Archive for August, 2010

Cat’s cradle and other games

americangallery.wordpress.com/Cat's Cradle by Louis Jambor

Children are back in school in our area. Backpacks are filled with supplies and homework, gym shoes and lunch. Yellow school buses are operating on schedule again, and there is a feeling in the air, even on this horribly hot and humid day in the midwest. Summer is slowly winding down, making way for the next seasonal act.

I was trying to remember how to play cat’s cradle. Do you remember?

While I’m thinking about it, I think I’ll open up the box of crayons I keep around for when the grands (nieces and nephews) come over. I’ll open it up and smell the unique scent of 96 Crayola crayons. I’ll find a coloring book from up in the “kids’ room” and maybe I’ll  just sit for a while and see if I can still stay inside the lines – or maybe I’ll be bold and color outside the box.

How about you?

Does the start of the school year make you want to sharpen a  #2 pencil or put your lunch in a Star Wars lunchbox? Are you craving a glass of chocolate milk or a plate of Oreos?


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It went up last Autumn as the leaves were starting to change color and drift downward and it reminded me of the skeleton of a ship.

One of the young boys next door, a first grader at the time and full of childlike curiosity about what new thing Tom was building, would wander over after school and check on Miss Penny’s arbor house. It made me chuckle as I wondered what he was imagining me doing in the little house.

Progress was steady until more urgent projects and work took precedent; then a foot injury and winter settled in.

The arbor house provided a stopping point for our eyes and our dreams last winter; a winter filled with cold and snow and worries and the joyful anticipation of a grandchild. For me, it held the promise of possibilities and of things to come.

Possibilities became realities come spring and early summer as clematis and roses started to climb up through the arbor, eager to reach for the sun and grow and not in the least bit frazzled that this man-made structure, constructed and designed by Tom, was not yet finished. The vines started to twist and turn and reach out with a natural acceptance, as if to say “Hey guys, what’s the big deal? Come on out and play.”

The arbor is just about finished now. Some stain and maybe a trumpet vine next year. It has all the artistic and engineering touches of Tom, who climbed and hammered and invented as he built this great arbor house, and worked around injuries and my impatience and the heat and storms of this summer. When my cousin Lou saw it at our family gathering he said “it has all the markings of Tom on it”. A compliment indeed.

The arbor house will continue to grow as it slowly takes its place in the landscape here on the cutoff. It will sport more vines and flowers and become both a stopping point and starting point as the plans continue to travel out into the horizon and see what comes our way.

It was hot on Sunday. Hot and humid. A dog day afternoon. There was a breeze whispering through the arbor as I watered the plants around it. It looked like it needed some company to help it settle in and get comfortable, so, I turned the hose off, grabbed some iced tea and my latest read and went into my arbor house, not really a house but it has already been named and so it is, Penny’s Arbor House, and so it will be. A pleasant spot to sit and read and dream awhile and to enjoy what nature has provided all around us. A stopping point and a starting point and a very fine point in between.

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Rows and flows of angel hair

And ice cream castles in the air

And feather canyons everywhere

I’ve looked at clouds that way

Joni Mitchell

Both Sides Now

Thank you Joan, Marilyn and Juliet from Down Under.

You inspire me with your clouds – and all your posts.

As the songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote, I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now . . .

. . . and no one sings it quite like Judy Collins.


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Artwork for 50th anniversary edition of Dandelion Wine. Tomislav Tikulin artist

“Gardening is the handiest excuse for being a philosopher. Nobody guesses, nobody accuses, nobody knows, but there you are, Plato in the peonies, Socrates force-growing his own hemlock. A man toting a sack of blood manure across his lawn is kin to Atlas letting the world spin easy on his shoulder.” Grandfather Spaulding to Bill Forrester                                                                                         from Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

My good friend Vickie has mentioned to me a few times over the past several years that I might like Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. Vickie knows my taste in books. She has known me for a long time and she was so right. I loved it and the pure pleasure of reading this book will stay with me for a long time. It is a little book that goes down as a long, slow read and was perfect for these dog days of summer.  It is really a series of short stories that manage to connect together in the same way come summer’s end a spider weaves a web. You step outside, you cross the threshold, and there you are, feeling the threads of an intricate and beautiful creation. One that takes awhile to extricate yourself from.

I have always been hesitant when it comes to reading Bradbury. I’m not fond of science fiction, which is what he is best known for. When I checked my library system’s online catalogue, Dandelion Wine was filed under science fiction. I wandered the library, nosing around in the fiction section before going to the help desk. Yes, they did have Dandelion Wine and the librarian said it was in the fiction section. When I mentioned science fiction, he looked at me, quizzically. We soon ended up in the sci-fi section and there it was, waiting for me. The librarian pulled it off of the shelf and opened it up, slowly, as if looking for a Martian, hiding perhaps, chronicling the book’s adventures. It was as if someone, or something, had spirited Dandelion Wine to the science fiction section – and might be lurking between the book’s covers still.

I don’t know why it is catalogued as it is. Perhaps because there are a few stories about Leo Auffmann’s attempt to construct a happiness machine inside Dandelion Wine. I think more would read it if it was filed in the fiction section instead and that it just may be missing a bigger audience hiding among The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man.

I checked Dandelion Wine out and brought it home where it sat on my bedside table for a spell before I opened it up. I’m glad I did. It is filled with delightful stories set in Green Town , which is patterned after Bradbury’s own childhood growing up in the 1920’s in Waukegan, Illinois. The chapters, some only three pages long, take us through the summer of 1928 and the richly painted scenes of summer as they unfold for Douglas and Tom Spaulding, their parents and grandparents and neighbors.

There is, of course, the chapter about dandelions and how they are picked and pressed and poured into ketchup bottles to be used for medicinal purposes in the long, dark days of winter with Grandma going down into the cellar to pluck a bottle of summertime (maybe for herself?) for whatever ailment is at hand. This chapter was originally published as a short story for “Gourmet Magazine”. You really must read it. It is a delightful tale of the dandelion, reviled by most gardeners, but gathered with purpose and anticipation by the Spaulding clan.

I’m so very glad that Vickie pointed me in the direction of Dandelion Wine and with its delightful characters sketched so memorably at the hand of Ray Bradbury.  I hope that you, too, will pick Dandelion Wine up someday soon, read its sweet pages, and think of summertime as alive as it can possibly be.

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Stuffed peppers

It started as many things do with a phone call and she knew what she was doing. Sisters always know what button to push, what phrase to use. Knowing she wasn’t feeling well, I called her to see how she was doing.

“Hi, Dot. How are you doing?’

“Better.” chuckle, chuckle. (A little family joke. Anytime you talked to my mom and asked her how she was she ALWAYS said better.) “What are you doing?”

“Just stuff around here; bills, dusting. You?”

“Just resting. I made stuffed peppers last night. They were the best I’ve ever made!”

“Stop it! Don’t tell me.”

“They were delicious, Pen”.

A cruel thing to do to your big sister. She knows me. She knows me well. She knows that just the mention of stuffed peppers will have my nose up in the air, twitching, searching for a scent like a hound dog. Ah yes, my sister knows me well.

Tom came in yesterday and grinned, saying  “You talked to your sister, didn’t you?” and the pan came out of the oven, steaming with stuffed delights, their aroma wafting, the pan almost too heavy to carry, my plate waiting, a loaf of bread nearby for catching the pools of juices that will circle my pepper. My lovely stuffed pepper filled with all sorts of sensational flavors.

I’ll get back at her. I will. It is part of the sisterhood creed. I’ll make some macaroons and then call her and when she asks me what I am eating as I say hello with a bite in my mouth I will grin and say “macaroons”!

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Little Lulu, Little Lulu . . .

Did you ever wake up with a song in your head? Not the last song you heard before you fell asleep or the jingle that woke you up on the radio. A song from your past that crept in under the cover of night and stayed there, waiting for you to wake up and notice it. A song that makes you grin in a strange sort of “why in the world did I think about that” kind of way, as you hop in the shower or tie your shoes and there it is, following you around your farmers market or the hardware store, humming around your head like a bee.

“Little Lulu, Little Lulu, with freckles on your chin,
Always in and out of trouble, but mostly always in.
Using Daddy’s necktie for the tail on your kite,
Using Mommy’s lipstick for the letters you write.”

Do any of you remember Lulu? Tubby? Iggy?


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After the rain

It had rained. I was out and about checking on things. My daily walk around the greens and yellows and pinks of my gardening life. I do my own personal garden walk most days, sometimes a few times a day, as if the flowers will bloom faster or fade quicker. It is surprising how quickly things happen in the garden. Just ask someone who has watched a moonflower bloom at dusk or measured the length of a zucchini in the early morn only to discover it grown six inches come dinnertime.

The last stop on my tour was the deck where potted plants and hanging baskets soften the hard lines of the wood and bring the beauty of the outdoors in through our windows and doors surrounding the deck. As I walked up the wooden steps, I noticed this odd little shaped something and puzzled over it as I stepped around, intent on the morning glories and what was happening atop Zeus and Aphrodite. I showed Aphrodite in a previous post about bad hair days. I really shouldn’t have insulted her so as she is truly quite lovely and has allowed me to fashion her a different “do” for many, many years. She, never complains and seldom sulks no matter what the weather is. This year I call her hairdo the Mrs. Potato Head (remember the game Mr. Potato Head?) Cutting back, I just planted a sweet potato vine in her this year. She has done an admirable job of keeping up appearances, don’t you agree?

I checked out each pot, pinching back and snipping faded blooms, inviting some unruly vines to wander a different way and waving my hand over the basil and globe oregano, delighting in their scents. I sat for a few minutes to watch the goldfinch that were visiting a feeder nearby. Sometimes I like to just sit still in the garden or on the deck and take in all that is around me. It is less enjoyable right now with the mosquitoes, but, I still treasure these stolen moments.

Walking down off of the deck I stopped and carefully turned the mystery guest on the step around and there in my hands sat this lovely, fallen bloom from the nearby hanging brown-eyed Susan vine just waiting to be turned around and discovered. I set the sodden blossom back down on the step and I smiled at the sweet, soft joy of finding her after another rainfall.

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