Monthly Archives: May 2016

Memories of Mim

Are there people in your life who make you feel good just to be around them? A person who lights up a room just by walking in. A person you admire because he or she is able to take whatever comes their way in stride.

I am fortunate to have had such a person in my life.  Her name is Mim. I had planned to write about my current topic, travel, but Mim kept coming into my thoughts. Join me as I take a detour from travel experiences.

Mim symbolized joie de vie. She had a way of attracting people with her warm smile and quick wit. But she wasn’t a Pollyanna. Her life was not easy as I found out when I got to know her better.

Marilyn was her given name, but friends in Texas called her Mim. She would laugh and say “My name has two syllables to you Texans – Mee  um

Great Depression hit in 1929

Great Depression hit in 1929

Born in Philadelphia in the 1920s, when the Great Depression struck in 1929 Mim’s family fortunes took a downward turn.  Her father lost his jewelry business to the Depression and committed suicide. Mim, her mother and sister had to go live with her grandmother. Whenever Mim spoke of her childhood she would say, “I was fortunate to be raised by strong women.” And she meant it.

When Mim graduated from high school, she went straight to work. I had the feeling her greatest regret was not going to college. She loved art, music, theater, was an avid reader and took an interest in world affairs. In her twenties, Mim married a talented, charismatic man and they had two daughters. In the 1950s, she and her family moved to San Antonio where her husband became manager of the local Bernhard Altmann factory, a famous maker of cashmere coats and sweaters.

The Alamo in San Antonio

The Alamo in San Antonio

I was a teenager in Texas when I met Mim and one experience stands out. She was at the house and I walked in the kitchen with a new black velvet scoop-neck dress. Mom said the dress was “too old” for me, but Mim piped up, “Bea, don’t be silly, Phyllis looks beautiful in it.”  Mom gave in and I felt terrific every time I wore that dress!

Philadelphia's Liberty Bell

Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell

Now fast forward to July of 1976. I had married in the mid-60s, and in ‘76 we moved to Philadelphia from Alabama. We had two young sons and I was pregnant with my daughter. While Mim had returned to Philadelphia in the 1960s, she and my mother kept in touch.

After we moved, Mim came over to the house while my parents were visiting. Her visit kindled a friendship I cherish. We didn’t have family close to us in the Northeast and Mim became my children’s “Philadelphia grandmother.” As I learned more about her life, my respect and admiration for her grew.

Mim and her husband declared bankruptcy after they moved back to the East Coast and in the 1970s financial difficulties led to divorce. She was grateful to her sister for providing her family a place to live. Mim worked a variety of administrative and sales jobs and didn’t let hard luck dent her bubbly personality or her joy of life. She would always say she was blessed with wonderful friends.

shadowMim would babysit with my children who adored her. She always acted like we were doing her a favor. She would walk in with funny kid gifts and get down on the floor to play Yahtzee and other games with the children. She was part of our family at family events including our daughter’s naming ceremony, the children’s bar and bat mitzvahs and my oldest son’s wedding.

Twenty years ago when my husband and I divorced, I complained to Mim that my ex took the china because I wanted the silver flatware, a present from my grandparents. “Don’t worry about it,” Mim wisely advised, “Go to IKEA and get a new set of dishes.” She was right.

Ceramic ware from Umbria

Ceramic ware from Umbria

Life can have a way of changing one’s outlook. In the early 2000’s, my partner and I were in Italy after we bought our house on the Chesapeake Bay. While in Umbria, we bought colorful ceramic dinnerware. It is fun and fits our casual lifestyle. By the way, the silver flatware that was so important to me is now with my daughter and it is seldom, if ever, used.

In January 2015, my daughter gave birth to a baby boy. I called Mim to share the happy news and was upset to learn she died at the end of December. She had been living at an independent housing community in Philadelphia. It hurts that I didn’t get to tell Mim goodbye. I think she knew how much my family and I cared for and admired her, but I wish I had told her.

The Takeaway: Have you had a special person who has enriched your life? Share your experience and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name, email or phone number. I may need to contact you for clarification or with a question. I won’t publish your name. Contact me at [email protected].

The Joy of Gardening with a Bonus

My most recent topic has been travel, but with today’s blog I am taking a detour.  I have several areas of special interest and one of them is a lifelong love of gardening learned at my mother’s side while I was growing up.


Happy Gardener

In January, I heard of a volunteer project in my area involving a garden nursery suffering from much deferred maintenance. The owners, an elderly couple, had been in business for fifty years. The husband was bedridden and his wife spent most of her time taking care of him. Money was in short supply. They needed help to get the nursery ready for the 2016 season.

The idea of helping at a nursery was appealing to me and it was the middle of winter. Along with other volunteers, we decided to see how much could be accomplished by the end of March.  On the appointed day, I packed up my garden gloves and tools and headed out.

Fortunately, we had a warmish winter because our first activities were outside and had nothing to do with growing plants.  Invasive vines and sumacs were growing in and outside the four greenhouses and had to be cut down and/or dug up. The greenhouses’ frames were covered with heavy-gauge plastic in need mending. And, the watering and heating systems in three greenhouses needed repair and/or replacement.


Potting soil is ready for planting little “plugs” and other young plants

Rusting and broken equipment littered the nursery’s two acres. Brambles, sumacs and invasive black walnut trees were growing in the nursery’s summer garden. A glasshouse, formerly a floral gift shop, was filled with debris and had missing glass panes. To become a welcoming tea house, it had to be thoroughly cleaned and glass replaced.

In February, the husband died and his wife used working in the greenhouse to help ease the pain of her loss. Soon, I started working in the greenhouse with her and got my hands in the warm potting soil, plus learning more about how to tend young plants.

Little plants grow strong in the heat-controlled greenhouse

Little plants grow strong in the heat-controlled greenhouse

Many plants, especially the vegetables, are grown in a greenhouse from seed. Other plants are supplied by commercial growers. The growers send their nursery clients plastic flats filled with thimble-sized plants called plugs. Before planting, flats are put in a shallow “water bath” to loosen the plug’s roots. Then they are carefully removed and transplanted in plastic pots to grow for sale in the spring. One’s maternal instincts kick caring for these little plants and watching them grow.

Along with several other volunteers, I am continuing to help at the nursery. I enjoy watching the plants grow stronger as more leaves appear and the blooms appear.  I get to put beautiful plants in hanging baskets and other planters. When the flowers, herbs and vegetables are ready for sale, I help take them out to an outdoor greenhouse that is partially covered. I enjoy talking to customers and giving suggestions as they select plants for their own garden.

The Takeaway: Digging in dirt, especially soft, warm potting soil in the waning days of winter felt like a little bit of heaven. Helping the nursery’s owner at a critical time in her life has reinforced for me the value of volunteering one’s time and talent.  My bonus is learning more about plants from an expert and doing something I love.

What have you done, especially if it involves volunteering, that has been especially meaningful for you? Share and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification or if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

A Special Vacation

Travel has always been an important part of my life. While growing up, family vacations included road trips throughout the United States and parts of Canada. As an adult, I expanded my horizons traveling for work. While I saw my share of airport and convention hotels, when time permitted, I visited special places such as Washington State’s San Juan Island and California’s Napa Valley.

These experiences helped whet my appetite for further travel, especially when work took me to the British Isles. I was in Scotland for a week with several days in Edinburgh and then three days in London. It was my first time in Europe and I knew it would not be my last.

In addition to travel, I have always been drawn to the visual arts. I have a special soft spot for the Impressionists. Over the years, when traveling, I visited many art museums and galleries. For years, my dream vacation was to visit Provence, combining my love of travel and art. That dream became a reality in the 1990s with my first trip to the Continent.


Rodin’s Burghers of Calais

We flew to Paris and stayed at a small hotel with a lovely patisserie next door. We did the usual sightseeing: a barge trip on the River Seine, went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visited Notre Nome and enjoyed delicious crepes on tiny Isle Saint-Louis. Special highlights included visiting Musée Rodin and seeing his magnificent indoor and outdoor sculptures plus going to the Musée d’Orsay with its exquisite Impressionist collection.

Monet painted the bridge over his lily pond in 1899

Monet painted the bridge over his lily pond in 1899

We took the train to Claude Monet’s home, Giverny. I got goosebumps as we walked the grounds where the artist painted and gardened for nearly forty years. His house and gardens have been restored to their original beauty complete with Monet’s famous water lily ponds and rowboat.

Flassan in Provence

Flassan in Provence

Next, we boarded France’s high-speed train, the TGV, at Paris’ Gare de Lyon station and were off to Provence. We arrived in Avignon, rented a car and drove to the small village of Flassan in the shadow of Mt. Ventoux, of Tour de France fame. We stayed at an apartment we found online complete with small wood-burning fireplace to take the chill off in the evening and an outdoor patio for sunny morning breakfasts. Our hostess told us the building had once housed livestock before being transformed into an apartment.

Flassan’s only grocery, not much more than a produce stand, is open three mornings a week and the post office is open two days. If we needed to make a call, there was a phone booth near the village fountain. Those were the days before cell phones. Many villages we passed through had markets to pick up fresh veggies, meat, chicken, eggs, bread and cheese so groceries were not an issue.

Sunday Market in L'Isle sur la Sorgue

Sunday Market in L’Isle sur la Sorgue

While traveling in Europe, I enjoy stopping at village markets. It’s a time to visit with locals and learn more about the area. Our first day, we drove to L’Isle sur la Sorgue, formerly a fishing village, but now famous for its antique shops and Sunday antique market. Fortunately for us, it was Sunday. We nearly blew our whole “gift budget” that day and still smile when we pull out our colorful Provence tablecloth.

Provence Sunset

Provence Sunset

It is easy to see why artists are drawn to Provence. The color — morning, noon and evening — is spectacular. It’s a wonder in the mountain village of Roussillon, famous for its red cliffs and ochre quarries. And the hilltop villages like Gordes with its stone houses and terracotta roofs. Then there’s the turquoise blue of the Mediterranean at Cassis, a coastal village carved out of steep white limestone cliffs. Most memorable is Provence’s sunsets. The sky blazes with wide swaths of purple, blue, salmon, orange and gold.

The Takeaway: Travel provides me with many special experiences. What experiences have you had that have enriched your life? Share with us and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification or if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]