50 Charming States of America

I need to remind myself at times… I live a CHARMED life. Figuratively AND Literally!!

When I was 16, my mother gave me a sterling silver charm bracelet for Christmas. You could tell she put a lot of love and thought in this precious gift. Each charm represented a specific life event or story.

Charm bracelet

A roller skate to remind me of the time my brother used my only pair to make himself a skateboard, a mouse to represent my nickname ‘little mouse’ (don’t ask), a princess phone for all the times I was reminded phones were for dispatching information… NOT chatting! My favorite charm is the Lie Detector. That one must have been difficult to find. I don’t know if my mom happened upon it, or had to hunt for it… but that ONE charm is near and dear to my heart. It is the only one on that entire bracelet that represents a family memory involving my dad.

At the time our family was living in Shrewsbury, NJ in a sub-division named Vail Homes. My mom liked to call it ‘Vile Homes’. One fall, when I was about 4 years old, mom purchased a basket of apples and left them on the kitchen counter. In the morning she woke up to find 2 or 3 apples with tiny little bites out of them lying on the stairway. She called me downstairs and I was throughly reprimanded. Of course I said I didn’t do it. Trust me when I tell you talking back to my mom was NOT a smart move… even at 4 I knew that!! I was spanked for lying.

This continued the next night… and this time my father did the spanking. I can remember crying and saying I didn’t do it… but they didn’t believe me, and sent me to my room. My dad started thinking about the problem. It dawned on him I wasn’t known to lie, and thought perhaps I was sleep walking and didn’t realize I was doing it. So that night he grab a chair and got comfy, determined to catch me in the act. To his surprise he found out who the real culprit was.

Back in those days our house was heated with coal. A delivery man came to the house on a regular basis and dropped coal down a shoot from the outside of the house to the coal bin inside. Apparently a racoon got inside and was living in the coal bin. My dad watched in amazement as the little racoon crawled up onto the kitchen counter, grab an apple and scurried away. It would then go to the stairs, take a bite, drop it… and repeat the process.

Obviously my parents apologized profusely with hugs and kisses… and treated me to a special dessert.

Anyway… every once in a while as I traveled around, I would purchase another charm to be added to the bracelet. The chain is not that sturdy, and once it was filled, I still purchased charms, but never had them attached. The novelty wore off quickly.

Charms

While traveling through Alaska I came across this ADORABLE moose charm… so I bought it. Which then got me thinking about the bracelet. Knowing I have been to 49 of the 50 US States… I decided I should make a charm bracelet with 50 charms… 1 from each state!!!

Last night I dumped my bag of charms onto the bed and took inventory. Out of the 49 states I have been to, I collected 15 charms… plus a few from other countries. “OK… I can make this work.” I said to myself. So now I’m on the hunt!!! I’ve made a list of all the states and marked which ones I have already. Next to the ones I don’t have, I jotted down a suggestion of what kind of charm to look for. For example… my first view of Hawaii from the air were of sea turtles… so I want to get a sea turtle charm. It might take me YEARS to finish this project… but I am determined to complete it.

One aspect of collecting that I find interesting is the pricing. Some of my old charms still have a price tag showing $7.50. The current charms are sold for $20.00 each. I guess I should have never stopped collecting them years ago :-)

Which state is the only one I haven’t been to yet??? Colorado! Technically my DNA is within it’s boundaries… but to be honest I haven’t experienced it enough to convincingly say I’ve been there. Many years ago I stood in Four Corners… so my right hand has been in the state, and on the way home from Alaska last week I had a 7 hour lay over in the Denver airport. Neither of these close encounters qualifies the purchase of a charm. I play fair… and I don’t lie!

The Road Less Traveled

Our family’s trip to Alaska had been plotted and planned for months in advance. All airline tickets procured, houses and hotels not only booked, but scrutinized to the ‘nth’ degree. Activities chosen with back up plans if needed as fillers or replacements. So it was surprising we found ourselves with a ‘free’ day.

“Let’s go panning for gold”, was the resounding cry we heard from the male members of our group. “Ok”, our ‘tour director’ agreed. “But instead of going to one of those cheesy touristy places, let’s buy supplies and pan for gold in a local creek ourselves.”

So that was our plan. We let ‘Mr. Research’ google a local creek, then stopped off at the Sportsman Shop to pack in our supplies. Once we entered the store, everyone scattered in different directions. This store was better than any Cabella’s or Dick’s!!! One of our group immediately headed to the Go Pro display, another was found perusing the gift section. Who knew where in the store ‘Mr. Research’ wandered off to… as he is known for his disappearing. Eventually we all met up in the Gold Panning aisle… an aisle you WON’T find in New Jersey.

Pan, pick, and vials in hand… we checked out and headed on our way. We were assured by ‘Mr. Research’ that creeks were not that far away. After missing a turn off and driving a few extra miles before realizing the mistake and turning around… we ended up at the intersection of Fish Creek Rd… and Fairbanks Creek Rd. Sounds perfect, right? We thought so.

Road Signs

Pulling in to the dirt parking lot we quickly realized we weren’t in Kansas any more Toto. Mud covered diesel pick up trucks and Rvs were haphazardly parked and each one had an empty flat-bed trailer which looked like it carried an ATV.

A fella was talking on his cell phone… dressed in muddy boots, dirty jeans, and hooded sweatshirt… and was sporting a few days worth of facial hair and uncombed mess on his head. We ‘city folks’ were dressed in our LL Bean and Columbia backpacking best. Oh… and the clouds were rolling in fast as the wind picked up.

The executive decision to continue on our mission was made… and we put one foot in front of the other and began walking down the dirt road. Our first sign was to beware of heavy equipment using the road… which started us giggling. How funny would it be to stumble upon hard-core panners using machinery who take this mining activity seriously… as we unpack our little pans and travel pick??? Visions of shotguns being aimed at us danced through our heads.

The dirt road went on forever… with no sight of a creek anywhere in the area. ‘Mr. Research’ ran ahead of us to check things out. We began to worry about him when he didn’t return… but we kept on walking. It began to sprinkle, and got cold… then the sun would come out and it would get hot. More rain and cold, more sun and heat.

Dirt road

Guys in pick-up trucks bumping down the road in the opposite direction smiled and waved at us as they passed. We waved back in return… and kept walking… wondering if their smile meant they knew something we didn’t.

Ding!!!!

Hark! We finally have cell service!!! The ‘tour director’ tried to call ‘Mr. Research’… but his phone either wasn’t on, or didn’t have cells where he was. Checking our co-ordinates we realized there wasn’t a creek, or any other body of water for that matter anywhere near us so another executive decision to abort our mission was made. We split up in to two groups. The ‘tour director’ and myself would head back and get the car… while the remaining two continued on the road to meet up with ‘Mr. Research’. Just as we turned and walked about 20 paces… he returned.

Ok… so venturing out on our own to a creek we couldn’t find was not the ideal situation. However, after sitting on boats, busses, trains, and planes… the fresh air and exercise was a welcomed activity. A trip to the cheesy, touristy, gold panning place would be added to the next day’s itinerary to satisfy the guys need to do something ‘macho’.

Suckers for good marketing… we chose to go to GOLD DAUGHTERS because their advertising flyer appealed to us. Metallic gold cardstock with matte black ink… in addition to using a heart in their logo… PLUS a guarantee you would strike GOLD… AND you could PAN ALL DAY had us excited.

What a HOOT!!! We let the guys do the panning as we watched. Originally we girls were planning on laughing while taking pictures, but we quickly became fascinated with the process.

One of the owners, Jordan stayed with us and taught the guys the subtle way to dip the pan to wash away the rocks and dirt… and then swirl the pan with a quick flick of the wrist to uncover the gold pieces.

The process takes patience and concentration. When finished, you use a dry finger to touch the gold which then sticks to your finger… then you touch it to water in a small vial and it easily drops to the bottom. When finished, you have the option to grab a shovel of rocks from the huge pile, and continue to pan… for as long as you’d like.

Boys panning

All in all… Jordan made this a fun experience. She has been panning for gold as a hobby since she was a little girl. Her passion for this fun pastime just oooozed out of her. She was a great and patient instructor, as well as a wealth of information about the area and local geology. The tractor trailer of fossils was a happy surprise… as were the rustic machinery displays placed around the grounds.

Gold pan

By the end of our visit the guys each had a vial of gold, smiles on their faces, we had photos, and a memory of a wonderful day.

Alaska Daylight 24/7

Since summer in Alaska means daylight 23 ½ hours a day… the use of ‘black out’ shades or curtains are mandatory. So far on this trip I have not had to use them… until tonight. The room in the last house I rented was painted in dark colors, only had one window which was blocked by trees… so it felt like you were walking into a cave. Even though it was bright as day at 11:30pm I was eager to go to sleep and had no problem.

Today however I am in a different rental… a beautiful rustic home on the ridge of a mountain in Fairbanks. The bedroom here is painted creamy white… with antique quilts hanging on the wall (I’ll get to them in a minute). Trying to fall asleep at 11:30pm in bright daylight reminds me of being a little kid and having to go to bed in the summer time. It’s still bright out, but just falling into dusk. The only problem now is that in Alaska dusk never comes. Which is helpful when you are driving curvy, dirt roads up an unfamiliar mountain… but not such a pleasure when trying to get some shut-eye.

Fairbanks rental

Tomorrow is another busy day of sightseeing… so tonight I have drawn the heavy black curtains across the window… and it’s beginning to feel like bed time. I wonder what it will feel like in the morning.

This house by the way is AWESOME!! Decorated with eclectic furniture… mixing IKEA with solid antiques, having an old retro oven be the kitchen centerpiece with a collection of antique toasters above it, and old antique quilts hanging on the walls in each of the 4 bedrooms. You would think the owner designed this house just for me!!

The quilts are stunning… and yet I cringe when looking at them. The owner has hung them with nails and push pins. YIKES!!! People in the ‘quilt world’ know NEVER to do that!! For one, you are putting holes in the fabric, but also gravity pulls them down and creates a scallop along the top edge… and enlarges the hole. The proper way is to sew a ‘sleeve’ on the back and suspend the quilt on brackets using a dowel or curtain rod. This way the weight is distributed evenly… which preserves the quilt for future generations to enjoy.

antique quilt

It’s all I can do to NOT make a trip to the local quilt shop to purchase some fabric, needle and thread to make a sleeve. But then I remember it’s not my house… and certainly not my problem. So instead I sit and cringe at the sagging quilts.

sagging quilt

The other bizarre thing in this house is the bathroom. The toilet is in the shower!!! I kid you not!!! The bathroom is completely tiled in really nice, thick, good quality tile. It looks like it is new construction. A drain is installed in the middle of the floor. The floor is graded so all water flows to it. A shower curtain is suspended from a rod installed a few inches down from the ceiling that spans the width of the room. If that were all that was in the space it would be fine… however… at one end of this room… sits a commode. The Throne, the porcelain pot, the toilet… whatever you call it… it’s sitting right there… in the shower.

When you take your morning shower you have to take care not to get the toilet paper wet. And when you go to use the facilities after breakfast… you have to watch out for the water on the floor that hasn’t dried yet. It’s bad enough the person sleeping in that bedroom has to deal with it… but it is the only restroom down on the main level and therefore is considered the quest bathroom.

Very quirky!

I love it!

Living the Dream in Alaska

There is just so much to see and do here in Alaska… that by the time we roll into the driveway at the end of the day it takes all of our fortitude to throw ourselves into bed.

It’s an Alaskan ‘thing’ to take your shoes off when entering a house. I’m guessing it started when women got tired of cleaning up all the dirt and mud that gets tracked in from the slushy outside. However, we weren’t told of this and so didn’t pack any slippers. Believe me when I tell you the floors are so chilly in the morning you really have to think twice about getting out of bed to use the bathroom… even in the summer. Brrrrrr….

Visiting family is always fun… but when they live in the back woods of Alaska ‘off the grid’ while building the house (not a cabin… but a 3 bedroom house) of their dreams… it makes the visit an amazing adventure!! When I say ‘building their own house’ I mean… chopping down the tree, hauling it to the site, milling it into lumber, drying it, and THEN using it for building. There’s no delivery from the local lumber yard… no siree… not for this family. They have been working on this masterpiece for 7 years… and hope to complete it by year’s end… or early Spring… or…

House

The joy this family gets out of all this work radiates out of them and surrounds you with excitement. Their smiles say it all. After spending a day blazing trails with them while riding in a tractor-type-tank-thing… you clearly understand this is way much more than just building a house. It’s ‘living the dream’. The open skies, the wildflowers, amazing vistas, swamps and rivers… and on a clear day you can see Mt. McKinley… OH! It’s a whole different way of life. A life where shotguns are ‘at the ready’ to protect yourself from bears, cans of OFF spray are tucked in easy to reach nooks and crannies for a quick spritz, and construction permits and inspections are non-existent. It’s not a life for me… I enjoyed the visit immensely… but I like the comforts of my ‘already built’ home more.

Here’s a picture of the tractor/tank wheel after running through a swamp:

Tractor Wheel

 

Oh… and let me tell you about the ‘toys’! If you have ever watched a little boy play in the dirt with his plastic toy tractors, back hoe, front loader, and dump trucks… imagine that in real life. This family has all that and more!! Ski mobiles fill the multi-compartment garages, as do nail guns, reciprocating saws with diamond blades, dog sleds, and so much more!!

Their stories kept us raptured for hours. Moose hunting, salmon fishing, getting lost in a blizzard while snowmobiling and having to stay warm and dry… and more importantly… alive… in the open drifts until the storm lifted and they could find their way home… falling from a second story loft and hitting the wood burning stove on the way down… OY! This is all in a day of choosing this life style.

photo 3

 

Uncle Earl was a wealth of information… and made certain we ‘saw it all’!!!

There are LOTS of bugs here… but they don’t seem to bite. Standing outside in the middle of a swampy forest, my face was the only thing uncovered… and although the bugs were annoying, only one bit me on the forehead. It itched for a few seconds… then vanished. You use the spray more to keep them flying around you… not to keep them from biting you.

OH… I can’t leave without telling you all I spotted a MOOSE!!! I was in an adorable town named Talkeetna… when I saw him standing in front of a store. He was painted!!! I am familiar with the painted cows that swept the nation a generation ago… but here it’s Moose. They are so cute!!

Moose

ALASKA!!! The Final Frontier!

FINALLY!!! I’m here! Anchorage, Alaska! I thought this day would never come. So many delays had me wondering if this trip was ever really going to happen.

Traffic jam on the highway getting to the airport… A delay in closing the cabin door due to a seat assignment snafu in the aisle across from us… VP Biden landing in Philly, putting all airline traffic at a stand still… then FINALLY we are on our way!!!

The little girl sitting in the seat in front of me was so darn cute… and well-behaved. I couldn’t resist snapping a peek-a-boo picture of her.

Baby on airplane

The landing in Seattle at sunset was absolutely stunning!!! I couldn’t get a good picture of it… so it will have to remain in my head. Hopefully some day I will be able to paint it. Leg 1 of my journey was finally complete. Just another 3 ½ hour jaunt and I would be in ALASKA! It couldn’t come fast enough as fas as I was concerned. Leg 2 was a bit tight. I was wedged in the middle seat between a big guy reading his bible the entire way… and the Michelin Man on the other side of me. He took up his seat… and a quarter of mine! He couldn’t help it, he just spilled out. When he fell asleep he relaxed and spread out even more. I couldn’t WAIT for the plane to land!

What a day. I was up at 6:00AM EST and didn’t land in Alaska until 12:00AM ATZ (that’s 4:00AM for my east coast friends)!!!

After a solid night’s sleep… I was up and ready to roll!! First on our itinerary was an 11 mile coastal bike ride… but it was raining and although we didn’t mind getting wet… we wouldn’t get to see any of the beautiful scenery due to the heavy cloud cover. Our spirits weren’t dampened… as we continued on with the rest of our scheduled events, and added a trip to the most phenomenal library you would ever want to see!!! Quite impressive.

Walking around the town of Anchorage, checking out the old damns at Ship Creek where you can observe the salmon swimming up-stream during the height of the season, learning about ULU Knives, visiting the Anchorage Museum to become more acquainted with the many tribes indigenous to the area, and food shopping… filled our day.

Anchorage Museum

The museum’s newest installment was all about GYRE… large rotating currents in the ocean… and all the plastic trash they stir up and spit out along the world’s beaches. Artists have been creating the most amazing pieces with this trash. Here’s a crew of dogs pulling a sled… all made from plastic recovered from various shores.

Plastic dogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When originally planning our trip… it was decided the most economical choice was to stay in a rented house. OMG!!! You should see this beauty!!! Located on the outskirts of Anchorage… on a lake… with a view of the mountains. Fully equipped modern kitchen, amazing stained glass art work all around the place, wrap around decks, 4 great bedrooms, and a jacuzzi… very upscale! I can’t say enough wonderful things about this place. Since this entire trip was ‘my deal’… it was assumed I would take the master bedroom. Nope… I instead chose the cozy room on the main floor off to the side. The one with the lake level view :-)

My most favorite thing in the whole house… other than my bed… is the life-size carved wooden bear who holds the TV in the living room. He’s adorable!!!

TV Bear

Speaking of bears… this place comes equipped with 2 grills on the deck… one gas and one charcoal. The owners have asked us to forego using them… because 2 bears have been caught traipsing on the property and they don’t want to encourage them.

Such is life in Alaska.

Tomorrow we have another full day of fun. Sightseeing in the morning with a trip south… finishing with a dinner cruise. There is reportedly 18 hours of daylight. I only wish my body could keep up with the time.

I leave you with a view of the lake outside the breakfast nook. If you look closely you will see a mountain peeking out from the clouds.

Alaska lake view

A Few Extra Inches DO Make a Difference!

Four years ago I sold almost everything I owned… including my bed. My oversized four bedroom, 3 bathroom, center hall colonial was in foreclosure. Defeated, I was moving back into my old childhood bedroom in my mom’s house. Speak about downsizing!!! There was no possible way a king sized bed was ever going to fit in a 10′ by 12′ room and be able to close the door. I couldn’t even THINK about the rest of my stuff accumulated over the years.

As things worked out, with the nudging of a friend, and an agreeable home seller willing to work an unconventional deal, I scraped together every nickel, dime, and penny I could find and put a down-payment on a small house instead. But now I didn’t have a bed… or any money to buy a new one. Sooooo… in order to NOT sleep on a hardwood floor, I did the next best thing and purchased an air mattress.

Overall it was a good decision. Not knowing when I would ever have enough spare cash to afford a REAL bed… I splurged and got a fancy air mattress with a cushion top and built-in pump. Go wild!!!

Have you ever slept in one of those things for a few nights in a row? Let me tell you, the novelty wears off real fast. The sleeping was OK, a little bouncy, but for the most part I slept well. It was the getting out of it in the morning that seemed to be the problem. There’s no such thing as swinging your legs over the side and standing up. Nope. More like rolling onto the floor, pushing yourself up on all fours, then kneeling, then standing up one leg at a time… while wiping sleep out of your eyes… and hoping you don’t fall over.

Don’t even get me started about how often you have to pump it back up. I didn’t complain about the situation… even when it sprung a leak and I’d wake up each morning a little closer to the hardwood floor than I started the night before. I patched it… but it still sank. Also… the vinyl had a unique way of holding the cold. Every time I rolled over my body hit a cold spot! Brrrrr! Still I didn’t complain. It was what it was, besides I was getting used to it.

Eventually I hit a windfall and unexpected money was headed my way. The same friend who nudged me to buy the house dropped by, ushered me into the car, and headed off to the store to buy a much-needed mattress and box spring during the President’s Weekend Sale. Within an hour I had chosen a pillow topped King sized set to be delivered the next day. Why King, I hear you ask? Well… I could tell it was going to be a tight fit in my little room, but I already had sheets and blankets for a King Size… so I was being frugal.

Notice I said I purchased the mattress and box spring… right? No headboard. No footboard. Not even a metal frame. I spent every dime on the set, there was nothing left for ‘extras’. The delivery guys forced it up the narrow stairs… and plopped it flat on the floor, in the exact spot previously filled by the air mattress.

Ahhhhhh…. such comfort!! It had been so long I had forgotten how nice it felt to sleep on a REAL mattress. Such support! I was at least another 6 inches higher up and had a whole new view of my room. I could see out the bedroom window. Oh… and getting up in the morning was a joy. No aching back!!! No rolling onto the floor! Wow! Life was good!!!

A year later… the mattress became infested with BED BUGS!! Ugh!! Arming myself with rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, and freaking out waiting 2 days for the exterminator… I fought a good fight and not only won the battle, but won the war! There hasn’t been a bug spotted in over a year.

My daughter and son-in-law are moving across country. They have always wanted a King Size bed… I decided a Queen Size would fit better in my ‘space’… so today we swapped! They woke up this morning and tossed their mattress and box spring into a van and drove 3 hours to my house. I woke up this morning and stripped the bed, tossed the sheets into the washer… and waited.

Last year when my daughter moved out to marry her sweetheart, she never took the queen size metal frame with her. So I pulled it out of storage and plopped their mattress on top. YIPPIE!!! I just gained another 4 inches and feel like such a BIG GIRL in my BIG GIRL bed!!! It took almost 4 years, but I FINALLY have a bed up off the floor.

I am seeing the world from yet a different vantage point again. My bed sits up high enough for me to catch the breeze from the window. I’m closer to the ceiling than ever before. I can swing my legs over the side and stand up! I can even use under the bed for much-needed storage!!! Whoa!!

I was so excited I ran right out and bought new sheets and a bed skirt… with a 15” drop! All the years of changing a bed while my sick husband lay in it came flooding back as I put the bed skirt on without help. First push the mattress to one side, lay out the skirt and straighten it on that side, tuck the rest firmly under the mattress. Walk around to the other side and push the mattress back and reach under it to pull the tucked piece out and straighten. Ta-Dah!

Next on the bed… new sheets! Fresh, crisp, snow-white sheets… with a Polka Dot design woven in. Oh how they make me giggle!!!

Polka Dot bedding

I guess now I will have to sew a quilt for myself. I have sewn so many and given them away… now it’s time to design one for me!

Four years ago I started on the floor. I have come so very far!!! This is truly a fine example of the old addage, ‘All good things come to those who wait’.

Hmmmm…. What should I wait for next???

A Great Lady

Another great lady was laid to rest this week.

For those of you who aren’t sure what I ‘do’ each day… suffice it to say I visit elderly women at the bequest of their family members. Consider me an adopted daughter.

There comes a time in all of our lives where we need just a little help on a daily basis in order to stay in our homes where we feel the most comfortable. Not yet ready for 100% assisted living, but not able to function safely on our own.

Gone are the multi-generational families of yesteryear where you would easily count three generations living under the same roof. Now-a-days it’s more likely all family members have scattered across the United States… some even to other countries. So when Mom begins to show signs of forgetfulness and you wonder if she will burn down the house forgetting something on the stove… and you live too far away, or your job is too demanding… then that’s when I come in.

I get so much more from these visits than I give. While sitting in doctor’s offices… or the hair dresser, we talk. Everyone has a unique and interesting story. We talk about the olden days, their jobs, their kids and grandkids, their husbands and married life, their first boyfriends, vacations, life in general, and death. Yes… we talk about death. They WANT to talk about it. Maybe not to their kids or loved ones… but to a non-relative like me. They need to get it off their chest. Afterall… it IS their next journey.

One woman kept asking me about the cremation process. She desperately wants to be cremated… but when she brings the subject up to her son he admonishes her and states HE doesn’t believe in cremation. Thank heavens I’m a pushy Jersey Girl and asked him to come talk to her while I was there. Mostly to give her the strength she needed to talk to him about death, but also to make him see how important this decision was to her. Phew… that conversation ended on a happy note. She will get her wish… even if it is still YEARS away.

The elderly are stronger than we give them credit for. They have gone through every phase of life… from birth, through adolescence and those horrible teenage years, to young love and marriage, a family of their own and all that it brings, to empty nesting, widowhood and now knocking on death’s door. They are not ignoring that fact… they are educating themselves… getting ready for it.

Today I attended a memorial service for the woman I visited the longest. The room was located in the senior facility where she had lived and was filled with loving friends. I’m guessing the average age was about 85 years old. Imagine my surprise when her son stepped up to the podium and began by blurting out, “I guess you all want to know how she died”.

The air pressure turned into a vacuum as everyone simultaneously gasped… then immediatley inched closer to the edge of their seats so as not to miss a single word. There was no mistaking he had the full attention of the room… and they really wanted to know. If you knew this son at all… you should have expected it. He’s the kind of guy that tells it like it is. He ended his talk by saying… at age 92, her body just wore out.

Shouldn’t we all be so lucky? To live a life so full and long, that you just plumb wear out??

I don’t know where my next journey will lead me, but I hope I meet up with her again. If I do… I’ll ask her the same thing she has asked me every day I visited for the past few years… “What’s doin’?”

R.I.P. Rhoda Kern.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo!

All Aboard!!!

The constant clickety clack of steel wheels along the railroad track and rhythmic swaying of the cars provides a perfect setting to get some quality writing time under your belt. With that in mind… Amtrak announced a few months ago they were providing a Writer in Residence program. The idea was to receive applications and choose 115 writers and offer them an all expenses paid trip lasting 3 to 7 days on one of their many exciting excursions throughout the USA. A sleeper car including a desk (for writing) and food would be provided.

I applied for the program. Hey… I’m an empty nester and figured it would be a FABULOUS experience. I wouldn’t get to choose where the train went, but I didn’t care. Basically I’m an adventurous kind of soul.

Amtrak received 16,100 applications!!!!

Although I didn’t win one of the elite 115 placements… the application process was certainly an experience unto itself. It made me sit for a moment and really THINK about my writing and what I hoped to accomplish… THEN put it in to words so someone else would feel what I was trying to say. Another lesson from the School of Hard Knocks.

A few weeks ago my blog was viewed 781 times in one day. When looking through the meager stats, I could tell that one unique viewer either read or printed out each and every one of my posts. I have to wonder now if the judges at Amtrak had anything to do with that?? Is it only a coincidence that this high hit day was only two weeks before I received the email from Amtrak that I wasn’t choosen? Hmmmm? I’d like to believe my application made them take a closer look at my writing. If that’s really the case… then I’m thrilled.

I’ve said this many times before… we writers are an insecure bunch. We sit in an empty room by ourselves all day typing the words that flow through our head. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they don’t. We HOPE they make sense to other people… and move them in some way. So… If my application made only one person take a look because they wanted to read more… then I’m a winner afterall!!!

Thank you Amtrak for providing such a GREAT program. Be on the lookout for my application again next year!

A Tribute To My Dad…

Family photo

I never really knew my Dad… he died the month before my 8th birthday.

My mom told me the story many times… of how they had an argument before he left the house that morning, although she can’t remember why; how she didn’t kiss him goodbye. From the stories I have heard, my dad had a quick temper, and I assume that particular morning was no exception.

It was a typical summer Sunday. My dad and oldest brother were racing in the Summer Series at Monmouth Boat Club on the Navesink River in Red Bank, NJ, I ‘helped’ keep score, and my mom stayed home to get things done around the house in peace and quiet. I don’t know where my other brother was that particular day… I’m guessing he was playing tennis on the clay courts next door.

Back in those days, the signs of an approaching heart attack were not known. The pain in my dad’s arm that morning was not the muscle strain he thought it was, but rather an obvious sign he was about to have a massive heart attack. As a 3 pack a day chain smoker (unfiltered Camels), and a very social drinker with a short fuse… upon reflection it is no surprise this would be his demise.

Dad was skipper, and my brother the crew… they sailed for the finish line, in first place… when the attack reared its ugly head and squeezed the last breath out of my dad. My brother, at the tender age of 13 took control of the tiller, brought the boat over the line, and signaled the rescue boat for help. The hospital is located right there on the river, but by the time anyone got to the boat to help, it was too late. My dad was gone… and the truth of his life would soon unravel.

At the time of his death my parents had been married for 13 years. Mom was now a single parent with 3 mouths to feed, clothe, and shelter with not a dime to her name. As in most families of that generation, my dad was the bread-winner while mom stayed home and raised the kids. She helped to make ends meet with occasional catering jobs and working the counter of a much-loved local delicatessen… she was no stranger to hard work and long hours. Once the shock of losing her husband so instantly wore off, she gathered her wits and began thinking about her next move.

My dad didn’t have any life insurance, but he DID have plenty of savings bonds. He worked as an engineer, designing tools for the government, so certainly there would be some sort of compensation and perhaps some Social Security. Mom was secure that she would be able to pull enough money together to help stay afloat long enough to tide us over until she found a full-time job. Imagine her surprise when applying for benefits she was informed she was not legally married and therefore did not qualify for any benefits. To add insult to injury… the Savings Bonds listed his parents as beneficiaries, and they were not the sort to share.

When Mom and Dad met on the Belmar beach, they had both been married and divorced. Mom didn’t believe the Good Lord intended her to be beaten within an inch of her life every Friday night, so she drove to Florida where divorces were legal and filed the papers. Raised as a devoted Catholic, she did this knowing full well she would be excommunicated from the church.

Dad told her he had married, but still needed to get to Florida and do the paperwork for a divorce. A few weeks later he was hired to sail a yacht down the coast… to Florida, and he would do it then. Mom followed him down south where they dated and fell deeply in love. When summer was over, they moved back north and settled in to their regular routines… and saw each other every chance they could. By June she found herself ‘in the family way’ and my dad immediately married her. He grabbed a friend who just happened to be a minister, and on my mom’s 21st birthday they said their vows on the Belmar beach in front of a handful of friends. There was no reason anyone would have thought this was not a legally binding marriage… especially my mom.

It’s not clear if the friend of my dad’s was a real minister, or not; however, the paperwork was never filed and a marriage certificate was never issued. Thirteen years later, what IS clear is that for some unknown reason my dad’s divorce NEVER took place… and upon his death he was legally married to someone else.

Growing up I only got to know my dad through stories. I have few memories of my own. I knew he loved me, of that I am sure. I also saw glimpses of his temper, and had been on the receiving end only once that I recall. THAT story involves a racoon, coal bin, and apples… which I will tell you all some other time.

His friends paint a picture of a handsome, outgoing, party guy with a clear analytical and intelligent mind, mixed with a broad smile and quick temper. They all revered him and looked to him for guidance. My mom of course paints a different picture. Once she stumbled on the truth, her view of him did a 180. She hardly spoke of him at all. Although she told me a few stories, which is how I know the little I do, she preferred to not speak of him at all. He died in flesh and in spirit that summer.

I have a friend whose father also passed away earlier than expected. Thanks to their mother they have a totally different feeling about their father. Their mother kept their father ‘alive’ by commenting how proud he would be if he were alive to see them get good grades, excel in sports, do well in life and more. My friend strived to make their father proud, and continues to do so on a daily basis even now that we are grown adults.

I wish I had that growing up. My dad simply did not exist in my life. He was hardly ever a thought. My mom did her best to cut him out of my life. I understand she was stunned, hurt, humiliated and mad as hell… but he was my dad after all. He treated us well, and never once gave us a moment of hesitation that we weren’t his only family.

My brothers stepped in as able substitutes. One attending school meetings and functions when a parent was expected, turning his gold signet ring around to suggest it was a wedding ring; and the other who gingerly held my hand as he led me to the front steps to empty the snow out of my boots. Teaching me to ride a two-wheel bike, and then to drive a car… both watching nervously as I began dating. On my wedding day when a girl usually is walked down the aisle by her dad… I was thrilled to have both brothers do the honors… one on either side.

So here is my first ever tribute to my Dad… where ever his spirit may be. I know he loved me… and through stories I know I was the light of his life. For that, I am grateful. I also know that had he lived, my life would have been an entirely different story.

My Dad was my first ‘crush’ and my first heart-break.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!!!

And more importantly… Happy Father’s Day to my two brothers!!!

** The above photo is the ONLY picture taken of our entire family TOGETHER. It is a digital reproduction of a very crumpled and ruined picture taken on the steps of Monmouth Boat Club the year before my dad passed away.

The Mad Adventures of Caulking

I caulked the tub tonight. Me! All by myself! Can you see me doing a happy dance?

So “Big deal”, I can hear you all say. “Caulking a tub is no reason to get so excited.” Well… maybe not for you… but it is MONUMENTAL for me!

I was married to a guy who wouldn’t let me do this kind of stuff. Not that HE was going to do it either… but in his mind it was a ‘man’s job’ and I was told to hire someone to do it. Grrrr. (I used to wait until he was away on a business trip to wallpaper or paint the house… hee, hee.)

Now I’m a homeowner all by myself… and on a tight budget. I could have asked either of my son-in-laws to caulk it for me, or hired a handyman, or asked any one of the nice neighbors around here… but NO, I was going to do it myself! How hard could it be after all?

Thank heavens for the ingenious duo of Pinterest and DIY Big Box stores. I did a little research first… and decided to use the painter’s tape method. With a new-found sense of power… I headed to my local DIY Home Fix-it store where a delightful older gentleman guided me in my purchases. HOWEVER… he mistook my bravado as experience and sold me SILICONE instead of ACRYLIC… AND sold me a caulk gun without any direction or instruction on how to use the blasted thing. I understood the basic workings of it… but the tiny nuances were a mystery to me.

My tub was all clean and dry… with the gap between the tiles and tub taunting me. “What are you thinking? You can’t do this. This is a ‘pants’ job… you’re a ‘skirt’ person.” Funny… the tub sounds very much like my late husband.

After a day or two of reflection and soul-searching, I told that tub to shut its trap and listen up… I was the new handyman around here and I was going to caulk this thing no matter how ugly it got!!

Fully clothed and sitting in a tub is a very funny feeling. Using the blue painter’s tape originally designed to make straight lines on walls when painting… I tape off the upper and lower edges of where my caulking should be… all around the tub.

Next I grabbed my scissors and snipped the very tip off the caulk tube… at an angle just as I was instructed. Taking the caulking gun in my other hand I realized too late I should have twirled the end around, and around, and around, and around until the round plunger disk thing was pulled back far enough for the tube to slip into the gun. Oops. OK… I rectified that little issue.

The tube is in the gun… now the next question is… Which way does the angle on the tip point? Hmmm… not sure. I guess I will have to squirt some out on a plastic bag and see which way works best.

Gently squeezing the trigger, I patiently wait for the silicone to squirt out. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. Huh… nothing is coming out. I squeeze a little harder. SQUEEZE… SQUEEZE… still nothing. I unscrew the ‘thingy’ and take the tube out of the gun. Hmmm.. I see the bottom has a little caulk oozing out of it… so SOMETHING is moving. I plop the tube back in and try again. Nothing.

At this point I’m thinking the tube must have had a hole in it some where and the silicone is all dried up. Nah… that can’t be. WAIT!! What’s this wire on the gun for?? A prong? To puncture the inside of the tube? Well I’ll be darned. THAT’s information I would have like to have known earlier. Besides… that’s so stupid. First… there’s a cap on the tube that was so tight I needed a pair of pliers to get it off. Next I had to snip off the hermetically sealed tip… and NOW I have to puncture the inside? What’s in this tube? Krazy glue???

Once again I take the tube out of the gun, pull the wire out from the gun, pierce the tube, and put everything back together… one more time.

I slowly squeeze the trigger, nothing. I squeeze a little harder, still nothing. UGH! Now, so totally frustrated and ready to call a handyman… I make one last effort. I RIP the tube out of the gun, jam it as hard as I can on the wire, slam it back in to place and SQUEEZE. A thin ribbon of caulk begins to flow… Woo! Hoo! Practicing on a plastic bag to ‘get the hang of it’ didn’t really help much.

Pretending I was piping icing on a cake… I slowly guide the gun around the perimeter of the tub, while gently, yet firmly, squeezing the trigger… and concentrating staying within the taped lines. A wobbly line of silicone is the result.

As instructed, I dipped my finger in a cup of water, and lightly smoothed the line. And that’s where my trouble began.

Having used SILICONE instead of ACRYLIC was probably not the smartest choice for a first caulking project. It’s smelly and messy… and difficult to clean up! My finger now had this rubbery, sticky stuff on it… so I wiped it on a wet sponge. The sponge stuck to my finger. I ripped it off.

Fearful of the label AND verbal instructions… I had to work quickly. So I wet another finger and continued the smoothing process… changing fingers as I went. By the time I was finished I had this gooey stuff all over my hands.

Wiping my hands on a rag didn’t work. So I tried washing them with soap… nope. The more I rubbed and wiped, the worse it got. I was beginning to feel like The Cat in the Hat wiping up the pink stuff! The silicone was getting every where and my hands were all sticky. Plus I was wearing a good pair of pants and I couldn’t even try wiping my hands on my clothes. *Note to self… change clothes before beginning a ‘pants’ project in the future.

Reading the tube I realize I was supposed to have some mineral spirits on hand. I didn’t. As a matter of fact I not only didn’t have it on hand… I didn’t have any in the house! So, what’s a girl to do??? Reach for the nail polish remover… AKA, Acetone (AKA Girl’s mineral spirits). It worked like a charm! No more sticky hands.

Removing the tape… I stepped back and admired the job. Very neat and professional if I do say so my self.

caulk

See? That wasn’t so hard. After listening to my husband for over 25 years telling me I couldn’t… I found out that I could. ‘Pants job’, ‘Skirt job’… makes no difference to me.

I’m ready to tackle standing on a ladder with a garden house and house cleaner to scrub the mildew off the roof of the house this weekend. Wish me luck! If you don’t hear from me in a few days, send flowers.