Roller Skating Roller Coaster

IMG_4489Last weekend I went to drop off my oldest daughter at her first roller skating birthday party. While she had been ice skating before, she had never been roller skating. I’m embarrassed to say that in my twelve years in Chagrin and despite living right around the corner from the famous local roller rink, neither had I. At least not there. The last time I had gone roller skating was probably in middle school when I held hands with the boy I was “going with” during couples’ skate. Little did I know, that would change pretty quickly over the course of the next three hours as a roller coaster of emotions ended with me riding round and round the rink.

Now that Elizabeth is seven, there is rarely a birthday party I stay at these days. So I had planned to take her in, get her set up in some rental skates, help her find her friends, make sure she was getting around ok and then slip out of there. I had a number of items on my to yard chore to-do list on that last weekend before the forecast snow was to arrive. So there I was in my yard work/workout clothes, i.e. black sweat pants, a warm-up top, hair in a pony tail, no shower, no make up (my standard look these days), hoping I could sneak in and out without bumping into too many people I knew.

I guess I had an inkling of knowledge in the back of my head that there was a chance it wouldn’t be that easy. My big girl is so grown up in many ways, but in others, still needs a lot of hand-holding. My husband even said to me on my way out the door, “You’d better be prepared to go roller skating.” I chuckled and went on my way. Don’t get me wrong, I do remember really enjoying roller skating at one point in my life, but on this day I was looking forward to a few hours of time with only two children to manage while I cranked out a couple of chores.

IMG_4496Elizabeth was excited to get to the party and get her skates, but once we began lacing them up, I could tell I was in for the long haul. The skates were “too tight” and after swapping them out for a larger size, I could feel the coaster reaching it’s first ascent. “I don’t even know how to skate! I don’t even want to be here,” she crabbed. Then she became embarrassed when the other kids saw her and she began crying even more. That’s when her sweet little girlfriend spotted her from across the room and approached saying, “Elizabeth I don’t know how to do it either!” Elizabeth’s tears began to subside and I encouraged the two girls to go out together and give it a try. Down the first hill the coaster glided.

They skated, or rolled more like, along the side holding onto the railings. I was glad to see her making an attempt. And then about 10 feet down the way, Elizabeth was like a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel and fell straight on her bottom. Immediately, tears and drama. The metaphoric roller coaster did a loop the loop and Elizabeth was in the front car screaming. I ran over to her, picked her up and wheeled her over to the closest bench. She was fine physically, just embarrassed and adamant that she was finished skating for the day and that she was going to leave and never return. Of course it became my fault. Everything is my fault. “You told me it was easier than ice skating!” she shouted at me. “Roller skating isn’t even fun. You made me come. I didn’t even want to come here.”

Annoyed that I had taken the time on a busy Saturday to go pick up a birthday present at the last minute, struggle with Elizabeth to get on her skates then manage a tantrum in the middle of the roller skating rink while in my sweat suit, I was ready to lose it. I was about to launch into a tirade. The following rant nearly escaped my lips complete with my Mean Mommy voice and facial expressions.


RollerskatesBut somehow, for one of the very first times in my life as a parent, I was able to keep my cool. “Let’s just sit here and watch for a little while,” I said calmly. As I sat there I could hardly believe the words that had just come out of my mouth. Elizabeth sat and watched the skaters go by still crying and complaining that she wanted to leave. I was still a little tempted to just take off our skates and take advantage of the remainder of the afternoon. But as we sat and watched, every couple of minutes another little boy or girl would wipe out right in front of us. Left and right these poor kids were just biting it. “See that little boy fell too. And he’s just got back up and kept going.” I’d say. We must have sat and watched for nearly a half an hour. Every now and then I’d ask if she was ready to try again. Elizabeth still maintained that she was done skating and was NEVER going to try it again. Eventually it became clear what I needed to do. I offered to put on skates and go with her. I knew that if we left at that point in the ordeal she would never want to try roller skating again. Of course, roller skating was not on the top of my to do list that day, but I was willing to set aside my vanity and my own desires and take one for the team.  “No. I’m done,” she said. I was secretly a little relieved.

Just about the time I was ready to throw in the towel and tell her her time was up. She said, “I think I’m ready to try again. If you’ll come with me.” I hopped up and got some stinky old skates from the rental desk and soon we were holding hands on the rink, Elizabeth clinging to the wall with her other hand. When she’d reach a break in the railing where there was nothing to hold on to, she’d grip my hand even tighter. “Don’t let her fall!” was all I could think about. Every so often, I’d catch a little smile on her face. “See, aren’t you glad you didnt give up?,” I said. We made our way around the rink. We were lapped several times per song by all of the other skaters. After awhile we decided to take a little snack break. I had no cash so I had to buy a minimum of five dollars worth of food in order to use my debit card. We ended up with two chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. Not exactly part of my “eat clean” diet plan, but I was willing to break the rules to celebrate her getting over her fear and embarrassment.

Before long I was in the center of the rink doing the Hokey Pokey and then skating in circles with Elizabeth and her two best friends flapping our wings and singing the Chicken Dance. It was one of those happy parenting moments that I knew I would always remember. I was one of maybe three parents on the rink. Definitely the only one in sweat pants. Then the lights dimmed and the air filled with smoke. “When there’s something strange, in the neighborhood. Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!” We skated around under the flashing lights and I was genuinely having fun. Maybe a little too much fun. After a couple more laps I encouraged Elizabeth to go without me. To my surprise, she did and I graduated to the bench with the other parents. I watched her with delight as she giggled with her friends as they rolled alongside the wall.

After the kids ate pizza, sang “Happy Birthday” and skated a little longer, miss Elizabeth was happier than I’d seen her all day and so was I. The roller coaster of emotions made it’s final ascent and from way up there at the top I was enjoying the view. While it might seem like a small success, the patience I witnessed myself exhibit that day was very unusual for me. Something usually happens to me when my kids start complaining, crying and making a scene in public. I tend to lose control of the words that come out of my mouth and say a bunch of really mean things that I regret later. Essentially, I turn into that person I see in the store yelling at her kids and all I can do is feel bad for those poor little children.

A recent example of a time when I acted this way was when I took my other daughter to dance class. She put up a fight about putting on her dance clothes because she was cold, tired and crabby. I started to wrestle her into them because I was determined that if I spent the money for the class and made the effort to get there with her sister and baby brother in tow, she would GO to that class. I became upset. Caroline began crying, then hyperventilating. When she cries like this somehow she begins to cough really hard and sometimes she ends up vomiting. As I became more angry, Caroline cried harder. “FINE, WE ARE LEAVING!” I said. “This is a waste of time.” As I packed up her things and tried to leave without making eye contact with the other moms, guess what happened, she vomited all over the brand new carpet in the changing room of the beautiful ballet studio. I didn’t realize at the time that my escalating emotions were making the situation worse. She needed me to be the calm voice of reason. And I failed her. We struggled with getting back to dance class for weeks after that. In fact, sometimes, we still do.

I remember watching another mom have a similar struggle with her daughter at dance class soon after that. She didn’t like the way her tights felt on her toes (something with which my kids have always complained about too). I happened to stay to watch class that day so I saw what happened next. I sat completely in awe of this mother’s patience. She is was so calm and collected. “Let’s sit and watch,” she said. I could feel the tension this mother was experiencing within herself. But they sat and watched from the doorway for awhile. About halfway through the class, the girl eventually went in and sat on the dance floor. She didn’t get up and dance. She just watched. The girl would inch her way back toward her mom every now and then and her mom would encourage her to get up and dance. Eventually she did. That women’s behavior that day made such an impression on me. I wished I could be like that. That was how a mother should act. She was helping to TEACH her child how to get over her discomfort, not PUNISH her child and embarrass her even further, the way I had done.

Somehow that day at the roller rink I was able to be like that woman. It was not conscious. It just happened. I was able to act like the mother I want to be. Teaching my child how to persevere, instead of teaching her impatience. I am proud of my rare ability to stay calm that day and help Elizabeth conquer her fear and encourage her not to give up. I only hope I can manage to do so the next time I am faced with a similar parenting challenge. Elizabeth and I both learned a lesson on that roller coaster ride of emotions. Best of all, we created a lasting memory of the first time we did the Hokey Pokey and the Chicken Dance together at the roller rink.

RIP Afternoon Nap

IMG_1951It is with a heavy heart that I must report that little John’s afternoon nap has now been laid to rest. RIP nap time. Tear, sniff. I will miss you deeply and the hours of peace and quiet you have provided, allowing me to attempt to put the pieces of my life back together each afternoon following the chaos of every morning. You helped me get beds made, pick up toys, fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, get a head start on dinner, maybe get in a speedy workout and perhaps most importantly, on a special occasion, take a shower without a small curious peeping John asking questions. Many mornings just the anticipation of you and not being asked for anything for two whole hours has helped keep me from crossing the fine line of sanity. Thank you for your service dear, beloved nap.

Yep! Once the big boy bed transition was made, the nap died a pretty sudden death. I guess I was not surprised as this was the same sequence of events that occurred with both of my girls. I have been trying to hold on to hope by enforcing “quiet time” where I lure John into his room by bribing him with pacifiers. We go through the entire nap prep process and he starts out in his bed, but then shortly ends up climbing out. Before long I hear the “wee oh” of his fire truck, the “choo choo” of his Thomas Train and soon comes the incessant knocking and calling. “Momma! I get out of bed. Come out?” I can put him off for a little while as I do think it is good for him to have some down time and to learn how to occupy himself. Once or twice he has eventually fallen asleep on the floor of his room, but by then it is much too late. And then we have to repeat the struggle all over again at bed time when he wants to stay up and party until 10:00 p.m. Usually though, he doesn’t fall asleep and after listening to his calls to come out of his room I feel guilty and decide I should make the most of the time with him before the craziness of carting his sisters around after school begins. That’s when he is strapped in his car seat to go from school to dance class, then an orthodontist appointment, maybe the bank and the post office. None of which is for him.

SuppliesSo suddenly I am finding myself with many more hours in which I need to keep this busy little guy occupied. Yesterday afternoon I decided to get out some paints. I had in mind a couple of fall craft ideas that might keep him seated and stop him from coloring on the walls of his sister’s room like he has been known to do. I pulled out one small apple remaining in the fridge from our trip to the apple orchard which I decided to cut in half for him to use as a stamp. We also cut a small red potato in half which we would use as a pumpkin stamp. My night owl was ready to paint! I still can’t believe I actually let him use paint in my dining room over my new rug without being strapped into his booster seat. I must be crazy. I never would have done this with my first child. Actually, I probably had some really well thought out project planned for her, the supplies set out the night before and a monogrammed art smock. Then I would have sat and taught her each step as if it was an art class. Funny how things are different from first born to third. Now that Pinterest has come about, there are dozens of projects I have pinned that I could try with John. But in my experience, sometimes it’s better to keep it simple. Especially with a two-year-old. Just let them explore, be creative and get messy. Usually if I try to make some perfect and pretty craft with my kids, I end up doing most of the work and they end up crying because they have their own plan. It never ends the way I envision. So today, it was just going to be paint, paper, our homemade stamps and maybe a couple of brushes.

First we used brown paint to create an apple tree trunk. Then we dipped half of the apple in red paint and used a paint brush to make sure the entire apple was covered. John went to work stamping apples on his tree.

MeltdownWe were having lots of fun until this happened. No, he’s not hurt. This is called a temper tantrum. I don’t even recall now what caused this scene. Probably something to do with me wanting to help him get more paint on his apple. Apparently I wasn’t doing it the way he had hoped. Such is life as a two-year-old. You might be thinking I am terrible to post this picture of him. I have photos of each of my children that are similar. The girls and I pull them out every now and then and laugh. It’s good for them to remember what they put their mom and dad through so they will take care of us when we are old.

So while John cooled off in his room, I took a few minutes to paint my own apple trees. There is something strangely enjoyable and satisfying about painting and coloring even very elementary looking works of art. Brings you back to being a carefree child, I guess. I’m not sure, but it was fun! Here are our apple trees.

My Tree


When John was feeling better, we decided to try again and make a pumpkin patch using our potato as a stamp. First, John told me about all the colors of the rainbow. Then we talked about mixing colors. We mixed red and yellow to make orange for our pretty pumpkins. He was all smiles.

There are moments like the “meltdown” photo above depicts when I long for the serenity of John’s former nap time. But, all joking aside, now that I have been through this twice before and then witnessed just how quickly those children are hopping on the school bus and in the care of someone else all day, I am able to keep it all in perspective. Sounds cliche perhaps, but I know firsthand how quickly this time when they are “all yours” passes. So, I suppose for now the laundry, the mess, the dishes, the shower, it can all wait. For now we have pictures to paint, trucks and trains to play with, towers to build, books to read, tantrums to overcome and messes to make.


Adventures with My Own Johnny Appleseed

Morning DewLast Friday, September 26th, was Johnny Appleseed Day. Coincidentally, it also happened to be the day we decided to make our first trip of the season to our favorite apple orchard, Eddy Fruit Farm in Chesterland, Ohio. Apples are one fruit that my husband does not bring home to me from his market because he cannot sell a box of apples that has ten missing. I’m quite happy to buy them actually, especially when I get to pick and eat gorgeous ripe fruit straight from the tree, with help from my babies, the apples of my eye.

Eddy Fruit Farm has been run by generations of devoted family members since way back in 1869. That’s not too long after John Chapman, AKA Johnny Appleseed, was making his way through Ohio and the midwest in the late 1790s and early 1800s planting apple trees along the way. The Eddy farm now grows thirty-five different varieties of apples, as well as pears, peaches, plums and grapes. My family was excited to pick apples at the Eddy farm on that idyllic fall morning.

We arrived early and made our way up the gravel road where we were greeted by farmer Tom who asked what we were hoping to find. I told him a crisp, sweet apple for eating and baking. He nodded with a grin as if every other picker says the same thing. “Are you up for an adventure?,” he asked. “Definitely!,” I replied. “It’s a bit of a walk, but if you follow that path there, it will take you to the Macoun apples,” he told us. “They are just starting and they have low fruit that will be easy for the kids to pick. You’ll be the first to pick those trees.” I hadn’t heard of Macoun apples before, but I trusted his expertise. I asked him if he was familiar with my husband’s wholesale produce business as I knew the Eddy family bought some vegetables there to sell in their store. He told me his brother manages all of that while he stays in the fields, doing the hard work. We chuckled and shook hands goodbye.

Eddy Fruit FarmThe kids and I trudged through the tall grass and soon discovered the apples he had mentioned. Indeed, we were the first early birds there picking. The trees were filled with large ripe fruit. Morning dew was still glistening on the apples in the sunlight. We had visited this farm with the girls’ preschool classes in years past when farmer Bart, taught us to twist while pulling the fruit from the tree. The girls knew just what to do and got right to work.

We quickly filled our basket with gorgeous fresh apples. Since farmer Bart always let the kids choose one apple to eat in the orchard, I figured he wouldn’t mind if I let the kids do the same. It didn’t take much convincing. In fact, John hadn’t been waiting for my approval. He had already devoured his first piece of fruit, thrown it to the ground and was reaching for another out of the basket. Looking around at other apples that had fallen from the trees, I figured no harm done. My Johnny Appleseed was really just helping to grow more apple trees. The Macouns were a great recommendation. Crisp and sweet with a touch of tartness. Perfect for both eating or baking. The kids were quiet as we all enjoyed a healthy morning snack, as fresh as they come, straight off the tree.

Our basket was full and so were the kids’ bellies, so we decided to make our way back toward the farm store to pay for our fruit and have a look around. Before heading home, we stopped to make a wish, discover a ladybug and greet a new furry friend along the way.

Books Later on, when I learned that it had been Johnny Appleseed Day, I decided we should find out more about him. My little John and I picked up a few books at our next visit to the library. He was in fact a real person. His name was John Chapman and he was born on September 26, 1774 in a small town in Massachusetts. He was the son of an apple farmer who fought in the American Revolution and had a sister named Elizabeth (as does our John ironically). At the age of 23 he decided to travel west to plant apple seeds in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. He even owned land in those states and established nurseries there. Apples were one of the few crops that could be grown and harvested easily and eaten in one form or another all year round in the wilderness settlements of early America. While he did not establish all of the original apple orchards in America, he did play an important part in bringing apples to the frontier. Johnny Appleseed was a good natured man, filled with kindness and humanity, had an independent spirit and was a generous friend to all, especially animals. Like my John, he apparently mostly walked bare foot. He died in Fort Wayne, Indiana in March 1845, but his story, like the apple seeds he planted, live on. Today as I read to my children about Johnny Appleseed, his good character set a great example of the kind of person we should all strive to be.

With a new appreciation for our beloved apples and the man who helped bring them to us, the kids and I used our fresh fruit from the farm to prepare one of our favorite apple desserts, apple crisp! I’ve created a recipe that is healthier than most traditional apple crisp recipes. It includes honey instead of sugar and I also used applesauce in place of butter, to cut out even more fat and calories. I’m happy to share it with you.

Apple CrispAshley’s Apple Crisp:

Apple Filling

  • 4 apples
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp. honey

Crumble Topping

  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 3 Tbsp. melted butter or applesauce
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Cut apples into thin slices or bite sized chunks. Mix with lemon juice, cinnamon and honey. Spray six ramekins or one pie plate with non-stick spray. Divide apples into baking dishes. In a separate bowl combine crumble topping ingredients. Divide crumble evenly over apples. Place ramekins on baking sheet. If the tops appear to be browning too quickly, cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool slightly. Top with vanilla ice cream for an extra special treat. Serves 6.

Apple Slices

Crumble topping

Apple Crisp


We are so thankful for delicious, healthy apples. Here is a little blessing you may know as well, in honor of Johnny Appleseed; the original and my own. Oh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank Him for giving me the things I need. The sun, and the rain, and the apple seed. The Lord is good to me.


Bird Nerd

I am a self-professed “bird nerd.” My feeder is strategically placed so that I can see it out of every window in the front of our house. It is most visible from our kitchen table, but I can also see it clearly from our screened-in porch, the front hall, our living room and my oldest daughter’s room. My love of birds is obvious even when not looking out the windows. I have several framed antique Audubon bird prints hanging on my walls, pillows made with bird print fabric, bird figurines and even bird salt and pepper shakers. You’d think I was some crazy old woman hoarding all things bird. Maybe I am.

Lake Erie Birding Trail - Site 24So it’s lucky for me that we live across the street from the South Chagrin Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks which happens to be a site within the Cleveland Area Loop of the Lake Erie Birding Trail. Designated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Wildlife, the Lake Erie Birding Trail is divided into seven loops. The sites in each loop have been identified as containing collectively nearly 400 bird species. There are more sites on the Cleveland Area Loop, 28, than any other loop and some of them are among the most famous birding hotspots in the Midwest. The total species list for the Cleveland loop is 356, and a remarkable 12 of those species have only been recorded in this region. Tremendous numbers and diversity of migrant songbirds fill lakeside woodlands in spring and fall. Waterbirds galore pack marshes and the open lake waters, and interesting marsh birds breed in coastal wetlands. Winter brings hardy northern ducks, gulls, and raptors. There is never a dull season. And it’s all happening right in my front yard. It’s a great place to be a bird nerd.

We see a large variety of birds just outside our window including common ones like Cardinals, Blue Jays, Robins, Chickadees, Goldfinches, Tufted Titmouses, and Nuthatches. But we are frequently visited by many other species such as Red-winged Blackbirds, Grosbeaks, Purple Finches, Eastern Bluebirds, various woodpeckers including the rare Pileated, hawks, owls, hummingbirds, and many more. The kids have learned most of the bird’s names. What fun it is to eat our breakfast while we watch the birds eat theirs. On occasion, we’ve even seen a hawk swoop down for a chipmunk. Not so appetizing.

Rascal RaccoonLast spring I was forced to take my feeder down after my raccoon friend was causing some mischief. Every morning before dawn and after dusk he would maneuver his way around the baffle, stand on it and shovel all the food out of it right into his mouth, like a little kid stealing cookies out of a cookie jar. Occasionally, he would even figure out a way to pull it down and dump out all of the seed. Once or twice I found the feeder in various parts of the yard as if he tried to drag it back home. So, I began bringing the feeder in at night which worked until I kept forgetting and then he pulled it down and eventually he broke it. During the day, we’d watch the squirrels do acrobatics swinging from nearby bushes and even jumping from the roof onto the feeder. I tried lots of tricks including cayenne pepper in the seed, which the squirrels hate but doesn’t bother the birds. Against my better judgement, I even put Crisco on the baffle. It was a little bit funny to watch, but it still didn’t work. So, I took the feeder down until I could find a squirrel proof one. Fast forward four whole months. John and I finally made a stop last week at one of our favorite local garden and pet supply stores where we visited Gator the dog and selected a new feeder. He helped me fill it up with seed and hang it back in our special spot.

Filling the FeederIt took a day or two, but before long our new feeder and the whole yard was buzzing, or chirping, with activity! I was so happy to see all my feathered friends! This week as we’ve watched the birds come and go, we’ve noticed an abundance of Goldfinches. “The yellow ones are hogging all the food!,” the kids laughed. And they were right! At times there were as many as ten finches on the feeder and at least twenty more waiting for their turn in the trees and even on the roof. Some would fight others off or scare them away. As we watched them closely we also began to notice that some of the birds in the tree were flapping their wings quickly with excitement and chirping repeatedly. Then we actually saw another bird turn her head to the side and then appear to touch beaks with the other bird. I had seen similar behavior when a Cardinal happened to lay eggs in a nest outside our dining room window one year, so it was familiar to me. Were we seeing a mother bird feeding her babies in the tree? We thought birds normally laid their eggs in the spring. It seemed late in the summer for baby birds. We were interested to know more, so my little nature detectives and I went to work on the case.

Birds of OhioAfter some research, it turns out, we were exactly right! We learned that American Goldfinches breed later than most North American birds. They wait to nest until late summer when milkweed, thistle and other plants have produced their seeds which goldfinches incorporate into their nests and also feed their young. Their parents feed them seeds which have been partly digested and regurgitated into their mouths. By the time they are 10 to 16 days old they are ready to leave the nest. The parents continue to supplement them with food until they learn to fly strongly and until they are able to self-feed. So, likely the juvenile Goldfinches we were watching in the tree outside our window being fed by their mother were just a few weeks old.

My timing was impeccable! I didn’t plan it, but I happened to put my new feeder out at just the perfect time to help this and other mother finches gather seeds and thistle to feed their young baby birds. And here she was right out our door in our beautiful Serviceberry tree feeding her babies, nurturing them, teaching them to fly and feed on their own, getting them ready to flee the nest and go out into the world. I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between that momma bird’s situation and this momma bird, moi, sending my own babies out in the world just a few weeks ago; the girls to first grade and kindergarten and John to his first year of preschool.

Mother Feeding FledglingAs I sat and watched this mother bird go back and forth, back and forth to the feeder and then to one of her babies flapping their wings to repeatedly regurgitate her food again and again, I was in awe. “Wow, what a selfless act!,” I thought. That bird was working so hard to feed her babies. She must have been so hungry from all that hard work! And here she was giving her babies all her own food. Not to mention, throwing up to do it, usually not such a pleasant experience. And, she’s probably spent her whole day doing it. I could relate because I feel like I spend my whole day feeding people in my house, breakfast, snacks, lunch, more snacks, dinner, then dessert. Someone is always squawking for food or flapping their arms in need of help here too. And it never fails that when I finally get to sit down and eat my own food, someone asks for seconds, so I give them what’s on my own plate so I don’t have to get up yet again. Now, I consider myself a decent mom, but I’m not sure I could or would throw-up to feed my own babies. And what if she wants to go fly away and chat with her girlfriends at the feeder down the street or what if she wants to go take a nap in her nest? Nope! She’s busy throwing up for her babies, ALL DAY LONG. This was one amazing momma bird. She deserves a break!

But, then I realized something. Before long at all those birdies will leave her nest to fly away and explore the world. She will have done her job nurturing them to grow big and strong, teaching them to feed themselves and showing them how to fly. Soon she will have her time to do as she likes. She will be a solitary bird with quiet days and an empty nest. Until next summer, at least.

Maybe it sounds silly, but I really admire that bird. I am inspired by her complete lack of selfishness and her tireless effort. She’s helped me to remember that in a few very short years the last of my little babies will leave the nest when he heads off to kindergarten too. And then not too long after that, all three will fly away to college and then flit off into the real world. That mother bird has reminded me that while these early years are crazy busy, they don’t last forever. Before long my baby birds won’t want to be cuddled in our little nest. I’m reminded to focus fully on the most important present task at hand and keep my nose to the grindstone, nurturing my baby birdies while I have them here in my nest, flapping their wings for my attention, singing their happy songs, learning how to fly. I want to do that wholeheartedly, with complete selflessness, just like that momma bird.

After explaining to my children what the mother bird was doing for the baby birds, I’d like to hope that they might admire that mother bird’s generosity the same way I have come to. That they will remember her actions and perhaps act the same way when given the opportunity. But, that’s probably wishful thinking. Most of all, I hope I’ve taught them to look up, look out the window, go outside, listen to the bird’s song, watch for and learn from the miracles of nature surrounding them, and to preserve and protect the Earth so that they may also sit in awe of nature with their own babies one day.


Amazing Acorns

Lizzie's AcornHere in Ohio the temperatures are quickly falling and so are the acorns, lots of them! The kids and I have been having fun collecting them. We have buckets full! The girls have also been asking a lot of questions about them. I discovered that I didn’t have all the answers, so I did a little bit of homework. It turns out those tiny acorns, that in seasons past I have cursed as I raked them up or when one knocked me in the noggin, are quite amazing little nuggets of nature that also happen to teach us something about ourselves too.

In case you were unsure, acorns grow on oak trees. They sprout from stems on the tree and can grow alone or in clusters. They consist of a green or brown nut that contains one seed and is topped with a cap or “cupule” that makes them look like they are wearing little hats. Based on our research we discovered the oak trees on our property are Red Oaks.

The acorn is a vital part of the ecosystem. Not only do the seeds propagate new oak tree growth, they are also a major food source for birds, rodents, and larger mammals, such as deer and bears. What I find especially fascinating about acorns is that they must rely on methods other than wind to move them away from their parent oak tree due to their weight. In order to germinate successfully, the soil must give them access to water, sunlight, and nutrients. In addition, they must be planted at least 65 feet from the parent tree to have adequate room for growth. That’s pretty far! To accommodate this, oak trees have developed a mutual relationship with acorn eating animals. These animals harvest the seeds, move them away from the tree and bury them for storage, allowing some to germinate, while others are eaten. An acorn requires about eight months to germinate from seed to sapling.

Watch this beautiful time-lapse movie that shows an acorn transforming into an oak tree.

From Acorn to Oak Time-Lapse Movie

So, what to do with the dozens of acorns we’ve collected? Well, the girls wanted to paint them bright rainbow colors. I had some other ideas in mind. So, we did both! Just make sure you wash them first and then bake them at 325 degrees for at least 30 minutes to get rid of any bugs or moisture so they don’t get moldy. We created some seasonal decor by hot-gluing some acorns and some caps to picture frames we had around the house. It was a fun way to bring the outdoors in for fall.

Coincidentally, I have also been meaning to clear some brush out of an area near our driveway that is mostly full of tiny oak trees. After gaining such an appreciation for the miracle of an acorn growing into a tree, I felt bad cutting down these babies. But, I also now knew that they were too close to the larger oaks and didn’t have adequate room for growth. I don’t want this entire area to fill in with brush, so I spent an afternoon last weekend clearing some away.

To make up for the baby trees I killed, the kids and I decided we wanted to plant some of the acorns we had collected to watch them grow into trees. After doing some research, I learned that in order to grow a new red oak, acorns must be planted in the second season – the following spring. To do this, you are to put acorns in a Ziploc bag with damp peat mix or sawdust. Close the bag loosely and store in the refrigerator. Check the acorns throughout the winter and keep them just barely damp. Planting these acorns in late April of the following season apparently gives you the best success but can be planted later. We don’t really need any more trees on our property, nor do I have room in my fridge for acorns, so we decided to plant one acorn this year just for fun to see if anything would happen.

To me trees are symbolic of family. For Father’s Day this year instead of a new shirt or tie which would become worn with time we selected a beautiful Canadian Hemlock to be planted in our yard. As the children grow and as our love grows, so will both of these trees. We will admire them as the years go by and think about our strong family bond. The kids and I also made some handprint artwork for Father’s Day for my husband, his dad and my dad. The text reads “FAMILY – Like branches on a tree, we all grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.”

As we watch the squirrels and chipmunks from our window busy at work collecting their nuts and storing them away for winter, the children and I have a new appreciation for the amazing acorn and for each of God’s gorgeous creations. Every plant and animal was placed here by him to play some important role. We all contribute something to this Earth in the short time we are here and we are all connected whether we realize it or not. The oak tree that grows the fruit, the acorn that feeds the animals, the squirrel that spreads the seed to grow new trees, more food, more oxygen and more seeds. As I gaze out at those beautiful oak trees on our little piece of the planet, today I can’t help but feel as though God is our oak tree, and we are all his acorns, his fruit, spreading his love in all different directions.

Mother Oak


Our Annual Visit to The Perennial Post

SunflowerAt least once a year, I take my kids on a short-ish drive to visit our Amish friend Clara at her garden store, The Perennial Post. I prefer to make the trip in the spring to hunt for a special treasure to plant in one of the empty spots I discover when I am hyperactively tending to my garden that time of year. Somehow a visit never made it to the top of my lengthy “summer bucket list” all the long days of this very short season. But, I was determined to squeeze in a trip before summer’s official end. Since the kids had an extra day off of school the Friday before Labor Day, I figured it was the perfect opportunity for a short day trip to Clara’s home in Mesopotamia, Ohio. It sounds like it’s in the middle of nowhere, and according to my kids, it is. I, on the other hand, enjoy everything about making the scenic drive 25 miles east of our suburban village of Chagrin Falls. Driving into the country makes me feel free, lighter. Maybe it’s because I spent the first part of my childhood living in Nebraska frequently driving through cornfield after cornfield on our way to visit my grandparents in Chicago. Perhaps these drives out to Clara’s subconsciously remind me of the five-year-old, carefree version of myself.

Share the RoadWe set out mid-morning for a cruise down the two lane country road and before long we were gazing at fields of corn and sunflowers. With the mini-van windows open, the heavy summer air blew through our hair. As we approached the quiet town of Burton, home of the Maple Sugar Festival, the Geauga County Fair and the Gunrunner, the kids shouted with excitement at the sight of the first Amish buggy road signs. “We’re almost there! Look out for buggies.”, they said. A few miles more and we passed through Middlefield, a mile or so of strip malls, big box stores and fast food restaurants, where I am always struck by the contrast between our two worlds. Loud, impatient motorcycles and dump trucks whizzed past the clippety-clop of horse-drawn carriages. We know little about their way of life. I am eager to learn much more. And I can’t help but wonder if they look at the way we live with envy and awe or with laughter and criticism. As I snapped photos, I was suddenly aware that perhaps my pursuit of an interesting picture is an unpleasant reminder to them that they are different. Was I making them feel like they are a tourist attraction? I’ve since learned that their religious beliefs actually forbid them to pose for face-on photos. I’m sure they are used to tourists like me taking pictures of them frequently as there are entire websites dedicated to dining, lodging and attractions in “Amish Country.” But, I put my camera away, reminding myself to be respectful of their feelings and cognizant of their privacy. So I attempted to capture photos that wouldn’t put them in an uncomfortable position or that would compromise their religious views.


As we finished the drive to the Perennial Post, we noticed an Amish man cutting his grass with a manual mower, black and white and blue Amish clothing strung on clothes lines from the roof of an Amish porch to the top of their barn and three barefoot Amish children playing a game in their yard. Their sweat-drenched clothing and their sunburned skin, proof of their hard work and humility were a good lesson for all of us. The photojournalist in me was yearning to pull the car over to capture these unique sights on film. Yet, I kept on driving.

IMG_1207We arrived at Clara’s store to find a calf running through her front yard who got out of the barn next door. Clara chased to capture him, but still waved hello. The kids and I strolled through her garden/store which is also her very own yard, smelling and touching our way from the Echinacea to the Lamb’s Ear. We admired her compost pile, her Hibiscus, her huge collection of day lilies, her hosta, ferns and so much more. My hunt ended, when I discovered some European Wild Ginger, an aromatic, low maintenance, vigorously spreading ground-cover with heart-shaped, glossy evergreen leaves. I had admired this plant many times in my mother-in-law’s garden. While she’s offered to give me some of hers, I hated to leave her with a hole in her own yard. Plus I’d feel bad leaving Clara’s empty handed. I had in mind a few shady spots in my front yard where the wild ginger would be a perfect place to spread out under the shade of the bushy hemlocks. I also asked Clara to give me a couple clumps of Lamium, an interesting perennial ground cover that spreads with patches of small silver evergreen leaves with narrow green edges. Clusters of periwinkle flowers appear in spring, then continue off and on until fall. I’d brought home some Lamium from Clara last spring and I wanted to fill in a couple of naked spots under a tall maple tree in front of some Lily of the Valley. She and her assistant, Ester, dug up the plants and placed them in plastic grocery bags, as the kids climbed the stone stairs and chased around the yard. We talked for a bit and then said our good-byes, after they suggested some nice spots for our picnic lunch.

The kids and I headed back toward the “village” of Mesopotamia (a few buildings and a four-way stop) where we ate our picnic in the park and watched the local traffic; horse-drawn carts and manual bicycles. We stopped in the general store where the kids each picked out a piece of candy and then we began the trek back home .

I was eager to plant my new treasures as soon as we got home. Since John fell asleep in the car, he was recharged and ready to participate. He and Elizabeth helped dig the holes and plant our finds from the day. John helped me water too. Caroline ran off to play with her dolls. I was happy to put my European Ginger and Lamium in their new home and even more pleased that my children (at least a couple of them) were interested in helping me complete the task.

I love bringing a piece of Clara’s world back here to ours. In twenty years, I’d much rather look at my yard and remember our trips to Mesopotamia for a plant dug up out of a kind woman’s backyard than a trip to The Home Depot to buy a plant off a shelf. I hope one day we’ll look at these plants and reminisce about our adventures to see Clara; the sights we took in and even the lollipops we enjoyed from the General Store. I like to think these outings are also teaching my children a little something about hard work, humility, respect and appreciation for what makes each of us different and unique.

Errands or Adventure?

Now that my girls are both gone at school all day, Elizabeth in first grade and Caroline in Kindergarten, things have changed. At times it’s as if our John is an only child. I suppose he is for those seven hours they are away. While we miss the girls and their abundant energy, John and I are discovering that we also get to have a lot of fun together, just the two of us!


I must admit it is very tempting to use that time with only one child in tow to squeeze in all my errands; the weekly Target run, a stop at the grocery store, a quick peek in a couple of my favorite shops in town. After all, these tasks are much less complicated without trips to the potty (John’s still in diapers), children bickering over who’s turn it is to carry the Elsa doll or arguing about who gets to ride on the end of the shopping cart. That’s not to say that John is easy. He now knows how to unbuckle the belt in the stroller and if I turn away for thirty seconds he is standing in it with a “nana nana boo boo” grin on his face. Then, he’s running away and I’m chasing after him shouting out bribes that almost always end with me buying candy or cake pops at Starbucks on the way home. I once left a store carrying him barefoot under my arm like a football, almost in tears myself, swearing I would never return.

Well, today after John’s swimming lesson (where I had all the instructors at Goldfish laughing at me as I tried to get John to stop crying by showing him how to float on the raft and instead I fell off rather ungracefully), I was planning to fit in some unnecessary errands. Maybe a quick run in Heinen’s for a loaf of bread and coffee, a pop-in to the book store for the new cookbook I’ve been wanting, or a speedy drive thru the car wash to clean up the mud still left on my car from the county fair. But today, something kept me from making any of those turns even though I passed right by each of these establishments.

As I got closer to home I approached one of the Metroparks trails we have driven by hundreds of times and never stopped to show the kids. I thought of my run through that park the week before when I was caught off guard by it’s beauty. The car then seemed to almost turn into the lot on it’s own. We parked there at Jackson Field, just a half mile down our street, but soon it felt as if we were on an adventure far away.

The sights and sounds of the late summer morning surrounded us. We stopped “shhh” and listened to the singing of the cicadas, the chirping of the crickets, and the funny squawk of an unfamiliar bird. The fields of goldenrods were ablaze with color. John galloped threw the wet, freshly plowed grass path heading toward the river, as the gold finches danced past us and the dragonflies flitted by.

Suddenly, there was no place on Earth I’d rather be than in that unexpected moment. With my not-so-baby boy by my side, we were explorers, adventurers. We approached a fork in the trail. “Which way should we go?” I asked John. I knew the river lay just a short distance ahead and I was hoping we could find a clear path through the tall grass to see it. In his typical, confident voice he pointed, “That way!” The mosquitos were biting, so we were tempted to turn back. But, then we heard the trickle of water and we knew we were close. After a few more turns we were able to see it just barely through the trees, the Chagrin River, our final destination. Chagrin River – so close that it’s also the name of our street, but today we were far away on a long journey. With John on my hip, we stopped to admire the sunlight twinkling on the water as it flowed over rocks and fallen limbs. That’s when the mosquitos had us running toward home.

When my children complain when it rains, I tell them that the rainy days help us appreciate the sunny days even more. If every day were sunny, we might begin to take them for granted. Similarly, not every day can or should be full of adventure and fun. We all have responsibilities; work, school, chores, workouts and even errands. There’s often not time to stop at the playground, sit down and color, play a game, or go explore the park you’ve never stopped at before. I am a huge proponent of making time in our busy lives for the things WE love. It makes us better people and better parents to be fulfilled and happy. I also think there is value in your child having to go on errands and learning that life is not always about them. But, some days, on this particular day, I wanted it to be about him… and me, together, just the two of us.

As I was logging eight miles on a longer run recently, I was thinking how parenthood is comparable in some ways to running a marathon. I’ve only run half marathons, but I know how I feel by mile 13 so I can imagine how one feels during miles 14 through 26.2. Like parenthood, you start out the race very enthusiastic, a little nervous and overwhelmed, but confident that you will give it your all, energized by the excitement and anticipation. The first couple of miles (or weeks and months in the parenthood metaphor) you play mind games with yourself as you think, “If it is this tough so early on, how am I going to make it the whole way?” Yet you keep on. About 5 or 6 miles (or 5 or 6 months) in you begin to get into a zone, where you know what to expect, sort of. You just keep putting one foot in front the other. Some miles (days) are really challenging, in fact, some totally suck. You manage some rolling hills (sleepless nights) and tackle some steep climbs (the “terrible twos”), and you feel very tired. At times, you think, “I am no good at this!” You look around the others who seem to really know what they are doing. You feel discouraged. But then you finally reach the top of a summit or maybe the bottom of a hill. Or you experience an unexpected moment of motherly pride, fulfillment and bliss and it’s as if you are on top of the world.

I love to run, but I don’t love every minute while I’m running. Likewise, I can’t say that I enjoy every minute of parenthood. But the little nuggets of unexpected greatness like John and I happened upon today (that top of the summit feeling) are what make the rainy days, the challenging miles worthwhile. Today was a good reminder that perhaps more often I should resist the temptation to spend that free hour or two checking items off my to do list. After all, I can’t experience the euphoria of that moment at the top of the hill in my race called parenthood, if I’m at Nordstrom expecting my child to sit quietly and watch me try on shoes. I can’t help my children appreciate the gift of a sunny day if I’m wasting it inside a big box store. Even if presented with just a quick thirty minutes to spare, I challenge myself to stop at that park, walk the trail, find the river, make a memory. The adventure John and I created today is one I will always remember. I am certain a trip to Target would likely have ended with some tantrums and poor behavior (his and mine) I’d prefer to forget.