The Exquisite Luxury of Bloom Time

Time is the ultimate luxury.

It’s taken me a whole lot of frivolous spending and a deeper appreciation of the short life-span of my favorite flowers to realize it.

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I remember a newspaper column by Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman I read many years ago, when I  was in my early 20s and I thought 30 was old, about how she measured the rest of her life in lilac blooms. Goodman hoped she had at least another twenty lilac blooms to go. I thought this was the strangest thing I’d ever heard.

But now that I’m on the back side of forty, I understand.

As the iris bed I planted last August begins to reap museum-quality beauty each morning, and then fades within a day or two, I understand. Another year. An entire year before I will see them again. Another year older, if I’m so blessed.

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Crocus. Daffodils. Tulips. Flowering crab trees. Lilacs. Poppies. Peonies. Irises. I cherish the succession.

Each of my lovely blooms last just a few exquisite days. I look forward to each of them like a child looks forward to a visit from Santa. I wake up each morning, grab my camera, and run outside to see what is opening, what has blossomed over night, what is peaking and what is fading.

I photograph each beautiful iris bloom in dusky morning light and in full afternoon sun. I marvel at the irises’ frilly apricot standards, the fuzzy lavender and pale yellow caterpillar beards, veins of fuchsia and purple speckled falls.

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This year is especially poignant for me. For the past two months, I have been watching as my mother’s mind slowly slips away, succumbing to the final throes of dementia. She has been staying with me a week now. While she has been frustrated, fearful, angry, sobbing, sometimes all of the above, I have seen her soothed by the familiarity of my garden. She remembers the peonies of her grandmother’s garden. She felt the satisfaction of mimicking me, as I planted container gardens. She recognized the feathery Cosmos seedlings, just three inches high.

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My poppies are thick and lush right now, as they are each Memorial Day weekend. The tight round balls of luscious pink peonies always follow in the first days of June. It’s a succession you can count on like Monday follows Sunday.

These are the luxuries that I cherish.

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Flower blooms are free to everyone. A beautiful peony is no more beautiful to the rich man as it is to the poor. In a world of technology that moves at warp speed and dissolves in the seconds of a Snapchat snap, moments spent observing the smallest details of a flower petal are savored.

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I try not to think of how many more magnificent lilac blooms I will enjoy,  how many opportunities I have to inhale their delicious perfume. As I see my mother follow the same path my grandmother took with Alzheimer’s, I wonder if I, too, will slip away too soon. But then I pull my attention back to this day, this moment. I am grateful to enjoy this bloom. I wake up each morning, a little earlier to see what’s blossomed.

I hope you do, too. Because time is the ultimate luxury.

 

 

Tails from The Whippety Wood

Here’s the thing I find about nature. As you look more closely at it, when you let your mind be still, training your gaze only on what is right in front of you, in just a moment that singularity of focus turns appreciation into wonder. That’s when the magic happens.

When I kneel down to take a closer look at a daffodil and notice a tiny dew drop clinging to its bright orange trumpet, the rest of the world falls away.  It happens to me all the time…the shock of a lone red speckled mushroom in a sea of green forest, the neon chartreuse fur of a moss-covered rock, a gnarly, decaying log full of holes where an entire mini-universe could exist, the pleasant tinkle and splash of a stream, burbling over shiny wet stones. Wonders abound, for those who look.

“Discovering magic in nature can be done anywhere. Be it a garden the size of a postage stamp, or acres and acres of fields and woodland. The Wood is my world, and one I enjoy sharing with others.”  Pamela Harden

My friend, illustrator Pamela Harden, author of the Whippety Wood books, is a master of capturing these tiny moments and turning them into something wondrous, and yes, magical. She is a creator of worlds as they should be, and I love her for it. I knew immediately after finishing my interview with Lauren Delaney, that I wanted Pamela to be May’s featured artist!

Tell me about your passion for art.  Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

I have always wanted to be an illustrator, and have never done anything else. I probably never concerned myself with the fear of supporting myself through illustrating. I was young and naïve enough to think that if I did something that I enjoyed, I certainly would get paid enough to support my passion.

I have been fortunate enough to find outlets for my work in books and magazines, and met some of the most talented and interesting writers and editors ever. It has always been a joy to work with those incredible people.  I was a freelance illustrator for more than 30 years and then I decided to chance my hand at writing my own stories as well as illustrating them.

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Thus, the Whippety Wood was born. I have been able to create all sorts of animal characters and always try to make them as believable as possible. Keeping the traits of the individual animal is important. I am not interested in making them completely human, but want to give them a voice, and express what I think their feelings might be, in an entertaining way.

You and I share a mutual love for animals, especially our beloved terriers. Through art I can give voice to their thoughts and feelings in a unique way. All creatures of the earth are able to convey their feelings without words Animals are filled with merriment and joy. The Wood is a perfect place to allow them to exhibit those feelings.

I’m curious to know about your childhood in the UK & US. What were you like? How did you recognize that you could channel your love of nature into art?

I think I probably had a rather idyllic childhood. Both my parents enjoyed the great outdoors and shared that passion with my sister and I. Being keen on learning, drawing, painting, and playing in nature was first and foremost for me. I was always fascinated by Beatrix Potter, Native American art, and anything illustrated by John Wesley Dennis. I was always drawing or painting from an early age.

My grandfather taught me all about wild flowers, wild birds and the plethora of wildlife that surrounded his farm. I was encouraged to illustrate those very subjects that I enjoyed so much. Any attempt was considered a masterpiece, and I grew to love doing those field studies.

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I was also one of those children who just knew that Santa Claus or Father Christmas was definitely real, at least as real as fairies, elves, wizards, and magical animals. I have always considered nature to be magical. Just how amazing is it to see a tiny bird hatch from a beautiful egg, or a glorious flower spring from a seed. That certainly is magic!

I’m like that, too. I still believe in Santa. You’ve lived in both the UK and the midwest, here in the US. What are some of the differences you find in your natural surroundings?

In the USA we have always lived in the countryside and in the UK, we have lived a rural life in tiny villages or in the country. I cannot imagine living in a town or city. We are country bumpkins for certain!

Many of the same species of mammals live in both countries. Some, like badgers, are slightly different in appearance, but many are the same. The countryside is different in the US and the UK. Or, at least it feels different to me. There are still woods, streams, mountains, hills and dales, but there is a sense of a different sort of history behind the countryside in each place.

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Some parts of the UK bring to mind the ancient history of animals, people, places, and events so far removed from today’s world. I find tremendous inspiration in the old folk tales from Scotland, England, and Wales. Indeed the Whippety Wood was influenced by a Scottish folk tale.

Here in Wisconsin the countryside is farmland, open, green, and surrounded by woods. The woods here are dense with oak, ash, huckleberry, pines, spruce, and cherry. It is a new world feel with a more recent human history. There is enough material from both continents to supply me with all the creative fodder I need!

I do observe as many animals as I can on our many hikes around the woods and fields we call home. Because we live in a very rural area, I have constant inspiration for new story ideas and illustrations. I find the Whippety Wood a complete joy and comfortable place to create a world that I should want to live in (and really do, for the most part). It contains all the good parts of the world, without any of the bad.

Tell me about why you created the Whippety Wood.

When I created the Whippety Wood, it was intended to help connect both children and adults with the natural world around them.

With a burgeoning world population and ever decreasing wild spaces to explore, it seemed a good idea to introduce the world of nature in a new and entertaining way.

Children in particular, are inundated with images from an electronic screen in one form or another. Many have never seen a fox, badger, bear, or any other animal in their natural habitat. My first ABC book was intended to address that very issue, but in an exciting, entertaining, and visual way.

It was also intended to open a dialog between child and parent or an older sibling. Now I am able to combine my love of dogs, and Scottish Terriers in particular, with my wild creatures in the Whippety Wood. It allows my imagination to run amok among the hundreds and hundreds of animals who might inhabit the Wood.

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As you know, I grew up with Scottish Terriers, too. We Scottie lovers are a breed apart. I will go so far as to say THE MOST over-the-top breed enthusiasts in the world! Surprisingly though, I met you through a friend who thought I might like your work because I’m a big fan of tiny worlds, like Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge. 

I only found out about our shared love of Scotties after I started following you. In fact, I bought one of your prints, Sinclair meeting Martin Mole, before we ever met. I have it hanging in my office and it always makes me smile.

I like to say that your friendship is a gift my dogs gave me. We really got to know each other when my new Cairn Puppy, Weezy visited the Whippety Wood. I have a whole Weezy-wall art gallery in my house.

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My Cairn puppy Miss Weezy visiting the Whippety World in her first pair of Mary Janes. My little seal pup!

When did you fall in love with Scotties? What is it you admire most about Scotties and/or terriers as a breed? Tell us how you started incorporating them into the Whippety Wood.

We have had Scotties for more than 40 years, and cannot envision a life void of Scotties. Not only do they bring us contentment, joy, and fun, but they make our life complete. Rupert is 12 and was born into a litter of 6 puppies.

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Rupert and Pamela

He was and is a true outdoorsman. As a pup he could barely find the time to bother eating as it interfered with his hunting and chasing. He is obsessed with hunting anything that moves. He has honed his hunting skills to a fine art.

He is patient, listens carefully for movement in the grass, or under the snow, pounces at exactly the right moment, and has dispatched more mice than I care to know! He also sounds like someone is torturing him when he chases rabbits or squirrels. It is a true passion for him! Rupert has an alter-ego in the Wood called Sinclair. Sinclair was the first official Scottie to be featured in the Whippety Wood and has become a permanent fixture there. The boldness, cleverness, intelligence, independence, and sense of humour, have all made terriers the perfect dogs for the Wood.

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The Adventures of Lucy & Indy

At this point in my life, I think that all the adventures, stories, and illustrations that I do for the Whippety Wood are the most rewarding. It is an ever-changing and challenging way to live my life. I often find myself saying, “That would never happen in the Wood!” or “I am off to the Wood!”

I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next. I hope my pups will make a return visit to the Wood soon. Thank you so much for sharing your Whippety Wood with us, Pamela. And Happy 13th Birthday to the magnificent Rupert!!! We love you both.

From Good Reads:

Inspired by nature, Pamela Harden has been an illustrator for more than twenty-five years in the United States and United Kingdom. She and her husband are avid hikers and star-gazers who enjoy the magic of nature every day in their own Whippety Wood in rural Wisconsin, where they live with their Scottie, Rupert.

From http://www.thewhippetywood.com:

Welcome to the magical world of the Whippety Wood. Located deep in the highlands of Scotland, the wood is home to the Whippety fairies. A host of colourful woodland characters also dwell within the wood.

ABC’s from The Whippety Wood is a silver medalist in the Moonbeam awards and Living Now awards for best Children’s ABC and picture books. This vibrant picture book will inspire a deeper appreciation of the natural world, while it teaches children the fundamentals of language in a way that is engaging, entertaining and enlightening.

For books, prints and other Whippety Wood delights, visit Pamela’s Zazzle store.

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MN: Land of 10,000 Art Fairs

Last week I attended junk maven Ki Nissauer’s Spring Junk Bonanza. It’s a twice-yearly pilgrimage for lovers of all things vintage, fans of architectural salvage, artists, designers and those who love the thrill of the find. Thankfully, it was indoors, as it was a rainy day. But I whiled away the hours marveling at three auditoriums full of fantastic displays, created by talented visual artists with a flair for grand statements.

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Goofball and good guy, Don Short of West End Salvage, HGtv & DIY Channel

Artists like Vanessa “Kiki” Johanning brought much-needed color and warmth to the Early Bird line, snaked around the front of Canterbury Park at 7:30 a.m. Kiki’s rowdy entourage, with their laughter and cheers made everyone smile. At MN events the people-watching is paired with a healthy dose of Minnesota nice. Strangers become friends.

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Artist Kiki Johanning  #squadgoals

I found a few pieces of Hull Magnolia pottery and craft supplies I couldn’t leave without, but mainly I was at the Bonanza for the mood boost, the dopamine rush I get from seeing makers, junkers and artists doing their thing.

By the time I left JB, my anticipation for the beginning of art fair season had reached a fever pitch. Because if it’s a summer weekend in the Twin Cities, there are two things you can be sure of, massive road construction and art fairs.

I like to think of art fairs as the museum’s rebellious kid sister, the wild child with the wandering soul. And in Minnesota, we have almost as many outdoor celebrations of art and artists as we have lakes. Better still, most of these festivals are held right beside some of our most scenic bodies of water.

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View of the historic Mill District from the Stone Arch Bridge Festival

It only seems right that art should be displayed outdoors in the elements, as so much artwork draws inspiration from, or evokes nature; human, but also earth, the heavens, water, flora and fauna, animal. In fact, many Minnesota animals are huge art fans. Literally.

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An Irish Wolfhound admires all the pretty things.

We show up regardless of the mercurial weather. But a hot, sunny day beside the Mississippi, during the Stone Arch Bridge Festival will take your breath away. A magnificent canopy of trees, grassy knolls and park benches provide cool spots to escape the heat and take it all in: art, people, food, classic cars, architecture and nature.

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Pickled Eggs by Kimber Fiebiger

Meandering the posh boulevard running along Lake Minnetonka’s Wayzata Bay during the Wayzata Art Experience and happening upon a whimsical pair of bronze Humpty Dumpties, toasting with martinis, is the type of whimsical surprise that makes it a can’t miss event.

The Uptown Art Fair is the crown jewel of Minnesota’s summer line-up.

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Lake of the Isles, nestled in the heart of the Uptown Art Fair, showcases Minneapolis’ mix of outdoor lifestyle & city living

Located only blocks from three of the city’s most popular and picturesque escapes, Lake of the Isles, Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun, the Uptown Art Fair features over 350 artists from around the world, and has been honored with over 140 Pinnacle Awards by the International Festivals and Events Association.

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My dog Bacon loves Uptown

The Uptown Theater takes its name from the funky urban epicenter of Minneapolis called Uptown, a neighborhood that showcases the diversity of people, food and culture in the Twin Cities.

Food trucks pepper the streets around Hennepin & Lake. The delicious aromas of cheese curds, bbq and paella fill the air. Icy cold beverages abound. Ahhhh, this is the life.

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You won’t find Happy Mouth Pickles at the MOMA

If Coachella had a midwestern art fair cousin, the Uptown Art Fair would be it. Live music, beer gardens and the eclectic Uptown vibe contribute to a party atmosphere. The right brain is fully engaged.

For me, the art fair versus gallery experience is transcendent. Don’t get me wrong, I love museums. But when was the last time you went to a museum and actually got to talk to the artist whose work stands right before you, to ask questions about the why and the how of it? When I see artwork that intrigues me or speaks to me, I usually find that I share some commonality with its artist, whether it’s experience, place or feeling or sense of humor. What a treat to be able to meet all of these colorful, passionate human beings with the courage to pursue their vision and embrace their innate talents.

 

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Copyright Artist Kina Crow

“Adrift with just a tutu and her everyday tiara” 

Kina Crow is one of my favorite art fair discoveries.  While Kina will be traveling only as far west from her home in Pennsylvania as the St. Louis Art Fair in 2017, she was an Uptown Art Fair regular for many years. In fact her whimsical clay and paint dioramas were awarded Best in Show, Mixed Media in 2008 and 2009.

The first time I saw Kina Crow’s cheeky little humans made of clay, pondering the great mysteries of life, I laughed out loud. Okay, I probably snorted, unabashedly, as I am known to do when something really tickles me.

Kina’s artwork reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from author Elizabeth Gilbert, “Don’t ever be ashamed of loving all the strange things that make your weird little heart happy.” Kina’s little people with their angsty adorableness (I know it’s not a word, but it should be) ARE the strange little things! She celebrates that lingering bit of awkward adolescent in all of us, who stumble about in this big old world trying to make sense of it all, and she does it with humor, and the aforementioned quirky adorableness. Kina’s new book, I Wonder, is a work of art itself.

So while art fairs may be a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy a gorgeous summer day, surrounded by interesting people, listen to music, taste delicious food and pet all the dogs, what really makes it amazing is finding art and artists you will fall in love with and enjoy for the rest of your life.

Ferris wheel

 

**** Main Image and all images of Kina Crow artwork are copyright-protected and used with permission from the artist.****

 

Springtime at the Arboretum

I spent the morning surrounded by birdsong at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The chickadee is my spirit animal, or is it spirit bird?

It’s springtime in Minnesota and life is beautiful!

Especially since our very own Minnesota Landscape Arboretum was named The Best Botanical Garden in the country in the 2017 USA Today Reader’s Choice Survey.

Twenty botanical gardens from around the U.S. were nominated by a panel of experts and the Arboretum was voted number one.

I have to admit, I did more than my fair share of lobbying for votes. I’m lucky enough to live about 20 minutes from the Arboretum in Chanhassen, MN, a southwest suburb of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s located just down the road from Minnesota icon Prince Rogers Nelson’s Paisley Park studio.

In fact, Prince enjoyed spending time there.

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Prince at the MN Landscape Arboretum. Photo Credit: Arboretum website

I have an annual membership, so I can enjoy the arboretum year-round, in my state that celebrates four resplendent seasons, each uniquely gorgeous in its own right. While there’s a three-mile trail that winds its way through the various gardens, an avid gardener or photographer can find small wonders to entertain herself in just one small area on multiple visits.

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The daffodils are coming soon!

So even though most spring bulbs and flowering trees are still weeks away from blooming, I visited the garden this morning to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air that April ushered in. Maple syrup was flowing into buckets hung on the trunks of the giant maples and the smokestacks were billowing out long gray plumes at the Maple Sugar House.

Waves of daffodil and tulip leaves stood at attention on every hill, garden and wooded area. In just a few weeks the entire arboretum will be awash in a sea of color and fragrance.

I had planned to join the mothers pushing strollers, retirees and tourists who enjoy daily walks on the 3-mile trail through the garden today.

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As I was crouching down to peer at the plants, I heard a rustling at my knee. The friendly garter snake. Lots of wildlife at every turn.

Instead I got side-lined in the very first garden I came across. I hadn’t been expecting much color, but as it’s my first season as a member, I thought I’d familiarize myself with the various areas, and the plants they contained. It’s always fun to try to identify the early foliage of the perennials as they first poke through the soil. But I was pleasantly surprised to find many pops of color sprinkled throughout the first garden.

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A cold hardy Dwarf Iris (Frank Elder) 4/23

I planted my first Iris garden last September, with bulbs from the National Iris Society’s sale at the Arboretum in August. So I was delighted to find these little beauties nestled into the rocks.

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Snowdrops. Beautiful blue, too!

Snowdrops are the earliest blooming bulbs to appear on the scene, just as the last snow is melting in March, with the little cups of crocuses following hot on their heels.

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Brilliant purple crocus

Besides hunting for blooms and identifying bird calls, spring is an excellent time to stop and learn something new, that I might normally just breeze by, thinking “oh that’s pretty.” The skeletons of espaliered apple trees stopped me dead in my tracks. The outdoor living garden has a small square paneled on three sides with these ghostly beauties.

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Espaliered Haralson Apple Tree – Introduced in 1922 by the U of M

Then there are the gorgeous structural shrubs that flourish year-round and never fail to wow, such as this beautifully sculpted Korean Boxwood. Love the vibrant foliage. I have two miniature boxwood in my fairy garden at home, so they’re a favorite of mine.

Korean Boxwood

Finally when you’re not in a big rush, during the lull before the full spring bloom and its resultant crowds, solitary time in the gardens allows for time to stop and appreciate the beautiful sculpture, art installations, benches and other hardscape features that memorialize loved ones inspired by nature. I thought this was especially poignant.

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In addition to the beautiful grounds, the Arboretum features events and workshops year-round. I’m looking forward to Yoga in the Garden, using the On-Leash Trail with 3 energetic terriers, plant sales, and the 20th Annual Bud Break and Daffodil Dash 5K coming up on May 7th.

For more information, visit the Landscape Arboretum website at arboretum.umn.edu.

In whatever part of the world you call home, I hope you take some time this month, to get out and enjoy nature. Your senses, mind, body and spirit will thank you.

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So Much to Love About February

For some reason the WordPress gremlins ate the text of this post. Phooey. Although, I can’t say for sure it wasn’t operator error. In any event, I’ll quickly share some of the highlights, despite the fact that it is now well into March.

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It was a snowless Minnesota in February this year. So I posted a few of my favorite things to do when winter weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans to get outdoors and have some fun in the snow.

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Dig in the Dirt. It’s the perfect time to repot your plants! Maybe you’re like me, and on occasion the poor plants are just stuck in their original container and set inside a pot. No shaming here. But your plant’s roots will be so much happier and healthier when they can stretch out their legs in some fresh, fluffy dirt. It’s a great time to feed your plants, too. With seed starting still a month away for us in the north, here’s a chance to exercise that green thumb.

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Visit a local arboretum or nursery. Even though my hair hates it, I have to admit I adore the thick sultry humidity that envelops me when I walk through the doors of the Fern Room at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul. We also are blessed with the wonderful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, one of the best in the country, right here in our own back yard. There are classes and special events running yearround.

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Minnesota’s own Ames Honey Farm

Enjoy an outdoor summer event, indoors. Indoor farmer’s markets, like Bachman’s Winter Market, shown above, are gaining popularity everywhere. The Landscape Arboretum and local nurseries are also hosting them this winter. What a wonderful opportunity to support local growers, farmers, artisan bakers and brewers. An extra bonus is that everyone is so happy to be at a market in midwinter, your mood is sure to get a boost from all the smiles. *The next Winter Market at Bachman’s will be held March 25th, at their Lyndale store.

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Puzzles are having a moment! I’ve read three separate celebrity interviews in the last couple months referencing the puzzle craze. More socializing and gossip is shared over puzzles at my house than just about anywhere else. If I want to have a good conversation with my husband, I need to do a puzzle with him. Puzzles are so relaxing! And so blessedly technology free. If you’re ever in the mood to really splurge, check out Liberty Puzzles. According to their website, “Liberty Puzzles are a throwback to the golden age of jigsaw puzzles.  Each one contains dozens of hand-drawn “whimsy” pieces intricately cut into the shapes of characters, animals, and geometric designs.  They are works of art within art.  The puzzles are made with 1/4” plywood and use advance print technology for eye-popping color.” These puzzles are absolutely amazing. But pricey. Maybe I’ll ask Santa for a Liberty Puzzle next year.

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Take the 2017 Good Reads Challenge. Do you have a Good Reads account? It really is a must for book lovers. Good Reads creates a virtual book shelf for you, let’s you keep track of the books you want to read, read reviews of books you’re on the fence about and get recommendations from your friends based on their bookshelves. Every year you can challenge yourself and your friends to read more, because reading is simultaneously stimulating and soothing for the mind, body and soul. Over one million Good Readers have pledged to read 73,833,021 books in 2017 to date. I’m already halfway to my goal of 25, so time to adjust that goal.

Well, there you have it – the somewhat amended, “missing” February post. I’ve left off the Valentines, but I can’t resist sharing this photo of Valentine’s for your furry loves, post-Valentine’s Day. Maybe you can start shopping for next year? Here’s one of my favorite photos from the vanished blog post…online shopping for my very spoiled dogs. Enjoy.

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Birding – Nature’s Yoga

 

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. A bird sings because it has a song.

– Joan Walsh Anglund

There is only one thing in life that motivates me to wash a window, and that’s to better appreciate the fine details of the birds gathered at my feeder.

Just outside my window there is a whole bustling world of little creatures performing a show just for me.

Nature is one of my greatest inspirations, and the most effective anti-depressant available without a prescription. Birds make me unspeakably happy, just by being. All I have to do is provide them a little enticement, some food, a garden, some water and they are my faithful friends year round.

Stepping outside on a cold winter morning, to take out the trash, I hear cheerful songs surrounding me in all directions, from birds on high, unseen in the tall trees dotting the suburban landscape.  A tell-tale monkey call lets me know a pileated woodpecker is nearby, and if I’m lucky he will come swooping by with his pterodactyl–like head and giant wing-span, with all his red-mohawked glory.

Pileated Woodpecker (dryocopus pileatus)

I read somewhere that birdwatching is nature’s yoga. It helps us all slow down and breathe.

There is no instant gratification in bird-watching. If you want a photo of a bird, you will never capture it by making a mad dash for your iPhone. You will have to sit quietly. As you patiently wait, you’ll gradually become more aware of sound, of birdsong, wind, the leaves rustling. You’ll begin to watch for movement and color, staring fixedly between branches and leaves. During this quiet observation, you begin to take note of your own breathing, your heart rate slowing. It’s like meditation.

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Bird-watching is also good for mental alertness and acuity. When you go to a museum, you study paintings, brushstrokes, a painter’s use of light and shadow. When you go to a city, you may study the architecture,  a certain style, arches, columns, or building materials. When you see a fashion show, you study the sophistication or elements of the design, the intricate details of beading or lace, the quality of the fabrics.

With birding, the objects of your study are typically hopping, flitting, flying or seeking cover. Do you know how many types of finches, sparrows and warblers there are? Do you know how difficult it is to discern one hawk from another? A zillion and yes. I know.

Even with guidebooks at the ready, I have trouble distinguishing between finches and warblers, so similar are the color and marking of their feathers. There are so many different variables in look and behaviors, type of beak, wing-patterns, the shape of a tail. tail, the notes of a birdsong. If you’re very lucky, you will see operatic displays of romance or jealousy in territorial birds or mating pairs. I once saw a breeding pair of pileateds flying back and forth from my suet log to the tree and regurgitating food in the mouth of a baby woodpecker. I never regurgitation could be so adorable.

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An Eagle from the Wildlife Rehab Center who attended Mark & Michelle’s wedding.

Bird-watching can also lead to human romance. Who needs eHarmony when you’re part of a passionate community of birders? My friends Mark and Michelle met through a birding group on Facebook. They go bird-banding together, at night, with coal miner lights strapped to their heads. They rescue raptors. They travel to exciting birding destinations, like South America. They built a huge backyard waterfall and pond to attract more birds to their yard. Did I mention that among the most distinguished guests at their wedding, were several raptors from the rehabilitation center where Michelle volunteers?

Mark who works at All Seasons Wild Bird Store in Minnetonka, says”Winter birds, with their spring songs and colorful attire, remind a person that life should be happy, not sad.”

If you’d like to become a backyard birder and enjoy all the mental and physical benefits, here is a variety of seed to help you get started. My $15 membership at my local Wild Bird Store, saves me 10% off all my purchases.

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Sunflower chips attract all the little songbirds. Especially my darling chickadees and nuthatches. Nuthatches are the only birds that run head first down a tree trunk. The Berry Nutty blend is a higher calorie blend, great for winter feeding because of its critical nutrients and antioxidants. I like to put out a bowl of peanuts especially for the blue jays, and watch them come and go like planes at the airport. They cache their nuts and can remember hiding spots months later. Golden Safflower is another songbird favorite, but people like it, because the squirrels don’t. A squirrel has gotta eat, too, though! And nyger thistle is a favorite of finches, chickadees and ground-feeding juncos in winter.

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Finally, the best birding gift I ever received was a woodpecker log, over a decade ago now. It’s a birch log feeder with holes drilled to fit these year-round, no mess suet plugs. I can sit at my window and watch seven different varieties of woodpeckers come to feed. I’ve seen cardinals and flickers eat from it as well.

 

I’d like to share a small portion from a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. The poem is entitled Snow Geese, from her collection of poems, “Why I Wake Early.”

“The geese

flew on.

I have never

seen them again.

Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.

Maybe I won’t.

It doesn’t matter.

What matters

is that, when I saw them,

I saw them

As through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.”

If feeding the birds in your own yard isn’t an option for you, I encourage you to check out one of my favorite pages on Facebook, Ricky Montgomery’s Wildlife. His feeder cameras are amazing.

The Chickadee & Me

Welcome to Chickadee. I hope you’ll like it here.

First things first. Why Chickadee? That’s simple. I draw my comfort and inspiration from nature. Chickadees are plentiful here in Minnesota and they flock to the feeders, where you can pick out their distinctive and merry song “chicka-dee-dee-dee” from the cacophony of other bird music.

Secondly, if you’ve ever watched a chickadee for any length of time, you’ll see them flit about the tree branches, alighting briefly at the feeder, then hopping over to a fence post, all the while watching the world around them.

That’s the way my mind works. I am quite literally a bit of a manic person. Peripatetic is a great description of my thoughts and many passions. On any given day, I will usually have several creative projects going. I might be needle-felting cupcakes, rubber-stamping, or making garlands of rainbow colors, washi-taping dayplanner pages, potting plants, planning gardens, playing with miniatures, decorating my home, or taking hundreds of photos of my three terriers for their Instagram page. You can follow them @missmelliebee15.

Expressing myself creatively, digging in the garden, walking in the woods soaking in the calm I feel in nature and a lifelong passion for books are the things that bring me happiness.

Recently one of the commenters on a photo of my dog Bacon, my kindred spirit, a scruffy rescue who loves snow more than life itself, remarked that Bacon was a “global joy-bringer.” I thought that was just about the coolest compliment anyone could ever give. In a perfect world, that’s what everyone would aspire to.

And that’s what I hope Chickadee can do. By sharing the many things that bring me joy, I hope to bring a little bit to you.

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