Dancing in the Grass

Labor Day weekend … a time to celebrate the culmination of days of hot sun and rain showers, t-shirts and shorts, barefooting and cooling off in the lake. Yeah, we still have a few weeks to enjoy full leafy trees and colorful flower gardens, ice cream and cold drinks outside on the deck, but it will all soon come to an end. School days have begun. The sun goes down earlier in the evening. The skies stay dark until later in the morning and the sun sinks below the horizon earlier in the evening.

Summer is winding down. I’ll surely miss it, but I took the chance to throw it a party this weekend and tell it to hurry back soon!

Actually, I didn’t throw the party. My sister and brother-in-law did. I just contributed some food and helped bid the passing season a bon voyage.

My brother-in-law, Kevin is a talented bass player. At 23 years old, he picked up a bass and said to himself, “I think I’ll learn to play this thing.” And then he did. Not too many years later, he found himself in a band, called Unsung Heroes. They were good. (You might think I’m prejudiced in that statement, being related to Kevin and all, but they really were good!) My sister, Cori took notice of them while out with some coworkers after work one day and that’s how she met Kevin. Eventually, she married him and the rest is history!

I’m sorry to say that Unsung Heroes are no longer together. Marriage, growing families, and life took precedence over playing in bars every weekend. But Kevin continued to play his bass. His passion for music didn’t fade away. He and Cori passed on their appreciation and talents to their two boys. Over the past few years, as their kids grew older, Kevin got back in the band scene. He plays at church. He plays in a rock cover band. He plays in a Christian rock band and he plays in an Elvis tribute band. His music keeps him very busy, but it’s what he loves to do.

Kevin’s musical connections made for a great party this weekend. He invited all of his musician friends along with all of his non-musician friends and family for an afternoon of fun and food in the back yard. The various bands played their own stuff and also mixed it up and played with each other for a great afternoon and evening of tunes.

Here’s Tom, a talented lead singer, with his Unsung Heroes drummer, Gordy, Kevin on bass and Mike of Millie and the Misfits on guitar.

And here’s Art a.k.a. Elvis with some of his band mates and Tom.

As the sun (and a few more drinks) went down, the guests began to dance. Neighbors strolled over and joined the party in the back yard. A bunch of us ‘girls’ formed a circle on the ‘dance floor’ and shook our groove thangs! The lawn was taking a beating in ways that my husband would never allow to happen in his yard. But no one seemed to mind here. The condition of the grass was the furthest thing from anyone’s thoughts.

I requested My Sharonaa throwback to the Unsung Heroes days and the band belted it out loud and proud. As happy energy flowed through my veins, I could feel the dewy grass beneath my bare feet and the cool, damp brush of the nighttime air on my skin. I had that rare sense of throwing caution to the wind and just living in the moment. My niece, sister and I laughed at and with each other as we danced and jumped around until we were breathless, not caring what we looked like. We were having so.much.fun! 

We’d given summer a proper send-off and the party ended with promises to do it again soon.

 

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!

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.

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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!

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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!

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!