Trip to Florida, Part IV: The Miami Book Festival

(This is a four-part series. Click here to read Part I.)

After packing and saying our goodbyes to Jean and Vicki, Gilda and I drove south towards Alligator Alley. I was excited to be driving across Florida and to get a view of the everglades. My father, a civil engineer for the Army, had worked throughout South Florida on various projects before I was born. The names of towns were familiar to me because I had grown up listening to him talk about them.

Alligator Alley: on the side of the road.

While I felt as if I were home and had hopes of catching a glimpse of an alligator, Gilda’s husband Stu had warned her not to get out of the car because he’d been warned there were large snakes in the area. Gilda wasn’t sure what to do when I pulled over and asked her to take a photo of me by the water. But she did! Then I took one of her. Just don’t tell Stu, she said. And we laughed.

We arrived in Miami in one piece and were struck by the change in scenery…busy highways, hotels, so many Spanish-speaking people. Our time in Miami was filled to the brim with non-stop activity. But a few things stand out in my mind.

The Friday night Meet and Greet was busy and loud after our quiet time at the beach in Naples. Authors were invited to leave copies of their books and business cards on the hotel counter. By the time Gilda and I arrived, there were so many books and cards, we had to squeeze ours in.

We met Laura and her sister Christina at the bar. They waved us over and introduced us to authors they had met. We talked for a bit, shouting over the noise. I’m always struck by Laura’s beauty and vivaciousness and enjoyed watching her interact. She’s a natural publicist, always sharing warm words about her authors and listening intently to the stories of others.

After the social hour, we were ushered into a large room where several presenters gave talks. The room was so full, we had to split up in order to find seats. After two presentations, Gilda and I stepped out to look for Laura and Christina. We found them in the hotel lobby and ended up pulling up chairs and spending the rest of the evening in this less busy setting.

Around the table, the four of us shared pieces of our lives and got to know each other. I couldn’t help but think how it was as if the conversation that had started in Naples was continuing. My mother, who loved stories and intimate connections, was surely smiling down on us all.

 

Gilda and I walking through the Miami Book Fair. Laura took the photo.

The next day, Laura, Gilda and I met in the lobby, so that we could ride the shuttle to the Miami Book Fare. It was a gorgeous day in South Florida with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid seventies. Our plan was to find the Readers’ Favorite booth, take photos of our books and then just walk around and enjoy the scene.

Gilda with My Father’s Daughter: From Rome to Sicily

Laura with Live the Life of Your Dreams: 33 Tips to Inspired Living

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me with Motherhood: Lost and Found

The Miami Book Fair is recognized as the finest literary book fair in America. I’ve never been to a street fair that was made up of so many booths of books. It lasts for eight days and is a veritable feast for a writer. More than 250 publishers exhibit and sell books and over 450 authors read and discuss their work. Everywhere we turned we found something to marvel at!

The four hours we had planned to spend at the book fair evaporated like water on a hot sidewalk. And before we knew it we were back on the shuttle to the hotel. But we had each had a sweet taste of this special festival and even had the opportunity to celebrate with other authors and meet Mitch Kaplan, co-founder of the Miami Book Fair.

Hamming it up with some of our new author friends.

There was just time to touch base with Laura’s sister by the pool, then run out to pick up some gluten-free, dairy-free food for Gilda and me before we had to get ready for the main event, the Readers’ Favorite Award Ceremony.

We had heard the event was formal. But it wasn’t until I saw a few women dressed in ball gowns and sparkly, sequined outfits that I truly took that in. Gilda and I were impressed with how the event was set up with rows of white, cloth-covered chairs, a stage and photo area with a Readers’ Favorite backdrop, a bar at the back of the room, and two side areas where a buffet dinner would be laid out. If you had a good imagination, you could pretend you were in Hollywood.

The Readers’ Favorite Award Ceremony

Gilda and I joined Laura and Christina in an area to the side of the stage. The host told Laura it was prime seating because you could see well and make an early escape if you didn’t want to stay through all the awards. It turned out to be perfect.

After a short introduction, the host called authors in different sections of the audience up to receive recognition and awards. It was thrilling to hear my name and Motherhood: Lost and Found announced. And just as thrilling to join the applause when Gilda and Laura’s names were read!

Laura, me and Gilda in the photo area, a bit starstruck, after being called up on stage.

Christina took photos of each of us on stage. Then we proceeded to the photo area where a professional photographer took pictures and we, of course, took our own with our phones.

One of the most interesting parts of the evening was getting to talk with other authors. Gilda and I noted how it was unusual for authors of a certain genre (memoir, in our case) to mingle with authors of another genre. In my typical day-to-day interactions, I tend to have blinders on, blithely ignoring writers of fantasy or science fiction. Yet, here we were in a room where no two authors had written from the same perspective. Once the blinders were off, I realized how much I could learn from these writers.

Posing with our new friend, Ben Burgess, Jr.

We happened to be sitting in front of Ben Burgess, Jr., for instance, who is a New York detective and has written multiple award-winning novels focusing on crime and prejudice. We all commented on how fascinating it was to hear his stories, and we ended up trading copies of our books with him for his latest novel, Black & White.

By the end of the evening, we gave hugs all around to each other and our new friends. Gilda and I were buzzing, though we hadn’t had anything to drink. We could have stayed up all night talking, but we made ourselves lie down in hopes that we could get a few hours of sleep before our alarm went off at 2:15 a.m.

Perhaps we dozed a bit because when we woke up, we were much more groggy and tired. But we managed to gather our belongings and head down to the hotel desk to checkout. We asked the young fellow at the counter if he would accompany us to our car. This was Miami, after all, and it was the middle of the night.

The dark streets were ribboned with light from the street lamps, and we made our way to the Fort Lauderdale airport easily. We turned in our rental car and stood in line at the airport. We made it through security without being searched or even taking off our shoes.

The sun rose outside our window over the Atlantic Ocean as we left the Fort Lauderdale airport.

When we settled into our seats on the plane it was close to 6 a.m. Once we were up in the air, we could see the Atlantic Ocean to our right. A thin line of light hovered at the horizon. I made Gilda stay awake long enough so that we could take photos of the sun rising over the ocean. Then we both closed our eyes and slept.

Before drifting off, I thought of Jean and Vicki and our intimate bond through AlzAuthors. I thought of my deep friendship with Gilda and our affection and admiration for Laura. I felt the warmth of each of these relationships and sensed my mother’s hand on this trip, as if she had somehow helped orchestrate these sweet connections, bringing us all together so that we could reach out to others. I said a silent prayer of thanks.

 

The sun setting as Laura’s plan landed in New York.

Later that day, Laura sent us a photo of the sun setting as she on her way home to New York. It seemed significant that all of us had witnessed the sun in its transitional state. Laura, who had been so instrumental in the flights of our books, generously ushering them and us through an amazing experience, while Gilda and I were coming home to what felt like a new chapter in our lives, a doorway filled with light, opening towards something yet to be revealed.

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Finding Myself at the Beach

The beach has always been a place of deep nourishment for me. When my mother passed away, after living with Alzheimer’s for 14 years, I was physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted. I fled to the coast in search of the parts of myself I had lost.

Each morning, I got up early and walked the damp sand, studied the shore birds, listened to the roar of the waves and inhaled the salt breezes. My mother had always loved the ocean and images of her inspecting shells or pointing out dolphins gradually began to float back to me.

As I remembered and grieved for my mom – the woman I had lost, the mother whose physical form had departed this world – tears filled my eyes and slipped down my cheeks.

At the same time, descriptions and words filled my head. and I began jotting down lines of poetry that turned into poems. In this period of solitude, I gave voice to the myriad emotions that came to the surface.

Little by little, a lightness began to permeate my soul. It was as if my grief had been clogging the pathways to joy. And as I gave my feelings permission to take flight through words, a sense of the sacredness of life filled me. Gradually, I awakened to some of the day-to-day blessings I had been blind to over the years as I numbly cared for my mother.

I’m excited to share my journey from grief to joy in my new collection of poetry called The Beach Poems. It will be available through Main Street Rag Publishing Co. The list price is $12. But If you live in the U.S. and you order now, you will receive the pre-publication discount of $6.50 (plus shipping).

Click here for your pre-order discount. The collection will be mailed to you upon publication. Thank you for your support, and may your beach days be blessed!


Random shots

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Hello there, sweet horses!

 

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Fall sunrise.

 

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Not exactly a fashion statement…but they keep my feet dry.

 

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My dear friend Lyn stopped in to see Sydney and me at the farm a couple of weeks ago. It was so wonderful to see her!

 

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Lyn and I used to ride together back in our college days.  So good to see her!

 

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Sunny taking her turn at the water bucket. She thinks she’s a horse at times.

 

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Joel and Sydney helping me run water up to the ring. With this dry weather, I’ve been rotating horses into every available space…hoping to preserve some grass.

 

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Sydney surveying our small herd.

 

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Lots of clouds, but no rain. 😦


A New Unfolding

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A new beginning. A new rhythm. As the seasons roll on there is always a new beginning and a new unfolding. Changes we expect and those that slip up on us, catching us unaware. After six years of homeschooling – later mornings, relaxed breakfasts, snuggling on couches, following my own routines — things have switched up.

For the first time in years, there is space. Space within my days. Room to do more than breathe, room to stretch my arms and stretch my mind into places long abandoned.

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I was eager and willing to embrace homeschool during the years we did it. I don’t regret one second of that time, even though it wasn’t always easy. I am so grateful to have spent those years side by side with my daughter, learning who she is and growing close to her.

But the rhythm of days has changed, and even though I have been preparing for this all summer there is both a joy and an ache.

The joy comes from seeing my daughter move along a path that feels right to her and to us as her parents, watching her find her way in a new community, seeing her stretch and explore, witnessing an unfurling into the young woman she is becoming.

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I miss her daily presence, the light of her face throughout my days. Yet I embrace the ache. It reminds me of the gifts we’ve shared, the interwoven hours, the privilege I’ve had of sometimes escorting, more often trailing behind, her as she transitioned from one stage to the next.

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The ache is a small wildflower in the field of my heart. I imagine I will carry it with me through all my days. When I feel the absence of my girl, I will bend down to inspect the exquisite petals, delight in the flower’s bright colors and its insistence to grow.

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At the same time I have been blessed with the time and space to grow myself as I watch my girl flit like a butterfly towards her future. Years ago my mother told me she was always learning even through her later years, maybe especially at that time.

My mother walks beside me today and as I link arms with the ghost of who my daughter was and who she might become. She places an arm around my shoulders, whispers words of assurance and love as we step forward into this new day.

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Scenes from the Farm

Mornings are some of the most peaceful times on the farm. Here’s a little peek at what I see most mornings when I head down to the barn with Sydney. How can you not love these horses?

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Early morning view of the barn…the coolest part of the day.

 

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Hmmm…I wonder where the horses are this morning?

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Oh, there they are! Good morning, horses!

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The horses say: “Hey, we know you. Have you come to feed us?”

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Foxie says: “Hey, Misty, Smokie! I think I see a carrot in her pocket.”

 

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Did someone say breakfast?

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Feed me first!

 

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These are pretty nice hotel rooms!

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Oh, you found the spot, Sydney. Scratch me some more!

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You’re not actually thinking of RIDING me? Don’t you know it’s going to be 98 degrees today.


Step by Step

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I woke before dawn, an eagerness spilling over me to greet the day, see what it holds. Before the recurrence of Lyme symptoms, I woke like this every morning for six weeks in a row, maybe more. I’d slip out from the covers, pull my clothes on and set out with Sunny for a walk to the end of the road. Those mornings were delicious…quiet, light splashed, cool, damp, grey-filled…always different, but always a gift.

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For a few mornings this week, I stayed in bed after the sun crept over the horizon and wondered if last-year’s fatigue would take over and keep me from celebrating each morning’s blessing. Today, I hoped when I got out of bed, I’d have the same energy to walk and enjoy the beginning of my day. It was not a miraculous healing…but it was a positive step. I had some energy and was able to walk. Not all the way to the end of the road. But partway. And maybe I pushed myself a little. But it was worth it…to see the pale peach sky behind the barn, to hear the twitter of birds, to see the world waking. Yes, I felt the drag on my right side as I continued. But my pride or my stubbornness kept me going. And I was rewarded.

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It would be easy to get discouraged and compare my present state with my recent great health. But I remember the days where I dragged myself around a short route for five minutes, once, twice, eventually three times a day, then slowly increased my time. My body responded…gradually.

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And even when my body didn’t respond, I learned how quickly we adjust and gain perspective. When my legs no longer worked, I was reminded that I still had my hands. When my hands no longer worked, I rejoiced that I could still think. Not that it was easy. No. There was mourning too. But appreciation somehow flowers when we lose things.

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Today, I remembered to thank God for each step, even the draggy ones. I was awake and moving. The sun will shine today and beauty abounds.

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The First Morning…

…with horses back on the property. I wake early, anticipating another sunrise, the serenity of a quiet dawn and the presence of horses on the farm. I am eager to take my morning walk, then come back and meet Sydney so that we can feed the horses together.

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Sunny and I walk down the gravel drive through the trees. There is a hint of coolness in the air, unlike yesterday’s summery temperatures. My shoes crunch on the loose rocks below me, I wonder how the horses will respond when they see me. Will they neigh loudly, stamp and paw the ground, eager for breakfast? Will they circle their stalls, ready to bolt when their doors are opened into the grassy field in front of them?

As I walk towards the barn, I sense a stillness. I pass the big barn doors, continuing down the driveway. In the filtered light, I look across the paddock and see Foxie’s face peering in my direction. Smokey is too small to look over his door, but I trust he and Foxie share the same peace. They seemed to pass it back and forth yesterday afternoon when they arrived. Neither horse was agitated in the least. Both of them seemed to look around and, with a slow exhale, say to themselves, “We’re here. This looks like home.”

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After my walk, Sydney and I come down to feed. The horses watch us as we move through the barn. We replenish their stalls with fresh flakes of hay. I say to Sydney, “Let’s wait a few minutes before we prepare their grain,” knowing the clatter of pellets from scoop into bucket excites even the calmest of horses.

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Foxie and Smokie wander over to the hay in the corner of their stalls and bury their noses. My daughter and I stand waiting and expectant. There is nothing but the sound of molars grinding fescue and timothy and an occasional soft snort. Morning coolness wafts through the open barn. This is the companionship of horses. I could stay forever in this moment.IMG_3058