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.

‘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.

 

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.

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Road trip.

The furthest we go from home these days is 596 miles to visit daughter Carolynn and son-in-law Bill in upstate New York. September is the perfect time . Warm days, crispy mornings, leaves getting their reds and oranges on, pumpkins beaming sunny smiles along the roads.

Before we left home mid-month, Carolynn wanted to know what I’d like to do while there. Easy answer:
1. Sit on the porch and do nothing.
2. Sit on the porch and read.
3. Sit on the porch and play canasta.
4. Eat at Symeon’s, our favorite restaurant.
5. Spend a day in the Adirondack Mountains.
6. Get together with a young old friend, Lisa

 

Lisa, #6, drove two hours to meet me in the little village where Peter and I lived for seventeen years. We reckoned it had been twenty years since we’d seen each other. That time, we met at the Utica Zoo, me with grandchildren Samantha and Jeremiah, screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-4-42-25-pmthen two and seven, and her with daughter Kristin, five. Her son Eric wasn’t on the horizon then. Twenty years! We’d worked at General Electric at the same time, she a recent college grad about Carolynn’s age, me, old enough to mother her, though she said I mentored. We talked Wednesday afternoon away. That evening sheimg_4140 texted to say she’d forgotten to give me the small gift she’d brought along. I’d already pulled away when she remembered, so she gave the package to the bartender at Nola’s to keep for me. When I went to pick it up there was an boisterous crowd at the bar. A couple of young women had heard the story of our meeting after so many years and begged me to open the gift right then so they could see it! The little box contained earrings made from old typewriter keys. Perfect.

That day was a bright note that week, along with a glissando of other bright notes. Carolynn, friend Robin and I went to lunch, to shop, and to watch Bridget Jones deliver her baby. We did everything on my list, and more. Our day in the Adirondacks, #5 on my list, was picture perfect. What more could anyone ask of a road trip?

 

 

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.

 

 

Art imitates nature …beautifully.

Magical…Whimsical…Enchanting…Brilliant…Colorful…Kaleidoscopic…Capricious…
Eccentric…Fanciful…Humorous…Witty…Imaginative…

Obviously, it was wisp-clad pixies with wands made of spider webs and spun glass who created the 2016 “Art in the Garden” exhibit at the Hahn Horticulture Gardens at Virginia Tech.  The fanciful displays are spread across the garden’s six acres which are, as always, stunning.

It was impossible to pick favorites, but certainly Richard Hammer’s “Glorious Glass Flowers” and “Kaleidoscope Flutters By” by the Textile Artists of Virginia (TAVA) are magical. I wished for a thesaurus specific to the exhibits created by the more than 50 pixies artisans of southwest Virginia.

As we did last year, daughter Leslie and I toured the installations first, then retreated to the blessedly cool wisteria arbor for our lunch of cheese and crackers, grapes and tea. We’ve had torrential rain for several weeks, so Thursday’s blinding sun felt doubly hot. Sweat poured off us as if  we were standing in a shower without benefit of soap and towel. The Floyd Quilters’ Group “Leaf it to Quilters” fluttered above us in the breeze while we ate. Autumn’s cool to come sighed through.

 

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For more information: http://www.hort.vt.edu/hhg/elemental/2016/Flyer.pdf

 

Any place we go is some place.

When I began writing this blog three years ago I planned to write about our travels and other topics that could fit, however loosely, under the heading wherever you go, there you are.  The scope of that plan has narrowed as if I were looking through the wrong end of  my binoculars. What used to be limited only by our wallets, is now limited because going anywhere at all is an upset to my husband’s worsening dementia.

Nowadays, going to the grocery with me, a meal at a favorite restaurant, a movie at the Lyric, a walk through a different neighborhood, are “trips.” I tell Peter, any place we go is some place!

Travel these days is so difficult that I don’t mind. Peter would like to go like we once did, but knows it wouldn’t be the same. So I show him photos and remind him of the funny things that happened on our travels, our final trip for instance. We headed southwest to the Canyons, with a piggybacked week at Yellowstone.

Yes, there was a big scare, but also events worth remembering and laughing about.

I had to be helped in and out of the vans we traveled in because of my bum knee. Hiking was painful, bone grating on bone. Plus, I huffed and puffed like the magic dragon. I’d trudge a few yards on a trail, then rest. So much for telling our guide that I was conditioned and could hike several miles easily. There were only five in our group and I was the drag, the lead weight, the anchor scraping bottom.

After we got home, I saw the doctor for a follow-up to a stress test I’d had earlier. He asked where we’d been. I told him and said that between my aching knee and my breathlessness I wasn’t able to hike like I used to. “Why didn’t you tell me where you were going?” he asked. “That altitude is tough for anyone not used to it. I could’ve given you something to help.”

“It never occurred to me to call,” I said. “I’m in good shape, except for my knee, and we’ve hiked a lot over the years…”

“But I could have prescribed something  — Cialis probably— so you wouldn’t have a problem…”

“Um-m, excuse me, but why would that have helped me?” 

He explained that the med reduces pulmonary artery pressure at high altitudes, and thus increases ability to exercise in low oxygen conditions.

Oh how we’ve laughed over what might’ve “cured” my breathlessness.

Color July happy.

The peacefulness, the quiet, the river running through all make “The River,” as we call it, one of my very favorite places. Our very small family all gathered there July Fourth weekend — Leslie and Martin, their Samantha and Jeremiah, Sam’s friend Hannah, Carolynn and Bill, Peter and me. Oh, and the dogs Tillie, Huckleberry, Gooseberry, and Nobby.

Such a special time for so many reasons. The holiday weekend was extended because Carolynn and Bill stayed through Friday, and that gave us extra time to do what we do best — eat, shop, talk, play cards, wade, swim, laugh, color, and, did I say, eat?

Color July watermelon red, homemade vanilla ice cream white, and blueberry pie blue. Then add peach pie gold, summer green salad, strawberry ice cream pink, and fresh corn yellow. Add in the grilled shades of beef tenderloin, Polish sausage, and beer butt chicken to picture our feasts.

Coloring July Fourth.

 

A rose by any other name.

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There! Down an alley where I’ve walked for years, peeking into back gardens as I go.

There! A white picket fence, leaning with their weight.

There! Fulsome, cascading, blushing, palest pink roses. Their delicate scent wafts bringing childhood memories.

Likely, the rose has been there a very long time, but if so, I never noticed. Did the springtime’s flooding rains cause extra bounteous blooms?

VanDyke is the name of this beauty. When I was a little girl, the same rose climbed a trellis on the back of our house, then lolloped over the gate and along our picket fence. I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my whole life, I once announced solemnly. I would stand beneath its fragrant shade for hours, strange child that I was.

Of course, I’m not really sure if this one is a VanDyke rose, nor am I sure I even remember the name correctly. I could knock on the front door. Ask. But I want to believe I remember the strange-sounding name my daddy told me more than seventy years ago.

If it isn’t the same rose, it’s as pretty as the one from my childhood and it smells as sweet.

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Plants well traveled.

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Oranges slices in the early-morning sunshine—poppies.

When we moved from the north to mid-south eighteen years ago, I brought seeds and cuttings from my gardens. Tiny poppy seeds traveled in an envelope, while boxes contained purple, yellow and pink lupins, purple sage, summer savory, daylilies, lemon thyme, lambs’ ears, sedum, succulents, Solomon’s seal, wild daisies, wood violets, even prolific mint.

Everything thrived except the lupins and poppies. But then, two years ago, a troupe of poppies appeared, and this year, in the shelter of a red rose, a pink lupin showed up. Up north, we had masses of purple lupins, but I coveted the few pink ones. I’m thrilled to have one again and I’m babying it with wood ash and alpaca “tea.”

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This beauty reminds me of my grandmother’s quilted satin bathrobe.

DSC01458Now poppies dance in the breeze every spring. Their blooms last just a day, but there are more the next. They reseed with abandon.

As delighted as I am to see the lupin and poppies, I especially love the graceful Solomon’s seal that hugs the base of our sugar maple. They lived in the shadows of two 150 year-old sugar maples at our old home, so I knew they’d love their new situation here. They’ve spread nicely, a rippling, varigated skirt around the tree.

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Solomon’s Seal is culturally significant for its medicinal and restorative properties according to North American tribal peoples.

Orange day lilies? Why did I move a plant that grows like a weed most anywhere? Well, because my parents  brought clumps of them from Ohio to my first home in Virginia, so I moved some on to upstate New York with us. Now they’ve xome back to Virginia. A circle complete.

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Well-traveled day lilies.

 

 

Here we are now and here’s where we’ve been.

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2015 Staycation.

Peter and I were lucky enough to be able to cram in a number of wonderful trips in a few short years. We loved where we went and we’d go again, if we could!

The Botswana safari was the best. I posted a  series about that adventure. The Norway trip was a lifelong dream for me, likewise going to Netherlands at tulip time.

We journeyed up the Pacific coast from Vancouver to Alaska in a bathtoy-sized ship, and by land on to Mount McKinley. We made friends we’ll never forget. Another year we crossed Canada by rail, west to east, and the next year, we sailed around the British Isles on a voyage to discover the mysteries and beauties of ancient peoples, Not even my English husband knew about most of the places we explored.

In another small ship, we endured eighteen hours of seasickness to get to the San Ignacio lagoon on the west side of Baja California, Mexico. There we were able to touch the young gray whales when their mothers brought them to us. Back south and up the east side of the peninsula into the Sea of Cortez we saw most of the indigenous whales, including the great blues.

Our final trip, five years ago, was west to the glorious canyons of Utah and Arizona, and the wonders of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in the northern Rockies. Breathtaking.

Our trips now are only local ones. Neither of us minds that our suitcases are packed away, our passports, expired. Air travel these days is worse than ever with all the restrictions, implied threats, added costs, delays, deleted services. We’re happy to stay home, thankful to have lovely trips to remember…well, I remember, Peter looks at the pictures:

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The week that hummed.

Baja Judy

Eight years ago and 3100 miles from home, I petted a baby gray whale. We were on a NatGeo photographers’ whale-watching trip off Baja California, Mexico. Of eight people in our Zodiac I was the only one who hadn’t  touched a whale, but just as we were about to return to ship, a mama whale nudged her baby up to me and held him there. It remains one of the biggest thrills of my life.

Last week I snuggled with a young alpaca — Trenton — sweet, gentle, soft, sweet-smelling Trenton.  He ranks right next to that little whale.

Trenton lives with sixty-some other alpacas about seven miles from our door. The visit to Poplar Hill Alpacas was just one event in Carolynn’s and friend Robin’s springtime visit to us. My eldest has loved alpacas for years. She has a folder bulging with information about them and a dream as high as the Peruvian Andes where they come from.

Owner Pat Fuller gave the five of us — Carolynn, Robin, Leslie, Peter, me — a tour that lasted nearly two hours. We went into the barn and paddocks with the animals, and she urged us to pet them. Cuddles were encouraged too as long as we held them firmly around their necks. The day was sunny and too warm for the fleece-coated ‘pacas, but they submitted to our clinging hugs willingly.

And they hummed, as alpacas do.

Another day we visited a stunning exhibit, Jennifer Carpenter’s “Colored Pencil in Bloom,” at the Peggy Hahn Pavilion in the VT Hort Gardens. Then we had an alfresco picnic under some pines.

Sunday, Leslie set a beautiful table and fixed a traditional English dinner — roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and veg, trifle — to commemorate the “Downton Abbey” series finale.

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Robin bakes.

We had several meals out, plus Carolynn made creamy chicken soup one evening, and Robin’s favorite birthday meal another — colcannon, sausages, carrots in horseradish sauce, and lemon curd with cream for dessert). I was permitted to prepare lunches, and Robin demanded baking time to add to the supply of delights she brought to us — Irish soda bread, cheddar crisps, raspberry chocolate bars, mincemeat cookies, ginger snaps, marshmallows.

Every day was feast day all day long!

In addition to card games, our evening entertainment included the hilarious “Meet the Patels” on Netflix, and “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot” at the cinema. We also went to “Lady in a Van” to see Maggie Smith as a homeless, wheelchair bound character. Instead we saw “45 Years” because I had the dates mixed up!  A grim movie, but I liked it. Carolynn, Robin and especially Peter glared when the credits rolled.

All in all, everything about the week was lovely. It proved you don’t have to leave home to have a good time. Well, except for Carolynn and Robin. They traveled 1192 miles round trip.

Now back in her routine, I know Carolynn is having alpaca dreams that will come true one day.