In a few minutes, another year will have passed. All the yahoos on TV are jumping around, singing and dancing like it’s 1999. Lady Gaga is trying her best to impress with a birdcage wrapped around her head. But lets be honest, every day should feel like a new year. When you open your eyes in the morning, you should be filled with the promise that there are great things to look forward to. When you give your kids a kiss as they head out to school or you kick off your workday, envision an imaginary Time’s Square Ball dropping, giving each day great promise. So no matter what the date, feel optimistic that your best is tangible and truly possible. Happy New Year to everyone that reads this blog. I wish you great success and excitement in the year to come. I eagerly await tomorrow and every day after that for the moments that will be captured through the lens and look forward to sharing them with you.
Thank You Randy
Thank You Francisco and Cristo
The boat would swing around into the narrow port of San Juan, Puerto Rico. A kaleidoscope of colors awaited us in Old San Juan. Even Grumbacher would find it difficult to produce the likeness of colors found here. The city has deep roots in Spanish navel history as walled forts protect the city. The sites here are spectacular reminder of the Spanish empire that had spread across the Caribbean Sea many years ago. Even today, a walk through its streets transcends modern living. The warm air has helped preserve this port though the years and its people seem content and proud. It’s an idyllic place to conclude a cruise. Just a week ago, I was the skeptic, more reluctant than any to venture onto a cruise ship. I had been proven wrong. My preconceived notion of what the journey may be like came from watching cheesy episodes of The Love Boat back in the 70’s. I half expected Judy McCoy to welcome us on board while being mesmerized by Charo’s dance during the evenings. While there was a small element of that, I was amazed by the grandeur of the ship. The Serenade of the Seas did in fact “serenade” us with comfort, laughs, excellent food and impeccable service. My family would mutiny against the ship-organized excursions. While having no discourse on what we may have missed, I won’t feel disappointed. Instead, the excursions became distinctly our own, away from the crowd and born out of our own imagination. Our final steps down the plank of the Serenade were a sad goodbye to the relaxation we had come to known at sea. We would fondly remember Randy, the Steward, Francisco and Cristo, our waiters. Peter would never forget the endless cone of frozen yogurt he was free to consume and Kate would look back fondly on virtually everything she experienced. I had been worried that my camera would be tucked away for the week growing cobwebs, but I was mistaken. Rather, I had lived on a moving hotel that brought me from one photo opportunity to another while never having to worry about providing a meal for my family. The only problem with traveling is that it makes you wish to see more. An amazing world awaits with miracles tucked around every corner ready to be uncovered. I feel fortunate for what I have seen and look forward to what adventure lay ahead.
St Croix was the friendliest island. I loved its people. In my first hour on the island, I walked with my camera and met a 22 year old man. I asked him about the buses. We ended up talking for a half hour about Rasta living, Iphones, and what it was like on a cruise ship. He would walk me to where I could fetch the local bus. If you want to truly get the flavor of these islands, you need to take the local bus. Here we would meet Pop’s, an old man with an island remedy for every ailment. I would find out that ginger is a cure for virtually everything. One with cancer would simply need to use the extract of Lili leaf with olive oil made into a tea. Chris would recommend some baby aspirin and together, I figured they could save the world. I met Cynthia while waiting for the bus and after our long bus ride together; we bonded on just about everything. Finally on the way home from seeing the sites, I met a young woman that was 5 months pregnant. The girl who was transplanted from the Dominican Republic fascinated me. Her beauty was undeniable and her personality was truly exquisite. I longed to photograph these people and hope that someday I can do a trip for just this. There is nothing I would enjoy more than capturing the beauty of island culture via its people. I hope someday that I can make the opportunity arise. When commercialism is removed from culture, the people stand out more not for what they have, but who they intrinsically are.
Stepping of the boat in St Thomas was like pulling into Clinton Crossing shopping mall. We would quickly escape the area and find another beach. People were feeding some milk bones to thousands of fish and the kids were in awe over the colors of the fish swirling around them. Kate would spot a shark and I learned that Peter could walk in water. Jacques Cousteau he is not. Our last stop would bring us back to Puerto Rico where we would just explore its surface in old San Juan. Unfortunately, every trip must end and San Juan was a beautiful place bid it farewell.
As we traveled over the river and through the woods this evening, we all chimed in singing our favorite Christmas songs. The kids are growing up fast. Every year that ticks by, the wonder of Christmas may teeter on the endangered list for our newfound adolescents. But is it really? As they constantly clutch some type of technology, is there still some room for tradition and silly reindeer games. The answer came tonight in a resounding yes. While those holiday tunes came out of an IPad blaring from the back seat, we were all ready for Santa’s big day. I was eager to give and in true youthful excitement, the kids were ready to receive. In the songs that we sang, Chris and I were connecting our Christmas’s past to the Children’s Christmas present. In the songs’ refrains, we would all chime in our best exuberant voices. We were all in a good place. We drove through Durham and I could sense a comfort that comes with being happy in your own skin. Both Chris and I feel at home here, able to be ourselves and live life free to explore the possibilities. My kids can grow up here with innocence and well-being. Christmas day will be a gift that we cherish because we can all share in it together and appreciate the life we have all built together. May your traditions grow into wonderful memories…the type that live on from one generation to the next. May your life be merry, despite its challenges. For Chrismas is here and once again, I am thankful.
Peter was sure to label each stocking so Santa would get it right.
Back on boat the gluttony would continue. We would eat seven strait nights of gourmet 3 course meals. Sure does beat my mac and cheese from home. The kids quickly mastered table etiquette and I have never eaten so much. In sharp contrast, I realized that island living just doesn’t allow this. Even the wealthy islander has little access to such great food. Despite access to naïve fruits, our year in Saba always left us waiting for the boat that came stocked with frozen meats. You became accustomed to a steady diet of rice and beans . Fish is the island staple. We landed in Antigua and hit the beach. The highlight of the trip was once again, the cabbie. He drove like a maniac as we bounced around the back of his bus. Kate turns to me with a huge smile loving the roller coaster ride. As a few hours of the beach passed our driver returned. After a couple miles at 20 miles an hour, I tapped Chris on the shoulder, knowing our driver was stoned out of his mind. The people make these islands interesting. Unfortunately, few tourists really interact with them on a personal level. I would spend the next day in St. Croix talking to many of its friendly people. Bust first we would head back to the boat to enjoy dinner once again. Life is good.
Dominica looms huge from the 10th deck. The island seems to have no end and the mountains peak high into the clouds. 70 Percent of the island is rain forest. A quick morning walk brings me through town. Doors and churches stand with their paint peeling. They have the same allure to me as the old barns back in Connecticut. I like this island. It looks lush, much like Saba. Early on, we had decided to go the non-typical route and skip any organized excursions. We would meet a man named Erasmus. We would pile into his car and venture up into the mountains. He loves his Island and it is clear from his enthusiasm. We pass by endless fruit trees along the route…elephant fruit, passion fruit, bananas, mangos, papaya and oranges. The islands main export was once bananas until just a few years ago when the big fruit companies took their business to from Dominica to Columbia. The small island just couldn’t compete with the massive groves of the South American country. The road would twist and turn and Peter’s face would begin to turn green. Finally we would make it to a trailhead. In the excursion guide, it was marked as difficult…so off we went. Shades of green and brown defined the place and a heavy humidity enveloped the top of the mountain. It became darker and cooler as we walked deeper into the trail. Banyan trees stood everywhere with their long vines. Like an Indiana Jones movie, we walked over rickety bridges and through dense forest. The smell of the earth was impermeable. We traveled three miles up the mountain with Peter leading the way. His excitement was obvious as he took in his first rainforest. I was thankful that taking the kids out of school for the week was showing its educational benefits. As we reached what looked like the crater, we were met by rain….crazy rainforest rain. It became blinding as we covered our last mile, but the kids giggled as their feet slapped though puddles of deep water. Each step was a climb or a drop of another 12 inches. Through the shroud of rain we saw a towering waterfall and the kids squealed with excitement. We would climb down into the pool at the bottom and feel vertigo as we looked high up to the lip of the falls. The noise was deafening and we laughed drenched to the bone like drowned rats. Chris would call to the kids like Dr Jones saying, "Throw me idol, I'll throw you the whip!" The rained lightened if only for a minute and we realized that we had found our treasure. The memory was priceless.We knew this would be the highlight of the trip as we sang the theme to Indiana Jones all the way back to the taxi. Erasmus laughed when he saw us, looking like characters from “Lost” emerging from the jungle. Coming back to town, we would get a glimpse into the locals’ everyday lives. Little market tents dotted the way and in each house we saw simple island living. Shorts stops gave us a glimpse of water boiling up from the earth, proof of the islands volcanic activity. From the road, massive poinsettia plants grew wild. For some reason, the cabbie would call a goat, a sheep…who knew? We left Dominica barely scratching the surface of this large island. We had just wetted our appetite, enough for us to want to return and take in more someday.
Grenada is hidden under a shroud of rain. Weather-wise, it felt like I had been dropped back In Saba, where we had spent the second year of our marriage. I waited for the warm Caribbean sun to burn through and help melt the humidity away. I would feel silly disembarking the ship with all the other tourist invaders armed with cameras, bottled waters and cheesy cruise-wear. After my year of Island living, I knew islanders laughed at this. I walked off the boat into a bustling rush hour commute. Everyone was walking up and down steep hills trying to get to one place or another. Crushing poverty infused the land making me feel worst off for the gluttony I had experienced in my immediate past. I walked alone for two hours as Chris exercised and the kids slept in. In a chaotic fashion, cars swerved through narrow roads beeping at every passerby. Young children in yellow walked to school with parents. Older children in uniform walked in large groups up steep hills to their academic institutions. The hope here seems to be found in the children as you can feel their energy as you pass them by. Alcohol has ruined this population in more ways than you can imagine. Distorted faces marred from years of alcohol infused living mixed with the suns harsh effects were everywhere. Walking by them would be akin to being in a zombie movie. Despite this, people were friendly. I love to chat with strangers and get some insight even if it’s just a small nugget of knowledge. I would talk with a banker, a businessman, a school girl and a check out lady. People like this would be the glue that holds this place together. Trying to piece together some understanding of their culture, I would use my camera for the research. Many of buildings were shells of their former self as they showed their age with roots and greenery ebbing through cracks. If any danger lurked, the camera could also serve as a blunt weapon if necessary. In reality, the biggest danger would have been to fall off the island’s narrow sidewalks into the bay. The kids would join me later and we would sit on the beach that seemed like a perfect way to enjoy our first day in the Caribbean. Next stop …Dominica.
I set sail from reality. Amidst the hustle of the holiday season, I found myself on a luxury cruise liner steaming across the Caribbean Sea. I fight luxury because deep down, I think it weakens us somehow. This feeling goes back to my younger days when I grew into an athlete. I would be a tennis player, dwelling amongst the lucky few that lived the country club lifestyle. Despite its attractiveness, I felt out of place in the world despite my good fortune for being there. Rowing would change things. When I discovered the gritty world around the boathouse, I would find comfort in the wet, salty residue that covered the long rows of boats. The sport pushed the envelope of comfort like nothing else. Through the dark, cold mornings, and the droplets of ice that often covering my racing shell, I knew I was at very heart of living, existing in the most simple of elements. I relished in the effort. For my 40th, my husband, knowing this all too well, planned a cruise with every intention of taking me out of my element. I balked at the very thought of it. But I had a challenger in the behemoth cruise ship that stood in front of me. It would take its best shot at my chosen lifestyle and attempt to reshape my view of the alternative. From the first step on board, the ship would attempt to calm the restless waters in my head. Every inch of the vessel targeted senses that are rarely fulfilled. Luxury is everywhere. The gentle waves of the Caribbean Sea would hypnotize me. I would enjoy meal after meal that included all the food groups artfully arranged. I would sleep off weeks of exhaustion never realizing how tired I had become over time. Fleece would be replaced by a shimmering dress and heels all to help me remember it’s OK to have a bit of vanity. The crew ‘s attention to every detail would inspire me knowing that I too wish to serve others with the same level of attention. My camera would still be my good friend as I accepting the luxury all around. It would try to keep things real and focused despite the boat’s siren-like enticements. I would be lulled like a baby in the arms of the vessel and awaken at the first port.
In a moment of holiday cheer tonight, I piled the kids into the car so we could watch the Middlefield Christmas tree lighting. As we approached the town green, the kids started to balk. They thought I was bringing them to the mall. Peter dragged his heels wailing, “I hate tree lightings” followed up by, “there is no way I’m singing or sitting on Santa’s lap. I assured him that this would help us get into the holiday spirit. The organizers did a great job and they had everyone singing. Santa must have missed his cue, because it took a second singing of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town for him to hear us all the way in the North Pole. Then we heard the jingle as Santa arrived in style with the Mrs. on a shiny red fire truck. The little ones gasped in excitement. Our selectmen stood on the makeshift stage flanked by some cute antler donned kids, Santa, Mrs. Claus and some community members. One lucky child was chosen to light the tree. He put a giant wooden key into a special tree lighting box and turned. With a look like Clark Griswold, everyone stood in anticipation…."Drumroll please", 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and then it happened. Our town tree, which would make Charlie Brown proud, lit…well kinda. One strand of lights came on; all else was as black as night. On stage they were mortified, the crowd was doubled over in stitches. Peter pulls on my sleeve and says, “Mom, this is the best tree lighting ever!” This had been the year of power outages, and once again, Middlefield was dark! Wires were jiggled and in a flash the rest of the tree lit up and there was great rejoicing! Yes, it was the best tree lighting ever and now I am truly in the holiday spirit. Tonight, we were lucky enough to have a Charlie Brown Christmas meets National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. I’m not sure if life imitates art or art imitates life. Either way, I’m sure happy I was there to see it.
Thanks to Michael Hayes for a video that may be a new holiday classic!
It’s been a busy weekend, criss-crossing town as we try to capture a little bit of the holiday spirit. The annual Community Round-Up reminded us once again why we’re lucky to live here. This community has got your back. Hundreds participated covering every inch of Durham and Middlefield, gathering food for the Amazing Grace food bank in Middletown. The coordination efforts by director, Beth Galligan and the Local Wellness Council proved to be successful as scores of faculty, students, parents and community members made the food drive a huge success. The drive has become such a well-oiled machine that within hours, thousands of cans were collected. They gathered early on Saturday in the High School cafeteria to share some breakfast and fuel up for the big collection. Perhaps what’s best about the day was watching young and old work together on a common cause. There was a task for everyone. Small troops of kids covered neighborhoods “trick-or-treat” style. Peter had a blast running from door to door seeing what he could collect with his friends. Members of the community opened their doors and hearts to those in need as they gave food, money and gift cards. Back at Coginchaug High School, the food drive’s home base, an energetic group collected, counted, sorted, packed and moved tons of food to be brought to the food pantry. Unlike larger towns, we may lack in some of the great facilities and services they provide, but time and time again, I am reassured that this community has got what it takes. In just three months, Durham and Middlefield have banded together to create the best fair in the state of Connecticut and weathered two nasty storms seamlessly. Today, these towns proved once again, it could handle its fair share of work, when it’s all done together. When all is said and done, there is no better group of people I would rather round-up than this community.