Missing, Presumed

Always, it’s wonderful to discover a new author in one’s favorite genre. Mystery has long been my favorite genre until memoir stepped in some years ago and now shares my top spot with mystery.41sp1sXYFrL._AC_US200_

Susie Steiner is a new author for me, although Missing, Presumed is her second novel. I read a review of the book that intrigued me and ordered it from my library. Today I’m nearly done and am enjoying this book so much, I want to share that, if you have enjoyed British mysteries such as the Elizabeth George series with Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers, I suspect you’ll enjoy Missing, Presumed as much. Her Detective Inspector is Manon Bradshaw and her partner DC Davy Walker.

I point out this book, in particular, because Steiner has crafted an outcome unique to any mystery I ever remember reading.

Steiner has written a previous book, Home Coming, that I will order, set in a rural town, which I particularly favor. As I write, Steiner is crafting the next Bradshaw and Walker mystery which I shall be watching for.

Nearly a hundred reviews appear on Amazon, to learn more.

Posted in A Wonderful Book, Mystery | Leave a comment

Remembering “Stories from the Heart I” – February, 2002

I’d been writing life-stories for about a year in 2002, when Story Circle Network announced its first National Conference: Stories from the Heart in Austin, TX. I, a shy  writer and rare traveler, made plane reservations to fly to Austin-Bergstrom Airport. I knew I needed to go–a strong nudge from the universe, I’m certain–and that my quiet life-style was not going to keep me home as it often did. Some women from my online writing circle 2 would be there–Marie Buckley, the facilitator, Kara Flathouse and Tricia Stevens, with whom I felt connecting threads–and I looked forward to meeting women in person that I knew, until then, only from the internet.

A heady three days well-describes my experience with the attendees, the workshops and leaders, the energy, the Open Mike readings, as well as seeing a little of Texas for the first time. I still recall many moments from that conference from arrival to airport departure. Yet, there is one now-favorite moment that I am reminded of each day when my eyes once again enjoy the beauty of these ceramic pieces in my living room.

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As door prizes were awarded during one of our luncheons, we applauded as each woman’s name was drawn and she stepped to the podium to accept a gift-wrapped package. Several gifts were presented and then I was stunned when my name was called. With delight, because I never won gifts, I walked forward to shyly accept my prettily wrapped gift.

Back at my luncheon table, I loosened the tape (yes, I’m one of those slow un-wrappers!), removed the paper and folded it up to probably use again, then opened the box, which was weighty. I peeked into the tissue within and lifted out one of the ceramic pieces in the photo.

Member Rebecca Roberts had crafted those pieces. Each contains seeds that are noted on the back: ginko, maple spinners, and the third has unfortunately fallen away. When I shake one as if it’s a rattle, the seeds within give a pleasant, unique sound, depending on the size of the piece and type of seeds within. I was initially thrilled with the beauty of these pieces and still am, noting them as another of the abundant gifts Story Circle Network brought me in those early years and during each year that followed.

When I arrived home in 2002 and continued to become more committed to writing, I grew to appreciate these beautiful pieces on a much deeper level. These days, when I pick up one of Rebecca’s pieces and shake it, I’m reminded that these beautifully-crafted pieces of nature, clay and seeds, are rich reminders that within myself are also seeds: for many more stories to write as part of my legacy.

 

Posted in Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Mystery, Simplicity | 5 Comments

Talent – A Book Review

I enjoy writing book reviews for Story Circle Network for so many reasons: I keep up with the latest books by women indie writers; the reviews support the finest Book Review site on the internet for these well- written books by women authors; it’s always a challenge to write one, and I always know where to go when looking for a good book to read and review.

When I attended Stories from the Heart 2016 Conference in Austin last April, I returned home with nearly a dozen books to read. Last month I pulled B. Lynn Goodwin’s young adult novel Talent from the pile. Although Lynn is a SCN member, I hadn’t planned to review her book because our book review site already had a great review of it.

Every now and then I read a book that I enjoy so much that I write a review of it outside the ones I normally write. Talent is one of those books. I wish every parent, teacher, police officer, clergy person, and other community members who connect with the lives of our children/adolescents could read this book. It provides a stunning road map to recognize when our young people are hurting and how to sensitively help and support them.

The review is posted here. index

 

Posted in A Wonderful Book, Book Reviews, Change, Compassion, Courage, Grace, Kindness | 2 Comments

Crikey, It’s Only Ten Pounds!

Twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. Horrified, I opened the door into this disease to understand it. I learned, for starters, that I had to begin eating differently and that I had to exercise regularly. In time I would examine the other dis-eases in my life that, if they had a volume button between 1 and 10, would have sounded out at 20. Hello! Wake up call! You are a mess, girl! I hung my head. Well, yes, I was.

I was deeply stressed at work, (running through MacDonald’s for a quick lunch most days), in the throes of a devastating personal crisis, and had recently separated from my spouse after we agreed our marriage had sadly, dismally deteriorated. It was beyond time to wake up.

I do urge you to be compassionate with diabetics. (Well, I urge everyone to be compassionate at all times.) It’s hard to learn how to eat properly if you’ve never studied this science. Do you know that all carbohydrates transform into sugar, the diabetic’s worst enemy? Or that ½ cup of rice or pasta or potatoes is the maximum amount to eat in one meal if you’re diabetic? Or, how about this: since healthy fruits and juices contain a high level of sugar, ½ banana or apple or ½ cup of orange juice is all you should eat or drink in a meal.

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You may know all this. Back in 1996, I did not. I sat with paper and pencil so many evenings, agonizing over portion sizes, daily meal plans, what food to take to work, and shopping lists. It was laborious yet, in the end, I transformed my eating habits from horrible to healthy. When I re-committed to exercising regularly, I realized how worn out I felt on days I didn’t exercise. I changed my lifestyle as well as other aspects in my life that were suffering.

It was such an awakening to understand how much control I had over my health; I’ve never forgotten that. For the next twenty years I managed my diabetes with diet and exercise.Not long ago I was telling a friend about this.

I can give you many reasons for why the following happened last winter, but I won’t: simply, I slacked off on exercising and got lax with those freshly-made local tortilla chips most evenings. By early spring I’d gained ten pounds. I didn’t like my expanded waistline but there it was.

When I went for my six-month health check recently, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was stunned. My A1C, the six-month average for blood sugar measurement, had climbed to an unacceptable level and my doctor prescribed diabetic medication twice a day. I was so frustrated with myself for backsliding that badly. I drove home determined to lose those ten pounds and more by the time I see my primary care provider next time. To date, I’ve lost 9 pounds. How? By walking 10,000 steps/3-4 miles a day and decreasing portion sizes. Well, okay, I stopped ordering those chips too. No new fad diet, just common sense.

My goal is to end my diabetic medication regime. I have to add, too, that I’m feeling a lot less sluggish these days…. Crikey, what a difference nine pounds less makes!

Posted in Aging, Change, Compassion, Grace, Health, In the Kitchen | 10 Comments

A Sweet Bovina Story – Maple Syrup

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A long-time friend from Bovina, NY recently brought me a treasure of a gift: pure locally made maple syrup. As I gathered my maple syrup thoughts this morning, I realized how little I know about its origins, so engaged on an interesting little search.

Ever wondered who first made maple syrup, that divine sweetener that has long been my absolute favorite? Although we have no written documentation for today’s scholars, there are many interesting stories and all  seem to circle back to our Native American ancestors. I found the following tale in several places and reproduce it here from the Southern Maine Maple Sugarmakers Association:

Legend has it that the first maple syrup maker was an Iroquois woman, the wife of Chief Woksis. One late-winter morning, the story goes, the chief headed out on one of his hunts, but not before yanking his tomahawk from the tree where he’d thrown it the night before. On this particular day the weather turned quite warm, causing the tree’s sap to run and fill a container standing near the trunk. The woman spied the vessel and, thinking it was plain water, cooked their evening meal in it. The boiling that ensued turned the sap to syrup, flavoring the chief’s meal as never before. And thus began the tradition of making maple syrup.

It certainly matched my experience: maple water, or sap, from sugar maple trees begins to flow during a brief window of time between late winter and early spring, when days are warming up and nights are still cold. I well remember a day each year, often in March, when I lived on our Catskill Mountain farm in the mid-1970s, when I’d step outside the farmhouse into a still-cool, slightly-humid morning and well-embedded knowledge in my bones by then, told me that maple syrup season had arrived. This fact was a sweet lift from the long Catskill winter and always made me smile.

My husband, Don, and his father, Ed, would tap the numerous sugar maples on the farm, and fasten sap buckets.  When sap filled the buckets, the men fastened a wooden wagon,the gathering tank on it, onto the back of the old John Deere tractor. After gathering sap from the buckets into the tank, they’d putt-putt down to the old sap house below the house that was nestled by the stone-wall fence above the stream.

Smoke soon puffed from the stovepipe chimney where, inside the humid, sweet-smelling sap house, a wood fire was boiling down the sap to the right temperature. Forty gallons of sap was needed to make one gallon, a huge amount for our small operation. In our best year, I remember, we made fifty gallons.

Maple-syrup making was one of the many ways in which we lived so connected to the land for our food. It was part of the magic of living in rural America that I have always cherished and held close to my heart.

And, so, when I opened my bottle of pure maple syrup this morning, I slid back through decades to a rich time in my life for which I’ve always been profoundly grateful, a time when I learned so much that I’d never had known if I’d remained a city girl.

I also feel gratitude today for my friend, Jan; for this sumptuous syrup; for a tiny community and the people in it who carry on this timeless tradition today; for the Iroquois woman–if legend is accurate–who inadvertently discovered the secret within maple sap; and for the sugar maple trees of the northeast, so generous in their gift to us. May we each respect and appreciate the wonder and integrity of this sweet earth we all live upon.

Peace.

 

 

 

Posted in Bovina Stories, Community, Friendship, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Mother Nature, Mystery, Peacefulness, Simplicity | 2 Comments

The Cat’s in the Cradle

I walk past my oldest antique, a cradle that my grandmother, Edna Cartwright Davis, born IMG_20160523_105247902in the late 1800s, slept in as an infant. When she grew out of it, someone carried it upstairs into an attic where it remained for decades. I never knew about the cradle until my grandmother brought it downstairs one year in the early 60s and asked if I would like to have it. I was in my early twenties then,married and mother of two sons, and pretty sure I wouldn’t have more children. But that didn’t matter because this was a family heirloom and I was thrilled to say, “Yes, I’d love to have that cradle,” to my grandmother. She wasn’t often physically affectionate, but that day I reached out and gave her a big long hug of gratitude and love.

Life changed unexpectedly after that and I became a single mom for several years. When I re-married, Polly arrived four years later and two years later, Susan. To prepare the cradle for Polly, I purchased 3” soft piece of foam and crafted a mattress, then made sheets to fit from fabric with a small pastel-colored kitten pattern. Both girls slept contentedly in the cradle and grew out of it more quickly than I would have chosen.

Following the baby years, the cradle slowly filled with baby memorabilia: a triangle patchwork baby quilt crafted by my mother’s friend, Geneva; a crocheted pale green-and-yellow afghan my mother made; a lacy baby pillow made by a Bovina friend. When the girls began to outgrow their dolls, dolls began to spend their days in the cradle, so many beautiful dolls. The lovely yellow-haired doll with a baby blue handmade dress made by a talented Bovinian, Lisa, found her way there. The Raggedy Ann dolls I made, each with a heart embroidered with, “I love you,” secreted beneath their dresses and aprons were tucked close by, the small Raggedy Ann nestled on the larger one’s lap. Then, life-sized baby doll, Bonnie, was tenderly placed in the cradle, still dressed today in the pink-checked bunny bunting with little white ears I’d brought Polly, and then Susan, home from the hospital in. The bunting is still in perfect condition these near four-decades later.

Now, it’s the cat who naps in the cradle, comfy as can be atop the folded patchwork quilt. As I smile down at my sweet feline friend and his surrounding company, sweet memories fill my heart. Then I wonder: who will nap in the cradle in its future years?

 

Posted in Animal friends, Bovina Center, NY, Stories, Change, Childhood, Family, Friendship, Grace, Quilts | 5 Comments

One Wedding Ring – A Quilt Story

Wedding rings have been on my mind the past few days, with an abundant arc of images ranging from the simplest of bands to the most glamorous and sophisticated rings passing through my mind. Why wedding rings? Am I getting married? Not at all.

Rather, I’ve been remembering my research for a quilt design to reflect the contents of Chapter 3 in my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life. The chapter tells the story of my parents’ meeting when they worked for 20th Century Fox in Manhattan in the early 1940s and their subsequent marriage. When I found two patterns I liked, the “Single Wedding Ring,” and the “Double Wedding Ring,” I became curious about the origin of wedding rings. How long had humans worn rings as a symbol of marriage?

Research revealed that historians believe the ancient Egyptians started the ring-giving tradition more than 3,000 years ago. Interestingly, those earliest-known rings were usually braided of hemp or reeds. The circular shape represented endless love between a man and woman. The third finger of the left hand was chosen as the ring finger because of the belief that particular finger held a special vein connected directly to the heart. This idea passed on to other cultures, and centuries later, became known by the Latin term vena amoris or “vein of love.”

I wondered next when and why men started to wear wedding bands and found that a small minority of bridegrooms began wearing them toward the latter part of the last century. I also found a suggestion that World War II had, in part, occasioned a shift to men wearing wedding rings, particularly soldiers, who wore them as a comforting reminder of wives, children, and family back home.

I liked both wedding ring patterns, and my choice of which to use was easy. I’d make the Single Wedding Ring because my father had never worn a wedding band. Then I became curious to know when and where the design originated, and turned to a great quilt research site I’ve found during my present quilt journey, The Quilt Index. There, in an essay by Wilene Smith on June 30, 2011, “Wedding Ring? or Single Wedding Ring?”  I learned the earliest known Wedding Ring design was published as an engraving on October 1, 1887 in a Springfield, MA magazine named “Farm and Home.”

Later, in 1930 , Wedding Ring was renamed Single Wedding Ring, and although, as with many patterns, it acquired other names–for example, Saw Tooth, in 1890-1894, and Odd Scraps Patchwork in 1895-1897–it continued to be known as Wedding Ring in most publications for the next 41 years.

Smith’s essay also answered the question: When did the Wedding Ring pattern become the Single Wedding Ring? She found “…it was April 12, 1930, in the Kansas City Star newspaper illustrated by Eveline Foland and has been generally known by this name ever since.” She explores why the name changed and if the popularity of the new Double Wedding Ring pattern influenced the change. That, and a multitude of information about single and double wedding ring patterns is included in the essay at the above link.

Here is my own version:

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One Wedding Ring, May, 2016

Posted in Family, Mystery, Quilts | 9 Comments

Welcome, Beau!

He’s about a year old, this sweet, small, yet long-legged Beagle mix. He’d been found sick and starving by a woman two counties away who’d contacted our Humane Society to ask for help with him when her own county could not. Our Humane Society is an amazing no-kill shelter that opens its arms and hearts to all animals in need, and they offered help. Then they called me because they knew I was interested in adopting a dog ever since my 21-year-old Hilary cat died last year.

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“He’s much different than the usual animal that comes in,” the shelter staff person said. I spent a few hours visiting with “Sonny” the next day, noting his sweet demeanor, my ability to keep up with his walking pace, and most of all those endearing beagle eyes when they stared into my own eyes. Without hesitation I told the staff person on our return, “Yes, I want to adopt him.”

I haven’t owned a dog in three decades, not since my children were young and we lived on the farm, and raised border collies. In the late 90s, I swerved onto some unplanned roads in my life’s journey that led me away from the farm. I decided I’d have cats for pets, not wanting to leave a dog home alone for 8-10 hours a day while I worked.

Harriet, a Maine-Coon-former-barn-cat, hopped into my car the day I moved from the farm, and shortly gave birth to Hilary, a beautiful tabby who wanted to remain as she’d been born: an only child. In passing years, I discovered Button, abandoned in my back yard when he was about six days old. Coincidentally, he wanted to be an only child, too, and given time the two cats eventually achieved a quiet truce whereby they could pass by each other without a snarl or swipe.

When Hilary died, I sensed that Button missed her company despite their ever-seeming indifference to each other. Then I got an idea as I watched Button acting at ease with my daughter’s two dogs, and thought a dog might work well.

A month later I brought Beau home. Button froze by the glass door as he saw Beau shyly approach. After giving them sight time through the window, I opened the door a few inches and we soon entered the house. Button hissed softly, Beau was silent as he inspected this new-to-him environment, and that was it. Since that time three weeks ago, they have become respectfully curious and friendly with each other. Beau sits to my left on the love seat at night as I watch television and knit, in the spot that used to be Button’s. Button relinquished the spot with relative grace, and moved to the largIMG_20160601_120801609er nearby couch. He’s retained his spot by my feet as I work at the computer and still sleeps on my bed each night.

I love having a dog again. Button might say, “Oh, he’s okay; I’m just glad he’s not another cat.”

And Beau? Well, I think he might say, “It’s good to have food and water every day, I’m glad my skin doesn’t drive me crazy itching anymore, my new human loves me a lot and I love her. And the cat? Well, he’s interesting, but what was my human thinking when she named us?  Button and Beau? I guess she thought we were cute! Whatever. I’m just glad to be home.”

Posted in Animal friends, Bovina Stories, Change, Friendship, Grace, Gratitude | 8 Comments

Ordinary Grace

This afternoon I read Ordinary Grace  by William Kent Krueger, a book that took me to a small town, New Bremen, Minnesota in 1961, where complex tragedy strikes a small family and ripples through the community in astonishing ways. Krueger is an author I’ve followed for many years, relishing my dozen or so visits to the place he knows so well, Minnesota, and with his part Irish, part Ojibwe Indian protagonist, Cork O’Connor.

Although I just recently discovered it, Ordinary Grace was first published in early 2014, and is a significantly different book than any of Krueger’s previous mystery series. Krueger says he wanted to explore another way of writing to explore the themes of loss, hope, faith, and the relationships people have. Although the richly colorful characters in this literary mystery all possess brokenness in either physical or emotional ways, we are guided by the protagonist, young Frank Drum, as he comes of age and eventually discovers that the sometimes-fragile thread of grace is always present, even in the face of his own profound loss.

Krueger notes that he felt the story came largely from outside himself, although parts are drawn from his own childhood experiences. “That there was so much brokenness surprised me, but we are all broken in some way. The task became to fit these people together into a not-perfect whole; sometimes that meant letting go and allowing the story to show me what it’s supposed to be.”

Twice, lightly in the beginning and in more depth at the end, he makes mention of the following quotation by Aeschylus, often called “the father or founder of tragedy.”

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”                               ~
Aeschylus

In this context, awful grace sounds terrible—but is not—because, while tragedy is beyond our comprehension and seems terrible, enormous grace surrounds us all and is what accompanies us as we sojourn through the tragic parts of life.

One of my favorite parts of the book is this conversation between Warren Redstone, an Indian and  prime suspect for the murder of Frank’s young sister—and Frank Drum. The actual murderer has been identified and this conversation between the two men follows:

Redstone: “They’re never far from us, you know.”

Frank:        “Who?”

Redstone:  “The dead. No more than a breath. You let that last one go and you’re with them again.”

Later, Frank verbalizes this truth to himself: The dead are never far from us. They are in our hearts, in our minds, and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one puff of air.

I found Ordinary Grace to be a treasure, one that has left me feeling filled with, well, grace. And that is not an ordinary gift.

 

Posted in A Wonderful Book, Book Reviews, Childhood, Community, Compassion, Courage, Family, Grace, Kindness, Mystery, Peacefulness | 3 Comments

A Childhood Vacation

The first vacation my childhood family ever had taken was approaching and we were all so excited. My mother and her lifelong best friend, Geneva, had planned it. Geneva’s three kids were Kathy, about my age, 14ish; Eric, close to my sister Jackie’s age 8; and Joanna, near my sister Bonnie’s age 5. The two husbands would be working —my father on Long Island where we lived, and Geneva’s husband, Prince, in New Jersey, their home state. On the last day of our vacation, the fathers both would help us pack up and go home.

When the big day finally arrived, we kids all helped pack the two cars with camping gear, food, and clothing, then jumped into our mothers’ cars. We barely noticed the thick, menacing clouds overhead, as we drove to Hither Hills State Park on Montauk Point, the eastern end of Long Island.

The drive was long, but with so much anticipation in the air, my sisters and I were pretty well-behaved during those 75 miles. When Mom finally turned into the huge sandy parking lot and turned the motor off, Geneva pulled in right next to our car. We kids hopped out of the cars and started to run to the path toward the ocean. Mom called, “Come back here as soon as you’ve seen the ocean. I need you to help carry things. And tell me if the water is gentle or rough today.”

 

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“We will,” we shouted, as we ran toward the broad opening between two sand dunes ahead, densely covered with swaying dune grass. We stopped between them and from this gateway stared with awe at the broad, gray expanse of water about 150 feet in front of us. The ocean! The water met the sky as far as we could see. Today the endless waves were rough and crashed noisily, one after another with much ferocity, but we were so happy to be there we gave them no thought. Nor did we notice there were just one or two people walking the beach, strong winds blowing whipping their garments. We didn’t wonder where the numerous people scattered across the sand on blankets beneath bright red, blue, yellow, or orange umbrellas were, who were always present on any day we went to the ocean near our home. This was all new: this was our first visit to Hither Hills. We didn’t understand this ocean was an extension of the one at home.

We watched the waves until we felt chilled, then returned to our Moms’ cars.”The water’s really rough,” we told them. They didn’t seem surprised.

Soon, our arms embracing all kinds of beach and camping gear, we followed our mothers’ down the beach until we reached an elongated oval of sand that contained large square cement pads, located privately behind the dunes. It was surrounded by vast sand imprinted with endless foot indentations that resembled tiny mountain ranges.

Mom and Geneva began to set up two tents, a large one for them and whichever kids wanted to stay with them. As the wind whipped up more, making tent setting-up quite a challenge, I helped with the small pup tent, where I planned to stay. In late afternoon, Mom and Geneva had the two tents set up just as the big drops of cold rain began. We hurried into one of the tents for cover as a downpour fell on us. Somehow we managed supper in the big tent without getting completely soaked. After eating, Cathy, my little sister, Bonnie, and I scrambled back into to the pup tent. It was fun for awhile as we played cards, but we soon got bored. We hadn’t brought much more indoor activities. Outside was where we’d planned to be.

Finally, darkness descended as rain poured down on us. Kathy, Bonnie, and I lay on our backs and watched our tent top. The weight of the rain caused the 45-degree angle to droop much closer to our heads. I decided to touch the tent top with my pointer, for a reason that I no longer recall. I pushed up on the rain weight and held it as though it might stay elevated, which, of course, it didn’t. But it did do something else, when I took my finger away, rain dropped down onto me from the spot I’d touched.

“Huh,” I said. “Look, the rain’s leaking in.” Four other eyes gazed where I pointed. Then I did something pretty quirky. I began touching one spot after another about ten more times and when I removed my finger, sure enough, rain dripped down from each spot, not a steady stream, but a regular drip, drip, drip. Bonnie touched a space above her and Kathy did, too. They were wiser children than I, for one touch was enough for them.

It rained all night as we lay curled up so we weren’t beneath any of the drips. I don’t recall how much sleep we got, which I imagine was little, but I do remember that water covered our tent floor in the morning. We quickly scooted over to the big tent where things were much dryer than our tent, but the people inside were getting cranky. Some of us soon declared we didn’t like camping and wanted to go home. The heavy rain continued. Finally my mother called my father for help. He arrived several hours later, in a dark mood because he’d had to leave work, and within an hour, all of us soaking wet, we hauled everything back to the cars.

I talked with Bonnie yesterday and asked if she remembered the Hither Hills camping trip.

“Oh, yes,” she said.

“Have you ever gone camping again?”

“Nope,” she said crisply. “That was it. The first camping trip. The last camping trip.”

“For me, too,” I said. We laughed.

Unwittingly, whoever had scheduled our vacation had chosen dates that matched the arrival of one of the worst Nor’easter’s of that summer of 1954.

 

Hither Hills

The eastern end of Long Island at Hither Hills, N.Y. on a sweet summer day.

 

 

Posted in Childhood, Family, Mother Nature, Simplicity | 8 Comments