And how does that make you feel?

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With December rapidly approaching, I am anticipating many social media posts about the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon. What seemingly started as an innocent way to get children to behave during the month of December has morphed into an epic competition to see which parent can get more creative with the benign holiday character.

Many blog posts and articles have been written with very strong emotion regarding this cherubic creature. Parents either love him or their contempt is so strong they hold ill feelings towards those parents who embrace his presence.  Some argue that he is the Elf on the Shelf, with a strong emphasis on the word shelf. He may stealthily maneuver his way around the house in the darkness to take refuge on another shelf, but that is his only purpose. Others, holding tightly to their innovative genes, have created a list of 101 ways the Elf can get into mischief during the night.  Spoiler alert – most of those creative ideas require extensive clean-up the following morning although I’m sure the children would be thrilled to see what mess the Elf made while they slept.

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Had my life been different and I had kids of my own, my children undoubtedly would have been in therapy either during or shortly after the Christmas holidays.  I blame my choice of reading material but my sense of entertainment tends to lean towards the macabre.  Picture Dean Koontz or Stephen King finding indecent ways of displaying the Elf and you have entered the world that my Elf would have had to endure.  There would have been crime scenes, possible Elf DNA and an abundant amount of Police tape. This is the stuff that my dreams are made of, the stuff that helps me write my books. But this is also the stuff that would have a child sitting in the waiting room of an analyst’s office at least once a week.

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For those of you able to remember to innocently and creatively display your Elf each evening after your children have fallen asleep, I applaud you. You are creating memories that your child will inevitably pass on to their children.

As for me….perhaps I will get out the Elf my brother gave me and track his bizarre habits in a journal.  CSI – Elf on the Shelf.  Hmmmm…..I may be on to something……stay tuned.

A visit from an Angel

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For the past few weeks, my driving could have been compared to a young recruit at a police academy on a tactical driving course. The biggest difference is, I had been strategically steering my car to avoid running over fuzzy orange and black caterpillars, not trying to narrowly miss clipping each cone in a line of orange traffic pylons.

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar has been attributed with the gift of predicting the length and fierceness of the upcoming winter. I’m not sure if I would put money on those predictions, but The Farmer’s Almanac has historically used these furry little creatures to forecast the severity of the snowy season.

When I came home from work yesterday, I was greeted by two beautiful butterflies in my entrance way. I have had the pleasure of seeing many Monarch butterflies this year but these were unlike any butterfly I have ever seen. When their wings were open, the combination of colors was stunning. When their wings were closed, the mottled blend of grey and brown would be envied by any living being trying to camouflage themselves to find shelter in the forest.

I thought these butterflies were a product of the orange and black caterpillars I had so carefully been trying to protect, but these winged beauties are Compton Tortoiseshell Butterflies, also referred to as Angel Wing Butterflies. I immediately thought of my mother and the tattoo that has secured a permanent place on my forearm.

My mother loved butterflies. I always knew when she left this Earth she would find ways to come back and visit. Every time I see a butterfly, I know she has made that journey and my heart feels as full as it did when she was still a daily, physical presence in my life.

Never doubt our loved ones who have passed come back to visit. You just have to be willing to recognize the signs.

 

 

 

Applying my salve

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Like most people, I lose myself sometimes. I get so caught up in the emotion around me I forget the things I should be focused on. Nothing brings me back to myself like cooking. I find great solace in my kitchen. The world around me disappears and my existence is renewed by the smell of a combination of ingredients that transport me to a place I had professedly forgotten.

Life has a funny way of throwing countless distractions in our direction and it is up to us to tune out those interruptions and concentrate on the things we value most. Family and friends are always at the top of my list and cooking has consistently been the thread that weaves together all of the important people in my life.

My fondest childhood memories are richly steeped in the images of our family kitchen and my love of cooking was absorbed through osmosis. Whether it was my mother methodically following a recipe, my father taking every ingredient from our refrigerator to see what he could randomly create or my brother making delicious crepes from scratch, cooking has always been the one thing that holds a piece of each of them close to my heart.

Last night I got home from work and knew the only place I yearned to be was in front of my stove. Nothing else mattered. As much as I wanted to tackle the “to-do” items on my list or write the next five hundred words in my novel, cooking was the only avenue that would afford me the true escape I needed. The onions were chopped, the bacon was rendered and my house began to, once again, smell like my home.

In a collection of minutes, the chili was simmering on the stove and the cheesy beef tortellini was set to cook in my crockpot. All was right in my world and the chaos of the universe outside of my existence had been laid to rest for the evening. Cooking is the salve that heals my wounds. Whether it is a simple salad dressing, a comforting stew, a tasty casserole or a perfectly cooked sous vide piece of beef, cooking will always have enough positive energy to undo anything negative in my life.

 

 

 

 

How do you say goodbye to someone who is dying?

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As someone who loves words and has no trouble putting my thoughts into sentences, I am at a loss for what to say. If you read this post a couple of weeks ago, you will know I received the difficult news that a group of ladies who annually visited the lodge will visit no more. In three short months, one has progressed rapidly into Alzheimer’s disease and the other was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and is being cared for in her home to make her as comfortable as possible in the last few weeks of her life.

How do I say goodbye? I know, in essence, what I want to say but the words won’t come, perhaps because saying goodbye sounds so final. She is not gone, but saying goodbye makes it feel like I have accepted her fate and I have not yet come to terms with her diagnosis and quick deterioration.

I want to tell her how unfair it is she didn’t have a chance to fight, because I know she would have fought like a warrior, but I know she already knows that. The words I send to her will be words of appreciation for the short time I was able to spend getting to know her. My words to her will be warm and heartfelt. But the time I spend writing them will be heart-wrenching and leave me feeling slightly eviscerated.

I didn’t know her for very long but her absence will be felt on May 28th when the room they shared at the lodge remains empty. I will miss you, Barb, and I hope we see each other again on the other side.

 

 

People die twice

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I attended a dinner last night to honor my best friend’s brother who was killed in a car accident five years ago. Family and friends gathered to share their stories and keep Cam’s memory alive with their fond and funny recollections of a man whose life was cut too short.

I have written before that I fall back on words for comfort during times of turbulent emotion. Words give me the ability to process things in a way that nothing else can. I was shocked to find out that many of Cam’s family habitually read my blog and even more overwhelmed when his mother quoted back to me words I had written after his funeral in this blog post.

The patriarch of the family got up to make a speech and was joined by his wife close the end of his rhetoric. Stepping out of her comfort zone, she regarded the faces staring back at her and gave a speech of her own. Her words punched me right in the heart and, not surprisingly, I cried.

She spoke about a woman who told her ‘people die twice’, once when they stop breathing and again after people stop talking about them and cease to say their name. Instinctively, my hand went to the tattoo on my right forearm I painstaking endured in honor of my parents who have both passed. This ink on my skin continually starts an exchange with people and I happily talk about my parents on a regular basis.

This yearly event, held at the cottage Cam held so close to his heart, is a way to keep the discussion going, a way to keep Cam’s name in the conversation and a way to ensure he will never die a second time.

 

 

 

Hold everyone close

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When you work in hospitality, relationships are naturally created with the people you meet. For the brief time they are in your presence, they become an extended part of your circle. You share stories, you share laughs and you create a bond that continues to grow with every visit.

I have had the good fortune of nurturing a relationship that was created with six women who visit the lodge every May. Their connections run deep and they have spent the majority of their lives weaving themselves into the fabric of each other’s reality. I have had the honor of being a part of their lives for two days every May for the last seven years. They are the personification of friendship. They share a sisterhood that is evident and they spent their time at the lodge basking in old memories and creating new ones.

But all of that has changed. One of the ladies called yesterday to tell me their group would not be returning to the lodge. In the few short months since they bid us farewell, one has been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and one has progressed rapidly into Alzheimer’s Disease. As I sat in stunned silence listening to their friend on the phone, it was all I could do not to burst into tears in my office.

These women were some of the first guests I met when I started my new job at the lodge. They embraced me as if I had been a part of their lives for decades and each one has had an impact on me. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply I feel their pain. I can see all of their faces and can hear the laughter they shared during every visit. I can flash back to taking their group photo on many occasions and cannot begin to express how heavy my heart is as I write this post.

I know the future for these ladies will be forever changed. My sadness drastically pales in comparison to what they will be forced to face and I can only hope they find comfort in their memories. I will always hold on to the times they created some of those memories at the lodge and included me in those moments.

 

As if no time has passed

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We met in college. When you register for a program specifically geared towards hospitality, you are bound to meet friends who are outgoing and love people and that is exactly what happened. And, although twenty-nine years have gone by since we shared those hallowed hallways and classrooms, their voices still make me feel like it was only a few years ago.

We connected immediately and, for the two years we spent together within those walls, we shared innumerable laughs, a few tears and a great many games of Euchre. If I were hooked up to a polygraph machine, I would have to admit we spent more time playing cards in the cafeteria than we spent in several of our classes and, yet, we somehow managed to graduate with top marks.

As fate would have it, reality began to seep into the happy bubble we had created in college. Marriages, careers and families pulled us in many different directions but we managed to get together on a few rare occasions to catch up and talk about all the wonderful memories we could recall from our college years. These friends became a part of my family and, after almost three decades, I can still pick up the phone and talk to them like I just saw them last week. That is true friendship.

Very rarely do I miss a birthday and, though now it may only be a message through social media, their faces pop into my head when I realize what day it is. I have never forgotten April thirteenth, June third, October twenty-sixth and November seventeenth. Those dates and those people will always have a special place in my heart.

A twenty-minute phone call today reminded me of how much of an impact these people had on my life, and how much they still do. I may not know their children or how they spend their days, but I do know they were and always will be a big part of my life.

Jeff, Tara, Rob, Marc….2020 may be the perfect time for a long-overdue reunion!