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!


All Is Calm, All Is Bright December 26, 2011

Filed under: beautiful ride,Family,Holidays,Home — beautifulride @ 12:49 pm
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All is calm, all is bright.

It is the morning after Christmas, and these words couldn’t be more true. As I started my day early this morning, my home was blanketed in the beautiful silence and stillness of the morning that I have grown to love. My family was sound asleep, hopefully still dreaming of sugarplums and Christmas memories. The light of the sun was just beginning to glow, slowly bringing to life another day. The traffic was slow and quiet, as it is on a holiday…no commuters rushing to the train…no school children headed to classes. I started a little laundry, picked up a few dishes that mysteriously appeared after I drifted off last night, took care of my mama chores. I stepped out into the chilly morning to bring in the milk and yogurt and bread dropped off by the milkman, impressed that he had already stopped by and a little disappointed that I didn’t get my empty bottle out for him. And then I poured a fresh, warm cup of coffee and sat in the living room, with the tree lights twinkling in the corner and the remnants of yesterday tucked into tidy little piles of boxes and surprises on the floor.

The piles are a bit smaller than years past…and that’s ok. In fact, it’s more than ok. Perhaps it’s because the boys are getting older, and gone are the days of large, brightly colored plastic playthings. Those were great days, and magical mornings, but now they are older and their gifts of choice come in much smaller packages. Perhaps though, it’s because they had much smaller lists this year…more modest, more thoughtful, more practical. Maybe it was all the talk of the economy and it’s downturn this past year. Or maybe it’s that with every passing year, they look more and more toward our family traditions of Christmas and less and less at what’s under the tree. Don’t misunderstand…the surprises under the tree, in their beautiful wrapping and fancy bows, are still a huge part of the anticipation of Christmas morning; but, I’m finding that they are becoming more appreciative of the gifts that we give that speak to who they are…less so with the idea of stuff for the sake of getting stuff.

They would probably say, just about now, that Mom is sappy…just being Mom…and that none of this is true. That they would want to find iPads and laptops and flat screens and whatever is the latest and greatest under the tree attached to a gift tag with their name on it. But from what I saw yesterday, and from the thank you hugs and conversations about what an awesome Christmas it was and what cool stuff they got, I would say that they are more grateful and more grounded than they would want anyone to believe.

It has been a roller coaster ride of a year for our family, both good and bad. We’ve watched those we love struggle with illness and tough times. We’ve felt the beginnings of a shift in our own lives, as one son moved to the other side of a neighboring state, and another got a letter of acceptance that will soon take him north. We’ve been blessed with work, but it has kept us very, very busy…and apart…as Rick travels a great deal for business. We’ve seen my little business grow, but not without the growing pains and time commitment that come along with that. We’ve seen our other sons work hard and find success in the activities that make them so happy, and their willingness and devotion to doing what they do. We’ve experienced an earthquake (slight), a hurricane and an autumn snowstorm that left us with damages we didn’t expect. We have cried and we have worried and we have prayed…and we have lived and we have laughed and we have loved.

One of my favorite images of this holiday season happened this past Friday, as we took our annual train ride into the City to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, the windows at Macy’s, and the crèche at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We were walking down the street, and I was in the back of our little crowd. And I watched them together, brother to brother and father to sons. They were laughing and talking and enjoying their time together. My heart was so full I thought it would burst.

A little later, the very next night, we attended Christmas Eve services together. We sang the words to “Silent Night.” That hymn, sung at that time, in that setting has always made me well up just a little. I become flooded with memories of Christmases past…my grandparents, my parents, my husband and our children as babies…those that are with us still and those that have moved on. And I was reminded that things change. That time does not stand still. But for that one moment, as I looked to my right and saw them all standing there together, singing together and creating a memory that they may share together in a Christmas yet to come, I felt truly happy and truly blessed. And all was calm…and all was bright.


Out with the Old…In with the New January 2, 2011

Filed under: beautiful ride,Family,Holidays,Home — beautifulride @ 12:00 am
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I’m the first to admit that I get a little blue when the holiday season comes to a close. As I anticipate taking down the decorations and the trees, carefully wrapping the nostalgia-laced baubles in memory-protecting bubble wrap and tissue paper, I find myself running into the ghosts of Christmas past again and again. The white lights, the scent of pine needles, the beautifully packaged presents…the familiar traditions and routines that we revisit year after year, bridging the gap between our past and our present,  keep us looking over our shoulder back to days gone by. Memories of Christmas act as markers of time…first Christmas together, first Christmas as parents, first Christmas that a loved one didn’t sit beside you at the dinner table. It’s nearly impossible to not be sentimental as you stroll down a  memory lane decked out with wreaths, poinsettas, and the sounds of  familiar carols everywhere you turn.

And then, in a flash, Christmas week comes to a close with a celebration not of the past, but of the future.  A chance to hit the reset button and start fresh…with a clean slate and infinite possibilities for the year ahead. We have parties, raise a glass, and count down to the very moment when we can step over the line from the old to the new. We bang pots, blow noisemakers and loudly tell the New Year that we are on-board with the promise of a brand new day. And we make resolutions…to be better and to do better. I love resolutions. Sure, we resolve to do the same thing every year…drop a few pounds, organize the clutter, and so on and so on.  And sure, most of us fall off the wagon at some point every year…some almost as soon as we climb on, some after a really valiant effort. But every year, without fail, we try it again. That’s the beauty of the New Year.  It’s as if all that noise and all that revelry wake us from our Christmas coma…all of the sudden, the decorations look a little tired, and the house looks a little overdone. We clean it up, streamline our look, and lighten our load. We replace the heavy holiday treats with lighter fare. We find a spot for the new items we’ve acquired from generous gift-givers. And we make lists of ways we can shake off the mistakes of the last year by shining a light on the areas that need improvement in the new year. On the first day of the first month of every year, we make a list of ways that we can positively move forward in our lives. That’s a reason to celebrate.

Today is 1.1.11…a new year, a new decade, a new chance. In 2011, I wish for smiles to warm you, family and friends to love you, laughter to lift you, hands to help you, and  peace, health, and joy to sustain you.

Happy New Year!


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.


O Christmas Trees, O Christmas Trees…. December 14, 2010

Filed under: beautiful ride,Family,Holidays,Home — beautifulride @ 7:11 am
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We are definitely a Christmas family. We have countless traditions that we observe, year after year; traditions from our childhoods that we’ve passed along to our children, and new traditions that we’ve created with them. Christmas is in the back of our collective heads all year long. With my extended family, we draw names from a hat on Christmas night, so that we have a whole year to find that one special something. I’m also known for picking up little gifts here and there throughout the year…sometimes I see something in March that is perfect, so I buy it and stash it. Then there is the ritualistic “search” for goodies under the bed in early November, just to take stock of what I’ve already purchased. And we’ve amassed such a collection of Christmas music that the iPod goes on the holiday mix on November 1st–otherwise, we would never hear it all!

The final countdown begins, however, on Thanksgiving night. After the dishes are done and after the pie has been sliced, the 6 of us (and anyone else who happens to be visiting!) gather around the TV for the annual airing of the holiday classic “Christmas Vacation!” We’ve decided there is no better way to get in that holly jolly spirit then spending the evening with Clark and Cousin Eddy–the wise cracking, dysfunctional Griswold clan may cut a bit close to home for SOME families, but the ultimate reminder of the film is crazy or not crazy, family is family; and what better time to embrace the crazies than the Christmas season!

Speaking of music and crazy family interactions….another favorite tradition has been a friendly competition between us and my brother and his wife–been going on for at least 20 years now. Every year, we scour the musical universe to find what we believe may be the most silly, most goofy, most painful holiday cd out there. You can’t even imagine how many bad songs, or bad renditions of good songs, exist. Sometimes we pick something that we think will be bad, but it turns out to be great; but more often than not, it’s just terrible! And in all the years we’ve been exchanging, we’ve only duplicated once–“A Toolbox Christmas” (yes, Christmas tunes played on common household tools) Sound good? I’ll play it for you sometime!

One of my favorite traditions centers around the centerpiece of Yuletide decorations–the tree. Or in our case…the trees! When I was a little girl, we would go to a tree farm in November and walk around until we found the perfect evergreen. Then we would tag it. A few weeks later, Dad would go back to the farm and get the freshly cut tree and bring it home, sit it in a bucket full of coal, and let it “rest” for a few days. Then he would string the lights…the old-fashioned, bright-colored lights that you would screw into the sockets. And that was it. In our house, Santa would decorate the rest of the tree on Christmas Eve, after we were asleep, and we would wake up to the shiny and familiar ornaments dangling from the evergreen boughs. And every year, we would get a new ornament. My mom would tell us that a new ornament every year meant that when we grew up and left home, we would have enough ornaments to decorate our own trees, and they would be meaningful treasures full of memories of Christmas’ past…and she was correct. Not long before our first Christmas in our first apartment, my Mom pulled out a little box of treasures…my ornaments from my childhood. And a new ornament…a “Your First Christmas Together” ornament…for OUR tree. In fact, the first Christmas gift I bought for Rick was an ornament…a silly “Mistletoad”…which still hangs in a place of honor on our main tree. 

We have three trees now. A small one in our family room that I call our Homemade Tree. It holds the most precious reminders of days gone by–all of the ornaments the boys have made in Sunday School, preschool, and elementary school. Handprints and macaroni angels and a nativity in a popsicle stick barn. We have a skinny, potted tree in the dining room with ornaments that would no longer fit on our big tree, which stands next to the living room fireplace. We decorate the tree together…the boys put their ornaments on first, and then Rick and I weave ours among theirs. Our guys have received one new ornament in their Christmas stocking every year, plus countless others from friends and family. They are chosen carefully, and marked with an initial and a date. I hope that someday,  when they hang them on their own tree, in a distant Christmas yet to come, that they will be sweet reminders of the traditions of our Christmas’ past.


Grandma Hessert’s Blueberry Cake July 23, 2010

Filed under: beautiful ride,Family,Holidays — beautifulride @ 6:58 am
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Earlier this week, I delivered a foil-wrapped baked good to the desk of a friend and co-worker, who’s husband had been hospitalized recently. Soon enough, someone walked by and tried to peek inside, enticed by the sweet, fruity smell. At that moment, I happened to walk down the hallway, just in time to hear her being told, “that’s Grandma Hessert’s blueberry cake!”  I can’t tell you how that tickled me–that was my Grandma Hessert’s Blueberry Cake–and it was being recognized as if it was as famous as Mrs. Field’s Chocolate Chip Cookies!

My Grandma Hessert’s Blueberry Cake is a funny, delicious thing.  It has been a Christmas morning tradition for as long as I can remember…my own kids believe that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without blueberry coffee cake. It is the baked good of  choice when friends and family are recovering from illness, welcoming new babies, celebrating an accomplishment, or grieving for a loved one. I make it for Sunday morning gatherings and deliver at least a dozen as Christmas gifts, making Grandma Hessert’s blueberry cake someone else’s Christmas morning tradition…one home at a time.

The funny thing is…my Grandma Hessert didn’t really like to cook…or bake…and she really wasn’t very good at it! I was talking to my Dad recently about his Mom…and her cooking.  Mostly, I would say, “…but didn’t you like it when she made (insert German/Pennsylvania Dutch “specialty” here…spaetzle, scrapple, springerles) and his response was the same over and over…”nope, that came from over on the Hill.”  The “Hill” was a certain area of South Williamsport, PA, on a hill, where many German immigrants settled, including my Grandpa Hessert’s family. My Grandparents lived close to the Hill, but not quite on it. Basically, if Dad wanted traditional dishes, he would wait until he visited an Aunt or Uncle, or wait for one of them to visit him. My Pop-Pop (Henry), a house painter, would make most of the meals during the week, although Dad said that Grandma Hessert made a mean Sunday dinner…that, and peanut brittle and creamed hamburger, were her specialties. And her biggest cooking secret?  Sugar. At least a teaspoon of it in EVERYTHING, whether or not it was indicated in the recipe!

My Grandma Hessert (Esther) was a wonderful woman. She was pretty, with a smile that made her eyes light up, but she didn’t put up with any bull. A mother of all boys, born over the course of 10 years (just like me, although she had 3 to my 4), makes me feel connected. She was a short, robust woman, who always wore an apron in the kitchen (though she rarely cooked) and until she was in her late 70, she wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing pants…only dresses…and under those dresses, she was smooth as could be, girdle and stockings every day, like a proper woman. She worked at several local department stores when my father was growing up, selling hats and scarves and jewelry. Oh, the jewelry. She had a whole drawer, neatly organized, in her bedroom dresser, with the best costume jewelry I’ve ever seen. And she loved it when her granddaughters would doll themselves up with her jewels. I spent so much time sitting on her bedroom floor making myself beautiful!

I don’t remember ever having blueberry coffee cake at her house. My Dad doesn’t remember having blueberry coffee cake at her house. Like me, he only remembers my Mom making it. But my Mom gave me the recipe, and she swears that it came from my Grandma Hessert, given to her as a mother to a daughter (they loved each other that much), and my mother passed it along to me. I don’t think my sisters make it, or my sister-in-law either, but my Mom and I use it like a secret weapon. It’s comforting. It makes people smile. It makes people feel loved and special. And I feel connected to my past when I make it, or give it, or sit down with a delicious piece of it myself. Maybe one day I will pass it down to my own daughters-in-law, when my sons find their special someones.

I remember visiting my Grandma Hessert in the hospital, not long before she passed away. I sat by her bedside, knitting a scarf while she drifted in and out of consciousness. She was a knitter, and was happy when I showed her that I had learned to knit while away at college. I remember concentrating on my knit one, purl two, thinking she was asleep, during our last afternoon visit. Suddenly I heard a quiet voice say, “I know you are here, Elise, because I can hear your needles clicking. I know you’re here.” I’ve always remembered those words, it was so comforting to me that she knew I was there. That was the last time I sat with my Grandma. Not long after, while I was away at school, she passed away. When I came home for the funeral, I’m sure we had blueberry cake.


Easter Memories April 4, 2010

Filed under: beautiful ride,Holidays — beautifulride @ 9:11 am
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As I sit here at 7:45 on this gorgeous Easter morning, my mind wanders back to Easters of years ago. When I was very young, my brother and two sisters and I had a routine. We would wake early and head downstairs, after Mom and Dad gave us permission, of course. We always got two baskets full of candy and little gifts that reminded us that spring was here—things like jump ropes and sidewalk chalk to make hopscotch squares for the girls, and baseball cards and other sports related stuff for my big brother.  I remember the year he got the Snoopy and Woodstock Go Camping trash can for his room…I was so jealous! 

After the hunt, we would get ready for church—we girls would dress in our new finery—white patent leather shoes, straw hats and little white bags, a new dress and cape (often lovingly made by my Grandmother). My brother would wear a suit jacket—he didn’t every Sunday, but always on Easter. We would head to Sunday School, where we would meet with our friends and talk about our Easter surprises, and then we would join our parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins for the Easter Morning Service.  And what a joyous service it was—He Is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia! The sanctuary was overflowing with the choirs, handbells, brass ensemble, friends, family, and the familiar Easter message.

After service we would walk down the street to my Nana and Pop-Pop’s house, where my cousins and siblings and I would go on another Easter basket hunt and have some dinner.  I think it was probably ham, I don’t really remember, but I do remember the cake.  My Mom would always make a white cake with white icing…and half would have coconut sprinkled on the top, and half would not (thankfully, because I don’t like coconut!)  And on top of the white icing and coconut…jellybeans….in all the colors of the rainbow!  I still make a white cake on Easter…probably always will.

As we got older, the routine changed some.  We would go to the sunrise service and sing with the choirs and be rewarded with an enormous breakfast prepared by a crew that must have been up since 3 am! Sometimes I would come home from college and the choir director would just let me jump in and take my place with the sopranos. Sometimes we would just go to the later service. And the first few years I lived away from home, I may not have gone at all. But those Easters of my childhood remain in my heart and the memories flood back every time I sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”

Now I have a family of my own with traditions of our own. And although my boys range in age from 10 to 19, we still color eggs and wake early to hunt for our Easter treats. This year it will be things like movies and book, tshirts and music…and baseball cards, just like my brother! They’ll have candy for breakfast and then we’ll dress up and make our way to church where we will sing with joy and praise. And today, my youngest son, Grant, will take his first communion.  Then we will come home and celebrate with white cake topped with jellybeans, and I will add one more  memory to my very own Easter basket.