Tuesday, July 15, 2014

EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: Summer Gratitude, Summer Perspective

Nice font, don’t you think? Well, maybe it's more the color.

One of my son’s pet peeves is the misuse of fonts in an overall design. I see his point every time I look at a website that has several different fonts within one page, or a business card (why, yes, people still use those) with four different fonts in that little 2”x3” space. That always sends me to my computer to see what I can come up with on my own for a design and then I eventually land here, on my blog, to play around. 

This time I thought I’d actually publish the silly little post I was having fun with.

But it’s hard to read, isn’t it? Hot pink italics do not make for an easy scan of an article.

Ah, there, that’s better. Why, oh why, do people sacrifice readability for some goofy font they think is cool? 

Just as I got today’s gripe out of the way, I met up with another one. As I was typing this post, my landline (soon to be abolished) rang. Since there are only about two people who call me on that line, I answered. Shouldn’t have done that. It was the Minnesota DFL calling to inform me of what’s happening politically right now and ask for money. Both things drive me crazy. I read the paper. I know what’s going on, mostly. And I haven’t won the lottery lately, so stop asking this parent who has a kid in college for money. Go away. I’m going to vote as I see fit no matter how many times you call me.

But I am stalling. Can you tell? This is what happens to a writer in full summer mode, who would rather be outside than in. A writer who spent the beginning of the day on a long, fast-paced walk with her dogs that took us to the nearby Reservoir Woods

Now that’s a summer thing to do. As I took Ruby the Irish terrier and Truffles the miniature dachshund on the paved trail among trees, birds, and filtered morning sun, I felt something other than my muscles working. That something was gratitude. It’s a feeling I’ve been working hard to encourage in myself as the summer progresses and it always emerges when I walk outside in my own neighborhood. We are so lucky to live in a walkable community with green space large enough that a person can pretend to be far from the city for a few minutes. We have spaces here in Roseville where we can be still or walk fast without fear of being bombed or shot or taken prisoner. We can wave to other people without it being taken the wrong way. We can return to a house that is secure with dependable utilities. 

This gratitude gets magnified every time I read the newspaper, every time I see a photo of what’s going on in the Middle East right now. It gets mixed with sorrow for the people who live there. It gets magnified when I read about what’s happening across my own metro area, when some kid gets hurt by their own family. It gets mixed with questions about what I should be doing to make the world a better place from this very safe spot where I have the good fortune to live. Volunteer more? Donate more? Raise awareness more? Be less quiet?

Big questions for someone in summer mode. But they certainly make those little gripes that kicked off this column seem like nothing. 

Nothing. I have absolutely nothing to complain about and I am thankful.

Why, yes, we've exercised today. Thank you for your concern.

Friday, July 11, 2014

First Five Fragments for Friday - Lazy Summer Edition

Your weekly offering of writing/art prompts.

What time is it as I write this? Oh, yeah, it's afternoon....2:09 p.m., to be exact. This post is not quite the first thing I did today.

Sometimes, regular blog posts need a shot in the arm. A nice big shot of interest. I think that's true for First Five Fragments for Friday. It's been a regular feature on this blog for a long time and I'm feeling the need to let it rest for the remainder of the summer so it can percolate. Writing weekly prompts has gotten to be stale.

In the meantime, my regular Eat, Write, Digest column will continue. Read, share, comment.

Enjoy the rest of your summer.

"It's summer, baby. Lay back." - Truffles, the mini dachshund

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: Got Good Dirt?

It all started with a flat of impatiens, those ubiquitous summer shots of color that Minnesota gardeners adore. The month of June was rainy that year and Mick and I were headed to our first overseas trip together, to Helsinki of all places. 

I was moving into Mick’s house. My son, who was just finishing fourth grade, was excited that Mick had a cat and a yard and we would not be constrained by apartment life any longer. It was the end of the school year, but the Helsinki trip overlapped with the last few days of school, so Shawn went to stay with my parents for a few days. He would later stay with my friend Sharon, whose son was the same age. We were crazily packing up, moving items out of the apartment and into Mick’s house, but would finalize the move once we returned from overseas. 

Mick’s yard had a flower garden. He is a gentle sort of guy who loves plants and animals and I began my gardener’s education with him. We acquired a bunch of impatiens somehow - I think it was my friend Sharon who had excess - and we had only a couple of days before our flight left to get those flowers in the ground.

We ended up throwing them into the dirt early on the day we left.  It misted while we set 48 little plants into the beds along two sides of Mick’s yard. Wet, muddy, but triumphant that we’d actually planted the impatiens, we cleaned up and took off. We just hoped the flowers would survive while we were gone. 

Survive they did. We returned to an impatiens explosion in the back yard, where weather had been just right for unattended growth. I remember being enchanted with the bright little petals as they balanced the green of Mick’s hostas and grass. And I thought, hey, growing flowers isn’t too hard.

Of course, those flowers, which aren’t native to Minnesota, are easy to grow. Nothing eats them. Squirrels sometimes dig them up with abandon (I think there is actually an ongoing plot by squirrels everywhere), but impatiens are impervious to much of what Minnesota throws at them in the summer.

Today, Mick and I don’t plant a lot of impatiens. We’ve expanded our gardening knowledge to include native plants, fruits, vegetables, herbs. We’ve plopped native river birch that our neighbors dug up at their cabin into the low spot in our back yard, where snowmelt accumulates every spring. Those birch are thriving. We’ve given milkweed from my husband’s uncle’s farm a new home on the side of our house, where we can see it outside the kitchen window. At this time of year, it emits a lovely sweet scent while butterflies and bees move continually over the flowers. We’ve learned about columbine, butterfly weed, swamp milkweed, sumac, goatsbeard, penstemon, daisies, bee balm, yarrow. We’ve nurtured a bur oak and a pin oak. We’ve learned which nurseries carry northern perennials and read about flowers that actually hurt bees and other creatures because genetic modifications have made their beauty toxic.

I’ve even learned to walk next to bees without panicking, unless they’re wasps or hornets. Honey bees have a soothing collective buzz when they are working together in the fragrant hyssop that grows behind our garage. It’s almost hypnotic to watch them on a hot summer afternoon, when they seem too busy to notice anything but the flowers. 

When I think back to those impatiens that first got my attention, I see a young woman who had no idea that digging in the dirt was going to play such a large role in her life. That woman was so busy raising a son and scrambling to pay the rent on time that nurturing another form of life wasn’t an option. Mick’s proposal and my acceptance that we make a life together changed all that. Throwing impatiens into a garden bed before going with Mick to a science conference in Finland was the beginning of a grand adventure. And, now, I can’t imagine life without Mick or a lot of garden soil. 

Good dirt grows a lot more than flowers.

Mick's uncle's milkweed

Butterfly weed


Fragrant hyssop

Friday, July 4, 2014

First Five Fragments for Friday - Fourth of July Edition

Your weekly offering of writing/art prompts.

Five words for today:

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

Public domain photo by Jon Sullivan. http://www.public-domain-image.com/miscellaneous/firework/slides/fireworks-red.html

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: Urban Wildlife, Suburban Coexistence

This morning, we saw a red fox trot across Roselawn Avenue. She (he?) moved swiftly, eyes on Mick, me, and our two dogs as she stayed whatever course she was on. We stopped, watched her, happy for this vision we don’t witness very often.

“Go, fox, go!” I said. I hoped she wouldn’t get run over; people were just starting to leave home for this day’s work.

But that fox reminded me how wildlife surprises us all the time with an insistence on maintaining territory, fighting to stay until forced out. Roseville, where we live, is a first-ring Twin Cities suburb and has been here, encroaching on wildlife, for decades. That there are a lot of parks in Roseville helps provide places for foxes, coyotes, owls, deer, rabbits, and other creatures to stick around in spit of the oblivious humans who mess with their habitats. 

I adore seeing these creatures. Not everyone agrees.

Not long ago, in another suburb to the north of us, an argument about people feeding deer when other people want to keep the deer away boiled over into someone getting shot to death. The deer, presumably, are fine. When I read the story, I kept wondering what else was involved in this very human disagreement because it seemed ridiculous that the deer situation was the whole story. Of course, it wasn’t. We learned later that the families feuded over lots of things, but the deer-feeding became a catalyst that tipped bad behavior into the realm of murder. These people who were feuding were not farmers who depend on crops for their livelihood and, perhaps, have larger concerns with which creatures get to feast from their efforts. These people, rather, were fellow suburbanites who vehemently disagreed about how to coexist. 

These are the sort of people whom I imagine not stopping for a fox who crosses the road. Or for young geese.

Young geese are plentiful around here. Last Saturday, as I drove north on Rice Street (accidentally, thanks to a closed on-ramp for Highway 36), traffic came to a stop. I was quite far from any traffic light, so I wondered what was going on. I couldn’t see the reason until traffic moved again a few minutes later. There they were on the side of the road: a whole family of geese that included two adult geese and a whole bunch of adolescent geese. I did momentarily wonder if teenaged geese are as challenging as teenaged humans, and then I felt grateful that an entire line of traffic stopped to let this feathered family find their way across a busy road.

That is coexistence. How does this concept get so bungled among people? 

Once, when my family was on a bike ride along a path from Roseville’s Arboretum to Central Park, we came around a curve and nearly ran right into a doe. She stood for just a moment in the middle of the path, her brown eyes looking at us with what we would have called concern, before she twitched ears, nose, and tail, and bounded away. My daughter Abby was still in grade school and she was enchanted with this encounter. I was grateful for the deer’s deft footwork as we all squeezed our bike brakes and wished for a longer look at her. But she was gone in a flash, out of the way of our bikes and those of other riders behind us. It was a Sunday morning and we were taking part in the community bike ride for Roseville’s annual Rosefest. We have not had such a beautiful meeting on that path since.

But those foxes. They get to me. Last fall, two foxes sunned themselves in my back yard. I watched them for nearly half an hour from the living room window. I got my camera and long lens, shot photos of them through the glass. The dogs were sleeping in other rooms, blissfully unaware that these creatures took up space in their yard. In the end, it was me who drove the foxes away. I cracked a window open and the small noise of the window sliding in the frame was enough to make them both look up, twitch ears, vanish. I was so sad that I disturbed them, amazed at how sharp their hearing was, and so, so grateful that they had stayed in our garden for that little while. I wanted to tell them to come back, that they were welcome. 

If only I could have spoken in their language. I’m sure they would have heard me.

These are the lovely creatures who graced my back yard.

Friday, June 27, 2014

First Five Fragments for Friday

Your weekly offering of writing/art prompts.

Out the door early this morning, to take my Outlander in for new tires. Slow wi-fi connection in the waiting area resulted in a couple of hours during which I allowed myself to sink into reading an actual paperback that I held in my hands. The book, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I've actually been reading for a few weeks in very small snippets, is a lovely book to wander through. An enforced time to sit and disconnect makes for a really nice Friday morning, followed by a field trip to downtown St. Paul to see what's flooded. By the way, Fort Snelling State Park is closed due to flooding if you, like me, had any thoughts of meandering over there for a closer view of the water. Can't get past the front gate.

Here are today's fragments/prompts/random thoughts. Do with them what you will.

1. The most amusing email of today came from one of my friends who confessed to keeping the poems she is just starting to allow herself to write in a Tupperware cold-cut keeper that she bought at the one and only Tupperware party I've ever thrown. She said it holds 8 1/2 X 11-inch sheets of paper perfectly. No refrigeration required.

2. A conversation with a woman in the waiting room at Brausen's Auto Service served up stories of childhood visits to grandparents on Long Island, to a love for the ocean, and a dislike of how noisy our world has become. What childhood stories would you tell to a complete stranger?

3. Another conversation with a man at the lookout at Indian Mounds Park in St. Paul revealed memories of houses that used to get flooded every year, houses that crowded what is now filled with railroad tracks and industrial buildings. I also heard about the streets that used to run from Dayton's Bluff into St. Paul before the freeways discombobulated everything. I had gone there to look at how the Mississippi floodwaters are moving and left with pieces of history from this man who had just come from mowing his 92-year-old mother's lawn.

4. If I answered #2 above, I might share the childhood story of learning to shoot my dad's gun when we were up north, far from anyone who might get in the way. A 9mm Luger? Ruger? I don't know the difference, but it had a clip in the handle and I was a lousy shot. The cans Dad set up for me lived.

5. What we've harvested from our own garden this week for dinner: lettuce, basil, flat-leaf parsley. The basil smells amazing. What can you use out of your own back yard?

Happy Friday. If you come to the Twin Cities anytime soon, bring waders.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: About Abundance

Yesterday, I visited the satellite St. Paul Farmer's Market that sets up in Roseville every Tuesday morning. I've been trying to buy more local produce and be more conscious of seasonal cooking instead of using stuff that gets brought in from Chile, Mexico, Australia, and other far-flung places.

As I pulled into the parking lot at Corpus Christi Catholic Church on Fairview and County Road B, where the market sets up, I thought to myself how tiny this particular farmer's market is. But I was simply stopping by on my way home from coffee with a friend, hoping to find something for dinner. This was convenient and it was a beautiful morning to shop for groceries outside.

It was a stop worth making. Small though the market is, there is plenty from the individual vendors. Several people carried sugar snap peas, some of which I purchased. There were several stalls with gloriously red rhubarb. Young radishes, blushing vibrant red beneath green leaves, beckoned. I bought a small bunch for my husband, who eats radishes just once a year - early, before they get woody and stronger-flavored. One vendor extolled the virtues of his artisan cheeses to two middle-aged women in shorts. Another vendor sold whole fresh chickens for $6. There were seedlings of all kinds of herbs, tomatoes, peppers, flowers.

There was abundance.

I ran out of cash. I hadn't expected to see so many items that I wanted to bring home. The sugar snap peas were later blanched, then lightly sautéed in olive oil with garlic, basil from my own garden, lemon zest. The radishes were washed and left whole for munching. I thought about how we would have more food ripening in our own garden soon: raspberries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers. The farmer's market would shift in its offerings over the next few months. There would be sweet corn at some point.

Ah, sweet corn. One of the highlights of Minnesota summers. There is a truck farmer who sets up shop in the parking lot of the Ace Hardware Store on the corner of Roselawn and Lexington, mere blocks from our house, every summer. The sweet corn we buy there is the best we've ever had. In my memory, though, there is another sweet corn producer that I wish were still here. My Aunt Louise grew sweet corn on the hill behind her house on Point Douglas Road in St. Paul. She understood abundance. She also understood generosity. Whenever the sweet corn was ready, she would call my father, who loved sweet corn more than most, to come on over. She would feed him from that first harvest. I remember him at her kitchen table, a plate in front of him to catch the occasional corn kernel that leapt away as he dug into a freshly steamed ear of corn with more gusto than anyone I knew or know. Louise would make a half-dozen ears for just my father and he would eat them all. Or, at least, he would try. And Louise would sit there, happy as ever to have someone in her kitchen eating food that she grew.

That's what I am after - that happiness that comes from growing food, sharing food, feeding people. Honoring the abundance that brings together communities. It's right there in our own back yards.