“Profusion” Zinnia

This Friday Flowers edition is from my vegetable garden where I planted zinnias, petunias, and marigolds to bring beneficial insects to the garden. The butterflies love them the zinnias! Here is a Pearl Crescent, one of the most common butterflies, but I had never looked closely at it until I took this picture. Just look at those lacy markings!

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Black-Eyed Susan

After lots of rain, Rudbeckia hirta provides the sunshine in my garden today. #Fridayflowers #gardening #summerinWisconsin

Yellow flower

The Kitchen House and Beyond

20160817_135242As most writers do, I read all the time, magazines, internet articles, newspapers, whatever is handy. But nothing is as satisfying as finding a really great book I can dive into and remain submerged in for days. I’m not picky about genre, but I prefer historical fiction over most other genres simply because I’m fascinated by history and the way people lived in times past. I’m always on the lookout for books of historical fiction, especially ones that offer a new perspective about a subject I thought I knew already. The last book like this I devoured was All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr, which won the Pulitzer for fiction. If you haven’t read it, it is a World War II story from the perspectives of a blind French girl and a German boy. The characters will linger in your mind long after you finish. No surprise I liked that one, but  the latest book that caused me to lose sleep and do little else for a couple of days was The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.

Not for a long while have I read a book that has so captured my imagination from page one.  And, might I add, it started with a prologue, something publishing professionals usually caution against. I found the book, which I had never heard of before, stashed in my classroom on a bookshelf, probably part of another teacher’s classroom library. I picked it up several times over the last three years but never bothered to take it home to read. When I left my job this year, however, I couldn’t leave this book behind, so I packed it with my other belongings when I left at the beginning of summer.  At home I shelved it on my bookcase with others of its genre, intending to read it “one day.”

Last week, after revising my work-in-progress in which I also use the words “kitchen house” to describe  the area where Belinda works at Haddon Hall,  I remembered it and finally sat down to read. For two days I rarely was  without this book in my hand. The story hooked me right away. Here is the first line of the prologue: “There was a strong smell of smoke, and new fear fueled me.” There is unknown conflict here, and I like the first person narrator. The novel spans about twenty years of the main character’s life. Her name is Lavinia, but at the beginning we don’t know that because she has been so traumatized that she doesn’t remember anything of her life. And she’s only a child. The reader learns she is Irish, and that her parents died on a voyage across the ocean, so in the late 1700s Lavinia becomes an indentured servant at Tall Oaks plantation to work off her passage to America. She is set to work with the slaves in the kitchen house. It’s no surprise that Lavinia becomes attached to those who look after her and call her Binia, and therein lies some of the conflict of the book because Lavinia is white and her”family” is black. Again, there are some similarities to my own book here, which is why, I  think, I was so intrigued throughout the book.

The Kitchen House opened my eyes to a new aspect of the Southern plantation era and defies the mythology that grew up around it. Kathleen Grissom does not sugarcoat the ugliness in this book, but the beauty, grace, and redemption she includes keep the story from being too dark. Here is an excerpt from Grissom’s website that gives a synopsis of the story but doesn’t capture the author’s artistry or the emotional response I think you’ll have to the characters:

“In 1790, Lavinia, a seven-year-old Irish orphan with no memory of her past, arrives on a tobacco plantation where she is put to work as an indentured servant with the kitchen house slaves. Though she becomes deeply bonded to her new family, Lavinia is also slowly accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. As time passes she finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds and when loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare and lives are at risk.”

Even now, three days after I finished the last chapter, I find myself thinking about the characters. I wonder about Lavinia  and Will, Belle, Beattie, Papa, and all the others. I understand why other readers wanted Kathleen Grissom to write what happens next because I wanted that also. After I finished the book, I hopped onto Amazon to see what else she had written. I was thrilled to find a sequel to this novel was released in April of this year. It’s called Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House. Guess what my next book will be! I just reserved it at the wonderful Waupaca Public Library!

If you are looking for a really good book and don’t mind losing some sleep here in the last days of summer, I highly recommend The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom’s wonderful first novel. I’ll let you know if her second book about the people of Tall Oaks lives up to the first.

The photo below is completely unrelated to The Kitchen House, but I couldn’t believe my luck seeing a herd of six deer in my yard this morning, so I had to include it here. These three ladies are moving pretty quickly, but they were followed by three bucks with velvet still on their antlers. They were beautiful, but, alas, that picture was too blurry to post! I guess I was too excited to hold still!
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10 Reasons I Love Summer

In the summer months I revel in the weather, my writing, and the freedom of not answering to a schedule dictated by bells. I realize as I write this my family down in Georgia is sweltering with the heat index ranging between 105 -110, and I must say I don’t miss that at all. In fact, I complain a lot about Wisconsin winters and springs because–let’s face it–winter lasts too long and we have no spring. Well, sometimes we do, but not this year. We rolled directly from late winter into summer in a matter of about two weeks. But since I’ve moved to Wisconsin, summer has become my favorite season of the year.

Yesterday I was reflecting on what I love about summer, and I had no trouble coming up with a list.

1. Waking to the sound of birds singing rather than an alarm ringing. With a river behind us and a stream running through the backyard, our yard is a haven for birds. And they wake up at about 4:30-5:00 AM to sing their little hearts out. It’s lovely!

2. Falling asleep to the sound of peepers and frogs singing and croaking. That little stream in our backyard empties into a pond where said peepers and frogs like to hang out. They put on a nightly concert just for us. Once, one of the tree frogs got stuck in the window next to my youngest son’s room. He couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from and struggled to fall asleep each night the singing was so loud!

3. Thunderstorms. Through some trick of nature or topography, my town doesn’t get a lot of severe weather. When we do, the storms are doozies, but usually we just have a gully-washer as my mama use to say.

Delphiniums by my soon-to-be complete vegetable garden.

4. Flowers–everywhere! I don’t know if all southerners are gardeners, but in my family we are or, at least, we profess to be. I love flowers, especially roses. What I’ve learned from gardening in the Midwest, however, is that my gardens don’t tolerate weakness of any kind (I think that may be a metaphor for living in the Midwest.) I don’t grow tea roses which were my daddy’s favorite, specifically Tropicana tea roses, but I do grow Knockout Roses. Ironically, they were developed by the brother of Tom Radler, the wonderful teacher I student taught with years ago.

5. The river and water in general. I grew up on Lake Sinclair in Georgia. We had a lake house (read trailer with an attached screened porch) where we spent nearly every weekend and a lot of weekdays for years. Once we even witnessed a tornado from inside–I know. It’s a miracle I’m still here after surviving a tornado in a trailer! We also spent a lot of time at Jekyll Island on the beach with two other families. Those are great memories, but I’m making new ones on this river behind my house. Once Bruce and I got caught in a thunderstorm while we were floating down the river! Scary but exhilarating!

6. Running and walking with my Stella. During the school year I don’t get nearly enough exercise. I usually put on about ten pounds. All summer I work to take that ten pounds back off! Luckily I enjoy the heat and humidity and also working up a good sweat. As I’ve grown older, it has taken longer to get back into shape, but I keep at it. Not only does Stella like to go with me, but she also gets to swim in the river to cool off. sometimes I wish I could join her!

7. Farmer’s Markets! I will feature my favorite one on my blog soon and show you all the beautiful flowers and vegetables we have available.

My favorite wine and my favorite husband!

8. Relaxing with my hubby on the back porch. We both love to garden, and when we finish, we often relax on the back porch after a dip in the river to cool off. One of my favorite things is spending time with my husband, and summer means I can devote quality time to him without being distracted  by grading papers in the evening.

9. Long days–really long! The sun rises here at about 5:00 and doesn’t set until nearly 10:00 at night. If my Norwegian relatives are reading this, they are probably laughing right now! When we went to Norway last summer, the sun never set because we were above the Arctic Circle. I went outside at our cousins’ house at about 3:00 AM, and it was light out! That was a little weird, but we adjusted. I love how long it stays light in summer here because in winter it’s often dark by four in the afternoon, and I thrive on sunlight.

10. Writing–for as long as I want every day! I saved the best for last. I am so excited about the work I did today. (I love calling writing my work!) On Twitter I found two new agents to query for my completed novel, did research for the one I’m planning at the moment, received a book I had requested for research, wrote one blog post and started another one!

Summer is definitely my favorite season here in the Midwest. I’m free to pursue my passion and enjoy the beauty all around me!

A Change in the Air

Though it is early September, Labor Day in fact, I feel the wheel of the seasons turning. I’ve noticed the light is different. The sun no longer rises so early and isn’t coming through the same windows of our house as it did at Midsummer. When did that happen? I also have noticed a distinct chill in the evenings different from the occasional chilly Midwestern summer nights. The wind is consistently coming from the northwest more often than from the south now, so much so that Hurricane Isaac never quite reached this part of Wisconsin.

The restlessness I feel at the beginning of fall is also on full display, like a mammal needing to put up enough food for the coming winter. I’ve begun baking and canning jellies. I can’t wait until apple season so I can make applesauce. I’ve even started to clean up the gardens for the winter, something I’ve rarely had time to do in the past seven years. The only thing missing is I won’t be going back to teach this fall, but that is actually a welcome change right now. I finally had time to go to Minneapolis to drop my son off at college, something I never had time to do before because I had a teacher’s schedule which started before the boys went back for fall semester. I’ve had the time to notice other changes as well.

The first leaves are beginning to turn deep russet and purple. The thistles have turned downy, and the goldenrod is lighting a path along the road sides like tiny flower fireworks. Soon they will start the sumac blazing, and the smell of fall will be like wine heady enough to make you drunk with its loveliness.  When I walk with Stella every day, I notice summer leaving, but I think I am okay with that this year. I usually mourn the passing of summer, but the heat and having the time to mourn my job made this summer one of healing, like a balm to my soul, but I’m ready to move on now.

Bruce and I spent the majority of the long hot summer together, and I’ve come to see that as a gift even though we are both out of work. This year we will have been married for  twenty-five years, a number that seems both far too small because I can’t remember much of my life without Bruce in it, and far too long because it seems only yesterday that we met at O’Malley’s in Athens. I can’t imagine my life without him in it. At this point in our lives, we always thought we’d be further along financially, but we never counted on a bad economy. This summer Bruce and I have been together every day except when he was doing his Army Reserve training. We’ve gardened, floated down the river on tubes, walked at least 300 miles with Stella, and through everything we’ve been happy. We’ve journeyed through troubles in previous years and will forge ahead carrying this burden as well. Even after all this time together we are still in love. We still love being together even when we don’t do much of anything. I still love the way he looks at me, and I still feel weak in the knees when I look at him.  I realize how lucky I am.

This morning I went on a solitary run without Stella and without Bruce. I notice more alone than I do with either of them. As I walked along looking at all the autumn colors just beginning their transition and the wildflowers blooming in one last celebration of summer, I realized how much of a constant change is. We can never count on life running smoothly. The warmth of summer is replaced gradually by the chill of winter, but nature allows us the time to soak in the change, to learn from it, to prepare for the next season or the next part of our lives. Change is ever-present. We never know what lies ahead of us. We can only anticipate what might come, and if we don’t get what we want, perhaps we can be satisfied, even happy with what we need.

Though the summer is ending, I look back at what I’ve learned about myself and about human nature, and I am grateful for all I have.  My two sons have blessed my life beyond anything I would ever have dreamed possible, and my husband…how do I begin to explain finding the other side of my heart? He grows dearer to me with each passing day and season. I know I will look back at this summer and remember our time together in this, our twenty-fifth year of marriage and thank God for the changes in my life that have allowed me the time to see what is truly important.