Thursday, January 30, 2014

O Pioneers!

My book group read this Willa Cather book for our discussion last week, and while there were mixed reviews, most of us liked it. We had all really enjoyed reading My Antonia several years ago, and while we probably liked that better, there was much to appreciate in this book, especially Cather's gift for description, the love for the land,  and the strong woman character.  O Pioneers is the story of Swedish immigrants who settled in Nebraska at the turn of the 20th century. Alexandra Bergson inherits her family's farm, and she spends her life making a prosperous and successful life on the prairie. I find it refreshing to read a book like this once in awhile...Cather's writing is spare and beautiful, and the story is simple, with a little bit of history, adventure, and romance. There were many passages in the book that I liked, but as a gardener, this one really resonated with me.

"Marie sat sewing or crocheting and tried to take a friendly interest in the game, but she was always thinking about the wide fields outside, where the snow was drifting over the fences; and about the orchards, where the snow was falling and packing, crust over crust. When she went out into the dark kitchen to fix her plants for the night, she used to stand by the window and look out at the white fields or watch the currents of snow whirling over the orchard. She seemed to feel the weight of all the snow that lay down there. The branches had become so hard that they wounded your hand if you but tried to break a twig. And yet, down under the frozen crusts, at the roots of the trees, the secret of life was still safe, warm as the blood in one's heart; and the spring would come again! Oh, it would come again!"

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sunday Drive

On Sunday Walt and I took a break from painting our bedroom and took a drive out into the Virginia countryside, stopping for lunch in Purcellville and then just driving around back roads, passing through the towns of Hillsboro, Waterford, Taylorstown, Stumptown, Lucketts. We saw lots of big open land, farms, and several wineries. And we used a map~no GPS~ sometimes I just like looking at a map and seeing where we are instead of listening to that annoying voice telling me where to turn. And what if you don't know where you are going?

I didn't take many photos, but I liked how this first photo turned out. Virginia sure is pretty country, even in the winter.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Winter Fleurs

~ I must have flowers, always, and always ~ Claude Monet

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Garden in Art

One of my favorite things to do in the winter is read garden books. Lately I've been looking through a beautiful book that I brought home from the library, The Garden in Art, by art historian Debra Mancoff. The book looks at artists from ancient Egypt to the present day and how they have depicted the garden throughout history.  There are more than 200 full color photographs of paintings in the book,  some familiar, with chapters on working gardens, public gardens, the garden throughout the seasons, the garden as metaphor, and artists' gardens.  I highly recommend for a cold, snowy afternoon on the sofa.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Manna, by Joseph Stroud

Everywhere, everywhere, snow sifting down,
a world becoming white, no more sounds,
no longer possible to find the heart of the day,
the sun is gone, the sky is nowhere, and of all
I wanted in life – so be it – whatever it is
that brought me here, chance, fortune, whatever
blessing each flake of snow is the hint of, I am
grateful, I bear witness, I hold out my arms,
palms up, I know it is impossible to hold
for long what we love of the world, but look
at me, is it foolish, shameful, arrogant to say this,
see how the snow drifts down, look how happy
I am.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Calm Before the Storm

We are waiting for snow to begin, as we are supposed to get a big storm today--up to eight inches of snow. While there isn't a snowflake to be seen yet, the sky is gray and the temps are beginning to fall. All the schools are already closed as well as the federal government. I am supposed to work this afternoon and so far the library is open, but I hope that changes once the snow starts. We sure have had crazy weather this winter--yesterday it was in the 50s. I hadn't been out in the garden for weeks, so over the weekend I walked around and checked things out. Everything looks pretty bleak, with no leaves and not much green, but the hellebores are showing signs of life, teeny buds just starting to peek through the dirt.  Maybe I'll have pictures of a snow-covered garden tomorrow!

**Update** It's starting to snow!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

To the New Year

To the New Year

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Goldfinch

I don't know where to start with this book.  When I finished it this week, all I could think was--wow. Maybe because there are so many average, so-so books out there that when we read one that is truly fine literature, it literally knocks us off our feet. And that is how I felt about this book. First of all, the language—wow. There were many instances where I went back and reread a paragraph because the words were just so beautiful and perfect—how can someone write like this I wonder? So many issues populate this book--art, beauty, truth, loss, drug culture, antiques and restoration, friendship,  mental illness, coincidence, loyalty, love-- but at its core it is a tale of traumatic loss-- a missing painting and a lost boy.

The painting that goes missing is a real painting, The Goldfinch, by the Dutch artist Carel Fabritius (1622-1654) and the painting is a major part of the entire story, as the action moves from New York City to Las Vegas, back to New York, and finally to Amsterdam.

"Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only - if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn't it? And isn't the whole point of things - beautiful things - that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another? ...You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entire, and that's not even to mention the people separated from us by time - four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we're gone - it'll never strike anybody in the same way and the great majority of people it'll never strike in any deep way at all but - a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular. Yours, yours. I was painted for you."

What a wonderful way to think about a piece of art, that thread that joins us all who appreciate it, now and forever. Coincidentally, the real Goldfinch is now on display at the Frick Collection in New York City as part of an exhibit of Dutch masterpieces, and the museum has reported record crowds because of this book.

I’m not going to summarize the story, other than to say it is the story of a young boy named Theo, and how one event alters the rest of his life. We meet wonderful and memorable characters–Boris, his Ukrainian/ Russian friend, Hobie, an antique restorer, literate and kind, his schemer/gambler father, and a young girl named Pippa, to whom Theo is forever connected. There is action, suspense, and the sense of place is so well done--you feel like you are walking with Theo through the streets of New York and Amsterdam, and the half-finished housing development in Las Vegas. You feel the comfort and charm of Hobie's dusty antique shop in the West Village.

I think The Goldfinch was probably the best book I read all year.  If I had to give it  any criticism, it is that is a bit too long. At 771 pages it requires a major commitment. But even though there were parts that could have been edited, every time I picked it up I was happy to realize there was still a lot left to read.

And this quote from the end, stays with me for sure.

"That life - whatever else it is - is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Amaryllis 'Très Chic'

My new amaryllis 'Très Chic' from White Flower Farm started to bloom right around New Years Day,   exactly 36 days after I planted it. It's a really pretty shade of dark pinkish red, with a chartreuse and white center. I really love how it looks in the morning with the sun shining through it--it almost glows.  So far I have had seven blooms on one stalk, and there just might be another stalk coming on.   It is just starting to fade now, so I have enjoyed a good two weeks plus of blooming time. I keep mine in a window, so I turn it every day to keep the long stem straight, as it tends to bend towards the sunlight. I also keep a loose loop of twine around the stem to keep it from falling over--I have had the unfortunate experience of coming down one morning to see another amaryllis broken and on the floor.

 And here is how it looked in mid-November after I received the bulb in the mail. Miraculous, no?

And a few weeks later, the flower buds in appearance, preparing for the show.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sunday in DC

Marc Chagall's 'Orphée

Yesterday was the most glorious day here. Sunny and cool, but after the bitter cold weather  of the past weeks it felt almost spring-like. We decided to go into DC after I read an article in The Post on Sunday morning about this Chagall mosaic in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. I have been waiting for this mosaic to be displayed for years, and apparently it was installed in November.  Who knew? I first read about the mosaic years ago--and about John and Evvie Nef, who lived on 28th Street in Georgetown and were friends with the artist Marc Chagall, who made this mosaic for their garden.  I was so mad that I didn't know about this mosaic earlier, as we have walked around Georgetown for years and years, and I didn't even know it was there! I would have surely searched it out, peeked in the garden, climbed over a wall, or gone on a garden tour to see it displayed in their garden.  But alas, I didn't know about it until I read the article in 2009 that Evvie Nef had died and left the mosaic to the National Gallery of Art, and then learned the whole story about the mosaic, and about their friendship with Marc Chagall.

 This gorgeous mosaic is made of thousands of tiny hand-cut pieces -- called tesserae--of colored glass and stone. When Chagall first proposed the idea of a mosaic for their Georgetown garden, the Nefs thought it would be a simple plaque. Instead it was a 10-foot high and 17-foot wide mosaic, and the Nefs had to build a 30-foot brick wall to house the piece.  It was installed in their garden in 1971, with Chagall in attendance!

When Evvie Nef died in 2009 (John Nef died in 1988)  at the age of 96, the National Gallery began the painstaking process of disassembling the mosaic.  The Nefs left their entire art collection, including the mosaic, to the NGA.  Evvie Nef wanted the mosaic to be displayed outdoors,  and so it was installed in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.  You can imagine the process involved in taking it down and reassembling it--involving a team of conservators, mosaicists, carpenters, masons, architects, and engineers working for more than three years.  And so I have been waiting...and it was worth waiting for.

The colors of the mosaic are beautiful, the glass pieces reflecting light and glittering in the sunlight.  The setting is perfect--tucked in a corner of the garden, so similar to its original home in the Nef's Georgetown garden. I know it will be a must-see every time we are on the Mall.

It was such a pretty day and we were happy just walking around the garden and watching the ice skaters in the NGA ice rink that we almost didn't go in any museums. But we did pop into the National Gallery to see the new Van Gogh that went on display in December, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, that was painted just before his death in 1890.

This stainless steel tree is one of my favorites. You can see if from across the mall, so bright and shiny and it looks spectacular against the blue sky.

'Graft' stainless steel tree

Lots of skaters on the rink (National Archives in the background)



Love these gnarly crape myrtles

Close-up of heavily pruned crape myrtles

Van Gogh's  Green Wheat Fields, Auvers

Friday, January 10, 2014

Winter Bulbs

I have my little bulb corner going now--two amaryllis plants and a bowl of paperwhites. It's fun to try to keep some things blooming in these chilly days of winter. I have my orchids--white one still in bloom and pink one just beginning-- and I have my new amaryllis which started blooming around New Year's Day.  I  buy paperwhite bulbs in the fall to plant for Christmas, and pretty much always forget about them until after Christmas. Which is okay, cause then I have some sweet smelling blooms in January. So the other day I got out my bag of rocks, and my vintage bulb bowl,  and the bulbs,  and got them planted. I just plant them in the rocks, no soil, cover the bulbs with water, and in a few weeks they'll be blooming. Easy peasy. Sometimes I put some moss over them to pretty them up, but obviously forgot that this time.