Wednesday, July 31, 2019

slice of life ~ late july

July...a month filled with both beauty and heartache.

My son, Philip's birthday was July 21st. He would've been 31 years old. How do you imagine your child being 31 years old when they passed away at the tender, young age of 21? The more time that passes, the harder it is to imagine what he would look like or what he would be doing. But I give thanks for the day he was born. The day I became a mother. One of the greatest gifts of my life.

We celebrated Brian's birthday a few days later. The three of us went out to dinner at a lovely local restaurant on a lake and dined al fresco.

The farm stands finally open in July here and the farmer's markets are also bursting with fresh corn, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, green beans, blueberries, onions, and potatoes. I've been making gazpacho with fresh tomatoes and peppers, and one night we simply had corn, tomatoes and roasted fingerling potatoes for dinner. There is nothing like the taste of fresh produce. It is nothing like the waxy produce in the supermarkets that travels hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of miles to get to us. I hate supermarket tomatoes but will eat a ton of homegrown ones.

My perennial gardens are in their glory right now...coneflowers, phlox, bee balm, black-eyed susan, lilies, lamb's ear, hostas with their long-stemmed purple blooms, joe pye weed...and the herbs are producing like mad. Stepping out my front door and snipping fresh herbs for our meals is a simple pleasure in life that makes me happy.

I've seen quite a few butterflies in my yard this year. Plenty of red admirals and now monarchs (yay!) - most likely due to my neighbor having milkweed growing amongst his six foot tall weeds in front of his house. (Yes, the weeds really are that tall. He refers to the clusters of them on the side and front of his house as his "weed gardens". He's a nice guy and a great neighbor, so we try to overlook his weed jungles.) And last week, I saw a blue and black swallowtail on our garage! I haven't seen one of those around here in a couple of years.

Most every evening, Brian and I walk down to the lake and watch the sunset. Sometimes our neighbor-friends are out in their front yard and wave us over and we sit at their vintage outdoor table nestled in their gorgeous gardens and sit and talk until we realize how late it is and we're being bitten by mosquitoes. We walk home hand-in-hand in the dark, the neighborhood now quiet, crickets chirping and stars overhead. Somehow, it feels like July is perfect.

Friday, July 19, 2019

heat wave ~ and book and author obsession

It is HOT here in Illinois today, as it is in much of the country. We hit 108F with the heat index and it's supposed to be even hotter tomorrow. I am so grateful for electricity and working AC during weather like this. The humidity is so high that after yesterday morning's thunderstorm, I moved the welcome mat to air out over the railing...and the wet spot on the cement porch from the soaked mat is still there!

Of course, the coneflowers love the heat. They are really taking off now. This photo is from yesterday. I was outside this evening walking around the yard, and saw that all these coneflowers are now in full bloom. Amazing how much they can change in 24 hours.

Phlox is another perennial that loves the heat. It's a beautiful plant and low maintenance, but it spreads like crazy. So don't go putting it in any established garden beds unless you want it to take over. That was obviously a "learn from experience" thing.


We planted peppers and tomatoes in the ground and some in pots. The peppers in the ground barely grew and then were eaten by some kind of bug. The tomato plants in the ground are spindly and barely producing fruit. However, both the peppers and tomatoes in the pots are doing fantastic. I'm assuming it's the soil. Brian loaded the pots with a mixture of potting soil and compost from our compost bin.

What are you all reading lately? I'm in the middle of reading Aging for Beginners - the middle book in the pile below. I highly recommend this book for anyone over the age of 55. It's written by a Zen teacher and he covers topics such as grief and loss, dealing with physical pain and decline, anxiety, depression, loneliness, facing our own death, etc. Sounds like depressing topics, but this book isn't depressing at all. It's more about acceptance of these things and a time of renewal and inner exploration. You don't have to be Buddhist to read or enjoy this book; it's fitting for everyone.

Being an avid reader and book nerd, I'm always fascinated by other people's book piles or shelves. And when blogging friends talk about what they're reading and authors that I'm not familiar with, I look them up. Recently, Claudia at Mockingbird Hill Cottage talked about the author, Beverley Nichols and his books. The books sounded so lovely and charming from Claudia's descriptions. Nichols was an English author, as well as a playwright, composer and public speaker. He's best remembered for his gardening books. They're hard to find - and usually a little pricey when you find them online. I got lucky and found Green Grows the City for only $6 when we were at a used bookstore in Chicago last month. If I like this one, I'll keep my eye out on online (Abe Books is a great source for older books) and in used bookstores for his other books.

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove had been on my "want" list for a long time. It was another one I found at the used book store in Chicago and has been sitting in this little reading pile since then. I wanted to finish these three books by the end of the month, but that probably won't happen. A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove is an illustrated book with recipes and stories that "celebrates the power of food throughout American history and in women's lives" (Amazon). 

I've also discovered some wonderful authors through Dewena at Across the Way and her other blog, Dewena's Window. We have the love of certain food writers in common; namely, MFK Fisher and Ruth Reichl, but Dewena has mentioned other authors that have piqued my interest. Are you familiar with Rumer Godden? I'm not, but can't wait to be! She was another wonderful English author. Yes, I know there's an Oliver Sacks novel at the end of this stack...he's another author I recently read about and was fascinated by, so thought I'd start with his book, Awakenings. Why does there have to be so many interesting and wonderful authors out there? I'll never have time to read all these books!

Dewena has also talked about Elizabeth Goudge on her blog. Now that author I was a bit familiar with, because I already had The Scent of Water on my bookshelf. I just hadn't read it yet. Thanks to Abe Books, I've found a few more of her books to add to my collection. Goudge was a best-selling British author (guess I have a thing for British authors lately!) who won the Carnegie Medal for British children's books in 1946 for The Little White Horse. 

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Debbie at Mountain Mama. She's talked about her book piles and latest reads over the years, and I've discovered some wonderful gardening books from her. 

So, do I dare ask what you're reading right now, or the latest author you're obsessed with? Because, you know, I need more recommendations like a hole in the head. 

Have a wonderful weekend and stay cool!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

summer in the midwest

We finally, finally got a break in the weather from all the rain and thunderstorms where the sun has been shining every day and the temps have been perfect. It's been glorious to have the windows and doors open and the fans going instead of everything closed up with the air-conditioner running. Of course, this isn't going to last - we'e back up into the 90's tomorrow - but I'm living in the moment. We've been spending lots of time outside doing yard work, forever cleaning up mulberries (poor Brian had to clean them out of the gutters), taking walks down to the lake in the evenings, and visiting with our neighbor-friends down the street. That's their gorgeous bee balm in the fourth photo.

This is the time of year where the Midwest shines. It is so green and lush...the trees look like big stalks of broccoli dotting the landscape, gardens are bursting with color, and wildflowers line the highways. Nothing says summer like driving down a country road past fields of corn, windows down (sometimes with the AC blasting at the same time), radio on, puffy clouds floating above. And then there's sitting out on the porch at night...the heavy, musky humidity hanging like a blanket, glimpses of light still visible, and fireflies flashing their little lights on and off like SOS signals.

We took another day trip this past weekend - this time to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. We're right near the border of Wisconsin, so Lake Geneva is only a 40 minute drive for us. We don't go up there often - it's been over two years. The town is touristy and crowded, especially at this time of year. The shops mainly cater to the tourists and wealthy locals, but it's a charming town to walk around (we put on almost five miles of walking!), dip your feet in the water, and have a bite to eat at a fantastic restaurant.

How's your summer going so far?