beach

A Hallmark Christmas in the Making

Our early December in Avon, North Carolina has had the charm of a Hallmark Christmas movie.

There are a few exceptions, of course.

…We didn’t end up here accidentally.

….We’re not snowed in or trapped here by inclement weather. 

…We didn’t start out hating Christmas or each other.

…We aren’t estranged from anyone.

But it has had all the smiles, warmth, and spirit of a good Christmas movie.

Imagine the scene — a remote fishing/ surfing village on a sandbar in the Atlantic Ocean — almost as far out as you can go on a little strip of sand.

All the tourists have gone home.

Many of the small shops and local restaurants have closed for the season.

Most of the beach houses around us are vacant.

We are usually the only two people on the beach.

There are no malls, no Santas, no professionally decorated trees, houses or excessive light shows in sight.

No snow, no crowds, no hustle or bustle.

Just the ocean, a few select cafes and speciality shops, Doug and me.

When we go to dinner, we are usually the only two people in a modest, dimly lit, locally owned restaurant.

We linger over dinner and watch the sunset while listening to the quiet hum of Christmas music.

And we talk about Christmas — not about what gifts to buy or how to keep everyone entertained but about the Christ child.

Last night, Doug said, “Sometimes when I think about the story of Christ’s birth, I get emotional wondering what it was like in heaven when God sent that little baby to earth. Were they joyful? What was happening there when the Christmas story unfolded here?”

We wonder about that for a minute and realize that we are feeling the Christmas spirit envelop us in this cozy little spot by the sea.

We think the warmth of the environment and the laid back vibe allow for it and even seem to invite it.

We start imagining coming back another year with our family for a simple, scaled-back Avon Christmas.

We imagine all of us leaving the hubbub of our normal Christmas celebrations — the parties, the shopping, the rushing from here to there, the decorating — all of it.

We dream of Christmas here in this quaint, quiet little village where conversations about Christ and the real meaning of Christmas come easier because there is time for conversation and contemplation.

We are not in a hurry to go anywhere, do anything. It’s a luxury we don’t always enjoy in December.

We imagine our family exploring the beach with us — finding shells for ornaments, and decorating a live Christmas tree from the tree lot down the street while listening to Annie and Josh sing Christmas carols while playing their ukuleles.

We imagine them coming with us to walk the streets in the little seaside town of Manteo, NC where Christmas lights are strewn randomly across city streets and where Christmas decorations consist of street lamp lights in the shapes of anchors, fish, and stars.

We imagine a day trip on the ferry to Ocracoke where we just enjoy the sights of the sea and then browse through the surf shop as the only customers of the day.

We imagine taking the ferry back and savoring the sunset, the water splashing up onto the ferry, and the cold wind on our faces. 

We imagine it because it’s been our experience for the last few weeks and we want to share it.

We feel like we have been living in a Hallmark movie where everyone feels restored, happy, spiritually fed and content just sipping on a hot cup of cocoa and appreciating the peace and beauty of the holiday season.

We imagine all of this being enough for Christmas — maybe more than enough.

We’ll be leaving this piece of paradise in a few days and returning to the excitement of a traditional Christmas with all the fun of shopping, presents, lights and baking, but for now, we are soaking up a different kind of kickoff to the holidays and dreaming of doing it all again next year.

Change, Home

Welcome Home

Several years ago, I interviewed Jeanne Marie Laskas, a columnist for The Washington Post Magazine, who wrote the weekly column called Significant Others.

I asked her how she came up with a column topic every week for over 14 years.

She said her ideas came from thinking about what moved or touched her that week.

I often ask myself the same question when trying to come up with a blog topic.

What has caused an emotional reaction in me?

The answer to that question came instantly this morning  — the stunning beauty all around me.

I confess I wondered if we’d made the right decision while driving through the desolate landscape near the Colorado/Utah border.

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It felt like we were driving through a Western movie set and I worried we’d get caught up in a train robbery — even though there wasn’t a train in sight.

I scanned the barren landscape looking for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty, Doc and Festus from Gunsmoke.

What have we done? I wondered.

All that changed a few hours later when we met our daughter Sara and our friend Peggy at the front door of our new house.

The beauty around us is astounding.

img_6631I’ve never yearned to live in the mountains. In fact, I’ve always felt more comfortable in a busy city.

When I moved to Washington, D.C., my dad couldn’t understand why I wanted to stay.

“When are you moving home to Utah?” He always asked.

The more years that went by, the more Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia felt like home.

Utah wasn’t home to me. It was where our families lived — a place we visited.

But, after 37 years, something changed.

Now, surprisingly, Utah is where we live. 

img_6629We’re not planning to pack our bags at the end of this vacation and go back home to Virginia.

Utah is our new home.

And, we’re learning there’s a lot to love about living here.

At the top of the list are our “significant others.” We’re surrounded by people we love.

So, what caused an emotional reaction in me this week?

Living near our daughters and son-in-law, my mom, our brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and … all this beauty.

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Community, Family, Uncategorized

A Visit to the Beauty Shop

When I was growing up, my mom went to the “beauty shop” every week to get her “hair done.”

That meant she went to Beth’s, the neighborhood salon, and Beth shampooed, conditioned and towel-dried her hair. Then, she wrapped her wet hair around rollers, and sat her in a chair under a hooded hair dryer.

Think Truvy in Steel Magnolias.

truvy

 

After sitting under the hair dryer, probably reading a romance novel, Beth styled mom’s hair and sprayed enough hair spray on it to last for the next week.

Then, Mom slept on a pillow with a satin pillow case to keep it from getting messed up.

Last week I had the pleasure of going with my mom to “get her hair done” at Helen’s, a salon she’s probably been going to since Beth died many years ago.

I had so much fun walking around that salon that my mom worried I’d offended Helen.

I couldn’t help myself.

It was a step back in time.

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It made me think of Dolly Parton as Truvy saying, “I don’t trust anyone that does their own hair. I don’t think it’s normal.” Or, “The bigger the hair, the closer to God.”

I didn’t mean to be rude, I was just fascinated and impressed.

The thing about Helen’s and other salons like this is that they are not just places to get your hair done, they’re places of friendship and conversation that span decades, even generations.

Not only has Helen done my mom’s hair, she did my Grandma’s and two of my aunts’ hair. She knows a lot about my family.

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A well-worn chair in Helen’s salon

She asked my mom about my aunt, who is now in a memory care unit of an assisted living facility.

“I miss her,” she said. “I remember when she started to get dementia. I was out of town and she called me and said, ‘Helen, where are you? I went to get my hair done and you weren’t there.'”

Helen said, “I’m on vacation. Remember, I told you I’d be out of town?”

My aunt didn’t remember.

“That was the beginning,” Helen said. “Then it just got worse. It was hard watching her go downhill.”

Helen even styled my Grandma’s and another aunt’s hair when they died so that they would look beautiful for their viewings and funerals.

IMG_6270While touring the salon, I heard my mom telling Helen about something, and then she said, “Helen, what would mama have done?”

Who has that kind of relationship with their hair stylist?

Not many of us can ask our hair stylist about how our mothers would have handled a situation or a problem.

It struck me as unique and beautiful that my family has “roots” (pun intended) with Helen’s hair salon.

Helen and my mom
Helen and my mom

My visits to the hair salon are never as personal or friendly as my mom’s visits to Helen’s.

The guy who does my hair is just that… a guy who does my hair.

I like him. I know he’s from Turkey and that he’s married and has a young daughter. But that’s the extent of our relationship. He doesn’t know my mom, my sister, my family, or what my mom would do in any given situation. He just knows about my hair.

Helen’s may not be a high-end, fancy salon, and it might not make the historical register, but for many women, like my mom, Grandma and aunts, it has been a personally significant place where a woman named Helen dedicated her life not just to cutting and styling their hair, but to witnessing their lives, keeping their confidences, and being their friend.

IMG_6271From the clock with hands made of scissors to the “rain hats” for sale on a peg board, it was a charming salon, full of stories.

Someday I’m going back with a notebook and pen or a tape recorder and I’m going to say, “Helen, tell me everything you know about my family.”

So, watch for another blog on this topic because I sense that after years of doing my mom, grandma’s and aunts’ hair, Helen knows a lot more than how to style hair…

 

 

Health, Memoir, Personal

Cancer Graduation Day

It finally came.

The day I’ve been looking forward to for 10 years.

I went to see my oncologist yesterday and she said, “Congratulations. You have graduated from oncology.”

Oncology — the study and treatment of tumors.

The field of medicine that is devoted to cancer.

About a month ago I went to the breast surgeon’s office and she said, “You don’t need to come back anymore unless it gives you peace of mind to keep coming.”

No thank you, I told her, I will not be back.

I am done with cancer.

I am done with the doctors, the drugs, and the anxiety that is caused by every visit to a medical facility.

I wonder if doctors understand the impact of their words when they tell a patient their cancer case is closed.

The sudden rush of emotion surprised me — so many memories flooded my mind.

  • Sitting across the desk from doctors talking to me about treatment options and survival rates.
  • Looking out the window of the doctor’s office at the trees for a brief mental and emotional escape from what I was hearing.
  • Sitting for hours hooked up to a chemo cart with bright red fluids infusing my body.
  • Friends streaming into my home with food, cards, flowers, and endless amounts of love and support.
  • Doug organizing my medications, running to the drug store at all hours of the night, and showing up unexpectedly for doctor appointments and chemo treatments.

“I never have to come back?” I asked her.

“Only if you want to come back or if there is another issue,” she said.

Another  issue…

That worry will always haunt me, but for now, I will celebrate the end of the cancer era.

Ten years is a long time.

One minute everything was normal.

The next minute, I was processing words about invasive ductal cancer.

What have I learned in those 10 years?

I’m not sure I could cover the lessons of 10 years in one blog post, so let me name just a few…

  1. I’m never alone. Even in the dark of the night when pain and anxiety will not subside and sleep will never come, I am not alone. I have God to “hear my soul’s complaint” as the church hymn goes. And, I have friends and family who astound me with their love, support, and kindness.
  2. I am stronger than I think.  I like what Elizabeth Taylor said about doing hard things. “You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.” I would amend her list — you fight, you cry, you curse, you pray your heart out, and then you go about the business of living. It’s that prayer part that gives you the strength to go about the business of living. It might sound silly but from the day I was diagnosed, I promised myself I would never spend one day in my pajamas or in my bed. I would get up every morning, shower, put on my makeup and get dressed for the day. No. Matter. What. For some reason, those small daily routines made me feel stronger. I also decided I would always cover my bald head with a scarf or a wig because, for some reason, I felt less like a victim of cancer when my head was covered.

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This was taken when my hair had grown enough for me to lose the wig! What a great day.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office yesterday, I stopped and texted my family to tell them the good news.

“I never expected this day to feel so HUGE,” I wrote.

Then, when I got into my car to come home, I cried.

Unbelievable relief washed over me.

I can never be sure cancer won’t terrorize my life again, but for now, after 10 years, I will celebrate that it’s finally part of my past; and I will move forward with profound respect for the magnitude and depth of the lessons it taught me.

I’ve enjoyed many graduations in my life, but this might be the best one yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Family Friends

After a busy, laughter-filled Thanksgiving week, I sit in a quiet beach house listening to the clock tick, the ceiling fan spin, and the ocean waves rhythmically, consistently roll in over the sand and back out into the water again

2014-05-03 15.52.21And I remember…

Only a few days ago, this house was filled with people busily baking pies, basting turkeys, and tying gold ribbons around napkins for a beautiful holiday table. The house was full of happy people working together to create another memorable Thanksgiving dinner.

Eric, the master pie crust maker
Eric, the master pie crust maker

After dinner, we lounged around the family room and reminisced.

We remembered the Thanksgiving we spent in a cabin in West Virginia when it snowed and we made makeshift sleds and sped down the hills, hiked back up and did it again.

We remembered our friend, Annette who recently died of cancer. We proposed a toast to her and laughed remembering the year we were cleaning up the Thanksgiving dinner dishes in the kitchen and she pointed at some leftover pie and said, “Who made that wretched pecan pie?”

“I did,” I said.

Her face turned fuchsia and she immediately tried to explain that she was talking about a different pie, a store-bought pie that was the wretched one, not my homemade pie, which, of course, was delicious.

Uh huh. That’s why she pointed at my pie.

What else could she do when she called my homemade pie “wretched” right to my face?

Now it’s an annual joke. “Who’s making the wretched pecan pie?”

Actually, I think we dropped pecan pie from our menu after that.

At least I know I never made it again.

And then there’s the driveway pie.

That’s the creamiest, most delicious coconut cream pie you’ll ever eat. And we only have it once a year.

Tragically, one year, while being carried into the house, it was dropped on the driveway – shattering the glass pie pan and splattering the custard all over the driveway.

We were so disappointed that we could only think of one thing to do – get spoons and eat it off the driveway, carefully picking out the shards of glass before ingesting.

I wish I could say I was kidding about that memory, but truly we found ourselves huddled around the splattered pie spooning out as many tastes as we could before giving up because we started spooning up pieces of glass.

We’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with this same group of friends for about 30 years.

After dinner Thursday, Doug thanked them for being part of every major event of our lives from our dating years to our marriage years, through the births of both of our daughters and every milestone in between and since.

When I moved to the Washington, D.C. area, my boss said one of his favorite things about living here was that friends became like family.

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He said since most people in the DC area are transplants from someplace else, it’s like we’re all out on a limb together so we take care of each other.

That’s definitely proven to be true for us, particularly with this group of friends we met after first moving here.

We’ve supported each other through the deaths of parents and siblings, through dating relationships and breakups through marriages and parenting, illnesses and job changes and more.

Through it all, we’ve created memories that cement our friendships; and don’t friendships and relationships sustain our lives?

So as I sit here savoring the silence as the sun goes down on my last evening at the beach, I remember the loyal, true friends I’ve been blessed to know, the ones I don’t see often but the ones I know will always be there for me because they always have been.