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Baby it’s Cold Outside

January morning out the back door

January morning out the back door

It’s finally starting to feel like winter.  We’ve had enough snow to cover the ground and temperatures are falling.  In Minnesota we are known for being the “frozen North”  but most of December our temperatures remained above freezing.   This is nice in theory.

The warmer temperatures did make getting out and about a little easier.  Navigating sidewalks wasn’t a problem as there was no build up of snow.  On street parking was available and none of the commercial spaces need to use their handicapped parking spots as the “logical” place to pile the snow shoveled off the lot.

On the other hand, there was no White Christmas.  The magic of the season, the lights the sounds, are all shifted when there is a crispness in the air and snow on the ground.  Instead of clear starry nights we had clouds and sleet.  Many people I spoke with were having a hard time finding the spirit of the season, and I blame that on the weather.

The snow cover protects our plants in the frigid cold that January often brings.  Because most of our precipitation has been rain, that snowy blanket isn’t as effective.  We can hope that we will continue to remain warmer this season, but there is a difference between climate and weather.

The climate is shifting.  The lines for gardening zones have moved quite notably in my lifetime.  But in any given year we can see any kind of weather.  I complain that the forecasts often compare our temperatures to the “average”.  Here that is meaningless.

When temperatures on any given day from the highest high to the lowest low range anywhere from 40-80 degrees what’s 5 or 10 degrees above or below “average”?   I suspect there are days when the “average” high or low is a temperature than doesn’t exist in the historical listing for highs and lows on those days.

This chart from KORD shows how broad our extremes can be and how "normal" doesn't look much like what actually happens.

This chart from KORD shows how broad our extremes can be and how “normal” doesn’t look much like what actually happens.

January often sees days below zero.  It is not uncommon to see weeks where temperatures never rise above zero.  We’ve had three-week stretches of unrelenting, bone chilling weather.  Finally we’ve dropped the temperature to a point where maybe we can remember what winter is really like.

I’m not the only one blogging about the weather this week.  If you want a warmer POV check out Monica’s Tangled Web.


934163_10151450430341347_2079875829_nFinally things are starting to bloom here in Minnesota.  Not the least of which is the legislature passing the Freedom of Marriage Act.  I’ve been listening to the debates all day.  (That’s my excuse for the late posting and I’m proud of it.)  It’s quite incredible to me how threatened people feel by something that doesn’t really affect them at all.

The business arguments, “What if my religion prevents me from selling my product to ‘those people’.” are as hateful today as they were when they were used against black people, or immigrants or women.  When you sell bleach do you ask if it’s going to be used in a bomb?  When you sell guns do you ask if they are going to be used to kill people?  These things violate most religions principles as well.

Does marriage count if it’s sanctioned by a religion other than your own?  If not then it really isn’t persecution of your religious values, it is your religion persecuting others.  If it does count then who are you to say what other religions may or may not sanctify?  Pagans have been marrying same sex couples for years.  The issue wasn’t the sanctity of the union, it was the legality.  This law rectifies that on a civil and public level.  Maybe soon the entire country will understand this issue from that viewpoint.

(not this year's) magnolia

(not this year’s) magnolia

There are people who believe this law somehow requires them to marry someone of the same sex.  Seriously, that’s how confused people are by the debate.  There are people who believe this law somehow requires ministers in their church’s to marry people who don’t conform to the religious values.  Actually, ministers have always had autonomy regarding who is and isn’t allowed to be married in their churches or religious ceremonies.  I’ve known people who shopped for Christian ministers who were willing to concede that their “mixed marriages” were worth sanctifying.  These are couples that don’t share the same religion, although there was a time in my lifetime when other kinds of “mixed marriages” were equally frowned upon.  There isn’t agreement on this issue even in the religious arguments.

The magnolia trees burst out in blossom last week.  Now we shouldn’t have magnolia trees.  The ones we do have are ornamental and are tucked into microclimates in people’s yards.  Magnolia’s bloom in their native environment sometime in February.  They are an old tree, probably survivors of the Jurassic period.  They predate bees in the geologic record.  They bloom before the leaves come out.

In flower languages the magnolia is a bloom of nobility.  It is joyous and bold.  As an ancient species there are also associations about perseverance.  They are a magnificent flower.  What an appropriate sign of the times for them to be blooming when the state declares marriage legal for a joyous and bold population.

opened 5/13/2013

opened 5/13/2013

Which brings us to tulips (two lips).  Tulips need the ground to thaw all the way down to the base of the bulb, and they get planted fairly deep.  It takes awhile.  Mine just opened today.  It feels like spring.  In flower language tulips are the flower for the perfect lover.  Like roses, a bouquet of tulips can be seen as a declaration of love.

Tulips are one of the plants Michael Pollan covers in Botany of Desire.  A really interesting read if you are fascinated by the way humans manipulate their environment.  Pollan’s take is that there are plants in the environment that recognize humans as a resource and have manipulated us.  I can see it with tulips.  The desire, the anticipation, of the color and variety that signals a true end to winter is palatable.  The way they retain their stately form, even as cut flowers, until the very end is also appealing.

The tulips are coming out and so are the couples who have been together for years.  The partners who want to share their property without paying inheritance taxes are coming out.  The families who want to be allowed into emergency rooms and ICU’s are coming out.  The lovers who want to hold hands in public are coming out.

Tuesday Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota, will sign into law on the capitol steps the  Freedom of Marriage Act.  The anticipated crowd will be filled with all the colors of the rainbow.  Tulips being one of the most diversely colored species on the planet they are a perfect symbol of a community uniting for love.

Soon there will be daffodils and iris, violets and borage and lilacs.  Remember last year’s post about Weather?  Check the date on those photos.  When I said we were a month early I wasn’t kidding!  I just hope that we have a mad “catch-up” in the next two weeks or there won’t be a long enough growing season for many of my favorite plants.

Hopefully the rest of the country will do it’s mad “catch-up” as well.  Minnesota is 12th of 50.  There are plenty more to go.


You all thought I was going to write about gun legislation didn’t you.   I’m not.  I’m trying to look at packing as a metaphor.  It seems like a better approach than looking upon it as a chore.

vintage luggage

vintage luggage

We use the term baggage a lot to talk about all the “stuff” we carry with us through life.  I suspect the reference is effective in part because so many people tend to over pack.  In the era of weighed checked luggage where we pay $25 + per bag,  that overpacking issue gets tackled head on.

I think about the ways people have packed in the past.  Traveling by ship with steamer trunks is a little different than flying with a carry on tote.  On the other side of it we’re going the distance for a weekend when back then it could be a month or more before even arriving at your destination.  I look at old movies and watch actors skip down the road swinging those old suitcases.  I’ve seen those suitcases in thrift stores.  They’re tiny.  They’re heavy!

Of course the actor has an empty suitcase, if it’s not a piece of plastic painted to look like one.  But even back in those days most people had the clothes on their backs, one set to wash and one for church on Sunday.  There were no shoes in those suitcases.  If there were books it was probably just one small Bible.  Jewelry for common people wasn’t particularly abundant either.  I wonder how often they changed their underwear?

Orion: 2 pants, 5 warm shirts, 2 t-shirts, socks and underwear and room for twice that.

Orion: 2 pants, 5 warm shirts, 2 t-shirts, socks and underwear and room for twice that.

Those small suitcases (and this goes for carry on bags) are an issue as well.  I’m not a small girl.  I’m 5’10” and grossly overweight.  For any one piece of clothing I get into my bag my daughter (5’8″ and fit) or my son (weighing under 100 lbs) can pack 2 or 3 of the same.  Either of them can wear vintage clothing (although with my daughter it’s tougher for the height and shoulders).  It speaks to that old fashioned luggage, people were smaller.   I’m lucky if I can wear a vintage hat.  ($25 to check that hatbox Ma’am.)

Then there is the issue of seasonal travel.  The Twin Cities in Minnesota has the largest temperature range for its population density in the world.  Any time of year the “average” temperatures give or take 20 degrees.  It’s hard to pack one outfit that’s reasonable for both 75 degrees and 35 degrees Fahrenheit.  Temps in that entire range are common any day in 6 months out of the year, and possible in all of them.  (Well maybe our highest temperature ever in January was 69 degrees but our lowest in July was 24!)  When traveling to multiple climate zones (or a crazy place like Minnesota) layers are essential and that means less room in the luggage.  A sweater takes up a lot more space than a swimsuit!

Sweater and swimsuit

Sweater and swimsuit

I’ve done enough traveling that I do pack well and can travel lightly.  I have trouble lifting or carrying a bag that weighs as much as that 50 lbs excess baggage limit.  Still I’m often amazed at what I choose to include on any given trip.  How much of my “good intentions” packing (sure I’ll work on that project while I’m away) do I ever really get to do?  Other than reading on the plane, do I find myself reading in hotel rooms?  How much of what I run to Target to grab before I go would be just as easy to pick up once I arrive?

I’m still reaching for the metaphor.  I’m not sure what packing says about me, about us.  I do feel better about doing it.  Packing as a meditation……….

Thanks for listening.

3 summer weight dresses, 2 summer  weight jackets, underwear- no socks, jewelry - no makeup and I'm already bursting at the seams!

3 summer weight dresses, 2 summer weight jackets, underwear- no socks, jewelry – no makeup and I’m already bursting at the seams!


crab apple

I really can’t get over the weather this spring.  We had some snow yesterday, flurries in the cities and more up north.  The general reaction was surprise.  “This isn’t normal.”  Actually it is.  Not only is it normal for April, but it’s not unheard of even in May when the trees typically are in blossom and the bulbs are blooming.

I’ve lived in the area all my life and I was raised to be aware of the weather.  We did a lot of camping, even locally, and that of course helped.  I grew up fascinated by thunderstorms and tornadoes.  I watched from my basement window as the tornadoes that destroyed one of our neighboring suburbs went past.  I was out on the lake with my father and grandfather when a storm came in and we sat out the accompanying tornado under the boat pulled up on someone’s lakeshore back yard.  I’ve ridden through tornado weather in a tent, occasionally the only one left standing in the campground the next morning.

lilacs begining to bloom

In the fall of 1985 I announced that I was getting married on May 10, 1986 and that there would be apple blossoms and fresh lilacs for my bouquet. I was told I was crazy.  First off that the lilacs followed the apple blossoms, they did not bloom at the same time.  Secondly that here in Minnesota neither the apple nor the lilac bloomed that early in the year.  I was adamant.

Although it was early I knew down to my bones that it was possible.  I’d been watching for years with an awareness that I wanted those flowers when and if I ever got married.  Yes the lilacs usually follow the apples, but sometimes for a couple of days they can be in bloom together.  Yes the spring is often later than that second week of May, but early springs had happened almost that time of year.

wedding photo by Ron Simms

I got married on May 10, 1986 under a blossoming apple tree with lilacs in my bouquet.   I had to bring the lilacs in the night before and put them in warm water to force the blossom from the bud, but I was a happy bride.   This is why I keep insisting that we are a full month ahead on the season.  We really are.  The fruit trees are blossoming and the lilacs are starting to bloom.  In mid April.  Even before the taxes were due.

In my lifetime, my fathers lifetime and my grandfathers lifetime this weather pattern was unheard of until this year.  Everyone loves it.  I love it, it’s beautiful.  It’s also SO wrong.  There is no predicting if it will hold or if we will loose all the fruits from these early blossoms.  There is no predicting if we will have and earlier or longer or hotter summer.  There is no predicting what may happen in August.

The weather forecasters and climatologists are using models based on data that is no longer applicable.  They are assuming that the weather patterns will hold true as they move to more northern latitudes.  Unfortunately there is no data that indicates that is an accurate theory.  The tornado systems that have plagued the midwest already this year (much too early in the season) are not typical of Texas springs.

Lilacs along the Lilac Drive

Most of us have become very urbanized.  We are dependent on the shipping of our produce from “wherever it might be growing.”  We have lost our sense of how the climate affects the crops, affects the prices, affects anything beyond our daily comfort.  That’s why we are loving this weather, this early spring.

I can’t say I’ve had much conversation with the local farmers.  Our farmers markets typically don’t even open until after Memorial Day and there’s rarely much produce until mid June.  I suspect they are as torn as I am.  Enjoying the early and dry spring as it allows for early planting.  Worried about the lack of rain rather than the over abundance springs often bring.  Not at all sure what they are risking by planting early, or what the potential for gain may be if we have an extended season.

In all my life I can not remember ever taking the weather truly one day at a time.  I’ve always seen the patterns.  I’ve always had a climate norm that I could relate to.   I’ve always laughed at the weather forecasters who compare “today’s temperatures” with the mean average, knowing that our “typical” temperatures in the spring are plus or minus 15 degrees.


I guess I’m just going to have to get used to the weather as it comes.  We all will.  Let’s hope the surprises Mother Nature has in store for us are things we can survive.

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