The lost art of writing letters

images.jpgI have a letter to write. It is a letter I am excited to write but I can’t seem to find the words to put down on paper. I spent a great deal of time last night – meaning between midnight and six am thinking about this letter and writing letters in general.

When I was little in the 50’s and 60’s letter writing was still the thing to do. My mother had a round robin letter writing group with her old college friends. There were six of them – one started a letter and sent it off. That person then read, and wrote her letter. She then sent the two of them off and so it continued. Letters traveling around and around keeping everyone posted on their life and their thoughts. They kept this going from college until late in their lives when a few passed away and others began to find it hard to physically write. The whole thing was amazing – decades of writing.

Then there were my favorite authors or famous people who you would hear about their “letters” being saved. In my head those letters were their personal papers but as I got older I realized they were really letters. People like Georgia O’Keeffe, Anne Lindbergh (she actually made copies of all the letters she sent out and saved them), Ben Franklin, Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto (English Gardners) all wrote and saved letters. This list goes on and on!

Even as a kid I wrote letters. They were always a struggle but I wrote them. I wrote letters to my Grandmother during the winter when she was in Florida with friends, letters to my Aunts who gave us books when we went to visit and letters to my cousins to just say hi! None of these letters were worth saving – I can tell you that! My Grandmother saved them – oh they were bad!

Once I was in college there was a boy friend who really wanted to be a boyfriend who sent daily long letters that felt heavy and confining. I did not save those either.

Then came the boyfriend on campus we wrote during the summer months – those I saved and they are in our basement with old photos. I have no idea what our teenage selves wrote. (I guess I should check them out some cold winter day while drinking a cup of tea.)

This little letter history brings us to today when long form, hand written letters have all but disappeared. I do write a paper letter to my Aunt, who is 97, every so often and she always writes back on small lined paper (about 5 or 6 pages). I am saving those – 96 and writing me letters how special!

Most of the time we use e-mail. It is quick, efficient and easy to do. It is great for every day notes and questions. It is wonderful to make a connection with friends or someone you have never met.

But – and this one is a big one for me – it is not a medium of long thought out discussions. I don’t write what my heart feels or the struggles of my life in an e-mail. It does not seem like the place for discussing large content information like Chatto and Lloyd did in their hand written letters about their gardens.

So where does this take me – all this thinking about letters. As I said I have an important letter to write. A letter that welcomes my son’s best friend and fiancee into our family. A letter to show love and to embrace a young woman we already care dearly about. Such big thoughts and ideas to put on paper.

Oh – can I do it?

I am out of practice writing this type of letter – not sure I ever wrote letters with such meaning (even to my now husband of many years – he wrote them but I am not sure I did). I don’t have the tools around either – paper, a nice pen, envelopes. So maybe if I head out to the stationary store (do we still have stores like that?)  I know there is a paper store not far from here with fancy wrapping paper, cards and gifts. They must have stationary! Right?

So wish me luck in finding the words and the stationary to let this young lady and the soon to be couple know how much we care about them.



Posted in genres in writing, Reflection, slice of life | 6 Comments

Learning to make mistakes

IMG_6631.jpgAs an “old lady” trying to learn new things I find myself struggling to struggle. Does that make sense?

I am thinking children may be in this same spot at times. We begin to learn a new skill by looking at a beautiful finished product, or watching someone who is a wonderful artist or musician. We swoon and say yes, I want to do that. I really want to draw like that or sing like that or be a fabulous runner who finishes with the first 10 runners in a marathon. We see what they have accomplished and want that. This was what I was trying not to be like. I was trying not to think I needed a perfect product right away.

I have been taking drawing classes on and off now for a couple years. I am am/was a teacher. I know the steps we need to take to learn. Yet, as I begin to develop this new skill of drawing I want to have a great final product right away. I don’t practice enough. Yet I want to be perfect/ well lets just say I want to be good. I am fearful of showing my work since it is sure to have “mistakes.” It is not perfect. In fact, it is a long ways from perfect.

I know I am missing lots of knowledge and have not spent the time practicing and trying again and again. It is why I signed up for drawing class one. I have never really taken a drawing class. Yet, I think I should be able to draw really well.

I know exactly where I struggle. I know I don’t understand fordownloadshortening, I know I don’t see the negative space, I know I don’t get what is happening along the edges of the piece I am drawing. So today it should not have been a surprise when my drawing was being reviewed and she says,

  • “What pencils are you using?” – Ummm – I don’t know a mid- range I think?! – I squeak
  • “You need to get away from those in the middle range so you can really draw the details that you see. use a H2 and up”
  • “What is the line telling you?
  • “Look really closely at the edge”
  • You need more information with less lines

Then the big statement came to all of us –

  • We really need to learn how to make mistakes! You need to make lots of mistake.

The side note was “this is great – you have lots of mistakes.”

Should I rejoice or cry – I was trying so hard not to have “mistakes” and here she is telling me she loves this. This is where we learn.

Learning something new is about trying over and over again. It is about making ‘mistakes” and then starting over again. It is about struggling to find a way to create what we see or hear. In our case it is about using a lot of paper. In drawing it is about really observing – what we see and also observing what we are doing with the pencil.

I came home today with this statement ringing in my ears –

We need to learn how to make mistakes!

Why is this so hard for us? I see it in kids all the time. They don’t want to answer a question or try a problem because they might or will be wrong. They have never done the work before but just like me they want to be right before they have ever learned the new task or skill.

This week our homework is about copying two leaves. Copying IMG_6630.jpgevery detail – the curves, lines, veins and on. We really need to see what is there.

I am guess there will be lots of mistakes and I am going to enjoy everyone of them because that is what learning is all about. It is about enjoying the struggle that gets us to new knowledge and skills.

Are you teaching your students to enjoy their mistakes?


(No, this is not my drawing – I have a ways to go before my leaves will look like this one but I am on way!)


PS – How would our world look if we taught kids to celebrate their own and others mistakes? If we really knew that learning was about the mistake and the struggle to understand – Would teasing go away? Would we have more empathy for each other? Would we help each other learn? Would we build a safe community to learn in?


Posted in Teaching | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Growing together

IMG_6636.jpgMosses grow only when there is water all around them. They can not photosynthesis without it. They have no roots to bring moisture into their system. They use the water that surrounds them to help the carbon dioxide dissolve and enter the leaf so it can begin the process of using light and air to make sugar. Mosses must wait for rain or dew to develop. This is why they grow mainly in moist places.

Thanksgiving Cactus or a Christmas cactus is an epiphyte TG Cactus 2018.JPGmeaning that it often has exposed roots that take moisture from the air. This plant also has roots that will pull water in to help it develop. It grows taller and has larger flowers.

These are very different plants and their needs are very different but they are both plants. They are green and currently are growing in one pot in my house. This combination of plants is not probably the best to put together but there they are struggling to make a life for themselves. They have been in this pot for a few years. Don’t ask me why I put a moisture loving plant in with a plant that likes to dry out during the week. Dumb – I know.

But here is the thing – each week I water them and they continue to grow and get along side by side. Granted if I fail in watering the moss struggles more and will begin to dry up and wait for the next watering but somehow they keep going. Mosses have the ability to wait until the conditions change in their favor.

Watching these two plants this week, a week full of hatred and anger, has given me a bit of hope and faith that although we here in the United States are a group of very different people we have the ability to grow together. We have the strength to struggle and find what works for all of us. We are all humans and we are all in the same pot. Our needs are different but we can find a way to support each other over time. We must if we are to survive.

Maybe we just need to slow down and think about the plants. Surely if they can find a way to grow together we can as well.


Posted in gardens, Reflection | 2 Comments

Closing up the garden

IMG_6593.jpgPERSONAL NOTE: The post below was written last week on Sunday. All ready to go for Tuesday. I was so proud of myself for being organized and ready for the week. I would review it on Tuesday a.m. and post. I have no idea what happened on last Tuesday. It did not get posted! Darn!

  • Yes, I am retired,
  • Yes, I have time in my day,
  • No, I am not overly cleaning my bathrooms the house it is still mostly clean but not crazy clean so that is not taking my time.

I have no excuse. I just didn’t get it posted. My kids were in town from N.Y, there was a family dinner that day but there was time.

Six years into retirement and I seem to have let lose. I have let the days navigate themselves. I have walked away from my paper lists, and the pressure to complete so many tasks a day.  I think it is a good thing but there is a point of holding oneself to ones goal and commitments.

So I will try to be better. My personal goal was to write at least once a week if not twice and to always comment at Two Writing Teachers on Tuesday. So I will try to tighten up my ship and get back to steering things a bit straighter down the river.

Here is the last weeks post:

4f7355-20181014-octobersnow01I know this garden writing must be getting old for everyone but it is where my thinking and my heart is these days. Minnesota did a quick turn from fall to winter this week and offered up a Sunday morning of snow and chilly weather. This made those of us who garden jump up and get busy. No more long walks in tunnels of colored leaves. It is time to get that garden put to bed for the winter months.

So today being the first day with a bit of sun, and no rain I was out

  • pulling out the last of the carrots,
  • taking down fences around the raised beds,
  • cutting and pulling out the annuals,
  • clearing the clay pots and dumping them and placing them in storage up by the house
  • mixing old potting soil into the veggie raised beds for next year
  • dead heading the wilted flowers
  • trimming back herbs and pulling anything that looked usable inside
  • breaking up sticks from the last storm

I finally realized my back was going to hurt tonight so I stopped for now. This work was just in the front gardens. I still have mowing to do, the cutting and clearing in the back perennial gardens and then the bulb planting to do.

My hope is that I will plant bulbs on Thursday – I hear it is suppose to be sunny and maybe up to 60’s. ( Ah a bit of summer!)  Today was cool and crips and I worked through the very wet beds and pots. I am tired but it feels good to be out in the fresh air with dirt under my finger nails.

I am not sure what I would do without the changing of the seasons. The temperature changes, the color change in trees and smaller plants, the light change as the sun slips south, the sound and smell of fall leaves and fires are something to not be missed.

It is a lot of work but life would feel off kilter to me if all those tasks were not before me each fall. download.jpg

So this is a quick good bye to fall and a hello to cold weather. The winter wonderlands that are just around the corner.

Posted in gardens, nature, Reflection | 7 Comments

Fall and falling leaves


It is now October 9th and the fall clean up and bulb planting has not begun. The last week or so has been rain and rain and more rain. There is so much to do but I have not been willing to plant in mud or cut soggy dying plants.

IMG_6549.jpgSo I have been walking – both here in the city of Minneapolis and up on the northern border of Wisconsin – out in the woods. The colors are wonderful. Could they have been brighter with warm days, bright sun and cool nights? Maybe be but it does not matter the trees put on a good show every fall.

Walking the rainy streets and hidden paths in IMG_6548.jpgmy neighborhood brought me colors of reds, yellows and orange with green left in for accents.

The canopy of leaves on the hidden path by Grass Lake change of color tones completely. This path is still holding on a some green leaves. It is sheltered and bit warmer due to the traffic on the freeway near by. IMG_6544.jpg










Other places on the walk hold more color although the leaves are falling fast with the rain.











In the north woods of Wisconsin the moisture of the last weeks brought out the color of the trees but also the mushrooms and lichens.

We will hope for planting weather next week. I am off to the North Shore of Lake Superior this weekend to see what it has to offer in fall glory.













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What was I thinking?!

It is now October and I am slowly putting my garden to bed for the winter. I am watching the weather closely for days that are dry and not to chilly to work outside. So far I am not having much luck. Rain and cool temperatures are set for the next 10 days or so. I can handle the cool but not the wet and cold at the same time. So I am watching.

While it rains I am reviewing what needs to be done and what can stay until spring. This is a constant issue with me. Do I leave the dying plants sit through the winter giving structure to the landscape plus food and hiding places for critters?  Or do I cut down the plants clear the land having it ready for spring growth, leaving things open so critters don’t burrow eating spring bulbs and stripping branches of bark killing young bushes?

One year I cleared everything away and the critters stripped so many bushes of bark. It was awful. The next year I left things and I had more critters than I wanted and they also had fun eating through bushes and tender young trees. Not sure how to win this game between nature and myself.

So here is the plan for this falls clean up and this gets me to the phrase “what was I thinking?!”

I plan to clear the Hostas and the perennial bed in front. I will leave the garden bed in back but clear and fence around the new perennial Hibiscus plant and the young Hydrangea that I just moved to the back hill. I have fenced the new Iris plants that came from the family farm but will clear all the raised veggie beds. There will be the leaves to take care of once they drop and I need to reseed the grass that decided not to grow this summer.

Somewhere during this month I need to get applesauce made and canned for the winter. I guess that is what rainy days are for.

Then there is the fall planting – I have already put in two Helleborus  download.jpg(called Ice Follies). These guys will bloom very early in the spring. They don’t mind the snow. I am waiting for a fern leaf Bleeding Heart to arrive and a Woodland fern to add to the back garden.

Then there are the bulbs that showed up this week. WHAT was I thinking!!??  This heavy box was placed at my door. The print on the outside said Colorblends so I knew it was the bulbs I had ordered sometime during the summer.

It must have been a quiet, sunny, warm, restful day because when I opened it I discovered I had ordered myself 150 bulbs to plant! What!!??  Where did I think they were all going to go? When did I think I had that much energy? Am I crazy?   (Yes, would be the correct answer here.)

6015_Snowflake_CGC5330QP.jpgOk – breathe!  25 of them are large snowdrops that bloom early in the spring so I will place them in the new garden bed up front with the Helleborus.  Then 25 of them are daffodils with a bright orange cup so maybe they can go on the back hill. Critters usually don’t eat daffodils due to the fact they are poisonous3042_Delibes_CGC0131wQP.jpg and they are bright so we could see them from the back deck in the spring.

Ok, that leaves 100 bulbs which are tulips – red, orange and purples are mixed together. Who knows which bulb is which?  Where am I going to plant all of those and then protect them from the critters both above ground (squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits) and the below ground (voles).

I think this display of spring color will need to go in the front flower beds. It will be interesting to see what I can really plant around the perennials.

How do I 1247_RainbowCoalition_CWH4553QP.jpgplant bulbs in and around the other plants that I also want to keep in the garden for next summer? There is also the issue of not disturbing the mums that are blooming now in the late fall.

How do professional gardeners do this?

Oh yeah – they have a team of folks working for them. They also pull lots of the summer plants out of the ground and replant them next spring after the bulbs have finished. They have greenhouses to store their perennials in. I don’t have any of this!

So this is what I need to work out today. Where will 100 tulips bulbs go?

It will be lovely next spring but for now I am thinking I am crazy! I am doing what my mother use to do (and I said I would not do).  I am over buy plants, creating more work for myself then I could handle but some how it all gets done. Right?

I remember she often had 50/100 bags of oak leaves leaves, the planting of bulbs, the clearing of beds and the canning. I don’t know how she did it but I guess I will find out during the month of October.

Wish me luck!

Posted in gardens, nature | 6 Comments

Changing Seasons

IMG_5050.jpgWe are now officially in autumn with October quickly coming our way. Yesterday while mowing and deadheading flowers it was hot and humid. Today the grey skies brought rain, winds and the temperature dropped from mid 70’s to low 50’s over night.

The long lazy green days of summer have quickly moved to shorter days with changing colors. The bright green is now fading into yellows with a few trees spotting reds or oranges. The purples, pinks, and reds of summer flowers are replaced with yellow or copper colored mums. The wild grasses blowing tall in the fall breeze are topped with tan seed heads and green lower leaves fading to the same tan to brown color. IMG_6404.jpg

Fall brings a different set of veggies or fruits as well. The summer green lettuce, red tomatoes are traded for red apples, orange carrots, pumpkins and red hot peppers drying on the stalks.

The food we eat moves from salads and cool finger foods to chilis, soups and stews. The desire to bake bread and put in a fire to read by is building with each day it gets colder.

So fall is here – I have cut back the leaves of the peonies, the hot red seeds of the jack in the pulpit have been scattered by the squirrels, the raspberry plants are spreading and growing so I am hoping that means lots of fruits for next summer. I am watching for the bulbs to arrive in the mail to plant just before the hard frost while wander around each day cutting down more failing plants, finding spots to plants the Helleborus plants that hopefully will bloom in the late winter or very early spring.

There is so much going on with the change of seasons. The colors, sights, sounds, and tastes. Oh, the tastes of pumpkin, squash, while spices like cinnamon and cloves fill the air. There are also the warm sweaters and sweatshirts that have been tucked away during those hot summer days that now can come out and stretch around us to create warmth as the temperatures fall.

I know here in the north land it is going to get cold and the days will be very short with long dark night but I wouldn’t change it for anything. The switch from season to season is amazing to watch and be a part of. I love the fact that each quarter of the year brings a new look to nature, a new set of sounds, change in temperature, foods that fit that season and things to do.

I guess that is why I am crazy enough to live in Minnesota!





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