The Suitcase Lady


September 19, 2017, 7:32 pm

According to the calendar, summer is still here. Fall doesn’t officially begin until September 22 at 3:02 (CDT). Mother Nature, however, is setting the stage for autumn with each passing day, adding hints of the colorful drama ahead. I only have to go as far as my own yard for a preview.

Warm-hued colors are popping up in patches here and there.


The late blooming flowers are mostly yellow such as these of the cup plant.


We’re hoping a monarch emerges from its elegant chrysalis on the side of our house.
Time is running out for the long journey to Mexico.


Our woods are full of jewel weeds and the bees who fly all the way into the flowers for a late summer drink.


The milkweed pods look like fat little boats, but soon they will split open and sail their fluffy seeds into the wind.


Our blue-green bluestem grass has turned to gold.


But the surest sign of fall’s approach in our yard is the abundance of spiders. Like Charlotte, they know their days are numbered and are busily laying eggs and carefully packaging them in their special silk. Everywhere I look one can be found, which is fine with me. They are busy with their business, and I with mine.


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September 12, 2017, 9:22 pm

On June 17, 2008, I posted a blog on how to wash a chicken. It’s time for a corollary to that blog. It’s about thinking bigger. So here’s how to clean a whale.

A news item in the NY Times entitled, “Thar She Glows”, tells all…how The American Museum of Natural History in New York City gives its life size blue whale model an annual “bath”.

Cleaning a 94 foot long, 21,000 pound mammal is no easy task. Plus, she is suspended from the ceiling in a dive pose. The cleaning takes two days and is done from a cherry picker. One worker with strong arms and shoulders wields a vacuum cleaner with long attachments ending in a soft brush. As the dust is sucked away, the whale’s delicate blue-gray color reappears.

Real blue whales need no cleaning. They use all the world’s oceans as their bathtubs.

Blue whales are thought to be the largest creatures of all time, even surpassing the size and weight of giant dinosaurs. Here are a few more whale size facts:

  • Blue whales can reach 100 feet long and weigh 180 tons. The female is bigger than the male. (Go girl!)
  • The whale’s tongue can weigh as much as an elephant.
  • These colossal mammals eat tiny food, krill, a shrimp-like zooplankton. Up to 4 tons of krill can be consumed in a day.
  • Blue whales are among the loudest animals on the planet, making groans and moans.
  • After a 12 month wait, mother blue whale gives birth to her 3 ton baby.
  • Baby blue whale dines exclusively on mother’s milk for a year and gains 200 pounds a day. (Yes, I tripled checked this!)
  • When blue whales breathe out, the spray from the blowholes can shoot up to 30 feet in the air.
  • The life span of blue whales is 80 to 90 years.
  • 95% or more of the entire blue whale population was killed during the whaling era. They are now a protected species.

Here is a picture of the actual size of the blue whale’s heart which I painted to use in my science classes for children.

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September 5, 2017, 9:00 am

As a new school year starts, here is a true story about a little boy named Christopher who sat under the art room table. For readers who know me personally, note that this Christopher is not my son of that name.

For twenty years, I was the art teacher at a Montessori and Creative Arts school. We had morning and afternoon programs starting for children 2 1/2 years old and continuing through age 7 or kindergarten.

The school had a large room with Montessori equipment, a music and creative play room, a practical life room (where kids prepared their snacks and cleaned up after themselves) and an art room. The children were free to choose the areas they worked in. Most did a round robin of all the areas during their three hour school day.

Remembering the joy I found in color as a child, I painted my art room walls with vibrant colors and filled them with exciting art objects. Our art activities were equally colorful and intriguing…painting, sculpture, wood building, clay, print making and more.

Most of the children came bounding into the art room eager to try out the art materials. But, Christopher, age 2 1/2, would shyly poke his head around our open door and then retreat to the safety of a little rug and solitary work with the Montessori equipment such as the red rods, pink tower or sandpaper letters.

Then, after several weeks, Christopher ventured all the way into my art room, crawled under our big work table and sat down on the floor. He would stay there for 15 or 20 minutes and then silently leave.

At parent conferences my report on Christopher’s artistic activities was extremely concise…..”Christopher is taking in the art room from under the table.” His parents were loving and patient people and adopted a “let it be” attitude.

By the last parent conference in May, my report was identical to the first. Christopher remained an observer, not a participant, for the entire year. And no one panicked that he would never get into Harvard.

When school resumed in fall, Christopher was back. He immediately strolled into the art room, sat down on a chair and began drawing and painting delightful pictures and trying every project offered.

I recently ran into an acquaintance from those long ago days and inquired if she knew how Christopher was doing. “He’s thriving”, was her reply.

I’m not surprised. That little boy was given the time and space he needed to figure things out in his own way. A scenario like this would be hard to find in today’s world. All the little ones are kept too busy getting ready for their testing.

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August 29, 2017, 8:58 pm

My mother was a librarian who loved books and language. She never spoke down to me when I was young, thus giving me the gift of many words. I distinctly remember her explaining to me what she meant when tossing out the statement,”I love the crepuscular hour.”

“Crepuscular” is a beautiful word to say, and I share my mother’s pleasure in its meaning as well. So I was delighted to come across the following passage in Martin Walker’s book Fatal Pursuit. The author lives in rural France and his series features Bruno, the police chief of a small French village. Martin admits many of his characters bear a remarkable resemblance to his fellow villagers.

The scene begins as a group of friends is sitting down outside to share wine and a summer dinner:

The sun was setting, streaks of rosy pink and red alternating with scattered lines of cloud, and the old stone of the mairie (town hall) had turned into a rich gold. It was that brief moment of twilight before someone turned on the lamps over the diners, and Bruno murmured to himself one of his favorite words.

“Crepuscule”, he said as he looked at the red sheen of the setting sun on the bend of the river, not aware that he had spoken aloud until the baron repeated it back to him.

“Crepuscule” one of the loveliest words in our language, for one of the loveliest times of the day just as it gives way to night,” the baron said softly, gazing at the shifting planes of red and crimson light on the river. “Sitting here, with wine and food and surrounded by friends as generations must have done before us in this very place, makes all the world’s troubles seem very far away. Sometimes I imagine prehistoric people sitting here on the riverbank, sharing their roast mammoth or whatever it was, and watching the sun go down just like us.”

He raised his glass. “I drink to them, whoever they were.”

Summer is on the wane, and now the nights are numbered when we will be able to eat dinner outside and luxuriate in the crepuscular moments. We intend to savor every one.

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August 22, 2017, 10:54 pm

Yesterday was the solar eclipse and we were duly eclipsed. Unfortunately, it was a low cloud cover doing the eclipsing resulting in a non-event in southern and central Wisconsin.

My husband and I are life long residents of the Badger state, and we must admit that we did not have high hopes that we would witness the solar sky show. Anyone who has spent time here realizes that planning outdoor weddings, family picnics or concerts on the lawn has a high statistical chance of facing disappointment. Stuff like clouds, rain, sleet and golf ball size hail falls out of our skies with great regularity.

However, we did harbor a slight glimmer of hope as we spent all day Sunday and Monday morning in Chicago. Perhaps, we thought, Chicago would have sunshine and we could hang around for a while and take in the big sky show. Alas, no such luck.

As we headed back to Wisconsin, we listened to Chicago’s top, all news radio station broadcasting live updates on the eclipse from reporters all over the city. Here is our favorite report during the actual eclipse:

“I’m reporting from the special solar eclipse cruise boat in the harbor, and we are all looking at the thousands of people on shore staring up at the sky.”

In other words, a great enactment of the Second Coming, but nothing else for that highly priced boat ticket. Which brings us to another point. Since we were in a hotel room that morning, we turned on the television, a rare event for us as we haven’t owned a TV for over 30 years.

That is how we discovered that the eclipse, THE MOST DEMOCRATIC OF ALL EVENTS, was being hyped for profit like a rock concert or a blockbuster movie release. A helicopter tour company in Oregon was offering an exclusive viewing site on the side of a mountain for $80,000. The price included a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

I’m all for hyping the event, but my pitch would be as follows:

Don’t forget to catch the eclipse, folks. It’s called science and it is really real. And if you are clouded out, don’t worry. Nature is putting on great shows every day all around us. P.S. Nature is part of science, too.

In lieu of seeing the eclipse this video had to suffice for us.

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