The Shore in August

 

beach hammocks

There’s nothing like a day at the beach to make you feel like you’re celebrating summer.

beach chairs

I recently spent a few days out on the North and South Forks of Long Island. We strolled along beautiful beaches and enjoyed several meals out on wharves and along the water.

There’s something about the lapping of waves and a gentle sea breeze that brings about a sense of well-being, tranquility, and timelessness.

beach tent

And yet, the last month of summer is passing by quickly. Now’s the time to spend a few days at the beach or along a lake shore,

with a picnic lunch or curled up with a good book.

To summer!

shell sunset

 

Summer Yellow

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Though there are many colors of summer, yellow — bright and cheerful — stands out as the emblematic color of the warmer months. Perhaps because it’s the color of the sun and sunflowers, dandelions and lemonade, and other associations with hot summer days.

lemon arbor

“Indicating sunshine during the Renaissance to being one of the primary colours of Cubist art, yellow finds an intrinsic place in literature, allegory and symbolism.

Representing light, hope, happiness, and wisdom, yellow is meant to evoke optimism or natural light with an airy, radiant atmosphere.   ” — http://www.architecturaldigest.com

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“How wonderful yellow is. It stands for the sun.” — Vincent Van Gogh

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“Few artists in history have been known for their use of yellow,  though J.M.W. Turner and Vincent Van Gogh are the most notable exceptions” — most famously, Van Gogh’s depictions of the sunflowers and fields of Arles, and Turner’s “sublime and sun-lit seascapes.” http://www.artsy.net

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“We find from experience that yellow excites a warm and agreeable impression….The eye is gladdened, the heart expanded and cheered, a glow seems at once to breathe toward us.” — Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

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“The yellow glistens.
It glistens with various yellows,
Citrons, oranges and greens
Flowering over the skin.” — Wallace Stevens

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“The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick.” –L. Frank Baum

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Summer Evenings in the Garden

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Long summer days mean that we can spend more time out of doors. And one of the best places to linger in the summer twilight is in a lovely garden. There’s something about candlelight and dinner in the garden that is absolutely magical.

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Though I can count such dinners I’ve experienced on one hand, they stand out in my mind. Some memories shine more than others, like tiny jewels in an inner treasure chest — clearer, sharper, more durable.

One such memory is of an impromptu dinner I once had with friends in Seattle. A guest was visiting from Switzerland and we decided to have our dinner outside, just beside the flower garden.

We pulled out the kitchen table, draped it in a lace tablecloth, and added details to make the dinner even more special — fresh flowers from the garden, antique water goblets and an Art Deco silverware set that belonged to my grandparents, and a tiny salt and pepper set — green and white enamel owls. One of my roommates, who was attending a culinary arts school, created a sumptuous meal full of summer freshness — I remember a cold blueberry soup with creme fraiche swirled on top and a salad with orange nasturtiums from the garden.

I never made the connection before, but surely that evening found its way into my novel The Garden House, which is set in Seattle. There’s a scene where the main character, Miranda, sets a beautiful table on the garden deck and enjoys a lovely summer evening with her husband and a few friends.

The Italian poet and author Cesare Pavese said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if those words came to him as he sat in a summer garden at evening.

GH eve book

Amazon Link: http://a.co/hsncwXs

 

 

 

Hydrangeas – summer’s palette

purple hdy bushes

Hydrangeas, emblematic of summer, come in a wide variety of color, size, and shape, making them among the most versatile of shrubs. The flowers can be small or large, round or cone-shaped, in colors ranging from the familiar blue, pink, purple, and white to the more unusual red, pistachio, and strawberry.

Hydrangeas are widely used throughout the United States — in the Pacific Northwest,

Oregon hydrangeas

the Northeast,

hydangeas fence

and the Midwest and South.

hydrangeas porch

“The hydrangea was first cultivated in Japan [famous for its hydrangea forests],

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but ancient hydrangea fossils dating back to 40-65 million years ago have been discovered in North America. Hydrangeas didn’t appear in Europe until 1736 when a colonist brought a North American varietal to England.” http://www.proflowers.com

Today, throughout Europe, hydrangeas can be found gracing doorways, fences, windows, and tables.

“Having been introduced to the Azores, hydrangeas are now very common, particularly on Faial,

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which is known as the ‘blue island’ due to the vast number of hydrangeas present on the island.” http://www.en.wikipedia.org

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Hydrangeas are often planted in clusters where they form walls or hedges, providing dramatic swaths of color.

There are also climbing versions that can be used to adorn the side of a house or garden trellis,

and potted hydrangeas can offer an interesting touch to gardens and doorways.

One of the most spectacular uses of potted hydrangeas is found on the grounds designed by Furlow Gatewood in Georgia. He lined the driveway there with shades of potted blue, creating a work of art that is utterly magical — elegant, wistful, and dream-like.

 hyd peacock

An added benefit of hydrangeas is that they are easy to dry and can be used in wreaths and arrangements to bring a touch of summer to the winter months.

Voluptuous, homey, elegant, humble — the colorful hydrangeas of summer offer the gardener an artist’s palette of possibilities.

hyd door handle

 

 

Tea in the garden

In my novel The Garden House, the main character, Miranda, often takes a cup of tea out into her beloved garden and curls up on a bench as she takes in the beauty of her flowers. Her garden offers both solace and pleasure.  It’s the perfect place to read a good book, to visit with a friend, or to sit quietly and enjoy the simple tranquility of nature.

GH tea 6“Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company” ~Author Unknown

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GH tea 10“Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things.” ~Saki

“Tea is quiet and our thirst for tea is never far from our craving for beauty.” ~James Norwood Pratt

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“You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ~C.S. Lewis,

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“Where there’s tea there’s hope.” ~Arthur Wing Pinero

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The Garden House – a novel

A story of love, family, and home set among the lush summer evenings of Seattle. When Miranda rents out her garden house to a mysterious new tenant, she begins to have disturbing dreams that someone is in danger. Is it mid-life crisis? Empty-nest syndrome? Or is something sinister lurking right outside in her beloved garden? There’s only one way to find out.

“Enchanting, beautiful and heartwarming.” – Amazon review

“I was completely swept away by this tale.” – NetGalley review

“A thoughtful narrative with a mystery at its heart.” – Goodreads review

“Inspiring, romantic and suspenseful.” – Amazon review

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Passages from The Garden House

Clara had loved the profusion of forget-me-nots that surrounded the garden house, and decided to christen the cottage the Forget-Me-Not House.

GH forget-me-nots

[Miranda] loved every section of her garden, but this shadier and damper part always stirred in her a feeling of tenderness. It grew thick with hosta and ferns, and perennials that didn’t need much care – patches of bleeding hearts and shy lily-of-the-valley.

Paula stood and held up a potted flower. “Just look at this clematis – it’s as big as a saucer.”  Miranda reached out to touch the pale purple flower. “It’s beautiful.”

A sigh released from deep inside. Home. She was home and everything would be all right.

Filling her arms and basket, Miranda carried the flowers and greenery into the house, and spread them out on the kitchen table. Then she began arranging the flowers in vases and jars, and floating them in glasses and bowls.

Miranda led the way to the lower garden, where the tree-like rhododendrons and lower azaleas formed a sort of double wall.

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Amazon Link: http://a.co/6NUjTZI

GH with link

(All images are from my Pinterest boards)

 

 

Travel – Bangladesh

winter-morning-rice field

In the mornings, I stood on the bedroom balcony, and closed my eyes as I listened to the sounds of Bangladesh: bells from the bicycle rickshaws, short beeps from the motorbikes, the alluring call of the muezzin from the nearby mosque. Small birds chirped from trees that rose up past the balcony, and geese squawked and flapped their wings in the neighboring yard.

rickshaw

One day,  as I was writing, I heard music coming from the street, and I ran downstairs to the front veranda to see what it was. I was delighted to find an enchanting procession passing by on the dirt road outside the house. But then I was told that it was a Hindu funeral and they were on their way to the cremation. Carried on the shoulders of six men was a wicker bier on which the body was laid, its head rocking back and forth with the movement of their walking. The men held burning sticks of incense, and the group that followed made rhythmic sounds from bells and tiny brass instruments. It was a day-to-day event, and the other people on the street took little notice.

A group of giggling schoolgirls in uniforms of pale blue and white passed by, their black hair neatly arranged in buns or in braids. Vendors passed the procession, bent only on selling their wares: a stick-thin man with a bamboo pole across his shoulders with baskets of vegetables on either end, the bangle lady enticing the women in the houses with her cries of “churi, churi!” and a man carrying a colorful stack of cloth on his head. Life and death were in easy company on the busy, dusty street.

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The Shakespeare Garden in Central Park

SG fence and flowers

Central Park is full of many beautiful places, but for tranquility and loveliness, the Shakespeare Garden is the place to go. It’s located near the Delacorte Theatre where the Shakespeare in the Park series is held every summer. Much of the interest in the sloping four-acre garden comes from the winding stone paths and rustic wooden benches and fences than run through the garden. At the foot of the hill is the Swedish Marionette Theatre, and at the top, the Belvedere Castle. Nestled between is the intimate Shakespeare Garden.

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“What had formerly been known as the Garden of the Heart was, in 1916, renamed the Shakespeare Garden to mark the 300th anniversary of the William Shakespeare’s death.” (centralpark.org)

Plaque SG

The garden is beautiful at all times of year. In the spring, brightly colored bulb flowers line the fences, and surround the Swedish Marionette Theatre.

The fall and winter have their own seasonal beauty. I used the Shakespeare Garden for a scene in Christmastime 1942, where Edith and her Shakespearean actor, Desmond Burke, stroll through the snowy garden.

But the garden is at its most glorious in summer, when it matures into full bloom. In mid-August the lush green of the garden is crowded with purple and white phlox, pink roses, yellow daisies, white lilies, and purple cone flowers.

Thistles, ivy, vines, and herbs also bloom, and there are several trees that cast their shade over the benches and paths. The heat releases the garden’s scents, both sweet and pungent, and the air is alive with bees and butterflies in search of summer sweetness.

Away from the sounds of traffic, and with its sundial and bronze plaques with quotes from Shakespeare, it’s easy to imagine stepping out of time, and into a much older garden. The perfect place to read a book, or have a quiet conversation with a friend, or just to enjoy the beauty of a summer day.

lilies

Spoken by Oberon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.”

Summer — in The Christmastime Series

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Summer. A languid time of year that seems to move more slowly than the other seasons. Perhaps because the days are longer, or perhaps because many people are on vacation and the children are out of school, or perhaps because more time is spent outside, it is a rich time of year that creates indelible memories.

 

Memories of summer occasionally surface for some of the characters in my WWII Christmastime series, where most of the action is set in the cold and snow of December.

 

Though the stories take place on the home front, mostly in New York City, the events of the war shape the characters’ lives, making them fearful, anxious, and dreading the unknown. Adding to the tension are the attacks that take place in December — Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the surprise German counter-offensive in December 1944 that began the Battle of the Bulge.

For these characters, summer memories of a gentler and safer time soften the harsh realities of  war-time living. They remember bike rides along country roads, gathering garden flowers to place on the kitchen table and in bedrooms, afternoon picnics, a moonlit swim.

 

One memory in particular evokes the beauty and longing of late summer. In Christmastime 1941, Charles takes Lillian and her two sons to visit his sister Kate, who lives on a farm in Illinois. Lillian and Kate sit on the farmhouse porch in the late afternoon.

Lillian helped Kate finish the laundry, and then sat with her on the front porch, shucking corn for dinner.

 

A beautiful August day surrounded them in all its fullness and simple charm. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves high in the pin oaks, and fluttered the laundry on the clothes line, causing the white billowing sheets to snap softly now and then. The wide porch surrounded them with views of the corn and soybean fields stretching to the horizon. To the east stood a cluster of tall trees, their leaves a dark, dusty, late-summer green, with some leaves already edged in brown. And before them, Kate’s flowers along the lane – a tall tangle of orange, yellow, white, and blues – tiger lilies and daisies, cornflowers and asters.

 

Lillian lifted her face to catch the afternoon breeze, and caught the scent of honeysuckle that covered the fence along the lane. 

 

The wind alternately muffled and then sharpened the sounds of Tommy and Gabriel playing horseshoes with Kate’s sons: dull thuds as the horseshoes fell on the earth, clinks of metal as they hit their mark or landed on each other, mixed with clapping, laughing, good-natured disputing. Lillian had felt suffused with a sense of well-being, surrounded by an earthy loveliness.

2 clover in sunlight

Afternoon picnics, gardens in bloom, ripe fruits and vegetables, lush trees and fields — summer is the time of year when some of our strongest memories are born.

The Four Seasons – today in Central Park

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Even though the weather is still cold and spring is officially weeks away, I pulled on my jacket and gloves and headed to Central Park to check on the progress of spring. To see if more flowers had bloomed, if more bushes were beginning to bud. But instead of finding spring, I found all four seasons.

I stood on the little arched bridge over the pond, and from there I clearly saw winter. Against the backdrop of the Plaza Hotel, the pond still lay rimmed with ice.

pond Plaza

The cattails and plants growing alongside appeared dormant, almost frozen. And behind me, came music from Wollman rink. There were the skaters, twirling, jumping, gliding over the ice.

Fall made its presence felt in the bare trees throughout the park, IMG_1429especially in the oaks. Their dry, brown leaves clung to the branches and lay scattered over the ground. They seemed to be tucked around all the clumps of flowers.

Under one such oak, I came across a little coupling of spring and fall, the contrast beautiful. A patch of crocuses nestled against a large black rock and above it, almost protectively, dipped the branch of curled brown oak leaves.IMG_1423

Spring was in the park, though at this time of year it seems to be close to the ground. There were bunches of green-speared daffodil leaves along the paths, and even a few daffodils in bloom.

I found a group of Lenten roses and some snowdrops, though like the daffodils, their blooms hung down, as if against the cold.

The sound of birdsong added to the sense of spring, as tiny birds flitted and chirped among bare branches. The forsythia bushes showed yellow, just waiting for a few warm days before bursting into fuller bloom. And that delicate first green appeared on several bushes.

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The most spring-like thing I came across was a little sunlit patch of bright purple flowers that from a distance I thought were crocuses.

But up close, I found that they were something like miniature irises, almost forming a ground cover.

Summer?  A bit of a stretch to find, but it too was there. summer cartsThe tourists were out, so the crowds alone made it feel like summer. At the Children’s Zoo, a few food carts for ice cream and popcorn were parked, just waiting for milder weather before opening up for business.

And at one of the baseball fields, a group of young men were practicing their fielding. One man stood at home plate, hitting balls out to different positions. The sound of the ball against his metal bat was a real summer sound – a deep rhythmic ping, ping ringing in the air.

But the sky was shifting once again from blue to gray, and the clouds were now growing heavier. Rain was predicted for tomorrow. The temperature seemed to have dropped. Would we have snow? Spring was hiding its head and taking cover once again. I pulled up the hood of my jacket.

I passed the statue of the Falconer as I made my way out of the park. There he was, reaching up to a gray winter sky, undaunted by the cold. I tried to imagine him against the color and mildness of spring, and for the moment, I couldn’t. Falconer

Perhaps I am impatient. It’s just that I know what’s up ahead – Central Park in the spring is magnificent. But there is also something tender to be found in this subtle shifting of the seasons. It’s as if relationships are there among the dried leaves and green shoots, a protective urging forward, alongside a slow goodbye.

So I will slow down and appreciate this understated, changeable time of year. A time when we could have blossoms or snowflakes, and all the seasons are present. A remarkable time of year.