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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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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 

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It has been awhile since I’ve picked a book up and was unable to put it down. I have had a good run of audio books, but, one can only spend so much time “reading” in the car, so, I took my chances when “The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit” called to me at one of the libraries I frequent.

The La Grange Library has several racks of new books, movies, and audio just beyond the entryway. Upon those racks, are a few select shelves of books with a bright yellow sticker proclaiming LUCKY DAY. These are often newer releases and popular books; books readers hope to get their hands on but haven’t been able to.

Michael Finkel’s “The Stranger in the Woods . . . ” stood there, looking directly at the door as if waiting just for me to enter. On my honor, it beckoned me, held my gaze, and what was I to do? I snatched it up and moseyed on down (well, actually on up) to a comfortable spot, sat down, peeked between the covers, and promptly checked the book out.

LUCKY DAY books are granted for one only one week. They can be renewed.

A shy, intelligent, twenty year old man from a peaceful Massachusetts childhood takes off one day, leaving his family, his job, his possessions and his new car and walks into an unfamiliar Maine woods where he remains, alone, for twenty-seven years.

Chris Knight survives brutal winters and never-ending solitude hidden in a small, well hidden clearing in the forest, amazingly close to others. He is content with his existence there. No one notices him. He lives by his wits – and by burglarizing the summer cabins nearby, as well as a summer camp. He takes only what he needs to survive, including canned goods, soap, National Geographic magazines, sleeping bags, propane tanks, mattresses and batteries. He steals almost exclusively on moonless, early winter nights, hopping across rocks in the dark, never leaving tracks behind. He takes only from summer residences and the camp, leaving year-round homes untouched. He has robbed some 1,000 times.

Community members are perplexed, terrified (especially those who are robbed repeatedly) and troubled. Some blame their children or neighbors for missing things while others wonder if they are just becoming forgetful.

Chris Knight manages to avoid or disarm alarm systems, motion detectors and sensors. He is masterful at picking locks, opening windows and otherwise finding ways to enter, always leaving homes in good if depleted condition. He takes only what he needs to survive and understands that stealing is wrong!

One night, after setting up silent alarms, Sargeant Terry Hugh’s’ beeper goes off. He catches the thief, demands he hit the ground, calls in reinforcements and thus begins the end of decades of robbery and the beginning of this story about the fabled hermit, now known as Chris Knight.

Michael Finkel, a journalist who lives in Montana, first hears on the news of the arrest of Chris Knight, a loner with a hermit-like existence. He is curious about a man who had not spoken or interacted with anyone in more than two decades. Mr. Finkel writes a letter, includes copies of some of his own stories and sends them to Knight in prison. They correspond and Finkel eventually visits him there, attends his trial, and eventually writes this captivating story. I suspect will one day be a movie.

“The Stranger in the Woods; The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit ” was an enthralling narrative of 200 or so pages – and it left me hoping that no hermits were living here along the Cutoff.

Have you read an “un-put-downable” recently?

 

 

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I was wandering about on an unexplored path in Lyman Woods when I spotted crocus pushing through the remnants of last Autumn. Not yet open, they were  a wee bit of optimism on a cool and cloudy day. The path was muddy and the grayness of the day lent an air of melancholy to my mood.  These determined early spring bulbs offered an antidote of encouragement. Here was life, in its simplest of forms, in budding blooms and clinging to decaying logs on the forest floor.

Sometimes, we just have to look to find hope just beyond our footsteps.

The day turned misty and there were not many folks walking the woods, so, I stayed closer to the entrance, exploring the small, still sleeping gardens near the nature center, scoping it out for future visits with our Up North family. As I shuffled about, I could hear a chorus of spring peepers in the near distance, which called me further along a rustic path.

As I walked,  I wondered aloud –

 “What is that I see beyond this tree?”.

A little library calling me.

One never knows where a Little Free Library will appear. It may even pop up in a forest.

Of course, I opened the small little door, well appointed with a knob fashioned into a twig. There were several books inside, and I found these two, which I know will be enjoyed by our grandchildren – and their mommy who is known to go owling when she hears the hoots of owls late at night.

What discoveries have you made along your paths lately? Have you found any good books?

Owl Moon image from here

Owl Babies image from here.

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