07/15/11 5:40am

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Gold Star Mom Chrystyna Kestler with her husband, Dr. Frank Kestler, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, marched this past May in the Shelter Island American Legion Memorial Day Parade. Their son and step-son, Lt. Joseph Theinert was killed in Afghanistan on June 4, 2010.

When the IRS refused Chrystyna Kestler’s request for expedited approval of the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund’s 501(c)(3) status in time for a fundraiser in Greenport next Monday, she contacted Congressman Tim Bishop’s office. Mrs. Kestler’s 24-year old son, Joe, was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 4, 2010.

The congressman intervened on behalf of Mrs. Kestler, of Shelter Island and Mattituck, and helped secure the tax-exempt status for the memorial fund, according to a recent announcement from his office. The IRS previously had denied her request for an expedited approval, claiming that the upcoming fundraiser was “not sufficiently time-sensitive to qualify.”

Now the benefit can go ahead as planned. “We are deeply grateful for his sincere concern for our family,” Mrs. Kestler said.

The congressman said, “When a Gold Star Mother calls my office, we give it priority and find a way to get the job done. It’s the least we can do.”

A non-profit organization must secure tax code section 501(c)(3) status before it can solicit tax-deductible donations from individuals. As a result of the expedited approval, the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund, of which Mrs. Kestler serves as president, now has access to money raised so far in Lt. Theinert’s memory that has been held by the Shelter Island School and the Lions Club.

The upcoming benefit in the memory of Lt. Theinert will take place at Claudio’s on the Wharf in Greenport on Monday, July 18.

Those who wish can take the South Ferry vessel, Lt. Joseph Theinert, at 6 p.m. sharp from the South Ferry dock. From there it will travel to North Haven to pick up more passengers. There will be light refreshments and music by Joe Lauro’s “Who Dat Loungers” as the ferry cruises over to Greenport for more food, auction items and entertainment at Claudio’s. Tickets are either $40 or $10, depending on whether or not you sail to the event aboard the ferry. All the proceeds go directly to the memorial fund.

Those wishing to make a donation may send it to: Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 1650, Mattituck, NY 11952.
For information and ferry reservations call 631-725-8363.

Mrs. Kestler said that the fund will offer scholarships to students who work hard for their grades, are not involved with drugs or alcohol and who are helpful to their communities. The fund this year is supporting scholarships at Shelter Island High School, Siena College, Valley Forge Military College and SUNY, Albany, all attended by Lt. Theinert, and Mattituck High School. The memorial fund will also make donations to the Wounded Warrior Program and the Fisher House, an organization that provides support, including free housing to wounded warriors and their families.

“Joseph Theinert’s heroism will never be forgotten and this memorial fund is a living testament to his life’s work to serve the community,” said Congressman Bishop, who plans to attend the Greenport event on Monday.

“Congressman Tim Bishop has been by my family’s side since Joe was killed in action. He has attended Joe’s memorial services and other events,” Mrs. Kestler said. “We are deeply grateful for his sincere concern for our family. Congressman Bishop’s assistance in obtaining IRS approval for our 501(c)(3) is just another example of how he cares for Gold Star families and veterans of Long Island.”

Mrs. Kestler talked on Tuesday about how helpful the congressman’s office was. “Especially Bilal Malik,” she said, adding that he was the contact person there, and the one responsible for passing along information and updates.

05/19/11 10:08am

FILE PHOTO| Lt. Joseph Theinert

The military troops who served in Afghanistan with Lt. Joseph Theinert are expected to arrive on Shelter Island today to pay a visit to the hometown where the man who saved their lives grew up.

Lt. Theinert was killed in combat on June 4, 2010 and brought home to Shelter Island to be buried. Joe was the son and stepson of Chrystyna and Frank Kestler of Mattituck and Shelter Island, and of James and Cathy Theinert of Sag Harbor.

His mom, Chrystyna Kestler, initially expected about 25 soldiers and officers and some of their family members to attend a three-day “Welcome Home” celebration. But as of Tuesday, that number was in the 40s “and still growing,” she said.

The Times/Review team will be on Shelter Island today document the troops’ arrival, and you can follow along on the Reporter’s twitter feed.

Lt. Theinert was leading his platoon of 20 men on a mission in Kandahar Province, when they encountered hostile fire and were forced toward an area mined with IEDs (improvised explosive devices). He disabled one IED and approached a second one when the trigger mechanism sounded. He warned the others to get back. Because of his warning, none of the men were injured when the device exploded. But he died and was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart for his heroic actions.

Ms. Kestler said that the men whose lives he saved, Banshee Troop, 1st Squadron, 71st Calvary Battalion of the 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, will be here for four days of reunion, remembering and healing. They will travel together, leaving Fort Drum in upstate New York at 5 a.m. on Thursday. It’s about an eight-hour, 400-mile trip and the group will be accompanied the entire way by law enforcement and motorcycle contingents, the Patriot Guard Riders and the Red Knights.

American Legion member Matt Rohde said he expected their arrival at South Ferry between 12:30 and 1 p.m. Ms. Kestler has hopes that in addition to the Fire Department with its ladder truck and an American Legion Color Guard, local residents will gather at South Ferry at midday to welcome the men home from Afghanistan and to Shelter Island.

The front of Dr. Kestler’s dentist office on Shelter Island has been festooned with patriotic bunting, flags and large “welcome home” banners in honor of Banshee Troop. Flags have been mounted on telephone poles along Ferry Road, provided by Shelter Island Hardware, funded by the American Legion and installed by the Highway Department.

Earlier this month Ms. Kestler explained that as a Gold Star Mother, her mission is to support vets. “I want these guys to get just as much support as Joe,” she said, “I don’t want any vet forgotten.”

09/23/10 12:00am

One of the great advantages of traveling in an RV is getting close to nature.

I may bring all the comforts of home when we hit the road, but we park those comforts alongside babbling brooks or deep in the woods or in the shadows of tall mountains. That way I’m able to zap a frozen Hot Pocket in the microwave then take it outside and be one with nature. Not very Thoreau, but way more comfortable. The only downside is when nature gets a little too close, which happened during a trip to New England.

I don’t normally blend all that well with nature, probably because I’m a housing development brat. Even after nearly 30 years, I’m still not comfortable living in a house on an acre instead of eight per acre and full of trees instead of sidewalks.

Know what we development kids called a house on an acre when I was growing up? A farm. When we wanted to see a tree, we’d go to a park. We’d hear talk of families who lived in homes surrounded by trees instead of sidewalks. Know what we called them? Poor people.

Bugs did not thrive in our development, most likely because of no trees and all sidewalks, but also because a pesticide truck would cruise the neighborhoods, spewing a cloud of mist. We used to run behind the truck, chasing the cloud, which, in hindsight, may explain some of the quirky traits shared by too many of us development-raised baby boomers.

But I digress — back to my recent close encounter with nature. We were camped for the night deep in the woods and when I first turned out the lights it was totally dark, but gradually my eyes adjusted and I could see light from the quarter moon filtering through the trees and faint moon shadows on the window screen.

The only sound was the occasional flutter of a bird near the RV. A little bird settling down for the night, snuggling in its little nest, just like us. Then the little bird fluttered itself right into the window screen. I could see its shadow as it passed by the window, went away, then came back.

Not only could I hear its wings all aflutter, I could also hear its little skull making contact with the screen, over and over. It was getting annoying, so from my bed I reached over to the window (in an RV nothing is more than an arms-reach away), tapped the screen and whispered into the darkness, “knock it off, bird!”

The little bird knocked it off, but for only a moment, then the darn thing was right back at it again.

Enough with nature! I turned on the light. “Get outta here!” I whisper-shouted more loudly. It became very, very quiet. No fluttering. No skull bashing. But as soon as I turned out the light, again with the fluttering and bashing.

I woke my husband (he grew up in a house surrounded by trees with no sidewalks, poor boy) who determined that the bird wasn’t outside, it was in the RV. With us. And that was the good news.

The bad news? It wasn’t a bird. It was a bat.

Let me say, first, that I have come a long way since those development wonder years. I have touched caterpillars, pretended that pet mice were cute and even leaned against a tree, once, but I do not like bats. And don’t bother reciting that long list of reasons why bats are our friends. I’ve heard it before and maybe I inhaled too much of that pesticide but it never sinks in. Consequently, I do not behave rationally when there’s a bat in the room. Especially if I’m in the room, too.

Once I was trapped in the basement with a bat and my husband. I raced up the steps, six at a time, and then held the door to the basement shut with my body for an hour so the bat couldn’t escape. Even though my husband banged on the door I wouldn’t open it because, as I explained later, I thought he was the bat trying to trick me. It was not my most noble moment.

I didn’t act nobly in the RV, either. I covered my head with a sheet and screeched as the bat ricocheted off the walls’ confined space even with the lights on (nice bats aren’t supposed to do that!) until my husband opened the door and the bat flew outside, where it belonged.

I spent the rest of that trip in the “wilds” with a pillowcase over my head and a flyswatter in my hand. I didn’t relax until our last night in the RV, which we spent camping in the Foxwoods Casino parking lot, on concrete and under noontime-bright lights.

Finally, I felt Thoreau-ly one with my surroundings.

08/26/10 12:00am

(Two years ago when my granddaughter was 8 we drove together to Riverhead. I remember this particular trip because from the time she got into the car, during a stop for doughnuts then all the way back to Shelter Island for lunch, she only stopped talking twice, and that was to breathe.)

Thanks for taking me with you, Grandma. I am a little bit hungry but not for something like chicken nuggets or chicken fingers or like that on account of how they treat the chickens. You know how they kill them? They throw them against a wall! That is so mean.

I will eat doughnuts, though. Doughnuts are good, even though they’re not good for you. But once in a while it’s OK to eat food that’s not good for you; that’s what I always tell myself. Except sometimes I tell myself that every 15 minutes and, actually, that’s not good for you. But I don’t eat doughnuts a lot and if we stop for doughnuts I’ll eat just one. One’s not going to be bad for me. A glazed and a Gatorade. Orange. No, not orange, cherry. I can get it myself.

Oh, sorry. It was an accident. At least it wasn’t glass, right? Isn’t it good that it wasn’t glass, Grandma? Sorry, I’m not laughing from dropping the Gatorade on your foot. Actually, I’m remembering at Home Depot when I ran into your foot with the cart when I was trying to bump your butt. I didn’t think your foot was so big. I knew you were mad when you sort of yelled ‘what in heaven were you thinking?’

Did you know I actually saw heaven once? I did. I saw doggie heaven and people heaven. It was when I flew to Florida. I saw a poodle right in the middle of a cloud. That’s how I knew it was doggie heaven. And in another cloud I saw Jesus and God, so that must have been people heaven.

My brother saw the devil out a different window and he was all red and fire-y. The devil I mean. Not my brother. Jesus and God and the poodle were sort of see-throughish, like the cloud. Some people don’t believe in heaven but I do now that I’ve actually seen it.

I believe in unicorns, too, because I actually saw one, but not in the clouds. I saw a picture of a unicorn and it was not faked. It was in a book of things that some people say don’t really exist, but they actually do, like aliens from outer space, and the book had an actual picture of a real, live unicorn. Not a drawing, either. It was a photograph. Mostly it was a picture of its horn, because it was hiding behind a tree, but what else could it have been? I mean, it was all sparkly and everything so it was definitely not a rhinoceros horn and everyone knows that unicorns hide from people, just like leprechauns.

And leprechauns are not from Puerto Rico like my brother said. Some of them, maybe, but most leprechauns actually come from Ireland. I know that’s true because … did you see that? That bear or something on the side of the road?

It was more on the grass than in the road. It looked like a biggish, brownish, reddish bear. Remember the time I saw that otter walking on the sidewalk that I first thought was a beaver but then realized couldn’t be because what would a beaver be doing on a sidewalk? I mean, that didn’t even make sense.

We always see something unusual if we pay attention. I do at least. Maybe we’ll see a puppy. I love puppies. But not those puppy mill places. Puppy mills are totally bad. Do you know they put the mother dogs in cages and don’t let them out to have fun or exercise or anything. Ever. All they do their whole, entire lives is have puppies and that is so mean. I would never do that to a dog or any kind of animal, not even to a mouse.

When we have lunch I’m going to have Mickey Mouse pancakes and bacon. Bacon comes from pigs, doesn’t it. I wonder if anyone throws pigs at walls. Actually, I won’t have the bacon. That way at least I’ll be saving a pig.

Are you putting down what I’m saying to write in your column? I like to write, too. But the problem is that I can’t ever think of anything to write about.

07/29/10 12:00am

Do you remember how pleasant year-round residents and summer people were to each other in the grocery store in June? June is sort of our honeymoon period, when we have those annual reunions in the aisles of the IGA after a long cold winter and everything is all hug hug, kiss kiss. Isn’t it nice the way we spend our first month together going out of our way to make nice.

If you stop to listen you hear:

“You go first.”

“Please, you first, I insist. You’ve been stuck here all winter.”

“Yes, I have, but you’ve been away for too long.”

“Well, aren’t you sweet.”

“Oh, you’re the one who’s sweet,” and blah, blah, blahdy blah — you’ve been there, you know how it goes.

But did you notice something different this year? Instead of enjoying two months of delightful encounters before we started to get ugly with each other, as is our long-standing tradition, by July 4 the honeymoon was over. And by mid-July we were going after each other like cranky snapping turtles, snarling and bashing each other with our carts. That is so not like us. Some think it’s all this hot weather, but one of the local old-timers thinks it’s the result of stress from too much helicopter noise. “Those [email protected]#$#@! helicopters are making us crazy!” he said.

Could be. Something weird is going on.

You ask anyone who’s shopped here past summers and they’ll tell you that in June no one cares if the cereal aisle is blocked. People just smile and wait for the blockage to clear. In July if two people were blocking the aisle to chat, or if a shopper hadn’t allowed room for passing while he or she hunted for dwarf goat cheese, they were oh-so-gently nudged out of the way. In past summers, bashing never started until around the third week of August.

Not this year. This year by mid-July both locals and visitors used their carts as weapons, not just nudging aside aisle blockers, but engaging in full-force butt bashing to clear a path to the Lean Cuisine.

It does make one wonder if there might actually be some connection between the recent increase in overhead chopper noise and the rapid decline of grocery store etiquette. I say that because I was involved in an incident on a day when the store was jam-packed and I had, at the most, a dozen items. It took me longer to decide which line was moving the fastest than to do my shopping. I carefully picked a line and had waited a few moments when a young woman pushed her cart ahead of mine. “Excuse me! I’m with her,” she said as she pointed to the woman in line ahead of me.

I guess I was too stunned to react and I sort of froze behind my cart, making her think I was a hard-of-hearing, non-English-speaking person having a senior moment because she repeated — more slowly, much louder and with the help of broad hand gestures — “I’m with her. I need to get ahead of you.”

This is where being a humor writer pays off. At least that’s what you’d think, right? It never does. All I came up with was “how nice.” I tried to say it in a Bette Davis kind of way, clipped and icy, totally facetious, but I didn’t pull it off because the young woman thought I really meant “how nice” and proceeded to push her heaping cart ahead of mine.

I was just about to give her a good, hard “accidental” butt bash when the shopper ahead of me said to her young shopping companion, “You can’t do that,” pulled her own cart out of the line and invited me to go ahead of her.

Bette and I thanked her and moved ahead.

Behind me I could hear that the younger woman was upset. “What was so unreasonable? We’re paying for everything together, right? I don’t understand why you let her go ahead of us,” she said.

Obviously she didn’t grocery shop much or she’d have known that it’s not a tag-team activity and that saving line space for the person still filling a cart is never tolerated (except maybe in June).

While I was paying for my items a third member of their group showed up (with more groceries!) and the young woman, still upset, told the late arrival what had happened.

As I left, I turned to again thank the woman who let me ahead of her in the line.

She rolled her eyes at the two young women behind her and mumbled, “These girls. They’re makin’ me crazy!”

We gave her our best sympathetic smile, but Bette and I know the truth. It wasn’t the girls making her crazy. It wasn’t the heat, either. It’s those helicopters!

07/15/10 12:00am

When I was little I loved to play store with a cigar box as my cash register. Every time I’d lift the lid I’d say “ka-ching,” the universal cash-register sound effect.

So when my daughter-in-law opened a small organic market, I immediately volunteered my services and, following a brief tutorial, began working a two-hour shift on Monday mornings. I mean, knowing when to step in and help, that’s what family is all about.

Unfortunately, after the first week I was still having cash register issues, and I routinely used about $17 worth of ingredients every time I blendered up a $4 blueberry smoothie. No surprise that I did not make it as a finalist for employee of the week, even though there was only one other employee.

“No problem,” my daughter-in-law said each time she had to void out another amount I’d mis-entered into the cash register or when she nudged me away from the smoothie blenders so that she could do things herself, the right way.

She may have been family but she was driving me crazy! I kept thinking OMG! What does a person have to do to get fired around here? I know if I was my boss I’d have fired me after the first dozen voided ka-chings.

Even with the help of cheat-sheets that had instructions printed in single syllables, I could not figure out that cash register, which, I maintained, was defective — I don’t care what the company rep said.

On Monday, a customer waited patiently as I tried to ring up three items (two taxable, one not.) I apologized for the time it was taking me and she just shrugged it off. “That’s OK. I know what happens to my father when he uses a cash register.” She laughed. “He’s 73 and he can never figure out how it works, either.”

I laughed, too. Aren’t the old folks such a scream. Hardy har har har.

I was just glad she hadn’t seen me open up that morning because not only did I have a problem with the cash register, it took me 10 minutes to get the door open on account of what had to be a defective key, even if it unlocked just fine for other people.

This stint of working behind a counter was not new for me. In addition to playing store when I was a kid, I “clerked” at a local island business when the owners had to be away for a day and weren’t able to get someone to watch the store. I volunteered to fill in as their temp.

When they suggested that maybe they’d be better off just closing shop for the day, I insisted. How hard could it be? Customers would buy stuff and I would take their money. “Am I not an excellent shopper?” I asked. “And isn’t clerking the same thing as shopping, except in reverse?”

As it would turn out, not so much.

Even though the owners gave me a crash course in operating the cash register, when I tried to ring up the first sale, instead of “ka-ching!” the machine went into lockdown and I couldn’t get the cash drawer to open. I made change out of my purse, computing the mathematical part of the transaction on paper. Multiplying the sales tax gave me such a headache I had to buy myself some aspirin. Fortunately, there was no tax on that.

Eventually — with the help of two customers and a woman who closed her shop for 10 minutes when I called, begging for help — I got the machine working and my first “official” cash-register sale for three fifty-cent candy bars rang up as $1,500. KA-CHING!!!

At the end of that day the cash register showed a take of $38,461.27 from 11 customers. I did leave a note in the cash drawer explaining that I’d had a couple of over-rings (clerk lingo for “oops!”). That was a long time ago and whenever I see the store owners, I remind them, “I’m here if you need me.” In 14 years they haven’t.

That’s why I was excited and eager to lend a hand at my daughter-in-law’s store until I tried my first ka-ching! and was reminded of what clerking is really like. And I think she was excited, too, until she had a chance to watch me under fire.

Finally, after three weeks, I worked up the nerve to say “I quit.” She did not object, and God bless her, she refrained from jumping up and down, raising her eyes heavenward and shouting “Thank you! Thank you!”

Because that, too, is what family is all about.

06/17/10 12:00am

I save everything; Christmas cards, partially melted Tupperware, fondue pots, watches, portable radios, elementary school art projects, college textbooks, eight-track tapes, clunky calculators, napkin rings, cameras. Very little that enters this house ever leaves it. My basement and attic are crammed with items that date back to pre-Wonder Years, through the disco decade, to now.

You can tell the story of my family’s life by sifting through the layers. The tools from my stained-glass period are in one corner of the basement, right behind an easel that dates back to my oil-painting period, propped against a hot pink golf bag from my “you’ve got to be kidding” period. Most of my husband’s racing gear, circa 1982, is there under the ski equipment, circa 1985, and right next to the ice skates our family used every New Year’s Day for skating on Lily Pond before global warming. With the exception of stray animals, everything our kids dragged home is still here, somewhere.

Part of the reason I keep things is because someday I may need them. You know that as soon as I get rid of those skates global warming is going to reverse itself. Then on New Year’s Day everyone will be skating across Lily Pond and I’ll be slip-sliding along in my street shoes, which is not as much fun.

Occasionally I do start a massive clean sweep that results in nothing more than shifting items from one part of the basement or attic to the other. The piles of stuff never get smaller. However, now that I have a grandson, I think all that is about to change, one item at a time.

When he wanders over to my house he spends most of his time rummaging through what he considers to be treasures. A few weeks ago he came up from the basement lugging an electric typewriter, circa 1970. We plugged it in and I inserted a piece of paper.

“Go ahead, hit a letter,” I said. He did. A key shot up, struck the paper and left its mark. His eyes got wide. He hit another key. Same thing happened. He hit an X and XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX appeared across the sheet. He typed about 30 rows of Xs then called to his sister who was out in the yard.

“You have got to come see this!” he shouted. “It’s a newfangled computer but you don’t even have to have a monitor or a printer. It puts the words RIGHT ON THE PAPER!”

For an hour they hovered over the “newfangled” machine, taking turns pressing keys and typing words “right on the paper.” When it was time to go home my grandson lugged the dusty typewriter through the woods to his house, hollering ahead, “Dad! Dad! Wait till you see what I got for us. We don’t even need the computer anymore. And Grandma says we can keep it!”

The next day he dragged up a 35mm movie camera, circa 1968, complete with light attachment, tripod, lenses, spools of film and carrying case. He sat on the floor for hours playing with all the attachments. When his dad came over to get him for dinner I told my grandson that if he wanted, he could keep the camera and all its 237 parts. His eyes lit up but his father’s eyes narrowed.

“Why don’t we keep that stuff here at Grandma’s?” he suggested.

The little kid looked ready to cry.

“Oh, it’s OK. You can take it,” I insisted, handing the cardboard box of attachments to the little boy’s daddy.

My son gave me such a look. This same son whose workout equipment takes up an entire section of the basement and who once towed home a car with no engine, no floor and no tires. And then there was that boat with no bottom.

I ignored the look.

The next day my grandson informed me of the new rule. Nothing else from my basement or attic was supposed to make the trip through the woods from my house to his. The same woods, I might add, that still contains a partial car and the remains of a boat with no bottom.

His father confirmed it. “I told him he can’t bring anything from your basement to our house. All that junk is ending up over here!”

Well, isn’t that just too bad (I said to myself!). But out loud, I said, “OK, I promise. No more junk.” Which is exactly what he promised me about 25 years ago. And he didn’t mean it, either.

05/20/10 12:00am

It was two years ago, 5:30 in the morning and still dark, as I tried to cram a dozen bottles of Poland Spring into a small cooler. “That’s way too much water,” my husband said.

“The girls will drink it.” I assured him, offering some to our 8-year-old granddaughter sitting with her friend in the back seat. They chose juice boxes instead, but I figured that sometime during our trip to the city they’d want water and when they did, we had plenty.

Fully loaded with water, snacks and two giggly girls wrapped in blankets, we caught the first ferry off Shelter Island, on our way to Battery Park.

It was a full year before that Grandma had said, “The Statue of Liberty? Of course Grandma and Grandpa will take you there. Someday.”

Someday came, and even though only the base of the statue was open to the public on the day we made our excursion, the girls were excited and chattered like squirrels during the ride in. “Omigosh! This is SO fun!” they both said, over and over again. Their excitement ratcheted up a notch to squeaky and high-pitched when we entered the Midtown Tunnel.

“Omigosh! We are SO under the river right this very minute!” they squeaked all the way through. When we came out they switched to “Omigosh! We are SO in the city right this very minute!”

They were the first on the boat taking hundreds of us to Liberty Island to spot the statue through thick fog and reacted at maximum excitement level. “There she is! She’s green! She’s beautiful! OMIGOSH! We are SO looking at the real, live Statue of Liberty!”

People smiled at the girls and snapped pictures of them as they squealed and jumped up and down and hugged each other. One man, a tourist, took a few dozen too many pictures, even after I asked him to stop. Apparently he didn’t understand English. Finally I positioned myself between his lens and the girls and gave him a look that said, in every language, “You are SO going to knock it off!”

He knocked it off.

The girls wanted to ride the elevator but I, the self-appointed tour director, said we should climb to the top of the base of the statue since it was only 156 steps. Turns out that 156 steps are about 25 more than I can manage gracefully. When we made it to the top the girls were still jumping and squealing and I was down on all fours, gasping to pull air into my lungs.

“Hey people down there on the ground!” The girls shouted from our perch. “Hey! Look up here! We are SO inside the Statue of Liberty!” People down there looked up and waved.

When we left the statue we boarded yet another boat to Ellis Island. Once there the girls stopped to read every marker. “Why does the Department of Invaders run this place?” one of them asked pointing to a sign. “It says Department of the Interior,” I told her, trying not to laugh at the mistake. But I did laugh when one of them read another sign and wailed, “Omigosh! Millions of people were prosecuted in this very building,” and the other one said “Omigosh! That is SO sad!”

I told them to lighten up, it said processed, not prosecuted.

Inside we followed the girls, moving from one exhibit to another. They spent a long time staring at life-sized photographs, straight on into the wide eyes of immigrant children their own age. I told my granddaughter that her great-great-grandparents came through Ellis Island, probably her friend’s relatives did too. Then both of them had to sit on all of the scarred wooden benches in the big room, the very benches that were there during the late 1800s and early 1900s. They flitted from one spot on a bench to the other, landing for just a second then moving, like hummingbirds on speed.

“Omigosh! I might be SO sitting in the exact same place where my ancestors sat,” they kept telling each other and everyone within hearing.

It had been a wonderful day and once back in the car the girls were Omigosh!ing and rehashing all they had seen when I heard a peculiar bubble and sputter sound that wasn’t coming from either of them. At the same time the water temperature gauge shot from cold to hot. We drove over a sidewalk to pull off the road under a highway in a creepy part of the city so Grandpa could take a look under the hood.

“We have a problem,” he whispered, so as not to alarm the girls but I was plenty alarmed and about to cry until he explained what was wrong ¬­– ¬­¬­the radiator was low on water.

“Omigosh!” I said as I reached into that cooler filled with way too much water. “I am SO about to save the day!”

And I did.

04/29/10 12:00am

I hooked my way across Canada two years ago. Having never hooked before, I thought I was too old, but according to an older, experienced hooker who was guiding me, age is hardly a factor when it comes to hooking.

I am, of course, referring to rug hooking.

It was in Nova Scotia that I purchased my rug-hooking kit, at a shop called Flora’s on Cape Breton Island, home of some of the best rug hookers in the world. Winters can be severe in that part of Canada along the Cabot Trail, where woman have for generations engaged in hooking to pass the cold, dark months. My kit, when finished — if I ever get the darn thing finished — should produce a scene of a lighthouse, seagulls, an azure sky and the deep blue sea on a six-by-six rugish-looking square.

For some reason, I thought hooking would be easy, that anyone could do it. It certainly looked easy when I watched a woman at Flora’s demonstrate how to hook. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it,” she explained.

Who knew!

It wasn’t necessary to buy a kit. I could have purchased a fully hooked six-by-six rug with a lighthouse, seagulls, azure sky and the deep blue sea for $18. The kit cost me $12, thereby saving me $6. (A whopping big deal in a place where gas costs more than $5 for however many liters equal a gallon.)

A good hooker could probably finish the tiny little rug kit in about 30 minutes. I’d estimate that I spent 10 hours and I just kept having to unravel my deep blue sea.

I learned two things from that experience. One is that if I were being paid by the hour, I sure couldn’t make money hooking. Also, like so many other things, it’s not as easy as the good hookers make it look. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

On Canadian television

The sitcom “Little Mosque on the Prairie” was notas funny as the title led me to believe, but Canadian Idol rocks! That season’s runner-up, Mitch, was from Nova Scotia so there were “Vote for Mitch” signs everywhere, so many that I felt like I knew him. All the locals were wild about Mitch. Since we’d spent two weeks in Nova Scotia I sort of considered myself to be a “local” and I was wild about Mitch, too. Whoever he is.

On Minding Your Manners

Face it, most of us mind our Ps and Qs on the North Fork because we don’t want to end up in the police blotter. But sometimes when people leave the area they assume it’s safe to act up because, hey, who’s ever gonna find out? Well, even though there are only a few thousand people who live on Shelter Island, they manage to spread themselves far and wide around the globe. We have bumped into Shelter Island neighbors in the lobby of a Tokyo hotel, at Disney World, in a Texas campground, in a shopping mall in Tucson and on the way into the Hog’s Breath Saloon in Key West.

So where’s this leading? Right to the crowded waterfront boardwalk in Halifax, where I was stopping at every food booth to eat because while I’m away, eating is what I do when I’m not hooking. Anyhow, while I was shoving a dessert crepe into my mouth I see the familiar faces of Islanders Joe and Anita. In that moment of excitement I couldn’t remember their names and I wasn’t about to shout “Hey you!” so I did the next best thing and shouted, loudly, “Shelter Island!” About 200 people turned in my direction, including Joe and Anita who were headed back to their cruise ship, which had docked at Halifax for the afternoon.

We talked about how weird it was to be so far from home and see familiar faces. I told them that I was going to write about our encounter in my column. Joe wondered what I was going to write and I said, “I’ll come up with something, even if I have to make it up!”

Joe looked worried. “Just don’t make up something like Anita was dancing on a table eating a lobster roll!” he said.

“Okay,” I told him, “I won’t.”

More on hooking

If given the choice between buying a rug-hooking kit or buying the finished rug, buy the rug. No matter how easy some people might make it look, not everyone is cut out to be a hooker.

04/15/10 12:00am

I consider myself a good driver. Competent, anyhow. I may never get the driver-of-the-year award, but I’m not as bad as the woman I watched at the post office one afternoon. She slammed her back fender into another car three times before she stuck her head out the window and asked, “Oh my gosh! Is that crashing noise me?”

I’m most comfortable when I am driving my own car. On the rare occasions when I drive my husband’s pickup truck I make sure that I don’t have to back up. I’m good at driving; I’m bad at backing up. I’m bad at turning left, too. So when I drive his truck I simply avoid situations that involve reverse or lefts. The truth is, if you plan ahead, you can live your entire life without ever having to back up. And if you make enough right turns, eventually you get to that spot where one left turn would have put you.

My reluctance to step outside of my driving comfort zone was what kept me from getting behind the wheel of our 10-foot-wide, 34-foot-long motor home that also tows my car when we take trips. Every now and then — especially during those gazillion miles to and from Alaska — my husband would ask if I wanted to drive the RV. But before I’d have a chance to consider, he’d rescind the invitation, probably remembering the times I’d driven our car into the side of the garage, or the time I made a left turn in Japan (where one drives in the left lane) and pivoted around a telephone pole, denting the entire left side of the car. (However, it should be noted that the pole was too close to the road and anyhow, I did get the dent out by using a toilet bowl plunger, so I’d call that little incident a “non-event” on account of that “no harm, no foul” thing.) Anyhow, I’m sure that’s what went through his mind when he’d ask if I wanted to drive the RV, then would quickly distract me by changing the subject.

But one day I said “Yes!” before he had a chance to say “Oh, look, a cow!” So we switched seats. He helped me adjust the side mirrors. There’s no rearview mirror in our RV because who the hell can see that far behind you? Anyhow, I sure can’t. Instead, there’s a camera on the back of the RV and the monitor is built into the dashboard.

“This is fun!” I said after about 10 minutes on the road.

That’s good, my driving instructor told me, then suggested that I go a little faster than 20 mph. Faster was scarier. I clutched the steering wheel in a death grip and tried to remember the rules: Stay in your lane, watch your speed, glance in your side mirrors, check the monitor to make sure the towed car hasn’t detached itself.

I got the RV to highway cruising speed and was doing great. It was like driving a bus, a bus pulling a car. I was king of the road and I liked it! Then I saw three words that made me freeze: TOLL BOOTH AHEAD. I screamed “Toll booth ahead! I can’t drive through a toll booth!”

“Sure you can,” said the man who’s always had way too much confidence in me.

Obviously, toll booths were invented by a person who didn’t drive a 10-foot-wide RV, which is why they are about 10-feet, 5-inches wide, leaving a generous 2 1/2 inches of wiggle room on either side.

I was sure I couldn’t do it, but like the air-traffic controller who helps the passenger land a 747 when the pilots have passed out from food poisoning, my copilot talked me through that toll booth. I was still screaming “I can’t do this!” as we got to the toll taker who pried loose the quarters that had embedded themselves into my palm during the final moments of our approach. Somehow I got us through that skinny space. It did take me about 40-45 minutes, and it was noisy because the drivers behind us weren’t as patient as my copilot. But when I saw that we were fully through, I felt fantastic! I had done it! It was as if I had just helped a camel pass through the eye of a needle. A 35-foot camel. With side mirrors.