Archived Ideas for ‘07 July’



You never know where the next inspiration is going to come from.

Recently, I was traveling and stayed at one of those chain motels with the free breakfast included (what’s not to love about that?) So, I was already happy about getting a free banana, when I saw that someone had hand-written a note of well wishes on every one. Generally, the notes were all a variation of “Have a great day”, I chose “Soar with the eagles”, which inexplicably lifted the next couple hundred miles of my road trip.

It occurred to me how simple, yet powerful these little unexpected ball-point moments of inspiration had been, from one stranger to another, placed ingeniously on the part of the fruit that would be stripped off and thrown out anyway.

It suddenly made me nostalgic for the days I used to pack lunches for school. Wouldn’t this be a fun way to remind a child that his lunch was lovingly packed? (Or to pontificate on the importance of potassium–whichever is your whim).

So, in this world of email, text and instant messaging, I dare you to try zagging when others zig. Pick up a ball-point pen and a piece of food and have at it! And while you’re at it, Soar with the eagles!



Who knows. Maybe this post would be better in mid-winter. Because right now it borders on the obvious. But if it hadn’t occurred to you to go out and pick fresh berries, maybe this will serve a purpose.


I am a strawberry lover. My earliest taste memories include that sweet warm sensation that explodes in your mouth at the first bite of a freshly picked strawberry. But I have to admit, it was never at the top of my weekend list to go to a “U-Pick” and harvest fruit.

But I’m married to a consummate gardener. And the least I can do to thank him for the beautiful work he does in our yard is be a good sport about field trips to the berry farm in the hot sun.

And of course I’m so happy I went.


I think the best part was seeing my otherwise indifferent husband having such a ball. I swear he was not going to leave as long as there were still so many berries left to pick. We came home with about 20 pounds of berries, which of course is way more than we could consume before they would begin to wilt.

Most people in this situation would have a plan to can or jar. But that was not in the cards for the rest of our weekend. We washed everything, then divided them into three categories: Eat now, Put in the fridge and Freeze. If you go online to find berry freezing techniques you’ll find half a dozen, some of which involve slicing and adding sugar. We chose what seemed best for us. After washing, the tops were cut straight off and the berries were placed to dry on paper towels. They were then transferred to cookie sheets lined with wax paper, cut edge down.


These trays were thoroughly frozen.


Then the berries were popped off into vacuum bags.


The air was sucked out, and the bags sealed and popped back in the freezer.



According to the recipe, these will be good for the next six months. So right now I’m planning on making strawberry muffins the first morning I wake up to a new snowfall. And remember that tangy sweet smell, and bending in the hot sun, and watching my husband as he systematically attempts to harvest every last plump berry.




Last summer, my 19 year old son Ben announced that the next week he and his friend Will were going to ride their bikes to California. He told us this with the same lack of pageantry you would announce you were going to walk up to the store to buy a candy bar.

I wondered if over at Will’s house they had any more warning or explanation of a plan. When we drove Ben to Will’s house, the location of the “send off,” we saw that no, indeed, there had been no more planning over there.

We arrived on the scene to witness Will’s dad explaining that it would be very easy and quite practical to strap a small tent onto Will’s bike. This recommendation offered, because the boys had discerned they would not need sleeping bags (it was California, and therefore a warm place), or pillows (apparently pillows are for sissies), or a change of clothes.

When I asked if it wouldn’t be a good idea to bring an extra T-shirt, Ben’s answer was they could wash their shirts out in a stream. When I suggested he might bring an extra shirt to wear while the stream-washed shirt was drying, Ben saw the wisdom in this, and acquiesced to bring a second T-shirt.

It was heart-warming to see Will’s parents attempting similar suggestions. Somehow they managed to convince the boys to take their ancient second car to get to the west coast so that they might have a hope of, at the very least, getting out of Minnesota. The parents were planning on selling the car anyway (or donating it). The boys had permission to sell the car once they got to California if they wanted to. Or, if it broke down, they did not have to bring it back, but needed to remember to have it towed somewhere.

The plan was to sleep in hammocks, which they had purchased the week before, (but hadn’t actually tried out yet). We all thought, even if the ancient second car completely broke down, it might still offer protection from the weather, and a softish place to sleep.

The timeline for the trip was “open-ended” as Ben quit his job for the rest of the summer and announced that he may decide to stay in California a while and not sign up for school in the fall. Interesting, because I heard Will say he wanted to be back for the State Fair in August, but apparently had failed to mention this to Ben. So it was not only open-ended in the sense they hadn’t decided when to return, but even more so, since they hadn’t actually discussed their plans with each other.

Then, we four parents stood in the driveway waving, and the two boys, with bikes in ancient second car, drove away.


I told all this to my girlfriends while sipping wine in the backyard at an annual summer get-together and to my amazement, a year later, when we gathered there next, everyone wanted to hear: Well? What happened on the bike trip?

So, here are some highlights. OK, this is my recollection anyway.

The first night, the boys slept in the car. The next day, the car broke down and they managed to get it into a shop and jumped on their bikes to ride around. They had been aiming to drive from Minnesota to Seattle, ditch the car, and ride down the coast to California on their bikes. The car broke down again, and this time it was irreparable. They left it, and got a bus into Seattle.

Seattle was no disappointment. They located kindred spirits and empty couches on some memo-board (or Craig’s list). They had been gone almost a week but had very few bike miles under their belts. At one point, they decided to take a hike. it was late in the day because, of course, if they were awake, it must be. They headed up a mountain trail with no water. Once they finally reached the peak, they realized they may be heading into trouble. They were far from their starting point and were losing light very quickly. They were regretting the decision (or lack thereof) to bring water, and I think there was a bear sighting.

They ran/tore back down the mountain and managed to return to their respective couches unkilled, which was fortunate, because they had a great story to tell.

At this point, the owners of the couches wanted them back, so the boys consulted the memo-board (or Craig’s List) again for a ride closer to California. They were able to secure a ride to Portland for $20. That’s $20 for the both of them. You just can’t beat Craig’s list (or the memo board) unless, of course, you have a silly concern about safety.

Portland proved to be a veritable cornucopia of opportunity. Will had relations there who put them up and fed them all kinds of home-cooked meals. Between this and their attempt to patronize every taco truck they encountered, they were not hurting for chow. But here they ran into a setback. The hike proved to be problematic to Will’s leg, so they found a clinic that would take a look. Not a big deal, but Will would have to stay off it for a few weeks.


Remember, they are on a bicycling adventure. Or, at least it was going to start any minute.

I got a text that they were returning by train. Their bikes were packed into bike boxes and checked like big cardboard luggage.

All tolled, it had been just under two weeks. There did not appear to be a lot of bicycle riding in this adventure. And they never did set foot in California. But our boys were returning, after not too much time, and on their own accord. So, we four parents did what one might expect we would. We drove to the train station where, teary eyed, we greeted, we hugged, and did our best to hide our complete and absolute relief.




I’ve long considered my dad to be a businessman. Growing up, he provided the yin to my mother’s artistic, almost bohemian yang. I thought my creative side came from my mother, and that I got mostly that, although I managed to pick up a thing or two I could use with the other side of my brain from my dad. But even though my dad is a genius at business, he also, more than anyone else in the family, has an appreciation for poetry.

Over the years my dad has quoted many a poet. And I’m not talking about the short rhyming variety. He’s memorized beautiful, long verses, and can readily bring them up to recite to a surprised and delighted audience. His embracing poetry has always been something I appreciated, but did not share. Not that I don’t like poetry, just that my life, full of family and work, was kind of busy for it, I guess. When my kids were small, he gave me a book of poetry. We read out of it, but when the kids got older, the book went on a shelf.

I spent the last two weeks with my extended family at our annual get-together. Now, I’ve returned to my so-called normal life with one new thought: Poetry.

For the occasion of my parent’s anniversary, some of us discovered a love poem he had written to my mom years ago. We put it to music and played the guitar and sang it to them. Much practice was necessary, to be able to get through the song without choking up. Poetry.

Around the campfire, a song we sang reminded my dad of a poem, and he asked if I knew it. I said no. With much cacophony going on all around us, he leaned in and recited it in my ear. It was beautiful and long. And although I loved the words I didn’t exactly catch it’s meaning. The next day I looked it up online and it took me several readings before I understood. It was as if I was dropped off in a foreign country in the middle of a language I couldn’t understand, and then out of nowhere, suddenly became fluent. The poem was Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms, by Thomas Moore. After about the fourth reading, what at first sounded like a string of flowery words became the most beautiful love poem, telling a woman she would always be beautiful, even when she looked like a dried up old stick. The beauty of that brought tears to my eyes. Poetry.

The next night, in the farmhouse kitchen, my sister-in-law and I recorded my dad reciting that poem, and then us singing it. Poetry.

There was poetry in the weather, that rained the day after we got sunburned.
There was poetry in the child that sprained her ankle and then became closer to a cousin she’d never met before, who liked to play nursemaid.
There was poetry in the perfect fit of the beam into it’s slot, on the cabin everyone was helping build.

When my dad and I were walking across a field together I mentioned how I hadn’t had much poetry in my life. That we had that book he had given us, but I hadn’t read it in a while. And then, of course, it dawned on me. Poetry is all over the place. I’m just starting to become a little more fluent.



The combination between the end of school and summer’s warm weather provide the perfect opportunity for an annual family trip. Here in the mid-west, countless families head “North to the Cabin”, and I’m not the first to notice how time slows down these hazy lazy days.

We take the annual summer vacation to the family farm in northern Michigan. And since our children were born, it has become the time and place that, once a year, they bond with their cousins.

Northern Michigan cherry orchards, sand dunes, and lakes have been the backdrop for relationships that have been playing out two weeks a year for the duration of their young lives. And as a parent, it’s one of my favorite things. It has not only cemented the relationships of the children, but of myself, my siblings, parents, and in-laws.

Jacqueline M. deMontravel, editor of Romantic Homes Magazine, in her letter from the editor, expressed what I consider a near perfect reflection on summer. I had to share it with you. Here is Jacqueline’s letter, with a title that could have been the title of today’s idea. May everyone reading this take a moment to breathe in and quietly savor summer, whether you choose to travel to the woods, or just the back yard.

Let It Go

July follows the loose, relaxed style of a past-season sundress. Fully entrenched in summer, stray towels, flip-flops and all the necessities brought back from beach day can wait an hour, or day, to be tidied up.

July is the coffee break of the calendar year. Urgent matters become less urgent. Casual conversation lingers into the evening. The style of the summer follows these tenets. You are less likely to succumb to modern conveniences, opting for the entertainment provided by the season. There are many: falling asleep outdoors, losing a day to the garden and listening to the sounds of night.

At home you cook more. Meals are made with fewer ingredients but fresher foods. People come over frequently. There is more of a desire to entertain when you are so relaxed, feel less strained and have no qualms if a guest may spot a basket of laundry.

It is a forgiving season. It is also fleeting, which is what July is about.



When my kids were small, I wanted a way for them to learn to put their clothes in their drawers. I really  didn’t want to write on the furniture, so I came up with this very simple idea.


Using round colored stickers from the office supply store, I cut simple shapes of a top, pants, socks, underwear, and pajamas, and simply stuck them on the drawer knobs, or flat fronts, (depending on the furniture style).

The system worked, was simple and graphic, and when the kids outgrew the need, it was a cinch to peel the labels back off.




Where there is family, there is laundry. And for some reason, one person (you) seems to always end up having to deal with it. This system is simple enough so that eventually, any family member can handle it. (Unfortunately you DO have to wait till they can walk).

Buy one laundry basket for each family member and one for “house”. Permanently mark each basket with a person’s name, or use different color baskets. We made little signs and had them laminated at the copy shop, then simply “threaded” them in the basket’s holes. Now, when laundry comes out of the dryer, it gets folded and put in the correct basket. This can be a family chore or it can be done by the family’s “laundry expert”.

Once the clean clothes are in the baskets, the laundry expert washes her hands of them, so to speak. Each person is in charge of their basket. If your family is like ours, the baskets never leave the laundry room. Most people (who shall remain nameless) simply use their basket like a mini dresser so they never actually have to put anything away. But this matters not to you. If they want to go to the basement to change clothes, who cares? The laundry remains miraculously organized.



No matter how many fabulous cookbooks there are in the world, it seems the best ideas for that elusive problem called supper come from magazines. I went for years tearing out pages and stuffing them in a fat folder. When I’d look for a recipe it seemed like it was always the one at the bottom, so I’d spend half my precious time looking for it. I tried three-hole punching the pages, but alas the paper is just too thin to hold up to page turns.

One day I took my favorite pages and printed them out on card stock paper. If you are not inclined to spend an evening scanning and printing, drop them off at the copy shop. Once the recipes (one each page) are on the card stock, three-hole punch them and put them in a binder. You can also purchase section dividers for organization. My binder has become the most used book in the kitchen. And of course it expanded to include more than supper. My categories are: Supper, Pasta, Pizza, Side, Soup, Sandwich, Bread, Sweet. But you can choose whatever works for what you have collected.