Monthly Archives: October 2010

Sans farmer’s market, it’s going to be a long, cold winter of Saturdays

The farmer’s market has loaded up its goods and hung it up for the year. I hate it when that time of year arrives. Saturday mornings just won’t be the same again until spring when it reopens.

It isn’t just the fresh produce that I’ll miss. Or the blue eggs. Or the bread from the French couple. Or Cindy’s flowers. Or Joanna’s cupcakes. Sure, I’ll miss that part…picking out the tiniest leaves of Swiss chard or the best cherry tomatoes. The grocery store versions just won’t quite cut it.

But let me tell you the real secret of the farmer’s market. It’s the social aspect. Sure, we go for the edibles and not-so-edibles. But we also go to see our friends. To chat. To hang out. To hear Peter Previte make one of his comments on why this is the best place to be on a Saturday morning.

It might appear that Cindy Basinger and I are consulting on whether Gerberas will bloom inside during the winter months, but really we’re just talking about how what hurts today or — if we’re lucky — what doesn’t hurt today.

And you might think Joanna might be pointing out the fact that she made miniature super duper chocolate chocolate chocolate cupcakes (which she did and which were delicious), but really we’re talking about Katherine, the light of her life. The child that I want to babysit.

 

Yep, it’s going to be a long, cold winter of blank Saturday mornings. Maybe we should just all meet in the middle of the parking lot and have a quick, cold chat. Then head for the warm coffee shop.

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Trick or treat, anyone?

It’s here again, and if you haven’t bought your candy stash yet, you’d better make a mad dash for the nearest candy provider. Because come 6 p.m., there are going to be some pretty cute little hobgoblins knocking at your door.

I can’t wait. Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year. Don’t know why but maybe because for me it’s sheer fun. No work. All I have to do is be prepared with the usual rot-your-teeth stuff, open my door, pretend to be surprised, and divvy out the stuff into all sorts of bags, baskets, plastic pumpkins, etc. Actually, I no longer have to open the door, because my husband has invited the entire town and anyone else who is reading  The Bluffton Icon, to stop by to have their photo taken.

I’m not sure when Halloween became such a big deal for me, but it probably dates back to my childhood. Every year my brothers and I would troop out to THE SHED to root through an old trunk in which my parents stored costumes, but mostly just old clothing and masks that could be turned into the costume of the year. I distinctly remember the smell of those old rubber masks…old and musty but rife with hints of what we’d come home with after a night of trick or treating.

Back then (yes, this was eons ago), every person on whose door we knocked, made us wait while he or she painstakingly guessed who was who. Some of those waits lasted so long we had to run back home for a quick bathroom stop. Then there was the lady across the street. She did not like Halloween or trick or treating. We knew this, but foolishly (or optimistically) we returned year after year, hoping she’d replaced her lecture with some candy. Never happened.

One year, I wanted to be in the parade, so my mom made me a beautiful butterfly costume. The wings were gorgeous. I knew I would win. I didn’t, but I think my mom felt worse than I did. She insisted on driving me around to some of the older people in town who she knew would oooh and aaah.

Our oldest daughter was about 10 months on her first Halloween. She was a baby witch and her dad was a warlock, I guess. I made them matching capes. That started it. Every year from then on, we insisted on making costumes — never a purchased cheapo thing. There was a mouse, 50s outfit complete with poodle skirt, pirate, clown, and Pippi Longstocking with red braids that stuck straight out. I joined them at least two years — went once as the stars in the sky, and another time as a fried egg.

The pirate and her old man sidekick

Actually, it’s the clown costume that I remember most clearly.

The clown and her dance buddies

Our youngest was in nursery school or kindergarten. She came home from school and announced that they could dress up for school the next day. She wanted to be a clown. The costume HAD to be white with colored polka dots and the wig had to be orange with curls. Had to be. This is the same child who as a teenager, pointed at a black dress in Vogue and said “We can make that dress for prom, right?”

So we zoomed off to the fabric store, zoomed home and zipped up the costume. Supper? Who knows. But that costume was ready the next day.

Then there was the year the girls decided to dress up the dog. Poor lady. She wore a tutu with a crown, but not for long. In fact, when the doorbell rang, she hightailed it for the back room, where she hid the rest of the night.

I blame all this on my dad, who loved Halloween. He didn’t get into the costume construction, but one year he rigged up an electronic display in the foyer between his study and the front door. Using a skeleton head from his lab at the college, he’d stick a light inside it, set it on a table covered with a cloth. Eerie music wafted under the door to his study.

That year Mother had treats left over at the end of the night. After the first few kids stopped by, theymust have warned everyone else. Only the older kids were brave enough to cross the Pannabecker porch.

Stringed instruments tune up and join the marching band

When my friend, Dru, told me that her son’s high school marching band includes strings, I was skeptical. As a violinist, I had a hard enough time bowing in the right direction and hitting the right notes in youth orchestra. But march? Nah.I’m not known for my coordination.

Turns out those playing the stringed instruments don’t actually march. Instead, they sit on a platform and the band marches around them. Okay, maybe I could have done that. Maybe.

So this week when Dru asked if I wanted to watch the Goshen, Ind., high school band practice for their semi-state competition, I jumped at the chance. I really had no idea what to expect. Certainly nothing like what I saw.

First, those stringed instruments? They’re electric, which, if you’ve never seen one, you’re in for a surprise. Unlike the standard acoustic stringed instruments, they’re kind of a funky shape. To see one, click here: Redwood Starfish.

At the stadium, we climbed clear to the top “for the best view”, says Dru. Okay, first of all, I haven’t been to the stop of a stadium in a long time….it always makes my toes tingle to climb up those aluminum steps. Anyway, from way up there, we could see the whole band — all 170 or so members. At the far left, were five string players — what looked like two violins, one viola, one cello and one bass, all hooked up to an amplifier.

I realized only too late that I’d failed to bring a camera, so here’s what the band looked like via my phone:

Band

Goshen High School marching band

For some one accustomed to watching bands that march onto the field, playing some great music with a little choreography, this was an amazing experience. Now I understand why this band has won so many awards. They not only have a great sound, but they have an amazingly difficult routine…well, at least for someone unaccustomed to this type of band. Here’s a YouTube video: Goshen band. At the left, you’ll see the strings. In this particular clip, Dru’s son, Brett, a senior is one of the two sax soloists.

As the assistant director, who was up in the press box, put them through their paces over and over, the band members were clearly tiring but they were alert. No one was going to mess around. When he finally let them do a full run-through, I’m not sure who cheered louder — the band members or the parents watching.

Saturday morning, at 5:45 a.m., five buses and a semi holding the band’s gear, pulled away from the high school and headed for Indianapolis. Dru — a true band mom — had already ordered 56 pizzas to be delivered at the practice field in Indy.

When I asked if she’d be able to sleep on the bus, she guffawed. Really. You have to know her to understand that her graceful, tall and lanky frame is misleading. She guffaws. Which is probably why she makes such a great band mom. It’s also probably why they put her on the bus carrying the 8th graders, who she says “never sleep”. Besides, it’s her job to keep an eye on them. As the only girl with three brothers, she’s pretty tough, so I imagine those kids tow the line.

I haven’t yet heard how the band did in Indy. Can’t wait to hear. I’m no judge, but hey, I know what I like. They’re good.

Print textbooks preferred over digital versions? Really?

Well. Surprise surprise. It seems today’s college students aren’t completely sold on everything digital. According to an article by Lisa Foderaro in today’s New York Times, many students still prefer print textbooks over the electronic version (In Digital Age).

According to the article, students cite a variety of reasons for preferring print textbooks — screens won’t go blank, no chance of a virus, and the plain old fact that academia is entrenched in print. So much for the hope that college students will quickly replace their print books with the new digital book readers.

 Betcha the chiropractors are smiling….they’ll still be needed to straighten out their backs bowed by those whopper bookbags.

Seriously, though, despite the belief that digital is taking over print, it appears that it may not be true when it comes to college textbooks. Despite the increasing costs, students are still reading print versions. One student said he didn’t want to switch to digital because he’d be too tempted to play around on social networking sites instead of studying. No doubt.

This makes me happy for a number of reasons. I don’t have to feel guilty about not really wanting to buy myself a digital book reader…not that I’m planning to return to school. I also don’t have to get rid of those textbooks that line the shelves in my office — a reminder of the hours I spent studying during graduate school. Besides, when I teach, I’d much rather tell my students to “get out your book” than “turn on your book”. There’s something just wrong about saying that.

Despite what Foderaro reports and what I hope is true, I have a sneaking suspicion that somewhere out there in northeastern Ohio is a certain PhD student reading this even as she is planning her Christmas list, at the top of which I suspect will be a digital book reader. Sigh. She’s laughing as she’s reading this. But remember, kiddo, print isn’t out yet. You better hang on to your book bag.

Motter Metro Park — a piece of nature not to be missed

Last Sunday we took my brother, Tom, with us on a walk through the new park down the street. Tom lives in Tucson, so he’s accustomed to hiking through the hills and mountains, and in fact, recently hiked the Grand Canyon with his wife and daughter. He and his daughter, Kendra, frequently traipse out to the hills to capture kangaroo rats, which he uses for whatever kidney research he’s currently embroiled in.

So maybe this stuff is hohum for him, but we were pretty excited to share our nature park — a new one that he’d not yet seen. It was a hot (85 degrees) for October, but then since he’s from the land of dry heat, this was nothing. Tom’s a bug guy — an entomologist — so this was right up his alley, so to speak.

Tom and me walking the trail

Despite the fact that he frequents big parks with amazing views, I think Tom enjoyed this. It was kind of like walking with my dad, who could identify all sorts of bugs, plants, etc. for us. He even helped locate a deer track for Fred, who had his mind set on photographing one.

Ike had fun trying to capture the zillions of grasshoppers that were jumping in front of us on the trail, and the butterflies flitting through the air. After about 45 minutes of this, he lost interest. In fact, he lost interest in the entire walk. Laid down in the middle of the trail and refused to budge. He got a ride the rest of the way home.

 

Deer track at Motter Park

 

Motter Metro Park, part of the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District, is located on Columbus Grove Road, just inside the Bluffton village limits. If you haven’t yet walked or run it, you should.   Just don’t go right after it’s rained unless you’re in old shoes. It’s still a dirt trail and gets muddy pretty quickly.

But hey, when the snow comes? We’re thinking this could be a great place for snowshoes and cc skis — a good reason to finally indulge in them.

Picture book is “fading”? Say it ain’t so!

Apparently, the picture book is “fading”. According to an article in the Oct. 7 issue of the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08picture.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1), parents are pushing their kindergartners and first-graders to chuck aside their favorite picture books for the more text-heavy books.

Here’s the thing. Note who is doing the actual pulling and pushing.

Unfortunately, much of this need to push is fueled by state-imposed testing on kids to do more and better every year. And we all know that reading is the basis of doing well overall. Still, we can’t blame it entirely on the government educators; it is after all, the parents who are buying the books and steering their little ones ever closer to what is commonly known as “young adult fiction.”

On one level, I can understand this push to lead kids away from the “ease” of a picture book in an attempt to “keep up with the Joneses”. After all, who wants her child gazing at the pictures in “The Cat in the Hat” or “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go” if the kid next door is soaking up word after word of “Stuart Little” or “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

But on another level, this scares me. I worry that we’re teaching kids that reading is a chore, and forgetting the pure joy one gets from learning to connect a picture to the theme or character of the book. Truthfully, I’ll admit I’m glad this push didn’t come until years after my kids spent hour after hour with old favorites like “Good Night Moon” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. Nothing could match the whimsical illustrations in an Eric Carle book or the bright colors of Richard Scarry’s  books.

It reminds me of a day long ago when I was pregnant with daughter number 2. My sister-in-law had taken me and my youngest daughter, then about 2 1/2, to a store featuring maternity clothes. While I tried on clothes, Lindsay sat at my feet, pulled a book from a basket on the floor, and proceeded to “read”, word for word, Richard Scarry’s “Mr. Paint Pig” which is — sadly — now out of print. (http://www.amazon.com/Richard-Scarrys-Color-Book-Scarry/dp/039483237X)

Fascinated, the sales clerk stared at her, then asked if she could really read. “Of course”, we replied. The fact that she’d actually just memorized the words didn’t change the fact that in Lindsay’s mind, she was reading. Had we given her a completely unfamiliar book, she’d simply have accepted it and slowly “read” the pictures.

All this says to me is that once again, we’re pushing. Too much. Case in point: the author of the NYTimes article tells the story of a 6 1/2 year old boy who began reading chapter books several years ago, yet today his mother describes him as a “reluctant reader” who sometimes tries to return to picture books.

So let him enjoy them. Where’s the harm? After all, many of my adult friends often tell me how much they enjoy (still) reading picture books. Some days, it’s a good antidote to stress.

 

We’ve become those weird pet owners we used to laugh about

Okay, I’ve got to admit I never saw this coming. Never expected it. It’s like one of those things you swear will never happen to you, but when it does, it kind of creeps up on you and suddenly you’re there. There’s no turning back, no way to pretend it isn’t true.

I (we) have become one of those empty nest (I hate that phrase as much as I hate the term “chick flick”) couples who have acquired another child late in life. It (he) sleeps most of the day, demands to be fed specific foods (i.e., loves carrots but hates green beans), does not want to wear a coat in cold weather, and hogs the best chair in the house. Okay, I’ll admit this sounds sort of like a teenager, but the difference is while he loves to ride in the car, he doesn’t beg to drive.

He also has four legs and lots of fur that requires regular maintenance. And has bad breath. Really bad breath.

 

Anne and Ike after his first parade appearance

 

Somehow this little guy weaseled his way into our hearts and while he hasn’t replaced our daughters, he has managed to entertain us in much the same way they did (do). He makes us laugh. He can also make us very angry and/or anxious — when he slips by unnoticed and heads out an open door. This not only tests our patience but also our aerobic status — that little guy can run fast. Much faster than my 54-year-old legs can.

When we leave him at home for a long stretch, we feel guilty and usually come home with a new toy or bone. I realize this is really kind of silly. In fact, it flies in the face of all I once believed in — that a dog cannot truly be a member of the family. After all, it’s just a pet, right?

Somewhere along the way, I became one of those pet owners who babies and spoils a four-legged creature, oohs and ahs over its cuteness. It’s almost embarrassing. Actually, it’s really embarrassing.

But what really amazes me is that my husband has become equally attached. He might not admit it, but he likes the darn dog. People tell me that they see him driving around town with the dog in the front seat, head out the window, ears flapping in the breeze.

In fact, he was the one who suggested we may as well let Ike, our little miniature Schnauzer, sleep with us. Hey, who am I to argue? What’s one more snoring male? Some nights it’s like a chorus of snores. I just shove my earplugs in harder and laugh.

Getting my camp fix

Just say the word “camp” and a whole slew of memories come flooding back. Polar bear swims, kayaking on Shavehead Lake (and, once out of view of the guards, tipping the kayaks over and back again), campfires in Mosquito Hollow, ringing THE bell to call others to dinner, running down the steps to the chapel, skinny dipping at midnight (this under adult supervision) — girls only, and oh yeah, that long bus trip from Bluffton with the bus driver singing his obligatory round of “Back home again in Indiana” as we cross the state line. Once we hit the Michigan line, we knew we were close. The road started to dip up and down until we finally spied the rickety “Camp Friedenswald” sign.

The ride to camp still takes 3-3 1/2 hours, despite better roads, and the anticipation still produces butterflies of excitement in my stomach. So it was that we found ourselves heading up to camp at the crack of dawn (5:30 a.m.) for church conference board meetings. Seems that every October visit there is the same — rainy and chilly. But midway through the meeting, the sun peeked out, and I thought I might actually be able to take a walk through the grounds.

We’d taken Ike along, since his favorite dogsitters weren’t available, so after two hours of waiting patiently in the car, he was ready for a stroll. I decided to introduce him to all of my favorite spots:

The bell, the chapel, kayaks on the beach, diving board and slide in Shavehead Lake.

It was an all-too brief stay and just made me ache for a longer one in the near future. But still, I got my camp fix. And for now, it’ll have to do. Besides, it’s just a place. The memories and feelings are with me forever. Maybe my photos will help you get a faux camp fix.

Cooler days of fall call for “cozy” foods

Last week one day, my daughter texted me a photo of something edible. At least I thought that it looked edible. Turned out it was strawberry baked oatmeal. It look really good and I was really hungry. Only problem was she lives oh so far away. So I asked for the recipe. I’m thinking of making my own version with rhubarb.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with the late Barney Habegger (of http://www.habeggerfurniture.com/) . Barney and I were eating breakfast at Camp Friedenswald (http://www.friedenswald.org/) where baked oatmeal is often on the menu. Unfortunately, he and I both had to skip it because we both have (had) high cholesterol and that morning’s version had a high fat content (not the good fat). We were both determined to create a lower-fat version. Lindsay’s done that for us.

Strawberry baked oatmeal

Baked Oatmeal
1.5 cups rolled oats
1a/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk (I use soy)
1 egg
1/4 cup applesauce
1tsp vanilla
any fruit you want

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes

(Add maple syrup if you want)

I haven’t baked my oatmeal yet, but the cooler days do inspire me to cook more “cozy” foods. Yesterday I woke up and my first thought was that it felt like a lentil-soup-in-the-crockpot day. Since I didn’t have all the ingredients in an specific recipe, I combined ingredients from three recipes. This is what I came up with. It’s a vegetarian version but you could easily add ham to it. Here’s the thing about lentil soup — you can add just about any veggie to it and it’ll still turn out great! I also don’t know exactly how much garlic was in mine. My husband had to dig some up from the garden, so he added it later after I’d left.

Lentil Soup
1 c. onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 c. fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth (I make this, using the vegetarian chicken-flavored broth powder from The Food Store in Bluffton)
1 c. dried lentils
1/2 c. carrots (I skipped these — I hate cooked carrots)
3 c. Swiss chard (I used a mixture of chard and spinach)
1 1/2 c. potatoes, chopped (I used sweet potatoes)
1 c. ham, chopped (didn’t use this in mine)
14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried basil (or fresh)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
Combine all ingredients except fresh parsley in slow cooker. Cover. Cook on low 7-9 hours. Stir in fresh parsley and serve.
Note: We sprinkle grated cheese on ours right before eating; sometimes we also add vinegar.