Today would have been my mother's 95th birthday. Here she is in 1998 at the wedding of her youngest daughter in NYC. She's with her youngest granddaughter who is graduating from college this spring. Lovely day. Lasting memories.
Having been married for twenty plus years, birthday and anniversary gifts don't have the importance they did in the early days of our relationship. When Mark asked me what I wanted for my birthday recently, I reminded him that I'd been playing fast and loose with the credit card at online garden nurseries for the last six weeks. I had more than my share of treats arriving in the mail. But while he was out running errands, he did find me a perfect present: The Original Garden Broom.
It's hand-made in Sri Lanka from coconut palm leaves that have fallen off the tree and is designed to be used in all weather conditions including rain and snow. It's marketed as "sturdier than a broom and handier than a rake" and useful for situations where you'd normally reach for one of those tools. What I like about it — and what caught Mark's eye as well — is that it's attractive enough that it doesn't need to be hidden away. I'm keeping it near the new front steps so I can give them and the front door area a daily cleaning. I can also say that my first few times using the broom confirm the company's claims. It's has a nice heft, is sturdy enough that it sounds like a rake when I am using it but works more like a broom. An excellent addition to our garden tool collection.
On St. Patrick's Day it is worth giving a thought to the reason so many Americans — like the Brazill family — are of Irish ancestry. A million and a half Irish left home to come to the New World during the Great Famine brought on by a late season blight on the potato crop. This poem was written by an Irish tenant farmer at the time and is a lament for the potato itself. This version, sung by Liam Ó Maonlaí, is on the soundtrack to "Long Journey Home" about the Irish in America.
It is also worth noting that Wisconsin's "state soil" — Antigo Silt Loam — is a perfect soil for growing potatoes. The Antigo area specializes in growing certified seed potatoes. Wisconsin is 3rd after Idaho and Washington in U.S. potato production.
A thousand farewells to the white potatoes for as long as we had them, a pleasant hoard affable, innocent, coming into our company as they laughed with us at the head of the board
they were help to the nurse, to the man and the child, to the weak and the strong, to the young and the old but the cause of my sorrow, my grief, my affliction them rolling away, without frost, without cold
what will buy a shroud for those to be buried? tobacco, pipes or a coffin of wood? if we are to die now may the high-king protect us and, of course, it would be a release if we could
I couldn't resist these vibrant tulips at the grocery store on Monday. They went in one of my all-time favorite vases by Wisconsin potter Mark Skudlarek. Our home and garden are filled with Mark's pots, plates, bowls — you name it.
It seemed only fitting that they be joined by my teapot made by potter Seth Cardew, Skudlarek's former father-in-law, who died last month. I keep Seth's teapot in the cupboard surrounded by all my containers of tea so it's always at the ready when needed. It's decorated with Cardew's artfully painted bird, feels good in the hand and pours beautifully. The Cardew family are famed for their pottery, made for many years at Wenford Bridge in Cornwall. We're honored to have these two pieces.
Happy Birthday to my sister Meg who was born on this day. Yes, I do mean December 25.
During the heyday of New Wave and Punk she was in a well-known West Coast band, Los Microwaves. She's the female vocalist on the left in these monster blow-ups of the band (above). She also played bass guitar.
She's the one in the pix on the far left and in the corner, though someone's head is hiding her face. The band did a reunion tour in 2014. Is she one cool sister or what?!!
My father was born on this day in 1919. He enlisted in the United States Navy just after Pearl Harbor was bombed in December 1941. There's no specific date on this photo but it must have been taken between 1942 and 1945, when he'd have been in his mid-20s. I have the 1943 Christmas Day dinner menu from his ship, the USS Long Island. You can read about it here.
A long-time reader of this blog recently inquired as to whether I'd put out all of my and Mark's childhood toys for Christmas. I told her that they always make an appearance for the holidays. I just hadn't done a post about them. So here's an update for Susan and anyone else who has a soft spot for their childhood treasures. The toys are mainly displayed in my red sitting room. I did the black and white needlepoint portrait pillow based on one of Mark's woodcuts which was based, in turn, on the photos in the book "Wisconsin Death Trip."
My Little Women doll (Meg) by Madame Alexander and my rabbit fur trimmed satin baby slippers dominate the right end of the bookshelf. Those slippers are a sure sign that I was the first granddaughter!
This end features Mark's well-worn stuffed donkey and his lone leather sandal. The contemporary papier mache pull toy and hand-painted blocks are both by artist Tracy Higgs.
The cabinet below held the music rolls for my grandparents' player piano. The beaded bag was my grandmother's and came from France in the early 20th Century.
The trees belonged to my mother and the tractor and wagon are Mark's. Having them "pull" an ornament is a nice way to incorporate them into the Christmas decor. Our teddy bears are spending the holiday enthroned in an upholstered chair in our bedroom.
Every time we visit my sister in New York state we make a point of walking the nearby grounds of the Chautauqua Institution to enjoy the beautiful lakeside gardens and Victorian architecture (above and below). This historic non-profit organization — with hundreds of summer "cottages" — is located on 750 acres on the shore of upper Chautauqua Lake.
This year we were there before they officially opened for the season so we got to see a number of the buildings in their winter wraps. This is the only place Mark and I have ever seen historic structures zipped up in custom covers to protect them from the wear and tear of winter weather.
These are pretty amazing creations. Typically they wrap around porches with very decorative railings and woodwork that will be easily damaged by the serious winter snows in this part of the country.
This building has striped coverings on two sides!
Porches revealed! These are from the 1881 Athenaeum Hotel on the Chautauqua grounds. Most of the big buildings under wraps in the pictures above are apartments.
I grew up on Lake Erie in Buffalo, NY. Though I did not live on the lake shore itself, the lake was a constant presence in my life. Visiting family always means visiting the lake. This view is from a little park in Erie, PA where my nephew and his family live.
Their neighborhood is filled with massive old trees like this one dwarfing the house across the street from theirs. It instantly brought to mind fairly tales with tiny houses deep in the woods — even though it is on a city street!
Their own yard is home to this outstanding Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), which is native to eastern North America.
My great-nephew and I barely got our arms halfway around the trunk which makes me very curious about the age of their tree . . .
since I think it is bigger than this historic specimen we saw when we visited the Cleveland Botanical Garden on the way to Erie. That tree is 222 years old! So Mike and Sara and Jack and Ben: Take care of your tree. You will not see its like again.
Everywhere we went we saw wonderful big trees including chestnuts and buckeyes. I was blown away by the ones on the lawn of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. I took art classes there as a grade school student and spent countless hours looking at the art as an art student in college. I've never forgotten the Caryatids by Augustus Saint Gaudens on the exterior of the building or the art within, but I have no recollection of these trees.
Even more surprising was the discovery of one of these beauties growing in front of the house where we lived from the time I was in 7th grade until the end of freshman year of college. I have absolutely no recollection of this tree. Though I clearly remember spending summers reading under a densely shady maple in the back yard. More proof that you only learn to love and revere trees as you age!
Our burst of warm sunny weather has brought the snowdrops peeking through the surface in my garden and it feels like Spring. But it will be a long time before my garden looks like the bright and beautiful Spring fantasy that is currently on display at Madison's Olbrich Botanical Gardens through March 22.
The theme of this year's Spring Flower Show is "Beatrix Potter's 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit'." It's a treat for families with young children. There is also lots to engage grown-up gardeners as well. Information on days, hours and price can be found here.
A number of the characters from Potter's many books have been rendered as three-dimensional creatures made of chicken wire (above and below).
Jemima Puddle-Duck is my favorite among all the animals depicted in wire. She's immediately recognizable.
Some animals are hidden in plain sight, including Peter Rabbit himself.
Many of the most familiar characters from Potter's books appear in tiny tableaux interspersed throughout the springtime flower displays.
Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of any Spring flower show — and certainly of this one — are the combinations of flowers, herbs and veggies that can't really happen in nature because the plants bloom in different seasons and different climates. But for this one moment, they are all gloriously flowering together in breathtaking displays.
What could be more satisfying than the fragrance of rosemary or jasmine in March?
Or the sight of Beatrix Potter's desk adrift in a sea of flowers?