For RPD

For 7 long, lonely months my only solace was writing.  In that time, I wrote a book about love and loss.  My purpose and message was to inspire others to chase dreams, pursue meaningful relationships and love fearlessly – with heart and soul.  It wasn’t until I met you that I realized that the message was for me.

On March 8, I met you and you provided a little spark that was so desperately needed, a start to a new chapter in my life.  Your eyes, smile and strong, rugged hands mesmerized me as you built my log cabin.  I hid behind my sunglasses all the while watching you.  Ani-Tsalagi broke the ice between us.  In April, we started seeing each other.  On May 4, you walked into my house and never left.  You have been by my side, supporting me and loving me with your heart and soul ever since.  You’ve put a smile on my face, brought laughter to my days and a reason to love life again.

We’ve been through a lot in just 10 months – building a relationship, building a log cabin, selling a house in Riverview, packing and moving and living in temporary housing and now a marriage – our love and our “peas and carrots” relationship kept us together.

You’ve made me the happiest woman in the world, and I am so grateful that you came into my life.  Our rings were selected with purpose.  My engagement ring has two diamonds — “one for your best friend, one for your true love”.  My wedding band has three rubies — your birthstone — and another two diamonds — my birthstone.  Your wedding band has three diamonds — my birthstone.  I proudly and happily take you to be my life-long partner, my best friend, my true love, my husband. 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning says it best:

            “How do I love thee?

            I love thee to the depths, breadth and height my soul can reach.

            I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life.

            And if God choose, I shall love thee better after death.”

RPD, I love you with all my heart and soul, ‘til death do us part.

Ani Tsalagi

When you have suffered a traumatic loss in life, grief can be stifling and all-consuming.  For me, I felt abandoned and totally alone.  There was nothing but darkness all around with no vision of light.  For seven months, it seemed like I moved through a fog.

During this time, I started the process of building my log cabin, but it was more of a project rather than realization of a dream.  It was a distraction but didn’t provide enjoyment or pleasure.  I wasn’t sure that I wanted to move into the cabin, but I was determined to build it.  Little did I know at the time that the log cabin construction would provide purpose to live life again.

In the seventh month of existing in a dark hole, the foundation was poured for the cabin.  A few short weeks later, the construction crew was ready to start stacking the logs.  It took all morning for me to gather the courage to drive out and meet the crew on their first day, but I did.  I never took off my sunglasses, but I forced myself to meet each guy.

Every day, I showed up to watch each course of the cabin be stacked.  It didn’t take many days before the engineer in me began to awaken.  I asked a lot of questions about the building process.  The guys began to expect me every day.  The more I became involved, the more interest I took in the cabin.  While I never took off my sunglasses, I began to slowly interact with the crew.  Funny how six blue-collar – some crude – guys melted my cold, impersonal nature.

In the crew, one man caught my attention.  He was the hardest worker and most experienced but the least vocal.  He was tall, dark, handsome, and I was mesmerized watching him.  As he worked, I was drawn to his hands which were strong, rugged and touched every log that was stacked.  I observed him through my sunglasses and caught him looking in my direction throughout the day.  One afternoon while he was working on the front corner of the house, he actually spoke to me and smiled.  I smiled back, all the while hiding my eyes behind my sunglasses.

Days passed and it wasn’t long before the rest of the crew sensed the attraction between us, not through words but through glances and smiles.  I noticed a tattoo on his left arm, but he never stood close enough for me to read what I thought might be his last name.  Finally, one afternoon I managed to make out the words above the feathers below – Ani Tsalagi.  That night while sitting at home alone once again, I researched Ani Tsalagi.

By now, the crew had been working on the cabin for about four weeks.  The tattoo gave me a reason to start conversation to the man to whom I was drawn to who was building my cabin.  The day after my research, I gathered up enough courage to speak.  We found each other standing alone around the house plans, and I asked the question, “so, are you Cherokee Indian?”  To his surprise, he looked into my eyes, no longer hidden behind the sunglasses, and said yes, “I’m half Cherokee Indian.”

That one question broke the ice between us.  From that point on, we smiled at each other more often and spoke to each other every day.  On April 5, he had my phone number.  At 6:30 p.m., I received my first text to which I responded, “you made me smile.”  His reply which melted my heart was “I have smiled since I first saw you.”

The log cabin is a fulfillment of a dream, “something to call my own”, a beautiful start to a new chapter in my life.  But it’s the man with the Ani Tsalagi tattoo who has given me a reason to love life again, a reason to smile and laugh again, but most importantly, a reason to love fearlessly once more and not be alone.

“We Love You Guys” But . . .

My husband, John, was a master with people. His philosophy about people was “it doesn’t matter if they drive the truck or pick up the cans.” He motivated others by making them feel extraordinary thereby bringing out their best. He sincerely cared for others and had a giving spirit.

I especially enjoyed watching him “work his magic” with service people, people who would fill a need we had, people we would only meet one or two times. One important lesson that I learned from John is that “people love to hear their name.” No matter who crossed our path, he greeted each person asking their names. Whether it was a crew to help us move, paint our house, pave our patio, maintain our yard, he knew them by name. He always provided a cooler of water and Gatorade for the workers. For the guys who moved us to FL, we bought lunchmeat, bread and chips for a “take-out lunch” before they left. He never failed to thank them by name when they were done.

Two weeks ago, construction started on our dream home with an opportunity for me to put John’s lessons into action. On the first day, I drove out to meet the crew and watch the process of building a log cabin. I met Glen, the crew chief and head carpenter. When they took a much-needed break, I met the other three: Charlie, Ray and Roger. They are definitely a “motley crew”, and my initial thoughts were “I hope they don’t cut off an arm or leg or get stuck under a pile of logs!”

Throughout the afternoon, I sat on their trailer and observed. I couldn’t tell if they were amused or intimidated with my presence. They took breaks for Mountain Dew and water, but they never ate a bite. Around 4:00 p.m., they started cleaning up and packing their tools for the 2-hr drive home. Before they left, I asked, “don’t you guys eat lunch?” Glen said, “we grab breakfast at McDonald’s; we don’t have time for lunch.” Charlie could see the surprise on my face and said, “she doesn’t believe him!” Ray and Roger just smiled and kept packing up.

I walked to the car and grabbed some cash. I handed it to Glen and said “have breakfast tomorrow on me.” He shook his head and said, “no ma’am, that’s ok”, but I was insistent. All of them thanked me, and they drove off.

The next day, I grabbed four Cuban sandwiches from the Publix deli. When I got to the property, Charlie, Ray and a new guy were taking a break. I handed them the bag and said, “I brought you lunch.” They looked surprised but gladly ate the sandwiches. I watched the slow manual progress of stacking logs for the detached garage. When the new guy walked to the trailer, I introduced myself. He shook my hand and said, “I’m Jason, Glen’s son-in-law.”

Again, around 4:00 p.m., they packed up and headed home. I told Glen that I wouldn’t make it Thursday but would be back on Friday. Charlie thanked me again for lunch, and said “you’re the best.” It felt good to hear “thank you”, like I was appreciated. I drove home fighting back tears.

On Friday, I grabbed chicken tenders and a 12-pk of Mountain Dew. Luckily, I arrived before 2:00 p.m. because I learned something new. On Fridays, they leave earlier to give them time to stop by the shop office. The blue-collar construction world is new to me. It’s very humbling to watch these guys work in the hot sun, hauling logs with sweaty hands for an hourly wage. They left early so they could get paid.

Week two, a rainy Monday postponed construction. On Tuesday afternoon, I showed up with Mountain Dew and water. Now, there were six guys on the crew to build the house: Glen, Charlie, Ray, Roger, Jason and Glen’s son, Kyle. I was glad I didn’t bring food because I would have been two short!

But over the weekend, I had a brainstorm. I could achieve two important needs: clean out the freezer and pantry and provide lunch a couple of days a week. On Wednesday, I showed up with BBQ crockpot pork sandwiches. When they took a break, they couldn’t help but peek into the bag. They eagerly grabbed a sandwich as I walked around taking pictures of the work-in-progress. When I returned, one of the guys called out, “hey, you can cook for me any time you want!” I said, “I want to make sure our cabin is built right.” They were all smiling and said the sandwiches were fantastic. They went back to work, and I sat on the trailer fighting back more tears.

By Thursday, they had grown accustomed to my daily visits. They also know I’m the General Contractor and have figured out I ask a lot of questions. (John’s nickname for me was “Perry Mason” because of my never-ending barrage of questions.) And, they reluctantly try my suggestions for process improvement. Glen found out quickly that I can read a house-plan and will point out anything that doesn’t look right.

Snack crackers on Thursday and more sandwiches on Friday. Charlie, Jason, Ray and Kyle were taking a break together. Jason, was the first to peek into the bag, and say “what do we have today?” Charlie said, “you’re the best; you know how to motivate us through our stomachs.” After a couple of bites, Ray asked, “are these home-made?” to which I replied, “yes”. He smiled and said, “I can tell because they are made with love.” And then Jason said the most profound thing: “You know, the lady from the last job told us every day ‘we love you guys’.” And then came the BUT . . . “But she never once gave us something to drink let alone feed us. You bring us drinks and feed us. You wouldn’t believe how most people treat us.”

The guys worked until around 2:30 p.m. and packed up. I turned away to take more photos, and I heard Charlie say, “see you Monday.” I waved as they drove off wiping away tears.

They say “actions speak louder than words”. Greeting the crew by their names . . . providing water, Mountain Dew, and homemade sandwiches don’t seem like big “actions”. But to these guys, who typically aren’t recognized, let alone appreciated, they bring a smile to their faces and maybe a small bright spot for the day. For me, they give me a feeling of purpose, if only for a day.

I’m honored to share a couple of John’s simple but positively impactful life-lessons. I hope you will do the same . . . take a moment to speak someone’s name, share a drink or meal, put a smile on someone’s face.

This Gift I Give To You From Me

In this season where many spend countless hours trying to find that “perfect gift” for friends and loved ones, I want to share a beautiful gift that my dear husband shared with me. It wasn’t wrapped in pretty paper or a beautiful gift bag, but it was written from his heart and soul. It’s the reason for the season, love . . . true love. It’s the greatest gift you can give.

I hope you enjoy, and I hope you share.

The presents are all opened from under the tree,

But there is still one more to you from me.

It can’t be wrapped with paper and bow

To hide its beauty so it won’t show.

For it shines brightly for all to see,

This gift I give to you from me.

I guess I should tell you in case you don’t know

That this gift is forever and each day it grows.

It grows bigger and stronger for all to see,

This gift I give to you from me.

It’s like the bright sun at the breaking of day.

It guides my path as I search my way.

The direction it shows is plain to see,

This gift I give to you from me.

It guides me to happiness, to love I’d never known.

It takes me to worlds I’d never before been shown.

What is this gift? I know you easily see,

This gift I give to you from me.

This gift is my LOVE, every ounce I have to give.

I pray that you will take it so that I may live.

My most precious possession, I hope you can see

Is this gift I give to you from me.

Please take my heart, my soul and my love.

Wrap them in your arms as gently as a dove.

Merry Christmas, my LADY, with true love from me.

This is the gift I give to you from me.

“Polar Bears Should Be Safe . . .”

Mary brought dinner and spent a few hours with me the other night. She handed me the pan, and said, “I’ve got one more thing in the car.” When she walked back in, I saw the red flowers, green pine needles and frosted pinecones, and choked back the tears. She told me, “I know you won’t put anything out, but I wanted you to have something for the season.” And then when she pulled it out of the box, I saw the polar bears.

We sat down and chatted for a while. I shared some of John’s poetry with her and more of our story. She remembered “My Precious Flower” from the memorial service. As she read the poems, she revealed her perspective to me and what she sees in his words.  She read a few lines from several poems out loud and urged me to listen, “I must have you by my side before I can be whole”, “nature’s picture of you and I, love’s bouquet ‘til time does end”, “let me love you for all time”, “arm-in-arm together for all eternity”.  She said, “don’t you see, you and John are one — forever.”

After a while, we decided to eat. As we walked into the kitchen, I said, “after we eat, I want to show you something.” She told me about how she and Zach rummaged through her pantry as they improvised the smoked turkey stuffed shells, making red sauce with diced tomatoes and pizza sauce! They were delicious and much appreciated.

After dinner, we returned to the great room. I went to the back bedroom and grabbed the polar bear. As soon as she saw it, she was completely dumbfounded. Again, I choked back tears. She told me about her trip to the florist shop. She said she was very deliberate and measured as she looked for a gift trying to avoid emotional triggers.

Mary told me how she didn’t want to get a “live” plant so there was no chance for it to wither and die. She steered away from angels, hawks, Christmas trees, little dogs, anything that she knew would probably evoke tearful memories. She picked up the polar bears and put them back down several times. She laughed and said the people in the shop probably thought she was nuts. After much hesitancy, she picked up the polar bears one last time. She thought to herself, “polar bears should be safe.”

John bought a little red rocking chair for the polar bear. We had it sitting in his office next to his desk. She apologized and then said, “for whatever reason, John chooses me to connect him with you.” She looked at me and added, “he even has a scarf around his neck.”

She stayed for a bit longer. Before leaving, she took a picture of the arrangement and my polar bear. Later that evening, she sent a text “love you . . . enjoy your arrangement from John!” She added that it “blew Zach’s mind” when she shared the picture and story.

Once again, John, my dearest angel, spoke to me through Mary . . . this time through little polar bears.

The Dance

Enjoying nature was one of many activities that John and I enjoyed sharing. We visited many botanical gardens, beaches and parks wherever we lived. On one of our first vacations together, we travelled to Fort Myers and stayed in a resort right on the beach. One of our days was spent on Sanibel Island, home of several wildlife refuges. We devoted an entire day at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

There is a four-mile scenic drive around Sanibel Island which is home to hundreds species of birds, reptiles, palms, seagrapes, myrtles and other native vegetation. John loved watching me enjoy my passion – photography. He drove along the dike so that I could snap away. Whenever we saw something that caught our attention, especially a flock of wading birds, we stopped to get a closer look.

As we drove slowly along the dike, I saw a lone Little Blue Heron off in the distance in the bay. He caught my eye, and I asked John to stop. We got out of the car and walked up to the edge of the water. The heron was the only bird in sight, but he put on what we later called a “happy dance” through the shallow water. We were thrilled to watch and I captured the show in several still, sequential photos.

The Little Blue Heron stood in the “knee-deep” bay, and my first photo was one where he appeared to be looking at himself in the water like it was a mirror. We imagined to ourselves that he wanted to make sure his feathers were all in place, and he looked handsome and presentable.

Gazing Into The Water

After a few seconds, all of a sudden he spread out his wings and stood on one leg. And then he started running through the water towards us. As he ran, he held his head high and held his wings out like angel wings.

Dancing Dancing

He glided across the shallow water flapping his wings up and then down and turned making a semi-circle wake in the water. Then, as suddenly as he had started his “dance”, he stopped. I caught him in this beautiful, graceful stance. His wings were held out as he stood on one leg, as if in a “Karate Kid” pose gazing into the water again.

Karate Kid Pose

He stood there staring into the water for several seconds, and we were sure he was pleased with what he saw. He stood up once more, raised his wings and continued sprinting and splashing back towards where he started.

Look At Me

All the while, he danced solo as if he was wooing a mate to join him in his tango, “look at me, look at me, I’m here waiting for you!” It was a lovely sight to behold; while we stood there, he never enticed a lady bird to join him.

We decided to return to the car and continue along the dike. Before John started the car, he grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes. He told me how much he loved me, and I said the same back to him.  As we drove away, I told John, “that heron’s soul mate is just sitting back waiting for us to leave.  They just want some privacy.”  And we smiled . . .

John and I lived Richard Bach’s quote everyday: “Our soul mate is the one who makes life come to life.” We made each other’s life come to life; we were blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime bond.  He didn’t have to dance to woo me; he had me at “hello”.

An Unlikely Pair

To the casual observer, he and she were an unlikely pair.  But to those in close proximity of the two of them could feel the attraction.  He was the south end of a magnet and she the north end, forming a permanent magnetic field of closeness.  It was this closeness that was the foundation of their forever love.

He loved the wild, wild west, cowboys and Indians. She loved the tropics and Asian culture.

He wore starched shirts, perfectly-knotted ties, and cowboy boots. She wore silk, lace and high heels.

He never had a hair out of place. She let her hair flow long, sometimes with a forced wave.

He loved bluegrass and R&B. She loved 80’s and classic rock.

He was self-taught on the guitar. She was classically trained on the piano.

He drove an SUV. She drove a two-seater sports car.

He worked for the same company for over 30 years. She had already worked for three.

He had some college, military and lots of on-the-job training. She had two college degrees.

He was a fitness fanatic and weight lifter. She walked her dog for exercise.

He was a father with two children. She had no children, only a “fur-baby”.

He had lived in Florida all but four years of his life. She had not lived in one place more than four years.

He had family and friends all around him.  She had family and friends scattered across the country.

This unlikely pair was me and my husband. Our paths crossed in a meant-to-be-moment through Godwinks and guardian angels. Our differences were the lure which led us to discover shared dreams and wishes. We fell head-over-heels in love and nothing was going to keep us apart:

“Our soul mate is one who makes life come to life.” Richard Bach

We made each other’s life come to life.  From the beginning and all of our years together, we were blessed with love that strengthened and deepened into our Bea-utiful love story – an unlikely pair of hearts joined together forever.

Two Hearts

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