What do I want?

I grew up in a single parent home. My mom never brought anyone around us. She stayed single until the man I call my dad came into our lives when I was 13.

When they first started talking, my mom took me aside and asked me to write down everything that I would want in a father.

I wrote a whole page.

Extremely detailed, down to eye color and traits.

When it got serious between them, she showed him the note and he fit everything except 2 things.

He wasn’t rich and he didn’t have green eyes.

God sent her exactly what she and I needed.

So in that same respect, I decided to write down my own list of “requirements” for a future love.

If he is out there, then he will find me. Until then I’ll work on myself so I will be ready and be the woman he needs when he shows up.

When I wrote this, it was so hard not to think of Frank since he fit so many things. I made sure to include the traits he didn’t have as well.


Dark, tousled hair. Blue or green eyes. Chiseled cheekbones. Jaw like an anvil. 5 o’clock shadow or beard. Straight white teeth, full lips. Beautiful smile with eye creases. Dimples. Thick neck. Broad, rounded shoulders. Broad, muscular and hairless back. Narrow waist. Bubble butt. Thick thighs. Defined calves. 5’10” and above. Veined arms. Rough, hard working hands. Long fingers.

Character traits:

Contagious laugh. Eye sparkles. Killer wink. Sings while he works or driving down the road. Bursts into spontaneous dance moves. Pulls me to dance anywhere, anytime. Hugs from behind. Hands in my hair. Smart. Mechanically inclined, handy man. Artistic. Creative. Crafty. Athletic. Competitive. Loves board games, playing sports. Musician. Loves to talk and read. Appetite to learn new things. Charismatic. Funny. Sarcastic. Kind. Empathetic. Strong. Loyal. Passionate. Giver. Loves to touch. Bubble bath joiner. Dancing in the kitchen. Karaoke singer. Good job that he loves. Savings account. Little to no debt. No kids. No previous marriage. Intense lover. Dominant and submissive. Playful. Talented kisser. Unafraid to be consumed by another. Has strong male friendships. Outgoing. Would rather be outside. Grill master. Chef. Barista. Beer drinker. Whiskey shooter. Truck owner. Doesn’t snore. Veteran or first responder. Excellent communicator. Great relationship with his family. Willing to be silly. World traveler. Treats me with respect. Values my opinion. Always watches my back. Rubs my shoulders without asking. Opens my beers. Cooks dinners. Spoils me with attention. Good morning and good night texts. Speaks another language. Movie buff. Challenges me to be better. Love notes, cards, flowers for no reason. Hiker. Backpacker. Strong enough to withstand my storms. Loves to hold my hand.

I don’t know if he is out in this world, but this is what I want. So if the universe is listening, get him ready for me. I’ll work on my end.

Storm warning

I’ve been seeing the sign for weeks.

The darkness covering the skies and distant rumble of thunder.

I’ve been ignoring them, hoping to outrun them and keep the sun shining on my face.

I had been getting jittery and more uneasy until I realized it was that I was nervous about his birthday trip. That I didn’t know how upset it was going to make me.

Trina and I drove up to Tennessee early and got in some hiking at a local state park. I wore one of frank’s favorite shirts in his honor. It help me feel closer to him as I let the silence of the forest absorb me.

I always forget how much hiking helps me. How I can just let go and let the peace flow into me. Trina was a great hiking partner, giving me space and silence and waiting till I was ready to talk again.

The next morning we went to the distillery first thing and I was surprised to see it so busy for a Monday morning.

They have started doing a tour that ends with the tasting inside a barrel room and it was the coolest experience.

You get to taste the top level whiskeys surrounded by the barrels. The slight chill i got from the air was quickly warmed by heat from the whiskeys.

He would have loved it.

I got a bottle of single barrel, the one we always liked the best and had it engraved.

“Franco” forever loved 2018

It was hard for me to write the words on the paper and had to choke down tears when it was complete.

It was still a beautiful experience and it helped to be there with the ones who love me and let me lean on them.

As it got closer and closer to Christmas, I was trying to decide what to get his mom.

I looked at ornaments with sayings, keepsakes and nothing felt right until I found a frame that I could have a message typed out in and it had a spot to clip a picture to.

I put his name and debated long and hard about putting his birth and death dates. I decided that the day he died wasn’t as important as the fact I loved him.

Instead in place of dates, I put “Always remembered, forever loved”

Then a beautiful poem:

Your Life Was a Blessing. Your memory a Treasure. You are loved beyond words. And missed beyond measure.

Having that printed was the straw that broke me.

I just broke down and lost it.

It was beautiful but hurt so damn much.

I printed out a picture of his mother and him and put it in a gift bag.

I went over to her house on Christmas and she wasn’t expecting a gift at all.

It hit her hard too and we both sat in tears for awhile.

She told me how she hadn’t felt like decorating for Christmas and implied how hard it had been with everything this month.

I realized that I haven’t been checking in on her often and I need to do that. She is still important to me and I have been so absorbed in trying to fight my own demons….I forgot that she has her own.

I still think about him daily, mourn him daily.

The loneliness hasn’t been as bad with Trina and Dick here but I miss the touch of someone who loves me.

Arms to hug me after a shit day.

The simple intimacy.

I feel so guilty about thinking about finding someone new. I don’t want a replacement for him. I want someone who can stand on their own but am so afraid to let someone get close to me.

The walls I’ve built around my heart are so high. Impossible to get through.

I don’t know how to trust someone.

To allow myself to get close enough to be broken again.

I’m still picking up the pieces of my life now.

Snowy memories

It’s snowing here.

First snow of the winter. It had been broadcast for days about this snow apocalypse.

It finally started about 7 pm with an icy sleet.

I could hear the sleet hitting the windows as I huddled under a blanket. Lights off, using the Christmas tree for a warm and homey glow.

I actually decorated the house for Christmas. Garlands cover the mantle, above my kitchen cabinets, over the back door. Every horizontal surface is covered in warm lights and ornaments.

I knew that December was going to be tough so I am trying to bring in as much joy as possible to my surroundings. To keep my heart from sinking.

Even going as far as buying a tree.

First Christmas tree in a long time.

It’s a simple 7 ft prelite tree but the impact it makes is huge.

Trina and I decided we would only put ornaments on it that we had received as gifts or on our travels.

As an homage to our hawaii days together, I leid the tree with shell necklaces.

I have been so blessed to have her here.

I had forgotten how positive, funny and lighthearted she made me.

There’s a spoken rule in our friendship that we can tell each other anything without judgement.

I know that I can tell her my secrets and she will keep them safe.

Unless they are embarrassing. Those are open game to share with our fellow best friends.

She has helped to keep me from spinning out of orbit lately.

It’s Franco’s birthday next week. Ever since we moved to South Carolina, we made yearly trips to the Jack Daniels Distillery. Saw the barrel Christmas tree, took the tour, sampled and always bought an engraved souvenir bottle.

The last time, I bought him a used keg barrel and shelves made from the barrels. Perfect birthday gift to decorate our bar with.

When we were looking at them. He completely ignored the very clean, pretty ones.

He honed in on the barrel with stains, paint marks and rust. It had a roughness and character that was him.

I miss that ruggedness.

I miss his dirty hands in mine.

I miss watching him comb and oil his beard. Sometimes I put some of his beard oil in my hands and rub them on my shoulders so when I turns to hold his flag, I can smell him.

I miss watching the snow with him.

Last year, we awoke to the first snow day of winter and I was like a child.

I dress warmly and pronounced loudly that I was going to go build a snowman in the backyard.

As I gathered the snow that had collected on the outside table in my hands, I brought my hands together to create the snowball and it completely disappeared. Like a cloud of flour thrown in the air.

I just frowned and kept trying to make the ball but it wouldn’t keep the shape.

I opened the door and yelled inside “babe! How do you make a snowman?”

He yelled back “start with a snowball then roll it.”

I shut the door and sat looking at the table and snow.

“Babe!……how do I make a snowball?

He comes to the door, rolling his eyes and shivering at the cold air. “You just clump it together in your hands”

I demonstrate the clumping method I had tried and it was obvious that the snow wasn’t wet enough to stick together.

He just looks at me, shrugged and walked away to look for snack cakes in the pantry.

I complained loudly about the stupid fucking snow ruining my plans and I stomped my feet and came pouting back on to the couch.

He just looked at me and smiled his happy fat kid smile as he downed a snack. I just laughed and snuggled close to him to get warm.

That is the part I miss the most. How damn easy it was to be around him. My best friend. My battle buddy. My Alpha male. The one who always had my back.

It didn’t matter how crazy i got. He could handle it and kept me grounded.

He was my lighthouse. The port in the storm that I could always go to for shelter.

I would give anything to stand at the back door with him again. In silence as he peered out, in his funny way, to see if he could make me laugh. To see his eyes light up at me when I smiled at him.

Maybe the snow will cooperate this year.

10 years

Happy anniversary baby.

I used to joke with him that I would give him 10 years then he would have to marry me or I would leave him. Too bad he did the leaving.

Basically 1/3 of my life was spent loving that man. I wish he was here to celebrate this milestone with me. Instead his flag lays on his side of the bed and his ashes next to the bed on the other side.

10 years.

We almost made it Baby.


This time last year I was full swing in preparation for our first Friendsgiving/Housewarming party. I had decided to throw the party after delaying for years. The house was never “ready”. Too many projects not finished.

It was a lot of work but it was so much fun. Tons of people, laughs and lots of food consumed.

I threw the party well before Thanksgiving so I could be with the ones that mattered during the holiday season.

I have been planning on throwing another party but things just keep going wrong. At work, with my finances, my emotional state, my nephew, my dad. Just nonstop bad shit.

I keep going back and forth about it.

The pros:

Keeping the tradition, my family’s traditions going. Feeding people and taking care of them.

Seeing friends, catching up, feeling the love of friends that I consider family.

Bringing joy into the house, into my heart.


Having to deep clean the house, prepare food, rent tables & chairs, spend money I don’t have.

Having people come into our home for the first time since he has been gone. Since the gathering after his service.

Celebrating life and love, 2 days after what would have been our 10 year anniversary together and the day after my nephew’s big surgery for his cancer. The possibility that they may have to remove his leg if they can’t salvage the limb.

Am I ready for this? Am I ready to fake a smile if I can’t really feel it. I know there will be the “first” holiday but do I need to force the issue on my own terms or delay the inevitable and wait for the holiday to come and spend it with his family like always.

I don’t know if I am strong enough. Mentally, physically, emotionally and financially.

Masks and Prayers

My male best friend Dick, has moved out here for a few months. We have been exploring and having adventures. Lots of laughs and smiles. It’s been so nice to have him here. To have a male presence around again. I didn’t realize how much I missed doing things with a man. How much I miss romance, hugs, kisses and the security of holding on to someone who loved me.

It even made me try online dating for about 1.5 days. I realized pretty quickly that I am not prepared to be cute and quirky over text. I started out ok but boys are way more clingy and demand more attention then I am able to give. I fumbled my way through before I just realized that I couldn’t do it, apologized and deleted everything.

It’s just been a rollercoaster of emotions lately. Riding the highest wave then coming crashing down again. Needing to be hugged then the next second, needing to be alone. To let the wave crash over me in solitude. So I can break down in privacy. Crying in my car, in the shower.

A reporter from my local newspaper did an amazing article about Uuzilo and our time in Africa but I didn’t realize how much of an emotional toll it would take on me to talk about Franco again. About how I felt after the accident. It took me days to dig out of the hole. To start feeling normal again. Just to bottom out again when a long time military friend found me on social media. Excited to find me and Frank again. Wondering how we were doing and how life has been. That’s the worst. To have to tell them what happened because it just blindsides them with the news. The conversation always gets awkward after that and dwindles away.

It can’t be helped, I guess. Doesn’t make typing the words any easier.

The emotional stress has been taking a toll on me physically. I’m not sleeping well. Caught a terrible cold that I’m still recovering from. Just overall feeling poorly.

I keep treading water but our upcoming anniversary date is looming right in front of me. I took the day off so I can go away and be alone if I need to but I don’t know if that is what needs to be done. I don’t want to hide away but I don’t want to have to fake a smile with friends.

I just need some peace. There is none to be had right now. Not in my life or the life of my family. Dad is still feeling terrible and fighting the after effects of his cancer surgery. Tyson will be having his major surgery the day after my anniversary. I am terrified for him, for my brother and his wife. I want to pray and feel strong but I just can’t…..trust Him.

I’m trying to slip my mask into place. The mask of the strong one who can bear the weight of all this sadness, heartache and fear. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to use my masks and they don’t fit like they used too. I suppose I have outgrown them but like a child clutching a favorite blanket, they help me feel secure.

I asked my mom to pray for me tonight. She knows how badly I struggle with praying. She prays for me everyday but I figure a few extra couldn’t hurt.

Maybe this time He will listen.

A legacy of love

I’m having trouble sleeping again. I just lie in bed for hours, tossing and turning. His flag in one arm and a teddy bear in the other. Funny, I haven’t slept with a teddy since I was a child but it gives me more comfort now then his flag does.

It’s been a hard to lose that connection but it has forced me to look forward to the future and the changes that are happening.

Two of my best friends are moving out to live with me. One, Trina, had her belonging sent in a Pod instead of driving a moving truck. It was so tiny, like 5’w x 8″h. It only took us about 30 minutes to get the boxes out. She stayed about a week then just left yesterday to go back to AZ. She still hasn’t told them that she is moving. She has been on vacation and will let them know when she gets back.

It was so nice to have her here again. She came flew out as soon as I told her about Frank’s accident and she was the last one to leave. We would make a bonfire almost every night she was here in February. One night, while staring deeply into the fire and sitting in comfortable silence, I said out loud. “I’m not going to the sell the house….I’m not going anywhere. We worked too hard on this house to give up and walk away.”

I know that many conversations had gone on when he first passed between my family and friends about if I was going to leave and go back to my family in California. I have been gone so long from them, since I was 17. I left knowing that I needed to see more in my life. That I had a need to wonder, to explore, to answer the restlessness call in my soul. That restlessness is still there but it’s been calmed living here in South Carolina. There is just something easy about this life. The people want to talk to you, they want to be kind to strangers. It’s different where my family is. They still have that small town feel but it’s faster paced, more stress and more importantly expensive.

It’s never been easy to be away from my family. Growing up was hard as we were a single parent household. My brothers and I spent a lot of time alone since my mom was always at work. My mom may have had to choose between heat or food sometimes but one thing we never lacked was love. There was so much love from our fathers side of the family and from my mom. Normally when a couple divorces, one person isn’t included in the opposite persons family events unless it involves the kids.

Not in my family. My Granny Mac and my Grandma Barbara never let anyone go. Once a Cutts, always a Cutts. My mom had such a beautiful relationship with her ex-mother in law, my Grandma Barbara. We went over for family lunch every Sunday. We would stop and see her whenever we went town. My mom lost her mother when she was young, so Grandma Barbara filled that role. She filled that role for all of her son’s ex-wives. Grandma Barbara actually stood in place for my moms parents when my mom remarried.

Grandma Barbara had 4 sons. She had so much love for the family but she could be tough and didn’t tolerate fighting so we would have ex-wives, ex-girlfriends, current wives….all at the same dinner. I was too young to notice the tension but they all would play nice just to be together. It was a home filled with chaos, babies crying and laughter. It is a treasured part of my life.

My mother remarried when I was 13. A man came into our lives that completely changed it and taught me what it was like to have the love of a father.

Dave showed me the love that a father can have for his child. When he and my mom first started dating, my mom told me to write down everything that I wanted in a father. I must have filled an entire page with very specific traits and Dave fit all but two. He didn’t have a lot of money and he didn’t have green eyes. God brought him to us because he knew that Dave was exactly what my mom and I needed. The love he gives me is unconditional and he has always supported every decision I have made. He taught me how to check maintenance stuff on cars, shoot guns, and more importantly he talked to me like an adult. I could tell him anything and because of that, almost every major life decision that I have made, was made after having a conversation with my Dad and asking his opinion.

I have always struggled with self love, confidence and feeling of not be good enough, since my biological father Bill had moved away and left us when I was so young. I would have this inner voice that would repeat over and over that I wasn’t good enough, that I should stop trying so hard to impress a man that didn’t care about me, that I was worthless. I used it as fuel to push myself to the limits in sports, in my time in the Navy. I used it to be the best, to show this faceless man that I didn’t need him. To accomplish as much as possible to shove it in his face when I “grew up”.

I only remember seeing Bill twice in my life. Once when I was like 7 and really sick, he had come to California for some reason and stopped to see us. The second time, I was a teenager. I had just gotten home from softball practice and my mom called and said that he was in town and wanted to take my brothers and I to dinner. I don’t even remember what we had, what we said. I just remember his hands and his leather jacket. He had huge hands and wore a rose gold ring and a black leather trench coat. He stayed around a few days and went to one of my games. I remember being so conflicted. I didn’t know who he was, he didn’t know me as a person but I wanted to impress him. Then he was gone. I never spoke to him again.

I was in the Navy and had just left for deployment when I was told that a Red Cross message came for me and I was told to call my mom. Nothing more. My hands shook so bad that I misdialed twice. When I finally connected, I asked immediately if there was something wrong with my brothers or Dave. She thought they would have told me, but she just sighed and said “Bill died today, he had a heart attack. Your Grandma is flying everyone out for the service.” I just sat there in silence then said “ok.” I told her to give my love to my brothers and my family. There was no way to fly me off the ship to go to the service. It was the day before Mother’s Day so I just ended the call with “If I don’t talk to you again, Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.” That was it. I left the office and went back to work. But that voice that had pushed me and plagued me all my life was gone in the instant the words left my mom’s lips.

In some ways I miss it, that internal drive. I struggled for a long time after with anger at Bill. I struggled with grief for a man I never knew. It took hiking the Appalachian Trail to come to terms and put that ghost to rest. To finally start asking questions about him and wanting to know more about him as a person. To know what traits of him lived inside of me.

You see, my mom never wanted to talk bad about him to us so she chose instead to not talk about him at all. It ended up making me feel like it was taboo to ask questions about him so I never did. His death effected all 7 of his kids differently, as we each had a different relationship with him.

When my Grandma passed, it was a hard blow to the family. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She slowly forgot us but we knew who she was and who she had been to us. I flew home and my cousin Ashley and I planned her service and took care of all the details. Her sons couldn’t do it and Ashley was drowning in the weight of it all. I stepped in and shouldered what I could and it was beautiful. We had a gathering after the service and it was the first time that we had all been together in years.

We eventually had to go through boxes and boxes of her stuff and we found so many pictures and letters she had typed out to people. She did not hold back when she felt you were messing up. I found a letter that she had written to her sister Kay after Kay had passed. It was so full of love and beautifully written that I knew instantly that this was her legacy. The legacy of love. This beautiful, strong woman helped shape me and I now carry her with me. I plan on making an entire wall display about the legacy of love. To honor the people who have impacted my life.

That’s what I keep trying to hold on to. The knowledge and strength that has been passed down to me. I have hard days, when missing Frank threatens to overwhelm. Our 10 year anniversary is coming up at the end of next month. I used to joke with him that I would give him 10 years then he would have to marry me or I would leave him. He would always look at me and roll his eyes. He was not interested in being married again since his first marriage hurt him so badly.

Lately I’ve been dealing with the thoughts of dating again. I know that I’m not ready to start that but the fact that it’s going to have to happen is terrifying. That there will be a new hand to hold, lips to kiss and arms to fall into at night. I fear that I will hold back my heart. That I won’t let myself fall in love completely, always holding back a piece.

I have a very specific type of man that I am attracted to. Dark hair, blue or green eyes, tattoos, broad shoulders and a little chubby. That is my favorite flavor of ice cream. I appreciate all different types of men but if one that matches that description walks by, it turns my head each and every time. When I saw Franco the first time in civilian clothes, I was done. I was the wolf in the cartoons, whistling as my jaw dropped to the floor. Luckily, I was his favorite flavor of ice cream too.

It was really easy to be in a relationship with him. We were friends first so we actually enjoyed being around each other. We didn’t have to talk, we could just blare music and be content. We had a lot of the same interests but each had our own hobbies. We weren’t the perfect couple. We didn’t always agree and we fought. There were times when I thought we were going to break up over the years. When like all long term relationships, it felt more like roommates then lovers. The routine of life took over and things stopped being exciting. We could always talk about our feelings and would sit down a have those hard talks, filled with tears. About how we both felt neglected. We would renew each other and keep trying over and over. We chose each other again and again.

He taught me how to fight for what I loved and to keep reaching out and trying for something I still believed in. That is his legacy to me. Hopefully I will be able to recognize that trait in someone else. Maybe he will send one my way, when it’s time. Maybe I’ll be alone. Either way, I knew great love and even if I never find it again. It was worth it. I would go back and chose him all over again, even knowing how it would end.

Falkenberg garage & Home

We stopped at the local store and Laura sweet talked the store keeper to let her buy beer for Lars. We pulled into the gated property close to sunset and were greeted with big hugs and smiles by Lars and Juanita.

Juanita was not what I expected from Andrews descriptions of this woman with a larger than life personality and could drink me under the table. She is like a piece of iron rod. Super slender, compact, head of red hair, hazel eyes that gaze deep into you and a wide caring smile.

She is in constant movement and never sits down. I realized why after a few days. She is in constant pain from a car accident where she hit a Kudo. It totaled the car and broke her neck. Her recovery is still ongoing. There is a surgery that could help her but she said there is only a 65% chance of it working and if it went wrong, she could end up in a wheelchair.

She works with her husband Lars at their garage. They do towing, recovery and repairs for vehicles for an area of something crazy like 3 thousand miles.

When they aren’t called out to job, she welds and creates animals out of thin plates of metal. She is such an amazing artist and the amount of detail she can put in the pieces is crazy. A lot of her work is displayed on the local businesses, either inside as accents or outside on the signage.

With our similar background with welding and mechanics, she and I got along really well. She is mother to two boys. Swanie and Lars, who they call Larsey. Swanie is 23 and Larsey is 6. She told me that when she found out she was pregnant with Larsey, she had gone to the doctors since she wasn’t feeling well and thought she had malaria. She was 42 at the time.

She laughed and told me that she worked until the day before she had Larsey. She said she was welding under a car when her sister dragged her out and yelled at her. “You are going to blind the baby!”. Juanita has such a great laugh.

Since we are also both Leo’s and have more of a masculine presence, we were able to get very close, very quickly. She shared with me about her dad’s passing and then when her beloved brother was killed. Because they are one of the only recovery rigs, she literally had to go and recovery her brothers remains. It broke my heart as she told the story and how since then she has smoked cigarettes.

We went to her mothers home and visited their graves. Her brother’s grave was made with stones and engraved with carving of the Big 5 that Juanita did by hand. There were beautiful white round sea stones that she had collected and dried flower wreaths. I had to turn away as she spoke to us about him as the tears just flowed down my face for her.

It felt like hollowed ground to be inside the small gated area but she said that sometimes she comes out and talks to him. She said something that really hit me hard. She said that her mother comes out and talks to them all the time. “She lives with the dead”. It was tough to see that Juanita just wants to be loved but her mother is so consumed by the loss of her son and husband that she doesn’t love Juanita like she should.

Lars is a very manly man that doesn’t talk often but when he does, it’s worth paying attention to. He has a cigarette constantly in one hand and either a cup of coffee or a beer in the other. He has a mischievous smile and looks like he is always plotting something. He handles the repairs of the vehicles and driving the Unimog for recoveries.

He takes great joy in making fun of Andrew and I didn’t see him actually relax until we drove out into the bush for a quick day trip. He just sat in the shade next to the vehicle, drank his beer and watched us all.

That was a great day. Just spent being together, grilling and hanging out.

Larsie can be an absolute terror or a snuggle bunny…. depending on his mood. He has a wonderful talent of yelling at the top of his lungs, the name of whoever he wants to come to wherever he happens to be in the property.

It’s usually Lars. It got to where I heard “Laaaaaaaaarrrrrrrssss….” in my sleep. Since he was born so late in their lives, he doesn’t really have anyone to play with so he is pretty much allowed to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. The adults just want to keep him happy and not crying. He was driving his small quad during the time we were there but they had order his first motorcycle. Turns out after a few quick instructions, he was a natural at it.

Swanie is a super great kid. He’s young, ginger and covered in freckles. Unlike most redheads I know, he loves the sun. He works at the garage, doing recoveries, electrical diagnostics and anything else that comes up. He also does tours for a company when they need a German speaking tour guide. He splits his time between Namibia and Germany with his dad’s family. He told me that his friends from school call him a Redneck since he loves to hunt, wears camo, boots and go into the bush. I told him that he wasn’t Redneck and explained why I would just call him Outdoorsy. We both had a good laugh over that.

Whenever there is a call for a recovery, the whole compound goes into motion to get the gear and everyone goes, even Larsey. Juanita told me that it’s a tough business and they all get desensitized to accidents, death and dealing with bodies. Even little Larsey isn’t fazed by it. They keep him in the truck when they go on a call dealing with that but it’s just a factor in their business.

While we were there, we managed to steal Juanita away for the day and headed to Etosha National Park. It’s a game park and a lot of animals can be seen there. They have fences but they can’t keep the animals from leaving, it’s mostly to deter the poachers.

They keep watering holes constantly filled so that way the animals keep coming back to it. Helpful when you are trying to get tourists to come on game drives and safari.

We drove to the holes and just sat and watched as Zebra, Giraffe and Warthog came to drink. All of the creatures stay on high alert, eyes constantly searching the danger and checking for the smell of predators.

No one is allowed to get out of the cars since animal attacks are a very real threat. We literally drove right past a male lion that was sleeping in the sun like a house cat when Laura started slapping Andrew, unable to get the words out.

He was not concerned with us at all. Just relaxing in the sun and eventually got up and walked over to a bush to cuddle with another male lion that we didn’t even see.

We stayed for awhile then continued on, we came back later and they had separated again and were in full view. Just cat napping, get it….they would peak open their eyes but didn’t really give a damn if we were there or not.

They were the most beautiful things I had ever seen when they sat up. The manes were a golden yellow when dark brown. Their faces marked with many scars. The paws were huge and they were just there for us to enjoy.

We also stumbled across a small herd of elephants with cows and babies again. We thought they were headed to the closest watering hole but turns out they went to one close to where one of the lodges sits high up on a hill. We stopped for coffee and just sat enjoying the view of the preserve. There was an infinity pool and I laid down and put my hands in the water, just enjoying the coolness of it running through my hands as the sun heated my back. Laura sat next to me and I just wrapped an arm around her and relaxed. I love water but I don’t like swimming lol.

It was a very special day for us, filled with lots of laughter and memories made.

We treated the gang to homemade tortillas and “Mexican food”. They actually turned out really well and everyone enjoyed eating the simple tacos and rice.

A&L tented for the first few nights, and I slept inside in a bed, then we swapped and I tented until we left. I preferred it. I like my tent and privacy. Swanie was super sweet to me and brought coffee in the mornings. Calling my name and holding the cup out as I unzipped everything as little as possible and reached for the cup without having to open my eyes.

The day we left was tough, most of us ended up in tears and multiple hugs were given over and over. We made our way back to Uis and delivered a metal Rhino head that Juanita had made Bas for his birthday. We went to a special spot for a sundowner with another beautiful view of the Brandburg.

We only stayed that night, we had a long drive to get to the town where the airport was of Windhoek. We checked into a lodge and went and had Indian food again to celebrate my birthday. Followed by dessert and coffee at a really sweet outdoor wine bar. It was a very quiet day and I did a lot of reflection.

As the date for me to leave got closer, I could feel myself slowly retreating back into my shell and putting the wall back up. The wall that kept me from sharing how I was feeling with the people at home. I tried to stop it but it just came up more and more.

I had a morning flight back to South Africa, I call it a puddle jumper so we called it an early night. I just packed and wrote A&L a letter to give to them when they dropped me off. I hugged them both tightly and couldn’t really say much but I hope my letter told them the things I couldn’t say.

I did some shopping at the duty free store for some souvenirs, I hadn’t really bought anything so I needed to pick up something for friends. I also bought a bottle of Amarula, which almost got taken in Rome at the security check point but luckily I told them I put it in my coffee cause they immediately let me have it. Guess they take their coffee very seriously in Rome.

The flights were very long and I didn’t sleep a wink. Too amped up, I guess. Ended up being awake for something like 30 hrs. So I was a walking zombie when I got to the US.

Mary picked me up and I had a mini heart attack when we started driving since we were on “the opposite side” of the road. I made myself calm down and tried to talk to her as much as possible to avoid falling asleep. Mary has been so great to me. Looking after the house, checking the mail, she bought me groceries so I would have something in the fridge to eat when I got home. Such a thoughtful person.

I dropped her at her house and drove the longest 20 minutes to my house. Reminding myself constantly what side of the road to be on.

I walked into my house and felt so calm. I walked over to where franks ashes were and put my hands on it and said simply “hi baby”.

I left my bags right inside the door and went right upstairs to take a shower and go to bed.

It was so strange to be back in my own bed, with franks flag there, right where I had left it. It felt different when I held it, it still does. Before I left to go to South Africa, it was like I could still “feel” him near me. He was in our home, in his flag. Now I don’t feel him around anymore. It makes me sad and it’s like I lost him all over again. Maybe he knows that it’s time for me to live again and stop holding on to him and our past.

I have finished most of the projects that had been hanging over my head. Spending time with friends and getting back into things that I love doing like salsa dancing. I am tapping into my creative side with painting and creating homemade gifts as a positive way to get my emotions out and work in me.

One of the hardest things that I’ve done, is I have stopped wearing a ring on my left hand. Even though Frank and I were never officially married, I wore a ring the entire time. It made dealing with men easier with my different jobs since they would see it and assume I was married. I figured I would stop wearing it eventually or on a very specific date like 1 year after he passed, but I just took it off one day while washing my hands and put it on a shelf. It’s strange how such a small piece of jewelry defines how you are perceived by complete strangers. I have already gotten the “so you aren’t married” comments at work. It was tough hearing it but I just smiled and said no I’m not married and left it at that.

One of my best friends,Trina is moving her stuff in next week from Arizona. With her impending move in, I have started rearranging everything and decluttering the house and garage. Getting rid of Frank’s things that really don’t have any value like ripped pants and old socks. Boxes of school paperwork and other stuff like that. Stuff that I wouldn’t have been able to touch before going on the trip with Uuzilo. I didn’t have the strength back then.

I still have bad days but now I look forward to the things coming over the horizon and the life I want to live. I can never thank Uuzilo’s Andrew or Laura enough. Hopefully they came back to the States in time for my 2nd Annual Friendsgiving in November.

Team Tyson

I found out a short time ago that my nephew Tyson has a form of bone cancer and actually had his first chemo treatment today.

My mom had sent me a message that he had been complaining about pain in his right leg so my brother and his wife took him to the hospital. They did testing and at first, thought it was benign.

I had been texting on my Garmin InReach GPS so the conversations had been short until we came into town and I was able to use our friends WiFi.

My mom broke the news to me and I just got so angry again. Why cancer……again the o someone I love. Why my family…..again? Haven’t we been through enough in the last few years? Can’t we just have a fucking break?

It was a staggering blow to the fragile trust that I had been building in God again. It was the kind of blow that knocked the life out of me.

I walked into the kitchen and Laura could see on my face that something was wrong. She asked if I was alright and I could only shake my head no. I was afraid to speak and to lose control. She asked if it was something about Tyson and I shook my head yes and got the words out through the knot in my throat. She just came over and put her arm around me and I lost it.

It took a few days for me to stop being so angry and instead just focus on the important things. Being a support for my family and uniting to fight this together.

When my Dad was diagnosed with stage 3 esophageal cancer two years ago, our family rallied around him and we were team dad strong. Now we are team Tyson strong.

The outlook on the treatment so far, is positive and there isn’t anything I can do but send my love, positive thoughts and feeble attempts at prayer. I still feel betrayed and let down by God so the prayers are not said in the nicest of tones.

I have to wait a few more days and I will be back in the states so I can talk to him, let him know how much Auntie Stephie loves him.

That kid. He stole my heart when he was born. I was still in the military and got pictures of him as he grew up. My mom sends me regular updated pics and I try to go home at least once a year. I usually spend all my time with them. I just walk from my parents house to my brothers’ house. We don’t have to do anything, I just love being around them and talking to the kids.

It’s tough watching my nieces and Tyson grow up over Facebook but that’s how life is. I have no plans on leaving South Carolina and going back to California. That is my home now even though it kills me to be away from them.

I can only hope that they can feel my Love, even if it is currently coming all the way from Africa.

Lunar Eclipse and Elephants….oh my!

As we left swakopmund to travel along a small portion of the Skeleton Coast, the scenery changed yet again. The high sand dunes and rocks disappeared to flat empty desert with very little vegetation.

There were stranded boats along the shoreline, just abandoned since the cost of recovery was probably more than the boat. The name Skeleton Coast originally came from whale and seal bones that once littered the ground, from the whaling industry but is now just the ships caught by the dense fog and offshore rocks, running aground.

We turned off and followed the Messum river as we headed toward the Messum Crater and Brandberg Mountain. We had left later in the day so the sun was setting beautifully over the ocean, in a display of reds and pinks. My anticipation grew as the moon could be seen right away, full and white, just waiting for the Lunar Eclipse to start.

The road was surprisingly good as it seemed like a grader or some big equipment had come through to make a path way through the rock and gravel.

We looked for a spot to camp that would provide some protection from the wind and hopefully animals when we started passing huge walls of crumbling stone and rocks. I found out later that they are called the “Horse Heads” since the erosion caused parts to stick out and make the shapes of heads. We took shelter in a nook that to me, looked like the head of an animal with its mouth open, I tried out several animal noises until I decided on a sheep.

The moon was slowly turning an amber color, more mocha than red like it had been predicted as the earths shadow started from the bottom and slowly covered it completely in a Lunar Eclipse.

I walked out a little ways into the dry river bed next to us and the silence surrounded me completely. The wind had died down and so had the birds and bugs.

I just stood looking at the sky endlessly. Thinking about Franco and what a difference a year makes. Last August, a full Solar Eclipse happened where I live and we were in the best spot to see it completely covered. I remember going home that night and talking with Frank about what we both saw and thought about it. Almost one year later, I’m in the middle of the desert in Namibia, in Africa….without him.

It will be 6 months since his death in the few days after I arrive back to America. 6 months since that devastating knock on Susan’s door. I can’t even imagine the shock and strength it took for her to pick up the phone and dial my number. Knowing that what she had to tell me would be one of the hardest things she has ever had to say out loud.

To me, when you say it out loud, makes it real and there is no going back to “normal” once the words leave your lips.

All of these thoughts bombarded me as I stared at the amber moon and the million of stars that shone even brighter without the moonlight. I just closed my eyes and took deep breaths in and out, then slowly made my way back to the fire. After dinner, I made a quick escape to my tent, bidding the team goodnight and quietly saying no to coffee, sitting around the fire and watching the moon.

I’m sure Andrew and Laura felt the shift in my mood but let me go without questions.

The next morning, since we were so close to the sea, the dense fog pushed into the river bed and we couldn’t see very far away until it finally lifted after a few hours. We were finally able to see the beautiful campsite we had chosen. The wall of horse head shaped stones, the mountains and we got our first look at a plant called Welwitschia

It has 2 very broad green leaves that get torn apart by the wind so it appears to have many long leaves. The base looks almost like burned wood and the long leaves collect dew. There are male and female plants that each flower different pods and with the help of the wind and inserts, bloom. Most of the larger plants are anywhere from 1,000 – 2,500 years old. The edges of the leaves start to get very dried out and it looks almost like they were burned to ash by the harsh desert sun. We were told that the largest plant stands close to 6 feet tall. We never found that one but we found other really wide ones.

There was also field of lichens. Some bright green that dried to yellow. Some a rust colored red that appeared to stain the rocks. Small white flowers grew among the stones of a volcanic rock and slate hill.

While driving, Andrew noticed a small hole through the hill so we stopped and hiked to it to take a closer look. The rocks were so crumbly and dry that it sounded like I was walking on granola with that crunchy, cracking sound. There is a lot of iron in the stones and it makes swirling patterns in the rocks.

I stopped short of the top and let A & L continue up as I sat on an outcropping. Just looking out onto the Crater and seeing the tracks go for miles in either direction. Trying my best not to cry from the thoughts of the night prior. Feeling the heat of the sun burn into me. I have been collecting small stones since the beginning of the trip and added about 5 more from the Crater.

There was very little animal life but we saw some ostrich in the distance as we followed Laura’s map and directions.

We got to a steep sand dune that was a way out but the sand spurs were too deep and crossed for us to get through with our 4×4 so we took the alternate route out and I am so glad that we did. We were able to see so much more as we worked our way toward and around the Brandberg Mountain.

It’s called the “Burning Mountain” because the sun makes it a bright red color so it appears to glow red. It is the highest mountain in Namibia and it is stunning with peaks and valleys. There are caves there with paintings, one of the most famous is the “White Lady”. We weren’t able to go in and see it because it has a water source and the lions were there.

We made our way into Uis, to the Brandberg Rest Camped, owned by A & L’s great friend Basil. That night, the lodge was fully booked with the men and families of “The Round Table”. I don’t know anything about it, only that it is for men 40 and under and they do different things to help people. Basil is a “41’er” meaning he still goes to meetings and events but can not vote. The people were dressed to the nines in black tie wear. It was really strange to see all these fine dresses people coming out of tents covered in sand. They partied late into the night but I was able to sleep without any issues.

The next morning I was able to talk to and observe Basil. He is a very interesting man. He is very tall and built large like the men in my family. He has a bushy beard and a mop of hair with blond highlights from a previous adventure with the Dawgs. He has a quiet nature, enjoys his cigarettes and coffee. It’s very easy to sit in a comfortable silence and just enjoy the view of the Brandberg. There’s no questions or expectations from him. He just lets you breath in and let the mountain cleanse your soul. If you want to talk, he will answer your questions but he is content to just enjoy your company. I feel like he has experienced a lot of pain and keeps it to himself.

The lodge is very busy with tourists but we managed to get him to go on an overnight trip with us. Since the spot he wanted to take us to was fairly close, we made a plan to leave around 4pm. We had left about 30 minutes early but had to make stops to pick up oil, petrol and for the meat that we forgot at the lodge.

It was actually a wonderful thing that we were delayed because as we were driving, we started seeing fresh elephant tracks on the tire tracks. Turns out that most of the wildlife will choose to walk on the soft car tracks instead of the rock.

We came to an old stone well and were checking out the tracks when A & L started pointing from the other car and I turned to see a small herd of wild desert elephants coming through the trees. Bas recognized the big male, called “foot tracker” with a herd of cows and babies that were probably around 5 years old. Foot tracker came about 25 feet away from the car and Bas called out to him like an old friend, which he is. The elephant knows him since Bas will lead Game Trips and Foot tracker has been known to come up to Basil’s car, sniffing it and even putting his truck through the moon roof. They were very calm and did not feel threatened by us at all. I just was in wide eyed, jaw dropping awe at these beautiful creates. Foot tracker went and checked out the stone well, sticking his trunk down and finding it empty, he shook his head in a “no, nothing here” motion and the rest of the herd immediately turned and walked into the trees again. I have seen elephants up close and even rode on one in Thailand but those were trained elephants that lived on a tourist farm. If we hadn’t been delayed, we wouldn’t have seen them at all. The experience is so special.

We continued on our adventure as we headed to what Basil calls “Rhino Rock”. It’s a large black stone in the middle of the desert. The rhinos comes and have a dust roll and rub themselves again the rock. It was was from the afternoon sun, black, round and shiny from wear.

Bas then took us to his favorite tree and we camped in a beautiful canyon. A, L and I got busy setting up our tents as Basil just took out his camp chair made of cow hide and table. Cracking a beer, he watched us set up our tents. He had said he was going to sleep on the ground and motioned the the front wheel as his sleeping area. We had imagined him shivering in a tiny sleeping back when he pulled out a huge, thick bed. Complete with pillows, a mattress and a down blanket. All covered in a canvas cover that slid over the wheel to keep it in place. It looked incredibly comfortable and we had a good chuckle over it.

Andrew did all the cooking for the braai as Bas supervised from his chair, cigarette and beer in hand….telling Andrew how to not fuck it up.

We stayed up very late, drinking beer, red wine and a sweet 20 year old Port that had a delightful caramel finish. The moon was so bright in the canyon and I made sure to put my ear plugs in since I heard stories from Quinton about Basil’s snoring.

I stepped out of my tent that morning. The valley had a haze over it and Bas was just standing with his hands linked behind his back, just staring at his mountain. I hated to disturb him but he called out a cheerful greeting but he had hints of sadness behind his bushy beard and hair sticking in every direction. He left us early that morning after a quick coffee since he had to get back to the lodge and we packed up and continued down the route that he plotted for us. He, Laura and Andrew had spent hours going over the route and identifying the markers and turns. The remoteness of Namibia means that there is no such thing as being over prepared.

As we left the Brandberg further behind, we entered valleys of yellow dried grass. Herds of Springbok ran and jumped away from us, looking like kangaroos. Ostrich with tiny babies, Oryx with their long pointed horns and a lone spotted Hyena eyed us from a rock pile. His ears twitching as he listened and studied us.

The trail ran around a valley in between mountains and rock outcropping. We went through what he called “Zebra Canyon”. It has stripes of black and white stones going vertically and horizontally in crazy patterns. There were also black slate stones that looked like thousands of books lined up for miles.

We followed the route to our campsite for the night, “the cave”. It ended up being next to a sandstone rock outcropping that had the appearance like the rock was melting and the stones below it were super smooth from the wind. Some of the tops of the rocks had pockets of holes that almost looked drilled and streaked.

We were actually very close to the sea so there was a fog bank that next morning that hide the mountains across the valley. I just opened my tent flap and enjoyed the view until I realized that two heady little eyes were staring at me from the huge prehistoric looking grasshopper from outside my tent. I angrily shook the tent to get him off and he just chattered away with a loud buzzing noise. Laura labeled him my new best friend and she had entirely too much fun playing with it.

We started out and I was enjoying the lichen fields, welwitschia, milk bush and scenery when all of a sudden, Andrew pulled the car over and said “rhino tracks”. He and Laura got out to inspect and they were very fresh, maybe only an hour old and headed back where we had come. Andrew lamented that the rhino had probably passed by us when we were drinking our coffee, completely unaware. We continued and the rhino tracks stayed on the soft tire tracks too.

We had to cross the river bed and we were on constant alert for animals. The reeds and brush were very high and we had just exited when we saw a game vehicle up around a bend that was staring intently at something we couldn’t see. We slowed to a stop to not disturb them and looked around when Andrew cried out “elephant, just there”. He directed my gaze as I couldn’t see it when I finally saw it. It was half hidden behind a sand dune and small bushes. It had thrown red dirt over itself and was very camouflaged. We shut off the car and just sat in silence until he finally peeked around the sand dune and seeing that we posed no threat, walked out in all his glory and started eating the high grass again. He paid us no mind as first as he went number one and two and basically ate breakfast. He eventually turned and looked straight at us, assessing us and we didn’t want him to get upset so we slowly drove away and left him in peace. The other vehicle was long gone by this point as they couldn’t see him from where they had stopped.

The roads were well maintained since we were close to a major tourist attraction, twyfelfontein, but we were following our own path and turned to go down a rock path. Stones completely covered every inch of the ground and it took hours to get through. It was not a route that was travelled often and we had to stop occasionally to get out of the car to look for the track. Luckily Laura kept us going in the right direction and found the route easily.

We stopped for a coffee break, eat a late lunch and see how much further we had to go. We debated about camping again or driving the rest of the way into Kamanjab to see their friends Lars and Juanita. The prehistoric scary bugs came over and started eating the used coffee grounds and they loved them. I’m sure they had a caffeine high after we left. We were also able to find a lot of really cool stones with crystals inside and spent a long time searching the ground. Andrew broke lots of stones open for us by slamming them with a big rock. Most were duds but we found some pretty ones.

We eventually came to the major road crossing and saw signs of homes and electric pole lines as far as the eye could see. The road was terrific so we made up a lot of time and decided to drive into town.

I got to see glimpses of 3 giraffes but they were so quick and almost appeared to melt into the trees until I could see them anymore.

I am so glad that we decided to take the 4×4 car. The views and animal sightings have been so beautiful and away from the normal tourist attractions. It’s giving me so much to experience and soak in.

Franco is on my mind constantly and I miss him so much. I have so many ideas for the house and to decorate in a way that honors his memory without making it seem too much like a memorial that can’t be touched or disturbed