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THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 15–Handbags

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.



Are you a shoe girl, or a bag girl?

I’ve always been a bag girl. I can own three pairs of shoes and they’re all black and almost the same, but bags? I could have bags for every occasion and a bag to match every outfit. In fact, my handbags, at one time, took up four times the space of my shoes.

Every few years—and many years before I started The Goodbye Project—I’d go through and clean out my tubs of bags without photographing them, which now I regret, although I’m certain there are many photos of old handbags I used to wear in the backgrounds of several photos.

I kept one tub of bags with which I just can’t part—ones that are all in good shape. Here are the last few I’m letting go, and the memories associated with them. They’ve already been donated, but I’m proud to say each was in very good shape enough to donate. I don’t ever donate stuff that ripped or grubby or damaged, so whoever gets any one of these should be pleased—each one has a lot of life left in it.

Dad always filled our stockings every Christmas (I have to admit, the last few years he was alive I was filling all the kids’ stockings and he was filling mine, although a couple of years I bought stuff for myself and stuffed my own). He gave me this case for Christmas in 2006, and I carried it for a few years until it split apart. Because it was his last Christmas when he was able, I just couldn’t bear to throw it out, so I kept it for awhile. Now it’s time to let go. I tossed it. It was in terrible condition and I couldn’t in good conscience give it away.

Here’s the case with all the other stuff I got from Dad. You can see the case was filled with items—travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, some band-aids, and the like.

This was one of my favorite bags; I bought it in 2001 at Old Navy, and it became a favorite, especially during Fall and Poe season. It was especially appropriate for autumn in New England.

Me, November 3, 2002, at Poe Park in the Bronx. I had gone to visit Poe’s Cottage and was carrying the sweater bag that day. At that time, the bag was new—I think I’d only owned it for a couple of months, which would make sense, because Old Navy’s Fall line probably would have been out in late August.

I loved the bag so much I carried it through the winter. Here it is on February 23, 2003, in a hotel room in Mystic, Connecticut. It was my annual Fear & Loathing birthday weekend at Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, I forget which one we did that year. You can see there’s a journal inside it—I never went anywhere without one at that time in my life.

Turns out the sweater bag was lucky! I won a couple of hundred dollars that weekend at the slots. This was when they still took quarters (now, everything is on a card). It’s fun to win still, but it’s just not as much fun as seeing all those quarters come flying out of the machine. Notice I won on the Titanic game—I have an obsession with Titanic, and we’ll be talking about that in future episodes. This was taken Sunday, February 23, 2003.

I loved this fur bag. I purchased it at Old Navy probably after Christmas in 2000, and the only reason I say that is because I know it was a winter favorite in 2001. At that time, I had a faux fur coat, and this was a perfect match.

Me in 2001 in a hotel room in Mystic, CT. This was another of our famous Fear & Loathing weekends—we’d go to the casinos to celebrate my birthday. This was just before dinner February 2, 2001—we ordered pizza from Angie’s, which is a really great pizza place in town. You can see the fur bag at the left of the picture.

That same February weekend in 2001, only this was on the Saturday, just before we went out to hit the casinos. The fur bag is at the left of the photo; behind it, my red IBM Hunter Thompson typewriter. Yes, I even traveled with that damn thing.

Part of the reason I was probably attracted to the fur bag was because it reminded me of something a woman might carry in the 1960s. At that time, in the early 2000’s, winter was a big deal in our house, and on snowy nights we’d spend time watching a lot of those old turkeys like Winter-A-Go-Go (my favorite) and Ski Party. Above, Heather, me, and Walter, at right, at the annual Beatnik Party that was held every year up at one of our friends’ houses in Bridgewater. I was carrying the fur bag that night; it was the perfect compliment to my outfit. Photo taken March 1, 2001.

In the early 2000’s, just as there was an annual Beatnik Party, there was an annual Winter-a-Go-Go Party. The Go-Go Party was usually in January; the Beatnik in February or March. Here, at 2001’s Beatnik Party, Heather and Holly check out the “record” set I made—basically, a scrapbook of that year’s Winter-a-Go-Go party in the form of records. I carried the fur bag to the Winter-a-Go-Go party that year as well.

Here I am in Kaitlyn’s house with John of Loki Graphics, New Year’s Day, 2003. If you look behind me, you can see the fur bag—it was, along with a small tote bag, all I brought. Charles and I were hanging out on New Year’s Eve by ourselves, we called Kaitlyn, and she said, ‘get in the car and come here.’ So we did. It was totally last minute; we were out of the house and making the two and a half hour drive in just under 10 minutes flat. It’s one of my happy New Year’s Eve memories.

I loved this brown quilted bag; I acquired it in early 2007 and used it up through late August 2010 as my main handbag—when I went and bought an alligator-pattered laptop bag to use, because I was tired of not being able to grab stuff—I’d always have to dump out my whole bag to find what I was looking for, and with the publication of Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—well, my already limited time became even more limited, so I needed to get more organized. The bag is still, though, in awesome shape—you can barely tell it was used for three years as an every day bag. It went to Goodwill.

One of the neatest features of the brown quilted bag was its detachable matching wallet.

I also liked the lining on the bag. It is, even after three years of use, in mint condition.

March, 2007. The quilted bag was brand new then, and it came in handy because it was not only big enough to carry all of my every day essentials, but also tall enough to hold files I might need for writer’s group or meetings—therefore, I didn’t have to carry a separate tote. Above, Carol, me, and David Roberson knock back a couple of cocktails after a Pencils! Writers’ Workshop meeting in Wilton, CT. I really miss Dave—he passed away a couple of years ago. He was not only a talented writer, he was a good friend. I associate this bag not only with Pencils! Writing Workshop, but with him. So it is a little tough to give it away.

I headed to Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, in the summer of 2007 to begin my graduate program in Creative Writing. The brown bag, of course, was with me—even though I had to adapt, after eighteen years, to walking all over a huge campus again, so it mostly sat in my room unused in favor of a backpack. At left, McKenna, my dear friend Cyn (who passed away in December 2010), and me take a break on a hot summer day. That was the moment the three of us met, actually. Another reason I’m having a hard time letting go of the bag. But you know what? I’m moving to Florida. I just won’t use it again.

Oh, man, is this ever soooo 1980s. I made this purchase on purpose—I wanted something 80s-ish to wear to my 20th High School Reunion in July of 2009. Why silver? Well, it also had to match my navy blue dress. I had silver shoes and a necklace too. But the real reason I chose this style is because I had a maroon bag back in the mid-1980s—which I referred to as my DeeDee McCall bag, because it reminded me of the bags that character from the TV show Hunter carried—that had exactly the same style of flower and ribbed top.

Here’s the “DeeDee McCall” bag I mentioned in the last caption. Here, it’s being carried by my friend Emily, as she was playing the role of McCall in a scene we were doing to pass time waiting for our parents to pick us up from chorus practice after school. If I had to choose a “favorite bag of all time,” this bag was it. I was heartbroken when the strap broke and I had to get rid of it. This was taken in March of 1985 outside Schaghticoke Middle School in New Milford, CT.

Billy Buckbee, me, and Greg at the New Milford High School Class of 1989 20th Reunion at Anthony’s Lake Club in Danbury, July, 1989. It was the only time I used that silver bag—whoever gets it will find it in mint condition—but it’s still hard to get rid of because that was a very magical night.

Maria Giannone, Me, and Melissa Poodiak at the New Milford High School Class of 1989 20th Reunion at Anthony’s Lake Club in Danbury, July, 2009.

There’s an interesting story behind this one. A friend of mine purchased a gift for his wife for Christmas, 2008—cosmetics or jewelry, I guess—and this bag and purse set came with his purchase. He knew his wife wouldn’t go for it, but knew I would (“you like all that flashy retro stuff,” he said). Of course I was thrilled to get this, and it was my winter 2009 bag—I used it for going out and when I didn’t want to carry the big huge brown quilted bag anyplace. The small purse was perfect for carrying business cards.

Here it is on the bed in my dorm room—Giles 3—up at Goddard’s Winter Residency, January 4, 2009. That was a unique residency. First of all, it was HELL IN THE SNOW. Every time we turned around it was snowing again. We could barely get off campus, it was gray, it was cold, we had a leak in my dorm room (because some idiot decided it would be wise to design the Village Dorms with flat roofs—seriously? In Northern New England? What was he smoking?)…but we also threw the best graduation dance ever—Cyn, me, and Julia did the shopping, so there are lots of funny stories about Cyn (from down south) driving in the snow, the people at the supermarket not knowing how to count, and icing down the shrimp with fresh, clean snow because we’d forgotten to buy ice. The bag accompanied me on that very special day, so those are the associated memories, and being that Cyn is gone now, it’s harder to let this go than it would normally be.

As a treat, here’s what that winter up at Goddard’s January Residency 2009 was like. One good thing about being in SNOW HELL was the opportunity to drink—and then do stupid things like sled as though we were ten years old. Here’s one early afternoon impromptu sledding party. The snow was literally up to our knees. It was hard for everyone to walk, let alone haul the sled back up the hill. Joining me are my friends Charles, Joe, and Julia—and there are a few other classmates as well, but they’re not in the video.

The women of Giles. Left to right, Julia, Julie, me. Amy is across us. Yes, we’re all in lighter clothing, but trust me when I tell you our dorm was hot all the time—some of it might have had to do with the fact that Goddard was doing this experimental program in which they were heating some of the dorms using “recycled” vegetable oil from fryers in Burlington restaurants. The place was hot, we were always thirsty, our hair and skin always felt like it had a sheen of oil on it, and worst of all—we all reeked like fried onions. I’m sorry, I didn’t see that as a “healthy” alternative to regular heating oil. It was absolutely disgusting.

This bag was also an Old Navy choice; I bought it in the late summer of 2005 (I also bought an orange one just like it, as I recall) so that I’d have a bag that would fit my camera, maps and money.

That’s me, September, 2005, in the tunnel under the Railroad Station that empties into Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. That was the first time I used the green bag. What else is significant about this photo? I ended up buying the Splash Mountain full-sized attraction poster at my Dad’s request—he was redoing his bathroom at the time and wanted something to “cheer the room up” (um, it was still avocado green and the over-the-sink cabinets and wood accents were still dark dark walnut, so I really didn’t see much difference when it was done). After he died, I got to keep the poster (the frame broke, which is fine with me since it was—you guessed it—dark, dark walnut! YAR!). The poster is rolled and carefully stored and will grace a wall in my new home in Florida—once I get a really cool appropriate frame for it, that is!

September, 2005. Me wearing the green bag in front of one of my fave current Magic Kingdom attractions—The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. My short story “Charlotte’s Family Tree,” which is in my collection Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World—is set in the treehouse. You can get that book here:, or, if you want a signed copy and I’ll send you some goodies with it, you can order from here:

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 14–V

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


Who remembers when V—the first miniseries, not the most recent one—aired on television back in 1983? The two-parter was absolutely the talk everywhere: the Visitors are lizards! Oh, my God, did you see her swallow that guinea pig? How did they do that? A year later, the three-part follow-up, V: The Final Battle, delivered such shocking surprises as the birth of twins—one lizard, one human—and the secrets of the Visitors’ “Conversion” process. V: The Final Battle aired in May of 1984.[1]

I was in middle school, and was tantalized by all the talk in the halls. I wasn’t allowed to watch either miniseries—my parents felt it too scary. By the time The Final Battle aired that October as a lead-in to the ensuing series, though, I was 13 and made it clear that I did not care what they thought and was watching it anyway.

I got caught up on what I’d missed and was hooked. Several friends of mine at school were watching it, too, and soon it became part of our daily lives.

It started with each of us choosing a “role” from the series to play. While I don’t remember exactly who was who, I can tell you that my friend Kristina was Mike Donovan, I was Diana, my friend Sam was Julie, my friend Sue was Elizabeth, and my friend Shannon was Lydia.

Back in the mid-1980s, it was the cool thing to do to pass decorated notebooks back and forth in class: you’d write a note in the book to say something to your friend, pass it to her, she’d either pass it back to you or someone else, et cetera (many of the ones I saw floating around the school were adorned with sticker collections—remember those?) In this way, plans were made, gossip was shared and rumors were spread. We wrote notes to each other not just as ourselves, but as the characters from the series.

Here’s the notebook we had for passing notes in the fall of 1984—before we got into V. You can see the big attractions before V were Hunter and The A-Team, but there are the names or references to several other extinct shows on there—who remembers Paper Dolls? (If you don’t, you can check it out here:

Also, you probably can’t see it well in this photo, but part of the cover is cut out (I suspect I moved it to the cover of some other notebook), and if you could read the handwriting beneath the hole, you would see part of the word “Magnum” (for Magnum, P.I.) and part of the world “McCormick” (probably Mark McCormick, from the TV series Hardcastle & McCormick). I got all of the wording and pictures from the T.V. Guide. Yes, for those of you too young too remember, T.V. Guide used to be a decent magazine with lots of cool artwork that enticed you to watch your favorite programs. I found another V Geek who knows this to be true—check out his very cool page here:


Here’s the notebook we had for passing notes AFTER V became the center of our universe. This notebook was probably from the winter of 1985, because I believe the episode to which the artwork at the center is referring is called “The Champion,” which aired on February 8, 1985—the night I had my birthday sleepover. Part of the party was watching this episode. One of our favorite dialogue exchanges which we quoted often in the halls was one that happens to be cited on IMDB (it truly is a funny piece of dialogue, so I’m not surprised):

Lydia: I’ve never been defeated in mortal combat.

Diana: Idiot. If you had been, you would be dead.

The note-passing gave way to full-blown role-playing. To pass the time until the next episode, we’d role-play, mostly in school at lunch, or in the halls between classes, but if we were at someone’s birthday party or over someone’s house, we’d play there, too. Here are photos of some of us in action (I’m pretty sure my friends are going to kill me, but why not? Click on the photos to see the captions alongside them—it’ll tell you who’s who):

To maintain the momentum, I produced a weekly newspaper (which I did all by hand in colored marker) called The Reptile Republican. I only made one copy of each issue, and it was passed from person to person. There were 25 issues; this is Issue #24. I only have #24 and #25, and thought they were lost to history until I recently reconnected with childhood friend (and Mike Donovan! Ha!) Kristina Hals, who discovered she has the first 23. Considering how much time and effort it looked like I put into these, I’m amazed I was a straight-A student (except for math and gym). And now, here’s Issue 24 in its entirety:

I enjoyed doing Reptile so much I made supplements in between issues. Here’s a card I made, although it’s not clear what it was for (somebody’s birthday? Watch TV this week? I have no idea—I don’t remember):

If you’ve gotten this far, then you’re probably wondering what I’m letting go: six of the eleven paperbacks in Pinnacle Books’ 1984 tie-in series (Tor had a series also, but I never owned or read those). I bought each one as it came out. Here is the full list of titles in the series:


V: East Coast Crisis

V: The Pursuit of Diana

V: The Chicago Conversion

V: The Florida Project

V: Prisoners and Pawns

V: The Alien Swordmaster

V: The Crivit Experiment

V: The New England Resistance

V: Death Tide

V: The Texas Run

For some reason, I did not read or own The Alien Swordmaster, The Crivit Experiment, or The Chicago Conversion. I don’t remember in what order these books were published, so I could have missed them, or I could have grown beyond V by the time they hit the shelves. Still, these books were an important part of my escapism. They especially kept me going when I was away from my friends, like on weekends or family vacations.

Left, my sister, right, me, eating gummy worms V-style on our grandmother’s lanai in Daytona Beach, Florida, February 1985.

My brothers, Chip, left, and Chuck, right, eating gummy worms V-style on our grandmother’s lanai in Daytona Beach, Florida, February 1985.

While many fans of the old Friday night V series speak of it with nostalgic disgust, I think it’s true that we often glamorize stuff we watched on TV from our youth, and when we rediscover it in adulthood, we often can’t believe how campy it was. If you’re a V fan who wishes to engage in some of this camp, here you go:

To purchase V: The Original Miniseries

To purchase V: The Final Battle

To purchase V: The Series

To watch full episodes of the series online through the WB, visit here:

And now, the tie-ins with which I’ve parted:

Although I wasn’t a big fan of the books that didn’t feature the original characters, I remember liking this one because it was set in Florida.

I don’t think there was any love-interest in this one, although I don’t recall exactly. I just remember waiting for it with the turn of every page and it never showed up. Anyone know if I’m thinking of a different book in the series?

I remember being disappointed in this one. I just didn’t like the characters and wondered why they didn’t just let the Visitors blow Connecticut off the map. I was really hoping for that to happen in the story, and it didn’t. I seem to remember it took place mostly in Boston, but my memory’s fuzzy.

It was a tough decision to get rid of this one. Diana was my favorite character.

There are two that I’m keeping—favorites that are full of highlighting and comments and in the worst shape you can imagine: V and Death Tide. I’ve read those two a few times over the years, and I’m sure I’ll read them again.

[1] In case you’re all wondering? I didn’t care for the new series that debuted in 2009, and here’s why: there weren’t any surprises. We all know they’re not who they say they are—AND we all know everything’s done with CGI. Where’s the magic in that? I made it through the first episode and that was it for me.

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 13—Down in Flames

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


A fine writer and friend of mine, Chris Emmerson-Pace, pointed out once that fire is a recurring theme or motif in my fiction.

I’ve always had some sort of strange interest in disasters—mostly firey ones—and I didn’t know why, even as I kept collecting books like Fire in the Grove and The Circus Fire—books that didn’t just sit on my shelf; books I devoured and defaced with research and notes.

Now, though, because of The Goodbye Project, I’ve spent time processing and thinking about why it is I’m attracted to certain things. In the case of disasters, they’re metaphors for situations in life: something grand and beautiful—something light—can always fall into unrecognizable ruins—something dark (it’s probably the same reason I have an obsession with abandoned buildings). One of the most moving passages I’ve ever read which illustrates this appears in Ron Elliott’s Inside the Beverly Hill Supper Club Fire: “I glanced around the garden. At least 100 bodies covered the ground, making it look more like a battlefield than the lovely spot where sparkling fountains, pagodas, and flowers had saluted many a radiant, just married bride’s promenade. How well I could recall their beaming faces’ disclosure of the dreams alive in their hearts. Now the garden hosted the dead, their blank eyes staring unseeing; their dreams tragically and abruptly ended.”[1] Such disturbing eloquence should serve as a reminder that each one of us needs to stop and cherish every single minute we’re here—because the next minute? We may not be.

I don’t think I knew anything about the Hindenburg until I was sixteen. New York Times reporter Leonard Buder lived a couple of miles from me, and I don’t remember how I was lucky enough to get invited to his home one day, but it probably had something to do with my position as the high school columnist for the local newspaper.

I remember him giving me a lot of good advice on being a reporter. But at that time in my life, I didn’t want to be a journalist. I was doing it because Dad said he wouldn’t pay for college for marine biology. So, I’m sad to say I don’t even remember what Mr. Buder’s wise words were. But I do remember something else—our entire discussion about The Hindenburg disaster. And here is where Dali’s Persistence of Memory comes in: I could swear, even to this day, that he pulled out a scrapbook and was showing me old clippings of the great zeppelin in flames, and the pictures were burned into my memory. However, given how he would have been 8 or 9 at the time of the event, I don’t know if this memory is something my mind may have fabricated—the famous photo of the thing going down in flames is everywhere. It’s possible we simply talked about the Hindenburg as a major turning point in media coverage of events, and I made an association later.

It really doesn’t matter, though, because after that I spent some time in the library with the microfilm and microfiche, reading all the material I could find on the disaster and its aftermath.

Over time, my interest in the airship waned—and most of the books I read on the subject I checked out of the library—so there isn’t much in my collection on that subject. In addition, several dedicated, passionate people out there host websites that really should be turned into books—they’re well-researched, well-written, and fascinating. My two favorites are Patrick B. Russell’s Faces of the Hindenburg and Daniel Grossman’s Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins (links to these are below the photos). So in essence, I feel as though I can re-visit trusted sources anytime I might be curious.

Here’s the scoop on what I’m letting go; I’ve put some links to information on the Hindenburg disaster if anyone is interested.

Published by Scholastic, this book is intended for younger readers. I picked it up because I liked the extensive detail of the drawings.

This book featured Hindenburg as the cover art probably because it would be the most eye-catching, but it literally did contain an article on several of last century’s greatest disasters, including some I’m sure have slipped out of our general consciousness, like the 1903 Iroquois Theater Fire and the London Killer Fog of 1952. This book is no longer in print, and I can’t even find a used one anywhere online so I can give you a link—however, there is a book called Catastrophe! The 100 Greatest Disasters of All Time, by Stephen J. Spignesi, and that is available from Amazon here:

I was going to ditch this video set, but then discovered it’s not available on DVD, so I’m keeping it—the DVD the History Channel and Amazon have is 54 minutes; this set is 100 minutes on two VHS tapes. To purchase, visit Amazon here:


Faces of the Hindenburg

Patrick B. Russell has spent many years building this site, and has conducted painstaking research into the lives of each of the Hindenburg’s passengers to provide in-depth biographies. In many cases, he has had direct contact with the passengers’ kin. He updates this site every time he receives new information—and, earlier this year, he posted an approximate position of each passenger on board at the time of the disaster. This site truly honors those who didn’t survive—and those who did.

Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins

Daniel Grossman has the most in-depth site on airships in general—let alone the Hindenburg—that I’ve ever seen. There are photographs of Hindenburg’s interior, detailed close-ups of the ship’s décor, diagrams, specs on the interior and exterior, a diagnostic of what happened in the last few moments, and more; Grossman has worked closely with historians to provide much of the information ( Find the site here:

The Hindenburg Photos: -A Mystery-

Todd L. Sherman found a scrapbook of his grandfather’s that contained photos of the Hindenburg—but a few things didn’t match up. This page details his burning quest to uncover the truth. Why do I like this page? Because I have lots of mysteries in my past like this, too—and I think, so do we all. The coolest thing about this is that other people from all over the world have written to him with bits of information to help him solve the mystery. It’s worth the read; the detail Sherman gives is amazing.

Herb Morrison’s Groundbreaking News Coverage on Old Time Radio: Radio Days: A Radio History

James F. Widner has an astounding collection of old time radio broadcasts. To hear Herb Morrison’s radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster as it occurred, visit the link below. The explosion happens just after minute:second  8:30, and the recording seems to skip or miss a couple of Morrison’s words; a fascinating explanation for this also appears on this page (apparently the explosion was so powerful it jarred the then state-of-the-art recording equipment):

[1] Ron Elliott, Inside the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company), 15. Note: this book was reissued in paperback in 2010. Here’s the link in case you’d like to purchase it:

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 12–The Shell Collection

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


My shell collection.

The box in which I kept my shell collection.

Okay, I’ll admit my shell collection wasn’t very impressive: that’s probably because I wasn’t out to collect them, it was more like every once in awhile I’d come across something cool on a beach, someone would give me a shell as a gift, or I’d buy an interesting one as a souvenir from a sea-side vacation. But each shell (or piece of animal, as you’ll see) was also special because after I became an aquarium volunteer I was not only able to identify what which animal it belonged to pretty easily, I knew something about the animal’s biology or behavior. The shell collection, and my interaction with it, was a constant reminder of the excitement I felt as an aquarium volunteer—and was a constant source of inspiration for several of my short stories, among them “Jingle Shells,” “Cancer Moon” (unpublished), “Tooth and Claw” (unpublished), and “Gorlak” (unpublished).

The fascination with shells began, oddly enough, nowhere near a beach. It began in my parents’ dining room way back in the 1970s, when I discovered a dried sea star (back then, I thought “starfish”) they had sitting on their hutch.

The dining room was like everything else in my parents’ house—dark. Growing up in that house was like growing up in a cave. It was dark, it was damp, it was always getting hit by lightning and the bottom floor was always so cold in the winter you could see your breath (oh, and did I mention that we had to spend a lot of time thawing out the frozen pipes using a hairdryer?). If you think I’m exaggerating, feel free to ask my three siblings and they’ll tell you the same thing. It was probably why, once I’d had my first taste of bright, sunny Florida, I never wanted to come back.

As children, none of us was allowed near the hutch. It was full of my parents’ most sentimental, fragile stuff—their wedding cake topper and engraved cake knife set, plates from various states, the crystal wine glasses, the punch bowl, the serving platters, the china, Dad’s childhood poached egg cup—and a nesting doll from the Frisian Islands (Föhr), where my Dad’s father’s family is from.

It was that nesting doll that grabbed my attention, and why I was near the hutch one afternoon when I shouldn’t have been.

Above, my cousin Maryanne holds my brother Chuck, 1974. Look in the background—that’s the hutch. The sea star, which isn’t visible in the picture, was on the first shelf. Some of you might recognize it, because now the hideous thing is in my dining room.

I grabbed the nesting doll and pulled her toward me, and that’s when I noticed the sea star. At first I thought it was a big cookie—it reminded me, for some reason, of those colorful, oversized giant sugar cookies I saw down at a deli near us where we used to go every Sunday to get fresh black ‘n’ white cookies—although I didn’t try to eat it. I shook it, and I could hear little parts or something rolling around inside; it seemed very fragile. At that point, Dad came into the room and asked me what I was doing. I asked him what it was, and he told me it was “a starfish from Florida.”

“It used to be alive,” he said. “It lives in water.”

This made me excited. “Like, down at the beach?” (I was referring to our community’s beach on Candlewood Lake).

“No, they only live in salt water. In the ocean. You won’t see those until we go to Florida again.”

After that, the Forbes’ Common Sea Star (I wouldn’t learn that’s what it was called until many years later, after I started aquarium volunteering) became a symbol of hope. Every time I thought I’m never going to get out of this hole I’d go to the hutch, pick it up in my hands, run my fingers along the creature’s prickly tube feet, and count the days until our next trip to Florida.

Sometime during my adult years, while I was no longer living at my Dad’s, the Star disappeared. In 2008, my father passed away, and I was thrilled to re-discover it. It hadn’t gone far from the hutch—it was just inside it. It had been shoved into a drawer with a menagerie of items that didn’t go together, such as photos, placemats, and remotes for televisions we no longer owned. It also wasn’t in bad condition—only the end of one arm, where the creature’s “eyes” would be, had a small chip in it. I decided to keep it, and took it home.

The Forbes’ Common Sea Star (Asterias forbesi) that was my symbol of hope. I am not getting rid of this; instead, I packed it in bubble wrap and placed it in my childhood keepsake box. I’m very thankful it survived and I’m grateful to have it—and when I rediscovered it, I automatically had some new memories attached to it, like how many kids I’d freak out at the Touch Tank when I’d tell them the story of how a sea star eats: by inverting its stomach into the body of the prey.

That sea star was one of the many items or experiences that contributed to my fascination with the sea and my eventual role as an aquarium volunteer, but my love for it would eventually lead to collecting all kinds of other stuff that, sadly, I just can’t keep. Here’s a little tour of my aquarium adventures and the shells that I am letting go.

My Maritime Aquarium volunteer badge. I started working at the aquarium in late June, 2001; in my tenure there, I logged 1,319 hours. Very often, I’d work all day long both Saturdays and Sundays. I just loved it.

That’s me working the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s Touch Tank, summer, 2001. There were several stations where we could work, but the Touch Tank was my favorite. Here, I was making the spider crab (Libinia emarginata) “sleep” by turning it on its back so the kids wouldn’t be afraid to touch it—actually, it’s not really anything like sleep at all. It’s a defensive pose to ward off predators.. A little-known fact? I was actually TERRIFIED of working the Touch Tank when I first went to work there, BECAUSE of the crabs. True story: I’ve anxious-ambivalently romanced crabs since I was five, when my father had carried me to a Long Island Sound sandbar, set me down, and made his way back to the mainland. “You can do it, Kristi!” he’d called. “Walk to me!” Between us, a submerged field littered with half-buried—but very much in motion—crab claws; I imagined, attached to each indigo, white, bright orange pincer, a salivating beast. Whimpering like a seagull, I’d squinched my eyes closed and walked toward my father’s beckoning gestures. I made it pinch-free, but the experience scarred me, and I possessed a fear of crabs that wasn’t cured until I started working the Touch Tank.

April 5, 2002—I was working an overnight (a camp-type deal in which the kids sleep over at the aquarium) at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. Here, I’m talking all about the horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus). My favorite stories to tell about this crab involved its instinct (and terrifying) Silurian, Cambrian and Devonian ancestor Pterygotus, which could grow up to nine feet. I had a photo I used to show the kids. If you want to know what Pterygotus looked like and get a sense of its size, here’s a pretty good model: I also liked to show the kids how the horseshoe crab uses its spike-esque tail to flip itself over, and got a huge thrill out of allowing the kids to stick their fingers into the crab’s chelicerae (pincers near the mouth) so they could feel that there was only pressure and not a pinch.

Part of being an aquarium volunteer at Maritime involved working outside events. Above, me and fellow volunteer Judy work the aquarium’s booth at Norwalk’s annual Oyster Festival, September 7, 2002.

In March, 2002, I signed on as a Fishes & Inverts volunteer at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut. I never wore this badge—no one in our department wore badges—because the work was hands on, you crawled around a lot, you were up on ladders over tanks, et cetera. There was just too much danger of it falling off, or getting snagged on something. I logged 207 volunteer hours during my tenure at Mystic.

I was also a member. This is one of the stickers that never quite made it to my car.

In January 2009, I visited the National Aquarium, Baltimore. Set near one of the tanks was the above container—a familiar sight for me, since this was exactly the same system we’d use for storage and distribution of feeds at Mystic Aquarium, even though this clearly belonged to the Education department and not to whatever their F&I department equivalent is. Lettuce is a common feed, by the way—even the fish need vitamins and roughage!

Of course, visiting aquariums is as much fun as working at them! Here’s me in the salt marsh exhibit at the New York Aquarium on Coney Island, June 21, 2002.

Me at the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island’s Touch Tank, June, 2003. The girl in pink is my niece, Andi.

A Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata), caught on the beach at Duck, North Carolina (in the Outer Banks), June, 2003. I only kept him for a half hour or so. He was safely returned to the beach with his buddies.

Ghost crabs were always a favorite of mine, and they figure prominently in more than just one scene in an unpublished novelette of mine called Gorlak, which I wrote back in the early 2000s. For fun, I’ve put one scene in which the crabs are prominent here. I’ll just give you this caveat: this has the potential to be a great scene to move the story forward in terms of both escalating danger (plot) and clarifying the issues between Petra and Simon, but in its current state it feels like it’s an outline. I’ll definitely be reworking this entire book when I get to Florida. Still…enjoy!

Gorlak-Chapter 5, Last Scene

It looks like I’m examining a mussel at the New England Aquarium (Boston)’s Touch Tank in October, 2004.

Remember when I talked about my favorite things to do with horseshoe crabs? Here, I’m showing Nathan’s nephew Jakob that there’s no pinch—only pressure—to the crab’s chelicerae. This photo was taken at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, April, 2006.

I know, isn’t this awful? There isn’t just an adult in here, but a baby hooked around the adult’s tail, so look closely. I am not sure what species of seahorse this is—I’d say Potbelly (Hippocampus abdominalis—the most common varieties you will see in aquariums are abdominalis and H. erectus), but not only are the skin markings inconsistent, the shape is a little too classic, especially since baby Potbellies tend to be extremely slim in the middle. If I had to guess, I’d say a Zebrasnout, because although you can’t see it in the picture, if I look at the object itself very closely, the animal appears to have markings consistent with that species. I have no idea how old this paperweight is; my housemate picked it up for me at a tag sale. I am actually NOT getting rid of this—I’m keeping it. Just because it’s the only seahorse-related object I own, and on my first day volunteering at Mystic, they asked me to water change a behind-the-scenes seahorse tank. It was my first time getting a siphon going, and I ended up with a mouthful of seawater. One of the most interesting things about seahorses—besides that the males give birth—is that they have no stomachs.

This is a Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), which you’ll mostly find from Alaska down to Southern California. I bought this at the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke in 2003.

This is the endoskeleton of a Brown Sea Biscuit (Clypeaster rosaceus). Sea biscuits are echinoderms, just like sea stars and sea urchins. They are indigenous to the southern North American coast: from North Carolina to Florida, the Bahamas, the West Indies.

This is a variety of “knobby” sea stars, such as the Chocolate Chip Sea Star (Protoreaster nodosus). I remember being thrilled to find this in the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke gift shop in 2003.

I swear, I really DID take a photo of a Chocolate Chip Sea Star in a tank, and I’ve been through all my files and can’t find it. So, I’ll give you a picture of another pretty sea star. This one is, I think, a Cushion Star (Oreaster reticulates). The reason I’m leaning toward Cushion Star is because of the way the knobs on its exoskeleton are not only equidistant, they form a “network” of squares and that’s a dead giveaway for that species. This was taken at Epcot’s The Seas with Nemo & Friends (formerly The Living Seas) Pavilion in Orlando, Florida, in September, 2006.

Clams are, in all fairness, not my forte. So many species are so close to each other in shape that for me it’s tough to sort them out. I’d say this is a Northern Quahog, but the “notch” at the top doesn’t lean the right way, so it could just be a good old Surf Clam. I’m totally guessing, so if anyone knows for sure, please give a shout out.

The glass jar in which I kept the smaller, smellier shells and pieces of animals (God, I opened this, the stink was out of control, even for me, who has no problem with dead fish/animal smells).

While this endoskeleton is commonly referred to as a “Sand Dollar,” it isn’t. Technically, it is a Keyhole Urchin (Mellita quinquiesperforata), although in fairness, it’s more closely related to sand dollars than to urchins. How can you tell if you’re buying one at a shop? Look for the single large “keyhole” toward the middle (if it’s an adult). If you’re looking at a box of really small ones, chances are they weren’t adults yet, and the “keyhole” shape might be filled in.

This is an egg case for a skate—sometimes referred to as a “Mermaid’s Purse.” While skate cases are basically of similar shape, they can be different, depending upon the species. The one pictured here is a Winter Skate (Raja ocellata ) egg case—notice its “olive” coloring and the very long, curled tendrils on either end. You’ll find these commonly washed up on the beaches of New England, but I know for a fact I got this one from Mystic Aquarium because we had that species there at one time. At Norwalk, on the other hand, the types of skates we had were mostly Clearnose (Raja eglanteria). Their egg cases are more toward black in color (think Hefty garbage bags) and are more plump, and the “purse” part of it is shorter in length than the tendrils.

A young Clearnose Skate in the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s nursery area, April 5, 2002.

I have to take a break here and tell you a couple of stories about my experiences with skate cases.

It seemed like—particularly at Norwalk—the skates were always producing them, and most of the time they were empty: nothing in them, so they’d float. On one occasion, I was working an after-hours wedding reception at Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, and the cocktail hour was set up in the Long Island Sound gallery on the second floor near the Touch Tank. The bride came to me, very distraught. She said it looked like the fish in this one tank were dying.

I left the Touch Tank in the hands of the other volunteer, but not before I grabbed the keys to the back-up area for that section of the building, just in case. I had already, at that time, been working for Mystic for a few weeks, so I knew more about intakes/outtakes and how the tanks and filtration systems worked than most of the other volunteers, who were only trained in facts and procedures (why I went to Mystic in the first place—I wanted hands-on experience. I wanted more doing and less talking). The bride led me to the Sandy Bottom tank—this was a tank that contained Clearnose Skates, Weakfish, Flounder.

The Weakfish were listless, some of them listing to the side, a couple resting on the bottom. The gills were still pulsing. That was when I noticed the water had a “soupy” quality to it—it looked thick, almost like how heat waves look coming up off asphalt if it were air we were dealing with.

I knew that had something to do with the water not being aerated properly.

I had to admit I was panicked then, but I told the bride it wasn’t a problem and thanked her for alerting me. Then I took the keys, went into the back up area, climbed the wooden stairs that lead to the top of the Sandy Bottom tank, and was relieved to discover that the source of the issue was right in front of me: without getting too complicated, I’ll just tell you that everything was jammed up behind a bunch of empty skate eggs. I got a net, I removed them, and by the time I left the aquarium a few hours later, the “soupy” water had thinned out quite a bit and the fish looked like they were beginning to recover.

That was one problem with empty egg cases. Occasionally, you did find a full one.

Below in PDF, a section of my journals from that year entitled “Embryonic Mess,” dated April 14, 2002. Enjoy!

Day Before Mystic 04-14-2002

At Mystic Aquarium, it was the Horn Sharks (Heterodontus francisi, I THINK) in tank T-13 (don’t hold me to that, I’m pretty SURE it was T-13, but it’s been eight years now) that were always laying eggs. Above, one I removed from the tank and kept—I pulled about fourteen out of there on that day, more than enough to go around to the education department, etc., and still keep one. Yes, it was empty!

These are egg cases for the Channeled Whelk (Busycon canaliculatum). They are Gastropods (snails), and are usually strung together, so a strand of them is sometimes referred to as a “Mermaid’s Necklace.” From a journal entry entitled “Salt Water,” I wrote about working at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk dated December 5, 2001: The woman stands up. “Yes,” she says, “what is that thing?” I reach in and retrieve the Mermaid’s Necklace. “This,” I say, “is an egg case for a Channeled Whelk, which is a Gastropod – a snail.” I hand her the necklace. “It just feels a little bit like a wet garbage bag. It’s constructed of a high-grade biological protein that the female makes from a gland in her body. What she’ll do is she’ll weave a strand like this and bury it in the sand and then she’ll make each one of these pillows and fill them up with eggs, about 20 to 30. It takes her about 2 hours to make each one of these pouches, and it takes her two weeks to make something about this size, but I’ve seen them bigger.”

I miss those days as a volunteer, and every once in awhile it’s still possible for me to get a taste of that. Provincetown is one of those places where it’s possible.

Here’s some neat discoveries I made on the beach at low tide behind Norman Mailer’s House in Provincetown, Mass, August 14, 2010.

This was the view from Norman Mailer’s back porch in the morning before class started. When the tide is out, it’s possible to walk almost as far as the eye can see. Boats are sitting on the sand, animals are left behind. It’s almost like walking in a Dali painting. But it’s also like walking into a glassless aquarium. On my walk, I ran into some children, and it gave me the opportunity to share some of what I knew about the animals we found—it felt like old times.

The following are all items I picked up walking at low tide in Provincetown, or on the beach in Newport, RI.


I just photographed this but didn’t pick it up. It’s obviously a clam or mollusk.

This is a Northern Moon Snail shell. There’s a Hermit Crab hiding inside.

The Long-Clawed Hermit Crab (Pagurus longicarpus) in the shell of a Moon Snail. On a couple of occasions at the Maritime Aquarium, I got lucky and saw one of these run out of one shell and into another—basically, moving from one home to another. It’s hysterical—they make a mad dash, and if you blink you miss it.

This is the carapace—actually, when I picked it up it turned out only to the be the “back,” so to speak—of a Lady Crab (Ovalipes ocellatus). This was not a molt; rather, it’s probably what a feasting bird left behind—when I flipped it over there were bits of the animal’s flesh stuck to the underside.

A baby Common Spider Crab (Libinia emarginata). This little male was pretty feisty, but his teeny pincers really couldn’t do very much, so I spent time making fun of him. Trust me, I’ve been pinched by adults plenty of times and it HURTS.

If there was any crab it took me the longest to learn how to handle effectively, it was the super-aggressive Green Crab (Carcinus maenas), a nasty-tempered invasive species that found its way over here from Europe. This one is covered in Jingle Shell Clams (Anomia simplex).

This one is a male. Flipping him on his back like this puts him “asleep.” He won’t be pinching me this way.

See how these Jingle Shell Clams sparkle! Totally cool. However, this crab is displaying its defensive posture. Don’t get too close.

The kids I met on the beach had a red wheelbarrow in which they were keeping their live treasures (they did plan on returning them, they just wanted to “play” with them for a little while). Here in their wheelbarrow, we see the Green Crab (which I put in there for them) in the back corner and an assortment of small gastropods. The two gastropods you can see clearly in this photo are called Shark Eye (Polinices duplicatus).

Here, we see a Hermit Crab hiding in a shell I can’t identify because of the photo (this is a different Hermit Crab than the one I was holding before; one of the kids picked it up and put it in there) and four Shark Eyes lolling about.

Holding the Shark Eye.

Holding our Shark Eyes. I love picking up snails, especially on a hot day. Their “feet” feel cool on the palm of the hand.

The pool in which we found most of our treasures.

Here’s that little Libinia again! I love it! He’s so mad! “Scrappy” is the word I would use here.

These loopy tracks could have been made by the Hermit Crab I found nearby, but it’s more likely they were made by a small gastropod, such as a New England or Mottled Dog Whelk.

An anchor/float for a boat. When the tide pulls out, stuff like this just rests on the sand. It reminded me of something in a Dali landscape, so I took the picture.

This baby female Green Crab is missing a claw.

This female Lady Crab hid as soon as we put her in the bucket.

I stuck my finger in the water in front of the crab, and out came her claws in defense. She is pissed off.

A Lady Crab carapace and two Clearnose Skate Eggs. I found these on the beach on Provincetown on April 4, 2010.

April 4, 2010, Provincetown: I picked up that Lady Crab carapace and cleaned it out so I could keep it, but it was so fragile it broke in half. I kept these pieces in the jar.

Crab claws I found on the beach in Provincetown, April 4, 2010. I’d say these belonged to a Lady Crab, but they don’t seem long and thin enough, and they’re also too long and thin to be from an Atlantic Rock Crab, even though the coloring and pattern for an ARC is consistent. If I had to guess, because of the shape and the fact that they’re uneven, I’d say this is a type of Mud Crab with which I’m unfamiliar.

Several clam shells I kept in the ball jar. Again, clams are a weak point for me (well, other than EATING them!). There are probably a few different species here. If anyone wants to take a stab at identifying all of them, please do. Put some stuff in my comment fields.

This is a common Jingle Shell (Anomia simplex). The inspiration for my short story “Jingle Shells,” which was published in Full of Crow Fiction’s October 2010 issue. You can head over and read that here:

Shell for the Common Slipper Snail (Crepidula fornicata). I can’t even tell you how many inside jokes there were about “fornicata” in this poor snail’s scientific name. If you’re wondering about that, I’ll tell you: it’s because these snails stack on top of each other and pretty much it’s what they do all day. Larger shells are on the bottom, smaller ones on the top, and if I remember correctly, they can change sexes. I’d have to look it up again to be sure, but that’s what I remember—unless I’m confusing it with something else. I have a lot of facts in my head and sometimes get them mixed up because it’s been so long since I lived and breathed this stuff. I’m surprised I remember all the Latin, to tell you the truth.

This is an older oyster shell, I think. It’s pretty badly damaged. If anybody can tell me what this is and why it looks like this, I’d appreciate it.

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 11–The Easy Bake Oven

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


The unit itself was tossed out years ago (probably by my parents when I was young and still living with them; I don’t even remember what it looked like)[1], but somehow I ended up keeping all the pieces. When I cleaned out my baking supply cabinet, I found them. I’d forgotten all about them.

Who remembers the Easy Bake Oven? I’m sure many of you do. While the one you had might have looked different from the one I had in the 1970s[2], the fact remains that they all pretty much worked the same[3]—and they all probably defined our adult attitudes toward baking.

My mother loved to bake, and she was good at it. Although she baked many cookies, she was most creative with cakes.

February, 1973: The cake my mother baked for my 2nd birthday.

A Barbie Cake at my local ShopRite, June 2011. While the design for this type/style of cake with the doll in the middle was probably available in some how-to book way back in the 1970s or even earlier, I don’t recall seeing this type of cake available for orders at grocery store bakeries before the last five years or so. Please comment if you know anything about this type of cake or its history.

The Pooh cake my mother made for my brother Chuck’s 3rd birthday, March, 1977. She loved to bake Disney character cakes, mostly because that was what we were into at the time. I wish I had a photo of The Rescuers cake she baked for me one year, but I’ve sifted through all the family photos and haven’t found one.

The angel cake my mother made for my sister Missie’s 1st birthday, March, 1977.

Mom was always baking—when it wasn’t cakes for our birthdays, it was cakes for her friends’ baby showers, weddings (yes, really), and parties; when it wasn’t cakes, it was cookies, especially for Christmas. She’d start at the end of October and bake, literally, day and night—sometimes I’d get up to go to school and it was clear she had been up all night—which was probably something she considered “normal,” since her mother did the same thing (my cousin Maryanne and I swore Grandma had elves helping her, because there were thousands of cookies but never a mess. We also swore she could have robbed banks and gotten away with it, because she didn’t have fingerprints due to the fact she never used oven mitts to pull the baking pans from the oven).

I was always Mom’s dutiful assistant, although I have to admit most of the time it was because I’d wait for her to answer the phone and then shove a glob of uneaten dough in my mouth. She used to tell me my intestines would turn to jelly if I kept doing it, but I’m 40 and as far as I know have not yet developed symptoms of any such thing.

When she considered me old enough (four years old), she bought me an Easy Bake Oven. At first, I loved eating the powder for the cake mixes more than I did baking them—the taste was so distinctly vanilla-malt, like a cheaper version of Ovaltine. But soon I was making tiny little cakes on my own. I was fascinated with the tiny red bowl and how the powder would turn to batter when I added water. And I was fascinated with sliding the pan full of batter in one side, and when it came out the other, I had a cake. Just like Mom’s big oven!

I don’t know how many years I used the Easy Bake, because by the time I was ten, I was baking on my own for real, making cupcakes and cookies and cakes that usually didn’t make it past my family’s kitchen. Soon I graduated to making biscuits to go with beef stew, bread, and pizza dough—and even pies, because every October we had to do something with all those apples we picked at our local orchard. In 1986, my mother passed away, and so the baking of my siblings’ birthday cakes officially passed to me.

The cake I baked for my brother Chip for his 7th birthday, July 6, 1986. I couldn’t figure out how to do a cut-out of Godzilla, but I think I did a pretty good job with the frosting.

I baked these cookies for my friend Susie’s Halloween party in October, 1988. I couldn’t figure out why they came out like huge, soft biscuits instead of sugar cookies. Then I realized I’d been so excited about the party I hadn’t been focused on what I was doing—and used baking powder instead of baking soda. Ooops. My friends ate them anyway.

I don’t do cakes anymore, but I still love to bake cookies. I’ll bake for just about anyone for any reason, in fact.

1997 was the first Christmas in Charles’ house, and the first time in many years I had a huge kitchen in which to create. These were my Christmas cookies that year.

A shot of more of 1997’s cookies. Charles and my friend Manzino helped me frost them. In fact, frosting parties would become a Christmas tradition. They were a lot of fun!

I bake for other holidays as well, but my favorite time of year to bake is the dead of February—usually when I’m snowed in. I bake Valentine’s Day cookies. Sort of.

Have you ever heard the Sting song, “Shape Of My Heart?” (It’s on his 1993 Ten Summoner’s Tales album, which can be sampled or purchased in MP3 format here: If I were hard-pressed to choose a “favorite” Sting song, I’d have a rough time, but “Shape” is probably the closest. For my birthday in 1999, my housemate Charles bought me this book:

The book Charles bought me for my birthday, February, 1999. Sting and Pablo Picasso, Shape Of My Heart. New York: Welcome Enterprises, 1998. It’s part of Welcome Enterprises’ Art and Poetry Series, which pairs a poem with the work of a famous artist in each edition. Want to purchase this? You can at Amazon here:

As you can see, I loved this book so much it became part of my household décor. Here it is on the mantel of our fireplace, where it lived for many years.

It was this book that inspired what everyone calls the Shape Of My Heart Cookies.

My mother had many cookie cutters, and one set she had that I always found rather curious was the four suits from a deck of cards—I don’t ever remember her using them, and I, up until that point, hadn’t ever thought of an occasion to use them either. I’d been a fan of the Sting song for several years at that point, and on one snowy afternoon a week or so after I got the book, I retrieved my Ten Summoner’s Tales cassette (it was 1999) and listened to the song as I flipped through the pages.

If you’re familiar with “Shape,” then you know it uses the four suits in a deck of cards and tells a heartbreaking story. For some reason, I recalled the curious cookie cutters—and I got baking. From an e-mail to the guy I was dating at the time:

…I find a diamond, heart, spade, and club, and remember that my mother used to call the clubs “puppy feet,” and I used to berate her for not looking at the reality of what they were: clubs, which a person uses to beat another. Another glimmering view of her now: puppy feet. She wanted to take a weapon of war and make it into something harmless.

            I roll the dough, I cut, and I put on ONE of my favorite Sting songs, “Shape Of My Heart.” …funny, very few of the heart shapes came out without being broken…but I burn not one…

            …time to frost. I make butter-crème frosting, flavor the white ones (clubs, spades) with almond, and then there is no red food coloring for the red, and I dip into my memory and recall maraschino cherry juice would do nicely as well as give it flavor.

            And I frost the hearts and diamonds with a thick layer of pink, and now the hearts that were broken are harder to tell apart from the ones that were not.

This is that very first 1999 batch of Shape Of My Heart Cookies.

December, 2000: I threw a baking party that year. Several people came by to help us bake and frost. The wine was flowing, so I’m pretty sure we didn’t get as much done as we wanted to!

In 2001, I discovered those everything-in-a-box decorate your own gingerbread house kits. I had always wanted to make my own from scratch, and thought it would be good to get some practice actually putting one together to see if I enjoyed the process first. I did, but not enough to really go beyond the kit. This photo was taken December 9, 2001.

2001 was also the first year we threw “A Christmas Cocktail,” a 1960’s-themed Christmas party (yes, complete with a vintage silver aluminum tree and the color wheel). I baked a LOT of cookies for that party. My friend Manzino (pictured below) came over to help me frost all the cookies for the party.

Manzino and his frosting creations, December, 2001. What I remember most about this night was something he said: “I really think that animals already went through a talking phase and they figured out it doesn’t make any difference. It only adds to confusion. So they decided not to talk anymore. They figured they were better off. So they run around naked with their tongues hanging out all day. But if you look at their faces and into their eyes they have a real Old World look about them, like they’re very wise.” The comment made such an impression on me (I cracked up, actually), that I wrote it down, and it was one of the inspirations for my short story “How I Stopped Complaining and Learned to Love the Bunny,” which was published in Citizen Culture’s Issue 4, Spring 2005 and is now only available at (you can find the story for purchase as part of a custom anthology here:

Our aluminum tree with the color wheel. The cookies were on a table right near it during the party.

The plate of cookies as it appeared the night of our first “A Christmas Cocktail” party, December 1, 2001.

Baking is a favorite activity year-round. Here’s what I was working on one afternoon in January, 2002. That was also the year I learned how to make candy penguins. They didn’t come out so well, but maybe in the future I’ll have time to try it again.

The only reason I started baking every Halloween was because someone bought me a bunch of Halloween cake/cookie decorations as a gift. Here’s the first batch of Halloween cookies I made in 2002.


When I discovered they had gingerbread house kits for Halloween, I couldn’t resist—in case you didn’t know already, Halloween—or “Poe Season” as I refer to it—is my favorite time of year. Here’s me at work in 2002.

Thanksgiving weekend, 2010: Christmas Cookies. Yes, those are shapes inspired by the movie A Christmas Story. A set of them came in a DVD gift collection. They’re fun to give—especially the leg lamps—but as a baker, I can tell you a marketing person and NOT a baker designed the cutters. They’re flimsy, stick to the dough even when floured, and have way too many small extensions in the shape that make it nearly impossible to get it out in one piece.

Now that I’ve told you about my relationship to baking because of my Easy Bake Oven, here are the pieces that are no longer with me. If you’re a fan of Easy Bake, consider liking the Facebook page at:

The paper lunch sack in which the items were stored. I kept them in the corner cabinet with all of my other baking goods.

The mixing spoon.

The rolling pin.

The baking pans for cakes.

Farm animal cookie cutters. I only had three in the bag; I don’t know how many the set came with. Three doesn’t make sense to me—it seems like there would be four, but maybe not. If anyone knows, please drop me a line!

Cookie Cutter #1: I’m not sure, but I think this is a pig.

Cookie Cutter #2: Rooster

Cookie Cutter #3: Horse

The mini cupcake pans.

My favorite piece: the mixing bowl.

[1] I have a vague notion that mine was probably the avocado green one that was manufactured by Kenner in 1970—the pieces on the box match the ones I have. You can see what that one looked like here, at the National Toy Hall of Fame’s online collection:

[2] Hasbro has a neat little write-up on the Easy-Bake’s History: The oven was also adopted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2006:  — ironically, the same year that Hasbro, the company that now makes the ovens, had to issue a recall due to risk of burnt fingers (just Google “Easy Bake Oven 2006,” there are tons of articles on the subject).

[3] Shocking, but true: “Even the Easy-Bake Oven must lose its light bulb”

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 10–Key Chains

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


Who isn’t guilty of having more key chains than keys? I mean, at least once in your life? I think at one time, we could all get away with not just one key chain, but a few. After all, your keys, like the wallet you use, bag you carry, or clothes you wear, say something about you—your hobbies, likes/dislikes, habits (I know many people who carry nail clippers or wine/bottle openers on their key chains).

Since the relatively recent invention of store savings cards that conveniently clip on your key ring, though, having more than one decorative item on your keys can make them heavy and difficult to carry or even use. I’d use one or two key chains for awhile, but then remove them because someone gave me a new one or I wanted something different. So the chains from key rings past ended up in a shoebox—because each one said something about me or reminded me of a specific time or era in my life.

Today, out they go.

Charles got me this in 2000, when we were on our Hunter Thompson kick—we were in the process of reading all of his books, and we loved the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What was neat about these “wallet” type key carriers was that, if you had standard keys, (they certainly wouldn’t work well now with the huge electronic things that pass for “keys” for today’s cars), they stayed neat and didn’t stab you in your pocket or tear the lining of your purse.

This was taken when I was using the Las Vegas key book. Here’s me on February 1, 2001, at a hotel in Mystic, Connecticut. Charles and I celebrated my birthday by having a “Fear & Loathing at Foxwoods” weekend (notice the red IBM typewriter in the background? Larger model than HT’s, but the same year). We went to the casinos, obviously!

This was when I was wearing a lot of Asian-inspired clothing, especially for going out, so I’d use this on my keys (it was also handy for change). This was back when I first started dating Nathan. I used this for most of the year 2004.

December, 2005, at Pencils! Writing Workshop’s India Dinner at a popular Indian restaurant in Darien, Connecticut. This was when I was using this keychain. I still own—and wear—this jacket!

I got this keychain in 1998 in the Amity section at Universal Studios Theme Park in Florida, which back then was awesome (it’s awful now—they took the whole Amity flavor away from it and now it has nothing to do with anything). The reason I bought it was not necessarily because I loved Jaws, but because when I was 12 and really into Jaws, a childhood friend of mine, Michael Shepherd, gave me a pair of real baby Tiger Shark Jaws. I had those things for years—they were truly a treasured possession. But during one of my moves—it might have been the one to Charles’ in 1996—they got broken. This was the closest thing I could find to the shape and size of those jaws (although this is a Great White, not a Tiger Shark). I had this on my keychain for the rest of 1998 and into 1999. It was made of durable plastic.

That’s me, at left, as Bloody Mary in New Milford High School’s 1989 production of South Pacific. Look at the set piece to the right, the one with the signs that read “Shlunk Edz.” I remember working on that set (the handwriting on those signs is definitely mine), and I used a few of my personal items to decorate the outside of the shack. If you look below the “Edz” sign, you will see, just to the left of a tiki-esque mask, my beloved real baby tiger shark jaws. Oddly enough, this isn’t where they were broken. Somehow, they survived the whole run of the show.

The Jaws kiosk at Universal Studios in 1998, where I bought the plastic shark jaws key chain to replace my real shark jaws.*

* I haven’t been to Universal in many years, so I don’t know if its still there—there were, at one point, rumors of Universal Orlando closing its Jaws attraction (you can read about that here: If you’ve never been on the Jaws ride and want to read reviews, you can check that out at Theme Park Critic: If you are a fan of Universal’s Jaws ride, you can hook up with it via a Facebook page for fans here:…/143535942366213

I always loved Viewmasters when I was a kid—we even had the old projector (but as was typical in the dark hole of a house I grew up in, no white walls on which to project the images)—and I never quite grew out of it. In 1997, I was re-acquiring many things from childhood (things I’m getting rid of now, strangely enough), and one of them was not only Viewmaster reels, but also various Viewmasters themselves. This was the keychain I was using that year. It actually did work—you could look in it and see little pictures of astronauts and planets. It was a pretty cool keychain, actually.

This is one side of a double-sided key chain I was using in 2004 and 2005, when I was attending Burlington College and spending many, many weekends out in Newport, RI, with friends from my days at the University of Rhode Island back in the early 1990s. This is the side that depicts my friends from URI—from left, poet Heather Sullivan, me, and Kaitlyn—in the summer of 2004.

Heather, Kaitlyn, and I met in Dr. Pearlman’s Creative Writing class at URI in January, 1993, and I drafted them into being in a play I was working on. This photo was taken three months after we met. The Cast of Stranded on 93, from left: Kaitlyn, Dave, me, Pam, and Heather.

Me and poet friends Tara (middle) and Tifani (right) in November, 2004 at RiRa on Church Street in Burlington are on the flip side of this key chain. We were tight for the three years we were together at Burlington College. I had an awesome time with Tara up at Burlington just a few weeks ago in May.

This is me my first day of class at Burlington College in Burlington, Vermont, November 2004.


 The following was a set: one clear key chain with five double-sided mini movie posters. Each depicted one of the Disney Pixar films up through 2003. This key chain came with a set of books, and I used this, changing out the cards, for a few years between 2007 and 2009.

Whenever I think of Monsters, Inc., I think of all the time I spent at the Bronx Zoo. I was going there a lot during that time.

Boo was, by far, my favorite character in Monsters, Inc…who could resist “Kitty!”? And that scene in which Sully has to say goodbye just about ripped my heart out.

That’s me with frosting in my hair, December, 2001. This was right around the time I saw, and fell in love with, Monsters, Inc.

I had never seen the original Toy Story until I got the 10th Anniversary edition on DVD for Christmas in 2005.

I absolutely could not wait for this movie to come out—that was right around the time I’d spent two years working at Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk and one year working at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, so needless to say, I was really into fish. In addition, both aquariums at which I volunteered added "Finding Nemo" fishtanks to their exhibit floors. This movie was also a tear-jerker, though. I’m constantly amazed by the depth of Pixar’s stories.

In June of 2003 we had to drive down to North Carolina for my brother Chuck’s wedding. The Nemo toys that came in the Happy Meals—collecting them all—became part of the goal of the trip for most of that month. Nemo was our travel mascot. Here he is on the car hood outside a hotel in Virginia.

I did “Birthday Sleepovers” a few years in a row, and 2004’s theme was Finding Nemo. Here’s what the cake looked like (next photo is a close-up of the cake, since the scan is really bad).

Nathan’s nickname has always been Clownfish. Here he is posing with a stuffed one after the Oyster Festival, September, 2004.

I didn’t see A Bug’s Life, which came out in 1998, until 2007, after Nathan and I went to Disney World. Nathan got it on DVD.

I posed with A Bug’s Life’s Flik at Animal Kingdom in 2006 even though I hadn’t seen the film yet. At left, my niece Andi.

I didn’t see Toy Story 2 until just recently, actually, but the major association I make with this film is Christmas 1999, because that’s when Sara McLaughlin’s song “When She Loved Me”—the movie’s theme song—came out.

The scene when Jessie is abandoned in the box was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.

I don’t remember where I got this, but I loved Lilo & Stitch when it came out in 2002 (up at a movie theatre in Lake Placid, in case anyone wants to know). Again, another film that really spoke to me, especially about loneliness. I think my favorite line in the film—okay, my favorite line backed by my favorite piece of scoring in that film—is “This is my family…it’s little, and broken, but still good. Yes, still good.” I had that clip as the outgoing greeting on my answering machine (yes, an old answering machine) for awhile. I used to associate this movie with sad memories, but Nathan’s a big Stitch fan (he’s really into the whole “badness level” idea), so now those sad memories have been replaced with happy ones.

In the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland, August 2008, clowning around with Stitch and my friend Meghan.

Nathan’s Mom gave me this one year for my birthday, and I really loved it because it smelled like island flowers. Unfortunately, the perfume that was inside it rotted the inside out, and little flakes started falling out all over everything. I kept it in a plastic bag for awhile, but it just keeps disintegrating, so sadly, it has to go. I used it for about three years, though.

So the question is: what’s on my keys now? Aside from a bunch of store cards (some for specific Northeastern stores, which I’ll toss when I get to Florida probably to make room for some from Southeastern stores), I’ve got a Sea World Key chain that my sister sent me up from Texas (it has a shark on it—no surprise there) years ago—now that I’m going to Florida, it’s appropriate. And one very special silver heart that was from my friends Lisa, Linda, and Janet at my office. It has my name on it, and I’ve carried it for about ten years now. If I ever decide not to use it anymore, it’ll go in my special keepsake box.

Oh, yeah—and a nail clipper from Catskill Game Farm, which I bought on the last day that beloved park from my childhood was open (more on this in a future episode). Because I can’t stand it when I have an uneven nail.

See what I mean?

My keys as they look today.

The key chain my sister got me when she visited Sea World San Antonio.

Me at Sea World Orlando in September, 1998. It was the first time I’d ever touched a sting ray. Little did I know that three years later, touching sting rays would become a regular part of my day as an aquarium volunteer.

The nail clipper I bought at Catskill Game Farm on its last day of operation in October 2006. There wasn’t much left in the gift shop at that point, but they had plenty of these, and besides, it was useful.

Me petting the animals at Catskill Game Farm, summer, 1975. The woman to the left is my grandmother (Grandma).

Me, making friends with a goat at Catskill Game Farm on the last day it was open, October 9, 2006.

It was awesome to take Nathan, who grew up on a farm, to Catskill Game Farm in New York on the last day it was open, October 9, 2006. Here it looks like he’s having a conversation with an alpaca.

A close-up of the heart keychain some dear friends of mine gave me several years ago.


THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 9–The Jacques Cousteau Book

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


The book that started my obsession with wanting to work with fish.

While I plan on a few episodes about several books and what they mean to me, this one—like Episode 7, about the penguins—merited a separate episode.

I don’t remember how old I was—probably 11 or 12, which would set this story in 1982 or 1983, but we still had the small yellow Subaru, and my parents took me to Mystic Marinelife Aquarium (it’s now called Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration) in Mystic, Connecticut for the day.

It was the first time I had ever been to an aquarium, and I remember plunging through the double-doors (the place looks completely different now) and into the cool darkness that smelled to me like swimming pools and aluminum—a smell I never forgot. I was immersed in a new world—around me, the creatures of the sea, which I’d previously only seen in books. It was the first time I saw a jellyfish, which had stung me in Daytona Beach when I was six. It was the first time I saw a shark up close. It was the first time I saw crabs, sea stars, and dolphins (at the time, Mystic had dolphins). I was awash in magic, and I looked down at the blue carpet under my feet and said to myself, ‘someday, I am going to work here.’

At that time, the way in which you exited the aquarium was through the gift shop. Our parents were not the best in terms of getting us the souvenirs we wanted, but they always got us something small. On that day, though, I just couldn’t be talked into one of those felt pennants or a hat. I wanted pictures of all these wonderful, incredible animals. I wanted something from which I could learn more. I saw this book on the shelf and had to have it.

I’m sure there was some kind of argument in the gift shop, because the book was expensive, but eventually, Dad caved—then gave me the silent treatment all the way home. It was one of those uncomfortable childhood moments when you can feel the tension, when you are terrified to say anything because it might invoke something worse.

You can tell I took this book very seriously—I never wrote my name in any of my books when I was that age.

Finally, Dad said something to the effect that I was selfish. He was always telling me that as a kid: I was selfish, just like his brother Marty. I do remember, though, at one point, my mother had had enough. She said: “That isn’t your older brother in the back seat, you know. That is your daughter. And she wanted a book instead of a piece of junk that’s going to be tossed aside in a couple of hours, so I suggest you stop, because you’re going to scare her out of learning anything new.”

My mother rarely spoke up in defense of me, but when she did, she meant business—there was no mistaking that or else tone in her voice. Dad clammed up.

I read that book cover to cover several times, and it inspired me to once again dive into Dad’s National Geographic collection (see Episode 5 of The Goodbye Project here: ). One of the issues had a few articles on the ocean written by Cousteau. I do remember being surprised to see his name (remember, I was 12 at the time).

If you’ve read Episode 5, then you know that certain issues of National Geographic have affected my life. This issue was one of them, mostly because of the double-sided map which featured the ocean floor topography and the article on “Blue-Water Life by Night.” What’s really interesting is that this issue also contained an article called “Mount Saint Helens Aftermath.” This is one of the issues that I had culled from my collection years ago. As for the map? I still have it. I found it tucked into one of my “research” notebooks from 1982.

I was so inspired by Cousteau’s writing I wrote a letter to the National Geographic Society. I’m not even sure what I said—I didn’t keep a copy of the letter, as back then all I had was one of my Dad’s old typewriters and no way to keep a copy unless I typed a duplicate—but I did get a response, and I can infer from its content that I probably gave a compliment on how much I enjoyed the articles.

I was so excited to get this in the mail! As much as I’ve adapted well to e-mail, there was nothing like getting real letters in the mailbox. I found this in one of my journal boxes tucked in a file labeled “special letters.” Apparently I was gutsy enough to write tons of letters to all kinds of people—I found responses from Oceanus magazine, Adirondack Life magazine, and even one from the producer of The Twilight Zone (the 1985 series). It’s safe to say I probably became addicted to getting interesting mail. Hey, I was 12, and what, back then, used to come in the mail for a 12-year-old except birthday cards once a year?

This was totally cool. I was impressed not only by the personal response from Lee Smith, but the hand-typed thorough listing of other articles by Cousteau. I don’t know if the Society does this kind of personal correspondence anymore, but back then it looks like it was common practice—notice the letterhead here is already pre-printed with “Selected National Geographic articles containing information on,” and then the rest of the page is blank. Lee Smith, or, more likely, Smith’s assistant/secretary (you can tell by the notation at the bottom of the cover letter) typed this just for me.

I did, apparently, take Smith’s advice and wrote to the Cousteau Society. Again, I don’t have a copy of the original letter, but here’s the response. Obviously I asked for an autograph.

Somewhere along the line I discovered that this was a double volume of Cousteau’s series of books, and in 1997, I was lucky enough to find the whole set at a tag sale (which I later cast off—it just didn’t have the pull that this one volume had, so I never read any of them).

As for going to work at Mystic? You bet I did. Despite the two hour and fifteen minute haul, I became an aquarium volunteer for the Fishes & Inverts department (sharks, crabs, etc.) in March of 2002 and logged over a hundred hours up through the middle of 2004. My duties included feeding the octopus (I hated that job—you had to knee yourself over the tank on a 2×6 and watch the beast rise up from the bottom), feeding everybody else, cleaning tanks, water changes, preparing food, monitoring ozone levels, and more. I taught a class in lobster dissection, I got the tip of my finger clipped by a puffer fish (they have sharp beaks, man!), I felt the hum of electricity when I plugged in a wet vac while standing in a pool of water (according to one of the guys there, my initiation to full aquarist included getting bitten, getting electrocuted, and falling in a tank. Well, two out of three ain’t bad, right?), I tripped with a full tray of food. I helped clean out the mort freezer (DO NOT ASK) and I also participated in the stranding unit (you can read more about this in my science paper for Burlington College here: BCScienceEssay2005). Every other Sunday I got up at 5 a.m. so I could make it to work by 7:30 a.m., and every other Sunday I came home sticky with fish guts.

They were some of the most glorious days of my life.

This is the book that started it all. Although I have to say goodbye, I photographed the pages or photos that fascinated me the most.

For more information about volunteering at the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, visit here:

I’m not quite sure what it was about this picture that fascinated me, but when I played school I would trace these figures onto paper and make a “choose the correct answer” problem to try to memorize them.

The whale in the middle looked mean. I had a thing about mean-looking whale drawings for two reasons: the drawing on the cover of my father’s copy of Moby Dick, and the whale in Disney’s Pinocchio.

I did the same thing with the drawings on this page, and the two pages below this, that I did with the drawings about streamlining.

I won’t lie. I was only interested in this drawing because of the stunning combination of pink and orange. I traced this onto paper many times and colored it using the same markers and then hung it on my wall.

It was the menace in both of these pictures that grabbed me.

I couldn’t stop staring at this page. Yipes, what an UGLY fish. I kept imagining how horrified I’d be if I were swimming and this thing butted up against me. I was also fascinated by the curves in the drawings of how they swim.

My mother was a musician, and she had a box of random things like finger cymbals and maracas. These scallops reminded me of the castanets that she also kept in that box. I could envision these creatures in motion and I wondered if they made a sound like the castanets did.

Up until this point I had no idea that sea stars moved. So this picture fascinated me—not only because of that, but because I wondered if they felt prickly—like living pickles, I imagined—when you touched them. In fact, the thought spooked me so much it was a long time before I ate pickles again. To this day, I only eat a pickle maybe once a year.

Hideously ugly—again, another instance in which I couldn’t stop staring at something so horrifying. In addition, the memory of having been stung by a jellyfish just a few years before at Daytona Beach was still pretty fresh.

Loved this pic—my father had this awesome copy of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea down in his den, and it had a marlin similar to this one whacking through the old man’s boat. I read his copy of that book several times. It was the first time I was exposed to Hemingway.

More diagrams, tracing, and quizzing myself.

The opening phrase on this page—“Nature red in tooth and claw?”—struck me. I opened several science reports with it.

I only liked this picture because the green water around the shark looked so cool and inviting, and I thought that when I grew up and moved to Florida I would have a swimming pool that had green water instead of blue.

This is going to sound completely stupid, but I liked this picture for two reasons: 1, I felt like I could stick my hand in the shark’s mouth and it would feel soft, like a pillow, and 2, I liked how it came out of the darkness, like a ghost.

It was the colors that attracted me to this photo. I was enthralled that something so deadly could be so pretty.

To me, looking at half-eaten fish was the same as looking at dead birds (see Episode 5). What’s funny about this is that I became more terrified of schools of bluefish than of sharks or barracuda simply because of this picture. In 2003, when I was invited to go water skiing with some friends out in Long Island Sound, I was behind the boat, waiting for them to go so I could get up on the water skis—and somebody shouted, “go now, there’s a school of bluefish around her!” I haven’t set foot in Long Island sound waters since.

For some reason this drawing reminded me of The Bermuda Triangle, which I had sketched on a National Geographic map at home and hung over my bed (I had the top bunk).

The photo that introduced me to the concept of “The Feeding Frenzy” in sharks, which I’d learn much more about a couple of years later when I found Dad’s 1968 National Geographic (covered in Episode 5).

This picture is the reason it took me a long time to be comfortable with scuba diving (which I did a few years later when I was 16).

This creature looked menacing. It wasn’t until years later, when I went to work at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk as an exhibit interpreter, that horseshoe crabs were harmless.

The only reason I liked this picture was because it looked like the shark was eating a chicken leg. Don’t ask me why.

Here's the full set I acquired at a tag sale in the late 1990s. I gave this away years ago.

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 8–OPI

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


The colors I’ve decided to give away. Pretty!

When we decided we were moving, Nathan was surprised that I started wiping things out right away—but made the comment that I was focusing on “little things.”

Many little things, though, can add up to big things, and I also think it’s the little things that take the most time to process: for example, which of my nail polishes do I remove from my OPI collection?

After all, I’m very proud of it. Each color I own had been chosen for a specific event or reason, and, as is typical of all writers, I think, the thing I most enjoyed about OPI wasn’t the colors but their cool names (I know for a fact that my poet friend and I, Heather Sullivan, spent more time obsessing over which ones to buy because of the names rather than the colors).

In Newport, “spa days” were some of our best days. From left, my friend Heather, me, and Kaitlyn, November 15, 2002. I think we were trying seaweed masks…

…but we also were painting our nails. I’m sure we shared the colors, too. I can’t name all of these, but I can tell you that on my hands is “Grape Wall of China,” which I think I had just gotten.

In general, my OPI collection holds many great memories for me: hanging out with Heather in Newport, painting our nails at the beach or at her kitchen table. My friend Janet Cutler and I buzzing down to Danbury Beauty Supplies on our lunch hour to give ourselves a lift and pick out a new OPI color (many of my polishes were purchased at that store with Janet; it was our favorite lunchtime activity other than making an “office run” to the McDonald’s at the bottom of the hill). And all the events for which I’d chosen specific colors: my brother Chuck’s wedding in North Carolina; my friend Kaitlyn’s wedding; each trip to Walt Disney World; my romantic Myrtle Beach vacation with Nathan; my summer workshop at the Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony in Provincetown.

Me, at left, and Kaitlyn, Newport, RI, on New Year’s Eve Day, 2005. We were painting our nails to get ready to go out. She was wearing one of her personal favorites: either “A Man in Every Port-ugal” or “20 Candles on My Cake”

Here, I’m having my hand done in henna for my brother Chuck’s wedding in Duck, North Carolina (the Outer Banks), June 12, 2003. The nail color I had on at the time I actually got rid of a long time ago—it was from OPI’s Summer 2002 Surf Party Collection and was called “Ocean Love Potion.”

A better look at the Henna and “Ocean Love Potion.”

Looks like I was having fun with one of Kaitlyn’s OPIs here in Newport in August, 2004.

I decided I could keep a few—subtle, neutral, lighter colors (over the years I’ve lost interest in wearing brights, and honestly, I rarely have time to do my nails anymore—I get a mani-pedi and my new fave is called “Kyoto Pearl”). Which ones did I keep? I photographed them below.

…oh yeah. And as far as little things equaling big things? I filed the whole collection, including nail tools and everything, down from a large tote bag to a Ziploc.

That’s a little more like it—although now OPI’s got a fabulous Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean line (Summer 2011—click here for more info, but I’m sure this link won’t be up for too much longer, so here’s a screen shot):

From left to right, Mermaid’s Tears, Stranger Tides, Planks A Lot, Sparrow Me The Drama, Steady As She Rose, Skull & Glossbones, Silver Shatter. I think I’ve got my eye on Stranger Tides and Skull & Glossbones—and mostly because of their names, not the colors.


“Hey, Get in Lime!” from OPI’s Spring 2006 Brights Collection. I never really liked this color, and I can’t find any photos of me with it on. I don’t even remember buying it, so out it goes.

“Nice Hand, Great Nails,” from OPI’s Spring 2003 Las Vegas Collection—I did wear this a couple of times, but it was one of Heather’s. A couple of years ago on one of my visits to Newport we traded a bunch of OPIs, and I think this is one I got from her. Again, don’t remember wearing it.

“Grape Wall of China”—from OPI’s Fall 2001 World Collection—was my fave back in 2002. I think it was pretty much all I wore.

“Apricotcha Cheating”—also from OPI’s Spring 2003 Las Vegas Collection—was big with me in the spring of 2003. It was my daily color.

“Cajun Shrimp”—I don’t know what year or line this was from, but I remember the day I bought it (as well as “Crim-Sun” from OPI’s Summer 2003 Summer for Shore Collection). Janet and I were taking a Friday break and decided to head down to Danbury Beauty Supply. A couple of new nail polishes always brightened an otherwise dull afternoon! “Cajun Shrimp” I used mostly on my toes during the summer because it lasted a long time—but the only reason I bought it, to be truthful, was because I love Cajun food and I love shrimp (the animals—and when I worked at Mystic, I was cleaning out a shrimp tank and some of them got sucked up in the suction hose. They emerged at the other end and I had a heck of a time chasing them all over quarantine to get them back in their tank).

“At Your Quebec and Call,” from OPI’s Fall 2004 Canada Collection, I bought on a post-Christmas trip to Newport, RI that same year at the Providence Place Mall. Heather, Kaitlyn and I spent the day shopping. I wore this color to many, many holiday parties. I also bought this because of its name – in 2001, I spent the most magical week up at Thunder Bay Beach in Canada with our friends Joan and Pete. Every time I wore this color, I recalled that great road trip.

“Electric Eel,” from OPI’s Summer 2005 Brights Collection, was one I searched high and low for—mostly because, with my love of all aquarium animals, I really wanted something in my collection that had a reference to fish in its title. When I finally did find it, though, and wore it, I didn’t like it. I don’t know—that color green just gave my skin tone a strange hue.

Ah, “Chapel of Love” from OPI’s Spring 2003 Las Vegas Collection. I LOVED THIS COLOR! I wore it to my brother Chip’s wedding (2003), my brother Chuck’s wedding (2003), the Danbury Mall Fireworks (2003), when I marched (yes, marched!) in Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade (2004), whenever I wore pink (I wore a great deal of pink in 2003). I’m surprised there’s any even left in this bottle to give away. The reason I’m letting it go? Well…I just have outgrown it.

Me sporting “Chapel of Love” at a wedding, May, 2003.

“Grand Canyon Sunset,” which I have no information on its year or line, was also a favorite and hard to let go (but it’s close to “Dusk Over Cairo,” which I liked better, so I kept that one instead).

Me wearing “Grand Canyon Sunset” in the Magic Kingom’s Fantasyland store, Hundred Acre Goods, just outside of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction in Walt Disney World, September, 2007.

“OPI & Apple Pie,” from OPI’s Fall 2001 Collection, I purchased specifically to wear during July, August, and early September to match a few shirts I had in my wardrobe. It was my color of choice to wear to New England summer activities, like the Bridgewater Fair, the Tractor Parade, and several Corn Mazes.

Me wearing “OPI & Apple Pie,” September 14, 2002, at White Hollow Farm’s Corn Maze in Litchfield, Connecticut.

“Merryberry Mauve,” from OPI’s 2002 Victorian Holiday collection, I got in a trade with Heather. The only reason I liked it was because it reminded me of one of my favorite colors—“Wyatt Earple Purple”—which was the color of choice for many weddings. It’s probably the only bottle of OPI I ever used up.

Me wearing “Wyatt Earple Purple,” from OPI’s Spring 1999 Wild West Collection, at a wedding in Myrtle Beach in April, 2006.

“Amethyst Abyss,” from OPI’s Millennium 2000 collection, was a gift from my friend Janet. I wore this all the time because I liked its holographic nature—it shifted subtly from amethyst to olive. What’s cooler about this color is its name—amethyst is my birthstone, so I have many amethyst rings and necklaces; the word “abyss” always reminds me of the 1989 movie The Abyss, which is a favorite of mine.

“Blushingham Palace,” from OPI’s Fall 2003 British Collection, I got in trade with Heather, who had owned it a long time. I don’t think I ever wore it.

“Goin’ Ape-ricot,” from OPI’s Spring 2006 Brights Collection. This one was great for my toes. I got it from Heather in a trade, I think—I don’t like monkeys, so anything with the word “ape” in it I never would have bought of my own volition.

“Niagara Falls for OPI,” from OPI’s Fall 2004 Canada Collection, I bought purely for its name—one of the most magical vacations I’d ever taken in my life, in 2001, was in Canada, and we spent a weekend in Niagara Falls. I’m also a big fan of that TV series Wonderfalls, which takes place there.

Me wearing “Niagara Falls for OPI” on the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland attraction Tomorrowland® Transit Authority PeopleMover (formerly the WEDWay PeopleMover, formerly the Tomorrowland Transit Authority), Walt Disney World, September, 2007. Believe it or not, what I was doing here was shooting cover art to go with a short story I was writing which is set on the Peoplemover. The short story, “Doing Blue,” made its debut as an issue of my short-lived project Admit One Literary Theme Park, but now has a home as the front-running story in my collection Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World, available at Amazon and wherever books are sold.

“Marquis D’Mauve,” from OPI’s Fall 2002 European Collection. I think I got this in a trade with Heather; I never wore it.

My friend Janet is first to reap the benefit of my saying goodbye.


I figured since I’m telling my life story about my relationship with OPI, I might as well go down the list and tell you what I no longer own, either because I used it up, traded it, or gave it to someone long before now:

Can’t-a-Berry Have Some Fun? (Fall 2002 European Collection)

Changing of the Garnet (Fall 2002 European Collection—this was my VERY FIRST jar of OPI!)

Coral Reef


Glacier Bay Blues (Fall 2004 Canada Collection)

Ocean Love Potion (Summer 2002 Surf Party Collection)

Route Beer Float (Fall 1997 Route 66 Collection)

Wyatt Earple Purple (Spring 1999 Wild West Collection)


The colors I’m keeping, from left to right: “Cameo Role,” “Princesses Rule!”, “Chocolate Shake-speare,” “Polar Bare,” “How to Jamaica Million,” and “Dusk Over Cairo.” Before I go further: how did I choose what to keep? Neutrals. I can always go bright again later if I want, but any of these will pretty much go with any occasion or any outfit.

“Cameo Role,” from OPI’s Fall 1999 Hollywood Collection, was given to me by someone who no longer wanted it (it was probably Heather or Kaitlyn). I fell in love with it because it’s subtle, so it’s become a staple and a favorite. It’s great to keep in a travel kit, because it goes with whatever you’ve got in your suitcase, any time of year.

“Princesses Rule!,” from OPI’s Spring 2006 Princess Charming Collection. I totally bought this in August of 2006 in preparation for that year’s September trip to Walt Disney World with my sister, Missie, and my niece, Andi.

“Chocolate Shake-speare,” from OPI’s Fall 2003 British Collection, I own simply because of its name: my Dad was an English teacher and he loved Shakespeare. I like this color though. It’s nice for fall and for cold winter days.

“Polar Bare,” from OPI’s Fall 2004 Canada Collection. I got this in trade from Heather, but it’s become one of my favorites because just one coat adds a cleaned-up look with low maintenance.

Me wearing “Polar Bare” at Muddy Rivers pool bar at Walt Disney World’s Port Orleans Riverside resort in Florida, September, 2006.

“How to Jamaica Million” I don’t wear often, but it’s nice to have on hand for holidays.

“Dusk Over Cairo.” I got it because I liked the name—it reminded me of all the Indiana Jones movies—but once I put it on, I was pleased to find I liked the color, too.

Me wearing “Dusk Over Cairo” the day I got accepted at Burlington College, September, 2004.

And now…after I’ve seen Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, I’ll head out to the store to pick up those couple I mentioned. Want to know where I got all this great information on the years/dates/collections? Check out Suze’s Stuff website here:

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 7–The Penguin Book

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


I did this all the time--stick cute captions on pictures of penguins. This was a birthday card I made for my Dad in 2002--yes, he really DID have Macbeth memorized...

I’ve always had a fascination with penguins and wanted to work with them. In 2002, I applied to work as a volunteer at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration (once called Mystic Marinelife Aquarium) in Mystic, CT.

I was accepted and given a choice: yes, the penguin department had an opening, but there wouldn’t be much room for missing a shift—penguins bond tightly with their caregivers—and as I lived two hours and fifteen minutes away, it was a little bit of a risk. So I went with the volunteer coordinator’s suggestion: Fishes & Invertebrates (sharks, crabs, jellies, etc).

I’m sure I would have loved working with the penguins. But I was very happy working in the F&I department (talk about people who walk to the beat of their own drummers! I had a ball). In addition, volunteers also got to attend the daily multi-departmental meeting, so I was privy to what was happening aquarium-wide—including in the penguin department.

I don’t remember what was going on with the penguins one day, but I came out of the meeting with a complete story idea. Over the next week, I went out and bought several books on penguins and did some research to see if I could get my story to work.

This is one of the books; the others I either gave away years ago (and ONE that I just couldn’t part with I kept—I figured having one tangible memory of that time in my life wasn’t a big deal). And if you’d like to read the finished story—called “Colonies,” which was originally published in 2005 in a limited-run anthology that’s no longer available—you can enjoy it here:


Want to know more about penguins up close? Mystic Aquarium & IFE in Connecticut offers a Penguin Encounter at certain times of year. You can read more about that here:

…or enjoy marinebeauties12’s up-close encounter with them in 2009 here on YouTube:

For more information about volunteering at the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, visit here:

March 29, 2002: the day I became a Mystic Aquarium & IFE volunteer. I'm holding up my uniform shirt (long gone, because when you work in F&I stuff gets destroyed fast).

The last of my penguin books with which I'm parting. Information from this book helped me understand penguins a little better so I could write a halfway decent short story.

"Colonies" is about Emperor Penguins (sort of, anyway). This Post-It was stuck in the inside front cover of the book, so I'm assuming these are the pages that had information I needed.

Not much highlighting in this book--at all. I probably copied the pages I needed and threw them in the story's file.


Here I am with Nathan in the back-up area for the Mammals exhibit at MA&IFE in March, 2004. We were helping the beluga whales get prepared for that summer's public Whale Encounter sessions. Notice our red/purple hands? YEAH...THAT water was COLD!

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 6–Archaeology

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


Update: June 27, 2011 Shortly after this post was published, I got a note from my friend Rob, who wanted to adopt the book on the Ramapo because he is doing research for a novel he is writing, as well as any of my books that were heavily highlighted. I was excited about this and am happy to report that both the Ramapo book and the Archaeology book are now part of his collection.



Me digging at Gallows Hill in Redding, Connecticut, with other members of my Archaeology Class from Norwalk Community College in November, 2002.

In the Fall of 2002 I was looking for a kick-start with something new. I was enjoying my time volunteering at both the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk and Mystic Aquarium, in fact, so much that I was considering finishing college for something in the sciences.

I was at the SoNo Arts Festival that August and discovered a booth run by Ernie Wiegand, who runs the Archaeology department at Norwalk Community College.* A couple of weeks later, I signed up for his Archaeology 101. After all, although I loved the marine sciences, I still felt the ages-old pull of geology and volcanology. Archaeology seemed as good a place to start as any. If I didn’t like it, I could always drop out.

Turns out I loved it—I learned how to read layers of dirt, what finding pieces of shells meant. I loved digging in New England in the fall, that smell of leaves, hot coffee, and loam with the bite in the air. I met other students who were walking history books. It didn’t only exceed my expectations, it was magical.

I did well in it, too—although I soon learned I don’t have much of an analytical mind when it comes to solving mysteries. Or maybe I just didn’t have all the knowledge backing me up. At any rate, that semester remains as one of the greatest eras of my life. Being a shovel bum was pretty cool.

I continued to do research after the class was over and had even thought about exploring some areas on my own. But that was nine years ago—I never went further, and it’s time to let go of my books and tools. The hardest to let go is the textbook. I honestly read that thing from cover to cover and highlighted the hell out of it, and believe it or not, had always thought I’d sit down and delve into it again someday.

If you want to read my final Site Report (December 18, 2002) on the Gallows Hill Dig, you can read it here in PDF:


*The current course catalog online at Norwalk Community College’s site doesn’t isolate the Archaeology as an Avocation program in a convenient manner, so here are two screen shots of what that page looks like. To access the full catalog and find out more about registration, please visit:

And now…on with the story…

My textbook. It was tough to let this one go.


I didn't keep a record of all the passages I highlighted--only my favorites.

In 2000, I had written a short story that keyed around 18Rabbit. I did finish it, but had always wanted to improve it. I probably had planned on using this information to beef up the backstory. Who knows. Want to read the first draft of the story? It's right below this picture as a PDF: "Shorn." Enjoy!


This was one of the books I used for research for my final site report.

I don't remember where I purchased this book, but I do remember it being one of the most interesting books I ever read. It did inspire me to do some exploring on my own, which I actually never got around to.

I can always tell how much I love a book by how many Post-It Notes I use.

I took a map of New Jersey and tried to pinpoint the burial ground noted in the book (the book may have given me the actual coordinates; I don't know).

Obviously, I had planned on trying to find this place, because other places in New Jersey which were familiar to me I marked so I could try to get my bearings.

Me, digging at Gallows Hill, Fall, 2002.

The woods at Gallows Hill. It was in an isolated residential neighborhood, and the houses were far enough apart that it felt like being in The Blair Witch Project.

Heather, one of my classmates. She was calculating depth or provenience, I don't recall which now.

Christmas, 2002: My housemate put together an archaeology kit for me as a gift. At that time, I was planning on furthering my studies.

The kit contained knee pads, safety glasses, gloves, hand cleaner, and, not pictured because I'm keeping them, tools such as a really nice Black and Decker tape measure.

The hand cleaner.


Safety glasses.

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