The kayak glided gently…..

…. by cattails and wildflowers as I quietly dipped into the water, one side, then the other. I stayed near the shoreline, to slip in among tree branches that bow over the water and observe the habitat and vegetation. It was shady there … and cozy. 

Shrubs and wildflowers in shades of blue and purple, saplings along with knobby old specimens, floating logs, and an occasional upturned tree with its massive root system exposed provided a fascinating “shore-scape.”

There were birds to observe, even a snake hanging from a tree limb. Turtles sunbathed on protruding rocks and then slipped away into the dark water. Families of ducks drifted along, all in a row following their mother. From the lake-side trail a dog barked.

It was a hot sunny day during the pandemic and the state park was more crowded than usual. In the normally deserted cove, I found people secretly tucked in along the shore line among bushes and trees. They had hiked with lawn chairs to find a perfect spot by the water and take in the beautiful vistas across the lake. One sturdy-looking man sat alone with an open cooler by his chair and cell phone in his hand. I could hear his business meeting going on as I slipped by. Around the bend two women sat on a little outcropping of flat rocks in the shallow water, absorbed in chatter about kids and mothers.

Further down the shoreline a dad was busy showing his young son how to cast a fishing line. Luckily, I avoided getting tangled in their line. Two women in kayaks passed by at a distance and, surprisingly, their conversation carried over the water, clear as a bell. One had a new boyfriend, a nice man, she said, and she hoped this one would work out. I decided to turn away to explore the bulrushes.

Of course, there were other sounds on the lake on this bright summer day. Groups of teenagers had rented paddle-boards and were laughing and falling into the water. How good it was to see them having fun during such a challenging summer! On land, handsome young men wearing prize-winning tans and masks moved about the concession stand area, matching up customers with rental boats and handing out life preservers.

Then there were the old-timer fishermen, some on land, some in small boats. silently threading worms onto hooks and casting into the deep water.  They appeared to be serious about their sport, though I didn’t see any fish dangling on lines. Like many things in life, the value of fishing may be largely found in the effort, rather than the result.

The lake was especially beautiful and peaceful on that hot August day.  I vowed to return soon and headed toward the sandy beach for the final balancing act of getting out of the craft without tipping. Accomplished!

What followed was robust work—dragging the kayak up a slope and getting it on top of the car. And then, just after the last shove to get the kayak onto the roof rack, a young woman appeared and said, “You look fit, but is there anything I can do to help you?”  How sweet of her.  “I think I’ve got it! But thanks so much!” was my reply, and we both smiled.

 

Sweet Memories

Dear readers  ……

A little camping or cabin excursion may be the perfect pandemic getaway for your family. Perhaps this account will give you inspiration. It was originally published in Ruby for Women, 2018, as “Cabin in the Woods.” Thanks for reading ……   Cindy

It was quite a week! Seven days in a cabin nestled among hardwood trees with a sunny glade in front and paved lane below. Perfect for children with scooters and bikes, the lane became a playground for bunnies and deer in the evening. Nature provided sufficient music for the week, with swells of chirping crickets, piercing bird calls, and strange sounds at night. It was a delightful setting in which all four of us—three granddaughters ages six through thirteen, and one Oma, aka grandmother—were eager for adventure.

Two weeks ahead of time, preparations began: cooking and freezing meatballs and homemade cinnamon rolls; getting out the camping bins to check supplies, restocking paper towels and plastic bags; and adding a whisk and can opener.

Pots and pans are always essential for life at the cabin…..

  • small pot with lid for boiling eggs or water for coffee
  • large pot for cooking corn on the cob, making soup on a rainy day, and rinsing hand-washed dishes (No fancy dishwasher on site!)
  • favorite cast iron griddle for pancakes, French toast, grilled cheese, even scrambled eggs if stirred gently

Speaking of coffee …. it’s a ritual for Oma, first thing in the morning when the children are still asleep. Hot water, paper filter fitted into a large mug, and ground coffee work just fine for that early morning comfort. It’s especially lovely while watching the sun rise from the rustic porch of the cabin or curled up in a comfy chair in the living room with a book or journal. Before long, squeaking bunk beds and the patter of little feet remind me to heat up the griddle and mix up a batch of pancakes.

Not to be forgotten in the preparation is a stash of matches, best stored in a tightly screwed jar, along with a sealed bag of fire starters. These are torn up paper egg cartons. They’ve been covered with candle drippings, to be placed under the kindling of the campfire. During the winter, I repurpose Christmas candle stubs and egg cartons from holiday baking into fire starters.

At least one meal will be cooked outdoors—hot dogs, Bratwurst, burgers, barbeque chicken—and of course it would not be a cabin week without s’mores. Campfires are not just for cooking! They’re for imagining and dreaming, especially enchanting in the cool of the evening, and perfect for sharing stories and songs.

The above-mentioned s’mores consist of graham crackers, roasted marshmallows, and melting chocolate and always cause a sticky mess. My best solution: the large cooking pot filled with warm sudsy water and brought outside to sticky fingers along with a fresh towel to help control the mess, if there is anything like control in this situation.

I’ve learned that plenty of towels is a bonus in many regards. Things can get damp in the woods and there is nothing like a clean drying towel to make the cabin kitchen feel like home. A fresh towel after a hot shower is also a treat!

Now this was a unique week. It rained every day, at times in heavy downpours. We sat at breakfast one morning and discussed an emergency flood plan that included climbing onto the kitchen table, swimming over to the top bunk bed, or climbing one of the gigantic trees by the cabin. One child said she couldn’t climb that high, so we decided to use a strap to connect her to the strongest of us to keep her safe. No one would be lost.

Luckily, the drainage was good. The cabin sat up on a little hillside and streams of water flowed downward all around us. We could see water running off into the woods below. Being at risk was unlikely, but having an escape plan is always a good idea. And, it’s smart to pick a cabin or tent site on high ground!

The sun made an occasional brief appearance, and at each opportunity we got out the scooters or took short walks. One day we enjoyed a quick picnic by the lake, another a jaunt to the playground. What we eliminated from the plan was the lengthy hike to a fire tower—not a good place to be caught in a thunder storm.

Crafts, cooking projects, and inside play became the focus. We painted bird houses and ceramic mugs, acted out fairy tales and hero stories, played board games, and even completed a 500-piece puzzle on the last night. Culinary efforts by the children resulted in a delicious breakfast egg casserole, cinnamon pretzels of unique shapes, and a dinner of black beans and eggs prepared by the eldest granddaughter, who had just returned from Mexico. Every meal tasted delicious!

There were several visits of friends and family, one unexpected cabin lockout that required a volunteer to climb in through an open window, naps among the trees in the hammock, and friendly chats with neighbors. Our gregarious and thoughtful teen suggested next time we should bake cookies early on the first day to take to families as they arrived at their cabins.

One day was sunny from the start with no storms predicted. That was the day we went to the pool. Soaking in the sunshine, splashing and playing games in the water, …. we had a wonderful and totally exhausting day. At bedtime, one child asked: “Oma, did you pray and ask God to give us sunshine so we could go swimming?” She had begged every day to go to the pool regardless of the weather. “I asked God to give us a good day,” I replied. “And He did! Isn’t that wonderful? We can be very thankful.”

Now, with the grandchildren returned safely to their parents, I’m doing laundry, reorganizing the supply bin for next year, taking naps….and feeling grateful!

 

 

 

I love teachers…

and especially teachers who are also swim coaches. Picture yourself at a junior championship meet on a steamy Saturday morning, 88 degrees in the shade at 9 AM. Parents and grandparents set up their camping chairs under trees, but the coaches are out there in the sun for hours. They don’t even get to jump into the pool to get cool!

“Don’t forget to put on sun screen, Lauren.” “Ten and under boys breaststroke line up here.”  With clip board in hand the coach calls out names from the roster for the next relay and guides the children to line up in order. Then he reminds them to hold hands, the little ones at least, and follow along, forming a snake of tiny bodies in identical suits and caps weaving its way through the crowd at water’s edge. The destination is the end of the pool where the young contestants will climb onto the block in their assigned lane.

These things go like clockwork, it appears. No time is lost. The participants in the previous race stay in the water until the next group has entered. Time-keepers are in place. An announcer has already named the swimmers and their lanes, which is helpful for us proud grandparents because each child looks about the same. The best part is the finish. If one or two children lag behind, the entire group cheers for them. Each is congratulated for his or her time, not for beating out the others. The swimmers reach across lane lines and shake hands.

I like this spirit of excellence without harsh competition. The teacher-coach encourages each child to reach maximum performance, appreciates the effort and courage it takes, and……….no wonder my grandchildren come back to such a rigorous summer activity year after year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blueberries are in ….

and my kitchen is a mess. The sink is full of stained utensils. A large soup pot sits idly nearby waiting to soak in warm soapy water. You see, I just cooked up a batch of fresh blueberry jam. Various mason jars fill one side of the counter along with an assortment of extra rings and flat lids. I’m sitting here at the computer to rest my legs and prepare for the clean-up. At this point I could be thinking about how easy it would have been to select several lovely jars of jam from the shelf at the grocery store or my favorite country market. But wait…

I would have missed the treat of going to the farm stand to buy freshly picked berries, the feel of those lovely little fruits as I washed and drained them, the hands-on work of chopping them with my large chef knife and discovering below the deep blue skin a soft yellow-green center. And I would have never had the fun of measuring all those cups of sugar. This is where the healthy aspect of jam becomes questionable–nearly twice the amount of sugar as fruit– and the directions make it clear that the exact amount of sugar is required for success. I’ll just spread the jam very lightly on my toast and muffins, I think, while stirring the conglomerate of fruit and sugar together with a pat of butter. The butter is to reduce foam. Now who ever knew that foam could develop from berries and sugar?

With the stirring and timing complete and after skimming off any surprise foam that may have snuck into the jam, I carefully ladle the hot bubbly mixture into jars using a funnel to prevent spills. I keep a small portion aside. Somehow spots of deep reddish- purple end up on the stove and counter and on my kitchen towels but all is well if I manage to keep the jars upright as they become filled with the beautiful steaming hot liquid. The potential for burns is real and caution is important. With sealing lids and rings screwed on, the whole project is slowly lifted into a large pot of boiling water one jar at a time for the final treatment–the boiling water bath.

The most fun is the final step as the jars are gently removed and begin to cool. The difference in temperature causes a suction and the lids pop as they are pulled tightly onto the jar. I count the pops to be sure all jars are sealed. Finally I can relax, leave the jam alone to cool, and taste that little sample I had kept aside. It’s sweet, still warm, and fresh as a garden full of summer blossoms–this is why I love to make blueberry jam!