My Favorite Things

….on the Olympic Peninsula….

We’re on vacation exploring the magnificent beauty of the Olympic Peninsula and getting to know Port Townsend, Sequim, Port Angeles, and Olympic National Park.

The airbnb  where we’re staying is on a cliff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The octagonal structure in the photo below is where I’m writing this blog post.

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Our temporary home is a former barn that has been beautifully converted into a comfortable dwelling filled with Native American, Mexican, and Americana art, quilts, and rugs. I spent more than a few hours on airbnb looking for a place to stay, and my research paid off.

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There are lush gardens on the property and a tree farm across the road along with a view of the magnificent snow-covered Olympic Mountains. Sea in the backyard, mountains in the front yard.

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I love the weathered colors and textures of this old structure. It is a workshop/studio filled with fabrics – I believe one of the owners is a textile artist, and several of her quilts grace the walls where we’re staying.

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Below is the interior of the little octagonal retreat, which comes equipped with a heater and bookshelves. All you need is a mug of hot coffee or tea to feel right at home. You can see a reflection of the view in the top half of the photo.

Early this morning my husband saw two bald eagles perched on a tall, dead tree nearby. It had rained in the night, and the pond visible in the first photo was filled to overflowing.

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I’d started reading Braiding Sweetgrass back home, and I’m continuing to read it slowly, a chapter at a time. A good companion is Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land by Robert Michael Pyle, who writes of the extensive logging that has stripped the Willapa Hills of southwestern Washington, where he has lived for thirty years.

I had the pleasure of meeting the author at the Wild Arts festival in Portland last fall. Note that there is an introduction by David Guterson in this edition. Robert Michael Pyle is a generous Santa Claus of a man who teaches every year at Fishtrap, a retreat for writers who are passionate about the West.

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More later. I’ll tell you about a wonderful indie bookshop I visited, its dynamic owner, the person I happened to run into there in a moment of serendipity, and the books I bought.

Have you been to the Olympic Peninsula? If so, what are your favorite spots? Can you recommend books or authors connected with this part of the world?

 

 

Spring flowers and Colette, in Paris

Floral shop window

“As noisy as Paris was in those days, it always had its unexpected moments of stillness. At Cours-la-Reine, between one and one-thirty in the afternoon, when the last trucks had reached their canteens, those who loved flowers and silence could savor a strange respite, a solitude in which the flowers seemed to recover from human curiosity.”

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We’ve been in Paris, where our son has been studying and working in industrial design. I had so much fun walking around this enchanting city which, among other treasures, has secret gardens galore, flower vendors and flower markets, and floral shops offering spring flowers, herbs, and foliage, all beautifully arranged and presented.

Flowers and Fruit book coverA few years ago I was browsing in a local used book shop when I discovered a volume of essays by Colette, Flowers and Fruit, first printed in the US in 1986.

Some of the essays were inspired by a Swiss publisher, who for a time sent Colette a bouquet of flowers once or twice a week so she could write sketches of those that inspired her.

Colette wrote one of the longer essays in this collection, “Flora and Pomona,” during the Nazi occupation. According to the collection’s editor, Colette conceived of the writing project to “keep the coal bin at 9, rue de Beaujolais well filled and pay the black-market prices for rabbit and cheese and chicken and other comestibles otherwise unavailable, even to much-loved novelists living in the Palais-Royal.”

At the time of its publication, some critics said factual errors, weak editing, and a less than adequate translation detracted from Flowers and Fruit. I find Colette’s writing challenging, so this isn’t the kind of book I’d read straight through. It’s a little treasure for floral enthusiasts that’s fun to browse when I want Colette’s unusual take on flowers.

We were lucky to be in Paris on May Day. This holiday’s signature flower is lily of the valley, one of my favorites. They were everywhere.

Here are some of my Paris floral photos paired with Colette’s thoughts on flowers and gardens:

Peonies

“Garnet red, bright pink, sentimental pink, and three or four other carmine reds, they are the colors of good health and will delight me throughout the coming week.” (These peonies have not yet opened, which is when you should buy them.)

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley is the May Day flower in Paris. “In spring, nearly an entire nation demands lily of the valley like bread.”

Pots of lily of the valley

“More than a flirtation, better than a superstition, almost a religion, the lily of the valley is celebrated on the first of May. Its cult stirs the Paris population to fever pitch…”

Chocolate & lily of the valley

You’ll find lily of the valley everywhere on May Day, even at the chocolatier. I saw these lovely desserts at Sylvain Mussy on Rue Bourg Tibourg.

 

Lily of the valley bouquet

My May Day bouquet. Lily of the valley, gloriosa lily (also known as fire lily or flame lily), and angel hair fern. “The true lily’s favorite soil is the kitchen garden’s, with tarragon, sorrel edgings, and purple garlic for neighbors.”

Flowers

Campanula and Persian violets. “…the sleeve of blue-violet campanula that grows immoderately, framing the windows in a single rush and decking them with flowers all season long.”

Pink and white roses

“Below my window, among the puddles of water, the bathing pigeons….we have old-fashioned, floriferous rosebushes that have survived both war and frost. Never have they failed to flower, and to flower again, and yet again before November.”

Stone figures on garden wall

There are many secret gardens hidden on the side streets of Paris, where the public is welcome.

Garden flowers

This one is Square Georges-Caïn on Rue Payenne. “Creating a garden takes us back to childhood imaginings.”

Paris street with plants, flowers

Some streets, like Rue du Trésor, are gardens, too.

Digging Deep

Narcissus, bookshelf

Taking this pic, I re-visited my long-ago college lit books on the bottom shelf: The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, The Norton Anthology of English Literature I and II, Victorian Poetry and Poetics, The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Critical Theory Since Plato (oh, dear.) With many notes in the margins. Odd one out, a scriptwriting handbook. The “soil” of my literary leanings.

 

“I do believe that there’s something exquisitely powerful about taking something in nature and molding it with your own two hands. From the moment you dig up that first clump, you’re empowered because you immediately enter into collaboration with nature, and who better to be in collaboration with than the greatest force on earth?” Fran Sorin, Digging Deep

 

I have a delightful pairing to begin the new year: Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, the 10th anniversary edition by Fran Sorin; and Gardens of Use and Delight: Uniting the Practical and Beautiful in an Integrated Landscape, by Jigs and Jo Ann Gardnerpublished in 2002.

Digging Deep book coverYou don’t have to be a gardener to enjoy Fran’s book, though if you are, all the better. Fran says, “My  mission is to show new and experienced gardeners alike how they can use their gardens – be they rolling, manicured lawns or tiny, blank plots of land – as tools for their creative awakening. I believe from the depths of my heart that gardening can be one of the most profound ways to unearth the creative spirit buried within every one of us. Once you unleash this creative energy, you’ll be amazed at what happens in all areas of your life. You’ll begin to see how living creatively opens up new vistas in your imagination and new windows of opportunity in your life.”

I’m a new gardener, and gardening has become for me a pleasurable, relaxing complement to writing, perfect for getting my body moving outdoors in nature. As I write about growing up in a family flower shop, sowing and tending and reaping resurrect the fragrance of fresh blooms and damp soil, and many other sensory pleasures, from my childhood.

When I ran across Fran’s book online, I was intrigued with her melding of gardening and creativity. The first edition of Digging Deep was immensely popular, hence the 10th anniversary edition in 2014. I’m glad to have discovered it this time around. In addition to being a garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is an ordained interfaith minister and a soul tending coach. I point this out because the deceptively simple Digging Deep is a profound and spiritual book that is part memoir, as Fran draws upon her own rich life experiences to tell the story of how she arrived at the wisdom she shares here.

I’ve found that to nurture a creative practice (mine is writing), it is good to have other creative outlets just for pleasure, quite different from your primary practice. These “low-stakes” pastimes give your mind and body a break from routine and stimulate your imagination by allowing you to play and experiment. This spirit of play permeates Fran’s book. Her chapters take you sequentially through the cyclical nature of gardening, and creativity: Imagining: The Spark of Creativity. Envisioning: Giving Shape to Your Dreams. Planning: Laying Down the Bones. Planting: Taking Action. Tending: The Act of Nurturing. Enjoying: Reaping What You Have Sown. Completing: Cycling Through the Season.

Here is a favorite passage from a section called “Appreciating”: “Savoring your garden brings more than just sensory pleasure, though – it fills your creative well. In the moments that you experience the reverie of simply being there without working or planning or doing anything other than just drinking it in, you can experience a heightened awareness that elevates your consciousness. Any expression of art, be it a Rembrandt or your own garden, reflects the best of humankind, and tapping into this wonder expands your creative capacity so you may in turn create even more art – more awareness, more inspiration, more aliveness. The cycle feeds itself, but only if you stop to smell those literal and proverbial roses.” (boldface is mine)

Fran includes some excellent gardening guidance and tips, but her book is not a gardening manual. Rather, her aim is impart a deeper wisdom, a kind of spiritual instruction about connection to soil and nature, to foster creative awakening.

Gardens of Use and Delight book coverJigs and Jo Ann Gardner’s Gardens of Use and Delight is about a remarkable couple who for thirty years taught themselves how to live off the land on a farm on remote, hardscrabble Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. (They now live on a smaller farm in upstate New York.) I wanted to pair it with Digging Deep because, although Jigs and Jo Ann are immensely practical people, they are deeply connected to their land and passionate about homesteading, which they portray as at once the functional task of reawakening fertility and abundance in the landscape and making it beautiful as well. The subtitle is Uniting the Practical and the Beautiful in an Integrated Landscape, and that is exactly what Jigs and Jo Ann did on their isolated farm, while also raising four children (and a few foster children for good measure.)

Gardens of Use and Delight, like Digging Deep, is part memoir. More of a how-to book than Fran’s, Gardens, for me, stands out because of Jigs and Jo Ann’s instinctively creative approach to seamlessly blending beauty and fertility as they rejuvenate and work their land. I will never rehabilitate an entire farm as they did, but in Jigs and Jo Ann’s book I find an approach to making my much smaller landscape both productive and beautiful. Jigs and Jo Ann remind me of Helen and Scott Nearing and their classic and influential The Good Life, although Helen and Scott were not concerned with aesthetics as are Jigs and Jo Ann. The Gardners view their land as an artist does a blank canvas, to be molded and planted with flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits, shrubs, and trees.

You’ll find some recipes and homemade craft instructions, too, such as pressed flower cards, candied petals, herb salt, rose petal jelly, and skin freshener. Elayne Sears’ watercolor illustrations of the landscape, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and Jo Ann’s rustic farm kitchen and pantry are delightful – I’d love to have prints of them to hang in my kitchen.

I have read other titles by Jo Ann Gardner and hope to collect everything written by this talented, tenacious homesteading and gardening virtuoso.

A very vintage photo of Cape Breton Island, from my honeymoon. Although I don't believe they were on the coast, Jigs and Jo Ann Snyder must have encountered land much like this when began to reclaim an old Nova Scotia farm.

A very vintage photo of Cape Breton Island, from my honeymoon. Although I don’t believe they were on the coast, Jigs and Jo Ann Gardner must have encountered land much like this when they began to reclaim an old Nova Scotia farm.

 

Slow Flowers Challenge

I wanted to also tell you about Debra Prinzing’s Slow Flower Challenge for 2015, which you can join at any time. Every day, once a week, once a month, or once a season, you can design and make a floral arrangement using slow flowers. If you don’t know what slow flowers are, click on the above link, or read my post about Debra’s book, Slow Flowers. (St. Lynn’s Press)

Raised beds covered with snow

Our blank slate

 

 Next up

More WW II fiction, a travel-to-the-ends-of-the-earth memoir, a wolf, Scandinavian literature, Little Golden Books, a favorite author visits Rome. Etc. Etc.

 

Books at my door

Books at my doorDelancey book cover

 

If you like food writing combined with memoir, you will like Molly Wizenberg and her latest, Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage. The restaurant is in Seattle. Her first book, A Homemade Life, is a bestseller.

Sicily book coverI bought Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Andrew and Suzanne Edwards for an upcoming trip – haven’t been there in seven years. Many of the greatest writers were drawn to this island.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Nikki Jabbour promises 73 plans that will change the way you grow your garden, such as: Slow Food Garden; Vintage Victory Garden; Edibles on a Patio; Heirloom Sampler; Formal Herb Garden; Eggs & Everything; and Living Walls.

Piazza, Carini

The piazza in Carini, Sicily, where my father was born

Summer reading

The Goldfinch book coverI am now thoroughly in the grip of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. (In book circles, it seems as though half the universe is reading Tartt’s latest novel.)

After surviving a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (a hellishly claustrophobic, terrifying scene masterfully written), a shell-shocked Theo Decker is making his way home amidst dozens of fire engines, blaring sirens, and chaos in the streets, where he is certain he’ll be reunited with his mother, who had been in the museum gift shop during the blast. Knowing Tartt, I believe things will only go further downhill for Theo in a tragic – comic, picaresque way. I’ll keep you posted over the next few weeks, without spoilers, of course. Having read Tartt’s previous books, The Secret History and The Little Friend, her latest book is a must-read for me.

In the Kingdom of Men book coverIn my perpetual online quest for good reads, I happened upon Kim Barnes the other day. I can’t believe I haven’t yet sampled her writing. In my stack of library books, I now have In the Kingdom of Men, the 1960s story of “a barefoot girl from red dirt Oklahoma, and all the marble floors in the world will never change that” who marries a college boy from her hometown. He takes a job with the Arabian American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. The novel is loosely based on the experiences of Barnes’ aunt and other American women married to oil executives who worked in the Persian Gulf in the “Mad Men” era. I’ve also placed library holds on Barnes’ two memoirs, In the Wilderness and Hungry for the World.

My Struggle book coverAs usual, I’m overly ambitious, but I’ve decided to take on Norwegian Karl Knausgaard’s three-volume My Struggle after reading intriguing reviews. The fact that our local Barnes & Noble did not have Volume 1 only makes me more determined.

I just purchased Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams (someday we’ll get there) and The Shelf: Adventures in Extreme Reading, by Phyllis Rose. (She wrote A Year of Reading Proust.) Rose read, straight through, all the 30 or so books from LEQ – LES on a random shelf in the New York Society Library stacks – no matter how obscure the author. The books and authors include The Phantom of the Opera, California detective fiction, a novel by an Afrikaans writer, stories of French Canadian farmers, and one “feminist, humane earth-mother Jewish writer” who raises award-winning Newfoundlands.

Domestic Matters

A Woman's Shed book cover

We’ve been putting in raised beds at our house, and my latest obsession is backyard domesticity. I just bought Gill Heriz’s delightful A Woman’s Shed. From our local library I borrowed three or four how-to titles about building fences (made of wood, stone, metal, and plants) and backyard sheds, gazebos, cabins, and other nature retreats.

 

The Kitchen Garden Cookbook coverI’ve also been browsing through Sylvia Thompson’s The Kitchen Garden Cookbook (1995). Thompson has also written The Kitchen Garden, which I’ll have to track down. Both are semi-classics endorsed by Alice Waters and other culinary experts. The cookbook is good reading, and if you’re growing your own vegetables you’ll like Thompson’s tips about when to harvest. The recipes are inventive and  sound delicious – I’m looking forward to trying some of them out. How did I find this title? It was on display at our library – a great way to discover good, not-so-new books.

In my quest to learn about gardening and raising vegetables, I’ve been reading Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest, as we hope to experiment with raising food through the winter. Eliot’s neighbors were Helen and Scott Nearing, who launched the modern-day homesteading movement. He has made the Nearing’s home farming techniques accessible to home gardeners and small organic farmers. Living the Good Life book cover(The Nearing’s influential book, Living the Good Life (1954) is a fascinating read, by the way.)  I like Coleman’s book because it is simple and straightforward, especially accessible and inspiring to the lay person. I’ve also rediscovered a book I purchased years ago, Barbara Damrosch’s The Garden Primer. Reading the forward to Coleman’s book, I discovered that he and Damrosch are married to each other.

Kitchen Garden book coverI love to visit the many small second-hand and consignment stores in our village. We have a used crafts supply shop I like to browse in, and there I discovered old copies of Betty Crocker’s delightful Kitchen Garden (1971) by Mary Mason Campbell with illustrations by Tasha Tudor; Gardening Made Easy binder coverand Gardening Made Easy (1995), International Masters Publishers, a collection of full-color pamphlets that you order individually and store in a three-ring binder. (I believe these are now out of print.)

 

 

The Supper of the Lamb book cover

For good measure, I requested from the library a copy of The Supper of the Lamb, (1969) by Robert Farrar Capon; this “culinary entertainment” written by an Episcopal priest comes highly recommended by a friend.

So there you are, my summer reading plans – all over the map, highbrow and not, typical for me.

What will you be reading this summer?

 

 

Raised beds

A work in progress

 

On the seventh day of Christmas: Los Rodriguez Life

Winter snow scene

Los Rodriguez Life always makes me happy when I visit. Bilingual, so I can practice reading Spanish, and it feels like a grand celebration of family and being alive. There’s gardening, food, travel, photography, music and lots of personality.

I think you’ll enjoy “Fly On.” (Scroll down to the music video.) I love fiddle music.

December morning photo by Putneypics under CC By-NC 2.0

On the second day of Christmas: 66 Square Feet

Two turtle doves

Originally from South Africa, 66 Square Feet blogger Marie Viljoen lived in Brooklyn for many years while cultivating an amazing garden (from which she harvested fruits and vegetables) on her small terrace. Recently, she moved to Harlem, and it will be interesting to see her new not-so-secret garden in progress. Marie calls herself a writer, gardener, forager, and cook.

66 Square Feet book coverI have her new book, 66 Square Feet: A Delicious Life, which I love. I’m a former New Yorker, and I especially enjoy her nature and foraging expeditions around the city. I don’t have much of a garden, but I garden vicariously when I visit 66 Square Feet.

If you only have time for a quick blog stop, 66 Square Feet is perfect – the photography is fabulous, and often there is just a bit of text. Marie has another blog, 66 Square Feet (The Food) where you’ll find her recipes.

It so happens Marie was in South Africa when Nelson Mandela passed away. Here is a link to her post, Madiba’s Garden, about Mandela cultivating a garden while he was in prison and what it meant to him.

(Vintage bird illustration, turtle doves, photo from Vintageprintable1 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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