Before I begin I have to ask, “What do you think of my outfit?” I went to the Loft at Crabtree Valley Mall in North Carolina. They had it in XS Petite, but I needed it in XXS Petite, so I had them call up another mall. That Loft had it. I told them to put it on hold. I’ll be there soon. When I got there, it was on sale for 40% off, but I had an additional 15% in my Loft Reward Points. But guess what, a few days later it went on sale for 65% off! So I drove back to the store, and harassed - I mean politely asked - them to return it and do a price adjustment. So guess what - you won’t believe it - I got this all for $15.99, originally $150. Never buy something full price.
If you couldn’t tell, my mom was an avid shopper and a good one at that. I am not. I shamefully have to admit that I, a 34 year old woman, was still having most of my clothes picked out and bought for me by my mom.
When someone really close to you whom you love dies, there are a lot of firsts. The first birthday without them. The first time you walk into their house and are overwhelmingly reminded of them in every little thing you see. The first time you realize you used the past tense instead of the present tense. The first time you pick up the phone to call or text them and realize you can’t do that anymore. The first time you wake up from a vivid dream about them and are crushed that it isn’t true. And, the first time you have to pick out your own outfit and can’t ask them what they think of it. Like for this occasion.
My mom thoroughly enjoyed shopping for all of us even more than herself because that’s the kind of person she was. A true giver at heart.
Recently, a social worker came to our house to interview us for our adoption. She asked me, “What was your childhood like?” I had to pause. My childhood? Were there words to describe it? I simply said, “It was amazing.”
It was amazing for my brother and me because of my parents. We lived next to the Taylors and there were a lot of other kids in the neighborhood. My mom was a neat freak like her mom, my grandma. But our front door was always open and people were constantly coming in and out of our house. Kids would run in and kick off their shoes. She would run to get out the snacks and then run over to the door to wipe off the fingerprint smudges on the glass. Then, she would get down on her hands and knees to scrub up the footprints, only to have another little kid trod his muddy shoes into the house. She didn’t care. She loved it. My parents literally let us in every nook and cranny in the house. We were in closets, crawl spaces (that area in between the family room and bathroom in the basement), beds, office, garage, etc. Nothing was off limits. I’m the same way - I allow the kids anywhere.It was fun for us kids! Her greatest joy was serving others and if others were happy, she was happy.
For a few summers, she would help organize the neighborhood carnival in our yard. She came up with the idea to take the money we earned, donate it to Catholic Charities, and then spend the day helping out there. At first, we were like “C’mom Mom, really?” but as always she was trying to teach us a valuable lesson on helping others and treating all people with kindness.
She was constantly the shuttle to my friends and Kyle’s friends. She drove us around everywhere. Kelly and Stef Yawwwnnn, as she would call her, would sit up front, so my mom would get the gossip and 4-1-1, as she would say to them. I had every reason to be 100% embarrassed by her. The voices she made. The quirky, hyper dances she did. And the way that she was always around because she volunteered for.every.thing. Hot Lunch. Script at Church. Homeroom Mom. Class Field Trips. Volunteering at Catholic Charities. But I never was. Because she was awesome.
Even in high school, our house was still the place to hang out. We’d somehow always end up back at our house after a successful Friendship Day Celebration. If you don’t know what Friendship Day is, look it up. I just want to say directly to my friends and Kyle’s friends, she loved you. A lot.
She'll always be the first teacher to Kyle and me. So many trips to the library. So many books read. Every Christmas had to include some type of educational toy. And for dinner each night, we each had our meal served on either a Presidents or Map of Each Continent placemat. It’s no wonder Kyle knew all the presidents in order in Kindergarten and then went on to be a two time geography bee champ (I only ever got 2nd place. She must have served him more meals on the continent placemats than she did to me.)
Now, I would like to recognize some important people in my mom’s life.
Her nieces and nephews…Jeff, Mike, Jason, Jeremey, Ryan, Sheryl, Jenna, Casey, Amy, Chas, Sarah, and Jack. She loved you and your children all so much and cared about you all probably to a fault.
Her childhood, high school, college, and later year friends. She talked about you often. In fact, we just enjoyed a nice lunch with you, Kathleen and Mrs. Anghie.
Her best friends, Jackie, Lisa, and Tammie, she loved you so much as well and I’m so glad she was able to go on a Bucket List Trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons this summer. She was so excited to go and had a blast. Except she did tell me that it was too cold and she never had enough socks on.
Our family in New Jersey, she really enjoyed our last trip this summer for 4th of July. I thought it was perfect, and we really enjoyed each other’s company. Thank you for welcoming her into the family when she married my dad.
Her siblings, Teri, Marla, Charlene, and Charlie thank you for taking care of her as her older siblings. You also helped her check off another bucket list item and see New England in the fall on your sister's trip (sorry Charlie).
James, my husband, she always raved about how great of a father you are to Henry. Always know that you were like a son to her.
Caroline, you are our newest addition. She was so pleased that Kyle found a “nice, young lady” a phrase that she said for years. She took comfort in knowing Kyle has you.
My mom also struck up some unlikely friendships with a lot of people. I would laugh at the relationships she would get herself into and shake my head in puzzlement wondering how she ended up FaceBook Video Chatting every week with a young man whom she delivered meals on wheels to or texting back and forth with a podcast listener of Kyle’s or somehow bringing another kid into the house after Kyle and I moved out. Yes, that would be DJ. DJ was our ornery little brother from the Big Brothers program. My mom and DJ were quite the pair and I can say that each of them touched one another’s lives. DJ passed away in March, and I’m sure he was eagerly awaiting for my mom to come, so he could convince her to take him to the mall and buy him something, which let’s face it, you never had to convince her to go to the mall.
I know she was so proud of Kyle and me.
She instilled in me that love for teaching and learning, and I’m a teacher today because of her. Thank you, Mom. Because you were such a great teacher to me, I’ve been able to be a great teacher to countless students and a mom like you were to Henry. Your impact will be felt for many years to come.
Kyle, she was so proud of you too for educating people on new, untold stories. She loved being part of the Barstool Community and an honorary Yak Mother. She always thought how funny and creative you were.
Dad, you and her made a great team. Her strengths were your weakness and vice versa. You were the one who could make her laugh the most, and that’s something I’m really going to miss.
And finally, to my Henry, you aren’t here today and are too young to fully understand, but one day I hope you read this and know that you were Grandma’s greatest joy. She’ll always be kept alive in our hearts.
So to Dad, Kyle, James, and Henry I’ll never be able to replace my mom or do half the things that she did, but I promise to you that I’ll still get you Easter baskets even when we all are well over 30, 40, 50, 60 years old. I promise that everyone will have an equal number of Christmas presents to unwrap. I promise you, Henry, that you will get your red peppers and chicken noodle soup because, “Lauren, he’s got to eat his veggies and protein.” I promise that I’ll get you new library books every week like she did. I promise that I will pack peanut butter pizza, apples, and a pack of crackers whenever we go out to save money on buying food. I promise that we will continue playing trivia, and we will always save an empty seat for her. I promise that I will send you Brain Candy. Maybe not every day like Mom. I promise that I’ll *try* key word, try to learn how to make bean burgers and burrito bowls and clean the house like she did. But most importantly, I promise that I will do my part in getting you all to Heaven because faith was more important than anything to her.
My mom hasn’t had the easiest 12 years. She had two previous brain aneurysms and surgery. She had breast cancer. Skin cancer. Osteoporosis. Somehow fell down the stairs and broke her arm. Somehow fell down doing a fancy ice-skating trick and fractured her shoulder. And as of recently, a fear of dementia.
But we had a running joke in our family that nothing, absolutely nothing, was worse than getting sunscreen in your eyes. She would come back from chemo and tell us about it, but we would say back, “Well, that sounds bad but was it worse than getting sunscreen in your eyes?”
It was only fitting that the last Sunday mass she ever went to was at the beach when we went the week before her death. We were at the beach earlier that day and my dad got sunscreen in his eyes. He was in bad shape.
So there we were listening to the Gospel of Matthew detail how Jesus calmed the storm and walked on water when we looked over at my dad. His eyes were closed. His face was beat red. And tears were streaming down his face. My mom and I couldn’t stop laughing throughout the whole Gospel. In fact, she let a burst of laughter out that could be heard throughout the whole church.
So remember that when you feel the immense sadness of missing my mom. Because it could be worse. You could have sunscreen in your eyes.
But that was my mom. Laughing through all the suffering and continuing on serving other people. She was always hard on herself. Never giving herself enough credit.
But my mom had the most beautiful faith, the greatest love for the Lord, and the kindest of hearts. My heart will always ache for her. Like someone just told me, Great lives equal great grief and it would be a disservice to my mom if losing her was anything less than devastating.
Mom, I’m so happy that you are in an eternal state of joy with Jesus and Grandma and Granddad as well, looking down on us. Until we meet again, I miss you, I love you, and I’ll continue to do everything in your honor.
Hanging Rock State Park has been on my bucket list to visit with my son for a while.
A few years ago, I did the Hanging Rock Trail by myself and learned about how much the park has to offer.
I vowed to come back. But this time with my son. He loves hiking.
Hanging Rock State Park is about a 2 hour road trip from the Raleigh-Durham area.
So a few weeks ago, we packed up our bags and set out for the park.
First Stop: Lower Cascades Falls
Lower Cascades Falls is a hidden gem of North Carolina. It's one of the most beautiful waterfalls of North Carolina.
Well... I don't know how much of a hidden gem it is anymore because it can get pretty busy.
I suggest going early.
Put this address into your GPS as it is not in the main part of the park:
Address: 2143 Hall Rd, Westfield, NC 27053
Lower Cascades Falls is formed by Cascade Creek dropping down a 35-foot stone wall. Cascade Creek actually stems off from the lake inside Hanging Rock State Park.
The Lower Cascades Trail is one of the shortest at Hanging Rock State Park (0.4 miles one-way), another reason it’s among the most popular. The hike begins with a mix of gravel, dirt, and rock before transitioning into a set of stone and wooden steps.
Once there, you are greeted by a beautiful waterfall with a pool to wade in. *Pack water shoes and a bathing suit*
I suggest letting your kid take the lead.
My son had fun wading in the pool, climbing over all the works, and exploring the little creek that trickles down past the waterfall.
Pack a lunch and a book and then just sit and soak up this majestic site.
Second Stop: The Visitor Center
Address: 1005 Visitor Center Drive, Westfield, NC 27053
We love to stop at the visitor center of any park to get a map, stop to use the bathroom, or learn more about the park.
we stopped here, got a map, and planned out the rest of our day.
A lot of trails are accessed from the Visitor's Center including Hanging Rock Trail.
Third Stop: Hanging Rock Lake
Address: 2847 Hanging Rock Park Road, Westfield, NC 27053
A very short drive from the visitor's center is Hanging Rock Lake.
We stopped here to eat our packed lunch and then decided to swim at the lake.
Swimming Fees: $6/day for 13-year-olds and up. $4/day for children from three to 12 years old.
Boat Rentals: ($7/hour)
I thought that the lake was perfect for kids. There are lifeguards on duty, sand to play in, a calm lake to swim in, diving boards, boat rentals, changing rooms, bathrooms, concession stands, and a shelter that overlooks the lake with cozy rocking chairs to enjoy a treat in.
We spent a couple hours here.
Fourth Stop: Hidden Falls and Window Falls
After the lake, we had one more short hike in us. We drove back to the Visitor's Center and started the Indian Creek Trail.
Hidden Falls is 0.4 miles from the parking lot with Window Falls another 0.2 miles away from there.
We hiked to Window Falls and turned around and came back.
It was a 1.2 mile hike which was just the right length for my 4-year old. He started to grow tired after that.
Fifth Stop: Cugino Forno Pizzeria
We drove to Winston-Salem which was on our way for the drive back to Raleigh.
We stopped at Bailey Power Plant.
Here's the description of this cool part of town:
Bailey Power Plant offers a unique mixed-use environment at the epicenter of downtown Winston-Salem’s Innovation Quarter. This renovated building offers retail and office space and plenty of amenities—like being within steps of Bailey Park and a block away from Long Branch Trail access points. Enjoy expansive outdoor gathering spaces, communal break areas, conference rooms and innovative building design (including some historical pieces from the building’s past as a working coal-fired power plant). There are two nearby parking decks available in addition to ample street parking.
We had pizza at Cugino Forno Pizzeria which is located right next to Incendiary Brewing Company. Pizza and beer after a long day of hiking!
Perfect way to end the day.