Friday, August 17, 2012

Plant of the Week

Common evening primrose
Oenothera biennis (L.) 
other common names: night willow-herb, large rampion, tree-primrose, king's cure-all, scurvish, evening primrose
Oenothera: a name used by Theophrastus for a species of Epilobium, another genus in this family. It also is Greek for "wine scented," referring to the scent of the flowers or to the fact that the roots were once used for wine.
Biennis: meaning "biennial," for its characteristic of living two years
Evening primrose family: Onagraceae

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Interview with Evelyn Birkby: Part 3

You started writing your “Up a Country Lane” columns in 1949. How have your readers’ interests changed over the years? What hasn’t changed?

I still see people needing a smile. I see people hurting and worried and sorrowing. And I see people who find joy in everything around them. The lives of women have changed drastically with the coming of more labor-saving devices—being a wife and mother is far easier now than in those earlier days. Fewer people live in the country, and the familiar neighborhoods have changed; country school neighborhoods are gone and many of the old farmsteads have been torn down.

I always said that women were interested in everything, and I’ve tried to write and talk about a broad range of subjects. We are not just limited to “homemaking topics”; I never did figure out why people used that term to limit what women do.

The radio homemakers were career women. There have always been career women.

Your first column, about the Christmas box, the hard work of farming, and an encounter with an elderly stranger over a yard of red gingham, is one of my favorites. Do you have one favorite column?

I can think of many: “The Snake Trap,” “The Night the Bed Fell on Our Honeymoon,” “Two Mothers,” “Too Old to Be Elderly.”

Evelyn Birkby is the author of Always Put in a Recipe and Other Tips for Living from Iowa's Best-Known Homemaker, as well as Up a Country Lane Cookbook and Neighboring on the Air.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Interview with Evelyn Birkby: Part 2

I’ve always thought that one main strength of your writing is your ability to demonstrate connectivity—the enduring connections among your rural and small-town neighbors. Can you tell us what these connections mean to you?

Little did I realize that living in a small-town minister’s home would prepare me for what finally became the path of my life. Day after day my father and mother showed by their loving care for the people in their congregation and in their community that people matter, that caring for them in a loving way is one of the important ways to have a fulfilled life no matter what else you do.

Both my parents were educated and spoke well, which gave me a good foundation for knowing how language should be put together. I never was very good in English, but rather I sensed its correctness, which made it possible for me to speak well. And my parents insisted that I do everything I was asked to do that got me up in front of an audience. (I thought they were being cruel—little did I know that they were preparing me for my future.)

Our family did a lot of what we might call community service, and as a child I went along handing out food, taking clothes to those in need (it was the depth of the Great Depression), and visiting hospital patients, usually children, with my father because, he said, I was cheerful and helped bring a little comfort to someone hurt or ill.  

Everything I did after I grew up involved people. Teaching school, going into religious education, and working with children and youth—the great loves of my life—in many different ways. Then when I married and moved back into small-town and country Iowa, here were all the same kinds of people I had grown up with, so we were instant friends. When I began my writing and radio work, I realized how true it was, as my first publisher told me, “Always write friendly, there are many lonely people out there.“ I had a positive father who always lifted people’s spirits. Once he was gone, I took it on myself to be a positive, up-beat, “sunshiny” person. So many sad  people, so much trouble. So I deliberately let in the light and smiled and was (and am) positive.

In the process I made close friends with those around me, and that circle expanded to include my

readers and listeners. It was like being a part of a family. 

Evelyn Birkby is the author of Always Put in a Recipe and Other Tips for Living from Iowa's Best-Known Homemaker, as well as Up a Country Lane Cookbook and Neighboring on the Air.