Blog

Ursula — the Christmastime series

The Christmastime series takes a turn beginning with Christmastime 1943, with the sub-plot set on Kate’s farm in Illinois. Kate, Charles’s sister, and her two teen-aged daughters, Ursula (17) and Jessica (15), run the farm while her four sons are away at war. With the workforce severely diminished, and the demand for food production greater than ever, Kate does what many farmers had to do – she uses German POWs to help with the farm work.

Her elder daughter Ursula is furious about it. Francis, the brother she was closest to, has recently been killed by the Nazi army and Ursula is filled with anguish and hatred of the German soldiers. She adamantly refuses to have anything to do with the POWs.

Below are a few excerpts from Christmastime 1943: A Love Story, along with images suggestive of scenes with Ursula during the seasons of 1943-1945. Ursula: beautiful, willful, dreamy, passionate. (All images are from my Pinterest board Ursula – the Christmastime series, 1943, 1944, 1945.)

U sunset sky

Our first introduction to Ursula comes from Lillian. She’s been working on a series of war posters with the theme of Women in the Workforce, and the next posters will be on women and farm work. Based on an earlier visit to Kate’s farm, Lillian sketches an image of a young girl on a tractor.

Lillian studied it and realized that she had largely based the girl on Jessica, the younger of Kate’s daughters – blonde, cheerful, wholesome. Lillian had first tried the sketch based on Ursula, but the look was all wrong.

Again, Lillian gazed out the window, tapping the pencil against her cheek. Both of Kate’s daughters were extremely pretty – but Ursula had that elusive quality of beauty. Though her features were striking, Lillian felt that her beauty had more to do with her expressions, her soft way of speaking, her behavior – she was both pensive and brisk – as if her mind pulled her in one direction, and her body in another. No, thought Lillian, Ursula was more difficult to imagine on a tractor than Jessica, even though Kate wrote that Ursula had really taken up the slack at the farm as one by one her brothers had left. It was easier to imagine Ursula as some kind of mythic heroine – Diana the huntress, perhaps, or a winged victory figure.

Lillian thought of Ursula as she was two years ago – setting out on one of her restless walks across the fields or along the country road, or tucked away poring over a book. Her heart was set on going to college, and that was the life that would best suit her. She was intelligent, curious, strong-willed. Kate had sent a photo in the summer, and Ursula was prettier than ever. Lillian began a sketch of such a girl – tall and slim, with wavy dark hair, and those exquisitely lovely eyes – deep blue, beneath eyebrows like angry wings, smooth and beautiful. An air of intensity surrounded her, as if a quiet fire burned within.

Another impression of Ursula comes from Ed, the old farmhand who has worked for the family for years. He has news for Kate regarding the arrival of the POWs, but on hearing Kate and Ursula arguing about it inside, he waits out on the porch, reminiscing about Ursula as a child.

Glancing back at the kitchen door, he thought how he loved them all – Kate and her sons and daughters. He was fond of each and every one of them, but he couldn’t help the soft spot he had for Ursula. Even as a curly-topped child, she had a way of winning people over with her wide-eyed wonder and her demand for answers – “But why? How? What would happen if…?”

He chuckled, remembering how she used to ride around with him on the tractor, how he helped her learn to ride a bike, how she and little Francy used to hold hands as they jumped from the hayloft. And how, after her father died, she had transferred much of the affection for her father onto him.

How quickly the years had passed. Now here she was, almost eighteen years old, and more headstrong than ever. Yet sweet as a summer day. A hard worker, and capable, yet he often caught her staring out at the sunsets, or wondering at the beauty of snowdrifts, or listening to a strain of music on the radio with a hand pressed to her chest. There was a poet inside her, he often thought – though he doubted it would have the chance to come out now. If only she could have gone on to school, like she wanted. Well, there’s still time, he thought. He gave another shake of his head at the memory of the little girl who used to romp around the farm. Ursula. Here she was, seventeen – a breathtaking beauty in overalls.

Now Jessica, he thought, giving a little nod. She had more chance for overall, everyday happiness. Was more practical, down to earth, did not set her expectations up there with the moon. And was dang pretty. But Ursula…

Ed rubbed his whiskers, and his tanned wrinkled face scrunched in worry. She had that kind of dark beauty that troubled the heart. He took off his hat, inspected the rim, and readjusted it on his head. Well, they’re still young. It’ll all work out, somehow – it always does.

U blue tres

Ursula, after the argument with her mother about having German POWs on the farm.

Ursula plopped down in a chair in her overalls, arms crossed, an angry fire burning in her eyes. The only adornment she allowed herself these days – and in Kate’s eyes, evidence of her contrariness – were the amethyst drop earrings her family had given her after she was accepted into the women’s college downstate. She wore them every day as a reminder that she would go to college. Some day. And though Ursula wouldn’t admit it, she was just as hungry for a bit of beauty as was Jessica – perhaps even more so. In the middle of milking the cows, or feeding the chickens, or hauling firewood into the house, she would lightly touch the earrings – as a reminder of her dreams.

autumn field

Jessica later attempts to give another point of view regarding the POWs — but to no avail.

“I was all ready to hate them. I really was. But it’s hard to do when they look like our neighbors. When they look like us.”

Ursula could listen to no more. “Listen to you. They’re brutal Nazis! They’re killing our men. Doing horrible things to the Poles and Jews. You’ve read the papers, seen the newsreels. Don’t be fooled by their appearance. They’re nothing like us. They’re cold-blooded murderers. Never forget that.”

She stuffed the remnants of the overalls into the rag basket, and then stood stiffly, sore from overdoing her chores.

“You look all done in, Ursula,” said Kate. “Why don’t you go soak in a hot bath? It’s been a long day.”

Ursula went upstairs and ran the bathwater, letting her clothes drop heavily to the linoleum floor. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, pushing aside her hair. She did look done in.

She touched the amethyst earrings. It had been so long since she felt pretty, since she had worn a dress, since she had gone to a dance. Everything now was bleak and grim. Her brothers, and most of the town boys, were gone. Everyone was having a hard time, having to adapt to all the changes. For the most part, she didn’t mind. She loved the farm, loved the fields at sunset, had even learned to love the backbreaking work. It kept her mind focused, prevented it from filling with daydreams. Foolish dreams of college and travel, of seeing the beautiful capitals of Europe. She wondered if those cities would even still be standing after this nightmarish war was over.

The steam gradually blurred her reflection – just as her dreams had blurred and faded, she thought. No matter. There wasn’t time for girlish daydreams. Her mother was right; she had behaved childishly today. Work needed to be done, and she would do it. 

U snowy road

 

Amazon link:  https://amzn.to/2paLyMt

3D-Christmastime_books_ALL_3

 

Christmastime 1945: A Love Story

Christmastime 1945 final

Finally! The concluding book in the Christmastime series, Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, is available. Now you can find out what happens to the characters you’ve come to know: Lillian, Charles, Tommy and Gabriel. Izzy and Red. And on Kate’s farm, what is the fate of Ursula and Friedrich? What about Jessica and her brothers — do they survive the war? How do their lives unfold?

Below are images from my Pinterest boards that evoke the time, place, and feel of the world of Christmastime — historical photos, along with images suggestive of Kate’s farm, Annette’s orchard, New York City, and the warmth and coziness of Christmas.

Kates’ farm

Annette’s orchard

Lillian’s apartment

Christmastime

45 49

 

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

Amazon link

The Romance of Travel: Biarritz

IMG_1365

On the southwest corner of France on the Bay of Biscay, not far from the Spanish border, lies the beautiful town of Biarritz.

Part of the Basque Country, the town has a rich and varied history. It began as a small fishing and whaling village, became a popular destination for European aristocracy in the 19th century and, more recently, has become known as a premier surfing destination in Europe.

IMG_1460

A leisurely stroll through the town is the best way to take in the various beaches, the lighthouse, plazas, hotels, and old harbor.

The mix of architectural styles — belle époque, art deco, and neo-medieval — add to the town’s glamour.

IMG_1421

Biarritz is studded with elegant villas and charming homes with black filigree balconies, sturdy shutters, gardens and gates — all built to withstand the rough Atlantic storms.

Its maritime origins remain an integral part of the town. The beautiful cathedral, Notre Dame de Rocher, is situated on the harbor where it provided shelter and solace for the fishermen, sailors, and their families.

IMG_1418

A mosaic depiction of a ship is situated near the altar, a large clam shell serves as one of the fonts, and a model ship hangs from the ceiling.

A walk along the old harbor leads to one of many vista points,

and down to a promontory called La Vierge de le Rochelle. A bridge built by Gustave Eiffel in 1865 leads out to the statue of the Virgin Mary.

IMG_1438

At the top of the hill, a cafe with outdoor seating offers the perfect vantage point to watch the sun sink over the Atlantic.

Another day’s walk takes you up a wooded area that leads to more breath-taking views.

October hydrangeas in soft autumn colors lined the path of the hill-climb.

IMG_1329

The steep path offers benches and various viewpoints to watch the surfers,

IMG_1357

and to take in the spectacular views of the ocean and the hazy coast of Spain in the distance.

IMG_1348

There is a quality of light in Biarritz that adds to its beauty — dramatic, dark shadowy clouds pierced with sudden sunlight over waters that can be rough and white-capped, or seemingly calm with a vast shimmer. The weather this time of year can be fair and mild one day,

IMG_1367

stormy and brisk the next.

IMG_1318 (1)

A stop at the Miremont Patisserie Salon de Thé was the ideal way to end one such brisk autumn day.

Built in 1872, the cafe exudes elegance and old-world charm, with rich ornamentation, mirrored walls, and mosaic floors. A large window overlooks the ever-changing ocean. It was the perfect place to warm up with a cup of its famous hot chocolate.

IMG_1383

I chose the Chantilly. The cocoa and whipped cream were served separately to mix to taste. The hot chocolate was thick, dark, sweet, and delicious. A welcome treat on a blustery October afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmastime 1939: images

For all my books, I’ve created corresponding Pinterest boards to provide readers with a glimpse into the worlds I write about. The boards for the Christmastime series capture the charm of an old-fashioned Christmas, and a few black and white photographs help to provide a historical context.

Below are images for the introductory book in the series, Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series. I hope you enjoy them!

1939 street scene

1939 subway map

In the prequel, we are introduced to the series’ main character, the young widow Lillian Hapsey, and her two sons, Tommy (8 years old) and Gabriel (5 years old). Many of the scenes involve Lillian’s determination to give them a happy Christmas.

The theme of transformation runs throughout this book, and I’ve woven in threads of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to emphasize this,

1939 cc2

as well as other Dickensian themes of struggle, home and family, and general Christmas merriment.

Other images evoke Lillian’s recent Thanksgiving visit with her sister, Annette, in upstate New York,

the cupcakes Tommy and Gabriel see in the window of the German bakery,

holiday toys and candies,

1939 train set

and the excitement of New York City at Christmas.

3D-Christmastime_books_ALL_3

Come! Step into the world of Christmastime!

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 October.)

 

 

The Romance of Travel — Scotland (Part 2) The Highlands

Storr P image

(The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye — image from Pinterest, Anne McKinell Photography.)

“Wherever I wander, wherever I rove / The hills of the Highlands forever I love.” –Robert Burns

Loch Ness castle

(Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness)

To the north of Edinburgh, beyond the Firth of Forth, lies the Scottish Highlands — mountains, valleys, glens, lochs, rugged coastlines, and islands: the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney, and farther north, Shetland. (In all, Scotland has close to 800 islands)

The Highlands is a land filled with castles, history, legend, and lore: Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, the northern city of Inverness, the Isle of Skye, Iona. A two-week driving tour through Scotland was an eye-opening experience to the breathtaking beauty of the Highlands.

Tobermoy Mull

(The charming village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.)

The Isle of Mull, part of the Inner Hebrides, is famous for being the location of the Monastery of Iona. A short ferry ride from Mull takes you to the small windswept island of Iona.

“In 563, Columba came to Iona from Ireland with twelve companions and founded a monastery. It developed as an influential center for the spread of Christianity among the Picts and Scots.” (wikipedia)

Mull Iona

A seat of learning, the monastery is associated with the illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells.  “It is generally accepted that the book was begun in the monastery of Iona at some point after c. 740.” (www.historyireland.com)

We chose to stay in the town of Oban because it’s one of the main places to catch the ferry to Mull. We were pleasantly surprised by its charm and lively harbor. It proved to be an unexpected find.

The port town has a waterside promenade lit by tiny lights, perfect for strolling after dining at one of the town’s wonderful restaurants.

Oban eve

Leaving Oban and driving north to Skye, you’ll be tempted to stop and admire the glens, castles, rivers, and lochs along the way. A few hours exploring the much-photographed Eilean Donan Castle was well worth the detour.

The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebrides and has some of the most beautiful and dramatic sites of the Highlands: the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing,

Skye Quairling 2

Neiss Lighthouse, and the Fairy Glen.

Stopping in the tiny hamlet of Dunvegan on our way to the lighthouse, we came across the Giant Angus MacAskill Museum and caught a glimpse of “Old Scotland.”  

Crossing the Highlands and driving north takes you to Inverness, “the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands.” The River Ness runs through the middle of the town and is crossed by several bridges, one of which takes you from one side of the river to the other, crossing through a pretty wooded island on the way.

Inverness river walk

Day trips from Inverness include driving along Loch Ness and touring the battlefield of Culloden, site of the final Jacobite rebellion.

Continuing a few hours north takes you to the northernmost town on the British mainland — Thurso, located on the North Sea.

Thurso

It’s the perfect place for stopping over before taking the morning ferry to Orkney. A beach walk after dinner offers beautiful views of Thurso Bay.

Thurso 1

From its harbor at nearby Scrabster, you can take the ferry to the town of Stromness in Orkney. The 90-minute journey takes you past some stunning scenery.

Orkney Old Man 1

(The Old Man of Hoy seen from the ferry to Orkney)

1 Orkney

On the ferry to Stromness, I was struck by the quotes by Orkney poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996), which prepare the traveler for the beauty of Orkney — a beauty both subtle and rugged.

“There was a fitful gleam of cold sunlight as we climbed aboard the Hamnavoe.”

“On the salt and tar steps, herring boats, puffing red sails, the tillers of cold horizons, leaned down the gull-gaunt tide.”

“The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness, and the deep marvelous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.”

Though Orkney has the jagged coastlines and rocky landscape of much of the Highlands,

it has a different feel to it. In part, due to the remnants of the deep layers of history found throughout Orkney — in Neolithic archaeological sites, such as Skara Brae; in the stone rings of Brodgar and Stenness; in prehistoric mounds, and the remains of Viking settlements.

Orney ruins

Orkney ring 2

More recent history is found in other ruins throughout the islands,

and in WWII sites — reminders of the importance of this remote location during the war: Scapa Flow (home of the British Fleet during both world wars), the Italian Chapel (built by Italian POWs),

Orkney Italian chapel

(the Italian Chapel)

and the Churchill barriers (rocky man-made causeways), among others. There’s a museum in Stromness that is a trove of WWII and local history.

Stromness, the main seaport, embodies the essence of Orkney. Its buildings are solid and strong, built to stand against fierce North Sea storms. Its streets are rocky and steep and overlook the expanse of the sea. “Fitful gleam[s] of cold sunlight” cast the town in “marvelous rhythms of … darkness and light.”

1 stromness 5

1 stromness 3

An evening stroll along the harbor anchors you in its maritime presence — with bracing winds, the smell of “salt and tar,” and the sound of gulls.

1 stromness

1 stromness 2

With touches of charm and homey warmth found in its narrow streets.

1 stromness 4

As we left the Highlands and drove back south, we spotted a rainbow over a pot-of-gold mustard field — it seemed the perfect image for the close of our Highland tour.

Highlands pot of gold and rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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