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!

 

Celebration in the Rain

The weather has been fierce this weekend, bringing torrential rains and powerful winds. While we were out of the house, running some errands yesterday, the wind ripped the canvas canopy right off the gazebo on our deck! Oh, well. We needed a new one anyway and I found a replacement online a while ago. I just never ordered it because we didn’t need a new one that desperately.

June is graduation season though, and I was feeling bad yesterday for those whose parties were scheduled for this weekend. Our neighbor, Maria was celebrating her high school graduation yesterday afternoon. Maria’s brother, Luke graduated three years ago with Kacey. His party was the same weekend as Kacey’s. I remember that weekend well. We had a Friday evening celebration at our house and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Then came Saturday and it rained steady and heavy for two days straight. Luke and many of Kacey’s friends had to improvise on their outdoor party plans while the rain refused to let up. Maria’s mom reminded me that her oldest son, Charlie’s graduation party five years ago took place in the rain as well.

We lucked out weather-wise with all three of our kids’ graduation parties. But this is Minnesota, and the weather can be unpredictable. Any outdoor celebration has to include shelter, either from the hot sun or in case of rain. That’s why most outdoor graduation parties here are centered in the garage and include a few portable canopies set up around the yard.

The weather didn’t put a stop to Maria’s party, although the wind took out the large canopy that had been set up in her family’s back yard. The rain couldn’t keep guests from coming to celebrate with the guest of honor. We all just squeezed into the garage or house. And we had fun! Graduation parties like Maria’s give us a chance to reconnect with old friends. Many of us in this neighborhood have children of similar ages. We were all so tight when the kids were little, coordinating play dates and keeping in close touch. But as the kids grew up, as they tend to do, they expanded their interests and circles of friends. Our kids sometimes moved in different directions, and without the play dates to keep us in touch, we parents connected less as the years went by.

I love the photo collages at graduation parties and seeing the timeline of a graduate’s life. Maria had photos galore and a digital slide show too. I clearly remember when Maria’s parents and two brothers welcomed the addition of a sweet baby girl to their family. I remember that Brooks and Dunn’s version of My Maria was Maria’s mom’s favorite song back then. And now that “little” girl is heading off to college! Her photo memories were filled with pictures of her with her friends, family and many of the kids from the neighborhood. They made me smile and brought back memories of my own. They made me marvel at how quickly she seems to have grown up and reminded me how fast time passes us by.

And we got to reconnect with old friends. Even though our kids have grown up and gone in different directions, we all remain connected. We all seem to be tied to a larger circle of people in some way. Many of Maria’s friends’ parents have other children who went to school with or played sports with our kids. The weave of relationships grows larger as the years pass by, yet keeps us connected even as we move on to the next phases of our lives.

With the heavy rain and chill in the air, I didn’t think we’d stay at the party long. But we encountered so many old friends and neighbors, we were there for hours. Hugs were exchanged. We listened to each others’ stories and caught up on the goings-on in everyone’s lives. We talked about our kids – their experiences, good and bad with college. We talked about upcoming marriages, and the loss of one of our friends last week at a much too young age. We talked about figuring out how to adjust our lives as our kids move out of childhood and on to lives of their own. We comforted each other with shared experiences as our parents grow older. There was so much conversation inside the three-car garage, it was sometimes hard to hear. But what struck me most was the genuine warmth in the eyes and smiles of our friends and neighbors as we reconnected again. Many of the people we saw have moved out of our daily lives since our kids left grade school, or since their sports teams played their last games, yet we conversed as comfortably as if we saw each other daily. The laughter we shared and the closeness we felt reminded me that even though we no longer see each other on a regular basis, we’ll always have those moments in time to bring us back together when we happen to cross paths again.

The sun eventually peeked out from behind the clouds and the rain subsided long enough for the crowd of guests to find some breathing room, meandering out into the driveway and front yard. Evening was closing in by then. It was time for us to be on our way.

I rarely regret growing older. Times and celebrations like these only further remind me that growing older, though it has some pitfalls, also has so many rewards. Congratulations to Maria. My wish for her and for every graduate is that they’ll enjoy the days and years ahead and feel the same rewards of time as I feel right now. Life is a gift. Make the most of 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.

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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!