Spring’s Persistence Pays Off

Today is May Day, and the blustery winds off Lake Superior are doing their best to prevent Spring from fully showing herself.  Patience must be a virtue when waiting for Spring in northern Minnesota.  We are well into April before the first colorful signs appear.

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A world in miniature comes alive as the longer days of (at least periodic) sunshine warm the ground.

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Delicate blossoms unfold themselves on the drab floor of last year’s greenery.

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Scilla, crocus, snowdrops … the welcome first signs of renewal after the never-ending cold, gray months of winter.

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April is a promise that May is bound to keep. ~ Hal Borland

Ciao! ~ Kat

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:  http://www.byrnsgreenhouse.com/

Cooking With Fiori di Zucca

The seasonal fiori di zucca dishes offered when we traveled to Italy a few summers ago were some of my favorite food memories!  Each restaurant prepared them slightly differently, and my husband found a little grocery in Rome which had the delicate flowers delivered in the mornings, providing an opportunity for him to attempt making the savory stuffed appetizer himself.

Our shaded yard (not to mention the often short summers in northern Minnesota) does not provide an optimal space for growing squash, pumpkin or zucchini, but when we visited my parents in South Dakota recently, the zucchini blossoms in their garden were plentiful.  My husband carefully packed a half-dozen blossoms in our cooler for the 8-hour road trip home, and treated us to memories of Rome that evening.  Fiori di zucca fritti is a perfect mid-summer small plate to share!

Fiori di Zucca Fritti

Do you have a favorite zucchini/squash blossom recipe to share? I would love to see it!

Recipe my husband used for the Fried Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms pictured above, from Giada De Laurentiis and the Food Network: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/fried-cheese-stuffed-zucchini-blossoms-recipe.html.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Random Acts of Kindness: The Travel Edition

Traveling during the holidays is not always smooth sailing. Everyone else is traveling, too. Lines are long, days can be longer. Family relations may be stretched to their limit. And the people who work for the travel businesses and services during this often-stressful time of year may receive the brunt of travelers’ short tempers.

late summer flowers (2)

Something about flowers brings a smile to people’s faces, even when times are tough. Flowers are used to celebrate, to comfort, to court, to console.

wild rose

Random acts of kindness (RAK) are wonderful actions extended with no expectation of anything in return, perhaps done quietly and anonymously. RAK need not wait for a holiday but when lives are extra-stressed (say, a parent trying to manage a small toddler after hours on a plane?) a RAK may be even more welcome. Why not the gift of flowers as the RAK?

villa flowers

We have done some of our family traveling over Christmas, and twice we helped the boys perform a little holiday RAK. I purchased a dozen inexpensive but lovely roses, wrapping each individually in a wet paper towel, small plastic bag, and foil over wrap, tied with a ribbon.

As we arrived at the airport, talked to flight attendants, picked up a rental car, checked in at the hotel, chatted with our waiter at dinner, the boys randomly gave away one of the roses. My favorite holiday RAK memory, though, was at the baggage claim.

A mother with a look on her face I have seen on my own more often than I can count over the years was trying to wrangle her child late in the evening. I told my son to bring her one of the roses, and he wanted to know, why her? I told him it was because she really needed one right now. He returned to us, leaving her gazing at her flower and then after him, with a huge smile on her face.

The simplest things can bring much joy, and the real joy is in giving.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Female Friendships: Keeping Me Afloat in the Sea of Testosterone

I love my husband.  I love my teenaged boys.  Thank goodness for my female friendships. These were my thoughts as I drove home from book club this evening.

Endless Summer Hydrangea

In my rather unscientific study of the subject of the differences between men and women, undertaken while raising two boys and enjoying over 20 years of marriage to my husband, I have observed many stereotypical responses to situations that cause me to value things like “chick flick” nights with my girlfriends.  For example, as I sat with almost-hiccupping sobs toward the end of the movie “Marley and Me,” my then 10-year-old son was appalled, whispering to me to “please stop!” even while I heard the sniffles and sobs from throughout the theater.  We stopped by the restroom on our way out of the theater.  I told my son that plenty of other women were in the bathroom drying their tears, and he responded, “Well, no one in the boys’ bathroom was!”  I asked him how he could not have felt like crying, knowing what an animal lover he was.  Without pause, he answered, “It’s not like I knew Marley personally.”

As another example, on a family movie night at home, after I endured the movie selected by the males in the viewing audience — some “Dumb and Dumber”-type movie — I chose “Eat Pray Love” for my selection of the double feature.  The boys wandered off and I had to put up with a running commentary from my husband that included comments like, “Well, I can certainly see why she ended up alone.”  I invited him to find something else to do for the remainder of the movie.  (Thankfully, we do all enjoy a good historical drama or espionage-style thriller, and whether they admit it or not, they enjoy watching “Glee” with me!)

“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”~Katharine Hepburn

(I couldn’t resist this quote — I adore Katharine Hepburn, and I know that my husband and boys certainly also have had this thought cross their mind while living with me!)

Stargazer Lily

I cannot recall where I read this, but in a recent discussion concerning the “balance” between family and work,  one writer used the term “blend” instead.  The term struck me as the perfect description of the journey many of us are on, trying to artfully, responsibly blend the different aspects of our lives.  As is often said, you can’t have it all . . .at least not all at the same time.  Words so true.  Reflecting back on the past 20 years of this journey since law school, I am reminded of the important role my female mentors and friends, who were sometimes one and the same, have played in helping me maintain perspective, grow and mature as a parent and spouse, develop as a professional, and find time to be a friend.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

My female friendships include a kindred spirit going back to 5th grade.  We always remind each other “a friend is a friend till the end.”  Despite miles and often years separating us, the flame of friendship burns on, rekindled whenever we have a chance to connect.  I know we will always be there for each other.

New friendships are precious, as well.  While we have finite emotional capacity, as well as limited time, I have found that one should never say she does not have room for another friend in her life.  At different stages of life, time may be limited to cultivate new friendships and it sometimes becomes difficult to maintain old friendships.  And, as troubling and sad as it can be, sometimes friends are not meant to be forever, but rather we are there for a certain time or certain need in each others’ lives.


Book club is something I have made a commitment to making time for, even as life’s other demands are full.  For a few hours every couple of months, I have enjoyed the company of  old friends and made new ones.  I learn from the perspectives of women who have walked many miles ahead of me in life, as well as those who have walked the same number of miles but on a different path.  I am reminded that we all have burdens, we all have blessings.  I am amazed at the diversity of interests, talents and insights shared around the table, as we sometimes even spend time discussing the book we read (or ran out of time to read, or gave up reading . . . ).  Some discussions require more than one glass of wine!

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Purple Coneflower

The various relationships we have in our lives are important for different reasons.  I love my husband.  I love my boys.  And I am so grateful for my female friends.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” ~ Marcel Proust

Ciao! ~ Kat