16 ½ Things I Love About Summer

1. Early morning walks around the neighborhood (a.k.a. my own tour of gardens).

2. Strawberries, peaches, and cucumbers with dill in sour cream. Burgers/brats/shish kabobs on the grill. Homegrown tomatoes and sweet corn in August.

2 1/2.  Picking fresh herbs from my patio pots: basil for caprese salad, fresh mint for mojitos, and cilantro for quesadillas.

3. Waking up to birdsong at 5:30. Being awake and refreshed when hardly anybody else is up. Adding that extra hour to my day.

Mears Park, St. Paul

4. Cutting through Mears Park, along the man-made stream on the way to the St. Paul Farmer’s Market on weekends.

5. Walking to get an ice cream cone from the Grand Old Creamery.

6. Feeling bathroom tile that’s pleasantly cool to my bare feet—not frigid—so I don’t have to hop from one throw rug to the next.

7. Sunning with a book and swimming at Schulze Lake in Lebanon Hills Park.

8. Grabbing Wednesday night supper from the food trucks at the Nokomis Farmer’s Market.

9. Fireflies in late June.

10. L o o o n n g days that stay light past 9:30 p.m.

11. Heat lightning.

12. Road trips—leaving early with a sack full of snacks and a cooler packed with cold drinks. Passing rippling fields of impossibly green corn and soybeans. Pink, purple, yellow, and white wildflowers tumbling across ditches.

13. Drinking wine and reading after dark on the front porch.

Powderhorn Art Fair, Minneapolis

14. Art fairs bursting with jewelry to adorn me and artwork to adorn our home.

15. Outdoor dining at area restaurants—in hidden shady gardens, improvised patios framed by flower pots, or even at tables three feet away from traffic.

16. Drinking beer (don’t tell the park rangers) around the campfire we don’t really need and seeing a breathtaking number of stars come out overhead.

Disconnected and Discombobulated

I scoffed when I read about college students becoming anxious when separated from digital technology—email, Facebook, and other social media. Or rather, I believed they became anxious, but thought smugly, Glad I’m not hooked like they are.

Except that now I am.

Recently, I was camping at a state campground that didn’t have cell signal. At all. Although we were only about 30 miles from Rochester, Minnesota, we were in the land that time and technology forgot. At first I was delighted. No New York Times news flashes or Facebook posts reminding me of depressing political news. I wasn’t expecting any urgent emails.

Being disconnected felt a bit odd, but I knew my friends would understand if I didn’t respond to their texts or emails promptly.

Not having instant access to the weather app was OK. I didn’t really need to know exactly how cold it would get at night. 55 degrees or 50 degrees—what’s the difference? Either way, we’d have a fire and then burrow into our sleeping bags at bedtime.

But what if my 90-year-old mother-in-law had a health issue? Would my sons be able to track us down? If one of our sons got seriously ill, how would they contact us? Since they’re in their 20’s, that’s usually not a big concern, but one of them had had a significant health problem a few weeks ago, so the possibility seemed more real.

You see where all this was going—good ole free floating anxiety racheted up by lack of connectivity. Wow.

Several times I had to tell myself to knock it off. Everyone was fine. Despite knowing that, I still tried to fire up my phone when we visited the park office. No signal.

For years I’ve had the constant chatter: texts, email, and commentary from Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, so it took a while to get used to the sound of my own thoughts. Or no thoughts whatsoever.

At first I had to concentrate on being in the moment. Resist the urge to curate my experiences. Just live them. I noticed the lavender and white phlox blooming in the meadow we were hiking through, heard the wind in the trees and the creek murmuring behind our campsite, and squinted at the zillions of stars you can see out in the country.

I hate admitting that being disconnected made me anxious. But instant access has become too gratifying. The more I’ve gotten used to it, the more I want it. When I hear the ding of a new email or text hitting my phone, I’ve got to know who it’s from. It’s obsessive. As reinforcing as treats would be to Pavlov’s dogs.

Who's the text from? 15 emails?! OMG!

Who’s the text from? 15 emails?! OMG!

Technology is supposed to be a helpful tool, subservient to me, not my master. I don’t want to feel so controlled by it.

How did I get to be at the beck and call of this device? I let the lure of instant access get to me.

So I’ve decided to try disconnecting intentionally one day a week, as an experiment.

On those days, I’ll use my phone for calls, but otherwise avoid checking emails, weather apps, maps, Facebook, Snapchat, and the New York Times news feed. Fasting from email, apps, and social media will be hard—after all, the first thing I did after we packed up and drove away was check email. 56 of them had piled up in three days. Most of them weren’t that important, which reinforces my decision to go offline periodically.

It’s so easy to be caught up in the bizzyness of the internet and social media. I want to rediscover what else I can do with my time.

The Little Free Library Saved My Camping Trip

At 11 p.m., the tent, sleeping bags, lantern, bin of dry food, and bug spray were in the car. Early the next morning, we were driving to northern Wisconsin for a four-day tent camping trip. But wait! What was I going to read? All of my books were on my iPad and it would be pretty hard to recharge it while camping.

As a reading addict, I get panicky at the thought not having at least three books to read when I go on a trip. Barnes & Noble wouldn’t be open before we left. Amazon couldn’t help me.

For many people, being without books during a camping trip is no problem. There’s hiking. Swimming. Sitting by the fire. Eating s’mores. Stargazing. And we do all of that.

Lack of old-fashioned paper books would really put a damper on the trip.

I love losing myself in a story and there are lots of opportunities to read during a leisurely trip like camping. When the birds wake up the campground at 5:30 a.m., I like to burrow into my sleeping bag and read for a while before wrestling into clothes and walking down the road to heed nature’s call. For me, swimming really means reading on the beach and jumping into the lake occasionally to cool off. In the late afternoon, it’s nice to have a beer and read before we make dinner. After the dishes are done and we’ve gathered kindling for the fire, I’ll read a little more before the light fades.

If we delayed the trip for several hours until the bookstore opened, we would arrive too late to have lunch with a friend who lives near the campground.

Inspiration struck—I could borrow books from the Little Free Library!

IMG_1344The libraries dot my Minneapolis neighborhood. A Little Free Library steward makes or buys a house-shaped box, stocks it with books, and erects it in the yard. Patrons can take book or leave a book anytime. If the steward registers the library, it will appear on the world map the Little Free Library organization maintains on its website.

Little Free Library is a grassroots movement begun in 2009 by Todd Bol of nearby Hudson, Wisconsin. He and Rick Brooks, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, saw the opportunity to build community and share a love of reading. Initially, they and other volunteers donated time and materials and the movement grew within the region. Word-of-mouth, as well as regional and national media, helped spread the idea, and by the end 2011, there were nearly 400 Little Free Libraries across the U.S. In 2012, the Little Free Library became a nonprofit corporation. In early 2015, nearly 25,000 Little Free Libraries were registered across the world.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 10.08.38 AMA Mystery, a Memoir and a Novel

Within blocks of my house, there are eight Little Free Libraries. I visited two and came away with three books to devour on my camping trip: a bestselling mystery, an historical novel, and a memoir I’d read but enjoyed enough to reread. Crisis averted!

After we returned, I put the books back in circulation and added several more from home. It’s inspiring to see how a grassroots organization can do so much to support a love of reading and foster a sense of community.

“Been Doing It For 28 Years. They Can Plant Me Here”

Joe

Joe Glaccum

I’m talking with Joe Glaccum, Director of Services for Many Point Scout Camp. “Always been a food man,” he says. “This has been my calling.”

Antonio and I are at Many Point for a week- long adventure with Troop 110 from Minneapolis.

This calling of Joe’s is providing 128,000 meals each summer to over 250 troops from numerous councils across the United States and Canada.

Many Point provides all of the meals, but the preparation varies based on the subcamp that you choose.

Commissary and dining hall service is offered.

A combination of commissary and dining hall service, which is what Antonio’s troop chooses, means the camp provides all of the ingredients for breakfast and lunch and the patrol prepares it themselves. The evening meal is delivered cooked from the Dining Hall in a hot stack and ready to serve.

Joe pointing out the special diet shelf.

Gluten, nut, dairy, vegetarian, and religious needs cared for at Many Point

 

Substitutions can be made for gluten, nut and dairy allergies as well as vegetarian and religious observances.

In our group of 19 scouts and 3 adults there are three vegetarians.

Joe speaks in a deep gravelly voice. I rush to write what he’s saying. I’m in the presence of a sage.

“You must be college educated,” I say. Though I know it isn’t true. A person knows when they are sitting in the midst of experience.

“I’ve been hit on the head so many times that I listen,” he exclaims. “Each patrol will fill out a review at the end of the week. I read each and every one of them.”

He goes on to say that a key to his success is having a menu that is extremely liked by the boys and one that adults will accept.

I think back over the meals I’ve eaten. Eggs, sausages, pancakes, hamburgers, hotdogs, macaroni salad, grilled cheese, tomato soup, etc…. and I agree. No one in our troop has gone away hungry. There has also been an abundance of apples, oranges, cantaloupes, etc…..

For those Scouts who might be a bit more particular there is a milk crate of staples that each patrol receives at the beginning of the week and can be replenished. Inside the crate, packed in a specific way is a roll of paper towels, ketchup, mustard, peanut butter, jelly, ramen noodles, oatmeal, brown sugar, dish soap, salt and pepper, packet of sanitizer tablets, matches, garbage bags and a scrubby for washing dishes.

Joe has 12 people working for him.

Items are placed in each crate the same way. Crates are color coded for size of patrol.

Items are placed in each crate the same way. Crates are color coded for size of patrol.

In 28 years his most major improvement is that he systemized everything. I recognize it as the 5S pillars, Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

“In the early days, the commissary was a huge store. The only trading post on the property. Each troop would come to the store once a week and put in their order.”

He chuckles. “Red Owl ran it for one year. Lost their shirts. Never came up again.”

Joe still remembers his busiest year. It was 2001. “I was business manager, trading post director, services directory, commissary director, and driver. I worked 16 hour days, 7 days a week. I loved it.”

His staff returns year after year. “It’s a very rewarding workplace. I hire good people. I let them do their job. I ask questions – that is all.”

July 16 2015 421He emphasizes, “I have a really great crew. As long as my brain functions I can do this job.”

He’s been on 5-year plan since 1987. “Next year I plan to renew it for 5 more years”, he says.

Our conversation is interrupted by a phone call. He needs to leave. He has 99 patrols to feed next week and he’s tweaking the menu for next year. The lettuce salad that we had last night wasn’t the home run he was looking for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Running Water. No Electricity.

189What to do. What to do. What to do. Fish and swim. Fish and swim. Fish and swim. Geocache. Hike. Have pizza in Grand Marias. Skip stones, bike, play games with cousins, canoe, learn to portage in the Boundary Waters, scare Jack. After making a safety circle use your Scout knife, start fires with or without matches, hunt for shooting stars and satellites in the night sky.

The adventurous group. Lightweights not allowed.

The adventurous group. Lightweights not allowed.

Our family recently went on our most rustic trip ever. To some of you, it will be pansy-like because we didn’t actually hike into the Boundary Waters but stayed outside of it at Crescent Lake Campground. Crescent Lake Campground is a Superior National Campground, 13 miles from Sawbill Canoe Outfitters.

My nephew and niece, Ralph and Tina Walker and her family would call us lightweights. They were surprised that this was our most rustic experience because they have been camping with their children, eight and six years old, since they could fit into a fanny pack.

Nephew Steve giving me fishing advice.

Nephew Steve giving me fishing advice.

We were fortunate to have Ralph with us (or unfortunate) because Jody and I would have chosen a campground with electricity and showers. Ralph is a minimalist guru. All he needs is swim shorts, string and a hook.

It was at the last moment, when he told us, “Oh by the way, there is no electricity and no water.” Immediately, I went into a panic. I had envisioned sitting in our tent trailer, plugged into my computer, safe from the elements (mosquitoes), deeply engrossed in revising my manuscript while others were off exploring.

There would be no plugging in anything. Not the crock pot, not the griddle, not the electric fry pan, and certainly there would be no fresh coffee brewing in the morning.

Andy taking off fish for Crystel and Antonio

Andy taking off fish for Crystel and Antonio

Electrical appliances are how Jody and I roll. Or, how Jody rolls. Because, as I was found out on this trip, Jody does all the cooking. My niece and nephews were a bit incredulous about this. “You let her do everything?” They asked me this as she was serving us the first round of bacon, eggs, pancakes, and coffee (though she doesn’t drink coffee).  I flinched, stumbled around in explanation, finally landing on, “Didn’t I choose well when I married her?”

As custom has it. Fish thrown back get kissed.

As custom has it, fish thrown back get kissed.

The Walkers and di Grazia’s own the tent trailer together. It’s fun when owning joint property with your relatives works out. Prior to leaving for the Boundary Waters, we decided (Beth decided) that it was best that the children, Antonio and Crystel, Jack and Andy, sleep in the tent trailer and the adults in tents. This may seem a bit lopsided. Shouldn’t the kids get the tents and the adults the castle?

Not if one of your children is Antonio. I was most concerned about us surviving him on this trip.

Superior Hiking Trail

Superior Hiking Trail

By the time we left for our no electricity and no running water camping trip, I was resolved to have a good time, regardless. The di Grazia’s would go off into the unknown and be of good cheer. Even Antonio.

My first and best purchase for our trip was fishing poles for Antonio and Crystel and a fishing license for me. I would need the license for taking fish off and putting nightcrawlers on when Andy the six year old wasn’t doing it for his cousins. Andy, as he declared several times, is an expert at fishing. By the end of our five-day trip, Crystel mustered the courage to take 3 small fish off her line. Antonio was content with the six year old doing everything for him.

swimming across the lake
swimming across the lake

Bears were a minor concern. We did all the right things and stored our food before going into our tents at night. Still, I had visions of Smokey crawling into my sleeping bag with me and woke Jody one night to tell her that. Once she was awake and watchful, I could sleep.

It can be a nice or not so nice experience when camping in a remote area with friends or relatives that you don’t spend much time with. I didn’t know Steve’s son Xavier prior to our camping trip. I found the thirteen-year old to be very pleasant.

Antonio and Crystel surviving the roughing it part.

Antonio and Crystel surviving the roughing it part.

Xavier became big brother, guardian, and protector to the 11, 10, 8, and 6 year old. He accompanied them swimming across the lake and when the adults escaped to Sawbill (Jody and I showered there), he stayed back. After swimming he gathered them in the tent trailer for card playing.

560847_10201948707418318_42800681_n[1]Although Ralph had a host of activities for us and planned our days and evenings, our group didn’t always stick together. The Walker’s and the Smith’s went on many more geocaches, hikes, and canoe trips than we did. That worked out. It is important to do what works for you.

On the day of the portage into the Boundary Waters, Antonio decided to stay back (he wouldn’t get out of bed). There

Xavier

Xavier

could have been many reasons for this, one being the last time he was in a canoe with me he didn’t fare well. After portaging, swimming, fishing, picnicking, and canoeing with our group, we split off. Jody and I wanted to return to Antonio and the adventurous group continued on.

Canoeing back to our portage, a moose and her baby were swimming across the lake. We were so close to them that as we sat in our canoe we could hear their breath blowing out their nostrils as they huffed their way across. It was simply amazing. Jody, Crystel, and I stayed still in our canoe until they climbed out of the water and walked into the woods.

Moose_with_baby.sized[1]No electricity, no water. There was so much to do.