A day in the LEAF

LEAFAsheville, a center for arts and culture in the Southeast, has no shortage of events that enrich the soul. Fortunately, the local arts councils are also generous with these events, providing free tickets to those who could not otherwise afford them. Little Miss and I were lucky enough to score day tickets to the Lake Eden Arts Festival, or LEAF.

The clouds had burst the night before, and some rain lingered into Saturday morning, but it certainly didn’t extinguish the spirits of those on site. When we arrived, the event was in full swing, concert music spilling into the air outside the tents, a poetry slam tearing words from writers’ hearts, the aromas of hot garlic and smoky grills on the breeze. Brave (foolish?) younguns ziplined down into the lake, now a balmy 50 degrees. One bank of the lake was lined with the tents of those staying for the weekend, the other with the festival venue.

Kids ran everywhere, enjoying being kids, many barefoot, even in the squishy mud left from the rain the night before. Arts and crafts booths lined the perimeter, and soon Little Miss sported her own magenta and lilac African mask on a necklace.

The crowd was a burst of colors, so many dressed in flowing fabrics and “hippie” style. I fell in love immediately with the atmosphere, one which pervades Asheville as a whole, but seemed concentrated at the event in one glorious serving.

The headliner for the music scene was Macy Gray; she’s playing today, so we missed her, but we didn’t miss out. Saturday afternoon, we listened to bluegrass artist Sara Watkins, and as the evening wore on we were treated to a show by Cuban R&B/hiphop artist Danay Suarez.  She’s one of LEAF’s teachers in the visiting artists program at local Erwin High School. Though her concert was in Spanish, even her commentary to the audience, it was easy to decipher her meaning once she began to sing. The reggae and jazz beats reached into the soul and lifted it up.

Such a wild and wonderful combination of folks! We, of course, hunted down our family connections with Lucia and Kevin Barnes from Ultimate Ice Cream (did you know they have a CSA for ice cream???), then moved on. I loved the folks with this sign–good advice was free, and “bad” advice, you paid for. Sounds about right.

I’d had a rough weekend physically, so I had my cane and a folding cart with a camp chair, etc. that I finally set up outside the concert tent. Little Miss announced she wasn’t done exploring, so she spent the next few hours going from booth to booth, talking to vendors, learning about sound healing, swinging on some awesome hanging chairs, smelling incense and candles and much more.  I know it may not sound like much to most folks that a 17 year old worked a crowd, but for those who know the autism spectrum, and Little Miss, this means she overcame the noise of the music and crowd, went on her own, spoke with strangers to gather information, and experienced independence–knowing I was in one place where she could find me if she needed anything. Pretty awesome.

Mid-afternoon, LEAF was treated to a parade with a host of performers like those of Imagine Circus from Raleigh, sparkling and dancing in the sun. 

 

A glorious day, in the end, though I hadn’t expected it would be.  Something I’ve been working on, my expectations. When you have debilitating conditions, it’s so easy to slip into a niche where you automatically choose not to go out and do things for fear of increased pain or repercussions or inability. I’m trying now to “expect” that yes, there will be difficulties, but the experience is worth it once all is done.

And the lovely Danay Suarez proved my point. The beats of her music got me to my feet, moved me like a hurricane wind from her island. I didn’t look around to see what people were judging this old, fluffy lady, swaying her hips with one hand on her cane and one on her chair. I was simply the music.

We went to LEAF. Little Miss got to be a real teenager. And I danced. 🙂

 

 

Not always the most wonderful time of the year

A phenomenon many divorce attorneys like me encounter each year between mid-November and January 2 is the sudden drop-off of clients and client activity.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the holiday lull, the last-ditch effort to grasp the fast-fading warm feeling of family or at least the rational attempt to try to preserve the illusion that ‘everything is all right’ for the children.

DSCN0169Often, the holidays are a happy blurred memory batch from childhood, with ham dinners with families gathered at grandparents’ house, favorite (and not so favorite) presents we’ve received over the years, candlelit church services, carols and much more.

Overlay this with the commercial media blitz of glitter, bling (every kiss begins with k?? Who knew? Awesome!) and price cuts, and the secular Holidays take on an almost sacred tone of their own.

We want our children to experience this, to feel whole, to be glad and warm and loved. Often we are able to swallow our own pain–or drown it with well-doctored eggnog– long enough to let the little ones experience Santa and the magic.

But what we also see as the years pass is the carving up of these happy days with a broad knife, dividing the time the children “must” spend with father, mother, siblings, grandparents and others. When parents cannot look beyond their own needs to compromise with their children’s lives, the court will do it for them, with lack of emotion or feeling to guide it.

Four hours for mom. Two hours for grandma. Twelve hours for dad. Splitting the day so you have to be hauling kids on the road for two hours of the holiday you’d all rather spend at home. Weather? Schmeather. The court order says… Alternating years, so every other Christmas your hearth is empty and dark with no children to celebrate. Christmas Eve. Christmas Day. Thanksgiving Thursday. Friday? Maybe, if you’re lucky, a few extra days of the vacation when the children can have a parent all to themselves without other obligations.

DSCN0207There’s no good way to do it, so this yields the sucking-up and effort to maintain through the holidays “for the kids.”

In my generation, divorce was not as prevalent as today, and we visited in summers only, so our holidays, though father was absent, were not disrupted. My children, however, were subject to visitation orders, and spent most holidays with their fathers, which was fine with me. Holiday is a state of mind, as far as I’m concerned. You can have a special day on the 23rd, 25th, or even 31st, if you put your mind to it.

Many more children of my kids’ generation grew up in split parenting situations, so maybe for them, it’s not as traumatic for their own children to be visiting other households during these magic periods. And often, no matter how hard you’re trying to hold things together, the children are well aware of the tensions underlying the surface. If those tensions become toxic, then perhaps separation, even this time of year, could be the right choice, for everyone’s peace of mind. It’s important, though, not to compete with each other to “buy” the children with stuff.

But even if the magic fails on one front, there are many more, like these suggestions from Suzy Brown. As she says, “Holidays are about peace and sharing and gratitude and love. During tragedy, or divorce, or heartache we have to reach down and find those core things at a deeper level, a more meaningful level.”

It’s a tough time. I’m going through the single parent thing again for the first time in 15 years, and it’s a big readjustment. But it can be done. If you feel that you can’t hold on, for any reason, please seek professional help, whether in the form of legal counsel, psychological counsel, or just a heartfelt cup of cocoa with a good friend or close relative. Take time out for yourself. Most decisions about situations (absent actual danger) can be put off for a week or two. Give yourself and the children time in as de-stressed a manner as possible. This will pay off as they learn coping skills from you they can use all their lives.

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A brief interlude

IMGP2184I got a chance to travel to Florida this weekend to a friend’s wedding, a long-time compatriot from my newspaper days. She was the matron of honor at my second wedding (or third, depending on how you count it), and I’m the godmother of her first son. That being said, we haven’t been closely in touch for years, though we do manage to have a face-to-face at least once every couple of years.

Florida is beautiful and sunny in May, though the temperatures were considerably higher than I was used to, after a long winter in the IMGP2180frozen Northlands. The wedding itself took place on the beach in Melbourne. Both the bride and groom wore white–before Memorial Day! *fans self*  Most of my lady friends in the South would have fainted dead away. It was short and sweet, and the view was delightful. The ceremony was followed by a small but energetic reception with some of the best food I’ve had in awhile–jerk IMGP2181chicken, reggae shrimp and this lovely cake:

I also fit in a trip to my dear friend Edde’s in Fort Pierce, where we had lovely weather except for the last night, when IMGP2190some serious dark clouds rolled in over the ocean, dragging thunder and lightning with them. But we still had a nice visit. She was feeling a good deal better than she had been in December, when last we visited, so that was something to be grateful for.

Little Miss spent the weekend with her dad, which I hope did them both some good. Certainly a little “me” time was appreciated. And of course, nothing says Florida like this:IMGP2172

Not something you see every day….

 

 

Florida fun!

Travel is really one of my thrills, and I was thrilled indeed to make a pilgrimage to my old stomping grounds in south Florida last month, with some new experiences thrown in!

My traveling companions included the ever-faithful Little Miss, but we also had our exchange student Yurie, who packed DSCN0542and re-packed her belongings for her trip home at the end of the visit, and daughter M and her three children.
We missed the worst of the rain, but we did get the south Florida heat square in the face–after all my intervening years as a Yankee, I have to admit I was a bit of a wuss!

Also it was my first long solo trip at the helm of the RV, so I was a little stressed and intimidated by that for awhile, since I’ve been the only one who’s managed to run into something with it. BUT NOT THIS TIME! YAY!

 

We landed at Pensacola just long enough to pick up our passengers, then headed out to the Florida Caverns in Marianna. I sat with the cocker spaniel in the RV while the rest took the cave tour. Little Miss, though, will always remember how the tour guide showed the control panel with the switches for the lights and the one he said was for self-destruct. Apparently she screamed at him not to push that one, in a dead panic. Overall, not bad advice, but still…we do tend to take things literally. 🙂

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Then south to Naples, and east to Everglades City, where we took a trip on an Everglades airboat–something I’d always wanted to do but never had, while we lived there. I was thankful there were headphones for those with sensory issues, and it made it so easy to ask questions! We saw a manatee, some pelicans, and of course alligators:

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But I think we all were excited by the race through the mangroves–not exactly the tour of the “River of Grass” I’d envisioned, but still quite an adventure:DSCN0553

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Then it was on to the Florida Keys, where we’ve spent many happy weekends.

Camping was easy at the state parks, thanks to M, who’d made our reservations many months ago. We were joined, by fortunate coincidence, by daughter D, whose family happened to be going the same time we did, and though we all didn’t fit in the RV, we did camp next to each other at Bahia Honda (one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida) and we shared a big dinner one night, which was nice.DSCN0571

The water off those bridges in the Keys (even the Seven-Mile one!) is SO gorgeous, tones of blue, green and everything inbetween.

 

We took one day away from those wonderful beaches and went to Key West, where I researched an upcoming romance book with pirates. It’s always been one of my favorite places–we honeymooned there. Still as beautiful today:

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Here’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which had a fabulous royal Poinciana tree blooming in front. DSCN0585

 

 

 

Also a giant banyan tree, where the roots grow down from the branches into the ground:

Of course we stopped at the Southernmost point in the continental United States:

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After a bit of shopping, we went to dinner at a Cuban restaurant with the whole gang:

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But the real beauty of the scenery was just to sit and take it in. Especially at the quiet points of the day, like this moment at Bahia Honda with Emma:

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More on the second half of the trip coming in Part II.  🙂

When in the swamp, do as the swamp folk do

DSCN0349 In our impromptu family reunion trip to the South, we encountered many different new experiences. We checked out Pensacola’s white sands, we visited the Black Water River State Park, and even braved the array of fresh seafood from the Gulf, including some awesome seafood nachos at Flounder’s on the beach:

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Some of us traveled to the exotic Waffle House for cheesy grits and fresh ham, even.  The South is a marvelous blend of interesting tastes and experiences!

DSCN0428Then there’s the swamp.

My son-in-law was excited about the possibility of seeing alligators in the wild at the Black Water River Park, but although we did see several living things, an alligator was not one of them. So we went to Alligator Alley across the border in Alabama instead.

This place advertised over a hundred alligators (at least the adults…there was a slough of young’uns, too), and we got to see quite a few.

DSCN0424 Of course, as in any swamp, alligators were not the only occupants:

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And of course, the day would not be complete unless everyone got to hold an alligator!!

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And of course, the obligatory, “Will the guy get eaten feeding hunks of hairy wild pig to the wild alligators?” DSCN0435On the way out,DSCN0437 Yurie had to check out the other wildlife–glad that fence was there. That guy looked like he meant business!

So we counted to make sure we had all the children, and left the swamp, reminiscing on everything we’d seen and also so much we hadn’t seen, that lived just under the water’s shadowed edge…

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Why grandkids rule

We got to visit this week with M and her three kids from Pensacola, as well as S and her batch from Tennessee, and we were lucky enough to hook up with some free time with D, my daughter in town and her family too, for a wonderful BBQ chicken dinner in the neighbor’s garage (thanks, neighbors!).

Even though M’s plans changed and I ended up missing part of the time she was here with court events, we got some real good time in. I felt like we had some conversations that were really meaningful–adult, woman to woman conversations about life and how we did things in our households and with our kids. She’s just graduated (finally! yay!) with her BA in education, particularly special ed–so she has some valid input for my three kids with special issues, and I appreciated what she had to say. As an experienced mom, I had some things to share with her about potential health issues her kids were having. It was all good.

But for grandkids, you can bend the rules and miss a bit of work–I took off two days, one to go to the Grove City outlet mall to satisfy Miss Chloe’s penchant for fashionable clothes at Justice, once Little Miss had shared a 40% coupon with her cousins. Interesting to have them here, while outside the store it was 40 degrees and raining, but buying clothing to wear in Florida where it was 90 degrees! Another factor that played in was their move to the Seattle area later this year–a real switch in weather, for sure.

The other day, we drove up to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center where we experienced the wind off Lake Erie (holy cow, it was cold!) as we climbed the tower to check out the roller coasters from nearby Waldameer. My sister works with the Pennsylvania Sea Grant in the building, so we got a VIP tour behind the scenes, where the kids fed earthworms to the fish in the experimental tanks and got to check out whole racks of dead things in jars and boxes. (Okay, okay, the praying mantises were cool…) Above is the new dinosaur exhibit, and the expressions on their faces, well, they define how we lasted the day.

The TREC has a great little kids’ space, with puppets and puzzles, and the little ones got a big kick out of them, especially the owl puppets whose heads turned around like that girl in The Exorcist.

  Altogether a lovely day, despite the cold temperatures. Perhaps a heads-up for M, who’s lived in Florida and Guam and all sorts of warm places, but is on her way to Washington state. A little adjustment,  but she’ll handle it like she handles everything: efficiently and minimalist. So what if we eat off paper plates for awhile? Clean-up is easy, huh?

Especially after the April we had, it was nice to reaffirm life once again with an onslaught of children and growing things. Thanks for coming, guys. It was a wonderful early gift for Mother’s Day.

Two days, two zoos

In the few short days between the time Little Miss’s school let out and summer school starts, I wanted to take her someplace, you know, just Mommy and me kind of thing. So we went to the Erie Zoo.

Compared to the Miami Metrozoo and even the Cleveland Zoo, Erie’s is pretty small. But it’s also intimate. Time after time, we came right up to the animals–the kangaroo exhibit is a walk-through where the kangaroos are all loose and hopping around where people are!

Little Miss got a chance to get close to her favorite, the giraffes:

The zoo also has a fabulous carousel with exotic animals of all kinds. Little Miss, of course, chose… A warthog?? What? Instead of a dragon? A panda? A giraffe??? Oh well. At least she’s diverse.

She also enjoyed currying the goats; not the same as goat curry, which you should not mention at a petting zoo, I’m sure:

The next day, my daughter S came to Pittsburgh from her home in Tennessee, with her new man. They were headed for the races, but they took time to visit the Pittsburgh Zoo, as he is particularly fond of such things. They’ve been to zoos all over the eastern United States. But Pittsburgh has something really incredible in the PPG Aquarium at the zoo, (see the website for video) where you walk through a tank of sharks and other fish as well as get a chance to see the polar bears swim right over your head.

I hadn’t seen her for several years, as we were out West last year when they came here, and she looks wonderful, having lost a hundred pounds after surgery. She’s back in school and working hard as a single mother trying to improve herself. And I appreciate that she’s taking some time to relax and have fun as a grown-up as well. This is a hard balance for all of us to maintain. She seems to be getting it right.

Here’s all of us enjoying the fishies:

Now if we could only figure out why all the monkeys were so excited after we left their area…and where Dr. Doo-Be-Do has gotten to….  hmmm….