The Suitcase Lady


September 11, 2018, 8:22 pm

I recently read an artist’s obituary in the Times that took up almost a full page and was accompanied by stunning photos of her paintings. The artist was completely unfamiliar to me. After finishing the article, I felt completely cheated out of knowing about her and her work for a lifetime.

There is a good reason why Mary Pratt is not a familiar name to art lovers. She was born in New Brunswick 83 years ago into a wealthy family. Her father was New Brunswick’s attorney general and he nurtured her love of art and supported her choice of studying art at a New Brunswick university. She excelled in her painting classes. She also fell in love with another talented art student, Christopher Pratt.

In her senior year, “she was pulled aside by a professor and given some unsolicited advice: There could be only one painter in her household, and it would have to be her husband, Christopher”.

After graduation, the couple moved to an isolated shack in rural Newfoundland where Christopher painted his way into being one of Canada’s most famous painters and Mary took care of raising their four children and keeping the household running. But when the housework was done and the children napping or in school, she stole the time to paint what she saw around her…..homemade jelly cooling in their sparkling glasses, the decapitated, bloody fish in the sink. With painting time a luxury, she worked on small Masonite boards.

I was so touched by Mary Pratt’s life story that I wanted to know more and found an eloquent, moving tribute written about her by Murray Whyte, the Toronto Star’s art critic. I began by wanting to share some quotes from that article, but I soon realized that I wanted to quote it all….so here is the link. Our kitchen activities may never look the same again.

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September 4, 2018, 8:46 pm

Last week we were sitting in Lou Mitchell’s famous breakfast restaurant in Chicago waiting for an apple cheddar omelette to appear. My husband noticed a card reading “So you think you know Chicago?” propped behind the salt shaker. The establishment obviously was seeking to amuse and enlighten us with a Chicago history quiz as our eggs were cooking.

I tried to guess the answers as my husband read each question aloud. Question number 6 was the most fascinating even though the question itself was a dead give away….”The Colombian Exposition in 1893 debuted George Ferris’ what?” Obviously, he invented the Ferris Wheel.

The description of his giant wheel was the jaw dropper to us. It had 36 cars, each of which held 60 riders for a total capacity of 2,160 people. This stunning fact had me reaching for my computer to learn more about that wheel on steroids and its creator.

Ironically, the Ferris Wheel owes its existence to the Eiffel Tower. Erected in 1889, it was a smashing success. When the architect Daniel Burnham (“Make no small plans”) was put in charge of the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition, he asked for suggestions for a focal point to rival the Eiffel Tower. None were forthcoming. So he convened a group of engineers and challenged them to dream up something “novel, original, daring and unique.”

George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., a 33 year old engineer from Pittsburgh, was in that group. He was already inspecting the steel used by the Fair, and it was his brainstorm to build a colossal steel wheel. Burnham looked at Ferris’ plans and pronounced the slender steel rods “too fragile”.

Undaunted, Ferris spent $25,000 of his money to test the steel’s safety. He also recruited engineers and investors. His persistence paid off. The wheel was chosen on December 16, 1892, and launched on June 21, 1893. An immediate sensation, it was enjoyed by over 1.4 million people who paid 50 cents for a 20 minute ride.

When the Fair closed, Ferris was immersed in lawsuits for debts he owed investors and that he was trying to collect from the Fair. Bankrupt, he died from typhoid fever at the age of 37.

His marvelous wheel fared no better. For a brief time it was reassembled near Lincoln Park in Chicago. Next, it moved to the 1904 Fair in St. Louis. A mere two years later it was dynamited as scrap.

The original Ferris Wheel is history, but Ferris’ name lives on in wheels all over the world. Chicago’s newest one opened in 2016 on Navy Pier. At 196 feet high, it is 68 feet shorter than the 1893 Wheel, and it holds only 414 passengers. One ticket costs $15.00.

Obviously, we are in an age of “smaller plans” about everything but money.

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August 28, 2018, 11:50 pm

We were traveling for eight days last week, and when we came home, everything in our yard had exploded. In the big scheme of things, eight days seems insignificant, but at the end of August, nature gets into high gear. The days are getting shorter, and there is still so much work to be done.

In our absence, one of our sunflowers added over a foot in height. It towers over everything in our backyard like a skyscraper in a low rise community. When this giant blooms, the flower should be as big as a dinner plate.

Our little bluestem grass isn’t little anymore, either. I won’t be wandering through it as before. Now it resembles a sea of jade green waves. However, there is a swath of toppled grass running through the middle. We surmise the deer made this path on a nocturnal run.

When I went to open our lakeside door, about a dozen spiders started raining down. In fact, the arachnids had decorated our entire house when we were gone. Since we like a clear view from our windows, I hooked together eight vacuum clearer tubes, put a brush on the top and dusted off the entire house. The Charlottes started the redecoration work the moment I finished.

In our absence, the annual monarch migration to Mexico had clearly begun. From dawn to dusk, clusters of huge monarchs are fluttering everywhere and sipping up nectar to sustain themselves on the long journey. Their numbers have gone down drastically in recent years, but this is not apparent in our yard at the moment.

On top of all this flight action, we had a dragonfly hatch. It appears as if hundreds of tiny helicopters are zooming around the yard. The bug population definitely will take a hit.

All this frantic growth and activity is, of course, a prelude to the quiet seasons ahead. It’s also a reminder to us to make the most of these waning days of summer.

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August 21, 2018, 9:43 pm

I learned to drive in a lima bean green colored 1950 Plymouth sedan with a stick shift on the wheel. It took me a lot of meshed gears and grimaces from my father to master it, but when I finally got my license, my father gave me the car.

My second car was also a hand me down from my father, and it proved to be the most unreliable car in my entire car history. Every time there was a good downpour, my little Morris Minor convertible would get a flooded distributor. Then it had to be towed to a garage and dried out. Since I drove that car to a commuter college, it is a miracle I ever graduated.

When my husband and I were married, we received a rebuilt Ford Falcon from my father-in-law, a mechanic and auto body man, as a wedding present. We loved that car and drove it for many years. It did, however, have a little quirk. Every time we drove in snow, our Falcon left four sets of tire tracks down the road, a reminder that it had been crashed into a telephone pole in its previous life.

The years went by and we had two children and a desire to acquaint them with their country. Our next car was a new Ford Torino station wagon. This was the pre-seat belt era, and the kids had the equivalent of a small apartment in what we referred to as Torino’s “way back”. Countless hours of happy sightseeing, reading, playing and sleeping went on back there as America rolled by the windows. Both our kids grew up to be fabulous travelers with a firm command of geography.

All four of us hated the car that replaced the Torino, a Chevy Nova. For the few years we had it, the kids insisted that the back seat smelled disgusting. Even though we could never detect any odor, we did believe them; after all, we weren’t the back seat passengers. We did, however, hate that car for another reason… would get completely stuck in one or two inches of snow.

But our era of car hell truly began when our kids went to college. Each of us commuted in a different direction; car pooling and mass transit weren’t options. Insuring and maintaining four cars was required. Our budget as well as our sanity were severely strained. When our daughter graduated, she moved to New York City, a place where a car is essentially useless. We were elated.

The rest of our car history is boring…a long series of compact cars with increasingly better gas mileage and dependability as the years progressed.

At the moment we own the best car we have ever had, a Honda Fit that can get 50 mpg on a good day and doesn’t stop dead when it encounters a puddle.

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August 14, 2018, 7:38 am

Even people who express a hatred of insects love the Lepidoptera, or butterfly family. We of the human species are simply suckers for beauty.

The words for butterfly in many languages are lovely as well:

Sommerfugl (summer bird)-Danish

We’ve had many butterfly visitors in our yard this summer and this is not an accident. We’ve lured them in by filling our acre with plants they can’t resist. It’s rare to look out the windows and not see some of these charismatic insects floating around checking out the drink options. Unlike butterfly larva who chow down more pig-like than pigs, butterflies daintily sip their nourishment of nectar and rotting fruit juices.

Now that it’s peak butterfly season, here are some fascinating facts about these beloved creatures:

  • Between 150,000 and 200,000 butterfly species are fluttering all around the globe except in Antarctica.
  • The largest butterfly is the female Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing. She is found in the rainforests of Papua, New Guinea, and has an 11 inch wingspan.
  • The smallest butterfly is the Western Pygmy Blue with a 0.4 inch wingspan. It is native  to the Western United States.
  • Butterflies dine with their wings closed. The pattern or colors on the underside of the wings is often a camouflage.
  • Butterflies taste with their feet.
  • The butterfly’s tongue is a long curled up tube called a proboscis.
  • Butterflies gather at wet soil to suck up salts and minerals that aren’t available from flowers. This behavior is called “puddling”.
  • Butterfly eyes have 6,000 lenses and they can see ultraviolet light.
  • The correct name for a group of butterflies is a flutter.

Here are some recent diners in our yard.





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