What Begins With “A”?

ImageRecently I learned that the month of April is the “Blogging from A to Z April Challenge.” Always up for a good writing challenge, I of course signed up to participate! (I know those of you that followed my 40 days of Lent photo-a-day challenge on Twitter are skeptical because I “crashed and burned” after day 16. I have two good excuses, reasons though: 1) My “me” time is from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM and I couldn’t take good photos at night and 2) The themes were two stifling for my creativity). Any way for this challenge, I have to blog about something that starts with the letter of the day from A to Z for the entire month of April (except Sundays). Today’s letter, being April 1, is the first letter of the alphabet, “A.”

Whenever I think about the letter “A,” I immediately have the Dr. Suess “ABC” book running through my head. . .

“Big A, Little a…What begins with A?”

Why, April begins with “A.”  And that’s no April Fool!

I wonder how many teachers are secretly rejoicing that this prankster’s holiday falls on the Monday after Easter and a lot of schools are still on Spring Break! My daughters were pretty disappointed. I can remember as a school-ager the hushed whispers and laughter in the halls, the girls’ bathroom and by the lockers as we discussed and planned how we would fool our teachers. We thought we were pretty tricky back then.

Besides April Fool’s Day, as a child I remember that April brought with it a very real anxiety in the pit of my stomach. You see somewhere I read or heard or possibly even imagined that April was tornado month. I thought that most tornadoes occurred in April because of the changing seasons. The thought of those cool and warm masses mixing it up in the sky above my house caused me to lie awake many nights, especially if it was thundering or heaven forbidden a tornado watch in effect. The tornado scene in the “Wizard of Oz” terrified me. I lived in fear of being sucked up in a tornado in the middle of the night. I sweated each day of April and rejoiced at the first day of May, some how having avoiding another tornado season (little did I know back then that tornado season lasts all summer). I’m sure the fact that we had many tornado drills at school during April and that for some reason it seemed the “Wizard of Oz” always seemed to come on TV right around Easter contributed to my April/Tornado association more than anything else.

These days I’m not as fearful April tornadoes (although I still have a keen ear for hearing the tornado sirens and will be the first one waiting on a bad storm in the basement – a must-have criteria when purchasing a home). In fact, April now brings with it anticipation of the longer days, spring flowers, budding trees, warmer weather and the A to Z.

What about you? What do you think of in April? Leave me a comment below!

 

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I Saw My First Robin This Spring On My Way To Church And…

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The Lil Robin by Bobbi Jones Jones (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=22188&picture=the-lil-robin)

I saw my first robin this spring on my way to church this morning and smiled. Seeing that red-breasted bird after months of dreary bleakness always brings me hope. The little guy was sitting in a patch of brown muddy grass next to a stop sign – prime worming ground I’m guessing. Unfortunately for him and me tomorrow freezing rain and snow are in the forecast with the official start of spring only days away.

Last year at this time we had unseasonable 80-degree weather. It doesn’t look like even the luck of the Irish is going to bring that warm sunshine this March. Sigh. Yet with the tweet of that “rocking” robin I am reminded that in the coming weeks the trees will bud and the daffodils and tulips will bloom. And while I wait for the warm weather to spring me (get it spring?) from my bulky winter coat and sweaters, I’m taking the time to declutter and purge the things crowding out light and energy from my life.

Yes, in research for my next novel, I’ve been reading a lot about Feng Shui. In particular, I just finished a book by Cathleen McCandless called “Feng Shui that Makes Sense – Easy Ways to Create a Home that FEELS as Good as it Looks.” The principles and ideas behind this art and science of arranging and making a living space a place where you want to spend time and actually enjoy fascinates me. The concepts make so much sense to me. Step one in the form process is to get rid of anything you don’t love or doesn’t provide a practical use. So I’m slowly going room by room to get rid of the CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, cassettes, old clothes, shoes, toys, books, knickknacks and other stuff taking up space in our house. After three trips to Good Will in the last few weeks, I’ve gotten rid of bags and boxes full of stuff and it feels great! In fact it feels better than great, it feels wonderful. I know I have a long way to go, but I will get there bit by bit, bag by bag, box by box. The best part is that my girls are getting into it too. They spent yesterday with me going through drawers thumb up-ing and down-ing clothes and toys. I am proud of their eagerness to make our house more of a home.

As my five-year old said the other night as she explained to her Dad why we were loading two garbage bags of clothes into the van. “Clutter causes confusion!”

Yes an “A-ha” moment from her kindergarten class’ life guiding principles. Yes, indeed…clutter does cause confusion. And so here’s to a clutter-free life filled with clarity and understanding.

What about you? Have you heard of or tried feng shui? Any tips or suggestions?

Trick or Treat? Bah Humbug!

Halloween inevitably brings with it the custom of “trick or treat.” I don’t know who thought up the wonderful tradition of dressing up in a costume and going door-to-door to beg strangers for candy. I could probably find out in a matter of seconds via Google or Wikipedia (how did we ever live without these wonderful tools), but I actually really don’t care all that much who that genius was. It won’t change anything. Trick or treat will still come. Bah Humbug!

Yes, I know it’s the wrong holiday, but I think am the Scrooge of Halloween or at least trick or treat. Of all the holidays we have, Halloween is probably one of my least favorites. Even as a child the thought of trick or treating filled me with dread. It’s not that a I didn’t want candy…I did. Knocking on a stranger’s door to ask for candy (especially if they too dressed up and had  scary decorations) that could potentially be poisoned or razor-blade filled  made my shy, introverted body queasy. Thus, I would always make my younger sister go first. (I was just being polite. No, really, you go ahead…)

These days trick or treat appeals to me about as much as it did back then. Alas my daughters love to go and so I go for them. As an adult, my aversion to trick or treat is less about stranger danger and more about the weather. The weather? Yes, the weather. What does weather have to do with Halloween you might ask? In Northwest Ohio – everything. Nine out of ten times the weather on Halloween is, how shall I put it? Crappy. It’s cold. It’s windy. It’s rainy. This year will be no different. In fact, I’ve already been given one reprieve as the festivities have already been postponed once due to sleet and high winds and rescheduled for tomorrow night.

Halloween Past
Halloween Past

As we live out in the boonies, we’ll meet up with some friends who live in town to trick or treat. The houses are much closer together. As usual, the girls will bundle up with sweat pants and sweatshirts under their costumes and complain about having to put winter coats on over them. I can empathize with them in that regard as both a former trick or treater, who wanted to show off her cool costume, and as a mother, who just paid a small fortune for the costumes of choice and wants everyone to see how cute they look in them. (In the picture on the right is a pic from a rare Halloween past when we had beautiful weather and the girls were still young enough that they agreed to wear the coordinating costumes I got them!)

After the first block or so of candy gathering, I’ll have a pocket full of empty candy wrappers and be carrying the itchy wig I paid way too much for, while giving the youngest a piggy back ride, because she’s too tired to walk. Trick or treat lasts an hour and a half or so, and lucky for me the girls aren’t greedy and are ready to call it quits after 45 minutes or so and head back home for some pizza and more candy.

Now you may think I’m against trick or treat completely. I’m not. Truly, I’m not. Back before kids, my hubby and I lived in town. I loved passing out the candy to the kids in our neighborhood. Seeing the kids all dressed up and watching the smiles on their faces as I gave them their treats was great fun. Unfortunately, as I said we live out in the boonies and get no trick or treaters. Not even one. Though I still buy candy just in case:)

What about you? Would you rather trick or treat, pass out candy or skip the whole thing?

Where Did Summer Go? And Why Does Winter Last So Long?

Leaves

We went from tank tops and flip-flops to sweaters and ankle boots over night. Not quite literally, but close to it. The beginning of September had us sweltering in 90-degree plus sunshine, while today on the brink of October we saw 60 degrees and cloudy skies. That’s northwest Ohio for you though – the season changes here are never gradual. One moment it’s summer, the next it’s winter. I expect the snow to start blowing any second now. My favorite season blew by quickly this year. The warmth of summer, the long days of sunlight, ice cream cones and, watermelon are only memories and photographs until next year!

While I love the beautiful colors of fall, caramel apples and pumpkin pie, autumn’s onset always saddens me a bit. Much like that first robin I see hopping along in my yard fills me with hope of the warm days to com, the first leaf I see that’s turned a bright yellow or a crimson red always shoots a small pang of dread through me. In only a few short weeks, I’ll be driving home from work in the dark, scraping snow off my wind shield, and heating up the hot chocolate and chilli.

I’m resigned that winter is coming and I have no power to stop it. I’ve already started packing up the summer wardrobe and bringing out the winter one. My next chore to move the kids’ bikes, balls, scooters and other junk to one side of the garage so I can pull my car in. This is top priority as we’ve already had one freeze warning that I dodged.

Winter does have its good points, I suppose for some, although I have a hard time thinking of them. I don’t like to be cold and I’m not coordinated enough for down hill activities at high speeds. In my opinion winter would be a much better season if it would last from December 23 to December 26. On the other hand, winter does make me appreciate summer more, I guess. Next April when the weather changes from 30 to degrees to 60 degrees, I’ll be pulling out the shorts and sandals and cheering about the “heat wave!”

Who am I kidding? I am confident I would appreciate sunshine and 70 degrees without negative wind chills and ice storms. I guess I could move south or west, but my family, my friends, my church and my job are here in the winter zone. Hmm…I wonder if I could convince everyone to move with me? Now that’s an idea to ponder…

What about you? Do you long for or dread those snowy, winter days?

Crackle! Boom! Bang!

July Fourth. Independence Day. The Fourth of July. America’s Birthday. My favorite holiday! But why?

1. It Happens In The Summer (my favorite season)
Hot weather, flip-flops, tank tops and sunscreen.
The blustery coldness that bites through bulky layers of sweaters and coats is a distant memory and the colorful foliage of autumn has yet to remind me that gloves and scarves are just around the corner.

2. No-Recipe, Simple-Ingredient Food
Grilled burgers, hot dogs, water melon, ice cream, sweet corn.
I don’t have to follow a complicated recipe only to find half-way through I don’t have one of the ingredients or worse calls for an ingredient I’ve never heard of. I love the simplicity and taste of no-fuss picnic food. No menu planning or hours of cooking prep required.

3. No Gifts, No Cards, No Decorating
I don’t have to buy anything on July 4th. The holiday doesn’t involve Santa or the Easter Bunny or any holiday hero for that matter. I don’t have to figure out what gifts to buy or spend hours wrapping said gifts. I have no pine needles to vacuum or holiday letters to write or carols to sing. I don’t need to buy costumes or candy. It is one of the cheapest, relaxing holidays of all.

4. Fireworks, Baby!
The holiday culminates in an amazing display of colors, sounds and vibrations. I love fireworks. Watching the girls practice cart wheels, dance and twirl their glow sticks as they wait for dusk to fall and the fireworks to start. The look of pure joy on their faces when the first one shoots into the sky and explodes to a chorus of Oooo’s and Ahhhh’s from the crowd. When my step-son was about four years old, he grabbed my father’s cheeks and turned his face toward his. “Look, Grandpa! It’s a masterpiece!’ Yes indeed, they are!

What about you? What’s your favorite holiday?

My Thumb Is Not Green…Is Yours?

A few months back the girls and I wandered Wal-Mart on a lonely Friday night. Every few moments one of them would point to some must-have object along the way and beg me to buy it for them. My head already ached and really I just wanted to go home and veg when we made our way from the cat food aisle past the gardening section.

“Look, Mom! Seeds!” My oldest excitedly pointed in the direction of brightly packaged flower seed packages. The flowers on the fronts smiled at me and I thought, “why not?” Growing flowers from seeds could be fun and educational at the same time. We could plant the seeds, watch the grow and finally transplant them outside when it go warm enough. I imagined the girls and I admiring our beautiful wild flowers as we cut them into colorful bouquets.

“OK!” I said. “Let’s pick out some flower seeds.”  The girls squealed and giggled as they picked out various varieties of flowers: zinnias, daisies, pansies… I tried to read the backs to see what type of lighting requirements they required, but gave up as they excitedly tossed the packets into the cart. Next, I picked out a mini-greenhouse. It was only five bucks and included little dirt pods that you just added seeds and water to. Perfect. Finally, the girls picked out gardening gloves-blue for the oldest, a princess pair for the youngest and red for me. As we headed toward the check out, the oldest talked me into a watering can. We had everything we needed, except a green thumb, but more on that later.

Later that evening, we poured the water over our dirt pods and the flat disks magically grew and grew. We had dirt everywhere, but the girls happily pushed their seeds into the dirt and spilled them on the dining room floor.  Thirty minutes later our green house planted, the only thing left was to wait. We didn’t have to wait for long. Within three days, the seeds sprouted. Instead of the recommended two or three seeds per pod, some had six or seven. The youngest protested as I pulled the smallest sprouts and left the strongest. I’d already learned from past experience this process is a must. A several days later the oldest excitedly pointed out the sprouts were getting their cotyledons.

Lost Helpers

“Cotyl whats?” the youngest asked as her sister explained that these were the second set of leaves to grow on the plant. I was impressed. She did learn something at school even though whenever I ask her what she learned she could never remember…

The weeks past and finally it was time to transplant our young seedlings outside in the flower bed. We pulled on our gloves and got out the rake-thingy and the little shovel. We dug and planted and dug and planted. Within ten minutes the girls lost interest and I dug and planted, dug and planted. Planting a flat of flowers was harder and took longer than I remembered. I wiped the sweat out my eyes with the back of my glove.

“What’s that wet stuff on you, Mommy?” The youngest asked.

” Hard work,” I told her.

“What?” she asked.

“Nevermind…”

“Can I have a drink?”

Satisfied, with the tiny rows of  flowers to-be, we packed up our flower planting tools to get a juice box. The next morning I woke a little early to water the fledgling flowers, only to find carnage.  Tiny leafless stems, holes where plants once grew, if only briefly, remained where less than 24 hours before our little plants represented the hope of a beautiful cutting garden.

Muddy Gloves

A few weeks ago, I noticed the local greenhouse had flats of flowers on sale 50% off.  Not, one to give up, the girls and I picked out some beautiful petunias, begonias and other flowers I do not know the name of. The girls excitedly pulled their gardening gloves back on to help me replant. I started to dig, or rather, chisel a small hole in the ground. Rock-hard from lack of precipitation, the ground did not budge beneath my shovel.  After what seemed like hours of futile digging I only had a shallow, dusty hole in which to place my wilting flowers. What we need, I thought, is some water. And so, I drug the house around to the front of the house a proceeded to turn our dusty dessert into a swampy mud pit. Not my brightest idea, but I was at least able to dig a hole deep enough to plant our flowers.

Relieved each  morning to see no sign of the marauders that destroyed our first attempt, we watered and weeded our little flower patch every evening. The girls took turns hosing down the flower beds and each other as unfortunately we saw no sign of rain in the near future either. Last weekend, we were out of town for the weekend and unable to water our flowers.  The temperatures soared into the 90s and the sun baked our flowers a little too much.

The Dried Up Ones

On one end of the flower bed we found several shriveled, dried up petunias  (notice in the picture above the weeds still look healthy and green)
and on the other end our mysterious digging nemesis had up-ended several more.

The Dug Up Ones

Big sigh… So what do you think? Three times a charm? Try, try again? Or hang up the gloves until next spring? Do you have a green thumb? What’s your secret?

Spring Fever Rages

When I think of the month of March, typically I think cold, rainy gray days. I think of the smell of water-logged, dead earthworms laying in the parking filling the air. At some point during the month where mother nature may give us snow one day, rain and wind the next, and the warmth of the sun the third – or possibly all three in one day, I sight the first robin of the season and smile. I notice the leaves sprouting on the trees and the daffodils poking up through the muddy ground and know the hope for warmer days is near.

This March, however, we in the mid-west have been blessed ( although some snow sport lovers out there may think us cursed) with unseasonably warm weather. And I don’t just mean a day above 50 degrees here and there, but we’ve actually had several weeks of high 70’s and low 80’s. Yes, we had 80 degrees and sunshine in the middle of March. It is heavenly! It makes me wonder if someone up there in weather land got there M months mixed up. It feels more like late May than mid March, but I am definitely NOT complaining and neither are my children.

The girls wore shorts to school today. They didn’t even take along their jackets. The flip-flops and sandals were dusted off weeks ago. Everywhere I turn, children are playing and riding bikes, people are walking their dogs, flowers and trees are blooming and the diehards out there are actually mowing their lawns instead of shoveling snow. I love it!

Spring fever definitely rages in my home and workplace. Co-workers and I walk to a local cafe for lunch not wanting to return to our florescent-lighted, windowless cubicles afterwards. Not so much because we don’t like our jobs, but more so because the sun is calling us, luring us to sit and just absorb its warmth and bake off the winter pastiness and dreariness of the past three months. When 5:00 PM rolls around, I have approximately two and a half hours left of warm bliss that I take full advantage of.

A few nights ago I walked with my daughters. Actually I was the only one that walked. The oldest road her scooter and the youngest her two-wheeler with training wheels. We had a wonderful time walking and rolling and talking and laughing until… Until the youngest got tired of riding her bike about halfway home. She was just too tired to go on, especially after she’d tipped it a bit when she went down an incline (you can’t really call it a hill). From that point on she walked and whined about calling someone to pick us up while I pushed the bike (which I’d vowed not to do – sigh). A few moments later a car came up fast behind us (we live on a country road in the middle of no where, so I don’t see why people need to go so fast especially when the can see us walking along miles or at least yards in advance). Anyway it scared my oldest daughter and she veered her scooter off the road and wiped out. She scraped her leg although to hear her tell it you’d have thought it was broken. So now, I’m pushing the bike and scooter, while they both whine about calling their Dad to pick them up (even though the house is only yards away.) Oh well…at least we enjoyed the fresh air.

Last night our endeavor out was much more pleasant. We headed to our local park. Typically these excursions find me pushing two girls on the swings, helping them across the monkey bars and then collapsing on the bench to watch them. Tonight I took a different approach. I became a kid too. While I still pushed the swing, I never made it to the bench. I went down the slide and across that slider ‘thingy.’ I tried to pull myself up on to the top of the monkey bars as I’d done in my youth, but couldn’t quite make it – I have a lot more “girth” to move than I did when I was 10. Next we tried to skip stones across the pond (try being the key word) and then switched to seeing who could throw the farthest. No one was fishing, so I figured no harm. The girls smiled and laughed. When the sun started to set, we raced to the car, I would have won too if it weren’t for my shoes.

Today we’re supposed to hit 84 again. I haven’t figured out what we are going to do tonight yet. I’d like to get the flower beds cleaned out, but maybe will just shoot some hoops instead. I do know we won’t be sitting in front of the TV. The next few days rain is in the forecast and the highs are only in the 60’s. I am trying not to be disappointed. I am trying not to get spoiled, but I am. I think I might cry if the temperatures dip back into the 40’s or worse 30’s. And if it were to snow again before next December, well, I won’t be happy. For now though, my winter coat and boots are packed and my shorts and sandals are front and center. I’m going to feed that fever for as long as I can!