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Little Free Library

DSCN5440These cute little boxes on posts seem to be sprouting up around here like daisies in sunshine. In the past week or so, I have noticed four. I finally just had to park my car, get out, and see what they were all about.

Sure glad I did!

I turned off the car, crossed the street, and peeked into the box; a box of books!  There was a little hook to lift and a door opened, with an invitation inside  to take a book, return it with another. Adult books and children’s  books, there for the taking. I was as giddy as Charlie Bucket holding his golden ticket.

Leapt. I leapt across the street and opened my trunk, where a bag sat, bursting, with books I was planning to donate to Goodwill. I rummaged around and took out a Miss Dimple I was going to pass on, deciding, on the spot to donate it instead to this Little Free Library. I leapt back across the street, where I perused the selection. A few cars passed, unfettered by my leaping on this bookish corner as I once again opened the door, took out my selection, an as yet unread Maisie Dobbs, and replacing it with Miss Dimple. DSCN5441

Home again, I did some online investigating, finding the Little Free Library website, which you can visit here.

What a fabulous idea and a way to not only enjoy books, but, to foster literacy. There is a quaintness about this idea of sharing books in a clever and attractive way with your neighbors and passers-by. Of course, you can buy plans and kits to make your own little library, and you can officially register it and get one of these very nice markers – or, you can make one on your own.  The Little Free Library is an interesting enterprise that seems to be growing.

I wonder if Tom can build one to look like the arbor. Have you seen one?

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DT4972One of my summertime reads has been “Clara and Mr. Tiffany” by Susan Vreeland.  It is our book discussion group’s choice for the September meeting and has been a pleasant diversion for me on these August afternoons as I follow Clara Driscoll, recently  acknowledged as one of the designers for Louis Comfort Tiffany. While this is a fictional account, the reader meets historical figures as well as a colorful array of imagined characters along with amazing details surrounding the inception of Tiffany stained glass, and the process of working with stained glass; from the male glass blowers to the cadre of single women, many immigrant daughters of New York City at the turn of the century, who artfully assemble the glass.

In a delightful passage,  Clara describes a scene beginning at the beach while on a brief holiday with friends in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. The women “put on our scanty bathing costumes” with “nothing around our calves but air!” as they wade in the ocean then take a walk, discovering Queen Anne’s lace.  Clara describes the flowers as “Cluster of tiny white flowers grew out from a single point on the stalk like a burst of fireworks”. The wild carrots remind one woman of lace, another of dandelions, and seeds of ideas sprout in Clara’s mind for Tiffany candlesticks.

I read a bit more, then put down the book, life calling me to some household chore. The scene, however, lingered in my thoughts as my day wore on. Later, I employed Mr. Google and found, in the verdant pasture of the internet, this most extraordinary piece of jewelry pictured here – Queen Anne’s Lace by Tiffany. It is a “hair ornament”, a fitting accessory for the start of a century that would prove to be as turbulent at it was innovative and exciting.

The source of this image can be found here, with some written detail as to the gems used. You MUST click on the cluster of gems for a closer look at not only the jewels, but the enameling as well, and to see the little flowers and the garnets of bursting “fireworks” in the center.

At 3 1/2 inches, I cannot imagine wearing this as a hair ornament, but, as a lover of brooches and pins, I am sure I could find the perfect place to adorn a jacket or dress with this plucking of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Isn’t it amazing how these small pleasures in life often emerge via literature  – Call on a summer’s day?

 

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0688155847Sometimes, the best summer read doesn’t mean the latest best seller. It isn’t the glossy beach read at the checkout aisle of the grocer’s or the week’s  best picks from the Sunday paper. Sometimes, the best summer read is hiding in the library’s stacks, featured on a special shelf in a library, or on your own bookshelf – just waiting to be discovered.

I have been meaning to read something of Mary Stewart’s since learning of her recent passing in May. Although I have seen some of the movies that were made from her books, especially The Moon-spinners (did you go through a Hayley Mill’s phase when you were young?), I am sorry to say that I had never read anything by Mary Stewart – until now, that is.

“Rose Cottage” was displayed with a few other Mary Stewart books on top of a shelf highlighting recently deceased authors at the La Grange library. I already had four books, three magazines and an audiobook in my arms, but, how could I resist this cover? Of course, I couldn’t, and it came home with me, where it languished on my bedside table until one day last week.

I was “down for the count” with a bit of an upper respiratory bug, had just finished “Those Who Save Us”, by Jenna Blum, and I needed something a little lighter to read. It was obviously time to visit Rose Cottage.

From the very first paragraph, I was quietly drawn in to the post WWII English countryside. This is a gentle mystery as Kathy Welland, now the war widow Kate Herrick, goes home to Rose Cottage to clear out a few of her grandmother’s things from the home Kathy grew up in. Specifically, Gran wants the contents of small box in the hidey spot, papered over near the fireplace.

Kathy is welcomed back to the village with open arms and is instantly surrounded by warm comforts of home. She quickly realizes, however, that someone has been inside the cottage when she finds the box, but not the key. Once pried open, the box is empty. The ladies from the “Witches Corner” have their own opinions on what has occurred, and Kathy gets help from Davey, a childhood friend.  Long held secrets of Kathy’s missing mother are eventually revealed as the story unfolds much like the petals on the old rambling roses in the quiet English countryside.

“Rose Cottage” was a soothing balm for my weary, cough-wracked body and just what I needed to while away the time spent on the couch, looking out at the last of the summer rose blooms. I have learned that this was written later in Mary Stewart’s life. Not considered her best, it was the best one for me at this juncture.

Have you read Mary Stewart? Do you have a favorite to suggest?

 

 

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002008There I was, walking around Jackson Square Mall in downtown La Grange with three of my very dear friends;  antique sleuths, each and every one. We were talking and teasing, “Penny, you really need to have this” or “my mother had one of these” in the companionable way of old friends.

As we walked toward my favorite booth crammed with used books, nestled in a nook that was probably a closet in a previous life, I squeezed in and I glanced up at the cookbooks. in the far corner.  What should be staring back?  “The Stillmeadow Cookbook” by Gladys Taber. Well, dear reader, Gladys’ book jumped into my greedy little hands like a puppy who’s been left home alone all afternoon. Squeaking like a mouse, I gingerly opened the pages of this well-preserved, hard bound edition – and promptly declared it was mine, all mine!

You may recall that I adore Gladys Taber and her writings about Stillmeadow Farm. My introduction to her was at the very same Jackson Square Mall where this cookbook emerged, on the same shelf where my first introduction to Gladys Taber’s words was.  When I wrote that first post, I quickly learned through generous comments of others that there were more than 50 books written by Gladys Taber and that there was well-establish organization of Taber fans;  aptly called the Friends of Gladys Taber. I keep meaning to sign up for their newsletter, which I understand is quite wonderful.

Since that first discovery of Gladys Taber and her common sense wisdom and wit and words that are filled with the simpler things in life and country living, I have acquired a baker’s dozen worth of her homespun books, filled with stories and articles that were published in the likes of Good Housekeeping Magazine and other periodicals. How I miss those days of short story installments and serial essays that used to be in women’s magazines. Ah well, dear friend, those days are past, but, we can still find words in books, some of which sit patiently on shelves in used book stores and booths, just waiting to be discovered.

 

 

 

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Arbor house stained through snowball bushI worked alongside Esther. She worked for the father, I for the son. Almost 20 years older than me, she was my mentor and confidante. I was a fledgling in commercial insurance with two young daughters and the tug of pulling my load as Tom started up a business. We worked hard, laughed often, cried occasionally and danced the rhythms of life and work for almost six years.

We shared a love of family and of books. She delighted in hearing of the escapades of our daughters, especially Katy, who loved playing softball and disliked wearing dresses. In all the time I worked with Esther, I never saw her in a skirt or dress – and this was the era of padded shoulders and the hit television series,  Dallas!

I had the first lunch hour, sometimes eating in the small break room or downstairs in the cafeteria, more often than not running errands or tending to motherly pursuits. Several summers had me driving home, dropping the girls off at the community swimming pool, then eating in the car as I returned to work, checking in with Tom before I got back to my duties (this was before cell phones).

Esther had the second lunch hour, usually eating a sandwich she brought from home and the purchase of a bowl of soup from the cafeteria. Esther ate soup for lunch almost every day. When she returned to her desk, the first thing she did was call her elderly mother to see how her day was going.

Esther, as the story was told to me, once had a prestigious job downtown, in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Her father developed a life-threatening illness needing surgery, a long recovery, treatments – and had no health insurance. Esther resigned from her position, cashed her pension, and used it to pay for her father’s health care, then she started her work life all over again. She never complained, never felt sorry for herself, and carried on.

She gave me comfort and encouragement in those six years; when my mother died of cancer only two weeks after being hospitalized, when my uncle Joe died a few months later, Jennifer becoming ill for a spell, then Katy losing part of finger, and Tom’s long battle with his first bout with diabetic retinopathy and his mother passing away. I gave her big hugs, books, home baked goodies and as many doses of encouragement  I could while she battled shingles, then cancer and a long series of chemotherapy treatments.

I thought of Esther today, and of the afternoon, not unlike this afternoon, shortly after the 1993 inauguration of Bill Clinton, when she came back from lunch, called her mother, then looked at me and said, “Penny, I want you to read this book I just finished. It is by Maya Angelou. I know you appreciated her inauguration poem and now you must read  this book she wrote a long time ago,.”Why the Caged Bird Sings” . . .  and so, I did.

I thought of Esther today, as the news broke of the death of Maya Angelou, and felt a wave of gratitude that they both entered my life, each in their own unique way.

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There is no cure that I know of for the seasonal malady commonly called garden fever! It starts with an itch to be outside at first light and ends toward evening with dirt under one’s fingernails, hat hair from a wide-brimmed hat, and a worn out feeling around one’s knees.

There are so many distractions in spring, like the swirling confusion of ferns

 

DSCN4604and more blossoms from the tree peonies than Penny knows how to ooh and ahh over!

DSCN4646Should I mention a little jaunt in the jalopy to nearby Maple Lake and a sit-upon moment watching children fish? DSCN4662Then, there were several days of staining Penny’s Arbor House (with Penny even taking up a paintbrush for a spell – but, staying off of such a tall, tall ladder). DSCN4629Midnight, the marauding, milk-loving cat, came by for a visit at the arbor. We don’t know as yet if he approves of the fresh look.DSCN4617This chippy little chipmunk was contemplating the newly potted plant near the door. Click onto the photo to see how cute this ground imp is.chiipmunk on stepOur Community Garden was bustling with activity all weekend . Our plot is now planted with cucumbers and tarragon, several varieties of tomatoes with basil nearby and a row of bush beans. I left some space for zucchini and, well, I’ll just have to see what else whets my gardening appetite in the next few days.  DSCN4659

 

It has been a busy few days here on the Cutoff, but, we did take some time to watch the Memorial Day Concert in Washington DC on PBS, fire up the barbecue grill for some brats, and now I am going to snuggle up with this month’s read for our book group, M. L. Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans”.  I am having a hard time putting it down.

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“On January 12, 1888, a blizzard broke over the center of the North American continent. Out of nowhere, a soot gray cloud appeared over the northwest horizon. The air grew still for a long, eerie measure, then the sky began to roar and a wall of ice crust blasted the prairie. Every crevice, every gap and orifice instantly filled with shattered crystals, blinding, smothering, suffocating, burying anything exposed to the wind . . . Montana fell before dawn; North Dakota went while farmers were out doing their early morning chores; South Dakota, during morning recess; Nebraska as school clocks rounded toward dismissal.  In three minutes the front subtracted 18 degrees from the air’s temperature. Then evening gathered in and temperatures kept dropping steadily, hour after hour, in the northwest gale. Before midnight, wind chills were down to 40 degrees below zero. That’s when the killing happened. . . ”  From the Prologue of “The Children’s Blizzard” by David Laskin

So it was that, from this first paragraph, I was mesmerized by the horrific blizzard  on the Dakota-Nebraska prairie in 1888.

I have always been fascinated with the pioneering spirit that helped shape the United States, particularly of the stories of the determined settlers of the vast prairies. From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House Books to Willa Cather’s My Antonia, and Lauraine Snelling’s books about Norwegian immigrant settlers in the Dakota Territory, the great western migration fascinates me. . .

. . . and so it was that while browsing Cornerstone Books, a used book store in Villa Park, that “The Children’s Blizzard” caught my attention. With two other books in my hands, I sat at the big, round, wooden table and peeked under the covers. It was David Laskin’s book that captured my attention and followed me home, with change in my pocket from the five dollar bill used for the purchase.

I think I am a homesteader of prairie books. I often wonder why I am so fascinated by this time and place in history, especially when I know of how difficult the life was for these pioneers. I could never have endured what these pioneers did. I admire their grit, their faith, their determination to bequeath a better life for the children they bore.

“The Children’s Blizzard” is non-fiction and covers the great and ferocious blizzards of the 1870/80’s in the upper midwestern prairie, particularly the blizzard that became known as the Children’s Blizzard of January 12/13, 1888. It is so-called because so many schoolchildren died or were seriously maimed by this blizzard, which came up suddenly, on a rather balmy day, while they were in school. The book is filled with the children’s stories; the horror, the fear, the bravery . . . and it is filled with relevant weather facts, conditions, and of how weather was predicted in the 1880s.

I will confess that I skipped some of the weather facts. What I did read was fascinating. I don’t think of weather forecasting in the 1880’s. Of course, it did exist. It was the U.S. Signal Corp, which was part of the army, and its indications officers (forecasters), who maintained the department and predicted weather. This storm was actually predicted. It was a series of human errors and the often “iffy” systems in place for weather warnings via telegraphs that made for a perfect storm of snow, ice, winds and a populace unaware of the danger ahead. Many of the terms used in the book, such as polar jet, are terms that are still used and were used repeatedly through our long winter here.

I closed the book haunted by the tragedies I witnessed through reading and grateful for the advances we have made in weather prediction. My cabin fever and discomfort this winter were nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the deprivations and tragedy of over 100 years ago.  It is good, is it not, to be reminded of the blessings in our lives?

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