Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Merry Christmas from Our Home to Yours


Here we are bringing another year to a close, it all goes by so fast I'm afraid to blink anymore.  But here we are, thinking about 2020 and what the year might bring - and how we can survive the inundation of political ads and debates over the next 11 months without losing our minds.  I know!  Be creative!  Focus on the things that make us truly happy, enjoy our family and friends, laugh more, love and forgive always.

I'm just so happy to be where I am in life, that I wanted to take some time to reflect on that a bit. At 60y/o, life takes on new meaning.  Family, friends, and reaching out to others in need becomes more important.  Appreciating the little things like a fire in the fireplace, a nap on a comfy bed or in a favorite chair, a delicious meal, a cup of hot cocoa with our feet up watching a movie, someone says something funny and causes a lot of laughter.  Oh, how these things mean so much in life.  It is not about "things."  For me, it never has been about material things.  Life isn't life, for me anyway, without relationships and love, hugs and laughter, shared tears and worries, conversation and cuddles.  And nature - the smell of fresh cut grass, or a flower that my Big Bear brings to me, or the smell of a fireplace burning aged oak wood, the quiet of a winter snowfall, the winds of autumn, the feel of springtime sunshine on my face.  Or, the sight of my 95y/o mother walking from her bedroom to greet the day, the conversations we share throughout each day that many times bring on tears of laughter.  Bob's snoring and cooking, Matthew's outrageous laugh and humor.  Glen's willingness to help when needed, and his incredible one-liners that stop us all in our tracks.  Chester GSD's farts are toxic.  Bailey GSD is attached to Matthew's hip.  Hannah Shihtzu/Maltese is always under our feet - and chairs.  Picasso kitty could care less about anyone.  I wouldn't change a thing.

We've been enormously blessed in this life.  Bob and I have been married 27 years, and for the both of us, family is everything.  I wouldn't be where I am today if not for him and my family's love and support.  I've seen my art career take off in leaps and bounds in 25 years.  It is humbling and I am so grateful that I am able to do what I love - Painting, Quilting, Crafting, Writing, Blogging ... these are the things that I do for myself.  We all need something in our life that we love to do just for us.  I've been blessed to be able to do those things for many years, and I pray the same for each of you. 

Bob and I grew up in Maryland, but North Carolina has become our home.  We've lived here almost 15 years, and our children have grown up here.  Moving here was the best decision we ever made. 

I don't take credit for any of this that we share in this life ... It's all God.  I give all the glory to our Father and the Lord Jesus.  Daily prayer and gratefulness, Faith.  Can't live without Him in my life.  And I know that this life will lend itself to heartache, heartbreak, loss, pain, illness ... it comes in different forms.  These are the things of this world, and that is why we must make each day as kind to ourselves and others as possible.  Be grateful ... even in the darkest of times, it is what gets us through.

Now ...

To All my Friends:

There are three places on the internet that bring me joy - My blog "Raisin Toast," my online art gallery at "Mary Susan Vaughn Fine Art," and, "Facebook."  Yes, Facebook.  And here's why:  

Over the 12 years or so I’ve been on Facebook, I’ve connected with dear childhood friends and high school friends, friends made throughout my life, and family who live in other States. I’ve come to know many wonderful people, mostly artists, who are brilliantly creative. A few of the new friends I have made online have become dear and special friends that I communicate with frequently outside of FB, and they are a real blessing in my life.

Over the years I’ve lost a few of these friends to cancer, and a good number of them have lost spouses and children, loved ones, and siblings, to illness, cancer, or tragic accidents. I lost a childhood friend recently. What was thought to be pneumonia took her life at the tender age of 59. Sudden and without warning she is gone from our life. She was my first friend at age 5, and my first best friend. So many wonderful memories, as we have been friends for 54 years. A number of my friends are struggling with being alone and/or with depression, moving or divorce. It puts life into perspective, as I reflect on the precious lives of each and everyone I am connected with in this life.

I care about each of you and am grateful for all that you lend to my life. If I can help any of you in some way, with love, compassion, guidance, hugs, laughter, friendship, conversation, or a place to stay, I am here for you. I value our friendship, and know that we are all in this life journey together in one form or another, and each of us are learning from one another along the way. Thank you for all you have shared and taught me in my life.

I am humbled by the beautiful works of art I see daily in my FB newsfeed, and the goodness and stories that many of you share. I’ve learned so much from you all - from personal courage, scripture, God’s grace, and the power of prayer, to cooking and painting tips and more. It has been an adventure for me, and it reminds me daily that I am but a blip in this world. And, if I can make a difference in someone’s life, or bring a smile or a laugh to your day, I will have done something good, albeit small. I feel empathy and compassion for others, especially those who are suffering and struggling, and wish, this Christmas, and for this coming new year, to bring you good health, abundant happiness, security, true love, prosperity, plenty of hugs, and all that your heart desires. I wish this for you.

Thank you for letting me share my life, family, pets, and art with you. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for correcting me when I make mistakes, praying for me and my family when needed, and for sharing in my joys, struggles, concerns, and moments of reflection.

Mostly, thank you for sharing your life with me. Wishing you a blessed and very Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy new year. 🎄



Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Reading is Fundamental

Matthew (2015) Sarah (2012) Glen (2018)
I homeschooled my 3 youngest children until they started high school. I wanted them to have a special high school experience in making new friends, involvement in groups and activities, prom, football games. I kept them active and busy when I was homeschooling, but I knew that the last of these formative years would be good for them at a high school. It was the best decision I ever made. Not only were they academically successful, their youth had not been robbed from them by bullies and horrible experiences in elementary and middle school years.
I read to them daily. I taught them to read and write as well. They were all reading simple elementary books at 2-3 years old. It was amazing. I was blessed, however, in being able to stay home with my children full time while building my own career as an artist. That fact doesn't escape me.
The greatest joy for me as a mother was when my children learned a new word, a new concept, a new math equation, or something new. From birth to now, it is still exciting to me to see how far my children have come. College, marriage, scholarships, successes, lots of writing and music. It is the greatest reward I have ever received in life.
Sadly, so many children come from broken homes, and the stress on the parent raising them is enormous. Or, the parent(s) are so exhausted from a tough work day that they are too tired to help their children with their homework or even speak to them. It seems that many children have no real guidance at home anymore. The parents provide a place to live and the fundamentals for living while their children grow up, but the example as parent, teaching virtue, compassion, morality, values, a strong work ethic, building integrity and empathy, sharing, reading, conversation about what they read, or their day, and giving them the security they need to grow up feeling completely loved, cared for, and educated are tough to come by anymore. Seems that that family model is almost completely gone. Sadly, more children are raised in a home of disinterested parents than not. Not all mind you, but many more than we'd like to admit.
I pray the family model moves forward and teaches us all how to be better parents. Parenting is DIFFICULT!! Believe me, we've all made our share of human mistakes in parenting out of hurt, frustration, stress, financial crisis, relationship strains, whatever. But putting God, family, our children, and education, first, in "our" home, was the model that best worked for us. Not everyday, but I would say most days.
There is never a "right" time to have a child, or children. A person's place in life, age, maturity, personal life experiences and lessons, financial standing, home life and relationships, relationship with God, all play a strong role in parenting and raising a child. The stars are never perfectly aligned, and there will always be hardship, loss, crisis, tragedies, unemployment, something, that throws a wrench in our life and plans, making it even more difficult to be a good parent. Mix that up with our own set of emotions, and you've got more a stew for disaster than success. As parents, we must make an effort to do our best - as often as possible. It's not easy. Personalities will clash with your children at some point. It's teaching them about life, and how we, as parents deal with tough times and circumstances can be even more difficult. But parents need to be involved.
Communication is key. Reading about something together. Talking about the news of the day. Asking your children questions about their experiences or views of how they think they would have handled a particular issue or problem, friendship, or something else. Healthy communication with parents, guardians, a trusted adult, a teacher, or grandparent, or caring neighbor, is lacking for so many of today's children.
And that there lies the problem - lack of engagement with our children, for whatever reason.
Reading is by far the best gift we can give our child. It prepares them for school, life, and an opportunity to grow and mature, learn and express their opinions, and be comfortable being focused on their readings and having alone time too. There are far too many "idiots" in this country. And for many, its because they weren't afforded a good start in life.
I wish we could change the trajectory of family and raising children and be an example to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it is getting far worse than better. What are we to do? Hopefully, those who do care will have set an example for their own children to pass it on generation to generation. Stop the complacency and blind interest. Be involved.
Here is the article that inspired me to write this post:
Remember ... "Reading is Fundamental"


Monday, November 25, 2019

Thankful for the US Navy Museum


It has been a good year.  I've been busy in my art studio painting this year, and had quite a few commissions and sales I am proud of.  But the one painting that I am most proud of this year is "Hauling in the Spring Line" 36x60 Oil on Canvas. 

I started this painting based on a reference of the US Navy Line Handlers onboard the USN Arleigh Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer, USS PAUL HAMILTON (DDG 60).  These sailors were assisting during the mooring, as the ship settled into its berth in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The USS PAUL HAMILTON was returning home after a long 9 month deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

There was something about the original image that spoke to me.  I am so proud of our men and women in the military and all that they sacrifice for the good of our country, democracy, and freedom in the US and around the world.

That said, I felt inclined to paint these 5 men serving our country and bringing their ship into port.



The original photograph was taken by SSGT Keri S. Scroble, USAF.  This is the reference I used in creating my painting.

After I decided to use this image, I had some changes I wanted to make for the painting composition.  First, in sketching the scene on canvas, I removed the roping and poles from the foreground, I thought they were a distraction from the Sailors.  I also removed the poles and netting, and that balloon thing from the background, so as to bring focus onto the Navy Lineman.



The painting was completed successfully, and will be in the permanent collection of the Navy National Museum Network which includes 9 US Navy Museums, the Pentagon, and the White House.  After speaking to the US Navy Curator at the Museum in Washington DC, it is my understanding that its first home will be in the Pentagon.

I am so honored and humbled that one of my paintings has reached the high honor of being acquired and exhibited by a Museum, especially the US Navy Museum. It is currently at our framers.  Bob will be building a crate especially for the framed painting, and it will ship to DC by the end of the year.  We haven't decided yet if we will be driving it up or shipping it.

That is my good news this year so far.  I am so thankful.





Friday, August 23, 2019

The Depression Experience

If you have ever suffered from depression, the real, debilitating kind, then you will understand the reason I wrote this post.



Many people confuse depression with sadness, hopelessness, self-pity. It is not that at all. Clinical depression is serious, and can be life threatening. Having suffered with depression since my preteen years, and recently suffering a severe bout of depression, I can honestly say I think I know how to finally explain it to those who may not completely understand what is going on when your loved one is “down for the count” and completely not themselves. Trust me, it’s nothing to ignore or sweep under the rug.

Have you ever lost someone very close to you? A loving parent, a sibling, a best friend, spouse, or child? A beloved pet? You know that feeling that rips out your gut and leaves you feeling like you’ve lost a limb? That’s depression. But, instead of losing a parent, sibling, best friend, spouse, child, or pet, you’ve completely lost yourself. A part of you dies in the swamp of this very dark place of the mind.



Depression takes on many forms, and can be rooted with the loss of a job, the loss of a friend, a relationship, a death or injury, a multitude of things can bring us to this dark place. Mine was brought on by verbal assaults, blame, accusations, lies, words, that ripped me apart to my very core. (Not by family, but by someone I know from high school). Suddenly, in the basement of depression, you feel vulnerable – very vulnerable – and cannot take any more cold or heartless advice, words that are meant to blame or hurt, and it all becomes a crisis.



Body armor. If you have depression, it doesn’t exist. The person who coined the phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” Never suffered from depression. Because, the opposite is true. You can throw all the sticks and stones you want at me, and many of them may physically hurt me, but verbal abuse, verbal assaults, whether true or not, carry a weight with them greater than the largest bat upside the head. You never really forget how those words made you feel.



Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Nothing could be closer to the truth. But when you are already in the throes of depression, family and friends need to tread lightly. Any words of advice “you’ll get over it,” “you’ll be alright,” “don’t believe everything people say,” “get over it,” “people like that don’t deserve your time of day.” Whatever the words are that are meant to support, usually end up driving you down deeper into the quicksand. Why? Because you DON’T WANT ADVICE!!! Advice picks at the wound of someone who is depressed. The reason for this is because it is like telling them they are too stupid to know this already. Believe me, if your “advice” could wipe out the destructive voice of depression that easily, there’d be no dark corner of the mind to disappear to. The advice given with good intentions can actually fuel further the depths of depression.



Regardless of how well-meaning you think your advice and support may be, it is actually pouring gasoline on the fire burning in your loved-one’s head and heart. So, tread lightly. Please.



In my case, and I am not speaking for everyone, I don’t think, but, whenever I have been deeply and devastatingly depressed, there is only one thing that truly pulls me out … slowly. Love. Support with the quiet presence of a loved one. A compassionate hug. Kindness. Someone brings me a cup of hot tea and a donut and then tells me they love me.


Letting your loved one know that you are “there” for them and that you “have their back.” A supportive message, email, or card – no advice given, and just letting them know they are loved, is more healing than you can possibly imagine.

For me, these are the little things that I need to pull me out of the darkest corners of my mind, where I feel locked in a dark room all alone.



My husband, the dear man he is, has a problem. Unfortunately, this problem is universal to most men, especially men who do not, themselves, suffer from depression. They try to “fix” things. They want to “fix” the wife who has got the “blues.” My husband is no different. He’s a fixer. I’d like to smack him upside the head when his “fix it” kicks in. It makes it worse. Far worse. Worse than you could ever imagine! Your wife does not need to be “fixed!” She needs love, compassion, and understanding. And if you don’t understand, then pretend you do. But depression cannot be “fixed” like replacing the rear tire on your truck. And when she says she wants to be alone, yes, she wants to be alone … but not for the entirety of the day. Check in on her. Ask how she is feeling. Be there. Bring her food, something to drink, a hug. Anything to just let her know that she is valued and treasured in your life. Be patient.



These little things mean more than you know, because they begin to wipe out the devil’s words that have been flushed through your self-identity. Words that you begin to believe about yourself that murder the best parts of who you are, and trample your goodness and godly qualities, your love, your devotion, your own compassion. You believe the bad stuff, because you can’t believe for a moment that anyone could possibly say these things about you unless, somehow, they had some truth. It. Is. Debilitating. It is also bullying. It is the reason that many young people in middle and high school, take their own life.



Which is another reason why I am writing this post … school has begun. Our children have their own fears about school – try to remember how you felt at their age, and be understanding. Making friends, dealing with bullies, not getting the grades, having difficulties with tests, having to change clothes in gym class in front of others. It runs the gamut. Please, I beg of you, all of you who are parents … read your children’s papers to see if someone stuck a nasty note in their notebook. Ask them questions. Be aware of changes in attitude, joy, fatigue, lack of interest in things they love, too much time in front of their computer. Your engagement in their life may save their life. They do NOT need tools for dealing with bullies, such as “punch that sucker in the face if they ever approach you again!” “Go to the office!” It doesn’t work. Communication, where your child feels safe, is the golden ticket to helping your child deal with the horrors of school AND college. Yes, it happens there too. Depression can come on almost instantly. It is THAT horrible; and, you never know when it will end. It feels like you are dying from the inside-out.

Know this – depression is not something to be ashamed of. Quite the contrary. I believe those of us who suffer with depression, also are greatly more empathetic, sensitive, and compassionate human beings. We are givers and we care deeply. Our relationships are very important to us. When someone attacks your very identity, it can be like a nuclear bomb went off inside your head. The fallout is terrifying.



Depression can be managed with medication, but it will never completely erase “depression” from your life. It will simply soften some of the more horrifying affects, like wanting to end your life. It helps to keep things in check, even if your brain is telling you otherwise. You Are Not Crazy.



But again, medication will NOT erase the pummels of depression at its worst. To really pull you out, you need your family and true friends to show you love, kindness, understanding, time, rest, and all the other things I mentioned above. For that is when you know you are loved and valued. That is when you know you are not alone. That is when you know the value of your life on this earth and within your family and community of friends.



And yes, I have God in my life. Fully. But still, that does not erase the destructive path of the devil in the throes of depression. Pray when you are depressed. You will still feel the pain. You will still ask for things that God will certainly not give into. But pray nonetheless. You just need precious time …

And Love.


- when my 19y/o grandson laid down next to me and hugged me, telling me I was the most loving and compassionate person he’s ever known, and that he loves me.
- when my 22y/o son told me he always has my back, he loves me, and he brought me home a chocolate cake on his way home from college.
- when my husband made me something to eat and brought it to me with love and care.
- when my mother sat with me downstairs until I was ready to go back to bed.
- when my daughter wrote a letter defending my honor.

These are the things of love. These are what inspired me to share my story and write this post.



Sunday, November 11, 2018

This Veteran's Day - Remember the Cost of War

Thank You to my father, Harry Simms, my father-in-law, Kenny Vaughn, and my Uncle Bill Lee, for your brave service in WWII. Thank you to my brother, Mike, for your service during the Vietnam War. And to all the military servicemen and women who have crossed my path in life, and who have served proudly, I cherish your service for our freedoms and our country. To all those who continue to serve our country -- Thank You!!



Image #1 is of my Dad, Harry Simms. He served in the Army. His friend and comrad had his head blown off right next to my father in the Battle of the Bulge. Every time my father got a fever, he would have vivid nightmares about that day and would scream "Juba! Juba!" That was his army buddy's name. My father suffered greatly from PTSD.



Image #2 is of my Uncle Bill, great-great grandson of General Robert E. Lee. My uncle Bill was a fighter pilot during WWII.



Image #3 is of an award honoring my maternal grandfather, Mason VanFossen, for his service in WWI. He served in the Army during WWI.



Image #4 is of my brother, Mike Simms, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.



Image #5 is of the Japanese Bayonet Rifle that my father-in-law Kenny Vaughn retrieved from a Japanese soldier he killed in the battle of Iwo Jima. Kenny served in the Navy during WWII.



Image #6 is the same Japanese rifle's bayonet inside the German Helmet that my father, Harry Simms, brought home from the Battle of the Bulge. The helmet was from a German soldier my father killed. Sadly, the soldier's blood stains are still inside this Nazi Army helmet.



Image #7 is the blood stained interior of the WWII Nazi German Helmet retrieved from the German Soldier my father killed in WWII at the Battle of the Bulge.



Image #8 are the mementos from my Father-in-law, Kenny Vaughn's, service in WWII.

I am very proud of my family history, maternal and paternal, as every generation served in every war since the Revolutionary War, with the exception of the Iraq War. With that pride comes great sacrifice, personal and moral, but we must remember that these wars were fought for our continued freedom, our country, our countrymen, every military serviceman and woman who served before and after. Young men and women have died the world over for their country. The Japanese Rifle and German Helmet are humble reminders of the cost of war.

Share your family history with me as we recognize, proudly, the men and women who have made our freedom possible!!!


Sunday, November 04, 2018

To Remember a Happier Time


Remember what it was like being a child? If you had a good childhood as I did, then you might remember some of these things too.


For me, I remember running over to my neighbor's home to play with my friends. I remembered playing on the swing sets and seeing how high we could swing and jump off without getting hurt.  I remember digging holes near the swings to see if we could reach China. 

I remember playing tag and jump-rope, hopscotch, and bouncing the big ball against the wall of the house.  I remember swimming in our pool and being afraid to go in the deep end.  Summer was always fun and we would play fox and hounds at dusk into the night with all the neighborhood kids.  There were birthday parties, and games.  I played Barbie with my friend Karen every weekend.  And throughout all these memories and years, a President was assassinated and a war in Vietnam was going on.  Civil rights movements were prevalent too, but I never took any notice and had friends of different races and didn't think twice about it.  It never even occurred to me that they were any different than I was.  To me, then and now, it never occurred to me that the difference in skin color was any different than the differences in the color of your hair, or the color of your eyes, or the shape of your face, or whether your hair was straight or you had curls.  We are all different, yet we are all human, so why should it make any difference what any of those differences are?



In my teens, it was all about boys and dancing and music.  In other words, we were focused on our life, our future, our faith, close relationships and friendships, church and family.  Happiness and doing things that brought us joy was prevalent back then.  For me, that was the 60s and 70s.  



By the 80s I was married, having children, and lost my father.  Still, I was not consumed with anyone else's hell but my own at the time.  Growing up proved not to be so easy for me in my late teens and 20s.  I was not prepared.  It is how life was for me.



Fast-forward to today, November, 2018, and I've been happily married for 26 years and have a wonderful family of my own.  Children who have grown up and make me proud, and grandchildren as well.  My mother is 94y/o and has lived with us for 20+ years.  Family ... really is a beautiful gift.  And although the blessings are bountiful and I have much to be thankful for, I suffer with depression on occasion.  

Depression is debilitating.  It sucks the joy right out of you.  No inspiration.  No motivation. Sadness abounds.  It's awful!  This past 2 years have been the worst for me.  My mind is consumed with Trump's lies and fear mongering, irresponsible rhetoric, and the sight of things I thought were long gone in the 60s!  Today, mass killings have become a regular and expected part of the news.  Evil, hate, threats, fear ... rule the day.  And social media plays a large part in the negative information we are fed daily.



Today, I began to reflect on the differences of the world we live in now, versus the world I grew up in.  As a child, I was protected, for the most part, from the negative news of the war and riots and the civil rights movement.  I watched cartoons and Shirley Temple, Hazel, and My Three Sons.  Everything is different now.  Everything.  And not necessarily for the betterment of our life or the lives of our children.

I came upstairs to begin making a table runner for Thanksgiving, and to wrap a few gifts for Christmas that I had purchased.  I laid on my bed for a bit and scrolled through my newsfeed on Facebook. I love Facebook, actually.  I very much enjoy the paintings from my artist friends, and keeping up with family and friends.  And I do run across the occasional political post or bad news shared.  But, for the last 4 days, I have purposely disconnected myself from the "news."  I have turned off news notifications on my phone and avoided the nightly news and local news completely for 4 days.  That doesn't seem like a lot, I know, but it helped to bring me out of a dark place I've been for about 2 weeks now. 

It was while scrolling through my FB newsfeed that I came across a story of 2 women who had been murdered in a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida.  It was like a punch in the gut.  How quickly evil and hatred can affect our life.  I had no idea this had happened, because, as I said, I had purposely disconnected from the news.  And, as soon as I read the story of these two women, I felt my face and neck tighten up and sadness flow in like hot black tar readying its way to harden my heart.  I put down my phone and decided to write this post.

In the last 4 days I have done laundry, cleaned a bit, and gone to bed early.  I took a much needed walk, did some Christmas shopping, began reading a good book, enjoyed a couple fires in our fireplace, and thought about the paintings and sewing and quilting projects I need to begin for gifts this year.  News off and out of my head, I've watched Hallmark Channel Movies and curled up with a blanket and cocoa. It has been a breath of fresh air.  Amazing actually. For the first time in a very long time, I feel more connected to my own life and family, and less concerned with social media and all the evil in this world.  Focusing on the "present" and family has been wonderful in fact.

Trump, rally’s, killings, and news in general is unhealthy. I have come to recognize just how bad it is to my mental and physical health. If I don’t control the information I hear, see, and read each day, it’s going to destroy any happiness possible in my life. The evil around us is poison. If we ingest enough of it, it will kill us. It’s time to take my life back and focus on my home, family, projects, holidays, friends who are dear to me, and the blessings in my daily life.  Sadness will find us, it always does - illness, death, being hurt.  But do we need to feed on it every single day? 

That's why I took the time to reflect on my childhood.  There was no social media.  There were no computers.  Yes, there is good to be found in social media, computers, and mobile phones, but when we seek out all the other stuff, evil and sadness, bad news and fear seep in to our hearts.  I think we need a cleanse of the information we feed ourselves each day.

I challenge you to disconnect from the news.  Focus on your life, your work, your studies, your projects, home, family, and close friends.  Do this for one week and see if it makes a difference in how you feel, how you sleep, and your happiness.  Other than coming across that one sad story of the two women in Tallahassee in my Facebook newsfeed, I have sheltered myself from all the rest.  I don't want to know.  It is a weight on my heart and mind that I need to let go of.  Can we let go together?  For a while? 

Thank you for letting me share my story with you.  There is nothing wrong with trying to take back our childhood, protected from the news, and enjoying life as it should be.





Sunday, December 03, 2017

Big Ben

Meet Big Ben. Here is our story...


When Bob and I were married, we had long conversations about our dreams. What kind of home we hoped to have someday. Bob wanted a home with a baby grand piano. I wanted a magnificent grandfather clock. And so we dreamed together.



When we purchased our first home, a townhome in Olney, we purchased some Ethan Allen furniture and a grandfather clock made to match the furniture collection we purchased. That was 21 years ago.



We’ve enjoyed the clock for all those years, and in that time we purchased a Yamaha Disklavier Baby Grand, soon after we moved to our home in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2005.



In the last 10 years, our son, Matthew, has made that piano his own, and has brought us all enormous joy with his incredible talent and gift for music.



Since our move to NC, our grandfather clock stopped working and we lost the key to the door. It has graced our foyer for 12 years, but we knew someday we’d get a nicer and more decorative and unique clock for our home. That day was November 30th.

That day was a difficult day all around, and to top it off, our son, Matthew, had his little finger on his left hand smashed in Theatre class at UNC Charlotte when a very heavy cart with several hundred pounds of lighting equipment came barreling at him. X-rays showed his bone in his little finger was split in half lengthwise. For a pianist, this was a disaster.

But, Matthew and our grandson, Glen, drove with Dad - aka Big Bear, to Macon, Georgia, 4-1/2 hours from Charlotte, where we purchased this magnificent Howard Miller Grandfather Clock from a lady who no longer had room for it since moving into a retirement community. Her sale was our gain. She had had this clock sitting in a dark corner of her garage for years collecting dust. She had posted it in Facebook Marketplace months ago.

I’m always looking for remarkable deals. But I won’t settle for junk. For several years, I’ve been searching Craig’s List, eBay, Local ads, and FB Marketplace for Grandfather Clocks. After a while, they all look the same. Seriously, I’ve learned an awful lot about Grandfather Clocks over the years, and have discovered that many are junk, the faces all look alike, and most lack character - much like the first one we got in 1995 at Ethan Allen.

Here I am searching for a clock through the hundreds listed online. I really wanted a Howard Miller. They are exceptional clocks and well made. But, I didn’t want one that looked like all the other clocks out there. It seemed like everywhere I looked I saw the same style clocks with the same gold face. I never expected to find “my” clock in an online marketplace like Facebook.



There he was. The most beautiful clock I had ever seen. The one I had only dreamed of for our home. A Howard Miller clock that was 8 feet tall!!!



A Longcase clock with the most beautiful face. When I looked at the price this lady was asking, I took a double-take, and immediately contacted her. On Thursday, Nov. 30th, my love, Big Bear, and our two boys, drove to Macon, Georgia, arriving at 10:45 last night. I was so nervous for them on this trip I literally clipped off all my fingernails with the nippers and at one point started crying and praying for their safety, feeling enormously guilty that they were driving all that way for a clock!! I said in prayer, quite profoundly, “I could care less for that clock!! Just bring my boys home safely Lord. Nothing is more important than my boys.” Well, the good Lord listened, and brought them home safely - with the clock. They got home at 4 o’clock in the morning.



Finally able to sleep soundly knowing they were all tucked safely in bed - snoring - we all slept. This morning, they got up and brought the clock inside and set him in place. Wow. Just Wow. He (Big Ben) is a remarkable clock. And he looks quite grand in our foyer.

Big Ben is cherry wood. The antique dial showcases a painted ship scene and gold and green flowers in the corners. It is weight driven and plays Westminster chimes that can be silenced at night. Big Ben is a little over 8 feet tall. In the clock were all the papers that came with the clock when it was originally purchased. The clock, according to the Howard Miller papers, is called “The Heritage” and is their tallest clock to date at 8ft 4in tall.

And here he is standing proudly in our foyer. I better not tell you what we paid for Big Ben. You’ll drop your jaw in disbelief!! Even I am left scratching my head in disbelief. Thank you Facebook Marketplace and my wonderful, amazing boys for their endurance in bringing Big Ben home.

The next day, we had a clock repairman come to our home and he fixed the clock.  He checked all the mechanisms and added the weights and pendulum.  Now, we can honestly say that those first dreams we shared came true, and in the 25 years since we first married, Bob and I have made many memories, raised the most wonderful children, built a home and family together, suffered some setbacks and tragedies, and come through stronger. 

Making a home takes time.  Enjoy the journey.



Friday, October 27, 2017

Educating our Children for a Powerful Life


War on Boys?



(St. Timothy's Middle School, Raleigh, NC)

The video at the bottom of this post is interesting. I’m almost laughing about this though. Not too long ago, the complaints were clearly about our education system being entirely geared towards boys, not girls, and that girls were not being given the same opportunities as boys, especially in science and math.

Boys were thriving and girls were languishing behind. We changed the structure of our education system to include and nurture female students, and as a result, girls have thrived and grown in their academic reach while boys lag behind.



Matthew studying for a homeschooling test

So, where is the balance? Good question!! As for me, I was blessed to have had the opportunity to homeschool my children until the 9th grade, at which point, we placed them in high school. Why high school you ask? 



High School graduation - Matthew 2015 - Sarah 2012

Well, one thing for sure is that we were living in a great school district in Weddington, North Carolina and had one of the best high schools in the state.  But that wasn't the most important reasoning for us.  We wanted our children to experience high school.  The friends, the football games, the clubs, the honors, the proms, the field trips, and the graduation with their peers.  We wanted them to experience the whole package.  And they did.  They were also ready to face the challenge at that time of a more social academic setting and had developed great study skills to succeed.  And succeed they did.



Matthew playing Army with his best sidekick, Adolf

It was the best decision I ever made! While homeschooling, I focused each of my children on the general subjects that mattered - reading, writing, grammar, science, social studies, English, literature, history, music, and art. But I also let them choose other things they were interested in to study along the way. For Matthew, that was astronomy, history in general,  and WWII. He was fascinated by these subjects, and I encouraged him to learn more about them. To this day, he is still very fascinated with these subjects, and other than some editing, he has written two very powerful books on WWII. He just needs to finish them so we can submit them for publication!!  They really are great stories!!



Sarah and her books ... her favorite gifts of all

Sarah honed in on all things piano and biology for a while, but got tired of it. She loved Sarah Desson books and reading became her favorite pastime. Take her to Barnes and Noble and she’s a kid in a candy store!! To this day, she may walk into a book store empty handed, but will surely walk out with at least 3-7 books covering a lot of different subjects.



Sarah has a beautiful voice singing unto the Lord!

Sarah also loved church early on, and loved going to Sunday school and singing in the choir. She loved participating in church excursions and activities and reading the Bible.



Sarah realizing that Chemistry is a drag

So, after she started college on a medical studies track, it was not surprising, really, when she felt strongly about her calling to serve the Lord. Boy, did she hate Chemistry!! 



"God is within her, she will not fail"

She changed her major(s) to Religious Studies and Psychology, and graduated with Honors and two degrees from Appalachian State.



Wake Forest University College of Divinity

She got a full ride to Wake Forest University and just began her Masters in Divinity classes after she married this past May.



Selfie with Sarah!

Could I be a more proud parent? No, I don’t think so. As my children grow and thrive doing the things they love, and studying subjects they are passionate about, all the while ... while developing their love for music, art, calligraphy, and writing ... what’s there to complain about? Well, maybe Xbox. LOL.

Still, I believe, in this country, our classrooms are too large. I believe our teachers are underpaid and overworked. I believe it is difficult for our teachers to take a personal interest in but a few of their students at any one time. It’s a tough job!



Sarah, Matthew, and Glen on their way to church

I understand homeschooling is not possible for all. I was able to be home with my kids, and I loved it! Those years were the best for me! And for my kids too! Nothing made me happier than to teach my child something in multiple ways until they “got it.” Experiencing that lightbulb moment with them was awesome.  It also enabled me to protect them from the torrent of bullying and jealousy and backstabbing that goes on in every school.  My kids actually grew up joyful!!  Go figure! 



Glen playing Star Wars and Army games with Matthew and Hannah pup

That said, and thank you for reading my post here, I see the urgent need for our children’s education to be more individual centric. That’s tough, if not entirely impossible to accomplish in today's public and private school systems.  Parents are just not as involved with their children’s education and interests, I believe, as they should be.



Brothers Billy and Mike trying not to miss the school bus

My own parents just sent me and my brothers off to school, washed our clothes, cooked our meals, and signed me up for a few ballet, baton, and piano classes; but, they never really took the time to understand what made each of us really happy, and what we loved to do more than anything else. My brother, Mike, for instance ... he loves cartooning.  His cartoons are hilarious!  He would have made a great newspaper columnist or cartoonist.  Billy, I honestly don't know what he loved to do.  He enjoyed finance, but that was his job, not his passion. You all know what my passion has always been, right?!! Art and sewing and writing!!! I wish I had been more academically and personally nurtured, and not just “raised” if you know what I mean. I did, however, have a good childhood and parents I loved and who loved me.  Do any of us really know how to raise a child?  I got better with each child I think. 




My take on this video - nurture your sons and “their” interests at home. Nurture your daughter’s and “their” interests at home too. Don’t leave their education, academic and personal interests to be the sole responsibility of our schools! That’s not fair!!

Our children can change the world! Let them discover who they are, and what they love. We, as parents, need to love them enough to pay attention.






Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Life's Been Good

It's been a while since I posted here on my blog and thought I would update all my friends out there who stop by on occasion. 



We've had a busy year so far!  Our home took a hit with the strong wind and rain storm we had the end of February.  As a result, the front door and paladian window are having to be replaced.  What a job! 



And before that, we ended up with 2 sinkholes in our front yard!!  After some digging, we discovered that the drainage pipe under the front yard was old and rusted and decaying and had caused the sinkholes.



With a backhoe, Matthew dug up the front yard, and our neighbors front yard, and removed the old drainage pipe, replacing it with a newer one that won't rust.



Matthew Vaughn - Jazz Improv - Jan. 13, 2016 from Susan Vaughn on Vimeo.

Matthew is in his Freshman year at UNC Charlotte and doing well.  He's also achieved a lot of success and interest in his piano compositions.  We couldn't be more proud!  He did receive an injury, though, on that windy day in February I was telling you about.  A large branch fell from a huge oak tree on the campus of UNC Charlotte, and hit him in the head.  The good news is that he had on his Fedora and was holding it on his head with his left hand when the heavy branch hit his head, the bad news is that it broke one of his fingers and gave him a concussion.  I thank God he was wearing that hat.  Had he been hit in the head without his hand and a hat to cushion the blow, he might be dead.  He is healing fine and still playing the piano - cast on his finger and all!



Sarah is a senior at Appalachian State University and preparing to graduate with Honors in December.  She will be getting married in March, 2017, and then attending Seminary for a Masters in Divinity.



Glen is a sophomore in high school and doing very well!  He is getting so tall, I call him to reach all the things I can't around the house. He is a big help around the house and also with the yard work.  So proud of him!  I can't believe he is 16y/o!! 



Bob is working hard at his IT job and landscaping as well with Matthew and Glen.  The boys stay very busy!



My mother is 91y/o.  Hard to believe, but she is also doing well.  Moving around a little slower, but still sharp - for the most part.  I'd say for her age, she's pretty sharp.



After 36+ years, I found my long lost cousin, Patty.  As a child, we used to visit my grandparents in Frederick, Maryland, and I'd get to see my cousin Patty, who was 2 years older than I.  She was my first real friend.  We lost touch after she married.  I had a friend help me find her.  She is living in Florida and doing well overall.  She came to visit us here in NC for my mother's 90th birthday celebration.  It was a special time reconnecting with her after all these years.



Kimberly is doing very well too.  She is happily married and living in Arkansas raising her daughter, Reagan.  My granddaughter will be 7y/o this year!  Kids grow up way too fast!! 



Kathleen is living in Maryland and doing well as a gaming host or something like that.  I don't understand it, but as long as she is happy and able to support herself, that's fine with me.





As for me, I've been painting more than ever in the last few years!  I've joined the Waxhaw Art Council and having shows.  I've sold quite a bit of my work and have been doing a lot of pet portraits as well.  My pet portraits have been a big hit!



After 20+ years as a professional artist, I finally got my dream easel.  I now have a Hughes 3000, and it is almost too beautiful to paint on.  Boy do I love it!

Thank you for stopping by! 


Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Dad


My Daddy. I sure do miss him.



He took pride in us kids and spoiled me something awful. He gave the best hugs and loved to make us laugh and do things with family.



He worked hard and gave back to the community. He loved being our Dad and I felt like he was Superman when I was with him.



My Dad, Harry Simms, passed away in 1980 at the tender age of 55. He had an aneurism just 2 years after having suffered a stroke caused by the stress of our beloved Olney Inn burning to the ground. He left us much too soon. I was 5 months pregnant with my 2nd daughter, Kim, and was forever changed by his sudden death.



My heart skips a beat when I think that I am, right now, the same age my father was when he passed away all those years ago.  They bring back a flood of memories of a time gone by, and a man who I cherished.



My Dad was politically active for many years.  He ran for Congress and U.S. Senate in the 1960s and 70s.  He would include us kids in all his activities, from Grand Ole Parties (LOL) out at our home in Brookeville, Maryland, to campaign parades and more.  When he wasn't politically involved, my Dad sold real estate - mostly commercial real estate deals.



What I remember most about my Dad, was how much time he spent with all of us, taking us on vacations, riding motorcycles, playing board games, dancing in the kitchen with my mother, or watching television with me while enjoying Tastycake Chocolate Cupcakes with milk.  I loved my Daddy.


When Kennedy was shot, he was very upset and hurried home from his office in Wheaton, Maryland, to watch the news.



When Nixon resigned, he cried.  And cried.


When he lost an election, I would cry.  I remember one time my Dad was trying to be stoic about his loss to J. Glenn Beall, and I could see how hurt and upset he was.  I wanted him to feel good so I said to him "Daddy ... you are a winner to every one who voted for you."  I remember he looked at me and came over and gave me the biggest hug and kiss.  I could tell that those words meant a lot to him.



When the Olney Inn burned down, it took everything out of him.  He had lost everything - or almost everything anyway.  Two strokes and an anneurism within 2 years of the fire took his life.  He just couldn't handle the stress.



My father served in WWII.  He served in the ETO - European Theater of Operations.  He served in Belgium, France, Germany.  Whenever my Dad would get sick with a fever and sleep, he would begin squirming and yelling "Juba!!  Juba!!"  He was in a fire fight overseas and next to him was his military buddy, Juba.  Juba had his head blown off right next to my father and my father was also scarred and injured from that event.  He was sent home after that experience  to recover from his injuries, but the scars from war went deeper than any healing could ever hope to heal.  



Yes, I miss my Daddy.  I wish he could have known my children and grandchildren, my husband, Bob, and all that I and my brothers accomplished in this life.  He would be 88y/o had he lived.


Here are two stories about my Dad that should make you laugh.  One time, we were going on a vacation and driving down this road - a small highway - on our way to Florida I think.  Anyway, all three of us kids were in the back seat and my Mom was in the front with Dad.  It was really dark that night as we were traveling.  Coming in the other direction were headlights, but they were way up in the air.  I mean waaaay up.  Like 12-15 feet above the ground.  As the vehicle got closer, Dad was leaning into the steering wheel and squinting.  He said "What the hell?"  But, he kept going down the road.  Those lights got closer and closer and finally, while going about 50mph, my Dad ran off the road and into a field coming to an abrupt stop.  We were all shook up from the experience.  Mom said "Harry!  What are you doing!!!???"  The vehicle that passed us pulled over and the driver ran to our car to make sure we were okay.  Dad got out of the car and dusted himself off and the truck driver passing us said "What happened??  Are you all okay??"  Dad replied, "Mister, as you got closer I figured if you were as wide as you were tall I better get the HELL off the road!!!"  I'm sorry, I can't help but laugh out loud every time I remember that experience and hear my father's exasperation.  - - you are probably wondering what it was that was coming towards us, right?  It was an 18 wheeler carrying new cars.  The 18 wheeler had two blown out headlights, so the driver of the truck turned on the headlights for one of the new vehicles he was carrying.  Holy Crap!!


My Dad loved to play games with us kids.  He would invite all the neighborhood kids over to our house when we were living in Silver Spring, Maryland, and he made sure we all had fun, especially during the summer.  One summer evening, my Dad invited all our friends over for a game of fox and hounds.  The "fox" team would have a 10 minute advance to go hide anywhere in the community.  Dad was on the "fox" team.  There were about 10-15 of us kids on each team.  So, we all gathered in the garage of our home and made plans.  We all had flashlights, and the foxes would occasionally make sounds to get our attention after we came looking for them.  It was a great game of chase.  On this particular night, I was with the "hounds" and we were all walking down Tanley Road and looking for signs of the foxes.  Suddenly, we hear a loud ruckus from down the road.  We run in that direction and notice that there is an elderly man at the foot of a huge oak tree with his German Shepherd standing on his hind legs barking madly and jumping on the tree.  The elderly man was in his bathrobe with a rifle and a flashlight.  We stood back in the dark, turning off our flashlights.  It was just before midnight.  The man yelled "Get Down Out of My Tree You Hoodlums or I'll shoot your asses out of the tree myself!!!"  Oh boy.  They all filed down out of the tree, the German Shepherd on a leash growling at each one of them.  One-by-one, they filed out of the oak tree, one kid, then another, and none much taller than 5 feet tall.  The old man aimed the rifle at them and had them lined up like soldiers.  He took his flashlight and shined it right in the face of each kid who filed out of that tree ... then, he came to my father.  Yes, my father was up that man's oak tree on a very dark night.  The old man stopped in his tracks and shined that flashlight in my father's face for the longest time before he said anything.  Then, he said "Excuse me sir, but are you Harry Simms?"  My father replied "Yes Sir."  The old man said  "Aren't you running for U.S. Senate?"  My father replied "Yes Sir."  The old man studied my father for a minute and then said quite boldly ... "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING UP MY OAK TREE??!!!!"  

Think about that a minute.  Imagine what he must have been thinking.   Anyway, Dad explained to him how he enjoys playing these games with us kids to keep us out of trouble and it is lots of fun.  After a brief conversation, the man said, "Well damn.  That is best story I've ever heard for being in my oak tree.  You've got my vote."  We all laughed and were relieved, then we turned on our flashlights and said "Got Ya!!!"  That was a fun evening and the experience was one that I will never forget.  


Yep.  I loved my Dad.  He was pretty great.





Monday, February 20, 2012

Reconnecting with All of my Friends ...


Looks as though 2012 is going to be a great year after all.  So much has been going on in my family, I haven't made time to write about it until now.  First of all, my hubby (aka Big Bear) Bob got a job!!  Not just any job either.  He got a great job with a good company.  He travels on occasion, but overall, he's happy and when Big Bear is happy, I'm happy.  


As for my daughter Kim, she is on the road to recovery.  She had a few setbacks after her return home from the hospital back in November, but we are so grateful to God she is with us and working through her life recovery with humor and strength - inner strength I don't know if I could ever achieve.  She never fails to amaze me.  Thank you all for your continued prayers for our daughter, Kim, and her beautiful family.  Her hubby Zak needs her, and her daughter - my beautiful granddaughter - Reagan definitely needs her too.  The greatest gift of all through these terrifying months has been Kim's life - and more time with all of us.


Sarah has been accepted to Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC, but we are still waiting to hear from other universities in hopes that she has options for her undergraduate studies.  We are so proud of her!!


My brother, Mike, had a setback about a week ago that we just found out about.  The stinker didn't tell us until last night that he had had a 95% blockage in an artery and had to have a catheterization and stint to open up the artery and remove the blockage.  This all happened last Monday.  Mike is 64 y/o but Geezy Peezy!!  Apparently he doesn't process cholesterol very well - I'm beginning to think this is hereditary.


I'm beginning to wonder if I might have these problems too in time, as my brother, Bill, who is 59, had the same problem a few years back.  As Bill tells me now, "there's nothin' to it Suzy, all they do is go in and clean out the plumbing."  Yeah, right.  That's after the heart attack not before, right?  But Bill is doing fine.


Remember my "fail" attempt to play basketball a few years back that resulted in a broken tooth?  Well, now that we have health insurance (Thank God!!), I was able to get that tooth fixed after all these years.  It sure feels good being able to visit the doctor and dentist now without going into debt.  And better yet, I can smile without being self-conscious about that broken tooth.  No more basketball for me.


And, remember the story I did a while back on my sewing studio?  Well, that wonderful new sewing studio is better than ever before!  I purchased some beautiful drapery panels of golden/yellow buffalo check fabric for the windows from Country Curtains, hung some decorative rods, hung the drapery panels and then hemmed them so they wouldn't be dragging all over the floor collecting dust.  They look so pretty!


Then, my mother and I purchased some faux wood blinds for one set of windows that gets blinding sunlight every morning - making it impossible for me to work in the room.  Now that the blinds and drapes are hung, the room looks absolutely beautiful!  But, I'm not showing you the finished room just yet.  You are going to have to purchase the summer issue of "Studios" Magazine this June.  Why you ask?  Because my studio is being featured in the magazine!!  I'm so excited to share with all of you all the things I've done to perk it up in here!  It is my favorite room in the house now.


I suppose I can share one thing.  These pillows.  They didn't always look like this.  My mother made these pillows for me in 1972, when I was 11 y/o.  We went to Danneman's Fabric in Wheaton, Maryland and I fell in love with the Gloria Vanderbilt fabric line.  I think the colors made me happy, especially since I was a preteen.  My mother made these pillows and I've had them ever since.  Over the years, they got flatter and flatter, and were looking helpless, so I decided to give them new life this week.


My mother and I took them completely apart.  I cleaned them and pressed them and recut the fabric.  I love this vintage Gloria Vanderbilt fabric!  I even re-pleated the ruffle around one of the pillows.  There are 3 pillows and I still have one more to go, and they look great in my newly decorated sewing studio.


I took white muslin fabric, cut it to the same size as the Gloria Vanderbilt pillows, and stuffed it with new batting.  Stitched it up and stuffed it into the pillow cover with my favorite vintage fabric.


After I pressed the old fabric, I made sure the squares were the same size before sewing them together and putting the muslin pillow inside.


I also hemmed up my drapes to keep them off the floor.


You can see some of what I have done here ... but you will have to wait to see the finished studio in the Summer issue of Studios Magazine!!  I can't wait!!

I'll be back to writing on more of a regular basis as before, just as soon as I get past all the chaos goin' on around here. Until then, be happy, keep smiling, and thank you for stopping by.  You are the reason I share my stories.  






Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Miracles

Do you believe in miracles? Miracles that transcend our understanding?  Do you believe that God has a plan for our lives and sometimes we see the answers to our prayers and other times we don't because He has another plan for our life?  Well, I believe, and if this year's challenges and answers to our prayers is not indication alone of an Almighty God in our presence, then nothing is.


As you may know, my dear husband, better known to all of my readers as "Big Bear" has been out of work for over 3 years since his layoff from Avaya in Sept. 2008.  In that 3 year's time, we have exhausted our savings, our retirement, and every dollar we can muster to support our family of 6 (which includes my elderly mother, Mary, who has lived with us for 13 years.)  Never in our dreams did we ever believe that if Bob were to be out of work for 3 years, we'd still have our home.  I had visions of us living in a tent city with nothing but the clothes on our backs. 

When the first year passed and Bob was still unemployed, the nightmares began.  I found myself overcome with fear and uncertainty, doubt and insecurity, like I've never known in my life.  I, too, applied for local jobs to no avail.  I did, however, continue to write, paint, craft, sew, and quilt as to bring in a little extra cash for our family while Big Bear found work in lawn maintenance in our community, and did some contract work to help out as well - all the time spending hours upon hours behind his computer looking for work and applying for many opportunities.  A few times he went on interviews and was told he was over-qualified or didn't have experience in a certain area.  It was difficult to receive the rejections, but he persevered and did his best to stay positive.

Together, we found the resources we needed, month-after-month we always made what we "needed" to survive and keep the electric and utilities paid, but not the mortgage, and of course, food on the table.  During this time, as well, Bob made certain the children had medical insurance via medicaid, and that we had all that we needed as a family to survive until he was firmly back to work and our family was back on its feet.


The nightmares continued for me until I turned it all over to the Lord in 2009.  Not only did I pray about my fears and ask for guidance and understanding, but my children asked us if we could please go to church more often.  We made a promise to our children and we kept our promise.  For 2 years, we have consistently gone to our church each Sunday, and will continue to do so.  The children love their Sunday School and we love the traditional services.  Each week we find ourselves walking closer with the Lord and letting Him carry us through this hardship.  As we listened and learned by His Word, our children prayed and made friends at our church.  They became involved with the youth choir and youth group ministries as well as helping others less fortunate in our community through community service.  I am so proud of our children.


Despite the lack of Christmas gifts under the tree, our children never once complained or moped about it.  Instead, each of them, in their own way, said that they were happy we were together in our home for the holidays, that we were a family and together, that we were home and healthy.  As the years passed, we walked closer to the Lord and never faced a meal without prayer.  We were grateful - for our blessings - for everything that we had been given in this life together.

I did find, however, that I had to learn to pray faithfully.  That was the most difficult lesson of all for me.  Faith.  That was a tough one, especially after months and months went by and still no job, no security, and tougher times.


Somehow, though, our bank continued to work with us, as we did have equity in our home, despite the economic downfall of home values. Somehow, through the grace of God, we have not been formally in foreclosure.  Somehow, we've managed to pay our utility bills - and that did not include cable or satellite television either, as we cancelled that luxury 2 months after Bob was laid off.  We got used to watching ABC, Fox, and MeTV via an antenna attached to our family room television, and we enjoyed watching our movies together often.

It really is amazing what you can do without when you have to.  And honestly, we don't miss cable television at all.  We read more, and enjoy more game nights.


By the time 2011 rolled around, even though we were all rather weary of the situation, we were still here, but nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to face - a crisis and tragedy so life changing and frightening, it would change all of us to the core.  That tragedy happened on August 16th, 2011 at about noon.  My daughter, Kimberly, and her husband, Zak, had driven from their home in Arkansas to Minnesota, to the Mayo Clinic, for what was supposed to be a 2-day in-and-out procedure called the "melody valve" whereby, via catheterization, she could have her pulmonary valve replaced without the need for open-heart surgery.  Having had 4 open-heart surgeries in her young life, Kim trusted that this would be the best choice for her, her life, and her health, as open-heart definitely puts her life more at risk than with a catheterization. 

Well, the catheterization was disastrous, and Kimberly had a massive heart attack during the procedure.  She ended up fighting for her life for nearly 3 months after.  I was at the hospital 24 hours after hearing the news and was there for a week.  Mere minutes compared to the months Kim's husband, Zak, Kim's father, Doug, and step-mom Sandy, spent by her side - never leaving her side.  Zak wasn't leaving the hospital or her side until she left with him. That is Love.  That is Commitment.  That is Marriage like marriage is supposed to be.

Without getting into detail, just suffice it to say that Kimberly had 2 open-heart surgeries, developed acute respiratory distress, and an elevated diaphram, had 3 valve replacements, multiple clots removed, spent over 2 months on life support and so heavily sedated she was close to death more often than I care to recall.  She spent one week after her 2nd surgery with her chest wide open so as not to stun her fragile heart. How she survived all of this in her fragile condition I can only attribute to the grace of God and His Almighty Hand blessing her with the miracle of life, and of course, the power of prayer.


(This picture was taken this past Spring, 2011)

Just before Thanksgiving, my daughter, Kimberly, left the Mayo and went home to Arkansas - to her home - with her husband, and saw, for the first time in 3 months, her beautiful 2 y/o daughter, Reagan.  Kim had so much to live for and we are so grateful for her life and presence in our lives each and every day.

To say the least, her life is a miracle, a blessing, and brings dear to our hearts the true spirit of Christmas - Christ in us, the precious value of life, the fragility of life, the meaning of love.


(This picture was taken just a few weeks ago.  Kim looks so beautiful.  The most beautiful sight of all is her smile and sitting next to her baby girl, Reagan)

Shortly after Kim returned to her home to recover, my Big Bear received a job offer.  A wonderful job offer!  An opportunity to work with good people at a good company in his industry of Information Technology and more.  He begins on December 29th.


(This picture was taken last Sunday.  My mother and I are sitting in front. Behind us is Matthew, Kathleen visiting from Florida, Sarah, Bob "Big Bear," and Glen.)

Now the kicker ... my mother, Mary, has lived with us, primarily, for the past 13 years, although she has spent time as well with my brothers in Florida from time-to-time.  She is home now and a month ago, after many tests from her oncologist, we were asked to come to his office for a plan of action.  Well, as it turns out, my mother is in remission for the first time in 7 years.  Miracles.  There truly is power in prayer.

To all my friends and readers ... I would like to wish you all a blessed, joyful, and wonderful Christmas.  May the Lord bless you all in the coming year with prosperity and health.  Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, your friendship, your prayers, and your readership.

The Lord answered our prayers abundantly.  All it took was Faith.

Merry Christmas!!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

No Greater Love and One More Day


If there is one thing I know for sure, I know that there is no greater love on earth than the love of a mother for her child.  I'll just leave it there, because on this earth, unfortunately, there are always exceptions to that; but, as for me, and as a mother of 4 wonderful children, and grandmother to 2 beautiful children, I can honestly say, there is no greater love than my love for my children.


The last 6 weeks have been unbearable for me.  I cannot smile.  I cannot laugh.  I cry often.  I pray constantly.  I am willing myself to feel God's presence and praying His will is also His mercy on my daughter's life.  I feel helpless and am trying hard not to feel hopeless.  There is always hope.  As long as Kimberly's heart is beating there is hope. 


In the quiet hours of the morning, like this, when I am awake with only the tick-tock of the clock, I have time to reflect on the love I feel so deeply for my children, and how much their life and presence in my life is the most important love in this world to me.  I'd cross mountains, travel oceans, fight wars for my children.  I'd give them my kidney, my liver, my heart, my lungs, my eyes ... I'd give them every breath I take if I could.  And, because of the depth of my love for my children, and the depth of my prayer for my daughter, Kimberly right now, I felt compelled to share with you the depth of my reflection over these last several weeks.


Life on this earth is never certain.  But one thing is certain ... God's perfect plan for us in this life on earth.  Regardless of the circumstances that brought each and every one of us to be born, and regardless of who our parents may be, God knew us before we were even conceived.  He knew us wholely and had a perfect plan - our birth - into this world.  God's love for us is perfect.  He knows the time we have here on this earth.  He knows our purpose and wants us to live our lives for His purpose through Jesus Christ so that we might have eternal life.


So, even though I know in my life there is no greater love than that which I have for my children, in reality, I really have no greater love than that for my Lord for blessing me with their life, through me, and for entrusting them as their mother.  Though I've made many mistakes as "mother" to my children, I know deep in my heart I have done my best.  I know that my love has never faltered, not for an instant, for any of my children.  It has always been and will always be unconditional. 


We all wish for "one more day" with our significant other.  With our children.  With our parents.  With our friends.  I pray multiple times a day for "one more day" with my daughter, Kimberly.  And Diamond Rio said it best:


Last night I had a crazy dream
A wish was granted just for me
It could be for anything
I didn't ask for money
Or a mansion in Malibu
I simply wished, for one more day with you

One more day
One more time
One more sunset, maybe I'd be satisfied
But then again
I know what it would do
Leave me wishing still, for one more day with you

First thing I'd do, is pray for time to crawl
Then I'd unplug the telephone
And keep the TV off
I'd hold you every second
Say a million I love you's
That's what I'd do, with one more day with you

One more day
One more time
One more sunset, maybe I'd be satisfied
But then again
I know what it would do
Leave me wishing still, for one more day with you

Leave me wishing still, for one more day
Leave me wishing still, for one more day

* * * * *


Have you ever felt hopeless, helpless?  Try to reflect on what is "your" greatest love.  What are you passionate about?  What are you good at?  What do you believe is God's purpose for you while on this earth?  I ponder these questions often, and some days I throw my hands up because I have absolutely no idea.  I just know that nothing I do in this life, whether it be painting, sewing, quilting, reading, writing, or whatever, nothing means more to me than my children's health and happiness.  Nothing means more to me than teaching them to walk with God and talk with God.  With every child, I have become a better mother (unfortunately for the first one), and have discovered, I believe, that my purpose in this life was to be their mother.


"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11. 


I believe God gave me these gifts - gifts of painting, sewing, quilting, writing, whatever, to share.  I am grateful for these gifts, but nothing lights me up like when my children come barreling in the door from school dropping their bookbags and their shoes on the floor and make a bee-line right for me to share with me their day.  Maybe I'm just weird, but I savor my children's successes and help them cope through their failures.  I'm not always readily available for them, but I do make time and I listen to them.  They mean the world to me.  That is what love is.  That is, I believe, my purpose here.


As for Kim, she is struggling every day to stay alive.  Fighting for her life.  Fighting for her husband and her daughter, Reagan, who just turned a tender 2 years old.  Fighting to live her life doing what she loves most - being wife and mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, granddaughter, and friend.  It is through prayer that I turned here to reflect on these difficult days and hours, because I know that although I pray for her healthy return to the living - for Kim's full and unwavoring recovery - I know deep down that my prayer may not be God's plan, and I won't deny that that terrifies me, albeit selfishly.  My prayer is for Kim to make a full and healthy recovery, to watch her daughter grow up, graduate, get married, and have children of her own.  My prayer is that Kim be blessed with loving days with her husband, Zak, and the joy that family brings.  My prayer is that she not suffer.  Oh dear God, please have mercy on my daughter!


I can't bear to think of life without her in it.  I am trying to be strong, but this is the weakest I know I have ever been.  I feel weak in my knees and heavy hearted.  I pray for "one more day." 


Greater than anything that I could possibly wrap my brain around, I know that this life is just the appetizer to what God has planned for us with Him in heaven. I know that my relationship with God here on earth will determine my relationship to Him in eternity.  I should spend each day for Him.


Faith.  That's a tough one for me right now.  Yes, I have faith in God, and faith that His will is perfect.  I also know that His will is not necessarily mine, and that is what I am struggling with right now.  The Lord knows my prayer for Kimberly.  He knows my prayer for her life.  I pray He give her many days on this earth - with us.  I'm not ready to let her go.  I'm not ready to say goodbye.  I'm not ready. 


The last conversation I had with Kim, she had just arrived at her destination.  Several states away from home, and one of the finest medical facilities in the world. Scheduled for a cardiac catheterization and a new procedure called a "Melody Valve" whereby they replace her pulmonary valve with a "melody valve" via a catheterization.  Supposed to be less invasive and less risky.  But the worst possible scenerio - our "almost" worst nightmare happened, and Kim had a massive heart attack during the procedure when a stint pinched her coronary artery.  In a surgical panic of emergency open-heart surgery, they removed the melody valve and replaced it with a bovine valve.  Of course, there was damage to her heart from the heart attack, and Kim's life hung in the balance.


These weeks have been hell for Kim. Hell for all of us.  I flew to be by her side less than 24 hours after the crisis happened.  There was nowhere else on earth I belonged but by her side at that moment.  Her husband, Zak, there too, filled with hope and prayer and faith, holding her hand, and spending every waking moment of every day by her side.  His devotion, love, and commitment to Kim is steadfast.  Also there were Kim's father, Doug, and his wife, Sandy, taking the nightshift so that there is always someone by her side.  All of us in a constant state of prayer.


Kim was not doing well in the first week.  The week that I was there was the worst.  It was almost unbearable to see her in this condition attached to a heart/lung machine and drainage tubes, IVs and more.  I've never seen so much equipment monitoring one person in all my life and in all Kim's previous surgeries.  Never.  It was daunting just trying to understand what the numbers meant.  Beneath the equipment, though, lies Kim, motionless, helpless, in a state of life's crisis.  I want to do something.  I want to find a miracle.  I want answers!!  I want my daughter back!!!  I want to hear her voice again, laughing and carefree saying "Don't worry Mom!  Listen, if I'm not worried, you shouldn't be worried.  This is like a mini vacation with my husband.  I'm actually looking forward to it.  Really - I'm at the best hospital and in the best care.  I'll talk to you in a few days.  I'm going to be fine, Mom.  I love you."  That was it.  Those were her words to me before she went to bed the night before her scheduled catheterization.  None of us were prepared for this.  None of us.


So what is God's plan for Kim?  What is His plan for Reagan and Zak?  What is His plan for all of us who love Kim and can't bear to let her go? 


In the week following the initial surgery on August 16th, Kim had another catheterization, and then they scheduled her for another open-heart surgery on Sunday, August 21st.  Actually, the plan was for thoracic surgery to remove fluid from around her heart and lungs.  It was critical.  Once inside, they removed 2 blood clots (one from her heart and one from her lung) and the fluid.  They also performed open-heart surgery again, this time replacing an entire section of her pulmonary artery with a new artery and a new pulmonary valve - a pig's valve.  The result was better than they could have expected, and Kim's heart began to beat stronger than ever.  They were able to remove her from the heart/lung machine for the first time in a week, however, as not to stun the heart, they left her chest cavity wide open for 3 days.  You don't want to see this.  I couldn't look.  I made sure the sheet was above her chest as I held her hand and prayed - for hours. 


The day before Kim's surgery, though, with her blood pressure at a mere 42/30, I wasn't convinced that opening her up again would do anything more than kill her.  The stress was so unbearable for me that I swelled up.  Literally.  In my hotel room, alone in a strange State, every joint in my body swelled up.  The pain was nothing I had ever experienced before and the lady at the front desk took me to the emergency room.  They admitted me, and here I was 2 floors below my daughter, with a Morphine IV.  Alone and crippled.  Stress.  The doctors who did the tests discovered that I had a latent something in my blood that caused me to have a chronic rheumetoid arthritic attack to the stress.  In many ways it was a blessing, because the stress of her surgery alone was making me crazy.  Thank God for Morphine!! 


I recovered, not fully, but enough to walk gingerly back and forth to the hospital from the hotel for 3 more days before I had to fly back home.  Kim was no longer on the ECMO heart/lung machine, but she was still heavily sedated.  She never knew I was there, but that's okay.  I was there.  I held her hand.  I caressed her forehead and her hair.  I rubbed her foot and touched her arm.  I wiped her tears. I spoke to her.  I prayed over her.  I cried.  


The day I flew home they closed her up.  She was doing well, or so it seemed.  Slowly, they removed the tubes and the sedation.  She was in pain and unable to move.  This was going to be a long recovery.  Each day was progress.  She was not able to speak without it exhausting her.  Her lungs were very weak.  She could not feed herself and was unable to walk.  The ECMO had caused distress to her left leg and it was completely numb.  Over the course of the next weeks, she was in rehabilitation, trying to regain her strength and some feeling in her leg and foot.  She could not walk without the assistance of a walker and her husband, Zak. 


Friday, September 16th, the hospital released her to go home for rehabilitation at home.  Kim wasn't feeling 100% of course and was apprehensive about the drive for obvious reasons.  Rather than get on the road right away, Zak gave Kim time to rest at the hotel where they were staying near the hospital.  Kim had a cough and was in pain and Zak took her back to the hospital on Saturday morning.  To everyone's dispair, Kim had a horrible infection, we think in her lungs, and her lungs were filled with fluid, so much so they could not see them on the x-ray.  Immediately, Kim was back in the ICU, sedated, and on the ECMO again, and that is where things are right now.


I know the devastation I feel through every cell in my body over the incidents of the last, almost 6 weeks, and I am not the only one suffering here - we all are.  Zak, Reagan, Zak's parents caring for Reagan so that Zak can be by Kim's side, Kim's father, Doug and his wife Sandy, my hubby, Bob, and Kim's siblings, my children - Kathleen, Sarah, and Matthew, and Kim's nephew, my grandson, Glen.  My brothers, Mike & Billy, Kim's dear friends, and me - well - we are ALL suffering through this with Kim. 


I don't know what God's plan is for Kimberly, but I pray it is to have mercy on her life and let her live here on earth with us till she is old and gray and a great-grandmother herself.  I hope she lives to be over 100!  I hope she shows us all just how strong the human heart and the human spirit can be. 


Thank you for letting me share my story with you.  These days are almost unbearable.  Emotional pain is and can be as great as the worst physical pain.  As Kim's mother, I know this all too well.  The emotional grief that I feel for my precious daughter requires medication to tolerate, but without it I'd surely have a heart attack myself.  You really can die of a broken heart and mine is splitting in two.


Please pray for Kim. Please pray that God heal her body and give her many years here on earth with her family, her daughter, and all that love her and are better for having known her.  Here is a little video of Kim ...


Kim enjoys showing me her outfits for church - and Reagan's too!

Prayers for my Daughter

Kimberly and Zak have been married for 4 years and have one beautiful baby girl together. Faced with a life altering event and near death of his beautiful wife, Kim, Zak has been by her side constantly through it all. He has been strong and lifted her up during her weakest moments and I know that if Kim could speak her heart right now, she would say this...the words in the song "Because you loved me" speak volumes of how my wonderful son-in-law has been Kim's voice and advocate through this whole ordeal.  When she married Zak, I didn't lose a daughter, I gained a son.

* * * * *

I love you Kim ... Mom

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

My Goodness, An Update Already!!

It's about time I get back to the blogging! Life, of course, has definitely been chaotic the last couple of months.  I'm hoping things settle down a bit, but with the holidays around the corner, that may be wishful thinking.


I'll begin by telling you that my precious daughter, Kimberly, is recovering from her heart surgery.  She has a long road of recovery ahead of her, but we are all praying that in the long run, she will be healthier, have more energy, and feel more like herself once she is healed.  She still remains in the hospital at the moment, but will soon be home for recovery and rehabilitation.  Thank you all for your continued thoughts and prayers for my girl.  She misses being home with her family and being Mommy to her beautiful baby girl, my granddaughter, Reagan.


In August, I entered my painting, "A Charlotte Summer" in the Boldbrush Competition and won "First Place" in the People's choice category with 254 votes!  Votes are made for favorite paintings via clicking on the Facebook "Like" button next to your favorite painting.  Then, when the contest ends on the last day of the month, the judge for that month judges all the paintings and determines which one should be voted "Best of Show," 2nd Place, 3rd Place, and Finalists, each of which win wonderful cash prizes.  I am humbled to have won the hearts of friends by taking 1st place in the people's choice via Facebook "Likes," but also hope that I will win the heart of the August Artist and Judge Trent Gudmundsen.  I'll know by the 20th of this month.


I am also now represented by the Bellus Lux Lucis Fine Art Gallery in Clarence, New York!  So happy for this representation!  I sent 6 works to owner, Bonnie Lux.  The current paintings at the Gallery are Big Red, Apples, Garlic, Hope Road, October Glory, and Haystacks.  Please contact Bonnie at 716-407-3047 or contact me, if you are interested in any of these paintings.


Big Bear is still out of work (at least when it comes to having a real job).  He has several opportunities that look promising, but I've learned not to get my hopes up.  So man opportunities have turned into dead ends in the last 3 years.  Thank you to all who have emailed me with information about jobs in his industry (Information Technology and Business Development).  We appreciate the leads.  In the meantime, Bob has built an incredible ministry at our church called the "At Work Ministry" for those in our community who are out of work and need help getting back in the job force.  The ministry helps with resume preparation, and opens up discussions on best interview practices and more.  Bob's ministry has grown so much and has received such recognition that several other churches have gotten involved in the ministry project.  I'm so proud of my bear!


Bob has also been working like crazy doing lawn maintenance in our community.  He has been putting in irrigation systems and sidewalks, re-landscaping, seeding, fertilizing, grading, and more.  We've had our own tractor, mower, and equipment, for years so this was perfect for him and he loves the outdoor work - except when it is brutally hot like it was this weekend!  Our son, Matthew, has been Bob's best helper.  Matthew has been working the tractor and helping his dad with every job and learning a lot about lawn maintenance.  He's going to have his own summer business before you know it.  Never a complaint from Matthew, he helps his father willingly and has provided Bob the much needed help on every job site.


The children started school.  Sarah is a High School Senior this year (hard to believe) and is taking 3 AP (college level) courses.  She will be making early application to Duke University and we hope she is accepted!  Matthew is a High School Freshman this year and fortunately has his sister to help him become familiar with the school.  Remember - he and Sarah were homeschooled until they began high school, so it has been a big adjustment for them both, but they are doing well.



Glen began Middle School in 6th grade and came home last week and said "Mom, I've decided to run for Student Council."  Go figure.  My little politician. 

It is strange not having any of the children at home during the week.  This is the first time in 17 years that I have been at home alone with my Big Bear and our dogs.  It is a strange feeling not having anyone at home saying "MOM!!" for something!  I miss my kids!


As for my creative side, I've been busy in my art studio and my sewing studio!  In my art studio I have been working on 2 paintings.  I just completed "Bessy & Company" pictured above and I will be writing a "progress" post about the painting of Bessy tomorrow.  And, I am working on a painting for my granddaughter, Reagan, for her 2nd birthday.  Something sweet and whimsical for her playroom. 


In my sewing studio I have been making a quilt for Kimberly for when she returns home from the hospital, and I also requested friends to contribute to a prayer quilt for Kim.  One that she can wrap around her shoulders and know just how many friends & family prayed for her during her difficult time at the hospital following her initial catheterization and the open-heart surgeries that followed.  Prayer has been a powerful force this last month and we all know that it has been the oustanding care from medical professionals, faith, prayer, and God's grace, that has saved Kim's life.  With this quilt, Kim will always know how much she is loved and how many prayed for her during her difficult recovery.

Family, friends, neighbors, acquaintences - you are appreciated for your emails, thoughts, prayers, comments, concerns, thoughtfulness, gifts of hope, contributions to Kim's prayer quilt, and more. I feel as though you have walked with me through this difficult journey and have given me strength to cope.  Even through all the hardship of the last 3 years, and the grief of the last month, I feel the blessings from your presence in my life.  Thank you.

Hopefully soon I will have good news of Big Bear being gainfully employed, Kim on the road to a full recovery, and me on the road to healthier, less stressful living.  Then my funny bone will return and so will my more spirited posts.




Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Resume of Robert K. Vaughn

Dear Friends,

As you know, my hubby has been out of work for nearly 3 years now.  Well, we've hit the wall and we're about to lose our home - unfinished kitchen cabinets and all.  I am asking for your prayers and if possible, to be proactive in helping my sweetie find a job. Your action may mean the difference in my family's life and future.


How can you help?  Well, I've posted his resume HERE.  The only hope we have of saving our home and preventing a foreclosure and short-sale in the next month or so is for him to find a job.  Short of posting his resume with a sky writer, or standing on street corners with a huge sign, this is our only hope.  I have, in fact, written President Obama, Governor Perdue, and Congresswoman Myrick.  As usual, we will probably get a picture in the mail with their stamped signature on it thanking us for our support.  What about their support dammit!!!  Doesn't anyone care about families like us anymore?!!


Bob has been in Information Technology for about 27 years.  His experience is exceptional, as is his integrity.  PLEASE!  If you know anyone at an Executive level, Hiring Manager level, Recruiter, or Human Resources for a company such as (and for example) - Hewlett Packard, Apple, Microsoft, Bell Atlantic Internet Solutions, Cambridge Technology Partners (these are examples), I ask you humbly to pass on my husband's resume.  I cannot stress the urgency enough.  I swear this stress is going to give me a heart attack.  Bob is holding us all together from falling over this cliff with one hand, and folks, it's getting awfully windy and slippery up here.


Take a look at this smiling face - my Big Bear - and know that you are doing something for a good man with a heart of gold.  A man of integrity and respectability.  A strong, upstanding husband, father, son, son-in-law, and friend.  A man who would do anything and sacrifice much to help others in need.  A man who goes every Thursday night to our church to head up the "At Work Ministry" for members of our community, who like him are out of work.  That is just the kind of man he is.  He doesn't deserve this.  None of us deserve to lose it all because of the greed and irresponsibility of others. 


This is our home.  Please help us keep our family secure and safe and free from worry so that our children can at least finish school here successfully and without worry. 

Sorry for this post.  Just know that I have not been writing as much here because of the stress.  I feel sometimes like I am having a panic attack and I'm on the verge of falling apart or having a heart attack.  Stress does terrible things to your head and your health.  As hard as I try, I feel myself wearing thin.

Thank you.  Please forgive me.  I, too, have applied for well over 100 jobs myself to no avail, receiving rejection after rejection.  I suppose that nobody wants a 52 y/o woman who has been out of the workforce for 20 years.  I don't know what else to do.  I am selling my artwork and doing my best for my family.  So is Bob.  I love him so much.  I hate to see him so stressed over all of this with so much responsibility weighing on his shoulders.  If you can pass his resume on to someone who might be the one connection he needs, and/or post this to your Facebook page, God knows how much I humbly appreciate your kindness - from the bottom of my heart I cannot thank you enough for at least trying to lend a hand before we lose everything.


One More Thing - IMPORTANT: Bob will work ANYWHERE (accept maybe in some dark field in Africa, although he has been there too).  This DOES NOT have to be a local job here in Charlotte, NC.  It can be ANYWHERE.  His goal is simply to get a job.  In our 20 years together, Bob has worked in Boston, New York, Atlanta, and more, traveling the world as well, while I've been home raising our family.  He is fine with that.  He just needs a job so that at the very least we can get out of this quicksand and get our children through school (another 7 years).  Then, I don't care, I'll pitch a tent somewhere, anywhere, with my Big Bear.  I just don't want to disrupt our children's education because of this - there lives are more important to me than my own.  It kills me that they are stressed and frightened too about this.  They should be enjoying every minute of their life.

Thanks for listening, and YES, Bob will work ANYWHERE!!


Gratefully -


Thursday, June 09, 2011

Glen's Graduation & Glory


Yes, Glen got all the glory today.  He graduated from Elementary school and is now moving on to Middle school.  He'll be a big boy - a 6th grader!  We are so proud of him! 


I homeschooled Sarah until she started high school and she has done fantastic and will be graduating next year.  I homeschooled Matthew until this year, and he will be starting high school in the fall.  As for Glen, though, I homeschooled him until this past school year. 


Glen, we discovered 3 years ago, has Asperger's, and keeping him focused on his schoolwork was becoming more and more difficult.  He was definitely learning and was above his reading level and math level, but he needed something more and I did not feel qualified to give him the education I knew he needed with the oversight that I felt he needed.  In other words, I could not sit with him and look over his shoulder with every assignment.  My children work independently more often than not, so this was becoming a problem.


After looking into what options were available at our public school, we discovered that North Carolina and our County work hand-in-hand to help children with specific needs, and after weeks of filling out paperwork, testing Glen, and having multiple meetings with Glen's teacher and counselor's at his school, we were able to create a curriculum for Glen, together with private tutoring at the school for what will be his entire academic career all the way through high school.  We were thrilled.


Not only did Glen do excellent in this program designed just for him, but he has excelled in ways I never thought possible.  He took his EOG (End of Grade) exams in the last 2 weeks and we were concerned, of course.  Glen has a habit of saying he has studied or he knows "this stuff" and yet, we're not completely convinced. 

But, were we ever surprised when Glen got his EOG scores and knocked it out of the park in all areas - Math, Science, Reading, and Language Arts.  He got higher scores in all areas more so than most of the other students in his class.  Go Glen!  (And that is what his teacher told us!) 


So today was graduation day for Glen.  We are so proud of him and he looked proud of himself too. 

Funny thing is, is that after the graduation ceremony, his classmates signed his yearbook, and he signed theirs too.  When he showed it to me, I couldn't help but laugh "that little stinker" because all these girls signed his yearbook and put hearts and wrote things like "You're Awesome" or "Call Me" and one girl wrote her name in big letters in his yearbook and her number just as big under her name!!  Now that was bold!  Glen was smiling ear-to-ear and I had him show me the girl's picture.  She's pretty!  That little stinker.  I had no idea he was such a lady's man until I read the comments in his yearbook.  Go figure.


He is off to new adventures and I must admit I am dreading the middle school years, but then again, maybe Glen will surprise us all once again and knock it out of the park.  That smile of his could melt mountains.

I'm so proud! : )


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Art and Inspiration in the Movies

I find inspiration in many places, but I enjoy time spent with my family in the evenings watching a movie.  As an artist, I especially enjoy movies that inspire me to grow as an artist.  So, I wanted to share with you a collection of my favorite movies that are not only inspiring for the artist, but great for the family as well.  

Local Color is for everyone who dares to dream. A fantastic movie!  

LocalColor Artist and Director, George Gallo, looks back with loving memories on the summer of his defining year as an artist.  The year in this movie is 1974 in the suburb of Port Chester, New York, as a young, talented, but troubled 18 y/o artist "John Talia" befriends a brilliant and elderly alcoholic Russian painter, Nicoli Seroff.  When Nicoli travels to the countryside in Pennsylvania for the summer, he invites John to go with him to teach him how to paint.  Together, these two give each other a priceless gift of respect and friendship.  John learns to see the world through this master's eyes, and the master, Nicoli, learns to see life through the eyes of innocence once again.  This story is based on a real life experience of artist and director, George Gallo, and is one of the best movies I've seen.  I absolutely loved it.


* * * * *

Devine Entertainment and HBO, put together The Artist's Specials and I have yet to bore of seeing these movies over and over again.  I love them and find them to be funny and inspiring. Even my kids and Big Bear enjoy seeing them over and over again.  I recommend this collection of movies for every artist.  


This collection includes 6 movies, each about a different master artist:

ArtistSpecialsCollection Degas and the Dancer

Mary Cassatt: American Impressionist

Monet: Shadow and Light

Goya: Awakened in a Dream

Rembrandt: Fathers & Sons, and

Winslow Homer: An American Original

Each of these movies will inspire you and you will enjoy them over and over again.  Here are a few trailers from this collection:

* * * * *

MaidenHeistMovie The Maiden Heist may not necessarily be inspiring for artists like the movies above, but it sure is funny.   My artist friend, Jeremy Lipking, painted the "Maiden" - the painting that is the subject of this movie, and he did a fantastic job.  The painting is beautiful, but then again, so are all of Jeremy's paintings.  Also in this movie is actor, Marcia Gay Harden, a high school friend of Bob's and mine from Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Maryland who we've watched grow and develop as an academy award winning actress over the years.  Who knew, right? 



* * * * *

PollocktheMovie Pollock. Artist Jackson Pollock revolutionized American painting in the 1940's with his exciting abstract paintings that used dripped and splattered paint on large canvases, very much like Pablo Picasso revolutionized art in the early 20th century.  While Pollock became a heroic figure in the art world, his private life was nothing to envy, and this biography looks at both his professional triumphs and personal tragedies. This movie also stars actor Marcia Gay Harden as Pollock's wife.  Ed Harris plays the part of artist Jackson Pollock.



* * * * *

Frida Frida.  This movie is a biographical account of the Mexican surrealist pioneer artist Frida Kahlo, who channeled the pain of a crippling injury and her tempestuous marriage into her work.  Frida Kahlo is visually stunning, not only in portraying her life but in bringing several of her most famous paintings to life on the screen. Salma Hayek performs beautifully in the title role.  Mostly, I believe this film leaves us with an understanding that we can all overcome pain and tragedy in our own life if we pursue what we are passionate about.


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LustforLifeMovie Lust for Life. 1956 Kirk Douglas plays the archetypical tortured but genius artist, Vincent Van Gogh. His obsession with painting, combined with mental illness, propels him through an unhappy life filled with failures and unrewarding relationships. He fails at being a preacher to coal miners; he fails at his relationships with women; and, he ultimately fails at life itself, but Van Gogh earns respect among his fellow painters, especially Paul Gauguin, even though he does not get along with Gauguin or others. He manages to sell one painting in his lifetime. We learn that the one constant good in Van Gogh's life is his brother Theo, who is unwavering in his moral and financial support.  An excellent movie and a must see for everyone.

This is a film so rich in visual imagery (with a Technicolor 'palette' that attempts to recreate Van Gogh's view of his world), that it demands repeated viewings, just to savor the details. From wheat fields 'aflame' in color, to night skies that nearly writhe in waves of darkness, the elemental nature of the artist's vision is spectacularly captured. In experiencing the world through Van Gogh's eyes, the loving, yet uncomprehending concern of his brother, Theo, played by James Donald, and more hedonistic, shallow patronizing, and gradual disgust of fellow artist Paul Gauguin, played by Anthony Quinn, in his Oscar-winning performance, become elemental 'barriers', as well.  

Kirk Douglas never plunged as deeply into a portrayal as he did, in "Lust for Life," and the experience nearly crushed him, as he related in his autobiography, "Ragman's Son."

* * * * *


VincentandTheo Vincent and Theo.  Another, more recent movie about Vincent Van Gogh (1990), but this one also focuses on his relationship with his brother, Theo. This movie of the life of Van Gogh is good, unfortunately, the script misses the real drama of this important artist's life. But never mind that. The real art of the film is in two achievements:

Altman frames and colors his shots through Vincent's eyes. This is the most sensitive use of the cinematic palette I've seen, and makes the experience singular. Time Roth interprets Van Gogh wonderfully. If you ignore the lines, which are vapid, and concentrate on his being, it's quite nuanced. He is meek in body, but passionate in expression.


* * * * *

VanGoghBrushwithGenius Van Gogh: A Brush with Genius
.  Dive into the heart of Van Gogh's paintings. For the first time, discover in IMAX the fantastic colors and passionate brushwork of a great genius as they take on a new life before our eyes. Relive Vincent's life journey through his letters, see the places that inspired him, and the paintings. The film retraces the artist's footsteps, leading us through the painter's subject matter and sources of inspiration. From the Netherlands, to Arles, to Saint Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise, we rediscover the places and landscapes that have inspired some of the most essential works in art history. From the dazzling yellow of the cornfields to the deep blue of the sky, the entire palette of one of our most flamboyant painters explodes to light up the screen.


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GeorgiaOKeeffe Georgia O'Keeffe
.  Star-studded movie about the famous artist, Georgia O'Keeffe. Celebrated photographer and art impresario Alfred Steiglitz (Jeremy Irons) is shocked to learn that the extraordinary drawings he has recently discovered were rendered by a woman. Deciding to display the work of then-unknown artist Georgia O’Keeffe (Joan Allen) in his gallery without her knowledge, the fiercely private artist orders him to remove the collection. Once Alfred convinces her to allow him to become her benefactor and to champion her artistry, their relationship evolves as they fall deeply in love. Alfred leaves his wife for Georgia, but soon finds her rising star is poised to eclipse his light. As their relationship suffers, Alfred finds twisted ways to emotionally wound her, including taking a younger lover. Georgia’s search for solace moves her west, where she finds new inspiration for her paintings – and ultimately her own voice – in the New Mexico landscape.

* * * * *

Modigliani Modigliani.  This is a work of fiction based on real artist Amedeo Modigliani who was a painter and a sculptor.  Andy Garcia stars as the painter Modigliani, an Italian Jew, who has fallen in love with Jeanne, a beautiful Catholic girl. The couple have an illegitimate child, and Jeanne's bigoted parents send the baby to a faraway convent to be raised by nuns. Modigliani is distraught and needs money to rescue and raise his child. The answer arrives in Paris' annual art competition. Prize money and a guaranteed career await the winner. Modigliani and his dearest friend and rival Pablo Picasso believe that competitions are beneath true artists like themselves, but with the welfare of his child on the line, Modigliani signs up. Picasso follows suit and soon Paris is aflutter with excitement over the outcome. 

In real life, Modigliani bounced between France and his native Italy as his ever deteriorating health dictated, the deterioration of his health caused by a life of bad choices. Andy Garcia does an outstanding job playing the part of Modigliani and really throws himself and his years of experience into this role and brings his character to life. Elsa Zylberstein who plays the love in Modigliani's life, Jeanne, does equally as well in telling her characters story.  A great movie.


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GirlwithPearlEarring Girl with a Pearl Earring.  You wouldn't think a movie could look like a Vermeer painting, but Girl with a Pearl Earring is filmed with an amazing range of luminous glows that evoke the Dutch artist's masterworks. Of course, it helps that much of the movie centers on Scarlett Johansson who plays Griet, the maid with the Pearl earring who poses for Vermeer (played by Colin Firth) in his household.  Griet finds herself in a web of jealousy, artistic inspiration, and social machinations. Though the pace is slow, Girl with a Pearl Earring genuinely conveys some sense of this artist's process, as well as offering many chaste yet sensual moments between Firth and Johansson. Also featuring Essie Davis as Vermeer's bitter wife and Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom) as a wealthy patron with eyes for Griet.  A very good movie about the inspiration for Vermeer's famous painting.

* * * * *

SurvivingPicasso Surviving Picasso. Directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant, the same two who gave us "Howard's End". This story tells of Picasso's (Anthony Hopkins) relationship with his mistress Francoise Gilot (Natasha McElhone), who was the mother to two of Picasso's children. The movie also introduces us to a number of the other women who encircled Picasso's life during the time of their relationship, including Olga Picasso (Jane Lapotaire), Dora Maar (Julianne Moore), Marie-theses Walter(Susannah Harker), and Jacquueline Rogue (Diane Verona), and some of his artist friends, such as Henri Matisse. The movie is an intimate and believable account of Picasso's life right down to details of the artist's paintings and the moments where he is creating his works of art. The producers may have had a great deal of trouble getting any rights to show Picasso's paintings but it doesn't show except for the fact that his more famous works are not illustrated. Great care was taken to show believable works of art as well as the artist's studio and life.


This should keep you busy for a while!

If you want to buy any of these movies, all you have to do is click on the images of the video's above and it will take you directly to Amazon.com where you can get the best price. 

I love a good movie, and curling up with hot cocoa, a blanket, and the kids for movie night is something that Big Bear and I enjoy very much.  

Let me know if you see any of these movies!  Also, if you have any other movies about art or artists that you would like to share, please let me know in the comments below!



Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A Joplin Prayer


This past Sunday, we learned that a group of folks from our church would be headed to Joplin to help in the recovery there from the tornado of May 22nd that leveled the town and took the life of 142 souls.  I signed up for that mission but have not heard yet if I will be going or not. 


In the meantime, I am taking a page from a blogging friend and inviting you to please contribute to the recovery effort in Joplin.  Judy, at Patchwork Times, is accepting donations by check for the American Red Cross and also quilts that she will distribute to the families in need in Joplin in July.


She is also taking the names of those individuals who make a donation and putting them in the mix for an opportunity to win one of her beautiful quilts!  Sorta like a raffle, but instead of buying a raffle ticket, you are donating to those in need in Joplin!  I like that even better!


As for the donations, make your checks payable to the "American Red Cross" and in the memo section at the bottom of your check, please write "Joplin recovery."  That way there is no question, and your donation will go directly to the fund that is assisting the families in Joplin who have lost so much.


A bit about Judy - she has her own blog called "Patchwork Times" and lives 60 miles north of Joplin.  She is married to Vince, and they have one son, Chad, who is in college and no longer living at home, though he does come home on weekends to work and get laundry done and have home cooked meals.  She says that they are not totally empty nesters yet.  They have a mini-dachshund, Speck, and nine hens, who are almost pets! Judy and Vince live in Missouri, on one acre smack dab in the city limits of a tiny little town 75 miles away from a real restaurant.


Judy has also written two books - both published by AQS.  Nine Patch Extravaganza, was released in July, 2007 and Weekend Quilts came out in February, 2010.  You can order an autographed copy of either (or both) from Judy here.  Judy has a new book in the works too.  If you like her borders,  (and I like her borders) you’ll like the third book (no doubt about borders) which will be out probably late 2011 or early 2012. 


As you may know, my daughter, Kim, and her family live 60 miles south of Joplin.  Let's just say that the night those storms busted through that part of town, I was worried sick for my daughter and her hubby and my granddaughter, Reagan.  Just thinking about it makes me a little nuts, which is why this recovery effort is so important to me - because I know that I am blessed that the tornado missed my daughter's home, and yet, I know that others were not so fortunate and next time (Lord, please don't let there be a next time!) well ... I'm not going to talk about it.  Just put it this way, I have never been fond of tornado alley, especially during tornado season, and as a mother, I worry about those things.

So, in the spirit of giving, let's all do our part to make a difference to the families in Joplin who lost so much. 

Please make checks payable to the "American Red Cross" and in the memo section of your check write "Joplin Recovery."  Also, if you are sending a quilt for the families of Joplin, you can also send them to Judy and she will be taking them to Joplin in July.  She just needs to receive them before July 4th.  Your name will be in the running for one of Judy's beautiful quilts too!

Judy Laquidara
713 Timberbrook Drive
Nevada, MO 64772

If you have any questions or suggestions, you can email Judy at [email protected]  And, be sure and visit her on her blog Patchwork Times!

Thank you to everyone who wants to help.  It is in the giving that makes this life worth living.



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Rainbow of Books


Ever since I was a child, I have had to have a book in hand, on my nighttable, next to my favorite chair, even in my purse.  I love to read that's just all there is to it.  I want to share with you the books I've read over the course of the last year or so.  I am only sharing here, though, the ones that I really loved and couldn't put down.

Let's start with Marie Bostwick.  She is by far my favorite author.  From the day I picked up my first book "A Single Thread" by Bostwick, I've been hooked.  So hooked in fact, that I've become a somewhat distant friend of Marie's. 

ASingleThread A Single Thread will take you on a journey with four entirely different women - from Ft. Worth Texas, to New Bern, Connecticut, and how one woman not only reinvents herself, her life, and her dreams, but brings together new friends in a quilt shop nobody thought would survive.  It is a story of friendship, survival, humility, and sacrifice, and you won't be able to put it down!!  I've read this twice!




AThreadofTruth A Thread of Truth continues the story of Evelyn and the Cobbled Court Quilt Shop introducing a new woman in this journey - Ivy Peterman, who is a young mother escaping an abusive relationship and seeking solice in the small town of New Bern.  There she makes new beginnings, new friends, and builds a new life for herself and her children.  The tapestry of all these women's lives come together in this gripping story of friendship, hope, and courage.  I've read this twice!



AThreadSoThin A Thread So Thin is the story of a young girl facing difficult choices - career, marriage, trust, love, and where to live.  The journey of the original 4 women continue as lives begin to weave together by the thinnest of threads.  A book I could not put down, and when I finished, I emailed Marie a few weeks after it was published and in bookstores and said "NO!!  You can't end this now!!  You have to write another book!!  I'm part of these women's lives now and you can't take that away so Please get crackin'!!"  Well, I said something like that anyway, and am I happy to report that Marie contacted me late last year and told me that the 4th book would be published in Spring 2011.  Well halleluiah! Book 4 will be in stores on May 31st!!  I'll be first in line, and my daughter, Kim will be right behind me. 


ThreadingtheNeedle So, I might as well add it here, because if the first 3 books are any indication, then this new addition to the series will be a fantastic read - Threading the Needle is Marie's newest book and the 4th in this series.  I cannot wait for this one to come out.  BUT, if you go to your favorite bookstore and want to get yourself one of these books, start with the first one "A Single Thread" and take yourself on an unforgettable journey with some very remarkable women.  Then we can all read the 4th book together.  Deal?  deal.  In the meantime, I can't wait for next week because on May 31st this book will be in bookstores!  In the meantime, though, you can click on the book cover images and order your books right from here!


Next in line of my favorite authors is none other than Nicholas Sparks.  Of course, he is probably most women's favorite author!  I not only love his books, but I love his movies too!  They have all been true to the story that was first told in novel form.  If you love "love stories" then Sparks is your author.  He brings together great stories without the need to embellish it with foul language or lots of sex or ... well, you know what I mean.   I've read those kinds of books too and those kind of things do not add any value to a story.  That is another reason why I love Sparks and Bostwick.  Nicholas Sparks' stories are believable, and capture your heart from the very beginning and take you on an unforgettable journey right to the last page.  Unlike predictable stories, his always seem to have a remarkable twist that leaves me grasping my chest with my mouth hanging open.  Here are the books from Nicholas Sparks that I have read over the last year ...

TheChoice The Choice is about making choices that we don't ever want to have to make and are sometimes forced to make. Travis Parker wasn't looking for a relationship; from his perspective, his life was pretty close to perfect.  Living on the coast of North Carolina, Travis finds he has a new neighbor, Gabby Holland, and figures her to be anything but dating material.  But the unexpected can reshape our lives and it took a couple loved dogs to shred every well-laid plan Travis and Gabby might have had.  It all begins with a dog - and then another dog.  And I like dogs.  A truly masterful novel from Nicholas Sparks.


DearJohn Dear John will make you laugh and cry and laugh and cry some more.  Brilliant story. As avid Sparks' readers well know, some relationships only require that the two pick up on each other's beat; others are doomed from the beginning to be out of sync forever. In the case of, narrator/soldier John Tyree and college student Savannah Lynn Curtis, harmony seems whole worlds apart. While Savannah volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, John circles bars at last call, looking for new hookups - you know, typical guy thing. She's an affluent, idealistic do-gooder; he's an outsider trying to rehabilitate himself - but in a good way. Despite their values and lifestyle conflicts, the pair begin to converge. Then the random history of their relationship will snap ... and that's where I'm going to end.  You'll just have to read it.  Of course, you can always rent the movie, but even though the movie is great, the book is brilliant. Dear John - get it?  Dear John ...

TheLastSong The Last Song will take you on a journey with 17-year-old Veronica Miller (Ronnie), as an embittered and confused teenager.  Her parents have been divorced for 3 years, and Ronnie still seethes with anger and a grudge toward her father, a musician and teacher who abandoned his family and hectic New York City life for the quiet beach town of Wilmington, North Carolina after the divorce. One summer, Ronnie reluctantly agrees to her mother's altruistic plan for her and her little brother to visit their estranged father in North Carolina.  As the story unfolds, you won't believe how Sparks weaves together lives that you would think would inextricably clash.  Again, a Brilliant story, a great movie, and - well - you just have to read it!!  The Last Song (hint, hint) will surely make you cry and your heart sing.

SafeHaven Safe Haven will take you on the journey of a young woman, Katie, who moves to the small town of Southport in North Carolina.  Everybody knows each other in this small town, so her arrival raises questions about her past - you know how small town people can be, right?  She is beautiful, self-effacing, and determined to avoid every possible relationship in the town, but a series of events will draw her into a reluctant relationship with Alex, who owns a small store in town and is a young widow with 2 small children.  She also develops a friendship with a new neighbor, Jo.  Well, that's all I'm going to tell, because then I'd be giving away the story!  It's great - yes, Brilliant!  I just love the way Sparks weaves these stories into a tapestry of love, trust, and skill unlike any other.  I will tell you this, it wasn't until I got to the last chapter of the book that I gasped at the ending.  I never would have put it together.  Brilliant!  You will find that Katie is not the only one who finds a safe haven in this story.  And NO PEEKING at the last chapter!!!  You can't do that with a Nicholas Sparks' book or you'll blow your breath-taking ending!!

ABendintheRoad A Bend in the Road - wow - and what a bend it is!!  This is the dramatic story about a couple's newfound happiness together and a shocking secret that threatens to tear them apart.  Miles'  is a deputy sheriff in a small North Carolina town. (Don't you just love that all his stories take place in small North Carolina towns?  Well poo, I do!!) His life was shattered the day his wife was killed in a hit-and-run accident.  Functioning was all but impossible for Miles, but he rises each morning to take care of his young son, Jonah, and carry out his duties as deputy sheriff.  His life, though, seems to be nothing but a numb and hopeless haze as he attempts to find his wife's killer.  Then Miles meets Sarah Andrews, his son's first grade teacher, who is rebuilding her own life after a devastating divorce. Slowly, their love starts to soothe the pain of the past. But when a devastating secret is revealed, they discover they have much more than love in common that will test the strength of their love, their friendship, and all that they had just begun to hope for.  I could not put this book down!  I was up from 4am - 9am this morning reading the last 204 pages just to finish it.  It was a heart pounding story and a great story of love and hope and kick-butt restraint.

TheTruthAboutLove The Truth About Love.  By Stephanie Laurens.  This book is as bold, passionate, and possessive as the men and women in the story.  It is written in a time when men possessed their women in old, elegant, London times.  It is about a man, Gerrard Debbington, who is one of London's most eligible gentlemen.  He is an accomplished artist, who has no interest in marriage or relationships.  His only desire is to be the first to paint the fabled gardens of Lord Tregonning's Hellebore Hall, but first, he must paint a portrait of his daughter, a portrait that will hopefully tell a story of her innocence in the death of her mother.  (a bit far-fetched, but interesting nonetheless).

Gerrard chafes at wasting his talents on some simpering miss, but agrees to the terms of being able to paint the gardens.  Soon he discovers that Jacqueline Tregonning, Lord Tregonning's daughter, stirs him like no other woman before. She is beautiful, but it is her playful and passionate nature that sparks with Gerrard's own, igniting desire and sweeping them into each other's arms.  What follows is passion and sex (written quite well I might add) bringing Gerrard to the conclusion that he must have Jacqueline for his wife.  It is a passionate tale, and one that grips at every woman's heart who desires to have a man who will move Heaven and Earth to protect the remarkable woman who personifies the Truth About Love.

BlkHlstoTrctrWhls Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. By Ree Drummond. Okay, so we all want the fairy tale.  The cowboy who strides into town on a white horse with cowboy boots and an unshaven face and sweeps us off our feet - among other things.  Ree Drummond tells her true life story in this romance story of how she met her Marlboro Man and how she roped him in - or maybe it was the other way around.  Anyway, she went from city life to ranch wife with 4 kids and from cultured golf-course home life to cow pies and riding horseback in about a year - disappointing a number of suitors along the way.  Her prose is wonderful (as is her blog) and you will be laughing your butt off and slapping your hiney with every turn of the page.  By the time I finished this book, I wanted to find the cowgirl within and rope in my Big Bear for a knee slappin' good time - if I could find it in the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina.  But, if you can't haul tail it to Oklahoma and purchase a patch of ranch of your own, then you'll have to live the ranch life vicariously through her book and her blog.  Just sayin'.

TheHelp The Help.  By Kathryn Stockett. With all the publicity this book has received in recent months, if you haven't read it yet, you absolutely must. It is unlike any book I've ever read in my life.  First of all, when I started reading it, I thought that some editor must not have done her job because the spelling and grammar were terrible!  But, as I got past the first few pages, I began to realize that what I was reading was a "voice" - a voice with a "personality."  A "voice" in a time of segregation and hate and disrespect for human differences during the 1960s and the Martin Luther King era.  The "voice" was that of a black maid whose life revolved around raising white babies, cooking, and cleaning, for middle-to-upper class white families in Jackson, Mississippi.  An outstanding book that revolves around the life of twenty-two-year-old Skeeter, a young white woman who has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. Wanting to find solace in her family's black maid, Constantine, who raised her from the time she was a baby, she returns to discover that her friend and surrogate mother is gone and has left no information as to where she has moved.  Her mother won't tell her what happened.  While on a mission to discover the whereabouts of her dear friend, Constantine, Skeeter, a budding writer, begins to gain the trust of several maids in the community; maids who are working for her friends.  

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child.  Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost job after job until she finally finds a position working for someone too new to Jackson to know her reputation. Minny will soon discover that her new boss lady all dressed in tight pink sweaters and bleached blonde bufonts has secrets of her own.

All of the women in this novel are as different from one another as you could possibly expect in 1960s Mississippi, yet they will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk.   All of them are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times, and sometimes lines are made to be crossed. 

I don't know how she did it, but in pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town and the way all women—sisters, mothers, daughters, caregivers, and friends—view one another.   This is a deeply moving novel (and her first!!)  filled with poignancy, humor, and hope.   I believe The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we sometimes abide by and the lines that divide us.

Well, now I know I've read more books, but these are the books that have certainly captured my heart, and until I can dig anymore out of my stack next to the bed, I'd say this is a good start wouldn't you?  Summer reading is on the way folks!  So grab yourself a good book, curl up in your favorite chair with your fuzzy socks, favorite blanket, and an iced tea and remove yourself from all the stresses in your life by taking a journey into another time, another life, with novel friends, fantastic journeys, big love, and more.  Sounds like a great time to me! 

Also, if you would like to order any of the books above from Barnes & Noble, please just click on the image of the book cover.  It's that easy!

What books have you read recently?  Please share them in the comments below!  I am always looking for good books that are recommended by family, friends, and Raisin Toast readers!




Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Prom to Remember


It was a beautiful day.  The sun was shining bright and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  I took Sarah to get her hair done, and the night before I gave her a manicure.  By the time she had dressed for her prom, I couldn't help but feel a complete sense of pride and joy for my baby girl.  She looked beautiful.


The culmination of 8 weeks of anticipation and hope for a special evening.  Every girl's dream of feeling like a princess and being told that she is beautiful.  As I took these pictures, I couldn't help but feel sentimental and a mother's love for my daughter.  I am so proud of her.


Her first prom.  Her first boyfriend.  Her first love.  Her first princess dress.  Her first piece of jewelry purchased with her own money and her choice.  She did her own makeup too - perfectly.  A smile to melt mountains, a heart of gold, a joyful spirit - that's our Sweet Sarah.


And then her love arrived looking ever so handsome and distinguished in his tuxedo, carrying her corsage.


And her friends arrived shortly thereafter.  Then, I proceeded to take 525 pictures documenting their entire evening.  Yes, the entire evening - because Big Bear and I served as chaeuffer and photographer for the entire night.  I think I had as much fun as they did!


Now, about these two ...


Are they a good-lookin' young couple or what?


Future Cardiologist and Neuro-surgeon respectively.


Honor students.  Honorable too.  Good kids inside and out.


They enjoyed the scenery in downtown Charlotte ...


They danced ...


And so did about 400 other juniors and seniors!


They attempted the 2011 version of the Macarena.  Only it was "...to the left - to the left ... to the right - to the right ..." and then something else that I couldn't understand.


"Am I supposed to go left?  Oops, maybe that's right?"


And he swings her ... and twirls her ...


And they danced the night away.


Three young couples making happy memories together as they face a future that is as bright and beautiful as they are.

Do you have Prom memories?  I'd love for you to share!  Tell me about your prom in the comments ...




Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In the Blink of an Eye

My daughter, Sarah, posted these pictures on Facebook.  Pictures that I haven't glanced at in years and I got all choked up because time goes by in the blink of an eye. 

My babies

I think Matthew tooted in this picture - look at Sarah's face.

My babies2

Matthew feels better and Sarah backed off.  Look at those chubby cheeks.  I miss those chubby, pinchable, cheeks and that adorable baby boy who cuddled up to me every day.  And that precious baby girl!  Sarah had (and still has) the most beautiful head of hair and the funniest expressions.  She loves her baby brother and has always been the best big sister ever. 

My babies3

Easter 1998.  Matthew was 16 months old.  Sarah was 4 y/o.  Oh how time flies!!

If you have a baby (or babies) - savor every minute, even the exhausting moments, because there will come a day when you are looking back on the memories and wish you had that sweet baby cuddling up to you and saying "I love you Mommy" once again.  Sure, they grow up and still say it, and yes, I still get the daily hugs, but there is just something so special about a baby's innocence that melts my heart.

Now I have this adorable baby to virtually hug every day ...


I can't believe it, but that's my granddaughter!  My daughter, Kimberly, is so very blessed to have such an angel.


And she's all dressed up for Easter!!  I wish there was a way to slow Father Time.  My maternal instincts are setting off sparks right now.



Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mozart Requiem


This past Sunday was Palm Sunday, celebrating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jeruselem several days before his death and resurrection.  Our church service was magnificent.  That evening, we went back to our church to enjoy the Concert - Mozart Requiem - performed by the MUMC Sanctuary Choir, the Charlotte Latin School Concert Choir, and members of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

If you love Mozart as I do, you will appreciate this bit of historical background on the Requiem:

Mozart Mozart was a busy man during the late summer and fall of 1791, racing to fulfill a stack of commissions.  La Clemenza di Tito premiered in Prague on September 6, and three weeks later The Magic Flute debuted in Vienna.  In October he finished his Clarinet Concerto, and on November 18, in probably his last public appearance, he conducted a new cantata for his Masonic lodge.  He died on December 5.

After all this activity, only one major work lay on his desk unfinished at the time of his death: the Requiem.  Much romance and mystery have surrounded this work and its supposed connection with the composer's own death; but they largely dissipate when we concentrate on the facts that we know.

Mozart set to work on the Requiem in October.  his many letters from this period to his wife Constanze are teasing, full of high spirits, love and affection -- not, as some tales imply, those of a man paralyzed with fear over his own impending death.  He was actively planning trips to England and Russia, negotiating commissions, and more.  Nothing even suggests teh onset of a serious illness until the middle of November.


In that month, a viral epidemic swept through Vienna.  On November 20, Mozart took to his bed and survived only two more weeks.  The Requiem remained unfinished simply because among Mozart's many commissions all due on top of one another, it was the next on the list to complete.  The autograph manuscripts show no signs of haste or fatigue in what we know Mozart completed himself. Right to the end, it seems, Mozart had no idea that he was soon to die.

Before he died, Mozart was able to finish only the Requiem's opening movement, the Requiem aeternam, and a bit of the middle sections.  After his death, Mozart's wife, Constanze pleaded with Mozart's pupil, Franz Xaver Sussmayr to complete the work.  He completed the Requiem in February 1792.

In the end, we are mistaken to believe that Mozart's Requiem is incomplete because of foul play or Mozart's fear of impending death.  To him the Requiem was simply the next work, the next commission.  He could not have known that it would be his last and that he would not live to bring it to completion.  All Mozart or only snippets of Mozart, it truly matters not, for this Requiem is without a doubt a masterpiece of sublime choral and instrumental brilliance.

This concert experience brought me to tears.  I am proud to be a member of a church that brings us all closer to the Lord through its services, music, and choral experience.  I hope you have time to sit back and listen to and enjoy Mozart's Requiem as performed by the MUMC Sanctuary Choir, the Charlotte Latin School Concert Choir, and members of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

I just wanted to share ... May the Lord bless all during this Holy Week.


A wonderful concert at my church! Featuring the Matthews United Methodist Church Sanctuary Choir, the Charlotte Latin School Concert Choir, and members of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Peter Leo, conductor.

This performance took place at the MUMC on the evening of April 17, 2011 for the beginning of Holy Week. Enjoy!


Note: Big Bear did the videotaping. Just thought I would throw that in there.

Do You Know How To Play?


(Robert Genn & his precious dog, Emily out for a ride in his classic car)

I think I have forgotten how to play.  I used to be good at it.  As a matter of fact, I wanted to do it all the time!  But, as I've gotten older, and with all the children I've had the honor of being "mother" to, I've become an old fuddy-duddy.  My favorite activity at the age of 52 is sleep, and to admit that I've turned into my mother is quite obvious.

I will say this, though, I love being creative, and yes, I suppose that is a grand form of "play."  But when I sew, paint, or quilt, I keep to the pattern or the instructions so precisely as if any deviation would result in a tragic bungle of mass proportions.  Experimentation is not my strong suit.

The one time I dared to experiment with painting ended up being a disaster and finding an appropriate way to destroy the mess became my creative and playful adventure of the day.  I suppose I view play as wasteful of paint, canvas, fabric, thread, and time, and that is why I don't play much.  Unfortunate I know.  I think it is time I throw all caution to the wind and play - play to my heart's content and see what happens.


Now take artist Robert Genn, for instance - he admits to the following deviations:

"Anyone familiar with the miracle of acrylic has tried throwing in texture-enhancing items like muslin, doilies and leaves. Things I haven't resisted include confetti, streamers and sparkle. My sparkle period lasted a full summer. While it added body and a crumbly texture and seemed like a good idea at the time, it also added an undesirable tartiness, like a girl with "George" tattooed across her front, especially when your name isn't George. I didn't feel guilty. The misguided nature of my sorties is not to be disparaged. For an artist, play is both necessary and unavoidable. Unlike the girl's tattoo, creative play doesn't have to be permanent.

Other items I've added to my acrylics include spaghetti, tortellini, vermicelli, the internal workings of clocks, radios, cameras, toys, nuts, screws, nails, bones, shells, pebbles, sand, bark mulch, crockery, springs, bathroom and toilet implements, human prosthetics, cellphone parts, computer motherboards, old automobile accessories and vintage engine parts. It's inexcusable, I know, but I can't help it. Maybe I've got a bad gene.

FYI, acrylics lock down this sort of stuff in perpetuity and seal away the bugs that eat the biodegradable bits."

Now that's what I call "Play!"  Why don't I have that kind of gumption?  Heck, that kind of play takes exuberance!  I want some of that! 


Do you play? Or, do you stick to the recipe - the pattern - the instructions - with such precision as to not want to screw up what's already been tested?  I'm definitely the latter, but think I might just deviate from the familiar and try something new this week and not worry about the waste.  And, although I can't attest to ever being playful enough to use the sort of things that Robert admitted to, I do admit to being a "stick in the mud" if that counts.



Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Reagan - Before & After

I thought I would share some before and after shots with you.  Reagan, my dear, sweet granddaughter, is the star of these shots.  Enjoy ...

































A Picture is worth a thousand words, right?  Well, there's nothing more to say, our little Reagan is a cutie - patootie.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Even in Hardship - An Abundance of Blessings


Many changes have taken place in the 30  months that Big Bear has been out of work.  There have been many difficult and humbling changes, but nothing that has really been negatively life altering - like having cable turned off (which obviously means no television), or lowering the thermostat in the winter and raising it in the summer, or finding creative ways to earn money to pay the utility bills.


We've learned to be conscientious energy consumers and we turn off unnecessary lights, we don't run the dishwasher or the washing machine unless it is full.  We also don't run errands as often as we did for most of the last 18 years together.  We plan our trips to the grocery or whereever else we need to go so as not to waste gas.  It's just too expensive.


We've learned that shopping at the Goodwill really isn't all that bad after all.  I mean, I've come to love shopping there!  Just this past few Sunday's we've stopped in after church and I've found some surprising deals.  I found a perfectly new Burberry handbag for 99 cents.  I found about 4 dresses for Sarah for 4 bucks a piece - all name brand too and in excellent condition.  I bought Matthew and Glen some nice dress shirts to wear to church too.  For me, it has become a bit of a treasure hunt.  I'm not ashamed to admit any of this because I can honestly say, without hesitation, that I've learned a great many things over the last 2 years, and most of it has been good.  I'm actually grateful for the Goodwill.


I've learned that I (yes, little ol' me) am fully capable of carrying my family of 5 financially through the blessings God has given me to write, paint in oils, sew, craft, and design websites and blogs.  My crafts have turned into a full-fledged business and God has brought me the business to keep me busy.


I've learned the value of a dollar - more than ever before.  I will never again waste a dollar on frivolous purchases, and instead will think about the value of saving that dollar. 


Sure, it was nice having the money to go shopping and spend it on whatever I desired that was within our budget of course, but still, we've been very comfortable for most of our marriage and have never wanted for anything.  Now, of course, our lives have changed, but has it been all that bad?  Not really.


We've all been praying.  Praying that Big Bear finds a good job and we can get our lives back, but as the days and weeks and months have passed, what I thought was an unanswered prayer has actually been answered abundantly.


Honestly, I think we needed a wake up call.  And "wake up" we have.  Even for all the resumes that Bob has sent out and for all the interviews that he has been on, no job is on the horizon - at least not one working for someone else.  Still, we are happy and healthy.  We have our home and we have each other.  We have family - and nothing is more important than family.


In addition to all the hard-learned lessons, I wouldn't take back one day of the last 30 months.  I believe, for us, this has been the Lord in action in our lives. We've each had difficult days, stressful days, days of worry and turmoil, but the sun has always shined brightly the next day.


Where as we used to make excuses for not getting up on Sunday morning and taking our family to church even when our children asked us if we could all go, we now go every Sunday without fail.  The children are happier than ever before - not that they weren't happy before, but Sunday's have come to represent time with God, time with prayer, time to reflect, and time with family.  Rain or shine, we've gone to church every Sunday.  I made a promise to my daughter, Sarah, that unless we are all sick, we will go to church on Sunday.  I won't break my promise and I am better for it.


As a result, we are becoming more active in our church.  We love our congregation family, and we absolutely love our pastors (yes, I said "pastors") as our church has 6 pastors.  Every Sunday we leave feeling renewed and blessed.  We each share our experience and thoughts as we drive home to begin our week.  I love this time we share and I look forward to Sunday now more than any other day of the week.


I also made a promise to myself and God that I would read the Bible this year and I have been reading almost daily.  I enjoy reading God's word in the morning before I begin my day.  It's amazing how it calms me and brings things into focus.


Think about it ... How often do our schedules, long to-do lists, and our immediate line of priorities trump the things we claim to love the most?  A pile of laundry certainly seems insignificant the day a family member becomes sick or injured, or your mother falls ill.  Yes, life involves a great deal of responsibility, but it also involves a need for responsiveness to urgent situations - like a child struggling in school or a loss of a job.  We need to gain perspective - fast - and respond accordingly.  I am proud of my family because we have each stepped up to the plate and helped each other through these tough economic times.


We've had to respond, and in doing so, we've prayed that God show us the way for our journey through this "relative" hardship.  I say "relative" because really now, how bad is it really for us?  Not.  Think of those poor souls in Japan, or the families who have lost their homes to this economic situation.  Think of our young men and women fighting a war in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the fighting in Egypt.  Perspective.  Suddenly "this" life we are living seems glorious by comparison.


In the last year especially, I've managed  to grow and nurture a business from nothing to something - Red Easel Designs - and it has carried us through.  My painting commissions have picked up too for my Vaughn Fine Art business, and I've sold a number of my crafts too.  I had a task to fulfill and I needed to step in quickly to honor that need for my family.  With God's help, I've been able to do this.


Talk about putting things in perspective - think of Moses.  Here's a man who was tending sheep, fulfilling his daily responsibility, when God intervened with an urgent call.  Moses was available and obedient, but when God told him what he wanted him to do - to go back to Egypt and lead a rescue mission for the Hebrew people, imagine what must have gone through Moses' mind.  "I can't do this, I'm just an ordinary man" (maybe)  In many ways, I thought that being able to carry my family financially while Big Bear continues to look for work was impossible and it scared the bageebees out of me.  I didn't think I could do it.


Like Moses, I certainly felt inadequate for the job of picking up where Bob left off, and I felt ill equipped for this mission in my life.  However, I've learned that when God calls us to do something bigger than we think we can accomplish, He will equip us by working through us, just as He did with Moses.


I've learned to rely on God's strength and not on my own abilities.  That is how we can become more confident in our own successes.  His great power overcomes our lack of confidence or talent.  We act in the power of the great "I Am."


So when you hear the call to step up, just as I have in the past few years, answer without hesitation "Here I am Lord!"  God's call.  God's strength.  Your availability.  I'm proof positive that the Lord works wonders and blessings through hardship - little ones and big ones.  We may not see His answer in our time, but we will surely see it in His.


Love to all my readers and friends - you are my family and I am so grateful for all of you. 


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Top of the Mornin'


For the last week or so, I've had the hardest time pulling myself out of bed in the morning - but for good reasons.  When I lay on my left side I can look out my window, but for the last week or so, the evenings have been "cool" and the mornings have been sunny and cool and breezy as well, so I have been putting the screen in my window and leaving it there.


At night, when the lights are out and all is quiet, there is a slight breeze that filters into the room and I find myself drifting off to sleep within minutes.  Even my brain is quiet when the cool breeze finds its way to my face.


I'm in a coma until morning.  I get up with the children and get them off to school and then I scoot back to bed and curl up under the covers until the sun comes out.


The breeze picks up and the white sheers are blowing into the room, but what I find completely amazing about North Carolina are the birds.  The song birds.  The music serenades me for what seems to be hours. 


Honestly, having lived in Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina, there has never been a place so filled with song birds like North Carolina.  It really is amazing and one of these days I am going to record the music outside my window and let you listen for yourself.  Even with the windows closed I can hear the serenading outside.


Of course, there is "Peepers" who I spot looking in the windows every now and then. 


And there is a family of owls that live in our forest of trees in our backyard that whooooot the night away.


Aren't they beautiful?  These are only a few of the birds that live in our backyard, but are native to North Carolina.


And see that Turkey Vulture?  We have a bit too many of them around here.  As a matter of fact, about 3 years ago, a Turkey Vulture made his way onto my front door step, and began knocking at my transom window.  Adolf (our German Shepherd) just looked at him through the window in amazement.  He was there for hours and I finally had to call animal control.  They caught the Turkey Vulture and as it turns out, he was dying - at my front door no less. 


I've discovered in the almost 6 years that we have lived in North Carolina that not only is there an abundance of birds and wildlife, but just like the people of this great State, the wildlife and the birds are very friendly too. :)

Whereever you are in this world, I hope your mornings are as glorious as mine have been lately, and I hope the birds are serenading you too.  I feel totally immersed in God's magnificent creation.

Can you identify any of the birds in this post?  If so, leave a comment below and let me know where you live too!


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Cracker Barrel Not All it's Cracked Up To Be


We "used" to love Cracker Barrel.  We used to love stopping at Cracker Barrel when going on trips, and after church on Sundays too.  We'd always stop at a Cracker Barrel for good food and a great shopping experience.  But, things have changed, and I'm really distressed over it because now, I'm not so sure we will go to Cracker Barrel again, not even for their country store.  Bottom line - the food is lousy and very costly.  The service is still good, and the management does take an interest in the customers, but if you are looking for good food, Cracker Barrel is no longer the family destination of choice.

Why?  Well, I'll tell you.  The food has changed.  The cornbread is absolutely terrible and has about as much flavor as cardboard.  My son and daughter ordered pancakes this morning, and they were not cooked.  We couldn't believe it, but the inside of the pancakes were still pancake batter.  The chicken tenders are bland and the cinnamon apples - the one thing I used to enjoy - had apple skin that was "tough" to swallow.  The food has become generic, bland, and - well - bad.

Now this is not the way we like to enjoy our Sundays after church, nor do we like to complain, but I do feel a need to share this experience with you, and not just because "our" experience was bad.  You see, we talked to the manager and he explained to us that a lot is changing and it isn't all good.  The manager explained to us that by going the "Corporate" route, the food is prepared off-site and shipped in, which has eroded the "home-cooked" meal experience that Cracker Barrel was originally built on.

Woooh!  Food is prepared off-site and shipped into Cracker Barrel?!!  That's scary if you ask me.  Off-site, as in "where" off-site?  You mean my food is not actually prepared and cooked "here?"  And, apparently, this disgruntled family of ours are not the only customers voicing concerns about the problems with food and pricing too - it is rampant across all Cracker Barrel franchises, because they all serve the same thing and have all gone through the same changes - or, so, this is our understanding.

Here's the thing, at least 5 employees at Cracker Barrel spoke to us and all of them asked me to "PLEASE" write a blog post about this.  You see, they know me there because we used to frequent the establishment.  Now we go about once every 3-4 months, and in the past year, each time we have dined there has been a horrible experience.  Literally.  I suppose old habits die hard, because each time I was convinced it had to be the cook in the back or some other reason the food was so bad.  

One afternoon about a year ago, I stopped in with my mother for lunch and we both left disgusted with the food.  It was terrible and expensive.  I swore I would never go back, but here we are - back at Cracker Barrel hoping it was just a fluke that the last 3-5 times we've gone there it has been a bad experience.


Anyway, the employees who spoke with us today said that customers are leaving unhappy every day and by the multitudes and they desperately want "back" the best-of-breed restaurant and quality food service that once was Cracker Barrel.  

Just so my readers know, I am not here to rant on Cracker Barrel.  I've loved the eating-out destination for years, but when a family of 5 can't eat for less than 60 - 80 bucks and you end up waiting almost 45 minutes for your food (even on a slow day) and then it isn't even cooked, or good, or hot - it begs the question "What happened?"  

To Cracker Barrel - Wake UP!  You are not going to grow any customer love by slacking off in the one area that once was your banner of pride - good home-cooked food goodness.  You cannot make up for bad food with a nice country store either.  Why?  Because if your customers no longer like your food, they will most likely not shop at your country store either.

It really pains me to write this post, but we are a family that enjoys the occasional Sunday afternoon brunch after church together.  It is quality family time.  Time to enjoy a good meal together.  Time to talk about our blessings and our church service.  Time to reflect on the coming week.  Just good quality family time.  Cracker Barrel used to be our favorite "after church" destination.  We'd even enjoy sitting and playing checkers while we waited for a table.  I'm sad to say that we will not be going back to Cracker Barrel.  At the very least, not until we discover through word-of-mouth, that the food has improved, and the home-cooked goodness that Cracker Barrel was built on is once again a promise.

I hope my readers who frequent Cracker Barrel will comment and share their experiences - and I'm not talking about Cracker Barrel employees or families posing as happy customers either.  This is a real problem and I hope the company resolves it soon.  We sure do miss happy memories at Cracker Barrel, and hope things will change soon - for the better of course.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Economic Meltdown

Seriously, this last 2-and-a-half years have been hell for our family.  How we've made it this far without losing our home is nothing short of God-intervention.  But, today, I felt I needed to share with all you dear readers and friends the reasons why my posts have been sparingly.  My state-of-mind.  That really is it.  My state-of-mind has been in a meltdown of sorts, and not just recently either.

Yes, Big Bear was laid off in September, 2008, and no, he hasn't found a job yet.  We didn't have all kinds of money lying around to live on either.  I mean, we had some savings and we had a retirement account, and we have equity in our home, but that's it.  No beach houses or lake condos or rental property.  No CDs or Stock or investments.  We've just been living on "cash" for the last 12 years.  Literally. No credit cards either.  Thank God.


When Bob and I married in 1993, Bob had a good job at GEIS and I was a full-time student at Georgetown University.  I was also working at a nail salon making some extra cash part time.  Five months into our marriage, I was pregnant with Sarah and we decided that I would stay home and raise our family and take care of our home and he would be our support. 


It's been 18 years since we walked down the isle together, and we've run into some hard times before in our marriage, but nothing like this.  He's been laid off a number of times, but we knew that this was typical for the industry that he was in - I.T.


Still, Bob moved up the ranks and the payscale.  Never, did we ever dream that the rug would be pulled out from under us like this.  Never, if for no other reason than Bob's education, experience, work history, and scores of references would put him in the running for the best of jobs with companies like GE, Hewlett Packard, Compaq, Cambridge Technology Partners, Bell Atlantic, Avaya, and others.  He has worked at all of these companies and led the path for new technology and millions of dollars of business for each of them, but here we are, with 9.09 in one checking account and .73 in the other and that's it folks.  We've reached the end of our proverbial pot and so far 2011 seems to have been the end of my proverbial rope.


We pray.  We pray some more.  I know this is all on God's time, but come on already!!  Have we not lived a good life?  Been worthy of carrying the burden?  Been heard?  Our church friends are wonderful.  They are praying that we find a steady income and security once again.  Thank you to everyone who has emailed me and is thinking of  and praying for us. 


What is so difficult about all of this is the number of opportunities that have turned their backs on Bob because they say he has too much experience, or too little experience in this narrow field.  Good golly, Home Depot turned him down for a job because they said he was over qualified.  Well, duh!!  But we need a job!!  We have a family to feed and children to get through college with decent clothes and books.  We need to buy shoes for growing children and school supplies.  We need to buy toothpaste and take them to the dentist!!  And NO!  We haven't been to the dentist in 2 years!!!  Why?  Because we don't have medical insurance and medicaid doesn't pay for the dentist.


I know this isn't just us.  God knows this isn't just us.  Last night, Bob went to our church for a weekly meeting of the "unemployed" in our community.  The place is packed.  Every Thursday night, they all get together and share their experiences, their hopes, their dreams for their future and the future of their family.  They all share their resumes and even recruiters are showing up at these meetings.  You know what is interesting about all of this?  It's that most of the people in the meetings are in their 50's.  Most have worked 10, 15, 20 years for one company and now are being told they don't have enough experience.  The others, like Bob, who have grown and worked for company after company are told you have too much experience, over-qualified. 


You know what I say to all of this - BULL !!!*&%(#)!!!  What they're really saying is "you" are too old.  Over 50?  Forget it.  We want someone in their 20's or 30's who we can shape into what we want them to be.  We don't want all of your experience.  You know why the Home Depots of the world won't hire Bob?  Because they know that once they hire him he'll find another job and leave.  Yeah, probably, but at least they could have him for a couple of months or a couple of years at this rate.  And this chart - you know what the government no longer looks at?  Us.  That's right.  They no longer figure in those of us who have been out of work for more than 2 years.  Therefore, this chart is about as accurate as .... uh .... me guessing the number of cells in my body that are screaming at me at this very moment.

It's not all "Bob" either.  You're probably asking, "so what have you done, Susan, all this time?"  Well, I've applied at Home Depot, Target, Walgreens, Walmart, 5 law firms, and a temp agency.  Most don't even bother to follow up on a job inquiry, and the ones who have have said basically the same thing - "you've been out of the workforce for too long" or "You don't meet the requirements for this position."  You're kidding, right? Exactly what requirements are needed to run a cash register, bag groceries, anything?  I could probably teach them a thing or two about how it should be done, but "nope" they won't even give me the time of day.  So...


I paint.  I work on commissioned paintings.  I craft and sell things that I make.  I build websites, and surprisingly, this hobby of mine for the past 15 years has turned into the income that has carried us through paying the utility bills and the necessaries for our family.  It does seem that God brings me a job just when we don't have anything left.


Still, I've had a rough week.  I took one look at our bank account the other day and had a meltdown.  Where is the next dollar coming from?  Well, Bob is putting out fliers this weekend in several surrounding communities to do yardwork.  He does a great job of landscaping - putting down lime, seed, fertilizer, aeration - that kind of thing.  He has all the equipment and has been using it.  Fortunately, spring is almost here and it is time to start the Spring season of yard work.  Pray we get a few yards.

I've noticed my readership dropping off and I can't really blame anyone for that but me.  I thought it was time to be completely honest.  Yes, I'm putting myself out there, but I think it is in the sharing that we heal.  I know I need to heal.  I'm hurting and I'm scared and I'm feeling pretty down about things.


But know this - I know we are not alone in this struggle.  I know there are so many of you out there hurting in the same way.  That, too, is why I thought I should write this post and share my feelings and experiences here, because no one in this distress, having lost a job or a home or both, should feel like they are alone in their struggles or their pain. 

I'm praying that our country bounces back quickly.  Our people can't wait any longer.  WE ALL need help to start building this economy again.  WE NEED to take our country back from China and Indonesia and India.  WE NEED our spirit and our life back - not next year, not next month - NOW.

I love you all.  Thank you for listening.



Monday, February 21, 2011

Seventeen - Seriously?


I cannot believe my baby girl is 17.  She is so grown up and responsible that I have to pinch myself just to think that I am her mother.


On February 12th, she had a gathering of friends over for a birthday party and then a sleepover of girlfriends.  It was a great time for the teenagers - and even for the adults in the house believe it or not. 


It was laughter and "Taboo" from the start, and then it was music.  Everyone had a good meal and then they all watched "Shawshank Redemption" as the movie of choice - no girly movies allowed.


Sarah's good friend Ryan complained a little about the fact that he had to sit through a girly movie last year at Sarah's 16th birthday.  Too funny.  Fortunately, everyone enjoyed the movie - even the guys.


She opened gifts.


And Walker sat beside her the whole time, enjoying just being beside her.


So he could make faces on occasion.


Or admire a gift as much as Sarah.


"Walker, isn't that neat?"


"Hey!  Give that back, that's my birthday gift!"


Yes, she and Walker are like 2 peas in a pod ...


2 cuddly bears ...


And, as is typical with most men, he was clueless when she frowned ...


But he tried to make up for it with funny faces ...


and hugs ...


and more funny faces ...


"How about one more hug" ...


because Walker likes to make Sarah laugh.  And, he loves to see her smile.  And, that was exactly what he wanted to do anyway, especially since we all knew that the only reason Sarah was frowning in the first place was because she wanted a birthday kiss from her sweetie.


And that was exactly what she got.  All of this solved the issue of turning Sarah's frown upside down.


But then the girls had a plan ...


And they called Walker over to sit with them on the sofa ...


"Aw no, do I hafta?"


Walker is so silly - I think that's part of the reason Sarah loves him so much.


But wait a minute - Walker isn't comfortable on the sofa with all these girls ...


Because he just wants to cuddle with one inparticular ...


Okay, enough silliness, even Hannah (our little puppy) wanted to get in on the action.


Of course, Walker took full advantage of being on a sofa with 8 females.


I mean full advantage.


"Hmmm, this must be what it's like to be on the Bachelor."


"Yes, I do believe that it would be fun to be on the Bachelor."


"I'm just kidding, Sarah.  I didn't mean it.  I was just having fun.  You forgive me, right?"


Everyone scattered, and some headed to the kitchen for goodies.


They hung out and talked.


And shared report card grades.


Ryan apparently had a tough semester.


"Are you kidding?  Ryan, I can't believe that!  Really? You made what on your Math test?"


"No way that's possible.  All you have to do is understand this ...



"But Sarah, my brain isn't wired for calculus functions, product formulas, and derivatives."


"Oh yes it is, Ryan.  Stop hiding behind your brother.  Even he knows you know this stuff."


Okay, enough of the functions already, girlfriends and boyfriends wanted to hang out and share chairs.


While Ryan just hung out - comfortably.


It was fun.  I enjoy observing all the fun and all the laughter.


Even Adolf enjoyed hanging out with the crowd until it was time for cake ...


The cake - oh the cake - I'm not sure anyone actually "ate" the cake.  They did, however, chase each other around the house and smeared cake and icing all over each other's face. 


They were laughing so hard their sides hurt.  It sure was fun.  How I managed to avoid having cake in my face is still questionable.


At one point, Blake was chasing Sarah around the house because Sarah had got him good with cake, right in the face.  Sarah and Blake ran up the back stairs and Sarah locked herself in her bedroom.  Matthew (our son) was unsuccessful at trying to get Sarah to come out of her bedroom because she knew that Blake was outside the door.

Then I came along.  "Sarah, what are you doing?" 

she said "I'm hiding from Blake." 

"Sarah, come out now."

"Is Blake out there?"

"Sarah, come out and join your party." (you see, I didn't actually lie, I just didn't answer her question)

"Cake is flying downstairs, and this is your party, you need to be a part of the cake fight."



So Sarah opened her bedroom door and Blake swirled around and got her right in the face with a big slab of cake and green icing.


"I'm going to get you!!!" she screamed as she chased Blake back down the stairs. 

Later she said to me "Mom, you're going to pay for that."  I just smile.


Walker got it good.  His entire face was covered in green icing at one point.


So was Ryan's. 


They both had to wash up in the kitchen sink.


And get the icing off their designer clothes.


And their handsome faces.


They were all covered in cake.


Sarah had to change clothes at one point.


but she was still smiling - the most adorable 17 y/o ever.

The sleepover was fun too.  Of course, it was only 7 of Sarah's girlfriends.  No boys allowed.  We pulled out the aerobeds and linens and got it all set up for the girls to sleep together in one big room - the boy's room which is the largest in our home with 2 queen beds.  Even I sat around and shared some girltalk with the girls after they had gotten ready for bed. 

Most of her friends went home early Sunday morning, but 2 of her friends, Sydney and Maria, joined us for church service and then Krispy Kreme donuts (we had coupons!). 

It was a great weekend all around and Sarah is all happy about her 17th birthday celebration.

She is growing up way too fast.  Even if she does chase her friends around the house for a cake fight.


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Starting the Year with a Winning Streak


Okay - 2 for 2.  I just got notified that I won the Singer Home Essentials Steam Works Pro Iron in Burda Style's Singer/Martha Stewart video series contest!  Hey, you can't win if you don't enter, right?  I can't remember the last time I won anything - I mean, before the 50.00 from Krrb.com


This was my very brief winning entry


Maybe I'm on a winning streak.  Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket now.  Maybe I should just believe this is a sign that we are going to have a good year after all.  Maybe Big Bear will find a good job.  Yep, maybe - just maybe.


Anyway, I wanted to share with all of you my good fortune, especially considering how the last 2.5 years has been anything but good. 

So, do something exciting today - enter a contest or a sweepstakes.  You may just be a winner.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Another Year Together


Yesterday, Big Bear and I celebrated our 18th Anniversary, and I love him more today than I did the day I married him.  We've spent a lot of time together in our home this past year.  Big Bear searches for work every day for hours on end, and makes calls and networks while I work on the house, take care of the children, help them with their schoolwork, do laundry, and work on this blog - you know, normal stuff for a stay-at-home mom. 

You'd think that with this much togetherness, that we'd get on each other's nerves; but, I have to say that we work hard - together - to make each day as positive and as normal as possible for the children and each other under the circumstances. We make a great team.

I am truly blessed.  Big Bear has single-handedly juggled all the bills, the cooking, and the grocery shopping himself.  He enjoys those things and boy am I grateful.  He doesn't complain.  At least not very much anyway.  He's just not that way.  BB has always been positive, spirited, and in tune to what is going on with all of us.  I have to say that it is the rare man who takes such good care of his family with as much love and devotion as my Big Bear. 

Wedding Picture

In the "Sound of Music" Maria sings to the Captain just after he proposes his love ...

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somwhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

I feel a strong connection to these lyrics and this song.  Maybe because elements of my past, my childhood, my wicked teenage years, and my early adult life were wrought with being a bad girl, insecure, indecisive, and naive to say the least.  I made mistakes - or at least for many who look upon my past would think so, but I believe that amongst the roller coaster of my life, there was always a glimmer of good.

I would not take back anything or change a thing.  Nothing.  Not even the wicked part. Why you ask?  Because if I was able to change my past, walk away from troublesome relationships before I put trust in them and myself, I would never have had Kathleen or Kimberly, and then there would be no Glen or Reagan.  I'd not have the blessings that surround me each and every day. 

Sure, I'd have different blessings, but different isn't always better, and as I look upon my life, my children, my grandchildren, my mother, my brothers, my dear friends, and my husband, I want to fall to my knees in prayer and thank the goodness of the Lord for sending me on this path.  He has never given me more than I can handle in this life despite how many times I thought I couldn't do it anymore.  There have been times I was so frightened for my future that I wanted to crumble.  But now, now I look upon my past and want to tell my youthful self that it is all going to be alright.


I recall, just before I graduated from high school, riding the bus to school.  And, as we were pulling up in front of the school and I was staring out the window in my own world, I remember vividly thinking "I wonder, when I am 50 years old, where I will live?  Who will be my husband?  Will I be married?  Will I have children?  Will I be happy?  What will I be doing with my life?"  I also recall thinking, as I picked up my books to get off the bus, how that day seemed a lifetime away.


Little did I know that the man who would change my life.  The man who would be the love of my life, was getting off the school bus ahead of mine, laughing and talking to his geeky friends, in love with a friend of mine, and never noticing me.  I didn't notice him either for that matter.  I mean, I knew Bob.  He was tall and had long legs and was a big guy.  His mother worked with my father in politics.  He was in several classes with me.  He seemed smart and nice.  We usually said "hello" and that was it.  But I was not interested in him in the least, nor him in me.  I had my sights on other guys in other places.  Little did I know that my love was right next to me the whole time.


Funny how life is.  Mine came full circle you might say.  But, if Big Bear and I had dated in high school, and married, there is no guarantee that we would have been happy.  I'm sure we would have been miserable.  I needed the baggage and the brick upside the head in my youth to be the mother and wife I am today.  I needed the hard life lessons to become firmly grounded.  I needed time, troubles and all, to grow and mature before I was able to be someone special for someone else.


I look at my daughter, Sarah, her life, and I am so impressed.  I actually look up to my youngest daughter.  She is devoted to her studies and gets A's & B's.  She has a boyfriend who we all admire and respect.  He's a good young man and very devoted and respectful of Sarah too.  Everything that a parent could hope for in a relationship for their daughter is wrapped up in Walker (at least for right now).  We hope that it lasts as long as they hope it to be.  Parents never want their daughters or sons to suffer a broken heart or get hurt.  Yes, I look up to Sarah.  She is everything I wish I had been when I was in high school and more.  A shining star.  And in just a few weeks, she will be 17.  Where did the years go?


If I reflect on Kathleen's life, as difficult as it has been for her and for me too, I sure do love her and I am very proud of her.  She is strong and fearless.  Capable and beautiful.  Articulate and Intelligent.  No, she has not always used her best effort to improve the course of her life, and she doesn't always use her best judgment either, (who does that sound like?  Me, of course!) but that is her decision and she has to walk her own rocky road without my interference. Still, I know she will come through these difficult years stronger and more beautiful of spirit.  I have faith in Kathleen.  It's just taking her a little longer to find stability and security and create a family of her own.  But when she does finally reach her goals and her life path, I know that she will be remarkable.  That's just the way Kathleen is - remarkable.


If I reflect on Kimberly, I see a life amassed with heartache and heart surgery.  I see the most beautiful blue eyes and the window to her soul is funny, strong, and gloriously adorable.  I see myself in Kimberly in so many ways.  The good things.  She is funny, intelligent, beautiful, and loves being a wife and mother  (if I may say so myself :) She is completely devoted to her husband, her daughter, and her entire family.  She loves to clean and organize, she loves to share her life as a mother with me nearly every day as I do with my own mother.  Kimberly has wrapped her soul with the beautiful experience of maternal love.  A love so deep and so pure it could move mountains.


Kimberly married a wonderful guy in 2007.  They love and adore each other.  They are great parents and savor every moment they can with their precious baby girl, Reagan.  I sit back and watch them make memories that will last a lifetime and I smile, for I know together they will lasso the moon.


I have 3 wonderful daughters and 1 magnificent son - Matthew.  He is so much like his Dad.  They spend a lot of father-son time together and enjoy it too.  I am so blessed to have a son who is smart, funny, and a good boy (even though he is a teenager and the hard years are just around the corner).  I think Matthew is going to ride right through the teenage years and high school without a scratch. He's a tough little guy with a big heart.  My Bear Cub.


Then there's Glen.  My grandson whom we've been raising since he was 2 weeks old.  With all his challenges (Glen has Asperger's), he is absolutely the most delightful, sweet natured little boy ever.  He's a real trooper, and smart as a whip.  I can't imagine what my life would be like without him.  Not nearly as wonderful as it is with him in my life.


But, with Glen, I've learned something important about parenting.  I've discovered that as a parent, if we really try to get to know our children - how they think, what they love to do, what they enjoy doing, how they learn, how they play, who their friends are, and so much more, that we can help our children move mountains.  Parents need to take an active roll in their children's lives.  I believe that many parents sit back and let their child (or their children) just do their own thing.  We should all be completely involved in our children's lives.  They need to know we love them and we care, even when tough decisions and discipline kick in.  Still, I think Glen will be exceedingly successful.  I'm convinced of it.


Yep, Bob aka Big Bear, is my rock.  He has firmly rooted our family like a father oak.  For 18 years, through the ups and downs and the roller coaster of our marriage, we are stronger and more in love than ever before.  We are each other's best friend. 


I hope that in your life, wherever you may be in your life, that you are happy, secure, and blessed.  I hope that as you take your own journey, that you recognize the little things that make up the blessings.  I hope that someday, you can look back on your life with humility, able to admit your failings, and having learned many things along the way.  And, that even though these lessons may come with making errors of judgment, I know you will see the blessings, the seeds of hope, that were planted along the way.


I wouldn't take back not one day.  Even the tough, heartwrenching days of past were filled with hope and love and lessons. 

So, to my hubby, I love you with all my heart.  Thank you for 18 years of walking side-by-side with me.  Better hold on, for another 18 years are just around the corner.  Happy Anniversary Darling.  I am so proud to be your loving wife.

Thank you to my readers, for taking time from your day to read my stories and share in my life.  Writing it down is cathartic to me.  I am so glad I have a home here on the web where I can share my stories, my thoughts, my pictures, my crafts, my paintings, and more, with family and you - my friends - all of which, I might add, have been encouraged and inspired by my Big Bear. 




Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Are You Afraid of Success?

I think too much.  I'm convinced of it.  When all is quiet in the house and I'm awake, like now in the early morning, I get to thinking.  Deep thinking and reflecting.  I'm not sure that is always a good thing, although I've come up with some pretty good ideas in the early morning.  That's when I usually have an epiphany. 

Take this morning for instance - I was thinking about my life and all the successes I let slide into some corner of the closet of my life.  I'm a great starter.  I'm not very good at taking my passions to the finish line though.  I think I lack something in my brain for finishing things successfully.  I know I have it in me, I just clam up before it gets completely out of control.  Does that make sense?


"Jitterbug Quilt" by Mary Susan Vaughn
52 x 65 - 1930s Jelly Roll Cottons

One thing I know for sure - so sure in fact that I am going to share it with you and I want you to reflect on this in your own life - "what you focus on expands and grows - successfully."  This is true.  No matter what you focus on, no matter what you do, no matter where you go in life, including failure - if you focus on that one thing to the end, you will be successful at it.  Guaranteed.  A huge success.  I promise.

People often say "I'm afraid of failure."  I say "bull."  If you want something bad enough, or want to learn something or do something passionately, you can do it - unless, of course, you have physical limitations that prevent you from achieving your goal.  If you don't have the physical limitations or the mental limitations (due to illness, disease, or something critical - you know what I mean), you can do anything.


"A Charlotte Summer" by Artist Mary Susan Vaughn
18 x 24 Oil on Canvas

I don't think any of us truly comprehend what we are capable of.  Many of us listen to this voice in our head that tells us we are not good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough.  The truth is, if we want to do something passionately enough, we can do it.  We just have to have the will power, the drive, and the determination to see it through to the end.  Of course ...



Family picture - Easter 2003
Big Bear, Me, Sarah, Matthew & Glen

There is this "s" word at the destination that I believe prevents most of us from reaching our goals.  "Success."  Don't laugh.  I'm convinced of this - because with "success" comes responsibility.  It's like giving birth and becoming a mother, you can't take it back.  If you are like most mothers who love their children, raise them, nurture them, and value them as I do, like an extension of your own soul, then you know what I mean.  Having a child is erupt with "responsibility" and we pray day in and day out that our goals and hopes for our children come true, and that their successes in life and passions are realized.  It's the same thing with following through on what we love to do and want to do with our own life.


"America's Promise" by Artist Mary Susan Vaughn
36 x 54 Oil on Canvas

In my life, I can honestly say that being a mother has been my greatest success and my greatest failure.  I will never feel as though I did all that I could to be the best mother to my children.  I will always feel as though I failed them in some way.  If I look back on my life realistically, though, I know that I have done most all I could - all things considered - and still do (if I'm being completely honest here, which I am.  I'm not going to beat myself up over this anymore).  Okay, back to "success." 


Me, Kathleen & Kimberly - 1986

Success is like giving birth.  You have this child, this "element" of your life that is your passion, your desire, your path and hope for your life.  But with that "element," and to reach that "goal," you have to "commit."  There it is folks - commitment.  That's a BIG word and a HUGE responsibility.  If you are going to be successful at anything, you must commit - totally - to seeing it through to the end, no matter what it is.  Even laziness and failure takes commitment.  Do you realize that?  You must do all that is necessary to make it all happen and reach that goal that you visualized from the beginning.  Commitment takes work, and work takes commitment, and it all requires energy and responsibility to see it through.  That, I am convinced, is a failing in many of us, myself included.


Postage Stamp Quilt by Alex Anderson

I'm a mess when it comes to success. I love to sew, quilt, paint in oils, craft, and write.  And, I've been semi-successful at each of these things, but I have yet to be able to focus on one thing and carry it through to a successful conclusion. Every day, I look at others who have been enormously successful at these very things.  Let's start from the top - Martha Stewart, Alex Anderson, Nancy Zieman, Karin Wells, Ree Drummond ... these are but a few of the women of today that I admire for their successes.  They put their heart and soul into what they love and they have nurtured it to a "successful" conclusion - of which there is no real conclusion unless they stop nurturing and working at their passion and their goals. 


Martha Stewart doing everything

How do they do it?  Focus.  Commitment.  Passion.  I am certain that they don't look at commitment as a responsibility, but rather, as a challenge and a goal.  Instead of being afraid of success and all the responsibility that comes with it, they follow it like the light at the end of a tunnel.  They seek it out like water to the thirsty.  They don't sit back and think "Yeah, but if I get it all, will I be able to see it through?  Will I be able to keep up with success?  Will I be able to handle all the responsibility, bad and good, that comes with reaching my goals?"  Well, maybe they do think that, but they don't let those thoughts deter them from ultimately reaching their goals, and with that comes "success."


Gray-haired me trying not to laugh at Big Bear

I once had someone ask me "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  So what if I was 50 when they asked me this!  Heck, I don't know!  Can I take a nap now?  No?  Who asked you?!! 

No, I do not want to make quilts every day of my life.  No, I do not want to paint every day of my life.  No, I do not want to write or craft or do laundry every day of my life.  Yes, I secretly wish I had it in me to be as successful as the women I admire so much.  I told you I was a mess.  And I know that it is because of this that I have not been truly successful at anything, except maybe thinking.


Ree Drummond cooking up something good

Funny thing is, when I focus on something, I do a great job.  I love to paint and have been told by many that my paintings are beautiful (that's relative though and I know it).  I love to quilt and I know that I can create magnificent quilts if I want to.  I love to sew and I know I have just as much in me as Nancy Zieman (Nancy's Notions).  I know I will never be Martha Stewart.  I also know I will never be married to a sexy cowboy on a 100,000 acre ranch with beautiful horses and a desire to cook all things incredible like Ree Drummond, but I can dream.  There are, however, many things that I can do that they cannot, many things that I am passionate about that I could be equally successful at if I only stayed focused and committed to the very end.

How do I do this?  How do you do this?  Education, focus, determination, and commitment.  What am I afraid of?  What are you afraid of?  Success.  Yep, that's it - success.  Not failure, but success.  Failure is easy.  Anyone can "do" failure.  Not everyone can "do" success, because that takes a lot of energy and responsibility, nurturing and building, passion and devotion and time. I take that back (relatively speaking).  I think we are all successful - because to be good at something, even being lazy, a chronic complainer, self loathing, pain-in-the-backside, person who blames others for your problems - that takes energy, and you can be very successful at that too if you try hard enough.


"Ruth Mitchell Christensen" by Artist Karin Wells
20 x 24 oil on linen

From Congresswomen to Crafters, Authors to Artists, Seamsters to Sculptors - if we have something deep inside of us that we love to do, we have it inside of us to be as successful as we let ourselves be at doing that very thing. How far we go, and how successful we become, is limited only by how far we let ourselves go with our desires before we hit a wall. 

I still sit here thinking, though, "okay, so what do I want to be when I grow up?"  Then again, maybe I don't want to grow up - that would require being successful at something and I'm not sure I'm ready for that.  How about you?


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

This is True Devotion


I've been in bed and very sick for about 5 days now.  Christmas day I felt terrible too - aches, pains, chills, sweats, runny nose, sinus drainage, congestion, red, itchy, stinging, and watery eyes, fever that comes and goes, cough (a terrible cough), scratchy and sore throat, swollen tonsils, difficulty breathing, and earaches too.  I'm a mess.

No, I haven't gone to the doctor.  Why you ask?  Because I don't have health insurance.  But, I finally broke down and called my doctor and have an appointment tomorrow.  I can't remember the last time I was this sick.  Maybe 20 years ago.  I can't remember.  I've had colds before and I've had the flu, but nothing like this.  Whatever got me this time has taken me for a real tailspin.

Most of the last 5 days I've spent in bed with a box of Kleenex (I've emptied out 4 boxes in 5 days) and fuzzy socks that are on and off every hour or so depending on whether I'm sweating or freezing.  I've polished off an entire box of Benadryl and enough Advil to float a boat.


There has been one consistency, though,  for me these past 5 days -  Adolf.  He is truly the most devoted dog I've ever had.  He has not left my side.  Not once.  Poor guy.  He lays down on the floor on my side of the bed and doesn't even flinch when I toss Kleenex his way.  A couple of times I've sat up on my side of the bed in the middle of the night to discover that I just whacked Adolf upside the nose with my foot.   I would have taken a picture of him lying beside my bed but I thought better of it.  I didn't think you would want to see all my tissue all over the floor and covering Adolf too.  

He sleeps when I sleep and follows me to the kitchen for hot tea and then back to bed again.  No matter what is going on in the house he stays right by my side.  It really is amazing how devoted he is. 

I was just lying here in bed thinking about this and thought I would share it with you.  Matthew and Glen have been sick too, but not nearly hit as hard as I have been.  They've been busy playing with their new action figures and board games and other than a runny nose and an occasional cough, they are doing okay.

I hope you are well this holiday.  Take it from me - get your flu shot.  I didn't get one this year and I am regretting it.  Just know that people die from the flu every year, it isn't something to mess with.  I just wish I had had someone tell me this before I got so sick.

Stay well ...



Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Symphony of Care for my Daughter and Granddaughter


On September 5, 2009, my daughter, Kimberly, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Reagan, but unlike most uneventful pregnancies, Kimberly faced life-threatening challenges to her and her baby and she needed the best of care.


Let me take you back a bit in time.  On April 6, 1981, at the age of 21, I gave birth to my second daughter, Kimberly, at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.  Her birth was going to be the most difficult emotional experience of my life.  Kimberly was born with Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) a hole between her right and left ventrical, and for the tiny baby that she was, born 4 weeks early, any hole was a big one.  Hers was about the size of a dime, but with a heart no bigger than a half-dollar, that almost cost her her life.  She was blue and immediately rushed to the NICU where they monitored her condition.  I held her in my arms for a mere 1 minute before she was wisked away.  My heart sunk, my temperature spiked.  My daughter and I were not faring very well.


The next day I was able to visit Kimberly in the NICU and I breast fed her for the first time.  She didn't do very well with that and I had to pump every day and feed her.  Mother's milk was the best for baby, and I knew it might make the difference between life and death for her.   She had tubes and connections, but holding her close was all that made such deep maternal love possible.  As I looked into her precious blue eyes and felt her tiny fingers wrapped around my index finger, I knew that together, Kimberly and I, would survive, and that she would teach me much about motherhood, mothering, caring, and love - and almost 30 years later I now know those things are true.


When Kim was 3 months old, she had her first open-heart surgery to repair the hole in her heart.  Dr. Head placed a dacron patch over the hole in her heart and Kim quickly grew.  She was pink and healthy and chubby too.  She bounced back like a charm.


When she was 4 years old, doctors discovered Kim had aortic stenosis and needed to correct the obstruction in her aortic valve as soon as possible.  So, during Christmas of 1985, Kim had open-heart surgery again, shortly after this picture was taken.

Kim did great, and I put up a Christmas tree in her room with presents and all.  Santa was going to visit Kimberly in Walter Reed, and he did.  More than anything, Kimberly wanted to go with me each time I left her room to go to the cafeteria for an ice cream.  She couldn't leave the ward because of her tubes and connections.  She didn't like that one bit and would cry every time I left to get her an ice cream.  Shortly after Christmas, her cardiologist came into the room and said "Kim, would you like me to take out those nasty tubes?"  Kim looked at me with a twinkle of apprehension in her eyes and said "yes."  I asked if I could hold her hand and the doctor said "yes." 

Kim was so brave.  Braver than any child I've ever known.  Her doctor pulled out multiple tubes one at a time from her chest and sides.  I cried.  I was a complete mess and I held Kimberly's face to mine and we both cried - but Kim was the braver of the both of us, by miles. 

The doctor said cheerfully "Kimberly!  I'm all done!  You are such a brave girl!" and I popped up my head and smiled at Kim, red eyes and all, and said "He's all done!  Yay! Are you okay?"  I looked at Kim with a lot of concern in my eyes and she said rather coyly, "Mom, does this mean I can go with you to get ice cream now?"  Her doctor and I both laughed and said "yep, you want to go right now?"  She said "Yes!" and with wheelchair and Kim in hand, I strolled her to the cafeteria for her first ice cream out of her room. 


The day she was discharged, Kimberly had a room full of balloons, and being the sweet angel with a heart of gold that she is, Kimberly asked if we could give her balloons to the children on the pediatric unit.  I wish I had pictures, but imagine Kimberly with about 20+ balloons in both hands being strolled through the pediatric ward.  I took her into each room one-by-one and she would give a child a balloon or tie one on a crib and she would say "I hope you feel better soon."  It was a touching moment in my life, seeing so much compassion from such a young child.

When Kim was 10 y/o, she needed surgery again, but this time it was to replace her aortic valve.  Her valve was leaking and she wasn't getting the oxygenated blood that she needed.  She successfully had her valve replaced with a human valve.


When Kim was 15 y/o, she had her 4th open-heart surgery to replace the aortic valve again, only this time they performed a double-valve replacement at the Oklahoma City Children's Hospital, just weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing.  We stayed in the Ronald McDonald House close by during Kim's stay and surgery.  The doctors took her healthy pulmonary valve and replaced her aortic valve that was leaking again, then, they took a pig's valve and replaced her pulmonary valve.  They did this because they knew that her healthy pulmonary valve was a perfect valve to replace her aortic valve, and they knew that her pulmonary, being a secondary valve, would grow with her and not require replacement for about 15 years. It would also be a less risky and invasive surgery to correct any complications with her pulmonary valve going forward.


So here we are nearly 15 years later, and Kimberly has grown up into the most beautiful young woman, wife, and mother.  In 2009, when Kim gave birth to Reagan, it nearly cost her her life.  She had developed gestational diabetes and a number of other complications during her pregnancy and needed to have her heart condition monitored every 2 weeks for the duration of her pregnancy.  The last weeks were the toughest for her and she needed an emergency c-section to save her and her baby. 

Kim's healthcare has always been critical to her life and health since her birth, and the care she received at Lehigh Valley Health Network during her pregnancy was exceptional in keeping her and her baby healthy.


Her story is so remarkable that Lehigh Valley contacted Kim and her husband, Zak, about doing a video story about the care she received during her pregnancy and her heart condition.  The result?  This beautiful video and story - below.  I hope you will watch the video.  It is wonderful, and it brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it.

I am so proud of my daughter, Kimberly, and the woman she has become.  She is beautiful, inside and out.  She has a heart of gold.  She is a good mother and a loving wife.  She is my angel and has taught me much that is good and precious about being a mother.  She loves her daughter like I love her, and this Christmas I will thank the Lord she is alive, she is a part of my life, and that I have a healthy granddaughter too.

This is Kim's story. 

A Symphony of Care


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Her Channel, Videos, and Camera Confidence


You may have noticed the toolbar above my masthead - the black one from the Her Channel.  You may also have noticed that there is a "My Videos" up there with videos from other bloggers.  That is because I haven't made any yet!!  I really need to get on the schtick here and make my craft and sewing videos so that you can visit me on the Her Channel and I can share with you how I do all these crafty things I get my hands into all the time.

I just wanted to let you know what's going on and why that bar is up there.  Her Channel is a wonderful resource with videos from bloggers like myself who share everything from life experiences to cooking, parenting to health, and now, thanks to the request of Her Channel, I am starting a Crafting and Sewing section for them!  It should be lots of fun.  That just means I've gotta get out of my pajamas and into my makeup and something nice.  I have to fix my hair too.  This may be a lot of work.  Maybe I ought to rethink this.  Naaah, I'll manage.  I just have to get my Big Bear to learn how to take decent videos.

So there you go.  I'm busy with everything but shopping this year (and if you've been hangin' around here long enough you know why).  Instead, I'm Santa's elf, making dolls and purses, quilts and stockings, paintings, websites and blogs, for my family, friends, and readers. 

I hope everyone is having a glorious holiday season!  I will let you all know when my videos go live.

Keep your toesies warm and your spirits high -

Blessings Abound!


Thursday, December 02, 2010

This Woman I've Become - Fears and All


Have you ever been in bed at the crack of dawn, and alone with your thoughts just long enough that it scares the bageezees out of you?  So goes this post - as the woman I've become and may surely be in years to come has done just that.  I'm wishing I had a balance right about now.

I don't get it.  I've gone from what appears to be one extreme to another throughout my life.  I'll try not to make this a long post, just a reflective one, in hopes that I am not the only nutty woman out there.  Oh Please, God, I hope not.  


When I was a small child, I was afraid of everything. The dark. Thunderstorms. Being kidnapped.  Dogs.  Strong wind.  Strangers.  Falling down stairs.  Getting lost.  Drowning in our swimming pool. Riding a bicycle.  And, once I hit school age, I was afraid nobody would like me.  That I wouldn't make any friends.  That I wasn't as pretty as Cathy Carr. That some boy would look up my dress.


When I was a preteen (that's me in the background petting our dog, Fouch), my family moved into a big house on 8 acres in Brookeville, Maryland, and I had to change middle schools in the middle of the school year.  Disastrous.  I did become a little more daring, though.  I had a mini-bike that I would drive as fast as I could in our back yard.  I even found a huge rock aiming nicely out of the ground at just the right angle for me to use as a ramp, fly through the air, and land with a thump only to turn around and take flight again.  But, I was afraid of not making any new friends.  I was afraid nobody would like me.  I was afraid of being teased on the school bus.  I was afraid of large animals, big spiders, flying beetles, and roller coasters.  I was afraid of walking up my long driveway to catch the bus because a section of the driveway went through the woods and I was sure someone or something would jump out and get me.  The boogie man maybe?  I was afraid of my orthodontist.  Most of all, I was afraid my brother, Mike, who was drafted, would end up fighting and dying in Vietnam.  The early 70s were scary years, and not just for me.


When I became a teenager, I was a bit more confident, a heck of a lot prettier than my pre-teen years, and a whole lot more academic too.  Only then, I was afraid that no boy would ever marry me, afraid that I'd fail every test, or I'd die in a car accident.  I was also afraid of getting lost.  Wrong.  


I had plenty of boy friends and 3 proposals before I was 18 and I aced nearly every test. However, I was in 1 car accident that sent ravioli flying across the front seat of my new Camaro so that the paramedics thought I had lost more than just my judgment, and that was because I was "lost" and didn't know where I was going.  

Want to know what happened?  I was driving down Bel Pre Road (for anyone who knows Silver Spring, Maryland), after dark, looking for a turn-off to go to a friend's house.  It was raining.  I couldn't read the street signs for the lights reflecting off the road.  I was leaning forward and holding on to the steering wheel trying to find that dang turn-off when "bam!" I came to a dead stop so suddenly I'm surprised I didn't go through the windshield.  I had hit a parked car on the side of the road with no lights on.  My new car was trashed and I was covered in ravioli.  Now, I was afraid of how I was going to tell my parents that I had just wrecked the new car they bought me for my birthday.


When I became an adult (I say that with a high degree  of apprehension), I stressed that I'd never find the "right" boy and that I'd die an old maid.  So, during my teen years, I'd  drive to Annapolis with my girlfriends and we'd hang out with 4500 midshipmen in hopes of coming home with a good catch.  Oh, I caught a few, but "not" the right one.  I was so desperate to find love (my father had found greener pastures and had temporarily left home), that I found myself alone, in love,  and pregnant at 19.  I was afraid of being a mother.  I was afraid no man would ever love me now that I was a mother.  I was afraid of not being able to support myself or my daughter.  I was afraid I'd never get back into those size 4 jeans, and I was still afraid of roller coasters.  But, now that I reflect on it, I was strong.  I took the bull by the horns and dealt with it, albeit with a great degree of difficulty, and I supported myself and my daughter, lived at home and helped my mother through her own difficult times, and I worked 2 jobs.  College was out of the question, at least at that time.


When I was 21, I married the first guy who asked, because I was afraid no more proposals would follow.  I was afraid of running away from it all and believe me, I thought about that a lot.  I was scared, alone most of the time, and knew that I needed help.  I was afraid of messing up royally, and there were a number of times I know I did, but I tried to face my fears head on and I know now that I did my best, mistakes and all.


I was afraid of being a mother without my mother's help.  I was afraid of being a wife.  I was afraid of screwing up.  I was afraid of being broke.  I was afraid that "this" life I had created for myself was the best it would ever be.  Little things and many big things scared me during those difficult and tumultuous years.


Suffice it to say, I got to a point where I flipped off the world and became a motorcycle riding, business owning, college-goin' young mother.  I had different fears, like the fear of large puddles in the road while riding my motorcycle.  Fear of dropping my bike - which I did often (I became known, among my Harley riding friends, as "Stop & Drop").  Fear of losing my business (a nail salon).  Fear of losing my youngest daughter.  Fear of being alone - again, fear of failing college tests, and still afraid of roller coasters.


I continued with college, sold my motorcycle, kept my helmet, and had new fears.   I was so afraid of being alone, even with my daughters, that I felt like I wanted to curl up under my covers with a flashlight and read a book, especially at night.  I think that was because I was afraid I couldn't raise them alone and I didn't feel comfortable being alone at night with my thoughts.  I hated being alone at night, even with the children in the next room.  I was very insecure.  I've been insecure my entire life.  I wonder why that is? I was afraid of being penniless, homeless, and helpless.  These fears led me to make some bad decisions along the way, but nothing that I couldn't ultimately, recover from.


Well, I finally got a grip, got married to the "right" guy, and had 2 more wonderful children.  Funny thing is, if I had just looked over my shoulder while driving head on into a brick wall of life when I was younger, I would have seen that the right guy had been a friend of mine all along since the age of 11.  Strange how that works.  Now I had no fears.  At least for a time anyway.  For the first time in my life, and for most of the years that have followed (18 to be exact) I have felt secure, happy, comfortable in my own skin, and loved.  Even the night didn't scare me anymore.


My oldest daughter began to repeat a series of mistakes of her own which resulted in a sweet baby boy whom we are raising and loving every day.  Glen is almost 11 y/o.  Kathleen is fearless.  Literally.  She is the mirror opposite of me in every way.  And, you know somethin'?  That scares the hell out of me.


I have new fears now.  I'm afraid that Big Bear will not find a job before we lose everything.  I'm afraid that he'll die.  I'm afraid that I'll die.  I'm afraid of losing one of my children due to illness or an accident or some terrible, horrible, event.  I'm afraid of losing my mother.  I'm afraid of losing one of my brothers.  I'm afraid to drive to places I'm unfamiliar with.  I'm afraid Big Bear will be killed on his motorcycle (we're selling it, truly, any buyers out there?).  I'm afraid my youngest daughter will be involved in a serious accident so I don't encourage her to drive.  I'm afraid of break-ins, heights, falling, extreme pain, being involved in a serious car crash, being involved in a plane crash, and not getting the laundry done.  I'm not afraid of roller coasters anymore.  In fact, I prefer the front seat and the steepest, fastest ride. Maybe that's just it - I've learned to love the roller coaster because that's what life is all about - the ups and downs, the twists and turns, the screaming and throwing up, the sick stomach and the panic.  Yep, I think I like the roller coaster now.

So what prompted me to write this story?  I was lying here in bed.  Alone.  Thinking of my sweet Big Bear and all that he does for our family and all the stress I know he is under.  I'm afraid that each time he is rejected from a job opportunity and his hopes are dashed, that he loses a little bit of his faith in God, humanity, and himself.  I can see it in his eyes.

Me too, but not to the same degree.  I was thinking of how strong he is and what a "wittle, weak, and weary" thing I am.  I was thinking of how proud I am of my children - all of them - and how totally amazed I am by their strength of character and judgment (well, 4/5th of them anyway).  


I was thinking of my mother and how she rarely lets anything get to her.  


I was thinking of Kimberly and how she has faced the most difficult obstacles anyone could face in life with her health, yet she has the strength of Hercules.  If she could see herself through my eyes, I don't think she'd have a fear in the world.  She's a new mother now, and new worries will surface in her journey through life as a wife and mother, but she's a lot stronger than I ever was, and I ache with pride for all that she is, and all that she has taught me in this life.


Sarah is bright, beautiful, strong, intelligent, and has definite goals and plans for her life.  She is on the straight and narrow and is more level-headed and responsible than I ever was at her age and beyond.  She thinks and plans before she leaps.  I used to jump off the cliff and then hope for a parachute.

I want to be Sarah when I grow up.

I've learned that no matter what my fears may be, that life will happen with or without them, so I have to make a choice how I greet them in my life - with panic, or as a life lesson in strength.  I tend to live as a "future" thinker, and maybe that is a big part of my problem, because "fear" of the unknown will get me every time.  A lot of good that does.  I can't control it, so why fret over it.

Maybe this is my daily therapy session - journaling.  It amazes me just how therapeutic this blog can be for me.  Maybe I was just thinking about it all - this "thing" we call life.  Probably because Big Bear isn't home right now and I feel lost without him at home.  Whatever the reason, I've learned one very important lesson along my journey and it is worth sharing - Live for this moment.  Bask in the world around you, the sunrise, the sunset, the green grass, a child's laughter, the little things.  

Be amazed at the tools that we have at our disposal like wireless laptops, GPS, and mobile phones.  Never, ever, stop learning.  Love the people in your life.  Never be afraid to tell someone how you feel or that you love them.  Be grateful.  Pray.  Believe.  Have faith.  Forgive. 

Enjoy your comfortable bed, your favorite blanket and pillow, your favorite pair of fuzzy socks.  Hug your children.  Love them with all your heart.  Why?  Because yesterday is gone and tomorrow is never a promise.  They grow up way too fast.  We grow old way too fast.  Which leads to that thing I call fear again ... and roller coasters.



Tuesday, November 23, 2010

5 days in Arkansas


On November 15th, my hubby and son drove me to the airport where I boarded a plane to Chicago.  Then from Chicago I boarded another plane to Arkansas, where at the bottom of the escalator stood my beautiful daughter, Kimberly, and her daughter (my grandbaby girl!) Reagan.  My heart skipped a beat as I saw my daughter Kim, for the first time in years since her marriage, and Reagan for the first time since her birth.  She is 14 months old and full of sweetness and everything wonderful about having daughters.

We drove around a host of communities on the way home so that I could get a feel for the place that they now call home in Arkansas.  It is beautiful there.


I sat in the back with Reagan and took pictures of the most precious baby girl ever.  Reagan has the biggest sky blue eyes I have ever seen ...


with a host of snowflakes in her iris that sparkled every time she smiles.


or even when she doesn't.


The most precious baby hands are Reagan's.  I have a thing for a baby's hands, but Reagans are perfect.


We should all be so lucky as Elmo to be cuddled up next to that perfect, slightly pudgy, perfectly manicured baby girl's hand.


And check out these stylish shoes!  When I arrived, Reagan had taken only a handful of steps, and by the time I left on the 20th...


she was practically running from room to room.


This was the best trip, and I really needed to get away for a few days.  Still, seeing Kim, Reagan, and Zak was a wonderful reminder of just how important family is to me.


A reminder of just how important my children are to me.


And my grandchildren.


And how blessed I am to have such a precious, pink, and pearly granddaughter like Reagan.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Yes, We're a 99er Family too


Last night, we sat around our family room wrapped in our blankets and layered up socks to watch 60 minutes.  It's a routine we have on Sunday nights.  Only, it's a little colder here because we have the heat turned way down to save on the heating bill.  In one week, we will become a 99er - 99 weeks of unemployment benefits come to an end, having exhausted our savings, retirement, and beginning to sell off things to survive.  And so it goes ... this D E P R E S S I O N we are in.  I am not going to be politically correct here, as this is NOT a recession.  Far from it.  And you know how I know?  Well, let's see ... I'm depressed.  My hubby is depressed.  Our children are depressed.  About 30+ % of our neighbors have lost their jobs and they, too, are depressed.  Businesses are failing and the economy is depressed.  Crime is on the rise and that's because there are a lot of depressed people with guns and knives out there in desperate situations.  Desperate.  Is that what we've become as a nation?  Desperate?

You grow up.  You get your education.  You go to college.  You get a higher education.  You run up an extraordinary debt in student loans.  You trust the corporations out there in your field to hire you.  You work, you advance, you learn, you get a world of experience, you pay off your student loans, you get promoted, you get a bonus or two or more, you network, and then - then - you get the pink slip.  Out the door with a box filled with personal pictures and belongings, and no, you don't even steal the stapler. What next?


Suddenly your pushed along in this line of desperate people, all clamoring for the same job - then over time it's "any" job.  It's hell.  And forgive me for being so blunt, but anyone who says that Obama put us here is about 5 cards short of a full deck.  This hell began with the Bush Administration.  I don't make it a habit to voice my political agenda on this blog of mine.  I am open-minded and I listen - to both sides.  I vote my conscience, not my party.  I've always voted for the candidate whom I believe to hold the same values and agendas that I believe are important.  There are no "perfect" people out there and there certainly is nobody, Republican or Democrat, who can get us out of this crisis in a year or two.  Who are we kidding?!!!

We're all human here, and I believe that voting straight party lines is like voting blind-folded.  Regardless, we're deep in the sludge of this mess and we need to get the hell out of it - and fast.  Take a look at history, and you will see that it is this similar situation in Germany that brought Hitler into power.  He promised a more perfect Germany, and a happier people.  Well, you can see where that led.  Let's not go there again, people.  Let History have taught us something about the state of our "minds" and the state of our "economy." We need to stop playing the blame card and get down to business - literally.

Yes, I am losing sleep.  Yes, I have even applied for a job at Target, and Home Depot, and Barnes & Noble.  I did hear back from Target.  They sent me this nice short email telling me that I did not qualify for a job at this time.  Huh?  You're kidding right?  Am I not disabled enough for them?  The problem here is that "everyone" - and I mean literally "everyone" is applying for a job at Target, Home Depot, and the local grocer.  Finding a minimum wage job is nearly as impossible as finding the "right" job!

I've got to hand it to my Big Bear.  He has really held things together for this 2 years.  He has utilized every resource possible to keep us above water.  I don't know how he does it, but he's done his best to keep a positive outlook, even though I know this is killing him inside.  He has carried us all and not voiced one complaint.  He truly is a remarkable man, stronger than any I've ever known.

So, last night as we curled up in our blankets and fluffy socks in the family room to watch 60 minutes, Scott Pelley came on with a segment on the 99ers - a story about people and families like ours who have hit the wall personally and economically.  It is definitely worth sharing with my readers - in the event you didn't see it.  It makes the reality of the situation hit home - a little too close for comfort...




If for any reason, you are having trouble viewing this video, go HERE.

In my entire life, and even through tough years of digging into the cookie jar for milk money when I was in my 20s, I don't recall ever facing such hardship.  Like most of us who are facing this together, I pray for an end to the hardship, I pray for all to have a warm bed to lay your head and hot food for your tummies.  I pray for your health and wellness.  I pray for a positive outlook and faith in God and humanity.  Instead of finding blame, though, we each need to find "hope."  We need to work together to pull each other out of this quick sand.  Together, we can all make our lives economically sound again.  If only through words, we can at least try to strengthen each other and lift each other above the gloom.

Thank you to all my readers who have sent your thoughts and prayers and who have passed around Bob's resume.  You have no idea how appreciative we are for all your help. It takes just one job - yes - just one - to make a difference in the life of this family.



Thank you to the BlogHer Network for Featuring my story!  Click on the BlogHer banner below to see what they are saying over there!



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Never Give Up On Your Dreams - A Secretariat Story


On Friday, October 8th, a remarkable true story will be shown in theaters everywhere - Disney's "Secretariat."  The story will take you on a journey with owner Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) as she overcomes great odds and unlikely successes to earn the respect of her peers in the male-dominated horse-racing industry by taking "Big Red," better known as "Secretariat," on his own journey to be the greatest racehorse of all time and the first Triple Crown winner in over a quarter of a century in the year 1973.

This movie was as exciting as watching the real Secretariat win the 1973 Kentucky Derby! My entire family were on the edge of their seats as if each race was happening for the first time.  Disney's story of how Penny changed the face of horse racing and raised the incredible Secretariat is a fantastic story of family, loss, courage, determination, and faith, and will leave you breathless.  It is about one woman's determination to learn the ropes, climb the ranks, and never lose hope despite many in the industry and in her own family who were sure that she would fail.

I was so happy when BlogHer and Disney offered me and my family the opportunity to see a pre-viewing of "Secretariat."  Being the movie buffs that we are, there are few movies that I would claim to be a "winner," but this one is just that. You will leave the movie inspired with your adrenaline flying high with pride and excitement.  Disney did it again with a great movie for the entire family.

You can learn more about Secretariat by visiting the official website  or by visiting Disney's official site.  Check out the Secretariate Facebook Page, and follow the story on Twitter as well

Now for a funny story from my childhood - a story involving this great horse.  My parents are from Kentucky, and every year we would watch the Kentucky Derby on television.  My father and I were the most avid watchers of the derby and every year we would make a chocolate cupcake bet.  You see, Dad and I would each choose the horse that we thought would win the derby, and if by chance, our horse won, the other had to serve the winner chocolate cupcakes with milk after dinner for a week.  I chose "Secretariat."  I recall my dad looking at me with this lopsided gaze and saying "No way that horse is going to win!"  My dad always chose the horse with the greatest odds.  He did ask me why I chose Secretariat, and I told him it was because I liked his name.  He sounded like a winner.  So, with no further ado, I thought I would share with you that 1973 Kentucky Derby that I watched with my father:

My father was not happy.  Me? I was ecstatic and the first words out of my mouth were "Where are my cupcakes?!!"  Every night for a week my dad served me up 2 chocolate cupcakes with a glass of ice cold milk.  One night, however, we were out of cupcakes and he said "you're not gonna make me run 12 miles up the road to the grocery store for those cupcakes are you?"  - "Yep."  He got them for me of course, and I never forgot what an exciting time that was and how special it was to share it with my father - cupcakes and all.

On October 8th, pack up your family and head to the theater to see the story of the greatest horse of all time and the story of the lady who made it all possible.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sonata quasi una Fantasia "Moonlight Sonata" Opus 27 No 2

Beethoven I love this piano sonata.  It moves me.  I just want to hear it and feel it - in quiet.  It is so romantic.  Well, today while at the Music & Arts store with my daughter, Sarah, where I bought her the advanced solo music of "Carol of the Bells" so that she can prepare for the talent show at her high school, I picked up the one piece that I never did learn before and wanted to - the Sonata quasi una Fantasia "Moonlight Sonata" Opus 27 No 2 by Beethoven.  It is so beautiful.  All 3 movements - 23 pages masterfully reprinted from Beethoven's original work.  The Sonata was originally written and dedicated to Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, a young woman with whom Beethoven fell madly in love.  You see, Beethoven was quite the romantic, and his poetry and letters of love were as beautiful as his music.

What you may not know is that Beethoven's contributions to piano literature include 32 piano sonatas, 5 concertos, and too many other piano compositions to mention.  His Opus 27 consists of 2 piano sonatas, each of which are entitled Sonata quasi una Fantasia (Sonata in the style of a fantasy).  The first of these is in E-flat Major.  The second, is in C-sharp Minor and is better known as the Moonlight Sonata.  And, you may find this interesting, but that title was never known to Beethoven in his lifetime.

The poet/critic, Ludwig Rellstab, who was a personal acquaintance of Beethoven, gave his sonata this most popular title in 1832, four years after Beethoven's death.  Rellstab had written an article about Beethoven saying that the opening movement of this sonata reminded him of "moonlight rippling on the waves of Lake Lucerne," and while many who love Beethoven have objected to this sentimental title, it certainly has had no detrimental effect on the popularity of this magnificent and romantic work, which is without question among the most beloved and frequently performed compositions by Beethoven or any other great composer.

Giulietta Beethoven composed this Sonata in Vienna in 1801, and it was first published in 1802 by Gio. Cappi of Vienna.  Beethoven dedicated the piece to his love, the young Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, who, at the time, was one of Beethoven's piano students.  He was 31 y/o and she was 17 or 18 y/o.  It is believed that Beethoven proposed marriage to the Countess, but it is also believed that she was not able to accept his proposal.  Her father, who was a high-ranking Councilor to the Austrian Court, opposed her marriage to a man "without rank, fortune, or permanent employment."  He never stopped loving her.  A portrait of Giulietta was found in Beethoven's personal desk after his death.

What a beautiful and romantic poet Beethoven was ...

My Angel, My All, My Very Self,

Just a few words to-day, and only in pencil . . . Can our love endure otherwise than through sacrifices, through restraint in longing.  Canst thou help not being wholly mine, can I, not being wholly thine.  Oh! gaze at nature in all its beauty, and calmly accept the inevitable - love demands everything, and rightly so.  Thus is it for me with thee, for thee with me, only thou so easily forgettest, that I must live for myself and for thee - were we wholly united thou wouldst feel this painful fact as little as I should . . .

Now for a quick change from without to within:  we shall probably soon see each other, besides, to-day I cannot tell thee what has been passing through my mind during the past few days concerning my life - were our hearts closely united, I should not do things of this kind.  My heart is full of the many things I have to say to thee - ah! - there are moments in which I feel that speech is powerless - cheer up - remain my true, my only treasure, my all !!! as I to thee.  The gods must send the rest, what for us must be and ought to be.

Thy faithful,


I leave you today with this most beautiful piece, performed by someone other than myself - at the moment anyway.  Hopefully, in the next several months, I will have mastered the 23 pages of the Sonata quasi una Fantasia, and I will have my Big Bear videotape me playing this for you - and hopefully, God willing, error free.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

2,973 Souls and One Mission


He bent over to kiss his sleeping 2-year-old son. He patted the belly of his pregnant wife, and told her again that he loved her. Then Kevin Hannaford melted into the predawn darkness. That was the routine — reassuring, expectant — in one house in Basking Ridge, N.J.

Some three hours later, Eileen Hannaford was standing in the shadow of the World Trade Center's north tower, where her husband worked as a commodities broker for Cantor Fitzgerald, 105 stories above. The first plane had hit, she and other commuters had been evacuated from the PATH station below, and now she was frantically trying to reach him on her cellphone. Finally, she decided it was best to go to her office across town.

"If Kevin had been looking for me, which he would have done, he would have gone directly to my office," she reasoned.

Kevin James Hannaford was 32, young enough to enjoy playing soccer, mature enough to be an attentive husband and father. In the delivery room after the birth of Patrick two years earlier, he had thanked her for her friendship, and for their son.

On Jan. 9, four months after her husband died, she gave birth to their second son. He is healthy, wonderful, and his name, of course, is Kevin James Hannaford.

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on January 22, 2002.


Kevin James Hannaford simply couldn't wait to try and impart his zest for life on his son, Patrick James. 

Always the first guy on the slopes in the morning, Mr. Hannaford bought the boy his first pair of skis when he was just 18 months old. 

Friends and family say it was typical of a father who relished nothing more than watching his Patrick, now 2, take his first steps or first awkward slide down a snowy hill. 

On the morning of Sept. 11, Mr. Hannaford woke before dawn to leave for his job as a commodities broker for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center. His wife, Eileen, who is expecting the couple's second child in January, said she usually simply rolled over in the dark, but that morning got up to hug him good-bye. 

"We hugged each other and told each other how much we loved each other, he touched the baby and said 'I love you, baby,'" she said. "I'm so grateful I got up and hugged him." 

The 32-year-old Mr. Hannaford has not been seen since. 

Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Hannaford lived in Walnut Creek, Calif., before his family returned to the East Coast and settled in Basking Ridge. 

Eileenandboys He and Eileen, acquaintances at Marist College, began dating while they both lived in Hoboken in the early '90s. They married on April 4, 1997, and moved to Basking Ridge two years later. 

Mr. Hannaford carried a love of sports throughout his life, from his days on Basking Ridge's undefeated state Group 2 championship soccer team, to summers working as a lifeguard on Long Beach Island, to his weekly games with the Montvale Men's Soccer League. 

The Rev. Michael Ward met Mr. Hannaford while living in Hoboken. Ward was working as an administrative assistant for Merril Lynch but was contemplating entering the seminary. 

"He thought it was cool," said Ward, who now ministers at St. Cecilia's Church in Kearny. "He was very supportive." 

Ward added Mr. Hannaford "truly loved life and he always put family first." 

Mr. Hannaford also is survived by his parents, James and Nancy Hannaford of Basking Ridge; his sister, Elizabeth Saraceno, and his brother, Patrick Hannaford of Morristown. 

Profile by Brian Donohue published in THE STAR-LEDGER.

* * * * *



A Tribute from cantor families:

Kevin James Hannaford

Date of Birth: October 8, 1968
Department: Tradespark
Position: Commodities Broker

Kevin James Hannaford, 32, of the Basking Ridge section of Bernards Township, died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. He was employed as a commodities broker for TradeSpark, a division of Cantor Fitzgerald. His office was located on the 105th floor of the tower.

Kevin moved to Basking Ridge with his family when he was 8 years old. He was an avid swimmer and soccer player for the Somerset Hills YMCA, as well as a triathlon contender. He was also on the undefeated State II championship soccer team. His swimming experiences afforded him the opportunity to be a lifeguard at Long Beach Island. He continued his soccer enthusiasm up to the September 11th disaster as a member of the Montville Men's Soccer League.

He thoroughly enjoyed skiing and bought our son, Patrick, his first pair of skis at 18 months old.

Kevin's greatest passion and pride was his family. In the words of many of his friends, Kevin was seen, standing back and watching, smiling with pride at the many accomplishments of our son, Patrick.

Kevin moved to Hoboken in 1990 and lived there for several years. It was there that Kevin and I rekindled an earlier relationship we had in our college years. We were married on April 4th, 1997 and later moved to Basking Ridge in March of 1999. Later on that year we had our first child. Patrick James was born on May 12th, 1999. Patrick will be joined by a brother or sister in January of next year, 2002.

In the words of his mother, Nancy, "He was a very good friend and he had many good friends. Everyone will dearly miss him."

In addition to myself (his wife Eileen) and son, Patrick, Kevin is survived by his brother, Patrick Hannaford; his sister, Beth and her husband Bob Saraceno and their son, Evan; his mother and father, Nancy and James Hannaford; my parents Mary and Patrick McGinley and my brother, Patrick McGinley.

Kevin was special and God called him. In his short time on earth, he left us fullfilled and enriched. He will make a special place for us all in the future.

A dear friend is putting together memory books for Patrick and his-soon-to-be brother or sister, so that they have many memories of their daddy, Kevin. Please send them a note containing stories, thoughts or memories about Kevin.

Contributions may be made to the Hannaford Bereavement Fund, c/o Soloman Smith Barney Co., Attn: Michael Betzag, 767 Fifth Ave. 7th floor, New York, NY 10153.

* * * * *

These are just a few of the tributes to Kevin.  I never knew Kevin.  But, I have come to know his beautiful wife, Eileen, and their 2 sons Patrick and Kevin, Jr.  Shortly after the attacks on 9/11 I received a Mercy Band from my brother, Mike, and inscribed on the band was one name - Kevin James Hannaford and under his name was simply WTC.  I wanted to know more about this soul who lost his life on that day and whose name I would wear on my wrist and so I did some research and that is how I located his wife and family.  I wanted her to know that I wore the name of her husband on my wrist and would remember Kevin.  She was so happy that I had reached out to her.  We got to know each other a bit during the months leading up to the birth of her 2nd son - Kevin James Hannaford, Jr.  born on January 9, 2002.  Eileen was 5 months pregnant with their 2nd child when the attacks happened.  

Eileenandboys2 Eileen is a remarkable woman and mother.  She has taken the events of that day and the loss of her husband and created something as remarkable as she - the

Kevin James Hannaford Sr. Foundation

.  Eileen writes:

"Kevin, in his short time on earth, left us fulfilled and enriched. The outpouring of love and support from family, friends and strangers following Kevin's death on September 11, 2001 was amazing. Patrick, Kevin Jr. and I want to give back some of what has been and continues to be given to us in our time of need. It is with these thoughts that we have formed the Kevin J. Hannaford, Sr. Foundation, Inc. The Foundation contributes to the educational and enrichment needs of children who suffer the loss of a parent to death. With the help and support of so many, Kevin will live on in our hearts and through our gifts to these children. Together, we can take a tragic event and create something everlasting in his name. We hope you will join us in supporting our mission as we keep Kevin's memory alive through our love and support - one child at a time."

I had the pleasure to meet Eileen at the hospital in New Jersey the day after the birth of her son Kevin James Hannaford, Jr.  I came bearing gifts, comfort, and love.  I offered the bracelet to Eileen but she said "No - Susan, I want you to keep it and remember Kevin."  And so I have.  I have kept the bracelet that bears the name of her husband, wearing it every year on September 11th in memory of the 2,973 souls who lost their lives and the families who lost a loved one, and to remember Kevin, Eileen, and their 2 boys. Yesterday, however, my daughter, Sarah, wore the bracelet to her high school.  All the students were requested to wear black in memory of the victims of 9/11.  When I pulled out the white box and opened it, I saw the somewhat tarnished bracelet nestled atop a bed of cotton together with an aged 4-leaf clover wrapped in cellophane and I thought of Kevin. And I thought of Eileen and their 2 sons.

So today, I want to remember Kevin by asking all of you to please make a donation, no matter how small, to the Kevin James Hannaford, Sr. Foundation and make a difference in the life of a child who has lost a parent to death.  You can help a child.  You can make a difference. What better way to respect the families of 9/11?  Please contribute so that the memories of our loved ones, friends, and acquaintances are never forgotten.


A wonderful book and tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11.  Personal stories and more, you will to back to this book time and time again and make a connection to every soul.  Just click on the image of the book cover above.



Connect with the Kevin James Hannaford Foundation on Facebook!



Sunday, September 05, 2010

Getting Cuter Every Day

I gotta tell ya, my granddaughter is getting cuter every day.  Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't share with you some of the pictures of the most precious baby girl on earth. 


This time last year, she wasn't even born yet.  But when she came into the world on September 5th, she was bound for greatness.


From the start, she had excellent fashion sense.


She also made it perfectly clear that she did not want to eat her vegetables!


She celebrated her first Christmas, Valentine's, and Easter, and she did so in style I might add.


She's a growin' girl and becoming more precious every day.


She grew hair and began wearing cute clips, and she began to crawl all over the house.


When Spring rolled around, Reagan spent her days at the park swinging and looking very cool in her shades.


Reagan was a cutie pie from day one, and getting cuter every day with eyes to melt your heart and a smile that was sure to make you smile too.


Yes, we are enormously blessed to have a daughter who is a very good mother, a loving mother, a caring mother, and a generous mother.  Reagan is one very lucky baby girl to have a happy family who loves her more than anything in the world!


As all babies do in their first year, she began to teeth and everything that she picked up went into the mouth.  Unfortunately, everything she put in her mouth ended up on the floor, keeping Kim on her toes to keep things clean.


Reagan discovered Elmo, and soon, he became her very first friend.  She watched him on television and she played with him too.


Reagan enjoyed doing impersonations during bathtime - like this "Kiss" impersonation.  She's pretty good at it too!


There is something about Reagan - a sense I have - a feeling - that she is going to do something important, something wonderful - and will make a positive difference in this world.  I just know it.


But first she has to convince others to drink this disgusting formula.


And eat this disgusting baby food.


Next thing you know, Grandma Susan (that's me folks), was making her stuffed donut toys, 


and dresses.


Reagan has been sitting in grocery carts and enjoying the view at the grocery store on a regular basis.


She became quite the little model this past year too.  The camera is her friend ...


There's no doubt, Reagan is a ham for a laugh from Mommy and Daddy.


Naturally, like all girls do (usually this doesn't start until their teen years), Reagan has "the look" - the look that says "Go ahead and make my day," or "If you take one more picture of me, Mommy, I am going to make you regret it for the rest of the day," or "leave me alone already, I need a nap,"  or "You just wait, Mom, paybacks stink."  


Soon after "the look" this happened - and we all know what that means - Payback.

I just know that Reagan will reach for the stars and have a good life.  She is full of sugar and spice and everything nice.


This first year, Reagan took her first plane ride too and was mesmerized by the view from the window.


And the view from the front seat of the rental car too.  Learning to drive starts early.


Reagan celebrated her first July 4th in Utah, wearing one of my "Grandma creations" - a cute little romper with a patriotic teddy on the front.


Reagan went with Mommy and Daddy to see the most beautiful sites.  I think it was a time to reflect on our blessings.


How can I express the love I feel for this baby girl, her mother, and my son-in-law?  I suppose by showing you in pictures what this first year of her life has meant to me.


Her hair isn't the only thing that has grown this year ...


So has Elmo ...


And her angst to get up on her feet.


Yep, Reagan has got her eye on a bright future.


She knows what she likes - like standing over vents.


This year has been an exhausting year for Reagan.  So much to learn and do, so many things to see and touch.


So many new hairstyles to experiment with.


And Reagan has the best Mommy and Daddy a baby girl could ask for.  I sure do love my daughter, Kimberly, and she sure loves her honey - Zak, and together, we all love Reagan!


It seems like just yesterday this precious little angel graced our world and blessed us all with her smile.


Life is a magnificent thing, a gift from God.  God blessed me with the most wonderful children, and now, my daughter, Kimberly, and her hubby, Zak, have blessed us with a granddaughter.  A special little girl who will make a positive difference in this world.  


How do I know this you ask?  Because she already has.

Happy Birthday my Sweet Baby Grandbaby Girl!!  We love you so, so, much.  You've had a busy first year, and you have a family that loves and adores you.

I hope your first birthday is a special day for you and may you have at least 99 more that are just as memorable.

Love, Grandma  



Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More than just a Stitch in Time


My dearest friend Beth commented on the backpack I just made for my daughter, Sarah, and she inspired me to write this story about my childhood memories of my own mother sewing for me.  Beth's mother left an indelible print on Beth's memory-bank as well, as she recalled that in her own childhood her mother would sew for her like my mother used to do.  I thought it fitting to share my memories, as this blog is, in many ways, a collection of who I am and the people that have shaped my life, the things I love to do, my passions, my concerns, my hopes, the lessons I have learned along the way, and my memories.  I not only write to all of you, I write for my family, my children, and my dear friends, hoping that someday they'll be able to look back on the stories and the images and remember me lovingly.


Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I love to sew and paint.  I love to do other things too, like woodworking, crafting, decorating, playing the piano, singing, writing, riding motorcycles, gardening, and mowing the lawn.  I especially like it when the grass is green and just a little damp so that it leaves stripes when I ride the mower.  I'm nutty like that.


From the time I was a baby, my mother and father spoiled me.  Watching my mother sew and do things that she loved left a strong impression on me.  Seeing the joy on her face as she sewed, or how happy she was to decorate and organize our home, taught me many things about following my heart. 


This story, though, is about the memories from my childhood that shaped my desire to learn to sew, wonderful memories that my mother gave me like a gift on Christmas.  Take this picture, for instance, my mother made this dress for me and I remember feeling very pretty although I had my eye on a stuffed skunk in the toy box in the corner.  I was being inquisitive and not very cooperative in the picture taking.


When I was a little girl, my mother, Mary, used to take me to the fabric store when she wanted to start a new project.  We lived in Silver Spring, Maryland in a community called White Oak, just outside of Washington D.C. in the 1960s, and we would drive to a fabric store called Dannemann Fabrics in Wheaton Plaza, Wheaton, Maryland whenever she needed anything to sew.  It was a big store, or so I recall, and filled with what I thought to be every possible bolt of fabric on earth.  I got lost in all the textures and colors and pattern books.  For me it was like going to a toy store.


Mom would sit me down at the table with her surrounded by pattern books - McCalls, Butterick, Simplicity, Vogue, and she would show me where to look for a pattern for a dress or an outfit that was just my size.  Mom made it a point to show me where to find the patterns too and we'd go looking in the drawers for the one we picked out together.

She would let me carry the pattern and tell her what type of fabric she needed and then she would find that section in the store with the right fabric and have me look through all the bolts for just the right one for the pattern.  I recall running my hand across the bolts of fabric like they were fence posts, but instead of making noises with a stick, I was feeling the different textures beneath my fingers. 


My eyes would travel across those bolts until I came across one that caught my eye and made me smile.  Bright colors made me happy and made me feel pretty, and I somehow always managed to gravitate to the brighter colors.  Even now I find I gravitate to the brighter, happier colors.

Once I picked out one bolt of fabric, my mother would ask me to pick out 2 more and then decide which I liked best.  I loved that she let me pick out the fabric.  I felt valued and special and worthy of being involved in her project, even if it was for me!  Even today, I think it is so important for mothers to share special moments like this with their daughters as they grow up.  They truly make a positive difference.  I love doing things for my daughters, all 3 of them, and my granddaughter, Reagan too!  Girls are so special to their mothers - not that boys aren't, it's just different, and someday I'll write about how different it is, just know that I love having mother-son time too and doing special things for them as well!


Once I picked out the "special" fabric for my pattern, Mom would show me where the notions were in the store and show me on the pattern what we had to get to finish the dress or outfit.  She'd let me pick out the buttons or the zipper, and the thread.  I enjoyed it so much.



We'd push the cart to the register and the lady behind the counter would offer me a lollipop and again I would choose my favorite color and flavor.  "I want the purple one" I would say, knowing it was grape, and she'd hand it to me.  The wrapper was ripped off in 2 seconds flat and in the mouth it would go.  I'd hold my mother's hand and skip all the way to the car.  Those were special memories, special times with my mother.


I remember how pretty she looked too.  When we'd go out, Mom always wore something nice with a matching handbag and pretty shoes.  She'd put on her red lipstick and perfume.  I thought she was the most beautiful mother in the world. 


Mom liked to get her shopping done early, and she is still the same way today.  We'd get our shopping done at Danneman Fabrics just in time to have lunch at Hot Shoppes Restaurant around the corner.  We'd eat lunch together and I recall all the noise of the people talking and the clattering of the plates as tables were cleared.  I'd look at my mother and be so happy that we were spending time together.  I would swing my legs under the table and occasionally kick my mother by accident and she'd say "Stop that Susan.  Sit quietly and eat your lunch."  I'd continue to swing my feet under the chair, but just a little less.  I was stubborn like that (I still am!).


Lunch was followed by my favorite desert of all time - hot fudge cake.  You can't find this anywhere that I know of anymore and it's a real shame, and Hot Shoppes was the only place that served it.  Boy do I ever love hot fudge cake, and so did my dad.  We're talkin' two slices of pound cake with a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream on top covered with steaming hot fudge, whipped cream, and topped with a cherry.  It was the best ever!



After lunch we'd shop at Woodward & Lothrop and I was always looking for the Barbie section.  Yes, W & L had a Barbie section back in the 60s, right inside the front door in front of the elevators.  Mom usually said "no" to the Barbie doll, but I tried to persuade her.  Little girls are manipulative like that.  Especially if they have a willing, loving, and reasonable parent.  I figured this out early.  I also assumed that since the day was about buying for me, she might as well add a Barbie to the mix - and sometimes she would!  Of course there were those times when she would say "Susan, you already have too many Barbie dolls, you don't need anymore."  "Yes I do, Mommy!  I don't have this one in this pretty dress" and then I'd pout.  Sometimes it worked, and most of the time it didn't.



As soon as we got home, Mom would set out the pattern and fabric and get started on the dress.  I'd watch her prepare the fabric and the pattern and cut it out precisely.  I loved hearing the sound of the big scissors against the table cutting the fabric.



It usually took my mother about a week or so to make a dress for me.  She was busy!  She had a house to run, dinner to cook, and I had 2 older brothers she had to take care of too.  I was always anxious though for her to be finished.  If she was sewing something for me during the school year, I couldn't wait for the weekend because I knew I could watch her sew.  Sometimes she even let me help.



Mom showed me how to use her sewing machine when I got a little older.  At first, she was using an old, black, Singer sewing machine, but then for Christmas one year, when I was about 8 years old, my dad bought her a Bernina sewing machine with so many attachments and doo-hickeys I thought Mom could make anything.  That was an exciting Christmas that year, not just for us children, but for Mom too.  She hugged my Dad and cried and spent the rest of the holiday playing with her new Bernina.  I was so happy for her because I knew how much she wanted that machine.  I also knew that meant she would be making me more clothes.  I know what you're thinking - but hey!  I was a kid, what do you expect?!!

Sure enough, Mom made me more clothes.  She made me spring dresses and an Easter dress, summer clothes and shorts and fall school clothes.  She even made me some winter dresses.  We had to wear dresses to school back in the 60s.  It was the rule for little girls in school.

But Mom wasn't the only inspiration I had.  I was amazed by our neighbor, Mrs. Celia.  The Celia family moved in next door to us when I was about 5 years old.  They had 5 children and the youngest was Tina.  She was 5 years older than I and I loved her.  We became fast friends.  Tina's mother, Lucy, made many of Tina's clothes, and that is because she was a professional seamstress and tailor.  She also made wedding gowns and dresses, altered clothes and men's suits, made tailored clothes, and outfits as a profession.  Mrs. Celia worked out of their basement and had an incredible sewing room in the laundry room with a steam iron that hung from the ceiling and several dress forms.


Lucy Celia loved to sew and always had a smile on her face.  She had a strong Italian accent and didn't speak much English, but she was learning.  I would run over on the weekend to play with Tina and Mrs. Celia would open the door, which happened to be the door leading into her laundry/sewing room, and she would look so happy to see me, big smile, and say "Susie!  So nice to see you, won't you come inside?" and I would.  "Can Tina play"  I would say, and she would say "Sit here and I'll go see what she is doing."  She'd call Tina downstairs and while I waited for her to get dressed or eat breakfast upstairs, I would watch Mrs. Celia sew.  Sometimes she would show me what she was doing and I was mesmerized by her attention to detail and the gowns and suits she was making and tailoring. 

I thought Mrs. Celia was famous and I would ask her "Are you famous?"  I recall her belly laugh and she would smile and say "Oh no, Susie, I just sew for people so that they look nice.  You like?"  "Oh yes!  I hope I can sew like this when I grow up."  I said, and, Mrs. Celia would always say "You can do anything you put your mind to" and I never forgot those words from her. 



As I grew up, Mom sewed less and less, although she would make the occasional drapes or pillows for our home, and I sewed more.  We moved to a larger home in 1970, when I was 11 years old, and a few years later my parents purchased the Olney Inn Restaurant in Olney, Maryland.  It was a historic property and location in Olney and unfortunately, it burned down in 1978.  That was a tragic time for our family.



We loved the Inn.  When we bought it, the waitresses and waiters didn't wear anything special, but my father wanted to make it special, and so he asked my mother if she would make some long historic dresses for the waitresses to wear, and knickers and vests for the gentleman waiters to wear to work.  Mom agreed and again we went to Dannemann Fabrics, but this time we had carts and carts filled with beautiful, colorful fabrics of every design, eyelet trim galore, ribbon and buttons and more! 

It was a lot of work, but Mom did a great job.  She'd finish a dress for one of the waitresses and I would want one just like it - but that happened with every dress she made!!  The ladies wore hoop skirts under the dresses so that they were big and wouldn't get tangled under their feet.  Mom did make me a dress, too, and I helped with the salad bar and the coat closet when I was 15 and 16 years old.  I felt so pretty in that dress.  It was heavy too from all the gathered fabric around the waist, but my mother did a beautiful job making each one perfectly.  I was so proud of her and the dresses.  The ladies who worked at the Inn looked so pretty walking around in their long flowing dresses.  That was a special and memorable time in my life.



Time went on and the Inn burned down in 1978.  My father soon after had a stroke.  But that's another story.  I married a guy who was in the Army and stationed in Ft. Meade, Maryland and pregnant with my 2nd daughter, Kimberly, in 1981 when my parents decided to sell their home in Brookeville, Maryland and move to Florida.



Mom kept her Bernina sewing machine, but she gave me her old Singer and when my girls were babies I made them dresses and tops and shorts and skirts.  I made these matching dresses for my baby girls when they were little in the picture above.   I even tried my hand at making them doll clothes and stuffed animals, although the stuffed teddy bears looked terrible.  I taught myself how to make drapes out of bed sheets and pillows too. 

My baby girl Kimberly, spent a lot of time as a baby in Walter Reed Hospital because of her heart condition, and I made her a soft blanket with satin binding.  Unfortunately it disappeared from her hospital room and we never found it.  I made her a little stuffed doll too, the kind that the doll pattern and face and everything are printed directly on the fabric, all you have to do is cut it out and sew along the seams and stuff it.  Kimberly loved it and she would lay in her crib and hold it and look at it and play and coo.  I loved doing little things like that for my baby girls.



I made Barbie clothes for Kathleen and Kimberly's Barbies too - many of which were mine that I passed down to my girls.  Kathleen asked me once to make a skirt for a kitten she had adopted and I did that too.  That kitten looked ridiculous walking around with a skirt snapped around its waist, but it made Kathleen happy.  Kathleen used to sit and watch me sew - more so than Kimberly when they were really little.  Sometimes Kimberly would watch and ask me questions, but I think since Kathleen was so interested in what I was doing, Kimberly wanted to do something else.  She would organize all her Barbie clothes by color and style and create a home for them out of doll furniture on her bedroom floor.



Interestingly, Kathleen loves to sew and is very interested in fashion design, and Kimberly loves organizing and motherhood and decorating and she has a good eye for color, design, and style.  Each of my older daughters have inherited something creative from me, and thank goodness most of what they inherited are good things.  I am so proud of my girls!!  But, memories are what shape us.  It is the memories of my mother and Mrs. Celia that shaped me and sparked my interest in sewing, and seeing the joy they created for themselves in creating something beautiful for others that made me want to do the same some day.



My mother had memories from her childhood as well.  Her mother, my grandmother Margaret, who passed away when my mother was only 11 years old, loved to sew and quilt and make hats.  She even had her own millinery shop. My mother has told me that her mother made these dresses for her and her sister Helen and also the hat she is wearing in this picture.  My mother, Mary, is on the left.  This was about 1932.



My mother doesn't sew much anymore, although I have set up a 2nd sewing machine for her in my sewing room in our home where she lives with us.  Instead, she likes to come into the sewing room / sunroom, sit on the wicker couch, and watch me sew.  She helps me with the fabric, and helps me rip out seams too.  She reads my sewing books and we talk and share stories about sewing.



Now, I make things for my mother.  I am making this quilt for her bed and a blouse for her too.  She wants me to make a scarf for her out of some fabric she bought to make a blouse - however, she messed it up and the seams were all screwed up and so she decided to make a scarf out of it instead.  I've had my share of experiences like that too!


My mother, Mary, will be 86 in October.  She left the other day for Florida to visit my brother, Bill and his wife for a while.  Hopefully she will be back in time for the holidays and I will have a beautiful quilt wrapped up for her under the Christmas tree.  I just want to make her happy and proud.



For now, I have dresses and clothes to make for Sarah for the start of her 11th grade year, and something special to stitch up for my granddaughter, Reagan, for her 1st birthday in September. I made this romper for Reagan for her first Independence Day celebration and I made this dress for my daughter, Sarah, for a special date she had about a month ago.



I made this dress and hat outfit for my granddaughter Reagan too.  Doesn't she look adorable?!!



And, I made her this stacker too.  She enjoys playing with it and pulling on the ribbons.



I made this purse for my mother a few months ago and seem to be using it more than she.  I should probably give it back don't you think?  But I like it so much!!  I'll just have to make myself another and give this back to Mom.



I made these bibs for Reagan too out of scraps from dresses that I had made for my daughter Kimberly, Reagan's mother.  I think that the pink floral fabric is from the dress in the picture above with me and Kathleen.



I also made this blouse for myself with an embroidery on the left bodice, and I finished this backpack just this week for my daughter, Sarah, for school this year, and yesterday I made myself a new ironing board cover.

I've been busy!  But you know what makes it all worthwhile?  Knowing that I'm stitching up some "love" every time I sit down to my sewing machine.  It's my way of showing my family how much I love them and I hope that my children and grandchildren will carry these special memories with them throughout their life as I have with my mother, and her mother before her.



Sunday, June 27, 2010

Where I Find Inspiration


Lately it seems, the Lord is all around me.  I keep getting messages from Him.  It is like He is speaking to me through my family, my friends, and people I meet and places I go  - even on the internet.  I've never really spoken of my faith here, openly, and I believe it is time.  Let's just say I've been inspired.

CMAChurch I grew up in the Methodist church.  Well, mostly.  When I was a small child, my neighbor, MeeMee and her granddaughter, Karen, (whom I am still dear friends with) would take me to church with them on Sunday.  My family did not attend church, and although they were believers of Jesus Christ and we were a Christian family, the early learning I received was from those Sundays I would join MeeMee and Karen.  I was only 5 years old when I started going to church with them.  I'd get all dressed up in my best dress with my mother's help and I'd run next door feeling oh so pretty.  I'd ring the doorbell and Karen would come running.  She loved visiting her grandmother on the weekends and over the summer because that meant we could play and spend time together.  Karen was the best friend ever!

MeeMee and Karen attended the Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Washington, DC.  We'd drive up and I can remember always getting this pit of fear in my stomach that I'd get lost, but once I was inside with Karen and we were in our Sunday School class, everything was fine.

I learned a lot about the Lord in those early years from 1964 - 1971.  In 1971, however, we moved farther away.  I asked my parents to take me to church and my father took me from time to time to the United Methodist Church near our home and I enjoyed that very much.  Still, I felt like I was missing my church family.  My mother never wanted to attend church since she was 11 years old and her mother died.  She has told me that church makes her sad.


As I got older I attended different churches with friends and then in my late 20s I found my church home at the Oakdale Emory United Methodist Church in Olney, Maryland.  There, I was married in 1993.  I had my children, Sarah and Matthew, christened there.  I even made a quilt for my church family and it still hangs proudly in the sanctuary after all these years.  Kathleen was christened at the Christian Missionary Alliance Church soon after she was born, and Kimberly was christened at Walter Reed Hospital where she was spending most of her time in those first months of her life.

It has always been important to me that my children know the Lord and grow with Him.  However, I have always known that I could do more.  I have fallen into a spiritual slump you might say.  We don't attend church every Sunday.  Oh, you'll find us there on holidays, but we sleep in on Sunday and I feel bad about that.  Something inside me always tells me to pull myself together, help the children find what they need to get dressed, and we should go.  Even the children want to go to church.  Maybe it is part a little bit of depression waning me to stay home, but prayer and surrounding myself with my Christian family I know would surely help.  I always feel better after I have started my week with church.


Well, my daughter Kimberly, and I, have been talking about her faith.  Since she married Zak in 2007, so much of her life is about her relationship with the Lord, and her walk with the Lord.  In the year and a half that she dated Zak, she knew he was Mormon, but she never felt any pressure from him about it.  He let her take her time to get to know the church, the church family, and his faith.

After much research and attending church with Zak on occasion, Kimberly became a member of the Mormon church.  She was baptized - by Zak - and the tears flowed plentiful that day.  I had not asked Kim about her faith until this past week, and the floodgates opened.  I wonder if Kim has any idea how her faith is helping me right now? 

She shared with me the talk she wrote for Sacrament meeting to her new church family on August 10, 2008.  This is just a bit of what Kim wrote: 

"Testimony.  It’s just one word, but it’s one word that has deep meaning...A testimony is something I didn’t have in my life a few years ago. ...this was the first Church that I had ever attended where I actually felt comfortable."

"Not only had all Church members been welcoming and friendly (no matter where the Church was located), but I also loved how I felt when I went to Church.  I loved listening to personal testimonies of Church members.  I loved how I felt when I began learning about the gospel, even during those times when I might have gotten confused and maybe even frustrated. ...nothing helped more than actually reading the scriptures.  I learned to love studying the scriptures with Zak.  We both learned from each other.  He was wonderful at explaining things that might be confusing to me, and for that, I’m very, very thankful."

"...I loved knowing that there was a living prophet who will never lead us astray.  I loved knowing that gospel principles do not change.  It’s so comforting to know that whatever happens in this crazy world of ours, we know we can always turn to the gospel, the Church, and Heavenly Father to know what is right and what is true."

"I loved that every aspect of the Church fits together like a completed puzzle.  It made sense, and I loved that.  I didn’t realize it then, but I now know that I was slowly building a testimony by studying the scriptures, meeting with the missionaries, and praying in “specifics" ."

On December 1, 2007, my daughter, Kimberly, was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - a decision that has changed her life and the quality of her life for the better.  I am so proud of her for opening her heart and mind to the Lord and committing to His word. 

I've been thinking a lot lately about my own walk with the Lord.  I have a very personal relationship with Him.  I pray daily.  I talk to Him daily and sometimes multiple times a day.  I know He walks with me and beside me and carries me when I need the grace of His arms and spirit surrounding me.  It is this personal walk with the Lord that has kept me grounded for many years and carries me through these difficult times that our family now faces with Bob being out of work.  I have faith. 

It is my faith that strengthens me.  It is my faith that reminds me that it is my choice how I wake up in the morning - weary, worried, or happy and grateful!  I prefer the latter.  It isn't always easy, but I do try to put my best self forward each day.  I thank the Lord daily for my blessings.  I have so many. Still, I know there is more that I can do.

Well, Kimberly sent me a video and said that it was one that she wanted to share - one that made her cry.  It was important to her.  A split second after I clicked "play" my heart sank.  I knew that voice.  I knew that story.  I knew the young woman in the video - Stephanie Nielson of NieNie Dialogues.  She is a blogging friend and someone that I admire greatly.

Stephanie's story is a sad one.  She and her husband, Christian, live in Utah, and are the parents of 4 active little ones.  One summer day in August, 2008, they were involved in a plane crash.  The blogsphere went nuts and we all came together to help this couple that so many of us had come to love over the years through Stephanie's blog.  We sent cards and letters and during that time, Stephanie's sisters and husband, who had also been injured, but not as seriously as Steph, kept her blog going.  They wrote posts that let us know how she was doing and how the recovery was going.

It was a long time before Stephanie came back online, but when she did, there was a celebration of sorts from everyone.  You see, Steph has a voice, but it isn't just any voice, she has a heart of gold and a tender, loving, thoughtful voice that resonates in every one of her posts.  She is a special soul and I am proud to call her my blogging friend.

Kimberly sent me this video, not knowing that I already knew of Stephanie and her plight ... miracles happen every day ...

I do believe the Lord is speaking to me somehow, through my daughter, my friends, my family, and I'm listening.  It is the message that is the most important.  We need to listen to those messages when they come our way.  We need to pray about them and reflect on them. 

No matter what happens in this life, I have faith that it will all turn out well.  I hope you do too.




Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Two Guys and a Girl


There is no question about it, as my son, Matthew, says on a regular basis - "Sarah sure is rakin' them in."  Of course, Sarah denies this observation from her brother. 


But I have to tell ya, having been a 16 year old girl once myself, I don't recall having quite this much fun, or being surrounded by testosterone on a regular basis.


Sarah has a boyfriend.  As in "he's mine, not yours - boyfriend."  His name is Walker.  He's the one in the red shirt.  Sarah also has a best friend.  As in "he's my friend and only a friend and we like to hang out buddy style kind of friend."  His name is Ryan.  He is in the white shirt.


We've tried to tell Sarah that this creates an awkward situation.  Sarah doesn't buy it.  


We tell her that if she is in a relationship with a guy, that hanging out and going out with other guys, even if they are just "friends" is probably a "no-no."  She still doesn't buy it.


Of course, she is only 16, so who cares, right? - Maybe Ryan.



Sarah has never had her heart broken.  Neither has Walker.  And from what I gather, Ryan has never been in a relationship where his heart was anywhere, so he's safe - for the moment.  I think.  


Unless, of course, he likes Sarah more than just a "friend" and then we have issues.  But they're still just kids.  Kids with heart.  Kids with Soul.  Fun Kids.  Good Kids.


Sarah doesn't buy it.


So, the other day, Sarah had Walker and Ryan over at the same time.  Awkward.  But very interesting.


And fun.


They played the Wii and Guitar Hero, and then watched a movie and hung out - together.



They let me take a lot of pictures of them being silly - together.


Walker made it perfectly clear -  "she's mine, not yours, and don't you forget it ... Ryan."


Of course, Ryan just kept smilin' and making faces and giving me the thumbs up.  I don't think Walker was buyin' it.


Go get 'em Ryan!  


They had dinner with us too.  Big Bear made a chicken and shrimp alfredo thing with a salad and blackberry cobbler and it was delicious.  Growing boys they are and everyone but Sarah woofed it down. Ryan had seconds.


The thing about this funny scenerio is this - I really like Walker and I really like Ryan.  We're talking 2 great guys here.  I am proud of them both.  They get good grades and care about their future. 


And it is obvious to us that they both care about Sarah too.  Such a dilemma for a 16 year old girl.


Walker wants to be a Neuro-surgeon.


Ryan hasn't decided yet, but he is big into Baseball and he plays a mean Saxophone.


Sarah wants to be a cellular biologist.  As in "cells" in the body, not cellular phones.  ha ha.


I don't know where this bunch is going, but I know for sure they are going up, and I do believe that they will be lifelong friends.  I just have a gut feeling.  And since we've drilled it into our children's heads that they have to be choosy about the friends they keep, as for Sarah, I do believe that these 2 are keepers.



Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sarah's Creative Energy

My daughter, Sarah, has a lot of creative energy - sorta like her Mom, but I am so impressed with the little things she does.  For a couple of years now, she has been making these "Picture Poems" as I call them, in Picnik and I wanted to share them with all of you! 

















Stay Cool!



Monday, June 14, 2010

Reagan's First Words in Monotone


Reagan's talking now.  She does not yet say Mama or Dada, although she is trying, she can, however, say "I can't do that."  Yes, you heard me right.  You see, her mother, my daughter, Kimberly, was filming Reagan playing and asked her to do that "head" thing again and Reagan apparently didn't want to do it again, so she said "I can't do that ... and I woooooon ..t" at which time she rolled over.  Imagine Kim's amazement when she answered Reagan with "Yes you can" only to take a double-take and no doubt think "did I just answer my 9 month old daughter?"  "Did Reagan just tell me that she can't do that?"  Of course, Kim, Zak, and all of us went a little nuts because you see - Reagan is only 9 months old!   So, Kiddo, what's the deal with that anyway?  

Don't believe me?  Listen for yourself ...

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

She Has My Heart


I think my granddaughter, Reagan, may just be the cutest baby girl on the face of the earth.  But, of course, I'm partial.  Then again, maybe she is - at least through my eyes.  I mean, she has the biggest sky blue eyes on the planet, and this strawberry blonde hair to die for.  She smiles so big it melts your heart and everywhere she goes she gets a lot of attention due to the "cuteness" factor she has goin' on.



And of course, she is already reading.  She has a few of her favorite hardcover books that she reads on a daily basis - with the help of Elmo too.



And that perfect little button nose that is a little orange is proof positive that our little sweetie is eating her carrots.



Among other things.



She is easily entertained as you can see here (and check out those 2 perfect pearls that popped out of her bottom gums.



There is no description that could possibly accurately describe the love I feel for this child, and I have not yet met her.



But she has my heart all tied up in knots and filled with joy.  



That face.  That perfect face ...



And those priceless expressions ...



Are enough to make me want to drop everything and drive 12 hours to see her.  To hold her in my arms and kiss her cheeks and hug her till we both have trouble breathing.



And of course, there'd be plenty of hugs and misses, love and kisses to go around because you see, I have the most beautiful daughters, and this beautiful daughter, Kimberly, is now a mother, and I can't think of anything that looks more wonderful on her than motherhood.  

Love, Grandma Susan

Now sit back, turn on your speakers, and make a new friend ...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reagan's Applesauce Adventure


"I don't want to try applesauce!!!"


"Okay, well MAYBE I'll try it"


"What the heck did you just feed me?! UGH!"



"Okay, well maybe applesauce isn't that bad!"


"Applesauce and fingers that is"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Pioneer Woman Comes to Charlotte


I've been blogging for a little over 2 years now and few have inspired me like Ree Drummond.  I really like her. She is funny, smart, a talented cook, photographer, and writer.  She is a good mother, a loving wife, and a good friend to many who have had the pleasure to get to know her.  She has her act together and keeps her readers, her family, and her friends smilin' and laughin'.

I read a number of blogs, but my favorite is by far is Ree's "Pioneer Woman." I wrote to her several times that I hoped she would come to Charlotte. I don't know if my emails made the difference, but I was so happy she chose our Queen City to visit last week.


Ree and I became acquainted after her precious Border Collie, Nell, was lost. I was so taken by her expression of loss and all the stories that she had written about Nell, that I painted an oil of Nell and shipped it to her. She loved the painting and wrote a very nice story about it on her blog. That story caused chaos at Six Apart who host my blog via TypePad. In less than 10 minutes after the story posted, my blog crashed. Fortunately, the down time was short-lived as TypePad contacted me and let me know that they would have my blog back up as soon as possible. That "up" time came about 15 minutes later. I had thousands of hits that day in October, 2008 and many of the visitors from that day have returned and become regular readers of Raisin Toast and distant friends.


Ree is so nice. We've talked on the phone twice since that day and I feel a real connection with this pioneer woman. She is as real as her blog portrays her to be. It just goes to show you don't need to be vulgar or over-the-top to have a successful blog. You just need to be honest, funny, real, and a good writer. In her case, she is all of the above and more, and I am proud to call her a blogging friend.



Well, last Friday, Ree came to Charlotte - solo, and I know that was difficult for her to be away from her family. I was looking forward to finally meeting her; so, my daughter, Sarah, and my Big Bear (hubby, Bob), went to Joseph-Beth Booksellers to meet Ree.



We waited 4 hours, but it wasn't so bad.  Joseph-Beth was very organized and courteous about how to manage the mobs of people.



We met a number of other very nice Charlotteans, like Carla here, who just started her own blog, The Country Diary of a Southern Lady.  She came with her daughter and hubby to meet this Pioneer of a woman - Ree. 



The place was packed. At 6pm, Ree walked out onto the 2nd level balcony of Joseph-Beth and addressed the crowd.



There were hundreds of people there and I was in the middle of it all. Bob was sitting down somewhere and Sarah was around the corner from me looking at books.



Ree was telling jokes and laughing, telling everyone how happy she was to be in Charlotte, when she surprised me from the balcony and said "Oh Hi Susan!" I looked around thinking "There must be another Susan here" when I realized she was looking right at me. I responded "Oh Hi Ree!" and for a moment wanted to hide behind a shelf of books. All eyes were momentarily on me - including Ree's. Then the questions began - "Do you know Ree?" and "How do you know Ree?"



Sarah was standing across the room and I noticed her as she put her hands on her cheeks and said "That's my Mom!" Sarah showed up by my side shortly thereafter and gave me a hug. Ree, for that brief moment, made me and Sarah both feel special. I was surprised that she was able to pick me out from the crowd. Must have been my blinding gray hair.


Even though Ree and I have spoken twice on the phone and emailed a couple of times, I never thought that she ever visited my blog. She is so busy with her ranch life, homeschooling, cooking, and writing, that I can't imagine she has much time for anything else.



But, when we met Ree, she gave me and Sarah, both, a big hug and told me how happy she was to finally meet me. I was telling Big Bear "this picture better not be blurry!"



She looked at Bob, who was taking the blurry pictures, and said "And that's Big Bear, right?" I laughed and said "yes."



She then looked at Sarah and said "My goodness, you are so grown up! I can't believe how grown up you are from the pictures I have seen of you!" I said "Ree, I think it's the haircut" and Ree gave me and Sarah a big hug and dimpled smile.



Dimples. Ree is definitely working those dimples. Sarah said to Ree "Ree, you are so beautiful" and Ree laughed. As we were leaving, Ree said "It was nice to meet you too, Big Bear" and then we drove home.



When Sarah told Ree she was beautiful, she meant it on many different levels as she explained to me in the car going home. Sarah said "Mom, Ree is so beautiful - on the outside and the inside. She is so gracious and funny and real. I am so happy I came with you tonight. I will never forget this."



We are looking forward to Ree's new book - Black Heels to Tractor Wheels! She wrote the last 49 words of her book in Charlotte. I certainly hope we meet again some day, this was a lot of fun!



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