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Category Archives: Faith

The Family

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Everyday with Natalie was special. “Natalie was able to make everything hard in life easier” said best friend Katie Sieben.

 

EPISODE 6. The Family. Guest Katie Sieben. Click Here:

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The family is the core of society. Nurture it. Value it. Love it.

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Natalie and Katie on another adventure.

 

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Here is the picture of the kids on our tour of NYC in 2006. Natalie was a junior in High School. Our kids had not left for college yet.

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Inside the chambers of the United Nations building, the large picture shows the family being the core of human existence. Excuse the quality of the picture. It was taken on 2006 on our trip to NYC.

The family is really the core of society and human existence. When the family goes so does society.

There are a few things that can contribute to a closer more united family.

1. Don’t expect so much from your spouse. How often do we say “I wish he would do this..or that..why can’t he finish what he started?” “I wish he/she was more like…” Go easy one at other. After all, there is only one God.

2. Slow down the busyness. Talk to one another, ask how their day was, engage in each others lives. It is amazing how much conversation and compassion gives us insight into what one another is going through when you gather together. Light a candle. Pray. Understand what everyone is going through. Soon you will be asking what you can do to help lessen their burdens.

3. Turn off the Technology. We love everything instant in today’s world. But the old cliche of good things take time, is true. Good, lasting bonds come through spending time with one another rather than constantly relying on distractions and short texts.

4. Love each other’s faults. It makes all of us who we are. Too often we focus on negatives on each other, but it is more important to remember how many positive attributes there are to a person.

5. Open your home to others, and make a family of friends. Because life is just too hard to get through without friends. They are the family we are able to meet in various stages of our life.

6. Enjoy the everyday moments. Contradicting what the word everyday leads you to believe, everyday moments will not be everyday. We grow up, we grow old. But to the eyes of a family, we all remain ageless.

Inside the United Nations building, Natalie took a picture of the mosaic of the Golden Rule.

Inside the United Nations building, Natalie took a picture of the mosaic of the Golden Rule.

The everyday moments of having a family are truly the most treasuring. It is when you get to know each other at their best. You learn how one another likes their breakfast in the morning, their favorite sleeping top, what kind of tooth paste they use, how they like their sandwiches for lunch, how they tell stories, and you become more attuned to their emotional cues, both happy and sad. When asked to think of a favorite memory of those we are so close to, in our families, it is extremely difficult to come up with one specific example. More often than not, it is the essence and aura of a person that becomes your favorite memory. The stability and predictability of knowing someone completely. A strong family helps you achieve that loving bond, and through those loving bonds we all hold so close to our hearts, we are able to translate that into our everyday life, and serve our jobs, our friends, and even strangers with the love we have received from our family.

Families are not necessarily only blood related, a family can be created from friends, much like Natalie, Katie, and their other friends in Richmond, VA, who are away from their traditional families. The built in support system from being part of a family, is there for you when things seem to be going well, and they are also there when things take a turn for the worse. One of my favorite things that Katie mentioned was how Natalie made anything hard in life, seem easier. I hope we all have someone in our lives, wether it be in the family God gave us or the family God led us to crete amongst our friends, who we can turn to when things get hard in hopes of relieving our burden.

 

 

It’s Only A Shirt

     It was only a dinner yet the night was just beginning.

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Father Joe invited all in the St. Rose and St. Marks parishioners to a night at the Phoenix restaurant and it turned out to be so memorable.

      Recently, there was an announcement in our church bulletin that Father Joe was hosting a wine pairing dinner at the Phoenix restaurant for a set price. It would be on a Monday night when the restaurant is usually closed. What fun. The restaurant would be filled with only our friends and it was going to be a gourmet 5 course dinner. Why not?! No decisions need to be made – just conversation. Evan and I are active at the parish. Certainly we would know everyone there. Aww right. Not true. Don’t ever think you are a big shot. When we opened up the door to the restaurant, we looked at each other and said…do you know anyone? True we knew Father Joe and our friend Anne but very few others.

      Finding a table to sit was a bit awkward. But once you sat down and started being served wine and food; heck conversation started to flow. I remember thinking that the noise level went up substantially around course 3 and 4. It was around this time when a waiter bumped into Evan with a nice deep red wine. Maybe not bumped; maybe poured? No, no it was an accident. Dark red wine all the way down Evan’s shirt. Everyone gasped and waited for his reaction. To everyones surprise; he didn’t care. He wasn’t mad. He laughed and said…”Who cares??!! It’s only a shirt!”and then proceeded to dance in a circle and show off his mega stain. Isn’t it true that in every situation, we are given a chance to influence others in our response? The Chinese meaning of “crisis” has two interpretations: danger, and opportunity. In all siutations we have the ability to get angry when we are wronged. Yet, we also have the ability to make an opportunity for whatever we wish, a new joke between new friends, a learning experience, and the opportunity to influence others by our actions. But by laughing it off, and realizing that a stained shirt is nothing in the scheme of life, we can send a powerful message out there. Evan did not ask for the shirt to be cleaned. No, it’s just a shirt! I heard him say “I’m just gonna toss this baby”, right after I watched him leave a tip.

 

 

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No, this is not blood. It’s dark red wine that soaked his shirt, undershirt and skin. Laugh it off. Mistakes happen!! This is not life or death.

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Evan and his wine spilled shirt posed for pictures.

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Here is the 5 course menu with wine pairing. We passed around the wines we did not care for…no one was going to touch my Sauvignon Blanc.

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By the end of the evening, after a couple glasses of wine and a dirty shirt dance by Evan…the crowd had bonded and friends were made.

     Here are a few clues that you have too many shirts. Maybe you can’t close your closet or your dresser drawers. Maybe you have shirts at the dry cleaners and don’t even miss them. Maybe you find your self buying more hangers to hang up all your shirts. Maybe its time you and a couple of your friends go out for a few glasses of wine and get rid of some!!

    My message to you is anything can be tossed and nothing should not be taken too seriously. Be easy on yourself and one another. The seriousness of life will bring you down, but only if you let it. We all make mistakes, we all find ourselves in a crisis. But our job is not to make people feel badly about it, it is to accept a new opportunity, and who knows, you may find yourself happier and with a new story to tell because you did.

One is Silver and the Other Gold

      We are all familiar with the childhood song “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”  I found myself singing it a few times over this past weekend. You see as much as I enjoy the nostalgia and truly cherish visiting the same places we did as a family with Natalie, I find myself wanting to push myself to experience more out there. Not long ago in a previous blog of mine, I mentioned how special it was to visit Chautauqua, a place where our memories with Natalie are felt throughout. This week, I wanted to share the beauty of finding a new place, instilling a peace of mind combined with the absence of constant reminds of what we should be doing; the endless work calls, the dinner that needs to be made, house that needs to be cleaned. I mean the list goes on. The irony is, what we should be doing is taking care of ourselves and one another. One way to do that is to spend time seeing the beauty in this world, not only in familiar places we love and cherish, but also in new places to inspire us and open our minds. I’m not sure how to adequately explain what stirs inside me and, I am certain many, many others. For one, it’s an urgency to appreciate life and one another. It’s a desire to explore beautiful things in life and keep feeling alive. Just as I enjoy reminiscing and appreciating all that we were, a family so strong that I believed nothing could ever happen to us, there is a need to keep seeing the good out there and not to lose heart. “Make new friends, but keep the old” can relate to any scenario, cherish memories of vacation places as they are, without a doubt, part of what makes us who we are. Such is the urgency to learn more, see more, do more. There is the realization of the fragility of life and not to waste a minute. You simply yearn to keep living, loving and making a difference everyday.

      So, this summer, we discovered Skaneateles, prompted by a gift certificate by dear friends to Mirbeau Inn. Let’s face it, we can all say we want to go someplace till we are blue in the face but there’s nothing like an expiration date on a gift certificate to get you moving. We started the summer going there and just returned for another visit as a way to wrap up the summer of 2015. There is confirmation on how much we like this place; returning with no gift certificate. We took the mail boat cruise on Skaneateles Lake, dined at Elderberry Pond serving certified organic food in the lovely rehab barn with beautiful beam ceilings, went to a farmers market, shopped, walked and simply enjoyed the picturesque town.

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You cannot beat the gorgeous setting of the Mirbeau Inn dining view. Elegant dining. Beautiful Spa. This is how we kicked off the Summer of 2015.

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This picture may look fake yet it clearly exists. It’s all inspired by Monet’s own garden in Giverny. You feel like you just set foot upon a fairy tale. We both want to return.

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The mail cruise ship is not impressive until you set sail. It’s the smaller one on the left. It seats 34 people. It is run by Mid-Lakes Navigation tours. The cost is $26.00 per person. It leaves promptly at 10 am and returns at 1:00 pm. You can order lunch or wait till you get back.  Since it delivers US Mail, it’s not going to wait for you.

We set sail on a “picture perfect” day

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Appreciate life and one another. If you are fortunate to be alive – love one another.

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This is Pete delivering the mail. It’s heartwarming. The Lordes Camp run by the Catholic Diocese at the 10 mile point is the biggest customer. 6 bags of daily mail in and out and a can can dance from the campers on the dock to boot. The camp had let out for the summer when we cruised on August 28, 2015. It was all fascinating to watch. Crawling onto the boats bow to hand and receive mail to the Lake residents. 

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If you are looking for a charming and delicious restaurant tucked away you should visit Elderberry Pond. We had a delightful dinner and night there.

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Skaneateles Lake is 16miles long and has the highest elevation of all the Finger Lakes. It’s water is so pure that the City of Syracuse and other municipalities use it unfiltered.

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One of the beautiful million dollar plus mansions on the shore of Skaneateles Lake.

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Anyplace that has been around this long has to have staying power.

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One thing we noticed right away is the amount of public benches available for use. Another reminder that small acts change the world.

 

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Tucked in behind the Sherwood Inn is this hidden gem of a bakery. Evan could not get enough of the flakey pastries. Why look, there is Evan entering the bakery right now. 

      Now we are certainly not Skaneateles experts. I mean, I keep checking to see if I have spelled Skaneateles correctly. We have only spent two different weekends there. We cannot believe how refreshing it is to get away and how close it is to Buffalo. (2 hours and 15 minutes) But we are both a little confused about the beach access. We love the village, the shops, the restaurants, and the bakeries. The charm of this town is off the charts. We loved seeing all the glorious beach front property on the waterways. But we were looking for the ever popular “long walk on the beach”stroll. We still can’t figure it out but we will. Is there beach access at Skaneateles? Stay tuned.

 

 

 

The Comfort Zone

 

 

     Maybe the timing of this blog is off. But the message isn’t. It’s the end of the summer. School is approaching. Money is tight. Stress is in the air. Schedules need to be made. The last thing you are thinking about is going away for a week. We all seem to be pulled in so many directions. We need to organize and get the house in order. I have caught a few of my closest companions exclaiming “I need a cleaning person”,and “I guess I am the only one that does anything around here!” We all need comfort. I bet we all miss those days when we were carefree as children and felt complete by being comforted by our families and friends. Our ages have changed, but our souls have not. We are still renewed and comforted by the love our families and friends give us. I just want to remind us all to stop and reflect. Our life begins in a blink and ends in a blink, although some days seem unending and agonizing long, it changes before you know it. Changes happen inevitably, but that is part of the beauty of it. Although it seems crazy to go out, get school supplies for the twelfth year in a row, to clean out the closet one more time, and vacuum when you swore you just did it yesterday- – enjoy it, as life won’t always be this way. It is all part of the beautiful life we have been given. The kids will grow up, our parents get older, and life as we know it takes on a new look. There are countless good things happening, but the reality is, everyone on this earth will suffer challenges and difficulties too. There is no escaping it. Nothing prepares us for the absence of a loved one. It changes our world and it changes us. There is no textbook way to adapt to change, but when you believe, and you look back at the beautiful moments of your life with an open heart, you can find comfort in all the wonderful memories you have as well as ones you will continue to make in your life. This summer, I have found comfort in returning to the Chautaqua Institute just remembering how much Natalie enjoyed it there. It is a quiet assurance that “we did right” vacationing here for just a week each summer. Comforted, by the memories, the feeling I felt when I stepped onto the grounds as we did for so many years ago, knowing that we had the most beautiful memories there. We loved and laughed here. We made countless practical jokes here. We vacationed here with all generations of parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I left feeling inspired, nostalgic, and compelled to share the comforting messaging that life will be okay, even when the unthinkable happens. And sometimes all you need is just the comfort to go back and remember even if it’s just for the day.

 

Here she is... Natalie!! She is enjoying the rocking chairs at the Athenaeum Hotel in 2011.

Here she is… Natalie!! She is enjoying the rocking chairs at the Athenaeum Hotel in 2011. I just want to reach out and touch her hand.

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Father Tony Rigoli, OMI invited us down to Chautauqua Institute on Thursday, July 9, 2015 where he offered the 12 noon mass for Natalie. It was extra special knowing Father Tony was assigned to St. Rose of Lima parish when Natalie was a student there.

Hello Dad. I am so glad you started the tradition of coming to Chautauqua

Hello Dad. I am so glad you started the tradition of coming to Chautauqua even thou there was always work to do. The practical jokes we played there keep you alive in my heart and give me comfort. If you don’t have one, start a tradition of going away. It doesn’t have to be far. I am so grateful that our father did.

 

The Athenaeum Hotel. There is so much comfort in knowing that certain places and things seems to n

The Athenaeum Hotel. Picture taken in late August 2015. There is so much comfort in knowing that certain places and things never seem to change. Things will be ok but never the same without Natalie and my dad who really contributed so much to our happiness. 

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Here is Caroline braiding Natalie’s hair at an outdoors concert at Bestor Plaza at the Chautauqua Institute. Take time to be together. No one ever wished that they worked more.

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It doesn’t matter where you go..create a tradition of returning to the same place every year for a week was comforting to us. When you love and cherish each other, and take the time to be together, you have fewer regrets.

 

      My last picture on this blog post is a picture that Natalie posted on her Instagram account. It was taken at the Chautauqua Institute and gives me such comfort that she chose to use it on #tbt (Throwback Thursday). It makes me think that “we did right” and gave Natalie joy in spending a week in a familiar place with the comfort of her family who loved and cherished her so much. This is what life is all about..living, loving, giving and being together. Knowing we had all of these wonderful experiences…now that is my comfort.

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Just A Summer Job?

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Why did Natalie care so much about this little summer job? I now know why…Natalie’s life is her message to the world. Make every second, every opportunity count.

     There is No Such Thing As Just A Summer Job

     Of course there is no such thing as just a summer job. Every second of every day is a chance to influence and make the world better. If anyone taught me that, it was Natalie.

     For 3 summers, from 2008 to 2010, Natalie taught tennis in Buffalo for children aged 6 to 17 years old.  I remember Natalie putting so much into this little job and coming up with a “word of the day” along with games and obstacles courses to keep the various ages of kids and various levels challenged. She even played duck, duck goose and came up with countless tennis drills. She would make a special themed tennis cake to share with the kids. She laughed. She loved. She inspired. She kept careful attendance and had the kids help her decorate her special instructor notebook.  She waited with every child till they were picked up and never complained to the parents for being late. I remember thinking…why does Natalie care so much and put so much into this little summer job?  I’m embarrassed to say that I told her she was doing too much for this position.

     Well, I know why now. It has all been brought to light. Natalie’s life was her message to the world. Decisions that she made, to do more and care more for others, made a difference and we all have that capacity if we want to. It’s a choice we make. A lasting effect in other’s lives that can be big or small.

     People noticed. Lives touched. And now there is an award to a Buffalo youth in Natalie’s honor.

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Natalie’s message..Be happy! Smile and laugh! But push yourself to be more and live to know and serve God and others.

The AWARD CEREMONY

      It’s an informal setting at Delaware Park. Picnic tables, pizza, specially designed t-shirts, and cookies with a special Natalie message to “say something sweet” to others. It’s beautifully casual under the shade of trees. It’s not showy. It’s sweet and innocent just like Natalie. It’s filled with a good spirit just like Natalie. It’s everything that matters. I cannot begin to tell you how touched we were on August 15, 2014 when Mayor Brown declared it Natalie Lewis Day in Buffalo. The mere fact that it fell on the feast of the Assumption of Mary was a God nod that did not go unnoticed in our family. The second Friday in August is now the day set aside for the Natalie Lewis Character Award to go to a fun loving Buffalo youth.

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Natalie made tennis theme cakes to share with the kids at the end of each tennis session. Hard work and accomplishing something always called for a celebration in Natalie’s world.

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Summer photo of the PAL tennis instructors in Buffalo in 2010. Earl is still the man in charge of the tennis program.

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If you have the ability to make someone happy (and we all do)- Do It!

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Natalie was fun and made tennis theme cakes to share with the kids. She made people feel good with her smile and love of the sport. Hey, if you are alive..make someone’s day!

 I shared with the kids this year the 3 lessons of Natalie’s life I would like them to remember.

1. BE HAPPY

If you have the ability to make someone happy- Do it!

Hug them, write them notes, smile, laugh out loud, tell jokes, personalize gifts. Make people feel good if they accomplish something even if it’s little.

 

2. PUSH YOURSELF

Don’t expect results without hard work. I don’t know anyone who worked as hard as Natalie did in the pool, in the classroom, or in any employed position. Natalie woke up early. She had discipline and structure and a purpose to each day.

 

3. LOVE YOUR FAITH

Natalie was faith filled and knew God created her to make the world a better place. No one has your talents, your hair, your nose, your voice, your eyes, your mind, your story, your life. God gave it all to you for a reason and that is to use your gifts to make a positive influence on the world.

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August 15, 2014 – Mayor Brown declares it Natalie Lewis Day for the positive impact she had in the PAL tennis program and the youth in Buffalo. We loved that it shared the same day as the Assumption of Mary. Last year was so soon after the Hot Air Balloon tragedy that the ceremony was more somber until the award winner was announced. Lenore added spark!

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The first award winner! Lenore Brown. The award took her by surprise and she displayed innocent sweetness.

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The informal park setting for the PAL youth award is filled with the spirit of Natalie.

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A lot of joy when the 2015 award winner was announced. Taryn embraced it! Thank you to Modie Cox from the PAL office.

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Here she is..full of life and love..the 2nd annual Natalie Lewis youth award winner with all the current PAL instructors. Congrats Taryn.

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There is no doubt that the award winners are hand picked from heaven above! Taryn Koeppen was so surprised and happy…the first thing she said was..”I’m a swimmer too!! And I know all about Natalie from Fr. Joe!”

 

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Caroline is photographed with Josh. Josh was a PAL participant when Natalie was an instructor. Josh remembers Natalie’s smile, laugh and always telling him how tall and strong he is getting each summer!  He wanted to influence kids just like Natalie did for him. Now he is a PAL instructor and doing just that!

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Pictured here with the Chief of Detectives for the City of Buffalo, we would like to thank Dennis Richards.

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This picture! Only after someone casually took this picture of the 4 of us did we notice a picture of Natalie on the tree behind us. What a sign! Natalie is right there with us.  A sure sign that Natalie is interceding for us all and cheering us on to be the best we can be. God nod for sure.

 

 

 

Rock On Rock City

Our society loves rocks. I can see why. Rock n Roll. Rock salt. Rock candy. The Paper, Scissors Rock game. Rock stars. Rockettes. Rocky movies. Sports fans cheer “We Will Rock You”. Chevy tells us their pick-up truck is “Like A Rock”.

And then there is the bible adding such imagery and strength to the rock. Go to Matthew 16:18: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.” And the instructions we were given in Matthew to build our house on rock. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it didn’t fall”.

A house of rock means quite simply building your life, your family on God. He is our rock..you will not fall. 

It’s no wonder that I wanted to return to a place my Grandfather Blassey took me many moons ago. My mother’s family is from Olean, NY and a big attraction has always been Rock City. Rock City has been an attraction since 1890. Whoa. But that is nothing to the rocks itself that were formed 320 million years ago. The park is located on Route 16 in Olean very close to Pennsylvania.

 

The entrance to Rock City Park. Opened daily from May till October. $5.00 a person. $4.00 for seniors. $3.00 for kids. Age 5 and under are free.

The entrance to Rock City Park. Opened daily from May till October. $5.00 a person. $4.00 for seniors. $3.00 for kids. Age 5 and under are free.

As you pull into the drive way there are all these great signs to greet you.

As you pull into the drive way there are all these great signs to greet you.

As soon as the hike began, we came upon Fat Mans Squeeze. OK folks. It's a narrow path. Better suck your tummy in.

As soon as the hike began, we came upon Fat Mans Squeeze. OK folks. It’s a narrow path. Better suck your tummy in.

See what I mean. Narrow. But really...you can fit. No one has ever gotten stuck except for the Jolly Green Giant. At least that is what my grandpa use to tell me.

See what I mean. Narrow. But really…you can fit. No one has ever gotten stuck except for the Jolly Green Giant. At least that is what my grandpa use to tell me.

My hiking buddy today was Caroline. No words can describe the depth of love a mother has for her daughter here.

My hiking buddy today was Caroline! No words can describe the depth of love this mother has for her daughter here.

This is a 1,000 ton boulder balancing on another rock!

This is a 1,000 ton boulder balancing on another rock!

They say the trail takes 45 minutes. Not if you stop and take pictures. I enjoyed going during the week. No crowds.

They say the trail takes 45 minutes. Not if you stop and take pictures. Map quest also said it took an hour and 45 minutes to get there. Not if you go with us! I enjoyed going during the week. No crowds.

The path itself offered some stairs but it was mostly an up and down walking path.

The path itself offered some stairs but it was mostly an up and down walking path.

The gift shop offered skinned rabbit fur and fox tails. Caroline did not like that. But, they do offer a large selection of the most beautiful wooded walking sticks that I have ever seen.

The gift shop offered skinned rabbit fur and fox tails. Caroline did not like that. But, they do offer a large selection of the most beautiful wooded walking sticks that I have ever seen.

The sign says it all.

The sign says it all.

When we reached the top we were all smiles!! Caroline told me I was hiking in bling!!

When we reached the top we were all smiles!! Caroline called me the “Hiking Bling Queen!”

We are forever grateful for the kind person who left this heart made of stone in our garden. The rain indeed fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on our house, but it didn’t fall. Our home is built on rock.

My Top 8 Buffalo Summer Traditions

Hello and welcome to summer. Buffalo style. I often say, there is too much to do around here. Too many gorgeous places to visit. We really are spoiled in the summer months in Buffalo. We don’t have much time, we have too many options, but there are certain MUST-DO’s that we always find time for.  We like to stay close to home in the summer and enjoy our own back yard. You can travel to far off places but really everything you ever wanted is right here. There is something so sweet about summer. Wearing sandals, eating corn on the cob, moving at a slower pace and reading under a tree. It’s swimming outside. It’s doing handstands in the pool. It’s going off diving boards. It’s swinging on a swing. Summer is really all about kids and bringing out the kid in you. It’s about connecting as a family and nurturing and being playful. It’s where I hold cherished memories of my own childhood and think of my wonderful years being a young mom. We are off the clock in a way. No homework projects due. New friends develop and new skills are learned. Now mind you, it’s not all perfect, there’s pesky mosquitos, humidity and quite frankly, I can do without fireworks. But, as a family, it would not be summer without these 8 traditions. The Canadian beaches, visiting Chautauqua Institute, Swimming outside and outdoor swim meets,  grilling and eating outside, the annual family picnic at Chestnut Ridge Park, the inspiration of the Garden walk, Saturday mornings and walks to the Famers Market and one that will never be the same is taking an annual picture of our children. Again, I know we have a lot of options and I did not even include Niagara Falls or baseball. But hey, this is my list. And these 8 traditions are true blue with our family.

1. Go Over the Peace Bridge to Canada

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It is always a thrill to enter Canada and take advantage of our friendly neighbors and our unique geographic location. In 15 minutes we are on the bridge from our house. So close yet it feels like a world away.

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The first picture in my blog. Poodlewalker!! Inspiration from our dogs running free on the beach of Windmill Point, Canada. Fresh water from Lake Erie and the perfect place for beautiful walks and swims.

2. Spend a day or a week at the Chautauqua Institute. 

 

Here we are sitting on the rocking chairs of the Anthethian hotel.

Here we are sitting on the rocking chairs of the Athenaeum hotel. I thank God for these happy memories. Traditions and family vacations fill our hearts with memories and closeness. I know only too well you don’t get that time back. You are just so so glad you did.

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Inside the gate of the Chautauqua Institute. I am so thankful for these vacations that my parents started and that we continued with our children. Chautauqua is only a one and a half hour drive from Buffalo and has old fashioned charm and is located on a lake in a community that offers lectures and evening performances.

 

3. Swim Outside – just to relax or to watch a swim meet outside

Oh the years of outside swim competition warm your hearts and memories for decades. the magic of summer.

Oh the years of outside swim competition warm your hearts and memories for decades. It’s the magic of summer. Swimming outside and breathing fresh air is a delight. No hot natatoriums. Nothing but fresh water and the joy of watching your children and others compete.

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The Titans swim team enjoyed the short outdoor swim practice season. The cold water entering the pool was welcomed on a hot day. After practice the treat of a ride down the slide gave Natalie such joy.

 

4. Grill and Eat Outside

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Entertaining is much easier and more colorful in the summer. Natalie fussed and showed us how to prepare meals with happiness and joy. “It doesn’t take much to step it up a notch” she would explain.

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The fresh fruits and vegetables are bursting with flavors.

 

 

5. Reconnect at the Annual Family Picnic

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Chestnut Ridge Park. Such a rustic and homey feel to the park. There is such comfort to returning to the same shelter year after year. Follow the paper plates and connect with your family. Here is my dad in the navy shirt and our Uncle Dan in white who paved such noble paths for the family. Uncle Hank, the baby, is missing in the photo.

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How fortunate we are to have the focal point of our family picnic be a celebration of mass. Here is Father Jack Mattimore, SJ with his nephew Michael serving as altar server.

 

6. Enjoy the flowers and Garden Walk

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The Buffalo Garden Walk is inspiring and who doesn’t enjoy getting ideas and seeing peoples back yards.

 

7. Saturday Farmers Market

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The fresh vegetables and fruits are delicious but the mini bouquet of flowers are a colorful treat.

 

8. Photograph and take the annual family picture of the kids

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Here is a playful pose of the 3 children. Natalie will always be so loved and adored and lives in all of us. We are all changed and are better because of Natalie. This was the last photo shoot of all the children. I always took the Christmas card picture in August and told the kids how beautiful their hair and skin looked in the summer. Gathering our children together for a yearly photograph is beyond cherished to us now. We could not do this last summer. We know we have to forge ahead but this is the toughest of all.

One Year

Natalie lead the way. A natural leader by the way she lived. Here she is opening the gates for us at the Virginia House. Natalie was a history buff and loved teaching us all about the Capital of Virginia - Richmond. Natalie loved nature and was a natural beauty.

Natalie lead the way. A natural leader by the way she lived. Here she is opening the gates for us at the Virginia House. Natalie was a history buff and loved teaching us all about the Capital of Virginia – Richmond. Natalie loved nature and was a natural beauty.

 

It still doesn’t seem possible. It seems unreal. There is no possible way this could have happened. I still don’t want to believe it. Natalie. Our beloved Natalie. We just celebrated your wedding engagement. Yet, everything changed with one phone call. One unbelievable phone call. Natalie was in trouble. The hot air balloon she was riding in had hit a power line. We went numb. And we prayed. Not Natalie. She was never in trouble. She followed every rule. Natalie was a sure bet for a long and beautiful life.

Somehow the impossible came true. Natalie, the golden one, is gone from this earth. We were stunned. We fell to our knees and thought we could not get up.

Inside my narrow vision, I search for answers.  I don’t pretend to understand but I try. A dear friend sent me the book “Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?”  I did not read the book. I know. I lived it. It’s to develop deeper compassion, deeper understanding, to become more sensitive, more caring and more tolerant. You flaunt less and live with the realization that everything in this life is temporary. News stories and death of children hit you hard and you understand their pain. You realize every second of every minute counts. That we are on earth for something greater than ourselves. We are all filled with potential to make this world better and we have an obligation to do so. 

Natalie left such an impact. It’s no wonder. We are all in great need of quality people who have the ability to lift and encourage others. Natalie was so incredibly valuable to so many. And she valued herself and had the  confidence to encourage others by giving you that “you have it in you” feeling to accomplish anything you wanted to do. Suddenly you started to believe that you could win the Atlantic 10 Championships in the 100 freestyle, that you could lead the team in re-bounds in the basketball championships, that you could land that job you were dreaming of, that you could host and prepare a gourmet dinner or that you will find someone special in your life.

We can’t begin to express to you how much we miss Natalie. She was such a giver. Natalie gave and gave and gave. Her gifts were endless and she shared them with all. I used to to ask her all the time “how are you so good?” I still can’t believe how much she accomplished in 24 years. Natalie was so selfless, so disciplined, so joyful, unspoiled and loving.

I read this bible passage In Hebrews 1:3 Continue to love each other like brothers,and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

That’s when I pause and realize that Natalie was truly an angel. Natalie showed us how to live. We truly were indeed touched by an angel.

We search for answers and always will. There is no doubt that our Catholic faith has sustained us. Gathering together for the rosary each night brings us such a comfort. Instead of counseling we attend daily mass. We feel closer to Natalie there. Heaven and earth come together and our faith supports, nourishes and gets you through the day. I imagine the joys in heaven. I believe nothing can separate us from Natalie. Mostly I believe in God’s love for all of us. I believe in Gods promises of everlasting life. Natalie said yes to Gods’ will. It’s a scary thought and I know most of us want to be in control. We plan. We try to control everything. But if you say YES to God’s will you will be eternally happy in paradise.

Natalie always so joyful and happy. She realized all this life had to offer and that you need give to get. You need to love and be loved. I took pictures of her constantly because her smile and was so contagious.

Natalie always so joyful and happy. She realized all this life had to offer and that you need to give to get. You need to love and be loved. I took pictures of her constantly because her smile and was so contagious.

Our family gains strength from each other. Natalie meant so much to us and we all struggle without her. We never would have chosen this life but trust in Gods plan. Our marriage and family unit is sacred. I love my husband more than I ever realized. We are not meant to go through life alone and this sadness has made that crystal clear. Do you know how a team feels when the star quarterback is sidelined with an injury? We feel like our QB is out and we have to all step up and keep going onto victory in her honor. We feel like we have a lot more good left to do on this earth. We all make a difference. We all have no idea how we touch people each day. Natalie taught us we all have the power and the ability to lift others up and the ripple effect goes on and on.

This Mother’s Day I will imagine Natalie with the Blessed mother in heaven. I will pray for all the mother’s out there who have lost their children before their time. I will pray for our dear friend Ginny Doyle and her family. I will hold all of our friends close in our prayers for showing us so much kindness.  I am inspired to be a better person by the outpouring of cards and gifts sent to us. Our family will hold each other tight and I will pull out one of the homemade cards from the box I have over flowing with cards that Natalie has written to me. And I will read it over and over and remember what an honor it is to be Natalie’s mom. And what an amazing honor it will be to have Evan Jr and Caroline along side of me.

Oh Natalie. Your beautiful homemade cards are truly breathtaking. Show kindness. Show appreciation. Show love. Thank you for showing us the way.

Oh Natalie. Your beautiful homemade cards are truly breathtaking. Show kindness. Show appreciation. Show love. Thank you dear sweet Natalie for showing us the way.

 

Lead by example. Live to inspire. Love and be loved. Love conquers all.

Dear Natalie

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Sisters are a blessing. 

 

A Letter to My Sister:

My dear, loving, beautiful Natalie,

Happy Birthday. 10/10 will always be reserved as your day, a perfect 10 as a sister and the most perfect 10 of a person.

It seems like just yesterday we were goofing around on the phone about silly inside jokes and ending our last phone call with an “I love you” But at the same point, though that seems like just yesterday, the heaviness in my heart and the sadness of losing you has not subsided. Not at all. Though these past five months have been an absolute blur, I have read many letters about you. All are beautifully written and all are full of the most genuine love for you. Every single letter says that you had a light that shined so bright, that you encourage people, telling us what YOU did for THEM, and how your faith, positive attitude, and selflessness made you one of the most remarkable people any of them would ever meet.

I often wonder about how you thought of yourself while you were here. Did you have any idea how incredible you were? Did you have any idea how many people love you? Do you know how many sleepless nights have been spent thinking about you, with thoughts consumed with how this cannot make sense, that Natalie- the one who was so reliable, so dependable, so responsible, is gone? Do you know how comforting it was to know that I could always call you and tell you anything? Did you know that you were the one thing in life that I was 100% confident on to be with me through anything life threw me?  I bet you know now, and I can guarantee you do not like seeing the tears and hearts that ache for you. You were the one to offer such good advice. You were the one that no matter how much the world did not make sense, no matter how upside down everything seemed to turn, you offered comfort and reason. But we are all different because of you. We are all better because of you. Do you know how many lives are changing because of you? Did you ever have any idea, that by you simply thinking of yourself less, in turn made others think more of you? Do you know how many people tell me that every day they think about how “Natalie would handle this”, I mean seriously Natalie did you have any idea just how much your smile had an impact on everyones day? I can say with confidence that if you were here with me today, and I told you that this many people love you and care about you and want to live like you, you would say something nice about each person. You would probably have a story about each person, a “Remember When”, or you just simply would not believe that you could change people’s lives just by being you.

If I told you that people were making positive changes with you as the reason behind it, you would just be happy to know that more people are being kind, you would be excited to hear about everyone’s accomplishments. You inspire all of us, Natalie. So many people look up to political figures and label those who run companies “leaders”, but unknowingly, you are the best leader we all know. There are not enough leaders out there like you. There are not enough leaders who are advocates for caring, not enough leaders in kindness, not enough leaders who lead us to be better.  There are simply not enough people to remember birthdays, to send notes to cheer people up, to support and truly care about another. You could have done anything, and you did. And everywhere you went, you made an impact. You changed people because you believed in them. If everyone in this world had only 10% of the confidence and faith you had in each one of us, we would all be the best version of ourselves. You are inspiring people all over the country, people that do not even know you. How lucky am I to call you my big sister. How did our little humble family in Buffalo, NY end up having 24 beautiful years with such a wonderful person? You absolutely are an angel, and although it cuts deep down to my core when I think about how I cannot see you and call you and hug you and just be in your presence again, I feel a passion in my soul to carry out what you would have if you were here.

They say time makes it easier. It does not. There is nothing easy about losing my best friend, sister, role model and confidant wrapped up into one. What time does is it makes it less immediate. But, Natalie, I want to keep you immediate just as you would be if you were around. I will do anything to keep your spirit alive. At your funeral, I made a promise to you that I will live out your generosity, your selflessness, your smile, and your love. You are in every breath I take, every beat of my heart, every choice I make, every kind deed I do, every smile I wear, every sacrifice I offer up, every tear I wipe, and every hug I give. You are the motivation to do better, you are the will to do and become more. You are the most beautiful person I have ever had the privilege of knowing and although I cannot physically give you a birthday present every year anymore, I will give you a gift everyday as everyone who is changing their lives because of you will as well. We will give you the gift of showing you a world as you envisioned it. Seeing the glass half full instead of empty, finding beauty in small things, going out of our way for those we love, sharing words when encouragement is needed, and reminding each other that “we are all human and doing the best we can”. No matter how old I get, I will never stop looking up to you. I love you so much, and miss you and your excitement for life, and the feeling of completeness you gave me. We are all praying for you and thinking of you every single day, and we will never stop. Our family is missing it’s leading light. We are all trying to be the best we can be. Thank you for everything you made me, and everything you are allowing me to become through you.

Your little sister,

Caroline

 

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“It seems that life is always ready with a challenge just when we think everything is going along fine. Please know that whatever comes along, I am right by your side… When you are strong, you will have my admiration… When you are weak and afraid, I will hold your spirit in my heart and send you all the prayers and love I have… When you are overwhelmed with choices, I will be there to support the decisions that only you can make… When you have doubts, I will acknowledge them and  then relight the candle of hope with you”

 

Engagement Party

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The goal of an engagement party is to introduce the two families and get the ball rolling on the wedding plans.

 

The happy couple pre party. Natalie prepared all the food herself.

The happy couple pre party. Natalie prepared all the food herself.

 

A surprise engagement for the bride to be...surrounded by her friends and sister who kept it a secret from her.

A surprise engagement for the bride to be…surrounded by her friends and sister who kept it a secret from her.

 

Of course she did!

Of course she did!

 

The actual engagement took place February 1, 2014 at Maymont Park. Michael arranged to have all of Natalie's best friends in Richmond there.

The actual engagement took place February 1, 2014 at Maymont Park. Michael arranged to have all of Natalie’s best friends in Richmond there.

 

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A glimpse at the food spread.

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Cut out cookies were served for desserts with the engagement cake and vanilla ice cream.

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Flowers all around add beauty.

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After the gifts, they let me take one more picture.

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Little mini mint tins were ordered with the name of the couple and date of the proposal.

 

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The glasses are ready to be filled with champagne for the toasts.

Traditionally the bride -to- be family hosts an engagement party a couple months after the proposal. We were psyched. We were ready to host. The groom to be family was also thrilled. This was a celebration of love and commitment between a treasured couple. My husband cleaned the baseboards and our son cleaned the windows and the ceilings. Nothing like a party to get the house sparkling clean. The appetizers were assorted veggies with dip, tortilla chips with guacamole, texas caviar, and salsa. Mini caprese salad bites. Toasted crostinis with balsamic strawberries and goat cheese, avocado egg rolls, pot stickers and shrimp with cocktail sauce. The main course was pulled pork BBQ sandwiches, Waldorf chicken salad sandwiches, Carved turkey breast, field green salad, mini twice baked potato poppers, and season fresh fruit. The dessert was engagement cake, vanilla ice cream and cut out cookies. Too much. Too good. All made by the bride to be who also is a culinary expert on the side. We are loving the left overs. The highlight of the evening were the toasts. The champagne popped opened and the cheers began. The feel good attitude you and both families are left with was worth the effort and more. We could not be any happier. Our beautiful daughter Natalie and future son in law Michael are as good as it gets. If you are interested, I invite you to follow along on this blog as the wedding plans continue. Cheers!