Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Today's picture/Week four CSA flowers - 2018

Oh my, they just take my breath away.

Basil this week!

Still left from last Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Today's poem - A Traditional Scottish Toast

May the best ye've ever seen
Be the worst ye'll ever see
May a moose ne'er leave yer girnal
Wi' a tear drap in his e'e
May ye aye keep hale an' he'rty
Till ye're auld eneuch tae dee
May ye aye be jist as happy
As we wish ye aye tae be

Here "hale and hearty" means strong and healthy.
A "girnal” -  a storage chest for meal (oats and the like) placed in the kitchen.
In "plain" English:

May the best you have ever seen
Be the worst you will ever see
May a mouse never leave your girnal
With a tear drop in his eye
May you always keep hale and hearty
Till you are old enough to die
May you always be just as happy
As we wish you always to be

found here.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Stillmeadow - July

Gladys begins her July chapter with something I'm sure we've all noticed. In magazines and advertising, the pictures of summer show people relaxing in beautiful clothes, on beautiful green lawns, with beautiful foods and drinks on their beautiful tables. They are full of smiles.
There is such an air of leisure as they sun-bathe and acquire that lovely magazine tan. Often a stately gentleman great Dane or a lady Dalmation in her black-and-white summer print sits motionless just at the edge of the picture.
Definitely not the reality for most of us! Gladys contrasts the picture of lounging around with her life. As she decides "to take a sun bath in the back yard" she notes that her shoes are old with toothmarks from the chewing of puppies. Her clothes are paint-stained. The chaise longue needs paint, and its chair pad is full of holes, her heavy book falls to the ground and a dog puts his muddy paw on the open page. Much more like real life, wouldn't you say?!

From what I've read they had a big vegetable garden at Stillmeadow. They canned and froze much of their food.
 The garden vegetables are a source of endless satisfaction to me now. I think many people who began to garden because of the war will never be without a garden again. 
As I've said before, I don't have a big garden anymore. But when we first moved back to our home state after college in Boston, it was the time of the back to the earth movement. And at the same time, in our small area we couldn't buy organic vegetables. So we grew tons of food and froze it. Now, our local co-op offers organic fruits and vegetables, and in season most of it is locally grown. The Farmers' Markets in the area are another source of fresh food. It makes me so happy to see new, young farmers in the area.

There is a romance to the idea of growing one's own food, but it is also very hard work. That's pretty much all we did in the summers before kids. We cut down the size when they came along but still grew enough to put some by. Margaret and Michael grew up with flower and vegetable gardens, and it pleases me no end that they both have gardens now.
The weeds in the garden begin to have their way, after the first week in July. There is a new school of thought, as a matter of wonder, that believes in weeds! Their shade keeps moisture in the soil, they say.
That's a good thing because in this summer heat our weeds have gotten a bit out of control. And any moisture is welcome. We have had very little rain, and some of NH is in a drought. Our area is defined as "abnormally dry." Tomorrow they say lots and lots of rain, and it will be so very welcome.

As I have written before, Gladys Taber was a highly educated and intelligent woman. In this month's entry she tells us that she has been learning Spanish! She hopes to someday "be able to read one of the fine novels being written in Latin America, in the original!"
My adventures in Spanish have led me to think about education very seriously. Adult education, I believe, is the answer to a good many of the problems we have today. If every parent became a student for one night a week, for instance, there would be a new closeness to children.
And our own outlook would be broader. We tend to grow in on our own circumscribed world, and enlarging the horizon is a magic thing. Whether it be history, or philosophy, or how to plant petunias, no matter. It is a good thing to exercise our minds on something outside the routine of living.
In addition to the writing and gardening and tending to an old house and friends, Gladys and Eleanor raised and showed cocker spaniels! What energy! In this particular July, there were fifteen puppies! Three litters were born in the same week. Maybe dog breeders have a special energy gene. The woman who sold us our Lucy the Labrador has seven children and isn't 40 yet! We call her wonder woman.

I'm not a fisherwoman, obviously since I'm a vegetarian, but Gladys was. She described fishing in a way that sounded a bit like a gambling addiction! At the end of her day,
The banks grow dark, and the sky is peach. It is hard to see the bait on the hook. It is hours after we should have gone home. I see in my mind's eye the dogs, hungry, the puppies wriggling, the people who did not get to come with us looking at the clock every five seconds. The curious thing about fishing is that you never want to go home. If you catch something, you can't stop. If you don't catch anything, you hate to leave in case something might bite. There never is a time to stop.
She says what we all know to be true - "the days go by too fast in midsummer", and ends with
"Stay a little, summer, do not go," I whisper, as I take a last look around me before I go in. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Jacob's Room is Full of Books - June

The only mention of the natural world in the June entry of Susan Hill's Jacob's Room is Full of Books is that she goes to France for a month every year, sometimes in June and sometimes in September. When she goes in June, she misses the irises and the peonies, "but June is the best month in France." She doesn't offer much description except to mention the roses and swifts. And the wild boar which are "menacing then because they have young." One year she hit one on the road. To me, these are among the world's worst creatures. They did not originate here but were introduced in the 1500s. You may read more here, if you really want to!

The rest of her month is devoted to a variety of interesting subjects. She begins with literary prizes.
It ill behooves me to complain that there are too many book prizes, having won some in my early career. They came at just the right time, they were lifesavers in terms of the money, but more - they gave me confidence that I was right all along. They were recognition. And they are there. No one can take them away. Forty-five years later, they still count.
So I can't complain. But every year the prizes proliferate and every year, a few of them at least come to mean less - particularly the lucrative prizes for the best short story of the year. £20K or £30K for one story? These almost always go to unknowns who may have written a single stunning story and then vanish without trace. The point about book prizes is partly to give the recipient's career a boost, to provide time and financial support for them to climb the next rung of the ladder.
Such an interesting section because she has been both a winner and a judge so she has a unique outlook on the whole business.

Susan goes on to talk about "lit fests." Have you ever been to one? I wonder if they are similar to the various mystery conventions we have in the US. Anyway, she says the large ones
get large sponsorship, from newspapers or TV companies or local magnates with deep pockets and cultural aspirations. Small ones survive on volunteers and goodwill. Often they cannot pay authors, in which case the authors have to decide whether the gig is worth their while.
But the joy of the lit fest is meeting with people who come to say they have always loved your books, or that this one has meant much to them, or that one kicked off their teenager's love of reading, or was their late mother's favorite ...  I asked the organiser of one small book festival why they didn't apply for Arts Council or area arts funding. They had. They were turned down because lit fests are, apparently, too middle class.
Completely fascinating.

She has a personal slant on Edward VIII, who became the Duke of Windsor, and Wallis Simpson. They are an endlessly interesting subject to so many people, and I loved reading what Susan Hill had to say.

She offers The Old Shepherd's Prayer by Charlotte Mew which brought tears to my eyes.
Heavenly Master, I wud like to wake to they same green places
Where I be know'd for breakin' dogs and follerin' sheep.
And if I may not walk in th' old ways and look on th' old faces
I wud sooner sleep.
Susan Hill ends the month with three cautionary tales, two of them concerned with social media and the other with bullying. Lives were changed. A doctor was
tricked and betrayed by her fellow partners, maligned and undermined by a process of passive-aggressive bullying, to the extent that she was forced to resign and lost her confidence as a doctor. ... It broke her, and when she was exonerated and proven innocent of all the trumped-up charges, it was too late. The damage was done.
She took early retirement and has not worked since.

The other two instances, one involving the author herself, were horrendous examples of the dangers inherent in bullying on a huge scale via the internet. Very upsetting.

I am so enjoying this book. Honestly Susan Hill knows so much about so many things that I read her with awe.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Stillmeadow - June

Gladys Taber begins her June entry so beautifully.
It might seem as if June is an old story, with so much poetry written about it, and so many songs sung. And yet every time it comes it is as much of a wonder, as much of a delight.
If I had Aladdin's lamp and the usual three wishes, the first would always be, "Give me the first day of June." The whole complete day, with the sky-blue dawn, and the golden noon, and the violet dusk, and the silvered night. With early roses unfolding and a hummingbird over the border. And a whole packet of smells too. New-cut grass, and pea vines, and freshly hoed garden soil.
What was June this year like where you live? Other than ticks, I'd say mine was pretty close to Gladys' description. There is always the odd weather June, but most every year is the same, bringing the end of spring and the beginning of summer. Here are a few pictures from Windy Poplars.

blackberry flowers

looking up toward the house 

a volunteer lupine that popped up beside the road

a tremendous year for locust flowers

the patio garden

My very favorite Gladys quote appears in her June entry. These words have a permanent place here on the blog in the Recipes folder under the blog header picture.
When I get to Heaven, I am not going to put on golden shoes or cast down golden crowns around a glassy sea or play on my harp. No, I am going to eat all the hot bread and potatoes I want. Cinnamon rolls, pinwheel biscuits, hot muffins. French-fried potatoes, baked potatoes, creamy mashed potatoes. Potato fluff. Butter will go well, too. And fresh-made jam. Or clear amber honey.
Amen! Though I'm not waiting for Heaven.

I was delighted when I came upon a passage about whippoorwills. I wanted to put up the link to my mention of this bird here, so I did a search for whippoorwill. And I could.not.believe one result. It hasn't been decades since we've had one here, as I said in the post. In June 2013 I wrote about hearing them. Tom and I have absolutely NO memory of this. And we think we know why. Four months after that day, the whole roller coaster of fear and worry began. And afterwards, the joy of having grandchildren - one, two, three. If you are a new reader, you may learn what I'm talking about here.

So after that long digression, here is Gladys' humorous take on her whippoorwills.
I used to think of the whippoorwill as a most romantic bird; once or twice I heard one crying in the north woods in Wisconsin and the sound was exquisite. But that was before I got so intimate with the whippoorwill. He has lost his charms for me. All night long I am jerked from my sleep at ten minute intervals, not by one lone one, but by all his sisters and his cousins and his aunts. I never knew they came in bevies, but if this is just one family group going on so furiously, I know they have sore throats.
The voice of the whippoorwill has a penetrating quality, a kind of feverish intensity as he implores me to whip poor Will. I rise up and assure him, and his relations, just as feverishly, that I would be glad to if I could only get a my hands on them. Romance or not, I like a few hours' sleep.
 She goes on to talk about visiting a man's beautiful place in the country.
"Oh, it is so lovely and peaceful here," I said.
Mr. Bellamy gave me an odd look. "You have any whippoorwills at Stillmeadow?" he asked.
We didn't mind being woken up one single bit. We hope he found a mate, and that more and more whippoorwills will come next spring.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Today's picture/Week three CSA flowers - 2018

Beautiful, cheery flowers. I love all the colors together. A lot cooler than last Wednesday - in the seventies instead of the nineties!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Caught up!

Just wanted to pop in and say that I've just caught up with all your comments, so if you are interested you can go back and check!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Mrs Bale showing you today's picture/Hot, hot, hot

Can you imagine Mrs Bale if she saw this temperature?! 

4.18 pm, north side of the house. Never seen it this hot in my 70 years. Fans in every room, drinking water, reading. Addendum: 24 hours later it was 20 degrees cooler!!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Today's picture/Week two CSA flowers - 2018

In the nineties here! These flowers didn't stay outside for long!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Today's poem by W. H. Auden (and today's video)

I am woefully (isn't that the best word?!) behind in writing blog letters and in reading other blogs. I haven't even read the June entries in the books by Susan Hill and Gladys Taber. I haven't had a chance to write back to the recent comments. It has been a full month without much time for reflection. But I wanted to pop in this evening and share a poem. I quoted two lines of it here, that were in Hill's April chapter. Just now I was watching series 5, episode 3 of Endeavour, and someone spoke more lines. I went right to my book of Auden's Collected Poems, and read the whole poem aloud. I thought some of you might like it as well as I do.

Night Mail
(Commentary for a G.P.O. Film)
by Wystan Hugh Auden 

This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,

Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.

Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but she's on time.

Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,

Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from bushes at her blank-faced coaches.

Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.

In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens, Her climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends,
Towards the steam tugs yelping down a glade of cranes
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In dark glens, beside pale-green lochs
Men long for news.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
And applications for situations,
And timid lovers' declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep,
Dreaming of terrifying monsters
Or of friendly tea beside the band in Cranston's or Crawford's:

Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
But shall wake soon and hope for letters,
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

July 1935

You will see that under the title of the poem it says (Commentary for a G.P.O. Film). I looked it up and it stands for General Post Office. When I searched for a copy of the poem to put here, one of the results was a 1936 documentary on YouTube called Night Mail. The poem is recited at the end. It is only 25 minutes long, and I couldn't understand all the words, [addendum - I didn't mean I couldn't understand the words of the poems, but the voices of the men] but oh, what a treasure. How lucky we are to be able to see such things via the internet. A little miracle really. You may watch it here:

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Today's picture/Week one CSA flowers - 2018

And the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) flower season has begun!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Donald Hall's death

I'm so very sorry about this. I have been a fan for a good part of my life, and have written about him a few times here on the blog.  Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Donald Hall, US poet laureate and prize-winning man of letters, dies at 89

  • Daughter confirms death at home in New Hampshire
  • Hall was known for work on love, loss, baseball and the past
In a 2006 photo, Donald Hall, author of numerous poetry books, poses in the barn of the 200-year-old Wilmot farm that has been in his family for four generations.
 In a 2006 photo, Donald Hall, author of numerous poetry books, poses in the barn of the 200-year-old Wilmot farm that has been in his family for four generations. Photograph: Jim Cole/AP

Donald Hall, a prolific and award-winning poet and man of letters who was widely admired for his sharp humor and painful candor about nature, mortality, baseball and the distant past, has died. He was 89.
Hall’s daughter, Philippa Smith, confirmed on Sunday that her father died on Saturday at his home in Wilmot, New Hampshire, after being in hospice care for some time.
“He [was] really quite amazingly versatile,” said Hall’s friend Mike Pride, editor emeritus of the Concord Monitor newspaper and a retired administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, adding that Hall would occasionally speak to reporters at the Monitor about the importance of words.

Hall was US poet laureate in 2006 and 2007. Starting in the 1950s, he published more than 50 books, from poetry and drama to biography and memoirs, and edited a pair of influential anthologies. He was a baseball fan who wrote odes to his beloved Boston Red Sox, completed a book on pitcher Dock Ellis and contributed to Sports Illustrated. He wrote a prize-winning children’s book, Ox-Cart Man, and attempted a biography of Charles Laughton, only to have the actor’s widow, Elsa Lancaster, kill the project.
The greatest acclaim came for his poetry, for which honors included a National Book Critics Circle prize, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a National Medal of Arts. Although his style varied from haiku to blank verse, Hall returned repeatedly to a handful of themes: his childhood, the death of his parents and grandparents and the loss of his second wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon.
“Much of my poetry has been elegiac, even morbid, beginning with laments over New Hampshire farms and extending to the death of my wife,” he wrote in a memoir, Packing the Boxes, published in 2008.
He at times resembled a 19th-century rustic, with untrimmed beard and ragged hair. His work reached back to timeless images of his beloved home, Eagle Pond Farm, built in 1803 and belonging to his family since the 1860s. He kept country hours for much of his working life, rising at 6am and writing for two hours.
For Hall, the industrialized world often seemed an intrusion, such as a neon sign along a dirt road. In the tradition of TS Eliot and other modernists, he juxtaposed classical and historical references with contemporary slang and brand names. An opponent of the Vietnam war, he was ruthlessly self-critical. Nakedly, even abjectly, he recorded his failures and shortcomings and disappointments, whether his infidelities or his struggles with alcoholism.
The joy and tragedy of his life were his years with Kenyon, his second wife. They met in 1969, when she was his student at the University of Michigan. By the mid-70s they were married and living at Eagle Creek.
“We sleep, we make love, we plant a tree, we walk up and down/eating lunch,” he wrote.
But Kenyon was diagnosed with leukemia and died in 1995, when she was 47. Hall never stopped mourning her and arranged to be buried next to her, beneath a headstone inscribed with lines from one of her poems: “I BELIEVE IN THE MIRACLES OF ART, BUT WHAT PRODIGY WILL KEEP YOU BESIDE ME?”

President Barack Obama presents a 2010 National Medal of Arts to poet Donald Hall, at the White House.
 President Barack Obama presents a 2010 National Medal of Arts to poet Donald Hall, at the White House. Photograph: Charles Dharapak/AP

In the 1998 collection Without, and in many poems after, Hall reflected on her dying days, on the shock of outliving a woman so many years younger, and the lasting bewilderment of their dog Gus, who years later was still looking for her.
Hall was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1928, but favored Eagle Pond over the “blocks of six-room houses” back home. By 14 he had decided to become a poet.
He published poetry while at Phillips Exeter Academy and formed lasting literary friendships at Harvard, including with fellow poets Robert Bly and Adrienne Rich and with George Plimpton, for whom he was the first poetry editor at the Paris Review. He met Daniel Ellsberg and would suspect well before others that the leaker of the Vietnam war documents known as the Pentagon Papers was his college friend.
Hall studied at Oxford and became one of the few Americans to win the Newdigate Prize, an honor given to Oscar Wilde, John Ruskin and others. He returned to the US in the mid-1950s and taught at schools including Stanford and Bennington. He was married to Kirby Thompson from 1952 to 1969, and they had two children.
Hall’s first literary hero was Edgar Allan Poe and death was an early subject. In recent years, as Hall entered the “planet of antiquity”, many of his elegies were for himself.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

German's Sweet Chocolate Brownies

Gosh, I haven't posted a recipe for, or even visited, Weekend Cooking for ages. I mean to, and think of it every Saturday, but I just haven't had a chance. You are probably familiar with German's Sweet Chocolate Cake, and I made it with Hazel Nina in November 2015. The recipe is here, if you are interested. Today I made the brownies.

German's Sweet Chocolate Brownies

Melt over very low heat - one 4-ounce package of Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate and 1/4 cup butter. Let it cool some.

I used the mixer but you could do all this by hand.

Mix together:
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat in the chocolate-butter mixture.

Stir in 1/2 flour. I used 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry and 1/4 cup all-purpose.
Stir in 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts. I used walnuts.

Add to greased 8x8 inch pan with parchment paper in it.

Bake in pre-heated 350º f. oven for 25-30 minutes.

Carefully remove the parchment paper and cool the brownies on a cooling rack.

These were excellent!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Today's home video - Bob Ross mug

This is the coolest thing ever! One day a Bob Ross video suggestion turned up on Tom's YouTube app. He thought Hazel might like it. Well, she did! And has been painting ever since. She talks as she paints, just like Bob Ross. Today Margaret and Hazel gave this mug to Pop.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Jacob's Room is Full of Books - May

I wonder if any readers are drawn to read either Howards End is on the Landing or Jacob's Room is Full of Books who are not familiar with the books in Susan Hill's titles. Just for fun I went to Facebook and typed in EM Forster, and was pleased to see that the page is "liked" by some 65,000 people! Now that is heartening! Of course the new film of Howards End must lead some viewers to the book. Forster is one of those authors whose books have been made into movies, so he may indeed be an older writer who is still read. I did a search for Virginia Woolf, too, and that page has over 900,000 "likes". Makes me very happy.

One of the joys in reading Susan Hill is all the different things she writes about. I find it delightful that she can go from PD James to Texas Hold'em poker in the blink of an eye.

This poker was quite a surprise to me!
I learned Texas Hold'em, teaching myself via an app, and then played a lot online. Too much. I had to stop, not because I was losing - I was breaking even overall and anyway, I never played for high stakes - but because it is very addictive and time-wasting. No, not 'wasting'. I enjoyed it, it was a mental challenge, and I was improving all the time. But time-consuming, certainly. I began to find myself playing every night until the early hours. Time to stop.
And then she continues
But knowing the game has made re-reading Casino Royale much more exciting.
She writes of Thomas Hardy
Hardy was a melancholic man, glass only a quarter full. He had no optimism, no hope for man or the universe. ... What a delineator of character he was. And people talk about Jane Austen. 
I loved Hardy when I was in college but I haven't read him since. I think the gloom may have been easier to take before I knew much of the world.

Soon after reading this sentence,
The cuckoo is driving me mad, from dawn, yet for several years he was barely heard here. I defy anyone to explain. 
we, too, had a bird return. The whip-poor-will is back! It has been gone from Windy Poplars Farm since the 1980s. They have been declining in the Northeast for decades, and the Audubon Society is trying to figure out how to bring them back. This is a most interesting article. The first night it was down the road, another night it was quite distant, but the past two nights and early mornings it has been close to the house. In other bird happenings, we have a red-eyed vireo for the first time. And the phoebe which has nested in the barn for years is gone, but at Margaret's house a phoebe came back to the very same nest it made last year on the porch. Susan Hill is right. Who knows? There is no real explanation about birds. Just magic.

She ends her May entry with a discussion of Gilbert White, my favorite writer whom I've never read. I've read snippets, I've read about him, but never sat down with his Natural History of Selborne. So I've finally bought a copy.
It is always a delight to read his Natural History of Selborne, at random or 'on this date' 250 years ago. He seems so close to us, with his weather and nature and gardening reports. So many things remain. He waits for the first hirundines, records when the swifts are very late, weighs the tortoise and seems to grow enough cucumbers to feed the county. He feels friendly to me as I read, cheerful, methodical, modest, inquisitive, a man in tune with the natural world around him as if it were part of him, ... White is useful, too, for correcting one's feeling that never was a July as hot as this, swallow so early, oak so late in leaf, winter so mild, tortoise so regular in its habits. The sun rises and sets and the moon waxes and wanes and the tides are high and then low and the Earth turns on its axis, for us as for Gilbert White. That is comforting.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Stillmeadow - May

I love the way Gladys Taber begins her May entry in The Book of Stillmeadow.
May in New England is so close to Heaven that I wonder how the early preachers managed to keep the eyes of their people turned to the future life. Nobody could help being dazzled by the beauty of this world if he rode down a Connecticut country highway in the soft sweet light of a May morning. Heaven enough for me, at any rate; I wish everyone could see it.
This is pretty much the way I feel too, though it is heaven with qualification. If you have read this blog very long, you might know that I am going to use the 'T' word - ticks. I still can't figure out why we have them now but never did before. Climate change? I don't know - most things here are the same as they've ever been. Moose population? Deer? Mice? I guess the cause doesn't really matter because none of those things are going to go away. They are a problem for a couple months, and then when the weather is hotter in July, we aren't bothered much. So far today I have found seven on Lucy. I may have said it before but this is the reason we will have only yellow Labradors and not the blacks or chocolates. The ticks are easy to spot. Years ago we had a lot of black flies, the scourge of northern New England in the spring, but they have decreased quite a lot since my kids were little. We would put bee veils on them so they wouldn't get so bitten. It used to be miserable to work in the gardens in May because of them, but now they are just an occasional nuisance. Did they decrease when the ticks came? The latter have been around for at least 14 years. That is when I remember them on our collie, MacIntosh. I've even wondered if perhaps his epilepsy came from Lyme disease, in those days when we didn't really know that ticks were around. We'll never know. Every bit of paradise has its pests and problems. Some have poisonous snakes or spiders or scorpions. Some have fungi that cause disease. There's always some kind of snake in Eden to have to worry about, I guess. But as a kid, the only thing I ever got was a mosquito bite. No black flies, no ticks. So something changed but I've never read a real explanation. Okay, enough about ticks, etc. I remind myself of Gladys as I go off on rambles wherever my mind takes me!

A difference between us is that she adores having bouquets. I used to. However, I decided over time that it just wasn't worth it when my cats would always go after them, chewing leaves, pulling the flowers apart. The only reason I can get Vanessa's bouquets (in Flower CSA under Letter Topics on the sidebar) is that I put them on the wood stove which Raya can't jump on. Perhaps when she is gone, I will begin having bouquets again all over the house. Gladys isn't that troubled by her cats getting into the flowers.
May is almost a perfect month in many ways. One is that now flowers can come into the house. And no matter how involved we may be with the house, the garden, the dogs, there will always be time to arrange flowers. And bouquets will be happy in glass pie plates, wooden mixing bowls, old sugar bowls, bean pots. I have an antique knife box, painted black and stenciled with a colonial design in dull gold. In it go tin cans, cut down to fit. It is lovely with pale misty-gold forsythia and massed jonquils. I use the forsythia for the line of height, and keep the jonquils low, toward the edge of the box. Add to this one Siamese cat, batting the flowers around with a brown velvet glove, and you have something really nice.
As you can see, she has an artist's eye for putting flowers and containers together. My 'arranging' is more pick and pop into an old glass jar so they look much like they did outdoors.

As always, in among the practical things in life, Gladys offers philosophical ruminations that give the reader pause.
Sometimes I stop to think, now, that every day we are making memories. And I wonder whether I make happy memories for my own child. I feel sure that if families would be conscious of the fact that everything they do or say may one day be a memory, there would be less quarreling, fewer harsh words spoken. It is nice to be right, but better to be remembered pleasantly. And there is something so inexorable about the past; you can't change it. You can only try to make today a good one before it, too, slips into the past.
I don't think you can read a nonfiction book by Gladys Taber without mention of lilacs in May.  And really, around here lilacs come up in most conversations, and we put up pictures on Instagram and Facebook. We can't help it. Every year is like the first time we've ever seen them. My first May here on the blog has a post titled Lilac Time. I went out today in the light warm rain and took pictures of all our lilacs.

The lilacs are the stars now, just as the day lilies will be later. The dark ones on the L in the second picture were my mother's. We brought them out here 37 years ago. The ones that I showed in that May 2007 post are now gone. They were in the pasture and were destroyed over the years by all the animals. When Tom cut them down a few years ago, he cut them to a couple feet above the ground, thinking he would get back to the job and cut more, but we found out that the sheep love to scratch themselves on those small trunks, so naturally we left them there.

Gladys has a lovely description.
A single lilac flower is one of the most perfect of God's creations - the little star with its four points and the translucent color and the heavenly scent.

Gladys ends with
The white light of the moon falls on the blossoming fruit trees, on the sleeping meadows, on the far dark of the hills. All's well at Stillmeadow in the lovely May night.
When I am wakeful, I like to listen to the stillness of the hours after midnight. The very wings of peace fold over our valley. I can feel how good the world is, and how unnatural it is for mankind to be so ridden with fear and hate. We are all born into the same world, we breathe the same air, that miraculous envelope wrapped round our small planet, we are nourished on the same fare of food and water, and we are one in death at the end.
Seeing this is so, we are communally bound together. We are brothers whether we like it or not! And every time we invent a nice new buzz bomb or jet rocket, it is our own whom we prepare to destroy.
The moon is wiser, for she sheds equal light over the hills of Judea and the silvered meadows outside my New England window.
These are words as meaningful now as all those years ago.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Jacob's Room is Full of Books - April

I read the April entry of Jacob's Room is Full of Books in the proper month, and decided to re-read it again before I did a post.

In one of those glorious moments of serendipity which happen now and again, I read Susan Hill writing about A.E. Housman's Loveliest of Trees
And since to look at things in bloom
 Fifty springs are little room. 
just after I had seen Monty Don's Instagram photo of blossoms (maybe apple not cherry) and his words:
No apologies for yet more blossom. There is no life long enough to have too much. 
If you'd like to follow him, you may go here. So much beauty - plants and his dogs!

There is quite a lot about the author Edith Wharton this month. I've only ever read Ethan Frome and that's when I was a kid. I hated it.
I discovered Ethan Frome and disliked it. Others think it a small work of genius, but there is something stark and cold about it and it did not ring true to me because it was set in rural America, and above all Edith was a city woman. Still, it is regarded as a great short novel, so I am probably wrong.
I was surprised to hear her say that. I don't think any reader has to feel badly if they go against the flow of opinion about a book. I'd be apologizing all the time in that case! I'm always surprised when I like a book which has also gotten public acclaim.

Susan Hill really likes The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, and The Custom of the Country.
She was a great student of human nature. She understood women, but she also knew an unnerving amount about men. She writes about social ambition, social aspiration, social climbing - the nuances of society, and about the cruelty with which it can appear to accept, only to exclude and cast off, any who are not within its charmed circle by right of birth or at least marriage.
Susan Hill writes about Wharton herself:
If you are born into an aristocracy of whatever country, you are an aristocrat for life. You are rooted in a society to which so many aspire to belong and which has formed your taste, manners, beliefs, assumptions, for good, no matter where else you may travel to or in what other country you may settle. It is important to remember this in order to realise just how extraordinary Edith Wharton's life turned out to be, and how unlike most of her own class she became.  ...  She was one of those children who are unhappy not only in their families and backgrounds, but even in their own skin. She was destined to fulfil herself as an adult but her early years were unhappy, because she was bright and noticed things, and because her mother was cold to her. She loved her father deeply, but he was a weak man who vacillated when she asked him to stand up for her against his wife, who even forbade EW from reading novels until she was married.
I found this fascinating. Though I am not interested in her novels, I agree with Susan Hill that "You could find much interest and enjoyment from reading all about her in the good biographies without reading a word of her fiction, and there are coffee table books about the gardens she created, and about her interior design, mainly but not only for her own houses in both America and France."
She was living in Paris when the First World War broke out and very soon afterwards, in August 1914, she opened a sewing workroom for thirty unemployed women, feeding them and paying them a modest wage. The thirty soon doubled to sixty and their work was in demand. She established a hostel for Belgian refugees, and organised the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee, which eventually looked after almost a thousand child refugees who had fled their towns after they had been bombed by the German army. With her friend Walter Berry she even travelled by car to the war zone, coming within a short distance of the trenches, in order to see at first hand what conditions were like. She compiled and edited a book in aid of war victims, prised money for them out of wealthy Americans and was awarded the Légion d'honneur by the French government. And all this time she continued to write novels, essays, stories - and kept up a large correspondence.
Whew! I quoted so much because I found it amazing, and I thought you would be interested if you didn't already know. The biography she thinks best is the one by Hermione Lee.

She writes of having trouble with moles in the lawn. She won't let anyone kill them so she tries solar mole spikes "and they are not cheap." You put them in the middle of the hills and they emit a noise the moles don't like so they move along. They work! We don't have a big problem with moles. Mostly they are in the field. But I'm glad to know a solution if they do start building on the lawn.

The author has some beautiful pages about trains. There is steam train near her that offers "special steam events - the Santa Train, the annual 1940s weekend" but it also runs on regular days, too. I can't imagine how wonderful it must be to get on a steam train to go do your errands. She says that "steam to those of us who knew it well had an especial charm - though not so much for the railwaymen, who mostly died of lung diseases caused by the smoke and coal tar, or were old at fifty, backs broken from shovelling the coal."

She quotes some wonderful poems about trains, and tells the reader about nicknames for trains.
The last time I heard anyone refer to the old railway companies by their nicknames was in the 1970s when a friend said he was off to watch the cricket but was not taking his car. 'I shall go by the Slow and Dirty.' That was the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway. LNER (London & North Eastern Railway) was Late and Never Early. LMS (London, Midland, & Scottish) was Late, Mouldy and Slow. And of course the GWR (Great Western) was God's Wonderful Railway.
Aren't they just great?!  She had to learn W.H. Auden's Night Mail by heart when she was in school. I wonder if anyone does that now.
This is the night mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order.
Just those two lines make me feel nostalgic for something I've never even experienced. The only trains that went by my house were freight trains but we always ran to the 'banking' and looked down as they passed. Now those are gone, too.

Susan ends this month with a long passage on some people she knew - the artist John Piper and his wife Myfanwy. Her descriptions of them and their home were most appealing.
An Oxfordshire stone farmhouse, with a big barn to the right, converted as John's studio for his larger paintings. ... Myfanwy was a natural and instinctive cook and, long before it became fashionable, always used local produce, real meat, veg from the garden, other things from farmers or cheesemakers around. And it was far less easy to find those things then. ... I always slept in the Book Room, which was literally that, dark, comfortable, ever-interesting. You only had to look round, reach out a hand to a shelf, to find treasures, and often signed treasures by old friends. The 1920s and 1930s and 1940s, poetry, fiction, topography, France, Venice, art, John's own books, complete Shell Guides to Britain which he produced with John Betjeman. ... I could have spent days in there, looking and reading.
She goes on for pages describing her visits - the food, the conversation, the music, the studio, and John's work. I was thinking what a nice couple and what a lovely life they led. And yes, it was lovely but then we see that all of us have sadnesses, even those whose lives seem so perfect. Their son died, their granddaughter died, and John got Alzheimer's. I just stopped and thought quietly after I finished this April chapter.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Changes in latitudes

A week ago today I spent the whole day with my friend Kay. If you don't know her, please go visit her blog here.

Kay and I met on an online bookstore forum 21 years ago, I believe. The store was called Books dot com. If you type that in now, you will arrive at Barnes & Noble. They must have taken over the name when the original store closed.

This group of women and one man talked about much more than books there. We got to know one another and shared our lives and our families. Many of the members of this group met in person at the bookstore twenty years ago. I couldn't go, but in the spring of 1998 my family went to Arkansas and Texas to visit cousins, and when we were in Texas, Kay and I got together. My cousin certainly thought it unusual that a woman I knew only from the internet was so close to me that I would visit her in person. It's hard to realize now that in those beginning days of internet communication not everyone used it.

The bookstore closed at some point, and a bunch of us, not the man, went to Yahoo and formed a group. One group morphed into another as time went on. Some left, some moved into other groups and brought others with them. It was an exciting time, those early years. Suddenly there were people who understood me and my passion for reading. That was always our basis, but we grew very close to each other for other reasons. We talked about everything. Twenty years later many of us are still close. Along with two other women, one being Les whose blog is here, and another who is not a blogger, Kay and I are in frequent communication. I have never met the other two, but we are closer than most people I know in my "real" life.

So there is the back story. I haven't gone back to Texas since. When Margaret decided she and Hazel would go down to visit her long time friend, I asked if I could tag along, and she said yes. I'll do another posting about the Texas trip, but this one is going to be about my day with Kay.

She picked me up around 1 pm and off we went. She drove me around to show me her area, and then we went to Kay's house!

This type of landscaping is called xeriscape. "a style of landscape design requiring little or no irrigation or other maintenance, used in arid regions."

She then took me to a Mexican restaurant where the food was delish.

A selfie outside the restaurant!

Afterwards we went to the mystery book group she leads at a local library. The subject that evening was any book by Peter May. I have read only The Black House, so far. I'll tell you, the talk in that room was so intelligent and informative. I learned a ton about the writer and his various works. The people were so nice to me, too.

Then she drove me back to my hotel, and we bid adieu... until next time!