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About half past life’s more trying moments, as the minute hand ticks round and round and the hour hand stands still, we hold our breath in worry over what comes next then something fine sometimes happens. In these in between moments,  we can feel lonely, sad, perhaps defeated, then,  an invitation arrives, a date is set, a gathering is planned and those trying moments are held in blissful abeyance. We plan ahead and mark the days for when new memories are made.

So it is during this rather stormy summer season that some bits and pieces of joy have been tied together into a lovely bouquet of life which has filled me up with gratitude.

As I attempted to put two special happenings together into one post, I realized that I simply could not. Each deserves its own space – and you, dear reader, do not need a thousand words to read.

So . . . this is a mere preface to two blog posts I am fussing with and hope to have written soon.

In-the-meantime, a brief book review.

I recently read “A Star for Mrs. Blake” by April Smith. This is a historical novel about the Gold Star mothers from across America who were transported by ship in 1929 by the US government. By boat and rail and other conveyances, these pilgrims, as they were referred to, travelled to France to see the graves and battle sites of their sons; mostly young men who died in battle or from wounds during WWI.  This is a touching story of the mothers’ journey and it is enlightening about the circumstances of that war. Among the many issues explored, one that was new to me, was the unintended consequences caused by the material used in face masks that were made for men who were disfigured after being attacked by gas. These men survived their injuries but later lost their lives to lead poisoning from the masks.

“A Star for Mrs. Blake” is an interesting read with several characters, Mrs. Blake being the primary one, and it is a glimpse into a lesser known chapter in the years after WWI.  It deserves a more comprehensive post, but. . . there are those two other l posts percolating right now.

Thank you, Dee Ready, for this recommendation.

Have you read anything interesting lately?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art Upon the Land

“I have found, through years of practice, that people garden in order to make something grow; to interact with nature; to share, to find sanctuary, to heal, to honor the earth, to leave a mark. Through gardening, we feel whole as we make our personal work of art upon our land.”
– Julie Moir Messervy, The Inward Garden

I have not read Julie Moire Messervy’s book, but, as soon as her quote appeared to me it brought to mind the gardens on this year’s Elmhurst Garden Walk. I hope to read this book sometime soon.

From the homeowner who reverently said “my garden is my sanctuary” to the garden that was overflowing with plant divisions from family and the garden abundantly planted with garden art, the six private and one public garden weave well into Ms. Messervy’s words.

The day bloomed with all the glory of a made-to-order day. A soft breeze, low humidity, blue skies and sunshine – it could not have been a better day for An Afternoon in the Garden. 

Along with the gardens, the Faire in Wilder Park was bustling with a wonderful mix of vendors and a Monarch Festival.

Would you like to take a walk with me to the Faire, the private gardens, and the public gardens of York Community High School?

The Faire

York High School’s Inner Courtyard Garden

The private gardens.


I wish you could have been with us in the gardens, at the Faire, among the personal work of art that filled the day.

I wish, as well, that you could have met the homeowners, the teachers, the students, and a few of our scholarship recipients that also came to the Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire. Scholarship and helping local endeavors, which include the activities that involved children and students this year are why the Elmhurst Garden Club holds this event and where funds raised are allocated.

Have you attended a garden walk or public gardens this year? Have you read this book, or another garden related book that moves you to garden, to explore nature?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where We Find Comfort

“Your mind — your curiosity — will be your comfort.”*

I recently stumbled upon yet another “Lucky Day” pick from the La Grange Library – and lucky it was!

As often happens, I was drawn to a book by its cover. I slid it off of the “Lucky Day” shelf at the library, and wondered, for a brief moment or two, why the cover looked so familiar, then realized it was reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth’s painting,  Christina’s World. Was it written by Christina? Well, of course not, but the author’s first name compelled me to read the flap of the dust jacket and to peek inside. I walked out of the library with Christina Baker Kline’s fictional novel, “A Piece of the World” and was soon engrossed in Christina’s world on the coastal farm in Cushing, Maine. The farm was settled century’s earlier by ancestors who came to escape their name, Hathorne, and the taint of the Salem Witch Trials.

Christina’s life is confined primarily to the family home in Cushing. From the earliest childhood years of her illness, her debilitating condition molds her life. From her determination to keep moving and living and making the best of her circumstances, to her later years, she stoically strives to keep moving through life. As she eventually can no longer walk, she uses her arms, then her elbows to move above, do chores in a house that is old, rundown, without indoor plumbing or adequate heating.

Christina excels in her small, country school, is encouraged to continue her education and to eventually become the school’s teacher. It is the kindness and encouragement of her teacher that gives her hope of a future, and the stubbornness and viewpoint of her father that end those dreams, taking Christina out of the school and keeping her at home, taking over her mother’s chores and diminishing her contact the outside world.

The book follows Christina’s life, from her loving relationship with her grandmother, her mysterious illness, her staunch refusal for what seems like experimental treatment, and her relationship with her brothers, especially Alvaro, and her friendship with Betsy and Andy. Betsy’s family has a summer-house in Cushing, Andy meets and eventually marries Betsy, who brings him, as a young man, to the Hathorne, now called the Olson house. He is intrigued by the house and the light and the views and spends countless days in one of the upstairs rooms, painting the scenery as well as the two remaining inhabitants of the house; Christina and Al. When Al is introduced to Andy, he is told that he is the son of N.C. Wyeth. Al remembers N. C.’s illustrations and declares that “Treasure Island” is probably the only book he ever read to the end. The house is both a blessing and a curse; a monument to history that often hold Christina and her brothers back, yet, it is a house that fascinates Andy, and it is both the anchor and the chain that confines Christina.

I loved the lyrical prose, the attention to detail, the simplicity and sparseness of words at times along with the weight of those words. I loved Christina’s fondness and instinctive understanding of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. My heart ached at her naiveté and eventual heartbreak of a relationship she was led to believe would end in marriage. I was angered by her father, an immigrant and a sailor, who lacked compassion and understanding of his fragile, strong-willed daughter.

While the book is fictitious about the friendship of Christina and Andy (Andrew Wyeth) as well as Andy’s wife, Betsy, it is based on research and known facts. It imagines the restrictive edges of Christina’s life and how she endures the hardships that surround her. “A Piece of the World”  is a captivating novel that I not only enjoyed, but, a book that led me to further exploration of the life and the illness of Christina Olson, her relationship of the Wyeths, and her family’s ancestry.

As I closed the pages of “A Piece of the World”, I remembered a trip Tom and I took to Philadelphia where we saw a retrospective exhibit of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While Christina’s World was not part of the exhibit, there were other paintings of the Olson farmhouse, and its inhabitants. It was a remarkable trip to Philly, prompted by the exhibit. I then fired up the laptop and was greeted with a discovery that had me heading to the post office as I returned “A Piece of the World”. How opportune that the USPS released these Andrew Wyeth stamps just as I closed Christina Baker Kline’s compelling novel.

 

This quote is the parting words of Christina’s teacher when Christina leaves school for the last time. *

Visitors

We baked. We always do.  Shortbread, granola, a chocolate Bundt cake for Papa’s birthday. Still, there wasn’t enough time for this sweet young lady and me to have one last cup of tea.

This charming lad and I watched Thomas the Train and cuddled in early morning before breakfast before he turned into a thirsty Minion after he and his cousins and sister rode bikes and scooters round and round the front island, laughing and screaming as children do when having fun and expending energy.

Kez and Ez did what children in the Midwest do in summer; they caught lightning bugs (fireflies) in jelly jars, the lids with small holes punched out. Pure childlike glee at seeing them light up the night.

I am missing them. The house is quiet and the hours still, but, grateful for such a good week together with them, their parents, Aunt Jenny and Uncle Jason, and watching them interact with cousins on both sides of their family.

It is always nice to have photos to share. I hope you won’t mind if I do.

Our citizen scientist was quite knowledgeable about Monarch eggs and caterpillars. As soon as she heard me proclaim “there are two Monarchs floating around the front garden” she took to finding eggs.

Once upon a time, Ezra’s Papa (aka Antler Man) sat in this very same rocking chair with his own great-grandfather.

Whether riding furiously around in circles, measuring ingredients for a cake – or measuring who is the tallest, these two darlings brought smiles to my face and joy in heart. A grateful heart and big thank you to their Mommy and Daddy for sharing them with us this week.

 

 

 

 

 

Penelopize

I don’t often see my name in print, even though it has recently gained in popularity, thanks to the actress Penélope Cruz! Ever since Penélope became famous, I have noticed most people can now pronounce my moniker! This is a most welcome development as I have spent most of my life cringing, not because I do not like my name (I do), but, because it is usually, well, let’s just say it is usually “butchered”. Pen-op-o-lee. Pen-o-lope. Pen-o-lo-pee, and more with accents on different syllables to add to the pain.

I was named for my paternal grandmother, a custom of many cultures, especially among Greeks. Even among Greeks, there have not been many Penelopes that I have known. (Okay, only two, and they were brief encounters, and one was my Yia Yia’s goddaughter.

So it was that on a recent morning Penelope appeared in my email inbox.

I subscribe to A.Word.A.Day, which is fun to receive and often enlightens or inspires me. It brings to mind a high school English class, creative writing. We used a small paperback book which I believe was called “30 Days to a Better Vocabulary” as part of the curriculum.

Back to my inbox and the day’s word, which surprised and delighted me – Penelopize ! Well, by gosh and by golly, that explains why I might procrastinate, put things off, stall; I’m really and truly penelopizing.

Do you ever penelopize?

Do you subscribe to a daily message?

From my inbox, with a few links:

 

A.Word.A.Day from Wordsmith.com

PRONUNCIATION:
(puh-NEL-uh-pyz)

MEANING:
verb intr.: To delay or gain time to put off an undesired event.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Penelope, the wife of Odysseus and mother of Telemachus in Greek mythology. She waited 20 years for her husband’s return from the Trojan War (ten years of war, and ten years on his way home). She kept her many suitors at bay by telling them she would marry them when she had finished weaving her web, a shroud for her father-in-law. She wove the web during the day only to unravel it during the night. Earliest documented use: 1780. Her name has become a synonym for a faithful wife: penelope.

Image source here.

Wordsmith.org 

Perfectly Scripted

I would sit at the kitchen table, a clean, unlined sheet of paper in front of me, fountain pen in hand and I would practice writing my letters. M and N, the lower case r with its slanted rooftop and q with is quirky, connective tail. I loved the flow and link of letters on cold, white paper and I felt the challenge my father made; write in straight lines without a liner under the paper.

I would write my Palmer perfect letters, quite content in the action, then I would let the letters flow in the older script my Daddy used. He had such elegant penmanship that spoke of a different era. I would attempt to copy his signature, not for nefarious reasons. I was much too timid to assume I could forge his signature and, if nothing else, I was, and am still an honest girl.

Sometimes, my letters would morph from English to Greek. Penelope looks much more romantic in Greek, with my own flair of course, but Daddy’s flair, in either language, was special and evasive to me.

So it was that while recently sorting through old photos, I came across a little album and some loose photos of my parents during World War II. Daddy was stationed in San Diego during the war. Ma saved money from the several jobs she had along with money Daddy sent home until she had enough to take the long train ride from Union Station in Chicago to sunny California. I love looking at these photos. My parents, a young, married couple, together for a short while in wartime. Their happy faces and love for each shines through in these photos and see so much of myself and my sister, our children and grandchildren in their faces.

On the back of the photos is the other recognizable trait of my father; his handwriting. How fortunate we are that Daddy, in his flowing script, documented such moments with dates, locations, and brief descriptions.

Our own little family has been to La Jolla, California. We were there in 1993, almost 50 years after my mom and dad were there. We were, as they were, at Seal Beach, wading in the same big, blue ocean and walking along the same shore. I recalled the story of my mother’s long train ride to California, but, at the time, I could not find the shopping bag of photos she had given me. Time passed, I found the photos and put them all in a safe spot, where they rested until this past spring.

My sister, Dottie, and I were going through photos we each had, reminiscing as siblings often do when old photos are brought out. It was a pleasant spring day and our piles of photos, as well as our hearts, were full of memories. One photo appeared that I did not remember. It caught my imagination, as images of the past can sometimes do and was a photo of Ma and Daddy, young and in love, he in uniform, she dressed “to the nines” in La Jolla. They are both looking straight into the camera, smiling, playful. I wondered who took the picture. A friend, I supposed; one of the men who exchanged Christmas cards and newsy letters in the post war years. I wondered if it was the friend of Daddy’s that my mother asked me to write a letter to when my father died.

I love this photo. It tells a sweet and simple story in sepia. It is of my parents when I was barely “a twinkle” in their eyes.

While I love the photo, it is the image super-imposed onto the picture that intrigues me. Another photo, or a negative, left a ghost image of my parents. I can barely make them out. Ma is sitting higher upon the rock. Daddy’s hands are on his knees. I can barely make out their faces. It seems a bit more formal and it is as if they have drifted out to sea to some  far-off place, together again – and perfectly scripted.

 

Reweaving

We are fast approaching the Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire, which is on July 9th this year. The homeowners are busy as bees weeding, planting, adding flourishes and embellishing with their individual styles. This year has been cool and wet and erratic, a challenge for sure – but each year brings its own trials. I am always amazed at the ingenuity and fortitude of homeowners preparing for hundreds of strangers to walk through their gardens. I am also very grateful for it allows the club to provide very generous scholarships along with community endeavors.

This year, I have the pleasure of writing the garden descriptions, which means I see the gardens as they are emerging and until the crunch is on to go to print. We don’t release the names or addresses until the day of the event, but, dear reader, I CAN tell you that the gardens are as amazing as they are varied. From newer construction to a century old homestead, they reflect the character of the gardeners and their many ways of gardening and there is something of interest for everyone in attendance.  The York High School gardens are an added feature this year and they are as inspiring as they are educational. There is also a Faire in Wilder Park with vendors selling garden related products and plants and there will be a butterfly festival as well. More information is here.

While I cannot show you the gardens, I did want to show you this one element I found in one of the gardens, which harkens back to my previous post on nests. The gardeners, a most charming couple, have incorporated nests in several spots of the garden. I found this one quite enchanting coupled with Emily Dickinson’s words.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Emily Dickinson

 

 

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