Tights and Tutus and Christmas Tradition

The holiday season is now in full swing, though I’ve barely managed to do anything so far. I at least started my shopping and have some decorations up. (No tree, yet – not until tomorrow.) And I’m about halfway through my cards.

Later today, I will indulge in one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

I grew up with The American Ballet Theatre’s 1977 version of The Nutcracker, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. It debuted on PBS when I was just two years old, and it became a holiday staple. I was enraptured by it as a little girl, and I am sure this was a big reason I had dreams of being a ballerina. (Never came close to that dream, though I took a ballet class when I was at Ohio State as one of my electives.)

Mom and I watch this every year. As I got older, I began to see how very cheesy a lot of this production is. It’s very dated – a lot of ‘70s hair going on, for starters. And the special effects are laughable now. It’s a bit anachronistic, given that the story is set in the 19th century. And Drosselmeyer…. oh, Drosselmeyer. This Drosselmeyer is especially entertaining. In a goofy way.

But the dancing is swoonworthy. Baryshnikov and Kirkland are absolute magic together. And I have never seen a male dancer yet who can compare to Baryshnikov in his prime (which is when this was filmed). Holy moly, his solos just blow my mind.

I’m glad Mom and I are in the same geographic area now so we can watch this together. While I was living in Germany, Seattle, and Maryland, we at least tried to watch it on the same day. There were a few years when we’d watch it at the same time and discuss it over the phone. (We now have this MST3K sort of thing going on with it.) A tradition is a tradition, and we did our best to maintain it even if I was halfway around the world.

So, Mom, prepare the eggnog. I’ll be over in a few hours.

Thankful

Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around Thanksgiving. That was always the big holiday in my family.

We’d gather at my grandparents’ house in Findlay, Ohio. My aunt and cousins would drive in from Illinois. I had cousins who would come from South Carolina. For a few days each year, we would eat, laugh, play several games of Trivial Pursuit, and just generally enjoy being in each other’s company.

The last time I remember one of these big Thanksgivings was, I think, in 2005. I may be off by a year or so. My husband and I came in from Germany. It snowed. A LOT. I’ll always remember that – not only for the snow (which was a bit unusual) but also because Thanksgiving changed after that.

That’s how life works, doesn’t it? The grandkids grow up and get married. They get busier with adult responsibilities. It becomes more difficult to get together in large groups.

Our grandparents are gone now. Grandpa passed away in 1999, Grandma in 2011 (the last time we were all together again like old times was for her funeral). And with Grandma’s death, we had to say goodbye to their home forever. No more family gatherings there, no more making memories.

Thanksgivings have been smaller since then.

For several years, we couldn’t make it to Ohio. Thanksgivings in Seattle often included friends. In Maryland, we either had a quiet Thanksgiving at home – just the two of us with the dogs, or I ended up alone because my husband had other commitments. (Military life!) I didn’t mind being alone – I had the dogs after all. I made myself a nice meal, spent the entire day in my pajamas, and binge-watched TV.

Since we moved to Columbus, Thanksgivings have been at my parents’ place. My aunt and uncle come down from Cleveland. My youngest cousin, a student at Ohio University, also joins us. It’s the new normal, and I’ll always reminisce about those earlier Thanksgivings with a slight ache in my heart. I miss my grandparents. I miss those times.

Today, I’m thankful I have those memories. I’m thankful to have such a large, loving, joyful family that loves being together. I realize that I’m lucky. Not everyone had such happy times with their families. For some, holidays are fraught with anxiety and drama.

This morning, I will make my family favorite macaroni and cheese and some apple crisp. In a few hours, we’ll head over to my folks’ place for a wonderful feast. I still love Thanksgiving. It’s not as exciting now as it was when I was growing up, but it’s still family time, good food, and laughter.

 

Ask for their stories

servicerecord

Today is Veterans Day, and while my husband was in the Air Force and my younger brother served in the Navy, the first veteran in my life was my grandpa, Tom Sheaffer.

He served as a Radioman on the USS Cowpens during World War II. Growing up, I never heard him speak much about his service. I saw his old Navy photographs. He mentioned a deep loathing for Spam because of his Navy days. There were other snippets of information here and there that he shared with us. But I don’t remember any specific stories. Maybe I should have asked.

After his passing, we heard from one of his shipmates. He was a good friend of Grandpa’s during the war, and he had kept a journal of his experience. Grandpa was mentioned in it. (There were photos of him, even.) He had copies of his journal printed out for his family, and he also shared it with us. It’s the only insight I have into what his experience might have been like. That journal is a gift. I will treasure it always.

Those veterans in your life? Ask them for their stories. Some may not want to tell their stories, and that’s okay. We have to respect what they went through and what they still carry. But if they want to talk, be there to listen. These stories are their legacy, they’re OUR history, and they’re important.

I’ll share this story from Art Daly, my grandfather’s shipmate, who shared his wartime journal with us. This is his account of a typhoon that hit the Cowpens (exactly as written without edits), and it mentions Grandpa. I never heard Grandpa mention this!

December 19, 1944

Our ship and task force are all beat up. We were smashed by a typhoon the last two days. All men not on duty were ordered to lock themselves in their bunks. Ships were in danger of crashing into each other.

We almost hit a destroyer that cut across our bow. Cowpens and San Jacinto were in danger of colliding.

Our propellers would be out of the water and would almost shake the ship apart. The stern took a beating. On the 17th I was on duty in the radio shack. We had everything tied down. Even our chairs were tied to the deck. Some broke loose. Things were flying through the air. At times we listed 45 degrees and we thought we would turn over.

Up on top waves crashed through the steel rollers on the hangar deck. Water poured in. A fire broke out on the flight deck as one of our planes broke loose and crashed into the catwalk. One of our 20 mm guns was smashed as we rolled in the sea.

Bombs broke loose and rolled around in the bomb magazine next to the radio shack. Planes and tractors broke loose and went crashing into each other. Some went crashing over the side of the ship.

Waves were coming over the flight deck. The wind was reported to be as high as 124 knots (a knot is approximately 1.15 miles per hour). Waves were reported as high as 70 feet from trough to crest. The barometer was recorded as low as 27”.

We lost our radar and was guided by the destroyer Halsey Powell by radio. I watched a lot of the storm from the top of the bridge. Destroyers would plow right through towering waves and out the other side, knocking their smoke stack right off them. The big carriers and battleships were tossed about.

I was supposed to be tied to my bunk when not on watch, but I just had to get topside. I did help with securing some planes.

During the height of the storm, we lost our air group commander over the side. He was on the flight deck trying to save his planes. He had been shot down in June 1944, was rescued, and sent back to the States. He came out again as ship’s air officer. This time he didn’t make it.

Tom Sheaffer told me that during the storm, he grabbed an overhead pipe and was flush with the ceiling. During the storm, we lost the destroyers Hull, Spenser, and Monohan.

 

 

Life, Death, and Donations

October 9, 1989 – I was a freshman in high school. I was at my locker before homeroom, preparing for the day. A friend approached me, her face very serious and sad.

“Sherry died last night,” she announced.

I raged at her. Told her to shut up. It couldn’t possibly be true. Sherry was only 14.

And yet, I knew it was true. On some level, I expected it.

In homeroom, I listened to the announcement of her death over the intercom. Most of my classmates came from other middle schools and didn’t know her. I was one of the few who cried. Later that day, I got a note from a friend saying that this was the worst day of her life. I had to agree. Losing a best friend is brutal at any age, but it’s incomprehensible at 14.

Sherry was one of my best friends in middle school. She had an illness – the name of it escapes me now – which weakened her lungs and made it difficult for her to breathe. When we first met, she could do most everything that healthy kids our age could do. Birthday parties, school dances – she even played clarinet for a time.

I think it was around 7th grade when her illness became more apparent. As her heart and lungs weakened even more, she stopped participating in normal activities. Every day, her father would carry her up the stairs at school for classes and then down again at the end of the day. Since she couldn’t take the stairs, my friends and I would take turns getting her lunch tray and taking it up to her. We’d all have lunch together.

She started appearing in the local news. There were spaghetti dinners and other fundraisers to help the family with medical expenses. She was on a wait list for a heart and lung transplant.

In 8th grade, she no longer came to school. She was too sick, so she continued her education at home. Meanwhile, everyone waited and hoped for a donor.

I wrote to her often that year. She never wrote me back. To this day, I don’t know why. Did my letters upset her? I wrote about events at school – a life she could no longer participate in. Did she know she was dying? Probably. Maybe she was trying to pull away from all her friends, thinking it would make things easier for us. I will never know.

Just a couple days before she died, I wrote her another letter. I remember walking into my bedroom later and seeing it. I crumpled it and threw it away, thinking she would never write me back anyway, so why bother? I’m so glad I didn’t send that letter. Her parents would have received it right after she died.

I didn’t go to the visitation later that week. I couldn’t bear it. There was a finality to seeing her dead in a casket that I couldn’t handle. The funeral felt safer. The casket was closed. I remember the funeral being on Friday the 13th.

Since that time, I’ve been advocating for organ donation. I signed up as an organ donor when I got my driver’s license a couple years later.

Today, on this 29th anniversary of her death, the bloodmobile came to work. I have no intention of donating organs any time soon if I can at all help it, but blood, I can donate. It seems fitting to do it today.

img_20181009_122324_847

Thinking of you, Sherry. And today, I’m wondering who you would have been if you had only gotten that organ transplant that would have saved your life. You never got the chance to grow up, but hopefully I can give a chance at life to someone (or multiple someones) when my time comes to an end.

Canon or Nikon?

I have a Nikon camera. For everyday use, my cellphone has a pretty great camera on it. But when I’m deliberately out taking photos, I bring the Nikon.

A couple weeks ago, I took my mom to Pickerington Ponds Metro Park. A Roseate Spoonbill had taken up residence there, and while we did see it, it was too far away for me to get a good shot – even with my zoom lens. This photo won the day.

cormorants

In fact, this was one of three photos that I entered into a nature photo contest last weekend (which will be exhibited around the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks starting next weekend).

I’m still learning. But I’m a serious hobbyist, and I particularly love shooting nature.

This morning, I attended an event at another metro park. Midwest Photo and Canon hosted the event. For $15, I got to borrow Canon equipment of my choosing and go on a walk with an Audubon guide.

The equipment I chose was no joke.

img_20181007_084718It was a 45-minute walk, otherwise this thing would have seriously started to hurt my neck and shoulders. It was HEAVY.

But it was an unfamiliar camera, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. So I focused and clicked and hoped for the best.

I did okay.

Female monarch

Egret in flight

Egret perched in a tree above Scioto River

This last photo was but a white blob in the distance to the naked eye – 400 mm zoom, hell yeah! My zoom on the Nikon maxes out at 300 mm.

It was fun to try new equipment, but I’ll stick with my trusty Nikon. I just need to get some more lenses for it.

Maybe I should experiment with macro lenses.

 

A Picture and a Story II

Spice Bazaar

Istanbul, 2005

I was excited to go to Istanbul as part of a tour organized by the Turkish members of the International Women’s Club. (In short, IWC was a spouse’s club for those of us living near the NATO base in Germany.) While Istanbul was not one of the places on my bucket list during our time in Europe, the opportunity presented itself and I jumped at the chance.

Turns out, it was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. And the food was phenomenal. We went over to the Asian side one day, and it’s the only reason I can claim that I’ve visited Asia.

This photo was taken in the spice bazaar. I had just bought the pashmina that I’m wearing here. The man in the photo is a stranger, someone who worked at the bazaar. He asked to have his photo taken with me, but first he wanted to wrap my head. I’m not entirely sure why. Most women I saw in Istanbul didn’t have their hair covered – though Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, it is a secular society. But he wanted to show me how he thought I should wear a pashmina, and then we posed for this photo.

I got a lot of male attention because of my blond hair and blue eyes. At least, that’s what our male tour guide said. So perhaps this is why the man in this photo asked to pose with me.

Anyway, this is just one of many memories from Istanbul.

Here are some more:

bread vendor

apple tea vendor

Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

A Picture and a Story

I haven’t written anything creatively for several weeks. But to flex my creative muscles, I thought I’d share a photo along with a story. I may do this regularly. I have a lot of photos with back stories to share. 

Venice, 2006

My friends and I arrived in Venice just in time for Carnevale. That actually wasn’t the point of our trip. Our actual destination was Vicenza, which was to be our home base for a shopping trip to buy pottery in Nove. We flew into Venice (from snowy Belgium), took a bus into town, and stored our luggage at the station so we could spend our first day taking in the spectacle.

As you might imagine, it’s a feast for the eyes. It’s impossible to know where to look because there is so much to see in every direction. Elaborate costumes everywhere you look, and just when you think you’ve seen the best one, you look in another direction and see one even more incredible.

The photo above is one of many I took that day – it’s my favorite. I did not ask this family to pose for a photo. They saw my camera pointed in their direction and stopped – all of them – right there in the crowded square. Spontaneous and unplanned. It was a perfect moment, gone in a second, but I have it preserved for eternity.

The people behind the masks will remain a mystery to me, and it’s better that way, I think. To know them would take away from the magic of Carnevale – a celebration that brings perfect strangers together for memorable moments like these.

 

You’re Invited

As we turned into the parking lot near One Observatory Circle, the butterflies in my stomach began fluttering faster and harder. I saw the shuttle that would drive us to the Vice President’s Residence, but before we could board, we had to be cleared by a Secret Service Agent. Once we were seated on the bus, another Secret Service Agent checked our names against her attendance list.

In moments, the bus departed. A short time later, it pulled up in front of a mansion festooned with wreaths in every window.

VP house

Another security check, and then we got into the line that snaked across the wrap-around porch. Christmas music played over the speakers. Hot cider and hot chocolate stations were set up so we could enjoy drinks while we waited.

We inched closer and closer to the room where the Vice President of the United States and his wife stood, posing with every person who visited that day. Before I knew it, we were at the front of the line. I could see Joe and Jill Biden warmly greeting the couple who had been in line just in front of us. My heart was pounding.

“Please don’t let me say or do something stupid. Please.” I’m not sure if I said that out loud or only with my inner voice.

The couple with the Bidens were ushered out. My husband and I stepped into the room. Mrs. Biden embraced my husband. The Vice President’s face lit up with recognition upon seeing him – my husband had been a member of his flight crew for nearly four years.

“Hey, buddy!” He said to my husband as he slipped his arm across my shoulders. He looked me in the eye. “Thank you for coming.”

The Vice President is thanking ME for coming? As if this was an invitation I would decline!

It was the most surreal moment of my life, but I think I managed to actually speak coherently. “Thank you for inviting me,” I think I said.

We crowded in for a photo. The photographer didn’t even warn us. Click, flash, done.

Biden

The Vice President thanked us again and that was that. We were ushered into the main part of the house, where a holiday reception was already in full swing.

Themed Christmas trees stood in every room. Hungry guests were lined up at the elegant breakfast buffet. Servers weaved through the throngs of people, carrying trays of orange juice and mimosas.

Breakfast

We ate and mingled and drank. Mimosas for me. I apparently had enough to make one waiter decide to come to me first thing after he replenished his tray. Mimosas at the Vice President’s Residence, though. You only live once.

But the thing about mimosas – they spill. In this case, all over the Vice President’s hardwood floor.

Oops.

July 16

I feel guilty about this, but July 16 passed this year without me remembering it as the anniversary of Grandpa’s death. I think that’s the first time that has ever happened.

Nineteen years.

***

I was studying in Bath, England that summer, my senior year at Ohio State. It was the most exciting thing to ever happen to me up to that point. Grandpa had been to London once, and I couldn’t wait to share my experience with him. He was so excited when I got accepted into the program.

The year before, he had a stroke. At least, that’s what we thought at the time. In hindsight, we now believe it was a brain tumor. The stroke diagnosis was the beginning of his decline. He was hospitalized only a few weeks before my scheduled departure date (from a fall, if I remember), and I was apprehensive about going. I didn’t want to miss a once in a lifetime opportunity, but what if something happened while I was gone?

Life is full of risks.

Mom and Grandma urged me to go. My staying wasn’t going to make a difference, and Grandpa wouldn’t want me to give up this chance for his sake. So, off to England I went – the first time I had ever been outside the U.S.

It was the best summer of my life to date. And also the worst.

Despite the day trips, classes, and pub crawls that filled my days, I made frequent calls home. Grandma and Grandpa both seemed in good spirits. Nothing seemed amiss until just a week or so after my arrival in England. That’s when Grandpa was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

Four days later, he died.

It’s strange, but I don’t remember the conversation that I’m sure I must have had with my mom after his diagnosis. I remember knowing that things were bad, but I held out hope that we had time and I would see him again when I got back. I’m not sure the concept of terminal really registered.

My world came crashing down on a Friday afternoon. I went to the computer lab to check my email and ran out of the room in tears a few minutes later. I remember the message that upset me so much:

“Your grandpa took a turn for the worse and we don’t expect him to make it through the weekend.”

This isn’t news you want to receive in any fashion, let alone in email, but it was a bit difficult for family to reach me by phone.

When something tragic happens, you have these odd moments that stand out in perfect clarity within the fog of grief. I vividly remember a dove flying low in front of me as I ran out of the computer lab. In fact, I had to stop suddenly to avoid colliding with it. Let me be clear that it was a dove, not a pigeon (of which there are plenty in Bath).

My only thought was getting to a phone. Calling overseas with a prepaid calling card was tedious at best under normal circumstances. This time, it was excruciating. But after pressing what felt like a million numbers, my grandparents’ line was ringing.

One of my cousins answered. She told me that just about everyone was at the nursing home, and she gave me her stepdad’s cellphone number because he was with Grandpa. I had to go through the process all over again. But I finally got him on the line and he handed the phone to my mom.

“Sweetie,” she said, “he just passed away about 10 minutes ago.”

At first, I was numb. I announced the news very calmly to the girls who shared my floor in the dorm.  They escorted me to our kitchen, where they immediately sat me down at the table and started making tea. (How very British.) Another classmate informed our advisor, who began making phone calls to other faculty.

A lot of details in the immediate aftermath are murky now and were probably so even then with the emotional state I was in. None of what was happening felt real.

Another moment of clarity happened that evening when a few of my classmates insisted that I walk into town with them to Starbucks. The weather was lovely – so out of harmony with my emotions. We grabbed a table outside to sip our drinks. At that moment, church bells began to chime the hour.

“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,” one of my classmates said.

The dam finally broke.

***

In case you’re wondering, I made it back to England after the funeral to finish out the program. Grandpa would have wanted that.

Nancy Drew, I Am Not

Or maybe the title should be: Nancy D ew, I Am Not.

Early in the work week, my sign had this message. (Yes, eyerolls are acceptable.)

GrammarTime

I came into work on Tuesday morning to discover that someone absconded with the R. The sign read:

*STOP*
GRAMMA TIME!

Funny! Hey, I appreciate a harmless prank.

Word got around the office about it. People laughed. Accusations were thrown around. Proclamations of innocence by everyone.

I changed my sign:

WhoTookMyR

The next morning:

Who Took My

Well played, prankster. Well played.

Still no idea who’s responsible. But thanks for the laughs this week!