Social Star

Imagine yourself in the 1861 or 1862 social season in Washington DC.

Blue Union Army uniforms would abound at every evening gathering. The ladies would wear their finest. And as women have from the dawn of time — create their own social scene and information network.

I think fine carriages and strong horses carrying the important ladies of the time through muddy streets and past the newest army encampments. They called on each other. It almost became a ritual. Included in this group of elegant ladies was the wife of an army general.

Mary Ellen McClellan (wife of Gen. George B. McClellan) socialized with the wives and hostesses of the cabinet officers.

Can you imagine greeting your guests in this fine gown?


Gown re-created from a photograph is on display at Lincoln Museum, Springfield, IL


Young Hostess

Washington City, today better known as Washington DC, has had a social scene since Abigail Adams moved into the President’s House.

There have been many notable Washington hostesses since that time. Today I want to feature a young woman who set the standard for her time without living in the White House.

Kate Chase was the daughter of Salmon P. Chase. Her mother died when she was young. She attended boarding schools and developed a close relationship with her father. At the tender age of seventeen she assumed hostess duties for him, the newly elected governor of Ohio.

After a failed run for the presidential nomination in 1860, Mr. Chase accepted the position of Secretary of the Treasury from Abraham Lincoln. Kate performed the duties of his hostess well and set the standard for Washington in those years. After she married Senator William Sprague, late in 1863, she arranged for the couple to share the house and she continued hostess duties for both of the men in her life.


This charming dress has been re-created from photographs of Kate Chase. I think it would be charming to wear to a luncheon or afternoon tea.


A Garden Surprise

A regular reader of this blog is aware that I make frequent visits to the Missouri Botanical Garden.

This girl has enough country roots that a walk in fresh air and the surroundings of interesting plants is enjoyment. Please, animal lovers, do not despair. Most pets and trips to the zoo bring the same lift to my spirits.

On a recent visit I found something new. Or perhaps I dismissed it as merely a pleasant shrub. Until the fruit made it a standout. I took note of the name – Balloon Plant. Common names please, I’ll leave the Latin and scientific names to the real experts.


The fruit is the size of tennis balls — with spines.

A relative of milkweed.


Western Symbol

The United States is a large country. It contains several regions with their own folk lore, customs, and colorful history.

Words can get a visitor confused too. I’m hungry for shrimp but the menu says prawns. Is the carbonated beverage a pop? A soda? A soda pop? A coke (no matter the flavor)?

Some of the regions even have informal symbols associated with their location.

Raised in the Midwest, and living their again, at times I feel I’m a Western gal.

I like wide skies. Huge vistas. People attached to their land without being rootbound or  feeling threatened by a newcomer. It’s good to have a little room to make a mistake or two. It should be called “learning”.

How do you know you’re there? See clue below.


Resting after roaming.


National Symbol

The species is a success story.

They were an admired bird of prey for centuries. Native Americans prized their feathers and admired their flying ability. Did they take note of the bird’s fishing ground? It seems sensible to me — if they can catch a fish at this river bend maybe I can too.

We almost lost them early in my lifetime. Too many people. Too many chemicals. Too few places to build a nest and safely raise a family.

Laws were passed. Publicity helped. Tourists and conservationists worked together.

Today the population is increasing. The birds hunt the rivers and lakes their ancestors fished. And humans with fancy cameras attempt to capture the majesty of flight.


Look for my likeness on official US seals.


Within the Lines

You’ve heard the advice to be creative: Color outside the lines. Think outside the box.

And after the mental activity spurred by this advice. When your brain has been whirring. You’ve played “What if…?” to exhaustion. The box of “always done this way” lays crumpled at your feet.

You may want to find a scene similar to the one below. Fresh air. Sunshine. Order with brick and boxwood borders to a contrasting jumble of colors.



Eighty Years Ago

Eighty years ago, the world looked a little different. It also looked the same.

Young people married. My parents exchanged vows Sept 10, 1936.

Young  couples worked. Dad was a farmer. They rented a place. Later they bought another. Worked the land with horse power — the kind that ate hay and furnished fertilizer. Pumped water with wind power. Kept house without electricity.

Times changed. Inventions became available to less populated, rural areas. Children were born. Houses and farms were bought and sold. A job with the post office furnished the bulk of financial stability. Travel became more comfortable. And faster.

By the time the marriage ended (with the death of my father) it was sixty four years, ten months, and twenty three days later. They lived in a house in a small town with an oil furnace and air conditioning. An automobile and riding lawn mower occupied the garage.  The water well pump was electric and low maintenance.

Times changed. People stayed the same — living a life of honest work, kindness to neighbors, and tolerance to those unlike them.

On this day I feel we could do well to do the same – regardless of the number of “gadgets” or dollars in our bank account.


How Do You…?

There was a joke question common when I was a schoolchild.

Q: How do you pet a porcupine?

A: Very, very carefully.

The same reply would be appropriate for harvesting the fruit of today’s photo topic.


In the tourist spots of the American Southwest, you can buy prickly pear candy, made from the cactus fruit. I’ve not tried it, however, I did eat a serving of prickly pear flavored ice cream. It was sweet and delicious. Reminded me a little of raspberry flavor. But I’m not a gourmet with a sensitive palate.

How would you harvest these sweet treats?

Leather gloves?  Clamp on a stick?  Knife and hook?



An Immigrant

Immigrants are not unusual in the United States. If you shake nearly any family tree you’ll find an immigrant or two fall out of one, two, or perhaps five or six generations past.

Many came from Europe by choice. They moved to improve their financial, religious, or educational opportunities. Some came from Africa against their will to labor for others. Asians were imported to work in agriculture and build railroads.

Not all immigrants survived. They became victims of disease, poverty, and accidents. A great many managed to carve a place for themselves and their children in this new land. A few accumulated fortunes and power.

They continue to arrive to this day — centuries after Jamestown, St. Augustine, and Plymouth.

And just a quick reminder. Not all immigrants are human. Consider this lovely import.


Mexican feather grass


Bird and Salad Combo

When dining out, one of the items I frequently order is a large salad. Often it will come with grilled or breaded chicken. The combo is delicious. And it has lots of the things dietitians and nutritionists approve of.

It’s good to try new things. New combinations in foods. Perhaps with the addition of one or two unfamiliar ingredients. (Careful. You might like it!)

You can also look at a familiar object or event from a new angle. Ever lay down to watch a dog walk past. (They may stop to investigate you. It might be boring looking at human feet and knees all day.) Or go high – stand on a chair or ladder, or climb up to look down on a lawn sprinkler?

Or you can just go silly — as with this photo of cranes and lettuce.


Art glass birds in water lettuce salad.