Summer 2020 Reimagined

While Summer 2020 may be drastically different from summers past, we’re up to creating memorable outdoor fun with our circle of friends and family. As I sit in my office looking out at a cold white sky and maple trees full of new buds, I can envision in my mind’s eye the window open, a soft July breeze lending a voice to hand-sized leaves while birds call and insects hum. Heightened imagination and innovation are a couple of quarantine side-effects that we can put to good use. It’s what we do, so onward with a few ideas that may fertilize your idea garden.IMG_1992

  1. In a recent chat with my cousin, we planned a small family cookout for June, date to be determined. Our plans hinge on multiple factors, and may include new feasting practices, and elbow touches rather than hugs, but oh how sweet it will be to see those faces.  Talking and laughing in person again paired with more sunny days is a hope worth having. We also want to spend as many years as possible with our parents and each other. Mortality is on the table whether we acknowledge it, or not, so we may as well make Summer 2020 a standout with a focus on what we DO have.
  2. Kayaks, canoes, tubes, and boats can easily be enjoyed without exposure to a crowd of strangers. We can wave and yell to the strangers, “Any luck? What ‘cha using?” or just a nod and a smile on the river works, too. **Note of Caution**- river levels are especially high after rain and can change a meandering kayak trip into navigating small rapids. Water levels of a specific river or lake can often be found online, too. Here are a few companies that you may be able to schedule classes and tours with to try out kayaking in calm waters: https://stepoutside.org/article/5-excellent-places-for-beginners-to-kayak-in-michigan/
  3. For the past few years we’ve camped at a family-friendly state park next to 2 lakes with wooded trails, and neighbors.. lots and lots of neighbors enjoying the campground’s play areas, courts, and community restrooms and shower houses. Our 2020 campground is our backyard, with the luxury of  a private bath and shower. Within 15 minutes’ drive we have several lakes and natural areas for trail walking. And there’s a basketball hoop in the driveway for those games of h-o-r-s-e before it’s warm enough to go swimming. Here are a few innovative hacks for curating your own camping experience: https://www.buzzfeed.com/mallorymcinnis/a-backyard-camping-we-will-go
  4. Hiking/Walking and Picnicking outings also include a chance to create experiences that reflect our individual tastes. For us, an outdoor scavenger hunt could be fun with a simple follow-up picnic of hoagies, nuts, and seasonal fruit. Dozens of scavenger hunt printables and hundreds of picnic recipes can be found online. Location possibilities are plentiful in Michigan with 74 state parks, 1 state forest, and 4 national forests, not to mention hundreds of parks.
  5. Host a family/friends art show, storytelling evening, or craft fair/flea market. Those events on Facebook that we were interested in, but are now cancelled or questionable? Why not a family/friends Maker/Art Fair with created and discovered pieces that stretch our definitions of art, like a miniature ArtPrize 2020, (brilliant ideas for art projects that everyone can manage).  Story-telling is perhaps one of the oldest forms of both entertainment and learning. Stories create ease in uncertain times, especially for children, and memories shared strengthen bonds and deepen our roots. I’ve found The Storytelling Loop helpful for crafting children’s tales.
  6. Create a patio and garden that you enjoy. Always wanted flower boxes in your windows or big pots overflowing with blooms on your patio or porch? If you plan on mostly staying close to home this summer, containers’ increased watering needs aren’t a problem. 2020 is my year to create an outdoor oasis. Our grandson already helped assemble a gnome/fairy garden in a rock/succulent bed. Victory gardens, a.k.a. vegetable gardens are an excellent method for reconnecting with our source of nutrition-earth. Families especially can benefit from planting, maintaining, and harvesting fresh produce-from reduced cost, pesticide exposure, and environmental footprints to increased understanding and peace through a creative outlet.
  7. Helping others has never felt so urgent to me, but my usual donations of food and clothing aren’t being accepted. Of course money helps people, and there are plenty of online requests and easy giving opportunities if you’re able. The simplest, yet not the easiest, way to contribute is to consciously be a positive force in your little ecosystem. Encourage others and scroll past angsty political posts. Choose wisely if you want to be informed of world happenings, and remember to enjoy the life and love you have right in front of you, or right around the corner. Make plans. Send cards by snail mail to say, “I care.” Here are some simple tips that contribute to a positive out look.

By A Hair-#1 of 40 Grows

Last Spring while scrolling through my Facebook feed I noticed a pictorial essay of women with arms raised, their unshaven armpits displayed. Just as images of women’s bodies portrayed in all their authentic glory evoke a tribalistic pride, I felt the sense of freedom apparent in their eyes. Immediately I typed “How powerful!” and hit “enter” without a thought. I’m free, too!

I began warming to the idea of not shaving my pit hair when a week before an acquaintance on the barstool next to me leaned in and whispered, “Ya know… she doesn’t shave her armpits”, as if imparting a dark dangerous secret about a young woman we know and like. Unfiltered and Budweiser loose, I laughed and said, “Who gives a shit?” Nudges already sprouted, the online troll of a misogynist fertilized my curiosity with , “KSS why don’t you just grow a beard” in response to my support of the hairy women.

What was so magical about armpit hair? And how long did it have to grow for my powers to activate?

Besides a dark stubble, I haven’t met my armpit hair since it was blonde, prepubescent and fine. Shaving was a requisite of becoming a grown woman, at least in my mind. I can still see myself at 15, enjoying the ritual. Cultural definitions of beauty widened a fraction during my youth and allowed for new dramatic, artistic expressions of self (think David Bowie, Prince, and Motley Crue).

In 2019, I find myself in a time of flexible inclusiveness, with rigid labels fading into history. Thanks to millions of wise women and brave men before me, I feel more free to try new things and new ways of living than ever before. Shaving was not an important issue to me, but Dang!, it sure is important to some people. Seeking to understand why, at least somewhat, (MOSTLY for a chance at Samson-style magic), I used this summer as my lab.

#1 Grow-not shaving my pits

What I learned:

  • Surprisingly, hair in my pits made me less funky this summer, even with switching to a natural rose-oil deodorant.
  • Perhaps armpit hair created new synapses in my brain, or maybe when I tried something different, I grew through experience. Whatever the case, this choice added to my body acceptance by making shaving purely optional.
  • I AM MAGICAL! I feel more powerful in my body now that I allowed myself to be uncomfortable, then settle into a reality where shaving is purely my choice, rather than doing what I’ve always done because I was trained to do so.

This is my first experience/choice/”Grow” out of 40 I intend to curate by the end of 2019. New experiences expand my understanding and the potential for fun, laughter, and friendship is endless. I invite you to join me for #40grows to experience growth through new habits, new food, new thoughts, meeting new people, new adventures, new anything that takes you out of your bubble of comfort. The point? To enrich our lives and fertilize our brains.

 

 

Weekender Camping Tips

3-month-long summers in Michigan fly by not only for school kids, but also for winter-worn adults. Spring arrives with promise and summer memories begin greasing the wheels of vacation plans. Our choices this year were made easier by the Mr’s new fishing boat. While I don’t have mad love for fishing, my husband has enough for both of us. So, out of mad love for him, or maybe just madness, I planned a camping/fishing vacation at a state park with shower houses and 4 nearby lakes.

Not your average outdoorsy or anydoorsy gal, I learned a few things that will make our 2020 camping trip easier for me and maybe other camping newbies.

  1. In Yogi Bear cartoons an army of ants regularly marched away with food and even whole picnic baskets belonging to Jellystone visitors. Those ants are ancestors of a well-trained ant army at Interlochen State Park. Newbie tip-Don’t bring syrup camping; pancakes can be found at nearby restaurants. Secure ALL food in airtight containers or bags. Don’t assume a plastic tote will keep the invaders out. Learn from me so at least some good comes out of my underestimation of ants.
  2. If a grocery store is within 5 miles of our campsite, there’s no need to pack as if we are travelling to an island (our usual July vacation in my parent’s cabin). Old habits do not die, so I packed enough food for a week. You know, just in case. Waterlogged food, in general, is not salvageable.
  3. Make friends with dirt; lean in and don’t fight it or dirt can ruin everything. Skip showering one day to show solidarity with dirt/earth. Setup a screened tent (our “kitchen”) directly in front of the sleeping tent. Use an outdoor rug or piece of outdoor carpet between the 2 tents. Leave your dirty shoes in the screened tent.
  4. Building on #3-chances are, it will rain, so go with it and don’t become disappointed. Bring cards, a radio or bluetooth speaker for areas with WiFi, and a board game. Some of the best conversations happen when it rains.
  5. BE ORGANIZED. Camping may never be on my Top 10 list of dreamy vacations, but employing 3-drawer plastic organizers might render it mostly relaxing, almost turn-key, definitely better than living out of a suitcase or duffel bag. The less time spent looking for things is the more time we have to fish.

Above all-decide to enjoy sharing time outdoors.

Fishing Interlochen 2019

Fun fact: Interlochen Fine Arts Camp across the street from where we camped at the state park is the “band camp” referenced in the movie American Pie.

Walking & Gawking in Ireland – Part 3

Gawking at Blarney Castle was a slow process.  We arrived at The Spaniard late for lunch with the only other patrons a few men visiting the bartender.  From the yelling and laughing I surmised they were good friends.

Lovely place to eat and drink on The Spaniard's bar patio

The Spaniard’s bar patio graced by a handsome German man

We sat on the patio in the sunshine enjoying pints and the view from The Spaniard’s lofty location on a curvy road snaking up the Kinsale hillside.  Jim had fresh fish and home-cut chips, while I gave in to a Cajun chicken wrap.  Complimenting most of our meals was the standard bit of greens tossed in a light vinaigrette.

Tasty lunch at The Spaniard in Kinsale

Tasty lunch at The Spaniard in Kinsale

During our respite at The Spaniard we noticed a good number of vehicles with deep scratches or dents on the passenger side and mirrors torn off, all driven by local folks.

It made us feel more comfortable about the hedge scratches on our rental, which was brand new when we picked her up.

 

We left The Spaniard refreshed and drove on High Road to Charles Fort, an English 17th century  star-shaped fort which once guarded Kinsale Harbor.  The walls packed with turf, they were almost impregnable to cannon fire.

Charles Fort on Kinsale Harbor

Charles Fort on Kinsale Harbor

During the Williamite wars William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II at Charles Fort by approaching from the land side and laying siege for 13 days, finally breaching after 3 days of steady cannon fire on a single spot of the outer wall.  My most important lesson of the tour was do not ask questions about William of Orange if you want to keep your friends in The Republic.

Inside Fort Charles

Inside Fort Charles

We wandered the fort after our tour silently taking in the panoramic vistas and the sailboats of Kinsale in the distance.  Ireland once again struck us dumb, smiling nostalgically even though we had not left yet.

Charles Fort

Back at our hotel we laid our heads down for a mere half hour before Kinsale’s pubs called to us to come play.  We found The Sea Captains at The Armada, a duo who played the banjo, acoustic guitar and Irish whistle.  We settled on Caesar salads with warm, dense brown bread, and a few pints for dinner.  The Armada is one of the few pubs that served us beer at our table, in which case it is entirely appropriate to go against the standard and leave a fat tip.  As I listened to The Sea Captains tears began to roll down my face.  I was actually at an Irish pub listening to two Irishmen play after visiting Blarney castle, eating well-prepared, flavorful, and fresh food in Ireland, hiking the grounds of a star-shaped fort, and eating the best brown bread I tasted so far.  My tears were happiness overflowing and I took a deep breath and told myself “remember this, remember this”.

Irish Flag flying at Charles Fort

Irish Flag flying at Charles Fort

View over Kinsale Harbor

View over Kinsale Harbor

Charles Fort

Expansive grounds of Fort Charles

Expansive grounds of Fort Charles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking & Gawking in Ireland – Part 2

Leaving Glendalough we wound our way through the Wicklow mountains to the Hollywood Inn, where we were introduced to the Hurling Finals and learned a few Irish turns of phrase not mentioned in guide books.

Great food, beer & patrons at the Hollywood Inn

Great food, beer & patrons at the Hollywood Inn

Ravenous from hiking about, I dug into fish and home-cut chips, fascinated by the muscular men on the field balancing a tiny ball on short clubs while running, hitting the ball and being hit by it, all with no protective gear, but plenty of blood and bandages.  The excitement rivaled a Superbowl party and Hollywood Inn was more than I hoped for with an uneven stone floor, heavy dark wood , a stone courtyard, tasty fresh food and superb service.  Our first day in the Irish countryside was a success, now we had a real drive.

Bolstered by a hamburger he described as “very lean”,  Jim drove us on narrow back roads to Kinsale, a quaint harbor town in County Cork, where we stayed at the Actons Hotel overlooking the harbor.

Actons Hotel in Kinsale, County Cork

Actons Hotel in Kinsale, County Cork

Our TomTom was set to avoid toll roads, which made each trip a bit longer and more scenic than motorways.  We had no trouble finding “toilets”, a convenient petrol station in many towns we passed through.

Billy, our bartender in the lounge at Actons, patiently explained how children in Ireland begin their first day of school with a lunch box, a backpack, and a hurling stick.  An older gentleman at the bar put us through a course of Irish dialect in a descriptive telling of a helicopter ride over County Tipperary that his daughter gifted him with on a recent birthday.  They both asked what we liked most about Ireland thus far.  I said I loved the water everywhere, especially the streams flowing down mountains and bubbling over rocks.  The old man said, “Ahhh, that’s the piss!”, then laughed open-mouthed as did we.  I told him I also like the potatoes, they were better than at home.  He said, “Ahhh, yes the new potatoes are in, but don’t eat the chickens!”.  Billy told us of growing up in Kinsale and said he would like to visit the Wicklow Mountains someday.  Huge sprays of Asiatic lilies and eucalyptus graced tables throughout the hotel while small bouquets of hydrangea and roses adorned each stall in the lobby bathroom.  Our room was modern  and bright with clean lines and a warm breeze blew through a tall unscreened, tilted window.  Sailboats rocked in the moonlit harbor.  We slept deeply.

Kinsale Harbor

Kinsale Harbor

 

After our first day of venturing we had a true appreciation for a full Irish breakfast, which consisted of an array of juices, fruit, pastry, cereal, breads, cheeses and smoked salmon.  We ordered eggs and sausage and the plate unnecessarily came with white and black pudding and a grilled tomato.  Each day seemed as though it may be the one to try  the pudding, but I never did chance it, afraid my stomach might upset our plans.  We walked around Kinsale’s colorful streets while our breakfast settled before taking off for Blarney Castle.

Kinsale, Ireland

Colorful Kinsale

Colorful Kinsale

Blarney Castle was THE castle of our trip and we took our time exploring all the nooks and scary crannies.  Stone stairs spiraled up to the stone with a rope on one side to hold on to.  As we ascended the walls grew closer and the old man in front of us stopped in fear, the opposite of my typical run through it reaction.  Voices filtered up from the stairs and signaled a group coming up behind us.  I felt trapped already, barely able to breathe.  I jumped back down two stairs and yelled to my husband that I’d see him when he came down.  My discovery of the family room, murder-hole above the castle’s main entry and arrow shaft views throughout the castle rooms thrilled me more than if I kissed a stone that through my camera zoom looked wet.  Ugh.  But, do not let claustrophobic me deter you.  Blarney Castle

Manicured grounds, gardens and a long carriage house were lush with vintage blooms and beside the castle stood a poison garden planted with castor beans, foxglove and other nefarious, yet pretty, flowers and plants.  We rested and took in the groups of people who dotted the expansive lawn before we perused the gift shop and purchased a watercolour that I would carry on the plane to insure its safe arrival home.  Our breakfast worn off, we headed back to Kinsale and away from tour bus crowds in search of a late lunch and a pint.

One of many Blarney Castle Gardens

One of many Blarney Castle Gardens

stairs

Before the Blarney Stone stairs turn scary

Under Blarney Castle

Under Blarney Castle but not the dungeon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blarney Castle Family Room

Blarney Castle Family Room

Blarney Castle TowerBlarney Castle

Blarney Castle looking at me from the topBlarney Castle window view

Walking and Gawking in Ireland – Part 1

Walking a mile to a mile and a half 4 times a week for 6 weeks prior to our Irish holiday deflated my middle and I lost five pounds, which to me means I can eat potatoes and bread (as long as I keep walking).  You hear wild rumors as you get closer to 40, but I had to experience gaining weight while subsisting on salads and water to accept that my squirrel-like metabolism is dead along with my desire to buy a swimsuit.  It all works out, though, because the rumor about fading endurance is also true. Just a few weeks of a walking routine increased my stamina and made Ireland more enjoyable than I imagined.  I was even able to imitate running to catch our connection at O’Hare.

We spent our first evening in Blessington, a tiny town with a lone little terrier scouting main street just south of Dublin.  On the winding gravel road back to our lodgings we got out of the car to peek at Blessington Lake.

Blessington Lake

Blessington Lake

The next morning we started off for Wicklow National Park and found ourselves stopping often to explore.

A park in Wicklow County

A park in Wicklow County

A park with a fast flowing stream over mossy rocks and a stone bridge called to us, as did a cemetery with Celtic crosses raised high. The faeries moved a bit too quickly for my eyes, but I swear I heard their giggles just beyond the bubbling gurgle of water.

Between my walking routine and Ireland’s vistas, I shed not only fat, but a bit of cynicism.  Dreams coming true take chinks out of a calloused soul.

Walking does not build much muscle and muscle burns fat, so when I stop moving, my metabolism does, too.  Motivation is plentiful on vacation, but hard to find on a snowy frigid days, which is when I discovered that truth.  Almost a decade ago Ireland renewed a walking culture  to combat the country’s growing obesity rate along with national dietary standards.  It is not difficult to persuade an Irishman or woman to go for a stroll and GMO-free counties offer up food that reminded us what food used to taste like.  My theory is that we do not eat as much when it is flavourful because we are more easily sated.

Exploring Wicklow

Exploring Wicklow

Low in the Wicklow Mountains

Low in the Wicklow Mountains

In the hills of Wicklow National Park I stumbled on loose rock and stepped in a deep uninhabited hole, highlighting the need for a walking stick.  Mountain rescue teams are stationed in every area for good reason.

We were off to find St. Kevin’s monastic ruins in Glendalough and mistakenly walked up a steep road to find St. Kevin’s Parish where we lit candles for loved ones in heaven.  There were lovely engraved garden sculptures on the grounds and I suspect my husband knew I would stop at the craft fair on our way back down as I was excited for any opportunity to visit with locals.

St. Kevin's Parish

St. Kevin’s Parish

Gardens at St. Kevin's Welcome Center

Gardens at St. Kevin’s Welcome Center

On the way up, I stopped to rest and take in the gardens  at St. Kevin’s welcome center.  It was all meant to be, I am sure.  Just down the road we found the ruins of St. Kevin’s 6th century monastery.  Raided for centuries by the Vikings, most of the standing ruins date to the 11th and 12th centuries.  A man in a kilt and hose played Uillean pipes, whcih lent a melancholia to the scene, but a little girl yelling at the top of her lungs, “Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!” brushed it away.  A spiritual place, the sun broke through the thick cloud cover just as I offered up my gratitude.

St. Kevin's monastic ruins in Glendalough

St. Kevin’s monastic ruins in Glendalough

Glendalough Beauty

Glendalough Beauty

St. Kevin's ancient church often called "St. Kevin's Kitchen" due to the chimney.

St. Kevin’s ancient church often called “St. Kevin’s Kitchen” due to the chimney.

My husband was usually ahead of me because I am quite the gawker.  Also quite the talker and writer, I have many a story to tell you about Ireland, so I will break our adventure into a few posts. Sláinte!  (Good Health!)