Saturday, Caturday

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Hi! Gracie here. Can we talk?

Yeah? Great!

My sister, Joy, and I are taking over this blog. At least for today. Mom hasn’t written for a loooong time. She says she can’t figure out what to say.

But we have a lot to say, so she told us to go for it. Okay, we will.

Oh, here’s Joy.

Hi, I’m Joy. I’m up here supervising the kitchen. Mainly, I’m on the lookout for MICE. We never found one here in the kitchen yet, but… we could. You have to stay alert.

Gracie: Yeah, we caught — AND KILLED— 2 mice in the office. Here, I’ll show you.

This was our first one. It was for practice. See how DEAD it is?

But get ready. There’s a BFD coming next.

Joy: Gracie, watch your language. How do you even know there’s such a word as BFD?

Gracie: I learned it on TV. When Mom and I were watching the other night. You were sleeping, but Mom and I saw this RIP.


Gracie: Really important program. It was very, very serious. I don’t think you believe me, so I’ll show you. SEE? Don’t we look serious?

Joy: Yeah, you do.

Okay… Now can we get back to the mice? Here’s a picture of our biggest kill so far. If there are any children or squeamish humans with you, make them look away. Seriously.

Gracie: Joy, that was REALLY fun. But let’s not give the readers the wrong idea of us. We are very sweet, gentle cats. Most of the time…

Except, maybe, that one time that Barb came over. Remember?

Joy: ‘Course I do. That was fun too! Wanna see what we did, Readers? Okay…

Gracie: That was a long time ago. See how we were only half-grown? We wouldn’t do that now. Would we??

Joy: Hmmmm. Let’s show the readers how good we are almost all the time. Okay?

Gracie: This might take a while. I’m having trouble finding any……….

Wait. Here’s me waiting patiently for Mom to take away my empty dish and give me more food. In a clean dish. I didn’t nag or anything. Just waited like a GG. I mean, a good girl.

Joy: That’s very sweet of you. And here’s one of me supervising the window washer. I helped Mom a lot that day. She said so.

Gracie: GG, Joy! And here we’re helping Mom choose a book to read.

Joy: Um… Mom didn’t think this was too helpful. Let’s skip right over this one.

Grace: Okay. Because I have another idea. Mom always calls us her good kitties when we are getting ready for a nap. Don’t we just look like a couple of GGs in these pictures?

Joy: Yeah, we do look cute and sweet and adorable. Let’s stop right here while the readers are going ……… AWWWWWWW!

Remembering My Dad, A Would-be Veteran

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Mostly Musings

Note: This post originally ran on Veteran’s Day 2013. I am reposting it today without changes. My emotions remain the same. The facts remain the same—with the exception of the last sentence. I can no longer walk to the end of the street and see a farm. In the past 7 years, the Maples has grown to fill its available space. But that is another post for another day.


My father, Carl Dierksen, tried very hard to become a veteran. And I guess he technically would qualify as one, though he never claimed the honor.

He was 22 when he and my mother married in 1940. The following year, during World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, both to serve his country and to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

mom & dad young

Dad reported to a base in Florida, where he had completed several weeks of basic training when he received the news that Mom’s father had died. As bad as that was, it got worse. Mom was an only child, and with her father gone, there was no one to operate the family farm outside of Davenport, Iowa.

Dad was given no choice. His commanding officer told him that his country needed him to be a farmer more than it needed him to be a soldier. He was given an honorable discharge and sent home.

So Dad, who grew up in town as the son of a house painter, became an instant farmer—without the benefit of any basic training. He would spend the next 30 years of his life as a farmer and a family man. He was good at both.


Dad was a humble man. He knew that a few weeks of training had not earned him any recognition on Veterans Day.

flagIf he were still alive, Dad would be flying the flag today. He would be the first to shake a veteran’s hand and thank him or her. Dad might still be wondering if his life would have been different if he had been allowed to stay in the Air Corps.

He never forgot his dream of flying airplanes. When he was in his 50s, he earned his private pilot’s license. A few years later, he bought his own small plane.

Dad lived his last seven years in Woodstock, where he and Mom were my neighbors. I wish he had lived to see my Abbey and Maples at the Sonatas. He would have liked helping me move and doing projects around the house. And he would have always wanted to walk down the street to the place where you can still see a farm in the distance.

Dear Reader, Let’s Have Coffee

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Mostly Musings

I’m so glad you could come over. It’s been way, way too long since we’ve spent time together. Look, I have us set up here on the patio, safely distanced, and ready to enjoy today’s cooler weather. Won’t you join me?


If we were having coffee… I would first of all ask you how you are. Because I really want to know. Because this question—which used to be a throw-away conversation starter— has a deeper meaning six months into these pandemic times. How is your physical health? Your emotional health? Have you suffered any painful losses? What still causes you to lose sleep at night?What coping strategies have you discovered? 

If we were having coffee… I would ask you if you find yourself losing focus for doing the things that you should be doing—things that you even want to do—and instead float through the days without accomplishing anything. Because I do, and it bothers me. I miss the feeling that comes from checking items off a to-do list. In particular, I think of this blog. I feel guilty when I check my stats and see that there are people who still visit it, even when there has been nothing new to read for a long time. I want to write more often; I miss it terribly. But I haven’t been able to gather my thoughts and concentrate long enough to get anywhere. If I could lower my expectations for myself, would I be more productive? Probably.

If we were having coffee… I would admit that I also feel guilty about how well I’m coping during the pandemic. Nothing truly bad has happened to me. I haven’t lost a loved one or had one hospitalized. I am not struggling to survive a longtime separation from an aging parent, from children or grandchildren. I’m an introvert by nature. I love staying home reading, watching movies, and hanging with my cats.

And speaking of Joy and Grace, look over your left shoulder at the window. We are not alone here.

If we were having coffee… I would probably bring up the topic of risk. I find myself weighing risk vs. reward more than ever before. Do you too? Do you ever lower your health precautions to enjoy some thing or person or experience that you want sooo badly? And how do you handle interactions with people you care about who do not follow the same precautions as you? I struggle with this one a lot.

If we were having coffee… I would think it’s time to lighten the mood about now. If you’re like me, you’ve seen too many tears the past few months. So I would share with you a moment when I saw a friend shed tears of pure joy. She was thanking me for my (small) part in helping her buy her new home when the tears welled up. She said something like this: You know how long I have wanted to live here, and how I was afraid it would never happen, but I kept praying that it would. And now we are here, and my dream has come true, and I am so happy. Dear reader, I hope you too have shared some happy tears during the pandemic times.

If we were having coffee… I would thank you for listening to my ramblings. And I wouldn’t say it out loud, but I would hope that one day you might invite me over for coffee on your patio or in your garage… where we will continue pondering the mysteries of life in 2020.

Revisiting ‘Far From the Maddening Crowd’

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To the reader: This is the last entry in a series in which I revisit earlier posts. Once again, I have chosen one that I think has something new to say in our current pandemic times.

The month of November 2015 was brutal. Do you remember why? I didn’t. So let me remind you what was going on in the world at that time.

In November 2015 —

• In Paris, a series of suicide bombings and mass shootings killed 130 people and injured another 413.

• In Beirut, suicide bombers detonated explosives that killed 89 people.

• In Mali, suicide bombers took 170 people hostage at a hotel and before it was over, killed 20 of them.

And much closer to home…

• In Chicago, riots broke out after a court forced the Chicago Police Department to release the dash cam video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald, a young black man who had been killed by an officer a year earlier. The video showed McDonald walking away from the police when he was shot and killed.

So with all of this violence and loss of life in a short period of time, why had I almost entirely forgotten it? Looking back, I think I felt the pain in the world, but I also felt very removed from it. After all, I lived in Woodstock, Illinois, where things like that didn’t happen. I was immune to the problems of the larger world.

Except, of course, I was wrong.

Now I’m living through a world crisis to which I am not immune. None of us are. COVID-19 doesn’t respect national boundaries or state lines. It doesn’t care about the size of the population of a city. It doesn’t care how safe it has felt in the past.

It was with a great sense of nostalgia that I reread the post below. To be honest, I don’t know if we will ever be able to go back to the Woodstock of 2015. But this is what it was like. We will always have that.

Far From the Maddening Crowd

“Honey, why did they do it?”

I was having lunch with my 95-year-old mother. Because of her dementia and poor hearing, she misses a lot of what is going on around her. But that day she caught a bit of conversation from the booth behind her as a couple discussed the Paris attacks.

When she asked what they were talking about, I gave her the shortest, least threatening explanation I could. But it wasn’t enough to satisfy her.

“Honey, why did they do it?” she asked.

“Mom, I wish I could tell you. But I can’t. I just don’t know.”

She asked again—Honey, why did they do it?— before allowing me to change the subject.


It has been a terrible month of terrorism in Paris, in Mali, in Beirut, and God-knows-where-else.

It has been a terrible month of police brutality and racism and protests in Chicago.

During this terrible month, we have been warned to think twice about overseas travel, to report anything that seems out of place, to avoid large crowds.

The world has become a hostile, dangerous, frightening place. Even more so than it already was.


And then there is Woodstock, Illinois, the antithesis of Paris or Beirut or Chicago. Thank God.

On Friday night, a crowd of 2,000 people assembled in our downtown. The reason? The lighting of our town square for Christmas.


Photo by Ken Farver for The Woodstock Independent

All I can think of is how blessed we are. We can still stand shoulder to shoulder in a throng of people—many of them strangers—and still feel blissfully safe.

Is this a false sense of security? I suppose it could be.

So far, most of the tragedies have taken place in large cities or unstable foreign countries. Yet we have been told that no place is immune to terrorism’s violence and fear.

And I guess I mostly believe that— intellectually. I don’t really accept it emotionally. All I know is, I don’t want to live long enough to lose my sense of safety here at home.

That freedom from fear is denied to countless people around the world. It is a blessing I try not to take for granted any more.


Revisiting ‘A Glass Already Broken’

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Today I begin my second week at home, doing my own small part to combat the pandemic. I still haven’t tackled even one item on the list of household projects that I jotted down eight days ago. I always seem to find something more important to do.

You see, I have a lot of things to figure out, and that takes up most of my mental energy. I keep asking myself questions—most of them unanswerable at this time. Nevertheless, they haunt me, whether I’m asleep or awake.

• I want to know when and how this will all end.

• I want to know if the sacrifices people are making will be enough to actually make a difference.

• I want to know if the seemingly small risks that I am taking—things like picking up carry-out food and bringing it home, like passing a neighbor on the sidewalk without crossing the street to maintain 6 feet of separation, like picking up groceries during “senior hours” at the store— if even these are too big of risks.

• I want to know if I would be brave enough to say, No, give the respirator to the young mother.

• Perhaps most of all, I want to know if we will ever return to normal … or if the “normal” that I miss more each day is already over and gone. Is that sweet, quiet normal actually A Glass Already Broken?

I wrote a post by that name in 2015. My references to Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan and their amazing six Bulls’ championships now seem like a lifetime ago. But the post’s underlying philosophy might still be relevant to our current times.

At least I think so. Let’s see if you agree.


A Glass Already Broken

“You see this goblet?” Chaa asked, holding up a glass.  “For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; drink out of it. It holds water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.” – Excerpt from Sacred Hoops, by Phil Jackson, 1995

Outside of the Bible, I cannot think of an idea that has had a greater influence on my thinking. In fact, this passage is religious too. Achaan Chaa was a famous Buddhist monk from Laos.

Phil Jackson, who quoted the passage above in his book, was the celebrated coach of the Chicago Bulls during the heyday of their Michael Jordan years. Even in the midst of winning six championships, Jackson explains in his book, he knew it would all eventually come to an end.

After all, impermanence is a fact of life. Things will always continue to change. If we can accept that idea ahead of time, Jackson argues, we won’t be as disappointed when it happens. The realization also helps us appreciate and savor a good thing while we have it. As Chaa says, consider the goblet already broken before it actually is.


I had one of those glass-already-shattered moments a couple of days ago. Literally. One of my favorite accessories in my home—outside of family heirlooms—is an apothecary jar that I bought with a gift card I received as a housewarming gift. The jar was delicate, hand blown, lovely to see and to touch. It sat on the vanity in my master bathroom, where I admired it every time I walked in and turned on the light.

And yet… I knew the jar was fragile. Yet I recklessly tossed some clothing I was sorting right next to it. When I went to scoop up the pile of clothes, I knocked the jar to the floor.

broken jar

Halfway through sweeping up the shards of glass, I stopped and took this picture. Perhaps I did it to scold myself for my carelessness. Or, more likely, I had Jackson’s glass-already-shattered quote in the back of my mind.


I got off lucky, of course. I had known the glass jar could break one day, so I had been enjoying it all along.

Even more, I was fortunate to lose an object that is replaceable. Any time I want, I can drive to the nearest Pottery Barn store, plunk down $45 plus tax, and take home an identical jar. While it won’t be the exact one that was a house-warming gift, it will be an acceptable substitute.

But I can’t shake a scary thought. How many of my glasses-already-shattered are irreplaceable? I’m afraid nearly all of them are. The people, the experiences, the emotions, life itself. All could be lost as quickly and easily as a glass jar that falls to the floor.

So, yes, I will try to be more careful in the future. Yes, I will try even harder to avoid taking my treasures for granted. And yes, I will remain grateful to a Laotian monk and an NBA coach for this life lesson that I share with you today.

Friends, let’s be ever-so-gentle with each other.

Revisiting ‘Bloom Where You’re Planted’

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Mostly Musings

It is March 19, 2020; I am four days into social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Life has been turned completely upside down. Most of us try to follow the new curve-flattening rules to protect ourselves and everyone else. But already, I yearn to go back to “normal,” assuming that the old normal will ever exist again.

We can’t sleep, we stress eat, we have trouble concentrating. We either watch the news obsessively, or we avoid it all together. And we haven’t even gotten to the hard part yet.

I don’t know anyone who has been diagnosed… or been hospitalized… or died. Do you? I hear a siren coming down my street and wonder, is it here? Has the virus arrived in my world?

But no, the siren fades into the distance. I take several deep breaths. I find my sleeping kittens and stroke their soft, warm bodies until they purr and I begin to calm.

Then I get on the computer and begin scrolling down this blog. I smile as I relive the joys that came with a quiet, sweet, normal life. And I have an idea. What if I were to  revisit some of my old posts? Ones that I liked when I wrote them, but also ones that might take on new significance today.

Wanna go on a memory trip with me?

If you’re in, let’s start with a post from the fall of 2013. When I wrote it, I liked its simplicity, and I liked the lesson that I learned from one lowly flower. Today, I like it because it gives me hope that I might use this time of isolation to continue learning and to grow in a new direction.


Bloom Where You Are Planted

All summer long, a planter full of petunias and vinca vines sat on my patio. It was pretty for months, but as we got deeper into October, the plants grew long and scraggly and unattractive. Then they were nipped by frost.

And so, a few days ago, I decided it was time to let them go. I slid the planter away from the outside wall of my home and lifted it to carry over to our garden to dump the soil. As I was leaving, something caught my eye.

At first, I thought a flower had broken off when I moved the pot. But a closer look told another story. Some time during the summer, a single white petunia had leapt from the planter—or possibly had been seeded from another. However it happened, there is a healthy plant growing in the narrow crack between my patio and the wall.

This flower isn’t just surviving. It is blooming its heart out. And keeping it company is a single green vinca.


I find myself appreciating this late bloomer much more than I did the planter. Maybe it’s because my white petunia is an unexpected, late-season gift. Or maybe I admire its hardiness, as it thrives in harsh conditions.

Now, every morning, one of the first things I do is check on the petunia. So far, it has always been all right. Of course, I realize it’s only a matter of time until winter conditions overtake it. I will miss its cheerful greeting as I come and go. And I will miss its example of how to bloom wherever you are planted, even in the most unlikely of places.

Kitten Talk

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Animals / Just for Fun

Joy: Hi there, humans. It’s okay. You’re not bothering us. We’re awake, just lounging here.

Wanna know something? A secret? Then come a little closer.


Yeah, that’s better. You ready for the secret? Lean in nice and close so I can whisper it.

People can’t tell us apart.

I know. Crazy. Sisters are supposed to look alike, right? Sometimes humans can be so dense.

Gracie: Joy, I love humans. ‘Specially Mom. What’s dense mean? Cuz I don’t think it’s a nice word.

Joy: It’s okay, Sweetie. They know what I mean.

Joy: Humans, take a good look at us here. It’s obvious who’s who, right?



Joy: No? Really? Okay, then here are some hints to help you.

√ Here’s an easy one. Gracie’s body is a little shorter than mine, and so are her legs.

Gracie: Joy, I’m shooortt? Oh, no. I’m not a runt, am I? Everyone says I’m cute as can be.

Joy: Honey, you are cute as can be. You started out as a runt, but you haven’t been one for a long time. We both weigh the same now, right? And everyone says you are a-dor-able. Whatever that is.

Gracie: But you can jump on the kitchen counters, and I can’t. I’ve tried so hard, but I can’t.

Joy: You will someday, Sweetheart. For now, if I see something good up there, I’ll knock it off so you can have some too. Promise. Besides, I get in trouble with the humans when I go on the counters… or on top of the cabinets. But they think you’re a good kitty because you stay down.


Joy: Here’s another way to tell us apart. Gracie has some white hairs on the top of her neck, kind of like a lacy collar. There are few white hairs in the same place on me, but not as many. Got it?

Yeah, I know, that only works if you can see us at the same time. But don’t worry. We are together a lot. We do EVERYTHING together. 

Gracie: Joy, I’m going to the litter box. You wanna come with me? No? Then let’s go eat. Or play. Or take a nap.

Joy: In a minute, Honey. I’m almost done here.

Joy: Here’s a really good way to tell us apart. Gracie has a little white spot on her upper chest. I don’t.

Gracie: Joy, is that why humans like to lift our heads up and stare at our chests? I guess it’s okay if they are gentle, but it seems kinda weird.

Joy: To be honest, I get tired of them doing that all the time. But I guess it’s better than getting called the wrong name.

Gracie: Joy, don’t you think Gracie is a good name? Really? I like it.

Joy: Of course, Honey, it’s a very good name. I like it too. It’s just not my name. Besides, you have two names, Grace and Gracie. And I only have one.

Gracie: I’m sorry, Joy. Would you like another name too? I could call you Joy-ie.

Joy: Um, no thanks. I think I’ll just keep my one name.

Joy: Humans, here is my last tip for telling us apart. Mom says that Gracie has a rounder face than I do. To tell you the truth, I don’t see it. But Mom is really smart so I’m sure she’s right.

Gracie: Joy, I don’t see it either. We both have fluffy fur so our faces are fluffy, so how can you tell whose fluffy face is rounder? We are fluffy all over. I think it’s fun being fluffy, don’t you, Joy? I love saying fluffy. Fluffy. Fluffy. Fluffy. The humans say we are beau-ti-ful. Do you think we are?

Joy: Oh, gosh, yes, Honey. We are gor-geous. Mom says we are beau-ti-ful inside and out. 

Gracie: Mom has seen our insides? Really? When? Oh, I know. When we went to the doctor and he shaved our bellies and made a little cut. Did he take a picture of our insides?

Joy: Um, no, I don’t think so. I think what Mom means is that she loves us very much.

Gracie: Oh. Well, ‘course she does. Just like we love her, right?

Joy: Right. [yawn] I’m tired from all this talking. Wanna take a nap?

Gracie: Sure do, Joy-ie!



02022020—A Great Day in Woodstock, IL

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Groundhog Day became a major holiday here in Woodstock in 1993. That year marked the release of the film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, that was filmed largely in our town.

But if you were paying close attention this year, there were hints that something bigger than usual might be happening. First, there were calendar-related clues. Take another look at the title of this post. Today’s date is a palindrome; it is the same whether read forward or backward. Today is the only time a palindrome date will occur this century.

And here’s another fluke of scheduling. Today is also Super Bowl LIV. It’s a huge day for not only fans of professional football, but also fans of creative television commercials.

In Woodstock, the buzz started early this year. And it was louder than usual. Two weeks ago, the city announced street closures and parking bans on our town square for Saturday, Jan. 25. All we were told was that a commercial would be filmed.

That wasn’t too unusual. Several commercials have used our charming, historic Square as their settings. To my knowledge, no one, except probably city officials, knew the identity of the company making the commercial.

That would soon change. On the day of filming, a bright, shiny orange Jeep Gladiator showed up on the Square. Okay, one question was answered.

Then actor Bill Murray was spotted on the Square, and photos of him popped up on social media. With that, people began putting it together. With the Super Bowl being played on Groundhog Day, was there a connection between the commercial and the movie? Some kind of recap would be clever, since the movie was all about one day being repeated over and over.

When actors Stephen Tobolowsky (Needlenose Ned) and Brian Doyle-Murray (the Mayor) showed up too, it certainly looked like there was a film connection. Spokespeople for Jeep wouldn’t comment so we had to wait and see. Yesterday we learned that our guess about a movie recap was right when they began releasing 15-second teasers of the commercial.

That brings us to this morning, when Woodstock awoke to find that Jeep had released the full 60-second commercial. When I arrived at church at 7:45 for choir practice, people were watching it on their phones. Judging by their reactions, and others I have heard, Woodstock is happy with the end result.

Here, just for you, is a sneak peek of the commercial that will air at some unspecified time during the broadcast.

And here is Jeep’s announcement that accompanies the video on YouTube.

It’s “Groundhog Day” all over again as Jeep brand debuts a Big Game spot starring Bill Murray (in his first-ever national television commercial). But this time reliving the same day over and over again is always a new adventure when you’re driving the 2020 Jeep Gladiator. Jeep. There’s only one.

Yes, there is only one Jeep, just as there’s only one Woodstock, IL. And today we will enjoy our 60 seconds of fame on the world stage.

Kittens—the Good, the Bad, the Cute

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Animals / Just for Fun

The doctor tapped on the door of the examination room and walked in. He shook my hand as usual, then paused and said, “Caryl, what have you done?”

It was a good question, and it came from a man who knows me well. Dr. C. has taken wonderful care of my cats since the ’80s. I consider him a friend as well as a veterinarian.

That morning my friend was a bit perplexed, perhaps a little concerned, when I showed up with two 12-week-old kittens. He was aware of my long history with adult and senior cats. But he was nice enough not to point out that an older cat would have been a better choice for someone my age.

I tried to reassure him that all was well, that I knew what I was doing. He examined them, gave them each a kitten shot, and sent us home with two diagnoses of  “healthy kitten.”


Believe me, there have been plenty of times over the past three months that Dr. C’s question has popped into my mind. What exactly have I done? Were these two rambunctious kittens going to keep me young or drive me crazy?

The answer, it turns out, is a bit of both. They are a confusing combination of naughty and nice. Alternately angels and demons, they often morph from one to the other with no warning.

I find myself saying things like:

Get off that… (cable box, pillow, table, elephant)






Other times I find myself saying:

Stop (attacking my feet, putting mice in my bed) right now

gracie attacks



Of course, they have committed other offenses that I don’t have photos of. I was too busy protecting my possessions, hurrying to the storage closet with my sunroom drapes, shag rug, shower curtain and rod, swag on my bedroom wall, swag on my living room wall. Then there are the smaller items that I’ve stashed on top of the grandfather clock.

Yes, sometimes these kittens drive me crazy. Sometimes I miss the fragile possessions that are stored away for safe keeping. Sometimes I get tired of trying to outsmart a 5-pound, furry ball of energy.

But then Gracie and Joy always do something so sweet that all is forgiven and forgotten. I haven’t managed to get a picture of one—or both!—of them curled up on my lap. Their warm, soft bodies and cheerful purrs make everything better. Here are a few other moments of kitten sweetness.





Finally, I have to say that whether their behavior is good or bad, these kittens are never boring. To end this post, here’s a short video showing how entertaining they can be.










Tales of Joy and Grace

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On Aug. 14, I lost my cat, Shadow, only four months after losing my other cat, Angie. I knew ahead of time that each was reaching her final days. I thought I had braced myself for transitioning to a home without the welcoming presence of a cat.

But I was wrong. I had forgotten how utterly silent and lonely it would be. And no wonder. Angie had been with me since 2001; Shadow had been a living link to my mom.

I found myself searching for ways to lift the depression that had settled over me. So I came up with a plan. I would travel more, maybe take back-to-back trips. I would deep clean my house and would buy new furniture. I would finish grieving at my own pace, however long that took. Then, much later, I would begin looking for a new cat, an adult, or maybe another senior. I would take my time to be sure I didn’t make a mistake.

But life threw a totally different plan and schedule at me. Just two weeks later, with none of my goals accomplished, I came across this photo on Facebook.


A friend of mine was trying to help her friend find a home for this adorable six-week-old kitten. Now hold on, I told myself. Slow down. Slow way down.

This bit of fluff was nothing like the cat I had envisioned myself adopting. And it was far too soon to bring another cat into my life. So I put the kitty firmly out of my mind. Or so I thought.

Over the next few days, I caught myself going online for another look at the picture. So, for convenience, I copied it to my phone. But cute as she was, she was still not the right cat for me. Any kitten would be bored in my quiet home. They are far too energetic and mischievous. Besides, I hadn’t had a kitten for decades. Did I even remember how to care for one?

I began filling my empty days by visiting friends who had cats. One day I invited myself over to see Judith and her two kitties. She had adopted one of them recently and shared her experiences with me. Finally, when I was getting ready to leave, I pulled out my phone, showed her the picture of the black kitten, and said casually, This is a cute kitten, isn’t it?

The way I remember it, we both spoke at once. While I was saying a kitten was not right for me, Judith was saying, Caryl, you have to get this kitten. Go home and call the owner. I hope it’s not too late.

That was the push I needed. I didn’t know how to contact the foster mom, so I wrote a comment under the picture on Facebook. That led to a flurry of 20 back-and-forth comments that ended with me asking to meet the kitten.

It was then that I learned a key fact. The kitten had an identical sister who wasn’t yet cleared for adoption. The foster mom hoped that the kittens could end up being adopted together because they were tightly bonded. So now my decision was even more complicated.

When I visited the kittens in their foster home, it was love at first sight. I shushed the voice of logic in my head and began choosing their names.

I wanted something dignified, not cutesy. Nothing popped into my mind until I asked myself a question: what do I want to bring into my home? That I could answer. Their names would be Joy and Grace.

At the end of September, I brought Joy home. Four days later, Grace received a clean bill of health and moved in too. One of the first things each did upon arriving was check out the food I was serving. As you can see, it was acceptable.

joy eats


gracie eats



Their first afternoon was filled with nonstop playing/eating, playing/eating. Finally, they fell into an exhausted and loving heap.

sleep in chair.jpeg

Seeing how happy they were together confirmed my decision to take them both. I have never regretted it.

So my kitten family was complete. But there is much more to the story.

To be continued…..

A Return to Home Sweet Abbey

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Blogging / Mostly Musings / Neighbors

It’s been more than a year since I posted on this blog. Maybe you thought I had decided to close it down. I wouldn’t blame you. There were times when I thought that’s what was happening too.

It seemed like I had run out of ideas and of inspiration. I would sit down at the computer and try to write, but my topic wouldn’t work out. There were even more times when my mind was a total blank, leaving the cursor blinking on an empty page.

But neither could I completely give up. I missed my blog and your comments. I missed the creative process of trying to wrangle words and images into something that might interest others and please myself. And perhaps most important of all, there was never a week during that year that my blog wasn’t viewed by a few people.

Nevertheless, a year went by. It was a difficult year. I lost my next-door neighbor and my two longtime cats. It was painful staying goodby to Ollie, Shadow, and Angie.


Yet the year held bright spots too. I’ll be blogging about some of them in my next few posts. But before I move on to new business, there is one piece of old business I’d like to wrap up. I had begun a followup to my last post before I took my leave.

In my last published post, I Can’t Wait to Get Back to Three Pines, I write about my excitement over the release of Kingdom of the Blind, at that time the newest book by my favorite author, Louise Penny. I also discuss her series of mysteries set in the fictional village of Three Pines.

Today I’d like to share an excerpt from my unpublished follow up. I think of it as a bridge between my older posts and today’s new beginning. It also returns to my feelings about the community where I live, feelings that remain at the heart of this blog.

Here is the excerpt:

In Louise Penny’s series, the Three Pines setting is as important as the plot and characters. Many readers actually become nostalgic about this imaginary place. I am one of them.

Three Pines is a fictional, almost a mythical, village. We are told it is in rural Quebec, not too far from the border with Vermont. Yet Three Pines itself is a mystery. It appears on no map; GPS cannot find it. Characters have to stumble upon it, or, occasionally, follow a resident home to find it. Here is what Ms Penny says about it:

Some might argue that Three Pines itself isn’t real, and they’d be right, but limited in their view. The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it as existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate. Kindness over cruelty. Goodness over bullying. When we choose to be hopeful, not cynical. Then we live in Three Pines.

Now let’s turn to my community, Maples at the Sonatas. We have a time set aside for announcements during our monthly neighborhood coffees. At our last one, my neighbor, Bob, began explaining a problem with some of the Christmas lights that we string on our trees. It was his beginning sentence that caught my attention, one that went like this: “You know the place at our main entrance where the three big pine trees are…”

Right then I stopped listening. Why had I never put this together? We do have three big pine trees, just like the village in the novels. Could it be that we also share some of the atmosphere of Three Pines? Don’t we have the same close knit relationships that Louise Penny describes?

I like to think that the Three Pines state of mind described above is alive and well here, and that it is infused into our shared daily lives.

I leave you, for now, with these photos of the three pines of Maples at the Sonatas.




I Can’t Wait to Get Back to Three Pines

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Mostly Musings


Today, November 27, is circled in bright red on my calendar. It has been for months. You see, today is the release date for Kingdom of the Blind, book number 14 in Louise Penny’s series of Armand Gamache mysteries.

Here’s how addicted I am to these books. I slept with my iPad on my nightstand last night. Immediately on waking up, I checked and found the ebook downloaded to my Kindle app, ready for my reading pleasure.

Before going any further, I have a disclaimer: I wrote this yesterday and posted it this morning. At this moment, I’m curled up reading the book, as many, many other fans surely are.

I am a relatively new fan, having read the first book, Still Life, a year or so ago. My friend, Sue, deserves credit for getting me started. And once I entered the world of Inspector Gamache, head of Quebec’s famous crime-fighting Surété, I never wanted to leave it. I devoured books 2 through 13, finishing the last a couple of weeks ago.

If you have never read Louise Penney, you are missing out on so much. To borrow from several reviewers, she creates intricately-plotted mysteries written in elegant prose. She is a master at intertwining the personal lives of her characters with the crimes being investigated. Each book can stand alone, but the series features strong character development lines that make it advisable to read them in order. The reader continues learning more about a handful of fully-drawn recurring characters, who are surrounded by other fascinating characters who come and go. One of them will end up being the murderer, but good luck guessing who it will be. I am never able to figure it out until he or she is revealed, and then it all makes perfect sense.

This is how Ms. Penny describes the books on her website:

My books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love.

If you only take one thing away from any of my books I’d like it to be this: Goodness exists.

In this series, the setting is equally important as the plot and characters. More than anything, it is the setting that stays with me and keeps drawing me back. Three Pines is a fictional, almost a mythical, village. We are told it is in rural Quebec, not too far from the border with Vermont. Yet Three Pines itself is a mystery. It appears on no map; GPS cannot find it. Characters have to stumble upon it, or, occasionally, follow a resident to find it. Here is what the author says about it:

Some might argue that Three Pines itself isn’t real, and they’d be right, but limited in their view. The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it as existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate. Kindness over cruelty. Goodness over bullying. When we choose to be hopeful, not cynical. Then we live in Three Pines.

Today I am so incredibly happy to be back in Three Pines. I’ll be in touch again soon… but not until I finish the book.

My Radio Adventures

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It began as a 3-way chat on Messenger. It was a couple of weeks before my trip to visit Joe and Sylvia in Asheville, NC, and we were discussing plans for my stay. Sylvia and I were making decisions about places to visit and things to do. Then Joe jumped in.

Screen Shot B

Screen Shot A

Screen Shot D

Wait. A set of questions about the novel I wrote?? I took a deep breath and typed:


Yes, it turned out, that was exactly what he had in mind.

Screen Shot 3

What ensued was the biggest adventure I’ve had recently.



Before we step into Studio A at 103.3 Asheville FM, here’s some background. Joe has had an interest in radio, and in being on the air, for quite a while. He also has an extensive knowledge of all kinds of music and an impressively large collection of it. Soon after moving to Asheville, he became involved with Asheville FM, which is a volunteer-based, listener-supported, grassroots community radio station. One thing led to another, until he found himself hosting his own show, Life Out of Tunes, using the DJ name of Joey Books.

If you are interested in knowing more about how Joe became a DJ, follow the link below to a post on his blog, Life Out of Tunes: Chasing a DJ Diploma.

And a little more background. The book in question is Teaching Mysteries 201: The Strike, a mystery set in 1972 that I wrote and published last year.



I had 20 days before the show. Plenty of time to prepare. Except that I didn’t prepare, other than sending Joe the interview questions, along with a list of the songs I mentioned in the novel. Why did I need to prepare? I had spoken to a number of groups about the book. I had reread it over the summer. And I would be answering questions that I had made up myself.

I arrived in Asheville a few days before the show. Once there, I was busy sightseeing, walking around the West Asheville neighborhood, drinking wine with Joe and Sylvia, and getting reacquainted with Bandit, their dog.

Suddenly it was Monday. I woke up in a panic, realizing that in a few hours I would be on the radio. I dug out a copy of the questions and skimmed it. “I don’t know the answers to any of these,” I said to Bandit, who had jumped on my bed. He gave me a quizzical, head-tilted look. Why hadn’t the retired teacher done her homework?

When we arrived at the station, Joe gave me a tour and introduced me to other staff members who happened to be there. Fortunately, we were able to get settled in the studio a few minutes before air time. I had my headphones on and had passed a quick sound check. I got out my scribbled notes and was as ready as I would ever be.

The next thing I knew, Joey was saying into his mic: “It’s 2 p.m., and you are listening to Asheville FM…” He finished his intro, then Willie Nelson was singing Vote ‘Em Out. Off the air, Joey told me he would be spinning several tunes from the early ’70s before I would be on.

So I relaxed a bit and began noticing things. Like how much Joe was doing while music was playing. He was adjusting levers and pushing buttons, looking at his detailed notes for the show, marking off items with a highlighter, locating the copy for the announcements he had to read. Sometimes he spoke briefly between songs. After they played, he gave explanations and details that most listeners wouldn’t know.


Then Sarah McLachlan began singing Building a Mystery, which Joey had (appropriately) chosen to lead into my interview. While it played, he asked me, Are you ready? I said I was, and hoped that was true.

His plan was to ask me two or three questions, then play two or three songs from the book; then we would talk more, followed by more songs. It was a great plan because it gave me breaks to collect my thoughts and to just enjoy the music.

Looking back, the only thing I clearly remember talking about is how I chose the music in the book. I needed songs to fit the story and my setting. So I had called Joe because he knew so much about music. I asked him to suggest songs that might have been playing on a jukebox in a rustic bar during the fall of 1972. He got back to me very quickly with a number of choices. They all ended up in the book.

Here’s what surprised me the most about the experience. It was the complete relaxation I felt while “my” music was playing. I could easily imagine I was with my character, Andrea, in the bar after parent-teacher conferences, while Saturday in the Park, You’re So Vain, and The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A blasted from the juke box. Joey and I could take off our headsets and talk with each other and with Sylvia, who was there for moral support and to take the pictures in this post.

Joe and me

But that wasn’t my only surprise. When I sent Joe the list of songs in my book, there was one I really, really hoped to hear, though I honestly didn’t think that I would or could. Like Andrea, I had had a ritual to lift my spirits when I was feeling down. I would darken the room, light vanilla-scented candles, and play sentimental music by Rod McKuen. I hadn’t heard him since those long ago nights in my dorm room. So I assumed his recordings might not even be available anymore.

I should have known, though, that Joey would come through. When he played The Sea, and I heard it for the first time in nearly 50 years, I may have shed a nostalgic tear. And here’s another surprise. By the time the song finished playing, my nervousness had disappeared.

At that point, time sped up. Joey and I chatted some more. He played three more songs from my book—Cherish, The Sounds of Silence, and Here Comes the Sun. With that, my segment of the show was finished.

I was relieved, happy, proud, and maybe a little sad that it was over. But I can relive the experience whenever I want to. All I have to do is pop in the CD of the show that Joe made for me.

If you would like to hear the show, you can too. Simply click here. This link will take you to, where all of Joey Book’s shows are available to listen to.


To visit Joey Books’ page at, click here.

To visit the station’s website, follow this link.

Finally, my novel, Teaching Mysteries 201: The Strike, is available at Read Between the Lynes (for local folks) or here.


The Bee in the Rose at the Biltmore

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Hi, readers…

Long time, no see. Long time, no write. The ugly truth is that I haven’t blogged since July. Honestly, I don’t have a good reason for my absence. I’m not sure why I couldn’t get motivated to write. What I do know is that I’m back now. And it feels good.


A few days ago, I returned from a delightful week visiting friends in Asheville, NC. Joe, Sylvia, and Bandit were my neighbors in the Maples until they moved to Asheville. Here they are, posing for a picture by a lovely waterfall not too far out of town.



I couldn’t begin to describe everything that we saw and did and experienced. So I’m narrowing my focus to one site—Asheville’s most famous and popular tourism spot—the Biltmore estate. If you are not familiar with it, Biltmore House was built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 as his family’s home. Of the seven days I was in town, we spent parts of four of them at or near the Biltmore.


Friday evening found us at the Antler Hill Village and Winery. As the sun set, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll, sipped a glass of wine, and listened to live jazz outdoors. It was a great introduction to the beautiful sights, sounds, and tastes to be found on the estate.




[A reader interrupts: Wait. What does your title mean?  Me: Don’t worry, gentle reader. I’m getting to it.]


The next day we were back at the Biltmore for a harvest event in their vineyard. This was not open to the public. But I was lucky to have the right connections to score a ticket. And wow! It included a large appetizer buffet and an opportunity to walk into the vineyard. Oh, and of course, wine. Several delicious wines to choose from.


[Reader: What does it mean? A bee in the rose?  Me: Please be patient. I’m getting there.]


On to our third consecutive day of Biltmore adventure. This time, we didn’t technically set foot on the estate. But we did attend Sunday services at The Cathedral of All Souls, which was built by George Vanderbilt as the parish church for the village adjacent to the Biltmore estate.



[THE BEE? IN THE ROSE?   I know. Almost there.]


Our fourth and final visit to the Biltmore estate was where most tourists begin their experience—with a tour of Biltmore House, which was built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt as his family’s home. The first view is impressive.



The mansion, sometimes described as the largest home in America, is as fascinating as it is grand. I highly recommend taking the audio tour to learn as you go. After more than two hours in the mansion, I’m sure I could go back next week and find a lot that I missed the first time. It was so overwhelming that I chose not to take photos, but just to try to absorb as much as possible.

The views outside the mansion show just how lovely the setting is. Then it was time to walk through the adjacent gardens.


All of this touring and sight-seeing can wear a person out. So our last day at the Biltmore ended with a picnic in a shady spot in one of the gardens.

On our way to the parking lot, we pass the rose garden. It is late in the season, but there are still flowers blooming. I decide to take a couple more pictures, including the obligatory close-up of a rose.

[And there’s a BEE in the rose??????   Yes, yes, there is, dear reader! There is a bee in the rose at the Biltmore.]







Maples Friends Are the Best

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Neighbors / Social Life

I was working in my unofficial role of homeowner-sales assistant when I asked a question of a couple here on a first visit. It was a typical question that received an atypical answer.

I asked when they might be buying their new home and moving.

The wife answered: When I find what I’m looking for.

I asked: What is important to you?, expecting to hear about square footage, number of bedrooms, price, or other popular concerns.

Instead, she answered: We will be moving here knowing no one. I want to live where I can make friends and take part in social activities.

I’m sure a big smile spread across my face. I knew I could deliver what she wanted… and more. Our vibrant social life is one of our strongest points as a community.

On our way out to the models, I talked about our book club, monthly neighborhood coffees, potlucks, games club, and outings to nearby restaurants and attractions. A neighbor called a hello to me from her patio as we walked by. A car drove past and the driver waved at us.

I would like to say that the couple bought on the spot. But that didn’t happen. They liked the models and picked out a favorite. They asked to talk with Kelly, our “real” sales person. My job was done.


After they left, I went home and checked my email. There I found a message from a neighbor thanking me for thanking her and her husband for volunteering to take on a job in the community. She ended her message with these words:

“We are all so fortunate to have found our homes and friends here!”

I couldn’t agree more. As I reflected on our unique friendliness and volunteer spirit, I began looking through photos that reflect our social ties. Here are a few that I found:


Book club Christmas party

group3 fitz

fish boil in Genoa City, WI

walkers swimming

walking group cooling off after a hot walk


Maples friends at my book signing


impromptu gathering at the garden

using poles

working together to put up Christmas lights


I can’t end this post without thanking the Maples social committee, both present and past members. This hard-working group plans and runs our events. Without them, our social lives would not be nearly as full as they are.

Thank you from your neighbors!


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Mostly Musings

Hello, Perfectionism. My old nemesis. My worst enemy. My jailor. We meet again, though you have actually never been away.

You lurk within my mind and taint my feelings. You judge me, then convince me that I will never be good enough. Then to make it worse, you subvert my best efforts to forgive myself.

I don’t remember when you clawed your way into my psyche. I was probably too young to remember. And though I have tried to ignore you, override you, expel you, I never could. You roared back as soon as I had a weak moment.

I weep when I think of the opportunities I have passed up because of your lies. I look back at my life, and what do I see? Things I could have done and been, except that I let you convince me they were out of my reach. Why try at all if I wouldn’t be able to do something perfectly? And so, I didn’t try.

Yet, Perfectionism, you haven’t been perfectly successful yourself. Despite your sabotage, I have known love and friendship; I have accomplished things that make me proud. Best of all, I’m still alive, now armed with insights that can only come with aging.

Perfectionism, consider yourself kicked to the curb. From now on, I pledge to fill my heart with inspiration like this:



‘Thank You For Serving Our Country’

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Holidays / Mostly Musings


via Photo Challenge: Twisted

The twisted object I choose to share today is a simple one—yet one that carries a timely message. It is a handmade, braided bracelet stapled to a card by a child named Audrey. The words, Hears A Bracelet, in her printing, tell me that she is quite young.

Note the date—Valentine’s Day. The card is a love note to a veteran whom she has never met, and most likely never will. I was with the veteran who received Audrey’s card. I watched him smile as he read her message through teary eyes. “Look,” he said to me, “she has a dog. Please hold on to this for me.” I did. He still has it.

Audrey’s card, and many others, were delivered to her veteran on a plane flying home from Washington, D.C. It was an Honor Flight. The veterans on this trip spoke frequently of their comrades who did not return home, of those who never had a chance to grow old while enjoying the freedom they had fought for. It is those men and women whom we honor on this Memorial Day weekend.

Seeing this card again makes me happy. It reminds me that as long as we have people like Audrey, our soldiers, both living and dead, will not be forgotten.


Oh, Canada!

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Thank you to the readers who have asked to see more photos from my recent cruise. In my previous post (immediately below this one), I shared my pictures from our day in Old Quebec City.

Now we sail on to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. And while we do, this is a typical view from our ship, Holland America’s Veendam.



Our first stop is Prince Edward Island, which is the smallest of the provinces in both area and population. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in charm. Our port was Charlottetown. For me, the highlight of our visit was a tour of the city via horse-drawn trolley. It was a great overview and helped us choose places to walk to afterward for a longer, closer look. Here are a few of the sights.



The next day we sailed on to Nova Scotia, with stops in Sydney and, the following day, in Halifax. Unfortunately, the weather in Halifax could best be described as a cold monsoon, so I have no photos. But we had a wonderful day sightseeing in Sydney, which is located on Cape Breton Island.




While we were in the church above, St. George’s Anglican Church, a fellow tourist asked permission to play its vintage pipe organ. From the moment he settled on the bench and took out his phone to call up sheet music, it was obvious he was an accomplished organist. We visitors settled into the ancient wooden pews and were treated to an impromptu concert. The video below captures a bit of it.


I loved the days we spent in Canada. The country is similar enough to the U.S. that I feel comfortable, yet different enough that I know I’m in a foreign place. I hope to return soon for a longer visit.


Where They Don’t Talk in English

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As I took my first few steps on the narrow cobblestone streets of Old Quebec City, fragments of a quote popped into my head. I wanted to share it with my traveling companions, but I couldn’t retrieve the exact sentence of dialogue from Our Town. It had been too long since I had taught or seen the play. As soon as I reboarded our cruise ship, I looked up Thornton Wilder’s words:

Only it seems to me that once in your life before you die you ought to see a country where they don’t talk in English and don’t even want to.

The quote didn’t fit my situation as neatly as I had hoped. In the play, Mrs. Gibbs yearned to visit France, not Quebec. And this would be my second time in a French-speaking city, not my only. Yet the character and I shared much the same emotion.

Months earlier, when researching itineraries for a cruise, I had been drawn to Quebec, a place with a language, culture, and history very different from my usual surroundings. A place not terribly far from home, a place that was foreign yet not threatening. A place where I had some familiarity with the language, thanks to a long-ago French minor in college.

I could not have been happier with my choice of Quebec. What I found was a joyful experience that I will long remember. Here are a random few of my favorite sights.



And it was not just the sights. They were enhanced by the sounds of the city. (You may want to turn up the volume on your device here.)


Have you ever touched stones that have been in place since the 1600s? I can now say that I have.



Of course, the people are a crucial part of the travel experience. If I would nearly bump into someone on the street, I would wonder if I should say I’m sorry or Pardonez-moi. Can you guess someone’s language by his or her appearance? Is there a clue in how she wears a scarf, the tilt of a head, or his stride?



After Quebec, we visited several other ports in Canada, which is officially a dual-language country. Most communication—from road signs to historic plaques to announcements made by flights attendants—is made in both English and French. Quebec was our only city where the French version came first. I was désappointé when we switched back to English as the primary language.

Heavy Lifting

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I woke up this morning and, as usual, looked out a window. It was a good start to the day because I didn’t see any snow. Given our recent weather, that cannot be taken for granted. But I did notice something unusual.


Do you recognize the object in the circle? If not, you may not live in a community under construction. It’s the top of a crane, a sign of an interesting building day.

Though I have lived here more than seven years, I still find the construction process interesting. And there is no more dramatic step in building a home than an enormous crane lifting trusses into place for the roof.

So I had to go take a look. On my way out to phase 4, I realized this wasn’t just any new home going up. It was Barb and Paul’s Promenade. I was lucky enough to have spent some time with Barb while they were deciding on the model and lot they wanted. I was glad I had grabbed my camera to get a few shots to share with her.

I want to note here that I was careful to follow the rules. We are not allowed to get too close to active construction, for our own safety. So I stayed on the sidewalk and, therefore, did not have a particularly good angle. But this short video will give you an idea of the process.


Then, still obeying the rules, I cautiously made my way to another vantage point to show you what happens after the pieces have been lifted into place. I was not as close as this looks, thanks to zooming.


I have watched enough construction to know that the exterior of a home goes up relatively quickly. Once this is finished, work will move inside, away from prying eyes and cameras such as mine.

Barb and Paul will close on their home during the summer. And once they get settled, I’m almost sure I’ll be invited over for a glass of wine. Maybe we’ll sit in their court yard, with its lovely nature views. I can’t wait!