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Archive for August, 2011

You say to-may-toe . . .

. . . and I say to-mah-toe!

Either way, homegrown tomatoes are the best, aren’t they?

My good friend Kathryn came by with a generous basketful of just picked tomatoes.  I could still smell the fresh earthiness on them. There is nothing quite like it.

 It’s hard to resist making some BLT’s this time of year. I hardly ever cook bacon, but, come summer and sun-kissed tomatoes, a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich just has to be eaten at least once. Jason joined us Tuesday night as we dined outdoors in the gentle coolness that we have been enjoying here on the Cutoff. A simple supper of fresh vegetables and BLT’s. Nothing gourmet, everything goodness. Life is made up of the simple things that join together to make memories, like the summers of our youth playing tag before the street lights come on and grown-up summers with a friend’s generosity and the company of family around the table.

To-may-toe or to-mah-toe, any way you say, it’s the simple things that matter.

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Pleasure of flowers

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;

And give us not to think so far away,

As the uncertain harvest; keep us here,

All simply in the springing of the year.

Robert Frost

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Milkweed

It looked to be milkweed. I let it grow where it shouldn’t have been, knowing the Monarch butterflies depend on it for survival.

For several years now, I’ve been meaning to plant some milkweed, the only host plant to Monarch caterpillars. Each year has passed without me planting any. We have plenty of nectar plants to attract Monarchs, and a host of others as well, and I knew there was milkweed nearby in a vacant lot. Their needs to survive and to reproduce were covered, but, I looked forward to having milkweed nearby, to see the eggs, then watch the caterpillars as this lovely insect’s cycle kept on.

What looked to be milkweed is, indeed, milkweed and I was as excited as a schoolgirl getting her first “A”  in biology when I found several eggs on the back of a leaf Saturday afternoon.

One of our wonderfully dedicated garden club members, Pat, aka The Butterfly Lady, raises Monarch butterflies and has ventured on several trips to the Monarch’s overwintering spots in Mexico. She and fellow member Jane have not only enlightened our club about these beautifully winged insects, but, they give talks to schools and other garden clubs. They have also been instrumental in guiding many other organizations and individuals in establishing credited Monarch Waystations throughout the area. I am proud to know Jane, who initiated the Monarch Sustenance Project in our garden club,  and Pat, whose tender nurturing is admirable and I appreciate how much they have enriched my life and the lives of other.

Monarch Waystations are designated areas where nectar plants, water, and the essential milkweed are established to help the monarch population thrive and act, as well, as an oasis during migration.

On Sunday morning, camera in hand, I set out on a mission to photograph the Monarch eggs. As I gazed down upon the plant, my hopes of some pictures were dashed in a second. There it stood, as it did the day before, tall and determined, as milkweed are prone to be, and there, upon its sturdy stalk, was the evidence of the cruelty of nature. One, and only one, milky leaf had been eaten off of the plant, the handiwork of deer. The leaf that was gone was the one upon which the eggs were laid. I was devastated.

With Irene raging against New England, wars being fought, fires burning, droughts strangling much of a continent, can one eager lady be truly distraught on a pleasant Sunday morning over a few Monarch eggs?

Yes!

There I stood, camera shuttered, mouth agape, lower lip trembling, wondering why, of all the leaves ripe for the picking, a ravenous deer would choose just this one.

Image from Google. naba.org

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A change in the air

The spiders are already spinning their webs, attaching their long strands of sticky silk to anything and everything, usually at about the level of my eyes. We walk into their almost invisible threads going out the door, to the car, across the deck, and through the arbor. There was one today, very neatly attached to the back of a chair on the deck. From there, it reached across to the morning glories, where it caressed a tendril. I sure wish I’d seen it before I started watering. I’m still picking it out of my hair! It could have been worse. I could have been talking.

The tree frogs and locusts are still making their presence known, humming through the afternoon and long into the night. The crickets have joined them. The string section of nature’s orchestra. Every year, for as long as I can remember, one cricket always manages to get into the house. It is part of the ritual of fall – finding out where the cricket is hiding so one can finally get to sleep.

Three bold and magnificent bucks have been appearing in the early evenings. Their antlers are magnificent. They are busy courting the ladies, who aren’t as attentive to the little ones these days. Pulling out of drive around noon, we noticed three fawn having recess in the front yard. At first, one looked like he was shedding, which didn’t make sense. The little rascal was covered in freshly mown grass. He looked quite like a child caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

The sun seems to glance at us at a different angle. The days are growing shorter. We will still have some hot days, but,  cooler weather has settled for a spell. The robins aren’t as noticeable, but a trio of fledgling orioles were entertaining me the other day out the library window. They were hopping about, eating something off of the Rose of Sharon. I’ve never seen them before this time of year.

A change is in the air. It is subtle, but, there, and seems to have come a tad early this year. The first of the leaves are starting to fall. Soon, the lawn will be carpeted with Autumn’s harvest of leaves. I won’t rush it, for there will work to do in the raking and hauling and shredding. I won’t rush it. Instead I’ll watch the butterflies float and the bees go about making honey, and I’ll sit for a spell, here and there, through my day, like this moth I caught napping on the native asters.

Are you noticing any signs of the seasons changing where you live?

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. . . How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older by Sydney Eddison

A few weeks okay, during a storm, a tree fell on our roof. Fortunately, no one was injured, the tree didn’t come through the roof or cause any structural damage, no glass was broken, no car totaled. Removal estimates were obtained, then a tree removal crew came out and expertly removed the tree, chipped a good part of it, stacked the logs we wanted to keep, and cleaned off the driveway.

What was left was the base of the tree, waiting for some sort of honor, and a gap in the scenery to be filled.

I mourn the loss of trees. Even though I know that in some cases it is for the best, and for others, like our tree, nature has taken its course. I know, too, that the best thing to do is to move on. We’ve all experienced this, especially after the stormy season that seems to be all over the globe. Some trees and other vegetation and gardening is lost to storms, others are lost when the house next door is razed for a “MacMansion”. A tree is gone or a larger structure is built, taking away your sunny perennial bed.

There also comes in the course of a life the time when one begins to ponder how much longer the garden can be tended; aches and pains are where they didn’t used to be, knees don’t work like they used to, or the cost of keeping a garden is no longer practical on a fixed income or during an economic downturn.

Right about the time the tree fell, my vision had cleared enough so that I was able to start reading again. Ah, sweet bliss! I rummaged through that big pile of books I brought home one Saturday after an orgy of book buying. The local Border’s had begun their going-out-of-business sale and I just couldn’t resist.

There on the pile, waiting for me, was Sydney Eddison’s book, Gardening for a Lifetime.

What a wonderful little treasure this book is, with chapters on topics such as A Step Toward Simplicity: Substituting Shrubs for Perennials and Pick Your Battles: Manage Mature Plants, with each chapter summed up at the end with “Gleanings”. While the book is aimed at practical ideas for the gardener in later years, it is a wonderful reference book for all sorts of gardening abilities and lifestyles.

Sydney Eddison’s wealth of gardening knowledge and joyful spirit of life come through on each page of this book. Lifelong gardeners are practical dreamers. They see yet another plant to slip into the soil or another border to dig, but, they have worked too hard on their hands and knees with dirt under their fingernails from March to November not to be practical in their dreaming. This comes through as clear as can be in Eddison’s book.

Gardening for a Lifetime came into my garden at just the right time.

Serendipity came to call at my doorstep again.

Illustration by Kimberley Day Proctor, page 38, Gardening for a Lifetime by Sydney Eddison

Now, to figure out what to do next.

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My girls seem to know just the right places to take their mom to eat. Places where the food is excellent, the service charming, the choices different, and the ambiance something worth writing home (or on my blog) about. From delis in Minneapolis where much of the food is grown in the garden outside, to pastry shops with mouth watering morsels served with Greek attitude, my girls know where to go to fill their mama up with food and with pride.

La France Cafe and Crepes

Toasted French bread with apricot jam. We savored such a simple appetizer with steaming hot coffee as we waited for our entrees. I can’t begin to tell you what pleasure this simple treat brought about as we chatted. I can’t wait to bring this out as a small snack or sweet indulgence some day soon.

Then, our crepes . . .

Thank you, Jennifer, for a most savory encounter!

La France Cafe and Crepes is tucked into a little corner of a small strip mall on a busy street in Lombard, just a few blocks from Lilacia Park, home to the Lilac Festival I told you about here. A very small restaurant, it is painted with bright red walls and French paintings. Most of the Cafe is taken up by the cooking area, which adds to the charm of the restaurant. The menu is short and I know I will have to go there often and try every single item.

I feel another viewing of Julie and Julia coming on.

The food was superb, but it was the delightful few hours that I had with Jennifer that made the time all the sweeter.

How about you? Is there a sweet cafe or deli or restaurant that you’ve just discoverd?

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PenDot

Ted would come bursting through the back door, sprint up the three steps to the kitchen, and exclaim “PenDot”! If no one answered, he would wander through the house, looking for one of us.

PenDot. Penny. Dottie. Shortened. PenDot. It didn’t matter. If he could find one of us, he would have someone to play with. Ted is our cousin. He and his brother, Louie, lived next door. My sister and I were closer in age to Teddy than Louie was. In fact, he and I were the same age, give or take 26 days. We spent our toddling years in the same house, playing with puzzles, reading books, washing the back porch with the dog’s water and drinking out of the toilet bowl. Family lore has it that someone heard us giggling and there we were with our special cups having a super bowl party of our own. Ted liked to tease that I was the older one. He still does. By the time we were in grade school, we lived next door to each other. Life was good.

If my dad was sitting in the kitchen when Teddy came over, usually just under the birdcage teaching Christo, the parakeet, phrases in Greek, he would chuckle at Ted, whom he loved like a son, and say something to the effect of “Teddy, you come in all the time and say PenDot. Who do you want?” and off Ted would go, laughing, in search of whoever was home.

A long, cement sidewalk separated our houses from back door to back door. Didn’t everyone have such conveniences? Our back doors were rarely locked during the day. We never used a doorbell or knocked. A cursory hello would announce our arrival. Our neighborhood friends always came to the back door and knew to check the house next door if we weren’t home. A long, loud yodeling “Yo Penny” was all that was needed to announce one’s arrival. A polite “hello” through the screen from an adult was accepted in our neighborhood. PenDot, however, meant Teddy had entered the premises.

My childhood was filled love and the security of knowing that there was someone always nearby to play with, to laugh with, to learn from and to be in the protective arms of family. When I returned home from school and opened the door, more often than not there was a visitor at our kitchen table. The aroma of pastries would be emanating, coffee brewing, and activity filling the house. Some days, I would walk past Teddy’s house, down the long sidewalk of their corner house,  past their back door and on to our own. Other days, I would walk past their house then down our long driveway to my back door.

One crisp autumn day, I came home by way of the back of Ted’s house. It wasn’t until I passed his back door that I could see a car in

Image from Google

our driveway, parked, almost touching the connecting sidewalk. I didn’t recognize the vehicle. My dad was the only one who ever pulled up that far. Anxious to find who was visiting, I hurried inside, said hello to Daddy, sitting in his spot, underneath Christo’s chattering, and to Yia Yia, who was at the stove. “Who’s here?” I said, quietly, so as not to be rude if someone was in another room.

Daddy liked to play games, to make us think, and to tease. He was such a tease. “Don’t you know? Didn’t you look at the car?” Out I went, looked at the bluish car, new, pretty nice, even from my girlish perspective. “Come on. Who is it?”. “Go look again, Penny. Look at the license plate.”

PenDot. There, on a ’63 Chevy Impala, a bright and shiny new license plate that said PenDot.

After supper, Daddy took us for a spin around the block in our sparkling new car, PenDot. Teddy came with.

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