Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: Memory on the Menu


Daily Prompt:  Which good memories are better – the recent vivid ones or those that time has covered in a sweet haze?


I think memories, like fine wine, are better remembered aged and not recently bottled. There is a certain nostalgia to aged memories that brings a poignant element new memories lack. An old memory settles like a warm blanket draped over your shoulders, that warm fuzzy feeling we often yearn for. They whisk us away to  a far off place, at once distant, yet at times seeming like yesterday.

When I look at pictures like these, I am there, growing up in the 1950s and 60s. To paraphrase  a line  from the movie, “While You Were Sleeping,” “I just don’t remember it being that( black and white).”  It does look like the world had discovered color by 1976 , when we got married.

People often groan when someone hauls out the photos of their last cruise, but a conversation beginning with the words “Remember when…” has an entirely different reaction. When we gather together on holidays, we often tell guests the funny stories of our lives, and laughter fills the room.

Our memories define who we were and who we are. The old memories provide a framework and the new experiences, fresh memories, fill in the frame and will  one day be old memories, too. And we will say, “Remember when we took that  cruise…
Photo24 Photo23 Photo27 Photo22


Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: Memories of Holidays Past

Daily Prompt: What is your very favorite holiday? Recount the specific memory or memories that have made that holiday special to you.

This prompt is quite timely, as  my Christmas card theme this year is “Remember When”. I wrote this poem as the verse on the card:

Remember When

Cherished memories come to mind,

every year at Christmas time

As the year draws to an end,

they invite me to ‘remember when’

Remember when Christmas

was covered with snow,

the flakes would fly

and the cold wind blow?

Remember when we trimmed the tree?

Dad hung the tinsel

as straight as could be

Remember when it didn’t snow,

and we feared Santa wouldn’t show?

Remember when family and friends

dropped by,

for conversation and pumpkin pie?

Remember when we’d go a caroling,

into the frosty night

with hearts full of cheer and spirits bright?

Hold moments like these close in your heart

and when you want to revisit them

sit back and simply ‘remember when’

Christmas is by far my favorite holiday. I love everything about it from the decorations to trimming the tree, finding the perfect gift for someone special, wrapping and hiding presents and baking cookies, and  watching our favorite Christmas movies on TV. We used to attend midnight mass, where candles would fill the church with light, but these days it is too hard to stay up that late, especially after attending my sister’s annual Christmas Eve celebration of food, fun and presents.  So we go to an earlier mass. I love the joyful sound of Christmas carols filling the church, and listening to the children play carols with the bells. Then we drive home through a city aglow with luminaries lining driveways and roads.  At home, mom and I get cozy and I usually buy her a special gift – new pajama, a robe or slippers. This year having been so tough on her, I bought us each a pair of elf slippers, for a little laugh. I will be sure to post some pictures on Christmas Eve. Before bed, Mom and I watch “White Christmas”.

Christmas memories are the best memories. I remember decorating the outside of the house with the snowflakes flying, buying our tree on the coldest  night of the year, making our own decorations, wrapping and hiding presents, teasing each other with hints of what may lie beneath the colorful paper. One of our family traditions was to draw a name and buy a small gift to exchange on Christmas Eve. I don’t know why this memory has stuck in my mind, but I remember my dad giving me  a novel  – a madcap mystery with the Monkees as the main characters, and I see myself sitting by the tree reading my book. An earlier memory is that of receiving a Shirley Temple Treasury – seems most of my favorite memories involve books. I still have that book, 53 Christmases later.

It has long been  a  tradition in our family to exchange handmade gifts. These have ranged, over the years, from Mom’s beautiful cross stitch on pictures, pin cushions, bookmarks, pillows and ornaments, to my nature photography, paintings, poetry and jewelry. My sister has provided many of our treasured decorations –   painted lamps, needlepoint Santa candles,  angels, and  painted bottles, plates, and mugs. My brother is a genius at making things from found objects like driftwood, railroad spikes, odds and ends he turns into art and  treasured memories. My favorite is a carved walking stick. His family, my sister-in law, Elise, and children Sammy and Isaac have added ornaments for our tree. Last year Elise made very clever scarves made from yarn. My niece, Jeanette, also an artist, paints on found objects like a bird’s feather or a seashell. All of these add to the special holiday that is Christmas, because of the thought and time given in their creation.

The promise of Christmas is a message of peace and love, the hope that  one day we will  achieve them, the joy we find  in family and friends, This is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Staying in Focus: Focus On: My Last Day

I am so far behind in keeping up with the daily prompts. I am trying to finish the final rewrite of a book project, design calendars for Christmas giving, and write my annual Christmas poem and a bunch of other stuff, including playing  a seemingly innocuous game on the internet called Candy Crush Saga. Beware, it can take over your life!  A recent prompt asked how I would spend my last day on earth.  Here is my plan

On my last day on earth I would want to spend time with my friends and family, but as they may have their own  agenda as to how to spend their last day,  I will outline mine..

I would begin the day at sea, rising before the sun, and watching it as it appears over the horizon. There is nothing more profound than a sunrise at sea. Once on shore I will don my yoga clothes and run through a few routines of the sun salutation on the beach and then meditate to the sound of the waves rolling to the shore. I’d lie on the sand and look up at the sky and try to find objects and faces in the clouds. I loved to do this when I was young, a child’s form of meditation, I guess.

I would try to eat some of my favorite foods throughout the day including a Peanut Butter Bash from Dairy Queen, a sweet potato dripping in real butter and sprinkled with cinnamon, a double chocolate donut from Dunkin Donuts, a cup of IHOP coffee and a stack of pancakes with original syrup, Butterfly Shrimp from the China Paradise restaurant in Wayne, NJ, an Entenmann’s crumb cake, a Reese’s peanut butter bunny and a large order of hot, McDonald’s fries.

I would watch my favorite movie, Gone With the Wind. I’d also like to watch While You Were Sleeping, Love Actually, Groundhog Day and the Muppets Christmas Carol, during which I will eat as much buttered movie popcorn as I can.   I would watch the last episode of Babylon 5(because it makes me cry), all the Firefly episodes (because it was the best sci/fi series on TV) and Star Trek 5 because everyone else hates it but me, but there are only twenty-four hours in a day, unless I can fly to an earlier time zone. I’ll have to work on that one.

Then I would fly to Sitka, Alaska, with as many friends and family members as are willing to go . We’ll gather round a large fire  and sit under the stars and talk or think about only the good and beautiful aspects of our lives  and the world.

I ‘d  listen to the songs on my iPod:  John Denver, Mike Nesmith, the Monkees, The Beatles,  Sir Paul McCartney, James Blunt, The Plain White Ts, The Moody Blues, Enya and even scary Rob (Thomas). Listening to music, surrounded by mountains and the people I love, is the way I’d like to go…

What I will not do on my last day on earth is count calories, eat lettuce, listen to ‘What Does the Fox Say’ , take my meds (won’t matter anymore) exercise (except for yoga),or waste another minute of my fast diminishing life playing Candy Crush Saga.

I’ll gaze at the stars for a while, saddened that I never had the chance to discover what the universe is really all about. Then I will sit quietly and look to the horizon, until the sun fails to appear and everything fades to black.

Daily Prompt: Fifteen Credits:Staying in Focus: Memories in Black and White (Notebooks)

 Daily Prompt: Fifteen Credits

Another semester is starting. If you are  in school are you looking forward to starting classes? If you’re out of school, what do you miss about it — or are you glad those days are over? 

Memories in Black and White (Notebooks)

Although I often felt sad at the passing of summer, those long, sunny days of swimming, fishing, hiking or lying in a hammock reading the afternoon away, there was always a special anticipation which came with the arrival of September. We started school  after Labor Day, and so September brings to mind change, replacing summer’s freedom and ease with routine and schedules.

We would go to a store named Gellman’s to pick up our uniforms, to a shoe store for black and white saddle shoes and then to the Ben Franklin’s  or Woolworths for pencils and paper, black and white notebooks, and fountain pens and cartridges (remember them?  No ballpoint pens allowed in my school). To this day I cannot walk past a display of school supplies without getting that nostalgic feeling.  I can remember having a Dr. Kildaire pencil-case and a Monkees lunchbox.  Am I dating myself here?

I can remember opening that new black and white notebook, all the pages crisp and clean, that first page representing a new beginning, full of possibilities, a new year of learning waiting to be written. I remember how carefully I would write on that first page, practicing my Palmer method handwriting.  By the time the notebook was filled, it was dog-eared and tired, the excitement of a new school year-long past and replaced by dreams of Christmas vacation.

While in school our lives have clearly marked milestones. The beginning of the school year in September, Christmas and Easter vacations, the last day of school followed by an endless summer. Once out of school the years run together, and one day you find yourself gazing nostalgically at the school supplies in Staples.  Dr. Kildaire is long gone, and now vampires and zombies cover the spiral notebooks which have replaced the old black and whites.

Do I miss the start of a new school year? I guess, so, as I have just enrolled in an online course provided by my local community college. Some things change and some remain the same, and guess what? I can still find a black and white notebook wedged between the vampires and zombies. Now, I if I can only find that fountain pen!


school picture grade 8

IMG_9863 - Copy

my first black and white notebooks


kindergarten homework

Staying in Focus: From the Footsteps of the Beatles to Rocking with the Monkees

IMG_2318What a summer for escaping to the past, musically speaking! While in Liverpool, England, we toured the boyhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, visited Penny Lane and the Cavern, and toured The Story of the Beatles Museum. Then, last night we rocked with the Monkees – Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz. (Sadly, Davy Jones passed away last year.)

The two bands could not have been farther apart in the beginning. The Beatles were all singers, songwriters, musicians. They found each other and formed their camaraderie by choice. The Monkees were formed through auditions for a comedy TV show about four young men trying to break into the world of rock and roll. Their individual backgrounds were quite different. Davy Jones had a background in musical theatre, Mickey Dolenz was a child actor (Circus Boy), Peter Tork was folk singer/musician and Mike Nesmith , a singer/songwriter/musician.

But somehow, despite being loudly criticized as a “manufactured band,’ they were able to meld their talents, fought for control of their music and the right to play their own instruments. Mickey learned how to play the drums and his voice added a distinctive sound to many of their hit songs. Davy was already an accomplished vocalist, and Mike and Peter, already musicians, added their talents in singing, song writing and  playing instruments.  Mike’s country sound also added a distinctive flavor to their music. He is credited with  being a pioneer of country rock.

What emerged was a phenomenon, never duplicated as far as I know. And to those critics, including some classmates I had in 8th grade,who, not able to play a single note themselves, sneered at the band that “wasn’t real”, I say that a long time ago the four pinocchioes became real boys, who grew into real musicians, who can still rock the house 47 years later to a crowd that included as many youngsters as there were gray and silver-haired original fans. Can they top that? I think not.

At ages 68 to 71, they played and sang with gusto, made us laugh with their Monkee antics (Mike’s imitation of  a Moog Synthesizer nearly did us in!) and took us back to another time…as did walking through the homes of John and Paul, a few weeks earlier, and imagining them there, writing those legendary songs.

I have to admit to getting a bit misty-eyed when it came time to sing Daydream Believer.” With  Davy’s image on the stage-sized video screen hanging behind them, Mickey explained they were uncertain at first as to who would sing the song. Mike suggested that none of them could, because the song no longer belonged to them, but to us. So the entire audience stood up and sang the song together. I looked up at the video at one point and saw Davy’s young face, singing with all his heart, and I thought, that was my youth. I was there. . .

This brought to mind the words of a song by the Moody Blues called Vintage Wine

                                 I remember the taste of the vintage wine
                                             from 63 through to 69
                             and I’m proud of the things we believed in then
                              if Ihad the chance, I’d go around again
                              oh, I tell you, we were young and free
                              oh, I tell you, because I was there you see…

Last night we sang the songs we will never forget with a band we will always remember. Thank you, Papa Nez, Mickey, Peter and Davy.  And thank you John, Paul ,George and Ringo. Thanks for the taste of the vintage wine. Thanks for the music.

Staying in Focus: Focus On: Photographs Preserve our Memories

family memories are the threads
 that weave the tapestry of our lives
they remind us of the past
enrich the present
and guide us into the future
they are our story…
– pat coyle

For all of my family living in the northeast,and out west,  here are a few photos you may enjoy:

Photo 2009-07-03-1

This is my most treasured photograph of my grandparents, Frederick Vincent Struble and Mary Minerva Marion on their wedding day.  Her dress is quite different from those we see brides wearing today. Long sleeved and high-necked as it is, I think she looks sophisticated and very proper.  They have such serious expressions on their faces, but that was typical of that time.  I like the little feminine touch of the white ribbon in her hair. My grandfather looks a bit tense, his hands are tightly clenched. Maybe he didn’t like to have his picture taken. My grandmother has her arm entwined with his as is she is afraid he is going to bolt. I’m not sure how old they were when they married but I can use the birth date of my Uncle Richard (1904) as a starting point, which would make my grandfather 23-24 years old and my grandmother 18-19 years old.Do you think they could foresee what this union would bring to the world? Next picture, please.


The Struble family.  Look at those strapping sons and pretty daughters!. My mother believes this photo was taken when Blanche’s daughter Phyllis married her first husband, Hank Connolly. That would explain the corsage Blanch is wearing. Bet it took awhile to make dinner for that crew!

Photo 2009-07-03-2

These are my father’s parents, Grace Carroll Wetzel and Charles Louis Wetzel.  I do not have  a wedding picture of them, but they are smiling in this picture. They had three children, Marie, Jack and Etta. I didn’t get to meet my father’s parents.  They both died early from heart disease before I was born.

Photo 10

From left to right:  Etta, Marie, Grace and Lou Wetzel (and 2 furry friends)

I knew my grandmother Minnie the best – she lived next door to us all my life.  My grandfather, Fred, was not an overly affectionate man – or a very talkative one, and I can not recall any specific conversations I may have had with him. One thing  I do remember, however, was that I lost the gold cross I received for my First Communion in their backyard and my grandfather found it.  He had just had surgery for cataracts on his eyes and was so proud to be able to see well enough to find it. It resides now on my gold charm bracelet and I remember him when I see it to this day

. He passed away in 1963, when I had just turned 10. .My grandmother dies ten years later in 1973.




No wonder my mother fell for him. Just look at those eyes and that smile! I love the jaunty, little tilt to his cap. My father, John(Jack)Martin Wetzel

Photo07He was drafted into the service before Pearl Harbor.  He was home on leave for Christmas when the attack occurred   My mother remembers President Roosevelt’s address to the nation on the radio and his call for all persons in uniform to return at once to their respective base. When they shipped out, no one at home knew where they were going.  My father’s unit was sent to Panama to guard the locks and the canal, as there was fear the Japanese might strike there next.  After a while, they were able to contact their loved ones  at home. He attained the rank of Tech sergeant, and served his country  by serving his fellow troops – he was a cook.

We benefited greatly from this, as he would cook for us as we were growing up.  We especially liked his corn fritters. They often became a Friday Night Special. Dad roasted the turkey for Christmas dinner and his stuffing was heavenly – he’d grind up all that extra stuff they stick in the turkey like gizzards and necks.  He added the most finely chopped vegetables, and his secret blend of spices, and all you needed for Christmas dinner was some stuffing and gravy.  Everything else was a side dish. When he retired, I bought him a wok, and after that there was no stopping him – he became a stir-fry master.  He also made the best sausage and peppers served on fresh hoagie bread. He really enjoyed cooking and applied his usual perfectionism to everything he served.

My parents were married on April 24, 1944 when my father returned from duty in Panama. He had one more year of service to complete, and so my mother accompanied him to Georgia.  She became pregnant, and had to return home before my father completed his duty, but he was home in time to be there for the birth of my brother, John.

Photo 03

This is one of my favorite family pictures, even though my brother, Steven was not born yet.  This was taken on our first big trip as a family to visit my father’s Uncle Cecil in Florida. As you can see, the world had turned color by this time. I like this one because it’s so the 1950s  My dad looks like he could be Buddy Holly sans the glasses and John could be Bud on Father Knows Best. My mother is the epitome of a  50s wife, wearing a dress, and probably high heels.  All she needs is a string of pearls! When I look closely at this photo, I see that my father, mother and Mary Lou are all looking off camera, to the left.  What is so fascinating over there? My mother has  a smile on her face so it must be something or someone good or perhaps entertaining.  John isn’t distracted  however, and is looking at the camera. I, on the other hand, have my eyes squeezed tightly closed. I can’t tell if that’s a smile or a grimace on my face.  I do like my little red patent leather shoes!


Here is a photo of my brother, John, on his Confirmation day.  His cousin Floyd was his sponsor.That shy, little sprite is me.

And finally , the funniest picture I came across.  One night after work my mother, Ann and her sister, Blanche ,joined those wild and crazy DuPont girls for a night on the town. Certainly these young women deserved  a night out to relax and de-stress.  These brave women did not get the recognition from the nation that they deserved..  They  worked during the war for the DuPont company where they made explosive caps.  My mother remembers hearing hem go off at times and being worried that a friend had lost a finger or a hand..They were young, proud to serve their country and very, very brave That’s Blanche driving and Ann right behind her. .My question is, how did they all fit in that car?:)

Photo 19

Staying in Focus: New Beginnings, Resolutions and a Touch of Nostalgia

My kindergarten class of 1959

My kindergarten class of 1959 I’m in the first line, first child on the left

One thing I always associate with the new year is a new journal, filled with empty pages just waiting for me to fill with my thoughts, dreams, fears, hopes and challenges.  I think it hearkens back to the first day of school and a black and white composition book, shiny and new, pages crisp and clean, waiting to be filled with handwriting exercises and homework lessons. By the time the book was filled, the covers were worn around the edges, dog-eared and dog tired.  They had served their purpose, their work done. Or maybe not.  Maybe, they can serve as inspiration for a blog post 55 years later!

For believe it or not, I actually have three of my very first black and white composition books from kindergarten (1958).  These books are more black and sepia-toned now, as they are 55 years old.

my kindergarten composition books

Here they are,  my very first composition books! I actually still use black and whites for my “morning pages”, freewriting exercises to get the creative juices flowing. I’m glad, however, that these exercises are not being graded for either handwriting or content.  One of the challenges i have with Parkinson’s disease is keeping


my handwriting legible. Perhaps if I wrote in letters as large as these , I would be more successful.  My kindergarten teacher obviously had a sense of humor when she chose  quotes for us to copy. She sure needed a sense of humor as there were 65 children in my kindergarten class!IMG_9867

I certainly hope I passed this test! I assume it was a test on writing my name, not on knowing it!

I try to write carefully as I begin a new   journal, to start off with positive thoughts, hoping it will set the tone for the new year.  I wait a few days to spell out my resolutions, trying to be honest, but not set myself up for failure. It’s disconcerting to look back in December at those January resolutions and realize I didn’t accomplish any of them!  Better to start with small, reachable goals and add to them as the year goes on.  When I was in college and taking teaching courses, we learned to write specific, measurable goals when writing lesson plans.  Also a  good plan to follow when listing resolutions.  A resolution to lose 50 pounds this year is far more daunting than to resolve to lose 12 pounds by spring, then 12 by summer, etc. The same goes for writing.  Instead of resolving to write the Great American Novel this year, I can resolve to write a page a day, and have 365 pages complete by the end of the year.  I have to see progress to stick with things, so I try to guarantee that when setting my goals.  So much better to find I’ve exceeded my expectations, than to have failed them!

A new year, like a new pair of shoes, needs to broken in gently.  I tend to take things one day at a time lately, and so I intend to enjoy what January may have to offer.  Cold days can be warmed with a bowl of hot soup, a cup of tea and one of those great books I received for Christmas.  When I get a new book by an author I love, I often put off reading it, savoring the anticipation of reading it.  A cold, dreary winter day may be just the right time.

After New Year’s Day, there are no other big holidays in January.   I find that comforting after the big Christmas rush. Things get  back to normal, time to take a breath and relax .January can be a time to plan – for spring planting, summer vacation, visits with family and friends.  Having something to look forward to keeps the blues away. Here in the south, January can surprise us with a sunny day in the 60s or 70s, and occasionally , but fortunately not often, with some snow..  Both have their positive sides.  A warm day invites a call to a friend for a lunch at an outside cafe, and there’s nothing like a snow day as an excuse to stay home from work,  cook up a pot of chili and enjoy an unexpected holiday.  I love to take snow pictures, especially since we don’t often have the opportunity to do so.  But here in North Carolina, a big snowfall can turn into many snow days  if it doesn’t warm up fast.  And as they say, too much of a good thing…  We’ll see what January has in store for us as we celebrate each day.. which is a gift in itself!


a month of new beginnings
and yet, a time of waiting –
waiting for the cold to ebb
and for the sun to gather strength
and call forth the leaves and flowers,
waiting for the birds to return
and fill the air with song.
but January has its gifts –
a blanket of freshly fallen snow
gently coating the landscape,
an icy wrap on limb and leaves
glistening in the winter sun,
the bright red of berries and cardinals,
and the green tips of crocus
poking through the warming soil,
to see if it’s time to emerge.
a month of waiting,
a month of hope,
a month of new beginnings
and treasured memories…
– pc 2009