattern of behavior to something healthier.

Two specific ideas moved into my head over the past few days and they’ve stayed very present there.

1.  ‘Happiness’ was never meant to be a constant state of mind. It’s not something that exists outside of me and it’s not something that can be attained and held on to if I just check all the right things off of a happiness checklist. It’s out there amongst all of the other feelings and emotions I experience as a human. It takes its turn in the cycle of reality that is everyday life.

And not being happy every moment of every day? Is okay. It’s normal. Feeling down, worried, upset, angry, bored, mellow or merely content at various times? It’s normal too and I can stop beating myself up because I happen to feel those things now and then.

2. All of that worrying and obsessing I do about things that are out of my control is not going to change a thing. The world continues spinning even if I get myself stuck in some worrisome place in my head. So much is just out of my hands. A moderate level of worrying is okay. Beyond that, all I can do is keep doing what I can and keep loving and supporting my people to the best of my ability. I don’t always and can’t possibly know – how every situation is going to end. And while it all plays out, I’m still here. In my life. With opportunities and moments to grab on to. If I let too many of them pass me by because I’m dwelling in dark places that serve me little purpose, then it’s going to be pretty hard to notice anything else.

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Yesterday was Independence Day. I decided from the start to just be there, staying present in the day. I set my alarm for early and Lucy and I went out for a run. Temps were in the fifties at 5:00 am and it felt good. Lucy is a great running partner and she encourages me to keep it up when I might otherwise think I don’t have it in me. I felt stronger than ever as we ran while the sun came up.

After our run, I cleaned up quickly. Mark, Kacey, Connor and I then headed out for a day at the cabin with some of Mark’s family. We arrived in time for a big family breakfast and then everyone dispersed for various activities. Connor wanted to go fishing on the dock. Some of the nieces and a little nephew joined him. Mark and the bigger nephews got started on a building project outside the cabin while sister-in-law, niece-in-law, brother-in-law and I cleaned up the kitchen and did dishes. Funny how even something like drying the dishes of fourteen people, in a setting like that, can be fun. We bantered back and forth and made jokes until the cabin was tidy again.

Soon we were outside with the others. The building project provided some entertainment for a while. I spent some time on the dock with the kids and later, alone, just listening to the breeze in the trees and the sound of the water lapping against a boat as it sat in the boat lift. The sun disappeared behind a wall of clouds just as I’d changed into my swim suit. Then came some rain. The rain was disappointing, but it provided a chance to watch ‘The Lego Movie’ with both big and little kids. The movie was surprisingly enjoyable for all ages. Later, there was more eating as we all enjoyed a simple summer dinner together.

A few times over the course of the day, my mind wanted to wander away to things that will play themselves out, with or without me.  I’d remind myself to come back, to just “be here.” I don’t want to ignore life’s problems, but I want to get better at not letting them overshadow everything else. Yesterday was a day to be with family, to enjoy a simple place and some simple fun. I think this is something I really need to keep working on, to handle life and to support my loved ones in a more healthy and productive way. And I find myself anticipating the hours and days ahead a little more enthusiastically than usual.

This is a path I want to keep traveling.

Lake Escape

Mark’s parents have a lake cabin up north. It has always been a great summer getaway or a convenient hunting destination for the outdoorsmen of the family. The best thing about the cabin is that it has always been open to any family members who want to come spend time at the lake. It’s not big. It’s not fancy. And it’s full of old stuff, history and memories. I think that’s why I like it so much.

The cabin used to be where you could find Mark’s parents most summer weekends. Sadly, not anymore. Mark’s dad is not doing well and hasn’t been to the cabin this year. I’m afraid he probably won’t ever get back there again. So it’s up to the rest of the family to keep things maintained up at the lake.

Mark’s “weekend” began on Monday this week and so he decided to go to the lake, mow the grass and take care of some other chores. He asked if I wanted to take a couple of days off and join him. It seemed like a good idea and I have some vacation time to burn before the end of the year. So I went too.

We stopped at the local convenience store/gas station/marine/bait shop just before arriving at the cabin. We bought some night crawlers and minnows in the hopes of finding time to do some fishing amongst the chores that needed doing.

We arrived late morning and since we were only staying overnight, it didn’t take long to unpack the truck. Soon Mark was hauling out the riding mower and Lucy was happily exploring new smells around the property.

“Do you want me to run the push-mower?” I asked Mark.

“No, I didn’t bring you along to put you to work. I’ll cut the grass with the rider. You go fish or something.”

Who was I to argue? The skies were clear and the sun was shining brightly, a seemingly rare occurrence at the lake. So often when we find the time to go up north, it always seems to rain. I changed into my swim suit (for catching a few rays) and grabbed the bucket of minnows (for catching fish.) Lucy happily followed me down onto the dock and soon my line was in the water, the bobber bobbing up and down on the surface of the lake.

It wasn’t but a few minutes later when my bobber was slowly pulled under the water. I gave the pole a light hitch, and began to reel in. I didn’t feel much resistance. Figured it was probably one of the little perch that are always going after whatever bait we drop in the water.

But when I’d reeled my line all the way in, it wasn’t a perch that rose to the surface. It was something much bigger! I wasn’t sure what it was. I couldn’t get my hook out of its mouth and it was so big I couldn’t hold onto it without grabbing it by the lip, which I didn’t want to do because it had teeth! I tried calling Mark to come help me, but the noise of the mower prevented him from hearing me. Lucy was prancing excitedly on the dock. She wanted to see!

Finally, I decided to leave my fish in the water and lead it behind and around the dock to the live well. I opened the lid and dropped my fish in, still hooked to my fishing hook and line. When Mark made another pass with the mower, I waved him down and he came to see what I needed.

“I caught a big fish and I can’t get the hook out of the mouth.”

“What is it?” he asked.

“I dunno, but it’s big. I just know it’s not a dog-fish.” (I caught one of those once and I remember how ugly it was!)

Mark lifted the live well out of the water until he could see my fish as it flopped around in protest. The hook popped out of its mouth just then, so at least I had my hook and line back.

“Oh my god, Ter!” Mark exclaimed. “You caught the holy grail of fish! That’s a walleye!”

I was a little big embarrassed that I hadn’t recognized the holy grail of fish. I’m not used to catching anything good! But I was pretty proud. We measured it at 23 1/4 inches long. I wasn’t allowed to keep it. This year’s regulations say it has to be between 14 and 18 inches in order to keep it, unless it’s 26 inches or more, and then I could keep it. Bummer. So we took pictures and then set the poor guy free. He’d been through enough already anyway. I texted a picture to the kids and my boys were pretty proud of their mom for catching something so respectable!

photo 1We found time to get done what we wanted to get done. Mark worked on a new coat of stain on the outside of the cabin and I did some deep cleaning inside. And we had time to spare to do a little more fishing and relaxing. The weather was just perfect, even if the mosquitos were a little too abundant. Lucy was in seventh heaven, running off leash (and surprisingly, obeying us when we reminded her to stay close.) She went bonkers over the bobbers, running back and forth along the dock, and kept whining at us as if to say, “Hurry up and pull another fish in!”

We slept like babies last night with the windows open and the sound of loons calling out across the lake. And I really appreciated a couple of days away from work. The lake is such a peaceful and calm place. We’re going to make it a point to make more of these mini-trips up north and I’m especially looking forward to a few days there with all of our kids this summer. I can’t wait to go back again!

 

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.

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 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.