Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category

It’s a Girl!

I have always known I was adopted. My mom used to tell me how my very wealthy grandfather whisked his pregnant daughter out of Philadelphia and hid her at the Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers in Wheeling, West Virginia, until she had me. I was told the story of how some strange woman met my parents on a street corner and handed me over to them a few days after my birth. I was also told my birth mother was very young and had to love me very much when she had to decide to give me up for adoption so I may have the chance for a better life.

Well, two of those statements were true. I will find the Philadelphia story was untrue.

Before the “invention” of the internet, it was difficult to conduct a search for a birth parent. And I just didn’t care to know anything when I was a teenager. I even participated in a debate on WKKW in high school and was on the side of “Adoption Records Should Never Be Opened.”

But, my interest piqued a bit when I came home from college one weekend and a family member came to me with an interesting story. She went to a club and happened to see a girl my age who looked exactly like me and had similar mannerisms. After watching her for a while, she approached her and asked her if she was by any chance adopted.

She was taken aback, and then replied that, yes, she WAS adopted. She proceeded to tell  her birth date. It matched, along with the city, and the hospital. My family member was sure she was my twin and we just had to have been separated at birth.

So, it was arranged for us to meet, and I soon came face to face with Joyce, my possible twin. We brought our birth certificates,  talked for a while, comparing similarities, quirks, and medical conditions, and left with the promise we would get a blood test to make sure we were twins. I left the next day to go back to college, and along the way, lost her phone number and couldn’t remember her last name. All I knew and all I still know is that her name was Joyce and she was from Steubenville, Ohio. Well, that is, I believe her name was Joyce. It is funny how time has a way of making some memories foggy. For example, I have no idea where we met. Not a clue. I think we were at a kitchen table, but it could have been in a restaurant. I do not remember at all.

My brother, David, who is also adopted, made the trip to our state capital of Charleston, West Virginia, to search for our birth certificates. Imagine my surprise when he came back with two interesting pieces of information. The first was a birth certificate, but this one was different. This had the name of my birth mother, but her name was barely marked out.

 

I couldn’t believe it. I thought since adoption records were sealed, I would never know who my birth mother was. But, here was her name, staring at me. David also found out that Nancy, my birth mother, married and had two children in 1968. Their names were Mary Alice and Melissa Anne. So, she had another set of twins twelve years later?

I’m not going to go into detail about how David found all the Nancy Freelands who were born in 1939 and how my then-husband drove six hours into Ohio to meet one of them. That funny story will be saved for when I write my book.

Fast forward to 2017. After years of typing Nancy Jane Freeland into the google search bar and hunting for “Joyce Steubenville”  and “Melissa Mitchell,” on facebook, my daughter suggested I submit some saliva in a 23andme DNA kit.  I bought her a kit for Christmas and her results were interesting, but it was hard to decifer for sure who was on her father’s side and who was on my side. And I had just turned 60 and thought it was time to find my twin once and for all. I know what many of you may be thinking:

“Why did you wait so damn long?”

I guess I still feel that it is an intrusion.

But, I ordered the kit and was disappointed when I got the results. There was not one Freeland surname in any of my matches. My daughter, Alex, felt perhaps someone just happened to write down the false name, Nancy Jane Freeland, as other falsehoods prevailed. For example, my name at birth was Deborah Lee, but the director at the Crittenton Home answered a letter I wrote to her, stating that sometimes a nurse would name a baby so something would be written down before the adoption process concluded. So, maybe they did the same on a birth certificate, to again, hide the identity of the birth mother.  In that same letter, I also found out, the agency also lied to adoptive parents about the lives of the birth mothers. So, it was disappointing for a few days, until I got an email from a woman whom I matched with as a second cousin on 23andme.

She confirmed I was indeed Nancy Jane Freeland’s daughter, as our DNA matched. I was elated to have her name back in my mind as my birth mother. But, alas, my “twin” Joyce did not submit DNA to this company. So, I ordered a kit from Ancestry, hoping Joyce used this company. I wondered if she was even alive at this point. Surely she was hunting for me, too. Eyvonn, my newly found second cousin, did some research on my birth mother and told me my one half-sister, Mary Alice, had died when she was two days old. She couldn’t find any information on the other one, Melissa.

The day I spit in a vial and sent it off, I saw where people can make a free family tree at the Ancestry.com site. So, I gave my family tree a name and typed Nancy Jane Freeland in to start the process. A green leaf immediately appeared in the upper right hand corner of her information box. Curious, I clicked on it, and saw “hints” about my birth mother that are free to see without subscribing to their site. Among documents, I found a marriage certificate for a Nancy Jane Freeland Land. Well, that had to be a misprint….Freeland Land? Plus, I googled her name so much, it surely would have come up before if she remarried. But, I shrugged, and thought I might as well try it.

And what I found surprised me. About clicking on five or six links, the next one was titled, “Obituaries for Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009.”  I wasn’t going to click on it, as I was sure it was a dead end, but I did anyway.

“……She was born July 7, 1958, in Allegheny County, PA, a daughter of the late Nancy Jane Freeland Land.”

I thought for sure this Nancy Jane was not who I was looking for. First of all, my birth mother was from Moundsville. It never dawned on me she would ever move out of the area. That was not one of my brightest thoughts. Secondly, who was Barbara Jo Arbogast?  I was born in 1956. Surely, I would have found out if I had a half sister born two years later when my brother found the twins, who were born in 1968.

But, I continued to read because I like to finish what I start (That’s such a lie).

……She is survived by ……and 2 sisters, Amy Eli and her husband David, Clarksburg, and Melissa Mikulski, Youngsville, NC……”

Wait. What?

Melissa.

I sat stunned. Could this be the twin, Melissa, that was born in 1968?

I immediately went to facebook and typed Melissa’s full name in the search bar. And up came her picture. I’ll be damned. I remember that name from a few years before. She was from Shinnston and now lived in North Carolina. I dismissed her because, remember, my people stayed put in Moundsville. I just shook my head at my lack of common sense.

So, what the hell do I do now? I had three names….Melissa, Amy, and Barbara’s daughter, Brianna, to search on facebook. So, I basically stalked them and looked at a lot of their photos. I showed my co-workers photos of Amy, who I thought looked like me.

On a Thursday morning, I sat with my fingers on the keyboard and thought how to approach them. I needed to know if their mother was the same Nancy Jane Freeland who once lived in Moundsville.

I know how I am about friend requests on Facebook, and I know they might never see a private message unless were were facebook friends. I thought I would write each of them a message and see if anyone would reply.

So, on March 23, during my lunch at school, I wrote:

“Hi Amy! I’m not sure if you will receive this message or not. I also sent one to your sister, Melissa. I may be going down the wrong road, but I am trying to connect some dots with a genealogy study and was wondering if you are related to a Nancy Jane Freeland from Moundsville? Sept. 26, 1939? Thanks in advance. Vickie”

Ok, I liked that. It wasn’t an “in your face” admission that their mother might also be my mother. Again, I was still having intrusion issues.

My daughter squashed that thought.

“Mom. Tell them the truth.”  

No answer….Thursday or Friday.

By Saturday, I thought I would add a bit more. 7:15pm.-

I guess I should add that I am adopted (born in Wheeling in 1956) and Nancy Jane Freeland, age 17, is listed as my birth mother. I recently took a DNA test from 23andme and a second cousin on Harold Freeland’s mother’s side. (Ida Mae Koon) got in touch with me. I have had the information that Nancy Jane Freeland as my birth mother for years, (her name was lightly crossed out on my birth certificate) and I knew there was a possibility of being half-sisters to Melissa Mitchell, but didn’t want to intrude. I wasn’t aware of you or your sister Barbara until Ancestry.com showed Nancy Jane was then a Land. I googled that name the other day and found your sister’s obituary. I apologize for the intrusion now, but I would finally like to connect some dots after 60 years. Plus, I’d really like to know where my son’s red hair came from…lol I apologize if I cause any hurt in this process.”

and then added, “And I may be wrong.”

I friend requested Melissa and Brianna, but I thought I should write a public note on my facebook wall so they could see it. I know when I get friend requests, I go to that person’s facebook to see who the hell they are. So I wrote right on my facebook wall:

“So, a bit of news. When I sent in my DNA to Ancestry, it also let me create a family tree. When I did that, a “hint” came up for my birth mother. So, I clicked on it, and found a marriage certificate with an additional name at the end. So, I googled her with that name, and came across an obituary of a woman, born in 1958, two years after me. It gets better. She left behind two half sisters, one whom I was aware of (had her maiden name listed in obit), and the other lives in the Shinnston area. I have sent them messages and it looks if we aren’t friends they don’t receive the messages. If they do accept and they tell me their mother did indeed live in Moundsville, I will be certain I have 3 half-sisters (one who has passed), and not counting my twin, Joyce, who is still out there somewhere.
Pretty crazy, huh?”

Some more stalking. I saw where Amy was at Buffalo Wild Wings and she was commenting on her friend’s replies. She didn’t have a friend request button, so I decided to write in the comment bar. I started getting nervous.

at 7:57, I wrote:

“Hi, Amy. You don’t know me, but I sent you a message. You don’t have a friend request button…lol”

I’m such a goober.

And then it got crazy. I will elaborate in my book, which I feel like I am writing right now (sorry this is so long), but let’s just say it was fast and furious, and yes, Nancy Jane Freeland Land lived in Moundsville.

I found my birth mother and her family and they lived only about 15 minutes from me all this time. Nancy passed away in 1976.

Facebook is great and many posts and texts on the phone have followed our initial conversation.

Amy and I met at a nearby restaurant on April 6.

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Amy is on the left. I’m 13 years older

Matching hair styles, glasses, and our black and white ensembles for the evening. We text almost daily. I just love her and can’t wait to meet Melissa sometime this summer.

Part Deux: My Birth Father

Yep. Who would have thought? So, I just got my results from ancestry.com back on Tuesday, May 2 just as I was logging off of the computer for the night. So, at 11:00pm, I found out my “twin” didn’t  submit DNA here either, but I did find I had a first cousin. It had to be on my birth father’s side. What? I never dreamed I would find anything about him.

So, I messaged her on Ancestry the very next morning:

“Hi! I have just received my results tonight and see we are first cousins. I was adopted at birth in 1956 in Wheeling, WV, and recently found my birth family on my mother’s side. Very curious to see how we may be related. I do have a twin (separated at birth), but only remember her first name is Joyce. Any information would be appreciated to help me connect some dots.”
Vickie

Erin wrote back and in communication over the past few days,  suggested her uncle, who passed away some time ago, was most likely my birth father.  But, over time this week, she noticed our “centimorgans” were very high for just being first cousins. Her father, who is still alive, told Erin he had been with my birth mother one time and was never told he was the father.

That was last night. I spent most of the night feeling like I wanted to throw up. I just felt that it served no real purpose to tell him that the DNA put him as my biological father. I felt this was extremely intrusive of me when all I wanted to do was find my twin. I am feeling a bit better this morning as my new family is so very welcoming.

So, adopted 60 years and 6 months ago and today I can say I have three half sisters and 1 half brother, and a birth father who is probably in a state of shock.

I still need to find Joyce.

To be continued…….

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Cat Eye Glasses

Way back in the day, I remember hoping one day I would be able to wear cat eye glasses. I really wanted to wear them. They were very popular in the early sixties and I thought the women who wore them, especially if they were secretaries, were at the top of their game.

Why, oh, why, did I have to have great eyesight?

When I was little, I wanted to be an actress when I grew up. But, not just any regular actress. I wanted to be a smoking actress. You know what I’m talking about; the ones who adorned gowns, strategically placed a wisp of their hair over their left eye, smoked, and said, “Dahling” a lot. That’s what I wanted to be.

Until I saw my dad’s secretary wearing cat eye glasses.

I used to spend a lot of time after school and some Saturday’s at my dad’s real estate office. I played secretary a lot and pretended I could type at a very fast speed. Most of my creations were quite sad, but it was fun pounding the keys on the black typewriter. Back then, ink ribbon was used in the typewriter, so I am sure my dad’s secretaries were not happy to come back on Mondays to see the ribbon needed replaced. I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it.  There was no way I wanted purplish ink on my fingers, especially when my dad often took me over to Mom’s Lunch for lunch. How can you possibly pick up a french fry to dip in ketchup when you have purple ink on your fingers?  Besides, I was a kid. Kids weren’t expected to change typewriter ribbon, right?

So, imagine how my jaw dropped when I saw one of the secretaries wearing cat eye glasses for the first time. Now, you have to understand that both of them were young and very pretty, so the cat eye glasses didn’t make them look like nerds or anything. On the contrary, it made them look smart and beautiful, which was a pretty great combination. As my mom repeatedly told me, “You have to be pretty on the inside before you can be pretty on the outside.” I thought that was a stupid comment, because I was pretty sure lungs and kidneys were not pretty. But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

After staring at my dad’s secretary, I wanted a pair of cat eye glasses. I couldn’t wait to go home and ask my mom to take me to the eye doctor. I had to have these glasses.

“Vickie, you have perfect eyesight. You do not need glasses.”

“I really do, Mom. I can’t really see what is written on the board.”

Yes, I lied. I was, after all, a big fat liar, minus the fat part. So, off we went to the doctor. Looks like my left eye was perfect and my right eye was just a little weak, but not enough to need glasses. But, after my mom told him I had a hard time seeing the board, I got a pair of glasses “to use as needed.”

Shit.

They didn’t have cat eye glasses for kids. What? Sure they do. You must be mistaken, Mr. Doctor.

I came home with a pair of brown glasses that looked an awful like my mom’s. I was not a happy liar. I think I wore those glasses a total of four times. My mom wrote a note to the teacher to make sure I wore those damn things, but I think it somehow got lost before I gave it to her.

So, it looked like I was back to wanting to be a smoking actress when I grew up. My hopes of being a secretary with cat eye glasses were dashed.

But, maybe my mom could get a little spiffy looking with a pair.

I wished my mom wore cat eye glasses because she had a pair of  what she called “Ben Franklin” glasses and they just looked stupid on top of her mop of a hair-do. I couldn’t understand why there was a line running right through the middle of each lens.

She was about as stylish as my dad, who wore suits every day and looked  dapper, but who could not coordinate casual clothes to save his soul. He wore stripes with plaids and couldn’t understand why he didn’t match, as long as the same color was in both pieces of clothing. He also had no problem wearing black socks with sandals.

I was surrounded by the misfits of Toy Land.

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He was pinching her butt in this photo….

I have to admit I have never been back to the eye doctor. I know, my bad, especially since I’m pushing sixty.  I do wear Dollar General or Walmart Foster Grant reading glasses, mostly on top of my head like a head band.

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I don’t think I look like a secretary. I look like a pretend photographer.

 

 

Bluey

We have been having quite the winter here in north central West Virginia.  Right now the wind chill is -15 and I have to go to Walmart. I hate the cold….and I hate Walmart, so I’m not looking forward to venturing out in this Siberian express of a mess. It just takes me back to when I was a child.

I might as well just get to the point. The neighborhood kids called me Bluey.  Oh, not all the kids, just the older boys who went sled riding down our backyard hill without permission. We lived in a subdivision on a corner lot with a decent hill with a nice bump in the middle which could make your sled jump in the air. It was hard to keep the neighborhood thugs away. And I call them thugs because they called me Bluey. 

You have to understand I looked like a poster child for anorexia, except for the fact  I really did eat. I loved homemade bread and ketchup sandwiches. Of course that has nothing to do why I was called Bluey, but everything to do with the fact I probably did just enough to keep a bird alive. I had to hear that idiom all the time.

“She is so skinny.  I bet she doesn’t eat enough to keep a bird alive.” I have yet to see a starving bird sitting on a sidewalk… Will fly for food.

So, yeah, I was quite skinny and my lips would turn blue when I got cold. My fingernails would also turn blue, but they were usually hidden under my mittens I was wearing at the time. I had mittens with the long connecting string that my mom would weave through the sleeves of my coat so I wouldn’t lose them. Of course, I did lose them at times, which even I have no idea how I accomplished that feat.

So, my mom would bundle us up while smoking a Salem cigarette in one hand until she had to zipper our coats, and that’s when she would put the cigarette in her mouth and try to talk out of  the corner of her mouth at the same time.

“Vickie, quit squirming.”

I was squirming because the smoke from the Salem cigarette was entering my nose and heading down to visit my weak, naive lungs. Well, I also didn’t want to go outside…… I really didn’t want to go outside.

But, it was a chance for my mom to sit at the table, drinking her Maxwell House coffee and smoking her beloved Salem cigarettes in peace as she had one child who was nicknamed Cricket  because she was so hyperactive, (and sometimes nicknamed Bluey by neighborhood thugs) and another child who could move objects with her mind in the middle of  a multitude of daily temper tantrums. The only normal child, my brother, couldn’t wait to get outside and sled ride all day long.  I can’t even tell you how many times he walked back up that hill after flying through the air down the hill. No, I can’t even tell you because I didn’t stay out there long enough to count past 3.

Yes, Bluey  here had a self- imposed time limit of outdoor winter fun: approximately 15 minutes or the time it takes to roll the bottom layer of a snowman. I never got to put a damn carrot into a snowman’s head. I always asked for a carrot, but would usually pass it to my sister or my friends who came up the street to play with me. They knew the routine all to well. Plus, I also had to pee as soon as I put on my snow suit.

And what really sucked is the fact that my mom,  now calm after being separated from a hyper Mexican jumping bean and a destructive screaming meemie for a little bit, would make us hot chocolate when we came in. I hated hot chocolate. I hated chocolate milk. She knew this.

“Vickie, don’t wrinkle up your nose, it will stick like that one day.”  (I’m 58 and it hasn’t stuck yet, Mom.)

“Vickie, just try the hot chocolate. It will warm you up.”   Uh, I don’t see that happening……See, this is why I was hyperactive. My mom was constantly enabling my active nature with more sugar.

So, I would just grab a handful of those little tiny marshmallows that for some reason are put in a cup of hot chocolate like a garnish, I guess. I never did understand how the hell hot chocolate and marshmallows went together. Does it remind people of tiny snowman parts floating in a hot chocolate bath? I didn’t get it.

In the end, I guess some people just love the snow and cold and learn how to ski and snow board and become  outdoor winter enthusiasts for the rest of their lives. I ain’t one of those people. I apologize for using bad grammar, but it seemed appropriate as I was writing.  I ain’t one of those people.

If I were smart, which apparently, I am not, I would own one of those fancy remote starters so I could start my car from the school building I teach in.  I am also not smart enough to own a scraper/brush and I have to use my $.99 Walmart gloves to wipe the snow off of my windows.  I don’t buy expensive gloves because, like sock monsters, there is something stealing just one of my gloves on all occasions. I need connecting mittens. I  also wish I could hire one of the kids who wait for the last bus to scrape my windows, but I am sure there are child labor laws for that kind of thing.

So, sitting here today, under a quilt and wearing a sweater on top of a sweater, I notice my fingernails are a little blue. Ok, that’s a lie. I have the heat cranked up to 72 degrees. My townhouse is three levels and my living room is directly above the garage, and seeing that heat rises, it is a sauna on the bedroom floor, and chilly on the living room level.  It’s cold.

So, this Bluey has decided to let the mail pile up for a few days. I will open the sliding door to my deck in order to fling bread out to the waiting crows, but that’s about it. We are under a winter storm warning tomorrow with a forecast of 5-8 inches of snow headed this way. You won’t see me heading to Snowshoe with skis strapped on the top of my car. No sir re Bob.

I hate the cold.

I hate snow.

And I still hate those thugs who called me Bluey……  I can hold a grudge.

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I may not like to build snowmen, but I pass judgement on them. This guy has no nose. This kid gets a B-.

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This is about what my snowmen looked like, minus the head.

 

 

West Virginia Barns

As you can tell by my lack of  blog posts lately, I have become preoccupied with photography. I should be working on my third book or writing here more often, but it seems to have taken a back seat to what has become my passion: pretending to be a photographer.

My father was a photographer when he wasn’t working as owner and broker of his real estate company. He used a press camera which I wish to God I had in my possession. He loved taking pictures and vacationing through West Virginia meant getting out of the station wagon at each hairpin turn so he could get a photo of the “beautiful view.” There were at least 150 “beautiful views” per vacation. I didn’t mind because I was little and a ham for the camera. He has since passed, but I honestly feel him beside me when I frame a shot.

I love photography more than writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy receiving a royalty check each month from Amazon for my 2 ebooks.  It’s not much, but it still pays a bill or two, so that is nice. But, I’ve decided to concentrate on writing after I retire in a few years. My summer writing time has been replaced by day tripping and photography.

When you focus your camera, it is interesting to find out what your interests are. I had no idea when I started taking pictures that my eye would find old barns appealing. Old stuff. Maybe that’s why I like to haunt antique shops.

But, I credit my love of old barns to my grandfather.  He didn’t actually live on a farm, but purchased one to house his prized palomino horses. He named it Cherry Farm and I loved going there.  I believe he rented the house  to a family who took care of the horses. There was an old barn full of pigs. And I was sold. A couple of years later that barn and the pigs inside burned to the ground, but my love of barns lived on.

So, the first time I decided to take a drive, I was surprised what caught my eye. I seem to like old bridges, barns, and abandoned buildings. Who knew I would take back roads in hope of finding a wonderful farm to photograph. Here are just a few of the barns I have photographed in the past few weeks.

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Old Route 250 on the Marion/Taylor County line. It’s a goat farm and I love driving by it.

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Dean Drive. This is on the road behind my former home. I’ve driven by it hundreds of times…funny how it is now a

focus.IMG_2972Near Seneca Rocks, WV

The rest are from my little jaunt yesterday.

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I took about ten photos of this “truck graveyard.” Of course, that’s not really what it is.

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Near Watter Smith State Park

Near Watter Smith State Park

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Had to put the dead tree in this shot.

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This is the best I could do. It was on a winding road with no place to pull off. I rolled down my window, and aimed.

This is what happens when we finally get a break from the snow and the sun is shining on a Saturday afternoon. For those readers who are barn lovers, I drove from Fairmont south on I-79 and took the Lost Creek Exit. I drove on Route 270 from Lost Creek to West Milford and took Duck Creek Road (love the name) to Watters Smith State Park, which was CLOSED…bummer. I doubled back to get some photos I missed on the way and then took I-79 to the Jane Lew Exit in Lewis County and took Route 19 to Clarksburg. I had never been on either road before, so I had fun.

When I was young I told my grandma I had been on every road in West Virginia. She laughed at me and I got mad at her. In my defense, it seemed like I had. My dad couldn’t be away from his real estate business for too long (although I know now he really didn’t want to be in the car with my mom for very long), so our vacations were traveling around West Virginia.

I still love traveling around this state. The barns are becoming old and decrepit. Pretty soon a  new Walmart  or housing development will spring up on old farmland and  yet another barn will be just a memory. I hope to photograph a lot of them before time, or perhaps another derecho takes one down.

Ginger-Ale House

I made my first gingerbread house this past Christmas. I am fifty-seven years old and had never made one, so I decided that would change. I informed my children, who are now 28 and 26,  it is never to late to begin a tradition, and that when they came home from eastern Europe and New York City to stay with me over the holidays, we would be making gingerbread houses….beer included in the mix.

I have been researching gingerbread houses and even have a board on pinterest on the subject. If I was going to create a gingerbread house, I really needed to know what the hell I was doing.

I started by looking at recipes for creating the gingerbread walls and roof for the house and I thought to myself, “Oh, hell no.”  No, this gingerbread house newbie was going to have to buy kits this first year. The thought of mixing and rolling and baking on top of my Christmas cookies and planned dinner was too much for me.

So, I found kits at Walmart. I also started accumulating candy and stuff to put on the gingerbread house. I bought other bases because I wanted to have room to make a yard. I was ready.

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The best part of this was the fact that my kids, now grown, seemed to be excited to put together a gingerbread house. When they were small, I was so busy getting ready for a Christmas Eve sit- down dinner at our house for 25 people, baking cookies and cleaning, that I just never thought about gingerbread house building.  It took us a while to get everything cooked and ready. I even used china and didn’t think about using plastic bowls or plates for salads or desserts until I was just tired of  it all.  So, our gingerbread house building I guess had to wait.

Better late than never.

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My son has been living in the Republic of Georgia and already had plans to alter his gingerbread house. He was thinking of Georgian architecture and went to the kitchen and came back with a knife. He sat, studied, and then began manipulating his walls and roof. He was smiling, so I knew he came up with an idea.

Alex, on the other hand, jumped right in and began icing her walls to the base. She remarked several times she was going to win. Before we started, we decided we would post our houses on my facebook wall and ask my friends to vote on the best gingerbread house. No one would know who built what house. Alex was on a mission to win.

I, on the other hand, was dealt a blow when my gingerbread house was missing the icing bag. Really? Strike one on momma’s house. I tried to improvise by getting a zip lock bag and cutting a hole in one of the corners. Total fail. I made quite the mess.

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We had a lot of fun though.  After Alex spent a lot of the time bragging about how her house was going to win, disaster struck….sort of. She put so many round little balls on her roof, that her roof slid right off the house. It was too heavy. She used a few choice curse words and then just sat and looked at her award winning gingerbread house.

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So, her roof became a side yard. She exclaimed that she was done, but then grabbed a few gingerbread people and started icing them on as the roof. It left a hole in middle. As she finished her bottle of Blue Moon beer, she placed it into the middle of her house and proclaimed her creation, “a ginger-ALE- house.”  Way to recover, young grasshopper.

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Adam, meanwhile, changed the whole thing and created a drive-in. Yes, a drive-in movie theater. I was ready to start calling him Gingerbread Fred as he had pieces of gingerbread lying on the table with no direction in mind. And then it came to him. The result was creative and so very cute.

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I loved his result! It’s a Wonderful Life was even playing at the gingerbread drive-in and the scene where George tells Mary he would lasso the moon for her was on the screen. He had little cars with the speakers by the car and I just loved it.

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So, we were done. I was pretty proud of my first gingerbread house.

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It was a basic house, but I liked how I made the icicles. I also put tootsie rolls as logs.

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Now it was time for the judging. We cleaned off the messy table and lined up the contest entries.

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I then put it on Facebook, where my friends obliged and immediately began voting. People were also guessing who they thought each gingerbread house belonged to. Most of the people thought I made the drive-in, Alex made the cottage, and Adam made the beer hall. It was fun. I won, of course, but  as I got votes for “best workmanship,” the kids both received kudos for being creative.

In the end, our first gingerbread house building was a success, minus my icing fiasco.

I smiled when Adam said he wanted to do it again next year.

Gingerbread Fred will be thinking ahead.

Alex, on the other hand, will probably take a more modest approach and wait until her house is done before bragging.

And I am just happy I had both of my children on the same continent, spending an evening with their mom making memories.

Success.

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Our Disappearing Roadside Rest Areas

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

Robert Frost

Years ago, there were no interstates. We had two lane roads and that’s about it. Sometime during the summer we would hop into our family car and travel around West Virginia. My dad was a realtor and land developer and said he could not be away from the business for too long at a time. I’m thinking that he just didn’t want to be cooped up in a car with my mom, who was so much more than a co-pilot; she was a drill sergeant  driving instructor and a callous wife. That combination was not fun if you were sitting in the front seat…which I was not.

No, I was sitting in the backseat…with a bucket between my feet and my face out the window. The hairpin turns on these West Virginia roads did not make me a happy traveler. My dad would also make us get out at almost every scenic vista to pose for a picture. He had one of those huge press cameras, and also took home movies. So, it took us a while to travel 60 miles through the mountains.

The great thing about traveling on a two lane road back then was the fact that there were numerous places to pull over and take a break. You could tell  because there was a place to pull over and the three main requirements:

1) shade

2) a great view

3) a picnic table right by the road.

Many people would pack a lunch before their little jaunts as  restaurants and gas stations were just here and there. Nowadays, there are interstate rest stops along the way where you can buy food and drink out of vending machines. Just writing this makes me feel sorry for the youth in 2013, as this way of traveling in the 50’s and 60’s was ideal now that I think about it. Well, except for the fact that most of the pull-off picnic rest areas did not have a bathroom. But, for the most part, they were a welcome break from traveling with three fighting young children in the back seat and one continuously perturbed woman in the passenger seat. My dad would always say the same thing:

“Look at this beautiful view. We need to get a picture.” We would then get out of the car and strike a pose.

If you lived in West Virginia back then, there were certain places your family would travel.  I will never forget stopping by the smallest church in the lower 48 states.   Right alongside Route 219 in Thomas sits Our Lady of the Pines. My dad even let me sign our name in the guest book located right inside. This cute 24×12 foot church has only six pews and seats twelve people. Peter Milkint, a Lithuanian immigrant, built Our Lady of the Pines in 1938. You know, I’m thinking that since Hawaii and Alaska did not join the United States until 1959,  perhaps Peter billed the church the smallest before those states had their statehood. I may have stepped into the smallest church in all the 50 states.

This tiny sanctuary receives about 30,000 visitors a year.

There were other places we would venture on our yearly 2-3 day “jaunts” around West Virginia and stopping by the roadside rest areas were always part of the plan. We would visit Senaca Rocks, Smoke Hole Caverns, Spruce Knob, and come to think about it, we never went anywhere else except for the Monongahela State Forest area. Naturally, they had many pull over rest areas with added concrete fireplaces. But,the  one place I remember most vividly, and that was Cool Springs Park.

Cool Springs was not a destination, but a stop along the journey. It was what our interstate rest stops are today, minus the animals and rusty tractors. It was such a surprise the first time we came down a 3 mile hill and saw this great rest stop/souvenir shop/petting zoo and I was thrilled to death. Kids love souvenirs and this place had everything. This was roadside kitsch galore.

I’m pretty sure my brother bought a tomahawk and I liked the penny in a small bottle with the words Cool Springs Park written across the front. Parents are more than obliged to purchase these souvenirs because it may mean some quiet time once the kids climb back into the car. Well, not when there is a tomahawk involved. But, regardless, it was a vacation pressed in my memory and I decided last week to travel to Cool Springs once again on my way to nowhere in particular.

Now, this isn’t my first trip back to Cool Springs since I was little and was continually tomahawked in the back seat of the car. No, we traveled along Route 50 when I had my own children. But, it had changed since the early 60’s. In the early 90’s, it was, well, more rusty. The owners of cool springs had many displays of train cabooses and other mechanical devices showcased around the acreage beside the gas station/ souvenir shop.  You could walk through the park like grounds over bridges and see the large water wheel in action. But, the tractors had a lot of rust on them and I didn’t want my children to touch anything. The animals weren’t around that day, but there were a couple of peacocks walking around.

Inside, the kids picked out a souvenir or two. The tomahawks were still there. Thank goodness my kids walked right by those. I smiled when I saw the penny in a jar and I believe I had a thimble to add to my printer’s tray.

Cool Springs was the ultimate roadside park. So, fast forward to 2013, and I decided to stop there once again, this time with camera in tow. Earlier in the morning I decided to do something spontaneous and hurriedly packed an overnight bag and I was on my way. The only certain plan I had was to travel east on Route 50. I was going to get to visit Cool Springs again.

Since I was looking out for photo opportunities on my drive, I noticed numerous abandoned buildings along the way. Once an interstate is built, a lot of restaurants, motels, and small businesses had to close due to a decrease in people stopping. Roadside parks had decreased also. People weren’t really stopping to stretch their legs or check out their map. Afterall, that’s what a GPS is for. Coolers are kept in a car for longer jaunts, and people wanted to stretch their legs where ever there were also restroom facilities. But, Cool Springs Park was still open, after all these years.

Ah,nostalgia.

The sign was still the same.

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I smiled as I got out of my car and decided to walk left through the park and save the store and restaurant for later.

I immediately noticed the neglect of the once magnificent park.

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The collection box was quite rusted. I think they quit checking for donations years ago 

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There was a very pretty covered bridge, but what you didn’t see is that it was jammed with old pieces of machinery and cars so there is no way anyone could cross the bridge any more.

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I’m thinking this is where all the old steam engines and mechanical devices go to die.

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There were a couple of birds in a very muddy pen. With the amount of rain the area had earlier, the whole park looked as if the creek bed washed up over its banks and covered the whole park. It was a very muddy walk.

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The more I walked around, the more I realized that this park will probably not be here in twenty years. Fences were down, the water wheel was no longer working, and the shelters had fallen down.

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I remember climbing into this caboose when I was little.

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The water wheel is no longer working. It was such a wonderful thing to see.

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I have no idea why this wishing well is enclosed by a chain link fence and is now full of water. I stared at this for a while, trying to figure it out. I should have asked someone.

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Sit at your own risk.

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And then I walked into a swarm of about 25,000 gnats. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but they went up my nose, in my eyes and ears and all through my hair. There were so many shallow pockets of water throughout the park, I immediately thought that this could be a prime breeding ground for the West Nile virus as the bugs and mosquitoes were plentiful. Since there were a couple confirmed cases of West Nile Virus elsewhere in West Virginia, don’t think that wasn’t on my mind.

I was miserable. It is not fun having bugs up your nose or in the corner of your eyeballs. And then I stepped in donkey poop.

Yes, I didn’t see them, but I knew there were two donkeys on the property. And there was donkey poop everywhere.

So, now I was just a mess. I decided to make my way into the store so I could clean the donkey poop from my sandals and splash water on my face, you know, to drown the gnats.

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Once inside, a flower arrangement sits in one of the sinks in the bathroom that no longer works.

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A souvenir store on one side and a restaurant/hardware store on the other. I could not find a penny in a bottle.

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Darn, a blurry picture and I only took one of the crowd that was sitting for lunch. The place was crowded with tourists wanting a tomahawk, locals, and those just stopping for gas. There were three people in front of me at the cash register, so I knew this was still a hit with those passing by.

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As I left to continue on my trip on the scenic byways of West Virginia, I pulled over to take one last photo of Cool Springs Park. I then just sat and looked over the whole place. I remember such a manicured place with a water wheel and people sitting under shelters eating food they brought in their cars. This is the ultimate roadside park. And unless something is done, the shelters will be on the ground, the fences that are still up will have fallen, and the rusty tractors and train engines will be a further rusty mess. There’s no going back unless the decay is stopped.

I would so prefer driving the back roads. Interstates are rushed, impersonal, and agitating. Back roads offer scenery, a meandering pace, and a greeting from a roadside picnic table for stretching your legs and taking in the beauty that surrounds you.

I hope Cool Springs Park survives for future generations of tomahawk buying children. It was a West Virginia treasure, and still is, despite being so very rough around the edges. Luckily, it is a major route for those enjoying a ride on their motorcycles and short cuts across our state.

I hope you stop if you are ever in the area.

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Canadian Rockies: Day 6, 7: Lake Louise and Calgary

The bear jam broke up after a truck pulled up and two people from I assume Banff National Park walked towards the bear. I decided this might be a good time to walk away. The bear took off up the path and into the woods. This was a highlight of my trip to Lake Louise and I just got to the place.

I was hungry, but I wanted to walk on the path around most of the lake. I found this guy first. I have no idea why I take a picture of it wherever I go. I must just be a weird individual. The lake is absolutely beautiful right now in the evening, and you will see how different the photos look from evening to morning. I plan to wake up early for sunrise. We will see how well that works out…zzzzzzzz

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I love taking pictures of the canoes on the water. I actually zoomed in on this. The lake is huge and the canoes are just tiny specks across the way.

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I took a gazillion pictures. Seriously.

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IMG_2050I have absolutely no idea what kind of birds these are..They are noisy and are hyperactive.

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There was one shot I was hoping to get while I was at Lake Louise. I was hungry, but was willing to wait a bit to get it.

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Maybe I will wait for this boat. It’s close.

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Not there

IMG_2076Almost but not really. I think I will go inside and get something to eat.

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Looks they are calling it a day too. I was wanting to get a shot of a canoe near the center without another one around…wishful thinking. I’m hungry, but stopped to take a few more pictures. I hope to come back outside for a bit after dinner.

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I ran into my first unfriendly person. She was leaning against this wall in front of the sign. When I asked if I could get a picture, she sighed, picked up her bags and moved over about a foot.That’s why the sign isn’t framed nicely.  Gee thanks, German lady.

But, when I turned around and saw this beautiful sight, I forgot all about rude people and took another picture.

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And then ran into this little guy.

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I took his picture, told him how pretty he was, and then walked towards the steps, and looked around one more time, and noticed the little guy was  following me. He stopped in his tracks when he saw I turned around.

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I decided to eat at the Glacier Saloon. Chateau Lake Louise has several restaurants, but this menu was right up my alley. I ordered a hickory smoked Chicken club….smoked chicken breast, crisp prosciutto, provolone, tomato, lettuce, avocado mousse on a ciabatta bun and a side order of fries. It was absolutely delicious. I think the avocado mousse in the mix was what made it so tasty.

After dinner, I went back outside. I have to leave at 8:15 in the morning, so I wanted to spend as much time outside as I could.

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I took a picture of the glacier, and then……

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Yay…close enough

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The runner-up..lol… my day of pretending to be a photographer is drawing to a close. It was fun framing shots and seeing how each one is different.

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The little guy needs a hat or scarf…

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IMG_2117I’m back in my room now after taking many photos after dinner and can’t wait to wake up early to get morning photos on the water. It will make a big difference as you will be able to see. Since it is already 9pm, I decide not to get online since it is not complimentary.

Morning!!

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I need to get outside. There are two men standing by their tripods ready for the reflection pictures that make this lake even more beautiful. I’m glad I got up early and am ready to go. But, wait….

IMG_2127Is that a beaver in the same place where the grizzly was yesterday? Stay there, beaver thingy, I’m going to walk like I’m on fire again….down the hall, into the elevator, down 5 floors, out the door, down into the veranda, turn a right on the path and I can see it scurrying away. Darn.

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Ah, come on! Turn around! He was gone. But, I was outside and ready to take some pretty pictures.

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IMG_2134That rounded bank of windows is my room..front part and one window on the side….I was a lucky girl.

IMG_2136My favorite photo of the whole trip!

IMG_2143It’s not even funny how many pictures I took this morning.

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Another shot with some rocks in the front.

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Trees and rocks added

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Goodbye Moon, I need to go inside, check-out, and wait for my 8:15 transfer to Calgary Airport

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After I checked-out, I decided I better grab something to eat. So I headed to the deli. I hadn’t been down this hall before.

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Hi dead elk on a wall

Hi dead elk on a wall

My 8:15 transfer with Brewster arrived right on time. We traveled to Banff where we had to change buses, and then it was off to the Calgary airport. We are lucky the roads are now open after the flooding in Canmore and Calgary. We could see the devastation as we traveled.

 

On my way to Calgary. Just a few more photos.

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This adventure has truly been a trip of a lifetime. Canada is just beautiful, and the Canadian Rockies are majestic and just really moved me. I have never seen such a beautiful place in all my life. The Icefields Parkway is something everyone should witness, with stunning vistas at each turn. The Rocky Mountaineer and its goldleaf service was a dream. I’ve always wanted to travel through the Canadian Rockies on a train, and the trip was everything I could hope for and more. Vancouver was a beautiful city and its famous Stanley Park rivaled (but I still prefer) Central Park in New York City.

I  am all about wildlife and have seen a marmot, 20+eagles, numerous ospreys and blue herons, a moose, 3 bear and a grizzly, 2 elk, one with gigantic antlers, many deer (which should be West Virginia’s state animal because they are everywhere), 2 coyotes, numerous mantled squirrels, chipmunks, ravens, and the list can go on and on. I can’t believe I was close to a grizzly.

Bravo, British Columbia, and Alberta, Canada!  Thank you, Fresh Tracks Canada, for creating a wonderful vacation for me. I will call you again for my next Canadian adventure.

Oh, yes, I will be back.

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