Saturday, Nov. 24, 2017 – Harlem Valley Rail Trail

Saturday, Nov. 24, 2017 – Harlem Valley Rail Trail

WOW!! What a gorgeous day! November 24th in Connecticut and almost 60 degrees!

Now that we live in Litchfield County, I take a new route to Aunt Ann’s in the Catskills. Up through Torrington and into Middleton, NY and to route 199 to Route 145 and then route 23 is my new, windy road to Ann’s!

After a lovely Thanksgiving Day, I took her home and then headed back on that Saturday. It was probably the 5th or 6th time I have driven past the little sign that says “Harlem Valley Rail Trail” in the cute little town of Middleton, NY.  It is located just over the Connecticut border near Canaan, CT.  When I got home, I asked Vinnie to drive back an hour so we could walk the Rail Trail. Of course, he said yes…it was too beautiful to do nothing. The day was a gift!

The trail was beautiful; exactly what I expected and wanted! Sixteen miles (or so) of paved-over rail road tracks with another 10 miles of unfinished plans to go according to their website! The rail trail wandered past houses and fields and meandered over streams and alongside country roads. People walked, rode bikes and roller bladed past us. The trees stretched over us and we walked through stretches of pavement that cut through solid rock. The railroad track path was laid straight over streams and roads without a hint of an incline. It was the perfect day for a walk. I wondered how many people had traveled over so many years on this route from Hillsdale to Amenia, NY.

We walked for an hour and a half towards Amenia and then back again. Our final destination was the diner in the center of town. My BLT and Vinnie’s burger was the perfect ending to the day.

This walk was like an exclamation point for the feeling of Thanksgiving on a weekend full of family and love. So much to be grateful and thankful for. And extra thankful for finding this perfect place to walk on a perfect Saturday with Vinnie.

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Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 – Homeless and Hungry

Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 – Homeless and Hungry

I am not sure what intervened today to make me say YES and hand my three clementines and a banana out my car window. I have never done this before!

I don’t know if it was because I was feeling so blessed to have just been able to take an amazing trip with friends and family in Ireland. Or maybe because Thanksgiving was just around the corner? Or maybe it was because I was on my way to a Principals’ Meeting at the Catholic Center so my Irish Catholic guilt meter was set pretty high? Or maybe because he looked like he could have been my own son wearing a knitted cap and carrying the sign “Homeless and Hungry”? Or maybe it was the Holy Spirit that nudged me? Or maybe it was a reflection of a line in a song called “Jesus in Disguise”? I really don’t know what triggered my response of rolling down the window and handing him out my lunch, but I am glad I did it.

I had never come off of exit 5  of Route 8 before and I had certainly never seen him before (I think!). But in this year of living more intentionally, the young man has stayed in my mind.

In the past, I have gone on numerous trips to feed the hungry in NYC through our church’s Midnight Run with Kali. Prior to going, we always have prayed to not judge and simply serve. That seemed respectful and right, but in my car alone, I have never seemed to have that same attitude.

I wonder now how many hungry men (or women) I have pulled up alongside at the end of an exit ramp and made no eye contact with. Perhaps I fiddled with my radio at that moment or maybe I double checked my calendar on the passenger seat. I probably have a whole list of ways I “didn’t look at him”. In my mind, I probably rattled through a list of judgement statements as well in the past…..He must be a drug addict! He will probably spend any money I give him on alcohol! Why doesn’t he just go get a job? How did he find a marker and cardboard if he is homeless? I can never find a working marker in my house!!

Today, no judging statement came to my mind, just the clear thought of “give him your lunch”.

I will never be sure that he didn’t “resell the food for money for alcohol and drugs”, or that he was ever truly physically hungry. But I do know, for that split second, I did look him in the eye and reach out my window with an open hand to him, and a human connection was made. I did what I know felt right. I do know that because of my tiny intentional act, someone’s 25 or 26 year old son had something to eat for lunch that day regardless of whether or not he was truly hungry and maybe he would have preferred drugs and/or alcohol for lunch. That didn’t matter. I knew that he had at least three clementines and a banana for lunch if he wanted them. And as I pulled away, I had a momentary thought.  God knows that if it were my son,  I prayed that someone would reach out their window, connect for a red-light second and feed my own son.

I was reminded in that small moment, that we are always the hands and feet of Christ here on earth for each other and that we are our brothers’ keepers.

Friday, November 10, 2017 – If you are going to try to golf….It might as well be in Ireland!

Friday, November 10, 2017 – If you are going to try to golf….It might as well be in Ireland!

Back in April 2017, my friend, Liz, invited about 30 friends and family to go to Ireland for her 50th birthday! What a blessing that I was one of them. She had been talking about it for about a year or so, and had been working with a few people in Ireland to put together a fantasy vacation for all of us. Of course, Vinnie and I said YES!! And so did 26 others!

As the date of Nov. 3 came closer, update emails from Liz came. She let us know where and when we would be landing. She let us know who would be picking us up, taking us to the first hotel in Dublin, and about dinner and a show that first night there!

Once we were there, Liz let us know about the Hop On Hop Off bus, Trinity College Tours,  and the tours her sister had arranged for at the Guinness Factory (Absolutely amazing!) She let us know what time to meet for the bus that would take us to Ennis for the next 5 days. She let us know that the driver would take us past a famous castle and to Blarney Castle to kiss the stone!

That evening, once we were in Ennis, we all met in the pub at the Temple Hotel to talk about the many options of things to do and see from there.  Leslie, Scott, Lisa, Rich, and Vinnie and I were set on visiting mom’s childhood town of Glin located on the other side of the Shannon River. We hired a driver and off we went. We took the ferry across and drove on winding roads. In Glin, we visited her church, saw a few side streets, took pictures of the castle from a distance away and then stopped at a pub and met a  few guys who knew connections to my mom a generation or two back! With mom on the phone we pieced together a few of those connections and then off we went to Julia Adams’ home. She and her daughter filled our hearts and bellies with hospitality in a moment’s notice. What a beautiful afternoon we had with Julia, her daughter, and two sons. I was so grateful that it was only Tuesday and and we had accomplished the visit to Glin!

On Wednesday came the Cliffs of Moher! Why this place is not on the list of Natural Wonders is beyond me! Absolutely gorgeous until the fog rolled in and the cliffs disappeared. It didn’t matter to us though, we were on our way to Gus O’Connor’s pub in Doolin! Liz’s fantasy retirement spot…..and a place with great food, beautiful people and a pub full of Liz’s friends and family for her birthday……and a surprise cake!!!!

By Thursday, it was time to shop and enjoy Ennis. Some of us decided to shop while others decided to get tatoos!! Leslie and I got the Celtic symbol of Love (trinity and heart) as “sister tatoos”….Lisa bought the Celtic trinity necklace for her symbol of Love for us!!  Kind of a special time for all of us to be in Ireland together!

Friday had arrived and Liz had the list of folks who had said YES to Golf vs. Shopping in Galway! The two groups boarded two separate buses and headed out in two different directions. I was on the first list. After all, if you are going to play golf for the first time in your life, you might as well play it in Ireland with people you love!

Our bus pulled up and we figured out the club situation.  Three foursomes approached the first hole and we tossed around the jokes about “addressing the ball” and the rules for playing “best ball”. That is when Jim surprised Liz with a “gift” that brought us to tears. Jim had brought some of Liz’s Dad’s ashes to be spread onto the golf course in Ireland as we overlooked the ocean. Of all the people in Liz’s world who were laughing, drinking, and enjoying the week in Ireland,  the one who was so obviously missing was her Dad; Liz’s silent and ever-present companion. Jim’s moment of raising his arm and releasing the ashes into the breeze reminded us all that Don Reid’s spirit was very present on this trip. It was such an emotional moment of tears and love to kick off the golf outing. I felt so blessed to be a part of that very special moment in time. I was so happy I said YES to golf instead of shopping in Galway. Galway will be there should I every go back to shop, but in reality Don Reid, and Liz’s love for him, will also always be present on that golf course in Ireland.

My first golf outing was so special for so many love-filled reasons!

Thank you, Liz….for inviting us all to your party in Ireland. I would have never wanted to have missed it!

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.

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!