Christmas Memories

Thanksgiving has come and gone:

As a child, the best part of your life begins the day of your Thanksgiving celebration. Turkey, gravy, and stuffing was the best, followed by yummy deserts! The day after meant the Holiday Season was here and Christmas traditions could begin. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have those days back. Sharing memories will have to do.

Christmas music started to play after Thanksgiving. There was no department store shopping for us way back when because most places were closed in our little town. We had a Lawson’s Party Foods (best chip dip EVER!), Isaly’s Dairy market (famous for chipped chopped ham and sky scraper ice cream cones), and a Gray Drug Store that was opened, if we were lucky. They were all within walking distance and most convenient.

Fall decorations slowly came down, and the cleaning began. My sister Jayla and I had assigned chores that had to be completed once all the fall things were packed up and put away. We had to dust, vacuum, scrub the kitchen and bathroom floors, and our daily duties of making our beds and cleaning our rooms. We each had our own rooms until Jolie came along.

When Jolie was born, Jayla and I shared a bed, as well as the bedroom. Jayla liked to pull the covers up tight around her neck and I liked my arms out over top of the covers. Sharing a bed with your sister is your first lesson in life about compromise. But one of my favorite memories of laying in bed together is of Christmas Eve. We would debate about Santa Claus getting into our house, how reindeer could fly, and if we had been good enough to get what we really wanted for Christmas. Would it be under the tree in the morning?

One time, while we were trying to fall asleep, we heard an unfamiliar noise. It seemed to come from the roof above us and we immediately stopped talking and listened. We were quiet as two little church mice. I looked at my big sister in the very dim room with only a small nightlight and asked “Was that Santa and his reindeer on our roof?” Jayla said “I don’t know, but I heard it too!” We laid there quietly and fantasized in our own little heads what it was that we heard that night, but we both heard it. The next morning bright and early, we peered out the door into the living room, and sure enough, there were bright colored packages under the tree! We just knew it was Santa that we heard last night. We just knew it!

After Thanksgiving, it was also that time of year when we couldn’t wait for it to snow. We loved to build a snowman or a fort, make snow angels, and throw snowballs at each other every chance we could get. We had a lot of neighbor friends in our age group that we’d play with all the time (still friends with them on Facebook even though there’s many miles between us all.) It was a really great neighborhood to grow up in and I am sure our parents were happy we occupied ourselves daily. Sometimes my Mom would yell for us to come in just so we could warm up our hands and feet and dry out our gloves and hats in front of the heater vents. We would beg to go back out, and eventually, round two would begin. Sometimes, we even got Mom to come out and help us build a snowman. I remember her going thru her sewing box to find us some buttons for the eyes and mouth. We also begged for a carrot nose, even though she probably needed it for cooking, but she always gave in to us for a snowman.

We had an old red barn behind our property used for various businesses back in the day. It had two ramp ways that were used as loading areas. One of the ramps was a bit more steep than the other. It made the best slide ever! Our neighbor directly across the street- her Father worked for Armor Foods and would bring home large heavy duty pieces of plastic from time to time. We would use a big piece of the plastic to sit on and slide down the ramp and all the way across the street (which was rarely traveled) and into the bushes! We would do this until the snow was compacted and turned very slippery (The ramps weren’t being used at the time, so no one cared. I’m pretty sure this activity would not happen in today’s world.) My Mother could see us out the back window across the yards and up on the hill by the old red barn. She was always worried we’d break our necks out there, but let us have the fun. Those were some of the best days of our lives.

Except for the occasional fight when Jayla would push me down into a large snowbank and I could hardly get up and out of it. I’d get snow in my little red boots and cry. Jayla taught me not to be such a cry baby and told me to stop or she wouldn’t play with me any more. So I usually stopped my crocodile tears and dealt with cold feet, but that was better than running home and being a tattle tale. If Jayla got in trouble, that meant we both couldn’t go out and play because my Mom wouldn’t let me wander around outside without my big sister, so I had to toughen up a bit and take the bad with the good.

I wouldn’t trade having a big sister for anything!

Last known live tree I had while living with my Mother-in-Law in 1979- my son’s 1st Christmas. There are many pictures of our family’s Christmas trees when we were young, but they are not in my possession.

Moments and Memories

A True and Funny Story:

The photo of my little sister Jolie above was taken in our kitchen around 1981. That is homemade pizza dough, but Mom would buy Prego sauce on many occasions to make them in a hurry for dinner.

I love this picture because we spent so much family time in this kitchen. I look around and see so many old fashioned things- the table and chairs, Tupperware; sugar container, measuring bowl, and salt and pepper shakers, an old glass pop bottle, and the wreath hanging on the wall was hand-made with red yarn. Also noted is the cheese. This was back in the days of no bags of shredded cheese. She used a cheese grater and I could almost taste this homemade pizza just looking at it! There’s also a pile of junk next to the stove. That is where my Mom would pile stuff up that needed to go down into the basement (you can see the pocket door to the far left.) My Dad would take it all down for Mom when he would go down to work on his bench and fix stuff. When you don’t have a garage, the basement is where everything goes to hide.

But the beauty of this picture is my little sister Jolie. If you read my book (Painter of Shells) you would know that my little sister was number 3 of 4 children and born with a hip deformity. From birth, she spent at least two years in body casts and leg braces. No one could guarantee my parents that her hip socket would develop and function as a normal hip joint, or that she would walk without a severe limp. So you could imagine how delighted we all were, that when all was said and done, she did indeed walk normal.

Jolie came along 8 years later than me, so a lot of my memories are from the 8 years of just Jayla and I. What I do remember best is Jolie’s first couple of years in the casts and her toddler years. Once I was a teenager, I didn’t spend as much time playing with her because we had a baby brother that came along and occupied her time.

Jolie loved to play house and take care of her baby dolls. One of her very first Christmas presents from Santa, once she was out of her cast and braces, was a kitchen set with stove, refrigerator and a working sink. Jolie had no idea how hard Santa had to work at getting it all put together and into our living room! If my Dad thought the fireplace was a challenge, he had no idea that he needed to be a rocket scientist, or that it would be a 3 man job assembling a play kitchen!

Our Uncle Frank (INO- In Name Only- not by blood) helped him assemble it in our basement, and I think Jayla’s boyfriend also. Then Santa had to hustle on Christmas Eve to quietly carry it all up the stairs and next to the tree. It was an ordeal, but a priceless memory to see her face on Christmas morning! She wanted to cook and do dishes right off the bat! Of course, after the week of Christmas, it all had to go back down in the basement for her to play with because we simply didn’t have enough space for everything in our living room and still see the TV. We shuffled things around in our house constantly! My Mom called everything we did “a three act play!”

I believe it was the following Christmas that Santa added a table and 4 chairs to her set. It also came complete with a play-date friend- a baby doll that stood taller than Jolie with beautiful strawberry blonde hair! It was hilarious to wake up and see the doll sitting on a chair at her table. Kind of freaky when we peeked out to see if Santa had come and two eyes were staring back at us!

I will share more Christmas stories after Thanksgiving, but here’s the part that still makes me laugh out loud:

I have been telling people for years how my little sister Jolie grew up to be a flute player (flautist) in our musical family. Once she was in high school, she played in the high school marching band, which was the best band in the tri-state area! She eventually joined the flag line and led the band out onto the football field with fantastic displays of flag twirling! She attended the same high school that Bernie Kosar played football at and I remember the first game opener that season! I went with my Mom and Dad to see Jolie twirl, but got a pretty good bang for my buck seeing Bernie throw his first touchdown pass after a sensational drive down the field! We were all up on our feet screaming! A night I won’t forget, and the rest is history with Kosar becoming the QB for the Cleveland Browns.

But my sister was just as famous, at least to me! She went on to play in the Macy’s Day Parade! Or so I THOUGHT! I recently found out when I spoke with her that the high school band was there indeed! BUT Jolie wasn’t able to make the trip to NYC with the band that year. O! M! G!! I have been telling people for years that my little sister marched in the Macy’s Parade! I remembered watching them on TV, but she was not there!

BUT, she did march in the famous Disney Christmas Parade, which is definitely something to write home about! I also thought her son made it to Macy’s, as he played trumpet in the same high school band years later. WRONG again! Her Son marched in the Mile Long Parade in Chicago, but not Macy’s either. The joke’s on me! I’ve always told people that my Sister and her Son marched in Macy’s. It really doesn’t matter, because what they both did was still amazing and exciting, but my memory is a little twisted!!

So to all the people that might remember me telling you about my Sister and her Son; it was NOT at Macy’s…LOL!

I shall return with many more Christmas stories, but have the Happiest Thanksgiving this year! I hope you are creating memories with your family or friends. If not, I hope you have many good memories of all the good times you once had. Watch a funny movie like “Planes Trains and Automobiles.” Laugh till you cry! Drink wine or sip brandy. No matter who you’re with or what you do, be grateful you’re alive and thankful for your good health! Thank someone for their friendship or reach out to someone alone. Enjoy the day and the food you eat. We are the lucky ones that have lived to tell our stories thus far…

Moments and Memories

Thanksgiving Traditions:

Turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, creamed corn, green bean casserole, red spiced apple rings (because we didn’t love cranberry sauce), hot dinner rolls and lots of butter. We eliminated soup and salad over the years because no one cared to use the space in our bellies for ordinary foods. Italian wedding soup became a Christmas Eve tradition.

As young children, we woke up to the smell of delightful scents coming from our kitchen. My Mom would sauté chopped onions, celery, garlic and fresh parsley for the stuffing so it could cool before mixing it all up and stuffing the bird. She would use the top of a Tupperware cake storage container and the Tupperware bread storage container as large plastic bowls for the broken bread to dry out. She’d place them on top of the refrigerator so we couldn’t get at them. Why, you might ask? Jayla and I would sneak pieces and roll them between our fingers until they were little doughball snacks!

The sink was full of icy cold salt water with our turkey bathing in it. We’d have cereal for breakfast because Mom didn’t have time to fuss over anything special. We were able to be lazy because at 9:00am, she had the Macy’s Day Parade on the television to entertain us. She would come into the living room now and then to see some of her favorite performers and enjoy the large balloons. After we saw Santa end the parade, my Mom then ordered us to start moving and get cleaned up so we could get into some nice clothes before helping to prepare the living room for the big feast between 1:00 and 2:00 (the size of the turkey determined the time we ate).

My Dad would start things off by re-arranging the living room. He usually had to remove an end table or the coffee table or both. Our Dining table was a drop-leaf table usually residing under the side window and up against the wall. We would help my Dad move it into the center of the living room, and then the 2 sides were placed in their upward positions. Once the sides were up, we’d pull it apart to get 2 additional leaf sections that were stored in the back of our front entrance closet put into place. We then placed the appropriate sized padded top sections over the entire table. Once the table was in place, we got the honors to drape it with a large lacey tablecloth, and a clear vinyl went over the lacey one. My Grandma’s white milk glass candle holders were placed apart and centered in the middle with white tapered candles in them. My Dad would have to round up the dining room chairs scattered throughout the house. Beyond those six, he had several wooden folding chairs in the basement to allow for extra seating. Once everything was in place, we were all ready to set the table as soon as Mom gave us the green light. How exciting this all was every single year! It was like a special production of the symphony playing our favorite song!

By this time, my Dad had football games playing on TV (or we would beg him to hear Christmas albums on the stereo console record player!) My Grandmother would walk down the street to our house, always showing up early, to help my Mom with food preparations and to oversee our performance! She would be sure to keep us in line while Mom was busy during the occasional argument during this performance. The smell of turkey filled the entire house, and eventually, my Mom let us set the table with Grandma acting as the conductor of the symphony.

We got to use the special China plates trimmed in silver with a blue floral print and sparse green leaves. (Mom saved S&H Green Stamps to purchase our China.) Grandma would remove them from the highest shelves of our cupboards (before we had the china cabinet) and carefully hand them to us like a delicate flower. Mom usually bought Fall motif dinner napkins to use with our daily silverware (Grandma had the good Sterling Silver stuff). We used 2 sets of salt and pepper shakers, 2 butter dishes, a couple of ornate serving spoons, and of course, glasses (not all matching- and ours were plastic) for our pop or ice water. Once the candles were lit, we were ready for the food. We could hardly wait for that moment my Dad got to carve the turkey. He always gave us a tiny taste of it or the stuffing, and my Mom always gave “the look” of approval or disgust, depending on the bird being juicy & tender, or dry & tough. The foods were all placed on the table, the gravy boat was full, and finally the dinner rolls- sometimes forgotten and a little over done. (It kind of became a joke.) We said the blessing with hands held all around the table, and then it was time to mangia! That means eat in Italian!

The symphony ended approximately 20 – 25 minutes later. That’s how long it took to pass the dishes and fill our bellies with all the excellent tasting food on that table. ALL the work my Mom and Grandma did for a 20 minute splurge. But it was awesome! Now it was time for the adults to chat and relax while Jayla and I cleared the table. It was one of the few days of the year that we didn’t mind cleaning up. However, there was almost always an argument of who would wash and who would dry. But it always got done, and the china was returned high up on the top shelves awaiting the next round on Christmas Eve. Jayla would actually climb onto the counter top and I would hand her the china. Eventually, an adult would scream at us for doing so, as we were supposed to pile it up on the kitchen table. I don’t remember ever breaking anything. But then again, cows can fly.

Every year was just a little bit different as to who would be sharing this big dinner with us. Sometimes, we were very disappointed that we kids had to sit at the kitchen table, as the adults filled the formal dining table in the living room. But no matter who was there for dinner, or what table you were at, the crowd always grew for coffee, deserts, and Pokeno or various other card games. Our front door was like a revolving door every Holiday with people coming and going. (Years later when we were older, Mom nicknamed our house Grand Central Station.) All were welcome, and absolutely no one went home hungry. My Dad always had to undo his belt buckle, but somehow managed to have another round before the night was over.

The best part of all this was that all who entered our home had no idea how financially difficult it was for my Parents to provide this fabulous feast. We might have to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the next week, but for one day, we were rich and fed everyone! I hear everyone complaining now about the prices of everything and inflation for this upcoming Holiday season. I guess some things never change, or the price gouging during these times just never stops. But my Mom and Dad never went to any food bank or Church for any help. My Dad worked over-time to make a few extra bucks and somehow managed to put out a spread for years!

My best memories of Thanksgiving are always about the great gathering of friends and family at our house and staying up later than usual. I remember one time that the Wizard of Oz was aired on or the night before Thanksgiving. I never could figure out what all the fuss was about when Dorothy stepped into Oz with flowers, trees, and the yellow brick road (and of course, the little people.) We didn’t have a color TV, so it was not as impressive until the day we watched it all unfold in color. We loved it either way!

The best part of the day was the visiting, the laughter, the reminiscing of days gone by, the games, and the anticipation of doing it all over again for Christmas. Only this time, presents would be involved….only if we stayed off the naughty list.

Jayla could sometimes push it a little too far for my comfort. (Laughing!!!)

My Daddy (year unknown) A wooden folding chair is behind him. The drop leaf dining table is to the right of him. The china cabinet we eventually had went right where he is sitting.

Moments and Memories

A Series of Holiday Memories:

I am quite sure that me and my big sister Jayla drove our Mom crazy. Every year just before Thanksgiving, the anticipation of Christmas and all the festivities surrounding the Season filled our house to the brim. You did not bypass Thanksgiving and decorate early in those days, as many people do for one reason or another today. But that didn’t stop us from asking her if we could start decorating. We were like a broken record on repeat.

If we were really lucky and the weather was predicted to turn cold early, my Dad would sometimes put the outdoor lights up before Thanksgiving Day to avoid freezing his fingers to the bone. Jayla and I were thrilled because Daddy always let us help. (I’m quite sure we drove our Dad crazy too!) I don’t have any pictures of our house all decorated, but my Dad did take movies of it. Let me create a picture of it in your mind.

We had the large old-fashioned multicolored lightbulbs strung all the way up one side of the house, across the entire roofline, and down the other side. The two large windows in the front of the house (Mom & Dad’s bedroom, and the living room) had smaller multicolored twinkle lights all the way around each one. Candelabra lights of 3 (5 in the biggest front window) sat on each windowsill all the way around the house. The front door had twinkle lights around it with various door decorations hanging on it every year. Eventually, we started decorating the side windows, because more is better! We also lit the sidewalk leading from the driveway to the porch with large candy canes and two large lighted candles at the front entrance. As time went on, we added white twinkle lights to the large shrubs under the front windows. We pretty much lit up everything that you could string lights on without blowing a fuse! If it was cold outside, Mom would make us hot chocolate with marshmallows when we finally came in to warm us up.

Dad would suffer from dizzy spells from time to time, making it dangerous for him to be on a ladder. Jayla was still young, but not shy of heights, so my Dad agreed (after she hounded him half to death) to let her climb the ladder and string the lights. She didn’t care for all the up and down, as it was more time consuming. So she came up with a more efficient idea to string the lights up. She climbed up onto the roof, to my Dad’s dismay, and laid on her stomach with her head facing down towards the edge. It was a hip roof, so not as steep as a gable roof. My Mother nearly had a heart attack when she witnessed this display of courage and bravery, but Jayla would try anything once. I would help hold the lights from down below, and my Dad would feed them up to her. It was an awesome display of efficiency and so much quicker. She would just scoot along the rooftop’s edge on her belly placing hooks and lights and wallah!

Most of our indoor Christmas decorations were stored up in the cold attic of our house. The closet in the smallest bedroom is where the attic opening was with several built-in steps leading up to it. Even though my Mom said “no” to decorating yet, we would beg her to just let us start bringing some things down from the attic. You know, so they wouldn’t be so cold once we were ready to use them. (Any excuse we could come up with to start the process of decorating!) Perhaps we needed to check the bulbs that might be burned out so we could replace them before hand??? Sometimes- she would give in to us and let us bring some down and put them on the closet steps and floor.

By the way, there was this one time that Jayla almost put her foot thru the plastered ceiling! She tripped and stepped off the boards my Dad had up there to walk on and to store things on top of. She was fine, and so was the ceiling, but we were warned to be much more careful. Makes me think of the Chevy Chase attic scene in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!” (Laughing)

We also drove my Mom and Dad crazy asking questions about Santa Claus. We did not have a fireplace and could not figure out how in the world he could come into our house without a chimney! So my Dad decided to buy a cardboard Fireplace with a chimney that reached up to the ceiling. I am sure there are pictures somewhere of this contraption that our parents tried to talk us into the idea that Santa could now enter our house without using the front door. I just don’t have any in my possession. (Perhaps Jolie has one.) It was red and white bricks with a black mantle and the chimney almost touched the ceiling. Putting it together was hilarious because the directions were like reading a book and cardboard pieces spread out everywhere! But somehow we managed. There was two logs in the fireplace with flames that lit up and flickered to look like fire by a small lightbulb with a slow rotating aluminum fan. It was the last and most difficult part of the assembly, and my Dad grew frustrated. I remember Jayla and I helped figure it out by looking at the pictures, and it was like my Dad hit the lottery! His girls were mechanically inclined and that made him so happy! Every year after that 1st time, it was Jayla and I that mastered putting it all together, and we were quite proud of it. However, we still couldn’t figure out how Santa could get his fat @ss down that cardboard chimney! My Mom came to the conclusion that it was magic! If she had told us that from the start, we would have never had that cute little fireplace and these wonderful memories…

Our backyard with an early snow

Moments and Memories

Sharing another “Kodak Moment”

Nine more days until Thanksgiving. It was such a special Holiday when I was a child. It’s just not the same when your children are all grown and have families of their own, with new traditions or no traditions at all. Especially if you have moved away from your hometown and out-of-state, as I am now. So my memories are the best part of the day, as I will not be with my family again this year.

Turkey has all-but become a thing of the past, as I usually just make chicken now. Sometimes, I don’t even make homemade dressing (we called it stuffing) and I cheat with Stovetop. I make homemade mashed potatoes, but usually don’t do the sweet potatoes anymore, as we don’t eat as much as we did when we were young. Instead of the famous green bean casserole, I just make green beans. Instead of a corn casserole, I just make corn. If I want to kill two birds with one stone, I make Birds Eye mixed veggies. I always make homemade gravy, but my table sure isn’t full of traditional homemade foods like the good old days. That is a fact!

I remember my Grandma and my Mom planning well ahead, and the cookies were the first thing that they would attack, as they could be checked off the To Do list and in the freezer ahead of time. The pumpkins and the apples were purchased for the pies because cookies alone would never suffice at an Italian Thanksgiving. They sometimes ordered a fresh turkey, but I remember a big frozen bird also purchased ahead of time so it could be thawed gradually in the refrigerator. And if a complete turkey dinner with all the fixings wasn’t enough, sometimes they added Italian wedding soup as an appetizer! That too, would end up being made ahead of time and put into the freezer. And don’t forget the salad. You had to have something healthy on the table, right? There was always a loaf of Italian bread (or hot dinner rolls) with plenty of butter on the table with every meal, so why would Thanksgiving be any different?!

Being an Italian, every Holiday meal was like the biggest wedding feast you can imagine. If you think Thanksgiving wasn’t crazy enough, then hold onto your hats & mittens, because Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is just around the corner! You do it all over again, except the turkey will get replaced with homemade Cavatelli (always made with potato dough by my Dad), homemade spaghetti and meatballs, or lasagna. Christmas Day was usually Baked Ham cooked with 7Up (or Ginger ale) and garnished with slices of pineapple and maraschino cherries! Everything was huge because the leftovers fed your Aunt’s and Uncle’s family the day after when all the visiting began. Back then, school was out until Monday and Black Friday didn’t become a big thing until the 80’s, so visiting was the thing to do!

The visiting would sometimes consist of an after-dinner gathering. That meant you ate, cleaned the table, washed, dried, and put away the dishes (no dishwasher when I was a child). A big pot of coffee was brewed and the cookies and pies were ready for serving. (Jayla and I always tried to sneak a squirt of whipped cream right into our mouths, but damn that can for making so much noise!) We all waited for the car to pull up in the driveway, and then the hugging and the kissing started before they all got in the front door. The coats all went on my Mom & Dad’s bed, the noise level was turned up to high, and the cackles of laughter began! Adults around the kitchen table and the cousins in the living room, usually on the floor playing a game. We were lucky on those days, as we would be allowed to eat our cookies and drink our pop in the living room because there wasn’t enough room for all of us around the kitchen table. That’s what end tables were for- the kid’s pop and cookies. Some of our relatives had coffee tables that worked great also. We didn’t have one in the early years.

Cookies by the dozens, apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate pudding pie, and special for my Dad- homemade vanilla custard pie (sometimes lemon or coconut). Nothing ever store bought except for the ingredients that were needed to bake everything from scratch, or you’re not really Italian.

Sometimes we would gather at Grandma’s house for celebrations instead of ours. That was always a treat to us kids, even though we only lived three doors down from Grandma. (My family home on the left, dinner at my Grandma’s on the right.)

Modern day Thanksgiving celebrations are just not the same. Everyone is concerned more with the shopping, and rarely focus on large family gatherings. It costs too much money. Too many people have to work. The families don’t get along. Who can’t eat this, and who can’t eat that. I don’t feel like cooking. Let’s just go out and eat. Now with Covid- who has been vaccinated, and who has not. Too many people in the airports and on the roads.

I could go on and on, but what for? My Son once said to me years ago after his Grandma died (my Mom), “The Holidays just aren’t the same anymore without Grandma.” He’s right. Not just because she’s gone. It’s because no one wants to make the effort and put in the work that our parents once did to make everything so special. You can think that I live too far away now, but there were many years I was local. Gatherings became more far and few between once my Mom was deceased. I told my Son at that point in time, that it was up to him to start his own traditions with his immediate family. It doesn’t have to be a big gathering around a dining table. Travel to a destination. Celebrate with friends or family. Take your children to the movies, or have movie night at home. Go hiking with your family. Play football in the yard. Whatever you want to do, but make it special and memorable for your children. That’s what it’s all about- creating memories and traditions. I am most thankful for the effort my parents made to give us such wonderful memories!

In addition to my parents making the effort, we had extended family that also did it. Our parents and all of our Aunts and Uncles were never divorced and all had 2 – 4 children. None of the women worked outside the home in those days because they had full time jobs doing housework and taking care of children. I believe that was also a huge factor in the equation. Today’s reality is that everyone has to work to make ends meet. So who has the time to plan, prepare, bake, cook, clean and visit? It seems almost no one. So you must make the time, or your children will never have stories to tell and memories to share.

People laugh at me because I watch Hallmark movies all thru the Holidays. It is because they are the closest thing to being surrounded by family and good times! You know it will end happy, but it’s the beautiful story that gets you to the ending and the scenic locations in-between. Cabins in the mountains, horses in the country, the big city skyline, skiing down the slopes, singing around a Christmas tree, building a snowman, candlelight by the fire, etc. All the things I love are there for the watching and cost me nothing to see.

So think about creating a memory for your children. Once you are Grandmas and Grandpas, it’s time to relax and let someone else do all the dishes…

Special Moments and Memories

“Kodak Moments” Who Remembers?

The first camera ever produced was by Kodak in 1888 (invented by George Eastman.) The tagline “Kodak Moment” was coined by George Eastman in 1892 for an advertising slogan. It seems as appropriate today as it was 129 years ago.

Cameras have become as important to our lives as our heart and mind. They are like the air we breathe sustaining our every breath. Having a camera used to mean carrying it around wherever you went that might present that special “Kodak moment.” Now, it’s as easy as using your phone, which is usually handy dandy 24/7. We don’t leave home without it.

I remember my Dad had an old box-like movie camera when I was a young child. I don’t remember what the name of it was, but my Dad had a “Bell and Howell” movie projector with a white screen to project the movies onto, and it was just about the most exciting thing we ever did in our living room! Preserving those moments of weddings, picnics, and children touching the grass for the very first time, were huge entertainment back in the 60’s and 70’s. My Mom would make popcorn the old fashioned way in a pot on the stovetop burner, shaking it vigorously over the heating element as it neared the last few pops. Then she’d pour melted butter over it with a bit of salt for good flavor.

Pictures and movies of our loved ones, especially after one passes on, are the things we cherish most. They remind us of the special moments we spent together and fills us with joy. It brings “The Good Old Days” near and dear to our hearts.

Every Holiday season for me is a walk down memory lane. If you read my book “The Painter of Shells”, you know that my childhood days were some of the best days of my entire life, spent with a loving family full of traditions, hugs and kisses. We were of Italian descent and loved spending time with Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins.

Ah yes, the good old days and the “Art” of visiting! I can’t get enough of those memories during the Holidays. But I have also learned over the years that not everyone grows up with such good memories and traditions as I did. Perhaps not everyone was fortunate enough to have so many wonderful “Kodak Moments.”

I am going to share some of mine over the next several weeks as we approach the Holidays. My writing is always from the heart, and as you may know, “humor served up with a side of sarcasm” from time to time. So join me as I share some of the special moments that created my best memories.

I will start off by saying, once again, I have changed the names of the family members I speak of in my writing to protect their identities.

Mom and Dad’s Wedding

My Mom was only 17 and my Dad was 19 when it all began. They were married in the summer and were married until death parted them when my Mom was only 69. It was a shock to all of us that she had a dreadful disease living in her. When it finally started to surface, the Doctors did not know exactly what was wrong. She declined rapidly once she was diagnosed with Systemic Scleroderma, and my Dad was left to live his final days without the Love of his life. We were all completely devastated. But I am not here today to share that sadness. I am here to lift the spirits of anyone that has experienced tragedy and loss.

The Holidays will come and go whether you like it or not. My Mom died just before Easter. My Grandmother died just before Thanksgiving many years before. Easter was my Mom’s favorite Holiday (she was born and raised a Roman Catholic) and my Grandma lived for Thanksgiving celebrations! They both left us at 69 years of age and right before their favorite Holiday, leaving us behind and brokenhearted. The saying “life goes on” brings on new meaning when it suddenly affects your life, and you don’t really care if it does or not in those first few weeks.

I chose to love and preserve their memory every Holiday season. The memories my Mom and Dad and their Moms and Dads created for our Family to cherish will definitely live on in our Family.

That first Thanksgiving after my Grandma’s passing was the worst. (Today, November 15th, marks the anniversary of her death.) My Mom could not function. So I took the lead role as grocery shopper and head cook, and hosted the turkey dinner for our immediate family. My Mother cried most of the day once it arrived, but when she looked back over the years, she was so grateful to be surrounded by her family and relieved of the stresses of dealing with dinner.

That Thanksgiving is memorable, but in a very different way. It was the very first Holiday I learned to deal with loss and grief. I knew my Grandmother would have wanted us to honor her favorite Holiday by spending it together with family. We reminisced and we cried, but my Grandmother would be proud that we carried her love in our hearts and continued the traditions she loved so much. How could we not love that day, knowing how much she sacrificed and did for us all those years before?

So today is a tribute to my Grandmother. She was spunky and had more gumption than any other woman I ever knew! She was the rock in our childhood. She was our babysitter, and she was our confidant when we couldn’t tell Mom! She was a great cook and made the best pastries of all time! She always had a stash of chocolate somewhere and taught us to share. She had a fine silver teapot that she’d polish to entertain her bridge club ladies, when she could hardly afford to feed herself! (Grandpa died when she was 45, and no life insurance.) She was witty and smart and we called her “Granny Good Witch!” She is the first woman I ever heard say “Mafongool” (translation; Mother F’r). I would ask my Mom “What did Grandma just say?” and I never got an explanation, except to NEVER repeat it! “Do as I say, not as I do!” was often an explanation growing up in an Italian family.

One of the funniest things to ever happen when Grandma was babysitting me and Jayla while Mom and Dad were out:

Jayla did something and we got in trouble. I don’t remember what it was, but I’m sure it was her fault because I was a goody two-shoes kid! (Laughing!) Grandma ran into the kitchen to get the wooden spoon (and you know what that means!) So while she was out of our bedroom, Jayla ran into the closet to hide under stuff, and I zoomed under the bed like Flash Gordon! When Grandma returned seconds later, the room was totally silent. You could hear a pin drop! Grandma started yelling “I know you’re in here! I’ll find younes in here!” She then took off one of her shoes and threw it under the bed to see if we were under there. I grabbed that shoe and slid it out to the other side so she wouldn’t suspect I was hiding under there! She then went into the closet and looked for us in there, but Jayla must have morphed into the invisible child, because Granny came up empty!

She gave up, and a few minutes later, she said out loud “Younes can come out now. I won’t beat your bottoms, but you’d better not do it again!”

Awe…the great memories we have! I Love you Grandma with all my heart, and will miss you till the day I die!!

PAINTER OF SHELLS

(The Finale) SCENE THIRTY

Whenever my Grandmother heard people say “Why me?” she used to always come back with the response “Why not me?” When I questioned her about it, she said “Why am I so special that nothing bad can happen to me? We all have our cross to bear.”

I never forgot those words throughout my entire life. My Grandmother was a brilliant woman full of intuition and style. (My Mother nicknamed her “Granny Good Witch,” and I pictured her as Glinda, the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz.) She never completed school because she had to take care of family, and home responsibilities came first, but she was educated well beyond her time. If she had received a formal education, I believe she could have been another RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) in today’s world. She definitely would have been a precedent-setting woman that others would have looked up to.

I share this with you for two reasons. First; every child needs an adult figure to look up to, admire, and respect (like a grandparent.) Second; every child needs to experience traditions to realize how they add meaning to your life while growing up. Without these two important ingredient’s in your childhood, disasters will be harder to handle when they come along. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when bad things will happen to us. I believe the very reason I am still here today enjoying what life has to offer is because of how my Grandma and my Parents raised me.

When everything seemed to fail me, or I felt victimized and helpless, I remembered those words my Grandma spoke “Why not me?” None of us are getting out of here alive, so you have to face facts. Everyone will suffer at some point in time from loss or devastation. When these hard times come along, it is tradition that will give you moments of happiness and strength. At least it did for me.

Let me share a short story about one Christmas long ago during the period of time that I was losing everything in the recession.

My Sisters made sure I would have gas money to get home, so I planned on being at Jolie’s house that Christmas Eve and Christmas day. I knew I would have my family around me, great meals, awesome cookies, festive cocktails, and plenty of Holiday cheer with our children. But what I didn’t have, was the ability to contribute monetarily and to buy gifts, as we had always done in the past. It would be difficult to put on a happy face when I was in the middle of the worst life crisis anyone could face and try to feel festive. It was a severe blow to my ego not to be able to shower everyone with luxury gifts of jewelry, watches, Montblanc writing instruments, or Gucci accessories, like I had been able to do in years past.

So I made a promise to myself to enjoy the Holiday season in a way that I had not been able to during my career. I had the gift of time. I would listen to Christmas music, and I could muster up enough change to bake some traditional cookies. I would not be a Grinch for Christmas because I would think happily of my childhood days, my Parents, and my Grandma (my Grandpa was deceased before I was born, in case I forgot to tell you.) There was such deep traditions instilled in me over the years, but still, how could I enjoy the most festive time of the year with no money? Well, to people who think you can’t enjoy the Holiday without lots of presents, I say, “oh yes, you can!” What I had was plenty of time to actually enjoy all the traditions without the stress or the headache of working. It was truly my best gift ever!

Giving is the best part of the gathering together on Christmas Eve, so I came up with a plan. I just had to talk my sisters into it in order for it to work. If I couldn’t spend money purchasing things, than I would just have to make things. After all, I did’t suffer from lack of creativity, so I would find a way to make homemade gifts for everyone, if they agreed to no store bought gifts in return. We all agreed it would be fun and we got our creative juices flowing. It became one of the most memorable Christmases ever! An old fashioned Family Christmas. It doesn’t get any better than that! (The only thing missing was Cousin Eddie!!)

We crocheted, we knitted, we glued, and we painted. There was scarves, and hats, headbands, and picture frames! Everyone got something special, and all the wrapping paper, tags, ribbons, and bows I had saved in my closet from years past, were finally used up! We laughed till we cried, and we ate and we drank, and we were most definitely merry! It was the best we could have with fine table linens, china, and crystal. The only thing missing was the ones we held most dear that were no longer here with us. It was all three of them that shone deep in our hearts that wonderful year.

My Grandmother’s traditions lived on in each of us. When she had no money to buy us fine gifts, she crocheted little stockings and filled them with dollar bills! (We all still have those stockings to hang on our trees.) She would spend her last buck to make us cookies and her wonderful Italian wedding soup. Her love still lives on in our hearts and souls. She passed it on to my Mother, who continued with her famous wedding soup, decorating the house, baking cookies with us, and stockings stuffed with whatever she could afford (God knows, we loved our stocking stuffers, and we all continue that tradition today!) I remember one of the best stocking stuffers we ever had when Jayla and I were very young. It was the famous mouse “Topo Gigio” (debuted on the Ed Sullivan show in the 60’s) and the head and ears were sticking out of our stockings. That was really all I needed that Christmas.

My father was famous for taking Jayla and me to get the biggest tree that he could possibly fit into the house, and filled the air with the aroma of fresh pine. To this day, I burn pine scented candles every Christmas since I put up an artificial tree. My Mother used to warn him every year before we left the house NOT to get another monstrosity of a tree! And of course, that’s exactly what we did almost every time! Dad was also the homemade cavatelli maker in the house which was served up with Mom’s homemade sauce on Christmas Eve many times! (He passed that tradition on to his Grandchildren before he died.) And don’t forget about the music that filled our home with joy no matter how few gifts were under our tree. My Mother would play the piano and sing, I would play guitar, Jayla would play clarinet, and years later, Jolie would play flute, and Jozeffy loved to sing. My Mother continued the tradition to play piano with her Grandchildren singing along for many years.

I’m not sure I could have gotten thru all the extreme difficulties in my life without the admiration, love, and respect I had for all three of these wonderful mentors who raised me. Those family traditions lifted my heart during the worst of times. They instilled family values in all of us that would keep each other going during the most difficult of our days.

My Grandmother was also extremely creative and must have passed that gene on to me. She used to do the flower arrangements for a green house called J&J Gardens when we were young. She also loved planting flowers and having her hands in the dirt (she passed that gene on to Jayla, as she also worked at the greenhouse when she was young!) All three of us girls are also great in the kitchen because of Mom and Grandma! (But no one has mastered my Mother’s apple pie like I have, and that is why I’ll never be skinny again!)

My parents were so proud of all of us no matter what we did, no matter how big or small. As they grew older, they lived vicariously through all of us, as their health and financial strains never improved. When Jayla and I were traveling all over the country for our jobs, they loved to hear our stories and see our pictures. Jolie went back to College and graduated with honors after raising her children. Jozef could sing pretty well and very active in his church. We all gave our Mom and Dad many joys in their later years and helped them out financially to give them a better quality of life during their golden years. (Mom and I never could figure out who the hell came up with “the golden years” because they certainly were not golden for her!) Before my Mother passed away, she did get to go to the Outer Banks to enjoy the ocean, and also to Florida to visit with her Brother. It made her so happy! My Dad was happier to stay at home after a bout with cancer and radiation, but gave Mom the freedom to have these last memories before she died. Oh how I miss these two wonderful human beings! The deepest love I’ve ever known is buried with them…

I often look at my pictures of my artwork and think to myself how my Mom and Grandma would have loved it! The one I think both of them would have enjoyed the most, is one of the latest I created by request for my Sister-in-Law; a Snowman. I created a second one for my Sister Jayla, and Jolie got a print of it for her Daughter. They all love Snowmen and I loved creating them. I think when I put the smiles on these snowmen artworks, I actually smiled because I thought of my Mom and my Grandma.

I just know they would have loved these artworks and it would have made them smile too. (God, how I miss their smiles and their embrace!) That is one of the very reasons I create my shell artworks. The feeling it gives to me and the joy it brings to others.

It is JOY that makes a life worth living. Remember; it is the secret of life. Desire it enough and you will find the JOY in everything…

(left) My Son with the two circled stockings on our tree from my Grandmother and I still have them! (right) My Mom playing piano with my Bother Jozef and two Grandchildren singing Christmas songs.

THE END

* Some key notes of interest:

Jayla is retired and still works at my favorite Boutique to stay active. She has shown us great strength as a cancer survivor, as well as her oldest child. She has 3 children and 5 grandchildren. Two have graduated college, and her youngest is currently a JROTC in High School with hopes of joining the Air Force Reserves upon graduation or majoring in college.

Jolie had to undergo hip replacement at a young age due to her birth defect (twice.) She currently works for Hospice and provides services to families with patients near end-of-life. She has 2 children that have graduated from college and 2 grandchildren that she is very active with. We are excited for her youngest child’s wedding coming in 2022.

Jozef is living dependently but on his own and still loves music, reading, and church activities. He actively gives guidance to others with Bipolar. I believe he can recite chapter and verses from the Bible better than anyone I know and I am very proud of him.

My Father died 10 years after my Mother from complications with dementia. The saddest thing we ever had to do was move him out of our childhood home into a care facility. I said goodbye to him before I left for the winter with the gut feeling that I might never get one of his hugs again. He died with my sisters at his side. The saddest flight home of my life was from Key West to bury my Daddy that winter.

As for me, I am retired, and after 10 years of RV life (7 yrs part time and 3 yrs full time) I now live with my Air Force retired husband in our little cottage home in Florida. I have 1 child and 2 grandchildren. Roger has 2 children and 3 grandchildren.

For privacy, I have changed the names of family members and I have never revealed the names of many other family and friends.

My Son is doing ok as a recovered addict, but faces constant struggles and roadblocks. He attended college and took additional college courses from home. He was very successful in the Hardware industry and in retail management. I am proud of him for facing his addiction and constantly dealing with the aftermath of its destruction. His father is the only one of my ex husbands that is still living and my Son now resides with him after going thru a divorce. It is very unfortunate that we are no longer very close and I have no real relationship with my 2 grandchildren. I call it the “casualties of war” with addiction.

It took most of my adult life to finally accept my relationship with my Son for what it is. I have learned that a Mother can only accept so many heartbreaks and disappointments before she is broken. I had to put the oxygen mask on me first or I would die trying to save everyone else. If someone constantly steals the joy from your life, it will become completely empty and you will die inside.

I am still active with my shell art and, of course, still love to write. I am also on the Board of Moderators with a Private Group of 10,000 people and enjoy my volunteer duties of writing and editing for the group.

If you have enjoyed reading my book, please let me know. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for following my stories with my Blog at Six Wheels Down, and also this true story.

The Painter of Shells

And I Have a Story to Tell

Me and my Sisters the last day I spent with my Dad. We put up a Fall decorated tree so he could enjoy the lights, just like we all did as children with him.

(top two left) My Dad with his upright base (top right) My Grandma wearing the gown I made for her (bottom left) My Mother’s engagement picture (bottom right) My Mom and Dad

PAINTER OF SHELLS

“WRAP IT UP”

SCENE TWENTY NINE

I have been through three rough divorces. Once was bad enough, but a trifecta? I was forced to walk away from three houses that I lovingly made into homes. I lost a lifetime of assets in the Great Recession. I have suffered the loss of loved ones far too soon. I have witnessed first hand how alcohol and drug addiction ruins lives. I watched how mental illness nearly destroyed a man’s life.

These people I’ve seen and helped with addiction or mental illness are not just “somebody” I know. These people were previous husband’s, my Child, and my Brother. We all keep silent when it’s happening to one of our own. We are afraid of the stigma that all too often accompanies the words “Alcoholic” or “Addict” or “Bipolar Disorder”, yet you can be a smoker for twenty years and no one thinks anything about it. Cigarettes were even once promoted in magazines and TV commercials like a tasty pack of gum! It was the “acceptable” addiction. It is OK that a Doctor got you started on prescription pain killers because you had an “acceptable reason” for those pills to start your addiction with. But God forbid you mention the word “heroin.” Everyone in the room thinks of the junkie who never had a good home and lives under bridges! In reality, they are very normal people; professionals, students, family, and friends. Many come from wealthy or privileged families. But let’s never talk about it because people might whisper and wonder, that maybe YOU might not have been a very good parent, or a good wife, or from a good family. There is no one to blame (we never meet the drug dealers) and mistakes are made by everyone. If you think you are perfect, you probably shouldn’t be reading my book.

I only brought this up in hopes that people will try to understand that bad things happen to a lot of good people. It helps us to understand things when we talk about it and discuss it, as these issues are very common and happening to so many people these days. Seeking mental health help or therapy should be no different than going to your family physician for preventative health care. So drop the stigmas and the whispers. OK- I said my peace. I am an open book, and after all, this is my book. I have held back on the sarcasm, but all my followers know my tagline; sarcasm served up with a side of humor. So get ready, cause here it comes…the chapter an Editor would want me to eliminate!

When I lost my assets in the recession, I was faced with questions, suggestions, and advice daily. Suddenly everyone was an expert on my finances. Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that? Why couldn’t you qualify for assistance? Why did you rent your house out? Why didn’t you rent your house out? Why did you dig into your IRA? Hide your money under the mattress! It went on and on and on. No one knows what it’s like unless you live it in real time. I didn’t have someone like me that gives hind site 20/20 for free before all the crap happens.

If I had known that two years worth of my efforts was just a waste of time and all my money- I would have had the time of my life and never looked for a job! If I knew I would end up in a bankruptcy- I wouldn’t have stressed or worried so much about paying my bills. I would have thrown in the towel and called a lawyer from the get-go to plan my escape from all responsibility. I also thought my life would be financially doomed once I filed for that bankruptcy- but it wasn’t. Seven years later, my credit score was right back where it was before dooms day hit me. I just wasn’t sure if I’d survive those seven years the day I walked out of that courtroom!

Let’s go back further than the recession. I worked in the world of Executives, President’s and Worldwide Presidents with my Companies, and 90% of my world was run by Males. I was a Female in a ”Man’s World” making far less money than every Good Old Boy! People asked me why I changed jobs when I was with Gucci and Montblanc back in the day (because jumping around doesn’t bode well on your resume.) Well, I was not at liberty to discuss that each new position came with a $10,000 – $20,000 salary increase and better benefits. It wasn’t until I worked with Ebel and Movado Group that my income was in the range where men had always been (and I was hired by a woman.) I also sometimes laugh about the sexual harassment charges you hear about on TV today. Back then, I could tell you about things that were far from actual abuse, but could certainly qualify in today’s world as sexual harassment in the work place. I once had someone say to me “Wow, I thought Gucci only hired good-looking women with nice T&A, but you have a brain too!” I smiled and said, “Well I guess they got the total package when they hired me!” Which was well received and ended the conversation. (You just have to know how to play their game.) You had to possess thick skin when I started in the watch business, but I also learned to speak up and take charge. The girl that was uncomfortable with firing an employee when I was younger grew a set of cojones! If someone were to ask me up to their room to do business? I would have never agreed! NO MATTER WHO OR WHY! We always did business in public places like restaurants or hotel lobbies or board rooms. Any woman that says “I had no choice” is just as much at fault for trusting that person behind closed doors when things go wrong unless you had a gun to your head. If you felt your job was threatened? Then get fired and bring your case to court. You must set boundaries and that is all there is to that.

My Sister Jayla and I both worked back in a time of Male dominance in the workplace (I’m sure she could write her own book!) I’m proud to say, we were definitely well respected in our fields and precedent-setters, and our parents were proud of us. And don’t even get me started with Jolie. She is the Sister they created T shirts about; giving warnings like- Jayla made the rules. Lorraine was the reason she made them. Jolie will say “the rules don’t apply to me!” (Laughing! Because it’s true!)

The bottom line is, and always will be; No one knows what you are dealing with except YOU! For as much as life has thrown at me, just when I think I’ve seen and heard it all? You guessed it. There’s always more where that came from! My Grandma used to always say “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I disagree. (Perhaps she would too if she was still alive and seeing our world today.) “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” (They came up with this one just in case you’re not religious!) We are not passing a test here. I believe “free will” is now steroids gone wild and has gotten pretty ugly of late.

I honestly believe that life is just hard. It was not ever intended to be easy. It wasn’t meant to be fair. It starts with birth and ends when you die, with a whole lot of taxes in between! If you’re a woman; it starts with childbirth and ends when you die, with a whole lot of heart ache in between to go along with those taxes! You might have a leg-up if you never gave birth, but I’m sure the bad shit will find you eventually. It could be your niece or nephew, or best friend, or spouse, or parents, but no one gets a free pass.

I say this to be funny, but you know it’s all true. Some people laughed at me when I talked about the white line syndrome as passenger in our Class A motorhome. Do you know why I was a nervous wreck on narrow winding roads? Because I only had one nerve left from being scared of things that actually did happen in my life! Roger says I worry too much. That’s because I do the worrying for both of us. Most men don’t worry about anything, and then when the shit does go wrong, you’re still going to be dealing with it. Just saying! If your house on six wheels breaks down somewhere? Remember- it is your house too. It’s not like your husband is the only one that’s going to deal with being homeless when it’s in the shop…

It’s a fact that some of us get arthritis and some of us get cancer. Some of us get healthy bones and some of us get mental illness. So you might see an older person out jogging everyday and feel jealous because you can barely walk on your old sore feet. But that person with the great bones could be batshit crazy! People could be jealous of someone that has traveled their entire life and say “Oh what beautiful memories you must have!” Then one day, that traveling person loses all their memories when they are stricken with Alzheimer’s disease. Suddenly, everyone’s OK with their perfectly boring and uneventful lives because it’s the better alternative. The people that have more money than God are envied by so many who don’t have a pot to piss in. But no one knows the terrible loneliness that person felt when they died alone. No money gave them comfort in those final days and they couldn’t take their money with them. (Well, I did hear someone tried and asked that he be buried with all his cash in the casket. I doubt that his cash actually made it in there. Don’t you?)

Someone that stutters is jealous of the well spoken professional. But I can come up with many examples that prove the person that stutters can have more common sense, more talent, and is a much better leader than the fast-talking idiot. And isn’t it ironic that grown adults make fun of people that stutter until they give birth to a child that stutters? Or a parent has a stroke and can barely utter a word, and suddenly, you’re an advocate for all those that stutter or have speech impediments. I could go on, but I’ll leave it right there.

I’m being sarcastic for a reason. Why does it take bad things to happen to us before we learn the lesson of compassion? You go along in life every day in your own world sometimes without thinking it could happen to you, until it does. Don’t walk around with blinders on. Everyone is dealing with something that they are afraid of or can’t talk about, so try to be a little more kind. I was, and still could be, that person. You, my Reader, could be that person. I didn’t speak of the addiction my ex, Robby, had for years and endured the weight of that burden for both of us. I was too afraid he would lose his license to practice law and would never be a lawyer again. (I didn’t want to bear responsibility for that!) I was also afraid to speak of addiction out loud for years because I thought my Son might think less of me. Imagine that- the Addict may think less of me. I didn’t give him the drug. So why would it be my fault that an adult made a mistake just because I gave him life? I used to keep silent about the fact that my Brother was Bipolar, but now I speak up and try to educate people on the illness.

Yes. I was that person that was dealing with something you knew nothing about. We ALL ARE! Be KIND! Enjoy every moment of your life that is not filled with grief anger or fear, because we never know when we will run out of moments…

PAINTER OF SHELLS

CHAPTER EIGHT

WRAP IT UP

SCENE TWENTY EIGHT

Roger’s Daughter finally came to visit us mid April after we had all been fully vaccinated. It was wonderful to finally share our new home with a family member. We filled the house with laughter which was music to my ears. We got to know each other better than before because she spent the entire week with us. It was much more than just an afternoon picnic or a holiday dinner. She lived here for a week and we shared many stories and feelings about life.

She asked us both a very profound question about our RV decision to go full time; “Would you do it all over again?” She asked what percent would we each give to our own answer- 80/20, 70/30, 50/50, or way less? I had to think hard about the percentage, but the answer caught me off guard. The answer was Yes (believe it or not!) The percentage was 80% yes and 20% no. I believe Roger was pretty much the same.

The reason for my answer is complicated, yet simple. The experiences I had driving all over the country were great, yet not always. So let me wrap it up for you.

I would not be sitting here writing or sharing stories of my life if I had nothing great or nothing terrible to share with you. I lived through all of it and that’s the really great part of any adventure is to be able share it with someone that wants to hear a good story. I did things that not everyone would do and that’s what makes my life interesting. Dare to dream, and dare more to make dreams into reality, whether it’s your dream or your partner’s. To play life safe all the time is not really living at all.

There is no greater way to see the country than to drive across it with your clean bedroom right behind you. There’s no better way to end a long day than to enjoy a home-cooked meal and some cocktails by a bonfire instead of checking in or out of a hotel and waiting an hour to get into a crowded restaurant. I know vacation preferences are varied, but that is how we rolled. Not to mention how many wonderful people we have met along the way. We have many vacation destinations all over the country when we want to visit them.

The 80% explanation of “I would do it again:”

You never have to pack! Your house on six wheels is your constant readiness method of vacation transportation. You never have to make a list of “things to do” before leaving the house. Once you park it and hook up the essentials, you have all the comforts of home no matter where you are. You can take your car and explore the area for days or for weeks. The vacation that never ends! If you don’t like an area, you can disconnect everything and move on to a different area. You can explore places for your retirement list of possibilities for as long as you want to. You enjoy scenery and nature up close. I could go on and on, but literally, there are endless benefits to RV life.

The 20% regret:

The hind sight 20/20- I personally should have stayed part time versus full time and not sold our house until we were damn sure we wouldn’t want to return to it! We could have perhaps rented it out, but not gotten rid of absolutely everything! I am thankful that we have downsized (many things we never need again are already gone), but we would have kept Roger’s Historical Omega, perhaps my Malibu LTZ (with low mileage), and several other important pieces to our life puzzle.

The advantages of doing what we did still outweighs the downside. We purchased a home with a yard better suited for our age and don’t have to shovel snow. Moving couldn’t have been easier because we were already here with the RV. We had the fun of decorating it completely different with brand new furniture (which we really could have used some anyway!) We would have spent a ton of money to move all of our belongings to our retirement destination- not to mention all the work involved in doing so. Instead, we only had to unload the contents of our motorhome (no furniture except for an outdoor table & chairs.) So any big regret is not really regarding the material things. The regret of our decision lies with the choice of location away from what we both called home for over 25 years or if we will be happy indefinitely here in the south. That remains to be seen.

Honestly, since the time we purchased our home, we have been living under pandemic conditions. There has been plenty of isolation no matter where or who you lived around. Even family and friends have been keeping their distance from one another. We have not been here long enough under normal circumstances to realize the end result of our decision. I do know that we have enjoyed exploring what our area has to offer and I love being close to so many beach options to collect my seashells. (Living up North would have probably put an end to my shell artworks.) We just started taking 3 day trips to beach areas when the pandemic (Delta) re-surged eliminating options once again, as we like staying on a lot of military bases, and they are now for active duty travel only (HPCON Charlie.)

The bottom line for me is how much I have learned about life and about myself. Life isn’t perfect no matter where you live. Cheryl and I laugh about some of our travel experiences over coffee. For instance; no matter what town you visit, there is always a main drag with all the same stores and restaurants. (Really! If you close your eyes, you could be in any town in America when you open them up!) The other funny thing is, no matter how many places you have been to, there’s always someone that will one-up you. A canyon is a hole in the ground and a mountain is a mountain. Does it really matter how many holes or mountains you see?

For instance, when I was sixteen years old and went to Washington State with Sailor #1, I saw the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen! I saw the Cascade Mountains (Leavenworth Bavarian-styled Village), Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Deception Pass, and giant Sequoia trees. In all the traveling I have ever done since my first sight of these majestic mountains, nothing has impressed me more. I’ve seen big beautiful mountains in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. What other mountain will ever impress me more?

I used to travel to Vegas annually for large trade shows during my Couture career days. One flight I will never forget; the pilot came over the intercom and announced that he was given clearance to fly lower over the Grand Canyon because it was a perfect clear weather day to do so and we were ahead of schedule. I saw the Grand Canyon up close and in detail in a way that can only be done from above. Nothing will ever top that! I could spend weeks touring it and taking photos, but the best view is in my memory of that flight on that very day! How many other holes in the ground do I need to see to try and top that? (Cheryl’s laughing!) Now if you talked to my Sister Jayla, she would tell you about her experience hiking down into the Grand Canyon. From her perspective, I’m sure there was absolutely nothing better than being up close and in touch with Nature. I personally would rather view it from above and away from the bears! (Laughing!) But it’s all in how you perceive it. Her view wasn’t better than mine and my view wasn’t better than hers. But I’m not going to hike down into the Grand Canyon to find out!

Seriously folks, no matter where, no matter what, each of our experiences make wonderful and adventurous stories and I’m just glad you have enjoyed mine. I’ve done some scary things and some ordinary things. I definitely have some regrets, as I am sure we all do as we age. But if I had not lived the RV way of life, I would never have gotten to live by the ocean like I did in Key West for several years. I’m too afraid of hurricanes to invest that much money in an ocean view home (and I doubt we could afford it anyway!) But RV life gave me some of the most wonderful opportunities a person can experience in a lifetime.

I also doubt that I would have spent these past eight years enjoying my artistic abilities with painting and seashells if it were not for my RV life. Once that door was opened up to me, I enjoyed bringing countless smiles to people all over the country who own a little piece of my work and “the beach!” I still have a room in my home designated for creating my custom works of art and it gives me much joy. I may never have one single piece of my work hanging in a gallery, but I have plenty hanging in people’s homes all over the US.

The thing about Art Galleries is; you have to charge more for your work in order for them to make a profit. You also have to provide numerous works to meet a quota. I don’t have to do either and people still purchase my art. It’s the same principle with writing this book. I was going to go the route of trying to publish it. However, I would have to do it the way an Editor wants me to, provide additional books (under contract), promote them, and try to shove it down everyone’s throat on social media. I’m just not the right candidate to fit their profile. So I’m providing it for free to the people that want to read it. I have no Editor so you might find a few errors here and there. But it is my way, my words, my story. It was never about money for me. I won’t even allow ads on my WordPress site at this time. Maybe some day, but not today.

I would also like to take this opportunity to promote small businesses in communities throughout the country. I have always been faithful to small businesses everywhere I have ever lived. Once I establish a good relationship with you, I’m your customer for life. Just ask my Sister Jayla. I live in Florida and still shop a Boutique in my hometown where I was born and raised (Jayla works there for some fun money.) Why would I pay an extra $5 shipping to do that? Because I am loyal to that business and I love her clothing! I feel good that during the pandemic- I was one of the customers that helped put food on that owner’s table. (The owner would do live videos and I would shop by phone in the convenience of my home.)

I have loyal clients that text or email me every now and then when they need a special gift for someone and ask me if I can create something for them or if I have a print to sell. I believe this kind of loyalty is the best kind of business there is! I wish there were more people that believed it too! It would be a much better world if we conducted business in a way of mutual respect, honesty and the desire to really help people. Don’t you think? “Like” the page of your favorite business or “Follow” them. It’s a nice start to show someone that works hard that you actually care.

Our Daughter said something else while she was here visiting us in the Spring. We were sharing some of our travel stories with her and she said “You guys know some of the coolest people!” We chuckled about it, but it’s true. We have met people from all walks of life- some ordinary, and some extraordinary. Because we have spent a lot of time on military bases (family campgrounds opened to active or retired.) we have associated with some very high-ranking military folks (I call them Bad Asses because they are!) We’ve camped with Colonels (full bird or bull, as they say in the military.) One of my clients and followers, Evelyn Webb USNNC, Capt (Ret), was a Navy Nurse that served during the war on a ship. One couple that we’ve been friends with since 2013 has a Son that is a Hurricane Hunter out of Keesler AFB. We are good friends with a local farrier (over forty years now) who used to break horses. (I call him a real Cowboy because he is definitely the real deal. You’ll know when you shake his hand!) Fred is Navy (Ret) from Copper Harbor and was the Captain of the Keweenaw Star operating sunset excursions on lake Superior with his wife Diane. My Sister from another Mother Cheryl, is a retired Army Major and an Estate Planner- one of the smartest people I have ever known! Her husband Dave flew a UH1 helicopter (nicknamed a Huey) in Vietnam with the First Calvary and still flies a plane today! Roger got to accompany him this past Spring, as he loves flying! Another good friend of ours is a Former Captain (Ret) of the US Coast Guard and took Roger out on his boat in Key West.

I believe we are two of the luckiest people on earth that we met and got to really know these people. Most have served our country in many ways keeping us safe and I salute you! I also enjoyed cocktails, stories, good laughs, (and even learned the two-step) with them. As I said in Key West; “We’re all just a bunch of retired old folks down here and rank means nothing among friends.” But the truth is; I admire and respect every single one of them!

PAINTER OF SHELLS

“ARTISTICALLY SPEAKING”

SCENE TWENTY SEVEN

Who would have ever guessed that going into winter of 2019/2020 that, yet again, the world was about to drastically change. I suffered over the years thru life-changing divorces, I lost all my assets during the Great Recession, I endured the downsizing of a lifetime and lived in a motorhome, and I survived bilateral pneumonia with a collapsed lung. I even managed to kick my nicotine addiction while married to a smoker. Now I would focus on making my dream of owning a small cabin or cottage home for us into a reality. What else could possibly go wrong?

My Winter started off with some good news. My Sisters Jayla and Jolie called and told me that they wanted to come and visit me in Florida mid February 2020. I was so excited that I could hardly stand it! We rented a house near Daytona Beach and acted like Sisters do for 6 days. We ate, drank, laughed, argued, and of course, shopped till we dropped on several occasions! Before they left, I asked them if they felt safe flying back home on February 18th with all the talk and mystery surrounding Covid-19. It was just becoming a media trend at that point in time. They assured me that they would be fine and flew home.

Less than one month later on March 11th, a Worldwide Pandemic was declared and life as we all knew it drastically changed. Everything started to shut down around the world and in the US. Florida was one of the last of the states to shut down all but essential businesses. We all know how this Pandemic affected the country and the people living in it. But for me, it was so much more.

Externally, I tried my best not to show fear, but took all the necessary precautions. Internally, it was an absolute freak show of emotions! Scared to death that I would end up sick and intubated (where my anxiety disorder peaked with my Mom not being able to breathe.) After my serious bout with pneumonia and as a previous smoker, I knew my lungs where compromised. (They have never been the same since.) I don’t think I EVER relaxed until my second shot of the Moderna vaccine in April 2021. (My Sister from another Mother found a military base that we could both get our shots sooner than later. We were both over-joyed!) It’s been over a year and a half now of Pandemic news and facing fears of serious infection…Ugh!!

We were still living in our RV and traveling nowhere when it started. Key West was closed to visitors, so yet again, we would not be spending time in Paradise. We were grateful to own our lot because so many people were scrambling trying to decide how to get home with all the travel limitations. Campgrounds and state parks were closed, gas stops were limited, hotels/motels and restaurants were closed, Canadian border crossing was an issue for our Northern friends that had deadlines to return. And all during this time I was wondering how would we ever get back to Ohio to see family, friends, and to look at homes. Well the answer to that question was; we wouldn’t!

I kept in touch with the Realtors in Ohio, but there was now an urgent need for homes around the $200,000 something range and prices were soaring. Houses that were listed for $189,900 before we left home were now listing for $250,000 – $275,000. I never saw anything like it before! They were ridiculously overpriced older homes, and yet, people were paying whatever they were listed for in order to get them because inventory was so low. We couldn’t head north with the RV because our seasonal campground was also closed during the pandemic. All hope of purchasing a small ranch or cabin dwindled like the flame to a melting candle. It was finally doused out and no more light shown on me. Reality was setting in and decisions needed to be made. It was clear that the housing market was only going to get worse for buyers. We could not afford a bidding war price on a home that wasn’t worth it. We were also getting nickeled and dimed with repairs on a motorhome that was becoming a noose around my neck. Every day that passed by I could feel it getting tighter. Roger’s knees were beginning to dislike the 5 steps up and down to get in or out just as mine did. Every time I made our bed I became more frustrated with the tight space, so I finally quit making it! If one of us couldn’t sleep good, neither one of us slept because there was nowhere else to go.

One thing I was absolutely sure of. I was fast approaching my third year of living FT in the motorhome and the agreement was over. I needed to get out of the RV. I needed some space so I could breathe or I felt like I would die.

We had three places we desired to live on our radar after downsizing and selling our home; Ohio, Kentucky, and Florida. We ruled out Kentucky because it wasn’t quite far enough south for warmer winters, and accept for the rolling hills, very much like Ohio where all of our friends and family were. (We didn’t know anyone in KY.) We made a pros and cons list for OH vs. FL and realized that for financial reasons, Florida was a very Senior-friendly state versus Ohio. We had made many friends over the years in Florida, so we do have a social life here and it’s important not to feel isolated. After many conversations, the decision was made to start looking at houses in Florida to see what we could get for our money.

Let the process begin again from square one. We would have to get pre-approved with a new mortgage company, but we had already found a wonderful Realtor that was waiting for further instructions. We were in the middle of a full blown pandemic and had no clue how any of this would work out, but we decided to move forward anyway. (Who knew you could buy a house basically on line? Or do a drive thru closing?)

Now here’s the very interesting piece of the puzzle. We got pre-approved for a mortgage WITHOUT the RV contingency in Florida. The amount was for less, but houses were selling at more reasonable prices in Florida compared to Ohio (at that time), so we were pretty much even in that regard. (If we had gotten this break up north, who knows where we’d be right now.) This approval opened the door for us to look at homes without the headache of selling the RV first. It would be a financial burden if we couldn’t sell it after purchasing a house, but we were willing to take on that risk, and we immediately put the RV back on the market. In the meantime, we were in full speed ahead mode looking at areas of interest before scheduling to see any houses. We also made the decision to free up more cash by selling the RV lot we owned in the Resort. It sold in no time at all to a wonderful couple that was also from Ohio. They were kind enough to rent the spot to us after it transferred for as long as we would need it! This kind gesture sure simplified the complicated process for us. This meant we could live in our own place comfortably while purchasing and furnishing a new house!

It wasn’t long before we found our cottage home in an established neighborhood with beautiful mature trees and surrounded by farms. It was super convenient and a smaller lot than we planned, but the house was perfect in every other way. Our Realtor made the process so easy that I’d do it all over again tomorrow- not that I want to! (Laughing) She not only recommended inspectors and other service providers; she actually scheduled most of the appointments for us! She also set up an appointment for us with the owners so that we could purchase some of their home furnishings (since we basically had none) which resulted in us getting many items for a fraction of the cost! All we had to do was purchase our bedroom set, do a little cleaning, and move right in!

Here in Florida, home insurance is one of your biggest costs. Our Realtor gave us a list of great leads and we were able to get a good company at a good rate. This is not only important for peace of mind, but in order to close the deal, we had to meet a dollar amount that would not drastically increase our monthly payment- all in the name of keeping the income to debt ratio acceptable to the lender while we still owned the RV. Phew! We did it!

June 1, 2017, we moved out of our ranch home in Ohio, and June 1, 2020, we moved into our home in Florida. We made it to the 3 year mark, and now we were starting a new life in our cottage home (with a pool as a bonus!) As I sit here writing my story, we are still in a pandemic, but I feel more of a sense of calm. The house we picked out together is perfect for us. Not too big, and not too small, but just right for retired folks like us!

The RV eventually sold after taking it to a local dealer and having it on consignment. It was the best thing we ever did during a pandemic to let them deal with everything. All we had to do was pick up the license plate when it was all said and done, and just breathe…

The painting above was inspired from a photo Roger took in our backyard of this beautiful butterfly. It seemed to pose for the picture, as Roger snapped away. It was done on a natural pine wood slice that I repurposed from the flea market. I loved it so much, I decided to keep it.

The Sandhill Cranes above were also inspired from a photo that I took of them in front of our neighbors RV. These paintings also hang in our home today and are some of the few that I’ve done without seashells.