Weekly Photo Challenge: Wall: Street Art

The theme for this week’s photo challenge is “Wall.”

When traveling, I like to take pictures of the particular city’s street art or murals.


Elkin, North Carolina. A view of Stone Mountain.

It’s possible to capture a bit of the flavor of a new locale through how its walls are adorned.


Sorry this photo is so blurry! Just wanted you to have an idea of the detail in these wonderful Depression-era murals funded by the WPA in 1937.


In the US Post Office in Poughkeepsie, NY, are WPA murals of the Hudson River Valley.

Most murals catch your eye with their vibrant, sometimes jarring color. Not so in Portland, Maine where Yankee reserve extends not only to their demeanor but also to the street art. Ayuh.

Funny how even the street art in Portland, Maine is a subdued color. Yankee restraint.

Look! There are little push pins. How I love a good trompe l'oeil!

Look! There are little push pins. How I love a good trompe l’oeil!

Imagine, then,  my surprise as I was leafing through the newspaper and read that a Richmond mural had won third place for Best Street Art In the World. You know I fired up the car to go see just what was going on for myself.

Isn’t she a beauty?


Voted by Buzzfeed as the third best street art in the world. By Etam Cru.

So it seems that while I was busy taking pictures everywhere BUT Richmond, the most amazing wall murals were being created all over the city. Not only that, but we hold an annual Street Art Festival. I need to dust off the hayseeds once in a while and start paying attention to what’s going on in my own neck of the woods.

Realizing that all of this has been happening in Richmond while I had not a clue was my motivation for suggesting to BH that we begin playing tourist in our own hometown. We’ve now spent time exploring Hollywood Cemetery, the State Capitol, the James River trail system, etc. Amazing what is available in your own backyard, isn’t it?

How about you? Have you ever approached your own city with the fresh eye of a tourist? Is street art prevalent in your area too?

Thanks for reading,


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My Phantom Son-in-Law

Most days I manage to hold him at bay, that son-in-law I once imagined I’d have. It’s pointless to indulge in thoughts of what might have been if life had gone as planned. But sometimes, when I least expect it, he kicks down the door to my inner sanctum and wreaks a little havoc. His most recent visit was last Easter Sunday.

man walking away across wooden planks ghost

Let’s face it, when your perfect baby is born, it’s only natural to have a set of expectations of how life is going to play out. When we finally resigned ourselves to what remained after Jen’s brain injury, those expectations had to be dealt with. One by one, they were tenderly wrapped up and packed away in an inviolably private place which, I’ve learned, doesn’t have a key. I can’t keep them permanently contained, try as I may.

A couple of years ago, a friend sent me her list of ten Personal Principles which inspired me to come up with my own. It’s quite the exercise, really, to sit quietly and come up with the top ten tenets which help guide you through life. And indulging myself in thoughts of my phantom son-in-law is in direct violation of Personal Principle #2: Exercise Mental Discipline.

I really let my guard down that Easter Sunday and let him waltz right in while I was setting the table for dinner. Fitting he should appear in the dining room where that empty sixth chair serves as reminder of a missing family member.  I remember wondering what his name is. And who he married instead of Jen. What does he look like? Does his mother-in-law appreciate him?

And then I imagined the grandchildren he would have given me. Oh yes, I was really on a roll that day. I should be hiding Easter eggs, I thought, and filling baskets with jelly beans and garishly-colored marshmallow peeps. I should be placing chocolate bunnies at place settings and presenting a lamb cake to squeals of delight. I should have been an Oma, I would have been awesome. And my beloved husband….well, we’ll just stop right here.

We all have one, I think. A Phantom Son-in-Law of some incarnation. He is the metaphor for life’s Plan A – the one we thought we’d lead when first embarking into the great unknown of our future.

One of my wisest friends once counseled me that the secret to contentment in life is how well we cope with Plan B. Truer words were never spoken.

Dealing with Plan B – however it manifests itself – can be achieved fairly happily if I stick to Personal Principle #2. I didn’t have to indulge myself in reincarnating the phantom that day. I could have derailed that train of thought, but I chose not to because I selfishly wanted to conduct my own personal pity party. It’s kind of like scratching poison ivy – you know you shouldn’t, but it feels so excruciatingly good – until you pay the heavy price for that brief lapse in self-control. Emotional rashes leave scars too.

Exercising mental discipline means not allowing myself to go there. I keep the Phantom and his kids in that attic and when they begin to stir, I make the almost physical effort to push them away, sometimes violently. This works for me; I don’t know that it would for everybody. We all have to find our own way of puzzling out a peaceful co-habitation with our specters, I guess.

I want to write here occasionally about my Personal Principles, but it’s tricky for me. I would despise it if I came off as preachy or looking for sympathy. Believe me, I am so far from having all the answers, it’s ridiculous. Nor is sympathy a motivation; I have so much to be thankful for. Just the act of writing things down in this format helps me gain clarity, so if nothing else, I’ll consider being able to do so a glimmer of life’s silver.

How about you? Have you ever considered developing a list of ten Personal Principles? Do you have a method of coping with life’s inevitable Plan B? Does your Phantom Son-in-Law kick down the door occasionally too?

Thanks for reading,


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Monthly Photo Challenge: The Changing Seasons: February

Old Man Winter had tired of toying with his usual victims. Feeling a bit of ennui after months of watching the hardy souls up north enduring his annual onslaught, he turned his beady little eye south of the Mason-Dixon line.


One hopes he has had quite enough frivolity for one year.

The morning after the big storm, I saw something I’d never seen before. How else to describe other than a sort of snow-fog? It was eerily beautiful.



Snow fog over the southern fields


As February has drawn to a close, the snow is melting and a certain little Westie-boy is suffering from cabin fever. Aren’t we all?

And can we have a round of applause for the stalwart and cheerful crocus? Hope truly does spring eternal.


Even after all these years of gardening, I am still amazed at what lies beneath….


Thank you to Cardinal Guzman for hosting this monthly photo challenge.

And thanks for reading,








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The Old House Whispers


The old house had long been a mystery to me. I discovered it while walking in a state-owned wildlife refuge just around the corner from my own old house. I turned a corner and there it sat, overgrown with vines and saplings and peering out at me accusingly from those broken windows.

It has been in my imagination ever since. One cold winter day, I approached the house to take a few pictures. The sudden – and terrifying – appearance of a vulture which flew out of a second-story window with a tremendous flapping of wings only added to the sense of foreboding the house evoked in me….and to my heart rate.

Funny how the change in seasons and a bright blue sky can do so much to change one’s perception of a thing. The house didn’t seem nearly so sinister in the warm sunshine of my next visit last spring.



I had trekked out to the old house with my friend, Jan, an avid photographer. She happens to be much less of a coward than I am and talked me into going inside. What about snakes? And skunks? And rotting floorboards? The fear of these things, evidently, does not deter the truly intrepid photographer and so we tiptoed inside….she leading the way, of course.


This is Jan’s photo taken from the side porch from which we could peek into the house to determine whether we really wanted to go in.


And what I saw just broke my heart- a grand old dame falling to ruin right in front of our eyes.


Rotting floorboards and peeling wallpapers don’t entirely diminish the old girl’s beauty.


It turns out that Jan, long a resident of my small Southern county, knew somebody who knew somebody who had grown up in this house during the forties and fifties. From that person, I learned the house was called “Kennons.” And with that little morsel of information and my county history book, I was able to unearth a few more secrets.


Remnants of a kitchen addition. Apologies for terrible photo quality!

We don’t know exactly when Kennons was built, but it is antebellum. The earliest reference is the year 1832, so we are sure slavery was an integral part of the daily scene on this Virginia plantation. My history book gives an excerpt from the instructions a plantation owner gave to his overseer:

Mothers to be allowed sufficient time and worked as near the house as practicable – pregnant women to be put to no work that might endanger their situation such as ploughing or fencing, etc…..no striking a negro with the fist or stick or butt end of the whip or kicking him unless in self defence. The sick to be attended with tenderness and visited everyday…..the negro houses to be kept clean and any and all filth removed – every negro to be cleanly dressed every Sabbath day…which is to be a day of rest…..


There are but two entries in the “Historical Notes” volume I own which specifically relate to Kennons and both refer to women. One is Sally Dandridge Cooke who kept a diary containing descriptions of plantation society circa 1847. The ritual of the visit was highly developed and often, it seems, quite tedious. The necessity to entertain frequently, and to return the favor by paying calls, was so demanding that Miss Cooke tells of her relief here, “a rainy day- much to our joy – as it precluded the possibility of visitors.”


Fireplace surely destined for some salvage yard someday.


We are told that when word that “somebody is coming” was whispered by “innumerable little voices,” the young ladies were sent scurrying to dress quickly and be presentable for their callers. Sally tells us of an invitation to attend a children’s party at a house right around the corner from where this blog is written. “Invited to dine at the Hermitage next day. To our infinite disappointment there were not horses – so posted a little servant over at daylight with our regrets and received theirs in return.”


The house is not particularly attractive from the outside – nothing like the grand antebellum mansions that Frances Benjamin Johnston photographed during the 1930s. But inside is quite another matter entirely. Standing in the lovely foyer admiring the double front door flanked by glass transoms and sidelights, I was struck by the gracious design of the old manse. Ten foot ceilings, wonderful square rooms with ample lighting, generous proportions, elegant woodwork, and a fine staircase. Remember this staircase, more to come on that.


The other lady mentioned in the book is a Sally Gaines Stegar, born at “Kennons” in 1832.

“She died at the age of forty, having borne fourteen children, been the mistress of an ante-bellum plantation, and last but not least, having lived through the War Between the States and witnessed the ending of the kind of life to which she had been born.”

By this time, I was getting brave and wanted to go upstairs. Looking up, I thought better of it.



When you live in a small country town and start asking around about something, sooner or later little tidbits of information come your way. And one of those led me to another long-time resident of the county who is related to the last family to have lived at Kennons. In those days, the property was a large dairy farm, she told me, and the house? Not quite as grand as my vivid imagination would take me. So much for my visions of crystal chandeliers and Oriental carpets.


When the owners of the property grew too old to continue the dairy farming operation and subsequently received an offer from the state of Virginia to buy their land as a Wildlife Management Area, of course they took it. The house was closed up in the late 1960s and has stood there ever since, slowly sliding into ruin. And that, I thought, was the end of the story.

Until my friend dropped this little bombshell:

“By the way, my wedding reception was held at Kennons.”

What?!? After I picked myself up from the floor, I asked – with heart in throat – about the possibility of photos. Oh yes!

And here they are taken just a few years before the house was sold:


Remember that staircase? How wonderful is this?





You must know how thrilled I was to see these photos after wondering about this house for so many years. Of course I knew on one level that real life had happened within these walls, but to see black and white confirmation of such a joyful occasion right there before my eyes was truly more than I could have hoped for.

And it is bittersweet, is it not? This house full of whispers. We come and we go and all that’s left of us is whispers.

Thanks for reading,



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Freezing in Florida

The only difference between this post and being trapped at somebody’s house as they whip out their laptop to regale you with vacation pictures is that here you have the option to move on.

But I will attempt to lure you in with the enticing proposition of seeing my beach wear.



Rumor has it some people actually bask in the warm sunshine while vacationing in Florida. Obviously nothing but tourist propaganda from my experience. Here was my first clue that I might have packed abundant unsuitable attire:


Hotel landscaping covered to protect against freezing temperatures.


And my second.


So what is one to do when it is freezing in Florida? If you’re anything like me, heave a sigh of relief that no pool time is on the schedule and trot off to the nearest historical site. We chose beautiful St. Augustine, our nation’s oldest permanent city.


Settled by the Spanish 450 years ago, St. Augustine was home to the first Catholic Parish church, the first city government, and the first free Black settlement.

If not for freezing in Florida, we might have missed all of this:

And the supremely Floridian kitsch seen on the secondary roads:

And you know how I love a good ruin. In New Smyrna Beach, where nobody was on the beach, there resides a sugar mill plantation which was destroyed by Seminole Indians and black slaves in 1835.

If it were not for freezing temps in sunny Florida, we might have missed some tremendous sights.

The same holds true for Virginia, sadly, as we learned upon our return:


Zero degree temperatures and 100-year old houses are not a compatible duo. BH gave me very specific instructions of exactly how to shut the water supply off and drain the taps. And I followed said instructions to the letter….except I added my own special touch by deciding to close the taps just before walking out the door. Seemed liked a good idea at the time.


Remember my post a few weeks ago about what our choice of luxury might be? I amend mine to this:


Luxurious indoor plumbing!


Hope to be able to catch up a bit with you and your blogs very soon. But there’s some clean-up to do around here first. Last night this happened:


Thinking Spring,






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“She Who Must” Strikes Again

True blue friends are hard enough to find; couple friends can really be tough. All four have to like each other for the friendship to properly gel. This can be a tricky feat, as we all know; at least one person is usually deemed deficient somehow by one of the others, and the relationship never evolves into a successful foursome.

Man, what a bad picture. We are all infinitely better-looking and less blurry in real life.


Our oldest friends have just slowly navigated down our snowy driveway towards their Delaware home. We’ve known each other since we were all in our twenties, young and ambitious and so ready to take on the world. We’ve been through thick and thin together as happens when you remain friends for decades, almost like an old married couple. What do they say about “in sickness and in health?” There are unspoken vows between dear friends too, I think.

And I, with my unerring good judgment, fought meeting N and B tooth and nail.

You see, it was my mother who was trying to force the meet-up. N worked with my father. Mom and Dad were instrumental in arranging their wedding. They socialized together regularly and all I would hear was “You need to meet N and B. They are great.”

BH and I felt exactly simpatico on the subject: “We have no interest whatsoever in meeting people our age who would socialize with our parents. How rare a breed of loser must these two be?” My mother, never one to be deterred by mere resistance, would not take no for an answer.

And so we dodged, ducked, and deployed defensive maneuvers to discourage my mother’s relentless matchmaking. Twenty-somethings, as you are aware, always know what’s best.

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My mother is not called “She Who Must (be obeyed)” for nothing. She out-strategized me by inviting us over for margaritas one sunny afternoon and cheerfully exclaiming when we arrived, “Oh, N and B are out on the deck! Go meet them.” My death glare didn’t dampen her victorious zeal in the least and, really, what was I to do? Good manners prevailed, I put on my game face, and BH and I slunk out to the deck to meet what surely must be the dullest couple on the planet.

Except Mom was right.  Dash it to bits, she usually is. We’ve been friends now for thirty years.  And to her credit, Mom never says “I told you so!” Well, maybe once or twice but who could blame her?

I’m curious. How did you meet your oldest friend(s)?

We’ve had a massive snow storm in Virginia last night into this morning. The state is effectively shut down at the moment. It is my plan to fly out tomorrow morning for warmer climes. I’ll be taking a bit of a blog break.


View down the driveway this morning. Brrrrrr.


Hope you all are safe and warm wherever in the world you are. See you all when I return,




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A Valentine’s Day Scrooge

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Valentine’s Day tends to rouse the dormant Scrooge in me, I have to admit. It’s the ooey-gooeyness of it all that makes me cringe. Lest you think I have a heart of stone, au contraire, I assure you.  I rather love the romantic gesture, just not when it’s mandated by the giant economic machine d’amour which begins stocking the supermarket shelves with heart-shaped boxes of chocolates before the Christmas tinsel is put away. So what’s a girl to do when she despises pre-printed proclamations of passion courtesy of Hallmark?

I turn to poetry for consolation, that’s what. Why do I love Ogden Nash so? Because he has exactly the right dose of ooey-gooey to make this granite heart swell.

To My Valentine by Ogden Nash

More than a catbird hates a cat,
Or a criminal hates a clue,
Or the Axis hates the United States,
That’s how much I love you.

I love you more than a duck can swim,
And more than a grapefruit squirts,
I love you more than gin rummy is a bore,
And more than a toothache hurts.

As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,
Or a juggler hates a shove,
As a hostess detests unexpected guests,
That’s how much you I love.

I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than the subway jerks,
I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,
And more than a hangnail irks.

I swear to you by the stars above,
And below, if such there be,
As the High Court loathes perjurious oathes,
That’s how you’re loved by me.


More than a grapefruit squirts. Ahhh, now you’re talking.

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all,





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