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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Trip to Florida, Part III: An Honorary AlzAuthor

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

Gilda joined me in Naples on Thursday night. I had shared with Jean and Vicki how much I loved Gilda, that she was wise and funny, a delight to be with and a wonderful writer. They welcomed her at the condo and into the fold. I had also shared with Jean and Vicki how Gilda often talked about AlzAuthors in her writing classes.

Gilda had firsthand experience with Alzheimer’s. Several female members of her extended family have developed dementia. Gilda was also one of the few friends who had visited my mother during the last stage of her life. Jean named Gilda an “honorary” AlzAuthor.

Jean, Vicki and I toasting. Gilda took the photo.

The four of us shared a delicious dinner cooked by Vicki, and we enjoyed a special evening together. The conversation continued around writing and life stories. The next morning, we walked down to the beach, took more photos and put our feet in the water.

Vicki and Gilda discuss the cover of Vicki’s new book.

This was the day that Gilda and I would pack up and head towards Miami. Vicki and Jean would be returning home the next day on afternoon flights. Vicki made a comment. I don’t remember her exact words, but the feeling has stayed with me. Something about how partings are poignant. Her words made me pause, and I was filled with a sense of gratitude for all we’d shared.

Gilda, Jean, me and Vicki at the beach in Naples

I couldn’t help but be aware that all of us had come together on Friday, Nov. 17th, the 10th anniversary of my mother’s passing. My beloved AlzAuthors and my dear friend Gilda were now woven together, and Gilda and I were heading to Miami to meet with Laura and her sister to celebrate the memoir journey we’d shared.

Coming soon….Trip to Florida, Part IV: The Miami Book Festival


Trip to Florida, Part II, An Amazing Author Connection

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

Once I made the decision to go to Florida, I felt a magnetic pull through the next several weeks of preparations. Jean Lee of AlzAuthors stayed in touch and shared details about flying, car rentals, the weather in Naples and what to expect.

I had originally planned to fly in and out of the Fort Lauderdale airport because it was inexpensive. But something niggled at me. A few weeks before the trip, I learned that my daughter had a basketball game the night I was planning to leave. I thought about my flight to Fort Lauderdale, and how I would be arriving at night. I could either stay in a hotel near the airport or drive across Alligator Alley, a desolate stretch of highway late at night.

I looked online and found an inexpensive flight to Fort Myers that would allow me to see my daughter’s game, arrive in Florida during the day and have a much shorter drive to Naples. The change in plans gave me peace. (And I learned later that my original flight was delayed for several hours, which would have had me arriving around midnight. I was so thankful I had made the change.)

Preparing to board a flight from Charlotte to Fort Myers.

My flight to Fort Myers was easy, and the drive to Naples gave me time to process the fact that I was suddenly in Florida. The landscape was much flatter than in North Carolina, and there were palm trees on the side of the road. Some of the architecture of the buildings had a Spanish flare, and many had red tile roofs like the home I’d once lived in.

When I arrived at Jean’s condo, she enfolded me in a hug and welcomed me with more warmth than I could have imagined. Up in the condo, I met Vicki and immediately felt a sisterhood with these women. And why not? They have each dedicated a part of their lives to caring for parents with dementia and, like me, they have written memoirs about those experiences.

We first met online, each of us working to promote our memoirs. I discovered Jean and Vicki through AlzAuthors, a blogsite that was created for those in need of books and resources about Alzheimer’s and dementia (something each of us had wanted but not had access to when our parents were ill). Several months after submitting a piece to AlzAuthors about my memoir, I was invited to join the management team which also includes Marianne Sciucco and Kathryn Harrison. I loved the idea of working together for a common cause.

Jean and Vicki invited me to sit outside with them on the lanai, and in the balmy breezes we began a conversation that would last throughout my visit, each of us sharing stories from our past and present, talking about writing, discussing AlzAuthors (which has grown to represent over 100 authors and books) and our unique caregiving connections. Our exchange felt seamless as we moved from one topic to another.

The sky over the Gulf of Mexico.

Before the sunset, we walked the few blocks to the beach. We set up chairs and continued talking as the sky evolved from blue into gold. We took photos of the ocean and asked beach walkers to take photos of the three of us. Each of us commented how it seemed as if we’d known each other forever. And we imagined our mothers looking down on us from above and smiling.

Selfie of Vicki, Jean and me at the water’s edge.

It’s hard to encapsulate what those few days together meant. Some people might question the idea of taking a risk, flying down to Florida to meet people I’d never met in person.

But to me, it never felt like a risk. I had worked with these women, read their stories, talked with them on Google Hangouts. I knew their hearts and admired them deeply before ever setting eyes on them in the flesh.

AlzAuthors is filled with women and men who understand both loss and deep caring. When a loved one develops dementia, it can be a shattering experience. It was to me. I didn’t know it would happen, and I didn’t know what to do once it did. But I didn’t stop loving my mother. And neither did Jean and Vicki.

We felt an immediate sisterhood through the bond of caring for parents with dementia.

Jean, Vicki and I felt as if we’d known each other all our lives.We had to rearrange the pieces of our lives, explore how to patch and mend the broken places. We still have jagged edges within us. But somehow it feels as if our hearts have grown, swollen with gratitude beyond what we ever expected. AlzAuthors holds both the pain and the gift of our experiences.

Coming soon….Part III: An Honorary AlzAuthor


Trip to Florida, Part I: An Inner Pull

(This is a 4-part series. Click here to read Part II.)

Just settling down after a whirlwind of activity … so much going on in November, much of it swirling around the eye of the 10th anniversary of my mother’s passing. I suppose it should be no surprise that my poetry collection, The Beach Poems, was released in November, since it was a group of poems that came to me slowly after my mother’s death. The beach itself returned to me, a place I had almost forgotten; it surged back into my life carrying with it memories of my mother and deep pools of reflection.

The beach surged back into my life, bringing with it memories of my mother.

Strangely, I also felt an inner pull to go to Florida, my father’s home state and the land where I was born and lived the first nine years of my life. Back in August, I was invited by Jean Lee, one of the founders of AlzAuthors to attend a retreat at her family’s condo in Naples. My first instinct was to decline. I was a mom after all. How could I leave my family as the holidays were approaching and my daughter’s basketball season was revving up? Florida was so far, and it was an expensive trip. And would I really want to spend several days with women I’d only met online?

Even in the beginning, as I was closing the door on this opportunity, something within me whispered, “Leave it cracked.” The 10th anniversary of my mother’s death would be during the same week that the AlzAuthors would be gathering. The timing seemed amazing. I couldn’t help but dream of how this trip might be a way to honor my mother.

Summer gave way to autumn on the farm, and I was still thinking of Florida.

As summer transformed into autumn, I learned that Motherhood: Lost and Found would receive a bronze medal in the Readers’ Favorite Awards during the Miami Book Fair. Not only that, but both my dear friend, Gilda Morina Syverson, and my publisher, Laura Ponticello, would be honored for their books in Miami as well. Gilda is the author of My Father’s Daughter: From Rome to Sicily and Laura is the author of Live the Life of Your Dreams: 33 Tips for Inspired Living.

I checked the calendar and was amazed to learn that my invitation to Naples and the awards event were in the same week. Still, life at home was full. To slip away to Florida for several days seemed far fetched. I liked the idea of meeting Jean Lee and Vicki Tapia (another founder of AlzAuthors) in Naples. We had all cared for parents with Alzheimer’s and our shared history had created a bond. But being an introvert, I had no interest in attending a big event like the Miami Book Fair by myself, and I had no idea if Gilda and Laura wanted to go. And even if they did, working out the details of getting from Naples to Miami seemed complicated and overwhelming.

Then I learned that Gilda’s husband Stu was planning to meet friends in Naples in November, and it just so happened to be at the same time I could be with the AlzAuthors. Jean invited Gilda to stay at her condo for the night, and we could easily drive across the state to Miami and get there in plenty of time for the first of a few author events.

Gilda and I talked. Both of us were intrigued with the idea of going to Florida. But neither of us wanted to go alone. With Stu going to Naples, it almost seemed predestined.

Add to that the fact that Laura, our publisher, would be there. We have both felt so blessed to work with Divine Phoenix and Pegasus Books. Laura has been incredibly supportive of not just our memoirs, but the purpose behind our books (mine has been reaching out to those who are living with Alzheimer’s and Gilda’s has been sharing the importance of a written legacy). Laura’s expansive vision is what brought us to this place of success. To celebrate this special event with her would be the icing on the cake.

Gilda and I having fun and toasting our memoirs.

I’ll always remember Gilda saying that if we were to ever have this opportunity again, we’d both have to write another book, and we’d both have to win awards in the same year. And what were the chances that Laura would be going to Florida again at the same time? We burst out laughing. Since Motherhood: Lost and Found took 20 years to write and Gilda’s memoir, My Father’s Daughter: From Rome to Sicily, took nine years to write, we knew we’d better grab this chance now!

Coming soon….Part II: An Amazing Author Connection


After the Eclipse

The evening after the eclipse, Sunny and I take a walk. The sky is mostly clear, except for a few dramatic clouds hovering behind the tree line. The horses are grazing as usual, their coats covered in fine sweat that is just beginning to evaporate as the heat and humidity slowly lift. It is 8 o’clock, four hours after the sun and moon finished their dance through the sky.

Joel, Sydney and I went down to the barn and watched the eclipse from there. We did the pinhole through the cardboard trick and used eclipse glasses to take short peeks at the scooped out sun.

Sydney and I let the horses out because they seemed eager to enjoy the grass under a slightly cooler sky. The temperature gradually dropped from 91 to 87°.

At one point I brought a chair and sat in the shade under a tree. I was surrounded by the shapes of crescent moons created by the sun filtering through the leaves.

As the moon covered 97% of the sun I looked and listened for anything that might be a sign. The cicadas continued chanting, a single bird chirped behind me, the horses eagerly cropped grass. Sydney noticed that one of the cows from next door was looking at us and the herd was slowly making its way toward the neighbor’s barn. Maybe the unusual light made them think it was time to come in.

And suddenly the crescent shapes shifted from one side to the other, and the scrim over the sky seemed to lift.

I thought of all the people looking up – friends and family in the mountains, at the beach, in town, in faraway states. For that one moment, we were linked. Held together by a celestial ribbon, an awareness perhaps of the beauty of our sun – its strength and fragility.

When the eclipse was over, I was exhausted and empty, as if a part of me had been scooped out. I hadn’t expected to feel that way. Actually, I hadn’t thought about what would come after. Maybe I was picking up on the collective sigh from our country.

Tonight, I am grateful for the presence of horses grazing in the fields, the dog who walks by my side, my family and friends who share this wide world with me and the glorious colors left behind by the setting sun.

 


The Changing Moods of Lake George

I’ve been at the lake for almost a week, just enough time to slip into the rhythm of a lake dweller. Someone who has forgotten the minutiae that occupied my mind before I arrived, someone who eats meals on the deck and no longer cares about washing my hair, someone who takes note of the wind and checks the surface of the lake each time I’m outside. Someone who cools off before dinner with a swim.

Here at Lake George the weather shifts from cool and windy to warm and sunny to damp and rainy within a few hours. This year, we’ve been blessed with beautiful days where we’ve enjoyed being out on the boat, swimming to the float at the family beach, spending a morning on a dining porch or an afternoon on a dock chatting with cousins, watching the sun set over the mountains.

The first few days, we rushed to get everything in, still running on the energy of our regular lives. But today, my last day here, I want to slow down and absorb the messages this place holds.

On our first days, we took Sydney tubing with a cousin, went kayaking around the bay, swimming at the beach. We gathered with cousins for our annual family meeting and picnic. There was a flurry of activity and fun.

Midway through our time here, something slowed inside me. My daughter and I canoed to Joshua’s Rock. The wind was so strong, we hardly needed to paddle on our way out. We sat on the ledge that I’ve shared over the years with my mother, my siblings and cousins and looked out on the expanse of lake. Neither of us said much. My daughter picked wild blueberries from the bush beside her as I studied patterns of moss on the granite under my bare feet. On the way home, we had to dip our paddles deep to keep from floating backwards with the current.

Before sunset, the wind died down and we took our friend’s pontoon boat out. The water in the bay was like glass and the sky a tapestry of greys.

Today, I walked down the hill to the beach and felt the echo of my childhood footsteps, how I couldn’t stop my young legs from running, skipping over the stones that rose from the green grass like the brows of my uncles.

The sight of water behind the tall pines along the shore never fails to lift my heart. And on a day when the sky is china blue and sketched with white clouds, this place feels like a small piece of heaven.


The Horse Story Behind My Memoir

* In honor of my horse Crimson, I’m giving away a copy of the Kindle version of Motherhood: Lost and Found. For a chance to win, leave a comment at the end of this post. Be sure to include your email address. A winner will be selected next week. Good luck!  

* Two winners have been chosen. Thank you for your comments.

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Motherhood: Lost and Found tells the story of my struggle to have a child at the same time I was losing my mother to Alzheimer’s. For those of you who don’t know me, the back drop of this story is my love of horses.

During this decade of loss, I was deeply involved in the horse world. Most mornings I could be found at the barn grooming or riding my horse Crimson. My afternoons were spent teaching dressage and hunter/jumper to a group of riding students who I adored.

Crimson was a very special horse. He happened to be a grandson of the great Secretariat. An Appendix Quarter Horse, I learned that Crimson had won one race before his career at the track ended. I purchased him as a green six-year-old when we lived in Houston, and trained him to jump. We transported him to North Carolina when Joel and I moved back home to be closer to my parents.

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Crimson and I at a horse show in Houston.

A chestnut gelding just shy of 16.2 hands, he looked a lot like Secretariat. And he had the heart of a champion. Crimson was the kindest horse I’ve ever known. When I was overwhelmed with the grief in my life, I went to him.

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Crimson, my steady boy, carried me through so many hard days.

Some days when the sorrow was too much to bear, I would go down to the barn and watch him grazing with the other horses. Other days, I could do nothing more than lean against Crimson and rest my head against his neck. He would stand like a statue absorbing my emotions.

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Crimson grazing with a pasture mate.

My mother’s illness lasted for over 10 years before she died, and for much of that time, Joel and I remained childless. Because my mother required constant care, I had to board Crimson at other farms for months at a time. It was heartbreaking to let him go. But I sensed that he understood. I was also fortunate to have wonderful horse friends who helped care for Crimson while I was away.

After my daughter was born, I was finally able to bring Crimson home. It was a gift to have him at the barn. His kind and gentle nature always lifted my heart. Each morning, I did chores – cleaning stalls and filling water buckets – while Sydney rode in a pack on my back. It was hard work taking care of a mother with Alzheimer’s, a young child and Crimson. There were long days when my mother was sick, Joel was out of town or my daughter had been teething throughout the night. But Crimson’s presence gave me strength and peace.

During those years, I didn’t have much time for riding. But occasionally I would hop on just to feel the rhythm of Crimson’s gaits, his rocking canter. I remember one day wanting to share this wonderful feeling with Sydney. She was delighted when Joel lifted her up on the horse in front of me. Crimson was a perfect gentlemen, as I knew he would be.

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Crimson taking Sydney and me for a ride.

I’ll always be grateful for the time I spent with this wonderful horse. Crimson passed away in 2003, after a serious attack of intestinal colic. He was 19, the same age his grandfather Secretariat was when he died. We laid him to rest on the farm near the magnolia tree given to me by my friend Lyn in honor of my miscarriages.

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To order a copy of Motherhood: Lost and Found, click here. I’m so thrilled that it has been No. 1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Eldercare. For more information, please see my website: www.anncampanella.com.