Tag Archives: picnic

Zinnias, Zinnias Everywhere

As I ran down the dirt path through the wood my sneakers kicked up a slight dirt cloud, creating a simple map for them to follow. I certainly didn’t want them to lose me; after all, they were just children and couldn’t be left unattended in a forest so dense with trees. Plus, I had no clue where I was going – we had never taken this particular path before.

The density of the trees began to thin as I huffed. The backpack of supplies kept thumping against my back with each stride. I was not in shape for such a run, but I could hear the giggles gaining on me as their little feet clomped on the same hard dirt as mine. The sun began to strobe into my eyes, momentarily blinding me for split seconds here and there. The path widened into a field as the brightness of the sun’s rays made it impossible to see. I stopped and put my hands on my knees for support as I panted in an attempt to regain my breath.

As my eyes adjusted and the children gained on me, the random rainbow of colors started to come into focus. Where was I? The field came into focus as my irises adjusted, and I saw a huge field of flowers. Zinnias, zinnias everywhere, zinnias taller than me.

The children caught up and asked for a drink from my backpack. I decided this field, this beautiful, amazing force of nature, was the perfect place for our picnic lunch.

This story was inspired by the phrase “Zinnias, Taller than me” shared with me by my friend Kerri. This comes from a project I started where friends give me random words and phrases, and I write whatever comes out. Hope you like it.

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Good Old City Life

As Ethyl turned the VW bug down the dirt road, Bertha shuddered a little.

“What is it, Berth? Something the matter?”

“I’m used to cities is all. This road trip has been adventure enough without you taking this shortcut through the woods. This road is dirt, for the love of Pete!”

Ethyl smiled at her city friend. They’d instantly connected at the school where both were studying to be receptionists. Ethyl had left the family farm in search of bigger and better things, and Bertha was just killing time until her fiancé, Jasper, got back from the war.

“I grew up on roads like this. Relax, hun.”

The VW blew up a cloud of dust as Ethyl drove it a bit manically around a turn, the wheels scrambling through some pebbles and shooting them into the woods.

“Well could you slow down a bit, at least? At least consider the paint! This car is new!”

Jasper bought the car a few months before he found himself shipped out and trusted his future wife with his most prized possession.

“It’s Jasper’s most prized possession!”

“Where do you come in on that list?” Ethyl asked with a smile and a bit of attitude.

“Just under the car, darling. You should know that. Men and their toys…”

Ethyl relented and let go of the gas a little, taking the turns a bit easier.

“Thank you, dear,” Bertha said as she reached into the back seat. “Care for some coffee?”

“Actually, I’m famished! How’s about I find a place to pull over?”

“Here in the middle of nowhere?”

“Here’s as good as anywhere else!”

They drove the little powder-blue bug another mile or so until she came up to a bend in the road just before an old bridge. A picturesque clearing filled with wildflowers lined the grassy spot where Ethyl stopped the car.

“Oh look Bertha! What a place for a picnic. What do you say?”

Bertha smiled and grabbed the wicker picnic basket from the backseat. “Good thing I packed these sandwiches! God knows how long we’ll be lost out here!”

“I’m telling you,” Ethyl said with another smile, “The man at the station said this here was a shortcut. Said it would cut a good hour of driving. You want to be at your cousin’s by evening, don’t you? Or shall we camp out for the night –“

“Lord no! I’m not sleeping in a tent. We’re making it tonight if it kills us.” Ethyl let a knowing smile grow on her face. She knew just how to manipulate her city friend. The woman was clearly afraid of nature.

Bertha got out of the car, removed her cardigan and fixed her flower-print dress. After checking both shoulder straps, making sure they were just right, she threw her cardigan onto the car and pulled a blanket out of the back seat.

Ethyl loved watching this girl, an enigma to someone who grew up on a farm, as she carefully placed the blanket on the grass. “You know, there’s a perfectly good log over there.”

“You must be joking. This is an expensive dress! It’s Chanel!”

“It’s what?”

“Chanel! As in Coco?”

Ethyl raised an eyebrow. “Okay…”

“Oh you country bumpkin…what do you know!” Bertha smiled, and Ethyl laughed quite loudly, letting it echo through the trees. She was relieved to see her friend loosen up a bit.

“Well, this fabulous ensemble I’m wearing is official Wanamaker’s. The top was on sale!”

Bertha giggled as she sat down on the blanket with the basket. Meanwhile, Ethyl took out her satchel and started rooting through it for a pen and paper.

“Oh no, is the master author at it again?” Bertha teased.

Ethyl stuck out her tongue and sat on the log. Her scribbling on the pad of lined paper reverberated through the woods, disrupted only by the occasional sound of wrapper rustling as Bertha set up their lunch.

Once she had the sandwiches out and spoons in the small container of potato salad, she waited patiently for her friend to finish. She put her hands behind her head and leaned back against the car, looking up at the perfectly blue sky. Ethyl finally finished and joined her on the blanket.

“Say what you want about the city, and I will, as you know, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the sky such a beautiful blue,” Bertha said. Ethyl dug into the potato salad and nodded. As she tried to speak a small piece of potato fell to the blanket.

“That was what I was writing about.”

“Another poem?”

“Mhmm,” she said as another piece fell to the blanket. She picked it up, inspected it and popped it into her mouth.

“Such class. It’s a wonder you were raised on a farm! I would think you came from the most fabulous finishing school in Paris!” Bertha raised an eyebrow at her friend, waiting for a response.

“Just wait until I go pee in those woods right there, then we’ll see who is refined,” she said, watching Bertha shudder a little.

“You will not!”

“I will so!”

“Don’t do it, Ethyl. There must be a ladies room around here somewhere!”

Ethyl smiled again at her friend.

“So what was your poem about?”

“Actually, it was about returning to a perfectly blue sky after spending a few months in the smoggy city.”

“Really?”

She nodded.

“That’s…kind of lovely, Eth. It really is beautiful here, I must admit. I can hear the birds and a breeze, rather than cars and yelling. And what is that sound? The one that is fairly constant?”

“Crickets, Berth.”

“Ah. Crickets. They’re kind of loud.”

“Funny, I didn’t even notice them until you pointed it out.”

“Well, it really is quite lovely.”

They continued to eat when a bug landed on Bertha. She screamed and dropped her sandwich onto her plate as she rushed to get it off her arm, flailing like an insane person. Ethyl just remained calm and continued eating. Bertha finally got rid of the bug and stood.

“I’m eating the rest in the car.”

The Boy in Fenway Park, 1947

Margaret and Isabel were both quickly sketching the scene as the boy stood at the bridge staring at his reflection.

“Looks like we figured out what our drawings were missing, huh Madge?”

Margaret agreed. The water churned a bit, making her wonder what the boy was really doing since the current was making reflections difficult.

“Ready for our lunch?” Margaret asked her. She nodded and pulled the wicker picnic basket over to their little folding stools. “Mind if I look at yours while you get lunch together?”

Belle was always agreeable and nodded as she pulled out the ham and cheese sandwiches, potato salad and some fruit. The final item, a jar of pickles, proved difficult. She strained against the lid as Margaret flipped through her rough sketches.

“These are beautiful, Belle. I still don’t know why you didn’t finish art school with me.”

She gave up on the jar and handed it to Margaret, who easily opened it. “Musta loosened it for me, doll.”

Belle took the jar back and pulled out a pickle. “You know I loved Mitch. He found a job so fast and wanted to get married and all, I couldn’t say no. And who says I can’t create art without that piece of paper? An artist doesn’t need it, necessarily. Did Van Gogh have a degree? Did Rembrandt?”

“I’m sure I don’t know. Did they?”

“You’re the one who finished art school, you tell me!” Belle said with a laugh as she took a large bite of the pickle she’d been holding. “Now let me see yours, then we’ll dig into these sandwiches!”

Margaret handed over the sketchpad. “Now don’t go getting pickle juice on them!” A quick wipe of her hands on her long pleated skirt took care of the juice and she flipped through.

“These are just beautiful, Madge. A bit dark for a nice day, but lovely. Will you paint them?” Margaret nodded. “Watercolors?”

“No, I think oils, you know how I love to paint in oils.”

“Think the boys are having fun at the game?”

“Only if the Red Sox are winning, darling. Otherwise we’re going to have two grumpy gusses on the ride home.” The women giggled and ate their lunches. They both looked up at the boy, who was still standing on the wooden bridge.

“What do you think he’s doing?”

“Why looking at his reflection, silly!” Belle said.

“But look at the water, no way he could see his reflection! I’ve seen that look on a man before. That boy is deep in thought about something.”

“Probably a lovely girl he wants to ask out,” Belle said with a smile.

Margaret shook her head in disagreement. “I dunno…he doesn’t seem to happy to me.”

“Really? He seems downright amiable to me. Isn’t it funny how artists see things so differently, even from one another?” She smiled and pulled an apple out of the basket. “Apple or banana? We have one of each.”

“Apple, dear. Bananas are always bruising, and I can’t stand that.”

Belle handed her the apple and started peeling the banana back. “A few little bruises never hurt anyone, I’m fine with this banana.”

At that a loud crack could be heard coming from the ballpark, and the women turned to look in its direction. Cheering could be heard from the crowd, even from where the two artists were sitting.

“Sounds like a home run.”

“The boys will be happy then, hopefully.”

“Yes,” Margaret said as she picked up her sketchbook. She stared at the dark charcoal sketches she did of the boy.

“Well I’ll be, our subject!” Belle said, forcing Margaret to look up.

The boy had gone.

In the Middle of Nowhere

The car was broken down, and while Jennie and I were sulking, Doris and Roy were sitting on a log chuckling to themselves, having a little picnic with the brown bag of goodies Doris had bought at the five and dime. She ate half the apple and then handed it over to Roy.

“I have another one if you want,” she said to me, and I just shook my head. I couldn’t understand how they were so calm. Roy’s car was busted and we hadn’t seen a car in the whole two hours since it broke down.

“Aren’t you guys worried we’re stuck here?” Jennie asked her.

“Nope,” Doris said with confidence. “Someone will come along soon, I’m sure.”

“That’s my girl!” Roy responded. “Always the optimist! Isn’t it beautiful here? I don’t miss the hustle and bustle of the city.”

I can’t believe I just heard Roy actually say that. In the fifteen years I’d known him he’d never been this relaxed. Or this happy.

“What will we do come nightfall?”

Doris smiled as she rooted through the bag to the bottom and pulled out a few pieces of penny candy and offered them around. Jennie took one and listening to her unwrap it was wearing on my nerves. “We could sleep in the car! Roy, you have blankets in the trunk, right? The ones we keep for emergency picnics?” He nodded as he pulled a toy pipe out of his pocket and started pouring bubbles into it. “Wait, you bought it?” she asked him.

“Yup.” At that he put it to his mouth and bubbles started to explode out of the plastic piece of junk.

“But it won’t come to that,” Doris added. “Someone will come.”

I couldn’t take this much longer. What would we do, huddle up in the car under a tiny blanket, shared by each couple? Doris and Roy were bananas if they thought I would get a good night of sleep in that jalopy that couldn’t even handle a simple drive to Cape May. Doris and Roy started whispering and giggling to each other in that loving way. The way they always do it.

Jennie came over and sat next to me. It wasn’t long before she started whispering to me, copying off of them.

“Aren’t they so cute?”

“Sure, sure. They’re cute, and they don’t seem to mind we might die out here.”

“Oh come on. Why don’t we whisper like that anymore?”

“Anymore?”

“Yes! We were just like them when we met.”

I thought back and had to agree, we probably were. But not as annoying. Just to shut her up and reached up and held the back of her hair a bit, pulling her in for a kiss. She smiled. I rose.

“Should I start foraging? Maybe there’s an apple tree or something nearby.”

Doris looked in my direction. “Everything will be fine, Raymond. You’ll see.”

At that I heard the backfire of a truck in the distance, and a tow truck came into view around the bend. Doris stood up and brushed some dirt and leaves off the back of her skirt and smiled at me.

After the Picnic

Found photo with typography from my Brother Typewriter.

NEW! This print, along with others, is now available on my ETSY.

How to Show a Girlfriend You Love Her on Her Birthday

All photographs by the amazing Sandra Markovic.  See her website or her blog.

It was her birthday, and it had been a long time since she’d moved in with him from Ohio, and without her mom around he knew she’d likely be a little down. He had to come up with the plan of all plans. How could he make her feel as special as she made him feel? She reminded him on a regular basis, with her fake French accent that he adored, how she sometimes wore her hair in two perfect ponytails because he once told her it was so cute, how she always bought him kalamata olive hummus even though she was more of a fan of roasted red pepper…this list could go on and on. This had to be perfect.

He could go on a quest for the perfect gift. But she was better than that. A perfect night of romance? No, too simple.

This was going to be tough, and he knew it. He easily and nonchalantly reminded her he loved her on a daily basis, which now made a perfect birthday near impossible. He’d outdone himself on so many occasions so naturally, without even trying, that now when it really counted he was drawing a blank. Coming up empty. <insert another cheesy cliché here>.

✩✩✩✩✩

When she came home from the studio she had a feeling something big would happen. She opened the door slowly, expecting any number of possibilities but found nothing. She looked in the living room, dining room, he didn’t even seem to be home. Where was he?

She went to the kitchen, and there was a pot on the stove. She opened it, an automatic response since he often left her meals, and in it was a simple yellow post-it.

“Our first kiss.”

She put the post-it down and started to go upstairs, then suddenly stopped halfway up, ran back down, quickly grabbed her coat and rushed out the front door.

✩✩✩✩✩

She practically ran to the nearby park, past the children playing on the merry-go-round, past the slide, the sandbox, the see saws, to the swing set, to the second swing, and sat down. What next?

A little girl walked up to her. She was in the cutest little dress, pigtails, huge, innocent eyes, and asked, “Are you Alexandra?” She looked at the little girl and nodded, smiling, as the little girl search her pockets and pulled out a post-it. “He says this is for you.” At this the little girl ran back to her mother, embarrassed, and her mother gave her a hug, then looked at Alexandra and smiled.

Shaking, Alexandra unfolded the post-it and read. “The place where you wrote that song I love.”

And off Alexandra went.

✩✩✩✩✩

And so Alexandra found herself jumping into her car, the Volkswagon bus she’d bought right before they drove cross-country. She turned the ignition and it chugged, chugged, started, stalled. She tried again. And again. That’s when she noticed the post-it on the seat next to her.

“Put on your best.”

For once she appreciated the stalling car and ran inside. She quickly found an old fifties dress, her favorite, practically tore off her clothing, threw it on and ran out the door, hoping the old bus would be friendlier to her.

It was.

She tore out of the parking spot and headed in the direction of the diner where she wrote the song 1900 Miles and pulled into the parking lot. She took quick notice that his car wasn’t there so knew there would be another post-it.

Upon entering the diner, she looked towards their favorite booth, saw it was marked RESERVED and sat there, panting a bit. Their usual waitress walked up.

“Hey there. How’s it going so far?” she said with a knowing smirk.

“Fine.” She couldn’t contain her smile. “Do you have something for me?”

“Yup. Wait here.”

As Alexandra sat, impatiently, curious and overwhelmed with feelings, she was having the time of her life.

That’s when the waitress returned with a cup of hot Earl Grey tea with a little milk.

“He said you’d figure it out. He said there was no note this time.”

Alexandra looked at the tea she’d just set before her and really had to think. No note. That meant the clue had to be…

…THE TEA!

✩✩✩✩✩

Alexandra had the tea switched to a to go cup, tried to pay, found out he’d paid in advance, and ran out the door on yet another adventure.

She knew he loved a certain store, one of those barrel places that has bins and bins of food purchased by the pound, and there was a whole tea room. They’d spent hours of time together in there, searching for different teas they’d yet to try. That had to be it.

She raced into the parking lot, and as she ran in pulled the door too hard and let it slam against the wall.

“Hey!”

“Oops sorry Mister Hansel. But I’m in a hurry.”

He looked upset but when he realized it was Alexandra a warm smile came over his face.

“So you figured it out. I wasn’t sure you would, but he assured me you’d get it.”

She smiled. “Yup!” and she ran off to the tea room.

She ran in, startling the new girl who was in there, and frantically started searching the giant jars and containers of tea looking for the right one.

“Can I help you with something?”

“No. Yes! I am looking for the Earl Grey Crème. It’s our favorite.”

They both started looking, and the girl became as frantic as Alexandra, without really knowing why.

“Got it!” the girl yelled triumphantly, as Mister Hansel sauntered in, smiling. Alexandra grabbed it, turned it around, and sure enough there it was, a post-it.

She started to run out the door when Mister Hansel stopped her.

“Alexandra,” he said. “Take this.” He handed her an old thermos, red plaid, and she felt it was still warm. “Tell him this one’s on me.”

She sat in the car and looked at the post-it.

It was a drawing of a record.

✩✩✩✩✩

And so now she was headed to their record store. Alexandra pulled into the lot and was already heading to the record store, a place where they’d spent hours upon hours looking, listening, and experiencing all kinds of music.

Now the question Alexandra had to ask was, where, in the millions of records and cds did he hide the post-it? She had to think.

Bridgette Bardot. Nope. Belle and Sebastian. No. Maurice Chevalier, Shins, Decemberists, Frank Sinatra, still nothing. She really had to think. But while she was there, she should check for that one that she ALWAYS checked for, in every store, since she’d started collecting records. Claudine Longet. You never know, maybe it would be there.

And it was. With a post-it. She ran up to the counter, and the clerk gave a smile.

“I wasn’t sure you’d find it. He said you would. But I’ve never even seen that record in print before. He must have spent a pretty penny on it.”

“So wait, this isn’t yours?”

“No honey, it’s yours.” The elderly clerk smiled, and Alexandra walked towards the door, checking the post-it as she walked, wondering where else her birthday would take her.

She opened the next post-it.

“Our favorite meal.”

And so she was off again.

✩✩✩✩✩

Kenny was working, and she was glad because the last thing she needed was to ask a stranger for her note.

She ran up to the counter.

“Now I know you’re not here for food, are you.”

She was out of breath and panting. He laughed.

“It’s over there.”

She ran in the direction he was pointing but didn’t see a note. She kept looking around and lifted a blanket that was sitting on a chair. The post-it fell out.

She grabbed it and started walking when Kenny stopped her.

“Hey, don’t forget that. It’s yours.”

She looked back at the blanket, and realized that it was one she’d been wanting for a while from her favorite store, the one he called the hippie store because it always smelled like incense. Alexandra couldn’t help but love that place, it reminded her of her mom, and she missed her mom.

She ran back and grabbed it, took a big whiff, and ran off.

“Have fun!” Kenny yelled.

She waved and ran out, reading the next note.

“I love you.”

This one was easy. And it was one of her favorite places.

✩✩✩✩✩

She pulled into the state park, the place where they went anytime it was nice out. They’d played Frisbee, hiked, flown kites, taken nice strolls along the river, it was a beautiful place. She went right to their favorite path. The next note had to be there.

She grabbed her backpack in case it was a long walk, the thermos Mr. Hensley had given her, and the blanket because she loved the smell and was really missing her mom. She started walking along the river, thinking it was a beautiful day and the next note was probably near this tree where he’d started babbling incoherently, eventually leading up to the best “I love you” she’d ever heard.

She strolled down the path now, relaxed, taking in the beauty of the park, the woods, the trees, the sound of the nearby river so relaxing, and she found the tree with the note stuck to it. She opened it. It said, “I love you,” and she jumped a little, as if the note had spoken, and then realized he was behind her.

She spun around and he grabbed her, she grabbed him, and they held each other as if they’d been apart for years. She backed away and he pushed her hair behind her ear, looked at her, and covered her with small, romantic kisses.

Her knees gave out a little and he was forced to hold on a little tighter, and they both laughed. He took the blanket and started walking. She followed.

He walked up to the huge rock where they’d talked after he admitted his love, requited of course, and he laid out the blanket next to the rock and pulled a picnic basket from the cracks in the boulders. She smiled.

Then he cranked an antique record player they’d found at a yard sale and put out his hand. She reached into her bag and grabbed the record, handing it to him. He started the music and then reached his hand out again for her hand, knowing full well she didn’t need help, but hell, he was a gentleman.

And so they picnicked, sitting on a giant boulder alongside a picturesque river, warm tea from the thermos, and talked until sunset, when they just cuddled on the blanket, stargazed, and he couldn’t help but wonder what the hell he was going to do to top this next year.

Special thanks to Sandra, who took the essence of this story and depicted it with perfection and a professionalism that I find both impressive and admirable.  Please check out her blog and website which I posted links to at the beginning of the story.  Sandra will also be posting many related photographs that I was unable to work into the post, but are beautiful and should be viewed by all.

Under the Juniper Tree

<play> for a better reading experience

“Meet me under the juniper tree,” was all that the note said, and so as she reached the summit of the hill on her vintage green bicycle, she saw a picnic blanket, basket, and an opened bottle of wine.  And, of course, her boyfriend.

“Cute,” she said as she approached him, leaving the bike propped against the tree.  The blanket, an old plaid one from the sixties they’d bought at a yard sale, was held down on each corner by different objects:  his journal, the wine, a stack of 45s, and the old battery-operated 45 player they scored at a thrift shop.  He moved the needle over the 45 already on the player, and Woman by John Lennon started playing as he stood up and reached his hand out.

“Care to dance?”

She took his hand and they danced under the juniper tree, the wind blowing through the prickly leaves, berries dropping here and there, one landing in her hair.  He reached out and pulled it out, fixed her hair where it was messy from his fingers, and then returned his hand to its original position on the hip of her plaid t-shirt dress.

“You’re something else, aren’t you?” she asked.  He smiled.  “Don’t get a big head over this.  It’s impressive, yes, but still, don’t get cocky.”  Her smile told him he was doing a good job.  “So what’s the occasion?”

He thought about it as they slowly rotated, moving from sun to shade and back again.  He finally shrugged.  “No occasion.  Just felt like it.”

Her arms squeezed a little tighter, making him exhale a little, move his hand up to the back of her head and into her hair, and he brought his lips to hers.  She made a tiny sound, letting him know the feeling of excitement in his chest was shared.

The 45 finished playing, and he stopped kissing and released her, returning to the blanket and opening the basket as she just stood there, a bit dazed.

“I got us hummus, pita, and of course, for you, green olives.  Blech!” he said as he opened the jar and some of the liquid spilled on his hand.  He placed everything on the blanket as she walked over, took her flip flops off and sat, knees together and feet under her.

“How thoughtful!  Try one.”

“No.”

“Have you ever had one?”

“As a kid, yes,  Gross.”  He squinched his face so she understood he didn’t like them.

“Just try one.  For me.”  He looked at her, she pushed out her lower lip, letting him know he didn’t really have a choice.  He opened his mouth, and she threw one at him, missing completely as it rolled down his vintage brown shirt, leaving a small trail of wet brine.

“Nice,” he said, smiling at her as he dabbed at the trail with a napkin.  He picked up the olive and threw it into his mouth.

She watched.

“Well?”

“What?”

She laughed.  “You like it, don’t you.”

“No!” he said with a sound of defensiveness in his voice.  She smiled.

“You don’t have to admit it.  But I know you do.”

He put out the food as she poured the wine into plastic cups.  They ate in silence for a while, taking turns removing the berries from the hummus as they fell from the tree.

“This is nice,” she said to him after a sip of wine.  He smiled at her and refilled her cup, and then his.  She spread more hummus onto her pita and then passed it over to him.  He took a bite and was surprised.

“There was an olive hidden in there!”

“You’re welcome,” she said with a curt smile.  He laughed.

“You’re trouble, you know that?”  She nodded.

He spread some hummus on a piece of pita and took a bite.

He thought about it for a few seconds, and after much deliberation said, “Can you pass me the olives?”

After a know-it-all smile at him, she passed him the olives, and a berry bounced right off the bridge of her nose, making both of them laugh.