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There is nothing like the love between a girl and her….town. Ha, bet you thought I was going to say her man or her dog or her shoe collection. But in my life, one of the greatest love affairs I have is with a town – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

I’m not actually sure when this grand affair began. Way back in the dark ages, my father the high school social studies teacher dragged us on a family vacation to the site of one of the great battles of the Civil War. Actually, over the years of family vacations, he dragged us to a LOT of battlefield sites. My family15871684_10209931371738987_7309570217601696129_n didn’t do theme parks and tropical beaches – we did museums and battlefields (the nerd life is genetic, what can I say?). I actually think we made several pilgrimages to Gettysburg when I was young, although the vague memories I have all sort of blend together into one montage of the electric map, the rocks at Devil’s Den, the campground shenanigans, and Pickett’s Buffet. Long ago, happy childhood moments that certainly didn’t comprehend the scope of the history and suffering that occurred in that little town. Happy childhood memories tucked away and forgotten…

Until, somehow, as an adult, I found my way back. About 6 years ago, I went for a quick and quiet camping weekend. And now I’m in love. In love with the amazing history and opportunities to learn and discover in the town’s museums, lectures, tours, and programs. In love with the kind and friendly people of Pennsylvania who are always ready with a smile and a truly welcoming feel to their town. In love with the hallowed ground where history literally lives in the soil and stories are just waiting to be told. In love with the unique fervor that surrounds Civil War history – only in this little town can you find ghost tours on every street, costumed reenactors waiting in line at the Dairy Queen on any given summer night, kids in kepis waging war on their siblings over the rocks in Devil’s Den, a life-size Lincoln replica shilling sodas on sale at the local grocery store, and large groups of tourists following the rangers like sheep on hikes through the fields of Picketts Charge under the blazing July sun. In love with the small-town feel of the community that somehow still manages to host a million visitors a year. In love with my favorite wineries, bakeries, cider houses, and boutiques where they literally know my name.  

I hope everyone out there reading this has somewhere in the world that they think of as their own special place. A haven, an escape, a place to find peace and comfort and joy. I hope you have somewhere that you love too. But, in case you don’t, please think about making a trek to my little town this summer…visit the military park and listen to the rangers paint the pictures of the men who fought and suffered there, listen to the nightly sound of taps ringing out through the national cemetery, explore the shops and restaurants on the streets around the town square, enjoy a horseback ride with me over the battlefield, visit the farmers market for fruits and veggies literally fresh off the farm. Join me and immerse yourself in history, good people, and amazing summer memories. Maybe you’ll just fall in love too…

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When I was a kid, summertime was by far the most exciting season of the year for me (behind Christmas, of course, even then I was sort of a holiday junkie). It wasn’t because I was off of school – I actually loved school even during those awkward middle and high school years. It wasn’t because of the warm summer-freedomweather either – heat and humidity suck when you grow up in upstate New York where most people didn’t have A/C 20 years ago. It wasn’t because of the ice cream trips that my parents would take us on – hot summer nights were defined by Perry’s ice cream flavors and that special family time. It wasn’t because of the carnivals and parades and special events that marked evenings and weekends – although I had the extreme honor of playing in the Alexander Firemen’s Band in my college years, a wonderful throwback to a bygone era of small town community icons. And it wasn’t because my birthday always marked the beginning of summer – although up until I was about 30 years old, it was awfully fun to celebrate my birthday.  It wasn’t because baseball season had rolled in – although there is nothing better than sitting in the bleachers of a ballpark with popcorn in hand and the crack of the bat ringing through the air. It wasn’t even because camping season had finally arrived – even though those Sprucelands days were the happiest times I’ve ever had, in the wide outdoors surrounded by horses and friends.

In hindsight, I think the reason summer was so wonderful was because it meant FREEDOM. The freedom from routine school days and regular mundane activities. The freedom from parental oversight, especially as I became older and went off to summer camps for the whole summer. Freedom from dark and dreary winter weather – try living in everlasting snow for one winter and see how you feel. Freedom from mean girls and social pressures in school. Freedom to enjoy the sunshine and green grass and fresh air. Freedom to be with my friends and to be myself. Freedom to spend entire days in the sunshine, teaching horses and kids how to be effective teams. Freedom to be silly and laugh and not be serious and studious and boring. Freedom to swim and read fun books and to lay in the grass stargazing with my friends.

I walked out of work the other night into a warm summer evening and, as I took a deep breath of humid Maryland air, I had a flash of that freedom once more. And though the summer is no longer defined by ice cream (damn lactose intolerance) and the fireman’s band (geography limits my piccolo time), summer is still freedom for me. I can still enjoy bright sunshine and camping out in the night air and grilled sweet corn and fresh-picked strawberries and priceless hours in the saddle. My life has changed so much yet I’m still so blessed to enjoy the FREEDOM of summer’s fresh air, frosty glasses of white wine, and friendship.

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At the annual banquet for my volunteer fire department last week, I was both honored and amazed to receive my 15-year service stripe. 2017 marked 15 years of volunteerism and endless learning about fire, rescue and EMS operations for me – but those years have also taught me lessons in brotherhood, loss, service, upheaval, fear, bravery, disenchantment, persistence, change, frustration, giving, and surviving.

Here is what I *thought* fire service would be: 9474973637_cb6f92dcc0_b

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is what I *hoped* fire service would be:  firefighters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is what the fire service really *is*: moe-larry-curly-fire-pole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that. But, seriously, to the men and women that I have had the honor of serving with for the last 15 years, thank you for all that you do. And thank you for letting me serve beside you.

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In the final scene of It’s A Wonderful Life, as George Bailey’s friends and family surround no-man-is-a-failure.jpghim, the strains of “Auld Lang Syne” are sung while George receives his final blessing from Clarence in the form of an inscription in the front of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This scene manages to make me cry every time despite the fact that I’ve seen the movie more times than I should admit – but it also reminds me every year to take a moment to be thankful for those friends that have walked my journey with me.

As the final hours of 2017 wind down, I can’t help but feel a wave of nostalgia for all of the amazing memories that I have made this year with the people that I love. I’m sad to see the old year go because it was a wonderful life:

  • I got to work side by side with both brother firemen and a veterinary medical staff that I admire tremendously. Our days can be challenging and stressful and difficult but how much easier they are with friends.
  • I spent countless hours in the saddle with my Gettysburg stable family and shared laughs over wheelbarrows of manure. That wonderful group of people and horses, along with my beloved camping weekends, kept me sane in a world of madness.
  • I shared wine dinners with one of my ‘sisters’ and finally got to catch up over Christmas cookies with my other ‘sister’. I have known these ladies for almost 20 years and what blessings they are to me!
  • I basked in the Mexican sunshine and toasted with tequila and zoomed in golf carts over foreign lands with our traveling buddies – Straight Outta Ingleside.
  • I shared laughs over simple lunches and shopping trips and pool time with some of my other “framily” and I enjoyed more moments with my mom and dad and brother this year than I have in many years – and it was wonderful.
  • We added a new 4-legged member to our family – ‘Pete Longstreet’ came into our lives as a rescue and we needed him as much as he needed us. And I made the choice to share the everyday ups and downs with a man who is also my best friend.

I treasured thousands of new moments with old friends and made new friends and newer memories while traveling this crazy path called my life. Old acquaintances and auld lang syne (“old times”), new moments and exciting adventures. 2017 was a wonderful year, may 2018 be even better…

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

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Christmas Eve is by far my favorite moment in the year, a time when my family has always gathered together to celebrate our faith and our traditions. Tonight is the blessed moment in my calendar year when I can reconnect to my beliefs, to celebrate that humble baby in the manger, to look forward to a wonderful New Year while looking back on the blessings of the past year.

It’s the moment when, at the end of our worship service, the candles are lit and the strains of “Silent Night” ring out through the church. Christian voices, young and old, candlelightaround the world are joining in song to invite the magic of Christmas into their lives. I sit in my pew in the silent night to quiet my mind, to allow God back in, to give myself peace, to allow His voice to be heard. That moment in time is so beautiful that I am usually brought to tears – sometimes in sadness for the things that have been lost, sometimes in hope that better things are coming, sometimes with a profound joy for the blessings in my life. I pray in that moment for quiet, for peace, for forgiveness, for happiness.

Merry Christmas to all of my Christian friends on this most sacred of nights. To all of my friends of other beliefs, I wish you a warm winter’s night with your families. And to ALL of my friends, near and far, may your night be filled with magic and peace and love.

“Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright.”

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For the annual Christmas parade in our town this year, I wore a ridiculous set of one-piece Union suit Grinch jammies and a goofy Who hairdo and rode the float with my work family. We laughed, we danced, we sang (badly), and we wished a “Merry Christmas” to anyone who’d listen. Every year, my work enters a themed float in the

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photo credit: Ted Mueller Photography

parade and we join in the Christmas spirit – but this year was particularly special for me – I discovered two wonderful things:

 

1)      Tapping into your inner child helps you find the Holiday Spirit. As adults, we get so buried in the stress of baking, buying, and bustling. We forget that this time of year is about magic and giving and smiles and laughs and family and wishing goodwill to our fellow human beings. But taking a moment to giggle and be goofy can reset your Christmas batteries and remind you about the pure JOY that should come with this time of year.

2)      I have finally reached the point in my life where I no longer care if others judge me for what I wear, what I look like, how I’m behaving or what I am doing with my life. I  have literally spent decades trying to fit in and conform and to please all people all the time. Hallelujah, I now find that maturity has caught up with me, that I am content enough to be my own person, to stand out and stand up, to be ok with being ‘odd’ or ‘nerdy’ or ‘frumpy’ – it doesn’t matter because I’m happy. Finally, after all of these years, I am comfortable enough in my own skin to just be myself — for the good, the bad, or the ridiculous!

So now, in the warm glow of my Christmas tree, I find the courage to admit the truth…I am on the downward slide in my life into being a Golden Girl. And I’m perfectly content with that. I am going to embrace the spirit of this holiday and celebrate this wonderful world we live in and find joy in those special moments in my life. And I hope all of you will do the same.

🎄🎄HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON FROM THIS CRAZY OLD LADY!!🎄🎄

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I have spent the better part of the last 2 years thinking that I am now permanently damaged goods. Besides the constant sense of bitterness and the fragile state of my already-heavily-damaged ego, I have questioned if these experiences have made me unfit for future human relationships. Forget about the male-female romantic type of relationships (of which I fear I am permanently unfit) but even just the simple human interactions. What happens if I am too screwed up to ever have a normal friendship again??

If you had asked me 10 years ago where I envisioned my life would be at this juncture, you can bet your sweet bippy that it never would have occurred to me that I would be more lost than I was at 18 – rootless and struggling with my faith, my self-esteem, and my future – I thought I had outgrown these sorts of emotions. So now I feel that I am too messed up, too crazy, too jaded, too broken – damaged goods.

So last night, in spending some time with my nearly-perfect friend (who will be known here only as “The B”) I discovered that I am not alone in the feeling of being ‘damaged.’ “The B”  is tall, gorgeous, outgoing, funny, intelligent and charismatic – and yet feels that she isn’t good enough. We actually spent quite a bit of the evening arguing over who is crazier, more angry, and/or more flawed. How is that a woman who is almost the perfect ideal of a female in current American society share the same sense of inadequacy that I have? “The B” is the kind of woman that I want to be when I grow up – how can SHE feel that she’s as crazy as I am?!

Is it a woman thing? Are we, as females, programmed to feel inadequate in some way at all times in our lives? I don’t think that’s exclusively the answer – although I DO believe that females specialize in feeling insecure and flawed. But I know many men who suffer from some of the same feelings that we have, especially the men who have been through shattering divorces or other life-altering events. These men are normal, everyday guys who have managed (just like “The B” and I) to get out of bed and face each new day. So, no, I don’t think it’s just ‘a woman thing’ – I actually think it’s more widespread than that.

My evening with “The B” has helped me to realize something very important – we are ALL damaged goods! There is not a single person, no matter how good it looks like they may have it in life, that is truly content with who they are. Maybe it’s trauma (emotional or physical) that has damaged someone, maybe it’s simply born in them – but we ALL feel that we have flaws. I am so glad to have company in the Damaged Goods area of the department store of life! Does it make me a bad person to rejoice in the company I keep?? I have truly wonderful friends that have helped me to realize that they too struggle with the damages in their lives – and if they can survive, so can I!

So, to”The B” I send the assurance that we are both crazier than hell, totally screwed up, and yet totally lovable!! And we are not alone – there are a lot of us that are Damaged Goods – and we should stand proud!

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