The Chopping Block

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This weekend I took the plunge and finally bought myself a truly incredible chopping block.  Some may think of it as not really being that big of a deal.  However, for me, it is another small grasp at holding onto everything Mama represented.

You see, growing up I recall having this huge chopping block that sat on the counter in our kitchen right next to the door.  It was the first thing you saw as you came in and the last thing you looked at as you left.  It was the all encompassing quintessential kitchen addition.  It not only provided the space for that which it was intended for, but it also housed tubs of hot cocoa in the winter and was a drop off for incoming and outgoing mail.  It was the place to roll out dough and a place to drop your keys for easy location.  It was easily one of the most used items in our home and deep within each grain of that wood was a story to be told.  In essence, it was a central hub!

I loved that block and have ever since wanted one for myself, but just never found the time to truly indulge my yearnings….until now.  I think there are things that each of us relates to those that we love.  This chopping block was one of those.  It was something so closely connected to Mama that I knew the time had come to add one to my own home.  For months now I have been on the hunt for one that felt like it belonged in my home.  So this weekend, as I strolled through Sur La Table looking for the perfect fit, I was more than excited to find my own little gem of a  chopping block.

I have to admit, it really is the small things that help us hold onto memories that I feel help carry us through the very emotional journey of saying, “goodbye” while still holding onto that love which we hold so deeply within our hearts.

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Mmmm, Mmmmm, Good!!

D.W. Cookie Co Chocolate Chip

Yesterday, I visited a local cookie store in our area, The D.W. Cookie Co., and was instantly transported into one of my Mama memories.  As far back as I can remember, Mama always allowed us to help out in the kitchen.  At first it was in small ways, like stirring the batter, or handing her things she might need for a recipe.  Later, it transformed into a much more involved experience.  Our kitchen had an open door policy at all times.  That is not to imply that we were allowed to just waltz right in and grab anything we wanted.  We were raised knowing that there was a purpose for all things in our house and whatever food we may stumble upon might very well have an ultimate destination on a much grander scale.  All this really meant was that we needed to ask Mama before devouring it. In the overall scheme of things, alone the ingredient may be good; but, in one of Mama’s creations, it was bound to be phenomenal.

That brings me back to the memory that I stumbled upon yesterday.  As I stood in this little independently owned business, tempted by the assortment of delectable, chewy discs displayed in front of me, I recalled my first true experience in our kitchen as “Head Chef.”  I decided I wanted to try my hand at baking and what better way to start than with some ooey gooey chocolate chip goodness?

D.W. Cookie Co. Assortment

Now, Mom had a library of exceptionally tasty cookie treats; but being my new adviser, she decided a classic chocolate chip concoction would be an appropriate beginner challenge.  What I loved most about cooking with Mom was the ease with which she managed to do everything.  She allowed us to make mistakes without getting overly excited.  I think this is a true sign of not only an experienced cook, but one of an amazing teacher.  She never approached cooking as if there was only one certain way it could be done.  So as I journeyed through the process of making my first batch of cookies, I was coaxed, allowed to err, encouraged to ask questions, and ultimately guided with the compassion of someone who had a deep love of cooking and baking.

I remember those cookies were not as perfectly balanced as hers.  And as we nibbled on them, Mom explained what she thought might work better next time.  I love the fact that she allowed me to make mistakes, because that is ultimately how one learns to cook, through experimentation and an understanding that nothing is set in stone.

D.W. Cookie Co. Snickerdoodle

As the years passed, I became quite the little baker and making cookies has always remained one of my absolute favorite things to create.  So yesterday, as I stood in this amazing little store with chocolate dripping from my fingers and smudged on my face, taste buds dancing and angels singing,  I thanked Mama for helping me to develop a true appreciation of the artistry of making cookies.  Because of her, I was able to truly express to the owner and baker, Devar Ward, just how much his skill is admired and his Chocolate Chip Toffee Cookie a true work of art.

No worries if chocolate chip is not your favorite.  He’s got plenty of delicious combinations to choose from at his store, The D. W. Cookie Co. in Canyon Country, California.  What I will say is….you must go and try them!  It’s like all the delicious goodness of childhood rolled up in one round, delightful, sinfully good bite!

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A Good Cause

Shriner

After receiving a call from Dad asking me to join him on his upcoming trip to Minneapolis, MN for a Shriners Convention, I really didn’t know what to expect. This was typically Mom’s adventure to take with him and then I might join them later to take in some of the sights of our glorious country on an extended little road trip. I can’t remember a time when Dad wasn’t a Shriner.  I have to admit, I’ve been so impressed by how this organization works and what they stand for.  I’ve developed and even higher respect for their dedication in ensuring that the Shriners Hospitals for Children are funded to provide for children and burn victims all over our nation, and even in Canada and Mexico as well. Everyone involved is so motivated and eager to serve.  The camaraderie among the devoted members and their significant others is intoxicating. They only see each other once a year and yet it is very evident that the bond they share is strong and long lasting. So many words of comfort were extended and stories told of Mama’s impact on all of them. I could certainly feel the love they felt for her.

Last night, I was lucky enough to attend a dinner and share in their friendship. At one point, members of the group stood and spoke on various topics, mostly recognizing appreciation and hard work among the members. However, there is one man in particular that has stolen my heart. He has such a sweet demeanor and kind nature. This lovely man stood to speak the final words during this portion and focused solely on the absence of Mama and the sadness that lingered in the unspoken words floating within each of our hearts. I was taken aback and moved to say the least. His words expressed exactly how spirited, generous and loving Mama was and filled the empty air with her memory, bringing her back to us, if only just for a brief moment in time.

I’m so glad I decided to come along for the experience. To see Dad among people who truly respect his contributions and appreciate his friendship is heartwarming. I love knowing that he has such good friends. It’s been equally fulfilling to listen to words of kindness and comfort in regards to Mom. I feel like each time her name gets mentioned it’s like a little tap on the shoulder saying…”See…I’m still here.”

If you’d like to donate to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, I have included a direct link to their donation page.  Thank you for your contribution!

Shriners Hospital for Children Donation

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The Rest of the Story

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A while back, during my college years, a tad bit before the virtual world exploded into cyber space and super electronics became the norm, I used to love to listen to Paul Harvey‘s, “The Rest of the Story,” segment on a little thing called the car radio.  I loved how he took one story and delved deeper into it to provide a whole different aspect.  After publishing my post yesterday, I began to reflect more deeply on all the things that combined to make that day so special.  You’ve all now heard about why that one particular photo of Mama has such an impact on me personally.  But what you don’t know is some of the other factors that came to be that day, helping to make an unforgettable experience for us all.

To begin, I must say that every person in attendance contributed in some way.  Everyone had to alter plans and travel distances to be present.  You see, Mom was not in her hometown.  We had decided that placing her in a more central location to all who would be spending their days with her in the hospice facility was a more logical solution.  We were actually two hours away from where I grew up and my parents’ hometown.  We would have had it no other way.  We wanted Mama to be surrounded by those she loved as often as possible and for as long as possible.  We were all more than eager and strongly desired to contribute in any way possible to create a day to remember.

Patrick and Traci of course were the ultimate deciding factor in getting the wheels turning.  It was their kind spirits and abundance of love for Mama which guided their hearts.  It was also their generosity in allowing others to shower them with assistance and contributions as best we could. They took care of all the little details necessary for the wedding couple, including gathering up all their little kiddos, preparing them for the day and then finally themselves as well.

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My sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Adrian, housed several people in their home during this time.  Her children gave up their bedrooms without hesitation and were always eager to assist any of us.  Elizabeth was the ultimate hostess, providing food and transportation for many.  So many of her generous friends dropped by with dinners, snacks, treats, and even flowers to show their support and to ensure that their sweet friend would not be overwhelmed by so many guests.

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My twin, Diane, spent long hours on the phone over several days dealing with schedule changes, flight arrangements, and car rentals to ensure that her husband, Scott, and three boys, who live several states away would be able to attend as well.

Mama’s sisters, Aunt Trish and Aunt Lou Lou, were by her side daily and rescheduled their days so as to be there to help beautify her for the ceremony and hold her hand during this whole process.  Aunt Trish provided something “old” by gifting Traci a broach to wear that was painted by Mama. They were more than a support; they were a shoulder to lean on and a hand to hold.

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As for Traci’s side of the family, her parents were taking care of their growing brood of grandchildren and helping to ease any stress for the happy couple in any way they could.  Patrick has twin girls and Traci has a son and daughter.  What a lovely group of people to combine into one loving household.

Traci’s sister, Rachel was a true expert in catering a last minute wedding.  It was absolutely fantastic and such a lovely addition to the day.  She also somehow magically created all of the bouquets and boutonnieres for the wedding party.  I am not sure I have ever seen more beautifully arranged flowers in my life.  I don’t know how she did it!  She definitely sprinkled a little fairy dust on the affair!

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I felt truly blessed and frankly, terrified when my brother and Traci asked if I would photograph the entire event.  I typically do all of my work outside and this was a bit out of my comfort zone. My hesitation was for a mere second and then I promised that I would do my best; but deep down inside felt emotions might just get the better of me, leaving me in a state of frenzy on the special day.  I have considered myself a solid photographer for years; but, this was somehow on a whole different level.  The ceremony was beyond emotional; but viewing this immensely intimate moment in time through my insanely timid photographer’s eye that day, was one of the most illuminating experiences I have ever had the joy of living in.

There remain two exceptionally sweet moments that can only be considered divine intervention.  Early on, there was much question in locating the perfect spot to hold the ceremony.  That was soon resolved by the nurses who strongly suggested that Mom’s bed should only be rolled out as far as the doorway to her room.  We looked around and sighed, having the beautiful image in our minds of just what the original venue would have provided, and yet knowing in our hearts what was truly important.

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Early on the morning of the wedding, two of Traci’s sweet friends, disguised as miracle workers, waltzed in with twinkle lights, paper bells, and flowers to spruce the place up.  As soon as the nurses caught sight of this, they rushed down to assist by providing sheets to hang from the ceiling and frantically began moving all medical equipment out of view.  I very vividly recall the tears that formed in my eyes at that moment.  What a sight to behold!  The love pouring forth from Traci’s friends and the most genuine desire to provide support by the nurses was more than evident.  It was felt by us all, deep down in those special spots reserved for exceptional moments in humanity.

Finally, as Dad prepared for the day, he realized he was lacking appropriate attire for the wedding.  He felt certain he could get away with the pants he had, but needed to stop by the mall to buy a shirt and tie.  As he wandered the unfamiliar grounds of the massive mall, gazing into the windows of unfamiliar stores, he came across a shop that appeared to have just what he needed.  There was only one problem.  The store didn’t open for another hour, which he did not have the luxury of.  So Dad did what any great man would do in his hour of need, he knocked on the door and flagged down the person inside.  The salesman came to the door and promptly said, “We don’t open for another hour.”  At that point, Dad took a deep breath and relayed his story to the young man.  I feel certain that at that very moment, this man looked into Dad’s eyes and felt the magnitude and importance of the day.  He then simply asked Dad to wait a second and on his return he opened the door to Banana Republic and welcomed Dad in for his very own individual shopping spree.  That wonderful salesman assisted Dad in locating a shirt and tie worthy of the man that was to officiate the ceremony of marriage for his only son.  And although the shirt was wrinkled and his pants worn, I have never seen my Dad look more distinguished than he did that day.

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The service was amazing!  There was not a dry eye in the room!  It was, by far, the most intimate, emotional, loving ceremony I have ever had the privilege of witnessing.  It represented what all weddings should be about, the love of two people and those who share in the best, most successful well wishes for their life together.

“And now you know….the rest of the story!”

The Challenge

Mama

Recently I was presented with the challenge of selecting my absolute favorite photograph ever taken.  Mind you, that is out of thousands.  However, I found it to be an easy choice.  For me the photo does not have to be perfectly composed, or even perfectly focused; but it absolutely must be from the heart.  By far the most cherished photo that I have ever taken is this one of Mama.  It was taken two days before Mom’s passing and during my brother’s wedding.

Originally, my brother and his sweet fiancee were to be married on my parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary at our ranch house with both families present.  So many plans had been made, flights had been purchased, hotels reserved, and catering set.  However, things drastically changed when Mama’s health faltered and she was placed in hospice just days prior to that.  Knowing how much she wanted to witness the marriage ceremony and their desire to have her present, my brother and his fiancee decided to change the venue.  In less than two days, all family members altered their flights, plans, and prior arrangements to attend the wedding of this selfless and loving couple.  Amazingly enough, every family member was able to make arrangements to attend.  The hospice facility staff was beside themselves with assisting in the preparation since this was the first and only wedding they had ever had in their facility.  They were as excited as we all were.  They too, had grown to love Mom instantly, as so many did.

Wedding

During the days in hospice, Mama seemed to be fading with moments of her true spirit shining through, allowing times of true joy for all of us.  She slept a lot and couldn’t seem to focus very clearly; but we all knew she was alert enough to know that a wedding was going to take place.  On November 19th, with my father officiating and my mother looking on from her hospital bed, two of the most amazing people on this planet were joined in matrimony.  That day, the day of this photo, was Mama’s most coherent day.  It was as if the sickness had left her body to allow her complete delight.  She was laughing, hugging, talking, and blowing kisses to us all.  It was during this time that I turned the lens on her and captured the purest moment of clarity and happiness in Mama that day.  She passed away two days later and just two days shy of their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

Wedding ~ Dad

It has now been exactly seven months to the date since her passing and posting this photo brings the same raw emotion as it did the day I peered through the eyepiece and captured her true essence.  For me personally, the photos which evoke the most emotion are the dearest in our hearts. This photo of Mama is by far my most emotionally charged and favored photograph ever.  It manages to grasp onto those ultimate moments of beautiful clarity and the memories of those final days spent with my dearest, sweet Mama.

Something I Learned From Her

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For Her, hello was never meant to be a one word greeting.

For Her, hello was a knock on the door saying,

“Welcome, have a seat and let’s chit chat for a while.”

One Word

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There are some things that just don’t make any sense to me.  I understand how music, or memories, or objects can trigger a moment of sorrow.  However, I cannot completely grasp why random words conjure up sadness with such forceful power.

Yesterday, as I was watching a movie, the word laughter was mentioned by one of the characters on the screen.  It had such little significance in the overall story line.  It was not something that was supposed to stand out.  It was just a word slipping through the lips of some unknown person, which had no relevance on my life.  But in that moment, the very second that the word floated into air, it was as if a freight train came charging through my mind, zipping down multiple tracks, picking up images of Mama laughing.  It left me winded, confused, overwhelmed and crying.

I get how the word connected to the images creates a reaction.  I just can’t fathom how the brain just plucks instances out of nowhere and decides it’s time to release a bit of emotion.  It was such a dormant moment in time.  Maybe that’s why.  Possibly, when the body is at complete relaxation and rest, it allows the subconscious to grasp onto anything it wants to and the imagination to conjure up that which is floating just below the surface of consciousness.

Whatever it may be, I embrace it.  It allowed me a moment in time to imagine sweet snapshots of Mama….and that is always a welcome invitation.