Total Strangers

total strangers
I’d love to tell you all that my ride was easy since leaving Hawthorne, Nevada, but that would be a lie. The temperatures feel like 150 degrees. My friends and I have been stopping a lot to hydrate and just trying to keep from getting heat stroke.

At one point, none of us was okay to ride on, but we were lucky enough to find a nice farmer who allowed us to stay on his property. His wife fried up a bunch of chicken and served it with mashed potatoes, gravy, and fresh out-of-the-garden green beans. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. They even allowed us to use their bathroom to shower. It amazes me that total strangers could be that hospitable. I know I’m not that way. I was raised to be cautious of strangers, almost to the point of ignoring strangers. And growing up in the city, that was sound advice coming from my parents, but I doubt it’s truly the way our Lord wants us to live our lives.

I’m not saying “throw caution to the wind”, but I do think we’ve all become too self-absorbed in our own lives to even notice the needs of others. Luckily, this bike trip was teaching me to be more open to strangers. Not just those who could help me, but also those I could help.

The next day, after Bart tries to pay the farmer and his wife for their hospitality, we head back out on the road. The weather is on our side with overcast skies and cooler temperatures. We make our way to Tonopah, Nevada. We find the Tonopah Station RV Park, a small rv park that looks more like an extension to the parking lot of the casino it’s attached to, and get checked in for the evening.

That evening, a couple of the young local kids are having fun tearing through the parking lot in their souped-up cars. Carol insists Mac call the cops. He doesn’t. Instead, he, Pete, and Bart walk down to them and start talking “shop.” One can see there is an instant connection with the young men. The young men’s arms are waving as they describe all the things they had done to their cars. Hoods are popped open as each car owner points out how great their engines are. Mac, Pete, and Bart absorb it all, and then invite them to have dinner with us.

Carol and Martha are about to protest when Faith quietly says, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

Carol and Martha are not pleased with their friend’s astute observation, but they accept it. We all head into the rig to make up the salads and other side dishes we’d be sharing with our dinner guests. And, as it so happens, these boys, or should I say young men, were practicing for a race they’d be in in a few weeks. The owner of the RV park knew the boys, and had agreed they could practice in his lot. My only thought about all of this was it would have been nice if the owner had let us know about this when we checked in. That way, we wouldn’t have assumed they were simply being an annoyance to weary travelers.

As the evening wears on, I am surprised at the stories these two young men have. One of them, I think he said his name was Derek, is 24 and is taking a break from college before entering med school. To look at him, you would never guess he had the desire to heal people. And to watch him drive that car, one would think he was on a death mission. But Derek was passionate about healing people. We shared our story about the man who died in Hawthorne, Nevada. This story had Derek’s undivided attention. I could tell he was going to make a great doctor with a great bedside manner. The other lad, Mike, (I remember his name because it’s the same as my nephew’s), just turned 23. His father had been killed in Viet Nam. Mike is the youngest of six kids.

He laughs and says, “Yeah, I was sort of an oops, but my mom is sure glad she had me since I’m the only one who hung around here. She depends on me a lot.”

I silently think, “Yeah, I know how that feels.”

My mind wanders off to the moment in my life when my mother had told me I was her oops. I’m not the youngest, but I was unexpected. Yet I was the one who was there for her and Dad for many years. I got some help caring for them from siblings, but there were many times that dealing with their elder years was left totally up to me. I wonder if Mike realizes what he faces in the future since his mother is a year older than me. She’s not exactly a senior yet, but she’s knocking on that door. Will their relationship remain solid or will they become strangers to each other as age pulls seniors into a sometimes silent world?

After dinner, our two young friends thanked us for our hospitality and went on their way. All of us were happy we had not remained total strangers with these two fine young men.

And as I lie in bed that night thinking about Derek and Mike, I thought, “I really have to be better about putting myself out there like Bart, Mac, and Pete did. Had they not gone over to talk friendly with Derek and Mike, we would have never met them. In fact, we probably would have spent the night worrying that they were just a couple of punks who were out to rob us blind.”

And in my real life, I don’t often have to go over to the Marian House Soup Kitchen while their guests are waiting in line, but when I do, I try to treat those I come in contact with, with the respect they deserve. Some are so introverted that you couldn’t get them to look at you if you tried, but others will smile and say “hi.” I will always acknowledge them and give them a smile back. I don’t always succeed at not assuming a total stranger could be dangerous. There are still times I find myself pulling my purse in closer to me, crossing a street to avoid a possible confrontation, or simply being like some of those introverted soup kitchen guests. But I am working at not being this way because I don’t want to meet my Maker some day and have Him say, “Betsy, do you remember the time when I was down and out and you ignored me?”

So as we go through life, try not to keep everyone we come in contact with a total stranger. Some of those strangers may play a big role in your life, an unexpected life-changing role. God bless and let’s keep going the distance.

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Choices in Life – How Many Do We Really Need?

life choicesThe weather in Nevada is starting to heat up, so it’s decided we shouldn’t push ourselves too hard. Hawthorne, Nevada, is the next town, but I fear there will be little there for us to choose from. I find that to be somewhat true once we arrive in Hawthorne, but I also discover that life doesn’t really require a lot of choices. We humans think we do, but when you stop and allow God to show you the way, the playing field becomes very small. And you discover your life is easier to handle; less decisions that need to be made.

Finding an RV park was the first easy choice for the day. After checking the ratings of the various campgrounds, it was decided the Whiskey Flats RV Park was the place for us. It rated high in reviews, had decent size pads, and the bathhouse was highly rated by previous visitors. AND they were close enough for pizza deliver, which we all decided sounded like a good P L A N, another good choice for the day. Plus it was located right off the highway we were on. One really couldn’t ask for more.

But then God must have decided that we all needed to make a few more choices in life for He gave us a big one to make. Once the fifth wheel was setup, Bart did his usual visiting with the neighbors. The ones right next to us was a young couple with two young kids. The kids were fascinated with Dolly, and took her for many walks. The poor dog probably just wanted to rest, but Faith was good about letting the kids take Dolly around the park as long as they promised to pick up after her.

The neighbors next to this couple were an elderly couple who didn’t seem to be all that friendly, but Bart managed to get both of them to come out of their rig and sit a spell with him. Oh, how Bart reminded me of my father, who was always called the camp diplomat. I have such fond memories of that man. He truly had a heart of gold.

Well, we discover that the husband had emphysema and a bad heart. I wondered why they were still full-time rving but figured that was none of my business. Bart, on the other hand, simply asked, “So why are you here? Doesn’t the dry heat exasperate your condition?”

The man’s wife said, “My husband grew up here. He wants to die here.”

I stood there in disbelief. Why would they choose to live in an RV when the man was dying? I understood him wanting to die here, but why not rent or buy a place. Then I hear her say, “This isn’t where I want to be, but I’ve chosen to give my husband his last wish. When he passes, I can simply walk away from this rig and head back to Ohio where our children live.”

Little did I know that night would be our neighbor’s last night on earth. We are awakened to sirens. The EMTs are putting our neighbor into the ambulance as we walk over to see if his wife needs any assistance.

She meekly says, “If you would be so kind as to drive me to the hospital. I’m not sure I’m up to driving right now.”

Of course, Bart’s decision to drive this woman is an easy decision to make. Martha and I tag along, just in case the woman needs a woman’s shoulder to cry on. I couldn’t believe how stoic the woman was as she watches her husband take his last breath. It almost seems like she’s happy to be rid of the burden of caring for her husband, but then she chooses to change my mind. Okay, so maybe God chose to change my mind, for what I see next is the woman gently kissing her dead husband’s forehead and whispering, “You are at peace now, Bear. No more treatments, no more surgeries, no more pain and suffering. I’ll love you forever, and I’ll see you someday down the road. Count on that.”

I thought, “This woman was living a living hell, watching her husband die a slow death. I had no right judging what was going on in her heart when she stood there watching him die. Her love for him far exceeds any love I’ve probably had for anyone, for she chose to give him his last wish.”

Then I think about how Jesus chose to honor His Father’s wishes by dying on the cross to save all of us. Would I ever have the courage to make such noble choices in life? I doubt it until we all got back to the RV park.

I give the woman a big hug and say, “If I could only learn to love just a fraction of how much you loved your husband. I’ve pretty much lead a selfish life, only thinking of me.”

The woman says, “Honey, that is an out and out lie. You have given of yourself over and over. I’ve read it in your blogs. You are giving of yourself with each person you’ve come in contact with on this noble ride you’ve chosen to take. You are doing God’s will.”

I stood there in awe of the words she spoke about me. I’d never thought of my trip as being noble, and I especially didn’t think I was doing God’s will. But when I thought about all the people I’ve met along the way, I thought that maybe God was working through me somehow.

It became obvious that we were all tired, so we headed back to catch a little more sleep before morning. And even though we were up early, our widowed neighbor was already gone. I wondered about her husband’s funeral. Had it been his choice for her to leave before he was buried? Or maybe he was to be cremated and his remains sent back to Ohio. I would never know the answers to those questions, and I knew it basically didn’t matter because those were their choices.

After a hearty breakfast, we left Hawthorne behind. I could feel God surrounding us with His loving hands. God was still directing us, guiding us, making our choices in life easier to make. Life was good.

And in my real world, me and my siblings have had to make some hard choices the past couple of weeks. My mother is suffering and dying from COPD. Because she is in the end-stages, we had to choose to put her in a nursing home where she would get better care and would be safer than living at home. This was not a choice my mother would have made for she wanted to die at home, but unfortunately, it was a choice God made for us. For whatever reason, God did not want my mother dying at home.

It has been a difficult time for my brother and his family. They are still in quite a bit of denial. My sister’s heart is heavy, knowing Mom’s time is drawing near. Me, well I’m pretty much like the woman in the above story that lost her husband. I’ve watched Mom try to recover from the loss of the only man in her life, my father, who died ten years ago. I watched as she mourned the loss of her younger brother last year. I’ve watched as her body continued to fail with each passing year.

She had made choices in life to not exercise and to rely a little too much on prescription drugs to make her aches and pains go away. Did these choices cause her to fail enough where she’ll be dying in a nursing home? I don’t know, but I do know that when she takes her last breath on earth, she will be reunited with her soul mate. No longer will she be struggling to breathe; no longer will she have to worry about money, or what her kids are up to. Her body will be healthy and vibrant again.

All of this makes me wonder what we’ll look like to our other family members should we be lucky enough to make it to heaven. Makes me think that I need to be wise about the future choices I make, so that someday I, too, will be reunited with the rest of my family.

So as we continue down life’s path, make the best choices possible for everyone, not just yourself. And let’s keep going the distance. God Bless.

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Tough Love

Tough LoveAs my new biking friends and I make our way from Carson City, Nevada, to Yerington, Nevada, I find out that Carol and Mac are Catholic, Faith and Peter just lost their dog to the same cancer that took out my Irish setter, and Bart and Martha might have to leave our group because their daughter may need help with her seventeen year-old daughter who was being a typical teenager. Okay, so maybe she was being a little more than a typical teenager, but my thoughts are, “Her parents needs to learn about tough love.”

You see, the daughter was experimenting with drugs, nothing major, so Martha tells me, but the worst part of Bryce is her defiant attitude. She seems angry all the time, hates living at home, and desperately wants to grow-up fast and move out.

I tell Martha her granddaughter sounds like a typical teenager to me. “Maybe,” I said, “all she needs are some boundaries that are enforced.” Easy for me to say, I’m not the parents dealing with an angry teenager.

Martha isn’t so sure boundaries were the solution, but she thanks me for my opinion before falling to the back of our pack. Carol rides up to me and says, “Martha’s granddaughter is a monster, but you’re right when you suggested she needs boundaries. Unfortunately, those boundaries should have been in place when she was a child. I’m afraid boundaries now would be like throwing gasoline on a bed of embers.”

I knew Carol was probably right, but I hold firm that the girl needs tough love. Bryce would be turning 18 in a month. She’d be a legal adult at that time which would allow her parents and grandparents to give her what she wants, her freedom. Then they could see if she makes it in life or fails. My guess is she’ll fail because she’s done nothing to learn about the real world. And then, if she has any smarts at all, she’ll swallow her pride and listen to her parents.

Bryce needs to learn that adults aren’t trying to mold her into what they want, but to mold her into what she’s capable of being. But then maybe Bryce’s parents are trying to mold her into what they want her to be. “If that be the case,” I think, “then Bart and Martha need to do tough love and let their children and grandchildren work it out.”

As we pedal down the highway, we notice Bart pulling off the road and getting out of his truck. Martha rides up alongside the rest of us. “Now what’s he doing?”

We keep pedaling until we meet up with him. In the ditch is a bedraggled collie. Bart is trying to coax the dog up to him, but the collie is having nothing to do with him. Faith, being the extreme dog lover she is, gets off her bike and walks right into the ditch.

Peter yells, “Faith, what are you doing? That dog may be mean.”

Faith ignores Peter and continues walking toward the collie. I can tell the dog isn’t mean by the sure look in its eyes. Faith kneels down and pets the dog’s head while the collie wags its tail. Faith carefully assesses whether the dog has any injuries but finds none. She tells Peter to get some water from the rig. Dutifully, Peter does as he’s asked while I dig in my saddle bag, pulling out a granola bar. I knew it wasn’t the best thing to feed a dog, but the poor thing looked hungry, too.

I walk down to where Faith is and let the collie sniff my hand before offering it the food I had. We discover the collie is a female. She scarfs down the food before lapping up the bowl of water Peter has brought to her.

The collie’s tag says her name is Dolly. I think, “Dolly the collie, how cute.” The tags are well worn, so it’s hard to see where this dog lives. Bart, in his infinite wisdom, has already Googled vets in Yerington.

Faith doesn’t want to take Dolly to the vets for fear they’ll know who she belongs to. Peter tells her, “Hon, you know this is exactly what we need to do.”

Faith knows he’s right and agrees to take Dolly to the vets once we get to Yerington. Bart allows Dolly to ride in the truck with him. She lies down on the back seat and instantly falls asleep. The rest of the ride to Yerington goes by quickly, although all of us were quiet for those final miles.

We check into the Greenfield Mobile Home and RV park. It’s a nice park right off the highway. Bart phones the vets to make an appointment. We’ll have to wait until Monday, which pleases Faith. She and I head to the grocery store to get some dog food and a leash. Faith also picks up a dog bed.

I say, “Why are you doing this to yourself, Faith? You know there’s a strong possibility the vets will know who Dolly belongs to and will contact the owners.”

Faith stands in faith. Back at the campground, Faith asks Carol if she could go to church with us tomorrow. That evening, Faith and I go to work brushing the mats out of Dolly. My grooming experience from my dog showing days comes in handy. Before long, Dolly is looking like she’s ready for the show ring. Dolly opts to sleep in her bed beside me, although it’s clear Dolly has bonded with Faith.

The next day, Carol, Mac, Faith, and I head off to church. Holy Family Catholic Church is an older church that serves several of the small communities in the area. It reminds me of some of those churches I attended as a child while growing up in Nebraska. The parishioners are friendly, something I didn’t expect. So often in these small towns, visitors are stared at like we have cooties, but not here. We are welcomed in such a way that almost makes a person want to stay for a while.

During the mass, I can tell Faith is praying she can keep Dolly. I simply pray that the best thing for Dolly happens. Then I pray that Bryce gets the help she needs. And finally, I pray in thanksgiving for the wonderful blessings God has bestowed on me. I can feel His blessings in my life.

When mass ends, the parishioners gather in front of the church to talk with their neighbors, just like they did in the small town my mother was from. As a kid, I hated all the kibitzing, but as an adult, I see the benefits of sharing our lives with our neighbors. And what better place to do the sharing than outside a church that recently inspired all of us.

Mac is telling a local about Dolly. The local nods and says, “That’s Tom Hadley’s collie. Tom passed away two weeks ago.”

The local explains how Dolly meant everything to Tom, and how Dolly sat outside the church howling during the funeral services.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in that church. It was heart wrenching, because Tom also meant everything to Dolly.”

Dolly was placed in a foster home awaiting adoption, but she ran away the first night. They found her lying on Tom’s grave. The family took her home again, but Dolly, once again, escaped, but this time they were unable to find her.

“I don’t know where Dolly was headed,” the local says, “but I can assure you no one in town is going to want her. She’s a difficult dog who was spoiled rotten by Tom. He fed her table scraps, never brushed the poor thing, and I’m not totally certain she ever saw the inside of a vets.”

Faith proudly says, “Well, she’s brushed now, and she’ll be seeing a vet tomorrow. She’s found her home.”

I stood there comparing Bryce with Dolly. From things Bart had said last night regarding Bryce, her parents had spoiled her, too. Now both Bryce and Dolly were trying to find their place in life. Faith knew Dolly needed some work, but she was worth it. Just like Bryce was worth it. A little tough love for both could bring them back from the brink of Hell.

The next day, Faith and I take Dolly to the vets, who give Dolly a clean bill of health. They comment on how well Dolly looks compared to when Tom had her. Contrary to what the local thought, Tom had been good about vaccinating Dolly, he just wasn’t good with her diet and grooming needs. Faith asks about keeping Dolly.

The vet says, “She’s yours if you want, although she’s always been a roamer. But she does seem to have bonded with you. Good luck to you, and thanks for being a good pet parent. We need more parents like you.”

Again, I think about Bryce’s parents. What were they doing for Bryce? Was she getting the treatment she deserved? It will be several years later before I find out that Bryce quit school, left home, got pregnant only to find out the baby’s father wanted nothing to do with his child or Bryce. Her parents had remained silent during these years, allowing Bryce to experience the life she thought she wanted. They were doing the tough love thing.

Bryce struggled to raise her daughter on her own. Because she had quit school, the higher paying jobs wouldn’t even consider her because she didn’t have a high school diploma. She and her daughter were evicted from their low-rent apartment. She had nowhere to go. It was Bryce’s tough love wake-up call. She phoned her parents who promptly told her they had never stopped being her parents, never stopped loving her, and never wanted her to have to go through all of this.

Bryce and her daughter returned home. She attended GED classes where she met the man of her dreams who accepted Bryce’s daughter as his own. Bryce continued on with her education becoming a child advocate. Funny how tough love can quickly open your eyes.

And Dolly, well, Dolly the collie spent the rest of her life with Faith and Peter. She never once tried to run away, and she lived well beyond a collie’s average age limit. I guess the love and care she received from Faith and Peter extended her life. For me, I’ll always remember that day on the highway into Yerington, Nevada, as the day I truly learned about tough love and how it can be a good thing.

And in my real world, I’m grateful my parents parented with tough love. Dad always gave us three strikes before we received our just punishment. His words weren’t idle threats. He meant every word he said, yet my parents were two of the most loving people I have ever known. Their punishments were given as loving directions to make us better people.

So as we go through life, know that tough love doesn’t represent being mean and hateful. It means what God did for all of us, “I care for you enough to give My only begotten Son.” God bless you all, and let’s keep going the distance.

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Who’s Driving the Bus?

busAs my new biking partners and I leave the rv park, my mind is full of thoughts of family. I knew these six new friends would never take the place of my family, but I felt close to them anyway. They had welcomed me into their lives. It was my turn to return the favor, and welcome them into mine.

We’d spent last night sharing tales of growing up, childhood goals and how many of those goals we actually achieved as adults, and where we saw our lives going. I guess that’s why I’m thinking so much of my family now.

I no longer had the chore, or maybe I should say privilege of caring for my parents. Both were now with their Maker, but their love still inspires me. And my siblings were busy with their own lives, yet I could feel their presence as I pushed my way up the highway. They are near me through the places I’ve been and things I’ve seen on this journey. My sister and her husband would love many of the places I’ve been, but their lives were pulled in a different direction unlike my new riding partners.

They all decided to steer their lives in alignment with mine. It does make me wonder who’s driving their bus in life. I used to drive my life’s bus, but found too many times that I had no idea where I was going. One day, I decided to stop driving and allowed God to drive. I’ve been a lot happier since then. Sometimes I find myself wondering where God is taking me, but I know, without a doubt, that it will be some place fabulous and fun.

My crew and I ride into Carson City, Nevada, and find the Comstock Country RV Resort. Carol and Mac have graciously invited me to stay in their rig with them. Mac’s comment was, “Why would anyone choose to sleep on the ground when there’s a nice comfortable bed in our rig?” I knew then, God had steered them into my life. How blessed I felt.

Bart drove us all to a grocery store where we bought that night’s supper. I tried to pay for my share of the groceries, but none of them would hear of it. My, how God’s plan certainly works out in our lives when we let go and let God.

On the way back, I spy a railroad museum. Faith, Peter’s wife, notices me looking and suggests we go there before heading to the casinos. All were in favor, so after unloading groceries, we truck off to the Nevada State Railroad Museum.

Inside, I relive my grandfather’s life rich in railroad history. Dada, the name bestowed on my grandfather by his first grandchild, always spoke highly of the railroad. He worked hard all of his life to provide a decent life for his family. His job afforded him and my grandmother the opportunity to take in other family members who had lost their way in life. Too bad those people hadn’t let God drive that bus, but then maybe God had driven it straight to my grandparent’s front door. They were truly giving people, and they passed this along to their children. How blessed I am to come from such fine people.

On the way back to the truck, Martha sees a fabric store. She and I had fun looking through all the materials. I was able to buy another fat quarter to represent my time spent in Nevada. Oh what fun it will be to make this memory quilt when this trip is over.

Back at the campground, we women get supper started while the men decide which casinos to go to. I’m thinking about bowing out and staying back to do some reading, but Carol will hear none of my reasons for not going with them.

She says, “Betsy, no one says you have to gamble. I don’t, but I like to go and people watch. Please come and people watch with me.”

I can almost feel God’s gentle hand coaxing me to go. How can I say no? I don’t, and I end up having a blast. I decide to try my hand at one of the slot machines that cost a whole quarter. Lo and behold, I won $50.00. My trip to the casino was well worth my time. Thank you God, for prodding me to go.

That night, as I lay on the comfortable sofa sleeper, I thank God for all my wonderful blessings and I tell Him I still want Him driving my bus, or should I say bike.

And in my real world, I’m busy with the rest of the Catholic Charities of Central Colorado staff preparing for our big St. Patrick’s Day Gala. God definitely drives the bus each year for this event. He gives each of us the energy, help, and thought process to make this event a huge success. Many of our clients will be able to receive help from us, because of this one event.
I’m also busy trying to get my books published. It’s looking like maybe I’ll need to go self-published, but once again, God is directing me on what to do and when. I worry very little about those days when I don’t accomplish everything I thought I needed to tend to. I know that God is right there guiding me. How can one worry when the King of kings is in charge? And why would anyone want to still be driving their life’s bus when God does it so much better?

And as we all learn to let go and let God, let’s all keep going the distance. God bless.

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The Lives We Touch Upon

change the worldIt’s been an uphill battle getting from Pollock Pines to South Lake Tahoe, but it was worth the effort. South Lake Tahoe’s Campground by the Lake provides me all the amenities that wash away my road fatigue. Knowing the water of Lake Tahoe would be too cold to swim in I set my sights on the community pool. I almost can’t wait to get my tent set-up before taking a dip, but I resist the urge knowing that chores always come first.

I don’t waste any time setting up camp, but before I head to the pool, I do my grocery shopping for the night. I will soon find out I could have eliminated this chore, but I don’t find that out until after my refreshing swim.

Back at my campsite and feeling refreshed, I find a comfortable spot to eat my pb&j sandwich and read a good book. I do more people watching than I do reading. It’s fun to watch how different couples work together when backing in some of the monster RVs people have nowadays. It makes me think back to my early camping days.

Back then, it was a large tent, sleeping bags, coolers, and a lot of family and friends. Our camping gear was stored in a two-wheeled trailer towed behind my family’s station wagon. Back in the day before seat-belt laws, we’d fold down the seats and lay our sleeping bags down for some padding. Our trips to our destination were filled with comic book reading, playing car games, and probably driving my dad nuts. But the man was a saint and never said a word. He simply drove in silence towards those sacred campgrounds, sacred in a kid’s mind since there was always swimming, horseback riding, hiking, and a whole lot of other fun. What fond memories I have of those family vacations.

But today, it’s just me and my little pup-tent and bike trailer. I have the cooler, but it’s nowhere near as large as the ones we used so many years ago. As I sit acting like I’m reading, I see a toy-hauler RV approach the site next to mine. The RV is massive looking. Inside the crew-cab truck are six people. They look to be in their 40’s and appear to be 3 couples.

They waste no time getting their coach backed in and set-up. And it’s not long before the three women come over to introduce themselves to me. Being somewhat of a loner, I am hesitant to be too friendly until I hear them say, “OMG, you ARE the woman we’ve been hoping to connect with!”

These three couples have been tracking my progress from day one. They decided, early on, I was someone they needed to meet.

Carol, the more-outspoken of the three women, says, “You have been an inspiration to me and my husband, Mac. We were so focused on having a healthy bank account we forgot we needed to keep our bodies healthy to enjoy our riches. So he and I and our friends decided to buy this rig, some bikes, and follow your path.”

Carol goes on to tell me they have not ridden every mile as I have, but now that they’ve met up with me, they would like to give it a try. It’s then that I see their husbands unloading six bikes from the rear of the toy hauler. Carol tells the men I was the woman they’d been following.

My mother’s negative thinking rears its ugly head as I think, “Are these people stalkers? Should I run, run like the wind away from them?” But I know deep down, they mean every word they’ve said. For some reason, I have changed their lives, and now I must find out exactly how I’ve changed their lives.

I’m invited to their site for dinner, as we all get to know each other. I tell them how I got started on this trip, and how it’s changed my life for the better. I tell them about the weight I lost, one of the goals I had for taking this trip, how I have come to know the real me, and how many people have touched on my life in such a positive way.

I say, “I just don’t think you get to know people when you are jetting here and there, staying in hotels, and eating in restaurants. This,” I extend my hands out to encompass everything around us, “is the way to meet people and see this country for what it stands for.”

Carol is brought to tears saying, “You are so right. Mac and I used to live that life thinking we needed to see all the wonders of the world. We would have missed out on so many places, towns, and people had we kept going down that path.”

All of them talked about health issues they had all been having from serious things like high blood pressure and heart palpitations, to lesser ones of food allergies and anxieties along with a failing marriage. Once they all decided to spend some time on the road, like I was doing, all of these issues disappeared. Mac’s blood pressure was back to normal and Carol was able to wean herself off of all anxiety medications.

Mac looks me head-on and says, “You saved our lives, you saved their marriage,” pointing to Bart and Martha O’Brien. Bart and Mac have been friends since grade school. Everyone knew Bart loved Martha, but the grind of feeling like they needed to succeed bigger and better every day had begun to make cracks in their once happy marriage.

Bart says, “And today, right now, I see the beautiful woman I married 25 years ago, and it’s all because you showed us a better way to live.”

During our scrumptious scout-pack dinner, they asked me all sorts of questions about the route I was taking. I explained I wasn’t sure if I should head across Nevada and down through Utah to get to those southern states, or if I should head south into Vegas and then across the south. After some careful deliberations and a whole lot of research, my new riding partners and I decided to head south to Vegas.

I went to bed that night with excitement of knowing I would no longer be traveling alone, at least until we got to Las Vegas. For some reason, this part of my trip had been a concern of mine. Both Nevada and Utah have a lot of desolate terrain that probably wasn’t good for a single, middle-aged woman to be traveling alone on.

The next morning, only one bike was put back in the toy hauler. Bart would be pulling the rig and my bike trailer, and the rest of us would be riding those US highways and bi-ways. I say a silent prayer, thanking God for my newest friends, for this great country we live in, and for all those wonderful blessings we don’t even realize come from Him.

And in my real world, I’m reminded of the many times people have told me, “You just don’t know what an impact you’ve made on my life.” It’s a humbling experience and one that leaves you speechless. None of us truly knows how our words and actions affect those we come in contact with on a daily basis. What we see as a friendly nod may be the very thing that keeps a teen from committing suicide. And then there’s those people who are prone to paying it forward. They’ll pay for their coffee and the next three people in line. Maybe one of those three is so moved that they head to work and give their secretary a raise she’d been promised for months. And now that secretary knows she’ll be able to pay her rent and won’t be evicted. She’s so thankful that she decides to help out at the local soup kitchen where she meets her husband-to-be.

I know this is all silly sounding and a bit too clichéd, but it’s just an example of how small actions are like a trickle of a creek. That creek becomes a stream which becomes a river which becomes a mighty ocean. So don’t think that your small actions are meaningless. We all have a purpose here, and we are all children of God. Don’t allow the harshness of the world to keep you from touching on someone’s life. You might just find yourself being told, “You just don’t know what your actions meant to me.”

For me, those special people, who influenced me enough to get off my couch and get on my recumbent bike, so I could lose over 40 pounds and counting will be told today in this blog how they helped me. The first person was Stephen King, yes the author, whose short-story reignited the notion of going somewhere in my mind as I ride endless miles on my recumbent bike. Thank you, Mr. King, for your great story abilities. Then there’s Fr. Michael O’Donnell, my mentor and friend, who encouraged me to start writing this blog. Without you fans of my blog, I would have stopped riding a long time ago, but I just couldn’t disappoint you all. Then there’s my sister-in-law, Cele Finley. She helped me understand why I had been fighting losing the same five pounds for a year and a half. Her knowledge of physical education provided the fuel to get me off that plateau. And finally, after watching the movie “Thor” and Googling what the next “Thor” movie was about, I discovered the “Thor Workout”. Now I knew I was not going to do all that body building because I didn’t want to gain weight, but what ignited the fuel my sister-in-law provided was Chris Hemsworth’s determination to look the part for roles he’s in. I thought, “I’m a determined woman, I can do this, too.” It was the thing that pushed that button in my head to want to try harder, and I’ve lost those nagging five pounds plus another five pounds. Thanks to all of you who unknowingly helped me along my path in life.

God bless, and let’s keep going the distance.

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The Painter of Life

placervilleAfter spending a brief night in Sacramento, California, a town worthy of more of my attention but didn’t get, I ride east to Placerville, California. Placerville is the town where Thomas Kinkade grew up, and since I love his work, I knew I needed to spend some time there.
As with any old, quaint, mountain town, Placerville seems to have had some growing pains. There’s the usual big-box stores on the outskirts of town, but once I get to the heart of town, I find the inspiration that made Mr. Kinkade the “Painter of Light”.

For me, though, this town is the painter of life. My first stop is Hog Wild BBQ. What a fun place this is. It almost looks like a biker place, and I’m not talking biker like I am. But inside, you find a friendly staff and a casual atmosphere that screams “down home cooking.” After a fine meal of pulled-pork, cole slaw, and homemade biscuits, I ride on to the Thomas Kinkade Gallery. OMG, so many beautiful prints. They even have a few original paintings, but, of course, I could not afford those. I buy one small canvas-wrapped print of a cabin by a lake. It so reminded me of those family vacations from years ago.

As I look at each of the paintings, I am instantly drawn into the scene. It doesn’t matter if it is a babbling brook in the mountain or a Christmas party at someone’s home; I am there in my mind. What a talent Mr. Kinkade had, and what a pity he is no longer with us. But his works will continue to bring joy to those of us who saw the value in what he painted – paintings about life, paintings about hope, paintings that bring a smile to your face.

Before leaving the gallery, I overhear another shopper mention something about a quilt store. Well, I just have to know more, so being the quilting nut I am, I interrupt her conversation with the sales clerk and ask where I might find this quilt store. And in true Placerville hospitality, the woman gives me detailed directions. She even tells me to tell the store owner she sent me there, and that I should receive her 10% discount. Of course, I figure the store owner would simply ignore this tidbit of information, but much to my surprise, she offers it to me before I can even think about mentioning it. I find a couple of nice fat quarters that will add some spice to this fine quilt I’ll be making some day, then I’m off to do some window shopping.

After my day of shopping, I make my way to the Eden Vale Inn B&B. It got a 5-star rating from several reviewers, and it so well deserves it. I get a spa treatment my first night, and the next day they help me schedule a wine tour. WOW! What service! It almost makes me want to stay, but I must move on. But know that Placerville painted such a fine picture in my head that I will always remember my stay here. Thank you Mr. Kinkade, for the brilliant paintings you shared with us, and thank you Placerville, for being such friendly and upstanding people. I will remember you always.

And in my real world, I’ve lived in or visited places similar to Placerville. Aspen, Colorado, comes to mind. As polarized as this city can be, it can’t take away the beauty that surrounds this old mining town turned Hollywood hangout. One morning when I was walking to work, I couldn’t help but stand in awe at the sight before me. The sun’s rays were shining on the mountain before me with shades of pinks and oranges blazing. I’d seen this mountainside every morning, but that day it took my breath away. I can only imagine Mr. Kinkade sitting on the edge of the Roaring Fork River and capturing the essence of what God has given to us. It sends a chill down my spine just thinking about all that God has done for us.

And in Colorado Springs, we are graced with Pikes Peak, a magnificent display of God’s artistic side. I wonder how many people ignore this mountain peak even on those mornings when it screams “HEY, LOOK AT ME!” I feel bad for those people who can ignore such paintings of life, for they are missing so much.

So do yourself a favor. Tomorrow morning, when you’re grouchy because the weekend is over and it’s time to go back to work, look around and find one thing that says, “Good morning to you, my precious child. I give you this gift of (fill in the blank).” God’s gifts are everywhere. We just need to take the time to look for them. And as always, let’s keep going the distance as we look for those paintings of life. God bless.

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Family Ties

family tiesMy adrenaline heightened as I approached Novato, California. It had been years since I had been here, but I have such fond memories from that last visit.

It was twelve years ago when my sister and her husband and I drove here from Colorado Springs. Both my parents were still alive along with my uncle who lived in San Rafael, California. My heart grows heavy as I miss both my dad and my uncle. Dad passed away in 2004, but the pain of losing my uncle is still fresh. He moved on to be with God in March of this year, but both left their mark on this earth.

My father was a story-teller and family man. His love of people was his strongest attribute. And he was loved by all, in return. Dad instilled in each of his kids to be leaders, to reach for the sky, and to take those chances. Mom softened us, keeping us centered, but there have been times where I felt held back by my mom’s inhibitions. She’s often told me how stupid she thinks this ride, that I’m on, is. Luckily, I’ve chosen to focus more on my dad’s teachings, choosing to ignore Mom’s the-glass-is-half-empty outlook on life.

If Dad were alive today, he’d be cheering me on. In fact, he would have figured out a way to tag along. He so loved traveling, something Mom hates. It’s amazing they got along like they did. Those two had a love that was never-ending. Their marriage wasn’t without disagreements, but their love carried them through. It provided my siblings and me the best foundation in life.

And then there was my uncle. He was a world traveler, seeing almost every country that was safe to travel to. As a child, I found it difficult to connect with him. I found him to be a wee bit too persnickety, but as I matured, I grew to appreciate him. He taught me, indirectly, how to buy quality and take care of it so it would last a lifetime. He also showed me how to entertain. This man could cook, and he knew how to make food look good.

That year my sister, brother-in-law, and I came out here, my uncle showed us what northern California has to offer. We went to Muir Woods, took a trip up towards Bodega Bay and saw a cool lighthouse. There was wine country, Monterey Bay, and Carmel. We took the ferry across the bay and toured San Francisco, taking a cable car ride and eating lunch on Fisherman’s Warf. So many memories my uncle gave us that year.
And now both my dad and my uncle have left us to be with our Maker. They are missed by many, but we all know they are happy to be with our Lord. They will continue to influence me on my trip across the country.

As I pull into the RV park we stayed at twelve years ago, I say a quick prayer of thanks for having such a great dad and uncle. They taught me the importance of family ties. I would not be who I am today, had it not been for both of them.

My stay here will be short, though. When I started this journey, my uncle was still alive, and I had hoped to spend some quality time with him. Now I’ll simply rest up so I can start heading east into Nevada. Next big stop, Sacramento, California.

And in my real world, my father and uncle were important entities in my life. I would not be here blogging had they not inspired me to be the very best I can be. The things I wrote above are all true, although some of the timing is altered.

And although I’m only on this ride in the virtual sense, my mother still finds it silly along with me being a blogger and author of a series of books about this virtual ride I’m on. I don’t think ill of her, though, she was raised to always take the sure thing and not think you could be something more than a simple person. Like I said above, I think her attitude and my father’s shoot-for-the-stars attitude complimented each other. It’s what rounded out each of their four kids.

None of my siblings is exactly like the other. We all have different dreams and aspirations, but we are all passionate about life. Family is most important to all four of us. We have rallied around our aging mother; ensuring she has the best of care to extend her life, hopefully well into her 90s. We have helped each other out in hard times. We defend and protect as needed.

Our family ties have created a bond that is unbreakable. And we, in turn, are passing on these great qualities to our children who are passing them along to their children. It truly is the circle of life. I’m forever blessed to be a part of this great family. It’s what keeps me moving forward not only on my virtual trip, but with my pursuit of getting my books published.

It’s also what keeps me focused on the works Catholic Charities of Central Colorado does. Our goal is to help each family keep their family ties together. I know Catholic Charities isn’t able to help each and every client build a life like I have, but we do as much for each family as our funding allows. And as long as we continue to have great donors and a faith that’s unwavering, we’ll all be able to continue to go the distance. God bless.

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