This journey began with a bear..

A Pooh Bear, to be specific.

My first introduction to the hills and dales and woods of England had to be Winnie the Pooh and his gang of friends. I read books, listened to records, watched the show, as they cavorted around the 100 Acre Woods, getting into scrapes, helping each other out, teaching me about friendship. I soaked it up, every bit, like Pooh and his precious honey.

Later, my mom gave me a set of James Herriot books one Christmas. This was probably the time I fell in love with the natural world of England. I read this series cover to cover, and although I did not always understand everything that was happening as I was kind of young still, I knew that there was something special happening. My suburban eyes were opened to another time, another world. a completely different way of life, that of a large animal country vet. I always loved animals, and these books made me laugh, but they also made me cry. Herriot’s love for his Yorkshire Dales made me love them too. These became books that I reread still to this day. Incidentally, my grandfather was born almost exactly to the day, one year before James Herriot, in the very same town of Sunderland, England. I like to think about them possibly being strolled about on the same sidewalks and into the same shops.

Later, I found Watership Down, not quite a book about the English countryside or woods, but nevertheless, these rabbits braved their way across many a hill and forest until they reached Watership Down. And is still my very favorite book today.

Somewhere in all this, I gave my heart to British nature writing – something I didn’t even realize I was completely avid about until a year or so ago, when I stumbled upon Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel. His poetic observations captured my imaginings, and my love of nature. Like Herriot, his love of his homeland and surroundings is quite evident in his descriptions, the beautiful imagery and words. Stempel describes himself in The Wood as a country writer, writing what he says he knows best. In Meadowland, the Private Life of an English Field, Stempel shares his field study in diary form of the life and death happenings that occur there, the flora, the fauna- the wildflowers, the foxes who seem to recognize him from his rambles, the hedgehogs and birds, to the smallest little insects.

Since then I have read The Glorious Life of the Oak, which is about exactly what you would think, the Oak, its significance to England’s history, folklore and poetry. I learned more than I thought I could ever learn about the Oak tree, which is quite alright, as our family holds acorns and oaks symbolically, as symbols of hope and strength. This Christmas, my husband gifted me The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood, and I have been savoring it, reading it slowly, but still I am almost done with this foray into an English wood.

As a nature lover, I was stunned to learn that the new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary decided to drop about forty words, all pertaining to nature. They deemed these words not essential, not used enough by children to warrant their place in the dictionary, and were replaced by tech words like blog, cut and paste, voicemail. The list of lost words included so many of my favorites things! Dandelion, acorn, bluebell, fern, magpie, otter, willow- all gone from the dictionary, but hopefully not from the minds of the people who use it. Author Robert MacFarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris have created their own book, a place for these words to live on, called The Lost Words. This book is amazingly beautiful, with gorgeous full page artwork illustrations, and poems designed to capture the readers mind and imagination, to keep the words and what they represent alive. It is one of my favorite books, and I love getting it out and looking through it with my son.

I imagine I will keep this up, reading more of Lewis-Stempel and MacFarlane and whoever else I run into on the way. They are amazing tributes to our natural world and inspirational, encouraging me in their way to get outside sometimes and enjoy the wonders of nature, away from my phone and my computer and television. To look and listen and watch and be a part of that world too. And maybe one day I’ll even get to England!

Snapshot Saturday

 

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My prayers go out to anyone suffering right now – I feel like every time I turn on the news, something is happening that breaks my heart.  Much of my last week was spent glued to the news too – there was a lot going on, and while I try my best to not get over inundated with current events for my own mental health, the past two weeks or so have demanded my attention. The timing of these events coincided coincidentally with a 30 Day Slow Down Childhood Challenge that I joined, and honestly, with the way I have been feeling, it was perfect timing. I needed something positive, and the challenge has forced me to do new things, and focus on my family and family time. And it is time very well spent.
For instance, last Wednesday I was having a rough day. Our challenge was to create a family moondala – something I had never heard of before but we were game. Billy and I are creative, and together make a good team, and it was fun to do a creative project with Wyatt. A moondala is a visual representation of what you hope to do in the next month, or lunar cycle. It can include drawings, bits of nature, whatever you want to represent these ideas. So, I poured myself into gathering the materials we might need, and then after dinner, we gathered around our table and started putting it all together. Billy and I really got involved in it, more than I thought we would! Definitely a case of the parents having more fun than the child. Lol. We had a lot of fun, and Wyatt did too, adding stickers and directing us on where he thought certain aspects would go. It was a hopeful, optimistic project, and it was just fun to sit as a family and make. I would think in families with older kids, etc everyone could make their own too.
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I think we are going to try to do this every month!

Two Mini-Reviews: Where the Fire Falls and Dear Bob and Sue

It’s a rainy, dreamy, dreary morning here, but I’ve got my coffee and I am ready to review!

where the fire falls Where the Fire Falls is a book I picked up because I loved the first in this Vintage National Park series so much. I am a huge fan of National Parks, the wilderness, and throw in the vintage aspect and I am there. This book did not disappoint either. Olivia looks and acts the part of the oh so glamorous flapper, a good time girl and artist trying to make it big. She gets the offer of a lifetime when she is sent to Yosemite to paint for a travel magazine – an offer she can’t really refuse, located in the one place she said she would never set foot. Practicality wins, and her trip to Yosemite turns out to be a life changer, especially after meeting rugged, handsome outdoorsman Clark – who also happens to be a former minister. If you are apprehensive about reading a book with a little bit of religion, this book is a good one for you. The religious aspects are very well done, not super in your face, and fit the book and the scenery, settled into the beauty and majesty that is Yosemite. I thoroughly enjoyed this book! And seriously, isn’t this cover awesome?

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Since we are talking National Parks, let’s talk about Dear Bob and Sue. Can I just fangirl a second? I totally loved this book!  It was chock full of real life moments, a real life relationship, adventure, laughter, and I learned lots of things along the way. Parts of the book made me laugh out loud, others made me think, and all of the time sparked my own wanderlust and desire to visit all of these parks as well! I learned so much, it inspired me to learn more about the places I read, and it certainly expanded my own to-do list. I highly recommend this book to anyone else who loves the outdoors and hiking and travel.

Northern Michigan – Vacation Part Two

I have always wanted to go to the wineries on Mission Point. I finally got the chance to, albeit with a preschooler in tow. We didn’t get to do as much wine tasting as we would have (my 3 year old niece, my brother and sister-in-law were with us too), but my SIL and I decided that a girls trip there is an absolute must in our future! We at least got some good ideas of where we wanted to go.

We did get to do some cool stuff, besides gawking at the beautiful scenery that surrounded us. First we headed to the end of the peninsula to the lighthouse. I think this one of my favorite parts of the whole trip! The history, the water, the trees and the forest surrounding it – I could easily imagine being a lighthouse keeper there, in the middle of winter, with my snowy owl visitors from the Arctic.

 

 

After traipsing about with the other tourists, we headed toward Brys Estate Vineyards and their Secret Garden. It was the perfect place to go with our littles. A big beautiful garden for the kids to explore, pick blueberries, cut lavender, and enjoy the riot of color and flowers.

We walked around the garden for quite a while, until the rain that had threatened all day began in earnest. Chrissy and I took a moment to run into the store and look around while the guys loaded up the kids. If you do go to the Secret Garden and you have the chance to buy their lavender shortbread, do it!! It was delicious!! I wish I had bought more while I was there, since the whole car wanted to devour mine, including the kiddos. I of course shared but had I known I would have bought more. Chrissy and I also took advantage of the rain and the kids sleepiness to enjoy a record breaking for time wine tasting at Brys Vineyards, up the hill from the gardens. The ones we tried were delicious! I particularly enjoyed their deep reds. Yum!

By this point it was time to meet the rest of our family in Leland (Fishtown) one of our favorite parts of the whole trip every year. I love touring through the stores, and I of course love the Dam Candy Store. I also pop into the book store every year to make a purchase, of course. A few years ago there was a campaign to Save Fishtown! And I am glad they were able to. My husband has gone backpacking on Manitou Island, about three hours by ferry boat from Fishtown, and it would not be the same without the gray, weather beaten shacks turned stores that remain of the old fishing village.

Afterwards we headed back to the cabin, and laid low for the rest of the night. We sat by the lake and took turns with our kids, drinking wine under the stars. It was a wild night, with high winds, which I loved because then I could wear my new thrifted sweater that I got for the trip. I can’t wait for autumn to arrive so I can wear it more frequently!

The next day was our day to go home! Vacation flies by so swiftly. We said goodbye to our lake, with the clearest, calmest water that it had had the entire time we were there. We packed up, headed out, and made our first stop at a nearby small town, Frankfort, which my brother had told us had a beautiful beach. He was so right. We stretched our legs and took in some beauty before we had to get in the car for the long haul home. We then detoured across the fingertips of Michigan to Hartwick Pines, a state forest. I went there once when I was a kid and loved it, being surrounded by the old growth woods. There is something about trees and me. I love to stand silently in a wood, with tall pines and trees all around. The woods speak to my soul. I loved it there. I want to go back one day again, and spend a little bit more time there. Billy had to pull me away from the large windows, there were just so many birds!!! Evening Grosbeaks, Red-Breasted Grosbeaks, Hummingbirds everywhere. I could have sat there for hours. The visit newly invigorated our desire to start visiting as many National Parks as we can (a desire that is also being fueled right now by the book I am reading, Dear Bob and Sue).

All in all, it was a pretty great trip. I can’t wait to see what next summer ‘s adventures up north brings!

Mini-Post: Feeling Peachy!

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“We are going on an adventure!”

This is what I tell Wyatt every time we leave the house, even if it is just to head up to the store. You never know what the day will bring! Sunday started out dreary and overcast for the third day in a row but we were not letting a little gray sky darken our day. I had a surprise up my sleeve! As I piled the car up with picnic type foods and rain coats, my husband was a bit confused, but he is game for anything so just kind of shrugged before taking the wheel and heading south.

I navigated our family to a favorite spot of ours, Erie Orchards, an orchard my family has been going to since I was a little girl, probably around Wyatt’s age. It was peach picking time! We picked up our bag from the adorable weather-beaten barn store, and rolled our Jeep on over a few dirt roads back to where the peach trees grew.

We could see people over in the blueberry patch, but we weren’t here for blueberries. We had the peaches all to ourselves. And Wyatt had a blast! Some of the trees were small enough for him to stand under and reach the peaches right off the branch, which he thought was the best thing ever! He happily snapped them off and deposited them into our bag.

 

Look at that look of concentration, and he even said peach for the first time!!

We had a wondeful adventure on a day that looked like it was going to be a bummer. The sky was heavy with clouds, which made the day cooler, and their was virtually no humidity. Add a small cool breeze and it was actually pretty perfect.

You just never know where a day will take you.

And now we have 8 lbs of peaches to use. A small thing though for such a fun day!

Anyone have any good peach recipes to share with me?

Phoneless and free

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On Sunday, my phone quit forever, dying the true death.

At first I panicked. Then I ordered a new phone through my service provider.

However, said new phone wasn’t going to be here until Wednesday or Thursday! That meant at least two full days without a phone, maybe more. This was terrible news! As a stay at home mom to a special needs child, I feel isolated a lot. I often feel like my phone is my link to the world, to other people, to social contact. I have a laptop, but it is hard to sit down and work on it right now with Wyatt so young. Wyatt and I usually have a pretty busy schedule of appointments too, and when at home we are hanging out together.  So, it’s not really in the cards. I do use the laptop when he is at school, like right now though.

Monday morning was rough. Then slowly, slowly, I found that I didn’t really care as much anymore about not having it. I felt a weight lifted actually – a certain freedom. I didn’t need to check emails or Facebook; my feeling of being really busy was gone, although, my to-do list never changed. I think on some level, having a constant connection to everything makes you feel you actually need to be participating at all times in your email and social media, even though we really don’t. We don’t need to answer an email as soon as we hear that ping. We don’t need to immediately respond to people on Facebook or Instagram. It can wait.

Ironically, I am also reading a book right now called The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. It is fascinating. Not a quick read for me by any means, there is a lot of neuro-talk and physiology and science, which slows me down a bit as I am not naturally inclined towards that realm of learning. But, I am loving this book and learning so much, nevertheless. It’s all about how nature helps you to heal, how it is healthy for you, emotionally and physically. Just five hours a month can improve your mental and physical health greatly. This book talks about how nature straight up affects your brain, how most of the time we operate “top-down” using our active brain and focus, while nature allows us to be “bottoms up”, to allow our brains to relax, taking away all that stimuli that makes us work that frontal cortex constantly. Williams mentioned a study that took place in Michigan about why drivers choose to take a tree lined scenic drive rather than a different route, even over the faster route. Or a study that showed that when recovering from an illness, just being near a window can reduce recovery time and amount of pain medicine taken.

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I remember when Wyatt was in the NICU – I had been in the hospital myself for a month before he was born, then he was in the hospital for the next six weeks. It was a long time to be in a hospital. His incubator was always on the far side of the room, away from the windows and the light, and I started to get this feeling that if we were near a window and he could experience sunlight (muted of course, not direct!) that he would flourish. So when the next window spot opened up, I asked the nurses if Wyatt could be moved. And those sweet women did it, although it took a tremendous amount of extra effort on their part. And, a week and a half later, Wyatt was discharged. While I know that it was the hard work and care of his entire massive team of doctors and nurses that healed my son, I like to think that having a week in the sunshine helped just a tiny wee bit. I know that it helped me, being able to sit in daylight for a change, rather than shadow.

Honestly, this book has so much information that I found valuable and interesting. How our senses interpret nature, from scent to audio to visual. I highly recommend reading it!

Some alarming things I have learned: The average person looks at their phone 150 times a day. IPhone users spend 26 minutes more a day on their phones. There are less than a dozen places in the United States that are devoid of man-made noises and contain only the sounds of nature. As I write that sentence, I hear birds singing outside my window, some sort of power tools being used, and a car driving by on the street, my coffee maker beeping. My fingers typing on the keyboard.

Everyone has been saying to me, “Oh it must be so hard”, or “Ugh, that must be so annoying!” to not have your phone. But, it has become a little easier. Since I haven’t had it, I kept track of things I have done differently. My own tiny observations, if you will.

Our mornings have had a different rhythm. I feel more relaxed, not getting up and checking out what happened over night or checking my emails. I am on medicine for high blood pressure, and when I checked my BP this morning as usual, it was super low – 98/62!  I also feel I have more time. On Monday, Wyatt and I went to my brother’s house and hung out with my mom and my niece, the kids were playing and having fun while mom and I had tea together and chatted, where we would usually have a phone conversation. Williams said people are built for social face to face interaction, and it was much nicer for Wyatt and I, and my mom and Chickadee, to all be together for a while. It was really fun, actually. I took a nap when Wyatt did later that day too, which was pretty awesome. I have more time, and things are getting done that I haven’t had time for – which is sad when what was getting in my way was checking my phone! Wyatt and I spent some time outside too, in the sun listening to birds, and Wyatt even tried to imitate a robin’s trilling song. And I have been singing more in the car, now that I am not talking to people on my Bluetooth. I have also been able to notice how much time my husband spends on his phone, since I haven’t had one. It’s been enlightening. I feel like I have had a detox and honestly I like it.

On the other hand, I still need a phone. While I have felt more free, I have also missed a few really important phone calls. I also had to tell Wyatt’s preschool to call my husband first since I am unavailable by phone right now. My husband is at work and would have to chat me, which works but is not the best way to do things. I like to be available if I am needed in an emergency. Today is also my mom’s birthday and I can’t call her to wish her a happy birthday. So, I definitely need a phone. I just don’t need to be on it as much as I apparently was. I am going to stay balanced – I like this new feeling of not being as anxious, tethered, but I also want to receive calls and get information when I need it!

How about you? How often do you get outside in nature? Do you feel like you couldn’t exist without your phone?

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Goals y’all. Lol.

 

It’s All About the Bicycles

Today is a day that Billy and I count down to in the summer – the start of the Tour de France. He is a huge bike guy; I just love the Tour. I am in awe of what these men do, how far they ride, for how long, through the Alps for goodness’ sake. Whole mountain ranges are devoured by their bike tires and sweat. It is an amazing feat, and I am blown away by their tenacity and athleticism. We hope to go and stand on the sidelines one day, cheering them on along the road of some small town in the mountains of France.

Our date night this week was bikecentric – I am not sure if the Detroit Zoo planned it for the week of the Tour on purpose, but if not, good timing on their part! The zoo hosted an evening event, a Bike Safari if you will, where participants could ride their bikes through the winding paths of the zoo, stopping to view the animals along the way. It was family friendly, although it was sponsored by New Belgium Brewery; you just got one of those neat wristbands to prove you were over 21.  Over 800 people attended, and it made for a very fun evening. Despite being so many people in attendance, it was not a difficult ride. I get really nervous if people ride too close to me, I am not a super confident bicyclist. However, there were three different start times, and it really divided everyone up very effectively. People riding were spaced very well, and it only became tricksy a few times, when riders would stop suddenly in front of you to see an animal, rather than biking to the side of the pathway and stopping.

There were three hydration stations set up, and two of them included a 3 – oz sample of New Belgium beer to those who wanted to imbibe. We of course drank our samples, along with the water that was also provided. I am not a super big beer drinker, but I enjoyed my choices! The options were Cirtadelic Tangerine, Fat Tire, Voodoo Ranger IPA, and Dayblazer. I chose Dayblazer and Fat Tire; Billy had Voodoo Ranger and Dayblazer. We also got a can each at the end of the ride as well, same choices. We stuck with two we had already had – me again with the Fat Tire, Billy with the Voodoo Ranger. They were icy cold and delicious after the long hot ride through the zoo. There was a live band at the finish, along with a few food options and the opportunity to purchase more drinks. Alternatively, people could choose to go listen to scientists speak at the reptile house about the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project. Nature nerds that we are, we opted for the wolf-moose project, although our beers did come with us.

The two scientists were full of interesting information and facts. We have always wanted to visit Isle Royale, so it was cool to talk to people who have not only been there, but really know the island intimately, and all of her inhabitants. It is a sad scenario though. Right now, there are some 1500 moose on the island. And just two wolves, who are so inbred that the pack is dead. They cannot reproduce. The pack in its heyday numbered 50, at least in as far as scientists have been tracking its numbers. Due to all the inbreeding though, numbers began to fall as they died off. Their health was compromised and a strain of parvo killed a bunch off. The moose are without predators, and while this seems like yay moose ~ it really isn’t, as they may run out of food sources themselves as the island may not be able to support that many moose, unchecked. This is the subject that the scientists we spoke with were studying, the effect of the moose upon the fir, and just how long these moose could be sustained by the fir trees on the island. They eat fir trees, and these fir trees barely have the opportunity to grow, as the moose just eat the heck out of them. An obvious solution would be to introduce a new pack. I would love to see this happen, and have the balance returned to the island.

That is only replica moose scat, btw. Lol. And a kick butt caiman looking at us in the reptile house.

This event was a great time, and well worth the money we paid to do it. It was a wonderful night and we will definitely go again. If you are interested in reading more about the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project, you can go here and here. If you are interested in participating (even cooler!) check this out.