Summertime – Farms and the Country in the CHRISTMASTIME series

rolls of hay sunset

I was born and raised in small-town Illinois, and the countryside played an important role in shaping my idea of the world – the sense of openness and wide skies, the beauty of the changing seasons, the rhythms of the land.

Though I never lived on a farm, country life was an integral part of the area and its presence was felt in the farms and orchards surrounding the town, in my classmates who lived on farms, in the county fair with displays of livestock and ribbons won for home-baked goods, canning, and 4-H projects.

And though my family lived in town, the country and farms were still a part of our lives. We used to drive out into the country to buy eggs from one farmer, and honey from another old-timer who kept bees. Some of my brothers and sisters earned money over the summer by detasseling corn, and we all learned to drive on those long, straight country roads.

Once, my dad took us out to glean a cornfield. A picture of Millet’s The Gleaners hung in my friend’s living room, and I thought gleaning sounded like an old-fashioned, romantic thing to do –

framed Gleaners

though I imagine the purpose of our outing was to show us the value of a dollar, part of the Midwestern work ethic that was woven into everything back then. We piled into the back of my dad’s pickup and drove out to a farm. With bags and buckets in hand, we began gleaning the cornfield of ears of corn missed by the combine. There was something fun and adventuresome about it, like being on a treasure hunt. After several hours, we emptied our bags into the bed of the truck, and then took our harvest to the grain elevator – we each made $2.

Probably because I never lived on a farm, I’ve always romanticized about it (though I know farming is backbreaking work with long hours, and farmers are at the mercy of the weather). It is that romanticized version the country and farms that made its way into my Christmastime books in the storylines that take place on Kate’s farm in Illinois.

windmill

(images from Pinterest)

header 2 The Cx Series (1)

3D-Christmastime_books_ALL_3

The Christmastime series is available on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, iTunes, and Google and in libraries by request, on Ingram and Overdrive

Amazon —  https://amzn.to/2xFgnt0

(Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, the final book in the series,

will be available in the fall.)

 

Color, Magnificent Color – Green

Emerald. Sage. Moss. Chartreuse. Kelly, pine, hunter, mint, lime. Juniper. Fern. Shamrock. Green signifies freshness, wholesomeness, simplicity or opulence — nature’s color in a multitude of shades.

green opera chairs

“No white nor red was ever seen, So amorous as this lovely green.” – Andrew Marvell

green books

“He recognized that Life itself is an art. He was keenly sensitive to the value of beautiful surroundings. He had that curious love of green, which in individuals is always the sign of a subtle artistic temperament.” – Oscar Wilde

“Even in winter it shall be green in my heart.” – Frederic Chopin

“For still there are so many things that I have never seen: in every wood in every spring there is a different green.” –  J. R. R. Tolkien

q green bridge

“Green how I want you green. Green wind. Green branches.”  – Federico Garcia Lorca

green shawl

“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.” – Pedro Calderon de la Barca

8 cottage green

Christmas in July (and seeking book reviewers)

 

 

I’ve always found the idea of Christmas in July a challenging one. After all, summer is the time for picnics on the grass, reading at the beach, backyard cookouts, vacations, lemonade, hammocks… 

However, I know there are many people who start to plan — and shop? — for Christmas in July — people who, though perhaps reluctant to admit it, feel a mild frisson to know that in a few short months, they will be wrapping presents, decorating a tree, and baking Christmas cookies. So for those people, I give you the opening paragraphs of the final book in my Christmastime series: Christmastime 1945: A Love Story (available this fall).

Christmas_1945_6.28.2019 final

Chapter 1

The snow fell softly over Manhattan as Lillian Drooms hurried home. She was still smiling from her meeting with Mrs. Huntington and the art director of children’s books. Her drawings had been well received and Mrs. Huntington hinted that Lillian had a good chance at being selected to illustrate a children’s adventure series – she would love nothing more! Happiness and Christmas were in the air, and wanting to catch even more of the holiday spirit, Lillian decided to walk up Fifth Avenue and then cross through Central Park on her way home.

The crowds thickened as she neared and then turned onto the Avenue. All around her the sense of excitement was palpable – in the carolers and newspaper boys, in the honking and braking of traffic, in the calls from the vendors: “Hot chestnuts! Pretzels!” Workers rushed from jobs, couples walked arm in arm, shoppers ducked in and out of stores, their arms laden with packages and shopping bags, and groups of servicemen explored Manhattan while they awaited their final train or bus ride home.

Lillian took a moment to look around her at the bustling city, so alive! And this was just one avenue. She knew the harbor and piers, and Grand Central and Penn Stations bustled with returning soldiers. The roads into and around New York City were crowded as never before – the city was bursting at its seams with life and happiness. At long last, the war was over! And this first Christmas after the war was sure to be a memorable one.

Bumped and jostled by the throng of people, Lillian tucked herself into a doorway to take in the post-war Christmas euphoria. The very air tingled with promise and future, and she smiled out at the swirl of commotion. She observed the faces passing by, all united by a sense of cheerfulness and gratitude. A soldier and a young woman passed by, briefly stopping to embrace and kiss. Across from her, a family, with the father in uniform, stopped to buy bags of roasted peanuts from a street vendor. An older couple laughed as they nearly collided with a ho-ho-hoing Santa Claus bell ringer. Down the block, a cluster of sailors pointed and gawked at the skyscrapers, and across the avenue, a group of WACs – such smart, confident women – chatted with a group of soldiers.

Lillian stepped back out into the stream of people but continued to look all about her. The signs of Christmas were everywhere – wreaths and decorations appeared in nearly all the windows and doors, along with red ribbons and garlands of shimmery tinsel. After the gray of war, everything seemed to be in color. Was it her imagination? Was it her own happiness coloring the world? No, indeed, the dresses in the department store windows boasted brighter shades, and young women sported bolder makeup, brighter lipstick that suited their flashing smiles. And the lights! Strings of colored bulbs shone everywhere – outlining windows and doorways and awnings. It was the first time Christmas lights were used freely since before the war and no one was holding back.

The war was over, Christmas was in the air, and Charles would be home soon! Lillian took a deep breath, checking herself, not trusting to such perfect happiness. She would muster the calm and pragmatism that had gotten her through the war years. Charles was not home yet – in fact, she hadn’t heard from him for several weeks. It could be January or February or later before his arrival. But he would be home – and he would never have to leave her again.

 

3D-Christmastime_books_ALL_3

https://amzn.to/2NYcA5a

I hope you enjoyed this bit of Christmas in July.

If there are any readers, book bloggers, or book clubs who would be interested in writing reviews for my series, please let me know (email me at Linda@LindaMahkovec.com) and I’ll send you a link to my ebooks. My goal this year is to increase my reviews, especially on Amazon. To those followers who have already left reviews, THANK YOU!! and let me know if you would like to review my other books — The Garden House, The Dreams of Youth, and Seven Tales of Love.

I hope the rest of your summer is lovely, relaxing, and filled with much happiness.

hammock white wine

 

 

 

 

 

Hollyhocks – summer’s flower

hollyhocks 2

 

“Hollyhocks are the epitome of cottage garden plants…
hollyhocks 6

 

Chances are you’ve seen them alongside a barn, in front of a cute cottage-style house, or gracing the front of a white picket fence. This old-fashioned pass-along plant has absolutely caught the hearts of many.” (/www.bhg.com)

 

hollyhocks Nantucket

Alcea rosea, the common hollyhock…was imported into Europe from southwestern China during, or possibly before, the 15th century…From Middle English holihoc (holy mallow).”  (Wikipedia)

As for marigolds, poppies, hollyhocks, and valorous sunflowers, we shall never have a garden without them, both for their own sake, and for the sake of the old-fashioned folks who used to love them. — Henry Ward Beecher

Certain flowers reappear in my book series, Christmastime, especially for scenes set on Kate’s farm in Illinois. Hollyhocks and lavender, in particular, make an appearance during Lillian’s visits to the farm. Below is an excerpt from the final book, which will be available later this year.

Excerpt from Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, from the “Epilogue: Summer 1948”

A beautiful summer day spread over Kate’s farm. A light breeze carried the fragrance of freshly mowed hay, honeysuckle, roses, and tiny green and floral scents released by the sun’s warmth. White butterflies flitted and landed among the flowers, along with a few dragonflies that briefly hovered and then disappeared. A perfect day, thought Lillian. She sat in the shade of the old oak tree, using her watercolors to capture the profusion of hollyhocks that grew alongside the barn.

hollyhocks 13

Lillian added a few more leaves to the hollyhocks, and then rinsed her brush. She saw Ursula strolling up the country road, returning from one of her solitary walks. Ursula paused to inhale the fragrance of the mass of honeysuckle covering the fence – then she picked one of the small yellow flowers, pinched the bottom off, and tasted the drop of nectar at its base. In her hand she held a bunch of wildflowers.

Ursula walked over to Lillian. “Hello, Aunt Lillian.” She tilted her head to study the painting. “How lovely.”

“I’ve tried to capture their charm,” said Lillian, standing back to view the canvas.

As always, Lillian was struck by Ursula’s beauty that only deepened with the years. Ursula wore a deep blue and purple floral dress that caught the color of her eyes and flowed around her slim figure. Her long hair blew in the summer breeze, revealing her amethyst earrings.

“Simple hollyhocks,” said Ursula. She offered to hold the painting as Lillian gathered her supplies and collapsed the easel. “You’ve captured them exactly – and yet added something. You’ve lifted them and made them even more beautiful. A piece of summer to be treasured.”

Lillian smiled at the comment. “I’ve always loved hollyhocks. An old-fashioned flower. Always leaning towards the sun and blooming in such happiness.” She looked again at the tall stalks abloom with color, tapering off to small buds not yet open. Rising from lush green leaves, flowers of pale pink with dark centers, soft yellow, deep purple, white, bright pink. “Quaint and lovely. Especially growing against the barn like this.”

pink hollyhocks barn

Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, the final book in the Christmastime Series, will be available in the fall.

Christmas_1945_6.28.2019 final

 

The Romance of Travel – Scotland (Part 1)

 

C1

I recently spent two weeks in May touring Scotland. I was surprised to find that spring was just arriving, enabling me to enjoy early spring for a second time, especially the farther north we traveled. Daffodils, tulips, and blossoming trees added splashes of color to the landscape. Bluebells, in particular, bloomed in abundance.

Orkeny tulips 1

bluebells

In the early part of the trip, there was even a dusting of snow in the Highlands. And though rain was predicted, except for one day, we had beautiful clear weather.

Highlands snow

My trip began and ended in historical Edinburgh, a city that has been high on my to-see list for a long time. It did not disappoint.

E castle blossoms

Edinburgh is the perfect walking city with a fascinating mix of medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town, all surrounded by stunning natural beauty.

E Princes Street spire

Between Old Town and New Town is the verdant stretch of Princes Street Garden, a sunken park in the heart of the city. It was “created in two phases in the 1770s and 1820s following the long draining of the Nor Loch and building of the New Town, beginning in the 1760s.” (wikipedia)

E Princes Street Park

E Princes Street Park statue

fountain

At the head of Old Town is Edinburgh Castle, built on a craggy outcropping of volcanic rock. Though it has an “1100-year-old history…few of the present buildings pre-date… the 16th century, when the medieval defenses were largely destroyed by artillery bombardment.” (wikipedia)

castle turret

castle gate

Calton Hill from castle

The fortress sits on Castle Rock, one of the seven hills that surround Edinburgh. From this vantage point, you can see two other hills that form part of the city’s identity — Calton Hill, with its Athenian Acropolis, and Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano that can be climbed for panoramic views of the city.

Arthur's seat from castle

Edinburgh is full of steep stairs, medieval closes, and unexpected passages, such as the Vennel with its views of the Castle,

the vennel

picturesque Circus Lane (converted mews), which was blooming with irises and fragrant wisteria and lilac,

E Circus Lane

and Dean Village, a lovely place for a morning stroll. It was “the centre of a successful grain milling area for more than 800 years. At one time there were no fewer than eleven working mills there, driven by the strong currents of the Water of Leith.” (wikipedia) 

Dean Village 1

E Dean Village 1

In addition to Edinburgh’s charming walks and its trove of historical sites, the city has a vibrant music and literary culture, and a wide array of restaurants to sample, from traditional fare to various ethnic cuisines. I was glad to know that I would be returning to Edinburgh at the end of my trip for there was still so much more to see.

But for now, as much as I loved Edinburgh, the Highlands in the misty distance beckoned. (to be continued…)

E dusk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miranda’s Pacific Northwest: majestic, mysterious, and magical.

Vista House spring

In the novel The Garden House, the natural beauty and attractions of the Pacific Northwest play a key role in the life of the main character, Miranda.

m3

Ecola State Park

From the dramatic Oregon coast

to the Puget Sound and Seattle’s vibrant Pike Place Market,

Seattle ferry

to the Columbia River Gorge and the Art Nouveau charm of the Vista House

m4

and nearby Multnomah Falls,

the allure of the Pacific Northwest inspires Miranda to live a life full of beauty.

Portland bridge

Mt. Rainier night

gardenhouse_kindle_hi

http://amzn.to/2x8QhNp

Blossom time

blossom time

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

B2

“April… hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” – William Shakespeare

Hood River Oregon

“There is no glory in star or blossom till looked upon by a loving eye; There is no fragrance in April breezes till breathed with joy as they wander by.” – William Cullen Bryant

B3

 

 

“Break open A cherry tree And there are no flowers; But the spring breeze Brings forth myriad blossoms.” – Ikkyu Sojun

Ursula's table

“In the cherry blossom’s shade there’s no such thing as a stranger.” – Kobayashi Issa

 

April 2

“The April winds are magical.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

A blossoms table

“Our spring has come at last with the soft laughter of April suns and shadow of April showers.” – Byron Caldwell Smith

birdhouse sunset

April Glory

A scattering blossoms

 

April Glory

The winds were wild the day you died

Pear blossoms scattered like snow.

First green tipped the thin tree branches

And your redbud flowered in purple.

Cold wind and sunshine embraced us

As we crossed from house to house.

And the grass and hedge surrounding your yard

Shone in an emerald green.

*

I knew you had a hand in it –

Delighting in the April glory.

A day of beauty and laughter

When Heaven touched Earth in joy.

A redbud (2)

 

 

Early Spring

snowy quince

“The snow has not yet left the earth, but spring is already asking to enter your heart.”
― Anton Chekhov

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.” – Ernest Hemingway

“That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.”
― L.M. Montgomery

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus

trees pink

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” –Percy Bysshe Shelley

pansies