streams and paths

Both this week and next, the kids have swimming lessons in the mornings, and I think I did us all a favor in signing up, not just for the exercise and fresh air but also for the impetus it provides at a point in summer at which we can find ourselves straying farther and farther from regular bedtimes and morning risings. Sunset comes a bit earlier now, but afternoon iced coffees, post-dinner walks and bike rides, then movies and books line up, and it’s so easy to postpone sleep, especially if we don’t have to be somewhere before 9:00 a.m. So, I think a little pressure now will help us get back into line for the profound change in schedules that we’ll face in August with early morning cross country practice and, following shortly thereafter, the start of a new school year.

Once the kids have gone for their dip and showered, we’ve usually had a little time to meander before another obligation. Today we stopped at Champaign’s Second Street Basin, a large retention pond that’s been beautified. Not so long ago, this area was occupied by homes, then open grassy area that grew as the city acquired properties and demolished them. When the kids were very small, we stopped by a couple times just to scramble around the old, small Stone Arch Bridge there and splash in the little trickle of water that ran underneath. The bridge is the only thing left in this two-block section that was there 23 years ago when I moved to Champaign. (See Molly inside the original section of the bridge a few photos below.) IMG_6424 IMG_6426 IMG_6428 IMG_6430 IMG_6433To hold the hunger pangs at bay, we stopped by the French bakery, Mirabelle, in Urbana. It is so hard to decide. We always have to let at least one customer behind us order first so that we have time to figure out what it is we most want. Individual raspberry clafouti? I can make that at home. Pillowy cheese danish? Oh, that’s tempting. Sugar brioche? I don’t think I’ve tried that yet. Today we settled on two chocolate croissants and a chocolate brioche.
IMG_6436 IMG_6437 Then we were off to the U of I Extension’s Master Gardeners’ Idea Garden for our annual visit. The plots were bursting with color, all the flowers, fruits, and veggies flourishing in this cooler-than-normal and plenty moist summer we’ve been enjoying.IMG_6439 IMG_6440 IMG_6443 IMG_6445 IMG_6446 IMG_6442 IMG_6444Our family has a penchant for prettified outdoor spaces, so checking out others’ work is really inspirational for us. All the scents and textures, paths, and natural hiding spots, beckoned the kids at every turn when they were smaller. They used to skip and chase each other throughout like butterflies. As they’ve grown, their pace has slowed, and their perceptions have changed, too.

Finn didn’t want to sketch on this visit, as we have in the past, and Molly didn’t want me to take a picture of her garden-inspired drawing, but  you can see below what I was looking at and how I rendered the scene with my oh-so-novice hand. It was just for fun. We all know who the real artist in our family is, and he wasn’t with us today.
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Illiana days

Shane’s been wrapping up home projects galore over the past couple of weeks — painting trim around a back door, laying stepping stones, organizing the garage and tool shed, linking two rain barrels to a downspout, sanding his old garden statue to prepare it for a new paint job… In between, we’ve been watching our garden grow, spending time with friends, and hitting the Midwestern highways.

IMG_6415 Molly’s bucket of potatoes is flourishing. Next year, she’s due for an upgrade to a real plot. This harvest will likely equal side servings for one meal, and we would all appreciate many more.IMG_6405In this pot we have a week-old nub of celery that has sprouted new leaves. This is an experiment in growing celery from the base of a cluster we had purchased at the grocery store and would have otherwise thrown away (since I cannot add to our compost bin right now until we empty of it of its “cooked” batch). Prior to planting in soil, the nub rested in a dish of water in the sunroom for a few days, until the new leaf growth was underway.
IMG_6418IMG_6372Finn had been asking for homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream for some time, so on a slow afternoon, I picked what we needed from my generous neighbor Ming-Ming’s mint patch and began the triple-infusion process that the recipe requires. After hours of tending, we sampled the sweet treat, and Finn proclaimed the ice cream “too minty!” Molly loves it, though. 
IMG_6373While all that infusion was occurring, we were moving armloads of stuff around the garage and sweeping up all the residue left behind from last fall’s renovation work; fine vinyl siding dust was in every nook and cranny. Shane tends to aim freely toward the garbage dumpster; I’m the bowerbird who sidles by every so often to see what might be inside the bin without just cause. Here’s a box I pulled out to redirect to the recycling bin after pausing to snap this photo. So much of what we own has served various purposes, and this is one funny example.
IMG_6374We took advantage of this week’s gorgeous (cool and sunny) weather to get away for a couple days, spending a night at my grandparents’ house in southern Illinois before making our first visit to Holiday World, an amusement park in Santa Claus, Indiana. Just after kissing Gram hello, we headed to the old pasture for a walk and exploration.
IMG_6375 IMG_6376Shane gave Molly a boost onto the top of a big round hay bale. Finn, though, indicated he didn’t want help. He told Shane to stand aside, took a few running steps, launched himself forward and upward, and… bounced off. We all burst into incredulous laughter!
IMG_6377 IMG_6378 IMG_6383 IMG_6387 This guy was able to accomplish Finn’s bale-mounting technique!IMG_6384IMG_6394 IMG_6393 Blackberries!IMG_6390 IMG_6396Molly’s find? A toad!
IMG_6397I didn’t take pictures at Holiday World the following day since I didn’t want to carry the camera while going on rides. The kids and Shane enjoyed themselves at the smallish but very clean and family-friendly park. After the first (very rough) roller coaster, my brain and body felt pretty battered, and I didn’t enjoy the rest of the day very much.

I was happy to wake up to sunshine and calm the next morning at the rural Comfort Inn where we had spent the night. After breakfast, we walked around the grounds of St. Ferdinand Monastery, the home of the Benedictine Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, Indiana. We chatted with a few of the nuns, sat quietly inside the church for a few minutes, and visited the gift shop, where we purchased an assortment box of the sisters’ “divine” cookies, a blessing card for Molly, and a tiny St. Michael medal for Shane. This wasn’t a planned site visit, but it was a nice surprise on our trip, and I know we all enjoyed the stop.IMG_6399 IMG_6401 IMG_6400After a half-day of driving north through the beautiful patchwork of rolling hills in our neighboring state, we reached Turkey Run State Park, where we rented kayaks and spent a few hours meandering down Sugar Creek. This was my first time out in a kayak (Molly and Finn had learned to paddle at 4-H Camp), and I loved it. It was a relief not to have to negotiate with a fellow paddler aboard the same canoe, as I’ve done on most other river outings. The current was fairly strong, so most of the paddling we did was for the sake of steering, but we did enough that I felt like we had a nice upper body workout, too. Next time we make the trip, I hope we’ll go for a longer time and be able to take a picnic. Unfortunately, I’ve got no snaps of this outing, either! Too worried about losing a camera in the water!

Back at home a day before out-of-town friends were due for a visit, we scurried to prepare. Or, the kids played while Shane sanded old Juan and I did laundry, changed sheets, mopped floors, and shopped for groceries. Something like that. IMG_6404I worked fast so I could squeeze in an impromptu visit with another very special friend who was in town for her daughter’s swim meet.  🙂  Beth and I met while in college at the U of I, and the times we’ve gotten together since graduation have been all too rare but will hopefully increase in frequency again as our little birds begin to take flight and not need us around our nests quite as much.
IMG_6406IMG_6412 IMG_6416 At the farthest reach of our yard, Molly’s got a little fairy outpost now. We planted some Irish moss and Stonecrop amid the rocks. With a little bit o’ luck, the greenery should spread some and create a tiny flower-dotted lawn for visitors.IMG_6414

Molly got some more decorating help from our friends this weekend (although their sweet little brother is not in this photo, unfortunately). Look at all those grins… they were non-stop!

IMG_6408Their mom and I attended a great live performance at Krannert Center in Urbana last night called “That’s What She Said,” which was produced and performed by a group of women, many with whom we are acquainted. All of the personal stories shared with the audience were moving and relevant, even if not universal. We both regret not having gone to the first performance a year ago, which was another unique production by a varied cast. I hope you’ll read the description of the show at the link above, for the concept is much bigger than entertainment. It was really a powerful reminder to make the effort to truly see and understand the individual behind the roles they play. And for each of us, despite our fears, to peel away those outer layers from time to time to reveal to others — and ourselves — who we really are.

July pastimes

A long summer break is such a perfect time to learn and practice new hobbies and skills. I know that some will fall by the wayside, but one may also stick and deliver a great deal of fulfillment for years, as playing piano has for Molly.

Both kids have dabbled in pottery a bit in the past, but the weekly class Molly and Finn are taking now has them concentrating on using the potter’s wheel. It is really interesting to see how each responds uniquely to the challenges in the work.

IMG_6341 Molly would love to have a flawless, finished piece at the end of each class and is pretty disappointed if something goes awry. I think she prefers painting/glazing to the handcrafting, finding it more fun to focus on the decoration of a piece that won’t change in shape from what she’s seen. IMG_6344 IMG_6345 Finn, on the other hand, is completely engaged in the tactile process of manipulating the clay. He doesn’t seem to mind when the application of too much pressure in one spot causes his piece to warp and fold, patiently beginning again and again. Throughout the class, as he often does while eating, he brushes his hands on his clothes, his face, his hair. He exits class looking rather like Pig Pen from the Peanuts comic strips. IMG_6342 IMG_6343 We have been enjoying an unusually cool July in central Illinois, so we haven’t felt that the only way to be comfortable outside is within a body of water. Fortunately, the weather continued to cooperate beautifully for Finn’s week of mornings spent just across this cornfield to the south of our subdivision.IMG_6357 IMG_6358 IMG_6351 IMG_6352 Finn participated in a golf camp through the YMCA in which he learned the basics of the game. He really liked it and is hoping to have a few outings later this summer with his dad and uncles. IMG_6346 IMG_6347 (I biked over one morning to do some surreptitious surveillance and came home with this pretty wildflower bouquet for our porch.)IMG_6354Hours-long stretches of time without obligations also lend themselves to experiments in the kitchen. Molly and I tried making bagels this past week, and they were so good! Within 48 hours, all ten were gobbled up, and we had to exercise quite a bit of restraint for them to last that long.
IMG_6340 I mentioned last week that Molly and her friend Kate stirred up an herbal tea blend. Here’s a picture of the pretty mix of dried mint, lavender, rose petals, fennel, and chamomile. Molly has sipped a couple mugs of the brew and says its flavor is “soft and nice, very mild and calming.”IMG_6364 While our current home still doesn’t charm me in certain ways, it did shine yesterday as it proved to be a genuine haven in a rain storm that delivered about seven inches of rain within a few hours. The creek behind our house merged with the neighboring lake — a sight we’d not beheld before. Our neighbors’ sump pumps chugged water into the ditch between our properties all day. Thankfully, our basement stayed dry. Our neighborhood’s drainage system was obviously working just as it should. IMG_6367That meant we were able to help friends elsewhere in town where streets and basements were flooding, tears being shed while they attempted to save more belongings from damage. Hopefully, these next few days will bring sunshine and breezes to relieve the stress that such a storm produced.

summer fun

Busy days around here leave me with little time for blogging. Hopefully, I can catch up!

Our summer motto:
IMG_6239Unless you’re Finny, and you have your first case of athlete’s foot.  😦  No fun for him, but he did get a pile of new socks and his own can of treatment spray.

Here’s our almost-teen gal, hair curled and ready to go to a friend’s birthday party recently:IMG_6233 She’s now just a quarter of an inch shorter than me!

Not only have we been out and about these past couple of weeks, but we’ve had some lovely company, too, including our wonderful friend Erin. I think she probably returned home to Boston thoroughly exhausted from all that she did while in C-U, but we are so excited to catch up when she’s here that we have trouble tucking ourselves into bed at a reasonable hour.

IMG_6275We spent Independence Day close to home, where there’s plenty of low-key entertainment on offer in Chambana.
IMG_6299 We staked a patch of grass along Lincoln Avenue in Urbana to watch the Freedom Celebration Parade. While we waited, we enjoyed our picnic lunch: tomato/mozz/pesto pasta salad, triple berry salad, and Cretor’s Chicago Mix (cheddar and caramel popcorn). Yum.IMG_6297 Our friend Kate joined us for the afternoon and evening, which included much giggling, blending of “Sleepytime Tea,” dinner, TCBY, and fireworks.

The next morning we drove to Forrest to my brother Nathan’s place for a weekend visit and marathon woodworking session. Since the women and children were needed very infrequently in the garage, Emily (sis-in-law-to-be) and Emery (sis-in-law already) and I, along with the kids, had time to hang with Emily’s dad and brothers. Kittens were involved. No child or Em left without wanting one of her or his very own. IMG_6316 IMG_6326An awesome swing ride is proven to alleviate any sadness resulting from the denial of pets, though.
IMG_6321 Meanwhile, boys were hard at work (as hard as Capt. Morgan would allow, that is):IMG_6314 (Here, working atop a picnic table made by my dad!)IMG_6315 On what, you ask? Well, lawn-size Jenga sets…IMG_6331 IMG_6333 and lots o’ cornhole boards…IMG_6334IMG_6337 IMG_6338There might be a new Wenger side business besides painting!

Nathan, Austin, and Shane ~ You all did fantastic work! Can’t wait to play games with you!

Nathan & Emily ~ Thanks for always being such gracious hosts! We love being in your beautiful home with you and sharing delicious meals.


summer visit to Chicago

Shane had a little business in Chicago early this week, and he gamely invited those of us who “don’t travel lightly” (always, we’re carrying stacks of books and electronics) to accompany him for a couple nights’ stay in the city. We routed through Tinley Park on our way, so we could take in a rec league soccer game my brother Adam’s girlfriend, Kaitlyn (in sage green t-shirt), played. She was great — and it was a fun surprise to see her dad on the pitch, too! Little bro Nathan & his fiancee, Emily, joined us for the match and dinner afterward.IMG_6277After a morning of workouts all around, we cleaned up and walked to Bongo Room for lunch. Man, their pancakes are delish… I had a single (plate-size) blackberry graham cracker pancake topped with lemon cream and blueberry swirl. The serving sizes are so large that I knew I could round out my smallish meal with savory bits plucked from the kids’ plates.
IMG_6278 Bellies full, we strolled through Millenium Park…IMG_6279 IMG_6280 stopping for some goofy photo ops…IMG_6285 IMG_6286and landed at the Art Institute, where we spent the rest of the afternoon. Here, Molly is peeking into one of the Thorne miniature rooms, which the kids and I read about a while back in The Sixty-Eight Rooms series by Marianne Malone.
IMG_6288It rained heavily both evenings we were in the city. Here, I tried to capture a photo of one of the storms as it approached over Lake Michigan. Unintentionally, I think I also caught a bit of the World Cup competition on TV and a bit of our hotel room decor!

The book I brought along with me was After the Sour Lemon Moon, a first novel by Denise Parsons. The story took place in a few settings, one of which was Chicago. The central character grew up in the city with the seemingly oceanic lake as a backdrop and touchstone. She recalled the comfort that gazing out at the vast body of water would deliver to her. I think it’s similar in ways to the smallness or humility that one feels when in the mountains or atop a rise in the midst of cornfields in the Midwest. I enjoyed Parsons’ sentences while sprawled across the hotel bed, looking up at the changing scene on the other side of the glass while feeling safe and dry inside.