August 22, 2022

Are those steamy, sultry “dog days of summer” for real? Where does the term “dog days” originate? After googling my questions, I found that historically, these days are the period following the heliacal rising of the star system Sirius, which in Hellenistic astrology is connected to heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. This year, the Farmer’s Almanac says that dog days occurred from July 3 through August 11, soon after the summer solstice. No wonder August came heavy this month. It’s all in the stars! 

I languished as I lugged four hoses around our acre of land and repositioned each of them four times. I was tired of watering, tired of deadheading, and tired of wishing for rain. At Northern Bliss, those sudden thunderstorms described by the Greeks arrived with threatening clouds and a fury of wind. But despite all that commotion, they typically dropped a meager centimeter or two of rain and then slinked off, leaving a green smear of algae on our shoreline.  

About mid-August the heaviness lifted. Northern Bliss received about one inch of rain and another inch the following week—not enough to break the drought or green the lawn, but sufficient to give us some relief. The cooler, fresher air lifted my mood, and I became myself again. My energy returned, and I looked forward to receiving visitors. 

This brings me to the big news at Northern Bliss. In this, our tenth summer here, we decided to install an irrigation system using water from the lake. The installation was completed last week—with six watering zones and 43 sprinkler heads. This frees up to three hours per day, which will allow me to pursue my creative projects while sparing my neck and back.

This morning as we sipped our coffee, read the newspaper, and planned our day, Gunter and I realized that our joie de vivre had returned. Consumed by To Do lists, we’d let that precious enjoyment of life slip away. We recounted all the experiences that had brought us joy in the past two weeks and realized that they were the little things. It was the lifting of our spirits that had made the difference.

I’d had a medical procedure performed that required two days of rest afterwards. For the first time all summer, Gunter and I spent hours on the patio reclining in our Zero Gravity chairs, laughing at the antics of the squirrels and chipmunks and listening to birdsongs. Toward the end of that week, my two adult granddaughters came over for a day to work on our custom recipe books. We searched the internet and printed out new recipes, deciding which ones would fit the criteria of “healthy” and “yummy” (not always the same). 

Two young families—each with two girls ages one and three—visited Northern Bliss during the last two weekends. What a delight small children bring to a home! They have a sense of wonder, intensity, spontaneity, and joie de vivre than we tend to lose as we age.During each visit, I taught the oldest girls how to pop a balloon flower. That kept them busy for at least 30 minutes before they wanted to go onto the next new thing. Riding the painted concrete turtle which sits on an old tree stump was another activity they loved. Every time they skipped down the flagstone path to the edge of the gardens, they stopped for a turtle ride. Climbing the boulders near the rain garden provided more excitement. And of course, both families enjoyed the pontoon ride on White Ash Lake.

Designing a fairy garden was their favorite project. They helped me unpack the figures stored in a box in the garage. One by one, we placed houses, stones, roads, animals, and all kinds of fairies into the red wagon and pulled it over to the old, leaking birdbath. Then we added a layer of moss and went to work. It didn’t take long for the girls to catch on. Soon they were rearranging homes and roads and adding blue stones for lakes and ponds.

In Wisconsin the last two weeks of August, followed by September’s Labor Day weekend, herald the end of summer. Lakes take on a greenish hue. Hostas turn brown at the edges and succumb to worms and bugs. Lilies lose their crowns of glory and stand naked and brown as vitality returns to their bulbs. The pastel colors of spring—pale yellows, lavenders, pinks, and whites—had changed into the bright, jewel colors of summer—red, blue, orange, and wine. Now all those splashes of color have begun to fade. My garden looks rather drab.

But wait! Tiger and “ditch” lilies are still hanging in there. Zinnias—outrageously colored in bold patterns of red, and orange and yellow—continue to blaze away. Gold and purple garden mums are blossoming.  Goldenrods, their heads clustered in lacy yellow panicles, line the roadsides. Hydrangeas are coming into their own—showing off varying shades of green, pink, burgundy, and white vanilla. My rain garden is coming alive with black-eyed Susans, deep-red cardinal flowers, wine-red swamp milkweed, and seven-foot tall stands of lavender Joe Pye weed. Bumblebees and monarch butterflies work the garden as if there’s no time to waste.

Next to spring, autumn is my favorite season. So my personal joie de vivre is the anticipation of fall. I realize that the dog days of summer are a necessary transition from tending the earth to harvesting what it has produced. Now, luscious red cherry tomatoes fill bowls on our kitchen counter while green, beefeater tomatoes ripen on the vines. The broccoli plants have produced little balls of green. In the orchard, our apple trees bow with partly-ripened fruit. And in the Veg-Trug, most of the herbs have bolted. Appreciating the cooler nights, I planted a new batch, looking forward to adding them to autumn soups and stews. 

I know in my head that August is the end of the growing season. But my heart wanted to experience that thrill of growing one more time. So after I took one last trip to my favorite nursery to buy the herbs, I searched for some tasseling burgundy grasses. They would look nice in that imitation log planter I didn’t use last spring. I took them home, along with a couple of gold-and-brown “Susans” to plant on either side. Today, while writing this story, I look out the window to view that arrangement sitting on the patio wall. Autumn is coming and it’s okay.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon and on her website.


In 2022, Northern Bliss adopted a fauna relocation program. We love animals, but our love is not without boundaries. We cannot accept so many fauna on our one acre that it threatens our bliss.

During the first summer at our northern paradise, we relished all that nature had to offer. At dusk, we loved to sit side-by-side on the wrought-iron glider-bench at the top tier of our flower garden, observing the woods across South White Ash Lane. We looked forward to spotting deer in the thick underbrush. How cool was that? 

The previous owner had planted a row of variegated hostas to edge the garden. I liked the effect. But as spring grew into summer, the hostas became increasingly ragged, mere husks of their former selves. Ugly bites had been taken out of the bands of white outlining their shape. “Deer,” Dale, our gardener, said. “You need to buy Liquid Fence from Menards. That’s the big box home-and-garden supply store on Highway 8. Spraying the solution around the perimeter of your property will act as a barrier-to-entry to keep the deer away from your hostas…and the rest of your garden.” 

Yep. That solution worked─for a week or two. Then the deer were back. Ret, my sister from Texas, was visiting at the time. We drove back to Menards where we were greeted by a gaunt, gnarled man with a ragged horseshoe mustache and the longest white beard I’d seen since Santa. “How can I help you girls?” he grinned despite missing eyeteeth. 

“The deer are eating our hostas,” Ret blurted.

We followed him as he shuffled along for about five rows; he stopped abruptly in front of Sports and Ammo and pointed. “Then you’d be needing some 22 shells.” 

I threw my arms up in protest. “We don’t want to kill them!” 

“O-oh,” he feigned surprise, his eyes twinkling. He led us to the deer repellent section where we selected an alternative. 

Repelling Deer. Throughout the years, as our gardens expanded into a tempting salad buffet, we tried many products. Milorganite, an organic human waste fertilizer sold by the Milwaukee sewer department, worked for a time. But our deer became accustomed to the scent of humans. Fawns were the most curious. They sampled each new plant I brought back from the nursery. One day Gunter and I were relaxing on our pontoon at the dock enjoying a stunning peach-and-violet sunset. “There’s a fawn on the lake bank approaching your hostas,” Gunter warned.

She was merely eating grass, but inching toward the hosta lining the hillside near our house. How brazen! I decided to teach her a lesson. I moved silently to the bench on the dock. She kept on eating. I crept slowly up the bank. She looked up, stared at me, and kept on nibbling—this time on my prized lime-colored hosta.  I inched closer while she watched. “Scat!” I yelled. She ran for a few yards and then turned to stare at me. “Scat!” I yelled again, louder this time and running after her. She finally retreated across the road and into the woods. This one is not going to learn.

Gunter laughed when I returned to the pontoon, red-faced and sweaty. “You need to share some of your bounty.”

“Okay. I’ll tithe. Ten percent. That’s it.”

Every other year, we spend the Christmas holidays at Northern Bliss. Our grandchildren loved to see wildlife up close, so Mike brought a bag of corn and spread it on the snow outside the sunroom’s sliding glass door. After three days, the group of does returned with a big buck. He would have his fill first, and then the does stayed on for a while afterwards. A few days later, Mike sprinkled a trail of corn leading to the sunroom door. Before long, we were watching the antics of six does for our evening’s entertainment. The big buck would have no part of that. He continued to leave early.

“Now they will know just where to come back this spring,” I warned. Obviously, no one else was concerned.

By now, our tenth summer here, I’ve reached an uneasy truce with “our” deer. After every rain, I sprinkle Shake Away (coyote urine granules) on all the plants they like. Continued application does keep my “tithe” at an acceptable 10-15%. I’ve also added so-called “deer resistant” plants. Deer tend to avoid the onion family, which includes chives and allium. They don’t like yarrows, lilies, zinnias, geraniums, dusty miller, ferns and daylilies (except for the buds). The problem: deer don’t necessarily follow the rules set out in the gardening magazines. And some fawns haven’t been taught properly and go off on their own—exploring and experimenting. One year a curious fawn sampled almost everything—including the buds of an entire season of tiger lilies! 

I try to follow a design rule for container planting using the thriller, filler, and spiller technique; for example, for our pillar pots, I use a spike for the center thriller and three geraniums for the filler. But the typical spillers—dicondria, vinca vine, and sweet potato vine—are attacked by most fauna and disappear by midsummer. 

Rabbit on my garden step.

Relocating Rabbits. The bane of my existence this year is the exploding rabbit population in Polk County. All up and down White Ash Lane, property owners are complaining. Since May, we’ve seen three generations of rabbits, the youngest, about seven inches long.  Even though rabbits in the wild have a short lifespan, they can raise six litters each year! They can conceive when they’re three months old, and conceive again within 24 hours of giving birth. Gestation is one month. This is where the phrase “multiply like rabbits” comes from.

I make the rounds of our property morning and evening, clapping my hands and yelling “Scat!” They disappear into the woods or to the adjoining properties. I know they’ll be back. During my rounds, I check out the damage: fresh sprouts of hosta eaten from underneath their huge canopies, lily leaves torn from the lower stems to the highest they can reach, pansies and cosmos demolished. I’ve tried Liquid Fence, Shake Away, Deer & Rabbit Repellent to no avail. Fine Gardening contains ads for Plant Skydd and it’s recommended by my nursery. “Safe for people, plants, and pets” the label says. It features a picture of a bunny sniffing a red bloom. I should have known. That’s a clue that they are doing more than “smelling the roses;” they love this stuff! My last purchase was I Must Garden repellant. It stinks of rotten egg yolks, which rodents dislike. They do stay away, but it takes constant application. Do not apply before company arrives. 

Relocating groundhogs and raccoons. Groundhogs, (aka whistle pigs, ground pigs, woodchucks, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, monax, weenusk, and land beaver) have also entered Northern Bliss territory. With their thick claws, they dig two burrows 2-5 feet deep, each with backdoors.  One burrow is where they hibernate; the other is where they stay during the summer. These furry creatures are known for their special greeting called an Eskimo Kiss. One groundhog will walk up to another and touch its nose to another groundhog’s nose.  

But that’s not how I was greeted when I first encountered one last summer! I was in the middle of a garden tour for my friend Judy. We were walking two abreast down the narrow sidewalk between the astilbe and the garage. Suddenly Mr. Groundhog scurried toward us down the same sidewalk as if he owned it. He hissed like a steam engine and bared his teeth before he sulked away. This year, we’ve seen Mr. and Mrs. Groundhog taking their dawn and dusk foraging walks on the lake path, enjoying their salads at my expense. My grandson tracked them to their dugout underneath the neighbor’s porch. 

“All these pesky rodents have gotta go,” I vowed.

The final straw occurred when I opened the sliding glass door to see a second-gen rabbit on the porch step leisurely nibbling a sweet potato vine trailing from a pot. A third-gen baby scurried away. I interrupted Gunter’s morning reading of The Wall St. Journal. “This is it! Our territory is being invaded. We have to do something,”

He looked up from his paper. “So what do you plan to do?” (In our household, squirrels-at-the- bird-feeder are his problem; pests-in-the-garden are mine.)

“Well, I can’t poison them, because that would harm other animals. But here’s what the Wisconsin DNR says: 

Trapping and hunting for Eastern cottontail and snowshoe hare is legal year-round on your own property. However, many municipalities in Wisconsin have specific regulations regarding the discharge of firearms. Please check with your local government to ensure adherence to local ordinances. Jackrabbits are a protected species.

“So we could trap and deport.”

“To where?” he asked.

“Far enough that they can’t find their way back. I’m thinking across the Apple River and east to the Fox or those swamps near there. What kind of traps do you think I should use?”

Gunter’s nose was back in his paper. “Call Mike.” (That’s his standard answer for everything he doesn’t know how to do.)

“I’ve got a big trap that would work for the groundhogs,” Mike answered. “I’ll bring it over next time.”

“Meanwhile, I’ll buy a smaller rabbit trap at Menards,” I replied.

I interrupted Gunter again. “I feel better now that we have a solution. I’m calling it the Northern Bliss Fauna Relocation Assistance Program. NB FRAP for short.”

“Really?” He raised one eyebrow to make me laugh. “You’re crazy.”

I experimented with loading the cages. First, I placed the small cage on my potting table and placed a layer of lettuce scraps at the back. I added left-over mini-carrots (the kind that every hostess puts on the buffet table but no one ever eats) dipped into a jar of Rabbit Magic I’d purchased on the internet. Then I put the cage in the rhubarb patch, underneath the spreading leaves. To entice them into the cage, I placed a sacrificial carrot dipped in Rabbit Magic at the entrance. 

Prepping the trap.
Mrs. Groundhog in small trap.

Voilà! My system worked! But instead of a rabbit, I’d caught the smaller rodent I’d dubbed Mrs. Groundhog. She was packed in there so tight she couldn’t move a muscle.

Mrs. Groundhog
Second rabbit.
Rocky the racoon.
Mr. Groundhog

“Aha!” Gunter grinned as he loaded the cage with the docile rodent into the back of our Equinox SUV. “I think I’ll teach this one to swim. We’ll dump her on the banks of that swamp.” 

I’d read that groundhogs can climb trees and that they also know how to swim. But this one scrambled right up the bank. She wanted no part of that water!

Teaching a rabbit to swim.
Groundhog on the bank of the swamp.

And so our relocation program began. So far, we’ve trapped and relocated five rabbits, two groundhogs, and a raccoon. Most were docile in their cages. We covered them with a tarp until relocation time, and they didn’t bother to move until we let them loose. Rocky was an exception. This raccoon hated being in prison. He fought so hard, he bent (but failed to break) Mike’s large-animal cage. We asked our lawnmower crew (who, fortunately happened to be there at the time) to take him away in their truck, and return the trap. 

I expect that the Northern Bliss Fauna Relocation Program will continue all summer. A neighbor’s rabbit just birthed a new litter by their tree stump. She hops through the spruce to her home on “the other side” as soon as I clap my hands. But this one thing I know: she’ll be back.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon and on her website.


“I never promised you a rose garden

Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes…”

–Lynn Anderson, 1973

The sun’s not out yet after three days and three inches of rain, yet I’m humming this song as I stroll past the rain garden I developed last year and completed this spring. It’s working!  All that run-off is draining from the hilltop and orchard into the dry creek and on to the rain garden as intended. I’m pleased that finding a practical solution to draining our wet lot has led to such beauty. (See How to Drain a Wet Lot).

Dry leading to Rain Garden

Dry leading to Rain Garden

A rain garden is a plant bed that collects rain runoff and holds water for a short time, usually less than twenty-four hours, while it absorbs excess water into the soil. If planted with native species, it should never require fertilizer or pesticides to thrive. In fact, the plants purify the water before it slowly drains into the nearby lake.

The diagram shows a shallow depression dug with an inflow and overflow designed for three moisture zones. The tall plants selected for Zone A need to tolerate periodic standing or flowing water. Mid-height plants that like average soil conditions may be used in Zone B. Zone C plants should be able to tolerate average to dry conditions and tend to be shorter plants.

“Rain Gardens: Sustainable Landscaping for a Beautiful Yard and a Healthy World,” Lynn M. Steiner and Robert W. Domm

Saturations Zones A-C showing inflow from the dry creek and overflow into a natural area and lake.

Saturations Zones A-C showing inflow from the dry creek and overflow into a natural area and lake.

I tried blazing stars for my tall plants in Zone A last year; unfortunately, they did not withstand periodic water. This year, I used three papyrus plants instead. So far, they are holding up well, with strong roots that absorb water well. I used black-eyed susans, cardinal flowers, swamp milkweed, and turtle-heads last year for Zones B and C. This spring, all these perennials came up again. They are now in full bloom. Swamp milkweed plants perform double duty: they provide a migration path for monarch butterflies. I’ve seen a few already and expect more in September.

The Rain Garden in action.

The Rain Garden in action.

A Monarch Butterfly alights on a Swamp Milkweed blossom.

A Monarch Butterfly alights on a Swamp Milkweed blossom.

To make the transition to the “natural garden” next to the lake, I planted Joe Pye weeds, a wildflower that grows naturally in Wisconsin. All in all, I’m quite satisfied with the result.

Swamp milkweek at the perimeter of the Rain Garden leads to a natural planting of Joe Pye weed.

Swamp milkweek at the perimeter of the Rain Garden leads to a natural planting of Joe Pye weed.


Recently, conversations during my AquaFit class at the Y have been about water. Not the water in the outdoor pool, but the lack of water due to California’s 4th year of drought. We dream up new solutions: “Let’s pipe in water from the Columbia River. Use up some of that extra rain that falls on Washington and Oregon.”

“The new desalination plant in North County is coming on-line this fall. That’ll eventually give San Diego County about 10% or so of the water we’ll need. We should build more plants.”

“But running it takes a lot of power, and that comes from fossil fuels.”

“Northern California wastes the water that could be sent south to farmers. They’re protecting the delta smelt by letting it run back into the ocean and draining reservoir lakes to protect a few steelhead trout.”

“Los Angeles wastes water too. 65% of the city is covered in asphalt and concrete, so storm water can’t seep into the ground water. Yet their flood-control system shunts enough water into the ocean to supply water to half a million people. So where do they take water? From the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Colorado river we all use.”

We don’t spend much time in Southern California gossiping about the weather (because it’s always pretty much the same). Here we ruminate about water. As Joan Didion wrote in her classic essay collection The White Album, “Some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive. The water I will draw tomorrow from my tap in Malibu is today crossing the Mojave Desert from the Colorado River, and I like to think about exactly where that water is.” San Diego recycles part of its city water supply in a program called “toilet to tap.” Now they changed the name of the program to “pure water” for obvious reasons, but I do not think reverently about the water coming out of our taps.

I’ve just completed a gardening project as head of our HOA (home owners association) landscaping committee. Our focus has been on xeriscaping and installing a dry creek as a “water feature” in front of the condo building. Because water rationing will only increase as the drought drags on, the creek will of course, contain no water.  What a contrast to the creek I installed last summer at our lake home in Wisconsin! That creek will funnel water off the yard because we have too much.

Dry creek using blue stones to contrast with the multicolor landscaping stones

Many California residents didn’t know what the term “xeriscaping” meant until Governor Brown used the word in his water-rationing speech last week, announcing that California municipalities will henceforth use 25% less water. Xeri means dry, as in Xerox®, i.e., dry copy. Xeriscaping is a landscape method developed especially for arid and semiarid climates that uses drought-tolerant plants, mulch, and efficient irrigation, such as the underground drip method. (Midwest and German friends, you don’t need to know this.) Our HOA committee boned up on xeri and now we’re proud to be ahead of the game. Our drought-tolerant trees, plants, and flowers now stand proud among multi-colored rocks, boulders and pebbles; and our dry creek, filled with smooth, blue river stones, winds around palms from the building foundation to the street, where it won’t leave one drop of precious water.

Palm trees used in xeriscaping

Last fall, I returned from lush Wisconsin with its 50 shades of green to parched, brown yards in San Diego. I told my friends about how I had to slope and drain that lot so that it flowed into a “rain garden” and then into White Ash Lake. Their reaction to my blog How to Drain a Wet Lot,” was “duh.” When I return to Wisconsin in May, I know I’ll find the same reaction when I describe our xeriscaping project to my neighbors there. The rainfall in Polk County in one month, June of 2014, was 9.5 inches; San Diego’s rainfall for that one year was 5 inches, 50% of normal.

For more on California’s water wars, go to http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/apr/18/drought-look-ahead/

http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/apr/17/sacramento-drought-california-environment-water/

http://www.wsj.com/articles/to-beat-the-drought-l-a-looks-to-nature-for-help-1429199299

http://www.wsj.com/articles/californias-water-woes-are-priceless-1429051903


I’ve been doing a lot of gardening at Northern Bliss, our Wisconsin lake home, this summer. In between gardening and visitors, I’ve been writing my third book in the series, In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss. I’ve been noticing how gardening and writing flow together: engaging in one activity prepares me for the other. Today, I realized why. When I’m gardening, I’m enjoying all five senses; when I’m writing I’m doing the same.

What do you notice first as you come upon a gorgeous garden? I notice the overall garden design, how it flows together. Then I focus on the characteristics of individual plants—colors, textures and how foliage and flowers combine to complement each other—these are all related to the sense of sight.

You’re probably familiar with the oft-repeated command, “Stop and smell the roses.”  I only have one rose bush, but I do have a couple of lilacs, a few honeysuckle vines, and many groupings of oriental lilies. And I have a half-barrel overflowing with wonderfully scented herbs including lavender, basil, coriander, chives and even Mojito.

Touch is another sensual delight of the garden. I love to run my fingers over the smooth waxy leaves of a magnolia; touch the feathery fronds of astilbe; and feel the soft wooly texture of silver sage.

Gardening is best when you leave those earphones or iPods inside. I love to listen to the songs of birds, so I have birdhouses, bird feeders, and birdbaths in my gardens. The swish-swish of hummingbirds in flight and the soft rustle of leaves blowing in the breeze is music enough to my ears. I recently read that a scientific study has proven that the sound of birdsong opens up blossoms. Amazing synergy!

Last but not least is the enticing scent of taste. I love to grab a raspberry or blackberry on the way to the garden, and though I do not grow vegetables because of the deer, I am growing nasturtiums this year for salads.

My dream is to plant as many fruit trees as I can at Northern Bliss, so that can see and smell the delicate, fragrant blossoms, feel the breeze blowing through them, attract even more birds, and pick fruit right off the trees. Meanwhile I’ll continue to enjoy both writing and gardening!

Bluebirds at Northern Bliss (photo by Holly Ricke)
Bluebirds at Northern Bliss (by Holly Ricke)
P1080704 Delphium and hostas
Delphinium and hostas
P1080860 Astilbe and Hydrangea
Astilbes and hydrangeas
P1080881 Nasturtiums and other herbs
Nasturtiums and other herbs


Part I of the “Northern Bliss/Heritage Home” blog series

August 2012, Balsam Lake, Wisconsin

“What will happen to all your beautiful flowers when we leave here in three weeks?” Gunter asks as he watches me just a’diggin’ in the dirt.

I’ve been gardening for over two hours this morning. Enhancing the flower gardens here at our lake home is more than just a chore.  I am returning to my roots. I was born in Polk County, Wisconsin—in Cushing, less than 30 miles from here.

I set my tools down and move my kneeling pad over to the next clump of weeds to be pulled. “Leave? I’m just settling in, marking my territory.”

Digging in the dirt has become a compulsion since we moved many of our belongings from San Diego in mid-July.

“This reminds me of carrying pails and pails of water for my mother’s and grandmother’s gardens,” Gunter answers.  He points to the foxgloves. “The flowers in Bavaria were very similar to these. Only the flowers had different names.”

Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)

Huge hydrangea

Tiger lilies grow well in Wisconsin

I’m not sure how to explain this drive to dig in the dirt, to go back to one’s roots. The compulsion comes from deep within and the process provides deep satisfaction. And when I’m all tired out, my chores completed for the morning, Gunter says I always return with a smile on my face. So it must be good for me.

Even though I’ve been a sailor throughout much of my life, and made my home on the sea for eight years, as a farmer’s daughter, the need to return to the land is a primal instinct. This is not unusual. Captain Cook, who sailed farther than any man had sailed before, retired on a farm in England near where he grew up, that is, until he was called back to sea again for his final voyage.

This land also provides for me a sense of completion. My family lost its dairy farm to foreclosure after the dreaded Bang’s Disease swept through the herd and the milk could not be sold. I was a freshman in college at the time, and I never had an opportunity to say good-bye to that land. It all happened so fast. Perhaps that created a longing in me that I’ve buried as deep as the foxgloves I have planted here.

If so, that longing didn’t surface until I attended my 50th class reunion in St. Croix Falls in September, 2010. I rarely attended reunions, and may not have come to this one had not my granddaughter scheduled her wedding the week prior. During the event, a classmate of mine asked me, “Are you here to look at a summer home?” Her question startled me. “Lake homes here are selling for half of what they were before the 2008 crash.”

That comment set the process in motion.

For the next two days, Gunter and I drove through the countryside admiring the fall foliage.  “I love all the deep blue lakes, the lush rolling hills, and the wonderful colors. It reminds me of my own roots in Bavaria,” Gunter exclaimed.

“That’s probably why so many German immigrants settled in Wisconsin,” I replied.  “They must have thought the same thing.”

“Lots of FOR SALE signs around here,” he noted. “Interested?”

My heart skipped a beat. “Yes! The home should be here in Polk County.”

Now why did I say that? I’ve never even thought of buying a home here. Not sure I want this. Too many memories—not all of them pleasant.

But the die was cast. Actually, the die had been cast two years earlier, when we completed our world circumnavigation. The planned trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss,” would cover the eight years of our sailing adventures. But even then, I thought about writing a book about what happened in the years before we left to go sailing.

During presentations promoting the first book in the series, MAIDEN VOYAGE, many readers asked about our lives before sailing. That would make an interesting story: how did a farm girl from Wisconsin who wanted to escape her past and succeed at business and a boy from Munich who loved math and science meet each other—after many wrong turns in life—and become soul mates?

What would I need to do to write such a book?

I would need to pick up the dialect I’d forgotten. I would need to stay where I grew up for a while to re-acquaint myself with the farming culture again, to regain that sense of place.

OK, I can do that!

Beware of setting a goal. It just may have a way of happening before you know it! I had only a goal. I had no strategy in mind, not even a plan. My writing goal, however, seemed to fit with our shared goal of providing ways to keep our families in touch with each other. Since both of our parents died, Gunter and I have taken seriously the responsibilities of being the matriarch and patriarch of our respective families. We sponsor family reunions where all the children, grandchildren and cousins can get together. Could having one central property for those reunions—sort of a Heritage Home—work for us?

The following year, 2011, we organized a family reunion by renting a cabin on the shores of Balsam Lake, the largest lake in Polk County, to market test the idea.

If we build it, will they come?

It worked!  During the main event, a barbeque on the cabin’s big deck, I counted 28 attendees; they were all related. So the search for an appropriate lake home began.

If it all proceeds smoothly, it’s meant to be.

By the time we left the cabin, Gunter and I had made an offer on a home on nearby White Ash Lake.  After returning to San Diego, and negotiating back and forth, we soon found ourselves the proud owners of a family home.

But the task of remodeling it to make room for our four children and their spouses, five grandchildren (two with spouses), and two great grandchildren was just beginning. We would knock out three walls to make a massive Great Room. I planned the kitchen and dining area to seat 17, the patios to seat 16 and all the bedrooms—including a bunk room we would build—to sleep 16, with space for additional air mattresses. Not all would always come at the same time, but there are always a few extras in any gathering! I am the eldest of ten (nine living), visits by siblings needed to considered as well.

As my readers know by now, Gunter and I love to travel! We had already committed to two international trips—to India and South America—when we purchased the home. In between trips, Mike, my son-in-law, and I managed the remodeling (he did most of the work himself). It was an amazing process and a tight schedule, but a mere two hours before the first visitors arrived in July, the carpet had been laid in the bunk room and the bunk beds installed! (For those readers asking why the India and South America travel blogs remain unfinished, this is my excuse. They will be completed sometime this winter!)

When all the hub-bub becomes too much, I retreat to my garden to dig in the dirt. The birds chirp merrily as they perch on their feeders and splash in their birdbath. The breeze whispers through the pines, birch and oak—so different from the palms in Southern California. And across our dead end street near the woods, a doe stands and stares, daring me to chase her from my hostas.

Life is good here.

She dares me to chase her away from my hostas

 

Yellow Goldfinch at the bird feeder