Living on the lake has always been coupled with a driving desire to leave, partly because we know we will always return. Another reason lies in the fact that a lot of what happens at our house and yard requires constant attention and upkeep. It’s rare that a day at the lake is spent resting on the dock reading a good book between naps and a long swim. One of those things might happen after a day of chores. So I am always thinking about the next trip.


Photo by Robert Forlini

As an Italian, Rob has a difficult time getting in the car and actually driving away. The unspoken fear is, “Who will watch the house?” Growing up in a close-knit compound where three neighboring homes were occupied by blood relatives, there was always someone around to keep an eye on things. The only people around us are an odd collection of neighbors we refer to as “The crazy house,” “The troglodyte,” “Buzz bomb,” “The drug addicts,” and “Scary.” Not exactly a rousing recommendation. But after the trip has been planned and the light timers are set, the wooden pole is slipped into the sliding glass door and the alarm is turned on we barrel away on an adventure accompanied by any number of talismans.Image

These trinkets hold deep and guarded powers over our lives except they probably only hold the power we have assigned to them. There’s Gobo the little Italian hunchback who hangs from the car’s rearview mirror. If you rub his hump he wards off the evil eye and brings you good luck. I’m not sure what evil spirits await us on our journeys but it’s good to know we have that covered before even pull out of the driveway.

Inside our pockets we have silver Chinese coins that have pictures of the animal of our birth year. I was born in the Year of the Dog and I have two of them. I lost the first one and Rob diligently replaced it. The other day I pulled out a pair of shorts for the arrival of warm weather and the original dog coin fell out of the pocket.

“That’s a good omen,” Rob said.

The next day we discovered a long lost blown glass fruit bowl we had decided a visiting handy man had stolen. For years we pulled up the example of the missing fruit bowl as another indication for why you just can’t trust people and you can never have enough safeguards. When we found the fruit bowl buried under platters in the back of a high cabinet we changed our tune.

Rob declared, “When you found that coin your luck changed. Maybe now you’ll find your lost watch!”


My Chinese zodiac symbol is earth dog. It is associated with the turn of each of the four seasons. It governs the spleen, stomach, mouth and muscles. Its negative emotion is anxiety and its positive emotion is empathy. But I really like the way rabbit coins look so I have one of those too. Rob tells me that the rabbit isn’t doing much for me.

Rob and I have placed guardians all around us. Garden gnomes watch over the lawn, a Lucky Cat statue safeguards the books. We pay homage to our ancestors with their pictures on the mantel.

But the charm I hold most dear is a small silver fairy that I wear around my neck whenever I fly on an airplane. My oldest sister gave me the fairy in 1970 and I partly believe in it’s power because I haven’t ever lost it. It harkens back to an era of hippies and free spirits. My fairy and I lift the plane into the air and safely land the equipment onto the runway. The captain helps but I know that my fairy and I assure our safe return.


Admitting all of this goes against what I have always believed about our adult selves. We travel with plans. We scope out a detailed itinerary that includes roadside attractions, well researched restaurants, side trips and we only stay at hotels with high marks on Trip Advisor. We allow logic and reason to guide us through most of life. We are firm believers in science and evolution and scoff at organized religions and the zealots who hold their faith dear. We do not believe that catastrophic weather is the result of a pissed-off God. We laugh at the television evangelists preaching to thousands of blinking congregants who nod their heads in agreement.

“Sheep!” Rob barks as he changes the channel.

Followers of God accept truth in the unseen. Their faith is something deep inside them and they believe life’s randomness are acts of God. “God works in mysterious ways” or “only God knows” are common responses to unexplained events.

So you might think that our affection for good luck charms is more than a little duplicitous. We could probably become members of the Church of the Good Luck Charm. The difference lies in the fact we know these things are trinkets. At the end of the day I know the fruit bowl was there all along and why the coin fell out of my pocket and the pilot, weather conditions and air traffic control landed the plane safely.

But the fairy makes me feel better.




a normal yew

Our house is distinguished by two enormous bushes that sit at the top of the walkway leading into our front door. They resemble monster green mushrooms. The first time my mother came to visit she peered into the web of branches that held up their mushroom cap tops and said, “These are yews.” She stepped back and looked at them again. “Canadian yews. Very common actually but I’ve never seen any that looked like this.”


The reason being is yews aren’t known for their height but rather their girth. One rarely sees the base branches unless they’re raking leaves out from underneath or trying to catch a hiding cat. Cats would never think to hide in our yews because of the exposure. Our yews stand close to nine feet high, spread out over six feet in diameter and have an almost sculptural trunk of intertwining branches that my daughter used to sit inside like a nest through elementary school. These two yews look more like props on a Star Trek set than bushes framing an exurban yard.

The two yews have two purposes; decoration, which they really aren’t unless we were vying to be an applicant in a Better Homes and Garden makeover or as camouflage.  The yews add a modicum of privacy but they also block out a nice view of our home. It seems covered up. These two purposes provide two perspectives; mine and Rob’s. These alternate points of view and have created a long lasting battle about the fate of these phantom bushes.  To cut them down or let them be.

Let’s be fair, the yews have gone rogue.  They’ve been growing on their own path without the supervision or care of an attentive homeowner for over thirty years and it’s too late to change their present course without an extreme intervention. The only care they receive now is an annual haircut that takes half a day and two people trying to reach the top while teetering on the edge of a step ladder sinking into the pachysandra.  We avoid this task until we can no longer walk down the steps without having branches scrape our faces. Spiders like to start in one yew and spin their web across the sidewalk to the other one. A trip to pick up the morning paper can result in spider web strands smeared across your face.


Last summer during our annual trimming event we stopped random people walking past our house and polled them about the fate of the yews. The results shook down along gender lines. Women seemed to be instantly in favor of getting the chain saw out and men took a more studied approach. They either saw the work it would involve removing them or actually thought they looked “kinda cool,” which was the common response.

“What are you going to put there instead?” one neighbor asked.

“Uh, different bushes.”

“Not sure what that will look like.”

“Well it will look better than this, that’s for sure.”

“Nothings for sure.”

One person felt it was a bird habitat and they should stay put on those grounds alone.

“We have a lot of other trees for the birds,” I offered.

“Not the birds that like these trees,” they countered.

“They’re not trees! They’re bushes.”

“They look like trees.”

I stop asking people. After all it’s not up to them and if I lived here alone the bushes would have been toast a decade earlier. I change my tact and call a professional tree man.

“You’re gonna lose a lot of privacy.”

Rob agrees. “That’s what I think.”

“We can put in different bushes. Better bushes,” I say.

He clicks his tongue. “A normal yew has a huge root ball,” the tree man says. “I can only envision the size of these babies.” He shakes his head slowly which is code for money. The slower the shake the more it’s going to cost. “I never saw anything like them,” he says as he cranes his head back.

This much is clear. Removing them will not be easy and it certainly won’t be cheap and in the end it may not be much of an improvement. Sometimes the only way we can distinguish ourselves is by the one thing we have spent our whole lives trying to avoid. A lot of things in life are like that.