Jenyfer Matthews
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September 23rd, 2015
Upping My Game

It’s the third week of school and I’m already regretting that I didn’t enjoy summer more… not because of the weather, or the “free time” (ha!), but because I didn’t have to pack the children lunches every day.

Summer had its own drawbacks – because the children were more at their leisure (meaning ‘home more’) they were free to eat whatever they wanted, prepared by their own hands. And they did. In copious amounts. My son particularly made it his mission in life to eat whatever he set eyes on. It was truly astonishing to see how much he could consume in a sitting, let alone a day. Or a week. He is still only 12 but he is almost eye to eye with me and outweighs me. Since presumably he isn’t done growing yet, I suppose I have a few more years of his appetite to deal with. A scary thought.

On the level of preserving food levels in the house, I was looking forward to school starting – if they aren’t home most of the day then they won’t spend most of the day eating. However, being away from home puts the burden of providing school lunches back on me.

I’m not going to argue about who ought to be packing their lunch, them or me. Obviously they are old enough to do it themselves. However, it doesn’t take me long to do and at least by doing it myself I can ensure there is some sort of balance to what is packed. It isn’t the time involved in packing the lunches that I find difficult, it is what to include when one kid like “this” and the other one likes “that”.

The other challenge is that I buy things that I intend to use in their lunches and then discover that they have snacked on those things while sitting at home! So last night after I went shopping for fresh supplies, I stashed the goodies so they would not be easily found.

I’ve hidden food from time to time their whole lives – every mom does it whether it is because you don’t want the kids to eat the food all at once or because you want to eat it YOURSELF. I used to be able to use the cupboards above the fridge or the oven but they’re both tall enough to easily look there now. And once they see me getting things out of a particular spot, that spot is no longer a safe option.

I like to keep things as close to the kitchen as I can for my own convenience, but still out of the obvious places. Since neither child is particularly interested in making much effort in their food prep, I stashed the fruit cups in the cast iron Dutch oven and the cheese crackers on the spinning shelf behind the flour canister in the corner cabinet. And it just occurred to me that I could also get super clever and replace the contents of a box with the goodies of another – for instance I could put the chewy fruit snack packs in a box of organic bran cereal. That could sit in plain sight and they wouldn’t bother it.

I will admit to outwitting myself from time to time. I once hit a sale on Goldfish crackers and stocked up – then hid them and forgot about them entirely. A year later I found a paper grocery bag in the cupboard above the refrigerator and thought “what’s this?” Gave myself a good laugh. Unfortunately, my daughter was standing there watching when I made that discovery so there went that hiding spot idea…

September 8th, 2015
When Will I Learn?

It’s the first day of school in Michigan and while I was looking forward to this day, I do not necessarily feel like I was totally ready for it.

It isn’t as if I didn’t know this day was coming. I bought a pile of notebooks, folders, binder tabs, and pens / pencils about a week ago. And I took both my kids shopping to get a few new pairs of shoes and some new clothes. But I was out of town all weekend and late yesterday afternoon I suddenly realized that I didn’t have any juice boxes or snack-y items for school lunches. And though I plan for my daughter to ride the bus home from school in the afternoon, I didn’t actually know what number bus that would be.

Why why why wasn’t I better prepared???

I like to think of myself as an organized and productive person. I suppose most people who know me would probably more or less agree on the “productive” part, but there may be some hesitation on the “organized” part. All of the areas that I regularly occupy in my home are cluttered. (“cluttered” is a far kinder word than “messy”) I can almost always locate any item I need when I need it, but I’m not sure that necessarily qualifies me as “organized”. And though I like to think of myself as punctual, I am beginning to slide on the scale toward a few minutes late to everything. I don’t like to think that people have this image of me as disorganized and tardy, but I can hardly blame them when I myself feel like I’m perpetually playing catch-up. The last few years seem to have drifted past while I was focused on just getting through each week without forgetting to do / attend anything major or required.

First day of school pictures?? Not at my house. We were lucky to have everyone awake, lunches made, bags packed, and out the door on time.

How do all of the other responsible grown-ups do it? And make it look easy besides?

August 27th, 2015
Everything Old Will Be Shiny Again

I was gifted a vintage step-stool by a friend who was moving – she herself told me it was a curbside rescue for her. It was in rough shape, but there was no way I wasn’t going to take it. My grandmother had one like it in her kitchen, though I can’t remember now what color hers was.


Someone along the way spray painted it white – which might not have been such a bad idea except that they also painted the chrome legs and the black rubber foot pads. This is how a step-stool like this should look (I got this one at an estate sale and it sits near my projects table):


I first tried to remove paint from the chrome parts with regular paint stripper but that vintage spray paint was not budging. I ended up getting some spray-on aircraft paint remover from an auto parts store. That did the trick!


The chrome looks a bit dark still but I have hope of either shining it up or, as a last resort, spraying it with chrome colored paint. The red is the original color of the stool. Guess what color it will be again??

I still have a lot of work to do on this project, but I can see how I can dismantle pieces to make clean up and re-painting easier. I’d like to get it done and installed as a cheerful pop of red in my kitchen before winter starts. We’ll see…

August 24th, 2015
End of Summer Garden Report

I will admit upfront that I didn’t have the time or inclination to put much effort into my garden this year – I decided to simplify things and just concentrate on a few things instead of being overly ambitious.

The tomatoes are a success abundance-wise, though I have way more cherry tomatoes than I expected. I usually try to plant a variety of different types of tomatoes but obvious was leaning toward cherry tomatoes when I bought my plants. I suppose you could can a cherry tomato if you wanted to but so far we’ve been keeping up with them just fine. Yesterday I finally had enough large tomatoes at one time that I decided to do something with them. There weren’t really enough for me to feel like getting out my canning jars, so I made an enormous pot of tomato sauce instead. I used some for dinner last night and then put two large containers of sauce and two smaller containers of tomato puree in the freezer for later on. I hope there will be enough more that ripen before a freeze to get some more put up.

The asparagus… I really need to read more about asparagus. I have two large crowns of it and one of them was producing a few nice stalks every couple of days but the other one was making super thin and twisted stalks. I couldn’t get enough stalks at one time to use in a meal so I decided to just let them go another year. They are extremely full and bushy with fern tops now. I still see a few fresh stalks poking up from time to time so maybe I’ll pick them just for my lunch or something.

My basil plants grew very well and I got several batches of pesto made from them. They are looking fairly woody and old at this point however so they may be about done for the season. I was weeding this weekend and noticed what look like a few carrot tops. I actually forgot I planted those!

I was really looking forward to harvesting apples this year but something went drastically wrong along the line with my apple tree. It bloomed this spring and I did see some windfalls early in the summer but now the tree is bare. Correction – there is ONE pathetic apple hanging on the tree. What happened?? I am unaware that there was a hard frost after my tree bloomed – other trees in the neighborhood have apples. Did the bees skip my yard? Do I need to call a tree doctor? The tree only produces every two years and this was supposed to be the year. Sigh…

All I can say is that it is a good thing that we don’t rely on my kitchen garden as a major contribution to our sustenance.

August 16th, 2015
Back in the Saddle

And holding on for dear life.

My vacation week was great – although too short to see everyone I’d have liked to have seen or to do all that I wanted to do. I only got to take my kayak out ONCE. At the same time when I came back I felt like I’d been gone a lot longer than a week so that has to be a good thing, right?

When we go to northern Minnesota from mid-Michigan, we go via the upper peninsula. So it only made sense to stop there on the way back through and enjoy it. The weather forecast was not great for either day we were there but it was actually quite nice when we arrived Saturday afternoon so I decided to seize the moment and see if we could get on a Pictured Rock boat tour that afternoon. The parking lot was packed but as luck would have it, someone had cancelled their reservation for 3 just before I walked up to the counter so we got on the last tour of the day afterall!

The last time the kids and I tried to take this tour we didn’t get to see the Pictured Rocks because a storm rolled in at the time of our tour so instead we just got a thrilling boat ride. The weather was near perfect this time. I didn’t get to sit on the upper deck of the boat as I would have preferred but considering that I got my tickets at 5:30pm and the tour left at 6pm, that probably would have been too much to ask. I still got some nice pictures.

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Next on my list is to see this stretch by kayak!

We stayed the night in Munising and the next day headed out to Sand Point beach. There are several nice beaches along this stretch of coastline but the kids really wanted to go to this one – it is on a sand bar so nice sandy bottom and shallow enough the water temperature is fairly pleasant for Lake Superior. Because we went out in the early morning we had the place nearly to ourselves as well.

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Once they’d worn themselves out with beach play, we went to have one last pasty before we drove home. I really do need to learn to make pasties. YUM.

Once back at work on Monday my good-time vacation vibe evaporated almost immediately not only from the things I needed to do but the things that didn’t get done while I was away. I guess that is sometimes the price of taking a vacation.

On top of that I had nonstop activities for the kids to keep up with. Two kids playing travel soccer on teams in two different cities. Need I say more?

Vacation already seems like a pleasant dream…

July 28th, 2015
Buried Alive

In things to do…

When it rains it pours. It seems like I’m either cruising the internet at work all day reading the headlines and my horoscope or I’m working 12 hours a day. Lately it is the later. I’ve had 60+ hours the last couple weeks too. And I am not even keeping up…

But that doesn’t even count my home life There are always things to do at home. Sitting inside at a computer all the time gets old… so old that going out to the raspberry patch and pulling out the old, dead / dying canes begins to look like a good idea. Bonus – I don’t have to pick raspberries anymore! I’ve clipped my basil and made mega-batches of pesto twice and my tomato plants are getting ready to erupt. This is the year my apple tree produces too. I WILL make time to can pie filling.

I did take some breaks from working overtime over the weekend to go out to work on the deck chairs. My son commented that the chairs must be crap. I was surprised and asked him why he said so. He replied “because you are always working on them!” Well, they are pretty much done now – though I admit it has been a while start to finish…

The chairs were made in Egypt and the finish / varnish deteriorated in the much more damp Michigan climate. I stripped them and washed them to kill mildew on wood and then sanded every slat. I stained the wood a “golden pecan” and then applied two coats of clear satin stain. I am not however planning to leave them outside in future – they fold. I love love love that they fold (or I might not bothered to refinish them!)

Here’s how they look now:


Only two chairs but with all those slats, two is enough!


A bit closer view. I used these chairs with their matching table as my computer table in our apartment in Egypt, with a cushion. I did not figure they needed to be perfect now because I’ll be using cushions again.


They look good all the same though.

I am heading out on vacation on Friday this week. And I’m planning to do something completely unlike me – I’m going to unplug. No computer at all, not phone. Easy enough to do at my dad’s place in Minnesota! I’ll be in Minnesota for 8 glorious days and then it is back to real life in Michigan and then soon enough school will start again.

Where does time go anyway???

July 9th, 2015
Garden Makeover

When the tree people came to look at the giant tree prior to cutting it down, they suggested that I might want to move some plants out of the flower bed under the tree “just in case”. That is a huge flower bed so taking out all of the plants wasn’t exactly practical, but I did dig up a rose bush and a hydrangea to be on the safe side.

While I had the crew there with their equipment, I decided to have them grind out a couple of old stumps as well – one of which was in a flowerbed closer to my house. I have wanted to have that particular stump removed practically since we moved in because the placement of it made the end of that flower bed all but unusable. Imaging how happy I was when the tree people did their thing and I was left with this:


I could not wait to get out and start digging.

I decided that I was going to fill this empty spot with a large Rose of Sharon that I had growing on the corner of my house. The bush grew ok but I didn’t think it was getting quite enough sun where it was planted – in the afternoon this spot is in the shadow of the house.


I first dug up the monster hosta that were nearby and then went after the bush. It was all much easier to dig up than I might have expected given how large everything is!

Ta-dah! Looks better already:


I transplanted and split up a few tulip bulbs while I was at it, split the giant hosta to fill in around the edges of the bed and then spread the top with wood chips from the giant tree stump. Looking good!

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I ended up digging a couple more big chunks of hosta for my sister to take home with her – I have plenty! I also ended up moving the hydrangea into the spot where the Rose of Sharon had been originally because it was getting too much sun and I thought it would probably appreciate some afternoon shade. I filled in the bed that was under the giant tree with a couple of roses that were also not getting enough sun.

I can’t begin to describe how happy being outside and digging in the dirt made me. The yard looks great too. I love being able to look around and see the improvements I’ve made and also know that I did it all with things I already had on hand anyway.

Now, to get the big dent in my lawn filled in and re-seeded for grass…

July 6th, 2015

We had a big tree in front of our house. A BIG tree. A tree so tall that the canopy was so high I hardly really even noticed the tree. Because of the way the house faces, the neighbors across the street got more shade from the tree than we did.

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The tall tree in the middle – that’s the one.

I never knew what kind of tree it was or even bothered to look it up. Until a scruffy looking guy in an unmarked van pulled up in front of the house and told me that the tree had ash borers and needed to be cut down before it fell down. On my house. Hmmm…

Turn out it was an ash tree and it did have ash borers.

So I made arrangements to have it cut down, but I did not hire the scruffy man in the van. As it turns out there is quite a problem with ash borers in Michigan so the tree service that I called couldn’t even fit me into their schedule for a month. They finally came to cut the tree down last Thursday.

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It is a HUGE tree and I felt bad about having to cut it down. But one silver lining is that my neighbor agreed to take the wood for his fireplace – which both made me feel a bit better about the waste of a tree and also got me a small discount on the job. And what a job it was. It took five hours to cut it down and most of that time was spend on the canopy.


They cut the limbs, lowered them to the ground and then chipped them up as they went. The bigger limbs they cut and started stacking on my lawn. Once they got to the trunk the man in the bucket of the truck would cut a section and push it off. The whole house would shake as the trunk hit the ground. This is what my lawn looked like when they were done.

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That doesn’t look like much because of the distance. This is how big the base piece of the trunk was – my purse is not tiny, probably about 15″ tall:


My neighbor did take the wood. Well, most of it. This is what was left after he decided was too big for him to deal with.

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I wasn’t too pleased to be left with these 7 giant pieces – what am I supposed to do with them? When they didn’t disappeared over the weekend he said he’d be back this week with his chainsaw and try to cut them in to manageable pieces and take them away. I think he was overwhelmed by the volume of wood when it all came down and was piled up. If I had a chainsaw I’d do it myself but in this case I know my limitations!

But when I think of what I could have done with all that wood and a wood mill for making planks… sigh…

June 26th, 2015
Time Marches On

Time passes, but where does it go? I tried to use a coupon at the grocery store the other day and the cashier told me it was expired. I was preparing to argue and then realized she was correct – it was expired. By an entire month.

I remember being a child and getting out of school just past mid-May and having off until the end of August. It felt like a vast stretch of time – and endless supply. I don’t think I’ve felt that way since. The only difference I can come up with was that back then I didn’t have event after event planned. I decided what to do with my day as each day began – usually with my finally waking up at about 10am. I just drifted along in a pleasant, relaxed manner. Why didn’t I appreciate that more at the time?

Try-outs for my son’s travel soccer team were the second weekend in June, just after their spring season ended. The following week there was a parent meeting for his team. The purpose of the meeting was to collect paperwork for the 2015-2016 meeting and to discuss planning. The coach is going to start having practices a couple of evenings a week staring in July. He is also already planning tournaments for the pre-season in August. Thinking about my daughter’s scheduled tennis tournaments along with already starting soccer back up only a mere few weeks after spring season ended was somewhat depressing. Given that it is practically July already, I feel like the summer is over before it has even really properly started.

And that is just the children’s activities. I have some things I’d like to accomplish myself before it starts to snow again. I finally finished sanding the wooden deck chairs that have been languishing in the garage so I need to find some time to stain and seal them. And I have that super cool vintage step stool to strip and repaint as well. I’m also kind of wanting to strip the stairs again because as hard as I worked to stain and seal them, I don’t like how they look and the seal is already peeling and flaking. I want to start on a quilt too, but at least that is one thing I can do whatever the weather is.

The more plans I make, the faster time seems to slip away. I suppose the only thing I can do is breathe and stop giving myself so many deadlines. Things will get done when they get done… or not…

June 11th, 2015
Going Old-School

Sorry I have been missing in action lately. I can’t claim not to have had the time to write because I waste a tremendous amount of time playing stupid games on Facebook. I just haven’t had the mental energy or any interesting ideas. Some of it might be still down to the retrograde but most of it is probably to do with some big, life-changing events that are in process at the moment: I am getting a divorce and have two court dates next week. It is a positive thing and I’m looking forward to moving forward from here, but it is also stressful and mentally enervating.

I was thinking about an old friend the other day and decided to look them up on Google to see if I could find their email address. They still work at the company where I met them, but their email address was not publicly available so I decided to write them a note. By hand.

As I was digging through my closet, looking for the box of pretty stationery and blank notecards I knew I had, I was also remembering the days before email when I used to be a regular letter writer. I wrote to my grandmothers and great-grandmother when they were alive, I wrote to my friends when they were living out of town / state, and I wrote to my father. I used to write long, chatty letters on a very regular basis, mostly before and between classes in college. I was so known for writing letters that I used to get gifts of stationery from people – and compliments on the content of my correspondence.

My handwriting was also much better!

I still write letters but now they are primarily sent by email. So convenient! So fast! And no doubt that email was a blessing when I was living abroad since regular mail would have been inconvenient, expensive, and slow. But I do miss actual letters. It is always a thrill to get a personal letter or greeting card in the mail instead of just bills and junk mail.

I decided that I am going to revive the practice of letter writing, and I am going to start with my father. He has zero interest in email and calling him doesn’t always work very well because we have vastly different daily schedules. But he was always a good letter writer too so maybe he’ll appreciate writing them again? He can do it on his own time and when the mood strikes. Getting a letter from him was always a treat because he too writes good letters and his handwriting is practically art.

Here’s hoping that I will need to replenish my stationey supply in the coming months…