Journey 16: Family Friday

family dinner quote

If I described today’s journey in one word, it would be FAMILY. A week ago today, I had a birthday. I got to see a few family members throughout that day and Greg and I enjoyed Keltic Knot at the Woodshed in Carthage, a real treat for me. With the varied schedules among my adult children and their kids, it was a whole week before we could gather for a meal. Today was a Family Friday.

I spent a portion of the day with two family members who are very dear to me. Harry and I accomplished so much today and enjoyed chatting in between our many errands. Those interesting talks in the car as we drove to various appointments were priceless. Such an amazing young man. I got to love on Jeff too, giving him a hug and sharing lunch together. Jeff is a sweetheart. A grown man with a boy’s heart and enthusiasm, his way of looking at life and enjoying the moment teaches me to do the same. When Harry and I returned late this afternoon from our last appointment, Jeff greeted us and wanted to know where we had been. I loved how he studied us, determining whether we had been off having fun without him, even after Harry assured him we had NOT been having fun. Harry is so compassionate and so very good with his uncle. Watching them together warms my heart.

family dinner Jeff, Mindy and Harry

Because I failed to snap a pic this afternoon, “borrowing” one of Mindy’s fb pics.           
Harry, Jeff, Mindy

This evening I joined all of my children and all of my grandchildren for dinner at El Vaquero on Main Street in Joplin. This is a rare enough occurrence, having everyone present, that it qualifies as a high celebration! Greg, my mom and stepdad, and my sister Linda made us a lively party of 16. That created a bit of a dilemma for the staff at my favorite Mexican food restaurant as they sought to seat us. They found two oversized booths close together and we divided up. Greg joined the adult children and their spouses and significant other, and I gathered the grandchildren to me, along with Linda, Mom and Walter. We declared our table the fun table, and indeed, it was! (Although hearing laughter ringing out from table 2, I did peek over and they appeared to be having a grand time as well!)

family dinner side one

family dinner side two

Table One: Jonathan, Joey, Cindy, Aubrey, Linda

Walter, Mom, Dayan, Oliver

I have five grandchildren, ages 15, 9, 8, 7, and 6. Dayan, Jonathan, Joey, Oliver and Aubrey, who is the youngest, and the only girl. They are each unique and gifted and precious in their own ways and I enjoyed talking to all of them and listening to their stories. Dayan could easily have joined the adult table, but I’m so glad he sat with us. The conversation was animated, and not just because of the kids. Linda and Mom joined right in. Poor Walter rarely got a word in, but he smiled and he won the cool hat award.  And I learned a new tech tip. Dayan taught me how to use the pano button in my iPhone for taking wide angle pictures.

I am so grateful for my family. Grateful for Harry and Jeff. Grateful for Elissa, Josh, Dayan and Jonathan….Nathanael, Megan, Joey, Oliver and Aubrey…Adriel and Nate. Grateful for Greg, Mom, Walter and Linda. Each juggled their schedule around or made some effort to be present with me today and this evening. I couldn’t ask for a better family. I couldn’t feel more loved!

family dinner table two side one e

family dinner table two side two

Table Two: Greg, Elissa, Adriel, Nate

Josh, Megan, Nathanael

Journey 15: A Tiny Treasure

tiny treasure acorn

A week ago today, my cousin Mindy left us, following a different path on her journey. It’s been a busy week, interspersed with sadness and joy, celebrations and reflections. She’s never been far from my thoughts. I’ve been able to spend time with Mindy’s son Harry this week as well, watching this bright, soulful young man literally grow up overnight as he has assumed responsibilities most 19 years never imagine.

I spent time in Neosho today, staying at the house while Harry was at school. These early anniversaries of loss are tough. Every Thursday, for a while, Harry will remember. I will remember. Mindy’s friends will remember. It’s part of the grieving process. Then the 8th of each month will bring a fresh wave of sadness and memory, and finally, each year January 8 will be a day of sorrow, mixed with more and more fond memories as time marches on.

Today, the loss is still fresh. The house was quiet and yet Mindy’s presence was strong and signs of her life were everywhere….the wool hooked rugs that she crafted so beautifully, her coat flung casually over a chair, a box of tea in the kitchen. Mindy’s pugs, which were her fur babies, watched me with big eyes.  Mindy loved these little dogs, calling one Bella and the other Rudy.

tiny treasure bella and rudy

It was a beautiful day, cool but with brilliant sunshine and just the tiniest promise of spring. Gathering leashes, I took Bella and Rudy for a long walk, savoring the warmth and the bright light that slanted through the trees in the park near Harry’s house. I let the dogs set the pace, so we ambled, stopping frequently, and that was fine with me. It fit perfectly my somber, reflective mood. In my heart, I talked to Mindy, telling her how proud I was of Harry. The dogs snuffled around the base of a large tree and as I stepped forward, something crunched beneath my feet. Looking down, I saw the ground covered in acorns. I was beneath an old oak tree and acorns and their tiny “caps” were scattered in a wide circle around the tree. My heart beat a little faster and I searched among the dried leaves for a perfect acorn to pick up.

The dogs came over to see what I had found as I at last spied what I was seeking. Smiling, I held the small brown nut in my hand. There is a deeply moving scene, in the final Hobbit movie, that made me smile even as tears filled my eyes. Thorin sees Bilbo holding an object in his hand and demands to see it. Bilbo opens his fist to reveal a small acorn. He picked it up in Beorn’s garden, he tells Thorin. He intends to plant it when he gets back to the Shire. Bilbo says he will care for the tree that grows and every time he sees the oak tree he will remember his journey, all of it, the good and the not so good. Thorin says it is a poor reward for his adventure but to Bilbo, it is a precious treasure and one he has carried and cherished for a long time.

That scene flashed through my mind as I cupped my own small acorn in my palm. What a significant find today. I will cherish this treasure as a reminder of my journey this year…all of it…the good and the not so good. I won’t plant the seed, as Bilbo did, however every time I see this acorn, I will remember, and smile. Bilbo’s treasure grew into a mighty oak tree that later in the story, became known as the Party Tree. Bilbo hosted his birthday party each year beneath that tree and memory and celebration become entwined.

And so it shall be for me. The memory associated with this small acorn, with the passage of time, will sprout into a mighty framework beneath which, I will celebrate… this year, this journey, Mindy. On January 8, of each future year, I will hold my treasure, and remember and rejoice. The pugs gave me quizzical looks. However, I felt Mindy’s approval, and the light around me shifted and brightened and the warmth was surely from a source beyond the sun. With quiet joy, and an acorn in my pocket, we headed home.

tiny treasure memory

Journey 9: Birthday Blessings

Birthday 2015 Keltic Knot 2

I have to admit, I almost cancelled my birthday this year. After the sudden loss of my cousin Mindy yesterday afternoon, the likelihood of celebrating today seemed remote.  I knew Mindy would not agree with that thought. She would have encouraged me to find the joy in the day. Through a variety of people and throughout the day, joy did arrive.

My day started early with picking up my six year old granddaughter to take her to school. After she climbed into the car, I noticed her staring at the stocking cap on my head. Aubrey rarely sees me in a cap, even when it is very cold. “What?” I asked. “It’s my birthday. This is my birthday hat.” I told her. With a look of delight on her beautiful little face, she piped up, “How will we celebrate?” I chuckled over her enthusiasm. “Really….what will we do to celebrate?” she insisted. How I love this little girl. I promised her we would celebrate after I picked her up from school in the afternoon. And like that, the day shifted. Yes, I was sad. However, I decided I wouldn’t wrap the sadness around me like a cloak, shutting out the world.

The day offered an endless stream of surprises. Arriving in Neosho to accompany Harry to the funeral home, he presented me with a gift from Mindy as soon as I walked through the door. Wednesday, after I took Mindy home from doctors’ appointments in Joplin, and saw her settled in for a nap, she sent Harry searching for a surprise she had ordered for me. The package wasn’t where she thought it was. She was so tired and needed to sleep. I told her not to worry about it and I would get it later. Harry found the gift…two Keep Calm mugs with English tea. I was so touched. How like Mindy. And what an acknowledgement of our shared love of tea time. I cherish this last gift from her.

Birthday 2015 tea

And I have to say, I was so proud of Harry this morning. I went with him to the funeral home to be supportive of him while he made decisions and choices. Everything he did was honoring of his mother and full of love. This young man, who has suddenly found himself responsible for so many things, is stepping up into a new level of adulthood with grace. Mindy raised an amazing son. My heart sang as I drove back to Joplin.

My dear friend Garen invited me out for a birthday lunch at Ichiban.  I tried the New York, New York sushi for the first time. It was delicious with crunchy bits of chopped apple sprinkled on top. Most of all, I appreciated and enjoyed the conversation and the sharing of ideas that flowed between us. Garen has been a wonderful friend and a fellow traveler on the journey and I am so grateful for him.

As promised, when I picked up Aubrey from school, we had our own little celebration. Greg joined us and we had a treat at Chick-Fil-A. My precious granddaughter presented me with a gift that she made in school today. Crying out “Happy Birthday” she handed me a beautiful picture she made of herself with her head tipped back and a perfect snowflake landing on her tongue. What a wonderful representation of joy. The artwork has a place of honor on my refrigerator. Aubrey and I paid my mom a visit and she too made my birthday special with a lovely card and a birthday check.

Birthday 2015 Aubrey gift

Greg provided the final celebration for today. He discovered that the Irish band, Keltic Knot, was playing this evening at The Woodshed in Carthage. After dropping Aubrey off with her dad and stepmom, we located the venue within Cherry’s Art Emporium on the square. What a unique and interesting place. Dinner was available too and we had the Shepherd’s Pie. It was wonderfully filling. What a great night of music. The band was talented and fun to listen to. The 18 year old lead singer had a rich, lilting voice. Her dad played bass guitar and sang. Tim played the mandolin and a variety of other instruments and the young drummer was phenomenal. Playing traditional and contemporary Irish and Scottish music, Keltic Knot entertained the crowd with haunting melodies and lively drinking songs. Of course, I thought of Mindy. This is our kind of music! Then the bass player brought out a set of Highland bagpipes. My heart swelled and tears stung my eyes as he played several songs, including Amazing Grace. I know without a doubt that I have Scottish blood when the sound of bagpipes makes me teary eyed.

Birthday 2015 Keltic Knot

In between those beautiful blessings today, I received hundreds of messages via texts, phone calls, emails and Facebook posts from around the world. Friends and family wished me a happy birthday and also condolences and the mix was exactly what I needed today. I know it is not easy to offer into the grief of another. And how much more complicated it becomes when a day that should be celebrated falls immediately after a day of shocking loss. Yet the messages from these dear souls, of joy mixed with sorrow, of empathy and encouragement, were genuine and uplifting. I was blessed indeed by the outpouring of love today. Thank you from my overflowing heart.

Birthday 2015

Journey 8: Another Path for Mindy

Mindy and Cindy Edinburgh Airport

Today’s journey was not one I would have chosen. This afternoon my cousin Mindy, more my sister and definitely my friend, passed away suddenly. The shock of that news has not quite worn off. I immediately went to be with her son, Harry, at the hospital. I got to say my goodbyes, and caress her face, even as I was wondering how it was possible this funny, sweet, good hearted woman was no longer present in the flesh. I just saw her yesterday. And although I was concerned by her state of health, I didn’t know that it was my final hug when I told her goodbye and left.

I’ve known Mindy all her life, of course. Her mother and my father were sister and brother. She is a few years younger than I am. What I remember from our childhood is an intelligent, bright-eyed, curious girl who loved animals, the outdoors and her family. As we grew up we saw less of each other, even though we never lived very far apart, distance wise. Then about 20 years ago we reconnected. I saw her occasionally in Joplin, her young son Harry in tow. I always enjoyed our visits, but they were more random occurrences rather than planned get togethers. That all changed when our family began to experience loss. First our Granny Grace passed on. Then, sadly, two of our cousins. We realized, when we would gather for another family funeral, that life was short and time precious. Our visits became more intentional.

Mindy and Cindy and Harry

And our relationship deepened. Mindy walked with me through the illness and loss of my father. We talked about all kinds of things and came to understand that our family shares an intuitive gift that pops up strongly in some of us. Mindy journeyed with me through some of the most challenging years of my life, always offering encouragement and a smile and a hug. I in turn walked with her through her mother’s illness and death, not quite two years ago. We became very close during that time.

Mindy was an amazing mom to her son. I watched Harry grow from an inquisitive toddler to a smart, talented young man. He often joined Mindy and me for lunch or dinner and we all loved watching a good movie together. I have seen all of The Hobbit movies with these two and Mindy’s brother, my other cousin, Jeff. We just watched the final Hobbit movie together two weeks ago. Mindy’s love for Harry was expansive and nurturing without being smothering. She encouraged him to pursue his hobbies and passions. And Harry loved his mom. He cared for her with such gentleness and such compassion during her illnesses.

Mindy and Harry

Mindy and Harry

As Harry neared the completion of his senior year, he knew what he wanted for his graduation present….a trip to Scotland. Mindy had already fought and won two battles with cancer. She was not going to disappoint this young man or postpone the trip. When she asked me to join them, I was thrilled. We made plans and secured our passports and on August 6, 2014, we began the adventure of a lifetime. I couldn’t have had two more amazing traveling companions. Their passion for Scotland equaled mine. They understood how seeing Scotland for the first time felt like a homecoming instead, because they felt that way too. We shared experiences and tours, breathtaking views and cozy hotel rooms. Harry was gracious about the daily quest that Mindy and I had of finding a new spot for afternoon tea. That custom became one of our most treasured memories of our 10 days together. The afternoon that we stood before Thirlestane Castle, in the small village of Lauder, we knew we had journeyed home. Mindy and I allowed Harry to get ahead of us and trot back occasionally to find us while we slowly explored the castle. We sensed so much there….ancestral family, faded grandeur, ancient history. We whispered as we stood in a paneled study, feeling all that was present with us there and knowing that we were surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses”.

Mindy and Cindy at Thirlestane Castle

I am so thankful for that trip. So grateful that Mindy and Harry asked me to accompany them. I will never forget the experience or the closeness we shared. Shortly after our return, Mindy discovered that the cancer had returned. She was quiet about it, only telling a few people. She didn’t want others to worry about her. She had fought this battle before. She intended to fight it again, and win. Sometimes victory looks differently than what we imagine. Mindy and I discussed a word for her, for 2015, at one of our lunch meetings, after she learned the extent of her illness. She chose the word Hope. I loved that choice. I love it still. There is hope. She did win. I know I will see Mindy again. And, I know she is present in spirit. Even now, as I type, I feel her here with me, making my scalp tingle as she watches over my shoulder while I try to capture what she meant to me in a short blog post. I love you, girl. Thank you for enriching my life. Your son, is my son now. Your brother, my brother. I will watch over them. I know you are watching over them too.

I am reminded of this quote from Gandalf the White, when Pippen the Hobbit thought the end was near. Says Gandalf, “End? No, the Journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” That sounds a lot like Scotland. Enjoy that far green country, my dear Mindy. I will meet you there someday.

Mindy a far green country

Day 355: Winter Solstice & Look on the Bright Side Day

Look on the Bright Side Day Winter Solstice

It’s no coincidence that these two celebrations share the same date. This day marks the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. It is not only the beginning of winter, but it is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Look on the Bright Side Day encourages us to look for the light today, and find optimism on what could be a dark and gloomy day.

That is certainly true in Missouri today. It was very overcast, chilly and breezy. We’ve had a lot of overcast days lately, which is typical for December in the Ozarks. It sure makes me appreciate the occasional sunbeam that punches through the mass of grey. I tilt my face upwards, like a flower seeking the light, and let the warmth and brightness wash over me. Today, not even a feeble ray of sunshine made it through the heavy clouds. I decided to be aware of both events by seeking the light and holding on to optimism and this evening by lighting candles inside and outside the house.

The seasons are marked by equinoxes and solstices, which relate to the tilt of the Earth. The equinoxes herald the beginning of spring and fall and the days and nights are about equal in duration. The solstices for winter and summer mark the points at which the Earth’s poles are most tilted away from or toward the sun. During summer solstice the day is long and the night short, just the opposite of winter solstice. This year, the precise moment of the winter solstice occurred at 6:03 pm. At that moment, the north pole was tipped the farthest from the sun.

I couldn’t think of a better way to combat a gloomy afternoon than to meet my cousins, Mindy, Jeff and Harry, at the Neosho Cinema 6 to watch, what else, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. This was another first, as I have never been to this theater before. And it was Mindy’s first viewing of the movie. I was looking forward to watching the film together.

Look on the Bright Side Day

I had a funny incident at the theater, involving the word of the day: Light. Mindy thought the movie started at 12:30 and we had planned to meet at 12:15 at the theater. I arrived in the parking lot, having driven south from Joplin, at 12:14. As I got out of the car and snapped a pic of the theater, I saw that the marquee had the time for the movie listed as 12:15. I spotted my cousin’s small blue car in the parking lot and rushed inside to purchase my ticket. The kind person behind the counter assured me that the previews had started but I had time to get to the correct auditorium before the movie started. The only problem was, the lights were already dimmed and it was very dark in the auditorium, even with the preview playing. I paused to allow my eyes to adjust but I still couldn’t see well enough to make out who was who. I quietly crept up and down the aisles, trying to scan faces in the gloom. I thought about calling out my cousin’s name but didn’t want to bother people any more than I already was! Finally I stood still, toward the front row of seats, and thought, “I need more light.” At that exact moment, a very bright scene appeared on the big screen, during a new preview, and for a moment, I could see the entire auditorium clearly. My cousins weren’t there! I had beat them to the theater. Apparently, that was NOT my cousin’s car in the parking lot. I was grateful that I had refrained from yelling out Mindy’s name. I sat on the back row and was able to see my cousins as they arrived.

This evening, darkness gathered by late afternoon. I lit eight candles on my front porch, to send beams of light into the darkness. Inside, I lit candles in every room, their tiny flames creating pockets of warmth and light. It is homey….and beautiful. Tonight, before I head to bed, I will spend some quiet time reflecting on all the Brightness in my life. It is not hard for me to find the bright side in situations, although expressing gratitude is vital. More amazing for me, is that the darkness of this long night will not bring a chill of fear into my heart. Beyond the light of overhead fixtures and lamps and lit candles, is the Light around me and within me that leaves no room for darkness or for fear. That glow shines brightly, even when the candles are snuffed out and I’ve flipped off the lights, as long as I keep my heart open and cleared of the clutter that can, unchecked, block or distort the light and invite darkness. May my light shine, a pure and brilliant radiance, on this, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. And tomorrow I celebrate, for the days are growing longer again.

Look on the Bright Side Day candles

Day 219: First Day in Scotland


After long flights and 3 hours of sleep, during the past 2 days, I have arrived in Scotland with my cousins. The plane had a great feature, a map that could be pulled up on the screen attached to the back of the seat in front me. Mindy, Harry and I could watch our progress as the little plane on the screen flew across the Atlantic. The feature also gave updates on distance traveled and estimated time of arrival.

I tried to sleep but it was impossible. In between watching a couple of movies I’d check our progress. As the little plane symbol moved closer and closer to its destination I got more and more excited. The sun that had just set a few hours before greeted us again as we flew east. Harry opened the window shades and we caught glimpses of Ireland below us. At last Scotland came into view with her coastline and fields and plentiful bodies of water. She called to me so strongly.

We stepped out of the airport and into the crisp morning air. It was about 8:30 Glasgow time although to our weary bodies it felt like 2:30 am. The sun was shining and I fell in love immediately.

While waiting for our room to be ready at Hotel Indigo we walked around the area, marveling at the mix of new, very modern architecture and ancient stone buildings with statues and imposing facades.

Our lack of sleep began to wear on us. We gratefully entered our room, and once we learned to put the room key into the appropriate slot so that the lights worked, we gave in and slept for a short time. The Hotel Indigo is charming and perfect for our needs.

After restorative naps and showers we were back out exploring Glasgow. The people here are friendly and helpful, especially to visitors who don’t know yet what they are doing! We found a variety of shops and restaurants in our area. The Glasgow Kilt Company caught our eye and we made our first purchases there. The friendly proprietor suggested we visit The Horseshoe Pub, just around the corner, for an authentic Scottish experience and to soak up atmosphere. That’s exactly what we were looking for!

We had a great meal of fish & chips and a glass of Guinness. We chatted with more friendly locals and did, indeed, soak up charm and ambience.

It was a wonderful first day in Scotland. It’s going to be an early night for us as we catch up on sleep however tomorrow is another day to explore further out in this fascinating city.

Last night as I watched the plane on the screen, arcing over the Atlantic, I thought of Samwise Gamgee from Fellowship of the Rings. At the edge of the shire he paused, telling Frodo “If I take one more step, I’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.” Watching the plane near Scotland I realized how far from home I was. And yet how near to my great adventure I was as well. Like Sam, I took that next step, at least, in my heart and mind while on that plane. And today, I stepped on Scottish soil. The adventure continues!



Day 218: International Flight to Scotland


Not much time or opportunity to blog today! I am on my way to Scotland. After a very brief night, my cousins Mindy and Harry and I were graciously taxied to the Tulsa Airport by Greg. None of us slept much last night!

Our first leg of the trip went smoothly and we arrived quickly in Houston. What a big airport. By the time we got to our departure gate we didn’t have much of a layover at all. We enjoyed Texas BBQ at The Real Food Company and a few minutes of people watching. Airports are fascinating places! People on their journeys, some are happy to be traveling and some are not. Waiting in the gate area I form a quiet camaraderie with my fellow journeyers. I nod at those who are excited and smile at those who seem nervous about the flight. For a short time, we are joined in our adventures.

This was my first time in Houston and my first time in the northeast. And, my first international flight. In a short time we will board our plane for the last leg of our flight. The next time I post, I’ll be saying “Feasgar math” from Scotland!