A Last Summer’s Retreat at The Green Study

The Green Study will return on September 4th, 2018.

canstockphoto6437374It has become obvious from my last few posts that I’m in a bit of a mental muddle. I turn 51 shortly, which is neither here nor there, but makes me think I could do for a birthday break. The dog days of summer are now here. The cicadas drone on all day and the mornings roar with the croaking of toads and the chirping of crickets until the oppressive heat slows all living creatures to a crawl.

I’ve hit my social interaction saturation point, where the sound of my voice is like that old Volkswagen commercial, except the lyrics are: blah, blah, blah. This week I went to a garden party, which sounds more posh than it was – a fundraiser for a state representative. The governor was there. Being a political junkie and writer, I like to go to these sorts of things and observe politicians in their natural habitats of glad-handing and smiling relentlessly. I hung about the edges of the lawn just watching people and slipped away at the hour mark. I’m toast.

In the midst of civic engagement (how I’ve begun to loathe that phrase), I went to the funeral of a man whose 100th birthday party I attended a few months ago. At the time, he was smiling and laughing and talking to all of his friends and family. It was hard to see the funeral in a tragic light, when he left the world on the heels of feeling surrounded by love after a century of life. We should all be so lucky.

canstockphoto12816020Yesterday, my daughter and I worked at a food shelf distribution center, sorting and packaging 10lb bags of potatoes. One in ten people experience food insecurity in Minnesota. As a child of government cheese and butter lines and food stamps, it feels like a good way to spend a morning, but I am tired. I think about this social media idea of virtue signaling and how I’ve exploited it in my writing, talking about civic values and volunteering. I’ve become cynical about my attempts to be a good person, which is a signal in its own right – it’s time for a break.

The field of candidates when I filed for a vacant seat on city council expanded in the last few days from 1 to 12, so I’m bracing for failure. Bracing for Failure is the title of my unwritten autobiography. There is a certain panache to losing well. I always find the lesson, sometimes even before failure has been ascertained. I’ll know in the next couple of weeks where I stand and I’m sure I’ll be back writing about it then.

Ucanstockphoto8858462ntil then, I’m withdrawing into my shell with a pile of books, a list of house projects, and a penchant for belting out blues songs without provocation. We’re replacing our deck which has become a regular haunt for woodpeckers, due to the rotting wood and the bug buffet it hosts. Another DIY project that will involve arguments and injury and will be a relief when it’s over.

I hope to return in a couple of weeks recovered from burnout and with a better sense of direction. My energy is going all over the place these days. It’s not anything particularly interesting – just life coming at me from all directions and I need to retreat, rally my mental troops, and prepare for the next charge, wherever that may lead.

Wishing you the happy last dregs of summer!

The Last Butterflies of Summer

I took an unintended hiatus when I realized that I had nothing to say. I go through periods like this, where writing words fail to comfort and when I’m so tired of my own story, my own patter, that I go dark. It becomes a time of frenetic activity, physical labor, compulsive reading, long walks where all I hear is my breathing and the sounds of furtive nature. It is a time to refill the reservoir, to get out of my own brain, to seek solace in the words of others, to feel my muscles contract and expand, to roll up my sleeves, and wipe away the sweat.

canstockphoto8464155 I’ve spent a lot of time just standing in my garden, watching butterflies and frantic bees. We’re experiencing the largest migration of Painted Lady butterflies in 30 years. It’s the time of year to start cutting and clearing and preparing for the winter, but warm temperatures have offered a reprieve to all those creatures with long to-do lists: gathering stores of food, laying eggs for the spring, building overwinter shelters, making the long trip south.

Humans have their own to-do lists: cleaning gutters, clearing gardens, trimming trees. In addition to all of that, I think about what will get me through the long six months of winter. These days, the Twin Cities hasn’t really had a severe winter in a few years. And the upcoming one is predicted to be mild. This bodes well for getting outside more, but there is still a sense that keeping the mind a fertile garden might require a little effort.

So, I’ve signed up to get re-certified in Adult and Pediatric CPR/ First Aid and for a weekly Spanish conversational class. My book piles are high and at the ready. My Y gym membership in good standing and my list of indoor house projects long and unwieldy. It’s not enough to say I’ll get some writing done. I need to feed my brain, grow my skills, move my body, and let in other voices besides those repetitive ones in my head.


In my dreams last night, I was once again a vigilante, interrupting a knife attack. I knew the first step: control the knife hand, but was frozen on the next step. Eye gouge? Kidney punch? Cross sweep? Foot stomp? I woke up thinking I need to train. It’s a funny thing, being a middle-aged unpublished suburban housewife and having a brain wired with longings to be a superhero (while knowing the reality would be awful and violent and demoralizing).

canstockphoto4928698I’ve been having vigilante dreams off-and-on since my early teens. As a child, poverty and domestic violence made me feel powerless. I daydreamed a lot about taking that power back. Those conquering daydreams fed my subconscious and my imagination and eventually, my sleeping hours.

As an adult, I’ve tried to honor those impulses. I joined the Army, I did martial arts training and took self-defense courses. My husband gently mocks me about the fact that I’ve never had a physical confrontation except in generally safe sparring scenarios. Despite this, I’ve heard him brag on occasion that in the case of danger, we would defend him (my daughter also has martial arts training).

Perhaps it’s the fight-or-flight instinct, so lost and beleaguered in modern society, that leads some of us to workout intensely or put ourselves through rigorous physical testing. Part of me has an apocalyptic bent – everything is done in preparation. And perhaps it is worth questioning if all this preparation adds to or detracts from one’s quality of life. Until I figure it out, I keep returning to training.


I’ve been reading erratically, surrounded by piles of books and magazines. At least six books have bookmarks in them. I had to give up reading Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones. Good writing, a little heavy on metaphors, but the subject was a tough read – a combination of family and natural disaster, dog-fighting, and cringe-worthy sexuality. I recognize that sometimes my need to be comforted outweighs reading for the art of it.

So I rcanstockphoto8858462eturn to those voices that resonate with me: James Baldwin, Arundhati Roy, Bertrand Russell, Alfred Adler, Anne Lamott.  I read a rather funny piece by Maria Edgeworth (Anglo-Irish Writer, late 1700s) called “An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification”, inspiring me to write a modern version.  I also have started to read C.E. Morgan’s The Sport of Kings. It’s a work of fiction on a topic I have no interest in (horse racing), but the writing is pure bliss.

I find sometimes, that when I’m in a reading streak, talking seems like a waste of time. I can remember being a child and not wanting to put my book down, only engaging with people because I had to, and returning to the pages as quickly as I could. It’s a joy when you rediscover that feeling as an adult. With so many things that demand one’s attention, it’s a delightful luxury to think Not now, I’m reading.


canstockphoto12720256I had a conversation with someone the other day who only gets their news from the television. When we started talking about a political situation, they spent a lot of time saying, oh, I didn’t know that or that or that. Was I any better off for having read The Economist or only getting my news from online curated sources? In the scheme of things, what was the difference between knowing a little or knowing a lot?

Then I thought of a new Suzanne Collins series called The Brain Games. To-the-death trivia games. I’d make it up the bracket a ways, only to be killed off by the photographic memory guy. Information is power, photographic memory guy would say, reminding me that he was paraphrasing Francis Bacon from his 1597 Meditationes Sacrae, shortly before skewering me.


I hope that I can stop flittering about soon and settle down to write coherently. But the sun is out, my garden is full of butterflies, and I have some reading to do.

Good-bye, Hello: The Green Study on Break

The Green Study will return to regular posting on September 1, 2015

canstockphoto10226535It might have been the all-nighter I just pulled trying to help my kid through a painful orthodontia transition. Seriously, look up Herbst device. Marquis de Sade would have been impressed. It could be that Japanese beetles are now devouring my gardens. They eat 200 species of plant. Welcome to the salad bar, you little bastards. It might be the impending kitchen remodel, which will nicely suit my lack of desire to cook anything that doesn’t require a microwave. Or it could be that it’s so hot, my hot flashes seem inconsequential. Whatever it is, I need a break from all things.

Let’s slap a smiley face on this break and do something different. I’ve held on, trying to post regularly through the summer and as a consequence, have noticed an uptick in legitimate readers (Hello buysexforcheap!). It helps that so many other bloggers have taken a break. My blog has been remaindered with a black tick mark on the spine. I guess I’ll read that one, at least it’s cheap.

At this point, my blog’s ever-shifting, ever-questionable numbers put subscribers at around 8,600. At least 137 of those are legit readers who would love to see what other blogs are out there.

In order to not let this space go to waste for the month of August, let’s introduce ourselves. Every week, I’ll post a list of blogs for you to check out. Here’s how to get introduced:

  • Use this comment section or my Contact page by August 10th. Send or comment with a summary paragraph of what you or your blog are about, along with a list of 1-3 posts you’ve written that you think would best introduce you to readers. I’ll include links in the final post.
  • Since this is still my little piece of real estate on the internet, I retain subjective editorial control. Blogs for the sole purpose of promoting products, hate speech or anything that I’d be embarrassed to be seen with at a party, will likely not be introduced.
  • Introduction posts will be published on Wednesdays throughout the month of August.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Summer, I Think I Heard Someone Calling You

canstockphoto6646539People scatter across the lawn, some sitting at tables under canopies, others wandering from group to group, all of us just a little older and fatter than the last time we were together. Conversations are echoes of conversations we’ve had before at some wedding or funeral or anniversary party. Children are now gangly teenagers, one of whom has graduated high school. That woman’s braying laugh, an unappetizer at every occasion, carries across to where I sit. I have four more of these large scale occasions this summer.

I find a chair near my family and hunker down for the duration. Since going vegan, I am unable to stuff down my rising anxiety with fluffy whip cream salads or bars loaded with two kinds of chocolate and butter that leaves grease stains on napkins. There’s beer at this party and I remember fondly the early days when I could wander about similar functions in a fuzzy, friendly haze. But I am driving and I love the people who are my passengers. And there would be no end to the drinking once I started.

Several days this week, I bathed with strangers in my underwear, or as normals like to call it, swimming at the public pool. I do it so that my daughter is not me, that she has a chance at living a normal life. I see hints of me in her and it feels like fear and pride all at once. She meets her friends there and I hang about at the shaded edges of the pool, not completely ready to let go. The heat leaves me breathing shallow and unwilling to move.

canstockphoto6872297The pool reminds me of growing up, the breastless days of trying desperately not to smack into people while swimming. It becomes a whole different experience when you need glasses. I swim over to a group of friends, bobbing there stupidly, once I realize that I didn’t know any of them. My actual friends fill out swimsuits in ways that always have one boy or another splashing them in a mating ritual. As the late-blooming sidekick, I get splashed as well and sometimes imagine it was intended for me.

The spinach in the garden went to seed this year while I wasn’t looking. The heat is starting to hit its stride and I hear the whispers of autumn in my ear. Just die already. July is too soon for those feelings. I know I must dig back in, water things, weed, try to look like a gardener who hasn’t gone to seed.

Soccer season has finally ended, except for the insistence that we have an end-of-season picnic. The last game was delayed, because our team’s home field was littered with fireworks and garbage. The other team refused to use the field. We spread out and groomed the field, picking up old sparklers and bits of glass. They played because a forfeit would mean they’d lose the #1 ranking in the league. We watch them unfold their players’ bench. Our kids squat on the ground, pretending to listen to the coach’s urgent whispers. You can hear a collective sigh from the parents. It’s going to be a long hour.

In the summer, I am rarely alone. It’s a dangerous time for me. My hostility and inner turmoil grow exponentially with each degree Fahrenheit. Eventually, I turn an accusatory eye towards myself. Why can’t I just relax? Why can’t I just agree? Why can’t I be okay wherever I’m at? I am, in so many ways, my mother’s daughter, my grandmother’s granddaughter. But I’m a lightweight version.

My social anxiety is not the rising tension of just being there. My anxiety is that at some point I’m not going to want to try. That someone will attempt to hug me and I will shriek at them “get the f*** off me!”. I will be listening to someone’s tale about their cabin or their kid’s college plans and just simply walk away because I am bored. Social conventions, like manners, are needed. There’s too many of us not to be polite or show an interest in one another. I am not special. I do not get a pass because I find it all tedious. I just wish it wouldn’t get harder, but it has. I am sometimes afraid of myself.

After the twentieth well-meaning hug from one of my husband’s cousins, the I know you don’t like hugs but I’m going to hug you anyway ritual is starting to wear on me. I joke wryly, trying to push down my revulsion at the cocktail of perfumes now clinging to me. “You people never learn”. Jovial laughs all around. My husband said there will be an asterisk by my name in the family history.

canstockphoto25034608I am getting weirder as each year passes. I would not know this except for the expressions on other people’s faces. For each step I take away from them, I step closer to my wild self. But my wild self is not a willing, kind creature. It’s a little bit mad. I know that I live in a world not well-suited for my version of quiet madness. Long periods of solitude marked by one-on-one conversation, connections that feel grounded in truth. I do not want to be fixed or transformed or cured. I just want to exist, like a surprising, unkempt garden you stumble upon. And when you come, we will talk, until you know it’s time to leave.

Take a hint, summer.

The Dog Days of Blogging


The Green Study is on hiatus until September.

As the smell of tar drifts in through open windows and the cicadas drone on, I wrestle with decisions and consequences. Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time, knows this is a constant state for me – the wrangling of life out loud, never settled, never quite comfortable.

I started writing for this blog in January of 2012. The intent was to get in the practice of writing out loud. I went quietly about my business, writing about things that were of interest to me in the moment. I gained a small readership and began to enjoy the interactive facet of blogging.

In August and November, I went through the Freshly Pressed brouhaha. Fantastic and brutal, complimentary and misleading all at once. There were numerous missteps on the part of my ego and the numbers started to matter. The writing veered off course, I started to repeat myself and subjects. I wrote a lot of posts about blogging. To change things up a bit, I ran a couple of contests in December 2012 and February of this year. Fun, but a great deal of work.

This blog has never had a real focus. On occasion, I’ll get fired up about a subject and try to really cover it, but even I get bored with it after a few posts. My series seem to drop off. I haven’t yet gotten my fiction site up and running.  I’ve written many more drafts than posts – there were a lot of nonstarters.

In November 2012, I participated in the National Novel Writing Month, which I learned about only through reading other people’s blogs. This led to quite a few posts about writing a novel and the consequences that followed. One of the consequences was an eye condition that has put some speed bumps in my blogging path.

A small fear has been planted that my vision may permanently be affected. I am a reader and writer and impaired vision (beyond my lifelong nearsightedness), at the age of 45, scares me. My body has begun to feel the wear and tear of intense workouts and Taekwondo. My brain is starting to drift mid-sentence and I am constantly struggling to focus.

It is not just the dog days of blogging – it’s the dog days of my life. I am restless and edgy. The clear vision I had for myself less than a year ago, has, like my sight, eroded. This is not a dramatic moment or a major epiphany – merely a need for course correction.

I’ve tried to take breaks along the way, to get my mojo back or put some spring back into my step. I will forever be a writer and I hope to blog for the long haul, but I’m at a turning point. I hear “blah, blah, blah” in my head every time I write. The navel-gazing has put a crick in my neck and a circle in my thought process.

canstockphoto6534612Writing. I’m taking the month of August off from online blogging to give my eyes a chance to heal. The next step for me is surgery and I need to do everything I can to avoid that. Until then, I will continue to write off line in the hopes of developing stronger material. I must acquaint myself with some old school utensils, as well as remembering why writing left-handed with gel ink is a bad idea (smears galore!).


Traveling. I am also getting out and about – visiting Niagara Falls, the Chicago Jazz Festival, a trip traveling to wildlife sanctuaries, conservation centers and botanical gardens. The trip has the hallmarks of getting perspective, clearing up my vision, giving my brain a rest.

canstockphoto0615677Reading. I am midway through The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers and overwhelmed by the beauty and strength and intensity of his storytelling. It makes me hungry to push myself as a writer. I’ve been too timid, too afraid. I have fierce opinions, but in writing I feel compelled to be reasonable. I don’t think reasonable is going to get me where I want to go. And I won’t know where I want to go until I write without a leash.

canstockphoto11858226Resting. I’m off for a few weeks from Taekwondo and am focusing on some haphazard yoga, long walks and plenty of sleep. It has gotten more complicated with this eye condition, sleeping with bandage contacts, ointments, eye mask and humidifier. I’ve got a serious case of The Princess and the Pea going on, having to have so many things just right to get some rest.

canstockphoto9552766Family. We’ve all been taken over by work or lessons or extended family obligations. I realized the other day, with a shock, that my daughter has grown nearly as high as my shoulder. I want to capture some of the time before there are Cat’s in the Cradle -like regrets. That’s my mantra these days: Do it now, no regrets later.

canstockphoto13602210Gratitude. But here’s what I’d like to say most: Thank you.  You’re one of the reasons I keep coming back. Thank you for reading and/or commenting. Our conversations have been encouraging and thought-provoking and I value the connections I’ve made here.

I wish you a wonderful month ahead

and look forward to returning in September!

Dragonfly Summer

canstockphoto0529698Extreme weather and the loss of natural habitat have made my garden a little lonelier this year. No butterflies. I’ve seen a couple of Cabbage Whites, but usually I see Swallowtails (black and yellow), Painted Ladies, Fritillarys, Monarchs, Skippers, Checkerspots, Sulphurs, and Coppers, as well as a pretty good range of moths.

The monarch population has dropped significantly over the last 18 years, with 2012 being the lowest year ever (a 59% drop in one year). The push for biofuels (aggressive large scale farming in the Midwest) and the use of GMO and herbicide tolerant crops has eliminated huge amounts of milkweed, a plant that Monarch larvae feed on exclusively.  The population of Monarchs may rebound, but when the numbers are low, vulnerability to other factors is high. It wouldn’t take much to decimate the population.

It seems we are headed into a zero sum game. People can argue all they want about climate change and farming practices, but all it takes is a little common sense math – the more resources we gobble up, the fewer types of crops we cultivate, the less biodiversity this planet will have.

At times, I feel despairing that any of us will get the message before it’s too late. I’m not sanctimonious on the subject – this is not about them, the other, those people. It’s about me as well – the resources I casually blow through as a human being. The water, food, gas and electricity I’ve grown up with and take for granted. The footprint I leave and the narrower the path my child will have to walk on in the future.

I’ve read about living off the grid, conserving, trying to live smaller and more efficiently. I’ve adopted some of the practices, but I’m still in denial that my mere existence is doing real damage. I’m a suburban consumer – a predator on a planet whose only real defense is natural disasters, pestilence and disease. Predators are useful in natural population control. When there is nothing left to control, they turn on each other.

When people argue and point fingers about conservation, they seem to be in one of several camps:

  • Ignorance is bliss. There’s enough for me, so why worry?
  • Stop exaggerating. There’s more than enough for everybody (in my house, city, state, country) and we humans are super smart. We’ll solve the problem.
  • The sky is falling! The sky is falling!  And P.S. – humans suck.
  • Overwhelmed by the problem. There’s too many ideas/solutions/choices and I’m just one person, so I’ll just continue living in my paralytic state.

I tend to bounce between the latter two. Torn between time-consuming tasks of kitchen composting, hanging laundry outside to dry or mixing my own household toxic-free cleaners, I’ll take door number 4 – a nap. I’m being facetious, but there’s a reason things are called modern conveniences. People didn’t become ungainly, sedentary putty when they had to spend four hours scrubbing clothes on a washboard. When there’s an easier way, it’s human evolutionary nature to take it. Sometimes we have to push back against our own nature and work a little harder.

The dragonflies are here. Not in tremendous numbers, but enough to notice. They are super predators, effective and efficient, with bottomless appetites. They catch 95% of the prey they pursue. We like them in Minnesota and Canada, because they eat mosquitoes and the aerial shows at dusk are amazing. They also eat beetles, ants, bees, sometimes butterflies and on occasion, other dragonflies.

Dragonflies are marvelous and slightly creepy. In a lot of ways, they’re like humans – adaptable and voracious. Unlike us, though, they are preyed upon by other predators, such as birds and spiders, as well as humans, who gobble up the natural habitat needed for the dragonfly larvae. Survival instinct dictates that we’d always choose to be the dragonfly over the butterfly or a bee, but a world of predators is not sustainable.

Last summer, I didn’t write blog posts for a couple of months, but I think this year, The Green Study will be gettin’ its green on, figuring out how to take more steps towards leaving a smaller footprint. I’m visiting some wildlife and conservation centers over the next month as part of our family vacation. I’ll share those experiences here, while trying to transform knowledge into action.

Because I’d miss the butterflies.