Paying tribute

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I stopped today when I saw you, a simple metal cross, slightly rusted with a faded photo attached and bright plastic flowers perpetually blooming at your base. I stopped when I saw you because I wanted to acknowledge you, this makeshift memorial on the side of the road, and pay homage to you, a stranger. I feel your family and I are bound together by the inner knowledge of profound loss. Loss that is unnatural and unexpected. A deviation from what should have been. I paused today and read those brief dates – 1995 to 2015 -inscribed I know, not only on metal but on your loved ones hearts. Two simple dates that contain birthdays and Christmas’s and a million memories in between. You were – no, you are – someone’s son, perhaps brother, uncle, nephew. Someone loved, whose loss has forever left an empty hole in many hearts. I know how terrible it would be for you to be forgotten so even though I do not know you, I stop and I remember you.

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North Carolina ❤️

There comes a moment every spring when I catch some un-named scent – damp soil, perhaps, or new growth of leaves – or I hear the cooing of a mourning dove hidden in the boughs of the neighbor’s pear tree or I catch sight of dogwood blooms, newly unfurled and still slightly green at the edges, and I am immediately transported back in time. I’m taken back a decade and dropped at the airport at the very moment I walked into tropical-like heat to hear a mockingbird singing at midnight. I’m taken back to a time when everything was new and strange and exotic. When I was freshly introduced to North Carolina and everything here took me by surprise. I was a tourist in my adopted country, exclaiming over the deafening din of summer cicadas or marveling at the explosion of green each spring. I stared in wonder at peaches that grew on trees in backyards and dirt as bright as rust. The August humidity was stunning as were possums, turtles and the magnitude of most of the insects.
Now, most of the time, after 15 + years in the Tar Heel State, it just feels like home. I’m here carrying on with daily life in comfortable surroundings. I don’t feel like a foreigner in a strange land anymore. I can even understand people when they speak.

It’s just every so often I’m startled out of the familiarity and reminded that I’m in another world than the one I came from. A beautiful, captivating, complicated place. It might be home, but I’m lucky to still – on occasion- be able to see it with the wonder of a newcomer.

Fresh start

Five days.
Five days until Nat and I embark on this adventure of living in a special place. Instead of the van life or tiny house life, Nat and I will be embarking on the barn life. Maybe we’ll start a new trend.
#barnlife
We are both full of excitement and anticipation, and yes, maybe a bit of trepidation and fear. It’s a big change and one I never foresaw coming. I mean, who imagines they’ll grow up, lose the love of their life and then end up unemployed, living in a barn? In all seriousness this feels oh-so-right. It has the right mix of unconventional, adventurous and different that I just need right now.
It feels like the fresh start we’ve been seeking. Nat and I will be living a little closer to nature and much closer to each other. Our little barn apartment is tiny. It has a cozy little kitchen and living room, a bathroom off the kitchen with stand-in shower, sink (and of course toilet). A beautiful big window in the living area lets in lots of light and stairs lead to the loft with its sloping ceiling and room for a bed and a few other pieces of furniture. A window in the loft looks out over the barn below where we can keep watch on prowling barn cats and dozing horses. It’s beautiful and full of an aura of peace and tranquility. And soon it will be home.
Before we can move, however, I am faced with the task of sifting through 34 years of life and all that I’ve accrued in that time. No small task when your future living space is about 500 sq feet. I didn’t think I had many possessions until I started packing. Now I realize I have way, way too much stuff so I see this as a challenge to minimize in a big way and to only bring what is absolutely essential or will enhance our lives. I want each item to be carefully considered and selected before I take it with us. Everything else is either being put in storage, donated, thrown away or sold. I think having less things is liberating and can lead to a richer, more fulfilling life. The hardest part will be deciding which books to take and which to give away. I’ve already donated around 100 books and probably have at least 100 left. I love them like friends.
Getting rid of anything Brian used or touched or owned is also incredibly hard. I still have his favorite coffee creamer in the fridge, long outdated but precious because he bought it not long before he died. His things still feel like a link to him and it’s difficult parting with any of his belongings. I have a storage unit in town and I’m putting most of our personal items there for safekeeping and I’ll be getting rid of almost all of my furniture and Nat’s. Fresh start. Welcome to the beginning of a big adventure!

Small town life

The sun hangs low in the sky and the air has a cold bite to it that keeps me moving at a brisk pace. It’s late afternoon and I’m walking around town planning, thinking and dreaming. The forward momentum always inspires me for some reason. As I walk and think about all the places I want to visit and see, it strikes me that this town where I live is full of small wonders and eccentricities. The sheep farmer is a prime example.  Off on a quiet little side road, dozens of sheep and lambs nibble on bales of hay or lay resting on the winter grass. A few donkeys in their fuzzy fur coats watch me as I pass. Mixed in with the sweet sounds of the sheep calling to each other is the delicate strains of a violin. The classical music is coming from the barn and it carries on the crisp, cool air. Usually it’s opera singing that drifts over the fields but I have never walked by without some kind of music serenading the animals.  In the upper window of  weather worn building by the road a statue of Buddha serenely keeps watch. The farmer is a gruff bearded man who is liable to chase you away if you stop to take pictures or talk to his animals. I always risk it anyways.

There are many other reasons I love this place. The train that rushes past on the tracks through town, plaintively whistling as it goes by is another one. Then there is the building where a man grinds coffee beans for various coffee shops. The scent of roasted beans hangs deliciously on the breeze and some days I can smell it all the way at my house.

By and large, the people are also the best and kindest you’ll ever meet. I’ve lived in this town for nearly a decade and although I plan to close this chapter of life soon the memories I’ve made here will last a lifetime.

It’s 8:45 and the house is quiet. Nat is asleep in bed and I have a small, warm dog curled up on my lap. It’s a peaceful evening and I feel a sense of contentment on this cold night. I’m finding I’m able to experience happiness and gratitude and laughter, even though a deep layer of sadness always seems to lurk underneath. I feel as if every day is a battle to get up and accomplish tasks and keep everything in order. It can be so overwhelming to keep everything together when I feel like I’m falling apart. I often don’t feel like doing the things I have to do but I’m discovering if I just take one step forward, others will usually follow. I rarely accomplish everything I think I should have done in a day, but every task completed, no matter how small, is a victory.
This morning I felt heavy as lead and weary in body and spirit. I wanted to stay curled up in bed all day, oblivious to life and responsibility. I wanted no part in it. The daily routine appeared so empty and pointless. But I got out of bed and I decided I was going to pretend there was a point to everything, whether it felt authentic or not. I think there’s validity to all emotions but they shouldn’t predict or control how we act. I completed a small decluttering job that I’ve been putting off for ages, and although it didn’t make me feel a whole lot better, it was a step forward. That step led me to the next until I finally had worked myself back into a place where I felt a renewed sense of purpose and determination. I continue to write down goals and plans and dreams and on the days where nothing seems to matter and I want to give up, I make the decision to keep walking towards them. It will matter again some day and I want to be ready.

Christmas crafting

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Several weeks ago, my daughter’s teacher sent home a note in her planner.

The class was doing a holiday gift exchange and whoever wanted to participate could sign up. The rules were simple. The gifts had to be handmade and they had to be created out of every-day household items that were already available.

“Oh mom, let’s do it!” Nat said.

With some trepidation I signed the permission slip and agreed to give it a shot.

Although I enjoy scrolling through Pinterest as much as the next mom, my attempts at crafting seem to always fall short. Far short. Nat’s enthusiasm, however, had rubbed off on me and it didn’t take long to come up with an idea. We decided to make ornaments using three simple ingredients already in our kitchen: Flour, water and salt.

It doesn’t get much easier than that and a fresh snowfall from the day before created the perfect atmosphere for holiday crafting. We turned on the Christmas music and spent the afternoon creating in our cozy kitchen.

Together, we measured out the flour and salt and mixed it together and then slowly added warm water until we had a thick paste. We had to roll up our sleeves and get our hands in it to get it mixed completely and I had to use a little extra water to get the right consistency, but eventually we had a nice firm ball of dough. Natalie was tempted to try it and pinched off a tiny bit to taste but ended up spitting it out in the trash. It was salty enough to melt ice.

Once the dough was smooth with no lumps or dry flour remaining I broke it into several smaller balls and added food coloring to each one. You can also cut out shapes, bake and then paint but I liked the baked in color better. Using a pie/cookie cutter, I created green leaves, plain stars and blue snowflakes and then punched a hole in the top with a drinking straw. We baked them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper for approximately an hour and then cooled them on the counter before spraying them with a clear coat spray to protect them. I love the way they turned out and not only will Natalie be bringing one to school for her gift exchange but I plan to give them out at Christmas as gifts as well. It was an easy craft that allowed my daughter and I to spend a cozy afternoon baking in the kitchen. And it was pretty easy cleanup as well.

For all of you parents looking for a way to keep the kids busy and create a lasting memory that can be brought out each Christmas, here is the recipe:

Four cups of flour

One cup of salt

One and a half cups of warm water

Then either add a few drops of food coloring beforehand and then bake or pop them in the oven and then decorate them after. Either way you’ll have a beautiful, handcrafted ornament with lasting memories!

100 miles

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Shadows were creeping across the road and the sun was hanging low in the sky, casting a golden glow over cotton fields and houses along the route as we finally turned the last corner and saw the Orangeburg arts center ahead. It was with nearly indescribable relief that almost nine hours after we began, we rolled past the start point and finished the “race.”

We were dead last.

A few people clapped as we pulled in the nearly empty parking lot, but it was a mostly quiet and unobserved finish without much fanfare or pageantry. There were no medals or recognition. Almost everyone else had gone home. And yet, it was the most beautiful and meaningful finish I’ve ever experienced. My sister and I had just biked 100 miles around Orangeburg and surrounding areas, not only completing our first century but finishing it in memory of Brian. We dedicated every mile to him. I know he would have been honored and proud of us, as well as probably a little amused by our lack of training, the six hour round-trip drive and then the entire day spent pedaling. Our only goals starting out were to laugh, have fun, and finish the race in a manner that would honor Brian. We managed just that.
It was an amazing experience and next year, I hope to be back to ride it again in memory of my love. We couldn’t have picked a more perfect Century. It was a 2 hour and 45 minute drive from home so we could complete the trip in one day making it economical and convenient. The weather was gorgeous (albeit a bit hot), the course was beautiful and the route was well marked with amazing volunteers. Other than a little pain, it was nearly magical.
We were on the road by 4:30 a.m., bikes loaded on the bike rack on the back of my car and snacks and water in the backseat. We made a stop along the way for coffee and breakfast at McDonald’s and pulled in to the Orangeburg arts center right around 7:30 a.m. Dawn had just broken and the air was fresh and cool. It was going to be a beautiful day. Other cars and trucks started arriving and after hanging out for 30 minutes in the car we went and retrieved race shirts and cue sheet with the course directions. 100 miles is a long, long ways and seeing it written out just emphasizes that fact. A man with a NASA sticker on the bumper of his BMW was parked beside us and he kept examining our bikes and asking questions like we actually knew something about bikes and racing. He made ostentatious comments in his foreign accent such as “you will finish in fife hours, no?” And another personal favorite. “I had signed up for the 30 mile race but I see you two, and I think, maybe I should go for the Century.” Obviously he could pull it off in fife hours but as a complete novice it wasn’t likely and moreover I didn’t give care about finishing in a certain time. I just wanted to finish. NASA man then continued on to meticulously scrutinize our bikes, commenting on the placement of the handlebars, the brakes, the aerodynamics. And then he remarked on our clip-less pedals. “It’s good,” he said optimistically, as if we were admirable for committing such a distasteful faux pas as to wear running shoes on a Century. Later, Christie and I agreed next time we were wearing t-shirts that said “After this I’m getting pizza.”
At 9 am everyone riding the 30 mile, metric century and century were gathered at the start. The people participating in the century were a small, elite (heh) group. Most everyone else had on cycling outfits and then there was us. Yoga pants and tank tops and non clip-in shoes.
We saw all kinds of riders. Big, small and everywhere in-between. Two people lounged in recumbent bikes, casually pedaling by looking as relaxed as if they were on the couch at home. There was even a couple on a tandem bike, serenely pedaling in-sync.
We hung out near the back of the pack and after some instructions were given out and a prayer said, we were off. We let the majority of the riders pass us as we cycled through town and out into the countryside. Fifteen miles later we had our first rest stop at a church. We got cold drinks, used the bathroom, and quickly ate a snack before hitting the road again.
We rode past an amazing variety of scenery. Palmetto trees and flat open land and swamps with tall trees and moss hanging from the branches. Some stretches of road were like a tunnel with tall trees growing beside it, branches growing over the road above us and colorful fall leaves raining down around us like confetti. I purposely rode over the dead leaves and they made a sastisfying crunching noise like rice crispies under my tires. It was around 55 degrees at the start but it hit 85 by afternoon. The humidity was thick and heavy and settled over us like a blanket.
We rode by the next rest stop in the city of Bamberg because it caught us by surprise and came up quicker than we were expecting. It would be another long, long 24 miles before the next one. We laughed and talked along the way. I thought about Brian and silently told him I rode every mile for him. I remembered good times and sad and couldn’t stop the longing to see and touch him. The ache of missing him just refuses to dull.
We hit 50 miles and then 75. We genuinely enjoyed the ride but once we hit 75 my body was protesting. My legs still felt strong and good but my tense shoulder muscles and my chafed butt were in agony. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more difficult final 12 miles in my life. Each mile felt 15 miles long and passed by in agonizing slowness. We were the last ones on the course and even two elderly women, gray haired and heavy set had casually cycled by us as if they were going on a Sunday drive. It was a little demoralizing to be left in the dust by two grandmothers but it was also inspiring. They were pretty bad-ass.
When things got tough and I struggled to overcome the pain, I thought about Brian and how much I loved and admired and missed him. I thought about how he had endured so much and how I could certainly finish this race. I also focused on the beautiful scenery and about how lucky I was to be able to do this. I thought about a million things and then sometimes I couldn’t distract myself and just wallowed in the pain. And then, finally, finally, after a million years, we were cycling through Edisto Garden and we had less than a mile left. We rode past Christmas lights and decorations not yet lit and a pond with trees growing out of it, the evening sun reflected in the dark water. Right at 6 pm we reached the arts center and finished, finally getting off our bikes for good. It was a glorious moment. The local police had manned the course and a few officers were at the finish, patiently waiting on us with sandwiches, drinks and snacks. Everyone – from fellow cyclists to the race volunteers – were amazing, helpful, friendly and well organized. It was an outstanding experience. I’m so proud of accomplishing this and I hope I’ll be back next year.
I keep telling myself I need to live as much of life as possible so if – when – I see Brian again I can tell him, “see, I lived for you and me. I lived as much as possible.” And when I draw my last breath, it will be at the close of a glorious adventure.
I don’t much care to live long, so I want to live well.