Privileged Passes

The Genie granted three wishes. Three wishes every day for four days. Reed and I get to choose three fast-passes per day during our trip with his daughters to Walt Disney World. The passes allow us to avoid long lines to the most popular attractions in each Theme Park. We have conferred, consulted others, and checked out a virtual tour of the Magic Kingdom.  Our day-one selections include the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride. Plus, over the four days we have access to all the water parks and any other rides we are willing to wait for.  What a privilege to have such an opportunity.

During the past seven years, passes of one kind or another have played a key role in my life. After Reed moved to Ontario, Paul and I traveled the New York Thruway regularly, the fifth busiest toll road in the United States. A trip to and from Ontario took us through a dozen toll plazas. Near Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse the lines of vehicles often halted as each driver stopped to hand over cash to the collector.  Even in the lanes in which coins were tossed into a basket, delays occurred as the travelers searched for exact change.

For a year or so, I looked to the E-ZPass lanes with envy. No lines or stopping, an electronic eye scanned a device mounted on windshields. Once I signed up for our own E-ZPass account, we sailed through those toll booths with glee. It’s a heady feeling to cruise past the vehicles inching toward a lowered gate, when ours lifts magically, a green signal for go-ahead.

Now residing on Wellesley Island, accessible only by bridge (or boat), we keep a Bridge Pass in each vehicle. The discount card is scanned at a booth on the U.S. or Canadian mainland when crossing to the island.  In 2018 we crossed the St. Lawrence by bridge 576 times, the card saving us almost $1,000. Of all the gatekeepers, the Thousand Island Bridge Authority Staff provide the most welcome greeting.  Aside from the required fee, no restrictions apply to the number of passengers, citizenship, destination, or possessions on board. Just a friendly “Have a great day.”

To us, the most vital pass we hold is our U. S. Passport.  Those we love and hold dear, our son and his daughters are only accessible with that document.  In stark contrast to the cheerful welcome ambassadors at the T.I. Bridge, the customs officers at the Canadian border assume a solemn martial demeanor.

We pull up to the customs booth with all windows down to reveal what goods we carry. We state the destination, purpose, and length of our Canadian visit without hesitation. If asked, we explain Reed’s status and employment in Canada. We give direct eye-contact as we respond to the following:

Do you have any alcohol or tobacco?

Do you have any weapons or self-defense items, such as mace?

Do you have any gifts?

Do you have any meat or produce?

Do you have cash in the amount of $10,000 or more?

An affirmative answer to any of the above could result in a complete vehicle inspection. Every single time we are approved for entry, I emit a sigh of relief.

In the microcosm of my life I observe how guards, gatekeepers, and exclusive groups wield power to admit or bar. Often, money grants access to privileges some forty-million impoverished Americans will never have. Seldom am I openly restricted because of ethnicity, gender, age, or beliefs. Not so for all or in other places.

If only a benevolent Genie existed to award the passes each individual deserves for a full-privileged, unrestricted life-experience.



Northern Language Primer

Learn language the Northern way,

Master the nouns you need every day.

     Snow, sleet, squall,

            Wind, warning, watch.

You’ll soon be ready for the compound kind,

These appear daily you’ll quickly find.

     Lake-enhanced, snow-squall, wintry-mix,

            White-out, wind-chill, area-wide.

Should you desire to form a complete thought?

Simply add a verb to what you’ve got.

     Burst, barge, charge,

            Impact, hammer, slam.

An array of messages can be hewn,

Like those one hears on TV at noon.

     Every road will be impacted.

            Travel bans due to blizzard enacted.

Negative and positive advice you’ll hear,

Either way your schedule will be clear.

     No school, no meetings, no driving.

            Stay in, stay home, stay put.

Adjectives give the message some flair,

Place them with nouns so they work as a pair.

     Menacing mix, blustery gusts, ominous outages,

            Hazardous highways, treacherous travel, accumulation amounts.

Meteorologists have mastered the vernacular,

Of the present participle which is quite spectacular.

     Incoming, kicking-up, picking-up, 

            Charging, crippling, firing-up.

Usage and word choice might confuse,

But those from the North are simply bemused.

     Musicians have no part in an organizing band.

             Pockets conceal Arctic air not frigid hands.

Commuters, forecasters, especially highway crews,

Must have understanding of technical terms used.

     Storm prep, road salt, electronic alert,

             Cancelled or canceled, either spelling works.

Omit needless words for effective communication,

The same examples suffice for safe transportation.

     Steer clear of Adams, Lowville, Mexico.

              In winter avoid the Tug Hill Plateau.

Learn language the Northern way,

Master the dialect you need every day.

snow nature sky trees





The Hourglass

Before and After

Today I set an intention for balance. I visited the Rapunzel Salon in Gananoque, Ontario to update my hair style and color. I chose to abandon the asymmetrical cut.  My annual milestone is a month away and what is more uniform than the age of 66? (well….88 is perfect symmetry!)  Just as I did one year ago, I called upon Melissa to assist with this symbolism. She snipped and trimmed until both sides matched in length. Next, she added the artistic flair of deep red accents. What these vibrant highlights represent, I am curious to discover. Naturally, we took before and after pictures to record the transformation.


Before and After

Paul and I recently engaged in a makeover of our living space. We had put off our largest interior painting project for over two years. Once the holiday season passed, we set our minds to the task.  I noted that on Pinterest DIYs take before and after pictures to document interior improvements.  So I snapped photos of our off-white walls.

Next, we pulled the paintings, antlers and fish mounts down; spread them throughout the guest room and in corners of closets. We had to shift furniture into the room’s center. I emptied a four-shelf hutch filled with glassware and mementos; stacked it all on the kitchen island. We draped tarps and plastic over the remaining furniture and floors.  We set up two step ladders, spread out the paint cans, brushes, and roller pans onto the dining table. Three and one-half days later, we finished, vowing never to paint this room again. Painting paraphernalia boxed and hauled to the basement. Finally, I snapped after shots.

IMG_4194 (1)IMG_4215

Before and After

These two words describe a state of affairs prior to and following some kind of intervention.  I notice that on media before and after pictures persuade us to invest in miracle facial serums, exercise equipment, or weight-loss plans. On  HGTV it is the satisfaction of watching a weekend home remodeling crew transform an outdated mid-century house to the updated after version. Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the before and after stories on Marie Condo’s show Tidying Up. During the transitions, the process is sometimes messy and uncomfortable. But the final results reward the effort. Documenting before and after affirms that we have the power to improve a particular situation.

Before and After

Literature’s before and after goes by prologue and afterward. In fantasy, once- upon-a-time equates with before, followed by the happily-ever-after.  In more somber situations, such as misfortune or disaster, the before condition is followed not by the after, but by the aftermath: 911, wildfires, a mass shooting, and so many more tragedies. Before and after images cruelly show us how powerless we are in many catastrophes. Conceivably, all of time consists of a perpetual series of before and after.  Does every after eventually become a before? 


My friend, Clarissa, reminded me that the only power we really have lies in the now. Time for us unfolds instant by instant.  Only in the present moment might we make a decision, set a course, or take a new view.  We determine whether personal circumstances become the before or the after.  Perhaps we should focus less on the before and after and more on now, the most precious thing we have.

To quote a vintage daytime drama: “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”



Remaining Relevant

Retired?  Soon to retire?  Transitions require adaptations.

Once we were the experts in our field, having spent careers developing our skills, acquiring knowledge, experience, and wisdom. Most likely, prior to retirement we reached a certain pinnacle, met significant goals, or achieved some notoriety. As the masters of our trade, we then became the mentors, the advisers, the role-models.

Just as we reach the zenith, our compass spins and guides us into an unknown territory…retirement.

Pre-retirees no doubt have qualms about their life post-retirement, just as I did. Issues of finances and health care dominate the worry list. Once those decisions have been settled, deeper questions arise.  What will I do with myself?  With whom will I engage?  Will I be bored?  Above all, how will I remain relevant?

If you are like me, you actually toy with the idea of part-time work at first. Your former place of employment will be at a loss without you. You will sacrifice a portion of your well-earned retirement to assist the institution (company, firm, facility) with the transition following your exit. Let’s not kid ourselves; this is secretly a fear of losing relevance.

I quickly came to my senses and charged down the new path.

Fortunately, I have interests to pursue in fields that challenge me in all the ways my career did, only with much less stress, and for the most part, on my own timeline. New friends and cohorts fill the roles my colleagues once did.

Best of all, l discovered an essential way to remain relevant using skills developed over 65 years.  I’m not talking about a demanding schedule, meeting deadlines, or dealing with unreasonable associates. All it takes is quality time with my granddaughters.




Top 5 ways I remain relevant to a 6-year old:

  1. Become a slime expert. Stock glue and know how to activate it.
  2. Give a complete, authentic medical exam and flu shot to a waiting room of doll babies.
  3. Always be prepared to participate in the “Three-marker Challenge.”
  4. Be adept at multiple voices for stuffed animals and dolls.
  5. Agree to always play Ken, never Barbie.

Top 5 ways I remain relevant to an 8-year old:

  1. Show her how to write in code.
  2. Ask her to teach me to do the Floss.
  3. Become a formidable Monopoly opponent.
  4. Teach her double solitaire and all kinds of poker.
  5. Have my own Emoji for text messaging.

In just a few years I know I’ll be irrelevant again. Time to adapt.  I’m confident I’ll find my way back to relevance somehow with someone. And so will you.

ace bet business card


Twitter Feed

We opened a year-round roadside diner…on our deck…for the birds, chipmunks, and squirrels. We have a counter, patio seating, high perches and a snack bar. Paul is the short-order cook, server, and manager. He works all the shifts, purchases all the supplies, stocks the shelves, and mops up. I’m simply part owner. This morning he trudged across the squeaky snow in sub-zero temperatures, spreading the seeds and sunflowers on every surface. He greeted the customers, “Hi, guys. Here you go.”

We’re new to the business, still getting to know our clientele.  In late fall the chipmunks scampered about non-stop. They mostly took their food to-go, stocking burrows for the winter. For several days on-end, grackles commandeered the entire eatery like a gang of Hell’s Angels.  Along with their side-kicks, the red-winged blackbirds and cow birds, they intimidated all the regulars. As soon as a chill settled, that mob headed south. The tough winter residents arrived.

Winter Patrons

Parties of blue jays cruise in by twos and fours. Before long their cronies join, perching on the railing, the adjacent lilac tree, the hanging feeder, and the deck. Yesterday fifteen gathered for mid-morning brunch. They look like uniformed soldiers on R & R in their dusty-blue jackets, tapered hats, and sky-blue tails daubed with white. Although they outnumber all the others, they mingle compatibly.

Breakfast and supper regulars include charms of chickadees, juncos, and nut hatchers. They don’t loiter, simply eat their fill and move on. The tufted titmouse stops in for an occasional meal, as does a mourning dove. Once before the snow fell, turkeys climbed the steps and milled around pecking at the seed.

focus photography of northern flicker

Woodpeckers, who toil on all the nearby trees, hammering away for hours on end, often take a break to snack on the suet. Each takes a turn, a hairy, a downy, and a red-bellied. We’ve spotted the pileated woodpecker on the trunk of an oak, completely independent, showing no interest in our cuisine.


Up to ten squirrels, local gymnasts, bound onto the scene several times a day. The black and grays try out new stunts, dangle upside-down from the suet with one foot, spring from the rail onto the suspended feeder, and slide down the shepherd’s hook like it’s a fire pole. Other patrons are not impressed. Two feisty red squirrels, the only ones to cause a ruckus, juke and lunge at the larger squirrels. No serious skirmish ever results.

One pair of discreet cardinals calls early morning and at dusk. The female confidently steps in for some seed among a group of strangers, but the crimson male waits in the lilac for the deck to clear. Every evening after the other diners have moved on, the demure couple squat on the deck and politely nibble at remaining seeds in the warm glow of sunset.  I’m cheered with the thought that a cardinal represents a “visitor from heaven.”

fox on snow covered field in forest

Our wariest customers forage take-out meals under a cluster of trees 70-feet from the house, our satellite outlet.  We spread leftovers, peelings and scraps of food for raccoons, coyotes, a fox, and other anonymous creatures. Paul scatters corn and apple chunks under our pines for hungry turkey and deer.

snow nature bird winter


One day last week, all the deck patrons dashed for cover when a hawk scouted from an overhead limb.  A couple of times, we found the suet cage sprung in the morning. Something hit the chow jackpot. Everyone is served, no exceptions. This afternoon the snow-covered deck glitters. It’s happy hour. The regular crowd flutters in.  I’m tempted to play Billy Joel.  From inside I drink a toast to our fur and feathered-friends.

Solving Life’s Jigsaw Puzzles

Choose a pleasing image.

Dump all the pieces onto a table.

Don’t let the similar shapes and jumble of color overwhelm.

Every tab has a perfect slot.

Eventually it will make sense.


Begin anywhere.

Take it one bit at a time.

Spread all the pieces printed-side up.

Form a team or go solo.

Refer to the big picture.


Get a strategy.

Assemble the border,

Or piece together a section.

Don’t force connections.

When the shapes are compatible the keys fit the locks.


Attend to details.

Be patient.


Give it time.

Everything you need lies within reach.


Don’t lament a missing piece.

Puzzles will envelope the space and preserve a silhouette,

The absent member remains integral to the whole.

Success increases as the picture forms.

Enjoy the satisfaction of a puzzle solved.


black and white blank challenge connect






You can tell what’s worth a celebration because your heart will POUND and you’ll feel like you’re standing on top of a mountain and you’ll catch your breath like you were breathing some new kind of air.” -Byrd Baylor

I’ve always had a passive aggressive attitude toward decreed holidays, both religious and civil. Holidays can disappoint. Back in the nineties I rebelled against Christmas one year. I skipped sending cards, opted out on baking cookies, and gave gift cards and lottery tickets. I even had my third-grade students bring a donation of pet food for the Humane Society instead of an exchange gift.  (I later heard that some parents disapproved.) Reed still reminds me of the one year we didn’t even have a Christmas tree. Paul and I had a trip to Key West planned between Christmas and New Year, so I didn’t see the point. Reed was home from college spending time in the basement playing video games with his buddy, Nate. I didn’t think he would even notice.


The originator of the Festivus Holiday (remember that from Seinfeld?) must have shared my disillusions with the traditional holiday. Festivus, celebrated on December 23, features parodies of holiday traditions. According to Wikipedia the holiday continues to be adopted and referenced in popular culture.  As in Festivus, I prefer to tweak holiday traditions so they better relate to my life’s experience. Better yet, I recognize holidays that are completely unique to our family.

Opening Day of Trout

When Reed was young trout season became our ritual spring holiday. Weeks prior we scouted for trout at all the fishing holes using corn to coax the stocked rainbows and hold-over browns into view. We outfitted our fishing vests or creels with hooks, spinners, and nail clippers. Pockets were filled with small jars of salmon eggs, salted minnows, and needle-nosed pliers. Jim, our nephew, traditionally spent the night before trout season with us. I recall consecutive years when we four trudged across an expansive cornfield at 6:30 a.m. in our hip-boots to claim our spot on the bank of Friggle’s Hole. As with most holidays, we had food and drink, sandwiches and thermoses of hot chocolate. By noon, whether we had our limit or not, we often set up our camp stove on the truck’s tailgate and cooked eggs and bacon.  Eventually, life transitioned us into other ventures.  But our trout-fishing celebrations live as large as any traditional holiday in my memory.

Seasonal Fire

Other customs became celebrations for us completely by happenstance. Paul with fluid and pampus grassOn the perimeter of our property in Pennsylvania clumps of dried ornamental grass needed to be trimmed before spring so they will regenerate. Lighting the pampas grass with a match proved to be the quickest and most efficient way to accomplish the task. I don’t even know what year it became a ritual, but in late February we would burn the grass to ash. The dramatic whoosh and flare of the fire felt like our own personal firework display. On some occasions we had just the three of us and one of our Labs, Pike or Musky, present.  I remember a year Grandpa Findlan watched from a nearby lawn chair. Other times, if the ground was snow-covered, a visitor would spectate from our dining-room window. Burning the pampas grass became our unique way to kindle anticipation for spring.

Own the Celebrations

We’ve always recognized birthdays, anniversaries, school graduations, and so on, but not in traditional ways. After Reed’s high school graduation, he tore off his cap and gown and hopped into the truck towing our boat for a two-week muskie-fishing trip to Canada. We no longer have Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November, but whenever muskie-fishing season ends.  I will always honor August 15, the anniversary of my dissertation defense.  For my 60th birthday I held a 60-day celebration (Sixty Days of Sixty) and most recently began this blog to honor my 65th birthday. Two years ago I declared a one-time holiday for my granddaughters, American Girl Doll Day. (You can read about that in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandparents next spring!)



When I discovered the children’s book I’m In Charge of Celebrations, I knew I had a kindred spirit in Byrd Baylor. In her book Baylor describes just a few of the 108 celebrations she gave herself one year- “besides the ones that they close school for.” She honors Dust Devil Day, Rainbow Celebration Day, Green Cloud Day, Coyote Day, and more. Baylor’s New Year Celebration begins “when winter ends and morning light comes earlier…” Every New Year may not even be on the same date or day, but when the “day is exactly right.”


Deeper Rhythms

I celebrated the New Year on December 19. That was the shortest day of 2018 here on Wellesley Island. I checked. The sun set at 4:24 p.m. On December 20 the sun set one minute later.  By January 1, we will already be twelve days into the new solar year and have gained almost as many minutes of light.  I love the thought that as winter intensifies with blustery snow and frigid cold the imperceptible revolution of earth around the sun carries us toward spring and summer. That’s a rhythm deeper than the superficial experience of weather. I believe that in our lives, hope and optimism grow incrementally, yet steadily, beneath days of disappointment and regret.

New Year’s Eve in Times Square?  Not for me. I would much rather celebrate the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge.

clear champagne flute with liquid