Open Water

Lakewood NY, Chautauqua Lake, Lake, Gazebo, Springtime, Open Water, Lakewood Beach

It happens every year.

This time I was away visiting my daughter in Kentucky, but I knew it was coming. The surface looked a little grayer each day and every time the wind blew you could feel it in the air. It was just a matter of time before it happened. On Friday Jim sent me a text message…

The ice is off the lake!

To someone who lives in a northern lakeside community, this is a big thing indeed! We all look forward to it with increasing excitement as time passes. The locals hold a contest to guess exactly what day it will happen. They even have a Facebook page to promote the event as a fundraiser for the local Lake Association. A well-known shop in one little town has a long list of painted numbers representing the exact date that it happened each year – some years more than once, when the weather was mild.

The lightness and hope that most of us feel is very real, almost palpable, as the news spreads. The sparkling water brings with it the promise of boat rides and sunsets, bare feet and great blue heron sightings, screen doors and dewy grass.

I remember the first time that I actually experienced the physical sensation of exhilaration that the open water gave me. I was about 16 or 17 and driving alone in my father’s car. The day was sunny and a little warmer, but it still had a sharp bite if you stood in the shade. I had the window down , and the wind was blowing my hair around, making it hard to concentrate.  When I came up over the hill on the main road that loops the lake the glare nearly blinded me. As I crested the rise and looked to my left I saw the sparkling waves. The energy that came from deep within me could be described as nothing less than freedom. Sweet summer release that was getting closer and closer. At that age it was less about the weather and more about daily life. It meant that the stress and worry of schoolwork and classes would soon be over and then the fun would begin!

Now it is more about longer days and not having to fight the snow and ice at every turn. No more worry about the forecast when making plans or thinking about loved ones who live alone and have to contend with the elements by themselves. Winter in this area is hard and the older we get the more difficult it seems to become. Thoughts of escaping to a warmer climate come more frequently as each season passes.

Soon we will all be complaining that “they” have returned. The ones who don’t belong here, the summer visitors. The roads will be busy with cars that have out-of-state license plates, and the traffic will be annoyingly slow. They will change the speed limit on the road that loops the lake and everyone will grumble that it takes too long to get from one place to another. Someone will proclaim that it is ‘too damned hot’. The long, cold winter will be forgotten to the demands of the busy tourist season.

This year as I look out my window at the little sliver of blue/gray water that is visible from my morning “spot” up here on the hill I am going to try to savor this hopeful feeling without the distraction of the bothersome things that springtime brings….the changeable temperatures that make it hard to know what to wear, the unexpected cold rain storms that come up quickly and take us by surprise when we left our jackets at home, the mud and the loose gravel and the black flies….the relief that we feel as we welcome the release from winter’s grip does not last long.

Before you know it we will be looking at the falling leaves, so for now I am going to think of this with sweet anticipation. Summers up here on the hill sure are spectacular…even if they are too short!

Summertime, relaxing, feet, coffee, cup, Squirrel Hill, lawn, hill, Chautauqua Lake

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Reblog – Veteran’s Day

The following is a post that was originally published in 2012.

With great love and In Memory of Grandpa Ray:

Grandpa, Veteran, poppy

When my oldest daughter was about 3 or 4 years old,  we were at the grocery store one day and there was a man selling poppies for Veteran’s Day.  Of course she loved the bright red bloom and wanted one, so I bought it.

When we got into the car she asked “Mama, why was that man selling flowers”, so I explained that he was a Veteran and he was selling the poppies for Veteran’s day. This was of course followed by another question: “What is a veteran?”  I explained to her that a Veteran was someone who served our country, a soldier. I told her that her Grandpas were both Veterans, and in fact, her Grandpa Ray was in World War II. I told her that we were thankful to all of these soldiers who served their country and protected us and that we should be proud that we had Veteran’s in our own family.  We continued our conversation about Veterans and soldiers and wars for a bit, but moved on to other things.

The very next day we visited Grandpa Ray at his house and my daughter immediately asked him about being a soldier.  I was afraid that this might be a subject that my father-in-law, who was a Marine and had seen active duty in the war, might not want to discuss with a three-year old child.  Ray has always been the “happy man” of the family, our children’s delightful, cheerful mentor and subjects that are unpleasant are usually met with a change of subject from him.

This was not the case at all though.  He took her into the other room and answered her questions and told her about some of his days as a soldier.  I don’t know what the conversation was, exactly, because they were out of earshot.  Ray has never talked much about his time in the service or what he experienced there.  The family respects his silence on the subject and does not ask for many details.  Grandpa and oldest grandchild talked for a bit and then joined Grandma and me in the kitchen for cookies or some other treat, as I recall.

The amazing thing to me is how that short conversation has stayed with her all these years.  She has remembered her Grandpa each Veteran’s day since then…first by making sure we always purchased a poppy and then, as she got older and moved to different cities by phone calls to wish him a Happy Veteran’s Day and thank him for his service. Each November 11 they have talked – without so much as a reminder from me. Birthdays and anniversaries have come and gone and sometimes I have had to send notes to say….”Don’t forget”, but no matter how far apart the two of them have been, they have never missed a single Veteran’s Day.

This year, Grandpa is unable to take her phone call.  He is recovering from a recent illness in a Rehab facility, and his speech isn’t what it once was.  She did remember, though,  and sent him a lovely bouquet of flowers – red, white and blue, thanking him once again for his service. They were delivered on Saturday, because this year the holiday falls on a Sunday and the florist does not deliver.   He smiled with pride when he got them, and I know he was remembering that conversation that the two of them had all those years ago. It made me proud to be his Daughter-in-Law and also proud to be her Mother.

Thank you to Ray and all of the other Veteran’s out there who have served us in so many ways.  We are proud of all of you!

Flashback Friday – 10cc “Hotel”

So many of my life’s memories revolve around music.  Specific songs take me back to places and times in my past that will be with me forever.

Chautauqua Institution 1976. Hanging out in the winter time at the home of friends. Doing nothing, avoiding any responsibility, just being a teenager. Why is it that hours upon hours of total inactivity bring back such strong memories?

We were the “cool kids” – the ones that parents probably didn’t want their children to hang around with.  I was on the fringe…afraid to be too bad, but enjoying the feeling of rebellion.

Levi’s, work boots, leather wristbands. Long hair parted in the middle (on both the girls and the boys)  A pack of Newports in my coat pocket that I would hide before I got back home.

That was the winter that I discovered 10cc.  I loved this song – I don’t really know why.  I still have the album. I think I memorized every word to every song. In order.

Ah, youth.

Long Distance Grandparenting

Nearly every Monday morning at about 5am, I wake to the sound of my cell phone vibrating on my nightstand. I don’t really mind this early interruption to my slumber. My weekly “Morning, GaGa!” photo makes me smile every time. Sometimes, if I am really lucky, I even get a video!

If you know me, or have read some of my other posts, you know that our only granddaughter lives very far away. This makes it quite challenging for us to see her (or her Mama and Daddy) with any regularity. I will say that we are well acquainted, though, thanks to the use of technology. We Skype at least once a week and my phone is full of photos (nearly 2,000!) and videos of their daily activities.

I love the fact that we can experience their daily life from afar, and I feel that Fee knows us pretty well, something that would not have been possible twenty years ago, when our children were small. She takes our weekly visits in stride, greeting me enthusiastically when the screen pops up with a “Hi GaGa” and a smile, or hiding away in the corner under a blanket fort while I ask “Where is Fee?” She is a smart one, that one. When I ask her if she could give me a kiss or hug she replies, “I can’t – there is glass there!” referring to the computer screen that is between us. He first question is always “Where has Poppa gone?” and when he is here he will sneak up and surprise her, receiving a squeal and a giggle when she sees his face appear behind me.

This is not to say that it is easy. I long to hold her on my lap and tell her a story, or to tuck her in to bed at night and kiss her forehead. When I am out and about and see other grandparents doing things with their grandchildren I feel a pang of envy. I am sure they see me staring, and probably wonder what kind of a creepy individual I am.

When our children all began to move away their lack of proximity was tough at times, but it was manageable.  They have all been able to come home quite often, and we text each other almost daily. It has been exciting to visit each of them and get to know the cities that they now live in. It wasn’t until Fee was born that we truly realized how difficult the distance would be.

Our girls were very lucky.  Both sets of grandparents lived close by. They were always available for birthdays and Sunday dinners. They babysat whenever we needed them to, and even watched them for the day when they were sick so that we could both get to work. My mother-in-law loved those days. She would settle them into her own bed and serve them toast and chicken soup. Our parents were close to the girls and very involved in their lives.

When two our daughters came home a few weeks ago they paid a visit to their paternal grandmother. She took them upstairs to the apartment that she had lived in with their grandfather when they were both little girls. It was wonderful to hear them reminiscing about the times that they had spent there as children. Listening to them recalling these special memories made me think about my own impact on my grandchildren and what their memories will be.

In less than a month Jim and I will be grandparents to two little girls.  These last few weeks are almost as hard for me as they are for their parents.  I wish that I could drop by and give my daughter a break from chasing a two-year-old around so that she can rest. I want to be there to see our new granddaughter soon after she makes her appearance in the world. I wish I could see the expression on Fee’s face when she meets her new baby sister, and be available to reassure her of her place in the world when she feels displaced and out of sorts because she is no longer the center of the universe.

After Christmas we will take another trip to see them in their own home. It will be a long plane ride that I wouldn’t even consider again if it weren’t for the prize at the end of the journey. When we get there I will have to load up on enough kisses and cuddles to last me until the next time we visit. It will be hard to leave not knowing exactly when that visit will be.

In the meantime we will rely on technology to keep us familiar. I think I may have to upgrade the memory on my phone!

Granddaughter, little girl, toddler, hello, greeting, sundress
“Morning, GaGa!”

Flashback Friday – The Carpenters “Superstar”

So many of my life’s memories revolve around music.  Specific songs take me back to places and times in my past that will be with me forever.

I think we were in 5th grade – maybe 6th. That would make it around 1971 or 1972.

I loved visiting my friend Jan’s house. She had a RECORD PLAYER! We sat in her room for hours listening to 45’s on the small portable…changing the little yellow disks each time we put on a new tune. I remember the Carpenter’s singing this song over and over.  It was a love song – what did we know about love? We were eleven!

Her brothers would bother us occasionally, which would result in a loud complaint to her Mom, and protests of denial from the younger sibs. We would slam the door and return to our music. What else did we listen to? Probably Donny Osmond or Bobby Sherman, but I remember the Carpenters the most vividly. I think I still know the lyrics to every song.

Their household was so different from ours. Her family moved to the area from an exotic, faraway place – Eastern Pennsylvania! They knew about things I had never heard about before like the Pennsylvania Dutch. I remember singing the song “Shenandoah” in the kitchen with (or maybe for) her Mom. Her Mom talked to us like we were adults and had certain expectations of how we should act and behave. She was astounded that I didn’t like peanut butter. Her Dad was an executive. He wore a suit to work. He also wore sweaters, like the Dad’s on TV.

We played cribbage in their family room and skated in their basement. There was a button underneath their dining room table that rang a bell in the kitchen. I believe it was put there to call the maid. I don’t think they had a maid. It was cool, though.

Sometimes at school we would switch lunches. Jan would bring me lebanon bologna sandwiches on white bread with cream cheese. I had a “Holly Hobbie” lunchbox. I don’t remember what my Mom would make for her. I am sure it was boring in comparison.

Every time I hear the Carpenters I think of Jan. I am so glad that we found each other again a few years ago via Facebook. We met for dinner a few summers ago and reminisced about all of these things and more. I learned about her family and told her about mine. We actually have a lot of things in common and she is a wonderful, supportive force in my life.  It is nice that we can still find that easy, comfortable rapport.

I went back to the house (where her Mom still lives) to visit with a group of classmates and plan a reunion last winter. We looked for the bell in the dining room, but we couldn’t find it. No matter…they still don’t have a maid.

Yellow record disk, record insert, triskelion, 45RPM, 45's

Anything but orthotics

So it’s come to this.

It started with a trip to my chiropractor this past July.  I have an ongoing problem with chronic pain – centered mostly in my hip area. I have tried dozens of things over the past ten to fifteen years to find relief and so far nothing has worked.  My yoga instructor recommended the perfect chiro, so I paid him a visit.

After a few weeks of tugging and pulling and cracking he asked to look at my shoes. After examining the soles of my trusty Birkenstocks he told me that I tend to “Underpronate”. He then advised me to go home and Google search the problem to find a pair of appropriate shoes.

Initially it sounded like a great idea.  I LOVE shoes! Who wouldn’t want an excuse to buy a new pair? Although my Birks are my go-to summer footwear choice, I have been known to have a bit of a penchant for pretty, pointy pumps. Just thinking about the beautiful snake-skin heels that I have in my closet (which I can no longer wear because of my problem), I smile with affection. As a matter of fact, at my past place of employment my nickname was “Shoes”. My motto is “any outfit is good, as long as you wear it with great shoes”.  Shoe shopping is my favorite. Pants may tug and blouses might not button correctly, but you can always find nice shoes. Macy’s shoe department is my nirvana!

Black Snakeskin Pumps, shoes, high heels, pumps
**Click image for photo credit

Actually, I was a bit concerned about what I might find when I looked on the internet, and my fears were justified.  It seems that the only shoes I located were running shoes. Here’s the thing – since I stopped running 10 years ago (as a result of said hip problem) I don’t DO running shoes.  I simply cannot bring myself to lace up a pair of sneakers to wear as a form of regular footwear.  They don’t feel right to me unless I am wearing  running shorts or yoga pants.

What to do?  My only option seemed to be to visit a “real” shoe store.  You know, the kind with salespeople who actually touch your feet? They sit on these weird little benches with an angled ramp in front.  They untie and tie your shoes like you were a three-year old and look up at you with smiling faces as they squeeze your toes to make sure you have enough room.

Just entering the store was intimidating.  The clerk who greeted me looked down at the Steve Madden flats that I was wearing with a sad smile. He was definitely judging me. When he asked if he could help me I mumbled something about my feet/hips and my chiro. He immediately jumped into action, leading me by the elbow to a computerized machine that had the outlines of two feet on the floor and a video screen at eye-level. As I stepped into place, the screen flashed a colored image with mostly RED pixels representing the pressure points on the bottom of my feet. “Oh, this is very bad!”, he exclaimed, reaching for a pair of inserts from a shelf on the wall.  “Here try these”, he said as he put them on the floor inside the diagrams.  I stepped into them and the angry red dots suddenly turned a soothing yellow/green. “Isn’t that better?” he inquired.

I had to agree that it did feel nice. As I nodded my affirmation he expertly directed me to a seat on the other side of the store and disappeared behind a curtain into the stock room. After a few minutes he returned with a box and pulled out the UGLIEST pair of Mary Jane flats that I have ever seen. They had very round toes and velcro straps that were about 3/4 of an inch wide. Swallowing my instant disgust, I decided to play along.  He slipped the inserts into the shoes and gently slid my foot inside, asking me to walk around and try them out.  “Well, how do they feel?”, he asked.

Orthopedic Mary Janes, black shoes, corrective shoes
** Click image for photo credit

My toes were sliding around at the top of the shoe, so I told him that I thought they felt loose. “That is because you have been crushing them for so long”, he admonished. “They need space!” I decided that honesty was the best track at this point, so I let him know that I would probably never wear this type of footwear and asked if he had something more enclosed, like a loafer. He sighed heavily and went back to the stock room, only to return with a pair of oxford-type shoes that buckled over the instep.  He removed the insert from the first pair and placed it inside the newer ones.  While they did look a bit better, they were still not anything that I could see myself wearing.

Realizing that I was fighting a losing battle I asked him if he had anything more stylish. This time he huffed off and returned with a pair of pumps that looked to be about the only thing in the store that I might possibly consider.  I put them on and walked a few feet.  They slipped off the backs of my heels – obviously too loose.

The salesperson looked at me expectantly.  When I told him they didn’t fit he sighed so loudly that I was sure they could hear him at the register in the front of the store.  “I am sorry, ma’am.  I don’t believe we have anything here for you.”, he said as he started to move away towards a woman a few rows down.

Utterly defeated, I left the store and returned to my car. I then drove a half mile up the street to the nearest department store, where I proceeded to try on every pair of black loafers that they had in stock, finally settling on a pair that had decent arch support.

I do understand that these shoes will not solve my problem.  I also understand that my vanity will continue to contribute to my pain.  It’s just that I am not quite ready to let go of the hope that I will one day wear pretty, stylish footwear again.

Running shoes do come in some nice colors, don’t they??

Brooks Ghost 7, Running Shoes, Sneakers, Gym shoes
**Click image for photo credit

 

 

Reflections from my bathroom mirror

Mirror, Bathroom, reflection,Most writers know the feeling. That perfect opening sentence, the great statement, the brilliant vision that gets us fired up to sit right down at a keyboard and record it, before it vanishes.

Unfortunately, for me these bursts of creativity usually occur when I am in the shower, dripping with shampoo.  I don’t know what it is exactly that makes me so witty and well spoken when I am naked and covered in suds, but it happens all the time. It is probably the fact that I am not able to multi-task while bathing, so my thoughts are able to take a straight line, not distracted by the lists and bills and post-its that cover my desk.

Often the spark stays with me long enough that I can polish my stories in my head as I continue my morning routine in front of the bathroom mirror. Oh, those wonderful, eloquent blog posts and articles that I concoct there….sometimes I even tap a line or two into the notes app on my Iphone, or dictate them to Siri while I apply my make-up with the other hand, sure that I will be able to continue later in the day when I am in front of my computer.

The problem is, as the day progresses and I continue on, my genius – as well as my motivation – starts to fade. That perfect story or blog post becomes a bit watered down and fuzzy. The amazing first line falls flat and I am left with just that one sentence. By the time I actually feel  my fingers on the keyboard, the process stalls, the words stop flowing, and I am left with a title or the aforementioned sentence, but nothing more.

It is always interesting to revisit the dated flickers of creativity of my past. The list of possible posts in my phone or the unfinished drafts in my dashboard prove to be an amusing diary of my life.  Sometimes I actually start them up again and come up with something useful. More often I wonder if I should just delete them all and start over.

As I sit here dripping with my hair wrapped in a towel I am simply thankful for the list of topics that my morning shower has cultivated. There is one thing that I do know for sure; if I ever decide to write the ‘Great American Novel’ I really need to stock up on body wash.

I am curious to know how or (even more importantly) where other writers find their inspiration. I would love to hear your stories – please let me know in the comments section!