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.

Right in my own backyard.

The adventures husband Peter and I used to have are part of my memories and photo albums. His increasingly confused state — dementia has gained on him — keeps us home now. He has no memories of our trips, nor do my pictures help him remember. Last fall, for the first three days of an eight day visit to daughter Carolynn and husband Bill, Peter didn’t know where he was. We’d lived in that same little village for seventeen years.
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Daffodil in snow.

The first week of this month, Carolynn and her friend Robin traveled to us with inflexible determination to give me a special week “in my own backyard.” The bumper sticker on Carolynn’s new car said “Rescue Mom.”

Before the two left upstate New York early on a snowy Saturday morning, they’d issued orders for me to list anything they could do to help with during their week. Not wanting to look a gift-horse in the mouth, I did start a list, but lost it amongst the clutter in my office. I really wanted to just enjoy them, not put them to work on the pesky tasks that had piled up. That idea didn’t fly.

They arrived  Saturday evening. Sunday was family brunch, cards, and dinner out, but Monday they were all about the chores. Granddaughter Samantha was in town, so they appointed her secretary to their two-woman crew. And then they set to work.

Coincidentally, Leslie provided work shirts for the family crew. From left, Carolynn, Sam, me, Leslie.

They fixed nearly all the meals, grocery shopped, baked bread, cookies, muffins; organized files, cookbooks, kitchen cupboards, and my office; surprised me with muffins at breakfast on my birthday, and planned a birthday feast. (Leslie, around as much as she was able during her busiest time of the year, reminded them about my requirement for tin roof sundaes instead of cake.) Since Sam likes a clean car, I suggested she clean mine. She did,

Twice they shoved me out of the house, once to get a pedicure, once, a massage. I didn’t protest too much.

They gardened and washed windows, we shopped and played cards, watched movies and read, they made multiples of sock bunnies and we fit in “Beauty and the Beast” their final evening.

All in all, that week was a “trip” anyway I look at it. And I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

Over the week the list expanded to two pages. By the end, everything was crossed off, even ‘bake chocolate chip cookies’ that Sam added for herself.

Fluffle of sock bunnies.

 

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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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?

 

 

Right in my own backyard.

icecream

A group of friends gathered on a not-quite-so-sweltering day in July to chat and laugh and, not incidentally, eat homemade ice cream. It was an ice cream social in my own backyard.

This was not as far-reaching a destination as some adventures we’ve had. We’ve gone to events in Charlotte, NC, to the theater in Abingdon and Roanoke, we’ve lunched at nearly every restaurant around, we marched in July Fourth parades (we won the top prize once), but we’ve slowed down.

Age, not our fun-loving spirit, has applied brakes to all of us. We’ve experienced the pitfalls and heartaches that Life lays down like a thick layer of asphalt on a sweltering day. We’ve smothered beneath it, but we’ve dug out and gotten up again.

Co-hostess Joanne and I worried about our original plan for the group’s July outing. We’d wanted to have a picnic at Leslie and Martin’s river getaway. We fretted. Would the drive, the terrain, the threat of bug bites, and the distance (50 miles) from home be too daunting? Would anyone want to swim or go tubing, swing or play games?

I took a poll of the half of our 30 members who were here licking their spoons. Five, plus one likely “maybe,” would have gone on that outing. So, ice cream in my backyard was the better idea, as it turned out.

Close to home with second helpings.

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Grandma can tell you where to go.

A map and sometimes step-by-step directions are all I ever need to get where I’m going. I don’t need to know where I am on the globe, nor to listen to an uppity woman tell me which way to turn. Generally, once I’ve been someplace I can find my way there again if I need to. Incessant yakking from the bowels of my dashboard confuses me.

We were just going to Lowe’s, for heavens sakes. My car could drive there by itself. But, as I backed out, the harridan ordered, “Go right one block. GO RIGHT ONE BLOCK.” I could hear echoes of my mother calling long ago, “Judith Ellen, come home, come home right now!

I went the way I needed to go. “Recalculating,” cranky-voice said. She was frowning, I know.

“Might be fun to go wherever she says,” I said to my husband.

“How does she know where we’re going?” he asked. He didn’t know himself anymore, he just goes along for the ride.

“She doesn’t know! I didn’t even turn the darned thing on,” I grumbled. “And I don’t need her to tell me anyway.” I continued south and at every intersection she yelled, “Turn back now.” When I didn’t obey, she recalculated very grudgingly.

The  tirade continued until we got to Lowe’s, then she shut up. Not another peep, not then, nor on the way home. I’ll bet she forgot to sprinkle a trail of bread crumbs and couldn’t find the way herself.

I laughed the next morning when I saw this “Speed Bump” strip in The Roanoke Times. That’s my kind of message, homey and welcoming! There’s probably a rhubarb pie cooling on the windowsill.

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Oh ho, oops, apologies are in order. Karen Jacobson isn’t a harridan at all, in fact she’s very talented and funny. Watch this: https://au.tv.yahoo.com/sunrise/video/watch/24209607/the-voice-of-siri-and-gps/#page2

 

Thanks to Dave Cloverly for permission to use his 4/10/16 strip
Thanks also to au.tv.yahoo Sunrise.

 

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.”

 

 

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.

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 […]