I know, you don’t often think of your outdoor space as being “cozy,” but if being cozy means it makes you feel good, that’s exactly what your landscaping should create. A cozy space.
Here is Tip #1. Don’t try to do too much too fast. Think of your landscaping as an ongoing, long-term, evolving project.
If you’re anything like me, you like to get things done. Start it, do it, finish it. Wrap it up in a tidy box and leave it. Landscaping isn’t like that at all. Since you are most likely going to be using live plants (hopefully), and since they do not grow overnight, get used to the idea of growing your landscaping as your plants grow.
Tip #2. Do it right the first time. There is nothing more aggravating, and expensive, than having to do a project twice because you didn’t take the time to plan. If drawing works for you, make a sketch of your landscaping project. Draw circles where your plants or shrubs are going to be and label them. Now you have something you can easily change before you start digging.
Tip #3. Don’t be afraid to tackle BIG projects. If you can dream it, you can do it. The beautiful rock garden in this photo took the place of an ugly, weed-covered, nasty-looking area under two big pine trees. The only thing we paid for was the weed block fabric, paving stones, and the plants. Most of the rocks came from a friend’s cottage. They were originally picked from the Lake Huron.
Tip #4. Simple things you already have can help make your space beautiful and cozy. The swing has been repainted several times. It originally hung from the wooden frame in the distance which is now a bird and squirrel feeder.
Tip #5. A simple coat of paint can be a tremendous improvement. Our deck was a dark red-brown color. We were thinking of replacing it with composite which is expensive. We decided to paint it instead. It’s beautiful! Our miniature golden-doodle, Maggie, loves it! Every morning she insists we drink our coffee on the deck. It’s a lovely, cozy space.
Tip #6. Simple groupings draw attention and help create that cozy feeling. Pick some favorite items that add a sense of calm and comfort to the space.
Tip #7. The space is yours. Make it pleasing to you. Try not to compare your space to anything else you’ve seen. Everything in your outdoor space should bring pleasure and comfort to you. Love it.
Oh, and one more thing. Make sure you have lots of help. Maggie watches carefully and she approves.
We are very happy with our cozy outdoor space. It constantly reminds us to slow down, sit, rest, breathe, and enjoy.
Nothing is more important to music than tempo. But life has a tempo that we either control ourselves or it will be controlled for us, and we will roll along with it.
One of the hardest things to do is just stop. I’m retired now, but sometimes I feel more time-hassled than I did when I was working. There is this sense of “hurry up and get something done” that is really hard to shut off.
We have had lots of opportunities to enjoy the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the beauty is incredible. I have attempted body-surfing but usually end up being tossed around like a piece of driftwood. That’s what life feels like right now. Instead of a ride, it’s a crash in process. Like a train wreck. It’s really tough to slow the tempo and breathe normally.
Slow down! Turn the news off for a while. Look around and purposely notice some things you haven’t really seen in a while. When was the last time you watched a cloud? When did you last go outside in the middle of the night and look at the stars? Spend an hour and see how many satellites you can count. It’s amazing!
Make tempo work for you instead of against you. Rather than feeling rushed and unnerved, choose slow, steady, in control, confident. It’s your choice. The tempo of your life is set by you. You can constantly feel out of breath, or you can breathe and move as you choose.
In ninety seconds we went from a family of three to a family of six. We knew we were going to have triplets six days before they were born. The due date was April 10. They were born ten weeks early by cesarean section. We had no idea what to expect. We were supposed to have our cesarean class the afternoon of their birth.
The morning began like any other day. Any other day with the knowledge we were going to be the parents of triplets. During the last weeks of the pregnancy the doctor was becoming concerned because my wife was gaining more weight and size than was considered normal.
“The same thing happened when I was carrying our daughter”, my wife said.
“This is not the same thing. You are beyond where you would have been normally. We need to make sure everything is okay”, the doctor said.
He scheduled my wife for an ultrasound. The day of the procedure as the technician was doing the scan, the screen appeared to be covered with arms and legs.
“My God! It’s triplets!” the tech yelled.
My wife began hyperventilating, I tried not to pass out. The tech left for room to get help. Another tech came in, looked at the screen and said, “No, it’s just twins”. We were supposed to be relieved. It didn’t work. The doctor scheduled us with a specialist at a large medical center about thirty miles away.
A few days later we made our way to the medical center that very soon would become our home. We met with the specialist, a wonderful obstetrician. He gently began another detailed ultrasound that included measuring bones for comparison. He measured the two babies. As he was about to finish, all of a sudden he said, “Young lady, you have three in there.” Two were head-down, the third was across the feet of the other two.
The doctor did his best to assure us everything was going to be okay. He told my wife to go home, go to bed and stay there. Our weekly visits with our local obstetrician would continue until the babies were born.
The day began uneventfully with our normal visit to the clinic to meet with my wife’s doctor. We were quickly ushered into an exam room so she could lie down while waiting for the doctor. Our local doctor was a gentle, elderly man who was a trusted figure in our community. He often carried a corn-cob pipe, which was with him today. He did the normal exam, then leaned back on the table.
“We are really looking forward to the birth of these babies. We have a team of doctors who will be meeting this afternoon so that we can plan our strategy for the birth, for caring for the babies, and for you. This is the thirtieth anniversary of our hospital, and it has been thirty years since triplets were born in our community.”
We listened intently, and felt more calm the longer he talked. Then everything changed.
“Of course, all of our plans are shot down because you are in labor and you need to go to the medical center right now. Are you not feeling anything? he asked my wife.
“No”, she answered while tears began to roll down her cheeks.
“You are beginning to dilate. You are having contractions and we need to get you to the medical center as soon as possible”, the doctor said.
An ambulance was considered, but the doctor assured us I could drive my wife to the hospital. He told me to go home to retrieve anything my wife would need and come back to pick her up. We were soon on our way. I drove eighty-five miles an hour, hoping to see a State Trooper or Sheriff Deputy, but none were to be found.
When we arrived at the medical center, our doctor came in and really tried to comfort us, but he wasn’t successful. He then tried to explain what was going to happen.
“We could give your wife a drug that would stop the labor. However, if the drug doesn’t work and the babies are born anyway, your wife now has a drug in her system she doesn’t need, and the babies do as well. If we go in and get them now, we have all the people here that we will need. If we wait and they are born in the middle of the night, we might not have the team here that we need.”
I didn’t know what to think or say, but then had a thought. “Doctor, if she was your wife, what would you do?” I asked.
The doctor then examined my wife again and said, “This decision has already been made for us. She has dilated more and we need to go in and get them now.”
A nurse standing close by said, “Doctor, they were supposed to have their cesarean class this afternoon.”
“They told me they already had their class”, and he looked at me and winked.
“That’s right”, I said. I was taken from the room and dressed for the procedure.
When I next saw my wife, she was lying on an operating table, surrounded by equipment, doctors, and nurses. She had a sheet just below her chin that blocked her view. Her arms were stretched out to the sides with IVs in each. I was seated on a stool close her to head and encouraged to talk to Mary and try to keep her calm. They forgot to appoint someone to keep me calm.
“Is everyone ready?” the doctor asked. “I’m going in.” He then proceeded to make an incision and immediately a great deal of liquid poured from my wife’s abdomen. Within just a few seconds, the doctor lifted a very small baby and said, “Baby number one is a boy”, and handed the infant to a nurse who quickly left the room. “Baby number two is a boy”, and again the baby was literally run from the room. “Baby number three is a boy”, and the same thing happened again.
I noticed a tear rolling down my wife’s cheek and I asked, “What’s the matter? Everything is fine. They’re okay.”
“I don’t hear them crying”, she said.
I told her the babies had all been taken from the room immediately and they were doing fine, even though I hadn’t yet seen them.
The head of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) came and asked me to follow him. We went into another room, and there were our three sons, each lying on a table surrounded by a team of specialists working to stabilize them. The doctor told me the condition of each of the three boys. “Baby A” was sixteen inches, 4 pounds, “Baby B” was fifteen and a half inches, 3.3 pounds, “Baby C” was fifteen inches, 2.9 pounds. Each of the babies was on a ventilator.
I stayed with my wife four days. It wasn’t until the fourth day that she was able to see the boys for the first time. I had become somewhat accustomed to all of the machines, IVs, and constant care the boys were receiving. My wife cried when she saw them. Their little chests were rising and falling with the pressure of the ventilator. Their tiny bodies looked like bones with skin stretched over them.
My wife was finally able to return home from the hospital on day four. We hated leaving our little boys. From that day on, we went back to spend time with our babies every day, sometimes twice a day, until they were all able to come home. We didn’t get to hold them until the ventilators were removed and they were able to breathe on their own.
Over the next ten weeks there were ups and downs, gains and losses, and surgeries. There were moments of incredible fear, but there was also constant encouragement from the amazing doctors and nurses of the NICU.
When all of the boys were finally home after ten weeks, it was time to learn how to care for them constantly. They were released on apnea monitors, so we were trained in infant CPR. We had apnea alarms, but thankfully, we never had to use CPR.
Where have the years gone? Trace Adkins has a popular song called, “You’re Gonna Miss This”. If you haven’t heard it, you should. The early days seemed like years. Now the years seem like moments. I wrote a book many years ago (unpublished) called “One Plus One Equals Three”.
These are the boys with their older sister. Two of the boys are identical, one is fraternal. The doctors called them “a pair and a spare”.
This was our Christmas photo two years ago. Another grandson has joined our family since then. Life has been good. Very, very good. It’s been thirty-six years since we proved one plus one equals three.
The closest he had ever been to the Island was the Mackinac Bridge. Twice during family trips to Marquette to visit friends. Twice on the way to Wawa, Ontario for fishing and hunting.
It was actually his father who did all the hunting and most of the fishing. The hunting wasn’t successful and the fishing wasn’t much better. To be honest, there were actually three trips to Wawa. One hunting, and two fishing. The second fishing trip lasted one day. His father, for reasons only a person with concrete for brains would understand, decided it would be a good idea to include the young boy’s mother and little sister on the trip he knew would include blood-sucking black flies and an outdoor toilet. What could go wrong? The family spent one night in the cabin, packed everything up and returned home the following day.
It was the summer of 1964. This time, instead of heading to a cabin in the middle of nowhere with only vampire flies to greet them, the family’s destination was Mackinac Island. The family had a friend who was a Michigan State Trooper, a man the young boy loved and admired. That summer, the Trooper was assigned by the Michigan State Police to be part of the law enforcement staff on Mackinac Island. Not only would the boy’s family be staying on the Island, their accommodations would actually be inside the big fort on top of the hill, Fort Mackinac!
For an entire week, the boy and his older brother were free to roam the Island, and roam they did! The Trooper arranged for the two boys to use bicycles from the police department. One belonged to the Chief of Police! Since the boys had never been to the Island before, everything was new and had to be explored.
Every day there was a different fudge shop to visit. The boys quickly discovered there were samples to be enjoyed. Horses, buggies, wagons, people and bicycles crowded the streets. The shops were endless, lots of great things to want. The boys wandered the Island and loved the long ride around it. At first, it seemed like the bike trip would never end, but just when it seemed like they couldn’t go any farther, they were back in town.
There was an odor in the air that was different, but not unpleasant. Not having been around horses much before, the boy soon discovered the source of the fragrance. The horses didn’t seem to mind, so why should he?
The boy never wanted to go home. There was so much to love about Mackinac Island it seemed to make perfect sense the family should stay forever. There were lots of people working, his father could get a job, maybe driving one of the wagons, or carrying suitcases on a bicycle up to the big hotel on the hill. He remembered seeing a school, so he could just go there.
The day the boy dreaded finally came. His mother packed his suitcase and the family left the fort for the last time. They walked down the long pier toward the waiting ferry. He felt like his heart would break. He couldn’t stand the thought of leaving.
During the trip back to Mackinaw City, the boy’s mother said, “What’s the matter? I can read you like a book.”
“I just hate to leave the Island,” the boy said.
“Don’t you know all good things must come to an end?” his mother asked.
Somehow that didn’t make him feel any better.
Life has a way of making good things come back. And Mackinac Island, one of the greatest experiences of the young boy’s life has returned. Many times. Even though he’s much older now, he still feels the same way about the Island. There must be some way he and his wife could live there. Maybe he could drive one of the wagons, or carry suitcases on a bicycle up to the big hotel on the hill. He’s too old to be a Michigan State Trooper now, even though he had a deep desire to be a Trooper that started back in 1964.
A week just isn’t long enough for someone who loves Mackinac Island as much as this boy does. It never gets old. From the very first time he stepped foot on the Island that seemed so much like a dream, the dream stays new. Each time he steps off the ferry again, he is young, excited, and can’t wait to sample the fudge again.
I have loved directing choirs for many years. I was in college the first time I directed, and had no idea what I was doing. I sang in choirs for many years so I just did what I saw others do. It worked, and I was hooked.
In three cities where we lived, I orchestrated community choirs to perform benefit concerts to raise money for needy families during the holidays. It was great fun, and since our church was too small to have a choir, it gave me an opportunity to lead a large group of singers.
In the first town, I had no idea whether I could get enough people to join us. I bought an ad space in the local newspaper announcing the choir project and the response was terrific. We worked for a few months on a musical that was popular at the time, and gave two nights of performances. The community attended and the people were very generous. The next year we performed the same musical again, and the great response was repeated.
The second town where we orchestrated a community choir was very small, but once again, the response was amazing. People from many backgrounds joined together, working hard each week to provide a great performance. The crowd was incredible, the singing was powerful. The results were touching, families were helped. The following year, people once again showed how much they cared about their neighbors in need. The third year, my wife and I had the privilege of performing a benefit concert during the holidays. The response from the community was overwhelming.
In the third town, the church where I was the pastor was much larger, so we had a bigger group to start with. Our invitation to the community was received enthusiastically and we built a large choir. This time, we performed a powerful musical of Southern Gospel orchestration, which is my favorite. What a great time we had! We used that same musical at camp meetings during the summer and the crowds loved it.
Perhaps the most challenging project, which brought amazing results, was coordinating a musical performance composed of people from thirty different churches. The most difficult part was that each group of people had to rehearse by themselves until the day of our performance. The musical we performed was “God With Us”, a powerful and moving orchestration by Don Moen. Everyone worked very hard. We had one rehearsal an hour before the performance. I wish I could adequately describe it. Overwhelming. Magical. Powerful. Incredible. It was one great night I will never forget.
Having the opportunity to direct many choirs over the years has been a tremendous gift. The only musical training I have is 9 1/2 years of piano lessons. So, the singers in the choirs I directed were very patient with me because I obviously didn’t know what I was doing. I just loved singing and getting other people to sing seemed easy.
Here is one secret I always shared with my choirs. If you get the beginning, the key changes, and the end right, the crowd will think you’re fantastic. If you make a mistake, as long as you don’t make a face, no one will ever know.
I was talking about music, but that secret seems like a great plan for living.
One of our absolute favorite destinations rests between the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of our Great State of Michigan. It is Mackinac Island.
Mackinac Island is a perfect combination of shopping, eating, walking, bike-riding, sight seeing, and history.
The beauty of the Island is hard to describe, but very difficult to match. Less than a thousand people live on the Island year round, but many hundreds of thousands visit each year. There are no motorized vehicles allowed, so bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, and your own legs are your choices.
There are many beautiful privately owned homes on the Island. Some are open as Bed & Breakfasts. Many amazing hotels are available, but booking far in advance is recommended.
We have enjoyed many trips to the Island and wish we could return more often. There is nothing quite like waking to the sound of horses clip-clopping along the street. You won’t really catch a sense of the ambience of the Island unless you spend at least one night. When the last tourist has taken a ferry to the mainland, the feeling on the Island changes. It is truly magical.
We love riding bikes around the Island. The village is usually busy, but when we ride past Mission Point Resort the crowds disappear. The beauty of the lake is indescribable. It is an easy nine-mile ride to complete the trip around Mackinac Island.
When we stay on the Island, I love getting up early in the morning and riding my bike along the quiet streets. The workers are delivering items to stores and restaurants. The horses are moving along slowly, seemingly oblivious to the excitement that will be bursting in just a short time.
Our love of Mackinac Island began nearly fifty years ago when, just two months into our nearly life-long relationship, we spent the weekend with five hundred other teens in a church-sponsored junior-senior celebration. We’ve been going back ever since.
We found this 1968 Mackinac Island bicycle license in an antique store and had to have it. I painted the Round Island Lighthouse on a rock from the shore. These bring back memories of Mackinac Island.
Whether you visit Mackinac Island for a day, a week, or just a few hours, you will be hooked. Mackinac Island will capture your heart, as it did ours, and will become part of your family forever.
There is a trick to making great biscuits. The care you give the dough makes all the difference in the world. Handle it roughly, you’ll be disappointed. Gentleness will be rewarded the flakiness and great taste.
The ingredients are few and simple:
2 cups flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda (only if you use buttermilk) 2 teaspoons baking powder 2 tablespoons shortening 3/4 cup buttermilk (or plain milk, but leave out the baking soda)
Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Using a pastry fork or a regular fork, mix the shortening into the dry ingredients until crumbly.
Add the milk all at once. Mix together. Make sure all the dry ingredients are mixed into the dough. The dough will be sticky.
Put the dough on a floured surface. Sprinkle some extra flour over the top of the dough.
GENTLY kneed the dough, adding just a little extra flour. Fold the dough two or three times, and that’s all. (The more you handle it, the tougher the biscuits will be.)
You can either pat the dough out using your hands, or use a floured rolling pin. The dough should be about 1/2 inch thick.
Use a biscuit cutter, placing the biscuits on a non-greased cookie sheet. (If you don’t have a biscuit cutter, you can drop spoonfuls of dough on the pan, but do this before kneeding or adding extra flour).
Bake the biscuits in a 425 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.
The recipe can be doubled, tripled, whatever you need!
If you add some sugar, the biscuits are more like shortcake. Delicious!
Are your pancakes something to be avoided? Do you find them hidden around the house after your family is finished eating? Have you thought about using your pancakes for coasters? Can your pancakes stand on edge? Could they be used for shelf markers at the local library?
You too can make pancakes like a chef in a fancy restaurant.
Great pancakes are easy to make, but if you stumble into just a few common mistakes, your pancakes will be used for shoe leather. Promise.
I have been making pancakes since I was nine years old. That, uh, was a very long time ago. But it seems like yesterday.
There are a couple of secrets. I use the word “secrets” because there are many people who, evidently, have not discovered the simple secrets to making fantastic pancakes.
The first secret, oh, so important, is:
You must have a very HOT griddle!
I turn an electric griddle to 400, as high as it will go. I use the highest flame on our gas stove.
Ok, let’s start at the beginning, now that you know your griddle or pan has to be very, very hot.
1. The recipe is not the most important part! You can make fantastic pancakes using a mix. I use a buttermilk mix to which I only have to add water. Delicious!
2. Secret #2 – Test the griddle! The griddle or pan is not hot enough until drops of water dance on it! Wet your hand, flick the water at the pan. If the drops don’t dance on the griddle, it’s not hot.
3. Secret #3 – DO NOT add the water (or liquid ingredients if using a scratch recipe) to the mix until the griddle is ready!
4. Secret #4 – LUMPS ARE NOT YOUR ENEMY! Lumps are not to be sought out and destroyed! DO NOT beat the crap out of the batter! Using a fork for stirring, add the liquid ingredients, mix it over a few times, make sure there isn’t a bunch of dry mix on the bottom of the bowl. Then leave it alone! Don’t give in to the temptation to stir it again!
5. Secret #5 – After preparing the griddle with cooking spray or butter, use a small ladleor a 1/4 cup measure to pour batter on the HOT griddle. You will want to spray the griddle again after two batches.
6. SECRET #6 – ATTENTION PLEASE!! ATTENTION!! ONLY FLIP THE PANCAKES ONCE!!! ONCE!!! AND DON’T EVER, EVER, EVEN THINK ABOUT TOUCHING THE TOP OF THE PANCAKE WITH YOUR FLIPPER!! Don’t wait until the bubbles pop, or crust forms on the edge, or until a buzzer goes off. With a very hot griddle, you only have to wait a few minutes and side one is done. If they are not dark enough, DON’T FLIP THEM BACK OVER, EVER! Just wait a little longer for the next batch.
Put the finished cakes on a cookie in the oven (already prepared) at 175 degrees.
Put a stack on your plate, add butter, syrup, fruit, yogurt, whipped cream, or anything else you want, and enjoy! Your family is going to think a French chef has come to live with them. They’ll say, “What have you done?! Who made these?!” Of course, the temptation to slap them should be resisted.
That is how you make delicious, non-frisbee, non-shoe leather, non-hockey puck, non-coaster pancakes.
When I was young, my parents had friends who owned a cottage on beautiful Sanford Lake in Mid-Michigan. The lake provided swimming, boating, sailing, and fishing opportunities for many people in Michigan.
We enjoyed going to the lake and spent many weekends there. I learned how to water-ski on Sanford Lake. I don’t remember exactly where the cottage was, but I remember it being on the east side of the lake, right on the water. The wooden dock stretched out into the water and I loved watching the fish swimming below.
This is how Sanford Lake looks today. A desert, marked by tree stumps of many sizes that were hidden below the surface. They are evidence of water having buried them years before when the lake was created.
On May 19, 2020, torrential rains over many hours caused the water levels to rise in Wixom Lake, several miles to the north, and in Sanford Lake. Wixom Lake was held in place by the Edenville Dam. As the rains continued, the dam failed. A wall of water rushed down the Tittabawassee River, taking trees, boats, docks, and homes with it toward Sanford Lake.
Families were quickly devastated as the water and debris raced toward Sanford Lake. Within hours, the Sanford Dam also failed, releasing the lake from its boundaries, sending it crashing toward the City of Midland.
Business and property owners on Wixom and Sanford Lakes and the Tittabawassee River, as well as the residents of Midland, have a very long task ahead of them. I can’t imagine the lakes ever being restored, but then again, the two dams were constructed creating the two lakes. The Edenville Dam was built in 1924. The Sanford Dam was built in 1925. (Wikipedia).
I drove to Sanford and Edenville today. I wanted to see what is left for myself. Memories.
I wish the desert below could have remained covered.
Aunt Maxye’s coffee cake was a staple at all of our Christmas, Thanksgiving, any excuse at all gatherings. I’ve tasted a lot of cinnamon goodies, nothing beats this coffee cake.
Aunt Maxye was Grandma Ola’s sister. I always loved visiting her house. She had a way of making everyone feel loved. When she kissed a friend of mine who had never met her before, she said, “I’m the kissing aunt.” She had beautiful blonde hair and always wore bright red lipstick. Always smiling, she had a way about her that made everyone feel good.
Aunt Maxye’s coffee cake became Grandma Ola’s coffee cake as children grew and memories became less vivid. My mother made the same recipe and we enjoyed it at every family gathering. I first made the coffee cake myself when I was in the 7th grade. For Home Economics class we all had to make a breakfast for our group. I contributed a homemade coffee cake. It was delicious. I’ve been making them ever since.
My mother told me, “You can make or bake anything you want, but you just have to clean up the mess when you’re done.” I was happy to do it, and quickly became the baker of the house.
My two favorite baking projects were chocolate chip cookies and coffee cake. Any excuse at all was an inspiration for me to start mixing. I still love baking, and our kids often ask for coffee cake.
The recipe is easy. You should try making a coffee cake for yourself.
3 cups floor
6 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup milk
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
1 cup chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons flour
Begin by mixing the topping. Melt the butter, put in a mixing bowl. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts. Stir by hand, mixing thoroughly. Add flour, mix again. Set the topping aside.
Using a stand or portable mixer, put the shortening and sugar in the bowl and mix until creamed. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Add vanilla, mix. In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt, baking powder. Beginning with flour mixture, alternate dry ingredients and milk, mixing thoroughly after each.
In a greased 9 x 13 inch pan, put enough of the cake batter in the pan to cover the entire bottom of the pan, but save enough for another layer. Add about half of the topping mixture. Then spoon the remaining batter over the topping by placing spoonfuls around on the topping and then smoothing with a spatula. Evenly spread the remaining topping over the batter.
Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 35 minutes, a few more if needed. A knife inserted in the middle will not come out completely clean even though it is done.
This anytime delight is best enjoyed, obviously, with coffee. I hope you’ll make one soon. Enjoy!