A Country Inn Nature Day

Ah, Nature

There is nothing quite as refreshing as spending time in nature so on this Country Inn Day I gather up a book or two and head out to the gardens of Stan Hywet Hall in Akron, Ohio.

The entrance to Stan Hywet

I always feel that I’m leaving earth and going off to heaven as I enter the gates of Stan Hywet. With a little imagination they could be the gates of heaven. I enter and leave all cares behind me.

The entrance driveway

I enter slowly with great anticipation.

The Country House in all its glory

But the house is not what I’m interested in today. I do love love country houses but today is a Nature day. I’m off to the gardens. In each garden I shall sit and read for a bit taking in the beauty all around me. Do join me on this outing.

The rhododendrum alley

Years ago the rhodos were huge and glorious but then they became overgrown and it was necessary to replant a new supply. Sad that gardens, like people, get old and pass on. So much of human life can be seen in nature. I walk on and see before me a row of lovely evergreens.

Lush and green

And now on to the sunken English Garden. It’s my favorite.

path to the English Garden

I walk on and enter the stairs which take me down.

The stone work is so beautiful. The statuary enchanting. I come to the door of the garden. The anticipation ….

Entrance to the English Garden

Once inside I find a bench and enjoy my book with the beauty of plants, water, statuary and beautiful stonework all around me.

I could stay in The English Garden for hours but there are so many other gardens to enjoy. I must move on.

My next location for reading

I get comfortable on this stone bench, hard yes, but so beautiful. As I sit here and read I look up and see the lovliest stone balisters.

What workmanship

Eventually I walk forward and look down beyond the balisters at a garden below. There’s a path with lovely stepping stones between the flowering plants.

lovely

Moving on I approach a look out point.

“Beauty is the gift of God” so says Aristotle.

I stop here and reflect for a while. In this setting all cares melt away. Beauty does that for me and for most people, so it is important to place ourselves in beautiful surroundings as often as possible. But now join me in the Japanese Garden.

It is so peaceful here, down many stone steps. You’ve seen the bench where I sit wih my book. People occasioanlly walk by but they are quiet. In the words of Walt Whitman – “I loaf and invite my soul.”

So many paths. Which one to follow?
The remnants of an old tennis court

The residents of this house years ago enjoyed a swimming pool inside the house, but out here they played tennis. They are gone now and the court is almost gone, but not quite. Some poles still exist which must’ve supported the fencing to catch their balls.

Dressed for the game

You don’t have to rely on your imagination to picture the people of the past playing tennis here because there are pictures posted of these privledged folks enjoying themselves. The fashions of the past do look uncomfortable for playing tennis but they were elegant. At times I wish the styles would return “but the tender grace of a day that is dead will never come back to me” so says Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Another path

I keep walking and I see a stream and a romantic bridge in the distance.

Reminds me of Monet’s garden at Giverney, France but I’m right here in Akron, Ohio.

I climb the bridge, look at the fish and toads in the pond below and then walk up, up, and up, to the rolling lawns near the house.

So many stone steps

There is much open space.

I sit on a bench with a view of the lawn and the house.

After some resting and some reading I make my way to the Birch tree allee.

So many Birch trees and with such attractive stepping stones in the walkway.

The path ends at a look out point

What interesting twin construction
The area below

I look down and there’s another area to investigate but first I come upon a large brick drive. It leads to the house. Supplies were delivered to the house using this entranceway.

so many bricks

I keep walking to the cutting gardens

Lin Yutang said, ” Talk of mysteries! Think of our life in nature – daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it – rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks!” This is exactly what I’m doing on this Country Inn Nature Day. I’m coming in very close contact with nature.

I see a grape arbor in the distance.

charming

I must investigate.

The grapes are luscious to look at and luscious to nibble. Can we ever have too much of a good thing? The designer of these gardens didn’t know when to stop. The gardens keep going and going and going. Now for a walk down some stairs – yes, more stone steps.

down, down, I went


Now to stroll this area. There are more ponds and much more open space to explore, but as you can see these gardens are so much more than plants. There is a great deal of hardscape.

I go way to the back of the grounds to take it all in and this is what I see.

“O world, I cannot hold thee close enough! Edna St. Vincent Millay

I climb back up the many stairs…

Do you notice the flowers set in the stone? Charming.

And I come to the children’s garden. It is a very fun place with fountains that make music and create bubbles. There’s a castle for children to investigate, giant bowling pins for a little game, and a whimsical truck filled with flowers growing in it.

And that’s not all. Next I come to the Greenhouse

and a beauty of a Greenhouse it is too

There’s even a lovely patio beside it – another nice place to sit with my book. And did I mention the Butterfly house?

Beautiful

Inside this building butterflies flit all around you. It’s a very happy place.

Ah nature

There was so much to take in at the gardens here. I shared only a small part of what I enjoyed. I have read that when we observe beauty it becomes us. We carry it with us and express it in the things we do with our lives.

“Think… of the world you carry within you. Rainer Maria Rilke

I reluctantly leave these gardens but the ride home through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is quite delightful. I pass miles of the most charming yellow flowers growing wild along the road. There were millions of them. I got home and called the park, speaking to a ranger, inquiring what exactly these yellow flowers were and I was told they were called Wing stems.

Earth is crammed with heaven

I’ve had a perfectly wonderful day. I hope you’ve been having wonderful days too. As Henry Miller said, “It’s good to be happy; it’s a little better to know that you’re happy; but to understand that you’re happy and to know why and how… and still be happy, be happy in the being and the knowing, well that is beyond happiness, that is bliss.”


A Country Inn Day is bliss







A Country Inn Nature Day is bliss.

A Country Inn Day “Country Day”

Country Inn Days are days when I take a break from my ordinary life.  I may host a tea on such days or enjoy a day of spa activities.  I might linger around the inn relaxing and partaking in favorite activities or I might enjoy an outing day.  That’s today.  Outing days take all forms.  They could involve nature, culture, shopping, adventure, city sites or country pleasures.

Today it’s Country pleasures. . .

as I return for the umteenth time to Hale Homestead and its surrounding historic village.  As you can see from the sign out front The land for this Homestead was purchased in 1810 and the house built fifteen years later.  When I come here I not only feel I’m off in the country, but I also feel I’m going back in time.  I love the old world so visiting historic properties is one of my favorite things to do.

I enjoy Country Inn Days off by myself for this way I can stroll around at my own pace, stopping here and there, thinking and  reflecting upon all I see without distraction.  To be in nature is always a treat, but especially on a beautiful Summer’s day. I don’t know what it is but every time I come to Hale I keep hearing strains of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” in my head.  Thinking about people long ago forging their way through untamed nature, creating homes and farms and lives in unsettled territories – it’s awe inspiring.  Could you do it?  I wonder if I could.

My Dad grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and he would take my Mom, sister and me back to the country every July.  I know it was July because the day lilies were always in bloom along the  roadsides.  Dad loved the country and so did I and so do I yet today.  The smells, the space, the animals, and all that gorgeous nature; it’s like heaven on earth.

I love getting close to the animals

Here we see some newborn lambs with one older fellow to help them feel secure

It’s hard not to think of pork chops when I see this fellow. Pigs sure like mud.

I’m sure my grandmother had one of these speckled chickens or is it a hen? Whatever it is it sure is pretty.

And look at this big fellow – a real work horse or shall I say ox

I do love getting close to animals.  I love animals and this reminds me of what a penfriend, a Hindu nun, used to say.  She said, “Love animals.  Don’t eat them.”  Are you a vegetarian?

If you are a vegetarian or simply if you like to garden you would enjoy seeing the gardens at Hale.  There’s a big one at The Goldsmith House and small gardens here and there.  I love to garden.  Do you?

I peek inside the fences and try to identify all the plants.

My Dad told me he went to school in a one room schoolhouse so I’m always interested to visit such places.  Imagine what such an education would be like.  I stroll down the path to the school house and I like to imagine I’m back in time, my father’s time or the time of the Hale family.


And here it is


On another visit I’ll take you inside the schoolhouse.

It’s easy to feel I’m going back in time when I can talk to people dressed in period clothing telling my about the details of daily life back then.  Take this lady . . .

Earlier I visited a lady who was spinning.  She explained what yarns were used for what, but this lady talked all about how yarns were dyed.  Today I go into a yarn store and find a million yarns in beautiful colors ready for my knitting projects, but long ago it wasn’t that easy.  First you sheer the sheep, then you spin, then you dye the yarn and finally you begin your project.  Nothing was fast or easy back then.  How easy we have it now.

I love needlework. I knit, embroider, do counted cross and needlepoint.  Do you enjoy needlework?  Growing up my extended family would get together for dinners regularly and after the meal the men would congregate in one room playing cards while the ladies went to another room and pulled out their stitchery.  That was great fun.  We loved seeing what each of us was making.  We’d talk and stitch and the time flew by. . .

so when I saw this embroidery inside one of the houses at Hale it brought back memories from my own life.  I still enjoy needlework but now the young women in my family busy themselves with other things – tennis and taking their children here, there and everywhere.  They have no time for stitchery.  I now stitch on my own.  It’s still fun, but I miss the old days.

And when I came upon this dining table set beside a window in one of the old houses it reminded me of a sweet lady I used to visit down the road from my grandmother’s house in the country.  I was about six years old then and Nora was a retired school teacher  She had the most beautiful flower garden outside her window.  When I asked her how she created this garden she said it was easy.  When the bouquet of flowers on the table drooped she’s opened the window and tossed the flowers out.  Apparently they’d go to seed and automatically create the prettiest scene.  I should try that.

I do love old houses.  Do you?

“All houses wherin men have lived and died are haunted houses.” These are the first lines of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The houses are still here, but where are the people who inhabited them?  I can’t help but wonder.

To walk inside the very rooms where people of the past enjoyed daily life is magical to me.

“The stranger at my fireside cannot see the forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear; He but perceives what is; while unto me all that has been is visible and clear.”  That’s a little more of Longfellows”s poem “Haunted Houses”.  I love that poem.  Google it. Maybe you’ll love it too.

Of course the one thing about old houses that never did appeal to me was the lack of a proper bathroom.  I’ve had personal experience with the alternative, the Outhouse.

This particular outhouse, freshly painted, looks pretty cute, but I recall as a little girl going out in the dark to the outhouse at my grandmother’s place… the wet grass, wondering what you might be stepping on in the dark. . . and then the smell.  It’s been a long time but that experience is pretty hard to forget.  I think near the end of my Grandmother’s life she did have indoor plumbing and I bet she loved it!


Coming to Hale Homestead is always a Country Inn Day “Country Day” that is a real treat for me.  I shared with you just the tiniest bit of my experience there.  To be out in nature on a beautiful day communing with plants and animals and looking back through the window of time at houses and their interiors, chatting with people who looked to be of the period – a wonderful thing.  Much to reflect upon and as Lord Byron said, “A life without reflection  is a sad affair.”

I hope you have opportunities to go off to the country and to explore the past as well.

Step out of your daily routine now and then and give yourself permission to enjoy any or all of your favorite things. – Focus on beauty.  It feels wonderful.  Then share the joy; for sharing doubles the joy.  I’ve sure enjoyed sharing my Country Inn Day with you.

So till next we meet

Love from Carol Ann, Lady of Letters

My Country Inn Day in the Country

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As you may already know my Country Inn Days are days of escape from life’s usual routines. They are days I imagine my 1853 house to be an Inn for I just love Country Inns.  On my Inn Days I am Innkeeper, Inn Cook, Inn Maid, but most importantly Inn Guest.  I enjoy all sorts of lovely activities at my Inn just as I would if I were a guest at some other Inn.  Sometimes I entertain on Inn Days opening my Inn up to others.  I might host a tea or dinner,  but most Inn Days will involve some sort of outing.  It might be a short and simple outing –  a lunch out, a stroll through nature or through town, a visit to a book shop or a few local gift shops.  It might be an outing out of town to another city or country, but one of the reasons Inn Days are so satisfying is that I always operate exactly as I would if on a real vacation.

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Some Country Inn Day outings take me into the city.  I may visit hotels, museums, elegant shops, beautiful restaurants, tea houses. . . but other Inn Day outings take me into the country… and rightly so, for a Country Inn Day  should include time in the country some of the time.  If you are as fortunate as I am to live in a charming historic town between city and country you too could enjoy this variety in your outings.  I hope this is possible for you because variety is truly the spice of life. Our world offers so much to us.  It is for us to take advantage of these offerings.

So today I partake in a “Country” Country Inn Day. I’m not just going off to enjoy nature. I’m going back in time to enjoy a country setting of long ago.  I’m going to the Historic Hale Farm and Village.

Country Inn Days capitalize on imagination and visiting a historic farm and village gives me a chance to not only enjoy nature, but also to imagine I’m going back in time.  We live in modern times but it’s rather refreshing to slip back a hundred years or so every now and then.  If you agree you might like to join me on my outing today.

And we’re off!

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Hale farm and Village depicts rural life in Ohio’s Western Reserve from the time of Jonathan Hale’s arrival to the area in 1810.

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Here one can tour the very house Jonathan Hale built for his family.  I love old houses.  As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in his poem Haunted Houses – “All houses wherin men have lived and died are haunted houses… Through the open doors the harmless phantoms on their errands glide, with feet that make no sound upon the floor.”  I walk through the house and yes, I can easily imagine people of long ago going about their daily tasks right here in the very rooms where I too am standing.

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I love walking out from the house and down the road.  There are no modern sites to be seen, only beautiful nature and country settings.  I wish you could get a whiff of the air.  It’s full of sweet scents of clover and grasses.

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I stroll down shady pathways.

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I enjoy babbling brooks.

The beauty of nature offers the same thrill to us today that it offered people long ago.  Maybe we can receive even more of a thrill from nature today because we do not necessarily indulge in  its beauty as often as we could (and should).

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I keep walking and come to the village.  This is a tract of land where historic buildings have been relocated so visitors can come and enjoy a variety of historic structures without needing to drive all over creation. This Greek Revival meetinghouse dates from 1852.  It was originally  occupied by Baptists, but later by Methodists.  Typically, meetinghouses were centrally located on a village green so this building looks right at home here in this little village.

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Liking old houses as I do, I particularly enjoy touring  the historic houses of this village.  There are many other structures here – a corn crib, sugar house, a land office,  law office, pottery barn and many other things, but it’s the houses I’m most interested in.  This is the Jagger House.  It was built in 1845 and I have particular interest in its interior because one of my old Hudson neighbors, Phil Keegan, a master stencil artist,  stenciled its interior walls reproducing its original design.

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This house, the Herrick House, built in 1845, is an outstanding example of a Greek Revival stone structure.  I learned of the 7,500 Western Reserve houses listed on the Ohio Historic Inventory, less than one half percent are square-cut stone structures like this one.  The stone is just beautiful!

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There are a number of other houses here, but my favorite house in the village is the Jonathan Goldsmith House. It is another Greek Revival house dating from 1830-1832.  I’m partial to this house because I once owned an 1829 house myself and this house reminds me of my old house. In fact, the flat stones making up the front porch of my old house are the same stones used in the basement of the Goldsmith house.  You see, my old house acquired these stones because we knew the right person.  It was the architect who worked for Hale Farm and Village.  We happened to be restoring our old house when the Goldsmith House was being moved to and set in its new location here in the village.

This house is named for its builder and architect, Jonathan Goldsmith.  Goldsmith is recognized as one of the finest architects in the Reserve. His structures include elaborate carvings and high quality construction.  This house is an excellent example of his work.  The Cleveland Museum of Art has one of Goldsmith’s beautiful entry doors. I admire it every time I visit the museum.

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I enjoy strolling in and out of the houses, but I also delight in the gardens.  I love an herb garden and I take time noticing just what’s growing in the herb gardens here.  I get ideas for my own herb garden back home.

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Now maybe you wouldn’t enjoy seeing the outhouse, but I sure do.  This one was built in 1850. An outhouse is sometimes known as the “necessary” or “privy”.  I’ve had my own experiences with an outhouse as a young girl.  My Dad was raised on a farm in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. As a little girl I would visit my Grandmother on that farm and back in those days there was no indoor bathroom.  I have distinct memories of visiting the outhouse there. You don’t forget a thing like that – especially its smell.

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My Dad had a very different childhood back in the day.  Besides having an outhouse he also went to school in a one room school house, so when I see this schoolhouse in the woods my imagination not only goes back to 1816, but also to my father’s boyhood days.

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I really feel like I’m going back into time. Talk about a Country Inn Day being a day of imagination!  My imagination, along with this outing, is taking me far away and to times long ago.

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I doubt my father’s teacher dressed like the lady I see, but the children back in the 1800’s must’ve enjoyed this scene every day.  This particular schoolhouse dates back to 1816.  I learned that log structures such as this were usually the first structures on the frontier and they were abandoned when their owners could afford to replace them with more modern frame buildings so they often became schoolhouses.  Did you know that?  I didn’t.

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As I continue to stroll the grounds of this historic village I run into many other people dressed in clothing of the early 1800’s.  I enjoy chatting with many of them – like the ladies  who are seated here. They are peeling apples in order to make apple butter.  The wood fire beneath their kettle adds a nice cozy scent to the air.

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 We speak about knitting and other feminine subjects just as ladies of the 1800’s might have done on a nice Autumn afternoon.

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It’s fun to see the colorful hens walking about.  When was the last time you saw a hen?  Actually, my Hudson neighbor has hens to provide her with fresh eggs and she’s given some of these eggs to me.  Gee, I’d love to have my own hens. I remember seeing such hens like these back on my grandmother’s farm all those years ago.  Once again sights here of the 1800’s are mixed with my own memories and  I’m filled with all sorts of feelings and emotions.  This Country Inn Day is really taking me away.

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To think I’m only a few miles from my town of Hudson, but looking around, I feel I’m deep in the country. The Hale Barn constructed in 1854 was built shortly before Jonathan Hale’s death. This Farm Barn is the focal point of the farmyard here.  I happen to have a barn at my 1853 Jonathan Brown House, but it’s nothing like this barn which is filled with early farm equipment and livestock.  My barn is filled with cars and garden supplies.

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I see sheep grazing in a field. If you need to calm down I suggest taking a walk where you can gaze upon bucolic scenes like this.

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And there’s nothing like watching a bunch of 200 pound pigs carrying on in their pig pen.

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I look at this fellow and a line of poetry comes to mind

Men (or pigs) look through the same bars

Some see mud and some see stars

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I can’t help getting poetic.  Nature does that to me.  It’s just so beautiful here.  They say for years, guests were drawn to the peace and isolation of the Hale Farm.  The grounds of Hale were breathtaking, with gardens, hedgerows, pastureland, farm animals, flowers, beehives and an abundance of fruit trees, mostly apples.

When Western Reserve Historical Society opened Hale Farm to the public in 1958, the Akron Beacon Journal invited readers to “leave the happy confusion and noise of Akron” for the peace, quiet and beauty of the Jonathan Hale Homestead Museum in what was known then as “Ira Valley.”

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Well, that was very good advice because time in the country at a historic farm and village is a terrific getaway for a Country Inn Day or any day you might be seeking a delightful change of pace and a great big dose of natural beauty.

My next Country Inn Day just might take me to New York City, to the center of Manhattan, or to a lovely Spa, or maybe to a real Country Inn.  It’s fun to mix things up.  But today’s Country Inn Day in the country at a historic farm and village was just what I needed.  I believe God wants us to live abundantly.  He gives us so much to appreciate and enjoy.  It’s for us to take advantage of all these blessings and today’s Country Inn Day was certainly a blessing to me. I hope you treat yourself to Country Inn Days, or whatever you call the days in which you step out of life’s usual routines and into days of exploration and adventure.

Till next we meet

Live richly!

 

I have a Country Inn Day Secret. . . a Secret Garden

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As the main gardener of the 1853 Jeremiah Brown House I have my work cut out for me.  This house and property had been untouched for many years before my husband and I got hold of it.  What to do first?  Because we were living in the house, not the garden, it was the house that first got our attention, but after restoring the old house and even adding a new addition, it’s finally garden time.

Ah, a garden!

But as much as I desire lovely gardens all around the house my goal at present is simply to make the grounds appear park-like.   Very few actual gardens have been created thus far, but they are in the plans. At present only the herb garden has been designed and installed.  A few flowers have been added here and there – roses mostly, but new bushes appear weekly.

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 In fact just today five luscious-looking giant blue hydrangeas were planted at the front of the house.

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My assistant gardener, Doug, deserves all the credit for the planting.  He is my right hand man when it comes to digging holes and pruning.

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But today I want to focus on The Secret Garden at the Jeremiah Brown House and tell you all about it thus far.  At a quick glance you’d never think a Secret Garden is in the works at this property for like any good secret it’s hidden from plain view. A visitor on the grounds will notice the circular herb garden and the wall of very old and tall Spruce trees behind it, but who would guess there was the beginning of a Secret Garden  behind those trees?

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Around the corner one would notice the Day lilies blooming in front of very old honeysuckle bushes,  but would one guess there was something more hiding behind all this?

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Then there’s the  row of some fifteen forsythia edging and hiding yet another side of the Secret Garden.  These forsythia will grow taller and taller and hide my little secret even more in days to come.

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But if you walk through the small opening here between the old trees. . .

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You come upon a clearing.

This clearing is not an easy place to plant foliage because the roots of the Spruce trees are everywhere!  This place will never be a proper Secret Garden with all sorts of beautiful flowers, but still the area does have potential. It’s such an interesting spot, a space left open inside a ring of giant Spruce trees.  The trees create a canopy of shade.  I resigned myself to forget the sun-loving flowers, and even shade-loving flowers, but still this place hidden from the rest of the grounds has potential.  As long as something, anything can grow here I will call this place my Secret Garden.

The first step was setting down the stone flooring.  Deer enjoyed spending their nights here before the stone was added. This space was their private bedroom, but now they found a softer, greener place elsewhere.  I added some pachysandra around the edges of the stone flooring and little by little it’s getting established.

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I tried adding impatience but the soil is simply too compact and root-filled to allow the impatience to stretch out and get comfortable here.  Too bad.  Color would be nice in this secret garden. I suppose I could add pots of impatience here and there. . . maybe one day, but for now I’ve decided to let the garden operate on automatic pilot. It’s not doing a bad job of it either.

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I’ve put Mother Nature in charge of this Secret Garden for the time being and one plant she really seems to love is Wild Ginger.  At least I think this plant is known by that name.  I too like Wild Ginger with its glossy rounded leaves. This plant serves as a very pretty ground cover and to my delight rabbits do not  eat it.  This is important because the grounds of the Jeremiah Brown House are home to many rabbits.

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I marvel the way Mother Nature will successfully cultivate the plants she wants to grow where as  I try and try to cultivate certain other plants with no luck at all.   Look at the way she’s going to town with tiny baby plants.  They’re everywhere!    In time I may drop the name “Secret Garden” and call this place “The Wild Ginger Garden”.

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Of course it’s not only Wild Ginger that Mother Nature is providing for my Secret Garden, look at these mysterious  plants which magically appeared while I was away for the weekend.  Nothing. . . then suddenly all this green . . . I must dig out my wildflower guide book and try to identify this plant.  Whatever it is, I like it!  Why should I bother toiling away buying and planting expensive specimens when Mother Nature will not only supply the plants for free but also install them?

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Of course in the past I have bothered to purchase and plant a few items, two of them are Lamium Maculatum (Red Nancy) as well as the tiny yellow-green ground cover you see here. (I’ve forgotten its name.  Do you recognize it?) These two plants seem to be happy in this place. They’re taking off, getting along well with the pachysandra and the other wild plants. I’ll do no more of my own planting, at least not for a while.  I’m leaving the planting to Mother Nature.  She has been known to create beautiful work as you well know so maybe she’ll do the same here for me.

I have had  fun adding bird houses to some of the trees in The Secret Garden. This is something Mother Nature can’t do.  I think the birdies like these houses as I do.  The houses stay up year round, for after all, birds need a home in the Winter too.

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And sculpture adds a nice touch to all the greenery.  A little cherub here . . .

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My wonderful “dead friend”, Saint Francis, there . . . 

Other bits of statuary are waiting to be moved into The Secret Garden too as soon as Doug or some other muscle-bound fellow happens by.

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Rocks are welcome here, nice big ones. These rocks you see are just a few that came from an old abandoned well on the property.  They spent more than a hundred years under ground, but now they can enjoy the next hundred years  above ground in this place.

My Secret Garden is in the early stages of development.  You are witness to its beginning.  I wish I could fast forward to show both of us a more mature version of it.  Patience is a virtue needed in gardening and that’s something money can’t always buy.  The garden teaches us patience.  But there is delight, at least for me, in the anticipation of what’s to come. There’s pleasure even in the beginning stages of a garden project.  I come to this garden daily, carefully checking for any change I might see.  This is something I remember my father doing in his garden.   I  simply enjoy the moment – what is –  and I appreciate the potential of what this garden can become.

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 Whether I sit here alone to read  . . . meditate to music of the birdies . . . whether I invite friends over to share a cup of tea in this my Secret Place . . . whatever I’m doing here I’m happy. That’s nature for you.

Be it ever so humble there’s no place quite like my Secret Garden.

A Country Inn Day Fairy Tale that met with success unexpected in Common Hours

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Once upon a time there was a young girl named Carol Ann who would walk home from school and pass this house. This big old white house wasn’t easy to see back then because there were many bushes that edged the property, but Carol Ann would walk by very slowly and try to catch a glimpse between the branches, seeing what she could see of this house and its extensive grounds.

Back in the day there were gardens there too and how Carol Ann wished a lady would appear in those gardens, notice her passing, and invite her in to see the flowers.  Carol Ann would imagine this lady of the garden looked and sounded like the lovely actress Deborah Kerr, that she was a proper English lady who had no daughter but longed for one and seeing Carol Ann would reach out to her in friendship.  Perhaps this lady would invite Carol Ann to share her afternoon tea or invite her into the house so the lady could play piano for her, give her some lessons and ultimately they could play duets together.  Oh, how many times Carol Ann past this house and dreamed of this lady.  Carol Ann’s Romantic personality came up with all sorts of scenarios for the two of them.

And that’s not all.  Carol Ann also dreamed what fun it would be if she could explore the extensive grounds of this property for even back then at her young age big old houses with extensive grounds enchanted her.  When other young girls were doing what most young girls do (whatever that is) Carol Ann was reading “House and Garden” magazine and books like “The Secret Garden”, materials which fed her imagination.  How she hoped one day she could live in a big old white house surrounded by nature, a place where she could work in her garden, enjoy afternoon tea and play the piano to her hearts content.

But life moved on as it tends to do and no lady ever appeared to Carol Ann.  Days passed. Months turned into years and only occasionally did Carol Ann have the opportunity to pass the old white house and remember her imaginings.  But then one day while reading a book by the American author Henry David Thoreau she came upon a passage that spoke to her.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

“Aha”, she thought.  At that moment there was an awakening.   Though Carol Ann never did meet the lady of her imagination who lived in the big old white house that sat on those extensive grounds she suddenly realized she actually became that lady.  Of course she’s American, not English, but besides that one fact, her dreams came true.  Now Carol Ann lives in a big old white house of her own and it happens to sit on a generous plot of land. The grounds around Carol Ann’s house may not be as grand as that house of her dreams, but she’s working on them. Gardening is one of Carol Ann’s favorite activities.  She does however enjoy afternoon tea regularly and with guests, often children.  And that’s not all.  She also delights in playing  the piano and playing those duets she dreamed of for now she’s a piano teacher herself.

Thoreau was right.  If we advance through life in the direction of our dreams not letting them go we can meet with unexpected success.

All this is an introduction to today’s story.  You see, after years of imagining and dreaming about that old house I passed so many times as a child I finally had the chance to explore the property.

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Carol Ann paying a nice friendly visit to Celeste.

 And this is the lady that made it happen for me.  This is Celeste, a wonderful artist and my cousin who happens to live in what was once the gate house for the house of my dreams.

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Celeste’s charming house which I always loved

Celeste knows the present owners of my dream property and though I dropped by to visit her, in talking about my girlhood imaginings, Celeste suggested I take a walk at long last and explore the grounds I admired for so many years.  She assured me her neighbors wouldn’t notice and if they did I should just explain I was her cousin and a long time admirer of their place.

You can’t imagine how excited I was!

Want to come along?  Ok, let’s go.

 I stepped out the back door and headed down the long driveway.

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At one point the driveway was edged with large stones.  They were there so drivers wouldn’t go astray and end up in the woods below.

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I don’t happen to have these woods at my house unfortunately but I wish I did.  This property goes down to The Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  It’s beautiful country.

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As I get closer to the house I begin to see a little white.  How exciting!

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And then there’s a little more white…

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As I get closer I notice a lattice privacy screen near the house, but I wonder why anyone needs  help with privacy when they live on extensive grounds like these.

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I walked past the house quickly so as not to bother the owners and headed for the grounds behind it, the grounds I never could see very well from the street when I was a little girl.  How wonderful they were.

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The large terraces carved from stone…  the workmanship!  What such a job as this would cost today!

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So many steps down into the valley!

There was a nip in the air and I was chilled to the bone, but nevertheless I walked around with great enthusiasm taking in every sight and sound.

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There were places carved in stone somewhat like large benches where people could sit and gaze out at the landscape.  I might’ve done that if I wasn’t so cold.  But besides being cold there was so much to see.  I had to keep moving.

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Stone staircases were here and there.  As I discovered them hiding under the leaves I felt the same thrill I’d feel discovering ancient ruins in Rome.

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And these forgotten, long-ignored garden elements also reminded me of the forgotten garden from the book The Secret  Garden, that book I loved as a child and still love today.

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There were little streams with charming wooden bridges – so Romantic!

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I could’ve stayed in this wonderland forever but I reluctantly climbed my way back up and there was the house peeking out in the distance.

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As I got closer I discovered another area that had been abandoned.

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It was a large square area framed by a stone wall decorated with wooden fencing.

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The fencing had seen better days, the days of my childhood.  Oh, how I wish I could’ve seen this estate back in its glory days, but it still had a grace about itself, and in its current condition it seemed even more dear to me.

The stately pillars had such dignity standing proudly as they had done for so many years.

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Though ivy and moss grew over them they still were very beautiful to me.

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And in the courtyard was this circular stone item.  Was it once a well or a planter?  I wondered.

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And then I spotted the tea house.  How lovely it would’ve been  on a Summer’s day if and when my lady invited me to share her afternoon tea.  Seeing this structure set my imagination stirring once more.

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What a wonderful property this is.  I wasn’t disappointed at all. Once again I dashed past the house so as not to alarm or disturb the owners.  I learned they were an elderly couple. That could explain why they let their grounds go.  They probably don’t go walking about these days very much to justify the cost in maintaining such a place, but if only they did.  I hope some day a new enthusiastic owner will come along and restore everything to its former glory..

I wish that person could be me.

Perhaps one day my cousin will introduce me to the owners of this estate. The lady of the house in my imagination never became my friend but perhaps I could become friends with the present owners and they just might allow me to return over and over, appreciating  their wonderful property.

I’m only guessing, but I suspect I’ve loved their house and grounds longer then they did and perhaps more intensely then they do now.

Well, that’s my story.

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So as I write you from my own old white house set in nature  I encourage you to keep on dreaming and imagining no matter how old or young you may be for as my good  old “dead friend” Henry David Thoreau suggested,

“If you advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, and endeavor to live the life you have imagined, you will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

I’m a believer!

It’s not just a Walk in the Park

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Work and worry are sturdy weeds, but joy requires cultivation.  How and when do you cultivate joy?  I cultivate much of my joy when walking through nature. It’s here with great beauty all around  me that I’m able to think positively and creatively.

Nothing comes from nothing you know.  We have to construct our own unique vision of a delightful life before we can make that life happen.  This takes imagination, effort, and a certain amount of time uncluttered by work-a-day concerns.  A stroll in nature provides the   perfect opportunity for creative thought.

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As we turn our eyes to behold the sights and sounds of nature, all that our Creator designed for us, we look away from sordid surroundings, from lack of beauty, from the imperfections in ourselves and those around us and with a little  faith-vision we begin to see new possibilities for our lives.

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Albert Einstein said, “The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty and truth.”  What are your ideals?  What do you imagine for your life?  We only have so much time on earth to live these ideals so if we’re not thinking about them constantly, if we’re letting the busyness of daily life distract us, we will forget to have and do the very things that matter to us most.

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Though it’s important to let our  minds relax and ramble freely while walking in nature  I find it helpful to have one particular subject I return to over and over in between the ramblings. That subject might be trying to find more time for reading in the course of a day or dreaming up a new ritual for afternoon tea or finding a better system for cleaning the closets. It could be anything, but if I limit my conscious thought to that one particular subject there’s a good chance I’ll have some concrete new ideas in place by the end of my walk.

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The rest and recreation we need is the kind which actually recreates.

We can use our leisure to do all sorts of things, but to cultivate joy we must be sure those things have meaning to us. Cultivating joy requires creation, creation requires reflection and reflection requires solitude. Lord Byron, one of my “dead friends” said, “A life without reflection is a sad affair” and that’s because without reflection we can’t cultivate joy.

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Besides being a chance to look into ourselves cultivating joy, studies show that a walk in  nature helps us feel physically healthier, better about ourselves in general and just plain happier.  You’d think a walk would make us feel more tired, but the reality is opposite. Exercise actually increases energy.

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Sometimes on my walk I like to pause for a while in a nice spot reading a book, a book inspiring new ideas, a book like Voluntary  Simplicity, by Duane Elgin.  Duane spent much of his life in the East and became very interested in harmonious and purposeful living.  In his book he quotes Richard Gregg who was a student of Gandhi’s teaching and who wrote in 1936…

“Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition.  It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life.  It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions.  It involves a deliberate organization of life for a purpose.  Of course, as different people have different purposes in life, what is relevant to the purpose of one person might not be relevant to the purpose of another… the degree of simplification is a matter for each individual to settle for himself.”

Though we have all sorts of our own thoughts to explore and develop it’s important to include new ideas into the mix. Reading good books anywhere, any time is an  enriching experience so why not read in nature surrounded  by so much beauty?

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You have to find places where you recognize yourself.

It seems to me we’re  happiest when we’re surrounded by people and places that are in sync with us.  Where would those places be for you?  I’m most comfortable in coffee shops writing letters, in art museums, in restaurants with white table cloths and in nature.  To create the life you’ve always dreamed of you must know where you should and shouldn’t be spending  most of your time.  A daily walk in nature is a ritual I created for myself, one that serves me well.  Maybe it would serve you well too.

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“Romanticism is beauty without bounds — the beautiful infinite.”  —Jean Paul Richter (1763-1825)

I’m a Romantic and all Romantics love and need nature.  I’m also a music lover and some say music is the most romantic of all the arts.  For me music and nature go hand in hand so I love bringing the music of Romantic composers along with me on my nature walks.  Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” or Debussy’s “Prelude to the  Afternoon of a Faun” make for lovely accompaniments to my visual pleasure.  Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak… there  are so many composers who were as influenced and inspired by nature as I am, taking  their music along with me doubles the joy..  What would a movie be without a soundtrack?  A walk benefits from a soundtrack too.

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If you’re a Romantic like me you owe it to yourself to find ways to live more romantically every day.  It’s easier than you think.  Regardless of your time or budget you can walk along and dream up all sorts of rituals for yourself, rituals like celebrating your own special days (I have my weekly Country Inn Days), indulging in breakfast in bed, picnics and other delights, or simply prioritizing time for romance.  Barbara Taylor Bradford wrote a book called “Living Romantically Every Day” and it’s filled with ideas you can make your own as you walk along in nature. That walk is a romantic experience in itself.  You don’t need to be in places like Paris, Rome, Boston or San Francisco in order to live and be inspired romantically. Nature is everywhere and its beauty has power.

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I do enjoy Romantic cities with their vivid enduring images; white towns surrounding an elm-shaped green; mellowed brick and graying stone; narrow cobbled streets along a tangy waterfront, ancient architecture, but I can be equally inspired by the simple beauty of nature in my very own town and you probably have lots of beautiful nature in and around your town too.  Take advantage of it.

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No matter how good you feel before a walk in nature you’ll feel even better after one.  And if you’re feeling low there’s nothing like the inspiration and comfort you’ll find in God’s great out-of-doors.  It’s impossible for any alert person to stroll along a lake or saunter through the  woods without something magical happening to their spirit.

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Why do you suppose there is so much variety in the beauty of nature?  Why aren’t all the trees the same?  Behind all philosophy and religion there is one thing for certain; the world and everything in it exists for some purpose.  We’re here for some purpose too and to feel our happiest we must love our life and believe it has significance, but we can’t love what we don’t really know.   Socrates said, “Know  thyself” and  Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.”

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The hard work we do doesn’t get us down, its the  work and activity we do which doesn’t connect to our true purpose, to our spirit. Doing the wrong things drain us.   By taking time out each and every day to know ourselves better we can keep our lives on track and when we take a walk in nature noticing  every beautiful thing God created with its intelligence and purpose, well, I think that beauty inspires us to become the artists of our own lives, cultivating joy, and working to create the life we imagine for ourselves.

So it’s not JUST a walk in the park.  That walk is a GREAT activity.  It can do a lot  for our physical, intellectual and spiritual lives.  It can even be a social activity if we walk with a friend, but shhhhhhhhhhhhh. . .

SILENCE IS GOLDEN.

Country Inn Nature Day

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Today I take advantage of the fact that I happen to live near one of the Great Lakes of the world, Lake Erie.  This lake takes its name from  the Erie tribe of our Native Americans, a shortened form of the Iroquoian (erie/honan meaning long tail).

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The five Great Lakes – Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior, are interconnected fresh water lakes located on the Canada-United States border.  They form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth containing 21% of the world’s surface fresh water by volume.  Due to their sea-like characteristics (rolling waves, sustained winds, strong currents, great depths and distant horizons) these five Great Lakes have long been referred to as inland seas.  We in Cleveland  proudly say we live on the North Coast.  People brag about living near an ocean, but it’s also quite special to live near  a Great Lake. Too many people fail to take advantage of a Great Lakes beauty, but not me.

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I’m not much of a swimmer or boater, but I love walking along the water’s edge and enjoying the beauty of the lake. I find the time I spend carried away with nature’s beauty helps me subtract years from my age.  Nature’s beauty has magical powers for when we take that beauty in we feel its glow in our soul.

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Here at Edgewater Park I’m only a mile or two from busy downtown Cleveland but on this and every Country Inn Day I step away from life in the modern world and give myself permission to live somewhere between heaven and earth – to “just be”.  I could be home cleaning or “doing” any number of useful things and I will get to those things, but on Country Inn Days it’s more about being than doing.  Sure, we need to “do”, but not every day.  If we don’t give ourselves permission to step out of our routines who will?  Nobody will and we’ll miss so much.

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Sam Horn, author 0f CoZentraten, writes, “the contentment we seek is available anytime, anywhere… for a moment’s notice.  And age becomes immaterial when you’re immersed in appreciation.”  We can experience such beneficial appreciation in all sorts of ways – strolling through art galleries, working in the garden, creating a delicious meal, playing the piano – so many ways, but observing nature is there at the top of my list.

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I usually enjoy Country Inn Days alone so that I’m free to come and go just as I please.  If I take anyone along with me it’s usually a “dead friend”, a person of the past who I commune with through their letters, journals or biographies.  These “dead friends” are great company at lunch, telling me interesting stories from lives past.  “Dead friends” make no demands.  “Dead friends” are like that, they’re great!  I hope you have some “dead friends” of your own too. But since my son Rory happens to live steps away from Lake Erie, owning a condo in Cleveland’s warehouse district, I invited him to join me here at the lake. Rory has always appreciated nature for he’s  a former boy scout who still goes off hiking and camping with friends, but it’s good to have a little mother/son time in nature too and what better time and place to have it than right here at Lake Erie with me on this Country Inn Day..

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Rory and I stroll along the break wall watching the sail boats in the distance.  We chat.  What a lovely Country Inn Day I’m having.  Simple pleasures like these are the best!

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And after a nice time here at the lake, Rory and I stroll back to our car talking about how even simple pleasures don’t just happen. They have to be planned.  First, one must discover what sort of life they’ve imagined for themselves. Then, as Henry David Thoreau used to say, “If you’ve built castles in the air, fine,  just create the foundations under them.”  I do this by scheduling a Country Inn Day each and every week.  And one regular activity of each Inn day is to review the rest of my days being sure they are addressing the life I’ve imagined for myself.  We only have one life after all.  If we don’t take charge of it who will?

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Before I return to Hudson Rory and I decide to have a bite to eat.  Rory is good company, he’s even more fun for me than being with one of my “dead friends” and I love my “dead friends” dearly.  But a good mother always enjoys being with her children, in my case with her handsome sons. This restaurant/bar is around the corner from Rory’s condo, not my kind of place – no white tablecloths,  but I’m always happy to be with my sons, stepping into their worlds whatever those worlds may be. Mother/son time doesn’t happen nearly often enough, but it happened for me today.

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Well, a very satisfying Country Inn Nature Day it was, but then all Country Inn Days are most satisfying.  I drive away from Lake Erie (you see it in the distance)  with renewed contentment.  I hope you’re enjoying the nature in your backyard too. So often those things closest to home are taken for granted, but not by me.   Let’s hope not by you either.  Leave me a comment and tell me what you’ve been enjoying in your backyard lately.

Sharing doubles the joy!