Exploring Old Florida ~ Cedar Key and more

A 12th Stone travel post:

A wonderful thing about retirement is the freedom to wander at will. Just pick up and go with no plans. Do people actually do that? Back in Pennsylvania when I was still working and our gang hung out at the VFW on Friday nights, I was the least spontaneous. If someone suggested taking off for the Jersey shore I was the predictable spoilsport. Usually because I had to clean my bathroom the next morning or do something equally as important. Five years into retirement, I’m still a slave to schedules.

Then I did it. How liberating to explore unfamiliar parts of Florida with no deadline—if even for a day!

Our recent overnight trip with another couple to Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico less than a three-hour drive from Jacksonville had been planned with confirmed reservations, of course. At checkout our friends suggested that we not go home until tomorrow and that we wander wherever the roads take us. Uh, sure, I agreed, mentally scanning my to-do list, all of which could wait, most of it indefinitely.

By then, we were already under the spell of Old Florida, having surrendered to its tranquility crossing the salt marshes under the Highway 24 bridges on our way into Cedar Key the day before. And who couldn’t relax at the Cedar Key Bed & Breakfast, a beautifully preserved nearly 140-year old house with lace curtains, gorgeous garden, gourmet breakfasts and bottomless cookie jar. We relished spending the late afternoon on the veranda with other guests who ended up joining us for dinner at the historic Island Hotel near the harbor, walking back arm-in-arm singing tunes from the Great American Songbook. That bonding wouldn’t happen at a motel, we concurred.

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Besides the water that nearly surrounds Florida’s second oldest city, Cedar Key is defined by enormous oak trees, some more than 200 years old. A short walk from our B&B to the quaint shopping district or the water’s edge took us under and around many of these graceful giants.

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After checking out of the B&B with no agenda, we drove through parts of the island village we hadn’t explored on foot. Intrigued by the boardwalk over a tidal marsh at Cemetery Point Park we pulled over and parked but never took a step on it. The cemetery itself, with its decorated graves and storytelling markers, captivated us for more than an hour. The most impressive and heart-wrenching was the ornate gravesite of Lance Cpl. Brian Rory Buesing who died during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. His headstone features a photo of him in a desert holding a gecko in his hand. While we paid our respects a live gecko jumped onto the gecko in the picture. “Brian’s here,” one of us said. “Thank you, Brian,” we said in unison.

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On a tip from friends back home, we stopped at The Hideaway Tiki Bar on our way out of Cedar Key. We caught co-owner Mo leaving to run early afternoon errands but she opened the bar for us instead. As we sipped craft beers—some brewed in Jacksonville—she told us about the popular Low-Key Hideaway motel with bicycles on the roof, adjacent RV campground and the waterfront tiki bar with walls made of colorful bottles, and how she and her husband moved from up north to take them over. A highlight of our trip, it will be our destination next time.

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Taking Mo’s advice for a good lunch spot, we drove through 20 miles of pine forest to the Treasure Camp on the Suwannee at Fowler’s Bluff—a gem, indeed. The restaurant in the rear of the supply store serves great shrimp and offers a glorious view of the Suwannee River flowing a few feet away. A couple in search of the gold and silver rumored to have been buried by pirate Jean LaFitte two centuries ago pored over maps spread out on their table. Happens all the time, the waitress told us of hopefuls looking for the loot that local lore puts “near a big live oak tree in a bend of the Suwannee.”

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Heading in the general direction of Jacksonville in the late afternoon, we came across a winery advertising free tastings. Dakotah Winery near Chiefland was a pleasant stop for sure, the experience enhanced greatly by its wildlife refuge out back. After some sipping and shopping we watched brilliant wood ducks swim in a pond with colorful koi.

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As evening approached we began looking for a place to stay for the night. A Horseshoe Beach directional sign caught our attention. Didn’t matter that we would backtrack more than 40 miles to the gulf. It would be another new adventure. Like Cedar Key, however, Horseshoe Beach had been hit by Hurricane Hermine last year. New construction and devastation told tales. Our drive along the water’s edge shortly before sunset was spectacular, but we found nowhere to stay in the mostly residential community.

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Remembering an interesting place we passed at Cross City, we drove nearly a half hour back to the Putnam Lodge. Touting Southern hospitality and elegant charm, it did not disappoint. We opted for dinner at the bar, entertained by Krista the lounge singer. A picture of the late gangster Al Capone, a frequent guest, peered back at us across the bottles. The next morning the owner gave us a tour of the historic estate, showing us a hideout behind the fireplace and a peephole in the mantle. Both were used to warn Capone of approaching authorities.

Putman Lodge, Cross City

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Still savoring sweet memories of that taste of spontaneity that begs for more.

 

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Cumberland Island ~ shore to remember

An hour’s drive and 45-minute ferry ride away, it took me 20 years to make it to Cumberland Island National Seashore. Since I started dating a guy who loves to travel four years ago we’ve been from Alaska to Panama and all over the Caribbean. But perhaps I will most fondly remember this piece of heaven just up the road.

In awe of the Kennedys since lurking around Democratic headquarters as a young teen when handsome Irish Catholic JFK was running for president, I was intrigued when his son got married on Cumberland Island two months after I moved to Jacksonville in July 1996. I really wanted to see that little church and what that restricted place was all about. In retirement, it finally became a priority.

What a fun trip! It’s a toss-up what’s most memorable—the pristine island, the fascinating stories of the mega-rich people who settled there or the bawdy bartender in our hotel’s saloon.

We stayed two nights at the historic Riverview Hotel in St. Mary’s, Georgia, just across the street from the ferry launch and National Park Service visitors’ center. From tales by his former boating buddies, my boyfriend is convinced it’s haunted. To his dismay and my relief, nothing spooky happened. However, this interior picture captured the stalker who shows up everywhere I go.

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Although we could easily have made Cumberland Island a day trip, spending time in St. Mary’s was a bonus. It’s quaint and welcoming, with interesting shops and good restaurants and lovely homes. From our rocking chairs on the second floor porch of our old hotel we watched boats dock at Lang’s Marina and flags flap in the small park by the St. Mary’s River. A peaceful late afternoon when time seemed to stand still.

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Cocktail time ended the solitude. “That’s her! She’s still here!” My boyfriend could barely contain his delight as we walked into the saloon downstairs. “WTF do you want?” snapped the sassy bartender when she saw him … just like those old boating days stories he had told me about her. Cindy the queen of the pub had not lost her charm. “Your sister you’re married to,” she said, gesturing toward me. “What does she want?” And so it went, for the most amusing happy hour—and best Bloody Mary—I’ll likely ever experience.

Pristine getaway

No bridges connect Cumberland, a barrier island, with mainland Georgia. We rode the 9 a.m. ferry to have time to take the six-hour Land and Legacies Tour. Other visitors walked trails, rode bikes or set out for their camping spots. We climbed in a 10-passenger van for a scenic ride and spellbinding history lesson, both of which have been replaying in my mind like a favorite movie. Reservations for the ferry and tour may be made through Cumberland Island National Seashore’s official website. Our tour guide, Mike Fulford, was exceptional. I suggest requesting him.

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Our view through the van’s windows reminded me of the half-hour drive on A1A along the ocean from Jacksonville Beach to St. Augustine through the serene Guana Reserve. Much of the 36,000-acre Cumberland Island is maritime forest. It has 18 miles of undeveloped beach, freshwater lakes and saltwater marshes. Spanish moss drips from sprawling oak trees. Rules that visitors may leave nothing on the island are strictly enforced. Nothing is sold there.

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For its entire length the island has only one road, a dirt passageway wide enough for one vehicle. The “who can find a spot to pull over” game begins early. Feral horses have the right of way. Our van followed a meandering pair for quite a while before they wandered off into the brush. About 150 horses live on the island. Even though they come close, people are warned not to touch or feed them.

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Some people live on the island, but nothing like the pre-Civil War cotton plantation heydays and, afterward, when tourists flocked to the north end and the affluent Carnegies took over the south. Most of the few who remain have limited dwelling rights determined by massive sales and swaps when Congress created Cumberland Island National Seashore in 1972 to preserve the wilderness. Only one hotel—the upscale Greyfield Inn, a former Carnegie mansion—is on the island.

Throughout the often bumpy ride, Mike told stories of unfathomable wealth and how it ruled Cumberland Island. We stopped at the grave of plantation owner Robert Stafford, who taught his slaves how to read and save money. Once freed, they built homes on the northern part of the island. But it was the tales of Lucy Coleman Carnegie that kept our jaws dropping. Married to Pittsburgh steel magnate Thomas Carnegie, the pretentious Lucy wanted to winter with the wealthy in Georgia after the birth of her ninth child. Shunned by the high society of Jekyll Island because her husband’s blood was not blue enough, she got even. Her persistence and a personal tragedy finally wore down the cousin of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis who owned the Dungeness plantation she coveted. As owner, Lucy had a 6,720-square-foot mansion constructed for her family and smaller “starter home” mansions built nearby for her children when they married. Content to hunt and play on the island, including on golf courses their mother had built, none ever held a job. Only the Plum Orchard mansion remains open for public tours. Lucy had it built for her son George and his 19-year-old bride Margaret, who declared it too small and had two huge wings added before the couple moved in.

Plum Orchard mansion, built in 1898, has 30 principal rooms and numerous smaller rooms, including 12 bathrooms.

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Mike describes how meals were assembled in the plating room:

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One of several Tiffany lamps in Plum Orchard:

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Designed by Peabody and Stearns, the same firm that renovated Dungeness, Plum Orchard featured an ingenious basement drainage system that brought floodwaters in, then out again.

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 The remains of Dungeness, which burned in 1959, 43 years after Lucy died at age 71:

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In the1990s in New England, young descendants of Lucy’s daughter Margaret hung out with John F. Kennedy Jr., who frequently took them up on their invitations to escape to the secluded property their family still had on Cumberland Island. Loyal locals helped John pull off his paparazzi-free wedding to Carolyn Bessette in the tiny First African Baptist Church.

Built in the 1930s, the building served as a church and school:

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Our tour guide passed these wedding day pictures around:

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Grateful to Congress for preserving Cumberland Island nearly a half century ago, I am concerned about a current proposal to build houses on private property near the popular Sea Camp Campground. Hoping the Camden County Commissioners deny that disgrace in their upcoming vote. Find more information on that here.

Home just a week, I already hear St. Mary’s and Cumberland Island calling me back.

 

 

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Skal! To Iceland, and a new decade

A 12th Stone travel post:

Hmm, maybe not. Perhaps I’ll write a travel/humor/birthday piece. Whatever, how can a retiree be too busy to blog? My first 12th Stone post featured a photo of a champagne toast to my 65th birthday. I blinked. Now I’m 70.

Celebrating my 70th birthday with a brewery tour in Reykjavik, Iceland:

Iceland, brewery1, my 70th birthday, Feb 2017

My progressive reduction of blog posts certainly does not mean life has slowed down in retirement. When I stopped working nearly five years ago I was cautioned how fast time would fly now. The speed has been scary. But those years brought many blessings, for which I give thanks often. Good health, wonderful family, cherished friends, having enough … And, yes, finding love as a senior, unexpected and amazing. The blur has been a blast. Despite my pictures, not all the fun involved alcohol, honest.

My boyfriend enjoys surprising me with cruises and other trips—usually to the Caribbean or other hot spots because he knows how I dislike cold weather. Big reason why I live in Florida. So at Christmas I was surely surprised when he gave me an envelope that contained a picture of the Northern Lights and clever prose that included “we will be spending your 70th birthday in Iceland.” My February birthday.

Hey, I would be able to wear The Grape again, I rationalized, genuinely becoming more excited as our trip neared. I wore that beloved bulky coat only once—this Christmas in Pennsylvania—since I blogged about my inability to part with it in 2013. Two friends went with us to Iceland. The Grape made five travelers. They got to know her on the ride to the airport. She took jokes well. They loved her, too.

Grateful to have The Grape keeping me warm during this snowball fight in downtown Reykjavik.

Iceland by Judy, snowball fight1, Feb 2017

During the seven-hour direct flight (cozy under The Grape) from Orlando I envisioned blinding blizzards and dark days, yet I knew I was in for a great time with that group. Iceland is fun, and much more. It would have been at the top of my bucket list had I known. Passing the word.

Largely, I was impressed by the friendliness of the people and their fabulous (sometimes outrageous) sense of humor—particularly our unforgettable tour guides. The country, about the size of Ohio, has a population of about 323,000 people, most of them descendants of the Vikings. One guide showed us a phone app that quickly can tell you if you are related to someone asking you out. Because it’s in the Gulf Stream, Iceland has tolerable winter temperatures. I remember learning in grade school that Iceland and Greenland are misnamed. True. Also impressive is how Icelanders harness geothermal power to save energy. Drinking water and fish and chips were the best we’ve ever tasted.

While we were there it snowed often, but not for long, so we were able to get around. We had about eight hours of daylight and heard stories about the 24-hour summer sunshine and midnight festivals and golf tournaments. Made me want to return and see more than the region around Reykjavik, the capital.

Highly recommended is the Reykjavik CityWalk, a two-hour downtown walking tour. Standing across a park from the Parliament building, our guide told us that nearly half the members are women and that women’s rights are important in Iceland. The exceptionally entertaining and educational tour ended in City Hall, where the guide passed a pouch for free-will donations and where artwork like this reflects the country’s gender equality:

City Hall vagina art, Reykjavik (Look it up if you don’t believe me.)

AA City Hall Art

A nighttime bus tour away from the city lights to see the Northern Lights attracted my boyfriend to the trip he spotted on travelzoo.com. But the night we went the lights were faint. At times we thought the wispy white formations were clouds. Finally huge green and red streaks appeared across the sky and we were happy. My friend’s photos taken with a Northern Lights iphone app made them look more brilliant than they actually were then.

By contrast, our tour of the Olgerdin Brewery (first picture above) did not disappoint. It began with an orientation and beer tasting that included the hilarious story of Iceland’s attempt at prohibition and our even more hilarious attempts to pronounce its beer called Gull, which means gold in Icelandic. It’s like trying to say “guth” while spitting out the side of your mouth. We caught on fast to saying Skal!—pronounced scowl—meaning Cheers!

Besides being surrounded by glorious coastlines, the island of Iceland is full of natural wonders—like these we saw on the Golden Circle tour:

Gullfoss (golden falls) took our breath away. A friend saw the waterfalls in the summer and said they looked much different than my icy pictures. Their power and beauty rival Niagara.

Iceland, magnificent Gullfoss waterfalls, Feb 2017

The Geysir geothermal area has several steaming pools, one that bubbles and spouts nearly 100 feet every four to eight minutes.

Iceland, Geysir spouting, Harry watching, Feb 2017

Thingvillar National Park has historic and geographic significance. The oldest existing parliament in the world first assembled there in 930 AD, and it is at the junction of the American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

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The dormant Kerid volcano is spectacular. Yes, those are people on the icy walkway surrounding the top. Not us.

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If this trip is a preview, bring on the 70s. Skal!

 

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How did baby boomers survive those violent nursery rhymes?

“The line broke, the monkey got choked …” Whaaat? So we’re exercising to a variation of “The Clapping Song” at Jazzercise this morning when our instructor mused about the violent nursery rhymes that were part of our childhood. Made me think of a story I wrote recently for a fun thing I do with a small group of fellow seniors. We pick a topic and each write a short story that we read aloud over (lots of) wine, followed by dinner. This topic: Little Red Riding Hood—the real story. Here is mine. Fitting for a blog aimed at folks 65+. Especially now.

Once upon a time in a forest far away, a girl left her cottage to visit her grandmother who lived way on the other side of the woods. She wore the red cape with the hood that her grandmother made for her and she carried a basket of sandwiches, sweets and wine for her ailing granny. Before long, on a bend in the path, she came face to face with a big bad wolf who had been eyeing her hungrily from behind a large tree.

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But before he could pounce they were both distracted by a bright light in a nearby field. Curiosity overtook his hunger and her fear as together they moved off the path to get a closer look at the crystal ball that sparkled in the grass. An old fortune teller wearing a flowing robe adorned with stars and a gold nose ring appeared from dense foliage.

“Sit,” she beckoned to the mesmerized duo as they joined her in a small circle on the ground. She placed the ball in her lap and, caressing it, told them about a civilization centuries in the future. The year would be 2016 in an era marred by war, hatred, discrimination and disrespect. It was not like that everywhere all the time, but enough to cause worldwide heartache, anger and despair. The cause of this mass dysfunction, she explained, would be generations traumatized by scary nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Most affected by these violent stories appeared to be the humans who were children in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Images of babies with cracked skulls, smashed eggheads, mice without tails and children in ovens prevented them from living in harmony with their fellow man.

“YOU,” she said peering at the pair, “have the ability and opportunity to change history.” “Us? How?” the petite girl and husky wolf asked in unison. “What you don’t know is that your grandmother sewed magic powers into your red cape,” she told the girl. “And you,” she told the animal, “are in fact a pushover with a heart of gold.” Then the woman and her crystal ball disappeared.

“Where is your grandmother’s house?” the wolf asked the girl. Amazingly, she told him, grabbing a snack from the basket before handing it to him and trusting him to deliver it sooner than she would get there.

On a mission to create a kinder universe, she continued on the path through the woods in search of stories she could rewrite. She heard music that sounded like a lullaby. Looking up into a tree, she saw a cradle tilt just in time to toss her magic cape in the air to gently catch a falling baby.

A few steps later she heard two children giggling at a well on the top of a hill. The boy tripped and began tumbling down the grade, bringing the girl with him. Again, she tore off her cape, which caught the pair, encased them in soft fabric and cushioned their fall.

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A bit later in her journey she encountered a character with a huge egghead losing his balance as he sat on a stone wall. Wasting no time she threw the cape, which encircled the creature and pulled him upright, preventing a messy scramble.

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A bigger horror lie ahead. As the girl approached a whimsical gingerbread house she heard two children, who had been abandoned by their father and evil stepmother, screaming as a mean witch tried to cook them. This time, the cape acted on its own, sailing through the air, lassoing the witch and strangling her before slinging her lifeless body into the oven to be burned to cinders. (Pretty scary ~ per this 1909 illustration by Arthur Rackham.)

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Back on the trail near the edge of the forest she saw three blind rodents chasing a crazed farmer’s wife, who was turning in their direction with a carving knife. The girl bent down just in time for the mice to run onto her cape, which rolled them into a tight cocoon, tails intact.

And so she continued, for days longer than she anticipated, creating one happy ending after another.

By the time she arrived at her grandmother’s house she found her in a rocking chair on the porch watching the wolf paint her shabby shutters. Other wolves, rabbits, bears and skunks were tending to her lawn and garden, patching her roof and cleaning her cottage. Peter Rabbit’s mother and Mrs. Bear had nursed her back to health with chamomile tea and porridge, which tasted just right. All the helpers were wearing red hoodies. In the time it took the girl to traverse the forest and reshape history, the wolf had created the first neighborhood association and declared himself the very first community organizer, an admirable profession that would become a springboard to greatness. Around the world neighbors would form groups to make their communities better. In honor of their heroine, whom they came to call Little Red Riding Hood, the hoodie would forever be the proper attire to represent the value of life (all lives,) respect for authority and peace on Earth.

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Life revolves around football season

Overlapping the end of daylight saving time and the beginning of standard time is a phenomenon known as football season. It dictates the timing of practically everything else, especially on weekends. Missing any part of a college or pro game is crushing to most hard core fans. “Now we’ve got to wait until after football season,” I said at least twice last week to friends who’ve been planning get-togethers. And I know not to schedule anything with my boyfriend on Saturdays or Sundays until mid-February 2017.

Except for screaming in the stands at every one of my sons’ high school games, I hadn’t been into football much before moving 20 years ago to a city that has an NFL franchise. There’s no escaping that excitement. Now I’m definitely into the tailgating, partying, wearing teal and black, cheering … even watching a play now and then. My sons are impressed that I can talk football somewhat intelligently in my senior years. It’s no longer necessary to refresh my knowledge of a down before every game, but I still wish footballs were bright yellow so I could see them. I look forward to visiting Pennsylvania next week where it will feel more like football season, hearing my family shout at the Eagles on TV and, most of all, rooting for my grandson during his first year of playing high school football.

Football season is definitely a fun buffer between summer and Christmas, a five-month celebration of hope, hype and, too often, despair.  Here’s some of my fan gear:

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Decades ago back in PA, while my sons rooted for their teams—one for Philadelphia, the other for Pittsburgh—I paid little attention to stats or scores.

My Steelers fan raised his kids with the same team spirit. High school football posters of him and his brother shared a wall with a Ben Roethlisberger fathead.

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Often on Super Sunday my mother and I would go to a mall or movie. Even now, with my relative enthusiasm for the sport, I dread Super Bowl parties where everyone actually watches every second of the entire game. Wine or beer with tacos, great camaraderie, an occasional glance at the score, and paying close attention the last two minutes—which is usually about 20—is my kind of Super Bowl party. Several years ago I hosted one. “Uh, Mom, did you get a new TV?” my son on the other coast asked. Oh no, I panicked, just then thinking about my old set with the small screen. As they left after the game, my friends tossed dollar bills onto my kitchen table toward a new TV fund.

This Saturday my boyfriend and I attended a late afternoon housewarming, our arrival and departure carefully calculated by the times of the Alabama and Florida games. I would be shocked, I told him when he asked if I thought the hosts would have the games on TV. Lucky for him and a handful of other fans, a teenage boy switched the channel from music to football. His action took me back to the mid-‘70s when cable TV was new and required a wrench or pliers to connect. Not wanting one of my parties spoiled by the men (yeah, mostly, back then) watching football, I disconnected the cable and hid my husband’s tools in the washing machine. Playing dumb while the desperate guys freaked out, I watched one of them hook the television back up with a pocket knife. (More than once I was told that was grounds for divorce.)

Making it back from the housewarming party in time, my boyfriend settled in to watch the remainder of the second game while I checked email, Facebook and other stuff in another room. After all the griping about possibly missing important plays, he was unusually quiet. No “Go Gators!” or more scathing shouts. I returned to find him asleep in front of the screen. One of the hazards of golden years football.

Photo gamely posed the next day.

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Goodbye, Telephone

Hello Art

Seriously, when was the last time you heard that word? Assuming people actually do answer the phone when you call, they are more likely to say something like “Hey, Susan!” or “Whassup, Joe?” They already know who’s calling, thanks to caller ID and other features on our fabulous phones.

In fact, the telephone feature likely is used the least. Apparently I’m among the remaining few who actually talk on my smartphone. If the first cell phones had all the abilities of today’s models, they likely wouldn’t have been called phones at all. For example, here’s how I get to talk to my son: text “call your mom.” Can’t blame it only on younger generations, though. It seems nobody calls anymore.

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Ha Ha! My phone just rang. But political robocalls don’t count.

Admittedly, I rarely answer unknown calls, either. I used to answer calls with a local area code, until getting burned too many times by telemarketers—the majority of calls I still get on my land line. Yes, land line. (What if there’s a hurricane and power goes out, or I lose my cell phone … plus I just hear better on it.)

It’s not only unknown callers who get ignored. Many people let all their calls go to voicemail to review later—or not. Some of them even listen to the messages. I’ve come to know those who rarely do (hello, boyfriend, grandson, former boss … ) so I hang up after a ring or two. They usually call back when they see I’ve phoned. My call-back theory had long been “if it’s important they’ll leave a message.” Not anymore if I recognize the caller. Missed call means call me.

Makes me marvel how I managed to meet newspaper story deadlines way back before voicemail when all we had was basic telephones. People answered them, that’s how. Now that I am retired and write on a freelance basis, it’s a different ballgame.

Don’t ever call, a friend my age who is still in the workforce advised the other day when I was whining about it taking me longer to connect with sources than to interview them and write the stories. Writers in her office know better, she said. You have to email or text to get a reply.

Well, yeah, I’ve learned that by now. But I’m still old school enough to often reach out by phone to make that personal connection, then follow up with an email or text. Guess I’ve been wasting my time.

A little web searching on the subject is making me feel a lot selfish. And rather pushy. Overwhelmingly, bloggers and other writers, largely millennials, are saying their time is more important than my calls. Their consensus: why should I stop in the middle of my project or whatever I am doing to talk to you? Communication is much more efficient by email or text, to deal with on my time. And be brief.

They consider phone calls impolite and intrusive, and they despise the small talk.

To be truthful, I get that, recalling those busy times when my desk phone interrupted my concentration. Customer service training dictates to answer the phone with a smile because callers can “hear” it. I’d stifle a “bad word” before answering with my professional greeting, which likely had the tone of “WHAT?

These days, however, avoiding the phone is a culture shift as much as it is time management.

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In her book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other,” MIT professor Sherry Turkle wrote that unlike voice, texting provides feelings of control. And by relying on Facebook, texting, IM’ing, Skype, Twitter and e-mail, we’re losing the ability to talk to another person.

Growing up in more easy-going times with no social media I welcomed phone calls, often anticipating them with excitement. I still relish long, newsy chats with friends and family afar. Yet I admit to putting off calls that I fear will take too much of my time, and scheduling calls with certain friends, which would have seemed weird years ago. In these fast-paced, high-tech times I use my fingers much more frequently than my voice to communicate, and if someone does happen to answer my calls, it’s often to say, “Email me your questions, please.”

 

 

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It’s sentiment, not clutter

Thankfully I’ll likely be dead when my kids face the chore of cleaning out my house.

From AARP to Pinterest, sites with tips on getting rid of possessions in our golden years are plentiful. Although safety and downsizing are excellent reasons to eliminate belongings, so our children won’t have to do it is a huge incentive.

Long before I became a senior citizen I wrote in a humor column that I knew and appreciated the difference between clutter and sentiment. I still maintain that I am not a hoarder. You could walk into my house any time unannounced and find no pathways, off-limits rooms or stacks of reading material on the floor. Nor would you take a picture for a magazine cover. Kind friends call it homey. I concede to being more sentimental about stuff than most people.

When my teenage grandson was visiting last week, he asked how I remember who gave me what. My heart knows, I told him. When I’m gone, others will know from the discreet notes all over the place. Plus names on things, I continued, showing him the undersides of a crucifix and snowman mug he and his sister gave me years ago.

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Notes in my china cabinet explain that the stemmed glassware was a wedding gift to my parents 70 years ago and the pig pitcher came from my great-grandmother’s house in South Philly.

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This treasured bowl is stored with the card that came with it.

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My father’s card to me on my first Christmas says “I love you, Punkin” in his handwriting. It’s in my living room.

Blog clutter aug 2016 Christmas card from dad

My boyfriend of more than three years jokes (perhaps not) that one reason we don’t marry or live together is because he doesn’t want my Chambersburg stuff in his house. Actually, he uses another “s” word. He is referring to my hometown Cat’s Meow collection in my kitchen that includes the old train station that later served as the newspaper office where I worked and a landmark ice cream stand …

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… and lots of other mementoes:

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Blog clutter aug 2016 cburg rotary

Blog clutter aug 2016 cburg fountain

I have earnestly tried to declutter. When I retired four years ago I used my new free time to do a serious purge. Or so I thought until my daughter-in-law shared “Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui,” a book by Karen Kingston, when I was visiting them in California. It made me want to rush home and toss more. Using the recommended trash, repairs, recycle and transit boxes I made decent progress … until I got to sentimental items. Kingston preaches to “keep the best and fling the rest” and don’t get hung up because things were gifts or you might need them someday. Let them go, with love, she says. Ouch!

Even more ruthless, in my opinion, is the much-hyped book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. She advises sorting everything you own into categories, then holding each item to your chest and asking yourself if it sparks joy. If not, dispose.

I embraced Kondo’s system of rolling clothes and using shoeboxes in drawers for visibility and neatness—very cool storage tricks.

Blog clutter aug 2016 drawers

But I balked at throwing away treasure boxes like these:

Blog clutter aug 2016 letters

There’s more. Like the box of all of my newspaper clippings. And the cedar chest packed with scrapbooks, high school memorabilia and other keepsakes. Though seldom, I do look at these things, cherishing most of the memories. I’m not ready to part with them yet. Maybe by the time my children have to go through my possessions there will be fewer of them.

Those who knew her agree that I have become my mother in many ways, particularly her sentiment. Now that she is gone I also hold onto some of her keepsakes, most in a plastic bin but others on display with mine. These plastic Glick’s Shoes promotions from the 1950s—joy sparkers, for sure—sat on Mom’s dressing table. (My note is showing in the blue one!)

Blog clutter aug 2016 Glick shoes

Like my mother, I have shelves of photo albums. Several months after she died my brothers and I gathered around a large table and looked at every page of every single one of them together. We had fun reminiscing. Some of us took whole books but for the most part we each pulled out individual pictures we wanted and slid what was left of the desecrated albums into a large trash can at one end of the table.

If I could do that, I fear my kids will have no remorse trashing my photos without even opening the albums. Please look. Read my notes, too.

 

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