A taste of summer…

Rising early on a Saturday morning during a weekend getaway to Hermann may not be your first choice of things to do, but it might be worth it to pick up some fresh-baked cinnamon rolls at the local Farmers Market.  Held each week at the Hofgarten, at First and Gutenberg, on both Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons, this market offers a little bit of this and that…

This Saturday morning the offerings included homemade blueberry bagels, a variety of breads, fresh and dried chili peppers ~ jalapeno, serrano, and even habanero ~ pie pumpkins, fresh chickens ready to roast for Sunday dinner, and a beautiful display of zinnias in a rainbow of colors from the Windy Hill Cut Flower Farm.  Our neighbor, Margie, was there with her jars of honey from her own Triple Creek Farm.  Margie, a photographer/beekeeper, lends an artistic flair to her products, using some unique glass vessels to store the honey – like high-end accessories found in a gourmet kitchen.

Personally, I have absolutely no tendency to grow anything, so I truly admire folks who do.  Growing up south of Hermann, my parents grew just about anything under the sun ~ and in central Missouri, you can grow a lot.  From potatoes to tomatoes, okra to asparagus, concord grapes to gooseberries, they grew it.  Having been children during the Depression, I think growing your own food supply provided a sense of security for them.  Needless to say, during the summer months there was always something to pick or can or freeze or pickle or juice or preserve ~ and I disliked every moment of it!  I looked forward to the day when I was grown up, had a job, and could go to the grocery store and buy what I wanted.  And my sentiment hasn’t changed.  So, thank you to all of you who toil in your own gardens, pack up your produce on an early Saturday morning and take it to the farmers markets, so I can enjoy a taste of summer without going through all that effort!

Just a note ~ during the summer months, following the Farmers’ Market, there is live music each Saturday afternoon at the Hofgarten.  For more information, go to the Hermann Farm site:  http://www.hermannfarm.com/Events/UpcomingEvents/default.asp


Simple pleasures…

I think I chose the right time to move back home to Missouri ~ cold winters seem to be a thing of the past.  This year’s winter doesn’t even deserve to be called a winter.  It certainly doesn’t compare to the winters of my childhood when we had numerous snow days home from school, and my mom and I would walk the mile to Sloan’s store at Swiss (the precursor to the Swiss Meat & Sausage Co) where I always wanted, of all things on a cold day, a Fudgsicle.  It’s early January, and we are having spring weather with a high of 62 degrees today – this is either global warming at its finest, or a karmic force rewarding me for enduring the twenty-three snowy, gloomy winters I spent in Alaska!

My daily walk today turned into a stroll.  Normally I like to get my heartbeat up, and feel a little winded by the time I’m done, but today I just wanted to savor the warm sun and spend as much time outside as I could – maybe to avoid things I need to do and address.  My mind is full of thoughts and concerns as we go into the New Year – I’ve finished my MBA degree and now it’s time to find new employment – a task that seems both exciting and intimidating at the same time.  My husband, Mick, and I just purchased a foreclosed historic property in Hermann – an old brick building, circa 1850 – that we plan to renovate for additional visitor lodging along with our Grapevine Guest Suite cottage.  This, too, seems to be a challenging, as well as motivating, prospect.  Our plate is quite full of unrealized goals as we go into 2012, and when I wake in the mornings, I’m not sure whether to jump out of bed with enthusiasm or bury my head under the covers!

Recently I read a book titled Rules of Civility in which a single young woman named Katey, in the late 1930s, finds herself struggling at times to find her way in the world.  Katey relies on the only words of wisdom her father ever provided to her – regardless of how daunting the circumstances were for him, he knew that as long as when he woke each morning and he still looked forward to his first cup of coffee, then he could make it through any day.  “When a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane, she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger” ~ Amor Towles. 

That line in the book resonated with me to the point that I had to write it down and keep it as a reminder.  For Katey, the main character, the pleasure came from reading Dickens.  For myself, at least today, my pleasure came from an ordinary walk on an uncommonly beautiful winter day.  Our neighbor’s dog, Sophie, joined me which forced me to slow down even more as she sniffed out her own mundane pleasures along the road. 

Our neighbor dog, Sophie, joining me on my walk.

Taking my time, and letting my mind drift away from some of my self-imposed pressures actually energized me.  It was anything but a waste of time.  As long as something as simple as a walk along a country road, watching a dog chase a squirrel up a tree, continues to bring me pleasure, well, then I think I’m ready to tackle whatever the year brings…Happy New Year!





Finding Ireland…

Sometimes life gets in the way of doing things you really enjoy, like writing this blog.  I took a hiatus lately as I finished up two more courses for my MBA, but what actually kept me away from this blog the longest was a recent trip with my husband, Mick, to Ireland.  This was our second time to visit Ireland, and we totally committed ourselves to being travelers, and not tourists, this time around.  I think we succeeded…

Basically, it was just me, Mick, our rental car, a map of Ireland, and no reservations.  We spent our time in the farmland and along the north coast of Northern Ireland, where Scotland is only 15 miles away, and on the rugged and isolated west coast of County Donegal.  We specifically chose these areas knowing they would be well-off the beaten track, especially in October, but we were continually surprised at just how close we were to possibly some of the last vestiges of true Ireland.  We would drive for miles through peat bogs with ditches dug, chunks of peat cut out and stored in large wood crates along the road.  The peat still serves as a major source of fuel for many of the country’s residents, and when we would pass through villages, the pungent odor of it from the chimneys would always make me sneeze. 

Sperrin Mtns

We cut across the Sperrin Mountains in central Northern Ireland and felt as though we passed through a time warp, but back in time.  Distant farmhouses, fields of sheep bordered with hedge fences, and stone churches made it hard to determine the exact year.  It could have easily been 1711 as 2011.  Occasionally we would meet a farmer on his four-wheeler with a sheep dog sitting on the back, and we’d be brought back to the present. 

In parts of County Donegal the Irish language is still the dominant spoken language, and all of the road signs are in Irish.  Let’s just say it is not an easily interpreted language, and as the navigator in our little travel party, I often had doubts as to whether we were on the right road.  Stopping at small stores, looking for confirmation, the locals would speak English to us, but with each other, only Irish.  It looks strange in writing, but sounds very strange when spoken – it’s not refined, but rough and ancient sounding.  It’s a language that perfectly fits this wild part of the country, and it seems fitting that it has survived along with those speaking it – resilient people who have chosen to sustain their original spoken word and a way of life not so different from their ancestors in this remote part of Ireland.

Donegal Coast

In the small coastal village of Bunbeg, we managed to find the Bunbeg House Guesthouse open down at the boat pier.  Apparently the place is bustling and overrun with tourists and vacationers from Belfast and Dublin in the summer – there was an enormous number of empty “holiday” homes dotting the beaches – but on this October evening, we were the only guests to take one of their ten rooms.  The next morning, the proprietor, Jean and her husband, Andy, fixed us the usual and huge Irish “fry” for breakfast.  Andy then had to run the kids to school, but Jean chatted with us, obviously happy to have the hectic summer behind her.  We asked if they try to get away to possibly Spain or Portugal during the winter as a respite from their busy season.  Jean said no, that they actually relished the quiet winters in Ireland and having time to be a family together.  She said that the older they get the more they enjoy the simple things in life.

Enjoying the simple things in life…that truly summed up our time in Ireland, not to mention why we’ve chosen to make the area of Hermann our home.  On this trip we weren’t looking for a boisterous pub scene or trying to tour castles with hundreds of other visitors.  We were trying to see Ireland as it’s really lived, now and in the past.  Finding a lack of change, a certain sense of timelessness, just as Hermann portrays, can be very rewarding in your travels.

School days…

It’s good to see the school bus once again passing our house each morning. Thoughts of riding the bus do not actually bring back the fondest of school day memories for me.  When you grow up in a rural setting, you are certain to spend a majority of your young life on a school bus, but seeing that yellow blur each morning does stir up the nervous energy of first days – anticipating new classrooms, new teachers, new experiences. 

Starting grad school at this stage in my life still brought on that same nervous energy.  I could barely eat lunch the day I headed out for my first evening class on campus.  Would I fit in, would I seem old, what if the professor was younger than me??  Thankfully, he had at least ten years on me, but going back to school at age 44 is a surreal experience, to say the least.  I have t-shirts older than some of my classmates.

The advantage of being an older student is that you already come equipped with some knowledge of life.   Let’s face it, you can’t know much about life until you’ve lived it for a while. Over time you develop a sense of who you are, but I think a lot of that gets determined early on, indirectly picking up our values from home and school.

At the time I entered grade school in 1970, the Hermann school district had three outlying elementary schools for 1st through 6th grades.  These schools were in different rural areas of the school district.  I guess the intention was to keep the younger kids closer to home, eliminating the long bus rides to town.  I attended the Swiss School, named for a tiny community south of Hermann.  We had four classrooms and three teachers for six grades – each teacher taught two grades in one room, and the fourth room was used for the traveling music and art teachers who came once a week. 

Was it the finest primary education I could have received?  Probably not.  We learned the basics – there were no advanced classes for some of us over-achievers.  I read early, and I read quickly.  When Mrs. Scheer noticed, in first grade, that I kept skipping ahead in our reading books, she let me sit in the back of class to read what I wanted while she taught the rest.  No remedial courses either.  The multiplication tables came slowly to me, but that fell to my mom who got me on track with nightly sessions of flash cards.  If any of us had any particular musical talent, it probably went unnoticed.  A music teacher came through once a week, but generally we just sang songs, although I do remember a very young teacher around 1976 teaching us to do “The Hustle”! 

We may not have passed today’s No Child Left Behind program, but we learned a wealth of intangible qualities that have gotten me far in my life.  We learned respect early on, and how to work independently – when one grade was being taught, those of us on the other side of the classroom knew to quietly do our own work.   We learned how to recognize our strengths, and not worry too much about the weaknesses.  I was never very athletic – I wasn’t the kid who was the last to be picked for the games at recess, I was the one left standing.  No one gave me a hard time about it – and I didn’t dwell on it.  I knew that I wouldn’t be the top choice, and that was okay.  We learned to be accepting – bullying or picking on someone was not an option.  And we learned to have fun.  I know there are schools where personal achievement and competition are stressed above all else.  Our teachers gave us the essentials, but they never forgot to let us be kids.  We put on silly Christmas plays, we read Charlotte’s Web every day after lunch, we had hot dog roasts and cake walks at the first PTA meeting each fall.  In other words, we learned how to appreciate the simple things in life…

The community of Swiss is still on the map – just 13 miles south of Hermann on Hwy 19 – and it’s worth the drive. The Swiss Meats and Sausage Co. is located there.  This family-owned business has greatly evolved from the country store where we picked up bread and milk when I was a kid.  Housed in a great log structure, Swiss Meats has become famous for its sausages and smoked meats – it’s even been featured on the Food Network.  And save some room for an excellent burger across the highway at the Silver Dollar.  People come for miles to have a steak on Saturday night, but get there early, or you will have a long wait.


Scenes from a morning walk…

I’ve become a morning person.  I never used to be one.   My mom joked that it was a good thing I was in the afternoon kindergarten class, or she would have never gotten me there at all.  As each year goes by, I seem to enjoy the early mornings more and more.  My mind feels refreshed, and I feel I can get a jumpstart on my day.   Also, my husband, Mick, often has trouble sleeping at night, and usually sleeps in, giving me several hours with the house all to myself.

Since becoming a full-time grad student, I probably put in as many hours of work as when I was actually gainfully employed, but it makes for a much more flexible schedule.  One of the great benefits is having the time for a morning walk.

One of my favorite walks is down a narrow gravel road to a small Protestant church, the Bethany United Church of Christ.  In this rural countryside, you get the sense that many scenes have not changed through the years – this is one of those.  You meander down the road with a hay field on one side and woods on the other, and then you see a church steeple poking out through the trees.  A huge oak towers near the church – you can imagine its gnarled limbs providing shade for several generations of parishioners.  Cows graze in the fields beyond.  If you can overlook the electric lines to the church and the sound of drivers in the distance on their way to work, you will think you have walked back to another time.

The Bethany Church holds an ice cream social the middle of August each year – in fact, we were there just last Friday evening for it and spent time catching up with our neighbors, Bernadine and Larry.  There is a lot of “social” in this picnic.  It draws quite a crowd – the ice cream is good, but I think the homeyness of the setting and the opportunity to just sit and have an old-fashion visit is what brings folks back every year.

To find the Bethany UCC from Hermann, take Hwy 100 east for 7 miles.  Turn right on Z and drive about 1-1/2 miles.  You’ll see the sign for the church turn-off on the left