A Few Words / Lots of Photos

I have been blogging for a little more than a year – and usually I find a photo that, for me, generates 1000 words.  I am stepping outside of my box a little. Following are five videos – of varying length – with lots of photos, a little music, and very few words. Not sure why I have changed the format for this post, but I hope –  for those visiting my blog –  that one photo, one minute, one moment generates many, many thoughts, ideas, words. (Please note:  This attempt is my first in terms of using video.  All suggestions would be welcome!)

The Music . . .

Barry, John. (1986). Out of Africa: Soundtrack from the Motion Picture. N.L.: Geffen Records.

Carpenter, Richard. (2004). Karen’s Theme. On Carpenters Gold 35th Anniversary Edition. N.L.: A & M Records

The Cranberries. (1998). Dreams. On You’ve Got Mail (Music from the Motion Picture). N.L.: Atlantic Recording Corporation.

Durante, Jimmy.  (1998) You Made Me Love You. On You’ve Got Mail (Music from the Motion Picture). N.L.: Atlantic Recording Corporation.

The Philadelphia Orchestra & Normady, E. (2001). Clare de lune. On Ocean’s Eleven (Music from the Motion Picture).  N.L.: Warner Bros. Records Inc.

The Comeback Moment

I caught his eyes, and I knew it was the moment. My young, eighteen year old cousin was looking straight at me with that smile.  It was the moment we all waited for . . . the moment of excitement . . . the most anticipated moment . . . the defining moment.  He said absolutely nothing to me and I nothing to him.  But, we both grinned and we knew it.  And we weren’t the only ones who recognized it.

My sister was some twenty feet behind me laughing as she reached out for our tiny ten-year old niece who had just swallowed a bit of salt water, but was none-the-less smiling and laughing, too. My spouse, also laughing,  had tumbled back further towards shore and was intent on returning, pausing just long enough to squeeze water out of his faded yellow swim shirt and to meet up with a brother-in-law who likewise was making his way back to the group.

The teenage girls – six of them who were all nearly the same age, (old enough to be on their own, but young enough to need some watchful eyes) – were already waiting for the next round, as were the college kids – the bold, the crazy, the unabashed, the fearless – who had moved the center of the group several feet farther out into the ocean than the original position.

In all, there were nearly thirty of us, marching out from the inch deep shoreline to chin high waters in the Atlantic.  And with ocean waves crashing, we – aunts, uncles, parents, brothers, sisters, children, cousins, grandparents, and friends – stayed together.  The day was bright and the water was warm. The waves were all too often over our heads, yet for some reason their force was unusually weak, with just enough danger to make it seem dangerous mixed in with just enough safety for those of us old enough to be concerned to not be concerned.

Wave after wave, we would watch and wait for the perfect ride, the perfect catch. The waves would roll by and each of us would do our body surfing best, some with more success than others, to manage them with fun. It wasn’t the skill of the sport or the challenge of the water that interested us.  The lure was, and always has been, something else.

Vacation in my world has always meant traveling to the beach to meet up with a large assortment of family members.  For the past 45+ years, during the third week in July, we haul beach chairs, tents, umbrellas, buckets, shovels, nets, towels, cameras, toys, coolers, books, food, and now phones to the ocean shore.   Arriving mid-morning and leaving mid-evening, we pack, unpack, and eventually repack, learning to take a little less stuff and a little more food to the beach with each passing day.  As I watch my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews carry my belongings to the beach, I fondly recall the times I helped my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles carry theirs.

Throughout these 45+ years, we have developed our fair share of family vacation traditions: take pictures Friday night, share homemade salsa, play miniature golf Thursday, late lunches and dominoes, ring the bell, get an ice cream, church on Sunday,  beach bocce winner-take-all, and evenings poolside.  Are they special, extraordinary, unique, exceptional traditions?  Hardly.  They are simple, average, common, uncomplicated, ordinary ones – with everyone included in everything and no official planning for anything.

These traditions have created a sense of ease to a vacation that could be considered a little arduous as relatives are required to pack up significant belongings and travel hundreds of miles in over-stuffed vehicles just to be together for seven straight days.  And vacations, regardless of type, time, or location, can be costly.  Gas tanks, plane rides, car rentals, maps, fun food, sunscreen, laundromats, movie tickets, and finally, the purchasing of all necessities sadly forgotten at home means vacations have a price.  But, we return every year – same time, same place – to once again carry our stuff to the sandy ocean shore.

In all honesty, over those past 45+ years, we have changed locations . . . albeit once.  And why we moved from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic is a mystery to most of us, but somewhere in the 80s, we shifted east. It is clear, however, that those before me sought a quiet, remote, uncluttered, and unpopulated spot with little more to do than link lives with those in attendance.  No fast food, go-carts, shopping malls, piers, boardwalks, high rises, tourist attractions, beach bars, jet skis, surf shops, or restaurant chains.  Just a roof over our heads with sand, water, family and friends. 

As I caught my cousin’s eyes, I knew it was the moment.  I could see it.  To my right, a cousin of my cousin had locked arms with my niece.  From the shore, my brother and my aunt were snapping photo after photo. My spouse ended up circled by the six teenage girls who were holding onto the lone surf board owned and operated by another young cousin. To my left, I saw a cousin’s friend raising a lost, then found baseball cap that had left the drenched head of another relative.   Two others were holding the hands of that tiny, young ten-year old for safekeeping. Everyone was smiling.  Everyone was laughing.   

In that moment, I saw a family – 30+ strong  – dancing in the waves . . . together . . . in sync . . .with no thoughts and no cares in the world.  And I knew that this moment was the comeback moment, the one that will bring us back . . . together . . . again . . . next year.


                         Vacationing Together in the Summer on the Atlantic

I’m in the Clouds

For the past 30+ years or so, each and every year, I have travelled to the mountains during the winter.    Whether with a couple of friends or many relatives, the consistent piece has been that I have travelled to the mountains during the winter.  And this year, I was there . . . in the mountains . . . in the winter . . . once again.   This year’s crew included two of my children, their significant others, my grandson and, of course, my spouse.  The intent of my travels to the mountains is always . . . to ski.

For me, skiing is one of the best ways to experience the glory of the mountains up close and personal.  On skis, I can get to places within the mountains that I am unable to reach in any other way.  And, I can get there during winter – which for me is the best of all seasons to be in the mountains.

The ski day starts at 8:30am and lasts until 4:30pm, and minus the lunch hour, I am outside the entire time.  Now, I do admit that it takes a lot to get outside when skiing.  Helmet, goggles, gator, ski gloves, ski pants, ski coat, boots, poles, skis – are the round one necessities.  Round two includes hand warmers, toe warmers, chapstick, locker keys, lifesavers, iPod, cellphone, and a lift ticket.  All of round one and round two entities require time and energy to organize.  But . . . when complete . . . the fun begins.

Characterizing that fun . . . for me . . . is difficult.  But, for starters, it certainly is fun to be with family and friends outside all day.  And, it is fun to participate with them in a challenging sporting activity.  Whether with my daughter zipping through old skiing haunts and stopping for hot chocolate at the same spot every year for twenty-five years, or with my sons skiing well above my abilities and hoping they remember my age, or with my husband following him or leading him up and down slopes, looking for the best snow, the best run, the best view, I have fun.  No doubt, it is a fun sport.

But what draws me back year after year after year is the more personal side of fun that skiing brings to me. It is more than just sharing fun times with others.  For a week each year, I am in the mountains, and even though there may be dozens of others navigating the slopes with me, there is always that feeling of being on my own – on skis somewhere in the Rockies.

I enjoy the sounds and sights of skiing: the winds whipping through the pine trees, skis slicing fresh tracks in new powder, the chirping of a few lonely winter birds, the quiet of a mid-day snow shower, and the beauty of the sun either shining brightly or peering out from behind dark winter clouds with snow and mountains all around.  What I see and what I hear is unbelievably overwhelming with fantastic moment after fantastic moment.

As I ski my mind swirls around all that is winter.  I hear the poetic wisdom of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. I have committed a select few poems to memory with this one at the top of my list.  Certainly, I am not in a horse-drawn carriage far from the closest farmhouse.  There are no harness bells shaking, and I am not skiing in the dark of evening.  But, I enjoy “watching the woods fill up with snow”, and I recognize the sound of “sweeping winds and downy flakes”.  And most of all, I, too, believe that I “have miles to go before I sleep . . . miles to go before I sleep”.

And as I ski, my mind recalls the lyrics of John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High.  His song, though literally describing a summer meteor shower viewed from the depths of the mountains of Colorado, invokes that feeling of serenity . . . of peace . . . of tranquility as I ski run after run after run.  And when the sun shines over the bridge of the mountain tops, I, too, see a “fire in the sky”.

At the end of a long week, I take off my skis, boots, helmet, gloves, coat and ski pants for the last time.  And as is our tradition, I meet my family at the bottom of the last run on the last slope to sit for a moment together to catch the beauty of the mountains for a few more seconds.  Without a doubt, the mountains are simply majestic – nothing better.

A few minutes later, amid the clutter and chaos of packing up and heading out of the majesty towards the open plains of the Midwest – which has been my home sweet home for a long time – I am ready.  First, I am exhausted,  as during my ski week, I have skied way too much and slept way too little.  Second, I have little time to consider anything but leaving.  The ski day is over, the sun is setting, and it is time to face the traffic as we travel down the mountain pass.

Finally, I miss the Midwest. I do.

It isn’t mile high mountains covered in snow, and skiing isn’t among the typical winter sports.  It doesn’t have Aspen covered slopes and there are no views of the Continental Divide.  And, let’s just say that it isn’t exactly that Frost/Denver vision.  But for everything that skiing and the mountain experience brings to me for a week, my Midwest roots does for an entire year.

So carving out that one perfect week each year to live in the clouds is just what I need to allow me the luxury to live in the best of both worlds.

Once again, I am lucky.

In the Mountains, Living the Dream

What A Joy!

This week, I had the pleasure of spending some time in a small rural town in Western Missouri.  To me, it was a typical farming town – a county seat with twenty thousand people, with traffic lights numbering no more than what two hands can count, two Catholic churches blocks from each other (one historically Irish and one historically German), a bell tower than played Missouri’s state song in the quiet of the evening, and an old fashioned ice cream shop, soda fountain and all.

I stayed at a hotel that was built in 1907.  Though I readily describe it as lovely, it was simultaneously quirky.  The lobby elevator was what I would call retro, with a set of exterior doors off set by a set of interior gates.  I half expected a bellhop dressed in a maroon, gold, and black bellhop uniform with a pill box cap to step out when the doors opened. Riding the evaluator up, I hopped out and could have used the six flight U.S. postal mail slot that whisked letters from the top floor to the bottom floor if my heart had so desired.  Sadly, I had nothing to mail as I did want to see if those old-fashioned letter slots really worked.   I turned the corner and peered down the hallway.  Plastered above a sixth floor window were the words FIRE ESCAPE.  In case of emergency, folks would crawl out the window and use a set of collapsible staircases that had definitely seen better days.   God-willing, my time at this location would be uneventful.

I entered my room – which was outfitted with crisp, fluffy upscale bedding, and thought . . . where is the rest of the room?  For the whole thing  was . . . well . . . unusually. .  well . . .  tiny.  In fact, I am quite sure that my GMC Acadia SUV has nearly the same square footage as the room.  There was just enough space for the door to open and not nick the bed, and just enough space on one side of the bed to actually open the narrow bathroom door. From my vantage, I could see that the shower was clean and pristine, but I knew that I would have to do some type of sideways samba to get into it.  Likewise, the sink was built for one hand only and the toilet, well let’s just say it was small.

My suitcase fit well underneath the television stand and everything else fit . . . well . . . on the bed, which was the only other surface for any type of storage.   I found it interesting that I could turn on and off the overhead bedroom light, the bathroom light and the television all while resting comfortably in the middle of the bed.  The note on the back of the hotel room door kindly and politely listed out the available services including overnight laundry and daily shoe shines (just leave the shoes outside the hotel room door and by morning, they will be refreshed!)  

Keep in mind, that everything was nice.  This place wasn’t some seedy, run-down flop house that folks entered and were never seen again.  Oh contraire!  The lobby was swank with enormous prism chandeliers and high wing back chairs tilting towards each other to form a conversation area.  There was an upscale restaurant – also tiny – but with patrons at each table.  On the second floor was the fitness center – which was better described as a closet with two treadmills; but, the fact remains that workouts were possible. And the employees were helpful, cheerful, kind people.  And did I mention the cost . . . $39.99 plus tax.

Normally and admittedly, my hotel room requirements can be described as a little high maintenance.  And for those who know me, feel free to change that statement to really high maintenance.  No stays at rooms with shag carpet – ever.  In fact, I generally prefer anything but carpet.  I check all reviews and make sure that the hotel location is safe and secure.  Four stars are great, but five stars are better. Key cards with deadbolts are minimum standards and valet parking if at all possible.  So staying at a place with indoor/outdoor carpet, house telephones in the hallway, no visible fire alarms, and space that seemed to be rented out by the square inch was a stretch for me.  It challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and test the waters.

And I am glad I did.

The experience was actually wonderful.  It gave me a new type of vision about possibilities – not only regarding business travel, but just possibilities in general.  First, the people working at this particular location were nothing short of wonderful.  Their kindness with any questions that I may have asked or anything that I may have needed exceeded all expectations.  The actions of the people running this hotel brought life back to a simple level for me.  Succinctly stated – taken from a favorite M.A.S.H. episode:  “It is nice to be nice to the nice.”  Life becomes better when surrounded by nice people.  Nice people figuring out ways to help other people.

Second, I realized that by removing some of the limits that I may have been placing on travel – thus myself – opened up new doors and new experiences for me.  I saw, heard, did, and thought about things differently for a brief moment in time.  And it was fun.  Who needs a twenty square foot shower when a four square foot one (four feet may be an exaggeration) works just fine.  I didn’t try the mail slot, but would have liked to do so.  I didn’t try the fire escape, am glad that I didn’t, but would have liked to go out that window just once.  I didn’t make any telephone calls on the house phone, but it would have been a hoot.  This little hotel . . . in the middle of small town Western Missouri . . . made me get out of my rut and gave me back that free fall feeling once again.

What a joy.

The Water of Acadia National Park

The Joy of Water and Its Reflections

Old Fashioned Is Always In Fashion

I am solidly old-fashioned.

Nothing better to me than a sharpened, yellow number two pencil and a spiral bound notebook.  I like the Slinky, red lifesavers, manual umbrellas, shredded wheat, PF Flyers, and acoustic guitars. I would rather watch a good episode of Leave It to Beaver followed by Mister Ed and Ozzie and Harriet than any of today’s new-fangled reality TV shows.    I buy a new broom at the local broom-corn festival each year and use it to sweep the garage floor over using an electric shopvac to complete the same task.  A month ago, I bought a case of glass bottled SKI soda – an old-fashioned thirst quenching classic.

Old fashioned stuff is durable.  I have owned . . . and I still use . . . the same grey metal, non-mechanical three hold punch gadget since the late 1970s.   I am not saying that I use it daily, but it hasn’t collected much dust over the years, and it’s in perfect condition.  And forget the all-in-one Black and Decker laser level that has twenty additional functions beyond maintaining a straight line, my household is the proud owner of a 30-year-old red three-foot steel version.  It’s just a level – no bells and whistles – that has been dropped off many ladders, left out in the great outdoors for days, and often lost in a crowded garage.  Yet, it still works.

Proudly, I have only owned one rolling-pin though I have owned several kitchens; I have had the same key ring for a couple of decades; and, I am a one jewelry box per lifetime type of gal. Keep in mind that all of this has nothing to do with being frugal.  It has more to do with just liking things they way they were. Old-fashioned.

Same for my language.  Sure, I could use all of the latest and greatest lingo, including the more salty versions of yesterday’s banned language.  But, I still stick with the tried and true slang that has helped to get me to this point without too much trouble.  Groovy, righteous, awesome or bumble head, holy guacamole, yikes – multipurpose old-fashioned words that seem to fit well into all kinds of conversations.

And I have found that old-fashioned almost always equals crazy funny.  One of my relatives fixed and ate a fried bologna sandwich at my house recently.  For those of you who have not had the experience, fried bologna is an ancient delicacy first created by . . . probably Mr. Oscar Mayer himself in some long ago century.  Thirty seconds in a skillet, paired with white bread and catsup, this sandwich is a comedic display of old-fashioned in motion.  It is a chuckler!

And no game is as crazy funny as good old-fashioned Spoons.  Honestly, I have played several of today’s XBOX/WII/KINECT 3D video games, and they are fun.  But, Spoons!!! Played with a deck of cards, a handful of spoons and a bunch of crazy funny relatives, this game reaches deep into the crazy funny well. No laughs greater than when full-grown kissin’ cousins jump over a table to pull coveted spoons out of challengers’ hands during a family ‘friendly’ version of this game.  Another old-fashioned chuckler.

I often tell myself that I don’t understand the lure of the old-fashioned for me . . . that this old-fashioned fascination is a mystery.  But, when I really think about it, I know for sure that the draw towards old-fashioned isn’t simply due to a preference for card games, or food, or language, or frugality.  It’s more than that.

With every generation, there seems to be a strong penchant for change . . . from clothing styles . . . to modes of transportation . . . to energy sources . . . to an endless list of activities and items that have been reinvented, improved, changed.  Life today is significantly different from life in any other moment in time. Certainly, almost all changes have  been positive and welcomed and for the betterment of all humankind.

Yet, there is a part of life that I believe should remain constant . . . a part of life that should be considered a masterpiece, a part that should somehow be exempt from change.  Certainly that includes the lapping sounds of the ocean waves and the majesty of the highest mountain peaks.  It includes the freedom enjoyed by animals in the wild and the beauty each year of summer, fall, winter, and spring.  It includes quiet skies and peaceful meadows.  I know it includes the brilliance and genius of those who have gone before us along with the brilliance and genius of those who are still in our future.

Thus, however, explains my penchant for everything old-fashioned.

I may have to change the form of my telephone from a hard-wired, LAN line cordless system plugged into the wall to a cellphone carried in my coat pocket.  I may have to heat my home with solar, geothermal, and/or wind rather than the current fossil fuels available.  And I may have to give up the tried and true General Mills Wheaties – the breakfast of champions – for a more nutritious protein bar option.

But, for those few things that I can somehow manage to hold constant, I am on-board.

Bring on potato pancakes and King Bing bars.  Give me a pile of leaves and hand me a rake complete with a wooden handle and steel prongs.  Let me haul out box after box of old crazy funny holiday decorations that have lasted multiple decades because they were made in the days of the giants.

Finally, hand me a dented red level to keep me headed on the straight and narrow any day of the week.  And watch my willingness to change grow as I find comfort in keeping some things . . . just a few old-fashioned things . . . in my life constant.

The Rocky Mountains . . . An Old-Fashioned Constant

Have Map . . . Will Travel!

Remember maps?  And I mean the kind of maps that once opened took an act of Congress to refold and close . . . the kind that were too big for one person to hold and read . . . the kind that had print too small for the elderly and too confusing for the young . . .the kind that identified rest stops and road side tables?  Remember maps?

Maps used to be the crowning jewel of all travel – far or near. When traveling by automobile, maps were tucked away in every car crevice known to humankind. Front, back, underneath, inside, outside, maps were stored everywhere.  In the trunk.  Behind the visor.  In the console.  In fact, why in the world was it called a glove compartment because as far as I could tell it would have been more appropriately named the map compartment.

In the days of the giants, standard fare included the AAA TripTik (a thin, narrow map held together by red plastic comb-binding), the Rand McNally (an oversized fold-out map that didn’t seem to include any type of refolding instructions), and the Atlas (a magazine size paperback often found underneath the passenger seat).

And nothing was more fun than searching the family machine and finding an assortment of maps everywhere.  Most of them were yellow and crumpled.  Most of them were critical at some point. None of them were the ones needed at the time.  So, in retrospect I can honestly say that all of them were simultaneously useless and useful.

In the useful category . . . maps were automatic conversation starters.

Car buddies wanted to know where the divided highway started and stopped. Maps told them.  They wanted to know how many people lived in the upcoming town, and maps told them.  They wanted a heads-up on ways to avoid constructions zones.  Maps sometimes told them.  They wanted to know the population, the time zone, the nearest capital, the shortcuts, the county, the state bird, the state tree, and the number of towns between point A and point B.  And maps told them. Map conversations were a smooth blend of unique, important history with unusual, irrelevant trivia.

Also in the useful category was a map’s ability to lead the lost.

This ability, however, was predicated on the intelligence and brilliance of map users.  Unfortunately once a person was lost, intelligence and brilliance took the preverbial backseat.  Those who were lost had to know they were lost before they could use a map to figure out how to become found.  (Don’t know if I can repeat that sentence and still understand the meaning a second time myself.)

In any event, intelligence and brilliance would have all of the folks in the lost category immediately admitting that they were just that . . . lost.  However, in all my life, I can not recall any lost person snapping to attention, raising a hand, clearing a throat, and giving a shout-out that even remotely could be construed as an I-am-lost confession. Rather, far too often the lost preferred to remain lost just to avoid admitting that they needed to be found.

And how comical it could be to the map users’ audiences!

Initially, map users seemed to have a short list of questions that had to be ironed out prior to the lost admission. First were questions that blamed the map:  Had the map’s born-on date expired?  Was the map grid level sufficient for the intended journey?  Did the map have any small print disclaimers?  Was the dot on the map original . . . or crispy – a fitting question for the questions involving specks of food.

Second – were questions that blamed the map reader: Were the map eyes of the map readers within quality standards?  Were all bifocals free of watermarks and other grim and grit? Were all map readers on the same page – literally and figuratively? Were map readers chosen based on ability or by default due to their status as passengers?

And the best question of all was the destination switcheroo that allowed the lost to change the final destination to the current location. After all, what better way to become found than to ask who really was tied to the initial destination anyways?

The true glory of maps really comes into play when thinking about their uselessness.

Those McTripTikAtlas maps really only have one shining moment, one moment to claim all the enchiladas, one moment to hold the number one spot, and that is the moment of their printing.  For once printed, their journey to uselessness escalates at a rate faster than the 32 feet per second per second gravitation pull, leaving them to be nothing more than historical archives of the past, at best.

Moments after printing, all has changed – new cities, new roads, new construction sites, new road side tables.  Well okay, maybe there aren’t too many new road side tables these days, but everything else has changed.

Most importantly, the uselessness of maps allowed us to have those golden Americana opportunities to be lost.  What fun it was to hold up the flimsy, oversized, unfolded, outdated paper map and declare, “We’re Lost!” with the utmost authority and confidence, knowing that to become found would take some idle leisure time, some awkward adventuring, and some moments of uncertainty and frivolity.

No GPS censors to blink and beep to lead folks out of the abyss quickly and efficiently.  No cellphone buddies to call and correct the crazy foolishness.  No help button anywhere.

What fun.

So here’s to the maps of yesteryear that allowed all to experience the ultimate joy of being honestly and wholeheartedly lost.

For the sights and sounds that are seen when living through ‘the lost’ are nothing shy of absolutely enchanting.  I am quite sure that it was the lost who stumbled across the Redwood Forest and the Gulf Stream waters.  They just made it look more intentional later to improve the discovery story.

My suggestion when traveling, leave those smart phones and tablets behind.  Trust that the map compartment will contain something halfway between useless and useful, and see what you see on the next great lost adventure.

Lost in the Blue Ridge Mountains