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The Heart of the Valley

Guess who’s coming to dinner

On hostas and perennial friendship


In the bleak midwinter, you can give your heart

I risked life, limb and lens yesterday afternoon, skidding out to my icy front porch to plant a yard sign and a little love.

In the bleak midwinter,  you can give your heart. You can also wack your chin with your camera lens as you take a spectacular fall in front of a whole middle school just getting out for the day, but that’s a story for another day.

I’ve been wanting to plant my own friendship sign since I spotted one on a walk through my neighborhood. Written in English, Arabic and Spanish, because those are the languages spoken in Pastor Matthew Bucher’s Virginia neighborhood, the sign acts as exactly the kind of welcome mat I want to display.

“No matter where you are from, we are glad you’re our neighbor.”

I’m going to see about adding a Hmong version as well, because that’s a language spoken in my neighborhood.

Pastor Bucher hand-lettered his sign and, with the help of congregation members, added translations.

“The church is located in the northeast part of Harrisonburg, which has a long tradition of being the African-American part of the city,” he said in a recent  NPR article. “But in the past 20 years it’s also become home to a lot of people from Central America, the Middle East and around the world.”

“That’s why we did it in three languages — English, Arabic and Spanish, because those are the three most common languages spoken in our neighborhood.”

The signs are sprouting up all over the country, and I imagine they’re like bright little breadcrumbs of kindness. Follow them to find a friend.

The whole project reminded me of a Sam Water Foss poem I’ve written about before. I’ve loved that poem since college, when I tacked it to my dorm room bulletin board.

I’m going to post it here in its entirety because it is the perfect, bleak midwinter pick-me-up.

The House by the Side of the Road

There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my
house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Welcome, friends. We’re so very glad you’re here.


Here’s my sign and I’m hoping to add another. Let me know if you’d like one for your front yard and I’ll point you in the right direction. 

On sweet friends, talented artists and secret recipes

Here’s to you, friends

Good Bye Old Friend

There’s no easy way to say goodbye to a friend.

No matter how beautiful the memories, or how long the friendship, whether the end comes swiftly or painfully slow, it is always difficult to let go.

Yesterday, we paid our respects to our friend Doug.

A member of General Patton’s army, he was a decorated World War II veteran, but you’d only know that if you asked.

To us Doug represented all that was right and good about the country he fought to defend — dependability, grace, respect, honesty, and a well-poured Brandy Old Fashioned.

The first neighbor to fire up his snow blower, and the last to turn out his porch light, Doug set a standard in our Midwestern neighborhood.

“Tell your kids if anyone ever scares them, they should run right here,” he once told me when our children were small.

Thanks to that attitude, they grew up secure in a come-home-when-the-streetlights-come-on kind of neighborhood in which Doug and his equally amazing wife Janet set the tone.

We all filed in yesterday, the businessmen, retired teachers, and the still flirty Cookie Lady, to say goodbye to a man who made a greater impact on the world than he ever knew.

At 92, Doug’s sudden death took us all by surprise, and we, his friends and neighbors, shook our heads. He honestly seemed liked he’d live forever.

We all thought we had more time to shake his hand, to buy him a drink, to pry a couple of stories, hear an inappropriate joke or two.

Fittingly honored by full military rites, Doug earned a beautiful send off. And as the bugle played Taps, we  sent our own messages out into the world and beyond.

God bless you, Doug. The world is a far better place for its 92 years with you.

Just two weeks ago, we had dinner with Doug and Janet. He looks about 60-years old here, right?

Just two weeks ago, we had dinner with Doug and Janet. He looks about 60-years old here, right?

Our elegant neighbors

This is my favorite picture of Doug and Janet because I didn’t have a camera when they were both outside shoveling snow in a blizzard last year, which absolutely would have been my favorite picture of them. 

We're pretty horrible at selfies, but I am hoping for many more great times with our friend Janet.

We’re pretty horrible at selfies, but I am hoping for many more great times with our friend Janet.

Owen and Doug

We had a great time hosting neighborhood parties with Doug. Here he is his with our then youngest neighborhood resident, Owen. Turns out Owen is a world changer as well.

Janet and Doug

I love this shot of Doug and Janet at his 92nd birthday party

Harvest Mooners

We will always treasure the time we danced at the Harvest Moon Ball with our beautiful neighbors, Doug and Janet (who were actually ballroom dancers).

Dougs party

May won’t be the same without our annual birthday party for Doug.

The Giving Tree

Fiber Rain and the art of spinning a yarn

When my friend Jeannie invited me to Fiber Rain, Appleton’s yarn art themed downtown extravaganza, I knew I had to go.

Jeannie and I don’t knit at all, but ever since Mrs. Rossmeissel assigned her to me in second grade, we have shared an avid interest in spinning a yarn.

We also share a love for our home town, and we celebrated both Friday night as we wandered through each lovely store.

Jeannie cracks me up. Someday, I expect her to headline the Improv. So, I definitely chuckled through the evening walk, but I also took care of some important business.

At the Blue Moon Emporium, I watched owner Cathy Stratton hand print a T-shirt I requested for my son, Charlie. I gave it to him later that night when we met up at the Fox River House for a fun little night cap.

In between those two stops, we managed to chat with an excited new painter, admire a young photographer’s work, watch an artist spin a pot, check on the progress of a stained glass window restoration, and nosh on a free ice cream bar.

We’re both looking forward to the next installation of Appleton’s Celebrate Downtown series on July 17. It’s called Chalk on the Town and I, for one, intend to do some hopskotching.

See you there.

Jeannie at the Fire

I’d have bought one of these beautiful pieces, but I currently have nowhere to hang it.

Fiber Rain

We thought this street mural captured the spirit of the event best.

Handmade in Appleton

Made in Appleton, man. Doesn’t get any better than that.

Making the shirt 1

Speaking of which, I had actual business to conduct. Here is Kathy making the T-shirt I picked out for Charlie.

Making the shirt 2

She placed the screen print on the shirt while I helpfully sipped a glass of wine offered and accepted in honor of the event.

Making the shirt 3

A little bit of magic and Voila!

Making the shirt 4

I like it here.


He loved the shirt.


These girls had information about ARTiculture CSA, a cool community supported art program that works like Community Supported Agriculture. You buy a share and end up with six pieces of original art. You can see the website on the picture, but I’ll help —

Art on the Town guest artist

This featured artist at the Vintage Garden adds her own touch to old paintings. She was very excited to be a part of the evening and we loved her work. Sadly, I lost her business card.

Art supplies

I’m not sure who made this little note with the available crafts, but I thought it was sweet.

Glass restoration

We checked on the progress of this stained glass restoration. The window is from the Lawrence Chapel.


This is Christina and that cool picture she took is a self portrait. Look closely, in it she’s hanging off a train.

Jeannie in a mirror

What follows is a series of mirror shots because I could not help myself. Do you see my friend Jeannie?

Jeannie and I


One  more super unflattering mirror pic

And, the super unflattering security mirror shot.


The yarn art displays are still up all over downtown. Grab yourself a vintage friend and head on down.