A Gardener’s Beginnings: Another Chapter In My Story

A Gardener's Beginnings: Another Chapter In My Story

Some gardeners would say that a most enduring gift to offer a loved one would be a bouquet of blooms from their own patch of earth–red roses for passion, lilies for purity of heart, or some new cultivar that amazes with its scent and beauty.

But I say: what about dandelions? What about those crumpled bouquets of stringy stems and crushed flower? They are fervent, perfumed with a child’s love and devotion. They stretch across the years, becoming an eternal gift. But they could also be a gardener’s beginnings.

MY STORY

For me, it was the peony, those perfumed beauties bursting out in spring, to be picked and brought to my mother, who, to support her three children, because my father died early on, was typing insurance policies in our dining room.

Sometimes, she would take a break, and together we would sit on the front porch steps, drinking in the beauty of the eight bushes that lined our front walk. Spring was the perfume, the color–fuchsia, rose, white, their large yellow centers, truly cabbages of color that became pendulous in spring rains, heads drooping like my head on my mother’s shoulder. The best part? Getting a scissors and bringing them inside to fill jelly glasses, transforming our simple home with their color and scent.

BUT THIS, MY FIRST GARDEN

It happened when I was ten. My two generous aunts had this everlasting garden with stepping stones! They talked a language of bearded iris, delphinium, coreopsis, and rose scale. At our house, I watched the green grass turn brown, the bridal wreath bloom off, leaving only ragged masses of dusty leaves, while whiz, bang, I could hear my mother’s typewriter through the open, summer window.

But my mother listened to me, and with some money from her budget, we bought marigolds and petunias. She showed me how to plant them in a patch of soil by our gravel driveway–my first garden! She found time to help me pot some scarlet geraniums for the front porch, and she showed me how to hook up the sprinkler and water the lawn. IT WAS A START!

Then, as summer faded, magic happened. I gave her a bouquet of spicy marigolds, which we carefully arranged in my grandmother’s cut glass powder dish. (See the photo above, as I have recreated this moment.) A lovely present, but not as lovely as the look in her eyes when I presented them.

I WAS A GARDENER NOW…

I was like my generous aunts who came up the front walk on a chilly night heralding the arrival of autumn, bearing sheaves of chrysanthemums expertly cut and wrapped in waxed paper to protect their well-ironed dresses. Mom and I exclaimed over the amber ones, the maroon ones, the bright, fiery yellow ones. My brothers moaned. Autumn to them was heavy storm windows that had to be hung, the window washing that went with that chore, and expanses of leaf-covered grass.

For me, I was beginning to appreciate this part of a gardener’s cycle–the tidying up, the banking of the peony bushes with dried leaves, the getting ready for winter. It all had a purpose and finality that I didn’t mind–it held a promise.

That first winter, after I became a gardener, I would gaze at the snow-encrusted world, imagining an eventual thaw, the peonies parading the front walk–the re-creation. The spirit of gardening had taken hold of me, and I learned in time that it’s a firm hold, one you give yourself to over and over.

In my youth, the promise lived in the simple gifts I could give my mother. Yes, the flowers sang out to us, called to us with their colors and perfume, solidifying even more our love, now cultivated by our very living.

A HOUSE FULL OF WINDSORS

A HOUSE FULL OF WINDSORSSometimes you come across a novel that reminds you of your own personal proclivity (and to better explain: a tendency to choose or do something regularly; an inclination or predisposition toward a particular thing.)

Those who regularly read my posts, know that I am quirky in some ways, one of them being that I have an interest (a slight passion?) about all THINGS BRITISH. But especially the Royal Family, the Windsors.

And most of you know that this started because of my name, which led me to read British history as if I were preparing for a Master’s Thesis, all while being encouraged by close family members who visited England and brought me memorabilia; all while discovering it was meaningful to cut articles about the Windsors out of newspaper, or save magazines with photographs, ask for books about their lives and watch royal weddings on TV.

My family didn’t mind too much, because if they questioned me on this rather strange proclivity, I could always say it’s just another way of learning more about HISTORY. 

But then, along came…

A FELLOW ANGLOPHILE  

Because the Internet connects you to people you would otherwise never meet, and thus connected me to Kristin Contino, who when it comes to this particular proclivity, this love of the family of Windsor, certainly has me beat.

Kristin’s many trips to England have been recorded with numerous photos. And when a major royal event was about to take place, she and her family once again made the trip, finding a spot near Windsor Castle and able to be up close and personal observing the pageantry of the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. After that, I knew I’d found an even more ardent follower of the Windsors…but that event was only the beginning….

Kristin has a reproduction of a bright red British Phone Booth in her home, not to mention those items which all of us seek out when celebrating the royals: tea towels for weddings; tea cups and plates; photos and books. I have a few. (See some of mine below.) Kristin? She’s the QUEEN OF COLLECTIONS. 

And then the final example of her passion, the arrival of Contino’s novel: A HOUSE FULL OF WINDSOR, a delightful story whose main character, Debbie Windsor, falls in love with a member of the landed gentry, Alan Percy—and whether it’s being enthrall to London or Buckingham Palace or her love for Princess Diana and everything royal, Debbie collapses into the arms of this tinged with royalty but not so gentle man—and bloody hell, she gets pregnant. First with Sarah and soon after, with twins!

But later, we find her back in the good old US of A, her marriage over, yet her desire still for all things royal filling up her house. Debbie has become a hoarder. She lives in a house full of windsor. And because she now has trouble navigating her rooms because of the overflowing bins of British mementoes, her three children know that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.

Will Debbie find a pathway through her living room? Will Sarah, who provides the reader throughout the novel with her Sarah Says tips, have the answer? Maybe so, as her first TIP encourages readers to be ready for company, but then immediately acknowledges that in her family, “dirty secrets are best swept under the rug.”

I’m sure Kristin Contino had fun writing this book. Her photos of her trips to England, her love of those red telephone booths are testament to that. The novel is light-hearted and from page one presages a happy ending. Her characters make predictable decisions so that everyone is jolly and red-cheeked with happiness in the end. And the novel is clever, the hoarding is real, because when you’ve fallen in love with the photos of the Windsors and Princess Diana, it’s understandable that you might go for cheeky Alan, that rotter, who chases birds (that’s British slang for girls)—but in the end decides that bloody hell, you better let your children help you out so that life is cracking again.

A HOUSE FULL OF WINDSORS

 

FRED CALLERI — HIS ART “Calls” YOU BACK.

FRED CALLERI -- HIS ART "Calls" YOU BACK.

There is just something about Fred Calleri’s work that speaks to me. Certainly, nostalgia is a thing that even touched me when I was younger. Why? Because I like remembering, I LIKE looking back, counting the blessings of my life, the people I love, the friends that I have had, the places I have lived. Remembering is a way to once again get in touch with the people who loved me, supported me. Or the times when I was called to be strong, to strike out, make change, believe in the paths I wanted to follow.

So when I found Fred Calleri’s art on the net, I got that “you’ve been there in your life, in your dreams” feeling. I wanted to know how and why he chose his subjects, placed them in comforting, nostalgic scenes.    I DID FIND THIS…

Fred Calleri’s experience at The Maryland Institute College of Art 1988-1993 was a watershed event artistically. The excellent training he received opened the window to all fields of art. ​Ironically, Fred took one painting class in college and only became seriously interested in professionally painting after the birth of his son in 1997. Then…in 2001…

after an extensive period in Graphic Design and Marketing, he decided to move to Flagstaff, Arizona, and take advantage of the history, scenery, people and especially the astounding light offered in the western regions of the U.S. What began to evolve was a blending of the representational with some quirky distortion, as well as an effort to create a deeper narrative within his work.

He writes on his website: ​I like to explore the figure, and representational painting in general. By adding a slight distortion, I am free to let the image create itself using each piece as a lesson that is used in the next piece. The historical or ‘period’ nature of the work lends itself to a style (and a palette) that I enjoy, and reaches back to a seemingly simpler time. This theme inspires me creatively. I use it as an opportunity, trying to incorporate the style into each challenge I confront.

As one looks at my work, it is easy to see that the subject matter of each piece can vary. (sometimes drastically). The things a person can find themselves doing in life also varies and I enjoy the challenge of injecting my figures into this world.

My influences are from a wide variety of genres, from The Masters to the great Illustrators and many Artists alive today. They remind me constantly that the journey never ends and there is great knowledge to be gained.

I work in a studio attached to my home in Santa Barbara. Using vintage reference photos, live models and imagination, the work is then created on Masonite Panel or Canvas. When using black and white references, much of the color is created from imagination.

Fred currently lives in Santa Barbara, CA. His work has been featured in: Southwest Art, International Artist, American Art Collector, Western Art Collector, Santa Fe Magazine, (NAZ) Mountain Living Magazine. Check out his website here: http://www.fredcalleri.com/home.html

ENJOY!!

Easter/Spring: Remembering Innocence, Beginnings

Easter/Spring: Remembering Innocence, Beginnings

Open your life to spring possibilities…

Life is about movement, change. Spring is certainly about change, though often subtle, little by little change, green shoots beginning to flower. Time-lapse photography lets us see what is really going on, but truly, our lives are just like that. You bring your baby home from the hospital, and because you see your child every day, you accept the rapid changes that are happening right before you.

All of life is like that. I finally got my Covid19 hair cut—did it thrill me, kinda—but now I can see more clearly the changes in my face, my skin. Time works on us. But I’m still here.

CHANGES 

SPRING is awesome. Sometimes it breaks out overnight, it shouts out look at me! Any pause in the movement of our lives can spring change on us—the pause of going away; of not seeing your grandchildren. Then you come back, see them again, older, taller; you too are older, maybe shorter. The home you left behind looks at you from its front windows, whines in the wind, “You shouldn’t have left me. I have aged. The people here don’t love me like you did.”

BIRTH

In my years of raising my family, I have been a mom of the proper age, a mature mom, an older mom, every pregnancy wanted, yearned for. 

I knew our first child was a girl when I turned on the radio after dropping off my urine specimen at the lab; “Warm, touching warm, reaching out, touching you touching me, Sweet Caroline…” Caroline, our chosen name. YES!

She was a little late, but arrived healthy, eager to become our child. And though she had colic and I got little sleep, each morning I pushed myself out of bed, eager to bring this sweet child into the light. Each day I became more intoxicated with the experience of parenting, Caroline’s body movements changing, moving from unsure to agile—and her voice, her desire to talk and communicate—swift, delightful.   

NUMBER TWO

Four years later, Christine was born. We had moved into a charming older home, my husband had finished his Master’s Degree, Caroline was thriving–it was the perfect time. There were trips to the zoo, the park, Papa and Mama, each responsible for a child. Each watching as they grew.  

When Christine was six or seven, she said, “When I was three, I couldn’t ride a bike or catch a ball or turn on the lights. I thought you were magical because you could.”

We had a rather heavy discussion concerning her observations, we talked about life, the possibilities that for her would be endless, that she should embrace new beginnings wherever she found them, and that more and more the world would be opening up for her and her sister.

For both daughters, I wanted, needed to be a symbol of change, embracing the new: so I did aerobics at the local gym (different for me as I was like Janis Ian, no one chose me for basketball); then I went back to school, had even more homework than they did as I worked to become an RN. But looking back, those were all right choices not only for me, but for my daughters.

NEW HORIZONS CHANGE THE PICTURE

Certainly as you age, the broad horizon of possibilities shrinks, and you find yourself clinging to memories: when Caroline would surprise me almost every day with a new word that she not only understood, but most times pronounced correctly. When Christine would bulldoze her head into my belly, then laugh and giggle, filling all of us with joy. So of course, they grew and I would find myself kneeling between their beds as they slept, tears wetting my face. They were disappearing, growing up and growing away right before me. I didn’t know how to get on with it.

So in spring, a few years later, I gave birth to our son, to Andrew, a longed for and planned for chid. He changed the dynamic of our family, his new life awakening once again our family ties. We all wanted to care for him, teach him, but also to relive past moments while dreaming about the future. Before Andrew we were amazing loving, grateful—Andrew just made it more so.

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Time moves us all forward. But despite Covid and our move back to Chicago, our family remains close, blessed, healthy, breathing.

Wishing you a Blessed Easter, a Holy Passover. And of course, a Happy Spring, the time for New Beginnings.

PS What are dreaming about today? What plans do you have for new beginnings?  

Photo Credit,  Wayfair

Some of The Amazing People I Have Met

Some of The Amazing People I Have Met

We meet many people during our lives. There is often the iconic story of the teacher, doctor, employer who teaches, employs and cares for a young man or woman who goes on to become known in the world: the scientist who creates the polio vaccine; the political activist who becomes a state senator and then president of the United States; the gardener who loves plants and then becomes known for his gardening advice. The writer who wins the Pulitzer.

Every one of you has someone you worked with, met or taught—someone who has gone on to do great things. Maybe that person is you!

Today I’m sharing some of the amazing people I have met who still inspire me to this day.

THE BEGINNING

Born, raised, and completing my education in Chicago—there are hundreds of people during that time in my life who had great influence on me, who loved and encouraged me. Certainly, every member of my loving family. 

BUT WHAT PATHWAY TO TAKE

My biology teacher at Mundelein College saw something in me, called me into her office to underline that I should NOT major in English, become a teacher. I should immediately switch to the sciences, go into medicine. I didn’t listen.

But after teaching high school English at BLOOM TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL (I loved my students) and having my children, I became fascinated with medicine and followed her advice, became a nurse. I worked in the maternity unit at MERCY HOSPITAL in Chicago, assisting pregnant women of all ages and backgrounds. Like teaching, this position opened my vision of life, stressed the importance of understanding all persons in our society.

LIVING IN IOWA EQUALS POLITICS

Then a few years later my husband accepted employment in Des Moines, Iowa—another adventure. Des Moines is the state capital, and because of Iowa’s first in the nation caucus, it is always the center of political activity. My husband and I couldn’t help but become more involved in politics. When HILLARY CLINTON ran, we were sitting in the Drake Dinner at 5:00 in the morning, watching her prepare for interviews on all major stations. We were friends with DR. ANDY McGUIRE, who ran for governor of Iowa, who has been head of the Iowa Democratic party and will always have political blood running in her veins. Through Andy, we met Hillary that morning, and I asked her how she did it all. She teared up. And for those reading who remember a similar episode, this was way before New Hampshire.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA won the caucuses and I was able to shake his hand during a meet and greet in Des Moines. That’s a huge memory for me. But that event was also fortuitous, as the woman standing next to me was an RN at the Polk County Health Department in Des Moines. I had recently lost the amazing work I had done for Meredith Corporation in Des Moines—(think Better Homes & Gardens, Midwest Living, Country Home and many other amazing magazines), because the Meredith Books group had shut down. (Thanks to Terri Fredrickson who guided me through the years I proofread for her.) So I interviewed at the health department and was hired JUST AT THE TIME, — H1N1 was surging.

But because of my work at MEREDITH BOOKS, I had met JAMES WAGENVROOD, a writer from New York City, who became my mentor and dear friend. We actually wrote a book together that you would not think would be in my wheelhouse, MIANI INK, MARKED FOR GREATNESS. 

I also met and toured the garden of ELVIN McDONALD, gardener, writer, and lovely person. You might be familiar with his: A GARDEN MAKES A HOUSE A HOME. 

BOOK SIGNINGS 

The Des Moines Library (newly built in the re-emerging city center with a roof that originally was covered in grass, a salute to the green movement) hosted authors and there I met ELIZABETH BERG. She shook my hand and said I needed to get my novels out of the drawers where they were sitting. I’m still working on that project. She was charming, of course.  

THE IOWA WRTERS’ WORKSHOP

And speaking of writing, Iowa is the home of the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, famous for its creative writing program: The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. An easy drive down Route 80 and you’re there!

So get jealous now: I and twenty other writers spent a weekend with Pulitzer Prize winning ELIZABETH STROUT, known for her novels OLIVE KITTERIDGE, OLIVE AGAIN, AMY And ISABELLE, MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON (and more). I’ve read ALL her work and encourage you to do so.

There were more wonderful teachers at Iowa: my friend and helpmate SUSAN CHEHAK who helped and encouraged me to publish my collection of short stories: A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE.

ONE FINAL and FUN STORY

Through Andy McGuire we met many people in Democratic politics: Governor Vilsack, former Vice President Mondale, Governor of Vermont Howard Dean—but the most memorable was meeting NANCY PELOSI.     

We were in Andy’s inviting house for a fundraiser for a House Representative. I was sitting in the back of the room. I have often found myself in the back of rooms, but when someone is speaking, I go back to my grade-school days—I look right at the speaker, focus on what she or he is saying. When Nancy finished, she became surrounded by people. My husband and I got up quietly and walked into the dining room. I was sure I had seen some chocolate cupcakes along with other goodies set out on Andy’s dining room table.

But then someone was tapping me on the back. I turned. It was Nancy Pelosi. She said, “I came over to meet you.”

Okay! Why? I guess Andy had suggested that she do so. As we chatted, John asked her, as only John would, “What is the most important thing in your life going on right now?” He was waiting for a political response, but Nancy answered: “My grandchildren.” We loved that.

The bottom line in sharing all of this with you is that I have been blessed. The people I have met in person and the people I continue to meet online and now in my new but old home of Chicago, are all important to me in so many ways. So thank you….AND, ANYONE READING THIS–YOU ARE ALL AMAZING, Beth 

Photo Credit   Citizenship Creations Stock.

Decorating Inspiration: Shabby Chic

Decorating Inspiration: Shabby Chic

White pitchers, roses, crystal–this is Rachel’s signature style.

Treasure hunting? I’ll admit it, when it comes to big garage sales on a summer afternoon–it’s so much fun to come home with a treasure. My writing desk was in an “antique store” which is really another name for selling stuff people no longer want. It’s oak and serviceable, but I’m sure its value lies in my love of it.

And right this moment, I ask you to look around the room you are sitting in–because I am sure there is at least ONE ITEM that you picked up at a sale (garage or other venue), or you inherited or it was a gift from a dear friend–and it is something old and chipped, or white enamel, painted with roses, or covered in needlepoint and you will never part with it.

HOW RACHEL FOUND HER CALLING

Rachel Ashwell was born in England and remembers the excitement of walking through flea markets on cold mornings with her parents. They opened the door to what became not only Rachel’s passion but a rich and profitable business. She now lives in Malibu, California and has her cornerstone store in LA. But I have bought many of her designs through her Target Brand–and have followed her style by reading her Treasure Hunting and Decorating Guide. It opened my eyes as to FINDS at sales–garage, antique, flea markets, rummage sales, swag meets and tag sales.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Stopping your car when you see a piece of furniture at the curb is one thing. But spending hours examining pottery and glassware, finding the uses of items you have never seen before is another.

It became a passion and a hobby with me. In the suburbs of Chicago, I held and visited garage sales, garnering cast off chairs–you set the chair in your garden and place a plant on the seat and let ivy trail down. Tins, gardening tools, flower pots can fill an old baker’s rack that you have to spray paint every season or just let it become a chipped antique. 

In Iowa, I found McCoy pottery at the Iowa State Fair, crystal candle sticks and white pitchers. I now have a collection. And I am always on the lookout for a single plate that I can display or hang above my kitchen cabinets. Anthropologie plates are expensive–but if you head to the back of the store there are always some on sale.

RACHEL knows the value of old sheets, pillowcases, napkins, hand towels–any of these items being even better if they are monogrammed with the name of a hotel or a bride’s initials. She also recommends anything that is embroidered or hand stitched. She refers us to a time when these items were precious and thus were mended if they tore. 

I treasure a quilt that my grandmother made for me when I was married. It’s pattern is THE TREE OF LIFE and each of my children and grandchildren have been photographed on the quilt.

COLORS, PASTELS, WICKER AND WOOD  

Rachel loves white, soft greens and pink in all of its shades, especially if you add a painting or a pitcher of cabbage roses, another aspect of her signature style. She places wicker white furniture against a backdrop of pink white or soft blue. In my last home, the guest room featured bedding styled by Rachel, prints of flowers and a built-in shelf where I displayed books from my childhood, paintings done by my grandchildren and framed photos of loved ones.

This new house is smaller and a bigger challenge as to how I can honor my  Shabby Chic items. One wicker chair is already gone–via a neighborhood organization where you can post a photo of the item on Facebook, provide the street and general area where you live, and people can then write back if they are interested. This is a great way during Covid to look for castoffs that just might become precious to you.

In the famous yearly sale that my church in Des Moines held, I found the best of the best–things I still cherish. A big white chest that I painted, adding new hardware. A painted toile tray that I will never part with. High-end pillow cases and linens that I cherish. A small stool that has probably been repainted five  times.

And crystal! Rachel will hang a crystal chandelier anywhere–and I love how crystal plays in light, especially sunlight. My mother-in-law said yes, when I asked for a bag of crystals that I found in her bedside table. They had come from a lamp and she loved how they played in the light. I have hung them, displayed them–and though we weren’t in love with a chandelier in our last dining room, it provided a great place to hang the crystal ornament we receive every Christmas from dear friends. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. 

NEED A FUN PROJECT? 

So to welcome in a year that is new, but also stymied in some ways by Covid: cruise your dwelling. What room could use some new paint? What piece of furniture would brighten a room if you chose some awesome color of milk paint and gave it a new life? 

No matter where I live, I will always be eager for setting a mood, repurposing an item or finding a better use for something I own or a treasure I have come upon. I won’t say Rachel Ashwell changed my life, but she underlined the beauty of the “found” item and emphasized that cherishing and repurposing old things can bring warmth and charm to your life.

Decorating Inspiration: Shabby Chic

Decorating Inspiration: This Week, Mary Engelbreit

Decorating Inspiration: This Week, Mary Engelbreit

Decorating Inspiration: This Week, Mary Engelbreit

Every house I have ever lived in, inspires me to create a HOME. But wow–over time, have my tastes changed. I’m old enough to have lived in the avocado green & harvest gold period. This was our first house, a track house with spring green carpeting and touches of orange and gold everywhere. I even painted my antique wicker desk orange. (I still have that lovely desk and now it is properly white.)

Our second house went through many stages: from a yellow living room to a lovely federal blue. From orange shag carpeting in the family room to oatmeal Berber. During negotiations on our third home, I walked out the door, unable to picture how this house with great bones could actually become a home. But after conceding and after a total remodel, the house became everything I wanted. But life changed, my husband took a job in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Cape Cod in Des Moines will probably remain my favorite. But following the usual pattern, it needed a lot of work. That’s when I discovered Mary Engelbreit, her ability to transform each room so that it reveals your personality, highlights the things you love.

The smallest bedroom had not been touched in years. So—I painted the walls a soft light gold and sponged on deeper shades for texture. The trim was white. I hung Belgium lace valences on the windows and a quilt behind the bed to serve as a headboard. I sanded an old chest, only to bring it down to “pedimento”– revealing was was underneath–blue. New hardware highlighted that color. I  hung a copy of a Picasso print from his blue period, and used white whicker baskets to hold pillows and shawls. A drawing of a picnic on laminated pressboard became a table when I set it on top of a luggage rack. I loved to tell anyone that admired the room: “Nothing in this room is new. I just dug in my closets.” I wish I had a photo of it to show you. 

Many of my ideas were fueled by reading Engelbreit’s books and looking at endless photos of her transformations. It was great fun and the bones of the house were perfect for the style of that time. (Next week: Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic) 

Below, more Ideas from Mary Engelbreit: All photos are of rooms done by Engelbreit–they are not my rooms.

A Variety of Thoughts in the Time of Covid 19

A Variety of Thoughts in the Time of Covid 19

I’m on Twitter. I like it there. If I am angry, I say so. People who are also angry, or simply agree with me, follow me. It’s virtual hand holding. Oh, I’ve had to block folks. They’d be the ones to tell me to shut up or worse. There were a few that threatened me. But I’ve decided to defend what I believe in, and I’m not silent concerning those things. Back in California, I walked out of a gathering, because the people there, in my opinion, had hardened their hearts.

Now there is Covid19–and ironically, it can bring people together. Last night a woman tweeted that her mother had died. I wrote back: So sorry. I have thanked God many times that my mother, the person who gave me more than I could every repay, died in 2013. TRUTH.

WORKING AT HOME

My mother Jinni was tireless. But now, she reminds me not to be tireless. To take care of myself and my family. To fight back at Covid. Jinni would. When I yearn for a nap, I think of her.

Jinni would sometimes walk into our living room and “collapse”, as she would say, on the dark green couch, falling instantly to sleep for five minutes or ten.

I often watched her as she struggled to get up and back to it. (My mother worked in our dining room, typing insurance policies to pay the bills.) At some point, I began to understand that she longed to have a reason to just relax, to lie there and do nothing. But for a widow with three children to raise, that reason never came. And at the end of the day, when she was “processing” what she had typed, pulling carbons apart and stamping paper and using paper clips, she would take my face in her carbon-smudged finger and tenderly kiss me.

How could I have become anything but active, when I had a mother who labored at home keeping us all perfectly safe and healthy, who settled us in school, and then one day put on high heels and nylons and went downtown to work.

Jinni might be comfortable with COVID. She’d be working at home again.

SHEDDING LIGHT ON THIS TIME

Now that many of us are home most of the time, we need to focus on things that lift the spirit: warmth, comfort, cleanliness—and also the stamp of our own individual personality. These are essential.

Our rooms call out to us and we decide to make some choices. A throw or pillow add color to a cloudy day. Books, plates and photographs provide comfort, help us decide that we are okay. We will be okay. And as we face the darker seasons, light is essential, enhances where we live. The blocks of sunlight on the floor; the rocking chair that creaks, because it was grandmother’s. The shadows, the lamplight, when daylight departs. If we have to BE HOME, let’s make it cozy, cheerful, comfortable.

TELEVISION

Many bloggers will alert you to things to watch on television. That’s awesome. And most nights that is what my husband and I do—currently watching THE CROWN. And also the news, Rachel Maddow. I cannot begin to say how her finally being back, telling us upfront, how she dealt with her partner Susan having Covid, and almost dying—how hard that was for Rachel to tell us, how that was for us to watch. The pain in her voice, her face. Especially since Rachel has been a constant presence, warning us, urging us to be careful. She is part of why so many people are still alive, so many doctors and nurses finally got the PPE that they needed.

READING

And there is always reading. On Sunday we get both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. We could read all day! And when we moved, almost all of our books came with us. Books are life.

From Lauren Grodstein’s A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY

“We were standing looking out on a beautiful April evening. The magnolia in the yard was cloaked in blossoms, and the rabbits that lived under the purple hydrangeas were foraging in the fading daylight. The air in the room smelled heavy with food and sweat and burning wax and Lysol and clean linen. Steve didn’t cry, didn’t speak, just held both my hands in his own. His grief was stark and monstrous behind his thick, gentle glasses. The room was silent.”

AND FINALLY: THIS IS FOR ANYONE WHO HAS EVER BEEN A LABOR AND DELIVERY RN 

From Gentle Reminder by Ray Spooner  

Go placidly amid the laboring patients and remember what peace there may be in coffee breaks. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with the unit secretary; for she controls everything…Enjoy each delivery as if it were your first…You are a labor and delivery nurse, no less than the obstetricians and the midwives; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe will fall apart as soon as you sign out. Therefore, be at peace with God…and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of shift change, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and popcorn trodden into the carpet, this is still a beautiful unit. Be careful. Strive to be happy, and don’t go home with the narc keys in your pocket.

GRATEFUL…

In the Midwest, the grass is thickening and widening, the color deep and truly green. When the sun slants through my garden door around three o’clock in the afternoon, you can see the yellow-green haze of color flowing through the yard. There are a few roses lifting their lovely heads. The aster’s purple is fading and the apple tree has lost all of its golden leaves. The mums on my front porch sigh with loss, but we can still celebrate the colors of fall, the orange of pumpkins, the symbols of the end of the season, the perfect blend to highlight the green grass that will return and the golden leaves that blow and sparkle like some crazy fairy dust.

AUTUMN CHORES  

My back garden walk is now swept clean, allowing me to enjoy the tidiness of the fading season. When things fall back toward the earth, the outlines of garden and lawn, of walkway and road, become more apparent. This definition pleases my sense of order and organization.

Fall is the time to remember the trailing vines and the riot of summer flower color, to now become satisfied with the quieter tones that hug the ground–the shaped evergreens, remnants of fall that are softening, the air cooler, drier. The skies have swept up too, presenting swathes of crystal blue. You can see the definitive outlines of the trees, and the houses along the street–definition being the order of this season. It’s soothing and with family help, garden things are cleaned and put away, everything quietly asleep, waiting for a reawakening.

THIS IS THE TIME...

to store energy, like rabbits and squirrels or fly away, like birds who leave for warmer places. With Covid 19, most of us will stay in place, storing energy for the burst of growth in the spring. I have always been a person who seeks solace and quietude more than riotous living. I don’t like loud bars, overdrinking and eating. I like the lines of furniture in my rooms, broken only by the placement of things I love that sit on their surfaces—a flowered pillow, a piece of crystal, a flowing candle of light.

This is my season to highlight my rooms with colors like autumn leaf, chamois and seagrass, all reminding me of endings, good endings that are resolute and leave one feeling blessed, not sorrowful. 

Autumn is the time to tidy up one’s house, yard and soul as the earth prepares for sleep and hibernation. In colder climates, like the squirrels, we stock up on food-energy and light-energy, remnants of what our ancestors needed to survive. We find a time when we can settle back into our brains and examine who we are, where we are going, and how we might improve. Life cannot be lived like the riot of spring where nature blows her wad and lets everything grow and rush about, sperm floating in the millions until it whittles itself down to one plant, one bud. We humans must be more judicious in our use of fertility and in how we utilize and share our bounty.

THINGS TO DO…

In autumn, we need to count the jars in the cellar, the apples in the basket, the sins on the soul. We need to tidy our lives and draw within to discover how we will survive, how we will make it through the dark times of our lives. In spring, when life comes back, we hope to have no fears for the future. 

I will miss the complacency of California, where change is not so noticeable as it will be this year, being back in the Midwest. So what’s happening? Our fireplace is being cleaned tomorrow and we have a new shed to store wood. . . 

What rituals do you go through as the seasons change?

Anne Lamott writes: “Autumn ain’t so shabby for Wow, either. The colors are broccoli and flame and fox fur. The tang is apples, death, and wood smoke. The rot smells faintly of grapes, of fermentation, of one element being changed alchemically into another, and the air is moist and you sleep under two down comforters in a cold room. The trails are not dusty anymore, and you get to wear your favorite sweaters.” 

Thanks to Jennifer Williamson 

Hoping to Smell the Roses

Hoping to Smell the Roses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I save things. Like a piece from the magazine “Loyola Chicago”, written by Hannah Rockwell. Like the above photo that accompanied it. 

Rockwell is reacting to many things, but stresses the proliferation of enclosed malls in the United States–because when the piece was written, malls “outnumbered cities, four-year colleges, hospitals, hotels or movie theaters.” Rockwell sees this proliferation of wandering, shopping, as a metaphor for the WORLD OF WANTING. And then she stresses that “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that children in our country under the age of 15 are 12 times more likely to be killed by gunfire than children in the top-25 industrial countries.” 

Rockwell wants us to see that we must recognize how much we actually have, cherish all that has come to us. She wants us to live simply, be present to our own experience, help pass these important messages on to our children. She wants us to “smell the roses.”

SO TODAY… I want that too. I want that for all of America, but I also know that today, we are at a precipice. The roses are fading for many of us. Voices across the country are coming together loud and clear:

Jennifer Senior: 45 has normalized selfishness.

L. Friedman: The whole world has gotten darker.

Roger Cohen: He severed America from the idea of America.

Michelle Goldberg: Four years of cultural impoverishment.

David Brooks: Smashing the ‘decency floor.’

Maureen Dowd: It’s exhausting to be this outraged all the time.

Charles M. Blow: How could we have been so blind?

Ross Douthat: Have we learned nothing?

Farhad Manjoo: He shattered the comfortable bliss of not having to pay attention!

And there were those who were asked about their AMERICAN DREAM…

Kimberly Berry: The day I realized that no matter how hard I work or how smart and educated I am, as a Black woman in America I will always be perceived as invisible. 

Marcel Dzama: It’s paralyzing to consider how much we’ve lost in the last four years: the human lives, our democratic norms, the health of our planet. I was imagining a migrant child lost in a decaying earth of our doing. The death is staggering. 

SO THINK HARD ABOUT THE FUTURE OF AMERICA. Then, if you haven’t already, VOTE. We all want roses to bloom for our children and grandchildren. Thanks for reading. 

Photo Credit, Loyola Chicago Magazine Thanks to the NEW YORK TIMES for the quotes….