Category Archives: Storytelling

Memories and wonderful moments in life.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Martha’s Vineyard 1985
Thinking back to the summer of 1985, I was 17 years old and going to be a Senior in high school that coming year. My brother, Bob would be going to Duquesne College in the fall and my sister, Debbie would be a Junior in high school. Tommy would have been nine years old. And Aunt Mary, my Mom’s sister came with us, who in addition to being our Aunt was also a good friend.

I have so many fond memories from that vacation in Martha’s Vineyard — and I have wanted to return ever since that year. I think that vacation was bittersweet — not knowing at the time it would be our last big trip as a family.

Martha’s Vineyard 2015 — What had changed?
I’m glad we ended up going the last week of September over my birthday — during off season. It was probably about as busy as it was in 1985 during peak season. I can’t imagine what it would have been like in peak season if we had gone in June! I would think there would be traffic gridlock on the island and in the towns. We had a hard time finding parking almost anywhere we went. Of course, they recommended alternative forms of transportation, such as biking, but that’s kind of hard to do on crutches!

We noticed lots of contractors — I mean at every turn. Maybe everyone hired contractors at the end of the season. But these guys had big trucks with ladders over the top and buckets hanging off the back. And they didn’t stop at stop signs or yield to other vehicles whatsoever. The streets were narrow around Edgartown, and you could barely get by their vehicles. Thank goodness I had mirrors that flipped in, because I swiped a telephone pole more than once.

I can only imagine the Millers of 1985 coming into Edgartown with our big truck camper! It’s quite a different atmosphere today. The shopping in Edgartown is only for the luxury shopper. There would be nowhere to buy a water purse filled with glitter or pop beads today. Most of the stores were clothing stores and were exclusive and expensive — and we all know that’s just not us. They cleaned up the docks in a bad way. Gone were the birds — the cranes and the seagulls. I used to sketch those birds on the docks in Edgartown. They even built a restaurant where the fishing boats came in. It was so clean and there was no fishy smell. I’m sure that was part of the island’s tourism plan. Sometimes forward progress makes me sad.

I couldn’t wait to get to Chappaquiddick Island! I wanted to see what had changed and what had stayed the same — I have such vivid memories there. The Dike Bridge has been repaired and expanded — obviously a tourist destination — and you had to pay $280 to drive your vehicle across your bridge and out onto the beach. I remember the carefree day that we spent as kids crossing the bridge, watching our step so we didn’t fall through and going out onto Leland Beach. Deserted. Just us. It was amazing. We carved messages in the driftwood. Today, it is a nice touristy thing to do, but I’m so thankful that we had that day back in 1985.

Martha’s Vineyard had become a true tourist destination in every sense of the meaning. Regardless, we had the best vacation we could ever imagine.

Tom and I went somewhere everyday, despite the rain that had moved in on Wednesday and the fact that I was on crutches. We found great bar & pub restaurants — and even tried new food choices. We didn’t have fast food for an entire week, because it’s not allowed on the island (except for a Dairy Queen that was grandfathered in before it became law) . The fact that it was next to the last week of the season — almost everything in Oak Bluffs was 50% off. Oh, did I mention Oak Bluffs? I don’t remember that town at all from 1985. And wow, was I missing out!!!

Oak Bluffs was my kind of shopping! One entire street was dedicated to typical tourist souvenirs. And everything was 50% off. My favorite shop was Craftworks, a store that had artist works from all over the country (not 50% off)! I love glass work and bought the most beautiful bird plates and platter. I also purchased handblown glass pumpkins just in time for the holiday!

This town was nothing like I had ever seen before. There were rows of “gingerbread houses” — all with slightly different architecture and colorful paint. Some of them were bed & breakfasts, but we’d never stay there. We found plenty of parking in Oak Bluffs — maybe it was just the time of day or the fact that it was cold and raining, but we loved it.

Going to the Gayhead Lighthouse was a challenge for me that I refused to give into! You had to climb stairs, then a gradual climb to a steeper climb where we could finally get photos of the lighthouse and cliffs. Coming down was more of a challenge. I was afraid of losing my balance, so I asked Tom to walk in front of me! That night I had to use the ice pack!

We went onto South Beach the same day we arrived. We knew rainy weather was coming, and I was determined to see the ocean! It was tough-going on crutches— sinking in about 10″ — but I figured it out. There were probably about 10 people on the beach. Nobody was in the water that I can remember, even though Tom said it was really warm. I could see vehicles out on the beach about two football fields away. We found the entrance to that area, and I tried to talk Tom into taking my SUV out there. But he was too afraid we’d get stuck in the sand and have no experience with what to do. He was right.

We wore shorts on Monday, because it was so warm and even considered going swimming. Tuesday, we wore jeans with a light jacket and by Wednesday, we dug out anything we brought that resembled winter clothing! It was COLD.

Even our ferry ride back to the mainland was an adventure for us! We moved our trip up to 8:00 am (from noon), because our family in Pittsburgh was worried about the hurricane and the weather. They wanted us to get off the island while we could, and we didn’t have anything planned for Friday. After all, we heard that Hyannis had already canceled their ferry transports. We got there about 7:30 am and were second in line. A freight ferry had just unloaded and the crew asked each of the cars that were lining up for the 8:00 am ferry if we wanted to get in early and catch a ride on the freighter. We were like, “Sure!” Tom said, “Can we get a spot near the elevator, because my wife is on crutches.” The guy laughed and said, “There is no elevator and you stay in your vehicle.” And that was that.

Of course, every time we boarded the ferry, both in Woods Hole and now in Vineyard Haven, we got harassed about our Steelers license plate on our vehicle. Tom would always talk scores with them and it was all in good fun. Once we boarded, we realized after about 15 minutes that we were the only vehicle facing out to the ocean, and the gate they closed was some kind of mesh net. Are you kidding me? The ferry was already rocking from the rough water. It turned out to be terrifying and exciting all at the same time! I was texting with my sister the entire time, and Tom was keeping his foot on the brake and emergency brake. We actually talked about what to do if our SUV plunged off the backend of this freighter. I mean — the water was rough! The waves were crashing over the sides at times. And it was rocking! But, we got to the other side safely and got an early start home.

I’m sure that Tom got sick of hearing the phrase, “30 years ago…” as I must have said that a hundred times, remembering all kinds of small things as we toured the towns in Martha’s Vineyard. But, that was 30 years ago, and I love the trip we took this year. It is now my new Martha’s Vineyard with Tom. So maybe one day we’ll be saying, “10 years ago when we were here…” and remember those days fondly.

Always  B E L I E V E !

The Endless Cycle of Life

Fall is just about to turn into Winter. We’re past the beauty of the colorful leaves and slowly the gray and barren branches are becoming prominent. But never fear, Fall has Thanksgiving and then it’s Christmas! There’s always a positive. This time of year, more than any season, reminds me of the passage from Ecclesiastes:

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under Heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

This verse is in my everyday prayer book, and I read it about twice a month. It makes me think  that life is a dance where we each have our 15 minutes of fame — we just have to reach out and grab it. It’s okay to be sad today, because tomorrow there will be laughter. And, no matter what happens today, tomorrow is a new day. It’s about the endless cycle of life. Our time will come and go and another time will come behind us.

The endless cycle of life — you can think of it in regards to everything — for everything under Heaven has a season. I feel like Fall is the end of the life cycle for a lot of things. From the leaves on the trees to the birds that migrate to warmer climates. My birds are hoarding bird seed. I can’t keep up with the demand! This week was cool at the beginning of the week, but then climbed into the low 70°-mark by this weekend. And it was blue skies and gorgeous sunsets. I think it’s our last weekend of that kind of weather. Soon another Winter will be upon us.

I was coming home from work the other night and turned onto Little Creek and at the first house on the left, the kids were playing in the leaves. Their mother was raking the leaves endlessly as they toppled into the piles, laughing and giggling. The girl had to be two years old at most and was wearing a zippered hoodie. It reminded me of a snippet of a home video my Dad took of us playing in the Fall leaves as Mom raked endlessly.

This video clip is 44 years old and I was three. I’m the one in the pink and my sister, Debbie is in the blue hoodie. The video also has my brother, Bob, Aunt Mary and my Mom (raking leaves). Even then, we loved the change of seasons! 

While I think some people can see this verse as very depressing  — to me it’s quite the opposite. I love the change of the seasons. And I love the decades of my life. Each decade has taught me something new about myself and about life. And yes, the end will come for each of us, but I truly believe, with all my soul that Heaven is a place that we cannot even begin to imagine. God has already prepared a place for each of us. Yes, I fear the end of my life as I know it, but I’ve trusted God this far. I’ll trust him along that final stretch. And life will go on and the cycle starts all over again.

Always B E L I E V E !

The Fancy Red Boat

Well, I just can’t believe it’s the end of summer. It seemed like it was just Memorial Day — the kickoff to summer, and now it’s Labor Day. Tom and I had planned to go to Lake Erie on Sunday, but the weather didn’t cooperate, so we went to Shenango Lake on Saturday. Our plan was to get there early to beat the crowds of recreational boaters, so my brother Tommy could actually wake board. We got there about 10:15 and were on the water by 10:45.

I was pretty proud that I had backed the jet ski down the ramp on the first try. Although, I was dab smack in the center of the ramp and didn’t like that position. Tommy backed his boat to my right. As the guys worked to get the jet ski and boat off the trailers, this guy with his fancy red boat attempted to squeeze it next to me on my left side. Are you kidding me? I was getting annoyed, as we were almost done and he couldn’t wait two minutes?

After I parked and walked down to the dock, the guy with the fancy red boat was still trying to get it off the trailer. There was a whole crew with him too. Two of the men were probably in their late fifties. The one who owned the boat had his wife there. And then there were two older people, probably someone’s parents with a video recorder. The elderly man was actually sitting on a chair on the loading ramp. It was a production!

I was helping Tommy with his boat — putting on the shade cover and stowing all the stuff we brought on board. Tom was waiting patiently on the jet ski. The fancy red boat finally pulled into a dock space next to where we were. I glanced over as they had obviously gotten it off the trailer. It was a sight to see for sure. It was vintage, I was sure of it — vintage from the sixties in a deep red color with an ultra gloss finish — one of those wooden boats. It looked recently restored or was kept pristine for the past 50 years. There were four seats, two facing forward and two facing the other way, back to back — and were tufted seats in a rich brown color. It definitely wasn’t made for very large people. It just reminded me of one of the toys you’d see a Kennedy owning.

It was another production as the two guys in their fifties tried to get the elderly man into the front seat. It was like jamming two men in a seat for one guy. The wife looked at me and shook her head at the production of it all. I smiled and waved at her. I wondered where the rest of them were going to sit? The older lady was on the grass now, filming with the video camera. They were all laughing and carrying on. I had to smile, because it was definitely a family affair.

The guy driving the boat looked over at Tommy and said, “are there any shallow areas we should be concerned about?” Tommy struck up a conversation and pointed to areas they should avoid. He also told them that this entire area was a no wake zone until they passed under the bridge. And we all pulled out together. Tommy looked at me and said, “That’s surely some kind of homemade boat — probably their first time on this lake,” and shook his head. I said, “No, I think it’s a 1960s speed boat of some kind. It’s definitely vintage.”

Now, the no wake zone goes a very long way, so these guys in their spiffy boat pulled up near ours and asked us a few more questions about the lake. Then they told us they just recently purchased the boat in Pittsburgh, that it was vintage sixties, and similar to a boat his dad used to own. His dad was the elderly man in the boat with him. And that this was a special trip for them — it was very important to all of them — that this would be his last ride in a boat — his last day out. As we came out of the no wake zone, they opened up and took off like a rocket, waving to me as they did. Of course, my brother did too, and I felt like we were racing for a few minutes. Their fancy red boat was practically in flight and the old man was holding onto his hat with a huge grin across his face. Then they were gone.

Later, Tom had caught up to us with the jet ski and said, “What? Were you guys racing?” and I told him the story about the old man in the fancy red boat. And the more that I thought about what they said, I wondered if the man was terminally ill, or if this was a bucket list thing. It was indeed a special day for them, and just a bit of a strange encounter for us. But I’m so glad that I got to be part of their memory, even just for a few minutes.

I had every intention of taking a picture of that spiffy red boat for you all to see. But you know, we never saw it or them again. I searched and couldn’t even find a similar boat online. We enjoyed the rest of our day, and I looked for that boat at every turn. But as fast as they pulled in beside me, they were gone. And I didn’t even know their names.

Always B E L I E V E !

It was a beautiful day on the lake

It was a beautiful day on the lake — August 30, 2014

Glorious Days

Looking back, I have absolutely wonderful memories of my Dad’s fishing boat. As Debbie and I floated around the pool this past Sunday, we started reminiscing about all the good times on the water or at the cabin — and sunny days on the fishing boat that could comfortably fit our family of six. Mom and Tommy sold the boat this past weekend to a very nice family of four that would use the boat for all the same reasons we loved it as kids.

Dad bought it new in 1978. I was 11 years old and I remember him telling us about the colors he picked — the sparkle in the shiny fiberglass finish and the white contrast of the design. He talked about the two lounge seats for relaxing and the two high seats meant for fishing off both ends of the boat. It even had a snazzy container for keeping fish. He brought it home and shined it up, and we were all fitted for life jackets and fishing gear. I can remember how excited we were — like kids on Christmas day.

Life revolved around fishing in the summers and relaxing on the boat. Sometimes Dad would get us up at four in the morning so we could get on the lake before sunrise. Mom and I would take the lounge seats, wrapped up in blankets and napped until daybreak. It would be chilly on the water and sometimes it was covered with a thick, cold fog. We’d watch the sun break through that and burn it off to reveal a glorious sunny day. Sometimes I would just look over the side of the boat and see how far I could see into the water. It would rock rhythmically on the water and was very soothing.

Mom always packed lunchmeat, double stuff oreos, homemade chocolate chip cookies, M&Ms and chips. One of the storage bins below the lounge chairs held the food, while the other had ice that stored cans of soda. Debbie and Tommy usually rode on the front of the boat and Bob and Dad had the back seats. Tommy was only two when we got the boat and rarely joined us on the water until he was seven or eight. That kid loved to fish and he was pretty good at it.

Dad_fishingDad was at his happiest on the boat. He always was laughing and smiling and left all the problems of work at the office. This was his time with the family. I think it was one of his special places — that ranked up there with spending time at the cabin — hunting, fishing, hiking and just being outdoors. And it rubbed off on us — we all love the water.

I remember one time Tommy was learning to cast — he threw his pole back, as he was sitting on the back fishing chair, and snagged my nose when he cast forward. I had a nose piercing long before that was cool — except for the night crawler hanging from my nose. Another time, we took the boat to Lake Erie. This was back in the day when Mom and Dad rented these little cabins in Vermillion, OH along the lake for a week. The water was so rough that Dad made us get out and swim to shore to our beach area. He decided it was better not to have his entire family on the boat if it capsized! Most of the time we took it to Lake Arthur, because it was closest to home. And later the Tionesta Lake once we built the cabin. All of these lakes catered to fisherman. My Dad complained when anyone disturbed the fishing — as you could use high powered boats and jet skis at Tionesta Lake.

My high school years, Dad worked for a specialty glass company in Coldwater, Michigan after the last B&W steel mill closed. He rented a small, one-room cabin right on the water that had its own dock — staying there during the work week and coming home to his family on the weekends. He docked the boat there a couple of summers, and we all took turns spending some time up there. The boat gave Dad some comfort during the long weeks alone. He sacrificed much so that we could go to college.

Sometimes those glorious sunny days on the boat would turn into steamy afternoons with a pop-up thunderstorm. We usually didn’t have time to get to the car, so Dad would pull the boat along shore and we would ride out the storm on the water. I would be petrified. The boat would fill up with water above our ankles and there wouldn’t be a dry spot anywhere. I would always think, “there’s no way God will hit the boat with lightning, because Bob’s on the boat and he wouldn’t take a priest, because there’s a shortage of priests!” That was the time that Mom tried to get Dad to change out of his heavy wet jeans into her purple polka dot shorts just while his pants dried. He refused and said he would rather sit in his underwear, because someone might see him in those shorts. Sure enough, the fish & game commission came around to check our fishing licenses.

The last time I was in the boat was in 2009, a couple of months after my major surgery. I had fallen into some kind of funk or depression, as I didn’t have the strength to go back to work at that time. My brother, Bob was convinced that I just needed to get out of the house, so he took myself, Tom and my Mom out for a day of fishing on Lake Arthur. I’ll always remember that day as the day that started to bring me back to life.

This boat represented good things for 36 years of my life. While the boat may be gone, of course, the memories remain for each one of us. I doubt my Dad had any idea just how much it meant to all of us. And now a new family will start new memories of their own.

A L W A Y S  B E L I E V E !

Celebrating 20 Years

Smiles of happiness

Smiles of happiness

Debbie and Scott celebrated 20 years of marriage on July 11, 2014. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years! It truly seems like yesterday — except fast forward to today — and see a happy family with my two beautiful nieces. It’s indeed been 20 years.

My Grandma Miller made Debbie’s custom gown. She used to be a seamstress at a bridal shop in Beaver Falls, PA for years and years. She made the gowns for all of my cousins on the Miller side of the family — and even my Mom’s wedding gown in 1963. Debbie’s gown was the last full gown she made (to my knowledge). By the time I got married in 2001, Grandma could no longer make gowns of this magnitude. I remember Debbie gave her a couple of pictures and they went shopping for fabric at a store in downtown Beaver Falls. There are no stores like that there anymore. Grandma also made her headpiece.

Hot pink bridal gowns

Hot pink bridal gowns

Now our dresses were another story. The dresses were true to the time — I could have played a part in the popular TV show Designing Women! The dresses were hot pink with a funky design off the shoulders. I think the late 80’s and early 90’s were all about how much fabric could be layered on your upper body to make you look at least 20 pounds heavier — that included those beloved shoulder pads! I never, ever, ever wore my hair up, and not only did I have it up for Debbie’s wedding, but it looked like a bird had built a nest in it! I have to admit that the color Debbie picked was something I would never have personally chosen, but it made such a beautiful wedding with the vibrant color to compliment the black.

Debbie and Scott were married at St. Rose church in Darlington, PA, our hometown parish. Our brother, Bob married them — it was one of his first weddings. He had been a priest almost two years now. The reception was held at the Jewish Community Center in Chippewa, PA. It was one of the hottest days of the year and something happened to the air conditioning and we had none for the evening!!! It was unbelievably hot. Debbie’s girlfriends Melissa and Lisa were also in the wedding and we all set up the hall earlier in the day. Debbie had designed the center pieces — using clear bowls, filled with water — and we floated hot pink flower-shaped candles on the water. They were gorgeous when burning.

Bird's nest hairdo

Bird’s nest hairdo and dancing with my friend, Cathie

I had designed Debbie’s program for the church and we tied hot pink ribbons around those. Randy Rastetter, a long-time friend, used to sell wedding invitations from a big book back then at his printing company. This was long before digital invitations. And those invitations were gorgeous — I remember Debbie’s had roses with opal foil stamping and embossing with hot pink accents on a heavy, uncoated cream paper with a deckled edge. The inside had a silver panel and silver foil stamping with their wedding details. You can’t find invites like that anymore. Times change and so does so much else.

Grandpap Knowlson died the same year of Debbie’s wedding — in August of 1994. I remember thinking at the time that she was so fortunate to have him there, as he had been slowing down for a year leading up to her wedding. It’s hard to believe that it will be 20 years since he passed as well. And now I think about how I feel so fortunate that my Dad was at mine — he died the following year in 2002. It makes me think a lot about life in general. It’s like a giant timeline of milestones that define who we are and how we fit into history — in our very own little story.

Debbie and Scott leading the locomotion

Debbie and Scott leading the locomotion

There are some things that never change — Debbie’s wedding had lots of alcohol, fabulous food and endless cookies. Exquisite cake. And lots of dancing from the polkas to the Hokey Pokey to the Electric Slide and the Locomotion. It’s a day we waited for with anticipation, because you know that you’ll soon be celebrating with all your family and all your friends at one time in one place.

If you take a few minutes to soak it all in, you’ll be able to witness history filling the pages of your own story. And those will get passed on 20 years later to your children who may laugh at your hair and your clothes, but have a little more insight to what life was like before them. Or maybe they’ll dream of their own wedding one day, when they start the next chapter in the story.

A L W A Y S  B E L I E V E !


Another successful Christmas party! As Tom is scraping cooked-on pasta and other burnt nuggets off my crockpots, I thought I’d write an update. We had a fantastic party today to wrap up the Christmas festivities at the Peters’ house. It’s been a busy week of traveling and visiting, eating and drinking — as well as a week of reflection, prayers and blessings.

The week started with a call from my cousin, Kathie on Christmas Eve. My Uncle Frank was rushed to the hospital, awaiting immediate surgery. We sent prayers and I said a Chaplet to St. Jude before we finished the lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner. I also got word to my brother Bob so that he could join us in good thoughts and prayers for a successful surgery. My Mom and I lit candles for him at Christmas Eve mass in both our parishes. We got word after mass that the two-hour surgery took double the time, but was successful. Now the healing would begin. So we continue our prayers for Uncle Frank, as he’ll be in the hospital a bit longer.

Not long after I finished preparing the lasagna, I got a text from Gert. Our dear friend, Ronnie’s sister Rose had been rushed to Presby Hospital with a feared brain aneurysm the evening before. They didn’t expect her to live through the day. I didn’t know that she had passed away until I talked to Ronnie’s friends at Christmas Eve mass, as I was lighting candles for my Uncle Frank, my Dad and Rose.

As I prayed in church, I tried to make sense as to why Ronnie and Marg would have to lose Rose on Christmas Eve. You would always see the three of them in the last row at the 5 pm Saturday evening mass with their other friends. I got to know Ronnie and Marg well over the years as they never missed St. Gregory Super Bingo. And Ronnie had been coming our Christmas Eve parties for quite a few years. My heart went out to her as I heard how hard they were all taking it. Rose was the youngest of them at 81 years old.

And then there was a little bit of fate that evening or maybe it was a little Christmas magic. I hadn’t served as a Eucharistic Minister for a couple of years. Both Tom and I stopped serving shortly after my brother Bob left our parish. My heart just wasn’t in it any longer. Anyways, Sister Patricia had asked me if they needed me to serve if I would mind helping them. I told her I had never served with Father Larry, but if they needed me to please wave me to come up. So there was all kinds of confusion, but it was obvious they needed my help — so after climbing over everyone (the mass was unbelievably packed), I helped give out communion on the side next to the organist.

It just so happens that my line got backed up as people waited for the wine, and I had about 15 seconds to stand there waiting for it to move. And, it got stopped right at my friend, Dona (who also works at MarketSpace), who happens to be good friends with Ronnie. I had wondered when I saw her in mass if she knew about Rose. So I mentioned it to her in line. She didn’t know. Dona text me later on Christmas Eve to thank me, as her family had stopped by to see Ronnie after mass. We couldn’t believe how all the little pieces fell into place — so perfectly-timed — it felt like I served only to get a message to Dona in line in that few seconds. Somehow I imagined that maybe Ronnie had some added comfort that evening on this holy night. And amid a terribly-timed loss, maybe there was a bit of perfectly-timed love.

I reflected on that as I said my prayers that evening. I thought that while we were celebrating good cheer this year, there will always be those that are deeply hurting. And maybe somehow that hurt is perfectly-timed. I fell asleep believing that “God truly does have a plan for us all.”

At church last night, Father Gallagher talked about an eight-year old little girl from Reading, PA who had made national news. I had already read the story online, but the way he told it — in his wonderful tug at your heart strings way — it was difficult not to break down and sob. The story is about Delaney “Laney” Brown who was diagnosed with Leukemia in the spring. None of her treatments had worked and she grew very ill this past month. With only days to live, she had only one Christmas request — to hear the sounds of Christmas. And on December 21st, between 6,000 and 8,000 people surrounded her home and sung Christmas carols so loudly that Laney could hear them inside her bedroom. She couldn’t get out of bed, but posted a picture to Facebook with thumbs up and said, “I can hear you now!! Love you!”

She died on Christmas morning. While other children her age were gleefully rejoicing in their gifts that Santa Claus had brought, Laney had passed away. I can only imagine the sorrow in that home — on Christmas day! I couldn’t recite the Creed. No words would come from my mouth. I think if I tried to produce a sound, it would have been a sob — thinking about what a heart-wrenching story. And then I thought that maybe it was as it was supposed to be. She was no longer sick — she was with the angels in Heaven. And she was having Christmas like no other child would have it this year. These are the moments we must have faith — we must believe. For as we have faith, we trust that everything is part of God’s plan for each one of us. We won’t know what gifts Laney left behind for those who loved her. She was part of God’s plan for them.

So today was our Christmas party, our celebration of my good health, as last Christmas I was in the hospital. Today was Ronnie’s birthday — she is 86. And Rose’s viewing at the funeral home. My Mom and I went to the funeral home before our party began — and Ronnie and her daughter, Chris joined us in celebration between the viewing hours. It took Ronnie’s mind off of things — even if just for a few hours. She had the chance to laugh, eat, drink and be merry amidst her day of loss. And today, we cracked open our expensive bottle of ice wine from Sheldrake Point Winery in the Finger Lakes, NY and we toasted to a year of continued health.

So as we hear these sad stories at Christmastime, we hug our families a little more tightly this year. We tell them we love them maybe one more time than we would have. We count our blessings. For they all come from God and are perfectly-timed.

Always B E L I E V E .

Christmases Past

I feel like I was in the Chevy Chase movie, “Christmas Vacation,” — the scene where Clark Griswold is sitting in the attic watching 8 mm home movies. Yesterday I started to go through our 8 mm home movies, looking for glimpses of my Dad and my grandparents. I’ve been feeling very sentimental the last couple of days as we get closer to Christmas, and I knew there was a lot of Christmas footage through the years.

My Dad took every single piece of 8 mm footage himself, except for his wedding video and a couple other small tidbits. My Mom gave me all the movies to have them converted — and she knew I would cherish them. I have hours and hours worth of movies — it’s such a treasure!!! I’m sure Dad didn’t realize he was doing it at the time, but he captured so many relatives on film. I have more images of my grandparents on film than photographs.

I dedicate this compilation to the Miller Family Christmases past — to Mom, Bob, Debbie, Tom and Aunt Mary. And in loving memory of my Dad, Theresa and Frank Miller (my grandparents), Laura and John Knowlson (my grandparents), and Tony and Midge Ditoro (Tommy’s Godparents) who are all shown in this movie.

Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas Magic

Christmas magic is something that truly only comes once a year. It’s a time when it’s easier to see all those magic moments in the celebrations of the season or the kind works of charity that come with this time of year.

Last year I spent Christmas in the hospital. I remember it well — my private room, quiet and all alone on Christmas Eve — it was peaceful. My mom and sister had decorated my window sill with an old fashioned ceramic Christmas tree, a small manger and a fiber optic tree that all the nurses came to see. They said it was the best tree in the whole wing. I loved looking at the sparkling window sill in the dark. 

Somehow it still felt like Christmas and I was exactly where God wanted me to be. I had received a very inspirational email from my neighbors on Christmas Eve. I had always believed that God had a plan for us — and that verse Jeremiah 29:11 shows itself to me over and over again. And after reading this perfectly timed email, I repeated it over and over during my stay. The doctors had told me that the procedure they were doing would likely result in days or weeks of sickness, and that I would probably be in the hospital a couple of weeks after the procedure. Miraculously, there was not a sign of sickness after the procedure, and I went home right way. Because I believed in the Christmas magic and the miracle that it brought. And last year gave me a new perspective on Christmas this year.

Christmas magic means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it’s the joy of watching their children open gifts on Christmas morning. For others, it’s giving of their time and resources to make Christmas better for someone less fortunate. For me, it’s making Christmas special for my family, friends and my company and looking for opportunities to give back.

Believe in GoodIt’s definitely different for me this year. Somehow maybe I’m seeing the true meaning of Christmas more clearly for the first time. There have been moments during the days leading up to Christmas that have brought me so much joy in my heart. At MarketSpace, we gave back by bringing Christmas to a family with seven children. It’s been a tough year with their father out of work for more than a year. We collected more than $1,500 and brought them a Christmas to remember. I had asked my staff to throw in the money they collect for a gift for me each year. They were hesitant, but I insisted. In return, instead of an expensive gift, my staff made me this simple poster — Believe there is good in the world. When Trish gave it to me during our Christmas party, she said something about this gift represented all that I am. When I opened the package and read the words, it was truly a magic moment. There were no words to express what those simple words meant to me. This gift was greater than anything else they could have given me.

When you show kindness, the joy you get back is greater than anything you can imagine. It’s infectious. And it changes who you are. That’s the magic of Christmas.

Always B E L I E V E.

I Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and I’ve been thinking about all the things that I’m thankful for. I’m so thankful for Tom for who he is and all he does, all the time, everyday. Of course, Sid and Ben Ben, my two little cats (and yes, Tom, they come second). I’m thankful for my family and friends — all the fun times we have, and all the things we celebrate all year long. I’m thankful for MarketSpace and all the wonderful family there. I’m thankful for my faith and trust in God. I’m thankful for my health that I’m here today, and for as long as God chooses me to be on this earth.
Four Seasons in Pittsburgh

I’m thankful that I get to enjoy all four seasons — winter, spring, summer and fall. It snowed last night and now feels like Christmas!
Finger Lakes

I’m thankful that Bob introduced us to the Finger Lakes in New York.

I’m thankful for friends, neighbors and celebrations at Peters’ Pub.

I’m thankful for weekends on Tommy’s boat — tubing, wakeboarding and jet skiing.

I’m thankful for our family cabin in Tionesta, PA. Everything about it reminds me of my Dad, and takes me back to those days when he was with us.
CaribbeanI’m thankful for good friends, Caribbean vacations to Aruba, Antigua, St. Lucia, Bahamas and the Riviera, laughter, catamaran cruises and island excursions.

Homemade_PizzaI’m thankful for my Mom. Tom’s Mom. And all the wonderful memories of our Dads. Memories of Grandma and Grandpap Knowlson. Memories of Grandma and Grandpap Miller. Father Bob. Debbie. Debbie’s pizza. My beautiful nieces. Tommy. Dan. Scott. Aunt Mary. All my cousins. Our home. St. Rose of Lima Parish. St. Gregory’s Catholic Church. Humility. Faith. Miracles. Surprises. Birthdays. Great doctors. Creative doctors. New technologies. Friends. New Friends. Old Friends. Lost Friends. Turkey. Homemade noodles. Chicken and dumplings. Steak on the grill, medium rare. Arby’s curly fries with cheese. Pittsburgh Potatoes. Coca-Cola. White sand beaches. Crystal blue waters. Summer rain and liquid sunshine. Diamonds in the snow. Diamonds in the sky. Shooting stars. Rainbows. Sled riding at Mom and Dad’s house. Velour leggings. Amusement parks and water parks. Online shopping. Christmas shopping. Outlet shopping. Christmas caroling. White Christmases. Christmas movies. Super bowl games. Steelers’ parties. Playoff parties. Christmas parties. Giving back. Paying it forward. Photographs. Old photographs. Traditions. Art glass. Typography. Kerning. Handmade papers. Uncoated paper. Letterpress printing. Recycled and up-cycled stuff. Cabins. Camp Fires. Cats. Dogs. Sheep. Cows. Horses. Baby animals. Farms. Hookstown Fair. Canfield Fair. Tear-jerker movies. Slot machines. Lake Erie. Ellicottville. Martha’s Vineyard. Charleston. Nostalgic small towns. Lakes, oceans and swimming holes. Country music and Christmas music. Sixties fashion. I’m thankful for all my memories of all that is good in this world.

I’m thankful for living in the land of the free — one nation, under God. I am thankful for our service men who won’t be home this holiday. And, as we give thanks this coming Thursday, I pray for those who are less fortunate and those who find only sadness this time of year. And will give thanks for all that God has blessed me with in my life.

Always B E L I E V E.

Nothing Sweeter

Our first bottle of dessert wine — also known as Ice Wine — was from the Sheldrake Point Winery on Cayuga Lake in New York. It’s a bottle of 2010 Riesling Ice Wine and it cost us $65! I wouldn’t normally spend $65 on a tall and skinny bottle of wine, but it was unbelievable! We’re saving it for a toast this Christmas Eve — one year from my surgery, as I spent last Christmas in the hospital — to thank God for not only hearing our prayers, but answering them.

So Tom and I recently went to Niagara Falls for an extended weekend. We had planned to spend a day in Niagara-on-the-Lake and visit some of the wineries up there. We spent time researching the wineries and realized that Ice Wine is Canada’s specialty. Our search for the perfect Ice Wine was on! After visiting six wineries, we came home with 11 bottles of it — Cabernet Franc was by far our favorites. Each of the wines was the sweetest you can imagine and combined with dark chocolate — pure Heaven.

My brother, Bob had told us to open our window when traveling along Route 90E on our way to Canada. He told us that when we reached Lake Erie, we could smell all of the grapes along the way, as grapes are grown all along the shores of Lake Erie. I couldn’t imagine that. I cracked my window at one point and the aroma of sweet, ripe grapes poured in our car. We couldn’t believe it!!! I cracked the window for the next hour or so, every time we saw grape vines near the highway. And it instantly took me back…

Picking grapes at Grandma Knowlson’s house in August. We’d eat just as many as we picked. Those grapes were warmed by the sun and just so incredibly sweet! We’d be barefoot and the shade around the grape vines would make the ground cold on our feet. We were tanned by the sun, as we spent all of our time outside in the summer. We loved helping Grandma — whether it was picking cherries, grapes or plums. There was lots of laughter and lots of fun. There were no computers, no internet, no smart phones and no computer games — nothing to do inside. Most homes didn’t have air conditioning — if you can imagine that — and it was cooler outside. Did you ever just lay in the cool grass in the shade in the summer and spend an hour looking at the shapes in the clouds? Or lay in the grass on your belly and dig through a clover patch, looking for that cherished four-leaf clover? Or spend an afternoon picking grapes with your Grandma?

Grandma would make quarts and quarts of grape juice! My Mom planted grape vines at her house too. You could smell them on the way to the barn in August and September. I’d eat those grapes too — throwing the skins to the chickens in the chicken coop. My Mom made grape juice too — from Grandma’s recipe. There was nothing sweeter than their grape juice.

Until now. Until we found Ice Wine. So I guess we can give the credit to Grandma — who introduced all of us to the goodness of sweet grapes.