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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Three days before the eclipse and the sky is on fire. Not in the west, like it normally is when the sun is going down, but in the east. What does it mean?
Sunny and I were heading back up to the house. But the glow was so beautiful it stopped me in my tracks. We had taken a walk, and I finished the barn chores while Sunny patiently waited for me.
I wasn’t in a rush. I had spent the day with writing friends. It was early evening and the air was still warm and humid. My skin was slick with sweat. Once you step into a barn and the dust settles on you, there’s nothing to do but surrender and enjoy being dirty.
I’d walked up to the ring to check the water for the horses. I caught Foxie rolling and Shady studied me with his ears pricked up, alert.
Earlier in the day I had read a funny strand on an equestrian site about horses and the eclipse. A woman was wondering whether she should do anything special to protect her horses during the event. Several people responded jokingly: “Buy the extra extra large eclipse glasses,” “Have you ever seen a horse look up at the sun?” I couldn’t help but laugh.
I remember a partial eclipse I witnessed back in 1984 in Charlottesville, VA. The sky darkened slightly, as if storm clouds had gathered. But they hadn’t.
William E. Schmidt, a reporter for The New York Times, described the eclipse in Atlanta, where it was close to full. “The temperature dropped six degrees, flowers closed their petals, dogs howled, pigeons tucked their heads under their wings as if to sleep and the whole city was bathed in a kind of diffused light….”
“As the light from the Sun passed through the leaves of trees,” Schmidt continued, “it projected on to the sidewalk pavement tiny wedgelike images of its own crescent silhouette.”
Thirty-three years ago I was on a farm in Virginia, and I noticed those crescent silhouettes sprinkled around in the grass under the trees. So many years later, they are still vivid in my mind.
On Monday, we will experience a 97 percent solar eclipse here on the farm in North Carolina. I don’t believe that horses need special sunglasses or that the world is coming to an end. But maybe the glow in tonight’s August sky and the coming eclipse are simply reminders. The world is full of incomprehensible beauty. The least we can do is pay attention.
To my surprise, The Longest Day, a day set aside by the Alzheimer’s Association to bring awareness to Alzheimer’s and dementia, has been a good day. I started thinking about it a couple of weeks ago when my publisher told me she would be offering a special discount on my memoir for five days, starting on June 21st in honor of my mom.
To my surprise and delight, Motherhood: Lost and Found has become a #1 Bestseller on Amazon. I’m humbled and honored and will say more on this in another post. For now, I want to focus on my family.
As I began preparing for #TheLongestDay, memories began to stir. Father’s Day happened to be a few days before the summer solstice, and I found myself looking at old photos, smiling at special times my husband and I experienced with my parents.
In my memoir, I focused mainly on my mother’s illness, and how I survived that 14-year period of my life. As most people who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s understand, it’s easy to “forget” the time before. Before the confusion. Before the emotional outbursts. Before the hospital visits. Before the intense caretaking.
After my mother passed away, it took time, but there was a lifting of the heaviness I carried with me. The grief and exhaustion that comes with caring for someone who has lost so much. Memories of who my mother was before she became ill gradually began to surface. I felt a lightness and a joy that I had missed for many years.
This week, as I sorted through old photos, I found a handful from the time my husband and I lived in Houston. Joel had accepted a transfer from Atlanta to Houston. We’d been married for a few years and were busy with our careers. Joel was an insurance underwriter and I was the editor of a community newspaper.
I missed my parents, who lived on the coast of North Carolina. But the old photos I found were from a visit they made to Houston. I was reminded of how much fun we had with them.
It was a window of time when the four of us thoroughly enjoyed each other. Perhaps the distance made us appreciate each other more.
We were two couples who shared a bond. Joel and my father talked golf and business, while my mother and I lapsed into our familiar conversation about relationships, writing and our love of nature and animals.
My parents enjoyed seeing us in our home, absorbing the new phase of life we were in, getting to know us as equals.
I remember rising early to attend an Easter sunrise service, Joel and Daddy playing golf, my parents taking a dip in our hot tub. At my mother’s insistence, we drove out to see the Texas bluebonnets in bloom. We even spent a joyful evening playing cards.
Memories like these help fill in the blanks that were left by my mother’s Alzheimer’s. Seeing her smile, remembering her gentle, kind and fun spirit fills me with gratitude as the seasons turn.
In honor of my parents and the Alzheimer’s Association’s #TheLongestDay, the Ebook for Motherhood: Lost and Found will be offered at a deep discount for the first time. Today, on June 21st, Motherhood: Lost and Found will be available for $1.99. Each day after, the price will go up $1.00 until the promotion ends on June 25th.
But wait! There’s more! You’ll be able to get the audiobook (if you purchase the Ebook, or already have it) for only $7.49. as opposed to the list price of $24.95…a savings of $17.46. So hurry and get your discounted Ebook and audiobook now.
In last week’s post, I talked about how the process of marketing Motherhood: Lost and Found has added new layers to my story. Each time I prepare for a presentation, sit down to write a press release or have an interview about my memoir, I have the opportunity to look at my relationships anew.
I treasure this time spent in contemplation about my mother and the depth of her influence on my life. While Alzheimer’s shifted the course of our relationship in unexpected, painful and challenging ways, it also taught me to slow down, release expectations and open myself to the gifts within each moment.
My perspective has changed, of course, with my mother gone. It is much easier to see that while the care taking and the grieving seemed endless at the time, it was but for a season. I am reminded that all of us lead lives that are a series of seasons, seasons that in the conglomerate make up who we are, seasons that lead to our final act.
I have transitioned from a childless woman in her early 30s to a mother in her mid 50s who has laid her own parents to rest. Time has evaporated. The reason I continue to share the story about my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my own infertility is to provide a message for those who have suddenly become stranded on their own island of grief. My hope is to reach out a hand, to let my readers know they are not alone.
I hope you find meaning in this podcast. Thanks for reading and listening!
Click here to listen to the podcast.
To order a copy of Motherhood: Lost and Found, click here.
The next morning, as I walked down to the barn, I was greeted by this sight:
Somebody was ready for breakfast. I opened the big doors at the back of the barn and greeted Shady. I brought him into his stall to eat, and a moment later, Foxie appeared, ready for her breakfast. It was a lovely surprise as I had envisioned having to track down the horses by foot every morning, knowing that Foxie would just as soon stay out and eat grass rather than make the trek to the barn for the handful of grain she received during the summer months. Thank you, Shady!
While Shady was learning the new routine and Foxie was adapting to her stable mate, little did I know that there were still a few more challenges in store for us.
Intense heat was not unexpected for mid July, but the string of hot and humid days with heat indexes over 100 degrees were hard on the horses and people alike. After breakfast, I turned the horses out for an hour or two in a paddock where there were trees. But by mid morning, it was too hot for Shady to be outside because he would wander out of the shade and into the sunlight where the temperature was several degrees warmer. Even grazing in the shade, at times, his coat would be wet with sweat. So I brought the horses in around 10 or 11 a.m. each morning, and they stood in front of their fans, licking their salt blocks.
By 4 p.m., each afternoon, the barn heated up, and I felt it was more comfortable for the horses to be outside in the afternoon shade. The stalls had to be cleaned fairly quickly to avoid the fly population multiplying. I could feel sweat running down my face as I scooped up piles of manure in the near-100-degree heat.
Because the smaller shady paddocks were getting overeaten, it was important to move the horses into the big pasture for the night. But the big pasture was in full sun most of the day, until about 7 p.m. At that time, I turned the horses out to the bigger space.
Unfortunately, Foxie and Shady’s second night together was also the evening of Barnstock, an outdoor rock concert that was just down the road. Over the past several years, during the evening of the concert, it’s been hard to sleep at night as the music played on and on, sometimes through the wee hours of the morning. This year, the equipment must have been upgraded because the music seemed even louder. The horses were anxious as the music played on and on. Just before dark, my husband and I took a walk down the road to see what was going on with the concert. I also wanted to check on the horses. They were standing on the lower part of the hill where the music was slightly muffled. I imagined their sensitive ears were still ringing the next morning.
I was sure we had survived the worst of things when I walked down the hill to the barn the next afternoon. Suddenly, I heard gunshots. They were so loud, I wondered if should duck or call out in case someone was shooting near our woods. It felt like a bullet might come whizzing towards me at any second. Sunny, who usually likes to run ahead, pressed close to my side. The horses were anxiously pacing the fence line. I peered through the trees on the edge of our property and saw my neighbors in one of their fields. They own a large dairy farm, and, occasionally, I’d heard shooting coming from that direction. Perhaps a fox or a coyote was bothering their calves or maybe they were just having target practice. I had no idea what they were doing, but they were awfully close to us, it involved guns and I wanted it to stop. I brought the horses into their stalls, hoping to calm them. Shady couldn’t stop circling and Foxie, who normally carries her head low, was alert and anxious.
It wasn’t quite 7 p.m. and the big pasture was still mostly sunny and very hot, but I thought the horses might settle down if they were further away from the shooting. I led the horses to the back of the barn. Once there, they galloped up the lane and into the ring (which is in the middle of the big pasture). During the sunny hours, the ring is the hottest place on the farm, so I didn’t want to leave them there. The horses were too anxious to turn around and go back out the gate they had entered because that would mean they’d have to move closer to the gunshots. So I walked up to the ring to slide open the metal bars that were on the far side away from the noise. After I slid the top rail off, Shady trotted over and jumped the lower rail. Foxie waited until the second rail was open before joining him.
There was a patch of shade by the trees that was slowly expanding, and I hoped the horses might walk into it. By now, the horses were both covered in sweat, after running up the hill and then standing in the hot ring. The combination of heat and anxiety worried me. I didn’t want either of them getting dehydrated or suffering from heat exhaustion. I walked back to barn and grabbed a halter and lead rope. Back in the big pasture, both horses were still standing in the sun, heads high, as they looked towards where the gunshots were coming from.
I walked over to Foxie, put the halter on her and led her into the shade. Shady followed close behind. I stood with the horses enjoying the slightly cooler air. But as soon as I slipped the halter off of Foxie, she cantered right back into the sun, with Shady right behind her.
I grumbled aloud. The heat and their reactions were making me irritable. I wasn’t that surprised. They wanted to be as far from the gunshots as possible. And fear overrode discomfort. But I couldn’t leave them in the sun, their coats slick with sweat. I walked up to Foxie again and slipped the halter over her head. My plan was to lead her (with Shady following) down to the shady paddock. They would be a little closer to the gunshots, but at least they wouldn’t overheat.
I led Foxie down to the cooler paddock, and, as I suspected he would, Shady followed. I opened the gate and walked Foxie several feet in in order to give Shady room to enter behind her. Without thinking, I slipped the halter off of Foxie, preparing to walk over and close the gate. Typically, Foxie would stand still, drop her head and begin grazing. But at that moment, another round of loud gunshots went off. As soon as Foxie felt the halter clear her head, she whirled around, galloped past me, slipped out the gate and took off up the hill. Shady, of course, was right behind her. I stood there shaking my head, exasperated.
About this time, I heard my husband’s car coming down our hill. I hurried to the front of the barn to meet him, waving my arms to slow him down. He opened his window with a questioning look. I yelled: “Do you hear the gunshots? The horses are going crazy! I’m afraid they’re going to overheat! Can you call the neighbors?”
A few minutes later, my cell phone rang. Joel told me the neighbors were shooting skeet. He told them the horses were acting up, and they kindly offered to move to another field. I’m thankful that Joel made the call, as I know he was extremely cordial, acknowledging that they were on their own property and asking very politely for a favor. As I’ve said in the past, we have wonderful neighbors. But at the end of this long week, seeing the horses so upset and dangerously hot, I wouldn’t have been so polite.
A few moments later, thankfully, the gunshots subsided. The horses were still in the direct sun, so I didn’t feel comfortable leaving them there. This time I walked up our gravel driveway, hoping to call to them and encourage them into the shade, now that the noise had ended. But, of course, the horses weren’t ready to settle down and graze peacefully. They trotted around with their heads and tails held high. I had been reading lately about heat exhaustion in horses. The article warned of flaring nostrils as a first sign. I could see the pink of both horses’ nostrils.
I still had Foxie’s halter over my shoulder, so I went to the big gates along the driveway. I would slip through, halter Foxie and lead both horses to their stalls. That way I could give them baths and let them stand in front of their fans for a bit, cooling their body temperatures before turning them out again. A wasp was circling the gate, but I figured I could easily slip by it. I made it inside when the chain that kept the double gates closed fell to the ground. I leaned down to pick it up, then wrapped it around the metal bars. Unfortunately, I had to do this blindly, and being overheated and stressed myself, I was rushing. I felt two pin pricks on my arm. Ugh! The wasp! Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. My adrenaline must have kept the pain down for a minute or two. Suddenly, I felt the intense sting that always comes with a wasp. It was accompanied by another wave of irritation … I knew better. I could have prevented this.
Foxie and Shady walked somewhat placidly down to the barn. I bathed them both and let them cool down in front of their fans before turning them out in the smaller paddock. In the wash rack, I ran cool water over the swelling on my arm. What could possible happen next?
Well, the next afternoon, Foxie showed signs of being in heat. I first noticed her pacing the fence line, then, after turning her out in the big pasture, she stayed by the barn, circling the small area at a trot. Shady, who had cantered up the lane to the big pasture, realized Foxie wasn’t behind him and slowly meandered back to the mare. As soon as Shady arrived, Foxie trotted back out to the big pasture. A few minutes later, she came trotting back to the barn and began circling again. She did this over and over…and Shady followed her back and forth. Foxie hadn’t turned into Super Mare, the way April did, but this was not Foxie’s normal behavior. She was in a stronger heat than I’ve ever seen with her.
I was beginning to wonder if the universe was conspiring against me and the horses. From Foxie escaping to the loud concert and gunshots to the unbearable heat, wasp stings and now Foxie’s strong heat. Shady was new and his presence at the barn had shaken things up. I was prepared for some activity. But usually horses transition to new situations within a few days. This wasn’t Shady’s fault. He was as much a victim as I was.
A part of me was frustrated and tired, but another part of me noted each unusual event with curiosity and interest. Horses and their personalities have always fascinated me, and watching how they reacted to new situations was like unraveling a mystery. I appreciated the opportunity to understand these wonderful animals at a deeper level. But I was tired…and ready for a rest.