August. Comfortably cool mornings yield to languid heavy afternoons. It’s the month of running the basement dehumidifier non-stop, the month of rampant crabgrass, and the month that marks peak critter season. Unlike our subdivision property in Illinois that served as a backdrop for the occasional, adorable, brown bunny, New Hampshire is an ever-changing landscape of abundant wildlife. We’ve learned to live with our crew-cut hostas, thoughtfully cropped by invisible deer, not to mention the elusive creatures who are eating through the tender leaves of our birch tree and carefully dropping pruned branches for their little ones. We don’t mind the birds nests that appear everywhere, including the palatial avian abode erected on the inverted seat of our stored canoe. Chipmunks, raccoons, even the occasional skunk drop by or decide we are prime real estate for a permanent residence. (Nothing like opening your windows for fresh night air and waking up to Eau d’Horrible in the morning.) We’ve even heard of bear sightings in the area. Live and let live. Then there was the July day I looked up and saw those perfectly circular holes around our attic vent. What could those be? I wondered as I made a mental note to fix the structural damage, adding it to our always robust “to do” list, then forgot about it. No matter — the answer presented itself last Wednesday. With my husband in the hospital recuperating from orthopedic surgery, I was on my own with the morning routine. Coming back into the house with our two dogs, a flash of movement caught my eye in our parlor. It was a critter, and it flew- fast. It’s hard to describe the feeling of panic that overtakes you when self-propelled wildlife is actually within the protective walls of your house. I immediately called David — hospital or not, I needed him.  On his instructions, I opened the front door, held up a broom, and watched this dark creature with a wingspan of at least a foot faultlessly perform low level maneuvers around our first floor furniture before swooping outside. I thought it was a bird who had gotten in by some fluke. Then, the next day, there was another “bird” in the kitchen, then tonight, with my husband home, a third and fourth appeared. “That is a bat,” he said matter-of-factly, on seeing the first. Bats? What? Evidently our attic is housing a bat colony. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe they’ll keep the bears out.

August. The month of calling the local wildlife control company to evict unwanted tenants. In the meantime, I’ll keep the broom handy.flying black bat silhouetted in the twilight sky

Slip Sliding Away

Oh, winter in New Hampshire!  I know now why New England has spawned so many writers — what else is there to do on long winter days when it’s below zero outside?  After subzero temperatures that yielded to rain and glazed all horizontal surfaces,  I stepped out this morning onto our glassy driveway, mincing my way like some old woman, and only because I had somewhere to be.   In Illinois, I may have owned three pairs of socks.  Now, these miraculous items of clothing must comprise at least 30% of our laundry.  Today, I wore tights covered by wool knee-highs, that were themselves covered by warm anklets, all under zip up leather boots.  The art of layering is a needed skill as frigid mornings yield to more temperate middays that are only false hope as sundown brings the deep chill back.  I used to take the Christmas decorations down by mid January; no more.  I can’t bear the thought of cold snow without the warmth of little white lights on the tree and gazebo outside.

With all that said, I don’t want to be anywhere else.  I love building fires in the woodstove, soot and all, and the beauty and stillness of the woods under a blanket of white.  There is nothing like the slow warming glow of a winter sunrise that serves as a rosy backdrop to the stark silhouette of tree limbs or the incomparable feeling of being nestled under a lofty down comforter.   I think winter must be my favorite time of year, that is,  until spring comes.

The woods are lovely…

The Pond

The Pond

I have written before on the vagaries of our country property; it is far from the manicured perfection of our suburban subdivision lot outside St. Louis. Here, green is the new grass. If it’s green it counts as an acceptable ground cover. No more will I try to dictate what or where things grow. What are dandelions except charming seasonal flowers?

What I do love are the spaces around our home that beckon. In our previous life, the lawn was to be observed and admired. In New Hampshire, we have naturescapes that seduce and lure you outside. At the front of our property, undulating below a stately band of trees, is a beautiful moss carpeted area next to a winding brook. Two of those trees have hooks just waiting for the hammock that will stretch between them and offer shaded respite from the summer heat. Just beyond, on the other side of our white picket fence is what I call our “fairy garden”, beautiful perennials and dwarf plants and a bench to sit on and take it in.

It is our pond, though, that I love the most. It is little more than a seasonal drainage receptacle, but now, when it is full and dark, it promises mystery and a watery passage to the woods beyond. The rain dances across its surface, fragmenting the reflection of the tall trees above. There is a large flat topped boulder set on the sandy shore dotted with wild flowers perfect for sitting and contemplating nature and life’s mysteries. If I were a child, it would transport me completely to other worlds and tell me stories only I could hear. Maybe if I sit and look into its depths long enough, I may yet hear them.

Our eyes met in the cereal aisle

imageI admit it; I am one of those “friendly” people who will strike up a conversation with a total stranger, much to the chagrin of my family. For me, though, the opportunity to connect with another makes an ordinary day enjoyable. One day, though, I learned the real value simple human contact could have.

I was at the grocery store, armed with my list (which I seem to treat as just a starting point) and an empty shopping cart. Parked by the bananas, I reached over a hand to snag my perfect bunch (not too ripe, no bruises, about the shade of a honeydew) and reflexively smiled at its owner. I noticed he was considerably shorter than I and wore a fraying greek fishing hat. We met again in pasta; he was staring intently at the interminable array of boxes and varieties. “Can I help you find something?” I asked. “Linguine,” he mumbled, not looking at me. I thought I detected an accent of some sort. I found the linguine in short order and pointed it out, smiling again. He picked up a box and placed it carefully in his cart, walking away without a word. I saw that his pants were quite baggy, the seat almost worn through, his legs slightly bowed. The soles of his shoes were worn at an angle.
He was there again by the meat section; I almost ran into him as I pushed my cart while reading the meat labels. I smiled apologetically. He seemed unaware.

Our eyes met in the cereal aisle. I was reaching for a box of Cheerios and glanced up to find myself gazing straight into dark brown eyes framed in a deeply creased but handsome face. For a moment, we both paused. I smiled; the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly.

Standing in line at the checkout I turned to find him standing behind me. “Well, I guess we just can’t avoid each other, ” I said in a light tone noting the few neatly arranged items in his cart. He smiled; a real smile this time, unguarded; then it was gone. “I lost my wife six months ago,” he said quietly. “We were married for 48 years. I miss her.” I reached out and placed my hand on his arm. “I am so sorry.” “Thank you,” he replied,  and our eyes met once more. For a moment I saw him as the young man he had been on his wedding day, standing tall and proud, beaming next to his fresh faced bride.

I watched as he slowly walked through the parking lot, a single brown bag tucked neatly under one arm; I would not forget him.


Just as spring is gradually thawing the cold earth and coaxing the trees to finally trust their tender leaves and blossoms to the warming air, so I am emerging from a period of winter in my own life. You’ll notice I have “grace” in the title of this blog.  That is not primarily because I like the sound, or even the grace that the shape of the word itself holds.  I desperately need grace in my daily walk and often forget it is there for the claiming. Loss is difficult, and, having recently experienced it,  I  find myself reluctant to emerge and trust the world.  Heck, on a good day I have great difficulty with that “t” word. 

Katie Couric once said, “Life is a series of reboots,” and that resonates with me.  If you look at my path so far, “reboot” is my middle name.  So now, yet again, I am taking a leaf from nature’s tree and, with prayer, pressing forward.  It is time again to trust in God and His grace, and in myself as His creation.  Last weekend that meant I mustered up the courage to show up at our church worship team rehearsal with my violin.  Now mind you, I come from that structured, orchestral background; jamming with a bunch of guitarists and a keyboard is not really my forte.  I had no intention of putting myself out there during services, but somehow that is exactly what happened.  Did I fall flat on my musical face?  No.  I received grace in abundance as I was able to forget myself and simply become part of the music.  It was such a joy to be part of a group, contributing my talents to something worthwhile and uplifting.

God is not done with me yet.  May I embrace grace fully and bloom where He wants me, and experience the joy that brings.


The Letter

I have recently experienced a loss very close to me — my Dad. Among other things I am so grateful to him for is how he helped me through his example and support to join the Air Force, where I met my husband 29 years ago and started our family. Something about profound loss makes me want to embrace the precious gift of family and love. At one point I was close to throwing the promise of that gift away, but my future husband wrote a letter to me that changed all that. It’s all in “The Letter” under “Poetry and Serious Stuff”.

Oh, There’s No Place Like Home….

imageIt is two days after Christmas; four days since our eldest’s birthday; ten days since our first house guests arrived for the holidays.  The fresh snow outside etches our bare branches with a beauty and evenness no human hand could match.   Today is quiet and still, far removed from the rush of holiday activities. Just two weeks ago I was engaged in frantic preparations — painting, cleaning, hanging pictures, decorating.  Now, food eaten and presents opened, our youngest has come and gone, our eldest and husband soon to follow, like some unwanted rewind.  I am trying to savor the moment, but thoughts of “to dos” intrude, unwanted but not unbidden.  Soon, this year will be filed under past Christmases, retrievable through images and memories. For now, though, I will sit in our sunroom and watch the wind shake snow showers from the fir trees outside while I listen to the soothing sounds of conversation just a room away. The feel of our youngest daughter’s head against my shoulder is still fresh in my mind, and I pray that it all will be etched surely in my memory to prolong the joy and comfort I feel right now for a long time to come.

The Reluctant Mariner


As I clung to the dock pier, I felt the canoe slowly shift under me and then David’s quick shout before I unceremoniously plunged into the water, struggling to gain my footing on the soft lake bottom. My life vest fruitlessly hugged my chin as I surveyed our green canoe neatly inverted in front of me, still tied to the dock just a foot away.

I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent, rational, and coordinated individual.  Add water, though, and all those sterling qualities go by the proverbial wayside. Maybe it’s the time I inverted myself in the inflated ring when I was six or the dunking I took in my teens that involved holding me under the water until I could flail my way, sputtering, to the surface. Perhaps it was that fateful spring sail on a frigid Michigan lake with my then boyfriend.  Crammed into a small sailboat designed for one, we capsized when the tiller became stuck behind him. I remember the shock of the cold water and my gasping for air, certain my life was at an end.  Of course it wasn’t nearly so dire, and David took me in hand, calm and reassuring as he righted the boat and pulled me back in.  I’ll never forget his rakish grin as he surveyed my soaked clothes and asked, “So, would you like to sail some more or head back?”  At the time, I had no idea what was so funny.  “Take me back,” I said through gritted (and chattering) teeth, my dignity and appearance both in shreds.

David is now my husband of 28 years, and I can boast of having successfully evaded small floating conveyances for the duration.  Despite his love of sailing, our military life (thankfully) kept us from living close enough to the water to own a boat.  When we were stationed near San Francisco and had access to the Presidio Yacht Club, I participated by remaining on terra firma and watching my family sail on glorious (and intimidating) San Francisco Bay from a safe distance.

All that has changed with our move to New Hampshire.  I found a home half a mile from David’s beloved Bow Lake. I urged him to buy a sailboat and promised to go with him, my traumatic memories evidently dulled over the years.  We rented a dock on the lake and used it for our canoe as we readied our bargain sailboat with the swollen dagger board (which had aborted our maiden voyage  by refusing to drop into its designated position, but I digress.)  Our lovely green canoe harkens back to the small Michigan Lake we lived on as newlyweds.  There it was a brand new apple red model that we would take out in the early evening, paddling languidly along the shore, drinking in the cool evening air —  at least that is what I remember.  Alas, it seems my memory is as faulty as my seaworthiness. Who knew water was so….fluid?  As I stood there, soaking wet and shivering next to the inverted canoe, I’ll admit my first thought was “take me home!”  David looked at me expectantly, not saying a word.  Twenty eight years of marriage will change a man.   I looked at him, my husband who loves the water.   “Well I couldn’t get much wetter; let’s go out.”

Twenty-eight years of marriage will change a woman.  I clambered back into the boat.

Thank God I’m a Country Girl* (*with some reservations)

It has been just short of a year since we left the perfectly manicured world of our suburban home near St. Louis for our wooded setting in Strafford, NH . I had always thought of New Hampshire with a healthy dose of nostalgia, having lived here for 16 years before leaving at the ripe old age of 26.  A scant 30 years (or so) later, I’m back and am learning the reality of living with nature.

Our eight year old home in southern Illinois sat on a 1/2 acre lot, thoughtfully wooded behind the margins of our perfectly sown and maintained grass.  Underground sprinklers discreetly maintained the optimum moisture level and periodic lawn applications kept weeds and undesirables at bay.  Utility lines were underground as well, and our vinyl siding promised untold years of a mostly maintenance free exterior.  Twice a year, I would drag my dear husband out for concentrated weed abatement and shrub trimming in our flower beds.  It was quiet and predictable, and, dare I say it, aesthetically nearly perfect.

From that existence, we moved to our “vintage” 1980s cape set on three wooded acres.  Power lines crisscross our front lawn and trees abound, freely dispensing branches, leaves, and debris onto the grass below.  The woods just behind our “seasonal” pond are deep and mysterious — and littered with dead branches and years of decaying leaves, far from the neat idealized version I thought I remembered.  As for the house, this is New England, so painted wood trumps vinyl.  The deck , house, and our shed predict an epic painting project in our near future as paint peels and blisters.  Inside, the relentlessly wallpapered and bordered walls promise many months of laborious stripping, wall repair, and painting.  (I wonder why the woodwork and ceilings in each room needed to be painted different colors, but I digress.)  Early on, the reality of living in the world of the elements and exposed power lines quickly sunk in.  We experienced a multi-day power outage in our first weeks and installed something expensive called a transfer switch for our expensive new generator.  We discovered our 27 year old oil furnace was nearing the end of its natural life and that most of our windows need replacing.  Leaves overwhelmed us in the fall, along with hundreds of stink bugs that decided to move indoors, and the process of killing the crabgrass left us with a totally dead lawn in the late summer (who knew it was all crabgrass?).  We resurrected the planting bed only to find that we were running a food pantry for the local wildlife because it lacked the exhaustive security measures needed to keep various critters out. I fought the unending battle of removing lawn debris by dragging all those small (and large) branches and piling them next to the outdoor fire pit behind the house (someday we’ll actually burn them).  I think the impressive pile of wood now houses a family of raccoons.  Just today, I saw that some of our hostas had been unceremoniously decapitated, no doubt viewed as some deer delicacy.

I admit it; I am out-maneuvered and outmatched.  As my mother-in-law says, we have a “country” property, which means anything green or colorful is desirable despite its provenance, and a little wear is to be expected.  What I do know is that it has been a true delight to witness the beautiful plantings that have surfaced to mark the changing of the seasons — phlox, peonies, daffodils, lilies — the flame of autumn leaves, and the cool green of spring in full leaf.  I can’t describe the joy I feel when I go outside, look around, and think “I live here,” with more wonder than frustration.  We have grown to love the lines and quirks of our home, and will take our time in slowly making it our own.  Surely the years ahead will bring new challenges, but it is good to be home.

Express Stress

I don’t know about you, but I am usually a stickler about using the express lane at the grocery store.  You will not find me trying to sneak 13 items past the cashier if the sign says 12,  I don’t count multiples as “one”,  and I am one of those incredibly annoying individuals  who surreptitiously counts the items in the cart ahead of me if it seems to be a little on the “heavy”  side, though thankfully, I am smart enough not to say anything.  Somehow, though, that all changed yesterday.  After a trip to pick up a few items, I did a quick count and thought I was good to go.  Imagine my chagrin when I started unloading my cart only to find that I had hidden my six cartons of yogurt and three burritos under a package of spinach.  Flustered, I said something to the cashier about not realizing I had more items.  Her perfunctory smile was accompanied by that sceptical look that seemed to telegraph a sarcastic “right”.  In that moment, I envisioned a siren erupting above my head, bathing the store in flashing red light accompanied by a cacophonous shriek.  “Clean up in the express lane” a voice would say as two burly stockmen would drag me away to some terrible fate.  As she screened item after item, I saw that there was someone behind me; even worse.  I had brought my own bags (one small redeeming act), and started to help bag the items.  As I grabbed a loaf of bread, the cashier retrieved it from me.  “Have I scanned that?”  she asked.  The answer was no, and I imagined the two floor tiles under me giving way to deposit me below with the rotten cabbage.  “So sorry,” I mumbled, letting her finish the task.  I didn’t look behind me, but walked away hurriedly with my two bags and two gallons of milk.  When I reached my car, I saw that it had been t-boned by a shopping cart, surely divine retribution for my transgressions.  I’m sure I will eventually recover from this self-imposed trauma; with such an over-developed sense of rule following, is it any wonder that I never embarked on a life of crime?