around the house

Summer hasn’t been especially stress-free around this house, but every time I take an amble around, I’m reminded why the place you live matters, and why the effort you put into your surroundings makes a difference.


Hello, Sarge. :)


The first heirloom tomato is changing color and YES I checked to make sure it wasn’t the reflection from the newly spray-painted trellis or the orange rag I used to stake it. It’s definitely ripening. That means caprese salad with home grown tomato and basil very soon…and gorgeous creamy buffalo mozzarella. It means bruschetta. With great bread. Yum.

The first one out of the gate is on the JD’s Special C-Tex plant, which you’ll remember my friends at Michigan Heirlooms subbed for me when my second Paul Robeson plant wasn’t available. For the record, here is the progress on the Paul Robesons.


Okay, now, I’m going to go on the record and say that I am viewing these SUPPOSED Paul Robesons with a skeptical eye. They don’t look like Paul Robesons at this point in their maturity, is all I’m sayin’. That quasi-teardrop shape seems more indicative of a Japanese Trifele tomato, no? Which wasn’t even on the seed roster at Michigan Heirlooms, so no idea how that mix up might have occurred. If there was, in fact, a mix up. I am certainly not impugning MH’s reputation or their knowledge of tomatoes and maybe my Paul Robesons will smush out and take on the proper shape. I don’t think I would mind getting a Japanese Trifele by some sort of cosmic accident, since the review I just linked to calls them “a truly transcendent tomato”. God knows I could never pass up a transcendent tomato and I certainly never thought I could be growing one or several in my humble garden.

The Cherokee Purples aren’t even worth showing you at this point. I really view them as a workhorse tomato. They’re growing well but are already cracking in spots. I’m sure this is somehow my fault.

I never thought I could talk this long about tomatoes.

The shade-loving loose plants that I bought at Eastern Market Flower Day are, like last year, absolutely spectacularly beautiful. They thrive in the big containers on my front porch and I have sworn to go back every year to THAT vendor to buy THOSE plants.


And, a new addition this year, my extremely talented parents refurbished my wood duck welcome sign and it has taken a proud place on my brick. They made me a moonlit snow owl sign, as well, because Miss L and I love owls, but it hasn’t been hung yet so no pictures available.

My father carves the birds, woodburns their feather details, and my mother paints them. They have made some unbelievably beautiful pieces together, from small Christmas ornament carvings to full size decoys. I wish I had a website to direct you to in case you want to buy one BUT MY PARENTS DON’T HAVE A WEBSITE EVEN THOUGH THEY COULD BE MAKING GOBS OF MONEY ON THEIR BEAUTIFUL WOODCRAFTS. Yes MOM AND DAD I AM TALKING TO YOU. And not just because you are probably the only ones reading my blog. ;)



tooth fairy

My little Miss L developed a wiggly front tooth during our vacation and yesterday, day care called me to let us know the exciting news – she’d lost it!

I am trying to keep Miss L stories off my blog as much as is realistic, simply because of her privacy. Sharing your kids with the whole Internetz is a thorny issue that I would just rather avoid, but she is the biggest part of my life and so to keep her to one side altogether just isn’t possible. Especially with big milestones like this!

She came home with her tooth in a bag and a somewhat startled hand-letter sign: MY TOOTH CAME OUT.   !!

I had the battle rattles about performing Tooth Fairy duties. On normal nights, I could come and go in her room without waking her up, but I had a terrible feeling that the minute I tiptoed into her room to slide her Tooth Fairy money under her pillow, she’d be wide awake, staring at me…”Mommy??…What are you doing, Mommy?”

Luckily, though, she had rolled far over to one side of the bed, and slept on while the Tooth Fairy delivered her reward, fished out the tooth, and crept back. I know the Tooth Fairy overdid it. $5 in cash and for a first tooth, a little goodie box on her dresser – a diary with a key, and a friendship bracelet kit.

IMG_20140721_180511This morning, she overslept and then came banging in with her treasure trove.

“I think the Tooth Fairy left me all of this stuff because I left HER some stuff,” she confided.

“Really?!” I asked. “What did you leave her?”

“Uhhhhh….a drawing…and some soap.”

“Some soap. You left that under your pillow?”

“Yep. Soap! From that place Up North!”

“Did she take it?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” Miss L said.

I looked at her and thought, this is either a total fabrication or an elaborately constructed trap…which one? (There wasn’t any soap under your pillow, baby; How do you KNOW there wasn’t any soap, Mommy? Unless you yourself are….THE TOOTH FAIRY! AH HA!!)

I left it alone.

I can’t get used to looking at her with a gap in her mouth – she suddenly looks so much older.



When I tell people that my folks live Up North, they invariably ask me if they live on the lake, or in Traverse City, and I know they are imagining a resort community with discreet mushroom colored cottage-type baby McMansions. Boat shoes and white docks. I laugh and tell them no, and leave it at that. I can’t imagine moving Up North to live around the same kind of people in the same kind of houses and clothes that you escaped downstate.

Benzie County – last time I checked – had 1 stoplight and my folks live in a small town filled with hilarious small town stories and characters. I have signed informal confidentiality agreements with my privacy-loving parents, so I cannot reveal either the town or the stories, but suffice it to say that the tales of  local government alone would fill a tragicomic novel. The scenery is spectacular – pine woods and small blue green lakes, white sand and brown rivers, dunes and forests. My mom thinks a Sasquatch might just live in the dead stream swamp. Blue sky and cherry orchards, deer grazing in the fields, turkeys ambling out of the thickets. My mom’s garden is full of poppies and daisies, foxglove and iris nodding over a white picket fence that my dad made.  His workshop is in the pole barn, equipped with a radio perpetually tuned to NPR and a small woodstove, and his carved owls, bears, and decoys line the shelves. In the winter, the locals ride their snowmobiles down to the local bar, and if there’s a band playing, you can hear it all the way down Main Street. At night, the coyotes may just come down from the fields to pace the back alley and wake you up with their squabbling. I wouldn’t mind retiring up there someday, if the boat shoes and baby McMansions stay away for awhile.


If you’re ever in Benzie County, a couple of local places for you to check out.


You would come for the soaps and candles, and stay to soak up their beautiful farm gardens.  Nothing is artificial or structured – the flowering trees, herbs, bits of art and garden spaces all seem to have naturally grown and flowered in perfect symmetry. There are observation hives and other brightly painted bee boxes set around the gardens, and the steady drone of the occupants coming and going is carried on the breeze along with deep tones from the many windchimes. The little store and workshop are in the snug barn, behind a wide open porch set with cushions and rocking chairs. This is a  business that grew up out of a passion and a lifestyle – keeping bees and making soap and candles and coaxing life out of the world around them. This business makes you feel quite certain that you are getting pure, whole ingredients – exactly the kind of place where I want to put my money. The store smells like pollen, dried herbs and flowers, and beeswax; their gorgeous soaps imbue everything with their natural perfume. I store them in my linen closet or in my drawers before I use them and the sunshine smell to me is always Up North.

PS – they have a mail order business too, link above. My favorite soap is the classic Pollen Pleasure but I also love the Peppermint Patch!


St. Ambrose Cellars

IMG_20140716_145156Beautiful Mission-style tasting room in which to sample meads and estate wines under the watchful eye of the bee goddess. They use local grapes and honey from the apiaries at Sleeping Bear Farms (here’s a cool video, if you are interested in bees and their winter travel plans) and are very generous with their samplings (if you check in on Facebook from their tasting room – which can be tricky if your provider isn’t robust, they’re a ways out in the big blue country – you get a free wine glass!)  I’m definitely a wino (hahaha – ahem) and enjoyed their reds, but at their coaxing, I sampled some meads. Mead isn’t usually my thing, but I came away with two “howlers” of draft mead – both light and bubbly and refreshing – the ginger and an apple cider type and feel quite pleased as they’ll refill the pretty brown glass jugs for a significant discount, if I bring them back.


Flopping helplessly amid the pumps and cement islands of a state highway gas station.

Miss L slept in the backseat while I pumped gas and watched it; it was as big as my hand, and clearly lost.

I knelt to inspect it and it fluttered away, toward a young truck driver at the diesel pump who thought I was looking at him. He nodded and touched the brim of his cap.

I woke my sleepy girl and we went to the bathroom and returned a lost credit card that we found on the dirty cement outside of the convenience store. When we came back, the moth was back, on its side by our car, exhausted.

I picked it up as gently as possible and we looked at it – brown furry body and creeping legs as it feebly tried to escape. Enormous feathery antennae waved, alarmed, and beautiful wings – adorned with prominent eyespots of primitive black, blue, and gold – were frayed.

“What should we do?” Miss L asked.

We carried it across the burning asphalt and up the embankment, truck drivers watching us without much interest, and set it down in the shade of a cluster of scrub pines.

I don’t hold out much hope for its survival but we did what we could.


polyphemus moth

Named after the giant Polyphemus of the Odyssey.



Luckily, after a somewhat disheartening  experience “floating down the river”, my dad, Miss L’s “Bompa”, was around to save the day with a fishing trip.

I’m not allowed to reveal the exact location of the favorite fishing hole, but it was a successful outing. Miss L stated emphatically that she caught forty fish, including the first and the largest. I was content to let her celebrate this although I think her tally was closer to thirteen and they were mostly little bluegill and perch. My rock bass would likely have taken the prize for largest.


We are a catch and release family most of the time and I was proud that my daughter was totally non-squeamish about putting worms on hooks and taking fish off hooks, as well as my self-started tradition of smooching the fish before they were tossed back into the cool brown glittering depths.


float down the river


Yesterday was one of those really beautiful, crystal-clear Up North days and it wasn’t too hot, and wasn’t too cold. It was a big sky, pine-scented day colored green and gold and sparkles-on-the-water kind of day.

My folks are lucky enough to live close to Riverside Canoe Trips, a great trading-post kind of establishment on the Lower Platte river on the edge of the Sleeping Bear. They have a general store full of Up North trinkets – t-shirts, postcards, Petoskey stone jewelry, moccasins and beads – and the property swarms with adolescents working their summer jobs running vans full of canoes, tubes, kayaks and tourists. They are a group of the most amiable, cheerful kids you’ll ever meet, all tanned golden brown with toothpaste-model smiles. Our van kid was earnest and helpful and made sure Miss L was in her booster seat and chatted about his upcoming college career at Michigan State and I could just imagine Miss L as a big grown up girl working there someday over a summer and just loving it.

I had been dreaming of giving Miss L a treat on our vacation and spending a few hours on the river. Kayak and canoe trips were out, as their routes cross Loon Lake, which is deep and cold, and I felt unsafe for an almost-six year old. Tubes seemed like a perfect option – you put in below the weir, and float to the beach at Lake Michigan. The river is warm and not too deep, and cuts through pine woods and wetlands, sandy banks full of Sleeping Bear nature. Turtles and sleek brown fish in the shallows, places to portage and sit in the warm sand under tall pines with dragonflies darting. Easy peasy. I imagined us floating in the sunshine and laughing gaily and pretending we were hobbits or old-time explorers. Bouyed by my excitement, Miss L was thrilled and ebullient as we walked down the winding gravel road to the weir on the Lower Platte. I tied our tubes together and we dropped in and that was about the last happy moment she had for the two-hour trip down the river to Lake Michigan.

“Mommy, we’re not going very fast.”

“Mommy, those people are going faster than we are. They’re going to beat us. Oh, they’re in kayaks? We should get a kayak next time.”

“What is that crinkling noise? Snacks? It sounds like a bag…oh, just your phone in that plastic bag? There aren’t any snacks? Why didn’t we bring snacks?”

“I’m cold / hot” (insert proper temperature here every 5-7 minutes)

“MOMMY why are we stuck on this riverbank twirling in circles?? You’re going to have to get off and push.”

“I don’t mean to argue, and I know it sounds like I am arguing, but this life jacket is really ruining my experience.”

“Can I get off now?”

“I have to go to the bathroom… What do you MEAN I have to go in the RIVER?!?”

“Are we there yet?”

For a grownup, the thought of idly floating down an isolated river on a sunny morning with nothing particular to do is pure paradise, but for a five-year old, it was not entertaining. And tubing sounds easy, but it’s not in certain places. The wind is stiff along Lake Michigan. The Lower Platte is mostly very shallow, knee deep, with a warm brown current over clean sand and river stone, but in spots, it meanders without a swift current, and it is very easy to get pushed onto a bank or into a curve and just not be able to get out. Tubes are not maneuverable, they tend to helplessly spin, and I had a couple of bad moments. At one point, I saw no other alternative except to hop off the tube to push us out. I promptly sunk up to my thighs in muck, and in desperation pulled a thick birch branch out of the bank to lean on. As I was struggling for purchase, flailing in the muck, I bruised my foot on something, and as I hopped in the mud trying not to swear or cry, Miss L’s little face appeared over the edge of the tube. “We’re still not moving, Mommy. Did I say that we should get a kayak? I really thought we shouldn’t go tubing….HEY!! CAN I GET A STICK TOO?”

Those moments do not bring out best-in-class parenting.

That stick became my only friend on that river adventure. There were many moments when I cursed myself for not renting a paddle or for even thinking in any part of my stupid brain that this would be a fun thing to do. The stick was my paddle and a push-pole, and I clutched it and thanked the poor beaver from whose den I had yanked it. Thank you, beaver, I thought as I pushed desperately through another wind gust, thank you for sacrificing your weight-bearing structural element to save myself and my child on this river. (These moments also bring out extreme melodrama.) And for some reason, it only seemed to be us struggling. As I spun and pushed and heaved and prayed, flotillas of laughing drunk people passed on, seemingly without effort. Teenagers lolled on half-inflated tubes and called cheery greetings. They always seemed to be in the current and putting in no effort whatsoever.

There were some nice moments on the river, which I think is the most beautiful place in the world. I thought I had mostly convinced Miss L that it was an overall very nice experience, but by the last bend in the river, when the golden sand dunes of the Lake Michigan beach appeared, I was actually walking in the river pulling the tubes along while Miss L muttered discontentedly in her perch. My parents had been in the beach lot for an hour waiting for us, and they stood on the bank waving as I soggily flailed upriver. My mom cheered and swathed Miss L in a towel and walked her back to the car and I heard Miss L say,

“That was NOT A GOOD TIME. Did you know that all we did was FLOAT DOWN THE RIVER!?”