Return to St. George Island

For the past eighteen years, a group of men who met each other through an organization called Gay Spirit Visions have rented a house on St. George for a week every May. Six years ago, a vacant spot finally came open for an additional GSVer to fill, and I was fortunate enough to begin joining these guys for this beach getaway.

I’d discovered St. George back in the 1970s, and it soon replaced Destin as Cal’s Preferred Florida Beach Destination. Over the years I’d several times visited my friends Royce and Martha Hodge who have a house on the island, but it’s always a special treat to spend an entire week there these past six years with my GSV buds. The COVID-19 lockdown put the kabosh on the annual visit to St. George Island in 2020, so I was especially glad to be able to revisit this special place earlier this month

This year’s experience was much like the previous trips I’d enjoyed (and blogged about) in 2014, in 2015, in 2016, in 2017, in 2018, and 2019. There were the obligatory (and delightful) excursions to the water, several sunrise-welcoming gatherings, a trip to nearby Appalachicola for provisions and a look-see at the shops there, daily morning group meditation sessions, multiple games of Wizards, plenty o’ naps, and some incredibly delicious meals prepared and served by various teams of fellow renters.

The main differences this year (for me, anyway) compared to previous trips:

  • Last-minute cancellations by three frequent attendees (all due to family emergencies). Although I regretted not being able to spend time with Chase, Tom, and Ralph this go-around, I did get to spend time on St. George with three GSVers who I’d not spent time with at the island: Paul and Lashes (from Atlanta) and Chas (from Asheville).
  • We rented a different house than the one where all my previous visits happened. This year’s house, a few doors down from the previous rental, was even larger – and we were able to use the rental house’s its elevator (a definite plus for unloading and reloading the car with all the stuff Randy and I schlepped down to the island from Atlanta!).
  • Although it was sunny all week, it was also unusually windy all week, which not only made playing in the water a bit dicier than usual (a rip tide warning was posted for the entire week) but the winds also created constant bizarre noises and vibrations in the rental house every night we were there.
  • Randy and I decided to break up the trip down to the island from Atlanta by staying overnight about halfway down. We stayed in Columbus, Georgia, and poked around its gorgeous (and large) historic residential area, and visited a couple of Columbus-area antique malls. And although we drove back to Atlanta in a single day, we drove back through rural highways in Alabama instead of Georgia, visiting some antique malls in the Dothan area after spending the morning (as usual) at a favorite plant nursery in Bainbridge, Georgia.

Some photos from the rental company’s website of the house we rented (“Top of the Stretch”):

View from the beach of the front of the house.
The main deck overlooking the beach.
The rental house’s main living and dining area, with the main deck along its outside edge.
The dining room and kitchen area.
Cal’s and Randy’s bedroom.
What the house looked out onto, from the main deck.

This year’s cast o’ characters:

Bill (from Atlanta)
Cal (from Atlanta)
Chas (from Asheville)
James (from Atlanta)
Jim (from Atlanta)
Lashes (from Atlanta)
Paul (from Atlanta)
Roger (from Asheville)
Randall (from Atlanta)
Randy (from Atlanta)
Ted (from Atlanta)

One afternoon, Randall, Randy and I drove up to visit with Royce and Martha, who have been living on St. George for many years, in houses that Royce built there. It was so great to see them again:

Assorted snapshots from throughout the week:

One of the numerous games of Wizards
Cal fanning the rice Randy will be using to make sushi for the meal we prepared for the group.
Assembling on the beach to watch the sunrise
One of those sunrises
Beach with birds (no porpoise sitings this year . . . )
Randy feeding the seagulls.
The table set for mid-week afternoon tea, prepared by Cal and Randy for the gang.
The jigsaw puzzle that Cal, Jim, Paul, and Randy worked on the final night.

Finally, three of the mandalas I colored in with gel pencils at various times throughout the week:

A wonderful week with wonderful people. We’ve already reserved the house for 2022, so I’ll be looking forward to yet another trip to this magical place in just a year’s time!

Other People’s Houses

As long as I can remember, I’ve been curious about how other people live – specifically, what their homes look like, inside and out.

I’m guessing that one reason I’ve ended up especially interested in what other people’s houses look like is that the houses I spent my childhood in didn’t seem very visually interesting to me. For one thing, there were few books in those houses! And I don’t remember much gardening happening either.

Nowadays, my idea of a good time is spending an entire day traipsing through the houses and gardens of other people on some annually-occurring neghborhood house tour, in Atlanta or elsewhere. Even when I’m traveling abroad, I usually try to work into my sightseeing a tour or two of some private house or garden that’s open to the public. The grand, famous places are fun, of course, but it’s really the more modest-sized, locally typical places that interest me the most.

My longstanding interest in houses plays out for me in other ways whenever I’m not traveling. I sometimes take photos of the exteriors of particularly appealing houses in Candler Park, Lake Claire, and Druid Hills on my frequent strolls through these (conveniently adjoining) neighborhoods. And I’m addicted to bingeing on television any program devoted to houses and gardens (grand or otherwise) – even if (like, for example, Escape to the Country or Escape to the Chateau) they don’t happen to be set in the glorious countryside of Britian or elsewhere in Europe.

Another manifestation of my obsession with other people’s houses: my choice of reading material. Among the titles of the books I’ve read (which I’ve, alas, kept track of only for the past thirty-five of my 72 years) are quite a large number of books about people’s houses, the history of domestic architecture, or the reflections on what certain houses have meant to their owners. Bcause I have gotten so much pleasure from reading these books, I’m listing them here in case a title or two might interest fellow hearth-and-home enthusiasts who happen upon this blogpost:

  • A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder (1997) by Michael Pollan
  • A Valley in Italy: The Many Seasons of a Villa in Umbria (1994) by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran
  • At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010) by Bill Bry
  • Bloomsbury at Home (1999) by Pamela Todd
  • Bloomsbury Rooms: Modernism, Subculture, and Domesticity  (2004) by Christopher Reed 
  • Bringing Tuscany Home: Sensuous Style from the Heart of Italy (2004) by Frances Mayes 
  • Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden (1997) by Quentin Bell and Virginia Nicholson
  • Cherished Objects: Living with and Collecting Victoriana (1991) by Allison Kyle Leopold
  • Cottage for Sale (Must Be Moved) (2004) by Kate Whouley
  • Dreamthorp: A Book of Essays Written in the Country (1905) by Alexander Smith [1830-1867]
  • Dwelling in Possibility (2013) by Howard Mansfield
  • Eccentric Spaces (1977) by Robert Harbison
  • Fewer, Better Things: The Hidden Wisdom of Objects (2018) by Glenn Adamson
  • Geography of Home: Writings on Where We Live (1999) by Akiko Busch 
  • Gone Rustic (1934) by Cecil Roberts
  • Happy Starts at Home: Change Your Space, Transform Your Life (2020) by Rebecca West
  • Home: A Short History of An Idea (1986)
  • House as a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home (1995) by Clare Cooper Marcus
  • House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live (2006) by Winifred Gallagher
  • Meditations on Design: Reinventing Your Home with Style and Simplicity (2000) by John Wheatman
  • On the Threshold: Home, Hardwood, and Holiness (2005) by Elizabeth J. Andrew
  • Open Your Eyes: 1,000 Simple Ways to Bring Beauty into Your Home and Life Each Day (1998) by Alexandra Stoddard
  • Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House (2005) by Sally Gable
  • Rome and a Villa (1952) by Eleanor Clark
  • Sacred Home: Creating Shelter for Your Soul  (2004) by Laurine Morrison Meyer
  • Sheetrock and Shellac: A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Art and Science of Home Improvement (2006) by David Owen 
  • Shelter for the Spirit: How to Make Your Home a Haven in a Hectic World (1997) by Victoria Moran
  • String Too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm (1960) by Donald Hall
  • The Emotional House: How Redesigning Your Home Can Change Your Life (2005) by Kathryn L. Robyn and Dawn Ritchie
  • The House Always Wins:…Creating Your (Almost) Perfect Dream House (2008) by Marni Jameson
  • The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria (2007) by Marlena de Blasi 
  • The Most Beautiful House in the World (1989) by Witold Rybczynski 
  • The Wabi-Sabi House (2004) by Robyn Griggs Lawrence 
  • William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Home (2005) by Pamela Todd
  • William Morris at Home (1996) by David Rogers

I’ve listed these books here in alphabetical order (with their publication dates) rather than in the sequence in which I read them. I read almost all of them after 1993, the year I bought my own house (and started my own gardening). One of these books – Geography of Home: Writings on Where We Live – I enjoyed so much that I read it twice; Home: A Short History of An Idea is so interesting I’ve read it three times. (The list above doesn’t include the 70+ delicious memoirs by amateur gardeners about their gardens – rather than their houses – that I’ve read over the past three-and-a-half decades. Perhaps I’ll post a list of those wonderful books at some future time.)

Another major way that my longstanding interest in houses shows up is the to-me-astonishing fact that I’ve somehow accumulated over my adult, house-owning lifetime approximately 250 house decor books – none of which, incidentally, I’ve included included in the list above, since I mostly bought these house decor books for the inspiration generated by their photos, rather than by their (often excessively breathless, unnecessarily hyperbolic, or otherwise forgettable) texts.

This collection of books consists mostly of the sort of large format books one often sees pictured in photographs of other people’s living rooms. Since this type of book is usually far too expensive for me to buy on impulse whenever I find one of them in a bookstore, I’ve picked up most of the ones I own at various thrift stores or yard sales. (I had to start storing in my mobile device a list of the house decor books I already own, so I could cut down on the number of times I ended up relying on my mortifyingly unreliable memory and buying the same book for the second, third, or even fourth time!)

Of course I realize that house decor books are a hyper-idealized glimpse into how other people have arranged (or, more often, have paid someone else to arrange) their domestic domain. The photos in these books almost never depict the inevitable clutter of actual everyday existence, and it’s very rare to come across a photo of any room without one or more huge vases of fresh-cut flowers in it – not to mention the rooms filled with antiques, art, and exotic tchotches that have always been way outside of Cal Gough’s budet. Nevertheless, I love devouring these interior design books – especially, though not exclusively, the ones (because they are more affordable) devoted to cottage style, rustic style, garden style, flea market-supplied interiors.

One of my projects during the COVID-19 lockdown has been revisiting each of these decor books, one by one. Not only has doing this been a pleasant, chore-procrastinating way to spend my time indoors, especially during the chillier days of since the pandemic began, but long ago I realized that I’d run out of room to store many more of them. Having passed along to my sister Gayle some of the duplicate copies I’d accumulated, I’ve decided to limit the number of decor books I’ll be buying in the future to as many as will fit into a single bookcase in my library/guest room. I’ve therefore been gradually identifying for eventual removal ones with the least inspirational (or least useful for Cal) titles. I plan to pass them along by putting them in a Little Free Library that I hope Randy will agree to help me install in my front yard sometime later this year.

This bookcase where I shelve these 250+ oversized books, like its three matching companions, were given to me by my book-loving (and fellow retired librarian) friend Maureen, who found she couldn’t fit them into the condo she moved into a few years ago. These wonderful bookshelves are deep enough for these “coffee-table”-sized tomes, and, stained green by Maureen, they fit perfectly with the sage green walls of my tiny “home library” (which, because the room also contains a Murphy bed, occasionally serves as a guest bedroom).

My makes-Cal-very-happy home decor book collection is shown along the ride-hand side of this photo:

In the bookcase immediately to the right of the house decor books is where I store my also-large collection of how-to gardening books – truth be told, I spend a lot more time reading about gardening than I spend actually tending my own:

But back to those house-decor books. Here are close-up photos of them (top two shelves, middle two, bottom two):

One of the reasons it’s been such fun to systematically re-visit each of these books is that I recently decided there is just enough space in this room to include a reading nook conveniently near the decor books.

Incidentally, propped up on that chair (which Maureen also gave me when she moved) is a beanbag-bottomed “laptop desk” that I bought a few weeks ago at an antique store in Ellijay, Georgia. It is perfect for examining heavy and/or oversized books on one’s lap: I no longer need to schlepp them into the dining room!

Once this COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, and despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoy spending time in my own house (and garden), I hope to again spend more time in other people’s houses. In the meantime, I can continue to periodically visit – virtually, that is – the hundreds of rooms in the hundreds of houses depicted in these house decor books. Because of my unreliable memory, I’m still gleaning from these books ideas to try out in my own modest dwelling – ideas that I surely must’ve previously noticed, but somehow forgot about whenever I first leafed through one or another of these books. Yet another advantage of actually owning some of these visual feasts vs. confining my house-porn curiosity to books I come across in bookstores and libraries.

I’m about half finished with my book-revisiting project. Any of you readers who happen to live in Atlanta are welcome to drop by and borrow as many as you like!

A New Place to Sit!

I’ve written before about how important it is for me to have multiple places to sit inside my house and read.

It’s equally important to me to have a sufficient number of different places outside to sit and enjoy my modest-sized garden (. . . and/or read). By the beginning of this year, I’d managed to designate five such outdoor sitting places – all of them in the back yard except the most recent one.

Outdoor Perch #1 is the bench in front of the garden shed my brother Michael built for me seven Aprils ago:

Outdoor Perch #2 is another bench located in the shadiest corner of the back yard, which I use mostly in the hottest part of the year:

Then there’s the chair just inside the largest entrance to my garden shed, where I can sit and look out toward the patio located outside my bedroom:

On that patio is a table and two chairs, where I can sit and enjoy the shady patio plants and the fountain there:

Perch #5 is the only one located in the front yard. It’s a bit too noisy with street traffic during (non-pandemic era) rush hours, but otherwise its hillside location the greenery surrounding this bench and mini-patio (which my brother Michael also helped me construct on a more recent visit to Atlanta) is surprisingly private.

Ironically, none of these perches allows me a close-up look at my favorite part of my tiny outdoor domain: my potted herb garden.

This year I decided to change that.

I found an affordable white vinyl (i.e., no-maintenance) pergola at Wayfair’s website and ordered it. Once Randy and I put it together (and its assembly certainly went faster with two of us working on it), I plopped it into the middle of what I hope will become a “cottage garden style” cutting garden.

Locating the new pergola where I wanted it required me to annihilate a swath of exisiting plants (mostly overgrown irises and day lilies), but this particular spot – the part of the back yard that gets the most hours of sunshine – is also ideal for enjoying (while sitting) the herb garden.

Then came the next phase of the project: decimating even more plants to create a small flagstone patio underneath the arbor, which I needed to anchor a new bench I’d bought (and, yes, also had tediously assembled) for this new garden-gazing area.

I ended up travleing to four stoneyards in three different towns before finally locating flagstones that would match the stone in my back yard paths and a vendor who would allow me to buy less than a full pallet of rock.

I finally finished the project earlier this month – just before the contractor arrived to install my new windows.

The new pergola, incidentally, is not the first one I’ve added to my back yard. The first one I installed oer 20 years ago and pre-dates the garden shed. It’s metal, it supports the overhead portion of a rampant trumpet vine and equally rampant grape vine, and it serves as the entrance to the back yard from the portion of my driveway that’s located in front of the garden shed.

The newest pergola isn’t too far from another white one I also installed mnay years ago as the entry point to the back yard from the side of my house. Here’s a photo of that pergola, taken several years ago and before I massacred the flower bed immediately beyond it for the newest patio and pergola.

That older arbor seen from the other side, in a photo taken earlier this week:

Behold the new pergola, mini-patio, and bench:

I’ve thoroughly – and with Atlanta recent glorious spring weather, frequently – enjoyed the new perspective on my tiny back yard that my new perch allows me to stare at:

That dark area in the distance is the aforementioned shady mini-patio and bench. In the middle of this view of the back yard is a (non-detectable in this photo) conical trellis that I found earilier this year at a thrift store in the North Georgia mountains. I’m training the ivy in the far center of the photo to climb onto this nifty trellis; one day later this summer I should have myself a Tower of Ivy in front of my shadiest mini-patio.

The herb garden that I’d decided justified, all by itself, the creation of a new place to look at it from while sitting down? It’s located to the left of the new pergola. The collection of three dozen terra cotta that constitutes that garden are, at the moment, still mostly empty, as I don’t re-plant my herbs each year until May with my annual pilgrimage to The Herb Crib in Blairsville, Georgia.

In the meantime, I’m re-planting the mangled area to the right of the new bench, hoping that various new plantings will eventually fill in and grow tall and fragrant enough to enjoy at close hand from my newest outdoor sitting area.

Much to my chagrin, I’ve noticed while relaxing at Outdoor Perch #6 that there several additional Needed Garden Improvements – including several additional plant relocations – than I’d noticed before I created this newest sitting/reading/viewing area. Ah, well, such is the destiny of any amateur gardener / happy homeowner: it’s never- ending, the gardening – even if in my case I hope I’ve reached the end of my Outdoor Perch Installation Projects.

Thanks for reading!

I Can See Clearly Now . . .

My house has new windows!

I mention this because replacing those windows – all 15 of them – is not only the single most expensive house project I’ve ever undertaken, but because the result has been so emphatically (and somewhat unexpectedly) positive.

Background

Ever since I bought this house, I’ve never been able to clean the windows. Why? Because the previous owners, two elderly women who lived here when when the neighborhood was more crime-ridden than it is now, decided that one way they might feel safer would be to permanently seal the windows with superglue! Not only could I not open any of my windows for the past 28 years, but I couldn’t properly clean them!

Over the years, I’ve become more disinchanted with these windows – something that my improved vision resulting from cataract surgery in December 2020 only intensifiedi. (It didn’t help that some of the ivy I had planted many years ago to cover the exterior of my brick house was constantly encroaching on what I was able to see from inside the house.)

How nice it would be, I thought, to be able to let some fresh air into the house whenever I wanted to during Atlanta’s glorious springs and falls, amd how wonderful it would be to jettison those light-reducing storm windows and old screens and replace them with better-quality, double-paned glass windows and modern (i.e., near-invisible) screens!

Ah, but how to pay for such an ambitious undertaking?

Well, I typically use whatever savings accumulate in my bank account each year to pay for a trip overseas. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting travel bans having put and abrupt and protracted kabosh on any traveling, the money I would have used for a trip abroad in 2020 (and probably 2021) became available for some other purpose. Plus I hadn’t yet spent the bequest that my mom, who died in 2019, left me and her other children. And there was the recent – and rather hefty required minimum payout from my retirement savings that the IRS forces people over 70 to draw down every year. These three lumps o’ cash combined – plus the two recent COVID-19 stimulus payments from the feds – turned out to be just enough to (a) spend on a far-less-frugal-than usual trip abroad during some upcoming, post-pandemic year (one of those luxurious European river cruises, perhaps?), (b) purchase – in cash – my inevitable next car (although the one I’m using now will probably last me at least another half-decade), or (c) invest in a major infrastructure improvement to my beloved – but older (circa 1935) – house.

Eventually I decided to use the $$$ for improving the place I’ve spent so much non-vacation time in since I retired in 2013: the house that I would be happy to spend the rest of my days living in, should Randy and I never eventually find ourselves an affordable house sufficiently large enough for both of us to live in and that’s located in a neighborhood even more delightful than Candler Park.

After doing a bit of online research for potential window-replacement contractors, I hired the well-regarded (and certainly well-advertised) Pella Windows and Doors and hoped that, once the breathtakngly expensive deed was done, I’d not end up not feeling too much of that “buyer’s remorse” one hears so much about whenever one plunks down a considerable amount o’ cash.

The Happy Result

Reader, I am happy to report that I am one satisfied Pella customer – one whose expectations have been wildly exceeded, as they say in the consumer satisfaction-measuring bidness.

As I’ve moved about inside my house these past few days since the new windows were finally installed, I often feel like I’ve moved into a new house! The crystal-clear window glass, the less-cluttered style of the new windows, plus the additional light allowed by the aforementioned nearly-invisible window screens have suddenly “brought the outdoors inside” in a way the older windows never managed to. The new windows, togetjjer with my recently improved vision, is allowing me to experience more intensely than in any previous year the spring’s vividly blue skies, the magic of those recent (and welcome) Atlanta rainstorms, and the exploding greens of the neighborhood’s tree canopy. I no longer need to step outside to enjoy the added visual delights afforded by my modest garden plantings and my walkways and patios. And there’s so much more light flooding into every room in the house! I’m so happy about this light-intensifying feature of the new windows that I’ve permanently removed four sets of shutters from the front of the house, and I plan to eventually hack back some of the overgrown front-yard shrubberies to let in even more sunshine.

The upshot is that my decision to use a huge chunk of my savings to replace my windows turned out to be a good move for this already-happy-to-be-here homeowner. (Incidentally, the Pella salesman assures me that I’ll recoup over 80% of my investment in these windows if I ever do sell the house.)

It’s dificult to detect much of a difference in the older vs. the newer windows in these before-and-after photos from the street . . .

. . . so here are close-up exterior views of three of the old windows:

These same windows, after the newbies were installed:

What’s easier to see from photos is the difference between what one can see looking out through the new windows vs. what one could see looking out from the oldies. (True, the before photos were taken on a cloudy day and the after photos on a sunny one, but still . . .)

The living room windows, before and after:

The dining room windows, before and after:

The kitchen windows, before and after:

The office window, before and after:

The guest room / library window, before and after:

The bedroom windows, before and after:

Best of all, perhaps, the difference in the bathroom window, before and after:

The upshot of this latest house project: Cal’ has – with zero regrets – invested a considerable portion of his current financial resources into his long-time abode; the contractor Cal hired gets an A+ rating, and Cal gets to enjoy living in his house – especially gazing out from inside it – even more than he already did!

I expect my elation with such a radically-improved immediate environment will fade, and I’ll soon be taking for granted all this new-found domestic clarity. Be that as it may – persistent gratitude being a relatively slippery sentiment to hang onto – I’m glad I decided to embark on this particular house-improvement venture. Huzzah! – and thanks for reading about my latest domestic enthusiasm.

Randy’s Amazing Cookery

In the 40+ years since we first met, I had no idea what a good cook Randy Taylor had become.

When we started living together approximately four years ago (well, living together part of the time: we still maintain two separate houses), the quality of my evening meals – or, to put it more accurately, the quality of the meals we eat at Randy’s house – changed dramatically.

Not being much of an adventurous cook myself, in pre-Randy days I ate my fanciest meals in restaurants. Knowing Randy has changed all that: now I eat interesting – and often unusual – food whenever we eat at Randy’s place. The fact that I continue to serve variations on The Same Seven Staples Cal Knows How to Cook hasn’t, fortunately, dampened Randy’s curiosity and creativity in the food-preparing department of our lives together.

Randy and his confidence in exploring his international cookbook collection have introduced me to all sorts of foods that I’d likely never have gotten around to tasting at all – apart from when – and if – I was a tourist visiting their homelands. Randy cooks meals from all sorts of exotic cuisines (Palestinian, Morroccan, Greek, Provencal), but because he has long been particularly interested in (and adept at) Japanese cookery, I get to enjoy lots of strange-to-Cal delecacies from Japan.

I’ve taken only a few photos of some of the dishes Randy has concocted for us these past few years, and here are a just few of them:

Reader, we eat well these days (at Randy’s house, anyway)!

An extra bonus is the way Randy uses his extensive collection of dinnerware to serve his gorgeous and tasty meals upon. Cal owns a single set of crockery (which I’ve used for every meal I’ve prepared since 1969);four years into our relationship, Randy still surprises me with dishware (or napkins, or placemats) he’s collected that I’ve never laid eyes on before!

Cal’s Year in Books: 2020

You’d think that an introvert like me would’ve capitalized on the extra time provided by the pandemic lockdown to do considerably more reading than usual, but that hasn’t happened, and I’m not sure why. I suspect that it’s because these days I get sleepier while reading than I did when I was younger. Perhaps my worsening eyesight also contributed to my appalling delinquency in the Reading Opportunity Department?  I’m hoping that the recent cataract surgery – and my still-new-to-me reading glasses – will eventually result in less eyestrain, and therefore less reading-related sleepiness.

Meanwhile, the list of books I hope to read has gotten alarmingly longer this year, and I’d like to make a healthy dent in it in 2021! Ditto a hoped-for dent in the embarrassing backlogs of my unread issues of the New Yorker and The Sun!

The books I finished reading in 2020 are listed below by category, and, within each category, in the order I read them (rather than, say, how wonderful they were relative to the other titles in the category).

Perhaps you’ll spot a title or two that you might want to read yourself – although, as you will soon discover if you do check those reviews, my reading tastes remain rather eccentric.

Novels

 Book Woman of Troublesome CreekThe Book Woman of Troublesome Creek (2019) by Kim Michele Richardson

I read this book because it was selected by our book club. It’s a gripping tale set in the wilds of Kentucky during the 1930s. Richardson’s research into the WPA’s Pack Horse Librarians program and into the history of the blue-skinned people who settled in (among other places) the remotest parts of mining-area Kentucky is evident on almost every page. Her characters, including the minor ones, are vividly portrayed, and the sexism, racism, grinding poverty and illiteracy – and ignorance, prejudice, and violence they produce – that these characters are trapped in is delineated in harrowing detail. Richardson’s unforgettable story is full of incident and unexpected twists and turns – most of them either horrific or heartbreaking, or both). This book certainly ignited a few flashbacks to my own brief foray into Appalachia (back during my undergraduate years, in the 1960s).

The Eyre Affair (2001) by Jasper Fforde

Having been on my want-to-read list for many years, I finally read it after my book club agreed to select it for us all to read. It was quite a romp – cleverly written, unusually inventive, witty, etc. – but despite how enjoyable it was to read, I somehow doubt that it’ll stick with me any more than, say, some random episode of a mystery series I’ve watched on television. Perhaps I’m getting to the age where I’m wondering why I spend time reading non-classic fiction? One thing for sure: even though I applaud Fforde’s accomplishment, I am in no mood to read more about his heroine’s accomplishments in the sequels he’s written to this debut novel. This is not a comment on Fforde’s writing, but a comment on how I want to spend my quickly diminishing time for reading fiction. Readers who don’t feel this urgency would doubtlessly enjoy this book, as it’s more interesting than many, and full of unexpected twists and turns. 

Paris in the Twentieth Century  (1994) by Jules Verne (translated by Richard Howard)

Read this for my book club (which prefers short books to long ones). Verne’s fantasia, written when he was in his mid-30s, of life in 1960s Paris, wasn’t short enough for me.  The cardboard characters, the incessant preaching, and the abrupt, ambiguous, and unsatisfying ending did not successfully offset Verne’s impressive predictions about the technology of the future (elevators, fax machines, the conversion of Paris into a port city, etc.) It’s no wonder Verne’s publisher declined to publish it in Verne’s lifetime.

TheThe Little Paris Bookshop Little Paris  Bookshop  (2015) by Nina George

My partner Randy unearthed this from his bookshelves and told me I’d probably like it, and he was correct. With a setting in Paris and Provence, about a bookseller who vends his wares from a houseboat on the Seine, what’s not to like? The translation from the original German must be excellent, as the story is very moving. The ideas covered in the story are numerous, complex, and dealt with in an impressively nuanced manner. If Randy ever parts with his copy of this book, I hope he’ll consider giving it to me, so I can lend it to others.

The Man Who Was ThursdayThe Man Who Was Thursday (1908) by G.K. Chesterton

I picked this book for the book club I’m a member of to read this month, and I’m glad I did. Over the years, I’d seen multiple recommendations of this novel in various “best novels” lists, and I’ve long been drawn to Chesterton’s writing style, based on in several of the nonfiction pieces of his that I’ve run across or tracked down, plus the knowledge that Chesterton wrote the books that the excellent PBS television series Father Brown was based on. This short novel is somewhat of a page-turner, and its plot twists and plot reversals, though clever, are not quite as unexpected as the book blurbs lead one to believe. Still, this much-celebrated detective novel, full of intriguing philosophical dialogue, is definitely worth reading, which is pretty remarkable considering that it was written over 100 years ago!

House & Garden

Happy Starts at Home: Change Your Space, Transform Your Life (2020) by Rebecca West

Browsing through recently-published interior design books at my local bookstore is a  longstanding hobby of mine. Seldom do I buy one of these books – most of them are too expensive for my budget; the ones I like the best, I pick up years later, when they’ve made their way to bargain bookstores or to thrift shops. (I’ve assembled a collection of more than 250 such books, and enjoy periodically re-browsing through them to remind me of ideas I might try out in my own house.)  Although I spend hours of time perusing these interior design books, few of them merit even a mini-review, especially since typically the texts (vs. the photos) in these types of books are often annoyingly hyperbolic, absurdly speculative, or otherwise forgettable – if not downright cringe-worthy.  (The only  cringe-worthy thing about West’s book is its title.) I’m recording my reading of this design book because its author approaches house do-vers from such a non-typical angle: exploring the reasons and ramifications of why someone might bother with the effort and/or expense of redesigning their domestic surroundings in the first place. West provides numerous down-to-earth, helpful exercises that acknowledge the profoundly psychological  – rather than the aesthetic – motivations and consequences of certain design notions and decisions.  For example,  this is the only design book I’ve ever seen that mentions and explores Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs in the context of home decor.  West’s philosophy of design, her advice, and her cautionary tales from her years of advising her clients are definitely more inspiring, thought-provoking, and useful than the book’s photos, and I have already added  West’s blog to the “Domestic Bliss” section of my own blog’s blogroll.

Tools of the Earth: The Practice and Pleasure of Gardening (2018) by Jeff Taylor

It’s been a while since I read a gardening book (and only stumbled onto this one in a recent trip to a thrift store). And it’s been many years since Taylor wrote this book, but I’ve now got a new Favorite Garden Writer!  Or, perhaps since it’s unlikely that Taylor will write another gardening book, I’ve found instead another Favorite Writer, period? Taylor’s unique organization of his material (using the names of various garden tools to write about all sorts of gardening (and non-gardening) topics, Taylor’s humility, conversational and anecdotal style, his self-deprecating wit, his capacity for wonder, and the range of his attention make for a superb, didn’t-want-to-put-it-down read. I’m tracking down Taylor’s earlier book, Tools of the Trade: The Art and Craft of Carpentry, despite the fact that I don’t know a thing about carpentry and couldn’t care less about reading about it . . . unless it’s Jeff Taylor writing about it, because I know I’ll love it.

Secrets of Monet’s Garden: Bringing the Beauty of Monet’s Style to Your Own Garden by Derk Fell

Despite having been to France several times, I’ve yet to make my pilgrimage to Giverny.  Reading this book (which I first saw in a museum bookstore in London in late 2019) has doubled my resolve to eventually visit Monet’s house and its garden, and I’m glad to have tracked down this book in case I never get there myself. The author is an acclaimed gardener himself, and his research into the history of the garden and the astonishingly deliberate efforts of Monet to create an environment he could paint from many different viewpoints is informative and full of surprising details. I’m not as convinced as Derek Fell is that one can reproduce many of Monet’s effects in one’s own garden (at least, not without hiring a full-time staff!), but I did appreciate Fell’s providing such specific plant-related information and how Monet designed his plantings.

Life in the Garden

Life in the Garden (2017) by Penelope Lively

Although Lively is a Booker Prize-winning writer and popular writer (she’s published almost two dozen novels), I didn’t find her writing style very engaging. However, Lively does include a lot of interesting information and literary gossip in this survey of British gardening fashions, British and American garden-mentioning literary fiction, and gardener-targeted nonfiction. The book is, for my taste, a bit too autobiographical, but that’s probably because I haven’t read her novels and become curious about her life. I was also surprised that her homages to various British garden writers don’t include even a cursory mention of my own favorite British garden writer, the late Beverly Nichols (whose prolific output of over a dozen books I have read).

The Joys of Reading

I'd Rather Be ReadingI’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life (2018) by Anne Bogel

I discovered this book at a discount store and am glad I decided to buy a copy. With refreshing humility, Bogel captures in words a wide variety of habits, emotions, and anxieties of the avid booklover, and does so succinctly (the book is a mere 156 pages long – you could finish it in an afternoon or two). Her chapter on why readers shouldn’t skip a book’s acknowledgments section is, all by itself, worth its price (discounted or otherwise). Bogel also mentioned several books (including a novel) that I’ve added to my list of books I want to read, and I intend to check out her blog, “Modern Mrs. Darcy.”

The Pleasure of Reading

The Pleasure of Reading: 41 Writers on the Discovery of Reading and the Books that Inspired Them (1992; revised edition 2015) edited by Antonia Fraser

This collection of recollections of mostly UK-based authors about how they came to value reading contains some remarkable stories. However, most of the authors Fraser chose to include dwell a bit too long (for my taste) on which books most influenced them as children. Still, it was instructive to read the titles these book-smitten writers recommend for other adult readers. Given the wildly different backgrounds of the book’s contributors, I was amazed to find that so many of their “top ten” recommendations overlap with each other. After reading this book, I reckon I might just need to read the Odyssey, Middlemarch, ProustDickensand to revisit the poetry of William Wordsworth.

Travel

Living in Venice

Living in Venice (2000) by Frederic Vitoux; photographs by Jermone Darblay

This was the ninth (!) book I’ve read about Venice, and the first I’ve read since my most recent visit there, year before last (and, alas, for only a day – but what a day!). The book’s large-format photos are stunning, and the text captures, better than any of the other books I’ve read, the dreamy, elusive, and somewhat paradoxical atmosphere of the place. When I started reading this book, I didn’t think I’d feel the need to re-visit this extraordinary town again, but reading this book rekindled my desire to go there again. Even though I’d still not be able to see the private residences and gardens the author was allowed to enter and describe, the book’s photographs, especially of the interiors of rich Venetians’ homes, is the next best thing.

Silence

Silence in the Age of Noise  (2018) by Erling Kagge

I enjoyed this book of Kagge’s more than his later book Walking.  Still, his reflections seemed a bit random and pedestrian rather than profound or memorable. Fortunately, Kagge did include in his notes citations to several books I hope to track down and read: Lars Svendsen’s The Philosophy of Boredom (1999), Oliver Sacks’s Gratitude (2015), and Yuval Lurie’s Tracking the Meaning of Life: A Philosophical Journey (2006).

Walking

Walking One Step at a Time (2019) by Erling Kagge

This is not my favorite book about walking (that distinction belongs to Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking),  and the general tone of the book reminded struck me as if they were based on random journal entries. But Kagge himself has a unique perspective: he walked to the South Pole (among other far-flung places). He main point seems to be that walking is a defining (rather than a superficial) feature of humankind as a species, and that the more sitting we end up doing, the less human we are likely to become. The best thing about this book for me was Kagge’s citation of walking commentators who I was unfamiliar with  – I was able to add several items to my list of nonfiction books I want to read, including something called Montaigne and Melancholy.  I am also reading Kagge’s book entitled Silence, so am hoping it might be a bit more inspiring than this one turned out to be (although I did glean from Walking two passages for the section of quotations about walking in my Commonplace Book.

History

England: An Elegy (2000) by Roger Scruton

One of my favorite bloggers had often recommended the works of this author, a British philosopher who died last year; my longstanding Anglophilia guided me to this particular book of Scruton’s. It is beautifully written. Scruton’s “elegy” is for a “lost” England that, for me, still exists – at least landscape-wise. Scruton’s melding of memoir, history, literary criticism, and attention to the unique cultural and legal traditions that formerly bound the English to their homeland is as unusual as it is brilliant…and is almost persuasive. To his credit, he doesn’t avoid mentioning the darker side of English history (its government’s and its royal monopolies’ imperial eras, for example). And his explanation of the function of the monarchy in the British psyche is the first argument I’ve ever heard that makes a kind of sense. On the other hand, Scruton’s swipes – which, admittedly are quite articulately phrased – at liberalism and his mourning of the erosion of the class system interfered a bit with my enjoyment of this amazing salute to what mattered most to Scruton as the defining character, and most important contributions to mankind, of the classic Englishman’s devotion to his once-enchanted landscape.  Scruton’s book is certainly an enchantment itself, and I am very glad indeed that I chose to read it – his commentary on Shakespeare was particularly memorable. Any reader who loves All Things British would adore it.

ABC Et CeteraABC Et Cetera: The Life and Times of the Roman Alphabet (1985) by Alexander Humez and Nicholas Humez

I am a sucker for reading books about the history of writing in general and about the history of the English alphabet in particular, so this book caught my eye when I saw it on a shelf at a local used bookstore months and months ago. Other books interfered with my getting around to starting this one, but I’m so glad I eventually picked it up again and (eventually) finished reading it.  What’s unusual about this book is its unique blend of the linguistic history of the Roman letter-forms via a carefully selected and examined group of Latin words (Latin being where so many English words are derived) with brief and fascinating digressions into various aspects of Roman political and cultural history. The way the book’s two authors seamlessly weave together such a variety of subjects in their often-humorous romp through the alphabet – and through Roman history – is the charm of the book. I learned dozens of fascinating things about dozens of subjects, plus the sometimes surprising derivations of dozens of familiar (and some not-so-familiar) Latin or English-from-Latin words.  In fact, the only problem with my experience of reading this book is how densely filled with information it is! Still, it’s an impressive book that will be immensely enjoyed by anyone with fond or semi-fond memories of their high school Latin classes – and impressed with how often what they learned in those classes have come in handy in puzzling out the meaning of unfamiliar words encountered in their reading since high school.

To Think of Tea

To Think of Tea! (1932) by Agnes Repplier

To think I almost left this book on the shelf merely because of its odd title! But, knowing how much I loved Repplier’s writing, I brought it home from the library along with another one she published (in 1904).  I enjoyed this book so much! Most books about tea-drinking that I’d read previously were about the history of tea cultivation; Repplier concentrates her collection of essays on the role of tea-drinking in the lives of several specific literary figures (Dickens, Hazlitt, Dr. Johnson, Charles Lamb, and others), although she does include information throughout her essays on the history of (and attitudes toward) tea-drinking. In fact, she devotes entire chapters to describing the rise of the tea cultures of China and Japan and, in the New World, to the incident known as the Boston Tea Party. The charm and understated irony of Repplier’s writing triggered, more than once while reading this delightful and idiosyncratic book, the urge to brew myself a cup of tea to drink whilst reading it. Needless to say, Repplier’s essays have confirmed my nearly-lifelong enthusiasm for this civilized ritual/addiction, and I was happy to learn about the role of tea-drinking in the lives of some of my favorite (mostly British) writers! On finishing To Think of Tea! I, without hesitation, plunged into the other Repplier collection I borrowed from Emory’s library the same day, Repplier’s earlier collection of essays entitled Compromises.

Evidence of Things Not Seen (1995) by James Baldwin

Baldwin’s book-length essay is ostensibly about the so-called Atlanta Child Murders of forty years ago – an episode that, as an Atlanta resident, I vividly remember. Baldwin’s fierce intelligence, his incisive wit, and his lyrical and allusive writing style is on full display here, and his commentary on systemic racism is, alas, as relevant and damning as they were when he first wrote this book. Nobody wrote social commentary quite like Baldwin, and I hope to get my hands on all his other non-fiction works after seeing what he did with this one.

Essay Collections

CompromisesCompromises (1904) by Agnes Repplier

Repllier’s Austenesque writing style, her erudition and meticulous research, and her often unexpected or eccentric perspectives always make for fascinating reading.  My favorites in this particularly miscellaneous collection of her essays are about the art of conversation,  her analysis of a Quaker woman’s diary of the Revolutionary War years, a brief history of royal executioners in Europe, and her account of the birth, life, and death of Lord Byron’s daughter Allegra.  Repplier’s clear-eyed debunking of the often-exaggerated claims about the virtues of reading was also fun.

Narcissus Leaves the PoolNarcissus Leaves the Pool: Familiar Essays (1999) by Joseph Epstein

Last year I read, with great pleasure, my first of Epstein’s numerous collections of personal (vs. academic) essays (Charm: The Elusive Enchantment, 2018), and I’m so very glad I tracked down this earlier collection. This is one of those books that swam into my ken at precisely the right time for maximum enjoyment. Epstein’s choice of subjects reflects his interest in exploring some of the major themes, surprises, and disappointments of his long, literary life, and some of those interests – his notions about sports, Americans’ obsession with youth culture, what becoming a mature adult means, the psychological changes wrought by getting older, the origins, extent, and persistence of his Anglophilia – have been very much on my own mind lately, and Epstein articulates his thoughts so much better than I’m usually able to. I’d love to own a copy of this book (as usual, I read a library copy), and, despite Epstein’s evident homophobia, I will certainly find and read Epstein’s other essay collections.

Points of ViewPoints of View (1891) by Agnes Repplier

I’ve no idea how I heard of this 120-year-old book – was it one of many obscure writers quoted by one of my favorite writers, Patrick Kurp, at his blog Anecdotal Evidence? Was it via literary critic Michael Dirda, who once wrote a review of a book about Repplier? Perhaps it was via a notice I saw at NeglectedBooks.com? However I came to add Points of View to my “Nonfiction Books Cal Wants to Read,” I’m so glad I finally decided to track down a copy. What a writer, and what a surprising and important late-life reading discovery for Calvin! Despite the fact that Repplier was born in Philadelphia and lived there most of her long life (1855-1950), her writing style reminds me of the great British essayists of her era: Ruskin, Lamb, her fellow Catholic Chesterton, etc. – and that style includes a talent she shares with these contemporaries (or near-contemporaries) for quotable, chuckle-producing understatement. Since finishing this tiny, antique collection of Repplier’s, I’ve discovered the Internet is full of information about her and contains many nugget-sized as well as downloadable manuscript-sized examples of her work. Also, happily for me, her latest fan, Repplier wrote a lot of essays, and I shall certainly devote part of the remaining time allotted to me for reading The Best That Has Been Written to tracking down more of Repplier’s completely enchanting works, only a tiny fragment of which, incidentally, was fiction. For such intelligent and witty prose as this largely unknown woman wrote, the essay was invented. Ah, bliss!

A Place to ReadA Place to Read: Life and Books (2014) by Michael Cohen

What a pleasure, to track down a book merely because of its title, and finding not only a wonderful title essay, but 21 others – each on completely different topics, most having zero to do with reading – and enjoying all but one of them (Cohen’s essay on golfing). The author is a retired professor who has homes in both rural Kentucky and suburban Arizona and is devoting his retirement to reading what he wants instead of what he needed to read to teach. The consistently non-academic, conversational tone of these essays, plus the unexpected and interestingly-treated topics he’s picked to write about, is what sets this set of essays apart from so many other essay collections. His musings on reading Proust and Montaigne and E.B. White, Cohen’s own essay heroes, are especially excellent. 

Memoirs

A Different Person: A Memoir (1994) by James Merrill

Merrill’s still-living and lifelong friend (and one of my favorite authors) Frederick Buechner wrote that Merrill’s memoir filled him with sadness as he read it, and I felt the same way. Merrill’s story is a heartbreaking saga about the psychic damage that a homophobic society can wreak on even its most talented, most privileged citizens. Merril came of age in the late 1940s and inherited so much money from his fabulously rich and well-known and well-connected father that he never had to work, and could devote all his energy to writing and traveling – and to years of psychoanalysis. He died in 1995, the year after he published this memoir. Merrill, a celebrity-avoiding introvert who won many literary prizes, lived the sort of life I might have envied had he – and his many, many lovers – been born in less homophobic times. If you want proof that money can’t buy happiness, read this book! Which is not to say that it isn’t gorgeously written: every page is marked by beautiful, unexpected metaphors, descriptions of experiences in exotic places, and by zero arrogance or self-pity. Quite a journey he recounts here, but it is the sadness I felt as I read about his adventures – including the adventure of what his psychiatrist helped him realize – that I will remember.

The Year of Magical Thinking  (2005) by Joan Didion

I read this book for the first time shortly after its celebrated publication; I read it again this year for the book club I’m a member of. All I remembered from my first reading was how unusual and how powerful it was – enough to merit my adding a copy of it to my home library. This time around, I was captivated a second time by Didion’s writing style. Her training as a journalist really shows up in her minutely-observed and completely absorbing chronicle of the disorienting, sudden death of a long-time spouse (like herself, a famous writer). Didion’s memoir is still the best account of grief that I’ve ever read. As with my first reading, I didn’t want to put it down until I finished it.

My Life in MiddlemarchMy Life in Middlemarch  (2014) by Rebecca Mead

Mead has long been one of my favorite New Yorker writers, and I was thrilled to unexpectedly stumble upon her book in one of the Free Little Libraries that I happened to pass on one of my walks around my neighborhood. George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch has been a touchstone for Mead all her life, and she explains exactly how in an immediately and consistently engaging manner. Mead’s masterful combining of personal memoir, literary biography, and literary criticism would probably enchant anyone whose life has been enriched and informed by a lifelong habit of reading, or profoundly influenced by a particular book. A copy of Middlemarch has long been part of my personal library, waiting (along with Proust) to be read one day – not merely begun and then abandoned when I become distracted by less demanding material. Mead’s masterful book makes me want to read Middlemarch more than ever, all 900+ daunting pages of it. If I never manage that feat, I will forever be grateful to Mead for explaining why I should definitely try again someday – and for teaching me why Eliot is still considered one of the greatest authors an avid reader should turn his attention to.

Alive, Alive OhAlive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter (2016)  by Diana Athill

When I learned that Athill died last year, I had assumed that I’d read all her books, fiction and nonfiction. Not so: this one surfaced to my attention recently, and I instantly obtained a copy, as Athill is one of the most unusual (and excellent) writers I’ve ever come across. The topics covered in this book (her last) are rather miscellaneous biographical sketches, but I was thrilled to have another 160+ pages of her astonishingly candid prose to read.

Sixty

Sixty: A Diary of My Sixty-First Year (2015) by Ian Brown

Of all the books on getting older that I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of them!), this is probably my favorite, and the book on this subject I’m most likely to recommend to others interested in this subject. Brown’s mixture of self-analysis, a survey of the relevant scientific/medical data, and his self-deprecating humor made this a book I was reluctant to put down. I might even track down his other books, just so I can enjoy his distinctive writing style. The fact that Brown is Canadian, and a journalist by trade, probably accounts for why this book was so much fun to read. I was a bit surprised at some of the more sober reflections Brown describes in this covers-all-bases tale: his anxieties sometimes seemed to me more likely to belong to someone turning seventy or eighty instead of (a mere) sixty!

Hold Still

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (2015) by Sally Mann

I read this for my book club, and am so glad I did! The writing is beyond excellent, the author’s reflections about the ethical aspects of portrait photography – and the psychological aspects of memory – are fascinating, and the photo-enhanced narratives of Sally Mann’s and her forebears’ lives, entwined with her philosophical and historical observations and discoveries, make for interesting reading. The odd thing is how little I like Mann’s photographs, which is especially ironic considering the thoughtful, articulate way she describes them, and the taking of them. and her reasons for taking them. I don’t read many memoirs of still-living people (especially Americans), but this is surely one of the best-written; it certainly deserved its nomination as a finalist for a National Book Award.

§  §  §

“I continue to think of myself as someone who is essentially a reader—a man who takes a deep pleasure in good books, who views reading as a fine mode of acquiring experience, and who still brings the highest expectations to what he reads. By the highest expectations I mean that I am perhaps a naïve person who has never ceased to believe that books can change his life, and decisively so.” – Joseph Epstein (from Partial Payments: Essays on Writers and Their Lives [1989], quoted by Patrick Kurp at his blog Anecdotal Evidence)

§  §  §

For my mini-reviews of books read in previous years, click here.

 

Snapshots of the End of an Autumn

The Winter Solstice yesterday marked the official end to fall and the start of winter, so the fall of 2020 has come and gone, but I wanted to post a few photos of just how glorious the fall was this year at the house where I live – and where, because of the COVID-19 isolation measures in my part of the world, I spent most of my time this fall.

View out my living room window of the dogwood tree in my front yard.

 

The tiny bird sanctuary.

 

 

View out my study window of my tiny bird sanctuary.

 

Same view a few weeks later, capturing the leaves of the Japanese maple before the wind blew them all away.

The desolate-looking backyard patio outside the bedroom window.

 

As I do every year, I imported some of the glory of the fall into the house to enjoy on those days when it was too chilly or rainy to walk outdoors:

The mantel in the living room.

 

A trug full of gourds in the living room bookcase.

 

More gourds, with a concrete bird I purchased this fall from an antique mall in Monroe, Georgia (during one of the few all-day shopping excursions Randy and I undertook during the pandemic).

 

More gourds- these on the dining room table.

 

Randy and I spent Thanksgiving with Randy’s mom Jane and Randy’s brother Ted at Jane’s house in Kenesaw. My yummy first portion of that meal:

It was strange and frustrating to not be out and about as much this fall as I am in most years, but it was still a nice, lengthier-than-usual season and once again I felt blessed to live in such a tree-canopied part of Atlanta, which still gets four distinct seasons, even though their start dates and end dates seem to be slightly shifting with each passing year. If global warming continues at the current rate, we’ll eventually be able to grow tropical plants in this town!

 

 

Something So Right . . .

Today marks Randy’s and Cal’s “36th Anniversary.”

Our thirty-six months together as partners have seemed a lot longer, and a lot richer, than a “mere” three years, which is why I decided a while back to start acknowledging every month we’ve been together as well as the (relatively few) years.

On September 29, 2017, Randy and I were in Italy, We’d traveled there to explore Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast with three other gay men: with Randall Cumbaa, John Bennett, and Bill Lane (photos of that glorious trip here and here.)

At the outset of the trip earlier that month, neither Randy nor I expected that we’d become . . .  um . . . intimately involved with each other before the trip was over.

In retrospect, perhaps we should have seen it coming. Throughout our stay in Italy, Randy and I spent many hours together in one of the two cars our group had rented. Many of those hours driving on the highways and back roads of Italy we devoted to yammering away about where our lives had taken us during the 30+ years since we’d first met each other back in Atlanta where we’ve both lived for most of our adult lives. Despite the different places and relationships our lives had taken us to over the years, we were astonished to discover find how many interests, experiences, attitudes, opinions, and values we shared.

I think it must have been about halfway through our trips around Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast that it dawned on me that not only was Randy Taylor hands-down the world’s most delightful traveling companion but that I had been smitten by a growing attraction to this intriguing man.

Most of my photos from our trip to Italy were of the places we were visiting; those photos, alas, did not include many pictures of us travelers. Here’s a photo I did take of Randy,  outside one of the monasteries St. Francis spent some time in centuries ago:

Toward the end of the trip, our fellow travelers struck out in one of the rental cars for Rome to do some sightseeing there, and Randy and I headed south in the other car to see some parts of Italy neither of us had seen on our previous trips to this amazing country.

One of the places we visited during our time away from the group  – was the site of the ancient  Greek colony of Paestum –  where I took another photo of Randy:

A few nights later – after visiting, on the opposite side of the country, the bizarre strange and wonderful town of Matera – Randy and I rejoined the other guys at the AirBnB they had rented in Rome.

It was there, in Rome, just a couple of days before the end of our Italian vacation, when things shifted from our being traveling companions to Something Else Entirely.

Only yesterday (!) did it register with me how fitting it is that what I hope to be the final partnership of our lives had its beginning in one of our favorite places on the planet:  Italy!

Having both spent time there before this group trip in 2017 (Randy once spent an entire summer in Cortona), we both have an additional reason to be especially fond of that particular country! (Of course, now I wish I’d taken more photos of us there!)

At any rate, since that fateful trip in September 2017, we’ve traveled again to Europe twice together, first to Spain in 2018 (photos here), then to England in 2019 (photos here, here, here, and here). We’ve also taken several extended trips together to various places in the United States. Randy’s even traveled with me to Arkansas, where I was born, and Randy’s taken me to Virginia where he spent some of his childhood summers and where some of his people still live.

Here are some photos of the two of us taken during one of our post-Italy  trips to Europe or in some of the various places we’ve traveled in the United States:

 

Here are several of my favorite photos of Randy since we’ve been together as a couple:

Here’s probably my favorite photo (so far) of the two of us, taken a few Thanksgivings ago:

And, finally,  here’s the selfie we took after breakfast on Randy’s screened-in front porch this very morning:

One of the many blessings of having embarked as partners so late in our lives is the fact that not that many longtime friends and acquaintances have known the both of us for decades.  Also gratifying is how pleased the frends and family who we introduced each other to since September 29, 2017 seem to be about the upshot of our 2017 trip.

Can a significant intimate relationship seem both unexpected and inevitable? Can a three-year relationship feel like it’s gone on way longer than that, and also like it’s just getting started? Can a relationship feel instantly comfortable and, after thirty-six mini-anniversaries, still feel super exciting?

All I know for certain is that I’m still crazy about this guy, and look forward to many more months – and many years full of many months – of getting to know each other even better than we already do.

Happy Anniversary to us!

Early Morning Stroll Through the Carter Center’s Japanese Gardens

My neck of the woods features something not found in many neighborhoods: a presidential library. This monument to immy Carter’s presidency is about 1.5 miles away from my front door.

In all the years I’ve lived in the various neighborhoods that border on the grounds of library, and after plenty of trips there in previous years to watch the sunset from its hilltop location overlooking downtown Atlanta, and despite the number of programs hosted by the library that I’ve attended over the years, and despite several trips to the farmer’s market that the Carter Center hosts every weekend,  I’d somehow never managed to seek out the not-that-easy-to-find path to the facility’s Japanese gardens .

I finally got over there this morning to take a look. The Japanese garden is a bit different than I had imagined it would be – it doesn’t seem very “Japanesey” to me –  but, hey, any expanse of conveniently-located and publicly-accessible green space – especially if it includes not one but two ponds – is wonderful to have available.

A few more photos: