If These Shoes Could Talk

I click on the closet light and yank a sweater off the shelf to pull it over my head. That makes three layers. I lean down to slide my hand along the chilly wood floor, pushing aside wool skirts and cordoroy slacks as I search for my fuzzy slippers. No luck. I do find a colony of dust bunnies and a pair of sandals, however. The shoes must have accidentally been left behind in the Columbus Day transition.

Our Seaplane Adventure - That cute flip-flop and his twin followed us everywhere

Our Seaplane Adventure – That cute flip-flop and his twin followed us everywhere

I glance down at the girly-girl heels in my hands. I miss summer. I bet they do, too. If my sandals could talk, what would they say about our years together? I sit on my bed, hugging them close as ideas float through my head.

We biked through Old Town, Key West and sunned ourselves at South Beach. The sand was quite hot!

We treated ourselves to pedicures. Our favorite color was Powerful Pink, a stunning combination with my metallic blue leather, if I do say so myself.

We attended a July wedding and my comfy soles allowed you to keep up with your Dad and son on the dance floor.

We explored Jefferson Fort at Dry Tortugas National Park and climbed to the top for a breathtaking view of the Atlantic. You appreciated my sturdy heels.

One of many incredible views at Fort Jefferson

One of many incredible views at Fort Jefferson

We splashed through rain puddles (and we didn’t complain) while you played at Universal Islands of Adventure with the family.

We lounged in the backyard with girl friends and you drank strawberry margaritas and listened to island music. Thank you for being careful and not spilling sticky drinks on me.

The margarita reference reminds me of the task I still have to finish, the one I was in the middle of when I became too cold in my den to concentrate. I shake my head and laugh. Yes, I’m caught, guilty as charged–Number One Procrastinator. I have a post to write, and here I am, reminiscing about summer with inanimate objects. I shiver under my three layers of tops. Darn, it’s cold in here. Maybe I’ll grab a blanket out of the linen closet on my way downstairs, make a cup of hot chocolate, and sit by the fireplace while I brainstorm more ideas.

I set my pretty blue flowered sandals on the tippy-top closet shelf. That way they won’t have to fight off the dust bunnies while they wait for summer to return.

If an item of yours could talk, what would it say?

Where Are You From?

A few days ago, I came across a beautifully written article by blogger extraordinaire, Jenny Hansen, and I had to give it a try myself. Turns out, she discovered this nostalgic writing exercise after reading “Where I’m From” by Sharla Lovelace, which includes a template. Apparently, that template has been bouncing around the internet for a decade or more. Perhaps it’s so popular because you don’t have to be a professional writer to try it, not even close. The next time you’re trying to figure out what to give a parent (or your child) who already has everything, or doesn’t need another whatchamacallit, perhaps consider writing your story and gifting it to them. Just a thought.

With that said, here’s a little bit of me.

Where I’m From

I’m from wollastonite, Big Wheels, Tinker Toys, and a backyard sandbox. From a sunny kitchen where my mom lined up Velveeta and mustard sandwiches and Kool-Aid for us kids to grab before running outside to play some more.

I’m from a white clapboard house perched at the edge of a hay field, a second-story Holly Hobbie-themed bedroom with white, flowing curtains, and a paneled den large enough for a family of seven. From a kitchen with daily homemade meals, a fridge with a pitcher of unsweetened iced tea, and the occasional rhubarb pie.

I am from evergreens, Lady Slippers, pussy willows, and hummingbirds, oak trees, pink clover, and dairy cows. From a mining town with a K-12 central school and graduating class of forty, one grocery store, one blinking light, and a river that we’d skate come winter.

I’m from Sunday summer picnics with grandma’s potato salad and grandpa’s sons–large, tobacco-chewing men grilling hot dogs and burgers. From a backyard where we played horseshoes, croquet, and H-O-R-S-E until it was too dark to do more than roast marshmellows around a cinder block fireplace.

Adirondack Evergreens

I’m from a no-nonsense, hardworking father and graceful, classy mother and too many aunts, uncles, and cousins to count. I am from the frugal and independent, the pinocle players, the shift workers, and the practical jokers. From “If you make a mess, clean it up” and “You can be anything you want to be if you work hard enough.”

I’m from a Catholic home, from where we love others as God has loved us, turn the other cheek, and believe the meek shall inherit the earth.

I’m from where the Adirondack foothills meet the crystal blue waters of Lake Champlain, a home with veggies grown in the backyard and canned in the kitchen, laundry drying in the breeze, and Sunday breakfasts of fried eggs and bacon.

I am from shelves of photo albums next to the stairs, to be pulled out and pored over whenever we visit my childhood home. From boxes of art and school work in the attic, to skis and boots in the cellar. Never touched, but there just the same.

A Few More Thoughts

This exercise stirs up a myriad of memories as you write. I’ve worked on this piece for a few days, but I continue to remember more–and I want to include it all. Next weekend my family will travel upstate to my childhood home, and I imagine that will inspire me further. Writing, like life, is very often a work in progress.

My mind is on my mother this week, even more than usual. She would have been seventy-five this year. I love and miss you, Mom, but here’s a little gift to you, to let you know I meant it when I said I’d love you for always.

And to my readers, here’s your gift. My husband made up this little summer concoction early in the season and I adore it. As Nicole Basaraba  pointed out to me recently, every cocktail needs a good name. Let me know if you like it! Here it is…

Pink Flamingo Cocktail

Fill a 15 oz. cocktail glass with ice, pour in a shot-and-a-half of your favorite Scotch (I prefer single malt), add pink lemonade, stir, and top with a lemon. Enjoy!

Where are you from? Did this exercise stir any memories for you? What summer drink did you savor?

Bikes and Bubbles Encore

Happy Margarita Moment, all! This week I’m traveling with extended family in celebration of my in-laws’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. Please enjoy this reader favorite I originally posted last summer. I look forward to sharing the sights of Bermuda with you next week. Until then, cheers!

Do you ever find yourself blowing bubbles alone, skipping rope just for fun, or dunking a cookie in milk without counting calories?

Simple pleasures like these can bring you back to a time before you worried about laundry, bills, and work deadlines, when summers lasted a year and Halloween was near the top of your favorite holidays’ list.

As a kid growing up in New York’s rural Adirondacks, my bike was everything. First my Big Wheels, and later, my beloved ten-speed racing bike. I was excited to be independent, breezing along field-lined roads as my skinny legs pedaled to and from my friends’ houses.

Like many childhood toys, I left my bike behind upon entering college. By the time I pulled it out of the backyard shed, the bike was rusted and in need of new tires. Being an impatient twenty-something, I figured I’d buy a new one after my move. The NYC metro-area provided many wonderful opportunities for my husband and me, but traffic and the growing demands of family life convinced this transplanted country girl to switch over to a more conventional vehicle–the minivan.

Beautiful Southernmost Beach

Fast-forward twenty years, and my husband and I are on vacation in Key West, Florida. What’s the suggested mode of transportation?  Bicycles, of course. Called beach or island cruisers, these bikes are equipped with baskets in front, perfect for carrying a beach bag or souvenirs, like items from the KW Jewelry Bar. They can be ridden at night, too, with strobe lights attached to the wheels’ spokes instead of handlebars. (More on that to come!)

My eyes light up as I gaze at the bike, thinking, I’d miss you even if we’d never met. (Movie Quote Alert…answer below.) In spite of niggling doubts about having enough energy to traverse this five square-mile island, I agree to rent one.

We bike to Smathers and Fort Zachary Taylor beaches, bask in the sun like lizards and float on the warm Atlantic waters.

Later, we sightsee. In the evenings, I scoop up my flowing skirt to tuck around me as we take a leisurely ride side-by-side to Michael’s or another of our favorite haunts for a romantic dinner, followed by sunset cocktails at Mallory Square.

On our more adventurous nights, we lock up our bikes on Duval Street, and begin an impromptu Duval Crawl. Hours later, we return to our bikes (Sometimes the toughest part is remembering where the bikes are located!), and take the exhilarating two-wheeled trip back to our B & B. We whizz past quiet, side-street houses in the darkness–with nothing but mesmerizing strobe lights guiding our fuzzy brains. Whee!

I learned it’s never too late to enjoy simple pleasures like the ones I loved as a kid. Key West is my favorite getaway, and the fun we have riding our rented bikes everywhere is definitely a big part of the draw for me, being a kid at heart.

What childhood toy or activity have you left behind that you’d like to revisit, or maybe adapt to your life as an adult?

Movie Quote Answer: Wedding Date, 2005 (Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney, Amy Adams, Peter Egan) Debra Messing’s character, Kat, complains that Dermot Mulroney’s character, Nick, knows everything about her and she doesn’t know a thing about him. He responds, “I’m allergic to fabric softener. I majored in comparative literature at Brown. I hate anchovies. And I think I’d miss you even if we never met.”

Scrap Your Memories & Blogiversary Giveaways

A sampling of my scrapbook collection

Long before I began writing seriously, I kept journals–reams of pages filled with daily entries, jots, sketches, and reflections. Then, I began scrapbooking in the mid nineties to record my family life and move my photos from boxes to books. This hobby gave my creativity an outlet my day job previously had but no longer did.

 

I love this book! Great ideas for the novice scrapper.

As with most things in life, there were negatives to my new obsession. Every material and specialty tool cost money, which added up. Between the price of the photos, books, filler pages, and specialty materials such as stickers, pens, scissors and other tools–not to mention my labor–one project could easily top fifty bucks.

Homemade Scrapbook Page

Then, there was the mess. I didn’t have a designated space for my hobby and ended up filling my closet and kitchen cabinets with the supplies.

Scrapping is painstaking, yet rewarding.

 

Durability was my greatest concern. Others were eager to look at the photo albums, but I was forever worrying about torn and soiled pages. That bothered me, because the reason I’d started scrapping was to make our family photos accessible. These albums help develop my son’s language and social connections, too, areas of concern for a child with autism.

Disney books are magical to create.

The solution to my dilemma was the advent of digital scrapbooks. Not only is this form of scrapbooking quicker and more professional-looking than my best handmade efforts, but all the work is online instead of all over my house. It’s also easy to make duplicate books. The price of both kinds of scrapbooks is comparable, unless you splurge by creating an album like the Disney one I made two years ago.

My photo albums are more like picture books.

Photo sites such as Shutterfly and Snapfish are user-friendly and provide many options to create the book you imagine. They take up a fraction of the space at 1/2″ thick whereas the handmade scrapbooks are 2″-3″ thick. You can share digital albums online, so there’s no need to purchase every album you create.

With each successive album, I used fewer photos and more journaling until the photos supported the text rather than the other way around. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised I took that next step in creativity–painting pictures with words as a novelist. 

What’s your creative outlet? Do you scrapbook, journal, or research geneology online?

 

Can You Go Home Again?

Expressways and bridges lead to the Northway, followed by narrow winding roads. A lone blinking street light in the country hamlet just south of our destination signals memories of my grandparents, town Fourth of July celebrations, and trick-or-treating.

Fields Leading to Lake Champlain

Every mile between town and my home is as comfortable as a favorite pair of slippers–having walked and biked that path countless times. I take in the Lake Champlain waters, stone walls lining open fields, and my family’s church.

Home again.

Mom’s Plants

I step into the house where my parents raised five children, where they lived, loved, and laughed together until she was taken from us far too soon. Although it’s been over a decade since she’s graced this house in human form, it’s filled with her spirit. Every room in the house reminds me of her, and I’m enveloped in warmth. I miss her so much, but when I’m in this house, it’s almost as if she never left.

Hide and Seek, anyone?

Of course, my childhood home holds a myriad of other memories. My little brother and I used to play inside the living room closet and Mom would warn us about pinched fingers. We’d peek around the stairway corner to spy on adults on Christmas Eve. And how I loved to sit on those stairs, my skinny legs over the edge as I read book after book.

An unlikely reading spot

I’m glad we traveled north this weekend. Sometimes I need to go back in order to move forward again. I love my Long Island home, with its ocean waters, vineyards, and NYC all within a short distance, but I will forever have a soft spot for the Adirondack Mountains, with its evergreens, birch trees, and rugged hillsides. Like my wise brother-in-law has been known to say, “You can take the girl out of the country, but not the country out of the girl.”

Fireworks

The grass tickling my bare feet, I sat cross-legged with eight or so cousins on my grandparents’ sprawling front lawn. We gazed at the country road, the summer sun warming our backs while we watched the seemingly endless parade of marching bands, vintage cars sounding the occasional AWOOGAH, shiny fire engines causing the heart to race, and homemade floats sponsored by the 4-H, scouting troops, and local churches–their occupants happy to return our waves or throw some candy into our tiny, eager hands.

To our left stood the men in the family, drinking beer and grilling as they shared family anecdotes and complaints about work at the town mine, a thick ribbon of smoke rising from the fireplace between them into a powder-blue sky. Behind us sat the matriarchs, perched on the large, white farmhouse’s porch overlooking their chicks. Secure as only a small child surrounded by loving relatives can feel, I savored my hot dog and creamy potato salad as I balanced the flimsy paper plate on my skinny legs.

After lunch, we kids played Mother May I? and Freeze Tag, fawned over the newest batch of kittens under the porch, and challenged each other to watermelon seed spitting contests. Tired of entertaining ourselves, we commandeered a grown-up to walk downhill with us toward the lakefront where small amusement rides, concession stands, and game tents transformed our simple Main Street into a child-friendly street fair.

As the sun set, we returned uphill to our grandparents’ house. Our pockets were now empty of quarters, our hands full of trinkets and fuzzy stuffed animals, and our tummies satisfied by cotton candy and ice cream. There we burned off our energy, racing each other as we chased lightning bugs with mason jars borrowed from Grandpa. I was lucky, catching four fireflies for a close-up look before I set them free, fascinated as they flickered their way back into the inky darkness.

With two of my cousins, I peeked through the glowing kitchen window. Reassured by the vision of women washing dishes and wrapping leftovers from the day, I listened as they chatted and laughed among themselves. Trying to catch hints of family gossip, my cousins and I giggled until we were shooed away with a smile. Through another window, this time one on the porch, we spied the men seated around the family room’s expansive oak table playing pinocle as usual. Their bulky frames huddled over their cards while they talked and contemplated their next moves.

Eventually, we joined the rest of the kids to flop onto the porch’s assorted chairs and reflect on the holiday’s events in hushed voices. Soon, my mind drifted from the conversation. Closing my eyes, I inhaled the pungent scent of geraniums that hung in large baskets around us, listened to lonely crickets chirping for mates, and sank further into my favorite pillowy chair.

Alerted by the screeching screen door, excitement built among us as the adults spilled onto the porch, urging us to join them

on the Adirondack chairs arranged in a semi-circle on the velvet grass. We eagerly climbed onto a parent’s warm lap. Before I knew it, fireworks filled the sky in all their red, white, and blue glory. I snuggled close to my mother, my head tipped back on her shoulder to watch the show while her arms sheltered me from my fear of the deafening noise.

My grandparents and mother are no longer with me, my cousins and I live far apart, and that large, white farmhouse on the hill has a new resident–unrelated to our family. But in my mind, I can revisit those idyllic moments any time I choose. Sometimes I hold them close to my heart, content with nostalgia. At times like today, I share them with loved ones and friends.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear about your cherished Independence Day memory, or perhaps a tradition in your family that makes this holiday extra-special for you.

May we also remember those who strive to keep America, “The land of the free and home of the brave.”

Route 1 to Paradise!

Early in our marriage, my husband and I made our daily commute on Route #1, or Boston Post Road as it’s called in Westchester, New York. I had no idea this busy road, should we have chosen to follow it south, led to a place that, years later, would become our favorite getaway destination.

Key West, a small island with nicknames such as Bone Island and Conch Republic, is located at the southwestern tip of US Highway Route 1, one hundred twenty-seven scenic miles and 43 bridges from the Florida mainland.

After many happy years of marriage, we welcomed the arrival of our second child. We were thrilled, but overwhelmed! The baby we had waited for so long and love so dearly was born with special needs. We dug in our heels, advocating tirelessly for him to become his personal best. Unfortunately, with our focus on our son, something had to give. That something was us.

A wise friend advised, “The best gift a parent can give their child is a great marriage.” Now, if a typical couple’s divorce rate is about 5o%, adding in my husband’s line of work and our new family situation, the odds were stacked against us. (I realize it’s not always possible to make a marriage work; all we can do is try our best.)

Sharing my concerns with family, I was grateful when my kind mother-in-law offered to babysit. We hadn’t been on a couple’s vacation in a decade,  but we knew what we craved–tropical weather, hammocks, water sports, romantic walks on the beach, fresh seafood, and fine spirits. With a little research and a lot of faith, we took a chance on Key West.

Landing at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood airport one summer morning, we rent a sexy Mustang convertible and are on our way. You know, like in the movies. Well, those movies lie, people. By the time we reach Key Largo in the upper keys (an hour into our drive), I notice my husband’s forehead is fire-engine red and his shirt’s dripping wet. Laughing, we give in, putting up the top before one of us collapses from heat exhaustion.

View from Overseas Highway

Aside from the rental car, our first getaway is memorable in a good way. Overseas Highway locations are found according to mile markers (MM) and whether an establishment is bayside or oceanside. We stop at MM102 to eat lunch at the Fish House, a casual restaurant that features, you guessed it, fish. But these aren’t ordinary fish. They are bought directly off boats, not through distributors. Now, that’s fresh! I become an instant fan of yellowtail snapper.

Back on the road, we cross the famous Seven-Mile Bridge toward paradise. The layers of worry and responsibilities unravel as we listen to the rhythmic steel drums of Caribbean music. Sparkling, turquoise waters beckon on either side of our vehicle, while fishing and sail boats dot the horizon. We even glimpse wildlife at Deer Key when a small, four-legged inhabit skitters along our path, safe behind its nature preserve fencing. At that point we remember, “Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.” (Hitch, 2005)

Reaching Old Town, Key West, we check into our B&B, welcomed by friendly faces and refreshing drinks. It’s only fitting:  Happy Hour has begun.

Do you have a special place where you can escape the ordinary?

KW Butterfly Conservatory–CLICK photo for Website                                   

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