Interview on BBC Wales!

Just by a quirk of fate, the local Heritage Centre in the little town of Blaenavon in South Wales informed the BBC that an American was visiting with an interesting story to tell, and the result was this online article about my genealogy quest.

There are a few factual errors, but they got the gist of it and I think the article is well done.


Corrections to the article:

The article says I’ve been tracing my ancestors since 2015, but I’ve been doing it since the 1980’s.

The article says that the photo of James Furlong and Mary Payne was taken in Northumberland, but it was taken in Finleyville, Pennsylvania.  James Furlong was born in Finleyville, and Mary Payne was born in Northumberland.  And, by the way, that is my mother, Mary Payne Furlong, in the lower left of that photo.

The article refers to my ancestor Mary Waters incorrectly as Mary Walters.

The article says that two of the sons of Thomas Furlong and Mary Waters moved to America, but there was a third son named Thomas Furlong who also emigrated.

The photo in the online video was Mary Ball, not Mary Walters.


January in Northumberland

I pretty much figured that the two months I spent in Northumberland would zoom by, and of course they did.  My time there was a satisfying balance of research, socializing, and sightseeing.  As I’ve mentioned before, some of my extended family lives there (Kay and Peter), and my fourth cousin (John) visited from the south, which made all the difference in my comfort level in an unfamiliar place.

I was eager to get to the Northumberland Archives, and they were only open four days per week, so during the first week of January, I spent several days there doing research along with my cousin John.  I’ll post separately about my genealogy finds.

Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn Museum, Ashington

On the first Sunday of January, I made the short walk down the street to St. Cuthbert’s Anglican Church, where my great grandmother, Mary Payne, was baptized in 1871.  I stayed for the service, and afterwards Vicar Ian was extremely welcoming, offering to take me on an historical tour of the area the following week.  Naturally, I accepted!

St. Cuthbert’s in Bedlington

A few days later, Vicar Ian took John and I to all the local places meaningful to my family, including the beach.  He told us that the coal companies provided the mining families with coal for heating their homes, and that benefit was withheld for striking miners, so during those times, they would have had to scavenge for coal.

The North Sea, showing pieces of coal on the beach
I’d never seen a coal fire before!

We saw St. Peter’s Church at Cambois (pronounced CAM-us), where several of the Payne and Weightman children were baptized.  Unfortunately, it’s now a private home, so we weren’t able to enter it.

St. Peter’s Church at Cambois

We took the Vicar out to lunch at Charlton’s Bar and Restaurant in Cambois, which apparently is owned by Jack Charlton, an English football legend.  He was actually there that day – but much to everyone’s surprise, I had never heard of him, so it didn’t mean much to me.  I was more interested in imagining the historic building as it was back in the days when my ancestors lived there!

Cousin John stayed with me for a week, and together we visited a couple of local libraries, went to the Mining Institute in Newcastle, and took a delightful road trip to Shilbottle and Warkworth which were significant parishes in the lives of our Weightman ancestors.

St. Lawrence church in Warkworth, where my ancestress Jane Weightman and her siblings were baptized in the mid-1800’s.
Altar at St. Lawrence Church in Warkworth

One night, we had plans to go out to dinner with a couple who are long-time friends of John’s, and who are both blind.  We drove a half hour to Newcastle to pick them up, loaded them in the car, and then John’s car wouldn’t start.  While John took care of the car, I was assigned the job of walking the blind couple to a restaurant which was through a dark park in an area where I had never been – all I can say is thank goodness for smart phones, because I totally relied on the map as well as the flashlight feature to guide me!  All worked out well, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner.

John went back to his home near London in mid-January, and by then, Kay and Peter were feeling much better, both of them having been sick for several weeks.  Kay and I enjoyed a couple of afternoons at her dining room table with our computers, comparing our family trees and working on problem solving together.

Kay frequently invited me to have dinner at her house, and one time I went to her sister’s for a meal.  They were all incredibly generous, going way above and beyond to make me feel very welcome.  They took me to visit Newcastle a couple of times, where the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society is located.

A street view in Newcastle

At the end of the month, Kay and Peter invited me to see their two granddaughters perform in a “Pantomime” at the local community center.  To me, a pantomime involves miming (silent acting), but I learned that a pantomime in Britain is a traditional musical comedy stage production.

Pantomime flyer, from

According to Wikipedia, it “includes songs, gags, slapstick comedy and dancing, employs gender-crossing actors, and combines topical humour with a story loosely based on a well-known fairy tale, fable, or folk tale.  It is a participatory form of theatre in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.”

The whole thing was hysterical and the children were adorable – I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! I truly loved it and I hope I can see another one someday.

Sounds like a pretty darn amazing January, right??  Certainly nothing like any I’ve experienced before.  And more to come!






End of the Road for 2017

When I retired in August of 2016, I promised myself that I’d make the next twenty years the best ones of my life.  Well, 2017 was so amazing that I can’t imagine topping it.

I traveled extensively, visiting New Zealand, China and Mexico, and ended the year with a flight to England.  I enjoyed the experience of a winter in Florida.  I lived in an RV for eight months and drove it 7,000 miles from Florida to Vermont to Wisconsin to Arizona and then to California.  Some photo memories:

Lake Matheson, New Zealand
My happy home in Georgia
I have the campground to myself in Ottsville, Pennsylvania.
My campsite at Waterhouses Campground, Lake Dunmore, Vermont
Ohio campsite
Wisconsin campsite
Mississippi River campsite near Fulton, Illinois
Campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona
Sunset view, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I spent time with my children, staying in Seattle an extra week before the trip to China and also before Christmas week, gathering us together in Los Angeles for a fantastic Thanksgiving, and ending the year with a magical Christmas in a snowy cabin in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.

I spent time with extended family.  I stayed with my cousin Betsy for a week in Virginia, and saw my cousin Barb for a quick visit in Florida. I met a first cousin in Missouri – Dixie and her many descendants.  DNA found Dixie a half-sister and me a brand new first cousin, Deb, who we never knew existed.  I met a second cousin, Melody, in Pittsburgh.  I stayed in LA with my Uncle Jim and Aunt Vicki, who I hadn’t seen in many years. And I think the most exciting family visit was when I got to see my wonderful niece and nephew for four hours in LA at Thanksgiving!

I spent time with friends.  My very dear friend Agnes came back into my life.  I reconnected with old friends Jeff and Dawn in Vermont, Kris in Virginia, and Marty in California.  I visited my childhood friend Carol on Long Island, and she and Debbie came to see me in Vermont.  I traveled with Sandra, an old friend who also lived in an RV this year, in Georgia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New York.  And, I visited a genealogy friend, Marina, in Phoenix.  I saw my Bucks County friends briefly (too briefly) when I was there in May and August.

Agnes and Chris, circa 2009
Chris and Carol
Bob and Sandra at Point State Park, Pittsburgh
Enjoying an evening with Dawn and Jeff on Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Jeff Schneiderman
Chris and Kris

I spent time at genealogy events.  I attended three conferences and one week-long institute:  RootsTech in Salt Lake City in February, the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference in Raleigh in May, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh in June, and the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ annual conference in Pittsburgh in September.

I spent time researching my family history.  It’s one of my favorite things to do, and I got to do a lot of it.  I went to archives, courthouses, libraries and cemeteries to my heart’s content.

In spite of all the visiting with friends and family, I spent a lot of time alone.  That’s the part that wasn’t so good, and it’s really the part which is driving me to go back to Bucks County in 2018 and settle down in my community.

So, my first full year of retirement was fabulous!  I feel like I really lived this year, doing so many exciting and fun things. Now it’s on to 2018 and even better years to come…

Happy New Year  – wishing you all the very best in 2018 and beyond!!

Two Game Changers

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I pretty much had two years of my life planned out in advance.  And I’ve followed that plan so far.  But, two little grenades have been thrown into my life, and thus, things have changed.

The first involves the impact of health care on my budget, which has forced me to choose which parts of the plan I can still afford to implement.

As I’ve written about before, I enrolled in health insurance for 2017 through the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.”  Since I retired early, prior to eligibility for Medicare, there weren’t a lot of choices.  So I didn’t do much research in advance – I just went on the website and enrolled.

My income in 2017 consisted of a small pension from the State of New Jersey, and Social Security.  I became eligible for Social Security in June, so I received just six payments.  At that income level, the subsidy toward my health insurance premiums was about $350 per month.  I selected a very high deductible plan ($7,500), making my premium about $275 per month after the subsidy.  Fortunately, I didn’t get sick in 2017 so I didn’t have to pay much of the deductible, the premium was affordable, and it all worked out pretty well.  Fingers crossed that I stay healthy at least until I’m 65 and eligible for Medicare.

Next year, my income will include a full year of Social Security, making it higher than 2017.  So when I enrolled for 2018, I was in for a complete shock. Not only did the premium for the same high-deductible plan increase by about 50%, but I was no longer eligible for any subsidy because my income was too high.  So, my premium was going to increase from $275 per month, to $775 per month.

Did you know that if you exceed the maximum income amount, which is around $47,000 per year, by even one penny, you lose all of your subsidy?  I had no idea, but I certainly do now.  There’s a thing called the Obamacare “cliff” – at a certain income level, you just drop off it and get nothing.

The short version of the story is that I was able to “un-do” my application to start my Social Security in 2017, thereby keeping my income well below the Obamacare threshold.  Without the Social Security income, my health insurance premium for 2018 is $12 per month, and my subsidy is about $9,000.  And once I re-start Social Security, maybe when I’m 65 and on Medicare, my monthly check will be significantly higher.

It’s the right decision, but it does have a big impact on my financial situation, and on my travel plans.  Although it’s relatively inexpensive to live in an RV, I can no longer afford to do the other traveling I’ve been doing.  I decided NOT to change my plans to stay in England and Wales for the winter and spring of 2018.  There would be a financial cost to cancel because everything is already arranged, and besides, I really feel that if I don’t do it now, I might never do it.  So, I’ll be funding it with savings.

But, I have to cut out my planned summer sublet in New York City, and I’m debating about the Panama Canal cruise next September.  And these changes are really OK, because of the second game changer.

I’ve mentioned before that my 23-year-old son has moved from Seattle back to his hometown of Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and started a career in real estate (see  It has been quite an amazing transition to witness.  After graduation from college, he had a strong pull to experience “somewhere else”, so he went to Seattle, where his sister was living.

Then last summer, after a year of struggling to support himself and make new friends in a new place, he is incredibly happy to be back home.  He’s lived in Bucks County since he was two, and that’s where he’s comfortable.  He’s an Eagle Scout, and has been active in sports since he was four, so his network is wide and deep.  All the people who know him the best are there – except, of course, for his family.

So, I’m going to change that!  I think Kyle and I have learned very similar life lessons, even though we’re at very different points in life.  We’ve learned how much we appreciate “home” after we’ve been away from it for a while.  We realize how incredibly important our relationships are – the friendships which we’ve spent years nurturing.  Both of us have realized that we belong in Bucks County.

During my travels across the country, I enjoyed visiting all sorts of different places.  I’ve been all over the country, in all four corners, and in between.  I’ve seen big cities and small towns, rural and suburban landscapes, dramatic mountains and peaceful farmland.  A common theme I felt was that the people who live in each place seem to belong there.  They fit.  And it made me ask myself “Where do I fit?”.  Everywhere I went, I asked myself “Could I live here?”, and I tried it on for size in my mind.

Before Kyle made his decision to move back, I might have answered my questions with “Maybe here.  Maybe.”  But, I didn’t feel enthusiastic about anyplace.  After Kyle’s decision, every time I considered a new place, I asked myself, “Why would I live here, when Kyle is back in Newtown?”.  And that’s what stuck.

The combination of the desire to live near at least one of my children, and the desire to be near many of my very dear friends, including a whole community of genealogy friends, made the decision to move back to Bucks County an easy one.  It was literally a no-brainer; I just followed my heart.  And I’m ready to make it happen as soon as I touch down in Philadelphia on May 20, 2018.

More details to follow as I work them out!

A Week at the Spa

I spent last week at my cousin Betsy’s, which was almost like a week at a spa.  We ate luscious, healthy meals, lounged around the pool, slept late, drank wine on the peaceful front porch, enjoyed the bucolic views of the sheep and horse pastures, and read novels.  And I gave myself a pedicure.  I literally felt like I was at a fancy resort!

The pool and hot tub from the back porch

Betsy is a shepherd, and her sheep gave birth collectively to about 20 lambs earlier this year.  She also has chickens, so we had farm fresh eggs every day.  Here’s a picture of the smallest lamb, “Tom Thumb”:

Tom Thumb, a three month old lamb
The barn – you can see my RV in the driveway!

The companionship with my cousin was the best part – we talked for hours on end.  We realized that we’ve spent very little time in the past being together, just the two of us.  Usually we’ve had family all around, but this time, her wonderful husband was away most of the week, and we had a real girls week.  It’s such a treat to be with family and to reminisce with someone who knew and loved my parents and brothers.  I love Betsy like a sister!

View from the front porch

I did all that fun stuff, but it actually wasn’t all pampering and relaxation.  I had an agenda (as I usually do!) of tasks to complete:  did several large loads of laundry, got Betsy’s DNA sample and mailed it in to Ancestry, bought three turkey breasts to roast and freeze in serving size bags (my RV has no oven and I like to use real roasted turkey in sandwiches and salads), completed my scanning of two tubs of genealogy files so I can leave them in storage, and washed both the car and RV.  My online genealogy classes were on the list, but I never got to those this week – and that’s fine.  My new motto is “No Stress”, so if I don’t get to it, I don’t get to it.

I’m so lucky to have this little oasis to visit when I’m traveling up and down the east coast! Now I’m in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, my former home, for two weeks of socializing, going to doctor appointments, and re-shuffling stuff in and out of storage – more on that soon!

Sarasota: My Happy Place

When I think back to where I was a year ago, so many feelings come up, but mostly relief- I’m SO GLAD I’m not there!  If I had known then that I would be here now, it would’ve been easier, but I didn’t know when I would sell my house.  I was in the middle of another winter where I was often snowed in by myself, and unable to afford a proper snow removal service for my extra-long, steep driveway.  Any time we had a winter storm, I was outside after work in the dark with my snow shovel, trying my best to keep the driveway from freezing overnight, so I could get to work the next day.

Looking down the driveway (to the left) at my former home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Looking down the driveway (to the left) at my former home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania
View from the back of my former home looking up at Mom's house at the top of the driveway
View from the back of my former home looking up at Mom’s house at the top of the driveway

Every day, I saw my mother’s dark empty house at the top of the driveway, which created a pit in my stomach each time.  It certainly could have been worse, but it was a friggin’ nightmare compared to where I am today.  And it was a nightmare which had been preceded by several other nightmares.  It’s so true that “we do what we have to do”, and we surprise ourselves when we live through it.

I had completely forgotten what it feels like to be this happy.

I am LOVING my winter in Florida!  The weather has generally been in the 70’s, with lows in the 50’s – quite perfect. Every time I go outside, I’m extremely aware of how incredibly lovely it is, and how fortunate I am to be here!  I don’t even bother to put the top up on my car, because I never need to – which adds to the overwhelming feeling of freedom I have.  Driving around town in the open car in shorts, sandals, and a sleeveless top in January, with the sun shining down on me, makes the smallest errand feel like I’m on vacation.

I’ve joined the YMCA, I’ve joined the local genealogical society, and I’ve joined Meetup to get together with people for different activities – walks, movies, bowling, happy hours, all sorts of things.  The people here are generally relaxed and happy.  Many are retired and single, and, like me, they’re also looking for new friends.  So I feel like I fit in.

Staying at my cousin’s house makes me feel like a princess in a castle – it’s a lovely, comfortable home, still full of my aunt’s unique possessions, including family pictures everywhere.   My mother’s sister had the house built in 1989, when she was 57.  She was a creative thinker, and had custom features installed, like an electrical outlet under the couch in the middle of the living room so no one would trip over the lamp cords, a Murphy bed in the third bedroom, a built-in ironing center in the master bedroom, a fireplace which is rare in Florida, a window seat, a custom spice drawer and slide-out drawer cabinets for pots in the kitchen.  It’s not a big house, but it’s classy. She knew what she wanted.

My Mom and my aunt were just 15 months apart and were very close friends.  Mom visited her sister here often, and every day I hear their laughter as I’m cooking in the same kitchen – they were both over-the-top fun to be with!  So being here feels comforting.  It feels like I’m with my family. I feel so grateful to my cousin for letting me stay here.

My Aunt Arden and my Mom at Arden's Sarasota house
My Aunt Arden and my Mom at Arden’s Sarasota house

So it’s not surprising that I started to think that maybe I’ve found my “happy place.”  Maybe this is the place where I should settle down.  I like that it’s easy to get here from the northeast, and that Florida is a place where many of my friends will retire.  I LOVE that it’s near the beach, and there’s lots of water everywhere.  I LOVE the west coast, because one of my favorite things to do is sit on the beach and watch the sunset over the Gulf.   I could actually afford to buy a home of some sort here – maybe not in Sarasota, but somewhere close.  And of course maybe eventually my cousin and her husband will retire here – I’d love to live near them.

So I made an appointment with a real estate agent.

And then I canceled it.

After a heart-to-heart conversation with myself, and some budget scrutiny, I realized that I’m just not ready to settle down.  I’ve barely begun my RV life, and I miss it.  There are lots of things I still want to do, including doing my genealogy research overseas.  It just doesn’t make sense to buy a house before I do all or most of these other things.

And then I started brainstorming with myself, made a list of the most important things I still need/want to do, and created a plan for the next 22 months.  All planned out.  And none of it involves buying a house, or being in Florida.  Stay tuned!!



NZ – The First Nine Days

It’s  Friday the 6th today, our ninth day in New Zealand.  When we arrived on the South Island on New Year’s Eve Day, we felt like our trip had really begun, because the guidebooks say that the most beautiful natural sights are here.  Without having seen much of the North Island, I can’t really compare, but let me just say that we’ve both been stunned by the spectacular scenery around every corner.

Haast River along Haast Pass
Haast River along Haast Pass – the river is turquoise!

It seems like everywhere we turn, there’s a waterfall, a turquoise river, jungle-like woods in every shade of green, wildflowers like lupine and foxglove in bloom, lakes, oceanfronts, and towering mountains with snow-capped peaks.  New Zealand has it all.  Oh, and add a glacier or two.

We spent New Year’s Eve in Nelson on the north coast of the South Island, and then drove along the shore to the Abel Tasman National Park on New Year’s Day.  Much of the huge park is accessible only on foot or by boat, so we took a ferry ride along the coast for a bit.

Some of the coastline of Abel Tasman National Park
Some of the coastline of Abel Tasman National Park

Over the next two days, we drove down the west coast to Franz Glacier, via Westport.  The view from our motel:

View from motel in Franz Josef
View from motel in Franz Josef

There, we did three separate hikes to two glaciers and a lake:

Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier – notice the blue color of the ice!
Trail to Lake Matheson
Trail to Lake Matheson – doesn’t it look like an elf could jump out any minute??
Lake Matheson
Lake Matheson – on a clear day, the lake mirrors the snow capped peaks behind

That was an exhausting but amazing day!  It felt like we never got a chance to put the camera down – it was one incredible view after the next.  And it just keeps going! When we left Franz Josef and headed for Queenstown, this was some of the scenery:

Knights Point Lookout, West Coast
Knights Point Lookout, West Coast
Stopped for lunch at Cameron Flats along the Makarora River
Stopped for lunch at Cameron Flats along the Makarora River
Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka, on the drive from Haast Pass to Queenstown
Lupines in bloom
Lupines in bloom on the Crown Range road to Queenstown
Approach to Queenstown
Approach to Queenstown on Crown Range road – note sheep in foreground!

After arriving in Queenstown and checking into our Airbnb, we took a drive along the lake up to Glenorchy:

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown
Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown – looks unreal, doesn’t it??
Lake Wakatipu at sunset
Lake Wakatipu at sunset

And this was the view on today’s hike:

Queenstown Hill Hike
Queenstown Hill Hike

Are you on sensory overload yet?? Couldn’t handle looking at one more beautiful thing?  Join the club!  And we still have twelve more days….

New Zealand, New Year!

[This was written a few days ago on New Year’s Eve – access to wifi during the trip has been limited, so today was the first opportunity to post it!]

Even though this New Year’s Eve is our fourth day in New Zealand, and I’ve worked my way through the jet lag and shock, I can still hardly believe that I’m actually here!  Traveling to NZ has been a dream since I first became aware of the country’s natural beauty when I was in college, and I feel so fortunate to be finally experiencing it.

This post is a little longer than usual, so in case you don’t make it to the end, I’ll say first that I wish you all a Happy New Year and the very best in 2017!

I remember this time last year, saying to myself that 2016 HAS to be better than 2015 was, and that hope certainly came true.  2016 was a year of many happy changes, and for the first time in a long time, I’m truly excited about the future.

The flight from San Francisco to Auckland was about 13 hours, and here we’re 18 hours ahead of the east coast of the United States.  So when the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, it will already be 6 pm on New Year’s Day here!  It’s summer here, but the weather is wonderfully comfortable: 60’s – 70’s during the day, 40’s – 50’s at night.  And the days are long, with sunrise at 6 am and sunset at 9 pm.

We’ll be in NZ for 22 nights, so the trip has only just begun.  Auckland is on the North Island of NZ, but we’ll spend the bulk of our time on the South Island.  So, we’ve spent our first three days trekking south from the airport.  We spent the first night in Turangi, the second in New Plymouth, and the third in Wellington:

View of Lake Taupo with Mt. Ruapehu in the distance.  Near Turangi.
View of Lake Taupo with Mt. Ruapehu in the distance. Near Turangi.


Sunset in New Plymouth, New Zealand
Sunset in New Plymouth, New Zealand


Wellington Harbor
Wellington Harbor

One of the highlights so far was the drive on the Forgotten World Highway, which will never be forgotten as far as I’m concerned!  It’s considered the #1 scenic drive in NZ, with about 100 miles of twisty-turny road through some gorgeous, and quite remote, hilly countryside. We drove it on a cloudy, drizzly day, so unfortunately it wasn’t the best for photos, but a few are below:

One Way Tunnel with dirt road along Forgotten World Highway
One Way Tunnel with dirt road along Forgotten World Highway


Lavender Farm along the Forgotten World Highway
Lavender Farm along the Forgotten World Highway


Intersection along Forgotten World Highway
Intersection along Forgotten World Highway


Scene along Forgotten World Highway showing gravel road
Scene along Forgotten World Highway showing gravel road


Terrain along Forgotten World Highway
Terrain along Forgotten World Highway

It may be the most scenic drive in New Zealand, but we read that it’s also the most dangerous drive.  In many areas, where part of the road was washed out and fallen down the cliff, you have to drive in the oncoming lane with blind curves; in other areas, rock slides have left debris in the road which you encounter by surprise when rounding a bend.

Area of road washed down cliff along Forgotten World Highway
Part of road washed down cliff along Forgotten World Highway


Fallen rocks in road
Fallen rocks in road

Add to this the driving on the left side of the road and the lack of any guardrails – well, let’s just say I was extremely glad that Eric was behind the wheel!  Definitely a white knuckler: the drive was exhilarating and we’re glad we did it, but we both needed that cocktail when we arrived safely in New Plymouth…

Another highlight of the first few days was delving into Eric’s father’s history in World War II, when he was injured in the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942, and recuperated in Wellington for several months. During that time, he became engaged to a NZ woman named Joan Hay.  Although they never married, Eric has numerous letters from Joan to his grandmother and aunt during the war.

Unfortunately, Joan died last year, but we had breakfast with her son yesterday in New Plymouth, and then found her parents’ house in Wellington where Eric’s father courted her.  We also found the location of the Marine barracks where he would have stayed during his convalescence. I think Eric felt very satisfied to track down his Dad’s path here, and I certainly have enjoyed that touch of family history on our trip.

As I’m writing this, we’re cruising on the Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton, where we’ll jump in another rental car and begin our South Island tour.  It’s a three hour stunning ride across the Cook Strait to Picton on the South Island.

View from Interislander Ferry as we approach the South Island
View from Interislander Ferry as we approach the South Island

After a few hours of driving this afternoon, we’ll be clinking glasses in the town of Nelson tonight as we say a fond goodbye to the wonderful year of 2016, which brought multiple significant milestones to our little family.

Interislander Ferry in Picton Harbor on the South Island
Interislander Ferry in Picton Harbor on the South Island

Cheers to family and friends – here’s to a happy, healthy and adventure-filled 2017 for one and all!!!  xoxo

Warmest Holiday Wishes to All!

I’m thinking very fondly of my family and friends during this holiday time.  No matter which holiday you celebrate, I hope you’re all in a warm happy place and enjoying your families!

I’m definitely in a warm happy place, but I greatly miss family members who are no longer with us, and that void is especially painful during the holiday season.  I know there are many of you feeling the same way as I do.

The five of us in the early 60's
The five of us in the early 60’s

It helps somewhat to be in a completely different place this year along with unfamiliar holiday decorations.  But there are so many moments when I flash on memories of my parents and my brothers:  my mother baking her apple pie, which we try in vain to duplicate; staying up until the wee hours with my brothers on Christmas Eve wrapping mountains of gifts;  my father lighting the fire on Christmas morning.  These memories bring tears.

Although it’s difficult to accept, those people and those days are gone.  I feel like the only way to get any peace about it is to allow the memories of the many happy times to bring smiles instead of sadness, and to focus on the present and the future instead of the past.  My family instilled in me my love of Christmas, and I bring that to my children and to this year’s holiday.

We’ve truly had an amazing week together!  Our riverfront cabin is charming and quite remote, so we feel surrounded by nature and definitely “away from it all”.

The view from the deck of our cabin
The view from the deck of our cabin

There’s no cell service and wifi access is unreliable.  So we’ve been watching movies, playing games, baking cookies and pies, group-cooking incredible meals, and generally having excellent quality time.  We made one outing to Steven’s Pass where we rode up the ski lift to enjoy the incredible mountain views.  Wowza!!

View from Steven's Pass ski area
View from Steven’s Pass ski area

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, the day we have our Christmas dinner, which will be a turkey dinner like Thanksgiving. The double turkey was my family’s tradition, which I haven’t always followed with my own Christmases.  But this year, I didn’t get to cook at Thanksgiving, and we weren’t with the kids, either – so we’ll all enjoy our turkey and fixin’s!  And then of course my favorite time is Christmas morning….

From our family to yours, we wish you peace, joy and love!

Christmas Cabin Tree
Christmas Cabin Tree

Pre-Christmas in Seattle

I LOVE Christmas – it’s by far my favorite holiday, and was always an incredibly magical time for my whole family. One of the best parts of the season is the anticipation of the day itself, and the preparation for the festivities. Christmas 2016 will, of course, be completely different from our Christmases in the past.

Christmas 1981, Pennington, New Jersey
Christmas 1981, Pennington, New Jersey
Christmas 2009, Newtown, Pennsylvania
Christmas 2009, Newtown, Pennsylvania

For the very first time in my life, this year’s Christmas holiday will be celebrated in a vacation rental instead of at home.  I’ll miss many of our traditional activities over the past twenty years, such as going to McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey to see the play A Christmas Carol.  And, I’ll miss all of our familiar ornaments and other decorations, which are in storage in Pennsylvania.

But there are welcome differences this year as well.  In the past, I’ve been working full time, and the kids have been the ones with the time off and traveling over the holidays.  This year, it’s the kids who are working, and I’m the one with the time off and traveling.  I like that role reversal!

Eric is arriving in Seattle on Monday, when the four of us will drive to the rented cabin in Index, Washington.  So I’m here in Seattle for a week prior to that, to spend extra time with the kids, and to prepare for Christmas week.  Here’s a picture of the cute place where I’m staying:

Lodging in Seattle - in a different season!
Lodging in Seattle – in a different season!

It’s nice and crispy cold in Seattle, which definitely helps to make it feel like Christmas!  This week, I’m shopping for gifts, wrapping them, and ensuring that we have a tree, lights, stockings, and everything else we need to decorate the cabin.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit in public that I spent $150 on Christmas decorations at Goodwill.  Can you imagine how much stuff that is at $1-$5 for each item??  That’s in addition to the artificial tree and ornaments that I bought on Amazon and had shipped here in advance!

Our tradition has been that we put the Christmas tree up on the day after Thanksgiving, so we can enjoy it for the whole month of December.  Since we didn’t get to do that this year, we set up the tree in my little apartment this week – I didn’t want to wait until we get to the cabin next week.

Christmas 2016, Seattle, Washington
Christmas 2016, Seattle, Washington

Even though it’s not the same as our typical huge live trees of the past, I love this tree just as much.  I think the secret is the lights – as long as it’s sparkling with lights, it works for me!

I’m SO glad that I came to Seattle for a pre-Christmas week!  We’re all really excited about next week, when the four of us can just relax, knowing all the preparations are complete and the kids don’t have to work.  We’ll decorate, bake, make fires, watch movies, and play in the snow.

I hope you’re all enjoying the season as much as we are!!