My Off-Key Isles of Shoals Adventure

Isle of Shoals Lighthouse
S.A.Leys Photography

This is a picture of one of the Lighthouses off of Isles of Shoals (Isles of Shoals are a group of small islands located about 6 miles off of the coast of New Hampshire). Some of the islands are considered to be a part of New Hampshire while the northern islands belong to the State of Maine.

Long, long ago, it was a stop on the way to Maine for our family during a vacation which involved cruising from Rhode Island to Maine in our sailboat. We anchored overnight at Isles of Shoals as anchoring inside the inlet of the islands allowed us the ability to stay offshore and have a smoother tack (point of sail) when we continued our sail towards Maine the next day. The last time I was there, we started our day sailing from Provincetown MA and arrived and anchored at Isles of Shoals around dinner time.

Grilled Swordfish, Sweet Corn on the Cob, and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from Dad’s Garden. It does not get any better than this! (S.A.Leys Photo)

Mom cooked the best swordfish, sweet corn on the cob and fresh tomatoes from dad’s garden. It was an amazing dinner after a beautiful day of sailing which included seeing some whales along the way.

The next day consisted of the long sail up to Christmas Cove. So after dinner and dishes mom said “if we all go to bed, we can get a good start in the morning and arrive early.”

[In the middle of every sail to Maine with them, mom would usually flag down a lobsterman, attach a $20.00 bill with a clothespin to a quahog rake, extend it to the lobsterman’s boat and take however many lobsters he was willing to give us].

Anyhoo, we had all climbed into our bunks and had fallen asleep when just around 10:00pm, into the harbor came the tour boat with a guy singing Frank Sinatra songs very, very, very (did I say – very?) off-key. Within a few minutes I transcended from a restful, sound sleep to being fully awakened by the worst rendition of “Strangers in the Night” I have ever heard in my life. Followed by “Witchcraft”, “New York, New York” and my favorite “Emily” – which just about killed me because of how off-key he was.

And of course, mom woke up, as did dad and in a matter of minutes we were all laughing hysterically because of how bad the singing was. As it took quite awhile to get back to sleep, the next day began with a late start – (but yes, we found a lobsterman and still had lobster for dinner shortly after our arrival in Maine).

Needless to say, every time I’m near, (or hear about) Isles of Shoals, I think of that story and that time and laugh at how bad that guy was.

Earlier this summer when I had some time, I decided to head back to see Isles of Shoals. On this day, I was actually a little more awake and not so physically drained from a few days of long sails so I boarded the tour boat in Portsmouth, Hampshire and headed out on a beautiful sunny, mid-summer morning.  The Isles were beautiful and filled with tourists and sailboats like ours that were anchored in the small inlet. Luckily there was no off-key Frank Sinatra wannabe guy serenading us, but there were whale sightings along the way and a thoroughly researched lesson about the history of Isles of Shoals.

If you’re ever in the area, my recommendation is that you take the earlier tour that does not have the tacky singer. Get some lobster while you’re here and enjoy!

You can sign up for an Isles of Shoals Cruise Tour by clicking this link.

Isle of Shoals Sailing
S.A. Leys Photography

And All You See Is A Lamp, Right?

S.A. Leys Photography

It’s just a thing; one of those battery operated lamps you can pick up from the grocery store for around $5.00. Turn on the switch and the light goes on (good if your electric is out or if there’s a power surge), there’s a black plastic thingy on the top if you need to hang it on something in a “one if by land” sort of way.

Earlier this week, I was at the dentist. When I found out the dentist I had been seeing in Florida had not forwarded my records and x-rays I found myself getting really pissed off and I thought “why am I so angry?” and it occurred to me that it was because of the memory I had of this lamp (which threw me off when I walked in and saw it sitting on the bureau in mom’s room last week). Like my visit to the dentist, It started with an issue around the lack of her care coordination and not reading her chart completely…

Mom had allergies to all of the ‘mycins. Her dentist had not read this in her chart and had given her a mycin that she had an adverse reaction to. Her face and arms broke out – spots every where, accompanied by an abundance of itching.

We went to her primary care doc. He couldn’t see her so in came his mid level practitioner who said “yes, this is an adverse reaction” and yes, she would give mom prednisone and also Atarax. I went to fill the prescription and when the pharmacist was filling the prescription, he gave me a sort of weird, uncertain look. I asked him “do we think this dosage of Atarax is too high for her?” to which he asked “how old is she?”. “84” I told him.

“Yeah, that’s high” he said, “why did she prescribe it for her?” I told him about her allergy and then asked “can we cut it in half?:.
“Yes” he said, and recommended this – and then suggested I keep an eye on her.

We had a power surge that night and lost our electricity. I put this lamp on her night stand so she could reach it and showed her where the switch was. She had decided on half of an Atarax which she said made her feel “woozy”. She became really confused, was still itching, and the prednisone had not kicked in. As we sat on her bed discussing how bad she felt, we decided that because she had seen this midlevel provider, whom she didn’t know, for her last three visits and not her primary care physician, we were going to only see her cardiologist from here on out.

I heard her getting up frequently throughout the night and would go and sit with her. She was more confused and stated she “really didn’t care for the Atarax” so she didn’t want any more of it and would wait for the prednisone to kick in. And again – reiterated only wanting to follow up with her cardiologist.

When I woke up the next morning, I went to turn on the coffee and found her sitting up in her bed wiping her sheet with a paper towel soaked with toilet bowl cleaner. “Mom! What are you doing?” I asked. “I had a bloody nose!” she said “so I wanted to get the blood off”. “But that’s toilet bowl cleaner!” I said. Looking at her, I saw that she suddenly looked really sad and that I needed to lose my critical tone right then and there – felt like a total idiot. “it said ‘cleaner'” she said.

My mom was a Depression baby. She tended to spend money on things she would keep and use frequently but not so much on things she didn’t need. Like high thread count sheets. – The sheets she was cleaning at the time were ones I had picked up for her. When I purchased them for her, I explained that I thought that having softer sheets would help her sleep better and keep her more comfortable. Once she started using them, she agreed.

The glitch was that these really beautiful sheets were a pretty, soft. olive color green that turned a yellowy white with each scrub of the toilet bowl cleaner. So I told her I would take them and put them through the washer while she had her coffee.

I wanted to throw them out but she wouldn’t let me. Our subsequent fun times involved making the bed together, laughing about that night and figuring how how to put the sheets on the bed so that she wouldn’t see the huge stain that had been left. (= bottom left hand corner of the bed). And then, as her memory faded a little more, I did throw them out and replaced them with the same brand, same color, higher thread count.

And when I walked into her room at their home in Florida last week, I saw the lamp sitting on her nightstand, remembered all of this and started crying. The whole memory of that night was so vivid it was like it happened yesterday. My Florida trip was not an easy one.

Here’s the thing: we learn a lot about our parents from the experiences we have, the ways they do things, the beliefs they have and the lessons we learn from them. As challenging as the last four years have been, some lessons have been really hard (as this one was – not to be so critical, not to pay so much attention to when things go wrong but to be more mindful of the times we had spending time together no matter what we were doing). There isn’t anything I would want to have changed. And I’ll definitely be keeping that lamp once the house in Florida is sold because of this memory.

And you see just a picture of a lamp right?

Flight Time

S.A.Leys Photography

I think this may be my favorite pelican photo. Sitting on the bench overlooking the intercoastal (no, not there now but going back in a few weeks), you can see them in flight – sometimes only just a few inches above the water as they fly by. The most excellent thing is that you can also hear the powerful sound of their wings when they fly overhead.

I remember when I lived in Germantown MD and was sitting on the front stoop of our home, we could hear the sound of the traffic on 355 and 270 as both roads were close to the neighborhood where we lived. But in Fla when at my folks, I’ve come to really love the quietude that comes with watching the pelicans in flight over the intercoastal.

Grilled Swordfish & Corn on the Cob: It’s Not What’s For Dinner

grilled sword
S.A. Leys Photography


I knew the time was coming; I just didn’t know when. Sure enough – yesterday. Right there in the middle of the grocery store in front of all of the spices.
So let me preface this by telling you how great a cook my mom was. My mom was such a great cook that I was severely delayed in learning how to cook myself. Yes, I could cover the basics – spaghetti, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, pork chops or chicken with shake and bake and yep, a pretty good stir-fry, but the rest of it – not so much.
During the last few years of caregiving for mom, she couldn’t cover the distance of grocery shopping as it was too much for her. So I did all of the cooking, menu stuff and grocery shopping myself, which isn’t so much to say “oh poor me” but it was a little more lonely not having her with me.
Initially, when she had gone with me, I used to ask her a ton of questions about cooking which she answered offering additional suggestions and ideas. It was always fun to have her with me. And she loved talking about cooking and everything she’s learned along the way. But these last few years, she didn’t come as she was tired and due to a few too many surgeries on her legs for Basel cell melanoma type stuff, she had trouble walking.
And yes, there were times when we were together that she would give me the “are you kidding me??!” glare. Like when I asked her how many ounces are in a cup. She was clearly not pleased with this question and gave me “the glare”. As we stood there looking at each other, it slowly occurred to me that she was not going to tell me. So right there in the middle of the aisle, I grabbed my phone and asked: “Hey Siri, how many ounces are in a cup?” And when the voice from my little black box of wonderful information said “Susan, there are 8 ounces in a cup.” my mom shook her head and said, “I think we’re all in trouble”.
But the other 97% of the time, we had wonderful conversations about cooking; and her information and wisdom were always appreciated.
Yesterday, I found a really great recipe for white chicken chili. I thought I would make it for when Scott is here so that if he was hungry when he got here, it would already be made and ready to go. So I made my list, hopped in the car and went to the grocery store.
As I approached the spice aisle I started looking for the cracked black pepper that the recipe calls for. I thought to myself “why? what the heck is the difference between cracked black pepper and regular pepper and why does it even matter? Is anyone going to notice the difference and is it really going to affect a whole crock pot of chili?” So I grabbed my phone and started dialing.. 401.. 849.. and then I looked at my phone and remembered that mom had died; and then came the tears.
As I continued to stare at my phone, I suddenly felt like I was headed for the b.u.c. (the big ugly cry), so I called Regina. “hey quick question..” I said. “okay,” Regina said – and then all of the questions about cracked black pepper followed. I know for sure this is probably not the question she was expecting, but the cool thing about Regina and many of my other buds are that they have a way of answering questions in a grounding way with the same similar insight and wisdom that mom would have.
This is not going to be an easy journey.

I’m Trey: And I’m Going Home!


S.A.Leys Photography


That lady is sleeping.. I’m going to take over her blog.  Hi you guys, it’s me, Trey.

I need to rant about my current living situation. New Hampshire – who the hell lives in New Hampshire? Frickin bastion of liberalism and people who don’t know what the hell an “R” is. It’s “CHOWDER!” – with an “R”. “CAR!” – with “R”. I’m stuck here in New Hampshire with these two other damn cats that are here.

Who the hell is this 16 lb guy who thinks he frickin owns this place? I could bite him, but I won’t because the lady will get mad and throw that stupid, little blue blanket over us to break up the fight. He’s such an idiot. Lookit him – using that stupid scratch pad and playing with the ball that circumnavigates it – see, I know the word “circumnavigate”. I’m a smart, intuitive and really handsome Maine Coon Cat, we don’t bat stupid balls around the outside of a scratch pad. We don’t play like that. We don’t even play.. we just sit quietly and assess and look beautiful. “Stunning!” is what I say. See that picture above? – That’s me. Lookit how beautiful I am. A result of masterful bathing and making sure I get my beauty rest. Speaking of which, gimme a minute for a nap and I’ll be back.

(Insert hours long nap here)


S.A. Leys Photography

Okay, I’m back. I may have a little bit of a catitude but you know? – I’ve done so much more in my life then these other cats have; I’ve lived on a boat – in New Harbor – Block Island!! (that’s me in the picture on the right – out on the back deck in my life preserver). I’ve taken a long distance run through the airport at Dulles International and traveled to and from Florida many times (although the last time, we drove in the car with that lady – it was too much, she drove too fast. The Merritt Parkway is no place for a cat is all I’m sayin’. 

And at the end of the day when I’m tired, I get the bed. Ya hear me?? I GET THE BED!!! … ugh, I get so mad, these idiots think they get to sleep on the foot of the bed but they don’t, it’s MINE! Mine I tell ya. Anyway, next week I’m on my way to St. Pete; sunny, warm, “get yer flip flops out” St. Pete to live with my boy. He’ll take care of me. No more of these idiot cats around. I’ll miss them.. okay, probably not. But I’ll have my own bed, quiet days to rest and my favorite guy to take care of me. – I cannot wait!

Thanks for letting me rant; and yeah, no cats were harmed during the writing of this blog.


S.A.Leys Photography / Maine Coon Cat – Trey


Just As It Always Has


S.A. Leys Photography


Yesterday wasn’t my best day ever. For the majority of the day I slept a lot and wasn’t feeling well physically. But having had at least four phone calls with friends, I knew that there are some days like this and when they happen, you just keep going.

When I was younger and feeling the same way, my mom always recited that quote (not sure who it was from – maybe Victor Hugo..):

…and the sun will rise again in the morning, just as it always has.

In telling this to one of my friends late last night, I was informed that sunrise here in New Hampshire was at 6:33am.

“There’s no way I’m getting out of bed to watch the sunrise at 6:33 am” I said.

But life doesn’t always run on my time and sure enough, at 6:33, I was awake and watching the beginning of this new day.

The sun did rise again, just as it always has.

Some Bunny Loves You


S.A. Leys Photography of J. Leys Art

It’s weird how after someone you love dies, you start to focus more on the patterns in their lives.


It took me awhile to recognize the one here – that for at least the last 10 years, my mom has always ordered a Sierra Club Wilderness Calendar. I can still hear her: “I like the large boxes so you can write in appointments – especially if there’s more then one”.  She did this for the many years that my dad fought his autoimmune illnesses. And then as the number of her appointments picked up, we would write her times and dates and the Physicians she was supposed to see on the calendar as well.

I never understood it. “Why can’t you get an iPad?” I asked, “that way we can have all of your appointments listed, we can download directions on how to get to there, factor in travel time and even put some books on it so you can read while you wait…you’ll be able to enlarge the font so you have an easier time reading”. I thought I was technologically savvy and had everything down. But then she would say “But I can’t turn the page.”

“What?” I would ask. “I like to feel the pages when I turn them.” she would say. “I like to feel the book in my hands and be able to turn the page”. So I used the iPad and we continued to have Sierra Club Wilderness Calendars sent to us every year. Shortly after Thanksgiving, wherever I was, she would call me and say “You know what I need?…I need a calendar. Can you order one for me?” And by the time I was off of the phone with her, the calendar would be on it’s way to Florida via Amazon. Point, click, bam, done.

Shortly after Christmas as New Years approached, she would take the calendar out of the box and transcribe birthdays and important dates from one year to the next frequently making comments about how the years were passing by and how old we were all getting. This would usually be followed by more questions about friends we had not seen and how they may be doing.

Then, of course, because it was the Sierra Club, she would review each photograph throughout the calendar and comment about how beautiful the photography was and what it was about the photographs she liked.

But the calendar was never complete until all of the holidays and our birthdays had her sketches on them. I didn’t realize how much I reviewed the calendar just to know what day a holiday fell on so that I could book a flight or we could make plans for traveling.

On Easter – I always looked for the bunny.

One year, I was reviewing all of her sketches and (in September) looked at my birthday and saw only “Su’s b-day”.  “HEY!! – Where’s my picture??” I asked. Sad that I had been left out. “Bring it here,” she said, and looked it over and said, “I haven’t finished it yet”. Sure enough, in a few minutes, there was a picture of a sailboat surrounding my name. Christmas had ivy and bells, Thanksgiving had a huge, fat turkey and Easter or Palm Sunday always had a bunny carrying easter eggs. The picture above is from Palm Sunday – 2014.


And of course, we can’t forget St. Patrick’s Day.

This year, mom had lost more of her energy and wasn’t feeling well. The calendar was ordered from Amazon a little before Thanksgiving, but the dates and the sketches were never added.

When it came time to leave the assisted living place where she had stayed, I grabbed the calendar and packed it in my bag knowing that while I would never use it in the manner that she had, just having it reminded of the routine she enjoyed and the discussions we had. And, deep in my heart, I know that when Thanksgiving rolls around, I may just have to order another one.

Happy Easter; some bunny loves you.

My Emotional Support Nate

SALeys Photography Nate
Looks like a badass right? But he is a master at head bonks and the most affectionate little (okay – he’s 16 lbs) kitten you’ll ever meet!  S.A.Leys Photography

My “emotional support Nate”. He’s been cruising to and from RI with me in the car every weekend. It’s a 2 hour and 6-minute drive. Usually, he wakes up when we’re south of Boston. I try to tell him what my mom used to say to me when we used to drive to NH to go skiing every weekend: “now put your head back down and go to sleep.” I always had trouble sleeping in the car – so does Nate.

He’s named after the author Nathaniel Hawthorne. I have a thing about naming cats after authors I love. Three of my favorite Hawthorne quotes are:

  1. “Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
  2. “Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.”
  3. “Every individual has a place to fill in the world, and is important, in some respect, whether he chooses to be so or not.”

Nate is an important emotional support / rescue cat.

Life Lessons From My Dad

My dad fought a twenty-five year battle with autoimmune illnesses. After he died, I remembered the time I had spent sitting next to him when he went for chemo. As we talked and laughed and joked around, he continued to tell me the lessons he thought were most important to remember in life.

I struggled with writing his obituary, wanting to share the important moments and achievements he had made throughout his life yet also remembering the important life lessons he had imparted on our family.

The end result was the poem: Life Lesson x 2



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