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.

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.

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.

‘Gardens and flowers have a way of bringing people together…’

We’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the most famous gardens in the world including Kew, Sissinghurst, and Kensington in England, Netherlands’ Keukenhof at tulip time, the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, Montreal’s Botanic Gardens, to name a few.

On July 8 we toured seven outstanding gardens right here in Montgomery County, Virginia, during the 22nd annual New River Valley Garden Tour, the best yet. I emoted all the way home.

They are different from each other, each enviable in unique ways, but if I had to pick just one, it would be the one where rust prevailed. Yup, rust.

The Angle-Relf garden is tucked away on a narrow winding road, set on a hill hidden from view if you headed east. The couple bought the rundown 40-year-old house in 1976 and set about taming its weed-covered four acres that was overly populated with locust and cedar.

To call their creative idyll imaginative is to beg a look at a Thesaurus for better adjectives to do it justice, perhaps fanciful or inspired or quixotic. The pair reclaim and recycle with humor and vision, and always with rusty overtones.

 

This year’s seven gardens, the Angle-Relf’s, plus the Golden’s, Hagood’s, Hammett’s, Ryan-Plunket’s, Schnecker’s and Wickham’s all all provided multiple chances to fall in love with gardening. It was an absolutely picture-perfect, weather-perfect day.

 

A ‘peak’ at a perfect day.

Mondays have a bad reputation and our Monday that week deserved the label. Awful. But the week redeemed itself with a Wednesday that was perfection.

After a quick trip down the mountain to Roanoke, we lifted our bottomed-out psyches at Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea, then soared with the Paul Villinski installations at the Taubman Museum of Art around the corner.

Villinski’s showcase exhibit “Passage” hovered, as if in an updraft, above the atrium. “Passage,” a large-scale wooden glider with a 33-foot wingspan reminiscent of the balsa wood gliders he loved as a boy, is part precise construction and part whimsey. A thousand black butterflies, carefully fashioned from reclaimed material found on New York City streets, cover the glider and appear to help it stay aloft. “Emblematic of hope and liberation,” the artist says.

Paul Villinski oversees installation of his sculpture “Passage” in Taubman Museum’s atrium. Photo, Stephanie Klein-Davis, The Roanoke Times.

Flight connotes mankind’s desire to leave our earthly concerns behind, Villinski believes. Maybe that’s what lured me — the promise of a few hours to leave behind my concerns from two days before. And it worked! I was spell-bound the minute we walked inside. Peter had to nudge me to turn my attention to the docent just inside the door. “You were transported the minute you walked in,” she said, laughing. Indeed I was. She told me that the glider would actually be air-worthy if it had skins, and if there were a very small person licensed to pilot it.

“Farther,” Villinski’s exhibit in an upstairs gallery, was equally, magically moving, with flights of butterflies and birds, and other flights of fancy that captivated us.

Both “Passage” and “Farther” will be at the Taubman through January 21, 2018.

 

“Homeward Bound,” juried art. Although I didn’t know it beforehand, seventy-four works  by fifty-nine Virginia artists, all winners to my eye, were housed in other galleries. Many pieces are made from found objects — bobby pins, keys, hats, old nightgowns, horsehair — plus fascinating paintings, drawings, and sculpture all helped make our day.

“Homeward bound,” is the Taubman’s first juried art show, and will remain only through July 17. Hurry home.

We ended our perfect day, such a welcome antidote to Monday, with a walk around City Market. There, I found the perfect peaches and blueberries for our evening to come. The peak of perfection, if I may say so.

‘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.

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.

 

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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Pies are round like my hometown’s square.

Every time I travel this way, driving north from Columbus…I feel that I’m entering another country…”

I’m an Ohioan, a buckeye, rooted in Mount Vernon just a few miles north of the geographical center of the state. My father never lived anyplace other than Knox County, nor any town other than Mount Vernon, except for the first four months of his life. He was born seven miles northwest in tiny Fredericktown.

Now we come into Mount Vernon … With its cobbled brick streets, Civil War monument town [round] square, block after block of handsome turn-of-the-century housing… And yet, there is something congenial about the place: stately houses, modest bungalows, backyard gardens, quiet streets…” 

That my dad lived such a long life — ninety — is attributable in part to pie. That’s what he would say anyway. In Ohio, pie is a meal, a food group!

The man never met a pie he didn’t like, with the possible exception of coconut crème and butterscotch. Fruit was his filling of choice: apple, cherry, peach, rhubarb, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, elderberry, grape, plum, banana, and even raisin. Now he didn’t bake the pies — women’s work, he said — but he did pick, clean, sort and chop the fruit.

My mother rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. After mom died, dad remarried and Martha rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. I never asked, but I’ll bet in addition to “Love, honor, and obey” there was a clause in their marriage vows that promised, “pies to last you the rest of your days.”

It is difficult to say no to a home baked pie warm from the oven. Dad never even tried to resist as his waistline proved.

When my daughters were small and visited during the summer, their gramps let them have pie and homemade vanilla ice cream for breakfast. “You got your fruit, you got your dairy, perfect breakfast,” he’d say.

I wondered at him letting them eat pie every morning. When I was their ages I had to eat Shredded Wheat, Cheerios or Cornflakes. Sometimes I got a sliced banana.

Last Thanksgiving, our granddaughter Samantha wanted me to show her how to make a pie from scratch. She was a quick learner, and her first pies — apple and pumpkin — were excellent. I’m sorry to say that she’s as messy a baker as I am. Her great-grandmas would be horrified to see the mess she made. But her great-gramps would have loved the results.

 

Quotes from Alma Mater, A College Homecoming, P.F. Kluge, Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1993.

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.”