Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category


I find joy in ordinary days; days where the water slowly laps the shore and ancient tree roots step out to welcome it. The ordinary days that remind us to seek the sunshine and to tread softly on our good earth.

Though the air had warmed and the sun was shining, the ground on Saturday was still saturated from the recent rains. With the last of the Autumn leaves still on the flower beds, I need to bide my time before exposing the tender shoots emerging. The heartier plants are poking through, but, under the leafy cover are hostas and poppies, daisies and lilies-of-the-valley. They must be slowly unveiled, for frost can still nip their noses, while the wandering herd of deer consider them appetizers after the long, hard winter.

So, it is. My garden work grows slowly; a plot here, then there, the beds gently uncovered then sprayed to deter the deer.  I have tentatively started to rake winter away, but, on Saturday, it was slow going in the sodden garden. I just needed to be outdoors. My car seemed to know this and steered me toward the Morton Arboretum, which was busy but not overly crowded, especially for a Saturday morning in spring. Like Golidlock’s porridge, it was just right.

It was my lucky, ordinary day.

An ordinary day, for sunning on a log, watching shadows grow.


and preening on the shore after a dip in the cool lake.

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I saw the first bee looking for sweet nectar

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while a majestic lady, starting her bloom, wore a dress with white blossoms while her slip of Scilla reflected the pristine sky.


All once upon a time; on an ordinary day, looking for those angel rays of hope on the tips of daffodils.


Do you have ordinary days?

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dscn66135-e1269782576184She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
 A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

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DSCN7790Hey, Lady, come back here . . .”

On to my next project/event, I made a trip out to Glen Ellyn to meet my friend Joyce who was generously lending me props for an upcoming garden club event.

Joyce and I made a quick exchange, she headed on to her day’s work, and I toddled along my own route, which led me right past the Morton. Well, what is a gal to do on spring morn? I turned in, the entrance wide open with employees methodically planting rows upon rows of yellow pansies, which elicited a smile as I pulled up to one of the welcoming gatehouses. I whipped out my membership card to be scanned, was encouraged to “have a nice day”, and moved forward. As my window rolled up, a loud command was barked from behind me.

HeyLady, come back here!  Come back!”

Seeing no one behind me, I slowly reversed course and backed up to the window.

You can’t bring a dog . . .”

and then her hand went to her heart as she said

oh, I’m so sorry, I thought I saw a sheepdog in your car. Dogs aren’t allowed on the grounds“.

We had a good laugh, the gatekeeper, the sheepdog, and me, then I motored on down the paths to find the day’s emerging joys; crocus and daffodils and the slow, steady greening of our little corner of the world.

“Arf! “said the boas –

and I’ll just bet you are wondering what they will be used for, aren’t you?


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DSCN7053 - Version 2One of our garden club’s many activities occurs mid-January. Members gather to discuss a book related to horticulture, conservation, the environment, gardening, or other such earthy subjects. While the temperatures usually hover just north of zero, and snow is most often underfoot, it is the perfect time of year to read about earthly matters.

Our book this year is was a fairly new release. Laline Paull’s “The Bees” is an anthropomorphic tale about life in the hive with a lowly sanitation worker, Flora 717, as the protagonist. She is an unlikely heroine; too big, deformed, a lowly Sage, and a secret that could be her demise. While some of us loved the book, others emphatically did not. This, of course, was the perfect mix of perspectives for a chatty discussion, the hum of which must have buzzed about the halls and walls of the Elmhurst Library this week, channeling the very hive were “into” .

Have you noticed that it is the books one does not necessarily like that illicit the best conversations?

In between character development, authenticity, and the lewd behavior of drones, we nibbled on honeyed treats. Pictured above is a plate of apples with honey for dipping, nestled upon a bee’s tablecloth.  We tasted from a honeycomb, drizzling honey onto blue cheese and crackers. There were honey cookies and honey glazed walnuts and pretzels, all anchored with a bee skep – amongst some of the sweetest worker bees I know.

I keep a saying close at hand; a reminder to watch what I say.

Lord, make my words as sweet as honey, for tomorrow I may have to eat them. 

As an added bonus to me, whilst flipping channels once again back in my own comfy hive, Ulee’s Gold was playing. It is a movie I enjoy now and again, along with a Van Morrison song featured in it that I have posted before. This one is from the trailer to the movie.

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The temperatures dipped into the single digits on Monday as the morn arose to a glistening blanket of snow in the tentative, welcoming sunlight. Just outside the kitchen doors, a contingency of the resident herd of deer were tucked in, resting in the shelter of the trees and the barn. Just as I noticed them, their heads poked up noticing me. We went about our morning rituals, aware of each other and our places in time. Peaceful coexistence – at least for now.

Dressed and determined to get to a meeting, I sloshed and slid from pillar to post, holding fast to the car, the curb, the shopping cart, whatever was sturdy as I braced for the weather that we had been mostly spared of thus far this winter. It is hard to complain when so much of the country has been battered and buried in snow for so many weeks already. Still, as the song goes, “baby it’s cold outside”. . .


. . . but not inside these snow-white doors,


where elves hide ( he reminds me of Buddy the Elf)


and Poinsettia still hold court,


their bright colors stunningly paired with winter white blooms.

I’m so glad I took a few moments to step inside the Elmhurst Conservatory to catch my breath and grab some color before the storms blew in – and blow in they did, with several fresh inches of snow and bitter cold this morning of Epiphany. DSCN6992 DSCN6993 DSCN6994

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DSCN6529 - Version 2No, silly one; not racketeering, a common occurrence around the Windy City.

Rake-eteering; the active participation involving a band of active children, and a few responsible adults, in the yearly “rake up” of the back acreage here on the Cutoff.

Niece and nephew, Heather and Andrew, gathered up our dear grand-nephews and a few of their friends for an active afternoon of raking leaves, riding with Uncle Tom on John Deere, participating in the lively art of being buried in leaves, and maybe a few pieces of shortbread in between.

The Antler Man and I could not adequately express our love and appreciation of Heather, Andrew and the crew they brought over. Our load is a great deal lighter today because of their generosity of time and energy. Life is good on the Cutoff – and I hope the boys had a good, long sleep last night, enjoying that extra hour we all got.

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9780670015443I’m Swedish, which makes me sexy, and I’m Irish which makes me want to talk about it.”

So begins Kathleen Flinn’s delectable memoir of her family’s journey and food.

It wasn’t the cover that drew me to this book, it was the title, which recalls Flinn’s grandmother Inez, who refused to use toasters when the oven worked well.  The end result was often burnt toast, which she said “makes you sing good”. Don’t you love it?  My Yia Yia would come up with phrases like that, and so would my dad. “Children are starving in China” comes to mind admonishing a picky eater, though my sister got a tongue lashing once when she replied “then feed this to them“.

I digress.  Actually, I really don’t  digress, for this book brought on memory-upon- memory of my own family, both paternal and maternal, and the role food played in making me who I am. I read this in two bites, er, two days, and found myself wanting for more.

The book starts with Flinn’s mom and dad hastily moving from Michigan to California, via Route 66, with all their belongings, including three toddlers and one more on the way, to help run a pizza parlor owned by her Irish uncle – in the ’50s! This was long before pizza was known in most American homes. The Flinn’s eventually move back to Michigan, where they lived on a farm, ate plenty of chicken and eggs, and make do. It is, in its way, the story of growing up in the midwest in the fifties.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is the love story of Flinn’s parents, and maternal grandparents, finally her own. It is also about the abject poverty she eventually discovers her father grew up in with her grandmother raising a large family, in the Depression, on her own. It is about how her grandfather, once jailed for bootlegging, becomes a cook in the army during WWII and how she goes about doing sunshine work, dressed as cowgirl delivering her mom’s baked goods, in her new, suburban neighborhood.  This is a well-seasoned ragout of colorful grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins,. It is Flinn’s familial immigrant stories, and more, as she weaves chapter upon chapter of memories, replete with a relevant recipe for each chapter.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is not just about food. It is also about how the hardships, trials, and tribulations of life often serve to harden our resolve, build character, and furnish life lessons. That burnt toast can make us sing good is also about the grand midwestern spirit – and more. It’s mostly sweet and funny, just a wee bit sad, and waiting for you to open it’s covers.

Off I go now to bake a Jack-o-Lantern Tea loaf to take to a friend’s house for dinner tonight. My own story of how I came to this long-loved recipe can be found here.


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