We Climbed before the Klimb 4 Kim...

We Climbed before the Klimb 4 Kim...
1997's Climb

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

   The bambini's and I would like to wish you all a safe and Happy New Year - may you make some of the best holiday memories tonight!! 
   We have so many of the great, family New Year's we have spent with friends and neighbors over the years...we always like to stay home or walk next door to be with friends, make some good food to share and play games.  Kim always took things up a notch, as you might imagine, whether bringing her Tuscan bean dip, twice baked potato skins or some other cullinary masterpiece!  And for the kids, well, you can imagine that they all had hats to wear, necklaces, noismakers, etc.  She'd also get them their own bottle of bubbly to pop at midnight and make special desserts - like mini tiramisu.  When they were younger, she'd lead them in a parade around the house, outside to set off poppers and back through the whole house, the kids squealing and following her lead.
    In the morning, on New Year's Day, she'd typically make us a big breakfast - french toast using panetone, handmade at Viro's Italian Bakery - thanks Vito!, bacon, hashbrowns and coffee.
    Kim taught me, over the years, that family truly comes first.  I used to want to do something fun, exciting, exhilerating on New Year's Eve every year...and Kim came to show me, that being with my family is all that, especially when you leave a lasting, good memory, in the minds of your children.
    When we were still dating, we'd like to get downtown Philly to see the mummer's parade - if you've never seen that, it is majestic and comical all at once - try you tubing it to see if it comes up.  We'd have a lot of fun in Philly, watching the parade, the people and then walking the streets looking for another great place to grab a bite to eat.
     Before we built the beautiful family we have, we'd enjoy going out to eat on New Year's Eve and then finding a place to be alone to ring in the New Year together.  Although, sometimes we'd get together with her sister Terri and her husband Todd, which was always a good time too.  I remember we all got a hotel room together once and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning and Terri and I both had to go to work fairly early on New Year's Day, but we didn't let it slow us down!
    They've all been fun...but none so memorable or special as the ones we've shared with our children, as family, staying home or nearby to enjoy being together.
     We'll continue that tradition tonight, with neighbors and friends coming to our home, to ring in the New Year with the bambini's and me...Cody has cleaned up the garage and made some fun games for the kids to play together.  Mostly revolving around the plethora of Nerf guns they got for Christmas!  They'll play ping pong, too.  I did remember to pick them up their own bottle of bubbly, too.
     This morning, as we ate breakfast at Bruegger's, we talked about how we looked forward to 2011, putting 2010 behind us...the hopes we have, for school, for friends and for each other...and these guys have a lot of that...hope.
      Thank you for all that you did for our family in 2010...and, once again, Happy New Year!

 'In the Lord, I put my trust...'
                      Psalm 11

On Tidal Waves...

    Ok, so today was a pretty rough day for the bambini's and me...don't worry, we know we'll have them and everyone tells us we will - we made it the best that we could.  Here's a story about a reoccurring nightmare that I've had since I was very young...please, if anyone feels like psycho-analyzing this one, do not read this story...or at least, do not post a reply...this is part of my journey...

     Starting with today, Grammie and Grandpa Jim made their way back to Pennsylvania...it was a sad goodbye and the weather was most bizarre, with snow showers and driving wind.  Until we approached the airport, when the wind settled down and the sun cut through the storm clouds above the airport.  The bambini's were pretty quiet, they will miss Grammie and Grandpa Jim, having had a lot of fun and comfort from them.  They have been a great help.
     When we left the airport, we headed down to 4th ave on the southside to pick up Kimmy's death certificates.  We talked about it on the way there...and the bambini's wanted to know why they have to call it a 'death certificate' - we are certainly discovering the cold side to losing a loved one, the bureaucratic, red tape required by so many.  We all went into Desert Rose Mortuary, the new 4 musketeers.  Afterward, again, we tried to make the best of the gray weather and our sadness and went to Micha's, right across from the dog track.  We were able to enjoy a meal and each other's company - these little bambini's are so inspirational!  We picked up some skates for Autumn and prepared for another night at Skate Country.
This helped cheer the kids up - Angie, Andrea, Kristie and Janene arranged for it and all of their kids were there and this time, our neighbors, Betsey, Brian, Amy and Tom and their kids all went.  Everyone skated and it helped Cody, Autumn and Tonio.  We are so blessed to have the love and support of wonderful friends and neighbors!
          But back to the dream, well nightmare...I've always had bad dreams involving tidal waves.  Usually, I'm at the beach, enjoying the day, sometimes with Kim or the kids.  The waves are always beautiful, seagulls in the air, when, out of nowhere, will come a monster wave, engulfing everything. I've woken Kim up screaming, coming up from these dreams, thrashing as I try to find the surface...
         I need to tell you I have no fear of water.  I love to swim.  In the Atlantic Ocean, I always enjoyed swimming the 30 yards or so out to the sand bar during low tide and riding the waves back to shore.  On both coasts, I always love going out on a boogie board or doing some body surfing.  I do not have any memories of a bad experience in the water to explain the dreams.
         Recently, I had one where Tonio and I were sitting on a bench on the beach.  Watching the waves break, Tonio was feeding seagulls and the day was perfect.  He began to tell me something and I leaned in to listen.  When I looked back to the sea, the wave towered over us, casting a dark shadow - it crashed before I could reach out and save Tonio...I could see him somersaulting through the water and could not quite reach him...
          A few years ago, we took a family trip to San Diego and went up the coast a bit to La Jolla to see if we could find any seals to show the kids.  The surf was pretty rough, as there had been some storms at sea.  We told the kids they could build sandcastles and play near the surf, but not to go in.  Kim, Tonio and I were on a blanket further away from the water's edge, enjoying the sun and watching Tonio dig, creating a fort for himself.  I glanced toward Cody and Autumn, who were trying to fill their buckets for their sandcastle they were building.  Little Autumn had her back to the surf and, just like in one of my nightmares, a huge wave was cresting.  It broke, sweeping them both right off of their feet.  Cody quickly regained himself and ran to safety.  Autumn went under and was quickly heading towards the sea.  Unlike in one of my bad dreams, I sprung up and sprinted towards where I'd seen Aut go under - and again, unlike in nightmares, I've never run faster, scooping her up, just as she was about to be pummeled by another wave, which crashed down on my shoulders, but I kept my legs pumping up the beach, never faltering.  Autumn had taken in some water, but she was ok.
           The wave dream comes and goes...I do not know what triggers it, as it happens during periods that are good and ones that are stressful, equally...and it's not as if they happen often, either.  Sometimes, it can be years between them.  But, it usually plays out the same, I can't save anyone with me or myself...
           While Kim was pregnant with Antonio, we took Cody and Autumn to San Diego to go to Sea World, the San Diego Zoo and to Mission Beach.  They absolutely loved Sea World (I promised them we'd try to get there this summer), especially the dolphin petting tank and the dolphin show.  Cody likes the rafting ride there quite a bit, too.  The Philly Zoo was always are favorite, followed closely by the Baltimore Zoo and then San Diego.  We were actually members of the Phoenix Zoo for a few years, going up 3 or 4 times a year to see a sporting event, staying over night and taking the kids to the zoo in the morning.  And, we've been members of the Reid Park Zoo, here in Tucson, since about 1997. 
           On this particular trip to San Diego, Kim had another surprise for us...she had bought whale watching tickets.  The boat would cruise around the Sand Diego Harbor, before heading out to sea.  Cody and Autumn were excited, and so was I...again, I have no fear of water or the ocean.  But, the area had been hit pretty hard by storms and the harbor had some pretty good sized swells coming in.  We were all given life jackets and the boat headed out to harbor...it was a little rough, but we were enjoying the day, watching seals swim and keeping an eye out for a whale.  As we got closer to where the harbor met the bay, the size of the waves began to increase.  The waves were around 8-10' high as we entered the ocean and rising.  By now, I had Cody and Autumn in headlocks...the captain began turning the boat into the waves to prevent captsizing and the announced that the waves were getting to big and we were turning back - we would be given a full refund.  When we made it back, I overheard the captain say, he thought the waves were between 12-14' high in the ocean...
            When we got off of the boat, I realized I had never shared with Kim my tidal wave dreams.  She was so sweet, saying she would never had booked the trip if she had known...but, I told her, I'd go back out on a calm day, I really wanted to see the whales!  But, that day, I was fearful that Cody or Autumn would get tossed overboard by the rough seas.
           Well, I had the dream again the night Kimmy passed...and I had some level of understanding...the tidal wave had come, for real...in this nightmare, I was able to scoop up all three bambini's, keeping them safe and not losing them, like I had previously in every other nightmare...but, I could not save Kimmy.  I thought I could.  I bathed her, washed her hair, fed her, helped her walk, held her hand at her bedside, brought her cool drinks, ice packs, enjoyed her company and gave her her medications, including the twice daily injections of Lovenox, the blood thinner that her cancer outsmarted...and, while I was kneeling down, like the day I proposed to Kim, getting ready to give her a shot, she told me 'you are my knight in shining armor'...but, I wasn't, I couldn't be, no matter how much I did, it wasn't enough and as the wave engulfed me - I clung to the bambini's and reached for Kimmy's hand...but I couldn't hold on...she slipped away...as in my dreams, I never saw the tidal wave coming...
            The death certificate brought home that reality with a cold finality today...as I walked out, with my copies in my hand, I wanted to shout out 'what the hell happened?'...not with any anger, mind you, just shock.  Swirling around beneath the water, clinging to the bambini's. It's one of those things that never happens to you, always to someone else, yet here I was leading my three little ones across a bleak parking lot, under a gray sky, with a piece of paper that I needed to prove their mother had passed...  Instead of shouting, I grabbed all three in a large embrace and told them "I'm here for you, now and always.  We are together, here for each other.  And mama is watching over us now and will help to guide us."  Then I told them it was too cold and we should move somewhere warmer, which got them all smiling and offering suggestions...'how about the equator?' Tonio chimed in.  We moved on to our lunch at Micha's...
            Since Kimmy passed, I have made it a habit to spend some time out back, after the house was quiet, searching the stars for Kimmy.  Telling her about our day and listening for her advice.  Before going back in each night, I tell her how much I love her.  How much I miss her.  And pray for her.  Tonight, we started doing this together, as a family and the bambini's are so sweet in their wishes for their mama 'I hope you are warm in Heaven' Autumn calls out.  'Good night, don't let the bed bugs bite' Tonio yells...I tell him, there are no biting bed bugs in Heaven...that makes him very happy.  Cody whispers 'Sweet dreams'...
          So we end a dark day on a bright note, just like Kimmy would have wanted us too...

"She brings to him good, not harm, all the days of her life.  Give her the reward she has earned and let her works bring her praise at the city gate"
         Proverbs 31:10-12


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

And the morning comes...

    The night is so cold and dark...seemingly lasting forever...
    But did anyone catch the sunrise today?  While the sky was still dark, you could see Saturn near the moon.  The sky had an ethereal feel to it, with wispy clouds hanging between the stars...
    Then, over the Rincon mountains, a touch of light...and as the sun slowly began peeking over the mountain top, those clouds became soft hues of pinks and peaches...Father Harry's words came to me then, and I knew that Kim was pushing back the darkness and the coldness and greeting us with a new day, new hope...
     We saw many sunrises together.  My favorites were always when we were staying at Long Beach Island, N.J., cuddled together in the dunes, listenen to the soothing sound of the waves meeting the shore and waiting...
     When the sun comes up over the Atlantic ocean, the rays reach out like bright tenacles, bouncing off of the ocean and reaching towards the beach.  We'd lay there, silent, enjoying the spectacular beauty of it all...then, we'd get up and go to the Beach Haven diner for some breakfast, head back to our hotel and sleep until noon or so before getting down to the beach to work on our tans, throw frisbee, ride the waves and take shell hunting excursions along the shoreline.  It was always magical.
      One of my favorite sunrises was on my 21st birthday.  Kim surprised me with a champagne, hot air balloon ride!  We met the balloonist (is that what they're called?), in a large field at around 5 a.m.  He had his balloon packed in a small trailer attached to the rear of his pick up.  It was amazing to see him prepare it.  He worked quickly with his team to pull out the balloon, stretch it across the field, get the basket ready and then, he fired up the flame to inflate the balloon.
       It was a roaring flame, that lit up the dark morning, bringing the balloon to life.  Kim and I held hands, shivering a bit in the morning chill, the dew wet on our sneakers.  We were so excited.
       When the balloon was ready, the first hints of morning had begun to announce itself.  We climbed into the basket, arm around each other and the crew untied the tethers...we quickly began our ascent to the deafening roar of the flame, giving the balloon more float...as we rose, we stared to the east, as the sun came up over the hills, we were so high up in the sky, it seemed as though we must be heading for Heaven...
        The ride was incredible, we could see forever...and when we landed, the balloonist popped the cork on the champagne and we celebrated each other...another greatest time...
       Kim's favorite time was morning.  She greeted each day with enthusiasm.  She loved to wake up, make herself a chai tea and sit on our back porch, listening the birds, watching our pup play and soaking in the beauty...
      May all of your sunrises be beautiful...


John 8:12
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Let the children come to me...

   One thing I always loved about Kimmy, was the child in her, deep in her heart...she loved to laugh, get caught in a driving rain, give a surprise gift, see a Disney movie, sleigh riding in the winter, - I could go on and on...
    And the child in her, really helped her relate to children in her life...she worked at a preschool in Bethlehem for about 8 years.  This preschool was located on the edge of  a government housing project, so the little 3 and 4 year olds that Kim cared from, often came from pretty broken homes...but while they were in Kim's care, she provided them with perhaps more love than they would ever find outside of the preschool's doors...
     She would come home and tell me how one little girl came in, crying - Kim asked 'what's wrong, honey?'.  The little girl related how, while she tried to sleep last night, her mom's boyfriend, burst through a window, with a knife and stabbed her mommy in the belly...Kim held that dear child and comforted her.  I remember attending that funeral, Kim remembering to bring the little girl a new teddy and giving her a reason to smile on the darkest day. 
     This day care was operated by a bottom line oriented owner, so at snack and lunch time, nutrition was not the goal...Kim used to be so concerned, that we would go shopping for fruit and other healthy snacks that she would bring in to make sure the kids had a good meal while they were with her.  One time, the owner saw what she was doing, flew into a tirade, believing someone had over spent meal budget.  Kim explained that she brought the food in and told him how important it was to her that these children were fed properly...he allowed her to continue the practice, but would not adopt Kim's program into his budget.  Kim tried to make the people work there to see how truly important their work was.  These were lonely, affection starved little ones and Kim devoted her time there, even though she was making mininium wage, to making their lives a little better...In fact, I'll never forget the time, about ten years after she left, we were at a festival in downtown Bethlehem, when a huge teenager came hulking up to us - I quickly scanned my memory to try to think how I might have wronged him, but he started to smile and said 'Miss Kim?'...Kim instantly recognized the young man and her smile was like a thousand suns...'Yes Eric!'...'Miss Kim, I just wanted to say thank you.  I appreciate all that you did for me and it's made me who I am today'.  This from a young man, who as a small child, confided in Kim that his daddy had been taken to jail by the police, who broke down his door, for selling drugs...
      We'd spend many days scouring sale racks for children's clothes that she would bring in for the 'borrow' box, which was supposed to be for the children that had accidents, but Kim turned it into a wonderful time for the children to trade in ragged clothing...For Christmas, there was a little gift for each child, and Kim put a smile on each of their faces...
      Of course, as a mother, she has been incredible.  When we had Cody, back in 1997, I was still so full of impatience and awkwardly inexperienced...Kim gracefully and, seemingly effortlessly, became the most caring mother, all the while teaching me how to be the father that I have become.  She would show me tricks...like being able to recite Maurice Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are' would almost instantly settle Cody down when he was upset.  She hand made Cody's Halloween costumes - a ferocious, well cuddly, lion...an adorable scarecrow...a fearsome dinosaur...Autumn and Antonio each wore these at one point, too.
      When Autumn blessed our lives, I figured we were complete...a little boy to carry on the Conca name and a little girl for Kimmy to be her little shadow...but Kim said...'we should have 3, what if we regret not having a third?'...and along came sweet little Antonio...who Kim let me name.   I wanted to call him Vincenzo, and in typical Kim fashion, she gently coaxed 'well, that is a really nice name...and if we still lived in the Philly area, Vincenzo would be a great fit...maybe we should go with something  a little more southwestern...'.  And always guiding me and making me better without making me feel resentful or put out.
      These bambini's never had a box mixed anything...I mentioned Bisquick one day and received blank stares.  You've all heard about the ladybug cupcakes that Kimmy sent to school with Cody on his first day of kindergarten - she just felt that events in their lives were so special and she wanted to show them how much she cared and how very special each of them were to her...so it is, that I found myself again this morning making pancakes with apples cooked with cinnamon and brown sugar and bacon for their breakfast this morning and butterfly pasta with homemade marinara for their dinner tonight (ok, took them to Taco Bell for lunch - I still have a ghetto side to me! But we had a blast!).
      Each birthday, she would hand make banners, posters, hats, depending on what theme the child wanted.  From 'Wild Things' to Curious George, she's done it...and I'm sure the teachers that the bambini's have could chip in with stories about Kim helping them decorate their classrooms.  These little ones were so well loved...
      She was there for them in sickness, sat with each of them before they went to bed to listen to their thoughts and was there for them in the morning to lovingly get them ready for their day.  Their lunches all had little messages written on their knapkins, extra snacks packed, just in case - their clothes ironed and ready for them and, as I mentioned, a home made breakfast.
       And if you've ever been to our home - you've probably seen their rooms!  Cody's featured a image of a BMX'r making a wicked jump, hand painted by Kim.  He's had a lot of custom paint jobs over the years, beginning with a highway that Kim painted around the walls of his room and drew different vehicles 'driving' on it.  Autumn's room currently has a birding theme, as she loves birds.  Previously, she had a princess theme.  Tonio has dinosaur bones and a huge wild thing jumping off a shelf. 
       These little ones are reflections of who Kimmy was...who she has shaped them to be...they are my glue right now...
        Of course, if all this 'work' (of course, it was not work to Kimmy), wasn't enough, she also loved to help out at the kid's schools.  On any given morning, dozens of children would come flying over to give Kim a big hug, squealing 'hi Mrs. Conca!!!'.  The children Kim worked with, were left with a sense of self worth and accomplishment - it wasn't necessarily her goal and it certainly wasn't work...it was who Kim was and how she loved children - and how she still had so much child living inside of her...I can still hear her angelic laughter...
      "Let the children come to me - theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven"...

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Wedding...

   Kim and I had a storybook wedding...really.  We moved here to Tucson in March of 1994, following the worst winter we could remember back in Pennsylvania.  In fact, the night before we were about to leave, we had a foot of snow fall on top of all the snow that was already on the ground.  We didn't care, we were getting out of the frozen tundra one way or another!  We drove to Baltimore and picked up my Dad, who drove my Toyota Tacoma across the country for us, while Kim and I drove a 29' box truck with our Jeep Wrangler in tow.  It was a fun, but harrowing journey, as we braved winter conditions across the country.  We opted for a southern route, thinking it would be a little clearer, but met with severe ice even through Tennessee!
    We arrived in Tucson, knowing noone and having no place to live...but, we spotted Chuy's on 22nd and Kolb on our way in to town and knew where we were having dinner that night!  Chuy's became a special place for us and we were thrilled when they built one within walking distance of our current home.  My Dad was such a big help to us when we got here, getting us into a hotel room, which was a challenge, because back in 1994, Tucson was a major spring sports town - there was a woman's tennis championship going on, a major golf tournament and spring training baseball and hotel rooms were scarce.  We were able to find an apartment quickly and began planning the wedding...
    Prior to moving here, we thought it would be so romantic to be married at the San Xavier Mission out on the Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation.  Father Kino had the mission built back in 1797.  It is so beautiful out there, an oasis in the desert  nicknamed the dove in the desert.  We contacted the Mission and got permission to be married there by Father Dulmeyer.  Kim thought it would be fun to dress in old fashioned western wear, so her and I took a roadtrip down to Tombstone, the town too tough to die.  We packed a picnic lunch and ate it in a little park on the main street, sitting next to each other in the grass and goofing around on the swings after we were done.  We walked main street, hand in hand, visiting the OK Coral, posing for touristy photos that we laughed about later and stopping for a beer at Big Nose Kate's saloon.  We found some great vests for my Dad, the best man, and my college buddy, Spike and her brother, Kenny, who was to give her away on our wedding day.  I bought a pair of rustic cowboy boots and a pretty pair of old style high heel boots for Kimmy.  We had bought her wedding dress in Philadelphia prior to moving to Tucson, it was a beautiful, old fashioned looking dress with lots of lace.  She was absolutely breathtaking wearing it...beyond radiant.
     Our wedding day was May 21st, 1994.  It was a cloudless day (what a surprise!), with the deepest blue sky I can remember and the temps were low 90's...there was not a large crowd at the church, again, we knew noone when we moved here and about 15 friends and relatives made the journey for our most special day...there were also about 30 or so tourists that happened by! I cannot remember a happier day in my life...nope, not even close.  I was walking on clouds, my face hurt from smiling and the tears of joy flowed freely...
      I remember bursting in to tears as Kim walked toward me down the long, scenic aisle at San Xavier that day and again when the musician sang the Ave Maria.  My sister, Lauren, did the readings for us and everything was perfect.  Halfway through the Mass, a desert stray dog lazily wandered down the aisle...Father Dulmeyer did not miss a beat...not even pausing as he delivered our vows, he whispered 'it's ok, the dog is a Catholic..'!  Kim and I giggled. 
     Afterward, one of the tourists slipped me a $20 bill and told me it was the nicest wedding he's ever been too! 
     I had tied cans of Tecate to the rear bumper of my Toyota pick up and hoisted Kimmy into the passenger seat, literally sweeping her off her feet...we took our wedding party, friends and relatives to scenic Gates Pass to have a picnic lunch.  This is the most incredible vista in Tucson.  As you approach on Speedway Blvd, through a forest of towering Saguaro cacti, the road becomes a series of switchbacks as it climbs into the Tucson Mountains...then, you turn the final corner and...WOW!  you are faced by a severe left jog in the road and presented with a stunning view of a mountain in front of you and a huge dropoff if you are not paying attention to the road - it is so hard to multi-task while driving this road - impossible to thoroughly soak in the view and maintain control of your vehicle.  We had a fantastic lunch and then continued on to Old Tucson Movie Studios, where a lot of Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and the Bonanza series were filmed.  We all had a fun time participating in stunt shows and walking the town.
      In the evening, we drove to the extreme eastside of town, way out Old Spanish Trail, to Reddington Pass Cattle Co., where we had a real cowboy cook out.  There was a huge bonfire and a cowboy playing guitar.  Grilled steaks, beans, etc and a beautiful cake made by our friends Rosa and Vito, who own Viro's Italian Bakery on 22nd & Sarnoff.  Everything was delicious.  The sunset was so brilliant, full of oranges and reds.  I've never had such a good time...it was a story book wedding...beginning 17 years of a blessed marriage. 
      I can't imagine having done anything different to make our day more perfect.  Kim had planned in so many nice surprises and details to our day, from the outfits she chose for us to wear, to the wonderful bagged lunches she had prepared for everyone, to the rustic floral center pieces she made for our cowboy cookout...you know Kimmy, she made perfect even more perfect, every time...but somehow it was even better on our magical day...

       Well, I try to tell the bambini's a different story every day, to keep their memories alive...they have done such an incredilbe job through this difficult time - sometimes, I don't even know how they do it...they give me such deep hugs, kisses and we have enjoyed our times together even more over the last two weeks...yes, two weeks already...at 7:59 tonight.   They are truly what hold me together right now and each day, I do everything as extra special as Kimmy used to - from homemade fruit smoothies to start the day for breakfast (and the boys and I ate fried eggs and tamales!), to taking them to Skate Country with their friends Lexy, Breanna, David and Alex tonight...we are staying busy, keeping Kimmy alive in our hearts, and building new memories for each other...
        People ask me everyday, how are we doing?  Is it getting easier?  No, it's not - we all miss Kimmy so deeply...but, again, I turn to Mother Teresa, who said:

        "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other"

        And with my little bambini's, we are making our way, finding peace...


Sunday, December 26, 2010

A dog's life

   Let's talk about Kim's love for animals...before we left Pennsylvania, Kim had worked very had at a day care where she loved the kids, but her boss wasn't very kind.  Then, she worked at Alphagraphics, a very demanding job, where Kim thought she could use her artistic ability, but found out it was rarely needed.  When we moved to Tucson, Kim took some time to plan our wedding (a story for a different day...) and then thought about looking for work.  I asked her what she'd like to do and she said she would really like to work with animals.
    Kim did a little research and found that Pima Tech Institute offered vet tech training courses.  She prepared to enroll, but thought it was a lot of money to take the classes and was worried about the expense, while not being able to bring in money.  I told her to call around to animal hospitals to ask vets their opinion of the school, if they would hire her when she graduated and how for how much.  After a few calls, she found Bear Canyon Animal Hospital, who told her not to waste her time and money.  They would interview Kim and if they liked her (ha ha), she could spend a day with them to see if she even liked working in that environment.  Of course, they loved Kim, Kim loved them and came home absolutely gushing about her day!!  They offered her a position and she quickly learned how to assist a vet and the technical jargon. 
    One day, she showed up in the parking lot of Toys R Us to pick me up from work.  It was a few days before my birthday.  Kim couldn't wait for me to open the truck door and I was suspicious, but unprepared for the little black furball, Cajun, who greeted me.  I know I've mentioned her before, she was black lab/border collie, a beautiful black with a white markings on her chest, nose and paws.  As our first born, she slept with us that first night, right on our pillows and we took her everywhere.  Grocery shopping, to Target and on all of our weekend excursions.  One of the benefits of working at an animal hospital, was, that Kim could take Cajun to work with her.  At Bear Canyon, she would spend her day on a couch, with other employee's animals...this was a challenge, at first, because Cajun had so much love for everyone, that she wanted to jump down and provide a warm, sloppy, greeting.  Kim worked with her, patiently, until Cajun would sit all day with her pals on the couch.  Soon, one of the Drs, Dr. Burrows, left to open her own practice, Ventana Animal Hospital, where we still take Bella, and liked Kim so much, that she took her with her to help open up the business.
     Kim really enjoyed working there, learning how to draw blood, anesthetize animals, help in surgery, etc.  She loved her work and the people she worked with.  Cajun had her own little cage and loved hopping into it each day.  When people came back to see her, her tail would thump against the stainless steel walls, beating like a drum.
     Kim loved all animals, like St. Francis, caring for sick ones and never leaving a stray wander.  We'd often have to take lengthy detours to coax stray animals to us to see if we could determine if they had i.d. and reunite them with their owners.  I can't count how many times we'd have an extra pup or two living with us until Kim could get them safely home and how many birds, etc that she would nurse back to health.  She had so much love and care in her, not just for people, but for all animals.
     We loved to take day trips back then and would often go hiking in Sabino Canyon, hiking in the back way to allow Cajun to go with.  One weekend, we traveled to the NE corner of the state to Canyon De Chelly, to meet some friends from high school, Karen and Mike Miholics.  We drove our black Jeep Wrangler up there, about a 6 hour drive and Cajun sat between us.  We took her hiking through that beautiful canyon - we all had a blast.  That night, we found a hotel for like $19/night near the Navajo reservation up there.  It had no lock on the door, so we pushed the refridgerator in front of it and Cajun snuggled up with Kim - I think she was scared of the place, too!
      Cajun made trips to San Diego with us, to 'dog beach', where Kim and I would take long walks with her and let her get wet in the surf.  We'd stay at the cheapest hotels to save money, in some pretty hairy areas, with our dog Cajun to protect us...actually, she was so gentle, she would have probably loved to meet an intruder.  We drove from Tucson to Pennsylvania with Cajun several times, as well.  This is a 2500 mile drive, taking about 40 hours, straight through.  Kim and I would take turns driving until we got tired and then we'd switch.  If we did stop, we'd have to sneak Cajun into the hotel room with us, luckily, she was not a barker!  My sister, Sherri, used to live in Muskogee, OK, which was exactly half-way and sometimes we'd stop in for a nap, a shower, a good meal and then hit the road again!
       We took Cajun to the Jersey Shore, where she got to frolic in the Atlantic surf and to many of the streams and lakes in the area we grew up in to let her play in grass and water.  The Lehigh Parkway had been one of our favorite spots to go when we were dating.  It has the Little Lehigh river running through it, surrounded by large weeping willows and plenty of grass for Cajun to run in.
      She was so well travled, having gone more places then our youngest, Antonio!  She even went to Disneyland with us - they actually have a kennel at the main entrance and they walk your pup and play with them while you are in the park!  She road the tram from the parking lot to the entrance like a champ.
      When Cajun was two years old, Kim decided, for practice, to run a full blood panel on her...finding that Cajun had a liver ailment.  She was put on a special diet and on several medications.  We were told she may live to 4 or 5 years old...Kim loved that girl and, I believe, kept Cajun so well cared for, that the girl actually lived longer because of it.  Right around the time Cajun turned 5, we started talking about getting another puppy, as a companion and to ease the blow on us, and now Cody, who was 2, in the event she passed away.  Then Kim got pregnant with Autumn...
       That complicated things, but, I thought 'what a great maternity gift a puppy would be for Kim!'.  So on a Sunday in March, with Kim 8 months pregnant, we were headed to church and then had tickets to see the Diamondbacks play the Rockies in Spring Training baseball (our city officials have since allowed all of our teams to migrate to Phoenix).  On a the corner of 22nd and Harrison, which was desert land, but now the site of a Walgreens, there was a van parked beneath a huge Palo Verde tree with a playpen full of puppies!
        The lady had about a dozen black lab/australian shepards - but I fell in love with the runt of the litter, a little girl who had just a touch of white on her chest, but otherwise was full black.  I told the lady that we were on our way to church and then a ball game, so couldn't get her right then.  On the way to church, I told Kim, if she is still there when we come back...we'd get her. 
         That was the longest day, and maybe the first time I wanted to leave a ball game early!  We hurried back across town and as we approached the corner, the lady was getting ready to pull out.  I literally pulled my truck in front of her, jumped out and asked about the puppy...'last one left' she said...and that is how Zona came into our lives!
         Kim and Zona did not get along at first.  Zona was so full of energy and pretty destructive...the first night we had her, we penned Cajun and Zona in our hallway and went to sleep.  Around 2 a.m., Kim woke me up and said she heard noises in the living room...sure enought, I could hear something going on.  I snuck out and found that Zona had jumped the gate, leaving poor Cajun cowering, looking at me as if to say 'Daddy, I told her not to'.  Zona was on our couch, joyfully shredding the pillows, the couch and the stuffing was all around the living room!
         On top of this destructive personality, it was May, Kim was ready to give birth to Autumn, and she had no patience for a puppy!  I guess this maternity gift had not been the best idea!  One day, Kim called me to look out back.  The lawn sprinklers were on and there was Zona, digging frantically to find the source!  Before I could get out there, she had grabbed hold of a piece of pipe, bit into and started shaking her head back and forth - a geyser erupted as I approached to grab her.  From the porch, I could her Kim absolutely bellowing!!   I had to talk her out of getting rid of Zona that night... A few weeks later, Kim called me again to look outside - there was Zona, with one of the landscape lighting we had surrounding the grass, in her mouth.  I opened the door and zoom!  She took off running - pop! pop! pop! went the lights as she pulled them all out of the ground.  If you've never heard Kim's deep bellow of a yell, it is somewhat frightening, but humorous, in that you'd never expect something so deep and loud to come from a girl so small and so sweet!
That night, I had to talk her out of getting rid of Zona...
            Zona started to calm down by the time she was 6...she was a great friend and companion for Cajun, and kept her company until Cajun passed, in Kim's and my arms, at the age of 11.  Kim was devasted, but, by this time had begun to develop quite the bond with Zona.  They were now inseparable.  Zona always slept with us and follow Kim around the house all day, keeping her company.  She was very sweet with the bambinis, too - letting them use her as a pillow, actually allowing Antonio to ride her like a pony and playing ball and tug of war with them.  Although Zona never got to take the same trips with us that Cajun had, she took plenty of walks, hikes and had a lot of fun.
            We lost her in March, at the age of 10, to cancer...Kim held her until she passed away in her arms...
           This time, it was me that did not want a dog.  I wanted some time to properly mourn Zona, but Kim got right to work, research on the internet to try to find us a lab/border collie mix, like our dear Cajun was.  I tried to talk her out of it, but about a week after Zona had passed, she had discovered that an organization called B.A.R.K. was advertising Lab/Border Collie mix pups and persuaded me to drive the family over to take a look...once again, it was the runt of the litter that attracted Kim's eye and the family's...and Bella came home to live with us.
            Kim loved Bella so much, bringing her to bed with us each night, teaching her to shake hands, not getting made at her as she ate some wood off of our dining room table.  She taught Bella to catch a ball and wanted to work on more agility training as a means to bottle some of the enormous energy that Bella had...then she went into the hospital.  Our neighbors, Amy, Tom, Betsey and Brian took good care of Bella while Kim was in St. Joseph's and when she came home, briefly, she marveled at how much Bella had matured, not jumping up on her, being caring and loving - I think Bella knew how sick her mama was - and if you've been to visit, you know Bella is a jumper and not very calm!  Bella would not leave Kimmy's side the few days she was with us...Kim so enjoyed her company and was comforted by Bella's presence.
            Bella is a really good girl, she is so loving and absolutely loves the bambini's.  She takes turns sleeping with them, in their beds, with head on pillow.  I am so very glad Kim persuaded me to bring her into our family - she brings us plenty of smiles right now!
            Hope your holiday season is going well!
John 3:16

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Buon Natale!

        Merry Christmas!  I can remember every blessed Christmas that Kim and I got to spend together, each one, another greatest time...1993, the day after our engagement, was one of the best - all fired up from receiving a 'yes' from Kim, knowing we'd be together forever, gave me an energy like no other.  We started the day making breakfast for each other and enjoying our morning, then, headed out to see parents, relatives and friends.  We made a lot of extra stops that day, as Kim wanted to tell everyone our great news, show everyone her ring and I wanted to be there right next to her, sharing her glow.   We went to my mom's for breakfast, Kim's parent's  for a late lunch and then to my Dad's for dinner, seeing many aunts, uncles, cousins and friends on short stops in between.  On holidays, we always ended the day by going to the latest movie playing.  We'd smuggle in a bottle of our favorite wine, and enjoying each other's company, more than the movie itself.  There always seemed to be a Disney re-release, and we'd often choose to see that show.The smile would not leave my face that day, stretching perhaps further than it ever had before, by the time we went to bed that night, my face muscles needed a massage.
         Some of the other 'best' Christmas, because they were all best, was the Christmas of 1994, in our new home in Tucson.  We chose a live tree, bought it too early, not aware of how dry they quickly become when you live in the desert, and had to buy a second one before Christmas came.  That was ok, we had fun picking it out and decorating it.  We started our tradition of making the Christmas raviolis that year, from scratch - Kim would make an incredible bolognese sauce to go with it.  It was also our first Christmas with Cajun, a black lab/border collie mix that Kim had bought me for my birthday that year.  She had a blast helping to open presents and she was actually very good at it!
           Christmas 1997 was a great one.  It was our first one with Cody.  We named him Cody because on April 23rd, 1997, Cody was born at exactly 12:00...high noon in the wild west.  He was born at St. Joseph's, so it seems we've come full circle.  He was a fun baby, full of curiosity and always laughing.  We bought him way too many toys, a combination of proud first time parents and me being the manager at Toys R Us!  Christmas 2000 was special, as Autumn joined our family (born in the same room as Cody at St. Joseph's by coincidence).  She was also a wonderful little baby with great big blue eyes...we also had Zona, a black lab/australian sheperd mix, that I had bought for Kimmy as a maternity gift...it took her awhile to appreciate that gift...I'll tell that story some other time!  Christmas 2003 brought us Antonio - he had the best dissposition and had so much fun his first Christmas...playing with the empty boxes! 
         At this point, we were a family of 5 living in a 1250 sq ft, 3 bedroom home...while about 6 months pregnant with Tonio, Kim decided to try to make it work.  While I was working that day, she flipped Cody's bedroom with our master bedroom, putting up bunkbeds, repainting, the works.  I came home after a long day, there she was, tuckered out but smiling...I went into 'our' room, only to find the boys new room!  What a shock and I couldn't believe she had moved all of that furniture by herself while so pregnant!!  After Tonio was born, we decided we needed something bigger and moved to our current home, so Christmas 2004 in our new home was memorable.
        Now, looking back, last year was so incredilby good.  We had a great time at Betsey and Brian's making pizza on Christmas Eve, made our raviolis Christmas Day and then went to Angie's for Christmas dinner and had so much fun...prior to Kim knowing she was sick, we decided to make this year's Christmas very simple, printing out beach photos that we were going to wrap with sand toys, bathing suits, etc and let the kids know that in March, on their spring break, we'd hit the beach and Sea World...well, one of the last things Kim said to me, was how sorry she was, that this wasn't what we had planned...I, of course told her that getting her well was our only thought, our only priority right now and not to worry, we both had such deep faith...deep faith, but we were not in control...as Rush once sang "forget about your silly whim, it doesn't fit the plan".
         Today, the bambini's were greeted with the most presents that they have ever seen!  Our Cottonwood family, Cienega High School club, the Link Crew and friends, neighbors, Grammie and Grandpa Jim and Santa filled our living room with incredible toys.  It really helped keep their minds on how many good people there are out there who had the true spirit of this season - giving.  Autumn did comment that it was the best Christmas ever, but the worst Christmas ever...so I got them busy in the kitchen!  After making them a french toast breakfast, we set to work on ravioli's.  Cody helped me make the dough and manned the pasta machine to stretch it into the proper length, thickness and width.  Autumn helped prepare the ricotta filling and her and Tonio plopped the filling on Cody's pasta, and then cut them into ravioli shapes.  They had a blast!  We cranked up some Frank Sinatra singing Christmas tunes and joined him in our best singing voices - the kids sound like angels and me, well, forget about it.
           We cooked them up and Grammie and Granpa Jim joined us for a ravioli Christmas lunch.  Now, we are getting ready to go to Angie's, where her and her four daughters, Andrea, Janene, Kristie and Kim will be with their husbands and little ones - the bambini's always enjoy going there and playing and eating the wonderful tamales and such that they prepare.  So, we'll look back on this Christmas and be able to say that we made it 'another greatest time'...just like Kimmy would have made it for us.
          Wishing you all your own 'nother greatest time!

"God is our refuge and our strength..."
                              Psalms 46:1

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

   Christmas Eve has always been a magical time for Kim and I.  We'd often bake cookies, make cioppino (sea food soup) and go to church.  When we lived back east, if it had snowed, we'd like to go out late and walk in the snow, make snow angels and throw a couple of snow balls.  Out here, we would walk and see all of the beautiful lights and be so happy we were not freezing!
    We've passed these traditions on to our children, adding the making of home made raviolis for Christmas Day...so this morning, the bambini's and I got to work.  We made pizzelles...it took us three times to find the right recipe!  The first that I found, was one ripped from a page of the pizzelle iron's manual - I told the kids, first, we get out all of the ingredients that we need.  Next, we read the directions all the way through, then we make them...they came out very thick and crunchy.  I looked back over the recipe and found that at the very bottom, in fine print, it said 'this recipe will make an extra thick and crunchy style pizzelle'...so much for me reading the whole thing through!  But, the kids had fun helping with another batch.Then, we made the cioppino - this year adding scallops, Kim's favorite, to the shrimp, clams, mussels and white fish.  Next, we made the marinara sauce, painstakingly remembering Kim's best recipe, which, like any really good Italian recipe, is not written down!  And we nailed it on the first try!  Then, we set to work on making the pasta for the raviolis.  We've had a busy morning, but it is so fun teaching the bambini's how to make these family traditions...
    So the best Christmas Eve that I can remember, was 1993.  It was a dreadful winter in Pennsylvania, mostly ice storms and frigid temps, often going below zero with high winds.  I had about a 45 minute commute to the Toys R Us that I was working at in Montgomeryville and there were several times that I was the only one to make it to work, as I had a 4 wheel drive Toyota truck.  I'd pick up my front end supervisor, Deb, and we'd brave the conditions to get to the store to take care of the deposit from the previous day's business and await permission to not open for the day.
    I was awaiting word on a possible transfer to Arizona.  I had been assigned to help 'clean up' the Montgomeryville location and my store manager, Bruce Feagins (who is now a D.M. with Barnes & Noble!! Small world.) had told me that all of the hours we had put in to make the store successful were being rewarded - he was going to be transferred to the Florida Keys, a dream of his...I asked, hey, can I go somewhere?  He asked where I wanted to go and I said Arizona!  I wanted to live in Phoenix, to be close to concerts and pro sports, but Kim reasoned that if we were moving all the way across the country, we should move to Tucson, a smaller, cozier community - instead of another hustle/bustle area.
   Anyway, on Christmas Eve, 1993, we had gone to church, went to our family's homes to visit and were back at our apartment enjoying each other's company and getting ready to exchange gifts...I remember it was getting close to midnight...
   Well, I gave her a new, fuzzy, warm bathrobe from Victoria's Secret...she loved it and put it right on, sitting down on the couch to watch t.v.  I went over to her, got down on one knee, and asked her if the robe was comfortable...she gushed that it was.  I asked if she had checked out how deep that the pockets were...she said that she hadn't, so she reached in to see and found a small box...without opening it, she burst into tears (sound like Kimmy?)...slowly, she unwrapped the box, opened it up and found the engagement ring that I was giving to her...she sat there crying and staring out the ring...finally, she took it out and I slipped it on her finger...and asked her if she would marry me...she could not speak, and I must say, I had a moment of apprehension...then, she said of course she would!  Well, that was it for me, I cried too and we just held each other for a long time...
      Well, that's may best Christmas Eve memory, of course, we made so many more great ones, especially once the kids came around...and us 'four musketeers' will undoubtly make some great memories too.  We will eat our cioppino this afternoon and then got to our neighbor's, Betsey and Brian, to make pizzas.  Betsey's parents, Ursula and Sam are visiting from Sedona and Grammie and Grandpa Jim will come with us too.
       We all prayed this morning over breakfast, the kids helped me make bacon, eggs and hash browns, that mama was safe in Heaven and wished her a happy Christmas Eve...
       Wishing you all the same,

Thursday, December 23, 2010


  Over the years, Kim and I fell in love with Sedona...we've made several dozen trips there over the last 20 years or so...It has been a magical place for us...
  The very first one was back in 1991...we had come to Arizona on vacation, staying in Phoenix (and going to see Metallica and GnR at Phoenix International Raceway!) and we had to go up to see Sedona, having heard and read so much about it...
   As we approached, the red rocks took our breath away.  We stopped often to just stare at the scenery and take pictures.  We drove through town and headed to the north side of Sedona to Oak Creek State Park, where we hiked, ate lunch and went to the creek, where there is a natural rock slide.  It was incredible.  The water was pretty chilly, but the ride through it was so exhilarating!  We went down the slide over and over until we were exhausted.  Then, we put some towels on a red rock ledge beside the flowing waters, and let the sun bake us and relax us. 
   If you've never been to slide rock at Oak Creek, Sedona, it is just incredible.  There are large buttes framing the park, red rock ledges, pine trees and the creek, flowing through it, is just stunning.  We spent the day swimming, sunning and hiking...perhaps our finest vacation outing...
   After we moved to Arizona in March, 1994, we would always take weekend trips, as we wanted to explore this beautiful state that we had moved to...one of our first trips, was to Sedona.  I had bought Kim a black 1993 Jeep Wrangler, prior to us moving here and we decided to take it to Sedona.  We re-visited Oak Creek, hiked and talked about the time we had been there in 1991...then, we looked to take the Jeep off-road and were told to try Schnebley Road...we quickly located it, turned off the paved road and head on a twisting, turning road that climbed into the red rocks of Sedona.  It was like leaving civilization and going into complete wilderness back then.  After we drove for awhile, we saw a waterful, cascading down some rocks and decided to hike up to see if we could find its source.  We climbed up the steep hillside, which had large pines and ferns alongside the waterfall.  It took us a good hour to reach the top, where a stream spilled over the ledge.  You could see forever up there and we help each other and just soaked up the scene, before slipping and sliding back down to the Jeep, laughing, tossing clumps of dirt at each other and just having a blast.
    We continued along Schnebley road until we reached a plateau, with fields that stretched a long ways...there were huge cattle of some sort up there, that were grazing alongside of the road.  We had never seen such big beasts, with large horns and thought they must be some kind of water buffalo or something!  I can't remember if we ever figured out what kind of bulls they were...As we continued, the road hug a red rock cliff and the other side plummeted straighted down - again, breathtaking views!   The road twisted and climbed even higher, it was difficult to keep my eyes on the road and take in Sedona below.  We found that this road took us all the way to Flagstaff - it was such an incredible drive...we turned around and slowly made our way back the way we had come.  Another greatest time!
   Let's see...about 7 years ago now, Kim surprised our family with an great Christmas gift...she had booked us a hotel room in Sedona and a train ride out of Clarkdale, just southwest of Sedona.  We had Cody and Autumn and Kim was pregnant with Antonio...She had picked us out a beautiful hotel, with a beehive fireplace and a little balcony.  The kids were so excited they did not want to sleep!  We told them all about our times in Sedona together and let them know that the sooner they slept, the sooner we'd be able to go on the train ride!
    The next morning, after breakfast, we headed down to Clarkdale, boarding an old fashioned steam engine driven train.  Cody absolutely loved trains.  He was wearing his conductor cap and cowboy boots, fitting in well.  We chose a spot on an open air car and waited to go.  The train wound it's way through the landscape, following a river that had large cliffs on either side.  You could see eagles nesting and soaring through the air in search of food.  We all had a great time - especially the kids.  Kim had given us our favorite gift that year - she was always incredibly thoughtful and had great ideas like this for our family.  She had given us a memory we'll never forget...
    Now, I've written about our incredible neighbors, Betsey and Brian, who time after time, came to our rescue to watch the kids, bring them to the hospital to visit Kim, clean house, fix things that I can't fix, etc., etc.  As it turns out, Betsey's parents, Ursula and Sam, live in Sedona!  They are a great couple and when we met them, we hit it off right away.  Over the last few years, they have graciously invited us up to their home and have taken good care of us.  We have spent Thanksgiving there, with Kim bringing along her apron and jumping in to help Ursula and Betsey whip up the feast.  Their home has just stunning views of the red rocks and buttes off of their front porch, and the back yard looks like it is out of a magazine.  We would take the kids for walks along paths out of their back porch, spotting deer.  They have seen bobcats, mountain lions and other wildlife in their back yard over the years.  The kids really had a lot of fun playing out there with Hadley and Mitch and they would all camp out together in the same room, rarely sleeping and giggling through the night. 
     In the mornings, Kim and I would sneak out at dawn, breathing in the fresh, cool air and walking, hand in hand along the paths...taking in the sunrise, cool mists coming off the surrounding fields and forest and just talking...
     Sedona has been good to us...I'd like to get the kids up there again soon, so they never forget the beauty we all shared...
      You know, Jodi, Kim's cousin-in-law, keeps coming up with the best Mother Teresa references...I remember this one from her book "Come Be My Light", and she reminded me of it today, and it fits:

      "I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world"
         -Mother Teresa

      If I don't catch up with you, please have a blessed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day...squeeze your loved ones an extra time for me...enjoy their company...make some great memories this Christmas - it's up to you - I know I will, for the bambini's, and we cherish all of the Christmas' we spent with Kimmy, our miracle.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"My mind is in the right place, my body just won't cooperate"

  Kimmy was so sweet during her whole journey...she was so upbeat and positive.  She even told me, 'this is not how I'm going to go...we will be 95 and I will trip over our grandson's Tonka truck'...the odds were just stacked against her.
   One of her doctors commented to me 'you know, this is the kind of case that makes you want to quit your profession and move out of town'.  I went to see my Dr. tonight...thought it might be wise to get some blood work of my own done, just in case.  He listened to my story with sympathy and, towards the end, his head began shaking and he told me, that from what he knows about adenocarcinoma, once it travels from the lung, it is a very deadly disease, spreading rapidly - further, once it begins to mess with the blood, like with Kim's blood clots, it has nearly run it's course.  Trying to see the bright side, or the 'Kim side', I suppose it is a blessing that it went so quickly, as, my Dr. said that chemo rarely does more than postpone the inevitable.  I can tell you, as quickly as I am down, Kim pulls me right back up - I just think back to her possibility thinking and turn things around.
   But she was so positive...and it haunts me, did she know?  I know she was adamant that she did not want the Drs. to let her know how much time she had, as if she were labeled with an expiration date, but still, I wonder...
   Today, we took the bambini's to see the Legend of the Guardians, a movie about owls.  Autumn is a huge owl fan.  The kid's friends, Lexy and Breanna went along with us, as did Grammie and Grandpa Jim - the extra company keeps them distracted.  They had fun, eating a ton of popcorn, candy, etc.  As we littered the theatre, I had a Kim moment...and actually, for the first time ever, cleaned up the trash and put it in a trash can...one step at a time.  Anyway, the kids played, ate some pasta, played some more, Tonio threw up (too much good time!), and then it was time to get ready for bed...tomorrow, I told them I'll teach them how to make pizzelles - Kim bought me a pizzelle iron nearly 25 years ago on 9th street in Philly and it still works great!
    Well, it certainly hasn't gotten easier - Kim was such a huge part of our lives - the void is large, everything seems colder and the shadows deeper.  During this, someone commented that going through a divorce is worse than losing a spouse...from where I stand - I would have rather had the divorce, because I know that Kim and I would have at least remained friends...and her children would still have their mother...and she would still be here, lighting up the lives of those around us...and I could go on and on, so much so, that I just felt sorry for the person who told me that!
    Tonight, the moon had a beautiful, glowing ring around it and the stars poked out from behind the clouds.  I couldn't seem to locate 'our' constellation, the Big Dipper...but, could feel Kim's calming presence in that beautiful night sky...
'Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.'
-Mother Teresa

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some Good Memories...

     After we broke up back in 7th grade, well, after Kim broke up with me for an 8th grader, we stayed friends.  I'd carry Kim's books home for her.  She'd come to my soccer practices and games.  We'd call each other up now and again.  Sometimes we get together at a dance or at the mall.  In 8th grade, we went to a weekend camp together, Camp Brenard (did I spell that right Terri?), where, Terri alluded to a frozen pair of underwear that appeared in place of the flag way up on top of the flagpole one morning - I don't think they were mine, or Kim's!  It was a beautiful camp, with little cabins set in a circle around a large grassy area.  There was a little lake, with row boats.  We did Bible reading twice a day and there were a lot of activities throughout the rest of the day.  Kim and I were not going steady, but enjoyed each other's company a lot...
   Sometimes we'd get back together in between girlfriend/boyfriends and sometimes the situation couldn't wait until we were both in between...I fondly recall one such time, it was the spring of 1982, we were juniors at Liberty High School together...there was a swim party at a girl's house, I think her name was Abby - she lived right next to the 7-11 where me and my friends enjoyed playing pinball - and Jimmy Durner could last like an hour on one quarter playing Asteroids.  I was there so often, my mom would actually call there if she wanted me home for dinner.
    We swam and ate food at Abby's until around 11:00 p.m., Kim and I had a great time.  When Kim said she needed to leave, I, like a gentleman, offered to walk her the mile or so home.  It was a beautiful night, I remember holding hands with Kim and walking as slowly as possible to make the night last.  I remember how many stars were in the sky - Kim pointed out the Big Dipper and we made the constellation ours - often referring to it over the years, calling each other when we were apart to say we had just seen the Big Dipper and were just calling to let the other know...even to this summer, when we happened to be in our yard and she pointed it out to me and we shared a warm embrace and a kiss...
    When we got to her house, we kissed and said goodnight, not knowing when we'd get together again, but feeling happy, having had a nice night together...
    That Monday, when I got home from school, my Dad told me that my friend David Edwards had called me...I felt my stomach trying to come up through my throat - my Dad must have noticed me turning several shades of pale, because he asked 'Have I ever met David? Is he your friend?'...I told him, no, David Edwards was Kim's current boyfriend.  He was not only a senior, but on the football team.  I can't remember how big he was, but I was so little, he seemed Incredible Hulk-ish to me.  I kept as low a profile as I could the next few days, worriedly telling Kim in school that David was looking for me to 'talk' to me...it seems one of the girls at the party inadvertently told David about how much fun Kim and I had at the swim party.  How nice.  Anyway, David did finally catch up to me, I remember the terror I felt as he interrogated me that night.  Kim had told him that we were just good friends and that he had nothing to worry about and I avoided being beaten to a pulp!  David and I actually remained friendly after that episode over the years. Ahhh, it would have been worth the beating, having such a memory with Kim!
        Thanks for all of the well wishes and prayers for me and the bambini's...we have struggled, as we miss our Kimmy terribly.  It still seems like a bad dream that I cannot wake up from.  The bambini's won't leave my side, choosing to come with me on boring errands - but we make them fun, stopping for breakfast burritos, sharing our favorite 'mom' stories, etc...when we went to church today, to pass on a thank you to Father Harry for all of the support he gave our family, and the comfort he provided Kim, I remarked that I was taking some more time off from work (thank you my Barnes & Noble family!!), and we could make the 10 a.m. Mass regularly until I had to go back to work...little Antonio worriedly piped up 'who will watch us then Dad'...hopefully, by then these guys will know that I am here for them and that their southwest family will watch out for them, love them and care for them...they are such good kids, my tether to sanity right now...I love them so much...
         Thanks for letting me share these memories I have of Kimmy, too...I think it helps me keep her alive - and I know I tried to be a better person today, then I was yesterday...for her...

Monday, December 20, 2010

First Kiss

     ...I was a pretty dorky 7th grader, and had somehow landed an incredible girlfriend, Kim...I desperately wanted to be entertaining, interesting, everything she was looking for in a boyfriend - I also wanted Kim to be the first girl I kissed.
        My parents were pretty supportive of me and my friends, and agreed to allow me to host parties at our home, mostly in our basement.  The basement was always a place that attracted me, yet scared me.  It had concrete floors, a low, unfinished wood beam ceiling - the kind that the house's electricity ran along the beams with those white ceramic conductors.  It had a hulking furnace that roared at you when it fired up and a large oil container, all in the main room.  There were two side rooms, my Dad's workshop and the laundry room.  I had a pretty cool Williams pinball machine that was a lot of fun.  As a kid, I always loved playing down there, but it was not well lit and the shadows ran very deep...the last landing of the stairs created a natural fort beneath it, but, I was convinced a monster lived beneath the stairs and when it was time to go upstairs, I ran pretty quickly up those stairs!
       But I was 12 now, and over the monsters.  When I told my friends I was going to have a party, they were excited.  We did our best to clean up the basement and decorate.  My parents sprung for food and drinks for me.  I had an 8 track boom box for tunes and a strobe light for ambience...the stage was set.
         I invited Kim to the party at school that day and she said she could come.  I let my friends know that my girlfriend was coming and that I really wanted to kiss her, but needed a plan.  We put our heads together and came up with and idea:  when the song 'Calling Dr. Love', by Kiss came on the boombox, my friend, Jerry, would turn off the strobe light, leaving the basement in the dark and allowing me to have the courage to kiss Kim.
         I remember sitting aside of her, with my arm around her that night...thinking it was the greatest party ever - but I'm sure it was probably pretty boring.  My parties consisted of putting out snacks and sodas, putting on some music and hoping the people I invited created a fun time.  I never thought to have games or any theme, but Kim was very kind and if she was bored, she did not show it.
        Finally, my song came on and Jerry reacted flawlessly.  My palms were sweating and I was jittery with nerves, but I leaned over, embraced Kim and planted a long kiss on her lips.  She was shocked, but held me back and we just kind of smushed our lips into each other, because I had no idea of what else to do!  Over the rest of the night, I managed to kiss her a few more times, each one just a straight on smushing of closed lips, that transported me to a higher plane.  For me, it was the greatest night of my life!  I'm sure Kim did not know what to think!!
        Afterwards, we walked the couple of blocks to her house, holding hands, and Kim said she had a nice time...I was in love...
        Last week, at exactly 7:59 P.M., my darling angel moved on to a better place, and I placed my last kiss on her beautiful lips, a straight on smush, but, perhaps with a little more style.  I will forever remember the light she brought into my life, how she made everything special, helped me become a better person and, of course, her wonderful kisses...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Learning to ski...

   Thank you all for your support yesterday, what a beautiful day, and, as we left the church, we saw the pinks in the sun setting that Father Harry told us to look for and knew that Kimmy was close...

    Anyways, back in 1990, I was a manager with Toys R Us in Philadelphia (where I worked when Kim made me her infamous hard boiled eggs that she cooked for 2 hours and me and my team played hockey with).  I was asked to go to Colorado to open some new stores there, as Toys R Us expanded into that state.  Kim was concerned that Colorado would be much colder than Pennsylvania, but I told her that the winters there were actually milder, since they have a lower humidity level - the cold doesn't bite your lungs quite as badly as in Pa.
    The day we flew in to Colorado, there was a huge blizzard - our flight from Denver to Colorado Springs was canceled, so we decided to rent a car and drive down anyway.   We got onto the highway, it was pretty late in the evening, and slowly made our way.  It was snowing so hard at one point, that it was actually easier to see with our headlights off, as the light from them reflected off of the falling snow in a glaring way.  While we were on the road, we heard on the radio that the highway was closed!  They have these big gates at the top of the ramps preventing people from getting onto 25 when it is closed - so I didn't want to get off, as we were in the middle of nowhere - we kept going, seeing no cars and made it through.  I remember there was even lightning during this crazy storm.
     The next day, Kim wanted to try her hand at skiing.  The nice thing about Colorado, was, if you were a resident, you could go to any supermarket, like Safeway, and buy a lift ticket for $10 to any resort except Vail and Aspen.  We chose to start at Breckenridge. 
     We started out route 24 from Colorado Springs, an incredible, twisty, turny ascent into the majestic Colorado Rockies.  The Arkansas river flows beside the highway - in the summer, you can see people shooting the rapids in rafts, fishermen and people just enjoying the river.  As we got deeper into the mountains, Kim began gesturing wildly - she had spotted some big horn sheep pretty low down one of the moutain faces.  We pulled over and took some photos and watched them until the leader of the herd took them higher up the slope.
      We also saw deer, elk and marmasets, a racoon like animal.
       Breckenridge is a beautiful resort and the views from the top of their slopes are breath taking.  We took Kim on a 'bunny slope' first, to get her ski legs and then she wanted to get right to the top to have that bird's eye view.  We took a lot of photos and just stood up their in awe, in God's presence.
       I had explained the trail marking system to Kim before we started down the slope.  Black Diamond = expert, Blue Square = Intermediate and Green Circle = beginner.  We would follow a lazy, winding trail marked with the Green Circle.  Ready to go, I told Kim to follow me and stay close. 
       Kim was doing great, but, about halfway down the mountain, there was a small crowd of skiiers we had to navigate through - when we passed them, I looked over my shoulder and Kim was gone...
       She had veered off down a small off-shoot of a trail that had crossed our Green Circle trail.  I quickly got turned around as I saw her gaining speed down it.  Yelling as loud as I could, I got going as fast as possible and as I turned onto the trail, I noted with growing dread that Kim had just entered a Black Diamond trail!
        I was getting closer when I saw the mogul field about a hundred yards ahead.  These moguls had been groomed high and close together, so a experienced skier would know to crouched down, keep the knees loose and just 'pop' off each mogul hill quickly to reduce the transition between them...Kim was not aware of this - we hadn't covered that on the bunny slope and there was no way I could catch up, although I was now at break neck speed and screaming her name at the top of my lungs!
        Fortunately, there was virtually no traffic on this particular trail and Kim had entered the moguls and although shaky, was holding her own.  My heart welled up with pride as I watched her make the best of a difficult situation (so what else is new?)...however, as she neared the end of the field and back to a calmer section of the slope, she came off the top of a large mogul, kissed the top of the next and wham!!!  Dissappeared in a plume of powder so thick that I completely lost sight of her!!  Those of you who are old enough to remember ABC's Wide World of Sports that used to air Saturday mornings, might recall the opening segments that they used to show to introduce the program...'The thrill of victory...and the agony of defeat'...the agony of defeat segment was of a skiier totally biffing it down a steep slope and being obscured by snow - that is what Kim looked like.  I panicked and threw myself through the rest of the moguls, coming to a stop next to where Kim was partially buried, face down,- still screaming her name and frantically trying to turn her over I suddenly heard something...sweet laughter...Kim was laughing!!  Her goggles hung askew, face bright red from the snow and her head soaked...she had survived the ultimate mogul slope that Breckenridge had to offer and despite the harrowing journey and killer crash, could lay there laughing!  God was truly with Kim that day.
    We headed back to the lounge, where they brew their own beer, and sat warming ourselves in front of a fire for a few hours before heading back out for saner slopes. 
     Over the next few weekends, we also skiied Copper Mountain and Keystone.  We had a lot of fun, but nothing matched the first day on skiis for Kim!
     When we moved back to Pa., we loved to get up into the Pocono mountains to ski there, although it was not nearly as scenic and the conditions were not as favorable as those incredible Rocky Mountains, we still thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
      Thanks for being there,

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Celebrating Kimmy

  Thank you so much for all of you who made it out today to celebrate Kim!  What an amazing mass Father Harry orchestrated!  He really captured Kim with the readings he chose and his entire style today...
  I have so many people to thank for making it a Kimmy day:  My neighbor Brian, who made the beautiful collages of Kim and made them into posters.  Brian also made the slide show that brought me to my knees - why should I complain?  I had all of those experiences with Kim that you saw in those photos!  Thank you to Mary and Ami, who found a sign in book - I can't wait to go through it - this was a something that had alluded me and they said, 'no problem, we got it' and Ami even made the ladybug cupcakes!!!  Thank you to Janene, Andrea and Kim - who together handled the 'dash' poem mass cards, the euglogy and a reading.  Thank you to Amy, who read the dash poem and has done so much for us.  Thank you Kenny, for keeping me grounded during this beautiful tribute to Kim, where I promised to shed only happy tears, but, selfishly, I was missing Kimmy, thanks for your reading, too!  Thank you to Father Harry, who did such an great job capturing Kimmy.  Thank you to Rosa and Vito, who, once again fed us, but not just us, made enough to feed about 400 people - most of the food was gone!  It was delicious and they worked so hard to make Kimmy's day special.  Thanks, again, to Andrea, Janene, Kim and their mom, Angie, who labored until after 1 a.m. to make those scrumptious rice krispy treats that I am so addicted to.   And thank you to my District Manager with Barnes & Noble, Tom, who came down from Phoenix, on his day off, to run my store, so my entire team could be there to support me and to celebrate Kim!!
   I know there are so many more thank yous, I could go on and on...it was so good to see so many people there for our family...
   Afterward, my east coast family, Amy, Tom and Alex, Betsey, Brian, Hadley and Mitchell, Andrea, Lexy and Brianna, came back to my house - it was so good to see them all...
   I could feel Kim's presence during the mass today - saw her in the glorious sunset and felt her as I talked with her brother, sister and my sisters at our home...she was absolutely the most incredilbe person I've ever met...I will continue to do better, thanks to her...and to all of you...

Friday, December 17, 2010

More Kimmy...

  On the eve of Kimmy's celebration, I'd like to share this with you...

"So as you read this note, my friends,
 I'd love stay with you all.
 Please smile when you think of me,
 my body's gone, that's all."
                                       -Dave Mustaine, Megadeth
   Ok, so how can I connect the Megadeth song I've added to the playlist and Kim?  Well, truthfully, I am the metal fan in the family, but one of the things that, early on, really bonded Kim and I, was our music.  Kim was not the like most of the girls that I knew, who liked dance music and pop tunes - she was deeper.  When we met, we both enjoyed Aerosmith, The Who, AC-DC, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, etc - I had never met a girl who listened to rock.  We ended up seeing dozens of concerts together and having a blast at them all - best concert?  David Bowie, who we saw at least 5 times.  We saw Pink Floyd 3 times, the last time in '94 at ASU stadium.  Most surreal - Depeche Mode (yes, we were well rounded), one we fell asleep at?  The Grateful Dead - they took 2 hours to play 3 songs.  I loved seeing shows in Philly, there were always plenty of street vendors outside selling t-shirts and soft pretzels.  We also saw Guns 'N Roses - maybe the only time Axl showed up on time.  Scariest show for Kim?  Fight - featuring Rob Halford of Judas Priest.  We were moving towards the stage and Kim yelled 'No Dave, there's a fight breaking out!  Let's go back!'...I explained that it was not a fight, but a mosh pit, but we stayed far enough back to keep Kim comfortable.  I once 'lost' a contact so far back up into my eye at a Santana concert in Philly, that I had to go to a little medical tent they had set up, where some guy used an IV bag of saline to drip into my eye and reached in with a gloved hand and scooped it out...We had a lot of fun.
   Anyway, Kim liked  'A Tout Le Monde', by Megadeth.  We had gone to school with one of their drummers, Jimmy Delgrasso, who has since dropped the 'L' and goes by Degrasso.  Tonight, over dinner at Viro's Italian Bakery, I stated that Jimmy was Liberty High School's most famous alumni.  Kim's brother, Kenny, came up with some semi-famous alumni, but none as successful as Jimmy, who has also drummed for Y&T, White Lion, Ozzy Osbourne, Suicidal Tendencies and is currently with Alice Cooper.  Kim's brother in law, Todd, graduated from Freedom, the rival high school, who has the Rock, Dwayne Johnson, as their most famous...I personally favor Degrasso over Johnson.
     At the dinner tonight, Janene unveiled a form of mass card that she designed for tomorrow and the eulogy for Kimmy...her sister's Kristie and Andrea were a big help with both - they've worked hard to make Kimmy's day special.  Brian brought along several large posters he designed with photos of Kim - they are beautiful.  He really captured Kim and all that she was.  Kenny and I broke down - he was able to bring me back around pretty quickly - it's hard to get my arms around this, and I look to Kim for guidance and inspiration - she would tell me, look at all of those wonderful times we had together...and smile!  Brian has also worked hard on the slide show presentation for tomorrow.  My voice is already gone from tonight.  Vito and Rosa fed our entire east coast family, and our southwest family - all of whom have been so helpful.

      One more thing...our first Christmas together, back in 1976, I proudly presented Kimmy with a sterling silver necklace with a charm of a little girl and little boy kissing...she still has it!  I bought it at the Westgate Mall, where we first met.

       Hope to see you all tomorrow to celebrate Kimmy - please know that the tears that you see will be ones of joy, for the 33 years that I was blessed to have known Kim and for all of the incredible times we shared.  I cherish them all...
"Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do...but how much love we put in that action"
                                                                                            -Mother Teresa
Thanks Jodi for this quote - I always thought Kimmy was our Mother Teresa of the desert!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Prepping for Saturday's Celebration of Kimmy

    Today, my mom and Kim's brother, Kenny, flew in from Bethlehem, PA.  The bambini's were delighted to see them and had fun playing with Uncle Kenny.  The kids all went to school today, Tonio had pajama day and told me he had to go back, because everyone wanted him there.  Mrs. Schrantz had his classmates draw him pictures and write to him when Kimmy passed away and they all said how much they missed him.  It really touched little Antonio to be so loved by his friends...Autumn was ready to go back, too.  Again, the love and caring these two receive at Cottonwood is extraordinary - everyone welcomed them back and Ms. Bryson, the principal, walked to class with us.  Mrs. Schrantz took time to let me know during the day that Antonio was doing great and Ms. Bryson called to let me know she had checked in on Autumn, who was making gingerbread houses and Tonio, who was watching Polar Express and they were having fun.  It was very comforting to get that news.  Cody had a great day, receiving 4 awards at his end of quarter awards ceremony - one for high honor roll, one for perfect attendance, one for P.R.I.D.E., a citizenship type of program and one for Art.  I was so proud and knew that Kimmy was smiling down from above on our boy. 
    My neighbor, Brian, is buys preparing a slide show for Saturday...Amy and I helped sift through boxes of pictures and memories, uncovering relects from our past...a receipt from a hotel at Beach Haven, New Jersey from August 1986 - we loved that beach, which is on Long Beach Island.  L.B.I. has beautiful beaches - it is a barrier island, 6 miles off of the mainland - 18 miles long and 3 miles wide at it's widest spot.  We would go there several times every summer beginning in 1984 spending all day on the beach, riding waves, swimming out to the sand bar at low tide and dodging the crabs that lived there.  In the evening, we'd sometimes go crabbing in the bay or go out to dinner and then go see a band or two.
     There were also movie ticket stubs, a collage of photos Kim had put together of us when we graduated from Liberty High School in 1983, college photos, photos from our vacations to Arizona in 1987 and 1989 - back before Old Tucson burned down - found some great ones of Kim, who was asked to participate in a stunt show, knocking out a few hired guns, and many, many incredible memories we were blessed to share together.
     I spent some time with Father Harry, at St. Pius, who will preside over the celebration of Kimmy's life, recounting many stories of Kim's kindness and how much she reminded me of a Mother Teresa type of person, in that she was always helping others, never putting herself first and finding the good in every person she met or situation she was in.  Above all, never complaining, but making the best of the situation and learning from it to do better in the future.  While I was there, the surgeon who performed her gall bladder surgery, Dr. Atkinson (of Bristol, PA, where my Dad grew up!), called to say he had just heard about Kim and how touched he was by Kim and her positive attitude and what an incredible person she was - he wanted me to know he was on call this weekend, and as long as it was quiet, he would be there Saturday  - another person Kim touched!  I have received several calls, emails, etc with people telling me that this experience and Kim have made them want to be better people, and telling me that this has reopened there eyes, giving them new appreciation of what they have - amen!  Kimmy's bright rays of sunshine touch more people!!  She had that way, without being pushy or egotistical, but just living her life the way she thought she should, and loving and caring for the people she came in contact with, just as Jesus wants us to...
     Anyway, I miss her so much and keep seeing signs of her - in the beauty of the mountains, that stray ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds, the soft sound of the falling rain today - and in the loving, caring support of all of you...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Westgate Mall

    I'd like to get in a few fond memories over the next few days if I can...here's how it all began for Kim and I...
 Back in 1976, when we were in 7th grade, the 'cool' thing to do was to walk up to the mall with your buddies and hang out at Record City, seeing what new vinyl had come in.  I'll never forget that November day, when Jim Durner, Jerry Mooney and myself were flipping through 45's, looking for our favorite singles.  My buddy, Jerry, was looking out of the store into the mall and said 'wow...' we all looked up and saw two girls going past...we went out into the mall and followed them.  In front of a store called Hickory Farms, one of them glanced over her shoulder - freezing me with deep blue eyes...locking for one sweet moment...and I was lost.  We followed her, Kimmy of course, and her friend, Tracy (they have been great friends all of these years!), but I could not find the courage to speak to someone so beautiful...
    I couldn't get her off of my mind the rest of the weekend.  Imagine my surprise, on Monday morning, when this radiant young lady walked into my English class, in slow motion, catching my eyes, briefly, before sitting down.  I couldn't believe I hadn't seen her before and made every effort to impress her over the next few weeks.  Of course, I didn't know what to say, so I relied on other ways to win her over...
    The next day, I got to English early, and climbed into a large, armoir like bookcase that we had in class, knowing the teacher would open it first thing, as we were reading 'The Pearl', as a class.  When she swung open the double doors, there I sat on a shelf, pretending to be engrossed in the book.  I casually got up, walked to my seat, like it was perfectly natural for me to be in there, saying nothing.  It got a good laugh, and I was warmed to see, the girl of my dreams, Kim, spare me a smile, which lit me up for the rest of my life.  The classroom was on the first floor, and sometimes, when the teacher's back was to the class, I'd get up and hop out of the window.  I'd come back in through the front door and get back to my seat.  I was very mature, eh?
   Over the next few weeks, I was finally able to bring myself to speak to her and found her so incredibly down to earth, with a soft, angelic voice and a wonderful laugh...over the next four months or so, we dated and became great friends - my very first for real girlfriend.  We loved to walk home after school together, holding hands, and grab a twin pop at Mike's corner store on 7th and Union Blvd - her favorite was vanilla flavor, mine rootbeer.  I would often ride my skateboard the three blocks down the street from my house to hers, bringing with me my posse of friends to further impress her with how cool I was.  We'd sit on her front porch and talk.
   School dances were the best.  Again, I'd be with all of my friends, and when a slow song came on, Kim and I would go out and dance together...she always smelled so good!  After the dance, we'd walk the couple of miles to Burger King and eat burgers and then walk slowly home, not wanting the evening to end...
   This was the beginning of 33 years of friendship...Thank you Kimmy, I love you...
Love, Dave