Waiting for Spring

DSC05128.jpgMinnesota cold – the thermometer is stuck and will not rise above 10

Testing season for our ELL students – four tests for each student – o my gosh!

Piles of snow turned grey and black with the exhaust of cars

 

Restless and squirrelly students stuck inside building due to wind chills way below zero

Packed snow creating ice skids on sidewalks and street corners making walking scary

Seed catalogs stacking up on my desk with no time to review, enjoy or order

Knowing I should be eating fresh salads and veggies but carving rich, hot fatty foods to ward off the cold

Dry skin, achy joints and chapped lips – skin was not meant to be in cold for so many months

We know spring is out there some where but it feels a long ways away right now!

It is February in Minnesota!

 

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Posted in Reflection, weather | 6 Comments

Beginning again – we are all learning

I seem to be a person who starts over and starts over again and again. I also seem to jump into things that are a bit over my head – taking on classes that expect skills I have not yet developed. As an old person learning new things this is often what happens. We have some skills, have learned lots over the years but that learning is general and has not been perfected.

We then decide it is time to get serious and really learn but the beginning classes are too easy. There does not seem to be an intermediate class and so we jump into working with people who are closer to being experts in the field and are just refining their skills while we are still an early learner.

Botany books.JPGThis is where I find myself. I am taking a drawing class from the Minnesota Botanical Art School, with a focus on learning how to see and shade items/plants to give them depth and shape. We are using only graphite, so we have only the world of black, white and grey to work with. This is the second time I have taking this class from this teacher and I am learning as much this time as last, even with the same assignments.

The other class members have been drawing for years, taking many classes in water color, colored pencil, color theory and their work each week is amazing to see. One is even an artist and a botany professor so plant terminology can get detailed and very interesting. I stand in awe of their work. Several have taken classes at the New York Botanical Center, others have displayed their art around the city in galleries. They are truly more professional at botanical art than I.

We begin our class by sharing our homework each week and I shyly put my work down on the table. I feel like hiding but have learned each week they find something positive to say about my drawings. The conversation around the table is helpful and I have found that even the people who I think have the best work find they are not happy with what shading a tree.JPGthey have done. I have found they are worried about putting their work out as well. It appears we are all learners and we all have something to learn from each other.

It feels good to settle into this class even though my skills need developing. I love the role of being a learner, of walking away from each class having gained one more piece of information, having one more technique to try and practice. Yes, I will be nervous next Monday when I go to class but I will go, put my shading practice down with the others and listen closely. Maybe one day I will be able to draw and shade images just like my classmates.

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This role of learner does make me think about the students at the elementary school I work at and all the students who were in my classes all those years. Amazing how we can be so fearful to step up to learn and share. But more importantly how a few good words and a few gentle questions can make learning so much more fun!

 

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A Little bit of Winter

It is a bright sunny day AFTER the Monday winter blizzard. Grey skies, high winds and 12 inches of wet heavy snow filled the garden, streets and roof tops. Yesterday it was dark grey to near white out conditions even within the city. School buses stuck, cars sitting in long lines of highways, or streets and then to find themselves stuck once they turn onto their home street. We were shoveling to stay ahead of the snow fall but the wind and snow were winning so most of us retreated into our home to wait it out. DSC05122.jpg

After the struggle and frustration we rose to clear blue skies, sun, mild temperatures and a snow day for the schools. There are wonderful snow drifts sparkling off the edge of the deck table and the roof lines. The streets are full of heavy white stuff and  the world is transformed.

Walls of snow are appearing as snow blowers begin cutting through the piles and drifts. Shovelers are following behind cleaning up from the snow spray. They occasional switch places and the shovelers move on head of the snow blower to chop up the crusty piles left by the larger city snow plows. The wild DSC05125.jpgof a night blizzard is being tamed and structure is appearing as the day moves along.

By late morning dads with young boys on sleds come trudging down the middle of the street where no cars can yet pass. They will roll and slide down the hills up by the school yard only to return soaking wet, tired and smiling in a few minutes. One neighbor has cleared his steps enough to place his speakers outside and we now can enjoy a bit of jazz music as we finish the storm clean up. It almost feels as if we are enjoying a summer day out washing cars, chatting with friends and helping each other out.

DSC05128.jpgThe pine trees are dripping with snow and the little critters are well hidden under the deep layers. Songs can be heard from the Arborvitae bushes as the birds hide from the wind but peek out as the sun becomes warmer through out the day. These little guys seem to want to enjoy the conversation on the street.

My fences, neatly placed to keep animals out, are now well hidden in the snow. Once the snow develops that crusty top layer, from the thaw freeze action, the rabbits will have easy access to the Forsythia bush I was hoping to protect this winter. It will be an easy dinner or a late night snack for them. Well, I guess we need to share what food can be found when winter gets tough. The back garden wall is covered, the bird bath hidden and the bushes buried but the sun gives us wonderful shadows that dance in the wind.

Yes, it is winter in all it glory – sun, snow, wind and people who come out no matter what to help and enjoy the neighborhood.

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March is coming

This is exciting news – March is coming!  For so many reason I am excited on this bright, very cold January day. I sit in my office at home and realize that my thinking is slowing turning from the dark of winter to what spring brings. Just like I said last week – I know it is many weeks away but there are steps to be taken to be ready for that burst into March. Now is the time to start those steps.

seed catalogs.JPGFirst off March is the front edge of the gardening season in this north land of Minnesota. No, we are not outside in the dirt that is another month or two months away but the seeds for some of our long growing plants will be started. The grow lights will be on full blast and towards the end of the month we might see a bit of ground appear beneath the white layer of snow. So now in the deep cold I need to spread the seed catalogs out and

  • review the garden journal from last growing season
  • decide what plants I will grow this year,
  • what plants I will start from seed and
  • what seeds I will need to purchase
  • then order them so I am ready

Second, March brings longer days and warmer weather. This means my outdoor walking can begin in full. The long walks, the watching for buds on trees and birds that return begin as this month of March moves along. It means that I can’t just sit here and drink my tea all day. I need to be moving and grooving to keep the muscles in shape otherwise those first long walks end up in very sore legs. I also know that “old” peoples muscle strength seems to disappear more quickly over the winter months and that means spring gardening can be troublesome if we are not in condition. The tasks here are simple

  • yoga daily – stretch and strengthen
  • walk inside if the temperatures are below zero (which means almost every day since Mid-December – this indoor walking is getting old quickly but I keep doing it)
  • get those hand weights out and keep lifting – every other day (this one is easy for me to let slide and then I am so surprised in spring when all my garden lifting activities seems to be so much heavier than I remember!)

The third and very exciting March event is the Slice of Life Challenge – a whole month of slice-of-life_individual.jpgwriting daily!  I love and fear this March event every year and would not miss it for anything! The fear only comes because I worry I will not have things to say, I worry that I will sound stupid or will be repeating myself. I worry about finding time each and every day to complete a post. These worries and fears are often eased by doing just a few things before March arrives. I have found if I get organize before handed I can relax and just write a little every day and by gosh it gets done. So here are my to do writing tasks before March comes:

  • remind myself of what works – post it by my computer
    • I don’t have to write huge posts – a short post is sometimes as good as a long rambling story with no center
    • remind myself that I need to read other Slicers posts for ideas – yes, I always read other posts to comment and encourage but these posts also offer ideas and little nuggets that help me think about my own writing.
    • turn to books or quotes as a writing prompt to kick start my thinking – Last year I used bits and pieces from all the books I have about writing. I learned a lot by turning to authors to push my own writing
  • Begin my writing ideas list – just like the Picture book idea challenge that is going on right now – I begin a list of possible blog posts ideas. I put each new idea in a draft post with a title (if I have one) and at least one sentence to be a kick starter for the idea. Last year I had 4 ideas I never got to write about so many other thoughts got in the way. So, they are still there waiting to be used. Yeah!!! My list is started.
  • I go back and review what I wrote the last few years during March. It is interesting to see what direction I took. I also find ideas or topics I could write more about or topics that I have changed my thinking on. It is always interesting to go back to your own writing and see what you were thinking.

So, on this cold day as I sit with my tea and watch the snow sparkle in the sun I realize that January and February are not slow months. There is much to do and think about. I need to get busy!

Hope to see you in March – writing and enjoying the first thoughts of spring!

Posted in slice of life, writing | 6 Comments

The north land people

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It is week two of a new year and the weather in Minnesota has given us a chance to breath deep and take a walk outside. We, like most of the mid west, have been caught in a deep freeze with temperatures well below zero most of the time and wind on top of that. It has not mattered if the sun is out you just don’t go out unless you are huddled in your car and even at that you are cold. Blankets, hot tea or hot toddies made little difference. (Truth be told there were people out scurrying from place to place  – even I was willing to go out in my car because I just can’t stay inside that long.  Two days and I am crazy to get out and about. So two weeks was driving me mad.)

Then Sunday happened the temperatures peaked above zero and everyone let their shoulders down, their scarfs loosened and out we went. It may have been cold to the rest of the country but here we were walking, biking (think those bikes with huge tires racing over ice and snow), sledding, skating, and skiing. There were even a few sitting in the sun with their coffee cups admittedly in heavy winter gear but still outside to enjoy the day.

I have resumed my morning speed walks and all seems right with the world. At least for the next few days before we head back into the deep cold and a bit of snow. It is how it goes in the north land. It is about 30 degrees and feels like mid 20’s. We are finding our lighter jackets, hats are off and who needs gloves or mittens. If it gets any warmer I am sure I will see somebody with shorts on.

When you live in the land of cold you enjoy every day above zero that you can. The air is lighter and feels warmer than the harsh cold that freezes your nose as soon as you walk out the door.

This bit of January warmth turns my head to the spring gardens. The seed catalogs are out, the grow lights are on with spinach growing nicely and I know that winter is only a few weeks longer.

Ok so winter is really got about 12 more weeks here in Minnesota but hey it feels like spring today so I will take what I can get!

Happy January thaw!!!!!

(at least for one more day – Thursday is predicted to be below zero once again.)

 

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One Little Word – Evolve

download.jpgMy little word for last year was developing – it is a word that I thought I would hold onto this year. It seems to fit into my on going thinking.  I wrote about it at the beginning of December (you can read about it here).

Today as I return to thinking about this I feel if I keep this word I am standing still. The word developing is about action so I have gone seeking another word that might help hold this idea of moving forward and push myself into the new year. The need to have new goals around growing skills and understanding is important to me.

The thesaurus gave me these words  – advance, establish, evolve, expand, flourish, grow, progress, promote, age, foster, mature, mellow, ripen, grow-up and root.  Some of these words don’t make it at all – like the word root seems to mean holding still, to be fixed in place or rooted.  Not at all what I was thinking. Establish also seems to be a word for standing in place – a fixed and establish way of thinking.

Of all these words I find advance or evolve to be closer to what I was imagining. The idea of continuing to learn, to expand ones knowledge, to promote growth is more what I had in mind. I want to grab hold of the idea of continued growth – the life long learner. I want to take the skills I have and hone them into a well learned craft or skill.

It might be that at some point those skills can be shared with others but for now I am happy to put myself on the path of learning and maybe to share some of those early  steps along the way.

Questions I wish to explore are:

  • What does it take to be a good urban gardener? Flowers and veggies for the family
  • Can I learn the names ( common and latin), and habits of the flora and fauna around me? Can you names trees by their bark and branch patterns? No – nor can I but I would like to be able to do just that – to know the natural world so intimately that those names roll off my tongue like family members names.  3751e4f34731618878f1fd3346e96e85.jpg
  • Can I learn to draw what I see? Can I develop my drawing to the point others are able to recognize what is growing my gardens? (Botanical drawing)
  • Can I maintain a healthy lifestyle without loading my body with medicine? (Can you hear in this statement I am working to control my cholesterol levels without drugs that have not so good side effects for me?)  – healthy eating, exercise, restoration – yoga, calming mediation and friendships

All of these are areas I have begun working on in the last few years – developing my skills and understanding in more detail since retiring from teaching. These are skills and learning that can fill a life time. So once again as the new year begins I embark on the every evolving journey into the world of green plants, fresh air, good and healthy food, words and pictures that I can share with dear friends near and far.

The one little word for this year that involves so much learning will be evolve. For indeed over the last year of developing I have found I am evolving into a new and different person. One who is more relaxed, more confident in what I know and don’t know and more ready to step into the role of a beginning learner once again.

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Honorable Harvest – ending 2017

DSC04164.jpg“We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads up high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of the earth’s beings.”  – from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer  (2013)

We end each year with a harvest meal during November and a sharing of gifts in December. Most families across our country have traditions that they follow year after year in the fall and early winter. These traditions may be the food that is eaten, how gifts are shared, if they are shared, or the games played. It may also be the return to a food shelter for a shared and free meal but it is a tradition of some kind. A gathering with those you are friends with or relate with.

I spent this weekend with traditional Swedish meatballs and rice pudding, the IMG_5190.jpgwatching of A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, fires in the fireplace and spending time with family and neighbors. This year more time was spent on gathering,talking and listening and food. The gifts were there but not front and center of the activities.

This may be in part because we are mainly all adults with no little ones running around the Christmas tree with sparkly eyes. It is also in part due to a year of frustrations, hostility and devisions between people, issues and beliefs. When we gathered it was clear we all were leaving the politics of our day outside the door. We came with smiles, stories of the past, and questions about current events happening in our personal lives. We came to restore relationships. We came to strengthen the ties that bind family and friends through understanding, sharing and giving.

We gathering to give but also to harvest the care and love from those who have been part of our lives for years – some for a life time and others for only a few short years.

Christmas night I left our last gathering and hurried across the front yards, in the 20 below temperatures, into the quiet of our home. I curled up under download.jpgblankets to warm myself and continue to read from Robin Kimmerers book called Braiding Sweetgrass. A rich and quiet ending to time with people.

The chapter before me was about harvesting from the wild. This book is connected to Native cultural ways, and science of plants but more than that it is about how we live in our world. It is about how we care for the land, the plants and the animals. It is about how we care for ourselves and other humans.

Robin shares the biology of the plant world and the stories of the Native Culture but for me last night in this chapter she also spoke of restoration. She spoke of looking to the generations ahead. She talked of the care of giving, of sharing and also the taking of what is needed but not over taking. She shares the balance that has made our world work for generations. Her simple words written a few years back showed me how out of balance we are right now. It was easy to reflect on how far we have stepped out and sent our world tumbling in crazy circles. The taking and the taking – the forgetting of those with less clearly fit into her words of caution.

It isn’t always easy this idea she shared of honorable harvest – we need to look to our spending, to where we place our focus, to what we say, to what we take and what we support. Although I know how hard it is to deal with the negativity that we seem to be harvesting in our lives right now. I found that we can be honorable in the little acts we do.

We can have a honorable harvest. Our gatherings and “harvest” this holiday season turned into one of giving more than getting, of listening more that talking, of finding ways to support those around us. We each on our own way were careful to think of others – folks who live alone invited over, a neighbor whose family lives far away invited friends who are closer to share an evening of food and games, conversations were positive and supportive not combative. It was a time of sharing and giving of ourselves not of things.

It restored a small sense of balance to our personal lives and family. It left me feeling like I could turn to 2018 with renewed energy for the tasks ahead.

Robin created a list of guidelines for a Honorable Harvest. This could be the harvest of wild leeks or wild greens in the woods or it could be how we work and live with in our world as a whole.

(In the Native culture these are learned and shared but not written down. They are reinforced in small acts daily life.)

  • Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you make take care of them
  • Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. Asking permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
  • Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need.
  • Take only that which is given.
  • Never take more that half. Leave some for others. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
  • Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share.
  • Give thanks for what you have been given.
  • Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
  • Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

 

May we step into 2018 with balance, care, support and a honorable harvest so that our world can be sustain forever!

Posted in gardens, Reflection, restoration | 2 Comments