Thursday, March 1, 2012

prelude to spring in a minor

looking across our yard toward the neighbor's house

"A" as in apocalypse, that is.  Or "iceapocalypse" as Updraft called it.

No- no actual apocalypse here, and none expected.  Maybe a bit of hyperbole on the weatherman's part.  But it felt like one two nights ago when I woke out of the middle of a dream about tornadoes to hear a loud crash followed by a rumble and feel the whole house shake.

It was one of those surreal dreams where I didn't know if I was at the house that I live in with my family now, or the house I grew up in.  It didn't look like either in retrospect, and unlike both it was in a prairie-like setting- at the edge of a field, like a typical midwestern farmhouse.

It was a pleasant dream, really.  The tornadoes in the sky were slow-moving, well-formed tornadoes- really beautiful to be honest- and moving back and forth across the landscape like the tornado in the Wizard of Oz.  In the dream I was watching them with Gita and saw that the largest tornado was coming too close to our house- it hit a phone pole that we could see in the near distance, and I either said or thought that it was time to go to the basement, when...

Crash!  Rumble!  silence.

I woke up, literally in a cold sweat, and wondered for a  minute if what I heard was real, or just a part of the dream.

Then I remembered the ice storm that has started not too long before we went to bed.  I had wondered if we would see any branches fall off of our maple tree during the storm, but wasn't too worried about it.  We've had a few branches fall in every big storm a few times a year and it never amounts to much.  This time it really did. 

I laid in bed and heard two more, smaller, crashes before I went to look around to see if there was any damage.   Even after checking the attic, no signs of damage.  Which is amazing- the branch must be 9" across at the base.  It's still hung up on our roof as I write.

the branch that landed on our roof in the middle of the night

Fortunately, our house is built like a battleship.  The original owners built it in 1909, and it was pretty common to build houses to last.  A co-worker of mine has surmised that at the time they didn't have the engineering models to determine what was the minimum amount of material needed to build a roof truss or a wall, so they just overbuilt everything as a result.   On days like these, I'm very glad to have an overbuilt house.


This has been one of many things to deal with during a difficult week.  Gita had her sixth chemo treatment last Friday, and they are starting to really take a toll on her.  She wasn't able to get out of bed for most of the day Saturday and I've been staying home mornings all this week to get the kids ready and take them to preschool.  My work has become busy again, and through they are understanding, they still need me to get their projects done on time.  Nobody says anything, but all the same, I feel guilty that I can't get everything done that needs to be done, at least not when it needs to be done.

Gita has a cold too, now.  Probably caught it from me, as I've been  red-eyed and sneezing for the last few days.  The kids are sensing that things aren't going well, and are responding in kid-like ways-- our daughter by trying to be a little grown-up and bossing her brother around, and our son by regressing to two-year-old behavior. Neither of us is sure how to deal with these behavior changes, and neither of us has the energy to really be pro-active about dealing with it.  We get by as best as we can.

I am heading up a group working on starting a new community garden in our neighborhood, and though things are going very well on that front, it has meant multiple evening meetings that always go longer than they should, and sometimes involve people shouting at each other (and I will get into how such a thing is possible at a community garden meeting in another post).  And Gita, who is supportive of my doing this, but wishing I wasn't gone at meetings so often, is left alone with unruly kids at the end of a long day.

So I've been  doing  a D+ job at being a husband, father, employee and garden organizer.  I'm sure there must be other ways in which I'm almost failing, but I fail to remember them right now.  Oh- there is- our rental property.  That's also under repair and losing money, as we now have a tenant who can't/ won't pay February rent. 

I try to be positive- but it's hard not to feel overwhelmed right now.

This spring is the light at the end of the tunnel.  Gita's chemo will be over.  Surgery is scheduled for April, after which life will be easier.  Garden therapy-- shovel in the dirt-- will be back.  While I always look forward to spring, I'm looking forward to this one more than ever.  We are surviving the winter so far- a winter in so many more ways than just a meterological one.

This ice storm, I think, is the prelude to spring.  We can't have a real Minnesota winter without at least one really dramatic storm.  This may have been it.  Maybe now spring can get underway for real, and we'll smell the smell of wet, warming soil.  We'll see a few crocuses in the yard, and the scilla busting out all over.  Spring is all about new life and renewal- which is never more precious than when you are faced with the real possibility of losing someone you love.


Fortunately for us, spring really is on its way.  All signs currently show that Gita will be OK after all the treatment is finished.   The cancer has shrunk considerably.  They couldn't even feel it at her last checkup. There's good reason to be optimistic right now- we just need to get through the next couple of months.

banana plants mid-february

banana plants march 1st

One way I've been getting through this winter has been by starting the banana plants early.  I brought both of them up from the basement at the end of January to see how they'd do in the SE facing portion of our bay window, next to the radiator.

As you can see above, they've taken off.  Both are Darjeeling bananas (Musa sikkimensis), and are apparently extremely cold-tolerant.  Now that we're officially on the very edge of zone 5A, even according to the timid new USDA planting zone map, I may try to overwinter them with protection outside next winter. 

They're incredibly vigorous plants, and this will be their third growing season.  I'm hoping that by starting them early and feeding them well, I might actually be able to see them bloom this year.  Asking for bananas may be a bit much- and apparently the bananas they produce aren't very good.  Supposedly the flavor is nice- like banana custard- but the fruit is full of seeds.

I wouldn't care.  If they produced anything, I'd try it.  Especially to be able to say I grew my own bananas in Minnesota.


  1. I am very sorry to hear what you are going thru. you and your family are in my prayers and thoughts. We have to remember that after every hardship there is brightness in life.

  2. hi jeff, i am so happy to hear Gita has an optimistic outcome given her current state. i wish i could help - do anything really - please let me know. there are a lot of changes afoot in my life - new ones that happened recently, maybe the possibility of a family (!) in the next year or two - i haven't actually said anything to anyone about this. seeing the joy and beauty of the love and family you and Gita have created really moved me to think that it might be possible for me, so thank you. like i said, if I can do anything - even if it is sending uber positive thoughts y'alls way - please let me know. my email is


  3. Anonymous- thank you! It's good to keep that in mind.

    Beej- I'm glad to hear that you're thinking about starting a family and that you've kept in touch. We'll take all of the uber-positive thoughts we can get.

    To Ruben A, Tom O, and Rebecca Y (offlist) Thank you for your kindness and generosity! We were happily surprised to come back from a walk in the cold but sunny afternoon to find some delicious salad, rolls and polenta lasagna on our doorstep! Thank you to Ruben and Tom for reaching out to us, even though we've never met, and you live a couple thousand miles away! Thank you to Rebecca for the absolutely delicious lasagna and trimmings. It was wonderful, and we'll be sure to pass on the plate (unless otherwise instructed) to another family in need when all of this has passed.

  4. I am keeping your family in my prayers.


    Do those bananas produce viable seeds? If so, I'd suggest keeping your existing plants inside overwinter as you have been doing, but try directly planting the seeds in the soil and let nature sort them out. And if you happen to have a seeds few left over, I'd be interested in trading.

  5. Hi John,

    Thank you for keeping our family in your thoughts.
    As for the bananas- I may put them in the basement again next winter, but that's a long way off. As far as seeds go- I'll be glad to give you some if I get any. Apparently the bananas are very seedy- and I had a 33% germination rate on the seeds I ordered (I started these from seed two years ago). They're good, strong plants. I'm hoping that if I start them early and feed them well, I'll get blossoms, but it's a long shot. Our growing season is still relatively short in MN. I've read that in the wild it takes 18 months to go from seed to fruiting, but I'm not sure how much the stop/start process of overwintering them sets them back. They're fascinating plants, that's for sure.

  6. Jeff,

    I'm sorry things are going so rough for you right now. Is there anything you can do to have an evening with just the two of you?