Tag Archive | memories

All Lit Up and Ready to Go

If you have been following me for awhile, you know I LOVE outdoor Christmas lights. Since I was a little kid, I found wonder in lighting up the blackness of winter. There was one wealthy family on the north side of Racine who started my fascination with outdoor white lights.  These pictures really don’t do the original display justice, but at least you can see what I’m talking about. Baby boomers enjoyed angels flying in the trees and a beautiful Austrian crystal waterfall captured the imagination. Often our parents had to wait in a long line of traffic to get a quick drive-by look. But we waited with patience because few families could afford ANY outside lights. After Mr. Wheary died, his family gifted these lights to the city and now they are displayed at the Racine Zoo along with other colorful lights.waterfall lights peace on earth

Another family has picked up the mantel to present the community with Christmas lights. They live in a subdivision called Jamestown, and I gotta tell you, this display is something special. It is lit from five to ten o’clock and for five hours you can sit in the car and watch lights synchronized to music which you can access on a radio station. Incredible.

A few years back I started putting lights outside myself. The first year I put them on backwards and had to go purchase a LONG extension cord to get them to work. Live and learn, right? Since then every year my display has gotten a bit more sophistication because I add a few more lights. I have no aspirations to become Mr. Wheary or Mike and Debbie at Jamestown, but the flicker of my small display warms my heart in the same way.

I know a lot of people cringe when Christmas has become so commercialized. But let’s get real. There are actually two Christmas celebrations — one at church and a secular one where we shower gifts on people we love. Some say the true meaning of Christmas is lost because people become a little nuts in December, but I will always have an inclination to tell my friends and family I love them by giving them a gift that is relevant to them.

It’s not how much you spend on a gift; it really is a reflection of your love for that person by buying or making a gift with some thoughtfulness. During the years Ken and I fell into financial dire straights, we went to a park and picked up pine cones to make homemade fire-starters for our friends with fireplaces and napkin holders for those who didn’t.

So now that I’ve rambled on about the day at hand, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very happy holiday. Just remember the difference between the two.

It’s Time to Say Thank You

Every fourth Thursday of November, families gather around tables to share a special meal which usually involves turkey. This ONE day was declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln so Americans could give thanks for their their blessings. But in recent years, Thanksgiving has lost its punch because the holiday now finds itself buried under “Black Friday” shopping ads. Some stores even open on Thursday afternoon with their door buster sales. Am I  nuts to think this is nuts? Are we Americans really that eager to join throngs of frantic people rushing from store to store before the leftovers are even refrigerated?

Personally, I like to give each holiday its due. Face it, we only have one Easter, one 4th of July, one Memorial Day, one Labor Day, one Veteran’s Day and one Halloween per year. Why rush it all?

It seems holidays in general have become little more than a day off for over-worked employees, except of course, the poor people who have to work on the holidays because heaven forbid the stores might lose a couple of bucks in revenue if they shut their doors. Bah Humbug!

I’m old enough to remember when stores were NOT open on Sundays. We took twenty-four hours to just relax. If we needed a gallon of milk, well, we stocked up on Saturday or waited until Monday to refill the frig. Nobody died because we didn’t have enough milk. But that was before companies studied the 40-hour week and found it was more efficient to put people on 4-day work schedules for ten hours and rotate them during the rest of the month. Luckily, I didn’t ever have to work such crazy hours, but my daughter now does. And I tell you, she looks tired all of the time.

We also waited for every holiday and enjoyed the festivities connected with each. The world was slower than, and frankly, speeding up the pace of living has turned most of us into nervous wrecks. I jumped off that merry-go-round about seven years ago with a premature retirement and to tell you the truth, I haven’t missed the helter-skelter world at all.

I just think it isn’t too much to ask to take one day out of the year and make a point of looking at your life and finding things to be thankful for. I understand sometimes when the bottom has dropped out of your world, this task can be more challenging. We’ve all been there. But I suggest if you don’t go hungry, have a roof over your head, and don’t have to fear a bomb will hit your house, bow your head and say “Thanks.”



One Photo, One Instant, One Memory

Looking backward can be counterproductive–thinking of when we were younger, probably healthier, and our world was beginning. Like writing, life is a process. Nobody ever gets younger. A pessimist would say we begin dying as soon as we are born. An optimist would say, the world is our oyster. I say the real world lies somewhere in between the two.

I came across a photo of my dear husband and our cat a couple of days ago. I had forgot about the photo, but the minute I laid eyes on it, I laughed and remembered what happened at that very moment.  I’m sure most of you have had such an experience. It’s fun, isn’t it? Take a look at this.

Ken and Parnelli with bowties


Our cat Parnelli LOVED wearing a bow tie–I kid you not, and Ken with his long neck looked very handsome in one. So one night, I got a call from the bedroom. “Sweetheart, come here. I have something to show you.”

When I entered the room I found both of the guys in my life with a “come hither look” buried in the blankets. I doubled over laughing and grabbed the camera to capture the moment.

This was Ken at his best, and Parnelli going along with the joke. I wish I could have frozen time. Aren’t they both so handsome?

Unfortunately, Parnelli passed away about five years after this picture was taken. As you might imagine, he brought a lot of laughs into our lives in his seventeen years. He was an extraordinary little being who didn’t let the fact that he looked like a cat stop him from doing dog and human type things. Did you ever meet a cat that did party tricks on command? Parnelli did. Did you ever meet a cat that loved being the center of attention when company dropped by? Parnelli did. This picture captured his funny nature.

And then there’s Ken. With  his MS symptoms which hinder him from doing so many things these days, I easily forget his great ability to do something creative to make me laugh. Pictures like this one aid me to remember all the wonderful, funny moments we’ve shared together. But, I don’t think about what we’ve lost; I think about what we’ve have together.

That’s the power of photographs, isn’t it?


Fall In

fall-decorations-lara-taylorHappy first day of autumn for all of you in the northern hemisphere. This is my favorite time of year, and I’m not alone. A survey taken by CBS revealed Fall for 37% of you is your favorite time of the year with Spring coming in at a close 35%. There must be something said for these transition seasons of the year, huh?

I think people enjoy this season the most because it’s about as close to perfect as weather can be. Temperatures climb into the low 70s during the day, and cool nights keep us comfortable when we sleep. Best of all nature provides a beautiful show of color that can’t be duplicated. Ken and I always take at least a half dozen car rides to just look at the fall colors in the woods.

Even food becomes comforting. Think about all the sweet, spicy pumpkin stuff that comes out  like pumpkin bread, muffins, cheesecake, milkshakes and ice cream. Did I mention pies? Yeah, this time of year, we all pretty much OD on the orange gourd.

I love a good football game played under the lights with a harvest moon low in the sky. I’m comfortable in a sweater or sweatshirt outdoors, or I can curl up with a blanket in front of the television in the evening. I love it when my dog Ernie snuggles up close to me with his warm little self. During the dog days (pardon the pun) of summer, the last thing I want is a hot dog resting on my lap.

Fall also brings Halloween with scarecrows, cute little witches and other goblins ringing my doorbell on October 31. I used to love making my kid’s costumes for their trick or treating activities. For fifteen years, Ken and I hosted a pumpkin carving party for all of our friends. Sadly, this year, though, I don’t think we’ll be throwing a party. One member is too sick to come, another is moving to Florida, Ken’s parents don’t like to drive the 90+ miles from Chicago any more, and Ken hasn’t been able to wield a knife for quite a while because of a nasty tremor in his right arm.  But I’ll drag out some of the lighted Halloween decorations and scatter other Fall decorations around the house and if I’m feeling real ambitious I might even string some lights outside. Halloween lights are as fun as Christmas lights in this area.

And with a little bit of luck, maybe some friends might join us for some spiked apple cider and a piece of pumpkin something as we watch Hokiss Pokiss for the umpteenth time.

Crossroads in Life

Which wayHave you ever daydreamed about what would have happened if you had chosen a different path from the one you’ve chosen? I don’t do this often because I’ve promised myself I will live without regrets, but I do wonder about a couple of key decisions I’ve made as a young person with little life experience. A different decision would have drastically changed my life.

For instance, I let my mother talk me out of going to college after high school. I don’t blame her for my decision, but she was a key element in my decision to take business courses like typing and shorthand to be able to go straight into the work force at age seventeen. Working as a teenager in a thirty-year-old world was the worst time in my life. There I was, marooned on an island where the adults saw me as a little kid. Men weren’t interested in dating me, and the boys I knew were away at college. I went a whole year without a date. Making matters worse, my girlfriends were in school, too. I was abandoned by no choice of my own. My class rank was 33 in a class of 667. I should have been on campus burning my bra instead of sitting behind a typewriter from eight to four.  It was the only time in my life I wanted to die — seriously, I didn’t want to live any more in that world.

When I turned eighteen that summer, my Aunt Mary in California invited me to visit. I had been writing to her all of my life and now I had the chance to spend a week with this woman I knew only through letters. The trip was exciting in all aspects. It entailed traveling by plane for the first time with airport delays and such, but then, the plane ride was part of the adventure. There were no metal detectors. Family could meet you at the gate. People were relaxed and friendly. The food was good and served on a tray. There was no terrorism stress. It was terrific.

My Aunt Mary met me at the San Diego airport and brought this weary traveler home. (Did I mention we had a six-hour delay in Chicago?) She was so sweet to me. Everyday we had a new adventure. She introduced me to beautiful San Diego, and I fell in love with the oleander bushes that brought color to every yard. I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time at La Jolla beach. We visited an old mission. I went to Disneyland for an entire day with my cousin Carolyn who was four years older than me. Aunt Mary took me to Sea World where I saw the dolphins and whales for the first time. Up until now,  I had only seen such animals in books. Most every night we got dressed for dinner and ate in fancy restaurants. It was a trip I never will forget.

Aunt Mary and I hit it off so well, she invited me to live with her. I was torn between home and California. California offered another direction for my life. but I had never been so far away from home, and giving up my job and my car and living in a different place scared me. To this day, I’m sorry I didn’t give it a try. I have lived in Racine all of my life. I see now, this was a mistake. But my world was too small when I was eighteen and I wasn’t in any hurry to expand my horizons. What is it they say? Youth is wasted on the young?

I’m sure we all have such crossroads in our lives. Tell me of a time when you had to make such an important decision about what path to travel, and we can compare notes. Come on. I dare you!

The Dog Days of August

sunHere we are at the end of August and summer has decided to show up. We’ve had an exceptionally cool June, July and most of August this year, so this weather is hard on everybody–even Ernie the pug. He lays like a frog on the linoleum to keep his tummy cool, while he pants and snorts. Needless to say, pugs have a small window for weather tolerance to keep them comfortable. Much like me.

So, yesterday, today, and tomorrow when the temperature gauge dances around the 90 degree mark, Ken and I will be hanging out in the living room each on our own computers pretending we are somewhere else. The oscillating fan will provide our trade winds, and the air conditioner will keep the temps a balmy 78 degrees.

I’ve heard friends from warmer climates speak about how hard it is to stay indoors when the weather looks beautiful through the window, but going outside means a good chance of melting. A few days of such weather drives me nuts; I don’t know how southerners get through the whole long, hot summer. Of course, they wonder how and why we northerners endure almost six months of cold and snow. I always tell them I can put on more clothes than I can take off without being arrested.

One plus of hunkering down indoors is getting on with my research. The greatest perk about being a writer is you can research and write almost anywhere. I truly love my profession because my commutes are short; my working environment is comfortable, and  I can write in my jammies, sipping coffee, while my imagination takes me away to different times and places.

As we suffer through these three days of extreme heat, I daydream what it must have been like not to have air conditioning or fans on hot days like today. When I was a child, no one in our little town had air conditioning — including the school and church. I remember heading to the basement to escape the inferno outside. I remember not sleeping because I couldn’t get comfortable. And I remember my Dad coming home from work after working all day in a place where the inside 100 degrees and the outside 90 degrees offered no relief. We never complained to Dad how hot it was because he had worked in hell all day to keep our family feed.

Children love hot weather because they can splash and play in cool water from the hose in the backyard. Lucky kids swim in backyard pools, while their Moms watch them from padded chairs perched under a huge umbrella sipping lemonade or something stronger. Such was the case when my children were little. Our neighbor’s pool was always open to us, and I spent many hours swimming with them or watching my little tadpoles practice what they learned in swimming class.

Up until recent years, summer was my favorite season. I had my birthday in July, there was no school, and I played all day at the park. I got to go to Girl Scout camp every summer, learning the mysteries of the outdoor world. I played baseball all day long whenever I could. It’s funny. I never remember being too hot to play. Mom treated us to Popsicles or Kool-Aid in the afternoons, and we were happy.  Maybe that’s the secret!  Kids don’t feel the heat like older grown-ups do. Yeah. That must be it!

So, if I complain about being cooped up in a comfortable, cool house for a few days, just slap me. I deserve it. After all, children are young once and summer is a time to enjoy.


Travel Time — Take It!

beach sceneAs  most of you have figured out by now, Ken and my life is rather simple. We no longer take exotic cruises or travel on airplanes to use the timeshare properties we once owned. We rarely get more than 25 miles from home. I’m so happy we took the opportunity to travel when he had the chance. Now contentment at home is what we enjoy. I don’t think we’d be satisfied to stay so close to home if we hadn’t taken the trips that we did. Our pictures and my journals allow us to live the great times over and over whenever we want.

Sometimes I’m sad that our traveling days are over, but then I think of my parents and grandparents. My Mom and Dad always dreamed about going to Hawaii on their 25th Wedding Anniversary. Just before the big day appeared on the calendar, my Dad had a massive heart attack and the life they led changed forever. My grandma only got to travel vicariously through travelogues that were shown at Memorial Hall because my grandfather refused to take an expensive trip. Luckily, my brother and his wife went to Hawaii for their 25th Wedding Anniversary and had a great time–only to have to say goodbye prematurely with her succumbing to colon cancer about a month ago.

I have never felt guilty for taking eight cruises with my girlfriends after I got divorced. The experience was traumatic, and I needed the getaway for my mental health. I didn’t have a full-time job, but I did have excellent credit, and the cost of the trips were reasonable because my friends were travel agents, and I went along as their companion.

The end result was two years of wonderful memories I wouldn’t have if I had been practical and waited for the “right” time. Through it all, I got to see most of the islands in the Caribbean, spent weeks in Florida, saw a magnificent sunset in the Miami harbor I will never forget, and enjoyed the English atmosphere of Bermuda. I was invited to the homes of my traveling companions in Maine and Boston, so I got a taste of New England.

I am so happy I had the opportunity to see a little bit of the world. Perhaps someday, I will be able to travel again, but right now, I’ll travel with the characters in my books.

My experiences taught me traveling makes a person’s world bigger. I got to know people from around the world and corresponded with many of them afterward. I snorkeled with the stingrays in Grand Cayman and floated along the current of the Palancar reef off the cost of Cozumel, Mexico. I bartered with the locals in Jamaica and learned what excellent salespeople they are! I climbed Mayan ruins in Cancun and walked hand-in-hand with a lover down 7-mile beach on white sand. I learned the electric slide line dance with the ocean swaying below my feet. I tried foods I never would have ordered in a restaurant because they would have been too expensive. I also tried local foods–cow foot, swordfish and Ackee (Jamaica’s national fruit), and Cuban red beans and rice.

My message is important. Don’t wait for the things you want in life. Explore. Experience. Enjoy.  If I’ve learned anything, it is this:  Don’t put your dreams on hold. Don’t live with regrets. If you really want to do something, go and do it. Don’t make excuses that you have to work or don’t have the money. Find the time and make the money. Life is much too precarious to wait for the “right” time. There’s a big world waiting for you, and there may not be a tomorrow.

Pickles & Memories

bread-butter-pickles-1-550I have dear friends who share their fresh produce from their garden with me. I am so grateful because I am inept at growing vegetables. I do all right with herbs and flowers, but I haven’t produced a tomato in ten years. It’s probably due to the fact that my yard is almost completely shaded by huge trees. Yeah. That’s right. I’ll blame it on the trees!

At any rate, today I’m making bread and butter pickles. I haven’t canned since we moved in this house over 12 years ago, so this is quite an undertaking. (I might wuss out and just keep them chilled in the refrigerator; we’ll see how ambitious I turn out to be.)

I always loved canning when I was younger. It was one time my mother and I worked together without butting heads. I especially loved freezing corn because there were so many steps to that vegetable. It turned out to be an all-day process by the time we shucked the corn, blanched it, chilled it, cut it off the cob and finally filled freezing containers with the kernels.

My mother never made any kind of pickles except for bread and butter pickles. I liked the pickles Mrs. Johnson, my best girlfriend’s mother, made. She trained me on the process of jarred dill pickles and also crock sweet pickles. Another neighbor taught me how to make watermelon pickles. I thought any pickle was worth my time and talent because I loved them all.

Canning somehow makes me feel more in touch with my food. I carried on the tradition when I had my children living with me, but when they grew up, it seemed senseless to can for two people. There’s a part of me that misses the process and the freshness of canning. I miss the sweet smells and seeing the bright colors in Mason and Kerr Jars lining the cupboard. The pretty pictures on store-bought veggies can’t compare.

What I don’t miss is the mess and sweating over hot kettles in the summer time. Menopause brings its own flashes of heat now, so I guess I’ll just remember my canning days when one of those self-made heatwaves comes along!

Another Ending

love_heart_flowers-HDAfter almost two months since my father’s passing, it’s now time to empty the house and sell the place where I grew up and my parents lived for over 60 years. I haven’t lived in that house since I was 18, but still the dwelling holds many memories.

I remember when we moved from the small house next door into our “big” house. . . of 1000 sq. feet . . . but to us the place was a palace. My brother and I each had our own room. We had a long hallway where my father taught me to skip. We had a basement, which was a whole world we never had in our little house. The basement was where we used our imaginations to make up plays,  play dress up, and even help mom with the wash once in a while. When we got older, it was where my mother had den meetings for my brother’s Cub Scout den. It also was where I had my first girl-boy party when I was in eighth grade.

Every inch of that house was special because my father built it with his own hands. Every inch was neater than I could ever make anything because both of my parents were neat freaks. They had few things new or expensive items, except for my Dad’s lawn equipment in the garage. I didn’t take much. A dresser. A chair. A coffee pot, three china tea cups and saucers, an indoor grill and some dish rags. I didn’t want much because I have a whole household of my own. Going through this chore was especially hard for my younger brother and sister because both of them were closer to my parents in recent years than I was.  It still was surreal to me, to go through drawers I never opened in my life. I kept reminding myself that it was only stuff, and my parents are together again in another place. Some of what they left behind holds sentiment and other stuff will live on in usefulness for someone else.

It’s a stage of life we all go through, but I’m thankful I only have to do this once.

An Unsentimental Journey

Today was another scorcher, and other than a road trip with my brother to my parent’s homestead, I stayed in the cool house and let my computer entertain me. As usual, I spent most of the day researching and writing on my newest book, so the day went fast.

If felt strange walking through my parents’ home knowing neither of them wouldn’t greet me. Everything was clean and neat, just the way my Dad had left it. Both he and my mother were neat freaks, and their organization still amazes me. You could eat a meal off his basement work bench, and my mother still had most of the ingredients in the cupboards to make a meal in a moment’s notice. The drawers are full of things that must find new homes and where it all will end up is still a mystery. There’s not a lot that I want, but I did put my name on a chair, a small dresser,  three of my grandma’s china cups, and a picture I painted for my mother as a Mother’s Day gift a couple of years ago.

I wasn’t melancholy about the trip because by now it is just a house. Yes, some memories linger, but I haven’t lived there since I was 18, so I have little emotional attachment to the surroundings. I think that’s a good thing. I hope my children feel the same when they have to dispose of the materialism I leave behind, but I also hope they do have some attachment for a few of the things I’ve collected. Sometimes I don’t think either of them have a sentimental bone in their body, and it’s all my fault.  I raised my girls to be independent and the rough edge of that kind of upbringing is to not get attached to anything.

The following months will be full of new adventures as we four children absorb or discard my parent’s belongings. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I tell you about the emotions that may or may not hit me. It’s been my experience emotional things come out at totally unrelated times.