Archive for July, 2010

August lily in vase

Vase. Vace. Vahse. However you pronounce it, I think flowers sitting pretty always brings good cheer. These are some August lilies and Queen Anne’s Lace that I picked after I last posted (and after it rained). I must declare, they smell exquisite and I keep finding reasons to brush past them just to catch a whiff of their heavenly scent.

Do you have anything from your garden or someone else’s garden in a vase right now?

Where is your favorite “vasing” spot; kitchen, dining room, bedroom, bath?

Did you ever pick wildflowers in a meadow and carry them gingerly home?

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August lily

The August lilies are starting to bloom.

Hosta plantaginea. August lily growing in our garden.

The August lily is one of the few hostas whose spiky flowers are not only attractive, but, fragrant as well. They bare the essence of lilies – or honeysuckle.  These hostas are such a boon to the waning summer garden as the coneflowers and daisies and roses all start to fade and send energy and nutrients back to their roots. I don’t know why every garden around here doesn’t have some.

A napping fawn at dawn on the cutoff.

They are also an entree to any deer’s dinner.

The August lilies have bright green leaves and are so forgiving. I love to water them. I’m one of those nuts who gets pure enjoyment from watering the garden. Really. You just stand there with a hose and water and think – or don’t – and are rewarded with a big, perky thank you from whomever is thirsty. The hostas are the most gracious. I love to get under the leaves with the life-giving wand on the end of the hose and give them a good swig of water. By the time I am through, there they are, once again standing tall and proud and grateful.

Our abundant border of August lilies were here when we moved in. I eagerly watched them emerge the first spring and was filled with delight at their presence.

We had August lilies in our garden in Elmhurst. They were originally brought by my friend Linda, who had divided her plants, and arrived in a few healthy clumps. Come the following spring I was in such a fret with no idea of where we had put them and how I would explain my careless behavior to a good and generous friend. A few days went by, then a week. Tom found me in the front garden and beckoned me to the back. “What?”  “Come see.” There on the path, previously hidden with brush from the past autumn, were the clump of hostas, sprouting! They are hardy travelers indeed! That’s the amazing thing about these hostas. With apologies to all of the garden centers, nurseries, and hosta breeders, an August lily is really a proud perennial that you should never have to buy, especially with good gardeners like Linda. A springtime or autumn division is all you need to get started and there is almost always someone around just ready to divide their patch. Plant them when they are delivered, however. Forevermore, Linda will bring divisions of this or that and chuckle and say to just plant them on a brick path.

Isn’t life grand?

I was thinking a bit about the simple beauty and affirmation of the August lily this morning. Up early and taking my morning trek from windowpane to windowpane, looking to see what was happening around our little acreage, I spotted the blooms, then the spotted fawn asleep just a few feet away. It was almost pastoral in the early morning mist and I thought of our gathering last night where a truly remarkable crowd came to honor Danny and Lisha while they were in town. Dan is a former pastor of our church; a good and godly man with a remarkable woman at his side. They were in from California where they tend a new flock. Dan shepherded most of the group gathered several years back and played a big part in our Katy’s spiritual development, and ours as well.  He officiated at Katy and Tom’s wedding six years ago this July 31, just as the August lilies were starting to bloom. I thought of their steadfastness and hand in growing the spirit of so many and how blessed we were to have them here for a short while last night. I smiled as I wandered from room to room, my steps and my thoughts alive in gratitude.

I think I’ll go out and cut a few stems from the hostas. I’ll drink in their fragrance and remember with wonder all I have today to be thankful for; family and friends, grace and growing, and all of life’s wonder.

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Rising to the occasion

I arose to a bright, new day; sun shining, less humid, a warm summer breeze. We live near Chicago and everyone knows that around Chicago, if you wait fifteen minutes, the weather will surely change.

We are hustling and bustling and bumping into each other – an amusing sight to behold, I am sure. We are hosting a large get-together tomorrow night, here on the cutoff, and then preparations for our soon-to-be arriving house guests comes next.

Isn’t life grand?

So, if my posts aren’t as regular or my thoughts not cohesive, hang on, please don’t let  go, I’ll be back.

I promise.

I can rise to any occasion.


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I’ve been humming the song Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ from the musical “Oklahoma” since Monday, when Wayne Messmer serenaded the women of the Garden Clubs of Illinois with his rich baritone at a luncheon. It is such a rich song, filled with hope and anticipation and it has followed me around in the garden, the car, the shower . . .

It showed up again in Marilyn’s blog, My Magpie Collection, here, where she posted some lovely pictures of spring bursting forth now in New Zealand, as well as the opening lines of the song. I commented on it and Marilyn mentioned the synchronicity in our lives.

It’s been a hot, humid, and thunderously rainy week here in the midwest. Friday night and Saturday morning brought in excess of seven inches of rain to the area. Storm clouds and lightening and continuous claps of thunder that rolled about in the atmosphere for what seemed like hours on end. It rained again late last night, adding to the sodden earth around all of us. While we are fine here on the cutoff, neighboring areas are flooded; streets and basements and homes, expressways and bulging rivers. Towns and individuals will be spending weeks cleaning up, throwing out, sending in insurance claims and long remembering this terribly hot and rain sodden summer.

It’s early in the morning here as I tap out my thoughts and the sun is just starting to poke through the sky. The humidity is down, at least for a day or two, and a new week is dawning. I started humming “oh what a beautiful mornin’, oh what a beautiful day” as soon as light broke on the horizon, and I smiled.

Oklahoma. Our very dear, long-time friends, Jeri and Kyle, will be rolling in from the plains and drifting in from Oklahoma ’round about Thursday evening and spending some time with us and Vickie and Mike. The corn here is as high and elephant’s eye , we will eat and laugh and have fun, and we will all mostly enjoy being together again, and I have a wonderful feeling – yes, Oklaloma is coming our way.

Hugh Jackman in "Oklahoma" pbs.org

Gordon MacRea  www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oro7F154pA

Hugh Jackman www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFjxMGM36Hk

Here’s hoping the rain abates, those without power are relieved soon, and that plenty of help comes the way of those needing it in clean up efforts.

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Kezzie and Papa O, trusting each other . . .

Just missing our new granddaughter right now with her cute little smile, her baby smell and inquisitive little hands, her cooing and crying and all the growing she is doing so quickly. We will see her in a few weeks as her mommy and daddy take the long trek south for our family reunion and I know I will treasure our first experience with her spending the night at

Papa O and Yia Yia’s.

In the meantime, like Kezzie and her accepting and trusting little hands, I will have to be patient and accepting that it is what it is – and settle for the pictures and my memories and the sweet little video we have of her – ten seconds of bliss that I play each morning,  until we see her again.

How about the rest of you? Who are you missing right now? Whose hand do your wish you could hold? Whose smile warms your heart?

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Uncle Joe was a pickle purveyor. He was referred to by many far and wide as Joe, the pickle man. For as long as I can remember, Uncle Joe delivered pickles to the many restaurants and delis in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Up at the crack of dawn, he would drive his truck to the establishments he purveyed;  rain or shine, sleet or snow. Uncle Joe would make his rounds, delivering what he claimed were the best pickles in the Chicago area. He even delivered pickles to a young food entrepeneur whose father was one of Joe’s customers. Rich Melman seemed to appreciate Uncle Joe’s pickles, and how one always knew how the Chicago Cubs were doing by how Joe came in the door. Melman, of course, is co-founder of the famous Lettuce Entertain You restaurants.

My earliest memories of Uncle Joe and what he did when he went to work were of a pickle truck with Chipico painted on it.  Actually, my earliest memories were of the distinct aroma of dill pickles. The Chipico sign came later, when I could read. I never knew what Chipico meant. Was it someone’s name? A town? A nationality? As I was looking for an image of Chipico pickles, I learned that Chipico is short for the Chicago Pickle Company.

As the years wore on, Uncle Joe replaced the pickle truck for a van and another pickle company for Chipico when it was bought by Vienna Beef.

Whether truck or van, coveralls or street clothes, the distinct smell of pickles always followed in my uncle’s wake with the aroma of dill and garlic and a hard day’s work. While growing up, my aunt and uncle lived next door to us. They had the corner house with a detached garage that faced the street and by which most neighbors and children on their way to school would pass daily. It was a neat garage painted white with black trim, my grandmother’s flowers bordering it. Yia Yia lived with us next door, but, her zinnias and marigolds knew no boundaries. Looking back, I think she probably knew they also softened the piquant of dill pickles.

Family picnics – and believe me when I say that family picnics of my mostly Greek childhood were like no other picnic around our suburban neighborhood – always had a few jars of Uncle Joe’s pickles, waiting to be plucked out and put on a hot dog or sliced on a plate. He generously provided gallon jars of pickles for church events and family gatherings and though he could sometimes seem gruff and always had THE opinion on the Cubs or Blackhawks or Bears, he always was there when my sister or I needed him, especially after our father died.

Image from google images.

When Jennifer was a toddler and experiencing new tastes, she quickly became a darling of Uncle Joe. How could he resist her curly blonde hair, big blue eyes, easy disposition and that she loved the first bite of dill pickle he cut up into a small piece and gave her one day as he came in the back door of their house while we were visiting? I can still see her, in a pale blue outfit to accent her eyes that my Aunt Christina loved, churning the pickle piece around her plump cheeks, not sure at first, then enlightened as she experienced the taste and then quickly wailed for more. From that day forward, Uncle Joe would often send over to our house gallon glass jars of dill pickles for the little girl who loved them.

I tried out a new store not far from us the other day. A Polish store and delicatessen. As I wandered about observing new sights and scents and produce labeled in English and Polish, I caught a distinctive whiff of something so familiar I was instantly brought back to my youth, and then Jennifer’s. There among the apples and carrots and cabbages, in a big plastic barrel with containers to fill at hand, were fresh dill pickles, just waiting to be plucked and I thought fondly of my Uncle Joe, the pickle man.

Someday soon, when our Jennifer comes over, I will take her there and we will pick out some pickles and I am sure that as we bite into them and savor their crunch and flavors, long ago memories of Uncle Joe, the pickle man, will rise forth with the dill and the garlic.

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I needed to turn on the garden hose. My potted plants were thirsty, drooping, begging for some water. Instead, I stood, for twenty minutes, and watched in wonder at my afternoon visitor. He was flying slowly around and then resting on the leaves of the snowball bush, which sits right outside one of the windows in the library. The spigot for the water is right next to the bush. How could I possibly disturb the peaceful rest of this lovely butterfly?

He continued flitting about and making short swoops, soaring a bit, circling around and casting a shadow on the driveway. The sun was starting its descent toward the east, shining its angel rays on the bush. There the butterfly landed and spread his golden wings, warming himself, basking in the late afternoon glow.

I moved a bit with the camera and he flew; round and round and round until he landed again on a leaf.

These stunning Tiger Swallowtail butterflies are not unusual around here. I see them often soaring high up in the trees, where they lay their eggs. I just love to watch them fly – and I enjoyed watching this one resting in the sun for such a long time this afternoon. I am grateful for his visit and that he felt comfortable sitting for a while here on the cutoff.

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I was feeling just a tad left out yesterday as all of my gardening and other friends were going to Trudy Temple’s farm and I had already committed to the state garden club meeting and luncheon. A commitment is a commitment in my books and I try to keep to that. Besides, I feel an obligation to attend as many of the wider gardening club circle of meetings as I can. There is so much to learn and so much good to do that I really feel I must try. I’m not alone and I’m not looking for compliments – it is what it is – and so, off I went with Pauline and Marilyn. A long and busy day.  I’m so glad I went.

It is good to network with others, no matter what it is you are involved in or where you sit on the timeline of life. Be it teaching or business, church or social organizations, book groups or knitting circles, there is always a web of other others to weave into and learn and perhaps spin your own threads of knowledge as well.

We sat with two women from Algonquin’s club and I was impressed and inspired by what this small club of about 25 does. This group raises enough money to award about $4,000 in scholarships each year, holding just two fundraisers. I know much larger groups of service organizations that don’t come near that sort of funding and was in awe of what just a few women, willing to get their fingers dirty, can do when they put their hearts in it.

My greatest inspiration yesterday, however, was the entertainment.

Most meetings of this sort feature a flower arrangement type of program. Don’t get me wrong. They are always wonderful and I come away with new ideas, or freshened old ones, on how to decorate a table or fill a container, new things on the market, or the greatest find at the local dollar store. This program, however, was different.

Wayne Messmer and his wife, Kathleen, entertained 100 or so women and a few men, sated with lunch and a long-time-sitting, many who were hours from home on a hot summer afternoon. They sang and they entertained us for about an hour and the time went quickly as their voices were raised in show tunes, starting with Oh What a Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma and moving on to everything from Edelweiss of The Sound of Music, a floral related medley,  to Kiss Me Kate, the musical where Wayne and Kathleen first met and the song  they later sang to each other at their wedding. They were waiting yesterday for a call from one of their daughter’s announcing the impending birth of a grandchild.

Mr. Messmer walked by each table during lunch, introduced himself, and said a few words. As he walked away, I thought to myself that I had already met him. There was a lull in the table conversation and I suspect several of us were thinking the same thing. Of course, we knew by the program and the earlier registration form that he would be the event’s entertainment, but, well, you know, you don’t always make the connections before hand.

Do you know who Wayne Messmer is? I think you do if you live anywhere near Chicago and especially if you like sports. You know his voice even if you haven’t seen his face and you have likely heard him singing the National Anthem at Wrigley Field or any number of other sports arenas and venues. His rich baritone, whether in song or spoken, is legendary – even if you don’t know him by name.

He also has an inspiring story. I started to recall it as he was singing Try to Remember from The Fantasticks. Wayne was robbed at gunpoint in the early morning hours in April, 1994. He was shot, point blank, in the neck. The news shocked the sports community and the area at large. Everyone knew his voice if they didn’t know his name and the cloud of uncertainty of his condition hovered over the arena of life here for sometime. Wayne Messmer did recover and eventually regained his legendary voice. He continues to sing the National Anthem, and entertains many with his gift whether on stage, at the ballpark, or an afternoon luncheon. You can hear him talk about his story here or listen to him sing here.

It is silly to feel left out of things. There is always something new to discover in life and I was humbled to be so reminded of this. I was glad I went to the meeting and came home so inspired.

What has inspired you lately?

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Lena Horne by Edgar Biberman

Who knew? I didn’t. I do now, however, and I visit frequently. I thought you might be interested as well.

The National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute has a blog called face to face and can be found at face2face.si.edu/my_weblog/. It “is dedicated to art, history, and the telling of American lives”. On a regular basis, the Portrait Gallery features one of the works found there; be it painting or photograph, sculpture, or other medium, and an essay explaining the work of art featured in the post. They are always informative and quite interesting about famous, or not so famous, people in the history of the United States.

In each feature, subjects explored are as varied as the protocol of presidential portraits and how they are hung when accompanied by those of the vice president and cabinet, to first ladies who have lectured at the National Portrait Gallery, or all about the likenesses and lives and contributions of confectioner Domingo Ghirardelli, or baseball legend  Joe DiMaggio, Edgar Alan Poe or Edith Head, Marilyn Monroe or Thomas Paine.

One of my favorites is of Dolley Madison, wife of president James Madison. She was a remarkable first lady that I have always admired for her grace and her spunk. Dolley Madison is credited with saving the Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington, an original draft of the Declaration of Independence, and other noteworthy items when the White House was about to be torched in the War of 1812.

There are also interesting postings about art conservation that I found to be fascinating.

I loved visiting the Smithsonian when the girls were young and was always sorry that there wasn’t enough time to go into the Portrait Gallery. I will return one day and will be able to see the many works of art there up close, but, for now, in the leisurely moments of my life, it is a pleasure to view some of our national treasures of art from my computer. I hope you will find some enjoyment  as well.

Here’s Dolley.

Dolley Madison by William Elwell

Pictures of portraits are from the face to face blog site.

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The Yearling

N. C. Wyeth illustration, Jody Finds the Fawn, The Yearling, Margaret Kinnans Rawlings

Jody scrambled down from his perch and ran to the place where he had seen the fawn tumble. It was not there. He hunted the ground carefully. The tiny hoof-marks crossed and criss-crossed and he could not tell one track from another. He sat down disconsolately to wait for his father. Penny returned, red of face and wet with sweat.

“Well, son,” he called, What did you see?”

“A doe and a fawn. The fawn were right here all the while. He nursed his mammy and she smelled me and run off. And I cain’t find the fawn no-where. You reckon Julia kin track him?”

Penny dropped down on the ground.

“Julia kin track ary thing that makes a trail. But don’t let’s torment the leetle thing. Hit’s right clost this minute, and likely scairt to death,”

“His mammy shouldn’t of left him.”

“That’s where she was smart. Most ary thing would take out after her. And she’s learned the fawn to lay up so still hit’ll not git noticed.”

Illustration by N.C. Wyeth. The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

“Hit was might cute spotted, Pa.”

“Was the spots all in a line, or helter-skelter?””

“They was in a line.”

“Then hit’s a leetle ol’ buck-fawn. Wasn’t you proud to see it so clost?”

“I was proud, but I’d shore love to ketch him and keep him.”

Jody talking to his Pa, Penny, after seeing the fawn.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Chapter 11, pages 97 -98

I have owned an exquisite old copy of The Yearling with the wonderful illustrations of N.C. Wyeth for several years. The book sat on an easel with this colorful book cover (the same illustration is also in the book), decorating our guest room. I decided this summer to read it again. It has been awhile, a long while, though I did see the movie not too long ago starring Gregory Peck, who was also Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

The book made me cry, several times, and it kept me as captive as Jody’s fawn, Flag, who he tried to domesticate.  The book has some rough spots with scenes of hunting and fighting and the language may be offensive to some these days as it is written in the vernacular of the south and the central backwoods of Florida just after the Civil War, but, I find it to be an endearing story of a young boy and his love of wild animals – and of his love of his father.

That is what The Yearling is really about to me. Jody’s love for his father and Penny’s love for his son. It is about Penny Baxter and the lessons he teaches by example: to be kind; to only take what is needed from the land; to try to get along with each other and with the neighbors; to work hard and to take the time to slow down and enjoy the beauty of nature; to set food and provisions by for harder days; to solve a problem by thinking it out first. It is also about growing up and family and consequences and choices and mostly about being honest and true.

I read The Yearling again this summer and it captivated me once more. I also learned that you can tell the gender of a fawn by the configuration of its spots. We have scampering around our yard and through our flower beds twins and a single fawn. Like all babies, they are as cute as can be and often up to mischief. By the arrangement of the spots, we have two girls and a boy. The boy is one of the twins and they are a bit smaller than the other fawn. His spots are certainly in a line, while the others wear theirs helter-skelter.

I will admit that I needed to read the story aloud a few times to get the rhythm of the language and to figure out what a few words were. It took me awhile to understand pizzened meant poisoned. Fortunately, it didn’t take Penny any time at all as he refused to set poison around his property to fend off the marauding wolves and bears after a flood devastated the area.

The Yearling is still a good read with messages and wonderfully descriptive passages about a time long ago when the backwoods of Florida were still untamed and dangerous and where families lived and worked hard and told stories and appreciated the land they were on.

What are you reading this summer?

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