Thursday, July 11, 2024

Coming home...


I took this photo a few years ago at the Balloon Festival.

A long day at the airports on July 3rd gave way to a late twilight flight out of Minneapolis. Even though it was delayed, and we were all anxious to make the trip, it was absolutely beautiful. We flew into the sun, so to speak, and it set behind us with the most beautiful sunset possible. By the time we crossed Lake Michigan, it was dark and because we were in a small plane, we could clearly see the ground. Pockets of fireworks exploded as we flew over small towns. It was a brilliant display of color and very joyous. I talked to the pilots afterward, and they both said it was one of their favorite flights! I had to agree.

With the Fourth of July now in the photo albums, we move into the heart of summer. For me, it is time to be back home and edge myself back into adult life. I miss the kids, and we had the best time, but now time to get back involved with my community and my Indiana family. Yes, as John Denver once saying, it’s good to be back home again.

This week of July brings back the heat, the brilliant sky and Angola’s finest Balloon Festival second only to Albuquerque or so I say! Let’s start with the heat of the day inside a July day in Indiana. James Whitcomb Riley, Indiana’s favorite poet was known as the “Hoosier Poet” and also the “Children’s Poet.” Riley left us with a thousand poems which he wrote and performed in his lifetime. One of my favorite summer poems is, “The Old Swimmin’ Hole.” I think the poem depicts an innocent time for children, and well, for adults too. I guess maybe we could say the good old days. Maybe.

July days bring on the heat which is a must for our gardens! Mine seems to be off to a slow start and maybe that is due from being gone two weeks and letting the weeds dance their way merrily among the flowers and vegetables. A few afternoons of work, and I should be all caught up! Those of you in cottages around the lake live for the month of July. I did too as a teenager. I loved coming up to Lake James learning to ski or go out on the boat to watch the fireworks. Since I am a townie, my fireworks were at the Commons. They were brilliant this year, as was the evening show in my garden with the fireflies. I was watching them last night and lamenting the fact that my Littles were not here to capture them and wonder at their beauty. (No, we did not keep them in jars over night although Noah did try to sneak one into the house!)

The summer night sky boasts a waxing crescent moon passing right through the bright star, Regulus, from the constellation, Leo the Lion. I love watching the moon glide above us and the crescent moons have the early night sky to themselves. Take the time to go outside after dark and prepare to just be amazed.

Now that I am back home, the calendar appears to be filling up with all sorts of events and activities. I love them all from Writer’s group to Ukulele Club. This weekend boasts an amazing event in our town, Angola Balloons Aloft. In a few days the skies will be full of hot air balloons traveling all over the county. I love following them in my Jeep! A few years ago, I had the awesome opportunity to fly in one of the crowd’s favorites, the Dragon. I even had a t-shirt made for me that said, “There is no place like home.” The morning was bright and clear as I climbed into the basket. It was thrilling and horrifying at the same time. I was supposed to take photos and some film footage for KPC, but mostly I just hung on the edge of the basket! This weekend will bring events to the high school along with the balloons. Don’t miss this!

Summer is here…strong and hot. Be on the lookout for huge zucchinis which somehow show up unannounced on our porches! Our gardens are growing, the kids are at camp or at the lake. We are blessed to live here.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

The Hurricane and other Sundry Items...


The dining room table is full of Go Fish and Old Maid cards. The playroom is full of toys and books litter all the end tables. The fireplace mantel hosts artwork of Kahlo, Monet and Van Gogh (all done by the seven-year-old twins!), and the refrigerator is full. Yes, it is my week to watch all four of Abe’s kids as he and Kristin take off for their yearly trip.

I gear up every summer when I know I have the Littles, then all of them, and then later in the summer, the older two girls fly to Indiana for Drama Camp. This week has been different as I usually watch the four of them in the purple house where Lola, my Jeep, takes us anywhere we want to go, and I have all my resources at my fingertips. Sometimes I watch them at their beach house which is so much fun. I can drive there as there is no traffic and a tiny grocery store on Oak Island plus a movie theatre. Here, in Charleston, it is very different, and it is hot. So, except for a few trips to the library or art camp or to the pool, we live in our self-serving cocoon…me and the four kids.

They are entertaining and fun, and with the different ages, there is always a different activity from movies of Pok√©mon to the grown-up movies after the twins go to bed. But for the most part, we are all together…all day long.

This time, Abe and Kristin went to Barbados. They chose a new place every summer to get away and relax for a week before coming back recharged and ready to take over again. We make my flight home on July 3rd because we all know I need to be in my town for the Fourth of July. Of course, this has meant I miss the Philharmonic in the park and the Americana event, but it can’t be helped. “As long as I home by the Fourth of July,” I say, “all will be well.” This will be the first party at Aaron and Rachel’s new farm, and I sure don’t want to miss that!

Alas. Alas. Things happen. Things always happen. This time it is an early, unexpected hurricane bearing down on Barbados as I write. I didn’t pay much attention at the beginning as it was just a tropical depression. These things pop up all the time, don’t they? It wasn’t until Friday that I realized it had the potential to become a hurricane and by Saturday, it turned into one. Abe was able to ring us for a few moments to tell us they would be staying as their hotel was strong, even though it was right on the beach and the shelling would be great the next day before they head out. I do not think they realized this would become a category 4 hurricane on a small island.

I don’t keep the news from the kids, as they need to know some of this. “How exciting,” I tell them, “To be in a hurricane! It is like a big party.” They look at time with inquisitive eyes about the party thing. I tell them about the hurricanes on Ocracoke Island and what it was like. The best part of those hurricanes was that the visitors were all asked to just drive away and leave the locals to face the weather and then the clean up afterwards. I know also about the tourism aspect of hurricanes. The quicker the storekeepers can get the clean-up done, the quicker these islands (or towns) can get back into business. On Ocracoke, there was always so much clean up, which was especially difficult when the power was out. We were hot and sticky and definitely grateful for the Red Cross to show up.

As far as Barbados, I don’t really know. What is their infrastructure like? How strong is the airport and the runways? Will they get home in time? Will I make it to the parade and parties on the Fourth? I must plan accordingly too. How will I make that day fun for the kids without really knowing what or where to go to celebrate?

I know we will be fine. I will find sparklers and we will take a blanket to the back yard and watch for local fireworks, if this happens.

In the meantime, Go Fish, movies, stories and lots of chocolate will get us through!

Friday, June 28, 2024

Fireflies in the garden...


Staying up late is a complete joy for children. How exciting to spend time outside in the garden after dark in your pajamas! Of course, it stays light quite late, so a warning comes with staying up til dark!

That is exactly what we have been doing. I try to get them to listen to the sounds of nature, the sounds of quiet, the sounds of twilight. Even though I live in town, my backyard is a cacophony of nighttime sounds. Birds singing their good night sounds, doves cooing, the very first sound of a distant owl, and even the train which rumbles through my neighborhood on regular occasions. We love all of these sounds.

I want them to see the beauty of the night as we watch the twilight deepen to dark, the shadows disappear in lieu of the sun’s farewell, the rising of the almost full moon, and, of course, the time-honored fireflies. I often worry about the future of fireflies as forests and meadows face more destruction than ever. However, I am not here to chat about the forests (although we should all be very concerned), I am here to spread the tidings of great joy as summer comes roaring in this week. I do mean roaring in with the high temperatures. I am loathe to turn on my air, but alas, alas here we are with it humming away. I am grateful to have it, but oh how I miss my windows wide open with the sounds of summer seeping in through the screens.

The heat is arriving right on time as we celebrate the arrival of summer on Thursday, June 20 at 4:50 p.m. This, of course, is the Summer Solstice and one of my very favorite holidays, should one call it that. The Solstice is celebrated as a big holiday is most of England, Scotland, and Wales with bonfires and parades and everyone (most everyone!) off of work to celebrate. For us, in the United States, we don’t usually think about the Solstice.

If you have been a regular reader over the years, you know how much I love this day. I will be celebrating with the neighbors this year for our June potluck as we kick off the summer season. I love my neighborhood so much, and I love the gatherings we have come to share. On Thursday we will gather at my house with the table full of food, the yard full of kids, driveway full of music, and the lovely introduction by Nate Simons that sets off our summer!

Following the beautiful heat-driven Solstice, the June full moon will appear on Friday night. This month’s full moon is the strawberry moon named for strawberry season. The strawberries have been beautiful this month, although I see the patches waning a bit! Nonetheless, the beautiful full moon will shine down upon us on Friday night at 9:07. It is interesting to note that the Solstice and the June full moon only coincide with each other every 20 years or so. Some of you might know what I mean…we better take full advantage of this beauty.

Let’s go back to the joy of the fireflies. I saw my first one about ten days ago, and I was thrilled that they would be shining brightly with the twins still here. It is magic, don’t you think? I mean, looking out into the dark gardens and seeing their lights flicker makes me love summer. But what are they really? Fireflies are actually beetles. They have organs under their abdomen which light up, and this is called bioluminescence! Their beautiful blinking patterns are really a signal to other fireflies. This light actually means “come hither!” Fireflies live about 60 days, so we have two months to enjoy their beauty. There are over 2,000 species of fireflies. Adults tend to eat, on occasion, other fireflies, but usually they feed on nectar or pollen, or they do not eat at all. It is good to have a little scientific knowledge, but most of all, go outside after dark and just sit and enjoy.

Summer is almost here. We feel it in the heat. We hear it in the night sounds and the beginning of firecrackers in the distance. We see our gardens steadily growing. We watch children playing in the water or catching fireflies or lighting the sparklers of the season.

Whatever you do, do not miss out on the joys…even with the heat!

Until next week from Charleston

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

A red letter day...


Monday morning. 7:00 a.m. With my coffee brewing and the table set with Honey Nut Cheerios, I wake my sleeping children. Usually, they are the first to rise in the morning, but I guess a few days at Nannie Camp, and they are, well, tuckered out. They roll over once, twice until I whisper, “Today is the first day of soccer camp!” and up they go. They only have summer shorts and shirts, so we grab the sweatshirts and head down to the breakfast table. Noah must first check the back door to see if a Luna Moth came visiting last night and camped out on our screen door. No Luna Moth this morning. Faith brings me her hairbrush for her long blonde hair which is in full tangles (my fault completely!)

I get them to camp where they are a bit shy, but I know under the watchful eye of Tabitha at the Angola Parks, they will see some friends from last year and make new ones, of course! They love the programs at the park. Last year they just squeaked in with the age limit, and this year they are definitely old enough at seven! I do not send them to camp so I can have free time (really, I don’t!), but they love to visit Angola, and this is part of their experience with me.

I have been entertaining and keeping watch over Abe’s children since they were born, and Holly just turned 17! That’s a lot of summers of Nannie Camp, and I wouldn’t trade it. Faith and Noah counted the days until they arrived, and say to me every day, “We wish we lived here.” I have to agree, but I don’t think even I can woo them away from Charleston. The older girls, Holly and Brianna always said the same thing when they were younger. Now, I realize they are older with friends. Holly drives, has a boyfriend, and is very involved in theatre. Brianna is a social butterfly with friends in every neighborhood. I understand, but oh when they were younger…sigh.

Abe brought the twins on the Allegiant flight on Friday from Myrtle Beach. I met him at the airport where they all said good-bye, and he got back on the plane to do the turn around flight. We drug (seriously) the suitcase to the car and headed home. I had to laugh as the two of them jabbered all the way home. Could it be that my grandchildren talk as much as I do? There is a surprise for the first one to spot the purple house. Okay, not much of a surprise, the quarter for Aldi’s but nonetheless, it is a prize. My dad always did this when we went to Lake Michigan for the summer. The first one who could spot Lake Michigan got a dollar. Of course, he started the game when we were just out of Battle Creek, but it kept our attention until we got to Mackinaw City. Yes, I know, the purple house is not quite like Lake Michigan, but to seven-year-olds who can’t wait, it is just as wonderful.

I am ready at the house. Cupboards full. Beds cozy. Toys brought out of the garage and scrubbed up. They run inside from room to room looking at everything. They run outside and visit Harley’s grave first telling him “Hello.” I love that they always remember him. Even though our time together has just started, we don’t miss anything from planting extra pumpkin seeds in the garden to butterfly hunting (thanks to Aaron for taking Noah!), to bedtime stories when the day is over, and we gather on my bed. We take a deep breath and chat about our day before the books. My shelves are full of books…in every room. I choose stories for them that I read to all the other children. They always ask, “Did you read this one to Jonah?” I smile at that. Last night we read “Roxaboxen” which is one of my favorite children’s books. Yes, I read that to Jonah, and he made his own Roxaboxen with the neighborhood kids when he was little. At the end of the book, I cried. The twins looked at me wondering why I was crying. “Oh,” I said, “I guess because I read this Jonah and he is all grown up and some day you will be grown up too.”

“But not yet,” I whispered. “You are still mine for a while.”

Thursday, June 06, 2024

Willard Motley


I began participating in many years ago. One night I was talking with a friend on Ocracoke about her bicycle journey across the United States. I found that absolutely fascinating and wanted to know more. I had many questions in which one was asking where she stayed at night. The answers were fun…campgrounds, cemeteries, churches, friends and folks on This was the first time I had heard about this organization. I immediately looked it up and became a host. It is quite easy, actually. Warmshowers is an organization that helps bicyclists, those traveling for long distances, to have a safe place to camp for the night. Each host offers something different. Some cook supper for the bikers, offer beds, advice, bicycle repair. I offer beds when I can, but I always offer a safe place to camp in my back yard, and a warm shower, of course!

Over the years, I have had many guests from all around the world. Everyone has a different reason do bike across the country. Some want adventure, some bike for a cause, some bike for their gap years between college and working, others just want to see the country from two wheels and not four.

This past week, I had a cyclist stop in for the evening. I had a free room, and he was grateful for that along with a warm shower. By seven in the evening, I was coming in from the garden and offered to order a pizza from Dominoes and would he care to join me? Benjamin was definitely interested, and hungry, so I ordered pizza, and we sat out on the front porch as dusk turned to evening with just the quiet sounds of my neighborhood.

“Okay,” I said, “what is your story?” He began. Benjamin is from Paris, and even with excellent English, his accent was quite strong and quite lovely. He has his PhD in biology and is currently teaching in New York City. I asked him about his bicycle trip. Benjamin became aware of a man, Willard Motley, who biked from Chicago to New York City in 1930. He followed Route 20. Motley graduated high school in 1929 after being editor of his school newspaper. He wanted to go to college and had hopes of attending the University of Wisconsin. However, the depression hit and made it financially impossible. Instead, he had to decide what he wanted to do. He knew he wanted to be a writer, so he decided to take this bike trip to give him something to write about. The year was 1930, and Motley picked up an old bicycle and started out. Route 20 was still in the infant stages and some places were still a gravel road. There were few places to stop for the night. Roosevelt’s CCC program had just begun so even state parks were not in existence. He spent some nights in cemeteries, other nights in churches. When he arrived in Angola, he could not find a place to stay so he knocked on the sheriff’s door and asked for a jail cell for the night. He was granted that and had a safe place to sleep. He kept an intricate diary, so we know he stayed here at the jail and spent time perusing the town.

Every few days his bicycle needed to be welded so he needed to always find a welder in these small towns to help him out. Following his bike tour, he took two road trips to California working as a ranch hand, laborer, shipping clerk, and any job he could take to learn about America. When arriving back home in Chicago he became a writer for the Office of Civil Defense and was a photographer. All of this went into his first and most famous novel, “Knock on Any Door.” This book was so popular that it was made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart.

As Benjamin and I talked about Motley into the late evening, I could only wonder how difficult this was for Motley as he was a gay African American man making these journeys in the 1930. He was determined to be a writer and find something in which to lend his own voice.

The next morning, after breakfast and a fond farewell, I decided to do my own sleuthing about Motley. I love learning about something new, and I love knowing that Willard Motley stopped in our town looking for material to write about in 1930!

Monday, May 27, 2024

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Music and Love


If you have never played ukulele with 200 ukulele players, then you are really missing out! (At least in my opinion!) This past weekend, Carolyn and I attended Ukulele camp officially called Mighty Uke Day which, of course, lasted for more than a day! These ukulele camps or festivals turn into reunions for uke players as well as playing for hours and hours!

We are fortunate to live in an area where we can attend many uke festivals since Michigan is a great uke capital of the country. With our bags packed early on Friday, we hit the road on a sunny day to get to camp to register early. As we arrived in Lansing there were so many old friends and new friends to connect with for these short few days. Nametags, lunch, check in to our hotel and back for our first workshop.

Carolyn and I have been teachers forever, and so we know how to be good students…well pretty good students. We took our seats, tuned our ukes and waited for the lovely workshop to begin. However, it seemed as if everyone came out of hiding (finally!) as a hundred players came to that particular workshop. We kept moving our chairs closer and closer together. Finally, everyone was seated, and it sounded as if we were all in a huge band with all the tuning and the ukes in place. The first workshop was hard, by the way! We stumbled through it, taking notes, practicing and then at the end of the first workshop knew that we had already had a great brain workout!

By late afternoon, we could barely zip our uke bags back up as we scurried to dinner to get back in time for the night concert. It is completely amazing to me how fabulously talented are the folks in the uke world. As I told Adam, I will never, ever be that kind of player, but listening to the concert is overwhelming. How can one small ukulele make all of those sounds? Rock band. Classical. Country western. Jazz. Blues. All of those genres were expertly played on the ukulele to a huge crowd of happy listeners.

You would think the evening would be over at 10:30, but oh no. Following the concert, we all headed back to the hotel and filled the lobby with a uke jam until well past midnight. I think the Marriott will never be the same; although they did greet each guest with a small ukulele token attached to our keys! The jam was again so crowded as player after player came into the lobby. The songs were put up on a big screen and we just played our hearts out until one-by-one folks called it a night!

The next day was no exception as we were transported back into our musical world. Again, workshops, networking and a late-night jam session.

By Sunday morning we were packing the car to head home. With a notebook full of notes and a tired uke, we made our way back as the conversation was as colorful as the music we played all weekend. Carolyn is much more a musician than I am, yet I love playing and thinking I am a musician! (I guess we can think we can do anything, and why not?) Research shows that we need “structural and functional brain reorganization beyond the developmental maturation period as an intrinsic property of the human central nervous system.” (Professor Bogdan Draganski, consultant in neurology at the University Hospital in Switzerland.) In layman terms, learning and playing music helps with an aging brain, and let’s face it, everyone has an aging brain! Ukuleles are so reasonable to purchase. They are not expensive, unless you want them to be, and you can have a great time no matter how much you pay. You don’t know how to play? Oh well, you are in luck, our ukulele group, The Steuben Strummers meets the second Monday of every month at the Angola Carnegie Library. Don’t be shy! We welcome you into our group. As I always say bike riding on long trails and playing the uke are definitely Zen moments for me!

Arriving home, I unpacked until Aaron and Rachel stopped by with a dozen pastel roses and an invitation to dinner. Of course, I would never turn that down! I did hear from my other boys and the grandchildren as well, so the weekend ended with a flourish of love.

Music and love…anything better?

Coming home...

  I took this photo a few years ago at the Balloon Festival. A long day at the airports on July 3 rd gave way to a late twilight flight out...