A Special Occasion

The Guest of Honor  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

The Guest of Honor | Image: Laura Messersmith

The maternal side of Mike’s family has a tradition of making memory books for Special Occasions – proper noun – like birthdays and anniversaries. Each person in the family gets a page to capture their thoughts, record funny stories, collect pictures, poems, Bible verses, and memories deemed worthy of the memory book.

This past weekend was one such Special Occasion: the surprise 93rd birthday celebration of Eleanor Fleming, Mike’s grandmother.

You might be wondering: why 93, not 95 or three years ago at age 90?

Lucy, Mike’s mom and plan mastermind, pointed out that we never really know how many years we have left, so why wait for a number that’s a multiple of 5? Why delay an opportunity to celebrate the life of someone who lived through the better part of the 20th Century, raised 7 children, and is the grandmother to 12? Why wait to honor a person who continues to avidly follow the exploits of the Baltimore Orioles, clean-up at Jeopardy! night after night, listen to opera, and can still recite the poems she memorized as a schoolgirl?

I can’t think of a good reason to wait either, especially when there are so few occasions that bring the people we love together in one place.

The deception to throw off any suspicion from the real party in the works began with a ladies lunch on Grandma Fleming’s birthday. Meanwhile, people from across the country – Kansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia – arrived and were ‘stashed’ in hotels and guest bedrooms around town. Everyone pitched in to make the big reveal memorable and personal – gathering pictures for a slideshow, baking cupcakes, reading poems, and of course creating pages for the memory book – a salute to Grandma Fleming’s life and the role she’s played in theirs.

When the appointed time arrived and Grandma Fleming stepped out of the elevator to the greetings of her children and grandchildren she was definitely surprised. The look of amazed joy that her family would go to the trouble to show her she is loved is something I will remember for a long time. Well worth the effort to maintain the secrecy.

As the evening went on there were lots of laughs, a few tears of deep emotion, and the buzzy, semi-chaotic activity that comes when a large family is all in one place - hallmarks of a truly Special Occasion.


Scouting: Amelia Island, Florida

I’ve mentioned on about 1,000 occasions that this has been a particularly long, brutal winter here in the Northeast (and pretty much everywhere else in the US too.) I know it’s not just that three years in Texas have weakened my constitution, because independent sources confirm that they are freezing too!

So, when my in-laws invited us to tag along on their trip to Florida for a few days I was ready to pack my bags immediately. A short, 2.5 hour flight from LGA to JAX and we were there. Our destination: Amelia Island.

Amelia Island Beach; Image:  Laura Messersmith

Amelia Island Beach; Image: Laura Messersmith

We stayed on the southern end of the island, about 15 minutes from the town of Fernandina Beach in a great ocean front townhome my mother-in-law located on VRBO. Hotels have their place for a night or two, but for longer stays I really love having a home away from home. We had so much fun cooking in the giant and well-appointed kitchen, taking walks along the beach (too cold for me to swim), and reading books with the sound of the ocean in the background.

Amelia Island Beach; Image:  Laura Messersmith

Amelia Island Beach; Image: Laura Messersmith

We also really liked exploring the town of Fernandina Beach, which has a charming, walkable historic district. The best way I can describe the vibe is Key West by way of Savannah.  It’s a sedate low-country, easy living, wandering encouraged sort of place with generous dash of pirate-y, Jimmy Buffet kitsch. 

Historic Fernandina Beach; Images:  Laura Messersmith

Historic Fernandina Beach; Images: Laura Messersmith

In our three days there we just scratched the surface of discoveries (all the more reason to go back!) but I do have a few favorite spots to pass along for when you’ve had enough beachcombing.

1.     Merge: The menu is filled with new versions of classic dishes, and we loved the casual setting matched with attentive, but unobtrusive service. Dinner highlights were the French Onion Bisque, Shrimp Caesar Salad, Seared Sea Bass with Beurre Blanc Sauce (natch), and the Crème Brulee with White Pepper.

2.     Fantastic Fudge: People (including us!) were literally lined up out the door for treats from this old-fashioned sweet shop and ice cream parlor. Extra bonus – you can watch the fudge tempering process take place on the giant slab marble islands while you wait.

3.     Eight Flags Antique Market: This place is a GOLDMINE if your idea of a vacation souvenir trends toward vintage typewriters, Depression glass, cast iron bottle keys, or antique furniture. I'm still wishing I had brought that pipe-smoking sea captain print home…. It’s a huge place, so be prepared to spend some time exploring the different stalls.

4.     Lemongrass: Forget your sunglasses? Blow out a flip flop? Want a straw hat for the beach, or a cute sundress for a night out? Lemongrass is the place. Their selection is a cool mix of surfer, Coachella boho, Brooklyn-hipster and a hint of coastal prep.

With activities for all ages I can see Amelia Island as a place families could come back to year after year. I know I'd love to visit again!

Amelia Island, Florida; Images:  Laura Messersmith

Amelia Island, Florida; Images: Laura Messersmith