A Walk In the Woods

Last weekend, a friend of mine and I took a walk in the woods to see the bluebells blooming nearby. It was fantastic to walk along the path and see the gazillions of beautiful periwinkel blue flowers as we walked along.

Don’t you just love Spring?

I sure do, with the beautiful blues of the bluebells and the brighter sky above and the greens in the leaves of the trees as they start to bloom. The birds are awake at 3:00 in the morning singing up a storm before heading down the street for coffee and giving us all a few more hours to sleep in before the day comes to a full start.

Bluebells Along The Path – S.A. Leys Photography

There was something about looking back at the bluebells along the path and then looking over at the stream and hearing the flow of the water and how soothing it all was. Videos like the one above have a nice way of calming “life”. As I started to record, I realized that I could have recorded for about 10 minutes instead of just one. But it’s nice to have the video to refer back to whenever life become stressful and you just need a minute of beautiful, soothing calmness. – Enjoy.

Bluebells – S.A. Leys Photography

I Love The Winter Weather

Spring is slowly coming but I still love the winter weather. Last week we had a few inches of snow that fell early in the morning. It was nice to go out and just sit and watch the snow fall. There’s something about how quiet it is – early in the morning when the only thing you can hear are the snow plows pushing snow off the streets so everyone in our village can get to work.

As I sat there and watched them, I thought of the days I used to go skiing when I was younger. At the end of the day, before my last run, I’d stand at the top of the trail and look over the mountains and the snow on the branches of the trees. It was just as pretty as the picture above.

A Legacy; A Quilt

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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. 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.

Mom and I with the “must have” shirt that I needed to have included into her quilt because of how wonderful this day was. The day I taught her how to take a “selfie” – best day ever!

“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.

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.

5:00am Wake Up Call

This photo was taken at around 5:00 in the morning in the summer of 2009. We (Mom and Dad who are sound asleep in the v-birth up forward) and I are on the boat in New Harbor, Block Island. Trey has decided that every morning he is going to wake up (around 4 and jump on my bunk because he wants to go outside to circumnavigate and perform a full inspection of the boat before anyone else wakes up).

The glitch here (and every morning that he does this) is that it’s very hard to open the sliders on the back of the boat without waking anyone else up. You sort of have to lift them – and then slide quietly to give Trey the space he needs – and then keep an eye on him because he’s walking around the boat without his little kitty life jacket on.

If all goes according to plan – Mom and Dad will remain asleep until (about an hour from this time) – Mr “Andiamo…Andiamooooh!” Aldo’s bakery delivery service – will come singing loudly in his boat while he delivers fresh baked goods to everyone anchored in da hahbah. This is the point he (loud singing guy who is somehow related to Aldo) will wake up dad who will mumble “oh jeez – that guy” and thus our day will begin.

I miss those days – and the challenge of keeping everything quiet until this point knowing that with Trey, all bets were usually off.

Not A Selfie – An Us-ie

“Usie” / S.A.Leys Photo

Teaching my mom to do a “selfie” or in this case, an “usie”. It’s almost been two years since she died and I miss her a lot. This is one of my favorite photos – not only because of how great she looks (and her smile) but how priceless it was that we got to spend the time with each other that we did.

A few months after she died, I went to Acadia National Park / Cadillac Mountain where she and my dad had brought my brother and I when we were little. I found myself getting frustrated as so many people were taking selfies that I went up to as many people as I could and said “please – can I take that picture for you?” thinking it’s always better to have arms around each other than it is to have them outstretched in front of you.

I took photos of over 25 families that day. I loved seeing the smiles on their faces.

And who wouldn’t love seeing a view like this with the people they love the most?

Enjoy your families this holiday season. Merry Christmas everyone.

My Touch of Glass

Corning Museum of Glass / S.A. Leys Photo

A few days ago, my friend Regina and I decided to take a “Nerdcation” to the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. It was two days of a really great time which took me back to those days when my parents used to put my brother and I in our car and drive to all of these great places: Expo 67 in Montreal, the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, United Nations and the Guggenheim museum in New York City, the Museum of Fine Arts and the New England Aquarium in Boston. We went all over the place, always had a great time and learned a lot.

Corning Museum of Glass / S.A. Leys Photo

I miss those days and have had the Corning Museum of Glass on my “places I really want to visit” bucket list. So I called Regina who agreed to come along on my nerdcation adventure. We purchased admission tickets, signed up for a few workshops as well as an exhibition and off to New York we went.

My assumption was that we were going to see a lot of glass right? I think I just didn’t get how extensive the entire museum was going to be along with, not only the texture of the glass and the abundance of art and sculptures we saw; it also was the design and display (lighting, placement) of all of the art we saw.

The workshops were also great – we went to the workshop where we could make our own glass necklace and the instructor walked us through everything that was occurring to the temperature and flexibility of the glass as we held it in our hands.

Corning Museum of Glass / S.A.Leys Photo

One of my favorite works of art was the one pictured above – it’s a chandelier which is made out of solar panels which are sculpted into butterflies. The lamp is fully powered by the butterflies.

Overall it was a phenomenal trip and somehow we made it through the entire museum in about a day. If you’re thinking of going, I would highly recommend signing up for a workshop or two while you are there – you will not be disappointed.

“Frame the Shot!”

New Harbor, Block Island
Photo by S.A. Leys

My mom is sitting on a white Adirondack chair on the lawn of the Narragansett Hotel in Block Island. On this day, our plan was to walk to the library and to our favorite gallery but because it had already been a long day, she told me she wanted to rest and sit for a minute and look out over New Harbor for a few minutes before we started up the hill towards Old Harbor.

“You should frame that shot” she tells me. I have my camera out and am trying to figure out how to get the best shot of the entire harbor. She tells me I should use the bushes that are in front of me to “frame the shot”.

The end result is the photo above. I didn’t think it was a great shot but because my mom was passionate about photography and this was something I was interested in learning, I kept going – taking photo after photo.

The stairs up to Jessie Edwards Gallery in Block Island / S.A. Leys photo

After a half hour or so of trying to get the best shot, we headed up the hill to the Jessie Edwards Gallery. It was one of my mom’s favorite places to visit because of the diverse backgrounds and styles of the artists whose exhibits were there. As we looked at each painting, mom would tell me why she liked it.

One of the things that always fascinated me was that she never discussed the paintings she didn’t like – she would find something good in all of them and then ask me which ones I liked and why. For the record, she also did this at the Island Free library when we would walk among the stacks and she would select 4 or 5 books to bring back to the boat with her. She would ask me about the authors I liked and why and I would tell her. – The funny thing was that her interests and the books she read would evolve and change a little over time but mine never did. She liked reading books by John Grisham or David Baldacci but as the years progressed, she developed a love for Nicholas Sparks. The authors I told her loved – Elizabeth Berg, Annie Proulx and Leslea Newman are still my favorites today.

And as my love of photography increased, my love for books came to include photography magazines and National Geographic because of how beautiful the photography was. And with each lesson from mom, I kept practicing and practicing to become better at an interest we both shared.

It’s been a year and a half since mom died. Every time I frame a shot, I think of her and that bright sunny day we spent together walking to Old Harbor _ Block Island.

Newport Bridge (framed by a porch on Washington St.) / S.A. Leys Photography

The Beach House – Anna Maria Island

The View at Beach House Restaurant

I think God works in mysterious ways. We went to the Sandbar for dinner a few nights ago and were told there was a two hour wait. We drove to the Beach House (where the picture on the beach above was taken – from the deck of the restaurant) and waited for only 30 minutes. I thought the discrepancy between the two restaurants was interesting as they both have really exceptional food.

Then I thought about the last time I was at each restaurant. Mom and I were at the Sandbar about two years ago. She had had a doctors appointment and we went for lunch afterwards. It was a hot day but we sat outside at one of the tables in the sand under an umbrella and had a wonderful meal.

At around 2p I said to her “we should go” as it was close to the time she usually took a nap. “No, we don’t have to” she said “we can sit here a little longer.” Sitting there watching my 85 y/o mom in the sun enjoying the beach in the background brought me back to my childhood when we spent many summer days at 2nd and 3rd beach back home in Rhode Island with our closest friends. It was like that – a wonderful summer day with mom looking really happy as she wiggled her toes in the sand while sipping on her iced tea.

The last time we were at the Beach House was a few years before that when Dad was still alive. The four of us went out for dinner (I think it was close to a time when I was flying back to Maryland and we wanted to have one last night out). Like a few nights ago, we sat outside on the deck – but back then, we were a family. I had my camera and wanted a family picture of the 4 of us – which the waiter agreed to take. It was the last family photo we had taken.

So as we sat there the other night watching that beautiful sunset, I heard the woman behind me say “We should get a picture of the three kids”. I turned around and asked her “can I take a picture of all of you?” to which she said “certainly – but we need our other son and he’s at the bar”. At that point our buzzer thing went off and she said “don’t worry, go have a nice dinner” but I said “if I see him, I’m coming back!” Sure enough he walked by our table and back to where his family was sitting so I walked over and said “okay – let’s go”. The 7 of them – mom and dad, their three children and their partners stood together with that beautiful Florida sunset in the background as I took their picture and encouraged them to “scrunch!” – which they gladly did. They thanked me and I went back to our table to have dinner. – Retrospectively I think Dad sent us to the Beach House to “pay forward” our family photo.

As I looked over at the 7 of them enjoying their dinner and each others’ presence, I thought about how quickly life can change – as it did for our family so many years ago. One day we’re having a great dinner together and then Dad’s 25 year battle with cancer worsens. Mom’s ascending aortic aneurysm grows and shortly after celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary, dad loses his battle with cancer and 3 years after that mom dies from pneumonia. So many of her friends – and her Cardiologist all said “thankfully it wasn’t the aneurysm”. Mom died the way she wanted to go as she frequently said to me “pneumonia is a friend of the aged – it usually takes you at night when you are sleeping.”

When you’ve worked in an ER as I have – and as she has, and several of our friends have, every day you are reminded that life can change in a second. You see the most loving families gather around a loved one as they die or have the critical conversations about the decisions they need to make or how to navigate the road that lies ahead. You see hands being held, hair being stroked and the “I love you’s” which are never easy to hear because of how intimately personal the conversations that accompany them are.

Life can change in a second.

Watching that family the other night I was very tempted to tell them “pay attention to this time you have and this love and legacy of your family” – but I didn’t – for a few reasons – you know, they would have thought I was nuts and honestly, it would have been weird right? – and a heck of an interruption to a wonderful dinner on a beautiful evening. But on nights like that I wish we all could put our cell phones down a little more and look into each other’s eyes when we spoke to them. I wish we had more intimate conversations with our friends to let them know how we feel about them instead of just keeping on and going along.

So after dinner the check came and the waiter told us that the cost of our chowder was covered by “some people” – the family I had taken a photo of. As we left, I thanked them for the “wonderful chowdah” and they thanked me again for the wonderful photo. – which brings me to my last point (I know – I can hear ya – end this long post). – I’m becoming more frustrated with the whole “selfie” thing. Because I know for sure that while a photo from an outstretched arm can be fun, the photos of entire families with their arms around each other are so much better. So if you see an opportunity to help a family out, ask If you can take the photo for them and just say “scrunch up”.

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