The Last, Loveliest Smile

Mums NST

It looks like rain outside, but there is no rain in the forecast. I could really use a beautifully rainy day today.  It is going to rain on Sunday…it will be cool and rainy and I think the perfect day to let a pot of chili simmer on the stove and watch football together.

I have a couple of errands to run today, and then I think I’ll spend some time in the garden. My poor, poor garden. Yesterday I realized there were about 100 tiny little cherry tomatoes ready to pick that I didn’t even know had grown.  I even picked a few strawberries.  Next year I promise to do better…

On my list today —  Chrysanthemums.  I think it’s time. Kate is going to be happy…she is very happy that autumn has arrived.  I don’t know why.  I asked her.  She doesn’t know why.  I’m glad she’s happy.

Yesterday I was outside for a few hours working in the garden. There was a breeze that blew through the hickory and oak trees in our yard, scattering hundreds of acorns and nuts with each gentle gust. It sounded like hail. Poppy just loved that.  She flew around the yard picking up acorns and hickory nuts and flinging them around, then chasing after them and zipping to the other end of the yard all by herself. She stopped to bark at the deer behind the fence (who were not scared of her), or to watch the geese overhead, flying in their uneven V. Their flight call mingled with the rustling of leaves in the breeze. I stopped to watch them for a moment, before they disappeared behind the trees. The sun was warm on my face.

Acorns NSTOne year David had a brilliant idea to pay the kids to pick up the acorns.  $5 per bucket or something like that.  He was broke after about an hour.  Henry mentioned the bucket idea to me earlier in the week. I told him to go ask his father.

This year it took a long while for me to be ready for autumn.  I don’t know why.  I have always loved the season, I could list a thousand reasons why, but I guess this year my heart clung tightly to summer and it’s late dinners, it’s schedule-less delight, it’s sleepy-headed, lazy mornings. It’s hard to walk away from such a beautiful place as summer, with it’s sunshine and wildflowers and it’s beaches, seashells, ice cream and bare feet.

But as the days have cooled, the pumpkins and chrysanthemums have begun popping up on doorsteps around town…acorns are falling and leaves will be changing colors soon. Boots and sweaters and wool blankets have been pulled out, and I’ve even begun dreaming of cocoa and mulled wine by a warm fire in the evenings.

And my sentiment toward leaving summer behind is changing.  Autumn is, afterall, “the year’s last, loveliest smile…”

–John Howard Bryant, “Indian Summer”

Wool Blanket NST

The Last, Loveliest Smile

All work and no play means there won’t be any Apple Betty.

Apple NST

We have these shrubs out front, under our windows.  (I say under, but really they are creeping up, so that the windows are cozily nestled into the bushes.  I like the way it looks, but it is a bit of a battle to convince The Man that the windows should remain nestled…)  I swear those shrubs grow 18″ a year.  We trim them, and we trim them and they just keep right on growing.

Most of the time, I can’t get to the entire shrub when I’m trimming.  At this point, they are five feet wide and four feet tall and full of yellow jackets most days.  So I do my best.  I clip from the front, and I can usually get about 3/4 of the plant done…just not the back.  I generally manage to remove only about 6″ of height at a time.  In order to finish the job completely, I have to do the remaining parts from inside the house, hanging out the windows and that is a real pain, to be honest.   So the shrubs are almost never fully trimmed.  I just skim the surface.

They are a metaphor for my life, those bushes…just skimming the surface these days…

I think about it constantly — how if I had more time I could do more.  How nothing ever seems complete, but everything is “good enough for now.”  Good enough to get by.

The weekends are good…they are a time to catch up a little…and to do the things we love without feeling like we are casting our obligations aside.  Even still, I wake up most mornings feeling an ache in the pit of my stomach.  There is something inside me that will not quit, and so at 5:00am Sunday morning I am worried about Algebra, and groceries, and apple picking and basketball tryouts and church and how we fit it all in on this day.  And the dialogue in my head begins…

We can’t do it all.

Maybe we should go to church early.

That’s just asking for trouble…they need a sleep-in day.  William has tryouts and he needs to sleep.

Well what are we going to *not* do then?

Apples.  We won’t go apple picking.

That’s the only fun thing on the list!  Poor Ella…  We always went apple picking with the other kids when they were little.  She always gets the short end of the stick…

And this goes on and on in my head…the guilt…the scheduling…the mind racing…until I realize my stomach is upset and there is no way I’ll get back to sleep so I just get up and make coffee.

In the end that day, we decided to go apple picking.  We took a ferry across the river and drove down narrow, hilly roads through farms lined with split rail fences. Red and yellow trees dotted the landscape and the hills in the distance were painted in ribbons of gold and orange and crimson.

We had agreed before we left that ten pounds of apples was going to be sufficient and we needed to control ourselves because we always get too many apples and after 2 weeks of apples apples apples we are sick to death of apples.

So we came home with 21 pounds of apples.  I don’t know what happened.

The kids got ice cream and we got a drink and we loaded up our apples and headed home.  The four were too loud in the car, but it was a good kind of loud, where you know they had fun even if one or two of them had complained about going in the first place.

When we got home, I put on a football game and William set up the computer so he could keep an eye on his fantasy team and yell at them now and then while I made smothered chicken for supper.  And for once, we sat around the table together and ate.

That night Kate and I climbed into bed and we practiced the distributive property.  Oh my was that all kinds of fun.  (For me.  Not too much for Kate I don’t think…)

That day, we did what we could.  I didn’t get the groceries, which meant I had to go in the pouring down rain on Monday (which pretty much stunk…), but it ended up being a good day.  A pretty day, where the Earth did not fall off it’s axis, and the sun did rise again, imagine that.

Cut Apples NST

Half of the apples we picked are piled in a big footed bowl on the island.  It’s a good reminder of that pretty day…and that every now and then having a little fun is way better than getting it all done.

All work and no play means there won’t be any Apple Betty.

On a September Night

It’s Friday night and I’m sitting here at Ella’s cheer practice.  September evenings are some of the most beautiful evenings here in Virginia.  There is very low humidity and the temperatures are in the 70s.  The trees are just beginning to change colors–just the slightest hints of pink in the maples, claret in the oaks.  It is 6:00, and the sun is falling, yet still spilling it’s warmth on us.  Kate is sitting next to me, braiding her hair while I write.  I love having her here.  I love the quiet between us — I hear simply the breeze through the trees and the sound of nine little girls practicing their cheers in the distance.

The boys are at football practice.  They will come home battered, as usual, and starving, as usual.  We’ll eat barbecued chicken, squash from our zucchini and squash plants, and steak fries.  We probably won’t get more than one or two more squash from those plants this summer…fall is approaching fast.  The tomatoes are still coming, though…I wonder how long they’ll last.  I think we were still getting tomatoes in mid-October last year.

I have a lot of basil to deal with.  I need to make some pesto.  And the “flowers” need serious work.  I tried to leave the coneflowers for the goldfinches — they like the seeds — but I can’t take it any longer.  I need to deadhead them.

And the crepe myrtles need trimming.

And the lavender needs to be dug up.

And the yarrow must be moved.  The coreopsis needs to be trimmed and divided.  There is so much to do I can’t list it all here.  The yard will be Sunday’s project, because Saturday is reserved for football.  David has set the DVR to record the Hokie game, the Texas A&M game, Ohio State and the Notre Dame game.

Will(iam) and Henry both have games in the morning.  This season is different…I think it may be their last season of football — their choice.  (I do not know exactly when it was that they stopped loving me…).  So I watch them play with this little spark of hope that they will want to go on, yet at the same time the heavy realization that this is probably one of the last times I will be cheering on the sidelines as a football mom.  Life does go on, though I can’t imagine a better way to spend my Saturdays (for real).

Tomorrow night we are going to roast weenies in the fire pit out back.  We’ll eat watermelon, and chips and s’mores and drink in the last few sips of summer.

There is a string of clouds that has moved in and blanketed the sun.  People are putting on their sweatshirts to keep out the chill.  The girls are still practicing — orange pompoms rustling, pony tails bobbing, little girls jumping.  In just a few weeks, autumn’s cold air will be nipping at their noses.  With every word that escapes their mouths will come a puff of frosty air; their cheeks will be ruddied and they’ll be bundled in fleece hats and sweatshirts; and the sun will set before supper.

I remember those nights…coming home to a warmly lit house, supper on the stove and a soft, furry puppy whose tail rhythmically thumps the wall in time with the beating of my heart.

This year, it has taken a while, but I think I’m finally looking forward to fall.

On a September Night



…my favorite season…

…a time to settle in, and make ready for the long, cold winter that is sure to come. 

It is a time to remember what is important, and what is not at all important.  It is a time to appreciate all that we have, and not long for that which we don’t have (like that cast iron pheasant that I really really want.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that). 

We do have a lot…   

Warm, wool stadium blankets.

Soft glowing fires.


Crisp, cool sunshiney afternoons.

The smell of woodsmoke in the air. 

Football games.  Leather footballs.  The sound of the band practicing in the distance.  Whistles blowing.  Popcorn. 

Apples.  Apple butter.  Apple pie.  Apple bread.  Anything, frankly, to do with apples. 


Pumpkins.  Pumpkin bread.  Pumpkin pie spice.

Herringbone, houndstooth and corduroy.

Warm apple cider in cold hands.  Cinnamon stick stirrers.

Pink cheeks and noses and seeing our breath in the air.

Pink and red and orange and yellow and brown trees. 

Leaves that twist and flutter and sparkle against gray flannel skies.

Hot oatmeal with raisins and apples. 

Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

Warm suppers from hot ovens.

Evenings that darken early.

Reading together, under a blanket, by the soft, yellow light of a lamp.


The sound of leaves scuttling across the street.

The wind outside the windows.

Warm baths and fleece jammies.  Fuzzy socks.  Slippers.

All of us.  Together.  

We do have a lot.


Summer’s End

Summer is winding down here.  Maybe it’s just in my mind, I don’t know, but the days are certainly shorter now than before, the nights are cooler and our yard is covered in walnut shells, broken and jagged, the work of squirrels.  The acorns are surely next, buckets and buckets of them.  Leaves are even scuttling across the sidewalk in the breeze, and just that simple sound reminds me that autumn is near, my favorite time of the year.   

Fall is where I have longed to be since I was a little girl.  It is settled-in.  While summer is sunshine, fireworks and s’mores, cherry-stained lips and fingers, sunscreen and freckles, fall is football games, warm blankets and hot cocoa.  It is pumpkins, cinnamon, woodsmoke and wool sweaters.  It is warmth on a chilly night.  It is family.  Fall is home.

This last few days of summer we will resume football practice and cheer practice and we will pick out first-day-of-school outfits and make sure our pencils are sharpened and all that good stuff.  And we’ll probably roast wieners over a fire and make s’mores one last time, maybe hit the pool, stay up late with a movie and popcorn, and let the kids run around outside with Poppy until the lightning bugs come out.  I will enjoy every minute of summer’s splendor.  And then I will dog-ear this page and set it aside.  Some cold winter night, when the wind whistles outside my window, maybe I’ll sit by the fire and open again to this page.  I think I will smile as I remember this summer, poison ivy, heartache and all.

Summer’s End


Yesterday.  The first day of Autumn. 

In my head thoughts of pumpkins and cinnamon, frosted grass and pink cheeks mingled with those of leaves and pinecones and the scents of wood burning and apples baking and turkeys.  I thought about handknit blankets, and fires burning and cups of hot cocoa and my pinecone wreath. 

And yet, it was in the nineties yesterday (as it will be today, and again tomorrow.  C’mon September, seriously?).

That afternoon, the sky darkened and the thunder rumbled.  It poured.  It hailed.  Our football game was cancelled, which meant the crazy rushing around suddenly stopped.

There is a window on the top floor of my house that looks straight down our street, lined with houses.  After supper, while the kids were getting ready for bed, I opened the shutters wide on that window and stood, watching the rain fall.  I saw the maples along the street, their branches just beginning to blush with reds and pinks.  They have grown since the last time I looked, finally beginning to appear more mature.

With my evening newly unburdened, everything seemed more beautiful.  The rain, the trees, the little girl in fleece jammies and tangly red hair brushing her teeth.  A pair of squeaky-clean boys, a girl snuggled in bed with her box of tissues and her book, and The Man that I am so lucky to call mine. 

The darkness fell outside along with the rain pattering on the roof, and the soft glow of our lamps seemed warmer than normal.

I settled in under the covers, and I began to dream again of Autumn.



So here it is, September first.  There is no nip in the air, however.  Unless 97 is considered nippy.  Which I’m quite certain it is not.  (I’ve noticed lately that I use the phrase “I’m quite certain” rather frequently.  I haven’t decided whether it is annoying or not…)

This morning on the front stoop a black cat sat, watching the four deer eat all  my plants.  I would like to know why she didn’t scare off the deer.  Yet there she sat…watching.

I stood there, looking out my window, staring at the deer, staring at me.  It is strangely paralyzing to stand ten feet from a doe, with her staring at you, all the while chewing with fervor the delicate buds of your flowers.  And yet I did.  Perhaps the cat had the same strangely paralyzing feeling I did…

The Man, however, was not paralyzed, not even slightly.  He threw open the door, at which the deer and the cat all flew off.  When I complained, he said he wanted the deer to know that it was not a friendly yard.  I said I am quite certain that they feel it is very friendly indeed, what with the spread of flowers and other delicacies of nature’s bounty we’ve laid out for them all summer long… 

It is hard to believe that autumn is right around the corner.  Last night The Man and I watched a little bit of college football.  Even the sound of ESPN’s college football theme music can throw me into an autumn frenzy.  Thoughts about Thanksgiving and menu-planning, wool sweaters, rosey-cheeked Christmas tree hunts, warm fires burning, leaves changing color and yes, college football, have been tip-toeing around up in my noggin for a few weeks now, even as I try to eek out the last of summer’s thrills.  I can’t help it.  I’m an Autumnmaniac. 

But for today, we will revel in summer’s blessings, seeing as how it’s 97.  So we’re going to pack up some lunch and head to the pool.  We’ll come home, hang our towels on the deck (which I know is probably a violation of  hoa rules and I don’t care), have some lemonade and watch the day wind down.  We’ve noticed it getting darker earlier.  I think it’s mother nature’s way of calming us down…telling us it’s time to settle in.

Enjoy your summery Wednesday, everyone!