Mouse droppings, more than 100 year old bag of hair and emotions

DSC04397.jpgIt was 39 degrees, windy, and cloudy as we pull the skeleton key out from under the linoleum tile that covers the old dresser on the back porch. We wiggle it in the lock, push open the door and enter a kitchen that was added to the house in 1883. (The original house was built in 1867.)

We have entered the family farm house in southern Iowa. It is colder inside than out since my cousin had not been able to light the gas stove sitting in the corner of the kitchen. We are here with a couple other cousins to clean out the junk that has been here since the beginning of time, which for this house is 150 years.

No one has lived in the house since 2002 when my Aunt Inez passed away. She was the last of my mothers siblings to live in the house but the house remained furnished and ready for use all these years.  About a year ago a few of us began to clear out items of emotional value. We sorted, took pictures and asked the larger family what pieces they might like to have. Dressers went, some dishes went, a few old, old items from the attic left each time we had a farm meeting. Slowly we were providing new homes for very old DSC02368.jpgfamily things.

This trip was about the stuff – the old junk that no ones wants. The sticky Tupperware, chipped drinking glasses, old knives, rusty tools, lots and lots of plastic flowers and vases were left behind for us to throw. We made quick work of what was left in the kitchen and then with frozen fingers climbed to the second floor. I continued on up to the top attic and began to hand down the vases, Christmas decorations, text books belonging to my Grandfather and Aunts.  Foot warmers, tin cans that at one time held paint but had been cleaned and saved in case they might be needed were also there. The list goes on and on. I watched for mouse dropping although in honesty they were mainly in the second floor attic. The top attic really only had bird skeletons.

Most of this stuff I passed down the narrow steps with a laugh and a shake of my head. So much stuff saved over so many years. As I worked around the attic I came to a row of heavy winter quilts draped over a support beam. I pulled them down and realized I was holding blankets that my Great Grand parents, my Grandparents and my Mother plus aunts and uncles had all slept under. They were not in the best of shape but to realize these squares had been hand sewn by my distant family was startling. They had been tied and knotted and used on the beds still in the rooms below me and to cover families legs on the horse drawn carriage during the cold Iowa winters.

My eyes began to tear and I found myself choked up. I stood marveling at the history I held in my hands. The cousins below me called up to see if I was ok as I was not handing things down and it was clear I was struggling with something, I quickly assured them it was just the dust getting to my lungs but I was fine. I had mixed emotions about tearing up old woolen quilts. Who wants these and yet I couldn’t quite let them go. I just stood holding them as my history slipped into my hands.

I finally, slowly handed down six or seven of these heavy quilts. Why the mice had not gotten to them I do not know but I continued on my journey of looking in trunks and boxes and handing them down the steps. I was nearing the end and had handed down a download.jpgbeautiful  black bowler hat in perfect condition, at least 5 boxes of Christmas plastic Ivy and 6 to 8 antique suitcases when I found a grain bag laying on the floor.

This burlap bag was not sealed in any way and so I peered in but in the dark of the attic it was hard to see. I walked over to the small window facing the front of the house and reached in to pull out what looked like yarn skeins. My hands had on my black stretch gloves to keep them a bit warm so I was not able to feel the texture to the item I had picked up. Once out of the bag I knew immediately that I was holding my Grand Grandmother’s hair. Also maybe hair of my Great Aunts. It was a blondie grey in color and twisted into perfect pony tails.

I knew that my family had made a hair wreath and framed it years ago. It now hangs in the Swedish Museum across the street. I did not know that they had kept a large bag full of hair up in the attic. At this point I was not sure it I was grossed out or emotional overwhelmed with the fact that I could literally touch my distant relatives.

This item I brought down the steps myself to share with the two husbands and cousins who were joking, sorting and hanging out on the second floor bedrooms. They also stopped short to just stare. Amazing what my family had chosen to save over the last 150 years.

We slowly worked at recovering from this exploration into the family history of things, the customs and traditions of our family stored in the attic over all these years. Our lungs full of mold, dust and whatever comes off of mouse dropping and dead birds we staggered out into the rainy cold afternoon.

Lots of items went into bags and on to the back of a rusted out old pick up truck to be gotten rid of. Other items now sit sorted out on the bedrooms to be taken to junk shops, Value Village or who ever else we can find that might use these items of long ago.

The heavy old quilts, the black bowler hat and an antique woman’s vibrating machine ( I am not even going to begin to explain that one) was left in the back bedroom. We DSC02358.jpgcouldn’t let go of them but didn’t know what to do with them. So they will stay there until next spring when the world thaws out, the rock garden in the side yard begins to bloom and we can once again think about what to do with all this history.

I walked away with a small slate board that my grandfather must has used in elementary school, a fourth grade reading that belonged to one of my aunts ( copyright 1911) and more memories and emotions I am not sure what to do with. I am not an overly sentimental person but it is a wonder to hold your family history in your hands, to feel the labor of past in the stitches of blankets, to hold the worn and beat up slate board and to read the passages my family has read before.

History that is personal stirs up so many thoughts – the past lives of family, our current lives and the future. What will my kids and maybe grandkids think as they go through our things?

What things do we save? We are currently working hard to clean out and hand off items for others to use. It makes we wonder what personal history are we leaving behind.




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Seasonal Changes and Feeling Blessed

The sun is shinning, the sky is blue and I am ready for my morning walk. One short mile, as fast as I can, around the two local schools. I head out even though I hear the wind through the windows. I know the temperature has dropped over night but we have still not had that deep heavy frost. We are hovering between 31 degrees in the wind and 40 in a protected sunny spot. leaves.JPG

I make it up the short hill and head east with the wind at my back. My scarf is blowing and I am glad I have chosen the felted mittens over the small stretch gloves. As I round the second corner and head west the full force of the wind hits me in the face. It takes my breath away and I slow to steady myself against its force. The wind coming from the northwest is making small leaf tornados in the path before me.

It is a reminder that winter is coming and fall is well on its way out. The leaves are being forced by the wind to leave the trees bare. The dark brown structure of the trees are left to stand guard over the garden for the winter. The flowers are browning at the edges wherever they remain. The leaves pile up along the fences and the Spice bush has finally turned red fences and leaves.JPGat the top. spice bush.JPG

Last night I wondered the front garden after dark hunting for the last good flowers to cut and bring into the house. There were a few yellow Mums, three Calendula and two roses ready to open. They now sit on the dinning room table in a small vase.

Next years tulips are all planted, all 125 of them. I can tell by the slight ache in my back. The hoses have been disconnected. The raised beds are almost clear – waiting for the hard frost to kill the Nasturtiums and hoping the carrots I planted in early August my grow just a bit more in the last of the beds.  The raspberries, the new red stem Dogwood and the perennials in the rock garden have been mulched hoping to protect them from the harsh winter cold. small flower vase.JPG

The seasons are turning as they do each year. It is easy to see and feel the external movement when you live in the north land. The colors go from shades of green to shades of yellows and reds. Then quickly to browns and finally end and begins the new year with a world of white. The temperature follows along going from summer heat to cool fall and then the deep freeze of winter.

We are in mid transition now – it is Autumn.  Everything is half way between the long green summer days and the long crips cold winter nights. As people we are also riding this seasonal turn. The switching of clothes, the adding of blankets to the bed and turning the heat on and the lights come on by 5:30 pm if you want to see what you are doing. Some of us are moving from outdoor activities to indoor. (Hmm – should I be looking for an indoor track for my morning walks?)

I know as the weeks past that I will complain about the cold and by February I will be tried of the white, my arthritic hands will hurt and I will long for spring. I will crave the seasonal change once more. I will be looking for the first warm days, the first sign of green anywhere in the garden.

I hate to admit it but it is the seasonal changes that keep me happy. The change in the play of light and temperature. The repeated battle with nature to keep a garden growing tree structureJPG.JPGin the northland. The inspiration of the trees as they stand through the heavy winter weather and then easily green up each spring to smile at us through the summer.

So although I was swearing at the wind this morning as I rounded that second corner I was also smiling as I felt the seasons turn a corner one more time, felt the power that nature has to continue its death and growth cycle each year. I felt blessed to be here on this earth for another year.

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Shoes – it’s the foundation that counts

old shoes.JPGShoes have been my focus for the last few weeks. After a heart attack a year ago walking has been a daily event – walking to the drug store, walking to get groceries, walking to have dinner with friends, walking the lake or the neighborhood. This summer I also added in a one mile speed walk each morning (unless it is raining).  I wake up throw jeans on put shoes on and am out the door for 20 minutes or less. I am working to bring that time down to one mile in about 15 minutes. I am not there yet.

So what does this have to do with shoes?  It was about 3 weeks ago I discovered that I was basically walking with little to no sole on my shoes. My legs and hips were starting to hurt and I kept getting mad at myself for being old. The old lady who can’t even walk a mile??!!

It was then that I looked at the bottom of my shoes – the foundation on which I was depending on was shot. An easy fix I thought. Off to the Sports Mart to replace my shoes to find it had been replace by a baby store. Off to REI camping store to discover they did not carry the shoe I knew fit my thin, high arched foot. I talked with the sales person and we found a new shoe I was sure would be great. It felt wonderful on my feet. It was just right – so I thought.

I headed home, wore the shoe around to break it in and the next morning was out walking my walk.  About half way through my one mile my calfs were hurting but I kept going.  Day two new shoes I walk to find my heel sore and my calf  now burning as I climb the hills at my mid walk. Day three I stretched more after day two walking, I stretched more to begin day three and yet there I was mid way around the park when I had to slow down and walk gently home. I was depressed and upset about my old lady legs and pondered the problem. download-1.jpg

Foundation matters I told myself. I have new shoes but …   As I looked at the shoes and my feet I began to realize that these shoes were great for a runner. They were water proof, flexible in the toe box, light weight and snug on my feet. I am not a runner. I am a walker and how my foot hits the ground and how it moves from heal to toe as a walker (not toe to heal as a runner) was throwing off my gait. It was causing sore calfs, off balanced hips, a sore back and a bad mood on my half. I did not have a foundation that would work for me.

This time I connected with a friend who works at a running store and yelled for help. I needed a good walking shoe – I needed the right foundation. We meet at this small shop filled with runners and running gear.  Argh!!!  I am not a runner but there was my friend. We looked at my feet, my needs for the shoe and he brought me boxes – stacks of boxes with shoes to try.  I walked the store, I walk up and down the block, I put extra supports in and took them out and finally came up with a shoe that fits for my feet.

Heading home I worried – I had now dropped another chunk of money on shoes and still wondered if it was just old lady legs and hips. Am I too old for this speed walking business? I had the added worry that I knew I need this speed walk to keep my cholesterol down – I need to work my heart daily! I needed to work this muscle, all my muscles. These shoes needed to work!


I wore them around the house, I wore them for a slow walk to the store – breaking them in. The next day the speed walk test began. I started in the crisp early fall morning and mid way through my walk I was still moving. My legs were fine. My heel was not hurting and my speed was back up. I sighed relief in that indeed it was the foundation that made a difference. (Both bad and good)

A week later still speed walking, still wearing the second pair of shoes, still feeling good about what I can do – I thought more generally about foundations. The floor that we lay down for our children, students or ourselves as learners. I thought about what it takes to build a solid footing to grow, to walk on solid ground without a great deal of pain and struggle. There will always some aches, some issues – it takes work to grow new muscles and to keep them in shape (brain and heart muscles included).

It is a team that needs to be there with a variety of information and support. Learning, and growing new or stronger muscles takes a community.  The community can be people, books, the internet but we need others to provide support. We all need a good foundation on which to grow and strengthen. It takes awhile to sort out what that foundation should be. It takes exploration, conversation and learning to know how to shore up the bottom so the rest can stand tall or walk fast.

I now know more that I think I needed to about shoes, walking and running (Thank you Bill N) but I also know that seeking support can help us keep going!

Who do you turn to to help keep your foundation strong?


PS: A good adult read about family and the lack of and need for a good foundation in our 51WmbJ7d4lL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpglives is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  Sorry – the gardener in my couldn’t help but add this in.  A story of foster care, family loss, resilience and flowers. A story of a child without a foundation, no roots and how she struggles to find her footing in life.

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Coming to an end

It is Monday night and there was the mad dash to cover, and pull plants into the house. I have been gambling day by day know that the end was near but hoping to push one more day out of the garden plants.

The word went out tonight, emails from garden centers and friends – frost warming. The dreaded drop in temperature that brings most things in the garden to a stop. I am in the heart of the city so I know we have a chance of making it through this warming. It is a “lite warming”  not a hard frost as might be expected in mid October.

The tomatoes have a big sheet over them and look a bit like a boat floating in my front yard. The Begonia plant on the deck has a lovely yellow and orange blanket over it and is all tucked in for the night. begonia.JPG

The peppers – well sorry but they will just have to tough it out. I picked every last pepper that was growing and just walked away. The beets and carrots will be fine they are under ground and tough characters.

The flowers – well the mums will do fine but the nasturtiums, who are crawling all over the front yard, will fade under the cold I am sure. The Cone flowers, Calendula and the Chinese Foxglove have been fading for weeks so it is time to let them go, the frost can do its thing.

sedum red.JPGThe Sedum has turned a deep red that I have never seen before and I am sure will weather this lite frost, I hope.

It is time but letting go it hard. I can’t bring all that color into the house but I would love to. I want to hold the shades of green and the bright yellows and reds close so that I can weather the long dark nights of winter. I want to hang on so I have something fresh to smell and see when we are fighting the cold sharp winter days of January.

The yellows, reds and oranges of the trees will sustain me for a few more weeks and then they will fall and leave me to the shorten days and long nights.

The growing season is coming to an end. My plastic pots are cleaned and stacked waiting for new seeds in the late winter. The grow light table sits bare in the basement also waiting for that day in mid winter with I turn the lights on, find the seeds, potting mixture and we begin again.


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It’s funny how we build relationships with things like houses, or an old car or a favorite images-1.jpgchair. At some point they wear out or you move and for awhile there is a hole in our daily lives. A missing of that familiar item.

It appears you can have that relationship with trees. I know I am a gardener so maybe that has something to do with it but still.

There is a hole in my being that I did not expect and I am struggling to deal with it. It is a little struggle, one that is close to home and not as overwhelming as our national struggles. It is just something that I notice several times each day. Oh, its gone or wow the light it different here at this time of the day.

Let’s start at the beginning. I have had a love/hate relationship with an elm tree at the edge of my backyard. It is a scrub tree that grew on its own from a seed thrown to the wind by the giant elm in the front yard. It landed close to the fence on the south side of the yard. It is in the neighbors yard so it was not my place to move it or cut it down when it was young. I did go about trimming and removing those little seedling on my side of the fence that I knew were bound for trouble in the future. They were to close to the fence or to close to the house. They were in a location that was not going to work.

But this elm, I will call him Little Elm, was left to grow and grow he did. I must say he was a beautiful tree. There were summers when I trimmed the lower branches. There was also the summer I had the tree trimmers out to get all the Buckthorn out of the yard and trim the bushes. I asked the neighbors then if they wanted to take Little Elm down before he reached the roof line of the houses or grew into the fence. No they did not want to spend the money on it just them and it was a beautiful tree. So Little Elm continued to grow.

By day I would get frustrated with the heavy shade it now cast on the veggie garden and the need to create a new garden else where. I would think about that fact that it now was beginning to push the chain link fence over towards my yard. I was watching the limbs spread over the roof line of both of our houses and wonder about the next summer storm.

Moon in tree.JPGBy night my love of Little Elm showed up. Once in bed my view out the window was of the branches reaching skyward. I used them as my gage for the wind and storms. I watched for the moon that got caught in his branches some evenings. In the late winter early spring I was sure I could see the growth of the limbs and would watch for spring leaves to unfurl. Little Elm was my touch stone before going to sleep and when I woke up in the morning. I even posted a few pictures of this tree out the window.

This summer the trees have been growing like crazy -lots of sun and lots of rain. The neighbor to the north needed to trim his giant maple to remove crossing branches and those that have reached over roof tops and decks. It was during this time I noticed the neighbor to the south also talking with a tree trimmer. She had discovered a tree that was rotting and was unsafe. I also shared with her that Little Elm was pushing the fence and resting branches on their roof line and soon it would be mine as well. I left it at that and waiting to see what would happen. I knew this tree should really be removed. My day time self knew what the trimmers would say.

Weeks pasted the tree remained and we headed to the north woods for a few days of hiking and visiting friends. I did not even think about the gardens or trees we were off exploring the woods and lakes of Wisconsin.  I had my fill of all kinds of trees and critters besides.

We returned home in the evening. I unpacked and wondered what was different. The light in the house seemed odd. It was late and I was tired so I curled up to read. After turning out the light to sleep I check Little Elm to say good night and realized there was a hole in the sky. No branches to be seen.

A quick trip to the deck told me the trimmers had returned and taken Little Elm. There along the fence line was a hole. All that remained was a few bits of saw dust and  the stump.

I should have been glad. My back garden will now have light, the lilacs will bloom next year due to more sunlight and the rock garden will also handle more sun loving plants.  Yet my heart was sad. My morning and evening touch stone was gone and I did not even see it go.

I know in the long run it is a good thing. Poor Little Elm was just in a bad spot here in the city. It was a tree that would need to come down at some point but still it was hard to see him gone. I still look for his branches at night and now look further out into the yard for a new tree to follow.

Relationships are funny. No words need to pass, just a daily checking in will due. A nod, a smile and a tap on the truck and we have a friend. Little Elm you will be missed.

Ok – I also have to admit that it didn’t help that just as I discovered the loss of Little Elm I began reading Katherine Applegate’s new kids book Wishtree. It is a story of relationships told from the view point of the tree. A great story – go find a kid to read it to and you will understand how I feel. download.jpg


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It’s Monday! What are you Reading? -everything

My reading has been shifting to more adult reads as I spend less and less time with students. That said I have not stepped away completely from kids lit.

So here are a few of the books I am in the middle of:

Children’s Books:

  • The Mystery of  Drear House – book two from Virginia Hamilton
  • The List by Patricia Ford
  • The Explorer by Katherine Rundell
  • The Van Gogh Deception by Deron Hicks
  • Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Adult Books:

  • A Good Time for the Truth: Race In Minnesota 
  • The Little Paris Book Shop by Nina George
  • A Letter of Mary: A Mary Russell Mystery by Laurie R. King
  • The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
  • A Northeast Gardener’s Year by Lee Reich
  • Emily Dickinson’s Garden by Marta Mc Dowell


It was a busy September and so I was reading bits and pieces of everything. There are in both areas escape books -the easy, fun read. There are the serious books that I need to think about and then re read and share with others. All of them have me thinking and learning.

It is now October 2nd – a dark and raining day I am have decided it is time to settle down and finish each of these. Next week I will share just a bit about those I have finished.

Happy Reading Folks!





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What makes a writer – am I a writer?

I think most of us who write and publish only through a blog post play around with the idea of what makes a writer. Am I a writer? Can I call myself a writer?  Maybe I am a writer but not an author. I at least at this point in my life have not published a book so I am not an author but can I call myself a writer? I do have a blog I write for – really I have two blogs – although one is often lost in the shuffle of my everyday life.

In my mind it comes down to the difference between a writer and an author. There are lots of us who write – we write journals, blog posts, speeches, notes to your classrooms, letters to parents, staff, and family. We write – there for we are writers. Correct?

Ah but then my mind goes racing to the thoughts of those writers who write daily. They feels that need to put words to the page (paper or digital) every single day. They keep their journal going, they post on their blog often. Words just tumble out of them and they really can’t help it. My husband is one of those writers although he also has books he has worked on that are published so he fits into the author category as well. He writes daily, It is clear he is at a loss if he has not taken time to sit down with his computer to write at least sometime during the day. He has to write. He is part of the people I think of as “real writers.”

So where do I fit into this term writer? I love to write but often find it hard. I don’t have to write daily but after not writing for a few days or weeks I am out of sorts and feel the need to sit down to write something, anything. I am part of a writers group that meets about once a month or so. I have several books started but not finished or finished but not in a state I am willing to have edited or sent to a publisher.

I write and I write a lot compared to many folks I know but I can’t keep a journal going, I can’t seem to finish my manuscripts and I have fallen off the wagon in regards to my blogs. The last I posted was August 22  (how could I not I was watching the eclipse).

These 750 words really are just me playing with the idea of what I think a writer should be. The should is the problem. I watch, listen and read the words of so many wonderful writers and I think I am a “want to be” writer. I want to do that! Write!

I want to be more consistent with my writing. I want to finish my manuscripts. I want to kick up my garden blog and post more often. I need to get back to my Words from JL blog and post weekly.  I find myself being a sometime writer but a want to be full time writer.

Publishing would be great but not really a major goal of mine. For me it is the desire to write consistently, the ability of keep a journal going or a blog going. I seek the ability to persist at the task of writing daily even if I find it hard.

I have never been good at daily tasks. When teaching elementary grades I was terrible at teaching the calendar – it was a daily task and I just didn’t care. I was lucky to find some kids who liked that routine and I just assigned it to them and let them take care of it. Exercise and yoga are always hard for me – I know I need it. It feels great when I can do it 5 or 7 days in a row but I always fall off and then I always come back. Right now I am working on a daily speed walk each morning. (I have made it one whole month – not bad for me!)

I guess my writing is much the same way. I am good for a few weeks and then I get side tracked but I always find my way back to the page. I am a sometime – want to be full time writer.

I guess I really can’t complain or worry to much. I at least come back to words and find my way into writing every few weeks. Heck ,what is in a name really?  So for today as I sit on a sunny fall afternoon and write I will call myself a writer!

How about you? Do you have a regular writing routine or are you a sometime writer like me?  What keeps you writing or what stops you?  Have you thought about how your students feel about being writers? If we find it hard to write daily what about them?

I end this post with no real answers just thinking about how to be a daily writer and what helps to make our students daily writers as well!  But I do know now we should call ourselves writers even when we are not daily writers! Writers are people who write!


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