29 November 2010

Leaf duty

While we were away for the Thanksgiving holiday, great numbers of leaves fell in our yard. On arriving home we were struck by the fact that we could see the pond from the driveway and that had we not known where the driveway was we might have missed it! So, this morning everything but leaf duty fell by the wayside.

It was a great day, despite my current aching exhaustion. It's been a long time since I've participated in the raking, blowing, mowing, mulching, spreading involved in restoring the yard to neatness. I enjoyed it immensely. The relatively safe physical labor meant that I could let my mind wander to think about a host of other things -- furniture needing new upholstery, our Christmas letter, scheduling the dogs for grooming. I also tried to make myself remember all the comics I could that usually included leaf-raking in fall strips -- Peanuts, Hagar the Horrible, Calvin and Hobbes. Who knew leaf raking's such an iconic activity?

By the way, we did manage not to engage in one nearly essential part of those comics. We refrained from jumping in the leaf piles. "We" doesn't include Whiby, who spent lots of time plowing through them.

Before we returned all our tools and equipment to the garden shed I took a few minutes to prune the troublesome Abelia at the intersection of the driveway and the front walk. It had become brittle, overgrown, dreadfully misshapen since we planted it nearly six years ago. Plus, it was ugly and in the way.

You can tell I was tired, I suppose. But, I think it looks so much better than it did! There's alot to be said for simple, straight-forward, contained, small.

Fret not, the poor butchered thing will be moved shortly to a better, more open spot and be allowed to begin again.

26 November 2010

Thanksgiving and remembrance

My mother, Tal and I have arrived back at Mom's home after spending a portion of this week with my brother and his family in Mechanicsville VA. As I took my turn driving today, I kept my mind busy trying to recall how many Thanksgivings I've had the good fortune to spend with the Virginia Tarboxes.

Although I couldn't arrive at a firm number, as many of the family as could began gathering with them in the fall of 1989, when my sister was living in New York City, I was at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria and our parents were still at Brookgreen Gardens here on South Carolina's Waccamaw Neck. It was the perfect place to rendezvous. So, more Thanksgivings than not during the past 21 years.

The numbers who sat down for the Thanksgiving meal over the years grew and diminished depending on the year. When the nine of us circled up to offer a blessing before yesterday's feast, however, the sadness which mingled with our thanksgivings was palpable. Not only is this the first major holiday since my dad's death, but three others who were part of the early gatherings in that household are also gone: my mother's father and both of my sister-in-law's parents.

The sadness did not overwhelm the occasion. First of all, new to yesterday's circle is my nephew's darling girlfriend. A new generation is coming into its own. Second is the influence the four who have died had on everyone who held hands in that circle yesterday. We are who we are at least in part because we knew those four people; we are better for having been part of their lives.  Each of them played a role in giving that circle life.

Thanksgiving was not the same without them. But, they are not entirely gone so long as we hold them in memory.  Our remembering gives them life.

20 November 2010

A celebration of syrup

Autumn in rural South Carolina is more lovely with every passing day. The yellow-leaved hickory trees in the woods around the house seem to glow with a light all their own. Tal and I are surprised by the vast number of leaves floating down and covering our yard again. When we walk Whitby and Belle on the promenade every afternoon, we cannot help but notice how much more of the opposite side of the pond we are able to see from the back of the house.

The scene as the pressing of the cane was being finished up.  The syrup was being cooked under the shelter behind the press.

The syrup-master, Ralph,
his tie with coveralls,
a festival tradition
Today was the 8th Annual Soggy Bottom Syrup Festival, a 10AM to 9PM event put on by Tal's niece, Beth, and her husband, Ralph. They live north of Columbia on the Broad River, the "soggy bottom" being the flood plain along the river. Dozens of people gathered on that flat stretch of land, friends and family, young and old. Wonderful food was served, early through late, and the syrup as it cooked smelled so good.

It was a day of real joy, a festival in the best sense of the word.

Bubbling syrup in a Rourkes Ironworks vat

Jars ready to be filled

15 November 2010

My world view

This is not going to be a long, serious post about how I sort past experiences, current activities and future possibilities into some workable strategy for coping with life.  I do think about such things, alot actually, but my thoughts at the moment are more local and immediate -- and literal.

Whitby is more and more a lap dog.  So, more and more I view my world with this delightful and demanding furry ear-to-ear frame.  And then, there's Tal -- pretty much the focus of my life.

11 November 2010

That twice-a-year visit

Not many people I know like going to the dentist.  Something about the expectation of pain, or being scolded, I'd imagine.  Not many people associate the word "pleasant" with having their teeth cleaned, filled, straightened, capped. 

Although I could not say with any surety how old I was, I do remember clearly my first visit to Dr Joseph in Georgetown -- the small waiting room just off Front Street, the line of examining rooms down the hall, Dr Joseph's efforts to allay my fears.  He even got down on my level to meet me, telling me step-by-step what was involved in having my teeth checked.  While the occasional filling and getting my one crown were not exactly fun, from my first encounter with Dr Joseph nearly 50 years ago I have looked forward to having my teeth cleaned.

Today was the day I've had marked on my calendar since last April.  Tal and I are home from Dr Adams' office in Greenwood; we both have slick teeth and new tooth brushes.  And, I have a day marked in a box on next May's calendar page.

10 November 2010

My favorite bridge, locally anyway ...

I don't know how in the world it happened.  How did I manage to arrive in Columbia over a half an hour early for a visit and lunch with a friend.  Given our capital city's traffic, there wasn't time to run any errands, thirty minutes not being quite long enough for anything on my list.

What to do?  Maybe I could show up that early.  But, I didn't want to test that maybe.

But, there's a beautiful bridge.  We have a Blue Sky print of it over our bed, a Christmas gift from Tal one Christmas nearly twenty years ago.  The new River Front Park is on US 1, where the bridge crosses the Congaree River from Cayce into Columbia.  I stopped there, enjoyed a short walk, sat on a bench with a great view of the bridge and made several pictures at the end of the morning on this pretty autumn day.
In the end I was only a minute or two late!  Lunch was good and our visit was better.  Getting to see the Gervais Street Bridge up close -- and not while driving a vehicle -- was an unexpected bonus.

09 November 2010

"Raking" leaves

I love autumn.  The colors, the swirling, drifting, rustling leaves, the drop in temperature.  There's nothing I can think of about fall that I don't like.  Spring, so much the favorite of so many, takes a back seat on my seasonal priority list.

Autumn, though, is a cause for some concern around here.  The leaves that have fallen have to be gotten up!  And, the sooner the better ... 

I'm reminded of friends we made while we lived in the Philadelphia area during the late 1990s.  There was a tradition in their household.  It was on Thanksgiving morning, after breakfast and before the feast, that everyone who had gathered there for the day raked the yard.  The fall before Tal and I moved to Pennsylvania had been the precursor to an early and hard winter.  During the week before Thanksgiving that particular year a considerable snow fell, keeping the traditional raking from happening.  After that snow, came rain which froze immediately, and so it went for months.  It was late March before those leaves were seen again, much less moved off the grass.

Anyway, the leaves were falling when Tal and I arrived home from our Utah adventure some three weeks ago.  There has been rain, appointments with doctors, rounds of golf.  The leaves were left to fall.  Until today.  Tal put the grass catchers on the big mower and set to work shortly after breakfast.  By lunch the yard looked so nice I had to commemorate the transformation by taking the camera for a walk about. 

Plus, here's the thing about fall. There are still leaves clinging to the trees, so this mid-day view won't last long.

I especially like this view of the side yard -- the shadows cast by the house and porch across the grass and that line of orange bald cypress trees.

07 November 2010

Determined accomplishment

It isn't much really, but I learned two new things today.  Both of them took more time than I had allowed and both didn't work out right on the first try.  Now that I see that last sentence, I realize that neither of those facts is anything new.  I did prevail, however. 

First, I learned through trial and error (many errors, in fact) how to merge a series of photographs into a panorama.  While involved in that process I also had to learn how to convert images from 16-bit color to 8-bit color.  Don't ask me why, but Photoshop Elements won't merge 16-bit images.  Until I passed that step, nothing worked the way the book said it would.  (And, of course, the book didn't even mention the program's preference for 8-bit.)

The pursuit of the panorama, which turned out to be passable, but not great, was so that I could at last finish what I had written from the last day of the Utah trip (13 October), a post entitled "Off the Colorado plateau."  Signing in to Blogger, I learned that several improvements had been made to the program since I had used it yesterday.  Improvements I had both to discover and to learn how to use.  Improvements that meant I no longer just "knew how" to post a blog.  I had to figure it out almost every step of the way. 

In total my teeth-grinding, hair-tugging, under-the-breath muttering went on for five hours or so.  But, as I said, I won in the end.  It took grim determination; it required a refusal to be stopped; it took being willing to start over, again and again.  Not precisely how I'd planned to spend the afternoon.  Now, we'll see what of it all I remember tomorrow.

Were that I were so focused on other, perhaps more vital, things ...

06 November 2010

Tourists at home

We've tried this before with a variety of events/situations keeping us home. Today dawned brisk bright and we put our provisional plan into motion: a visit to the Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary -- about 45 miles away, in Aiken County, near Jackson SC.

It turned out to be a splendid outing. The center is remote, bounded on one side by the Savannah River and slightly west of the Savannah River Site (US Department of Energy), consisting of "3,250 acres of upland pine forest, hardwood bottom lands, open fields, lakes, and streams" (from the site's brochure). A quiet morning for a walk, we heard (more than spotted) birds, identified late-blooming wildflowers, especially enjoyed listening to the murmuring, sighing breezes high in the long-leaf pines.

While we were on the boardwalk over a sometime wetland, I noticed this fallen, turned up, spotted sweet gum leaf. I managed to get both the leaf and Tal in the photograph.

As we neared the sanctuary, Spanish moss became prevalent. I was surprised by the amount of moss in the pine trees along the trail we walked.

05 November 2010

Ordinary time

Back in the twenty years I spent bound up in parish life I used the calendar of the church year, or the liturgical calendar, almost as much as I used the daily/weekly/monthly/yearly one I carried. There is a rhythm to the church year, seasons of intensity and seasons that are less intense.

It is one of those less intense seasons that is the longest -- running from the Feast of Pentecost (about Memorial Day) to the beginning of Advent (shortly after Thanksgiving). Interesting is the fact that the liturgical color (that is, the color of the fabric hangings in the church's worship space and of the priest's garb) is green. Also, interesting? That long season is called "ordinary" time.

Green, the theologians say, helps the faithful remember that they are in a period of time dedicated to learning about the church and focused on spiritual growth, as opposed to celebrating the singular events of Jesus' life, the birth, death, resurrection, ascension. The scripture the church hears during ordinary time is about Jesus' life, how he worked in the world, what he did, who he talked to and what he said. That is, the getting up, the going through the day, the retiring for the night and the doing it all again the next day. Yup, Jesus did that, too.

Of course, the church doesn't have the corner on ordinary time. We all have ordinary time in our lives. In fact, just as it is for the church's liturgical calendar, we have more ordinary time in our lives -- the day-in-day-out stuff -- than we do special occasions -- birthdays, anniversaries, vacations.

Today was a wonderful day for me; it was comprised totally of ordinary time. Laundry, cleaning house, picking up a commissioned wedding gift from a favorite artisan (Jane Bess, an Edgefield potter), getting a few things from the grocery store, lunch for Tal after a round of golf, playing ball with and delivering treats to Whitby and Belle, checking and responding to email, planning supper. Just ordinary tasks, ordinary tasks that constitute supremely satisfying work. Like ordinary time in the church, our personal ordinary time is truly the stuff of life and provides us the time and space to work out who we are, what we're going to do, how we are going to spend our minutes and days -- our lives.

At the end of the day, at the end of one of these ordinary days, we can know we have, if nothing else, kept it together somehow, that, barring disaster (not ordinary time, by the way), tomorrow will come. How we handle ordinary time matters. It's what provides the foundation for the extraordinary -- both to deal with it when it comes and to process it after the fact.

Ordinary time is real life. I have loved this day.

04 November 2010

Knocking off the chill

We put this event off every autumn until we simply cannot stand it any longer. 
This week has turned cool, the wet weather making the chill intense and uncomfortable.  So, this afternoon we pushed the switch on the thermostat from "off" to "heat" and set the room temperature at a toasty 65 degrees.  We felt better instantly. 
The most recent Aiken Electric bill was the best -- at under $46.00.  The next time we'll see a total in that range will be next spring when we're seeing how long we can go without air-conditioning.
Silly, I know.  But, these little games are part of the fun.

02 November 2010


Oh my, what a day.
We were pretty clear when it began. There were three things to do.
  1. Vote.
  2. Drive to Augusta for an appointment with Tal's dermatologist.
  3. Drive to Columbia for a meeting with our financial planner.
The voting part went well and we arrived in Augusta early enough for a great cup of coffee at Mocha Mahn, a coffee shop in the same building with the doctor's office.

Before we'd finished sipping, though, things ceased going so well.  The appointment time came and went, by quite a while.  The receptionist could offer no hint as to how long we might be kept sitting there.  After two hours Tal's name was called.  I breathed a sigh of relief and settled back into the book I was reading .  After forty-five minutes he reappeared and with a "let's go" headed for the elevator ... still not having seen the doctor and no one "in the back" able to advise him where he was in line.  I don't think we'll be going back.

A comfort lunch of BLTs, sweet potato fries and milk made the day look better.  And, the Columbia portion of the day went off without a hitch. 

Waiting.  Being kept waiting is hard; sometimes it's unavoidable.  I don't know what happened today in Augusta.  I do know that Tal kept his cool and in the end did what he needed to do.  So, all things considered it, was a good day from start to finish.

01 November 2010

A new place to sit

Between the time this little project started and our moving the table and chairs this afternoon -- just a week, we have had almost three inches of rain. It was a warm and soggy string of days.

But, this afternoon move the table and chairs we did. From the bottom of the backporch steps to a spot in the woods in sight of the pond onto a 10X10 concrete pad tinted to match the house brick. Feels good to move this long-term goal into the completed column.

Plus, it's a pretty and comfortable spot.

... who from their labors rest

The message waiting light was flashing yesterday afternoon when we arrived home from Columbia. A colleague needed to arrange supply coverage for tonight's All Saints' Day liturgy. At the time we talked he wasn't certain he would need to be away, but he wanted to have everything ready if he did. So, I agreed to be on call and began thinking through a sermon.

A flood of memory. A long night. And, that hymn* -- William Walsham How's words and Ralph Vaughan Williams' music, Sine Nomine -- that monumental, soaring hymn in my head.

All Saints' Day, the day the church has set aside to commemorate and remember "all the saints, who from their labors rest." For years and years that list, my personal list, has included four grandparents and an array of people, family and friends alike, who played a part in my life during their days. I always listed them for the prayers offered during liturgy. I always let mind have free reign, recalling each one, a sweet and sad process on November 1st.

This year I added too many names to my list, among them my father. He rests from his labor this All Saints' Day and I miss him.

I just heard from my colleague. He's going to be able to officiate tonight. The sermon doesn't need to be finished. But, my remembering can go on.

*Hymn #287, The Hymnal 1982, Church Publishing