Capture Life

cottage 960 capture life

Photo credit: Maureen Nichols, Cottage 960

Is it that you don’t know how things work for me?  Picture this (pun intended)…I’ve got a great camera, Nikon, I’ve got perspective, someone once told me, and I’m not using it.  Why the hell not?  Who the hell knows?  I believe, no, I know like I know that it’s the getting started that’s got me.  So….I put it out there and it’s just amazing what happens.

Maureen at Cottage960 ( ) puts a really cool new pendant on her FB page of a woman in a beautiful 1940’s era suit, that alone was right up my alley, snapping a picture with her brownie camera.  On the back it says, “Capture Life”.  You know I own it now, right?  When I take the girls to get groomed the cashier says to me, “So when you capture life, what are you going to do with it?”  Here I am back at who the hell knows.

Then I get an email from a blog I follow called Super Hero Life ( )   Subject:  Sad bananas and finding our joy again.  Ok, I’m listening.  Andrea Scher, creative force behind Super Hero Life is sponsoring a Treasure Hunt course starting May 1st.  For a small fee (from the email):

  • A creative photo prompt each day in your inbox
  • Photo tips + creative musings to inspire your work
  • A warm, encouraging community space on Flickr to share your work and support your fellow treasure seekers!

Come on that’s perfect and I am in.  I’m all about sparking creative juices.  So I’m signed up and looking forward to getting back into my camera and my perspective.

Then, I’m reading something on and there’s a tiny little glimpse of an ad for this movement, seminar, thing called One Picture Saves a Life.  You can sign up for a seminar at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Complex ( ) to learn how you can become a volunteer to photograph shelter dogs to bring them closer to adoption.  Send an email and if there’s room, first come first served, you’re in…for free…being taught by Seth Casteel ( ) of Underwater Dogs fame.  You know I sent the email, you know I got invited.

So Saturday morning I take a ride to Madison NJ to St. Hubert’s and participate in this seminar that blew me away.  Go to to get the full story.  Suffice to say Seth Casteel is an awesome dude, and all of you know I never use the word dude. Generous with his knowledge, he (along with Petfinder, Greater Good, the Animal Rescue Site, and John Paul Pet) put this program together down to the last detail.  He even tells you what lens you need, camera settings, best backgrounds, shelters looking for volunteers.  I tell you I am stoked about this….who better than me, one part of Two Aunts and a Chevy fame to take this on.  It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning, learning with like-minded people, about how to help shelter dogs when you’re condo association says you can only have a minimum of two dogs.  I hope the other half of the Two Aunts and a Chevy is listening…just saying Toots you hated Chevy’s picture too.  But I digress.

The thing is I don’t have the lens, 50mm straight, and you know I looked on line and they cost a small fortune.  So I think let me go down to Bergen County Camera ( ) and just look,  yeah right.  Do you know what downtown Westwood, NJ is like on a Saturday afternoon? It’s sunny and perfect for a day in one of the best downtowns around so it’s jammin.  Oh come on, you know I got a parking space, you know there was an hour left on the meter and you know like you know that BCC had a used 50mm for $79.00.  Of course they did, my sister is saying as she reads this.

My two most willing (not really) subjects (victims) Toto and Lina are being snapped a frame a second. They are giving me the Moooooooom look.  They are taking themselves to bed and having no more of it.  Not to worry I will find other willing (maybe) subjects to snap.  I know like I know that as Karma would have it anything animal related, carried out for their greater good, will only serve to increase your personal Karmic equity.  I will be golden my friends…







Today Was That Day

Front Garden

Coffee.  Garden.  Coffee.  Does a good morning need anything else?  ~Betsy Cañas Garmon

Standing on my deck looking out at the enchanted forest with coffee in hand, today was that day when the poor old bush/shrub/wannabe flowering something had to go.  I’ve been trying to help it flourish since Mama Blue Jay had her babies there four years ago ( but it just has not cooperated.  Jeanette told me long ago not to feed the dead stuff and usually I listen, but not this time.  I had a sentimental attachment to this poor old, light starved, only bloom at the top excuse for a flowering something. I can’t blame it; it was planted long ago too close to the building by people who had to use up all the plants that came on the truck.  I’m sure of it.

It was ready to go, the roots were easy to chop through, the soil loosened up around it and with a bit of push and pull all twelve feet of it came down.  I dragged it into the enchanted forest so that it could be reclaimed by the grubs and woodpeckers.  Its smaller twin went too.  I planted the tree that Muriel and Martina brought me and made a little cage for it so the landscapers, should they find their way around to the back of my building, didn’t stomp it to death.  Raked all along the edge of the enchanted forest and cleaned up my almost visible shade garden.

And then that thing happened that always happens when I’m sweating and dirty and my hands are starting to hurt…I become obsessed with the next thing and keep going.  It was the perfect day to keep going; early this morning when I started it was in the 40s.  It smelled like spring, that combination of dew and soil and growing things.  After my third latte and a bit of breakfast with Muriel there was no stopping me.  I was fueled and everything that needed to be done became perfectly clear.

Around to the front of the building to the side of my stoop I cleaned and pruned and weeded my little sunny bed.  Not much to be done there except find a new home for the mystery shrub I discovered last year.  It kept growing and growing until it blocked my azalea, sage, and the stella d’oro so I whacked it back with the intent of moving it this spring.  It’s now this Spring.  Let’s see what it becomes this year.

In order to move it to the other side of my stoop I have to clean up over there.  This is how it happens with a garden my friends.  You think you want a tiny little patch of land to water and prune and next thing you know you’re weeding the entire complex.  Garden obsession is at once satisfying in its therapeutic/creative/sensory ways and insufficient in that you run out of room quickly.

As I make my way down the front of the building, yes I did weed the entire front of the building, my neighbors are keeping a safe distance from the crazy woman in a bent over (at the hip) yanking and tossing trance.  Smart people, I’m working here.  My back is behaving beautifully since I learned from some posture guru that the waist is not a joint, clever no?  My knees are performing perfectly thanks to the zillion squats that somehow have worked their way into Zumba classes and I have the perfect number of layers on to keep out the chill.  I can feel the warmth of the sun as it makes its way over to this side of the street and I can’t think of anything more perfect to be doing on a Sunday morning.

So now the mystery shrub has a new home and the only thing annoying me now is the empty space left by the tree we lost in some storm, I don’t remember which, a few years ago.  Perfect solution is to go dig up one of the duplicated spirea at the edge of the enchanted forest and move it over here.  More digging, more hauling and more chopping at roots and my work is almost done.

Something is going to have to hide the electrical meters in the back so off I go, filthy from head to toe looking like someone who is happy to finally have dirt under her nails, to see if my local nursery has the red twig dogwoods I’m after.  They are perfect for that shady area and I had my eye on them yesterday when I stopped in at Willow Run.  It was a force of enormous restraint that I didn’t come home with anything because there was PLENTY I was lusting over.  My local nursery had nothing but pansies…really it’s almost the end of April for crying out loud.  Yes I did come home with a flat of pansies because I am color starved at this point and well it’s that pansy time of year.  I can assure you I will haul it over to Willow Run ( next weekend.

Pansies set in, aches setting in also, I make my way toward the shower but not before stopping for the requisite three Advil and a long overdue tall glass of water.  I am spent, happy, and proud of my work and already chomping at the bit for next weekend to come. I know like I know my garden sustains me, arthritic hands be damned.



Wallyball Forfeit

speak the truth

What the hell is Wallyball?  Oh you’ll love it.  You play in a racquetball court with a volley ball and a net. You play off the walls, it’s fast and it’s fun and it will be hysterical.  Was this the plan the whole time?  Well yeah, we didn’t want to tell you because…Because I’m not the least bit athletic, because I smoke, because I’m bigger than any two of you put together, because I’d be the one running for towels and wouldn’t that be perfect?

I’ll take the forfeit.  You can’t forfeit, it’s her fortieth birthday party.  Yeah I know.  I’m going to take the forfeit.  Why are you saying that, she’ll be crushed.  No she’ll understand.  I have no idea if she understood, I never saw her again.  In my heart I knew that would be the case but I did it anyway.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I was ready to quit this friendship but my method of breaking it apart haunts me to this day.

We had been friends on and off since high school.  It was an interesting friendship, she the blonde athletic beauty that all the boys adored and I the dark haired side kick that all the boys lamented to about never getting her attention. There were times when I thought she keeps me around just to clean up the messes and,  although I could hold my own on the looks side of things, didn’t I make her look all that much more beautiful for my curviness and Italian features.

The relationship was on again for most of the major life events, her wedding, my wedding, her annulment, her next wedding, and the birth of her children.  I was maid of honor, matron of honor, Godmother to one of her children and her mother used to call us sisters.

We weren’t sisters.  There came a time that we no longer wore the same size clothes.  There came a time that I began to smoke more.  There came a time that I seemed to be relegated to the kitchen during parties while she socialized with her, now quite beautiful, friends.  These were the young mothers with all that entailed and all that I had no interest in.  I am a favorite Aunt with all that entails but they couldn’t grasp the importance or the prestige of that title.

At the same time she moved an hour away.  Visits became infrequent and thankfully I didn’t need to recount the goings on in my life with a husband that had become addicted to drugs.  On the rare occasions we did get together, always at her much bigger much more expensive home, the uneasiness was palpable.  I knew this was not going to be a lifelong friendship after all but I’m a never-say-die kind that just keeps trying and blaming myself for the lack of improvement.

At one point in my life I realized that no one had ever left me.  Interesting thought to cross one’s mind but it’s true.  And why would they?  I am a giver, I’m the one who will loan you the money, clean up the mess, make an excuse on your behalf and generally make sure you are comfortable and accommodated. Not always to your benefit I came to find out when my husband and I finally divorced after twenty six years of marriage.

So as I was putting all the pieces together toward moving on, this party arises.  In my heart of hearts I couldn’t imagine I would ever do a thing like not show up.  But I couldn’t, I just couldn’t.  I could not bear the embarrassment of people jumping in front of me for a ball as they had so many times before.  I could not chance the unpredictability of my husband’s behavior.  Who the hell knows what side of the high he might find himself on and did I want to haul an hour away only to turn around anyway.  I couldn’t stand trying to put on a fun face in front of all the slender young mothers again.  And I could not be the one to fetch the towels.  Or serve the food.  Or take the pictures.  Or be invisible.  I just couldn’t.

So that was the end of that.  Why does it haunt me?  I’m not sure.  Did she turn out to be right about my husband and the one sided relationship. Yes.  Was she right when she warned me that being a Godmother was a big responsibility not to be taken lightly before I made the decision to say yes.  Yes.  Was she right about health and smoking and vegetables. Yes.

I’m sure it haunts me because it was heartless and it could have been handled better.  It haunts me because it doesn’t represent the way I do things.  It haunts me because I let them down and I’ve tried my entire life never to let anyone down.  It doesn’t haunt me because it ended but because I was completely selfish in my execution of the friendship’s end.  The irony of using the word execution does not escape me.  I didn’t speak the truth to the person who needed to hear it.

So now it is seventeen years later and I think of her on her birthday each year.  I wonder if I should apologize for my behavior.  And then it occurs to me that she has probably gotten beyond the Wallyball forfeit years ago and I am giving myself entirely too much credit for “ruining” anything.  I look at the state of my life on this day and feel I’ve done more good than harm in the seventeen years that have past but somehow I can’t seem to let it go.  It doesn’t stay with me every waking hour but it does give me pause when there are hard conversations to be had with friends.

I’ve developed an interesting mix of friends since leaving my husband four years ago.  The life I was living was one of isolation so now that I am reengaged I am careful to monitor when to engage fully and when to hold back just a bit.  This is not a constant vigilance but I never again want to fail to recognize when my comfort level is being threatened.  I never want to be relegated to the kitchen unless it’s my choice and oddly enough it’s usually my first choice now.

I no longer smoke. I am slimmer now but certainly not near the curvy figure I once had.  Thankfully, I am much healthier, nuts, berries and the occasional vegetable to thank for that.  I’m older now and I know I will never recapture my youth; it’s gone and mostly cherished for its lessons learned.  I know like I know, that I will try to speak the truth and continue to honor myself in my friendships and that the mishandling of a friendship, or its breakup, is nothing I ever want to repeat.



Sew Happy

never under estimate

So far today, I’ve hemmed two pairs of pants, mended a sweater, tacked the sagging drape linings, and whistled (ok more like hummed since I can’t really whistle) happily at my brand new sewing machine.

I learned to sew over forty years ago. A little bit from a Home Economics class in school but more from my two Aunts, Nettie and Millie.  Of the four girls in my mother’s family; my mother was the baby, my Aunt Lucy was the gypsy and Nettie and Millie were the milliners/dressmakers/slip coverers/menders and shakers of the family.

So once I went through my home ec class they began their unmaking of bad habits and molding (more like ripping) me into a fine seamstress.  Each had their style, it was a bit like good cop bad cop, but both were amazing and creative with highly professional results.  Their garments were beautiful and so well made that I’m sure some of them are still around today in someone’s attic closet.   Most of the old snapshots illustrated their work, no one EVER bought clothes.  That crap, Millie would say.

I remember Aunt Nettie’s sewing room like it was a play land.  It was the former front porch of her house. You had one step to go down and the floor had bits of thread everywhere.  Her sewing machine was right in front of the window and there was a closet filled with this and that.  Patterns, “borrowed” spools of thread from the factories she worked in, stacks of remnants, boxes of pins, the iron, the ironing board, all the accouterments filled this tiny little room.

My Aunt Millie had a corner in her tiny little Astoria apartment for sewing but mostly she did her work at our house.  In the basement.  When she came almost every Saturday, don’t get my Mother started on that one, there was always time spent in the basement at the “machine”.  The machine was an old Singer in its own cabinet right along the base of the stairs.  To the left was my grandmother’s metal topped kitchen table (which I now have in my office/sewing room) and to the left of that was the ironing board and iron (which my mother constantly wanted to know “did you turn the iron off?”…sometimes yes, sometimes no).

first singer

I distinctly remember making a blouse, complete with placket, button holes and a collar that must have been ripped out five times until I got it perfectly straight by Aunt Millie (yes she was the bad cop).  I remember learning the art of perfect top stitching from Aunt Nettie.  I remember fighting with Aunt Millie (like I had any kind of opinion) about basting. I remember the now famous Grandma line, “I was like you, you’ll be like me” being thrown at me when I so easily threaded a needle for her and laughed. I am indeed now like her.

I remember the smell of the machine oil, the heat from the lamp and the sound of the needle going up and down.  They are fond memories for me and every time I sit at the machine I think of them both.

Aunt Millie was always doing for us when we were kids and into our adult years too.  She purchased a sewing machine for my sister and me and had them safely stashed up in our attic for when we got married (tradition, dowry, who the hell knows).  I moved out on my own before I got married so the machine with my name on it came with me.


The new machine was an upgrade, for sure, from the one we were using in the basement and I put it to good use sewing curtains, day bed covers, bolster covers, pillows and even covering my seat cushions on the wicker furniture.  It went forward and back, had a button hole attachment and ok it got me through.  I used it for many years and was grateful to have it.

My sister, on the other hand, left hers in my mother’s attic well after she moved out.  So when mine began to die a slow death I retrieved it with the promise that whatever she needed sewn I would help her out.

One look at the box had me rocketing to Jupiter.  There it was the Singer Touch Tronic 1060, pushbutton, seventeen different stitches, automatic button holes, auto reverse, and auto bobbin winder.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  I was working for ten years on a machine that went forward and back.  Sewed everything under the sun while this automatic, one touch, do everything without changing one piece, even stand on your head for you machine was in the ATTIC?  What the hell was Millie thinking?  My name clearly on the box with the naked, simple, back breaking machine and Terri’s name on the super duper deluxe model.  You can’t make this up people.


So shake it off and be grateful that we have finally found each other at last.  And for the next 15 years we made up for and used every one of those seventeen stitches, button holed our way to new blouses and shower curtains and went forward and back at the touch of a button.

Until recently.  When I moved to Stowe Lane my machine began to scream every time I turned it on.  Literally it would scream.  Something in the way the rod was rubbing something made this noise that sent the dogs running for cover and me pulling my hair out.  If you kept going long enough it would stop…and then start again…and then slap it and it would stop.  Finally, almost five years later, it was fighting me while I was hemming a pair of jeans.  Of course I wanted to wear them that night.  Of course the bobbin thread was binding.  Of course it was screaming and not stopping.  OMG just shoot me.  I finally got through with the tiny little job that should have taken a minute.  I unplugged the machine, yanked the cord and the foot pedal off of it.  Picked it up by putting my arm through the middle (it weighed about two hundred pounds…ok maybe thirty five pounds) and marched out the door toward the dumpster.  Quite the spectacle as Muriel can attest.  She graciously relieved me of the machine and walked it to the dumpster for me while I ranted to beat the band.  Just a tiny little episode on Stowe Lane nothing to be alarmed about.

I had never bought a sewing machine before, I had no idea what they cost so I was pleasantly surprised to find I could own a very nice machine for about 139.00.  Really?  I’ve been fighting with the screaming machine for almost five years and for less than my monthly grocery bill I could get a new one.  Live and learn…again.

singer fashion mate

Thanks to Amazon, my new machine arrived two days later.  It has 70 different stitches, all the automated blah blah you can possibly think of.  And because I laughed at Aunt Millie all those years ago about not being able to thread a needle I bought the one that has the needle threader.  Just saying.