A weekend retreat

I am fortunate to be part of a wonderful creative community on Facebook, and every so often we find a way to get together. Two of our members brainstormed a creative retreat at the Christ the King Spiritual Life Center in Greenwich, NY. They reserved a lodge for the weekend with shared bedrooms and a large central gathering room, perfect for our purpose. Our friends set up tables and provided supplies and inspiration for everything from watercolor, to card making, to sketching, to writing, to photographic hikes on the gorgeous trails that are part of this lovely place. It was a wonderful three days with lots of catching up and laughter and oodles of creative spirit.

I was offered a chance to stay in the pet friendly room, Barnabas 1, which was a bit removed from the main lodge, but it allowed me to bring my dog Tess. 112Everyone wanted to meet her, or renew their acquaintance.  Tess loved all the attention and walks that comprised her weekend and I enjoyed seeing her interact with everyone and how much they loved having her there. She was (mostly) on her best behavior!

It was past midnight when I went to the room that first night, so I had no idea what treasures waited for me just outside the door. In the morning, I looked out the bathroom window to see a small pond with a fountain, surrounded by brush. 109There were two fawns feeding in the mist, and as they meandered along, I saw horses grazing up in the pasture. 107A sense of peace enveloped me. As Tess and I walked outside, I found myself looking up at some of the biggest willow trees I had ever seen. There were two on each side of the stone gate and others nearby providing majestic beauty as their long fronds gently moved in the morning breezes.

I stood under one looking up, up, and yet further up, completely in awe. There was just something regal and wonderful about them and I wanted everyone to share the experience. But I think this was just for me as I couldn’t convince the others to come and see them! And they are in my mind as I picture this lovely landscape, beckoning me to come and sit in their shade for just a while. 239237

Tess and I walked around the pond each morning, stopping so I could take photos.She is used to this and is mostly patient with the idea. I haven’t taken many this summer; it has been so hot and humid, and places we walk are familiar enough that I needed fresh inspiration. There was plenty to be had here.

The large building is the library – it is next to the Barnabas lodge and has a wonderful wraparound deck on the outside. The willow tree on the far side of the pond is not as tall as the ones near the gate, but is certainly wide! And the faithful Great Pyrenees barked a gentle warning with wagging tail, that we should not get too near the goats under his care.

We saw a bird flying to the opposite side of the pond to us, that I at first thought was a juvenile heron. My friend Deb, who is an avid bird watcher said it was a green heron. He kept his distance, but I managed to get at least one shot of him sitting on the fence around the dock.233

There is a covered picnic area that beckoned us into its cool interior. Tess hopped up on the wall, agile girl that she is, and waited for me to take yet more photos. Or perhaps she was posing just for her own portrait!

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The fountain sparkled in the sunlight as the water droplets danced, and we wandered back to our room, refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

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Nana

Nana was a very special person in our lives. She was my mother’s mother and she adored her grandchildren and spent as much time as possible with them. She is affectionately remembered in our family with a lot of love.  I wrote previously on this blog site of some of those wonderful times. Our extended family is close and we have many shared memories, but those of Nana are the ones we love to talk about when we are together. So it was no small thing to decide that I wanted to be Nana to my own grandchild. I have big shoes to fill.1046

My granddaughter Eleanor Elizabeth, arrived about 2 1/2 weeks early (on April 29) after a long and trying week for my daughter, Amy. Ellie is beautiful and so very tiny, tipping the scales at a mere 5 pounds, 14 ounces. Amazing to think that we all start out so small and grow into such large people! I went to the hospital the morning after she was born, a Saturday, and got to hold and rock her for a couple of hours. People came and went; nurses, doctors, visitors, food service people – all those who keep hospitals running along smoothly. But Nana sat and rocked her sweet bundle and touched her tiny fingers and stroked her soft cheeks, talking soft nonsense to her, and storing moments to relive when I was far away.

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Ellie’s finger was the length of the first knuckle on my little finger. Her hand was less than an inch wide as it lay atop mine. Her hair was dark, peeking out from her blue, pink and white striped baby hat. She has dark eyebrows – I don’t remember my children having eyebrows! And if they did, they were blond and didn’t really show. I put my finger in her little hand and she grabbed on tight (the below photo is with her mother). Her feet were long when she managed to get one free of her swaddling blanket. She was perfect. And the tears came softly that I had been given such an inexpressibly wonderful gift. 1022

It is hard to put into words what it was like to meet this tiny bit of humanity for the first time. A part of me, part of the family I created in giving birth to her mother so long ago. It was a bit surreal to realize that my little girl was now a mother in her own right. She is and will be a wonderful mother; it is already obvious how much she loves her baby girl. Everton is completely smitten and so very proud of his little family. It is a joy to see him loving and caring for them both. 1040

I went back to the hospital on Sunday for a few more precious hours before heading home. The three hours drive was filled with thoughts of soft baby noises and the sweet milky smell of newborn life. It would be three weeks until I would be able to get back down to Massachusetts to see them again. Amy sends me daily pictures like the one above, so that I don’t miss out; and we text often. Technology allows us to be connected at this special time and I’m grateful for it. But it is not a substitute for holding my little granddaughter. That moment comes again in just a few more days. Nana is counting the hours.

 

 

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Becoming Nana

My world is about to change in a very wonderful way. At Christmas, my daughter Amy announced that she and Everton were expecting their first child. They gave me a wooden sign and said it was from “Baby girl, due in May”. Wow, talk about an unexpected and very welcome gift! Amy is beyond the age when most women start families, and I had pretty much given up on ever being a grandmother. It took me some weeks to get my head around it. For some reason it was easier to think of my daughter becoming Mom than it was to think that I was to be a grandmother for the first time. But with Eleanor Elizabeth’s (Ellie’s) imminent arrival I am beginning to feel like a grandmother. 020

My sister and I had a small family and friends baby shower in March that was great fun to plan and to do. JoEllen is a wonderful cook and she took care of the food parts of things.

I am a not so wonderful cook, but I’m good with creative things, so I did decorating and, well, crafty things! It’s been a long time since there was any sort of baby anything in my immediate family, so I was inducted into a whole new world thanks to my sister’s Pinterest browsing.

One of my projects was a diaper cake. It’s the current craze in the baby shower world and you can even buy ready made ones although they are expensive. My sister thought I could easily make one and sent me to the internet to look for ideas. A diaper cake is made out of diapers (right – I bet you figured that out!) and then decorated with whatever you choose. We had a woodland shower theme, so mine used small stuffed animals and ribbon with rabbits (fortunately it was nearly Easter and rabbit ribbon was easy to come by!). It seems a pretty simple concept; you have a middle made from something round and sturdy (I used a seltzer bottle) and you wrap disposable diapers around it. But there is more than one way to do it and it’s not as easy as it sounds! Apparently I chose the more difficult design. Of course! But it worked out and Amy loved it which was all that mattered. And baby Ellie will have enough diapers for the first few days!003

More decoration ideas came from an unexpected source. I opened a storage bin of the childhood things I’d kept in hopes of someday having a grandchild who would wear them.  I had forgotten that I had some of the dresses that my sisters and I wore – our very own 60 year old vintage clothing!  The dresses are beautifully made with thick soft cotton fabric, the laces and trims sewn on securely. You cannot find such clothing in today’s world; the fabrics used then were made to last. I even found a dress that I’m pretty sure my mother made. Mom was a keeper of many things, and how glad I am that she saved these lovely dresses! Ellie is being named for her great-grandmother and it means much that she will have something handmade by her. It seems very strange that my mother will never meet her great-granddaughter; she would have been utterly delighted! 085My sister made this print – we were both thinking of our mother this day.

The family christening dress, with its beautiful coat and bonnet and satin baby shoes was worn by all of the girls in the family including Amy. It is special indeed that it will be worn by yet another generation. I suggested that we could use the dresses as decorations – people would enjoy seeing them. I washed them and hung them to dry. And as the day drew near I ironed them and tied the bows in back just as hands before mine had done. I made little rabbit stickers with dates as near as we knew them. People were amazed that we had kept the dresses all these years and that they survived so well!

 

I made many of Amy’s dresses when she was growing up and those also came out into the light of day. Memories of a little girl with bright blond braids and a cheerful smile. Ellie will always have beautiful things to wear with her mother’s dresses. I am so glad that she will get to wear them!014

With the shower behind us, I started thinking (at my daughter’s request) about what I would like to be called. Being a grandmother is still a bit of an abstract concept for me. I know it’s happening, and I have watched my daughter blossom as the baby grows. But Amy is directly connected, as all mothers are, and can feel the movements of this small person every day. Grandmothers get to feel the connection once the baby is born and put into their arms the first time. I try to picture what being a grandmother will be like. I live three hours away so times with baby Ellie will be precious and special, but it won’t be every day. I will be at my daughter’s house for the first few days to help and to enjoy my granddaughter. I know that I will delight in rocking her to sleep and singing little songs and reading her stories and eventually having her for sleepovers and so many things that are the special purview of grandparents. I can almost see the little girl she will become running in my door calling for me.

So what do I want her to call me? I kept going back and forth on names and even looked up the Irish word for grandmother – which is a bit unwieldy! My mother was Grammy, her mother was Nana, my father’s mother was Grandma Cuthbert. Many of my friends have pet names that the child came up with on their own. And Ellie may do this as well. But I decided I would like to be Nana, as Ellie’s Great-great-grandmother was. A name full of meaning to me and to my sister and cousins; a beloved memory. Of course no one is calling me that yet, so it still feels abstract. But sometime in the next four weeks it’s going to become very real.

And I can’t wait for that day!

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What’s in a name?

Have you ever given thought to all the names/titles that you go by? We start out with the one our parents give us – in my case chosen because my father liked the name Candy. I also immediately became daughter, granddaughter, niece, and cousin on that cold February day many years ago. Added to these were all the life names that mark milestones or just day to day life for each of us. I have been sister, cousin, friend, girlfriend, aunt and eventually Mom. Yet it is only the one name (or two if you have a middle name) our parents give us that is ours alone. Every other name we have, while it is ours to wear, is shared by others. Most of us have aunts, uncles, cousins – it’s a common life experience that unites us.  But except for rare duplicates, the name your parents gave you is yours alone. And love it or hate it, your name identifies you to the world at large.

My daughter is named for a lovely strong character in a television show that was popular when I was a young teen, and also because I thought the name Amy was beautiful. Her middle name of Elizabeth is that of a family friend, but also one that I found beautiful. My son is named for his two grandfathers; Matthew on his father’s side and Joseph on mine. I named my dog Tess after a strong female character in a book that I admired. I like the idea of choosing a name that means something to you personally. I don’t know the story behind my parents’ names, Eleanor and Albert, but I am sure they were chosen for a specific reason. I will have to ask my aunt if she knows about my mother; unfortunately there is no one left to ask about my father’s name. Is it important? Perhaps not, but it would be nice to know.

I think that many today choose names because of what they mean. I find it ironic that the meanings of mine and my children’s names do fit who we are! And I wonder how names got their meaning in the first place. Last names often had something to do with the family trade, but first names?  I wonder how they came about. They are so different from anything our ancestors would have known.  Then there are names that are joined together to honor loved ones, creating something entirely new. Some choose names of the famous or infamous, some make up something that seems to make no sense at all to anyone else, some seem to choose a name without much thought and rather unfortunate consequences. It’s a bit of a daunting prospect when you think about it, to choose a name that will be the personal identifier for a lifetime.  An awesome responsibility that we take pretty much for granted.

I am soon to have another moniker to add to my own list. There are lots of choices and ideas to think about, and I haven’t yet settled on just who I will be. And perhaps after all, the choice will not be completely mine. Sometimes a child’s mispronunciation becomes the accepted form. But however I am to be known, the meaning will be love.  My first grandchild, Eleanor Elizabeth, is due to arrive in May! IMG_0183

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Christmas

I love Christmas.  As a singer, I revel in the wonderful carols and the glorious joyful music of the season. As a Christian, I celebrate the wonderful gift of Jesus sent by a loving God. As a mom, I joyfully anticipate a visit from my children and my daughter’s fiancee. And I love giving and receiving gifts!

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We have had our share of sadness at Christmas with losses of those dearly loved. My sister, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, a cousin, beloved dogs. My faith has sustained me and those I love through good times and bad. The birth of Christ is woven into my love of Christmas and influences much of the spirit of the holidays for me. Christmas always comes and brings joy to my heart even amidst tears.

Christmas Eve at church is perhaps my favorite part of the celebration. Everything is done, and those things that didn’t happen aren’t going to. Things that mattered greatly only a few days before, now don’t matter at all! It’s a time of great peace and anticipation. The candles in the pews, the string orchestra accompanying the carols from the balcony, singing the beloved and familiar songs all convey a sense of peace. It’s a time to let go of daily life and fill up with joy and wonder.

The music starts early; I will hear someone humming Jingle Bells as they hang a garland or singing While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks as they shop for just that perfect gift (ok, that might be me!). I sing in two community chorales, and there are times when we are practicing Christmas music long before anyone else is even thinking about the holidays to come. A church I belonged to in Massachusetts used to sing Joy to the World in June! After all, why should joy be confined to one season a year?

And then there is the love. Everyone experiences love along the way … somewhere, with someone. I was fortunate to grow up in a happy home with lots of my mother’s relatives nearby to celebrate all of the family holidays. Family Christmas still happens the weekend before, although we no longer exchange gifts. It’s just a time to be together and share stories and be a family. The group is smaller now as some have passed on, and my aunt can no longer have the gathering, so my cousins do.

Christmas also changes from time to time. Faces at the table come and go, people begin new traditions with in-laws and the other half of grandparents. My own traditions have changed several times … in both small and big ways. My aunt wraps the gifts in stockings and the one Christmas morning we spent at her house began that tradition in ours. When my kids were small I would whisk them off to visit grandparents in the afternoon. But then I realized it was an adult thing, and the kids just wanted to stay home and play with their new toys. So that’s what we did!

After my kids were grown, my parents began spending Christmas with my sister in Maine as her boys were much younger than my kids. So a new tradition began of sharing a special breakfast before opening gifts (either waffles or pancakes with bacon and REAL maple syrup) and then a festive dinner. My moving to Vermont made this a bit more cumbersome for them, but the highlight of Christmas for me is having both my children, and now my daughter’s fiancee, all here for a day or two. (The photo below is from 2010 and includes my setter, Chelsea – Tess hadn’t arrived yet!)

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Is my Christmas perfect? I guess it depends on who you ask. My house is never as clean as I hope to have it. The kids know we will have one of two meals which I can manage fairly well since cooking is not my thing! My mother’s apple pie, now made by my daughter, is a staple. There are always lots of gifts, whether large or small. All are given with love. We talk and watch Christmas Vacation and fall asleep on the couch or the chair until someone says we all need to go to bed because they can’t hear the movie over our snoring! It’s one day when we can simply be. No demands, no commutes to work, it’s just us. It is perfectly ours. And I love it.

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A pair of sunglasses

Just a simple pair of plastic sunglasses.  A little bit of flower child I suppose with their blue frames and pink and yellow flowers.  But as I drove home in the evening sunlight the other day, they triggered a memory of a friendship that was all too brief.  I have written of meeting ML when she hired me to walk her delightful little daschund, Molly;  https://candyinvt.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/in-the-winter-of-her-life/.

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ML had decided she needed some shorts to wear on the hot summer days and she wanted sunglasses to replace a pair she had lost. So I suggested a shopping trip to a nearby JC Penney. She thought that was a wonderful idea!  A nurse came and switched her oxygen tank for a full one which gave us three hours to get things done. We got ML into the passenger seat of my car and put the tank on the floor in front of her. The bright red walker went into the back seat and off we went.

Inside the store, ML headed right for the petite section and began searching for things she liked.  We piled her selections into the basket on her walker and went into a nearby dressing room where she tried things on.  She would open the door for approval or to ask me to get her a different size (usually smaller!) of one or another item.  She was enjoying herself, despite the activity tiring her out.  Something about new clothes just lifts the spirits!

Then it was on to the rack of sunglasses. We laughed and giggled like schoolgirls trying on all the different styles.  There were so many to choose from! ML  settled on a pair of large  tortoise shell look  frames and I teased her about looking like a movie star. She was such a tiny woman and those big glasses really did make her look quite glamorous. I smile just thinking about her preening in the mirror! She insisted that I should buy some as well because you always need an extra pair of course; so the hippie chick flowers came home with me.

ML was exhausted by this time, so we paid for our purchases and headed for home. Often when I came into her apartment after that day, she would be wearing her sunglasses, even though she was inside.  She just liked wearing them she said and she had lots of windows that made the room bright!

I walked Molly every day for about a year and ML and I got very close. She had a raspy throaty voice and loved to laugh, so I told her funny stories or showed her things on her computer that would make her smile.  We had a few small adventures that made her happy, and she was always so grateful to be included in a plan to go anywhere.  She read my copy of Jon Katz’ book about rescuing his donkey Simon, and knowing I was a friend of Jon’s asked if perhaps she could meet him.  He graciously consented and I drove ML to Bedlam Farm to visit one morning. ML and Maria found a common love of sewing and she was welcomed into Maria’s schoolhouse workshop.  Jon talked about his animals and got Red to come to the donkey pen with the sheep so ML could see a little bit of herding. She was delighted and often mentioned how much she enjoyed meeting Jon and Maria and their animals.

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I found a regular job last fall and had to give up the dogwalking, and my daily visits to ML. I still stopped by on occasion just to chat or have a cup of tea. Her face lit up when I entered her apartment and she was always happy to see me and so welcoming.  But I could see that she was failing a bit more each time I went, and I wasn’t surprised to receive an email from a friend who works in the facility, saying that I needed to visit very soon.

When I went into the apartment, a couple of ML’s daughters and granddaughters were there along with sweet Molly who greeted me with wagging tail and bright eyes. ML was in bed, very frail and nearly unconscious. But she did open her eyes once, and I leaned over and said “It’s Candy.” She worked her hand out of the bedclothes and reached toward me, and as I took her hand she looked at me steadily for a few moments, knowing, I am sure, that I had come to say goodbye.  It’s a moment I will remember; just a few days later she was gone.

Farewell Mari-Lou.  It was fun to know you. I will remember your love of Molly, and your wonderful orchids. And I will smile every time I need those sunglasses and remember two women giggling like schoolgirls as we played dress up in a JC Penney store.

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A simple summer weekend

“Come to my house for the weekend, and bring Tess!”, my friend Kate suggested. We hadn’t seen each other in a while and wanted to visit and catch up a bit. Tess would meet Kate’s two dogs for the first time, a sweet Newfoundland named Aggie and a fun loving lab named Horace. We would eat yummy food and watch a favorite book to TV series and take the dogs for walks.

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So, early on Saturday morning I went to a local farmstand for their wonderful corn on the cob and to pick up some tomatoes. A bonus – there were wax beans on sale; buy one pound and get a second pound free! One bag would go with me and the other would await my return home. I had made Brazilian cheese bread to take along, which I thought Kate would enjoy.  My daughter’s fiancee introduced us to this delicacy; small round bites of a tapioca flour bread with a crisp outside and chewy center.  When it’s hot out of the oven it’s wonderful! (note: the photo below is from the recipe page)

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Tess and I set out in the late morning on a lovely summer’s day for the hour and forty-five minute trip. Tess hasn’t been overly fond of car rides for a long time, but this summer I’ve been making them positive experiences to places she likes to go. It seems to be working, because while I still have to lift her into the car, she sits right up on the floor behind and between the bucket seats (instead of lying behind the seats) and seems to be enjoying the ride and the scenery.  She will sometimes put her front paws on the console and lay her chin on my shoulder for a bit which is rather sweet.

IMG_0155Tess happy to be along for the ride!

When we arrived, Kate brought out her dogs to meet Tess; first Aggie who is a gentle giant, then Horrie who is just a few months older than Tess – a good match for my exuberant girl! Tess and Horrie were quite taken with each other and spent most of the weekend playing together or running ahead to explore on our walks. It was adorable to see them together!

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Kate had made a salad for lunch and the cheese bread was a perfect accompaniment for it. We enjoyed every bite!  After lunch we went for a lovely walk where the dogs enjoyed romping along the road and in the brush beside it. Aggie and Horrie went for a swim, but Tess decided she would just pose regally on a nearby stump and hide in the grass.

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And then she took a quick rest while she waited for Aggie to come out of the water and for us to catch up to her.

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Then it was home for a wonderful supper of salmon and sweet corn and some of those bargain wax beans. Turns out they are a favorite of Kate’s – I had no idea! The evening plan was to watch as many episodes as we could stay awake for of a new TV program Kate had downloaded. It is based on a series of books we have both enjoyed reading. I don’t have cable TV and ordered the DVD which is coming out in October. It’s a nicely done series and fun to watch with someone who knows the books as well as I do. We enjoyed sharing each other’s takes on the casting of our favorite characters and seeing whether things were as we imagined them.

We slept very soundly that night, after all the fresh air and good food. And staying up to the wee hours watching three episodes of the series! Even the dogs were exhausted from their play and curled up quite happily on their beds. Tess shared the couch with us during the movie as a special treat, since she was a guest, and then came up to sleep on my bed as she does at home.

Kate made a hearty breakfast and then there was a bit of outside work needing to be done, so we postponed our doggie walk till the afternoon.  The best thing about no real plan, was that we could change our minds and do something else if we felt like it. We decided to have lunch and then watch another episode of the TV series …which turned into two! But our time was our own to do with as we would.

Lunch was so good! A mutual friend of ours sent me a recipe for tomato pie with basil and feta cheese and yogurt, topped with chopped olives. Sounded wonderful and I sent it on to Kate, who thought it would be a perfect lunch. I found tomatoes at the farm market and Kate got the other ingredients. We decided it was a huge success, although we would make a couple of minor changes next time – especially letting the mix sit just a bit before baking so the flavors could meld.  A very simple recipe that uses the lovely large tomatoes that will soon be everywhere.  It tastes just as good as it looks!

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We had a salad to accompany the pie and some perfectly juicy fresh peaches for dessert. A feast for the eyes as well as the belly! We ate on Kate’s lovely screened porch with a gentle breeze blowing through and the dogs lying at our feet (although Tess did beg a little bit I confess!).

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After lunch and the movie, we took the dogs on a walk up the trail into the woods where Horrie and Tess had great fun running off after squirrels or at least I think it was squirrels. Fortunately, they are both pretty good about coming when called – especially knowing we had meaty treats in our pockets!

All too soon it was time to head back to Vermont. We’d so enjoyed the time together and plan to do things like this more often if we can. There was nothing extraordinary about the weekend (well, the salmon and corn on the cob and the bread and the tomato pie were pretty extraordinary!), but it was wonderful. Just time to be enjoyed with a friend and our beloved dogs. Life is good.

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