Garden Progress: Week of May 21

Just the other night we spotted a deer in the front yard. They eat everything, I hear. For the moment I have begonias hanging from baskets near the creek, and my lavender, sweet potato vine, calibrachoa, mojito mint, and nasturtium are growing quite well. Those things seem to be left untouched, every time. But I’m not from here so I have to remember the most important thing – I DO NOT KNOW WHAT I’M DOING. The encounter simply reassured me that I had made the best decision to put the garden in our backyard. Our backyard is full of mud and dog poop, but it’s fenced. That is really the only thing that qualifies it as an ideal gardening spot.

The previous owners left us a dozen of 5 gallon buckets, which we almost threw away but, because of my hoarding tendencies (which really only applies to books, dogs, and plants), we remembered how we’d only ever needed 5 gallon buckets at precisely the moment we did not actually have any. So we kept them. Good thinking! They will now be used to grow my paste and cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, wax beans, and snap peas. And, as it turns out, I’m going to have a lot of all of those things.

A few weeks ago I questioned my yard’s exposure to full sun. Or even part sun. Truth be told, I feel like I’m living in a more affordable version of Seattle or Portland, although it is populated with far fewer Starbucks than any other metropolitan area in the world (pretty sure). But it’s always green. It’s always raining. It’s always damp. Half of my yard is moss, not grass.

I decided to try my own trusted technique called Goldfish Gardening. I just made that up yesterday. The name, not the technique. In my experience, whenever I have decided to start a goldfish aquarium, I’ll buy 10 feeder fish with the expectations that 3 will be healthy enough to thrive and survive. I treat my seeds the same way. I’ll seed 10 cucumber seeds with the expectations that 3 will start and thrive to maturity, making good producers. I do not discriminate, mostly because I also do not take the time to learn soil quality rules and watering schedules. If it lives, hooray! (For the record, I do treat surviving goldfish with much better care.)

But it turns out ALL MY SEEDS have started. Like, ALL OF THEM. I don’t have enough buckets, garden pots, bowls, what have you. I’m considering saving my milk jugs and cutting off the tops just so I’ll have a decent space to fill with garden soil and let my veggies go to town. Hmm…I just made that up, too, but it’s not a half-bad idea. My summer goal is to turn my backyard into a flowering oasis, with sweet peas and poppies, aster and dahlias, daisies and gazanias and yarrow, oh my. My climbing vegetables will happily live in their buckets/milk jugs/coke-bottles-cut-in-half and use our 6-foot tall dog fence for supports. I’m growing all the things we need for delicious summer salads and mint mojitos. We will not go hungry, that’s for sure. And with all that mint, our sobriety may be at risk.

I plan to continue updating progress on my garden-ish backyard space, so here’s the first look at what will hopefully grow to become my backyard wonderland. (And, for good measure, I planted sunflower seeds at the top of the driveway and sprinkled wildflowers seeds everywhere else. After months of winter, a summer full of flowers will be my reward, dammit.)

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Road Trip through the Dirty South

Winter in Northeast Ohio had taken its toll on me, as I knew it would. Though this winter was, in hindsight, considered mild, it still left me feeling unmotivated, closed in, and cold. Always cold. Luckily I had the forethought to plan a trip to Florida during spring break.

My daughter and I left early on a Friday morning and didn’t return until two Sundays later. In those nine days I drove through Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. And that was just one way. Coming home, we added Maryland and Pennsylvania to the list. Nine states in nine days. It was as exhausting as it sounds.

What was really great about this trip was that I had never made this particular drive before. I had never been through southern Ohio, and it was my first time in West Virginia. Every highway, every vista, every overlook was new to me, at least until we reached Charlotte, North Carolina. Then, as one would expect, I was home. Still hundreds of miles from my actual home, but home in the sense that I didn’t have to wear a coat in the middle of March, and sweet tea is a restaurant staple. I saw a palm tree. I needed nothing more.

In Charlotte, we visited with one of my best friends and her daughter, to whom I inadvertently spilled the beans that Santa isn’t real. (Shit. Sorry, D.) Another friend and his family stopped by our hotel room for a few hours. I hadn’t seen him in at least six years, and I finally met his wife and children. The little ones played in the hotel pool while we grownups snitched to hotel management on a group of reckless teenagers. (Boy, have the times changed. It feels like not too long ago that group of reckless teenagers used to be us. And then I became hotel management.)

In Jacksonville, we spent time with the entire family, including my parents, my brothers, and the dogs. There are always dogs. Nick flew in from New Hampshire. Brian drove up from Orlando. We met the girlfriend, watched Hell or High Water, reunited with friends from the neighborhood, got sunburned at the zoo, and spent a day at the beach. The water was freezing, but I didn’t mind. I only needed the sun and the sound of the waves.

In Charlottesville, I purposely booked a hotel designed after the German Tudor style. We spent the entire afternoon with one of my oldest friends and his wife touring Monticello and Jefferson’s gardens. (I purchased seed packets from the Monticello garden and, at this very moment, my nasturtium is starting to come through the soil. Minicello may be on hold, but my desire to grow Jefferson-approved flowers will not be quashed.) My intention while in Charlottesville was to visit James Madison’s house, as well, and maybe take a foot tour of University of Virginia, but by this point I was exhausted. That we stayed up sharing stories until well past our bedtimes (ahem…10pm) only made things worse. But, oh…the stories. And my daughter learned so much about me over dinner. Ha!

In Harper’s Ferry, our last stop before heading back to Cleveland, we spent the night with another of my closest friends at her parents’ home in the mountains. Again, I had every intention on visiting downtown, or at least taking in some of the historic sites around Harper’s Ferry, but I could barely muster the energy to stay awake at this point. I even had to insist we stay in to eat dinner because another minute in the car would have been the end of me! I’m so glad I made this stop, though, and I feel like my road trip would have been incomplete without seeing them. And now our kids are the same age we were when we met. What?

How does time fly so quickly? Where did it go? This trip, for me, was more about the people than the places. I know time cannot be reclaimed, but please…let’s not wait too long before we do it all over again. In new cities. In new places. Just like we always do. Just like we did. To see my family and my oldest friends –  sometimes I need nothing more.

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Spring, again.

My parents had told me to keep an eye out for funnel clouds as I lay in the backseat of the car. I was 11-years old. They had driven up from Gwinn to Escanaba in nasty weather to pick me up from the Girl Scout Jamboree after a long night of throwing up. I’m pretty sure my troop leader was happy to be rid of me, although during the parade preparations that morning I simply handed my troop’s flag off to some unsuspecting girl from L’Anse, fearing I was about to be sick again. Somehow I made it to a Red Cross tent and they diagnosed me with food poisoning (thanks, Arby’s) and heat exhaustion.

I have no idea if my troop’s flag was ever recovered. I have no idea who the girl from L’Anse even was. In fact, the only thing I know is that I left the Jamboree at just the right time. That night, while I was back home recovering in my own bed, a tornado hit the campground. A man who was chaperoning a different Upper Michigan troop was blown across the field, hundreds of yards away, while still in his tent. He slept through the whole thing, according to my troop leader. She had called my parents after the storm to check on me, and we shared a laugh over this man who snored like a freight train and, since he was apparently as loud as the storm he was also unaware of the tornado that could have killed him. Anyway, he was fine, but hundreds of campers’ coolers and tents and other belongings were strewn across the field. Not a single injury.

There have been other times, other close calls. One U.P. storm landed my brothers and me sheltered beneath the basement stairs, packed in with the protection of storage boxes while my mother drove my father to work (he was considered military essential personnel). In Southern Maryland, while in a movie theater and oblivious to the weather, my friends and I walked out to discover the car was missing. A few minutes later we found it on the other side of the parking lot. It was still intact. After a long afternoon shift at the hotel in Gainesville, Florida, I drove home one night and found myself completely disoriented. So many trees had been ripped out of the ground just a half hour earlier that the place was almost unrecognizable.

The ones I will never forget, though, were in Oklahoma. We had been warned in advance that May was going to be a big month, weather-wise. It was my first spring in Oklahoma and I had been assured by almost everyone that our area just doesn’t get hit. It just didn’t happen. Ever. Theories of a heat dome created by Oklahoma City’s concrete and pavement abounded, that the dome bumped off any tornado’s attempt to get in. For the time I lived in Oklahoma City, a short four years, really, I eventually came to believe it. But this was my first round with real tornadoes. My first encounter with the kind that make history. And the ones in May of 2013 made history.

I was home the afternoon of May 20th watching the weather forecast which, on days like that, showed one tornado dropping after another. Across the state, but mostly south of OKC, funnel clouds would hit the ground and the stormchasers would go nuts. Reports being called in. Coordinates being shot off to the meteorologist on-air. At some point, tornadoes were dropping every other minute. The screen broke into four pictures. All this just so the weather experts could keep tabs on every tornado that was on the ground at the same time.

My husband sent me pictures of the supercell, a massive storm cloud that could be seen from his downtown office. It was heading toward Newcastle and, eventually, to Moore. Suddenly, the quad screen turned into one. This tornado was the focal point. This tornado was going to kill someone. I listened to the stormchasers scream about a school. I listened as the stormchasers screamed about another school. Two elementary schools were hit. As I drove to my own daughter’s school to pick her up, I learned there were parents already at Plaza Towers elementary school sifting through wreckage to find their kids. It turns out a structurally deficient wall had collapsed onto a group of children taking shelter, killing seven of them. I sat outside my daughter’s school weeping and watching the sky, and when she climbed into the car it became her job to keep an eye out for funnel clouds. We made it home just as another siren screamed at us to run into the house.

I got to bring my child home from school that day.

Eleven days later, on May 31st, we did it all over again. Except that afternoon, everyone was home – no school pickups, no late highway commute from work – and I didn’t think I could feel that kind of terror again that I’d felt on May 20th, that helplessness mixed with an intensity you feel only when you’re about to take on unprecedented confrontation. I was wrong. My husband and I had Ella in the basement with the dogs, trying to keep them all entertained. While he and I watched the storm move closer and closer, it was determined that Oklahoma City’s supposed “heat dome” wasn’t going to help us one bit. This storm was just too massive. The meteorologist determined our neighborhood had approximately fifteen minutes to find shelter from the tornado if it continued on its northwesterly track, which would have put us directly in its path. I went into the basement to prepare Ella for a direct hit and placed her beneath the staircase. This way she wouldn’t be crushed by our queen bed or the refrigerator in case the first floor collapsed onto us. This is the stuff you have to think about. Or maybe it’s just the stuff I think about.

A few minutes later my husband, in the first and only time I can recall him being shaken, called down that the tornado had miraculously lifted. It killed eight people, including three veteran stormchasers, a new mother, and her baby. There were multiple vortices inside the tornado, winds gauged to be 295 mph, and its size, over 2.5 miles wide, makes it the largest twister ever recorded. Not surprisingly, it was designated an EF5. If this tornado had actually reached any further east of Banner Road, where it died out, there’s no telling how many more people would have been killed.

Here in the outskirts of Cleveland I have yet to worry about a tornado. There was a twister that came through our small town a few years ago, an EF1 that blew the roof off the local Giant Eagle grocery store. The liquor store off the main drag lost its roof recently, too, but that was due to straight line winds. Our house is surrounded by so many trees that it’s not unusual to wake up the night after a windstorm to find branches and limbs, and sometimes entire trees, down. I don’t worry about tornadoes anymore. At least not the way I used to.

Here I deal with rain, mostly, and freak snowstorms in April.

Oklahoma welcomed me with quite the first-timer’s hazing. An initiation into a lifestyle that I never actually chose, one I just inherited through marriage. For the four years I lived there, I worried about the next tornado season. Would I finally see a tornado? Would I live through one? Would I stick around afterwards if I did? Well, I never did see one. I never did experience one. And I’m pretty certain I would have moved the hell away if I had. That saying about lightning never striking the same place twice is bullshit. That “same place” is everywhere surrounding Oklahoma City. But now I have a connection to that land in the people I met, in the strangers who offered me a friendly welcome, and in the friends I made. They still live there. And I find myself, over a thousand miles away in northeastern Ohio, worrying about this tornado season. And the next. And the one after that. My Oklahoma friends and loved ones may not be worrying, but that’s probably what makes them Oklahomans by nature. They’re just tougher than me. 

I have a new appreciation for spring, thanks to Oklahoma. Time does make the heart grow fonder. I’m in no rush to get back there (I’m quite happier up here where the temperature doesn’t reach 110 degrees), but there are some aspects of the place that I do miss. The wide open spaces. The sunsets in winter. The endless sky. I feel a little heartsick for that damn place, wouldn’t you know it?

And with this, I welcome spring with open arms. Seriously. It can show up any minute. Any minute. No, really. Spring in Ohio will happen, I’m certain of it. Hopeful. Cautiously optimistic, at least. And when it does I hope to have loads of garden photos, stories of outdoor adventures, trips to the lake, exploring the history of the region…

It’s been too quiet around here.

Favorite Books of 2016

On New Year’s Day of this year, I set my Goodreads challenge to 40 books. This seems to be my standard goal. I try and account for busyness, which would average me out for 1 to 2 books a week, depending on how many pages I’m up against. I include in this mix all of my academic textbooks, too. Considering they are the reason why I don’t read more books of my own choosing, I’m counting those, even if it’s just because of interference.

This year I surpassed my reading goal (51 books!) and, quite honestly, I was surprised. I took four months away from graduate school, in part to recover from the emotional exhaustion of back-to-back-to-back courses in Russian history/the Third Reich/African-American history. With four months of freedom from multiple academic history books, I thought I’d fall short. And I had less free time than I thought I would since we spent all it preparing for a move we didn’t even know we’d have to make – and then we made the move. Sitting down for an hour with a book became a luxury.

Here’s a look at my favorite books I read in 2016. You may notice a theme in both genres. Nonfiction favorites are, of course, filled with misery and tragedy and trauma and WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM ME? but you should pick up on the fact that one is not like the others. And my fiction favorites were all written by a diverse group of women. This was a happy accident.

NONFICTION FAVORITES
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A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold: As soon as I heard Sue Klebold had published a book, I knew right away I wanted to read it. Often we forget that there is a family behind the shooter. We also forget that their lives continue amidst the death threats, the grief, the guilt, the questions. Anyone who is a parent knows that raising kids is a crapshoot. I live near a town that was the site of a mass school shooting in 2012. Just recently, the state of Ohio proposed new hearings for violent young offenders and this law, had it passed (which it did not), would have affected the life sentence imposed on this young, troubled teen who shot five people, killing three students. I don’t know where this shooter’s family lives now, and I don’t know how they’ve been supported throughout their own ordeal. Klebold’s book poses a question many of us have often wondered ourselves: When one family’s tragedy becomes the entire country’s tragedy, who is or is not allowed to mourn?

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger: This was in no way written with the same dramatics as The Perfect Storm, and I think that was Junger’s intention. The information in here is dramatic enough. I was originally drawn to this book because of my own sense of geographic misplacement, but also because PTSD is, sadly, more prevalent than we as a society seem ready to accept. Most countries in Europe have been tackling the issue of trauma for decades. As usual, the United States is behind and, as usual, nobody knows how to deal with it.

Sick from Freedom by Jim Downs: This should be required reading for all high school history students. Emancipation was just the beginning of a very long road to freedom for African-Americans. However, emancipation and the subsequent humanitarian failures during Reconstruction led to the worst biological disaster in American history. What does that mean? Death, disease, and suffering. It affected mostly freed blacks who no longer had access to healthcare and proper nutrition once they’d fled the plantations and fields and the care of their masters. Disease was rampant throughout the country. Uncontrollable outbreaks traveled with the freed men and women as they made their way to large cities in search of work and shelter. The War Department, having been tasked with funding both Reconstruction and the newly created Freedmen’s Bureau, failed the newly freed slaves by giving most of its budget to Reconstruction projects.

Masters of Death by Richard Rhodes: The Einsatzgruppen isn’t often talked about in the grand scheme of Nazi Germany. However, once you start digging into the details of Nazi atrocities you can’t avoid learning more about the them, probably more than you bargained for. Comprised of three groups (officially referred to as A, B, and C), they terrorized villages all across Europe one by one. Known as the Nazi Death Squad, they encouraged villagers to turn against one another within days, which led to mass killings and even parades celebrating the deaths of tens of thousands of these villagers’ former neighbors. The Einsatzgruppen’s sole job was not to fight, but to kill. Although a few death squad soldiers had what could be called a conscience, and they would press villagers to do their killing for them. This is one reason why European countries have been successfully dealing with trauma and PTSD. It’s in their history. Everyone suffered in 20th century Europe.

The Residence by Kate Andrews Brower: What’s this? A feel-good book? YES! Well, kind of. I was not aware that the White House staff remained intact even as the president’s administrative team was constantly restructured. This book led to a few a-ha! moments, because I was reading it (voluntarily) in tandem with my required readings for my American political history course. Was Lyndon Johnson a horrible president? No. Was he a jackass? ABSOLUTELY. Did this seep into his presidential abilities? No question. It’s the little things in this book that make sense of some of the big things. Johnson had an obsession with his shower’s water pressure. It might have been one of the few things he felt he had control over. Hillary Clinton once removed the kitchen staff so she could personally make Chelsea scrambled eggs while she recovered from a stomach virus. Sometimes being a mother comes first.

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The Vegetarian by Han Kang: There is no way to accurately describe this book. The main character, Yeong-hye, is convinced that the only way to save herself from seeing the gory, bloody images in her mind is stop eating meat, start eating plants, become a plant. Her relationships with herself, her husband, her child, with everyone, begin to change so dramatically that you realize you are reading about someone’s uncontrollable fall into the depths of mental illness. I was conflicted through most of this novel. Part of me wished, as her family did, that she could just find her way back to herself. The other part of me wished everyone would let her be. It was almost like her mental illness was her way to finding inner peace. The scene in which Yeong-hye is being force-fed meat is traumatic. With writing like that, Kang’s debut has made me look forward to every word she writes from now on.

Blue Angel by Francine Prose: Blue Angel was one of the first books I read after we started to settle in our new home. I couldn’t wait to get back to it every night! It’s a story about the inevitability of getting older, of reevaluating your life and accomplishments. It’s also a story about being young and mapping out your life and future accomplishments. The reputation that followed this book in reviews made me feel like there would be a lot of inappropriate meetings of the two, of the young and the old, but the scene in question is brief and hardly graphic. What follows, however, is how such a lapse in judgment can alter the lives of all involved, directly or indirectly. Manipulation runs thick on both sides, proving that older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser, and that self worth is a thing we all struggle to determine. Some for our entire lives.

Speedboat by Renata Adler: I chose to read this book on two points alone. First, the cover. I totally judge a book by its cover (have you seen the cover of Emily Ruskovich’s Idaho or Heidi JulavitsThe Folded Clock? For real, click on those links!). Second, a textile artist I follow on Instagram recommended it. I really like her art so I was certain I’d like her book recommendation. I was right! How does one explain the premise of Speedboat? There really isn’t one, but there is. The main character, Jen, doesn’t exactly tell you anything about herself, or about anyone or anything. Everything you learn is from the bits and pieces she shares in an almost diary-like order. Her life is so uninteresting to her, yet it was so interesting to me. I couldn’t put it down.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: How many time can we survive heartbreak? (Numerous times, actually, as evidenced by my own ability to survive 4 out of 5 of my nonfiction picks, and both this novel and McCreight’s.) I’m not giving anything away when I tell you the daughter dies. That’s what this entire novel is about – the daughter’s death, the family’s (in)ability to recover, and how each of them respond to what is now required of them to help each other. Throughout the book, I couldn’t help but imagine this was my own daughter. My one and only child. Gaaaawwwddd!!! Ng just kept breaking my heart, over and over and over again. And the story’s ending? Kablooey. You’ve been warned.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight: I had apparently not learned my lesson when I read Celeste Ng’s novel about the sudden, unexplained deaths of teenage daughters. McCreight’s novel explores the relationship between a single working mother and her only child. So how well do we know our kids? Even though Amelia’s shocking death is ruled a suicide, her mother is unconvinced. What follows is her heartbreaking discovery of what Amelia’s life was really like in the months leading up to her death. Did she jump from the roof of her NYC school? Or was she pushed? McCreight’s character development is enough to leave you suspicious of everyone, but I was left with questions. Was this intentional? Am I supposed to just accept what I know, just as Amelia’s mother had to? Maybe. And while that’s disturbing, it doesn’t take away from the novel at all. Do we ever know all the details, about anything?

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And there you have it!

Anyway, I’m currently working my way through This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick. What about you? Tell me, what are some of your favorite reads of 2016? And what are you reading now?

The Beginning of Winter

There is a part of me that will always love snow, and it’s obviously a part of me I didn’t even know existed. The first snow we had here at the new house just made the whole place look so different. The entire yard changed into something new. Everything was quiet. The creek was no longer hidden by the dark canopy of trees. In fact, it was the one thing that really seemed to stick out.

First snowfall. Front yard. This place could make me like winter. #neohio #home #creek #snow

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We are cold, no doubt. But it’s not unbearably cold. Yet. There is no wind like the Oklahoma wind, or else our temperatures here in Northeast Ohio would be unbearably cold. But I’m sure that’s coming. All in due time. Blizzards. Lake effect snow. Icebergs on Erie. The snow sticks are out. The neighbors have fled to South Florida. Preparations are in full swing. One afternoon, I counted four snowplows on the road just in the three miles between my house and work. There wasn’t any snow in the forecast, but it’s nice to know they are out there.

Hot tea is a constant. Candles are lit throughout the house. My husband picked up a tiny living tree at the town grocer to decorate for Christmas. It sits atop the wine rack where the blind dog can’t run into it and get lost. She still seems confused sometimes in the new house. I strung white twinkling lights across our stair bannister leading up to the bedrooms. The next day, half of them stopped twinkling. Later, that same half just stopped working altogether. But the half that works is so darn pretty. Our space heater, designed to look like a tiny wood stove, adds ambience to the unfinished living room. I’m getting by so far with my own half-assed version of hygge.

From our front window we watch the squirrels pick through what falls from the bird feeder. I haven’t had a chance to learn a single local wintering bird. Nuthatches? Finches? Orioles? I recognize a cardinal or a blue jay, but those little tiny things that flutter around all over the yard? No clue. The squirrels are gray, although some are black. Probably half of them are black. It’s a dominant trait, the black fur. A few black squirrels were released from a Kent State University lab years and years ago, and their coloring only occurs in certain areas. Like mine! I don’t think I could ever get tired of seeing black squirrels.

We also have a pair of barrel owls who live in our front yard trees. I know there are two because they talk to each other, but I’ve only ever seen one at a time. His name is Owlbert. Whichever one I see at any given time, his name is Owlbert. I don’t know what I would do if I ever saw them both at the same time. And I only have one cool owl name at the moment, so Owlbert it is.

What Was Missing

On our way to the nearest shopping center, we drove through the backroads that wind near and across the Chagrin River. There are such tight curves that the speed limit goes from 45 to 25 in just a few feet. Some downhill driving requires keeping your foot on the brakes. It’s hard not to drive off the side of the road. Not because the roads are dangerous. That’s not the problem at all. The problem is that it’s so damn pretty here.

Since moving to Northeast Ohio I have walked the trails at two county parks (with and without a dog), visited a historic castle at another, and reimagined my small flower-farm dreams after stopping by a large fruit farm just four miles away. I even did some of this in temperatures below 55 degrees. The weather was glorious, though, all blue skies and sunshine, but here I feel like I’m wasting a day indoors if I don’t go outside at least for a little while and talk to the trees.

This is what Oklahoma was missing for me, for us. While we still have yet to find our favorite restaurant or a tight group of friends, this is what was missing from our lives in Oklahoma. The Outside: the trees, the walking trails, the rivers, the opportunities for hiking and fishing and just enjoying nature. These things are available back in OKC, but you have to drive, sometimes for hours, to get somewhere. My husband kind of marveled the other day at this revelation by adding: “Do you know I’ve done more camping in the last two months than I have in the last two years?” (To be fair, some of that camping was in Missouri, but he did attend a campout with his coworkers after only two weeks of us being here.) We even went to a fish fry at which the featured main course was fresh perch from Lake Erie that had been caught not even 24 hours earlier.

Now I have a desire to relearn how to scale and gut a fish (I once had this skill, Yooper kid that I am), and Matt is taking a certification class to get his hunting license. We will probably become those people who start asking for fishing and hunting gear for Christmas.

Here are some photos from my recent adventures in Outdoorsing:

Bessie Metzenbaum Park has three trails, one of which is called the Summit Trail. Idiot that I am didn’t quite catch the “summit” part and decided to walk it with the Pyrenees. It’s a steep climb, and I only kept climbing because I thought there would surely be some kind of payoff at the top – a vista, a view of some kind, maybe even a sighting of Lake Erie off in the distance. There wasn’t.

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At some point recently I had driven past a castle – yes, a castle – on my way back from Home Depot. The following weekend, I bribed the kiddo to go visit Squire’s Castle with me. In return I would take her to Heinen’s, a local grocery store where I had her choose her birthday cake from their bakery. Chocolate ganache and a castle? It happened.

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The next weekend we were off to the West Woods in search of Ansel’s Cave. We decided not to hike to the cave and instead opted to go to the Falls Trail. Here we expected to find a waterfall, but there hadn’t been enough rainfall recently. The rock pools were full, and the beech and maple leaves were really starting to turn colors by now. Ansel’s Cave is still on the bucket list, however.

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Finally, yesterday the whole family headed out to Patterson’s Fruit Farm just a few miles north of where we live. There were apple cider donuts, maple syrup, bags and bags of fresh-picked apples, and pies for days. I picked up a sack of Jonathan apples and decided to make a pie at home, which is what I did this afternoon. The rest of the apples will get turned into cider and donuts. (We are clearly really enjoying fall.)

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Here, in Ohio…

Every morning I wake up, stare out the window, and say to myself I can’t believe I get to live here. 

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Our little house in the Northeast Ohio woods is surrounded by a creek and covered by a canopy of trees I have yet to identify. One of my favorites, the one I kept referring to as a weeping pine, was determined to be a Norwegian spruce by my father, an Ohioan by birth. It turns out Norwegian spruces were my grandfather’s favorite tree. A Dayton native, my grandfather passed away in South Florida just months after I was born. I have no memories of him, but it’s nice to know that our mutual affection for these Norwegian spruce tree still connects us.

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While we have only lived here a month, we have been keeping ourselves busy at home, at school, and around town. My parents and younger brother came to visit for a week, prompting me to actually leave the house. I took them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one day and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo the next. One morning my brother borrowed the car to drive to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and did a short solo hike to Brandywine Falls. Then he and my dad tested out Cleveland’s mass transit system and took a train down to Little Italy while my mom, Ella, and I shopped at Ulta. Poor Matt had to work all week, though he was able to break free a few times. Jobs – always getting in the way of all the fun.

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One place we all really seem to enjoy is the village of Chagrin Falls. I find myself there at least once a week, either browsing the bookstore, meeting other Great Pyrenees parents (there are a lot of Pyrs in this area!), or walking down to view the waterfall. Of course, while my family was visiting we took them out there a few times: once to view the falls, another time to eat dinner, and, finally, to try Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream (which was recommended by my brother at the insistence of a local-but-now-New Hampshire-based friend of his). Ice creams puts me in literal physical pain, but the Gooey Butter Cake and Lavender Wildberry flavors were worth it. I’m going back soon for a scoop of Birch and Marshmallow, stomach ailments be damned.

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As I write this, all four dogs are snoozing away, some more loudly than others (ahem…Teddy). The squirrels are chattering away, as are the birds. I hear absolutely no traffic besides the scattering of leaves while the chipmunks scurry all over the place. I can’t see them but I hear them.

It’s so quiet here.