Five Photos, Five Stories #1

A fellow Virginia blogger, Suzi, has invited me to participate in the Five Photos, Five Stories challenge described thusly:  I am to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph and each day nominate another blogger for the challenge.

Five consecutive days of my blatherings. I apologize in advance. Here goes:

In preparation for yesterday’s big Westie Rescue fundraiser held in northern Virginia, I got my good ol’ country boy, Max, neatly groomed so he could hold his own next to all those canine Beau Brummells in their little plaid outfits.

Just as we were ready to leave, he made a final swirl around the yard and reappeared like this:


Those little green thingies? We call them “hitchhikers.” Never let it be said, however, that regional terms are dead and gone. Here are the names I’ve heard for them since posting this on Facebook for the amusement of friends and family:

Jan calls them “beggar’s lice.” Sue says “tag-alongs.” David in Kansas calls them “stick-tights.” My uncle in Minnesota says they don’t have those there. Ha!

Turns out the actual name for these little green devils is Virginia Stickseed. Sounds rather like an Edwardian author, doesn’t it? “The Adventures of Max the Westie” by Virginia Stickseed. 

I’m supposed to invite another blogger to participate in this challenge. How about you, charming Woodland Gnome? Are you game?

Thanks for reading,


Posted in Challenges, The Boys | Tagged , , , , | 108 Comments

Bookplates, Bats, and Bovines. Oh My.

When I spied this vintage bookplate, my frugal side reminded me I really don’t need another owl image.  The little bat in the corner, however, proved too much to resist and  I now have an addition to my owl collection.


Are you afraid of bats? I hope not. Living in the country, we’ve come to admire the bat and to thank him for the mostly mosquito-free evenings we enjoy on the porch while he darts about industriously.

When I shared my excitement over the new picture with my friend, Pix, she pointed me to a video which reminds us that mothering can manifest itself in miraculous ways.

And on this Mother’s Day, may I share with you a favorite poem? Interesting to note the author is a man. So much for men not getting it, because of course they do as Wendell Berry shows us.

Poem: “Her First Calf,” by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems (North Point Press).
Her fate seizes her and brings her
down. She is heavy with it. It
wrings her. The great weight
is heaved out of her. It eases.
She moves into what she has become,
sure in her fate now
as a fish free in the current.
She turns to the calf who has broken
out of the womb’s water and its veil.
He breathes. She licks his wet hair.
He gathers his legs under him
and rises. He stands, and his legs
wobble. After the months
of his pursuit of her, now
they meet face to face.
From the beginnings of the world
his arrival and her welcome
have been prepared. They have always
known each other.

And why not use the cow as a thinly veiled excuse to present Max, defeated again in his attempts to rile up the bovines-next-door. Their indifference to his antics serves as a source of great frustration to the little Westie-boy.


Poor Max. We’ll take a walk and see if Prada the mule wants to play.

I hope all you mothers out there have exactly the day you most desire.


Posted in Art, Random Ruminations | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 130 Comments

The Ecstatic Gesture

This is not a post about daffodils, I assure you, in spite of the quote I am about to share.

As we all know, the only way to plant daffodils is to pile them on to a tray, and then to run out into the orchard and hurl the tray into the air, planting them exactly where they fall. There may be other, less orthodox methods; if so they should be spurned. The tray, the ecstatic gesture — that is the only sure road to success. –Beverley Nichols

Excellent advice for planting daffodils, but what do you think about the three other words in this quote which have been niggling away at me for some time now? The Ecstatic Gesture. How I love the idea of it. It is the exuberant release of inhibition and the joyful expression of individuality which appeal to me so deeply. And leave me feeling vaguely inadequate somehow.

Why? Because I’m just not capable of the ecstatic gesture. Not really. I have my moments when I might burst into song to an indifferent audience of one Westie-boy, but that’s not exactly a daily occurrence. Am I some sort of dullard that I am not metaphorically hurling bulbs into the air? So steeped in introversion that I’m left pining away on the sidelines not experiencing life to its fullest, more an observer than participant?

I’ve asked friends the ecstatic gesture question. One described running outside after a drought into the pouring rain to dance and splash in the puddles. Marvelous! But I wouldn’t do that. Not because I don’t think it’s wonderful, but because it wouldn’t even occur to me.

Fortunately, there is a flip side to this gesture coin.

A dear friend lost her husband a few weeks ago, and there have been, among the tears, many warm and funny memories shared of this special man. He was an extrovert, I guess, a man capable of – if not ecstatic gestures – certainly memorable ones. He once gelled up his hair troll doll-style and came downstairs for breakfast with a perfectly straight face while his family collapsed in helpless laughter. How do you not love a man like that?

Of all the stories I’ve heard about him over the years, my favorite surfaced just a day or two after his death. It involved something quiet and intimate. It seems that occasionally before leaving for work in the morning, he would write a love note on an orange in the fruit bowl. “I Love You.” “You’re Beautiful.” Imagine the delight upon its discovery. Imagine the impact of this one small gesture in the life of his now grieving wife.


This is what it’s all about, I suppose. It’s not so important that the gesture itself be an ecstatic one. What really matters is to leave behind a trail of gestures that have left others feeling ecstatic, loved or cherished.

Even introverts can do that.

How about you? Introvert or extrovert? Ecstatic gesture or no?

And I thank you for reading,


Posted in Random Ruminations | Tagged , , , , , , , | 155 Comments

Monthly Photo Challenge: The Changing Seasons: April

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.

Phew. April has been one labor-intensive garden month, but I’d say the results have been worth it, wouldn’t you?

Okay, it’s too late for a true April Fool’s Day prank, so I’ll ‘fess up that this is Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania. After all, who needs all that fussy upkeep of fountains in the home garden, anyway?

April is the month when Spring officially boots Old Man Winter out of the garden here in central Virginia. What better way to illustrate that point than with a series of before and after shots? The “befores” were all taken on April 7th give or take a day or two. And the “afters” on April 30th.

This is the before view of the big old oak in front of my bedroom window:


And After:


You could almost hear the leaves popping out!

Here is heuchera:


Dicentra Bleeding Heart:

Contorted Redbud Tree “Lavender Twist”

April is the month we all wait for – the month in which the garden goes through its transformation from dormancy into abundant, vibrant life. And with it comes such a sense of satisfaction and joy to all of us who spend our waking hours performing deep knee-bends in flowerbeds. I always say “who needs a gym when they have a garden?”

I’ve been up and at ’em early each morning because it’s impossible to stay in bed past sunrise. The birds simply won’t allow it, especially a wren who has set up housekeeping in the boxwood under our bedroom windows. Her arias begin just as the sun rises, our little avian Maria Callas. So I thought I’d try my hand at a video to capture a bit of birdsong for you and let you see the scale of the biggest old oak on our land. I better stick to my day job.

And why did I not notice a plane is flying overhead until just this very second? My days as videographer are numbered and rightly so.

Westie Before and After:

Behold the splendors of a country dog doing what he does best. They say the terrier’s prey instinct is stronger than even the sex drive and although Max can’t exactly perform the latter, he more than makes up for it with the former:

And because I began this post with Longwood Gardens, I’ll end it that way too.


How could I resist taking a picture of this little dumpling? You’re welcome!

And many thanks for reading and to Cardinal Guzman for hosting this challenge,


Posted in Challenges, Garden, The Barn | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 96 Comments

War Stories: The Painting

I grew up listening to war stories told by my father, US Army Signal Corps, and my mother, a German child of WWII. This is the third in the series. The others are here and here. And maybe even here, now that I think about it.

The painting has been in my family since before I was born. You can see it behind my radiant mother in this photo:


If you Google artist Wilhelm Schloz, the Wikipedia entry describes him as writer, painter and book illustrator.


What it doesn’t tell you is that he had only one arm, courtesy of World War I. His two eldest sons, both WWII Luftwaffe pilots, were killed in action. And a third son, Oswald, would hurl himself in front of a train desperate to escape service in the Wehrmacht near the war’s end. During those last years of the war, Mr. Schloz and family lived next door to my mother’s family in a formerly prosperous little neighborhood near Stuttgart.

My mother remembers their house vividly. It contained a long gallery hall displaying pieces of armor and had walls hung with art. Tucked into a corner of the garden was a bronze statue memorializing the two dead aviators.

To the rear of their properties was the community bomb shelter.  Each family in the neighborhood had their own reserved area of the cave into which they could place their most cherished items in case of an air raid. Nothing was ever stolen.

Inevitably the bombs which were aimed at Stuttgart’s industrial heart would hit a residential area. After one air raid, the Schloz family emerged from the cave to find their house destroyed. It had taken a direct hit and was now a smoldering pile of rubble.

In my mother’s war stories, one person consistently emerges as hero. She is my grandmother, the Oma, who is pictured in my blog header as a young woman. And in this story, she once again saves the day.

Without a moment’s hesitation, she took the Schloz family in. It’s easy to be generous with a full larder, harder when hunger is a constant gnawing presence. Nothing tells the story quite like these “before and after photos” of my Opa, the first taken in 1938, the second in 1946. Whether you had money or not, there just wasn’t any food to buy.


Oma was a skilled seamstress and began taking in sewing to barter for butter. To conserve the meager amount of coal they were able to scrounge, she stayed in bed all day under the goose down covers and sewed. She would light the stove only when the family came home in the evening.

The day of the bombing, my mother and her sister were evicted from their beds to make room for the extra adults. A pot of watery potato soup went on the stove, and life went on as normal.

Mr. Schloz began sifting through the rubble and within a few months had managed to make a reasonably comfortable dwelling for his family in the cellar and there they lived for the war’s duration. During the post-war occupation the families lost touch, my mother’s family evacuated to Austria.

We don’t know exactly how or when Mr. Schloz arrived at Oma’s door years after the war but so he did, with painting in hand. Embarrassed, he apologized for painting it on burlap, but canvas was one of the many things impossible to come by in post-war Germany. In those days, when money was fairly useless, people turned to their skills and talents as currency. And as tokens of gratitude.


I’ve been spending a lot of time with my mother lately listening with renewed interest to the war stories so often told around my childhood dinner table. I’m keenly aware that with my mother go her stories unless I record them somehow. The memory of my Oma’s resilience and courage is not going to fade away on my watch. That much I can promise.

How about you? Do you know your family’s story?

Thanks for reading,


Posted in History | Tagged , , , , , , , | 157 Comments

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 , , , | 141 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 , , , , | 149 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 , , , , , , , | 120 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 , , , , , , , , , | 142 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 , , , , , , , , , | 157 Comments