Beautiful Ride

The somewhat self-indulgent rantings about the beautiful ride that is my life!

Independence Day July 5, 2013

Filed under: beautiful ride,Cowgirl,Faith,Family,Friendship,Holidays — beautifulride @ 11:18 am

fireworksYesterday was a holiday, and I did, for the most part, take an actual day off. After getting my youngest son up and around and off to a dance convention and workshop…at 5:30 a.m., no less…I settled myself back down on the sofa with a steaming cup of coffee in my hands, the early news on the television, and the promise of a peaceful morning on my mind. Just as a thought I might close my eyes and steal a few more moments of sleep before the rest of the house came to life, I remembered exactly what day it was. It was the Fourth of July. America’s birthday. Independence Day.

My mind immediately wandered back to precious memories of past July 4th celebrations. When I was very young, we would start the day by walking up to the fireworks table at the corner gas station just a few blocks from home. My brother and two sisters and I would  have about $5.00 each and we could spend it on whatever combination of cap guns and snake bombs and sparklers we wanted. We’d go home and play with our Independence Day treasures; and Dad would set off this little table top cannon that he had, to the delight of all the neighborhood kids! The we would head over to my Grandma and Grandpa Hessert’s house for a picnic where there was always potato salad, cake and homemade ice cream! After dinner, my Mom would take our hands and a blanket, and my Dad would grab some lawn chairs, and we would start the 10-minute walk to the Market Street Bridge, where we would find the perfect spot to watch the fireworks over the Susquehanna River. Except for one of my younger sisters. She would always say she didn’t like the smell of the fireworks, but we always knew she was afraid of the loud noise. And every year, my Grandpa would say he really didn’t like the smell either, and was kind of tired, so maybe she could keep him company on the front porch so he wouldn’t have to be alone. The older I get, the sweeter that gesture seems to me.

As we got a little older, we would travel to Harrisburg to spend the 4th with my Nanny Moore, and my Aunt, Uncle and cousins. Red, white and blue sundresses, burgers and dogs, punk sticks, popsicles and sparklers. And if the weather was good, we would pile in the station wagon and drive downtown to sit along the banks of the river once again, and watch the capital city’s fireworks extravaganza.

Before I knew it, I was grabbing the hands of my own children and watching the party in the sky through their big-wide eyes. In the days before the kids outnumbered the parents, we would spend the day at Point State Park in Pittsburgh, still the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen, right there where the three rivers meet. As the kid count grew, we opted for less crowded venues–the 2nd floor deck of our neighbors gave a great view of the fireworks at Kennywood Park, or perhaps the parking lot of a local strip mall where sleeping babies could stay in carseats while older siblings could sit on the hood of the car. And sometimes we’d travel to Longs Park in Lancaster, where Grammy and Aunts and Uncles could all pitch in to help wrangle our kids and their cousins.

And then I started thinking about our time here in Maplewood, NJ. By a stroke of luck, we managed to buy a home across the street from Town Hall and Memorial Park, where all the Fourth of July festivities happen. The first few years, we would walk over to the park for the circus and camel rides, ice cream and music. Now, they are older and the days are full of the things teenage boys do ~ but at the end of the day, they still come across the street with us, sit on the blanket and look up at the celebration in the night sky. As we sat there last night, with the fireworks exploding in the patch of sky between a beautiful tree and the American flag waving in the breeze from the top of the flagpole on the lawn, it struck me. Not only was this day an Independence Day celebration for our country, but it was an Independence Day celebration for me. You see, on July 3rd, I said farewell to a full-time job that I have held for the last 7 years. With tears in my eyes for all that I had learned, and for all that I had grown, and for all of the wonderful people that had become so much more than just coworkers to me, I turned in my key and I stepped out the door. And in that moment, I not only stepped away from the security and the dependence of that job, but all the jobs that I’ve held in the past. And even though I’ve been working at my own business for the last three years, it has been secondary. I have nurtured it and tended to it and poured my heart and soul into into it, but from the sidelines…on my own time, I had an obligation to the company I was representing, and a responsibility to give them my full attention and my best work. And I believe that I did just that. But more and more, my heart was screaming out to reach higher, dream bigger, and embrace my own dream. So on July 4th, 2013, I celebrated my first Independence Day ~ my first day of being a full-time, self-employed, small business owner ~ in a land where dreams like mine can still come true, I don’t know what’s in store for me or my Cowgirl in the Sand boutique, and I know that I can’t take this opportunity lightly. With the freedom to start my own business, there is also a responsibility to make the very most of the chance I’ve been given.

And to my friends who have supported me and to my family that believes in me, I want to say thank you. Your faith in me gives me the courage to embrace my dreams and reach for the stars. And I hope you will stick around for awhile, because I think this whole adventure is going to be a beautiful, beautiful ride!


Remembering 9.11 September 11, 2011

Filed under: beautiful ride,Faith,Family,Service — beautifulride @ 9:30 am
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It was a day just like any other day. My husband left for work. My second grader and my 5th grader got on the bus and went to school. My 5 year-old and my 21 month-old sat playing on the floor of the family room, as they did every morning, waiting for me to finish listening to the morning news before we changed the background sound to Nick Jr. and Blue’s Clues. As I stood by my table, folding my laundry, the image on the television caught my eye and the tone of the reporter made me stop. It was 8:46 am on the most beautiful September morning. The skies were clear and they were blue. Perhaps it was an accident, a terrible, horrible accident. And then it happened again. At 9:03 am. It wasn’t an accident.

We had just moved to Delaware, OH the previous May. Our children had just started in a new school in a new town. We were settling into our new home and our new routine. It was just an ordinary day. And now it wasn’t.

I immediately called my husband at work, with an overwhelming relief that he wasn’t travelling that day. He travels so much for work and often leaves on Tuesdays. It was Tuesday. I told him what was being reported on the news. He said he would be home soon, and to go get the children at school. I did. By now another plane had flown into the Pentagon…and another had gone down in Shanksville, PA…close to Pittsburgh, the home we had just left.

I brought my children home, but wondered what to tell them, how much to tell them. When the second plane struck the tower, my 5 year-old son was watching. What do you say when big brown eyes look into yours and ask “Mommy, did all of the people on that plane die?” Our oldest was almost 11. He would want to know why I picked him up from school on what he still believed was just an ordinary day. I didn’t have any answers, I can’t even remember what I told him. All I remember is that I wanted them, all of them, in my house and in my arms.

As the day wore on, I remember having them play up in their rooms and setting up videos for them in our bedroom. I didn’t want them watching the news, I didn’t want to watch it myself. But I couldn’t turn it off, couldn’t turn away. The terror of the strikes, the terror of the collapsing buildings, the terror in the eyes of those wandering the streets looking for their loved ones. The terror.

Since we moved to New Jersey, just outside of New York City, I feel the anniversaries of 9.11 in a different way. My children know people who lost someone on that day. I know people who lost someone on that day. We know that the feelings and emotions of that day are never far from the surface for those who called this place home a decade ago.

I will never proclaim that I have felt that loss and that terror in the same way that those directly impacted by 9.11 have felt it. I did not lose a husband, a father, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, or a friend. I did not drive my loved one to the airport early in the morning, only to later realize that he wasn’t coming home. I didn’t search for days, weeks, months…holding out hope that I would get a phone call or open my front door and find that my love had somehow survived. I don’t have to hear a name read and a bell toll year after year in remembrance of a victim.

What I hope is that those who live with their loss each and every day, not just on these anniversaries, will also feel the collective embrace of a country that mourns with them, aches with them, cries with them, and moves forward with them. I hope they know we will never forget.


If I Had a Hammer August 13, 2011

On a warm July morning, just a few weeks ago, my husband, my son, and 16 other volunteers loaded up a few trucks and vans with tools and toolbelts, divided up some road snacks baked and bought by friends and family, received a few last-minute medical instructions, reviewed their maps, and joined hands for prayers and blessings for a safe trip and a safe return. As I waved goodbye to Rick and Max and the others, lyrics to a folk song kept playing in my mind, over and over….

“If I had a hammer…I’d  hammer in the morning…I’d hammer in the evening…all over this land.

I’d hammer out danger…I’d hammer out a warning…I’d hammer out the love between my brothers and my sisters….all over this land!”

Why this song? Because that, in sense, was the mission of this group. To hammer out the dangers of an unsafe structure, to hammer out a warning to those who think these conditions don’t exist in our country, and to hammer out the love for our brothers and sisters by bringing them the helping hands they needed in order to live in the warmer, safer, drier conditions that most of us take for granted. This very special group was heading to West Virginia  to do just that!

This was Max and Rick’s second Appalachian Service Project Trip with St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Imagine my pride in knowing that my husband gave up a week’s vacation to work alongside our 17-year-old son in a program that means so very much to him. Imagine my pride in knowing that my son feels compelled to crawl under a stranger’s home during the hottest week of the summer and help steady a foundation. Imagine my pride in each and every one of the volunteers that travelled with them and did their absolute best to make things right, or at least a little more right, for a handful of souls that swallowed their own pride and asked for help. Imagine the pride of a work crew that stopped a home from slipping into the creek, added indoor plumbing to a home where there had been none, or built a ramp for a man confined to a wheelchair because he lost both of his legs to diabetes and the use of his arm due to a stroke–a man who was now able to come outside of his home on his own for the first time in years.


We live in a country where both sides of the political spectrum spend so much time trying to prove they are right and our own citizens are  living with no plumbing, no heating, no way to see the outside world. We spend billions of dollars nation-building in countries that don’t want us and we ignore the problems right under our own noses. I am not trying to be political here–not trying to wag my finger at one side or the other–in fact, I try to keep politics out of my writing, because that’s not what I want my blog to be. But it’s hard to remain quiet and still when you see what these volunteers have seen. Despite your political views, it’s hard to dispute that we live in a country where every day the wealthy are given the gift of opportunities and the poor give up one more dream. We talk about the growing gap, we talk about the growing inequality, we talk and we talk and we talk and we are so exhausted from all that talking that we forget to DO.

Force your eyes open to see the poverty and the inequality; force yourself to see that sometimes it just isn’t possible for another to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps; force yourself to see that we all have a responsibility to DO what is right, not just preach what is right. Offer a hand of help and hope. Do it in the spirit of love for your brothers and your sisters and watch how things can change…all over this land.

*Become a fan of Appalachia Service Project on facebook and see how you can help–there are links on the information page for volunteering, donating and shopping their general store. You can also visit their website for more information at

*Photos from St. Johns Evangelical Lutheran Church’s 2011 ASP Trip courtesy Rick Braden. Group shot at beginning of blog courtesy of Susan Colby

St. Lukes Lutheran Church in Beckley, WV hosted our group on the way down

Orientation at the ASP Center in Brenton, WV

Picking up supplies at the hardware store

Taking a break!

ASP Center in Brenton, WV

Sleeping arrangements at the Center--NOT the Hilton!

The ramp Rick's crew built

Rick giving a thumbs up on a job well done

I am so proud of our son, Max

Dam at the park where they had a final gathering with the families they helped

The hand of God in the beauty of a sunset


A Lifetime in a Look March 16, 2011

Filed under: beautiful ride,Faith,Family,Home — beautifulride @ 11:33 pm
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Just about now, my parents are saying goodnight to each other, just like they have done every night for the last 48 years. Today is their anniversary, and a very special one, as far as I’m concerned. This has been a tough year for them…not that they haven’t survived tough times before, but this one…well, it stopped them in their tracks.

My father suffered a life-threatening illness this year. Diagnosed with liver cancer 8 years after fighting his way through stage 4 esophogeal cancer, Dad made the decision to fight again and go ahead with the surgery to burn off as much of the mass as possible. The surgery happened the day before New Year’s Eve, and all seemed to go well. It looked like we would ring in the New Year with great news, and Dad was on his way to recovery. But 48 hours later, he was back in the ICU, unable to breathe on his own. He had developed aspiration pneumonia.

For what seemed like an eternity, we sat vigil by his bedside. My brother, my sisters, my mother.  We waited. We watched. And while we watched, they taught. In the midst of all of this illness and ugliness, my parents taught me a lesson…a beautiful lesson about love.

It happened every morning, when Mom would wake up in a strange bed in an unfamiliar town and go sit beside him. She never complained, she never dreamed of going home without him, she never let him see her cry–she wanted him to draw strength from her strength. It happened one day, after a very long morning, when she cried out that she wished she could trade places with him. It happened one night, after a very long day when Dad was just awake enough to be agitated, and scared. He was on a respirator, so he could not speak, but he did. He spoke to her, to my Mom, with his eyes and with his touch. They held hands and he looked into her eyes, searching for answers and comfort. And she looked directly back and said “I know what you are asking me, and I know we talked about this, but you are getting better and we aren’t giving up.” And it was enough for him. His eyes said, “I love you and I believe you,” and you could just see him relax and drift off to sleep. It was at that moment that I was reminded that these two people were not just my parents. These were two people that found each other and fell in love with each other long before I came into the picture. These were two people that stood beside each other through good and bad, in sickness and  in health–raising four children, losing their own parents, surviving everyday challenges of finances and jobs, praising God, celebrating  grandchildren. These were two people that had shared a lifetime…and I saw it in one look.

My father has recovered. And after 6 weeks away from home, they both returned…together. Mom promised that she wouldn’t go home until he went home. She kept her word. She stayed in a hotel, in the Hope House, at my sister’s place…but she would not travel the two hours to go home until he was ready to go with her. And he would have done the same.

And today, my parents said “Happy Anniversary” for the 48th time. Maybe they said it with a look, maybe with a touch, but they said it together. One more moment together.  48 years, 576 months, 2496 weeks, 17,520 days…25,228,800 moments. A lifetime. A beautiful, wonderful lifetime.


Merry Christmas to All… and to All a Good Night December 26, 2010

Filed under: beautiful ride,Faith,Family,Holidays,Home — beautifulride @ 12:22 am
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It’s a little after 10 pm on Christmas night, and I’m comfortably settled on my sofa, a glass of wine within reach, a new book on the table next to me, and my family surrounding me…and I feel full of  the spirit of the season. I have had a wonderful Christmas, and as my boys get older, I’m surprised and delighted that the wonder of Christmas, the excitement and the anticipation, has not faded for them. They continue to amaze me with the amount of joy they get from the Season…not just the stuff. Yes, they have lists of “things” that they would love to have…games and movies, musical instruments and electronics,  legos and books… all of the things that boys 11-20 years of age dream of. But what I find so charming and endearing is that even though they have lists of things they would love to HAVE, they also hold another list close to their hearts, a list that seems more important to them.  This is a  list of things they want to do…with us…to celebrate Christmas. From “Christmas Vacation” on Thanksgiving night through New Year’s Eve  celebrations, they talk about, plan for, and execute family time in a way that many their age would not. They watch a Christmas movie every night in December. They plan our day in New York City, where we visit the “Big Tree,” Macy’s windows, and St. Patrick’s. They shop for each other, and for me and Rick, thoughtfully and enthusiastically. They plan the grocery list of the Christmas Eve “finger food feast.” They seem to want to be with us, and with each other, and over the last two days, the conversations I’ve been lucky enough to overhear have been about how much they love the feeling of Christmas, and the way we celebrate it together.

It starts on Christmas Eve morning, when I get busy in the kitchen, preparing the Christmas morning casseroles, the blueberry coffee cake, and the appetizers for later in the day. They offer to help, sneak a taste, play games with each other, watch movies and listen to music. They never ask to go hang with friends, or tell us we’re boring, or retreat to their rooms. They want to go to church, because they love the service, and because it makes it feel like Christmas–the songs, the message, the beautifully decorated sanctuary. They come home, track Santa on Norad, grab some eggnog and some food, and wait for “A Christmas Story” 24-hour marathon to start. And while we watch the adventures of Ralphie and Randy, they chatter about how much they love Christmas, mostly Christmas Eve…because once Christmas Day arrives, they feel a little blue that it’s almost done. They talk about how they won’t sleep, how early they may get up, who’s turn it is to be Santa, and how we shouldn’t rush through the gifts. They talk about how much they love our Christmas Eve and our Christmas Day…stress-free and calm, and even predictable, family time.

This Christmas has been a quiet, beautiful end to what has been a crazy, sometimes diffiicult year. I’m blessed with a loving and generous husband, and loving and generous sons. I know that they are getting older, and that in a blink of an eye they will be celebrating Christmas with their own families. I wish for them Christmas after Christmas full of love, tradition and contentment. I wish for them Christmas after Christmas laced with memories of the times we’ve shared. I wish for them Christmas after Christmas filled with child-like wonder, excitement and anticipation. And I wish for them Christmas after Christmas filled with peace and joy and family. That’s what they have given me, and that’s the best gift ever.


Gathering the Sheep November 21, 2010

Filed under: beautiful ride,Faith,Family — beautifulride @ 11:40 pm
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 Today, the words you read are not my own, but rather the words of my 16-year-old son, Max. I first heard these words this morning, as I sat in the congregation of St. John’s Lutheran Church, during the Youth Sunday service. Today, the youth presided over all aspects of the worship service. And they did an amazing job. We are blessed to have a great group of active young people, and I was proud to witness their service and commitment to their faith. I was even more proud that two of my own children were participants in the service this morning. Aaron, my 14-year-old, sang a solo during the anthem and the psalm. His voice is his gift, and it was beautiful to hear him share it. And Max offered his gift of faith, rock solid even at this young age, through his words, which he shared during his sermon, and through the confidence that he had as he led the worship service.  He has graciously given me permission to post his sermon here … from his lips to God’s ears.

” The other day I was talking to a few of my friends about religion, and one of them was trying to convince me that there was no God. He argued that if God really existed, he would smite the non-believer right then and there. I informed him that God has better things to do. This is the same argument I use against many of the so-called “sins” that people are persecuted for today. In a world full of murder, theft, and rape, I find it hard to believe that our one and only God can find the time to judge people on the grounds that their lifestyle is a little bit different from yours or mine.

When I was asked to preach the homily today, I really didn’t know what to expect. I wrote it pretty last-minute, and I hadn’t even read the passages assigned to me before yesterday morning. But when I did finally get around to reading them, I suppose the passage that stuck out to me the most was in Jeremiah. God promised “woe to the shepherd who is destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”  The modern atrocities of the world instantly came to mind. Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan…images of each began to flood my mind.

God promised to reunite his scattered sheep. And yet, this reuniting is nowhere near complete. The refugee torn away from his homeland is still missing. The children whose parents have been killed by disease or murder…still scattered. Thousands of years ago, God promised to reunite his people; and yet, we remain divided… families torn apart. And all too often, they are torn apart by the evil of man.

When people ask me why I believe in God, I describe to them a short moment during a rather difficult part of my life, in which I felt a sudden peace, and I knew that everything would be okay. But for some of God’s people there is no peace, and there never will be the feeling that everything is okay.

Jesus was persecuted for being the Messiah, a victimless crime. In fact, his crime was doing nothing but helping the poor and weak. Yet man chose to murder Jesus. For nothing more than healing, they chose to murder him. And yet, as he stood dying, he begged God for these people’s forgiveness. No one but a truly strong man could ever beg for the forgiveness of his murderers; no one but the truly innocent could desire such a generous reward for the men who killed him.

And yet, even now there are people persecuted for victimless crimes: the prostitute just trying to make a living, the homosexual murdered for the crime of falling in love. Some of these persecutors make the argument that they do this by God’s will. Have they learned nothing from Jesus’ teachings? The true criminal who stood next to Jesus as he died was ensured, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” What right does man have to choose who enters God’s kingdom and who does not when even the criminal is ensured a place in paradise, when even the Lord’s own executioner deserves forgiveness?

Too many people have given me the argument against God, that if God really existed, He would smite the non-believer right then and there. Don’t you think God has other things to do? Does God really take the time to judge those in love, homosexual or not; or those trying to make a living, prostitute or not, or the atheist? Even the followers of the Islam faith are persecuted for having different beliefs, which is the same crime Jesus was punished for.

God promised to reunite his scattered sheep. It is true that He is stronger than any of us, but sitting around and simply saying “God can handle it” will not help anyone. I speak to you today not as a means of accusation, or even with the intent of causing guilt; but as a cry for help, on behalf of the scattered sheep. I know personally I have not always been the best at standing up and taking action. This is not to say I haven’t tried, but the majority of people are not on our side. Both the persecutor of the innocent and the lazy, who think someone else will handle it, fight against us. Nonetheless, it is time I stop arguing with the truly righteous path,  complaining that if life were a little bit different, I could help people.

If Jesus can forgive the executioner, then there is no excuse not to forgive. We all have moments where we are wronged, and we’ve all wronged in ways that we think we can never let go. We use expressions like “go to  Hell” so nonchalantly these days. I know I personally have said such things on far too many occasions. And if I can learn to let go of such things, and welcome those who have wronged me as family into my life, then I know that the self-appointed vigilante can stop with the abomination he has been performing with his persecutions and welcome his innocent victims as family into paradise.

I think that with God’s help we can work to bring together God’s sheep. Even if we have no money or time to spare, there are ways to help: donate an old coat, sign petitions to legalize the victimless crime. Sometimes even a smile and wave to a complete stranger on the street can do wonders for them. Most importantly, always when we look at someone, can we see in their faces that they are just as good, just as wholesome, just as worthy of salvation as we are.

After all, that’s what Jesus the King of Kings teaches us.”