Ditch the sugar: How to enjoy a healthy Halloween

healthy halloweenWhen I was eight years old, I was sick with the flu on Halloween night, hardly fit to hit the neighborhood up for candy. So, my brother offered to go Trick-or-Treating for me. What a guy. He left the house with an empty pillow case tucked under his arm and returned later with it slung over his shoulder.

“Look what I got!” he declared at my bedside, opening it up for me. I leaned over and tried to lift the sack of candy. I eased back into the pillows. “I figured we’d share,” he said. “Though it’s kind sickening to think of all that sugar.”

That was the mid-60s and the book Sugar Blues wouldn’t be published until 1975. Sugar Blues, by William Duffy, is considered one of the foundational books in the modern health movement.

Sugar is a prime ingredient in countless substances from cereal to soup, from cola to coffee. Consumed at the rate of one hundred pounds for every American every year, it’s as addictive as nicotine — and as poisonous.

Sugar BluesFast forward to October 17, 2017 when the headlines for the Anchorage Dispatch News read, “Percentage of obese Alaskans more than doubled since 1991.” And article goes on to say that 36 percent of Alaska 3-year-olds are considered overweight or obese. I’m sure the statistics echo from state to state…

It’s sobering headlines like these, and red flags raised by dentists worldwide, that cause many parents to think twice about handing out processed sweets to children.

Here are a few simple strategies and recipes to support anyone hoping, wishing, and praying that the commercial side of this holiday, that is, the push for us to buy candy, would simply go away. (Candy sales are projected to increase 5.5 percent in 2017, according to USA Today).

Plan ahead

You don’t want to take the fun of candy out of Halloween, but try to help the kiddos not overdo the sweets. (Remember, Halloween kicks off the holiday season which is usually filled with sweets and other indulgences).

On Halloween night, provide a nutritious dinner of vegetables, whole grains and protein-rich foods. A full belly helps reduce the desire to eat more, just like going to the store after breakfast or lunch tends helps us stick to the grocery list.

Throw a party

Serve a variety of healthy snacks like mini sandwiches, nachos, build-you-own pizzas, or tacos. And ditch the sweet soda.

Alternative treats

One year, I gave out fresh, garden-grown carrots, complete with the green tassels attached. A couple kids reacted with a what-do-I-do-with-this-thing look (as if they’d just received a “trick”), though most of them were surprised and jazzed. A couple kids even asked for a second carrot.

Once you start thinking away from sugar, ideas will come to you. For example, you can hand out fruit roll-ups, packets of roasted pumpkin seeds, raisins or Craisins, dark chocolate. Or consider handing out school supplies like crayons, pencils and erasers. Small toys, puzzles, Sudoku, paperback books, marbles and simple games are also appropriate in reducing the amount of candy children eat during Halloween.

Make your own treats

Carrot Cake Bites
This is one of my favorite snacks which uses fresh carrots from the garden.

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried apricots
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Unsweetened shredded coconut for garnish

Place the pecans, dates, and raisins in the food processor and process until everything is well broken down. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until it is combined. Roll the mixture into 1 inch balls and roll around in shredded coconut.

Oat-Cherry Bars
I discovered the original recipe in Delicious Living magazine, and though I’ve tweaked the recipe, they remain a perfect, on-the-go bar.

oat cherry bars, recipe, Halloween

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups crispy brown rice cereal (Erewhon brand is good)
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, currants or raisins
  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup brown rice syrup or agave syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper to create a 2-inch overhang; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine oats, cereal, cherries, chia seeds and shredded coconut; stir to combine. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine peanut butter, brown rice syrup and vanilla, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 8 minutes or until ingredients are softened and easily stirred. Pour syrup mixture over dry ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon to mix well. Pour mixture into prepared pan, and place a piece of parchment paper on top. Press down firmly and evenly (I use a small jar or rolling pin) on parchment with your hands to pack mixture into the pan. Chill for 30 minutes, slice into bars. Wrap bars individually to give away. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or in a zip-style, freezer bag for up to 3 months.

Have a healthy and happy Halloween! And I hope you enjoy the recipes year-round!

Marion Owen, photographer, organic gardener, Kodiak Island, Alaska

 

 

Marion Owen is co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, which is available through Amazon.

 

 

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How getting sick restored the value of rest in my life

In June, I was sick, very sick. At times the burning pain in my stomach was so intense that I could do little more than curl up on the couch and nibble on saltine crackers. Vomiting helped. “You’ve got H. Pylori,” my doctor said, after reviewing the results from my stool sample. “Two thirds of us harbor the H. Pylori bacteria in our guts. Normally it’s not a problem, but if it ‘blooms’ it can cause ulcers, even stomach cancer.” The good news? A 2-week series of antibiotics would kill it.

Hiking, rest, recreation, autumn, outdoors

But sharing my gut with H. Pylori wasn’t the only problem. I was tired. To my bones. Without going into details right now, I’d spent too many years not taking enough time for Marion. Not resting. H. Pylori was my body telling me to stop. While healing, a friend sent me a book called, Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, by Wayne Muller.

In “Sabbath” Muller shares a story about a South American tribe that was on a long march, day after day, when all of a sudden they would stop walking and then make camp for a couple days before going any further. They explained that they needed the time of rest so that their souls could catch up with them.

Isn’t that a beautiful thought?

In Alaska, autumn provides that time of rest, for our summers of long days encourages us to overfill our waking hours with too much activity, often to the point of warping natural rhythms.

We do not gauge the value of the seasons by how quickly they progress from one to the next. Every season brings forth its bounty in its own time and our life is richer when we can take time to savor the fruit of each.” ~ Wayne Muller

Sabbath, Muller, restIn fall, we smoke salmon, split wood, harvest potatoes, rake leaves, prepare our home for the winter, and hopefully give thanks. In winter, we, like plants, are dormant. It’s a time for reflection, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, birdwatching, inner endurance and looking for light in the midst of celestial darkness.

In spring, we shift activities: We prepare the soil for planting and start seedlings. We prune what has died or withered and take delight in the first crocus bulbs that bloom through a blanket of snow. In summer, we match the longer days by amping up our busy-ness once again: Tending the garden, thinning weeds, hiking, fishing, delighting in flowers, tidepooling, stand with faces to the sun, and welcome visiting family and friends.

When it comes to gardening, photography, and getting back to reading a good book, autumn is my favorite time of year, though the autumnal equinox yanks me back to reality. It’s not summer anymore. Still, I welcome the change, and as I search for exquisite light in autumn’s sunrises and colorful landscapes, it gives my camera purpose. It reminds me of something that the late Galen Rowell, one of my favorite photographers, used to say:

“The edges of nature are where you’ll find dynamic light and landscapes.”

I’m also a garden writer, producing a column every week, so I often relate many of life’s experiences to plants, soil, hands, and weather. In a recent column, I connect my need for rest with lessons from the garden, specifically a plant’s ability to survive freezing temperatures, and lesson from Mother Nature. See what you think…

How do plants survive a freeze?

When frost is in the air there’s no need to panic really, because freezing temperatures don’t always spell disaster in the garden. For example, when the temperatures dip a little below freezing, the air is moist enough for water vapor to condense (in the form of ice crystals) on the ground as well as on the plants. Then, when the water condenses, it gives off just enough heat to warm the air around plants. This warm envelope acts like a protective micro-climate.

On the other hand, when temperature falls more than a few degrees below freezing, frost can damage leaves, shoots and flowers no matter how humid the conditions are because water, whether in lakes, ice cube trays or cells, expands when it freezes. So as water within plant cells freezes, it ruptures the cell walls like a water balloon bursting under pressure. (Wouldn’t that be amazing to see in slow motion?)

forest, tree, spruce, Kodiak, Alaska, rainforest, hike,

Not all plants are created equal though, and different plants and parts of plants have different freezing points. Pansy and nasturtium flowers for example, might wilt like wet paper bags at 31 degrees, but their leaves remain firm and undamaged. Then there’s kale, with cold-tolerant leaves that can survive unharmed under a blanket of snow… or Sitka spruce trees that, armed with a natural antifreeze in their sap, stay green all year.

We can learn a lot from Nature. Leaves falling around tree bases provide a protective—and nourishing—layer. In the garden we can protect plants by emulating nature. A 3 to 6-inch layer of leaves, compost, seaweed (or a combination of all) around the base of shrubs, trees, and perennials insulates like a down quilt. (Distribute the mulch toward the trunk, but not up against it. For perennials, mulch is usually applied directly on top of the plants later in the fall, after the main plant dies back).

Let’s go for a walk…

As for resting, it also helps to follow Nature’s cue. Remember the South American tribe that camped for a couple days so that their souls could catch up with them? Consider applying this kind of rest the next time you go for a walk. It’s a technique I learned from Muller’s book, now a classic, that was recently reviewed in the Huffington Post.

For 30 minutes, walk slowly and silently. Make it an amble or a stroll. Simply walk without any purpose. Simply let your soul catch up with you, as Wayne Muller would say. Let your senses guide your walk. If you are drawn to a leaf, a stone, a color or the fragrance of the tall grass, simply stop and linger. Thoroughly experience the moment with all your senses. Then, when it feels right, when it’s time, simply move on. When you are called to stop, stop and investigate. When you’re called to begin again, move along. That is all.

“At the end of thirty minutes,” says Muller, “Notice what has happened to your body, your mind, your sense of time.”

Today I’m feeling much better. I take time for tea; to watch eagles soar by. And I’m becoming a better listener.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing your day with me.

Cheers to you,
Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer

 

 

You might also enjoy:

Life with a flip phone in the 21st century
My niece Tina, a senior in high school, realized she was addicted to social media. To break the habit, she began by trading her iPhone for a “slower, dumber flip phone.”)

How a medical emergency launched my new love affair with plants
It all began when my husband Marty had a mini-stroke while we were RV-ing in Utah)

Libby’s Story: Fighting Cancer with Food
When Libby McClaren was diagnosed with cancer, the doctor recommended immediate surgery to remove the tumor from her bladder, followed by chemo and radiation treatments…

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Life with a flip phone in the 21st century

My niece Tina, a senior in high school, realized she was addicted to social media. To break the habit, she began by trading her iPhone for a “slower, dumber flip phone.” After a few months, she wrote about her experiences for the school newspaper. Her insights beam wisdom like a lighthouse sweeping away the darkness. Here is Tina’s story…

Up until a few months ago, social media had always been a big part of my life. I was obsessed. I would go on Instagram everyday, I had more than ten snapchat streaks at a time, and I would take pictures purely to post on my Instagram spam account. I was among the majority of people my age who look at their phones more than each other and count texting as a quality form of communication. As millennials, we are born into a world where a person’s social media accounts are judged more than the content of their minds.

iPhone, social media

This summer, I tried to break the status quo and go off of social media. To venture even further into a world before the internet, I decided to trade my fancy iphone, for a slower, dumber flip phone.

I quickly realized how spoiled I was for being able to instantly get directions to wherever I needed to go. I always thought of myself as someone who had a good sense of direction so I didn’t think it would be an issue, but it was. Within the first day of not having a smart phone, I asked countless people for directions to places I assumed I would be able to find on my own. I had been completely reliant on Google Maps. The first thing I learned from having a flip phone was how to read someone’s address and figure out how to get there using only my knowledge of the city. Yes, sometimes it took a few minutes longer, but I have never felt so self-sufficient.

Without anything to stimulate me, I had to do something I always thought only crazy people could do, just sit.

Aside from the trivial issues like not having Google Maps, Spotify or a decent camera, the biggest struggle was moments of waiting, the few minutes before getting picked up by a friend, or while waiting for something that’s only a few minutes away. Without anything to stimulate me, I had to do something I always thought only crazy people could do, just sit. I started noticing things about the places I spent most of my time that I never noticed before. I watched leaves fall off the trees and observed as bees floated from flower to flower. There were so many beautiful things I had never taken the time to pay attention to because my eyes were so preoccupied with the new snapchat filters or whatever meme was trending on Twitter. I had missed out on a large part of the real world because I was so heavily invested in the fabricated world of social media.

I found the strength in myself to match everyone’s kind comments with the words of self-love that so many people my age crave, and believe they will find in apps like Instagram.

When it comes to Instagram, it can feel good to have someone comment, “so cute” or “*heart emoji,” but this summer, I learned that some relationships now are only as significant as taking a second to comment and like someone’s instagram picture. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but after going months without the comforting chatter of kindness coming from the comments section and the reassuring hum of likes that cushioned my ego, I realized I didn’t need it. I no longer sought the approval of other people. I didn’t derive my sense of beauty and joy from the mindless comments of other people. I found the strength in myself to match everyone’s kind comments with the words of self-love that so many people my age crave, and believe they will find in apps like Instagram.

I knew going without a smartphone wasn’t just a test I wanted for a summer…

Toward the end of the summer, when I would tell people about my flip phone, their responses changed from dismay to some sort of admiration, as if I was doing something groundbreaking that they always had wanted to try. The first text my new phone ever received was from my uncle, who was my sole ally during hours of bombardment and ridicule from family members after they heard about my new phone. “I think it is great that you are getting away from your phone,” he said. “I wish more people would/could do this.” After he sent this to me, I knew going without a smartphone wasn’t just a test I wanted for a summer, it was the best gift I’ve ever given myself, and it only cost $15 and the Instagram account I ultimately didn’t want anyway.

Tina Prekaski is a senior at Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Washington and originally wrote this article for The Roosevelt News.

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Photo essay of Quonset huts and a prayer to end all wars

On a nearby island, a boat ride away from my home on Kodiak Island, is a “village” of Quonset huts. These buildings once served as barracks for soldiers fighting the Aleutian Campaign during World War II. But today their corrugated metal shells succumb not to enemy fire but to falling trees, heavy snow loads, and perpetual moss.

One summer day, I stood in the middle of the village, surrounded by Sitka spruce trees and Quonset huts in various stages of decay. Other than an occasional chickadee’s chirrup, no manmade sounds reached my ears. Everywhere was moss: Evergreen, lush, and patiently muffling the clamors of war.

War is not someone else’s fault. We are all responsible for creating the misunderstandings that lead to conflict. An angry thought, ill will, fear, worry, jealousy, restlessness… it’s a long grocery list.

If I had a prayer to end all wars, it might go something like this:

Beloved God, who reminds us to live in harmony with our neighbors, help us to replace the age-old habit of war with compassion, empathy, and love. Keep us mindful that we are united, each by an equal measure, of the divine spark that flows through and binds all things. May we, by our actions each day, strive to become instruments of peace so that present and future generations may be blessed with relationships governed by faith, kindness, respect, and trust. Amen.

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, spruce forest, Long Island, prayer, peace

Its back long broken, this is probably my favorite Quonset hut in “the village” on Long Island. I stood here for quite sometime in the silence of the forest. (Photo by Marion Owen)

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, ferns, corrugated metal, spruce forest, Long Island, prayer, peace

I love the juxtaposition of ferns and twisted metal. (Photo by Marion Owen)

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, spruce forest, stove, Long Island, prayer, peace

A stove pipe pokes through a Quonset hut’s roof, or is it sinking down into the building? (Photo by Marion Owen)

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, spruce forest, orchids, Long Island, prayer, peace

A small forest of tiny, Twayblade orchids, each one smaller than your little pinkie’s fingernail, stand tall in front of a sagging Quonset hut. (Photo by Marion Owen)

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, spruce forest, Long Island, prayer, peace

I guess you could call this a rooftop garden in the making. (Photo by Marion Owen)

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, spruce forest, Long Island, prayer, peace

Oops. Looks like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. When snow is falling, this becomes one of my favorite Quonset huts. Photo by Marion Owen

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When a bumblebee is caught in the rain

After three days of rain and fog I went out to the garden to inspect the damage. Clumps of parsley, once proud mini-forests, were flattened to the ground. Carrot tops were tangled into one…bad…hair…day. I walked, squish-squish, over to a clump of yellow calendulas whose petals, heavy with moisture, drooped like basset hound ears.

Then I saw the bumblebee.

She was huddled in the center of a flower, motionless. “Water bombs” covered her body and pasted her wings against her abdomen. She looked as though she’d been in a mud fight.

As it was late afternoon, I knew she wouldn’t be going anywhere tonight. Question was, would she survive the night away from her cozy hive?

bumblebee, bumble, bee, macro, rain, metabolism, flower, God, tenacity, courage, will, Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer

The next morning, I went outside to investigate. I found her, just as you see in the photo, hanging vertically with each claw embedded in the soft petals like a climber holding ice axes to perform a self-arrest while sliding down a slope. At some point in our bumblebee’s slide, her abdomen came to rest on a leaf.

I set up my camera and tripod and took a number of shots, all the while thinking, “Is she still alive, or dead, and thus mechanically ‘frozen’ to the flower?”

I focused my lens on the antenna by her right eye.

It moved…she was alive!

I’d read about a bumblebee’s metabolism, that it’s 75 percent higher than a hummingbird’s. And that they can survive in temperatures which are too low for them to fly. To warm up, they shiver their flight muscles, much like we shiver when we’re cold. Blah, blah, blah…

I was not thinking about all that science stuff while lying on the wet grass watching a little bee come back to life. Rather, I was astounded by the bee’s built-in tenacity. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would deal with a life-or-death situation, let’s say, bobbing around the Gulf of Alaska in a life raft?

I gently brought my mind back to the here and now. As the bee activated each leg and slowly pulled her body up and into the saddle of the flower, I thought: If a bee is provided with the ability to overcome a night out in the rain, surely we are endowed with the courage, will power, and determination to help us overcome life’s obstacles.

Just something to think about…

Thanks for stopping by to read and share. Cheers and blessings,

Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer

 

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On green bananas and how to avoid regrets

It’s a guessing game to decide what fruit to set out for our B&B guests. Apples? Not many people indulge in apples these days. Grapes and cherries? They’re usually appreciated. Bananas? Ugh. Bananas bring out the fussiness in humans. If a brown speck appears on the otherwise flawless, yellow peel, the banana sulks in the fruit bowl, ignored and dejected, as it becomes more speckled by the minute.

So the other day I asked our B&B guests from Minnesota if they liked bananas. “Yes!” they replied in chorus. “But I had a friend,” one added, “that didn’t like green bananas. He was an older guy who said he didn’t have time for them. ‘I might die before they ripen,’ he said.”

banana, green, regrets, garden

That got me thinking about why we hesitate to do things. We avoid a complicated recipe or balk at learning how to read music (that’s me!) because we think it takes too much time. “Summer’s almost over,” an acquaintance told me yesterday. “So why bother planting more lettuce?”

To do nothing is the easy way out. Dad always said, “If you don’t ask or don’t try, the answer’s always ‘no.’” And if you don’t at least try, you’ll end up with regrets at the end of your life. More on that later…

I used this “why bother?” theme in one of my weekly garden columns. True, our summers on Kodiak Island’s temperate rain forest come and go in a blink, but I tell readers that you never know when the snow’s gonna fly so why not keep growing to the end? Gardening–like many endeavors–doesn’t require a lot of time, effort, or money if you make a focused effort. Rain or shine, there’s always something you can accomplish. So in my column I offered 10 tips for things to do on sunny days and 10 for cloudy days. I followed with 10 things to do every day to avoid those regrets I mentioned earlier…

THINGS TO DO ON SUNNY DAYS
When the sun is out, so are we. But some garden are best left for cooler weather. Below are a few excuses to play in the sunny garden. (Substitute tasks for your climate):

  1. Sow a salad: The best time to get seeds in the ground is when the soil is relatively dry, but right before it rains.
  2. Mow the lawn: Set your mower at its highest setting.
  3. Water new transplants or big plants drooping from heat exhaustion.
  4. Dead-head flowers to encourage more blooms.
  5. Pick berries (see #7 in next list).
  6. Increase ventilation in greenhouses and hoophouses.
  7. Go on aphid patrol: Carry a bottle of neem oil spray. Inspect tips of plants and under leaves.
  8. After mowing the lawn, make compost with the clippings by mixing them with leaves, kelp, kitchen scraps, and old manure. Moisten if needed.
  9. Dig up dandelions and other weeds in your lawn.
  10. Pour a glass of iced tea, grab a book, and put your feet up.

THINGS TO DO ON CLOUDY DAYS
Overcast and rainy days provide special windows of opportunities for getting things done in the garden that plants appreciate more than on sunny days.

  1. Transplant seedlings and move perennials.
  2. Pull weeds: When the soil is moist it’s easier to get the whole plant, root and all. And when weeding around small seedlings or root crops, working in moist soil doesn’t disturb the roots as much. See #3.
  3. Thin carrots, beets and other root crops. Sprinkle with water when done to help them “settle in.”
  4. Rinse out used plastic trays and seedling containers.
  5. Fertilize the lawn, organically!
  6. Turn on the music and catch up on housework.
  7. Make jam.
  8. Go on slug patrol: Pick slugs, bait slugs, whatever it takes. A friend in Anchorage trapped hundreds of slugs overnight with a solution of soy sauce, oil and water. If you see a leaf a whole plant perforated with slug holes, leave it alone (at least for the time being) and treat it like a sacrificial plant.
  9.  Tend to indoor plants, who are often ignored during the summer.
  10. Take photographs of your garden. Not just flowers and dew drops, but bees, leaves, kids playing.

Sigh. We tend to go about our days as if we’ll live forever. But we’ve only got today. At the end of our journey on this planet, the last thing you want to possess is a bunch of regrets. Please understand, I’m not trying to finish on a depressing note. Rather I want to encourage you to follow your dreams now to avoid regrets later.

THINGS TO DO EVERY DAY

  1. Do more for “you”
  2. Don’t work so hard.
  3. Don’t hold back your thoughts and feelings.
  4. Stay in touch with friends and family.
  5. Be happy.
  6. Care less what other people think.
  7. Be a warrior, not a worrier.
  8. Take better care of yourself.
  9. Be grateful.
  10. Live in the moment.

Finally, buy green bananas.

banana, green, regrets, garden

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Mara and the blue marble

There’s a special patch of sand called Glass Beach on the east side of Kodiak Island, Alaska where hundreds, if not thousands, of colorful bits of glass temporarily rest among pebbles and shreds of kelp. Whenever I visit Glass Beach I carry a Ziploc bag in my coat pocket to hold my finds. Best of all, I enjoy walking the beach, just above the tideline, in search of wave-polished shards of blue, green, brown or red glass. It’s a slow, meandering meditation–a focused, but calming treasure hunt.

On this day, I was thinking of my sister Mara, who lives north of Seattle, Washington. She loves to search for beach glass too, and whenever I visit, we go for beach walks together. We don’t say much, just look for those special bits of rainbows in the sand.

I knew Mara had recently gone through some tough times. I prayed, “Dear Father, in my search today, please let me find something special for my sister.” I sent my request ‘out there’ and surrendered, unattached, to the outcome.

A few minutes passed and I reached the end of the beach where a rock wall rises out of the sand to meet a tree-topped cliff. As I turned around to head in the other direction a little voice said, “Stop. Look out toward the waves.”

Prayer, faith, beach glass, ocean, gift, meditation, God, Father, Kodiak, Alaska

I did so, and to my amazement, a small, blue marble, nudged along by a wave, rolled toward me on the sand and stopped to rest right at my feet. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Indeed, “With God all things are possible.” [Mark 10:27] but that day I also learned that He has a sense of humor.

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When I grow up, I want to write like Josephine Robertson

As a couple, they’ve climbed all 53 peaks above 14,000 feet which are known as the “Fourteeners.”  Jan’s spice cookies are famous and she’s written a lovely book called, “The Magnificent Mountain Women: Adventures in the Colorado Rockies.” Now in their 80’s, Jan and Dave Robertson continue to inspire by hiking and skiing in their Rocky Mountain backyard. We first met them when they traveled to Kodiak, Alaska and stayed in our B&B. The next year, Marty and I drove our motorhome from Arizona to Colorado to experience their world. Their home is located in the historic district of Boulder, a charming neighborhood with–how should I say–interesting codes. (To park the RV across the street from their house, for example, required special permission, for which Dave savored with delight).

Meditations on a Garden Themes, garden, devotion

The book I found in Dave and Jan Robertson’s library. They presented it to me as we prepared to hit the road.

After breakfast one morning, I took my coffee into their library. After browsing a little while I spotted a small book called, Meditations on Garden Themes, by Josephine Robertson. The pink jacket was tattered in the corners, a sign of good content, I feel. Inside, the pages were a pale, pea green. I turned the book over in my palm and read:

“Here Mrs. Robertson has used her garden experiences and those of others to express universal truths about everyday living. ‘I have collected this book,’ she says, ‘with the hope that from the bright blossoms of these gardens might be distilled some essence of faith and refreshment for the spirit.’

I heard soft steps behind me and turned to see Dave smiling with twinkling eyes. “My Mom wrote that,” he said. “And several other books.”

I sat down in a comfy chair, opened the book to started to read. Each of the 51 short devotions began with a scripture reading, followed by a brief meditation and a prayer. “Wow, no one writes like this any more,” I thought. It was beautiful, crisp, heartfelt writing. No fluff. Just grabs you. Let me share the first devotion with you…

DIGGING UP SEEDS
By Josephine Robertson

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.—Eccl. 3:2

He wanted a little garden of his own, where he could plant vegetables like his father’s and flowers like his mother’s. What excitement that bright May morning when he took his small shovel and dug holes in the patch which had been marked out for him! He poked each seed down in the damp earth as if he were hiding a treasure, smoothed the dirt over it, splashed it generously with water, watched it wistfully a moment, then ran off to play.

A few days later his mother came out and saw him digging up the soil.

“What are you doing?” she asked, as mothers will.

“Just looking to see if the seeds are ever going to grow,” he said, looking at her with round, disappointed eyes. “And they’re not growing at all!”

How often it happens, and how difficult it is for a child to realize that the seed must rest in the damp darkness until it is ready and that he cannot hurry up the appearance of that first green leaf.

Children are not the only ones who are too impatient for results. A young graduate wonders if he will ever get the job he wants; a writer who has had a few rejection slips despairs of being published; a mother wonders if her sons will ever stop quarreling; a newcomer in town wonders if she will ever have any friends; a troubled soul doubts that an earnest prayer has been heard.

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted. In between, any gardener knows, is the time for patience and faith.

seeds, inspiration, Christian, author, Josephine, Robertson, garden, meditation, devotions

On the back cover is a days-gone-by drawing of a boy planting seeds.

NOTE: I’m sure there are thousands of inspirational books out there, I really hope you’ll locate one of Josephine’s books to add to your private library. I was able to find copies of Josephine’s books on Amazon, AbeBooks and Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon).

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The bumblebee and the crocus

It was a warm spring day, way up north in Kodiak, Alaska, and I was scrambling to take care of garden chores. (Spring happens that way here: One day it’s winter; the next day we’re experiencing 15 hours of daylight and it’s time to transplant seedlings). As I pruned currant bushes, a bald eagle shrieked from a nearby tree and from the corner of my eye I caught glimpses of fishing boats putt-putting out the channel on their way to the fishing grounds.

Pushing the wheelbarrow between raised beds, I couldn’t help but notice a patch of purple and white crocuses blooming through the not-yet-green lawn. Bumblebees were foraging among the flowers. I took off my garden gloves, walked over, and knelt down. Soon a large queen bumblebee, dusted with yellow pollen, crawled inside a blossom and began to wiggle around the base. Slowly. Eventually she stopped moving. Maybe her metabolism was slowing down. I leaned over and breathed into the flower. The bee shuddered and then became still again.

bumblebee, crocus, spring, flower, nectar, pollen, wild, alaska, kodiak, macro

The flower petals were closing in–clamshell style–like crocuses do at night. I left to fix dinner and returned a couple hours later. The flower had clamped shut, but I could see the top of the bumblebee’s wings inside. Would she be there in the morning? Did she crawl inside the flower knowing the weatherman was calling for frost tonight?

I Googled the words “bumblebees crocus” and learned some cool things about these amazing creatures from bumblebee.org:

  1. Most bumblebee colonies have a yearly cycle.
  2. Queens that have mated in late summer the previous year hibernate, usually in the soil, and emerge in spring.
  3. These queens haven’t eaten anything since the previous summer, so they are hungry. This is why it is vitally important that they find early flowers to feed.
  4. A bumblebee cannot fly unless her flight muscles are at 30 degrees C, so she has to brave the cold weather to feed or else she will sink into torpor and never wake up. She continues feeding and sheltering at night near the food plants in nooks and crannies for a few weeks until her body signals her that it is time to find a nest site.

I confess that I’ve become attached to these humble bumblebees and just ordered some books to help me identify them as the spring and summer progresses. I guess I’ll have to practice carrying my camera around with me in the garden…

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Work smart. Save time: Spring cleaning tips for the house and garden (you can thank me later)

Unlike breathing, there are many life skills that we’re left to figure out on our own. Pumping gas, uncorking a bottle of wine or even… housecleaning. Thank God for my sister Mara. For many years, she worked as a house sitter and caregiver, which means having coffee with Mara is story time. For example, one gentleman loved to play Scrabble; another loved to make beef stew for her Thursday visits. (She doesn’t like beef stew). Another client, a widow, could never let go of magazines. When the tall stacks started to lean in towards each other and threaten to close off the circuitous paths throughout the house, the relatives were called in.

Mara might be a petit, size Small, woman, but she’s big at cleaning houses, which can send you into a panic when she stops by for a visit. Thank goodness she shares her trade secrets. Her work uniform, for example, is nothing fancy: A baggy sweatshirt from Goodwill that doubles as a duster and polishing rag for those missed spots.

When she learned we were opening a B&B in Kodiak, Alaska, Mara mailed a copy of Speed Cleaning, a book by Jeff Campbell. (Jeff was the founder of The Clean Team, a cleaning service in San Francisco). “It’s my go-to cleaning bible,” she said.

The subtitle, “Clean your entire house in 42 minutes with the Clean Team’s unbeatable system that makes every move count,” got my attention. Wouldn’t it get yours?

cleaning, home, house,

Here’s the book my sister sent me. When The Clean Team says you can “Clean your home in half the time or less,” they really mean it.

The Speed Cleaning method is not rocket science. It’s about working smart. The book and website/blog is filled with creative tips that make all cleaning jobs less cumbersome and less frustrating (who wants to spend a sunny day cleaning house?). Adding a dash of efficiency to house cleaning means you’ll have more time to go for a hike, hang out with your cat, wash the car, or relax in the sunshine.

Let me share my collection of spring cleaning tips for the house and the garden, collected from my sister, my weekly garden columns, and the Clean Team:

Spring cleaning in the house

Make every move count. Work your way around a room once, carrying all your tools and supplies with you. I like to keep everyone in a portable caddy. It really helps cut down the time it takes to clean your home. No more wasting energy by zig-zagging around a room.

Work from top to bottom. Don’t fight gravity, work with it! Start at the top and work your way down. One of my favorite tools: A microfiber feather duster. I always thought feather dusters were useless. Nope. As you clean things high up, the dust and bits of grime fall to the lower regions. That way, you don’t end up cleaning an area twice. Besides, you vacuum last.

Don’t clean things that aren’t dirty. This might sound silly, but you’d be amazed how much time is wasted cleaning and dabbing at surfaces that weren’t dirty in the first place.

The right tool: Recognize if the tool you’re using isn’t working. Shift to a more heavy-duty cleaner or tool (such as a retired toothbrush) if the task call for it. Better than expending unnecessary elbow grease.

Use both hands. Remember the famous line, “Wax on…wax off…” from the movie Karate Kid? The new kid on the block, Daniel, learns about focus, paying attention, muscle memory and efficiency as he cleans and waxes Mr. Miyagi’s car all summer. Perfect training for karate.

Whether you’re a martial artist, brain surgeon, or housecleaner, it’s all about being efficient with your tools. So if you’ve got two hands, use both of them. Spray with one hand while you reach for the cloth (100-percent cotton diapers are best) with the other. Scrub with one hand while the other wipes up behind it. It might take a while to perfect the motions, but all motor skills get perfected by practicing them over and over, right?

Pay attention. When you work with full attention on tasks, you’ll be working at the edge of your full abilities and this makes the work more fun. That’s right—cleaning can actually be fun if you concentrate on the task at hand. Don’t be thinking about what’s for dinner!

Concentrate all your thoughts on the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.
~ Alexander Graham Bell

Spring cleaning in the garden

bleeding heart, greenhouse, garden, lawn, flowers, perennials, Alaska

I love springtime in Alaska!

Be gentle. When raking branches, dead leaves and twigs, pay attention to the impact on the grass, nearby plants and shrubs. Snappy and quick often can damage more than heal. Plus, lawns might still be too squishy from heavy rains to hold up against heavy foot traffic and ambitious raking.

Prune and trim. Prune back weatherworn or winter-killed bushes and trees. Trim away brown-ness until you reach viable green. For edible shrubs like currants, gooseberries and any raspberry canes that bore fruit last year,  trim before the sap starts to flow. That said, not all trees and shrubs should be pruned early, especially some of the flowering ones like rhododendrons, azaleas, lilacs, and flowering crabapples. Best to prune them after blooming because early spring bloomers set their flower buds the fall before.

Be patient: It’s tempting to dive into the garden and de-winterize perennials by pulling back dead leaves, twigs and old stems. Best to wait a little longer to avoid damaging new, tender shoots and inadvertently removing seeds that are waiting for the right post-winter conditions to germinate. Clear signs of new growth is your go-ahead signal.

CobraHead, garden, tool, Johnny's, Seeds

The CobraHead. A universal garden tool if there ever was one. Available through Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

The right tool. Gardeners are notorious for grabbing what’s handy or just using their hands to dig a hole. Work smart, remember? My favorite source for quality hand tools is Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. Many of their tools are inspired by wise, Japanese gardeners.

Take action against weeds. Write this on a yellow sticky note and post it on your fridge: One year’s seed is seven years’ weeds. 

Divide perennials and donate them to a plant sale or a friend who would appreciate new flowers. Spring is the ideal time for dividing primroses, blue poppies and rhubarb. Try to do this as soon as possible after the plant emerges. It’s amazing how quickly plants recover from this abuse if you catch them early when the weather is still mild and they’re raring to grow.

Going green makes lawn care easier. That’s right. According to garden writer Jeff Lowenfels (who, by the way, has the longest running garden column in the U.S. ) and organic lawn takes less effort than a chemical-ized one. Here’s his article about how to repair an old lawn that has become hard packed and ween away from chemicals.

Organic, lawn, care, soybean meal, molasses, grass, seed, compost, steer manure, shredded kelp, dolomite lime.

Our lawn in Kodiak, Alaska is nurtured with organic TLC: Applications of soybean meal, molasses, compost, steer manure, shredded kelp and dolomite lime.

 

House, cleaning, tips, talking dirt, speed cleaning.

Fabulous book, and a fun read!

After my sister sent me Speed Cleaning, I purchased another Jeff Campbell book called Talking Dirt. To everyone we hire to help with the bed and breakfast, I give them these books to study.

And though I’ve yet to clean our house in 42 minutes, I discovered one of my favorite tools called a “Zip It.” It’s a simple tool that clears clogged drains in sinks, tubs, and showers. It’s a plastic strip that has specially designed teeth which allows you to pull the clog out of the drain. Here’s a photo of the tool. I didn’t think you wanted to see the tool in action, cleaning my hair from our bathroom sink…

zip-it, tool, drain, hair, unclog

The BEST tool for cleaning hair (of which I have lots) from a drain.

 

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