Tuesday, October 31, 2017 – My First Halloween at the Lake

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 – My First Halloween at the Lake

I don’t really know if I love Halloween, but I know I love Twix bars, M&Ms, Milky Ways, and 100,000 Grand Bars!

I don’t particularly love dressing up for Halloween, but I know I loved watching the little Cinderella’s, Belle’s, and Snow Whites tiptoe to my door. I loved watching “Jesus” approach my door and he made me smile as he said, “Everyone could use a little Jesus”. I had to agree with him as I handed him a Snickers and bag of Skittles. When the “referee carrying a white stick” inched to my steps as a “bind ref”, I had to laugh again.

This was the first time EVER, at 54 years of age, that I was home handing out candy to the children out trick-or-treating! As I stood alone at my front door, I watched with excitement as children of all ages (with and without their parents)  approached, took a candy, and said “thank you”. I smiled to each of them, recognizing the fact that my role on this night had somehow shifted. I wasn’t sure how that shift had happened, but it did. I was sure when it happened, but it did.  I began to recognize that I was experiencing a nostalgic emotion that felt a bit heavy somewhere deep inside me.

I was having a fun time with the kids who came to me. They were all so cute. I was doing OK until the mom with a dragon in her stroller made her way across my yard. Her princess and army man were carrying their pumpkin baskets alongside the stroller, and her football player, who was collecting candy in his helmet, was leading the way. That is when my eyes filled and I couldn’t look at the kids’ faces while I handed them a piece of candy. I got so weepy! An emotional floodgate was about to burst.

For those few minutes, my eyes blurred and I got choked up as I heard the mom say, “Take only one and what do you say to the lady?” and the little princess said, “Thank you!” and turned away with anticipation of the next house.

I texted Kali to ask her is she was having an “emotional Halloween”. I was relieved when she wrote back three simple words, “I’m so weepy!” We exchanged texts reminiscing the many Halloweens we shared together…Ralph and I taking the kids around the neighborhood, as Vinnie and Kali handed out candy at our houses, and then all ending up at Kali’s for cake to celebrate her Dad’s birthday, as she had done for years as a child. And here we both were, in what seemed like a blink of an eye,  in two different towns and our children grown and gone, handing out candy to the little ones whose parents would never realize how fast those Halloween nights would go by.

By 8:15pm, I was emotionally spent and physically tired. So Vinnie and I poured a cocktail, turned off the house lights,  and strolled down to Colleen’s fire pit. A new neighbor, a new routine for Halloween night, and yet the same crisp October air that conjures up the emotions of good times that are forever tucked away in my mind and heart.

Walking to Colleen’s and passing the few straggling trick-or-treaters, I had to admit to myself that maybe, just maybe, I actually do like Halloween more than I ever realized before.

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Sunday, October, 22, 2017 Hawk Ridge Winery, Watertown, CT.

Sunday, October, 22, 2017 Hawk Ridge Winery, Watertown, CT.

About 5 years ago, my New Year’s Resolution was to visit every winery in CT. At that time, there were 30. So every weekend or so, a friend or two would join me and off we would go to a winery or two or three!  We would do a  flight of samples and then a glass of our favorites! THEN, I bought a bottle from each winery and tucked it away safely at home. In January, once the year was complete, I had a wine tasting of those 30 bottles at my home. I only invited the people who came with me on one of the tours and their spouses. It was a blast!!

So, when Wendy D. called me to tell me about a new winery not far from our lake house and the fact that her friend would be singing and playing the guitar, it only took a second to say YES!

Twenty minutes after leaving our home, we had driven through Watertown to a little side road that looked like a long driveway. At the end of the driveway was a 20 year old parking attendant who pointed us to the right. We parked our car near the big wooden , barn-looking structure and a huge white tent. Hawk Ridge Winery in Watertown, CT was gorgeous!!! On that Sunday afternoon, the outdoor music was under the tent, the views were spectacular and the wine was pretty tasty!! I liked a white one called SKY HIGH WHITE!  Very light and just right!

Because they just opened in June, I had never heard of it, but you can be sure …..I will go back!!

As I pulled out of the driveway, my mind jumped ahead. I am sure that view will only be better as the snow trickles down outside the big glass windows, a fire burns slowly inside, and we gather a table in the corner with a spectacular view sipping a little wine, blessed, again, to be with great friends!

Saturday, October 7, 2017 – The Facts of Life vs. The Tracks of Life

Saturday, October 7, 2017 – The Facts of Life vs. The Tracks of Life

The FACTS of life are plenty. Some are well known and some maybe not be so well known. You are born, you live, you work, you  pay taxes and you die. These are facts that are generally agreed upon. But the specific facts that we know  as “facts” have had a myriad of influences along the way, in the making of those “facts”.  You were born on a specific, factual,  date (that may or may not have been your “due date”), you live (any number of life circumstances have gotten you to a certain and specific, factual, address), you work somewhere based on your interests, talents, and location, you pay taxes (the amount is specific and factual based on your income and location), and you die (I believe that that factual date is unknown to you, but your Maker knows exactly when that date is!)…..and that date becomes a fact!!

However, as Vinnie and I walked along the Train Tracks  in Plymouth, CT (still not sure if they are active tracks or not – and neither did the police officer we asked!!) on Saturday, Oct. 7 – almost two weeks after selling our house (FACT!!) we talked about the FACTS of our lives as we know them and talked about the TRACKS of our lives that we don’t know yet. The FACTS grounded us in our past, but it will be the TRACKS that will lead us into the future.

With the sunlight coming through the color-changing trees, the tracks were sunny in some spots and shady in others. The visual beauty in front of us,  kind of reflected our conversation. Some things in our future are “brighter” or “clearer”, while other things are “shaded” still. We know we are going South (FACT), but we don’t know when (on the future TRACKS). We know we still have bills to pay (FACT) and our big house is sold (FACT), but we don’t know where our next home will be and what it will cost to live there (on the TRACKS).  We know where we live and work and who are friends are right now (FACT), but where we live in the future, if we work in the future, who our new friends will be  – as we  keep the “old” ones……all of these things are out there on our tracks of life somewhere!!

The tracks we walked seemed to disappear around a corner until we got close enough, then they teased us again by disappearing around another  bend. Logically, intellectually, we knew the tracks were there, we just couldn’t see where they led us until we got a little closer. They would reveal another little stretch and then tuck away from our view once again. It is how we have lived our lives for the past two and a half years. (OR probably it is how we all live our lives every year!).

We lived in statements of “WHEN the house sells, then we will ______.”. “Once we know what the house sells for, we will ____________.”, “When then new buyers finally sign, we will be able to ____________.” All of our “blanks” were filled in, as if we really knew what we would do, but here we were walking down the train tracks, with the house sold, knowing what it sold for, and with new buyers living in it, and we have new and real “blanks” to fill in. The future tracks of our lives seemed to literally be tracing the train tracks that slipped around the corner until another little bend is revealed and walked.

The FACTS of life are, in fact, the facts. However, it is the TRACKS of life that make up the journey of life. They seem to create the FACTS of life as we journey down them. As we walked for that hour and a half stepping from one railroad tie to another, stepping over the stones that could trip us, and listening carefully for any ringing of the tracks that would indicate a train coming, it was obvious to us that we were grateful for the tracks we have been journeying together on and excited to see what is waiting for us just around the shaded and twisted bend!

Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 – THE BIG E!!

Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 – THE BIG E!!

I thought the Big E had been going on maybe for 25 years…since I was in college. Silly me!!!  It has been going on for about 70 years!!!

Let’s face it…now that I have been there, I can honestly say the BIG E is an overgrown greasy food and beer heaven! Opa Opa was just one of the MANY places to grab a cold been on a cool day in September on an asphalt covered field. It was a delicious celebration of food and New England culture all put together in a strategic manner so that you could eat, drink, watch a horse show, get your Tarot Cards read (YES, I did with no real new news!), and watch a juggler. It is an all day festival that lasts for two weeks!

The highlight was the baked potato from Maine! I have never waited in line for 32 minutes for a baked potato until that day. AND, I have to admit..it was every minute of the 32 minutes and every penny of the 6 bucks! DELICIOUS!!

I am glad Vinnie and I went. I think it was the first time in a long time that it was just the two of us at this kind of thing. Usually we are meeting people there or joining up with them to go together, but it was nice just to wander around at our own pace!

I have to say, I am glad we went. I can say I have been there, but I don’t know if I NEED to go back every year. Of course, if a group of friends are going or the urge strikes me, I would definitely go….if not for anything else, the beer and potato were worth the ride!

 

 

 

Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 – CT Riverboat and Train SWALLOW Tour – Danny’s 50th!

Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 – CT Riverboat and Train SWALLOW Tour – Danny’s 50th!

What started out as a thought “HMMM, I have never done the CT Riverboat/Train ride out of Essex before” ended as “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO DANNY!!”. Thirteen of us took the ride for the SWALLOW Tour!!  AMAZING….500,000 birds fly out of the marsh at sundown for 15 minutes…then zoom back into the marsh. Boom! It is over!  AND, Boom…so was 50 years for Danny!!

The weather, the sunset, the anticipation of the birds, the sight of the birds, the glory of nature, and friendship and family made the night perfect! We took the 15 minute train ride from Essex to the boat landing. The boat ride was 3 hours and then the train ride back. The weather and sunset were spectacular!

Danny wanted no party…..no spotlight…no glory for his birthday. Just like Mother Nature’s little birds, Danny wanted to hide from the spotlight and slip back into his own little world!! However, Danny is more like the sunset….beautiful from start to finish, unassuming, stands behind in the backdrop of family and friends, and yet remains one of the most predictably kind, loving and beautiful phenomena known to the planet. Just a perfect, simple, and wonderful way to celebrate Danny’s birthday…thank you Joyce and Fred, Kate and Rob, Scott, Vinnie, Rich, and Beth for joining us four “Keller” girls (Leslie, Lisa, Michelle, and me!!) to celebrate Danny’s 50th and the Swallows on the CT RIVER!!

Happy Birthday, Danny…we love you!

 

Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 – A New Lens Makes A New Experience!

Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 – A New Lens Makes A New Experience!

When I look back on my calendar from August 21st to September 12th, I really have done nothing new. However, each event felt new!

August 21st to August 25th was my “Hell Week”. I always refer to the week before the teachers come back as “Hell Week”. It is the week that EVERYTHING has to get done and everyone wants to squeeze it all in! This was my 19th “Hell Week”, as an administrator, in my 33 year career in education and although it was my second summer in Bridgeport, my anxiety was high as I tried to finalize everything before the teachers came back!  In my fantasy world, I would love to jump over “Hell Week” and over teacher week and right into my “NEW YEARS EVE”…..which was August 30th this year! I love when the kids actually come back and Day ONE is over! My goal is always “no tears on Day 1”. This year’s opening was a success. My butterflies subsided, my anxiety dropped and the students showed up and the teachers welcomed them in. Every year, Day ONE never gets old! Each year it feels new again.

And…into Labor Day weekend I went! Leslie, Liz and I kicked it off with a ride to Aunt Ann’s in the Catskills. I am not sure the 3 of us have ever gone together before this! Leslie and I have gone, and Liz and I have gone…but I believe this was the first time all 3 of us had a slumber party at Aunt Ann’s!! So much fun!

Labor Day ended, but we had September 5th off in the Diocese for our CONVOCATION! I have always had a convocation day until last year! I felt empty without it. So I was excited to hear we were having a convocation. Our superintendent was going to address us all and give us the lay of the land and his vision for the year. As I sat in the audience with the teachers and administrators coming together from across the entire Diocese, it made this “old” experience for me feel “new again”. The very new spin on it was that I had never had a convocation kicked off with a mass celebrated by the Bishop and ending with a blessing for us all! Very nice!

By the time the 40th Oysterfest rolled around, I was 5 days into the school year! For the weekend of Sept 8 – 10th, Vinnie and I were there for every second of it! Vinnie and I have been volunteering in the beer tent for about 10 years now, but now we pour with our friends!! We are on every shift because we have friends on every shift. Volunteering is awesome when you spend your entire weekend with friends! Not a new experience, but then again, every Oysterfest weekend has its own story! This weekend was no exception! Lots of good people pouring cold beer for our “guests” at the “fest”!!

Tuesday, Sept 12th on the surface did not seem like a new experience, but it was! I had been to see Phantom of the Opera just last Spring. On that day, I had been to John’s Pizzaria with 100 8th graders. Later in the Spring I was there with Kevin and Ashley. I have been to NYC with Leslie and Lisa. I have been out to dinner many times with Liz. But tonight, it all came together! Leslie, Lisa, Liz and I were given tickets to see the show thanks to Sr. Lucy! We ended up meeting up with Kevin and he joined us! I love that he is always willing to meet me for dinner when I go to NYC. So at John’s we had a wonderful salad, pizza and a cocktail! I said good bye to Kevin and off we went to the show. I have to be honest, this is not my favorite show, but this time was different! This time I sat in the orchestra seats and I heard every word and saw every detail! It was like a brand new experience!!

The following week continues to be the routine things I do in my life….babysitting my grandson on Saturday, dinner with friends on Sunday, the 4th Annual Michael Ness Golf Dinner on Monday, book club with friends on Tuesday, and Teacher’s College training at my school to finish the week. All these “old” and “routine” pieces of my life continue to force me to look at the nuances that wind through all the little details, the conversations, the people at the table and I have to confess, it is in these pieces that make up the parts of my every day life that makes every day feel “new” again!

 

Sunday, August 20, 2017 – The Bridgewater Fair

Sunday, August 20, 2017 – The Bridgewater Fair

I have known Vinnie for almost 37 years and for the first time ever, I heard him say, “Yes, we are over at the Oxen pull.”

We were watching the bulls pull a weighted sled a certain distance when Danny called looking for us. Vinnie is no country boy, but he was a trooper. Truth is, we had both been to the Bridgewater Fair as children long ago. I remember seeing them tag the cattle back then, but this time, I was fully amazing by watching the bulls pull the weight. The incredible strength of those animals was evident in their muscles as they tensed and got ready to pull. They worked as a team and when it was their turn, they were determined to do it together!

The fair has grown since my childhood. The booths of handmade jewelry and soaps stood along side the historical tractors of all sizes. The contests ranged from Tractor Pulls to the Hay Bale Toss to the Cattle Contests and Rooster Contests. The wood carving demonstration, the Motorcross daredevils and the kiddie rides dotted the fairgrounds. The loaded baked potatoes, tacos, and handmade ice creams were the special treats. You could graze all day! There truly was something for everyone!

It was a wonderful day with Leslie, Scott, Danny, Michelle and Vinnie!  I felt blessed to take in the fresh air and take in the “country life” if just for a day! Beautiful!

 

 

Saturday, August 19, 2017 – The Milford Oysterfest

Saturday, August 19, 2017 – The Milford Oysterfest

On Saturday, August 19th, 2017  we finally went to The Milford Oysterfest!  I have to be honest, I have never missed a Norwalk Oysterfest. I have been there all 40 years! However, I have never taken the 30 minute ride to Milford for their festival. This year I was determined to make it there. I had always heard it was free and a “great day with so much to see”.

So, yes, we went.  However, we didn’t see much!!

We basically stood on the hot asphalt in a corralled area and drank beer! But…..once again, it is being with the people you love that really counts!!  Leslie, Scott, Pete, Karen, Jimmy, Jerry, Lisa, Rich, Vinnie and I enjoyed each other’s company and had some good laughs! It was the first time I was really out and about with this group since my surgery and I enjoyed the day with them! My day was filled with good people and cold beer! I guess I am a simple kind of girl after all!!

The day went by, and the afternoon passed and I never really saw the Green or other parts of the Festival in Milford. The next day was kind of fun to look at the Facebook pages of all the people I knew, but never saw at the Festival!  When I look at their photos of the Festival it didn’t even resemble the parking lot I saw!

I think we are going to have to try it again next year so I can really experience the real aspects of the Milford Oysterfest!

Saturday, August 12 – 13, 2017 – THE FINAL GOOD BYE!!

Saturday, August 12 – 13, 2017 – THE FINAL GOOD BYE!!

On August 11, 2001, we moved into 77 West Rocks Rd. Sixteen years and one day later, on Saturday, August 12th, 2017, we moved out. Some friends came over to help pack up “Big Red” since I couldn’t lift anything since my surgery in July. These wonderful friends helped us pack up the final boxes. It was emotional as I said my silent “good bye” to each room, but I felt so blessed for the 16  years of being able to live in my fantasy home. Not everyone has that chance in life and I don’t regret a second of living there. My fingers were crossed, however, that the buyers would pull through! Sharon, my dear friend of 30 years, made the final carload with us! Driving up the Merritt in a full car, with Sharon behind us, I got weepy! Sharon has always been that kind of friend where time doesn’t pass by. We pick up where we leave off. We have shared classrooms as teachers, became administrators, changed districts, and our friendship never changes. Like my time living in Big Red, my friendship with Sharon (and Liz, Wendy, and Pam) is something I hold in the deepest place of my heart.

Sunday, August 13th, 2017, Melissa, Anthony, Steph, and the baby, met Vinnie and myself for a final Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich on the porch! Another priceless moment of love. The girls said their good byes that morning and with a final sweep down of the floors, an era ended. That house holds so many precious and priceless memories. Not one has ever been taken for granted. I am forever grateful to have lived there….in the big red house on the hill.

 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017 – THE TRANSPLANT!!

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017   – THE TRANSPLANT!!

I am writing this on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. Six weeks ago today, I gave my left kidney to someone who shifted from an acquaintance to a “Forever Friend”.

In December 2016, I answered an ad in the Catholic paper and started the process of becoming a living kidney donor at YALE New Haven Hospital.  After about 5 months of testing everything…heart, lungs, kidneys, blood work, and urine samples…I was considered an “approved donor”, except….I was wrapping up the school year and I was a bit too chubby!! In my head, I was donating to a stranger, so I figured I had time to get to the summer when it would be more “convenient” for me.  All was fine, and then I learned that my aunt’s friend’s husband needed a kidney!

Long story short…I offered mine, he accepted and we were a match!

So, on Tuesday, July 25th, Mark and I met at Yale with our spouses and families beside us. Our paths would be forever intertwined in a fairly intimate way. After the 2.5 – 3 hour simultaneous surgeries, my kidney would help filter and regulate his body for the rest of his life. And my single kidney would do the same for me.

On Facebook, a flurry of comments from our friends flooded our pages. Quite honestly, since my journey was so private all Spring, and then we made it public right before the surgery,  the sheer volume of love and support kind of freaked me out a little! The outpouring of love was so kind, supportive, and genuine!

“You are an angel.”

“God bless you both.”

“May the hands of the Great Healer be firmly placed on you both.”

“You inspire me.”

“A great story of the gift of love”

“Score one for the good guys!”

“We are very fortunate to have people who are willing to help someone else. Good to see you both up and about”

The reality is I did not set out to give my kidney to Mark. It was going to somebody, a stranger.  All Spring long, I did not know Mark needed a kidney. It wasn’t until my parents went to a party at my cousin’s house and my aunt filled them in!

The reality is, if I hadn’t been in the process already, and I had found out on June 29th that Mark needed a kidney, I would have absolutely started the process to give it to him, but I wouldn’t have been able to give it to him at this point in the year. The process would have gone into the school year and my school year calendar would have prevented me from being able to give, even though we were a perfect match. In reality, our stars would not have aligned.

But instead, I heard a whisper in December that started the process. I said yes, wrote and emailed, and followed up with a phone call. I was assigned a wonderful case manager, Joyce, and started the process. Ultimately, I was ready to give to Mark when he needed it. I have to believe it was planned by someone or something far bigger than me; far bigger than Mark and me combined. I do believe it was God speaking to me in a quiet whisper, and I have learned over time that when I hear that whisper, I say YES.

The morning after our surgeries, we went for a walk with Mark’s wife, Pam. She took a great picture of the two of us hobbling along and tagged it on Facebook with the caption, “The miracle of modern medicine and love”.  That statement sums it up.

All summer people have said to me that it is “amazing” that I gave a kidney to Mark. It has taken me six weeks to try to process it all and figure out the words to describe the experience.  I still can’t quite capture it in words. When I try it to talk about the feelings I have about July 25th, the words get lost in the translation between my heart’s love for Mark and Pam, the appreciation I have for the doctors, nurses, social workers, and staff members at YALE New Haven Hospital (who bring new life to so many people everyday), and the overwhelming feeling  of pain I have for the thousands of people who wait on a list for years for a donor. The experience is absolutely  a once in a life time experience that is difficult to capture in words and yet is so deeply embedded in my heart. It is one more thing that defines who I am. Mark is forever a part of my life’s story and I believe it was not a coincidence, but rather a very planned forever connection that was orchestrated from above.

Bottom line is I think Pam summed it up. My gift of a kidney to Mark is “a miracle of modern medicine and (God’s) Love.”