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Category Archives: Family

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.

 

 

When Pumpkin Meets Banana

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Beware. Pinterest is especially tempting and captivating with fall decor and recipes. Riveting. One monster snack, caramel apple pops, and pumpkin recipe at a time.

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Caroline’s close friend Sara came over to help make a batch.

     While, most of us are copying ideas, I have a daughter who has invented a pumpkin meets banana chocolate chip bread. Yeah Caroline!! No copy cat for her. Ok, a mix is involved. But she devised a Pinterest worthy bread that will knock your socks off. And the dear readers to poodlewalker get the first dibs. Like all good inventions, it kind of happened by accident. Caroline was looking for a pumpkin bread mix but only found a banana bread mix. She added a can of organic pumpkin and added chocolate chips with cinnamon and nutmeg. Whoa, is it good.

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Here’s the recipe.

1.   15 oz box of Trader Joe’s Banana Bread Mix

2.    1/4 cup vegetable oil

3.    2 eggs

4.    3/4 Cup Water

5.   1 Can Organic Pumpkin from Trader Joe’s

6.   Eyeballed amount of fall spices (About two Teaspoons Cinnamon and 1/4 Teaspoon of Nutmeg)

7.   1/2 Bag or Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chips

 

Essentially, you mix everything in a bowl and then put it in a lightly greased pan, and it sure makes for a real easy clean up! Now, you’ll need to cook it for a little longer than the box calls for, because of the extra, dare I say…moisture, in the bread mixture. Time in the oven depends on the size of the container, so we usually stick with the tooth pick technique! Excellent in a muffin container, a mini bread pan, or as an entire loaf. This fall treat goes well with Apple Cider, Coffee, Milk, and most definitely hot chocolate.

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Who would have thought, banana and pumpkin. The end of one season and the beginning of another. Maybe the lesson we can learn is one so simple, most overlook it. That two unlikely things can complement one another and make a pair no one thought of. It goes without saying that we can translate this lesson into life. Maybe it is at work, when someone brings a new idea to the table, accept that idea and build on it to make a combination no one has thought of. Maybe it is an old shirt you found in your closet and want to try out with a new skirt, try it, it expresses your personality. And maybe it is a new friend, one who is different than others, not in your typical social group. As we can learn from the case of pumpkin and banana, that doesn’t mean that a great friendship cannot be formed. Because in the end, human connection, appreciation, and love is all anyone strives for, and it sure tastes good.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

Hey, Do You Want To Meet For Breakfast?

 

Aww breakfast. It’s drilled into us that it is the most important meal of the day, yet many of us skip it. Busy. Rush. Race to work. I’ll grab something at my desk. I understand. But I also am going to give you 5 Reasons To Meet Someone For Breakfast. I have more than 5 reasons. The number one reason for me is because it was our beloved Natalie’s favorite meal. Maybe it was all the early morning swim practices, maybe it was her love of eggs, pancakes, and sausage, or maybe it was because she was so full of life and love and was always so ready to seize the day. Natalie knew the best places to go for breakfast in Richmond and she sure knew them in Buffalo too. What an exceptional breakfast Natalie made us every Christmas morning for as long as she could grab a step stool and mix the eggs in a bowl with her daddy. It wasn’t long until Natalie took over as lead chef and upgraded from omelets to egg frittata. Preparing meals for us was another shining example that we are on earth to serve others and enjoy meals together.

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If you are wondering why I am so happy in this picture it is because I am sitting across from Natalie and the conversation and laughter always just flowed. photo credit: Natalie Lewis


5 Reasons To Meet Someone For Breakfast

 

#1. It’s Cheap

Let me be more discreet – It is relatively inexpensive. There is no paying for cocktails except for coffee. Well, I have been known to upgrade to a latte. You may get lucky and have free coffee refills. There are no expensive appetizers or dessert. Most meals are $7.00. Omelets and pancakes are my top 2 choices on the menu. The thing I like about pancakes is they always taste better in a restaurant (especially Pancake Restaurants!) and you don’t have to mess up your own kitchen. Somehow there is always extra batter in my bowl. Somehow the first batch never turns out. The bottom line is -order pancakes out- it’s easier!

2. It’s Simply Delicious

Pancakes. Omelets. Brunch. Oatmeal with the fixings. Fresh brewed coffee. French toast. Waffles. Blueberries. It suits all types of eaters. Gluten free, vegetarian, paleo, carnivorous, and the ever popular no-restriction dieters.

3. It’s Fast. No Strings Attached

You can meet someone and not feel any pressure to do anything afterwards. After all, we all have to get the day started and we all have something else to do and someplace to go. We are off and running. The no pressure and the no expectations of anything happening after is a real benefit. No doubt great for dating or getting to know someone. Also, service is fast. It’s an energetic meal and the pace and energy are appealing.

4. It Gets the Day Started Right

Do you know how great it is to meet someone out? Fellowship. Friendship. Relationships. We are all so much better off as humans getting out the door and connecting, supporting, and seeing people out. When you leave the restaurant, I promise you that you will feel so much better not only because your belly is filled but because you are sharing stories, experiences, and connecting with a family member, friend, new acquaintance or business contact.

5. There Are So Many Places To Go

No doubt you have a favorite place to go. Maybe it’s a Sunday tradition to go out to breakfast after mass. That is my kind of tradition. Look at how many amazing breakfast places we have in Buffalo alone. Kostas. Sophia’s. Ashkers. Spot. Sweetness 7 Cafe. The choices are unlimited.

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Here she is…Natalie getting ready to dive into her favorite breakfast at Weezie’s Kitchen in Richmond, Virginia. Natalie was not a coffee drinker. She never needed it. She woke up early and was ready to go with a big smile on her face.

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A few years ago Natalie said to me..I always wanted to go to Hershey, Pa. I’m so thankful we went together. Here she is getting ready to eat another delicious breakfast at our B&B.

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Sure we all like to eat at local restaurants but chains such as Panera and Corner Bakery Cafe offer some great choices.

The last Christmas breakfast Natalie prepared for us. Serving others folks. Keep giving. Just keep giving.

The last Christmas breakfast Natalie prepared for us. Serving others folks. Keep giving. Just keep giving and loving.

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One Gorge-Ous Day

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One new adventure a month. It’s our new goal.

      Maybe it’s this incredible appreciation we have now of being able to breath, walk, live, and love. Or perhaps it’s life itself and having each other. Maybe? No, it is just that. We are not the same and the message is urgent to experience life and love each other. We have set out on a new goal of experiencing a new adventure each month to push ourselves to live life to the fullest and never waste time putting things off. Nothing extravagant. Just something new to heighten our senses. This past Sunday we went to Seneca Lake and hiked Watkins Glen and I’m hear to tell you the tale. First, let me confess, despite living in Buffalo all my life…I am embarrassed to say I have never been to Watkins Glen. What the heck is wrong with me?? They say it’s one of the top 3 State Parks in the USA. Again I repeat- I have never been to Watkins Glen and my husband has never been either! What?! We decided that we both thought of it as home of NASCAR races and that wasn’t our thing. But it is so much more! There’s a Ben & Jerry’s! And it’s so close! And it should be experienced. It’s the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks. Now, if you go on map quest and the driving distance to Watkins Glen from Buffalo is 2 hours and 28 minutes….why do we all look at that and think we somehow failed if it takes us longer? Who cares? What’s the rush? Don’t travel with us. We stop and smell the flowers. But, we do tend to speed things up on the way home.

All the talk of geology went over my head. Keep it to a 5th grade level. This is Greg . tour guides are free. They add to the experience.

All the talk of geology went over my head. Keep it to a 5th grade level. This is Greg. The tour guides are free. They add to the experience. How can you not dig their passion for the formation of the Finger Lakes?

     When we arrived at the South End of Seneca Lake we decided to “fuel up” at the Seneca Harbor Station. It’s a delightful little nautical theme restaurant over looking the lake that serves some darn good ribs. From there we went to the TOP of the gorge path ($8 dollars to park) so we could simply walk down the 832 steps. Who’s counting? Oh, I did. The 2 mile path descends 400 feet past 200 foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along its course. The gorge path winds over and under waterfalls and through the spray of the Cavern Cascade with spectacular views of the gorge. The guides are free and available at 10 am and 1 pm. I like free. I like to learn about the steps along the trail that were built compliments of FDR and the New Deal money. The guide lost me a bit on the talks of erosion, Arcadian mountains, super continent, glaciers, sandstone, shale and a famous deer. Heck, I just wanted to take pictures and not slip. Mission accomplished. My two cents- they should have made the trail wider when we had the New Deal money.

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I was fascinated by how damp and wet the trail was and all the ferns and moss that grow in the rocks.

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The sign read “No Swimming” but did not say “do not dip your feet in the running water”

     I will now list several observations that were not included in the guided tour. 

1. No dogs allowed. Thank goodness. You are not going to find many hand railings on the trail and you don’t need your dog pulling you off the slippery path down a waterfall.

2. No swimming allowed. That did not stop people from doing so.

3. I saw way to many people who should not be on the hike. Older folks, babies, and those limping. Not to mention all those wearing flat flip flop sandals! Hum, I wonder if people thought I should not be on the trail.

4. The only wildlife I saw was a chipmunk.

5. Have a nice dry pair of shoes waiting for you in the car.

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This hiker found himself looking at my camera instead of one of the 19 waterfalls.

     It’s such a great feeling to complete the hike. We got caught up and gave each other “High 5’s!” It was not a great feeling having wet feet and not bringing another pair of shoes. Most people start on the bottom at the main entrance and walk up. Take it from me, start at the top and walk down. There is no need to walk back up to get your car. Why walk up and down? An hour and a half is plenty. We started at 1:00 and ended at 2:30. There is a shuttle bus for $5.00. That’ll do the trick.

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We went on the Stroller IV at Captain Bill’s for the narrated boat cruise. That will set you back $16.00 a person.

     We ended our day with a narrated sightseeing cruise on Seneca Lake which gave me all new information. The lake is fed by underground springs giving it little chance to freeze over in the winter. The lake is named after the Seneca Native American tribe. Salt manufacturing is also done at the lake and US Salt and Cargill manufacturing plants can be seen from the boat cruise. That was all we could do in one day. We hit the open road and headed home and both agreed we were so glad we hiked Watkins Glen and did not buy a single souvenir item despite being tempted by the “you’re gorge-ous” t-shirt.

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.

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!