•    A Visit to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens   

    A garden filled with purple rocks, spider webs woven together with roping, and miniature huts for creative minds to bask in the sunshine is a garden that welcomes children with open arms. The Matthaei Botanical Gardens of Ann Arbor are filled with spunk and sparkle and a lot of serious garden sense. The Botanical Gardens are comprised of the Gaffield Children’s Garden, miles of walking  trails, and a conservatory that features everything from the driest cactus to the glossy sheen of the tropical pineapple. In addition the the gardens, a farmstead is available for viewing from one of the walking trails, and a new building – MiSo house – Michigan Solar House has recently been relocated the property. MiSo house was designed to use only renewable sources of energy. The house captures solar energy and converts it to electricity, which fuels all appliances, radiant in-floor heating, and lighting within the home.

    The Matthaei Botanical Gardens are a great picnic destination, complete with creative inspiration for every generation, and plenty of inspiration for little gardeners with big dreams. Parking is $5.00 for the day and all exhibits are free. For more information, visit here.

    After our own visit to the botanical gardens, we were inspired to create A Tree By Me, which is a simple project that enlists little arms, hands and fingertips to construct a tree with paint.

    All supplies needed to make A Tree By Me are listed below:

    • Green, yellow, and brown paint (or create brown by mixing green, orange and red)
    • Large sheets of blank paper
    • Paint brush – or happy hands – no brush necessary!
    • Clean hands and arms

    Directions:

    • Paint back of forearm with brown paint to make the trunk and press to the paper to create the stump of the tree.
    • Paint palm of the hand with green paint to create leaves and press to the paper again to create the upper section of the tree, stamping several times.
    • Dip fingertips in green paint to create the grass below the tree, and additional leaves. Add yellow paint or glitter, if desired for extra foliage.

    Exploring nature is a treasure that fuels the spirit, even in small doses, rain or shine. We hope this summer you take the time to create your own adventures in nature, if even in your own backyard. May your hands be happy in the dirt within your reach and your soul be happy in the garden of your dreams.

  •    The Scent of Rain   

    I love the scent of rain on my skin, the feeling of dirt under my nails and the sound of water trickling down the gutters of our old farmhouse that held history within its walls for as long as time would keep it. I love the evening sky filled with rain and purity, as if it is washing away the worries of the day, welcoming the bright sunlight of a brand new morning with a few hours of passing time. The gift of a new day, a brand new dawn, seems to renew it’s promise with the first chirping of birds in the soft breath that lays between night and morning – a glimpse into a time of renewal and wonder – a time of rest for our spirits.

    I am amazed and grateful for the earth and the old dirt that lays beneath our home. I am a woman who loves life, whose nails are short, whose kitchen is often a mess, but one whose life she is grateful to lead. Tonight as I stand beneath the rain outside my door and feel the water beneath my toes greeting the ferns that have stood proudly on this lot for decades, I feel the gift of grace.

    I am thankful to know that life is precious. The gift of watching rain venture down the leaves of a tender, vibrant hosta leaf is a gift. Breathing in the night air and knowing that it will be replaced by the bustling world of tomorrow brings a reminder of life’s renewing promose. Each drop of rain brings a story to tell, and a home to end up in. Each droplet of water is filled with a bit of our earth’s brilliance and wonder – our life on earth and our cup to be sipped – each drop of rain is filled with a renewing promise of tomorrow.

    Life is a gift.

    Enjoy.

    Be glad in the gift of today.

  •    Kindness from a Stranger   

    The raindrops were heavy and the clouds appeared dark and dreary as our family sat at the breakfast table yesterday. The girls and I enjoyed our favorite whole wheat toast with cream cheese and a strawberry smoothie before heading out in the rain for groceries in town. It was my oldest daughter’s turn to select where we would shop and with the promise of a cart complete with a plastic steering wheel, she gleefully opted for Kroger.

    As I shopped, along with my two favorite shopping partners, we laughed, picked out a few special treats, and didn’t even mind having to remind our littlest shopper to sit down when the cart was in motion. As we reached the check-out, I became frustrated by our experience with the cashier and how we were treated. It was if we were an inconvenience and clearly she did not have the support she needed to do her job well as all of the baggers had disappeared. Normally I don’t mind helping with bagging groceries, but with a crying toddler on my hip, it was out of the question. I asked to talk to the manager of the store and did not receive much sympathy or reassurance that the store appreciated our business. I felt beaten down and discouraged by this time and sadly, left the store nearly in tears.

    I write this story not to complain about Kroger, as I am sure there are many wonderful employees who do a fabulous job every day in every store. It was what happened later that caused me to be grateful for even the challenging moments in Kroger and to remember than not every day should be filled with roses. It also reminds me of the precious opportunities each of us is given in life that we can choose to share kindness, cruelty or indifference to a stranger. Do we choose to live life as “bucket-fillers,” or “bucket-dippers?”

    After the groceries were unloaded at home, I had a good talk with myself,  promising not to let the actions of another bother me so intensely, especially in the middle of the grocery store. Next, I put on my flip flops, raincoat, applied a fresh coat of mascara, and headed back out to a smaller store to pick up some Easter surprises for the weekend. I was now with my youngest daughter who still enjoys her afternoon nap, but I hoped we could return home before this became necessary. As she and I shopped, she fell asleep in my arms. I happily carried her through the store, pushing the cart with my right hand and holding her with my left.

    As we reached the check out at this store, I held her in my arms and hoped I would be able to seamlessly remove my wallet from my purse without waking her . My back was beginning to  ache and my left arm was shaking from the 22-pounds that I had been supporting when I heard the woman in front of me tell the cashier that she would like to buy a pink stuffed animal for my daughter. I waited to be sure I had heard this correctly, and before I could craft my response, the woman turned to me with a stuffed pink bear adorned with a red ribbon around its neck. She softly stated, “I want to buy this for your daughter. She is precious…my children are grown. God bless her.” I smiled at the beautiful woman with long gray hair and a golden cross around her neck. “Thank you, she will love it, “ I replied with a smile from ear to ear.

    The old woman then told me that her own “baby”, who appeared to be close to 60 years of age was shopping with her, and she does not have little children to buy Easter treasures for any longer. I told her that I appreciate the gift so very much and that when my sleeping bundle awakes from her nap she will be delighted. “God bless you, and Happy Easter,” was her last comment before she and her grown daughter walked out of the store.

    As my own sleeping baby and I left the store the sun was shining. I felt renewed and refreshed. God have given me the gift of kindness from a stranger that gave me a feeling of peace and faith in humankind. I felt better about the world and the day. The rain had stopped and it was time to give thanks for a day filled with unexpected lessons and unexpected blessings

    This Easter as we look at the pink bear wearing a red ribbon who is now a Tobbe family treasure, I pray that our family is strengthened by God’s love and grace, and that the eyes of our faith are open to strangers with big hearts and that, we too, can be the long-haired stranger wearing a golden cross to someone who we unexpectedly meet on our path.

  •    Giving to Others – The Ultimated Soul Food   

    There is something about the smell of dinner baking in the oven on a cool, fall evening that brings comfort and genuine warmth to our kitchen. Weather it is a pot of spaghetti simmering, or a plump squash roasting in the oven, coming in the door to the scent of garlic, herbs and dinner prepared with love, gives a family a reminder of their connection and the gifts in their lives. Having food on the table, and never going to bed hungry is truly a gift. I know this is not something every family is blessed with and I feel it is our calling to give thanks for all we have, and to give to others who need help.

    This week Totally Townies solutes the St. George Pantry, which is located on West Main Street in downtown Brighton in the basement of St. George Lutheran Church. The St. George Pantry is open twice per month on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays, with the only requirement for using the service being the need for food. On an average Saturday morning from 9am – 12 noon,  2,400 pounds of food are provided for nearly 100 families. Gleaners Food Bank provides bread and eggs to the pantry and OLSHA donates 500 pounds of food per month. Simple Fresh Market has agreed to supply the pantry with much needed fresh produce, and each week bushels of squash, watermelons and seasonal fruits and veggies are brought in by truck. Since the pantry opened in March, the number of Brighton and Whitmore Lake families fed each Saturday has increased by 190%.

    In honor of the individuals who give their time, energy and resources to help those in need within our community. We’re featuring a simple squash recipe that encourages parents to cook with their children – having fun at home together sets the foundation for a bond that will last a lifetime. Cooking together is a labor of love. When a child and parent learn together, a moment in time is forever captured within their souls. Just as a child learns from her parent, a parent learns through her child. When we give our children the chance to experience whimsy in their homes, we’re giving them the chance to flourish. To flourish as a family is one of life’s ultimate treasures and one that cannot be purchased or saved for a later date – it must be savored and experienced in the present.

    Teaching a child to cook requires patience and an unhurried approach. Below is one of our favorite squash recipes that couldn’t get much easier. Squash is high in vitamins and low on cost – the average squash at the Brighton Farmers’ Market rings in at $1.00 this month. With the arrival of cooler temperatures in October, the season of squash has found us with our mouths watering, our bellies growling, and our grocery dollars stretched just a little further.

    Super Simple Squash

    Ingredients:
    One thoroughly washed squash, fully intact with skin on – your choice – butternut or spaghetti squash work best with this recipe
    A good amount of butter (approximately ½ stick…but we’re not fussy enough to measure)
    A healthy pinch of salt to taste
    Optional spices include fresh herbs such as basil or thyme, or garlic

    Bake the squash for 60-90 minutes on 350 degrees, uncovered with stem and skin on in your favorite baking dish. The squash is done when you can place a butter knife through the center and feel no resistance. Your kitchen will smell heavenly – giving you a Better Crocker-esc pride that certainly can boost a weary spirit. Remove the baking dish from the oven and with a fork or knife, remove the skin from the squash. This will be easy at this point and the skin will almost fall off with some gentle encouragement. The squash will be extremely hot and you may opt to allow it to cool for several hours before removing the skin. This is especially a good option if you have little helpers along with you on your squash adventure. Once the skin has been removed, and the squash is comfortable to handle, scoop out the seeds and dump all of the remaining squash into a serving bowl, add butter, salt and some good clean hands for mixing. Children love different textures – squash may be something your fingers have never had the privileged of squishing. Go ahead, make a little mess.

    From our home to yours, we hope you enjoy this bit of kid-friendly kitchen inspiration. Let our homes and hearts be places of cheer and welcome for those we love and those we meet. Let us be grateful for the harvest of the season and for the gift of living simply. Fall is a time when the harvest is abundant and rich – let us give to those we see who are in need, and seek to find those we have not yet met.

    •    A Cozy Home – It’s Attitude and Atmosphere   

      “Let’s make our house cozy today, Mom,” said my five-year-old daughter on a quiet, rainy morning last week. This comment delighted me but at the same time surprised me. I wondered what caused her to say this, and if it was something she heard me say. Although I was not expecting her to suggest we make things cozy that morning, the idea now makes perfect sense to me. I also love that warm, snug-as-a-bug feeling when we’re enjoying a morning together.

      On an average day, our house is not clean. On most days of the week, there are dozens of books on the floor, and a village of Polly Pockets in the middle of the kitchen. We have a child-sized art easel and Play-Doh center as permanent fixtures at our breakfast nook. Although clutter and commotion have become the norm, I like to think of our home as warm and inviting. Creating a cozy house has nothing to do with decorating, finances, or housekeeping skills. Cleaning house is not my specialty, and I have learned to accept and embrace this notion. Certainly, I could clean more, and could probably learn to be very good at it, but I don’t  want to put cleaning and chores above savoring the gift of time with my children. I love that our house is messy, fun, and filled with laughter.

      Creating a cozy home and environment is all about atmosphere and attitude. Some ideas we have adopted for our own cozy-appeal include lighting our favorite candles, dimming the lights, turning on lamps and overhead lights off. I have intentionally learned to leave the cell phone and computer in another room when spending quality time together – focusing on email, texts and anything online clearly communicates to children that they are less important. My girls and I often sit on the floor, read stories by our old, worn, window box with wavy glass. We pick up inexpensive Chinese take-out, when possible, as a treat for dinner to ward off the stress of a frantic dinner rush. We laugh, we snuggle, and this week we’ve watched the leaves on the trees rustle outside, wondering how they change from green to gold in such a seamless transition.

      Below are 5 tips for creating a cozy atmosphere in your own home:

      1. Turn off technology. Leave the cell phone in your purse, or another room, and schedule time to check emails, facebook, etc. There is not a text or facebook post that can ever be more important than your children. You are the best gift you will ever give them – treasure the time.
      2. Leave the dust as it will always be there tomorrow, and when you dim the lights on a chilly evening in October not a person in the house will notice.
      3. Laugh, sing and dance. Children love to laugh and so do adults. It is when we learn to take ourselves too seriously that we lose our spark for the unexpected wiggle, giggle and rhyme.
      4. Stress less about dinner – clip coupons and get take-out when possible, or make pancakes for dinner and eat on the living room floor with candles burning while you listen to old fashioned movie soundtracks, such as The Sound of Music or Saturday Night Fever.
      5. Live with a grateful spirit. Our mood as parents sends a clear message to our children. When we are happy, calm and attentive, they are encouraged to feel at peace. Adopt a family prayer, or time of thanksgiving that you practice daily. Faith in God is a constant thread in my life, which encourages and gives me strength when challenges arise.

      Although my daughter loves when we have the candles lit, our vintage butterfly lamp all aglow, and her favorite Wiggles CD playing, I know that her feelings go deeper than these sensory experiences. What she enjoys is the feeling that comes into our home when we “make our house cozy,”  and she also enjoys what it does to her Mom. When we step aside from the busy-ness of our world to savor the moment we have been given, we feel beauty and joy. As we make hot chocolate together before reading a story on our old woven rug, we are able to leave the rest of the world outside  and cherish the opportunity to simply be together and to nurture our human need for love and connection.

      Our house was built in 1875, and we adore it. Our house is old, well-loved and filled with character and blissful imperfection. I have never been happier than I have been in this house because it is in this house that I have been able to bloom as a mother. I have learned to mother – to sing with my children, to dance and be silly with them, to pray for and with them, and to make messes that I know will someday be gone.

      I have learned that when I focus on the needs and voices of my children, we all bloom – we grow together as a family and we grow as individuals. The days of early childhood pass so quickly, and perhaps with the transition of my oldest daughter starting school, I am more sensitive to how quickly the doors of preschool life closed. However, as there is always the promise of autumn leaves turning from green to golden, the promise of hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and a story of love awaits the girls big and small in our home.

    •    Back to School   

      The hum of diesel engines has returned to Main Street with the swift flow of yellow school buses in the morning. There is something magical and nostolgic about “back to school” season. It is as if summer’s door instantly clamped shut with the dawning of labor day, giving us a sudden briskness in the air and the sounds of school bells reminding us that classes have begun. The leaves are changing from their waxy, green glow of August to the golden shades of fall. This is a time that reminds me of my own days as child, and all of those mornings on my front porch growing up, posing for my first-day-of-school photo with my Mom.

      I remember the questions I would ask myself before school started each year and the plans and promises I would make to myself. As a little girl,  I wondered if I would like my teacher and if my teacher would like me. I wondered who I would sit with at lunch and what I would do if I had nobody to talk to at recess. As an older student, I remember promising myself that I would do my homework every night and that I would never lose my “Trapper Keeper,” and the expensive T81 calculator my parents just purchased. I also remember the teachers that I truly loved, those individuals who changed my life forever, providing me with real lessons that have enriched my life.

      Looking back, there were some teachers that I did not like, and some that probably did not like me. Most days I did find someone to sit with at lunch, and play with on the playground. I know I went through several rounds of binders, folders, books that belonged to the school that disappeared someplace between my desk and our couch, and many calculators that ceased to work due to being covered in grape jelly. Keeping track of my school supplies and general classroom paperwork was not my specialty as a student.

      Now, as a parent, I see the eyes of my own little girl, just beginning her journey as a student. I took her picture on our front steps this morning and was overcome with joy, pride, and a bittersweet reminder that time is passing without my suggestion or permission. My daughter stood before me with her bright, brown eyes shining. Her world is growing larger, and there will be more people of significance to her in the years to come – her teachers, her friends and new people she will seek guidance from. There is a great deal I can help her with, but a great deal I cannot. If there was a way for me to plan her way, and make sure all goes smoothly, I would gladly do it. However, I know this is not the way life works. It is my turn to be her encourager, her leader, and forever her mom who is filled with love for her, but it is her job to create her path, and to share her own spirit in her world that is blossoming. As I grow older and am fortunate to witness the everyday miracles of motherhood, I am amazed by the gift of love our children bring into our hearts by allowing us to view the world through their eyes. The eyes of our children reflect a glimpse of our own spirits.

      The bright, brown eyes of a kindergarten beauty on our front steps is my miracle for today. I am grateful and blessed. I welcome the school year that has just begun and the miracle of each little soul that will arrive to school in the morning.

    •    Happy Anniversary to The Vitamin Company   

      After 20 years in Brighton, The Vitamin Company is more vibrant than ever. With a friendly and knowledgeable staff, The Vitamin Company is a wonderful addition to the downtown shopping district. Totally Townies solutes the Vitamin Company’s commitment to natural, farm fresh foods and appreciates their support of Calder Dairy Farms. Milk in recyclable, old fashioned glass bottles is delivered every Wednesday to the store and sells out quickly.

      We love real milk. Milk that comes from cows that are not treated with hormones and are free to eat, drink and graze freely makes for milk that we’re proud to purchase and are proud to pour from our own fridge. The Calder Dairy pasteurizes its milk, but does not homogenize it, leaving the cream on top, and the vitamins and nutrients throughout.

      Homogenization was developed simply to give milk a balanced consistency, eliminating the need to shake milk before drinking. Milk in its natural form has a layer of cream that floats to the top. This cream is absolutely delicious, and gives milk a balanced, full-bodied taste. In addition, this cream provides natural fat, which is essential for all people, especially children. Real, natural, fats provide the body with good cell, hormonal and brain function. Homogenization also changes the molecular structure of milk, which strips many of the nutrients from milk and prevents the delivery of important nutrients to the body.

      The Calder Dairy was established in 1946 and began their work as a bottling facility for milk from local dairy farms, until a Brown Swiss Cow was purchased to keep the grass neat and tidy. Soon after, this bold new addition to the family farm had a calf, and today Calder Dairy milks 138 cows. All of their cows are fed a high quality, home-grown, forage and grain diet and enjoy life on the farm to the fullest.

    •    Brighton’s Fine Art & Acoustic Music Festival   

      This weekend is the 28th annual Fine Art Festival in downtown Brighton, with this year bringing a new addition, acoustic music and a beverage garden. The festival is presented by the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce and is expected to draw over 15,000 attendees. Instead of being on Main Street, this year the festival will be held in the parking lot near City Hall, the same location as the farmers market. Over 70 local and national artists will be available to speak one-on-one with festival-goers and will feature their paintings, glass work, sculpture, jewelry, woodcarvings, and pottery. The Brighton Art Guild will have a booth featuring the work of many local guild artists and demonstrations will take place throughout the weekend. Pamela Day will demonstrate at 10:00am on Sunday and mixed media artist Peggy Brewer will present her pastel techniques at 12 noon.

      Brighton’s Fine Art & Acoustic Music Festival

      Saturday & Sunday, August 13-14, 2011

      10:00am-8:00pm & 10:00am-4:00pm

    •    Life On The Porch   

      Saturday mornings are our favorite time of the week because possibility, and opportunity surround us – the weekend is just beginning with the smell of coffee, toast and farm fresh eggs and onions sizzling on the stove.

      I feel blessed that a sidewalk meets our front porch. This sidewalk can take us to the farmers market, the park, the library or to church. It also leads me to my downtown Brighton office. We can walk or bike just about any place that we’re feeling adventurous enough to seek out. Gabriella and I love to picnic and our wagon with canopy served as the perfect picnic pavilion for a homemade spaghetti dinner at the Miller playground on an early July evening. We love seeking out the unexpected and really have no trouble finding it as long as we’re quiet enough to hear it.

      Our porch serves as a room for the creative spirits in our home to flourish. It is not fancy, and the floor is often covered in puzzles pieces, paint drippings and the hopscotch rugs. There is something about making a mess and loving every minute of it that makes the soul soar. Our commitment to not taking ourselves too seriously and soaking up every-day-blessings through art, creativity, and soulful silly-ness, makes our house a home.

      Enjoying the everyday magic of our world takes no money, no computer or cell phone, it simply requires a spirit of whimsical gratitude. We wish you a home filled with your own magic and wonder. Breath, laugh, sing and if you dare, paint your front porch windows. Your neighbors will laugh and we bet your heart will soar.

      May your own front porch be blessed today and may you always seek out a canvas of adventure to create with those you love.

    •    LACASA Garden Tour   

      The Livingston County LACASA Garden tour will take place this Saturday and Sunday, July 9th and 10th and we’re delighted to feature our very own Diana Grant’s garden oasis – a delight for children big and small. Enjoying an afternoon at her King Road home is like stepping into a world of colorful treasures,  painted trinkets and flowers that seem to bloom forever. Totally Townies solutes our favorite gardener, Grandma, Friend and Mom. Thanks for sharing your love of flowers, nature and children with us.

      Click here to read the article and view the photos.