If the shoe fits…

There are no Manolo Blanik, Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, or Gucci shoes in my closet. I shop at TJMaxx or online at Zappos. I am not a shoe snob, no, but I am a shoe lover. My eight pair of Crocs of various styles and colors, seven pair of Clarks, six pair of Saucony sneakers are proof of my low-brow fetish. Countless other makes and styles make up my collection.

And now, now, I have a pair of the cutest, most comfortable, most me pair of shoes ever!

Daughter Carolynn and I were doing some retail therapy. She spotted the shoes and urged me to try them. I argued. They won’t look good on my horrible feet, I told her, and besides they’re not my size. I wear a 10 and these were a decidedly non-dainty 10.5, for heavens sakes. But they did fit — no cramming, no pain — and honestly, if they hadn’t fit I would’ve bought them anyway and put them on a shelf to admire.

I have uglier feet than the rhizomes on bearded iris. No, really, uglier than the ugliest wicked stepsister. My long boney toes — husband Peter calls them finger toes — are  knobbly, bumpy, veiny. I do not go anywhere, except to the shower, with naked feet. It’s even hard for me to bare my feet for a pedicure.

These perfectly adorable shoes actually look pretty darned good on me. They hide the worst parts of my feet and, because they’re a denimy blue leather with colorful painted-on designs, they Go. With. Everything. When I put them on I preen and prance in front of any reflective surface — electric kettle, shiny wheel covers, shop windows, and mirrors, of course.

All I gotta say is, look out, Cinderella, I am going to the ball with or without Prince Charming.

l’Artiste shoes, très magnifique, oui, and all the prettier because they were marked 40% off.

 

 

‘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.

 

With apologies to Doctor Seuss.

Oh! the places we go
for a view, for a bite,
to see something new,
some special delight.

We’ll shop for a widget,
or bag of birdseed,
sometimes a beer,
and a burger we need.

Sometimes a movie,
or maybe a drive,
a stroll through a garden
glorious! alive!

In springtime flowers
need consideration,
colors and scents,
Mother Nature’s perfection.

We searched at the market,
we looked at Lowe’s,
the most unusual we spied,
was “nested” at Crow’s.

A surprise we found
in a big brown pot,
a cat was inside
very grumpy, we thought.

He would not be moved
nor enticed away,
he liked his pot
on that warm spring day.

Among flowers we bought,
were red geraniums tall
to plant in my pots,
no kitties at all!

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Sweatshirt or teacups?

Most females —  pubescent girls to great-grandmas — hate to shop for brassieres with good reason. It is a daunting task.

With a selection of options dangling over our arms we enter fitting rooms. Will these fit? The light is so dim and so yellow we can’t find ourselves in the mirrors.

There is an amazing multitude of choices — see-through, peek-through, maximizer, minimizer, strap, no strap, stays, zippers, sexy, modest, sports, evening, buster booster, training. Then there are color choices from white to demure pastels, vivid colors, camouflage, leopard spots, zebra stripes, and fabrics from cotton, rayon, nylon, satin, spandex, and trims from dainty ribbons to sequins, rhinestones, lace, and mirrors.

As far as I’m concerned, the perfect bra is a sweatshirt. —Maxine

Once a year I force myself to shop for these skimpy necessities in a jungle of Maidenform, Olga, Jockey, Playtex, Bali, Warner’s, Vanity Fair, Bare Necessity and Glamorise.  Where is a saleslady when I want one? I wander alone through clogged aisles, searching for white comfort, size, wire-less, padding-less.

Finally, armed with several types, I enter a murky dressing room that shows signs of someone having lunched there. I strip from the waist up. Ugh. The mirror, obviously, came from a defunct funhouse!

But I get lucky. Two options work. Done. I am prepared to stuff my merchandise in my purse and leave if I can’t find someone to ring me up quickly.  A clerk from Bed & Bath finds me before I make my getaway.

A good friend is like a good bra…hard to find, supportive, comfortable, there to lift you up and always close to your heart! — Anon

When I clip the tags off my purchases, I see this: The Playtex Vacationer™ — Around or out of town, this felxible [sic] bra will whisk you away with coolness and comfort. Destined to be your go-to-bra, wherever you go. I seldom go anywhere anymore, but now, when I do, I’ll have the perfect undergarment with …rounderaccommodating cups [that] mean less spillage….  If I’d wanted a teacup I’d have gone to Housewares.

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Prince Albert Collection teacup.

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."

Clotheslines, poetry in motion.

Location! Location! Location! That’s the house-hunting mantra.  Most people’s wish lists include number of bedrooms and bathrooms, updated kitchen, garage, nice yard.

Location is important, yes, but if clotheslines weren’t allowed in an area where there was a likely house, I wouldn’t even go inside…if I were house-hunting…which I’m not. I’ve never lived where I couldn’t hang clothes out to dry. Not for me are the newer homes that feature a laundry room “conveniently” near the bedrooms. Nunh uh. I want my laundry room near the back door. And it is.

Underwear excepted from clothesline display,
Sheets scented by the sun’s rays,
bottled.
Warm sunshine dreams on cold winter nights,
breezes freeze.

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The nature of laundry

Frances Reinus, 2008
I have never used a clothesline.
I am too young to know the nostalgia they induce.
I do not know the way a fresh-air-hung-dry
Article of clothing smells
Or feels.
I do know that the automatic dryer in my laundry room
Is faster
And easier
And you are guaranteed warmth upon donning a freshly dried article.
And you don’t need pins.
And you don’t need to fight your clothes
And tell them, “Stay, don’t wander in the wind!”
And that a dryer may be hidden in a closet
And not unsightly like those lines of clothes I have seen
Strung between city apartments
And in the back yards of the old-school.
And while they may be cheaper
They seem like too much work.
And I would rather look at the trees, the flowers, and the grass.

But I can look at trees, flowers and grass while I hang my laundry, cheaply. “Unsightly?” I think not! I envy this poet for her youth, but I’m sorry she has never experienced “fresh-air-hung-dry.”  “Old-school,” that’s me.

 

“The nature of laundry” ©Frances Reinus, 2008

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