The Cats Are Alright

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This is Nate. He’s my guy, named after the author Nathaniel Hawthorne. For the last threeish years, Nate and I had been living with my mom in Florida and taking care of her. She had two cats of her own, Trey and Callie (pictured below).  Trey is the oldest, a Maine Coon cat who thinks he owns the world, Callie is a little diva (who’s a year younger than Nate) and then Nate, who sort of has a personality of his own and is probably one of the most affectionate cats you will ever meet. He is a master at headbonking.

Mom and I had made a deal that if I found a new career endeavor in New England, she would move back with me as she wanted to see her friends and watch the leaves change in the Fall. Hearing her discuss this made my job search more focused as I wanted this wish to come true for her.

A few months later, I was hired and we made plans to move. Initially, she wanted to live with me but then decided that it would be better for her to be in an assisted living place closer to her friends in our hometown. I decided I would stay in the town where my new job was and then commute back and forth to visit her on the weekends.

Originally, because it was only a few days, I left Nate at home to guard the fort on the weekends I would visit her. But as mom became iller and I was spending more time with her, I decided to keep Nate with me. Together, we would drive to and from Mom’s normally listening to books on tape or podcasts along the way. He seemed to be a lot more relaxed everytime we listened to “This American Life” so it became a thing.

From our visits and conversations during the week, I thought mom was getting better. This thought was short lived however as, on a Friday when I spoke with her, I heard her coughing and realized this wasn’t the case and that the pneumonia she had developed was still present. I decided that Nate and I would head out earlier than we usually do the next morning and also called the staff and asked them to check on her that Friday night.

Early on Saturday morning, her nurse called to tell me that when she had arrived to give mom her medications, she had died.

It was news I never hoped (and wasn’t ready) to hear.

After making calls and asking for help from a friend, Nate and I got in the car and headed south to mom’s.

The next month was a foggy blur as I emptied out mom’s apartment while taking time to have a few big ugly cries as I wasn’t ready for her to leave.  And while Nate and I spent time getting things together, Callie and Trey were definitely struggling.

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S.A.Leys / Take Paws Photography

Callie is a rescue cat (her story is here). A beautiful and also very affectionate little girl who had a tendency to sleep with mom on her pillow above her head. Mom would go to bed and she would tell me “the next thing I know, Callie’s on the pillow kneading before settling down and purring while finding her comfortable spot to spend the night”.

And because she was a girl, every time one of the guys got close to her, she would growl wanting to make sure she had her space and her “mom time”.

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S.A.Leys / Take Paws Photography

Trey was the master of the house. He was “mom’s cat” and had been part of our family for several years. Even before they settled in Florida full time, Trey had traveled with them back and forth to Rhode Island. At one point, during one of their flights, she had opened his carrier to pet him during a layover at Dulles International when he decided to push by her hand and take a nice long walk along the concourse.

Mom, not wanting to scare him, followed him from behind until she could finally get close enough to grab him. Hearing her tell the story was hilarious and Trey had many events like this but usually did really well between living in Florida during the winters and on their boat with them during the summer.

But when mom died, he was lost. And while I knew that cats grieve when their owners die, I never realized how bad this grief process could be until I watched Trey for several days after her death.

The morning I arrived, mom had died but was still in her bed. What was reassuring to me was that she looked the way she always had whenever I arrived early in the morning; resting quietly looking content.

Trey was lying across the doorway to her room. It almost seemed like he didn’t want anyone to enter and didn’t want her to leave. And he didn’t move – as the nurse, and subsequently, the funeral home director went into and out of the room, he stayed exactly where he was – lying fully sprawled out, blocking the doorway, watching everything.

When the funeral home director came back with the gurney, I picked Trey up and took him to mom’s chair in the living room. I think he liked that he could still smell her presence so he stayed there… watching everything like a hawk with those big Maine Coon Cat eyes of his.

Callie, initially had hid under the bed but then followed us into the living room where her “people” were.

The following days were the worst as Trey and Callie realized that mom was no longer there. I’d watch as Trey jumped from the top of her bureau (where the clothes she had worn most recently were still in a pile) and then to her bed; he was clearly looking for her. Callie had settled into the floor of her closet where she slept on top of her shoes.

A day later, it was early in the morning when I decided to take a shower. I had closed the door when I could hear the feverish scratching of paws against the door and loud yowling. When I turned the shower off, I grabbed a towel and opened the door to see Trey – it was like you could actually see the sad, disheartened, “oh, it’s only you” look on his face.

A few days later, my brother arrived. Together we discussed Callie and Trey and keeping them together or separating them. Because Trey had been the only cat my parents had had for several years before rescuing Callie, we decided that Trey would go back to Florida with Scott and Callie would move in with Nate and I as they seemed to get along pretty well.

The next few weeks also seemed trying for Callie and Trey as furniture was donated (along with antiques and books and other belongings). What had been their home had transitioned to suitcases, duffel bags, and boxes which subsequently were taken to different places. The emptier the room became, the more confused they all appeared to be.

Because of this transition and the grief they had, I paid a lot more attention to what I was doing and made sure that we developed as consistent a routine as possible for them regarding spending time together, feeding and bedtime. I also made sure that some of mom’s clothes were available for Trey to lie down on.

On the last day, I put Callie and Nate in their carriers and took them to my car. Trey and I were the last ones to leave mom’s room. I made sure we had a conversation and a prayer about mom watching over us in heaven and then thanking Trey for being so brave before we closed the door behind us.

A few weeks later Scott returned to take Trey home with him. Watching them together going through security at the airport, I knew that both Trey (and Scott) would be happier together but I cried as I watched them leave.  Trey had endured probably one of the toughest times in his life but I knew he would be happier having all of Scott’s affection to himself and being in warm, sunny Florida where he could watch the birds play outside while watching the world go by.

And Callie and Nate have settled in well together here in our home – adjusting to their new place.

Grief is hard; but the cats are alright.

“Home is The Sailor, Home From The Sea”

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The title “home is the sailor, home from the sea” is from the poem Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson. This was how my mom would greet me whenever I would return home after being away at school. 

When my parents sold their house, they asked me if there was anything I wanted to take. The one thing I really wanted was a picture (this picture above) that had been in the attic and had a huge slash in it where the moonlight is reflected.

When I was younger, I had spent many years carrying sails up the stairs to the attic so I could hang them up to dry after an evening of sailing. Every time I would hang them up, I would turn and see this picture leaning against a table, torn and in rough shape, but reminding me of the awesomeness of sailing home in a storm.

Home to the comfort of a safe harbor.

When I discussed wanting the painting with mom, she hesitantly said she didn’t think it could be repaired. But on Christmas of that year, she and dad gave it to me (fully restored as shown here) as a Christmas gift. Mom told me she had taken it to a friend who was an antiques guy who knew a painter who restored art.

It’s still here with me – with a little extra light from the moon to find our way home.

A Legacy In A Quilt

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Of Santa Claus, Farm Animals and Beautiful Colors / http://www.SALeys.photo

I still feel nauseous when I think about it.

Two years ago, when my mom died, the assisted living facility where she lived gave me 30 days to pack her belongings and move them out of her small apartment. As much as it seemed like 30 days was a long time, it wasn’t. As we had relocated to New England from Florida, a few months prior, some boxes remained unpacked as we struggled with the transition. I felt like I had completely lost my sense of “home” and couldn’t imagine how, at 86, she must have felt during this challenging transition.

But I realized I just needed to stay in her room at the assisted living place and finish everything while we also planned a memorial service for her and my dad. Some boxes were easy. Sometimes, I knew immediately what to keep and what to donate. Other times, when I would open a closet or a drawer or look at a picture, I felt the immense sorrow and grief that went with missing mom.

Every time I opened the door to her closet and looked at her clothes, I felt sick.

My sadness went on for another week and became more uncomfortable until I knew I had to do something because I was running out of time.

I took all of her clothes out of the closet and separated the ones I could donate from the ones I knew I needed to keep because of all of the memories they carried with them. Slowly and meticulously, I went through piles and piles of clothes.

When people die, I heard that there are websites listed on the internet where you can make quilts out of clothes. As I skimmed from site to site looking, they all seemed robotic and impersonal. When I told one of the staff members at the assisted living place that I was thinking about this, she said: “I have a relative who makes quilts.. all by hand.. they’re beautiful; let me ask her”.

A few days later, she returned with a phone number and said, “she hasn’t made a lot of quilts but would be willing to help you; just call her.”

So as I sat on mom’s bed among the piles of clothes, I called her and introduced myself and asked her about her willingness to help me with a quilt. She agreed and told me about the quilts she would be able to make and asked: “are her clothes dark colors?”.

I looked around at the piles of (mostly) shirts alongside me. “No,” I told her, “there are mostly bright colors; mom loved bright colors.” I hadn’t realized how bright the colors were, or how distinct some of the patterns were. But as I looked at them, my memories came flooding back. I saw the shirt she had on when we sat on the back deck of the boat cooking dinner as we looked out over the harbor in Block Island, and then one she was wearing more recently when we cruised around the neighborhood in our golf cart in Florida. I saw the one she was wearing when we sat together on a bench eating lunch as we looked out over the intercoastal waterway watching the dolphins. That shirt was a “must-have” in the quilt because of how beautiful that day was.

Teaching mom how to take a selfie while she was wearing that “must have” shirt. / http://www.SALeys.photo

Looking at the pile of clothes and remembering those days, I realized that, as sad as I felt, everything would eventually be okay. I wasn’t sure, I felt a little better, but I still really missed mom.

“What should I do with the remainder of the clothes that I use or the ones that I don’t?” she asked. “Keep them,” I said definitively. I couldn’t explain why but the thought of some of mom’s bright colors going into making a quilt for another person – another family, seemed like a perfect idea.

Aristotle once said “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” I felt that spreading all of the bright and dark materials, colors, and textures that mom wore broadened the perspective she brought to us all.

When I ended my conversation with my new quilter friend, the intense sadness I felt became a little more manageable.

A friend had told me about a “fluff and fold” place about a mile away, so the next morning, I filled two large duffle bags with the clothes for the quilts and dropped them off. A few days later, when they were ready, I took them to FedEx and sent them to my new favorite Quilter in Virginia. 

There were only two additional emails from the Quilter which followed our initial call. When she asked about an idea for a pattern, I sent her a photo I had of a quilt that mom’s grandmother had made for her. When we discussed size, I told her that a 60-inch by 60-inch quilt would be perfect and asked if she could make two of them, one for my brother and one for myself. I also told her to take her time as I wasn’t in a rush and knew that our loss’s most difficult memories were in good hands.  

Mom’s Grandmother’s Quilt / http://www.SALeys.photo

Six months later, I received an email informing me that our quilts were ready and on their way to my home in New Hampshire.

“I hope you like them,” she wrote.

Since sending her the two duffle bags of clothes, I had consistently thought the day I received them would be like Christmas morning. I knew I would receive a beautiful gift but had no idea how they would look.

They would be sent by a woman I’ve never met, who had agreed to preserve the legacy of someone she has never met whom I loved very much. Sometimes the world is impressive.

The quilts arrived in October. It was precisely like Christmas morning, and I couldn’t help but stare at them because of how beautiful they were (and are). I took pictures and sent them to friends as I was so impressed with the result. The hand stitching was lovely, as was the juxtaposition of color and texture in the materials used.

I told one of my friends, “it feels like I’m looking at a legacy in color and texture.” I remembered that poem, “The Dash,” about the quality of your life from when you are born until the time you die but in the form of the colors, textures, and fabric we wear. 

When I think of all of the decisions I’ve made since mom died, having our two quilts made is one I will never regret. I challenge you to consider where your thoughts go the next time someone mentions the importance of “living your dash.” If you’re like me, maybe the subsequent thoughts you have will be more related to colors, texture, and the time you had that shirt on when you did that thing that you remember because it was such a great time.

Live your life; foster your legacy.

Just Gotta Love Shirts With Zoo Animals on Them / http://www.SALeys.photo

Driving Mr. Nate

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Driving Mr. Nate (Just like his mom, he falls asleep while reading design magazines)

This is Nate. He’s my 10 y/o cat named after Nathaniel Hawthorne. He’s extremely affectionate and is wonderful at giving head bonks whenever you pick him up. When he sleeps, he snores, and it is one of the most soothing sounds I have ever heard. He’s a wonderful little guy.

“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The last face to face conversation I had with my mom was about Nate.

Once after visiting her, I gathered my bags to drive back home to New Hampshire. On this day, she said she wanted to help me carry my bags downstairs. I thought this was strange as normally I always gave her a hug and a kiss and left her in her room – sitting contently with her coffee and Sunday New York Times. But this time, she wanted to walk downstairs with me. I told her that she didn’t need to, that I would carry my bags and Nate in his carrier, but she insisted. I told her “No I have it”, “No, I have Nate”, “No, you can’t carry that, it’s too heavy” (I know how I pack – mom not so much). But she continued to persist so I gave in and handed her my boat bag with the computer, some clothes, and food in it. It was the lightest of everything I had.

Once we were downstairs I reached for the boat bag she was carrying and said “Okay, I’ll take it” as I was going to carry everything to the car and say goodbye to her at the front door. But again she said, “no, I’ll wait here with Nate and the bags, you go get the car.” I was thinking “what the heck?” – never in my life did it occur to me that this would be the last time I would see her.

The worst part about the memory I have of this day was that throughout my 25-year career in healthcare, I saw this all the time! – People waiting for their loved ones to leave and then the next thing you knew, they would die. That there always seemed to be this strange dynamic with the way they interacted with each other that would make you (or them) think “wow, that was weird..” and then they’d be gone.

One time, during the early 1990’s ish, I was in my office at the addiction treatment center where I worked in Connecticut. The phone rang and it was one of my patients, William, calling to tell me he was going to be in the hospital for a few nights longer then he thought. He had an “opportunistic” infection. He was a most amazing and insightful young man who had developed an addiction to cocaine, which along with his anxiety and depression had compromised his AIDs – symptoms, care, and medications.

As I listened to him on the phone, I was amazed by how much he was telling me about what he wanted to accomplish once he had completed our program. “I want to be an AIDS educator,” he told me. “I think I can really help a lot of people and the thing that I really want to tell them is ‘don’t ever think that it can’t happen to you’.” I was inspired by our conversation and told him “don’t worry, just feel better and I’ll hold a place for you”.

The next morning I arrived at my office and listened to the voicemail from his nurse at the hospital who informed me he had died around 4:00am that morning.

I knew that dynamic – and missed it – again and again and again.

So on a bright, sunny Sunday morning in early February of this year, mom helped me load Nate and my bags into the car and watch as I wrapped the seatbelt through the handles on Nate’s carrier while I told her how quieter he was when he sat in the front seat next to me. I didn’t even think about how strange this all was – which still baffles me.

I gave her a hug and a kiss said goodbye and never saw her alive again.

“Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nate had not always come with me when I initially went to visit mom on the weekends but I when I started driving back and forth more frequently and staying a little longer, I decided not to leave him alone. So back and forth we drove to and from Rhode Island every weekend.

A few times mom would ask “why don’t you leave him here with me?” “Mom – I’ll be back next weekend,” I said.  I think for her it was like being able to visit with the grandkids and spoil him while the parents were away. But the more significant thing was the fact that she also had her cats, Callie and Trey staying with her. As the Assisted living facility where she was staying only allowed one pet, we had to negotiate for the other.

I said to mom “really, the last thing we need is for the med nurse to come in in the morning and see three cats… the goal here is not to get evicted”.

“They won’t evict me”. she said, defiantly.

But Nate always traveled with me, sitting in his carrier quietly as we’d listen to audiobooks while trying to avoid heavy traffic during the Sundays when the Patriots played.

And together we were all settling into our more comfortable routine and it seemed like mom was settling into being back on the island – her home and spending time with friends she had not seen in years.

I never expected her to leave so soon and I miss her every day.

This grief thing? – not a fan.

Why I Will Never Own A Gun

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I don’t want to hear it anymore. 

I’ve seen post after post about gun rights. Who should own a gun and who shouldn’t. Here’s the thing: I will never, ever, ever own a gun.

Yeah, I know – you’ve owned guns because you’ve used them hunting in the state where you’re from. And that’s an acceptable reason to own and use a gun and yes, it’s your 2nd Amendment right and I support that.  Not a fan of automatic assault rifles that can shoot several bullets in a few seconds is all I’m sayin’

But as we sit on the eve of having anyone in the world able to create an unregistered weapon from a 3D printer recipe on the internet – whelp, that’s where I’m stepping off of this train of the second amendment debate.

Here’s the article about 3D guns

I grew up with guns (several of them) in our home. Every single day, I only had to look up at the wall in our family room to see my father’s very extensive collection of guns. From the early 1800’s on forward, he had several guns, pistols and rifles and swords. He hunted as a young boy, joined the Navy and knew (was taught by his dad and trained by the Navy) how to use his guns. The ammunition was kept separately and far away from the guns he had (Mom – an ER Nurse – made sure of this).

The picture above is a photo of my grandmother – she didn’t hunt. She was a fisherman who used a drop line to catch fish. See a fishing pole in this picture? – It’s because there isn’t one. The Northeast is known for fishing. Watch any fisherman head miles out into the North Atlantic during the late summer / early Fall months when hurricanes and strong Nor’easters are prevalent and you will know how tough fishing can be. In our family, our freezer was filled with frozen fish that helped keep food on our table through the winter months. Ask me to join you for a dinner consisting of bluefish or mackerel and I will politely turn you down because I have had far too much… okay, maybe Cod.

My grandmother’s mom died shortly after giving birth to her. A few years later, her father was struck and killed by a cable car when he was crossing the street, leaving my grandmother in the care of her older sister and her sister’s boyfriend.  They didn’t have an easy life. But my grandmother made it through to marry my grandfather and give birth to my mom and her brother (my uncle).

To this day, I have never met a woman as firmly grounded in her values as my grandmother. How do I know this? – Because I tried to buy a gun.

It didn’t go over well and it wasn’t even real.

Once when I was visiting my grandmother, she gave me some money and said to go to the little store down the street to get whatever I wanted. So off I went and walked down the street trying to decide what I was going to purchase.

Upon reviewing all of the toys available to me, I selected a very small, bright orange squirt gun. (Nope, not kidding, it was a squirt gun). It was about two inches long and seemed to hold a lot of water in it. It wasn’t even one of those semi-automatic super soaker squirt guns that you see today; it was an “old” one (yeah, you probably weren’t even born yet so just keep reading..). Happily, I walked home, ready to fill it and squirt people – aka my grandmother (who was taking care of me while my parents were away).

When she saw the gun I had purchased she became apoplectic. “Take it back!” she demanded. I couldn’t understand why. “Take it back!” she said again. “Little girls do not use guns!” (I was six or seven years old at the time).

I walked back to the store, sad and dejected because she did not approve of my hunter / gatherer & squirt decision. I traded it in and returned with a super ball which I played with outside until it was time for dinner.

Over dinner, my grandmother explained to me that yes, some people owned guns that they used for hunting but that I did not need one. She also explained that police officers carried guns to protect those of us in our community and again affirmed that I would never need a gun. If there was a conflict that needed to be resolved, she explained, then this was what our brains were for. That we used our ability to communicate with each other tactfully and in a way that reduced any potential for violence.

“Use your head”, she said “that’s what it’s for; to communicate with each other and resolve arguments and misunderstandings. And if you ever need help, ask us!”

To this day, I have never forgotten the conviction she had during that conversation. 3 degrees and 2 graduate certificates later, I know for sure that I have enough knowledge, conviction, empathy, tact and compassion to know that I have a keen ability to resolve a lot of different conflicts. Guns will not be playing a part in my life (at least not of my choosing anyway).


As much as I often miss my grandmother, I’m glad that she is not around to see what the internet and 3D printing have produced as it relates to guns.

And while I will never know if guns in the possession of someone else will ever affect my life or the lives of my family and friends, I have learned that there are just some things in life that you can’t predict or control.

After 9/11 and United 93 (the flight that crashed in Shanksville, PA), I also learned that you can’t predict what will happen if terrorists take over your flight and try to fly it into a building or something else.  And that you certainly can’t predict who will stand up and try to overpower them, even if there is the potential that they will also die.

But this is where my head goes whenever there are increasing discussions about guns and gun violence:

Sometimes when I’m sitting by myself at a gate in an airport waiting for a plane, I look around for “that guy” or “that girl”. The one I think looks like they have the ability to stand up, fight back and overpower the terrorists and try to save those who are on the plane. I look at their posture, stance and non-verbals – trying to find the heroes among us – the ones you don’t notice and don’t know who walk among us every day. To me, these are people who don’t need guns. They have a keen, MacGyver like sense to figure out what to do and how to do it, quietly and collaboratively in a tribal, patriotic “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” sort of way – no matter who they are, no matter where they’re from, no matter what their gender, religion, education, nationality, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation is.

They’re just caring, compassionate people looking to help those who need help even though they don’t know them and even though they may die themselves.

They may use guns for hunting or drop lines to fish and / or their brain to communicate. But what’s equally as important is what Martin Luther King once described as the “content of their character”.

Lobster Rolls I Have Loved

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Lobster at Mabel’s Lobster in Kennebunkport, ME – best lobstah evah!

So let me just preface this by saying that I’m not sure how this lobster roll thing started but I can tell you I have had some wonderful lobstah this summer.

Best Lobster Roll #1 (pictured above) – from Mabel’s Lobster Claw Restaurant in Kennebunkport, ME. The above is the “Savanna” which is lobster, scallops, and shrimp with their Newburg sauce topped with cheese (which I’m pretty sure was provolone – which gave it all a really nice “bite” while not cutting into the taste of the seafood). Best lunch ever (and expensive at  $37.00+ ish – depending on season prices but very well worth it given the portion of seafood that you get; and did I tell you there was cheese?).

Best Lobster Roll #2: from the Academe Restaurant at the Kennebunk Inn (see photo below right). This was a lunch order stacked with huge pieces of lobster (seemed like more than 1 lobster as well). Did not have a ton of mayo but enough to keep everything together. The onion rings were also really great.

When you look at the menu, you will see they also have Lobster Pot Pie which is also highly recommended (by Oprah!) but the Traditional Maine Lobster Roll was the best (price was $29.00 – I know, but remember, you’re on vacation – go ahead; and get some ice cream when you’re done!).

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Lobster Roll from the Academe Restaurant at the Kennebunk Inn

Favorite Lobster Roll #3 found at The Harbor Room in New Harbor, ME (pictured below) We ended up here on a very rainy day in October. We hadn’t heard about The Harbor Room restaurant but saw a very packed parking lot so we stopped in. The lobster roll was packed with lobster and was definitely one of the best I’ve ever had. This is a beautiful restaurant with photos done by local photographers and a Sunday brunch that is phenomenal. I would suggest you grab a reservation via open table before heading there so you don’t have to risk not being able to be seated.

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You should also have the desert – say it with me: “apple cobbler heated with ice cream”!

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Favorite Lobster Roll #4 found in Bristol, New Hampshire at The Big Catch. There isn’t a picture because it was so good that I ate it really fast. All I can say is get there early, see if you can substitute onion rings for the French Fries (if you’re not a fan of fries) and enjoy!

Favorite Lobster Roll #5 was from The River House in Portsmouth, NH. There was a combo that had seafood chowdah (consisting of lobstah, clams, shrimp and fish which was very well seasoned and creamy) and a Lobster Roll (see photo below). The Lobster Roll itself had just a smidge of a little too much mayo but was packed and really good. Additionally, the service along with the view of the Portsmouth waterfront was beautiful. And – just to make things really interesting, the restaurant is just down the street from the tour that can bring you out to Isles of Shoals.  

All this to say – it’s summertime, kids! Make sure you spend the time to park yourself in front of a top-notch Lobster Roll if you are spending time in New England!

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Lobster Roll from The River House in Portsmouth, NH

Lobster Roll #6 with chowder for lunch at Bob’s in Kittery (pictured below right). Here’s what’s great about these lobster and seafood places along rt 1 – they’re typically crowded (this time of year), and because of this it’s not uncommon to share a table with others that are there. Today I met a couple from Ct on their way to Ogunquit to spend the weekend with friends. “We do this every year,” they told me, affirming they like being in Maine this time of year (just after Labor Day) when things are slowing down a little.

When I told them I was researching kayaks at the Kittery Trading Post next door, they told me they were kayaking in Block island a few weeks ago. “I love Block Island!” I told them, recounting stories of mom and dad and their weekly walks to the library for books and fresh, sweet corn on the cob from the farm stand.

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Lobster Roll from Bob’s in Kittery, ME

Sometimes it amazes me how much we have in common with the people who step into our path – even if it’s just for lunch at a shared table.

Lobster Roll #7 (pictured below) at home in Newport, Rhode Island. After arriving to meet a friend for lunch at the Black Pearl, I was informed that I couldn’t “be seated until everyone was present”. When my friend arrived, we went in and were informed it would be a “lengthy wait” at >30 minutes. So we resorted to “plan B” – lobster at The Lobster Bar at the end of Bowen’s Wharf.  We decided to go with chowdah and lobster rolls.

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Lobster Roll from The Lobster Bar at the end of Bowen’s Wharf in Newport, RI

When the lobster rolls arrived they were pretty big and stuffed with tender pieces of claw meat that was cooked to perfection. There was a very substantial lobster menu as well as clams, scallops and fish and chips. The restaurant itself is at the end of the wharf and on this early October day was perfect to sit at a table outside while enjoying wonderful food, excellent conversation and a great view of the busy harbor.

Doesn’t matter what day it is – there’s a lobster roll waiting for you. Go!

The Thing About Selfies…

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This is the top of Cadillac Mountain in Maine. I recently took a trip there with a friend hoping to get away for a nice weekend, eat some lobster and take some great photos. The other part of this story was that my mom had died a few months prior to this and she and my dad had taken my brother and I here on a vacation when we were really little.

Years ago, we went everywhere on that trip to Maine, but the trip to the top of Cadillac Mountain was my favorite. I remember taking the trip to Acadia National Park but I was so young that there were other parts of the trip that I couldn’t remember so revisiting this area was a way to reconnect with that memory and that time so long ago.

As with any National Park, it’s not uncommon to meet families from all over the world taking selfies and pictures of each other. As I stood watching them, I remembered my parents with their camera, taking pictures of my brother and I. This was back before there were cell phones, video cameras, cassette players in your car. It was so long ago that the car was a station wagon that had paneling on the side. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

I think Johnson may have been President. Back when the Beatles were not yet famous.

You get it right? – it was a long, long time ago.

Anyhoo – as I stood there watching, at least 10 families were taking pictures which were mostly selfies – extending their arms straight out to capture the picture of everyone with them.

Watching them bugged the heck out of me. I thought about how many pictures we had of our family together that it suddenly became very important for me to make sure every family I ran into had the ability to acquire the same memories and family photo that I did – a picture of them together. (And I mean TOGETHER – not this extended from an arm lengths away crap).

So it became my mission to ask every family I saw with a camera “hey, can I take that picture for you?”. Every one of them agreed and handed me their camera or their cell phone. And I didn’t take just one picture, I took at least five. And then I would teach them my favorite photography term – “scrunch up!”. It felt so good to see them all smile and hug their children and each other.

Suddenly – taking a picture, a panoramic like the one above (which I eventually did take when I ran out of families..) was not as important to me as making sure they all had great memories of a wonderful day in one of our country’s most beautiful parks.

At one point, I ran into two girls, sisters I think, who had a camera that I couldn’t get to focus. The camera owner acknowledged she had been struggling with it and said “I’m having trouble with my lens, here use my phone.” She handed me her iPhone and I was able to get great shots of the two of them together. But then I looked at the phone and had no idea what the language was on the phone. 

So I asked them “what language is this?” and they said “Finnish!”. “Ahh, land of the happy people” I told them (suddenly not sure if it was Finland or Denmark), but they laughed and went on their way, walking down the trail to get a better view of the beautiful sunset.

Watching them walk away from me I realized that I haven’t taken enough vacations to our national parks. And I realized that there may be a difference between taking a selfie and being fully present and engaged in a photo together with the ones you love the most.

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Sightlines

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Last Thursday, I went to the eye doctor. I thought I would spend an hour ish there and have an eye exam and find some new glasses after breaking mine a few weeks ago. 3+ hours and several tests and scans later, I left with a referral to a retina specialist because the doc found some spots.

In our family, we have this thing about diagnoses that aren’t good. Like trying to take things step by step by step while researching symptoms, providers and trying to strategize a plan. Having been on the receiving end of a “You have to have this done – NOW!”, order from a Doc at the NIH when I was initially diagnosed with a rapidly spreading melanoma, I’m always a little more neurotic and emotional then my parents whose illnesses usually progressed a lot slower then mine.

So my super thorough retired Air Force Doc, said he wanted to refer me to a retina specialist. He said this referral would take a few days. Interestingly, it took only a few hours and they called Friday morning to schedule an appointment for Monday afternoon. While I was glad to have the follow up appointment, the anticipation and “what if’s” took over.

It wasn’t an easy weekend. I drove down to see mom and went to Home Depot as we thought it would be good to find her a small Christmas tree. When I found the perfect tree on display on a high shelf, I asked the sales clerk where the boxes were that had the trees in them (as opposed to the display model). He asked me to show him where the tree was and walked with me as I pointed it out.

There were no boxes below the shelf and as he looked at his little hand held inventory thingy, he asked me to read the model number (on the tag of the tree on the shelf) to him. I looked at the tag and couldn’t see it. Nuthin’. This is the point where I started to get a little emotional as normally, my vision is really good.

No, I mean really, really good. Like “look at that small spot on the fly on top of that tall building 100 yards down the street through thick fog” type good.

I walked to the car and cried a little more before checking 5 other stores to find the perfect Christmas tree. Nuthin’.

Then I drove home and mom and I strategized on how to navigate the appointment with the retina specialist and then we formulated a plan with a range of having everything work out to the worst case scenario. Throughout the discussion we managed to only use the term “ocular melanoma” (my biggest fear) once.

On Monday morning, Nate and I had a conversation with God about how to handle the next few hours and yes, we listened to “Be Thou My Vision” just to anchor the anticipation of it all and not lose sight of faith. I left for my appointment at 2:00. Nate offered to drive but I told him, “No” – that I didn’t think his small paws would reach the accelerator of the Lexus.

The Doc, a very tall YNNH trained physician looked at the test results from my super thorough Doc and said “You have (insert very long, hard to pronounce 4 word clinical term here).

“Okay so now tell me in English.” I said.
He told me “this term isn’t anything you need to know or remember and all it means is ‘you have a really large spot on the back of your eye’ and if you didn’t have a history of melanoma, I’d thank you for coming in and send you on your way. But because you do, I’d like to see you again in 2 1/2 months and we’ll use the tests and scans that Dr. Johnson sent as your baseline.”

“Okay, that works for me!” I told him. Happy that the “Plan B” worst-case scenario that mom and I had developed would no longer need to be considered.

The rest of the day was good. Mom’s tree was ordered via Amazon when I arrived home and Nate was very happy he would not have to learn to drive.

See? Vision is a good thing.

The Legacy of Grey Stewart

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I don’t know how it happened. The woman from LL Bean called to say that we had a rebate from returning some of mom’s clothes that didn’t fit.

I was telling her about my challenges with boots for her and then realized that, as it’s getting colder, some nice, toasty flannel pj’s would help. So I gave her the number and the size and then it came down to color..Blue MacKellar or Grey Stewart. I couldn’t decide, I think the Blue is prettier but for some reason I do not understand, I say “Grey Stewart,, please send the Grey Stewart.” Not sure why, as I generally prefer blue.

So I order the pj’s and go into my closet and right there in front of me is Dad’s Grey Stewart flannel nightgown. It didn’t even occur to me that I had it. (I’ve been carrying around some of his clothes hoping to have a quilt made from the material).

I don’t even know why we still had it – especially after he and mom had lived in Florida for so long, There’s no flannel in Florida right? But I think we all had memories of some of the clothes he wore that made us “remember that time when…” that we just kept a lot of them.

They arrived the other day and feel wonderful and toasty on this cold, rainy night in New Hampshire. Thanks Dad (in the picture – his is the worn one in the bottom of the photo). Gotta just love LLBean.

Cascade

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A few days ago, one of my Facebook buds, Gail, submitted a post about cancer on her Facebook page. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it.

This past weekend, I decided to stay home instead of driving to Middletown to see mom. But as I was hanging out, I thought about how beautiful it was to be back in New England in the Fall. So I grabbed my camera and started driving and ended up at Killington, on the Gondola looking out of the window at the foliage and the mountain bikers tackling the trails. It was weird to be there in the Fall with no snow on the ground. But then I looked down and saw this (photo).

This is the top of Cascade – my all time favorite ski trail which I love because of the trail’s long and very steep pitch. I used to ski it all the time with my uncle whom, along with my aunt Karen, taught ski school in their 60’s. At that time, My uncle Walt had this thing for “jetstix” – those hard plastic things you could attach to your boots to be able to sit back on your skis. He would fly ahead of me doing turn after turn and usually end up at the bottom of the trail before I would… about 10 minutes later. He skied on shorter skis and would rag on me about my unwillingness to give up my 195’s. And – because the moguls were cut by smaller sized skis, I would fall frequently – and a fall on cascade just went on forever because there was that pitch and not a lot of flat surfaces to land. It was always a very fun and amazing time skiing with him – even given the bruises from falling so far for so long.

Sitting there on the gondola looking down at the fall line, it was hard not to get emotional as I miss him and those times we spent skiing. So I sent the short text and photo to Karen, my aunt, who is in Maine and we have since reminisced about those great memories.

Walt lost his battle with cancer several years ago and in a few weeks, it will be 3 years since Dad lost his. These great memories of skiing with Walt and with my mom and dad came back full force when I looked out the window and saw the black Cascade trail sign.

And the more I thought about these memories and the strength and endurance that both Dad and Walt had in fighting their illnesses, the more I realized where part of that strength and endurance came from – a long, steep, snowy mountain trail on a beautiful afternoon in Vermont, skiing, laughing, and spending time with the people you love the most.

Ella (Poetry)

Ebb & Flow

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My favorite photo of mom and dad taken just before their evening at the Newport Hospital Ball many years ago. Today would have been their 63rd wedding anniversary (dad died in October after their 60th). We still laugh daily about some of the things he used to say.

My favorite is still the way he would say “oh jeez…that guy!” whenever we were on the boat in Block Island and Aldo would be out in his boat early in the morning with his fresh baked muffins and doughnuts. He’d be singing at the top of his lungs . “Andiamo…andiamoooohhh!!”…which because of the way voices carry when you’re on the water, would wake dad up. But there was normally about a three second delay before I would hear “oh jeez…that guy” in his tired, exasperated tone.

Mom’s favorite was the morning she saw the ad for a calico kitten while reading the classifieds in the newspaper here in florida. She read the classified to him and asked “do you wanna go look at a cat?”

“No, not especially” he said “but I will if you want me to.” (He was cool like that – also a sitting duck whenever it came to anything having to do with cute kittens in our family).

“How much?” He asked my mom.

“A hundred dollars” she answered. (insert long paws here).. and then he said “you shouldn’t have to pay for cats, people should GIVE you cats..” (it was a little variation from a few years before that when he had said “you shouldn’t have to pay for cats; people should PAY YOU to take them from them.” .. at least he was steadily evolving).


Needless to say – the Calico came home with them and “Callie” became his cat. It was like she knew he had this opinion of kittens and carried her little “yer gonna love me!” catitude throughout the 6 years she has been with us. – She was lying next to him all afternoon on the day he died.

I’ve always wondered about (and admired) the components in a relationship that keep people together for fifty and sixty years. Lately we’ve been watching a lot of Fixer Upper on HGTV. Whenever mom sees Chip’s crazy antics my mom sort of scoffs and says “I could never be married to him.” – but what she doesn’t seem to realize is that the “balance” in Chip and Joanna’s relationship is extremely similar to mom and dad’s – the way they compliment each other because of the skills they both have that the other one may not and the way that they seem to ebb and flow into one another.

To me, that is what makes a great relationship.

Happy anniversary kids! – and to all of my Facebook buds who make great relationships work.

What’s Most Important

This afternoon, I looked at the clock on my nightstand to see what time it was; my brief afternoon siesta had come to an end.

Then I really looked at what was on my nightstand: a clock given to me as a 5 year anniversary gift at a hospital where I had worked. A watch – given to me by the emergency department team from the same hospital when I left. – I remembered the charge nurse in the Pediatric ER saying “I remembered you said you love a white watch face and Roman numerals”  – it was perfect.

As I have gotten older, I realize that time is the most important thing – money is fun, but having the time to spend with family and great friends is critical.

Two iPods – one to take over while the other is recharging. And speakers that can connect directly to the iPods. You don’t need a “boom box” or a ginormous stereo system, just a great set of speakers and music, audiobooks or podcasts that you love.

My glasses are on top of the iPad that was sent to me at no cost from Verizon, my wireless carrier. Apparently when you are a long term customer, as I have been, they send you free stuff. Who doesn’t love free?

So as I spend time listening to great music and using my iPad to navigate my next career path, it occurs to me that I have also been lucky to have worked at some wonderful hospitals with some really great teams. Quite the rewarding way to spend quality time.

A Year, A Memory

This afternoon my mom asked me what time it was. I told her it was “almost noon” and she responded “time for Kate Smith!”

Usually when this happens, I know what year we’re in – but not this time and not this year.

See the Wave, Be the Wave: The Ebb and Flow of Life, Love & Loss


This was taken 3 years ago on the beach – Anna Maria Island, Fl. – my last Vacation before moving to Florida full time. It’s very strange when your life just stops as mine has; kind of like a full control / alt / delete reboot that makes me think I can predict and navigate my life. But when you add wind and waves (and currents and tides), navigating anything isn’t always easy.

“See the wave, be the wave” – right now this is my coping strategy; going with the ebb and flow of whatever comes my way.

My position at the hospital where I worked was eliminated.  I quickly started looking for another career endeavor but after a month or two of not being successful, my mom called and asked me to come to Florida to help care for my dad who had been battling cancer and other autoimmune illnesses for the last several years.  I agreed and, with the help of very good friends, placed every thing I had in storage and left for Florida a few days later.

I was here for three weeks before dad died, upending our little family.

As he had been sick for quite awhile, we knew this day would come. But here’s the thing: even when you know in your heart that autoimmune illnesses do not end well, death is not easy to prepare for. Thankfully, we had a great hospice team and a lot of faith – which did not let us down.

After dad’s death came the transition of “mom and dad” to just “mom” – and all of the paperwork and changes that go with it.  Slowly – very, very slowly, our lives fell into a routine that became more manageable over time.

And, over time I noticed that Scott, our outdoor lawn and pest guy would start talking to me more frequently about our overly dry lawn. As I still had a little anxiety about trying to keep up with things that Dad used to take care of, I drove to Ace and picked up a nice sprinkler and started doing what I could to keep our lawn green, then slowly worked with him to fix our watering system.

A few months turned into a year, and my life had transcended from helping suicidal, anxious, depressed and / or addicted patients in our very busy ER to strategizing the repair, pressure and “zones” of our watering system and hanging orchids in baskets from the trees in the back of the house so that they could grow better outside and get watered naturally.

I thought there was no hope to ever see things grow – let alone be green again, but in the ebb and flow of our lives, we developed a routine and after awhile (a long while), the green grass returned and our orchids bloomed. I was totally shocked at how beautiful they were and how they seemed to blossom overnight.

Seeing their beauty took me further away from the grief I felt and the overwhelming emotions that accompanied the life changes that have continued to evolve.

In addition to that was having to let my twenty year career in emergency psych go as I realized that staying with it would not work as it would blanket the grief and emotions I felt and the healing that needed to follow. But letting go of this part of my career also meant letting go of all of the patients and families I had met and the many insights and lessons that accompanied them.  It’s not that I would forget them – because you don’t / can’t forget the immense experiences and challenges that patients face every day.

And you don’t forget the surpise of your Emergency Department colleagues when they ask if you really think a 5 y/o patient can be suicidal with a plan to kill himself with a gun that he says he has access to or the 8 y/o who tells you she doesn’t want to go to school because she’s afraid the same terrorist group that flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon are going to come for her family so she would rather stay with them instead of go to school. You don’t forget the teenager coming into the ER who overdosed on pills after being bullied at school because she was gay – and who now needed the understanding and support of her mom who was holding her hand and crying having just listened to her disclose her emotional pain.

You don’t forget patients coming into the ER talking to you about wanting help for drugs and then dying in front of you minutes later.

Patient after patient, day after day, month after month, year after year for twenty five years, you learn life is short and very fragile – and that there’s an ebb and flow to it. You learn that the more grounded and congruent you are, the easier it will be to navigate all of it.

But then everything comes to a full stop, as it has with my career. And suddenly I’m looking at beatiful orchids blooming, a nice green lawn and feeling the warm sun on my back as I pull the weeds from the flower beds and I realize this is what dad used to do; which makes me miss him more while at the same time wanting to make everything better and more beautiful in celebration of the legacy he has left for us.

There is an ebb and flow to life.