Category Archives: Blog

Changing direction and setting off on a new adventure

I’m pretty sure that Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu had me in mind when he said, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

Here’s the thing. I didn’t know where I was heading. I only know that I no longer felt good about wherever I might end up, and it was clear that change was needed. But getting to that point wasn’t easy. It took a lot of reading, reflecting, talking, searching, whining.

And then there was yoga. I entered into that with typical skepticism, not sure whether it would help with calming my racing thoughts. But somewhere along the way, over a period of about nine months, it suddenly occurred to me while focusing on breathing through a pigeon pose, my mind had quieted. The wildly racing ping-pong motion of my mind had stilled.

And that was when I realized I’d settled on making a change. After more than 18 years of working in higher education, it was time to give myself a chance to explore something else, to assure myself of the time and energy I had been lacking so that I could put more of myself into our home-based businesses.

It had been a wonderful 18 plus years, and part of me wondered how I could leave that behind. After all, working with adult students carries with it a certain sense of satisfaction – seeing 40- and 50-year-old working adults realize that they can return to school and earn a degree, and knowing the sense of accomplishment they feel when they walk across the stage at graduation, makes for a very fulfilling career.

So the thought of doing something very different but working in a familiar setting, sparked my interest. Using some of my skills in different ways, and tackling some new challenges was appealing – albeit a bit daunting.

Change is good. Change is hard. Change is scary. Changing direction has become a positive movement and after a short week, that yellow brick building with the beautiful stained glass windows already feels
like home.

And as one of my students said, “… it is time to open the next chapter of your life!”

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Baking to beat the cold and stress

In many ways, yesterday was a typical January day in northwest Ohio. Sort of. There was nearly one foot of snow on the ground, and extremely high winds had created large drifts up the sides of houses and parked cars. Icy roads made driving dangerous.

Okay, so if you live in Minnesota or North Dakota, you might be yawning by now. But hey, this is Ohio. We get snow. Some years we get a lot. Some years we get none. This is one of those “a lot” years. Windchills of 40 below didn’t make it any more palatable.

So there we were. Stuck in the house. Even Bluffton University shut down for two days. So…what to do?

One of my favorite rooms in the house is the kitchen. It’s bright. It’s yellow. And it gives me a nice view of the back yard, and the little A-frame that my dad built 20 years ago. He insisted it would probably fall apart after two years.

Backyard
Looking at the A-frame sparked a memory of Dad baking bread on cold winter days. So? I baked bread.
Bread-baked

While that was rising, I figured I could log on to my work desktop and get some work done. But since I’m really good at procrastinating, I shoved that thought to the back of my brain, and instead baked cookies.
Not just any old cookies. It’s January. I hate January. In fact, my stress level rises just thinking about January. So…since whoever decided that dark chocolate and antioxidants are good antidotes to stress, I’ve resorted to the perfect cookie, Anti-Stress Cookies.

Chock full of ingredients like whole wheat flour, olive oil, dark chocolate chips, raisins, dried sour cherries, walnuts, oats, yogurt, brown sugar, butter, and whatever else you feel like adding.  I added 1/4 cup of flax seed this time. You can’t ruin them…unless you leave the room and forget they’re in the oven. Doesn’t matter. Surely, someone in your house likes dark cookies. If not, call my husband.

cookie-plate

Anti-Stress Cookies
1½ c. white flour (or white whole wheat flour)
¾ c. whole wheat flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
¾ teaspoon salt
½ stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 c. olive or canola oil
1 c. packed dark brown sugar (I actually use 3/4 c.)
1 large egg
2 egg whites
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
½ cup oats
1 ¼ cups Monukka raisins
1 ¼ cups dried cranberries or dried cherries
1 ¼ c. DARK chocolate chips (i.e. Ghirardelli)
1 ¼ cups chopped walnuts
Directions
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat the butter, oil and brown sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and egg whites  Add the molasses, yogurt, ginger and lemon zest and beat until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the flour mixture to make a sticky batter (do not overmix). Fold in the oats, raisins, cranberries or cherries, chocolate chips and walnuts.
Chill dough for at least 30 minutes. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of batter onto prepared baking sheets. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bake the cookies until dark golden but still soft, 10 to 12 minutes; cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container for up to one week. May also be frozen (I like my cookies hard!)

By the time I was done with all the baking, I’d warmed up the house, and the frigid temps outside didn’t seem nearly so daunting.

Whether from the Atlantic or Sea of Galilee, shells produce sense of tranquility

Long before cell phones, there was my dad’s conch shell. He knew how to blow through the hole at the end to produce a very loud, distinct sound that would call us home from wherever we were playing.

That shell and Dad’s love for all ocean life instilled in me a similar love for shells and the ocean. But living in Ohio, far from the ocean, it’s often difficult to remember the peacefulness that comes from an early morning stroll on a deserted beach, bag in hand, eyes on the sand, in a search for the perfect shell.

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It helps to surround myself with those shells in various locations around the house and in a small glass jar of sand in my office. photo(14)

 

 

 

 
But my most recent shell acquisitions have a special meaning. While others have come from various vacation spots on the eastern shores of the United States, these come via a friend serving with Christian Peacemaker Teams. He found them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the largest freshwater lake in Israel, located near the Golan Heights. photo(13)
Though every shell looks different, and though some originated in a place of great renown and others on obscure beaches, each has its own beauty and produces the same sense of calm and tranquility.

 

 

 

Letting go: Saying goodbye to an old friend

Two days before Christmas we said a sad goodbye to an old friend. Truthfully, it was really just me who was sad. No one else seemed even mildly perturbed.

But really. She’d been a part of our family since 1997, carried loads of kids to various locations; created peace on long trips with each daughter claiming her own seat; later ferried clothing, furniture, and other items necessary for college apartments; and trucked leaves, branches, and weeds to the local dump.

She was an apple-red Dodge Caravan with seats as comfortable as a favorite recliner. Despite her age and nearly 200,000 miles, she was still as shiny as the day we’d picked her up.

0226121329_0001But with more replacement parts than original ones, she began making noises that suggested she was in need of yet another repair. Around Thanksgiving, she sprung a leak, and left puddles of antifreeze on the driveway.

Our local mechanics who’d babied her along for the last few years finally delivered the bad news. It was, they informed my husband, time to stop putting money into her.

For a few weeks, though, we were in denial, or maybe it was just me who was  me who was in denial. A large jug of antifreeze became a permanent fixture in the car…in case of emergency.

While I dragged my feet, hanging on to Red and my memories, my husband began the search for an appropriate used car. With some wheedling, he convinced me to test drive first a Honda Civic and then a Toyota Camry. In the end, the Civic won out.

On Dec. 23, we took a final drive in the van, ending at its final destination — the auto recycling center. But before we weighed it and let the attendant take over, we had an important task. I needed a memento. Turns out it’s pretty easy to pop off the radio controls.

photo(12)Oddly, black dials conjure up a CD of 16 years of memories. If I turn them just right, those memories keep playing loud and clear.

Six inches of melting snow + warmer weather + 3 inches of rain = December flood

Well. Let’s just say it’s been a pretty weird week, given that we’re just a few days from Christmas.

The deluge began on Friday, the day before the first day of winter. Except for a few moments, it continued into early Sunday, the day after the first day of winter. One week earlier, we’d been digging of first one snowfall, and then another. So not only did we have the onslaught of 3 inches of rain but we had 6+ inches of melting snow.

And what happens with so much water? Flooding. Odd that we should have a flood on the first day of winter, but this is Ohio, land-of-the-weird-weather.

10500-saturday-night-rain-continues-and-riley-risesBy Saturday evening, we could see the lights of Bluffton University’s library reflecting on the green space directly across the creek from our house. That’s usually the first hint that the creek has spilled over its northern bank. Fortunately, we live on the high side of the creek.

My husband went out late Saturday, intending to photograph and videotape images for our website, The Bluffton Icon (www.blufftonicon.com). By the time he returned, the local police department had begun encouraging those in low-lying areas to move to higher ground. Memories of the August 2007 flood were still lingering.

By morning, streets were closed due to high water, and the high school football field was waist-high in water. But even by then, the water had begun to recede. By all accounts, we were pretty lucky, although those with soggy basements might not share that feeling.

1222-9.m.sundayAnd now? Just 24 hours after the water had begun to recede, the temps have dropped from 48 degrees to 30, and a few flurries have reminded us that we’ll likely see snow before we see that much rain again.

But it’s nearly Christmas, and thanks to the winter solstice, the days are getting longer. It’s the beginning of the end….of winter’s darkness, at least.

*For a video of the flooding, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPZ49fOaDag

(Photos and video courtesy of the Bluffton Icon.)

 

At 4 to 1, they outnumber me, but they’re still my favorite guys

A friend recently described how her older son teases his little brother. We both remembered our older brothers teasing us — sometimes to the point of tears — but now, years later, we still love them. In fact, we both think of our brothers as friends now and love spending time with them. The teasing? It’s still there, but we’re big girls now and can dish right back. They taught us pretty well.

As the youngest of five children — and the only girl — it was suggested that I was spoiled. This might be true, but if anyone spoiled me, it was the boys.

five kidsApparently, they didn’t object to being dressed in plaid like their baby sister.

They let me climb trees with them, play basketball and baseball with them (except for the time James knocked me out by whacking me in the forehead with a baseball bat), and took me swimming.

Sure, they forced me to take my quarry test despite our mom’s instructions that they wait until Dad was with us. I passed and they were happy that they no longer had to take turns babysitting me in the pool. I, on the other hand, was thrilled to join them on the big slide and to play hide and seek around the rafts.

One of them rescued me from the manure pile and one of them hosed me off. One of them told me stories when he put me to bed when our parents were gone. The two younger ones let me sleep in their trundle bed and taught me to play the cartoon game (our version of “I’m thinking of….”).

Now that we’re older and they live far away — all are at least a nine-hour drive from me — I love staying in touch with them via email, phone and Skype. They make me laugh with funny e-mails and can easily make me feel better when I’m down.

But the hours we spend in each others’ company are the best. Whether we’re walking or running together, fighting over who gets the last cookie, discussing our mom’s health, or cooking together, these are the moments that remind me of what big brothers really mean to me.

older five kids

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big families, big turkeys, big memories

Here’s the thing about Thanksgiving. If you grow up with a sizable extended family, you figure it’s just expected to have a huge deal with more food than anyone can eat, lots of kids running underfoot, lots of adults shooing kids outside to play, and too many cooks in the kitchen. You also learn to pretend that you’re busy, because if you’re not, you will quickly be assigned some unwanted job. Like setting the table.

Trust me on this. I grew up in one of those semi-large families, with a set of grandparents, four children and spouses, 20 grandchildren with an age range of at least 20 years. This meant that eventually, the 20 grandchildren expanded to include some significant others.

Thanksgiving rotated between the three homes in our immediate area — my grandparents’ farm, an aunt and uncle’s farm, and our house. But then…as always happens, those 20 kids grow up, get married, and often move out of the vicinity. Sadly, the grandparents die, as do some of the aunts and uncles.

I’d kind of forgotten about this until my husband mentioned something about how many people would be at the Thanksgiving dinner our daughter is attending with her significant other’s family. I felt a momentary pang of sadness for those big childhood gatherings.

That feeling came back briefly today as I drove down the long lane toward my cousin’s farm — the farm on which he grew up and on which still stands the big white two-story house where many of our Thanksgiving dinners took place. photo(9)

 

 

 

 

 

As a kid, I remember my stomach getting that nervous, excited feeling as we turned down that lane….a loooong stretch that seemed to take forever to cover. Excitement at seeing cousins I hadn’t seen in awhile, eagerness to explore rooms in the big house. There was plenty of space to play, to hide from the boys, and the coolest laundry chute. The best smells floated out from the kitchen to the rest of the house, where tables were set up in every available space.

Today when I drove down the lane, there were none of the pigs I remembered. Instead, there were cows and sheep happily grazing on grass.

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And in the red barn at the end of the lane was a much younger version of my cousin — one of his sons — happy to hand me my turkey. At only 10 pounds, it’s tiny in comparison to the ones I remember feeding our big family.

But that’s okay. This turkey technically isn’t for Thanksgiving dinner and there won’t be 30-plus family members to feed. But when it starts roasting and the house begins to absorb that rich, mouth-watering smell, the memories will come roaring back. And that’s okay, too. Because that’s what memories are for.

And this is one time I won’t have to argue over who gets the drumsticks. And the wishbone? That’s mine.

Gordon Lightfoot and a really Wacky Cake

It was 1969 when Gordon Lightfoot wrote “If you could read my mind, love, what a tale my thoughts would tell….” The song may have been about the breakup of his marriage, but the lyrics were solid gold for even the teenyboppin’ crowd. I know this because I was 13 years old and in the 8th grade.

So yesterday when I read in the New York Times that Lightfoot would turn 75 this week, that was the song that immediately came to mind. All through the day as I graded papers, walked the dog, cooked and baked, the song replayed in my head. Over and over.

Maybe it was good luck. Maybe not. Because my success in the kitchen was two for three. The vegetable soup and bread both turned out perfectly.

image (4)Of course, there is no recipe for either one because I pretty much threw both together with whatever was around.

The wacky cake, however, was another story. Actually, the cake itself was perfect as usual. It’s a can’t-miss recipe. But it’s what you decide to do to glitz it up for someone’s birthday that impacts the outcome. Here’s how it looked first:

imagePretty ho hum…unless you can smell it. So just close your eyes and imagine the amazing smell of warm cocoa.

But…it was the hubs’ birthday and I decided to replicate something the girls and I invented long ago. As soon as it comes out of the oven, you cover it with mini-marshmallows and chocolate chips. They quickly melt and you kind of blend them together with a icing spreader. This works well UNLESS, of course, the marshmallows have outlived their shelf life. Apparently, if they’re old and dried out, they won’t melt.

Nothing worked….not putting it back in the warm oven and not a quick zap in the microwave. I was really beginning to feel frustrated. Lucky for me, I don’t have a picky husband. He took one look and knew what I was thinking because he started humming “If you could read my mind, love…”

Just proves at least some of those lyrics can apply to just about every situation.

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Wacky Cake
(Makes one 8X8-in. square cake)

1 c. white sugar
1 1/2 c. flour
3 tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
In the 8X8-in. square pan in which you plan to bake the cake, mix dry ingredients with fork. Make three holes. Pour in 1 tsp. vanilla, 1 tbsp. vinegar, and 6 tbsp. canola oil.
Pour one c. cold water over and mix up with the fork. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Note: This can be eaten as is, dusted with powdered sugar, iced with your favorite icing recipe, topped with marshmallows and chocolate chips, or with the following:

1/3 c. butter, melted
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. nuts
2 tbsp. water
Mix and pour over cake and brown until brown.

Fried Green Tomatoes: Conjuring Fannie Flagg

Tomatoes. At the beginning of the season, when they just start ripening and nothing tastes better than a fresh tomato right off the vine, we can’t get enough of them. Fast forward to October, when the vines are still full of green tomatoes refusing to turn red or yellow. What to do?

A friend dropped off a bag of green tomatoes recently. I asked the Pie Man if he wanted to bake a green tomato pie. He snorted. Really. And then he reminded me of the last time he baked one. It was, he said awful. Might be because Pie Man tries to decrease the sugar in most of his baked goods. That might work in other fruits, but apparently not with green tomatoes.

So…what to do with the tomatoes? Long ago, back in the day when we had a huge garden, I wrapped each green tomato in newspaper, as directed by my grandmother. Maybe I used the wrong newspaper, because it didn’t work. They all rotted. Not pretty.

This time I took the advice of my big brother. I lined them up on a windowsill where they’d get some sun. This is how they looked when they first arrived.photo(8)

 

 

 

 

 

And now….10 days later…one yellow tomato is ready to be eaten, a red one is almost there, and another yellow on the way!

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The rest of the tomatoes? If they don’t ripen soon, we’ll go the route of Ruth, Idgie and the rest of the regulars at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

What would you do with them?

 

Sights, sounds, and colors of fall

What was with that whacko weather last Saturday? If — like me — you live in Northwest Ohio (or happened to be visiting), you were probably wondering whether you’d been teleported ahead or back to March. It was cold (30s and 40s), windy (40 mph gusts), and dreary. The vendors at the final farmers’ market of the season were bundled up in parkas and the customers zipped through their shopping. But..to make up for it, Sunday arrived in full fall bloom — one of those beautiful crisp, sunny days that are the perfect setting for the gorgeous changing colors of the trees.

tree

Saturday’s long run was a battle with the elements — with the wind, it was fine, but against the wind, not so fine. As if to make up for that, Sunday was the perfect day for a long walk. At the     quarry, we were entertained by the usual ducks and — surprise — two herons in the same location!heron2

heronUnlike Saturday’s run, today’s was perfect — clear, calm and starry — with the smell of fall in the air.

Early morning runs in a small town are usually quiet with limited traffic. But in late October the quiet is often interrupted by the sound of farm tractors pulling wagon loads of corn to the local elevator. Here is one of today’s early arrivals — I suppose an eery site to those unaccustomed to rural life.

photo (10)This guy was one of only two farmers waiting for the elevator to open this morning, but a few weeks ago, the picture was different. The line was long and moving slowly. No one seemed antsy or in a hurry — clearly, they were happy for the chance to talk.

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