Friday, May 29, 2009


"THE TIME OF LILACS" by Sophie Anderson

Is there anyone in the world who loves lilacs as much as I do? Well, apparently painter Sophie Anderson did, as evidenced by the paintings above and below. How we love to pick lilacs, all the while knowing that they do not last long as a cut flower. But there's a lot to be said about having a vase of lilacs by one's bedside while drifting off to sleep.

"GIRL WITH LILACS" by Sophie Anderson

I must declare, the best time of the year to live in North Dakota is the last part of May and the first part of June. The flowering fruit trees are still in bloom, though some pink and white petals have begun to drift onto the streets and lawns.

The dwarf purple iris, my favorite of the entire iris family, has exploded into rich purple velvet ecstasy. Any bleeding hearts which have been sheltered in warm nooks are nodding on their long graceful stems. A few late tulips are still abloom, some appearing very blowzy, as in Old Masters' paintings.

My sturdy-stemmed lavender irises will soon bloom, and the bridal veil spirea bushes - so nondescript the rest of the year - will be turned into plumes of foamy white. Then the peonies - talk about blowzy ladies - and the sweet yellow shrub rose, and the almost-too-proliferous lily of the valley. I can't wait.

But there's no need to be impatient, as the lilacs are out!!!! The very air is heavily perfumed. It is almost too heady as it assails a person walking out the front door of a morning. It certainly does unsettle the brain and render one utterly useless as the glorious scent is inhaled and all thoughts of practical life are left far behind.

I had lunch at a certain restaurant today SPECIFICALLY because the exit road is lined with lilacs. I parked my car, got out and spent a good 10 minutes sticking my nose into lilac blossoms. And I did not care one whit what people thought of me. In my yard I have an ancient lilac tree which I cut way back to discourage it from blooming only on the highest branches. However, it still has this problem, and yields precious few blooms to boot (it is just too shaded). I am going to try to go walkabout the neighborhood on a lilac quest, though my knees - yes both knees - are giving me problems.

Around here, lilacs seem to be used quite often as hedges. I'm not used to that but I think it is delightful. A little building that used to be a family home but has recently housed various small shops abuts onto the Broadway Dairy Queen property. An enormous hedge of lilacs sits at the west edge of the property, blocking out the DQ parking lot. I think a visit to the DQ is imperative, if only to sit in the car and indulge in a sniff-fest (okay you know me too well, I will probably have a chocolate-dipped vanilla cone too).

Now in my third spring of blogging, I think I have said as much as I can about lilacs, so I am just going to post links to the 2008 and 2007 posts. For the 2009 post, I will just trot out a very few sentiments about lilacs that my long-time readers already know.

Lilacs are my favorite "Marcel Proust" sense memory flower. A whiff of them takes me right back to my childhood.

And of course, I can't write a post about lilacs without trotting out a few lines of Amy Lowell's poem that goes "Lilacs in the dooryard, holding quiet conversations with an early moon" and Walt Whitman's "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed" which is really not about lilacs but about Abraham Lincoln.

However, Whitman's imagery touches me deeply because so many abandoned North Dakota homesteads still have lilacs blooming by the foundations, and because so much of my early imagery of lilacs was seeing those purple and mauve blossoms framed by old, silvery-grey, weathered wood.

Here are my lilac posts from the last two years, which are basically the same except for a little bit of different baggage each year (you will get the essence from just one of the links - no need to link to both except I may have used different photos!)

May 2008 post:

May 2007 post:

I hope that where ever you are this spring, you are able to participate in the sensual feast of the blooming of the lilacs.

This year, instead of photos I am including paintings of lilacs. Except for the Sophie Anderson paintings, I am sorry to say I do not know the artists of the other paintings below. A Russian e-mail pal sent them to me, knowing how much I love lilacs. They may (or may not) be by Russian painters. If anyone knows these artists, please let me know.

This is my absolute favorite. Could the scene be from some old Russian country dacha?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009



(Doesn't she remind you of Tasha Tudor?)

By now, everyone with a TV or computer knows about the amazing story of British (Scottish) opera singer Susan Boyle, who has wowed everyone with her appearance on Britain's Got Talent. She's been lauded by critics and viewers alike for her pluck and determination.

Thanks to Annie at "Bimbimbie", I have learned about another amazing British woman - albeit from another era. Meet May Savidge, who single-handedly dismantled her 15th Century home, had it trucked 100 miles from Hertfordshire to Norfolk and rebuilt it brick by brick! She did this in defiance of developers who wanted to demolish her house for a road project.

"I just won't have such a marvellous old house bulldozed to the ground," she once said. "I've got nothing to do all day, so I might as well do the job myself."

Accompanied only by her beloved dog, Sasha, May spent 23 years on the project, moving oak timbers and ceiling beams, hand-cut floorboards, roof tiles, Tudor fireplaces, Elizabethan leaded glass, and all. May began her project circa 1969 and worked up until her death in 1993 at age 82. Sadly, the house was still not finished. In tribute to May, her niece, Christine Adams, finished the house and turned it into a bed and breakfast called Ware Hall House.

May was also a collector extraordinaire, and Adams was able to finance the completion of the restoration by selling May's belongings and memorabilia.

Adams has now written a book about May called "A Lifetime in the Building: The Extraordinary Story of May Savidge and the House She Moved" (by Christine Adams with Michael Mahon, Aurum Press May 2009).

The book is not just about brick and mortar. It also details May's life, including her two tragic love affairs - the first ending with the death of her fiance and the second with her being jilted after a 17-year courtship by a man whom she believed would marry her.

I plan to purchase this book as soon as I can find a used copy. I truly admire this woman. She puts lazy ol' me to shame.

In 1971 she told an English woman's club: "My mother brought us up on the maxim that there's no such word as can't." Talk about British pluck and determination!

Here's a link to a feature story about May Savidge:



This book has just been published and may only be available in the U.K. at this time. has listed it but it is out of stock. (PS - They list it as "Lifetime in the Building..", not "A Lifetime in the Building."

Friday, May 22, 2009


My friend Gemma from "Wild Woman" ( recently interviewed me. Somewhat like a meme, this mini-interview was fun to do because Gemma individualized the questions for me. She asked me:

1-What are some ways you nurture yourself?

As an empty nester with a "self-sufficient" husband, there are not a lot of demands on my time after my work day is over. Therefore I do have time to nurture my soul, through reading, writing, creating collages, finding beautiful art for my blog, listening to music, playing with my dog and enjoying the natural world.

One cannot forget to nurture the body as well. During the week our meals are very simple, but during the weekends Dan and I try to share special meals served with a good, but inexpensive, red wine. Red wine is good for the heart! So is dark chocolate, and I knew it is good for nurturing the soul too. I prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate, and when I feel low I treat myself to a 1/4 of a bar of Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate.

2-What is your favorite quote or line from a poem? Why does that resonate with you?

"Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." - "Anthem" by Leonard Cohen. This has been re-phrased in a popular e-mail as "Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light."

I think the people I admire most in life might be called a little "cracked". Yes, bless them. They don't hide their quirky light under a bushel basket. They are not content to be a "rat in a cage" or a "another brick in the wall". I have been like that at times, although not as often as I would have liked. I'm reminded of the line Luke Wilson's character says to Sarah Jessica Parker's character in "The Family Stone": "You have a freak flag, you just don't fly it." I think we all should fly our freak flags more often - let ourselves be in the moment and dance, sing, be silly, wear hats, chase butterflies, act a bit crazy.

3-If you could live an imaginary life in a different century, where, when and what would you be?

I feel to the depths of my soul that I was born to wear long silk and velvet dresses and a cone-shaped "princess" hat with a veil, which puts me right at home in Medieval times (preferably in England). I also know in my bones that I would have been a high-born lady and not a peasant. However, I would not sit idly by in my tower with my embroidery. I would be a herbalist. I would have an apothecary where I would dry and grind herbs and create medicines, which I would use to treat all who came to me for healing.

4-You have one hour and $20.00 to spend in an office supply store what would you buy?

Oh, dear, $20.00 is not enough to buy any Photoshop-type software, so I would content myself with browsing in the paper and stationery area. There's some nice ivy-bordered paper I've had my eye on at Staples, and I would definitely pick up some parchment paper for a project I'm working on right now. I'm assuming that the $20 is given to me? Because I can't afford parchment paper at $15.00 a ream.

5-What brings you the greatest joy?

Aside from my family and friends, nature brings my greatest joy. Although I am a girl from the prairie, I feel most at home in forest, meadow and lake country (it must be an ancestral memory buried deep in my DNA). I have spent some of my happiest times in central Minnesota. I get excited when I see the "Prairie to Pines" sign soon after one crosses from Grand Forks, ND, into the Land of 10,000 Lakes. At Itasca State Park, near Bemidji, I have walked across the Mississippi River (its source is at Itasca, where it begins as a tiny stream one can walk across).

I have floated down that infant river on a pontoon, basking in the strengthening sun and contentedly listening to the red-wing blackbirds trill along the banks. I have hiked through the spring woods, marveling at the light green of the tamarack, or larch, the only deciduous conifer. I have been thrilled beyond measure at the sight of pink lady slipper orchids, white trilliums and marsh marigolds. I have camped on Star Island and heard the evening call of the loon broadcast over Cass Lake.
Many of these memorable times began with Memorial Weekend. This Memorial Weekend, as in the past 27 years, I am hundreds of miles away from Minnesota, but I am enjoying spring here too. The song goes "June is bustin' out all over", but right now May is bustin' out all over, with a city full of ethereal clouds of pink, white or magenta blossoms of plum, crabapple and apple trees.
If you would like to have a tailor-made set of interview questions, leave me a comment with your e-mail address saying: “Interview Me”. I will e-mail you five questions of my choice and you can then answer the questions on your blog {with a link back to my blog}. If you participate, please post these "Individualized Meme" rules.

Friday, May 15, 2009


(copyright Nina Bagley)

I first learned about artist Nina Bagley while reading "True Colors: A Palette of Collaborative Art Journals". I fell in love with her beautiful collages and was thrilled to learn that she has a blog called Ornamental ( I was amazed to learn that not only is she a beautiful artist, photographer and jewelry maker, but an astounding writer.

Nina's blog is the type of blog that I aspire to write, but have failed miserably. I cannot begin to write as well as Nina does. Her posts about her home in the North Carolina mountains, her nature-inspired creations, her parents, her two sons, her dear sister, her cherished friends and her beloved dog evoke and stir so many feelings, emotions and insights. She writes with soul and heart and passion.

Having followed Nina's blog for quite some time, I (and her other readers) were aware that her dear Aspen, a springer spaniel, was aging, and at 16, was showing signs that he would not be with her much longer.

Sadly, Aspen died May 11. Yesterday, Nina said "goodbye to the dearest friend I ever had". I just had to re-print part of her post here. She expresses what I have not been able to write about my most recent dearest friend, my golden retriever Penny, who passed on January 6, as well as our other dear boys and girls: Beau, English Setter, age 14 1/2; Brandy, German Short Haired Pointer, age 14; Lady, cocker spaniel, age 16 1/2.

I felt I had to share this loving tribute, for all of us who love dogs and feel, as does does Mary Oliver (below) that the world would be a sad place indeed without dogs.

"Ornamental", May 15, 2009 - copyright Nina Bagley:

i loved this boy so much, so very much - loved him in a different way than loving another human being, which is an altogether different brand of love, you see. aspen loved me absolutely and without condition; he expected nothing of me except his breakfast and dinner and to be near me at all times, whether awake or asleep. i've never been loved before like that; perhaps i may again, when a springer spaniel puppy comes back into my life, but to live alone with a dog like this - a dog i had in my life for fourteen of his sixteen years - is to know the meaning of love in its purest, truest form. i could look into those big brown eyes and know that everything was going to always be okay, as long as aspen was there by my side. i snapped lots of photographs of him in the last couple of years of his life; i knew that i'd cherish them once he was gone, knew that i'd sorely regret not having them if i didn't . . . the photo below (see Nina's blog for this photo and others) is the very last one that i took, late last week, when he was lying below this green table right next to my feet; the peace that was felt in those moments was a tangible thing - touchable, something to reach out and embrace. he did all of this for me, simply by living at my side and by loving me right back.

i want to thank the hundreds, literally hundreds, of you who've written me here and have sent tender emails, who've sent cards, who've called, who've wept along with me. i would have felt like the loneliest person in this corner of the world, were it not for your kind, loving words, for the sounds of your voices on the phone. i had no idea that my grief would knock me right from my knees and onto the ground; i had no idea that so many of you would respond in turn with sorrow of your own. so many of you have said that you'll miss aspen, that he was as much a part of Ornamental as i am. that warms my heart, just knowing that he was loved in so many different places across this great big world. i've experienced a veritable roller coaster of emotions these past few days; not many of you knew that last thursday, before i left for robin's graduation weekend on saturday, i was forced to make the decision to leave aspen at my vet's kennel, rather than drag him along with me into a frenzied, unfamiliar schedule. he had grown lethargic, with little or no appetite, had several accidents here at the house and in the car. so left him, i did, with much hesitation and even greater angst; yet once i'd arrived in boone, i realized with relief that i'd made the right decision.

it was not until i was driving home on monday afternoon, feeling a little bittersweet after the graduation and taking my time on the winding, foggy roads, when i also realized that his time with me was drawing to an end. the vet called while i was passing through asheville, an hour from home, and said that he was "trying to leave us", that i should get there as quickly as i could. i missed seeing him alive for one last time by twenty little minutes. twenty. but his eyes were open, and i could swear that he was looking right back into my eyes for one last, beautiful, heart wrenching time. a friend and reader shared this lovely quote from mary oliver today with me, and it took my breath away, as her words so often do:

"We open the door and he [Ben the dog] glides away without a backward glance. It is early, in the blue and grainy air we can just see him running along the edge of the water, into the first pink suggestion of sunrise. And we are caught by the old affinity, a joyfulness -- his great and seemly pleasure in the physical world. Because of the dog's joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?"

i've questioned myself, my decision to leave him, a thousand times since monday afternoon. i'm sick that he was alone, without me by his side, when he decided to leave this earth. yet i also know that he most likely chose it to be that way, to spare me of any greater pain. i'm eternally grateful that i was saved from having to make a decision to put him to sleep; i'm grateful that this didn't happen while i was in boone, before robin's graduation; i'm especially grateful that it now won't happen while i am away from home for nearly a month - it would have been unfair to burden my parents with all of this, had i left him with them as planned while i am away. good dog, aspen. wise dog. good, good dog. i still expect to find him in all of the usual places - at the open door, beside my bed, here at my feet. and perhaps he is here, after all, just invisible to my limited eyes. i hope that is the case.

(copyright Nina Bagley)
"I loved my friend
He went away from me
There's nothing more to say
The poem ends,
Soft as it began-
I loved my friend."
- Langston Hughes

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Is there anything more beautiful than a weeping willow just beginning to leaf out? The baby willow leaves are so much lighter than they will be later in the season. (I'm reminded of the Lipton Tea commercial where the Chinese man talks about the "baby tea leaves").

They're such a light green, in fact, that they border on yellow. With just the slightest hint of a breeze, hundreds of airy chartreuse fronds all sway in unison and the sight could not be any more soul satisfying.

The forsythia are also in bloom here now. What a beautiful combination, the light green of the weeping willow and the yellow of the forsythia.

Tulips are finally in bloom here as well. I wonder, do Bismarck residents prefer red tulips over any other color, or do red tulips just bloom first? It is a delight to drive down any street in town and finally see color - even the yellow of dandelions. I saw my first ones yesterday.

"Make do, wear it out,
Use it up, or go without"
- Old Adage
I mentioned that the sight of new willow leaves is soul satisfying. I am trying to satisfy my soul without spending any money. Is anyone out there in this economy in the same boat as I am - trying to make do with less and less all the time - and trying to enjoy the process (or at least trying to feel virtuous about it)?
This is not exactly a new thing for us. Vacations, new cars, a boat, even much-needed home repairs have not been in our budget for a long time. I can't remember the last time I traveled out of town. We go out for dinner about once a year, usually on a gift card.
I haven't been to a movie since Christmas, and that was only because Kristen was home. I haven't rented or purchased a DVD in forever.
Within the past six months, I have given up my Netflix subscription and quit buying magazines (not even "Somerset Studio" or "Victoria"). I don't buy new books anymore - Barnes & Noble is only for browsing, not buying. My books come from thrift shops, rummage sales and (there are many available for a penny plus shipping). No, I won't quit buying books!
I never, ever shop recreationally anymore. I have put off buying sheets and towels and they are wearing out. I bring my lunch to work. I have never been one to buy a Starbucks coffee every morning.
For years I bought pretty much whatever I wanted at the grocery store, never checking prices. Now I bring a calculator and pinch every penny. For years I bought my clothes at Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target and T. J. Maxx. Now I've gone a step further and only buy them at thrift shops. For over 20 years I have bought my shoes at K-Mart and Payless.
Just recently, I have been doing without cable TV. I am doing fairly well, but I am Lost without the antics of Kate, Jack and Sawyer on "Lost." I haven't gotten my weekly shot of "Gray's Anatomy" and I can't boo Simon Cowell on "American Idol". I can receive CBS - with good sound but lousy picture - so I do get the national and local news plus a few dramas ("Criminal Minds" - yeah!)
In the past years I have gone from spending hundreds of dollars a year on hanging baskets and bedding plants to merely picking up a few for my deck. This year, I won't even be doing that. It has been many years since we have watered our lawn in the summer.
I no longer have Internet at home, but I am not weaning myself off that as easily as I did cable TV. I have to go to the library every day, if only to check my e-mail by putting a quarter in the slot in the "pay for use" computers there. I'm hoping that this won't be a permanent condition, but if it is I will adjust. (I still have Microsoft Word, so I can write posts at home and then publish them when I can access the Internet.)
Instead of juice, I have been buying Kool-Aid packets. My next thing to give up will probably be Coke. That will be very, very difficult.
But, on the bright side, I have free music at my fingertips, thanks to the radio and my CDs.
My library card is free. Dan has even been asking me to check out books for him. (He has never had a Bismarck Library card, even though we have lived here for 28 years!) I am reading more than I have in a long, long time, finishing a book about every two days. And as the days get longer and longer, I will be reading even more.
The whole of nature is free, and I still have my health, mobility, and all my five senses to appreciate this burgeoning spring: Hearing, to capture the stirring trill of the meadowlark. Scent, to sniff the fresh air and the newly-cut grass. Touch, for the silky down of a prairie crocus (anemone pusillatis). Taste, for a sweet drop of honeysuckle. Sight, for the first flowers now in bloom, and for all the daffodils, lilies of the valley, spirea, iris, lilacs and crabapple blossoms to come.
There will be no charge to watch the Band Day parade on Friday evening, or to see my niece graduate from high school. There's no charge to sit on a park bench and watch the world go by. The sight of baby animals at Dakota Zoo can be had at a nominal price.
Driving down to the river will use up about a buck's worth of gas at most. Sitting on the deck of an evening and watching Gracie careen around the yard will not only be free, it'll be priceless (though I will sorely miss seeing Penny waiting to expertly catch a pop fly (her ball).
The Montana-Dakota Utilities bill will go way down (and MDU has already purchased its natural gas for next winter - at a much lower price than this past year)!
It will be a soul-satisfying spring - and summer - indeed. As my blogging friend Lila says, "Joy doesn't depend on income."