Thursday, August 30, 2018

Smoke and Water

We were very much looking forward to our visit in Washington state.  Of course, everyone was excited to see the grandparents, but we were also looking forward to clear blue skies, the scent of pine needles in the air, and maybe even one or two long hikes through the hills surrounding Spokane.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other designs. Eastern Washington is hot in August. Very hot. One day the mercury topped out at 109 F. There were also numerous wildfires in the area. I read in the paper one local wildfire was started in a debris pile, when sunlight focused through a window ignited dry paper and building materials.

We headed into town most everyday. The kids splashed in the giant fountain at Riverfront Park and rode the carousel. The first day at the park, we hadn't brought towels or swimsuits, but that didn't stop them. They stripped down to their shorts and made the ride back to Cheney damp, but happy.

Of course, no visit to Eastern Washington would be complete without the pilgrimage to Wolf Lodge. We decided to head over to Idaho early with Uncle Dan and Aunt Janice, stopping at Lake Coeur d'Alene for a quick dip. 

The water wasn't quite as refreshing as I had remembered it, and we weren't able to spend as much time there as we would have liked for the sheer brutality of the heat. But the swim -- short as it may have been -- was sufficient to work up appetites in advance of steak, trout, and krebble. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Me

The last segment of our trip found us spending time with Elise’s parents in Eastern Washington. Unfortunately, most of the time we were there temps were close to 100 or above and air quality was poor due to wildfires spreading through the area. All limiting the opportunities for outdoor exploration.

The weather broke temporarily shortly after Dan and Janice arrived from the west coast. Broke enough, at any rate, for a morning outing to Greenbluff to see what was in season.

What was in season — much to our good fortune — were peaches!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Slip ‘n’ Slide

The Memorial Service

The denouement of our five days in Florida, the real reason we were there, was the memorial service for my mom, Mary Celeste Brooks Hanna, who passed last year after a long battle with cancer. 

My brother, Carlton, and his wife, Kelly, came from California with their daughter Francesca, and my mom’s brother, Uncle Andy, drove from Texas with Aunt Janice and my cousin, Christina, and her two kids. Of course, my brother, Josh, was there, too, with his wife, Sarah, and their son, Abram, as well as my mom’s sister, Aunt Jackie, Uncle Bill, and Andrew. Elise’s brother came, too, and my dad. We were joined by a friends of my mom’s from the neighborhood and community garden. One in a whirlygig hat which was beyond perfect. 

Based on her wishes, I had searched out a spot in Riverbend Park west of Jupiter. 

Her wishes for the service were more religious than I was comfortable presiding over, so I reached out to Pastor Susan Gray of Jupiter-Tequesta Methodist Church who agreed to lead us in the celebration of my mom’s memory. 

I share this with you now for those who couldn’t be there. We did think of you. I was understandably nervous beforehand. I had put a lot of pressure on myself. When you have a whole year to plan something you have a lot of time to get everything just right. Unlike, perhaps, with a funeral where there is no time to plan, really, and whatever happens just happens. Which is also perfect in its own way. 

Elise, the kids, and I scouted our the location the evening before. I had only seen the actual spot I picked on Google Earth, so I was ardently hoping the scene was not significantly different than it was online ... something that can happen on occasion. 

We knew it was going to be hot — August in Florida — but a breeze picked up just as we started the service. 

Pastor Susan led us in prayer and singing the first verse of “Amazing Grace”.

I gave the eulogy. Some asked that I share that here:

“I’ve had more than a year to think about what I wanted to say here today, but even given all that time, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to say — much less how to say it.

It wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that it came to me. I emptied my mind, then thought of my mom. And the first memory that came to me was of her in her cowboy hat, letting out one of her ‘Yeehaws!’ And this probably goes back our old house on Snug Harbor with the Formica cabinets and ‘clumps’ in he yard, as we called them — islands of ferns that would take over the entire yard. There are likely still headless Star Wars action figures buried in the dirt there.

I recently listened to a podcast — and Elise can tell you I never listen to podcasts — by designer Ingrid Fetell Lee about joy, wherein she discusses and defines the word ‘joy’.

Broadly speaking, when psychologists use the word ‘joy’ what they mean is an intense, momentary experience of positive emotion — one that makes us smile and laugh and feel like we want to jump up and down. And this is actually a technical thing. That feeling of wanting to jump up and down is one of the ways scientists measure joy.

Joy is about feeling good in the moment, right now. Whereas happiness measures how good we feel over time.

But where does joy come from? If you think about what brings us joy it is things like bubbles and swimming pools and flowers and ice cream and balloons and fireworks and cupcakes with sprinkles, things that make us look twice and put a smile on our face no matter our age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion, or politics. 

And these things are not rare. They happen every day and often in plain sight, but they are so often overlooked, and when they are overlooked — because we are too busy or we are late for an important meeting or appointment — we go through our lives a little less joyful.

When I think about my mom....about who she was ....she was someone who tried not to overlook joy. And could find joy in tiny moments.... in a Marlins home run.... or in her cowboy cookies.... or a good carrot-raisin salad....who was always ready to jump up and down and yell, ‘Yeehaw!’

One of my mom’s favorite books was Jonathan Livingston Seagull. She always had a copy close to her in her home. I recently read it. It’s a short book. Thankfully. It’s likely less than a hundred pages, but took me forever to finish. A book about a seagull is kind of slow, but I want to share a quote from it, because all Jonathan Livingston really wanted from life, I think, are the same things my mom wanted from life, to know and experience joy.

‘Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour , or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn’t have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.”

I don’t want to rewrite the book, because obviously it’s a classic, but I think the quote works better if you replace ‘perfection’ with ‘joy’, because of course none of us are perfect, nor do I think any of us really want to be perfect, but heaven is knowing joy, and not overlooking it, and taking the time to see it and experience it.

The other things I thought about before today was my mom’s legacy. About what she left behind. She did help build the garden, but otherwise didn’t build buildings or bridges. Yet, there is something still here that is hers. And it’s not a physical monument. It’s something that is in Stella and Grayson, Francesca and Abram, and Clementine, Peter, and Sam. That they are joyful. And they wear cowboy hats and yell ‘Yeehaw!’ easily and without reservation. 

And sometimes a little too loud for my liking.”

Pastor Susan also read a letter Ginny Higgins wrote. Ginny, along with my mom, was one of the founding members of the Abacoa Community Garden:

“Thoughts about Celeste

I met Celeste in 2010 when the idea of a community garden was just that — Tom and Liz Poulson’s idea! I just wanted to help Tom and Liz and volunteered to host some meetings in my house. Little did I know what that would morph into!

At that time, Celeste definitely wanted her OWN space. With a few other intrepid souls we approached MANY entities with no success. Then, Lifesong Church, a tiny church with lots of land, only 50 congregants but lots of love, offered their sandy soul for FREE! Many years later, you can see what Celeste helped to build. 

I remember her as a woman with so many ideas, such enthusiasm, a knowledge of dealing with the “town”, a great work ethic, and a contagious smile!

I see her in the garden in her loose white clothing and floppy hat, curly hair, and gloves covered with dirt. She never did work her OWN garden, but was always a leader in the community garden. She was always sharing recipes and “easy” ways to cook and how to have a healthy diet. She was always quiet about her illnesses, stoic even. She was an inspiration.

Many, many times we talked about our families. Paul, Josh, Carlton, your wives and children were the love of her life. I have followed Paul’s career forever and share her pride. I went to the Lake Worth chalk festival to see Josh’s chalk drawing — fantastic! I followed Carlton’s moves and exciting travels. We wanted to go to India — she went and stayed for weeks and shared the pictures and website for Paul’s wife. She LOVED that trip. I later went up north to New Delhi, etc. but had much more of a “tourist” experience. The grandchildren — obviously Celeste had more time with the older children and those were the stories I heard. We compared grandchildren stories — all wonderful of course. She was thrilled with the new babies on the way and all the weddings. 

I miss her. And I am so incredibly sorry to be out of the country when you celebrate her life. Please stop by the garden. We have a bench area facing the children’s beds. She would love that. The garden family misses her. Please keep in touch. We would love to share our bounty with you. We were fortunate to have been a part of her life.

Ginny Higgins”

Josh had put together a board of old photographs of my mom.

After the service, we all met at Toojay’s for brunch. Toojays was a favorite of my mom’s, as she always had a container or two of one of their tuna salads or cole slaws she was working her way through. A tub that one could usually make one or two sandwiches from could last my mom at least a week. 

It took a few minutes for the service to break up. Hugs were exchanged and stories.

The last photo is a portrait Elise took when my mom came with us on our visit to Sri Lanka. It was used for the program.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Jidu and Cici’s House

Several years ago, my dad the unthinkable and sold his house on Jupiter Island. The property was one of the few on the island on both the Atlantic and Intracoastal Waterway. In other words, long walks on the beach combined with convenient portage for his sportfisherman. It was a quiet stretch of the island — and the waterway — just north of the Palm Beach-Martin county line, a short 10 to 15 minute motor to the Jupiter Inlet and open ocean.

Presumably, the opportunity to pocket a couple mil was too good to pass up. Though it seems hard to believe his new house came at a considerable cost savings when compared to the old. Like the old house, it too is on the Intracoastal. Like the old house, he designed and built the old house himself. Though the new house lacks the architectural statement of the old house, in my opinion. Or maybe that’s just nostalgia talking. Elise and I held our wedding reception in the front yard of the old house, not the new one.

The new house is equally enormous, but somehow is smaller, I am told. The new house is directly on the Jupiter Inlet, seconds from the Atlantic and open ocean    and on an extremely busy part of the waterway. Boats go in and out all day long, fishermen park right off his dock in search of snook, and the busy Dubois Park beach is directly across the water. For me, it is hard to believe he is happier in the new house than he was in the old, but that’s just my perspective. 

Needless to say, the kids love visiting Jidu and Cici and staying there. It’s a resort to them, and we can allow them to swim in the pool, hang out on the dock and sea wall, snorkel, and play with my dad’s dog Captain with minimal supervision.

Somehow, in a house this big, there is no guest room, but we were able to stay in one of the triplets’ rooms who was taking summer sessions and the accommodations were comfortable. The kids all piled up on inflatable mattresses and couch cushions in the upstairs TV room. 

The only drawback is the house is loud. The TV in the main living room is massive, curved like the windshield of the space shuttle or an airliner and always on, usually to sports. As late-July is a notoriously slow sports month this was more annoying than anything, especially when the kids get involved in watching a rerun of last year’s Penn State-Iowa football game. Though we enjoy an annual dose of American Ninja Warrior, somewhat of a tradition at this point. 

My dad and Carrie are thrilled to have the kids and it makes life away from home a little easier for Elise and I to have the kids occupied.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Cousins in Florida

After Paris, we flew to Florida to visit Jidu and Cici and Aunt Jackie and Uncle Bill. We were only going to be in Florida for five days, so we had a full itinerary and hit the ground running.

The kids swam in the pool, played with Captain, snorkeled in the Intracoastal, and went boogie boarding in the ocean. But one of the highlights of the trip was for the kids to meet and hang out with cousins their own age they had never met before. 

The five days in Florida were a lead up to the memorial service for my mom about a year after her death. My cousin, Christina, came with her parents, Uncle Andy, my mom’s younger brother, and his wife, Aunt Janice. They drove all the way from Austin, Texas, and Christina came with her two kids, Grayson, age 11, and Stella, age seven, so they were our kids’ cousins, too. 

We met at Carlin Park for a picnic of roasted chicken and mac n cheese from C.R. Chicks and bocce ball. The kids were wary at first and it took a little bit of time for them to be warm up to one another, but once they did, they hit it off swimmingly. 

We all met at the beach one day for boogie boarding followed by lunch at Dune Dog, a perennial family favorite we try to hit every time we visit Jupiter.

Josh, Sarah, and Abram in the neighboring umbrella.

Peter and Grayson.

The next day, we met again at the Loggerhead Marine Life Center in Juno and had lunch afterwards at Cafe Sole. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Paris with Kids, Part Six - Tour de France!

The denouement of our short trip to Paris was, fittingly, also the denouement of the Tour de France. By way of a happy accident and our friend pure chance, our last day in Paris coincided with the final leg of the Tour de France.

After making a quick pit stop back at our hotel, we headed back down to the Louvre to take in a few of the final laps of the tour. 

Jets over Paris.