Archive for June, 2010

In the center of the above-pictured garden I had a couple of healthy-appearing rose bushes, until a couple of weeks ago.  Suddenly the foliage disappeared.  Now the plants are denuded except for thorns and a few wimpy blooms.

A garden expert confirmed the presence of SLUGS in our midst, characterized by slimy trails which we had seen earlier but couldn’t identify.  SLUGS!  Not welcome, and what should I do?  Chemical pellets are out in my vocabulary because I love my “pet” chipmunk who eats, drinks, plays, and sleeps in my garden. 

Nearly forever, I’ve heard of beer for slug treatment—and that seemed like the least invasive way to go.  Better an inebriated chipmunk than a dead one!  So I forayed through the firewater department of our supermarket, perusing the cans of beer while looking for the cheapest brand. 

But wait a minute!  It’s been so long since Joe and I had beer and pretzels, that I’d forgotten an integral fact of beer-ology.  Every can of beer in the store is attached to 5 other cans!  And I’d hoped that the contents of a single can would do in my slugs.

Someone told me that I could get a single can of beer at most convenience stores.  So I raced into a local gas station mart, stopping en route to an appointment.

“I need a can of beer,” I announced hurriedly.  The store attendant gave me a strange look, and said they didn’t stock beer.

Wanting to clarify my odd request I commented, “I need the beer for my slugs.” 

As I left the store, the attendant looked even more puzzled.  Maybe he thought “my slugs” were relatives and friends.

Later back at the supermarket, I relented and purchased a 6-pack of a St. Louis brew—foregoing Milwaukee’s famous product in order to economize.  My slugs don’t have to have the most expensive beer. 

At the check-out counter, I had to show my driver’s license.  This pleased me immensely, as I fantasized that the check-out man thought maybe I was under age.  Ha!  I needn’t have flattered myself.  It’s simply a state law, to show one’s ID when purchasing beer, etc.

Still feeling the need to explain my worldly purchase, I told the check out man, “I need the beer for my slugs.”

He answered, “Tell your slugs, the next time they want beer they have to bring their ID.”

Now several servings of beer have been placed in our gardens, in plastic containers left over from Marie Callender’s delicious cuisine. (Yes, Joe and I sometimes have frozen dinners.  You can gasp all you want, but we’ll continue to enjoy them on occasion—thank you very much!)

This afternoon when I walked Dylan, I noticed that he kept trying to get into my gardens.  Finally I let Dylan lead, and he went straight for the beer.  He tugged on his leash, and obviously wanted a slurp.  This I would not permit.  I’ll leave the beer for the slugs—and the chipmunk, if he decides to be silly. 

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

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Awhile back I wrote about painting what we know.  “Knowing” doesn’t always mean experiencing first hand.  A person can live in a place, yet not really know or understand it from the inside out.  Conversely, we can read about a locale so intently and intensely that we do indeed “know” it. 

Experience can be shallow, trite, and superficial—while deeply involved reading never is!  Thus we can visit a place for the first time, and feel profoundly “at home”—as if we have always been there.  When Joe and I traveled the back roads of Scotland in a rented car, I was “at home” thanks to a lifetime of hearing and reading about that ancestral land. 

And I know I’ll feel likewise if we ever visit Ireland, pictured above in watercolor ink and rendered from my imagination.  Through ancestral roots* and much reading, Ireland is familiar turf to me.

My Irish-background maternal grandfather, Ambrose Luckey, was the only one of my four grandparents whom I don’t remember.  He died when I was a year old.  But his portrait, along with that of his wife—my Grandma Kate—sits on my piano.  He looks kind, gentle, and a bit melancholy.

Ambrose Luckey was born and raised on a small farm in central Wisconsin where he married my grandmother, Kate Campbell—the daughter of Alexander Campbell, a Congregational preacher in Pine River, Wisconsin.  Their three children, my mother and her two older brothers, were born on that farm.  When Mother was four years old, the family moved to Madison at Grandma Kate’s insistence, so that the children could attend the University of Wisconsin. 

I grew up with the story of how that move to Madison broke Ambrose’s heart.  Although his Irish ancestors had come to America back in the late 1700s, Grandpa Ambrose still had the Irish passion for land. 

Reportedly, Grandpa never did adjust to living on Langdon Street near the busy Madison university.  Grandma Kate kept the family together, by working as a practical nurse and taking in boarders.  I recall childhood visits to the green bungalow where Grandma lived.

I have thought a lot over the years about my unknown Grandfather, and I sense a bond not only from hearing family stories about him but from identification with him.  I understand his temperament, and can imagine his sorrow over losing his beloved lifestyle.

Over the last decade, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about Ireland.  Two books stand out among the plethora:  THE GREAT HUNGER, a documentary of the potato famine years, by Cecil Woodham Smith—and THE END OF THE HUNT, a well-documented novel of the years from the 1916 EASTER RISING up to the 1930s and the aftermath of the Irish Free State Treaty with Britain and the subsequent Irish Civil War, by Thomas Flanagan.

Much as I love English literature, English bone china, English films, and many other things British, I have no love for English imperial policies of the past. 

Power corrupts, and every nation has its shame.  I’m ashamed of America’s past treatment of blacks and Native Americans.  Nazi Germany stands at the top of the list of horrors, when it comes to “man’s inhumanity to man”. 

Likewise, 700 years of English domination, exploitation, and abject cruelty to the Irish simply cannot be borne with academic complacency.  Although my Irish ancestors settled in the New World over 200 years ago, and even though they were Protestants from Northern Ireland, my heart and soul are inextricably bound to the Irish people—northern and southern!  

I’m eternally thankful that our early Americans had the good sense to dump that tea into Boston Harbor!  And someday I hope to experience the familiar turf of Ireland.  Meanwhile, I’m painting what I know!

*How we need to know our ancestral roots!  Wisconsin natives know where they came from.  In our state, it’s common to hear people say they are Irish, Polish, German, Swedish, Czech, Welsh, or whatever.  This is one of the many reasons I love Wisconsin!

©Margaret L. Been

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Our living quarters have been transformed into garden rooms.  The sliding door you see in the background enters our parlor which is a part of the patio and garden, rain or shine.

Our bedroom looks out on another garden with peonies (finished blooming now), daylilies, sweet William, snapdragons, numerous ground cover plants, some sunflowers sprouting from seed, and an ornamental crab tree containing a mother robin sitting on her 2nd round of eggs for the season.

Gardens reflect life.  Each flower blooms for its short time, then dies and gives way to new flowers.  How we would love to freeze and behold the magnificence of a peony forever, but the peony’s voluptuous bloom is short-lived. 

We can only experience the beauty of each flower in our garden for a moment, just as we hold the timeless moments of life—lightly, prayerfully, and thankfully. 

Meanwhile, there is always the next bloom to anticipate.  Peonies give way to daylilies—and roses are followed by hostas, black-eyed Susans, and asters.  Finally, just before winter, we celebrate that glory of autumn—the chrysanthemum.

A spirit of equanimity is required for gardening and living!  Yet I hold the fragrance of each season in my heart.

©2010, Margaret L. Been

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We have just returned from a mini-vacation at our Northern home, and I am a bit euphoric over warm spring and the beauty of Wisconsin! 

Up North we thrilled to the loons, the clacking of frogs all night in our bay, the full moon rising over the river as viewed through our large bedroom window, a thunder storm, and other natural wonders. 

On Memorial Day weekend, we did the annual rummage tour around our lake and into the town of Phillips.  Yes we are still rummaging, and probably will be as long as we can navigate from garage to yard.   I found scenic paintings to cover some of the walls in our home up there, walls which were denuded by our move to Southern Wisconsin.   Bare walls are a huge No-No in my decorating agenda!

I also found a book of letters and journal entries by Anne Morrow Lindbergh—a beautiful writer with a beautiful soul! 

But the best part of the rummage circuit in our Northern neighborhood is VISITING.  Everywhere we stop to browse through second-hand treasures, there are friends to enjoy.  Small town and rural shopping is a high social event, one which abounds in joie de vie! 

Just like “old times”, Joe and I had our Friday fish fry at the Phillips Cafe, and Sunday dinner there as well—with extra gravy on the great mashed potatoes.  (We rarely do gravy at home, but when we are out what a treat!)

We went to church, visited with friends, and it was like we’d never left.  Dylan got to run free as he always did—never leaving the area around the house, while experiencing all the exciting scents and sounds of the northwoods and guarding us from potential wolves and bears. 

To crown the vacation, we came home a different way—angling down Highway 16 from Portage to our home in Nashotah which is right off 16, rather than taking the usual I-90/94 which is always loaded with traffic to Madison, Chicago, and Milwaukee.

We took “the road less traveled”, and it was wonderful—dipping and winding through farms and that still vibrant Wisconsin institution, The Small Town.  We arrived at our door in Southern Wisconsin, minus the stress that normally characterizes the last 2 hours of the trip.

Now we are at home in Southern Wisconsin.  Our neighbor upstairs is no longer gardening his ample space along the garage wall and he has turned it over to us!  This is a sunny garden, perfect for tomatoes and sun loving flowers and herbs.  Yesterday I weeded out the plot and planted tomatoes—plus clematis against the wall, coneflowers, bugbane, sweet basil, and a couple of unknown-to-me beauties.  Today I will fill in with my all time favorite annual—snapdragons.

Again and again I’m aware of the fact that we are contentedly “at home” wherever we go, wherever we are!  As long as there are people to love, a book in hand, and something to nurture (pets and/or plants) or make (a knitted garment, picture, or poem) I am delightedly at home!

Overflowing cups!  🙂

©2010, Margaret L. Been

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