Heaven’s new Biker Babe

Last week my Aunt Maggie passed away, at the age of 52, after battling ovarian cancer the past few years.  Although we all knew her time was near, and we said our “good-bye’s”, the news of her death hit me much harder than I expected.  Although she is my “step-aunt” (married to my stepmother’s brother), I consider Aunt Maggie and Uncle Norman some of my closest relatives.  They have been in my life for over 22 years, growing up we saw them at least twice a year, as adults we try to continue to visit on an annual basis.  It’s not just the loss of a relative that left my heart aching, it’s that Aunt Maggie was incredible in so many ways.   

I’m so grateful that Eric encouraged me to fly back to Florida for her funeral and memorial service.  I really needed this time to process her death with my family, hear from Uncle Norman stories of her last days, and share fun memories with friends and relatives.  They have such an expansive network of friends, all good, caring people.  From their motorcycle club buddies, to their community of faith, the church overflowed with people joining in celebration of a woman who positively impacted their lives. 

The services and celebration of her life were wonderful, and I appreciated the special touches carefully planned together by Maggie and Norman.  Uncle Norm wore a light gray suit, the same suit he wore at their wedding rehearsal dinner 27 years ago.  He had their motorcycles set up on display in the garage, highlighting moments of significance shared together.

Norm BMW Bike

Photo collages of Maggie’s life were on display, reminding us as one relative put it, she was “disgustingly photogenic”:

Maggie photos

We learned about the poem they shared together while Uncle Norm was a pilot with Delta and away from home, remembering they are still in sync even when they are apart.  Now he carries a lock of her hair and the watch she gave him in his pocket, reminding him they are “set to the same time”.


I think one of my favorite stories I heard over the weekend comes from one of my cousins.  She married into the Nelson family 12 years ago, and has always had a special bond with Aunt Maggie, sharing recipes and teasing each other about college football teams.  Once when the family was gathered at Maggie and Norman’s house, Maggie had made her delicious homemade peach pie.  Many of the women asked for the recipe, and Aunt Maggie gladly copied and shared it with them.  When my cousin asked for a copy, Aunt Maggie said “no, I’m not going to give you my peach pie recipe”.  My cousin was shocked, and asked “why not?  I just saw you give it to three other people.”  Maggie went on to explain, “they’re never going to make the recipe, asking for a copy of it is just their way of being polite and communicating their enjoyment of the pie.  If YOU want my recipe, you need to come visit again, and I’ll teach you.”  So…my cousin did, and she learned Aunt Maggie’s peach pie recipe.  She plans to plant a peach tree in their yard and use those peaches to make Maggie’s pie every year.  This story characterizes our Aunt Maggie so well.  She is respectful, allows everyone to be themselves and feel honored and loved, yet can see things how they really are.

Two months ago I wrote a letter to Aunt Maggie trying to put into words how much she meant to me.  I’ll close with a section of that letter:

“The top 5 things I admire about my Aunt Maggie that I hope to someday incorporate into my life:

 1. She is CLEVER. I know many smart funny people, but you merge both of these characteristics together so well. Two silly stories come to mind that have stuck with me over the years. The first – I love hearing the story of how you and Uncle Norm met, with him creeping down the side of the hill on his motorcycle bringing Chris to soccer practice, etc. You describe the story so well but my favorite part is how you figured out the age difference – by asking where he was when he learned JFK was shot. Very clever! As part of this category, it’s also your humor. My second ditty is playing games at the Crescent Beach house in the kitchen ….likely Pictionary. Grandma and Grandpa finally went to bed and you declared it to be “Miller Time” and that cracked us up. I treasure those times at the beach house together – so fun!

2. She is STRAIGHT FORWARD AND SPEAKS THE TRUTH. I love your honesty about your truth and how you see a situation. I can’t think of anyone who can “tell it like it is” with such love and humor that your message is heard and always appreciated.  At work when we are off to social events, our motto is “chat, but don’t offend.” You have this down!

3. She MODELS A GREAT MARRIAGE. I greatly admire your relationship with Uncle Norm. You demonstrate a true partnership. You model how to maintain your uniqueness as an individual, yet at the same time become a team, with shared interests and adventures. Together you seem to live life and have fun!

4. She is a BEACON OF LOVE TO OTHERS. You are so loving to all that you meet.’ As a mother, and aunt, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a sister-in-law, a daughter-in-law, etc…..your love is felt and embraced by so many lucky people! A specific example that I am trying to emulate is your thoughtfulness to Grandpa.  You mentioned that as you see notes or articles which would interest him, you mail them in a note to him. It is so easy to think of others but still go on with my everyday life, but now I try to think more about slowing down and sharing those thoughts.

5. She is an ETERNALLY POSITIVE PERSON. Your mental strength and positive attitude about life has always been clear to me, but even more so as you have worked through your health challenges. I am blown away by your strength, and choosing to live your life to the fullest, appreciating each moment and making the best of all situations. What a lesson to us all.” 


Norm's Family


October 4, 2009 at 7:02 pm 3 comments

We Staged a Miracle

Wow, what an incredible experience.  It is difficult to put it to words.  Last Saturday the kids performed their play, A Hand Out For Hope, to three overflowing audiences.  It was so rewarding to see these kids shine on stage.  Some of the miracles along the way that will stay with me…

Thanks to the skills of my brother Justin, we merged images of art made by each of the children in the play into a poster (see below).  The Sacramento Bee was very generous to our program by writing a great article, capturing interviews on this video, and printing our posters for free. This generosity allowed us to give one to each of the children, while selling the others for next year’s seed money.  This is such a great memento of this summer’s production.

2009 Staging A Miracle Poster

2009 Staging A Miracle Poster

We had a display during the Saturday performances (which were associated with Sacramento’s 2nd Saturday Art Walk event) of art and photography by the kids.  It was a powerful display that the Sacramento downtown library requested to have as an exhibit in the next few months.  This is a great opportunity to continue to raise awareness of Staging A Miracle, and give the families an excuse to go to the library together! It is another example of how this small program is truly becoming a community collaborative.

Sunday after the final performance(as part of the worship service) we celebrated the conclusion of our time together with a cast party.  During the party the writer and director of the play presented each of the children with their poster, on which we had written positive characteristics we observed in each child.  Watching those kids hang on to these words of encouragement, and witnessing how much they have learned and grown in the past 5 weeks was miraculous.  Some of the kids learned to play guitar.  Some kids shined when they learned to focus their energy in a positive way.  But most of all, meaningful relationships in this community have formed, and I expect will continue. 

I began the journey to volunteer with the group because I loved the concept and wanted to help others in my community.  As a result, I have been changed for the better by this experience, and I look forward to the next step, whatever it may be.

Look for pictures and a video in a future post…likely a few weeks.

August 12, 2009 at 8:57 pm 1 comment

Staging A Miracle – Week 3!

We are now in week 3 of 5 for Staging A Miracle.  It’s amazing how far we have come, and incredible to see the different pieces of the workshops now weaving together.  Each rehearsal I find myself having a magical moment of some type.  Last week it was watching a group of younger children, ages 6 to 10, gather around their music teacher singing their hearts out to the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” to the lyrics customized for the show. 

Tonight, my moment was helping Rydell, an autistic 13yr old in the program who is participating with his younger sister.  Rydell is such a sweet kid.  I haven’t had many interactions with him yet, but there has been enough that he gives me a big hug when he says hello and good-bye.  This evening was our first rehearsal where we merged most of the kids together.  Picture 40+ kids ranging in age from 6 to 17 singing, dancing and teaching them the choreography to make all their actions look cohesive.  It was loud.  It was chaotic.  There was lots of movement.  I saw Rydell sitting in the back of the room by himself.  I joined him, to make sure he was ok.  He did great for a while, then it was clear he was overstimulated.  He shared a few methods with us to help calm him down, then eventually went for a walk (picking up three other adults he invited to join us), and we all walked around the church with him while he told a story.

Having an instant connection with kids has never been my thing (it’s really my brother’s gift), but as I am spending more time with these kids, with such various backgrounds, we still find a way to all have fun through this program together.  Although I won’t complain when I have my Tuesday/Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoon back, I am still looking forward to each performance and the miraculous moments we will experience!

July 21, 2009 at 10:24 pm 1 comment

Feelin’ Furlough Friday

Today I felt the pains of Furlough Friday for the first time.  No, Eric is not furloughed (yet), but many state employees, including the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) large offices near my office, are now furloughed 3 Fridays per month.

Since I was riding my bike to a breakfast meeting downtown before continuing to work, I didn’t brown bag my lunch figuring I would just stop by the little bagel deli (note: sign on the building is titled “Bagles”, yes, they are spelling challenged) around the corner that my colleagues frequent and get one of their delicious salads or sandwiches.   Today for lunch, in the 100+ degree heat, I walked over to the bagel shop and noticed they were closed.  After studying their sign closely and confirming they should be open, my colleague and I concluded it must be due to Furlough Friday.  Sigh.  No worries, I’ll try the new Teriyaki joint one block over.  No dice.  Lights out, locked doors.   The owner of the dry cleaners next door told me it was due to Furlough Friday. 

As I stared at the Taco Bell contemplating if I wanted to be spending quality time with the porcelain god this afternoon, I noticed a little Mexican restaurant, Los Jarritos, one more block away…please…be open and delicious.  Thank you Los Jarritos!  Not only did I have a delicious enchilada, taco, beans and rice for lunch, it was only $5.43!  What a deal. 

Although the struggles  furloughed employees have (14% paycut) are much greater than mine, in a very minor and peripheral way, I shared their pain today.  Oh California, what will we do…

July 17, 2009 at 5:35 pm 1 comment

Are You Ready for A Miracle?

staging_a_miracle_LO_FFFor the past five months I have been volunteering with a wonderful team of people planning, preparing and doing lots of praying for a program called Staging A Miracle.  (Click here to see a video of the inaugural performance from last year).  This is a five week summer arts theater program, primarily for families in the Sacramento community who are transitioning out of homelessness.  It’s of no cost to them, and an opportunity for grade school children to receive quality arts programming three times a week, culminating with a performance of their musical on Saturday, August 8th as part of the Sacramento Second Saturday Art Walk.   These kids will not only perform in the play, but their art will become the backdrop, their words will become the script, and their voices will be the music. 

While the children are in different workshops with practicing artists learning to paint, dance, sing, act and write, we provide childcare for the babies and other arts-related classes for the preschoolers and the parents.  It truly is a summer arts program for the whole family.  

In the months leading up to tonight, we already witnessed a few miracles.  One of the key aspects to this program is the provision of transportation.  Many of these families don’t have reliable transportation, or the funds for additional trips.  Months ago we thought we had secured donated vans to transport the families (100 participants in total!) to and from the church for each rehearsal.  3 weeks ago the van deal fell through….that same day, we received a generous grant (in this challenging economy) which has enabled us to pay for alternative transportation.  Such a blessing!

Tonight was the first night of this summer’s Staging A Miracle program.  It was electrifying to see the church transform into a center for children in the arts, bringing participants and volunteers from all walks of life together to be creative and have fun!  It seemed as though everywhere I turned there were smiling faces.  What began as a crazy idea from some amazing people at First United Methodist Church in Sacramento, has grown into a community of love, support, and hope for the future.  I’m so grateful and excited to be part of this program, I can’t wait for our next gathering on Thursday!

July 7, 2009 at 10:19 pm 1 comment

It’s amazing to me…

…that it’s 9:30pm and in the 60’s, yet in 2 days it will be over 100degrees here, and still in the 60’s in the evening.

I am also am amazed, or more accurately – wondering, where my blog post time went?  Sigh…I will work on that.

June 25, 2009 at 8:39 pm 2 comments

What is missing in this photo?

Remember the kids magazine Highlights and the hidden pictures, where you looked for items within the picture?  Let’s play a version of that game:

What is different in the below photos*?

Official Big Sur Marathon elevation profile

Official Big Sur Marathon elevation profile

Elevation profile from Eric's GPS watch

Elevation profile from Eric's GPS watch

 The top picture is the elevation chart posted on the Big Sur Website.  The second picture is from Eric’s GPS tracking watch.  Notice the difference between miles 15 and 25…I mistakenly thought we were in for some fairly smooth sailing.  Not quite!  Eric’s watch captures the rolling hills – which was the reality, they must have been “hidden” in the official profile!  When runners told us at the start this was a tough course…I began to really believe them around mile 16.  🙂  I still had a blast!

*Note: Miles 1-3 on the official chart is pretty accurate, Eric’s is off because the GPS was catching the tree tops as we were still in the redwoods.

April 29, 2009 at 7:55 pm 3 comments

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