Posts Tagged ‘Louisa May Alcott’

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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I love the long shadows on November; those far-reaching limbs of trees seem to stretch out across the earth, connecting summer to winter with their long arms of hope.

As I watched the sun begin its journey this morning, I thought about the November shadows starting to form. Lights went on, for the rooms will still dark. tea whistled and the news of the day crept into my day.

As I trolled the ether waters, Garrison Keillor’s Almanac popped up. I enjoy reading the selected poem of the day; sometimes familiar verse, other times poets I have not met. On occasion, Almanac inspires a post, leading me to new waters. It isn’t always the daily poem that spurs me on, however, it is sometimes the list of birthdays; poets, essayist, literary giants.

Today, November 29, there were three notable birthdays. Authors who filled my childhood as much as ongoing years. As I read the brief biographies, my heart swelled and I thought of November’s long shadows, wondering at the lives of these notables and the shadows they cast on so many lives.

November 29 is day of birth for Louisa May Alcott, Madeline L’Engle, and C.S. Lewis.

Where would I be without “Little Women”, “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”?

Where would we be, dear readers, without November’s long shadows?

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Isn’t this a wonderful picture?

I first saw this Normal Rockwell illustration, The Most Beloved American Writer,  on Danielle’s blog, A Work in Progress. I knew I would eventually use it here on the Cutoff.

As I thought about this question, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer it. Of course I could just say “yes” and go on to the next question, but . . .

. . .   I’ve had fun answering these questions posed by Sunday Taylor and have enjoyed your comments beyond measure. Even though there are aspects of this that leave me a little uncomfortable, I decided to sally forth and answer it as best I can.

So, with a little help from Mr. Rockwell’s picture, I will begin.

I love to put pen to paper, to play with words, and to tell a story, hoping I do it justice. I like writing almost as much as I like reading and, yes, I have fantasized about writing the next great American novel, but that is really just a fantasy. I know my strengths and I am keenly aware of my weaknesses. Let me say that writing a novel is not a strength I possess.

I would love to try my hand at a short story, and will, perhaps, attempt this in the future.

When I see this illustration, I see Jo March. Professor Bhaer’s words are drumming through her mind as he admonishes Jo to write about what she loves and what she knows about. She is offended, at first, by his advice. Then, as she grieves the loss of her sister Beth, her heart heavy with sorrow, she hears the professor’s words anew.  What she knows is her family, her Laurie, her home. What she knows is her own story, which becomes the story of what Mr. March calls his “little women”.

I also see Louisa May Alcott. I see her at Orchard House in Concord, writing furiously to keep the wolf from the door. She penned Little Women, with a real pen and ink, in record time, using both her right and her left hand in turn, as each became cramped. Louisa May Alcott was a prolific writer who also wrote “pot boilers” of her era. I think she must have had a very active imagination, don’t you? I can just imagine the blog she would be writing if she were alive today.

As I looked at this picture, I thought about where I write and what happens when I do.

When I write, it is the stories of my family that flow from my heart. They bring me the greatest joy.

When I write, it the pleasures of my garden, of flowers and trees, of nature and reflections that come from my very soul. They bring me peace and they keep me centered.

When I write, it is of the books I read that move me, hoping my ramblings will inspire others in their reading selections.

What I would like to write is a memoir of sorts, though I feel a bit naked and exposed saying it here.

How about you?

I know many of you are accomplished writers. You have written stories and edited books. You have poetry and memoirs in print. You all write so thoughtfully here in your comments, on your blogs, or I am sure, in your journals and diaries and letters.

How would you answer this question?

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I’m in a silly mood and just had to share that scene from Beetlejuice, which leads me to my first dinner guest, the man who  brought this song to us here in the States, Mr. Harry Belafonte. He will be a charming dinner guest with much insight into civil rights and the issues of today, the movie business as well as the record business. Oh, the stories he will tell with his distinctive voice,  the opinions he will bring to our table and maybe, just maybe, he will sing a tune for his supper.

Of course, I will invite Louisa May Alcott. If she happens to bring some party crashers, like Henry David Thoreau or the Emersons, I will gladly set a few more places and welcome them in. Can you imagine our conversation with Harry Belafonte and America’s famous transcendentalists?

Since it is dinner party,  I think it would be grand if Julia Child would give us the pleasure of her company. I wonder what she will think of all the renewed interest in her life and her continued impact on the culinary scene. She and her husband were known for their lively dinner parties. I’d love to have her dine with us – and hear about her years as a spy.

Last, but not least, I would invite Abigail Adams to join us. From the very beginning of our country’s founding, as citizens declared a state of independence and started our Revolutionary War, Abigail had a say in things that mattered. She wrote to her husband, John Adams  ” . . . and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.” I will look forward to her views on how we ladies are “remembered” today, and I will encourage her to write a blog.

Who would you invite to dinner?

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My admiration of Louisa May Alcott is known among my friends and documented on these cyber-pages. I can still see the tear stained pages of my first copy of Little Women as Beth takes her last breath; how I tried not to sob on my library book, failing miserably.  I was a young girl, a not-so-young girl, a granny, and I’ve treasured Alcott’s books and books about Alcott ever since that first schoolgirl reading.

We walked around Walden Pond a few years ago. I imagined Jo and Laurie skating on ice there and Meg falling in. I imagined Alcott’s friend, Henry Thoreau, talking to a young Louisa as she looked on in admiration. We walked through the rooms of Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts and I marveled at the simple desk she penned her most famous novel and many more works and we visited Concord’s cemetery, Sleepy Hollow. Author’s Ridge is high on top, overlooking the town, and it is there that Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau are buried and there where Louisa May rests in the simple grave above the famous town.

When my friend Sharon told me of a presentation of Alcott at the Elmhurst Historical Museum, I just knew I had to go.

Leslie Goddard, in period costume, a deep purple day dress with long, flowing sleeves and lace collar, gave a riveting impersonation of Louisa May Alcott, speaking about her experiences as a Union war nurse during the Civil War. Taken from Alcott’s “Hospital Sketches”, Ms. Goddard excelled in bringing the author to life with the wit and compassion found in Alcott’s writing.

Goddard, as Alcott, told of her eagerness to be part of the war and how she enlisted as a nurse with Dorothea Dix. She told of the hardships of war and the horrible injuries suffered and of the dying man she tended to, staying with him until his last breath, holding his hand and then carefully prying it away, his grip still tight after he passed away. She also told of the illness she suffered, typhus pneumonia, after only being at the hospital for three weeks and which ended her military nursing.

It was an amazing dramatization. I wish you could have been there to see it. Thank you Sharon for telling me about it and sharing the experience. It so gratifying to spend time with friends, learn new things, and be further enlightened about a favorite author.

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. . .  An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving


When Ma and Pa Bassett are suddenly called to Grandmother’s house in the middle of Thanksgiving preparations, the six Bassett children left at home, lead by oldest sister Tilly, decide to make a turkey dinner anyways.

Set in 19th century New Hampshire, this is one of Louisa May Alcott’s short stories that found its way into book form. I discovered it when we visited the river town of Stillwater, MN, home to many used and antiquarian bookstores. This lovely edition  jumped into my hands and followed me home. I like to take it out and read it around Thanksgiving. The illustrations in this edition, by Holly Johnson, are evocative of the Garth Williams pictures in the Little House books and remind me of Tasha Tudor.

In between cleaning and baking a Jack-o-Lantern Tea Loaf, I pulled the book off of the shelf and browsed through it once again as the pictures took me away to an 1800’s farm in the east, and I scanned the recipes for Cranberry Sauce with Raisins, Johnny Cake, and Louisa May Alcott’s Apple Slump that follow the story in the back of the book.

After I set the table for tomorrow’s dinner, cover the pumpkin bread and pull out the big pans for the turkey and sweet potatoes, I think I’ll make a cup of tea, settle into a comfy chair, and read anew this little treasure, written in the 1870’s, not long after Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving. It is a good time to sit and reflect on all the things I have to be thankful for, including you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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