Monday, August 31, 2009

Bike hike

Beautiful weather brought us out to the bike trails again! We're adventurers so we decided to go a new route along a different river. Arielle and I led the way with Fred following (slowly) behind Liana. I wish I hadn't forgotten my camera. The rains over the weekend made the river rise and it rushes by the wildflowers along the banks. Arielle and I get so far ahead we can't see Fred and Liana and we have to stop and wait for them. After a long wait at one point we find out they both had fallen! I'm glad I didn't see it. Liana is still a little shakey on her bike and it makes me nervous.

On this trip we had to ride a short distance on a real road--not good. There are real cars on this road. Then we traveled along a narrow path with several rude groups of "real" cyclists. These are the ones with racing bikes wearing silky biking outfits and fancy helmets who zip by so closely you are practically shoved aside or who approach you with three or four riders abreast on the path. So again, you are shoved aside.

So our little family is just cycling along at a slow speed trying to enjoy the scenery, and then the scenery becomes scary! On our left is a tall slice of mountain and on our right, where we are traveling, is a steep drop-off down a rocky cliff with the river flowing many feet below. Arielle and I ride along, with me warning her to stay away from the slope, which is difficult to do with the cyclists mentioned above on the trail with us.

My two girls are the Squabble Queens. You would think they can't stand to be near each other at times, always fussing and fuming. Liana is famous for her tears of anguish and Arielle is noted for the mean faces she gives Liana. Arielle is, in general, usually annoyed with her little sister, and Liana is tormented by the injustice dealt her having a bossy older sister. But today during our biking trip, I notice Arielle's concern for Liana. Time and again she looks backwards to see if she can see Liana coming. If she can, Arielle says, "Mom, she is too close to the edge." I assure her Daddy is watching Liana. Again she says, "Liana's bike is wobbling back and forth. This isn't safe for her." I am thinking the same thing. Surely Fred will realize this is true. Arielle and I pull over and wait.

Fred and Liana approach us and I express my concerns. Fred would usually say I worry too much, but this time he agrees. This is not the bike path for an inexperienced rider. If Liana slipped, she and her bike would be falling headlong into the river. To my great relief, we go back the way we came, this time the mountain at our side.

I am proud of Arielle and her mothering instincts. She loves her sister after all.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fabulous Gazpacho!

Our summer garden is dying down and we are harvesting the last of the vegetables. Right now we have a lot of tomatoes and cucumbers so I decided to try Spanish gazpacho. I've never eaten it, even when I lived in Spain. This soup is an explosion of flavor! I found a simple recipe:

3 large fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 large cucumber, seeded and chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 T. rice vinegar (or wine vinegar)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 T. olive oil

Place all ingredients in blender or food processor. Process, but don't puree. Eat cold. So good and so good for you! What a great dish on a hot and humid summer night.
Friends, I have not shared our tomatoes with you like I would have liked. They just didn't look very nice. They tasted good but were full of holes and squirrel bites. I would have been ashamed to give them to anyone.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Grand finale

By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea...

You and I, you and I, oh, how happy we'll be!

Summer is officially over in our house with the start of school today. But we ended it with a bang! Fred suddenly decided we should all go to the shore for one night. We'd thought we wouldn't be able to take our shore trip at all this year with Fred being in school, but he surprised us. Amazingly, we even found a vacancy, not at our usual spot at such late notice, but one not far down the street.

As we crossed the bridge over the bay to our island getaway, the girls screamed with excitement. They rolled down the windows to sniff the sea air. We stopped for lunch where we always go, and the girls were even more thrilled. They like to do everything just the same as we have done every year since they were babies. They don't want to vary the routine one bit. I picture them as women with their own children stopping at the same restaurant on their way to the beach. We drove to find our motel and Fred checked us in and then came out with another surprise. He booked two night instead of one!

By coincidence, good friends of ours were heading to the shore at the very same time for a day trip. We played together with them in the sun and sand. The day was hot and humid, unlike our usual trip in September, so we spent more time in the water, which was warm as a bath. The girls found all kinds of sea creatures and dug big holes. Arielle, older every year, ventures further and further into the surf. Not being a swimmer, the ocean is scary to me. But Fred was with her, so I shouldn't have been nervous. Liana still stays with me. We hold hands and jump the smaller waves. But they are powerful this day, nearly knocking us down.

We ate a delicious seafood dinner with our friends before they headed off late that evening. Sandy, sticky girls had showers and were quickly asleep. We headed out early to the beach again the next day. The Storm Tracker truck from our local news station was the first sign that something had changed. The sunlight still glittered brightly across the ocean, but the water was cold and the waves pounded in. The ocean was churning, ominous, and the wind was sharp. Liana didn't want to go in the water at all. Hurricane Bill was out in the Atlantic, coming closer.

Fred and Arielle let the waves beat them up again. Lifeguards were watching closely, and I was too. I couldn't relax with a book like usual. All that talk about rip currents ran through my mind. Later, all four of us took a peaceful walk at the water's edge far down the coastline. Then my heart settled like it always does at the shore. Amidst the roar of the waves drowning out every noise except for the laugh of the gulls, it seemed we were alone with God. The ocean beckons to me, despite my fear of it. I love being here with my family. I asked the girls, "Where would you rather be?" They said, "Nowhere!" Then they said, "Grandma's?"

Oh, the great mountains where my mother lives calls to us too. In both these places, God seems closer. Maybe it's the big-ness, the grandeur and the power of that huge ocean and those magnificent mountains. The details of daily life become trivial. We contemplate our small-ness in the universe and stand in awe of creation.

"Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great...may the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke! I will sing to the Lord as long as I live, I will sing praises to my God while I have being." (Psalm 104)

We woke Saturday morning to rain and an even louder crashing of the waves. The only people in the water were the surfers. As we gazed across the sand to say good-bye to the ocean, we were treated to a giant rainbow, one leg in the sea, and the other crossing the island to the west, out of sight. Time to go back home. Summer is over.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A day in the park

This has to be one of the most fun city parks of all! This picture shows only one small part of it. It is full of towering wooden structures the kids can climb up and down in, along with rope ladders, hideaways, and suspended bridges. The play area is fenced with only one way in and out, so a parent can easily know where her children are. A couple of years ago the girls enjoyed playing here in the biggest sand pit I've ever seen. Surrounding the playground are beautiful shade trees with picnic tables where we had lunch. We spent the whole day here yesterday, and even with kids ages 9 to 14, they didn't tire of it and I only got them to leave without complaint by promising them ice cream.

Kelsey and Seth will go back to Minnesota in a week. We wanted at least one more day with them to remind them they have family back home who love them and will miss them. We're building memories.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Our beloved maples

We've had a lot of rain and fierce storms this year. And we have lots of tall, ancient trees in our yard, a couple of them battling an ant infestation. So I guess it was only a matter of time before lightening would strike and bring a limb down. A huge branch broke off the ash in the back, struck the shed roof and put a hole in it. About a month later, a branch broke off the maple in our front yard, taking the mailbox out. Fred forbid the girls to play on their swingset anymore, worried a falling branch would take them out! Time to call for the very expensive tree service.

Yesterday a whole crew of men arrived to remove the two offending trees and trim up the others. I took a few pictures and then the girls and I left, not fully trusting that these guys would not let the tree fall onto the house.

We returned to find the ugly stump and our yard bare. This tree was like an old friend, our towering maple that gave us cool shade in the summer and dropped a carpet of gold in the autumn. I will miss this tree. We could always plant another, of course. More new beginnings. I always resist change.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

4-H Fair

We just spent three days at the 4-H Fair. My girls just can't get enough. This is the highlight of their summer. What simple, low-tech, good family fun! The first day we had to work, the responsibility and duty of belonging to one of the 4-H clubs. The second day we brought my granddaughter Lana with us. She was just as excited to be here as my daughters. She loved everything we did and everything we saw. She was especially fascinated with the giant cow, luring the people in from the road outside.

Lana is usually a shy little girl, so we were in shock when she wanted to join the dance competition under the tent. My girls couldn't even be persuaded to join her until some of their friends arrived. Here is Arielle teaching Lana to do the "Cotton-Eyed Joe."

After awhile the music got too loud for even the best dancers.

But here is what we came for--the fabric sale. Hundreds of hours were needed to pull this thing off. The proceeds are what sustains our club.

And what a thrill for the kids to see their sewing projects on display!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A day with the grandkids

Kelsey, Laci and Arielle
The Happy Crew

I had the privilege of spending the day at my son's house. My older grandchildren Kelsey and Seth are here for the summer. We were so glad to have more time with them before they return to Minnesota. Arielle adores Kelsey. They do a lot of "girl talk." Seth is at that wonderful age for a boy--12. I remember my own sons at that age. They are personable and talkative and still well... boys. Not yet going through the stepping stones to manhood that can be so exasperating. Our little Seth is still affectionate and sweet, and he gives the best hugs ever.

Liana enjoyed playing with 4-year-old Mattie all day, and I loved holding and feeding and caring for my youngest grandchild, Laci. She is 15-months-old and is trying so hard to communicate in words. I remember Arielle at that age, stringing words together to get her baby ideas across.

We had a pleasant day without fighting (well, not much anyway) or tears. The baby never even cried once. I had trouble getting them to smile for a group shot though!

I am so blessed to be related to these precious children.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


As a disclaimer, I am not a "car person." I don't notice cars, I don't think about cars or wish for a particular car. I just like a car to get me where I'm going. But the cars I've had make me think back on different stages of my life.

I learned to drive on a '58 Buick Special, my mother's car. But I had no attachment to it, and for years after I was car-less. My first car that was my very own was an old three tone '65 Ford Fairlane. The three colors were red, white and primer. I drove it into the city every day when I was in nursing school and I used to say it ran on the Spirit of God because every day that car started up was a miracle.

Then there was my '79 blue Ford Pinto. It was new and fabulous. I learned to drive a stick-shift with it. Then we learned the gas tank might explode and we traded it in for a used Dodge Aries. This car transported Cub Scouts and soccer players. Sweaty boys were always piled in it and we traveled many miles and many years.

When Fred and I got married we bought a Suburu Outback. It was a fun car, small and zippy. My baby Arielle rode in it, strapped in her carseat. When Liana came home we bought a new 2001 Ford Windstar van. I didn't want to be a van mom! But at the time we were driving back and forth across the country and needed something roomy and comfortable. I grew to love my van. I took my girls to Chinese school in it, and to dance classes and church and the beach. We packed in other people's kids and our big kids and our friends. It held all four of our bikes and we could put the seats down and load furniture and lumber or just about anything we needed to cart around.

On Monday Fred told me we should take advantage of the Cash for Clunkers rebate. It was supposed to be the very last day of the program. The van has been costing us money in repairs and it was a big gas-guzzler. It's trade-in value was next to nothing. But, Fred, my van! The girls and I love our van.

So we headed to the dealership. We found the smallest, cheapest car. The salesman asked what color we wanted. The girls and I said, "Anything but red." I'm not a flashy person. Then he said red was the only color he had that night. We test drove this tiny, cute car and it felt right. Solid, bigger inside than it appears outside.

Two hours later we were told we were missing a piece of documentation. We took a 40 minute drive home and back to retrieve it. Another hour and we are told those papers still weren't good enough. We went home without the car. No deal. The salesman said he would call if the Senate voted to extend the program. I didn't really want a new car, but now I was disappointed.

The next day the salesman called. The dealership was allowing one more day for the rebate. We cleaned out our much-loved van, finding mementos of long ago, and headed back out. Another two hours and we drove off the lot in a 2009 Honda Fit. Instead of being joyful, I was in tears. My van! What have we done? Such ambivalence! What's wrong with me?

I realize the sadness is because my girls are growing up. It's the end of an era. We can't load this car with the big wagon the girls used to ride in on the boardwalk. We're not transporting strollers and carseats anymore. If we drive south, we'll take Fred's car. I will eventually embrace this new stage of life. Cut-back, down-size, simplify.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

What is this??

I haven't seen this strange thing in our yard for a couple of years. But today there were several. They are about 6 inches tall, bright orange and the tips look like they have been dipped in chocolate syrup. For some reason they attract large flies. These things crop up overnight and by afternoon they totally disappear. I think they must be some sort of alien creature. Weird and scary to have in your yard. Click on the picture to get a good view.
Give up? I just searched to find the answer. Great These things are stinkhorn mushrooms, also known as mutinous caninus. I don't think I would eat one or even touch one, but the mushroom guy says they are not dangerous. The brown chocolate tip is actually a slime that carries the mushroom's spores. It gives off a four odor that attracts flies. The flies slurp up the slime, ingesting the spores and also get the spores on their feet. They carry them off to other locations and that's how the fungus reproduces. Fascinating, isn't it?