my little slice of heaven

my little slice of heaven
My little slice of heaven, click image to see more

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Spring Is In The Air

Burpee's, still a Philadelphia institution.

Every January, in the post holiday doldrums of early winter, there arrives in the mail those first harbingers of spring, the seed catalogs. Quickening the pulse of gardeners, these are like the earliest of migratory birds returning north and bringing with them the fecund smell of greenery still a season away. This always precipitates conversations about what garden projects we'd like to tackle in the coming months.
My wife and I are avid gardeners and have maintained a large (by urban standards) vegetable garden, roughly forty feet square. Really more of a "truck patch", as my father was fond of saying, we grow heirloom tomatoes, onions, leeks, asparagus, sorrel, collards, chard, peppers, eggplant, several varieties of squash and of course, basil. While a marvel of productivity, the vege patch has not, by any standard, been a thing of beauty. We've been entertaining the notion of redesigning the garden, replacing the badly sagging fence, leveling the interior's current slight slope, and constructing raised beds. I find that the meditation on projects of this kind makes the winter not just speedier, but more fruitful (apologies...).

The current "truck patch"

We'd love to remake this into a more aesthetically pleasing space in keeping with the adjacent more formal rose garden.

The rose garden with the truck patch beyond.
Here's one of our aspirational gardens, of course it's at Martha Stewart's Bedford, NY farm, Cantitoe Corners.
One can always dream...
Martha's Cantitoe Corners

Monday, December 17, 2012

Down The Drain; More Thoughts On Less Water

The water the first week of January 2013, has dropped even further.

Extremely low water this fall on Michigan's Upper Peninsula
As you've read in previous posts,  my family has been spending summers on Michigan's UP for generations. But only once in all those years has the water level of the "middle" Great Lakes, Huron and Michigan, approached the frighteningly low levels it has reached today. Joined at the Straits of Mackinac, these lakes, along with Canada's Georgian Bay, are one system. There a number of factors responsible for what's been happening. We have been experiencing several years of lighter than normal precipitation in the upper MId-West. The Mississippi River has been in the news recently for the same reasons. In addition, we've had a period of milder than normal winters, which allow greater than usual evaporation from the lakes. When the lakes freeze over, the evaporative process shuts down, when they don't, the dry winter air takes it's toll, sucking moisture out of the lakes which falls, down wind, as "lake effect" snow. Interestingly, the water levels of Lakes Superior, Erie and Ontario are mandated by treaties with Canada to be kept within certain parameters to ensure international trade is not deleteriously effected. These three lakes also have engineered controls in place enabling management of the water levels (read "dams & locks") 
Unsurprisingly, the biggest impact on the increasingly lower water in Lakes Michigan and Huron appears to be of man- made origin. Within the past three decades, the St. Clair River which leads from the bottom of Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair and which is the main egress point for the water of the middle lakes, has been over-dredged, in a misguided effort to allow ever larger ocean-going shipping traffic to enter Lake Huron. This has allowed hundreds of millions of acre feet of fresh water to drain out, through Erie, Ontario, the St. Lawrence finally to the Atlantic. For those of us who've been  watching this happen, hoping it was a natural cycle that would soon reverse itself, it has become painfully clear that it won't. Not without help from the federal government and that of Canada.
I've started a petition on the Obama administration's web site, "WE THE PEOPLE" to get the issue to his desk. Even if you have no vested interest in the region, please take a moment to sign the petition and spread the word. We need 25,000 signatures before January 10, 2013.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Straight and Narrow

Returning after an inexcusably long absence, we've had a busy autumn, and I am gob-smacked to realize that Thanksgiving is less than a week away. As an update to my previous post, I'm pleased to report that I'm down more than 20 lbs. My lifestyle changes seem to be working as planned. The portion control and daily exercise have not only kick started weight loss, but seem to be providing an attitude boost as well. One concern I have, as we all look the holidays squarely in the eye, is if I'll be thrown off track by the rich food and increased entertaining. Our oldest son returns from college next Wednesday, and he has the biggest appetite in the family. Not to mention that we're hosting 12 or 14 for Thanksgiving and so will have ice boxes groaning with left-overs. I'm hoping my will power doesn't desert me, and that I stay on the straight and increasingly narrow.

Monday, September 10, 2012

My Come To Jesus

Having recently turned the big 5-0 , I've noticed a common thread amongst all of my old friends who have also walked the coals this year. Turning fifty seems to be much like a New Year's resolution writ large, like a January freighted with more meaning, because this time the month won't swing back around, the last chance, perhaps, for a new beginning. For me, many of life's chapters can be summarized by what vices I've given up, thankfully the more pernicious of them fell by the wayside early on. I remember giving up the occasional use of marijuana when my oldest child was born.  I dropped cigarettes when I was 39. 
What I came to realize this year was that if I didn't make a lifestyle change that would get my weight under control now, I would continue the inexorable march to the portly department at Brooks Brothers. And that my bad back was just going to get worse. It's somehow odd that the friends we make in life are often of similar build or have similar traits-'birds of the feather..', if you will, so more than one old friend has been grappling with this same issue. Maybe it goes hand in hand with the seemingly ubiquitous convertible in the garage? 
What I've come to understand about human behavior regarding diets is that they're much like gym memberships purchased in January-destined to fail. So I've begun an effort to keep track of what I'm eating and more importantly, how much I'm eating. My diet has historically been healthy, though too heavy on red meats. It's really always been more of a quantity issue, not a quality issue. A trainer I work with told me about a great app for iPhone and iPad called MyFitnessPal, which makes keeping a diary of caloric intake and daily exercise quite easy. The beauty of the app is that you can enter your starting weight(quel horreur!), a target weight and a duration over which you want to reach the target. My target is 200lbs, my old fighting trim, and a duration of one year, the rest I'll leave to your imagination. In order to reach my goal, MyFitnessPal says I need to keep my calories under 2200/day, I've keeping them at about 2000, and have dropped about 8lbs in 3 weeks. It turns keeping track of your caloric intake into a game, much like trying to eek out the greatest mileage when driving a hybrid.
In addition to the epiphany that I can no longer eat what or as much as I like, it occurred to me that my thrice weekly strength training and stretching regimen wasn't cutting it. I needed to up the aerobic exercise in order to ramp up my metabolism. So I've started walking- a lot- I try to walk at least three miles each day, my preferred route is 4.3 miles with a killer hill at about the half way point. The beauty is that walking makes an amazing difference in the amount of back pain I've been suffering, and I'm losing weight at a faster pace-a win-win.
All of this has been playing out in the context of our oldest leaving for college, so there was already 
a change in the daily patterns of our household and family greater than just my new outlook on life.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Full Circle

Mom during her 'wooden spoon' years

I've just returned from several weeks vacation with my family, a portion of which was spent with my mother. It was interesting spending time with her, she and I are much alike, and find each other easy company. When I was younger and living in her home, she was somewhat fastidious and always a bit of task-master, the 'bad cop' to my father's 'good cop'. I always attributed my quasi-OCD behavior to being her son. The revelation I had this summer was that as she's aged she has become an entirely different person. No surprise, really, it's been thirty years since I lived under her roof. My image is an out of date snapshot of her in her forties. Now that I'm 50 and she's nearing her eighth decade, I've begun to notice that in some ways she, herself, needs a bit of guidance, gentle reminders now and then. The truth is, I see our roles somehow reversing themselves; the child as parent and vice versa. Partly, this was due to her spending ten days as a guest in our home (what is it they say about fish and house guests...). As I mentioned, like the younger her, I'm on the obsessive-compulsive side-a monster of her own creation, if you will. I was either reminding her to clean up after herself in the kitchen, or quietly in disbelief that she was as messy as my two teenage sons. When I was their age, she ran a tight ship, large wooden kitchen spoon in hand to aid in direction and enforcement. (Some other childhood friends shared membership in the 'wooden spoon club') I'm beginning to understand the label 'sandwich generation', we've got kids that aren't entirely out of the house, and parents that are beginning to warrant almost as much concern. Of course she won't be around forever, so what's a few dirty dishes and crumbs on the counter?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Boarding House Reach

Fresh cut flowers from this summer's intern, Rachael Bentley

Each summer, for the past four, at least, my wife has had interns from her company come and stay with our family. Usually these are the children of old friends or family, who through the nepotism common in such situations, have finagled a paid summer gig at her company. Being parents to two boys, my wife and I have welcomed the opportunity to have these interns,  exclusively girls, it's been an opportunity to have nieces, cousins, and the loveliest of our good friends' progeny for an extended six week visit. Perhaps it's been even better than having daughters of our own, at the very least it's given our male-centric family a welcome change of dynamic. 
We have a big , old house, which seems to have been built for more than a family of four, and it positively hums for the duration of these internships. Dinners seem 'Walton-esque', and left-overs are scarce, or packed for lunch at the office the next day. I've always been a little envious of larger families,  these stints in the summer are a bit like having the big family, only without the tuition bills... Of course there's the cut-flowers and the baking, which are such a welcome and pleasant surprise, and our sons' friends seem to linger even longer when these girls are around. 
I'm already beginning to wonder who's going to come next summer.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Long Goodbye

 My wife and I were fortunate to spend a lovely week with some dear friends at their family retreat outside Livingston, Montana. It had been many years, since a college aged NOLS course, that I'd spent any time in this part of the world. I had forgotten how breathtakingly beautiful it is, how alive one feels when hiking through the mountains, or floating down a river, still a bit swollen from snowmelt, fly rod in hand. The climate in the Absaroka's this time of year was refreshing, overnight lows in the 30's and daytime highs in the 80's. The lupines and poppies were just beginning to bloom, it was just about perfect. 
 The only thing to mar this idyllic vacation was the fact that our friend and his sibling were in the process of selling this remarkable slice of heaven. As I've remarked upon before, joint ownership of this sort of family vacation home proves very challenging. So our week was bittersweet by association, colored by second thoughts and recriminations. Emotions run high when dealing with real estate and even higher with family.
 Despite this narrative playing out in the background, the four of us had a fabulous week, and I'm a little disappointed to be back in the humidity and 'closeness' of the East.

Grain elevator, Livingston, MT

The West Boulder Creek

Fishing the Stillwater

A  view that will not soon be forgotten.