Bad weather always looks worse through a window.
I’ve itched to get back to my writing. You poor people are the benefactors of my fruit. I appreciate your faithfulness, ever patient while I restructure my life around holidays, diet and exercise. Just kidding. The exercise bit hasn’t been working out very well. Get it? Working out? I crack me up.
The holidays, you ask? Well we went up north, as Midwesterners are oft to do. We go waaaaaay up north. Bubba has family up there, and as such, they are as good as kin to me as well. It’s a trek, but the road trip is nice. There are several hours (about 7 to be exact) where there is nothing but the two of us exchanging meaningful conversation and healthy snacks.
Yeah . . . just kidding again.
Actually, Bubba turns up the tunes, we do a little head-banging until I have something to say and he politely turns it down. He nods in agreement, waiting to see if I’m done, and when I go back to checking out Messenger, Snapchat, or Instagram, he turns it up and we return to the head-banging.
In Clearwater, Minnesota, we stop at the Travel Plaza and buy a muffin from the Nelson Bros. Bakery. It’s tradition. They boast cinnamon rolls the size of your head, and they aren’t just bragging. One of those things would feed a small family.
We listen to podcasts like TED Talks, Freakonomics, This American Life, Radiolab, and sometimes I can get him to listen to Savage Lovecast. Then we stop to let Bubba and the dogs pee on some secluded back road. We switch command posts, me taking the wheel while he naps.
Our route takes us through Fargo, until at last we settle in a little Minnesota town a stone’s throw from both Canada and North Dakota. At first glance, it’s a quiet little place with not much going on. But then the Canadians come to visit.
Bubba’s late mother came from Canada. I never met her, but she lives in the pictures and stories that surround the place. Once a year, the Canadians come down from parts north. They bring with them Coffee Crisps, homemade wine, and border stories.
Bubba loves Coffee Crisps, something that until recent years, had not been found this side of the Canada/US line. As I write, he brushes the crumbs from the last one off his beard. The new dog, Mosh, climbs up to check for remnants.
I, however, love the homemade wine. And roast beast with gravy, and potatoes, and jello salad, and Christmas cookies. And conversation. I must let you know that no Canadian conversation, in my experience, is complete without a good border story. It starts out innocently enough.
“How was the border?”
“Not too bad.”
“You got through pretty good, eh?”
“Yeah. Pretty good.”
“Not like that one time, eh?”
And then we’re off. Homeland security only adds another layer of interest to the ever-increasing buzz. It doesn’t matter that I’ve heard the stories before. I love to listen to them talk. I imagine they like to listen to us, too. There was a moment when we had to clarify that a parking lot was the same thing as a parkade, neither of us fully understanding the other. Call me a word geek, but I love those moments.
The “eh” is something we laugh at or joke about, but they use it the same way we say either “huh” or “ya know,” which is just as strange to say when you think about it. I wonder if they laughed about the way we talked on the way home? I really hope so.
My grandparents were from Saskatchewan, Cananda — they talked a lot about Moose Jaw, Saskatoon and Regina. Gramma used to say Regina like it rhymed with Vagina, and my mom would purse her lips, shake her head, and correct her. I don’t remember Gramma saying “Eh” very often, if at all, but Grampa used that word regularly. He lost most of his hearing in the war — the artillery going off too close to his ears — and he would interrupt us mid-sentence with a loud, “Eh?”
Gramma would often whisper something completely inappropriate in his extra-large ear, to which he would reply, “Eh?” Then before the hair on the back of my neck could fully stand, it was out. Gramma, taking a breath of air, and speaking as loud as her tiny frame permitted, would announce something like, “I said . . . It’s very sad how large that woman over there is.” And she would point. And he would stare. And I would try to hide in the neck of my shirt.
Grampa also used it in place of an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. “The thing with kids these days is they’re all doped up . . . eh?” That was not a question. That was a statement that you were meant to a agree with or suffer his resignation from the conversation.
But mostly, he kept quiet, trying to look interested in what was being said. He had hearing aids, which only helped a bit. He complained of the background noise, and still halted conversations by interjecting something completely off topic, followed by “Eh?” I suppose it was a lonely place — amongst family and still alone. I used to believe he was a man of few words, and only spoke when he had something to say. Looking back, I think he was doing a lot of lip-reading, and waiting until he thought he might have something relative to say.
Listening to the Canadians made me wish I knew my distant relatives that still live up there. We are ghosts to one another, linked only by those who came before us. Still, every Christmas I make the Butter Currant Tarts from the recipe that Gramma passed down to me. And occasionally, you may see an “Eh?” in my writing. When you do, that is not a simple verbal interjection. That is me waving my Canadian flag, singing “Oh Canada!” — incidentally the only two words I know from that anthem — and saying, “Hey Grampa and Gramma, I haven’t forgotten.”
Peace . . . Eh? . . .
Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!
I’m keen on experimenting in the garden. My friend Mary says I’m a horticulturist. I like that thought, but I’m not sure I’d use that word to describe myself. Maybe just a goofy plant lady who gets bored seeding in straight lines.
Last fall I planted eight garlic cloves for the first time. In their place, eight tender green shoots reach up through the otherwise neglected soil. There is something about coaxing nature that satisfies me. One year I tested straw bale gardening. If I can find some good bales, I’ll try it again. I’d like to give keyhole gardening a shot in the front yard. The one thing I can’t grow is grass, but grass is on the way out anyway.
I’m just ahead of the curve.
My yard could also use a few rain gardens. I live in the middle of a big hill and there is an underground river that would like to flow right through the middle of my basement.
Bubba helped me fix the drainage so we no longer see any water in the house. But here’s the deal. If I and all my neighbors up the hill would do our best to keep our water in our own yard, fewer homes would have drainage issues.
The old adage is to divert the water away from the house. This is sound advice, but to most homeowners this means draining it from the yard and eventually to the street where it flows freely through underground systems to our natural waterways, fertilizer and all. We now know this has harmful effects on both the environment and those of us who live in it.
When I moved into my home, it was April. After some unusually long hard rains, I realized I was now the proud owner of lakefront property and a couple of ducks. My first instinct was to dig a little trench on the downhill side of the yard and let it all drain away. That worked great. This was the year of the foreclosure, and the houses on either side of me were vacant. The growing pond below me was a great solution.
Then the house uphill from me sold. A builder came in to flip the house. He had no interest in neighborliness, only profit. He used my water hose without asking and parked his trucks in front of my driveway before I had to leave for work. He pointed rain spouts right at my house, and all of the pavement drained my way. A call to the city resolved nothing. After the first good rain, there was a river through my basement, the garage, and the backyard. The little trench I dug out to drain the yard was quickly eroding and becoming a waterfall.
What’s more, I now had a neighbor downhill from me too, and I was feeling really guilty about draining into his backyard. But it wasn’t just his yard. Mentally, I mapped the route the water on my property had taken. Twenty houses uphill were all emptying their run-off downhill. Once it hit my yard, it went on to reach other basements, garages, the sewer and eventually our waterways.
Wishing the uphill properties wouldn’t drain into my yard wasn’t enough. I was a neighbor to those below me. A change had to occur somewhere with someone. And that was when I decided it might as well be me.
I stopped using chemical fertilizer and pesticides. What used to embarrass me, is now an emblem of pride. My dandelions feed the pollinators in early spring when other foods are hard to find. I also have a rabbit who loves for me to forage the chemical-free greens for her breakfast. As the gardens take over the lawn, maybe someday I can even get rid of my gas-powered lawn mower.
I filled in the drainage trench. Even if it means living lakefront once a year, I want to keep the water that comes into my yard from leaving my yard. If we all thought that way it would be an easier task. And we would be better stewards of our neighborhoods, cities, and the planet.
I built a hugelkultur. A hugelwhat?
A hugelkultur. There are right and wrong ways to say it. I say it hoogle coolter. That, I believe, is the wrong way, but I’m sticking with it.
I suppose there are also right and wrong ways to do it, and things to plant in it the first or succeeding years. As I am a dubbed horticulturist and stubbornly self-sufficient, I will learn as I go.
The word hugelkultur translates to the term hill culture. Typically, a hugelkultur is a raised bed with an inner filling of rotting wood and other composting materials. I highly suggest, if you have more than a bizarre interest in the word hugelkultur, you do your own research, and not use my trial as your reference.
Last fall I scooped out some earth to create an indent that will eventually become a rain garden. The sod and dirt, along with dead wood, was piled on the down side of the indent as a type of dam for heavy rains or spring thaws. The dam doubles as a raised bed with fertile, moisture-retaining compost inside.
I’ll plant the rain garden this year, making it larger after seeing how well it performed this spring. Once I add soil and prepare the hugelkultur for planting, I’ll share more photos and you can all watch from your armchairs without getting dirt under your nails.
The hard part will be keeping the dog off of it. The hugelkultur is in the direct line of Frisbee flight, and you may remember my past challenges with that.
Peace . . .
It occurs to me that those living closer to the equator may not have the luxury of appraising neighbors on methods of snow removal. By closer I mean closer than one of the northern-most United States of America. Mention you are from Minnesota, and people immediately conjure images of wolf-like dogs racing across an open tundra, a parka-clad rider mushing them on in search of the next meal of blubber.
Yeah, it’s something like that. Only I’m in my Dodge Neon, the dog has positioned herself on the center console looking out over the dashboard, and I’m on my way to the supermarket. Sure it’s cold, and there’s snow on the roads. It’s Minnesota. It’s winter. Get over it. The minute a flake falls from the sky, everyone wants to know what the roads are like. My answer? “Eh . . it’s winter.”
And with the season comes the practiced art of snow removal. Minnesotans have been removing snow for centuries. Technically, the snow is not removed. You can’t remove snow unless you bring it inside, melt it and flush it down the drain. No, we move it. From here to there. Sometimes, we have so much snow to move that we scoop it up in front loaders, empty it into dump trucks and haul it away. I’m not sure where they go with it, but if it were me I’d haul it to California.
While snow in the city comes with parking bans, tow trucks and impound fees, in the suburbs it’s all about what your neighbor is doing. Why should winter be different than any other season? As soon as the lawn is covered, and they can no longer judge the green of your grass, they will begin to analyze the white of your driveway.
Technically speaking, if one does not remove the snow from one’s driveway, the snow will eventually remove itself. However, if your intention is to leave the snow until it melts in the spring, after driving over it and the fluctuations in temperature, you’re going to end up axle-deep in frozen ruts going nowhere fast. I think all Minnesotans can agree that some amount of snow movement is necessary.
You have several options, offering various stages of effort and cost. You can buy a shovel or hire a kid to shovel you out. You can buy a snowblower, or hope a neighbor brings one over. Some people put a plow on the front of their truck and not only plow out their place, but make money plowing out others. My dad used to take out his four-wheel drive with the plow on the front and drive around looking for little old ladies shoveling their own driveway or families stuck in the ditch. His pay was the smile on their face.
Once suburbanites have chosen our option of snow removal, we are obligated to assess our neighbors’ methods and motivation. It is safe to say that a homeowner can be accurately labeled by the driveway he keeps.
- The Gambler: This guy checks the forecast first. He may leave up to three inches lay if he thinks it will melt by 2 p.m. tomorrow. If the stuff is still falling, he gauges the weight per shovelful, duration of snowfall, and rate of accumulation before making his plan of attack.
- The Sloth: This one owns a snowblower, but will wait to see if it melts first. He is often seen three days later carelessly snow-blowing ice chunks toward windows and small children.
- The OCD: He is out there with his shovel as soon as a dusting appears. Unfortunately, as soon as he finishes the bottom of the driveway, the top is already accumulating snow again, and he can’t possibly go inside until the whole thing is clear. You might want to bring over a cup of hot chocolate or a small meal.
- The Over-Acheiver: You can spot this star student by the way he not only shovels his sidewalk and driveway, but his effort extends to parts of the yard, and even into the street. Where other houses’ curbs slope naturally to the street, his is cut at a 90-degree angle exactly at curb depth.
- The Good Samaritan: This guy can often be spotted down the street, snow-blowing out every plow drift along the way. The plow drift, as Northerners know, is what the city plow deposits at the end of your driveway after you have meticulously cleared it out. The Good Samaritan wears a frost-encrusted smile accompanied by a frozen-snot icicle mustache.
- The Homeschooler: You can spot this one by the number of shovels lined up in various sizes outside the door. While the shovels are in use, please slow to 15 mph as children will be present.
Me? I’m inside huddled next to the space heater. The chimneys across the street are emitting a steady flow of horizontal steam, communicating a cold, steady wind against a sunny blue sky. I can hear the rhythmic scrape of Bubba’s shovel, his black toque bobbing occasionally above the window sash. He finally invested in a snowblower this year. And as Murphy’s Law dictates, I think we can forecast a fairly light year for the stuff, rarely dropping enough to start it up.
Maybe that makes me the smart homeowner.
Peace . . .
Yesterday included my annual pilgrimage to the Great Minnesota Get-Together, otherwise known as the Minnesota State Fair. For most, this is a venture into the exploits of gluttony; corn dogs, pork chops on sticks, buckets of chocolate chip cookies, and mini donuts washed down with all the milk you can drink for a buck. For me, it is a metaphysical event; laced with spirits from the past and traditions not yet established. Yes . . . and a temporary lapse into the exploits of gluttony.
I can sense my mother is within me when I start to hum the theme song from State Fair. It was our song on the drive from Fridley to the fairgrounds every year.
Mom actually called in sick for me at school, just so we could go together when the crowds were lower. We arrived before any attractions opened, and sometimes before the kitchens. After eating breakfast at the Pancake House, which no longer exists, we would head straight to the Creative Arts Building. If we timed it right, we would be among the first to enter. There she strategically surveyed each and every piece of handiwork on display, critiquing the judges as much as the crafters.
This year I passed up the Creative Arts Building. Experience has taught me that it no longer holds magic without the magician by my side. But I smiled at the women waiting patiently outside the unopened doors early yesterday.
I ate breakfast sausage on a stick, followed by a double latte with sugar-free vanilla. Really? Sugar free? Was that a feeble attempt or force of habit? I dipped the breakfast sausage corn dog in real, full-strength, high fructose-laden maple syrup. Nutrition is a balancing act, after all.
I only walked another block before the tears came. What set them off, I can no longer remember. But they came, and I searched for a direction to face in order to hide my sudden display of grief. This is an expected reaction, a tradition since my mother’s death; merciless in its timing, yet cleansing upon its arrival.
My kids visited the fair with my mother and I a couple times. Those years Mom always went twice, just so she could spend more time seeing the things she wanted to see. When you have children in tow, there is a different perspective of the place. Sailing down the big slide is something I hadn’t done since I was a child, and probably not again until I have grandchildren. One year we saw piglets being born. The kids and I had our own song we sang on the way to the fair.
Bubba thought about coming with me. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for going alone, but I prefer it. My favorite parts are the talks and demonstrations. Sometimes I can hardly make it from one to the next, weaving through the crowd from the Agriculture Building to the Progress Center in ten minutes flat. If someone is with me, I won’t put them through that.
I learned a lot about pollinators and rain gardens yesterday. I gained resources and education on things like systemic pesticides and edible landscaping. I logged over 20,000 steps, necessitating a half hour break in my car with my shoes off and feet out the window. I texted and Tweeted, took selfies and Instagrammed. I’m just not one to let being by myself hinder my fun.
One of the things Mom used to do before we left the fair every year was to have a beer. She would say that nothing tasted better than an ice cold beer on a hot day at the fair. And so I stopped in the Beer Garden before heading out. I sat there, by all outside appearances alone, and drank to memories, to tradition, to sore feet, and to next year.
I do believe that nothing has ever tasted better.
Peace . . .
“I’m not a big fan of patterns. I like the unexpected.”
— James Purefoy
The truth about humans is that we are draw to inconsistencies in pattern. The dissonance in a chord, the hole in a fence, the flaw in a fabric, are all examples of the unexpected. Our eye, is drawn to them. Our heart skips a beat. Yet, there is nothing unexpected without the laying down of a pattern, something expected, first.
. . . and please take a moment to check out these interpretations:
T’as vu mes photos?
I see beauty all around by rob paine
Last Train to QVille
We Live In A Flat
Travels and Trifles – make sure you click to enlarge these beautiful photos
From Ground to Home
follow your nose
321 Klick und fertig ist das Foto !