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When the dog bites,

when the bee stings,

when I’m feeling sad,

I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad.

 

Days, even months, sometime become quite filled with the issues at hand leaving scant moments for posting here. This has been the case since my last post here along the Cutoff. So it is, dear friends, that I have not written for a while. I just wanted and needed to take a few moments to thank you all for continuing to stop by – even in my absence – and for being such a steady presence in my life.

Thank you!

That old dog did bite and the bee did sting, but, I do want to share some of my favorite things from the past month or so, including these munchkins, who aren’t so little any more, and who spent some time here at Thanksgiving. We baked, and colored, made silly pictures on Photo Booth and enjoyed so many special moments together.

Ezra asked if he could decorate a wee tree that was sitting in his bedroom. What a clever young boy he is.

At a particularly glum time last week, the super moon appeared and it followed us all the way home.

I’ve read a few books that kept my attention and thought that you might be interested in them as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope to be back posting more often soon as I pray you are all well and enjoying this season whether you are entering summer or into winter and especially thinking of those of you in harm’s way with the fires burning in California.

 

 

 

 

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If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
~ E.B. White

One such day, which was already planned, was not a particularly seductive one, but, it was a challenging one filled with the usual chores, responsibilities, and the this-and-that of life to attend to. There was someone to visit and a stop at the vegetable/fruit market before returning home where I set about preparations for our supper.

While the chicken was marinating, I checked my emails, my blog comments and your posts, then suddenly realized that there was a lecture I had hoped to attend; The Pen and the Trowel with Marta McDowell. When I first read about it, the lecture sounded interesting and the name of the speaker was vaguely familiar. Funny, isn’t it, how life’s tidbits of information marinate as we wander along in life?  I clicked onto the saved informational link, which still sounded interesting, and wondered aloud if I could still attend.

Explore the ways that writing and gardening intertwine with author and speaker, Marta McDowell. For years, McDowell has been occupied with writers who garden, and how their horticultural interests have changed her planting beds as well as her bookshelves. Starting with Mark Twain, and connecting to authors ranging from Henry David Thoreau to Louisa May Alcott, this lecture explores that rich, writing-gardening connection. Instructor: Marta McDowell, author and horticulturist. *

The lecture was at 7pm. It was already 4:30. Could I make it? I scurried about like the little chipmunk who gathered the stuffing out of the pillow on my porch rocker (not the one pictured above). I registered online, changed clothes, made sure all was in place for Tom’s supper and off I went to one of my favorite places, the Morton Arboretum.

I parked in the lot behind the Sterling Morton Library and enjoyed the short walk to its doors. If you have not visited this library you should. Membership to the Arb allows you to check out books but all visitors may enter, browse the stacks of books, learn something from the curated displays and more! The Sterling is, indeed, sterling in its embrace of nature.

Like the seasoned gardener and horticulturist she is, Marta McDowell sowed her words like flower seeds through the garden writings of such notables as Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson. She shared photos of her own garden’s many transformations after being influenced by the writings of many authors, as well as having visited many of their gardens while researching her several books.

In the course of Ms. McDowell’s lecture, I learned of the friendship between Samuel Clemons and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe would often cross the lawn between their two homes and take plants from his large conservatory. Their neighbor was Charles Warner, who wrote “My Summer in a Garden” (note to self, check this out). She reminded us that before Louisa May Alcott’s  “Little Women” there was “Flower Fables” and that Beatrix Potter used features of her own Lake District home and gardens in her adored illustrations. The web of writers, illustrations, photographs and more cast a spell upon me that made me want to learn more about writers who did, indeed, improve the world while also enjoying it. It also reminded me of the shelves of books I have about gardening; shelves groaning with poetry, essays, literature, and lifestyles and I am filled gratitude for how words and photographs have shepherd me along my own garden paths.

My “aha” moment came when I saw Marta McDowell’s newly released book, and I realized she had authored such books as “All the Presidents’ Gardens”, “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life” and “Emily Dickinson’s Gardens”. It was my dear friend Janet, aka Country Mouse, who recently alerted me to a book giveaway she knew I would be interested in, which I was, and which included some of these books as well as her newest book, “The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder”.

Do you have a favorite gardening writer or author who influenced your garden or your lifestyle?

The link to that giveaway can be found here

Here is a link to Marta McDowell’s lecture schedule. She might be in your area, in case you are interested: http://www.martamcdowell.com/events

*From the Morton Arboretum website.

 

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It was in the Roosevelt grade school library that I found Lois Lenski and her series of regional books.  “Strawberry Girl”, “Cotton in My Sack”, “Houseboat Girl” and other books managed to follow me home from school. These books took me to places I had never been to and introduced me to children in other parts of the United States, their schools, their homes, their regional dialect, their family life and in the places where they lived in. Some of the children were itinerant workers along with their families, some lived in poverty and a few were put in harm’s way. These books were adventuresome and, in spite of troubles that came, they were uplifting. They were also illustrated by Lois Lenski. The artwork often told as much of these stories of the 1940’s and ’50s as her words did.

Watching the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and its continuing aftermath in Houston, Texas has been sobering, to say the least. The loss of lives and of livelihoods, homes, jobs, infrastructure as well as the peril to all involved – the list is far-reaching and will be never-ending for many. Yes, people are resilient and will persevere. They will rebuild, move, leave the area. Time may heal and it may not. From afar, I can only hope and pray and do what I can, which seems meager, to help in the recovery effort. Each of you grapple with similar concerns and many have had your own “hurricanes” in life.

As I tend to do, I look toward books in times such as these, and, in so doing, I remembered one of Lois Lenski’s books, “Flood Friday”. I read it, several times, as a child and I tried, unsuccessfully, to find it in one of the libraries in my loan system this week. The book is based on a flood in Connecticut in the 1950’s and one I hope to find someday soon.

The flood takes place on a Friday, as the title suggests, and finds the town’s children displaced, first to the grade school, then to a neighbor’s house on higher ground. I remember the book being riveting as the characters experienced everything being safe and secure as they went to bed at night to their rescue from the roof of their house the next day. I also remember the feeling of people working together and of helping each other out. Lenski’s words put me into the school’s gym and I imagined our own gym being used as a shelter with cots lined up across the floor and my friends and neighbors, out of context yet there in a room where we played dodgeball and duck-duck-goose. I tried to imagine having only the clothes on my back and could not quite grasp how my grandmother would have gotten up on the house’s roof, remembering family lore of how the ushers had to carry her down from her seat at the circus. Sigh. My thoughts rambled even as a young girl. The drift of this line of thought is how books transported me to other places in time and allowed for my imagination to grow.

Like Pearl Buck’s “The Big Wave”, which I came across after the tsunami in Japan a few years ago, I find myself pondering the miracle of books and their ability to help us understand and to heal. I know how they can help children work through issues, troubling or frightening times and to understand what others may be going through, how they live, where they live.

I will continue my search for “Flood Friday”, perhaps finding an old, used copy in one of my antique store haunts, and I will continue to pray for the victims of Hurricane Harvey as the storms continue and in the long period of recovery.

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“Often a butterfly stopped to rest there.

Then Laura watched the velvety wings…”

On the Banks of Plum Creek – Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Like the young Laura Ingalls of the Little House books, I watch the “velvety wings” of butterflies. I squeal with girlish glee when a Monarch flits by, dipping around as if by the mere breath of the breeze, partaking of the abundance of native flowers flourishing in our prairie garden.

The plight of the Monarch butterfly has been well documented and its migratory flight has been monitored for more than a decade. I have often shared photos and thoughts about the Monarchs and bees in the journey of this little blog, from travels afar to what is right under my nose here along the Cutoff.

Last summer was alarming, especially here when I saw but one Monarch. One. This year, I have spotted at least a dozen and have found Monarch eggs and caterpillar on the milkweed – enough times to have perfected my happy dance. Butterflies have been flitting about and stopping to sip on the Joe Pye Weed, the Monarda (bee balm), and Echinacea (cone flowers) which are all a bloom in these dog days of summer. There are bees and moths and other pollinators that also show up on sunshiny days, sipping sweet nectar from the cups of flowers. It is a regular insects’ tea party, if ever there was one, here among the native plants and some of their distant relatives.

This increased activity is encouraging for those of us who have worried about the changes in nature that have occurred in these past decades; we counters of bees, planters of pollinators and taggers of “velvety wings” who have become a small army of citizen scientists. I am cautiously optimistic.

As I brandished my watering wand, I reflected on how much is yet to be done and how much has already been accomplished on our little acreage . I watered some newly introduced cone flowers and pulled that rascal, Creeping Charlie, who was cavorting  among the feverfew and indigo, and I imagined Laura’s life along Plum Creek.

How our little prairie has grown! Established in August, 2013, it is now a crowded confusion of exuberance and joy that will need dividing and some expansion of plots come Autumn. For now, I’m enjoying watching those velvety wings of nature as the plants reach for the sun and spread their arms in a blowzy embrace of prairie life.

I remain appreciative of all the green thumbs who shared their plants in our little adventure, and I am optimistic with this glimmer of hope for the Monarchs and the bees.

Here are a few photos of the prairie garden being developed in 2013

and recent photos of the garden today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“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. *

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