Any wonderful unexpected thing

I took this photo from my front porch during my first autum in Potomac Shores, 2019.

“After the keen still days of September, the October sun filled the world with mellow warmth…The maple tree in front of the doorstep burned like a gigantic red torch. The oaks along the roadway glowed yellow and bronze. The fields stretched like a carpet of jewels, emerald and topaz and garnet. Everywhere she walked the color shouted and sang around her…In October any wonderful unexpected thing might be possible.” 
― Elizabeth George Speare

Finally we are experiencing the first true autumn weather, and if you live in the northern hemisphere, I hope you are too. Something about that cool fall air does seem to be filled with endless possibilities for joy. So many activities of October anticipate delights soon to come, whether choosing Halloween costumes for kids, or wrapping the first gifts for Christmas, or planting bulbs for spring blooms.

I wish you all the usual enjoyment of October, plus a few wonderful and unexpected surprises. Don’t forget to make time for walking, now that the temperatures are so pleasant. As Speare observed, the colors are shouting and singing for us over the next few weeks. All we have to do is watch and listen.


  1. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    What a beautiful picture! Glad you and so many are enjoying the transition to fall. Unfortunately, here on the gulf coast, we’ve had an above average temperature range in September and the first week of October. The Autumn season here is not so spectacular and tends to be short. I think our temps will be a bit lower next week; hope so! Your picture and Speare’s quote bring me back vividly to my youth, growing up in NC. We had an Autumn there, and I can still remember some of the drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway, just to see the leaves.
    I did make a trip to NY in Sept, and the drive along I-81 was pretty scenic.
    Hope you and Matt have a blessed week!

    • Chris, just last week I was just driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (Skyline Drive) with my friend from California. There were the faintest traces of fall color here and there, still mostly green. But as you know, beautiful in any season. North Carolina would be a wonderful place to grow up, I think. I always thought it was closer to Atlanta (particularly Charlotte) than any other state I visited. And of course, I totally loved growing up in Atlanta. Wishing you some seasonably cool weather! Today is mid 70s here, which compared to last week (97 on last Tuesday), feels downright chilly. 😀

  2. Nancy

    Yes we are! In Vermont and New Hampshire this week! Loving it!

    • Oh Nancy, I am so happy for you!! I hope you are seeing some beautiful colors, but you can’t go wrong no matter what season. Love to you and your sons.

      • Susan

        Nancy, I don’t know who you are, but I grew up in Vermont and this time of year I envy my friends there; hope you enjoyed your visit to the max 🙂 !

        • Susan, Lucky You!! 😀 I have such romantic notions about Vermont, and my brief visit there only fed them…

  3. Sheila

    Good evening, Julia. I almost thought “Good night” was in order, considering the hour. Your view is so lovely and beckons you, I’m sure. What may seem like a dreary, cloudy day in a few months was quite pleasant here today. I so hope you’re finding hope and happiness there in your new surroundings as you call it home more fondly, day by day! Now I’ll say “Good night” as this was just what I needed to soothe my end of day! 😴

    • Sheila, it’s not quite as late as I’m reading this tonight, but it’s already dark so it feels late. Speaking of dreary days, we had a couple this past week, but after the heat it was kind of a respite. I wouldn’t want it like that every day, though. Sunny and 70’s would be my idea of perfect, and we had close to that today. Feeling at home in my new house is coming very gradually, so I still feel like “running away” to York County now and then. But hopefully time will do the trick. Have a wonderful week at 428 and enjoy those ocean waves for me! ❤

  4. One of my favorite months, Julia. Things are changing and we are beyond the status quo.

    • Alan, now when Halloween season rolls around, I will always think of what you wrote about Halloween being a community-centered holiday, whereas most holidays are centered on family. I’ve shared that observation with several people since reading it (I always give you credit 😀 ) and they all have the same light bulb moment as I did, realizing for the first time that the community togetherness was what we, too, loved about Halloween. Happy October!

  5. Harry Sims

    Everything called “Awesome” Is a Divine Gift.

    • Harry, I think the word “awesome” has been so over-used that it has lost its meaning, but I agree, the awe-inspiring gifts are our most obvious signals of Divine providence.

      • Harry Sims

        Ah! but It has not lost its feeling.

  6. What a gorgeous photo, Julia. Happy Autumn.

    • Thank you, Alys! Happy autumn to you, too.

  7. Lydia

    Could you share Alan’s poem, if it’s not an imposition. I have very dear friends that frown at Halloween celebrations and I firmly believe that it’s a wonderful community event. I’d love to share that poem with my friends. Thanks Julia for always inspiring me to enjoy God’s beautiful world.

    • Hi Lydia, thanks for asking, and for being here! Alan’s poem about Halloween is in his book A View from the Quiet Corner, in which he includes a reflection alongside every poem. The Halloween poem itself is about the delights of seeing costumed visitors at the door on Halloween night, but it was the reflection that mentions the part about community spirit. I don’t think he would mind my quoting part of it here (Alan, if you do mind, I can remove the comment — just let me know.)

      He begins by explaining that he grew up in a diverse, blue-collar community located in a housing project, then goes on to talk about Halloween:
      “What made the holiday unique in comparison to others is that it was community centered as opposed to family centered. The large number of families provided a multitude of youthful trick-or-treaters. All sorts of costumed ghosts, goblins, princesses, clowns, hobos, and yes, even a smattering of saints roamed the neighborhood from dusk until midnight with candy sacks in hand. What a great time it was, in the chronological sense. A time in our personal histories allowing a magical evening for youngsters with imaginative wonderings to briefly role-play a hero, a hope, or a dream free from fears of reprisal. It was a refreshing time, encouraged by a commonality of hard work, consideration, and simple pleasures.”

  8. mike

    What a beautiful shot. In two weeks the Japanese garden at Gibbs is supposed to be a torchy red. I got a BOGO ticket in January which is a good deal. That is a term I had not heard of before coming here.

    • I think BOGO is a fairly recent term that has come along with the general truncation of language that has resulted from texting and from ever-shorter attention spans. I hope you get some great photos at Gibbs!

  9. mike c.

    Yea. Well-nursing a cold this weekend.. I was able to down load O connors. “A good man is hard to find.” Pretty dark stuff with murder of the innocents. Macabre? Wonderful dialogue with upsetting charicatures of people of color.

    • Mike, my favorite line in the story– the one that really stuck with me– is “She would of been a good woman if it had been someone there to shoot her each moment of her life.” Wow, I’ve heard that line in my head so many times.

      You might want to graduate to “Everything that rises must converge” which is just as devastating in its own way, but more subtly so. Now that I’m the mother of an adult son who is light years more distant to me than he was in his youth, that story really hits harder than ever. I used to see my mother and myself in it, and it was sobering. Now I see my own firstborn son and me. It seems almost universal for young adult children to feel arrogant contempt for the parents they once held in high esteem, however well-meaning and conscientious those parents may be.

      As regards O’Connor’s writing, there are a lot of great quotes from Flannery herself that I could use to answer your observation, but here is one of the best in a sea of the concise, profound truths which she was so able to articulate:

      “The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.” ― Flannery O’Connor

  10. mike c.

    My son’s neighborhood in Millcreek – on East Cherokee has a nieghborhood potluck/ barbecue on Haloween which we attended last year and may also get to witness next week. But what a great insight about this holiday from Alan – the bard.

    • I hope Alan reads this comment! He has a lot of great insights.

  11. mike c.

    I really don’t get that quote- albeit meaningful. Is it she talked too much and would be better off being silent once in a while, and might have lived longer?? For some reason it reminds me of Capote’s “In cold blood.”
    And now the River- a little boy drowns while trying to get a water baptism. What a happy story. I am not sure I can go on. I work in hospice so I am looking for something a little more upbeat. Did you get a copy of Martin’s autobiography “Born standing up.”

    • Mike, no I didn’t yet get Martin’s autobiography, but I’ll look for it soon. Re: O’Connor– she is definitely not good to read when one is depressed. I would recommend taking her in very small doses. I can’t read more than one or two stories at a time, but that’s probably good because her writing is so dense that it requires a lot of mental work. I haven’t read “The River” or most of her other work. I’ve only read a small fraction of it, but what I have read is memorable, even haunting.

      The quote from the story that I mentioned, which is spoken by the Misfit, is certainly open to interpretation. Here’s mine: it’s remarkable first of all because here we have a cold-blooded murderer taking a moral tone– as if he had any right to do so. Yet what he says is profound and has a deep lesson. To me it means, essentially, that most of us are capable of more than daily life typically requires of us. Our best selves may be buried in quotidian activities that inspire a sort of lethargy and laziness in the long run. Yet under extreme threat or duress, we often behave in almost heroic ways. It also implies that we can master our attitudes and behavior more than we think we can, if we think there are consequences. Of course, there are always consequences to what we say and do, but they are usually not so obvious to us, so we don’t realize them at the time, and maybe never. I don’t think he was referring to her talking, because she babbled even more, on and on, just before her death (probably from sheer terror) and yet something she said obviously kindled the tiniest spark of humanity in a person who had become a monster. We sense in his remark a tinge of regret and a dim awareness of right and wrong still alive in a person who seemingly had become irredeemable. The woman’s final words hint that the monster who was about to murder her was, after all, still a human being, and on some level this touched him.

      Aside from all of those deep inferences, I found the use of dialect, in that sentence and throughout the story, to be a sort of comic relief. “Would of” instead of “would have” and “if it had been” instead of “if there had been” are both starkly incorrect in print, but people often talk this way, at least in certain parts of the country.

      If you are looking for upbeat, you might try Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street series, or his Number One Ladie’s Detective Agency series. He is the author I turn to when I need cheering up. His stories often have me laughing aloud but they are full of heart and humanity, and over the course of the many books in each series, the character development is impressive.

  12. mike c

    Her audience then is ? She is trying to deliver a Christian message to a largely unchristian world within a context designed to shock and wake us up?

    • I think her audience is everyone who “has an ear to hear” as Jesus said. Many of us who consider ourselves Christians also need waking up, maybe more than most. The “audience used to seeing [the repugnant distortions] as natural” has gotten bigger and bigger as mass media has become more of a 24/7 free-for-all. Were she still alive today, I think she might agree that we can hardly ever assume anyone “holds the same beliefs” anymore. Whether we realize it or not, our beliefs are often shaped and even changed by the continual onslaught of messages from people with far different agendas than our own.

  13. mike c.

    My DIL Rachel in NYC who is on medication for depression and ADD among other issues. Is a big reader and we share recommendations. She always will ask me ,”Does it have a happy ending.” The story that is. I don’t think I wlll be recommending any of Flannery to her. I don’t remember reading any of her works in high school where I got to take honor’s English. Lots of shock value and I have never ready anything quite like it. Every once in a while a short story with grab me like this last one ” A good man is hard to find.” Somehow I was expecting more of a southern Jane Austen venue. I guess I should have known when the librarian said to me, while checking it out”Disturbing stuff.” Now I have been forewarned.
    I think i mentioned her book club has read ,”Behold the Dreamers,” which i did get to read about the West African immigrant experience in NYC. She also had me write her a book report on Faulkners “As i lay dying.”
    It definitely does take some mental machinery to ready Flannery and I will take your advice of taking it in small doses at a time. I suppose it is a good way to deal with the dementia thing this is slowly creeping along the sideline.
    BTW I just finished Clarke’s “2061” third book in the 2001 series and it is really good.
    I have a good relationship with Rachel. The other one not so much.
    Verie’s shoulder recovery is painfully slow and frustrating and just last week she though she was back a square zero.

    • Hi Mike, I hope Verie is soon over the top of the recovery hill. My sister’s shoulder replacement was very tough for the first couple of weeks afterward but somewhere along about 4 weeks she said she felt that she had seen the worst of it. For her, the physical therapy (though helpful and good) was very painful at first.

      I have “Behold the Dreamers” and I intend to read it soon. My friend and I met a very charming man who was working as a guard or docent (I couldn’t tell which) at the Museum of the Bible in DC, who was from Cameroon. He had not heard of the book but was very interested to learn there was an award-winning book about immigrants from Cameroon. I read a short work by another African author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and now I have two of her novels in my “to be read soon” stack. The man we met at the museum said to my friend and me “Remain blessed” as we were leaving. I thought that was a great thing to say in parting because it acknowledges that we are already blessed.

      Be grateful that at least one of your son’s wives has a good relationship with you. So much depends on the individual and sadly, these things cannot be forced. In terms of what he wanted to watch or read, Jeff was always a happy-endings kind of guy. He would refuse to watch a depressing movie no matter how critics praised it. I think he was a mostly negative thinker (the classic case of opposites attracting) so probably those who are more negative or depressed in their outlook need to choose entertainment (and maybe spouses?) who balance that out a bit.

  14. mike

    Let me know what you think of dreamers. Having lived in Southern Africa, I had some trouble believing the actions of the protagonist’s wife. But mother’s in extraordinary circumstances will do extraordinary things. Also there seemed a lack of wonderful African proverbs that we love, and here is a new one,” never accept a shirt from a naked person.” This one is open to interpretation, One is not to accept computer advice from someone who does not own a computer. And BTW did you see that article about all of us living today, descending from one woman living in Botswana some 21,000 years ago. As someone said to me once, “We are all Africans,”

    • Yes, never underestimate a mother. I didn’t see the article you referred to, but if the beloved fictional character Mma. Ramotswe (said to be based on a real person in Botswana) is any indication, I could use all of her genes I could get!

  15. mike c.

    And this morning it is 34 degrees in Canton. Amazingly, my little “Sun Gold “tomato plants is still setting tomatoes. And I have done othing to amend the soil. I understand that Georgia soil is really quite fertile, but containing so much clay it needs some humus to hold in moisture otherwise it gust runs off.

    • I’ve been surprised how full of clay the soil in my new northern Virginia home is, especially since it’s so close to the Potomac River (half mile away). It’s harder and less red than the good old Georgia clay. Until I moved away from Georgia as an adult, I never realized why books referred to soil as black in color, when to me it was so obviously RED. The clay soil at my home in northern Virginia is totally unlike the rich, black soil of the Tidewater area where my York home is. Time will tell if I can have as much botanical decoration in the clay soil as I do at the York home. It’s certainly much more difficult to dig and plant in, and yes, it does require amendment.

  16. mike c.

    Amendments are good. Did you ever see the “Bag of soil” here they sell for like 200 dollars a bag. I think it is a cubic meter. They sell it in Woodstock area. You are close to Wash.D.C, now? Alexandria?
    The line that got me from the short story- “The artificial n——.” I can’t even write this out loud. I imagine her stories get banned once in a while?
    Was , “He always though himself not much of a sinner till he realised his true talent for depravity had been hidden from him all his life. otherwise he would drown in a sea of despair.” I think the grandfather says this after betraying his grandson. Horrible of horribles. And this is a paraphrase of a dialogue toward the end of the story. One of these a day or two is probably good enough for me.
    I just read a list of suggested humorous books. Have you Read Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants? Also on there is Erma Bombeck’s ” If life is a bowl of cherries why am I always in the pits.” I used to enjoy her little segments on GMA.

    • Mike, I’ve never seen any soil that cost that much. Needless to say, I wouldn’t buy it. The story you referenced is one of my favorites, definitely in my top 5 of her stories. But even if you had spelled out the ugly word, I would have edited it out myself. I thought the ending was pure comic relief. though it wouldn’t have seemed so funny if you weren’t familiar with those very common lawn statues she refers to. I would imagine O’Connor’s stories get challenged but not nearly as much as Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Books get challenged for all sorts of reasons but thanks to our librarians (I still count myself among them though I haven’t worked for years) they are never banned, at least not officially. I fear our society is getting dangerously close to censorship, but I’ll go down with that particular ship as a free society depends on free speech.

      I don’t care for Tina Fey, so I probably won’t read her book. But I really like Erma Bombeck. I don’t think there is anyone on the contemporary scene to equal her. Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book (old and maybe no longer available) was very funny but also had some great, easy recipes that I loved. For humorous reading, I go back to Dave Barry again and again. He is never NOT funny. His blog is a funny take on news headlines.

  17. mike c

    Once a librarian -always a librarian. If you like Amy Poehler -she has one out called,”Yes Please.” Nora Ephron is also on the list” I am not happy about my neck.”
    Also someone told me there is a connection between these little statues of Black skinned jockeys and the underground railroad?? I saw a few around Savannah area. Yea -Erma Bombeck was one of a kind.
    I think Dave Barry is from Seattle. If you get a chance check out Trevor Noah’s “Born a crime.” GTrue story about growing up mixed in South Africa. Also very funny.
    It seems to me Flannery was dealing with the big questions- good and evil, original sin, redemption etc. The big stuff.

    • I’m not a Poehler fan but I definitely love Nora Ephron, and I Feel Bad About My Neck is a hilarious book, though it is probably more relevant to women than to men. I especially liked her opening chapter on hating her purse. The bit about the lawn jockeys and the Underground Railroad is one of those unproven viral stories, but in any case I would definitely NOT have one of them now, even if someone could prove they were connected to something less racist than their later connotation. Yes, Flannery was definitely focused on the profound. No light reading there. I want to read her letters too because she seemed to have carried that sober reflection into her personal life, which was far more difficult than most of us have to endure, and ended far too soon.

  18. mike c. Bertoglio

    You said to read “Everything Rises next?” The last story in the collection, “A displaced person,” was one of the longer ones. There was a line in there that “Christ was a displaced person.” It did not have a happy ending. Also in her stories Peacocks can act as a Christ figure and Coke machines as a harbinger of negative technologies. The Book of Collected works I got had several letters within.

    • Yes, “Everything That Rises Must Converge” is one of my favorites among her stories. It was the first of hers that I ever read, and I still remember being impressed by its power and realism. You probably have surpassed me in knowledge of O’Connor because I have never heard of the two symbolic devices you mention, but I can imagine her using them. She loved peacocks, as you may know, and I think there are still some of them at Andalusia.

  19. mike c.

    Andalusia is her birth home in Midgeville? We went up to Dahlonega Saturday and saw the Gold Museum among other things. Cute little town. I guess that because of the early freeze, threre is n ot as much Fall color this year. Have not seen many reds yet. Still have not made it back to Gibbs garden which closes like in three weeks. I also hope to get up to Toccoa to see the “Band of Brother’s” museum.
    The Morningglories are toast. Oh Well.
    I found a really nice christmas Cactus at Pike’s which I could not resist.

    • I don’t know whether O’Connor was born at Andalusia, but she certainly lived there. The gold on the state capital dome was mined in Dahlonega, which I’m sure you learned. I’m not sure if I ever went there. We had a ton of red in the foliage here, especially in the trees that back to my northern Virginia home. They are turning off to a copper color now. The foliage here goes through several stages in the fall, all of them beautiful, but my favorites are the flaming reds. I didn’t know they had a Band of Brothers museum. You already know my home state better than I do.

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