Looking to other writers

imagesJournals and diaries have been in and out of my life since I was a little girl. I thought they were cool. I longed to be a writer who carried a journal with them everywhere – maybe a small one tucked into a pocket or a leather – bound notebook with a nice pen. I remember watching my older sister write in a small diary with a key. Oh, how I wanted one of those.

As I got a bit older I finally got a small red flowered diary with a key. I think, to be honest, at that point I was really more interested in the little key and how it worked. Now that I had this writing space I had no idea what to put in it. I wrote a few words and then was off to play outside, dig in the dirt or take off on my bike. I was not a child who images.jpgsat still or contemplated the world around me and then turn it into words. I needed to move and be in that world. I was a great observer of small things – bugs, flowers, leaves, looking under rocks, watching what was floating by in a local creek. I did not take the time to write about what I saw. I didn’t know that was allow.

There was part of my problem.

  •  One I had trouble sitting still.
  • Two I was a lousy speller and I was afraid of making mistakes.
  • Three I had in my head (still do at times) that there were rules for diaries and journals. There were/are specific things that you could write in a journal. I couldn’t state these rules out loud but I was sure they were there.

These issues kept me from writing.

For years I have carried a notebook or had one by the side of my bed. I would write every few months or when I am really worried about something. I tended to write a short paragraph about what is wrong at the moment and then lines and lines of positive statements to get me out of the dark place I had crawled into. The other writing would be a quick comment about the weather and a few statement about the day. At the time of writing it all seemed boring and stupid. Who would care? So I would quit.

It did mean that notebooks lasted a long time.

My head tells me that this type of writing is not journal/diary writing. Stating daily activities, the weather, or disappointments just didn’t fit into THE rules. I somehow thought/think I need to write a wise and thoughtful statement each time I put pen to paper.

Now as I age and have more time I wish I had had patience and the acceptance to have written more often. It would have been nice to know and believe that the daily events are ok, the complaining is ok, the observations of the frogs, flowers and bees are ok. I would love to have those journals to go back to now so I can remember when things happened – when did my kid break his arm, when did my daughter learn to ride her bike or when did we take that family vacation?

Since I never think I am writing the right thing I turned to published writers recently to see what they have written about. What do their journals look like? What does the journal of a older woman look and sound like? I picked up a copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s letters and diaries from our local libary. She has several books that contain her dairies and letters but I was interested in the writing of an older woman. I am reading Against Wind & Tide. This is a collection of her writings from letters and personal journals from 1947 to 1986.

Clearly, Anne M Lindbergh had a more exciting life than I am living but her journal contains the frustrations of a mother with 5 kids, a husband who was strong and controlling and often gone from the home. She records her day to day struggles and highlights. She shares her thoughts of the news and politics of the time. Once in a while her writing hits a deep and thoughtful moment but there are many entries of the daily events a moment in time when here children are ill or she was fearful of an illness herself. As I read I realize it is not the day to day writing but the work as a whole that makes a difference. Moment by moment her diary doesn’t sound all that different from my early writings but the fact that she wrote often and widely about her life, her children and the world she was a part of makes for a fascinating read. Day by day a story of a woman living in the 40’s, 50’s and on comes to life.

She was more on the extreme side of documenting her life. She journaled almost daily and she saved copies of all her letters and papers. She made three copies when writing a letter to friends or her husband. She would place that old purple transfer paper in between the papers of her writing tablet as she sat down to write. She made copies of postcards she send to her children while at camp. She recorded by hand and kept almost everything. All this personal writing was above and beyond her professional writing – the articles and books she shared with the world. It is all amazing to me.

Now as my life opens up to more time and my body doesn’t feel the need to be running around the neighborhood as much I am returning to my half empty notebooks. I am recording a short paragraph about the day – what happened on this day in my life (boring or not) – the small moments. Then if the spirit moves me I continue to write about what ever pops up – news, creating drawings, garden thoughts or personal frustrations. I am working to let the rules slip away and learn to free write. It was something I tried to teach my students but realize I was never good at it myself. I could model it in a notebook for students but when I returned to my own personal notebooks at home I did not manage to let go of my self – imposed rules.

If one can’t let go of rules when you are in the late 60’s when can you!

So here is a toast to free writing and drawing, and to writing often and consistently!


Posted in journals, Reflection, writing | 5 Comments

Gardening is not a rational activity

“Gardening is not a rational activity.” ~ Margaret Atwood


My son asked me earlier this summer: “Why do you do this? You just keep doing the same thing every year. The weeds return, the bushes are to high for you to trim and you get frustrated. Wouldn’t it be easier to just hire someone to fix up the yard and then you can just sit and enjoy it?”

Although there are moments when that seems tempting — like right about now, when the weeds are quickly beginning to seed, the perennial bed has taken over and the veggies are ripening one at a time. Although the flower bed is Perennial jungle.JPGbeautiful, it is looking a bit chaotic.  It is also too hot some days to do anything about it. Everything is a little over grown. The tomatoes have once again proven to me that you can’t put that many in a raised bed — they are fighting for space, each one crawling over the other hoping to be the plant with branches on top of the pile.

Yes, tomato plant fight.JPGAtwood is right. Gardening is not a rational activity.

I don’t garden for the final product or because I think it is the rational thing to do. I do garden to get flowers and veggies to eat, but I garden for so many other reasons.

There are the practical reasons — health being one of them. I am outside in fresh air working my muscles and taking in a bit of Vitamin D. I am building strength and balance as I crawl around in the garden beds.

Mexican Sunflower 2.JPGThere are the emotional reasons — letting go. When gardening it is hard to think about anything but what is right in front of you (politics can be forgotten for a few minutes). I focus deeply on the task at hand. If  I am working with tools I focus on not hurting myself while using them. When weeding by hand I am focused on the weed I am pulling and the tension needed to bring the roots along, not breaking the plant off at the soil line.  orange tomato.JPG

There are the mental reasons — gardening takes thinking and problems solving. It is difficult to have an efficient garden without planning, designing and revising on an almost daily basis. No garden that I know of is planted and then left on its own. They need revising, cleaning and pruning as well at cutting and picking. It is an ongoing process — a process that makes you sort, organize, think mathematically, create, draw, and build.

Gardening uses all the habits of mind that teachers hope to instill in students –

  • Persistence — not giving up when the weather or bugs or whatever takes over
  • Managing Impulsivity — you really need to stop and think, not just yank out that crazy plant you just found. Is it a weed or something you were really growing?
  • Listening to Others with Understanding and Empathy — learning from others and helping others learn from you. Gardeners always need other gardeners.
  • Thinking Flexibly — everything is always changing day to day in the garden.
  • Thinking About Our Thinking (Metacognition) — reflection and understanding why we made those decisions. What choices did we make last spring and why
  • Striving for Accuracy and Precision — so things will grow.
  • Questioning and Posing Problems — this is a daily process during the growing season. Oh heck, it happens all year long. I spent a good part of the winter months thinking and questioning what I grew, how I responded to things and what I will do next spring.
  • Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations —what worked last year or what didn’t work and how can I improve what I am doing?

White ballon flowers .JPG

Gardening is not rational. There is no real reason why one would set themselves up to do this year after year. But we do. It is a love/hate relationship. One I could not live without!

So sorry son, I will continue to be that crazy, frustrated, happy gardener deep into my old age.  Hybiscus pink.JPG





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Summer Gardens –

IMG_5977.jpgIt has been awhile since I have written or at least written about my garden. It has been quietly – growing weeds and all. It was a rough start to the season and the gardens looked good but the lawn around them looked like someone had taken a blow torch to them. Large circles of dead grass which quickly turned to weeds left me feeling like I had no idea how to garden.

It took the month of June to get things under control and to feel like the yard was not a deserted lot. There was the weeding, then loosening of soil, seeding and covering to try and regain the grass. Then watering and letting things grow. It was great when I didn’t need to mow but when you are not mowing the weeds are growing faster and faster taking over any spot they can find. So I was back to crawling around on my knees chasing the weeds before they developed and scattered more seeds.

I did my share of complaining – first it was raining to much and every thing was way to wet. Then it turned hot and dry and I was out watering everyday. It seems the life of a gardener is full of tiny struggles. I actually think it is why we garden – gardeners are people who love to take on challenges and see if they can win over the craziness of nature and weather. Can we figure out what makes things tick in our little place on earth? And we might just like the complaining a bit as well. All that talking over the garden fence about weather!

IMG_5986.jpgFor all the ups and downs of this summer there have been great flowering delights that are fun to run into as I crawl around in the dirt looking for weeds. There have been a few veggies to eat as well – the lettuce and spinach were wonderful while they lated – the heat finally ended them for now. The radishes were great and now we are starting to eat tiny little carrots. Their flavor is amazing and I have to stop pulling them out of the ground and let a few grow up to bigger carrots. The tomatoes are growing like crazy but are still green. It will be weeks before we are eating those. The peppers are beginning to IMG_5988.jpgform and herbs are perfect for eating now. The smell and taste of fresh dill on salads or veggies can’t be beat. The basil and cilantro are being made into pesto to save for winter treats. When the harvest begins and the fresh flowers are on the table each day I remember why I put up with the rain, the heat and the bugs. IMG_5997.jpgIMG_5982.jpgIMG_5993.jpg


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walking and …

tangeltown.jpgIt was a cloudy Sunday afternoon and we decided to get a walk in before the day got away from us. We looked at the radar and the clouds. It was clear it would rain but not for awhile we could do this. We also decided to walk in an area not far from our house called Tangle Town. Yes, it is what you think – a series of streets that curve and angle in all directions, a place to get lost in. It is also set on the side of a variety of steep hills. A great place to walk. It is full of beautiful homes, hills to stretch your legs out, trees and gardens to get lost in.

I was internally reluctant to take this walk but Doug was excited to get a few more steps so I agreed. We drove over to the area and as we stepped out of the car Doug realized as quickly as I did that we had not been back in these lovely hills for about 2 years.

The last time we walked these hills was exactly this same time of year. It was beastly hot and I couldn’t do it. This was the washburn-water-tower.jpgtime I returned to the car to drink water feeling a bit sick while Doug climbed one more hill to the water tower and back. This was the time we realized in hind site I was starting to show signs of heart issues. In late August of that year I had a heart attack that we did not see coming but maybe should have.

So this return to the Tangle Town hills had me on edge, a bit teary eyed with the memory but feeling I could do it this time. The weather was cooler and I have been walking with ease for two years.

We started our walk at a good pace and talked through my hesitations and Doug’s understanding of why neither of us had suggested walking these hills until today. We rounded another corner and headed up a second hill through rows of Hosta plants, and shade trees, greeted a wonderful old dog who was taking his owner for a walk and then heard the thunder loud and clear.

We moved forward turning at the corner in the direction of the car thinking we had time. We did not – within seconds the rain began in large heavy drops. We headed for a group of trees hoping to wait it out. It quickly became clear that was not going to work as we stood getting wetter and wetter. So we took off for the car.

In a few minutes Doug was holding on to his shorts that were drooping and dripping much lower that any man his age should be wearing them. I coming up behind wondering how I was going to be able to get my tight jeans, that were now even tighter now that hey were soak, off. I also realized they were tighter than any woman my age should be wearing. We looked like drowned rats scurrying down the streets, across puddles and small lakes forming on the sidewalks.

rainThe rain continued and we wondered the curves and hills of Tangle Town knowing where our car was but not sure the quickest way there. A bit lost. The car was indeed up the highest hill to the water tower and over the other side. Suddenly I slowed a bit in our running walk to realize –

  • yes, I was soaking wet,
  • yes, I was basically running up and down hills,
  • yes, I was talking to Doug and not winded

YES, this was a beautiful day in the rain and I was just fine!

We were up and over the hill quickly, crawled into the car and drove home dripping as the sun came out to smile and to share in our joy of taking a simple walk in the rain.

What a pleasure it is to be walking the hills in the rain!


(Map and Tower photos are pull from an article written about the neighborhood.)



Posted in Reflection, weather | 2 Comments

OLW – One Little Word Revisited

Last year I used the word developing, the year before was breathe and before that I was using developing also. I had thought I was going to stay with developing since that seems to be what I am doing. It is a slow process. Change can happen fast when pushed from the outside but when you are making internal changes they are slow to grow and take time – years in fact. It takes years to develop bad habits and years to correct them. Well, at least for me.

In the act of wanting a new word for 2018 I chose to use evolve. It is closer to what I was imagining. The idea of continuing to learn, to expand ones knowledge, to promote growth is what I had in mind. I wanted 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.

So how are things going you ask?  My first response is I have a long ways to go. It is always easiest for me to see where I want to be and very hard to see what I have learned or how I have grown or changed. Our personal learning happens over time and it become a part of who we are which is great. It also means we don’t always see the changes we have made. It takes a bit of reflection or comments from friends to really see where we have evolved.

There are little changes – like how I eat. I have always eaten pretty well but now I realize I have really moved away from sugars, colas – the carbs that we all seem to crave. Now when I eat them I wonder why and realize one bite is really all I want, just a taste. I prefer to turn to nuts, veggies and a bit of protein and I am good to go. A small but great evolution in my eating.

My garden work and learning is on going – it always will be. I realize though that when I am reading garden books I know the biology of plants more, I recognize the Latin names a bit more or I understand the plant parts more without having to look them up. It takes time unless you are taking a class and forcing the learning through testing. (No, I am not interested in learning in that way any longer.)  I like reading and learning as I go. Although I realize finding a mentor or volunteering in a more formal garden might help me learn a bit faster.  So it is on the list of things to think about and find.

Writing is another place of evolving and I have to say that area has been sitting in a dark room not going any place – no evolution happening. I write my blog post once a week – well most weeks but it is the writing of fiction that I wanted to learn and now fear in some way. I know fear is a strong word and I was hesitant to use it but it fits. I have a children’s novel partially written then got stuck. Now a good year or more later I am still stuck. I am hiding in that dark room because I don’t know how to move forward. I can’t find the door to let in the light and air that I need to be able to write. The story line has come to an end in the middle of a plot.

I know as a writer I could put it away and start something new. I could re write the first chapters with the idea that it might spur me on. I could have others read it and give suggestions. ( I have done that one.) But for some reason I just keep coming back to the fact that I am not a writer. There is this feeling that I am a sham really. I am just hiding behind these quick and easy blog post but when it comes to the “real” work I can not convince myself that I can write – that I can take the novel and finish it. I can’t find the core. The heart is missing and I don’t know how to kick start it again. I can’t find the middle of my story and so there is no end. The door is closed.

So I am still evolving – we all are evolving – that is a good thing. I focus on my garden learning, my health and good eating. I keep myself busy with house hold download-2.jpgtasks and finishing projects like quilts and knitting that were started long ago but lurking in the dark corners of my computer and my mind is a piece of writing unfinished, and untouched for now. I am hoping that with time something will create a crack in the door that is shut so tightly right now – letting in a bit of new air and light so that I can try again.

I would like to find the writer in myself. I would like to become a story teller, a person who can share words with others in a longer format than 800 words of a blog post. Sometime I wonder if I am to old – to inclosed in my retired life to make the connections to the young students who zip around me.

I am in the stage of doubt, the writing naysayers have won for now and the writing sits waiting.

We will see we have six more months of 2018 maybe something will evolve.



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Internal Battles in the garden

IMG_5861.jpgYes, I am in the garden – well – really no I am not. I am sitting with garden books, and garden journals all around me. I should really be in the garden pulling weeds but I have an issue on hand that is creating an internal battle. So for now I am looking at the weeds, while reviewing garden books – really not garden books so much as books written by naturalists.

Let me explain – first I have to admit I am writing out this issue is hoping to find answers so bare with me in this fight. My guides in download-1.jpgthis battle are Aldo Leopold author of A Sand County Almanac ( read it if you have not – published in 1949) and Saving Tarboo Creek writing by Scott Freeman and Susan Leopold Freeman (2018). ( yes, Susan is the granddaughter of Aldo – cool! Right?)

download.jpgThese guys represent the re wilding side of nature. The on going efforts to return the land to a healthy state. They have and are working to heal old over worked farm land or forests that have been clear cut and streams that have been dammed or diverted making it impossible for fish to spawn. They are doing great things in their little corner of the wor

This leads me to my little plot of land. I sit in the middle of a big city. The land I live on and “own” for now is just one of many slots in a typical neighborhood. (I put quotes around the word own because I don’t really believe we ever really own the land. We borrow it for a time. No one owns the earth – really.)

The yard does not have an alley so it a bit longer in the back than most yards in our city and it butts up to the neighbors behind and his veggies garden. It is lovely. It is where my battle is happening.

After the heavy winter the grass did not come back in large sections, The weeds along the edges of the fence line have been winning the struggle between the two of us (really for years if I am honest) and we took down an old children’s fort leaving a large bare spot in another section of the yard. The weeds are having a hay day filling in this location. If you can picture it the yard is a bit of a mess right now. Added to this mess I choose this year to stop any yard treatment that controls the weeds. We have Aldo and Scott in part to thank for that decision.

So here I sit struggling with a yard of weeds that I can’t stay ahead of, the desire to move to more natural planting and no chemicals but wishing to have that beautiful green yard and gardens that one walks through like a premier garden. (the front gardens are a step towards those more cultured gardens – see photo of purple iris.) IMG_5852.jpg

The questions that loom are

  • Do I just call the lawn treatment guy and say come take care of these weeds and grow nice green lush grass?
  • Do I find help to dig up large sections of the yard and turn them into garden beds – a more cultured look with bushes and perennials?
  • Do I plant trees and bushes and let the area return to a more natural state?
  • I am in the middle of a city and how important is the concerns of my neighbors on what I do with my piece of land?
  • There is also the resale valve of this land – we am getting “old” and know that one day we will move. Will it sell if I create a small wild forest in my back yard?
  • I like flower gardens and cultured beds. I like well weeded gardens with crisp edges. The weeds are driving me crazy – can I really move toward letting go of the controlled city landscape?
  • How much energy do I have to create and maintain either landscape?
  • What is the cost of creating new garden beds with perennials over creating a more forested landscape and letting things take with own coarse?
  • Of Course there is the on going battle with the rabbits but that is a different issue – it does just shows up here if I think about adding a water feature in the back yard – the rabbits and raccoons would love it. Me – I am not crazy about wild rabbits and raccoons eating every plant I put in the ground.

So there lies the struggle – personal likes and dislikes, personal desires to save the planet through what I do in my little yard, money and energy.

For now it all comes down to – do I go out and weed or just let it sit until I make some bigger decisions?

This little piece of heaven is not bad looking in the photo below but get in close and the world changes. The wood off to the right is the remains of a fort – soon to be taken away leaving a fence line of weeds. The two small rectangles are old raised beds – one that contains rhubarb, horseradish and Jack in the Pulpits thanks to the birds. The other has volunteer onions and maybe strawberry plants next week due a donation from another gardener in the neighborhood. The rest of the brown is dead grass and open land from under the fort. The perennial garden beds that line the left side and back fence are growing nicely if I can just keep chasing the weeds.


So continues my journey into responsible planting and gardening – I will keep you posted on what happens – do I keep it a city landscape with lovely garden beds or find a way to let the woods take over allowing the critters, that I often fight with, take over.

I guess the question should be is there a middle ground? Can I find the space in between the cultured city beds and the letting go for the development of a mini wild forest? We certainly don’t need with much grass to mow, chemically treat and stare at.

Do you have thoughts to help me?  Which side of the battle are you on?

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Early Summer Gardens

It is now June – a lovely month. Here in the northern mid west we move between 80 degree days and 55 degree nights. (We will not talk about the four days of 99 to 100 degree heat that showed up a few weeks ago.) There are cool mornings, sometimes with fog. IMG_5862.jpgThere are green trees and rich blue skies. There is moisture on the grass each morning when I walk the garden with a sweatshirt on. But at 10 am I am in short sleeves and starting to find places out of the sun to do my weeding.

The veggie garden is planted and growing nicely. Things are small but it is Minnesota we will not get our veggies until August. Although the salad garden is providing us IMG_5849.jpgwith lettuce, spinach, cilantro and radishes right now. We are eating lots of salads before the weather turns truly hot and everything bolts and goes to seed.

The tulips are long past and the Iris and Peonies have taken their place. They will last another week or so and then we go into the green phase. There is one last blooming bush. The Weigela is blooming with cheery red flowers.

The mid summer flowers will not bloom until IMG_5853.jpglate June so IMG_5846.jpgmost gardener’s have planted a few annuals to kept the color going until the cone flowers, begonias, and lilies are ready to bloom.

IMG_5856.jpgThis year the front garden looks great. The grass is green the beds are finally settling into a nice cycle of plants. There is weeding to do but most of the beds are just fine with a little clean up now and again.

The back garden is another story all together. First the grass decided to not grow. There are large spots of just a few weeds and dirt. The large perennial bed that borders the back fence was taken over by Creeping charlie and other weeds. We have also taken down the children’s play fort leaving a large dirt area to be taken care of as well. In other words it is a mess. IMG_5840.jpg

Some moments I am overwhelmed and think I can’t do this there is just to much here to tackle. Then I think wait a minute this gives me a clean slate to make big changes. I can IMG_5860.jpgadd bushes or a fruit tree. I could design a new garden. Then reality hits once more and I think about my age and I realize I am planning a garden for the 30 year old me. I have to remember it is tricky to lift heavy rocks with arthritic fingers, it takes longer to dig and turn soil when you are in your mid sixties then when I was thirty.  Everything is just a bit harder. It is not a – I can’t do – it is a remember to plan in small steps. It is a remember which jobs I can do and which jobs I need to hire someone for. The trick is hiring someone!

All of it is the life of a gardener. Each year begins the cycle over. There will always be new garden beds to make, plants that need replacing, grass that is not growing or growing to much and weeds to pull. It keeps me active and thinking. I think that is a good thing.

Happy Summer everyone! IMG_5859.jpg

This lovely little plant that is beginning to bloom is a Lupine. Remember the children’s book Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney – she was planting Lupines to make the world more beautiful – one plant at a time and so am I.




Posted in gardens, nature, Reflection | 3 Comments