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.

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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.

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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!

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!

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.

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… and there are sunflowers, just for fun.

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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.

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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.

Rainfall and Slow Down

I’m making it a long weekend.

All of the kids will be home by tomorrow night and spending the weekend. We’re celebrating birthdays. Brad’s 25th was in March, Jake’s 23rd in April, and Kacey’s 21st  is coming up here in May. Geeze, how can my kids be getting so old when I’m still such a spring chicken?  ;-) Both boys, when asked how and when they wanted to celebrate, seemed embarrassed at the thought we might still celebrate their birthdays! But both were agreeable to celebrating the next time we were all together. So here we are. And while we’re at it, we’ll add Mark’s and my 26th wedding anniversary, which was yesterday, to the reasons to celebrate.

I’m thinking of making it a breakfast party on Saturday morning. I typically eat a responsible breakfast, like oatmeal and a banana, or yogurt and blueberries. But when it’s a kids-at-home weekend, all diets are off. Everyone seems to love when I make a big, old-fashioned breakfast. Waffles, pancakes, eggs, sausage, and/or bacon are all welcomed at these meals. I think I’ll try to find some fun breakfast recipes for Saturday morning’s birthday breakfast.

Oh, and my mom and dad just celebrated fifty years of marriage! We’ll be celebrating that too, on Sunday with a family brunch at a local restaurant.

Besides having a chance to get things done at home, I’m grateful for the break from work. I love my job, but the pace has been frantic lately. I said to one friend/associate that I felt like I hadn’t seen or talked to her in days, even though her desk is only a few yards away from mine. She agreed, saying there has been an uptight atmosphere around the office lately. Good things are happening all around, but there never seems to be enough hours in the day to do all that needs doing. Most recently, my small department was brought in on an important pilot project that has given us the chance to help our parent company. We have a short window of time to do a lot of research, but it’s been fun and has also been extremely educational, giving us some new knowledge that will prove invaluable to the work we do with our own clients. Yesterday, I finished the main part of the work for which I was responsible. It feels good to take a break.

It’s been raining here since last Sunday, almost non-stop, and seriously heavy at times. The lack of sunlight is a little depressing, but at least the grass is greening up and colorful flowers are sure to be popping up around the neighborhood in the very near future. The back yard has become a marsh and I think Lucy is getting tired of squishing around in it, but the birds don’t mind getting wet. Last weekend, I could hear a Finch singing his heart out in the Maple tree out front. He was soon chased off by a pair of House Sparrows who proceeded to destroy a nest that had survived the winter in the tree. Meanies!

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It’s still raining and doesn’t look like it will be quitting before the weekend is over. I guess I don’t mind if it continues while I take a couple of days to prep for all the weekend activity. There’s an old saying, Make hay while the sun shines, but I’d rather play when the sun is around. I do my best work when it’s not.