Bayberry plans

I dream of some splashy paint color for our porch, but I always wimp out and go with gray or sage. Our garden is mostly native but I’m looking forward to having some bright pink inpatients from the farmer’s market. They make a nice contrast to our rather drab front porch.

I enjoy our short spring season where I finally get to walk around the yard barefoot, sipping coffee and admiring the native wildflowers that have made a home of our yard since we gave up the 1950’s lawn and simply let nature take over. No gloves this year, I’m enjoying the feel of dirt and stems on my hands.

I don’t, however, want to have one of those overgrown lawns. Order is important. Now I need to create a border, perhaps using reclaimed wood or mosaics. I think a northern bayberry could be a partial border, would feed the birds and would also give us a sliver of privacy from our neighbors.

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Folowing clouds

I look forward to spring hikes where I can see clouds drift past the mountains. It’s a special time of year to hike, cold enough that you need to bring a warm drink, but the air is refreshing. If you don’t appreciate clouds, visit a cloud forest. The air is cool. Leaves don’t behave normally. Many species are endemic, and bathing in snow is a thing. All this because of clouds.

Cloud forests collect almost 20% of their moisture not through rain, but clouds. Thick canopies keeps the sun from dominating. Canopy trees collect moisture from the heavy clouds, and slowly drip water to the understory. That process is everything for this ecosystem.

Counting birds is a pain. Some simply can’t be found. So it’s hard to make the case to conserve a habitat if you can’t document the species. But now this study used NASA satellite data to find them, and it turns out that biomes are sharply divided by where we find clouds.

This sounds weird until we think about what clouds do. They use water, create rain, and change weather. They can help make a home wet, dry, cold or warm.

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Thorns and herb tea

With the arrival of spring, I’m also excited about my new teapot. It’s white with pink cherry blossoms (so girly) and I’m now declaring the London Fog as my favorite hot spring drink, though not the only one I want to try.

I love the foraging trend and it’s sad the U.S. is so far behind France and Italy on growing herbs. You have to know what you’re doing, I think schools should bring back Home Ec. and teach these skills.

Food blogs seem to like the foraging trend now. Along with recipes, they offer ideas on how to grow herbs in small kitchens, balconies or even, not legally, fire escapes. For beginners, growing a small herb plant can be a coup.

One recipe on Kitchn calls for some local plants like nettle, which grows in our yard, and rose hips which grows in abundance on the Atlantic coast. Considering the nutritional value, and since it’s free, I’m surprised this is not more popular.

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How to save your indie bookstore

When I get cabin fever, I enjoy finding a place to drink coffee and sketch out film ideas. It’s usually a café, or a bookstore. Or both. In our neo-progressive region, these spots are really laid back. You’re allowed to hang out, browse books, do work or chat with the staff. I love the varied, thoughtful selection of fiction.

This is why it’s so alarming that Amazon has moved in. The leeches aren’t satisfied bullying their staff and cornering the market. They’re out to deliberately crush local sellers. Guardian lists alternatives to Amazon.

My suggestions: make indie bookstores your office (if they have coffee and a place to sit) and meet friends there. Hang out and buy drinks at regular intervals. Go just to browse the fiction or your favorite genre of book; it looks good for the store when they’re busy.

Look for events like author signings or workshops. And say great things about indie bookstores; some of them rescue cats!

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Fog and black teas

This is the season where my optimism leads me to unrealistic hope. Will I finally have a simple, clean yard? (I have my heart set on mosaic tiles this year). Can I grow enough veggies in containers to avoid shopping forever? Good luck with that.

My other hope was to find some good spring recipes. I still enjoy hot drinks this time of year, but ones that are less heavy and not so much sugar. Sadly I don’t like chai. I like bitter flavors and this “savory teas” trend in indie coffee shops.

The only good recipe I’ve seen is a London Fog. It’s reportedly a thing of the Pacific Northwest, as the fog and mist are part of the cozy atmosphere there. The recipe calls for Earl Gray, steamed milk and vanilla. It sounds perfect for a cold spring walk on the hiking trails, or just a good day writing at home.

Now I just need some foggy mornings. I guess that will be part of my wishful thinking for the season.

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A Northern coffee break

After this I might consider moving to Sweden. Aparrently, the norm there is to take 2 coffee breaks a day whether at work, home or out and about. These breaks require the participant to eat a large helping or two of cinnamon rolls. I wonder where this custom has been my whole life.

Not only that, but it’s considered a social norm. So no one is going to stand out as lazy when participating. In fact this interlude is often used to for informal meetings or to celebrate a life event.

Fika is said to be the word kaffi (coffee) or cafe, misspelled and is reportedly, a huge part of Swedish life. His is why the word is incorporated into names of pastries, coffees, or breaks in general.

In 2016 the term has become more malleable, referring mostly to the event and not to the foods required. So instead of dough and sugar heavy pastries, one could choose tea and fruit instead.

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Running with smoke

I’ll never forget the time I was followed by a coyote at the Lake. It was early. I began my run times ridiculously early so as to avoid loud people. I shared this disdain with the coyote. The creature refused to move and seemed to follow me after I walked past him. Ultimately he was harmless but unnerving.

This is why I’m in such awe of the runners I read about in Africa, who see hyenas on their jog. One spoke about it in BBC, and once again my pulse increased.

I never read much about hyenas, until I realized they are actually in the same order as cats and civets. Their early ancestors were said to be like the banded palm civet, and their stripes are quite Viverrid-like. They also groom themselves like cats. But to some people they more resemble dogs due to their body plan. A closer look shows they are quite cat-like.

Some modern hyenas are scavengers, and as the article notes, do a great job keeping areas clean. Some modern hyenas are labeled as bone-crushers and have extremely powerful jaws. Some will forage fruit. This makes them potentially dangerous but most terrifying beliefs about them are urban legend.

Some myths regard hyenas as witches that steal children and livestock. Other myths have them as jinnis, beings who can appear or disappear at will as flames or wisps of smoke. As the runner said, they are almost like ghosts who appear from nowhere.

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Nettle tea after a jog

I get the most ridiculous cravings after I jog. My first impulse is to go after cheap packaged food. In fact I have a new routine – I run at the lake, then I swing by this new hipster café that sells novel coffee and pastries. I had my first eggnog latte, and it wasn’t disgusting!

But chocolate turnovers go so well with coffee. Too much sugar. So now is as good a time as any to get into the handcrafted, use what’s in the house scheme. My goal is to make hot drinks with novel flavors using fresh, healthy fruit or spices.

Creating tisanes? Nice idea. One blogger suggests nettle or calendula. There are always these wild medical claims that accompany these posts, but I ignore them and enjoy the flavor. Surely the tea is too weak to have any real effect. Anyway, burdock root sounds interesting too.

We northerners can’t exactly pluck chamomile and mulberry from the woods, but some markets with loose leaf teas can give us some practice until spring and hopefully our foraging skills are honed by that time. Until then, consult an edible plant expert.

On a side note, that sounds way too much like what I read in “39 signs you’re in the Kinfolk cult”. Soon I’ll be using cacti as a place setting.

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Snow gum

There was a great article on the life of trees. Due to their ability to communicate society is starting to rethink trees as beings and not just things. Experiments have led researchers to believe that plants can remember, and even count.

Botanists are not saying that trees can have experiences. Not like animals, as they don’t have a nervous system. But they respond to their environment; so they almost certainly have some sense of life around them.

As I read this, one tree that came to mind was the snow gum. It’s a huge, striped eucalyptus native to Australia. And it smells just as nice as its minty cousins. It’s the most cold-tolerant eucalyptus, growing in the alps of New South Wales. It can survive in deep snow on the tree line. This means it’s an evergreen eucalyptus. How about that.

This is a quite handy tree and has been used as fence rows, honey, fuel and medicine. The best part about the snow gum though, is its bark. Huge stripes with mixed maroon, cream and grey make it the prettiest tree I’ve seen.

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A place to gather in Norway

Well it wasn’t a snowy winter. I depend on this season for introspection. What excuse is there to sulk and write if the weather isn’t keeping us indoors? Not to mention my annual hot drink experiments. I read an article on entertaining non-alcoholic guests for winter. They suggest “hot and novel” recipes.

My favorites are sahlab, rice flour with sugar, spices and rose water, or an anijsmilk which is anise, hot milk and sugar. It’s a tradition to drink this during ice skating events in the Netherlands.

Coffee is needed of course for morning (and evening), some regions add cardamom and ginger to give it an extra bite.

I’m  mulling over where I could go next year. Norway, I’m looking at you! Yes it’s cold, but I bet gathering with friends takes on a whole new meaning when it’s below zero and there’s feet of snow at the door. It would be a great place to snowshoe.

These cabins in Norway (below) were made from reclaimed barn wood and look perfect for a winter gathering. Imagine a week in that setting, the writing and recharging that could be done.

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