Posts Tagged ‘Beatrix Potter’

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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Mrs_tittlemouseI’m here, dear readers . . .

. . . still here, chasing rainbows and hanging on moonbeams, following my shadow and wishing upon stars.

We were visiting grandchildren and family up North and tending to the garden beds here. I’ve been busying myself with the garden club’s activities and feeling a bit like Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tittlemouse, my house all awry with mixed up messes here there and everywhere. Such has been life here in along the Cutoff  on these early June days.

Do you ever feel like the world is spinning, faster and faster, and there you are, so far behind that you’ve almost caught up?  I’m not sure I will ever quite catch up, so, I’ll just settle for a bit and be content as I endeavor to get back into a more routine writing pattern.

I want to tell you about how our prairie garden, which has doubled in size, and show you our woodland plants sitting along the arbor, which is now covered in several varieties of clematis. The daisies and hostas have leafed out rather well and the catmint’s blooms are just about spent. They have been hosting a bevy of bees, with me skipping about in animated glee, much to the amusement, I’m sure, of the crew of construction workers, who have just about dug down to China with a massive pit for the foundation of the house that will finally be built on the barren lot next door.

The flora and “fawn-a” are a joy to behold – well, actually, I haven’t seen any fawn, yet, but the does have been “yarding up” in a way that usually indicates birthing babes is about to commence. So, off I go with my pens and rakes to scratch out a wee bit of my day and promise to write something a bit more substantial very soon. Here’s hoping you are doing well and enjoying whatever season you are in.


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UnknownThere I was, driving along the byway, “The Rosie Project” on audio, mentally clicking off the things I needed to do, didn’t get done, or would rather be doing, when I saw the pair of black slacks and equally monochromatic shell sitting primly on the passenger seat. I meant to take these items to the cleaners on Monday, and here it was, Wednesday. A quick right. A quick left and a parking space. I whipped out my wallet, grabbed my monochromatic clutch of garments, waddled across the parking lot – and right into Payless Shoes.

Huh? Shoes?

It was just one of those days when my mind stayed home while the rest of me was out to lunch.

Around I turned, to the quizzical stares of the shoe clerk restocking shoeboxes, and continued my Aunt Jemima Puddle Duck waddle into the cleaners, where there was, of course, a long line.

There is always a long line at high noon.

Taking my place in the queue, I tapped my toes to the bouncy, iron pressing music, counting it as my day’s exercise, and inhaled the cleaning fumes, which surely made my brain foggy for when my turn at the checker came up, and she sweetly asked for my phone number, I went blank. BLANK!  The fog of steam eroding my cranium.  I could not remember my phone number. The sweet but clueless girl looked slightly bemused. Honestly, who am I to call her clueless? We stared at each other. “Now, wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait;  I seem to be having one of THOSE days” as I gave her my name, which was surely in the computer. Aha. Just then a phone number popped into my newly fumed brain. “Er, try . . . ” which she did while I inwardly cringed, for I’ve been known to give out my sister’s phone number instead of my own, which my sister finally realized after several months of odd messages from hair stylists and the doctors’ offices looking for Penny or Penelope. That is a story for another day, friend, for this day has a page of its own.

My pants and shell were whisked off to be cleaned, my receipt was firmly in hand, I muttered an “Ach, Columbus” – and off I went to wherever was I going next, which was really not where I was supposed to be.

So it goes on these monochromatic days, here along the Cutoff.



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The Country by Billy Collins15798111

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

The Mice Hear Simpkin Outside circa 1902 by Helen Beatrix Potter 1866-1943

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220px-Beatrix_Potter,_Two_Bad_Mice,_Mice_on_stairsAs I was sorting through some boxes, I came across some of my grandmother’s handkerchiefs and a silk scarf of my mother’s. Ma never wore scarves tied in the artful ways we do these days, or as a shawl. She used them underneath her coat, near her collar; a buffer against the cold. In the box was a faded linen towel from France, brought home from the first World War by her father.  There were some pressed flowers, and a prayer book of Ma’s uncle. The things that one finds inside a box or drawer; forgotten treasures of long ago past.  It was not so much these things I uncovered, however, but the feel and scent of family that rose to meet me when I opened the box.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever felt your family, or a friend, come to meet you, tucked inside a box, in a cupboard or a pantry, a basement or an attic?

I put the box back on the shelf and remembered a poem that Nan shared some time ago on her blog, Letters from a Hill Farm.  The poem, The Cupboard, by Arthur Rimbaud, touched me then, and it touches me now. I hope it does the same for you.

The Cupboard

It’s a board carved wooden cupboard;
the ancient dark-coloured oak
has taken on that pleasant air
that old people have; the cupboard is open,
and gives off from its kindly shadows
inviting aromas like a breath of old wine;
full to overflowing, it’s a jumble of quaint old things:
fragrant yellowed linen,
rags of women’s or children’s clothes, faded laces,
grandmothers’ kerchiefs embroidered with griffins;
– here you could find lockets,
and locks of white or blonde hair,
portraits and dried flowers
whose smell mingles with the smell of fruit. –

O cupboard of old times, you know plenty of stories;
and you’d like to tell them;
and you clear your throat every time
your great dark doors slowly open.

Arthur Rimbaud

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beatrix-potter-happenings-in-the-animal-world-a-rabbits-christmas-party-the-departure.jpg.pngMy sister’s house was the first in several stops I made today as I dropped off holiday cookies. I brought her some Spritz I baked the night before; a new recipe using vanilla beans and dusted with cinnamon sugar. As Dottie nibbled on the cookies, we sipped coffee and recalled how our mother always made Spritz, The conversation rambled from new kitchen counter tops to grandchildren to the aromatic pasta sauce simmering on her stove – all in the manner that women have always employed when it comes to weaving stories in conversation. Our talk eventually came to her violin.

I was thinking more about Dottie’s violin as I drove to my next destination. Christmas music was playing on the car radio and my drive took me past the old neighborhood and home where our girls grew up – where memories were made.

I guess it was all the talk of Christmases past, Dottie’s violin, and seeing the old house that brought back memories of the last Christmas before we moved to the Cutoff.

Our house had been on the market just before Christmas. Most of our personal items had been stored. The rooms had been “staged” for sale. Tom and I put up a pre-lit artificial tree, which was magical when lit, but was bare of ornaments. It was actually a good move to limit our decorations as we accepted a bid on the house in early December and moved out just after the new year.

That year, we didn’t have as many guests for Christmas Eve dinner. Katy and Tom wouldn’t arrive until after Christmas. Friends and family who had come before all had other places to be, but my cousin Ted and Maria came, as did Jennifer and Jason.We shared in good food and conversation that night, knowing it would be the last in the house that had been our home for so long.

It was a very cold Christmas Eve that year and it snowed a snow of magnificent flakes with the fresh, sweet smell that comes with a good snow.

Dottie and Rick decided not to come to eat, but, maybe, just maybe they would stop by later.

It seemed as if everything happened at once. The doorbell rang just as we finished eating and opening up gifts. In they came, Dottie and Rick,with a gush of cold, just as Ted started playing the piano. Jason soon took his turn at the keys and Dottie wondered aloud if maybe she should bring her violin in. She had just started taking lessons, having not played since childhood. We all encouraged her to join in. Her music stand was set up. Tom brought out his guitar and before we knew it, like that gush of wind, we were singing sweet carols or humming along, laughing and glowing along with the fireplace embers.

With each song, the musicians got stronger and more comfortable with each other and the sweetness of the moment grew and grew until it ended, as all good things must. The lingering strains of our most musical Christmas remain to this day, no, this very Eve. I will think of it still as I wander up to bed, wishing you and yours, wherever you are and whatever you celebrate this season, a most wonderful holiday filled with the love of family and friends and of all things good and peaceful.

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We took a walk in the Little Red Schoolhouse Woods on Saturday, enjoying the sunny day and the anticipation of spring that is in the air. As we walked, we noticed the swollen buds on the trees, the soft, furry tips of the pussywillow bushes. The prairie grasses were bent, bowing to the strong winds, and the water around the slough was glistening in the sun. While we couldn’t see them, we could hear the call of the Sandhill cranes, miles up, heading north for another season.

It was the first faint notes of a chorus that kept pulling us along the path, however. Tom remembered a spot from last year; a bench and a pond and a party of sorts. As we got closer, the sound intensified until we heard, for the first time this year, the spring peepers! 

Many of you asked what peepers were and I realized that they are a mystery to you. In fact, they were a bit of a mystery to me until just a few years ago when I came upon them performing nature’s symphony at the Morton Arboretum

. Peepers make one think of eyes and optics and vision, or something more sundry like a shady character who looks into women’s windows at night.

Spring peepers, Psuedacris crucifer to be more precise, are tiny frogs that inhabit swampy woodlands. In early spring, when the ice  has melted and the water and air begins to warm, the peepers debut. At only about 1.5 inches (38mm), they are difficult to see, but their singing can be heard from some distance and is often quite boisterous.

We sat on a bench for a spell, taking in the warmth and the wonder of nature, enjoying the spell of the musical moment.

Won’t you sit for a moment and listen as well?

Click here. Then click the listen button.

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A once-in-awhile day

Isn’t  it wonderful when a once-in-awhile day brings the simplest of pleasures? When  a walk to the mailbox finds a letter from a loved one? A parcel you’ve been waiting for arrives, that book you ordered or a handmade craft from Etsy waits inside. Your favorite magazine, perhaps? I am close to giddy when one of my two favorites arrive. Victoria or English Home, hopefully not on the same day for that would be way too much excitement. I set the magazine aside, on an end table or a chair, and I savor the wait. First a chore, then tea, brewed and steeped with care. Sometimes I wait until later in the evening when the lamps are on and the mood is just right.

Do you ever have a once-in-awhile day where the greatest gift it brings is something unexpected in your mail?

I had a once-in-awhile day on Friday. After safely arriving home as the snow was falling, I brought in my bag of groceries and put on my boots and my long, hooded coat, camera in one pocket and cell phone in the other, and headed down our long driveway to the mailbox. The camera, of course, was for pictures. The long coat with a hood for protection from the elements. The cell phone in case I fell and needed help. It happens.

Our mailbox is at the road. Our drive narrows as it reaches the road. After a significant snowfall, it starts to feel and look like a snow tunnel – one Beatrix Potter would paint. New fallen snow is quiet and pristine and the landscape takes on a new personality. The world seems fresh and new for a time. There is a smell to snowl that is hard to explain, though I’ve heard it compared “oddly enough like apple blossoms”.

There wasn’t much mail on Friday, which was okay. The walk was worth the effort just the same. I could hear a chickadee  making her presence known and a few deer were watching, the snow catching on top of their hides like feathers from a pillow. The few cars on our road made a slow, crunching sound with their tires as the passed and the only signatures on the snow were my own boot prints.

It was a once-in-awhile day.

The walk to the mailbox and back was the only gift that I received.

The simplest of pleasures, indeed.

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At Home With Beatrix Potter, The Creator of Peter Rabbit by Susan Denyer. Jacket photo of Hill Top Cottage by Joe Cornish

Soporific. Such a very big word for such a little book. It is just how Peter Rabbit feels when he goes into Mr. MacGregor’s garden and eats much too much lettuce. He falls asleep and trouble brews and we have this delightful tale, which was published in 1902. Can you imagine, such a little book with so much fame, along with all the other Beatrix Potter books that followed The Tale of Peter Rabbit?

Joan at Sempiterna Me wrote about the anniversary of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and her tour of Hill Top Farm and one of the comments mentioned the word soporific, which is one of my favorite words to use after a hearty meal. Soporific! It is how I feel after our Thanksgiving feast or on Christmas Eve when we have indulged in our Irish Mist stew. That sleepy, satisfied feeling after being well fed.

Each time I read about Peter being soporific, I meant to look the word up. I was pretty sure it meant drowsy for Peter fell asleep each time he ate that lettuce. I finally looked it up before I read The Tale of Peter Rabbit to my first grade class before we embarked upon a field trip to see a play based on the book at the old Golf Mill Theater. I just knew one of my students was going to ask what soporific meant (and one did) and I wanted to be prepared.

It’s funny that when I have used the word, I either see instant recognition from those who know of Peter’s dilemma or blank stares signaling “what is she talking about now?”. You know what I mean, don’t you? I know all you kiddie lit lovers know what I am writing about.

Well, all these thoughts about being soporific and tales of rabbits and angry farmers and  Beatrix Potter led me to my groaning bookshelves where I pulled out a delightful book that has followed me around since 2000. The picture above is a close-up of the front jacket photo which is as dreamy and beautiful as I imagine the land upon which Hill Top Farm has settled its roots. At Home With Beatrix Potter, The Creator of Peter Rabbit, takes the reader into her garden and through her home and is filled with words and pictures and paintings that are a visual treat to the eye and mind of the lucky reader. It is filled with pictures she painted and of photos of her well worn clogs and her spinning wheel, her gardens and her rooms. It is a book in which to marvel and to let your imagination wander.

I’m feeling a little under the weather today. I think I will brew a pot of chamomile tea, wrap myself in a blanket, and read yet again this lovely book about Beatrix Potter and when I finally get drowsy, I am certain I will see Peter Rabbit bounding about in the cabbage patch, getting into mischief, and as my eyes start to close and I grow soporific . . .

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White House painting of First Lady Grace Coolidge, wife of Calvin Coolidge

The magazine arrived in yesterday’s mail. I brought it in with the rest of the mail and my camera in my left hand, my right hand covered in dirt as I had pulled a few weeds and snipped a few dead blossoms on my way to and fro. There wasn’t much mail of any importance. I set it all down as I started dinner. Victoria Magazine would have to wait.

The chicken was needing a little extra time, the table was set, a salad waiting on the sidelines for a little toss, and I found I had a little extra time on my hands. Remembering the magazine, which was hiding behind those paper mailing covers they use these days, I peeled it off and was immediately captivated by the cover.

Did they publish this issue just for me?

A luscious orange chocolate caramel torte on the cover surrounded by words. Food and words to entice me – and so close to dinner. Romantic England. Visit Charming Villages, Gardens & Quaint Shops. The Life & Legacy of Beloved Beatrix Potter. Features with titles such as “The Legends & Lore of England’s Lake District” and “Old World Elegance at The Ritz”. Lush photographs that drew me further into the pages depicting places I long to visit.

Dinner was ready and England would have to wait.

Sometimes it is better to wait. Like a gaily wrapped gift at Christmastime sitting under the tree. The gift gets better with the wait, no matter what is inside. “Victoria Magazine” was this gift for me as I opened the cover and explored the pages. It did not disappoint me. I must admit that a few issues in the past have, but, this is a treasure indeed!

I took my time in the unwrapping, languishing over several pages of photographs by Kate Sears of Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, her most famous, and Yew Tree Farm, where much of  the movie “Miss Potter” was filmed. I have loved Beatrix Potter since long before the movie, which really was delightful to watch, and have kept a newspaper clipping for thirty years about Hill Top Farm. It is folded and faded and was a surprise for me one Sunday in the Chicago Tribune, where the clipping told me all about the home of Potter and where it was and how it influenced many of her little stories. Reading the clipping was an awakening for me as I learned about Beatrix Potter. “Victoria” magazine’s beautiful spread made my desire to travel to Cumbria all the stronger.

It was further along in “Victoria” that I found a lovely article, totally unrelated to the splendors of the Lake District. I have long admired the painting above of President Calvin Coolidge’s wife, Grace. I love her sense of self and style, her dog at her side, her poise and the kindness on her face. The article, “As One Grace to Another” by Claire Whitcomb, tells of a friendship that grew between Mrs. Coolidge and Grace Medinus of Chicago through a long correspondence they embarked upon while Calvin Coolidge was president and for several years thereafter. The letters were preserved by Grace Medinus and eventually made their way to the Forbes Library where Claire Whitcomb stumbled upon them and from which this tender article about letters from two women named Grace evolved.

I wondered at the ease in which this correspondence took place. The First Lady of the United States and a stranger from Chicago write a steady stream of letters to each other, talking about their needle craft and geraniums, the sudden death of Calvin Coolidge and life thereafter. I thought about how pleasant it must have been for Grace Coolidge to receive letters, in the White House, from another Grace without the scrutiny of the press, the internet, the 24 hour news cycle and I appreciated this lovely painting all the more as I closed my magazine and then my eyes and listened to the silence across the years awakened by Claire Whitcomb so eloquently on two pages of the magazine.     Sometimes, waiting is worth it, is it not?

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