Out the Back Window

Who says there’s nothing beautiful to see in a winter garden?   Every morning, about 90 minutes after sunrise, I am treated to the sight of the sun pouring through the flower heads on the ornamental grass.  It is as if they are turned to gold!  I never get tired of it.


While you are in the midst of this crazy season with all the running around, I hope you can find something to give you the same soul-restoring moment as this grass gives to me.

I hope Santa brings all good things to you and your family gatherings go well, filled with good food and good company.



Skyline Drive

We live about 80 miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.  I have lived in Virginia my whole life.  When we were first married, we lived in Charlottesville, which is literally in the foothills.  And I am embarrassed to tell you that I had never been on the Skyline Drive. 

We had such a lovely time at the beach, Roger suggested that we drive the other way and do a little leaf peeping.  This was about two weeks before Hurricane Sandy blew through and probably stripped all the remaining leaves off the trees.

You can get to Charlottesville in an hour on I-64 but we decided to save that boring piece of road for the ride home and set off on Staples Mill Road aka Route 33.  This is a two lane road, winding from one small rural community to the next.  Eventually, we stopped for nourishment in Louisa before heading for one of the entry points on the Skyline Drive.

This was a WPA project during the Great Depression and the CCC – Civilian Conservation Corps – continued to work on it until it was completed.  Many of the overlooks are being repaved with stimulus money, in case you wondered where that money went. 

The overlooks face in both directions and alternate as you drive along, so you can look down on the Shenandoah Valley or across the far mountains.  Sadly, most of the mountain overlooks were closed for repairs.

Turns out that you can buy a lifetime pass to this and all the other National Parks for only $10 if you are a senior.  The ticket lady looked at our silver hair and told us about this great deal; we happily paid less money than it would have cost to go through just once as a young person.

Put your feet up and enjoy a leisurely look at the Blue Ridge Mountains as the leaves turn in autumn.

One of the first overlooks reminded us why they call these the Blue Ridge Mountains

After a while, we got to look in the other direction, seeing some of the fall color.

Behind us, we could often see solid walls of rock.  The road was cut right through this.

They used rock pieces to create low walls at the edge of the overlooks. 

A close-up look at the side of one mountain.  The foggy-looking spots are actually trees that have shed all their leaves.

A last look before we got off the Skyline Drive

Remember, as we stood there, this was all we could see for miles in all directions.  It was clear and just cool enough for long sleeves.  There was almost no noise but the sound of birds and bees.  And the occasion silver-haired tourist, stopping beside us with the obligatory camera.  One of the joys of running away from work on a weekday is that there are rarely crowds of any kind.

I looked out at those rolling hills and thought about the people who lived on the Eastern Seaboard and decided that wasn’t enough for them.  They loaded up a horse and maybe a wagon and set off to climb these mountains and see what was on the other side.  Makes me tired just to think about it.

More Sand Sculptures

Everyone was so enthusiastic about the sand sculptures, I thought you might enjoy seeing a few more.  These were my favorites, some because of the amazing detail; others, like this first one, because it was so clever.

in one ear
3rd PLACE / Doubles – In One Ear, Out the Other
Jill Harris and Thomas Koet (Florida)

and out the other
If you can’t read the letters he is pouring out, they are BLAH, BLAH, BLAH

castle31ST PLACE / Doubles and People’s Choice during the Neptune Weekend
Mr. Sandman by Joris Kivits and Michela Ciappini (Portugal)

Mr. Sandman – I never even noticed the sleeping child’s face when I was there in person!  I saw all the hair on the front and thought it was about Rapunzel.  Look at the detail on the side of the pillow and remind yourself that this is sand.

Mr. Sandman –side view – compare person behind with size of sand sculpture!  Every time you see a hole in one of these, ask yourself how did they do that.

childs mind1
John Gowdy/ Italy  I think this was called In a Child’s Mind

These were all taken with my new camera, the Nikon Coolpix 510.  I am very happy with the clarity and detail of these pieces which basically have no contrast and no special lighting.  It isn’t a true Single Lens Reflex, but I can look through the viewfinder or use the screen, whichever I prefer.  It’s still a little heavy to carry around but a lot less than the SLR cameras.

Next up will be pictures we took of the foliage on the Skyline Drive.


If I ran the world, things would be different.  For starters, no one would be able to use a robo call to interrupt my day.  Is it possible that there are people who are actually so stupid that they listen to a recorded voice and then do what it says?

The only exception to my rule is doctors’ offices.  I don’t mind a recording reminding me that I have an appointment and telling me when it is.

Second, no politician would be allowed to run an ad that is untrue.  Every statement made in an ad against another person would have to show real proof that it is true, such as a film clip of Candidate A expressing his support of something that he now claims not to support.  The same rule would apply to all the political action groups that fund ads.

News outlets would be penalized for reporting a politician making a blatantly untrue statement.  This just spreads the lie around.

We learned from the Nazis 60 years ago that the bigger the lie and the more often it is repeated, the more likely people are to believe it.  What we should have learned in addition was to fight against that happening again and yet we let it go on in the media unchecked.  It frightens me how many people get all their news from sources that have a political agenda and make no effort whatsoever to be fair and impartial.  They pander to the prejudices and fears of their listeners and, if the truth is not scary enough, they make up lies and scream even louder.

Here’s a tip.  If you are listening to someone who cannot talk about his opponents without calling them names, you are being lied to.

Third, religion would be removed from the political equation.  This country was founded on the principle that we could all observe without harassment.  That means that Baptists, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims and Born Again Christians all have EQUAL rights to be what they are.  There should be no litmus test on who believes better or goes to church more often.  How about a test for who tells the truth and lives by the Golden Rule?  I could live with that one.

We are amazingly lucky in the US to have the freedom to choose our elected officials, but we ought to do a better job figuring out who really stands for what.  We ought to stop reaching for the shiniest promise and look at what the person and his ( or her) party has done in the last 5-10 years.  Turn off the noise of partisan radio and TV shows and try to find some less biased sources.  At the very least, check several of the Fact Checkers sites which will tell you if someone has said something that is a lie.

Whoever you support, I hope you will vote on Tuesday.  It is a right and a privilege.  I’ll be climbing down off my soapbox and getting to the polls. 

Thread painting – Grandma style

Thread painting is a phrase used by modern day quilters to describe the heavy use of thread, usually by machine, on the surface to create the look of painted strokes.

My grandmother, Mollie Harowitz, wasn’t a quilter and never heard of thread painting.  I never saw her use a sewing machine.  She did all her work by hand, most of it after she developed arthritis in her fifties.

Fall colors

Mollie did all her work with embroidery thread.  In those days, that usually meant silk thread.  The pieces glow as if they were lit from within.

She had no lessons that I ever heard of.  She would just take a piece of fabric and sketch a picture on it with a pencil.  Then she filled in the whole thing with stitches. The tree picture above is fairly typical of her early work.  Most of the stitches are simply short straight lines, often overlapping neighboring stitches.

Boats at Newport News

She didn’t pay a lot of attention to perspective and apparently never gave much consideration to how a work would be framed.  In the harbor picture above, you can see that her initials are cut off on the side.

Grandma got better at shading things as she did more work.  You can see the depth in the grass in the foreground and the darker threads on the shady side of the trees.  She even began to show the shadows on the ground.

Coming up the drive

I don’t know where you would be standing to get a view like this of a house and the driveway.  It’s almost as if she were seeing it from an airplane.  She worked hard to put details in this picture but they are often out of scale with the yellow flowers (French knots) as big as the heads of the people coming up the driveway.  Yet the whole thing fairly throbs with life. 

My parents had these pictures and many more hanging in their house.  For reasons I will never understand, almost all of them were put into elaborate old frames, carved and gilded to within an inch of their lives.  The mats were bright blue, red or green and dwarfed the subtle beauty of the embroidery.

I ended up taking most of them home.  The first thing I did was have them re-matted in organic neutrals and framed with a plain dark wood.  I have trimmed all that off the photographs so you can just enjoy her work.  I hoped my children would fall in love with them once they saw them reframed but no such luck.

Skating on the river

The background fabric was blue in this picture which gives the sky a wholly different look with the dull blue peeking out amidst the wisps of snowy clouds.  She did a better job with the people.  Instead of just dark smudges, they are clearly wearing different clothes and you can see them moving on the ice.  It looks like there are several people in the background riding sleds down to the water.  Each part of the picture contains other little details.

More next time!