Bring It On

early fall leaves and pond“To everything there is a season… turn, turn, turn. And a time for every purpose under Heaven.” I don’t know if it made the Top 10 on the Boomers’ Favorites Playlist, but I love this song, especially the Byrds’ version. And this fall, I’m taking the song’s advice seriously. I’m exploring new things and planning some fun adventure.

Let’s start with exploring. Come fall and I get the urge to travel. Up and down country roads: along the river road, out to the barn, or up to Chicago. I like to see things as they change. The leaves, of course, are their own source of wonderment. But it’s also the land and the skies. The brown earth is looking well groomed now, like she just got a haircut and cooler breezes push wisps of clouds across the crisp blue skies. I anticipate having lunch on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and a night time trip out to the barn, hot cocoa in hand, to watch the full moon. Both great ways to celebrate Birthday #63.

Trying new things. I’ve just joined three new groups: a writing group and two singing groups. The writing group has me a little concerned. Writing isn’t the problem so much as figuring out how to deal with the scope of the project. You see my general plan is to write the great American novel. Right? What has me bamboozled are these elements that must come together to create this novel: character development and plot lines, for example, and a theme of some sort would probably be a good idea too. I’m already hedging my bets by writing a companion blog about my writing experience. Seems to me that this backup approach would help my wounded ego if the master plan falls flat on its face.

folk singalong groupAnd, yes, the singing groups! When we were in the mountains of North Carolina, we discovered the world of Shape Note singing. The general idea is that you follow these sheets of shaped notes to run through a song and then sing the words. Full blast! Singing LOUDLY so that the combined voices bounce off the ceiling and wooden floor. It’s an incredible sound! I can hardly wait for the folk singing class that I also signed us up for.

I’ve always loved the stories that folk songs tell.

Now for the biggie: new directions. I quit my job last week. This makes me both happy and nervous. Happy because I really didn’t like the job. In fact, I actively disliked it. Suffice it to say that both the nagging boss and the computer-oriented job were both total mismatches with my personality and my strengths. Ever have a job like that? It’s a lousy position to be in. So, freedom acquired, I’m now dealing with the nervous part. How do I fill my day? How can I be productive? How can I contribute? How can I grow? And that nagging question: how do I use all this new-found time without spending money?

To a large extent, I’m going back to my old roots. Back to my old interest in teaching but without the obligations of teaching. Back to the conversational walks with my snail-paced walking group. Back to working in a local non-profit where I can partner with a friend as we help coordinate volunteer activities. Back to my Mother Nature personality as I muck out a stall or two at the barn (let’s not get too carried away…this is hard work).

So off I go on a cool fall morning, turning this way and that. Playing with the yellow leaves as they fall. Enjoying the sheer pleasure of the season. Somehow, I think that this fall will really be something to remember.

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.  

Goober Peas and Cold Mountain Air

1-photo 2It seems like ages ago. But when I look at the calendar, I’m reminded that it really was only two weeks. Yes, that’s how quickly vacation memories can escape.

As you may recall, my husband and I went down to the Smoky Mountains. We like road trips, although I’d have to admit that I like them more than he does. He likes to get there, pedal to the metal approach, while I like to soak in the changing landscape. It’s no surprise to report that between here in St. Louis and the Smokies, there are some significant changes. Flat, then rolling, then MOUNTAINS! Any guess as to which one I like the most? At least at this time of year.

We got off to an edgy start: the car broke down when we hit Paducah, Kentucky. Turns out it wasn’t just the battery. It was the alternator as well. Lucky for us that Paducah has a car rental place, so we left our car in the hands of the repair shop and continued on three hours later. By the way have you ever been to a car repair shop where they serve cappuccino and muffins? Yes, I got nervous about the bill. (Good news: it turned out just fine.)

1-log cabinArmed with the rental car, we continued our southeast journey, arriving in North Carolina in the early evening. Did I mention that we rented a log cabin? The cabin was originally built elsewhere, then disassembled and then reassembled and expanded in its new home in Waynesville. When you consider its original size (14’ by 20’), you begin to understand what growing up in these mountains might have involved. In fact, by the time we left we were pretty much amazed at what those mountain families had accomplished.

So the days started with coffee out on the deck and typically ended with a grilled dinner. During the day, we explored. Much to our delight we found that the Blue Ridge Parkway was uncrowded. (Apparently the timing of our vacation in late August was both wise and fortunate.) Up and down the parkway, the waves of mountains left us speechless. And appreciative. We stopped often at the overlooks to soak in the beauty and to try to capture it in pictures. A specific shout out to the inn at Mount Pisgah where you can enjoy a meal and rock in the creaky chairs out on the porch.

photo 3We also stopped along the country roads that led up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to sample goober beans (boiled peanuts) and rum jam. Here’s a handy link to the famous Goober Peas folk song. I remember growing up listening to Burl Ives sing that funny little song. In addition, we visited the Museum of the Cherokee Indians and the Carl Sandburg Home (and its 17,000 books and functional arrangement). Perhaps my favorite side trip was to see the elk in the Cataloochee Valley…although I’d be less than forthright if I didn’t mention that the steep drop-offs along the twisting gravel road scared me a tad. Talk about blind curves! At any rate, we were well rewarded. A 12-point buck let us admire him at a leisurely pace. Should I mention that when he looked over my way, I got back in the car?

On our last day, we drove over to Chimney Rock State Park that featured a hammered dulcimer musician by the name of John Mason. There’s nothing like mountain music played in its natural surroundings. By the way, old photographs show ladies in full dress and hats having a picnic in a nook in the rock that’s been nicknamed the Opera House. I can hardly imagine scaling the rocks to get there with modern gear and I’m flabbergasted by the idea that these women climbed up in full regalia. (We took the elevator.) We spent our last night at a folk festival held along the edges of Lake Junaluska. Between the cloggers, fiddlers, and family bands, we learned to appreciate the ties of tradition.

A week later, refreshed by the break and invigorated by the mountain air, we began our journey home. The only two stops this way were a visit at the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville (well worth it) and then a quick stop in Paducah to pick up our car.

Gone in a moment. At least it feels like that. But as I re-tell our vacation story, I get pleasure out of reliving the time. It gives me an opportunity to sort out what was most important to us. Plus it gives us a chance to share our memories with our family. Like last night when we shared our pictures and vacation stories with our daughter, son, and daughter-in-law. What a lovely ending: consider it a modern day story time around the campfire.

 

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.  

 

 

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.  

 

Celebrating a Wedding Anniversary

1235160_647766325236352_992224140_nI love being married. As one of my favorite quotes reads, “Being married means you’ve found someone who you can annoy for a lifetime.”

While I assume that happily married couples don’t make it their mission in life to annoy each other, I do think that there’s some wisdom in this humor.

Perhaps it reflects the freedom to be who you are. Or it reflects the understanding that it’s not always going to be an easy relationship. Or maybe it’s just an good excuse to laugh.

Come August 26th, we will celebrate our 37th anniversary.

Normally, we don’t make a big deal out of it.  We usually celebrate by just going out to dinner.  But this year, we’re traveling down to the Smoky Mountains for a few days of mountain air and Appalachian music. 

We’re going on this mini adventure for several reasons.

One, because we can.  We’re no longer constricted with school schedules. With that in mind, we’re happily anticipating that most of the summer crowds will have gone home. 

Two: we’ve picked a place that won’t bankrupt us.  We’re renting a cabin where we can cook our own meals (at least most of the time).

Three: because it’s time.  It’s time to slow down and mark this point in our lives. It’s also time to celebrate the fact that we still enjoy each other’s company and quirks.

We’ll post some pictures of our trip on Saving Memories Forever Facebook

Come along for the ride. 

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.  

 

 

Love That Dirt

55_why_gardenHere’s a surprising factoid: a whopping 75% of American households garden. Say what? Why would so many people endure the discomfort of heat and the likelihood of itchy bug bites?

Depending upon how you look at it, the answer to the question, “Why garden?” is both elusive and complex. Ask any gardener why they garden and you’ll get a variety of reasons.

I’ll start with myself.  I garden mostly because I like the creativity it offers and the huge feeling of success when I actually eat something from it.  I also garden because the garden is pretty and because it gets me outdoors.  I need that connection with nature. In addition, I garden because it ties in with my husband’s cooking talent. Plus, gardening gives us a fun new joint project: composting.

Why do you garden?

Here’s a list of possible reasons from the National Garden Bureau. I bet you’ll see that your interest in gardening is rooted (pun intended) in several core reasons.  For the complete article by Janis Kief, click here.

Six Reasons

1. Garden for safe, healthy food. Reports of food-borne contamination appear regularly in the press. With your own garden, you know what you’ve treated.  Or maybe you skipped pesticides entirely. Beyond that, you know veges are healthy. As the vegetables ripen, (and they all seem to be ready to harvest about the same time), the more immediate question becomes: how do you cook all of them?  We recommend the website AllRecipes.com. Just type in the vegetable that you want to use (example: basil) and a bunch of recipes will pop up. Very handy.

2. Garden for exercise. Give me a garden over a gym routine any day of the week. Get a good workout even thinking about it. An hour of gardening involves stretching, bending, and weightlifting.  On top of this, you’ll see the immediate results (no weeds!) in your garden.

3. Garden to add beauty and to be creative. Yes! This doesn’t have to be elaborate:  it can be as simple as adding a container of colorful flowers near the front door.  Think of your garden area as another room to be enjoyed.  A garden’s design also reflects a personal creativity and sense of style. And there are so many styles to choose from ranging from the romantic cottage garden, the peace of a Japanese garden, or the rather random approach (like mine) where I plan with color, height, prime blooming time, and plant “companions” in mind.

4. Garden for emotional needs and spiritual connection. To me, gardens serve as a tranquil retreat from everyday life.  The beauty of flowers lifts my spirit.  Not to mention that pulling weeds can be a great release from stress! The sight of colorful flowers or a passing Monarch butterfly delights me. On a higher level, gardening provides a spiritual connection to life. It’s a miracle to take a tiny seed, plant and nurture it, and watch it grow into a beautiful flower or delicious food.

5. Garden to learn and to meet people. Gardeners love to talk about their gardens.  They also like to share their knowledge and learn even more.  There’s a variety of ways to increase your gardening know-how such as seminars or Master Gardener programs.  Or (if you’re like me), just look online for YouTube gardening instruction. We found several great YouTube videos about composting that we used to get us started. Click here for one of my favorites. Gardening is also a great excuse to talk with your neighbors. Surplus tomatoes? Bet you can find a neighbor who would love them.  Bug problem? A neighbor might have a good solution.  You can also meet neighbors through community gardens.

6. Garden for lasting memories. Gardening is a fun activity that can be shared with children and grandchildren.  Gardens also provide a beautiful way to remember a special person. My memories of my grandmother are inextricably connected to her beautiful rose garden in her back yard.

Discover your own reasons for being a gardener and share them with someone in your family. Enjoy the satisfying fun that gardening provides. Capture and preserve some of your family’s gardening stories…like our fearless Uncle Sam who battled the squirrels with his antique BB gun.

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.  

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. 

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.