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.

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.

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?

 

 

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.

Kathie goes west.

In 2011, Peter and I did two back-to-back tours out west to see the Western canyons and Yellowstone. After that, his worsening dementia ended our far-flung trips. And that was the last time I was on an airplane.

But Los Angeles and the 2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists Conference was reason to fly away for a long weekend. I’d won a place in the blogs under 10o,0oo category contest.

Kathie sees the Pacific.

Kathie sees the ocean.

When I received the news, I was thrilled, but I didn’t see how I could go. I thought of dozens of reasons why not: air travel hassles, no fun without someone to go with, could I leave Peter…blah, blah, blah. My daughters, who have never taken my no’s for an answer, said one of them would stay with Peter while the other went with me. Then Leslie suggested I ask Kathie, a fellow writer, who she knew would be a perfect traveling companion. Kathie was delighted to be asked — she’d never been further west than Michigan! — and after some hiccups in her life, she was on board. And so was I.

The laughs began in Charlotte with time to kill between flights. While Kathie bought a Rolling Stone magazine with Prince on the cover, I bought Vanity Fair featuring The Queen. I told her my reading material trumped hers, even though I hated to use that T-word.

Elevator's 'earthquake' button.

Elevator earthquake’ button.

What a fantastic time. We laughed all the way to California, throughout the sessions, and home again. Two full days of the best conference either of us ever attended, two full days of travel. We laughed at the “earthquake button” in the elevator; a menu offering local protein Atlantic salmon; my security scan that made the TSA officer think I’d had a hip replaced in addition to my right knee…or did I, perhaps, have a bomb in my left pocket?

It was thrilling to rub elbows with so many Pulitzer prize winners, hear so many excellent speakers, including Leonard Pitts, and meet so many welcoming people. We felt right at home. Our kind of people.

We each had our share of personal excitement too. I already knew I’d placed as one of three finalists in the columnists “Blog under 100,000” category — I got second — but Kathie won a raffle that enabled her to pitch her screenplay to a Hollywood writer. He was interested in her project, and they’ve been in touch since. Not even a “my people will contact your people” hedging tactic — hooray for Kathie!

And, hoo-ray for Hol-ly-wood!

 

National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2016 contest winner,
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category —
“Dementia isn’t funny…caregiver Judith Clarke looks for laughs every day.”

 

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.

Go one way at a time.

One of my regular morning walks takes me along a street with a boggling array of signs. It has been a one-way street as long as we’ve lived here. There have been many attempts to mark it so that drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians know which way is the right way correct way to travel.

It runs north-ish to south-ish. Walkers and cyclists can travel both ways, cars, one way. In the winter months I can see the street from the window next to my computer. Cars drive the wrong way several times a day.

Not too long ago, someone in the town’s signage department decided to clarify. First, a crew painted a double yellow line, way off-center, along the southbound side of the street. Giant “iron-on” decals show stick people walking and bikes with no riders cycling. On the other side, the wider side, stick-figure cyclists and big arrows are headed in the northerly direction too. There are no clever symbols to direct cars one way, north to south. Maybe that’s why so many cars go both the correct way and the wrong way.

Then, too, there are multiple signs on posts on both ends of the street that contradict each other.

Really, only garbage truck drivers seem to understand. They go the one direction that is allowed for motor vehicles, and if homeowners haven’t placed their garbage cans on the right side of the street, the drivers roll right on by, leaving the garbage to “mellow” for another week.

Perhaps another sign? “Garbage cans go here.”

 

 

596 miles before we sleep.

From Tennessee to the Canadian border, Interstate 81 lays down most of its 854.9 miles in Virginia, 324.9 to be precise. Paralleling the Appalachian Mountains, I-81 follows along Indian and early settler trails. A pretty ride if you’re in the passenger seat, but if you’re the driver zooming along at five or ten or fifteen miles over the limit, you can’t take your eyes off the road .

In Pennsylvania, heavy truck traffic labors up the hills while cars play hopscotch at terrifying speeds. Accidents that tie up traffic for hours are a given, and the drive is bum-numbing for passenger and driver. Until last week, I was always the passenger; now I’m the driver. Peter helped me brake, gasped occasionally, and pointed out interesting sights that I didn’t dare glance at.

Frackville, in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, was our destination, 379 miles from home, an overnight on the way to daughter Carolynn and husband Bill. It’s 596 miles door-to-door. Our stop was planned, but the relentless rain that jammed traffic into bumper-hugs wasn’t on our itinerary. What should have taken five hours, took more than six.

Driving is the best way to get there. Air travel doesn’t take long if you pay for a direct flight, but add in the drive to an airport, hours-early check-in, another hour to their home, and car travel proves quicker and cheaper. Then, when we return in a car stuffed with a huge pumpkin, three mums, gallons of fresh cider, jars of home-canned delights, boxes of cookies, as well as shopping finds and our bags, there are no added fees to pay.

When we neared Frackville, the GPS insisted on “hard right turns.” Wrong. After two loops on and off I-81, I turned hard left and there we were. Cold rain and wind hurried us inside. The motel was terrific — Holiday Inn Express — and there was a super breakfast bar the next morning.

Three more hours on the road and Carolynn, Bill and the dogs were waiting with big smiles, enveloping hugs, and doggy kisses.

The week was packed tighter than our car on the return — gourmet meals, cards, dominoes, dog walks, laughter, talking…lots of talking…especially when Carolynn’s friend Robin was around.

Maple walnut.

My maple walnut yum!

I’d already decided to drive home with no overnight. It is all downhill. We did stop for lunch at Frackville’s Dutch Pantry, noteworthy for its diner history, and treated ourselves to homemade ice cream.

No more non-stop drives in my future, though. Unh uh. I was reeling when we arrived. After 596 miles, my pillow called and visions of the week danced through my dreams.

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.

It’s a small world after all.

Peter and Judy.

Peter and I under the Alaska pipeline.

If you didn’t already know it, you don’t need to go all the way to DisneyLand to find out that it’s a small, small world. Peter and I have traveled many miles from home, and met people who knew people we knew.

We’ve had lovely trips, all squeezed into the few short years after Peter’s retirement and before dementia stole his mind. I’ve already posted a series about our very favorite trip, an African safari (see Contents above). Other series to come. We’ve learned a lot wherever we’ve  gone, most notably that people make the journeys as memorable, as do the sights and sounds.

Alaska, 2006: we made friends with a bubbly, out-going English couple, Linda and Keith. “We live in St. Albans,” she said, “northwest of London.”

“My favorite pub is in St. Albans, The Fighting Cocks,” I told her. “Our friends Martin and Anna took us there, during my first trip to England in 1979.”  Keith asked where our friends lived, then laughed when we said Bushey. The two couples live ten miles apart as the crow flies.

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Steve and Jean in Alaska.

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Me, Peter, and Linda, in St. Albans.

During that same trip we met Jean and Steve, both still English to the bottoms of their plimsoles, though they’ve lived in Australia for forty years. I convinced Jean that we should be “pen pals,” though I had to further convince her to drop her actual pen and use email or she’d never hear from me again. Eight years later we continue to correspond several times a month, and are each other’s shoulder-to-cry on during the bad times. Jean and Steve, Linda and Keith became friends on that trip and have visited each other in their opposite hemispheres of the world. Jean and daughter Karen came here three years ago, and we’ve visited Linda and Keith.

I’ve stayed in touch with another Linda from that trip. She lives in Florida most of the time, but summers in North Carolina. Merriwether — yes, related to Merriwether-Lewis —was one of our guides in Alaska. She mentioned she’d gone to Hollins College, not far from here.  When I told her where we lived she launched into the Virginia Tech fight song.

England, Ireland, Scotland, 2010: On our “Circumnavigation of the British Isles” we met a New Hampshire couple. When we said we’d moved to Virginia from a village in upstate New York, they asked what village?

“Clinton,” I said.

“Clinton! Hamilton College! I went to Hamilton.”

He leaned in close. “Ever hear about the hockey ref at Hamilton?  The guy who stomped his skate down on a player’s throat?”

“Yikes! No! Probably happened before we moved there.”

“He was an Indian fellow — Native American — who was always barefoot.”

“Oh-h, Indian Joe,” I said. “He was our neighbor.”

I’d never heard the hockey story, but verified that he did indeed go barefoot even in our bitter snowy winters. He was famous for his garlic too. To this day, I grow Indian Joe’s garlic. I keep it going, sort of like friendship bread.

Small world.

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Janet and David

The Canyons and Yellowstone, 2011: At the orientation meeting, there was a man wearing a maroon and orange Virginia Tech Hokies’ sweatshirt. He beamed. “You folks are from Blacksburg, aren’t you?” David graduated from VT, his wife, Janet, from Radford University. They’re Virginia residents, and we keep in touch.

Netherlands, 2008: On a tulip-time riverboat trip we enjoyed Sally and Lee whose son, we learned, had graduated from VT, and whose thesis advisor lives five houses down our street.

Mexico, 2008: Too bad we didn’t do our whale-watching trip to Baja California before we went to Alaska because we had a lot of laughs with Candy and Mike who live in Anchorage. We might have been able to visit them in their own habitat.

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Martin, Anna, Peter, me, Haute Cagne, France.

Our Bushey, England friends, Anna and Martin, have a place on the south coast of France. Several years ago they called to say they’d met Americans Beverly and Joel who vacation there several times a year. Joel introduced himself saying, “We’re from a little town in Virginia you won’t have heard of— Blacksburg.”

“We have friends there!” Martin said. Turns out we live a block apart.

 

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Peter and I on a Zodiac in Alaska.

Our African safari remains our favorite overall, but the Alaskan voyage on a tiny ship was equally special because we met so many people we still count as friends.