Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Three years today

Laura Stiles   October 27, 1994  -  December 22, 2006

Beloved daughter, sister, niece, and friend: the tears will never cease, that you had to leave us.

Please visit Laura's caringbridge site which has been updated by clicking here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A rainy day Lemonade Stand

I was pleased to do a fall-themed Alex's Lemonade Stand at Supercuts in Boonton yesterday.  Thanks so much to my helpers:  Claire, Peter A, Carmen, Alec, Mallory and special thanks to Sara who helped so much with publicity activities as well as setting up the stand.  It was a rainy day (raining all over the Northeast) but we still raised a nice sum and got to chat with a number of old as well as new friends who stopped by.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A fall-themed Alex's Lemonade Stand

I think Laura would have liked the paper  this flyer is printed on.  The paper is called "Acorn Alley" and I think it has that little touch of whimsy so like what Laura incorporated into her drawings.  (If you haven't gotten here from the caringbridge site, please also see http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/laurastiles and our online page for the stand at http://www.alexslemonade.org/stands/19402)
Local residents, you can see the flyer in places like the Plaza Restaurant in Del's Village; A&P; Metro Pet- and more (when I get there...)

If you would like to have a closer view of the flyer, just click on it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

National Park reprise

I don't know if anyone caught any of  the 6-segment Ken Burns National Park special that ran on public television this past week (Ch 13 here in NY metro area).  To be honest, you would probably have to be a pretty die-hard  fan of the National Park system as I am to want to delve into this much of the politics and history of the Parks.  But with its scenes (among others) of Bryce, Zion, Arches, Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest, the show brought such a flood of memories of our family visit to these western National Parks  in Aug/Sept 2001 when Laura was almost 7.  Emotions too: happy that she got to see and experience much of America's "Empire of Grandeur" in her short life but sadness that there would be no more trips there for her.  Mixed in, the thought that the lives of many children with cancer are cut so very short that they never have any chance at all to see such wonder.  After the show one night, I summoned up the courage to sit at Laura's desk among her  figurines, books and treasured belongings, still arranged as she had so neatly placed them, and opened up her National Park passport book.  Her gentle life force still seems to hum about the desk. In that strong field of emotion, I can only stay a while.
But I did look at the dated stamps of each park in her book like "Capitol Reef Nat'l Park Sept 2, 2001" and "Bryce Canyon Sept 3, 2001" etc and travel back in time, and for short while, we were together again, walking and skipping along pine-scented paths, pushing open doors into visitor centers, delighting in flipping the switch to the gas fireplace in our charming newly renovated cabin in Zion, driving through miles of ever unfolding splendid scenery, walking under arches and marvelling at vistas...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Still in the window

We have two cats, Pepper and Daisy, just as we did when Laura was alive.  But there is another cat in the house, a cat that Laura left us, drawn on a window in Susan's room.  It's been there at least 3 years now.  Laura's cat has got a vantage point with a view around the front and up the road.  It's weathered well and we hope it will remain for many years to come.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blue Mist shrub

A sure sign of September days, a blue mist shrub in bloom on Pepperidge Road

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2009

In Laura's hometown of Boonton Township, this morning on the eighth anniversary of Sept 11, a solitary fireman stood at attention, keeping a vigil outside the firehouse.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Settling in

Susan has been at BU two weeks now. We drove her up to Boston with a small mountain of belongings and helped her get situated in her dorm room. The first week she joined the 20th annual "Freshman Year Student Outreach Program (or FYSOP) and did a bunch of interesting things like working in a food pantry, helping at the Red Cross, and visiting city facilities on one of the Boston Harbor islands. Classes started Aug 31 and Susan reports by email and "in person" on Skype how interesting her courses are and how much she likes it at BU!

Photos: These bins made moving in a lot easier! The world map is a tip-off to the interest in a possible major in International Relations.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Schooner without its skipper

Laura saw Ted Kennedy's boat once. Here it is a blue-hulled schooner named Mya as seen from our tour boat out of Hyannis on a 2001 trip to Cape Cod. Her skipper now will return no more.
As I watched the wake on Friday evening and the funeral and burial on Saturday I couldn't help thinking of my parents and my Aunt Agnes. Somehow I had the feeling I was watching it for them as well as for me.
At some point, it popped into my head that we had actually seen Teddy Kennedy's boat once and that I might have a picture. A quick search of the near morass of boxes upon boxes of old film camera prints turned up the photo in short order with a bit of luck.
Laura was six and half then. We stayed in a lovely and memorable house, the "Quivett Creek House" in East Dennis. Most of my pictures of Laura from that trip are of her darting away up a path or whirling out of view in the house.
Photos: Mya resting on her mooring in 2001 near the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport; this beautiful view of the marsh awaited every morning in the Quivett Creek House; Laura (in orange shirt) runs up the steps of the Province Lands visitors center of CCNS; Laura outside the Brewster Store (click on any picture to get enlarged view.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

In loving memory...on Cape Cod

As we mentioned on the Caringbridge site, just wanted to share with you the memorial brick for Laura at the new Education Center of the Thornton Burgess Society in Sandwich, Cape Cod, Mass.

With Hurricane Bill to pass by the Cape this weekend, the waves should be picking up. Cape lovers may want to keep an eye on the beach cam by clicking here periodically over the weekend.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Another long ago thread of interest was picked up when I spent first an afternoon in the musee d'Orsay in Paris to see the Impressionist paintings there and then made the day trip to Giverny, Claude Monet's home, about an hour away by train. The gardens at Giverny were more lovely than I imagined; the plantings were dense with many colors and varieties of flowers. At the water lily pond there actually was a line to take a picture at one of the most photogenic vantage points. In Monet's house I especially enjoyed the bright yellow dining room with the traditional wheatback chairs. They were very strict in the house - absolutely no photos - quite a curious contrast to the Musee d'Orsay where in addition to the famous paintings being in much natural light flooding in from high windows, lines of tourists were continually snapping away at them with flash. Go figure.

At home we had a little print of the Monet scene of the child in the path between the sunflowers, emblematic to me of an idlyllic summer day in a child's life. It alway hung in Susan's room but somehow it always belonged to Susan and Laura both. I was determined to find the vantage point in Monet's garden for that very scene. Soon had it narrowed down. There were trees now in the way but they could have easily grown up over the years. I thought. Well, the roof didn't look exactly right but they must have changed the roofline, hmm. It had to be right-everything else looked just right-I told myself (ignoring even the stairs that can be spyed on closer inspection.) I must have had a nagging doubt though because I decided to ask. Oh no, I learned, that scene was painted at Monet's earlier house at Vetheuil, about 20 miles away! I guess that is what I like about impressionist paintings-you can see your own dream in them!

Photos: Monet's Garden in Vetheuil, 1881; the scene at Giverny that had me fooled; the dining room in Monet's house (remember absolutely no photos-this is a picture of a postcard taken on my deck at home!); children in front of Monet paintings in Musee d'Orsay drawing with instructor-I was taken with the energy these children applied to their drawing. The most popular Monet prints are commonplace but if you are trying to get a handle on a less common one, this site might help.

Go figure runner-up: Did I see the original Monet's Garden at Vetheuil? No, the original is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. And where is that American icon "Whistler's Mother?" Yes, it's in the Musee d'Orsay!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ketchup costs extra

I continued to wonder what a young Laura would have eaten during this trip. (Nothing at all against French food of course; it was just that Laura was a picky eater.) I took to noticing what was on the plates of children at adjacent tables. Why, french fries, of course! That would have been fine with Laura. As suggestible as I am, next lunch I ordered french fries too. That's when I learned that there is often an extra charge for ketchup! That took me by surprise. It was mildly amusing and rather quaint! I think Laura would have enjoyed it.

Another interesting thing was the French credit card. It seems in order to be efficient and get a train ticket out of a machine and not wait in a long line, one had to have a French credit card. Not even a credit card issued in another European country would do (so we were told eventually) it had to be one issued in France. A tourist might be directed to the ticket machine and spend some time stepping through the menus to select their train ticket only to find out at the end their credit card would not work and they had wasted their time. At least at Versailles, they made it plain with a clear sign: French credit cards only! It seems they have chips in credit cards there while we still have the magnetic strip.
Photos: You'll need to click on the photo of the menu to see the one euro charge for ketchup on this menu

Land of inspiring Castles

A long time ago, I had become keen to visit the Loire Valley. Years, decades past, and I never did get there. Now that chance arrived but only one day to do it in. Solution book a linkparis tour which offered a four chateau tour in one day with travel to the region by TGV. Not an urban sort by nature, I looked forward to this day in the country.

The thought occurred to me on this trip: if every little doll house that Susan and Laura once had looked like it had been modeled on buildings from Paris then their plastic toy My Little Pony and Barbie castles could have been inspired (sans the pink color!) by the grand limestone castles of the Loire. There's beautiful Chenonceau built over the water and approached by a broad woodland path; Amboise where Mary Queen of Scotts spent many of her growing up years; Chambord the largest with its double spiral stairway and Cheverny where the same family has lived for centuries and continues to keep its hunting dogs (whose feeding time is now made famous on youtube. ) Our lunch in the town of Amboise a treat with a just out of the oven quiche and a fresh salad. Delectable desserts too but I always like the macaroons in many flavors best.

Photos: Flags flying at Amboise; beautiful Chenonceau; detail of carving in limestone; quiche and salad for lunch in Amboise; macaroons on display; one little plastic castle still found in our basement: immense Chambord; some of the dogs at Cheverny waiting for feeding time.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Yes, we did go to France too! Our base was at the Novotel in the Montparnasse section of Paris. The hotel was much to our liking and the neighborhood with its quaint Breton cafes soon felt like "our own." But to see Paris we were at peak season and we were much daunted by long seemingly stationary lines at famous Paris attractions. Tour bus to the rescue! I think the city is made to be seen from the upper deck of the tour bus. From no other vantage point could the Paris boulevards fanning our before you with their characteristic architecture and sidewalk cafes so dazzle the eye as they did when the tour bus swung into the plaza in front of the Opera House. The bus rumbled along up and down boulevards, back and forth over bridges across the Seine many times, revealing at every turn the monumental aspects of the city. Through the excellent narration heard by headphone in your language of choice we learned much about each point of interest. We also realized we were once more crossing Diana's path. There in the Place Vendome we glimpsed the Ritz Hotel from which Diana's vehicle emerged to be pursued by paparazzi to "meet her fate" as the tour narration put it. The famous tunnel where the accident occurred was also noted as we passed through the Place de l'Alma above it.
As we rode along, I thought of how glad I was that Laura enjoyed the film about France at the France pavilion at EPCOT on our trip there in 2006. I think she got a very nice feeling of France from it. A tear might sting my eye to think that Laura wasn't with us now but I somehow felt a kind of peace that such a trip as we were making was not a trip at least a young, homeloving Laura would have wanted to take. Perhaps, now at nearly age 15 it would have been different. I consoled myself thinking that Laura, a selective and particular eater, would have barely eaten a thing, except maybe bread, at least at first. I'm not sure she would have even liked the Breton cheese crepes (more specifically, buckwheat "galettes") served in in the Breton cafes with cider which Susan and I enjoyed.
Want a little taste of Paris for the young folk? There's always the old Disney animated film, the Aristocats. I don't remember Laura watching it but Susan saw it countless times as a small child. Our metro station, Pasteur, seemed to remind her of a scene of the butler going into the Metro in the Aristocats and she often mentioned it.
-To be continued-next-the Loire Valley

Photos: A tour bus ( we actually took the competing red line); view in the Tuileries towards the Louvre; in our neighborhood cafe, galettes and cider, food from the Brittany region of France.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Remembering Diana

I usually have a couple of themes of interest that I am on the look out for in any trip. One of them for this trip was Princess Diana. It was one of those "you'll always remember where you were" days for me the day when the news broke that Princess Diana was dead. It seemed like an ordinary Sunday that 31st of August 1997. Laura was 2, almost 3 and Susan was 7; both were happily playing at home. That day I hadn't spoken to anyone and I hadn't turned on TV or heard any news. I headed into Williams Stationery to pick up our Sunday copy of the New York Times. The headline took me aback: Diana killed in car accident in Paris. An unaccustomed feeling of emotion as tears suddenly filled my eyes (little did I know that sudden tears would become a regular feature of my life with our own tragedy in the years to come.) Never quite did I forget the scenes in the days to come of the outpouring of emotion for the Princess. And so with this trip a hotel near Kensington Palace and Gardens was chosen so that we would be sure to see the palace gate where all the flowers were left; to be able to follow a part of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk; and to see the Diana Memorial Fountain.
Photos: marker for the many mile long Princess Diana Walk through London; approaching the Diana Memorial fountain; children frolic in the memorial fountain.

Way to Windsor

I was keen to go to Windsor Castle so we had a day trip planned there. Mostly I knew about the Changing of the Guard held there and about the fire there a number of years ago. I didn't realize how many other fascinating things we would find it especially St. George Chapel within the Castle precincts. To think we would be walking right over the grave of Henry the VIII! It was right in the walkway in the inner sanctum of the Chapel where the Order of the Garter meets every June. The remains of many kings and queens are here including Queen Elizabeth's father and mother (George VI and the Queen Mother (also Elizabeth) and the Queen's sister Margaret. After our tour we had a very nice al fresco lunch. Suse did some shopping and got a pair of boots on sale that she would wear for much of the trip.

Photos: Susan looks out from the train; waiting for the Changing of the Guard parade; crowds follow the Guard (I had this Wizard of Oz kind of feeling at this moment!); cat in the streets of Windsor; children at the next table at lunch.

Return to Cambridge

After a quick tour past famous points in London and dealing with our jet lag, we were ready for our day trip by train to Cambridge. Tony was looking forward to showing Susan and me Cambridge University and Trinity College where he got his advanced degrees. Classes were not in session but the town and University and colleges were lively and filled with people. Downpours came periodically throughout the day and hundreds of umbrellas would pop up as undeterred visitors continued to pour through the streets. We visited the quad and buildings of Trinity College and saw where Tony had his rooms as a student. Another highlight of the day was taking part in the traditional activity of "punting on the Cam," which Tony, like most students here, used to do. Our punt was from the Trinity College dock where each had a name related to the number 3, for Trinity (like three "Little Kittens", "French Hens" or "Magi""). The punt given to us was "Step to Heaven" which seemed significant.
We paused to look at the centuries old Eagle Tavern where US Airmen and RAF wrote messages on the ceiling before their missions and where Watson and Crick used to have a beer in the days when they were discovering DNA.
Photos: some scenes around Cambridge and of punting on the Cam River; scenes at the Eagle Tavern in Cambridge.