A love of GROWING
A love of GROWING
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Summer is here, bringing with it warm weather and sunny skies. It also means that here in the lakes area, we head outside to take advantage of the wonderful temperatures.
We’ve got some fascinating women for you to connect with this summer as Connie Simons of Alexandria shares some vegetable gardening tips with you and Tanya Jensen gives her account of bicycling around the Douglas County lakes. Then dive into Ella Sorenson’s story and learn how wakesurfing has impacted her life.
These and other articles are just waiting for you inside our latest edition of Authentic You.
Growing up, plants, gardens and gardening was a normal part of Connie Simons’ life. Her dad always had a vegetable garden and her mom always had indoor plants.
“My mom’s specialty was violets and she liked Christmas cactus and her Thorn of Christ,” said Simons, who lives near Kinkead Cemetery in Alexandria, and whose house has been on the Master Gardeners Tour. “She received the Thorn of Christ when her first child, my oldest sister, was born. It’s giant and is about 75 years old.”
Growing up in a family of nine, she said, her family counted on the produce from the garden to last through the winter. Canning and freezing was a normal occurrence because back then, she said, they didn’t go to the store to buy fresh produce. They ate a lot of it fresh, but also stored what they could for the winter.
In her adult life, as soon as she lived somewhere where she could have her
own plants and gardens, she did because she said there is “nothing like your own fresh vegetables.”
Simons, a frequent customer not only at Colorful Seasons Garden Center in Alexandria, but of almost any garden center she encounters, not only has her own vegetable garden, but also numerous outdoor perennials and annuals and numerous indoor plants, too. To say she loves her flowers is an understatement.
“When you go through a greenhouse and see hundreds and hundreds of varieties of flowers and plants, it’s difficult not to go broke,” she said.
She loves the colors and the blooms and the foliage. Really, she loves it all. The perfect flower pot for Simons, she said, has three components – the thriller, the filler and the spiller. The center plant is the thriller, then there is the stuff used for filler and then around that is the spiller.
“I have no tolerance for ugly planters or scrawny planters,” she said.
When it comes to all things plants and gardens, Simons has a plethora of knowledge. In fact, at one time, she was a Master Gardener. But life and work got in the way. She owned a business with her youngest sister, Patti, called Brown-Eyed Susans in memory of their sister, Susan,
who had big, beautiful brown eyes. It was a garden plant and decor shop. She was also a nurse for nearly 40 years, working at the Douglas County Hospital, which is now known as Alomere Health.
Simons shared numerous tips for those interested in starting their own garden or for those who would like to have their own flower beds and plants.
And one of the key pieces of advice she shared that people need to know first is whether or not whatever they are planting needs sun or shade.
“Most people get that confused,” she said. “They want a certain plant, but only have sunshine. For instance, impatiens don’t go in the sun. But, there are some impatiens that can go in some sun. You have to read the tags. You have to know what your plant needs.”
She also said people need to know the height and width of plants when they mature, especially with trees and shrubs, as well as how much water it needs. It is best to try and get as much info about what you are planting as possible. Simons said to do the research and know what you are getting. She said to learn what needs a lot of water and what doesn’t. She said to water in the morning and not at night to prevent fungus and diseases. It is best to use a watering can and not a hose because a hose will leave divots and she said it is also best to water
It seems there’s a day set aside for practically everything.
In the month of June alone, there is National Hug Your Cat Day (June 4), National Yo-Yo Day (June 6), National Donald Duck Day (June 9), National Weed Your Garden Day (June 13) Ugliest Dog Day (June 16) – you get the picture.
These “special” occasions are mainly an excuse to justify things people enjoy doing or celebrating.
If you like wine, for instance, there are plenty of reasons to pour yourself a glass of your favorite red or white and match it up with a special day.
Here are 10 pairings to try:
National Donut Day (June 2) – Chardonnay with plain donuts; Brut Champagne with glazed donuts and Merlot with chocolate frosted donuts, according to vinepair.com.
National Chocolate Ice Cream Day (June 7) – ice cream with wine? It can surprise you. Try it with a sparkling dessert wine, such as Moscato, or a sweet Port or Sherry.
Fresh Veggies Day (June 16) – Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with green bell pepper or asparagus. With raw carrots, sip a Rose.
National Onion Ring Day (June 22) – try a sparkling wine such as Prosecco or Cava. Or go with a fruity, white wine.
National Detroit Style Pizza Day (June 23) – this
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thick, rectangular pizza with a crisp, cheesy crust topped with brick cheese deserves a big red wine from California, Cabernet Sauvignon.
National Fried Chicken Day (July 6) – you’ll want a crisp, white wine with your chicken like Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis. Something bubbly would be tasty too, such as Brut Champagne.
National Mac and Cheese Day (July 14) – if you like those cheesy noodles with beef or pork mixed in, avoid a wine with high tannins and pair it with a fruity Pinot Noir. If you like your mac and cheese plain, go with a Riesling.
National Caviar Day (July 18) – the classic pairing is caviar with ice-cold vodka, but since this is a wine column, try this delicacy with a chilled white wine like Riesling or a light Pinot Noir.
Mango Day (July 22) – pop open a sparkling white Grand Cru Champagne or a sweet white Muscat.
National Avocado Day (July 31) – go with a white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or a Pinot Grigio.
There are some ideas to get you started. You can always make up your own special day and see which of your favorite wines will make it memorable.
When she was just 8 years old, Ella Sorensen and her older brother, Cole, joined a snowboarding program called Foundation 725 that is run by Gary Anderson. Through this, the now 18-yearold was also exposed to the summer program, Wake n Up, which was all about wakesurfing.
“As a lover of anything to do with a board, I was ecstatic for a new challenge,” said Sorensen. “Both my brother and I learned to wakesurf with Foundation 725. My parents saw that the excitement and passion for the sport came immediately with learning and eventually, we were fortunate enough to get a wakesurf boat of our own. We’ve been hooked ever since.”
Sorensen, who lives on Lake Miltona with her family, including her parents, Marc and Jeni, is an online student who is set to graduate this spring. Being an online student, she said, allows her the flexibility to travel for her passions, such as snowboarding and wakeboarding. She plans to attend the University of Utah this fall.
When she was about 11 years old, Sorensen said, she began competing in wakesurfing and continued to compete for about four years.
“Competing in wakesurfing was an amazing opportunity to travel the U.S. and meet new friends from all over,” she said. “I’ve met some of my best friends from wakesurfing!”
During the summer, Sorensen, along with her mom and older brother, would spend many weekends on the road for contests. She said they spent quite a bit of time in Utah and Arizona, but also traveled to Washington and Florida, too, as well as all around Minnesota.
“It wasn’t a bad way to spend summer vacation,” she said.
Then, about three years ago, she decided to step away from competitive wakesurfing and now thinks of it more as a hobby.
“Now I am able to enjoy wakesurfing as a passion without the pressure of competition,” she said.
She isn’t done with competing altogether, however. Sorensen said she is a competitive snowboarder and travels across the country in the wintertime competing in that sport.
Since she began wakesurfing, Sorensen said her favorite aspect of it has always been the time she spends in the sun.
“I love being outdoors and wakesurfing has been a great way to enjoy the sun and the water,” she said. “The social element has been huge for me, as well. Wakesurfing is so universal. It’s been amazing to share the sport with my family and friends.”
For those thinking about trying wakesurfing, Sorensen said nothing beats just time spent doing it. She suggests just trying it out and seeing what works. She said to get the basics down first, but to make sure you have fun doing it.
Another suggestion she said was to explore different types of waves and boards to find what suits you the best.
“Each person tends to have their own preferences when it comes to the specifics,” she said.
Her favorite boards come from Brigade Wakesurfing. She said each board is handcrafted in Idaho and that they are a lot lighter in weight than other boards by other manufacturers.
“For life vests, I love my Glidesoul jacket. They are flattering, comfortable and come in great colors as well,” she said. “And for swimwear, Roxy makes an awesome variety of bathing suits.”
No matter if she was competing or just wakesurfing for the fun of it, Sorensen said she is so thankful to her parents for their support. She said they have always supported her love and her passion for the sport.
“Whether it was driving the boat for hours of practice or taking the time to travel for contests, they always had my back and were in for the ride,” she said, adding that she is also thankful for her brother for pushing her in progression and helping her navigate through competitive wakesurfing.
Some people just enjoy learning new things. They may have a rough plan, but tend to simply learn one thing until they get bored with it or something more important or exciting catches their attention.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this casual approach, especially if you’re happy with your progress and have no specific learning goals. However, if you have more ambitious goals - like learning something within a limited period of time - having a specific plan can be very helpful.
If you’re starting from scratch, you may not yet have enough knowledge of the subject to accurately know what the learning process will be or how long it could take.
The important thing is to just get started. As you gain more knowledge of the subject, you will get a better idea of what is involved and how long you can realistically expect it to take. You can make a plan in the beginning, but just be aware that you may have to adjust it over time as the subject and its requirements become more familiar to you.
Once you’ve done some research, setting goals is probably the most important thing you can do for intentional and productive learning. Goals should be both specific and time-based, defining what you expect to learn and in what time frame. Most people set long-range goals, but goals can also be shortterm, marking milestones and steps along the way. They can
also be activity goals, such as making a commitment to study or practice a certain amount of time each day or week. Goals are powerful, but don’t become so attached to them that you are unwilling to make adjustments if they turn out to be unrealistic.
There are many different ways we can learn, including from books, traditional classes, online courses, videos and audio, or directly from others. Depending on your circumstances and preferences, you may plan to use one method or a combination of methods.
One of the biggest problems with learning is finding time. Even if you are unable to spend larger blocks of time learning, planning to consistently use
small blocks of time - such as just a few minutes here and there - can help you learn a lot over time. The important thing is to plan when you will learn and then follow through. It may also be helpful to pick a place where you will do most of your learning where you have access to the materials you need and are most free from distractions.
Review and testing are important ways to assess your learning progress. Review helps make the material permanent and testing helps you know how much you really know. Ideally you want to plan to review often enough that you are not forgetting, but not so frequently that you are wasting time and being inefficient.
Becoming parents pushed us to reflect on ourselves. After all, our little Sonny girl is learning to be a person by watching our every move – “monkey see, monkey do.”
That self-reflection has helped us strive to become better role models by eliminating bad habits we don’t want to pass on to her. One of those habits is too much screen time. We want Sonny to be present. To be social. To experience as much as she can in life. To not be distracted by the screens.
Not long ago we would often find ourselves endlessly scrolling through social media or binge-watching the latest series (oftentimes, both). We were like zombies. We would awaken from the scrolling hypnosis and realize how much of our day was wasted. We could have been reading, learning a skill, enjoying a hobby, working out or simply just getting
fresh air outside.
Now that we are parents, we try hard to reduce our screen time in front of Sonny. We want to show her we are present with her. Recently, we even put our TV in the basement with the plan to make it a family movie night area for weekend use.
When we were growing up, we had screens too, but there were rules – no screen time while the sun was up and until homework was finished. Even then we were only allowed to be on it for a brief time. Did we make a fuss about it? Of course. But, we still listened (for the most part) and spent a lot of time outside and socializing with friends and reading books.
The nail in the screen time coffin for us was hammered in hard after we started taking a closer look at today’s children inundated with screens. As the oldest of big families, we have many children around us and almost all of them have their own screens.
During family get-togethers, the children huddle in corners with their faces glued to the screen lost in sensory overload. The scary part is, when they are
lost in their screens, they hardly notice what is going on around them. We could call out their names until we are blue in the face and they will hardly flinch, let alone acknowledge you.
“People you know, products you trust”Sonny Zimmerman, 14 months, pretends to read one of her mom’s books. Jade Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press
It’s even scarier when you try to take the screen away. It is like taking a pacifier away from a colicky baby but 10 times worse. Screens are basically the pacifier of the modern family. Except you can wean children off of pacifiers. It’s not just children, though. If you go to a restaurant today, there will be no shortage of families sitting together but isolated in their own virtual reality, only putting the screen down in between bites of food.
We often hear the excuse that screens are “educational.” While we agree – there are definitely educational programs that can benefit the child – the education argument usually comes from those who would rather be scrolling on their own screens. We get it, it’s addicting, but a parent has to be an example. If you want your children to spend their days scrolling, then go ahead, and keep scrolling yourself. That’s your right as a parent.
To us, however, it is more
educational to sit down with your child and read a book, or go outside and identify birds and trees and plants, or go to a park and read informational kiosks or go to a local museum and ask questions or spark conversations with strangers during outings, or grow a garden. Then, not only are children learning something, but they are also bonding with their parents.
Our thought is, “If Sonny were to have her nose stuck in something, we prefer it to be a book.” For Sonny’s baby shower, we asked all who planned on giving gifts to get her a book instead of a card. Now, our house is filled with books, from our own to the dozens that Sonny got and she absolutely loves them.
Now, when we are hanging out as a family, Sonny will wobble-walk to her bookshelf and grab something for us to read. She points at the characters as they are introduced in the story. She laughs when we make funny
voices for each character. She takes pride in turning the pages and every time she looks up at us, it is with the happiest and most heartwarming smile.
Not only is she learning with us, she is also bonding with us. It’s out with the bad habits and in with the good.
Tanya Jensen has been an athlete her whole life – from volleyball, basketball and softball in grade school to softball in college to becoming an aerobics instructor and personal trainer to doing HIIT workouts at the Alexandria Area YMCA.
The mother of two from Alexandria teaches basic life skills at Discovery Middle School. She taught in Long Prairie for 12 years before starting her career as the Family and Consumer Science teacher at DMS, where she is in her 11th year.
Within the past three years, she found a new passion – bicycling.
When COVID-19 hit, shutting everything down, Jensen said she realized she needed a new plan to stay active.
“I thought about my options at that time, bought a bike and have been pedaling ever since,” she said, adding that she also now has her own home gym.
She bikes between 10-20 miles a day for four to five days per week, averaging about 50 to 60 miles per week. During the school year, she schedules it into her after school “me time” and in the summers, she is usually hitting the road by 7 a.m.
“I balance my biking routine with my Thursday pickleball group, rollerblading and stand up paddle boarding in the summer,” she said. “I did try out fat (tire) biking in the winter of 2022. I enjoy it, but I still prefer cross-country skiing four days a week in the winter.”
So what drew her to biking? Jensen said she loves being outside and exploring new places. After quickly ruling out the option of running, biking seemed like the next best fit.
“I gained some encouragement from my cousin, who is a race cyclist in the St. Cloud area,” she said. “And then after I started (bicycling), I was offered some guidance from some of the local Runestone Off-Road cyclists.”
Deciding she needed to get off the one-way trail through town and start venturing off the beaten path, Jensen started planning tar road lake loops around the area. She said she was skeptical of mountain biking and never thought she would enjoy it. However, she took a solo trip to Cuyuna – a small town a little over two hours northeast of Alexandria that is known for its paved trails and gravel road cycling adventures – and found out that mountain biking was her new favorite thing in 2021.
Then, in 2022, her cousin encouraged her to sign up for the “Heck of the North” gravel bike race in Two Harbors.
“After training on the Runestone cyclist gravel trails locally, I was able to earn second place in that 20-mile gravel race this past October,” she said.
Her 2023 biking season began with a lake loop around Lake L’Homme Dieu on April 10 and then on Lake Darling on April 11. She loops about 60 lakes each year.
“I like the peacefulness and freedom that comes from riding lake loops and I like the adrenaline rush and challenge that mountain biking offers,” said Jensen.
Her son, Parker, recently began mountain biking with her and even joined the local mountaineers club last season. He does loops around her out on the trails, she said.
“I still consider myself a beginner at mountain biking and take all the green and blue paths, the easy ones, but also continue to push and test my limits,” she said. “And I prefer the climbs, where my son loves bombing the hills.”
Jensen said she doesn’t sit still for very long and loves to push herself. She also loves the freedom of adding mileage to a ride or changing her route at the last minute. Her longest ride last summer did just that. As she pushed herself to see where her limits were, she ended up riding around Lake Ida, Miltona and L’Homme Dieu for 34.37 miles.
“I tend to ride mostly alone and like the freedom to go wherever I want, for as long as I want and as fast as I want,” she said. “I find it is a nice balance to my life after a busy work day. It is my way to release stressors and prioritize my wellbeing. I can jump on my bike, breathe in some fresh air, decompress and take care of myself.”
Locally, Jensen said her favorite place to bike is at Kensington Rune Stone Park. She said the crews take really good care of the trails. She and her son also love the trail addition to Lake Brophy County Park. Her recommendation for those wanting to do lake loops is to do Lake L’Homme Dieu and Lake Darling as well as Lake Brophy and Lake Cowdry.
When it comes to biking outside of the Douglas County area, Jensen said her favorite place is Cuyuna because she said people in the area cater to the biking community.
“I felt very taken care of when I started out alone in that area,” said Jensen. “Cykle and Red Raven bike shops are both awesome. They helped me with my flat tires and rentals. And there are so many trails for all levels of biking and a ton of positive energy for biking and exploring the area.”
She also loves the Duluth area for
mountain biking, specifically Lester Park.
As for outside of Minnesota, which she is just beginning to explore, Jensen said she likes Bentonville, Arkansas and Des Moines, Iowa.
For those who are thinking about getting into biking, Jensen suggests talking to someone in the field. She said experts in the field will be able to help find the right bike for whatever style of biking you are looking to do.
She has what she called a basic-level Trek that wasn’t too expensive.
“It’s taken me a long way in the past three years,” she said.
Jensen also highly advises purchasing a good helmet with a red light flasher, a rearview mirror, sturdy shoes and colorful clothing.
If making a transition into mountain biking, Jensen suggested taking lessons as there was a lot she didn’t know on her first solo trip.
“Biking is a lifelong sport, and from my experience meeting the fantastic people out on the trail, it is a sport for all ages and all abilities,” she said. “It is a welcoming community of people and a great way to explore, be outdoors and challenge yourself. It is also a great way to release stress and disconnect for a moment
from our very digital and stressful world. I remember a saying that one needs to disconnect, in order to reconnect. Biking is something that I do for self-care, and I encourage everyone to find something that they can do that fills their cup and allows them to be their best self.”
you experience the freedom and peacefulness of the backroads, it seems to always call you back. TANYA JENSEN CyclistTanya Jensen and her children, Kenna and Parker, take a break while riding bike in Cuyuna for Kenna’s birthday. Contributed photo
TOOLS AND SUPPLIES:
Pop or juice bottle
Box cutter or knife
Tape (washi tape is a fun choice)
Plastic cupsBy Melanie Danner
Use the box cutter to cut the top rounded part of the bottle off from the bottom.
Poke two holes on each side of the cut end of the bottle top and then one in the center of the lid.
Cut the rubber band so it looks like a string.
Tie each end of the rubber band to one of the holes.
Cut the pointed end of the kabob stick off and wrap tape around the end about 3-4 times.
Slide the stick from the front of the cap through the hole with the taped end facing outward.
Pinch the stick between your fingers to pull back the rubber band and release the stick at your target.
TOOLS AND SUPPLIES:
Embroidery floss, yarn, or crochet thread
Small nails or pins
Needle nose pliers
Template of your design
First, tape your image to the piece of wood.
Then hammer the nails around your image about 1/4 inch apart.
Remove the paper with the image.
Tie a knot around one of the nails.
Loop your string around the nails working clockwise to outline the image.
Then weave the string around the nails to fill in the middle of the image.
Tie a knot to the final nail when you are finished.
TOOLS AND SUPPLIES:
Glass terrarium or bubble ball
Pebbles, sand, decorative gems, etc. Tree bark, shells, or other fun items
DIRECTIONS: Layer the bottom of your container with the pebbles, sand, or another fun base. You can mix or layer different base items to give it your own personal flare.
Then add your additional items for added color and things to look at.
Last, add your air plant or plants.
This is a super easy fun way to add a little nature to your home.
Celeste is a reporter for the Echo Press. She enjoys perusing her social media accounts, running and participating in races with her husband, Al.
Al Edenloff of Alexandria and his wife, Celeste, were married in the heart of California wine country and enjoy sipping wine on their weekend date nights.
Lowell Anderson is a photographer at the Echo Press newspaper.
Thalen Zimmerman is a reporter for the Echo Press. His wife, Jade Zimmerman, is a bartender at Willy T’s in Ottertail. They married in the snow-capped mountains of Colorado and enjoy music, traveling and all things outdoors with their daughter Sonny and their dog named Dude.
Lori Mork of Lowry is a mother, grandmother and dabbler in all things food, photography and decor related.
the soil and not the foliage. Watering the soil makes sure the water reaches the roots, she added.
When her house was on the Garden Tour, Simons said, watering would take her about two hours as she had around 130 pots. This year, she said she’ll be scaling back a bit.
The water used for her flowers and vegetables is rainwater that she collects in her numerous rain barrels on her property. She can capture hundreds of gallons of rainwater if she uses all of them.
“I rarely use a hose to water my pots. Instead I use my rainwater,” said Simons. “I do it largely because it’s so much better for my plants, but also because city water is expensive.”
Another tip she shared is to know what can be planted in the same area
petunias are not so putting the two together in the same pot is not going to give people what they expect.
When it comes to potting soil and fertilizers, Simons has her favorites. For soil, she said not to buy moisture control because it doesn’t work efficiently enough and it is also more expensive. She used Osmocote fertilizer as it is timereleased, she said. She also uses liquid fertilizer, especially when it is super hot outside.
The best thing anyone can do, Simons said, is to educate themselves and do what works best for them and the plants they have chosen. For her vegetable garden, she uses compost that she buys from Ron Branch, a local farmer who runs Berry Ridge Farms.
Companion planting is another item Simons talked about. She said it is definitely something people should know and that it is easily researched.
“Certain vegetables do not want to be by other vegetables, just like flowers,” she said, noting that it includes storing them, too. Onions and potatoes, for example, she said, should not be stored together because the onions will rot. This was a lesson she learned early on.
Simons couldn’t stress enough the importance of reading labels, tags or seed packets to learn what you need to know about what you are planting. “There’s a reason that information is put on there,” she said. “Plus, you want to sustain your investment and it is an investment.”
Flowers and plants are a lot like people, Simons said. Food, water and air are essential.
“If you never nourish them, just like if you never feed a person, they’re eventually going to shrivel up and die,” she said. “The only thing is, it’s not illegal to kill a plant.”