I have a copy of Michael Holroyd’s definitive biography of Lytton Strachey. A gift from a friend, the two-volume boxed set serves as a bookend anchoring a shelf of history titles. My friend was a Bloomsbury aficionado. He read everything he could about these post-Victorian intellectuals even waiting patiently to purchase The Letters of Virginia Woolf published in six volumes; book-by-book over 10 years. He also gifted me his extra copy of The Loving Friends: A Portrait of Bloomsbury by David Gadd.
When the Pilgrimage to Massachusetts reading list (yes – an actual two-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources) included American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever, I thought this title could be the primer I needed (just as The Loving Friends had been) to better understand our American literary giants. As the subtitle describes, American Bloomsbury focuses on the lives, loves, and work of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.
These profoundly talented people moved among each other, sometimes living together, sharing books, reading what each other wrote, and relishing in deep philosophical discussions. In the introductory “Note to the Reader” Cheever describes her intent to work chronologically but to do so from each of her primary character’s perspectives thus her timeline moves back and forth as she describes overlapping incidents and conveys the stories of their lives life in Concord and the surrounding environs during the 1830s – 1890s.
Their individual accomplishments – Little Women, The Scarlett Letter, Walden, Or Life in the Woods – create for us a tableau of 19th century life; a young country, a growing divide over slavery; and women’s rights still but a wishful glimmer only in some minds. But, taken as a whole, these hearty New Englanders defined a literary, philosophical, religious, and political movement that we call Transcendentalism with its core belief in the inherent goodness of the individual and nature.
I leave early (4:45 am) tomorrow to see their homes and haunts.
With Boston looming large on my calendar, followed by a week at home and then flying to Montréal, (I am still befuddled as to how I have 13 travel days in just one month) I am focused on home-centered tasks; the garden this morning and moving furniture this afternoon to prepare for the new living room floor.
Green beans – picked, blanched and frozen although an evening’s serving size has been set aside to sauté with thyme.
Blueberries – harvested and baked; this time in scones.
Tomatoes – just for eating; and likewise
Peppers – ready for some dish yet to be selected for our summer dining menus.
One week from today I leave for Boston. My flight out of Rochester (RST – MSP – BOS) departs at an inhumane hour that requires leaving home around 4 am. Admittedly, this was my decision as there are other departures with connections heading east but I opted to use already paid for Covid miles/dollars held in escrow by Delta for canceled trips to Phoenix, Providence, and Denmark. 2020 was to have been a travel-cious year.
I considered using Knit+ Librarian as a daily travelogue so you could join me vicariously as I visited historically important sites in Boston, Cambridge, Concord, and Gloucester but then re-thought this potential commitment. As with most guided tours, our August 9-15 itinerary is full enough to make me wonder just how much time I will have to write; there is no guarantee of strong Wi-Fi needed for posting; and, while I know technically it can be done, I lack any desire to blog on my iPhone. Plus, I have to wonder if you really want to read about the minutia of my days. Rather, I’ll give you a succinct postcard summary complete with an appropriate selection of photos (no – dinner plates, I promise!) after I return to Minnesota.
A sampling of anticipated highlights may include: King’s Chapel, Old North Church, Harvard Square, the Sargent-Murray House, Walden Pond, and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery but you will have to wait until the end of my trip to know for sure.
While it is officially National Swiss Day (celebratory greetings to all my Swiss cousins!) I have declared this to be Blueberry Day at our house. I am feeling a time crunch to put our freshly picked produce to good use before leaving for Boston – but more about upcoming travels in tomorrow’s post. A Double Good Blueberry Pie is chilling in the refrigerator and Blueberry Lemon Muffins are on the menu as tomorrow’s breakfast treat with a few tucked into the freezer for frigid January mornings.
We estimate one more picking will complete this season’s crop. Our four bushes have produced 16.25 cups thus far; much better than last summer’s yield of only 9.5 cups but not nearly up to the bountiful summers of 2019 and 2020 with 24 and 25 cups, respectively.
The Double Good Blueberry Pie is super easy and, as promised, doubly good with two cups of fresh berries serving as the fruit base in a baked pie shell then topped with two cups of cooked glazed berries. We will add a dollop of Crème Fraîche to make it extra festive.
As I misplaced the paper copy of the Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins (shared by Betty D. last summer) and the web address produced an error message, I spent this morning recipe sleuthing (always a fun task.) The Preppy Kitchen covered my bases – blueberries, lemon and sour cream – although my muffins exclude the streusel topping, all the better to enjoy the berries.
This spring, I learned about a new creative project led by Suleika Jaouad that encouraged participants to “create one tiny beautiful thing each day” for 100 days as a way to bridge the isolation of Covid and return to an as-yet-to-be defined new normal. The choice of how to excite the imagination was to be determined by each participant.
When I was young, I enjoyed reading poetry but somewhere along the way, poems assumed an impenetrable guise and poetry become something I rarely read. Although I did take a significant plunge into well written verses during the summer of 2012 when I joined Karen Sandberg and Rose Mish in presenting a summer service comprised entirely of poetic readings. With the 100-Day Project the timing seemed right to revisit poetry. I decided I would read a poem each morning and discover (or re-discover) a poet every day.
I created a poem calendar to track my daily progress complete with hyperlinks so that I could re-read the gems I discovered. One such beautiful verse is Small Kindnesses by poet Danusha Laméris. She asked 1,300 teenagers about the small kindnesses that make a difference to them and then used their answers to write this poem:
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
As reported earlier, this summer’s basil crop is the best we have ever grown and a quick cutting this morning yielded five individual servings of fresh pesto – one for tonight’s 3-cheese tortellini and four for the freezer; so good when the cold winds blow and summer basil is only a fragrant memory.
While Richard used the heat gun, applied citric solvent and scraped years of pigment (thankfully no lead) in preparation for the installation of nine new windows all part of our rennovation projects, I focused on our rain garden. A part of the yard, like mowing, that I had previously identified as Richard’s purview.
With his Parkinson’s Disease (PD) diagnosis last July 23, I made a conscientious decision not to immediately tackle “his” jobs. Rather, to allow him time to navigate what was still comfortably do-able and what was not before I took on a task (or we hired it done.) So last summer went by with very little attention given to our rain garden; that long expanse of ground which replaced the old tarmac driveway. It suffered from overgrown perennials, too few wood chips, and oh so many weeds.
Admittedly, we had never discussed a division of labor however, in my mind, there was a clear delineation. Each summer, while I focused on our square-foot vegetables and 20+ potted plants (the number always varies) I let Richard maintain the rain garden. Come to find out (amazing what a conversation reveals!) that he was unaware of this breakdown in gardening duties. What I had assumed was his preference was actually a simple default location determined by cool morning shade. Recently, following Richard’s wise example, I have started my morning gardening tasks in the shade and the rain garden now presents a bit of order sans so many weeds.
The color combos and at-gauge swatches knit in beautiful yarns as shared by my fellow Knit Campers proved too tempting. With today’s cast-on (after wavering earlier this month) I joined Marie Greene’s sixth annual 4-Day knit-along (KAL). Free patterns (always well designed and precisely written) and advance access prior to the actual pattern drop are among the many Knit Camp membership benefits. So while this KAL officially begins tomorrow, I already have Comfy worsted cotton in a lovely mix of silver sage and planetarium blue on my needles.
Sailaway is a top-down cardigan which takes its inspiration from the current popular Coastal Grandmother Aesthetic fashion style – classic, loose fitting designs, often in natural fibers, and perfect for a summer in the Hamptons. (Imagine Diane Keaton or other older women living in luxurious oceanfront properties.) Having just celebrated 70, with a swatch of purple contrasting against my more salty coiffure, I definitely fall into that demographic group sans the beach house.
There are times when layers are fun – chocolate cake with ganache filling – and then again when layers prove tedious – decades of paint needing to be removed.
Having received a text alerting us that our new energy efficient replacement windows might arrive in late June rather than mid-August, Richard began the arduous, time consuming task of stripping the trim from around the five large double-hung windows in our sunroom (more aptly dubbed the cloud room as it faces north.) Neither of us can remember why these windows were not stripped with all the others during our 1980s renovations. It may be that we simply got tired and thus opted to skip that important step; applied our choice of color and left the layers of old-people beige, harvest gold and sickly green which eventually checked that newer coat of paint. After stripping so much trim work we should not be surprised when the removal of eight layers of paint reveals subtle wood details but we always are. Now to start fresh with Sherwin Williams Magic Night 1201.
The potted herbs clustered around the backdoor are mid-summer hearty and offer a veritable Pantone spectrum from dusty silver sage to vibrant Genovese basil – my version of “50 shades of green.”
The basil crop is the best I have ever grown although, as to what might be different, I cannot claim credit as a variety of factors are equal – bought at same greenhouse as previous years, planted in the large Italian terracotta pot that formerly held a St. Thomas, V.I. lime tree from Dad, and tucked under the wind chimes on the left side of the doorway. Every day with easy morning sun and cool afternoon shade.
In an attempt to capture the lazy summer day in a jar, this morning’s task included harvesting and drying fresh basil. Great for aromatic hearty winter stews or tasty marinara sauce garnished pasta.
Happy Gardening and Bon Appétit!
PS – Ever the librarian, my backdoor crop in alpha order: basil, bay leaf, dill, nasturtiums (although technically not an herb but an edible flower – both leaf and blossom), oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme.