Monday, December 12, 2011

The Traveler

“You have to go, I know—but I worry about you out there in such bad weather.” Ma’s plump face reflected her concern. “The temperature keeps dropping. Did you remember to put on your long-johns?” she asked. She peered at him over the rim of her glasses.

“Yep, I did. That must be what’s making this belt so tight. Or could I have gained a few pounds on your good cooking?”

“Now don’t try to change the subject by flattering me,” Ma said. “I just wish someone else could fill in for you.” She kept her knitting needles flying as she rocked furiously in her chair.

“How many times have you seen me off for one of these trips?” he asked as he laced up his boots. “And now I have GPS to help me and my smart phone to keep you posted. Before you know it, I’ll be back here with you, sitting in front of the fire, and telling you all about my trip.” He walked over to his wife, bent over, and kissed her on her cheek. “I’ll be ready for a hot toddy or two. We still have some of that good Irish whiskey in the pantry, haven’t we?”

“As far as I know—unless you’ve been stealing a sip here and there while you’ve been getting everything together for the flight. Do you have your list?”

“Of course I do. And my charge card if I need to pick up something—and my passport for the security checkpoints.”

“I still think you’re getting too old for this kind of travel. You don’t admit it, but you don’t remember things like you used to.” She paused and looked into his watery blue eyes. “I hope you’ll think of this as your last trip.”

“Ma, too many depend on me. He turned his eyes away from her steady gaze. “I can’t even think about quitting. He pulled on his gloves and said, “I’ll be back soon.” With that he was out the door.

She stopped rocking and waited. In a few moments she heard her husband’s whistle and then his voice calling, “Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer, now Vixen….”

She sighed and thought, I guess I’ll never get him to retire. Soon her clicking needles were keeping time with the crackling of the fire.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sunday Morning at the Beach

The angry ocean roils; breakers crash one upon another, until one reaches the shoreline in triumph. Seawater whips into foam, like beaten egg whites, and tosses handfuls onto the shifting sands of the beach. I breathe in the salty smell as a steady wind pastes my sweatshirt to my body. I don’t bother to wipe the spray from my sunglasses.

The cacophony of the surf touches my soul like the voices of little children. I am at peace with the wonder and beauty of creation. The firm sand beneath my feet propels me as I play hide and seek with the waves. The tiny sanderlings are quicker than I. They race toward the sea to scavenge in the sand below the receding wave, then scurry back before the foamy surge wets their feet. How do they know when to turn?

Where are the pelicans? I wonder. Too windy for their soaring pleasure, I decide. I don’t mind. I’ll see them another day.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Good Intentions

I’m late for a date I made with myself. Well, maybe not quite late yet—there are three more days left in the month. When I began my blog I knew I wouldn’t be a daily blogger, but once a month seemed a very reasonable goal.

My intentions fired up again while attending the three-day Florida Writers Conference in Orlando last weekend. Wow! What talent abounds in this sunshine state! I entered my memoir, A Bowl of Cherries, in the published memoir category, with no expectations. Early in July I learned my book was a finalist. Way back in the recesses of my mind, I thought I might have a chance of placing in the top three, but realistically I doubted it. As I perched on the edge of my chair at Saturday evening’s Awards Banquet, I listened to the writing, publishing, and teaching credentials of the winners in the many categories. The more I heard, the more honored I felt just to have my book accepted in the competition. No, I didn’t win an award, but I eagerly wait to receive what matters to me most—the written rubric, or critiques, from the two judges.

Among the many inspiring moments of the conference, the reading of an impelling short story excerpt by a very young teenager with large rimmed glasses stands out in my memory. Her friend, a year younger, read her own touching and creative poem. The adults in the large conference room applauded exuberantly. What a pleasure to see young talent among us. Not many years from now, I expect these two bright, eager writers to be on stage claiming awards.

The nine workshops I selected to attend left me with prepared handouts and a dozen pages of my own notes. I learned how to manage back-story, write in the omniscient third person, and use proven techniques for self-editing. One presenter instructed us how to spice up our plots with character development and by turning narrative into dialogue. Now I have no excuse. As exhorted in the title of Judy Bridges’ outstanding writing reference book, I must Shut Up and Write.

With Kindles, Nooks, and Ipads as ubiquitous as bottled water, we couldn’t ignore questioning the future of book publishing. Some from publishing houses insisted there will always be a market for printed books. Still others said, “Forget about publishing hard copies of your work. Electronic publishing is here to stay.” Maybe, but I get a tingle of excitement when I hold my own book in my hand.

I doubt I will publish again in any format other than emagazines, but I can certainly put fingers to the keyboard once a month to add new musings to my blog site. November is just around the corner….

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Perfect Weekend

Four days of cloudless skies and perfect temperatures provided the background for an unforgettable weekend in Door County, Wisconsin.  The Country Inn Resort, tucked among forty-four acres of woodlands on a bluff overlooking Sister Bay, set the stage for our family gathering. Ralph and I basked in the pleasure of being with our son, Steve, and his wife, Patti, and our daughter, Laurie, and Jim. With grandchildren away at college or working, the six adults had our first opportunity to be together without distraction.

We walked, golfed, biked, and swam in the Bay. We shopped, toured the country roads, sampled the offerings of the Shipwreck Brewery, and enjoyed a wine tasting at the Stones Throw Winery. A roadside Farmer’s Market provided specialty wheat bread and locally grown apples. Back at the Inn, the inviting pool, steaming hot tub, and available shuffleboard court beckoned. Our cameras worked over time to capture the moments.

Each morning began with the Inn’s tasty breakfast offerings, featuring homemade breads, Door County cherries and vanilla yogurt. We packed picnic lunches and prepared dinners together in the well-appointed kitchen of the penthouse. With the breathtaking view from the balcony, and attractive and comfortable furnishings, we felt no need to venture out the first two evenings. The flat screen television offered U.S. Open Tennis and the Brewers game while we played dominoes until our eyes couldn’t stay open. Love and laughter punctuated every moment.

We asked each other, “How could this weekend be any better?” On our last evening, we had our answer. The six of us packed up our homemade dips, specialty crackers, supply of wine and beverages, and climbed into our SUV to head for the Ellison Bluff State Natural Area. A picnic table beckoned, offering the prime viewing point for watching the sun slowly disappear into Green Bay. With the setting so perfect, the sunset so beautiful, and our joy of being together so special, several of us had tears in our eyes.

Steve had selected the Shoreline Restaurant at Gil’s Rock for our final dinner together. Would it be a letdown after the spectacular cocktail hour? Not to worry. The seafood surpassed expectations and as we departed the restaurant the almost-full moon added to the enchantment of the evening.

But of all the special moments, none equaled the shared feelings of love and affection as we bid each other goodbye. How blessed we are.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Watery Delights

I invite you to visit to read my essay, Watery Delights, just published on Pure Slush, an online literary journal.

Your comments are welcome.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

All this Stuff

Perhaps it’s an age thing—like talking about our health issues and comforting each other over the passing of yet another friend. Hardly a day passes without a golfing partner, neighbor or long time friend saying something like “I know I should get rid of some of the stuff in my closet”—or garage, or cabinets, or attic, or basement. She never hears an argument from me.

A dear friend, recently widowed, found herself faced with the need to dispose of saws, drills, hammers, every kind of nail or screw imaginable, and a myriad of tools she couldn’t identify. In preparation for a yard sale, she spent hours sorting through what had been accumulated over decades of do-it-himself projects. “He bought this drill at a rummage sale years ago. I remember how excited he was at getting such a good buy,” she told me. “That’s probably why there are so many duplicates here.” Her shoulders drooped and she said. “I just wish I didn’t have to deal with all this.”

Those are words I’m determined neither my husband nor my children will utter when I am no longer around. We had our own garage sale when we moved from our home after thirty-four years. Ruthlessly, we separated the needed-and-wanted from the nice-to-have but not needed. When we moved into an apartment we had a place for everything and very little to put into the provided storeroom. I felt free and unencumbered.

Last year I gave myself permission to take my mother’s elegant one-hundred-plus pieces of china to a resale store. I’d had the movers pack it for shipping when we moved from the house. Neither I nor my daughter or daughter-in-law would have occasion to use it in today’s casual entertaining environment. I did keep some silver and crystal. I have plenty of room in the buffet, I reasoned to myself.

But with a fresh vision of all those tools, I used the occasion of a family gathering to cover the dining room table with silver candy dishes, serving trays, and crystal salad bowls. “Okay, girls. Look this stuff over. If you want anything, take it now, because I’m going to take what’s left to the resale shop.”

“Were these wedding gifts?” my daughter-in-law asked.

“Yes. Everything here is over fifty-four years old.”

“Mom, I remember these trays…we put the Christmas cookies on them.”

I knew what was coming. Our sentimental daughter looked at the table and saw memories. Patti, our daughter-in-law, saw items that required hand-washing and silver polishing. She left empty handed. Laurie packed up what she couldn’t bear to leave behind.

Somehow I know years from now the day will come when Laurie and her friends will be saying to each other, “We really need to get rid of stuff.”  But before then, I’m determined she won’t be saying, “I wish I didn’t have to deal with all of Mom’s stuff.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Purple Shoes Say it All

We fixed our eyes on the seemingly endless line of blue-gowned graduates marching into the field house, watching for our third and youngest grandchild about to graduate from high school. Finally we spotted her with long dark hair flowing around her beautiful face. Characteristically, she had her mortarboard with the gold tassel perched precariously on the back of her head. Jessica always marches to her own tune, even when “Pomp and Circumstances” is playing.

            Ralph squeezed my hand and said, “She is so beautiful.” I didn’t argue and I’m certain my son sitting to my left was thinking the same, as was his wife Patti, Aunt Chris, and Jess’s collegiate brother, Daniel. Was it just two years ago we proudly watched him graduate with honors from this same school? Were he and the others as lost in their memories of Jessica?

            The uncomfortable bleacher seats and the less than inspirational speech by the well-intentioned superintendant were somewhat compensated for by the nicely presented comments by the senior class officers.  Then we watched the young people file across the stage to receive their diplomas, alphabetically, one by one. As I waited for Jessica and the other Ps—at least two-hundred fifty graduates preceded her—images passed before my eyes.

            On long ago weekends, when the children had a sleepover with Grammy and Papa, Jessi would wake up early and peek in to see if we were awake. Then she jumped in bed and cuddled up next to me, warm and content. Now she loves her own bed and any opportunity to sleep well into the day.

            I can see the sun bleached streaks in her thick hair as she built castles in the Florida sand. Winter turned her bobbed hair a warm brown, matching her dancing eyes. Now fashion dictates long darkened tresses and blue lenses that offer startling contrast with her smooth olive skin.

            Triumph slowed on her face when she managed to climb up to the same high tree branch her brother occupied, just as it did when she showed us how she could ride a two-wheeler. Now she confidently slides into the driver’s seat and heads out on her own.

            Jessica loved being barefoot; she discarded shoes the moment she entered the house and often when she went outdoors. Now we see her approach to receive her diploma  wearing “killer” purple shoes with heels as thin and as long as new pencils.

            The presenters continued through the alphabet until the last six graduates with names beginning with Z marched triumphantly from the stage, posed for their photos, and returned to their seats. The ceremony quickly concluded and we slowly descended from the bleachers, rubbing our tired backs. Now, to find Jessica among the throng and give her our congratulatory hugs. A sweet sadness swept over me. No more little ones to come running to their grandparents, but what pride we feel in the young adults they’ve become.     

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Parade

This morning I found myself in the midst of a Norman Rockwell painting.

      Steve had asked Ralph and me if we intended to come to the Memorial Day parade in Elm Grove, the small neighboring community where our son and his family have lived for over fifteen years. “You can get a draft beer and good ol’ Wisconsin brat in the street party afterward,” he added.

With those incentives, along with the arrival of the first gorgeous summer day of the season, we set out to see this event we had never bothered to attend before. First we hung our American flag off our balcony rail and dressed in the appropriate patriotic colors. As we drove through the newly leafed trees that canopied the roads of this suburban village, we passed groups of parents pushing strollers with energetic children skipping alongside. They looked the goslings trailing the Canadian geese around our pond. “I think the whole town is going to the parade,” I remarked. “Good thing we can park in the kid’s driveway.”

Once on foot, we joined the throngs headed for the main street of the Village. To our pleasure, our grandson caught up with us and told us where his folks were standing long the parade route. “I was determined to get home from college for Memorial Day,” he told us. “I didn’t want to miss the parade.” He stopped several times along the way to greet friends and neighbors. Seemed to us that each group of pretty young girls called out to him.

The sirens and clanging bells of the fire engines signaled the start of the parade. Ladder trucks and emergency vehicles from neighboring suburbs added to the cacophony. Children of all ages, parents, and grandparents lined both sides of the street, many waving flags and applauding as the Legion Posts passed and service men and women rode by in all manner of vehicles. The Village president, a local judge, and Representative Sensenbrenner joined in the hour-long parade. Our daughter-in-law cheered her high school band and our son and grandson cheered even louder when “their” school marched by. Kids scrambled to pick up the candy thrown by those riding in decorated floats and antique cars.

I stood taking it all in. Quintessential Americana: neighbors greeting neighbors, strangers smiling at each other, bright sunshine illuminating the scene. Wars seemed very far away as we marked this day to appreciate those who serve. The beer and brats were anticlimactic.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


The appearance of the storefront startled me. I expected an old-world, classic appearance; instead, items spilled out the front door looking as though not one more precious memory could find room inside.

For a moment or two I thought I should forget the whole thing and drive home. But I turned off the ignition, stepped out, and headed in to find someone to help carry in the two heavy boxes from the back of my SUV.

I worked my way through narrow aisles, dodging one shopper intent on examining delicate linens, and another departing with a small lamp in hand. When I reached the counter in the center of the store, a woman with a harried look on her face asked if she could help me.

“Yes. I talked with the owner on the phone, and she told me to bring in my set of Noritake china. She said she would accept it on consignment.”

“Fine. Bring it in.”

“I have three large boxes. They’re heavy and I need some help. And where should I put them?” I asked, glancing around at the chaos. More than a dozen people crowded the narrow aisles of the stores’ three alcoves, inspecting items that interested them.

“Give me a minute and I’ll clear a spot and then help you carry them in.”

We unpacked the larger box in the back of my vehicle to make the loads manageable. She had cleared a 2x3 feet space amidst glassware, toasters, and more household items than my eyes could absorb. “I hope I can get the whole set on here,” I said. “This is a service for twelve with a lot of serving pieces.”

“Let me know if you need any more help,” the woman said, as she hurried off to wait on a customer.

When we had moved from our house to an apartment six years ago, the movers packed what had been my mother’s china for shipping. I didn’t know what I would be doing with it—neither my daughter nor daughter-in-law wanted it. Both of them preferred Crate and Barrel-type furnishings. The elegant bone china rimmed with a gold floral pattern didn’t appeal to them; especially since it required hand washing.

Now, packing paper mounded on the floor space around me, as I unwrapped each piece.  First the three sets of individual salt and peppershakers; next the delicate cups and saucers that had held Mother’s coffee brewed in her Silex coffee pot. Then the dinner plates, salad and bread and butter plates, and the three sizes of platters and vegetable bowls. In my mind’s eye I saw the carefully carved turkey slices, one platter of dark meat, and another for Mother’s favorite — the slices from the breast. How many times had I watched her set her Sunday and holiday tables with this chinaware given as a wedding gift from my father’s parents?

As the pile of wrapping paper grew, my memories multiplied. Other than my grandfather’s pocket watch, the Noritake china was all that remained of any importance after she died twenty-nine years ago. I had carried portions from Florida to Wisconsin on three different flights after visiting my father. When I published my memoir a year ago, I featured the large vegetable bowl filled with cherries prominently on the cover. And now I displayed it in this consignment store, hoping someone would cherish it and the other hundred pieces accompanying it.

A well-groomed shopper interrupted my thoughts. “This is lovely,” she said, picking up the delicate cup. “Young people today just don’t appreciate fine tableware like this.”

“You are right—my kids really wouldn’t use it. I hope someone will treasure it….” I had to stop and wipe my eyes. “My mother loved every piece. I can’t believe I’m actually letting it go.” I wiped again. “Please excuse me. I’m afraid I get a little more emotional with each piece I unwrap.”

“I’m sure it will sell quickly. And if you don’t use it, your mother would be glad to know someone else will." She smiled at me and wandered down another aisle.

I stacked the last plate, gathered up the mounds of paper and stuffed them into the empty boxes, and went to find Barbara, the owner, to find out what I was to do next. I hoped I had my tear ducts under control.

“Hi. I see you are all unpacked.” She rearranged the coffee cups so they nestled in a circle on top of the dinner plates. “This is beautiful; I’m going to try for two-hundred and fifty dollars. With the holidays coming up, I think the set will sell quickly.”

Two-hundred and fifty dollars? I thought. Maybe this is all a mistake. Instead, I said okay, and asked if I was to have a receipt. “Let’s go up to the counter and we’ll complete a consignment contract,” she answered. “You will receive 65% of the sale price, but every thirty days we reduce the price by 15%.”

We traveled to Florida for the winter season and the holidays came and went. “I keep wondering about Mom’s china,” I said to my husband. “I think I’ll call and see if it has sold.”

The voice on the phone was friendly. “We sold your china last week, for a hundred and fifty-four dollars. You should receive a check by the twentieth of next month.

When the envelope from Legacies arrived, I tore it open and withdrew the check for $102. Fortunately all my memories remain and they are priceless.