Over the last two weeks, I have realized that I really need to do some closet cleaning. This feeling has been augmented by a couple of factors. One is that my middle son is packing to go away to college. He leaves a week from today. Outside of his room, in the lower level of our house, there are piles that are growing and then being reduced at the same time as the items get categorized and put into boxes. He is doing a good job and I am trying to stay out of it, for he will be the one to unpack and needs to know where he put a particular item. Currently, I am trying to savor the moments with him, so while the piles for any other reason would definitely agitate me, these are not. They’ll be gone and so will he, sooner than I want.
The other factor that leads to me wanting to clean out is that I’m reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. In it, she discusses the “jazz” or “jolt of feel good hormones” she got when she cleaned out her closet. Hmmmm. I’ve cleaned closets before and while I felt purposeful while doing it and accomplished when finished, I am not sure I got a “high” in the process. I somehow recall feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by the task. But, the walk in closet I share with my husband has been calling me for a couple of months, or maybe it’s been years, to really give it a good cleaning. While not a packrat or a hoarder, things still accumulate. It’s time for a purge.
Purging won’t be easy for me and this is probably the single most important reason why it is not done more often. I sentimentally hold on to things – too many things. There are pieces of elementary school artwork from my boys, piles of my papers written in the past four years of grad school, out grown clothes, favorite sweatshirts from college, my stash of candy, extra school supplies, my “gift” tote – where I store gifts for people who I have purchased out of sync with their respective birthdays or upcoming holiday, six dictionaries I bought for my writer’s circle some years ago, and so much more. But, each time I look at these things I recall a memory or the person for whom they were bought or gave them to me. I recall the hours of work I spent on crafting a paper I was proud to turn in. I am almost ashamed to say I still do that as a 50-something old woman. But, having the paper reminds me of my own hard work.
A large part of Rubin’s book – one of her “commandments” is “Be Gretchen.” I’ve been embracing that ideology and am finding that I’m happiest when I’m “Being Carol.” I am who I am. When I am being truest to myself, even with all my quirks, intensities, and yes, even cluttered closets, I am happy. So, the piles downstairs will disappear. soon enough. My closet will stay cluttered for just a little longer, and I’ll savor these last few days with my son.
Part of our home fruit orchard consists of several plum trees. I believe we have four varieties: Kaga, Toga, and Italian (Stanley) Prune Plums. I’ve been watching the trees since it appeared that we were going to have plums to harvest. Today, one of the trees had some that were ripe enough to pick. I believe they are Kaga plums, which are a Japanese-American Hybrid. These fruits are smaller than some of the other types of plums but highly flavorful and often aromatic, as well.
In the past, when plum harvests have been bountiful, I’ve made some plum raspberry jam. When I picked today that was on my mind. But, after I cleaned and tasted the plums, I decided we must have some for dinner in a light chopped fruit salsa type dish to go with our grilled chicken. I am hoping that by Wednesday, I’ll be able to make some jam.
Our pears are also producing and ready to be harvested soon. Unfortunately, we had a problem with our pear trees this year that prompted me to contact an extension agent. My husband noted curling stems and leaves early on in the summer. It since has been determined that this is probably a local soil issue caused by the wet weather cycles that have alternated with heat waves this year. We have a densely clay soil covering most of our acreage, leading us (and the extension agent) to believe the roots need some aeration. Most probably the curling is being caused by a lack of oxygen and nutrients that are the result of compacted clay soil preventing the roots from being able to adequately do their job. Unfortunately, our trees are mature and the process of aerating and mixing in organic matter as suggested by the extension agricultural education agent was daunting and untenable. We thought about poking holes into the soil around the base of these trees but also considered that we might damage the roots in the process. So, we’ve done nothing. The trees have continued to produce fruit and the leaves have remained green, although are still curling from the petiole right down the veins to the tips. Our harvest is large, but the pears are not (see photo). I do not believe this is fire blight or pear leaf curling midge as some of the symptomatology is missing for both of those diseases. I truly think is is a saturated clay soil that is decreasing oxygen availability to the roots. The extension agent was in agreement.
Fruit is tricky. So much of a good harvest depends on weather patterns, the absence of disease, growing and/or environmental conditions, and care. We’ve grown fruit for as long as we’ve lived in the mid-west, which is close to two decades. Some years are bountiful and we are happy to share with friends. Some years are not, and then we spend some time trying to figure out exactly what it was that went wrong. This is one of those years. A wet but hot spring and early summer, compacted clay soils, and trees that perhaps are getting a little large to manage all played a part in this year’s bounty, or lack there of. I’ll take the plums we can harvest, savoring every sweet bite and preserving some for a mid-winter treat when the orchard is nothing more than brown branches covered in snow. I know that is when the plum will be the sweetest on my tongue.
What do you get out of attending an art show when you are an artist?
This morning, my husband, my youngest son (16), and myself attended a juried art show on one of our local university campuses. My husband, who is a woodworker and creator of fine, solid wood furniture, has been in this show in the past. My son is an up and coming young artist who is currently working with oils, but has also worked with watercolors, pastels, and colored pencils. And, as for myself, my artistic skills are in the jewelry design and creation, as well as photography. We are artists. We like to support the arts, and artist endeavors of others in the area. We like to look, assess, appraise, buy, and come away with ideas of what to do and not do if any one of us are in this or any other juried shows in the future. Both my husband and I are encouraging our son’s artistic talents and think he should apply to be in this show in the future.
Art Fair on the Green: Our history with this show
When we first moved here, my husband and I would make a point of going to Art Fair on the Green each July when this show was held. Our anniversary is in July, around the time of the show, and we would go to buy a print or drawing or piece of pottery or glass as a present to each other to be displayed in our home. We went to the show many years for just this reason. Then, as my husband acquired a workspace in the form of a large barn, he applied to the show (I think it was five years ago) and was accepted by the panel of art jurists. By default and obligation, we both learned how much work goes into a show like this. Hours and hours were spent in the barn crafting fine pieces of furniture, bread boards, clocks, and jewelry boxes. The first year was great, with him selling almost everything we took for his booth. I think we came home with one rocking chair and a few clocks, not much else. The second year, of the three-year jury cycle, was not as successful. I benefited by getting the fine furniture not sold, which included a cherry bookcase, cherry tables, and some other pieces. Others benefited from bread boards that were produced in greater numbers than the first show because they had sold so well then but not so much so the second year. He let the third year of his juried approval, which would have been last year, lapse. Part of this decision was the lack of time to produce high quality pieces in enough volume to support a booth at a larger show. And, the other part of the decision was that people do not seem to be in the market for very reasonably priced fine wood furniture (that is not made of press board or MDF)! Go figure!
As for my jewelry, I tried to get juried in the same year my husband had success. But, jewelry is a glutted market. Although I got some nice compliments from the jury, I was told my creations were much the same as everyone else’s, and to some extent they probably were. I was not accepted to be in the show. And, as you can tell, once you have success being juried in, many artists choose to stay. So, there is not a lot of turn over of jewelers in this particular art show. For this, and other reasons, I have not applied again.
What did we get out of attending the Art Show today?
The answer to this question depends on which of the three of us you ask! For myself, I look at how other jeweler’s display their work, pricing, and tagging. I use the information I gather by just brief and casual observations at the booths to gauge my own craft. Over the years, I’ve learned by being in several non-juried shows, gift boutiques, and more recently juried art galleries (to which I have been accepted by a panel), that in general my pieces are under-priced. I am never sure what to do about this observation, because it has been a consistent one over the years. I know that if something is priced fairly for the components and work that is put into it to construct the piece, it might not be purchased. Do I accept that or undercut my creativity with less than optimal (for me) pricing? Obviously, the consumer benefits with this decision, but I do not. The other thing that I have learned to pay attention to is display. If your items, whether it be jewelry, furniture, or paintings are not displayed attractively, they will not sell. Display is everything! Tagging, or how an item is labelled and tagged, is a close second in importance. Today, I came away with new ideas for both.
The Woodworker’s Perspective
My husband goes to this show in part to appease me. He knows I enjoy looking and purchasing. He goes now to compare his woodworking craft to other vendors. No one had furniture this year, only smaller wood crafts like turned bowls, toys, bread boards, jewelry boxes, and games. There was, and still is, a place for his furniture. But, there needs to be someone willing to buy it. Last time he was in the show we came away feeling that it might not be the right venue or right community for his pieces. One lady did buy his solid hickory desk but only after some dickering on the price happened, which is somewhat inappropriate at a show like this. Craftsmanship costs. If you want a high quality piece of fine furniture, it might not cost an arm and a leg, but will cost you more than if you went to a major furniture store to buy it. Wood is not cheap. MDF is more affordable and that is what you’ll find if you are a discerning furniture shopper. My husband also goes to compare quality of the wood pieces offered and always comes away feeling like his makes a nice product. It is a feeling with which I absolutely agree!
The Up and Coming Teen Artist Perspective
My 16-year-old, who by the way was one of the only teenagers I noted at the show, was observant of techniques, use of color, price, size, level of detail, and more. He is honing his craft, taking in as much as he can from as many sources as he can. I was proud and pleased he went with us today, as much as I felt proud and pleased he visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art last week with me while we were in the Twin Cities for a soccer tournament. There is no doubt he is an artist. People who do not even know him are aware of his art. It will be interesting to see where it takes him in the future. One of the artists today was an 87-year-old man! He’s been painting his whole life. My son’s comment about that? “Art is a life long skill. It’s not like athletics where you have to stay young and fit, or have others to play on your team to be able to do it. Painting is something I can do my whole life.”
My reply? “Yes, yes, it is.”
Did we buy anything?
We did! Believe it or not, I spotted a charm I liked in a jewelry booth. I do not make my own charms, so I contemplated buying this one as we walked around the whole show! At the end, I went back to the booth and buy a tiny silver charm with three stacked stones inside a circle. Zen. It is my zen pendant and I am already wearing it! The artist was pleased I’d buy a piece of her jewelry since I am a jewelry artist myself! We had a nice chat about the mediums we prefer and how we still like to receive jewelry as a gift despite the fact we make jewelry! I also bought a small ceramic gift for my sister, but cannot divulge any more than that, lest she read my blog and find out! But, that was it. Our visit was mostly a morning out to support the arts, compare our craft with others, and enjoy the beautiful summer day!
The art show also helped me to decide to take action! Two strangers asked me about a subject that is a passion of mine and after the conversations, I decided that I am going to act on an idea that has been germinating. Stay tuned to find out more about my future endeavor – hopefully, to take place before the end of summer!
Over the years, I have known many of my friends to take time away from their families. Mind you, this isn’t, and not meant to be, an extended break. Most of it consists of a day or a weekend; some might possibly take a week. The time spent away might be a trip required for work, to attend an educational conference, to visit extended family or friends, or even to take a trip with girlfriends. Admittedly, I have not taken much of this time. I felt my priority was with my family and for much of the last 24 years they are who I have spent time with, whether that be time at home or time away. I also realize I had the luxury to make that decision, without the pressures of a profession requiring me to take the time away from home. Thus, I am acknowledging that some of my friends might have to spend time away from home, out-of-town, because they are required to do so by their professional obligations. In other words, it might not be their choice and I am certainly not insinuating that their families are not their priority. It is, as the saying goes, “just the way it is!”
However, those obligations are not what this post is about. This post is about choosing to spend a small amount of time away from your spouse and children to recharge or reset, as I have been calling it, so that you can come home re-energized ready to be the best possible version of yourself, not only for yourself, but also for them.
Prior to last night, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve taken such time.
One was last spring (2017) when my sister visited the Twin Cities for a conference. I went up to spend two days with her. Her son, my nephew, got appendicitis and she rushed home by plane to be with him, thus cutting our visit a day short. This was understandable but did not quell my disappointment, or hers. Our trip through IKEA was spent in a fog as she wondered and worried about his status, and I kept a veiled concern about both of them.
Another time I took for myself was last fall, as I went home to visit my aging parents. This was time not only for me, but I time I took for both myself and them. Four days were spent in what I call “The House of Insomnia” as none of us slept. Out of politeness and being good hosts, they had rotated beds for me, each sleeping in a place they were not accustomed to, and sought relief with the pressured speech of Fox News easily spreading through the walls at 1:30 a.m.. Let’s just say, without starting a political discussion, that I do not watch Fox News and even if I did, it would not be at 1:30 in the morning! I do not regret this time I spent with my parents last fall, however. Despite the tiredness that sleeplessness brings, I will do it again. But, I do not expect to be “reset” from the time away.
I spoke at an international level gardening conference in 2015. This entailed two nights away, in another state. I drove alone through torrential rains to get to Council Bluffs, Iowa and spoke for an hour and a half to an audience about gardening with children. Time away, yes. Relaxing, and a time to “reset”? No.
My eldest son has been out of the house for five years. He lives about four hours away. A few years ago, we started planning mother-son weekends where I would travel to meet him at his school and we would attend a concert or theater event together. This time away was definitely something I have cherished as it has provided some special memories for the two of us, as did a trip with him to the Netherlands two years ago.
But, until last night, I really have not gone away with a girlfriend for any length of time. My sister – yes. My oldest son – yes. My husband – yes. I’ve also had numerous coffee dates and lunch dates with my friends over the years. But, time away, no. So when I was juried into an art gallery three hours from my home and required to be at an artist’s reception on Friday night, I jumped at the chance to take a friend with me.
My friend was pleased to be asked and gladly travelled with me to support the promotion of my hobby. We found the hotel, went to the three-hour artist reception, had a few snacks with some chilled wine, milled around and chatted with other artists, and left happy to find a place for dinner when it ended. Our day was filled with easy camaraderie and conversation. It made the trip so enjoyable to be with someone who is non-judgmental and intelligent. Both tired from our travel, the hotel stay was needed and provided a more extended chance to enjoy each other’s company. We took our time this morning, chatting over breakfast and deciding which way to head home. Even though the GPS did not route us the way we desired, the trip was fun and time passed quickly.
Again, for the second time in two weeks, I felt reset. I honestly feel like I now know the benefit of some time away from your immediate family. Even as brief as this 24 hour trip was, it was a time that was refreshing for me. I will not hesitate to do it again. A huge thank you to my friend who made the trip so enjoyable.
For the first time ever, I got to teach a class during a summer school session today. It sounds kind of crazy but I have always wanted to teach summer school. For many years, I asked. For many years, nothing came of it. But, being at a different school this year, in a different district, brought a different set of circumstances. It actually all started back in May when I successfully got 460 students out into our school garden to plant annuals. The pre-school teacher, who is a mom of two of my garden club students at my former school, asked if I would be interested in doing some kind of garden presentation during summer school. She would be teaching the pre-k section and seemed interested in utilizing my skills. Of course, I agreed. But, nothing was formally arranged, so as it has been in the past, I thought another year would pass without being able to participate in a summer school program.
I was wrong. Shortly into June, I was contacted by the lead teacher for summer school who asked if I could do one or more presentations during this year’s session. I was thrilled and agreed, as we broke down the groups into pre-k – K, 2nd grade, and 3rd – 5th grade for three separate presentations. I was going to get to teach summer school! How exciting!
Part of my interest over the years in teaching summer school was that Monarchs, a topic on which I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert, are in full view naturally at this relaxed time of year, with their life cycle being played out in virtually any garden that has milkweed. And, boy, do we have a lot of milkweed at this school!
So last night, I was busy doing what I’ve done for the last 15 years prior to getting ready to teach a lesson; I packed my bags! You know, my mom taught elementary school for nearly 35 years. I fully realize that virtually every teacher, brings loads of “stuff” back and forth from home to school on a daily basis. But, it is a little different being a non-formal educator. Without a home base, such as a classroom, my entire lesson from worksheets, to props, posters, pencils/markers, tape, scissors, paper, and in today’s case – food and insects need to be brought in. I have no storage closet, no filing cabinet, no desk drawers, no stacks of available paper………just my bags and what I put in them.
My lesson schedule looked like this today:
8:45 – 9:25 3rd 5th grade students (23) Lesson on Butterfly Habitat & review of the Monarch Life Cycle.
For this lesson, I packed three separate containers – one with monarch eggs, one with caterpillars, and one with 9 chrysalises. There were two monarch posters on form board, my “lecture” notes, and markers. Since there was more “set up” needed for the subsequent presentations, I covered over three large Post-It notes where Plant Part information would go with Habitat information & Hooks to think about.
In addition, this group of students go on a walk outside to the garden itself to “apply” what aspects of butterfly habitat we had talked about in the classroom. When the session ended, each student received an individual packet of milkweed seeds to take home, and a monarch bookmark to remind them to read over the summer. Of course, those two “take home” props had to be distributed into individual baggies, and packed last night – in my bag!
My other passion in education would have to be language arts – which you could probably guess from a my being the author of a blog. So, this group got my spiel on my love for words – the correct plural usages of the word Chrysalis, and the need to keep reading over the summer. Hence, the monarch bookmarks from Monarch Joint Venture.
9:30 – 10:15 2nd grade students (16), Plant Parts We Eat!
The next group of students were all second graders. This is another caveat of being a non-formal educator. Besides, carrying your classroom with you in a bag, it will be rare to have a group of all similarly aged students. Over the years, I’ve become accustomed, and accomplished, at providing interdisciplinary, multi-aged (leveled) lessons. It was a rare treat to have a group of students all from the same grade level, believe me!
Their lesson consisted of talking about plant parts and the function (job) each of these parts had to benefit the plant as a whole. (Of course, I did not state it that way for the students.) A large part of my success in teaching I attribute to my nursing background and the HUGE amount of information I had to consume on child (birth – 21) growth and development. This is knowledge I rely upon daily when I teach, or actually, whenever I am with children – my own or others.
The second graders respectfully contributed their thoughts on the job(s) that each plant part performed. Then, I asked them to fill out a worksheet listing one example of a food we eat that is either the root, stem, leaf, flower, seed, or fruit of the plant. This was difficult but inventive spelling was encouraged and so were drawn pictures, as long as they could identify what they were trying to convey as an example. For 16 students, there were three adults in the room (a great ratio) and eventually every student had at least one example for one of the six plant parts on their paper. Next, I had brought – in my bag – a box full of fruit and vegetable examples. This included lettuce, radish, tomatoes, onion, asparagus, carrots, pumpkin seeds, lemon , apple, pea pods, celery, corn, peppers, and a few more picked up from the grocery store last night and put into “my bag” this morning. The lesson was thoroughly enjoyable and enjoyed by all. They got an explanation of the word roots in “photosynthesis” – as my literary plug.
10:15 – 10:45 Pre-K and K, (40 students), Plant Parts We Eat Interactive Sorting Lesson
When I first started teaching, I thought I wanted to be a Kindergarten Teacher! There is no way I could do this job now! It takes so much patience! And, I think I like information too much! Some kindergartener’s can handle a lot of information, but many cannot. I often find myself consciously thinking I need to slow down or say less when I teach a group this age!
My bag also had some special instructional aids added to it last night for this group, as well. I printed some fruit and vegetable photos I found from a lesson plan online and then I cut up some pages from one of my plant catalogs, putting the photos on 3 x 5 inch index cards. I had purchased a large post-it poster pack early into this school year and now was the time to use it….consider it – and the immense largeness of it – part of my “bag” – it just didn’t fit inside. Last night, I pre-labelled three sheets with the plant parts so that the lesson would be ready to go and the students could stick their food onto the plant part section on which they thought it fit. While some students were very reticent and asked for guidance in this task, most ended up being abe to complete their part of the sorting in short order. Blue painter’s tape (all pre – cut and stuck to the white board marker tray) made the task easy and moveable, if a plant, like the lettuce that was put in the roots, needed re-sorting. So, blue painter’s tape, scissors, and the index cards were also pulled from my “bag” upon arrival at school this morning.
So, what’s the big deal here? Well, there really is none. Teaching out of a “bag” is something to which I’ve become accustomed. My classroom travels with me. And, although it might be nice to “put down roots” somewhere…..I’m sure I would still be carrying “stuff” in from my car when I got to where-ever it was I was teaching on a regular basis. The only difference might be that I make it into school in one or two trips, instead of the three I made this morning! Roots anchor a plant in place, but the nourishment comes from what is absorbed. Over the years, I’ve learned that as long as you put in your bag what is needed for the nourishment, the growth still occurs – for students, as well as plants!
And, that is what I learned in summer school, today!