Space under the tent (as well as our budget) was limited for our daughter’s wedding reception in our backyard several summers ago. She decided on cupcakes for the dessert which led to discussions and brainstorming about ways to display the cupcakes to save space. The extra challenge? We wanted it to be pleasing to look at.
Scouring our local resale shop, Home Again Consignments, here in Vicksburg, Michigan, I found this sweet French Provincial Dresser with a shelf top. (https://www.homeagainvicksburg.com/)
I scrubbed it down, removed the hinges, and applied bright-colored wrapping paper to the drawer fronts.
In this process, I cut the wallpaper to fit and applied several layers of Mod Podge. This worked as glue to attach the paper and then the extra layers of Mod Podge provide a protective finish. (The work took probably 2 hours, without the drying time required)
We decorated the shelves with bright Boho small banners, fresh flowers, and a homemade cupcake sign–a shower gift from a friend.
Cupcakes were affordably purchased from Sam’s Club ($8 for six over-sized cupcakes).
There is a happy ending for the little revamped cupboard. It now has a home in our granddaughter Chloe’s room where her Calico Critter houses happily perch, awaiting playtime.
If you like bourbon, this apple enhanced cocktail is sure to please. Our friend J.D. introduced us to this simple drink several years ago at our favorite local pub, the Village Hideaway. It is delicious. While we can’t consider it a cure-all, it will definitely help chase away the quarantine blues.
2 oz Crown Royal
2 oz Apple Pucker
Splash of Cranberry
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake for one minute, pour into glass. (I used a simple glass, but a martini glass would be beautiful.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” possibly the most fitting first lines ever written for the situation we are currently living in. Certainly, in the 1800s, Charles Dickens and his community faced uncertainty and eventually realized how to appreciate life. But these are concepts I am still learning: to be thankful for the moment, to live each day, to intentionally love the people around me.
As I gaze from our windows, the neighborhood is aflutter. The birds are noisily courting, searching frantically for the nesting locations and materials. That Mr. Cardinal is a smooth one, gently feeding his mate various nuts and fruits at our feeder. The house finches inspect the wreath near our front door, scattering whenever I leave the house. A bluebird pair scrutinizes a box atop our picket fence, but the old dwelling doesn’t quite meet muster.
Across the road, swans glide on Sunset Lake, their necks arched and regal. The sandhill cranes circle the sky in pairs, their distinctive calls ruffling the quiet of my morning. Soon, all these various couples will calm a bit and settle into their abodes and routines.
During this time of sheltering in place, I also find myself in the process of nesting. And I’ve been practicing for this present period of intensity my whole life. I had years of warmingup: taking care of my dollies as a little girl, helping Barbie select her outfit for a date with Ken, babysitting my brothers or neighborhood children.
I was stretching out for decades: establishing our home nearly forty years ago, raising our children to adulthood, planning for and attending to my high school students.
And now, here I am: it has taken me nearly three weeks to reach any sense of peace in this time of isolation. I hope I am moving from a mindset of “the worst of times” to something resembling, maybe not “the best of times,” but to recognizing this as a tender period of feathering my nest.
Below are a few product ideas that I find help during this time of separation. (If you click on the image, it will take you to the shopping information)
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven
I have used this Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven nearly every day since I ordered it two weeks ago. Yes, it is heavy, but I love the color, just wash it when finished, and keep it on my stove. It is oven safe to 500 degrees, and I simply don’t know how I survived without it.
My friend Liann is utilizing this journal, and I love how intentional the activities are. I use a different gratitude journal, but have just ordered this one. When she sent our group a picture of the activity with our names listed, we all felt the power of her thoughts and prayers.
I can’t see pink, red, and white construction paper and doilies without remembering my time at Fulton Elementary School and how we (and young children everywhere) prepared for the annual Valentine’s Day celebrations during those years.
In kindergarten and first grade we made these open envelopes out of big pieces of construction paper. We glued the sides with globs of Elmer’s Glue and learned to cut out various-shaped hearts which we then used to decorate our mail slots. We eventually wrote our names with a chunky red Crayola Crayon, and taped our envelope carefully to the side of our desk. During the Valentine’s Party, we played mail carrier, delivering our carefully signed cards, merrily depositing our missives in each classmate’s pouch. By second and third grades, we had moved up to cheerfully decorated cereal boxes. Fourth grade we had finally arrived: construction-paper-covered shoe boxes.
For me, the Valentines preparations took several evenings seriously concentrating at the kitchen table, studying the class list and my little box of cards. I made special selections for my closest friends: Donna, Darlene, Dawn, Theresa, Dianna. Even more studied decisions for the boys–Larry, Robby, Chip—nothing could say “I Love You” or even “Would You Be My Valentine?” No way. I wanted nothing to be misunderstood. Even more scrutiny for Jimmy who since 1st grade regularly passed the timeless “Do you love me? ____yes or ___no?” to which I always responded with my own addition: “I like you as a friend.” I went over the cards and list again and again until I was satisfied.
The same twenty-five schoolmates traveled with me from Kindergarten, to First Grade, then Second. The same twenty-five children in little plaid dresses or little plaid shirts and jeans excitedly passed out their carefully addressed cards. Then we sat and opened the tiny envelopes, smiling at each other, occasionally blushing by something extra sweet.
We played our usual games: Bingo, Hang Man, Seven-up. One year we even had a pinata. Usually our teachers gave us a little box of conversation hearts, and we spent time sorting and eating those chalky treats. The ever-prepared “Room Mothers” supplied us with lots of sugar: chocolate cupcakes with white frosting dotted with red hots, red Kool-aide punch, popcorn balls. I bet our poor teachers had to “put their feet up” when they got home. (If only educators had known about red dye and its effects on behavior back then…)
I loved all the Charlie Brown specials, but “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown” broke my heart. I always felt so sorry for Charlie Brown: his empty mailbox, his painful crush on the little red-haired girl, his predictable disappointment. I always hoped for the best for him: suddenly the Peanuts Gang would be kind. Perhaps this year would be different. His mailbox would be full. No more “You’re a blockhead, Charlie Brown.” At their Valentine’s party, the gang would surround his desk, shouting “You’re a great guy, Charlie Brown!” Sadly, that never happened.
I kept those sweet valentines close to me for many years. When I was sick or even cleaning my room, I often sat and looked through my little box of cards. Today, when my girlfriends and I vintage shop, I look for and often purchase a few little Valentines signed so carefully in thick pencil by a child fifty years ago, and I remember and appreciate the anticipation and effort it involved.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if there is still a faded, covered shoe box of Valentines from these dear ones of my past tucked in the closet of my childhood bedroom. When I take my mother’s Valentine to her this year in the old farmhouse, I’ll have to remember to check: I sure hope it’s still there.
Today the house is quiet. The holiday frenzy is done, the children have gone home, and the “undecorating” is nearly finished. I have stripped the guest beds, filled the birdfeeders, and assessed the leftovers in the refrigerator. Winter is here.
As the quiet cold creeps into our yards, our village, our lives, we begin to fully appreciate our hearth and home. Edith Sitwell states “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” So true. It is the season of comforting foods and candlelight warming the walls at night: it is a season of beauty with frosty mornings and cardinals searching for seeds in the snow. It is a season for trips to the library and mugs of hot coffee.
We watch the weather reports, the doppler radar, the thermometer drop, anticipating a storm’s approach, and, as always, I recall those beautiful days of my childhood.
Dad was always one for adventures, and if it included a bit of risk, I think he found it even more enjoyable. Four years old, I stand on the seat of our Falcon, looking out the back window. The snow, powdery and light, joins the exhaust in plumes behind the car as my mother tows my dad on his skis. Holding the taut rope, he swoops out into the fields along the gravel roads, somehow managing to miss posts and ditches, avoiding a tremendous wipe out on the icy roads. I hold my breath as my own Jean Claude Killee disappears and reappears in the clouds of powder. I think that only happened once, as my mother’s common sense must have beat out Dad’s ever-ready adrenaline and appreciation of an adoring audience.
Many times my brothers and I listened excitedly to WKZO Radio, AM 590, so convinced school would be cancelled. We waited and waited through the long list of districts, fingers crossed, toes crossed, breath held, as the announcer neared the end of the alphabet and the V’s approached. “Union City, Vestaburg, Vicksburg…all closed today.” Oh the joy, the squeals, the ecstasy of the hours of freedom and adventures ahead.
Our farm, always a ready playground, included a sledding hill behind our grandmother’s house. It was a long, long hike through the stubble of a cornfield, so often our dad would tie the toboggan to the back of the tractor and toss our saucers and sleds in the tractor’s bucket. We would ride the toboggan or perch on a tractor fender, and my dad would join us for several hours of exhausting fun: quick slides down and long climbs back up the slope. Sometimes we even had a little fire to warm our hands or a thermos of hot chocolate to enjoy, but usually we just climbed and slid and climbed again until we were sweaty and limp at the hill’s bottom.
My town friends had other snow-day offerings: hockey and skating on the mill pond, sledding at “the hill,” and friends within walking distance to join in the fun.
These times with our own children included snow play with neighbor children, cup after cup of hot chocolate with graham crackers, and piles of wet snow gear–the damp wool mittens and hats, the incense of our home on those wonderful days.
The third annual Nana Camp is a wrap. These are summer days the twins and I look forward to all year. We make wish lists of what we want to do and revise them throughout the winter and spring months.
I wish I could tell you I created this tradition on my own, but I shamelessly copied this idea. Three years ago, one of my sophomore students, Madeline, wrote about “Camp Kalamazoo,” a summer week her grandmother has been offering for years to any grandchild out of diapers. (This seems to be the only restriction.)
Madeline, her siblings, and all her cousins spend a week with their grandmother every summer. Madeline wrote about camping out in her sleeping bag on the family room floor, playing the same games with her cousins, watching the same movies every summer, and eating the same foods. Her grandma always has crafts planned, and a visit to the beach is one of the big events. This time is something that all of the grandchildren look forward to–EVEN THE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS.
That got my attention. Wanting to spend a week at your grandma’s house when you are sixteen? This is an amazing accomplishment and one I want to copy.
So, in the summer of 2017, we started Nana Camp. The first summer, the twins were six and they were content with my ideas. We completed some crafts, ran through the sprinkler, watched some Netflix, went for ice cream–you get the idea.
The ideas for activities have grown over the years. Here is Caleb and Chloe’s list for 2018. I love the use of the big marker and the creative spelling.
Caleb created the list this year: he used the back of an envelope and A PEN! It involved lots of concentration and is proudly clipped to our refrigerator door.
No, we didn’t complete everything on the list, but they did have a lemonade stand, something the kids have been talking about all three summers. (We live in a quiet neighborhood, so the successful sale was the result of our generous neighbors AND some marketing by Nana.)
I always give them input on food–even when they come for a night throughout the school year. Their requests are surprisingly simple. “Beans, Nana, hot beans.” How funny. “Definitely your oatmeal.” (We call it Nana Oatmeal: slow-cook oats, raisins, coconut, vanilla, and, of course, brown sugar.) They always love to help prepare fruit and salads, and if we go shopping for a cook-out, they each get to select a bag of potato chips to share. (I think grandparents are allowed to do this–this NEVER happened with our own kids.)
We did play games, they read lots of books, they watched several shows, and they helped Papa with jobs. They DID NOT sleep in, but I’m predicting, if I am lucky enough to have their participation in Nana Camp when they are teenagers, they will.
I encourage starting this tradition with your grandchildren. (One of my friends and his wife plan all kinds of adventures with their nieces and nephews, and from his feedback and smile when he talks about it, it is something they all look forward to. So that’s another idea.)
The twins are coming for Labor Day Weekend. Perhaps we can work to cross off a few items that remain on the Nana Camp list, but I expect we will also start a new list for next year.
For several years I’ve read about Gratitude Journals, have talked with my students, friends, and family about this, and have practiced this strategy very casually—meaning I never actuallywrite things down.
Here’s what I know: focused writing has the ability to reap many positive benefits. It can improve our sense of well-being, increase our feelings of satisfaction and happiness, even elevate the quality of our life and longevity. Who wouldn’t appreciate these outcomes?
I love to write, love to brainstorm ideas for writing pieces, love to read and revise, so I am not intimidated by a blank page. And I am usually a contented, happy person—I’m that glass-half-full friend who will offer some positive comment (and, unfortunately, an occasional platitude) that didn’t seem annoying (to me at least) until it hangs in the air above someone else’s cloud of sadness or frustration.
But the research on the benefits of this activity is so clear, that I’m committing to gratitude writing at the end of each day.
I found this book, Three Moments a Day, to help me begin. The book’s setup seems very manageable: a quote appears on the left page, and spaces for three things “that brought me joy” appear on the right. (no need to fill a whole page, just create a list)
Joy, for me, is usually simple things that I pause and notice. Sunshine on my face, coffee with my mom, a child’s laughter. When things aren’t going well in my life or for people that I love, I try to find ways to slow down and to recognize some event or interaction that I can appreciate or be thankful for.
Sometimes it’s hard to find—especially during crisis or some kind of loss—but I have found that if I think about gratitude long enough, something positive—however small—will bubble to the top. Perhaps joy might be a bit strong—but if I substitute , “three things from today that I am thankful for”—I think it will work, even if I am not feeling particularly joyful.
I encourage you to buy a journal, find a spare notebook, or even use an index card to start the experiment with me: discovering (or rediscovering) joy through gratitude.
It’s a fine life. It’s true. No, it isn’t exactly Mayberry, but living in Vicksburg,
Michigan is mighty fine. We are surrounded by rich farmland, small lakes, and carefully
tended hardwoods. We grumble about the winter weather, but we love hunkering
down for a snowstorm which closes schools, brings neighbors together, and
encourages family dinners.
No, it’s not perfect, but with the blessed arrival of warmer
weather, life in our village is close to it.
Dear Spring is here, and she’s always worth the wait. She unpacks her unique fragrances, early
flowers, and blissfully longer days. She calls to us, inviting us to shed our
warm coats and our thick sweaters. We enter her sweet season, squinting and
yawning from our winter hibernation. The red-winged blackbirds trill in my
yard, and I watch for the bluebirds’ return to the boxes in our neighborhood.
Soon my neighbor’s children will chirp happily, riding their bikes, running in
their yard, and learning to work it out as all children must do. Twenty-five
years ago, those were the cheerful voices of our children. Kickball, soccer,
and tag games flattened our grassy yard, while the sandbox and playsets
occupied the shady corners.
My four brothers and I grew up on our family farm, with the daily
“you kids need to get outside” directive from our mother. Once outside, we
played enthusiastically, exploring the fields and woods without much—if any–supervision.
We spent our summers finding frogs in the reeds of the ditches, collecting fire
flies in the June grass, and building straw forts in the old hay barn. Exhausted
by day’s end, we slumped drowsily in old lawn chairs on the screen porch, listening
to Ernie Harwell.
Freedom. Innocence. Simplicity.
We attended Fulton Elementary School, which still stands,
abandoned and neglected. The same swing sets and concrete tiles stand vigil, alone
and aging in the wild grass. I imagine the echoes of my friends’ laughter in
the old hallways, the swish of the jump rope at recess, and the savory smell of
Mrs. Harrison’s school lunch as it seeped under classroom doorways. Here I made
my first friends, learned the playground rules, and raced through the math
workbooks to re-enter the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Anna Sewell’s National Velvet.
How can it be that fifty
years have passed?
Each changing season reminds me of this fast-forward of time and
nudges me to slow my pace, to put away my technology, and to reconnect with the
people I care about. I am determined to take a break this spring and to be
thankful for simple things–the crocus’s stretch towards the sun, the warming
of the sweet earth, the swans’ parades on Sunset Lake.
And to appreciate the most important things: family, friends, and our
It’s a Fine Life.
(This column first appeared in the April edition of the South County News. You can follow them at southcountynews.org)
So it isn’t exactly Mayberry, but living life in a small Southwest Michigan town is pretty close. We are surrounded by rich farmland, small lakes, carefully tended hardwoods, and good schools. Our Rockwell-ish village centers—once the hub of rural life–badly need a new vision and economic investment. We grumble about the weather but love hunkering down for a snowstorm which closes schools, brings neighbors together, and encourages family games and hot dinners.
No, it’s not perfect, but it’s been perfect for me.