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.

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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?

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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!

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02022020—A Great Day in Woodstock, IL

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Woodstock

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)

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Other times I find myself saying:

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

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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.

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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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Animals

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.

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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.

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Joy

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

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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.

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I Can’t Wait to Get Back to Three Pines

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Mostly Musings

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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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Uncategorized

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.

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

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

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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.

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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 mixcloud.com, where all of Joey Book’s shows are available to listen to.

•••••••

To visit Joey Books’ page at ashevillefm.org, 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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Uncategorized

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.

 

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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.

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[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.

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[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.

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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.

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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.]

 

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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:

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Book club Christmas party

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fish boil in Genoa City, WI

walkers swimming

walking group cooling off after a hot walk

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Maples friends at my book signing

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impromptu gathering at the garden

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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!

Perfectionism

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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

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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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Uncategorized

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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Construction

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.

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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.

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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!

 

April 4, 2018

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Holidays / Mostly Musings

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It has been widely publicized that today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. It is indeed a day to celebrate his heritage. His life and work have inspired countless people of all races, beliefs, and nationalities.

 

 

 

 

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Today is also the birth date of another influential Civil Rights activist who knew and worked with Dr. King. Dr. Maya Angelou, who also championed women’s rights, was born 90 years ago today.

 

 

 

 

In addition, April is National Poetry Month. I would like to observe all three occasions by sharing a selection from each of these immensely talented writers. First, from Dr. King, who, as far as I know, never claimed to be a poet. But he employed many poetic devices in his speeches. This is an excerpt from I Have a Dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

•••••

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

And here is Dr. Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

If you are like me… If you do not have to share the struggles of these two American leaders… Please join me in gratitude for the freedom and privilege that I was given at birth.

Easter Nostalgia

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Holidays / Mostly Musings

Dear readers: I wrote and published this post four years ago. I am sharing it again as holiday nostalgia sweeps over me on this Easter weekend. My feelings and memories have not changed. Only one thing has; I lost Mom a year and a half ago.

•••••

Do you feel it too? For me, holidays always bring back memories of the celebrations of my childhood.

I can close my eyes today and see us so clearly. It is Easter. There is my family—Mom, Dad, Craig, Aunt Clara, Uncle Jack, and me—all in our farm house, sitting around the dining room table. It is set with Mom’s best china and the silverware that she kept in a velvet-lined wooden box except for special occasions.

We are all smiling as we pass the platter of ham, the sweet potatoes, and the creamed peas around the table. We are all incredibly, painfully young in my memory. It never occurred to us children that we would age and life would change.

We children are in our 60s now. We have gray hair and live a thousand miles apart. The older generation is gone, except for Mom, who is partially gone with dementia.

But the memories are not sad. Not at all. In them, Craig and I are hunting for the Easter eggs that Mom and Dad hid the night before. If Easter came early and it was still cold, the eggs would be hidden in the house. When it was jacket weather, like it is this year, we would have an outdoor hunt, our favorite kind.

I remember the year Mom hid a dozen hard-boiled, dyed eggs around the farmyard. Craig and I searched long and hard but could only find eleven eggs. Months later we found the crushed colored shell where, we assumed, a squirrel dropped it after eating the missing egg.

Easter of 1956 was warm enough to be outside. Here is a picture that Dad took of us with his beloved Argus slide camera.

Easter 1956

Easter 1956

In my Easter memories, we were always dressed up. Mom sewed nearly all of my clothing at that time. She outdid herself with this dress for Easter of 1955.

Easter 1955

Easter 1955

I wish I had smiled for the camera. I don’t recall why I didn’t. It’s funny because in my memories, I was always happy. We all were.

Happy Easter to everyone from Home Sweet Abbey!

 

A Cup of Coffee

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Mostly Musings

After a long break, I’m returning to my online blogging class. Today’s assignment, my second-to-the-last, is a virtual coffee date. In this type of post, I am to share thoughts in the informal way I might if I were actually talking to a friend over a cup of coffee. So… I have brewed up two mugs of strong, hot Black Magic coffee. Let’s sit in my sunroom and chat.

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If we were having coffee right now… I would take you over to a window and show you the green shoots of my daffodils and tulips poking through the ground. It will be a while before they bloom, but just knowing that I will have spring flowers in the near future makes me happy on this cloudy day.

If we were having coffee right now… I would tell you that yesterday I finished the preparations for a cruise I’ll be taking with my brother and sister-in-law in early May. I have reserved flights, booked shore excursions, checked in, printed luggage tags, and made sure that my passport is up to date and I am TSA approved. Here’s where we’re going:

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I’m so excited. I have always wanted to visit French-speaking Canada. You see, French was my minor in college—not one that I, regrettably, have used much since graduation. And now I’m a drop-out from an online French course that I hoped would refresh my skills. With only a little over a month left,  I have to resort to my backup plan of studying a list of French phrases for travelers.

If we were having coffee right now… my cat, Angie, would probably have joined us in the sunroom. She’s the most sociable cat I’ve ever had and absolutely loves interacting with humans. I’ll never figure out how she picks her favorites, though she tends to gravitate to men. But I guarantee if either of us gets up from our chair, she will jump out of a sound sleep and claim it within seconds. When that happens, the human might as well choose another place to sit. The cat calls dibs, and that’s that.

If we were having coffee right now… I might ask you for suggestions for a good book. I don’t have a book club selection to read for a couple of months. We will be discussing the novel I wrote in April, and I will miss our May meeting due to the cruise. So this is a perfect time to delve into something kind of meaty. Only problem is… what will that be?

If we were having coffee right now… I would definitely tell you how excited I am about something I did yesterday. I finally took Mom’s wedding ring to a good jeweler and asked for suggestions for reworking it. I want it transformed into a piece of jewelry that I can wear everyday, even with jeans. And so the diamonds will become a beautiful, shiny pendant that will remind me of Mom whenever I put it on. And, now that I think of it, it will remind me of Dad too because he gave Mom the ring going on 78 years ago. The pendant will look nice with the ring and earrings that I had made from my grandmother’s wedding ring a number of years ago. Being the only girl in the family is a huge advantage. You end up with all the diamonds.

If we were having coffee right now… I might ask you if you ever lose your focus for doing things that you should be doing—things you even want to be doing—and kind of float through days without accomplishing anything. Because I do, and it worries me since I didn’t used to. I miss the sense of accomplishment that comes from checking completed items off a to-do list. For example, take this blog. I feel guilty when I check my stats and see that people are visiting it when there is nothing new to read. I want to write more often, and I enjoy it once I settle into the process. Maybe I need to lower my expectations. So I tell you, kind of half-way joking, that I’m going to make a new to-do list with only two items: find that list of French phrases and begin studying it; and blog at least once a week.

If we were having coffee right now… I would thank you for listening to my ramblings. And I wouldn’t say it out loud, but I would hope that one day soon you will invite me back for coffee at your place.

 

 

Puzzled

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Animals / Just for Fun

I loved working jigsaw puzzles when I was a kid. Somehow, though, it seems that I outgrew them. I don’t remember exactly how or why it happened, only that when I went away to college, I didn’t take any along.

But now, after more than a 50-year absence, I’ve redeveloped a passion for jigsaw puzzles. And I know exactly how that happened. Last February, when I spent a week with Sue in a condo on the beach in Alabama, she had a 1000-piece puzzle in progress when I arrived. It was, appropriately, a picture of many wine bottles.

I enjoyed helping her put it together, so much so that I bought a puzzle as soon as I got home. That one led to another and to another, until I was hooked again. The leaning tower of puzzle boxes in one of my closets is proof of that. And for the past year, I have eaten many meals at the bistro table in my sunroom or on my breakfast bar because so often there is a puzzle spread out on my dining room table.

It turns out that I am not the only one in my home who likes puzzles. When I dump a box full of pieces on the table, cat ears perk up, even if they are sound asleep. Both girls love jumping on the table and “helping” me. They take turns gleefully rolling on or sleeping on the pieces as I try to work around a purring, furry body. They also think it’s hilarious performing gravity checks with the pieces, slowly nudging them to the edge of the table until they fall to the floor.

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I thought I had read that doing puzzles is good for the brain. So I did some quick research this morning, and it turns out I was right. If I can believe the claims, my puzzle habit is helping improve my memory, my concentration, my problem-solving skills, my visual-spatial reasoning, my mood, and even my IQ. Then with the additional benefits of interacting with my cats, I can also lower my stress and blood pressure and increase my quality of life.

With the promise of so many benefits, I have all the excuses I need to continue working my puzzles.

What about you? Are you a fan of jigsaw puzzles too?

A Slice of Vacation Life

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Blogging / Just for Fun / Nature

Today’s assignment is to recreate the events of a single day. This one will be easy, since I will draw on memories of my recent stay with my friend, Sue, in her rental condo in Orange Beach, AL

 

I wake up when I wake up, without an alarm or obligation. I know without getting out of bed whether Sue is up before me. The first thing she does each morning is open the glass doors to the balcony. If I can hear the ocean, she is up.

I dress for a day in the mid-70s, getting reacquainted with the summer clothes and sandals I haven’t worn since September. Coffee is waiting in the kitchen; the fixings for my favorite breakfast are in the frig. I’ll get to them in a minute. First, I go out on the balcony to commune with the surf and the beach. The ocean has a different mood every time I look at it. I often take photos or record a short video, like the one below. They don’t do the scene justice, but I love looking at them when I return to February in Illinois.

 

Then it’s time for my morning activities that include checking social media and the news, reading Sue Grafton’s last mystery, Y is for Yesterday, and going back and forth from the balcony to the living room.

This continues, in a delightful way, until it’s time to go out for lunch, our biggest and most planned-out meal of the day. We go to a new restaurant each day, usually one with a water view. Sometimes it’s just Sue and me; other days, we meet up with friends or relatives who are in the area. Each day I order a different kind of seafood or fish, working my way through grouper, crab (cakes), salmon, and flounder. It is all amazingly fresh and delicious. This was the view from our table one day.

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Some days we stop for provisions on the way back to the condo. If we do, we make it quick because we can’t wait to return to the ocean and our books. In the afternoon we also may work on a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle that completely covers the table.

About an hour before sunset, we head down to the beach. It’s a good thing it’s a quick  walk from our building and down a short boardwalk because we are carrying our folding chairs, light jackets, and sippy cups of wine (no glass allowed). We aren’t alone on the beach, but the few people there on a weekday are all a distance from us—a benefit of coming before spring break. I walk across the clean white sand to the edge of the water. I don’t dip my feet in because it is still too cold. Then I return to my chair for a sip or two of Chardonnay. We watch the sun duck behind and between clouds as it slowly touches the ocean and sinks from view.

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Then it’s back to the condo and a simple, light dinner with another glass of wine. We end the day watching the Olympics, working on the puzzle, reading, and chatting. The sound of the waves and the wine relax me, until finally the effort of staying awake becomes too great. I head off to bed, where I sleep more deeply and peacefully than I ever do at home.

If I am very, very lucky, my vacation is not over yet. I get to wake up the next morning and do it all over again.

 

Mapping My Family Home

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Blogging / Mostly Musings

 

Today’s assignment is to write a post based on a map. I am doing that, but you will have to read for a while before we get to the maps.

 

It was, I don’t know, maybe 2013 or -14, a late afternoon, when my phone rang.  I didn’t recognize the number that came up, but I knew the 319 area code.  It is for eastern Iowa, where I was born and raised.

A family friend was calling to tell me that our old farmhouse was on fire. In fact, it was engulfed in flames shooting up into the sky. It was a planned burn, he said, by the latest owners who apparently found it the easiest way to get rid of the house.

His words were a punch to the gut. Granted, I hadn’t lived full-time in that house since I had left for college 40-some years earlier. My parents had sold the farm in the early ’70s when they moved to Colorado Springs; their buyers had also sold it, as those owners possibly did also. I had lost track of how many owners there were. Later I would learn that the last ones had bought the property for the land and the other buildings. They did not intend to live there.

Two or three years after that phone call, Mom died. On the day that my brother, his wife, and I went back to bury her ashes, we drove by the old place. The house was not only gone, but there was no sign it had ever been there. The foundation had been removed, and the lawn was repaired. We couldn’t get close enough for a good look because a locked gate blocked the driveway.

It’s just as well, I guess. Now the home, and the farm, can be however I want to remember them. And I choose to remember them as being grand.

The house was very old, even when I was growing up. How old? I’m not quite sure. Mom told me when I was young that it had been built in the 1840s, but I can’t verify that.

However, from studying the deeds in her scrapbooks, I know that the farm came into her family when Johannes Hagen and his wife bought it in 1884. From then, it was sold from parents to children through the generations, always for the price of $1. When it came to my parents in 1936, the recording fee was higher than the selling price.

This is a photo from my scrapbook, showing the house as it looked in 1947, when my parents brought me home from the hospital.

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•••••••

 

All right. I’m ready to get to the maps now. Last week I was cleaning a closet and came across this musty old book, printed in 1966.

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Let’s look inside it and zoom in on my family farm. First, here’s the map of Iowa, showing where our county, Scott, is located.

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Within Scott county, here is our township, Sheridan.

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And within the township, the red box marks our farm.

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So that is the exact location of the farmhouse that no longer exists.

Except that, of course, it most certainly does still exist. In Mom’s scrapbooks, in my photo albums, on the memory quilt that my sister-in-law stitched for Mom’s 90th birthday. And in the hearts and memories of those of us who ever lived or visited there.