Is The Summer Over Yet?

In my journal, along with my daily musings, I record the time of sunrise and sunset. On June 21st, the sun rose at 5:25 AM, exactly one minute later than the day before. As my husband was pouring his coffee that morning, he announced, joyfully, “It’s the official first day of summer!”

“Yes!” I smiled. “I know!” I was happy, too, for I knew, by my daily record keeping, that from now on, the days would be getting shorter by one minute. And that meant that June 21st marked the beginning of the end of summer.

I have a love-hate relationship with summer. I love the balmy summer mornings and cool summer evenings.  I can do without the rest of the day. My morning walks are planned so that I reach a certain spot in my neighborhood a few minutes before sunrise. There, I can sit on a bench overlooking the Great South Bay, relaxing and meditating to the sounds of gently lapping water and the avian chatter of shore birds while soaking in the majestic sunrise. Once the sun is up, I walk back home, and, if it was up to me, I would be done for the day with the outdoors.

But I am married to a man who wants to be outside every chance he can. He’s retired now, and he says he’s making up for lost time spent working in an office for the past 50 years.  Every day, we check the weather and we both see the same report, but each of us has a very different reaction.

“Another beautiful day!” my husband beams as he reads the forecast out loud to me. “The beach is the best place to be on a day like this.” He snaps the paper shut. “Whaddya say?”

I’m thinking the air-conditioned house is the best place to be on a day like this, but I dare not utter the words. After all, it is summer and we have to enjoy the outdoors whether we like it or not.

I lift my eyes up to the sky, searching, hoping to find a cloud or two. “Still no rain in the forecast?” I sigh. “Are you sure? I think I see a cloud on the horizon.”

“There’s no rain in the forecast for weeks!” he says, happily.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the beach, but from June to September all my other interests get pushed aside because I feel guilty staying indoors when the sun is shining. How can I hide in my room and write the great American novel when the sun is shining brightly outside and the grandkids are standing on the dock with beach towels and coolers looking up at my window calling, “Grandma! We’re waiting for you! Aren’t you ready yet?”

 I can’t sit at my sewing machine and peacefully work on my next magnificent quilt when the temperature is a sunny 85 degrees and my husband is already in his bathing suit asking, “Do you have any idea when you might be ready to go on the boat?”

Call me weird, but I love rainy days; a windy nor’easter is even better. I get a thrill when I see the first frost on the lawn and feel a nip in the air. I long for chilly winter mornings when I rise in the dark before dawn to write in my journal by candlelight, warming my fingers around that first cup of hot coffee. I yearn to sit by the fire, curled up under a blanket with a good book and a hot cup of tea. I want to bake bread and set up a pot of soup to simmer while the wind howls and the snow blows into impassable drifts outside.

These quiet activities nourish my soul in the fall and winter months, but they are not things I can do in the summer – not as long as the sun is shining and the boat engine is running and folks are waiting on the dock for me to come outside and play – whether I like it or not.

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Closet Culling – Part Two

Cosmetic and Other Bags

This seasonal closet culling wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have so many cosmetic bags jammed between the shoe boxes at the top of my closet. It’s a game of Jenga as I pull out a shoebox, hold my breath and wait for the avalanche of bags to bounce off my head and shoulders onto the floor.

Are we world travelers? Nope. Far from it. So why do I hold onto these little travel bags? Because I know, as soon as I throw them away, I’ll need one.  That’s the Law of Culling.

Don’t believe me? Try getting rid of something you think you don’t need anymore. Guaranteed, within a few weeks, you will need it.

During a recent culling of the crawlspace behind our bedroom, my husband pulled out ten old backpacks. “What do we need all these backpacks for?” he asked, as he tossed them into a garbage bag. “The kids are gone. Why are we still holding onto this stuff?” The next month he was called on a business trip and needed a small carry-on for the plane. I found him crawling behind the bedroom wall, muttering to himself as he searched in vain. “I must have saved one! Why didn’t I save one?

In that crawlspace clean out, we also tossed a bunch of old sheets that we thought we didn’t need anymore. And then we did. The cabin we were renting for a week in the summer did not provide sheets.

I rescued my maternity clothes from a bag he was filling for our local thrift shop. It didn’t matter that I was on the cusp of menopause at the time. I wasn’t taking any chances by tempting fate or the Law of Culling. I knew if I got rid of those dowdy maternity clothes, I would need them in the near future.

And that’s why I keep those travel bags jammed between the shoe boxes. I have learned through the years that once I toss something in the trash, I need it. I don’t want to need those travel bags because I don’t want to travel. I don’t like to travel.

I hate long car trips. When I’m the passenger, I eat too many junk snacks to stay awake. I must stay awake to call out the lanes we should be in for upcoming exits. Otherwise, my husband, who daydreams while he’s driving, will take the wrong exit and we will be in the car even longer than necessary.

When I’m the driver, I’m either bored to death – closing one eye at a time to rest,

or I’m white-knuckle-heart racing-terrified when a tractor trailer comes plowing up behind me at breakneck speed.  

Cruises don’t entice me either.  Anyone who has ever been seasick knows the truth behind the saying: There are worse things than death.

As far as air travel goes, I have such a fear of flying that I become airsick before the plane even takes off. It never made sense to me how that big machine, packed with all that luggage and all those people, could defy the law of gravity. My anxiety reaches a peak when I sense that the wheels are no longer touching the ground. I study the faces around me, swallowing hard to fight back the panic and nausea, thinking, these will be the last faces I see as the plane falls into the ocean!

No, I won’t tempt The Law of Culling by throwing out all those travel bags. They are my assurance that there won’t be any airline tickets purchased, cruise plans made or long road trips mapped out in the near future.

A small sampling of my little travel bags that never leave the house.

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Closet Culling

Part One: Shoes

I finally packed away the winter sweaters and flannel shirts and hung my summer tees and capris in their place. I hate this seasonal task so much that I delay it for as long as I can. It’s not that I have that many clothes to pack away. It’s the shoes. The seasonal switching of the shoes drives me nuts.

Why so many shoes? It’s not that I’m fashionable. Far from it.  I only routinely wear three pairs of shoes: crocs for lounging around the house, red tie shoes for going out, and white sneakers for my morning walk. The problem is that I hold onto shoes that I don’t wear anymore – shoes that are out of style, worn out in the heels or just don’t fit comfortably. Every season, I empty these old shoes out of their shoe boxes and line them up on the shoe rack in my closet.  They sit there collecting dust for the next few months, unworn, until I repack them again for storage. I can’t help it. I can’t throw shoes away.

I think I inherited this strange behavior from my mother. She wore the same black rubber sole tie shoe every day through every season. But she had a hanging shoe organizer on the inside of her closet door filled with nine pairs of shoes that she never wore. Each pair had a story and a reason why she couldn’t get rid of them. One day, when I was at her house helping her with some cleaning, I suggested we donate the unworn shoes to a thrift shop.

“Don’t you dare!” she scolded me. “Those are my shoes!”

 “But you never wear them!” I held up a two-tone dress shoe. “What about these?” I asked. “I’ve never seen you wear these. They look brand new.”

“They are new. I only wore them once to what’s-his-name’s wedding,” she said. “I just sat there all night. I couldn’t even dance, they hurt my feet so much. I have to stretch them.”

I held up a pair of loafers. “How about these? I remember you wearing these when I was in high school in the 60’s!”

“So what? You think they’re too old? All I have to do is replace the soles every few years. The leather is still good. But, they’re too loose now. My heels must have shrunk somehow. I have to get some shoe pads to put in those.”

“What about these old saddle shoes?” I asked, laughing. “Do you think these will ever come back into fashion?”

“Put those back and leave my shoes alone! Some day I might need them. You never know.”

You never know. That’s what I say as I store my brown leather tie shoes in a shoebox for the summer season. I haven’t worn them in four years.I box up the uncomfortable navy-blue patent leather dress shoes too. With a little stretching, I could wear them to a wedding. The winter boots go into plastic bags. They haven’t seen the light of day in three years because I stay indoors in my fuzzy socks and fur lined crocs if I see snow on the ground. I’ll hold onto them. Maybe I’ll venture outside next winter. You never know.

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GRANDPARENTS’ MORNING… and the trials and tribulations to get there

Last week my son sent me an invitation to Grandparents Morning at his son’s Montessori school. The event started at 9:45 AM. Under the invitation, he texted: Miles wants to invite you. Probably impossible.

 Miles is our four-year-old grandson. Let me explain the probably impossible assumption. My son lives in Connecticut. We live on Long Island. The path from here to there is not an easy one. Between the ubiquitous lane closures for roadwork/construction, and the certainty of accidents along the way, combined with the slog of rush hour traffic, we would have to leave the house by 6:00 AM to arrive in Connecticut on time for Grandparents’ Morning. I felt a headache coming on just thinking about it. Probably impossible was probably true. 

Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but my husband and I are both retired now. The pace of life has changed significantly for us. For one thing, we don’t rush anywhere anymore. That’s a privilege we’ve finally earned, and there isn’t a morning that we don’t appreciate the quiet, unrushed, peaceful start of a new day. 

We sip our coffee and update each other on our minor aches and pains:  my legs were cramping last nightmy shoulder hurts this morning, I’m still constipated, I have a dull headache. Not all of these ailments happen on the same day; these are just the most common. On any given day, any one of those ailments would be deterrent enough to any long-distance travel. (Anything over 30 minutes is long-distance travel). 

As we sip our coffee, we read the paper, start the crossword puzzle, continue reading the paper, eat breakfast, and wait for the gastrointestinal highlight of the day – the morning bowel movement – hereafter referred to as our “business.”

 Now that we are retired and don’t have to watch the clock in the morning, we don’t leave the house until we’ve both done our “business.” We will check each other’s status before embarking on a long trip:

“Did you do your business yet?”

“No; not yet.”

“Did you?”

“Yes. I’m ready to go.”

“Well let’s wait a while. I feel something brewing. There’s no rush, is there?”

No rush! Take your time.”

 With a morning routine such as this, to be ready to leave the house by 6:00 AM, we would have to be up at 4:00 AM! That would mean a lot of rushing around and bumping into each other in the dark. Probably impossible was probably true.

As I picked up the phone to reply, I reread the invitation: Miles wants to invite you. That was the catch that tugged at my heart. After two years of missed holidays, zoom birthdays and canceled celebrations, we were beginning to worry that COVID would be around forever, that our grandchildren would grow up to be adults before we could visit with them again. I showed the message to my husband. Miles wants to invite you.

 “Miles wants to invite us?” he said. “We’ve hardly seen that kid in two years; I didn’t think he knew who we were!” Miles is our youngest grandchild. We haven’t seen him as much as we would like, as much as we’ve seen the other grandchildren through the years. He was two-years-old when COVID started, and the few times we saw him during COVID, we were wearing face masks and holding our arms out in midair giving safe distance “air hugs.” There’s nothing warm and fuzzy about that, certainly not enough to build a loving relationship on.

“Well?” I asked. “Do you want to go?”

“Of course I do! Miles invited us!”

A simple solution solved all of our pressing travel issues. The day before Grandparents’ Morning, after a leisurely breakfast – our business completed – we took a mid-morning drive up to Connecticut – no rush hour, no traffic – and checked into an Airbnb. On Friday morning, we were only 30 minutes away from my grandson’s school. We had plenty of time to sip our coffee at a local diner while discussing our minor aches and pains over a leisurely breakfast. Back at our Airbnb we took care of business.

At my grandson’s school that morning, he lined up with the other students to sing an endearing song to us grandparents. Then we went to his classroom so he could show us something he was working on. But the highlight of the day was the surge of love I felt when he reached up to take my hand and lead me into the auditorium to make a craft. It had been so long since I held a tiny hand in mine; I never wanted to let go.

For our craft time, he rolled a sheet of beeswax around a small wick and made a candle. “That’s great!” I praised him. “Will you take this home to mommy?” 

“No,” he said, handing me the little candle. “I made it for you.” 

On the way home, I kept thinking back to the feeling I had when I held his tiny hand in mine. Why was I so moved, almost to tears, when it happened? It could be that two years of COVID’s isolation protocols had numbed me; I hadn’t felt the slow growth of a hard shell around my heart. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the soft touch and love hugs of grandchildren. When he reached for my hand, it took all my self-control to not reach down and lift him up into my arms, to hold him there for a long time, to make up for two years of “air hugs” that were no substitute for a good strong grandma hug.

We headed home after lunch and plodded through several delays from accidents, lane closures, construction and the slog of Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. After four hours, we finally reached home. Was it all worth it? You bet it was!

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