‘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!

 

 

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?

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

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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