Category Archives: Valerie J. Patterson

Turkey Stuffing Makes Me Cry by Valerie J. Patterson

Who knew?  I mean it’s not something that’s ever happened before.  I had no idea that stuffing and I were so close it could make me cry.  But it did.  In a very big way.  And I was caught unaware right there in the aisle of the grocery store.  Unaware and unprepared for the force of emotions that washed over me and left me sobbing and left my husband bewildered.

It was a very innocent trip to the store to stock up for Thanksgiving dinner.  Had everything in the cart and turned down the aisle with the bread crumbs and the premixed stuffing selections and the seasonings.  I looked up at the canister of bread crumbs and instantly, tears began to stream down my face as I choked back sobs.  Steve came beside me, placed a hand on my back and rubbed gentle little circles between my shoulder blades.

“What’s wrong?”

“S-s-stuffing…”

“I don’t understand.  What happened?”

“I saw the bread crumbs and it reminded me of my mom.”

“Okay…”

My mom passed away October 20th, and I’m in that phase of mourning where just seeing something or hearing something brings a flood of tears.  Mornings are the worst for me.  I’ll be getting ready for work, see the time on the clock and break down.  But stuffing caught me off guard.

From the time I was old enough to wield a knife, I sat in the kitchen with my mom and dad and–while they did other things–I chopped onion and celery into microscopic slivers for my mom’s homemade turkey stuffing.  Mom liked the flavor of both in her stuffing but hated biting into chunks of either one.  After I got married and moved away, my dad took over my dicing duties unless by some stroke of luck we arrived early enough for me to do the honor.

It’s been many years since I last chopped any onion or celery in my mom’s kitchen, which is why I was taken aback when, right there in the aisle, I was overtaken with emotion.  I guess I just never expected a canister of bread crumbs to affect me in quite a personal way.

Mom was an excellent cook.  She was the best friend I never expected, but was blessed to have.  She was strength and grace and beauty and charm.  She was warm and funny and loving and tough.  She was heart and soul and faith and light.  She was generous and giving and sympathetic and compassionate.  She and my dad were active participants in my life and I have equal parts of both of them inside of me–of the person I am.  And because of all of that, stuffing can make me cry!

I miss my mom.  I will miss her for the rest of my life, but we will meet again, and what a reunion that will be!

2016 has been a year of hard knocks and loss, but it has also been a year of great blessing, and I have much to be thankful for.  And I am indeed thankful.

Until next time, may you always be able to see the blessings in your life and may the memories you share add flavor to your days!

It’s That Time Again! By Valerie J. Patterson

It happens every year.  There’s simply no escaping it.  You can’t run from it, hide from it, or even overlook it.  Every September–like clockwork–it happens.

What is it?  That time of year when summer ends and fall begins.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy all of the seasons.  Each one brings about a creative resurgence that I absolutely love!  Winter, with its stark beauty, beckons me outdoors and into the crisp evening air to wonder at all the exquisiteness of a fresh falling snow.  Spring, with its rebirth of everything green and colorful, pulls me into the lushness of showers that result in bursts of vibrant flowers and carpets of green.  Summer, with its endless azure skies, romances me with ocean sprays and huge golden moons lighting up paths in the sand.  Autumn, with its brilliant grandeur, lures me into carefree times of yesterday when I played in the leaves, enjoyed hayrides, and carved pumpkins.

But there is something else that fall does–it comes with shorter days and less rays from the sun.  This is without a doubt the one thing about fall I dislike.  It’s dark when I rise and the darkness comes calling just a short time after I leave the office.  Sigh.  I love the cooler temperatures, but bemoan the fact there is less daylight to enjoy them.

There’s nothing I can do about it.  It happens every single year.  And I so very much look forward to those days when the daylight creeps into longer hours.  Ah yes, that too happens every single year!

Until next time, may a lilting fall breeze lift your hair, caress your face, and gently blow through your mind to inspire you.

George & Louise…A Great Love by Valerie J. Patterson

George and Louise Boldt–their story is one of a great and deeply felt love.  It’s also a tale of tragedy and a future with a broken heart.  George was a poor immigrant in the late 1800s who managed to gain employment at the famous Waldorf Astoria, and later would own it and another hotel here in Pennsylvania.  It was while he was working at the Waldorf that he met Louise Kehrer and fell madly in love with her.  While vacationing in Alexandria Bay, more particularly, the Thousand Islands, he bought Hart Island, which he legally changed to Heart Island.  In 1900, he commenced building a castle there for his lovely Louise to live in.  In 1904, tragedy struck and Louise Boldt died suddenly at the young age of 41.  That same day, George sent a telegram to the island and ordered all construction to cease and all workers to leave the island.  The heartbroken George never stepped foot on Heart Island again.  He never allowed his children or their families to visit the island either.  Boldt Castle was 96% finished the day Louise died, and it would remain unfinished, too.  So great was his love for his wife, and just as great was his pain from losing her, that he could not bear to live there without her.

In 1977, the heirs of George Boldt sold the castle and Heart Island to the state of New York for $1.00 with the following conditions:  1) The castle was to be open to the public and every cent from the sale of tickets was to be put into restoring the castle, which had been vandalized over the decades it remained empty; 2) the restoration was never to go beyond 96% completion, which was the last Louise had ever seen; and 3) no one was ever allowed to live there or stay there.  To date, $38 million have been used in restoring the castle and only one and a half of the 6 floors have been fully restored.

Beginning at the top left corner and continuing clockwise, the photographs are: A view of 75% of Heart Island as seen from our hotel suite’s balcony; the Italian Garden at the rear of the castle with the castle’s power house (also a castle-like structure) in the background; the view of the castle’s main arch entrance where George imagined his guests docking their boats and visiting he and Louise at the castle–to the right is a 6 story playhouse he had designed and constructed for his children and their guests; a rear view of the castle; and, again, the arched entrance to the island.

Steve took me to the Thousand Islands for our anniversary trip, and I was instantly overtaken with the immense love George Boldt had for his wife.  I snapped over 500 photographs, and I apologize that I don’t have a closeup of the front of the castle for you, but those are on another camera card that I have not yet downloaded.

The entire time we were exploring the castle and its grounds on a self-guided tour, Steve and I discussed George and Louise.  All around us were visual signs of their love from heart-shaped flower beds to hand-carved granite benches with huge hearts carved out of the center of each bench’s backrest to the portraits of Louise to the Italian Garden with its carved granite statues.  We wondered what George would think of all the people tramping around the grounds and invading the castle.  We wondered how he would have looked upon the vandalism each room on each floor suffered from careless youths who didn’t know the story behind the castle or perhaps knew it and didn’t care.

As we sat on a magnificent porch, on a heart-shaped bench, I became weepy thinking about George and his immense love of Louise.  With all that Steve has been through this year, perhaps George’s story hit a little too close to home.  Or perhaps I’m just too softhearted and enjoy a good love story.  Maybe a little of both.  One thing I know for certain, George and Louise Boldt are now a part of my own history, and their love story reminds me to be thankful for my own love story!

Finally–so as not to leave on such a sad note–It has been my dream to own an island.  Strange dream, I know.  But ever since I learned that Raymond Burr owned his own island, I’ve wanted to own one myself.  During our stay in Alexandria Bay, we came to learn that there were 3 islands for sale.  The first one we saw had a price of $1.4 million.  The second one we saw had the hefty price tag of $5.5 million.  And the third one was selling for $80,000.  I’ll leave you with the photo of the third island, which is still swimming around in my thoughts as a possibility!

DSCN1396

It’s not the size of the house that matters, but rather the island itself that remains important to me.  <grin>

Until next time, may you be as loved as Louise!!  ❤

Boldt Castle

It’s Ladies’ Night by Valerie J. Patterson

It’s ladies’ night!  Oh what a night!

Last month I invited the ladies from the office over for a little dinner and some poker.  I expected it to be a good night.  I expected us to have a couple hours of playing cards, eating, and talking.  I expected everyone to have a good time.

I was wrong…

It was a great night!  It was several hours of non-stop laughter and shenanigans!  And everyone had a fantastic time!

I can’t wait to do it again!

Oh my!  Put five ladies in a room together, add a deck of cards, some poker chips, food, snacks, wine, and dessert [and a charming male who makes intermittent appearances throughout the evening] and you have the recipe for an exceptional evening!

We ate.  We played poker.  We ate again.  We played poker.  We ate again.  We played more poker.  We talked about everything under the sun, laughed at ourselves, discussed work for perhaps 30 seconds, and then went straight into carrying on again.

Did I mention we played poker and ate?

It’s good to get together and get away from the stress of the job, the worries of the family, and just relax and laugh and share…and be with other women who understand that we all need to escape once in a while, let our hair down, and be completely at ease being who we are individually.

The time passed so quickly that evening, but oh my how fun it was to be there in the midst of it all as one of the gals!

Until next time, may you gather your friends together, laugh until the cows come home, and play a little poker!

Give Me A Hammer! by Valerie J. Patterson

I need a really big hammer–but not so big that I can’t lift it!  Must have a smooth, flat surface and be easy to swing with near-perfect accuracy.  I’m thinking I need Thor’s hammer!  Or perhaps Thor and his hammer!

You may be wondering why I would need such a hammer.  Have you ever heard of the video game Whack A Mole?  That’s why I need such a hammer.

You see, there seems to be a family of moles residing in my beautiful backyard.  I mean, it has to be an entire family, right?  Everywhere you walk there are holes evidencing their intricate subsurface tunnel system.  Everywhere you walk there is loose earth that gives way beneath your feet so that you sink into the lawn.

They’ve taken to tunneling beneath my beautiful stone patio and are leaving mounds of earth behind causing the stones to rock and shift.  They’re tunneling–apparently they’re very hungry while digging tunnels–and they’re eating healthy plants along the way because two of my Azalea bushes have bit the dust.  Among the other plant casualties is one of my thickest grape vines that they’ve managed to eat through and kill.  This does not make me happy.  I used to have a lovely apricot Azalea tree, too.  There are only a few remaining live branches left because they’ve eaten through the roots.

So, I need a very large hammer so that when they venture to stick their vile little heads above the surface of my once beautiful lawn I can whack them on the head!  It might sound a little drastic, but I’m frustrated and nothing else has worked!  Besides, unless you have better solutions to suggest, I can get a good workout whacking them on the head!

Until next time, I hope the only pests in your outdoor space are butterflies whose fluttering wings add grace and beauty to your world!

PS…no moles were harmed during the writing of this blog!

I Ate Bacon and Eggs at 8 AM by Valerie J. Patterson

On April 15th that was the text my husband sent me.  Never before has such a simple sentence brought forth such varied emotion in me.  I laughed.  I cried.  I rejoiced.  And I gave thanks to my Heavenly Father.

Really?  You might be asking yourself.

Yes.  Really!

You see, he sent me that text two days post colon resection surgery.  March 22nd, Steve had a routine colonoscopy.  When the doctor came to get me in the waiting room, he very gently told me he found a tumor and believed it to be cancerous.  Immediately, my heart broke and I began to cry.  He placed his hands on my shoulders and told me not to cry, that Steve would be all right.  I asked him the survival rate and he replied, “Ninety-nine percent plus the Lord Almighty!”

Instantly, peace filled me and I believed right there that he was telling me the truth.  Steve didn’t know yet.  He was in recovery.  When he went into his room, I went in and as soon as his eyes locked with mine, the tears welled in my eyes.  How could I tell him?  How could I break this news to him?  First I had to calm down.

I drew several deep breaths, stood at his bedside and told him they’d found a tumor, but that he was going to be all right.  Steve’s dad came in and we three talked and tried to laugh.  Finally, the doctor came in and explained in more detail what he found and then he recommended a surgeon, stressing that surgery needed to be sooner rather than later.  And thus began our journey.  This blog article is not about the cancer.  It’s about the courage, the hope, the faith, the power of prayer, and the people placed on our path for this particular journey.

The Surgeon: A humble man who–upon hearing us thank him for his expertise–said, “Thank you, but I am not as good as [the man upstairs].”  When his eyes lifted Heavenward, I smiled because it was proof that God had placed him on our path.  I trusted him at first meeting.  He set us at ease as he explained exactly what would occur as well as the healing process.  He answered our many questions, and he took excellent care of my very best friend, my biggest blessing.  Just before he took Steve into surgery, he squeezed my hand and told me it would be all right.  When he came to get me in the waiting room, our eyes met, and he hit me with an enormous smile.  “It went very well.  Took a little longer than expected, but it went well.  I got everything.”  We are thankful that he is on our path.

The Oncologist:  A very sweet, very intelligent, very knowledgeable, very patient man.  He is perhaps the very first–and only doctor–to ever look at me and ask me what research I had done prior to arriving at his office.  I told him what I had read and he took the time to explain what I’d read, how it applied or didn’t apply to Steve, and then went on to not only explain his course of treatment for Steve, but also the science behind it.  He provided us with literature to back up his plan.  When he explained that Steve would not require chemo or radiation, tears sprang to my eyes because I and so many others were praying for this.  He never missed a beat.  He smiled understandingly before handing me a box of tissues.  Our journey with him has only begun, and yet I am thankful he is walking this path with us.  We’re trusting him with Steve’s health.

The Church:  Our church family has been standing in the gap from the beginning.  When there is an entire body of believers praying, miracles happen.  There is power in prayer.  Every night, Steve and I would hold hands and pray.  When two or more are gathered in His name, He is there in their midst.  There’s power between those two.  Imagine the power of hundreds of people joined in the same prayer!  Steve’s cousin’s church was praying.  Our church was praying.  Family and friends were praying.  I am so very thankful for each individual.  I am in awe of the love shown to us through prayers, cards, lawn mowing, offers of meals, hugs of support, encouraging texts, phone calls.  I cannot begin to show my appreciation.

Our Pastor:  Our pastor was with me at the hospital during the long hours of waiting while Steve was in surgery.  He was there to visit with Steve, to pray with him, to encourage him, and to bolster his faith.  He was in our driveway at the first sign of an emergency that put Steve back in the hospital for an 8-day stay.  He was only a text away.  He and his wife provided me with comfort, hugs, care, love, and encouragement.  They were the source of a smile when I needed it, too.    And their care has not ended.  I do not have words enough to express everything I’m feeling.

Our Family:  The glue that holds us together when we are facing the tough, the difficult, the heartbreaking things that life throws our way.  It’s easy to take family for granted, but truly life is too short to not tell those precious to you that you love them, value them, and appreciate what they bring to your life.

Steve’s journey will be long, but the hardest is behind us.  We are thankful.  We are grateful.  We are fully aware that we are not walking this path alone.  We are rejoicing for blessings small and great.

Like millions of people, I never wanted to hear the “C” word, but now that it’s out there, I’m genuinely thankful for the very special people who are on this journey with us.

I am thankful for proclamations like: “I ate bacon and eggs at 8 AM!”

Life got extreme, and we fell to our knees.

Until next time, may your journey be peaceful and may there be exceptional people walking it with you.

Forgive me…

For faithful friends and readers who are here looking for my blog, forgive me.  Life has become a bit extreme, and I am otherwise occupying my time.

I hope to return next month with something witty for your reading pleasure.

Until then, may your days be blessed with sunshine to warm you, the song of birds to entertain you, and family and friends to love you!!

They Found What?!?! by Valerie J. Patterson

Picture it: Monday afternoon, a lovely day for al fresco dining, a pleasant meal, good company, and, well, rodents!

There, I said it.  I didn’t want to say it.  I don’t even want to think about it, but there it is.

Monday, my friend and co-worker, Debbie and I went to a local eatery for lunch.  As soon as we stepped outside the courthouse and into the sunshine we were refreshed and happy to be anywhere but inside.  We walked a few blocks to one of our favorite places–a Mexican restaurant–and were delighted to see new wrought iron tables and chairs and big umbrellas lining the sidewalk.  I looked at Debbie and smiled.

“Shall we eat outside?”

“Absolutely!  It’s gorgeous out here!”

We went inside and informed the host we would have a table outside.  He grinned great big and said we would be their first patrons to use the new tables.

Outside we went.

The sun was shining, the service was excellent, and the food was as tasty as always.  Plus we both tried a new dish.

Then, a few days later a friend texted me and asked, “Hey, did you hear the Mexican place was shut down because of a rodent infestation?”

I thought for certain I was going to lose the dinner I had just finished eating.  I left my kitchen where I was doing the dishes, and sat down on the sofa and gagged!  I texted back that I had not heard that news, and that I was trying to process it without being sick.

How does this happen?  How do you run a restaurant and not know you have a rodent infestation?  How do you not take care of it immediately?  How is it possible that you have to be shut down by a Food Safety Inspector before you deal with it?  How do you continue to serve unsuspecting patrons?

Truth be told, if I frequented the Department of Agriculture’s website and viewed the reports of the restaurants I eat at, I’d never eat out again.  Ever.  I’d brown bag lunches and my freezer would be stocked with meals I had prepared myself.  And let’s be honest, this would be far healthier for me anyway.  Again, let’s also be honest in admitting every now and then we all enjoy a good meal out somewhere.  Who doesn’t want or need a break from the kitchen here and there?  Or to step outside from work occasionally?

I recently read an article that said if you want to know how clean a restaurant’s kitchen is, use the restroom.  If the restroom is not clean, neither is the kitchen. If this is true, then perhaps if I had used the restroom before dining al fresco, I wouldn’t have eaten at that restaurant Monday.  I’ll never know.

What I do know is this: It’ll be a long time before I go there again…if I go there again.  Even though I know it will be up to the standards of the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety when it reopens, I will be remembering that they didn’t care enough for my health as a patron to run a clean kitchen to begin with.  It took me almost 2 years to return to a restaurant that had received a bad report, and they weren’t closed down–for rodents or anything else!

Until next time, may your kitchen pantry always be full of a variety of inviting choices and may the restaurant you choose to eat at be clean and rodent-free!  Maybe check the restroom before you sit down!

Funeral For A Friend by Valerie J. Patterson

Saying goodbye is never an easy thing, even when you know the other person is going away.  Moving across the country.  Taking a new path in life.  Getting married.  Going into the military.  In those cases there’s the possibility of a reunion.  But saying goodbye after the person has gone is even more difficult.  There’s no hug goodbye.  No opportunity to reaffirm your love for them.  No parting words.

November 13th, my Aunt Sis–my dad’s only sibling–passed from this life completely on her own terms.  As you might recall, 4 years ago I took over her care due to the increasing complications of Alzheimer’s disease.  I moved her from her home in Pittsburgh to an assisted living residence a few blocks from my home.  Over the course of the ensuing 4 years I watched this horrible disease rob her of her mobility, her vocabulary, her ability to feed herself, her memories, and her vitality.  I watched her lose her taste buds, which left her unwilling to eat.  I watched her drop weight rapidly and–ultimately–I watched her lose her ability to remember me.

Alzheimer’s may have robbed her of everything we hold dear in life, but her death was on her own terms.  November 13th was a Friday.  I was at the office.  By all accounts, she was having a great day.  She’d eaten a good breakfast.  She spent the morning joking with the staff and giving them a “hard time”.  She ate a good lunch and was in her recliner in the living room.  The aide that was with her after lunch walked away to help another resident.  When she came back, she said Kay looked a little odd.  She knelt down to listen to her heart and actually heard my aunt draw her last breath a few minutes before two o’clock that afternoon.

The director of the residence called me at the office and very gently broke the news to me.  I remember staring out the window beside my desk and the tears springing to my eyes.  I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.  No opportunity to once more affirm how much I loved her.  No chance to tell her how much I would miss her.  As I left the office and drove to the residence I thought about her final day.  Instead of it being filled with pain, it was filled with laughter.  Instead of being unable to get out of bed, she was sitting in her recliner having eaten both a good breakfast and a good lunch.  Instead of being alone when she died, she was with people who genuinely cared about her and treated her as a member of their own families.

Instead of having an illness that claimed her life, she died while having a great day.  She simply closed her eyes, sighed one last time, and left this life.

I have never planned a funeral, but suddenly, I found myself planning hers.  She was not one to discuss death–especially her own.  She told me the funeral home where she wanted her viewing to be held, and she told me she wanted a Mass of Christian Burial at the Catholic church she attended.  I shopped for everything from her final outfit to the casket.  Every decision I made, I made with her in mind, answering questions like: What would she want to wear?  What kind of flowers would she want.  What scripture reading would she want?  What hymns would she like?  What kind of casket would she pick out?  With every decision, I wanted to honor her and the life she lived.

My aunt was an amazingly creative individual.  She was incredibly talented and she had a workshop most men would be envious of.  She used power tools, multiple types of power saws, and tools that had odd names that only carpenters knew what they were for.  She could make anything out of wood, and she did.  If you showed her a picture in a magazine and said you thought you would like that, she recreated it and gifted it to you.  Did I mention she was amazing?

When the funeral director, Sandy, took my husband and I into the casket room, my knees grew weak and my throat tightened up, and I bit the inside of my cheek to prevent the tears from flowing again.  I admit to tuning out Sandy as she explained about the vaults and the caskets, which lined the walls of the room.  I looked at all the options and I wondered silently which one Aunt Sis would prefer.  I made several trips past the three walls of steel caskets, looking all of them over, and over again.  I could hear my husband asking Sandy questions as I made my fourth trip around the room.  Sandy asked me if I’d decided.  Finally, I found myself at the wall of hand-carved wooden caskets.  In front of me was a hand-carved casket of solid cherry.  I felt Steve beside me.  He hugged me and said, “It’s her.  She would appreciate the craftsmanship,  the carved corners, and the intricate and ornate scroll work.  It’s the perfect tribute to what she loved to do.”

As for me, it was almost as if she’d led me to that wall of caskets and nudged me toward that one of solid cherry.  In fact, through the entire process it was as if she was right there leading me.  Like my Mom and Dad, she was a huge influence in my life.  When we were together, we always laughed like we shared a special secret.  Planning her funeral was one of the hardest things to do because it wasn’t just for my Aunt Sis, it was a funeral for a friend.

I have realized that there was no need to affirm that I loved her, she knew it just I know she loved me just as dearly.  Even though there was no opportunity to verbally tell her goodbye, I’m so thankful that her final day was a good day and that her passing was as peaceful as could be.  And on her own terms.  In spite of all that Alzheimer’s robbed from her, she was victorious in not allowing it to claim her life.

Until next time, I hope your days are filled with love…and that they’re great!

To Tree Or Not To Tree, That is the Question by Valerie J. Patterson

To tree or not to tree.  That is the question.  Not quite Shakespearean, but close enough.

The holidays are a lot of work.  You’ve got the baking, the shopping, the wrapping, and the decorating.  And that’s just the preparation.  All of these things tie together to make the holidays festive, memorable, and delicious, but when it’s all over, have you ever wanted to just leave the decorations up a little longer than past New Years?  What’s acceptable?  When is it too long?

The norm in our neighborhood seems to be outside decorations need to come down–or at the very least no longer lit up–after New Years’ Day.  I was a rebel this year and not only left them up but also left them lit up until January 9th.  The weather that Saturday was a pure gift, and I spent the morning out in the front yard while the bubbly hubby was at work.  Removing all the decorations and lights was a bit of a bummer, reminding me how quickly the holidays pass.  When I finished and went inside, I stared at the tree standing proud in the center of my picture window, and I didn’t have the heart to tackle that as well.

One more week, is what I thought that evening as I turned down the lights and sat on the sofa with the bubbly hubby and watched the lights.  Just one more week, then I’ll take it down.

And then I talked with my sister-in-law, Tracy who told me she didn’t want to take down her tree, either.  Instead, she removed the Christmas decorations, replacing them with Valentine’s Day decorations.  She shared a photo and I was convinced.  This past Monday, Steve and I went and bought some Valentine’s Day decorations and this Saturday, I will change my Christmas tree into a Valentine’s tree.

And then–if I am still reluctant to take it down and put it in the closet–I will make it a St. Patrick’s Day tree!

So what about you?  To tree or not to tree?  What’s your choice?

Until next time, may the simplicity and beauty of tree lights bring color to your life!