Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve Traditions

Do good, and good will be done to you.

It had become somewhat of a tradition. I'm sure we missed a few years here and there, but otherwise, New Year's Eve Ghon and I went to Carrabas for dinner.  He often joked that an hour wait, spent at the bar with a bourbon, in 2007 resulted in Jonathan in September  2008.

He must have been onto something. More bourbon at Carrabas in 2009 resulted in Genevieve in September 2010.

It all started because of Christmas gift cards from our friends Scott and Jen Thompson. And our love for the appetizer called "Scott Thompson."  I think Ghon laughed a little every time we ordered it, even when it was no longer on the menu.

We still had a gift card when Ghon died. While moving and packing it up months ago, I decided that no matter what, I was going to Carrabas on NYE and I was going to buy someone dinner. Another couple, and spread the love. I didn't initially plan on taking the kids, but decided today that they too should go and help me on our secret mission.

I wanted the kids to experience how nice it can be to do things for others. How awesome it would be to surprise someone with a free meal. And that the recipient, now not having to pay for dinner, may give their waitstaff extra. As a result of our gift, we would feel awesome, the recipient would feel amazing and possibly, the waitstaff, and maybe, just maybe, the recipient would then pay it forward and more people would benefit.

Off we went. Call ahead seating, 5 minute wait. Genevieve in her normal fashion needed to go to the bathroom as soon as we arrived, so Jonathan and I started looking for recipients of our secret gift as we walked through and waited. Another trip halfway through dinner and I felt like I found my couple.

I originally thought it would be just a couple. Perhaps someone that reminded me of how we would be. Dressed up but not to fancy. Talking. Obviously a couple. But, I saw a couple there with their young child. So many times it was hard for us to go out without kids. I remember going out and having that messy spaghetti face beside me. I know that I will always be dining out with my kids.  I suggested them to the kids, and they agreed.

Now, not the norm for a secret or random act like this, but before we went out, I wrote a note. I don't know what I wrote word for word, but basically it went something like this:

It was a tradition for many years for my husband and I to have dinner at Carrabas on New Year's Eve. This year, he couldn't make it as he died unexpectedly this summer. Live each day to the fullest. Love each other completely and faithfully. Your meal is on me. Take care of your waitstaff. Be kind to others. God bless you and Happy New Year.

I went to the hostess stand, and asked for their help. Deliver the note anonymously and give me the check. A few minutes later, their waiter brought me their bill, and verified it was me who wanted it. A manager came by on his way around to ask if I should stay anonymous as they wanted to know who paid for their bill. I asked to please stay anonymous.  I paid the bill, and decided to be safe, and still left a little something for the waiter. 

The kids just giggled at the secret we were keeping.

My waitress comes and was going to take the bill. I said mentioned it was for another table, and that we hadn't received ours yet, but were ready. Her reply?

"Someone has already taken care of your bill."

I was so shocked I couldn't speak. When she came back by, I tried to find out who. Turns out it was a table near us, but they were already gone. Not knowing if they covered gratuity, I estimated our bill and gave a tip to our waitress, and we left with full bellies and fuller hearts.

The kids think it's quite silly that we paid for a stranger's dinner and a stranger paid for ours. I'd love to know if somehow, it kept going. Or will continue another day.

Perhaps, we will go back and do dinner or lunch again. Since my dinner was paid for, I still have that gift card I walked in with.

Thanks Ghon, for going to Carrabas with me all these years. I think I'll keep going. 

Happy New Year friends. Be the good in the world; the world needs it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Death in 2016

2016 has been a year of tremendous loss when it comes to musicians and actors. I remember David Bowie dying, then Prince. I'm not sure why, but I was shocked. I recall taking to Ghon about Prince. Nothing too specific, more about not knowing who he was since he was so private or what songs he wrote that I never realized. I listened to tributes and dedicated stations on the radio.

And then, Ghon died.

I had some people to talk to. Memories to share. A celebration of his life. And while I continue on, and some people still let me know they are around, or still grieve for him, many others have moved on.

When I found out that George Michael died a few days ago, on Christmas day, I was shocked. My first reaction was WHAT? NO! My second, was “I wonder if Ghon knows…I need to tell him….” I'm sure he'd have something snarky to say; he was far from a Wham! or George Michael fan and often poked fun at me, probably because he liked to see me get all worked up and angry and defensive over my choice in music preferences. Two days later, there’s another celebrity death. And another. Social media explodes again. Quotes, memes and stories about how these celebrities impacted their lives flood the internet. Just like I did when Ghon died.

People quip how 2016 sucks, and how they can’t wait for the year to be over, all in response to the number of celebrities that lost their lives this year.  I can’t help but to feel a little hurt when I see this. Yea, it sucks. These people will never make a movie, or cause tabloid headlines, or more importantly to me, create amazing music. I’m going to try not to belittle anyone’s loss, or how the death of these celebrities impacts them. I have listened to Wham! or George Michael all day, and will likely have him on heavy rotation the next few days. It’s my way of remembering him, yet, not really far from norm for me. He's always in my rotation.

Yet, when I see people cringing over the prospect of any more loss in 2016, or the hope for better luck in 2017 for celebrity health, there is part of me that wants to scream. My friend lost her father this year. Two others lost their mother. My children and stepchildren lost their father. I lost my husband. My husband. Despite the sometimes rocky relationship we had, the man I spent more than half of my life with. The man I committed myself to and lived with. ‘Til death do us part. I don’t have my best friend. My companion, my rock. My kids do not have their father. Their beacon of strength and safety. For this, I can’t stand hearing how the death of celebrities makes this such a horrible year.

News flash people, we all die. We will all meet the same fate. In the end, regardless if it is an accident, intentional, or negligence in our own self-care, we will die.  Just because these people entertained us and became famous doesn’t make their death any more important than anyone else’s death. True, more people will feel the impact. More people will mourn. We won’t be entertained in the same way. These things don’t make their death more important or less important than Ghon’s. Sure, we won’t know what movies they won’t appear in. We likely won’t know what song won’t be recorded – yet, there are dead musicians having albums released, so we may still get more music. But Ghon’s kids – they won’t have him at their weddings. He won’t be at their graduations. He wasn’t able to be a grandfather. He can’t teach them to shoot, to hunt, to drive, to appreciate the outdoors. He can’t teach Jonathan how to shave. He can’t intimidate Genevieve’s first boyfriends. These are things that we KNOW won’t happen. I lost my biggest cheerleader. My #1 supporter.  Just a little different from living with the death of a celebrity.  If you were related to or a close friend of a deceased celebrity – you get a pass. You’re not dealing with the death of a celebrity – but of a friend or relative.

Experiences make us grow if we let them. Not just death, but make-ups, break-ups, births of our children, marriage, divorce, friendships made, friendships lost, change in jobs, you name, it – you live it – if you let it – every experience can make or break you. Ghon’s death won’t break me. I have two little people that depend on me now  more than ever. I’m not sure if it will make me – but it has, and will continue to make me different from who I was. I’m simply not the same person, and struggle some days with my new identity. Just one example for you. Think about your basic survey forms. Chose one please.
·         Single
·         Married
·         Divorced

Well, hells bells. When I woke up June 18, 2016, I was married. I went to bed a widow. Not a standard option. What do you choose? If widowed happens to be there, it’s easy. When it’s not, I have think about the purpose of the form and then choose. I still wear my wedding band, but legally, or for taxation purposes, this chick is single. After 21 years, that is so hard to say.

George is pumping through my ears right now. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to see him live. I love music and seeing live shows. Seriously, I have music notes tattooed behind my ear, not because I play, but because I love to listen. To sing in the car at the top of my lungs. (Because my sister ruined singing in the shower for me when I was a kid, but that’s a different story). Music moves me. I have my go to songs for invoking joy, those that wake me, those that make me want to run (and I’m not a runner), songs that will make me cry, songs that are relaxing and those that are great for background noise. Music creates memories.

Thanks to our experiences, at different points in our lives, lyrics may take on new meaning. They may have never meant to me what they meant to their author – and that’s OK. Music is about expression.  Songs that may have made me smile before may now make me cry. I sometimes feel lyrics differently.

This George Michael song, Waiting for That Day, was always a favorite of mine. It’s from the Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1 album. Released in 1991, I was oh, about 14 years old. Oh to lament about break-ups…such a great song. And while I still see it as a breakup song, there are lines, bolded below, that bring me to instant tears today. I’d listened to it a few weeks ago, or maybe a couple months ago, and it had the same impact. I've had to wipe my tears before getting out of my car, dab them away in my cube and dash to the bathroom to check my face. Emotion. Emotion is real and necessary.
(Go ahead and click on that link and listen along...let me know if you don't cry while remembering a loved one - whether they be gone by choice or by death.)

So every day I see you in some other face
They crack a smile, talk a while
Try to take your place
My memory serves me far too well

I just sit here on this mountain thinking to myself
You're a fool boy
Why don't you go down
Find somebody
Find somebody else
My memory serves me far too well

It's not as though we just broke up
It's not as though it was yesterday
But something I just can't explain
Something in me needs this pain
I know I'll never see your face again

C'mon now
I've got to be strong now

Now everybody's talking about this new decade
Like you say the magic numbers
Then just say goodbye to
The stupid mistakes you made
Oh my memory serves me far too well

Don't you know that
The years will come and go
Some of us will change our lives
Some of us still have nothing to show
Nothing baby
But memories

And if these wounds
They are self-inflicted
I don't really know
How my poor heart could have protected me

But if I have to carry this pain
If you will not share the blame
I deserve to see your face again

C'mon now
You don't have to be so strong now

Come back
Come back to me darling
I will make it worth your while
Come back to your baby
I miss your kiss
I miss your smile

Seems to me the peace I search to find
Ain't going to be mine until you say you will
Don't you keep me waiting for that day
I know, I know, I know
You hear these words that I say
You can't always get what you want.

I miss Ghon terribly. I ‘survived’ his birthday. I ‘survived’ the 6 month anniversary. I ‘survived’ Christmas. Of course I survived. But the pain – the pain is real. I know I have friends that tell me I can talk to them at any time. But sometimes, I just don’t want to talk. I think I moved through so much early as a result of shock. I need to feel the pain now. And there are times that I do talk about Ghon, but the times I hurt – I’m not sure there is anything to say. It’s just like the times where Jonathan just looks at me and says, “I miss Daddy”, and all I can do is respond with “me too.”  What is there to talk about? I know despite him not being here physically, he is here in Spirit.  I will see him again one day. I’m not trying to rush that time at all, but if I could get what I wanted, he’d be here now. And I can’t get what I want.

Yes, 2016 has sucked if you were an aging celebrity. It seems to suck even more since so many "idols" are, well, older. Madonna and Betty White need to watch their backs for the next three days. 

But 2016 also sucks when you are suddenly a single mom of two living in a farmhouse made for 4+ in a country town when you are city girl and have a fear of snakes, mice, bad guys and no clue about septic systems, creaky noises and are cold at night. 

But 2016, well, 2016 has also been a good year. I am now living in a farmhouse with my kids that my husband and I worked so hard on for so long. I've sent mice to mouse heaven, found septic companies and bought down blankets and long underwear. I have friends help me prescreen the attic for snakes. My kids are learning to face fears, to live, love and remember, and to be thankful. We've seen an outpouring of love and support, made new friends and strengthened other relationships. I got a new job and my very own mortgage (who, other than me, celebrates stuff like that?). Ghon was battling a long seeded depression and was getting help. He was enjoying his photography and making plans to transition into full-time farming. He was getting his health issues fixed - until unknown and unexpected complications from that fix took his life. 

But with his death, he found freedom. Freedom from the physical pain he suffered since I'd known him. From the mental anguish - never feeling like he was good enough. He is reunited with his parents and grandparents, who meant the world to him. He's free - from all the stress he felt or created here. He's finally free. And with his freedom, he's given me freedom. I've lived for so long with my identity defined by the kids and Ghon that I have no clue who I am. He's given me the chance, even in death, to figure how who I am. And doing that without him - as twisted as that sounds - is so hard. I just don't know where to begin.

So 2016; you've been a very weird year and well, for the most part, I am glad to see you end and am ready for 2017.

With every end, there is a new beginning. As with every death; an end - there is life; a beginning. 

Peace and love to all of you that finished reading this rambling. May you find hope in the beginning each end brings to you. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

I Miss You the Most

I Miss You the Most

I miss you the most when I’m bored.
I can’t just call you or text you for my amusement.

I miss you the most in the morning.
I’m still not a morning person, and my night owl tendencies are coming back – and without benefit. I’m still struggling with kids in the morning.

I miss you the most when I’m driving.
I can’t call you to help pass the time and catch up on my day.

I miss you the most at dinner time.
I working on figuring out cast iron. The gas stove still confounds me. You made the best fried chicken, panko chops, BBQ. I’ll never have paella again. The kids aren’t adventurous; meals aren’t the same.

I miss you the most when I’m home.
You were never able to sleep here, to see it complete, or help me make final decisions.

I miss you the most when I’m traveling.
You loved seeing new places, revisiting places we’d been. You typically plan the big trips. I’ve done it twice, but now I have to plan the trip out west with the kids by myself. And take it without you. It’s not fair.

I miss you the most when I’m trying on clothes.
I need your reassurance that I look OK; I’m still not comfortable with me.

I miss you the most when I need help with something I know you can do.
Or could do. Little things like redirecting the vents in the ductwork, installing shelves, or building shelves. Big things like getting firewood off the hill and ready for the winter.

I miss you the most when I say something you used to say.
I’m vertical – and you’re not.

I miss you the most when I brush my teeth.
Your toothbrush is there. So is the 2nd sink that’s not used.

I miss you the most when I can’t answer the kid’s questions.
Some things, you just know more about than me. It’s true.

I miss you the most when I realize that so many things I worry about, I wouldn’t be worrying about if you were here.
I miss you, then I get angry, then I get sad, grateful for those around me, guilty for being angry, and then, I miss you.
I miss you the most when I write about you.
You are always on my mind.

I miss you the most when I have to adult.
I don’t always want to make decisions for me by myself. Let alone for the house and the kids.

I miss you the most when I finally go to bed.
Hugging a pillow isn’t the same as holding you.

I miss you the most when other people miss you.
Because not only do I feel their pain, I feel mine.

I don’t miss you alone.
But I miss you the most.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Visitation - Share your experiences!

I've received signs that let me know Ghon's around. I've been wanting to write them down, but haven't. Recently, more people are sharing stories of signs they've received from him, or new stories of how Ghon impacted them - and how his death impacts them today.

Please share with me. Let me see how Ghon continues to be with you. His personality and life was way too big to just vanish. How does he live on in your life?

Use the form below (scroll within the form) to share your story. Feel free to submit multiple forms if you want to submit experiences separately, or have more than one. All responses are sent to me and not made public.

Thank you!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

WCCC 2016

In October 2004, Ghon and I attended our first World Chili Championship Cookoff (WCCC). We’d been cooking chili for years of course, me since 1990 as a junior cook and him since 1996, but only recently had started cooking more events sanctioned by the International Chili Society (ICS).

In mid-September, we competed in the Chesapeake Regional Chili Cookoff. I came in second place to a not so great pot of chili. Really. Sure, some cooks will boast about their pot and sometimes feel they were wronged by the judges when the tasted the winning bowl. But this bowl; it wasn’t chili. BBQ perhaps, but not chili. Some of our friends tasted the winning chili before we did, and told me I was robbed. The scorekeeper told me they calculated scores twice. I lost. I was robbed!

Two weeks later, we were competing in the DC State Cookoff for the first time. During announcements, I was named the highest placing rookie, defined as the cook who placed the highest as a first time participant of the event. Winners were announced starting at 10th place. Somewhere along the way, perhaps around 5th, 6th or 7th, it’s really unimportant; Ghon was called. Now we knew I was higher than that. The closer we got the more I worried. I was so nervous. I remember muttering “please don’t call my name, please don’t call my name” over and over. Third place, and it’s still not me.

A chili bridesmaid is a cook that places second. And second. And sometimes second again. Always the runner up, and never the winner. I didn’t want to be a bridesmaid.

It’s time to announce 2nd place. I’m so nervous, I’m practically crying. “Please don’t say my name, please don’t say my name.”  The Chief Judge, Fred Bell, listened, and didn’t say my name. I’m damn near hysterics at this point. I bury my face into Ghon’s chest and change my tune. “Please say my name, please say my name,” it total fear that perhaps that rookie thing was a fluke and I wasn’t the highest placing rookie and someone else’s name would be called.

Kim Eckerly.

Yes, Eckley, but with an R stuck in there. But dang it, it was me. I qualified for the World Championships that were less than a week away, in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’ll never forget the amazing experience at WCCC. Nor the moment I was called to the finals table for red chili. I was one of the first of our close chili friends to ever make finals. And being relatively new to ICS, and our first Worlds, I remembered the quiet in the crowd when my name was called. My few friends there cheered, but you could almost hear everyone else asking, “Kim, who?” The applause and cheers for "regulars" was loud. When my name was called, well, there were some polite claps. Finding out I was 7th place – absolutely amazing.

Fast forward a few years. We continued to compete. We had kids and I cooked a lot less. Ghon went to Vegas again in 2008, with me left at home, fresh out of a Cesarean birth and a with a week old Jonathan. Jonathan went to his first ICS event in Kingston, NY at about 2, maybe 3 weeks old. I started cooking a lot less, as it wasn’t easy to manage an infant and a pot of red. Or at least not for us.
We took the kids to a few Worlds cook-offs. Jonathan was just over a year at his first WCCC in Charleston, WV.  The kids traveled with us to WCCC in Manchester, NH, another in Charleston. Chili is family, and they were being well introduced to it.

The last few years, we did a lot less chili cooking and a lot more chili judging, with Ghon serving as the Chief Judge, and I the Scorekeeper. With his retail work schedule, getting weekends off wasn’t easy. The weekends he could get time off were for judging, not cooking. He really missed the competition. If you didn’t know, Ghon was extremely competitive, and cooking was a good way for him to do so.

Since he'd left his retail job in pursuit of life, farming. photography and happiness, Ghon was determined to cook more this year. Jonathan was playing baseball still, so Ghon made a one day trip to New York City to compete by himself. The following weekend, he'd planned to do a back to back event in New England, but a few days before, the Sunday event was cancelled. Plans changed, and he went to Wheeling WV on June 4 to compete. Jonathan and I spent the day together, going to his last came of the season, end of season party, a birthday party and something else thrown in there too. Genevieve went with Ghon, who came home a winner in the Chili Verde competition. He was once again headed to WCCC! 

That week, he booked our airfare. Ghon was determined to get time for just us and felt it would be best to route us through Vegas, and for a week long trip. 

June 4; he won.
June 13; he had surgery.
June 18; he died. 

Just two short weeks later, after being so excited to compete - and win - again, he was gone. I'd had to decide whether or not to attend the PA State Cookoff on Labor Day weekend, which the kids and I did. I wasn't so sure about going to WCCC. Really, I didn't think there was an option, it was just plain obvious to me, it was a no go.

But then, a youth division was announced, and I mentioned it to Jonathan. Despite a hard loss (for him) in PA, he wanted to go to the World's, wear Dad's shirt, and compete. A quick check to the school calendar, and seeing the travel dates would coincide with Fall Break, I booked us airfare to Reno, NV for the 50th Anniversary ICS World's Championship Chili Cookoff. 

I must be crazy.

Carol Hancock, the CEO of the ICS called me after Ghon's death to offer her condolences and ask if there was anything she could do for us. At that time, I couldn't think of a thing. A few days later, I knew what I needed. Each cook that qualifies earns an apron with their name and qualifying event on it as well as a participant medal. I asked Carol for Ghon's, even though he wouldn't be there, as this last qualification meant a lot. She graciously obliged. When I was given his apron at WCCC, I felt (and I mean NO disrespect by this) like I was being handed the flag that covered a fallen soldier's coffin. It was handed to me with two hands. I took it, with tears welling in my eyes, and just hugged it. When I went to get his medal, the same familiar tears came back to my eyes.

I can't tell you how many people said, "don't make me cry."  I can't tell you how many tears were still shed, whether it be in front or behind me.

Getting ready for WCCC, Jonathan made his own recipe. I guided him on the basics, I helped him with hot pots, but he sat at his table in Reno and cooked his own pot of chili. He wore his dad's shirt, carried Dad's lucky chicken, and sported a picture pin - of him and Ghon at the first cookoff he competed in.

Jonathan and Genevieve with ICS CEO, Carol Hancock

There is one thing neither Jonathan or I did for the cookoff though, and that was cut his meat. Because Ghon planned to do two cookoffs the weekend of the 4th, he had two batches of meat prepared. Jonathan used the last batch of meat Ghon cut.
Chili turn in
Announcements came, and Jonathan was called in 6th place, Honorable Mention. He was happy to hear his name, which most cooks say, but really mean, "I want to hear my name in first place."  But he was genuinely happy. He never once complained, he never once said he should have one, and he told everyone how we was 6th, and was damn proud. Which makes me damn proud as well.

Waiting for announcements.
Hearing his name!

Youth Division Winners!
Come Sunday, it was time for announcements, and I received a huge shock. Along side other great ICS cooks, chairman, and judges, I was presented an All Star award, with Ghon and my name on it. When Carol presented the award, she started crying. I started crying when she did; and kept crying. To be recognized for our volunteer work, which is work, but so much fun, was incredible. I know Ghon would have been shocked. Without a doubt. He lived wondering what his legacy would be, what his purpose was, and yearning for some type of recognition he felt he never had. And here, it was, and least for this part of his life. Recognition for something we did because we could, because we enjoyed it, and because it was the right thing to do. To be honored along side those that showed us some ropes; an honor indeed.

2016 All Stars
I held that award all evening.

It still brings tears to my eyes when I look at it.

I took two kids, by myself, on an airplane, well, several, to Reno NV and back for a 4 day trip. Two of those days, were mainly on planes. But why? Why in the world would I do that?

I've said it before, chili cooks are family. They are the cousins you love to hang out with, the aunts and uncles you think are a little odd, but turn out to be the coolest people you know, the aunt or uncle that gives you the ebbie jeebies and makes you want to run and hide. Visits are a few hours a weekend through the year, and then, the big reunion comes in the fall. You meet the new family members, those that are newer to ICS or make the trip to WCCC for the first time.When you get to the reunion, you are introduced to your long lost cousins, put names and faces together and just party. And because we are a family, we know that kids are the future. They belong, are encouraged to participate and are part of the future of the family legacy.

It's been said that friends are the family you choose. And I'll continue to choose these folks over and over. They've sent their love, their prayers, their support to me and the kids. They were there for Ghon, and I know they will be there for us.

The kids had an amazing weekend. We did many other things besides cook chili; but that was a highlight for sure. Genevieve now has 2 new BFFs. Jonathan bonded more with other junior cooks. They are laying a foundation for the future of love and support, even if it is now just another chili cookoff.

Seriously, doesn't this look like a great family photo, with our friend (and Daddy shirt maker) Dave?

To my chili friends reading this, thank you for making WCCC 2016 so special, despite the huge void. I tried to visit many of you, yet, I know at times, I probably kept some distance. Jonathan has very few memories of his last WCCC, but I'm sure they will both remember this trip, this cookoff.

There are so many of you I could thank for your love and support that goes above and beyond - but I'm afraid I'll leave someone out. I appreciate you all. You know who you are, I know who you are, and God knows who you are. Thank you.

I love comments. Have something to say? Drop a message below!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Thank you

I was driving to Southern States for chicken food, to be followed by a stop at the hospital to visit Ghon. The kids were with me, and had added “Get well soon” to the wrapping paper on their Father’s Day gifts they were bringing to the hospital. I received a call from a number I didn’t know, and went ahead and answered. I instantly knew that this was a call I needed to pull over and take. Ghon was in cardiac arrest, being actively worked on. I called my Dad. My mind raced, and immediately, I knew I should try calling our friend Brandi to see if she could come take the kids for me. I’m not sure I ever actually called her before. We texted a few times, messaged quite a bit via Facebook, but that old fashioned phone call? Not sure it had ever been done.

I was barely to the front of the hospital when I realized Brandi was already there and helping get the kids into her van. She stayed with me, and off her husband Mike went with the kids for the night. Brandi stayed with me until I was able to see Ghon. She navigated the hospital maze to get me a sandwich from Subway for dinner and drove my car home so she could bring my kids home the next day.

Before I could blink, Brandi set up a Meal Train page, and my little family had meals prepared for two weeks. She asked if it would be ok, and again, before I knew it, there was a Go Fund Me page out there to financially assist my family. Not only was I then sitting in shock from losing Ghon, but I was shocked that people were donating to the Fund Me.

We had our first visitors the day after Ghon’s death. They came armed with a gift for the kids, juice boxes, multiple Lunchables, and the finest china – paper plates, plastic cups and plasticware. And what became my right hand – a notebook to track various gifts and visits.

The gifts kept pouring in. And gifts weren’t always tangible. Gifts may be prayers, positive thoughts, a sharing of our story or their own, offering of time and labor at the farmhouse, taking the kids for a few hours to play, cards, or simply letting me know they were there – and they cared. Friends took me to a sing-a-long less than a week after Ghon died where at the end I began crying on Laura's shoulder and a group hug commenced. Surrounded by love.

I've tried to keep up with thank you notes, but have fallen way behind. I’m still working on getting them out. Yet, there are so many people I'm not able to send thank you's to. There are quite a few generous people that donated to the Go Fund Me that I don't even know! Some, I barely know, or were Ghon's friends and co-workers, so I don't have addresses. Please know, your gift means the world to us.

Ghon did not have life insurance. We did not have any savings. He'd recently cashed in his 401K to pay off a few bills and prepare for farming. I had enough to cover his cremation expenses, but that was it. I've always been one to be accountable for monetary gifts. I've taught the kids to send thank you notes to family that send monetary gifts for birthdays and Christmas - or at least - a phone call to say exactly what you chose with the money. I wanted to let people know some of the things we've been able to accomplish with your gifts:
  • Supplies to sand and protect all of the hardwood floors in the farmhouse. Our friend Jeff Smoke volunteered his TIME, a TON of it, to complete the floors and floor joists in the living room ceiling. (let me know if you need work done so I can send you his contact info!!)
  • The final build-out of Jonathan's room and the kids playroom/office area. Materials and labor.
  • Repayment of a loan we had to paint the house exterior.
  • Handyman services that built our back steps, material and installation of our dining room and living room ceilings, rails and installation of the barn doors in my bedroom, creation of the stone walkway from the driveway, tree trimming and removal, stacking wood, and most importantly, a MASSIVE cleanup effort of the yard from 2 years worth of construction debris. Oh, and moved the heaviest furniture I have to the farmhouse.
  • Various odds and ends to finish the house from trim board to curtains.
  • Stone to fill in our driveway and parking spot.
  • A shed. Ghon was going to build one with the stash of pallets he collected. This was desperately needed.
  • Create a savings - for future emergencies and for the kids.
We'd thought (as in Ghon and I) we'd be able to get a lot of that done ourselves. Especially the trash. But there is NO WAY I would have been able to do it alone. I had a ton of help, then still hired people to finish. I had friends and coworkers come help clean, paint, install window screens, make trash runs, move stuff - you name it, they helped. None of this would have been possible to do without the love and support of our friends and family. I am humbled, and thankful every single day for each of you.

You call me strong - you make me that way.

Thanks to your gifts - including the lovely housewarming gifts of birdbaths, chimes, candles, plates, flowers, and figurines, you have helped do what this blog was all about - making a house a home. Giving of yourself to help remember Ghon, honor him, and help us start our lives without his physical presence but surrounded by his spirit and your love.

As I reflect, I know my life drastically changed with two phone calls. One coming in from the hospital, and one going out to Brandi. 

I think I'm a friendly person, but I can't say I make friends easily; I'm a bit introverted and awkward in new settings or places where I don't know people. Years ago, I thought to myself, we should really get to know them (the Cowdens) better. I bet we could be friends. Unlike kids, I didn't know how to say "hey, ya wanna be friends?" Life took it's course. It's unfortunate that it took Ghon's death to propel it forward, but I will forever be grateful for the love and friendship the Cowden family has given mine. 

At some point, I promise I'll stop thanking you. Just know I so appreciate you all - and you never need to hesitate to call us for anything. I'll need support and rescuing again for sure. The kids will continue to reach out to Miss Brandi because she knows everything (I think you are in competition with Google now though), and Mr. Mike to support all their crazy ideas that Mom would say no to (like multiple packs of powdered donuts and cake face smashing).  There's not too much painting to do. There's no more Ikea furniture to build.

Through a gazillion (or close to 20) birthday parties and our tragedy, we've become family. Little adopted Lockhart/Mason/Eisert/Cowden/Goodmans. HA! You can't get rid of us now.

Despite your poor choice in football teams, we love you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you.