Tag Archives: seasons

Spring flowers

bluebonnets in ditch

Bluebonnet is a name given to any number of purple-flowered species of the genus Lupinus predominantly found in the southwestern United States.

A sure sign of spring in central Texas is bluebonnets blooming in the ditches.

The bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas. Back in the ’70s, Lady Bird Johnson encouraged the planting of native plants along Texas highways in a highway beautification effort. Like cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., or tulips in southern Wisconsin, bluebonnet blooms are a common sight in the springtime.

Our condo is located near the end of a winding road that makes the most of one of the bends in Lake Travis. Bluebonnets thrive along this road, and they make me happy every time I have to make a run to the post office or grocery store.

bluebonnet closeup

The shape of the petals on the flower resembles a pioneer woman’s bonnet.

Summer begins tomorrow: I declare

Astronomers might start counting summer’s days at the summer solstice (usually June 21) but I don’t. Summer for a native Minnesotan begins with Memorial Day weekend and ends on Labor Day.

Most years, this one included, there are 101 days between the Saturday before Memorial Day and the Monday of Labor Day.

One hundred and one glorious days of summer. And next week feels like a bonus week in May. How often is it that we get four more May days after Memorial Day? In our family, in additional to the regular holidays of Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, we celebrate a half dozen birthdays and our anniversary during summer. This year, we have two family reunions to attend. So much to savor.

Speaking of savoring, I think everyone around here is salivating for some real summer days. It seems like it’s been overcast since September. I tire of dodging raindrops. Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right.

ice cream

You scream, I scream, we call scream for ice cream.

I struggle with assigning a sense to summer. Spring’s fresh air and lilacs win with the sense of smell. Autumn probably gets the color award, what with its fantastic changing leaves and orange pumpkins and golden waves of grain. Does summer best minister to our sense of taste when we enjoy sweet and creamy ice cream cones and juicy fresh tomatoes and buttery sweet corn? Or is it our sense of hearing that summer amplifies? Is it a coo of a mourning dove, the wind rustling the leaves or the laughter of children wafting through the neighborhood that say “summer” to you?

So tomorrow is the first day of summer as declared by Minnesota Transplant, and the perfect opportunity to ponder how you will best experience it. As any good Minnesotan knows, summer is fleeting and we must appreciate every moment. What will you savor?

Aaah, summer—that long anticipated stretch of lazy, lingering days, free of responsibility and rife with possibility. It’s a time to hunt for insects, master handstands, practice swimming strokes, conquer trees, explore nooks and crannies, and make new friends.

~ Darell Hammond, the philanthropist, not the comedian


Sign your kid up for swimming lessons now

Throwback Thursday: I shared this post a few years ago, but it’s worth repeating because the pool season is upon us. 

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I saved a kid’s life once.

The Municipality of Sebeka paid me $4.25 a hour to work 40 hours a week at the Sebeka Pool for three months during two summers in the late ’80s, and I remember saving only one kid.

She was about 6, and her siblings were swimming in the part of the pool that was 5-feet deep. She kept skirting her way down the side of the pool with a death grip on the edge, apparently thinking she wanted to be swimming with her sisters even though it was obvious she was in over her head — literally.

More than once, I told her she shouldn’t be going that deep and she should go back to the shallow end of the pool.

But in a crowd of at least a hundred bobbing around in the water in 90-degree heat, she persisted in inching her way back to the deep end.

Maybe I sensed her fear or maybe I was just lucky, but when she slipped and started gulping in water with a look of wide-eyed panic on her face, I zeroed in on her and was there to grab her and pull her to safety. And like a good Scandinavian who can’t let a “I told you so” moment slip by even in the face of tears, I shook a trembling finger at her and scolded her for  going where I told her not to.

To be honest, I hope the community of Sebeka got its money worth because I think I saved a lot more kids from the brink of death by teaching swimming lessons even on cold, cloudy days in early June when being in the pool was a different kind of goose-bumply water torture.

Every kid in America should learn to swim.

In church today during the children’s sermon, the pastor asked the assembled group of people shorter than 4 feet if they were taking swimming lessons this summer. Only half the hands went up.

OK, maybe the other half weren’t listening. Or they didn’t understand the question. Or they had taken swimming lessons during another season.

But while the pastor was teaching a life-or-death lesson for their eternal souls, I was worrying about those kids who didn’t take swimming lessons this summer. Because it’s a life-or-death lesson for their mortal bodies.

I’m not a parent (not a biological parent anyway), so I generally try to keep my opinions about parenting to myself, fully aware that every task looks easier from an outsider’s perspective (“Sure, honey, your kids would eat their vegetables and wouldn’t throw tantrums in Target. But you don’t know until your toddler spits beets all over the kitchen and holds up the 10-item-or-less line because you won’t buy her gum.”)

Still, I spent two summers of my life teaching 5-year-olds how to swim so I feel like I can safely tread in this territory.

If you don’t give your kids a chance to learn to swim, you’re a bad parent.

Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States among children younger than 14 and the leading cause of accidental death for children 5 and under, according to the American Institute for Preventive Medicine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 people die every day from drowning. While some parents go into hysterics about “stranger danger,” only about two kids a week are involved in stereotypical non-family abductions, according to CNN.

A child abduction is a terrible thing, but my point is if you’re teaching your child not to talk to strangers but you’re not taking them to swimming lessons, you’re worrying about the wrong thing.

People drown for a lot of reasons besides a lack of ability to swim — like lack of parental supervision, undertow and consuming alcohol — but the CDC states, “Taking part in formal swimming lessons reduces the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 years.”

To be clear, I didn’t teach 5-year-olds how to swim in the two weeks they bobbed and blew bubbles for a half and hour a day in my classes, but it was a start with the goal being how to breathe in water and float, maybe dog paddle. Nowadays, parents can find swimming lessons for kids a lot younger than 5. A kid really ought to go to swimming lessons for a couple of weeks a year for years in order to learn to swim.

In fact, a kid really ought to wear a swimsuit so much every summer, it fades to white and loses all elasticity because they spend four hours a day at the pool (under the supervision of a parent or at least a lifeguard). That’s how I learned to swim (and eventually teach others to swim) while living in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Enroll your kids in swimming lessons and they may learn skills to save their lives. If you’re an adult who doesn’t know how to swim, you can get lessons, too. Splashing around in water is great exercise no matter what your physical condition. The life you save may be your own.

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Though through no influence of mine, I’m proud to report my 15-month-old granddaughter is splashing around right now learning to swim in weekly lessons with her momma. Go, Momma! 


Blooms in their original place

Another gray day in paradise. The wet fields are preventing farmers from planting their crops, but you know what they say about the upside of April showers: They bring May flowers.

Here are a few tulips I’ve glimpsed recently. Tulips have lovely blossoms that are best viewed in situ.


This bunch is growing in the middle of nowhere, clinging to a steep hill. “Life, uh, finds a way,” doesn’t it Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park).

tulips red

These tulips are growing in front of the sign at the other church in town.

tulip yellow

This single yellow beauty is growing in the garden left behind by the former gardeners of our church, now home. It’s a persistent bugger; I have pictures of the bloom last year at this time, too.

I ran across something else today, too, that seems appropriate for the subject matter. I saw this quote in a vanity sink. Yes, you read that right. Kohler made an Artists Edition sink painted with prairie flowers and this verse:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”

~ Aldo Leopold

Leopold was an American author, philosopher, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist and environmentalist. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac.

A frog’s call signals spring

Call me bold. Or myopic. Or just plain crass. But while the rest of the world mourns the potential loss of a million of the planet’s eight million species in what scientists warned yesterday would be described as the most comprehensive global nature loss ever, I’m celebrating one species: Frogs.

When spring comes, it sounds like there are a million of them.

Our former house bordered a nature preserve. It was really just a detention pond in a large suburban neighborhood, but it sounds better to call it a nature preserve. It was filled with turtles and frogs (and other creatures) with which I would occasionally cross paths while running on the nearby paths and streets. Turtle are a quiet neighbor, but frogs are not. At least not during mating season. The trill of the frogs’ song saturated the air to the point my brain cancelled it out.

It’s not until I moved to this new house, which is not near standing water, that I noticed the absence of the frogs’ peeping. But recently, as I was driving on a back road with the windows open, I noticed the distinctive frog ribbiting as I passed the puddles in the farm fields. Pass a puddle, the sound clamored. Pass a dry spot, the sound died away. Clearly, these farmers aren’t using too much pesticide; even their transient mud puddles attract residents. It was glorious, actually, hearing the frog calls. Such a clear sign of spring.

Frogs are among the planet’s few fully amphibious creatures, as much as home in water as they are on dry land. But water they demand. As I was walking my granddaughter this afternoon, I could hear a frog’s bre-ke-ke from a half block away. I traced it to the decorative pond in the yard of a neighbor.

Couldn’t see him. But definitely heard him.

Winged signs of spring

I’m neither a birder nor a photographer, but I got a real show when I visited my parents in Minnesota recently.

Some people mark the beginning of spring by sighting a robin, but in my parents’ neck of the woods, one might see all kinds of springtime birds. There are 442 species of birds on the official list of Minnesota inhabitants, but I’m not talking about sorts of everyday chirping birds just about everyone has visiting their backyard bird feeder. My parents’ home is remote enough to be nestled on the edge of river, or you might call it a “crik” or possibly a swamp, all depending on the time of year and inches of precipitation. A number of large birds also inhabit the area, apparently because it’s well stocked in fish and small game and whatever else birds eat.

Most of the time, the photos I take of birds (of any size) look something like this:

birds sandhill

See those two blobs in the middle there? Those are two sandhill cranes. You’re just going to have to trust me.

As we drove up to my parents house the first afternoon we arrived, a solemn looking bald eagle observed us from his perch in the middle of a field. Of course, I didn’t have my camera at the ready; I just swiveled my head as I engaged in a staring match driving by. The nest he shared with his mate was clearly visible in the leafless tree bordering the creek, and we saw him frequently during the course of the week as we drove by into town. Eventually, I figured out to have my cell phone camera in hand.

birds eagle

His head is white. Again, trust me.

The bald eagle, once an endangered species, now flourishes across the United States. Even if you’re not all that interested in birds, he’s quite a sight, frequently appearing on lists of the world’s most beautiful birds.

birds eagle flying

This bald eagle wasn’t much for photo shoots. He flew away when I got out of the car.

I also saw a red tail hawk and a pheasant. I’m pretty sure I saw a turkey vulture, too. Here’s my shot of the pheasant.

birds pheasant

Yup, he’s there in the middle, walking away from me.

The birds that put on the most fantastic show were the wild turkeys. Dad lent me his binoculars to observe the males fluffing up their feathers in order to get laid. When they’re strutting about, they look just like they do in those handprint paintings kids do at Thanksgiving with their tail feathers spreading up vertically, sort of like a less colorful peacock. Lots of drama in that mating dance.

The large bird I saw most closely was attracted to the bird feeder in my parents’ yard. I heard it before I saw it though: The pileated woodpecker.

birds woodpecker

I wouldn’t describe myself as a nature girl, but I was amazed to see all these distinctive large birds within a mile of my parents’ house. They were quite beautiful and impressive, bright spots on the otherwise brown not-quite-spring-yet landscape. Signs of more colorful days to come.

Pine boughs whispering

So, this happened.

Snow on April 14

At breakfast, I could see the dirt with tiny spears of green grass that is our lawn. About 11ish, it started snowing. Snowing! On April 14. Not unheard of but also not welcome. And then it didn’t stop for hours.

Pretty soon, the snowplow went by.

My Beloved drained the snowblower of gasoline a couple of weeks ago, so even if the streets were clear, our sidewalks weren’t going to be. I just watched the white stuff come down, my jaw on my chest, unbelieving.

pine tree

So then I wondered what it was like this time of year last year. I figured this snow must be a fluke.

2018 april 14

This picture was taken exactly a year ago. That’s our camper in the back yard of our rental house. For some reason, we backed the pickup up to the front door. Maybe we were loading luggage, trying to get away.

My point is that snow in mid-April in southern Wisconsin is not all that unusual, so I better believe it.

Fortunately, the forecast calls for highs in the 60s midweek, so this terrible reminder that winter is not a three-month season but a five-month one will disappear in the spring sunshine and be forgotten soon enough.

So there’s that.