Scrappy Kid

May 23, 2020

I’ve always been a bit scrappy.  As a kid, I liked to sew blouses made from all the scraps of fabric I had left over from other projects, puzzling a whole piece of clothing from them.  It made the clothing that I made more personal, more me. At about that same time in my life, I loved to cut pictures out of magazines, find scraps of wood, and make collages with decoupage.

As an adult, I like mismatched wood furniture in a room.  It feels free and open to me, in comparison to all matching woods.  The rooms in our home do not flow with shades of one color.  Each room has its own personality.  I’ve been known, when painting a room, to do three walls in one color and one in a contrasting color.  Mine has been a mix and match existence, down to the upholstery on furniture.  I especially like florals with stripes or plaids.  And, lots of color.  I love color.  The more, the better.

My garden is an eclectic mix of flowers—red, orange, yellow, blue, lavender, white, pink.  I’ve contemplated planting a garden with entirely one flower color.  I find them attractive in magazines, but in my garden, I need a mess of color.

After retiring from 33 years of teaching, I sort of lost sight of that thing that makes me, me.  It seems I’d begun to match.  It struck me, during the Corona virus lock down, that I could no longer find myself.  Then I discovered collaging again.

I have a file cabinet drawer filled with pictures and words that I’ve cut out of magazines.  They were taking up space and I couldn’t enjoy them.  So, I began an adventure of pulling them out, cutting and fitting, feeling the puzzle of each collage come together into a satisfying piece of art.  I love the challenge of close-cutting around pictures and placing them on my board to create a story. I have begun to piece myself together again.

Adventures in Literature (by a lit teacher)

April 7, 2020

In the world around us, connection, serendipity, heroic journeys and poetry exist. Through collective unconsciousness, everything interconnects.  We are all on journeys of self-discovery.

I like that life and events intertwine and interconnect. For instance, I used to pull out a poem called “The Filling Station” by Elizabeth Bishop and teach it while we were in the The Grapes of Wrath chapter at the filling station with the one-eyed man. Since it’s National Poetry Month, I’ll include the two Bishop poems I’m mentioning here.

Filling Station    Elizabeth Bishop – 1911-1979

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!
Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it's a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.
Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.
Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.
Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)
Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. “Filling Station” from The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel.

In The Grapes of Wrath nobody loves the one-eyed man.  The two writers probably didn’t know each other or discuss literature, poetry or themes.  But they intertwine and connect.

Amazingly, Bishop also wrote a poem called “The Fish” that matched yet contrasted nicely with the fish in The Old Man and the Sea.

The Fish    Elizabeth Bishop – 1911-1979

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Bishop. Reprinted from Poems with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

In The Old Man and the Sea, the old man does not let the fish go, though “it is more noble and more able.”  Again, by the great plan in the universe, these two pieces intertwine and connect.

I digress.  Sort of.  Not really.

Back to my point.

Tom and I are watching the Starz series Outlander. First, we binged through it to catch up with the Sunday evening, Season 5 schedule. Now, we’re watching Season 5 and we’ve gone back to watch it over again from the beginning. I’m simultaneously reading the first Outlander book.

I was looking on Amazon for a book of poetry when I spotted a book titled The Symbolism and Sources of Outlander by Valerie Estelle Frankel. Loving the hero journey (and teaching it with everything I taught) from Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, I thought, I must buy this Frankel book. (It’s probably a literature teacher thing.)  After all, everything is connected.

It also intrigues me that the main character, Claire Fraser, is an intelligent, educated woman of medicine on a journey of self-discovery that she neither asked for nor desired.  She is pulled back in time 200 years, where, as circumstance would have it, she is forced to marry a Scottish highlander named Jamie. He is strong willed and wants his wife to obey him.  Yet, he loves her and encourages her to do her work as a healer.  He is her protector, even though she says, “I am not the meek and obedient type.” So often, the genre of historical romance has women who are more buxom than brainy.  Not so with Claire Fraser.  She is a strong woman, with no apologies.  I love that.  She reminds me of heroines in other novels that I’ve taught.

All of this is SO fascinating! If nothing else, it makes me appreciate the writing (and research) skills of the Outlander series author, Diana Gabaldon. Frankel basically enlightens her reader with every symbolic detail in the Outlander books and their connection to myth, history, lore and magic, which Gabaldon had to research, write and get right.  If you go to Gabaldon’s web site you will see that she is an educated, well-traveled woman herself.  She has three degrees: Marine Biology, Zoology, and a PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. She has many gifts.

I have enough here to keep me busy until I die! (Presuming that’s not soon). My, I’ve rattled on. I can picture my former students shaking their heads and saying, “I hated it when she did that.” Or, “yup, she was crazy.” So be it. I wear that scarlet letter proudly.



March 26, 2020

Ireland and Scotland are my dream places to live.  I love shamrocks, bagpipes, kilts, glens, and history filled with folk lore, battles, and survival.  The song sung to summon me plays in my heart and soul.  I am neither Irish nor Scot.  However, my soul is a wee bit of both.  Kinship, castles, and cottages all have a romantic and compulsory attraction that I am drawn to.

I watch shows set in Ireland and Scotland.  It’s not enough for me to watch them and move on.  I am mesmerized by accents, period clothing, rabbits cooked on an open spit, and draughts of Ginness consumed at the local pub.  I keep my sugar packets in a Waterford crystal sugar bowl (bought in Ireland), out by my coffee maker. I like to feel its cool cut and ridges against my skin.

Of late, my fulfillment is found in the series Outlander.  Though we came late to the show, only learning of it when Season 5 was about to begin, we’ve binged the first four seasons to catch up.  Now, while we watch Season 5 with the rest of the world, we have gone back and begun to watch the series over again.  Honor, loyalty, love and family are the overriding themes.  I never tire of it.  I’ve purchased the soundtracks of music, bought an Outlander calendar, and, now, wear a lambswool shawl from Clan Fraser.  Dinna fash (“don’t worry” in Gaelic), I still live in the middle of reality and Iowa with my husband, who possesses those Clan traits and who indulges my dream of suddenly waking up Irish and living in a cottage with a thatched roof, or on a Highlander estate.

Castle Scotland Landscape Wallpapers - Top Free Castle Scotland ...  Scottish Landscape With Sheep Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty ...Free Image on Pixabay - Ruin, Church, Isolated, Chapel | Ruins ... Scotland landscape, rural houses in the green grass fields along ...


Beyond the castle on the hill

Resides a cottage, small and still.

Within its walls the history steeps,

where women cook and men tend sheep.

Song bursts out in the evening calm.

For tired souls, an earthly balm.


I believe that mylove for those places far away is the pushing up of a former life or an ancient ancestor from my collective unconsciousness. It’s not just that I dream of living there.  It’s that my soul and my heart beckon me to return.

Cliff Of Moher, Ireland, Cliffs, Coast      Red Door Cottage Like Maggies Poster by Barbara McDevitt

Old Weathered Tombstone; Ireland - Stock Photo - Dissolve



Word Garden

I love a lot of words.  Wheelbarrows and corn cribs spill out words I know.  I love words.  I used to pull out words to craft poems frequently.  It’s not like checking a book out of the public library and having to return it.   They’re mine, but they’re everyone’s words.  They float about our heads and ankles, running into us, pardoning themselves, and then heading out.  Sometimes they get in.  I have some favorite words—dollop, Mississippi (who doesn’t remember learning to spell it into a rhymed recital when we were young.)  Two words, that’s it? you say.   Nope.  I have hundreds, thousands more.  Let that be a mystery for you to contemplate.

I love to say words incorrectly, just for fun.  While I was in the classroom, teaching wordsmithing and gorgeous literature that others had written for us, I’d often congratulate a student’s correct answer with “Grape juice” instead of “Great job.” It was a quirk they sort of got used to.  Hysterical instead of historical.  Smidgen.  Sometimes they just fall out of my head and onto paper or out of my mouth.  Why not try to use all the words we’ve collected over the years?

Now and again, when I feel British, I’ll think “splendid” instead of “great.”  When we were touring Ireland a few years ago, our Irish bus driver would point at something and say, “just there” instead of the American “over there.”  I like that. I brought it back with me as a souvenir.  I fancy myself a Southern Belle in a former life.  Often, while teaching, I’d speak with a southern accent during an entire period.  It drove some students to distraction, mystified some, irritated others, and absorbed and entertained still others.  I didn’t really do it for them.  I love a southern accent.  My favorite heroine is Scarlett O’Hara.  Fiddledeedee, why not speak with southern flair?

I haven’t written poetry for some time, but I must.  I love writing poetry.  It requires more accuracy in word choice, a sparseness, a clarity, that other kinds of writing don’t demand and speaking certainly doesn’t entertain.

Writing poetry is rather like growing a garden.  It’s never quite finished.  I pick the extra words out, like weeds sprouting up.  I water them so they’ll grow, laboring over the one or two words that just don’t fit where I’ve planted them.  I find, late June or early July, bare spots after everything has matured.  I must plant more, dig for more words to plant in my poem. Ah, but then, the bouquet, the aroma, the beauty of color arrives.  I put a title on my poem, smooth down the last stragglers and present it to a crisp white page. I love a well-crafted garden, but I also love the ones that are more fun, less groomed.  I like wild gardens, wind-fall gardens. Words that are wind-falls are fun, too. Either way, I cherish all kinds of gardens, whether of flowers or words.

Words keep me company.  They travel with me.  They educate me.  I have jars and jars, journals and journals, lists and lists of words.  One can never have too many, you know.

Update On My Garden

Life in the garden is moving along nicely.  The front yard is pretty much ready for the summer except for a couple bags of mulch yet to be spread.  I’ve done some planting…all perennials except for the basket flowers.  This one is a coneflower “Confection Southern Belle.”

A new perennial

A new perennial

Remember the hydrangea that I wasn’t sure had survived winter?  Here it is early Spring and now.  It has finally decided to join the rest of the garden.  It even has blossoms coming, which is a change from last year, when it produced no flowers at all.  This is all good.  It’s time to pour some pickle juice around the base!

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We also cleaned up the weeds in the backyard from our patio in front of the shed, which needs to be painted, but that’s another blog entry.  It looks great without weeds growing through every crevice.    Now we  have to clean up and  plant the backyard.  We’ve been spraying with the homemade killer–gallon of vinegar, 1/4 cup original Dawn dish soap and 2 cups Epsom salts.  It works.


I’ll show you some more pictures as we progress!


Ballykissangel is a BBC television show, set in Ireland, and produced from 1995 to 2000. Our friend Sandy recommended it to us. We’ve actually been to Avoka, Ireland, where it was filmed. So, we checked out the first DVD from our local public library and sat down to watch. Immediately we were enamored with the quirky, casual village-like setting. Each character has his or her own foibles and charms. The activity centers around the local pub—Fitzgerald’s. We quickly felt that it was reminiscent of a favorite show of ours from the early 90s—Northern Exposure. Everyone in the town knows the flaws of every other person, but each accepts everyone. A new priest arrives in town, beginning the ensemble eclectic show’s adventures. He’s odd-man-out having been shipped in from a parish in England. You can imagine the story lines as he meets the beautiful, hard-headed, anti-church barkeep. She gives him a run for his money!

Ballykiss  You may recognize a young Colin Ferrel!

Let’s just say, it is a slice-of-life celebration, replete with the sneaky businessman, the newly married couple, the older priest who is critical of everyone, the 40-ish woman veterinarian and her male friend, the soft-hearted school teacher. Two quirky and clumsy pals with more life experience than formal education are the physical laborers in town. Don’t be mistaken, though. This is not a comedy. It is not a drama. It’s life. Characters fall in love, experience challenges and frustrations, laugh and play jokes on each other…and some die. The first death shocked us. It was like losing a personal friend.

Now we have the last DVD to watch—the fifth and final season. I do not want it to be over. I do not want to leave Ballykissangel, Ireland. I will miss my friends. I recommend it to anyone who likes to curl up on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn to watch a collection of people traveling through life together, arguing, supporting and loving each other.

Shiloh, Bingo, Henry

Shiloh. Bingo. Henry. Those are the three names our dog Henry has had in his lifetime.

My husband was walking him today when a man and his daughter called to him that Henry had been the woman’s daughter’s dog. His name was Shiloh. Tom, a bit concerned, replied, “He’s Henry now.” They were thrilled to see him.  Tom told them that the shelter where we found him had named him Bingo.

They talked to Shiloh, who ignored them until they called him Henry. Henry had been a “master of escape” they said. Then, the most surprising information—Henry, who we believed to be three years old, is actually nine! Kind of sad, as we thought we would have many years with him. Our last dog, our beloved Sage, died at 10.

Once he’d been hit by a car. The Vet didn’t think he’d make it through the night but he rallied and went home the next day. We know that he doesn’t like to lift one of his back feet to be wiped off when he comes in with mud on his paws. That explains that.

They told us he’s a Tree Walker Coon Hound. We had pegged him as a Fox Hound. Either way, he hates cats, rabbits and squirrels, which we were clearly aware of. He’s exceptionally smart. When we got him from the shelter, he was house broken, could shake “hands” on command, and knew many words. He knows where the food is kept and stands in front of it when he’s hungry. He knows where his treats live, and he looks at the container, then us, then the container when he’d like one. He’s mild mannered and a loving boy.

His quirkiest habit is he likes to burrow beneath the throw on the sofa. We call it his man cave. He “goes under” when he needs to be alone. Our daughter says that if he could talk, he’d have an English accent.

So, a friend of his previous owners called to tell them that they saw Shiloh at the shelter. They went out to get him, but we had just taken him home. That was two years ago. They were glad to see that he has a loving home and was doing well. Oddly enough, the previous owners live about a block and a half from us. It’s a small world. Their loss was our great luck.

We love our Henry Bingo Shiloh.

Henry and his little sister Winnie

  Henry and his little sister Winnie

Winnie trapped in fence and cards 003

Texas Bluebonnets

We recently drove to Houston, Texas, to visit my brother and his family. It’s about a 1000 mile trek.   The drive was lovely. The further south we ventured, the more spring had awakened. At each rest stop, the Eastern Redbud trees were blooming, tulips popping, bougainvillea and wisteria drooping in vivid color like water drops ready to fall from the eves. Most exciting, though, were the fields of bluebonnets in Texas.   Rich blue flowers mingled with a handful of yellow and orange flowers. At one place along the highway, probably twenty cars were stopped on the road and fifty or more people were clicking photos of family and friends romping in the blue pools of blossoms. It was as if they had spotted a famous actor or singer and wanted a selfie with the star. The stars were the flowers, Texas’s state flower. It was a wonder to see. Of course, we pulled over and joined the holiday.

Selfie w bluebonnets

Popping through and waking up!

It’s a beautiful, sunny day. We will hopefully reach the predicted 70 degrees. So, I went out to see if any of those knuckles or bullets had appeared since my last check of the garden. Indeed, they are thrusting through the cool, lumpy dirt.

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These are the peonies I am always so glad to see. They’re the early birds. I have blooms of magenta, pink and white, so they make a lovely bouquet. If you’ve never grown peonies and decide to try, remember that they need the ants for the blooms to open, so don’t kill them or discourage them. I just shake them off at the door when I bring in a bouquet. Often, one lone scout makes it into the kitchen and runs around like a crazy man. No harm. I actually found a website They corroborated the story I’d always heard about ants and peonies. Although they did say that ants are not crucial to the plant blooming. It’s nice to be told officially that the wives tale I’ve heard for years is true. What surprised and pleased me is that peonies have their own website!


Other plants are beginning to rise from their slumber. It’s too early to take the fallen leaves off them because in Zone 5 we can get frost for another 3-4 weeks. The almanac says April 26. I am sort of a naturalist in that I don’t baby my garden. I do not run out with a bed sheet to cover them up if the temperature drops. Some years they get hit with frost and rally. Sometimes they don’t come back. I am okay either way. If something dies, I will replace it, looking for something hardier.

The hardiest of hardy is the dandelion, which I never kill because they help our friends the bees.  I will cut them out before they take over, but I am okay with them to a point.  I do have many bees–I talk to them.


So, every day I will check to see growth. I can’t stand them up in a door frame and mark their height with a pencil, but I can document the growth with my camera, so check back again.

The early spring garden

So close to gardening weather, with spring’s arrival, that I needed to hike out the front door and find where plants will be born from the black soil soon. It’s all rather ugly right now. The soil is moist and cold. The remaining rags of plants from last season create medallions on the surface.


This was—and will be again—a hosta. It was a large plant last summer and may need to be divided. That’s not terribly difficult. It requires removing the plant from the soil, dividing it with a knife or shovel, and replanting the quartered plant to new locations. I’ve done it before with success. It’s a great way to share plants with friends or family who often admire your garden.


Early spring finds little attention on the peony plant. Except for the few twigs emerging from the soil, you wouldn’t know that a plant is even here! Don’t be fooled. Peony nubs, like little knuckles, will begin to poke through the ground in a close circular pattern. At first, at about an inch above the ground, they are green with a reddish tip, shaped similarly to a bullet or a lipstick tube. It only takes a day or two of sunshine for the nubs to become spindly arms stretching skyward. In an additional week or two, the plants fill out and grow to about 24 inches tall. The blossoms emerge as small Christmas bulb-like shapes, hanging from the new limbs. Then, one morning, boom! The blossoms emerge, large, bright, and heavy. Gorgeous.


I love yard architecture. It adds height and style to plants. Here, my garden selfie, shows me taking a picture of metal props. They hold up tall grasses, not yet green, and add interest to the winter garden. I haven’t set out the trucks or gargoyles or fairies yet. The fun stuff, like the plants, go into hiding for the winter.

This is the one I am worried about—my hydrangea. It is a beautiful, round bush that, last year, didn’t bloom at all because of the ferociously cold winter. This year, I hope it goes back to its prolific self, supplying me with dinner plate blooms. I know that new growth comes on the dead growth, so I


never give it a severe haircut in the fall. Besides, I like the spikes sticking out of the snow. Hopefully, it will reinvent itself this spring, grow robust and bloom like a beauty queen for me. I will water it with dill pickle juice in water this spring to bring out the blues of the blossoms. Blue blossoms crave acidic soil and what better home remedy than pickle juice!

So, that’s where we are, the garden and I. We are waiting, not so patiently, for warmth and sun to coax us out of our winter shelter. Soon.