Photo by Yannick Menard on Unsplash

I was living somewhere called Hazerswoude-Rijndijk. No, I'm not making that up. It's a small, extremely quaint village in The Netherlands about five miles from Leiden, where my oldest daughter, Natasha, was born 23 years ago. In fact, her birthday was just two days ago, which made me reminisce about so many things, including how my sister scared the living daylights out of her when she was only three weeks old.

Now, you need to know that my sister doesn't "do" travel unless it's relatively short flights (six hours or less), so traveling from Houston to Amsterdam was a big deal for her. Of course, staying at The Amstel Hotel, one of the world's greatest hotels, made the "sacrifice" a bit more bearable. At the time, we weren't close, although we were always there for each other if needed. And I never had a single doubt, ever, that she'd be the most amazing aunt when the day came.

So, only weeks after Natasha was born, there she was at the door of our idyllic farmhouse along the Rijndijk River about 40 minutes, and countless miles of tulips fields, outside of Amsterdam. And how did she get acquainted with her niece? By gently tossing her up in the air, almost non-stop, for over six hours. Natasha was my first child, and as any first-time mom will tell you, we're overly cautious with the first one. So, how did I handle this? First, with horror, then when I saw she was being extremely careful and really not "tossing" her very much at all, although it just seemed like it, with some trepidation. (The fact she told me Natasha weighed far less than the weights she lifted daily might've helped.) But mostly, with appreciation as Natasha literally wouldn't stop crying, except for when her aunt gently "threw" her up in the air.

The following day Black invited Natasha and me to spend the day with her at the Amstel. She had arranged for what turned out to be one of the best days I'd ever have with her and Natasha – a private cruise along the Amstel River in a classic wooden Dutch boat, in and out of seemingly all of Amsterdam's beautiful canals, with a gourmet lunch prepared onboard. It was magical, memorable, and something only my sister would do. And Natasha, showing her first indication that she very much liked her aunt's "lifestyle", was a picture-perfect infant for the entire day. Well, almost, as the day didn't start well,

Black had left her room unlocked, and I walked into the most beautiful hotel suite I've ever seen, something out of a 1950s Fred Astaire movie. Natasha's blissful in her carry seat having slept quietly in the car, while I'm admiring the panoramic views of the Amstel River, lost in thought of how this is a perfect moment in time. Until my sister walks in from the bathroom, having just got out of a hot bath, and picks up Natasha. Who instantly starts to scream! But a scream I had never heard before – or since. A scream you'd expect if you saw an ax murderer coming toward you. And then I … laughed, uncontrollably. Because my sister had the biggest mascara "raccoon eyes" that I've ever seen in my life and was probably the scariest thing Natasha had ever seen in her (three weeks old) life.

Photo of Red's beloved stuffed sheep

Photo by Red

I've always loved stuffed animals. And the softer and plusher, the better. They're like family. Only, in some ways, better, but I won't go down that road. Not today, anyway. Some children outgrow their love for stuffed animals (or do they just stopping admitting it?), but not me. And although I've stopped adding to my collection over the years (ok, make that decades), there are always those favorite ones that are loved just a little bit more, squeezed a little tighter, hugged a little longer.

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Photo by Walik on iStock

Red's Head

It's funny. When the New York Islanders were in the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup, your post about how ice hockey brought back warm memories of you and Daddy, brought back a vivid memory for me, too.

Black's Head Black

I have never known you to be interested in ice hockey. Full stop. Or, should that be "full hockey stop"?

Red's Head

Cute. And although we both skated as kids, and Daddy tried teaching me the hockey stop, I never could do it. But my memory has nothing to do with professional ice hockey or even skating. Instead, it's how you handled a bunch of high school ice hockey players.
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Photo by Dave Phillips on Unsplash

I'm not sure where they come up with these "holidays" but today's National Creative Ice Cream Flavors Day … although I can't remember the first time I had a creative ice cream flavor. Growing up on Long Island in the 1960s, my ice cream memories are of your traditional flavors bought in non-descript half-gallon rectangle cartons (not even tubs) from the grocery store. Or, as a special treat or celebration, a coffee ice cream soda (not sure you'd consider "coffee" a "creative flavor") at Krisch's in downtown Massapequa, Long Island (it's still there!). Occasionally, I'd get an ice cream sundae at Friendly's, but I wasn't overly creative – vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and extra cherries.

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