Sunday, June 25, 2017

I Remember When...I didn't have a clue about gardening! by A.M.Westerling

When I first scanned the list of topics for my monthly Brides blog post, the only thing I zeroed in on for June was that the topic could be whatever the author wanted to blog about. It wasn’t until after I wrote my piece and checked the topic again that I realized I was supposed to share some of my favorite memories! Sorry about that, but I’m sticking with my original post on gardening. *wink*

Anyway, I’m going to share the things I’ve learned over the years:

A garden is a never ending project. You can’t finish it in one season. Tackle it bed by bed. Then you can go back to the earlier beds and do them over, particularly as your gardening savvy improves. And so on and so on. See what I mean? Never ending. Kind of like infinity.

This is a big one – Find the plants that like the spot you have!!  Or, do not try and force a round peg into a square hole. A fern will not survive in a hot, dry sunny spot, no matter how much you baby it. Sun loving annuals will not thrive in the shade regardless of how much water and fertilizer you give them. So, don’t be afraid to try something – if it fails, try again. If it grows, jackpot! This is a picture of my side yard which is mostly dappled shade. I’ve always wanted a hydrangea so I’ve planted that this year (it's the little shrub with purple flowers over by the fence) and I will wait with bated breath to see if it reappears in the spring. The hostas were also an experiment and obviously, I got that right. (Below, lining the walkway.)

Birds like water. Hares too, apparently. Anyway, a bird bath is just as good for attracting birds as a feeder. Plus a lot less messy.


Try native plants. If they can grow without your help, imagine what a little water and TLC will do for them. This is a patch of Snowberry in our back yard. I’ve never seen it grow taller than knee height in the wild but in my back yard it makes me look like a gardening super star!

 Gardening can be a challenge here in the Chinook belt of Alberta, so I plant all my annuals in pots. At the first sign of early frost, late frost and that scourge of the prairies, hail, I move the pots into shelter. That way I can participate in Calgary’s favorite summer pastime – The Running of the Pots.

Mulch is your friend. Nothing smartens up an untidy bed more than a layer of gravel, or bark chips, or whatever snags your fancy. The odd garden ornament here and there is pretty cute too.

Enjoy all the seasons. Spring is great for the planning and anticipation, for those first few days outside after a long winter, for hauling out the shovels and ending up with dirt under your finger nails. Summer is when your dreams and plans start to take root (ha, no pun intended) and the display of flowers and foliage ramps up. Autumn is lovely for the colors and crisp air and the final clean up, and jotting down notes and ideas for next year. And winter for the respite. Good for both your garden and you and we won’t even discuss shoveling snow. Which is also good for you, by the way, as long as you don’t overdo it.

Finally, most important, make sure to regularly take the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor! And remember, a bad day in the garden is better than a good day at work. Oh wait, there is no bad day in the garden! 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Grandpa's Backyard by Juliet Waldron

My mother’s parents had a beautiful backyard in the small Ohio town of Yellow Springs. Their house and backyard are the very first I remember. I was a war-time baby, and because of the housing shortage, my mother lived with her folks for some years while my father was serving over-seas.

Grandpa had made his yard special by that time, but when they first came to town, in 1927, the “yard” was barren. The only tree was a young sugar maple which provided afternoon shade.  

Grandpa Liddle was an English Professor, but he’d been raised on a farm, so he knew how to grow things. By the time I’d reached consciousness—say, 1947—his backyard had become a lovely place, now hidden from the neighbors by a living wall of cedars.

Inside this, twenty years on, was a flower garden, where colorful Dutch bulbs bloomed in spring—daffodils, tulips, anemones, narcissus—followed by all kinds of lilies and roses in summer, as well as Canterbury bells, bachelor buttons and a host of other familiar plants. There was also a pear tree, a stand of raspberries, a grape arbor and rhubarb. All the surplus was either turned into jelly or canned for winter use. In summer fresh fruit was always on the menu—my cornflakes always had raspberries; our lunches were accompanied by pears or grapes.  In the shadiest part of the yard, by a small stable which sheltered the ponies that belonged to his daughters, he had a wildwood area. This contained a variety of ferns, trillium, phlox, wild violets, and bleeding heart. Dutchman’s Breeches  and Dutchman’s Pipe were two of the oddest denizens of this garden.

Under the big maple, on the brick patio—another home improvement --in good spring weather, he’d occasionally host a small senior literature class in Milton, Chaucer, or Shakespeare. This was not a problem for the students generally, as the house was only two blocks from the college and bicycles, in those days, were part of campus life. If I arrived in the middle of one of these classes, I knew to quietly head into the house. Here, I’d find Grandma in the kitchen, getting a proper English tea ready to serve. Of course, there was always some for me.

Grandpa also had a little pond for goldfish. Nearby, he planted two sweet cherry trees, one for me and one for my cousin, Michael. Pies made from the fruit are another happily remembered treat, fresh ones in summer, followed by winter’s, made with Grandpa’s canned cherries. The pond was my favorite spot to sit, where I waited to glimpse furtive tail-flicks of orange. I usually fed the fish when I visited. As soon as they spied me, peering down at them from my dimension of air, they would obligingly rise to the surface to take whatever I’d brought. ( I suppose, however, that, ordinarily, the resident mosquito larva kept them quite well.) In the autumn, Grandpa would dip out the pond and put the fish into a tank on a side table in the sunlit breakfast room. Mostly, the goldies survived to return to the pond again in the spring. Some of these wintered-over fish grew quite large.

There were two weddings held in this garden, first that of my parents, and later, post-war,  of my Aunt Juliet, where I was the flower girl and my Cousin Michael, still in diapers, was the ring bearer. Later on, I nursed my first son sitting in that same utterly private backyard, while my grandparents told my husband and me stories about their 1927 arrival in this small middle-western town.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nostalgia by Katherine Pym

Nostalgia comes from memories and our minds burgeon with them, overflow onto our current visual space. As we gather new memories, we merge them with the old. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of the town where I grew up. It was one of the greenbelt projects FDR initiated during the Depression. We lived in the Greendale community.

Greendale City Hall
It put men to work, building a country hamlet with the amenities of a city. The people who lived there had to make a certain income. My dad was short by a few dollars. He had someone vouch for him.

We had a grocery store, a Five & Dime (run by two harridan spinsters), drug store, theatre, doctors and nurses. When mom took me to the doctor for a smallpox vaccination, I didn’t cry, so the doctor inoculated me again. The nurse was a big boned woman who walked all over town, visiting homes and administrating cough syrups. Her hair was stone grey in a thick braid that she wound around her head. Even as a young child, the town’s nurse made an impression on me.

There was a public school, grades kindergarten to 12, police department, and a tavern called the Village Inn, with a bus line into the city. It was a good place to grow up. 

The houses were incredibly small, but very well built with cinder blocks. The ceilings were raftered. Everyone had a small garage for their tools and car, if you had one. Kids could play in the streets, stay out until the streetlights came on.

I’d walk outside into the cool breezes and smell fresh grass clippings, raising my head and listen to robin’s song. When the summer nights were gentle, our windows would be open. As dawn lit the bedroom, robins began their day. It was a balm to my ears and I’d sigh. I’d be reminded life was good. I was protected and safe.

I’d explore with my brothers over rutted paths with puddles from last night’s passing shower. If I were a pioneer and thirsty, I could drink from the puddle to survive a long trek across country. “Let’s explore that field over there. Maybe, there’s hidden treasure.”

We ran up a hill where a big tree had fallen over, branches and bracken tucked about. It made a good fort. My brothers settled in with their boy scout knives and began to form swords, bows and arrows while I pretended to work in the kitchen, the old tree stump being my counter-top.

Later, after we moved from Greendale, new memories joined with the old. 

When I see fluttering wings of butterflies, it reminds me of the bright afternoon when, in a moment of quiet serenity, thousands of monarch butterflies blanketed our backyard, resting before they started again on their migration. I can still feel the hot sun on my shoulders as I stared out the back door. I did not move, afraid I might jar them into flight.

I went to my son’s room where he had just been put down for a nap but he was asleep. I could not rouse him. When I returned to the back door, the butterflies were gone.

Nostalgia can give you a nice afternoon, away from the thunder of violence that seems to have pervaded our world these days. It’s like a good book. We can escape into past memories for a while but we don’t want to get lost. When the story in the book says, The End, we close the book. We reenter the world of our lives that can be tumultuous, difficult, and far away from our sweet memories. 

But we can always go back. Yes, we alone have the power to open those nostalgic doors. 

Many thanks to Wikicommons, Public Domain
For more info on the greenbelt projects:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

An adventurous childhood in Northern California by Diane Scott Lewis


Available in 2018

Since I’ve already spoken of my childhood visit to British Columbia, I can’t wax nostalgic about Canada, so I’ll have to talk of my girlhood in a small town in California.

I grew up in the village of Pacheco, which had been an important place in the 1800’s, a commercial center with access to shipping. But by the time I came along, in the 1950’s, it was a tiny town with a mom and pop grocery store, a candy store, the Pacheco Inn (a bar), drug store, and the bowling alley. Of all those places, only the bowling alley is left.
We didn’t get our first traffic light until I was sixteen, something my husband often teases me about.

Pacheco is twenty-seven miles north-east of San Francisco. My wonderfully flamboyant Aunt Mary lived in that great metropolis, so when my family visited her my brother and I spent many days roaming the city, riding cable cars and exploring Fisherman’s Warf.

Brother, Scott

Surrounded by farms in Pacheco, we lived in Country Club Homes, which sounds much grander than it actually was. It’s tract homes with cookie-cutter houses on asphalt roads. No wonder in my novels I write about quant half-timbered cottages on crooked, cobbled lanes.

Our life was still quite rural. We kept pigeons on the roof, chickens in the yard, and sheltered stray cats with kittens in cardboard boxes.

Best friend Candy, and author, 1964
My best friend and I would walk everywhere, feed apples to a horse named Chief, pick apricots and pomegranates from trees.

My friends and I rode our own horses along the country roads, and into the fields, racing through landscape now built up with houses.

The hills above Pacheco were lush, green and full of grazing cows—now condos scar the landscape.

A creek flowed through the town and on into the next, with a dirt road on both sides. We once played with snapping crawdads in the summer and watched tiny frogs emerge like a marching army. The creek is filled in today, no trace left.

We attended the local elementary school, a rambling pink stucco structure now torn down. Below is the mural I helped to draw of our school when I was in sixth grade.

I’m not sad (well sometimes) about these changes, only disappointed for the children currently growing up there . I know life must move forward, but I’m grateful I lived my childhood when I did, when it was wild and rural.

Author at sixteen, front yard of childhood home, 1970
To find out more about Diane Scott Lewis and my novels, please visit my BWL Author page
or my website:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I Remember When...

photo © Janice Lang
Memories can be tricky little devils. Some are so crystal clear that no manner of dispute by people who were there can derail our version of that particular truth, even if it might be a tad faulty. They can be faded sepia by time like an old photograph, or replayed in the mind like a scratchy copy of an 8mm home movie. Others are dim recollections, fragments here and there, disconnected one from another, some even running together to form one imperfect memory. And then there are other those that remain intact throughout our lives, complete with enough sensory imagery to recall every detail.

I retain a number of such memories, some from earliest childhood…like when I was two or three and I made my first snowman (a tiny one, about the size of a baby doll) outside our apartment in the Bronx. I didn’t want to part with it, even as my mother insisted it was time for a nap. Eventually she acceded to my demands and let me take it upstairs, where we put it in the bath tub for safekeeping. Not understanding the properties of snow at the time, I woke from my nap and eagerly made a beeline to the bathroom, only to find a puddle, my red woolen scarf, and a couple of pieces of coal where my masterpiece had been. A lesson in disappointment.

My all-time favorite memory from childhood is quite the opposite. After over 60 years, it remains as vivid as yesterday.

I was six years old on Christmas Eve in 1956, when my dad took me to the gas station to have snow tires put on my mom’s car. I don’t remember why I went along with him to Frank’s Amoco, but there I was in the office, standing face-to-face with a glossy little stub-tailed black mutt. Sitting by the door to the bays on an oil-stained spot, he reacted with a joyful countenance as soon as he saw me enter. We struck up a conversation (mostly one way). But he had an expressive face and cocked his ears in a most appealing way, tilting his head when I spoke, as if he understood everything I said.

Time soon came for the car to get moved into the shop, so we all filed back out onto the blacktop. The day was chilly and blustery (I’d been wearing mittens, which I’d taken off inside). Just as we stepped out the door, a mighty blast of wind took one of my mittens and blew it across the lot. I watched in a dull sort of stupor as the mitten flew on a swirling gust and then kicked around at the curb. Before I could take a step toward it, the dog tore off, picked it up, trotted back to me, and dropped the mitten at my feet. And there was that look he gave me as he sat gazing up so expectantly, wagging his little tail….

I thought he had to be the smartest dog in the world (on a par with Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin), and I told him so. Together we climbed into the back seat of my mother’s 1955 Rambler and went up on the lift while the mechanic changed the tires. All the while we talked about what it would be like if he could come home and live with me. I told him about my two sisters and our mom, our house and yard, and “the pit,” which was the greatest place on earth for us kids to play. Like the world’s biggest playground surrounded by acres and acres of trees, and slopes to sled down in winter, picking blueberries and blackberries in summer….

The whole time we were up there on the lift, Frank and my dad had been involved in what looked to be a conspiratorial conversation, and when the dog and I got out of the car, my father was smiling from ear to ear.

“Do you want that dog?” Frank asked with a wink at my dad.

I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. It just couldn’t be true. But when I glanced up at my father, heart thumping with wild expectation, anticipating a let-down, he grinned at me like a little boy and nodded. Of course I wanted the dog, and so did he it seemed, almost as much I did.

I guess Frank was relieved that the stray mutt had found a
Shadow and me, circa 1964
place to live and be loved. He explained that the dog had shown up at the gas station a few days before and hung around day and night following the mechanics as they went about their business—a kind of a nuisance—but they fed him scraps from their lunchboxes and he slept in the shop and earned his keep watching over the place. They called him Shadow, and that was to be his forever name.

My mom wasn’t thrilled—not one bit—and it took all we had to convince her that I would walk him, feed and clean up after him. Finally, she gave in, albeit reluctantly. After all, he was smelly and grungy with grease and dirt. So we gave him a bath in the tub. With all that filthy, soapy water gurgling down the drain, I fully expected him to turn white.

For the first few weeks, Shadow would manage to get out of the house and disappear from morning until supper time. We soon discovered that he spent that time hanging out at his old place of employment (a goodly trek, I might add)…until he discovered Paul the mailman. For a couple of years he even got picked up and dropped off at our house on the days Paul’s route was scheduled through our neighborhood. He became the most famous dog in our part of Massapequa. Wherever we went (he followed me on my bicycle), kids would always shout, “Hey, isn't that the mailman’s dog?”

Shadow retired from the US Postal Service when Paul was replaced (I learned from my mother later in life that he was a bit of a Lothario). 

For the remainder of his life Shadow’s only job was as friend, protector, clown and trickster. He also had a lot of Scrappy-Doo in him, often getting into fights with much larger dogs and paying the price. But he survived the follies of his youth to remain with us for 14 years before crossing over the Rainbow Bridge a week shy of Christmas Eve, 1970. By that time we had shared countless adventures and had lots of fun together. And I had a trove of stories to tell my kids as they grew up. Maybe one day I'll write them down.


Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, "The Serpents Tooth" trilogy: Lord Esterleigh's Daughter, Courting the DevilThe Partisan's Wife,  and The Return of Tachlanad, an epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her Books We Love Author page or visit her website. All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book and in paperback from Amazon, Kobo, and other online retailers.