Thursday, August 21, 2014


I took this photo while admiring the Geraniums lining a neighbor's stairs the other evening.  The "eyes" the splotches on the sidewalk formed on my shadow's face without my noticing is what makes it a keeper.  :)

Friday, August 15, 2014

On August Walks

I've been walking in the late afternoon and early evening when shadows are long.  Heading out first thing in the morning feels so much better but is too hard to coordinate with my work schedule, so I instead slather myself in SPF 100 sunscreen and hope for low-humidity hours between 2-6 pm. And no matter how disgustingly slick from sunscreen and sweat I am each time I arrive back at the apartment, the walks themselves are always therapeutic.  They are precious minutes of thinking, of praying--Grandma once shared the poem "Out in the Fields with God" with me, and it comes to mind during my walks--of telling people how pretty their dogs are as they bound past me, of admiring gardens and shadows and rock walls and faster-moving and better-looking bodies, of encouraging children as they wobble along on bikes as their parents jog along behind them, of breathing deeply, of being grateful for my health (because no matter how much slower or older I am than the Super! Toned! Twenty-Somethings! I am healthy enough to walk, period, and that's worth saying "Thank You" for), of wishing Mom were here with me so I could show her this sweet cottage of a home I'm hoping to get a good picture of without being spotted and shooed away by its owner; of remembering that between the tremors and other Lyme issues, Mom couldn't walk at this pace or for this long anymore anyway--and so then I just carry on a conversation with her in my head as I walk, the way I carry on with Papa and Grandma and Sommer and other loved ones I have to be content to hold in my heart since hand-in-hand is no longer an option, and the entire walk feels that much more like a prayer.  It's the Ivy that makes this house so sweet.  It's the dome shape that does it for me, Vally.  I love the Ivy, though.  Aunt Laurie had those beautiful bay windows, remember?  Yes.  I loved that house.  Love, love, love.  One of my college professors once told me that he thinks one of the keys to life is to be passionately in love with something every day of your life--a person, an idea, a cause, a flower, the moon, the ocean, a poem, a book, a movie, just something.  There is wisdom in that.  My younger brother and I would play a game of my invention on even car trips when we were kids:  We would have to come up with something--at least one thing--we liked about each house or yard we passed.  There we would sit, half-turned in the backseat of my parents' car, straining to take in the sights of fast enough to find that hurry!-just-one-thing! before it would pass from view.  Oh, yes, this is a Val game, for sure!  But I play it even now when I'm a few years shy of forty, and I hear us wildly laughing as little kids again as I find myself shouting out "That snowball bush!  That rock wall!  The way the sunlight's hitting that chair on their front porch!  That DOG!!!" in my head as I walk each afternoon.  And this week I think of dear Robin Williams and some of my own lowest lows, having struggled with depression for two-thirds of my life now, and I say prayers for him too as I huff and puff up the heights of hills and stairs.  Each return to the apartment sees me marking my mileage onto a calendar in the bathroom and awarding myself a pink "Thank You!" sticker for that day's walk.  "Who exactly are you thanking with these stickers?  Most people would do gold stars," Mike teased me the other night as I proudly slapped a new one into place.  But the "Thank You!" stickers suit me, and I enjoy seeing the strips of them I keep on the desk for this post-walk ritual.  I am thanking God, of course, and I am thanking myself for making the effort.  I am thanking neighbors who plant pretty flowers for no reason other than to add a little more beauty to life.  I am thanking animals and birds for existing.  I am thanking the children for being children--and their parents for giving them good childhood memories.  I am thanking my own parents and brothers and grandparents and friends for being there, period, and for all the love.  Oh, love!  Love, love, love!  I come back to it and come back for it and come back with it, over and over, day in and day out, and that is my biggest "Thank You!" of all.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

And Then The Yellow Squash Smiled at Me

This sweet face stared up at me before being added to my salad this afternoon.  I had just finished weighing myself in the bathroom where I learned that I've now lost about fourteen pounds so far this summer, so I will take this smile as a sign of encouragement.  :)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Warmly Served

Mike's birthday was Monday, and his supervisor was thoughtful enough to buy a few treats for him and his coworkers for the occasion when they were all together yesterday.  His supervisor also thought to buy an extra cookie (chocolate chip ) for Mike to bring home for me.  The cookie was good, but this act of kindness was sweeter. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Dad Statue

My aunt Laurie found this ceramic Dad-lookalike at a yard sale awhile back and gave it to my parents last summer.  Mom keeps it in her garden, I can't help but laugh when I see it perched between plants like a distinguished gnome every time I'm home, and even Dad shakes his head at it and says, "I have to admit. . . ."  :)
Too funny.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Crayon Can

It is funny the material things we consider our treasures.  I imagine it is true for everyone from the poorest to the wealthiest amongst us that when asked which belongings we would save from a fire, we would answer with descriptions of our family photos, our love letters, our journals, and as many of those important-to-us-and-unrecognizable-as-riches-to-anyone-else items as we could gather:  Well-worn stuffed animals.  Stones.  Driftwood.  Handmade afghans.  A chipped tea cup.  Her berry-picking hat.  His soft blue  shirt.  When my grandparents were moved into a personal care home a few months before their deaths in 2001, this metal can that Grandma had always kept crayons in was one of the things I wanted from their house and was immediately relieved to know that I had saved. 
There is nothing obviously exceptional about either its exterior or contents.  It is a Folgers-brand coffee can with a handful of crayons, crayon-pieces, and crayon-niblets inside.  I don't remember ever seeing the can with the Folgers label still on it.  Like meals and decor and most everything else at my grandparents' house, the crayons were not fancy.  No glitter-filled crayons here, no crayons that change colors, and no leftover crayons from a highly-coveted 120-pack.  "Burnt sienna," "copper," and "Carnation pink" are as newfangled as these crayons' names get.  I learned this week that the stub of "green-blue" is a collector's item of sorts since the color was retired in 1990.  And because these things were also in the bottom of the can when I salvaged it from Papa and Grandma's house, I consider them equal parts of its sentimental wonder:  A rusted pair of scissors, a couple scraps of Crayola wrappers and once-clear tape--and a folded paper piece, which I would bet good money was from a cut-out heart. 
But the smell!  The crayon smell inside this can!  I take off the plastic lid, and the decades-old crayon scent works like the magic of an uncorked genie:  It is again a Sunday afternoon at Papa and Grandma's gray-shingled house outside of Punxsutawney, and while they, still safe and vibrant with good health, visit with my parents and aunts after dinner, I sprawl out on their moss-green living room carpet and color pictures.  Sometimes the scent takes me back to the late 1970s and early 1980s and I am doodling on the scrap paper Aunt Vee brings from her secretarial job to their house for just this purpose.  Other times, I open the can and find myself a little older, but with the crayons and scissors still around me, designing cards out of the pages of the Sharp's Penn wallpaper catalogs that Grandma saves.  Sometimes, of course, the scent just takes me back to childhood-in-general, and I can't tell what grade I'm in or whether I'm coloring a Christmas decoration or the blues and greens of water and land on a state map for a homework assignment.  Then there are the times the crayon can's scent sends me straight to Papa and Grandma's foyer to look for a not-yet-colored-in page of one of the few coloring books they keep under the crayon can on the tiered brass shelf beside their front door.  Or the times it takes me back to a summer week I am spending at Papa and Grandma's house, and my childhood Beagle is panting beside me while I draw his portrait on the couch.  There is so much going on inside this metal can, you see.  
I keep the crayon can on a hall shelf with other treasures, and it surely mystifies most who see it, dinged and unlabeled as it is.  As is true for us all, its magic lies inside.  Lately I find myself opening it more than usual as I pass by, breathing in deeply and eventually replacing the lid quite reluctantly, wishing its scent could keep me in its hold a little longer.  May I be granted one more day, please, when sticks of wax are all it takes to make my life colorful and pressing down too hard is my biggest concern?  Life has a way of demanding a wee bit more of us than that, though, and perhaps especially for those of us who began it in awe of these boxed rainbows, it is only natural that we sometimes grow frustrated as we figure out, over and over, how to grow up without losing that sense of enchantment.  No worries, Papa and Grandma, your girl is determined to get it right.  The crayon can holds not only the blue-green and green-blue of the wild seas I will surf someday, but also the pinks and reds and yellow-oranges of the roses I will grow around my home.  I will find the balance, I remind myself.  I will try not to worry as the years unfold.  And I will hope that my grandparents say an extra prayer every time they see me reaching for the lid.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My New Favorite Val-Mom Photo

While I was home last month, my aunt Heidi passed around a folder full of old family photos, and one of them was this treasure from 1980.  I had never seen it before, and I'm still transfixed by it two weeks later.  This is one of the only candid shots of me and my mom that I've ever seen, and it's also one of only a few pictures of my mom from this time period, since she was almost always the one behind the camera.  Look at her looking at me:  Sweet Mama!    (She was probably just wondering what she was going to do with her crazy-haired three-year-old, but we'll imagine that she had more poignant and profound thoughts at this moment.)  So dear! 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

One of My Loves, Louise Odier

I made it home to my parents' house for a warp-speed visit last week, and one of the non-family highlights of my short stay was getting to see my beloved rose Louise Odier in-bloom in my old garden for the first time since 2007.  My spring visits home are usually over Easter and my May birthday, so I never get to see more than this beautiful rose's greenery anymore.  Last week, though, the timing was perfect:  Look at her!    This was my favorite rose in my garden:  Its color, its form, and its scent are all just Heaven-on-earth to me.  The next time I'm blessed with any kind of garden space, this will be one of the first plants I find for it.  Pure sweet beauty.  ♥ 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Favorite Birthday Present

My favorite birthday present this year was one I'd mentioned to my mom when she asked for gift ideas earlier this spring--and then about which I'd promptly forgotten, apparently, because I was so tickled to open a little box and find this darling 3"-tall figurine inside.  It is one of the Willow Tree-brand sculptures by artist Susan Lordi.  
Once I got it home, I repainted it to look more like me and Stuffed, of course. ♥ 
I don't have many knick knacks, but the few I do have are keepers, and the mantel holds most of them.  The miniature Stuffed to the right of this new figure was also from--and painted by--Mom this year.  The one to the left of the new figure is a thrift shop salt shaker I repainted years ago.  
The new figurine is especially poignant this birthday because Stuffed, in the past few months, suddenly seems older.  Mike and I aren't sure of Stuffed's exact age:  He belonged to the friend of a friend before becoming Mike's former roommate's around 2002 and then later becoming Mike's in 2007 when the roommate moved into a new apartment that didn't allow pets--but he was already an adult cat when Mike first saw him twelve years ago.  Stuffed rarely jumps up onto his window perch anymore.  Instead he stands beside the bathroom radiator that used to serve as his springboard and meows until one of us comes to lift him up.  He sleeps more lately, although I never would have guessed that I'd be able to tell the difference and Mike doesn't notice this at all.  It is often an awkward claws-out-for-traction struggle for him to jump up on to the bed these days.  He seems as happy as ever and still plays with his toys and rolls around with his catnip, but I've sensed a difference these past few months, and my cuddles with this shy little soul have felt bittersweet lately.  
(His face!  )
What else is there to say except I love him and love this dear little sculpture, beautiful gifts both.