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Sitting with Billy Collins

The Chairs That No One Sits In – by Billy Collins

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You see them on porches and on lawns
down by the lakeside,
usually arranged in pairs implying a couple

who might sit there and look out
at the water or the big shade trees.
The trouble is you never see anyone

sitting in these forlorn chairs
though at one time it must have seemed
a good place to stop and do nothing for a while.

Sometimes there is a little table
between the chairs where no one
is resting a glass or placing a book facedown.

It may not be any of my business,
but let us suppose one day
that everyone who placed those vacant chairs

on a veranda or a dock sat down in them
if only for the sake of remembering
what it was they thought deserved

to be viewed from two chairs,
side by side with a table in between.
The clouds are high and massive on that day.

The woman looks up from her book.
The man takes a sip of his drink.
Then there is only the sound of their looking,

the lapping of lake water, and a call of one bird
then another, cries of joy or warning—
it passes the time to wonder which.

( from Aimless Love)

Clippings

 

IMG_8771Our prairie garden is flush with native species and an abundance of prairie grasses, while the perennials in the front islands bravely attempt to establish their permanence amid a colony of advancing ferns.

Then, there are the aggressive appetites of the wandering herd of white tailed deer. What’s a gal to do?

Front island:July

Well . . .

. . .  I have been  experimenting with composing prairie inspired floral arrangements, cutting armfuls of grasses out back and small snips of what the deer don’t eat from the front.

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Oat grass, Big Bluestem, Monarda, Indigo, Joe Pye weed, and a curtsy to Queen Anne’s Lace, which was frolicking too close to the road for me to resist just a few of her lacy caps.

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These flowers, both tamed and wild, pose quite fashionably in vases, jars, and other containers that are scattered around the house. A few arrangements have even made it to friends’ homes and a graduation party. Prairie Arrangement:2#3

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Prairie Arrangement:#4

Part of my daily routine is to wander, clippers in hand, from garden bed to garden bed, observing what is blooming and what is spent, what the deer might have munched on and what I might cut and bring inside.

Sometimes,  just a few buds pinched back from overflowing pots are all that is needed to bring the garden indoors. Have you ever used parsley or basil in a vase? Snipping a few stems not only helps the plant regenerate, but, it brings fragrance into the kitchen and is a quick herb to pinch for extra flavors in a simmering pot or summer salad.

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I love the abundance of summer.

Here are a few more flowers from our garden, and a bouquet I picked up from a vegetable stand where I buy locally harvested sweet corn. The owners are growing flowers and herbs in raised plots behind the barn and selling them from the stand as well.

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Do you keep floral arrangements outside on your patio, porch or deck? Do you pick from your garden, a favorite floral shop, or grocery store? Do you have favorite flowers for bouquets?

Prairie Arrangement:#5

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A book often finds its way into the hands and the heart of a reader at just the right moment. It can sit, unattended, for months, balancing chapters on a TBR pile, gathering IMG_9159dust or jockeying for a place higher up in the queue. It can rest inside a large, canvas tote filled with wrappers, receipts, and to-do lists,  intended reading over a latte, or a companion to pass the time in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Books are always patient and kind awaiting their grand opening. So it was with Tyra Manning’s compelling memoir, “Where the Water Meets the Sand”.  I found myself opening its pages on a hot, humid summer afternoon and closed it a few days later with tears in my eyes and hope in my soul.

In the summer of 1970, a very young Tyra and her husband,  First Lieutenant Larry Hull. holding their baby daughter, bid farewell as he boarded a plane destined for Viet Nam. Before being deployed, Larry, a pilot, bought a trailer home for his young family and encouraged Tyra to continue her college education and become a teacher. They made plans for when he would have some R&R in Hawaii; they would meet where the water meets the sand. As he prepared to leave, Tyra promised Larry that he would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery if he was killed in the war.

On February 2, 1971, First Lieutenant Larry Hull’s plane, on a secret mission under heavy enemy fire, went down in a jungle in Laos. Tyra was notified that her husband had died instantly. His body was not found. Devastated, Tyra called her mother and made plans for Larry’s funeral.

At the time of Larry’s death, Tyra was being treated for clinical depression at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. Her doctor came to her room at the clinic to deliver her the horrible news.

As her father slowly faded from heart disease and her mother and father were often away for long periods of time,  seeking out doctors and treatments, Tyra and her brother were cared for by relatives and friends. Her father’s early death was overwhelming and vivid in Tyra’s memory. Tyra experienced even more heartache and loss early in her early years, leading to a rebellious teen and underperformed scholastically, acute depression, addictions, and an overwhelming fear of loss. Immobilized by fear and depression and fearing the safety and well-being of her young daughter, Tyra bravely sought help at the famed Menninger Clinic, her daughter being cared for by others, much as Tyra was as a child.

Tyra eventually earned her teaching certificate, became a principal, and then a well-regarded school superintendent. A champion for children, she raised her daughter, and conquered her illnesses with courage and determination.

Her personal journey is much more, however. “Where the Water Meets the Sea” is a beacon of hope for those who battle mental health issues, bulimia, binging, purging, cutting, alcoholism, drug addictions . . . Tyra Manning’s journey is one in which there IS a light at the end of the dark tunnels of life. It is also a touchstone to those adults, myself included, who have lost a parent early in their life and a recognition of how many carry that loss with them long into adulthood.

Dr. Manning’s story is also a testament to the burden of military families, as well as of veterans, who often bear their wounds and scars in ways we cannot see. SPOILER ALERT  Tyra Banks gives us a personal perspective of the uniquely heavy loss of a loved one whose body is never returned, as well as the “what if” should one’s remains be found.  Larry’s remains were located more than three decades after he was lost to war. It was not just a journey for Tyra, but, for the men in his unit as well, many of whom Tyra later meets and hears, first hand, of how Larry died, when he is finally laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Their own sadness at not being able to return his body is expressed and Dr. Manning seems sensitive to in her writing.

For every adult who still carries his or her inner child who lost a parent at an early age, this is a book to read.

For every family member of military whose loved one never come back from war, this is a book to read.

For everyone with immobilizing fears, anxiety, depression, and mental health issues, this is a book to read.

For you, dear reader, this is a book to read.

Thank you, Dr. Manning. Your courage to seek help and your courage to tell your story is inspiring and, in spite of the sadness and pain, your story is a gift, especially for the millions of people who seek that spot where the water meets the sand.

A Blowsy Affair

dscn5528-e1283217452175dscn0145-e1283222444675About six years ago, we began looking for a way to soften a large expanse of hard surfaces, provide additional outdoor seating, expand existing garden beds, establish more growing spaces – and find a way to draw the eye further afield.

We talked, we walked, Tom took to the drawing board, measurements were made, wood was purchased, hammer and nails and saws were employed. After a time, an arbor emerged, looking like the shell of cabin. Ma and Pa and their little House on the Prairie. First named Penny’s Arbor House by the then young lad next door, it was christened last year as Papa’s Treehouse by our grandson, Ezra.

Back of arbor:hostas, grasses

Arbor:late June:2016 Arbor:Clematis:purpleA healthy row of existing hostas was divided and transplanted, and a woodland garden started to grow.  New plants were introduced, and climbing specimen took root. First a climbing rose, then several clematis, which came from friends’ gardens, and Abraham Lincoln, a gift from Jennifer and Jason one Mother’s Day. They were radiant this spring, climbing higher than ever before. Sweet Autumn Clematis, a division from my friend Phyllis,  has really taken hold. This year, it has scaled the trellis of the arbor wall, snaked rambunctiously over the top and is presently creeping down the other side. I can’t wait to see the signature white blossoms as Autumn approaches.

IMG_7963Three years ago, sitting in the arbor, Tom and I talked, for the umpteenth time, over what to plant and how to grow and design more space in the garden.

When we first moved in, I initially wanted a rose garden – but, borrowing from an oft used phrase, I was never promised a rose a garden – and never imagined the damage deer can wreak. There IS a sweet, clambering rose that cloaks part of the arbor in June, however.  Gardening, like life itself, calls for compromises.

Our initial plans were big and bold and worthy of the space we allotted.  They would also be free food for the resident deer population. We eventually came to the idea of planting natives and grasses. Once established, they were lower maintenance and they would most likely thrive here on the Cutoff. It seems we no sooner made the decision to go native than plant divisions from generous gardeners and abundant gardens came our way.

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A few grasses and some native Ageratum were shared, a plant was purchased here and there from native plant sales, garden club members’ sales, and the characteristic generosity of like souls with very green thumbs  – especially those of the Elmhurst Garden Club. Big bluestem and Butterfly Weed, Indigo and Bee Balm, Compass Plants,  Joe Pye Weed, and much, much more.

Our prairie garden has taken off, pushed past boundaries and developed a blowsy, free-spirited personality of its own.

Prairie:June:2016

 

Prairie Garden:sunny spanArbor #3:directly into prairie
Double Red Bee BalmButterfly weed

On My Honor

IMG_8144Homeward bound, we decided to take a small detour. I wanted to check out Crawdad Slough, where I have spotted an egret. She is usually hidden along the reedy edges of the shore, stock still or slowly moving toward an unsuspecting target. I saw her, recently, high up in a tree and wondered if she was building a nest. The detour was my wandering hope that Tom could see it on our way home.

There we were, chatting significantly about the insignificant, just moseying along in the late afternoon, when I saw it!  Not the egret, but, instead a sign. No. Not an omen or an octagon, saying STOP. It was a big, bright, yellow sign, just out of the corner of my eye as I drove right past it.

Did you see that, Tom?”.

“What?

That sign?”

I hung a quick left into someone’s driveway and whipped my way back from whence we came.

RAW HONEY — >

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The sign pointed north. As soon as I turned, there it was. Just up a drive. A big yellow box with bold black letters.

 RAW HONEY.

We pulled into the driveway and hopped out of our mocha VW with a latte interior – such a trusty traveller she is – and looked around to see if anyone was outside. I called a cheery “Hello. Anyone here?” IMG_8759With nary a soul in sight, we walked up to the box. It had a few latches but no lock and key, and some bold honeybees painted around it.

There we were, the ever-patient Antler Man and Penelope Pitstop (she who stops at every box) and looked to see if we could open it. We fiddled a bit with the latches, then we slowly opened one door, then the next. One must be very careful when opening a newfound box – especially one with such large bumble bees depicted on it!

Inside was a sign with explanations, and an honor system for any customer wanting a jar of honey. How nice! Honor systems are not unusual down country lanes or in rural areas, but, they are not very common hereabouts, even in our semi-rural neck of the woods.

What a surprisingly delightful discovery this was; while not a white egret, a very sweet cache of local honey.

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I dutifully signed the guest sheet. We slipped our payment for our jar of Hilltop Honey in the appropriated container, closed and latched the bright yellow doors, and set back on the road-less-travelled home, where I promptly made a cup of tea with honey – and very good honey it was.

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I try to buy local honey, not only to support local businesses and beekeepers, but, also because it is said that ingesting local honey helps counteract seasonal allergies. I do not know if this is scientifically true, but, I do not that my own seasonal allergies have abated since I have been using local honey. Most of the honey I buy is from this general area, usually a farm stand, appropriately called The Farm, but, none of it is from hives only four miles from our home.

So it goes; a sweetened tale of life here on the Cutoff, where small detours sometimes lead to large, snowy white birds – or honey pots and the honor system.

(I did feel, just a wee bit, that I had just discovered the Bee Tree in the Hundred Acre Woods.)

 

Hedgehogs and Happy Meals

IMG_8854 - Version 3Echinacea.

A Greek word that means hedgehog, these long lasting flowers are more commonly known as coneflowers for the conical shaped seed head of the flowers. Our echinaceas are just starting their long blooming season and can be found in many gardens throughout the area. They are dependable and easy to care for – a good bang-for-your-buck if you are looking for a reliable perennial.

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Our Echinacea is doing well here on the Cutoff. I learned last year to temper my eagerness at pulling weeds too early in the season. While I do have quite a growth of weeds, my patience at waiting until I was sure has awarded us fairly a full crop of Echinacea, which are just starting to perform and have been graciously posing for me and my camera.

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These pictures, however, are all from the same photo. I started playing around with the image, cropping it in different spots, and thought you might like see them. Just don’t tell anyone that the photo was taken in the drive-through line of the local Mac Donald’s where I stopped for a cold drink the other day.

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As I sat, my car in the queue waiting to pay, I noticed this bee enjoying her own happy meal and just couldn’t resist.

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Second Sunday in July

Sprite:statue:Bacon gardenAround the second Tuesday in July, the weather channel becomes our viewing choice. The weather feature on our very smart phones are clicked more often than our text messages, often while on our knees praying to the garden gods for decent weather. There is always a storm with thunder and lightning and downpours during the second week of July. This is actually appreciated on Wednesday or Thursday, for the storm (as long as there aren’t strong winds) affords free and much-needed moisture and the lightning does whatever the magic of lightning is. It charges leaves to grow bigger and greener and stronger.

By the second Friday, we are on a first name basis with our favorite weather person (mine is Tom Skilling)  and we really start to fret and fuss. An unspoken cone of silence hovers around the members of the Elmhurst Garden Club as bubble balloons of barometric thoughts hover over our heads.

The gardens are checked by committee members, and the chair of the Faire in the park grows anxious as spaces are marked, and remarked, and the hope of a good day increases with the summer heat.

The homeowners are on high-anxiety; visiting garden centers for one more (or ten) plants to put here or there – and what about the weather?  The rain, if it comes, is good early in the week and it does provide free watering, the soil is wet and soft so weeds are easier to banish from the landscape (at least until they turn their backs, for every gardener knows how weeds like to hide and then poke their impudent heads when IMG_8773someone comes over) – just no rain, please, late in the second week of July.

By the second Saturday in July, the die is cast – hopefully not overcast – and we do, in whatever our manner, pray for good weather for the second Sunday in July.

Bistro table:watermelon vase:Bacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Sunday, July 10, the garden gods truly did shine upon us! It dawned a most perfect day for the Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire.

The vendors, club members, vendor chair Georgia and Elmhurst Park District employees were already busy as the clock showed 6 am. Have you ever seen an outdoor fair arise at the crack of dawn? It is really a sight to behold.

By the time the bells tolled nine from the churches along Cottage Hill and surrounding streets, much of the Faire was readied, while at the seven featured gardens, the homeowners were putting the last finishing touches in their gardens, as well as setting tables, tuning in music and working the most amazing garden magic, while members of the club set up ticket tables, and cars began to arrive, ticket holders eager to see what there was behind the garden gates.

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Oh, yes, dear readers, this year dawned with the best weather imaginable for the 21st Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire. It was an amazing event, with gardens large and small, whimsical and romantic, from resort amenities to urban farm. Most of these photos are from the day of the Garden Walk, though a few are from the preview walk (for homeowners to see each other’s gardens and members of the club to see the gardens if they are working on the day of the event).

These are two friends I admire and have learned so much from, on the day of the preview walk. They look like they know a secret, just inside that lush arbor.

 

This entire garden (right) is vegetables, anaerobic and aerobic composting, and more.  Much more. The family is involved in the entire operation – a truly remarkable farm to table cottage industry – all in their city-sized back yard. This photo was taken two weeks prior to IMG_8439the walk. The corn was several feet taller on the day of the walk. The bed to the left is potatoes of several varieties, now underplanted with arugula. Turnips, carrots, garlic, leaf vegetables, tomatoes . . .  and they sell their produce curbside once a week.

This garden, below, was a delight – and the gardener delightful.  I am always in awe of those who learned Latin – and remember it. In June, he had more than 250 Allium bulbs in bloom – and yes, he could properly name them all.

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It was a good day for gardeners, nature enthusiasts, artists and art buyers alike. The garden gods shined down upon us on the second Sunday in July and it will keep on shining as the actual proceeds are counted and we allocate the funds from this year’s walk with scholarships and local endeavors.

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Juliet Batten

Author, artist, speaker, teacher and psychotherapist

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