What We Keep, Chapter Two

High above my kitchen sink, on a decorative shelf is an old metal toy train car. It was a gift. It’s not very pretty. It was found abandoned in an old sand box. But the little girl who gave it to me was so proud to present it to me so I put it up on the shelf. Years passed and whenever she would enter my kitchen she would always point it out. Almost always saying “I can’t believe you still have it.”

This past summer we hosted a Fourth of July brunch in our back yard. As I have at numerous other summer gatherings, I used three old table cloths on the picnic tables. I guess you would call them vintage. They were the simple cotton cloths that my mother used. White squares with colorful designs printed on them. Blue, banners and red flowers, and one with a sunny map of Arizona. They are of course showing their age. But I think they look so cheerful that I always bring them to our outside parties.

And now it is winter time and I have been thinking of my mother’s tablecloths and that little toy train. My mother died 30 years ago, in December a few days before her Christmastime birthday.

The little girl with the train, all grown up and married, did not see this past Christmas either. She died in the fall several weeks before her fortieth birthday.

So I am thinking again about those things we keep. The things that inextricably find themselves connected to memories sometimes good, sometimes sad, but our memories non the less.

Recently, I asked some friends if they had any keepsakes without obvious financial value, and if so, what were they? I found that their treasures had much in common with my tablecloths.

I was interested to find that there were overlaps in some of the keepsakes. I’m not the only one who has kept the final drivers license of a late parent. And there were birth certificates, love letters, and even the hunting license of a 15 year old boy who would grow up to be the father of six daughters.

As we make our way through life there are those things we cannot avoid. The old adage about death and taxes as inevitable misses the mark on what truly matters. Memories, and the things inexplicably tied to them, those are the truly unavoidable things in life. And if we are very lucky, the old tablecloths, toys, and licenses will become talismans to sweet memories. Perhaps these things will prompt a smile albeit with a tear or a tightening in our throat.

I’ll continue to use the old cotton tablecloths on summer tables. The old metal train car will remain on display in my kitchen. They connect me to those I have loved who are lost to me now…..but not forgotten.

I’m just say’n.

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

Each year for over 40 years, my suburban church has held a joint Thanksgiving service with a nearby Jewish congregation. The tradition was upended in 2020 by Covid. A joint Zoom service was held instead. But in 2021 we gathered together again. In masks and socially distancing, the joint service was held again.

A few days before the service was scheduled, another member and I came to the church to decorate the communion table. We came prepared with gourds and pumpkins. A cornucopia, fall leaves, and bittersweet garlands were used to signal the harvest and God’s bounty. And when the evening service began I was in my pew ready to give thanks with our two faith communities.

The service proceeded as it always had. The pastor welcomed all who attended. The combined choirs sang. The rabbi gave us her sermon. It was all very wonderful I’m sure. I think. Because, well, I was somewhat distracted. You see as I looked at the Thanksgiving decorations on the communion table I thought I saw something strange.

For there between the fall leaves, alongside the brimming cornucopia was something, I couldn’t quite make out. I squinted in an attempt to see just what was the thing that was nestled in the decorations. Had one of those little jack-o’-lantern flowers somehow turned upside down, and from my somewhat distant pew, make me think it was more than just a flower?

It looked like, a small orange, tiny, toy tiger.

I was sure I was mistaken. Sure, that what I was looking at was just a play of light and color and the need to have my eyeglass prescription checked. Certainly no tiger lurked in the flora and fauna.

The service ended and I waited until the coast was clear before approaching the table for a closer look. Once I was close enough to tuck the bitter sweet garland a little more securely to the table for the next days service, I could see exactly what caused my eyes to play such a trick on me. Up close I could see that, it was, a tiger. A tiny, orange, toy, tiger. There on the be decked communion table this tiger had stood proudly if not too tall, all during the worship service. And it would seem I was the only one who saw him.

The minister was clueless, the rabbi seemed unaware, just me, I was the only one who knew or saw him there. The minister laughed when I told her. We talked about how he probably got up there on the table with the fruit and the vegetables. She thanked me for the decorations. I suggested she retire the tiger before the memorial service scheduled for the next morning.

Thanksgiving is weeks in the rearview mirror now. Christmas is straightahead. But that tiger. I can’t get him out of my mind. Here at my church, we’ve deck the halls with boughs of holly. There are candles and wreaths in our windows. The crèche is on display. But what about the tiger?

Yes my church is decorated, my home is a wash with Christmas sparkle. Maybe your home and house of worship are also dressed in holiday finery. But what about the tiger?

As we worship in face coverings to protect each other, as we scale back or cancel holiday activities we’ve continued to decorate our surroundings. We’re trying to establish that our traditions matter, our holidays are important and they will continue. But what about the tiger?

Sometimes we have to sit in our pew and look really hard, stare if you will, to see the things we must see and recognize. To me that little piece plastic and whimsy is also a reminder. A reminder to look past the decorations and just try to see beyond them. A reminder that the meaning of any holiday can be lost. Thanksgiving itself is often lost in the rush to Christmas. The true gifts of Christmas are easily overlooked in the shopping, the hustle and the bustle that happens even in a worldwide pandemic. Sometimes we have to sit in our pew and look really hard, stare if you will, to see the things we must see and recognize to truly discern Christmas.

A few weeks later the children of the congregation presented their Christmas pageant. Unable to sing due to the Covid protocols, they wore their holiday best and offered their Christmas truth.

Wearing masks they performed as a bell choir. They presented readings about Christmas. And the clever choir Director even had them play percussion instruments in a wonderful rendition of Joy to the World . But to me the true gift of Christmas was this. With only the piano quietly playing and the voices of three adults in the background, the children presented the classic Christmas carol Silent Night in American Sign Language.

Just perfection. A tiger burning bright indeed. I’m just Say’n.

The Empty Bough

Have you decorated for the holidays yet? Do you have favorite ornaments? One of my favorite looked to be spun of pure threads of glass. It was heart shaped, its only embellishment a narrow pink ribbon. It was quite beautiful in its simplicity. But more important to me was its provenance. The ornament wasn’t mine. Rather, it was a gift to my then, eight month old daughter on the occasion of her christening. A dear friend and neighbor so special she served as another grandparent to my older son was the gift giver. It was perfectly beautiful as we hung it on the tree each year over the next 20 years.
And then I broke it.
The ornament simply slipped out of my fingers onto the unforgiving newly refinished floor. The carpet was gone and now the ornament was shattered. I was reminded of that broken ornament again recently when another close friend called to comment on my recent Facebook post. One where I shared the surprise gift of a trip to Chicago to take in the holiday decorations and the Nutcracker ballet all provided by our adult children.
My friend wanted to say how wonderful she thought the gift and the day looked. She did. And then she began to cry. Our day of holiday fun reminded my friend of similar trips she and her late mother had made over the years to celebrate her own December birthday. And it made her sad, Missing her mom, the times they shared before Alzheimer’s took her mother away, years before death parted them. She apologized for her tears not wanting to sadden me too. I told her those tears were well earned and valuable. Just as important as anything else the holidays have to offer.
You see, to my way of thinking (and this is after all my blog) Christmas is complicated. It’s a beautiful time of sparkle and fun. But it also is full of poignant moments. They catch us unaware and can stop us in our tracks.
I was buzzing about busily at my own Christmas party this year. Filling the punch bowl, passing the appetizers when one of my guests caught me off guard with a hug and these words. “I’m so happy to be at your wonderful party again this year. But I’m also thinking of the people who’ve been here in the past who are no longer here for you, and it makes me a little sad.”
Zing. Wow. How did she channel that huge bold truth? It was there in the house with me amid the tree and the decorations and the candles shining brightly. Yes, there were spaces left where beloved folks had been. An older neighbor who always entered with a booming laugh and a giant hug for me. My mother in law sitting quietly, shyly near the tree, my son’s godfather early to arrive and always one of the last to leave.Usually he would be one of several friends at evening’s end sitting, talking eating the last remaining Christmas cookies. Sweet memories.
My friend’s tears for the holidays with her mother, my absent party guests, they are part of Christmas too. Remembering the people who we have loved and who have loved us gives Christmas its depth of color beneath the shiny sparkle. The empty spaces between the boughs are filled with no small amount of longing for what we can no longer see; a parent, a friend, a sibling, a child, a spouse.
They give our tree, our life a dimension, a counter point to the busy rush of the holidays.

In my mind my beautiful Christmas tree will always be missing one special ornament. The space it filled within the branches will always be empty. Not because it was such a lovely ornament but because the love it came with was so dear.
I will miss it forever.
But, I will continue decorating my tree and home each Christmas. Knowing that sometimes the most beautiful decorations shine only in my memory. But shine they do.
And they warm the winter night.
I’m just say’n.

The Window Over the Sink

The day was gray as I stood at the sink, spring was tying to make a real appearance but the clouds were working against it.  And then in the still bare shrubbery lining the back yard, the flutter of wings, the flash of scarlet, a cardinal. I paused to watch, wondering if I could catch a picture, but the bird soon dipped and hopped branch to branch before finally taking flight and making an exit.

The window over the kitchen sink, is there a more valued window in the  entire house?  Perhaps you enjoy the view from a large bay in your living room, or the shady opening into an old oak tree from a bedroom window. Or maybe your home boasts an actual sunroom. Windows all around with a wide view of your yard, a ravine, a lake, the world. But for me the views that have entranced me are the ones I’ve seen through the glass over my kitchen sink. While getting a glass of water or washing dishes, or once upon a time bathing a baby, the things I’ve seen from the kitchen window are an album of memories to me.

What sort of pictures were displayed there?  Well, I’ve watched  four different golden retrievers saunter in the sun, chase bunnies, and warn away birds high upon the telephone  wire. And Kalahan, our first golden, well he viewed the yard as his kingdom and those kids in the wading pool his charges. So he would keep a watchful eye, giving a short bark if things got too rowdy. And then at nap time when the kids were inside for the afternoon, he’d step carefully into the pool for a relaxing cooling soak.

Once upon  a time the view from the window had a wooden play set. For a while it had one of those baby holding bucket swings where the youngest  were pushed and swung until graduating to a regular swing. The sandbox was covered by a platform called “the fort.”  It was up high enough to feel almost like a tree house, and   I watched summertime lunches enjoyed there.

Back yard parties, Fourth of July gatherings, children’ s birthday parties, water balloon fights, piñatas raining candy on laughing kids, snowmen and snowball fights all  part of the movie of our family’s life as seen through the kitchen window.

And now the pool is gone, replaced by a patio that I fill with potted  flowers  in the summer and a glider bench for reading. The swing set has migrated to two different  back yards now, and this year’s golden has the yard to himself.  But I still watch the yard for stories.

Not long after the death of one of our dearest  friends, I looked up from the dishes and thought I saw him tending my flowers in the fancy planter he had given me. Pinching the spent blossoms as he so often did when ever he stopped by. It was his habit, rather than knocking at the door, to just walk into the backyard and begin tweaking the garden when he arrived for a visit or dinner. This has happened several times to me. Seeing my old friend there among my flowers though the kitchen window is a pleasant sight.

Now a days it is a commonly held Facebook trope that a cardinal sighting is a message of comfort from someone we’ve lost. It’s not one I have given much thought.  But that day with  Easter and spring both pushing  us further into the surreal calendar that is  2020, I remember the trope and wonder.  Is the cardinal my friend, one of my parents, or even one of those other three goldens, waving to me on the wings of the bird?  A feathered mesenger letting me know that all will be well  that this time of quarantine and virus will pass . It’s a puzzle for me as I stand by the sink on a gray day in April.

I’m just say’n.




All the Broken Pieces

B0A667A3-3427-47C2-9CCB-69261C81498C     This Christmas post began as last Christmas passed by, it’s pieces stiching themselves together during Easter. And now as  this  Christmas receeds it is a story, I hope, to finally do justice to.

Last year my friend died. It was unexpected and very sad, as losing a friend always is. She slipped away shortly after Christmas while sleeping. The new year found her family and friends full of sadness over the loss, and the knowledge that her final years had been difficult and often sad. And though many of her last conversations and texts to me were optimistically looking forward to the new year, I  knew she would have to work to right the ship of her life. Unfortunately,  her time would run out before she could.

     After her passing her husband and son, graciously offered her beautiful dining room set to my son and son-in-law. It was one of her pride and joys, exemplifying her sense of style and design.  My son accepted the gift, and I was touched to think that when I would sit at my son’s holiday meals it would be at my dear friend’s table. I found the idea comforting.

     But when we went to pick up the table and chairs we soon discovered a major problem. Under neath  where the legs  attached to the table top, it was broken. Snapped off and unusable. It was probably broken  by the furniture movers during  her final move.  I was so sad by this turn of events, mostly because this last link to my friend was now gone.

 “Could it be fixed?” her husband asked me when I reported what we had found. “Probably, but we do  not have the skill set or the tools,”  I told him.  My son, knowing intuitively that it wasn’t about the table, held my hand while tears leaked from my eyes as I explained the problem.  We locked the apartment and left.

Later I spoke by phone to her very best friend about the table. The table, I said, was the perfect sad metaphor for our friend’s  last few years of  life.  Balanced and looking steady ready for a holiday meal. But really, underneath, broken and unable to be used. We both pondered the table and the loss of our friend.

A few days later,however, our friend’s husband again contacted me. He had a friend, a cabinet maker who had offered to repair the table. My son would indeed have holiday meals at the table of our friend.

You would  think that this would end the story for me. But it didn’t. And although the table was in fact repaired and delivered to my son, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The broken table, my friend’s illness and sickness–  brokenness.

Which bring me to Easter. It was Ash Wednesday and I was at church helping to serve communion. As I stood on the steps of in front of the communion table holding the chalice of wine I  looked at the members as they took communion.  One man grieving the loss of his brother, a woman, her head covered in a scarf after her recent cancer treatment, and the others, whose stories I didn’t know, all approached me to receive communion. And then it came to me, or perhaps I heard it.  Clearly, in a voice not my own but in my own head.  “We are all broken.”

It’s not the first time, that something had dawned on me with the surety of the word epiphany. But it was surprising none the less. I left church that night with much to think about.

And now It is Christmas once again. The post that has rolled around in my head since last Easter is finally ready to be released.

We are all broken.  My  friend’s passing last Christmas would not be the only loss for me this year, as Fall saw another friend pass away. You may have had to say farewell to loved ones too this year.

We are all broken.

Several months into Spring, my friend’s husband brought me a few  more momentos of his wife.  Some favorite cookbooks, and a small Christmas teapot.

He enclosed a note to explain the condition of the teapot. You see, it had been broken and repaired. A small chip on the top under the cover had been glued together “by the big clumsy oaf who broke it” , as described by his wife, he wrote.

We are all broken.

Perhaps we are all broken, by loss, by life, by illness, physical or emotional. But this year has also shown me how sometimes we can be mended. Perhaps it is another friend or a child who holds our hand, maybe it is taking part in a worship service, or reading the cookbook of an old friend that can help us move on.  Or maybe it is someone with tools and the skill set we do not have who can help.

This year many of us have experienced brokeness. Maybe many of us have been the hand that helps as well.

I’m just say’n.


“Come and gather around the table
In  the spirit of family and friends
And we’ll all join hands and remember this moment.
“Til the season comes ’round again.
May the new year be blessed
With good tidings
Til the next time I see you again
If we must say goodbye
Let the spirit go with you
And we’ll love and and we’ll laugh
In the time that we had
Til the season comes ’round again.”


‘Til the Season Comes Round Again

songwriters, John Jarvis, Randy Goodrum










The Fifth Bowl

The Fifth Bowl

I was emptying the dishwasher, one of the most mundane of household  tasks, when I came across a bowl. Nothing fancy.  A plain glass bowl for  a dinner salad, or morning cereal. As I returned it to its shelf I counted its set. Five, five glass bowls. Not six, or four, but five bowls nestled in the cupboard. Oh yes, I thought to myself, I had purchased them years ago after we  had moved my mother-in-law to our Wisconsin community from  New Jersey. I knew she would be often having dinner with us and I wanted enough bowls for us all. So, five bowls.

There was an envelope on the  kitchen table with the rest of the mail when I came home from work one evening this past fall.  I recognized the name on the return address immediately, the husband of a good friend and college roommate, who had died a couple of years earlier. As soon as I picked up the envelope I knew what it contained. Photographs.

It’s Christmastime again. And I can’t help thinking about these two things and the people they remind me of. They are both gifts of a sort. Inadvertently placed in my hands and challenging me to see their worth.

My friend Barb was many things. Really smart, very short (shorter even than me) and a prolific picture taker. Armed with her Kodak camera she was famous in our college circle for taking pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Later we would learn she would catalogue the pictures into albums with copiously hand written captions of who, what when and where in her famous ,fine,  (nun instructed, she always added)  small print. She created huge photo albums of our college years that sat on her desk.  The first time I visited her in her hometown, I saw she had even  more albums. Her family life and high school years all recorded in color, and a sprinkle of black and white.

So, I knew what was  in that envelope that day. Inside were more than a dozen pictures of Barb and I through our college years and the early years of my marriage. Lifted carefully from her albums, along with a note “I thought you would enjoy these.” from her husband. And I thought about what those pictures meant and about what I learned from Barb.

Likewise that plain glass bowl reminds me of my mother-in-law and what I learned from her. She was different from me in many ways.  In other words she was quiet, very quiet. In the early years of my marriage I was certain that she did not know  me well enough to dislike me, certain and sad that  our relationship would always be distant. But after a few years, two grandchildren she adored, and many salads we found our friendship. Her quiet acceptance of her immersion into our midwestern cold winters, big golden retrievers, and our family life taught me to try quiet and steady as attributes. And while I still would never be described as quiet, I know how to use that muscle. A gift indeed.

And what did I learn from smiling for the camera in all of Barb’s photographs? Well simply to smile. And really anyone who knew Barb would tell you that was one  her strongest dearest qualities. She was a smiler. She chose to be  happy every day that I knew her.

Back in the day before selfies and cameras in phones, Barb was an unintentional historian, to our lives and friendships. And unlike most people she arranged and curated her pictures rather than boxing and forgetting them.  People and  memories, were to be cherished and remembered, in Barb’s world.  So that is what she did.

My husband and I recently made our annual trip to Chicago to view the Great Tree in the Walnut Room. It’s the old venerable restaurant on the seventh floor, in what used to be the flagship State Street store of what used to be, Marshall Fields.  Lately absorbed by Macy’s, and now no longer with an eight floor viewing site, the tree was beautiful but the shrinking of its home was sad.  Despite  this, we enjoyed the tree and made the predictable comments on changing times and old traditions changing or disappearing.

Christmas marks many things including the end of one year and the passage of time. Gift giving has long been a part of the holiday but sometimes Christmas gives us a chance to ponder the gifts not wrapped in colorful paper and bows. Rather it gives us an opportunity to look back and see the gifts we received from those no longer with us that we may not have recognized  when received.  The Christmas song Happy Happy Christmas sums it up,

                                        I hear them singing outside my door..      

                                       But I know you’d want me to sing in the snow        

                                                            Live well and let go

                                                        Happy, Happy Christmas

                                                Love the ones who love you too,

                                           They say time flies, baby it’s true so

                                                 Happy, happy Christmas to you

I’m   just say’n.




Provenance of a Sports Fan

F298BE71-5B90-4D36-A237-BBC830F9A053I like sports. I’m a sports fan. Specifically, I’m a baseball fan. I come by it honestly, both my parents liked baseball. They were natives of Detroit, so they rooted for the Tigers. But we lived in northern Illinois where the Cubs ruled. Even so in our house it was all about the American League.  My first trip to a ball park was to old  Cominsky.  So I grew up a White Sox fan, something of an anomaly in the land of Ernie Banks.  That’s my background as a baseball fan, my provenance if you will. How people become fans of their teams is very interesting to me. Anyone can be born into a household of Red Socks hating Yankees or blue sky loving Dodgers. These fans are just following a crowd. But I’m interested in a fan whose team of choice is not from their hometown or region. How was that fan’s provenance formed?

That brings me to the other baseball fan in my house,  the one I know best his baseball provenance started out routinely but transformed to another team over time. This is his story.  And let me tell you, sports fans, you’re going to love this story.

It was 1982 my husband and I had returned to our college town after he completed  grad school to live and work. Tom, born and raised on the east coast, an avid baseball fan had grown up following the Mets and the Yankees. He still speaks of Tom Seaver in dulcet tones. But our four years in Milwaukee  at Marquette University had found us at many a Brewer game and we found it easy to root for the home team. Players like Yount, Molitor and Cooper, made it easy to watch baseball in our adopted city. And that year would be the franchise’s second time in post season play.  So with a pinch on our limited finances, we luckily secured four seats in the right field bleachers for both the playoffs and the possibility of a  World Series. Good friends of ours would join us in the bleachers of the old County Stadium.

The playoffs were a best of five series in those days and the Brewers had dropped two straight to  the Angels in Anaheim. They would have to sweep three games, something that no other team had ever done, to advance to the Series.

It was a chilly October evening and the Brewers had won the first two games after retrning to Milwaukee setting up an improbable game five. But the Angels took and early lead and in the fourth inning it was California 3 Milwaukee 1.  And that’s when the fun began. My husband’s favorite player on the Brewers, was out fielder Ben Oglivie. Tom loved Ogilvies’s out look, athletisim, and reputation as something  of a scholar. But in the fourth inning nature called and   Tom was in the men’s room when Oglivie came up to bat. With one out, and no one on  base, Oglivie launched one for a solo home run. A midst the cheering and the applause, our friends and I could not believe that Tom had missed this very important homerun by his favorite player. It was what we kept saying to each other as Ben rounded the bases. We were still cheering the home run when Tom made his way back to his seat. “You missed it ! Can’t believe you missed it!”  We shouted above the roar of the crowd.  And that’s when he pulled from his pocket and shouted for everyone within ear shot  to hear “I caught the ball!”  Well, he actulally added an adjective which I won’t use in this post. But you get the idea.

You see as he exited the men’s room  and walked back under the stands to our seats he heard a roar go up from the crowd. He stopped to try to see the scoreboard and as he has described many times, he looked up through the tunnel in the bleachers to see, the ball. “It looked like  something out of  a movie, with the ball slowly dropping toward  me. It actually hit me in the chest. I simply put it in the pocket of my coat.”  Yes my husband caught a homerun ball from his favorite player in the decisive game of the playoffs coming out of the men’s room. The Brewers  won the game and went onto the World Series.

But the story doesn’t end there. After the game and later after the World Series  Tom contacted the Brewers and offered to return the ball to Ben. Nothing ever came of it and the baseball resided in one of those acrylic boxes meant for noteworthy baseballs, in our family room for 25 years.   And then last year the Brewers hosted a reunion of that 1982 World Series Team.  Tom made another effort and wrote to the team owner. This time his letter was answered. So on July 15,2017 Tom finally got to meet his favorite Brewer and return the home run ball to Ben Oglivie.  Tom shared his story with an incredulous Ben and posed for a picture.

I’ve always found it ironic that a guy who had been to hundreds of baseball games, as a kid growing up,  watching both teams in New York, and in  the cities we would visit together, never caught a baseball, not even a foul ball.  That the ball he would finally catch would be a home run ball off his favorite player  in a championship game, while exiting the men’s room is almost  to wild a story to believe.

It’s October again, and the Brewers are in the playoffs once more. This year it’s in a different league and a different stadium. The fans in my family will be watching again. But somehow I don’t think we’ll be able to top that memory. Our fan history, our provenance was forever altered by a baseball dropping out of the sky into the hands of my husband. An improbable, funny, story to add to our family lore. Ahh baseball… at our house it’s still the national past time.  I’m just say’n.

Tom meets Ben after an improbable catch.

Good Day, Sunshine

I was waiting for a sunrise.  From the moment I entered the bedroom of our vacation rental and saw the east facing, lake-viewing balcony, I knew I would be waking up early one morning to capture a sunrise snapshot.  But the best laid plans as the saying goes, did not take into account my catching the dreaded summer cold.  And each morning when the lake loon cried out to the rising sun, my congested head stayed on my pillow.

Summer is the season we Midwesterners dream of through long icy winters and teasing glimpses of spring. Some even decline to enjoy our beautiful autumns by mourning summer’s end. There is so much to love about summer. For me, it’s the little moments of enjoyment. Sipping brewed ice tea I’ve  blended. Watching kids on bikes with tennis rackets or baseball bats heading to the school yards. Murphy, my golden and I wear matching smiles on our morning walks. Smelling the grass and flowers, feeling the breeze as we survey the lake on our walks.

It has been a long time since I felt compelled to walk to the lake to catch the early morning show. A lot of summer memories had been made since I had. Making real lemonade with my daughter, encouraging sprinkler fun as a win/win to my son. Fun for him, watered grass for me. Watching the kids play tee/soft/base ball on  summer evening. Enjoying it more than they probably ever did. Hot dogs on the grill. The delicious smell of a neighbor’s dinner grilling while on our evening walk.  And yes, even the music of the ice cream truck driving around the neighborhood. (I must confess I told my oldest it was just a music truck, and would bring him in the house to avoid the dinner spoiling treats. Imagine my well acted surprise when he informed me, around age 4, that the music truck also sold ice cream! Remarkable! Who Knew? I know, evil mom.)

So on this week-long vacation, at the up north location where we had spent so many happy times with our kiddos I wanted to watch a sunrise. This vacation, sans children was relaxing, and lovely. But, each day reminded me of each time we had all been together, scratching bug bites, riding bikes, and eating ice-cream.  So, on the last morning of the trip, when the loon’s call startled me from sleep I followed up on my plan.  I  tossed  on a cardigan over my night-clothes, slipped on sandals, grabbed my phone and headed out.  The short path from our back door to the  to the small northern lake was rosy with early light. The sky held more clouds than ideal, but still presented itself well. I started snapping pictures hoping for the definitive shot. And then, well then, I turned the lens on myself, in all my sleepy-eyed, summer cold, madcap hair, glory and snapped. And then just sat. And watched. And listened. And experienced. And breathed in a less than perfect lakeside, summer sunrise.

Summer’s are never perfectly perfect. Too hot or too rainy, to cold or too busy too short or too boring. But they are some what divine. Because every year, they’re just what we need. I’m just say’n.


The Poetry of Peonies

This is my peony summer. Or rather, it is the summer that  I have given  the fluffy flower its due. I admit that I’ve arrived late to the peony party.  In the first home my husband and I owned there were peonies planted next to the back step.  As the new foliage arrived that spring I was unimpressed. And when I saw all the back ants on the closed buds, yuck!  I  had no time for peonies and exported them to a welcoming and wiser neighbor.  Several years later while driving on a sunny early summer morning I spotted a rural yard with a double row of tall graceful peonies nodding in the morning sun. I appreciated their waves but did not connect them to the ant carriers I had exiled. In the next  and current home we live in, we also inherited peonies. They had earned my respect if not my warmest affection and I transplanted them from an out of sight corner to a place of prominence near the patio. But it is this summer that I’ve begun to really love these ladies.

I notice them on my morning walks in the park. The mounds of earth await the village workers bringing flats of annuals to plant. But the peonies have a permanent home in the small city park, and a head start on summer.  I watch them as they grow taller. Likewise in my own yard the green stalks have returned. Which will burst forth in color first, mine or the parks? I watch for the ants. I now know those busy, tiny soldiers, are necessary for the flowers bloom.  Where are the ants?  Don’t they know they have work to do?   The peonies that bloom first are in the flower section of the grocery store. I hold off buying them. I want my own. The park peonies bloom next. Come on, I encourage my own plant. Will it bloom soon?  Will its timing between rain storms be wise enough to protect its’ blooms? Finally, they open, three big beautiful  flowers. And it is summer.

I know what follows. The peony once opened can’t stop. Its many tiny petals reach and open further each day. Until finally they drop off the stem. Other flowers in my modest garden will need to be plucked, dead headed, as we say, or they will shrivel to brown and withered detritus. But the peony can not stop opening, until it can no longer hold on to itself. The peonies in the park, so heavy with their own beauty, lay down their weary blooms. My own, held up with wire baskets are also destined for the same end.

And then I notice all the places I have inadvertently planted peonies. On the pillows that cozy up my sofa: peonies.  On the cover of the small notebook I carry; peonies. On my wedding china; peonies. And there, framed and hung in my dining room a water-color painted by a beloved cousin; peonies.

Recently a friend sent us a beautiful arrangement of her favorite blooms. You guessed it, peonies. As I watch their intense salmon blooms open and open more. Their unbelievable color morphs into a more traditional pink. They refuse to remain static, until they are white. Only then do they start to release their petals onto the table. I do not wipe up the scattered petals. Even they seem perfect in their faded glory, laying across the mahogany.

Peonies, summer, ephemeral delights both of these. Children laughing as they run through a sprinkler. Voices in conversation, in the dark of the patio the gentle clink of ice cubes in glasses of cold drinks, moments of summer.

Poet Mary Oliver  wrote about peonies,  “with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling..to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are nothing, forever.”

I’m just say’n, yes, I love the peonies, ants and all.