While visiting my sister’s family in St. Paul last month, I went the Minnesota Zoo. The Aveda Butterfly Garden was open at the time, located at the end of the Tropics Trail, and it featured more than 40 different species of butterflies and moths.

I learned a secret about butterfly gardens. They have the power to transform raucous children into patient, mild-mannered angels. Why? Because if you remain perfectly still, there’s a small chance a butterfly will flitter upon your shoulder, hair or an outstretched hand.

As a kid, I remember being transfixed by cottonwood trees filled with Monarch butterflies and often wondered about the great migration they would make to Mexico. The zoo’s website has some FAQs about butterflies that explain part of that journey:

The Monarch flying in your garden does make it to Mexico, but this individual butterfly does not return from Mexico to Minnesota. In July, the monarch begins the 3,000 to 4,000 miles trip to warmer weather. They have been known to fly 100 miles a day and reach speeds up to 30 m.p.h. The average flight speed is 10 m.p.h. In February the monarch begins the trip north. The females stop to lay eggs on milkweed plants along the way and then die. This first generation lives 6 to 9 months. The second and third generations live 6 weeks and the fourth generation returns to Minnesota. They produce the 5th generation, which makes the trip to Mexico.

The Aveda Butterfly Garden was only open from June 15 – September 2 this year. But, if you live in Minnesota or will be traveling through next summer, be sure to check the Minnesota Zoo website to see if it will be returning. It’s worth the trip!

Adventures in Self-Publishing with Lilly Maendel


While many of you are slogging through years of classes in pursuit of your MFAs and sketching outlines of your first novels, my 6-year-old niece Lilly is already one step ahead of you. With only a kindergarten education, she has penned numerous short stories and is well-known in her North St. Paul neighborhood.  Lilly travels door to door, selling her work for 50 cents, which everyone knows is  minimum wage for authors.

I was honored to receive a first edition copy of her novel, The Missing Pig, while visiting her last week. She wrote, illustrated, and self-published it. The Missing Pig is the first book in her Pig Trilogy. The second one, The Pig Knocking Food Down, was also recently released and gifted to her Grandpa Hanson. Rumor has it, the third and final installment, yet to be named, will be on the shelves around the Christmas holiday.

Keep your eyes open for Lilly Maendel, publishing world!

Everyone knows that all good novels starts with “Once upon a time…”
Who needs a major publishing house when you have construction paper, a red pen, and three staples? Keep overhead down and bring your profits up.
The hardest working self-publisher under the age of ten.

The Picture Behind the Picture


I think I missed my calling as an exotic dancer. I can do just about anything in heels, and you wouldn’t believe the awkward positions I’ve assumed in pursuit of the  perfect shot. I’ve been on my back in front of my house, on my belly in front of Roozengaarde during the Tulip Festival, and on my elbows and knees just about everywhere else. And this weekend, I got the opportunity to straddle a street sign while standing on a guard rail on Padilla Bay.  I needed that pole to help steady my shot. My camera may be ubiquitous, but my tripod certainly is not. (I’m too much of a free spirit to be burdened by lots of equipment, but yes – I do pay for it on occasion.)

Andy captured me on his cellphone while I framed my subject, and luckily, he chose a tasteful angle. Two feet to the left and this would have been an entirely different picture!


Breaking Free


Human beings crave boundaries and defined limits. We spend a great deal of our lives protecting and defending them. They make us feel safe. But, sometimes I feel like we’ve fenced ourselves inside a property and then boxed ourselves into a house. Wouldn’t it be great just to let go of all that for a little while and see the world? Open our hearts and minds to something outside of our little plots of land that don’t really belong to us anyway? What would happen if we allowed ourselves to break free? Try to do all the things we ever dreamed of? That’s not to say, live foolishly and without a plan. But, take some steps away from your comfort zone. See what you might find out there in this big world.


Courtesy of RoozenGaarde

The tulips are here! Every spring, for a few short weeks, the Skagit Valley glows with miles and miles of blossoming fields. My friend Sarah and I visited the RoozenGaarde fields last night for some photos. I’m in the middle of sifting through a couple hundred and plan to post more this weekend as well as provide some information on the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.

A quick note to photographers who may visit these fields: If you are a professional, or intend to post your photos to a website or display your work in some way, you are required to download and sign a consent form . You will need to take it to the Washington Bulb Company office, which is a short walk from the main RoozenGaarde 3-acre garden.

Courtesy of RoozenGaarde