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 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


August Sky: Preparing for the Eclipse

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.


Alzheimer’s Support, Part II: A Window Into Caregiving

Spending time with my sweet mom while I was yearning to have a child.

As someone who has lived through a parent’s Alzheimer’s, I have deep appreciation for AlzAuthors and the compassion of its authors. I traveled a lonely path, caring for my mother whose memory began slipping when I was in my early 30s and trying to become a mother myself. Mom’s slow dance with Alzheimer’s lasted for 14 years.

Most of my friends had no idea what I was living through and, as a writer myself, I was hungry to read about the personal experiences of others who had gone before me.

I have a memory of standing outside my barn, feeling a light breeze as I watched the horses graze. I had no idea what was ahead on my journey with my mother, but I somehow knew that it would be important for me to share my own story.

Good books have always inspired me, and I wanted and needed to know how people not only survived this disease, but thrived in the midst of the grief and exhaustion of caregiving.

I remember spending hours late at night with a laptop perched on my knees searching every site that had the word Alzheimer’s in it. Twenty years ago, there was very little information and few books available for people like me.

Thankfully, all of that has changed. At AlzAuthors, caregivers can find a wide array of supportive resources – from handbooks on caregiving to memoirs about caring for parents, grandparents, spouses and other loved ones to fictional stories with characters who suffer from dementia to books explaining Alzheimer’s to children and more.

Part of my role on the management team will be to expand the reach of AlzAuthors on Facebook and Instagram.  You’ll be able to find us here on Facebook, and I’ll keep you posted about the upcoming Instagram account.

I’m honored to help spread the news about this wonderful resource. Let me know if you have any questions or ideas that might help get the word out to those in need.

p.s.

Motherhood: Lost and Found was featured on AlzAuthors this past January. You can read the post here.

p.p.s.

You can find “Alzheimer’s Support, Part I: Spreading the Word” here.


Hay Delivery!

Hay is a welcome sight this year. I’ve been more attuned than usual to the weather since we’ve been suffering from a drought all summer. The hay truck arrived this afternoon with 60 bales of a rich orchard grass mix. And more bales are on the way…. It was a tight squeeze. But the truck made it into the barn with several inches to spare.

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The hay was unloaded into our loft. I was thankful for the strong men who did this hard work. One stood in the bed of the truck and tossed bales up to the loft while the other stacked them.
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Each bale weighs about 75 pounds, so it’s not easy work.

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When your pasture looks like this…hay becomes even more beautiful. It’s been weeks since we’ve had an appreciable amount of rain. Normally our pastures are green and lush.

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The hay is neatly stacked. A full loft is a wonderful sight…especially when winter is ahead.

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Sydney shows off our lovely hay! It’s been pouring rain since I started this blog post. Maybe the key to breaking the drought is getting a hay delivery. 🙂 Whatever it takes!


Saying Goodbye to Smokey…for now

We’ve enjoyed having Smokey at the barn so much! Pound for pound, he has the biggest personality of all the horses. And he loves his mares! Last night when the horses heard that Smokey was leaving today, they all gathered together over the fence for a horse huddle. They were either coming up with an escape plan or saying goodbye.

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Smokey and April enjoyed eating their hay together one last time. Smokey was happy to have a break from his muzzle.

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Sydney cleaned up Smokey in preparation for his trip home.

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Smokey gives a big yawn….

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We’re all going to miss Smokey. Even Sunny was looking sad that her friend was leaving.

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Sydney combed out Smokey’s tail and started braiding.

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Waa la — a fish tail! Wait…I thought Smokey was a pony.

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My friend Lynn brought her big truck over to help us move Smokey. We hooked it up to my dusty trailer and pumped up the tires. We loaded Smokey, and he looked so small in the trailer. In fact, on the ride over to his old home, he turned himself around and ended up on the other side of the trailer. When we unloaded Smokey, we didn’t even have to lower the butt bar. He just walked right under it.

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Smokey recognized his old home right away. We are so grateful to MeLanie for letting us use him!

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Smokey let out a long whinny to say hello to his old friends, then happily started eating hay.

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Bye, Smokey! We love you!! Hope to see you next spring!