Summer’s End

cowsAs a child, my brother and I competed for who could collect the most empty cicada shells. It was a clear-cut contest: whoever collected the most shells won. As an adult, spotting an abandoned locust shell inspires a split second of alarm followed by recognition and realignment. First, I remember what it is. Then I recall what it represents: an unofficial message from Mother Nature saying that summer is coming to an end.

Mother Nature tells me about the summer’s end in other ways too: the banks of the rivers and lakes are cracked and dry, the grass is a scorched brown, and the sun sets at least an hour earlier than it did at the summer’s apex. In contrast, my vegetable garden suddenly offers abundant crops that challenge me to keep up. Yes, it’s time to offer tomatoes to neighbors….maybe even complete strangers if it means that it they won’t just rot on the vine. But Mother Nature isn’t the only one handing out the notice.

About a month ago, department stores started promoting back-to-school-sales. Those sales have now reached a fever pitch. Trumpeting huge discounts and large supplies.
About a week ago, school buses started rumbling through the neighborhood on their trial runs. Now parents wait with their young children at the bus stop. The children are often uncertain, even teary-eyed, and wail their reluctance to leave.

And even though it’s still hot and muggy around here, local pools have posted closing dates. Events on weekday nights have become harder to find.

With one huge exception: the state fair. Here the barnyards are busy with determined cowgirls flying around barrels. The stalls are filled to full-capacity. The squeals of pigs and bleats of sheep. Screams of delight from the ride enthusiasts. Muttered complaints from tired adults. Carnival music. Blaring sound from main stage acts all mingled with the sweet smell of cotton candy and fried corn dogs. If you live in the Midwest, you probably know what I’m talking about.

Time now to give a once-over to your summer bucket list. Catch a summer flick. Pack a picnic lunch. Top off a round of Mini Golf with an ice cream cone. And, if you haven’t been to one, go to a state fair.

‘Cause there’s no such thing as an endless summer.

SMF-Jane1Jane Baker is the Co-Owner of Saving Memories Forever. She likes to write, garden, explore, read, meet with friends, and pat her cats. Not known for big spending, she and her husband, Harvey, like to take advantage of the free activities around St. Louis.  

 

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Gardening Lessons from Mother Nature

vegetable-flower-garden-cantaloupe-marigold_226e3768261fe09454889d0d38bc8281I don’t care how many gardening articles you read, gardening is mostly about trying …and learning.  As they say, Mother Nature is a good teacher.

Let’s just say that I’m on a steep learning curve.

This year my greatest challenge was figuring out the dirt situation.

 

We moved into our townhouse in the middle of June so I rather hastily threw a garden together. After the first few shovelfuls of dirt turned up mostly chunks of concrete and heavy clay I decided the best solution would be to go with a raised bed. As an experiment (I actually thought it would work), I planted some veges outside the garden area to give them room and to see how they fared in the poor soil. More on that experiment later.

Building a raised bed called for manpower that I simply don’t have. So I enlisted the help of a friend who built me a 16-foot by 4-foot raised bed and then filled it with garden soil. Compared to the lousy dirt that I’d first discovered, this new garden soil was like manna from Heaven. It turns out, though, that the quality of good garden soil was still lacking. That’s a problem that I’m addressing with my new hobby of composting.

Then there was the matter of planning the garden. This is when I learned about companion plants and dealing with the “enemy”….rabbits. Planting with companion plants in mind was like working on a puzzle. It was fun! The solution for dealing with the rabbits was an amusing one. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Stuff old stockings with dog hair and then lay lots of them around your garden. Now these lumpy gigantic wormlike things don’t exactly look lovely, but they work really well (and eventually they pretty much are covered up with the foliage from the plants.)

So…what did I grow? Eggplant, tomatoes, basil, dill, zucchini, sage, thyme, cucumbers, bell peppers and chives mixed in with petunias, marigolds, zinnias, and some milkweed. Totally successful? No.

photo(4)Lessons Learned

There’s a long list of lessons learned from this year’s effort. Here are just a few things I learned.

• I learned that I need to do a better job of placing my crops. The tomato plants pretty much suffocated the red peppers. On the other hand, I’m not a person who places a high priority on neatly lined rows. I like my more random approach–even if it means fewer vegetables.

 

• Start with good soil…and then build it up. Even good soil needs help. Hence, our venture into composting.

• Only plant inside the garden. The cucumbers and dill that I planted outside the official garden area just wilted in the poor soil. In fact, I’d say they were pathetic.

• I also learned that that I don’t have to grow every type of vegetable that I love: in fact, it would be wiser and cheaper for me to buy peppers at the nearby Soulard Farmers Market. Come Saturday afternoon, there are bargains that you just can’t beat—and you’re getting fresh produce.

• I learned that less is probably more. I need to stick to growing the things that we actually eat in abundance. Basil (which we use to make a delicious pesto sauce) and tomatoes will definitely be part of next year’s crop. Dill and thyme won’t be.

• I learned was how much I enjoy flowers. As the flowers spread out, I noticed that my eyes were always drawn to their colors. I’m now including more flowers in my gardening plans.

Do you have some gardening wisdom to share? I’d love to hear your gardening stories and advice. Please comment!

SMF-Jane2Jane Baker is the Co-Owner of Saving Memories Forever. She likes to write, garden, explore, read, meet with friends, and pat her cats. Not known for big spending, she and her husband, Harvey, like to take advantage of the free activities around St. Louis. She volunteers with several local organizations with her favorite one being STL Village. 

Summer Doldrums Invite Mini Celebrations

hot summer day woman with fanYou know what I’m talking about: the part of summer when the vegetable garden is in full swing and lazy afternoons include refreshing trips to a local swimming pool. Nights are filled with watching the kids chase fireflies and gazing at the stars. You’re enjoying the more leisurely pace and ice-filled glasses of iced tea.

Then there’s the flip side. You’re beginning to get a tad crabby at the endless baseball games and you could really live without the swarms of gnats and the itch of bug bites. You’re even beginning to consider trading in some of the sticky swelter of summer heat for the cooler breezes of Fall. This is when you know you’ve reached Deep Summer. Better known as the Summer Doldrums.

Making Your Own Fun

It’s definitely time to mix things up and create some new fun. Good news is that you don’t have to look far.

It turns out that summer offers you dozens of holidays that are just begging for a mini celebration. Here’s a short list of five July holidays that give you a great excuse to invite some friends or family over. For a more complete list, click here for Next Avenue writer John Stark’s full “Summer’s 20 Most Unusual Holidays” article.

July 12: Pecan Pie Day: Since I love pecan pie, this mini holiday was an especially welcome discovery. Now I no longer have to wait until Thanksgiving to break out my favorite pecan pie recipe. There are actually quite a few food holidays during July: To name a few, there’s Macaroni Day (July 14) and Peach Ice Cream Day (July 17). They all give you a great excuse for getting hold of your favorite recipes and making them with your children or grandchildren. You might even want to consider recording the remarks of the participants as they cook and be sure to save and share that recipe. You can do it all by using Saving Memories Forever. By the way, this linked pecan pie recipe suggested by Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman blogger) is to die for.

July 14: Pandemonium Day: This day gives you permission to go with the flow. Laugh at all the things that go wrong….you know, the things that typically rattle you. Instead, today let the challenges amuse you. You might even want to take the time to record the story of your Terrible, Horrible, No Good,Very Bad Day (edited title borrowed from Judith Viorst). On the other hand, if life has become too calm and predictable, create some excitement to recharge your batteries. To really get your heart racing, John Stark suggests that you dig out Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and throw a last-minute dinner party for 10. Brioche anyone?

picture of hammock man readingJuly 22: Hammock Day: There’s no sight more inviting on a hot summer day than a hammock, especially one that’s shaded by a leafy tree. Climb aboard. Leave your phone behind and bring out a book (Kindles and Nooks are OK too) and start reading. Let Mother Nature rock you with her warm, calming breezes: zzzzzz.

July 26: Aunts and Uncles Day:When you think about it, our parents’ brothers and sisters were often our favorite relatives growing up. They let us stay up late, took us to fun places, and gave us impractical holiday presents. Treasure your aunts and uncles who are still living. Why not repay some favors? Take them to a fun event. At the very least, call them!

July 31: Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day: This day was originally created to bring attention to musical instruments like the Appalachian dulcimer, the auto-harp, and the sousaphone. This is a great day to broaden your musical horizons. Free concerts in the park are all over the place in St. Louis and most likely, they’re in your area too.

August Holidays

The fun excuses for a celebration don’t just come to a screeching halt at the end of July. Among others, August features the following special days:

August 3:   National Watermelon Day

August 5:   National Night Out

August 9:   Book Lovers’ Day

August 12: Vinyl Record Day

August 19: Photography Day

The month of August ends with one of my favorites, Just Because Day (August 27), a holiday that has no rhyme or reason. On this fine day, do whatever you want. It’s a perfect way to cap off the lazy, hazy days of summer. Make the day into what you want it to be. Just because.

SMF-Jane2Jane Baker is the Co-Owner of Saving Memories Forever. She likes to write, garden, explore, read, meet with friends, and pat her cats. Not known for big spending, she and her husband, Harvey, like to take advantage of the free activities around St. Louis. She volunteers with several local organizations with her favorite one being STL Village. 

Game Time at Family Reunions!

family reunionSummer is THE time for family reunions! That’s no surprise.But what is something of a surprise are the new, emerging activities that are available.

Oh, some activities remain the same: certainly the family baseball game is still alive and well. As are card games and the wonderful smokey smell of BBQs.

 

But there is a also new range of activities that is now available to family reunion planners. Even better, many of these activities build ongoing relationships between the participants. The truth is that while these new activities are introduced at the family reunion, they can easily continue year-round.

Three New Activity Ideas

1.  Ask each family member what’s special about them. Record the telling of their special trait and share it with the family. As family members develop new talents, have each person give quick updates throughout the year. That includes your child’s first words and your 8-year old granddaughter’s new-found talent for putting both her feet behind her head!

2. Plan a fun cooking competition! This activity gives talented cooks a chance to show off and the hungry masses something to smile about. Pick a popular theme such as baked goods or BBQ, and invite an all-age panel of family members to judge the competition. Record some cooking-in-process conversation! Remember to take pictures of the submitted dishes as well as the recipes. Be sure to upload these recordings, pictures and text files to a place where you can share them.

3. Make a game out of collecting family stories! Saving Memories Forever allows you to create a Pass-the-Phone activity. Preparing for this activity uses the “high-tech” skills that the younger set has and the experiences of everyone else. (Actually, both groups share many of these skills so it’s a little unfair to group them as I have.)

The game is played by “going around the circle” and asking relatives a question. (If there’s a large group, you might want to select just a few relatives to ask questions now and return later to ask other relatives questions.) The responses are then recorded under each person’s name and then uploaded to the Saving Memories Forever website where they can be shared.

All the planner has to do is find someone who’s comfortable with easy “high-tech”. With a little preparation, the tech guru in the family can easily become the family story recorder. A  Premium Subscription provides unlimited storytellers. Additional recordings can be added and shared throughout the year.  

 

Helpful Tips For Playing Pass-the-Phone

Since we anticipate that you might have a some follow-up questions, we’ve listed a few questions (along with responding suggestions) below.

How do I get started? First, the Saving Memories Forever app provides story prompts.(Of course, you can also ask your own question.)  Beyond that, storyteller Kim Weitkamp suggests that you start with the eldest relatives first (but watch out that you don’t just focus on older relatives or you’ll likely send the wrong message).

How can I encourage relatives who are reluctant to talk to participate? In some cases, it’s a simple matter of having a favorite relative –maybe a grandchild—ask the question. Or it maybe it’s a matter of style. So, be flexible. For example, perhaps the “interviewee” prefers to write. If that’s the case, simply ask him or her to write down a memory. Then record him/her as they read that story. The written memory may well serve as a good starting point.

How else can I use Saving Memories Forever? Family reunions planners might want to consider two other key ways in which they can use Saving Memories Forever.  First, planners can simply use it as a vehicle to capture everyone’s  comments about this year’s reunion. Just use the Celebrations category on the iPhone or Android  smartphone app.Click here to learn more about our Celebrations feature.

Secondly, family reunion planners can also encourage family members to tell stories about deceased relatives. We call this our Virtual Relative feature as it allows a family to almost re-create a person’s life through the perspectives and stories of family members. Click here for more details about the Virtual Relative feature.

Have fun at your family reunion. Let the games begin!   SMF-Jane2

 

Jane Baker is the Co-Owner of Saving Memories Forever. She likes to write, garden, explore, read, meet with friends, and pat her cats. Not known for big spending, she and her husband, Harvey, like to take advantage of the free activities around St. Louis. She volunteers with several local organizations with her favorite one being STL Village.