Tag Archive | nature

Red Geranium Inspiration

This year my geraniums are beautiful. For five years, I have been following in the footsteps of my grandma and saving my geraniums from year to year. I pull them out of their pots right before it freezes, knock off the dirt, put them in brown paper bags from the grocery store and then put them in a dark place in the basement to grow dormant.

In the spring,  after the threat of frost has passed, I resurrect the plants from their hiding place and plant them in their pots once again with a drink of water and a little fertilizer. In a couple of weeks, the brown stems start producing green leaves and in a few more weeks gorgeous flowers appear. The plants keep up their beauty through the summer and into the early fall. Every time I go through this process, I think of my grandma and know she bequeathed her “green thumb” to me.

For the past couple of days, I’ve taken a hiatus from writing (except for blogging), and have delved into researching my next novel. I also had an itch to paint. I found my inspiration in my own backyard, and I attempted to capture the red geraniums. The one on the left is the painting; the one on the the real thing. Tell me what you think!

A Bird Out Of Place

Eastern_Wild_Turkey_HenThis morning I had to make an emergency run to Milwaukee to pick up some very necessary medication for Ken. As I pulled onto the four-lane highway that would take me north to my destination, there was a wild turkey stuck in the middle of the road. The poor bird screaming and was running to and fro, not knowing what to do, which really isn’t surprising because you see, turkeys are not the brightest birds in the world. But, I’m happy to say motorists slowed down to give this confused bird a chance to think about his next step.

This lone bird must have lost his flock. Perhaps he slept late and missed the day”s excursion with his buddies. But there he was he was frantically wandering through the traffic, looking for a safe way out. His tail feathers were down on the ground. There would be no showy plumage today.

Can you image being that bird in the middle of such heavy traffic? All around there was mechanical behemoths whizzing by you. His terror must have freaked him out! But after a short time, he finally stumbled onto the boulevard which divides the north and south lanes traffic. Then the cars and trucks commenced moving slowly as they watched the lonely bird. I couldn’t watch what came next. I hope he found the courage to spread his wings and flew OVER the cars and land safely in a wooded area or around some pond. I hope he found his flock and was able to return with a good wake-up story. It’s not often you see a wild turkey in the city.

As I continued toward my morning destination, I thought this bird must have felt a little bit like I did when I walked the streets of Manhattan for the first time. I couldn’t get my natural bearings because the buildings are so tall you can’t see the sun. It took  me a while to realize the street signs gave the headings of east, west, north and south, so that helped. But I live in a place where there are no subways, taxis, and buses that never run on schedule, so everyone drives their own car to get where they need to go. So, like the bird I wandered to and fro from one tourist site to another, hoping I’d get good directions from helpful folks.

Luckily, though, I traveled with my girlfriends into the unfamiliar culture and big city. I made sure we stayed together and didn’t get into trouble because we might wander into an unsafe part of the city. I can only hope, the poor, lost wild turkey caught up with his family and friends and will rest easy tonight after a harrowing start to his day.

A Back-Breaking Shangri-La

Good Sunday Morning. It’s story time again. Today, as most of the country is digging out from under heavy snow storms, I’ve turned to one of my favorite topics–gardening. Thinking about the rebirth of spring in the dead of winter gives me hope. So, sit back and enjoy a story about one of my most ambitious project that keeps on giving pleasure and back-breaking work.

book clipart

A Back-Breaking Shangri-La


Barbara McCloskey

Have you ever planted a garden? I’m not talking about plopping a potted plant in the corner of a patio pot, or tending to a couple of tomato plants in amongst geraniums. I’m talking about landscaping, digging, pulling and getting so dirty if you were a kid, your mother would send you to the basement to strip before she’d let you in the house.  I’m talking about selecting plants that compliment one another—tall ones in the back, low ones in the front, colors that weave a tapestry that blooms from spring to fall.

I never really thought about taking on such a large project until my husband, and I bought a “fixer-upper” house with an equally ignored backyard. After the interior of our home was to our liking, it was time for the backyard to match. My dream was to create a quiet place where I could hide from the world. A place that would greet me with open arms after a day of frustration or disappointment in the corporate world. I wanted a safe place which I could relax. A place that would bring me smiles whenever I was there.

My space had to be perfect—but after consulting with professional landscapers, I knew that their price tags were far more than my meager budget could withstand. On top of that, my husband bugged out early, stating that his gardening expertise was confined to pulling out the lawn mower once a week. Needless to say, he wasn’t keen on helping me create my Shangri-La, so how was I going to accomplish this task?

The answer came with Jon, a poor, struggling college student who agreed he could handle whatever our city lot jungle could dish out. So we made a plan and went to work. He would labor in the hot summer sun, and I would make LOTS of lemonade.

We started by deciding what part of the existing mess would stay. That was easy. We had two 20 ft. pines and a 300 ft. locus that we’d work around. During the excavation of buckthorn, grapevines, old raspberry bushes and a forest of thistles as tall as the neighbor’s six-foot fence, Jon discovered a couple of young maple trees that would stay.

Through the hours of shoveling, pick-axing, sawing, straining and pulling, Jon uncovered slowly made progress in taming the wilderness. By fall, the land was clear enough on the east lot line to begin to planting a couple of small shrubs and a couple of dozen spring bulbs. We finished it off with a cover of golden mulch that would protect the new plantings through the winter.

While the snow billowed outside my window during the winter months, I focused on research. I watched the gardening experts on TV, visited websites, bought magazines and poured over dozens of bulb, plant and seed catalogs wondering if I really had it in me to make my piece of heaven half as wonderful as the pictures in the books. So, just to be safe, I prayed to my Grandma, who could grow flowers and vegetables out of a rock. If she could bequeath her green thumb to me, I knew I would never fail.

The snow barely melted before I started to itch to resume what Jon and I had started last summer. The first joy was watching the early crocus pop their pretty little heads through the snow. Then the grape hyacinths showed their delicate flowers shortly thereafter, and I wanted to rush right out to the garden center to buy the annuals to enhance the pots that I had scattered around the yard. But knowing the strange sense of humor of Mother Nature in Wisconsin, I restrained myself to not plant anything before Memorial Day. So I waited. Not patiently. But I waited. In the meantime, I pulled weeds. Lots of weeds.

When it was time, I turned my mid-size SUV into a weekend pick-up truck that found it hard to pass a garden center. I bought whatever was on sale and every week came home with a load of plants to fill in the spaces that were ready for planting. I sectioned off plots for a pink garden, a yellow garden and a shade garden. A flowering tree here and an evergreen shrub there. Maybe not a scientific approach, but I felt like I was putting the “right” plant in just the “right” place. I was faithful to my new babies, watering them every night and fertilizing them on time. I clucked over my plants like a hen watches over her chicks.

When summer came again, Jon came back to tackle the worst overgrown part of the project. He worked for weeks to get down to the soil and hauled away truckloads of debris and weeds. Jon had archeologist moment when he unearthed about 100 antique paving bricks that had been manufactured in several different states. The previous owner had used the “pavers” for the floor of old gardening shed that had been torn down before we even bought the house. After a bath with a power washer, the bricks revealed themselves to be a very suitable edging for rest of the garden.

On a hot July afternoon, Jon and I finished the project. We mixed wheelbarrows full of soil, peat, fertilizer and grass seed and gently laid a carpet of the mixture over the worn out dirt where the pavers had sat for many years. Now all I had to do was add water and watch the grass grow. In a couple of weeks, my baby grass sprouted and turned into a brilliant lush, green carpet. I felt like a proud parent.

Throughout this project, I learned that a garden is an entity of its own. It constantly changes as it grows. It elbows weeds for growing space; basks in the sun, and withers in drought. The garden lives on a knife-edge delicate balance of wet and dry. It sleeps through the winter and resurrects in the spring.

As its caretaker, every year I feel a sense of frustration, exhilaration, and satisfaction. I’ve also learned this project is on-going. It’s never finished. And that’s part of its charm. I know that claiming my own backyard as a safe, beautiful place will grow old with me. We’ve become comfortable with one another, and like old friends, the time we spend together will enrich each of us as long as we live together. It’s good for body and soul.