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.

If I Loved You

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Settling into a new career endeavor has not been easy this last month. Lots of new information and people and processes as well as a new place. It’s a huge learning curve that has me slowly moving forward step by step. But every once in awhile mom and dad show up in the most interesting ways.

Most everyone who knows my mom will tell you that she does not excel when it comes to carrying a tune. I remember many cold days singing into her ear so she could get the tone (and key) right as we sang together on the chairlift whenever we went skiing.

I always love listening to music. When we were in Florida, whenever she took a nap, I would put music on softly while I was reading or tidying up around the house – usually after lunch as she would rest until an hour or so before dinner.

One day – a few months before we moved back to New England, mom came in after her nap and sat in her chair listening to the music that was playing. Around this time her short term memory was not great – she wouldn’t always be able to remember what she had for dinner the night before or lunch earlier in the afternoon, but her longer term memory – from her childhood would sneak through quite frequently.

On this day – the music was Chris Botti and Paula Cole singing their beautiful rendition of “If I Loved You” from his “Italia” CD. Initially, as she started listening, mom said “I always wonder what this song is about; does she love him?”. After speculating a little, she soon started singing along to the song – on key. Able to remember all of the lyrics. It was the coolest thing to just sit and listen to her as she softly sang along with Paula Cole. I was astounded that she was able to remember everything about the song while also remaining completely on key.

So usually when I go to work in the morning I leave the music on for Nate and Callie – the soundtrack from mom and dad’s favorite music that was usually on whenever I visited them in Florida or on the boat in New Harbor. It’s an iTunes playlist that has 750 songs that if you played consecutively would take more than two days to complete. It’s also always on “shuffle” – god forbid Nate and Callie should have to hear all the same songs in the same order so random is good.

Today after a long a day of many meetings, I open the door to the apartment at exactly the same time that the first few notes of Chris and Paula’s “If I Loved You” started playing. I just sat on the sofa with Nate and Callie and sang along – ending with a “Hi Mom, Hi Dad” and a little conversation with them about my day.

Lately I’ve learned that grief doesn’t always show up with sadness – sometimes, like today, its more of a peaceful reflection of some great moments in time that stay with us and arrive to brighten our day.

About That Government Shutdown

Having lived in the Washington DC Metro Area for several years, it was not uncommon to hear reports about potential (or actual) government shutdowns. Whenever they would start, my friends (who worked with the government) would express their concerns about finances and budgeting to manage their finances if the shutdown occurred.

Then there would be additional concerns about how these shutdowns would affect everyone living in (or close to) Washington DC. You can read additional information about shutdowns here.

When the government shutdown in 2013 occurred, I didn’t think a lot about it. But as an apprentice photographer and someone who loves American History, I always wondered how a government #shutdown affected the soldiers who stood by the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. Having admired their precision and steadfastness, I always wondered “if the government shuts down, are they still there guarding the tomb of unknowns and performing the changing of the guard?”.

Information about Arlington National Cemetery and Changing of the Guard is here.

And most people who are familiar with this very celebrated service would tell you that they are always there 24/7. And yes, I am one of those people who would love to capture a Changing of the Guard ceremony at midnight or in the early morning hours, when the park is closed and it is snowing. As a photographer, it’s one of my bucket list goals that I would love to try.

So in 2013, the government had been shutdown and there had been a controversy as veterans visiting the WWII memorial as part of the Honor Flight Program had been originally denied access to the memorial because of the government shutdown. Reports of the veterans being barred from and then subsequently (finally) allowed to visit the memorial are here and here.

After hearing this news and wanting to visit (okay – maybe “check in on”) the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery, I grabbed my camera and headed out.

Sure enough, Arlington National Cemetery was open but because the government was shutdown, their staffing was limited and none of the tour buses were running so if you wanted to visit any of the sites within the cemetery, you had to go on foot – which I actually love doing because it is quiet and you can see everything at your own pace.

When I approached the Tomb of the Unknowns, I took some pictures and then watched the changing of the guard ceremony. After about an hour of taking pictures, I heard a loud engine and thought about how strange this was as none of the tour buses had been running. But as the sound of the engine became louder, sure enough, a bus full of passengers arrived along the side of the building and stopped.

When the door to the bus opened, all of the veterans who had been originally denied access to the World War II memorial the previous day were assisted off of the bus to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony.

Usually, when I had seen the Changing of the Guard previously, there were veterans and tourists and families with young children, but never the number of veterans who were escorted and assisted to the front rows on this day.

To say it was inspiring would be a massive understatement.

Those of us who had already been there for a while watched them watch the Changing of the Guard and then looked on again as the ceremony was done to perfection – as it always is. The ceremony ended at the same time the park would be closed for the evening.

Many people stayed to watch (and applaud) as the veterans returned to their bus, glad (like I was) to have been able to share this moment with them. Once their bus had left, the remaining quiet was disturbed only by the footsteps of the rest of us leaving the cemetery inspired and motivated by the service of the men and women who had joined us on this day.

It’s A Flag; Or A Guy

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S.A.Leys Photography

It’s such an embarrassing story that it just needs to be shared in a “Don’t ever let this happen to you” sort of way.

Let me start by saying how much I love (LOVE!) looking at pictures of clipper ships. This is something I have loved since I was really little. I loved looking at the designs, the sails, all of the lines on the ship, the flags and my favorite part, the bowsprit.

I am so passionate about clipper ships that several years ago, when I was in Graduate school and attending a Student Personnel Conference in Washington DC, I asked my graduate school advisor (we had an extra day) to go to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum so I could look at everything related to American History as well as… yes, the Clipper Ships.

I didn’t realize I had been looking at all of the ships for an extended period of time – my professor, Dr. Champagne, came up to me and asked: “so how are you doing?” When I looked at my watch, I was astounded because it had been almost two hours that I had been in the same area, looking at all of the ships. Thankfully, she was an amazing and very patient professor. I loved (and still love..) clipper ships as well as old classic yachts. It’s a thing – when you grow up in Newport, RI, this is just a thing….

Fast forward to ten years ago. It’s my birthday and my partner and I are now living in the Washington DC metro area and are headed to the National Gallery of Art. – I am just so excited because.. whelp… two words – “clipper ships”.

As we walk through the gallery I see a beautiful, very majestic picture of a magnificent clipper ship. The intricate lines of the ship are beautiful, as are the sails and the waves around the ship. I move forward to look at the bowsprit where there looks to be a flag..or a guy..I couldn’t really tell because it was so small and delicately painted..that I had to move closer. Guy or flag? I leaned in a little closer…

That’s when all hell broke loose.

A loud voice from behind me “Ma’am!! YOU STEPPED OVER THE LINE!!”

I turned to see him glaring at me. He picked up his radio, pressed the button and responded: “yes, it’s me, I see her”.  Now vigilant of my every move. People in the gallery all stopped and watched. There was drama, intrigue … he said, “You touched the picture!!”

“No, I didn’t,” I said.

“Yes, you did!” he responded, “and you stepped over the line!”

“No… I didn’t,” I said. Like the flag above says, when you’re passionate about something and being wrongfully accused, you don’t give up the ship…EVER!

I watched as more security guards entered the gallery area which included his supervisor. He pointed at me and told him “she stepped over the line and she touched the painting!”

“Why would I do that?” I asked, “I was just trying to see if it was a flag or a guy?”

They looked at me; puzzled.

At that point, I felt a hand grabbing my shoulder. “Come on, let’s go.” It was my partner who had been a few galleries ahead of me because.. yup… again, I had spent too much time looking at the clipper ships.

“But…” I answered. I felt this strong need to remain and guard my honor (as any yachtsman would do if they were EVER questioned in this manner).

“No, let’s go.” my partner said, leading me to the exit.

At least two security guards were following us and one of them clicked the button to his walkie-talkie and said: “they’re headed towards the east exit!”

“Okay, we got ’em”. My partner and I had just rounded the corner to head for the door and saw the other two security guards glaring at us, ready to pounce..or um.. whatever the heck it is they do at the National Gallery of Art.

“Come on”, my partner said. And we exited the museum and headed out to walk along the mall to Legal Seafoods where we had reservations for dinner (and yeah, because that’s where you go when you’re a yachtie who has just been kicked out of the National Gallery).

I was flummoxed and defiant and just really very sad.

The baked stuffed lobster almost made all of my frustration go away. Seriously – who gets kicked out of the National Gallery on their birthday? And – I didn’t touch the painting or step over the line and sadly, I will never know if it that small thing at the end of the bowsprit of the beautifully and intricately painted clipper ship was a flag or a guy.

Not my best birthday, but definitely one of the most memorable.

Don’t ever let this happen to you.

Loons and Ducklings and Ducks Oh My!

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S.A.Leys Photography

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to spend time frolicking with friends on Newfound Lake in New Hampshire. After a great lunch and spending time talking and reminiscing, we hopped onto their boat and went for a swim.

It was so great to be on (and in) the water on such a beautiful, summer day in New Hampshire.

Sitting in the boat while drying off, we engaged a few ducks who swam by to say hello. This was followed by several ducklings skimming above the water as they seemed to chase each other towards shore.

There was an eagle… followed by a seagull… (this is the point where I wish I could make this rhyme but.. nope, not today)… followed by a loon who was poised masterfully in the middle of the lake.

While I would like to say that this photo above is of the loon we saw, it is not because somebody (aka me) left their brand new Olympus Tough TG-5 – made exactly for moments and days just like these.. sitting in their bag back at the house.

The picture above was taken on a day when I was walking along the beach in Sarasota, FL. Not the same city, not the same duck.

So yesterday’s lesson was that sometimes you just have to look – not through the view finder but by opening your own eyes and just watching and capturing the moment in your mind. It was a beautiful, you should’ve seen it.

You can read more about “A Day In The Life of Common Loons” posted by the Loon Preservation Committee by clicking here.

And don’t forget your camera.

And All You See Is A Lamp, Right?

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S.A. Leys Photography

It’s just a thing; one of those battery operated lamps you can pick up from the grocery store for around $5.00. Turn on the switch and the light goes on (good if your electric is out or if there’s a power surge), there’s a black plastic thingy on the top if you need to hang it on something in a “one if by land” sort of way.

Earlier this week, I was at the dentist. When I found out the dentist I had been seeing in Florida had not forwarded my records and x-rays I found myself getting really pissed off and I thought “why am I so angry?” and it occurred to me that it was because of the memory I had of this lamp (which threw me off when I walked in and saw it sitting on the bureau in mom’s room last week). Like my visit to the dentist, It started with an issue around the lack of her care coordination and not reading her chart completely…

Mom had allergies to all of the ‘mycins. Her dentist had not read this in her chart and had given her a mycin that she had an adverse reaction to. Her face and arms broke out – spots every where, accompanied by an abundance of itching.

We went to her primary care doc. He couldn’t see her so in came his mid level practitioner who said “yes, this is an adverse reaction” and yes, she would give mom prednisone and also Atarax. I went to fill the prescription and when the pharmacist was filling the prescription, he gave me a sort of weird, uncertain look. I asked him “do we think this dosage of Atarax is too high for her?” to which he asked “how old is she?”. “84” I told him.

“Yeah, that’s high” he said, “why did she prescribe it for her?” I told him about her allergy and then asked “can we cut it in half?:.
“Yes” he said, and recommended this – and then suggested I keep an eye on her.

We had a power surge that night and lost our electricity. I put this lamp on her night stand so she could reach it and showed her where the switch was. She had decided on half of an Atarax which she said made her feel “woozy”. She became really confused, was still itching, and the prednisone had not kicked in. As we sat on her bed discussing how bad she felt, we decided that because she had seen this midlevel provider, whom she didn’t know, for her last three visits and not her primary care physician, we were going to only see her cardiologist from here on out.

I heard her getting up frequently throughout the night and would go and sit with her. She was more confused and stated she “really didn’t care for the Atarax” so she didn’t want any more of it and would wait for the prednisone to kick in. And again – reiterated only wanting to follow up with her cardiologist.

When I woke up the next morning, I went to turn on the coffee and found her sitting up in her bed wiping her sheet with a paper towel soaked with toilet bowl cleaner. “Mom! What are you doing?” I asked. “I had a bloody nose!” she said “so I wanted to get the blood off”. “But that’s toilet bowl cleaner!” I said. Looking at her, I saw that she suddenly looked really sad and that I needed to lose my critical tone right then and there – felt like a total idiot. “it said ‘cleaner'” she said.

My mom was a Depression baby. She tended to spend money on things she would keep and use frequently but not so much on things she didn’t need. Like high thread count sheets. – The sheets she was cleaning at the time were ones I had picked up for her. When I purchased them for her, I explained that I thought that having softer sheets would help her sleep better and keep her more comfortable. Once she started using them, she agreed.

The glitch was that these really beautiful sheets were a pretty, soft. olive color green that turned a yellowy white with each scrub of the toilet bowl cleaner. So I told her I would take them and put them through the washer while she had her coffee.

I wanted to throw them out but she wouldn’t let me. Our subsequent fun times involved making the bed together, laughing about that night and figuring how how to put the sheets on the bed so that she wouldn’t see the huge stain that had been left. (= bottom left hand corner of the bed). And then, as her memory faded a little more, I did throw them out and replaced them with the same brand, same color, higher thread count.

And when I walked into her room at their home in Florida last week, I saw the lamp sitting on her nightstand, remembered all of this and started crying. The whole memory of that night was so vivid it was like it happened yesterday. My Florida trip was not an easy one.

Here’s the thing: we learn a lot about our parents from the experiences we have, the ways they do things, the beliefs they have and the lessons we learn from them. As challenging as the last four years have been, some lessons have been really hard (as this one was – not to be so critical, not to pay so much attention to when things go wrong but to be more mindful of the times we had spending time together no matter what we were doing). There isn’t anything I would want to have changed. And I’ll definitely be keeping that lamp once the house in Florida is sold because of this memory.

And you see just a picture of a lamp right?

Some Bunny Loves You

 

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S.A. Leys Photography of J. Leys Art

It’s weird how after someone you love dies, you start to focus more on the patterns in their lives.

 

It took me awhile to recognize the one here – that for at least the last 10 years, my mom has always ordered a Sierra Club Wilderness Calendar. I can still hear her: “I like the large boxes so you can write in appointments – especially if there’s more then one”.  She did this for the many years that my dad fought his autoimmune illnesses. And then as the number of her appointments picked up, we would write her times and dates and the Physicians she was supposed to see on the calendar as well.

I never understood it. “Why can’t you get an iPad?” I asked, “that way we can have all of your appointments listed, we can download directions on how to get to there, factor in travel time and even put some books on it so you can read while you wait…you’ll be able to enlarge the font so you have an easier time reading”. I thought I was technologically savvy and had everything down. But then she would say “But I can’t turn the page.”

“What?” I would ask. “I like to feel the pages when I turn them.” she would say. “I like to feel the book in my hands and be able to turn the page”. So I used the iPad and we continued to have Sierra Club Wilderness Calendars sent to us every year. Shortly after Thanksgiving, wherever I was, she would call me and say “You know what I need?…I need a calendar. Can you order one for me?” And by the time I was off of the phone with her, the calendar would be on it’s way to Florida via Amazon. Point, click, bam, done.

Shortly after Christmas as New Years approached, she would take the calendar out of the box and transcribe birthdays and important dates from one year to the next frequently making comments about how the years were passing by and how old we were all getting. This would usually be followed by more questions about friends we had not seen and how they may be doing.

Then, of course, because it was the Sierra Club, she would review each photograph throughout the calendar and comment about how beautiful the photography was and what it was about the photographs she liked.

But the calendar was never complete until all of the holidays and our birthdays had her sketches on them. I didn’t realize how much I reviewed the calendar just to know what day a holiday fell on so that I could book a flight or we could make plans for traveling.

On Easter – I always looked for the bunny.

One year, I was reviewing all of her sketches and (in September) looked at my birthday and saw only “Su’s b-day”.  “HEY!! – Where’s my picture??” I asked. Sad that I had been left out. “Bring it here,” she said, and looked it over and said, “I haven’t finished it yet”. Sure enough, in a few minutes, there was a picture of a sailboat surrounding my name. Christmas had ivy and bells, Thanksgiving had a huge, fat turkey and Easter or Palm Sunday always had a bunny carrying easter eggs. The picture above is from Palm Sunday – 2014.

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And of course, we can’t forget St. Patrick’s Day.

This year, mom had lost more of her energy and wasn’t feeling well. The calendar was ordered from Amazon a little before Thanksgiving, but the dates and the sketches were never added.

When it came time to leave the assisted living place where she had stayed, I grabbed the calendar and packed it in my bag knowing that while I would never use it in the manner that she had, just having it reminded of the routine she enjoyed and the discussions we had. And, deep in my heart, I know that when Thanksgiving rolls around, I may just have to order another one.

Happy Easter; some bunny loves you.

The Place That Reminds You Of That Time

If you’re like me, you have these moments in time where you know where you were when you received some difficult information. A conversation that stopped you in your tracks because it was just so overwhelming that you had to stop and take it all in because of it’s importance or because of the way it affected you emotionally.

This is a picture of the breakwater in Old Harbor, Block Island (Rhode Island). A shot taken in July of 2009. A few days earlier, I had had surgery for melanoma after being told by three different doctors that I “needed to get this removed quickly… now.” I was lucky to have a great group of physicians but the week had been really intense as a result of hearing the words “it’s cancerous and you need to have it removed now.”

Driving home after the first surgery, I was told that I would have the results in a week and we would decide where to go from there. But as I was driving, I suddenly became really overwhelmed with the events of the week and decided that I needed to be around my family. So when I got home, I called mom and dad who were out on their boat in Block Island. When I asked if I could join them, they said “Yes!” – very enthusiastically – and the next day I was back in the car, on my way from my home in suburban Maryland to New London Ct. to catch the high speed ferry to Block.

My visit with them had been nothing short of phenomenal. Dad’s huge hug when I stepped off the launch onto their boat. Followed by a hug from mom and a dinner of grilled swordfish, garden tomatoes and sweet corn on the cob. The rest of the week had been relaxing and I felt I had left the turbulance from the week before on the mainland – on the ferry dock back in New London.

In the middle of the week, I decided to go for a walk and ended up at the end of this breakwater – taking in the sounds of the foghorns and the waves brushing up against the rocks as I watched people wave to their loved ones who were headed back to New London.

I didn’t expect my cell to go off – but it did; disrupting the gentleness of the afternoon.

It was my Doc, the Dermatologist who reported that they didn’t get all of the cancer and that we would need to schedule more surgery. She informed me we would need to have a plastic surgeon operate because of the size and location of the rapidly growing mole on the back of my leg. – I agreed and within a few days I was back on the high speed ferry headed back to New London and subsequently back to Maryland.

The surgery was scheduled about a week later and I was pleased to hear that the results were good and the melanoma was gone. – One little mole I never saw that would have spread rapidly and killed me if I hadn’t had a very thorough physical by a phenomenal physician backed up by a highly skilled team.

Ya think ya know. – I always thought I would be fine and that I was in great shape. But this very small mole on a spot of my body that i would never have seen changed my life in a minute and made me realize that life is short, a loving family is phenomenal and a great team of physicians? – well – priceless.

And you just see a picture of a breakwater right?