Monday, July 28, 2008

About river perspectives

Friday night dinner with friends at a restaurant with a dining patio by the river. After drinks and dinner we pile into a pontoon for a cruise.

The St. Joe meanders between scenic and stagnant as the trees lean over water that doesn't seem to move. We're far below street level, below traffic noise, below anyone's attention. Except for folks passing over on the bridges (and not many look over), no one would know we're here.

We're the city of three rivers here, yet in most places, they are almost invisible to daily life.

Not when you're traveling one, though.

Even before we leave the dock, two young men in kayaks paddle in close. --We'll dock up after you leave, they say to our "captain." --We're going to eat.

We wave as our boat pulls away.

The river water is opaque, and the city indiscernible, but the river's channel is unexpected and beautiful. Lined with trees and brush so dense that even houses above them can't be seen, we're in a thin green vein of wildness most people never see.

The great blue heron perched on deadwood doesn't move as we pass; the family of raccoons is startled and scurries away; the ducks making a small but furious wake as they swim out of our path.

The natural riverbed is made even deeper by the levees and concrete barriers along the high banks. --Just think how high the water must have been during the flood, somebody says. --Of '82.

And it gives us a new appreciation of that flood and others, the scope and breadth of the flooding, knowing the damage caused and the resources spent to contain future floods. Efforts that work sometimes better than others.

We turn around near "Stevie's Island," really a little peninsula named after a kid who used to play there. A pontoon festooned with American flags is moored there with a couple people nearby, someone who keeps not just a pontoon but a fishing boat on the river, our captain explains.

On our way back, I chat with a South Bend native sitting next to me. --This isn't anything at all like the St. Joe River near us, she says. --It's a lot bigger, and cleaner. And has a current.

--Different river, I say.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

At the county fair

The parking lot is packed but it's not really a lot, it's cars parked under big trees along the lanes through a rolling park. We pull in below an oak.

The evening sun is still sharp but the cooling air softens its edges, even as the breeze reminds us the barns are full of farm animals.

The food pavilion is busy with lines at the windows and picnic tables full of diners. Take your pick of a hamburger or hot dog or chicken plank, iced tea or soda. Fair food. But don't miss the homemade ice cream, the raspberry or lemon, maple or chocolate or vanilla. My raspberry/maple twist is a contradiction of tastes, a strange synthesis of fruit and tree, and absolutely wonderful.

After ice cream we wander through the 4-H barns, all the animals the kids have tended this summer.

The bunnies of all kinds, the furry ones with funny foreign names and mashed-up ears, the smooth white ones with long pink ears called, rather baldly, fryers.

The comic goats, trying to escape their pens, stretching on hand legs, trying to eat the banners overhead, the straw in their pens, my bracelet as I try to pet one.

Two barns of cows, one calves, one mature, the black and white Holsteins, the black angus. Milk and meat.

The chickens, a frenzy of clucking and wing flapping and feathers flying.

The worst-smelling barn, the pigs, squealing -- it must be bath-time, as kids are herding individual pigs along the aisles, using long, stiff switches, toward the concrete area just outside the barn with faucets and hoses. The pigs aren't hit with the switches, but gently touched on one side or the other, guided by the human behind them.

In these barns, some pens are dedicated to people--camp chairs and coolers and supplies. Signs telling you which 4-H club is where. Signs over the pens telling you which kid from what farm belonging to that club. Sometimes a ribbon, if judging has happened already. Tall, thin boys in tight jeans with big belt buckles and short haircuts and plaid shirts. Pretty girls in shorts and bright pink rubber boots, their hair in ponytails and wire brushes in their hands. Farm moms and dads sitting nearby, talking, sipping sodas and issuing quiet orders. A subtle confidence about them all.

We cut through the show barn, ringed with bleachers, its floor deep with wood shavings, a small stage just in front of the office at one end. It's where the animals are shown, and shown off, ribbons are won, auctions are held. A summer's -- sometimes, a years -- work sold. That's how it is.

Just now all that's happening is the stage is being dismantled from the last competition, a fashion show of sewing projects.

Then my favorite, the horse barns. These stalls are decked out in bunting and bright paper and big posters telling the stories of horses and riders and past competitions. Horses and ponies of every size, shape and color, beautiful palominos, brown-and-white ponies, even a brown and black thoroughbred. All carefully brushed, some with fly covers on their heads, some with blankets draped over their backs. They are quiet in the stalls, and as I poke a finger or two through the mesh and try to stroke a long neck, there's a sense of waiting, they're waiting for ... something, or someone. Not me.

Just outside the barn is the show ring, but there's no show tonight, for last night's storm has made a mud-bath of the thing. If it's not fit for horses, it's more than fit for the half-dozen kids playing in it, having a mud fight, filthy and laughing, running, slipping, playing tag.

Plenty of water hoses around the barns to shower them off, later.

We catch a different scent, this one warm and sugary, as we walk out of the last barn. Can't resist. One last stop for a "lamb's ear," sweet, soft dough, fried and sprinkled in sugar and cinnamon, served up at the counter by teenagers from one of the 4-H clubs, with the moms cooking behind them. It's smaller than the "elephant ear" at the state fair, and more buttery, and no where else in the big, big world could we get a treat more perfect for this time, this fair.

A country band begins playing in the big, outdoor show ring and the music trails behind us as we leave.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

About fireworks

Arguing a little about where to watch from. Get close to downtown for the full effect and noise, and fight the going-home traffic, or try it further away with less effect, but less traffic?
Factoring in a two-year-old who's sensitive to noise and trying to learn to like fireworks?
Further away wins. We hit the Krispie Kreme drive-thru first for supplies.
A near-empty parking lot next to train tracks on Main Street will be home for an hour or so. Still sunny and hot.
Camp chairs and Krispie Kremes and chocolate milk.
Pre-fireworks going off all around us. Lots of cars heading downtown.
The little girls think the real show has started. Taylor puts her fingers in her ears. When one goes off, then no more, Caroline asks if the show is done.
It's 8:45.
We bicker a little about if the building in front of us will block our view. Other spectators arrive, and we wonder if they are confident this gravel lot is a good place, or if they are looking to us as leaders, and will be disappointed in our decision.
None of us can remember if the fireworks are still shot off the bank building, or the taller Summit Square, and we bicker a little about that too.
We eat a Krispie Kreme or two and sip our milks. Taylor takes a bite out of hers, lays it on the arm of the camp chair, jumps down. The doughnut falls.
"OH NO! My doughnut wuu-ined."
The girls use the lot as their playground and run back and forth between us and the cars. They dance, although there is no music.
Caroline has brought her mom's old cell phone and wants us to "call" her. We do and her pretend conversation is jarringly adult. "Hey. We're at the fireworks. In some parking lot. Later."
She's four.
In the distance we hear a train whistle and we grab the girls, and take them just beyond the tree line between us and the track, so they can see it. It's a short yet slow train so the girls get a good look. They've never seen a train this close.
When we all sit back down as the light changes, suddenly dusk. Lightning bugs and mosquitoes arrive together. The mosquitoes bite our ankles, but the girls just want to catch the fireflies.
One flies directly in front of us. "Catch me one, Papa!" Caroline cries, as she tries to jump, as the light hovers above her.
He reaches out and snaps it into his hand and gives it to her. She holds it in the cradle of her fingers before opening her hands and letting it fly once again.
We slap at mosquitoes and as it gets darker the girls climb into our laps. We talk to Taylor about not being scared and she is a big girl and she will like the fireworks. She says she will.
"I'm not scared," said her big sister. She's not, either.
Finally it's ten and a shower of pink shows just above the roof-line in front of us, then expands higher and higher over the city.
Taylor puts her fingers in her ears again, but we're far enough way it's not so loud.
We can't see the lower-level show, like the fire-falls off the top of the building--the sky glows white for a few moments and we know what's happening.
All the higher shells soar above the roof-line, falling, sparkling, quietly disappearing, again and again, blue, red, gold, green.
"I not scared, Daddy!" Taylor says.
"I like that one," Caroline chimes in.
When the finale fades away, the girls get packed in their car-seats and the chairs thrown in the cars.
"That was a good place," somebody says. "Taylor did great."
We make a quick getaway.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

About July 1971, for some strange reason

Jim Morrison dies. The 26th Amendment, ratified on the 5rd, means I can vote when I'm 18--three years. The World Trade Center south tower is topped out. Apollo 15 launches, then lands on the 31st--my mom's birthday.

I don't know this at the time, though I do now: I was tall and skinny and cute and smart and funny and had a really, really nice tan. I was born in November, but I was a July kind of girl.

If you'd asked me, I'd have said I was too tall and too skinny and had too many zits. My tan wasn't dark enough. But I was okay with being smart and funny -- even then. I could read my grade card ... and I knew I could make people laugh. Even if it was by threading my waist-length hair under my shirt collar, down my arms and out through the short sleeves ... yea, get that picture out of your head.

In the long lazy mornings, I'd sleep in, then do my chores. Then it was outside to work -- on the tan. I had a sack of Harlequin Romances somebody had given my mom and I read my way through the whole bag that summer.

I'd take my transistor radio outside -- it was always tuned to CKLW, 50,000 watts of Top 40 and Motown out of Detroit/Windsor. That summer it was T-Rex and Me and You and a Dog Named Boo. It was the Tempations' Just My Imagination and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' I Don't Blame You at All. It was La-La Means I Love You. And If You Could Read My Mind. I Am, I Said.

If you could have read my mind, it wasn't on much except was I running out of baby oil, and did I need a new Harlequin, and did I have to go inside because it was about to storm? My deepest thought would have been about, how many days of vacation were left until we went back to school, after Labor Day.

So here we go: At any moment, I'm liable to hear Jim Morrison, now so long gone, on Muzak at Wal-mart. Still voting. Missing the WTC. Watching the space shuttle. Working means being at work.

Still reading, tanning when I shouldn't, not sleeping in much any more. But still a summer girl.

I never thought I could feel this way
And I've got to say that I just don't get it
I don't know where we went wrong
But the feelin's gone
And I just can't get it back (Gordon Lightfoot)

Monday, July 14, 2008

About summer songs

Okay, I know I should be listening to more NPR and less Top 40 radio, but there you go.
I keep listening for the '08 version of the Song of the Summer. I'm not the only one--I came across this story on
It lists 21 suggestions by music critic Dan Deluca, only some of which I've ever heard of (but, given my age, can be forgiven for).
Pickings are slim this year, as rare as hot-n-humid days have been here in northern Indiana. Being the kind of human who thrives in heat and humidity, that means it's been kind of frustrating summer so far; having no quintessential summer song makes the weather that much worse to bear.
Just looking at Dan's list, I immediately throw out any song I've never heard. So there goes half of them. I also throw out anything referencing "lollipops" (two songs), that reference being too crude for me. Also, anything by Jessica Simpson, for obvious reasons.
I'm leaning -- on this list -- to Coldplay's "Viva la Vida," despite I heard it first in a commercial (usually a killer).
But in my ear right now is Kid Rock's "All Summer Long," which is catchy, but I'm wondering if I should disqualify it for is derivative-ness amid blatant sampling of the overplayed if irresistible "Sweet Home Alabama."
And Madonna's (who's almost as old as me) "Give It 2 Me" -- might be in contention too.
But it's pretty sad that here it is the middle of July and I'm having to THINK about what the song of the summer is ... that song should just be in my head, over and over, like (oh God, please let me forget it) Billy Ray Cyrus's "Achy Breaky Heart."
"Achy Breaky" is no "Hey Ya," for sure. Where's a song like that this summer? Or where's the Carpenter's "Close to You"? The Police and "Every Breath You Take"? (Few can touch that one, granted.) Or even "Crazy" -- Gnarls Barkely?
I long for my all-time summer fav -- Rod Steward's "Maggie May"? (Irrevocably dating myself.) And even Madonna's new one can't touch her "Borderline" of 1984.
Pop music is not what it used to be. Actually, it probably never was what we think it used to be.
But I'm still waiting for that song that makes me think for a minute that I'm still sixteen, and it's okay to work on my tan, and that the summer lies full of possibilities before me.
How about you? What's your summer song?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

About, one more baseball game

Tournament time, and a whole new stress level. If you lose you're done and if you win, you play another day.
No -- it's not the World Series. It's not even the Little League World Series. It's just a team of nine- and ten-year-old boys, who've played together for a couple months, and want to play together a couple games more.
The sweet summer night stretches long, more than long enough for six innings of baseball. There are more spectators than usual, since any game could be the last for a season, more grampas and grammas and neighbors and kids from other teams and a coach or two scouting. Flash of a camera more often. The cheers are a little louder, the applause a little longer. The coaches coach a little harder, the kids chatter more in the dugout and on the field. There's an edge in air and everybody feels it.
Our team has practiced hard and improved all year and tonight it shows. We jump on their little pitcher early and often and take a 5-0 lead by the third. By the time the other coach pulls the pitcher, he's crying. I want to hug him.
In the next inning we score a couple more runs and have kids on first and second. There's a solid hit to center field but given the shaky nature of fielding at this age, our coaches send the runners on around. Julian gets thrown out at the plate, the tag just kissing his leg. Even with our lead, he feels terrible and hides his face on the way back to the dugout.
If I hadn't already raised a boy who learned most of his life lessons through baseball, I might question, why put your kid through this? Why care so much? Why the pressure on this young kids? Isn't this supposed to be fun?
I know the answers, now. It's hard to watch your kid, sometimes, play ball--they try, they fail; they get a hit, they make an out; they get hit by pitches and miss fly balls and win games and lose games. I don't think a heliocopter parent could survive baseball. But I wasn't any kind of aircraft parent, and let Tony enjoy and suffer all that baseball could bring him, from the time he was five to the time he graduated from college. And he's a better grownup for it--he knows how to win and lose, how to be a team player, how to lead, how to be a good sport. He know how to coach and how to take coaching.
Most of these little boys won't play baseball as long, but I know what they will remember, and it won't be the strikout or the dropped ball. It'll be the fun they had on the bench, the snacks after the game, and just maybe, a particularly tough loss or good win. Or maybe not.
We win the game, and go on to play another day. If the other team seems a little subdued as the teams shake hands after, it doesn't last long. We're chatting away after when I notice the kids on field--the game's over, but the field is still filled with kids. It's kids from both team--burgandy jerseys and yellow, and a bunch of little sisters and brothers, and now there're all running the bases, starting at home plate and running round and round, racing each other and laughing, big kids and little ones, arms in the air, dancing, filling the diamond with laughter, no telling the difference between the kids who won the game and those who didn't.
'Cause there's not.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

About, what the heck!

After work, I picked the girls up at the babysitter and if there is anything that can make me feel good after a long day, it's a couple little girls whose eyes light up when they see me and who come running towards me with open arms wanting hugs. Suddenly I don't care about that hour-long meeting that didn't accomplish much.
We load into the car and I'm wondering why Caroline has an empty backpack ("It's my new, Hannah Montana backpack!" she says in explanation) and why Taylor has two pair of shoes ("She wanted to bring them both," as explained by Caroline.)
So the conversation begins. ("Where Papa at?" asks Taylor.) (At the ballgame, where we're going.)
"We're going to see your Julian," I tell Taylor.
"My JULIAN!? Where he at?" she replies.
"At the ballgame," I tell her. "We're going to watch him [the player] and Papa [a coach]. Mommy and Daddy will be there too. Then we're going to eat."
"My MOMMY!" says Taylor (who really does talk in capitol letters).
"We're going to the pan-a-cake restaurant!" says Caroline. "I love pan-a-cakes! Do you like pan-a-cakes, Mommy D?"
[Is pronunciation hard-wired? Because Caroline's mom, my once-upon-a-time little girl, pronounced pancakes the same way when she was four.]
"Yes, I like them, but I probably won't get them." [This turned out not to be the case, as I did indeed get a couple of pancakes with my veggie omelet later at IHOP, by which time our team had won the game and we were starving.]
"What the heck!" suddenly exclaims Taylor. "What the heck!"
This was a new one from her, and just the way she said it made me laugh.
"Don't laugh, Mommy D," said Caroline. "That's a bad word. Don't say that, Taylor."
"What the heck!"
"Don't say that, Taylor. That's a bad word."
"No it's not, Caroline. It's not really a bad word."
"My mommy says it's a bad word."
"What the heck!"
"There's another word that sounds like it, that is a bad word. Not that word."
"What the heck!"
"I know what it is," says Caroline solemnly. [I have slight pause as to what she thinks is the bad word, and if indeed she will say it; while everyone tries to what one's language around the little girls, we are not always successful.]
"What the heck!"
"Tay-lor! Don't say the bad word."
By this time we are stopped at a light, at Dupont and Lima roads at rush hour; we all aged a little, there in the car. We were there so long the "What the heck!" faded and I reached backed and tickled their feet.
"This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none, and this little piggy went 'wee-wee-wee-wee-wee' all the way home!"
I did Taylor's feet first and then Caroline's and they both squealed with delight.
At the next stoplight Caroline said she wanted to say it, and she proceeded with her four-year-old version:
"This little piggy went to Wal-mart, this little piggy didn't, this little piggy ate beef, and went wee-wee-wee!"
I almost fell out of the car trying not to laugh about the piggy going to Wal-mart. I'll have to tell Angela we're spending way too much time there.
By the time we got to the ball game, I forgot I even had a job, or had ever been to a meeting: Caroline got herself out of her carseat and had to be guided out of the parking lot, Taylor threw a fit about which shoes to wear, and they both demanded snacks from the snack cooler.
What the heck! Maybe the piggy did got to Wal-mart.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

About, where's my summer vacation?

Because I am not pleased with the state of the weather here in northern Ohio.
We always spend this first week of July here, and while it's not unusual to have a day when it's stormy or showery, it's unheard of to have a week when it's stormy, showery and cool.
Like this year.
Oh yesterday was not too bad...but today is back to CLOUDS. And RAIN.
We did sneak up to Sandusky and visited a bar on Perkins Avenue that is home to an eagle's nest in its backyard. Yes, a working bar, with beer patio, sand volleyball court, and country music blaring from speakers. DDT really hurt music, not so much.
And then, with umbrella in hand, we visited Sheldon's Marsh, a nature area just off Rt. 6, which is the original entrance to Cedar Point. We walked about a mile on the paved trail, taking a looping trail through the woods next to the marsh area. Lots of nature to enjoy, but the best part of the walk is having Lake Erie to the east and west. The waves were roaring on both sides of the long peninsula from the stiff north breeze, breaking far out into the lake.
The sky was gray, the water was gray, and the stiff surf kept the lake free of any watercraft--usually it's busy with all kids of seadoos, sailboats, small craft, etc.
We saw a snowy egret on the golf course next to the reserve (Sawmill Creek), and the gulls soared overhead, and a couple of chipmunks entertained us by running ahead of us and fighting, just like Chip and Dale.
But I missed the sun, and the heat. I miss summer.
I'm watching the weather channel. Yep, it's gonna warm up and sun up...right in time for me to go back to work!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

About island time

Loyal readers, in the spirit of "living vs. writing," I am off on vacation for the living part, saving up stuff for the writing part.
Our July vacation is almost always to visit our families in northern Ohio, and I thank God our families live in an area with so much vacation stuff to do.
If while in northern Indiana when someone says they are going to "the lake," you must quiz them on just which lake they are going to, when someone says "the lake" here in northern Ohio, one knows just which lake they mean.
We'll be heading up to Lake Erie today for a little wine tasting and maybe eagle spotting. We're visiting Quarry Hill Winery and, hopefully Old Woman's Creek and Sheldon's Marsh today. At Quarry Hill, we'll see if we can score a bottle of their blueberry wine, which my dad prefers for its medicinal purposes, as he says. At Old Woman's Creek, we'll try to spot the eagles that nest on the estuary and soar over Lake Erie (and we'll be able to see Cedar Point just to the west). At Sheldon's Marsh, we'll walk out what is the VERY old entrance to Cedar Point and enjoy the butterfly area near the entrance.
Later this week, we'll be off to Cleveland for a visit to the Little Italy area near University Circle. My sister and her son recently visited a music shop there that repaired Ben's cello, and they discovered a wealth of restaurants, shops and a used book store I'm both dreading and anticipating (I want to buy all the books...I have no room to keep any more books...I want the books.)
My sister wants to take me to Mansfield, where my dad worked for many years as I was growing up, and is not a town he had a lot of good stuff to say about, in the '60s anyway. Times change, and now Reeny raves about the shopping that's sprung up and the restaurants to choose from. I'll risk a 45-minute drive to check it out! It's pretty down that way, Amish country too.
We'll take in the Fourth of July parade here in Norwalk, which goes right by my sister's house, and later we'll watch fireworks from her front yard, too. Oh--maybe we'll spend the afternoon in her pool...if it finally warms up. Don't even get me started on the weather so far. (Because I just can't fathom rain and 62 on June 30. I. Just. Can't.)
We had lunch yesterday at Kalahari Resort, which has the biggest waterpark in the U.S. (So they say.) We didn't do the waterpark thing, but we did enjoy lunch in one of the restaurants and wandered around a bit to check the place out. Wow. A marvel of engineering, really.
Oh! and my dad and I will spend a day on one of the Lake Erie Islands, probably Kelley's, although maybe Put-in-Bay. It's hard to decide. A winery, a microbrewery, some history, some shopping, a few hours tooling around in a golf cart, a good meal, on island time--nice.
Hey, I've got to scoot! The sun is finally out and we've got plans for the day. If you'd like to know a little more about what to do in northern Ohio, email me!
What kind of vacation time are you gonna be on this summer?