Gardens Wild and Still

I’m not a huge fan of gardening. I’ll plant a few low-maintenance flowers in pots around the yard every spring and I do manage to keep them reasonably hydrated and alive for the most part until fall. As for the vegetable gardens, I enjoy the produce, but the planting and maintenance is usually Mark’s thing. Except for this year.

When we came home from our long weekend at the lake earlier this week, I noticed the gardens out back were out of control. I think it was all the rain we had earlier this summer, combined with a lack of attention on our part that did it. We didn’t mean to completely neglect the gardens. It was just that we’ve been … SO busy!

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The tomato plants had grown so tall and wide that they were bent over and fighting each other for space. The pepper plants too were tangled up with each other and falling over from the weight of their size. And the weeds! Ugh.

2015-07-30aI had taken one extra day off to spend at home before returning to work after our vacation. And the first thing I did that Wednesday morning was find some gloves and head out to the back yard. First things first – Mark had planted some sunflower seeds and they had taken off. He remembered out loud that the seeds had been a giant variety. No kidding!

Before doing anything else, I asked Mark if we had any string or rope. He disappeared into the shed and resurfaced again with a cord of rope. I made my way in among the sunflowers that were stretching out into the grass, the leaves and weeds scratching against my arms and legs. I pulled the sunflower stalks upright and Mark cut lengths of rope for me. Then I tied the stalks up to the fence so they stood tall again like they’re supposed to.

Next we pulled weeds. We pulled and pulled and pulled until we had mountains of weeds piled up in the grass. Mark went back to the shed and came out this time with wooden stakes. We bolstered the tomato cages and I did my best to redistribute the weight of the plants so they didn’t choke each other out. Then I looked at the pepper plants and realized they needed support too. We’ve never had to stake the pepper plants before, but this clearly hasn’t been a typical year for our vegetable gardens!

Hopefully, we’ve managed to save most of the plants. Both the regular and cherry tomatoes are starting to turn red and the pepper plants are looking pretty fruitful. I think the cucumbers are a lost cause, but we’ll see if they rally back. The sunflowers are looking happy again. I went out this morning after my walk with Lucy to look around and as I stood beneath one of the giant flowers, was startled to see a Goldfinch perched on one of them, right above me. He didn’t seem concerned with me and proceeded to hop to and fro between the big, round faces of the flowers, plucking little seeds in his beak as I observed. I was just marveling at how comfortable he seemed to be with my presence when I noticed other birds singing, warbling and chirping. I strolled slowly beneath the nearby branches of our white pine and looked up to see a flock of chickadees flitting among the branches directly over my head. They too seemed unconcerned with my close proximity. It occurred to me that not so long ago, I wouldn’t even have bothered to notice, much less appreciate the plants, the colors, the birds, or the sounds of a lazy Saturday morning.

While by no means do I feel old, I do appreciate that as I grow older, I have an increasing ability to slow down and be still, to recognize beauty in the world that I hadn’t seen before. And I might just become inclined to spend more time in the gardens from now on!

Four Heavenly Days

Four days away from it all. Four days to spend with all of my kids and hubby and dog and … “granddog” as the kids sometimes refer to Dacotah. Four days at the cabin with the lake just outside the door. Four days of perfect cabin weather, so hot and sticky that we couldn’t stand to stay inside for any length of time. We practically lived in our swimsuits and I spent glorious hours floating in the water.

I needed it. I hadn’t fully realized what a frenzy the past couple of months have been until I had a few days to just stop. I stopped making to-do lists. I stopped worrying about my parents. They were under someone else’s watch for those few days. I stopped obsessing about all of the things that “need” to be done around the house, and about what’s happening or not happening at work. I just stopped. And relished it all.

The weather at the lake rarely seems to work in our favor. For the handful of summer days that we’re able to be there each year, luck usually hands over clouds, rain, or cool temperatures. Kacey jokes about the eternal rain cloud over McGregor, Minnesota where the cabin resides. For the past few days, though, we got our wish. We were blessed with exactly the kind of sun and heat we always hope for when at the lake. The fishing wasn’t great. Too hot, I suppose, but the guys managed to catch one walleye that was too big to keep and a good-sized sunfish that went back in the lake just as soon as it was caught.

It was Brad’s idea to have a family vacation. My outdoorsy son proposed a few days together at one of his most favorite places in the world – his grandparents’ cabin. We all requested time off from work for the same few days and kept our fingers crossed that it would all work out. And it did – so perfectly. Brad drove over from North Dakota and met the rest of us at the cabin late Friday night. Dacotah and Lucy were overjoyed at seeing each other again, their tails wagging furiously, whipping our legs, the old furniture and everything else that got in their way. After getting settled, we all claimed a place to sleep in the old cabin. There was a friendly skirmish between Brad and Kacey for the daybed in the front room. It’s the newest and most comfortable bed in the old place, which isn’t saying much since it was second-hand when it belonged to Kacey during her toddler years and only became a cabin furnishing when she got a new bedroom set.

Ultimately, Brad won the battle and Kacey settled for the back bedroom. Jake, not being picky about where he sleeps, spent the first night on an ancient daybed in an open area off the kitchen, and subsequent nights on the couch in the front room in an attempt to sleep where there might be more airflow through the open windows. Mark and I slept in his parents’ bedroom. My father-in-law’s health kept him from his beloved cabin for the last two years before his passing last December, but his presence is still tangible there. I found it rather comforting to be in the room where his work boots are still arranged neatly alongside the dresser and his bottle of cologne still sits on top.

On Saturday we left the cabin for a few hours to attend Mark’s family reunion. A cousin hosted the event at his rural home not far from the lake. It was our first time attending since the family started reuniting a few years ago, and it was a good time! Mark’s extended family isn’t vast. His dad had only two brothers, and only one of them had kids – five of ’em. During the years we’ve been married, it’s only been the occasional wedding or funeral that brought us together with Mark’s cousins, so this was a chance to spend quality time with people we don’t see often enough. It was entertaining to see which kids go with which cousins … and amazing to see the family resemblance when we discovered two Jake-look-a-likes among the second cousins. We cooed over adorable little ones who have made grandparents out of the cousins in the past few years. And good-natured jealousies flared up when a darling little eighteen month-old girl inexplicably wanted to kiss me while the girl cousins, her aunties, protested that even they, the familiar faces could rarely coax a kiss from this little beauty. I’ve got a way with the little ones, apparently! :-)

Top Gun!

Top Gun!

Both uncles passed on long before I ever knew Mark, but Auntie Florence was at the reunion. She’s nearly ninety years old and her memory is fading. But we attended the same church as she for years and she always remembers us. I’m not sure she remembers my name, but she knows my face, and my heart swelled when she squeezed my cheeks between her hands and planted a kiss on my face.

Later, there was a trap-shooting contest among the men-folk and Jake’s smile was as big as I’ve ever seen it when he proved himself the champion! He was made to promise to return next year to defend his title.

Back at the lake in the afternoon, we wasted no time finding “floaties” in the garage and diving into the lake. The surface water was steamy, but a few feet below it was cool and inviting.

Over the next few days, we allowed ourselves to sleep, to play, to eat and relax. I ran laps up and down the long driveway in the early mornings, and then came back to the cabin to make a big breakfast – with BACON even – for everyone as they were waking up.

One of the things I really love about being at the cabin is cooking and sharing meals as a family. With nowhere else to rush off to, and no obligations hanging over our heads, cooking becomes fun again. And food just tastes so much better when we’re all together, eating, talking, laughing and happy. Also? This toaster. It makes the most perfect toast ever. You can’t get ’em like this anymore. Check out that cord!

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Kacey and I spent Sunday in the water. We’d be in for a while, get waterlogged and come out. Soon the heat and humidity would become too much to bear and back into the water we’d go again. The guys spent Sunday morning cutting down a dead tree, and afterwards, joined us in the water. I’m sure it felt good after all that hard work.

Monday, we took one of the old boats out on the lake. (Everything is old at the cabin, which gives it such a nostalgic feeling, and also means that when something gets broken, it’s not a great loss. There’s something to be said for making do with just enough.) The kids hooked up a tube and took turns being dragged around our bay. When they’d had enough, we loaded the dogs into the boat with us and took a cruise around the bigger lake, admiring the other cabins and homes and contemplating what it would be like to have this property, that beach, or a mansion like any of the ones we saw.

Tuesday, our final morning arrived with a thunderstorm. We lost power for a little while and I guess it all just made it easier to accept that it was our last day and it was time to go back to reality. The power eventually came back on. The rain stopped, but a fully clouded sky promised that it wouldn’t be another picture-perfect lake day anyway. We tidied up the cabin for the next visitors and loaded up the trucks to go back home again. It was hard to say goodbye to Brad, but I reminded myself to remember what a gift the last few days had been. And if we didn’t have to all go back to work and normal life and everyday routines, none of this could have felt as special as it did anyway. It was heavenly!

Mo Movin’

2015-07-24Woke up this morning to rain and thunder. Tired. I was awake in the middle of the night for a while and it left me feeling groggy when the alarm went off. I got up anyway. I had plans to go to the gym with Kacey this morning, so no going back to sleep for me. And it paid off. There are perks to being an early riser. I mean, besides feeling good about working out. This sky, as we were leaving the gym, for one thing.

I’m on vacation starting today. I didn’t realize how much I needed it until yesterday at work, when I found myself happily tying up loose ends and looking forward to a few days away from it all.

I thought things would slow down after we got my parents moved into their new house last week, but there’s been a steady to-do list ever since. We went over one night last week so that Mark could install a new kitchen faucet. On Monday this week, I brought dinner over and ended up running an errand and doing a few chores for Mom and Dad. There have been a few surprises with the new house, and this week a new refrigerator was delivered. So last night I was there moving food from the garage refrigerator into the new one in the kitchen.

My parents’ move wasn’t the only one happening this month. Kacey is making the transition from college apartment to a house off-campus for her final semester of school. She’s been moving things in stages while she’s home for the summer. Last week, she and Mark took care of the big stuff – the bed, desk, futon and such. Last weekend, she and I went to the apartment to clear out the last of her clothes and incidentals, and do the last bit of cleaning before fully vacating the apartment. We made a spontaneous stop at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store along the way. We exercised restraint and only bought a small container of saltwater taffy. And maybe just a small bag of Sugar Babies for me. They’re not as good as I remember.

Since Kace was the last of the group of roommates to clear out of the apartment, we got to sort through abandoned kitchen stuff, and throw away all the things that everyone else had left behind with the thought that someone else might want it. She’d been instructed to throw away anything that wasn’t hers or she didn’t want, so we hauled bags of trash to the dumpster along with an abandoned night stand that we left next to the dumpster, in case someone else might want it. As a bonus, my daughter is now the proud owner of a full set of cookware, a full set of flatware, a brand new wireless router and a North Face jacket.

Kacey was excited for me to see her new digs. She’s moving in with a group of friends who have been living in the house already for the past school year. The apartment was nice, but the house is … well. The apartment was nice.

I was a bit taken aback at first sight of the house. The carpet was icky and there were a few holes in the walls. LED lights were strung around the ceiling in nearly every room, and the decor included Starbucks marketing posters and cutouts. But having a son who lived in a college house for a couple of years, I remembered what college houses are like. And remembered that I just have to not think about it too much. And the more things we hauled into the house, the more it grew on me. Here’s a snapshot of the kitchen. I resisted the urge to do the dishes.

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You keep a volleyball in your kitchen too, right?

Twice, Kacey told me I wasn’t allowed to come down the basement. So of course, I followed her down the stairs after the second warning. It wasn’t as shocking as she apparently thought it would be to me. I told her that her dad and I had a basement like that in the duplex where we lived when we were first married. Old houses have basements like that. Dirt floor. Stone walls. Dark, damp and musty.

Roommate A.J. had followed behind when I made the trek to the basement with Kacey, apparently wanting to see my reaction to the place she didn’t want me to see. As Kacey plunked a box of stuff on an office chair that was sitting randomly near the washer and dryer, he tried to warn her, “Wait! No! Oh, you put that on the haunted chair!”

I’m not sure why the chair is haunted. I’m sure I don’t want to know. Really, my biggest concern was the visible slant of the entire house. I told Kacey to make sure she positions her bed so that the blood won’t rush to her head at night when she goes to sleep.

I’m probably exaggerating just a little bit about the unlevelness of the house. And she’s excited about living in her new place. It’s really only new in the sense that she’ll be officially living there. Roommates Beth and Megan gave her an unofficial house key some months ago already. A.J. was moving out of the main floor bedroom that will now be Kacey’s and is relocating to the upper level with Austin, where the boys will have their own kitchen. Kacey assures me that the girls’ kitchen will be much cleaner once she and Megan return in the fall. And A.J. told Kacey he wanted to vacuum before she moved in to his old room.

He wanted to vacuum. I told her I liked him. All hope is not lost.

We left the house that day before Kacey had a chance to get her new room put together. We were hot, sweaty and tired after numerous trips to and from my car that was packed to the gills, and hauling belongings up a set of steps to the front door. But the hard part was done. And now, you can understand why I’m so happy to be on vacation for a few days!

Moved In

We got my parents moved into their new home this week on Wednesday. It was an all day affair and we got them pretty well settled in. All of my siblings pitched in, as did one sister-in-law and several of our own kids. We moved like hurricanes, getting boxes of essentials unpacked and making the most important living spaces livable. I worked without stopping for twelve hours. My mom, at one point asked if I didn’t want to sit for a while. I told her I couldn’t. I didn’t want to stop the momentum.

The spare bedroom currently holds all of the unpacked boxes containing less necessary items such as photo albums and household decor. We’ll get to it eventually. For now, we’re happy that Mom and Dad have a functional kitchen, that their living room, bedroom and bathrooms are usable, and they have clear spaces to walk through.

After my sister-in-law helped me make up my parents’ king-size bed, she went off to work in the kitchen, and I moved on to putting things away in the master bathroom. When I was finished, I encountered my youngest brother, Craig, apparently testing out the quality of our bed-making skills. I guess we passed. He managed a good nap.

2015-07-15All in all, we had a good day. We were so busy, there wasn’t time for tensions between any of us. I would actually dare to say we had fun. My other brother, Jim even gave me a big hug and said he thought I was the best sister in the world, even if he did just tell our older sister the same thing. We all came together that day. We put our differences aside, and maybe each of us saw the others in a different and better light. Maybe it was the magnitude of it all. Yes, it was just a move from one home to another, but I think we all realized that this will be the last stop for independent living for my parents. Maybe that thought made us all realize that some of the petty stuff we tend to hang onto just isn’t worth it.

It’s strange to look out from my front yard to the next street over now. I see the home that was my parents’ for the past twenty-six years and have to remind myself it’s not their’s anymore. It’s not my right to just walk over and let myself in anymore. No more popping in, plunking down on the couch in the living room where my parents would most likely be sitting watching television, and shooting the breeze while playing with Little Bear, their dog. (I’m his favorite “sister,” my mom always says.) If I want to see my parents now, I have to get in the car and make a jaunt down the freeway.

Of course, they’re only about a ten minute drive or so, depending on traffic. And we’ll no longer have to worry about clearing snow from another driveway after a big snowfall or wonder whose turn it is to take care of any of the miscellaneous yard tasks. They’ll still need help with a lot of their household stuff, as they have for a few years now, but now those things will have to be somewhat planned out, rather than the drop-everything-come-now kind of requests. My parents now have an association to take care of snow removal and lawn care. There are no more stairs for them to struggle with climbing. Their new home is tucked into a quiet little community, on a quiet little street, where they’re surrounded by people their own age. And their new neighbors are great! At various times as we worked to move my parents’ belongings into the new place, the neighbors, Ilene across the street (with the cool Mustang convertible and personalized plates,) Tom, Gloria, and the woman whose name I forget, sat in lawn chairs in their driveways, watching the goings-on. They introduced themselves to all of us and welcomed my mom and dad with open arms.

This is good. And I’m glad that the move is finally over. Seems like all I’ve thought about and done for the past two months are things related to this move. My own house needs attention and will get it now. I’m looking forward to resuming life as we know it for the remainder of this summer!

Color Run 2015

Kacey and I ran our second annual Color Run today. And I would interpret the word “run” loosely because, although this is promoted as a 5K fun run, there actually seemed to be very few people doing any running this year. The rules say that walkers should stay to the right, and runners to the left side of the road. But the walkers just seemed to spill over everywhere. It was actually difficult to run due to the number of people strolling with kids in wagons and strollers, and groups of people stopping in the running lane to take photos.

Still, it was fun. My sister and niece joined us this year and we made it a girl thing. While waiting in the mob for our turn to start, we enjoyed the crowd, bubbles blowing from bubble machines, loud music and a very happy deejay perched high above the crowd whose job it was to fuel the energy of the crowd. He tossed down prizes from above and Kacey and I fought it out for an orange Color Run t-shirt which ended up in our hands. She yanked it away from me and I let her have it. I’m not likely to wear orange anyway! :-)

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Still clean and ready for some fun!

The temperatures were higher than we’ve had so far this summer – in the nineties – and the humidity was high, which made the colored powder cling all that much more easily to our sweaty skin. An added bonus this year was sparkle. So we ended the run covered not only in yellow, orange, pink and blue … but gold and silver shimmer too.

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Sis, Niece, me and Kacey

We had a lot of laughs. And since uninterrupted running proved to be such a challenge, we made the best of it and joined in the goofiness of it all. At the color stations, we scooped up handfuls of colored powder and slapped handprints all over each other. And we decided that if we want to really run, we’d best sign up for another run … one with just a bit less, you know … fun.

But we’re still going to do the Color Run again next year!

July already. And busy. And happy. And gratitude.

There’s a little chalkboard in my kitchen. I originally bought it with the idea that it would be the place where we’d leave notes for each other; something to replace our habit of leaving sticky-notes on the kitchen door frame.

But… the sticky notes continue to be the method of communicating such things as, the dog’s been fed or If I’m not awake by 5, please get me up.

One day, not long after the kitchen became home to the chalkboard, I stumbled across an inspirational quote that I really wanted to remember. I wrote it on the chalkboard. And it remained until another quote struck my fancy and replaced it. Kacey joined the movement and periodically adds words of wisdom that she finds along her reading travels.

There’s almost always something on the chalkboard to remind me to have gratitude. Deep, down inside, gratefulness has not often been my focus. I’m focusing on it now, and sometimes it’s an effort. Passing by those dusty, white words each day, and stopping to think about them helps.

Hazy morning sun

Hazy morning sun

This time of year, it’s easier to have gratitude. My daughter is home for the summer and I’m just so thrilled to have her near me every day. Her bubbly attitude about life in general inspires me.

The longer hours of sunlight, warm weather, and the colorful, seasonal landscape give me frequent reasons to stop and feel appreciation. As summertime brings people outside, we often find ourselves spontaneously gathering with the neighbors. I sometimes forget how much good it does me to interact with others and just relax for a while.

The birds have moved out of the house on our deck. I thought I’d be thrilled, but was surprised to find myself feeling a little sad that they’d gone without saying goodbye. Shortly afterwards, I was checking out the growth in our vegetable garden down in the yard and realized as I heard their familiar song, that they were hanging out in the pine trees just outside the back fence. All is right in their world and I was relieved to know they are thriving.

Logan next door is growing up before our eyes. Having firsthand experience with the fact that kids grow up in the blink of an eye, I’m reminded what a privilege it is to be in Logan’s circle. Last night while putting away a few groceries after a visit to Sam’s Club, I heard his voice trailing behind Mark as he helped carry some things up the stairs to the kitchen.

“Here, Terri,” he said in that sweet, little boy voice, as he reached the upper level and handed me a package of lunch meat. While he still calls me “Tee” sometimes, that habit seems to be fading away.

“Thanks, Log,” I said. He proceeded to tell us about how he’d gone fishing earlier in the day. His arms and hands gestured wildly, and his story was sprinkled with lots of wells, as in “Well, I didn’t get any fish. They wouldn’t come out!”

He’s getting talkative, and his words are easier to understand. After the food was put away, he hauled me out to the driveway where we, of course, played chalk. Logan usually tells me what to draw, but now he’s creating more of the artwork himself. He was thrilled when I made one of his shapes into a fish. From this little boy who was previously very shy about expressing affection, I was rewarded with a full-frontal, tackle-hug! Then came a game of hide-and-seek, where Logan would tell me where to hide. He counted while I attempted to hide from his peeking eyes. He helped me water the pots of flowers, and then just before it was time for him to go home to bed, we played “bad guy.” Logan was the bad guy, and he said I was the fire truck. (?) I guess fire trucks chase bad guys until they capture the bad guy and pick him up, swinging him in a circle and make him giggle.

It’s been a busy summer, but mostly in a fun kind of way. We’ve been invited to several graduation parties this year, chances to gather with friends and family, and reasons for my oldest son to come home for a weekend visit. I love to see the way my grown-up kids now appreciate each other so much more than they did when they were younger. They have so much fun together, and truly seem to have become friends. Makes my heart just want to burst.

Last weekend, I tried something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Cheers Pablo. Have you heard of this? It’s a sort of painting class. You pick a session in which you’ll get to create a specific painting, show up, and everything you need is ready and waiting for you. And if you like, you can purchase drinks to sip on while you paint. Hence the cheers. My niece invited her mom, (my sister,) and Kacey and me to go. We each painted our own barn scene, following the instruction of a fun, young twenty-something girl who kept getting paint in her long dark hair! And while my first impression was that the result was rather elementary, I had so much fun painting it! The more I look at mine, the more I think I’ll hang it up somewhere in the house. And I totally want to do it again. Maybe in another class. Maybe on my own.

Today I’m enjoying a holiday from work. There’s a long weekend ahead in celebration of our country’s independence and nothing too spectacular in my next few days. The kids all have fun plans of their own and Mark has to work on the fourth. So I’ll do a few things around the house, spend a little time with extended family and just savor these summer days before Monday rolls back around again.

Dang Birds

The days are gone when our bird family would share the deck in harmony with us, serenading us with their beautiful melodies.

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Since the babies arrived, there is no more music. No more happy songs. And definitely no more living harmoniously with us, the ones who graciously provided them a home for their family! We’re no longer welcome to sit outside under the canopy while the birds are around. Now that the babies are here, everything’s changed. Honeymoon’s over.

Feeding the babies seems to be a 24/7 job. And the parents don’t want us people anywhere nearby when the feeding is happening, which, as I mentioned, is an all day, every day thing. When we do dare to sit outside and enjoy the summer weather, we just get yelled at. Lucy too. They don’t want her sitting anywhere near their house while it’s feeding time. Which, as I mentioned, is always!

I’ve begun to think of their scolding as “chittering.” Every time I set foot on my deck. Chitter-chitter-chitter-chitter! Every time I even open the door to let Lucy outside. Chitter-chitter-chitter-chitter! 

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One day, Papa Bird (I’m just going to say it was Papa Bird because I don’t really know if it was Papa or Mama. But the behavior seemed very father-like, so I’m going with Papa.) One day, Papa Bird sat on the hanging feeder across the deck from his house full of babies. He had a spider in his mouth and refused to carry it across to the babies as long as Kacey and I were sitting there. With his body lunged in our direction, he began to scold again.

Chitter-chitter-chitter-chitter! Chitter-chitter-chitter-chitter! 

This went on until he scolded just a bit too intensely. The spider dropped from his mouth and escaped to safety for another day. We could feel the scorn Papa Bird’s glare as his bird shoulders slumped and he went off to find something else to feed the kids.

He soon returned with something that to me, seemed much more likely to fill the bellies of his obviously large family. We were tired of getting yelled at. And besides, we didn’t want the babies going hungry simply because their parents don’t trust us, so we conceded and went inside.

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We’ve since completely given up on any attempts to relax out on the deck. Last night, Kacey was trying to read and enjoy a beautiful summer evening. The birds made it impossible to focus on the words, so she gave up.

I hope those babies grow up soon!