Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Cottage Garden Living

How to Grow Staghorn Sumac in Your Garden – An Autumn Spectacle – How to Make Sumac Lemonade

The other day, former pro baseball player Mark Littell and I were talking about my dad, who was a naturalist f the first degree. Much like the father Berenstein Bear, my dad would round up all of us little cubs and take us on regular expeditions into the forest to gather its natural products to turn into food. My family and Mark’s family used to hang out together, and Mark was laughing about the time that my dad brought the bread that he had made from acorns to a party at Mark’s house. Mark and his brother Eric were appalled, but the stuff was actually fairly good. Today, I want to tell you about some other woodsy treats that my dad used to ship up from wild sumac.

Before this year, I was only familiar with the sumac that has smooth leaves. It grows abundantly along ditches and other untended pieces of ground. Because I have removed all of the grass from my lawn, smooth-leafed sumac sprouts all over my lawn. It looks very much like poison oak, and I’ll discuss that later. If you allow any of the sumacs to grow at will, they will soon take over your property and your neighbor’s property, too. Therefore, I usually weed out my smooth-leafed sumac plants.

This year, I discovered the cutleaf variety of staghorn sumac, and I transplanted some of that into my garden. I love it. It looks like a gigantic, exotic fern.

Staghorn Sumac is growing behind and to the right of the cherub in my garden. I started that plant this spring, and it was a tiny sprig. Staghorn Sumac grows rapidly and if the suckers are clipped, it can reach a tree-like height of 30′. If left untended, sumac will spread into a massive bush and will reach a height of about 15′.

During the summer, cutleaf staghorn is a bright, chartreuse green, but during the fall, its leaves become a brilliant red spectacle.

Smooth-leafed sumac is a darker color of green. During the summer, mature sumac plants produce cone-like clusters of red berries. When I was a child, we would make a lemonade-like drink from the red berries. Sumac lemonade is an American treat that the Native Americans enjoyed long before the Europeans arrived.

How to Make Sumac Pink Lemonade

Pick about 12 Clusters of Red Sumac Berries and Place Them in a Pitcher

Cover the Berries with Water [Do Not Boil the Water. That Makes the Lemonade Bitter]

Let the Water Stand for about 10 Minutes

Cover the Top of the Pitcher with Cheesecloth and Strain the Liquid into Another Pitcher

Add Sugar

How to Distinguish Sumac fro Poison Oak

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The leaves of the smooth sumac plant are serrated. The leaves of poison oak are not serrated. Otherwise, the leaves of both plants are similar.

©Jacki Kellum September 9, 2017

Mark Littel’s childhood dog Fritz Drawn in Pencil by Jacki Kellum

I am currently illustrating Mark Littell’s second book, which is about the rural part of Southeast Missouri or the Bootheel, which is where we grew up. Be watching for Mark’s book to be released: Country Boy Conveniently Wild

You can buy his first book on Amazon: On the Eighth Day, God Made Baseball

Jacki Kellum Illustration for Mark Littell’s second book:

In Mark’s second book, he tells a story about how his dad bought geese to weed the cotton plants. According to Mark, the geese terrorized him and his brother Eric. I know those boys, and I feel sure that the geese were merely defending themselves.


Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour – Thoughts on Letting Our Childen Go

Yesterday, I re-watched Steel Magnolias. Before the movie began, I knew that re-watching this film would make me cry, and I almost opted out of racking myself with that painful experience again. But I took the plunge, and I began to think about my own life. Julia  Roberts died in Steel Magnolias, and as a mother, I was tormented by the mother’s grief of losing her child to death. But I also began to consider that many parents lose their children in ways that do not involve dying. Children simply move on. They leave to marry and to begin their own homes or they leave to begin their own careers somewhere else. The bottom line is that our children leave. and as parents, we are left gripping the reality that we had simply been loaned a set of children–for just a short period of time–and that eventually, we were forced to let our children go.

“You can never go home again.” – Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe is correct in saying that once a child leaves, he can never really return to his childhood home again. Although most children keep in touch with their parents after they move away, they can never really return, and a decent mother doesn’t want her child to do so. But in some nagging, longing way, mothers remember and we ache for the days that we wrapped our children in soft, cotton blankets and brought them home from the hospitals. We remember their first steps. We remember baby food dripping from their chins, their highchairs, and from their hands and hair. We remember bathing our babies’ silky bodies and drying them and then laying them on top of our hearts–where we could feel them as they breathed. As mothers, we also remember slipping into our child’s room at night and at marveling at the sweetness of our sleeping child. We recall our children’s innocent but profound comments–the ones that allowed us to recall viewing life as only a child can view it. We remember the drawings and the paintings that they made as children, and we remember their going to school.

When my oldest child went to school, I grieved. Somehow I knew that both of our worlds had permanently shifted. For the first time, I realized that my child was not a doll. She was not mine, to keep. From that moment on, my child began slipping away from me and into herself. The transition has not been easy. I have discovered that it is often necessary for people to get mad before they can completely sever themselves, and that has happened in my family. I long for the day that my family can close its angry chapter and go to the next. That is the way that it is supposed to be: Our children are supposed to have their lives, and we are forced to have another. We know that, but still, we remember the fleeting moments that God loaned us our children, and we long.

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind…
The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
Is lovely yet….
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears….William Wordsworth

Jacki Kellum Garden May 2017

Although many mothers always long for the hours when their children were living in their homes, a wise mother will transition, too, and they will find another home where they will live into old age alone. I am thankful for the years that I was a parent, but I am also thankful for the ever-renewing well of life and for my ability to continually find a new life without my children nested around me. My garden has become my solace.

Jacki Kellum Garden Gate in 2015

“When the hornet hangs in the hollyhock, And the brown bee drones i’ the rose, And the west is a red-streaked four-o’clock, And summer is near its close It’s Oh, for the gate, and the locust lane; And dusk, and dew, and home again!” – Madison Cawein


Jacki Kellum Garden

“I divined and chose a distant place to dwell …
I pick leaves to thatch a hut among the pines
Scoop out a pond and lead a runnel from the spring
By now I am used to doing without the world
Picking ferns I pass the years that are left.” Han Shan

Jacki Kellum Garden

Yesterday, my friend shared a slightly bent version of an old Chinese proverb:

If you want to be happy for a night, get drunk.
If you want to be happy for a year, get married.
If you want to be happy for life, plant a garden.

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Relatively speaking, our years on earth are few, and hours that we spend agonizing because we do not feel accepted or appreciated or loved are simply hours lost. Because living can become painful and toxic, we need an antidote and a place to heal. My garden is where I go to be restored, and even during the winter, nature is my solace. My sunroom overlooks my side courtyard, and my greatest winter joy is to sit by my fireplace, watching the birds dipping into my oasis for food and water. Anytime that I can sit alone in nature, I am truly home–the home that will carry me through life.

“I leant upon a coppice gate When Frost was spectre-gray, And Winter’s dregs made desolate The weakening eye of day The tangled bine-stems scored the sky Like strings of broken lyres, And all mankind that haunted nigh Had sought their household fires.” – Thomas Hardy

©Jacki Kellum June 9, 2017


Today, I Have 50 Kids Coming to Plant A Children’s Garden – Lord, Give Me Strength

Today is Arbor Day and for weeks, I have known that this would be the day that 50 kids would be coming to the library to help me plant a children’s garden there. With just the thought of it, I get knackered out.

But I’m excited. The weather report is excellent. We should have a warm and sunny day. This morning, I threw open my garden door and allowed the sunshine and fresh, morning air to sweep into the room. It is as though all of the garden gods are with me except one. I’m not twenty-years-old anymore, and this gardening season, I have begun to feel like the sixty-seven-year-old that I am. I know that by the end of this day, I will ache. I will drag into my house and soak in my tub and sleep for hours. Then, I’ll drag myself out of bed, eat something, and sleep some more. That is what it takes for my aging body to continue to do the digging and laborious work that gardening requires, but I still believe that gardening is important, and I especially believe that gardening is important for kids.

Although I am really not a librarian of any type, I have somehow found myself in the position of serving my small, New Jersey Coastal Community as their part-time Children’s Librarian. I have been doing this job for 14 years and I am allowed to weave all types of projects into my library program.  I grew up very differently than kids today are growing up, and my childhood in Southern, rural America was especially different from that of kids living on the East Coast–not far from Philadelphia, Washington D. C. and New York City.  Racing to competitions and sports events has replaced sitting on the porch swing for most kids today, and hardly any of today’s kids know anything about planting and maintaining a garden.

Kids Need to Experience the Wonder of Working in a Garden.

I hear increasing reports of the problems that children are having in school. Children have problems with ADHD, problems with autism, problems with depression, and they are displaying an excessive amount of anger and hostility. On the other hand, I read that children are spending an increasingly large amount of time inside, watching television, playing video games, etc. Research proves that children spend a fraction of the time playing outdoors that their parents did, and other research shows that children are simultaneously dealing with increasingly large problems with obesity, depression, and other emotional issues. Further research proves that all of these problems are connected. The well-being of children is adversely affected by too much time indoors and by not enough time outdoors.

For years, I have wanted to create an outdoor living space at my local library, and this year, I finally got the go-ahead to get that project started. I wish that I were fifteen or twenty years younger, but I am still young enough to meet the challenge.

Today, 50 eager and smiling kids will arrive at my library–with their altar offerings of one perennial to plant each– and we will work together to build our community’s children’s garden.

From that spot, the kids will be able to come face to face with the miraculous journey of a plant’s life, as they watch their own plant unfold and grow in our garden.  I believe in gardening, and I believe in children. I am 67-years-old, and I realize that my gardening days are becoming fewer and fewer. Metaphorically speaking, I have arrived at the autumn of my own life, but because the world continues to make fresh crops of children, I know that spring will continue to come. Here’s to spring and to gardening and here’s to the hope that our children will learn to love our land.

©Jacki Kellum April 28, 2017
Happy Arbor Day


Taking Back My Life One Bite at a Time

I took this photograph of my garden during July of 2015, I had worked very hard in my garden that entire summer, and the results were magnificent. But last summer, I hardly worked at all in my garden. Poke plants dotted my lawn everywhere that I looked, and my hydrangeas withered from lack of watering. My perennials didn’t bother to lift their heads above the soil last year, and my garden was a Waste Land. Every time that I looked outside, I became part of my own natural wasteland.

Last summer, I had launched a writing group, and I was spending every available second writing and or reading about writing. I was preparing to offer a memoir writing class online, and I denied myself of the inspiration that my gardening had always been before. Even at the time, I knew that I was denying myself something that my spirit needed and that I was being excessive about something else instead.

Last summer, I went to a mindfulness workshop, and my first response to some question that was asked was that I was neglecting my garden and in doing so, I felt that I was neglecting myself. Others tried to console me by saying that my spirit simply needed the writing more, but I knew that wasn’t the case. In reality, I have a very bad habit of becoming obsessive compulsive about one thing at a time and in doing so, I forsake several other areas entirely. My life woefully needs balance.

Even though I was not working in my garden last year, I allowed my blogs’ About pages to continue to say that “I am an avid gardener.” I used that precise phrase, and today, when I saw that the blogging prompt for the day was “avid,” I chuckled and thought to myself about Julia Cameron’s words about synchronicity in her book the Artist’s Way.

  • A woman admits to a buried dream of acting. At dinner the next night, she sits beside a man who teaches beginning actors.

  • A woman is thinking about going back to school and opens her mail to find a letter requesting her application from the very school she was thinking about going to. Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 63

Cameron lists several examples of times that the universe seems to reach toward people who are open to the arms of its reaching. This summer, I have already begun working in my garden again, and I have already been dealing with the ways that my lack of balance is not paying off for me. Today, the writing prompt is “avid” –something that I used to be about my garden, and today, I feel the need to talk about my own personal disconnect.

Twenty-five years ago,  someone gave me a copy of the book the Artist’s Way. That someone recognized that I was a blocked creative, and she felt that the book would help me. As soon as I read the book, I recognized myself and the mistakes that I was making in terms of my own creative growth and production, and for a couple of days, I wrote morning pages–twenty-five years ago, and then, I simply quit. Too much time. Good idea but too much time. Here I am–twenty-five years later, and I am still dealing with many of the issues that I should have dealt with a quarter of a century ago.

I lead a writer’s group, and for months, I have heard various excuses that the people in my group make for not moving forward with their writing. The words of Cameron’s book have stuck with me through the years, and I realized that the people in my group would benefit from at least reading it. A few weeks ago, we began working through the chapters of Cameron’s the Artist’s Way, and I recognize that one of the reasons that I chose this book for the class is that I, too, need to actually “work” through  Cameron’s program. Yet, for two weeks, I did not write the morning pages. I wrote other things, and I blogged, but for some reason, I am resisting my need to settle down, to write the morning pages, and to allow myself to begin to attack the gargantuan task of moving through some of the issues that prevent me from moving forward.

I have always been an intense person, and I have always been avid about something or another. The problem is that I often neglect something else to be obsessive about my avid interest of the day. I move through my life like a line of army tanks. Typically speaking,  I charge forward. I attack, and I conquer one thing at a time. But I also hurry, and when a task seems that it will take too long, I move to a new front.

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Last night, I decided that I would begin this day by slowing down and by actually beginning to master the gargantuan task of becoming more balanced and more efficient in all areas of my life. I acknowledge that this will not be a quick fix, but I have wasted twenty-five years by my failure to have done this a quarter of a century ago when I initially read Cameron’s the Artist’s Way. This morning, I wrote morning pages, and because it is a Cameron task on page 58, I listed “ten tiny changes” that I need to make in my life [my list is currently at #22]. I have vowed to slow down and to simply do what I need to do–to eat the elephant one bite at a time.

“No high jumping, please!… Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.

“Too far, too fast, and we can undo ourselves. Creative recovery is like marathon training. We want to log ten slow miles for every one fast mile. This can go against the ego’s grain. We want to be great–immediately great–but that is not how recovery works. It is an awkward, tentative, even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good–to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. …

” ‘But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/write a play?’

“Yes. . . the same age you will if you don’t.

“So Le’ts start.” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, pgs. 29-30.

©Jacki Kellum April 23, 2017.

A Fairy Garden for Our Library – Children’s Garden Coming Soon – Children’s Books about Fairies and Elves

The Children’s Department of the Linwood Library in Linwood, New Jersey, Has a New Fairy Garden.

In honor of National Library Week, the Linwood Library’s Children’s Department is all about Fairies.

Miss Jacki created the first stage of a fairy garden that will soon become part of a large fairy garden that will be outside.  During the months of April, May, and June, the children will help Miss Jacki plant a children’s garden outside . The fairy garden will be part of that children’s garden.

Fairy Gardens have become  popular across the nation, and several craft places sell miniature statues and other assets to place in a fairy garden. All of the figures above are available at Big Lots.

Because Miss Jacki’s fairy garden is at our community’s library, she used the 6-piece Gnome & Mushroom Set from Big Lots, which includes a little house and which features a gnome and a fairy reading. The price of the 6-piece set is $20.00.

Big Lots also sells an abundance of fairy garden accessories. The price of this play set is $6.00, and the price of the bridge is $4.00.

Although the Big Lots items are made of plastic, they look like they have been carved from wood.

During the months of April and May, Miss Jacki will read several of Daniela Drescher’s books about fairies and elves.

In the Land of Fairies is a beautiful and magical book and it  begins:

“In the spring the woodland fairies dance and cast their spell
Turning to green the trees and plants.”

Drescner’s illustrations add to to magic:

“Midsummer time, a magic night,
So full of life,
Now fairies dress the woods with light.”

Following the tradition of the Irish and fairies, Drescher’s fairies are connected to the land and to nature and to the seasons, and her books carry the reader through the seasons.

In her book In the Land of the Elves, Drescher describes autumn:

“The days grow cold and leaves turn red
And elves get up from mossy bed.
Beneath the bushes creeps a mouse
While snails curl snugly in their house.”

A closer view at this illustration shows what an incredible feast Drescher’s illustrations are:

Her books also explore the changes of nature throughout the day and night:
“Then as dark begins to fall
For hours and hours the crickets call
And elves gaze in the pale moonlight
And watch the starry sky at night.”

Miss Jacki hopes to read all of Drescher’s fairy and elf books and to prepare the library’s children for the wonder and magic of nature.

Earth Day is April 22, 2017, and during the week between Earth Day and Arbor Day, Miss Jacki is asking all of Linwood’s children to bring a perennial to plant in the library’s children’s garden. More about that coming soon.

©Jacki Kellum April 3, 2017





I’d Like to Travel But I Want to Know More of Different Places Than What Lies on the Surface

I would love to be able to travel more, but unlike some people, I have no desire to travel merely to  Keep Up with the Joneses or because I have a superficial need to flash before my peers the evidence that I was able to afford to travel. In fact, what I want from traveling would not appeal to most people who travel as a type of status symbol. Rather, I have a desire to actually live, in an authentic way, with many types of people and to live in other spots all around the globe. I want to experience the ways that other people tick.

Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.- Susan Sontag

Unlike for many, I have no desire to photograph the world. My yearning to travel is more of a spiritual thing. I long to spend time with the everyday people who live in different countries. and I hunger to truly know other cultures. I do not want to stop at photographing them. I want to reach beneath the] appearances of the people that I meet along my journey. I want to feel with other people and not merely to look at them.

While most who visit England will flock to Westminster Palace and will ogle at the trappings of the royalty, that is not at all interesting to me.  Instead, I want to visit England’s country people, and I want to sniff the fresh lavender that is growing in English gardens.

I I do not want to spend large portions of time in International cities. I may be wrong about this, but I venture to say that a city is merely a city–regardless of what language that it speaks.

My desire is to visit the cottages of the world and to eat potato soup and rolls with its commoners. I want to breathe the fresh, mountain air that is far above the city smog, and I want to share stories with the Every-woman.

You develop a sympathy for all human beings when you travel a lot.
Shakuntala Devi

I do not want to journey, simply to impress others with my ability to pay for my travel. My thirst  is to increase my awareness through travel. I have a hunger to grow, inside myself; and experiencing more of the world will help me grow. Feeling with the world will enlarge my heart.

Travelling expands the mind rarely. – Hans Christian Andersen

©Jacki Kellum August 11, 2016


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