Light last August.

New York State’s snow belt is known for its winter white layered look, wind-driven drifts, and lake effect snow. We lived there 17 years and I loved every minute of those deep, cold winters. But the miracle of that region’s brilliant summer days reside in my memory too, like the summertime pages on a new calendar.

Last August, when we visited daughter Carolynn and husband Bill for a week we lucked uponone perfectly stunning day — warm with a whiff of autumn cool. Carolynn had planned the day trip to western New York for Peter and I and her friend Robin. (With Bill at work Peter had to put up with three gabbling women by himself.)  The day was so August-bright that our eyes hurt. Our destination was Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua.

Now western New York State is as unlike Mississippi as a moose to an alligator. Yet, when we arrived I thought immediately of William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County even though that’s a fictional place and I’ve never been to Mississippi. I’ve read Faulkner several times over but can’t recall any connection between Yoknapatawpha and Canandaigua Counties.

Certainly Sonnenberg Gardens that day had nothing in common with steamy Mississippi in summer. It was so cool in the shade that we popped in and out of the sun to warm up. Who would have thought to bring a sweater in August?

The enormous mansion evoked what today would be called “shabby chic.” It invited lingering, but it was the gardens that captivated me. The early Victorian glass houses hadn’t been modernized. There were no automatic windows or sprinklers, no obvious plant maintenance, or  new plantings. Everything looked decades old, plants way overgrown, yet all healthy enough and lush. The horticulturists and groundskeepers were attentive to their jobs even with diminishing funds to pay them.

Genteel privilege overlay the grounds like a scent, lavender perhaps. I could imagine Victorian ladies strolling the paths, then settling on the mansion’s enormous porch with mint juleps, laughing and gossiping the afternoons away. I envisioned myself in an organza gown — pale blue — tripping the light fantastic in my silvery satin shoes. Peter, a ballroom dancer in his day, would wear linen trousers with a white shirt and collar starched so stiffly that he couldn’t turn his head.

Snow falls outside my window today. Just enough to make me happy, and light enough to shovel easily. People in the snow belt up north have likely had enough of winter for this season. Now is the time to sits by the fire and plan a summertime trip to Sonnenberg Gardens, or even to Mississippi.

In The Tangled Fire of William Faulkner (University of Minnesota Press, 1954) William Van O’Conner wrote that Faulkner borrowed a sense of everything in decay from Victorian and  fin de siecle literature. Did that thought rub off on me when I read his books? I may have to read Light in August yet again.

How cold is it when the hot tub freezes?

Below the window and down the hill, the river was a silvery ribbon threading between steep banks of dormant rhododendrons on one side and stands of tulip poplar, oak, hickory, sycamore and wispy pines on the other. Frozen wintery beauty without snowy highlights.

A Friday afternoon at one of my favorite places to be, just be. The river.

Oh, there’d been hiccups for the four of us — Leslie, Martin, Peter, me — in our attempt to get an early start to the weekend. A weekend, I should add, that will go down in weather history as one of the most frigid ever in this country, especially in the southeastern states.

The results of the extreme cold for us began when Martin discovered that their furnace at home had stopped working on that 7° morning. And my quick quarter-hour to set up medical appointments went to 90 minutes because the facility had suffered burst pipes, plus many staff hadn’t made it to work. At the river getaway, a mouse rampage forced sweeping, vacuuming, scrubbing and trapping detail even before the wood stove began to pump out enough heat to warm the little house above the 40° thermostat setting…all before Peter and I arrived.

Order restored, the absolute bliss of sitting snug by the fire with books to read, cards to play, puzzles to work, movies to watch, and football and ice skating to enjoy on TV, was a joy. What could be better than going to sleep blanketed by stars outside the window beside my bed, and tucked under a covers striped with a brilliant moonbeam in the middle of the night?

As she always does, Leslie launched herself into the weekend in the kitchen with a pot of tomato soup and toasted sandwiches for lunch, followed by lentil soup and salad for supper, vegetable soup for Saturday lunch, and our customary New Year’s stuffed cabbage good luck dinner that night.

Few people share my enthusiasm for winter’s cold. I’ve always been the odd one out in a roomful of warmth-seekers. Admittedly, the wood stove’s comfort and Martin’s determined stoking, made the weekend cozy. All part of a package that would have been better if we were snowed in.

How cold was it last weekend? Cold enough for icicles to form on the leaky wood-fired, wood-clad hot tub, and cold enough to freeze my new mattress topper that spent the previous night in the back of my car. Laid in sun coming in the dining room windows, I managed to thaw it before bedtime.

That evening, the loft’s railing was the perfect place to warm my pajamas in the air rising from below. Sweet dreams? Ah, yes.

Mead high and caffeine buzz.

In recent months, I’ve developed an almost unquenchable thirst for good coffee. Even though I long ago stopped drinking it after midday, I still crave it. Wakeful nights? Yes, but!

In August, I drove all the way to Central New York to find, coincidentally, some of the best coffee I’ve had. Better than the Starbucks Morning Joe I brew for myself at home, and on a par with Our Daily Bread’s coffee.

Peter and I arrived at daughter Carolynn and son-in-law Bill’s home in Clinton early afternoon on a Friday. (We now split the long drive into a two day event, going and returning home. I’m the lone driver now, and 596 miles is more than I can manage in one go.)

By Saturday morning I’d revived enough so that when Carolynn suggested the two of us go to the Farmer’s Market at Utica’s revitalized train station, I was ready. Gorgeous morning, lovely offerings by various vendors — vegetables, soaps, breads, jewelry — but none more so than the Heartsease Hill mead we found. We tasted a number of owner Joe Kappler’s varieties, too many as it turned out, because by 9:30 we were tiddly.

“Coffee,” Carolynn said, “we need Utica Coffee. Bagg’s Square Cafe, you’ll love it, Mom,” she said. And I did. Aging, long-declining Utica is coming back, and Baggs Square is an example of that.

Luckily for me, Utica Coffee has a cafe in Clinton, smack on the corner across from the village green. We went there three more times during our visit.

Coffee drinking isn’t all we did on our annual trip north, but it created the most buzz.  The final morning, when Carolynn suggested iced coffee with an espresso shot, I agreed, never dreaming I’d “go to the moon” like “The Honeymooners'” Alice!  To say I “woke the hell up” is to understate. I could’ve driven back to Virginia fueled soley by caffeine.

If the shoe fits…

There are no Manolo Blanik, Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, or Gucci shoes in my closet. I shop at TJMaxx or online at Zappos. I am not a shoe snob, no, but I am a shoe lover. My eight pair of Crocs of various styles and colors, seven pair of Clarks, six pair of Saucony sneakers are proof of my low-brow fetish. Countless other makes and styles make up my collection.

And now, now, I have a pair of the cutest, most comfortable, most me pair of shoes ever!

Daughter Carolynn and I were doing some retail therapy. She spotted the shoes and urged me to try them. I argued. They won’t look good on my horrible feet, I told her, and besides they’re not my size. I wear a 10 and these were a decidedly non-dainty 10.5, for heavens sakes. But they did fit — no cramming, no pain — and honestly, if they hadn’t fit I would’ve bought them anyway and put them on a shelf to admire.

I have uglier feet than the rhizomes on bearded iris. No, really, uglier than the ugliest wicked stepsister. My long boney toes — husband Peter calls them finger toes — are  knobbly, bumpy, veiny. I do not go anywhere, except to the shower, with naked feet. It’s even hard for me to bare my feet for a pedicure.

These perfectly adorable shoes actually look pretty darned good on me. They hide the worst parts of my feet and, because they’re a denimy blue leather with colorful painted-on designs, they Go. With. Everything. When I put them on I preen and prance in front of any reflective surface — electric kettle, shiny wheel covers, shop windows, and mirrors, of course.

All I gotta say is, look out, Cinderella, I am going to the ball with or without Prince Charming.

l’Artiste shoes, très magnifique, oui, and all the prettier because they were marked 40% off.

 

 

‘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.