Smells Like Home

Recently we remodeled the guest bathroom. It started out as quick fix to a leaking faucet, but as so often happens, the project expanded a bit in scope. Mission creep that ended up with new tile, vanity and bathroom fixtures. But I digress.

The new bathroom design took a decided turn towards modern farmhouse, but it did allow us to feature a couple of letterpress prints we had purchased years before on a vacation out west. Dutch Door printers had created an American states series, “Birds and Blooms of the 50 States”. Each print featured that state’s bird surrounded by the state flower. We purchased both a print of Virginia and of Nevada (my home state) but hadn’t displayed them before. The completed guest bath was perfect: lots of black, grey and white were the perfect backdrop for Virginia’s state bird—the cardinal, and dogwood blossoms.

Nevada was a bit harder to incorporate in our decor. How to feature the mountain bluebird and artemisia, known commonly as sagebrush? But when my niece sent me a cutting of sagebrush from Reno, we had everything we needed. When I opened the box, the aroma of desert sage was incredible.

There are other smells, scents that immediately remind me of home. The sharp aroma of pine trees or wood smoke draws me back to summer evenings and fire crackling in the wood stove in our cabin at Lake Tahoe. A newly mown lawn invariably reminds me of fields of alfalfa; my cousins and I are riding on a flatbed trailer wrestling with bales of hay. 

With all of their bittersweet memories, I suppose there is nothing to compare with the smell of morning coffee and the heavy presence of bacon frying, filling the house with the promise of fried eggs, toast and coffee for breakfast. My Dad always rose early, always made the coffee first, and loved his San Francisco sourdough bread. 

I suppose one could make an argument for fresh-from-the-oven apple pie, or even the sweet scent of chocolate chip cookies baking. The aromas of baking are captivating and stay with us for a lifetime. But for me they hardly compare with some of the pungent flavors of the desert. Even after years of living in another state, stepping off a plane after we had landed in Reno and walking across the tarmac to the main terminal (long before the modern passenger boarding bridge), the hot, dry wind always carried with it the smell of sagebrush. Home again. 

Summer Projects

As any parent knows, the summer vacation time between the end of school and the Labor Day weekend can be a challenge. For students who are experiencing a breath of freedom (no more teachers, no more books!) the summer weeks stretch out ahead in full, unscheduled promise. For parents however, each day brings the challenge of organizing activities, educational or entertaining, and making the most of each opportunity. But this year, summer camps and weekend outings, trips to the zoo or King’s Dominion, have all been changed. 

As grandparents of a tween (twelve going on twenty) this summer has brought even greater challenges than usual. Our vacation plans for Florida were canceled early in the aftermath of Covid-19 shutdowns. Still, we have been blessed with great weather and outdoor venues are beginning to return to a degree of normalcy, even if that means 50% occupancy and social distancing. 

Yet each day stands before us demanding answers, hours to be filled, adventures to be planned whether large or small.

And that is what brought us to painting rocks for the neighborhood. The past several weeks we have spotted painted rocks hidden among the tree trunks and leaves along our walking path. Well, we have smooth river rocks in the garden; a wide assortment of acrylic paints in my studio; plenty of time to add our own creations to the neighborhood collection. Let’s do this.

The best outcome of all? The project took a couple of days to complete. We had to first paint our rocks with white, then a background color. Then decide on patterns and designs. Our project culminated in a walk thru the woods to distribute our creations. It’s a small act of charity, the opportunity to serve others in a creative way; I’m hoping that these little seeds will slowly take root and flourish. 

Our summer vacation plans may have been changed in unexpected ways. But the endless possibilities still remain.

16 Weeks Later

On Ash Wednesday, February 26, I went in to INOVA Loudoun for knee replacement surgery. It was nearly 25 years after I had had the same knee operated on for a torn meniscus. At that time I was as told that, because of the presence of arthritis, I would eventually need surgery. The “wait and see” period lasted far longer than I had expected, but eventually it caught up with me.

Total knee replacement surgery has become quite common here in the States. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, more than 600,000 knee replacements are performed each year in the United States. Several of my friends have had their’s done as have a number of my extended family members. One Aunt had both knees replaced and two hip surgeries! So it wasn’t something that I had any anxiety about. Still, I had some concerns regarding length of recuperation and, to be honest, whether or not I would actually be better off afterwards.

This past New Year’s Eve, a group of us went out together for dinner and dancing. This was the fifth year we had all celebrated together and it’s been a lot of fun. Since taking ballroom dance lessons as a group, we have all looked forward to getting together and ushering in the New Year, putting into practice the lessons learned in fox trot, swing, and waltz. But it was with difficulty I struggled through a couple of dances and I ended up sitting out most of the evening. My hope was that, with surgery and rehabilitation, I would at least be able to get back to an activity I enjoyed.

Surgery took longer than expected; years of compensating for my deteriorating condition had caused secondary issues with muscles and bone displacement. Thankfully my surgeon was able to correct my stance and now my legs are straighter than they’ve been in years (a decided plus for the fox trot!). 

But recovery was long, slow, and challenging. Shortly after I began physical therapy, the country went into quarantine as a result of Covid-19. Many businesses were closed, entire sectors of the economy shut down, schools closed, millions of people lost their jobs, tens of thousands have died from the effects of a virus we had not seen before.

And then we came face-to-face with the results of generations of unjust treatment when coast to coast demonstrations and protests exploded across America. Through all of this, we have just begun to recover and “get back to normal”. Yet, even as I know my newly refurbished knee won’t be the same as before, we recognize as a country we won’t be “returning to normal.” The challenge ahead of us lies in creating something stronger, better than before we were broken. Healing is never guaranteed but we can’t miss the opportunity to set things right, not restore but make better.

Twice a week for physical therapy, a Starbucks marker for each visit.