Gardener’s Mecca in Minnesota: An Illustration of the “Why”

Along a lonely stretch of highway, near the small town of Zim, Minnesota, one can find a little piece of heaven for gardeners.

Highway 7 in Northern Minnesota -- the Road to Zim

Byrns Greenhouse is unassuming from the road, but as you pull in the driveway (or park along the shoulder of the highway on the typically busy weekends) and make your way toward the greenhouse buildings, you quickly discover why Byrns has such a following among northeastern Minnesotans.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

After winning a gift certificate at a local gardening class in 1996, I have made the hour-long drive to Byrns almost every May for 20 years.  It is my “go to” source for hanging baskets and annuals, as well as shrubs and perennials.  But, it is also more than that.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

This year, I squeezed in my annual visit while returning home after several days away at a leadership development training session for work. The greenhouse happened to be just a slight detour, and I was craving some decompression time on a glorious summer-like afternoon.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

One of the last discussions my training cohort enjoyed earlier in the day was Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” regarding principles of successful leaders and businesses.  While I had intended to disconnect from work and unwind among the flowers and greenery, I found myself reflecting on Sinek’s TED talk and why I trekked miles away to a greenhouse to buy items available at numerous locations closer to home.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

The fundamental concept of Sinek’s talk is “The Golden Circle”People don’t buy what you do, they buy Why you do it.

I could buy petunias and hanging begonias anywhere, but I want to buy them from Byrns.  Certainly, the reasonable prices are attractive — but so are Wal-Mart’s.  They have a large variety of overflowing hanging baskets — but so do numerous other area garden centers.  In fact, other retailers have wider aisles with smooth concrete that allows large newer carts to glide effortlessly across the floor… while at Byrns the old double-decker metal shopping carts can often have a mind of their own as you wrestle them across the various terrains of the greenhouse outbuildings.

Herb-infused waters at Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Much has stayed the same over 20 years — the colorful, bountiful hanging baskets and reasonably priced 6-packs of flowers are constants …  and so are those crotchety shopping carts.  The complimentary freshly-baked cookies and flavored herbal waters (soooo refreshing on a hot day while browsing!) are recent additions.  Old and new combine effortlessly, reinforcing the charm of the greenhouse.

I helped myself to a cup of mint-infused water and another customer came up to the counter and asked whether there was a cost to the herbal waters or cookies.  The woman behind the counter responded with a smile, saying, “No cost — it’s all part of the Byrns experience!”


The “Byrns experience” … as I heard her say that, Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” came to mind.  Byrns Greenhouse operates from the Why not the What, and that is what cultivates the sense of loyalty in customers like me.  The greenhouse has been operating as a family business for over 40 years.  During these last 20 years of their operation, I have watched the fourth generation grow up just as my own boys have grown.  I have watched multiple generations of family work side-by-side, teaching each other, passing knowledge down. Pride and joy both are evident.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

As I mulled over which of the intriguing head planters to purchase, the enthusiasm of one of the owner’s sons about these interesting new items was infectious.  Would I have bought a 2-foot tall ceramic planter head for the garden at Home Depot?  Not likely, despite my interest in them; there are many interesting features one can find for the garden.  Later, his mother, one of the third generation and my contemporary, graciously scavenged for one of the few remaining lemongrass plants as we shared ideas for the irreplaceable taste of fresh herbs in teas and foods. We reminded each other of how the years have flown and our boys had grown from toddlers disappearing in the foliage-filled aisles to young men carrying massive succulent-filled ceramic heads to the back of my car!  I wanted to support the Why of their business.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Shopping at Byrns is a personal experience, where you are treated like an old friend returning for a visit.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

A rooster crowed periodically as I browsed the creative planters.  The whistle of a train could be heard as it approached on the rural railroad tracks parallel to the greenhouse. The senses were fully engaged by the end of my visit, beyond the visual beauty and fragrance of the greenery around me.  A detour to Byrns while driving home from a week away for work was as good as … no, even better than … a stop at a spa.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Why travel afar to pick up the petunias? Because I am buying family, I am buying small business, I am buying local.  I am buying lovingly cultivated plants and creatively crafted planters.  

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Byrns Greenhouse of ZimByrns Greenhouse is not your ordinary greenhouse.  Plan on a couple of hours for your visit, and make sure the back of your vehicle is cleared out and ready to accommodate both the planned and unplanned purchases you are certain to leave with at the end of your experience.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Ciao! ~ Kat

For more information on and driving directions to Byrns Greenhouse:

Who Knew Stacking Totes Could Be Such Fun?! FIRST: More Than Robots, Indeed.

I had no idea stacking plastic totes could be so exciting. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics is an amazing opportunity for students. Adult mentors work with student team members to brainstorm strategy, teach machining and programming skills, promote and manage a team, and transfer knowledge gained from life experiences that students will benefit from long after their time with robotics. This year’s competition challenge for the high school level teams was themed “RECYCLE RUSH” and involved stacking totes and recycling containers on platforms while working cooperatively with other teams to maximize points.  I wrote this post at the beginning of the season, as the new game was revealed.  Details on the upcoming Minnesota State Robotics Tournament can be found at the end of this post.

This is my first year of exposure to the sport, and I had the opportunity to cheer on two of our area schools’ FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) teams, East (Daredevils Team 2512) and Denfeld (DNA Robotics Team 4009), at two different regional events.  The competitions are full of energy, music, and technological inspiration. The events also hold constant reminders of the values of FIRST Robotics:  collaboration, hard work and persistence, and the overriding FIRST value of “gracious professionalism.”

The Duluth East Daredevils had secured a berth at the World Championships in April by winning the Chairman’s Award at the Northern Lights Regional in Duluth.  FIRST Robotics website explains this award: “The most prestigious award at FIRST, it honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST.”

To help friends and family get a glimpse of what the sport of robotics is all about, and to encourage them to support the team as they raised funds for the World Championship, I put together this short slide show (which includes a brief video excerpt of a match) from the team’s regional competitions:

At the World Championships in the FRC level of the competition alone, there were over 600 teams — including teams from Israel, China, Mexico, Canada and Australia, as well as the United States — with 8 different division fields competing concurrently.

FIRST Worlds arena panorama 2015

The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, site of the FRC World Championships.

Duluth East Daredevils compete in the World Robotics Championships

The Einstein field at the FRC World Championships.

Recycle RUSH — totes, totes, everywhere!

In the FIRST press release following the conclusion of the 4 days of competition involving all of the different FIRST robotics programs, it was noted that over 18,000 students participated, with an estimated 40,000 spectators watching the final round of FRC competition!  It was a particularly memorable experience for me, because my son’s team, the Duluth East Daredevils, was one of the teams competing in that final round!

Duluth East Daredevils celebrate their Hopper subdivision win!

After winning their sub-division (Hopper), the four-team alliance of which the Duluth East Daredevils were a part went on to compete in the final rounds played on the so-called “Einstein” field.  The Daredevils and another Minnesota team were the first to progress this far at the FIRST Robotics World Championships, and the Daredevils went on with their alliance to finish second overall, finishing the highest of any Minnesota team to-date.

Most importantly, these students experienced global camaraderie, and realized that collaboration and gracious professionalism are critical to success.  From FIRST’s website:

FIRST Founder Dean Kamen urged students to inspire the world and to use what they’ve learned from their FIRST Mentors and Coaches as a tool: “Don’t leverage your experience here as a privilege but rather a responsibility,” he said. “We expect you to go off to college and give; go off to industry and give. Figure out how to reach people who are not already your friends or your neighbors. Get a little out of your comfort zone and help us bring a more diverse community to FIRST.

Team 2512, Duluth East Daredevils

FRC Team 2512, the Duluth East Daredevils, at the 2015 St. Louis World Championships

All FIRST Robotics competitions are free and open to the public — and hundreds of volunteers are needed to make each event a success. After volunteering at the Duluth regional event and the World Championships in St. Louis, I find myself encouraging everyone to check out a competition, support your local robotics team with time or money … This “sport of the mind” is worth supporting.

Come watch the Minnesota State Robotics Tournament on May 16, 2015 at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus and see for yourself why robotics continues to grow in popularity.  The schedule for this free event is: Opening Ceremonies at 8:30 a.m.; Preliminary Rounds involving randomly drawn alliances from 9:00 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. and 2:00 to 2:45 p.m.; Semifinals, Third Place and Championship matches in best 2-out-of-3 competition involving the top four qualifying teams that choose their own alliance partners begin at 3:15 p.m.; Awards will be presented at about 4:30 p.m. 

Ciao! ~ Kat

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Duluth students finish 2nd at world robotics championship

Kat at travelgardeneat:

After a whirlwind week of volunteering and spectating in St. Louis, I hope to put up my own blog post soon about the experience of watching our home team take place a 2nd place trophy from the FIRST Robotics World Championships! In the meantime, here’s a great synopsis of history made by this Duluth, Minnesota team — first Minnesota team on the Einstein playing field, all the way to the finals match! ~ Kat

Originally posted on Rick Kupchella's -

A group of students from Duluth placed second in a world robotics competition, the best any Minnesota team has ever done.

The Daredevils from Duluth East High School was on an alliance of teams that finished second at the FIRST Robotics World Championships in St. Louis Saturday night, the Duluth News Tribune says.

This year’s challenge – Recycle Rush – involved students building robots that could lift boxes onto each other. The boxes were topped with a recycling bin, and then each alliance tried to have their robots “properly dispose of litter” by throwing pool noodles into the opposing alliance’s bins.

The Duluth East Daredevils, who had been ranked 52nd in their division, were picked as an alliance partner Saturday after showing their versatile robot named Acervus “could perform many tote-stacking…

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Weekly Photo Challenge: (Life is a) Blur

The background blurs as the boys run playfully by …. years ago …. life is a blur as the years fly …..

Life is a blur .....

These boys are now teens — one in college and the other a high school junior off to college visits later this week.  And yet, on some days memories like this snowy October day at the cabin over 8 years ago seems like yesterday.  I would love to be able to say I have treasured every moment, lived mindfully each day along the way … but I haven’t.  And that’s OK.  Life is an imperfect journey, and we sometimes just do the best we can on any given day.

Doing the best we can is all we can ask.  That means on some days we yell at our kids, are short-tempered with our spouse, don’t make time for a friend, and regrettably, sometimes learn there is no “next time” to make it up to them.  Reminders of the fragility of life come more frequently as we age, but I think as we mature we also learn to appreciate the moments that make up life that much more.

We recognize that the blur of life when slowed and viewed frame-by-frame is not only the major milestones of life — the births, the weddings, the deaths, the celebrations in between — but more than anything, it’s the walk with the dog on a quiet wooded trail; it’s watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story” every holiday as a family even though we’ve all seen them countless times; it’s banter and debate that grows more interesting over the years as the boys grow up, prompted by programs on Minnesota Public Radio as we drive those couple hours to the cabin and back again; it’s the long talks over a meal about dreams, and hopes, and goals …. it’s the blur of life.

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”Blur” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Orange

Life is full … all good, but full … so bear with me as I go through another phase of sporadic posting.  A little late to the orange party, but “orange you glad” I posted anyway?!

Happy Friday, all!

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”Orange” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.