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.

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah…

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Photo, Missouri Department of Conservation.

Bluebirds, maybe a dozen in all, zipped around our feeders and vacated birdhouses one very cold morning. There were no mealworms for them, but a few snacked on seeds. Several went into the houses for a few minutes shelter. If they’d had silk ribbons in their beaks they might have been drawing a Disney scene in blue.

I didn’t have to go further than my kitchen window to see them. I stood there drinking coffee, while waiting for my toast to pop. I didn’t think to grab my phone or camera, didn’t think to grab a bird book from the shelf right behind me.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 9.12.52 AMBluebirds are year-round residents in our area, and including most of Pennsylvania south and diagonally westward to the middle of Texas. Even so, we seldom see them here in winter. That energetic blue flock was a wonderful beginning to a winter day.

I have a feeling they were being chased by the howling wind and bitter cold being shoved south and east by an Arctic clipper. The bluebirds certainly weren’t looking for available real estate to raise their young at this time of year. When the season is right, this custom bluebird condo, built by  son-in-law Bill, is ready for them.

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"Zip-a-dee-ay…wonderful feeling, wonderful day."

Encore! Encore!

Snowflakes pirouetted like ballerinas in crystalline tutus.  Scrims of white came in flurries, gusts, and wind-pushed whooshes. Allegro!

Snow, billowing, beautiful snow.

At last. Nearly two weeks past the white Christmas I dreamed of. Bundled up in layers for the first time this so-called winter, off I went walking…and singing…

For the past several weeks, and months too early, quince blossoms glowed dusky pink, golden jasmine wafted forsythia-like, and daffodils pushed one, two, six inches out of the ground. The Lenten roses opened too, and a cherry tree budded out at the edge of an apple orchard. I opened windows and doors to the spring-like air. We sat outside to have our tea, played cards in the sun.

Too early, too soon.

Retailers complained that winter apparel isn’t selling. People dashed about in shorts and flip-flops.

Today, the wind is cold, the thermometer is stuck below freezing, and the heat creaks on and off frequently. More, more. Encore!

P-o-z-y-n-y-i spells Xmas.

As the years go by I get more and more Scrooged-up about the holidays. This season my mood has been especially glum. The weather is just too darned warm for December. If I wanted warm I’d head to Florida.

But I’m not a warm lover. I need snow and cold and fireplace aglow. If I were to light my fire now, I’d have to sit outside and enjoy it through the window.

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S-n-o-w spells happy on our tree, ’cause when mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.

Yesterday though, the tiniest scintilla of spirit crept in when I tackled the traditional Hungarian pastry I learned to make when I was pregnant with my youngest, Leslie. Fifty-two years — with three lapses — I’ve been doing this.

As I shoveled the four cups of flour onto my big board, I thought how much it looked like snow, softly drifting. And as I proofed the yeast that had passed its sell-by date seven years ago, I marveled at the miracle that it was still active. In fact, that dough didn’t double in size, it tripled.

The smell of the yeast, the whiff of vanilla, the mysterious face that loomed out of my yet-to-be-mixed raisin filling, evoked the scent of happy holidays remembered…happily.

 

 

Please, ease into Christmas.

A week into November already — GAK! Don’t misunderstand, I love the gray lady month wrapped in fog and wind. Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is just around the corner. Brilliant orange bittersweet drapes branches and fenceposts. Pumpkins’ smiles have drooped a bit, but they still brighten rainy days.

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Sweet, the bittersweet.

But, wait, where are all the golds, oranges, rusts, and browns of autumn in the stores? Chocolate kisses, snugged in red, green and silverScreen Shot 2015-11-09 at 9.32.13 AM foil fill, shelves where just last week, Halloween colors reigned. Sparkly Christmas garlands drape the aisles and already carols pierce the airwaves. Humbug.

Too soon, too soon.

Come September’s end, I sidle into fall. I get out my earth-toned napkins, find my fabric pumpkins, lay in a supply of Reese’s cups for Halloween, and collect pretty leaves to iron between wax paper. I display my special Halloween books too — A Small Book of Grave Humour, Fritz Spiegl, Haunted England, Terrence Whitaker, and Ghosts in Residence, H.A. von Behr.

Then, BOO, gone. September. October. POOF, as if a ghostly hand ripped November out of the year. Our unique American holiday becomes a footnote, passed over like cold mashed potatoes and congealed gravy. Retailers gear up for Christmas weeks before turkey and cranberries are on the shopping list.

 

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Centerpiece waits for Christmas.

Last year I prolonged my favorite holiday by updating my autumn centerpiece with little silver balls and fluttering icicles to meld November into December gently. I’ll do it again this year…after Thanksgiving.

 

 

©Ryan Owen’s Autumn & Hershey Kisses

This is a bluebird day!

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This morning started well. When I asked Nobby if he wanted to go for a walk he leapt right up and did his happy dance. Usually he waits for Peter, but sometimes it’s a long wait. My husband is not a morning person.

Across Main Street we went and up the hill towards the golf course. The humidity of recent days had evaporated. What a pleasant, sunny morning. 

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

While Nobby sniffed every blade of grass, I had plenty of time to gaze at the mountain views and enjoy the day. Suddenly, a bluebird flew out of a tree a few feet away, followed quickly by a second. 

We walked a bit further, then two more bluebirds zipped out of the next tree, and further still, I saw fifth and sixth streaks of blue, then seventh and eighth!

OK, I suspect it was really two bluebirds times four sightings, but it’s still a bluebird day.

As long as there are bluebirds, then there will be miracles and a way to find happiness.”

 — Shirl Brunnell, I Hear Bluebirds, 1984

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Woolwine House Bluebird Trail, Patrick County. Virginiabluebirds.org photo

 

Education, cultivation, imagination.

The only thing better than having tea and homemade peach muffins in a wisteria-covered pergola with daughter Leslie would have been to have tea and peach muffins with both daughters in that same pergola, but with the wisteria in bloom. Carolynn lives too far away for spur-o-moment outings.

Leslie and I visited the inventive, wildly imaginative “Simply Elemental” installation at the Hahn Horticulture Garden this week. It was fantastical.

Local artists used varied materials — mannequin parts, oil drums, fabrics and ribbons, glass, construction project remains, and rust —  to create the show. One goal that inspired the group was to demonstrate that art doesn’t have to be framed or permanent to be enjoyed.

We enjoyed.

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The “Best College Review” website recently featured the one hundred most beautiful college campuses in America. Virginia Tech, number 52, was characterized with a photo of the iconic Burruss Hall. Here’s an excerpt from the text:

The Peggy Lee Hahn Horticulture Garden is a stunning spot on [Virginia Tech’s] 2600 acre grounds, adding considerable natural beauty to the school’s main…campus. Maples and dwarf conifers grace the lush, almost six-acre cultivated space, as do eye-catching wisteria flowers and a fish-filled stream that is 200 feet long. …

We who live here already knew about the Garden’s “considerable beauty.” Now we know about its considerable sense of humor, too.

The installation will be in place through September 30.

A garden as autobiography.

 

Beautiful gardens aren’t just about the flowers. Last month’s Friends of the Library Garden Tour was memorable for more than just the plantings. Yes, the flowers were lush, the colors, vivid, but it was the settings and the expanses, that captured my husband and me.

We drove along roads we hadn’t traveled before to visit seven gardens scattered across the county.

It would be hard to pick favorites, but the 1800s farmhouse lorded over by huge sycamores was special. A swooping green swathe to one side led to a gazebo perched atop a spring. The tiny stream, crisscrossed by little foot bridges, caught my fancy. Old-log guest houses nestled around the original house like chicks to a mother hen. A cellist and a violinist kept time with the breezes.

Oh, and the rope swing, did I mention the rope swing hanging high from the tallest sycamore? I wanted try it, but when I attempted to lower myself onto the wooden seat, my knees wouldn’t cooperate. Its height was set for little children. Just as well, I might have launched myself into the next county if I’d been able to soar as high as it could go.

Another garden’s entrance was framed by an old catalpa tree. Set against a hillside, the back of the original farmhouse was ringed by brilliant day lilies as colorful as ladies’ hats at an English wedding. Conifers, hardwoods, and shrubs intermingled perfectly. Interesting rocks and glittering crystals lay amongst the plantings — jewels on grandmother’s Sunday dress. Best of all was an old log cabin set into the scape. The vast field up and away to the right and back of the house hinted at more joy beyond.

A third garden, edged by a stream, had a decidedly fairytale look. Large trees hovered and whimsical touches all ’round made me wonder if three bears or maybe seven little people lived there. The large koi pond was punctuated with stepping stones and bright orange table and chairs. The owners accessorize their garden with “hand-me-downs, found objects, and thrift store purchases.”

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This trio of pictures, taken at my favorite garden, exemplify my blog’s name: Wherever you go…there you are.

Each of the gardens on the tour had their own special magic, memories brought home to caption my photos from that “once upon a time” day.

 

Click on photos to enlarge them; use arrows to scroll through each grouping.