Honoring Those Who Served

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Today we remember.  We remember those who have sacrificed, those who took risks, those who went to war for us who remained at home.  We owe the men and women who have served in our country’s military forces a debt of gratitude, a debt that we have not always paid.  Today we attempt repay those who were brave enough to fight for our freedoms.  Today is Veteran’s Day.

This year Veteran’s Day started early.  The local library had an exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of our nation’s involvement in Vietnam.  The library has a history room and a glass showcase where historical displays on a variety of local topics are displayed: Connecticut’s involvement in the Civil War, Lincoln, and the Farmington Canal.  Occasionally the exhibit continues in the history room itself.  The exhibit on the Vietnam War attracted more visitors during my weekday morning shift than any of the others.  Most of the visitors were silent, a few wanted more information, all were reverent.

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The Vietnam Veteran’s exhibit was different in that it was not put together by members of the local historical society.  Instead it was the work of the local Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) Post.  The exhibit included firsthand accounts of each vet’s experiences, uniforms, dog tags, even rocks collected by a vet who was a Seabee.  A map of Vietnam and the surrounding area showed the position of each vet’s service.  Around the history room were mounted display boards on different aspects of service in Vietnam.  The topics ranged from Tet to the Vietnamese people to gun trucks.  There was even one on encountering a tiger.

Some of the boards were painful.  The one I had the hardest time reading, the one many people skipped, was the one on the treatment of the veterans upon their return to the United States.  This is a part of the Vietnam War that many of us would like to forget.  And yet reading that board brought back memories of those young men who went to serve from the small southern California town where I lived most of the war.  Some were volunteers, joining the Marines or following their fathers into the Navy or Air Force (both of which had bases in the area).  Others were drafted.  But they were all treated the same upon their return.  Their families welcomed them quietly; they kept their service to themselves, lest strangers mock and vilify them.  For some of us, protest against the war, against the draft, turned into protest against those who served.  So we failed to thank those who went to war because we did not support the war.  As a society, we failed these vets.

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Today was originally a holiday to remember the war to end all wars.  Now we remember all of our veterans, the brave men and women who took up the torch of freedom when duty called.  Take a moment to read the poem, “In Flanders Fields”  (http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/flanders.htm)  and remember all those who lie in foreign lands or in cemeteries here.  Celebrate the veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and the wars today in Iran and Afghanistan.  And if you have never done so, thank a Vietnam vet for his service to our country.

 

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The House Where I Finally Grew Up

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We sold our home in southern California this week.  And by coincidence, last week my youngest sister sold her house, the one my parents bought 48 years ago.  I never think about my childhood home.  I lived there for eight years; four of them spent plotting how to escape.  On the other hand, the house we just sold was the house where we lived for 21 years, the house where my three daughters planned their getaways,  the house where we celebrated 21 anniversaries, 3 sweet sixteen parties, three high school graduations, and three trips to deliver a freshman to college.  It was also my escape hatch: if I couldn’t stand living in Connecticut, I had a place to which I could return.  I could return to my lair, get another teaching job, and resume my old life.  So it was with great reluctance that I agreed to put the house on the market.

We were lucky.  We got an offer the first weekend it was listed.  When we took the grant deed to our local bank to be notarized, their stereo system was playing Miranda Lambert’s song, “The House That Built Me.”  “Do you hear what is playing?” I asked my husband.  He nodded.  “The manager likes Miranda Lambert,” the notary told us, but I was fighting back tears and wasn’t paying attention.  I know the song is about a childhood home, but this house that I was selling was the house that built me.

The street at the rainbow's end

The street at the rainbow’s end

This is the house where I grew up.  Admittedly I was already over thirty and the mother of three when I moved into the house, but in many ways, I was immature and naive.

In this house, I found my inner resilience when one of my daughters had a life threatening accident.  When my youngest fractured her skull in three places, I found I had true friends who would be there for me, the strength to sit by a child’s hospital bed, and absolute love for all three of my daughters.

In this house, I survived a natural disaster.  When the 1994 Northridge earthquake shook the house, we were stunned by the strength of the quake and the damage to the house.  But we were prepared.  We camped in our back yard until inspectors said the house was safe.  We had bar-b-ques in front of a neighbor’s house.  I managed the insurance adjustors, the contractors, and the massive paperwork from both.  I survived the reconstruction of the house, learning to make decisive decisions instead of depending on someone else to tell me what to do.

In this house, I learned to juggle motherhood and work.  After being a stay at home mother for almost ten years, I ran a small daycare from my home in order to help with the family finances.  Later I worked part-time for a local school district and a nearby university.  To put my daughters through college, I obtained a teaching credential and a full time job teaching middle school.  I learned that working mothers make sacrifices—there’s so little time for oneself and one’s children are the most important priority.

moving day

moving day

In this house, I made friends that I could always depend on for a laugh, a cup of coffee or a martini.  We went camping with other families.  We had neighborhood parties.  New Year’s Eve will never be the same.  I will make new friends but these will always have a place in my heart.

an empty house is not a home

an empty house is not a home

Selling the house was difficult for me.  I woke up in the middle of the night and mentally walked the street.  Here is the house where the husband sprayed his ranting naked pregnant wife with the garden hose.  Here is the house where the son was rebuilding a car engine in the garage and one day forgot to set the parking brake when he went inside to play video games.  Here is the house where the car landed, damaging the owner’s truck.  But three houses have sold since I left.  I no longer know everyone on the street.

We have moved on, but a part of my heart will always be on the street where I used to live, the street where I finally grew up.

Our new house All of the southern California photos were taken in December, January, or February.

Our new house
All of the southern California photos were taken in December, January, or February.

Posted in adventures, Aging, changes, community, everyday life, Family, houses, moving, transitions | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Through the eyes of a child: Scary Monsters

 

DSC_0147To a one and a half year old, the entire world is a frontier, perfect for exploration and discovery.  Yet at the same time, the world can be a scary place, filled with fantastic monsters and gruesome creatures.

My grandson is a perpetual explorer, searching for the new and the interesting.  Every day, he finds a new insect, sees a different bird, discovers a new path into the woods.  At first, all large birds were ducks, whether owls or penguins.  Now he notices even the smallest bird, points them out and says “bird.” He reserves the term “ducks” for water fowl.  He squats to observe beetles scurrying through the autumn leaves, nudges the tightly coiled wooly caterpillar, and pokes at scuttling spiders.  He carries around earth worms, putting them down where he can watch them, prodding them to squirm.  He laughs at the antics of squirrels.  Outdoors is a new and entertaining world.

DSC_0157Inside is still another realm—with locked cupboards, forgotten drawers and secret rooms.  The toilet is an interesting device and tearing up toilet paper is extremely satisfying.  The whirling clothes in the washing machine are amusing.   The dog crate makes a good hiding place (even if Dude is already in it).  Crawling under coffee tables is challenging.  There are so many places that can be roads for cars—windowsills, chairs, molding, tables.   Life is one adventure after another.

Yet on some adventures, one can encounter strange and frightening beasts.  At the beginning of the month, the girls next door helped me unpack my Halloween decorations.  We set out the bowl of glowing eyeballs, draped shrunken pirate heads over the family room fireplace, and put batteries in three Hallmark toys that sang when one pressed a button.  My grandson is familiar with this type of toys.  At Easter, I bought a duck that sang “If you’re hippity-hopity” to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it.”  It’s still out because my grandson liked it so much.  I expected him to enjoy the Halloween ones as well.  One was a tree trunk with two small owls that jumped up and down to the tune of “the Addam’s Family” theme song.  One was a cauldron of singing frogs.  One was a ghost that danced to “I Want Candy.”  The first two elicited peals of laughter.  My grandson wanted to press the buttons over and over again.  The last one made him back away from the whirling  specter and cry a soft fearful sound.  I turned to place the ghost on a shelf when I heard my grandson scream again—this scream was more piercing, more dire.  The younger girl had found a rubber mask in the box and had put it on.  She had gone from being the adored older playmate to being a gruesome death head.  The mask was a black hood and a gray face with sunken eyes and yellow teeth.  No one had ever worn the mask as part of a costume.  It had been a prop when I taught Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of Red Death” to reinforce the final scene when the mystery guest is seized and found to be nothing but an empty costume.  My grandson ran into my arms, screaming and sobbing.  The neighbor removed the mask and he calmed down but he wanted nothing to do with the empty mask.  I decided the plastic skulls for the front yard could wait until a day or two before Halloween. DSC_0142

But even more innocuous creatures can be scary.  My grandson goes to Circle Time at our town library every Tuesday morning.  The Tuesday before Halloween, the group finished early (more about that in another blog).  Gleeful, the children ran out of the story room and play with the toys.  My grandson went straight to the train table where he immediately commandeered a blue engine and a blue tank car.  He carried these around as he checked out the play kitchen and puppet theater area (which the boys seem to think is a nifty tunnel with an opening for spying on the other children, not the backstage to a theater).  Suddenly an adult size Pat the Bunny appeared.  (We had read the Pat the Bunny zoo book during circle time just minutes ago.)  My grandson, marching out of the kitchen area, stopped.  First his eyes grew big, then his breathing changed ever so slightly.  I squatted down behind him and put my arms around him.  I could feel his heart racing.  He was familiar with rabbits.  This was not a rabbit.  This was not a mom or dad or grandma.  This was a giant creature walking in the children’s section of the library.  He stared at the creature.  “See Pat the Bunny,” I whispered. “Should we go see if she has a tail?”  He nodded and took my hand.  We stay about four feet away and move to where we could see the bunny’s back.  “Oh, she has a giant tail.”  We observed the tail for a moment.  We watched the Bunny standing still.  Some of the girls get close and even touch the bunny but one little boy became hysterical.  “Let’s go to the train table,” I whispered and my grandson jetted off to the table, away from the bunny.  At home we read Pat the Bunny before nap.  My grandson nodded his head at the page with the bunny.  He touched the fur.  Then he closed the book and got Good Night Moon.  It had been a long morning.

DSC_0150I waited for Halloween before getting out my glowing skulls and pumpkin lights.  Rain was predicted that evening so I almost didn’t bother.  We are on a small cul de sac, and our house is a set back (flag lot) so consequently we get just a few Trick or Treaters.  But I knew the two families in front of us really enjoyed the decorations last year so I get them out.  My grandson found the skulls funny.  He laughed and patted them on the head.  The pumpkin lights elicited huge smiles and giggles.  When the first string of pumpkin lights turned out to be defective, he scolded me as I carted them away.  He is delighted to find there are more in the basement.  I open a second box of decorations in the garage to see if there was anything else I should put out.  When I pull my mechanical ghoul from the box, my grandson’s eyes grow large.  Then the creature turned on, turning green and saying in its eerie voice:  “Welcome my creatures of the night.”  My grandson squealed.   Quickly I turned the creature off and set it on top of the box.  We get out orange lights and drape them in the bushes.

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As we work, I am thinking about the ghoul.  Can I help him with this fear?  Last year his mother got the best photo of him sitting under that ghoul.  I take him inside to the family room and show him that photo.  “No,” he said adamantly and pushed my hand and the photo away.  I set it back on the shelf.  A minute later, he is standing on his tiptoes, looking at the photo.  “No,” he said again, shaking his head.  Back outside, he disappeared into the garage and I find him, looking at the ghoul.  He shook his head again.  I take the ghoul and set him on a stake outside.  A few feet away, my grandson watches.  At first he stayed four or five feet away.  Then he moved closer.  I turned the voice back on.  My grandson watched the ghoul glow, speak and go white.  Then he voluntarily moves closer and closer.  The ghoul speaks and he stops but does not retreat.  By the time dusk falls, my grandson stands in front of the ghoul and screams with laughter.  He poses in his Halloween costume in front of the ghoul.  We visit the ghoul the next day and it is the last thing I take down on Saturday.  Later that day, he goes into the garage to visit the ghoul.

The world is a scary place, even for grown-ups.  Sometimes we stick to the familiar because the new takes us out of our comfort zone.  We stick to routines because change can be disruptive.  We fear the unknown and this causes us stress.  We forget to be adventuresome because we are too busy working. Perhaps this is why we become parents and grandparents, good aunts and great uncles.  Watching our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews grow up, we remember what we already know.  When we remember the journeys we have already taken in life, we can conquer our own inner ghouls.

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Posted in everyday life, Family, lessons in life, life, Life in Connecticut, parenting | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiking with Friends

 DSC_0004Last Monday was the type of autumn day that lures people to New England.  The sun was bright; the trees were a riot of yellow, red and orange.  I met a group of friends to walk and talk.

On the surface, we are a disparate group.  One of us was born and raised in upstate New York but has lived in Connecticut for many years.  One was born in Massachusetts but grew up in California.  One was born in China.  Two are from South Korea but have lived in other countries before immigrating to the United States.  The things that distinguish us—language, culture, food—are more curiosities than barriers.  Our commonalities draw us together.

DSC_0057We walk slowly along the Farmington River and then around the pond at Fisher Meadows. We have much to say about our children, our past experiences, our current lives.  We talk about our elderly parents and our siblings.  We compare places that we have lived.  We talk about food and local restaurants.  I learn about the difficulty of cutting pork belly.  I am not sure where to buy it, however, and regret not asking.

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Another group of hikers warn us that a mother bear and three cubs had crossed the trail ahead of us.  We laugh and keep walking.  Three of us had bears in our yard this summer.  We discuss where to keep garbage cans in the summer and if bird feeders are a good idea.  We do not see the bear and her cubs, but we see a hawk, some migrating geese and a cormorant.  We find small wooly caterpillars scurrying across the trail.  We begin to assist them.  “Woolly bears” the New Yorker calls them.   She and I tell the others that the caterpillars are a sign that a cold winter is coming.  We laugh at the superstition, but our talk moves to snow blowers and leaf blowers, the length of driveways in our town and the amount of yard work the seasons bring.

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The walk is over too soon.  We will meet again—lunch, coffee, another hike.

As we get older, making friends is more difficult, a slow process.  George Washington said “True friendship is a plant of slow growth  . . .”   All friendships need attention and nurturing, but it’s hard to stay connected.  Even in the age of unlimited calling, Face Book and e-mails, connections can be hard to maintain.  Time differences, distance, obligations can keep us from reaching out.  I have never been good at friendship.  I want to be there for you, but physically reaching out and nurturing our seedling friendship is difficult for me, even when I live in the same town.  I am shy and hesitate to initiate contact.  I fear rejection.  I talk excessively when nervous so consequently I am a poor listener.  Crowds make me anxious.  I like solitude.

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But all humans need community, need friendship.  I transplanted myself to a new and rocky soil where I am gradually putting down new roots.  I cannot root myself in barren soil; I need to be in a forest, sheltered by others.

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Posted in adventures, Aging, community, everyday life, friends, Life in Connecticut, nature, New England, relationships, wildlife | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Happy to be . . .

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I am happy to be alive.  On a crisp autumn day, I revel in the falling leaves, giggle at the frantic squirrels; stop to watch a cardinal flit through some bushes; hold my breath when the deer bounds in front of my bike.  A soup bubbles in the crock pot; my conversational English lesson plan is ready; the dogs are napping.  Life is good.  A few days later, the sun doesn’t shine, but the rain falls softly.  I take two of the dogs for a run.  A raven flaps its wings as it glides over my head.  A squirrel uses the trees to cross my driveway.  Three deer stare curiously at me and the dogs as we pass them on the bike trail.  Later in the morning, the turkeys patrol my yard.  Tonight I will make mac n cheese.  I watch the leaves rain down into the yard and think of a line by Roger Miller:  “Some people walk in the rain . . . others just get wet.”  I love to walk in the rain.DSC_0009

This afternoon we had a severe weather advisory.  The morning began with dense fog and then we waited for thunderstorms, high winds and a cold front.  The Weather Channel warned that some urban flooding might occur because falling leaves clogging the storm drains.  By late morning broken branches are crashing to the ground.  A calm fall day has become fierce in a matter of minutes. The leaves whirling by my windows remind me of the tornado in The Wizard of Oz.  Tall trees bend.  Ferns quiver.  The lawn becomes littered with leaves.  The onslaught momentarily causes a power outage.  My computer screen darkens and then hums back to life.  Twice I walk the driveway clearing fallen branches.  Yet by evening the storm will pass.  In the meantime, I admire the show.

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I want to enjoy every moment of life.  Yet this is difficult to do.  Thursday I am happy.  Friday I want to cry.  There is nothing wrong—just a sense of loss.  But I haven’t lost anything or anyone.  Some mornings I find myself counting days.  How much time is left?  An actor slightly younger than me—James Gandolfini—a writer almost a decade older—Tom Clancy—disappear from life.  How many days do I have left?  How am I going to spend them:  Laughing at my grandchild?  Dancing at my daughter’s wedding?  Scrubbing the kitchen floor?  Writing a poem?DSC_0066

I cannot know the answer to my first question. The answers to the subsequent ones are under my own control.   I think of the poignant children’s book:  The Fall of Freddie the Leaf.  Winter comes and it’s time to let go.  I haven’t arrived at winter yet.  And winter is still a long way off.  There is no use worrying about what might happen.  The postscript at the end of the book notes that the day after the author, Leo Buscaglia died, a note was found in his typewriter:  “Every moment spent in unhappiness is a moment of happiness lost.”  I don’t want to waste a single moment of happiness.

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Posted in Aging, changes, everyday life, Life in Connecticut, nature, New England, storms, weather, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome Fall!

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Saturday my husband bought a leaf-blower.  Last year we bought two rakes and tackled the lawn the old fashioned way.  This year he is going for speed and power.  Like all our new yard appliances—the lawn mower, the trimmer, the chainsaw, the snow blower—the new leaf blower seems oversized to me, but this is a big yard and Fall is here.  DSC_0142Leaves are falling by the minute.  Just a few weekends ago, the air conditioner struggled to keep the house cool in a heat wave that was accompanied by health warnings.  Now the days are cool and the nights a bit nippy.  (Still last night a few mosquitos showed up for one last binge.)  The green is giving way to a riot of orange, red and yellow.  Fall in New England can be spectacular.

The first sign of Fall here is the sudden profusion of mums.  Flower pots of mums appear on people’s doorsteps.  Racks of them can be found outside the grocery stores and the nurseries (many of which will close after Thanksgiving).  I bought three mums from the high school crew team.  I bought three others at my favorite farm stand where I will also buy my pumpkins.

DSC_0057The farm stands have begun to feature locally grown apples and pears. People wander in, asking for Macoun apples, a variety I had never heard of until last year.  I buy Gingergolds and Paula Reds, along with some early Macintoshes.   My favorite farm store, the Pick n patch, now sells apple cider since the local cider mill, after being in business one hundred years, was torn down this spring to make way for a state of the art charter school.  Cider doughnuts are available at both the farm stands and the local doughnut store, Luke’s (a place that is such a tradition, it is mentioned in two novels written by authors with ties to this area).  The summer squashes are almost gone but the winter squashes (and pumpkins) are coming into season.  Those who can their own marinara trek to the Pick n Patch to pick the plum tomatoes.  Some days I am irritated that my vegetable options are more limited than what I could buy at my SoCal farmer’s market, but I have adjusted.  Last week I made a chili using dried kidney beans and locally grown cranberry beans.  I made a three bean salad of yellow wax beans, green beans and the cranberry beans, garnished with a locally grown red onion and my own herbs.   Sunday evening we feasted on locally grown Yukon gold potatoes and white onions, roasted with a pork loin that was brined with the locally made cider.   I will miss the fresh produce when the stands close between Thanksgiving and May.

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I still marvel at the seasons but part of my wonder is that each season is unique and unpredictable.  The leaves are falling, the colors are beautiful yet people worry about possible snowstorms (2011 ) or hurricanes (2012).   Will the children be able to go trick or treating?  Are we ready for the storms?  How many snow days will we have?  When will the school year end?  People get their chimneys swept and buy firewood.  In the next few weeks, the lawn furniture will be put away and the snow blowers moved from the back of the garage.  And not just the people scurry to prepare for winter.  On my bike ride today, a chipmunk dodged my wheels, a squirrel dove in front of my tire and a doe stepped onto the path and stopped, staring at me with her large brown eyes, causing me to slam on my brakes before she bounded back into the woods.  In the afternoon a pair of turkeys wandered down the driveway, not at all concerned about the holiday next month.  All of nature seems intent on preparing for the next season.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Winter can be a cruel time.  Our first winter here was mild, and, as a result, the first spring in our house the squirrels were so plentiful, two teams scampered on our basketball court.  Six more lounged on our front yard.  Chipmunks chattered on the edge of the woods and ran under our deck.  In the fall, we watched the great squirrel migration.  After a prolonged and cold winter, only a few shy gray squirrels emerged from their nests in the trees.  The chipmunks had disappeared from the burrows near the house.  An owl made the survivors wary.   We sighted more bears and deer this summer than last, but fewer toads, squirrels and chipmunks.  Now acorns lay neglected on the ground.  The bears will probably be back for them.

DSC_0138Perhaps in the autumn of my own life, I am enjoying  the unpredictability of weather in the Northeast more than I would have when I was younger.  I am no longer chasing children or teaching adolescents.  I am not ruled by schedules as I once was.  My days are more flexible and I have time to stop and watch a bird on a broken tree limb or the deer marching through the woods.  I can appreciate the capriciousness of Mother Nature because she puts on a terrific show.

Posted in backyards, everyday life, Life in Connecticut, nature, New England, Uncategorized, weather, wildlife | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Excursions

DSC_0080I have been absent from this blog for some time now. I confess that I have been distracted by two other writing projects that consume much of my energy (and creep into my dreams). I think of topics for this blog—the great doggy flu epidemic of 2013, observations of a small town library, fun afternoons with my grandson—but I never get to writing them because when I turn on my laptop, the other projects whisper: “Write me! Write me!” If you think I may have gone a bit crazy in Connecticut, you are so right. At least there are no essays piled in a corner, murmuring: “You know you have to grade us, report cards are due.” (By the way, dear teacher friends, the day you started back to school, I went on a thirty mile bike ride to celebrate your first day of the new school year. Happy New School Year! I miss teaching, my students and my colleagues.) I digress. The real confession here is that I am still weird, still talking to the dogs, to the computer, to my characters, and I’ve been writing fiction.

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This blog began as a chronicle of my adventures in another part of the country—a place where ‘wicked’ means good and almost every town had witches in the 1690s. But I have acclimated. I now know: small businesses are closed on Sundays; liquor needs to be bought in a special store; vacations are taken between June 15 and August 28; church bells ring on the hour during the day; the post office line isn’t going to be more than three people no matter what time I go; I can use my town library card in any library in the state. When people ask me where I am from, I tell them the name of the town where I live now without explaining that I moved there from California. I’ve become an expert on the historical photographs in the town history room at the library. But some things remain uniquely New England to me. In our summer explorations, we camped at two large lakes, Lake Champlain in Vermont and Lake Sebago in Maine, and made a day trip to the Connecticut River.

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Our trip to Lake Champlain was in early June. The campground was empty except for the handful of people who were ‘seasonal,’ living there all spring and summer (then heading to Florida for the winter). We had a view of the lake, which was especially nice at sunset. Had we stayed on the New York side, the lake would have been beautiful at sunrise. The campground was right next to one of the ferries that made frequent trips across the lake. Ferries are not unique to New England. While I have never ridden the ferry between San Francisco and the East Bay, my husband took it home after the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the BART tunnel. But there was something fascinating about the ferry plowing through the water carrying big rigs. We did not take one of the big ferries across the lake but on a rainy day, we drove to Fort Ticonderoga. We went over the new bridge the links Vermont to New York, toured the fort and returned on the small Ticonderoga ferry. The ferry operators thought I was a bit crazy, standing in the rain, taking photos.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
While Lake Sebago has a ferry, we didn’t take it. Instead we had an adventure going through the locks. We camped in a campground on Long Lake. Between Long Lake and Lake Sebago is the Songo River, a slow winding river. Long Lake, however, is five feet higher than Lake Sebago so in 1832, a lock was built to move boats off the Lake and onto the river as part of the Cumberland and Oxford canal. While this seems unique to someone who has lived most her life in a state where most of the natural lakes are small and far apart, there are locks in other parts of the northeast. Intrigued, we rented a pontoon boat so we could go through the locks.

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Our adventure began at a marina in Naples on Brandy Pond, which connects to Long Lake. We cruised along the edge of the pond, admiring houses along the way, navigating a channel that is deep enough for boats. Finally we came to a stop at the road that goes into Sebago Lake State Park. The bridge was too low to allow boats to pass under it. We came to a stop and waited. Then we learned that the locks are still operated by hand. The road into the Sebago Lake State Park is on a pivot. A worker comes out and turns the wheel and the road goes sideways. The boats then glide through the open bridge and into the locks and the wooden doors are shut by hand. The water level lowers. Again the gears are operated by hand. The doors open and the boats float out. It’s like a Disney ride.

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Our last adventure was a steam train ride from Essex, Connecticut to a river boat on the Connecticut river. This would be really spectacular trip during the Fall foliage, but even on a hot summer day, the views were fantastic. We splurged and rode in the first class car, a vintage Pullman car with swivel seats. There are steam train rides in other parts of the country, even California, but sitting in the swivel seats, while looking out the windows at the Connecticut River was enjoyable.DSC_0196
The river cruise gave us a new glimpse of Connecticut. From the top of the riverboat, we were able to see the Godspeed Theater to which New Yorkers once traveled by steamboat in order to see popular musicals. Musicals are still performed there today. We could also see Gillette’s castle, a spectacular fortress that was actually the retirement home of the stage actor, William Hooker Gillette. (Gillette is best known for playing Sherlock Holmes. His ad lib “elementary, my dear Watson” has become a standard line in other actor’s portrayals of Holmes.)

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We are still finding unique things to do here in New England. Stay tuned for the continued adventures of a California couple in the state of Connecticut.

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Posted in adventures, Life in Connecticut, nature, New England, photography, travel | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Smiles

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Last Saturday my grandson said “grandma” for the first time. I was eating breakfast on the deck when my daughter opened a kitchen window and my grandson called out: “Grandma!” I have to admit that I was very excited. By the end of the day, “grandpa” had also joined his ever growing list of words: mama, dada, dat (that), two (which means more), dog, duck, banana, turtle, all said emphatically. He is learning to communicate—pointing, nodding yes or no, speaking. He has learned to walk. First he walked like a zombie, hands and arms stretched out in front of him. Now he squares his shoulders and walks with his hands down by his sides. He has his father’s swagger and his grandfather’s smile. He can carry objects and even eat while he walks. He is no longer a baby. He is a tippy toddler.

Watching him, I am reminded of my own daughters: his laugh before he does something he knows he isn’t supposed to do (like climb the stairs), his smile when he sees a dog or cat, his determination as he places blocks into slots, his rapture when I read to him. These moments are also little jogs down memory lane as I remember a daughter doing the same thing. Some things are different. He spends more time pushing cars along the ground and less time trying to fit objects together. He puts the animals in the back of the tractor without worrying if they are in the right slot. Each of the girls would have been more concerned with placement. Is it a boy versus girl difference or a personality difference? My grandson is his own person. He knows how to manipulate the adults in his life—a smile, a tear, a cry. There is delight in watching his personality emerge.
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I am lucky that I have been able to witness his first milestones, to share in the excitement with his mother and father. Someday soon he won’t live with me.
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Once I was a young mother. Some days I was overwhelmed; some days I was selfish; some days I had so much joy I could not imagine more. I wasn’t always the best mother but I had the best daughters. They grew into their lives and I am happy for them. When I see traces of the life we had as a family in my daughters’ lives, I know that we did a good job raising our children.

Now I am a grandmother. I get to be the one that bends the rules. And while I am content at this stage of my life, I sometimes find it hard to let go of being the parent. My daughters are adults; they may ask for advice but they do not need constant guidance. They make their own decisions. And isn’t independence what we want for our children? We teach them how to walk, to speak, to be polite, to make decisions and then we hold our breath and let go. We watch them reach milestones in their own lives and remember the steps we took together on that first mile of life. Sometimes those steps were rocky and challenging. Sometimes those steps were smooth and tranquil. Then one day our children travel without us. We adopt dogs to fill the empty space and discover new adventures, but we always have an eye on our children’s paths for the glow of their successes and joys warms our hearts with happiness.
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Posted in Aging, boomerang children, everyday life, Family, mothers and daughters, not so empty nests, transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunshine Pills

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It’s spring. Bulbs are popping up. I have crocuses in my yard. As I drive through town, I see brilliant bushes of wisteria, flowering dogwood and daffodils. Robins hop on my lawn. Cardinals flitter in the tree branches. The world is bright with color. Spring has arrived. So have the April showers. Sunshine is still a fleeting thing.

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I went in for my annual physical. I learned I had bursitis. That just sounds like an old person’s disease. It sounds like something a Dickens character would have so we would all know how old, decadent and decrepit he was. And I have it. Occasionally when something brushes up against my knee, I howl with pain. My joints are failing me. The doctor gave me advice on how to treat my knee but he did not say that I had to give up running or cycling. So I did both this week. I have my mile time down to nine minutes. Not as fast as when I was much younger but a good speed. This morning I did six miles in less than an hour—54 minutes. I don’t feel old. Only when I look in the mirror do I remember that I am now closer to decade number six than any other decade.

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I ran those miles this gray, overcast morning because I was upset. The doctor’s office called and said my blood work indicated that I had a vitamin D deficiency. Really? I’m outside all the time, even in the snow. I drink milk and eat yogurt daily. “This is to be expected in a woman your age,” said the nurse calmly. A woman my age? My age? “You have to take a supplement; you can’t get enough from your food.” I could get more if the sun shone!

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Evidently I didn’t store up enough vitamin D when I was getting sunburned in Hawaii in January. Evidently I needed a longer vacation. And even though I was out in the sun, running, snowshoeing, shoveling, my skin didn’t get enough sunshine because I was wearing a hat, gloves, a parka, long pants, high ski boots, and sunscreen. Maybe the sun was too far away.

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So this afternoon I started sunshine pills.  It’s like a science fiction story.  With the right supplements, one can live underground and still be tan, blond and fit.  Someday science will have it down to just one pill.  Me, I’m waiting for the sun.

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Posted in Aging, everyday life, running, weather | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Patriot’s Day, April 15, 2013

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Patriot’s Day
April 15, 2013
On a perfect spring afternoon, sirens interrupt my raking. Racing down the road a quarter mile away, they drown the church bells announcing the hour and move on. My thoughts are on the sirens a hundred miles away where foot sore runners, every muscle aching, saw their triumph obliterated, exploding into loss. And we across the nation, who had already checked the stats and postings, are snared in the vortex of media, watching and waiting.
A triumphal day commemorating freedom becomes another day of tragedy. Our souls rise up from the shadows of our forefathers, questioning the threats but find no ready answers. Who did this? Why? Is this the work of invaders or some misguided youth? On the cornerstone of freedom, no quick answers wait. And so we pause, a moment of silence.
We mourn the dead. We cry for the injured. We linger, brushing away our tears, searching for resolutions that may never cross the finish line.

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Posted in community, life, Life in Connecticut, New England | Tagged , | 2 Comments