Posted in Gardening, On Writing, organization

My backyard revisions meet a drought

The 2021 garden season was the culmination of a three year project to transform the damaged deck and perpetually soggy backyard into a functional space where kids could hang with friends, the cats could enjoy the outside from the safety of a screened in porch, my native pollinator garden, needing no extra water, would be in full bloom, and the abundance of pollinators would guarantee a good tomato yield.

That dream is not fully realized this year. Between Covid-19, smoke from wildfires, high heat, and drought, the plot twists did not work in my favor. (BTW – neither did technology – this is take two on this post. The first one poofed when I tried to fix a typo.) Even though the garden photos are not as lush and in bloom as I would have liked, I’m happy to share some photos.

Before: A deck that heaved every winter, stairs that ended in a hill.
After construction, before landscaping. And yes, there are mud puddles.
Year Two in progress. The retaining wall redirects the water away from the flat part of the yard.
Phase Two complete. The sump pump empties into the rock river bed under the stairs.
Year Three! The plants are a little droopy. In a wetter year, it would be easier to see the yellow and pink blooms along the rock river bed. The pollinator garden is on the left side, and the right has prairie grasses. The lawn has a mix of grass and clover, and is a great place for soccer or bocce.

The process of revising the back yard is a lot like revising a book. It takes time to plan, build, fix what is not working, and at some point you have to accept that while it may not be quite what you first envisioned, the end result is satisfying.

Posted in art, Books, childhood, For Writers, On Writing

A very hungry bookworm

We lost a literary giant yesterday, Eric Carle passed away at age 91. His life, art, and gift for words inspired many a youngster, including me.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was one of my absolute favorite books to get from the library. The holes in the page were the icing on the (chocolate) cake. I spent a lot of time putting my pinky finger in the hole on one page and very carefully turning to the next to solve the important mystery of how everything lined up. Eric Carle taught me that books were magical.

Another sort of magic from The Very Hungry Caterpillar? I was inspired to try new foods. I liked strawberries, apples, lollipops, and chocolate cake. So did the caterpillar. I distinctly remember being excited to try swiss cheese because the caterpillar ate it. I also learned the valuable lesson to have some salad if I’ve overindulged.

My kids adored Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and the companion Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? Carle did the illustrations, and Bill Martin Jr. did the words. They preferred these books to The Very Hungry Caterpillar. We had board book versions of both and the corners were well chewed as if the kids were trying to eat through the pages, but the board book lacked the intriguing finger holes of paper version I got from the library.

My youngest liked to play a game inspired by Brown Bear. He would ask “Mommy, Mommy what do you see?” and I had to answer with something I saw in the room “looking at me.” We played this in the car, in waiting rooms, at home, pretty much anywhere and he would bust my chops if he thought I picked something (say a potato or a painting) out of the sightline of the last object named. At some point, one or the other of us would have to recall all of the items mentioned previously. It was a good mental exercise for both of us.

My oldest liked to look at the art and try to figure out how it was made, noticing little details like how the collage parts lined up. Carle was a truly talented artist, mixing media, color, and form to make the world anew. I was not surprised when I learned one of Carle’s artistic influences was Marc Chagall. I see a similarity in how they blend multiple tones and hues to create a color. Because of copywrite concerns, I won’t plunk the images here, but click on names to see what I mean. In both cases, I linked to images featuring the color blue.

Eric Carle reminds us to find the joy and beauty in the world. Take a moment today to honor him by seeking out wonder and beauty.

Links to books on Amazon contain affiliate links.

Posted in Environment, Family life, Gardening

Earth Day 2021

The past 12 months have been challenging for this lazy person committed to both supporting local business and adopting small changes to help the Earth. The pandemic caused me to discard the old syllabus. I hope Mother Nature is grading on a curve.

In an effort to support local restaurants, my family and I got takeout at least once a week. That generated a lot of takeout containers, most of which were not recyclable. Some got repurposed into craft projects or places to start seedlings, but eventually, they went to the trash.

On the other hand, my takeout dollars went to small businesses in the area. Not every place survived, but I banded together with a group of moms in my area and we shared information about struggling small businesses, especially those owned by women and BIPOC communities, and those who used locally sourced ingredients. Owners of five restaurants and three other businesses have acknowledged the moms as the reason they made rent and kept doors open.

Even if I don’t like the accumulated takeout containers, I am making a difference for people in my community and that feels pretty darn good. Fingers crossed these “Foreverwear” containers become wider spread.

When I look at this year and how my baby steps worked there are plusses and minuses.

The bad and the ugly:

Takeout containers use increasing.

Overall increase in packaging – from deliveries to not using reusable bags, it all adds up.

The hubs “cleaned” a garden bed and got rid of my swamp milkweed patch.

Swamp Milkweed – the pinkish purple flowers are prettier than the name.

What went well

Reduced carbon emission from travel. No flights, and not too many miles on the car.

Increased the number of native plants in the yard. Got promise from the hubs he will restore the milkweed.

Better meal planning meant less food waste and fewer trips to the grocery store.

Reduced impulse purchases. We tried to reduce packing by ordering only when we had a list. There was no “Oh this looks cute” or “that smells great” items dropping into the cart.

More clothing repair. The kids are still growing – we cannot stop all clothing purchases, but I learned to patch jeans and reinforce seams.

My Green Living goals for the next year:

Collage of flowers and landscapes with the words Plant Kindness

Grow more vegetables and herbs. Buy plants from the local greenhouse.

Add more native plants. How cute are these Pocket Prairies? Very, in my opinion. Maybe there is something similar in your neck of the woods.

Be intentional in my purchases and my travel. Both will happen again at some point.

It’s a short list. Share your green living hints to give me inspiration.

PS – I added an image after a reader mentioned needing to look up Swamp Milkweed. I guess I’ve lived in Minnesota long enough that I forgot how uncommon it is elsewhere.

Posted in Books, Environment, Gardening

Thinking Spring and Bees

My Minnesota backyard is still covered in snow, but some of you are already enjoying flowering spring bulbs. This is the time of year I start getting serious about what my summer garden should look like. I should be planting more swamp milkweed this year, and hopefully my tomatoes will be happier in the 3 foot by 3 foot bed that is being added to the back yard.

One longed for addition will not happen. My town council decided not to allow backyard beekeeping. Ever since I moved to this house, I’d been aware of efforts to change the town rules to allow for backyard chickens and bees. The council voted last month to allow chickens, but not bees. Having been pecked by my grandma’s chickens more times than I can count, I have zero interest in chickens. What surprised me the most was that although more individuals in a survey of citizens said they would keep chickens, the percent of the population who opposed chickens was about 15% higher than those who opposed backyard bees, but the city stands to collect more in licensing fees from the potential chicken wranglers than from bee keepers.

My current writing project features a bee keeper who hates chickens. Personal curiosity drove my research into pollinators and bee keeping, which in turn fed my manuscript and efforts to change town laws. I won’t be able to set up a backyard hive, but I am looking forward to welcoming bees and pollinators to my yard with a variety of colorful blooms and native plants.

Posted in Books, Christmas, Food, holiday, Lists

A few favorite gifts

Time is growing short to find the right gift for yourself or someone you love. I wish I could say I made money off affiliate links, but I don’t. I’m simply a struggling author sharing some things I love that you might enjoy.

Sphynx with one foot on the ground and three on a colorful drinking fountain.

This is my Sphynx Juno. She’s 12. Rather than drinking from the Catit flower fountain like a normal cat, she prefers this pose. She has tried this on other fountains and bowls, tipping them over. This one is Juno-proof!

All our cats love this fountain. We no longer worry one kitty will develop kidney problems from a lack of water.

It’s cheap, cute and easy to clean. I got it from Chewy.

A 2020 Christmas Ornament. Normally we add an ornament to the Christmas tree that commemorates some place we went during the year. But this is 2020. Out of virus concerns, we followed public health recommendations and stayed home. My family hasn’t had the big reveal so no pic yet, but Etsy.com has a delightful variety and you can support small businesses hurt by the shuttering of craft fairs and other in person outlets. If you want to shop local, Etsy gives you that choice as well. Claire of Sidetracked supports Etsy.

Books – ebooks and physical books!

Seriously – feed an author, buy a book, and give the gift of entertainment.

Gift Cards from local restaurants. Support those places you love, but also treat people who don’t live with you to a great meal from some place local to them.

Some local bakeries and ice cream places will ship across country which can be a wonderful taste of home for someone who can’t travel or has special dietary needs.

Personally, I’m excited about the AandJbakery.net gingerbread house kit that arrived at my house this week. As a food allergy family, finding a gingerbread house we could safely build was a challenge until we learned about A&J. The pic is last year’s model. The gingerbread is the best I’ve ever had.

Happy Holidays and a joyous new year
Wishing you peace, Lola

Posted in Family life, Food, holiday

Thanksgiving Tips and Why I don’t make Gravy.

For some people, 2020 will be the first time they have prepared a Thanksgiving dinner rather than bringing a dish to share. It can’t be any worse than my first time making a turkey.

The hubs and I had been married a little over a year and had moved into our third residence. We had new jobs, little money, and no vacation time so traveling 10 hours to visit the “close” parents was not an option. My mom felt bad enough that she flew from Chicago to Newark, NJ to help us out. For three people, we had a 15 pound bird.

Helpful hint #1 – Unless you are feeding 5 or more, get a turkey breast or a 7-8 lb bird.

Naturally, the hubs and I had to recreate ALL the dishes both sides of our family made so we could both have the taste of home. This meant two types of mashed potatoes, two types of cranberries, and two types of stuffing. This also meant we ran out of cookware and places to set prepared food in our tiny kitchen.

Helpful hint #2 – For a small group, streamline the menu. Pick your favorite 5 or 6. In our household of 4, we have turkey, cranberry relish and each person picks one other dish. You can always make a different side dish for the inevitable left overs.

My mom alternated between shaking her head at the hubs and my folly and giving us helpful instruction gleaned. She gave me the task of making gravy from the pan drippings while she coached the hubs through some other task. Her instructions to me went something like “heat in the pan, add cornstarch, whisk until smooth and thickened.”

So I whisked, and I whisked, and I whisked. I got the gravy smooth but there was a problem. “Mom? It’s not thickening!”

“Add some more cornstarch.”

So I grabbed the box and poured in some more. I whisked, got the gravy smooth, but it still didn’t thicken. Mom and I repeated our dialogue to the same effect. I made four additions.

When she finished her project, she came over to check my work. She picked up the yellow box I’d been using. She put her hand on my exhausted whisking arm.

“Honey, no matter how much powdered sugar you add, that gravy isn’t going to thicken.”

Helpful hint #3 – Cornstarch and powdered sugar are not interchangeable.

It’s been over 20 years, but I am still not allowed to make gravy.

If you have a helpful hint for preparing a small scale Thanksgiving dinner, please feel free to share in the comments. It’s a strange year for many of us, but we can all learn something new and we can all use a good laugh.

Posted in Books, Christmas, Sidetracked

Press Release: Sidetracked: A Small Town Contemporary Rom-Com

MINNESOTA AUTHOR PUBLISHES SIDETRACKED: A SMALL TOWN CONTEMPORARY ROM-COM

October 13, 2020

Lola Karns is pleased to announced her latest Christmas romance. Sidetracked will release on October 13, 2020 and will be available at major ebook retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and others. A print version is anticipated shortly. Her previous Christmas romance, Winter Fairy, was a best seller and featured in USA Today.

Lola’s penchant for making things up began in childhood. As she went through school a number of teachers encouraged her to pursue writing. Although many of her jobs involved writing everything from marketing copy, encyclopedia entries, and technical manuals, she didn’t pursue fiction until after her children were born. Many of her stories feature children or adults acting like mischievous children.

A lifelong interest in miniatures and model train displays informed Sidetracked. Because Lola never could reassemble her doll house properly after a move, the idea of relocating an elaborate train display fueled a series of “what if” and “why” questions in her mind. Through the years, she hid in the crowd shouting lot of questions at the engineers and stewards of models both across the country. They gave facts and she made up the rest.

Sidetracked retails for 3.99 and will be available first in ebook with print to follow. For more about Sidetracked follow this link. Ready to get Sidetracked?

Available for ebook pre-order at selection locations. Wide release on October 13, 2020.

Posted in Books, Christmas, Sidetracked, Writing

Ready to get Sidetracked?

Big-city businessman James Fordham has a giant problem – small town artist Claire Evans and her tiny trains.

The rumors are true – I have a new holiday themed rom-com book coming this October.  This story makes me smile and I hope it will bring a dose of joy to you as well.

When out of town corporate raider, James Fordham, cancels an Ohio energy company’s holiday train display as a way to cut expenses and turn a profit, he has fire Claire Evans, whose kisses are the best entertainment he’s found.

Claire Evans, miniaturist artist wants nothing more than to protect her grandfather’s legacy – the annual small scale train display. To save their trains and the town, Claire and her fellow citizens must prove to James the real value of the miniature trains has little to do with the bottom line and everything to do with heart.

Inspired by screwball comedies, Sidetracked readers should expect a little sizzle, poor decisions, mischief, a few train puns, and a whole lot of heart. To get release day info, follow me at Bookbub or sign up for my newsletter.

Posted in Uncategorized

Where was I?

I went to update my newsletter signup form on this site and discovered I’ve been missing for months. I wish I had a good excuse, but really, I don’t.

Like many of you, I’ve stayed home this summer. The summer trip to national parks and visit colleges in the Pacific Northwest didn’t happen. The hubs and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary with a meal at home with the kids because we won’t risk anyone’s health by having a grandparent or child cross state lines. A Target run is about as exotic as it gets this summer. But these are minor inconveniences.

So I didn’t blog this summer. But I did read, write, and edit. I’m finalizing a Christmas themed romance that will come out in the fall. Newsletter subscribers will get a special cover preview and access to early-bird pricing. This upcoming book was my escape this summer and I hope it will be yours.

Wishing you and your loved ones good health and peace.

Posted in COVID-19, Environment, ethics, Food

Earth Day 2020: The Covid-19 edition

Reusable shopping bags are now biohazards. Plant based cleaners don’t necessarily kill viruses. Recycling has stopped in some communities. I’ve had to quickly unlearn habits that took years to master.

It would be so easy to use Covid-19 as an excuse to give myself a pass on taking steps toward sustainability, and to do nothing to recognize the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. And yet the steps I’m taking to protect myself, my family, and my community have brought food and my personal food waste into much sharper focus. That wrinkled red pepper that I once would have composted because no-one would eat it is a precious building block of a stir-fry. That soft apple gets cooked into a quick applesauce. The strawberries my kids thought were over-ripe were perfect for strawberry-lemon cupcakes. The fresh spinach that accidentally froze was fine in soup.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep food fresher longer. I used to buy asparagus to use within 48 hours. But that is too many trips to the grocery store. I kept two pounds fresh for a week by storing the stems in water and ice.

The silicone Stasher bag that the kids no longer use for lunch have proven themselves handy. They are the best way I have found to keep an avocado fresh. When the kids start school again, they won’t get their Stasher bags back. Plus they are dishwasher safe.

I’m not sure who to credit for the tip of storing lemons in the fridge in a sealed plastic bag, but it’s worked like a charm. My sister sent me a box of lemons five weeks ago. The one we used last night was as fresh and juicy as the one we used the day they arrived.

Covid-19 and the accompanying stay at home orders and devastating loss of lives and livelihoods is overwhelming. Someone in my local paper mocked those of us who had to give up our reusable bags as “proof” that those bags were foolish “feel good environmentalism.” Personally, I need those “feel good” moments more than ever during this Covid-19 crisis.

With so much feeling out of my control, trying to reduce my food waste and limiting trips to the grocery ARE actions I can take and, yup, feel good about.

What are your favorite ways to keep food fresher longer and to reduce food waste?

P.S. – Wash your hands.

P.P.S. – I dislike the block editor – Getting pics to line up right takes WAY too long. My newsletter is more aesthetically pleasing. Sign up here.