Saturday, July 26, 2014

Farming...City-girl Style


I have many hobbies that I enjoy, but gardening isn’t one of them.  I still consider myself a “city girl” even though I’ve lived up her for over 20 years. I grew up with a mom who was and still is, in my opinion, a “master gardener.” When I was a kid we always had a fairly large garden every summer and then a pantry stocked with canned fresh fruits and vegetables all winter. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit her passion or talent for gardening and canning. Tom and I tried growing vegetables, but after a few frustrating summers, our garden now consists of several sorry looking strawberry plants and 5 blueberry bushes, only one of which produces berries. I always want fresh summer vegetables, and since becoming a vegetarian, they have actually become quite an important staple in our house. This spring I discovered Bluestem Farm in East Jordan. They are a CSA, which a farm where you purchase shares, and in return you receive whatever quantity of, in my case, vegetables you order on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. The catch is that you don’t pick what you want. You just take what they bring, which means whatever is in season. Since I only have a vague idea of what I’m getting from week to week, it’s literally like having a vegetable Christmas every Monday! I have only discovered one problem. When one gets enough produce to feed a small herd of sheep, one must first, know how to process and preserve it all, and second, have the patience and attention span to do so. I need to clarify that my fruit and vegetable processing skills include stuffing freezer bags with corn and making freezer jam, neither of which require much time or effort. I did attempt real jam last summer with real canning jars and I need to be honest. The amount of time and effort it took did not in any way pay off with the 6 pints of runny jam that resulted from the process. Since my family is unable to consume such a large amount of vegetables coming in week after week, I had to do some research in order to find quick and easy ways to preserve things like greens and beets, hopefully which involved freezer bags. If I don’t, my fridge is overflowing with produce that we can’t possibly finish before it’s time to pick up the next delivery.  What a problem to have, right? I’m not complaining though. I am thrilled with our decision to buy this share and support one of our local farms. We are loving the new and diverse range of produce, much of which I have never voluntarily bought at the store. Mary, from Bluestem, gives us recipes, tips, and advice in her weekly email. All of which makes the whole process a bit less overwhelming. I am happy to report that I don’t have to be a master gardener/canner in order to live like one. All this city girl needs is an ample supply of freezer bags and a lot of fresh produce.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Got Your Manners?

Wow, it's the middle of July and I just realized that I didn't post my June column! Where is the summer going? I may be a teacher, but I'm definitely not hanging out at the lake. Work beckons 12 months of the year! Well, here it is. Enjoy!

"Doesn't anyone have manners anymore?" I grumbled to my husband yet again as we left the grocery store. I don't know if I'm just overly sensitive, or if there really is a lack of manners in our society. When my friend Lynn's son was much younger, she would cheerfully call out "Got your manners?" as she dropped him off at our house. "Yup!" he would respond as if he had "please" and "thank you" neatly tucked into his pocket. I thought it was such a sweet reminder that I started using it with my own kids. When I was a kid, my mom was a stickler for manners. I'd say "Can I have a cookie?" And she'd respond with, "I don't know, can you?" Although it never happened I vividly remember being reminded that I might feel the pain of a fork in the back of my hand if I reached across the table for food as "Please pass the corn" was an expected exchange at our dinner table. I have carried on the expectation of common courtesy in my own classroom. For instance, if a child asks for something I ask, "Do you have nice manners?" while waiting for a "please" or "thank you." Young children are usually in a hurry to get where ever they're going so I am constantly saying "Say excuse me!" There used to be a Dear Abby-type column in the paper called "Miss Manners" for people who were unclear about the whole concept of being polite. It was a question and answer column mostly having to do with etiquette. The answers always began with "Miss Manners says..." I actually think we do a pretty good job at teaching our kids to use their manners, but somewhere along the way we seem to forget to "practice what we preach," which brings me to my irritation at other shoppers in the grocery store. When I need to push my cart in front of another shopper I usually say "excuse me." Then in my head I wait for the "oh that's ok" that never comes. Sometimes I get a little obnoxious and repeat "excuse me!" In a louder voice as if they didn't hear me the first time. Or when someone pushes their cart in front of me or grabs something off of a shelf that I was looking at I again, assume an "excuse me" is coming. I even say "oh! I'm sorry!" which is frequently met with a blank stare or less. This kind of behavior has transcended all socioeconomic groups. I have nearly been run over by drivers in the nicest cars without even an "Oops I almost hospitalized you" wave of regret. It's almost the opposite; kind of a "You shouldn't have been in that clearly marked crosswalk glare" instead. I guess my point is that I think the world would be a much happier place if we all made sure our manners were neatly tucked in our pockets before we left home. At least grocery shopping would be for me.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Something Suddenly Came Up!

I have a confession to make. I'm not a very eager helper. You are probably thinking that it can't be true because I'm an elementary school teacher. After all, teaching is a helping profession  isn't it? In the confines of my day job, I do consider myself somewhat of a helpful person. I help kids all day long. And I also like sharing lessons and ideas with my colleagues. Outside of my job I like to help out at church and don't mind helping my friends. My shortcomings arise whenever my husband asks me for help. I feel like I have quite a few of my own housework type responsibilities that I take care of with little or no help from the three guys I share my home with. So when I hear "Hey Honey, Can you come out here for a minute and help me?" Let's just say I'm not one to drop whatever I am doing and dash out to the garage to hold a flashlight in the freezing cold. My husband is a busy guy. He works all day then runs a small business out of our home at night. Sometimes he needs another set of hands. I find myself conjuring up projects so I will be too busy to help. It's cold in the garage! A couple of weekends ago some trees had to come down in the yard. I made sure I had plenty to do around the house so as not to get roped into dragging tree limbs into the back yard all day long. I actually managed to avoid it and was quite pleased with myself. That is until I went to school on Monday. A friend of mine was telling me about her sore neck and shoulders that occurred from helping her husband fell trees and drag limbs and branches around all day Sunday. Suddenly I didn't feel so proud of myself. So this past weekend I made amends. I have been wanting our back deck to get finished and convinced Tom to work on it instead of cutting down more trees. Ordinarily I would come up with my usual list of have-tos in order to make myself scarce. However, I knew that the job would not only be the deck railing but assembling the new deck furniture. I decided that in order for this project to take less than two full weekends of Tom doing it by himself with two reluctant sons, that it was time for me to jump in and help. I am happy to report that a sore neck and shoulders later, I assembled all of the new deck furniture while at the same time handing Tom tools and helping him level posts. So maybe this means I've turned over a new, helpful leaf!
"What's that Honey? You're planning on cutting down more trees this weekend and you need my help? Shoot! I would, but something suddenly came up!"

Friday, May 16, 2014

Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned in Second Grade

Many years ago there was a popular poster and accompanying books and calendars titled, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulgham. It was clever in that it reminded us to share and be nice to one another. I thought it was cute. However, since I am a second grade teacher, I have a version of my own. I call it "All I Need to Know I Learned in Second Grade" and it goes like this:

Have best friends. Lots of them.
Laugh loudly
Find the humor in the little things like the word, "toilet"
Run everywhere
If someone says something mean to you say "I don't want to be your friend anymore."
Be their friend again the next day anyway.
Love learning and love telling others about the stuff you learned.
If someone doesn't know the answer, whisper it to them.
Make everyone's Birthday a important as Christmas.
Believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy.
And when you have some free time, go outside and play, even if it's raining.
Hold hands.
When someone gets hurt show genuine concern and compassion.

I have actually had this idea for a few years. When the testing craze took off and education went from a place of educational freedom and creativity to a microscope of state standards and MEAP test scores, crafts and creative writing were replaced with test prep and running records. My friend was walking down the hall after a morning of trimester math testing in her second grade classroom. She was behind two little girls and overheard them say "When we go out to recess. Let's play princesses." And they held hands as they walked to the lunchroom. My friend later said to me, "These kids don't care about test scores. They just want to play princesses." I wonder when we lose the pure joy in life that we feel when we are young children. Little things make them happy and pride comes from a purple star on a spelling test. They don't care if there's still 2 feet of snow in mid-March. That just means more time to make the world's best snow fort. They don't care if it rains while camping. Heck, I don't think they even notice until the grown-ups say that the fun is over. Yes, I learned a lot of important things in Kindergarten, but I might be a bit biased when I say the real learning happens in second grade.

I Think I Watch Entirely Too Much TV

Every so often I get hooked on a particular TV show. When I was a kid I used to pretend that I was one of the Brady Bunch. I watched every episode and wondered what it would be like to grow up in a family of 6 kids. I watched Laverne and Shirley and couldn't wait to live in a basement apartment with a fun and quirky roommate. I've seen just about every single episode of Beverly Hills 90210, some more than once. That show was what one might consider a guilty pleasure. I don't particularly know what attracted me to it, other than the curiosity of how the other half lives. Now my show of choice seems to be everyone else's too: Downton Abbey. I absolutely love that show. After just one episode I found myself watching entire seasons at a time just to catch up. Downton Abbey is a PBS Masterpiece Classics show about a wealthy family in World War 1 era Britain. The family lives on the fictitious Downton Abbey estate. The show also follows the lives of the servants. It is so well written that its story lines and characters stay with me long after 10:00 Sunday night. In fact, after watching several episodes In a row I find myself thinking in a British accent.  The funny thing is that the show does not make me want to be the daughter of a wealthy estate owner in the 1920s. I actually wonder how these people did not literally die of boredom. The ladies of the house would wake up and ring for breakfast in bed. Someone would bring up the food and pick out the days outfits.  Then they'd basically walk around and talk about arranged marriages, money, and other random stuff all while looking fabulous. Another show I can't seem to get enough of is the House Hunters series on HGTV. It is a show about people looking for a new house either here in America or over seas. As I watch I am literally amazed at how picky and shallow people can be. The potential home buyers say things like "I can't possibly be happy in a home without stainless steel appliances and granite countertops." At the same time I'm a little envious. We hear all over the news how teachers are over paid yet I watch marketing reps search for their second $500,000 home in Houston. I would have to win the lotto in order to even consider just one $500,000 home. I'm also curious about the families who just pick up and move their families to places like France and Brazil. These people are described as world travelers, but really don't seem to have any sort of income. I guess that's why there are shows like Downton Abbey and House Hunters. All of these shows have something in common for me. As I think about how life could be, I remind myself to be thankful for what I have. Yes, at times I live a little vicariously through those looking for the perfect home with stunning views while at the same time knowing that a home can still be  happy with appliances that don't match and laminate countertops.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Keep Calm. Spring is Coming

I was standing in my bedroom one day looking out at the beauty and tranquility of the gently falling snow. I can't describe the feelings that washed over me as I looked out at this "Walking Through the Woods on a Snowy Evening" scene spread out before me. Wait a minute. Yes I could. The feelings were anger, disgust, and frustration. This day in particular wasn't late November or early December, it was March 28th, the first day of my spring break. The previous day we has gotten a whopping 2-3 inches of heavy snow and probably the worst drive to work I had experienced all year. I reminded myself of the same thing I tell myself every year around this time. "It's OK. It will melt. At least it isn't November." Only this year it seems different for some reason. First, I usually find myself saying that to myself in early to mid March. Second, with the February like temperatures we had all through March, April is not turning out to be all that springy. Who's to say that once the lakes begin to melt we won't get April showers in the form of lake effect snow? I really am the kind of person who tries to make the best of it. I feel like if we have chosen to live up here we should take advantage of the winter conditions and do things like ski, skate, and snowshoe. That all sounds good on theory, but I haven't once done any of those things this winter even though I own both skis (downhill and cross country) as well as snowshoes. But enough is enough! I avoided going on Facebook to look at pictures of my friends' fabulous spring break extravaganzas and have forbidden my mom from sending anymore "It's 80 degrees here in Florida and look at pictures of my begonias!" emails. I am reminded of that old British poster that says "Keep Calm and Carry On" (in case you didn't know the original version because it's everywhere in every rendition imaginable). Only I have come up with some versions of my own:

Keep Calm and Keep Shoveling
Keep Calm and Wear A Sweater
Keep Calm and Buy Snow Tires

I usually refuse to wear socks after spring break as a point of protest, but I don't think that's going to happen for a while. And when this endless winter does finally make way for spring the last of the snow is going to melt like gangbusters. Then, well, just Keep Calm and Swim.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My Life in the Stands

This one was written in early March. It didn't make the paper. Enjoy!

It's Friday night and I have done the grocery shopping. Now the weekend is mine, I tell myself. But not so fast. Don't forget that the laundry needs to be done, we are volunteering at a youth wrestling tournament on Saturday and there's church and a play I want to attend on Sunday. Oh, and remember the stack of papers that need to be corrected and the lesson plans that still aren't finished. Since Early December our Saturdays have been spent in the bleachers at various varsity wrestling tournaments throughout northern Michigan. With my son making it all all the way to States this year we tacked on 3 more weeks to the season. Don't get me wrong. I love the sport of wrestling and I especially love supporting my son and his athletics. I enjoy supporting both boys in whatever they choose to do whether it's Sammy's sports or Robby's music and ministry. However, spending 8 hours sitting in bleachers after a two hour drive can test even the most dedicated parent. I always take a little ditty bag of stuff to keep me busy. I have even taken to letting school work pile up so I could take it with me on Saturdays. Even the excitement of the state tournament at The Palace of Auburn Hills quickly wore off as we stayed in the stands for the familiar 8 hour stretch. I have to keep reminding myself that we only have one more year and then it will be over. I do know there are parents who can completely relate when I utter that tiny prayer "Lord, please let this be the blizzard that calls off the tournament just this one Saturday." I understand that swim meets and volleyball tournaments can be just as brutal on the lower back and posterior. I really don't remember my butt hurting that much when the boys were younger. Maybe I just had more padding back then or the cartilage hadn't yet begun to break down in my hips. But besides the pain and discomfort of bleachers, Saturday tournaments reduce my weekends to the 5 hours after church on Sundays to get everything done that I can't do during the week. As much as I would like to say that everyone willingly pitches in, let's be real. Most of it falls on me. Fortunately another wrestling season is behind us and I am looking forward to a weekend of rest and relaxation. It just won't be this weekend.