Steele Farms

Before I had my own family, I worked for a man; his wife was this dynamo of a woman. She was 100% focused on creating memories for her kids/family that they would cherish forever. She read books, planned events, and implemented new family traditions. She intimidated the heck out of me. I remember thinking that if I ever had my own family, this was a bar I was never going to be able to hit. One time she told me that she had read if you are trying to make a memory, involve as many of the sense as you can. (That was why on their annual hunt for a Christmas tree, she made sure they had apple cider donuts first, she was a planner!). I do think that is good advice, and I think I do it to some degree… granted I also just like sweets and food.  My family’s memories are more hit and miss, less planned more organic. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Steele Farms was an organic one that worked. In 2011, I was looking for some sort of family activity to do that fall. Something fun, maybe pick your own pumpkin from a patch. I found a corn maze. Even having grown up in the Midwest where this is a common fall adventure, I had never been. So the three of us set off to Steele Farms having no idea what to expect.

Each year the farm makes a new maze and there are stops in the maze to get a stamp or punch to enter to win something (we have never won, it really wasn’t about that). They have hay mounds to climb and cut out wooden figures to pose behind or next to (we are big fans of that) It was honestly just happenstance we took Alex’s picture by the big pumpkin cut out with height measurements.

Steele Farms; the pumpkin keeps shrinking

We picked out our pumpkins (carefully cutting the stems with giant cutters that I let the 11-year-old handle himself). We may have carved one of them that year, but we also saved one for the wooden turkey face and feathers to extend its life into November. I would smile remember our fun day of unexpected surprises every time I pulled in the driveway that fall. Needless to say, it was not difficult to convince them to go back.

Alex and tiny pumpkin

And go back we did five, six maybe even seven more times. Each time posing with the large cut out pumpkin or the school bus with the boys “fighting” in the back or trying something new. The more I think about it, I wonder if Alex would meet us there this fall for one last Pumpkin Picture.

Chain O’Lakes

For many years, we would rent a cabin at Chain O’Lakes State Park just northwest of our house.  Cabins in the summer can only be rented for the week, which was probably the right amount of time for Matt and Alex and about 5 days too long for me. I had never been a camping person. I like the outdoors. I like taking walks in the woods and feeling the sun on my face. But I just have never figured out the adoration for camping. Maybe it was growing up in a house where the nature kept making its way inside. Maybe it was my allergies to everything from cut grass, tree pollen and warm-blooded animals. Maybe it was the emotional scars from Girl Scout camp and the daddy long legs on the faded yellow/gold tent canvas. Not sure, just know that my mother was greatly disappointed that I did not inherit her love of camping.

We own a tent. Alex has camped in our back yard with it and maybe with friends one time? I have not camped in it and do not feel my life is lacking for this oversight.

Chain O’Lakes seemed like a good compromise. It was a cabin, rustic but had warm/cold running water, indoor bathroom, small kitchen with stove and fridge, beds with thin alleged mattress and a lovely porch with a swing and screens to keep out the bugs.  It has a lake with a small beach, canoes and kayaks you can rent and a small store that sells ice cream.

Chain O’Lakes Cabin

I found these trips a tad stressful as I needed to remember everything; pots, cooking utensils, all the food, containers, condiments, bedding, towels, shampoo, clothing, candles, trash bags, and the list goes on and on. I would invariably forget something and then kick myself for not remembering. Each year it did get a bit easier as I had my old list and I would frequently jot down things I forgot for next time.

Alex getting the grill ready. 2013

 Like so often happens, the best memories were those that just happened. One of the first trips, Matt and Alex went out to get the grill ready for the burgers. Now both of these dudes have a healthy appreciation and love of fire. The blaze coming off the grill might have been seen from the moon and Alex’s eyes were as big as dinner plates, through out the evening he would recite the tale of lighting the grill and the woosh it made. We made a small fire after dinner and toasted marshmallows, some finding their way into the flame. We hiked and found geocaches back when they were the rage. And took many a canoe ride around the lake and back some of the channels, sometimes getting stuck depending on the water level. The first time we went a fire was made in the wood burning stove… which while fun also made the cabin (it was summer time) somewhat close to the temperature of the sun.

The stove… not for use in the summer.

One time we went, about night two the alarm for the sump pump went off. Of course, this started in the middle of the night, so there was a great deal wandering around the cabin looking for the source of the horrid noise. Once we realized it was not our cabin but outside, we pondered. We are in the wilderness, and while probably safe from mountain lions, bear and pumas, there were still pretty good odds of running smack into a tree, falling down a hill or twisting and ankle as it was crazy dark outside, what with being in the woods and all. Matt prowled a bit outside while we waited for word. He located the direction of the sound, but real inspection happened the next morning. We spent the next day joking about running over the alarm with our car to beating it with tree limbs.

2013. No I didn’t really hit it but man was it tempting!

Would I go back again if they wanted to (it has been years since we have gone)? Yes, very much yes. So many great spontaneous memories were made there.

Bowl of Chalk

We took a vacation to London and then took the train to Paris for a few days. As this was my and Alex’s first time to both cities, I tried to plan as much as possible. I did hours of research on what to see and do, knowing full well we could not do it all. One tour kept coming up in my research, the Bowl of Chalk tour. This enterprising young man researched and made of tour of street art around London. You were to meet at a certain place and you would walk with him throughout the city as he told you about the different artists and London.

Stops on Bowl of Chalk

It was such an interesting combination of art and history all told at a slow, conversation style delivery. Docents are interesting and informative if you are visiting a famous home or location.

Do love me some Stickman!

Heck, I was a docent for years at Hillforest in Aurora, Indiana. It was the home designed by the owner Thomas Gaft.  I wore hoopskirts and took visitors through the mansion pointing out the italinate architecture and the very narrow staircase that led to the “man cave”. This was actually the round part of the mansion at the top that looked like a steamboat captian’s viewpoint. It did have an amazing view of the Ohio River and I always enjoyed that the narrow staircase was to keep out women with their large skirts, but I would just mash mine together and tromp on up.

1981. My Hillforest docent dress my mother made and we made the hoopskirt out of wire coat hangers and muslin.

We saw a Banksy before he was so well known in the United States. We saw street art created on old chewing gum left on the pavement.  I have forgotten all the names except Banksy but during the tour we would see additional pieces around and started to recognize the signature style of some of the artists.

Bowl of Chalk Tour guide upper right

Now when I travel I try to find individuals who give tours like this in the area. We found a lovely one in New Orleans. It just gives a whole different perspective of a new place and a tad off the beaten path.

Theme Parks

I never went to the theme parks with my parents. I remember going to Disney in Florida with my grandparents as a tween and maybe with friends to Kings Island. When I had my child, I swore I would make sure he knew theme parks. If for no other reason to be able to catch allusion and references. To feel in the know. When he was small, five maybe, we did Disney. He probably remembers the Mickey Bar (a dilly bar with ears). Not sure he has any more memory than that. However, we did do Universal … twice.

2015 Universal Theme Park vs 2010 Universal Theme Park

The first time he was young. NYE of 2010, which would have made him 10. He had round wire glasses and honestly looked a great deal like Harry Potter. In fact, one of the highlights on the trip for him was being selected in the store to have his wand personally selected for him… apparently, they thought he looked like Harry Potter also. He kept telling me, out of all those people they picked ME! I wonder if those workers know the power they have in little lives. We drank Butter Beer, rode rides, nothing too big and scary and he slept through the fireworks brining in 2011 while we were back at the hotel. It was fun, easy fun.

2010 Universal Theme Park vs 2015 Universal Theme Park

We went back five years later and thankfully the pictures were still in a digital album my husband had created, so we tried to recreate a few of the pictures. This trip was a lot more rollercoaster and scary rides. But still the same amount of easy fun, laced with more adventuresome meals. We ate giant pretzels and donuts. He road rollercoaster as we grownups stood on the sidelines or ok, waited on a bench and rested. He didn’t get selected for a personal wand, but it was fun to see what he remembered and what was new for all of us.

2015 Universal Theme Park vs 2010 Universal Theme Park (back story … we bribed him a dollar in 2010, inflation hit me hard in 2015!)

Traveling with a 15-year-old is much different than a 10 year old. They were trips to the same place and yet different. We all were different and I am so glad we did it and that we took pictures of both!

Fishing in Wisconsin

I have a notebook that I have labeled with the topics for the year and when I get an idea: I jot it down with enough notes to prompt the story I want to tell. It helps. It helps a lot. Because being creative under pressure, well it doesn’t work for me. My plants page was empty, might be why May didn’t go so well. Anyway, trying to refocus for June in both writing and writing down nuggets of ideas. If you don’t have a notebook, I do suggest you get one and dedicate it to the process. It does help if you use it.

***

I have no idea how long my paternal grandparents went to Wisconsin to fish in the summer June-ish) for one to two weeks. I wonder if they went as young parents with a young son and how they even found the spot. I know they had it down to a science; what to take, what could stay home. I am pretty sure my mother went up there early in their dating/marriage. It was one of those things you never questioned, just something that was.

Bluegill was the main fish to be fished. I can remember going with my grandfather and fly fishing one year. Wow they were biting. I told him if it was always like this, I wouldn’t mind going fishing. He laughed. He had a great laugh. Many, many meals of fried (lightly breaded in flour and thrown in a frying pan of oil) bluegill were eaten.

The thing was every so often a much bigger fish was caught and then everyone had to pose with said fish. To the point that if you look on the back of the pictures, you have no idea who actually caught the fish, it was more a slide show of who was on the trip. Pretty sure there are pictures somewhere of my parents holding the same fish as below.

Grandpa with the fish
Grandma with the fish
Aunt Mary less than thrilled with the fish

A story told to me often was on a trip where I got to go along (maybe my first one) and at nap time my grandfather said he would watch me. And then promptly snuggled down beside me and fell asleep. I probably slept a tad but then got up and found my crayons, which would have been ok, but I did not find the paper, so I used a wall. You could still hear the anger in my mom’s voice many years later of the necessity of her to scrub the walls in the cabin because my grandfather fell asleep. When he was reminded of the story, he would smile and wink at me, pretty sure he found the whole thing quite funny.

Two besties napping, Grandpa and me

With no tv (and the internet not existing at this time) there was much to read and card games to play. (or watch play, even then I was not a huge card playing person).

My aunt and her husband continued the tradition until just last year with their family. It was the last year for the “resort” as it was being sold and the couple that ran it was retiring. I bet she has some fabulous memories of it also. I remember most the smell of fried blue gill, talking into the many box fans that were going to cool it off, having them save milk cartons prior to put the cleaned fish in with water and freeze for the trip back home (and fish eating in the fall) and getting my very first leach on my foot (gah!).

Roses

I like roses. I like them a lot. I do not remember cut roses or even rose bushes around my house growing up. As I got older, I realized why.

When I was younger my mother would splurge on this lotion called Rose Milk. I thought it was the Most Fancy, Best Smelling lotion ever. Trader Joe’s makes a similar scented lotion around February. I found it two years ago and it almost made me cry as it smelled like my mom when she wanted to be fancy.

Lotion from the 1970s?

My father hated roses. Hated any plant with a thorn or sticker on it. The house I am living in now had a rose bush when I moved in. I had no idea how to care for it, so I asked him as he was a Master Gardner in two states. He told me to dig it up and that he doesn’t give advice on anything with thorns.  I did end up killing it, even with all the love I gave it.

Matt and I, Tralee Town Park, 2011

When we visited Ireland our first stop was in the village of Tralee. I had picked it for no other reason than it was close to the Cliffs and not so far to drive the first day after we landed. As it was, we were so exhausted we got there, had tea at the B&B and went to walk to town to find dinner. Refreshed from pints and fish/chips. We walked into town proper and discovered the town park and rose garden.

We just wandered around and looked at the roses. Marveled in the color and smell and peacefulness of the whole area. We later found out that it was home to over 35 varieties of roses and covered over three acres. There is a statue that people put a rose in their hands and a memorial plaque from Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy that I liked the quote so much I made sure to take a picture so I could remember it. I think of that diamond in the rough we found by chance often; it was just what I needed.

statue commemorating Mary O’Connor sculpted by Jeanne Rynhart

“I find it interesting to reflect on what has made my life, even with its moments of pain, an essentially happy one. I have come to the conclusion that the most important element in human life is faith.” – Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Yellow

I have always liked the color yellow. It feels like sunshine and joy to me when I see it. Two of my favorite “flowers” are yellow.

Margaret Halliday Scharf, me and Lambie

The first is the forsythia bush. I like that it blooms in early spring. It tells you that winter almost over and you have survived. My house now has a forsythia bush. It was giant and overgrown when we moved into the house. I let it grow and do it’s thing for a few years, but it was flowering less and less, so I trimmed it hard one year. Told it what I was doing and why and it has been a lovely blessing of yellow each spring. My earliest memories are in pictures of the forsythia that was by my maternal grandparent’s house, my mom’s childhood home. One of the last pictures as a couple of my grandparents are in front of a bush that had been allowed to grow and make a safe place for rabbits and other small creatures. From the series of pictures by this bush, it must have been THE spot for pictures that visit.

Margaret and Robert “Bob” Scharf, Aurora IN, 1971

Daffodils were my mom’s favorite flowers. I cannot remember a house she lived in that did not have daffodils blooming in the spring for her to enjoy. The last house she lived in had more tulips than daffodils so I planted more bulbs from time to time. Like the forsythia, they bloom so early in the spring, they bring hope for a new season, new start…less cold. The picture below is of me in Alabama. My father told me one time it was one of his favorite pictures of me. Keeping up what I think of as family tradition, I have planted daffodil bulbs in all the houses I have lived in; I like to think the new tenants are getting enjoyment from them now.

Me, Mobile AL 1969

Poison Ivy

Three weeks ago, I was going to tell you how difficult I found the prompt of places you have lived. Apparently, I am not finding the prompt of plants any easier as we have not seen a new posting in weeks. There is still time to get the three for the month in so don’t give up hope if you have been struggling also!

**

When my father left General Foods, our family moved back to my mom’s hometown and started the S&J Hobby Hut. Long before the days of Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. It was a store downtown in a small river town. They had supplies of all kinds from trains to beads to paints. They held classes on macrame, toile painting, wood carving and more. You would think this would have kept both of them quite busy. But she dreamed of living on the river, and he dreamed of being a gentleman farmer.

A house came on the market and it was what they both dreamed. Less that a half mile from her childhood home and 11 acres (mostly hill side) for his farm. He tried a small garden (spoiler: the deer ate it all). He got two cows, 100 chickens (and a coop) and a dozen rabbits. (All of which, over a period of time, we did end up eating, which is another lengthy post in and of itself).

For Father’s Day one year, my mother got him a goat. George the Goat. It was from my brother and I. (Pretty sure not my idea, pretty sure I will never, ever think giving anyone a goat is a good idea). George and I did not like each other. He would butt you with his head any time you came near him. And I was nine years old (or around there). He was MEAN. When it was my turn to feed him, I would fill my water pistol, shoot him in the face to back him up away from his dish, dump the food in the pail and run.

My father and a goat.. but not George (and his grandson, who is not a goat but is fond of goats. Must skip a generation.)

George was frequently not pleased with his accommodations and felt the need to explore the land on which he lived. This became a new game of getting George back to the barn. I also did not enjoy this game.

There was one time when he went exploring that he found poison ivy and ate it. He ate lots of it. And apparently frolicked in it. Thankfully it was not my turn to bring George back from his exploration, it was my dad’s turn (it was HIS goat anyway). Apparently, the goat was covered in the oils of the plant and also insisted on licking/chewing on my father as he brought the goat back to the barn. This gave my dad a gigantic case of poison ivy; the worst he had his whole life.

The Goat/Poison Ivy story was so well known around town that on the tribute wall when my father died, Sue Page posted: Does anyone remember John and the goat that loved poison ivy?  John shared that the goat rubbed his arms and he got a terrible case of poison ivy.  He had a really neat sense of humor about that story.

Castle

One of my main goals, when we went to Ireland, was to stay in a castle. I did quite a bit of research as we flew into Shannon then drove around the bottom staying at B&Bs and ended up in Dublin. There are quite a few castles on that route. But one, a tad out of the way spoke to me, Blackwater Castle. So, I booked it.

Outside the tower of Blackwater Castle

Not going to lie, we got lost finding it. We could see it… just couldn’t get over some creeks and fields to get to it. When we pulled into the driveway not a sole was to be seen. I checked my notes for check in time, yes it was time. We parked and walked around a bit, went to some buildings and a man came out. He introduced himself, reminded us it was a “B&B minus a B” and said we were the only guests tonight. He told us to pick from two bedrooms and bid us goodnight. (It was around 3pm).

“Oh,” he said as an afterthought. “If you be wanting food for the night, you should go to the Spinning Wheel in town.” “Is it the best?” I asked. “It is the only place in town.” And with that he poofed.

Sitting area in Blackwater Castle

We go inside, take a few pictures and then head into town as we are famished (missed lunch due to our getting lost, ok me getting us lost). We walk into the Spinning Wheel (literally the only place to eat in town) and conversation seems to stop. It is entirely locals and us. After a quick review of us, conversation resumes, and we have a lovely Lupper of Fish/Chips/Pints.

Outside Blackwater Castle

When we got back it was time to explore. After a few loud HELLOs! to see if we were really alone. We set out to look at ever single common area, room and perhaps a few spots we should not have looked. He was not kidding. We had the entire castle to ourselves!

Hall way in Blackwater Castle

The furniture was a mishmash of pieces. Antiques, lovely chandeliers alongside modern pieces or pieces a tad worn out so a throw was tossed over them. No single bed had the same headboard. Some walls had been plastered and some still had the exposed stone like the outside.

Inside Blackwater Castle

There were tapestries and a huge area with a bar (non working, yes we checked).

Bar and dance floor inside Blackwater Castle

And a cool study with a grand piano and books.

Piano at Blackwater Castle

As it got darker, I decided a bubble bath was in order. I got out my liquid bubble bath and started the tub. It was a very slow trickle. And chilly. It finally got to be about an inch deep so I sat in it, did a quick scrub in the brisk water and got out. But I can say that I did take a bubble bath in a castle, so there is that.

very cool headboard at Blackwater Castle

That night we got in bed and found that the castle is very noisy at night. Granted I am not sure you sleep well anywhere your first night. But the excitement of we are in a castle alone! Became we are in a castle alone?

Slightly scary area we probably should have avoided!

The next morning, we got up, got dressed and headed out to our new town and next adventure (because you know the second B was not included). Staying at Blackwater Castle was very high on my list of “can you believe that?” for this trip.

The Broadway Street House

I loved this house. It had such personality, class and wisdom. Granted I was in 1st grade when we moved in and it did sit probably less than ¼ of a mile from a busy train track, but to me it was magical.

309 Broadway Street House

When you walk in there was a glorious staircase that made a C shape, four steps to your left, up ten more, turn right and up eight to the second floor. It was perfect for gentleman callers to arrive and then see you gracefully come down to great them, if you were not ten. All made of dark wood and fabulous banister, spindle and corner post assembly. I am pretty sure the entire upper floor was wood floors.

To your right was the parlor with pocket doors on both sides and giant magnolia flowers on the wallpaper. Above the double entry doors was an intricate pattern made of wood. Rumor had it that various people over time had been laid out in the room for visitation upon their passing. To me, it was the room with the TV, black and white of course. However, the TV was positioned in such a way, that if you were very, very quiet, you could creep down the stairs and sit and watch Emergency! when you were supposed to be in bed asleep.

Donald and I in the parlor with the awesome wallpaper and high baseboards

Walking through the parlor would put you in the living room, with a non-working fireplace (at one time it worked, now not so much) and a giant picture window, the top with leaded glass and looking out to the back yard and the train tracks. When a train went by, the glass would rattle in its frame.

To the left of this room was the dining room, undescriptive to me except for being the place where birthday parties and family dinners were held. Many a fancy cake (my mom REALLY got into cake decorating at this point in my life) were had here.

The kitchen was noticeable for it’s being boring. It was a basic kitchen with a half bath off of it and an access to a small porch that led to outside. The only real memory I have of this kitchen was my father crushing grapes to make wine and my brother “helping”. They were mushing them by hand for quite a bit when a “bug” landed on my brother’s wrist and he freaked out. Waving his red grape covered hands with great force toward the ceiling to remove said bug. Spoiler: was grape skin and the marks on the ceiling stayed until we moved out.

Wine making was not for the faint of heart

Upstairs the majestic staircase ended on a hall but with a landing to the right. This was our toy room. I want to say there was a large window there and my adult self would have coveted it as an office. Master bedroom was to the left with a giant bay window that looked out on the road and to the right the magnolia tree. Down the hall to the left was my bedroom.

My bedroom also looked right out on to the giant magnolia tree. I remember two things very clearly about this room. I had a small AM radio that I would listen to at night, especially on Christmas Eve when I would listen to see where Santa was in his travels. I would run out many a 9-volt battery but I never remember my mother complaining, just quietly replacing it from time to time. The other memory is Charlotte’s Web. I had been devouring the book (as honestly I still do) and my mom told me, do not read any more tonight, wait until tomorrow to finish. Yeahokwhatever. I crawled into bed, read and read and finished it and went back downstairs sniffing back tears. And bless her heart, she never said I told you so, just help me as I sobbed out how the book ended and how it broke my heart.

My brother’s room was across the hall from mine. He was giddy as he could be as he was 6ish and loved trains. He also, as many kids do, had a problem with the T sound. So they were frequently Frains on Fracks. Thank goodness he was not fond of trucks.

Down the hall was a smaller, guest room.

And at the end of the hall was the bathroom, complete with claw foot tub. (if one wished to shower you could go to the basement; needless to say I never wished to shower). To the left of the bathroom was a staircase to the kitchen. As I child, I was convinced that this was some secret staircase (Nancy Drew anyone?); grown up me puts it together with the small bedroom and less than flashy kitchen and realizes it might have been servants’ quarters. Work adult me wants to find city directories and plat maps and see who lived there and how old it was.

Outside there was a garage, tire sandbox, tire swing and a warp around screened porch. There were houses nearby and actual neighbors.

An aside; this was my last house of my youth that had sidewalks and neighbors. With the value of hindsight, I think that is one of the reason the river house was so hard.

A popular craft idea at this time as to put masking tape on a used glass jar (mayonnaise, etc.) in very tiny overlapping pieces, then coat the whole thing with brown liquid shoe polish (I see I have just lost some of you), let it dry and it makes a lovely vase. I was going to make on for a neighbor, and she was elderly and did not get out much. But I was ten and I kept putting it off. One day, my mom told me I didn’t need to make X the vase as she had died. I felt so, so bad. I, to this day, feel bad. And I really do not procrastinate for very long on anything these days.

309 Broadway Street today

As you guessed, we moved from this house to the River House. It was then torn down, made into a giant steel shed (ok building but I am being dramatic) that was a BBQ joint and now a plumbing shop. That house was magical, and not just because I was able to watch Emergency! at age ten.