Our Kind of Vacation

I am lucky enough to have been born and raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, known as the UP (you pea) to those of us in the region.  My family still lives up there and each summer we go up to see them and enjoy some good summer weather and outdoor activities.  For this trip we decided to stop at Tahquamenon Falls, which is a state park in the eastern UP.  It is a big park with a lot of hiking trails and two main areas of waterfalls.  We didn’t do much hiking due to time limits but it was still a nice place to stop. 

The lower falls are a little smaller but there are boats to rent so you can paddle around below the lower falls.  The water is brown from the tannins in it that come from the cedar trees on the river banks and watershed. 

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The upper falls are pretty spectacular!  The kids couldn’t believe it.  They were pretty excited, and you can see why!

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We would have loved to have stayed longer but we still had about 4 hours of driving to get to my home town.  Summers there are usually quite a bit cooler than they are where I live now but this year it was unusually cold.  That didn’t stop us from having fun!  We saw some old friends and spent time with family.  Some of our friends have a cottage on Lake Superior,  and it was a cold day to visit them.  We did some kayaking on a small lake, even my 8 year old daughter had fun doing that, in her own kayak too!  There was  time to play in grandma and grandpa’s creek….

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And one cool, windy, overcast evening, the kids were in the lake with a friend for two hours…

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The adults didn’t go in because it was a little cool for swimming… but that didn’t stop the kids.  The lake is too much fun for them to care about the cold! 

After a week of rest and relaxation it was time to head back.  We stopped at a store that sells a lot of Finnish things – foods, textiles, glassware, jewelry, sauna supplies and other things.  I have gotten a taste for Salmiakki, which is dark licorice but it has a salty taste.  I didn’t like it at first, in fact I couldn’t een eat it.  But after trying it a few times, and after getting a little box in the mail from my friend Mari at SaimaaLife.com, it started to grow on me so to speak.  It is definitely an acquired taste, but I have grown to like it enough to look for places to buy it.  I also bought some Finnish coffee called Presidentti.  The Finns are very serious about their coffee!  Now that I have some Finnish coffee I will need to make some Pulla (Finnish cardamom bread) to go with it.

You can see I might have tasted the salmiakki before taking its picture!  :)

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All in all it was a good trip, with traffic that wasn’t heavy and good weather for driving.  I am hoping that it has recharged me enough to get me through everything I need to do this summer.  I would highly recommend the UP for a vacation spot, it is beautiful in the summer when the days are long and warm enough to enjoy a full day outdoors.

Early Summer (almost!)

This part of summer is my favorite.  It is actually not officially summer for another week but this part of June is my favorite part of the season.  It is usually  not too hot yet, the garden starts to grow in earnest and early local foods finally become available. 

Right now where I live, it is strawberry season.  The season here is not long and it is even shorter this year due to having such a cold and dry spring.  Last week we got over 2 inches of rain and it got very warm so from what I hear, the strawberry fields have exploded in a sea of red!  (In a good way though!)  Sadly I did not have time to pick this year and my own plants were just planted so they didn’t produce.  i shopped around and found a vendor who had berries for jam at a reduced price – just what I was looking for. 

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I bought 16 quarts (two flats) which is my usual purchase each year.  Maybe next year I will be able to pick them from my own patch! 

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Meanwhile, my garden is doing well.  All the rain has made it very muddy though so I haven’t been able to weed it.  I sank up to my ankles in mud!  Finally I have seedlings for everything I have planted.  The potatoes are really happy…

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I hope we get a lot of potatoes because we eat them often.   And they taste so good right out of the garden!

The kids are out of school now and we are settling into our summer routine.  Last night they were playing outside when we found this little frog…

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I think he was a tree frog because of his round, sticky toes… that and he seemed to like to perch on the end of a finger or on an arm.

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I hope for warm weather for all of you and that you’re able to enjoy this early part of the season!

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Notes from my garden

Today was the day for me to go to the local garden center to buy some shrubs, flowers and tomato plants.  As I was walking through the rows and rows of plants looking for what I was thinking about, I realized that one of my favorite things about gardening was feeling the sun on my back.  After such a long, miserable winter and a cold and dry spring, it just feels so good to be warm.

Today the flowers got some attention.

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It was windy as usual but warm enough for a tank top which felt wonderful.  After I finished the front bed I went around to the back and gave the forget-me-nots a break from the weeds.  They have mostly gone to seed now but there are still a few blossoms.

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My vegetable garden gave me a surprise yesterday!  Guess what this is!

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This is a little tiny purple potato plant! I was so happy to see these coming up the other day.  For a long time nothing seemed to be happening.  It is rewarding to see things grow!

Working in the garden

One thing I have been looking forward to for a long time, long before we started the house-building process is having a garden.  There seems to be something very therapeutic about digging in the dirt, tending to plants and watching them grow.  In the not-so-distant past, people planted gardens to feed their families, out of necessity.  So many people who live out in the country plant gardens.  Now we have grocery stores and other places to purchase food, but there is something really nice about growing your own.  Aside from the superior taste and nutritional quality, being able to feed yourself and your family something you grew is just really an accomplishment!

We live on a 12 acre parcel that is mostly open field.  We had a lot of flexibility in deciding where to actually put the garden.  We chose a spot where I knew the soil was soft and easy to work.  We wound up tilling a 50 by 100 foot plot!  It still seems very big but I am sure once the plants start to grow it will be a comfortable size.
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On May 20th, I started planting.  We have had an unusually cold and dry spring.  We actually had a killing frost a night or two before I started planting.  It was a little extra work to till the soil because it had turned into a meadow and was full of grass and weeds.  With a borrowed tractor and tiller, we got the plot ready and I let the soil dry for a few days.  On June 1, I planted some of the vegetables that need warmer soil plus several donated strawberry plants.  Over the next couple of days, I will plant the rest of my seeds and I will purchase some tomato plants.

This summer I am going to learn the art of canning – preserving foods usually in glass jars to be shelf-stable, for future use.  Some foods that are acidic can be put up in jars with only a hot water bath.  Other foods need to be canned in a pressure cooker in order to prevent spoiling.  I now own a pressure cooker which makes me nervous, but I have a friend who is going to teach me how to use it.  I will help her with her canning, and in turn she will teach me what I need to know.  If my garden does really well, I am going to have a lot of food to share and to put up for the winter.

I don’t have much to show yet since our weather has been very unstable – very hot one day, and cold enough to need the furnace a couple of days later.  We did get plenty of rain so little by little, I should start to see more plants getting a start at life.  I do have some little radish seedlings to show for my work… they mature in only 23 days, so very soon I will need to thin them out so we can eat fresh radishes in a couple of weeks!
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After hiatus, I hope to be back!

It has been a long time since I posted!  The past couple of years have been a whirlwind, and I am still recovering.  Shortly after my last post we decided it was time to start the process of building a house.  Ground-breaking happened in the summer of 2013 but it wasn’t any old “hey honey, let’s build a house”… it was “Let’s build a house!  You will need some steel-toed boots, and please let the school know that you’ll be unable to volunteer at all this year.  I hope you like to stain and paint, because you’ll be doing a lot of that… oh, and I’m going to train you to be an electrician’s apprentice.”  I also learned to manage a construction project because that was our job… I got over my discomfort in calling people for bids, bugging them when we needed our supplies yesterday, and getting on someone’s tail when they were late in getting their job done.  I made sure the bills were paid on time and we worked hard to stay on budget.

So the process began of course with a plan, and then site planning… I learned how to use a brush hog!  Also banks are a pain, even with nice ladies who understand how to work with our particular builder.  Deadlines and dates are also very liquid and variable… they are always subject to change due to weather or workers getting delayed for whatever reason (including us).  After the ground-breaking, the foundation and floors were poured, then the framing was crazy quick…. within a week the house was basically up, and another week after that, when the trusses were delivered, it was another week and the house really looked like a house!

Winter, however, was not our friend.  It came very early after an incredibly wet fall.  I am honestly glad we got the last of the cement in before November because that month was too wet for concrete work and after that it froze solid until May.  The wiring has to be put in before the house can be insulated, and there were several days when I was pulling wire, and it was 11 degrees (Farenheit) inside the house!  We did finally finish that, which was followed by insulation and dryall, then after the drywall had been primed, the geothermal people came and turned on our geothermal furnace.  Having heat in here was great… but due to the bad weather, we still did not have a driveway nor did we have a drain field.

We worked on the house every single weekend for many seasons to come.  I stained all the windows, most of the doors, and the trim.  I painted everything that needed painting.  I had a little help with those things from family but I did most of it myself.  We had a really great carpenter build the staircase nearly from scratch, and when he was done with it, I stained that too.

It wasn’t until last year that I realized there was such a thing as springtime load restrictions on roads.  Most roads need to thaw in the spring, and then be allowed to dry before any heavy equipment can drive on them.  This prevents the heavy loads from wrecking the road (or at least in theory it does).  This is knows as “frost laws” and last spring was the longest period of frost law restrictions in our excavator’s memory… and he’s been doing this all his life.  It kept raining and that prevented the road beds from drying out enough.  Once the frost laws were lifted, the work site was completely flooded for the next few weeks.  It wasn’t until the end of May/start of June that our drain field and driveway were completely finished.  It was such a relief to be able to drive right up to the garage and park there!

We got occupancy in June after passing all of our inspections.  We did a lot of work over the summer to get the house ready for moving in… which finally happened around the end of October… it was the last really nice weekend we had before winter came early again in November.  We have odds and ends of trim left, which consists mostly of windows, but we’ll get to it when we get to it.  Moving was followed by one month of everyone in the house being sick and then after that it was the holidays.  I’m actually quite surprised, looking back, the huge amount of progress we made at the time… considering it was mostly just me and my husband working, with the occasional and much-appreciated help from a few family members.

So where does that leave this blog?  I have a lot of ideas and I want to devote more time to rejuvenating this space and spending more time with it.  Since we are now living out in the sticks on a 12 acre parcel that was an old farm field, it may focus a bit on country living… but I hope to also have posts about nurturing one’s self.  My sister knitting blog will also receive a face-lift along with more fiber arts or whatever strikes my fancy.  It is time for me to get back to the things that I love after nearly a year and a half of back-breaking work.  Writing, music, art, fiber arts… that’s where my passions lie, even though I must say, I’m pretty tickled that we built this:

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Until later!

Bird activity, and the endless winter…

It’s cold here.  That’s normal for this part of Michigan in early spring, but this spring has been unusually cold.  We had January temperatures and snow earlier this week.  There were a few days when the lawn was bare and we even had robins (a bird that shows up in the spring in this part of the country).  But now the grass is covered with snow again and the robins are nowhere to be seen.  We are all tired of it and complaining.

Last year, we had freakishly hot weather in March.  It was so warm that all the fruit trees bloomed early.  We then had a killing freeze in April that wiped out most of the fruit tree blossoms.  This resulted in most orchards only having about 10% of their normal crop.  I love Michigan apples, cherries and peaches, and they were hard to find and expensive last summer because of this.  I can see that the chances of a good fruit crop are probably much higher this year.

Now, some bird pictures.  Here are some of starlings in flight:

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We had a hawk here too, who was brave enough to sit on my deck with me in the window!  I’m not 100% sure about the identification, I think it’s a broad-winged hawk but if anyone who reads this needs to correct me, please do.  He was snacking on some of the other birds that have been visiting my house!

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Edited to add: This is a juvenile Cooper’s hawk. I had him identified by a naturalist at our local nature center. They can be tricky to ID especially when they are still young. This one will have his first birthday this year!

Butterflies

I had my volunteer day at Butterflies in Bloom again at Dow Gardens in Midland, Michigan earlier this week.  I love how the exhibit changes each time I go.  Midland kids didn’t have school that day so there were a lot of people there, but even while crowded, it is so peaceful.  Here are a few photos I took this week!  Enjoy!

 

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…and the frog!  There is a pond in the conservatory which is home to several frogs.  This one was hiding under a lily pad.