Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Life Dazzles

First there was just a chain link fence, practical and needed but not exactly dazzling.

This summer there are two large butterfly bushes, two red maples, two brown-eyed Susans--only one now after two dachshunds chose one to uproot a chipmunk tunnel--various grasses and northern sea oats, and in the foreground two small cannas that will bloom yellow and a canna musifolia that should reach six feet that I ordered for its beautiful purple-green leaves.

That's one section of chain link fence that is now dazzling, admittedly it will disappear in winter but maybe it wouldn't be as dazzling if I could see it twelve months of the year.

But I am dazzled even more by the visitors to this section of chain link fence.

Black swallowtails.......

Eastern tiger swallowtails...

Sometimes so many that the butterfly bushes seem to twinkle with yellow lights.

Other creatures of more modest beauty join them.

Sometimes they feast together.

Each one doing its part to pollinate.

Right here, this morning as I'm writing this post, I can either close it out and let it be another beautiful example of the dazzling gifts of summer, or I can tell you what else is on my mind, knowing that you can't comment back.

And in this case that's as it needs to be because sometimes conversation just dilutes intentions.

I'm more aware this July of my life than I ever have been before of the simply glorious gifts of summer. Of things growing outside, from the holly bushes that really need pruning at the proper time--many would say rip them out but if they saw how many bees feast on the little flowers and then knew how many red berries feed the winter birds and how the bushes shelter new thrasher and cardinal babies all summer long, they might understand why I say no, at least until the proper pruning time and done very carefully--to the old established trees in this yard that I treasure, to the new trees that RH has planted and drug the water hose around the big yard to keep watered.

From the perennials that we have planted that give us beauty and the bees and butterflies their meals, to the herbs and various pepper plants that add a home-grown taste to our meals.

To the grass that needs mowing and the long hedge filled with blackberries that birds feast on.

All of it fills me with so much joy these July mornings that I can hardly bear it. 

And yet that joy comes laced with poignancy.

RH and I can't help but wonder how many more Julys we'll be given to enjoy. We just don't take them for granted anymore. Each time, like this past Sunday, that he has dizzy spells and just doesn't feel well makes us wonder if a trip to the ER will follow or if it's just that again he has not been drinking nearly enough water throughout the day. One ER trip revealed just that. 

Each summer when my annual skin cancer check is coming up I get nervous. After it being positive in 2003 and 2017, I just can't help having butterflies in my stomach. 

Last week we attended the life celebration service of a beautiful woman, beautiful inside and out. A woman who lived with joy and a loving spirit, a woman who should have had many decades left ahead of her. A woman who left such a hole in the lives of her husband, children, family and friends when cancer returned.

And so from the time I pull the curtains in the morning and open the kitchen door to let BreeBree and James Mason out while I look at the pond--it looks different every morning to someone who really observes it with care-- and then fix my first glass of water with lemon oil in it and drink it in front of our big kitchen sink window while looking at the paradise RH has created outside...

to the time when I climb into bed at night, my reading glasses and a good book at hand, I am so thankful for another July day, a day when there have been wonders all around me.

Even a day when there are butterflies in the pit of my stomach. Because those July days are God-given too.

I want them to dazzle.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Summer Vacation Clothes

All of my vintage women's magazines show summer vacation clothes like this one from the 1950s.

Men and women dressed up to travel and to sightsee unless they were at the beach.

Hats, gloves, high heels, on the women anyway.

Down to nylon covered legs. Bet you anything there was a girdle under that dress too.

Not too much had changed by the early 1960s either. When RH and I could afford a few days away before we had children we headed for the Blue Ridge in my red MG.

I didn't travel in hose and high heels but there were certain things you wore in a small sports car then and a kerchief was a necessity.

RH's idea of chic was matching windbreakers for us.

My sentimental husband has held onto them all these years.

When we spent the night at the lodge at the Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge in Virginia, I naturally wore a dress to supper, nylons and heels included. 

When we left the cool Blue Ridge and traveled on to hotter than hades Williamsburg, I didn't wear high heels or nylons but I did wear a dress because a lady just didn't check into a hotel wearing pants. 

And the next day when we crammed touring all of Williamsburg into one long blistering hot day I wore a yellow linen sheath, a panty girdle, nylons and heels, a dressy purse on my arm.

I don't think we took any snapshots but when I googled 1963 yellow sheath I found this one that was nearly the same, mine having a scooped neck instead.

I wanted to see everything and as we walked around the whole town there was not a single woman that I remember not wearing a dress and nylons and high heels, church purse on their arm. 

We ate in Chowning's Tavern that night dressed the same and I remember the tavern as very warm so think it must not have been air conditioned at the time.

RH wasn't in a suit and tie that day but it wouldn't have occurred to him to wear blue jeans while touring Williamsburg so it was slacks and a sports shirt.

How times have changed but thank God that women today don't have to wear nylons or the panty hose that came after them. 

Or panty girdles. 

But I'm glad to see that women are now wearing pretty summer dresses again. Because that's one thing the 1950s had, really pretty dresses.

And personally, I miss seeing a man wearing a seersucker suit on a hot July day.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Last night came the rain..."

After days of hot baking sunshine.....

It was glorious to hear rain and thunder when I woke up...

It's even darker outside now, giving hope that the rain will keep falling, a good soaking rain but not a gully-washer.

A gift for the trees that RH has planted and a gift for him--no watering today.

 A gift for our eyes, a respite from the July sun.

A gift from above.

Last night came the rain, all night long. I awakened in the dark with the cool sweet breath of it upon my face. I lay there, still and happy, and listened to the rain come down.
                                                            David Grayson
                                                                                The Countryman's Year

Today I will rest and read and keep RH company while he watches France play Croatia in the World Cup. 

BreeBree is for France and James Mason is for Croatia but it's not looking very well for Croatia while I'm typing this. 

These strong young men have both played so hard to get to this game that the mother's heart in me wishes both teams could win. The girly-girl in me, even at my advanced age, has spotted more than a few hunks on the playing field. The former soccer mom in me knows that it's not just a game, it really hurts to lose.

May the best team win--fairly and honorably!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Going on Vacation?

If you aspire to utter freedom and have a vague premonition that all is not well with an upper molar, go first to your dentist. Do not think that you can escape from a dubious tooth. Though you take the wings of the airline express it will be there.
Abbie Graham in 1939 book,
Time Off and On
with her advice about vacations.

So well do I remember when Abbie's advice would have saved our long weekend vacation to the Iron Mountains, the purpose of which was to take state roads, not interstates, from Nashville to Laurel Bloomery in East Tennessee where we would visit the Iron Mountain Pottery.

Halfway there our five-year-old began suffering from tooth pain. We stopped at a drugstore and bought anything we thought might numb his gums and hurried on to the pottery, quickly picked out six glossy green bowls and headed for home, interstates all the way.

The next day our dentist pulled the abscessed tooth and put in a spacer to hold a place for the adult tooth that had not yet begun to show up.

I love these green bowls. They never go in the dishwasher.

But every time I use them I think of our little boy sitting in the backseat moaning with pain, a high price for some bowls.

Going on vacation? Have the least twinge of tooth pain?

Better see your dentist first!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Late with June Reading

Where did you go, June? 

I will slip these in now and hope for a more timely book post at the end of July. These were my recreational reading choices for June.

A Summer Place by Sloan Wilson
Pine Island, Maine, thrust itself out of the sea like a medieval castle. There it stood, the only island in sight, with its Gothic cliffs defying the combers rolling in across the North Atlantic....

No one on the island penetrated the disguise of Sylvia's beauty, no one except Ken Jorgenson, who, for a little while at least, had an instinctive understanding of her. She was frightened. The Islanders seemed hostile and superior to her. Her parents did not dress correctly, she was sure; they did not speak properly.

I ordered this book simply because I love the 1959 sweet movie based loosely on it, A Summer Place, mainly featuring Troy Donohue and Sandra Dee. I was a sophomore in high school when I saw the movie and what 16 year old girl of the late 1950s could resist the beautiful couple. 

The book focuses more on their parents than them, which is just fine with me now. Troy's film mother, played by Dorothy McGuire is a favorite of mine but the Sylvia of the book was much more believable than McGuire's portrayal of her. Basically, the characters in the book were much more real than those of the movie. We find that happens a lot when a movie is made of a book. 

I liked this book so much that I'm set to read all of Sloan Wilson's books now, except for his war novels, will skip them. But another book of his is a hands-down favorite movie of mine, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit starring Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones. I expect I'll love that book more than the movie, too.

One piece of trivia: the movie song, "A Summer Place," still holds Billboard's record #1 running for an instrumental song.

Lunch in Paris, A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
A French conversation starter is more subtle. Work is considered boring, money is out of the question, politics comes later and only in like-minded company. Vacation is a safe bet--it's no exaggeration to say that French people are always going on, returning from, or planning a holiday. But more often than not, social class in France is judged by your relationship to culture.
I enjoyed all of this book, the true romance story of the author and her French husband, details of an American adapting to life in France, how she fit in with her new French family, her struggle to find meaningful work there, and especially her food stories.

Four of her recipes I know will become regulars for me: her Better Than French Onion Soup, Pork Tenderloin with Apples, Wild Salmon with dill and cucumber salad, and her Coconut Macaroons.

I want to read her Dinner Chez Moi and Picnic in Provence sometime.

The next three books are the first three in Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries. And this is probably my fourth time to read the series. They have become my relaxing, going to sleep books to be read in bed before lights out. You can't say that about many mystery series. 

I've tried to choose a quote from each book that represents the true essence of Isabel, a philosopher from Edinburgh, Scotland.

It was so easy, thought Isabel. It was so easy dealing with people who were well-mannered. They knew how to exchange those courtesies which made life go smoothly, which was what manners were all about.
from The Sunday Philosophy Club

Scottish clothes are soft, a bit crumpled, lived-in, like Scottish people themselves really....
She looked at her wardrobe, and felt, for a brief moment, despair. There were word people--idea people--and then there were clothes people--fashion people. She knew which group she belonged to.

from The Right Attitude to Rain

A man who has had a recent heart transplant asks Isabel to lunch to discuss something that has been frightening him:

I've had a heart transplant, and I have fairly strict instructions from my doctor. Salads, sardines, and so on....I enjoy a conversation which goes beyond the superficial. Most of the time we exchange banalities with other people. And here you are launching into linguistics, or should I say philosophical speculation. All over a plate of salad and a sardine. I like that.

from Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

That's my Isabel, a woman whose life is thinking, who savors her life in the large village that Edinburgh is to someone who has grown up there, who makes omelets with chanterelle mushrooms and reads week old Italian newspapers at her man-crazy niece's delicatessen, art connoisseur and admirer of Brother Fox who lives in her garden. 

One last fact about Isabel. She's in her early 40s and falls in love with a symphony bassoonist who is handsome and fourteen years younger than her. Go Isabel!

And finally, there was Gardenista, a fabulous birthday gift from a sister by Michelle Slatalla. RH and I both are enjoying this beautiful book and adding ideas to our wish list of garden plans.

For example, will white iceberg roses thrive here? I hope so. Our only rose now is a large wild lovely pink one that grows in the wild roadside hedge. When I saw this picture and read these words...

...white iceberg roses...will bloom from April to October. [with deadheading]...clumps of chives and oak-leaf hydrangeas. 

I love it! I want it!

We want it, don't we, James Mason? Yes we do!


Friday, June 29, 2018

RH, the Pastry Chef

He'll try anything,
even making the lattice crusts for my chicken pies.

Obviously, neither of us has ever watched a tutorial
on weaving a proper lattice crust.

But the chicken cookie in the middle was darn cute.

And we didn't get any complaints from our guests.

I kept it simple.

Homemade chicken pies,

cranberry sauce,

a cucumber-radish platter.

And a simple dessert,
brownie mix with Symphony bars baked
in the middle,
vanilla ice cream on top.

Forgot to get a picture of them but here's the recipe.

No fancy table either
but both leaves put in the table
so all 11 of us could sit around it.

I did use my wedding silver though.

I put lots of my good silver in the kitchen drawer
recently, determined to use it regularly.

If not now, when?

If RH can weave a pastry crust,
then I can learn to do simple,
with a touch of sterling added.

Sometimes marriage is learning to work together in
the kitchen and have fun doing it,
because we're keeping it simple.