Thursday, June 30, 2011


This year our garden is more colorful than it's been in years. (See deer repellent, mentioned earlier this week.) And for that reason it is bliss now to step out on our deck, to hear the first birds of morning and to witness the dusky dark give way to light.

Listen hard enough, I tell myself, and you will hear the great engine that is day whir into business again. It will be sleep deprived, of course, because it was up last night until after nine. But it will happen, is happening even now as I write. Our little dog stands sentinel; even he, I think, is sometimes transfixed by beauty, or maybe it is pure animal peace that makes him pause and lift his head. A sense that all is right with the world.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Under the Suburban Sun

The beach reading begins before the beach. Riding to the office on Metro, I whip out Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun and imagine I am in Cortona, Italy. I am buying old linens from a market vendor, haggling with questionable Mussolini-lookalike contractors and whisking up some cold fennel soup.

I laugh to myself as I imagine the title: Under the Suburban Sun. I think about my day, the rush to board the Orange Line, the crammed commute, a quick run through the supermarket on the way home, maneuvering the northern Virginia traffic.

In her book Mayes includes recipes for polenta with sausage and fennel or rabbit with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. My recipes would include BLTs and fruit. Microwave the bacon. Toast the bread. Slice the tomatoes and cantaloupe. Grab a plate and stroll to the deck.

There is no Lombardy poplar on a Tuscan hillside, no golden shimmer in the air. But the evening sun throws squares of light on the trees, and the begonias and coleus are at their most beguiling. It's another day in paradise.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Deer Proof?

Though we reside in the suburbs, it sometimes seems as if we're forging a future on the frontier, at least when it comes to outsmarting the critters that live here with us. Owls shriek in the woods, fox wake us with their eerie cries and — most important this time of year — deer forage in our suburban gardens. If they were just snacking on a few oak leaves we wouldn't mind, but they go for the tenderest and most long-awaited plants. The hostas with their tall lavender shoots, the impatiens, the day lilies.

Last year they ate the buds off the lilies before they could bloom. This year we've had a secret, smelly weapon — a deer repellent spray, a "liquid fence" that keeps them away — and a few victories — a riotous crop of tiger lilies in the backyard and winsome clusters of impatiens by the front door.

But we're not resting on our, er, laurels. We've spotted the herds of deer moving through the woods, nibbling everything they can find. We know it's only a matter of time before they grow hungry enough and bold enough to strike again.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Before the Roles

More than a week later, I'm still pondering my high school reunion. I replay conversations, especially ones that pierced the shell of convention (occupation, children or — gulp — grandchildren) and ventured into some place deep and true.

What I realized (and I knew this all the time, I suspect) is that having gone through high school (and in the case of some folks, grammar school) together automatically took us to a place deep and true. One woman and I reminisced about the beanies we wore in eighth grade. I reminded another about how her mother would always honk the car horn every time we rounded a curve or crested a hill when she was driving us to horseback riding lessons in seventh grade. The hostess of our Friday night picnic surprised me with a photo of us and other neighborhood kids taken one Easter when we were about six years old. We lived on the same street then.

In my hometown, I am not just a mother or an employee or a neighbor. I am the person I was before the roles began.


Saturday, June 25, 2011


It stands for Ride Around the Pioneers in One Day, and it's happening right now in northwest Montana. Tom and his brothers and hundreds of other riders are riding 130 miles through the Pioneer Mountains to raise money for Camp Mak-a-Dream, a camp for children and families affected by cancer. This is the 10th anniversary of RATPOD. Last year it grossed $1.7 million for the camp and has become such a hot event that registration fills up in 20 minutes.

By our reckoning the riders have passed the scenic byway turn-off at Mile 14, they've moved beyond the breakfast stop at Mile 30 and pushed up the 6- to 8-percent grade to the Crystal Park turnout at 8,000 feet. Soon, if not already, they will be flying downhill for a full 20 minutes, past the town of Divide and along the Big Hole River. They will cruise to Wise River Mercantile, where they'll have lunch. After that comes a watermelon break at Mile 85 and an ice cream and pie stop at Mile 107. Twenty-three miles later, they'll end up where they started, in Dillon, Montana.

I'm not there, of course, but I know enough of the landscape to breathe the tang in the air, to see in my mind's eye the lodgepole pine, the alpine meadows and the big, big sky. We here at sea level, we ride with them in spirit.

Photo © Lucy Capehart, 2002


Friday, June 24, 2011

Deep Bench

The land here rises and falls, colts gallop in tree-lined pastures and hedges hang low over meadows. It is, topographically speaking, not unlike the place I grew up. Horse country, semi-southern, a gentle clime.

But there are differences, too. And those are what I think about now that I'm home again. I think about the faces of my classmates, people I hadn't seen in years but who are as familiar to me as if I'd met them yesterday. I think about knowing not just these people themselves, but their parents and brothers and sisters. It is the deep bench, the belief that there is much in reserve. It is the rootedness of long acquaintance.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tie-Dyed Day

The office in summer — trying to bring the beach in. I wear a bright shirt of tie-dyed-style orange, pink and white. It is light enough to be billowy. It could be wafting in an Atlantic breeze. Instead it is pulled up to a desk. Will it give me the beach-induced calm to make the most of this day, to whittle the to-do list and start the story?

Devotees of meditation say if you practice it long enough you can take yourself to the beach in an instant. Mentally, that is. You can whisk yourself away from the dentist's drill, the airless waiting rooms of life. I am working on these skills. And today, I'm counting on the tie-dyed shirt.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lonely Soldiers

Last night we saw my brother off to a faraway post, where his (civilian) job is taking him for a few months. The international terminal was quiet; soldiers dressed in camouflage gear sat alone at the bar, flipped through magazines at the newsstand, called home one last time before boarding their flights.

We sat with Drew, chatted, had a beer. Before long it was time for him to pass through security and check into his flight. I waved until I couldn't see him anymore; I watched as as he squared his shoulders and moved his tall frame toward the future.

I was struck by how alone Drew and all of the camo-clad seemed. Where they are going only they can go. What they are doing only they can do.

It's a scene that plays out here every day of the week without fanfare, a scene I never think about but on which our easy lives are based. The timeless march of soldiers heading off to war.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011


A night of little sleep means an even longer longest day for me. I think of Stonehenge and the revelers there, allowed to mill about among the stones. I think of northern climes, of places where the sun will scarcely set tonight. And of all the riotous green of our own corner of the world, fed by spring showers and storms. Now summer is here, the play of sun upon the leaves, late day light slanting in from the west. Seasonal change always has a bit of the mysterious about it — never more so than today.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Day, A Weekend, A Father

Sometimes the old brain is too full to process what it has stored. Today is one of those days. A high school reunion, the wedding of a dear friend's son and now Father's Day have all run together this weekend to create a mass of memories, thoughts and impressions. Should I write about dancing last night with people I haven't seen in decades? Or the tears that surprised me as I watched Jean's son kiss his bride?

A second ago I showed my dad photos of his father that my cousin had posted on Facebook. The kitchen of my Dad's boyhood home on Idlewild Court — a home we're about to see on a sentimental journey through the streets of Dad's past — came alive again in one of those pictures.

The multiple layers of meaning in that event — layers of nostalgia, wonder and mystery — are about as close to depicting this weekend as I can muster.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Notes on a Napkin

Because I have little faith in the power of my memory, I often scribble thoughts down on whatever I have on hand. A scrap of paper, a napkin. From a "post" Monday while stopped at a traffic light: "Because so little had happened, so much could."

Cryptic, to be sure. Profound? Hmmm, maybe not. But it seemed so at the time. Perhaps it was the soundtrack. "Liebesleid" or "Love's Sorrow" by Fritz Kreisler was on the radio. It's a schmaltzy, tender piece that reminds me of having tea at the Plaza in the glory days of New York. That and the traffic noise and the sun low in the sky — it could have been any of these things that brought the half-formed thought to mind. It may take some time to figure out what it means — if I ever do.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I was after the moon and I thought I could find it. Our neighbors, Nancy and Peter, were out for an evening stroll. They told me they'd seen the moon at the end of our street. And so I walked down in the darkness to the closest corner.

I could see the halo first, and when I finally got to the moon it was fuzzy yellow and perfectly framed between the shaggy trees that line Folkstone Drive. It was every bit as commanding as the sun, this moon; it was sultry and beguiling and utterly at its best. It stopped me short. I memorized its haze, its lumpy surface. I thought about beauty, its medicinal qualities, and how they are especially useful before bedtime. Like a mantra or a stanza, the moon satisfied. Just by its very being.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Bird, A Cloud

For years I was ridiculed for my earnest photos. A bird, a cloud, a sunset. It was the dorm room poster. It was Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Remember that 70s classic?

Now aspiration is out of fashion. Instead, there is irony. There is the slender slice, thin to translucence. But sometimes I aim my camera at the sky, and I wait for a bird.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On a Clear Day

There is a slight rise on one of my walking routes that allows for a tolerable if faraway view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If the weather is clear and the humidity is low, those old hills rise ahead of me with promise and mystery.

They are puny when compared with the Rockies or Sierras or even with themselves if I were 3o miles west. But I treasure them just the same because they hold out to me a life beyond this one. When I see them as I did yesterday on my walk, I understand why tired, hungry people followed wagons more than two thousand miles across this land. It is the frontier. It is beguiling. It is, and always will be, a second chance.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Easy Picking

The strawberry pickings of my youth happened something like this: We would drive along a Fayette County lane some crisp morning in early June. We wouldn't know where we were going; we would just follow a hand-lettered sign down a rutted driveway. And there, in a sunny acre or two, was the soul of summer — juicy berries that stained our fingers and fell, plump and forgiving, into our hands. It was hard work, if I recall, and blissfully worth it.

Here's the beauty of the blog. It allows for the virtual. Ever since I bought homegrown strawberries at the farmer's market two weeks ago I've longed to taste them again. On Friday I read about a pick-your-own place in Loudon County. Saturday filled with errands and chores. And yesterday, when I called the place first before driving 45 minutes west, I learned that the berry patch was closing for the season — in an hour. There would be no strawberry harvest for us this year.

So I turn to the berry patch of memory, where fruit is always ripe and the picking always easy.

Photo: Images of Green


Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Storm that Wasn't

What to call the storms that don't happen, the sky darkening, distant rumbles, the first few fat drops — and then no more. "Strom" perhaps? Akin to "strum" as in "strum and drang," the German phrase loosely translated as "storm and stress." I think also of the late senator Strom Thurmond, who caused some "strum" in his day.

Stroms are disappointing occurrences, or perhaps I should say non-occurrences. The swim is postponed. The plants, parched, still need watering. For nothing I drag the new green rocker off the deck and into the living room. (I've given up on the old green rocker with its creaks and peeling paint.) We wait for that which never comes.

The summer strom. Not for the faint-hearted.

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Friday, June 10, 2011


The sky shimmered last night in response to Tuesday's solar flare. I missed it, but I heard it was like heat lightening on steroids.

It reminds me of the only time I have seen the northern lights. We lived in Groton then and our friend Kip knocked on the door after 9. "Look," he said, pointing up. And there, across Martin's Pond, was a surreal display of greens and purples. It was beautiful and strange and ultimately unsettling. I've never forgotten it.

We were about to leave Massachusetts and I took this as further proof that we shouldn't go. I know that Kip did. He was a native New Englander and not used to having people leave. As it turns out, Kip left us. He died from cancer in 1997. All of Groton mourned. There wasn't a spot left to stand in the old Congregational Church at his memorial.

Somehow Kip and the aurora borealis have gotten all mixed up in my mind. When the night sky dances, I think of him.

Photo: NASA

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dinner on the Deck

A slow turgid morning. Pink streaks in the sky. I sit on the deck to write, the air clammy, just a hint of coolness.

I look over at the table and remember the fun we had last night at dinner, all the girls here and a boyfriend, too. Laughing, talking all at once. There were grilled kabobs and rice, a simple, tasty meal. The mosquitoes were getting full, too. So we talked about our puny little citronella candles and how we have to find more powerful stuff.

As darkness grew, lightening bugs flashed and I plugged in the little white lights around the pergola. It was too bright. People started swatting at their legs, talking about how they were being eaten alive. It was time to clean up and move on. This morning I look at the table and remember it all.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

In Another Garden

It was early evening when I crossed the yard and entered another world — our neighbors' garden. They are away and we're watering their plants. I found the buckets behind the hedge, ladled water onto petunias and impatiens. I marveled at the tidiness, the white pebbles and gnomes, an orderliness I admire from afar but seldom see close at hand.

And then I walked around back. Years of bamboo and white pine stand between our yards. It is mutual, this screen. It is for privacy, of course, and is highly effective. It has kept their garden a secret, the careful plantings of hostas, azaleas and begonia. The sign "Our Garden" and the white latched gate. The charm and innocence of their suburban idyll. I stood for a moment and felt the peace of the place. Then I watered the plants and went home.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In Search of Scent

I am a woman without a scent. The O De Lancome that suited me fine for half a decade now seems cloying and sharp. I remember when I first wore that perfume; it was during a difficult time of my life, and its lemony, astringent aroma became a scented badge of honor.

I didn't wear it again for years. In between I tried Anias, Anias by Cacherel, a flowery, romantic cologne that arrested me at a counter in the long-since departed Altman's Department Store in Manhattan and wouldn't let me go for years.

Then there was Oscar de la Renta, my stalwart. It sailed me through the busy years of my children's childhoods, when I needed just a splash of something sweet to get me through the day.

After that I went back to O De Lancome. For the memories, you might say. For the invincible way it made me feel.

But I'm out of Lancome and at a crossroads. Will my new fragrance be floral or sophisticated? Light or musky? I need some serious time at a perfume counter. I need to be swept off my feet again. I'm a woman in search of a scent.


Monday, June 6, 2011

The Kingdom of Clean

I have no scrub brush, no feather duster, no complicated set of tools. I use paper towels, spray cleaner and what used to be known as "elbow grease." Yesterday, I attacked the bathroom armed only with these. I scrubbed, wiped and polished. Weeks of travel and activities had taken their toll and I removed layers of dust, mildew and soap scum. This morning's reward is a newborn bathroom with fluffy rugs and hair in the hairbrush, where it belongs.

The kingdom of clean. It is smooth and crisp and cool to the touch. Sometimes, in our house, it's as faraway as a fairytale. But I like to go there sometime, even as a tourist.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

His Reading Life

I just finished reading Pat Conroy's My Reading Life. His prose rolled over me like a big wave and left me dizzy in the way a wave makes you dizzy as it recedes and leaves you teetering behind on the sand.

"I've built a city from the books I've read," he writes. "There are thousands of books that go with me everywhere I go. A good book sings a timeless music that is heard in the choir lofts and balconies and theaters that thrive within the secret city inside me."

Say what you will about Conroy's writing — that his prose tends to purple, for instance — but I have never doubted that he is the real thing, and this book proves it.

"Here is what I want from a book, what I demand, what I pray for when I take up a novel and begin to read the first sentence: I want everything and nothing less, the full measure of a writer's heart."


Thursday, June 2, 2011

One Day Away

We went to the beach for a day last weekend — we had enough time to walk the shore, explore the boardwalk, wade in the surf, spot dolphins beyond the breakers. We had time to get sunburned and wind-whipped and eat too much ice cream. But we (or least I) came back to a house transformed. The place looked tidier than I remember leaving it. And the mental break seemed much greater than what 15 hours could merit — it felt like we'd spend a long weekend at the shore, at least. All of this from just one day away.

An update on yesterday's post: I called the number, listened to the sad announcement that the service would be discontinued and then, miracle of miracles, heard Rob Luchessi's brilliant forecast. Was it just my imagination or was there a special lilt in his voice when he said, "Have a GREAT day!" The Verizon weather line has been spared. Hooray!


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Over and Out

I dialed the number this morning, just to be sure — but it's true. The message we've been hearing for months — "Effective June 1, 2011, Verizon will no longer offer time of day and weather services" — is all I hear when I dial 936-1212. No more Neal Pizzano, Howard Phoebus or Rob Luchessi — voices we've come to know through years of hearing them say, "Here's the latest weather forecast. Brought to you by Verizon." A service that's been offered since rotary dial phones became popular in the 1930s is gone.

People don't need dial-in forecasts when they have the Weather Channel, and scores of other ways to plan their day. But we aren't big TV people, and it's easier to pick up the phone than to fire up the computer. Besides, you learned more than just the weather. Pizzano, who was profiled in the Washington Post a couple years ago, might tell you that it's National Peach Cobbler Day or Hug Your Sister Day. And he always remembered to say "have a nice day."

So today we mourn the replacement of the little with the large, of the personal with the anonymous. Today we miss the friendly voice on the other end of the line. Today we're going to boycott the weather.

Photo from Past Times.


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