July Flowers (and remembering that you’re enough)

When I started editing these photos for this blog post, I was thinking I would post it as a regular photoblog. Hey, friends, hope you’re having a great summer! I am too! Look at my beautiful flowers! As I edited and admired the photos, I thought about how I felt when I took these pictures. Over the course of the summer, especially in July, our yard has blossomed with color.

When I got home from work or after a morning walk, I’d walk around the yard, admiring the flowers and taking pictures. I remember feeling surprised. Surprised that all these beautiful flowers were growing in our yard. Why was I surprised? I didn’t expect these gorgeous blooms. I didn’t think I had done enough in our yard this spring and early summer. I really felt that I had slacked during July. So, if I hadn’t accomplished enough, how could our yard look so pretty right now?

I’ve been wanting my husband, Kenneth, and I to have a backyard of our own for years. We lived in apartments and a townhouse for the first six years of our marriage. The most I could do garden-wise were potted plants on a balcony. For a few a couple summers we had a community garden plot in Columbus. It wasn’t enough to please my want for a garden and a yard. Over the years I gathered a lot of projects, ideas, and plants that I would one day put in place in our backyard.

When we bought our house last summer, we painted and planted a pollinator bed on the south side of the house. In the fall, with help from my parents and my dad’s pick-up truck, we removed the Bradford Pear tree from the front yard. Bradford Pear’s are strictly ornamental. Not only are they invasive the trees are weak and have horrible smelling blossoms in the spring. Kenneth and I replaced the Bradford Pear with two native Eastern Redbud trees. We planted a cherry tree and a pear tree in the backyard.

This summer I planted a woodland/shade garden in a corner around the back of the house by our deck. I filled the space with ferns and other woodland plants from a friend. I added hostas collected from other parts of our yard. I’ve begun creating a dry streambed in the shade garden with rocks found in the yard. We also planted our first vegetable garden since having our community garden plot. We ordered a keyhole raised bed from Vita Gardens and have begun composting as well. I took a tree pruning class and have begun pruning our crabapple trees and shrubs around the house. We created a planting in the front yard with chokeberry bushes, lavender, and thyme.

With all these projects we’ve started and finished so far this year, why did I feel like I hadn’t done enough? Because I usually feel like I am not enough. That I don’t work hard enough. That I could do more and do better. Even when I’m complimented on my work, I figure that person is only being nice. Or that eventually, everyone will figure out I’m not that great at what I do.

This feeling, constantly thinking that you’re not enough, actually has a name. It’s called Impostor Syndrome. Besides having chronic depression and anxiety, I also lack self-confidence. I haven’t been diagnosed with Imposter Syndrome, but I’m making an educated guess that I have it. It’s ridiculously common: lots of famous, very accomplished writers, actors and athletes have admitted to this feeling of inadequacy. You have maybe felt this way too.

And it’s bullshit. I am enough. You are enough. We are enough.

Our yard looks fantastic this summer – and both Kenneth and I have accomplished a lot. I harvested our first tomato this week. I’ve had fresh mint for smoothies and basil for pesto all summer. We’ve had happy bees and butterflies enjoying our pollinator garden. I grew sunflowers this summer. I think the last time I grew a sunflower was in preschool. We started them in styrofoam cups and my dad planted it in the garden for me.

I’m going to think of this ridiculously cheerful flower the next time my inner dialogue of self-doubt starts to get too loud. I AM ENOUGH. I am more than enough.¬†ūüĆĽ

GLOW: Nature at Night

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In October I had the privilege of creating an art installation for one of my favorite places in the world: Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm in Dayton. The event was GLOW: Nature at Night and I created a display called Tree of Light.

Aullwood holds a special place in my heart. I first visited Aullwood when I was 12, as part of a field trip for Science Olympiad to study birds. After that first visit, I was hooked. I went to Aullwood ¬†throughout junior high and high school, first to learn about birds and later to study trees. My mom and I took a spring ornithology class twice, complete with overnight field trips to birding locations throughout the state. My sister and I did the same with a summer tree identification class. During my senior year in high school, I went on a canoeing trip hosted by Aullwood to Michigan. This was the first trip I had ever taken that wasn’t school related and didn’t have my parents, sister or friends joining me. We canoed the gorgeous Au Sable river and went birdwatching. I learned a lot about myself on that trip, mainly that I can be independent and that I love canoeing.

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After graduating high school, but before going to Ohio University, I interned at Aullwood for three glorious months. I spent the summer teaching Summer Earth Adventures camp, working on the farm, and getting to know three amazing women who interned with me. Going to college that fall was rough, not only was I leaving home, but I was also leaving my second home, Aullwood.

Fortunately, I was able to continue my relationship with Aullwood throughout college. I volunteered as an animal character for Enchanted Forest and Breakfast with Woodland Santa (to date I’ve been a big brown bat, centipede, scarlet tanager and a southern flying squirrel) and for a few summers, I came back to teach Summer Earth Adventures.

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My sister, Brittney, was my camp assistant for several camps so we drove down to Aullwood together, listening to our favorite soundtracks (Chicago and Sweeney Todd). I actually adopted Olivia with Brittney after we finished teaching one afternoon. We stopped at the Miami County Animal Shelter, and after I fell in love with my little tuxedo girl, Brittney helped me dig up enough dollars and change to pay the $40 adoption fee. We didn’t check with my parents before getting a kitten (lucky for us Lou was as adorable as she was, my parents were only upset with us for a while). Brittney was very literally, my partner in crime, that summer and Aullwood was the backdrop of our adventures.

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After getting my Mom and sister involved with Aullwood, I convinced my high school sweetheart, Kenneth, to volunteer too. Kenneth was an assistant for Summer Earth Adventures and when I volunteered as an animal character he helped lead visitors on Aullwood’s wooded trails by lamplight.

Aullwood played such a big role in my life growing up, that Kenneth and I could think of no other place to hold our ceremony and reception when we got married after graduating from Ohio University.

On August 14th, 2010, we were married in a beautiful ceremony in a beautiful place. It did rain that day (I’ve heard it’s good luck!), so we were married indoors, but the rain stopped in time for taking pictures outside. It was a wonderful day and not only were we surrounded by family and friends (quite a few who work at Aullwood) but we were also in a gorgeous setting, surrounded by nature.

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While Kenneth and I lived in Columbus and the Cincinnati area, we didn’t make it to Aullwood as often as we wanted to. But since we’ve moved back home, we’ve both signed up again as volunteers. This summer we were animal whisperers, working with ducks and goats on the farm to make them more comfortable around people so they can be good ambassadors for their breed.

When Aullwood’s volunteer coordinator asked me if I would be interested in creating an art display for Aullwood’s new fall event, GLOW, I gave her an enthusiastic “yes!” I love volunteering at Aullwood and I especially love the challenge of creating art from recycled materials.

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Because Aullwood has had such an impact on my life, and because this past year after moving back home has brought on so many memories, I made that the focus of my installation. Memory, emotion, and dreams portrayed as light became my theme.

My artist statement below describes my vision for my display.

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My dad helped me take a large branch from an apple tree in my parent’s yard and turn it into the centerpiece of my display. This apple tree, which has long stopped producing apples, was one of my favorite trees to climb when I was a kid. It has one branch that is perfect for swinging a leg onto to help pull oneself into the tree. The tree is so big that you have to really look for the bare spot we left when we removed a large branch.

We attached the large tree branch to a shipping pallet to give it a sturdy base. While my dad worked on securing the tree to the pallet, I went to town trimming branches and shaping the tree to my liking.

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Once the tree was completed, I had a lot of smaller projects to work on at home. I pulled items from my stash of crafting tools to make “memory bottles:” glass bottles filled with beads, thread, and other small mementos that remind me of different periods of my life. In high school, I was very interested in beading and jewelry making so a few jars were filled with beads. When I worked at the¬†Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, I used the 3D printer in the MakerSpace to make a glow-in-the-dark gnome. I’ve loved gnomes for years (my best friend got me one as a graduation gift from high school – yes I am that nerdy¬†?) and the fact that this little gnome was made from glow-in-the-dark plastic made him perfect for my GLOW display.

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Other items that were created for my display included a glass owl recycled from a coffee pot and a broken pair of sunglasses, faux mercury glass jars lit with battery operated LED candles, glass mushrooms, metal spheres, white pumpkins, and lambs ear. The mercury glass jars I made with old glass jars my parents had saved for future canning projects (don’t worry – I didn’t take their whole supply!) which I lightly sprayed with a solution of water and white vinegar before spraying with a silver/mirror effect spray paint. It gave them a nice silvery, mottled look which looked great with the LED candles we borrowed from a family friend.

The glass mushrooms were made with thrifted glass vases and bowls. After I glued them together to make a mushroom shape, I spray painted them with the same silver/mirror paint. I really like how these turned out – they will be going into our garden this spring!

The metal spheres I bought at Expressions of the Home in Troy – one of my favorite eclectic shops downtown. The lambs ear were dug up from the landscaping at our new home. They are often included in plans for night gardens because of their silvery leaves.

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In addition to creating and installing my Tree of Light, I also took on the role of Big Brown Bat for some educational character interactions in Aullwood’s bank barn. I performed a skit with another volunteer who portrayed the Luna Moth.

I had a wonderful time getting to know the other volunteers in between our performances, and I even had a few minutes to sneak out and see how my GLOW display looked in the dark. On the second night of GLOW: Nature At Night, my mom dressed up as a Southern Flying Squirrel while she and my dad volunteered with some children’s activities.

I always enjoy time spent at Aullwood and this year’s GLOW event was no exception!¬†Happy Smilies

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Kayaking the Crystal River – Glen Arbor

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I love kayaking. The weightless feeling of being on the water is calming to me. I like to take my paddle out of the water and rest it on the sides of the kayak, close my eyes and just absorb that feeling of buoyancy. It’s magical. I only feel this way in a kayak, I don’t particularly care for boating and canoeing is a completely different set-up so it feels different. On a boat, especially on a large lake or the ocean, each wave is strongly felt and I feel unbalanced. Canoeing is a team effort, you’re working with one or two other people to paddle and direct your vessel. That effort is energizing to me, which is why I enjoy canoeing; but kayaking is my favorite water activity.

During our vacation in Michigan last September, we were able to go kayaking. We usually do some sort of water related activity on family vacations, it’s almost a tradition.

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When my sister and I were kids, we would go canoeing with our mom and dad on our summer vacations. We would rent two canoes, usually my sister rode with our dad and I shared a canoe with our mom. We switched partners halfway through one canoe trip – Britt was convinced there was an alligator in the river and Mom had to calm her down (we were in Kentucky so it wasn’t an alligator, but we had watched Lake Placid before our vacation ?).

It’s fair to say that Britt and I didn’t do much paddling back then – we weren’t very helpful canoeing partners. Now that everyone can wield their own paddle, we prefer kayaking.

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Of all the activities my Mom planned for our trip to Michigan, Kenneth and I were most excited for was kayaking. Kenneth and I went kayaking at Winton Woods when we lived in Cincinnati. It had been a few years since I had last kayaked and it was Kenneth’s first time. He¬†loved¬†it and couldn’t wait to get back on the water.

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We went kayaking in Glen Arbor. It’s an adorable little town, well technically it’s a civil township, in Leelananu County. It’s located on the northwest tip of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, if you imagine that Michigan is a hand it’s sitting on the tip of the ring finger.

There were kayaks for us to use at the cabin we rented, but we put in the water at Crystal River Outfitters, just down the street from our cabin.

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Glen Arbor township is about 87 square miles, 28 of which are land and 59 of which are water!

It’s located along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which was recently named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America. Kayaking Crystal River is a great way to explore Glen Arbor!¬†Rowboat Smiley

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While paddling down Crystal River, we saw lovely wildflowers (including some gorgeous red Cardinal Flowers!) , and a variety of fish and other wildlife. We saw turtles and even a Green Heron!

We also saw dozens of gorgeous properties – many of them were heavily damaged from the summer storm that had hit the area in August. Even through the debris that remained, we could see lovely backyard patios and landscaping that led down to the water.

It was a gorgeous day and we couldn’t have asked for better weather!

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While we were lucky to have wonderful weather, we were also lucky to even be able to enjoy the river and woods surrounding it.

Crystal River and the surrounding area were nearly destroyed 30 years ago. A golf course was proposed for the site in 1986, but a group called Friends of the Crystal River formed and opposed the golf course. In 2003, after many years of fighting to protect this delicate habitat, the Leelanlanu Conservancy was able to transfer the 7 acre Oxbow part of the river to Glen Arbor Township. Today the river is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The river flows from Glen Lake to Lake Michigan, covering a distance of 6.3 meandering miles. We did not paddle the entire length of the river, but we traversed a fair amount of it, paddling up and down stream.

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Some of my highlights during our paddle down the Crystal River:

  • Kayaking! I love it – it’s such a fun way to explore and exercise.
  • Photographing Cardinal¬†Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) while floating in a kayak (it wasn’t easy, but it was a fun challenge!).
  • Enjoying the stillness of the water and the trees.
  • Seeing how close I could get to a¬†Green Heron (Butorides virescens) on the water (I got a few photos too!)
  • Hanging out with my parents and husband ūüôā

I would love to visit Glen Arbor again and kayaking Crystal River is at the top of my list!

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Lake Michigan – Photoblog

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One of the things I’m most enamored and in awe of in Michigan are the Great Lakes. When I was younger I just couldn’t wrap my head around the enormity of Lake Erie. How could it not be part of the ocean? It appeared to stretch on forever, making me feel small, insignificant and anxious.

Today, the lakes still baffle my senses, but I found them calming on our recent trip to Michigan last September. The waves were soothing, the endless expanse of freshwater inspiring.

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We were fortunate to have spectacular weather during our Michigan vacation. We missed the historic storm which slammed Glen Arbor in August, though the effects were still visible in mid-September. Reading about the storm after our trip makes me thankful that we weren’t in town at the time. Despite living in Ohio my entire life, I’ve never witnessed a tornado — and would like to keep it that way.

Glen Arbor was hit with winds of 100 miles per hour, leaving all roads into the town impassable the night after the storm. If you search for “Glen Arbor Storm 2015” or “Glen Arbor Tornado 2015” you’ll find some terrifying, yet gorgeous, photos of the storm clouds, as well as the damage.

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Everyone we spoke to in Glen Arbor and the surrounding area commented on the wonderful weather we had that week. Several locals mentioned that it was the first nice week of the summer, even though it was mid-September.

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Glen Arbor is an awesome town! It sits on the shore of Lake Michigan, just north of Glen Lake. It has the small town charm that I love, and because we visited after the summer rush, we were able to really take it all in. I’d love to go back and stay longer just to take advantage of the restaurants and shops being within walking distance of the cabin we rented. Plus, Glen Arbor is surrounded by¬†Sleeping Bear Dunes,¬†named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on Good Morning America.

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After enjoying dinner at Cherry Republic (check out my review of the most cherry-licious restaurant you’ll ever eat at here! Edible/Food Smilies), we took a short walk down to the shore of Lake Michigan to watch the sun set. I loved listening to the waves – so grounding and centering.

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From where we stood on the beach, we could see, far in the distance, the Manitou Islands. The North and South Manitou Islands are part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We did not visit the islands on this trip, but we did hear the story of how the islands came to be; a legend told by the Chippewa Native Americans.

The story goes that a mother bear, Mishe Mokwa, and her two cubs tried to cross Lake Michigan from Wisconsin to escape a forest fire. The mother bear made it across the lake, but her cubs were too exhausted from the swim and didn’t make it. The mother bear waited for her cups on a steep bluff until she too passed away. The Great¬†Spirit Manitou marked the mother bear’s resting place with the Sleeping Bear Dunes and covered her cubs with sand to form the two Manitou Islands. This beautiful, sad story is told in a book we read while exploring another small town, Northport. The book is¬†The Legend of Sleeping Bear written¬†by Kathy-Jo Wargin and¬†illustrated by Gijsbert Van Frankenhuyzen.

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Later that evening we had a bonfire at the cabin, roasting marshmallows and making s’mores.¬†Edible/Food Smilies¬†We talked to my sister, Brittney, on the phone, telling her how awesome Michigan was and how if she lived in Ohio instead of Seattle, she maybe could have come with us. Silly Smilies

In the morning we had a home cooked breakfast (Dennings make egg-cellent breakfasts Winking), which we shared with our black squirrel neighbor. Animal Smilies Black squirrels are actually Eastern Gray Squirrels or Fox Squirrels. They have a mutation in their genes that causes their fur to be black. So while our little friend had black fur, she was probably an Eastern Gray Squirrel, just like the ones that we have here in Ohio.

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My dad and I put some almonds out for the squirrel, which she quickly devoured. I named her Emma, because any animal with black fur makes me think of our Emma.

We don’t see very many black squirrels in our area, but they’re really common in certain parts of the country, including Michigan. Their black fur helps them hold on to heat and hide well in the dense northern forests. Gray squirrels do better in warmer areas with more people. Their gray fur works better for hiding in residential and city areas.

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On our last day in Michigan I returned to the beach we visited on our first night. I wanted to gather some stones, in the hopes of someday making more of my love rocks.

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We had a really great trip to Michigan and I have many more blog posts coming your way. We tasted delicious hard ciders, climbed the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes, visited an old fish town and ate lots of delicious local Michigan foods (so many cherries!).

I know Ohioans and¬†Michiganders are supposed to be in a constant battle, just because of two certain football teams, but I don’t subscribe to that ideology. I have nothing but love, respect and admiration for our neighbor to the north! I’ll always be an Ohio lady, but I love to hang out in Michigan too.

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