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The Costumes of Downton

Oh, sweet goodness – the anticipation was worth the wait! IMG_7748 - Version 2

Months after the expertly seamed conclusion of one of my all-time favorite television series, I was finally able to feel the grandeur of Downton Abbey’s exquisite costuming at Chicago’s Dreihaus Museum’s exhibit, Dressing Downton: Changing Fashions for Changing Times. 

My dear friend, Bev, and I were fortunate to be able to enter the Dreihaus Museum and quickly purchase our entry. We leisurely wandered through the exhibit, with knowledgeable staff directing us so seamlessly through the rooms that I imagined Mrs. Hughs hidden behind the curtains orchestrating it all.

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These period costumes with their historical accuracy and styling, bejeweled and draped, were nothing short of magnificent. Whether intricately embroidered with flowers or capped with feathers and jewels, it was easy to slip into the London Season of the early 20th Century, or a nurse’s uniform with Lady Sybil.

I was as in awe of the craftsmanship of the costumes as I was of the sleek figures of the actors who wore these period clothes.

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Characters always look larger than life on a screen, even a television screen. Becoming so intimately aware of their actual physical size is amazing. I had a renewed appreciation for the seamstresses and costume designers, as I did for those who spend an inordinate amount of time researching period dress. While Downton Abbey is a fictional story, it depicts specific decades, with the mores, customs, historical background, and issues of the times. It was enlightening to see this exhibit and the clothes and adornments of the characters which so beautifully illustrate the time period.

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This was a breathtaking exhibit, in the company of a dear friend, inside a historic turn-of-the-century mansion on the world renowned Gold Coast of Chicago.

Crikey!

Oh! I almost forgot the Dowager  .  . .

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Barumpapumpum

Edward Herrmann:Richard Gilmore:Gilmore Girls FatherThere I was, holding five items in my hands, which was one item too many to be juggling with at least one at a precarious angle.

It was the wrong time of day to be at a grocery store – Trader Joe’s to be exact. 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon, which in itself wouldn’t be all that bad if not for the fact that the next day was Mother’s Day. The store was packed with last minute shoppers also holding equally precarious handfuls, many of them last minute bouquets of flowers for Mom.

I like Trader Joe’s, especially the one closest to us which is, I assure you, the friendliest one around.

As I stood in my line, a very tall man was attempting to use his credit card to make a purchase of odds and ends of eating possibilities and several bottles of store brand wine. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the late Edward Hermann, and the demeanor of a few characters he played. The man seemed kindly and was patient as the cashier hit a bit of a snag ringing up his purchase. The credit card was not working.  and a call for a manager was rung.

Just as the bell peeled the requisite number of tolls, a disheveled man just shy of middle age came barreling around the corner with his own children’s chorus in tow. Two boys and a girl of various ages from what seemed to be  5 to 10 years old, were humming along with great gusto. I recognized the song from Star Wars.

Bum bum, bumbumbumbumbum, bumbumbumbumbum, bumbumbumbum.

Their father was doing all he could to simultaneously hush and ignore them. He failed at both as the rest of us in five equally long lines smiled. The trio was really getting into this rendition.

Bum bum, bumbumbumbumbum, bumbumbumbumbum, bumbumbumbum.

The oldest child, a boy, was the ringleader. I saw the twinkle in his eyes as he suddenly switched gears (both musically and with the now dancing shopping cart).

Barumpapumbum, rumpapumpum, rumpapumpum . . .

, . . just as Mr. Hermann swiped his credit card, one more time, and turned his neck to look at the children’s chorus.

I don’t know if it was the kids’ decision to change their tune, rather masterfully, or if it was the conspicuously large wad of Scotch tape hanging clinging to Mr. Hermann’s right earlobe that did me in. I couldn’t help myself. Really. I couldn’t. I turned into a child myself and started giggling, trying to imagine what circumstance brought this errand mass of tape to Trader Joe’s on a late Saturday afternoon. The poor checker noticed the sticky wad just after I did. The poor fellow had all he could to finish ringing up the order without laughing out loud.

So it is. Just a wee bit of grocery store humor on a brilliant spring morning, here on the Cutoff.

Have you been stuck on anything lately.

May Apples

IMG_7424Sunday was reported as the area’s coldest May 15 in more than 120 years; a colder morning than even Fairbanks, Alaska.

Anxious to put color and springtime into their gardens, eager beavers who had planted their annuals scurried about Saturday to haul pots into garages and cover tender plants already in ground beds with bedsheets, tablecloths and other means of protection.

It is always a guessing game in Chicagoland when it comes to the weather. We actually hit 80 degree temperatures a few weeks ago. The weather has seemed even more mercurial this year. Gardening centers and nurseries keep waiting for a sustained break in weather for business has surely been slow for them this year.

The good news is that cooler temperatures have afforded a long season of spring blooms. From the sustained performance of the daffodils, to the surprise emergence of Jack-in-the-Pulpit, the fragrant lilac blooms to the exquisite tulip displays, it has been a good spring for early bloomers – and Mayapples!

I purchased a few divisions of Mayapples at our garden club’s annual spring plant sale a few years ago. There are many reasons for joining a garden club, and this is certainly one of them. Our member plant sales help fund the rich and varied programs we have at meetings. They also provide tried-and-true plant stock for members. It is no secret that here on the Cutoff a good portion of our garden beds are filled with the offspring of plants from my garden club friends.

May Apples are a vivid example.

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In establishing  a woodland garden, the celandine poppies, Jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium and now Mayapples all came from Mary’s garden. Waiting in the wings (the garage) are bluebells, also from Mary’s garden. Interspersed are anemone, from Bev and Jerry. Many of our daffodils are from Jerry’s bulb divisions. The darling of the patch, Lady’s Mantle, catches dewdrops in between them all.  M’lady really needs a bit more sun, but, she serves us well in the woodland garden) and was from Dorothy.

Underneath the umbrella of leaves, small buds appeared this year on the Mayapples. I observed this plant,  both in the garden here, and in my forest wanderings. They are abundant throughout the area and quite visible on the forest floors this year. They seem to have sensed the need for umbrellas long before we did as they sent out their bumper-shoots in anticipation.

With my yellow rain slicker and red rubber shoes (I am a sight to behold) I slogged about in the biting wind on Saturday afternoon. This is what I found.

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I will be checking these Mayapples as we swing into summer, hoping to see an “apple” or two come from these sweet May flowers.

Do Mayapples (mandrake) grow where you live?

Image below from here.

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From the Pulpit

IMG_7314Sunday brought a perfect pairing of warm temperatures and bright sunshine for Mother’s Day.

My Antler Man was busy indoors, preparing brunch and shooing me out of the kitchen, which was, I must say, a much appreciated reason to be shooed. With a freshly brewed cup of warmth in hand, I wandered out to the arbor to sit for a spell – and to see what nature brought forth whilst I was sleeping.

I noticed some twigs poking out of an old bird house I was thinking of throwing out and wondered if someone was setting up housekeeping. Sure enough, I heard the unmistakable chattering of wrens. How vociferous they are for such tiny birds! In and out and all about, Mr. and Mrs. were gathering material for a nest. It will be awesome watching a family of wrens at such an advantageous angle.

Robins are also nesting nearby. They stopped for a dip and sip at the bird baths – and the orioles are back!  I have not sighted them yet, but, can hear their distinctive song high up in the sycamores.

Mr. Woodchuck waddled about, then scurried back to his hole when he sensed my presence. Woodchucks are rather shy and keep a low profile – and now, I have a hankering to re-read ” The Wind in the Willows”.

I sat in the arbor, commonly called Penny’s Arbor House and, more recently, compliments of our Ezra, Papa’s Tree House. The beauty of mid-morning was a welcome gift here on the Cutoff.

Having missed church service, I took a little wander around the plantings the arbor anchors. Solomon’s seal is spreading among the pulmonaria. Clematis are running a race heavenward, seeing who can reach the top first. A climbing rose, whose name is lost to me now, has thrust her thorny branches hither and yon with the promise of blooms when the time is just right.

As I listened to the hymn of nature, I was drawn to a Sunday sermon, for there, at my feet, was Jack, preaching from his pulpit.

Bending light

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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts…There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”   –  Rachel Carson

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There is some fretting hereabouts; too much rain, not enough sun, cool weather, stiff winds, etc. All true – but, then there are those “repeated refrains of nature” that slow us down, still our souls, give us pause to cast away our worries.

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I have been fascinated lately with the way Mother Nature bends the water , the trees, the floral tones of flower petals and pine needles.

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We are often frustrated with the cool, cloudiness of our recent days , yet, it is this coolness that has kept a long, sustained performance of daffodils  and tulips, apple blossoms and bluebells.

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Spring has been more of a slow waltz than a jitter bug. I find myself enjoying the tempo this year,  with some gentle dips in the winding paths I dance upon, and Mother Nature wearing her softer, more subtle shades of green and purple and blue. I marvel at the bend of light in water and the slow turn of the earth as I find myself reveling in “the repeated refrains of nature”.

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Penelope Pinafore

Walther_Firle_The_fairy_taleBooks. Books. Books.

I love this painting! Three children seemingly attentive to whatever is on the pages of a book, warm light streaming in, potted plants on the window ledge, and pinafores. I’m a pinafore sort of girl. Penelope Pinafore.

My reading has been rather sparse lately, what with cleaning up the garden, fiddling around with flower arrangements, writing reports, walking down paths – and general socializing, my eyes tend to grow window shades when I sit down to read these days. There are a few tidbits I’ve dipped into, however, and I thought I might share them with you.

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Our book group just discussed Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley; In Search of America”. While we were somewhat divided on whether or not we liked this classic, or finished reading it, we did have an engaging conversation around it. I was taken in with the simpler prose and rich language of the time and of a rural America that was already vanishing.  I found the photo above googling around. It is of Steinbeck’s traveling home, which he christened Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse. The photo is from here.

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An audio book kept me company during a long spell of meetings and things to attend that had me driving to and fro. It was Bill Bryson’s “One Summer: America, 1927” and centers itself on events and personalities leading up to or following that memorable summer. This was a fun book to listen to. Bryson himself reads it. It is chock full of facts and numbers and tidbits of the times with a bit of Bryson’s own humor thrown in.

From the epic trans-Atlantic flight of Charles Lindberg in a “flimsy” plane to Presidents Coolidge and Hoover, Al Capone and Babe Ruth, professional boxing, the invention of television by a young man, and the many nuances of a spit ball, ” . . . 1927 ” was an interesting book that had me pressing “stop” often and reflecting on how the mood of the country and of the world then was in many ways similar to 2016.

Image of book from Bill Bryson’s website.

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Wrapping this all up is a read I hope to get back to soon. On recommendation from our daughter, Katy, I checked out Wendell Berry’s “Jayber Crow”.

Jonas Crow is orphaned as a very young boy. He is taken in by an elderly aunt and uncle, who care for him lovingly and give him some of the happiest  and most secure times of his life. When they die, leaving him still a child, he is placed in an orphanage. Like all the children there, he is known simply by the first letter of his name.  J. J  learns his lessons just well enough to pass classes, knowing he can do much better, and feels he has a calling to ministry, which affords him a college scholarship.

Jayber, as he becomes known, abandons his studies, is a bit of a vagabond for a spell, and eventually becomes the barber of the small town of Port William, Kentucky, where he lives out his life and loves a woman he can never marry. It is where he struggles with his beliefs, and lives a simple life.

After several renewals, “Jayber Crow” found its way back to the library before I could finish it. “Jayber Crow” is actually a book I think I may purchase, for it is yet another book whose language and imagery are rich and whose pages I think I would return to often as it is a rather long, contemplative journey worth taking.

Have you experienced a good read lately?

Prescription

IMG_6301In early spring and fall, when weather conditions are favorable, forest preserve districts, prairie restoration sights, arboretums and other areas are treated with prescription burns.  Prescription burns are controlled fires in specific areas. They are conducted by individuals specifically trained to execute these fires.  Fire departments and 911 (emergency contact systems here in the States) are notified and signs are prominently posted notifying those who are entering a burn area that a prescribed burn is in progress.

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A burn can be in a forest preserve as well as on a prairie. Even before one sees a sign alerting travelers that there are prescribed burns, the distinctive smell and the haze of smoke are indications that a burn is being conducted.

The purpose of these burns is to clear the forest floor or eradicate prairies of invasive species that may have taken hold and bullied native plants out of their natural habitats. It opens up the field or understory for native species to once again thrive and sun can filter in as years of debris are burnt away.

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A prescription burn also serves as Mother Nature more naturally did, providing the intensity of heat and fire to open up dormant native seeds, allowing them to not only germinate and grow, but, to also provide food sources by exposing insects and seeds that birds thrive on in their migrations.

Prairie fires were a natural occurrence in this vast land; before farming, towns and cities arose across the prairies and great plains. So were forest fires. Lightening strikes on particularly dry tinder or native grasses happened with more regularity. Indigenous populations also purposely set fires when needed, observing nature’s ability to revive their hunting and gathering areas.

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So it was, on several fine spring days, that I came upon prescribed burns, sometimes seeing the flames and smoke, other times seeing the dark, scorched earth where fires had recently been. I know that they will soon be alive with new growth as I saw birds swooping in to gather what only they could see, feasting on the forest and prairie floors.

Closer to home – well, actually at home – the Antler Man and I have been busy clearing away Winter’s leavings; twigs and reeds and weeds that we leave out of the mulch piles that are too small for the city’s brush removal and too big for composting. We live in an area where brush can be legally burned. Our neighborhood is often lightly peppered with smoldering brush piles in spring and fall.

After many-a-day that were too windy for fires, and the subsequent additions of fallen debris because of the winds, our pile had grown quite large and the day had bloomed quite adequately for a burn. I was heading out when Tom asked me to stay nearby for a bit as he was going to start a fire. So, there we were, adding a few more remnants of nature (there always are some) and a fire was lit.

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As Tom stepped away for a few moments to get something-or-other, I reminded him to make sure the hose was turned on. It was. The fire, my friends, was quite hot and the wind kicked up and before we knew it the fire jumped,  just a bit of hop, but a hop is hop and Pop was not on top!  I shouted for Pop to bring on the hose for the fire was rushing toward the garden.  I wasn’t as worried about the garden, which is a prairie garden, after all, but,  I was worried about the arbor and barn and lions and tigers and bears, oh my !

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All’s well that ends well.

We quickly snuffed out the errand flame’s path. The area is already alive with new growth, birds have been rummaging around in the charred spot, and so life goes, here on the Cutoff.

Juliet Batten

Author, artist, speaker, teacher and psychotherapist

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