It’s Late

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I walk my dogs, Rosie and Dexter, nearly every day. It’s rarely too hot, it’s sometimes too cold and none of us can stand to get wet, but besides that, we go. If we walk in the morning for our hearts and our waistlines, we travel faster and farther. If we walk at night, for our sanity alone, we stroll and stay closer to home.

For the first two years in this house I looped around and headed south on our walks. I don’t know why I started walking north about a year ago, but now we do. Over weeks and months, as I stretched the route a little further, a little further, I stumbled upon a short stretch of street I hadn’t been on before. There, tucked back from the road on a slight incline under very old trees are two large brick Georgian houses side by side. They are each other’s only neighbor.

Their structures are nearly identical. Symmetrical and brick, one is its original red while the other is painted white. They are like identical twins who always have different haircuts. Each thinks her choice is best and I cannot decide who’s right. Rosie and Dex are divided on the issue. I keep walking by these houses because I am not used to them yet. I like them, but they are still strange to me. I want to know their stories. They are indifferent to my needs.

Along the way of this pilgrimage is a house with a patio tucked in its belly. In the spring, just as we began to take the new route, a vine, thick and full, sprouted a canopy of leaves providing a cool, dense shade for the patio. We envied it, the dogs and I, and waited for the blooms. I expected the conical lavender cascade of wisteria, but it did not come.

As the weeks passed, I worried that the vine was ill. Though lush and green, it didn’t flower. Then, one early evening as we headed down the gentle slope of the hill, we could see the orange cones of the trumpet vine hanging thick, their ruffled edges folded back to make way for the slender bills of the hummingbirds. It was not what I had expected, but lovelier in its surprise. I thought I should have expected it, the hue of the blooms so right with the colors of the house. Each time I pass it, I marvel at the thickness of the trunk and wonder how long she has been there, spreading her branches to shade diners and readers and those who showed up only to loaf. Many years, surely. Good things take time.

For the last few weeks as we walk at dusk, we are serenaded by the cicadas. I am so used to their song by this time of year that sometimes I stop hearing their chirp. But in the evening as we go slow under the canopy of the oldest trees, it is as if we are walking through a church tower the ring of them is so loud.

If we are ambitious, or the dogs have been cooped up, or I am restless, we walk around a nearby park. The dogs want to be out and when we are walking they always want to go further. When we go through the park, I usually follow the path, a ribbon that winds round the edge. But last night we cut through the heart of it.

The dogs are creatures of habit. They are used to sidewalks and paths. As I steered them across the expanse of lawn, they both looked back over their shoulders, the whites of their eyes showing, to see if I was sure. The lawn rose and fell in gentle movements and eventually their gazes were steady and straight, unalarmed by the lack of direction. They trusted me and in this case they should have. I was sure of what I was doing. We needed to go our own way and once they found the ripeness of new smells, they agreed.

When we got home, they were as anxious to get in as they were to get out, which is always the case. As soon as their leashes were off, they collapsed on their sides, their tongues lopped flat on the cool of the floor. I know they were not thinking, as I imagine they do, of where we go and why. But I like to believe that they appreciate that our direction changes and trust my confidence as we go a different way.

I have a dozen reasons why I haven’t posted lately, though they are really just excuses.  Still, Mrs. Blandings turned nine last week and I didn’t want it to pass unrecognized.  Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

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Clipping

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As a friend dropped me at the house Saturday and looked over at the field of clover, he said, “Well, I know you don’t like yard work.” He knew it before the blooms began to pop a month ago and his observation carried no malice.  The advice that followed revealed he wanted to help.

There are other things that need attention. Three large ferns hang on my front porch. It’s remarkable how they change the space, creating a sense of privacy though they block the view neither in nor out. From the street they look lush and full, happy and healthy.  Closer, you can see that there are sickly, brown, dead fronds beneath the cascade of green. I’ve been watering, but it runs through, creating a waterfall that splashes onto the stone ledge.

I worry about them.  They are in my care, after all, though I know I am not a good caregiver for anything that does not have a heart.  For the last few days, I’ve taken advantage of the rain and left the ferns in the yard for a good long drink.

I remember my mother caring for ferns in the ’70s.  She had a copper sprayer that was about five inches tall.  Its body was low and wide, curving up to a round handle for her index finger and a pump at the top that she pressed with her thumb to deliver a quick but gentle mist to the fronds of the plants.  She had small shears, the red handles longer than the blades, that she used to clip the dead limbs before she returned them to her macrame holders. When I have the opportunity to take inspiration on nurturing from my mother, I do.

Today, I brought my kitchen shears out to the porch and gently lifted the healthy fronds and began to trim the mess underneath. It was worse than I thought. The green leaves had hidden more dried, spindly stalks than I realized.  The whole plant was soaked and as I parted the curtain of green to get to the worst of it, dead leaves stuck to my hands.  Once clipped, the dried fronds refused to loosen their grip and I had to untangle them as they clung to their cousins.

It was the sort of task that was tiresome long before it was finished.  Beyond that, now there is a mess on the front step that I still need to clean, though I’m hoping another shower will wash away the debris.  It was heartening, however, that as I hung the ferns back on their hooks, I could see the thin, spring green stalks with gentle curls on the ends beneath the mature leaves.  I’m hopeful that at some point they will unfurl.

 

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From the Heart

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About this time every summer I wonder where I get the notion that summer is going to be relaxing. Three boys with some combination of sports, jobs, school and friends mixed with the regular nonsense of my work and my friends and, oh, two dogs – who think they want to be walked, but really it’s much too hot – is not relaxing.  It’s usually fun, but not relaxing.

Added to the mix this year was a family tradition of which our oldest was a part. This, too, took a little time, but was also a lot of fun. Some of the milestones in my children’s lives have been marked with gifts. Their father gave me a bracelet when each of them was born. They received silver cups and spoons, christening presents a little later on and gifts for graduations that seem to come nearly every other year.

Since this night was about him, I wanted to carry something with me to remind myself that for all the fuss of dress and shoes and hair and lipstick, I was there for him. He, who originally thought he might rather attend a two-day concert in Ohio, but who managed all of it with a lot of grace.

I stitched a clutch that is a jumble of where he is in his life now.  The five of hearts marks the Roman numeral of his name and the overwhelming love I’ve felt for him since the beginning.  The orange and blue is for Syracuse, where he has made his own home for the first time. The chairs were part of the portfolio he submitted when he was applying for school.  The building where they reside (on paper and in his imagination at least) is stitched on the other side.

Did he notice? Of course, he noticed.  He’s well-trained after all.  I imagine he’ll notice each time I carry it at the next milestone and the next.

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Line ‘Em Up

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World of Interiors always feels like a decadent indulgence.  Their product features are so clever.

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As I do love to draw on the walls, I notice when other folks do, too.  This very simple trompe d’oeil lite could be executed with a yard stick and any old curved thing to use as template.  I’ve done this by holding a dinner plate (or salad, or whatever) against wall or paper.

You know, because it’s summer and there’s always a little leftover black and white paint in the basement.

I don’t have photog info, but this feature appeared in April, 2016.

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The Good Lieutenant

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It’s good to have good friends.  A very good friend confirmed recently what I was feeling about a very medium dress.  It’s not easy to deliver difficult news.  Fortunately, I don’t have to do that today.

My friend, Whitney Terrell, has written a book.  The Good Lieutenant is not his first book, but it’s certainly his best book.  I would have read it start to finish regardless, though I was skeptical that I would be engaged by a war book. A book about Iraq.  Not that he had anything invested in my reading, he assured me that it’s a love story. He knows that’s a good hook for me.  The book is beautifully, and seamlessly, told in reverse order.  This unusual construction is not difficult to follow in the least and provides an interesting perspective on the development of his characters. I started reading Saturday and was awake until two-thirty this morning, captivated by their story.

Whitney was embedded twice in Iraq and reported his experiences for the Washington Post. He raises questions about how we define bravery and valor, but he doesn’t preach. It is always a very human story.  A bright and educated friend of his said, “I finished the book and turned it over to read the first chapter again.” It is the sort of book that you don’t want to be over, even at two-thirty in the morning.

You can find The Good Lieutenant here.  Reviews from Men’s Journal here and the Washington Post here.

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