Monthly Archives: August 2010

First day of school brings a whole set of “news”

There’s something so exciting about the first day of school…all those new things. New shoes that hurt, new teachers, new friends, new surroundings, new pencils. Wait…do they even use pencils anymore? Okay, new computers, new. Just new.

I don’t remember my first day of kindergarten, but then I hated kindergarten so I’ve probably blocked it from my mind. I didn’t especially like the first days of school until about fourth grade when I kind of accepted that summer had to end and I had to go back to school. I do remember what I wore on my first day of high school, but we won’t go there. Suffice to say that was the 70s and skirts were short.

My little cousin, Seth, starts his first day of first grade today. I’m pretty sure he’s excited and I’m pretty sure his little sisters are pretty envious. His big cousin, Lindsay, starts her first day of the second year of her PhD program today. Heck, she’s probably just as excited as Seth…if only because there are now only three years to go.

Seth and his dad bike to the first day of school

Heading into a brave new world

Seth’s parents are probably just as excited as he is. Wow. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see your child head off to school for a whole day. Seems like such a long time for such a little kid to sit. All day long, they’ll think of him. When they’re eating lunch, they’ll think of him eating his lunch. Will he eat? Will he trade his sandwich for the next guy’s?

Not everyone loves the first day. It signals the end of summer, the end of freedom. Not just for kids, but for parents. Our friends, Tim and JP, came over last night. Tim was not looking forward to the school year starting. Everyone has to be up at a specific time, the household has to run like clockwork. In a word…routine has to rule the household. Or it falls apart. But hey, Tim, you only have six more years of that before they’re all in or out of college…so enjoy it.

At the university where I work, the first day of school is just as exciting, nerve-wracking and challenging in so many new ways. College freshman have a whole slew of “news”. New home, new roommate, new foods, new fears, and for some, a whole new country.  Like those first-graders at the elementary school, college freshman have to learn to navigate a whole new system, create a new routine.

It’s not easy, this back-to-school business, especially the first day with all its firsts. But it gets easier…I think.

On little Schnauzers who think they’re BIG DOGS

So…today started out bright and early with a walk with my Mary Ann. Actually, no, make that dark and early. So dark, in fact, we needed my miner’s light. It wasn’t a run, but that’ll come again. Not soon enough.

This time, though, we were accompanied by our two favorite Schnauzers — Ike and Arthur (AKA Sparky). He’s a bit of a sparkplug. Like their “moms”, they’ve been buddies from the start. At 15 pounds, Ike’s at the little end of the mini Schnauzer size scale; Sparky’s at the big end — 25 pounds.

Before we could start, they each had to pester poor, ancient, Peaches the cat. Actually, Sparky had to pester her — Ike’s (kind of) learned his lesson. A few of her swats — claws extended — to the snout will quickly put a stop to that. Oh, and they had to sit still for a photo, which is a bit of a challenge with a phone in the dark. Kinda blurry, but you get the picture.

Mary Ann, Ike and Arthur

We had a moment of panic when Ike’s leash slipped out of Mary’s hand and we both scrambled to grab it before he knew it; otherwise, I might have had to test my running legs before I expected to. Got it!

Walking with the two dogs is really fun except when one decides the grass looks greener on the other side of the leash. We both have to do some fast stepping to avoid being middle-aged women on the ground.

I’m sure some of the neighbors were cursing when one indoor dog sensed the fun outside and set off a cacophany of dog chorus, joined in by about about eight other dogs. At least that rooster that used to wake the neighborhood is no longer around.

Ike and Arthur think they’re big dogs. They don’t know they’re little. Or maybe in their minds all dogs are the same. Who knows what they’re thinking when they spy Rory Stauber and his two horses…excuse me, large dogs. The little guys took one look and thought Rory’s greyhound might be a fun playmate. Might be…but we weren’t prepared to find out that early in the morning.

Here’s the thing about walking with dogs. You have to walk a really LONG time to get anywhere because they have to take a pit stop at every tree and bush in sight. You have to be alert (REALLY alert) — sometimes a challenge at 6 a.m. — because the sight of a squirrel could send both dogs into a tizzy. If they each see several at once, things get dangerous. Leashes get tangled, women get tangled. This is why we do this early in the morning. Few others are around to witness this because we’re the first to admit that we both lean to the klutzy side. Me more than her.

It was a good walk and a great talk. What more could two women want on a lovely Sunday morning?

On spares, strikes, and my two favorite Ten Pins

Southgate Lanes, Bluffton’s only — and best, of course — bowling alley, is opening for its 51st season. Seems like eons ago that Jim Dailey handed me a pair of bowling shoes that fit so well I fell in love with them. I begged him to sell them to me. I was in high school and I wanted to wear those shoes with my jeans.

Wait, oh, it was eons ago…the early 70s…when my friends and I started hanging out at the bowling alley. We were definitely not very good. But a few years later, during the HUEX years of my tenure at Bluffton College, I took bowling. Really. It was a course. We bowled. Jim, ever a patient and kind teacher, somehow managed to morph us from truly bad bowlers into presentable ones. We even got strikes. Sometimes more than one in a game.

I haven’t bowled in years, but recently stepped inside an alley where my husband was directing a Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraising event. The swoosh of the balls rolling down the lane, the clatter of the pins hitting the floor, made me want to pick up a ball again. But when I do that, it’ll be at Southgate Lanes. Only now, it’ll be Jim’s son, John, greeting me. Father and son — same easy smile, cheerful hello. Pieces of Bluffton history that make my town a good place.

So…ten pins. Once…long ago, I knew how to hold a bowling ball, and how to put the right spin on it so it would knock down a good number of pins…even 10, if I was lucky. Wonder if it’s like riding a bike…you never forget how? Can’t hurt to try, right?

Speaking of ten pins, there is another Ten Pin among my favorite places to hang out. About 10 years ago, I began recruiting students to Bluffton’s bachelor degree completion program at Northwest State Community College near Archbold. The route to NSCC takes an hour — depending on which route one chooses. To keep from being bored, I often changed up routes. No matter. Each one ended up with me driving through Ridgeville Corners, a tiny burg just a mile or so from the NSCC campus.

Along the way, someone introduced me to the Ten Pin, technically a bar, but known also for its great, home-cooked food. In my case, I was drawn to the Ten Pin for the best brewed iced tea outside my own kitchen. Servers bring a big Tupperware pitcher of it to the table. A couple glasses of that and their soup of the day got me through many afternoons. I’m sure there’s a history to that building; judging by the long room with hardwood floors, I’m guessing it was a bowling alley at one time.

Since I no longer cover the Archbold area, I can only hope the Ten Pin remains open for business. Like Southgate Lanes, it’s an establishment with a history of immense proportions to its customers.

So if I can’t hit ten pins at Southgate, guess I’ll have to take a road trip to the Ten Pin. Console myself over a tall glass of iced tea.

Secret family recipe revealed

Whenever I see granola for sale in groceries, a very clear visual pops up in my mind. There is my dad, standing at the kitchen counter with a huge stainless steel bowl in front of him. He’s carefully measuring ingredients into the bowl. Oats, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and sliced almonds.

On the stove top, a mixture of honey, oil and vanilla are warming. He reaches for the pot, slowly swirls the mixture over the dry ingredients. Using a large wooden spoon, he carefully and methodically stirs the mixture, gently turning it over until each grain, nut and seed is coated.

For Dad, making granola was a welcome change from his usual days spent in the lab and classroom, teaching his students to blend the right ingredients for experiments. Yet, in many ways, his hours in the kitchen were very similar to those in the lab — the right ingredients, perfect measurements, temperature control, and most important — staying nearby throughout the process.

Because once he had the ingredients mixed and spread in baking pans, he knew timing was crucial. If he didn’t watch it carefully, at timed intervals removing the pans from the oven to stir them, he’d end up with a burnt batch. And on a college professor’s salary in the 70s, a batch of granola could be expensive. A burnt batch even more so.

Once the granola was done, he’d remove it from the oven, set it on racks to cool before spooning into old tins and coffee cans saved just for this purpose.

Thinking back, I must have taken that granola for granted. It was always there. Secretly, I’d filter through the cans for the big chunks. My favorite way to eat it was on top of ice cream.

My mom still makes granola regularly; probably some of my brothers do, too. Awhile back, my husband, daughters and I made a family cookbook to give to family members as a Christmas present. My parents’ granola recipe stands front and center, an icon of our family history.

Today I had a hankering for granola…the real thing. No coconut. I don’t think any of my family members (brothers, parents, children) has ever liked coconut so it’s not in the recipe. You could add it, but then it wouldn’t be our granola. It would be yours.

This is the original recipe, with notes about any changes I made. When making mine, I took poetic license and added some flax seed — the wheat germ of the 2000s. Dad would have understood. He was all for change as long as it was a healthy one. Mother, of course, has probably made more changes to her own versions over the years. Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, dried fruit.

If you decide to make your own, remember this caveat: Do not leave the kitchen. Sit at a nearby table with a cup of tea or coffee and set a timer. Unless, of course, you like your granola with a blackened quality.


1/4 c. safflower or canola oil
1/2 c. honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. rolled oats
1 c. wheat germ
1 c. sliced almonds
1 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. whole wheat bran
1/4-1/2 c. flax seeds (OPTIONAL — this is my addition)

Heat first three ingredients. Add to remaining ingredients and stir (mix well). Spread on oiled cookie sheets or baking pans. Bake at 325 degrees (stir twice during baking) 20-25 min.
Store in tightly-closed containers.

Big boys and their homemade toys

So….there I was minding my own business, sitting quietly in the balcony during church. It suddenly occurred to me that something was wrong. For a warmish summer day, there were no windows open, no bees buzzing around the sanctuary…couldn’t even hear the Methodists singing across the street.

Huh. Oh right. After more than 100 years of worshipping in heat and humidity, First Mennonite had installed central air. Amazing. I still nodded off…sorry Steve, it wasn’t the sermon. Blame it on the pain meds.

Toward the end of the service, I heard some rustling from the Saint’s hand. He’d crumpled up a piece of paper and was carefully taking aim at a head below us. I elbowed him, feeling like I was admonishing my daughters. Turns out the head below belonged to his childhood buddy, Rick, back for a short visit from Japan.

Across the aisle, another friend — close in age — had a paper airplane in his hand. His wife was rolling her eyes at me.

Somehow I convinced him to wait until the benediction was over…but boy, he didn’t waste any time. Missed the head, but hit the back, producing chuckles from Rick and his older brothers.

Ah yes, boys will be boys.

Hunting for snakes, good veggies, and a good book

Whyizzit I never have my camera with me when the good stuff happens? A few days ago, I stopped to sit on the rocks at the National (see photo). There was a snake vertical in the water…just treading away…staring up at me. Little fish were swimming around him. I figured he’d snap them right up, but he was more interested in staring at me.

This morning I trekked back down to the rocks but there was no snake. Too bad. Still, it was worth the walk because that spot is SO peaceful early in the morning. Sometimes if I shut my eyes I can pretend I’m sitting on the Back River beach on Tybee Island.

National Quarry in Bluffton, Ohio (known to some as Cobb Lake)

Today, though, when I shut my eyes, I kept thinking about the snake and suddenly had a vision of Ray Ruggley, one-time manager of the local pool. This was when the kids were little and we were still swimming in the quarry by the old swimming pool. There were often water snakes nearby. One day Ray jumped in, grabbed the snake and flung it far across the water away from the high dive. It got a lot of whoops out of the kids.

That memory stayed with me all the way home — just a bit nostalgic since I can’t wait to be able to swim again.

Since the snake hunting was unsuccessful, I figured I’d have more luck with fresh produce hunting today. Woke up the happily sleeping daughter, grabbed a bunch of bags and headed to the farmer’s market. First distraction for the daughter  — an unusual echinacea plant with orange and pink blooms. Picked up cukes, broccoli, grape tomatoes, melon, bread from the French guy, peppers, and green beans. No blue eggs — boo. Second distraction for Lindsay – a savory mint plant.

On to the library, where we have paid enough overdue fines over the years to have stocked them in toilet paper indefinitely. Picked up a chocoholic murder mystery, which will certainly require eating good dark chocolate while reading, some magazines, and an audio book (an old and familiar Janet Evanovich, but which still provides humor on a long drive.)

So…as far as hunting, I’m two for three this morning. Not bad for a Saturday morning.

76 trombones (minus 74) pucker up their embouchures for the season

Dear Janie, AKA Ma Bell,

I’m glad you’re excited about the arrival of football season. I can just imagine Monday nights at your house, especially now that your beloved Brett is back.

I too am glad that football season is back. Yeah, go ahead…laugh away. You know I’m not the football fan you are, but hey, once a Bluffton Pirate, always a Bluffton Pirate, right? Okay, by now you’re wondering what I’m getting at. But then, you know how I ramble.

With football games come band shows. Pregame shows. Halftime shows. Post-game revelry…especially when the home team wins in this small town. And that’s it. I’m hooked. Have been since the fall of 1997 when a certain freshman trombone player took to the field for her first game. That was it. I was in love.

This required a few things. I had to go to the games in time to watch the halftime show. Some of the time I actually got there at the beginning to watch pre-game — you know, when the band members line up behind the cheerleaders as they hold the paper thingy for the team members to run through. You can tell I had little interest in the players. I was too busy making sure my little trombonist didn’t get mashed by those guys.

Technically, my interest in watching the BHS band ended in 2001 when the kid graduated. Her sis played violin — not an instrument designed for marching band. Still, my heart goes flip flop when it hears the band warming up to head to the stadium most Friday nights. And the Saint plans to brush up his own trombone-playing skills for the upcoming alumni band, so I’ll get my fix once again.

So…anyway…I was up in the attic where I discovered a band uniform. I’d forgotten that we bought it when BHS got new uniforms after the trombonist graduated. Wonder what to do with it? Long ago, my in-laws made a comforter out of my husband’s BHS band uniform – he too played trombone. The blanket is best described by my daughter as “ironclad”. Sleeping under it is like being under a lead blanket — one is guaranteed at least 10 hours of solid sleep.

I don’t know…I suppose I should think about making one of those comforters too, but I kind of like looking at the uniform and pretending I’m sitting in the stands waiting for my little trombonist to step out front for her solo. I still remember the butterflies in my stomach.

Thought you might like to see a little pre-game show of Steiner trombonists. Maybe you can play this when you’re settling in to watch Brett and your Vikings take to the field.

Ever a Pirate,


A day of big plans with few checkmarks

After spending basically two days in hospitals for doctor appointments, tests, attempts to de-clot my PICC line (no go), and finally another hour back at the hospital today to have a new PICC line installed, I was ready for some freedom.

I had big plans. Well, for me, they were big plans. A nice, slow walk during which I stopped at Oscar Velasquez’s mural to greet Oscar and check out one of his latest “human” additions — my mom, dressed in her senior piano recital dress. It’s a terrific reproduction from a black and white photo taken sometime in the early ’40s. I wondered if she’d gotten wind of it yet; according Oscar, several people had informed her and she’d been by to check it out.

Her comment that it “doesn’t look like me” made me laugh. Isn’t that what we all say about driver’s license photos? I think it looks remarkably like she did at that age….not that I knew her at that age. But it looks like the photo.

Back to the walk…I stopped in at the bookstore where my mom was volunteering. She admitted that she doesn’t think it looks like her, but I think she’s pleased. At least, I hope she is. She’s probably also a little embarrassed. I would be. My brothers and I wanted to make it a surprise because we knew she’d tell us not to have it done. Everyone needs a good surprise once in awhile.

Back home, I had a slow lunch, read some more of the latest Janet Evanovich, and spent some time texting with my daughter. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just talk, but hey, I’m not going to complain. I just like hearing from her.

The best part of this day was a visit with my cousin’s wife, Norma Wyse.We sat outside at my lopsided garage sale table in my Tybee Island tulip chairs, hoping for visits from the hummingbirds. Must be napping.

Norma and her husband, Mark Ramseyer, and their two kids live in Boston…well, actually Lexington. Norma is a physician, so we had some discussion about the surgery, etc.  But what I found most fascinating is that she, Jenny and Geoff, were heading to Columbus to attend an origami conference. Not to learn to fold tissue paper flowers, although they do have beginner workshops.

But the more complex workshops focus on tessellations, geometric designs, etc., led by experts. Jenny, who will be a senior in high school, spent part of her summer working in a lab at MIT creating complex designs under the direction of an MIT computer science prof who is an expert in origami. I’d like to attend the conference just to watch. Just in case you’re curious, check out this link:

Okay…back to my big plans…it’s 3:45 p.m. As usual, the day has passed too quickly to check off much of that to-do list. But…there’s always tomorrow. The list will still be there. Always is.

Fashion designers try out “Zero Waste Design”; welcome to our world

Zero Waste Design. Sounds impressive. According to an article in the Sunday New York Times, fashion designers are trying to avoid wasting fabric. Doing that requires designing patterns that fit in a sort of jigsaw design, thus using the least amount of fabric necessary. This fall, Parsons, the New School for Design, will offer its first course in zero waste design.

Oh my. What will they think of next? ‘Scuse the sarcasm, folks, but we old-style seamstresses in small town America, have been zero-wasting our fabric since our mothers and grandmothers (and maybe even some granddads) learned to place and replace our pattern pieces until they fit just right so as not to waste an inch of fabric. We even learned to use odd pieces of fabric for those facings that wouldn’t be seen from the outside.

Sorry, Sandra Erickson (founder and director of the Center for Pattern Design), contrary to what you think, this is not an “idea whose time has come.” This is an idea that has been around for years — you’ve just discovered it might work for high fashion. Not that we aren’t glad you’ve decided to join the rest of us who have been creating clothing with what we have and recreating new designs from old clothing (i.e., vintage wool coats discovered in attics and thrift shops). We’re happy you’re thinking more carefully; just don’t suggest this is a “new idea” from high end designers.

Lest I sound too snarky, I should point out the fact that the article did admit that history does suggest that we little folk have been using zero waste design since way back when. But that admission is hidden farther down in the article than most readers will read….little journalistic trick.

A few weeks ago, while leafing through some old photo albums, I found a photo of my mom standing somewhat self-consciously in a long white dress (well, it was a black and white photo, so I assumed the dress was white). It was, she said, her senior piano recital dress. She’d fallen in love with the fabric, which had tiny flowers on it, the minute she saw it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite enough fabric left on the bolt. Somehow, though, she managed to work her magic on the fabric; the dress looked perfect to me.

Reading the Times article prompted me to dig through my cedar trunk for two tiny coats. The smaller of the two is made of  tan wool with brown velvet collar and brown velvet-covered buttons. When I was little, my mother made this winter coat from an old one that she could no longer wear. Rather than throwing it out, she recycled it into something new for me.

About 20 years ago, while taking a tailoring course, I was left with a nice piece of fine red wool. It was just enough for a coat for my youngest daughter so I took a clue from my mom and finished it with black velvet-covered buttons and black velvet collar.

According to the Times article, Parsons’ students will learn to use scraps of fabric to design patches, curlicues, and other enhancements to clothing items. Indeed, they may learn to use the larger scraps to create a whole new item of clothing. Imagine that.

Zero Waste Design. Truly, not an idea “whose time has come” but an old idea made new. We’ll just let them think it was their idea.

Fun is the essence of learning

A few days ago, I sent an e-mail to the students who will be in the feature writing course Fred and I are teaching during fall semester. This time around, we’ve added a photo component to the course — hence, Fred’s participation in teaching. It seemed wise to remind the students that they’ll need to have access to a camera.

With a few weeks until the start of class, I didn’t expect immediate responses to the e-mail; in fact, I apologized up front for interrupting their last few weeks of freedom. Of course, if they’re working, they may see a return to school as freedom.

Within just minutes, I received a response from one student thanking me for the heads-up. His only question was “will we have fun in this course?” Hmmmm. Had to ponder the best way to answer that question….was the point of the course to learn feature writing skills or was it to have fun? My mind backtracked to my days in college with Mary Ann Sullivan and Linda Suter, two of my English profs. Did we have fun?

It took just a few minutes to realize that of course, we’d had fun. That had been a crucial component to learning. Since I was an English major, the courses with the two of them were small — usually fewer than 10 students. Class sessions were filled with laughter, freedom to talk, discuss, argue — and learn. In grammar class, we stood at the board to write out sentences. We learned parts of speech, of the sentence, and mechanics of grammar. Okay, that sounds boring. But for us, it was fun.

Our lit courses were usually held in a small room where we sat around a table, chewing over the meaning of whatever we were reading. Over cans of pop, we argued, discussed and ultimately, we learned.

So…back to the question posed by the feature writing student. Yes, we’ll have fun. We’ll work, we’ll do a lot of writing and rewriting and more rewriting. We’ll take photos and learn to enhance the written word with the visual. We’ll learn the basics of Photoshop and its place in the world of journalism today.

We’ll laugh, we’ll argue, but most of all we’ll learn…all while having fun. Mary Ann and Linda didn’t spend all those days teaching me the importance of fun in learning without the hope that I would someday share that secret with others.