The Art of Making Chocolate…




Shawn Askinosie shares his passion for chocolate beans and the art of making chocolate
Photo credit: Barbie Perkins-Cooper, Editorial photojournalist

Shawn Askinosie, The Chocolate Maker of Springfield, is Raising the Bar for His Passion in Life as a ChocolatierDSC_0174

Stepping inside the aromatic setting of Askinosie Chocolate Factory tempts the taste buds of anyone who craves the tantalizing taste of chocolate. Located in a historical building built in 1894 in the commercial district of Springfield, Missouri, this chocolate factory makes chocolate artistry that snaps. Askinosie Chocolate Factory is the newfound passion of Shawn Askinosie, a former criminal attorney who chose to leave the hustle, bustle of the courtroom scene, for his newfound passion as a chocolatier. Discovering his passion for baking began a few years ago when he was searching to ease the stress of criminal law. He found therapeutic relief when baking cupcakes and pastries. Unbeknownst to former clients, his law degrees are now displayed in the men’s room of his factory while he pursues a passion he dreamed about and now lives, the love and euphoria of chocolate making.
As time progressed, he discovered he wanted to learn more about chocolate, especially the art of roasting cacao beans and the art of chocolate making. Researching his newfound passion, he chose to learn all he could about the chocolate industry. Traveling to meet with farmers in the Amazon rain forest, he found a new calling in life. Although the process of chocolate making is tedious, for Shawn tasting the raw beans in the pod, dealing with the farmers, and striving for the highest quality product he demands, Askinosie Chocolate Factory is raising the bar to a new standard for the artistry of chocolate making.
Changing his career to follow his dreams, Shawn Askinosie works diligently to create the best chocolate available, roasting chocolate beans, grinding and melting the chocolate until it meets his high standards. Askinosie is the first chocolate maker outside of Mexico to make chocolate. He travels internationally to Mexico, the Amazons, introducing himself to the farmers who grow chocolate trees. He has many farmers in each region and he shares the profits with the farmers.
He contributes an amazing percentage of the tour profits of Askinosie Chocolate Factory to cocoa educational programs, collaborating with universities. He is a wealth of information about chocolate, the history, and development, and the health benefits of dark chocolate.
Unlike the demands of criminal law, the artistry of making chocolate requires lots of time and patience. The process could best be described as intense and time-consuming, something Shawn is accustomed to practicing during his career as a lawyer. Cacao beans are stored in a climate-controlled environment. The beans are cleaned and roasted at a high temperature. The roasting process of cocoa is similar to the roasting procedure of coffee beans.
There are many steps to making chocolate and Shawn is proud that Askinosie Chocolate Factory performs all the steps to make the chocolate the proper consistency, gloss and snap. He wants to create the perfect, most delectable flavor he can to the chocolate beans and give them a creamy, smooth texture. There are many health benefits related to dark chocolate and the nibs have a nutty taste with anti-oxidants that are good for your health.
Tempering, a delicate procedure of melting the chocolate at just the right temperature, is one of the most difficult procedures. “If the temperature is one degree off, the batch of chocolate is ruined,” said Askinosie. “The art of making chocolate is a lot harder than baking cupcakes.” Askinosie Chocolate has a gloss and snap, one of the secret qualities of pure chocolate artistry.

Following His Passion:

Shawn Askinosie has lived an interesting life, including living in Japan for a while, and working with Vietnamese refugees. Reaching burn out from the demands of law, he felt blessed to find a new passion in baking and chocolate artistry. During school tours at Askinosie Chocolate Factory, he stresses the importance of education and goals to students, encouraging them to “Don’t do the same thing over and over in life. Follow your passion.”

Tours of Askinosie Chocolate Factory are held every Tuesday at 3pm. Excited to share his knowledge and expertise about the art of making chocolate, the factory shares 100% of money from the tours with partnerships with universities and cocoa educational programs.

After touring the immaculate factory, it is easy to understand why Shawn changed his lawyer suit threads for the passion he expresses so eloquently as a chocolatier. Believing in yourself, seeking your dreams and following your passion makes for a great recipe for success and happiness while enjoying the delicate taste of chocolate.


If You Go:
Visit Askinosie Chocolate Factory at 514 E. Commercial, Springfield, MO. Phone 417-862-9900. Visit the website: for additional information and to subscribe to the newsletter or order chocolates.

Barbie Perkins-Cooper is a travel writer, photojournalist specializing in hospitality, food and wine and photography. Residing in Charleston, South Carolina, Barbie is the author of “Career Diary of a Photographer,” and “Condition of Limbo.” In September 2007, she was chosen as an approved artist for literary arts with the SC Arts Commission Arts in Education Roster of Approved Artists.

Philip Simmons The Charleston Gatekeeper

A story I published in 2002 about the “Charleston Gatekeeper, Mr. Philip Simmons. Simmons was an amazing man to interview and meet. I still remember the passion held in his eyes. Now, we in the Charleston community remember him as a legacy. A tall, humble man with kind eyes and a pleasant voice. One of the most admirable characters I have ever met. Rest in peace, Philip Simmons!

Philip Simmons
The Charleston Gatekeeper
Hammering His Way into History


Barbie Perkins-Cooper

His eyes embrace a gentle, caring nature. When he speaks, his voice is soft and harmonious, demonstrating the pleasant, soft-spoken Southern gentleman named Philip Simmons, an internationally known blacksmith. Although he is almost 90 years old, he stands tall and upright, walking with a determined stride, passion dancing in his eyes.
Born on June 9, 1912 on Daniel Island, South Carolina, Simmons is truly an inspiration to others, a role model to the City of Charleston and the artistry he preserves.
He was just a small boy when he came to Charleston in 1920, with a gleam in his eyes, determination in his pace. Following the advice of his grandfather he moved from Daniel Island to Charleston to pursue his schooling.

Discovered His Passion

One day while walking in Charleston, he discovered a blacksmith shop. He entered the shop, watching the blacksmith while he worked. The blacksmith moved methodically hammering the iron into bits and pieces of works of art. Philip recognized he had discovered his life’s work. He told the blacksmith he wanted to learn the trade of a blacksmith, because he wanted a job. The blacksmith listened, encouraging the young lad to return when he was older.

When Simmons turned 13 in 1925, he returned to the blacksmith’s shop, working as an apprentice for Peter Simmons, a former slave, blacksmith, and mentor to Philip Simmons. Although not related, Peter Simmons saw something extraordinary in Philip Simmons and took him under his thumbs teaching Philip the artistry of blacksmithing.

Perceptive of the artistry of his protégé and friend, Peter Simmons, Philip Simmons strove to learn all that he could about iron working. He cleaned the shop, repaired items, and when the automobile era began, he found himself working on automobile metals, shaping iron objects into useful items for cars, and wagons. Continuing to expand his passion for his love of blacksmithing, in 1939 Simmons turned his infatuation with iron work into a lifetime career by repairing iron gates. Within a year or two he was making garden gates, stair banisters, balconies, and fences. Years later, Peter Simmons left him with a legacy and trade that would last Philip Simmons a lifetime.

Blacksmith Craftsmanship

The craftsmanship of a blacksmith dates back many centuries in history. Blacksmiths construct pieces of iron into objects by hammering the piece on an anvil. The metal is heated until it blazes with a burnt reddish shade of fire; then, the blacksmith welds the objects into shapes of his inspiration. The craftsmanship of a blacksmith can be a long, detailed process; nevertheless for Philip Simmons, the skill of blacksmithing is more than a job, or obligation. Blacksmithing is a part of his character, revealing the heart and soul of his personality. Working with irons, metals, hammers, tools, and fires reveals a visual portrait of the man he is. Excitement burns in his eyes, while his tall, lean muscular stature exemplifies the strapping sense of pride he has about the art form.

Simmons scribbles the inspiration for his designs on pieces of paper, or anything he can get his hands on when the ideas occur. Much of Simmons work reflects nature, because “I love to be outdoors,” he says with a grin. “Sometimes I look outside and see a bird, a leaf, a fish, or something close to nature, and I draw it on paper. I just love nature.”

Simmons Became a Family Man

During the 1930’s, Simmons lost his wife at a young age, leaving him with three small children. Fortunately, he found the strength to raise the children. “I didn’t find it too difficult. I had the good Lord watching over us, and I had two grown sisters who helped me with the children, chores, and myself.”

Living in a time of his life when most senior citizens are enjoying retirement, Simmons is still active at his shop. “I keep the shop open for the tourists, tour busses that drop by and for my cousin, Joseph Pringle,” he said. “Sometimes I go to teach blacksmithing with the South Carolina Blacksmith Association. Just a few weeks ago I went to Columbia to teach a class. I keep the shop open, and in some sense, I am still active. I no longer do the hard work of blacksmithing, but I do most of the drawings myself.”

International Fame

Philip Simmons is internationally known for his blacksmith talents. Charleston residents, the Historic Charleston Foundation, and South Carolina State Museum, located in Columbia are only a few of the commissioned ornamental works by Philip Simmons. In 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Simmons the National Heritage Fellowship. In 1994 he was recognized by the State of South Carolina, inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame in Myrtle Beach, SC. The Smithsonian Museum has some of his work, along with an ornamental gazebo located at Charleston International Airport. In 1996, Simmons created a wrought iron gate for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Years back I did not do anything to distinguish my signature, but later, I used a stamp, putting my name and signature on the pieces,” he whispers.

Deeply religious, Simmons takes little credit for his accomplishments, preferring to give all the recognition to “the Lord, customers, and the children.”

Simmons is still active in the City of Charleston. “I’m a member of the YMCA, Boys Club and active in my church. I like being involved with kids, and I do all I can to provide deserving students a chance.”

Simmons lives on the East side of Charleston because he wants to preserve the site and his shop for future generations. “This place has four generations of blacksmiths here, starting with Peter Simmons, Guy Simmons, myself, and my cousin, Joseph Pringle. I hope this site is preserved. I lived a long time here,” he said with a smile.

When tourists arrive to see his shop and samples of his ornamental iron art work, he welcomes them. “They just want to meet a man who still does blacksmith work. They probably heard about me somewhere and just want to see the blacksmith shop.”

Walking in his shop, works of iron are remembrances of earlier times in America. “Some old ways were the best ways,” he grins. “I’ve been blessed by the good Lord,” he says, “So, I provide deserving kids a chance by teaching them how to blacksmith and to help them get an education. I tell them to work hard. I talk to the kids, deserving kids, and I do all I can to help them. When they come by to thank me, I am rewarded. Almost every day some kid will stop by to thank me for what I did, and that is my reward.”

Although Philip Simmons is a bit modest, stating that all he wanted to pursue in blacksmithing was a job; now, he has become an icon to the City of Charleston and the history and preservation of blacksmith artistry.

“Sometimes the old methods still work. I have to give all the credit to the Lord. I had to work hard to please the customers, because if you don’t have customers, you don’t have work. And if you don’t have work, you don’t have food on the table. I built things on quality, not quantity, respecting others while I worked. I’ve been blessed, so I try to bless others.”
With a passionate twinkle in his eyes, Philip Simmons, his name, artistry, and his love for blacksmith creations will remain as a hallmark to all who admire the works of a blacksmith. Hammering his way to preserve the tools of a trade no longer in demand as it was in the past, Philip Simmons is honored to be the Charleston Gatekeeper.

Reminiscing on July 6 of Each Year…

Dearest Readers:

July 6 is always a day to remember for me. Why? Allow me to explain. During the stressful days of my dad’s terminal illness with esophageal cancer during December 1997 until his death on July 6, 1999, I have felt such a loss.

I’ve had people tell me I need to move on. “Get over it. Life goes on…” Etc. ETC! It isn’t easy! Tomorrow is July 6, 2014 – exactly 15 years since the death of my dad. I remember the day, as if it was yesterday. After a demanding day at work, I rushed to visit him, like I did every day. I spoke to the nursing home earlier in the day. “Dad was doing fine,” they replied. “Fine!?!” If he’s in a nursing home he isn’t fine. Yes, he was as well as could be expected; nevertheless, over the last six months of his life, I watched his body slowly shutting down. First it was the weakness from esophageal cancer. His inability to retain his food. His legs grew weaker and he fell – LOTS. Each time the nursing home reported the falls to me, like they are required. And each time, I prayed a sigh of relief. Just one more day. Please God, give us one more day.

In March, his heart grew weaker, and I realized the end was near. I stopped praying for a miracle. In my nightly prayers I prayed for God to find a special place for my dad, to use his talents, his voice, and yes – even his temper. Dad could be a tenacious man when he wanted to be!

During my daily visits after March, I noticed Dad no longer walked me to the door, to kiss me goodbye. He simply waved his hand as he closed his Holy Bible. No longer were the visits welcoming or fun. He appeared to be angry at me, always waving me away after about 10 minutes of our time together. His roommate told me Dad was mean to me. “You deserve better,” Dudley said. “He is so mean. He should appreciate you.”

I smiled at Dudley. “Don’t you understand,” I cried. “Dad is dying. He’s angry at life.”
Dad and Dudley were the odd couple of Sandpiper Convalescent Center. They teased and complained, always trying to compete with each other. For a while, Dad had the upper hand since Dudley’s body no longer moved and he remained in the bed, or a special wheelchair. Dudley had difficulty with speech too, but after visiting Dad so often, Dudley and I were able to communicate without a problem. After March, Dudley had the upper hand as we watched Dad sit on his bed, or remain in his bed most of the time. Gone were his daily strolls with his walker.

I suppose I was counting the days down, knowing my dad and I would not share another holiday together. No more birthday parties. No more Christmas trees, Thanksgiving and holiday dinners together. Tick. Tock…How I wish I could make this clock stop and save my dad.

On the moment of his death, I was walking in the corridor of Sandpiper Convalescent Center. A nurse I recognized approached, pushing an oxygen tank. I remember speaking with her, saying Uh, oh. That isn’t a welcoming sign for someone. She nodded, never saying a word to me.

I placed my hand on the door of Dudley and Dad’s room and so did the nurse. Quickly, she nodded, telling me not to come inside.

I screamed.

“Oh, Dear God, No. Please…please….Please God, NO!” I cried.

Someone grabbed me, walking me to a chair and I sat down. I knew. The clock was stopping. My dad way dying.

I heard a voice say, Barbie. We can bring him back.

“No,” I cried. “He’s a DNR. I must honor his wishes.”

Moments seemed like hours. At 6:15 a nurse approached me. “I’m so sorry. Do you want to say goodbye?”
Yes, I nodded.

I waited a few minutes for my husband to arrive and together, we walked in to Dad’s room. Dudley was eating dinner. I could not speak to him. I touched my Dad – his body as cold as ice. His skin clammy. His eyes closed. I kissed him. Told him I loved him and I would never forget him. “You’re still here, inside my heart,” I cried.

I have no idea what happened next. I was numb. Dumbfounded. How would I live without my Dad?
After his funeral, I joined a grief therapy session and learned to move forward. Still, as the day of July 6 of each year approaches, I feel an incredible emptiness. Grief. Heartache. I ask myself, will this pain ever leave?

I think not. July 6, 2014 is only hours away. I must keep myself busy, remembering my Dad, Walter W. Perkins, and the goodness inside of him. Yes, he had moments of temperamental ups and downs, but he was my dad. As a child, I always looked up to him. I held his hand. We sang. He taught me how to harmonize and he always reminded me to “Make this a good day.”

I ask you how? How do I make each day a good day without my dad?

When do we stop grieving over those we’ve loved and lost? When does the heartache end?

After my dad died, I felt like an orphan. I have learned to move on and to recognize that each day is a gift. I plan to have a serious heart-to-heart discussion with my dad in the morning while drinking my morning coffee. I will lift my head high, looking into the Heavens and speak softly to my Dad. Yes, I will probably cry, but now, the tears are good, cleansing tears because I have learned to move forward. To make the most of every day. July 6, 2014 is another day without my dad, but I am so thankful that I was there for him daily while he battled cancer. Yes, I miss you, Dad. I was blessed to share one more day.

Thank you, God for giving us one more day!

February 10, 2014 — The Sad Day When Shirley Temple Died…

Dearest Readers:

This morning I awoke to a sadness. The news alert on my cell phone read, “Shirley Temple is Dead At 85.” My heart broke.

I raced to my computer to read about Shirley Temple.

When I was a child, my mother cherished movies with Shirley Temple as the child star. The lovely golden curls. The beautiful dimples and that amazing child star smile. I was envious! My hair was straight. Yes, I have dimples and I have been told by many that I have a ‘beautiful, inviting smile.’ My mother spoke of Shirley Temple as if she was a saint. Occasionally, when a movie was on TV, I watched Shirley Temple, her acting, dancing and singing abilities. I wanted to be a Shirley Temple clone! I danced around the house, singing “Animal Crackers In My Soup,” and other songs.

My mother would laugh and point her finger in my direction. “You are NOT Shirley Temple,” she said. How I wanted to prove her wrong!

I lost my mother questionably in 2002. She was in a nursing home at the time, although I discovered later that she did not die in the nursing home. She was admitted to a hospital and no one contacted me until it was too late. When my sister’s son phoned me to tell me of her passing, the one question he repeated over and over again was:

“Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?”

I was sick on that date with acute bronchial asthma. The doctors prescribed Prednisone, a drug that truly makes me a zombie! The funeral was scheduled for early the next morning. If I had the time to rush to the funeral, I would not make it on time, and I was much too ill to drive. I did not make it to the funeral. When I recuperated, I told my doctor to never prescribe Prednisone to me. I have way too many side effects from it. One day when I was reminiscing about my mother, I remembered the question that echoed inside my mind…”Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?”

I’ve shared that story with several friends. They suggested there must be a reason why my nephew was so concerned. Over the years, that question still rings in my mind.

Today, I reminisce about Shirley Temple and the memories of her movies, singing and dancing rush inside my mind. Shirley Temple made my mother laugh. Something she rarely did. As a small child, I sang, “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” pretending to be Shirley Temple, but my dance moves and my smile did not make my mother smile or laugh. How I wish I could freeze her smile and her laughter and remember it for eternity, but — my mother did not smile often so those memories are gone.

Today, I honor Shirley Temple Black, still wishing I could sing and dance like she did. After my mother’s death, I saw a TV commercial about the Shirley Temple movies. The Little Darling movies could be ordered, just in time for Christmas.

How I wish I could order those movies and send them to my mother, but now she is gone. If I ordered them, the sad memories of my childhood would return. I don’t wish to remember those times…only the good times.

Perhaps now I will order those DVD’s — to remember Shirley Temple Black.

Today is a sad day for America. Shirley Temple Black grew up to become an ambassador, a woman to truly admire in a time where women were reportedly reared to ‘be a homemaker, wife and mother.’ Shirley Temple Black had a mission and a purpose. She was an amazingly talented child who became an impressive woman before her time.

How I wish I could turn the clock back, to bring my mother back so we could watch the DVD’s “Little Darling” so I could see my mother smile and laugh again…to watch the anger and bitterness she had until her death just disappear — at least for a moment. How I wish I could sing, “Animal Crackers In My Soup,” and pretend I had those adorable curls in my hair.

Rest in peace, Shirley Temple. Thank you for helping my mother to smile and laugh — just once!

“Animal Crackers in my soup…”

A Day of Self-Discovery

Today has been a day of self-discovery and adventure for me, starting with a walk with my dogs, working out on the treadmill, and writing again. For weeks, perhaps months, I have battled with self-doubt that I could ever write again. Yes, I’ve posted on my blog, but I kept allowing negative vibes to creep inside. Today is a different day. After writing a blog post, I recognized that the words were beginning to creep back inside me.

This led me to thinking — something I do lots of times. In my lifetime I have always been the type of personality to speak to strangers. Trust me…it drives my husband crazy. He simply cannot understand how I can see someone on the streets and say, ‘Hello,’ with a smile on my face. He’s told me many times that one day someone was going to take advantage of me because of my friendly personality. Oh well. It hasn’t changed me! Still, I speak to strangers everywhere…on the street corners…at the mall…while shopping at the grocery store, and other scenarios. Most people will nod, or say hello, but continue to move on.

Many years ago I took a trip with ten women. I was the youngest in the group. When we arrived in San Francisco, a man on the street corner ran me down. He tapped me on the shoulder. I spun around. “Hello, Sir. Can I help you?”

“I think I should warn you,” he said. He was dressed in a faded plaid shirt, tattered jeans, old shoes. “You should be careful who you speak to along the streets of San Francisco. Someone might hurt you. People don’t speak to you here.” 

I smiled. Shook his hand and thanked him. He walked away. Meanwhile, I continued to say hello to people along the busy streets. I was confident. Happy to be in San Francisco!

Crossing the street, I noticed an older woman. She reminded me of my grandmother, deceased many years prior. Dressed in a crinkled dress with gold buttons, her hair knotted into a bun, pearl earrings in her ears, I smiled at her and said, “Hello.”

She stopped. Smiled and I continued to walk along the sidewalk, headed to a drug store. I needed hair spray and a few toiletries. Little did I know the woman was following me. I reached for the door of the drug store. Holding the door for others to enter, the woman approached me.

“Hello,” she said. “You spoke to me! You said hello. No one ever speaks to me and I wanted to thank you.”

I smiled. “You’re welcome, Ma’am!”

“You must be from the South. People here…in San Francisco…we don’t talk and it’s nice to have someone just say hello to me.”

I invited her for a cup of coffee. “My treat,” I said.

Over coffee Ruth told me about her life. Her husband died years ago. Her children were grown. “They’re so busy with their lives they don’t have time for an old lady such as me.”

“You’re lonely,” I said, reaching to touch her hand.

“Yes, I suppose you could say so. I live downtown in a retirement village and no one speaks. No one.”

“I did,” I said. 

“You made my day, today. I’ve felt so alone that I wanted to die. I’ve been praying that God would take me because no one cared, and then, out of the blue…you spoke to me.”

Although my day had been planned, I chose to change my plans on that day. I walked Ruth back to her apartment and I hugged her when we parted. From time to time I’ve thought about her, but we did not keep in touch. I’ve never forgotten how touched she was that a complete stranger spoke to her at a time when she needed a friend.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons that I still speak, to total strangers. My dad taught me the habit, telling me that you never know when a simple hello can brighten someone’s day. Just like it did with Ruth! I lost my dad in 1999 after a brutal battle with cancer. Still, he is inside my heart and I fill his presence every day.

“Hello,” I say with a smile.

Today has been a day of self-discovery — a day I’ve actually found the words to write again after a long absence. Perhaps the walking helped me today, or maybe it was the discovery that life must continue, and we must make the efforts to enjoy every breath we are blessed to share with life and those we love. “Hello…How are you today?”


On Father’s Day

Good morning, Readers:

Another beautiful day filled with sunshine for Father’s Day 2013. This day is special to all who were close to dear ole Dad. As a child, I remember babysitting or cleaning, just to get a bit of money to buy my dad, and my papa, a Father’s Day gift. For both, I bought ties, since Papa wore ties to church on Sunday morning, and Dad wore ties to work nightly. Papa was a mill worker, a loom fixer at the dictatorial Bibb Manufacturing Company. Dad worked in the hotel industry as a night auditor. I respected both of them, striving to always please them.

Over the years, as I grew older, Papa became highly critical of me, refusing to accept that I was growing up, and as a teenager, I loved rock and roll music, singing, dancing, and wearing makeup. As for my dad, he encouraged me. Yes, he had a quick hand and would swat us when we misbehaved, but he encouraged me to sing and to ‘move forward with life…don’t look back.’ Those wise words taught me lots about life. I practice those words in my daily life whenever I make mistakes, or someone hurts me. I look for the sunshine in tomorrow, not the rain that has fallen around me in the past.

Papa died from Alzheimer’s Disease in the late 1980’s. The last time I saw him, he resided in a nursing home, strapped to a wheelchair, looking out the window at birds in the trees. Perhaps a metaphor for his younger days, when he was gentle and kind and loved to fish. On my last visit to see Papa, he did not know me. When I touched his shoulder to give him a hug, he screamed at me. He didn’t know me. I thought he had disowned me since he disapproved of me many years ago. Later, while working on research for a story about Alzheimer’s, I recognized the reality was, deep inside Papa’s eyes, he rejected me not because he did not love me…deep inside his brain, he didn’t know much of anything…His brain could not process that I was his granddaughter. Perhaps a hard thing to accept when we are young, rebellious and no longer the ‘apple of my grandfather’s eye.’ I’ve written about Papa many times. An award-winning screenplay titled, “Not My Papa,” is based on my grandfather’s life as a textile mill worker in Bibb City, Georgia.

My dad lost his torrential battle with esophageal cancer on July 6, 1999, while I was opening the door to his room in a nursing home. Losing my dad tore my heart out for a long time. I had difficulty understanding how the sun could set, and rise again the next morning when my dad could no longer see the sun setting. “How can life continue when I no longer have my dad…I’m an orphan without him.’

On Father’s Day, I take a moment to reflect on the significant men who helped guide me into the life I live today. My Dad…My overly-strict grandfather, and my husband. All of these men have guided me — sometimes with a controlling hand — leading me on the path to becoming the woman I am today.

I hope they are proud of me. For most of the time, my husband, Phil, says he is proud of me, although there are times I see his eyes rolling upward, as if to say, “There she goes again!”

Regardless – I would like to express how much I have cared for these men. As children, we watch the actions of our father, sometimes, they lead us to doing the same behaviors they performed on us. As wives, we watch our husbands, hopeful they are proud of us and will love us until the end of time.

Life is truly a challenge. We awaken daily, hopeful of ‘making this a good day…’ And so we live, without looking back…moving forward…making the most of each day. We hope for tomorrow, only to recognize that tomorrow might bring challenges, heartbreak, or disappointments, but we must remember to follow the words of advice our dads gave us as children. “Don’t look back on life…move forward…”

Today, I can hear my dad saying those words to me. I thank him for his wisdom and his love.

Happy Father’s Day to our Dads…and thank you for guiding us along this path of life.

There is a passage I say to myself almost daily. I suppose it is my anchor:

“Stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit…
It’s when things seem worse — you mustn’t quit!”

Happy, Happy Father’s Day!

Meeting Influential People Who Change Our Lives – A Toast

“People…People who need people are the luckiest people in the world…” and so goes the song recorded in September, 1964 by Barbra Streisand. That special song influenced me so much as I grew from childhood, recognizing that during my journey to adulthood I would meet  people…perhaps a person…one very special person…

“With one person – One very special person… A feeling deep in your soul…Says you are half now you’re whole…No more hunger and thirst…But first be a person who needs people
People, people who need people…are the luckiest people in the world…”

As a singer, I’ve rehearsed, and rehearsed to sing “People”, coming to the conclusion that no one sings it better than Barbra Streisand. Never have I sang “People” in public, but there are many times the song plays in my mind, especially when I think about the special people who are in my life.

I met such a person when I was blessed to meet Theresa Brousseau. A tall brunette, warm, inviting and engaging, Theresa Brousseau and I connected immediately during our first conversation. Engaged to one of her sons for a brief while, when I met her, she became my unofficial adopted mom. After our breakup, she kept in touch with me, sharing advice, guiding me along my way. Over the years, Theresa and I became close friends. Every year at Christmas, we exchanged Christmas cards and phone calls. Sometimes our phone conversations were lengthy, sharing bits and pieces of our lives, sharing stories about her son, his marriage, children, divorce and life.

During this time, I was married and when Theresa phoned, I let my husband know our conversations were not planned exchanges for us but phone conversations of two dear friends. In all reality, Theresa was more of a mother to me than my mother was. Instead of addressing Theresa by her name, she became “Mom Brousseau.”

After my marriage, I explained to my husband that Mom Brousseau was someone I wanted to keep in touch with; after all, she embraced me with love when she met me and she continued to share her love over the many years of our relationship.

Every Christmas our phone conversations shared stories of our lives. She was close to all of her grandchildren, and she was active in the Catholic church and the community of Nashua, New Hampshire. She shared stories of cold weather, especially the snow storms of New England. She asked me if I was happy with my life. Did my husband treat me well? How was my relationship with my mother? When she asked the last question, I became silent. Did I dare share my estranged relationship with my mother?

A few minutes into this conversation, Theresa listened to my tears. “It’s OK, dear. I know your mother was a hard woman to understand.,..”

“How did you know?”

“Remember when we met.”

My mind drifted back to that special Christmas…the Christmas I met my future-in-laws. I remembered the warm, tight hug Theresa gave me and how I laughed saying “I’ve never had a motherly hug like that…It felt good.”

Life has a way of changing our plans, along with our dreams, but Theresa and I kept our bonding tight. She was an amazing woman.

Three years ago it suddenly dawned on me that Theresa and I hadn’t spoken in a while. Her phone number was imbedded in my brain, so I dialed the number, only to reach a recording. Surfing on the Internet, I discovered her home was for sale. Although I attempted to locate her, I wasn’t successful until I checked the obituaries. Reading her obituary, I realized she had passed away in a Hospice. How I hope and pray she was not alone at the Hospice.

Last night, I dreamed about Theresa again. Tears flow down my face as I think about her and how she influenced my life. Hungering for a mother’s love all of my childhood, Theresa was the one woman who reached out, hugged me and showed me in so many ways how much she cared. To say I miss her phone calls, her laughter, her words of “I love you, Dear,” all are an understatement. No, we were not related. I did not marry into her family, but we shared a bonding, a tight connection, from the moment we first spoke on the phone, on the day her son broke up with me, and future phone calls.

Theresa Brousseau was one of the most influential people to come into my life. For many years, I was blessed to know her. Now that she is gone, I truly miss her. Theresa, aka — Mom Brousseau, I miss you, your laughter, strength, encouragement and love so very much. If children could choose a parent, no doubt I would’ve chosen you. Rest in peace, while knowing you were a very special person in my life.

“With one person
One very special person
A feeling deep in your soul
Says you are half now you’re whole
No more hunger and thirst
But first be a person who needs people
People, people who need people…are the luckiest people in the world.”