The Tyranny of Speed

I was walking Max and Berkley on a country road in Roanoke a few years ago when I came across an abandoned cemetery in which were growing, quite abundantly, clumps of iris. BH was dispatched to dig a few rhizomes out of the concrete-hard soil which he did with some MacGyver-like ingenuity –  a shovel not exactly handy at the time. (Really, I don’t know why the man doesn’t just give in and carry one at all times.)


I brought the clump home and planted it with great care in just the right spot. It was late spring which meant I would have to wait another year to see just what I had. Patience is an attribute a gardener will do well to develop.

The clump doubled in size over that summer and autumn. The following spring, the anticipation was almost more than I could bear. What a gorgeous healthy stand of iris it was – what gardeners like to call a pride of iris.

Trouble was it didn’t bloom. Not one wretched flower stalk emerged from the wonderfully vigorous stand of iris. Oh, the agony. The disappointment.

I would have to wait another entire Y-E-A-R.

The truth is I’m as guilty of participating in the frenzied pace of modern life as the next one. I love being able to download a book two seconds after learning of it, but I’m having trouble making the time to read these instantly attainable tomes. I have a world of information at my fingertips and very little time for quiet reflection on the meaning of any of it. Heck, even my yeast is rapid-rise.

Which is why the garden is such a sanctuary to us. It encourages – no, it forces us to slow down to a more human pace, one in step with nature’s timeline. Refuge from life’s hubbub is critical to our peace of mind. How do we sort out life if we are hurdling through our days at such a maniacal pace there’s no time to catch our breath?

Beverley Nichols, my favorite garden writer, reflected on gardening’s therapeutic qualities long before our high-speed, rapid-rise age. One can’t help but wonder what he would think of us now:

One of the many reasons why gardens are increasingly precious to us in this day and age is that they help us to escape from the tyranny of speed. Our skies are streaked with jets, our roads have turned to race-tracks, and in the cities the crowds rush to and fro as though the devil were at their heels. But as soon as we open the garden gate, Time seems almost to stand still, slowing down to the gentle ticking of the Clock of the Universe.

I did wait another year for the Cemetery Iris to bloom. And I was rewarded with this.


These same iris are putting up buds right now. I hope they will still be blooming for somebody else long after my days here have past. That’s the other miracle of the garden. It might move at its own speed, but it generously allows us to leave traces of ourselves behind. Tick. Tock.

Thanks for reading,


Posted in Garden | Tagged , , , | 121 Comments

A Morning With Jocelyn

My very occasional housekeeper, Margarita, appeared yesterday with her “tail.” That’s how Mexican people refer to their trailing children, she explained, and with spring break upon us, the tail meant a visit from ten-year old Jocelyn.

I first got to know Jocelyn when her worried mother asked me to evaluate her reading skills.  She feared Jocelyn wasn’t doing as well as she should be.  So armed with expert advice from one of my teaching friends, I met with the little girl, then eight-years old, only to discover she reads better than I do. I put Margarita’s fears at bay and that was that. But from the experience, Jocelyn and I have become buddies.

We sat on the sofa together for a while yesterday morning and conversation turned to homonyms, as it so often does. What? Not in your house? When we had wrung (rung) that subject dry, we headed out into the garden where Jocelyn wanted to see first-hand the inner workings of the compost pile. She was intrigued by where exactly the coffee grounds I had saved that morning were going to end up.

Imagine that. A little girl who flatly refused to watch TV because she said it would make her bored. And then she lit up with “Hey, that’s another homonym. Bored and board!” And looked at me proudly for approval.

Instead she wanted to help me in the garden. We trimmed and raked and filled wheelbarrows together while Jocelyn regaled me with stories about the bad boy who hit himself in the eye with a pencil and had to go to the nurse and her nice teacher, Mr. Dunnivan, and her visit to the Science Museum and her upcoming field trip to Jamestown and……you get the picture, right?

And as we headed off to the compost pile, she suddenly stopped and exclaimed “Oh, it’s beautiful! Look, Miss Barbara, it looks just like waves.” And I saw that the arborvitae I was passing by without notice was indeed covered in golden-tipped waves.


When I praised her for being so observant, she beamed and said the bush was giving her “high-fives.” Oh sweetheart, I’ll never look at that bush the same way again.


But here’s why I’m telling you this story. Just picture this: a little girl eagerly scooping up a handful of compost in total amazement and then raising it to her face to inhale.

“Oh, it smells so good. Just like what you buy in the store. I can’t believe it!”

Would it surprise you to know this made me choke up a bit? Well, it did. Nothing like child-like wonder at something I take completely for granted to change my perspective on beauty.


We filled the wheelbarrow with black gold and headed into the garden. “Can I spread it?”   When she finished, she looked proudly at her work and said with such satisfaction, “Now it looks so much better. It’s beautiful.”


Yes, honey, it sure is. And so are you. Thanks for letting me see my garden through your big brown eyes.

Thanks for reading,


Posted in Garden, Random Ruminations | Tagged , , , , | 140 Comments

Monthly Photo Challenge: The Changing Seasons: March

Each month, those of us participating in this photo challenge return to our chosen location to note the passage of time through “The Changing Seasons.” I’ve chosen to document a year around my old house and gardens.

Extraterrestrial to human ambassador: Why does the human work so hard during the month of March?


Pajama gardening is a benefit to life in the country.

Human Ambassador to ET: She is not working. She is gardening.


ET: But it is not logical. She is removing everything she worked so hard to cultivate last year. It seems her life would be far easier were she simply not to plant so much in the first place.

HA: She is of the species Gardener. Often their activities are not fathomable even to the rest of us Humans.

ET: We overheard her use some interesting language while pruning the roses. Her back is stiff – even a human could observe that at a glance – and she has a hand full of splinters. Why then is there that air of peace and contentment about her?

HA: As I explained earlier, not all humans fall into the Gardener species and much of their motivation is unknowable, even to us. They are an odd lot but generally harmless, we find. In fact the birds, bees, and butterflies I mentioned to you earlier find them quite indispensable. And the rest of us benefit so from the beauty they create.

ET: Well, it is all most illogical, but let’s move on now to that other strange species, shall we? What do you call them? Bloggers?

Yes, that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing all March long. Cleaning up the disaster area that was my once neatly cultivated garden. In addition to the regular garden clean-up, the big trees are dropping pine cones and gumballs by the bazillions. Well, I stopped counting at a bazillion….there very well might be more.

Of course none of this clean-up is as vexing as that required because of a true subspecies: those who throw trash out of their car windows. Luckily I see none of this from the house, but the roadside clean-up remains a fact of our lives year-round. If I were Queen, there would be a special dungeon into which I would throw these heathens. Depending on my mood, there might even be mild torture….


While the woods are still free of ticks, poison ivy, and the dreaded snake, I like to venture in to free the saplings from the stranglehold of abundant and vigorous vines. I don’t remember the woods in Massachusetts being so full of vines. Is it a uniquely Southern thing?

Max is enjoying getting out and about, and he’s been developing friendlier relations with the mule-next-door, Prada. The horse, Zephyr, remains impervious to Max’s charms.

In March, as the weather slowly warms and the days grow a bit longer, the fields begin to return to green:


Here and there, the first signs of life are stirring:

Oh! In case you were wondering why I attack the vines along the edges of the woods, check out this terrifying vine we encountered while walking along the James River. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

IMG_20150207_155210 IMG_20150207_165926

That is NOT something I want to tackle next March, believe me.

Many thanks to Cardinal Guzman for hosting this challenge. I hope you enjoyed what the month of March brings to my old Barn.

Thanks for reading,


Posted in Challenges, Garden | Tagged , , , , , , , | 114 Comments

Flying Carpets

As I sit down to write about airport carpets, it occurs to me that a dear friend’s description of my blog as “quirky” might be right on the money. It can’t be helped, I’m afraid. I am drawn to the off-beat, eccentric, and quirky. And this story makes me think I ought to be living in the quirkiest of American cities: Portland, Oregon. Where else could such a fuss be made about airport carpeting?

What’s the carpet look like in your airport? You mean you don’t know? Here’s Richmond’s:


And if that doesn’t do it for you, here’s the airport carpeting in Denver and Atlanta:

And taken on our trip last week to Arizona, I present the carpeting in the Phoenix and Minneapolis airports:

You know my poor BH is shaking his head as I take these pictures and wondering just when this blogging phase of my life is going to end!

So why the fascination with airport carpets? It’s all about the huge kerfuffle which erupted in Portland, Oregon when PDX airport officials announced that after 25 years, the carpet had to be replaced. But this being Portland, it couldn’t be that easy. Quirkiness is an art form in that fair city and that extends to airport carpeting. Yes, it had a cult following and the outpouring of angst over the carpet’s demise must have taken everybody involved completely by surprise.


Now the carpet has its own Facebook page and Instagram account. Even the Wall Street Journal reported on the story here. Yes, Paris has its tower, Richmond has its Monument Avenue, and Portland, its iconic airport carpeting.

I thought you’d get a kick out of some of the products created to honor the memory of the PDX carpet:

And while I like the carpet too, I don’t think I’d want to make this sort of commitment:


And in case you’re wondering, here’s the new carpet. Can you imagine the pressure to select the new one?

images (7)

So next time you’re in your airport, take a moment to examine the carpet. It might just be your next tattoo.

Quirkily yours,


Posted in Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 132 Comments

Westward Ho!

They say there’s nothing quite like travel to expand one’s horizons.  So what did I learn from our recent trip to Arizona? You just never know what’s going to cross your path when you head out of town.

I learned bobcats belong to the genus “Lynx Rufus” after heated debate about just what it was so confidently perched on our wall one evening.


Looks like your average house cat in this photo, doesn’t it? Trust me, it was not. We think he was lured in by the fountain and who could blame him?

I learned springtime doesn’t mean dogwood blooms and azaleas to everyone:


I learned there’s such a thing as weekend Hell’s Angels:


It’s been a long time since my last ride on a Harley, how about you?

I learned to appreciate the splendid aesthetic of Southwest decor particularly the kiva fireplace:

I learned to appreciate the power of one:


I learned they know how to rock a sandwich in Arizona. Green chile cornbread BLT anyone?


Or how about a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich with sriracha aioli and sesame green bean salad?


I learned not to torture myself by venturing into outstanding Farmers’ Markets the day before flying home.


I learned that a step is a step according to my Fitbit. No credit given for vertical ascents. I think this is a serious defect in the device, don’t you?


I learned the most divine cocktails can be invented when cleaning out the fridge. What to do with those raspberries? Well, little sister is quite the maestro with a blender. How about this for a beautiful margarita?


But what to call our newly invented drink? The Bobcat, of course!

And I already knew there’s no place like home, but Max reinforced it while smothering me in abundant Westie kisses this morning.


And thanks for reading!


Posted in Food, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 155 Comments

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,


Posted in Art, Challenges, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 91 Comments

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,


Posted in Random Ruminations | Tagged , , , , | 134 Comments