Now’s the Time! Boredom Busters and Mood Boosters

Yes, this new staying home and social distancing is an adjustment for all of us. Some of us life with a houseful of people; some of us live alone. Some of us live in tiny apartments; some of us live in spacious homes.

But, however, wherever, and with whomever we live, we find ourselves at times irritated, bored, and often opening the refrigerator door or reaching for the remote.

Here are a few ideas to help maintain even emotions during this difficult time.

  1. Put on a playlist and dance. (It is so enjoyable to listen to songs of our youth, tunes we listened to over and over on the local AM stations.) There are many streaming options and it always seems to life my spirit. (plus it’s good for a cardiovascular health.)
  2. Call a friend. (make a list of people you’ve been meaning to call, especially older relatives and friends.) When you find yourself becoming restless, work your way down the to-call-list.
  3. Make a commitment to learn something new. Foster your curiosity. Think about something you’ve always wanted to learn and check out instructional videos on YouTube. It could be a card game or a language. Maybe a craft or computer program. (Most of us have a box of craft projects to finish stashed in the back of a closet. This is a great opportunity to complete them.)
  4. Get moving and get outside: Walk. Social distance properly and walk with a friend. Notice the bird songs. Smell some flowers. Look up at the clouds or the night sky.
  5. If you live with others, schedule a daily time to play games. (Many of my friends are finding this the most enjoyable part of their day.)
  6. Read a good book. (I know our libraries are closed right now, so search your shelves for something new or re-read an old favorite.)
  7. Plan a future event. Look ahead a begin planning something to do when we are free of these restrictions: a vacation, a weekend with the grandchildren, a dinner party or barbecue with neighbors, even visiting an older relative. Start a list. Be specific. Plan the menu, and so on. This helps us feel hopeful and optimistic.
  8. Conduct a 15 minute decluttering or deep cleaning of an area. (maybe the junk drawer, spice shelf, under the sink, bathroom vanity) Take a trash bag, set a timer, and GO!
  9. Set a daily schedule. (I find this especially helpful and productive.)
  10. Practice gratitude. Find three things to be thankful for each day. The research is clear on the positive benefits of establishing this mindset.

It’s a Fine Life.

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © April 16, 2020

A few Boredom Buster Ideas

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Some friends and I are currently reading this book. There are so many good books to choose from.

This is the current family favorite: all the kids and grandkids like playing this. (I am still in the novice stage, but I enjoy it.)

Grandpa Gordon’s Favorite Cake

So this cake isn’t going to win any awards from professional judges. They would say things like “it didn’t get a good rise” or “it’s a bit doughy in the middle, isn’t it.” And I would have to nod and annoyingly say, “Yes, but that’s how my family likes it.”

This is the hands down, most requested dessert at family gatherings. It was my dad’s favorite dessert, so on Easter I remembered his sweet face as I frosted the cake. My niece even requested it for her wedding dessert table.

It is super easy: no special ingredients; you don’t even need to use a mixer. And chances are, you might have everything you need right now in your refrigerator and pantry.

Preheat oven to 350

spray a 9×13 pan

In a large mixing bowl combine

2 Cups flour

2 Cups sugar

2 t baking soda

Add

2 eggs

One 20oz can of crushed pineapple (undrained)

Mix well and pour into pan. Bake for 30 minutes (until set)

For frosting:

1/2 Cup butter (softened)

8 oz Cream Cheese (room temperature)

Blend together well, then add 3 Cups powdered sugar

Frost while warm.

It isn’t the prettiest, but it is delicious.

It’s a Fine Life.

Garden Wedding Reception in Michigan

Two summers ago, we hosted a garden wedding and reception for our daughter and son-in-law. We were thrilled with their engagement but had trouble securing a venue that allowed the decorating our daughter wanted. She knew the colors and look she desired, but we found nothing available that suited her needs. So, by limiting the number of guests to around 100, we suddenly had a venue which we could use and decorate on our terms: our lawn and gardens.

A note on home weddings and receptions: they are a lot of work. If friends and family offer to help, let them! You will need the extra hands the week before, but on the day of the event, you will absolutely need to take advantage of any offers of assistance. Be organized and able to be specific in ways your loved ones can help.

Our backyard is surrounded by a picket fence which provided a beautiful backdrop to the plantings and lovely gold and floral decorations. (The flowers were arranged by my friend Krista and fellow designer Jenn. What they created was stunning.)

You can see the plantings and picket fence in the background. It gave a feeling of a separate place, a garden room. We have worked to develop the various gardens for many years. We repainted the wooden fence right before the wedding.

Using the colors our daughter loves, Krista selected bright, bold flowers for the arrangements and bridal bouquets.

The strong colors of the flowers are enhanced by the gold mercury glass and sequin table runners. Krista and I collected the mercury glass from online sources and the local TJMaxx throughout the previous year. It was affordable AND it has been shared and used for her family and friends’ weddings. This makes us both happy.

Krista and Jenn used some of the mercury glass votive holders to hold one beautiful rose. It added depth and an additional levels to the table. This was quick, added more color, and was affordable.

How to Recreate the Look:

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Rent through a Reputable Company

We have used the same local company for nearly twenty years. Look at reviews and ask around before you commit. Besides the tent, tables, chairs, and tablecloths, We rented the glassware, water carafes, gold-rimmed dinner plates, and gold flatware. Be sure to secure these things well in advance of your celebration: even a year in advance, the supply of the gold chairs was running out. While there are other chairs, the gold-backed chairs added some elegance.

Purchasing Decorative Items

The most affordable source for the picture frames is TJMaxx. I started stopping in weekly and between Krista’s supply and my shopping, we had enough for 12 guest tables. I have not found an affordable online source. We found scrapbook paper to use for inside the frames, and used a Cricket to make the sequinned numbers.

I ordered the sequined table runners on Amazon. I was satisfied with the price and quality. (This company has good reviews.)

The gold paper chargers added additional richness to the table-scape. (This company also has good reviews.)

Gold Mercury glass is getting harder to find in stores. Again, we found many of ours at TJMax, especially around Christmas, but there are many online sources if you have trouble locating it. Here are some sources with good reviews.

It’s a Fine Life

The Staycation

My friend Leeanne named this delightful concoction “the Staycation” six years ago. We have resurrected it during this time of staying home and social distancing. It is sweet and delicious and the varieties are endless.

The featured drink contains Outshine Lemon Bars, Svedka Vodka, and Stewart’s Key Lime Soda. Photo by seavercreative.com

The Recipe: The Staycation

Popsicle

2 oz Vodka or spirit of choice

Top with 7up or flavored soda

While some of us had other plans for Spring Break, the view of Sunset Lake, early spring in Vicksburg, Michigan, is peaceful and lovely. photo by seavercreative.com

Directions

Use a good quality juice Popsicle. (We like Outshine juice bars)

Place the Popsicle in a glass of your choice. (I love using vintage glassware. The glasses in the picture were my grandmother’s water glasses, but a highball glass, martini glass, or even a vintage sherbet glass will work.)

Add the spirits. (I suggest vodka, gin, rum, or tequila as this is a sweet drink.)

Let it sit for five minutes.

Top with the soda pop.

Swish and enjoy.

It’s a Fine Life

Some ideas on Amazon to add to your bar tools.

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(Please note: a small portion of any sale helps defray the cost of this blog.)

Oxo Jigger

While this Mikasa glassware isn’t vintage, it is lovely.

Still my favorite cocktail book of all time. Fun to read and excellent recipes.

Getting Away

Everyone needs some space—a reprieve from the people or routines that fill our days. I am reminded of this as all of us are spending more and more time sheltering in place.

This was one of my escape routes I took to seek some solitude.

When I was a child, I regularly sought time apart from my four little brothers. These were simple places: the coolness of the barn, the branches of the old maple, a favorite rock at the side of a field. All free and readily available to me. Once there, it didn’t take long to regain an appropriate attitude and some degree of affection for my every-present family. But I found such time necessary and still do.

My classroom of friends at Fulton Elementary School never spoke of vacations or spring break trips. Most of these children also lived on farms—or at least lived rurally with some chickens and pigs. My family’s livelihood depended on the careful monitoring, feeding, and watering of livestock and the timely preparation of the land for spring planting. Getting away was not realistic or expected.

A view of the river and bay at the cabin. I’ve had a lifetime of perfect getaways there.

But when I was in 5th grade, my parents planned a Spring Break trip to the Smokey Mountains. It was to involve lots of riding in the station wagon AND overnight stays in motels with indoor swimming pools. We were so excited we could hardly sleep. The morning of our departure, we crawled in the old Mercury (with a rumble seat in the back), tucked our new comic books carefully beside us, and eyed my mother’s tote bag filled with snacks and other tricks to distract us.

Little Steve about the time he broke his wrist. Our dad and the stockyard representative are in the back. We always looked forward to listening in on their conversations.

My brother Steve made one last run into the house to retrieve his pillow, fell from the top bunk, and broke his wrist badly, ending our trip before it even began. (It took several months for eleven-year-me to forgive him, and even then it was grudgingly, with attitude only a big, bossy sister can bestow.)

No major setbacks (or broken bones) enabled my husband and me to take our three children to the Smokey Mountains and Mammoth Cave when our youngest was five. We visited and toured both places and enjoyed the gorgeous mountain views from a condo we had rented. This was our first official vacation besides our annual cabin trek in July. On our way home, we asked our tired travelers their favorite part of the trip. As the children were pondering the question, I recalled the beautiful wildlife in the Smokey Mountains National Park, the purple and lavender sunrises from our balcony, the stalactites and stalagmites in the depths of the cave. There were so many wonderful moments to choose from.

Our oldest daughter piped up, “The best part was riding the go-carts!” to which her two younger siblings enthusiastically and unanimously agreed, “Yeah, that was the best!”

My husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. We sure didn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to ride go-carts and play miniature golf!

My new normal: reaching out to engage my high school students with my computer. I miss seeing them and worry about their well being.

This spring break adventure reinforced what my husband and I already knew: it doesn’t have to be a big expenditure or extensive travel to satisfy the need for a break and some much-needed time away. It can be as simple as pitching a tent beneath the stars in our backyard for an evening around a fire; turning off our electronics and playing old-fashioned board games with our children or grandchildren;  or spending the afternoon in the hammock lost in books.

I need to remember the simplicity of this during our continued confinement.

It’s a Fine Life

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © February 20, 2020

Below are two product ideas for your time of isolation. If you click on the image, it will take you to the item on Amazon.

 As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Suspend This is a fun game, which taps into problem solving and some engineering skills. I have played this as an ice-breaker, team-building game with my students.

Where the Crawdads Sing--if you haven’t read this book, consider it. If you lived next door to me, I would loan you my copy. It’s fiction written by a biologist: this means science and beautiful literary style. I am going to re-read it. It’s that good.

Little Spies Above

                                                  

The adult world held such fascination for me when we were children. Beyond our little rural haven, grown-ups had mysterious activities which involved staying up late, polishing dress shoes, and applying red lipstick. Sometimes, our parents included us (carefully scrubbed and dressed in outfits besides our play clothes) in summer picnics and outdoor events with their friends and their children.   Some we were related to, but most became as close to us as aunts and uncles as they celebrated our family’s joys and shared in our inevitable sorrows.  

Once there, our father and his friends pitched horseshoes, casually sipping from their brown long-neck bottles. Our mother sat with the other ladies, tending food and babies, laughing, and swinging their tanned, crossed legs. We children played on the perimeter of the various hosts’ yards, our mothers’ occasional shouts steering our frantic tag games to avoid the horse-shoe pits.

But usually, our parents left us behind on their Saturday night dates when they attended their “Potluck Club,” secretly known as the “Martini Club.”

This is about the age when our farmhouse spy operations began.

When it was our parents’ turn to host a monthly gathering, we children were tucked in carefully, probably an hour before our usual bedtime.   Once the guests arrived, the sounds and smells of the “Club” rose through the floor grate in our bedroom in the old house. (The three of us slept in separate twin beds in this room—a rustic farmhouse version of John, Michael, and Wendy’s nursery frequented by Peter Pan.) Oh, how hard it was to settle down to sleep with all the noises from the party below: bursts of raucous laughter, crisp card shuffling, and the clinks of ice dropping in highball glasses continually roused us from our attempts at rest.  

This grate was in the middle of the floor near the end of my bed. There were no heat vents in our bedroom, only this metal grid which allowed the warm air from the dining room to rise to the upper level.  Quietly, we slipped from our covers, crawling to the edges of the slatted opening. My brothers slowly pushed the square knob, sliding the thin metal rows, revealing the selections of party food on the buffet directly below. Our mother’s best dishes were neatly stacked, waiting for the cheese and crackers, party wieners, or savory meatballs displayed on various platters.  

I love this picture and my parents’ beautiful youth.

The three of us watched and listened, silently fascinated by the tops of the adult heads in our sight. We whispered together, solving the mystery of the out-of-view, familiar voices, belonging to so many of the important adults in our lives.   We stealthily slid pillows to the floor and rested our heads. Satisfied with our surveillance, we soon fell asleep, lulled by the comfort and knowledge of the adults’ happiness, a beautiful lullaby of the collective, contagious belief in the goodness of life rising from below.

It’s a Fine Life.

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © October 29, 2019

Hometown Rumblings

If you have ever spent much time in Vicksburg, Michigan, you know how frequently trains bisect our little hometown. Going in or out of the village, residents must regularly wait at a crossing. You can count on it. We have learned to accept this as it does us no good to complain.

Sometimes the trains gradually slow in the intersections; the boxcars and tankers inch forward a few feet, shift backwards a couple yards, then sigh and settle, blocking all traffic through town. Then everything must stop: buses filled with our school children, residents traveling to work or appointments, even emergency vehicles responding to a call. This type of waiting is both bothersome and stressful.

And during this last month, much-needed repairs have begun on several railroad crossings in and around the village, further complicating our travel.  But despite the continued detours, delays, and inconveniences, I remain incredibly fond of trains.

Here is the little depot where we caught the train to go our grandparents’ house. It has been lovingly cared for and now houses a charming museum. Photo by Leeanne Seaver.

When we waited as children, we loved counting cars and watching for the caboose which occupied the end of many trains. My mom would beep her horn as it passed, and my brothers and I would wave at a conductor, often standing and smoking at the back of the caboose. To me, that seemed a fantastic life: traveling cross country with a cheery, red car to sleep in. I imagined the engineers warming themselves around a cozy coal stove, a pot of chili simmering securely on top. When time permitted, the happy conductors could play Gin-Rummy, laughing happily together, puffing their fragrant pipes. At day’s end, they would crawl into tightly made bunks and be rocked to sleep by the gentle swaying of the rail cars.

When we were in elementary school, we occasionally traveled by train to our grandparents’ home on the eastern side of the state. My dad took us to the little station in Vicksburg, lugged our suitcases in, then helped the attendant check and stack them on the wooden cart.  My mother would buy our tickets from behind the glass window, and then we sat as patiently as we could on the wooden benches, our little legs swaying and swinging. Once safely aboard and tucked in our seats, we watched the Michigan countryside from the wide windows and ate endless snacks which magically appeared from my mother’s bottomless tote bag. My amazing mother–our personal Mary Poppins–kept the five of us happily occupied and seated.

Of course, times have changed, and while many goods are still shipped by rail, the passenger trains of my youth have long ago been salvaged or sit, quiet and empty, in the back of a city train yard. Our little brick station now happily houses a charming museum.

On these quiet autumn nights, the warning whistles of the late-night trains travel across Sunset Lake, always reminding me of the passage of time. I am thankful I am safe in my warm bed as those engineers and conductors ride and rumble towards home.

My heart is full.

It’s a Fine Life

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © October 2, 2019

Grace

My dad was a tree guy.

He planted them, admired them, and appreciated them for the firewood he cut to heat our farmhouse. In our yard, we always had shady trees, planted by my great-grandparents in the early 1900’s. To the west of the house stood old, knobby pear trees—overgrown and shaggy—whose fruit bounced to the ground with the late summer winds, attracting all kinds of stinging insects. In the front and back yards, we had big maples which we climbed like monkeys, fearlessly scaling the highest branches. We read books in the branches, pretended to take naps, and gave my mother fits when she emerged from the house, realizing how high we had climbed.

Two old trees stand vigil along the road. When I was a child, there were three, and my brothers and I played and built forts beneath them. (all photos courtesy of Oswalt Family Farms)

“Expand! Expand! Expand!” was the farm lending mantra during the late sixties and early seventies, giving confidence to my parents who purchased an adjoining eighty-acre parcel just to the west of our home place. This acreage was divided neatly by fence-rows into four twenty-acre fields. My dad planned to remove the fence-rows, full of sumac and various determined seedlings, to accommodate the farm implements which were growing vigorously larger and larger with the ag-industry’s push for more production.

Dad bought a small used bulldozer and began his demolition work with enthusiasm. We could hear the bulldozer’s engine and the cracking of the fence-rows’ brush as we rode our bikes back and forth, monitoring his progress. Dreaming of running his corn planter smoothly down long rows the following spring, he uprooted trees, burned huge brush piles, and worked steadily to create a large field.

The Angus are pastured on part of the field my dad cleared. While you see many cottonwood trees here, the year before my dad died, he was working daily to clear the dead and damaged trees from this area.

Once the dust settled, the smoke cleared, and the roaring bulldozer’s engine quieted, one tree stood alone in the middle of the huge, cleared field. I imagine it grew firmly in a fence row when my father and Uncle John were boys. It may have been an anchor for fencing, possibly a mark for a previous neighbor’s gate, or even a visual aid to help set a pattern for corn planting. It most certainly sheltered birds, housed squirrels, and supported the buzzards.

Somehow my dad’s grace allowed this old fellow to co-exist in our farm operation. It stood solidly in the middle of whatever my dad planted: corn, wheat, soybeans, even hay. Why did this one tree survive the bulldozer and chainsaw? I’m guessing my dad just couldn’t bring himself to cut that old gentleman down.

Here is the old tree, still surviving and enduring the winter, as the Angus move around him.

When I was a child, the tree was regal and handsome—his trunk thick and healthy, branches strong and many, and leaves lush and green. He became our favorite “secret spot.” Some breezy summer days, my mom would give us permission to pack our lunch and eat wherever we wanted. The tree wasn’t far—probably a quarter mile up the road on our bikes, then a quick hike through the field to picnic beneath his branches. It was cool in his shade, and around his base my dad had piled many loads of stones we gradually picked from the surrounding field.

I’m now a tree gal—influenced, I’m sure, by my dad’s passion for them: I admire the lone Gingko tree on the empty lot north of the bank, whose history is now forgotten; I am amazed by the massive beech tree on the east side of the Sunset Lake, whose totem pole trunk is carved with bark faces; and I notice the local tulip tree population, whose teacup blossoms grace their cool springtime arms.

And every time I visit my mother, I salute the tree, that tough old veteran, a reminder of my past and my dad’s impractical, sentimental side.

It’s a Fine Life.