My INDEX TO AUTUMN

 

My INDEX TO AUTUMN

DEFINITION of INDEX: an alphabetical list of names, subjects, etc.,  typically found at the end of a book.

AFTERNOON: angle of light in; soccer games in; time to rake leaves, walk in;

APPLES: bobbing, drying, picking; for pies; green, red, yellow; teachers dislike for–truth revealed;

ARGUMENTS DURING: regarding football games on TV, leaf raking;

BABIES: record number conceived in; riding in strollers for walks;

BASKETS Of: apples, cinnamon bread, dried flowers, pumpkins;

BIRDS: departure of; feeding with break crumbs, pumpkin seeds;

BLANKETS: washing, adding to beds, especially in colder climates;

BOTTLES: contents of: cider, wines, window cleaner;

CANDY: see cavities;

CAVITIES: see candy, Halloween;

CHILDREN: arguments concerning leaf raking, trips to ER after football, soccer games;

CORN: husks; stalks in fields; sweet with butter;

CROPS: abundance of; ruined by rain/winds; varieties: cranberries, melons, pears, yams;

DYING: sunlight along the grass; light in the tops of the trees;

FOOTBALL: games, scores, tailgates; see also arguments about…

FROST: first; preparation for; harm to delicate plants not covered; see cultivars;

GRAPES: arbors of; jams, jellies; wreathes made from branches of;

GRASS: color of; reduced growth of; spreading roots;

GREEN: grass after rainfall; see photosynthesis;

HALLOWEEN: cornstalks; costumes; light on the night of; rain on the night of; scarecrows; tricks by children; See shaving cream, toilet paper;

HARVEST: moon;

HUSBAND: arguments about football games and raking leaves;

INDIAN SUMMER: stories, length of; discussion as to whether term is politically correct;

KILLING FROST: see frost;

LAWNS: covered with leaves; light from sun in late golden afternoons;

LEAVES: gold, plum, red, yellow;

MOON: harvest; full; lover’s moon; yellow; zenith hour;

PHOTOSYNTHESIS: cessation of in plants;

PUMPKINS: carving of; orange; size; transformation; See husband, children;

RAKE: varieties: bamboo, iron; plastic; verb: arguments pertaining to…

SLANT: of sunlight;

SQUIRRELS: everywhere; eat Indian corn off porches; bite into pumpkins;

SUNSETS: amazing…

TEENS: hanging in groups; homecoming; tricks on Halloween; football; testosterone;

TESTOSTERONE: see babies, teens; parenting;

WASHING: see windows;

WELCOME: see wreaths for doors;

WINDOWS: see washing;

WREATHS, on doors: corn husk, grape vine, soon to purchase evergreen; also, wreath of smiles. Autumn is the loveliest month.

Thanks for reading. This was written when my children were young. I save everything.

THANKS FOR THE GORGEOUS PHOTO FROM: Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words  

Relax, Let Go, There’s Goodness…

Relax, Let Go, There's Goodness...

How do you let go of stress? Do you walk, run, indulge in a hobby?

I’m a gardener, but I do love autumn, appreciate the end of things, the respite. I could say I just need a break, but because of the many things & duties we take on in our lives, it’s good to anticipate some letting go, to be creative with how we use that freed up time.

LOOK TO THE SEASONS

After our wild fertile spring blasts her seeds, creates weeding headaches, I truly don’t mind a halt to that growth, to the gradual letting go as the earth grows cold and the sun’s angle changes. Autumn is when flowers stand out against the returned vigor of green grass, the shouting changing colors of the trees. Being outside on a warm day becomes a gift. I soak up the sun, become even more aware of the beauty of the earth, as I rake, pick the last flowers in the garden, put away flowerpots. Because I am preparing my garden and myself for the onslaught of winter. As folks like to say, IT’S ALL GOOD. But it is major change.

CHANGE: SOMETHING WE CAN’T ESCAPE 

The cycle of the seasons affects many things in our lives: school ends in one season, begins in another. Jobs and job responsibilities cycle throughout the year. Our very existence can change from the height of abundance to the depth of loss. But change is inevitable, and in these past seasons dealing with COVID, loss and gain have been the primary struggle. So are you okay? Have you lost anyone? 

SOME SIMPLE PHILOSOPHY 

To stay healthy in mind and body, we all have to try to avoid the stresses related to expected and unexpected changes–even those as basic and expected as the change of seasons.  Jane McKeon, of Better Homes and Gardens, wrote in one of her gardening articlesWISDOM: Frost reminds us that we’re not in charge after all.  How do we let go? Laugh at our failures, but don’t repeat them…Observe. Learn. Let go.

On one level, Jane is talking about gardening, but on another her words mean much more. We all experience life changes that affect our physical and spiritual health. Sometimes we are happy for these changes, other times we pray that they never happened or that they will end. In the latter case, we might clench our teeth, tense up our body muscles, even lash out at those around us, the people we love. Or…we can let go. It’s challenging, but there are times that call for  examining or admitting our struggles and our failures, discovering what might have contributed to them, trying not to repeat them. Bottom line, we are allowing a change in our own personal seasons. 

FINAL THOUGHTS 

There will be frost—for we are not in charge. But we can live happier, better lives if we find something about change that strengthens us. A broken bone, a pulled tendon, painful and inconvenient, is not life threatening. It can create a lasting appreciation for that body part, and for the people who do the littlest thing to help us weather that cycle.

On a different note, it’s totally challenging to find anything good in a job loss. That’s a change that requires strength, positive thinking, the belief that attitude is everything. That kind of stress can hurt family relations, ruin a person’s health. In times of struggle, we have to let go, accept the help of others while we are doing everything we can to help ourselves: observing, learning, planting those new seeds. Then we will weather such a season–have hope for new growth; it’s a process we perfect one day, one week, one year at a time. 

Jane McKeon may have intended her words just for gardening, but they are words of true wisdom. For spiritual and physical health, it’s best to accept the flow of the seasons in life, to weather the springs and the autumns. Then you’ll be ready for the winters when they come. Because after frost and snow, spring always returns.

When Will All the Leaves Fall   Primitive art by Debbie Criswell

Relax, Let Go, There's Goodness...

The Greening of Community Safety

The Greening of Community Safety

History: I am no sociologist, but for many years, riding the train from the suburbs into Chicago, I remember being uplifted and then discouraged by what I saw from the train’s windows. I became unconsciously aware that my spirits could rise and fall, just looking out a window. Why? Environment.

I always exited those rides either entering the canyon of tall Chicago buildings, or the quiet neighborhoods where I lived, places of green lawns and tidy homes. But I could not forget the buildings, the tracts of land in between that made me sorrowful for the people who lived there. I was looking at struggle, at the disadvantaged. In some cases, I was looking at real poverty. But then the train kept going, taking me away. 

A CRITICAL EYE 

Actually, back in the day, I could tell you who in my town, my neighborhood, was lax in keeping up their houses, their yards. When you live in a place of order, the disorder stands out. And when two or three homes in a row begin to slip, gradually the entire block can fall into a pattern where upkeep is ignored for one reason or another.

MAKING CHANGE  

Deterioration can quickly occur in small towns, suburbs, but also in our PUBLIC SPACES if we are not alert to preventing a downward spiral. Research that proves this is always welcome, especially when it is backed by people like Eugenia C. South, Charles Branas and John MacDonald who decided to do some investigating of the subject, because they wanted to make a difference. 

In the city of Philadelphia, they randomly chose places to receive an intervention. Partnering with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, they transformed vacant lots by cleaning up abandoned mattresses and furniture, condoms, needles and other trash. They then planted new grass and trees, installed wood post and rail fences around the area and made sure that regular maintenance occurred. The grass was cut, weeds pulled and trash picked up.

THE RESULTS? 

Gun violence went down significantly. Quoting the article: “The steepest drop in crime, up to 29 percent, was in the several blocks surrounding vacant lots in neighborhoods whose residents live below the poverty line…Over 18 months, we analyzed for and did not find any evidence of crime simply being pushed to other parts of the city.”  

STEP TWO: ABANDONED HOUSING

The group then studied abandoned houses with broken windows, crumbling facades and interiors riddled with trash. They randomly selected houses to 1. receive new doors and windows, full interior remediation (adding new doors and windows, cleaning the outside of the house and yard); or 2. only a trash cleanup intervention, or–no intervention at all. Their findings, which will be published, demonstrated a clear reduction in weapons violations, gun assaults and shootings as a result of the full remediation. 

Similar interventions have strong evidence toward violence protection efforts. An interesting example: in Cincinnati, a loss of trees from pests was associated with a rise in crime. In Chicago, people living in housing that was surrounded by more trees reported less mental fatigue and aggression than counterparts who lived in barren buildings. 

Thus I think back to my train ride–and though I always was blessed with a destination that included trees, grass and in warm weather bird song–compare that to garbage strewn streets and buildings barren of greenery. 

The team of researchers also discovered that structural repairs to heating, plumbing, electricity and roofing to homes of low-income owners were associated with a drop in crime, including homicide. The more homes that were repaired in a certain area, the higher the impact in preventing crime. 

FINAL THOUGHTS 

The author, Eugenia C. South, who is an MD working in the trauma bay, leaves us with this thought: …after I care for shooting victims in the trauma bay of the ER, I ask myself–what if we, as a country, make intentional decisions to invest in people and their neighborhoods? Instead of dying, would they flourish?

I am grateful to GREEN STREETS CAN REDUCE VIOLENCE Eugenia C. South, which appeared in THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Thoughts on Where We Are…Autumn

Thoughts on Where We Are...Autumn

Autumn is approaching…with winds and light rains, leaves beginning to fall, crops being harvested, trees becoming barren. Ah, the cycle. These weather patterns contrast with the drought and dryness in other parts of America and the world.  What does nature know that we do not about the length of our days? Why do some regions have bounty and others experience loss? Is there something we need to atone for?

Probably. But though despite the shadow fo global warming, I’m determined to enjoy autumn once again. I have a large planter of yellow and burnt ocher mums nestling by pumpkins on my front porch. My autumn welcome sign is hung and a wreath of yellow leaves blazes in in my living room. This is my time. For me autumn is always a beginning.

A CLEARER PICTURE 

When things fall back toward the earth, the outlines of garden and lawn, of walkway and road become more apparent. This precise definition creates a sense of order and organization. In fall there are memories of wild vines and riotous summer flower color. But now it’s best to be more satisfied with quieter denser things like clipped boxwood and evergreens, like bare tree trunks of grey and soft brown. The air is cool. The skies seem swept up too, presenting swathes of crystal color. Cold air outlines things so definitely, you can almost see each leaf and branch.

ORDER BRINGS TIME FOR CONTEMPLATION 

Definition and order soothes the soul. I lean toward putting things away in their proper place. I lean toward knowing that everything sleeps quietly waiting for a reawakening. This is a time to store energy, to store knowledge. It can be a time to read great books and contemplate, make decisions.

If you seek solace and quiet, this is your time. For as we move inside to do our living, placing things we love like a bright pumpkin or a sheaf of leaves on table surfaces, or brightening a room with a flowered pillow or candlelight, it can also become a time to move inward in our thinking–to meditate and determine more and more exactly who we are.

Autumn decorations can remind us of endings, yet good endings that are resolute and leave us feeling blessed, not sorrowful. Autumn is the time of atonement for the Jewish people and how appropriate to tidy up one’s soul as the earth is preparing for sleep and hibernation, as winter winds are soon to come and humans are stocking up on food energy and light energy, hoping they will provide the ability to survive.

ATONEMENT

But no matter what the season, we should atone for the hurts we have caused; we should try to mediate our expressions of anger. And certainly if we have hurt someone we need to ask for forgiveness, hoping that if someone has hurt us, we can find a way to forgive that person, lighten the loads we often carry. And of course, we must try to forgive ourselves.

SETTLING IN 

It’s a little early, but there will come a time as the days get shorter that we will want to 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. We enjoyed that fertility. But now it’s time to be more judicious in our use of harvest fruits; we need to carefully use and share our bounty.

Certainly in the spring, when life comes back, we have no fears of the future. But in the 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 life. And how we can help others through their darker, harder times.

FINAL THOUGHT 

In each of us is a light deep within. Sharing that light draws bounty, brings good things to us whether the world is hard-packed snow or dry desert. Autumn can provide a time for atonement. Winter and beyond can be full of the light of love as the grace of forgiving someone brings the warmth of reclaiming love. If you are feeling like all the days of your life are hard, cold winter, then it’s time to open up to those around you, to share the light within you. IT WILL BRING YOU HAPPINESS. As a wise woman once said to me: “Feeling sad today? Then go out and help someone else.” She was so right.

(this is a rewriting of an older post, but it always feels just right…)

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