Cured by Flowers

Cured by Flowers

Last evening I went out to pick the last of the day’s ripe blueberries, and as I was lingering in the garden enjoying the cool dusky air, I noticed the sunflowers.  In the last week, there are four of them that have grown almost as tall as me and are starting to show signs of blossoming.  Their heads are still tight in a bud, but you can tell they are eagerly waiting the day when they can show their petals to the sun and offer themselves to the world.

I just read an excerpt from the last chapter of Anatomy of a Rose, a book by Sharman Apt Russell, and it is about being cured by flowers.  She points out that for a long time flowers have been used as medicine – from prescription drugs that contain some part of a flowering plant to folk medicine, flowers have healing properties.  There are hundreds of ways to let plants, and specifically flowers, help our bodies heal: from evening primrose to sage to cornflower to prickly poppy, flowers have the power to cure what ails us.   Continue reading “Cured by Flowers”

Let Wildness Find You

Let Wildness Find You

Right now the garden is thriving.  Every leaf is reaching its leaves toward the sky, and every root is nestling deep into the soil, drinking up the ample nourishment that comes with abundant rains and enough organic compost.  The sunflowers that were a foot high two weeks ago will soon be taller than me, and their flower heads follow the sun as it arcs across the sky, ending the day gazing toward the westerly hills.  There are cabbages as big as my fist, canopies of kale providing shade for the vole who munches the beets, and if you were to stretch all of the winter squash and zucchini vines out in a line they would reach down the road and around the corner.  Bees and hummingbirds are buzzing about, happily drinking up raspberry and oregano blossom nectar, doing their important pollinating work.  The scarecrow is earning his keep as the peppers, tomatoes and eggplants stake their claim and the potato plants are starting to lean over in hopes of harvest.  Eva, the resident three year old, likes to dart between the staked rows with bare feet and hide behind bouquets of wildflowers.   Like I said, everything is thriving.  And when I can remember how much life and abundance and beauty and breath catching astonishment exists just outside the door, I thrive, too. Continue reading “Let Wildness Find You”

Homestead Spring

Homestead Spring

Red Brush Farms

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
~J.R.R. Tolkien


Eva, my three year old, and I spent this past weekend at the family homestead.  We packed up Friday morning and made the five hour trek across Minnesota to the eastern plains of the South Dakota prairie.  Waiting for us were fields of freshly tilled dark earth, young seedlings firming their roots into the earth, and welcoming arms strong from spring planting.   We found garlic fields inching toward the sky by the day and peas and turnips and beets content to drink up moisture by the minute, ever anxious to grow into their full potential.  Life on the farm picks up speed as the month of May winds down.  Summer is coming.


Hillside Prairie Gardens, the family farm, has been in operation for upwards of 30 years, but in the last few  things…

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Cultivating Community: St. Croix Valley Food Swap

Cultivating Community: St. Croix Valley Food Swap

Last fall I read an article in Taproot Magazine about the Portland Preservation Society.  The goal of the society is to provide a forum for swapping homemade food — in their case, mostly canned goods.  They meet monthly; usually in people’s homes, in each other’s gardens,  and even sometimes at local businesses to talk food, food preservation, support each other’s efforts in living sustainably and go home with a variety of things that they probably wouldn’t have made themselves.

It made me want to move to Portland and join.

And since I actually like Minnesota winters and have a community and little piece of land that I am extremely grateful to call home, it seemed like the next best thing to moving across the country to swap homemade food was the start a local group.

Enter the St. Croix Valley Food Swap.

The plan in my mind is to gather a loose collective of St. Croix Valley (eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin along the St. Croix River area) food/sustainable living enthusiasts to meet monthly to swap homemade goods — though participation is certainly open to anyone who wants to join, regardless of geographical area.  So, if you live in Portland and want to travel to Minnesota to swap, you are most welcome. Continue reading “Cultivating Community: St. Croix Valley Food Swap”

Jars of Bliss

Jars of Bliss

Red Brush Farms

On the surface, there’s not much going on with gardens in Minnesota right now.  It’s January, the temperature outside has been consistently below zero and the view up the hill to the field is awash with brown, gray and bright white.  The hoses are wound and covered with piles of snow, the berry bushes have turned brittle with the cold and the garlic that was planted a few months ago lays in wait for the spring thaw that is still months away.  A few seed catalogues have arrived, some pots have been moved to different spot in the garage and we continue to add to the compost pile at delight of the opossum that lives nearby, but activities like baking bread, starting fires in the wood stove, skiing around the lake and reading books dictate the flow of the days.  There is the coming season’s garden to plan, to be sure……

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Notes on Being Alive

Notes on Being Alive

Wake up. Notice how things grow. Don’t be afraid to see what you see, hear what you hear, think what you think, or feel what you feel.   Attend sunrises. ~Douglas Wood

What was your initial response to Mr. Woods’ suggestion? When I first read the little book that contains the above advice, Breathe the Wind, Drink the Rain: Notes on Being Alive, I thought, “Of course. Stay aware. Notice life as it happens. Be authentic. Pay attention to a new day coming into being. No problem.”

Well. As with most simple advice, it has proven more challenging than I anticipated. What follows are some suggestions and strategies that I find to be effective in my quest to experience life fully. Sometimes it works really well. Sometimes I fall of the wagon. But if I do these things consistently, I am reminded of the beauty that is possible when I can live in a way that supports noticing what matters.

First things first: Wake up. To me waking up is more than just the physical act of coming out of a sleep state. It means seeing past the illusions that are presented via media, advertising and an economic culture that is based on always getting the next best thing. So how do we avoid getting sucked into the propaganda?

  1. Tune into how you feel the next time an advertisement crosses your consciousness. Does it invite you feel joyful? Or does it invite you feel like you are somehow incomplete without whatever it is?
  2. If you feel a sense of “I am not enough” look at that feeling. Acknowledge its existence. Let it be there. Then let it go. You are complete, even without a new pair of heels or lash lengthening mascara or the latest smart phone or trim waistline.
  3. Start to notice the energy of the messages that are coming from the media. Notice the sense of lack that pervades so much of advertising and decide to stop paying your own energy into a system that is set up to make you feel like you are missing something. Limit screen time, avoid television and pay more attention to the trees under the billboards than the messages plastered along the roadways.

Next: Notice how things grow. We live in a time of instant gratification. We can get what we want whenever we want it as long as we are willing to pay the asking price. Sometimes I forget to embrace the process of growth and evolution.   In our fast paced lives, how do we slow down enough to notice life happening around us?

  1. Plant a seed. Maybe it’s in a community garden, maybe it’s in a pot in your windowsill, maybe it’s in your front yard. Give it some sun, water it and witness its growth. It will invite you to be patient and to trust the process of accepting whatever is happening in the present moment.
  2. Pay attention to your breath. Take a minute or two to push back from your screen right now to close your eyes, inhale deeply into your lower abdomen to the count of three and hold for a few seconds. Then exhale to the count of three and repeat. Focusing on our breath is an effective way to return to the state of mindful presence that allows us to notice what is happening when we skim the hectic surface off of our days.
  3. Commit to eating at least one meal or snack per day with no distractions. No internet, no phone, no newspaper, no planning the next section of your day in your head. Tune into the food on your plate and notice the way it tastes, how you feel as you to eat it, and how it satisfies your hunger. Notice how eating with full awareness invites you to make the choices that serve you and what your physical body needs best.

Moving on: Don’t be afraid to see what you see, hear what you hear, think what you think, or feel what you feel. So many times, I find myself interpreting what I see, hear, think or feel through someone else’s lens. When I can truly look at what’s going on through my own experience and my own lens, I am more able to act in a way that is consistent with what I value, regardless of what another might see, hear, think or feel.

  1. Identify something that you would describe as beautiful. Let yourself think about why that something is beautiful to you and about what has colored your perception. Is your idea of beauty consistent with what really matters to you?   Let your unique interpretation of beauty shine through.
  2. When you are feeling negative, sad, irritated or fearful, don’t try to mask those feelings. Let them bubble to the surface and then look at them without judgment. Sometimes we need to experience certain feelings fully in order to let them go.
  3. Speak up for what matters to you. Go against the grain if your entire being is screaming at you to do so. Be the one who doesn’t cross the road with the crowd. Let your life speak through the things you do and the things you don’t do. Be authentic to what matters.

And finally: Attend sunrises. For me, witnessing the start of a new day holds a power that is hard to describe. There is such potential in the breaking of a new dawn. As the rhythm of the earth moves my part of the world into a new day, when I take the time in the morning to witness that new start, I am more apt to acknowledge the good that can be found, even in the midst of challenge.

  1. Sleep well. Figure out an evening ritual you can do to help you unwind, set up your sleeping space to support you, and tell those you share space with about your plan.  Allow yourself time to rest.
  2. Splash some warm water on your face after you rise, stretch your body and walk go outside if conditions allow.
  3. Greet the sun as it does its own stretch into a new day, or bid it goodnight if early rising isn’t your thing. Express gratitude for the opportunity to breathe into a fresh start or for another day lived.

Mr. Wood goes onto include several more simple tips on how to be alive, but I’ll let you read the book and come up with your own interpretations for the rest.

Do you have some strategies that have proven useful as you work on staying present and living in a way that is consistent with what matters to you?  Be sure to share them in the comments so we can all benefit from your wisdom and experience!

A version of this post first appeared at Having Time.

Earth Day, 2014

Earth Day, 2014

The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity — then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus is the challenge, to look at the [story of] our world from a different perspective.

-David Suzuki

You might say that the story we are in right now on Earth is one that sees the planet as a resource – a thing to be used – complete with a hierarchy of power with the richest of humans at the very top. You might say, as Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee does, that “We are the inheritors of this culture {story} that has banished the relationship to the sacred from the Earth.”

How do we shift our thinking into an awareness that breaks free from our conditioning and our fear of doing things in a radically different way? How do we tell a new story?

Earth Day, 2014. How will you celebrate?

-Pray, if praying resonates with you, for the health and healing of the earth. Without ceasing.

-Enjoy time outside regularly, in gratitude for what the earth provides.

-Switch from conventional light bulbs to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)

-Use a reusable canvas bag when shopping. Skip the plastic produce bags, too.

-Start a compost pile. Plant a garden. Frequent the farmer’s market.

– Carpool, ride your bike to work, or telecommute 1-2 days per week.

– Meet your neighbors. Share things with them. Chances are, they’re nice and value similar things.

-Plant one native berry-bearing shrub or tree to provide food for birds.

-Buy local, even if it’s not convenient and costs more.

-Join a CSA (community supported agriculture)

-Limit showers to 5 minutes.

-Turn off the car when waiting to pick up the kids or when at the bank drive through.

-Make 15% more of your purchases from providers that commit to fair trade and/or organic practices.

-Commit to buying nothing one month. Maybe longer. Maybe as a part of a group.

-When replacing appliances, install energy efficient models. Or ditch the dryer and get a clothesline.

– Invest in solar hot water or electricity for your home. Or subscribe to a solar garden, like the one in Minneapolis.

– Give up plastic. For good.

We can tell a new story. Part of it is already being written as you read these words. What is your next chapter going to say?

Read the full post at enough.

Growing Season

Growing Season

Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.

~Mary Oliver

As February gives way to March, I start thinking about seeds. Which leads to thinking about soil, planting the seeds, tending the plants, and the resulting harvest. Most large grocery stores in Minnesota, where I live, have fresh produce stocked all the time- even in the depths of winter. But that produce comes from Mexico and California and New Zealand and isn’t so “fresh” by the time it arrives in Cub Foods. So despite the convenience of being able to walk into a store and get whatever I want, whenever I want it, I choose to embrace the benefits of sourcing fruits, vegetables and other food items from places closer to home. Or at home, in some cases. I try to do the bulk of my shopping at farmer’s markets and a small locally owned grocery to supplement what is harvested from the garden. If I didn’t have the space or time or desire to tend a garden, I would probably be a member of one of the many CSAs (community support agriculture) that serve my community.

There’s nothing like going out to your yard or patio (or even windowsill) to pluck a juicy red tomato from a vine or pick some lettuce for a salad. Anyone can do it-you don’t need a green thumb or years of experience or a 30 acre farm. All you need are some basic tools, a pot or spot in the yard with good soil, some seeds or seedlings, light, water and patience.

For help in getting started with your own growing season, check out this growing guide, or head to your library to borrow a book on gardening. Many community education programs offer gardening classes, as do local extension services, through the master gardener program. But your best bet? Plant something and see what happens. Some things won’t grow. Last year none of my hot pepper plants came up. And some things will grow and then wilt before ripening, or get eaten by bugs. Or deer. But some things will grow and thrive, and it will be amazing. Trust me.

Need some seeds? Seed Savers Exchange, located in Decorah, Iowa, is a non-profit dedicated to saving and sharing (non-GMO) heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. I get most of my seeds from them, in addition to the seeds that we swap with neighbors and those that are gifted by my organic veggie farming family.

Gardening not a good fit? Most communities have some kind of farmer’s market where fresh vegetables, eggs, honey, meats and all sorts of other local products can be found.

And better yet, consider becoming a part of a CSA (what’s involved in CSA membership?) to directly support a farm or garden in their mission to provide healthy food to the community.

To learn about your CSA options, farmer’s markets and other sustainably produced food in your area, visit Local Harvest or the Eat Well Guide.

There is such abundance to be found right where we are. Down the road at the market. In the neighbor’s chicken coop. Or in the yard, in about three months.

I invite you to join me in the garden, or in supporting your local farmer this year!

Earth is here so kind, that just tickle her with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest.

~Douglas William Jerrold, A Land of Plenty