AROMA OF HOMEMADE

first challah

'What smells so good?' asked Cinnamon as she entered the house this afternoon. It was the last day of school before the Thanksgiving break and the last few hours at my place this week. Black bean soup was cooking on the stove and challah bread was on its second rise and ready to go into the oven.

Challah bread is my children's favourite type of bread. We buy it at Whole Foods on the weeks they are staying with me. Today I decided to try my hand at making my own loaf of the sweet egg bread. Albeit my effort at a four-strand braid was far from perfection, the taste could not have been better.

As Cinnamon devoured the bread, she exclaimed I should no longer waste my money on buying bread but should make it instead - every day. I explained to her I have every intention of making bread regularly but every day is not necessary as a loaf of bread can easily last three days, if not longer. I packaged up some of the bread for her to enjoy in the morning.

cinnamon model

Last night I soaked the black beans for tonight's soup. In the past, I have always used canned black beans which were already cooked and ready to use. It makes for a simple and quick meal when combined with cooked rice and topped with crumbled feta. Today I decided to make the beans from scratch which did not go over well with the children.

Dinnertime was a challenge as neither child liked the black bean soup over rice. Sage questioned the appearance of onions and green bell peppers in his watery soup. 'I don't want the water! I want something else' cried Sage at dinnertime. Cinnamon eventually made her way through one bowlful of the beans with rice. Convincing Sage was another story but in time he also made it through to the bottom of his bowl.

Upon return home from school, Sage was excited to show me all of the artwork in the paper bag he carried home. One after the other he pulled the colourful Thanksgiving-themed art pieces out from the bag and explained to me their meaning. There was a pilgrim hat, an Indian headband with feathers, two turkeys, a leaf man, and even construction paper chains used to capture prisoners.

sage pilgrim
sage indian
sage turkey

With the Thanksgiving holiday coming upon us in a few days, much cooking and baking will take place in American households. Turkeys will take center stage along with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and traditional dishes which are quite different than the Thanksgiving meals I remember having grown up in a Croatian household. Since Thanksgiving is not a Croatian holiday, a non-traditional feast is to be expected but compromise was never an issue. We still celebrated Thanksgiving in our own unique way.

I remember sauerkraut instead of stuffing, lamb in place of turkey. Homemade bread was also present and I was in charge of desserts. Pumpkin swirl cheesecake was my specialty this time of year. Cranberry sauce I did not experience until my college years when I was invited for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house. I recall the strange looks as I took a roll, buttered it, and spread the cranberry sauce on it.

The aroma of homemade cooking and baking wafting through the home is something children will recall years later and will stay with them forever. Teaching them how to navigate the grocery stores in search of ingredients for a meal and to cook for themselves is one of the most basic and useful skills in life. With this ability, one has the power to win over anyone and will create memories for years to come.

CHERISH THE WAIT

leaf and frog

'How many more days until Seena goes to Papa's?' Sage asked me today. He has been asking me this all week - ever since I told him he gets to stay with me all alone next week during the Thanksgiving vacation. He has some ideas in mind about what he would like to do. Building a puzzle with me is first on his list. Making pumpkin pie is the second. I might even open my new Lego set - the Parisian Restaurant - with 2469 pieces and build it together with Sage.

I do not recall ever having made pumpkin pie as I'm not too fond of pies in general. But we bought one small pie pumpkin last week which I plan on roasting and pureeing instead of using the canned pumpkin puree. Since we will not be spending Thanksgiving together, the least I could do is attempt to make a pie for my boy.

Sage's homework today involved collecting ten leaves of various shapes, sizes, and colours. He was then to place the leaves into categories involving one of the attributes. He chose colour as the attribute, separated the leaves into piles, and counted the amount of each colour. Then he noted the results on his homework paper. I noticed his handwriting has improved greatly and his block letters are starting to resemble those found on architectural plans.

sage leaf

Cinnamon was excited about the tiny green toy frog she received at school today. As soon as she walked down the steps of the bus, she ran to me with the frog in her hand. Something so simple brought great joy to her - akin to children preferring to play with the cardboard boxes instead of the contents within. We should all stop to learn from children at times.

cinnamon frog

Dinner was a puffy pancake with powdered sugar and fresh strawberries. Cinnamon made a comment earlier, as I was putting together the ingredients, stating it has been a long time since we've eaten a puffy pancake. Indeed it has been a while.

After dinner, the children readied themselves for bed and chose books for their bedtime story. Cinnamon read Shel Silverstein's book 'The Giving Tree' after I read 'Rainbow Fish Finds His Way'. Her pronunciation was flawless as was her reading with intonation. I find that quite impressive from a first grader.

The day consisted of many thoughts as to what the next year will bring and how to go about spending time with my beau sooner rather than later. The transition to our residing in one home - whether in Ireland or the States - will take a while. Being in each other's company as much as possible for as long as possible is an important step before the larger step of living together. Cherishing the time now as we wait for that next great step is an act of patience we must practice. For now, I am looking forward to his day off tomorrow so we can see each other during the day via Skype.

PERSEVERANCE

cinnamon by pool

'I want to go swimming' exclaimed Cinnamon as she exited the bus this afternoon. It was quite the change from yesterday when she did not want to go to the pool. Despite my having had other plans for the afternoon, we went to her lesson. The thermometer today said 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) which was much warmer than earlier in the week.

After taking the kids to the bus stop this morning and sleeping an extra hour afterwards, I got ready to take some paperwork downtown. The journey to the middle of Austin takes 30 minutes without traffic. As such, I tend to minimise my excursions downtown and find it an excuse to stop by The Hideout for coffee.

Driving around on Congress Avenue in the vicinity of the coffee shop for near twenty minutes in search of a parking spot, I gave up and drove back up north. It was almost 11,00h anyways - too late to sit and enjoy a cappuccino or flat white coffee. Disappointed, I vowed to return this weekend with my son.

The day disappointed further when I could not find an item at the store I was needing - hand cream for my dry winter hands which Sage noticed whilst we were at the pool. I did, however, manage to find some later at another store. He asked why they looked the way they did and noticed the small spot of red on them. Then he kissed my hand. The boy never ceases to amaze me.

At the pool, he was delighted I bought the special green and red Christmas M&Ms. It has become a tradition during this time of year to buy these chocolates and the mint variety. The children love them and thanked me for buying them. It's amazing something so simple and small could bring a smile on their faces.

red green mms

Once back home from the pool, I started dinner early whilst Cinnamon sat down to do her homework. Sage had already done his reading assignment at the pool, so he played whilst waiting for dinner. Salmon with mashed potatoes was our feast tonight.

The fish guy at Whole Foods yesterday ended up giving me far too much salmon. I specified three portions for two children and an adult. He ended up giving me 1.25 pounds of fish - the two largest pieces going to the children. Sage devoured his fish but Cinnamon was getting full near the end. Granted, she had mashed potatoes as well - something her brother is not fond of at all.

My beau came home at the time we sat down to dinner. He had a long day at work but still managed to make time to get on Skype and talk with me after I got the kids to bed. His tired eyes told me how long and exhausting his day was today. The life of a chef is not glamorous and is taxing on the body. Somehow he keeps going and is something I greatly admire about him.

sage eyes

The children's bedtime story - the last two chapter's of Giada's book on Naples - was complete by the time I started the Skype session. We talked about our plans for the future, both immediate and distant. Next year will be an important year for us as we forge ahead with our decision to be together. Somewhere. Somehow. It will not be easy, but all things are possible with dedication and perseverance...and a love worth fighting for until the end despite the ocean which separates us.

NOT AFTER THREE

cinnamon swim team

Today was one of those days. A day spent waiting for a promise of a noontime arrival of the 'professional' to look at the heating system. Noon ended up coming five and a half hours later and whilst I now have heat in the two bedrooms upstairs, the issue is not yet resolved. Thus my hesitation for having notified the landlord of a problem with the heating system.

'What do you think could be the problem?' I asked the guy after I explained the issue to him. I figured with all of his experience and especially after having had five other calls in the area before me today alone, he would have seen similar issues and had some sort of answer for me. Any answer would have sufficed. Anything other than the 'I don't know' answer I got.

My frustration with ignorance and incompetence did not go over well. It never does as I've seen this several times with repairmen at the other house and is the reason one should take to educating oneself in the case you own your home. Lessons learned for the future. I had already researched one possible solution with rebooting the system at the breaker box but that did not solve anything.

The guy arrived shortly after 17,30. Thankfully he took off his shoes but did not understand the concept when he walked into the garage to look for the attic with shoes in hand. I kept waiting for him to put on his shoes in the garage and gave up when he walked back into the house with the now dirty socks. I have and always have had a no shoe policy in my home. Most people notice the mound of shoes outside my door and are respectful towards my policy - something I greatly admire.

The attic turned out to be in my closet - the one filled with my yarns, knitted products, clothes, boxes, and camera equipment not yet organised since I'm not planning on staying here too long. It became a problem when the guy needed a place for his 10-foot high ladder. I'm sure he could sense my frustration. I was trying to make dinner for my kids, babysit this guy (who I later heard talking with someone on the phone in the attic), and race against midnight in Ireland in order to talk with my beau.

I looked forward to talking with him all day long. He emailed me shortly before 16,00 to let me know he was already home - earlier than expected as he usually doesn't finish work until much later. Immediately, he made me laugh and smile. I was at the pool with the children for Cinnamon's swim lesson so I couldn't take the time for Skype until I returned home. 

Cinnamon did not wish to go swimming in this cold but the pool is heated so I insisted she needed to go. In the meantime, Sage read his sight words and a book called 'The Baby' as part of his homework. After reading, I held him tightly as we both kept each other warm as we waited for my daughter to finish with her lesson.

sage sight words pool

The bright sun was deceiving as it was too cold to be outside. We rushed to the minivan after the lesson and I had Cinnamon get in the warm shower as soon as we got home. Sage's turn was next. Both children got in their pajamas before dinner. Today we did things a bit backwards.

I was on Skype for mere minutes when I received a text message about the 'professional' coming to look at the heating system. I was hoping for a rescheduling tomorrow but I also wanted a warm upstairs. Our Skype session would have to wait for a while. The guy left almost an hour later having turned on the heat which now cannot be switched off upstairs unless you also switch off the system downstairs. He mentioned something about having to replace the damper in order for the system to work efficiently.

After the repairman left, I was able to revive the Skype session for a while. My beau sensed my irritation. 'Don't be angry' he advised me. It was frustration more than anything else. He knows my Croatian nature well and has learned how to deal with it and diffuse it as his Slovakian nature is similar. I felt bad he had to stay up so late but was glad he did and I know he didn't mind. Seeing each other this way is all we have for now until our visit early next year.

sage squinting

The children kept busy working on cards for me whilst I was on Skype. It was a surprise, they stated. At one point, Sage wanted to know the spelling of my name. He also wanted to know how to spell 'I love you so much'. His sister helped him and they had beautiful artwork for me which they presented to me right before bedtime.

Cinnamon drew two pictures of her and her sister with the words 'I love you so much' on the back. One she formed into an accordion - an 'instrument' as she stated. Sage also wrote those words and drew a picture of him and me with one big heart and many little hearts next to it. His letters were perfectly formed. On the back of the paper he had copied words from a Croatian book - animal names. Strangely, he wrote the words in the second column from right to left and backwards so if you held it up to a mirror you could read the words clearly. Strange because I used to write notes to my friend Dijana in such a manner at one point albeit I was in college and left these notes on her car windshield.

The day was not completely lost as I was able to go to the Whole Foods at The Domain before noon and get more food for the next few days. I did have an unfortunate incident with my iPhone dropping to floor. Luckily, it did not break. I needed more upbeat music whilst shopping. I decided in the future I will make sure to not schedule any repairmen to come over during the early evening. Evenings are a sacred time of winding down to a peaceful night. 'Not after three' is my new motto.

A CHILD'S WHISPER

sage and elli

'Mama, I have a girlfriend' Sage whispered in my ear as I kissed him goodnight. 'Oh, you do', I replied. He continued to tell me her name is Taylor and she is nice. He mentioned they play rock, paper, scissors on the playground. Today they played Simon Says. My boy has a kind heart and I have no doubt he will grow into a kind young man one day.

Yesterday I tripped over slippers coming in from the garage. Sage held the door open for me and noticed my stumbling. 'Are you okay mama?', he asked in his gentle tone as he placed his hand on my arm. His sincerity was apparent as was his sympathy. My little boy is growing up before my eyes.

Today both children took to reading. I was surprised to see Sage read. Or at least attempt to. His letter recognition greatly improved from before I left to Germany. Cinnamon's reading astounds me. This afternoon she read two chapter books in the Magic Treehouse series.

cinnamon books

Sage saw me photograph his sister whilst she was reading. He walked over to their colourful puzzle bookshelf and grabbed a book as he instructed me to photograph him 'reading'. It's fascinating watching my children grow from the crying babies in the crib into young people with thoughts of their own.

I can still remember placing various hats I made for my shop onto Sage's little head whilst I photographed him. I also remember him sleeping soundly hour after hour in the Baby Einstein portable playard next to me as I knitted one hat after another in my study.

My babies are no longer babies albeit I still refer to them as such. They have their own thoughts on why something is or isn't. Sometimes it makes sense. Other times it does not. As I wished Cinnamon good night, she also whispered something in my ear... 'I will never forget you. Remember that.'

sage book

Children have the ability to make us stop and think about something in a way which we would otherwise not have thought. But only if we take time to listen to their whispers and realise they are capable of more than we can imagine.

WHO CAPTIVATES YOUR HEART

sage furry jacket cold
Would you make your mark by mending a broken heart?...What’s worth the price is always worth the fight...Let nothing stand in your way
‘Cause the hands of time are never on your side.
— http://www.songlyrics.com/nickelback/if-today-was-your-last-day-lyrics/

There is no greater gift than the one of love. Even if we are fortunate to be given this gift but for a brief moment. This morning I came across the sad ending to one woman's love story. The battle of a life lost to cancer. I first heard of Amanda and Joe via Twitter a couple weeks ago and their story touched my heart.

Amanda married the love of her life knowing her husband's time on this earth was going to be taken away by cancer. She battled the daily fight for life with him and stayed by his side with their daughter through good times and bad. They cherished every moment as if it was their last. What she gained through this experience was learning the true meaning of love. A meaning we should all take to heart as we evaluate our relationships.

A love such as this is a rare love indeed. It is one we naturally have for our children but finding this love in a lifelong partner is a soul searching adventure. It is one of life's greatest adventures which requires patience, understanding, and forgiveness. The search for the one who captivates your heart is a journey worth pursuing.

cinnamon spinning

If we are fortunate to find a love so true, we do whatever is necessary to hold on to it as we never know when our last breath will come. We never know if today will be our last day. We might not realise the words we last spoke to our loved ones will be the last they remember - words which leave a lasting impression of the time spent together.

sage swing disk

Challenges will test our love on a daily basis. Things we deem important soon become insignificant when we realise how precious our time is. Priorities need to be shifted as we assess the importance of the people in our lives.

cinnamon thinkery park

We greeted this morning with our usual 'happy Sunday' before eating breakfast. Sundays are special which meant cinnamon French toast for breakfast and brownie cake for dessert this evening. The afternoon we spent at a park across the Thinkery in the Mueller area of Austin after not being able to find the place where my daughter's scout group was meeting. Despite the cold and it having rained earlier, my children enjoyed the time at the playground.

I was glad to be able to talk with my beau this evening before and after the children's bedtime. We discussed many plans regarding our future and reminisced on the past struggles and hurt we've both encountered. He brought up the lyrics to Nickelback's song - 'If Today Was Your Last Day' - and how much truth the words hold. We also realised there would be many more struggles as we forged ahead with our decision to make this work.

Much hesitation and uncertainty came about due to the great distance and the inability to date in the conventional manner. Distance is not always welcome when it comes to making a relationship work but it should also not be seen as a hindrance. Misunderstandings have a way of showing up time and time again but need to be worked out sooner rather than later. When you find the one who captivates your heart you will do whatever it takes to make it work for no struggle will be deemed too great.

sage thinkery park

WHY DELAY THE INEVITABLE

sage lego log truck

The day was full of excitement. The children were back to their old selves again after not having spent time at my place for the past four weeks. Two weeks I spent traveling to be with their sister in Germany, one week I spent in Ireland visiting my friend, and another week I spent at home recovering from all the travel.

In an attempt to return to 'normal', I made polenta for us this morning as Enigma played in the background. Absent-mindedly, I somehow remembered the ratio to be 1:2 (as is the case with the 5-grain cereal I make) instead of 1:4. As a result, I ended up having to add more milk to the pot but the result was not as creamy as usual. Despite my mistake, the children ate every last bit of the polenta with maple syrup.

After breakfast, we headed out to Central Market for a few items for next week's lunches and tomorrow's brownies. Cinnamon was a bit impossible when it came to not letting her climb into the cart. 'Why does Sage get to sit there?' she bemoaned. She claimed she was tired and cold but had refused to wear socks. Instead, she put on her white summer sandals which looked a bit odd when paired with a black turtleneck, black leggings, and a puffy winter coat. My buttons she continued to push for most of the time we spent in the store. At one point, I pulled her off to the side of the baking supplies aisle and let her know we would leave the groceries in the cart and go home if she kept insisting on sitting in the cart.

Back in the minivan, I continued to play Nickelback songs via YouTube on my iPhone which played through the van speakers through the aux cable. Never would I have imagined anything such as this decades ago as I recalled having listened to songs on eight-track tapes as a child in our Oldsmobile. The children enjoyed the songs and tried to sing along. Cinnamon kept asking me the names of songs she liked which she wrote on a piece of paper as soon as we returned home.

Upon our return home, the children wanted to explore the area under the stairs which they call 'the magic door'. Sage especially was excited about the magic door. A moment later, I heard his cries of 'Mama, you lied!', followed by tears of frustration and disappointment. He truly believed there was a door on the inside where the wall would magically open up and take him to another place.

But Sage was no longer sad as he was yesterday. Instead, I heard 'I'm bored'. My boy is never bored. All but a handful of their toys reside at their father's home so the children are left with few choices at my home. Understandable and something I will remedy in time. I decided to give Sage the logging truck Lego set I purchased for him before my trip. With 228 pieces, I figured he would spend most of the weekend putting it together. In less than two hours, the logging truck was complete. Sage was most proud of his accomplishment, as was I.

Cinnamon also worked on her new Lego Friends set - Mia's Lemonade Stand. At 112 pieces, she completed the set in little time. For some reason she had several 'extra' pieces, but she did not seem to mind. The children were happy and busy which is what matters most.

Later in the evening I was finally able to speak with my friend via Skype after his return home from work. With the children playing together downstairs, I was free to speak with him without interruption. Initially, I had thought to introduce the kids to him on Skype tomorrow - on his day off - but that day came today when the children came upstairs to get some books from their bookshelf. They wandered over to me and looked on the screen of my iPad. At first, Sage thought I was talking to their papa. 'No. That's not Papa', I said. 'This is my friend.'

The introduction was casual, brief, and in a relaxed setting. The children were being children, jumping all over me in front of the screen. At one point, Sage's hard head met my nose with a loud smack. I heard a crackling sound in my nose before the blood appeared. I feared a broken nose, but thankfully it was not so bad. Sage and his sister returned to the room under the stairs and I called my friend back shortly thereafter. We both agreed this was a better way to meet the children rather than having a structured meeting which might be awkward for all. After all why delay the inevitable. 

WHERE DEVOTION RESIDES

cinnamon thanksgiving

Our first and foremost allegiance lies with our children. Supporting them. Loving them. Sacrificing our needs for them, despite our desires. It is going to their school functions when we know it would mean the world to them. Thus was the case today with the school's Thanksgiving lunch.

I arrived at the school in time to see my son standing in line for the opportunity to get a tray of cafeteria food. My children never eat in the cafeteria, but today was a special day. When my son spotted me I could see he was on the verge of tears. A few seconds later he started to cry. I wondered why he was so sad. It turns out one of the reasons was the fact he really did not wish to eat the food at school. The other reason was that he missed me.

My boy embraced me and soon started to feel better. His father also showed up to the lunch, something I was not expecting but which both children appreciated. Placing children and family above work is something we must all do. Work is important, but family comes first. Always and above anything else. If we get fired from a job, we get another job. If we neglect our families, we risk losing them and there is no replacing a family as it once was.

Despite knowing my boy would not eat anything on the tray, we made our way to the front of the line. In the end, he chose the orange which was part of the display above the food trays. An orange, the pumpkin pie square, and the chocolate chip cookie I baked for him this morning. This was my son's lunch.

Cinnamon was delighted to see I came to her lunch. She did not expect it but I was happy to see her eyes light up and have her embrace me. Later in the evening, when she came to stay with me, she thanked me for coming to her lunch. Children notice when we put them first. They notice where our devotion resides. The little things are ones which matter most.

HOW LAUGHTER HEALS

manhattan baby toy
“It is impossible for you to be angry and laugh at the same time. Anger and laughter are mutually exclusive and you have the power to choose either”. - Wayne Dyer
— http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/5-foundations-every-successful-relationship-needs.html

The chilly November morning would make anyone want to stay in bed for as long as possible. The feather and down duvet kept me warm despite the heater issues still not having been resolved. I hope to avoid having to call the landlord and might have to continue sleeping in the children's room until winter is over. Still, I wonder why the heater worked last week but not this week.

Braving the frigid weather, I put on my gym clothes and headed out for my workout. Upon return and a warm shower, I checked my email. I laughed at the email staring back at me. A Facebook friend request from my 'friend'. 'Are you sure about this?', I emailed him. I knew how he avoided the use of social media. We decided to think about it and talk about our decision when we saw each other on Skype later in the day.

As this was my friend's last week of vacation, we took advantage of that time to see each other often via Skype. My friend commented on how much happier I look and how I no longer appear tired as many times before. I recall his past statements of 'You're always tired'. It was true and no amount of sleep seemed to help.

After my return home last week, I wanted to find the source of my constant fatigue and mood swings I felt the past year - the stress of an impending divorce aside. I researched the side effects of birth control use. Depression and fatigue were among the many side effects cited. Having abandoned the pills this past week, I've felt no signs of either symptom thus far. Laughter had a hand in healing as well.

Returning to our decision of becoming friends on Facebook, we agreed we would wait. Just as introducing a new girlfriend or boyfriend to one's children after divorce should be approached with caution and done no earlier than six months after the start of the relationship, so an 'introduction' on social media should also be viewed.

Smiles were prevalent during our talk this afternoon - my afternoon, his nighttime. The time difference is a challenge, as is the distance, but there is never a shortage of laughter. Something he said caused an uncontrollable bout of laughter. At the moment, I cannot recall what it was which caused such outburst. 'You're crying', he said. 'It's so funny', I replied as I continued to laugh.

The healing power of laughter is a strong force. It has a way of making things better - even if for a short while. Despite the past unhappy circumstances and challenges, smiles and laughter make their way regularly into our lives now. Difficult times and challenges will always be a part of life, but as long as laughter is present nothing is impossible.

WHAT MATTERS MOST

arctic trees

Polar temperatures greeted me this morning as I awoke to 1 degree Celsius (33.8 Fahrenheit). For some reason, the upstairs thermostat was once again not functioning properly which made the bedroom and bathroom above the garage unbearably cold. As a result, I have been sleeping in the living space upstairs on my daughter's bed as it is a much warmer area and does not feel as if I have stepped into a walk-in cooler.

It was a perfect day to enlist the kitchen in warming up the downstairs area with the hope the warm air would find its way upstairs. I set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and removed the leftover cookie dough - from yesterday's batch of hazelnut chocolate chip cookies I made for my children - from the refrigerator. I placed three mounds of the dough on a cookie sheet and waited the 13 minutes for my mid-morning snack.

As the cookies baked, I put pinto beans to soak for the pasta and fagioli soup I made later in the afternoon. Nothing is better than a home cooked meal. The aromas wafting from the kitchen were inviting and comforting on this arctic autumn day.

Today would have been the day I arrived from my overseas trip. Instead, I left five days earlier than planned, fatigue having gotten the best of me. Regrets ensued but nothing could be done to remedy the situation at this point in time.

Reflecting on this unfortunate incident with my friend on Skype today, we realised despite having lost those five days, we gained a future we might otherwise not have had. Sometimes we need to step back in order to gain perspective. Sometimes we need an alternate point of view. Sometimes we simply need to leave in order to realise what matters most. 

WHEN LIFE MOVES ON

seena sage rock

Change is inevitable and necessary in order for life to move forward. It is not always pretty or easy and at times might catch one off guard. Adjustment takes time for all. Such is the way of life.

I visited my two younger children tonight, taking them the hazelnut chocolate chip cookies I baked for them earlier today. It sounds strange to say I'm visiting my children, but that is what it is in the world of co-parenting. They ended up staying with me for a couple hours tonight as their father attended a business dinner.

My oldest has been telling me via Skype about the two boys who have been coming over to my former home, along with their mother - referred to by my daughter as 'Papa's friend'. He confirmed tonight it was his girlfriend - a 'fairly young' lady according to him. He asked about Ireland and I then stated I am also seeing someone. 'So we're all moving forward', he replied.

A long distance relationship, albeit difficult to maintain, is not impossible if that is what one truly desires. It is a great challenge of life and love. Despite what one might think, that is not the reason for my divorce as discussions of divorce came about at least two years ago, if not sooner.

No one sets out with the intention of divorcing one day. Many reasons exists for its occurrence whether physical or emotional abuse, neglect, loss of love, or simple incompatibility (which seems like an excuse for not willing to work things out).

When two people are no longer compatible, when they do not take time to work out their differences, when they make other things take precedence over love, divorce becomes an inevitable option. It is often the result of a love which no longer exists or is deemed not worth fighting for.

The person who stays through both good and bad times. The one who cherishes you, takes time to listen, holds you close and never gives up. The one who is willing to fight for a love he believes in and who chooses to put love above all else...this is the one worth keeping.

A relentless love is rare. Distance should not make a difference. Patience does not always come easily but the rewards are great should one choose to wait.

Adjustment takes time. The impending holiday season does not make things easier with visions of an empty Thanksgiving table and a quiet Christmas morning. Change is difficult, but necessary, as it makes way for something new. Something better.

 

NEW DAY

november sunset

The sun has set on yet another day. A day given to us as a gift each morning upon wakening. A day unlike the one we had before. The same day each and every one of us receives as the sun rises in the morning. How we spend those 24 hours is up to us.

We can sleep the day away or work until minutes disappear. We can choose to spend time alone or with ones we love. One thing to remember is how fleeting time is. Once it is gone, it returns no more. 

We ponder the risks we should have taken. We think about words we should have spoken or held back from uttering. But regrets are useless as it robs us of time we could spend making new memories. Time moves forward. It does not stand still. Time waits for no one.

Mistakes are made but if we are fortunate enough to live another day, we get another chance to make things right - to learn from those mistakes.

Each day is a new day for which we should be grateful. It is a gift we should not take for granted but one to cherish as we never know when this day might be our last.

LAST MINUTE

niederegger hearts
“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” “Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.”” – Paulo Coelho

Dublin a year ago today... walking two hours from the Clontarf Castle Hotel, camera bag slung over my shoulder, in search of the 3fE coffee house. Watching an old man in the park carefully select leaves whilst I photographed him doing so. The long wait to see my beloved band later that night at the O2 and having to deal with the rude Irish bus driver on my way to the concert whilst the nice lady on the bus made sure I got on the correct train to my destination.

Dublin was never meant to be. The concert was the reason, yet there was no need for my trip to Ireland as I was going to see Depeche Mode in Glasgow - the reason for my travel to Scotland last November. A last minute decision turned out to be a good decision. However, not all last minute decisions are good, especially when made at a time when one is tired, hungry, or angry.

Decisions made in haste are seldom good decisions. Had I slept on my decision to leave for home early on Friday, my mind would have been clearer in the morning. Haste makes waste in this case. Time wasted which otherwise would have been better spent watching rain from indoors and taking time to enjoy the precious moments of stillness.

THE STORY CONTINUES...

book by watson

Our story writes itself with each passing minute. Every hour adds a new paragraph. Every today writes a chapter. Tomorrow begins a new chapter of the story of our lives.

People we encounter become the characters in our book. Some end up being the main characters. Some are supporting characters which stay for but a while. Others exit in the middle of the book. At times there will be unexpected plot twists and unanticipated turns in the story. The ending is unknown until the last breath we take.

People who make you laugh are ones you hope will stay. People whose relentless love touches your cold heart are rare but at one point they leave to continue focus on their own life. People move on. Such is life. Loss is part of life.

At times chapters will seem empty. There will be times you are alone. Mistakes will be made. Chapters will end too soon. Regrets will ensue. But the story continues nonetheless.

At the moment we think we have figured out how it will all end, something or someone comes along to add a new chapter in our story. We can never anticipate how something will turn out. We simply need to continue writing our story and believe the best is yet to come.

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 19 | THE JOURNEY HOME

ireland from plane

Travel. We travel to see places. To meet people. To experience a life different from our own. Travel is not met without hardship. It is not always comfortable but it is the challenge of travel as we are forever on the lookout for something new, something different. With eyes wide open, we embrace each new adventure. When we return home, we are different people - the sum of all our experiences - as in the movie 'Queen' which I saw on the flight today.

I left Ireland this morning five days before my intended departure. The three weeks travel turned out to be too long a time for me to function properly anymore. It was beginning to affect my thoughts and my health. I needed a familiar place. Familiar food. A return to routine. I needed to be home albeit there were more things I wanted to do before I left. Sometimes life doesn't work out exactly as planned but we make do with what we're given. We adjust accordingly.

At the airport, the ticket agent succeeded in changing my ticket. There was a flight available to Newark. However, a flight from Newark to Austin was not available for today. I pleaded with the lady to find me something. Anything. She found me a flight from Newark to Houston to Austin. I arrived home by 19,30h.

Once home, I first checked on my plants on the patio. They all died due to the broken irrigation system and not knowing any neighbours well enough to ask them to water my plants. I noticed the temperature inside my home was at 68F (20C), having left the thermostat on the 'cool' setting. My home is not perfect but has been my home for the past six months.

We should travel to see new places. Travel to experience a life unlike the one at home. We should leave our comfort zone every once in a while in order to appreciate what we have as we make our journey home. 

P.S. I realise this should have been DAY 20 and the 'Berlin Bound' post should have been DAY 1. Perhaps I will change it or maybe I leave it as it is.

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 18 | WAITING OUT THE RAIN

rainy cork

The morning came early as I was hungry, having skipped dinner the night before. I waited until The Bookshelf Coffee House opened at 7,30 and walked across the street. I ordered a flat white, a croissant, and a fruit scone. No cream was available this morning so I settled for a little butter but skipped the packaged jam.

I wasn't sure when I would eat again and was hesitant to give another restaurant a try at a vegetarian meal. Vegetable soup would have been my option for lunch but one where I could actually see the vegetables. I wondered why the Irish insist on pureeing their soups.

The last day in Cork was spent waiting. Waiting to check out of the hotel, waiting to board the first train. Then the second. Then the third. Waiting out the rain in pubs. Simply waiting.

Initially I thought there was much more to do and see in Cork and thus booked the 15,20h train so I could have more time to explore the second largest city in Ireland. It turned out I had seen as much as possible by foot around city centre and not much more was left to be seen - especially in the cold rain. I wondered how to pass the time. Thoughts ran through my mind, as they often do when left with not much to do.

I thought how I should have seen the Cliffs of Moher this summer when I was in Ireland. When the sun was shining and the air was warm. As I looked up the two-week forecast today for the area, I noticed a high percentage of rain is expected. 80-100 percent for the next 14 days. Seeing the cliffs was out of the question.

I thought about my disappointment with many aspects of Cork. The city is not as impressive as guide books suggest. I'm sure the countryside outside of Cork is beautiful but one needs a car and a driver in order to explore Ireland the proper way. The risk I would take in renting a car and driving on the opposite side of the road in the rain was too great to take. I've already seen Blarney Castle and Dublin on my first trip to Ireland last November when I took a day tour with the bus.

The Imperial Hotel in Cork was another disappointment. Photographs online portrayed a place of glamour. Fancy chandeliers, beautifully dressed guests, inviting food choices. Once in the room, I was able to see all is not as it appears.

The bed was the most uncomfortable bed I've ever slept on whilst traveling. Soft to the point of my not being able to sleep as my back was aching. I felt as though I was sinking in the middle. As I looked at the painted wall across the room, I noticed it used to be wallpapered but the paper was not removed and pieces of it were sticking out in random areas. The food was another story. Tasteless to the point of being inedible. For such a 'luxury' hotel, one would think food would be of utmost importance.

Thoughts continued to run through my mind, and I started to feel weary of travel as I have been on the road nearly three weeks. I miss my bed, my small kitchen, and preparing my own meals. I miss my empty living room which is awaiting delivery - hopefully next week - of the replacement daybed I will be using as a couch. I miss the routine of my 'not-so-normal' daily life and look forward to continuing my job search next week. Mostly, I miss my two younger ones who have not seen me in three weeks - my Cinnamon and my Sage.

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 17 | A SAUNTER THROUGH CORK

bridge in cork

A fruit scone in Ireland, and Scotland, means one with currants - unlike the fruit scones in the States which are sweet, come in various flavours, and are the size of two scones in Europe. I ordered a flat white and freshly whipped cream to accompany my scone.

 'I'm too old for these stairs', commented the barista as he climbed up the stairs to the top level of The Bookshelf Coffee House and placed the small ramekin of cream on the table. The coffee, scone, and cream were all delicious - quite possibly the best I've had in Ireland thus far.

The coffee house was crowded this morning and my preferred spot on the sofa downstairs was occupied. I perused another book - written in 1961 - left upstairs alongside another old-fashioned typewriter. The title of the book has the word 'quest' in it and the story took place in Italy during the war where a woman was on a quest to find milk for her child.

the bookshelf coffee house cork

After the coffee house, I wondered what the hype was about the English Market. I admit I expected more as I compared it to the Borough Market in London I visited years ago. The English Market seems to cater more to non-vegetarians as most of the stalls consisted of some kind of meat. Eggs were prevalent and I even came upon 20 quail eggs for €3,40.

english market cork

After yesterday's adventure with vegetable 'fajitas' and this morning's encounter with overly vinegary poached eggs at the hotel, I decided vegetable soup was the safest food to eat on my travels. Most restaurants offer one or two vegetarian options but not much more.

The atmosphere at Deep South on Grand Parade was a welcomed change from the typical restaurant. There were many various and unique seating areas both inside and outside. The food choices were plenty, the vegetable soup with bread was great, and the Polish chef was super nice. He brought over a hazelnut brownie with whipped cream as his treat. It was an amazing brownie with the perfect texture and flavour - in the middle of cakey and fudgy and not too sweet. Perfect with every bite.

The saunter through Cork continued after lunch. As I passed by a flower shop, I noticed several chalkboard signs with quotes written on them. My favourite sign said 'When someone says "you've changed" it simply means you've stopped living your life their way...'.

change sign flower shop

Another sign had the words 'When was the last time you did something for the first time???'.

first time sign flower shop

And the sign on the sidewalk away from the store's entrance stated 'Leap, and the net will appear'. The aqua-coloured rain boots with flowers in one boot was another favourite of mine to photograph at this place.

At one point, the two shop owners were carrying flower boxes outside to a van in the street and I heard one of the ladies say 'she should ask for permission'. I'm not sure if they were talking about my photographing their displays outside but I did not give much thought to what they were saying.

I made two more photographs of a wire bicycle display and the sign with the white rose petals in front of it and was on my way.

sign and boots flower shop

Walking across a bridge towards St. Fin Barre's Cathedral, I made a few more photographs of an abandoned building and the reflection of the bridge as a seagull made its way under the bridge.

abandoned building cork
cork bridge reflection seagull

The cathedral was a beautiful sight to behold from the outside. Upon further reflection, I should have gone inside to gaze through the stained-glass windows.

cork cathedral close up

No matter which angle I photographed, my attempts were not able to properly portray the beauty of the cathedral's architecture.

cathedral cork

A saunter through Cork, albeit tiring near the end, was time well spent observing life in another city away from home. No two cities, as no two people, can be alike. Embrace uniqueness and don't be afraid to be 'you'. Nobody can ever take your place for you are the only one who can be 'you'.

cathedral cork diptych

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 16 | JOURNEY TO CORK

limerick junction

The journey today was a train ride from Ennis to Cork on the Irish Railway system. It would seem to be a simple ride on one train. Not the case in Ireland. No, the trip required two changes - one in Limerick and the other at Limerick Junction 25 minutes away.

The station in Limerick Junction was in the middle of nowhere and looked to be deserted. I was hoping to find some Riesen candy at the station since none could be found at the Limerick station. However, there was simply a waiting area. No food of any kind available for purchase.

Departure was at 11,43 this morning on a commuter-type train. I was expecting a 'real' train, as the one I took five years ago in Germany to Lübeck. The type of trains one typically sees in a Jason Bourne movie. This train looked to me more like a subway train albeit the train from Limerick Junction - which was late ten minutes - had larger tables in between seats. Still, not exactly what I had in mind when I pictured a train ride.

Rarely does a day go by without some kind of adventure. One adventure today was a guy sitting in front of my reserved seat. I was commenting out loud on how inconsiderate people are to leave their garbage - half consumed cup of coffee, a Kit Kat wrapper, and other wrappers - sitting on the fold-down tray table in my seat. I had to gather the garbage and find someplace to dispose of it.

As I was cleaning up my seating area, the strange guy in front of me asked me if I am American. He also sounded to be American but had apparently been living in Ireland for a while. He then started talking about the election and mentioned Hillary. Being polite, I started to converse with him only to have an old woman in the opposite aisle wave her hands to signal me to not start up a conversation with this strange man.

Not sure what to do and feeling a bit uncomfortable as he went on about something or other, I walked away with the garbage in my hand. When I returned, I moved two seats in front of him. I could still hear him talking minutes later. And he kept talking as I kept trying to read my new book. I gave up reading and then he stopped talking.

Once in Cork, the next adventure was to find the hotel. The attendant at the train station said something about 'two lefts and two rights'. Those are the only words I heard and eventually found the hotel after a 15-minute walk.

For dinner I dared to try fajitas. I should have played it safe and had vegetable soup and fries instead. The vegetable fajitas were not fajitas at all. It looked more like some sort of stew on a hot skillet - firm vegetables with a jalapeno tomato sauce. I ate some of it but was still hungry.

Curious as to the coffee at The Bookshelf Coffee House - which was next door to the hotel - I ordered a cappuccino. I also ordered a scone. I sat on the brown couch at the bottom of the stairs and looked around this unique place.

I noticed old books, posters, scales, and chairs upholstered in various fabrics. There is even an upstairs area which I would like to explore tomorrow. An old typewriter sat on a desk next to me. Alongside the typewriter were two books. I picked up the one on top and started reading the first few pages.

The book was titled 'A Man Named Seraphin' by Rene Ray. The story is of a father and daughter moving to a new place after the death of the wife and of a crazy lady with eight cross-eyed black cats. I got as far as four pages into the story until I put it down to finish my coffee and scone.

The coffee house closed at 18.00h. I looked at the time and realised it was 15 minutes later. The next adventure was the search for the location of the English Market. Its location was revealed after an inquiry to its whereabouts at The Roundy - an interesting and unique café and bar.

Tomorrow the adventure continues with a visit to the English Market and a return to the coffee house with much walking about - and photographing.

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 15 | AND THE SUN APPEARED

tree shadow ennis

The sun appeared in all its glory today. Its harsh rays warmed the surrounding air which made taking a walk more bearable than previous days of near continuous rain. Once in the shadows, however, one would feel the bite of cold which would serve as a reminder to all to bask in the warmth of the sun as long as possible.

The first stop was Suas Coffee House. Having been here this past summer, I was familiar with the coffee and scones. I set out to find "the best" coffee houses in cities I visit and make a note of my favourites.

The scones with cream and homemade jams at lovecrumbs in Edinburgh are my favourite scones discovered thus far. The coffee I drank at both The Barn and Five Elephant in Berlin are my favourite coffees to date.

suas lights and scones

The bus and train station was the next stop to check on the schedule for tomorrow's trip to Cork. The lady at the train station counter informed me to check online for reduced fares. After creating the obligatory online account and entering the necessary information twice, I was able to make the reservation to Cork.

On the return walk from the station, I searched for people and things to photograph. People with stories to tell, such as an old lady crossing the street with a shopping bag full of groceries. She wore a hat and a knee-length overcoat - the hat evoking a time decades ago when women would dress up to go out.

I wondered about the story of this lady's life. What kind of life has she led thus far? Who did she have at home waiting for her. The Irish are known for large families so she might have a houseful of grandchildren waiting for her. What kind of stories could she tell of her youth, I wondered.

old lady in ennis

As I continued along the street, I noticed a plant which looked like a baby fern growing out of a rock wall. Many things of nature we often overlook as we pass them by. We hardly notice the interesting patterns nature creates but they are there for us to behold if we take the time to pause to observe.

rock wall plant

At O'Mahony's bookstore, I perused a table with new releases. I read the back cover of several books until I stumbled upon a book which intrigued me. "Before I Go To Sleep". I've not heard of the movie made from the book but the movie reviews do not sound too promising. Nevertheless, I prefer books to movies and this amnesia thriller reminded me of Groundhog Day. It also has similarities to Memento. Regardless of the poor reviews, I will read my book.

A stop at Knox's bar was next for a pint of Guinness. Preferring red wine on the occasion when I drink, I've never taken a liking to beer. Guinness is an exception, but only in Ireland.

Albeit the sun's appearance warmed most of the day, the night cooled to a chilling temperature as soon as the sun disappeared. Rain followed shortly thereafter as I walked to dinner at the Poet's Corner Bar in The Old Ground Hotel. Vegetarian spring rolls, a salad, and fries along with another pint of Guinness plus a chocolate truffle cake for dessert was more food than I am used to eating. Travel has a way of enticing us to try new food and experiences we otherwise would not have at home.

guinness at knox

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 14 | FROM WITHIN

ennis

Relentless rain made for few outside photo opportunities today. When rain and cold temperatures play together, we are not too inclined to venture outdoors. Ireland is quite the contrast from Berlin as light rain made its appearance once or twice during my visit in Germany and stayed but for a while. My view of Ireland thus far has been mostly from within.

A certain mood comes about from a rainy day. We imagine sitting in front of the fireplace wrapped in a warm blanket whilst watching the gloomy weather from the comfort of our homes. The mood for staying under the covers and reading a book or articles online, for watching movies, or simply for reflection - on life, the future, of the next step to take.

Our experiences today will be different from ones we have tomorrow and ones we had yesterday. Some days are good, other days will be better. But in any given moment we have only the moment. A moment to spend reflecting from within. A moment where we focus on one task instead of five or six.

Oftentimes we forget to set aside time during the day for contemplation. We claim we are 'too busy' to do something. We fill our day with endless appointments and obligations - some out of duty, others self-imposed. We claim we have no time, yet we have the same 24 hours as anyone else. It is up to each one of us to choose how to use those precious hours.

Rain brings about a great opportunity to sit somewhere alone in silence and ruminate. The chance to ponder the move we make next and reflect on all of life's circumstances which have brought us to the place we are now. The circumstances and experiences we have lived through are those which have shaped who we are today. An individual unlike anyone else.