‘Gardens and flowers have a way of bringing people together…’

We’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the most famous gardens in the world including Kew, Sissinghurst, and Kensington in England, Netherlands’ Keukenhof at tulip time, the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, Montreal’s Botanic Gardens, to name a few.

On July 8 we toured seven outstanding gardens right here in Montgomery County, Virginia, during the 22nd annual New River Valley Garden Tour, the best yet. I emoted all the way home.

They are different from each other, each enviable in unique ways, but if I had to pick just one, it would be the one where rust prevailed. Yup, rust.

The Angle-Relf garden is tucked away on a narrow winding road, set on a hill hidden from view if you headed east. The couple bought the rundown 40-year-old house in 1976 and set about taming its weed-covered four acres that was overly populated with locust and cedar.

To call their creative idyll imaginative is to beg a look at a Thesaurus for better adjectives to do it justice, perhaps fanciful or inspired or quixotic. The pair reclaim and recycle with humor and vision, and always with rusty overtones.

 

This year’s seven gardens, the Angle-Relf’s, plus the Golden’s, Hagood’s, Hammett’s, Ryan-Plunket’s, Schnecker’s and Wickham’s all all provided multiple chances to fall in love with gardening. It was an absolutely picture-perfect, weather-perfect day.

 

With apologies to Doctor Seuss.

Oh! the places we go
for a view, for a bite,
to see something new,
some special delight.

We’ll shop for a widget,
or bag of birdseed,
sometimes a beer,
and a burger we need.

Sometimes a movie,
or maybe a drive,
a stroll through a garden
glorious! alive!

In springtime flowers
need consideration,
colors and scents,
Mother Nature’s perfection.

We searched at the market,
we looked at Lowe’s,
the most unusual we spied,
was “nested” at Crow’s.

A surprise we found
in a big brown pot,
a cat was inside
very grumpy, we thought.

He would not be moved
nor enticed away,
he liked his pot
on that warm spring day.

Among flowers we bought,
were red geraniums tall
to plant in my pots,
no kitties at all!

 

 

A ‘peak’ at a perfect day.

Mondays have a bad reputation and our Monday that week deserved the label. Awful. But the week redeemed itself with a Wednesday that was perfection.

After a quick trip down the mountain to Roanoke, we lifted our bottomed-out psyches at Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea, then soared with the Paul Villinski installations at the Taubman Museum of Art around the corner.

Villinski’s showcase exhibit “Passage” hovered, as if in an updraft, above the atrium. “Passage,” a large-scale wooden glider with a 33-foot wingspan reminiscent of the balsa wood gliders he loved as a boy, is part precise construction and part whimsey. A thousand black butterflies, carefully fashioned from reclaimed material found on New York City streets, cover the glider and appear to help it stay aloft. “Emblematic of hope and liberation,” the artist says.

Paul Villinski oversees installation of his sculpture “Passage” in Taubman Museum’s atrium. Photo, Stephanie Klein-Davis, The Roanoke Times.

Flight connotes mankind’s desire to leave our earthly concerns behind, Villinski believes. Maybe that’s what lured me — the promise of a few hours to leave behind my concerns from two days before. And it worked! I was spell-bound the minute we walked inside. Peter had to nudge me to turn my attention to the docent just inside the door. “You were transported the minute you walked in,” she said, laughing. Indeed I was. She told me that the glider would actually be air-worthy if it had skins, and if there were a very small person licensed to pilot it.

“Farther,” Villinski’s exhibit in an upstairs gallery, was equally, magically moving, with flights of butterflies and birds, and other flights of fancy that captivated us.

Both “Passage” and “Farther” will be at the Taubman through January 21, 2018.

 

“Homeward Bound,” juried art. Although I didn’t know it beforehand, seventy-four works  by fifty-nine Virginia artists, all winners to my eye, were housed in other galleries. Many pieces are made from found objects — bobby pins, keys, hats, old nightgowns, horsehair — plus fascinating paintings, drawings, and sculpture all helped make our day.

“Homeward bound,” is the Taubman’s first juried art show, and will remain only through July 17. Hurry home.

We ended our perfect day, such a welcome antidote to Monday, with a walk around City Market. There, I found the perfect peaches and blueberries for our evening to come. The peak of perfection, if I may say so.

A day trip from home.

Beautiful mountain views edged the hourlong drive from our home to Bedford, Virginia. It was June 6, and husband Peter and I were heading to the annual Commemoration of the Invasion of Normandy at the National D-Day Memorial. It was our fifth visit there since the opening ceremony in 2001.

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains

Neither of us would have been aware of the magnitude of what happened that day in 1944 on Normandy’s beaches. Operation Overlord.

Peter was six, in London again after having been evacuated to the north with his mum when he was an infant. All he knew of the war were the bombed out buildings in his neighborhood, the thrill of finding scraps of wood to sell for fires, the hope of finding mortar shells or worse in the rubble in Hammersmith. A man he didn’t know he knew had moved in — his Royal Marine father, home from his post at St. Margaret’s Bay above the English Channel.

I was five, and all I knew of World War II in my Ohio home were blackout blinds on our windows, sirens sounding the all clear, rationing and victory gardens. I had carrots and radishes in my little plot, while my father grew other vegetables the rabbits wouldn’t eat.

Peter and I visit the Bedford D-Day Memorial because we are of that time, those days. His memories now are rooted in the old war movies he watches, but he was interested in the day’s goings-on. He tapped his foot to the music and smiled with amazement at the few WWII veterans present, fewer than a dozen this year. Later, when I asked if he’d enjoyed the day, he said, “Yes, it’s good to see the people and hear the words and the music.”

Captain (Ret.) Jerry Yellin, U.S. Army Air Force WWII Veteran was the keynote speaker. At 95 he’s still spry and active in his personal campaign to talk to veterans about post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), something he suffered from, without diagnosis, thirty years post-war. PTSD hadn’t been identified. Yellin has the unique distinction of having flown the final mission of the war on August 14, 1945. His wing-man, Phillip Schlamberg, was the last man killed. Today, Yellin travels the world sharing his story, bringing healing and hope to the new generation of veterans who battle PTSD.

A refurbished P-51 fighter, flown by Andrew McKenna, thrilled the crowd with a swooping three-pass flyover. As it streaked against the vivid blue sky of a perfect summer day, the horrors that happened on June 6, 1944 seemed more distant than seventy-three years. To those veterans who survived the day and were present to tell their stories, it was still fresh in their minds.

After enduring all the ordeals and training in England, we felt like we were completely ready for anything, and we were very ready to fight the Germans, and we looked forward to the day that we could actually get into the real fight.”
— Sgt. Bob Slaughter, 116th Infantry Regiment, US 29th Division. Slaughter led the effort to establish the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, home of the nineteen young men who were lost that day in Normandy.

‘Thinking today about yesterday.’

My friend Bonnie sent an email this morning: “Thinking today about yesterday.” We were together most of yesterday in Lexington, Virginia, midway between our homes.

The day was beautiful for its ease, companionship, and welcome change in weather. Bonnie and I have always said, no matter how much time passes between our get-togethers — years sometimes — we always pick up and carry on as if we’d seen each other just the day before. Such is the nature of a friendship that spans nearly fifty years. We’ve shared  life’s joys, heartaches, triumphs, secrets, and laughs…so many laughs.

Yesterday was no exception. It was ten months since we our last visit. We talked through lunch at Kind Roots, a delightful little cafe, and we talked while we strolled Lexington’s quaint downtown. We talked about children and grandchildren, books and poetry, gardening and bees. We didn’t dwell on our lives’ nasty stressors, instead we spent considerable time in one shop deciding which teapot we’d buy if we could buy only one. We grumbled about ever-changing, mind-numbing technology and the hobbling effects of age.

Everybody should have a friend like Bonnie. Over the years she has stared down personal issues that would have crippled a lesser woman. Recently, she built herself a tiny house (she was the mastermind, not the builder) and shed all the stuff she’d accumulated over the years.

She loves her newly unencumbered life in a perfectly tailored little house that is set in a field spread wide with buttercups.

Home away from home is far enough.

Fittingly, dogwood trees were at their peak Easter weekend.

Tucked away in the hazy folds of the Blue Ridge Mountains is my peaceful place. Daughter Leslie and husband Martin’s weekend getaway spot is scenic, comfortable, perfect.

We were there Easter weekend, and for almost the first time in our three year’s worth of every-now-and-then visits, Peter seemed to feel comfortable. “Comfortable” isn’t easy for him these days, with dementia exerting more and more force, but at last the mountain gentleness had an effect. The river was low, so the water’s rippling was distinct, yet nap-inducing. We remarked on it when we sat down on the porch for our afternoon cuppa .

While there, we seldom do anything more energetic than walk down the hill to the river, play cards or dominos, maybe watch a movie. Sometimes there are chores to be done, but while the same work at home would cause grumbling, it’s fun there.

I love to swing on the front porch, or nestled in the cushiony chair swings on the screened porch, or on my new rope swing that appeared since our previous visit, thanks to Martin.

And, thanks to the coloring phenomenon that has swept ’round the world, I feel vindicated sitting for hours with pencils, markers, crayons and books. Such a soothing, idle pastime. At home I fret that I should be doing something else.

Being there, just 50 miles from home, is enough, just enough.

Woodland sampler.

Right in my own backyard.

The adventures husband Peter and I used to have are part of my memories and photo albums. His increasingly confused state — dementia has gained on him — keeps us home now. He has no memories of our trips, nor do my pictures help him remember. Last fall, for the first three days of an eight day visit to daughter Carolynn and husband Bill, Peter didn’t know where he was. We’d lived in that same little village for seventeen years.
* * *

Daffodil in snow.

The first week of this month, Carolynn and her friend Robin traveled to us with inflexible determination to give me a special week “in my own backyard.” The bumper sticker on Carolynn’s new car said “Rescue Mom.”

Before the two left upstate New York early on a snowy Saturday morning, they’d issued orders for me to list anything they could do to help with during their week. Not wanting to look a gift-horse in the mouth, I did start a list, but lost it amongst the clutter in my office. I really wanted to just enjoy them, not put them to work on the pesky tasks that had piled up. That idea didn’t fly.

They arrived  Saturday evening. Sunday was family brunch, cards, and dinner out, but Monday they were all about the chores. Granddaughter Samantha was in town, so they appointed her secretary to their two-woman crew. And then they set to work.

Coincidentally, Leslie provided work shirts for the family crew. From left, Carolynn, Sam, me, Leslie.

They fixed nearly all the meals, grocery shopped, baked bread, cookies, muffins; organized files, cookbooks, kitchen cupboards, and my office; surprised me with muffins at breakfast on my birthday, and planned a birthday feast. (Leslie, around as much as she was able during her busiest time of the year, reminded them about my requirement for tin roof sundaes instead of cake.) Since Sam likes a clean car, I suggested she clean mine. She did,

Twice they shoved me out of the house, once to get a pedicure, once, a massage. I didn’t protest too much.

They gardened and washed windows, we shopped and played cards, watched movies and read, they made multiples of sock bunnies and we fit in “Beauty and the Beast” their final evening.

All in all, that week was a “trip” anyway I look at it. And I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

Over the week the list expanded to two pages. By the end, everything was crossed off, even ‘bake chocolate chip cookies’ that Sam added for herself.

Fluffle of sock bunnies.

 

‘Sweep of easy wind and downy flake.’

To awaken yesterday to snow, HOORAY, was as much a thrill as if I’d fulfilled the last item on my bucket list: go to Antarctica.

As soon as I caffeinated myself I headed out  along a pretty trail through a strip of piney woods. As I crunched along, I recited phrases from Robert Frost’s “Whose woods these are I think I know,” one of my favorites. I didn’t have a little horse to stop, it wasn’t dark and deep, I had no promises to keep, and I do know who owns the woods: the town does.

Overall, a mere inch of snow fell, but vigorous squalls added to it throughout the day. I was glued to the windows pretending I was encased in a snow globe. Snow and cold make me absolutely giddy, the way sunshine and blistering heat please others.

My collection of snow globes increased by four this year. Daughter Leslie gave me a set of miniatures that depict the four seasons. Winter pictured at the top. The second and fourth photos, moose and bunny, show gifts from daughter Carolynn more than twenty years ago. Our grandson Miah, now 23, made the woodsman globe when he was in elementary school. And the bottom one, a deer enduring an Ivory blizzard, was a Leslie creation when she was a little tot.

Good memories all, these still, silent little worlds where my dreams of winter live. Give me snow any day and lots of it. Please.

 

Appaws! Appaws!

To my mind, there’s no better place to watch a fun little movie than on our couch, and no popcorn better than what I make myself.

While browsing Netflix offerings one evening I settled on “Family Movies.” Husband Peter laughed at me when I clicked on “Pup Star,” the July 2016 AirBud release. But, added to the comforts of home and my own special popcorn, when he saw that one of the stars, Charlie, was a ringer for our Nobby, well, there was no doubt home was the best place to be.

Oh sure, “Pup Star” is geared to children. True, the plot is a rather predictable And, yes, maybe the name of English bulldog judge Simon Growl is a bit too clever, but we childish oldsters really enjoyed the movie. Oddly, Nobby lay down in front of the television when he heard Tiny sing “Wherever you are.”  He seemed to enjoy watching the talented canines, and he thumped his tail enthusiastically. He loves to sing too, but he’s not in their class.  Those dogs could sing and their fancy four-legged footwork was fantastic.

What’s not to love about a movie in which “butt” is the naughtiest word in the film, a sinister dognapper is as scary as it gets, and the only hint of lovin’ is  the tender glances between rocker Charlie and country singer Emily Rose?

Dare I say, those 92 minutes were just plain fun unleashed?

 

After the turkey is soup.

As always, for me, Thanksgiving was too soon over, the excellent meal a memory, with leftovers the stuff of Friday’s dreams. I’m not one to rush to Christmas before the November holiday, nor even after the turkey is soup, but this year, the little tree beside the door of Leslie and Martin’s woodsy retreat changed my mind.

Trekking to the river was a bit of a last minute rush. We’d made plans that, in the end, we couldn’t work out and alternate plans changed almost hourly as November 24 approached. I was in a muddle, but not Leslie. The previous weekend she’d planned ahead and, just for fun, added a touch of Christmas beside the front door, in case we ended up there for Thanksgiving.

And, in the end, we did.

It was a lovely holiday, even though we missed family who’d been there the two previous Thanksgivings — Carolynn and Bill, Jayne and Marc.

Wednesday was cold. Would it snow? No-o! Thanksgiving day dawned cool, but bright, and heated up along with the oven. The chef, Leslie, can’t stand the heat but she didn’t have the luxury of getting out of the kitchen. Once again, she engineered a turkey feast masterpiece. For the second time this year I failed pie-making. The from-scratch pumpkin was very good, the mixture of three kinds of apples, yummy, but the crusts could have been Play-Doh and were just as inedible.

Friday was warmer still. Samantha and Martin dug up potential Christmas trees, one for Sam to take home, one for me, and another for Leslie. I didn’t fuss about Christmas-rushing as I usually do, because it just seemed right. Sam left early to visit a friend in town. She drove her dad’s convertible, top down, with the tree riding shotgun. Wish I’d thought to take a picture.

bombeck-writers-workshop

 

Travel on a root canal.

The grocery is not a destination I choose willingly. I’d rather go to the dentist for a root canal. The dentist offers lidocaine, but there is nothing to numb the pain of grocery shopping.

Now, though, on-line shopping is coming to a grocery near me. Will I use it? I don’t know. There are passwords and IDs involved. I’ve pooh-poohed most modern day techno-advancements — dial telephones, electric typewriters, computers, cell phones, programmable appliances, smart phones…. I don’t take kindly to change, and I’m a real spaz with my phone.

grocery-isle-gmo
Ordering groceries on-line is a new wrinkle in the old fabric of catalog and Amazon ordering: you make out an orderselect a pick-up timesomeone shops for you, you drive to the store at the designated time, your purchases are loaded into your car. But, you still have to unload at home, lug everything inside and  put it away.

Instead of scribbling your needs on the back of an old envelope the way your  mother did, you select them from what looks like a child’s picture-book page, and if you want something unusual, you type it in — black olives stuffed with crunchy peanut butter, for instance.

Many things I buy are spur o’moment, not really a good idea, I know. Will the assigned shoppers know I have a hankering for a bag of peanut M&M’s? Or a pomegranate? Or how about black rice? No, they will not. With this new scheme I’ll have to “pre-know” that I might want a pomegranate and put it on my list.

Leslie and her friend Kenna mentioned seeing people do their weekly shopping while consulting a list on their smart phones. They don’t, they said, and neither do I. I carry a printed list I devised, that groups items according to the way the store is organized: deli, produce, meat, dairy, and so on.

This new enterprise is almost ready to go locally, and now a large section of the store has been re-dedicated. They’ve reorganized merchandise, and shoved shelves closer. The aisles are way too narrow. I experienced a traffic jam in the pasta and other “foreign foods” lane last week. It took about four minutes to clear — four minutes longer than I wanted to spend in a place where I hate to go.

kroger-app-art-g6dl1s9v-103-kroger-app-clh-jpg

 

 

 

Did we listen to what we heard?

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-11-03-07-amNo one had to remind me to vote, nor whom to vote for. My mind was made up months ago. I’ve paid too much attention to all the incendiary brouhaha of the campaign. I’ve lost sleep and had bad dreams.

As I walked along our street to vote this morning a sheriff’s car went by in one direction, a police car in the other. More visibility, I suppose, in the face of threats of election day violence around the country.

Is this what America has come to?

A couple of days ago I saw a video produced by a group of young entertainers who decided they had to raise awareness about one candidate. It was funny, yes, and spot on, but if a t.v. censor had been on duty, there would’ve been twenty-one bleeps. I counted.

Is this what America has come to?

The world is watching! Our country was founded by people who fled their homeland so they could be free. Recently, even the Pope commented on our political campaign and the irresponsibility of one candidate who wants to build a wall to keep people out.

Is this what America has come to?

Women fought for and finally got the right to vote in 1920. This year, a highly qualified woman is a candidate for the office of President. We’ve come a long way, baby, as the old slogan goes.

So, yes, we’ve come at least this far.

About time, but at enormous cost. We’ve lost standing in the world as the endless months of politicking has painted Americans ugly and embarrassing and laughable and scary.

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-12-33-12-pm

In June, I was fortunate enough to sit next to my hero, political columnist Leonard Pitts, at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference. I was as tongue-tied as if I were still a teenaged high school newspaper editor. Finally I asked if, deep down, he thought Hillary Clinton would win the election.

His eyes drilled mine, then he scanned the table, and said, “Yes, I do. But if he were to win, it would  be the ruination not only of our country, but of the entire world.”

I hope Pitts’s is right about who will win. He’s way more attuned to all this than I am, it’s what he does. I am not, in any way, qualified to write political commentary. When I sat down to vote this morning, I was shaky, queasy.

By about 10:00 tonight the pundits will make their well-informed predictions on the election’s outcome. I’ll be listening.

Wave on.
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The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —
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