Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summer Adventure Plans: Biking!

Ah, perhaps my title is too bold. :)

I don't have any BIG plans this summer. I'm still in school and we're still managing on one income, so there are no big vacations in the works or anything like that. But I've had years of practice making my own fun and this summer will prove to be no different.

For me, FUN=PROJECTS: some that I need to do and some that I create for myself.

These projects can be physical or cerebral or both, but I often choose something that will stretch me in some way, keeping life interesting and creative. Last year, for example, I blogged every day during the month of July. That was fun (though not every day) and challenging and pushed me to take photos and to think more structurally about my blog content.

So, for this summer, I have been thinking more seriously about biking. I love riding my bicycle, but more than just riding it, I love using it for transportation. What I mean is, while I like using my bike for recreation, I love using it instead of my car. This was one of the things I really wanted to do when we moved back home here to Minnesota. I wanted to ride my bike more and walk more and take advantage of public transportation. But we didn't move into as walkable an area as I would have liked. Also, our town is very hilly and our house is located right at the top! I joke sometimes, when we return home from walking into town, that I am Heidi heading home up the mountain. We do have public transportation nearby, but I have found that for most of the school year, as the homeschool co-op is a 30 minute car ride away, traveling by bus would be a trip amounting to over an hour one way and when I don't need to do this, it would just prove to be impractical.

Anyway, while we are at the top of the hill in our own town, the town on the other side of the highway from us - a mere mile away - is a relatively level destination. It is also highly commercialized, unlike our little downtown area (Maia works over there; it's about a 7 minute drive - seriously close!) and therefore, very busy. So, when we first moved here, I thought I wouldn't want to be riding my bike over there at all. But as we've lived here longer, I've become more familiar with back roads that are not as busy and over the winter I observed the wide shoulders and some paved foot/bike paths (that travel under the highway overpass) and regular, old sidewalks. I determined that when my schedule settled down for the season, I was going to do some experimenting and yesterday was the first day of my experiment!

Eve, my neighbor, Kim, and I rode to the library - the one in the other town, that is actually closer to me than my own town library, as we are located on the far-western edge of our town - and then tried out one of those back roads that gives access to all kinds of large, commercial businesses (chains like Aldi's, Target, Home Depot, Office Max... pretty much every large you've heard of and many smaller, local shops in between) away from the main drag. And you know what? It was SO easy and quick and safe! Yes, there was more traffic in some areas, but nothing that frightened me and the speed limits are much slower than the ones off of the main road in Florida where I'd wanted access to shopping by bike, but couldn't manage.

So, for the sake of saving money and keeping fit and for the sake of adventure, I am going to try to take my bike as often as I can while the weather cooperates this season. My big grocery runs at Mississippi Market (our local food cooperative) and Trader Joe's still take me too far away and I get too many groceries all at once anyway to fit in my bike trailer. But I always need to get a few more things at the big chain stores to fill in those things I can't find at MM or TJ's. Rainbow is one of the regional big grocery chains where I do just that and it is right on my bike route. But it will be closing likely this fall as it got bought out by a competitor. That competitor is still in biking distance for me, but not quite as close and up a hill and across that main drag. Aldi's, though, is closer, so I'm going to see if it can fill some of those gaps and I hope to do it by bike!

Other than specially arranged trips and the grocery runs, I don't have any regular destinations that ought to take me away from home/town. The volunteer work I do once-a-week at the assisted living is a mere mile and I biked and walked there often last summer. I'm also going to be volunteering at the library in town to gain some more hands-on library experience and I can bike there as well, even if it does mean a literal uphill climb on the way home. I'll just take the road with the long, slow incline, instead of the steeper one.

Building up my leg muscles is just going to have to happen too, because my bike is only ONE speed! That's right, no gears! That was one of the things that made me think I just couldn't bike much around these parts, but I've just decided that it's not going to stop me. I was thinking about getting a different bike with speeds, but I'm holding off right now. Now that I know that MOST of my errands can be accomplished away from all the hills, I'm encouraged. I still plan to patronize our little town as much as possible, but right now, unfortunately, there isn't much offered there that works for me. There is a coffee shop and the library, of course, but other than the gas station that I do support when driving, there isn't much that takes me down there commercially. We used to have a membership at the community center for fitness - and I hope to have one again perhaps in the fall- but since we don't right now, I'm not down there as often. So, the biking is going to be part of my fitness too, obviously, and I'm excited about that.

Scheduling is the one thing that has gotten in the way of me traveling by bike or foot. In the past I have not been as determined to stay out of the car and then just wouldn't have - or leave - enough time to travel alternatively. It's a big temptation when the car is just sitting there in the driveway, ready to go! But, I am hoping that I will make it work. Even when it's hot. I don't know if I'll ride in the rain yet. I get pretty freaked out being outside when there is a thunderstorm, so I don't know. If I can learn about and outfit myself with some proper gear, I may ride in the rain if there won't be any lightning. I just don't know yet. I'm at the very beginning of this and just hope to make myself choose biking on NICE days to start! We'll see how it goes from there.

I know I'll still be taking the girls places by car, but I've suggested to Maia that we could ride bikes together to her work (or she can obviously even go on her own, but I like riding!) and then I could pick her up in the van at night after she's done closing (I wouldn't want her riding home alone in the dark) and toss her bike in back. We'll see if she takes me up on my clever offer. :) If so, that would be even less driving, which I like to avoid when I can.

To me, this is a fine adventure! I will be doing something different, traveling and experiencing my days and town(s) in a whole, new way. That's discovery and that's adventure!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Catching Up to May

Spring is still mostly blooming indoors in Minnesota right now, so the girls and I took a "Beautiful Day" trip a week ago to the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory last week.  The zoo and gardens are free, so it is always pretty busy. School buses often line the avenues around the park and fill in the parking lots. They, however, are usually more interested in the zoo. We came for the plants and enjoyed a peaceful morning of sketching with sounds of trickling water and birdsong amidst heady flower fragrance.

Maia - yes, that's her on the right! - is now very blonde, and matches the pastel springtime palette quite nicely! :)

Years ago, when the girls were very small - I think Maia was 6 and Eve 3 1/2, I had the idea of a Beautiful Day in May. I remember it as May first, but I could be confusing things. If it was May 1st, it would have had to have been a very warm May. I may be combining it in my mind with delivering May baskets on May Day... In any event, whether it was the first or not, and whether we went from delivering baskets or on another day in May, we did take ourselves out of doors to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. We dressed up in "beautiful" clothes and listened to "beautiful," classical music on our way to and from the arboretum. We had lunch and did our school lessons sitting by a stream at the base of a waterfall. As we were leaving, we passed by all the crab apple trees that were in bloom. People were enjoying picnics beneath the trees as petals floated down all around them. It was like something from a dream and is a day I'll never forget with my little girls.

I have long since thought of that day and decided that after our very long, cold winter, we definitely needed another Beautiful Day! Perhaps we'll make it a tradition! We didn't make it out to the Arboretum; it's a much longer drive from where we live now. But the Conservatory's gardens are wonderful. The Sunken Garden is the most colorful, as this is where they plant seasonal flowers. The lilies were HUGE and the foxgloves were amazing - my favorite there! I have not yet had success with foxgloves, but I plan to keep trying because they are stunning!

We toured the Japanese garden, but as hardly anything was blooming, the leaves weren't even yet on the trees, and the water features were still bare, it wasn't very exciting. Admittedly, we have a pretty high bar after visiting the incredible Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens when we lived in Florida. I had never heard of the Morikami, by the way, until we took our long weekend mini-vacation to the east coast of Florida. But I can tell you that it is not to be missed! Some things are more hype than anything else, but the Morikami was enchanting. If you're ever around the Ft. Lauderdale/ Boca Raton area, look it up!

Getting back to Minnesota, LOOK who was on MY vehicle when we got out of the park? We saw this handsome fellow on the way in and here he was on my car when we came out! First, I must tell you that bluebirds are my absolute favorite bird. And then I must tell you that this was only the second time in my life that I have seen one! They are primarily meadow dwellers and I've generally lived in more populated areas, so I don't get to see them very often. Paul and Eve built me some bluebird houses for our Florida house, but the only things that ever lived in them were tree frogs. :(

Como Park has its own house up surrounded by lots of open space (just like bluebirds like it) and it is appropriately occupied! Oh, he was so handsome and had such a beautiful song. Seeing him was the perfect touch to our second Beautiful Day.

Back home, the lawn is green as can be and the trees are just starting to leaf out. Green is the main color around these parts as perennials begin waking up in the garden beds. I added a small bed around the corner of the kitchen garden. Hollyhocks are coming up from last year!! I had no idea they survived; they were so pitiful looking last year, I was sure they were a failure. So imagine my surprise when I saw such nice-sized green leaves under a protective covering of fallen brown leaves leftover from last autumn! 

So I've planted the geraniums and some tall snapdragons in front of the hollyhocks. I also planted white morning glories and moon flower all along the fence too as well as more hollyhock seeds to see if I can get these biennials to alternate years with their blooms in order to have them every year. I definitely have a vision; I just wonder if it will come to fruition? And that is the plight of the gardener every year: waiting to see if the garden of their mind will become a reality!

I've got some flower boxes for my deck. They are new this year and look pretty lonely, but we've got some nasturtium seeds planted around those tall grasses that Eve diligently collected from last year's garden, so we should be seeing some sprouts in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, the strawberries have spread the length of the box if not having filled all in yet. There's still chamomile in the middle there. The lavender didn't make it; I've planted some quinoa in its place. We'll see if it does anything!

Out front, things are mostly green yet, but I am pleased with the number of transplanted perennials from last year are coming back. I think I lost a hosta or two which is kind of surprising to me, but the ones that have returned seem healthy. I love to see them unfurl bit by bit every day. My neighbor, Kim, shared some lily-of-the-valley with me too and those are growing as though they were never moved from across the street!

We've wrapped up nearly all our school activities for the year. Eve still has a bit of science and math yet, but Maia is focused on graduation now. Endings and new beginnings all in one. It is springtime and we shall commence!

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