Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Someone... Please Send Four More Hours!

These days,
no matter
who you are
or where
you live,
I can bet
you could
use an extra
four hours
in your day.

I ponder this need often, because try as I might, it's hard to imagine that society has always lived within in a twenty four hour day. Because I live in the country, my life is more than likely much slower than the lives of most people. Within the last few years I have even given up having a vehicle at my disposal during the day to concentrate on being a mom to my two kids. The vehicle always meant running to the store and trying to get in errands that ate away at most of our day. And most of our day was already taken up with the business of living. My children are 3 1/2 and 11 months. I think age is relevant, because as a friend and I were recently discussing, it is difficult to compare life schedules when you have children who are of different ages. Different ages bring different tasks, and different levels of day to day involvement. I am at the stage now where my eldest is sleeping through the night, but my youngest is still getting up for at least one feeding between 1 am and 6 am. Couple that with the almost certainty that he will stir and wake up somewhere in those hours too, and you have a night of sleep that is far from satisfactory. Therefore, what should be my most productive time of day, nap time, sometimes finds me passed out right along with the children. But this doesn't happen enough times in a week to make up for lost sleep. In trying to be more productive I made a mental list of the goings on that happen in our household on a daily basis, only to be a bit discouraged when I found that I wasn't going to make up time by cutting in that arena. By the time breakfast is served, kitchen and play areas are cleaned from yesterday's doings, baths are given, lunch is served, naps are accomplished, and plans for dinner are made, evening is rolling around before I even knew the day had gone. If you work out of the home, your day is much the same only you are juggling work tasks plus taking the children to and from wherever they go during the day. Add to this list a mom's array of household chores such as laundry, cleaning bathrooms, floors, dusting, and the million other tasks that must be done, it's no wonder we feel a bit overwhelmed. If you are in charge of getting bills paid, the stress alone of that task probably makes it last on your list. In today's world of financial crisis, bill paying probably ought to be first on all of our lists. It is no surprise that tasks like yard work, washing cars and pets, and the necessary odd job like weatherproofing only happen when said task is about to create a huge problem if it doesn't get done that day. Somewhere in there, though, there has to be a few moments to do those things that keep us from losing our grip. Things like reading and writing, which I often do in the middle of the night during one of those wake-ups with my infant. Or cooking something special, which may happen during nap time. I hope gardening and yard work will come back into my life as the children get older. Right now I have to be content with stealing five minutes here and there for that sort of pleasure. If you are a man and work outside the home, your schedule problems are probably very similar only with very different components. I find humor in the fact that sometimes my husband will walk through the door with the look of "You have no idea what I have been through today" only to see the same look on my face. I can relate to his day because I worked outside the home for years and dealt with those stresses, but I am not entirely sure he can relate to mine. The single dad most certainly can. I think those men are extremely under-rated and even less appreciated. We all need more time to get just the necessary things accomplished in our lives. If we could figure out how to get more time, then we might just be able to get down to the real business of life which is spending quality time with our families. I don't know about you, but I spend an awful lot of time disciplining my toddler, especially since the birth of our second child. This experience has given me a glimpse into how difficult it must be for today's teachers to just teach. I keep coming back to this thought and it's taking on new importance. Could it be that in prior generations, children were expected to do more alongside their parents, even from an early age? This could be why so many people in prior generations remember having so much more family time than we do today. And were prior generations less concerned with teaching their infants everything possible prior to school? I am not sure that my three year old's ability to decipher colors, letters, and count will really give her a head start in class. What if she shows up at the first day of Kindergarten and feels no challenge whatsoever? Have we mixed up our roles as parents in some ways? Time is the ultimate deceiver and I realize that parents of yesteryear probably felt like they needed a 28 hour day too. I just can't help but think that through progress we have tripped ourselves up a bit.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

On Vegetables in the Bathtub and Eavesdropping

I am now pretty confident that the best insight as to how you are doing as a parent is paying attention to how your children play.

Santa Claus brought a dollhouse to our two year old daughter last Christmas. She was way too young, of course, but I had explained to Mr. Claus that these items seemed to be getting more and more expensive. It kind of seemed like now or never at the time, and Santa presented a pretty great package deal. We recruited her grandparents and aunts to help with the add-ons, which by the way, are never ending. I figured at the very least it would be something she would enjoy because of all the bright colors and movable pieces. The dollhouse stayed in the great room of our house for about a month, and then all those movable pieces started to get under my skin. They were traveling everywhere. The dollhouse then traveled up to the attic playroom and this helped to contain all the little pieces. I am not the parent who can just plop all the pieces into a box and leave it there for next time- I am the kind of parent who puts each little part back in its place. Anyone who has Playmobil sets around the house will know what I speak of. It is maddening. I humbly salute and envy "box parents". Like all children, if you are paying attention, my daughter's play was becoming more and more complex. She was talking to her dolls and making them talk to each other. Grammy and Grandpa in Florida slipped into the roles of the doll grandparents, and she was identifying herself as the little blond haired girl doll. This is when I brought the dollhouse back downstairs and into my bedroom. We co sleep, even though my daughter has her own room, and the baby is in my room too. So we spend a lot of time there in the mornings and before bed, two perfect times for play. A lot of times I am right down on the floor with her, but at others I like to give her some time to develop her own sense of how she would like to play. This is where the shameless eavesdropping began. I have noticed that she assumes the mommy role when I am not in the bubble of play with her. It is interesting and downright funny to hear how she deals with situations that she dreams up with the dolls. She reenacts events from the last few days and seems to especially enjoy being mommy to her baby brother who always is the infant in the doll set. I think at this point she just can't imagine him ever being the big boy in the dolls. The dolls were making dinner the other night and there was a problem. The garden vegetables needed washing and the kitchen sink does not have a basin. So she put them all in the bathtub. Very smart, I thought to myself. Then she did something interesting...she removed the dining table and just placed the tub in the middle of the four chairs so everyone could eat straight from the tub. Dolls lead an interesting life. It makes me realize that children desperately need a place where there are no rules. If you want to eat dinner out of the tub, so be it. It has also made me realize that I do enough cleaning as it is in our real house, so I have vowed to let the dollhouse just be messy. I may even get a box for all the small parts littering my bedroom floor. It's an important start, because Santa is working on a Playmobil farm for next Christmas.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tasha's Gingerbread

It's a rainy day here in the Ohio River Valley, a perfect day for warm bread fresh from the oven.

Tasha Tudor's "receipt" for gingerbread is a near perfect rendition. One of my favorite cold weather treats, I was eager to try Tasha's version. She is about as famous for her holiday gingerbread as she is for the wonderful character cookies she made from the Tree bread version of her recipe. Without further ado, here is the recipe I made this morning based loosely on her version from The Tasha Tudor Cookbook. How my recipe differs is that I nearly double the spices and leave out the raisins. I also use a darker molasses for a deeper color to the bread. My pan was a deeper version that what Tasha calls for so I added 15 minutes to the bake time and watched it closely the last portion of the baking. Lastly, I used nearly all organic ingredients.


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (you may microwave for 30 seconds)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg beaten
1 cup medium molasses (dark amber in color)
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray a 9x9x2 inch baking pan liberally with non-stick oil, being especially careful to coat the bottom of the pan. You may wish to dust the bottom with a bit of flour as this recipe may stick due to the longer baking time.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon. Add the egg and the molasses. Sift all the dry ingredients together and add them to the batter mixing well by hand. Add the hot water and hand blend until smooth.

Pour into baking pan and bake for 50 minutes paying close attention to the progress the last 15 minutes. The bread should be well done on the rim of the pan pulling away slightly from the edges. The center will appear nearly done and should rise about 1 to 2 inches. Insert a toothpick if uncertain as to center progress. At this stage of a clean toothpick but the center not quite complete, I baked for another 5 minutes to attain crustiness on the outer edges and thorough baking in the center.

Remove from oven and slide a blunt knife around edges to loosen bread. Turn out on to parchment paper and wrap in warm towel to cool a bit. Eat warm with a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar on top if you wish.

I hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Knock Knock...



I fall for it every time. I live in a wood house with no doorbells. Who wouldn't? Knock knock knock knock knock....the impatient rap sends me running to the front door (possibly a delivery?) then the breezeway door (friend or family?) only to realize I've been had again. It's November I remind myself, and it's the woodpeckers. Scads of them, and they are making us crazy. Me, because once I get use to their incessant knocking, I begin to ignore ALL knocks. This leaves me chasing down the delivery trying to be made once I realize that for once it is NOT the woodpeckers. Or it leaves me explaining that, yes I was home when you stopped by, but that I didn't come to the door because I thought that you were, yes, a woodpecker. If you and I are both lucky, I catch you in the drive before you just give up and think we're not home. My three year old daughter announces every woodpecker to land on the house and have a go because she is now in on the joke too. My husband is losing his cool because he is convinced that the woodpeckers are having a plentiful meal of bugs, in the wood house. The bugs are a concern, of course, but so are the wood shingles which may now resemble Swiss cheese. All manner of heckling from husband to woodpecker occur when he happens to be here during the times when they are knocking. He tells me often, you really need to run outside and scare them away. Right, I'll just grab my coat and sit guard in the front yard to save me the hundred times going in and out the front door. Ohio is home to seven different types of woodpecker. They include the red-bellied, red-headed, yellow-bellied sapsucker, downy, hairy, northern flicker, and the pileated. The type that likes our house is the red-bellied. This is misleading, because as you can see in the picture above, his head is red, not his belly as the name implies. I was happy to learn that the red-bellies often knock to attract mates, and that their knocking is a lot more about getting busy than getting bugs. Somehow I don't think this is going to soothe my husband but at least I have stopped having nightmares about crawling bugs all over the ceiling. November is typically the time that the birds would be feeding while pecking, but I think we may have a bit of a competition going on here. There are quite a few of the birds flitting around at any one time, and while they are trying to grab a meal, I believe they are also trying to keep other birds from grabbing their mates. This would explain the variations in knocking patterns that we hear. We have spotted quite a few of the other species of woodpeckers here at Hawk's Run, but it's the red-bellied who prefers the house over the trees. Every now and again I'll wake in the morning to a cute little redhead looking in the bedroom window. I think it's sweet until he starts knocking on the sills. But at least he has the decency to show himself so that I don't get out of bed to go answer the door.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Burn After Reading

Knit One
Purl One
Knit One
Purl One

There's nothing like a simple set of directions to a project to make you just throw in the towel before you even begin. I think I have spent years of my life avoiding certain things that I now find really enjoyable because I let the directions scare me into not trying. Certain activities have directions that may as well be written in Greek to me- like cooking, playing music, gardening, and knitting. I'll just muse on knitting here unless you have the next four years free to hear me out. The things is, I have now respectively tackled basic skills in three of the four but those skills didn't happen until I was willing to be brave and get on my own path. When it came to knitting, everyone told me the same few bits of advice. Do not use beautiful chunky or uneven yarns. Do not do more than one stitch on your first project. Do not use the method of left handed knitters- or the style many Europeans use. First of all, those beautiful and irregular yarns are just begging to be used- it's like choosing the Oreo over the Amish version of homemade chocolate cakes with cream filling. So unfair. Then there's the monotony of one stitch and the fact that I wasn't looking to bore myself to death. Lastly, I am left handed. This knitting thing was going to be difficult enough without my trying to turn ambidextrous. So I threw caution to the wind and just wung it. I recently realized I needed a good thick and long winter scarf because my Florida blood was clearly not up to Ohio's last winter freeze. I dutifully had pulled out my project book and found exactly what I was looking for. Only it wasn't. Again, the project called for that basic boring yarn, one stitch, and smallish needles. I thought clearly I would hang myself with the scarf before I even finished it. I parked the project for a few days. Then I happened to be in a yarn department and saw this beautiful green yarn in the same crazy texture I had done my son's hat in. The price is really inexpensive so I decided at this point there was no harm if the scarf didn't turn out. I then laid eyes on a pair of gigantic size 17 needles. That could help excite up the one stitch problem, I thought to myself, and dropped the needles into my purchases. I conceded on the one type of stitch and changed up the other two pieces of the directions. I read them through once more before beginning and then nicely shelved the book back in its place. I am now about a foot into this really pretty scarf and the big needles are making the stitches show the pattern and irregularity of the yarn really well. I have decided also that I will just knit this piece until the yarn runs out. I feel so much more relaxed in this project because there are no rules. No measuring tapes to keep getting out to agonize over how much more I have to go to completion, no stitches to count and make sure that I still have the same number of casts that I began with. There's something very liberating about getting a feel for a project and then making it your own. Now I wouldn't recommend this with everything- things like changing your brake lines in your car could be disastrous. More like it, would be disastrous. But a little leeway with things like knitting and cooking can have some surprisingly wonderful outcomes. I marvel now how knitting ever came to be in the first place. I'm not sure how long it would have taken me if someone just sat me down with a ball of yarn and a few sticks and said, "Here, make a sweater." Maybe one hundred years later I may have made something recognizable, I don't know. What I clearly do now understand, however, is that tearing out stitches ten or so times in the first hat I ever made has given me the insight on the mechanics behind the movements. I can now fix it if I mess it up and do not have to start over a new like I did with the hat. I also inadvertently learned to rib knit on that first project because even then I had changed something up right from the start. I knew after five or so rows that my project didn't look like it was supposed to, but the pattern was recognizable as other types of hats I had seen. Imagine my surprise when I learned that what I had been doing by accident was actually something I could make useful. I am about to embark on the musical thing once again. This has been a stressful endeavor as I have forgot how to read music as an adult. Then again, maybe I'll just learn to play by ear.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Perfectly Simple Memory

I am one of those persons some would call a contemplator.
Even in moments when I am completely present in what I am doing, or not doing, I am vaguely aware that there is another part of my brain that is mulling something over. Sometimes it has to do with what I am doing, sometimes not. Lately I have been mulling about childhood, and I am coming to the stunning conclusion that nearly every memory I have is a good one- or great one. I had an uncomplicated childhood, and in this, I believe I am very fortunate. There is one memory that keeps coming back to the forefront and I have no explanation as to why. Except that it is, in my mind, perhaps the most content moment of my childhood. It is snowing heavily and it is night time. It is near Christmas as the lights from the Christmas tree are nearly the only light in the room. It is the mid 70's and everything in the living room is aglow in gold tones. The carpet is a gold hue, the satin brocade sofa under the huge picture window is a deeper shade of gold, the walls are even a shade of gold. I am actually so small that I am lying on the sill of the picture window which is about a foot in depth and even with all the decorations in the window I am quite comfortable. A winter scene is set of which I cannot remember the exact details except that frosted bottle brush trees and angels hair are in plenty. There are many cylindrical candles with ornate holiday scenes painted on the inside of the glass and they smell of paraffin wax. Luckily, at this moment none of them are lit. Perry Como is crooning on a 33 in the huge wood encased stereo so typical of that period. Andy Williams was waiting on the little pin that would drop the next record when Perry sang his last song on the album. Frank Sinatra was probably next. I can still picture those album covers in exact detail. Lying in that picture window watching the snow fall down is just like lying outdoors underneath the winter sky, except that I am in flannel pajamas and there is a roaring fire in the living room fireplace. All traces of human existence lie in a deep blanket of snow. The cars in the driveway are already buried nearly up to their windows and I know for certain there will be no school tomorrow. I loved school, but I loved a snow day better. I have no idea where my parents are, but it is likely my dad was in the next room watching something on TV. No doubt my mom had something going on in the kitchen, or a cat fast asleep in her lap. I cannot remember these details because I am completely lost in the moment. There are three massive evergreens in our front yard right next to the street. If the plows make it out, the piled up snow may reach six feet or more at the evergreens. With no class tomorrow, I am already imagining the snow igloo that can be carved out of the drifts and the boughs of the tree. These snow forts we made in those trees were invisible to all who passed by. They were the ultimate hiding out spot, yet they were thirty or so feet away from a nice mug of hot chocolate. As I drifted off to sleep in the picture window, I was already holed up in my snow igloo in my mind, the smell of paraffin replaced by balsam. Tomorrow was going to be the perfect day. And it was.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Words Come to Life

Some stories come and go, and others hang around a little while longer.

Such is the case with the children's stories written by Connecticut author Mark Kimball Moulton of Sparrow Hill. Karen Hillard Good creates the magical illustrations that depict many of the unforgettable characters roaming in Moulton's head. Moulton has a way of telling a story that is entwined in wonderful rhyme and I think it is this approach that is most alluring to my three year old daughter. The tale of Scarecrow Pete is a story about a book loving scarecrow who shares his love of literature with a little boy. The boy hasn't yet discovered the power of transport through imagination that comes with the simple act of reading. But by the end of the tale, both straw friend and human boy have racked up quite an impressive reading list. We've read the story countless times over the last years, especially from early October to well into December. Last year we couldn't seem to get enough of Scarecrow Pete, so my daughter and I decided to bring Pete into the world of living creatures. I raided my closet for some old denim overalls, a cozy flannel shirt, some garden clogs, and a weather proof hat to protect his pillowcase head. Stuffed with pillows of varying sizes and a broomstick to hold it all in place, Scarecrow Pete took shape within a matter of minutes. We used craft paints and our fingers to fill in rough Sharpie black lines, and a little cross stitch flossing finalized our friend. Pete hung out on the front porch for nearly three months, and when the first snows came, just like in the story, Pete went off to have an adventure in some far off less chilly land. We enjoyed coming and going and seeing his cheery face sitting there, and we contemplated whether Pete had read the stories we were telling at bedtime. Sometimes we would crack the bedroom window just a bit so Pete could hear them too down on the front porch. We have since created Miss Fiona from Miss Fiona's Pumpkin Pies, another fabulous Moulton tale. Snowman Bob also graced the porch last winter. Moulton created Snowgirl Sue to keep Bob company and I am sure she will be paying a visit to our porch this winter. I have never met Mark Kimball Moulton, though I am sure that in some ways we live in some sort of parallel universe from Connecticut to here in Ohio. We enjoy living in very similar environments, and I was stunned to recently find out that he too is a great fan of Tasha Tudor. I think both capture the essence of childhood and tell their tales in ways that even very small children can relate. Never let it be said that a book is just a book, or words just words. Sometimes they find a way into our hearts that beg for transformation. For our family, Scarecrow Pete, Miss Fiona, and Snowman Bob have become part of our family. Their seat is always saved on the front porch anytime they wish to visit.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Holiday Jumpstart

If the season's first pumpkin pies come out of the oven before Halloween, I know I'm in trouble.
This season I must be in real trouble because they came out almost a week early. The afternoon I get the bug to make pumpkin pies is officially the day I have ushered in the upcoming Holiday Season. What triggers it is sometimes difficult to detect, but it is usually a combination of cooler weather and some external marketing ploy. Cool weather in combination with a rainy grey day is certain pumpkin pie making stimulus, but there are others. A visit to the Fresh Market when the Fall displays are up will get me every time, as will the timely arrival of the November issues of a few magazines. It seems a different periodical is the culprit every year and this year it was La Vie Claire. A pumpkin pie was just mentioned to have genuine Vermont maple syrup and it sent me running for The Mystic Pie Company website. It turned out to be the very best pumpkin pie I have ever made, and I have made a lot of pumpkin pies. The one periodical I read religiously is British Country Living- thank God it is meant for a European audience and the American custom of Thanksgiving is luckily not observed in the English Isles. This one would most definitely be the one to send me into a mania. The fact that British Country Living's arrival is a month late here, however, would be beneficial. Needless to say, when the Holiday Fever hits me, it hits hard, and more so now that we live at Hawks Run. It is not so much our property that is conducive to the holidays, but the entire southern region of Ohio known as the Ohio River Valley. This is a region of incredibly good cooks who have at their hands an incredibly great array of locally produced foods. Some years it is recipes for sweet potato dishes that I particularly find worthy, others it is recipes for stuffing, and still others might be variations on fall themed desserts. All I know is that when that first pumpkin pie comes out of the oven my culinary senses go into overdrive and I can't get enough of everything holiday. Halloween was barely a week ago and we have already accomplished the first banana bread, chocolate cookies, autumn cupcakes, corned beef casserole, taffy apples, and of course, the pies. The corned beef casserole is a maternal family tradition on that first cold day of Fall. This year it was enhanced with Portobello mushrooms and Italian cheeses instead of the usual plain buttons and cheddar. It was amazingly tasty. We varied the taffy apples this season as well using only the largest Honey crisps we could find. I thought for sure that I was going to need to see a dentist after that indulgence. Today was Autumn cupcakes in honor of my husband's birthday. These are a sinful concoction of rich butter cream fudge batter and cream cheese icing. The icing is dyed yellow, orange, and red then dolloped out in three drops on the cupcake top. My daughter delights in making the three colors swirl together to mimic Fall leaves. We have at least eight weeks to go in this Holiday Season and I think it is going to be a busy one for our oven. It may also require a daily extended hike outdoors in order to work off all the extra calories. Well worth it!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Invasion

If it is true that a Ladybird in your house is a sign of good luck, then I am the luckiest person in the world.

"Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home.

Your house is on fire and your children are gone.

All except one, and that's Little Anne.

For she has crept under the warming pan."

Each Fall we are invaded by all manner of flying things. Some delightful and benign like the Ladybird, some pesky like the household fly, and some downright aggravating like wasps. Each afternoon I must tour the house trying in vain to rid us of the pesky and aggravating to no avail. They simply keep coming in day after day. But the Ladybird is welcome, and they come and overwinter inside the house in large numbers. They venture in from the south side of the house and find a cozy spot sunbathing on the window panes, or nestle in the folds of the linen curtains. Part of the genus Coccinella, Ladybirds come in all shades of yellow, orange, and red. There are almost as many polka dot combinations as there are Ladybirds in our house. Some 450 different species exist here in North America alone and they are one of the superheros of the insect world. Eating all types of aphids, scale insects, mealy bugs, and mites they are a definite good source of luck in the garden. Their bright colors are part of a phenomenon called aposematism wherein predators are reluctant to eat them because of prior association with color pattern and dangerous toxins. While I don't think this phenomenon was made part of their DNA makeup to ward off felines, the cats in our house leave them alone. When Spring arrives and the Ladybirds venture forth outdoors and into the gardens I miss stumbling upon their bright shells. When beloved artist Charley Harper passed away last summer, we added one of his wonderful Ladybird pictures to our collection of Harper prints that line our stairwell leading to the upper floors. So when I miss the Ladybirds I look at Charley's picture- and when I see the Ladybirds, I think of Charley. Both add immeasurable color and joy to our world.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Best Week Ever

On September 15 the power went out.

And stayed out.

The children and I had been in Columbus for the third annual Country Living Fair and Sunday was predicted to get nasty weather wise. We enjoyed two blissful days of artisans and smiling faces and made it home late Saturday afternoon. By Sunday afternoon the winds had really begun to gather momentum. When I saw the tall Locusts out front begin to look more horizontal than vertical, the kids and I retreated to the basement. My husband was trying desperately to finish up an entry way in an old home in Indian Hill that was being photographed for a holiday issue of a large retailer. He arrived home as the power went out. We're used to power outages here as they happen all the time. Car accidents on these lonely roads are usually to blame, and storms do their fair share. But when we emerged from our hermit hole we knew this time was going to be different. Our beautiful Bradford Pear tree was split in two and had just missed the house. I had just reminisced the day before how I couldn't wait to see that tree in flower again next year. It had been a breathtaking sight. I was grateful we still had one other that had been left intact. The Locusts in front had weathered pretty well, a testament to their flexibility. Only two had snapped in half. The greatest damage had been to our vehicle when walnut fruits were flying through the air at an estimated 70 miles per hour. My guess is that next spring walnut trees will venture forth where no walnut has gone before. We were beginning to hear estimates that the power would be out until at least Thursday or Friday which was five days away. I dutifully grumbled but on the inside I was blissful. No television, computer, or phone ringing. I envisioned candlelit nights telling stories to the children, cooking meals over the open fire in the fireplace, and bathing outdoors in the sunlight. That is exactly what happened over the next five days and it was wonderful. Venturing out to the store was interesting as I noticed we were one of the only families not upset by this lack of electricity. My husband jokingly said one afternoon, "Should we just call up the electric company and tell them to take a hike?" I laughed and secretly wished we could do just that. All of a sudden my days were longer. I was no longer running around trying to fit 28 hours worth of work into a 24 hour day. I was genuinely sad when the power kicked back on Thursday afternoon. I also realized without a doubt that this week would go down as one of the best of the summer of 2008 in our family memories. The power has gone out twice since then and each time a thrill goes through me. Then it returns all too quickly. Maybe I will make that call to the electric company...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Another Lion Sighting

The lion was sighted once again a few weeks ago by another neighbor. This time the sighting was up close and for a good length of time. Though he could not get his camera to work in time to catch a photo, paw prints were left and are apparently huge. We are working to see if we can get a plaster cast of the print. With all of these various sightings by so many different people, I feel it is safe to say that there is a lion in our midst. Hopefully he remains an infrequent visitor and skillful hider as I would hate to see fear get the best of people.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Patches in Nature

It's funny how when you are a small child, even the smallest patch of nature can seem like a huge wilderness.

Growing up in Northwest Indiana provided me with access to abundant natural places. The Lakeshore Dunes and Deep River were two of my favorite places to roam, but the places closest to my heart were right in my own neighborhood. We grew up five kids in four families who were never separated for very long. From sunup to sundown we stayed outside. Even thirty years ago, a parent didn't have to worry if no hide nor hair came into the house for six to eight hours at a time. We took care of each other, us kids, and didn't comprehend that someday parents like ourselves would fret over the dangers lurking in society. We were free. At the curve of our circular block was the most tollerant neighbor in the world. It helped that it was an aunt and uncle of one of us kids, but honestly, I don't think it would have made a difference either way. There was a pond surrounded by trees with a footpath to the main road, a series of fields separated by woods, a small land footbridge over a creek, and loads of explorable corners. When I was a child, these areas seemed so vast. Looking back on this patch of nature as an adult I realize how small it really was. In Spring the little creek would run with snowmelt and the bridge was our favorite spot to look for tadpoles and turtles. In Summer, it was the buttercups shining yellow in the fields. The heady scent of mulberries lured us in with buckets that saw far fewer berries than the numbers which went directly into our mouths. Fingers remained stained for days. In Fall, colored leaves crunched underfoot as we came and went from school, always making sure we went the route of our beloved fields and woods. The Aunt and Uncle's black dog kept a daily vigil waiting for us to come through, as it guaranteed a few pats on the head and occaisonally a leftover lunch. In Winter, the pond lay frozen for ice skating and a hill built for sledding saw constant action. Snow days when school was called off were days of great celebration. When I think about my children growing up here at Hawks Run, I can't help but think that, to them, this patch of nature will seem like the entire universe. The wildlife here is so much more abundant and the acres of wild places are hundreds of times larger than my special place. But oddly enough, it is the little patches that my three year old and her friends seek out now, even with so much wild surrounding their world. A fifty foot path through a small thicket of trees becomes their hiking trail, and puddles are much more alluring than large lakes. Perhaps there is a valuable lesson here for parents. It really does not matter where we live. Children find their wild places in small patches of nature. They get to know these places intimately through the seasons. I smile as I see the picture of the girls above. Through thirty years, and four states, my childhood friend snaps a photo of our girls doing just what we did in our little place. Running, laughing, smelling, seeing, picking things up and putting them back. Nature is the universal play friend, and most likely, the best teacher.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Where Hawks Run

"You should take a walk and go see the place down the lane," my husband said.

It was my first visit to Ohio to meet my husband's family. It was a few years before we were married and it was a bitter cold December day. Having lived in Florida for five years I was up for anything involving cold. While he had something to attend to, I bundled up and set off across the fields towards the lane. All along the west side of the lane are trees, shrubbery at first but this soon gives way to dense wooded ravine. The view down the mile long dirt and gravel lane is thus somewhat concealed until you reach a point half way down. At the point half way down and looking East the view is of three large lakes scattered about the setting. Everything is much more visible in winter when the leaves have fallen to the ground. A small creek begins at this midpoint running from the East to West, travels under the lane, and spills into Hall's Creek some miles away. Coming up the small hill from the wooded ravine revealed yet another lake to my west side and a huge old barn directly ahead. From this vantage point, the road appeared to run straight through the huge barn doors and out the back. Two more lanes branched out from this main road, the one to the East towards a smaller barn and the one to the West to a pretty home way off in the distance. As I neared the big old barn I could see just part of a weathered structure off to the West but it was clouded in a sea of evergreens. To the northeast of that was a large group of tall willowy Locust trees. I pondered the grouping of evergreens and realized that what I was seeing were years and years of Christmas trees that had been planted out. Their varying heights and species gave little doubt. As soon as I passed the greenery, the house came into view. It sat just opposite the barn across the lane which I could now see jogged around the barn and continued North. Yet another lane jetted back out to the East. I didn't get that far on this walk because the house had my full attention. A three story saltbox with eight over eight windows and the silvery hue of wood only time can create sat nestled in a grove of trees. From the main road, there was no way that you would ever know it even existed. It looked well cared for but had that mysterious aura about it that said that it was unoccupied much of the time. From this moment forward I began a love affair with the saltbox. The setting of this one was incredible as vast views stretched from both the front and rear of the structure. Never in a million years would I have believed that day that in eight years time this setting is the place I would call home. I will never forget the first visit back to the property in November 2005 right after we had signed all the papers. My husband and I were driving away from the house to the airport so that we could return to Florida as we were not yet able to move back to the Midwest. My heart was heavy and I didn't want to leave the place. I had learned that his Grandpa Ray's first house had stood right to the north of our house and that my father-in-law had been born there. At that time the farm was one hundred acres and not much else except the old farmhouse and barn stood on the land. Our eleven acres now comprised a long tract, five to the East of the lane and six to the West. Our land was surrounded by forest on all sides. From the air, our eleven acres looked almost like a landing strip with clear views into the tall grasses. My husband was saying something about carving a sign for the end of the lane. I had noticed that people in these parts had a habit of naming their land. "What would you want to call it?" I asked him. He turned to me and simply said, "What it's always been called- Hawk's Run." My surprised look prodded him to explain. Grandpa Ray had named this land decades ago and the name had stayed with it. Our tract having been the site of the original house meant that the name was designated for our parcel. A warm feeling came over me and I wondered at the chosen name. Were there nesting hawks here? There was certainly enough forest and water to support them. The layout of our land also gave the hawks a superb hunting range. My visit back in the summer of the following year did not disappoint. I heard the call from the open kitchen window and my husband ran for the camera. The hawk sat less than twenty feet from the house in a low branch. He was majestic and he was not alone. On any given day if one takes the time to gaze upward into the air currents the hawks are there circling the fields looking for their next meal. Those days when you feel like you are being watched, you most likely are. The hawk's eyes are piercing and they watch us just like we watch them. This is their home. This is where Hawks Run.