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.

‘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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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Gallery

Christmas comes once a year: October to December 25!

This gallery contains 8 photos.

I hate to admit that I’m just not into Christmas anymore. I took heart this year when a few major retailers decided against staying open on Thanksgiving. And, too, Black Friday was a bit of a flop.  That’s reason enough for Scrooges like me to celebrate. The last few years I’ve dragged my chains about decorating for Christmas. I’ve always […]

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

Another memorable weekend.

Mountain Laurel was in full bloom — exquisite!

Decoration Day, as designated in 1868, was the original name of what we now call Memorial Day. The original date, unchanged for 103 years, was May 30. In 1971, the National Holiday Act moved the date to the last Monday in May to ensure a three-day Federal holiday. I’ve groused about it ever since.

I remember the days when I swooped high in my rope swing over the bed of purple “flags” — iris — mom grew at the bottom of our back yard. The days when the marching band pounded up Main Street, while bicycles fluttered by, cards attached to their spokes with clothespins. Days when dad fried “hamburgs,” as he called them, on the old river stone fireplace in the back yard, and when Great Aunt Daisy entertained us when she tried to eat corn-on-the-cob with her loose dentures.

This year’s Memorial Day was memorable, too.

I confess, I didn’t think of the significance of the actual date until we arrived home that evening. This year, the last Monday fell on May 25, precisely forty-one years after the Memorial Day of our very first date, Peter’s and mine.

We spent that day in the woods, too, at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley, hiking unaware towards a flock of wild turkeys who scared us into the next county. This year we were in the woods too, but on the southeast side of the Blue Ridge, at daughter Leslie and son-in-law Martin’s little cabin.

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Lettuce awaits the salad bowl.

The weather was absolute perfection. Dense thickets of Mountain Laurel filled the woods, Fire Pink lurked amongst the ferns, while Spiderwort and Dames Rocket purpled the undergrowth. We helped weed the vegetable garden, ate the first of the lettuce and the last of the rhubarb. Even weeding is fun when soft warm breezes brush by.

We sat on the deck in the glow of a sunset, on the front porch to swing in the early mornings, and on the screened porch to eat our meals and listen to the river below.

The very best part of the weekend came when we arrived home. “Thank you,” Peter said.

I looked at him, surprised. “What for?” I asked.

“For driving me there — wish I could still drive. But it was a nice weekend. Couldn’t have asked for better weather,” he said.

Wow.

Gallery

Can you keep a secret?

This gallery contains 11 photos.

You don’t have to go far afield to see beautiful scenery in our little corner of Virginia. The Blue Ridge Mountains edge the eastern side of our valley, the Appalachians, the west. Gentle hills, rollicking streams, and the impressive New River all inspire photographers. The first week of May was absolutely glorious in these parts. Mother Nature showed […]

Become! Believe!

This is a post from last year when I was laden with humbuggedness. Scrooge, actually moved over!
But then I discovered the movie “Becoming Santa” and my spirit was renewed.
Mother Nature isn’t promising snow for southwest Virginia again this holiday season, 
and the weather, to my mind, is frightful — rainy, gray, almost balmy.
So it’s time to watch my new favorite Christmas movie again…tonight!

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As I sat down to try to write a jolly Christmas post yesterday, there was a huge swath of snow and blustery weather swooping across the middle of the country and up into Canada. That stretch of North America has looked a lot like Christmas for several weeks already.

Here? Well, I had the windows open and my fa lala was more off key than ever.  But, within the hour daugher Carolynn and  husband Bill arrived from the little village in upstate New York where we’d lived for seventeen years, me ever glorying in the deep, cold, snowy white winters, husband Peter, not so much.

In the previous post, “Deck my halls, please,” I groaned and humbugged about my severely diminished, ghostly spirit this year.  But more than an hour past my bedtime on the shortest day of the year, if I could have gotten onto our rooftop I would have shouted, “I FOUND IT!  IT’S BA-A-ACK!”

We’d all just watched a wonderful Christmas movie.  Believe me when I say it’s better than any version of Dicken’s “Christmas carol,” “It’s a wonderful life,” “Love, actually,” “Christmas Story,” “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer” or any other holiday movie you can name.

“Becoming Santa” (2011), is destined to become a classic, mark my words.  I found it buried deep in the “Documentary” heading on Netflix, but a quick search on-line showed that it’s available on iTunes and Amazon as well.  Treat yourself, stop what you’re doing, watch it now!

Writer/actor/star, Jack Sanderson, is a young man — mid-forties is young to me — who lost his Christmas spirit after his mother died a few years ago.  She was an enthusiastic Christmas-lover, so her death, followed not long after by his father’s passing, threw Jack into a tailspin. Then, he was inspired by a photo he’d never seen of his father playing Santa for neighborhood children.

He decides to become a Santa too, to give back, in other words.  He has his hair and beard professionally bleached and styled, gets fitted for a suit and goes to Santa school,  a film crew in tow to record the experience.

This movie has everything — laughs, sweet tears, adorable children, inspiration, dedication, hope.  What “Becoming Santa” does not have is violence, mayhem, war or foul language,  I could’ve watched it right through again, it was that good.

Jack seems determined to become Santa, but occasionally he expresses doubts.  He goes to Santa school to learn the basics — always say “children” instead of “kids,” for instance, and always “Ho, ho, ho,” never just one “ho” nor more than three.

You wonder as he wanders, musing, reflecting. Will he last, or won’t he?

There’s a lot more to the film than Jack’s own quest — Santa experts, historians, professional Santas weigh in as well. Two common threads tie it into a beautiful package: a genuine love for children and an understanding of how important Santa is to them. The “sneak and peak” segment near the end is tear-inducing, but in a good way.

This morning I’m revitalized, imbued with spirit and holiday glee.  All I need now is seasonal — make that North Pole-like — weather.

Carolynn hadn’t packed a snowball in the large cooler Bill lugged inside yesterday, but it was filled with all-important special ham and Polish sausages.  She did bring a big carton containing dozens of special cookies, and the astounding surprise of homemade peppermint marshmallows her friend Robin sent along for us.

Believe, believe!