Welcome, Sweet September

Tonight, the sound of marching band practice floats and rises, the notes nearly visible in the late summer air. Again, and again, the melodies scatter and settle in waves across our village.

High school athletes strut and sprint on the practice fields, as coaches’ whistles trill, corralling their spirited colts into organized teams.

Squirrels quicken their collecting, hummingbirds tighten their garden tours, and bullfrogs cease their courting calls. 

The new structure at Apple Knockers, the ice cream shop in town.

 September is here.

How is this possible? How did summer pass so quickly? How did we let it slip away?

Can you recall those endless days of your childhood?

Fifty years ago, a starchy Peter Pan collar, wool jumper, and new school shoes pinched as I left behind the freedom of June, July, and August. There were, of course, chores and expectations during those three months of bliss, but my brothers and I raced through our daily jobs, and soon the screen door slapped behind us. Our shady yard, fields, and woods quietly waited. Those childhood weeks brimmed with adventures: we built forts, we raced our bikes, we picked wild strawberries. In the peace of the woods, we discovered secret deer paths and salamanders in the leaves. On rainy days, our mother took us to town, where Mrs. Green patiently helped us select our library books. Or we stayed home, working puzzles and playing board games around the old kitchen table.  We spent the humid summer evenings peacefully protected from mosquitos on the old screen porch, reading or listening to Tiger Baseball while the annual cicada chorus intensified all around.

The steps to the old library entrance where dear Mrs. Green helped my brothers and me find our summer reading books. Photo by Leeanne Seaver

Our town pals enjoyed different things: summer recreation programs at the Old El, pick-up games at the school playground, swimming at the village beach. Some lucky friends traveled the interstates on family vacations, their fingers tracing the routes on road maps while billboards hawked the latest tourist attractions.  

But gradually, the Michigan evenings became cooler. We perused the JC Penney Back-to-School Catalog and took the annual school shopping trip. We selected our first-day outfits and tried on our shoes. We found our book bags and sharpened our pencils.

Yes, eventually, the season of freedom must end, and all children everywhere must wave goodbye to beautiful summer.

Farewell to dancing fireflies and bath-free summer nights—to cousins and staying up late.

Adieu to bike races and skinned-up knees—to cottages and travel campers.

Adios to Dixie Cups of Kool-Aid—to roasting hot dogs and tenting under the Michigan stars.

Flowers from our early September garden.

As this summer ends, let’s look forward to sweatshirts and an extra blanket at night. To cutting back our gardens and planning next year’s plantings. To watching the corn fields dry and the harvesting begin.

Let’s celebrate small-town Friday Nights: the gathering of our communities at the athletic fields and the crowd’s occasional roars, breaking the quiet of a village night.  

Let’s watch the maples display their fabulous fall frocks.

Let’s listen for the honks of the migrating geese.

And let’s welcome sweet September.

It’s a Fine Life.

Nana Camp

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.

Nana Camp involved several meals out. Here they are at Red Robin, which offers several gluten-free options.

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.

We love stopping for soft-serve in Borcula, Michigan. They love the caramel sundaes and playing around with the wooden cut-outs. It doesn’t take much to make little ones happy!

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.

The first Nana Camp List they generated.

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.

This list is much more detailed.

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.)

Uncle Drew taught them to play Rack-o. It’s a great game for an eight-year-old, involving taking turns, thinking ahead, and logic.

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.

The lemonade stand.

My Heart is Full.

It’s a Fine Life.

Thankful Thursday: Practicing What I Preach

Just thinking about the cabin brings me joy.

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 actually write 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.

My Hometown

Winter on Main Street in my hometown, Vicksburg, Michigan.
All photos by seavercreative.com

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.

One of the first blossoms of spring, captured by my dear friend, Leeanne Seaver

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.

It’s hard to explain my emotions when I see our empty elementary school.

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 little hometown.

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)

Metabolism and Menopause

 

As I eased into my fifties, the menopause gremlins, scurrying and snickering, turned my metabolism switch way, way down. I think it happened while watching Scott Pelley smile at the camera or Alex Trebek annoyingly correct the smallest error. (As new empty nesters, my husband I had morphed into our parents—most nights contently eating our supper while watching “The CBS Evening News” followed by “Jeopardy.”) I had never monitored my weight, and with the introduction of leggings and “stretchy pants,” the extra twenty-five pounds silently slid to my waist, my thighs, my upper arms, and—of course—my neck.  There were a few indicators: button-down blouses started puckering, so I stopped wearing them; the clasps of dress trousers pinched, so I switched to the popular tights and free-flowing over-sized shirts; the roll under my chin appeared in photos, so I hid it with the right selfie angle. But sooner or later, of course, these pounds were revealed in the digital read-out on the scales at my desperately-delayed physical.

My woman’s health professional (also named Kathy) is about my age. She is petite: I tower over her. Kathy looks like a runner—tight bodied—like she could spring from the stool, drop to the floor, and pump out twenty pushups before I could even get my feet from the stirrups—particularly bothersome when wearing a paper gown. I’ve always been taller than most people—I’m used to that–but until my middle fifties, I never felt like an Olympic shot putter. During my last physical, Kathy and I went over my various health indicators, and she ended with asking me if anything is concerning me.

Well, yes: my weight.

She suggested some things I could do (things I already know, of course, including diet and activity levels), but what really stayed with me were her final words, gently delivered, her hand on my shoulder. “Here’s what I know–don’t be so hard on yourself. Be patient. Be kind to yourself.”

As I learn to navigate this new stage of my life, this advice has been a comfort and something I think we should all practice.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself”: Forgive yourself for the unraked leaves, for the cluttered closet, for the Christmas cards un-mailed.

“Be patient”: Forgive yourself for past mistakes, for unkind words, for inaction when the situation called for action.

“Be kind to yourself”: Forgive yourself for the extra pounds, for the second slice of pie, for the lapses in judgement.

As my fifties near the end, this has become my mantra, and I encourage my friends to repeat it with me:

“Be kind to yourself.”