Friday, July 29, 2011

Beach Life

Pardon us. We are far too busy making "sand mummies," timing swim laps, and soaking up enough vitamin D to avoid contracting rickets.

What's that you say? Last month of summer coming? La la la...we can't hear you!

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Making Herbal Tea

This year it's my intention to preserve enough food from our garden, our foraging, and our farmer's marketing to make the winter months a little bit warmer and a lot yummier. Drying herbs is something I've done for a number of years because my front-door herb garden is prolific. This year, I have a bumper crop of mint (peppermint and spearmint), so I'm drying a bunch to use for tea in the colder months.

Because mint can be a bit invasive, I use my tea making to tame the plants back some by pulling them out at the roots where they are crowding my other herbs. Once I've shaped enough, then I just start trimming so the plant will continue to produce for the rest of the growing season. When I have a good bunch, I tie it together at the stems using a rubber band with some string attached and then I hang it to dry on the plant hooks on the porch. When the leaves are dry, I pull them off the stems and store them in jars.

My bee balm (wild bergamot) has also been prolific this year. This plant is a member of the mint family and it was commonly used for tea during colonial times. I'm waiting to harvest my bee balm until after it's done flowering. The purple tufty blossoms that remind me of feather boas are near the top of my list of favorite flowers. Also, the bumble bees are really enjoying them and it makes me happy to see so many happy bees in my yard.

This year I also planted lemon balm and Munstead lavender in the garden hoping to add these flavors to my tea making. It remains to be seen if the lavender will flower and the lemon balm will grow large enough to harvest this summer. It also remains to be seen if they will prove hardy during their first winter up here in Zone 4. My fingers are crossed for expanding my herbal tea repertoire.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Front Yard Camping

Charlie checked out the book Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping from the library and after we read it, he started to talk about going camping. While I would love to take the kids camping, it will require some planning, including getting together the proper gear. In the meantime, I thought of some ways that we could pretend we were camping to satisfy Charlie's interest.

It started one night when we built a pretend campfire out of Lincoln Logs in his bedroom before bedtime and pretended to roast marshmallows and hot dogs. Then a few days later, I dug out Ellis's old play tent and sleeping bag and set it up in the front yard. Get some snacks, crawl inside, and voila! Another cheap, easy kid activity.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Road Trip!

It's tough to be the middle kid. Especially when you're in the middle of a teenager and a toddler. Being a mellow, independent eight-year-old can unintentionally garner you less attention than your brothers who are more, um....tumultuous.

I had originally planned to drive down to the Chicago area by myself for my reunion because the thought of making Josh wrangle all three kids by himself in a place that's not our turf while I went and did my thing seemed like a nightmare. However, when Ellis asked if we were going down to Chicago this summer, we came up with the idea of just the two of us taking a road trip together. Ellis is the perfect age to enjoy playing with his cousins in their swimming pool, it is very seldom that he and I get to do things as just the two of us, and he's in that "sweet spot" of childhood where he's inquisitive without being demanding. I call road trip!

I've driven the route between the Twin Cities and Chicago what seems like a million times. The best part of driving there with Ellis was talking to him about the different aspects of the trip. It was like sharing a family tradition. I showed him how to read the mile markers to figure out how long we have left on the trip. He was fascinated with rest stops and decided he wanted to start a rest stop business when he got older. We talked about toll roads, which are mostly a novelty here in Minnesota, but are the status quo in Illinois. We dreamed about the future when he gets his driver's license and could take a shift behind the wheel.

All in all, the road trip served it's purpose. Doing something cool together made us fall in love with each other all over again.
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Monday, July 25, 2011

We Went to School Here and It Was OK.

Photo credit: Tadd Gleason

Friday night a bunch of us crazy kids left our reunion social and headed over to our high school to paint the rock (a T. F. South High School tradition) in honor of the Class of 1991. In recent years, the painting tradition has expanded to part of the sidewalk near the rock, too, so one of my classmates painted the phrase "I went to school here and it was OK" on the sidewalk. I think all of us agreed that it was the perfect motto for our high school experience. We were good kids then and for all of us high school was just something we had to get through on the way to all the other things we wanted to do with our lives. It wasn't great, but with twenty-years' hindsight, I think we all agree it wasn't incredibly painful either.

Many of my friends I reconnected with at the reunion I hadn't seen in almost the whole twenty years since graduation. The quality I was most struck by in all my friends is how kind they are. We're all leading ordinary lives and carrying the burdens that go along with being thirty-eight, but along with this everyone seems to have prioritized having a deep sense of humanity. We were good kids and we try hard to be good adults, too.

As you move through the various experiences and situations of life, there are always people you take along with you, and people you leave behind. For the longest time, I didn't retain any friendships from high school. After graduation, I needed to move on and keep going for reasons independent of those friendships, yet those friendships were casualties of the path I had to take. This weekend I remembered that there is a group of people from high school that are really important to me. I'm grateful for things like reunions and Facebook for helping us reconnect. Sometimes going back helps you go forward.

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Friday, July 22, 2011


I'm just about to get on the road to my original hometown for my reunion this weekend. Ellis is my travelling companion for our first road trip with just the two of us in a long time. More details from our exciting weekend when we return!
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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Home Canning

Having more time in the garden this year has increased my desire to get more out of what we are growing on our own land. For the last few years, I've been drying herbs and making pesto and salsa to freeze (although the salsa never makes it very long into the cold months before being gobbled up). Since I also have an insatiable love for homemade pickles and jam, I wanted to explore making my own this year.

When I saw that Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply was having a basic canning class last Sunday, I got excited and signed up. I learned how to make raspberry jam (pictured above), got a list of basic supplies, and recommendations for resources in book form and on the web.

I'm really excited to have a cool local business like Egg|Plant right here in St. Paul. Their focus is on growing good things to eat on your own plot of land and they have the supplies, tools, and resources to help you do it. It's located on Selby Ave. close to some of my favorite antique stores. Even better, the store is run by folks from the Midway neighborhood.

The name of the store is a clever play on words. In addition to the "Plant" part, they also have the "Egg" part in the form of everything needed to raise backyard chickens. They also sell the chicks! Charlie got to play with the last set of chicks on the day they were about to go to their new home:

They will have more chicks available next March, at which point I will remind myself that I'm really not that great at taking care of animals lest I get carried away with a scheme to have fresh eggs in my backyard.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More Nostalgia

I've enjoyed digging through my box of memorabilia in preparation for my high school reunion this weekend. The photos are surreal and seem like they are from an entirely different world from the one I live in now. For example, when was I in a Texas beauty pageant?

Just kidding. That's me all gussied up for the senior prom. Lest you think that I was a super-girly, princess-fantasy type when I was younger, I should explain that this was not a dress that I would have picked on my own. My style even in the big-haired, big-glasses late eighties and early nineties was much more crunchy. Usually, I looked like this:

(And yes, I was completely obsessed with the Beatles).

So how did a nouveau-hippie chick end up dressed like a debutante at a cotillion? My mother, my grandmother, and the sales lady at the dress store ganged up on me, and since I wasn't paying for the dress, what was I supposed to do? They were dead set on making a princess out of me for once in my life. It was kind of like one of those after school specials where they make over the tomboy into a super-glamorous girly-girl, except that it didn't stick. I was back to my old ways soon enough, because I have never been, nor will I ever be a princess.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July, July

We're in the middle of a heat wave up here and it's taxing my creativity to think of things to do inside since most of our favorite outdoor activities are downright uncomfortable right now. I suppose it's a good opportunity to broaden my repertoire of indoor kid friendly activities in advance of winter, but I can't help being fixated on all the outdoor chores that are stacking up.

For example, Charlie left some kind of food item stashed somewhere on our front porch. We know this because the heat is making it pungent, but that same heat is making it difficult to be out on the porch long enough to search for the offending item. Cleaning the porch goes on the list of things to do when the heat breaks. Also on the list is finishing putting together our new gas grill, a project I started this weekend and went as far as I could until my heat-addled brain lost the ability to decipher the instruction manual for connecting the side burner. Since, we've already had one awesome grill fire this year, I feel it best to wait until cooler heads can prevail.

To focus on the positive, this high summer weather combined with the soaking rains of last weekend is making my plant friends go nuts. The basil, tomatoes, and peppers are really coming into their own. I'm trying to be happy for them without worrying about the immense weeding job that awaits me when the heat wave ends. I'm also ignoring how desperately the lawn needs to be mowed in favor of enjoying the prairie flowers that are blooming in my garden right now - echinacea, early sunflower, bee balm, and hoary vervain - giving them a nod as we move quickly from air conditioned house to air conditioned car.

The weather, especially in a place like Minnesota with all its extremes, can be a good spiritual teacher. Perhaps that's why we talk about it so much up here. It shapes our lives and makes us examine what we can control within the context of all the things we can't control.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Big Glasses

This upcoming weekend is my 20th high school reunion. I was feeling nostalgic, so I got out an old box of high school memorabilia. In that box, I found my old gigantic eye glasses from the eighties. I can't believe these are making a comeback.

This pair was the second pair of glasses I owned. My first pair that I got in 1982 when I was in fourth grade, had transitions lenses and an awesome initial decal in the corner like Laverne from Laverne and Shirley. The stems on the pair above loop down at the sides in a fancy way. I was living with my grandma when I got this pair, and apparently she was my style icon, since these have a distinct shuffle board playing quality.

This is the pair of glasses I wore when I started high school. They have aqua blue stems. The thing that blows my mind is that these glasses seem huge on me now, and I originally wore them when I was much smaller. No wonder I got contact lenses my freshman year.

This gray pair was my attempt to look understated and scholarly. This was as good as it got in 1989. After this, I transitioned to a pair of wire-rimmed Lennon glasses and let my nineties freak flag fly.

I've noticed that glasses seem to be getting bigger again as part of a larger 80's retro fashion trend. I hope that we can all pause before we go too far down that road. Unless of course, some young hipster wants to pay me hundreds of dollars for these awesome vintage specs. (Except for the first pair. I'm going to hang onto those until I'm eighty so I can look super sexy in the old folks' home.)
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Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer Reading

Minneapolis Central Library - Children's Section

Charlie, Ellis and I go to the library at least once every three weeks - the amount of time you can check out most items. On our last trip, we checked out a record 29 items - books, tape stories, and DVDs - a grand total that would make my retired librarian mother-in-law proud. We are most loyal to the two libraries in the St. Paul system that are closest to our house, but sometimes we like to "branch out," so to speak. We like the Minneapolis Central Library because you can take the light rail to it: trains + books = extra fun.

When I was in grade school, visiting the public library was the main activity we did during the summer months. I would check out seven books (the maximum allowed at that time) and read them all in a week. All those books made me dream about the places I could live and the things I could do when I grew up. When I was in high school, back in the days before the Internet, I loved doing research there with friends and reading biographies of rock musicians. I have a friend who just started working at the library in my hometown, and it makes me happy to think of her there, in one of the most influential and transformative places of my young life.

I love that I am raising another generation of readers. I love to snuggle up with them and share a book or five or six. But most of all, this summer, I love having the time to browse the stacks myself, pick every book that catches my eye and return to my old role as a devourer of books.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Go-to Places

I find, especially with children, that it's good to have a series of go-to places. These are places that provide a "let's get out of the house" excursion that can be done on the spur of the moment. The requirements for go-to places for me are: close to home (walkable, bikeable, or a short drive), free, no planning required, and short prep time. I like to have a mix of outdoor and indoor spaces, depending on the weather and the season, but the outdoor excursions are certainly my favorite.

Como Lake wears the crown for the ultimate go-to place in my canon. Charlie can do about half the 1.6 mile walk around the lake on foot and complete the rest in the stroller. There's a great place to stop and throw rocks into the water (see above).

The bird-watching is excellent:

(Blue Heron)


The landscaping around the lake, which is full of all my favorite local plants, was a main inspiration for my own garden:

(Wild Bergamot -- living up to it's common name Bee Balm)

(Butterfly Weed)

I go there year round because it's such a nice simple walk and a fine example of creating natural space in an urban setting:

What's my favorite season at Como Lake? Whatever season it is now.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011


While I focus my energy on the garden as a way to bring fresh local produce into our lives, Josh is honing his skills to turn us into urban scavengers. Growing up in Alaska, he's used to multiple kinds of berries available for enjoyment from the natural landscape. So when he found patches of black raspberries on the banks of the Mississippi River two years ago, a new summertime tradition began.

The black raspberries are ripening now. Depending on the weather, their season is anywhere from late June to mid-July. It's prickly, buggy, sweaty work, requiring long sleeves, pants, and bike gloves to protect from the prickles and the stings. Nevertheless it's satisfying not just for the product of pounds and pounds of berries, but for the meditative quality of the repetitive, detailed nature of the work.

Josh is a prolific picker. I usually lose half my berries to my picking partner(s). It's okay. The other satisfaction is seeing my little loves in a purple-stained, full-bellied berry-induced stupor.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Community Gardens

Community gardens are a source of inspiration for me. As with everything else in my life, I take an eclectic approach to gardening. All those design principles about large groupings of a few kinds of plants are lost on me. In fact gardens like that usually make me hyperventilate because I feel like my mere presence is messing up the aesthetic.

On the flip side, eclectic spaces make me feel like I have little fireworks displays going on in all five of my senses. Community gardens, especially large ones are by their nature eclectic growing spaces because they represent the ideas of all the different people involved in the project. People work both independently and are influenced by each other because of the communal nature of the space, so there's a great balance of individual expression and cohesive design.

My favorite community garden is the Dowling Community Garden in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. It's a large garden so there is a lot of opportunity to be inspired by all the different things going on in the many plots. It's an amazing feeling to be surrounded by that many plants in the middle of high summer.

This garden was started as a victory garden during World War II, so it's got a great history of people coming together for a good cause.  I love to think of today's urban hipster farmers as the heirs of Rosie the Riveter and her friends.

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