I Had A Feeling We Were Being Watched

S.A.Leys Photo “Don’t Fence Me In”

I woke up early the other morning; a result of my cat informing me that it was time for her to have food and some fresh air. I sat up in bed and looked outside. The view was amazing. It was one of those days that’s great for a photographer – early morning sunlight throwing shadows all over the place. The birds in the trees greeting each other. The plants in the small park outside of my window drenched with color.

Yes, Callie received her food, a nice hug and an explanation of where I was going as I grabbed my camera and headed out the door. About a half hour later, one of my friends joined me (it was such a beautiful day – I decided to wake people up) and we went for a stroll down one of our favorite alleys where the neighbors take great care of their gardens and back yards. I took photo after photo as we walked along – admiring and colors and texture of the day.

As we came to the end of the alley, my friend said “I feel like we’re being watched”. As I felt that same way, we stopped and looked in the yards and then at the very bottom of the fence that was in front of us. It’s where we found this guy – vigilantly watching our every move. He didn’t bark, instead he just watched us silently as we walked along. For an instant, I thought of reaching down and petting his cute little scruffy head but then I thought it would be better not to as we hadn’t been officially introduced and I wasn’t sure if there would be a ruckus. So we continued on our journey after telling him how cute he was and what a good guy he was for guarding the fort.

I’m not a dog owner but I love how loyal and friendly they are. We have a lot of them in our community and we’ve gotten to know them so well that every time we see them, we greet the dog first and then the owner (Pretty sure they don’t appreciate that but it’s always good to see both of them!).

A few of them are pictured below:

Take Paws for pets!!

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

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.

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.

Manchester Monday Morning

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Grace Episcopal Church, Manchester, N.H.
Photo by S.A. Leys

Grace Episcopal church in Manchester is probably one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. This morning we had to move our cars to get plowed out so I thought I would run some errands while I was at it.

Early in the morning it was so beautiful with the abundance of snow on the trees and the roads. But then the wind picked up and by the time I took this, the snow had blown of the roofs and steeples around the city.

Early on after I moved here, I found the best place to take photos was the top deck of the parking garage at the hospital (which I think probably made their security team – and cameras – a little nuts to see a woman walking around on a parking deck with no cars except for mine and looking at the different views – hopefully they also saw my camera..)

Anyhoo, if you listen to the news, Manchester is noted to be one of the more challenging places of the country as it relates to addiction, but they are definitely working on elevating resources and care as a lot of funds have come this way and extended north into Maine. Adcare got a contract in Maine and the hospitals seem to be working together to address care in their ER’s. There is hope – but I wish it could have gotten here sooner for this pretty little city.

There is a program here that aims to keep high risk adolescents and teens off the streets by teaching them how to ski and having workshops about teamwork, responsibility, integrity and addiction prevention.

How did I learn about this?

One day I was at the gas station filling my car and there was a guy at the next pump filling up his chevy truck. “Why a Chevy and not a Ford?” I asked him (I have a never ending curiosity about why people buy the cars they do). “Loyalty” he said. And then told me about the program that he developed to help high risk kids stay out of trouble and make good responsible decisions. He also told me that Chevrolet had donated (!) a total of 7 trucks and SUV’s to his program so the children and adolescents could get to the slopes. He also told me the company he works for (Pepsi) also contributed to his program.

There’s good in the world but there’s also a long way to go. Step by step right?

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.

New England Harbors: Damariscotta, Maine

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Damariscotta, Maine / S.A.Leys Photo

This is the harbor in Damariscotta, Maine. It was one of my mom’s favorite places to sail with my dad whenever they went to Maine which was just about every other summer.

I had never been there until a few months ago. But seeing this view (above) and how great the town was with its fishing boats, restaurants, art, and antique shops and one of the best 5 & !0’s I have ever seen, I certainly I understood why they loved it as much as they did.

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 Damariscotta, ME / S.A.Leys Photo

There’s something about New England harbors that takes my breath away. In this case the glistening ripples of the water and the warmth of the sun. Growing up in Rhode Island I spent a lot of time on the boat with them and would have many views just like this one in harbors from Mystic and Stonington to Kennebunkport and Nantucket.

Whenever we went on vacation, I always packed 2 – 3 books to take with me and would frequently glance up from the pages to see the beautiful views of each harbor we visited.

Once we went on shore we would spend time walking along the streets of each town looking at the shops and houses along the way. These adventures always seemed to end with ice cream before picking up fresh vegetables and seafood to have for dinner once we were back on the boat.

Then after dinner, more reading commenced before heading out the next morning to the next harbor and town.

If you ever have the chance to visit Damariscotta, go!

Driving

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Photo Courtesy of M.Twomey – T.S.S. Photography

This was the view that mom had when she was in her assisted living place. One day (just about a year ago), I arrived early in the morning to find mom uncharacteristically sitting up in bed, staring intensely out of her window looking at this view. She looked like she was deep in thought so I asked: “what’s going on?”.

“Come on over here,” she said, patting the pillow in the bed next to her. As I sat down she quietly said to me “I’m trying to figure out how to tell my friends I don’t drive anymore.”

She told me she had told them that it was because I needed to have the car. “That’s okay, I’ll take the fall for this,” I told her, laughing. But this wasn’t the full truth. The truth was that months before I had arrived in Florida to help her take care of dad, she had been driving him to an appointment one morning when she suddenly felt dizzy.

“Pull over!” dad said. As there was an abundance of fast-moving traffic, she couldn’t and so they pulled into one of those wide turning lanes that they have in Florida to sit “for a minute” (which was the version of this story I had initially heard from dad when he recounted the story to me a few days after it happened).

But as mom recounted the story for me on this day, she said it was more “like 30 minutes” that they sat together in the car – with the engine off and the hazard lights on, in the turning lane of one of the busiest roads in their town. She had a TIA (which usually when I had seen her have them, lasted roughly about 15 – 20 minutes).

When she felt better, she said she was okay to drive but Dad told her “No, not yet” and they sat in the car for a little longer before heading back towards home. As she continued to tell me this story, she told me, definitively, that she didn’t want to drive anymore after that day.  She paused before quietly saying “I would never be able to forgive myself if I hurt anyone”. 

My mom had had a successful career as an acute care nurse for several years. Anyone who has ever grown up with an ER Nurse knows (as I did) what this is like.

Try to tell them you’re sick and you can’t go to school? The response will be “you’re not sick, get dressed and go meet the bus!” Or the time my dad fell down skiing; when he reached up to touch his forehead he pulled his hand back and saw blood. “I’m bleeding!” he told her, to which she replied, “oh don’t worry about it, it’s just a minor abrasion, you’ll be fine.”

Mom had a way of just navigating through illnesses and injuries that (if they were minor), kept us going as a family. If they were major (as in the autoimmune illnesses my father had), she always stayed firmly grounded in her belief that everything was going to be okay.  Throughout my lifetime, I only saw her become rattled once, and even then, as she spoke to me about how she felt, she slowly returned to her belief that everything was going to be okay.

But on this day when she said she would no longer drive as she didn’t want to hurt anyone, in her sadness and concern, I saw the depth of her compassion and caring that I’m sure fostered the great nurse that she was.

“We’ll figure it out,” I told her, “we’ll get you to where you need to be”.  “I know,” she said, and then as if on cue, returned her gaze to the trees outside and said, “aren’t those white birch trees just beautiful?”

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