Not my usual New England visit

Grand Entry at UMAss Amherst Annual Pow-wow, 4/19/2014

Grand Entry at UMAss Amherst Annual Pow-wow, 4/19/2014

During my last trip to New England I attended a pow-wow for the first time in my life. It was held at UMass Amherst on a beautiful Saturday and the experience changed me forever. If you’ve never attended a pow-wow, I believe you’re missing out on something very important to the past, present and future of this planet we call home.

I found the experience so meaningful that I decided I needed to bring my daughters to a pow-wow. I was therefore happy to discover when I looked at the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness (MCNAA) website that the Spring Planting Moon Pow-Wow is taking place May 24th-25th. As that’s Memorial Day weekend and I have the girls for the holiday, I immediately made plans for the three of us to drive up to New England over the long weekend. If you’re in the area this weekend, I urge you to attend!

My usual trips to New England run from Wednesday to Sunday and involve me driving around solo on various adventures, wandering Amesbury and going wherever the wind blows. This will be the first time it’s just us three girls on a road trip and I’m sure it will be a fun and interesting challenge! Jaycie has been talking excitedly about it ever since I told her and I’m sure Jordan is eager as well. We’ll make the most of our time in New England and undoubtedly have stories to tell for the rest of time.

My next New England trip will follow the usual routine and take place end of June or early July. As long as the weather is nice, I get out to Massachusetts and New Hampshire as often as I can because that is where I feel most at home and welcome. It’s going to be a great summer!

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Navigating by Moon, Stars and GPS

Chapter Three – Navigating by Moon, Stars and GPS

Two hours after I stopped for dinner I was into Massachusetts driving along the familiar Massachusetts Turnpike. Traffic wasn’t heavy to begin with because it was past midnight and it dropped off even more after Albany when I went toward the Turnpike and not the New York State Capitol. The sky was beginning to clear and I’d catch glimpses of stars in the sky as I drove. For the first time in any of my Massachusetts trips, I headed up 495 north off 90 and this new route northward renewed my excitement and curiosity enough to increase my alertness.

I drove by Worcester, which I didn’t realize was pronounced “Wooster” until my GPS said it and I thought “what?” When it clicked that was how it was meant to be said, I was pleased that I wasn’t actually lost somehow. There was a surprising amount of traffic around Worcester and looking at the lighted not-quite-skyscraper buildings, I realized it resembled Rochester, New York (the closest “city” near where I lived) but that it was much larger and more spread out. I was pleased that I’d seen another new city and could now put a visual with a name on a map.

Jazzmin was alternating between taking short naps and sitting up staring out the windows. I could tell she didn’t understand why we were still in the car when it was dark out and we were usually in bed sleeping at that time. I tried to explain to her where we were going and why and that no matter what happened when we arrived, we’d still have fun. I was trying to convince her more than me obviously, because she doesn’t truly understand many human words. I failed at convincing either of us.

When I started seeing town names with “bury” at the end I knew I was getting closer and my GPS agreed. I drove by several towns whose names were familiar to me only because some of the accounts I followed on Twitter were from businesses in those areas. Again, it was nice to put a mental image with a name on a map even if it was too dark to see anything anymore. With an hour left in my drive, I could finally see the half-moon before me and I smiled because I knew my father was still with me guiding me. I wouldn’t understand why the signs had been pointing me to Amesbury until my adventure ended but I will always believe I read them right.

Upon finally arriving in Amesbury, I discovered it wasn’t anything like I’d expected. I’d been looking at pictures of the town online and businesses in the area but when I drove in at 2am and experienced the roundabout in the center of town, I was somewhat disappointed by my surroundings. The center of the town was hillier than I expected but not big tall hills like where I lived. The hills were smaller and steeper and the streets were tricky to maneuver. Downtown looked quaint enough but it was dark and I was tired and ended up turning up and backtracking several times trying to figure out where I could park and take Jazz out to answer nature.

I wonder how many people noticed my Explorer with the NY plates driving lost around Amesbury. Probably not many because most sensible people were in bed by then and all the bars had closed. I found an apartment complex with a parking lot and stopped just long enough to walk Jazz before she tinkled in my car.

There was supposedly a chain hotel somewhere in the area. When I pulled it up on GPS and on the internet of my phone, I realized it was out of my rather limited price range. Too tired to drive much further, I decided to see if there were any parks around where I could perhaps park my car and sleep for the night. My GPS search came up with a park about 5 minutes from where I was so I hit “Get Directions” and happily followed them out of the main town with its perplexing roundabouts.

I was a bit dismayed when I found the park and discovered the parking for it was just a large pull off area beside the road, but I knew it would have to do. I didn’t like having my car with its NY plates so obvious from a main road but it seemed like my only option.

Whirlwind Tour of North Shore – Chapter Two

Last night’s post about my first and most unplanned trip to Amesbury, Massachusetts was more popular than I expected. I decided to redo that post a little bit as that was the first chapter in that particular adventure story. I’d also left off the last paragraph somehow so I fixed that too. Without further ado, here’s Chapter Two!

***

Jazzmin using the center console as a pillow.

Jazzmin using the center console as a pillow.

New England Adventures: Whirlwind Tour of North Shore, MA

Chapter Two – Jules and Jazz

Within an hour of driving east toward Massachusetts the sun had set, which was a good thing because it had been blinding me in my rear view mirrors. I usually just move my mirrors in so I can’t see the bright sun reflecting in them. That technique works fine in the country where I never have to pass anyone but I quickly decided it was unwise on the thruway when looking in my mirrors proved useless for proper lane navigation. My Explorer had enough blind spots; I didn’t think it was necessary to add more.

Jazzmin’s excitement rarely waned as I drove. She would occasionally lay down looking a bit dejected that we hadn’t stopped for food yet and she’d rest her head on the center console twitching her worried eyebrows at me. I’d then pet her and tell her what a good girl she was and she’d perk back up and resume sniffing the vents and sliming the windows.

Driving along with my loyal companion, I concluded yet again that adopting Jazzmin was one of the best decisions I’d ever made. She’d helped keep the loneliness at bay during my many nights at home without my daughters. At two year’s old, she was still very much a puppy but someone had taken the time to train her and she had the sweetest personality. All I had to do was get out her favorite tuggie toy and she’d start tearing through the living room excitedly, even if she hadn’t bothered to take the toy from my hand.

A friend who had met Jazz said she was just a canine version of me. A youthful little ball of energy that tugged rebelliously on the leash, barked randomly, fretted about things she couldn’t change and chased the road as if it was going to disappear. That’s how I eloquently sum the both of us up anyway.

When I made our first stop to answer nature and get food there were of course other dogs at the rest area and Jazz was very eager to get out and play. Controlling Jazz is still a work in progress for me though so I kept her far away from the other dogs when I took her out. She sniffed the grass, acquainting herself with the scent of thousands of dogs at once and eventually did her business, much to my relief. With Jazz all squared away, I put her back in the car and put the windows down as far as possible without it being possible for her to squeeze her bulk out. It was full dark and cool so I knew she’d be okay for the few minutes it took me to go inside.

This was not my first time entering a rest stop alone on a road trip but it still made me a bit uneasy.  People notice a pretty young woman in a rest stop alone and those of the male persuasion don’t always do so in a very friendly-appearing way. As it was late evening, there were few people at the rest stop so I quickly used the facilities and bought our nuggets, fries and a tall iced coffee something or other to help keep me awake. Eyes ahead and very sure of myself, I returned to my car and Jazz at a brisk pace, keys in hand.

Once inside the car I quickly locked the doors and settled my large iced coffee in the center cup holder.  Picking up my phone, I checked the weather app and saw that it had cleared in Amesbury. I was once again faced with a choice. I was three hours out with five more to go. I could turn back around and drive three hours to home and my comfortable bed or I could keep heading east and face the prospect of spending the night sleeping in my car. Concluding once more that returning home wouldn’t get me the answers I thought I needed I decided to keep going.

Putting my phone back down in the console, I shooed Jazz away for the hundredth time as she tried to climb in my lap for the bag I had sitting there. She had been up my nose the moment she saw the bag of food and smelled what was inside. I told her to sit her butt down in her seat so I could back out and that we’d eat on the way. I’m pretty sure all she heard was “blah blah blah eat” because after I fastened my seatbelt, started the car, shifted it into reverse and pressed the gas she lost her balance momentarily and almost went tumbling to the floor in front of the seat.

Moments later, I was driving on the thruway again at a steady clip on the cruise control. I reached into the bag and handed Jazz a fry and she gingerly took it from my fingers before practically swallowing it whole. I then started taking bites of chicken nuggets and handing her the remains and we shared like that until the food was gone. I’d only purchased the food because it was fast and cheap and as I hated McDonald’s, Jazz ate the majority of the stuff. She gave an appreciative burp before lying down in the passenger seat and she was soon curled into as tight a ball as she could manage and contentedly asleep. I envied her restful state and began sucking down my coffee hoping it would be enough to keep me going for the five remaining hours of the drive.

An Impromptu New England Adventure…

One of my New England adventures was unplanned, unwise and had unexpected results. I learned a lot on that trip and it led me on a journey I didn’t know I was strong enough to take.

***

Chain Bridge Amesbury MA

New England Adventures: Whirlwind Tour of North Shore, MA 

Chapter One – Storms and Rainbows

There were tornado warnings in Amesbury, Massachusetts on the Friday evening I decided to drive up there for the first time. It had been nasty weather all day where I lived too but for reasons that defy explanation, I started packing my bags for an impromptu road trip. It was a crazy thing to do but it was within my means to do it and I was determined to go.

Jazzmin was very excited to see mama stuffing things in a bag because she somehow knew she was coming too. I packed way more clothes than I’d need, which is how I always prepare for a trip. I then started packing Jazz’s stuff by folding up her crate, grabbing her favorite blankie, dog food, bowls and toys.

It was raining out and a thunderstorm was rumbling by but the sun was trying to peak out. I went outside to unlock my car and told myself that if I saw a rainbow that was my sign that I was meant to go. Sure enough, I turned back toward the house and there was a rainbow stretching all the way across the horizon. That’s all I needed, I was definitely going now!

During one of my many trips out to the car with stuff, Jazz snuck out the door and it’s not unusual for her to go running off once she’s free of the house. This time though she stuck right with me and was quite eager to get in the car and go.

Once everything was hastily thrown in the car in a vague semblance of order, I loaded Jazz in the shotgun position and she happily sat on the sheet covering the seat, with her nose pressed to the air vent. As it was pouring, I couldn’t have the windows open so into the vent she sniffed and occasionally sneezed from the AC. There’s nothing quite like sneezed back dog breath circulating through the car to make for an aromatic road trip.

It was around 7:30pm on that fateful Friday night when I pulled out of my driveway and turned right. I had visited Massachusetts twice before and I knew the way almost by heart now. Reaching the end of my road, I checked my cell phone again to see if reception had returned (the storm had made it evaporate) and sure enough I had my usual three out of five bars.

I sat there in my car for a few moments and thought about what I was about to do. A more logical person would have turned around, but logic and I don’t usually get along. I pushed the clutch in on my Explorer, shifted into first, lifted my foot off the brake and accelerated taking another right. Jazz wobbled a bit in her seat around the turn but quickly regained her balance and was soon smearing dog muzzle snot all over the windows trying to see out.

As I drove north toward the thruway it was still pouring and sunny at the same time. When I looked to my east I saw a fresh rainbow stretching all the way across the sky and I smiled. My father was telling me to go, I was sure of it! I grabbed my ticket from the thruway attendant and he asked “Did you see the rainbow?”

“Of course! It’s beautiful!” I said before pulling away smiling with excitement and elation. I had embarked on one of the craziest adventures of my life and I was so proud of myself!

Rainbow stretching across the thruway

Rainbow stretching across the thruway

Once on the thruway heading east, I nearly giggled at how bright the rainbow was. The ends of the rainbow seemed to be touching the road in front of me and driving through the archway was leading me right toward Massachusetts. If I was reading the spiritual signs wrong I certainly didn’t care and neither did Jazz. She trusted her mama to the ends of the earth and somewhere in her lovely doggy mind she remembered our last road trip. Long road trips with mama meant sharing fast food and Jazz’s main thought at that point was probably “nuggets and fries!”

Remembering in Happiness

Four years ago today, my father passed away. He and I were very close. Father and daughter and great friends. The day he died was the worst day of my life and I experienced a level of pain and sorrow I hadn’t known existed. I don’t wish that kind of hurt upon anyone I care about.

The whole first year was rough, the second year only slightly easier, the third had its ups and downs but this fourth year has been decidedly different in a very positive way. His spirit is always close to me but this year it’s even closer as he supports and encourages me in the pursuit of my dreams. I grabbed onto my dreams with both hands this year and held tight to them as I work to achieve them.

I published my first e-book Massachusetts Adventures: Boston on Father’s Day in honor of my dad and while very few have read it, I’m still proud of myself and I know he’s proud too. I worked my adorable butt off freelance writing so I could quit my office job this past July and I’m making a successful go of it. I finally took my daughters and my mother on a vacation to New England this past August and showed my girls Boston as I promised. Since June, I’ve managed to head up to New England every other month, which has been my goal since my first visit there two years ago. Those are several very big dreams accomplished! They’re just small steps on the bigger journey though.

It’s been a long healing process after losing my father and I’ll never quite be whole without him, but I’m in a much better place now than ever before. I’m able to look back on my many years with him in happiness and the scars of his untimely passing are less painful and slowly disappearing in the light of positive experiences in my life.

To continue to honor his spirit this month and always, I’m going to be writing up my more recent adventures in New England and finally adding more books to my e-book series. I’m going to rename my e-book series from “Massachusetts Adventures” to “New England Adventures” as I continue to explore that amazingly beautiful area of the country. That’s going to require me redoing the cover of my first book but I’m sure I’m up to the task!

I have great expectations for the upcoming year and all the years beyond it. I know I will achieve my dreams and keep dreaming up even bigger ones to chase. I believe in myself and I know my own strength and I’m certain I can accomplish whatever I put my determined mind to! Thanks, Dad, you taught your girl well!

I’m pasting in the post I wrote up last year in honor of his memory. I was given an unexpected and wonderful gift last October. It was a huge step toward healing my heart and finally remembering in happiness all the greatness of my father.

***

my fathers grave

Casting Shadows – 10/22/2012

My father was a great man. He wasn’t perfect by any means but as I say, perfect is boring and quite honestly, unattainable.  What made my father great was his kind heart, caring nature, quirky sense of humor, passion for and knowledge of history, and most importantly, the love he had for his family. That love lives on even though he has departed this world and every day his spirit touches me in some way. I am a mere shadow of the person he was but I strive every day to attain such greatness.

I expected last week to be tough and it certainly had its low moments but they were countered by some amazingly unexpected high moments.  Life has tested me over the past couple months and given me challenges I managed to overcome even though I stumbled a bit. My faith in certain things left me but my hope for those same things remained. 

This past week I was shown that even though I lose faith and succumb to the darker side of shadows, faith never completely gives up on me. Hope is a very powerful force and it is intertwined with faith whether we realize it or not. There was one thing I could not give up on, despite saying I had and trying to convince myself I had. I can’t explain why I didn’t give up, why I couldn’t let go, aside from the fact that I just didn’t want to. There was perhaps a different reason, a deeper meaning behind my inability to release that last little bit of hope. Whatever the reason, a great gift was bestowed upon me last week and it proved to me that I have the most amazing best friend in the world! It also showed me that shadows are not something to be feared because they can not exist without light.

So while I expected my path last week to go one way, it went a completely new way and in a lovely upward direction. I still had sad moments where the tears from missing my father flowed freely, but amid those moments the love of my friends and family shined through, lifted me up and kept me strong.  I learned to smile again and I laughed without restraint and I sang loudly and off key in my car to songs that I hadn’t wanted to hear anymore until that moment.  

My oldest daughter noted that I was going around the house singing my snippets of show tunes again and when I asked if it bothered her she said “No!” For her to say that tells me that I was lower than I realized. The 10 year old girl who had always rolled her eyes and grumbled when her mother sang “I feel pretty” was now smiling at the sound of my voice and that was yet another blessed gift. I am one person but I am made better and held together by the spirits of my family and friends. I shall never take that for granted again and I will pay heed to my father’s voice in my head when he tells me “Be patient.” Slow down, breathe, relax, have faith, hold hope and continue on the path and the rewards will always be surprising.