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Farm Life

Food – Glorious Food

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Back At It

Looking for moose...

While sending out an email today, I noticed the link to my much neglected blog staring back at me under my signature line. So I decided to stop by and reminisce.

I really enjoyed writing the posts here and decided it was time to get back at it.

Much has changed in my life since that last July 2010 post. I am married. I’ve done several triathlons, run a couple 5Ks, been to Nova Scotia and gone white water rafting. Such great blogging fodder.

I now raise bees, have stood a few yards away from a moose, experienced a son moving out on his own; and am watching as another fulfills his desire to be part of the medical community. Again, all worthy of noting.

While I can’t possibly try to define all that has happened these past two years, I can begin again to record the wonderful momentous occasions of my country life; as well as those whose value only I will recognize.

I can’t wait.

Balance

Summer continues to burn its way through July, and with it images catch my attention.

Images synonymous with the season.

I doubt what I see is really seen by others. Appreciated by others the way I do. But I’ve grown up here on these wooded acres, near fields of long grasses, by the glistening waters of the farm’s pond.

My 11 year old niece, Tess, enjoying the pond

These are my realities. Their re-occurrences dictate my internal clock. My balance comes from these simple scenes.

I can tell the date on the calendar based on the phoebes nesting habits. They always choose as their foundation the light fixture in the stall where my Morgan horse; my childhood friend, lived for 17 of his 26 years.

Rainbows seem to spring from the woods, backlit by the gray skies that produced them.

Looking out back towards the bike trail

Field corn grows to great heights making my road an alley bordered by walls of green.

The end of my lane at dusk

Our black cat, CiCi, seeks out her favorite place – the windowsill by my computer, hoping for any kind of breeze to make her nap a bit more pleasant.

Contentment

The coyotes lounge at the crest of the back field’s hill and begin their eerie nighttime howling during this heat-induced month.

The Shasta and Gloriosa daisies create seas of color in the gardens.

In the herb garden

Outside my kitchen window

Me? I smile, breathe a sigh of relief and take it all in knowing my place is here.

I am sure those who lived on this land before me knew this joy.

I know those who live here one day will revel in it as well.

Haven

There is a constant battle waging on the home front when summer reaches its zenith. Major disagreeing takes place, and for some reason, I always lose.

It is the battle of whether the air conditioner should be turned on or not.

I must preface this with some background information. I did not grow up with central air. Growing up in our 1806 restored brick farmhouse we were lucky to have fans running.

If you wanted to cool off during the day, you flopped in a lawn chair outside in the shade with a Popsicle in hand and hoped for a breeze. At night is was windows wide open, lying atop cool cotton sheets with not much more than your imagination between skin and the night air. It was summertime, and life was good.

Sure, I can appreciate cold air conditioning on an unceasingly hot day; like today. After a half hour of raspberry picking in 85 degree heat, walking through the side door into a wall of cold air felt wonderful, but not all the time; not all summer long.

My internal thermostat must be different than most people. I’m the one in the grocery store’s dairy aisle shivering hoping for a quick exit. I’m that person who takes a hoodie into the movie theater even if it is 90 degrees outside. For me living in constant, freezing cold, manufactured air is just wrong.

My idea of summer is windows wide open, sheer cotton curtains drifting lazily with whatever air current comes along.

You are supposed to be warm in the summer. It makes you slow down. It makes you want to nap. It makes you crave ice cold lemonade.

When my ex-husband and I moved into the small saltbox of a house my parents built for us on their farm, it seemed air conditioning was going to become part of my vernacular. Dennis had major allergies; debilitating allergies, and if he was to survive the pine trees pollinating and the farmers making hay, well he needed central air.

And that was fine, but gone for me were nights of listening to crickets sing or being able to tell by the dogs’ barking if someone was trying to destroy our mailbox at the end of our 1100 foot driveway – again.

No more being brought out of a dead sleep by the lilting hooting of barred owls, or the putrid smell of skunk spray drifting in through open windows. Nope – just cool, stale, lifeless air enveloped my nights.

The boys were born in subsequent years and in their defense never knew a summer without air conditioning. And here lies the problem. The need to defend against allergies no longer applies since the divorce. I no longer need to be subjected to air conditioning. I should have a say.

It seems I don’t.

My idea of hot is not the same as my kids. Our definitions of what constitutes a comfortable air temperature differs as well. They’d prefer “you could hang meat in here” cold. I refuse to wear socks inside the house in the summer, but it seems my feet are always freezing.

Lucky for me, the solution came along compliments of my mom’s forward thinking. When my house was built, Mom thought it would be neat to put French doors off the downstairs bedroom.

Actually, my home was built with the idea one day my parents and our family would trade houses. The saltbox was smaller and had a downstairs bedroom. If one of my parents could no longer manage stairs later in life, here was a solution. The switch never came, but the French doors and the subsequent screened-in porch they open into did.

Thank goodness.

Yes, my bedroom has an escape route. When the air conditioning becomes too much, I slip out onto the porch and bask in warm breezes and birdsongs.

Entering the porch from the outside screen door.

I read here. Have private conversations on the phone here. Take naps here.

The view from the front corner of the porch

I especially love my porch after dark. I can choose to plug in the single string of white lights that outline the ceiling’s edge for minimal illumination, or just sit in the inky blackness and become part of the
night.

I am reminded of how author Scott Russell Sanders describes entering such darkness…

My eyes may be empty, but my ears quickly fill. The air sizzles with insect song. Crickets and grasshoppers warn and woo, rubbing their musical legs. They make the sound of beans rattling in a pan, tiny bells ringing on the ankles of dancers, fingers raked over the teeth of combs, waves rolling cobbles on the shore.

I’ve been missing this, but not anymore.

Compromise is good. My screened-in porch makes it possible.

Friendships

Everyone works with people. Happens every day. The old nose to the grindstone kind of thing. But for some reason, I think my situation is just a bit different. I work with three people for 8 to 10 weeks straight, give or take a couple days, in the months of June and July and that’s it.

We are the coaching staff of the Firestone Area Swim Team. Brought together by pure dumb luck, and cemented together by the love of competitive swimming.

I have to say, we have a blast.

But it is always very short-lived, and maybe that’s the secret. We know our time together is limited. We know we have a job to do under major crunch time – teaching 170-plus kids ages 4 to 18 how to not only swim fast, but have a great time doing so.

FAST coaches Erin, Ashley, Sue and Eric

We take our job very seriously, no doubt about it. But there has to be a bit of lunacy involved or we would lose our minds. Not a day goes by that the four of us do not enjoy a good old-fashioned, bent-over-at-the-waist belly laugh usually thanks to a passing comment by one of the swimmers, parents, lifeguards, or pool manager. We are easily entertained.

Then there is the fact Coach Erin sometimes has hearing issues. Who knows where she comes up with the comments she thought someone said. Won’t even bring up the jokes she tells.

Coach Eric is deadpan at its finest. You never know what response will result for asking the most mundane question. And the euphonium kicking set he devised? Pure genius.

Coach Ashley is this beautiful glamour girl who laughs easily but will make her lane repeat sets like a drill sergeant until it’s done right. That is if she is not ungracefully tripping over an imaginary object. Love my niece!

Me? Who knows how the others would tag me. The Mom of the group? The remover of any and all bugs – dead or alive – that have infiltrated the pool area? The one who can give, as it is called, “the look of death” resulting in immediate silence? I can’t imagine how I would be categorized, but I’m sure I would deserve it.

I have to say, though, through all the craziness, stress, joking, drama, hilarity, and calm, I can’t imagine spending my summers any other way. All of us know too much about each other’s quirks and qualities. We finish each other’s sentences and can convey a truckload of meaning by simply raising an eyebrow.

But isn’t that the point? Isn’t that what friendships are all about?

Thanks Erin, Eric and Ashley for making my summers sing.

Umm – yea, that’s Erin’s son, Liam in the corner of the picture. He turned 7 today. He keeps Erin on her toes. Can you tell?

Too Involved

Must preface this with the following – I have the best swim parents. I truly do, plain and simple. Not only do they support the coaching staff, but they work tirelessly making sure their kids and all the other kids on the team have fun.

With that said, I was taken aback today when one parent was worried she was enjoying her son’s swimming too much. That I might think she was “too involved.” How is that possible? She likes to see her son do well. Rewards him with high-fives and smiles on a job well-done or dishes out equal amounts of hugs and pats-on-the-head when things do not go as planned.

She has her lawn chair at the ready and situates herself at the pool’s edge to get the best view of the competition area. A cooler filled with drinks and snacks is ever present so her son is ready to go. She volunteers to be on deck at our big meets. All the 8 & Unders know her. She mothers them as if they were her own.

Is she too involved with her son’s swimming? Absolutely not. She is a coach’s dream parent. The one who makes sure he attends practice on a regular basis. The one who asks is there anything I can do to help. The one who sits in the stands cheering for her child and his teammates.

There are some swim parents I have never seen. I can say that. They must lead very busy lives that require much of them to justify missing out on this aspect of their son’s or daughter’s childhood. I wish they knew the joy my “too involved” parents’ experience. They would see how fulfilling it can be to watch significant life lessons be learned by the water’s edge.

I have parents who were once swimmers. When these parents see their child discover a love for swimming; well it is just fun to witness. Often watching their children in the pool inspires said parents to don a suit and get back in the water again. And more.

We have a meet every summer where all events are relays of some sort – all freestyle or all backstroke; mixed boy and girl events, mixed age’s events, and the like. But the one event everyone cranes their necks to see are the parent relays.

Every year I am surprised to learn about the athletic talent hidden away by my swim parents. I find out one was a star at butterfly in high school. Another still holds a pool record at his prep school in Maine. Still others have been secretly preparing for a Masters meet or a triathlon. And then there are those parents who just plain love to swim and want to be part of the fun too.

I can not tell you how excited the swimmers are to see their parents compete; to see them get in and try. The kids line the edge of the pool cheering for their moms and dads. Grandparents make a point of attending to see their adult children swim again. The kids marvel at dad’s awesome start or that mom can do a flip turn; and oh my goodness… they’re fast. It leaves an impression with these swimmers that can never be taken away.

Is this being too involved? Supporting your child? Participating with your child? Enjoying the whole journey sports can afford a parent and child? Nope. I think the parents get as much out of swimming in that parent relay as their kids do seeing it unfold.

I call it loving your child unconditionally (putting a suit on after so many years is a pure act of love for some parents); doing anything for them (including being willing to succeed or fail in such a public arena) and enjoying the after-glow that comes from taking on a challenge (and watching the admiration in their child’s eyes) is what it’s all about.

These moments – from volunteering to getting in the water – if realized, snatched up and valued are what’s most important. It’s why I coach. To get to be, in some small way, a part of all this.

So, I say …forget the pressures of work or family issues, at least for a little while. Be that “too involved” parent. Don’t miss this. In the long run, being there is what will matter the most to your children – and more importantly; to you. As your child’s coach, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Garden Grief

What a mess, and I’m, in part, to blame. I came into the house fully intending to eat dinner, but the grilled chicken my youngest son had prepared was just tasteless; like chewing on cardboard. I was hungry before I went outside. Really – was intending to eat, but a quick walk around the yard revealed something I had been purposely avoiding.

My gardens are a disaster, and I’m to blame. I pride myself on taking care of what I cherish, and I cherish the banks of gardens that surround my home. These are friendship gardens. Ones built over time from cuttings, plantings, gifts from friends. People comment on them; want their own cuttings which I eagerly supply.

Now, though, due to my selfishness, they stand in near ruin. I could blame the flood of rains which swept through Ohio these past three weeks. I could blame my work schedule or my newest venture of working out in the gym, but none of it flies right now. The gardens are weed infested shadows-of-their-former-selves, and I take full responsibility.

Dinner dishes needing washed and work assignments needing written will have to wait. I find my mud stained gloves, throw on my shoes and head outside to the task at hand. I take no prisoners tonight. If a flower head is spent, it is chopped off. No going to seed for you, mister. Yellowed daffodil leaves are gathered up, foxglove are cut back, ground cover that has seen better days, ripped from the dirt. Mountainous weed piles form as a testament to my guilt, but thankfully my anxiety begins to ease. Maybe it is not too late to salvage what has happened.

Though weed-choked, my flowers are very persistent, like a friend who nags with the best of intentions. As I free them from their invaders, the gardens begin to take shape once again, and I see there is hope. The oak-leaf hydrangea – huge in size – looms over a bed where the cosmos have re-seeded; where the day lilies are about to bloom and where the wild blackberries are already turning red. How did I miss all this?

The Heavenly Blue morning glories are already trailing their way along the split rail fence. Bee balm flower heads are forming. My most recent planting – a dwarf Hale Haven peach tree is over-burdened with shooter-sized green fuzzy fruits. When did this happen?

The Ozark Mountain Sundrops brighten the side garden in yellow and the contrasting pink – why can’t I recall their name – flowers with their furry pale green foliage pop from the landscape. This was all going on while my mind was elsewhere.

As a gardener, I am fully aware Mother Nature could, at any time, completely obliterate my handiwork if I gave her enough of an opportunity, and I almost did. Luckily, the wake-up call I needed came today.

As dusk enters in and the mosquitoes begin to make any further work outside almost impossible, my dad rumbles up the drive in his pick-up truck. “Wow, you are really going at it,” he states with a smile looking at what I’d done. He likes when I weed; when the garden beds he shaped with his shovel look as they should.

I mumble something about the damn bugs and the need to clean up the mess I made. And as always, being my dad, he assures me he can pick up the piles I’ve created later – tomorrow when he gets the tractor and cart out. He tells me to go inside. That I’ve done enough for the day. It’s his way of saying it will be okay; the gardens and the mess.

I know there is much more to do. It will be an ongoing thing, but for now, I am glad to feel I have some control of the situation. It was a job that needed done, and one I will continue to work on. The gardens are what bring me joy. I plan to be a better caretaker and do whatever it takes to keep them healthy and happy.

Summer Swim

During the summer months of June and July, I coach a summer swim team. We are the only public pool in a league filled with country clubs and swim clubs.

Because of this, our group of kids – 176 and growing, ages 4 to 18 – come from all over the area. We are not defined by our location, income or status in life. We are defined by the love of swimming and the joy of connecting with others who feel the same.

I leave my home at 7 a.m. five days a week and coach three practices throughout the morning, finishing up at 11 a.m. I often stay another hour or two to give lessons to both swim team members who need some tweaking, and to non-swimmers whose parents want them to be water safe.

I tell people my office is a pool, and I feel very lucky to have such a unique job where I am involved in helping kids learn to swim. My hope is their swimming becomes a life-long skill; one that will keep them safe and healthy well into their 80s and 90s.

For now though, my goal is to teach my swimmers the proper way to breathe; the correct hand entry for maximum propulsion, the needed body-line to ensure the least drag; these are my priorities. Their drop in time, receiving shirt-soaking hugs, and watching the subsequent high-fives with friends are gravy.

But more than anything, my experiences at the pool have resulted in life-long friendships; with the kids, their parents, my colleagues. These relationships, where I am often thanked for providing guidance, for listening, for having someone’s back, make me smile. It’s my secret, you see. I am the one who walks away from these experiences having benefitted the most.

Did I Mention I Hate Snow?

Can’t believe I have been so negligent about this blog. When my winter swim team kicks into high gear in December, well I just run out of time. What I should have done was kept a running update of how fantastic my team did this year. Had several swimmers set team and pool records. We won our Division One Championship meet the first weekend in February. Had two of my high school swimmers qualify for State. Have several swimmers who have qualified in multiple events for our big Zone championship meet coming up in March. Had more than 190 kids involved this year with many dropping time every time they competed.

Photos by Mary Lou Mikolay

Photos by Mary Lou Mikolay


Instead, I would fall asleep exhausted every evening once I made my way home after five hours on the pool deck instructing kids in the fine art of swimming – aka don’t kill the water, don’t pull on the lane line, don’t swim on top of each other.

Here is a news blurb about one of my awesome 10 year old swimmers, Gina Ungaro.  http://www.vindy.com/news/2010/feb/01/making-waves/

Here is a news blurb about the two high school swimmers – brothers – who competed at State this weekend.  http://www.vindy.com/news/2010/feb/18/free-and-easy-style/?newswatch

Here are a bunch of my older swimmers hanging out, waiting for their events at the February invitational meet my swim team hosts.

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The winter weather has been so harsh this year. I have an hour and a half round trip to the pool and it was often unsettling driving home from swim practice in inches of snow and sleet. As I write this, it is still snowing. My son read that the normal snow fall for this time of year is 8 inches and we have already topped 40 inches. I yearn for green grass. Heck I’ll take some brown mud. Anything but this cold, wet, white stuff.

I saw a robin yesterday. Then I heard a robin today. Poor little guy. Must be so confused. But hearing that summer song did my heart good. Bluebirds are always out when the temp reaches above freezing. They must not have left this year. I have dried mealworms ready to feed. I just need to figure out how to get them out to the bluebirds.

I’ve had it with ice. I’m done with shoveling. Our lane – that took three hours to plow out with a backhoe at the beginning of February – is a total mess. There is much work to be done on the farm once the big melt takes place. And I am so ready!

Chim chiminey Chim chiminey Chim chim cher-ee

This man showed up on my doorstep today. He was in formal wear – top hat and tails. He came to keep me safe. He came to clean out my chimney.

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Jerry Tyson has been a chimney sweep going on 18 years now and he is not afraid of heights. Good thing if you’re a chimney sweep!

My chimney had not been cleaned out for probably as long as Jerry has been cleaning them, so I was happy, and surprised to find out it wasn’t too dirty. He still had to climb on the roof and use that brush on his back. Then he and his helper used an industrial sized vacuum to suck out the soot from the wood burner and the catch bin in the basement.

I guess that catch bin was pretty yucky. Jerry described it as being filled with bird sculls and bones. Dumb grackles! One always gets stuck in the wood burner every spring – what is it looking for anyway -  and I always move the furniture away from the stove, open the windows, and holding a broom – open the wood burner door hoping the grackle will go for the light and outside. Usually it does. I guess some grackles never made it into the stove for release. Sorry for that.

But now my chimney is spanking clean, thanks to this man,

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whose job I would never do because I could never stand on top of a chimney. I did remember the Mary Poppins song and made sure to shake his hand. Good luck for me, I’ll say!

Want your chimney swept? Visit Jerry’s site The Chimney Man at www.thechimneymanohio.com

Turkey Obsession

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

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And welcome to my addiction. Yes, I love Thanksgiving. Love the food. Love the lack of giving-the-right-gift pressure. Love being with family. Love my vintage turkey collection. Huh?

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Yes, I am a collector of all things turkey. Here is just a sampling of what sits around my house from the first day after Halloween until Thanksgiving Day. Though I collect year round, these few short weeks are the only time my obsession is on display. And I love it!

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I meant to take a picture of my Thanksgiving table in all its collectible turkey glory, but then family came, the turkey was done, I was hungry – and well, then the scene was just a mess of sticky plates and happy tummies.

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My collection isn’t valuable by any stretch of the imagination, but the items make for great conversation. Like, “What’s with the turkeys?” or “Where do you find these things?” or “The way you decorate is very interesting.”

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And that’s okay. I like being interesting. But now that Thanksgiving is done, it’s time for my turkeys to go back into hiding.

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And I can start setting up my vintage Christmas collection. Wait until you see my completely tacky flocked plastic Santa figures  from the 1960s. They make a statement, yes they do.

Here’s hoping everyone had a wonderful Turkey Day, and remembered to give thanks for all the wonders life has brought their way. I am truly thankful for my family and friends, and for waking up each morning to another day of opportunities.