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Staying in Focus/Daily Prompt: Our House

Daily Prompt : Our House   What are the earliest memories of the place you lived in as a child? Describe your house. What did it look like? How did it smell? What did it sound like? Was it quiet like a library, or full of the noise of life? Tell us all about it, in as much detail as you can recall. 

The house I grew up in…1319 Ringwood Avenue, Haskell, NJ.It was an old house, even back then, in 1953.Photo_0039_3 It was a two story house with a screened front porch, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, a big country kitchen, living room and a semi-finished basement.  It had a front “parlor” designated for receiving guests, but we were much more casual a family, and everyone gravitated  to my mother’s warm, friendly kitchen. In later years, my father knocked down the wall separating the living room and the parlor, into one large family room.IMG_0003

The three bedrooms were all upstairs, so if we needed to use the facilities, we had to go downstairs through the living room and into the kitchen. The bathroom was located off the kitchen and contained a commode, sink and  a shower. We had no bathtub, and when we were little we were bathed in the kitchen sink!IMG_0001 The tile behind me in the picture was red as was the ceiling. Thus it became known ad Mom’s red kitchen. You can see the red ceiling in this next picture, of a common occurrence at our house -guests.IMG_0004 My mother was one of nine children and her mother, our grandma,  lived next door, so there was  a steady stream of visitors for birthdays, holidays, or to play cards on a Saturday night. The door was always open at Jack and Ann’s. Our friends were always welcome , too. The basement evolved from a playroom for little ones, to a hang out spot for cousins and friends. My earliest memory of the house was sitting on the front porch on parade day – we had them for memorial day, veteran’s day,and the Fourth of July. We’d sit with our grandma, and wave to the paraders, and then later the Struble clan would descend on us for a big picnic that lasted well after the fireflies lit the night sky. Six of us lived in that house, and four of us were raised there. I left only when I married, at age 23. Somehow we all managed to take our showers,  fix our hair and put on our makeup, with only one bathroom.

Today my husband and I live in a house with 3 full baths, one  a master bath with  a big tub and separate shower. We managed to talk to our friends on one landline telephone, no cell phones in those days. By the time   we were dating, though, dad added  a phone in the basement. Despite these austere , in today’s world, circumstances, we did not feel deprived because although old  (it even had  a coal cellar for the days before oil and gas), it was filled with what counted most – love. It started with two loving people who brought up 4 great kids, filled their home with music and books, family and friends and warm memories which have stayed with me throughout my life. It’s with a smile I recall that house, the shouts and laughter of children playing in the yard, the quiet talk of grown -ups sitting on the porch on a summer’s eve, the tinkle of ice in their drinks, I can smell the turkey my dad roasted for Thanksgiving dinner, and Mom’s pumpkin pie. They were a team, my parents, their love strong and steady for nearly 50 years before he passed away . My mom will be 91 in May. She is the last of her family – so many passed on. However, it is with ease that I can close my eyes and see them all in that house  –  a house of  family, friendship,  love and treasured memories.

I am working on a memoir/scrapbook, and I wrote this prose poem for it:

The Last Stop

this is the last stop  on our tour of  historic houses of Haskell, NJ in fact, this is the last tour ever as these 8 homes are slated for deconstruction to widen the road who could have  foreseen an interstate highway in 1930? some call it progress; I prefer preserving  –  these homes and our connection to a time now past. as you can see, this first home’s primary asset is its 19thcentury charm The wide, front porch brings to mind summer days and glasses of lemonade  enjoyed by neighbors stopping in to “sit a spell” and this large, red  kitchen is, most certainly, the heart  of the  home I can almost smell the bread and pies cooling on the counter , can’t you? off the kitchen here, is the only bathroom, but I’ve been told a family of six managed just fine, living here for nearly thirty years. can you imagine that? and take a look at this big backyard, I can hear the voices of children playing tag on a warm summer’s eve, listen closely, you can hear them can’t you?

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Staying in Focus:Weekly Writing Challenge: My Rocky Road

Weekly Writing Challenge: Fit to Write

The Rocky Road

I was cruising right along
when this rocky path appeared
and now I have been walking it
for many trying years
and yet it leads me onward
there’ve been obstacles, I fear
but despite the looming shadows
I have no time for tears
each day I have, I celebrate
this precious gift I’m given
and I for one have vowed to make
each one a day worth living
so moment by moment, mindfully
I take a step most carefully
along this steep and rocky road
trying not to stumble
I strive to end each day
with hope in a new tomorrow
my heart assured, my spirit free
safe within the circle
of my  friends and family,
I choose to dwell on happiness
and not waste time on sorrow.
2013 pc

One day I am living my life, happy in my home, surrounded by friends and family and the next day I receive a diagnosis that changes my picture perfect life forever. Life can be like that, and we must learn to roll with the punches.

I had noticed changes in my body a few years before diagnosis, but caught in a difficult passage through menopause, I attributed some of it – the anxiety especially, to that.  And then, in 2007, a routine colonoscopy found a polyp that we did not know was cancer until after surgery.  The anesthesiologist I had for that procedure suggested I see a neurologist for the tremor I was experiencing. I followed through once I had recovered from the colon cancer operation, already certain of the answer –Parkinson ’s disease.

And now, 6 years later, I am still living my life, happy in my home, surrounded by friends and family, but living a life quite different from what I had expected. Now I must take 3 prescription drugs, 2 of them 3 times a day to facilitate walking, control the tremor, and slow down the progression of the disease. 3 additional medications address my blood pressure, anxiety and thyroid. For dessert I have folic acid, a multi-vitamin, vitamin D, 4 fish oil capsules, and a full size aspirin to complete my daily feast of meds. Then there is exercise. I have a small, powered stationary bike that I use every day, keeping the rotations above 80/per minute, aerobic walking using the Leslie Sansone Walk at Home programs on DVD, followed by yoga for flexibility or tai chi for balance. I also lift weights three times a week for strength training. It takes a big chunk out of my day but it beats the alternative. I complete my regime with a relaxing meditation

Fortunately, I am 5+ years out from the cancer surgery and so far so good. I have had a total of 7 colonoscopies to monitor things and I see an oncologist twice a year and take an aspirin daily. So far my regime has been successful in keeping me moving and slowing down the PD. This summer we took a cruise to the British Isles and I walked every day. We did an “On the Deck 5K Walk for the Cure” around the ship. So although I’ve  had to make major changes (retiring and giving up driving).  I have adjusted to life along this Rocky Road.  I take each day as it comes and try to treat it as the gift it is. I allow myself time to continue to grow and learn new things through online classes, visits to museums, and writing poetry, my memoir and currently, a middle grade children’s novel. Spending time with family and friends is paramount in keeping up the spirits and continuing to participate in life.

My mother endured months of bedrest to  avoid miscarrying me, so that I am here at all is a wonder; that I’ve lived 60 years and have had a marvelous life filled with love and support from my family and friends, and have been married for 37 years to my soul mate and best friend my husband, Bill, is simply miraculous.

Since I can’t know whether the road remains rocky the rest of the way, or smooths out for me for a time, I continue to walk along it (as best I can) try to keep healthy and fit to write and celebrate the gifts each new day brings.

Staying in Focus: Good Times, Good Friends

We had  a wonderful time in Atlanta.  Whenever old friends get together to share new experiences,  memories are made. Despite Atlanta’s best effort to snarl us in its web of  traffic  jams, we managed to tour the Road to Tara Museum, take a bus tour of historic Jonesboro, visit the Atlanta Cyclorama,  attend  a superb Braves game (we won) at Turner Field,  tour the Georgia  Aquarium, master the art of riding the MARTA, learn a card game called Nertz, and visit the Margaret Mitchell house. Not a bad showing for two and  a half days.  Here ‘s the thumbnail photo tour:

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The important part was that we took the time to get together and share some special memories.  None of us know how much time we have to  spend with  those who have become important to us as we walk this earth.  Family and friends are really the stuff life is made of, everything else pales in comparison to sharing laughter, getting a hug, recognizing a familiar face in a crowd of strangers at the airport. Our family and friends are there to share our ups and downs, support us in time of need, celebrate our moments of joy, and forgive us our transgressions.

This weekend, immersed as we were in Gone  With the Wind, I recall a scene near the end of the book.  Scarlett is running , lost in the mists and fog when she finally realizes it is Rhett she is running to, that it was Rhett all along  who supported her,  loved her , forgave her. But sadly, for Scarlett , the realization came a bit too late.   The tour guide at the Margaret Mitchell house told us that question asked most often of Margaret Mitchell was whether or not Rhett returned to Scarlett.  Her answer was that if you’ve read the book, you knew as much as she did.  However, I believe Margaret imagined them together again.  In the eventual sequel, written by Alexandria Ripley, they do reunite.  Could she  have  written it any other way? No, because the world yearned for them to find their way back to each other. Because  we are all romantics , we all yearn for a happy ending and we know, in our heart of hearts, it is those we love who matter  most.

Focus On: A Trip to the DMV and Found Treasure

On Monday, my friend, Debbi, picked me up around 10:00 AM, and we went to Java Jive for a cup of coffee and conversation. When we were done, we decided to go to an art exhibit Debbi had seen at the Page Walker Hotel. While we were driving , I mentioned I had so much to do in May, including getting  a new ID to replace my expiring license (as I no longer drive, I needed a valid ID ). Debbi suggested we do it now, as it is right by the Page Walker Hotel. Is she some kind of great friend or what, volunteering to take me to the DMV, where time slows for all people?

Anyway, here’s where a comedy of errors had us laughing, as we got trapped in a maze of detours and when we finally arrived at where the DMV was the last time we renewed our license we found out it had moved three years ago to Maynard Road. So we ventured back into the maze and as we were travelling we spied a store called “The Perfect Piece” which looked just like our kind of store. But we soldiered on to the DMV, and were pleasantly surprised to see that they had discovered efficiency, and had a person to greet us, give us a number, and  they actually had chairs for us to sit on as opposed to standing in line for hours hoping I had the correct items required by them for an ID,.They even had  a sign that showed the numbers of the people being served, so we had an idea how long it would take. Not bad, it turned out. We sat for about 20 minutes. I finished in about 5.

We then drove to the store we had reluctantly passed by to visit the DMV. What a lovely store, filled with treasures large and small. They display delightful accents for the home, vintage furniture, handmade jewelry and other items. I came upon a lovely little writing desk, washed in a turquoise finish and decided it would be perfect for my snuggery.

My new desk

My new desk

We we were able to  fit it in Debbi’s car, and so we headed to our original destination, the Page Walker Hotel, where we found that the art exhibit had moved on. But we enjoyed a stroll through the garden and the small museum they have there about our town’s history.

We managed to get the desk home, and into the house. Debbi left to finish her errands and I tackled the job of finding a spot for my new desk in my already packed room . But where there’s a will there’s a way.  The room needed some reorganizing anyway, and I am happy with the results.

Thanks, Deb, for a wonderful day!

my newly organized shelves

my newly organized shelves

my art desk and computer station

my art desk and computer station

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Focus On: Ann and Jack

It has been a challenging year for our family.  Thank goodness we have each other to rely on for support during difficult times.  I accompanied my mother to her appointment yesterday with her oncologist to find the results of her PET scan. Unfortunately, the news was not good. The 2.5cm lesion an earlier x-ray had picked up on her lung has proved to be malignant. They have chosen to continue the treatment of oral chemotherapy to address this. Due to the mouth sores she is experiencing after one week on the protocol, this will not prove to be an easy journey.  They have held the meds up until Friday to give her mouth a chance to recoup, and have scaled back the dosage 25%. She was just getting her appetite back when the sores made their sorry appearance. In 12 weeks she’ll have another CT or PET scan to determine if it’s shrinking or at least holding steady. If it has grown, then we revisit her choices.  The  doctor said at some point the drugs will stop working and she will have to balance quality of life versus the effects of a more aggressive treatment In the meantime the doctor told her to  enjoy her life and time with family. Go to her granddaughter’s wedding, do what she has always wanted to do.

We decided some parties were in order.. We are planning a Mother’s Day celebration, a bridal shower for granddaughter Jeanette, who will get married in June, and a  party for mom’s 90th birthday  (Shh! It’s a secret invitations forthcoming). Fatigue can be a problem so she may need to tailor down her activities somewhat

.But we intend to live in the moment, thankful for whatever length of time we are given to be together and enjoy each other’s company as much as we can. We welcome the chemo drugs, despite their side effects .as her soldiers of light, marching forward to conquer the enemy.

My mom has been so strong through all of this, but are any of us really ready to let go, give up the fight and our hold on life, however tenuous it is? I think at some point the body knows,and the mind agrees and one is at peace with their decision.

I think, through this whole process so far, this was the first time it really hit me, that we could lose her far sooner than we expected. She is handling it in her usual stoic manner.  She said she suspected all along there was something more than just the breast cancer.It’s amazing how our bodies seem to know, and communicate to us, when something is wrong inside. As with my Parkinson’s disease, my body knew months before my mind would accept what I. knew in my gut was happening.

While I was visiting we adjusted some things to make it easier for her to regain her independence. We moved everything she used regularly to lower shelves and cabinets; we moved canned goods, etc. to lower shelves in the pantry and her hutch. She can no longer reach high places as a result of the surgery. We cleaned out her closet so we could put in the new clothes I had bought her, as she has gone from a size 12 to a size 8 through this ordeal. I don’t know how long she will be able to stay in her house, but she knows she has a home with one of us when the time is right.

As we rearranged things, we were cleaning out extra stuff. I spied these two  mugs pictured here, which mom was going to discard.  IMG_0228I don’t know what is was about them, except that they reminded me of a time when there was an Ann and Jack (Jack and John have passed away) who had 4 children (John, Pat, Mary Lou and Steven) who lived together in a two-story house and had  a wonderful life together. A life they thought would last forever. But nothing lasts forever, and so we must enjoy every moment that we have…

For Ann And Jack

once we walked on sandy shores
and summer flowed through open doors
and childhood was all we knew
and you were all we needed

once we thought we’d never change
and life would always be the same
and we could not imagine
that one day you would be gone

lost in youthful innocence
we squandered precious time
and let slip by too many days,
which cannot be repeated

and now from shadows cast
we must  forge another path
and make the best of time
before clouds obscure the sun

we’ll celebrate each precious day
and we will remember fondly
when childhood was all we knew
and you were all we needed
                             -pc 2013  

Focus On: Full Circle

we begin to draw the circle
the  moment we become friends
and despite time and distance
just like a perfect circle
true friendship never ends…

We bought our first home in a housing development called Sutton Park, in Poughkeepsie, NY, in 1977.  We moved into our home in July and Denise and Geoff move into theirs in October. It’s hard to remember exactly when an acquaintance becomes a friendship, but Denise and I hit it off, along with another neighbor, Shirley.  We shared similar interests
and enjoyed getting together for a cup of tea in the afternoon. Often the neighbors would gather in someone’s yard and we’d sit on lawn chairs and chat. Denise and Shirley became the two friends I could count on for help and support as I had my first child in July of 1978. Shirley already had three children and  Denise had  a son, Matthew, and her baby girl, Melissa, was born in February, a few months ahead of my son, Steven. Denise also had  a daughter, Amanda, after our friendship began.and I added Kevin to the mix in 1982. We celebrated many birthdays, holidays, joined exercise programs, learned sewing and crafting skills as members of the Home Bureau, and held garage sales. We thoroughly enjoyed those days before the children went to school, and we went to work.

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Melissa and Steven

The good old days

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Amanda and Steven

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Denise &; Geoff

Denise &; Geoff

 But, as we made an annual trip at Christmas every year to visit Bill’s family in New Jersey, we would visit with Denise and Geoff as well. Of course, we kept in touch with letters and phone calls in between. Geoff made a visit to NC, and later brought the family with him.

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The children grow with the passing holidays.

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Bill and  I also returned  to the northeast for vacations in the Poconos, where we had spent our honeymoon. Denise and Geoff began to join us and  we have enjoyed several visits together there.  And this last July, we went on a cruise to Alaska with them, which was awesome.

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In the Poconos together

I figured out that we had been nearby friends for all of 9 years, and long distance friends for 26 years! And now we are about to come full circle and be nearby friends again, as this past week they came to visit and bought a new house which will be built for them, and completed in August. Right now they will be only 19 minutes away, but we may very well retire to the same town they are in and be even closer. I hope the children follow their parents here. It would be nice to have them all together again. My son,Steve, lives in Raleigh and Kevin lives here in Cary.

Alaska, July 2012

Alaska, July 2012

One of my friends once made the comment that once you are a friend of Pat’s, you’re a friend forever. I truly do value my friends, especially as we all grow older. We need to get out and do things, have people around us we can confide in and count on .I am lucky to have so many good friends in my life. From high school, my best buds Kathi and Pat (who became my sister-in-law), Joanne and Janice. From college there is Pat C. From  Poughkeepsie, Denise and Shirley, and my friend, Debbi, who lived in Pouhkeepsie and moved to Cary a few months ahead of us, and from Cary  –  Lisa, Kathryn, Linda, Julie, Diane, Debbie and Karen. I’ve recently gotten in touch with Missy, who moved to Texas some years back and my most long distance friend is Maria Ana, who lives in Argentina. We have been pen pals (although now we are email pals) since we were in grade school.

Denise and I are both retired now, so we will have time for crafts, for walks in the sunshine, and for sitting back, with a cup of tea, and watching our grandchildren grow.

The circle, then, will be complete.

Staying in Focus: On Home, Courage, Chance and Change

May the light always find you on  a dreary day.
when you need to be home may you find a way.
May you always have courage to take a chance.
And never find frogs in your underpants.
–  an anonymous Scandinavian

I love this little poem,  The last line always makes me smile , because it is unexpected.  You begin reading and the poem sounds inspirational and encouraging.  “May you find light on a dreary day, when you need a home may you find a way”  brings to mind  arriving at home at the end of a hard day at school, soaking wet, cold and miserable from the walk between bus stop and the warm, welcoming, cheery brightness of our kitchen.   We change clothes, dry and warm now and sit at the table with a cup of hot chocolate or tea to warm the insides.  Equally warming is the sense of being surrounded by family, eager to discuss the days events.  And later, there is nothing finer than curling up with a good book warm and cozy inside, while the sound of rain provides a soothing backdrop.

As Dorothy says in The  Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”  Who among us hasn’t experienced a day so challenging that all we wanted to do was go home. .Anyone who has been hospitalized wants one thing (other than recovery) and that is to go home. We can’t wait to buy that first home, bring a new baby home to it, fill  it with love and laughter through the years. Older people  fear the day when they can no longer  maintain their own home – it is one of the last things in the world we want to let go . The house itself, the physical structure may change (we have had 5 houses),but the  essence of home you carry with you in your heart. .And no matter how humble, it is our refuge, our shelter from the storms of life, and we should always be grateful for our home.

“May you always have courage to take a chance.”  This can be tough, but life is change and change often requires taking a chance.  This is a little easier when we are young and unencumbered by family responsibilities, but we but when the right opportunity comes a long, we hope to have the courage to step up to the plate and take a good swing.

One of my son’s recently lost his job, but being single and a frugal sort of guy, he has enough put away to give himself  a few months to finish a project he has been developing for quite some time, and I admire his courage in  taking  a chance to bring his project to completion,  especially since taking chances is not my strong suit,. But I am taking steps to become more comfortable with chance.  We took a chance recently when we decided to join our friends on a cruise to Alaska.  I’m not real comfortable with flying, but we didn’t have time to drive to Seattle, so we took a chance that the airplanes would all complete their journeys and they did.  We weren’t sure if we’d like the cruise, never having taken one before, but we took a chance, and we ended up having the grandest time of our lives. Taking chances, growing and changing , that’s living. We should be grateful for all living entails.

And now to my favorite part, “May you never find frogs in your underpants.”  Now this begs the question, do Scandinavians  in general have a problem with this?  I’d like to know because Scandinavia is one of the places we’d like to see on a future cruise.  So I’d just like to be prepared (for the CHANCE  I might find frogs in my lingerie).

But what I really enjoy about this line is that it is unexpected, and the unexpected events in our lives can be  the best kind.  An unexpected visit from old friends, an unexpected letter or package in the mail from your Grams, an unexpected phone call from a grandson thanking you for a birthday gift, an unexpected day free of heat and humidity in the middle of July in North Carolina, or an unexpected snowfall on Christmas Eve in Cary, NC (this one I’m still waiting for).  These events do not have to be on the grand scale of life events.  The mere fact that they;re unexpected make them precious.

Of course, not all events that are unexpected are positive ones – the job layoff, the diagnosis of illness,or the loss of a loved one, but each of these events builds our courage and challenge us to grow and change and yes, maybe take a chance – with a new career, participating in clinical trials to help in the development of treatments for our illness, starting a charity or fund in the name of our loved one to help others fight their disease – the unexpected can affect and change us in a myriad of ways.

And no matter what the unexpected has in store for us, there’s always that light, shining through the window, welcoming us home.