Those Rocks. That Tree.

As time passes, and life happens to and around us,  we are not necessarily the same people year after year.

And, it seems, to me, that we shouldn’t be.  Without compromising who we are at the core; we learn and grow. As a rock erodes into a pebble and eventually into sand over time, we have the potential to change in seemingly invisible ways every day. Our minds can change. Lord knows our bodies change. Relationships come and go and add rich layers of memory and story and sometimes hurts and forgiveness.

Our kids, the people we are raising, leave us changed daily.  Responding to the struggle(s) of the day, whether it’s the 7th grade math, freshman year jitters, college goodbyes, first heart breaks, puberty, or the teething and diapers – it all becomes part of our core. Like cooking from a recipe made so many times we feel it more than we can explain it. It just is. We just are.

My son is on the early cusp of puberty, my father has dementia. I am still a mother and a daughter but what that means and requires of me is changing as they change. Some days it looks no different than the day before, and then suddenly it’s obvious we are all different.

That said, among all that we juggle – the balls we manage to catch, and the ones we simply know are hovering in the balance, seemingly invisible but so very present – comfort can be found when we return to a place that does not change. A place that is somehow a constant for us, a landmark in both the metaphorical and concrete kind of ways.  A place that somehow soothes our soul, beckons us to memories that we can smell and feel from visits gone by, but it’s as if it were yesterday each time we return.

When you recognize a tree in the forest like an old friend, and know the one rock on which to sit by the lake.  They are unchanged and exactly where you saw them last.

That.

A place where the soul settles and rests.

And exhales.

We should all have that kind of place.

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.  – John Ruskin

A place where we are sure of who we are, excited about possibilities we perhaps can’t even fathom (but like those balls hovering in the balance, we know they are there…) and revel in all that has been.  From good to difficult and everything that lies between. A place where –  no matter the season,  no matter the weather  – gives us just exactly the moments we need. No matter in what direction the winds may blow, to have and find comfort in a place that we are so very lucky to know.

And I’ve been lucky enough to learn that when someone you adore adores the same place as you – well, that’s one sweet exhale.

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Ps…thanks to Lori for the Ruskin quote!
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A Little Bit Back to Center

As with most of us, the weeks in between Thanksgiving and the holly jolly holiday can be likened to either a sausage or a can of sardines; in either case too much is constrained in far too small of a space.

Work demands seemed to ratchet instead of dwindle and we lost a bright shining star long before he should have ever gone shooting across the sky.  Losing a dear and trusted colleague is never easy, and especially the peak of the season.

On the home front we switched from cleats to high tops and a whole new game schedule.  I really need the coaches to check with me before signing up our team for extra scrimmages and tournaments.

As such, it was a push to get Christmas on the table, so speak.  A naked tree stood vulnerable in my living room for too many days before it finally got it’s well earned bling and blitz.  The flour and sugar and mixer remain tucked away in cabinets this year and I did not support the US Postal service this go-round….

(I was kind of feeling like the elf who barely made it in for the night and just kind of hanging on….)

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…and the gift list was whittled and all through the house; this nearly bah-humbug mama slowly began to exhale.

An almost stolen (but not) purse, a few unusual conversations and all the requisite daily pushes and pulls, and the edges began to fray.  I found myself needing to respond to a particular situation, make an important decision, and I realized that I felt so far from center. So far from my own self that finding the inner voice of reason and the all-important gut check seemed akin to the journey to the center of the earth; a really long way away.

***

Last night, kiddo and I spent the evening with dear and long time friends who came into town for the holiday.  To help welcome them, the friend hosting them also hosted an evening gathering with friends and family who also wanted to be with them.  There we were, the atypically warm December night found the women gathered on the generous front porch sipping wine and talking like there is no tomorrow, the kids running free between basement and front yard and the men tossing back a few beers in the kitchen. And of course, any mix and mingle of all peppered the evening.  Before I knew it, jackets and santa hats donned, wine glasses re-filled, we walked the neighborhood which some would liken to a modern day Mayberry and took in the light strewn homes, horse-drawn carriages transporting families and friends doing the same as us, and pick-up trucks filled with carolers. As we walked, conversations were easy, natural and changing depending on who walked next to whom. Kids ran front, center and in between.

At one moment, while I had the three biggest kids in my reach, I let them go ahead a bit, and ahead of them were the smalls and other adults.  I hung back, I lingered, wine in hand, and took it all in.

I exhaled deeper. A lot deeper.

Bright lights in my periphery. People I love in direct view.

Cheerful sounds filling the air.

A sip of my wine.

Exhale.

This. This right here. This is Christmas.  I exhaled fully and smiled.

I caught up to my kiddo and draped an arm around his shoulders, not far below my own now,  and said, this is good, eh?  We are good. We get this.  He was quiet and I said, this is a moment to just be.

 

***

This morning, as I woke, I thought of last night.

I realized. That was a little bit of coming back to center.

***

Merry Christmas. Holly Jolly Holiday.  Blessings.

My wish for you, each of you, is that moment to just be.

To exhale. To find center.

***

Peace & Joy

-Bonnie

 

Sunsetting

A few weeks ago, work took me to the Windy City for a conference. The opening keynote speaker was a young woman whom I had heard speak a few years back and while amazing, the part of me drawn to novel experiences, admittedly was somewhat less than enthusiastic about a repeat performance.

I was wrong. So wrong.

In the years since hearing her speak last, it became apparent to me within moments, that she had grown and more importantly, that I have grown. Her message was poignant, insightful and addressed the human condition in ways that only someone who has lived deeply can do.  This keynote speaker is Liz Murray, author of the New York Times Bestseller Breaking Night “and a believer of Possibilities, Creativity, Audacity, Passion, Fun, and a Global Community.” Her story is that of Homeless to Harvard – the story of but one young girl raised by drug addicted parents who both died so early in life, leaving her and her sister homeless as teenagers.

Her ability to convey her story with humor, with transparency and yet with a level of insight far beyond her 33 years, on par with that of thought leaders we have all read or heard about was simply and purely stunning. Her candidness captivated me and I could have listened to her speak all  all night.  She wove her story with her observations, lessons learned and universal truths. She shared one of the most honest – and helpful – examples of forgiveness that paralleled, to me, that of the story of Louie Zamperini in the book Unbroken.  Tears gently rolled down my face in one second and in the next, I was laughing out loud. A master story teller, without a doubt and truly, a master human being.

At one point, while she was speaking of her mother and while unable to parent in the ways we consider conventional, Liz spoke of her mother’s fierce love and affection for her children.  Then she shared that when her mother became ill and that the end was imminent, that she wished she had taken more time to be with her.  She shared that afterwards, after the moment to say goodbye had come and gone, that she realized that even at such a young age, that she had developed a theme in her life.

She always thought there would a later.

I will see her later. I will visit her later. I will spend time with her later.

Later came. Later went.

Her mother was gone. Buried in a pine box.

Later came. Later went.

***


***

The kiddo and I are spending a few days with my father, who in the recent weeks met up with the milestone called 94.  On the day of his birthday, my brother shared that upon birthday greetings and the acknowledgemet of his 94 years, that his response was, “Let’s see if we can make it to 95”.

His spirit is in tact. His body is mostly in tact. His mind, however, is in nearly a million mixed up little pieces.

While sitting together in the living room, or at the dining table, our conversations are both humorous and heartbreaking.

He asks when he is going home. We are home. The home where he has lived since 1968.  

He asks if he ever came to visit me when I lived in San Francisco. I have never lived in San Francisco.

He asked me if my brother has arranged transportation back to the other house. I tell him we are where we need to be.

He asks me if Bill lived with me in Fresno, or somewhere? He thinks I am his cousin.  I just shake my head no.

He asks me if I would like to stay the night. I say yes, of course, thank you.  He does not realize that I am his daughter. 

He says he needs to find a ten dollar bill he dropped out in the yard, and when I tell him he didn’t he says he will look for it anyway. When I find a ten in his wallet, he hands it to me and thanks me for my help.  I just take the ten. And put it back in his wallet when he’s not looking.

We take a drive around the town where he’s lived and worked since the sixties and he remarks that he thinks he’s been before.  That’s true, he has.  

As I get him to bed, he asks me where his wife is.  I say she is not here right now and he nods. He says she must be with her mother,  and I nod. He says she old enough to manage on her own.  His wife died 16 years ago. I kiss him good night.

I began asking him questions a few years ago. Questions about his life, his loves, his dreams, his travels, his regrets.  I got only the tip of the ice berg.

I realize now, I always thought there was a later.

He is still here, but his mind is not.

Later has come. Later has gone.

Photo credit: The Kiddo

Photo credit: The Kiddo

There is still so much I want to know.

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Home and On The Range

Hello travelers and happiest of Mondays, though I do fully realize the oxymoron of that statement!

This last stop on our road trip travels was all about home. Oh, no, The Kiddo and I are not done with our travels, not even close…but the last stop took us to my hometown for the weekend.

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A familiar landmark near my hometown

I took the old country roads I know like the back of my hand from the beach to my family home. I have to say, it was more than a little surreal to listen to music, with the current associations of today, while driving the roads filled with memories stacked up since my earliest driving days.

It was time for my brother and son to reconnect, and time for my little man to visit with my old man. And, we shared an afternoon and evening with the grown up kids from my days of childhood in a home more magical than any I’ve visited since. We shared stories of today; travels, tales of parenthood and ailing parents. We laughed until our bellies ached over stories about our parents’ shenanigans, wondering how there are still stories we haven’t all heard at this point in time. We drank Manhattan’s and Port. We were comforted, at least I was, simply by being in each others presence; knowing that this is a safe place of belonging. We all go way back, to the very beginning.

Earlier that day, my son and I shared a unique experience together that neither of us will forget. The world, and opinions are way too complicated for me to share photos here (but I have some awesome pictures!) of our morning out in a countryside vineyard where we both learned how to handle, respect and shoot a rifle. It was a rite of passage for the both of us; just in different ways. And, to see my son and brother bond is priceless. And apparently, I’m a natural. Be afraid…very afraid! 🙂

Before leaving, and heading to our next destination, I managed to get…

Dad-ism #4!
Me: Dad, what do you most regret NOT doing in your life?

…long pause…

Dad: Not being more friendly,  more kind.

I was stunned after that. I just nodded and thanked my dad for his answer. He’s so right. It reminded me, immediately, of the piece recently shared online – the commencement speaker who most regrets his failures of kindness. My dad, he’s a smart cookie.

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Before we headed out, The Kiddo asked his Granddad to show him his Colonel uniform from his Army days, and with my brothers help, we got to see and touch and feel this incredible piece of history.

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I loved our family stop; and it was hard to leave. Each place has that in common. After that,  we hit the road, turned up the volume and opened some candy for the next leg. Oh, the cherry sours? History. Thing of the past. GONE. (sigh)

And now, time for your thinkin’ and Googling hats…

CA DREAMIN’ TRAVEL TRIVIA QUESTION #4 (4 pts)

What small. CA town is considered the Earthquake Capital?

And today, we have a bonus round, for 3 points:

Which of the following CA towns is known as the artichoke capital of the world?
A. Greenfield
B. Barstow
C. Castroville
D. Artoville

Bonus bonus (extra 1pt) if you’ve ever HAD an artichoke!!

Until next time, safe travels
Wheels, heart, mind and soul.

Beep Beep,
Bonnie & The Kiddo

Daisies, Dahlias and Dad

“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.”

Lauren Bacall 

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Happy Birthday Dad!

This man, my father, just celebrated the completion of his 93rd year and the start of his 94th year, and that’s no small feat for anyone, and add to that- he’s a self-made man. Born in the oil fields in central California in 1920, and shuttled off on his own at the young age of 13, he enlisted in the army and then jumped rank from soldier to  Full Colonel in the Army in WWII, and stationed in the South Pacific for the duration of the war. Upon returning to the US post-war, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his older brother and pursue a career in optometry. This consisted of walking onto the Berkeley campus in the late 40’s and signing up. And then showing up. [When I applied to colleges and universities decades later, he didn’t quite understand the admissions angst…]  He was THE optometrist in our small town and ran a successful practice until he retired. He’s a depression era make a difference in the lives of others kind of man. He’s a walk-the-precincts to get everyone registered to vote kind of guy.

We affectionately call him the energizer bunny, having survived more surgeries and near medical misses over the years; including open heart surgery and more nights in ICU than we can count. We are convinced that this man does not know there is an option but to keep on going.  He’s not perfect, more than complex, suffers from dementia and the craziness that brings out in a person. But without question, this is a good man. Trustworthy. Solid. Responsible. Respected. Funny. And he loves chocolate. I mean, the man LOVES chocolate.

And martinis.

Upon arriving in my childhood home, my first inclination was to curl up on the couch for a little cat nap.  My brother and father indulged me and made themselves scarce for what turned out to be nearly an hour and a half. When chided about that not really qualifying as a cat nap, I simply, and admittedly a tad bit ‘snarkily’, in that bratty little sister kind of way, said, well, it was a cheetah nap, you know a big cat!

I had to take my usual walk-through and survey this house, my home, where I spent nearly my entire childhood. It’s filled with the smells and feelings that only a place known so well can evoke. Things are the same, and yet not. I am still that little girl inside, peering into the room where she learned to read and wrote secrets in her diary. And yet, at the same time, now a woman who has been freed by sharing her secrets, a sister who’s bonded with her brother in ways neither probably ever expected. A daughter who misses deeply the mother who raised her here in this home and who now so much more deeply understands and accepts this father turning 93 in this moment.

As I made my way around the house, I had to inspect the backyard; my father is an amazing gardener. He always has been, and it’s a deep regret that in my silly, impatient youth, I never let him teach me this art. For when you ask him, ‘how does your garden grow?” all you have to do is take a sweeping look through his yard for the answer. Which he still cares for daily, as much as he can.

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Roses…

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Daisies…

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Dahlias…

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Evidence of a garden being tended to…

We moved on to happy hour, and in my house, that’s a long standing tradition. My parents, of the WWII era, always knew how to enjoy the evening and friends would stop by and enjoy cocktail hour and appetizers; it was a regular occurrence. Being the youngest and not always having a playmate, I wanted to keep myself busy and more than likely, avoid the boring adult conversation, so by the age of 10 or so, I had learned how to make all the regulars – martini’s, an old fashioned, scotch on the rocks, and others. I knew which drink called for the little white onion, the green olive or the maraschino cherry. Hold on, before you call children and family services, be assured that just because I knew how to make and serve the drinks didn’t mean I drank them!

That came later.

So, we started our evening with a cocktail and spent some time catching up.My father sat himself down, ever so gingerly, and once settled in front of the crackers and cheese, he patted the seat on the sofa next to him, indicating I should sit myself down next to him. We talked about my son, and fussed about how to deal with the sliding door so that I could try and snap a shot of the hummingbird who frequents the feeder just outside on the patio.

We never did get that right.

The conversation turned personal and I received the first of what I decided to call Dad-isms, little gifts to me, even though it’s HIS birthday!

Dad-ism #1:

Me:  Dad, you know that my life has changed a lot lately, right? I know it’s probably a lot to think about.

Dad:  Yes. You have my blessings. You’re a good person; things will go well for you.

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My brother makes a most perfect Manhattan

Over dinner, the conversation was entertaining at best, especially with my father acting like a child about not getting to have as much wine as his kids. When the conversation turned to talk about ages, years, and remember-when’s, I asked  my father a question.

Dad-ism #2:

Me:  Dad, do you remember how old I am?

Dad: Yes. Pause. Yes. You are four years younger than me.

Me:  Wow! That’s got to make me the best damned looking 89 yr old around! 

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A martini with brunch? When you’re 93, sure!

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Never too old to joke around!

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The brother.

Dad-ism #3:

On the way home from our celebratory brunch the next morning, I said to my father,

Me:  Dad, you’ve lived a lot of life in your 93 years. If you could give out some advice, knowing that others would take your advice, what would you tell them?

Dad:  Have the attention of someone who’s personality you like and can grow with. 

Me:   Gulp. Silent.

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Dad’s harmonica

Before I left that afternoon, I ducked into his room to change my clothes for the ride home.  I noticed something on his dresser and was compelled to investigate…it was something I had never noticed in all my years of snooping around in my parent’s dresser [so many fun little things in there!]. I opened it up and see an old black and white photo of a beautiful young woman. I asked my brother who it was he said he didn’t know and neither did Dad. I went directly to the source and tried to jog his memory, but with no luck. I asked him if it was an old girlfriend, or his cousin, and he just couldn’t remember. What struck me, the hopeless romantic, is that he’s had it all these years, tucked away. I found myself wondering what it would be like for that young lady to know that she’s been admired from afar all these years…

The mystery girl...

The mystery girl…

And the final Dad-ism of the day:

Happy Birthday Dad!

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I dream of jewel beads and mopped floors…

Here’s to all the moms…

May your day be filled with jewel beads, clean counters and tidy rooms.

And if not, perhaps a lovely mess filled with love and laughter!

To the Mom’s – what has been one of your favorite, or most ‘memorable’ gifts over the years?

And to the rest of us ‘kids’, is there a gift you remember being so excited or proud to give to your mom?

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Hometown Girl

The old saying, ‘you can’t go home again’ has some truth to it, as we know.  However we choose to define home, the place where we ‘grew up’   –  whether physically or metaphorically –  we all know that we can’t go back and expect things to be the same, just as they were. Our mind plays tricks on us ; we often remember things as larger than they really were, selectively omit certain details and attach specific feelings to smells and sights.  But, perhaps, we can go home if we understand that we will find a new version, with new layers that add to our memory and the richness of all that we have received from that zip code specifically imprinted upon us.

I grew up in a small town and even as a kid, knew that I would need to stretch my wings in a locale not edged with orchards and one little main street. I’m convinced that came from my parents, who had lived and experienced so much of the world before settling in what became our home town.  Dad had left home at the age of 13, putting  himself through school, jobs; ultimately serving as an Army Colonel in the South Pacific during WWII. The cabinets in our family home contain boxes upon boxes of his military photos, many of which capture him in uniform, touring Sydney, AU and out in the bush of aboriginal New Guinea seated with the natives – and their lack of attire. Post-war, he became a self-made man as the only optometrist in our small town.

Having grown up in Seattle and then San Francisco, Mom was a city girl. And though barely 5 feet tall, she could finagle the worst traffic in San Francisco with the grace of a ballerina and the mouth of a locker-room jock.  She could bully her way into just about any parking spot she had her eye on and then stroll into I. Magnin with no one the wiser; she had exquisite taste in shopping and a culinary gift that clearly has not carried on with me.  And a heart softer and kinder than I can explain in words.

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McDonald Manhattan: 2 parts bourbon, 1 part sweet vermouth, splash of bitters. On the rocks.

In our home, dinners were often a formal affair, with the table set beautifully with all elements of the proper stemware, silverware and dinnerware. Our mother took great pride in presenting a meal that not only earned her the chops as wonderful chef, but her presentation was always perfect. In her mind, it had to look as tantalizing as it would taste. She would undoubtedly agonize over the details, often wearing herself out and then serving herself last; a true hostess.  Ours was a home where napkins were placed on our laps, cocktails were often served during the 5 – o – clock hour, with hors d’ oeuvres in actual serving dishes, in the formal living room. Ours was a home with a set of every day dishes, a set of ‘nice dishes’, and a set of china.  Ours was a home where people were always welcome, but by golly the house better be clean, all the way down to the baseboards.

We said goodbye to mom nearly 16 years ago, and my father, now 92, still lives in our family home along with my brother, who is beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of the most patient men I have ever known. He cares for our dad, with the assistance of a part-time care provider, Gloria. Last week was John’s birthday and my son and I hit the road and made the three-hour trek south for the celebration.  The childhood teasing he subjected me to does not merit my mercy, but I will conveniently omit his age [you are welcome John]. But, let it be known that he is my OLDER brother!

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Arriving at my childhood home, and walking into the kitchen, I could not help but notice that the table – the very same dining room table – was set impeccably.  The decor, though decidedly a departure from what my mother would choose, was so well thought out, down to the last detail, and so perfectly created with my brother in mind. Gloria – the mastermind behind this party – had brought items from her home to create a setting fit for the celebration. For family celebrations, my mother would prepare a leg of lamb that as a 12 yr old I knew was special; and Cornish game hens that still make my mouth water when I remember them; and countless other dishes made to perfection. To the same height, Gloria prepared a feast true to her family; two recipes of fantastically homemade enchiladas, beans, rice, salad and more. “Juan” made the salsa and guacamole.  On tap were beer, wine, tequila and drinks for the kids.

My nephew, now 21 and soon to graduate from college, played soccer with my 9 yr old in the backyard, the way that I used to entertain my nephew when he was the only little kid in the room.  Friends from our childhood joined us for the evening and stories ranged from reminiscing of the old days, to forging new ground with sharing about the loss of our parents, and a spouse far too early in life, family dramas and old secrets, our parents’ marriages and world travels.  We exchanged these stories with a fluency only spoken by those who have come up through the same ranks, inexplicably knowing we belong to each other, because our parents had forged the the bonds for us an entire generation ago.  Photos were posted to Facebook and viewed on our phones while sitting 3 feet away from each other, in a living room where as kids we played and hung out, and would never fathom the advent of social networking or smart phones. Shots of tequila were consumed, and with my mother’s every day dishes put aside, we continued to drink and play Mexican Bingo. I quickly became unpopular as I called out “el lotteria’ over and over again. The cards were somehow stacked in my favor; which meant, that everyone else had to drink. While others could walk home, or were home, I had an early drive back the next morning. I needed those wins!

I sat and marveled at this new version of home, my home. My brother’s home. My mother’s dishes serving a beautiful meal that was never part of her repertoire, raucous laughter and banter from an unlikely group that spanned the ages from 9 to 92 and everything in between.  Our childhood friends, and folks I had never met, but hope I see again, all sharing the same dining room table where I had sat as a child. English, Spanish, and probably some Spanglish mixed in.  At one point, I looked over and  my dad was mixing a martini; 10 minutes later in the same spot, my brother was attempting to learn to dance the Salsa, in spite of a knee refusing to let him forget his age,  in the same kitchen where so many of our memories are safely held. And before I know it, my father has produced his trusty harmonica and proves that though his mind is a bit fuzzy most days, his lungs work just fine.

Report from the home front as I write is that the party may have been too much for our Dad; yesterday he had a martini at 3:30 and a bowl of cereal at 5:30. Who needs rules when you are 92!?

It seems plausible to say that it’s true, you can’t really go home again. Everything changes. We change. Physically and otherwise. The streets change, the landscape changes.  It will never be the same as it was, and it really shouldn’t be.

But, after this last visit, I find myself realizing that maybe we can go home, if we can accept that things have changed, that we are different, and when we understand that what we remember will always be with us, a part of who we are.  Perhaps the key is letting ourselves allow our memories to welcome new ones – new stories, new people, new recipes – in layers, like the perfect birthday cake?

Happy Birthday John...you are Juan in a Million!

Happy Birthday John…you are Juan in a Million!

So that, combined, with each layer resting upon the next,  as if held together by the most perfect frosting  – all the delicious life we savor during the years; the joys, losses, comforts, people, perspectives – is the “home”  that we can return to whenever we need to.

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