High Hopes for a Fruitful Summer

Our plum tree has blossomed and if every flower turns into a plum — well, let’s just say I’ll be happier than Little Jack Horner!

Tiny little bees were buzzing around the tree all day yesterday, pollinating away. Keeping my fingers crossed that the unpredictable Michigan weather doesn’t blast us one last time with winter’s rage.

For now, enjoying the beauty of spring, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Advertisements

She’s Not A Bird Dog — She’s A Bird Monitor!

One of my favorite things about spring is filling the bird feeders. I know that it would probably make more sense to fill the bird feeders during winter when the birds are far less likely to have an abundance of food, but for selfish reasons I typically only feed them in the spring.

Spring is when I have time to sit and enjoy watching the birds at the feeder. There are feeders set up along the back of our house so that no matter where I’m sitting, whether it’s in the kitchen nook, the dining room, or at my desk in the great room, I have a view of a bird feeder. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the birds find the feeders even after months of them being empty. It takes less than an hour before the first sparrow visits.

Besides myself enjoying all the activity at the bird feeders, Bell enjoys it just as much. She will sit at the back door staring at the birds flying from feeder to feeder for hours. If it’s warm enough and I put her cushion out on the chair, she will sit there even longer.

One thing about Bell though, she is not a bird dog…she is a bird monitor. She lets me know when there are birds at the feeders, but has never tried to catch them. Just by the position of her ears, she tells me when there are or aren’t birds at the feeder.

If her ears are down, this means there aren’t any visitors. But when her ears go half way up, ahhh, then you know there’s activity.

Ears are getting perky – definitely activity at the bird feeder.

Bell has never chased any of the birds in our yard. In fact she’ll walk by the bird feeder and quite often the birds won’t even leave. She will walk within two feet of them, and they just keep on feeding.

When I fill the feeders, birds are not the only visitors we receive. Unfortunately there is an abundance of squirrels in our neighborhood and the minute those feeders are filled, the squirrels are determined to get their share. To their utter disappointment, however, Bell will have none of that. You see, as much as Bell is a bird monitor, she is even more so of a squirrel evictor.

When her ears perk up as high as her ears perk

and she stands on her hind legs to look out the door

This is when you know a squirrel is nearby. She runs to the sliding door and chases those squirrels out of our yard.

This goes on all day long. I have seen as many as three squirrels at one time in our little plum tree trying to get into the bird feeder, but the minute Bell bounds out the door, they scatter. Bell especially likes it when she traps a squirrel in the tree. She will pace around the tree, run up and down the patio, and try her hardest to climb up the tree trunk for however long it takes that squirrel to get up enough nerve to bolt out of the tree and over into the security of our neighbors fenced-in yard. One morning Hubby and I watched her happily keep a squirrel captive in the tree for 45 minutes before she finally walked far enough away from the tree for the squirrel to make its escape. She certainly slept good that afternoon.

This squirrel escaped to our neighbors roof and sat there growling at Bell for the longest…

Bell definitely has a job! She doesn’t bother the birds, but is sure to chase away those pesky squirrels. The fact that she’s a bird monitor rather than a bird dog is something I am truly – Simply Grateful for!

All clear – Just Bell and the birds!


Relief From The Heat!

Todays Weather:

75 degrees, mostly cloudy, winds 10 – 15 mph, and absolutely no humidity!

What a difference a day can make. Yesterday it was 95 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, no wind, and humidity about 300% (okay, that last part was a slight exaggeration, but it sure felt like 300%).

Finally a day I could spend in the garden and not worry about heat stroke, sun poisoning, or dehydration and I took full advantage of it. I cleaned up the zucchini (check out my post at Simply Grateful Gardener Taming My Zucchini), pruned all 72 of my pepper plants, clipped more of the cucumber vines to the A-frame, and weeded.

The best part of the day though was being able to harvest my first 6 zucchini and first 3 Romanian Bell peppers!

DSCF5199

Last year I harvest more than 1,000 peppers from the garden with less than half of the plants I have now. I wonder if I can top that?

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to start getting warmer again, but still bearable. Next week…well that’s another story. 90’s all week and humidity again. Oh well, at least the garden will enjoy it, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Tulip Time in Michigan

For the first time in our 23 years of marriage, Hubby and I took a day trip — just the two of us! Yep, beieve it or not, we actually left the kids home — on purpose.  They wanted to come, but we didn’t want them to.  We finally decided it was time to cut the apron strings/purse strings and spread our wings to once again enjoy a little time alone as a couple.

Honestly the thought of spending an entire day alone with Hubby seemed a bit scary. Sure we have spent more time together in the past two months since his “retirement” than we have probably spent together in all the years we’ve known each other, but a day trip without the kids, without interruption, without any distractions…this was something totally new to us both since before we had kids.

We had talked about taking an actual vacation, but every time we do, we include the kids. We are not at a point yet where we feel comfortable leaving them home. Comfortable is probably the wrong word here because we really like vacationing with Zeb. Grace on the other hand is a whole nother matter. She doesn’t want to vacation with us anymore. Being nearly 20, she thinks she has out-grown us. It will take her some time, but a few years down the road I’m sure she’ll see the error of her ways, but for now, she has made it clear she is not interested in traveling with “the parents.”

I’m not that disappointed in the fact Grace doesn’t want to vacation with us, but Hubby and I are not comfortable with leaving her home alone. Yes!!!! We are THOSE parents! Those over-protective, double standard, backward, living-in-the-past, over-bearing parents that don’t believe in leaving a 19/20-year-old girl home alone. (Nevermind the fact that I moved out on my own at 18 –this is MY daughter we’re talking about, not my mother’s daughter!)

Anyways, Hubby and I have therefore decided that we are going to enjoy some alone time by taking things a day at a time, rather than weeks. And to begin this transition into being “a couple” rather than “a family” we chose to begin our adventures with a day trip to Holland, Michigan for the 2016 Annual Tulip Time Festival.

DSCF4196

Holland, Michigan is only a three-hour drive (not to be confused with a three-hour tour as Gilligan experienced) from our home.  I have lived here in Michigan all my life and believe it or not, I have never ventured more than an hour or two from home in our beautiful state. Hubby and I are going to work on remedying this.

DSCF4097 (2)

The Holland Tulip Time Festival is always at the beginning of May and runs for an entire week. This year they are celebrating their 87th year of offering fabulous entertainment, events celebrating their Dutch heritage, and hundreds of thousands of — yes, you guessed it — Tulips! Actually they boast to have over 5 million tulips planted throughout the 7-mile radius of town and after visiting just a few of the attractions, I’d have to say it must be closer to 6 million!

DSCF4114

Hubby and I didn’t want to begin our trip tired or stressed, so we opted to leave at 7 a.m. with an ETA of 10 a.m. Even with us hitting some morning rush-hour traffic, we managed to arrive in Holland a few minutes after 10 and headed right to one of the hubs of excitement, the Trolley Tour Booth. This hour-long tour was supposed to be one of the highlights of the festival. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the ticket booth we were told that the tickets were already sold out for the day. Apparently they sell out nearly as soon as the booth opens at 8:30 a.m. and there are no pre-ticket sales on the internet or anywhere else for that matter.

Although disappointed, a friendly woman dressed in Dutch clothing quickly presented me with a Tulip Time brochure which highlighted all the days events and she suggested that we visit Windmill Island as an alternative. She assured me we would not be disappointed. Grateful for the brochure and advise, Hubby and I drove the 5-minutes to Windmill Island and parked our car.

DSCF4098a (2)

Windmill Island Gardens was everything we hoped for and more. It was truly an authentic Dutch experience complete with windmill tour, hand-painted carousel, Amsterdam street organ, tons and tons of beautiful tulip gardens, a tropical conservatory, Dutch shops, and of course food. It was $9 per person to enter the grounds and then we were able to wander around all the attractions for free. Food and souvenirs were extra, but otherwise it was a better deal in my opinion than the trolley ride we were not able to take. The trolley was $20 per person and only an hour-long. We spent two and a half hours at the gardens and enjoyed every minute.

DSCF4107 (2) DSCF4100 (2) DSCF4104 (2)

Before leaving the gardens we stopped by the food tent to see what “authentic Dutch” food was. I was disappointed to find that basically the main food seemed to be Pigs in a Blanket. This was not something we’d driven 188 miles to eat. Instead we opted to eat at a local restaurant. By that time we were so hungry we were not in the mood to search for other options of authentic Dutch food. Perhaps next year.

After lunch we headed to 8th Street which seemed to be the “Main Street” of the Tulip Festival. There we watched hundreds of children and adults in Dutch clothing perform the Street Scrubbing and then the Crown Motors Volksparade which featured every local schools marching band in the area as well as tons of floats.

One of the most unique aspects of Holland would have to be the wooden shoes that so many of the people wear. I asked one of the locals if these were worn any other time other than during the festival and he told me that I’d be surprised how many times throughout the year they are worn because of all the activities that center around their Dutch heritage. One of the marching bands even wore them throughout the parade. In talking with one of the City Councilmen, he confessed that the shoes are not comfortable in the least.  In fact, he had on four pair of socks and his feet still hurt. Such dedication! And they aren’t cheap either. For a pair in one of the gift shops it was $60. I guess if you take into consideration that they would probably last a VERY long time, that’s not too bad, but I think I’ll stick with my Sketchers.

DSCF4283 DSCF4282

It was a fun-filled hour of music, conversing with the locals, and enjoying a perfect afternoon.  By 3 p.m. however Hubby and I were ready to head home. With a three-hour drive ahead of us and having spent several hours walking around in the hot afternoon sun, we were looking forward to getting home and taking a nap.

It would be entirely possible to make a weekend or more of this festival, as we did not see all the attractions that were around or see much of the city itself, but for us, escaping for a few hours from the demands of home was enough. We arrived home by 6 p.m., took a nap, and then headed to the gym to unwind a bit. The gym was Hubby’s idea, definitely not my first choice, but it was still just the two of us, so a nice ending to our first day trip and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Fresh Air!

Three days ago at this time we were getting a snow storm! It began around 11 in the morning while Hubby and I were at the gym and didn’t let up all afternoon. Then it turned into freezing rain and things got really fun out on the roads.

DSCF3706

Where did that come from? It wasn’t in the forecast and with predictions for temperatures in the 70’s by the end of the coming week, who’d have thunk?

Well, that’s Michigan for you!

Anyway, after a few “too chilly to set foot in the garden” days, today I finally broke out of the house and headed to the garden to get my hands dirty. It was glorious. I spent nearly two hours planting a few bulbs, turning over the new designated pea garden, and watching as Bell rooted around every nook and cranny in the backyard as if she’d never been out there in her life.

DSCF3735

Bell rootin’ around.

DSCF3740

Everything seems new and exciting to Bell.

Hubby was at the gym with his man-friend, Zeb was at the gym with Gramps, and Grace was still at school. Finally — time to myself.

Those couple of hours out in the fresh air truly cleared the cobwebs from my head, reset my perspective, and improved my mood tenfold. The weather is only supposed to get better as the week progresses and I plan on making sure I get outside at least an hour each day — by myself. This might require getting up a little early, or perhaps sneaking out when no one is looking, but no matter what it takes, I’m outta here.

DSCF3741

The new pea garden in progress.

Hubby came home before I finished turning over the garden I was working in and wanted to know why I hadn’t waited for him. Okay, now I could have answered him in several ways, reminding him about how the garden is my “thing” and for the past two years I have done all the gardening by myself. Granted this wasn’t necessarily because I wanted to do it all by myself, but with him working pretty much 24/7 away from home, there was really very little time for him to dedicate to gardening. Plus, when he was home, I certainly didn’t want him to have to work. We had to spend some time together after all.

But, rather than bringing anything up that might make him feel bad I just smiled at him, gave him a kiss, and told him I was almost done, he could help me finish tomorrow and then I could plant the peas. Still, his guilt was palpable and this really bothers me. I don’t want him to feel guilty about me gardening or anything else that he wasn’t around to help with. I enjoy being outside with my hands in the dirt and know he really doesn’t. He thinks now that he’s quasi-retired, he should be doing all the things he was never able to do before. I keep telling him he doesn’t need to, but at the same time don’t want him to not have any purpose. Everyone needs to be needed.

This is just yet another bump-in-the-road on our journey as we adjust to his retirement. For so many years I’ve been responsible for everything here at home, asking for help only on the rarest of occasions. It was how things had to be. I didn’t always like it, but after 23 years of it, I had to come to terms with it or go crazy. I did the “going crazy” thing the first few years of our marriage and didn’t really like it, so I finally came to terms with it. Now I’ve got that same choice again.

I can either come to terms with Hubby needing/wanting to help out with things around here or I can go crazy. So, have I learned from past experience enough to forego the “crazy phase” and skip right to the “coming to terms” one?

Doubtful.

With the promise of warmer weather and lots of fresh air in my future though, maybe I won’t stick with the “going crazy” phase as long this time and perhaps transition into something like a “simply irritated” phase instead. But then again, this is the Simply Grateful blog, so that wouldn’t be very sporting of me, would it?

Anyway, it was beautiful here in Michigan today — the weather was perfect, the sun was shining, Hubby was home nearly all day — and for all these things I truly am Simply Grateful.

Celebrating Spring!

Near 70 degrees in Michigan for the past two days has really given everyone around here spring fever. The minute I heard the temps were going to be above 50, sunny, windy, and no chance of rain for two whole days, I set my everyday to do list aside and started a new one —

Spring Fever To Do List

  1. Hang laundry out. I hate not being able to hang bedding and clothes outside all winter. Not only does running the dryer cost money, but it never leaves the laundry smelling quite as good as the fresh air.
  2. Start seeds for spring planting. It’s the beginning of March and time to start planting the seeds for tomatoes and peppers. These seeds take the longest to grow and are the biggest crops in my garden. Last year winter never gave us a break so I moved my potting bench into the great room along with bags of dirt and worked on starting my seeds there. This break in the weather couldn’t have come at a better time. Now I won’t have to spend a day setting everything up in the house and can just work on the patio, outside in the sunshine.
  3. Take Bell for a walk — many walks. Although Bell does get an occasional walk during the winter months, especially if the temperatures are above 35 degrees, they tend to be few and far between. With the warm weather making every activity outside inviting, walking Bell is a welcome chore.
  4. Garden planning. Admittedly, planning the garden for 2016 has not been something I have wanted to do so far this year. Every once in a while, when we’d have a fairly nice day, I’d get the gardening itch, but within a day or so the cold and snow would return and chase the itch away. Now that I can actually go out and get in the gardens to pace out new additions and plan crop rotations, the time has truly come to take this seriously.

Well, maybe not the biggest list of all the to do lists I currently have running, but I am far more excited about this one than any other at the moment. The past two days have been spent checking off this list and I have enjoyed every moment. All the bedding in the house has been washed and hung out to dry,

Blog

Bell has had more walks in the past two days than in the past two months, I’ve got my plan for the 2016 garden layout done, and today I finished planting all the tomato and pepper seeds I’ll need come May (check out my post at Simply Grateful Gardener Starting Seeds for the 2016 Garden).

This is Michigan so accepting that snow will more than likely bury us again before spring truly comes to stay is just how it is. Having this reprieve and taking total advantage of the gift — for this I am — Simply Grateful.

An Early Taste of Spring

Michigan weather has got to be the most fickle weather around. One day we can have three inches of snow on the ground and temperatures below 20 degrees and the next it’s sunny, not a sign of snow left on the ground other than the quickly drying melted puddles, and the temperatures exceed 60 degrees. This was the case this past weekend.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday were all beautiful and borderline warm. The highest temps were reached on Saturday when we hit a balmy 62 degrees late in the afternoon. Kids were outside playing, some even in shorts; dogs were being walked; joggers were tearing up the pavement; and I spent some time working on my garden plans for this coming spring.

Of course the weatherman has now predicted that between tomorrow and Thursday we are supposed to get somewhere between 8 and 12 inches of snow. Really!? But then again, why should I be so surprised, this is Michigan after all.

Oh well, at least when it’s cold and snowy I can try to play catch up on blog posts and laundry, that is if the family isn’t up for a family movie night or something like that. Either way, I can definitely whip up some https://simplygratefulcooking.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/quick-easy-chocolate-lava-cakes/ to warm us all from the inside out. Check out my latest post at Simply Grateful Cooking.

Cold and snow once again on the way and spring is still a little ways off, that’s okay. Michigan weather is a lot like life — always changing — and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Farewell To The Holidays – The Twelfth Day of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the last until next year,

I reflected on the season filled with hope and holiday cheer.

DSCF2947

A bit late, but still relevant — the holidays are finally over and the transformation of the house from festive and bright back to our normal comfort zone has begun. Every Christmas season is filled with ups and down, successes and failures, joy and even sometimes sorrow as we try to make each holiday better than the last. This struggle to keep up and surpass what we experience every year can be overwhelming and add more stress to an already stressful situation. That being said and knowing this to be absolutely true, doesn’t stop me from falling into the Christmas trap every November and December.

This year I nearly gave up and in to the pressures of the holidays, threatening to ruin what can be and should be the most wonderful time of year for the entire family. Sure I’d love to believe that all year we should carry the love and magic of Christmas in our hearts and demonstrate this in our actions, but it is not something I believe can be done. Some people hold the magic longer, some manage to keep it strong inside of them, but there is only one time of year when people are a little kinder, a little more giving, and full of more hope openly without inhibition. In a perfect world this could be maintained 24/7 – 365, but alas perfect the world is not. Life is demanding and that is why I think it is so important not to lose focus during the holidays, although I can’t say that I am always successful.

Still, now that the holidays are over, there is a certain air about the house that continues to be refreshing and comforting. The holidays enter with a bang filling us with expectation and anticipation and then leave us quietly as wrapping paper is discarded, presents are put away, decorations are stored, leftovers are consumed, and family and friends fall back into their “normal” routines. We spend two months preparing for and enjoying the holidays and then the next ten months recovering. This recovery period is when I like to reflect on the holidays. It is this time that gives us the opportunity to really appreciate what we have and relish in the memories of moments that will help to keep Christmas alive in us until next year.

It takes me several weeks to untransform the house from “The Christmas House,” back to our home, and some years I find myself literally throwing decorations into boxes just to get the job over with. The minute I clean an area and clear away every sign of Christmas, leaving it refreshingly bare, I am filled with a certain excitement to have every inch of the house as clean. It takes a lot to contain the excitement I feel as ornaments are wrapped, trees are disassembled, and lights are unplugged and boxed. Saying farewell to all these symbols and reminders of Christmas for another year, allows me to miss them so that next year when they are pulled out, I appreciate them and once again am filled with their magic.

The next couple weeks I will be working on putting the decorations away, catching up on cleaning that kept being put off, and dreaming of what next year’s holidays will hold. After that, it will be time to start thinking of spring, planting the garden, and summer canning, but that is still months away. Winter has firmly made its mark here in Michigan, with bitter cold temperatures, fierce wind-chills, and snow piling up on the ground and roof tops.

DSCF2945

Today is a day for snuggling under a comfy quilt, sipping a steaming hot cup of cocoa, and counting my blessings, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Michigan Concords – Another Casualty of Old Man Winter

I have been so busy with other things lately, that canning anything hasn’t made it onto my to do list, let alone crossed my mind. Last weekend, however, as some of my major projects have been winding down, I began wondering if Concord grapes were ready for picking yet.

DSCF2245

Friday morning I called the only farm within 50 miles for grape picking and found out grape season was already closed. WHAT! How could that be? Concords don’t usually even ripen until the beginning of October here in Michigan, how could the season already be done?

Well, apparently the harsh Michigan weather we endured last winter took its toll on the grape crops and the season was very short and not very plentiful. Discouraged, I began to look for farms that were further out, but still feasible. There were none.

My only other option was to start calling farmer’s markets and see if anyone had grapes I could buy. Monday morning I called my favorite farm, Verellen Farms, and found out they had Michigan Concords. I drove there immediately, and by 9 a.m. was back home with 3 pecks of Concords for processing.

DSCF2243

For two days now I’ve been working on grape juices, jams, spreads, and syrup. Check out Simply Grateful Canning for my posts on Concord Grape Juice Revisited, Updated, & Expanded – Cran Grape JuiceCran-Grape Syrup & Spread, and Cran-Grape Jam – Not Traditional.

I’ve got about a peck left and with that I think I might try an old-fashioned recipe for grape juice to compare it with the easy recipe I’ve done for two years now.

Michigan weather can be brutal, especially when it comes to fruit trees. Thankfully this year I was still able to get some Concords, enough to stock the pantry for a good year or more, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Michigan Strawberries Are Here!

Last year I planted six strawberry plants.  By the end of summer we had harvested a few handfuls of the sweetest strawberries we’d ever eaten.  This year, I’ve been watching the strawberry plant progress since spring —

DSCF8686 DSCF8681 DSCF8678 DSCF8692

Before we left for vacation the strawberries were beginning to form and tiny green berries hid beneath the green foliage.

DSCF8685 DSCF8683

On our return, we were surprised to find strawberries galore!

DSCF9511 DSCF9510

Of course, there aren’t enough for canning — not this year anyways.  Next year, you never know.  Perhaps I’ll have enough for at least one batch of strawberry jam.  For now, I’ll make do with the two flats I picked yesterday.

DSCF1173 DSCF1177DSCF9520

 

Two hours, two flats, twenty-two pounds.  The possibilities are endless, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.