Dog days of summer.

Our summer in southwest Virginia had more than its share of dies caniculares, dog days. And none more so than Labor Day weekend at one of my very favorite spots, Leslie and Martin’s river house.

Granddaughter Samantha and three friends, Hannah, Clare, and Bridget, were there for the long weekend with their dogs, Huckleberry, Gooseberry and Hopper. Peter, Nobby and I went for a few hours on Sunday. Peter lives in a memory care center now, so the outing was a treat for him…for both of us. When we arrived he remembered having been there before.

The day was gorgeous though bloody hot. We arrived in time for brunch and feasted on Sam’s veggie frittata, as well as mixed fruits, mimosas and coffee. All I had to do was remember to bring the champagne. The girls—to Gram they’re girls—zipped down to the river after we ate, while we four of certain ages played dominoes and cards.

The best part of the day was the laughter Sam always generates, enhanced by her friends’ asides. You’d never guess from these photos that Peter no longer knows the names of anyone pictured except Nobby’s and mine.To be fair, he’d only met Clare once, and had never met Bridget. But he plays dominos as skillfully as ever, and still offers up one-liners to make us chuckle.

The blinding storm on our return trip up the mountain turned the curvy road into a slick river strewn with rocks and branches. We dodged one monster limb that would surely have crushed a car had it landed on the roof. Peter helped drive by clutching the armrest and yelping when I punched the wrong button for the emergency blinkers, opening sunroof button instead! We were quite damp before the thing slid back in place.

But the skies cleared by the time we got to the Floyd Country Store for ice cream cones as luscious tasting as the fluffy clouds above looked.

It was a good day.

The ancient Romans called the hottest, most humid days of summer dies caniculares, dog days. Such days were associated with the dog star Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major.

Augusts past.

It’s been eight-and-a-bit months since I posted here. Tsk.  On January 17 I wrote about a favorite trip we took in August 2017! Thirteen months have passed. Tsk tsk.

Time flies.

In the 12 years following husband Peter’s retirement and before dementia tightened its grip, we were lucky enough to have a lot of wonderful trips—to Norway, Africa, Netherlands, to Mexico, Alaska, and Canada, plus several trips to England. But the August trip in 2017 was his last to a favorite destination—upstate New York where daughter Carolynn and her husband Bill live, and where we’d lived for 17 years. Not that Peter remembered we lived there, nor the house that we lived in all that time.

Last month I visited on my own—Peter is now in a memory care facility. I’d thought I might drive the 596 miles, stopping halfway like we did in previous years. But Leslie convinced me to fly. “You’ll be so tired, Mom. That’s such a long drive by yourself.”

I argued I’d been doing all the driving for several years, though Peter was along for company. He couldn’t help with the driving, but he was there, not talking, but there. That did help.

So I flew. I was nervous. Silly, really, because I traveled alone when I worked, plus all the trips Peter and I took involved long flights to unfamiliar places. Still, I managed to get myself to New York even though I overslept because I’d set my alarm to 6:15 p.m. instead of 6:15 a.m.

Carolynn was waiting in Syracuse and she whisked me eastward across the NYSThruway to home away from home.

The miserable hot weather didn’t do us any favors that week, nor did the almost daily drenchings, but it was all good. A pretty hike at Chittenango State Park, shopping and, best of all, I helped process honey. In truth I couldn’t spin the honey fast enough or for very long, so I sat on a chair and held a heat gun at the side of the stainless steel drum while Carolynn and her honey of a helper, Robin, turned it.

The buzz.

Last year Carolynn finally realized one of her long-held dreams when she bought the equipment needed to raise bees and gather their honey. With the bees came a Bill-built shelter for the hives. This year he outdid himself when he built a honey house that is part she-shack, part bee-shack. Seeing it for the first time was enough to make me think about keeping bees too.

Nearly all the materials and most of the furnishings were reclaimed from garage and builder’s sales, from the side of the road, and from Peter’s workshop. It is such a “bee-utiful” space where the Queen Bee hosted me, Robin and her mom Pat at a relaxing, scrumptious lunch—puff pastry quiche, fresh fruit, and honey cupcakes—plus hotly contested rounds of canasta.

So, would I go there again? You betcha.

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.

 

 

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!

 

 

‘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.

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?

 

High on adjectives!

At the end of the 1950’s, most girls my age swooned over Elvis Presley. I was goggly-eyed over Pat Boone. “Love me tender” versus “Speedy Gonzales.” The popular girls were cheerleaders and majorettes. I played string bass in the orchestra.

Woodstock? Beatles? I scoffed throughout that era. The very idea. I came to love the Beatles, though I never could have endured Woodstock. All that mud! Yech.

Years before we knew each other, my husband went to see Bette Midler in concert. I saw Neil Diamond. Neither of those events were anything like a recent Friday night in our little town.

Roget doesn’t have enough adjectives in his thesaurus to describe the evening: loud, steamy, laugh-filled, hilarious, sweet, joyous, sultry, ribald, brilliant. sparkling, cacophonous, delirious, silly, energetic, sweaty, boisterous, entertaining, and crazy were the words I jotted down.

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-9-48-23-amNearly twenty years ago, daughter Leslie gave Peter a Squirrel Nut Zippers “Perennial Favorites” CD. He loved it. Even stuffy ol’ me got into it. I turned into a teeny-bopper fifty years too late. Leslie loved SNZ too, but she was a mere thirty-something at the time. This year, as her October birthday approached, I saw that SNZippers were coming to town. Did she and Martin want to go?

Yes they did.

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-2-10-42-pm

Squirrel Nut Zippers reborn and on tour!

There we four were, orchestra seats, eight rows back, and there they were, blasting the theater with frolicsome, earsplitting, eyeball-popping, sweat-streaming musical madness.

Many from the audience crammed in front of the stage, dancing, hopping, jiving, singing. It was ninety-plus minutes of laugh-inducing, foot-stomping, hand-clapping hilarity. My tapping foot wanted to dance, but the rest of me played possum.

When I was as young as most of the crowd, I would have sniffed at the music and the antics. But all these decades later, I got the groove…if that’s how one would say it.

animal-17819__340

Rock on, Grandma.

 

Dark shadows brilliant weekend.

Gorgeous day. Bluest sky framed by towering trees. Piercing shafts of sunshine spotlight the mountain road. Inky shadows, breeze-tossed.

We swooped down the kinky hairpin curves. One black shadow moved from left to right. I goosed the gas, just enough I hoped, to get out of the way, yet not lose control. That big black bear surely would have sent us tailpipe over steering wheel. There are no guard rails there.

Heart attack-making few seconds, survived! The shadow bear swift-stepped behind our car, and dodged another.

Whose heart thumped loudest?

Otherwise the weekend was lovely. Autumn hinted at as leaves drifted onto the river like paint dripped from a brush. A lazy few days floating and swimming in water barely warm enough.

Five adults and four dogs spelled m-a-y-h-e-m at times. Our Nobby, usually a kindly soul, yaps incessantly in the river.  We think he doesn’t want anyone to get too far away, though goodness knows, he can’t, won’t, swim to the rescue.

A flotilla of inner tubed children giggled past, captained by two dads. “Is this the parking lot?” the oldest asked. “Another mile or so,” we say. Do we look like a parking lot, we think.

Then kayaks and canoe, young boys, a dad, and three unwilling dog-passengers paddled by. Tillie, the oldest of our canines, defended her right to that patch of river and followed them, yipping. She splashed through rocky shallows, swam where she could, and at last turned back, her job done.

A stunning butterfly shimmered and flitted around us. It landed on bare belly and arm, dog’s back and chair — Blue Morpho Menelaus. Its final fling at summer’s end?

In this getaway place I sleep deeper, longer, better. I sit and read and, in renewal of a favorite childhood pastime, color.

Our granddaughter blended her culinary skills with her mother’s and they produced a meal that mingled tastes perfect for a new September. And me? Gram’s heralded pie-making skill hit bottom. The. Worst. Pie. Ever. Gray puffs of smoke curled from the oven before we realized that, instead of turning the oven down to 350 degrees, I’d turned it up to 530 degrees! Apple pie, its sugary milk glaze burned, was unrecognizable. We ate it anyway.

There are no photos of the bear.