Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fully 5/6 An Authentic Janeite

True confession: though I've loved Jane Austen's work for a decade, and spoke and written of my love for her work far and wide, I've never really felt like a fully authentic Janeite.

Yes, I've read all six of her published novels. No, I've not read all her letters (though I have read some) and I've not read her "juvenalia" or her unfinished novel Sanditon. That last is a purposeful decision...I found myself feeling so sad that I had no more Austen novels to read, I just didn't want to read the very last one yet, even if it's incomplete.

When I say I've read all six of her novels, here's the caveat: four of them I have read repeatedly. They've turned into almost annual re-reads for me. I especially love reading Jane in autumn and winter, and these four novels have become real delights in my life. Ordering them into a list of favorites would be difficult, since I love them all and they've each probably been "my favorite" at one time or another. If forced to choose, I will probably order them this way: Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility.

Okay, my secret is out. I do not regularly re-read either Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park. How to justify this? Well, Northanger Abbey was the first Austen book I read after Pride and Prejudice, about a decade ago. I liked it, but I don't think I had yet fully learned to appreciate her work. I do think that Austen is an acquired taste. The complexity of her prose (especially dialogue) and the surprisingly and sometimes subtly humorous tone (which I'd never been prepared for) take a while to fully fall into. Or at least they did me. Once I fell, I fell completely, but I think it was a book or so past Northanger. In the meantime, I'd seen the A&E 1995 mini-series version of P&P, which I credit with training my ear to be able to "hear" Austen as I read the words on the page.

And I have no good reason for not returning to Mansfield Park. I know many people swear that it's the best of all her work, but the one time I read it, it somehow struck me as different in tone than the others. (Duh...different how? I don't yet know.) The characters didn't grab me by the scruff of the neck and demand to be remembered (or even ask me to dance).

I've read bits and pieces about both novels over the years, but I've not allowed myself to watch any film adaptations of either, not wanting to be prejudiced before I read them again. And I've not actually returned to reading either book again...until this past week.

This week I decided to re-read Northanger Abbey. I figured what better week to read Gothic satire than the week leading up to Halloween? But I confess I felt nervous as I took the book off my shelf. It felt too smooth, the binding too uncreased, the pages too new to be one of my beloved Austen books. And what if...perish the reading experience remained the same as the first time and I still didn't "fall into it completely"?

Silly me. If Jane is an acquired taste, then I have so long ago acquired it that reading her now feels like second nature. I should have realized that I've spent so much time with Jane in the intervening years that I would recognize her voice as soon as I began reading. I should have known that one can never really have the same reading experience twice, because wherever one is today is not where one was ten years ago (or five, or one, or possibly even last month).

So I picked it up and began: "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine."

And oh, I fell! I fell!

What a delicious novel! Its pointed satire, witty dialogue, delightfully and sometimes painfully naive young heroine, hysterical send-ups of gothic literature (no wonder Bronte tut-tutted over Jane), and sometimes just downright snarky humor had me chuckling as I turned pages. And turned pages quickly, as I discovered, much to my joy, that reading it after the passage of so many years made it almost feel like a "new" Austen book, one I couldn't put down. Henry Tilney is a marvelous hero: funny and snarky himself at times, but almost unfailingly kind to Catherine and (thankfully) stable. And the looked-for-and-expected cad, John Thorpe, is not quite the devilish cad of later Austen novels -- he's mostly just a colossal bore who talks endlessly of the superiority of his horse and curricle (think of a contemporary man who drones on about his car, or for you Lovelace fans -- think Phil Brandish and his amazing red auto). The mis-communications between Thorpe and Catherine were enough to make me laugh into my pillow.

What a delight to re-read Northanger Abbey and love it so. I now consider myself almost completely an authentic Janeite, or at least 5/6 of one. Next up, sometime this autumn or winter, a re-read of Mansfield Park!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Comfort Food" Movies

I've been thinking a lot about comfort food this week as I begin to make some of my favorite fall recipes. Suddenly we're cooking and baking with lots of orange, from pumpkin to sweet potatoes! Autumn is a time for squash soups, for thick, warm breads, for butter and cinnamon and apples.

Yesterday the sweet girl and I had a poetry tea party (I guess we could call these "poet-teas"?) the first of many, I hope. We'd baked our traditional pumpkin-butterscotch cookies the day before, and had some of those along with tea in thin white cups (she wanted peppermint with good dollops of milk from the little pumpkin-shaped cream pitcher, and I had decaf British Blend, my current favorite) all on an autumn-patterned cloth. We read fall-like poetry and just other poems that struck our fancy: Robert Louis Stevenson, David McCord, Christina Rossetti, William Blake.

I've been feeling extra tired this week. So last night, with D. having another late night at work and the sweet girl in bed, I crashed on the couch in front of one of my favorite "comfort food movies" -- The Sound of Music.

You know what I mean by comfort food movies -- the kind of movies that are so deliciously familiar that you feel like you're eating your mom's mashed potatoes or your favorite homemade mac and cheese. It's nourishing but not surprising to your palette -- you know just how it's going to taste, and it always feels great going down. You know it was made with love. You know other people love it too. Not twists or turns in the story recipe, which you know by heart, so it sometimes makes you sleepy (and you can probably quote from it in your sleep too). That kind of comfort food movie.

The Sound of Music is one of my favorite such movies. Besides the story, acting and singing (all of which I love) I love the feelings it evokes for me. I always remember the wonderful evening, oh so many years ago, when the film first burst onto my consciousness. I went with my dad and older sister to see it on a big screen at the Byrd Theater in Richmond. The Byrd was a majestic movie house from a bygone age of film-going, and it forever ruined me for utilitarian multiplexes. It had ornate decorations and red velvet seating, a "mighty wurlitzer" organ, and a lobby with a shimmering chandelier. I still recall how stunned I felt when we stepped back into that lobby at intermission (yes, a real intermission with an orchestral interlude). Remember what happens right before the intermission? Maria has just packed her bag so she can run away to the abbey, away from the dashing retired naval captain whose love she'd never sought but whose love she nevertheless finds herself longing for, and as she leaves she casts one last yearning look around the huge entrance-hall to the von Trapp family mansion. You know, the one with the shimmering chandelier. When we stepped out of the film world and into the lobby of the Byrd, I am pretty certain I just stood there and gawked. I was sure somehow the movie world had extended into my real nine-year-old life and I was just plain dazzled.

So every time I watch The Sound of Music, that memory watches with me. But so many other memories come along for the ride too. After seeing it on the big screen, I watched it for many years in its choppily edited version on network television. I still know all the places where the t.v. version made cuts, because I still find myself startled when the actors and actresses move into those bits of speech or song, as though they snuck them in as extras when I wasn't looking. After all these years, it still feels like bonus material.

And of course, I know the songs by heart. My sister and I used to sing along with the record album...yes, I did say album...and I know Julie Andrews' inflections and phrasings so well I tend to note the places where she pauses for breath. I also know all the places where she soars on the high notes, so I can adjust the volume on the remote control accordingly (since we're spread out on one floor, late-night movies tend to keep other people in the house awake, like tired seven year olds who should be sleeping, so I'm careful with volume).

Did I mention that Christopher Plummer was my first "movie crush"? I still melt into a puddle over the love scene in the gazebo, even though I've long since read and heard the things Andrews and Plummer have said about the hilariousness of that shot, their unprofessional bout of giggles, and how Robert Wise basically gave in and shot it in semi-darkness in an attempt to calm things down. He liked the silhouette so well he decided to keep it.

And I'm amazed that I still find things to notice in the movie that I've never really noticed before, like the shot that pans upward at the wedding, focusing in on the beautiful church altar, then swings to the bell-towers as we note the passing of time, then seems to hover in mid-air as we find our focus on a nazi flag and a square full of goose-stepping soldiers. I got shivers last night seeing that, noting how quickly and powerfully our attention was moved from the altar to the flag, and how that seemed to symbolize, in just a few seconds, exactly how Germany had swallowed up Austria. Only of course, not swallowed it up entirely, as we see in subsequent scenes of quiet courage.

What a great movie. What a great week for comfort food.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Multitude Monday (Counting One Thousand Gifts)

The weekend provided some good time to rest and catch-up on things here at home. The weather was beautiful too, even though it got a tad chillier again. At least not as cold as the week before! I think our leaves are at their peak...

I'm trying to be better at counting my blessings, and am trying to remember to share some of them each Monday (or at least some Mondays!) on my blog. This is an ongoing project; I got the idea from the Gratitude Community at Holy Experience. So far it's been a good exercise, helping to keep me more conscious of the many people and things I have to be grateful for.

Today I'm feeling especially grateful for:

5. Time spent in the little gazebo park yesterday with the sweet girl. There are several lovely trees there, truly at the peak of their colors (I'll try to post some photos later on). While she piled leaves high and played, first alone and then with some thoughtful older kids from the neighborhood (kids we'd never met before) I had the chance to just sit nearby and rest and write some snippets of poetry.

6. Old movies. Sometimes there's just nothing better than popping in an old movie and snuggling down under a fleece blanket to watch it. Last night I watched most of the first half of The Sound of Music, and it brought back such lovely memories from my childhood, especially the time I saw it on the big screen with my Dad and sister.

7. Good sermons. I am feeling so thankful for the quality of preaching in our church right now. Our pastor has been preaching a particularly rich sermon series on 2nd Corinthians, and I almost always leave with so much to ponder. Yesterday was especially thought-provoking, all about authentic discipleship; lots there for the Lord to work deeper into my heart.

8. Far-away friends who continue to love us and partner with us in ministry. So, so thankful for these folks.

9. A husband who prays for me, learns and grows with me, encourages me, and makes me laugh. I wish I could remember what we got the giggles about late last night, when we were both feeling extra silly and tired. I'm sure it will come back to me sometime!

10. Beautiful music. This week, especially Bach, and especially the Well-Tempered Clavier. I've been listening to a wonderful 2-CD set from our public library, with the songs played by a pianist named Vladimir Feltsman. I love that the sweet girl is really responding to Bach too. She's been asking for him by name...that is, when she isn't asking for doo-wop (which has recently become one of her favorite types of music...yes, another library CD getting a lot of play!).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lovely Links

Two blessings to my weekend...too lovely not to share.

One is this wonderful blog post by Karen Edmisten. I'm very thankful she "dipped into her archives" to re-post "When They're Older..." a reflection on parenting and "living in the moment" that moved me to tears (even while I grinned wryly at how much I saw myself and our family in it). Every once in a while, I read something that's so moving, so right, so much something I need to hear at this precise moment that I think, "Well, Lord, that was for me, wasn't it?" Of course I know it's not *just* for me! Which is just one reason I decided to share it.

The other is a beautiful ballad that my friend Erin posted on YouTube. It's called Lucy's Lament, and is inspired, as so many of Erin's creations are, by her love for a particular story or character, in this case Lucy Pevensie of Narnia. Erin is a marvelous poet. In fact, I first got to know her (and I'm so thankful I did) after she posted this poem a few years ago on Epinions. I found it so moving that I wrote her an email about it, and the rest, as they say, is history. A handful of years, much correspondence, a couple of re-reading blogs, and two real-life visits later, she and I are still friends -- and I still love this poem. I'm so glad she has now set it to music.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It Turns Out She's Tib

The sweet girl and I have both had a difficult week, individually and together. This isn't a place I've designated for whining (I save that for my precious & patient husband, or my journal, and sometimes my prayers -- I'm SO thankful God is patient and really wants to hear what's on my heart!) so I'll just say that it's been a week full of learnings for us both. And a week to try my patience on.

In the midst of the hard stuff, some of which is just mundane, tiring stuff, one bright spot has been our daily read-aloud time. For S. is absolutely loving -- nay, adoring -- the first Betsy-Tacy books. We read the first three around the time she was five, and she seemed to enjoy them then, but I guess it was a bit early. She claimed not to remember them very well. But judging from her delighted response now, she is definitely ready for them!

We zipped through Betsy-Tacy and moved right on in to Betsy-Tacy and Tib. "Could we ready just ONE more chapter please?" has been the week's mantra. And yes, I'm a sucker, especially when it comes to reading books I love so much. Despite not getting nearly enough done this week on a number of writing, teaching and household projects, I find myself saying "sure! yes! you bet!" and we read another chapter.

The most eye-opening thing for me has been to see her response to Tib. I've always related most to Betsy (the imaginative story-teller) and in some respects to Tacy (I was just about that desperately shy in my very earliest years) but the sweet girl, with her strongly literal streak, really "gets" Tib. When Betsy plans something outrageous and Tib looks admiring but politely skeptical...well, let's just say the sweet girl understands that look. After all, jumping off things really ISN'T flying, though it sure is fun to do it, and OK, Betsy, we'll humor you and call it flying. And hey, by the way, mixing everything you can find in the kitchen in one big pan really ISN'T cooking, and probably is going to taste pretty bad. But OK, Betsy, we know it will be fun if we do it together, especially if you make up a song about it.

It makes me chuckle to see how much my daughter relates to Tib, and it also gives me insight into some of the ways in which she and I relate to one another. I guess good story-telling does that: holds up mirrors for us, mirrors we can look into and see reflections of ourselves and others, or at least reflections that remind us of different parts of who we are. And yes, it's true, there really ISN'T a palace inside the mirror, and beautiful Aunt Dolly really lives in Milwaukee anyway, not a palace. But OK, Betsy, we'll all get mirrors and pretend we're walking on the ceiling because it sure is fun to imagine. Especially when we can do it together.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I just found out that a very dear man passed away last night. He turned 98 years old yesterday, and he is one of my sister's closest friends (more like family than friend). He was active and vibrant until almost the end. I had the privilege of getting to know him and his beautiful wife many years ago.

Thinking about him today, and about precious friendships and how quickly life passes, even when we're given a longer-than-usual allotment of years. I found myself trying to remember a certain poem about autumn and loss, but I couldn't recall precisely what it was. So I wrote this instead. It's still a rough draft, but from the heart.


A poem is on the tip of my tongue.
A friend has died, and it is October,
the season of loss and deepening cold,
rich orange and red, old brown, bright gold.
A poem is on the tip of my tongue,
but images hover, words escape me.
I can’t even recall if it was one I wrote
or one I discovered late one night
in a pool of yellow lamplight
when I couldn’t sleep
because poetry beckoned.
It called to me then, it calls to me still,
a small gem, a careful bit of art,
a tiny but defiant act of will,
a bit of beauty in the midst of grief,
planted in a book, or loose in sheaf.
What did it say? I’m no pretender.
A poem is on the tip of my tongue,
a friend has died, and I can’t remember
what the poem once said.
I only sense that the words were right,
important, precious, the ones
needed now in this time of grief.
The words drifting past like
a red and orange leaf.
Strange how close they seem,
wind-blown, and with a purpose.

~EMP 10/18/09

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Take Two of These and Call Me in the Morning

"Betsy-Tacy and ginger-ale. That sounds like a really good idea."

I think those were the sweet girl's exact words to me earlier today, and I heartily concurred. She sipped bubbly gingery soda and I read the first three chapters of the first Betsy-Tacy book. We decided to go back to the beginning, since she doesn't remember the first couple of books very well. Oh, how I love those opening chapters of B-T! "You needn't call names!" The little glass pitcher with the gold rim. The gift of a friend. Tacy's mother's unfrosted cake. The supper bench. Betsy's first story. Floating away on pink feather clouds.

We had a bit of a "lost day" today. I was up incredibly late working on an editing project so was exhausted from the moment the alarm went off. Then the sweet girl felt sick at breakfast and seems to have been battling a stomach bug or some sort of virus all day (no fever, but not appetite or energy either). I spent an hour plus in a dental chair this afternoon, having a tooth rebuilt by my amazing dentist (but nevertheless returning home with a splitting headache). D. had to work all day (still there) except for the hour or so he was home while I was at the dentist.

Did I mention it's in the 30s outside and pouring rain? In mid-October? So we gave in and turned on the heat. The apartment has been sooooo cold, but we were trying to hold out turning on the heat till November because we know how awful our heating bills will be this winter. I wasn't expecting snow showers in the forecast this early in October though. (I laughed and told D. that you know you're tired when you almost fall asleep while the dentist is drilling and rebuilding your tooth...but hey, it was cozy and warm in that office!)

S. and I cuddled late this afternoon and read each other books. Well, I tried to read, through a still-numb mouth, and she actually did read. She read aloud to me, some of her old picture book favorites (Old Bear, We're Going on a Leaf Hunt, Everywhere Babies) and I dozed, curled up in my bathrobe, and tried to pretend I hadn't been sleeping when she would stop to ask "Mommy, are you asleep?" Fortunately I know Old Bear by heart, so I could instantly cotton on to wherever we were in the plot.

So...just a weird, bleary day in many ways...but a good one in many ways too. And hopefully we'll all get to bed early tonight and wake up refreshed in the morning.

Monday, October 12, 2009

An Attitude of Gratitude

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite hymns was Count Your Blessings. You may remember it:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings,
name them one by one, Count your blessings,
see what God hath done! Count your blessings,
name them one by one,
Count your many blessings see what God has done.

One reason I loved it so much was because my big sister Martha used to sing it with me, and she always made the chorus so much fun. When she got to the second "name them one by one" she would slow down dramatically and then add "two, three, four," as a melodic aside. Although this isn't a song I hear sung much in churches nowadays, I still sometimes sing it and I always add my sister's creative flourish.

I've been thinking for a while of joining the "Gratitude Community" over at the blog Holy Experience. It's a wonderful blog (which should have long ago made it into the sidebar of my favorites) written by Ann Voskamp, the author of the geography/earth science text I'm using with the sweet girl in our grammar 2 year. She's encouraging people to cultivate gratitude, and her "Gratitude Community" is a place where people join in by choosing to consciously list things they're grateful for, either in a private journal and/or via blogs. The idea as I see it is not to fixate on the counting itself or the number (though she suggests members strive to eventually list 1000 things they're grateful for) but to let the exercise itself nourish one's inner attitude of praise and thanksgiving.

I often find myself journaling about the things I'm most thankful for, but in these busy and way-too-full days, I think I need the added encouragement of walking beside others who are doing it regularly. I want it to become a habit. So I'll be trying to cultivate more times of thanksgiving in my prayers and private journaling, and on Mondays, I will try to share some of those things I'm thankful for here.

So here's the first handful of things I'm thankful for:

1. Our church is out of the basement. After years of worshiping in our temporary space downstairs, our small church family moved to our newly-renovated-but-still-in-process sanctuary late this summer. On Saturday, our bishop/archbishop came to bless the space, and to install our interim pastor as our rector. It was a joyous celebration with the space filled to the brim with friends old and new. I just kept thinking "how beautiful is the body of Christ."

2. The sweet girl played drums at the offertory. Yes, my precious seven year old, once such a shy toddler she burst into tears and ran away from a ballet recital, played drums with several of her musical classmates at the worship service. (Our music minister has been teaching world drums at a weekly class.) She was the youngest one playing, and she did great, which blessed her parents' hearts on all kinds of levels. Perhaps the deepest level was the song they played ("Nothing But the Blood of Jesus," long a favorite) and realizing she was actually part of the worship team. A close second was how many members of the congregation came up and said something encouraging to her or to us later. This is the community she's spent her whole life in, was baptized in, spoke some of her first words in on a miraculous Easter Sunday in 2005. Some of these folks have prayed for her since before she was born.

3. The annual family tradition of going to Ohio for an October craft & music festival. We went on Sunday (after the late evening at worship on Saturday) and it was just a gorgeous autumn day. We watched the clog dancers (the sweet girl's favorite), wandered around looking at beautiful handcrafted arts, sat under yellowing trees and listened to our favorite bluegrass band (we hear them every year)...and I ate sweet potato fries.

4. My mom and sister Mary's recent trip to Asheville. They got to go together to the annual play about the life of Thomas Wolfe. My paternal grandparents (long passed on) are characters in the play, and M & M said it was so amazing to see them depicted on stage. They got to have dinner with the playwright, producer and the actor playing our grandfather. I'm thankful for people who care about writing (and acting) good stories that honor the lives of real people. I'm thankful my mom and sister had this precious time together.

holy experience

Thursday, October 08, 2009

"How to Talk to Children About Art": A Book I'm "Reading At"

I've been realizing that I tend to categorize books I'm reading into two major categories: books I read, and books I "read at."

"Read at" is a funny expression, I suppose (does it come from my southern roots?) but it seems to capture what I mean by the way I read certain books. Although many books have narratives that inspire me to read from cover to cover, others are books that I only dip into periodically, or read for a spell and then go back to later.

Some of my "read at" books would best be classified as reference books, while others are longer books that I find myself taking breaks from but going back to. For me, those are most often history books. History tends to hum, like a giant refrigerator, in the background of whatever else I'm reading. I have favorite periods of history I go back to especially often.

"Read at" books sometimes get a bit shortchanged: they can't always be added to a neat little list of "books read this month" or even "books read this season" (like my quarterly reading round-ups). Sometimes I "read at" a book for a long enough period of time that I do eventually finish it, but even then, I find reviewing it more challenging.

So every once in a while, I plan to do a post where I talk about some of the books I'm "reading at" -- the ones humming in the background while I'm busy reading other things.

One such "at" book for me right now is How to Talk to Children About Art by Francoise Barbe-Gall. I found this book by accident when I was looking for another book about art for children: it was one of those eye-grabbers in our county library system. I placed it on hold and then forgot about it until it came in.

But it's a terrific little book. Just the right size to tuck into a bag and take to a museum, if you're so inclined, and it would be very useful there. In addition to a large section of discussions of actual paintings, under the heading "How to Look at a Picture," the book also contains two other sections. One is called "A Good Start" and offers practical guidance on how to help a child develop an interest in paintings, ways to get the most out of museum trips with children, and what kinds of paintings are best to show children, depending on their ages.

The ages the author addresses are 5-7, 8-10, and 11-13 year olds. The book doesn't tackle the topic of art with adolescents, but my guess is, if your child is good and hooked on art by the time he or she is a teenager, then further exploration will unfold naturally. Because it only goes up through 13, the ages don't quite equate to the "trivium" stages of learning, but the suggestions for each of the age groups did seem to roughly correspond to learning styles and methods most classical homeschoolers will be familiar with from their understanding of the grammar/logic/rhetoric phases. In other words, the focus of learning moves from concrete to more analytical.

Th middle section, entitled "It's OK Not to Know," includes questions and answers about museums, art and art history. I've learned a lot myself from perusing this part.

The final section offers 30 paintings (produced here in small color reproductions) with more questions and answers, sort of discussion starters/prompts, if you will, about each of the paintings. The author has colored coded the pages so you know which Q&As will help you most when talking with children in the aforementioned age groups.

The organization reminds me of a field guide! But instead of color codes for bird plumage, there are color codes for kids. So the "red" sections provide prompts where the goals are straightforward: "identity what you see in the painting...identify the various elements of a painting" (not always easy even for adults, the author says). Then the "yellow" section provides "slightly more searching questions" to help understand the painting, questions that "require some thought and additional time". Finally, the "blue" section helps you find ways to "consider the painting in relation to the outside world" which includes thoughts about the painter and the work's historical importance.

Some of the practical advice in this book seems so obvious, but I found myself thinking about it a lot when we went to the Carnegie Museum of Art this past Sunday (it was a free day!) with our seven year old. I remembered the author's suggestion that I get down on her eye-level and see what she was seeing (and that's eye-opening!) and also the suggestion that I let her tell me what she liked in a particular room full of art (rather than dragging her over to the things I consider most noteworthy) and then spend time looking at it and talking about it together. We also took the sweet girl's "I'm tired" and "my feet hurt" a lot more to heart, and cut the wandering-through-gallery part of the afternoon a little shorter than we might have normally. I agree that it's much better to have her leave with good memories of really looking at a few things than to drag her around till the whole family's exhausted in some effort to cram in more than she's really ready to see.

I've not read all the notes on all the paintings yet (that's part of what makes this book a "read at") but every time I pick it up, I enjoy it more and learn something else new. I like it so much, I'm considering adding it to our permanent library.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

100 Species Challege #9: Jewelweed

I'm so far behind on posting pictures/notes for our 100 Species Challenge that I'd blush except for the fact that I'm enjoying crawling along at turtle-pace. The pace seems to fit the way I find myself looking at the world these days: longer, more slowly, with real attention. At the rate I'm going, I may finish this project in time for my 50th birthday (that gives me about 8 1/2 more years...)

And I'm going to have to fudge this entry a bit because I don't have an original picture of the plant. I promise you that I did see it, back in September when we picked wildflowers at a nearby park.

Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me, and though I dutifully picked a small, fragile jewelweed (or to be honest, had Dana pick it, as he was wearing long pants and sneakers and could traipse into the undergrowth to get it for me) it had faded completely by the time we got home. I guess there's a reason these flowers are sometimes called "Spotted Touch-Me-Nots" (Impatiens capensis).

But you can see a lovely close-up photo here. It reminds me of a cross between a miniature tiger lily and an elongated violet.

I found this picture -- and the identification of the flower -- at the terrific website It specifically tracks wildflowers in my region (western PA) and I love the search engine, where you can look things up by color, leaf or petal shape, month sighted, region, common name, scientific name, and many other ways (sometimes in combination). I found the jewelweed's orange color and delicate spots quite striking, so this was easy: I entered orange for color and September for month sighted, and was able to ID the flower in a matter of seconds. I hope other areas of the country have websites like this one!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Miss Summer and Mr. Autumn

This past week it turned downright chilly. After a mild and warm-sometimes-hot September, the move into October seemed to prod our little part of the world into settling down to some seriously cooler weather.

It's been overcast here for a few days (a reminder of the gray winter to come) and sometimes quite rainy and windy. The sweet girl's had some congestion and a croupy cough. We've had to go digging for sweaters and I'm discovering just how few pants and long-sleeved shirts she has that actually fit...she seems to have lots of things she's either just grown out of or hasn't yet grown into!

Yesterday we were walking briskly down the sidewalk and feeling buffeted by a chill wind. S. leaned into it, pretending the wind was even stronger than it was -- "look, I'm in a hurricane!" she exclaimed, flailing with her arms as though swimming. We remembered how hot it was just a week or so ago, and suddenly she chuckled. "Mommy, summer and autumn are neighbors."

Next door neighbors, we agreed.

And ever since then, I can't get images out of my head: Miss Summer is tall, slender, dressed in a bright green and yellow sundress and sandals, her toenails painted bright colors, while Mr. Autumn is a bit older, wearing jeans and a rumpled orange sweater and smoking a musky pipe. I think they do sometimes sit on each other's porches, sipping sweet tea and exchanging quips about the weather. Miss Summer collects seashells; Mr. Autumn collects leaves. They both love those blue sky days filled with puffs and streaks of white clouds.