Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mardi Gras at Christmas

I've discovered the real Fat Tuesday.

The truth is, I am not a fan of Christmas.

First, although raised in a very Christian home, I find myself to not be tied to any religion at this time. I am more open minded and curious than what is typically accepted in the pews of the churches that surround my work life.

Second, I worked for 25 years in some sort of retail capacity and am appalled at what I see happening out there. A season of Tidings of Good Cheer has been claimed by greed and unrealistic expectations.

In recent years, the only holiday celebrating that I've done was only to appease those around me. As with most of my life, I was doing what was expected of me and never once did anyone ask what I would like. With the death of my parents, I have released those expectations.

Fortunately, I do have my loving husband by my side. And he's always tried to decipher what it is that I want. And even more fortunate is that we agree for the most part. All we want is to be able to make our own traditions. Not expectations handed down through the generations, but truly our own traditions based on our own lives and beliefs.

After our two visits to New Orleans in recent years, we've fallen in love with the energy that keeps that city alive. We find that much of the spirit that is alive and well in New Orleans is very much alive in ourselves.
So we couldn't think of a better theme to decorate our home with for the holidays. Right down to a Voodoo doll hanging on our tree.
Yes, we do have a tree.
It is not a place for Santa to place gifts.
It is not a representation of everlasting life in our home.
It is a welcoming beacon for friends and neighbors to stop by anytime and enjoy some holiday cheer.

Our indoor dining garden faces the street with it's many windows.
It's a place where we can sit sipping coffee and watch the neighborhood come to life each morning.
A place where it's always warm and inviting for friends to stop by.

We enjoy decorating our home in Mardi Gras colors and celebrating long into the winter months.
So stop on by. The door is always open.
And Pugsley only sounds like he'll take your leg off at first.
Really he's only happy to see you and that's just how he shows it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

In The Face of Tragedy

Often I am asked, "How do you do it? How do you keep your composure in the face of tragedy?"
The truth is that it is very difficult at times. While no death is easy, an older person that has lived a long life and has died naturally is a much different story than someone who's life has been cut short too early.
I offer you this very real story of one of those tragedies. A story of a young father who's left his children much too early.
Caleb Wilde is a funeral director/ blogger and recently posted this to his blog "Confessions of a Funeral Director".

I picked up the phone with my rehearsed, “Hello.  This is the Wilde Funeral Home.  Caleb speaking.”  The voice on the other end says abruptly, “I have a problem … my son-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident yesterday.”
Now that I know the nature of her call, the next five or six sentences are as rehearsed as the first.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you” she says.
I pause … waiting to see if the silence elicits any farther response; and, at the same time I’m contemplating if I should deviate from the script and ask her about details of the death.
Keeping with the script, I continue on, inquiring about the hospital he’s at, the name of her daughter, her daughter’s phone number and then the hardest question of them all:
“Do you know if you want embalming or cremation?” I say with hesitation.
And what proceeded was her only scripted response.
“It depends on the condition of his body.  The coroner told us he slammed into a tree without his helmet on, but they wouldn’t tell us anymore.  If he’s bad … cremation.  If he’s okay … embalming.”
We went over the plan of action, which consists of me calling the hospital to see if her son-in-law’s released, calling the coroner to inquire about the condition of the body and then calling her back to let her know a time she could come in to the funeral home and make arrangements.
I called the coroner’s office.
Got the release from the hospital.
And an hour later I was standing in the morgue unzipping the body bag to see if the body of this 40 year old man was viewable.  It was the back of the head that hit the tree … something we could fix for his wife and four young children (ages 5 to 13), so they could see their husband and daddy one last time.
15 hours of restoration.  He still didn’t look right.  Dead people never look right.  We’re so used to seeing them alive that dead is never accurate … but this was different.  This was a motorcycle accident that threw a man into a tree.
We gave the wife the choice to continue on with the public viewing or close the lid and she chose to keep it open, sharing the reality and source of her pain in all its distortion … sharing it even with her four young children and all their schoolmates that came out in support, many of whom saw unperfected death for the very first time.
The scheduled end of the viewing came and went but people kept coming to view.
Finally the last person filed past the casket and the family knew the time to say their last good-bye had approached.
The viewing was held in a church, with the casket positioned at the front of a totally full sanctuary.  As a way to provide privacy to the family, we turned the open casket around so that the lid blocked the view from the pews … creating a private space where tears could be shed in all their honest shock.
And the sanctuary echoed with the cries of four weeping children and their mother … making time stand silent.
The grandfather came up to the casket, wrapped his arms around the children and said, “This is hard for you to understand.”  The tear soaked porcelain skin cheeks.  The last look of their father’s physical body save the memories their young minds have stored.
In those moments as the sanctuary resounded with the cries produced by an inexplicable death, there wasn’t a person in the room who understood.
Yet all tried to understand.  All grasped for an explanation.
In these moments — as we watched these young children — we all became like them.  With all the well intended cliches emptied of meaning, we allowed our minds to reconcile with what our hearts were telling us: we simply can’t understand something that doesn’t make sense.

We can't explain every death. 
But what I can offer you is that every life has a purpose.
We may not know right away why someone had to die,
But I trust that there is a master plan and we must go on.
Go on with a purpose and an appreciation for the lives that have touched our own.
Each day, we interact with others.
Each day we have the opportunity to help someone in need.
You just never know, who in the crowd,
standing beside you in line
or passing you in the street,
might be raised in spirit, 
or even lifted from despair,
by the kindness in your glance 
or the comfort of your smile.

But they may never forget.

And that, is how we do it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Night at the Rathskeller

Eighty years ago, a tiny little bar opened in Detroit Michigan. At the corner of Dakota Street and John R Road. Eighty years ago, it was a thriving neighborhood. Some rather large homes and apartment buildings surrounded the German Beer Garten themed Dakota Inn Rathskeller. Today, the feisty bar still, is packed every weekend. Which is more than can be said for the neighborhood.

Some friends had made reservations for a large group to invade the tiny restaurant for Saturday night.
Saturday morning, they had a few cancellations and asked if we wanted to join them. It's difficult for us to plan ahead and join these events so when we had nothing on the schedule, we joyfully accepted the invitation. It sounded like something that Edward would absolutely love and I'm always up for a new experience. So I transferred the coordinates to the cars' navigation system and we headed out. As we exited the freeway, we knew we were not in the best of neighborhoods. There was abandoned burned out houses to the right and left. Boarded up businesses lining the streets. The navigator informed me to turn and I was reluctant but obeyed. My fancy car was certainly out of place here and I began to worry. I had mixed feelings as we approached our destination. We spied the parking lot with a guard shack and a razor wire fence around it and were directed to the back of the lot to park our car. I felt uneasy that we were in a place that needed such security but at ease that it existed. Then even as we approached the front door to enter, I was wondering just what were we getting ourselves into. As we stepped through the door, we were transported out of run down Detroit to a small village in Germany. We squeezed ourselves into the table where our friends were already gathered and shouted over the other patrons to be heard. A man in lederhosen played song after song on the eighty year old Grinnel piano.

The schnitzel was amazing and the entertainment never stopped. Several times we all sang happy birthday to some patrons and the sing-a-long  was hilarious with a busty lady pointing out words on the wall for us to sing as the piano played.

After the sing-a-long we all stood up and sang God Bless America and Oh Canada - Because that's how we roll in a border town.

The beer was flowing, the wine was chilled. Good friends were having a great time.

This is taken from their website and I think it really captures what this third generation place is trying to maintain in the midst of devastation...
On April 2, 1935 Karl Kurz organized a group of regular customers and called them the Just Right Club. The purpose of the Just Right Club is to bring together regular male Dakota Inn Rathskeller patrons in a social atmosphere of friendship and Gemutlichkeit. The German word “Gemutlichkeit” means to “enjoy fully ones friends in a pleasant atmosphere.”

All in all, it turned out to be a great night. And who knew in such a bad neighborhood, there would be a nice eighty year old pub, having such great parties, every weekend. Perhaps there is hope for Detroit afterall.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Children at a Funeral

Explaining death to children can be a difficult situation. More often than not, parents and other adults get it wrong. The children end up even more confused than before.
I've witnessed nuns ushering children through the church and back to class while we were setting up a funeral. All the while saying things like; " It's part of life" or "We all die". Many times I'll see parents trying to quiet or calm children for a service. The child barely realizes where they are or why they are there. Parents will force children to sit quietly for a few hours before the service and expect them to continue their boredom throughout the service. Rarely, does any of this work and certainly doesn't explain to the children anything about death. Often I think they only bring the children because there is no one to babysit in such a situation.

I've even seen one child get upset in the middle of a service because she wasn't sitting where they always sit in church.

Recently, I found myself at an evening funeral at a tiny country church. When they remodeled the church a few years ago, they put in a single door at the entrance. With a step at the threshold, and five more steps three feet from the door, we had to carry the casket at the ends to fit through the door and then directly up the steps. On the way out we squeezed two pallbearers at each end and proceeded down the steps. As the preacher opened the door and we stumbled over the icy doorway, I was expecting to see my beautiful hearse with the door open and all the bright LED lighting illuminating the rear compartment. But what did we see instead? Two children! Climbing into the back of the hearse! The other men and myself were in need of setting the casket down and all we could do was yell at the kids to get out of the way.

My parents sheltered me from death. Even when my Grandfather died, we did not attend the funeral (for multiple reasons). We simply stopped going to his house. It wasn't until last year that I finally made it to the cemetery where he is buried although his death was over 30 years ago. And none of my siblings have ever been there either. We never said goodbye to anyone, we just never got to see them again.

I've recently run across this Sesame Street example that does an outstanding job of getting the point across to a child (or Big Bird) as to exactly what is going on. In it, the storekeep, Mr. Hooper has died. The writers decided to have the character die as well. >>This is how they handled it.....<<

Death is never easy and there isn't always a good reason.
But I feel that we need to educate our children better.
We don't need distraction toys in the lounge, we need to teach respect and honor.

How did you learn about death?
Did your parents shelter you?
Or were you faced with it head-on with no explanation?
What was your first experience like?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cell Phone Karma

As we begin any procession to the cemetery,
we walk the length of the funeral line and remind everyone to turn on their headlights.
This gives the procession a higher visibility and
aids in ensuring that we all get to the cemetery together
and safely. It is surprising to me
how many people don't know how to turn on their lights.
It seems that the more advanced our cars get, the more stupid we become.
We are doing our best to get everyone there safely and people look at us
like we're purple.

At the beginning of each service, there is always and announcement.
It may be the priest.
Or it may be the funeral director.
"Please turn off or silence your cell phones."
It is a simple request that shouldn't take more than a second or two
when everyone else is doing the same thing.
Inevitably, at some quiet point in the service, there will be a 
phone start ringing. It's usually an awkward tune as a ring tone.
Such as: Stayin' Alive.
Often the person is older and fumbles frantically to ignore the call.
A false sense of calm comes over them for a moment. Then the phone either chimes 
that they have received a message or worse yet,
starts to ring again and they answer it, telling the person at the other end of the line
that they are at a funeral.
At this point, they either get up and walk in front of everyone to the hall.
Or they ask for help to shut it off.
Then you will hear the "turning off chime". 

Is technology that difficult to understand?
Have we made things worse, by making things better?

Here's a little Funeral Cell Phone Karma for your enjoyment...

Sunday, November 3, 2013


It's a beautiful autumn day here in Southeast Michigan. 
We've been working hard the last few weeks.
So, we thought we'd take things easy today
and do stuff close to home.
We are fortunate enough to live in a very diverse and wonderful area.
Just a quick drive up the road is a very popular fall destination
for much of the Detroit area.

Blake's Orchard is a great place to take the kids.
They have a petting farm, haunted house,
and hay rides. You can pick your own apples or
choose a variety of goodies from their store.

Jams, canned fruits, salsas, baking mixes, candles and more. 

Of course there are fresh apples of every kind.

They make their own cider right there where you can watch.

So many flavors to choose from.

After making our selections, we got ourselves a cup of hot cider
and sat down outside to enjoy the fresh air.

We noticed that they've added a new winery and had to check it out.

After sampling a few glasses at the bar, we made our selections to bring home.
A Sweet Hard Cider,
Autumn Cranberry Wine
and Blueberry Fields Wine
will be served at our impromptu gatherings this fall
as well as some fresh, hot cider.

Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped by
Achatz (rhymes with jackets) Pies 
and picked up a Dutch Apple Pie
for our friends and neighbors who just got married this weekend.

This is a local company that also ships pies across the country
(and even to Nova Scotia, for a price)
that was voted by Good Morning America
as having the "Best Slice" of pie in America.
These are all natural, locally grown ingredients,
hand made every day, pies.

Nothing is too good for our friends.
We are very fortunate to have such good friends in our life.

Gratefulness is the key that we hold in our hands to a happy life.
Because if we are not grateful,
then no matter how much we have,
we will not be happy.

I know Jerome and Jenny will be happy
because they are truly grateful for the love they have found.

And I am grateful to live in such an area of abundance
and beauty with good friends to share it with.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Manistee Light

Before we head home,
my little car begged for one more stop.

Manistee is just down the coast from Bear Lake and
The Sleeping Bear Dunes.

I couldn't go home without stopping to photograph this lighthouse.

A pending storm off the coast only added to the drama of the pictures.

I tried to get it from all angles.

It took a lot of hiking in the sand
with wind and waves breathing down our necks.

Had to fight off the natives a bit.

Eventually, they let me get my shot.

That's when I knew I had to get closer.

More walking.

The light marks the entrance to the harbor and helps the ships 
navigate Lake Michigan.

Isn't he so cute!

The elevated walkway is necessary in the winter for access to the light,

As the cold winter winds blow the waters of Lake Michigan, 
the whole peer will be covered in ice.
But today was actually quite nice.

It was worth the walk.

This beach does have some rules.
And this gull was here to make sure we obeyed.

This concludes our little weekend get-a-way.
I'm glad I could share it with you all.

I don't put these photos on here to show off.
Instead, it is to show you that beauty exist all around us.
And, it's all here, just for you.
Your mere presence has always been enough
for the birds to sing, the waves to roll and the sun to shine.
So why do you ever feel like you should be more?

The things you see and experience in your life,
are all yours. No one else will ever see life through your eyes.
So enjoy what you've been given.
I can't do it for you.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Photo Essay

This is The Brighter Side of the Grave.

It is not Ocean Breezes.

This is not an ocean at all.

You are enjoying Lake Michigan.

I've enjoyed sharing this day trip with you.

The weather could not have been better.

The scenery could not have been better.

And the company could not have been better.

My nerves have been reset.

I am ready for whatever life can through at me.

The "Good Old Days" are not something of the past.

They are right now.

Take the time to look around and enjoy.

To see what one has been missing, is the whole point to every life.

Seeing more, is how to love more.

It's not that you want stuff that you don't have,

But that you want stuff that you think you don't have.

The best way to change this, is to begin thinking that you have it.

You have already been given the Sun, 

you've been given the moon, and the stars.

The best things in life are free.

Our nation's first people would say that when you find a feather,
someone from heaven is sending you a message.

Have you been paying attention?