An Unexpected Loss

I was planning to share a simple recipe for my next blog post.  I certainly NEVER expected I would be writing about the death of one of my best friends.  Sometimes you are prepared.  You know it is coming, like with my mom just a few months ago.  It doesn’t make it easier to deal with, just less shocking.

Becky was only 47, the same age I turned just 6 days ago.  How can she be gone?

What makes it even harder for me is that she was with me when it happened.  Before I get to that, let me tell you about my friend.

I met Becky back in kindergarten. I moved around A LOT as a kid. My childhood wasn’t exactly typical, but that is another post for another time. I got so used to moving that I stopped trying to make friends at some point because it hurt less when we moved away.  This was before the internet and cell phones and all the wonderful ways people have now to keep in touch.  So when I moved away in 2nd grade we lost touch.  I moved back to that school district in 9th grade and we connected again.  Looking back now I can’t believe we even remembered each other.  But we did and started making new memories.  Friday night football games, 16th birthday parties, sleepovers, concerts, Tigers games at Tiger Stadium.  We spent a lot of time together.

She headed off to college after high school, and I married my high school sweetheart.  We fell out of touch again (still before the internet).  I was busy being a wife and then a mother a few years later and Becky was taking classes and having fun going out to all of the places a young mom wasn’t able to.  But after she graduated and moved back home she started coming around again.  While I loved hearing her stories about hanging out at bars and clubs and all the fun things normal 22 years old girls do, she seemed to enjoy sharing my “boring” stories of being a stay at home wife and mother.  She was thrilled when I got pregnant with my second daughter, this time she was around for the whole thing.  We had a standing weekly date for dinner at my house where she would read to my girls, get down on the floor and play with them.  They loved their Aunt Becky.  She took them to festivals, libraries and parks.  When my husband and I would go away for a weekend she would help watch them.  We saw each other all the time in those days because we lived so close to each other and she had yet to start her own family.

That changed though when she met Jim.  A good looking guy with a motorcycle and a badge.  She was smitten and would talk about him all-the-time.  She brought him around, letting me know ahead of time that she was watching to see how he acted with the girls, her “practice babies” as she liked to call them.  He must have passed the test because it wasn’t too long before they were married.  I flew off to Vegas for the wedding as her maid of honor.  She was the happiest I had ever seen her.  She wanted kids right away and unfortunately it didn’t happen for her as quickly or as easily as she wanted.  I was scared to tell her when I got pregnant with our third child.  I was worried she would hate me. And while it may have been hard for her at first, she was right there for me the whole time.  She treated Jack just like she did my girls, like one of her own.  She did end up having her first a few years later and I was there with her for it.  A beautiful girl she named Elizabeth. She loved being a mom and the kids and I would visit often.

Then I moved an hour away and we weren’t able to see each other as often anymore.  But by this time thanks to internet and cell phones we did keep in touch.  We would occasionally go away for much needed weekends, just the two of us.  Mackinac Island, Lake Michigan, Frankenmuth, etc.  I treasured those weekends.  I was lucky enough to be with her the night her twins were born as well.  I drove down in a snow storm because I wasn’t going to miss it.  Abigail and Evelyn came into this world and Becky’s family was complete.  As my kids were getting older and starting to get involved in activities and Becky’s kids were so young, we weren’t able to get together with the whole families that often.  She and I would sneak out for dinner and movies.  She, Jim and the girls would come out for our big summer parties.  Our friends circle grew bigger and there were weddings, baby showers, Tupperware parties, birthday parties and of course our girls weekends.  Typically 6-10 of us would get together once or twice a year at different locations for a weekend of games, drinks, laughs, food and a lot of fun.

Becky had a huge heart and it showed in everything she did.  She made it to almost every community theater play my family was part of.  She came to baseball games, school concerts, birthday parties, all 3 of my kids graduations.  She cried along with me when we watched my daughter try on wedding dresses and again when she walked down the aisle. She was also VERY involved in the Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk.  I did it with her twice, once a walker and once as crew.  I have no idea how she did it year after year. She was a walking beast!  And when she wasn’t walking she was supporting her fellow 3 day Friends.  Her focus turned more to helping with her daughters activities in recent years, as tends to happen with active kids. Girl Scouts, music lessons, track.  But she always made time for her friends.

And that leads me to last weekend.  We now live 3 hours away from the core group of my friends.  As those of you that have read my blog from the beginning know, when our youngest graduated we moved north to a sweet little lake town that we fell in love with a few years ago, East Tawas.  We have a small place in the heart of downtown that we absolutely love.  And we love to share it with our friends.  So I put together a girls weekend right here.  Where better for a fun summer weekend than a beach town?

Everyone got here Friday afternoon in good spirits. Becky had picked up some sand pails, candy and pretty bottles of water in anticipation of going to the beach. We had a great dinner, walked out to the state dock and took some group pictures.  On the way back Becky stopped for a blue slushee that turned her tongue bright blue and she was amused by that for the next hour. We played some games, had some drinks and stayed up til about 1:30 talking.

Saturday morning Becky wasn’t feeling great when she woke up.  Not sure if it was the wine coolers, not enough sleep, standing up too fast or “old age”.  She opted to stay back while they rest of us went hiking and exploring.  That was not that unusual. Often during a girls weekend one of us had a headache, cramps, stomach problems and stayed back to nap or relax.  She seemed better that afternoon and we hung out for a few hours.  She again opted to skip dinner out with us in favor of leftovers, a book and maybe a nap.  She was good when we got home and was chatting away til 2am.

Sunday was a gorgeous day.  Our plan was to clean up, do a little shopping in town and the relax and just hang out that day.  It was a quiet morning. I was cleaning and getting the house back in order, the rest of the gang was having breakfast, talking and starting to pack.  Carolyn and I had decided to check out a few stores and were down the block when we got the call from Michelle that Becky had gone into the bathroom and said something was wrong.  She was breathing hard and panicked.  She hadn’t taken her anxiety medication the day before and we wondered if that had anything to do with it. She had also mentioned feeling like she had a panic attack earlier in the week. I could hear on the phone the debate about calling 911.  Becky didn’t think she could walk down to the car but went back and forth about needing to call 911.  We overruled her and called anyway. From that point things happened quickly. The paramedics arrived and worked on getting her to control her breathing and let them take her to the ambulance. Meanwhile the 4 of us are deciding who is going to follow her to the hospital. Barb had already called her Becky’s husband so he knew what was going on.  We decided Michelle and Barb would follow the ambulance while Carolyn and I stayed back and got Becky’s stuff together. We figured it would take a few hours for them to run tests and get Becky’s breathing slowed down to a point where they would release her and by then Jim would be here to drive her home.  I wanted to have her things ready for him.  At this point we were all worried but not thinking the worst.  About 10 minutes later Michelle called saying that the Dr said her heart had stopped and they didn’t think she was going to make it.  Carolyn and I were thinking that can’t be Becky they are talking about !!  We were at the hospital 5 minutes later and within a few minutes the doctor came and broke the news.  Her heart had stopped and despite all their efforts they couldn’t save her.  He suspected she had a blood clot that had moved to her heart.

We were all in shock.  How can this woman whom I have known since I was 5 years old be gone?  What the hell just happened? The 4 of us went back to say our goodbyes but all I could do was cry. We sat in the family room for 2 hours trying to make sense of what was happening.  We made the horrible phone calls to let people know what had happened.  Eventually my friends had to head back home. Chad and I met Jim, their daughters and her mom at the hospital that evening when they drove up. That was one of the hardest moments of my life. Her mom hugged me so tight. And her husband thanked me for being there for her.  I had no idea what to say.  All I could think was….was this my fault?  Should I have realized something bigger was going on?  I felt so responsible. It was MY idea to have this girls weekend.  She should have spend her last 2 days at home with her family, not with me.  Was this really happening ?!?!

It’s been 3 days and I am still asking myself those questions.  Monday I was mostly comatose. I cried on and off all day and didn’t leave the house.  Tuesday I managed to shower and make it to the grocery store.  Today I am hoping to maybe get out for a walk. Becky’s husband and wonderful sister in law have been keeping me involved in making the arrangements and I am trying to help where I can. It’s not enough though. I keep replaying the weekend over and over again in my mind and playing the “what if” game.

I  get sick to my stomach when I think about the fact that she won’t be there for her own kids graduations and weddings. She won’t get to be a grandma. That she won’t be there to celebrate the big 5-0 in a few years with our friends group, that she won’t be there on the next girls weekend.

I have been through loss and dealt with grief.  But I was not prepared for this. I don’t know how to process everything I am feeling.  I love you and will miss you always Rebecca Ann Halley Starks.


From Great Lake to Great Lake

This weekend we did our first coast to coast trip to visit our daughter and her husband.  We are on Lake Huron and they are nearly 4 hours away on Lake Michigan.  I was excited to find a good route and see a part of the state we rarely see.  We stayed off freeways as much as possible and utilized smaller roads. As a result we didn’t hit any traffic issues until we were nearly there.  We also got to take in some beautiful scenery!

We took 55 all the way to Lake City and then 131 down to Grand Rapids.  The skies were incredible and we saw storms coming in from different directions over the farmlands and fields.  You would look one way and see clear skies and then turn your head to lightning in the distance.  I’ve never seen so many different storm systems.

There were some scary lightning strikes and we did have to pull over once to let the heavy rain pass.  Our plan was to get to the hotel, have dinner at our favorite restaurant in Holland and then take in a Lake Michigan sunset.  The forecast was not looking promising but I didn’t give up hope.  I have lived in this state my whole life and know by now that forecasts can change and not to cancel any plans because of weather!

Our daughter and her husband met us for dinner. While we waited for our table we walked around in the park under the shelter of umbrellas and crashed someone’s pavilion party.  It was pouring.  But still I watched the doppler and pointed out a brief break in the clouds that may just be big enough for a nice sunset.  The valet thought I was crazy as I pointed to a sliver of sky that may be getting lighter as we were both were getting wet in the rain.  My daughter decided to go home after dinner because she figured it would be a bust.

My always patient husband was willing to humor me though and we headed to the beach. I knew the sand would be wet but I wanted to get my legs wet anyway.  I also knew that the prettiest sunsets often happen after the darkest storms.  The sky cleared just for us and we were rewarded with an amazing sunset!  We walked along the shore and held hands as the sun set and the warm water washed over us, feeling very grateful for the show mother nature provided for us.

On Sunday we played tourist around town and stopped to visit the new Wizard of Oz display in Centennial Park.  We had ordered a memorial brick in my moms name and this was the first time we were able to see it.  She really loved Holland, as did her mom so we thought this project was just the right fit. I also have memories of watching that movie as a kid every year when it came on TV  My sisters and I would spread out our sleeping bags and my mom would make popcorn.  It’s one of my favorite childhood traditions.

The drive home was much faster thanks to clear skies and on the way home as Chad was napping and I was driving through the rolling hills I thought about how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful state.  We can watch the sunrise over Lake Huron anytime we want and only a short drive away a sunset awaits.  Our kids are all off on their own, but at least they are in the same state and I know I can get in the car and be there within a few hours.  I have a lot to be thankful for.

What are you waiting for ?

I have a sweet little Mustang GT convertible that I only get to drive 6 months a year, thanks to our salty Michigan winter roads. For the past month I’ve only driven around town, mostly to the grocery store and back. Because we live in town, most days I don’t even get in my car at all. So…I’ve been itching for a road trip. Top down, music up, driving over 25! As Chad commutes so much during the week, the last thing I want to do is ask him to take a road trip on the weekend.

So I asked a friend to drive up to Alpena (about an hour away) with me for lunch on Monday. She was excited about it but then ended up having to work. So then Katie (my oldest daughter) was going to go with me on Tuesday, but SHE ended up having to work. So then I was faced with a dilemma. Do I wait for a time when someone can go with me, or head out on my own. I honestly went back and forth all day Monday, not sure what I wanted to do. I woke up Tuesday morning still undecided. Until I opened up Facebook and saw this:

It was a sign! So I put on some sunscreen, grabbed a water bottle and my camera and headed out with the idea that I would head North to Alpena and stop along the way at whatever interested me. I stopped at the Au Sable Harbor at the mouth of the river in Oscoda and walked out to the end of the pier. I talked to a nice fisherman who was only too happy to share his knowledge of the dredging boat, which was totally unfamiliar to me. He showed me the little “islands” that had formed where the sand had been been pumped out from the river. The seagulls seemed to be very grateful. He also said he has been coming out to that same area to fish since the 1950’s. He offered me his extra pole but I regretfully said I needed to be on my way.

Next up was the old air force base, also in Oscoda. I am really glad to see that most of the buildings and open spaces are being utilized instead of just falling into disrepair. I also got to get up close to an airplane graveyard!

I passed through Greenbush and Harrisville and stopped at the state park and harbor. While at the harbor, I met an older gentleman and his dog, Buddy. Buddy was a yellow lab mix and seemed to love riding around in the back of their old pick up truck. I stopped to pet him because he looked so darn excited to see me walking by. As I pulled out I saw him and his “dad” heading to the dog area to play some catch.

It is a beautiful drive between Harrisville and Alpena. Very little traffic, interesting scenery. Lots of people out on motorcycles.

Alpena itself is a nice town. The biggest one north of Bay City on this coastline. I walked around town a bit, had lunch and even saw some of my Tawas Bay friends. After lunch I headed over to the marina because you know my favorite place is by the water!

As I was debating whether or not I wanted to walk all the way to the end of this pier after having already done quite a bit of walking, I saw an older lady with a cane making her way back from the end. I figured it she could do it then I had no business being lazy! I stopped to chat with her about halfway down. Turns out she used to walk this almost every day with her husband and he passed away 2 years ago. She doesn’t come everyday anymore…but she comes as often as she is able. And she goes all the way to the end and sits on “their” bench and watches the boats come in and out of the harbor. It reminded me of my husband and I, and the benches in our town that are our favorite ones to sit on and take in the scenery.

After taking a lot of pictures, talking to some really nice people and having been in the sun for a few hours, I was ready to head back home. But there was just one more thing I had to take a picture of on my way back. I have no idea WHY it is there, but the why isn’t important. I was just glad it was because it made for a cool picture.

My takeaway from today is this; Don’t put things off! Go for the drive, play catch with your dog, go out to your favorite fishing spot. Walk all the way to the end of the pier. Don’t stay home and wish you had gone. Make the most of the time we are given and live everyday to the fullest!

River Road National Scenic Byway

This beautiful, 22 mile long road along the AuSable River is a short 15 minute drive from my house.  You can pick it up in downtown Oscoda at US-23 and take it West until it merges with M-65 and ends near Rollaway Road. M-65 continues past that point but the official “scenic byway” ends there. There are many places to stop and admire the scenic vistas, have a picnic lunch, go for a hike, camp, check out the dams located long the river or even go on a riverboat cruise.  There are black bear, deer, fox, porcupines and a variety of other wildlife to try to spot.  *It can be hard to get cell phone reception so keep that in mind when you visit. It helps to take screen shots of anything off your phone you may need before you go.

Use this link for further information about the history of the route, upcoming events and a map:  River Road Scenic Byway

I have visited in every season and I love them all. The following are my own personal favorite stops:

Foote Pond Overlook provides a spectacular
view from the high sand bluffs overlooking Foote
Pond. Visitors may see eagles that nest nearby.
The overlook has a paved access road and
parking and barrier-free access to a wood deck.
The access road and parking lot are too tight for
buses or motor homes to negotiate.


Lumberman’s Monument

Lumberman’s Monument Visitor Center interprets the area’s colorful lumbering past. The 14-foot Lumberman’s Monument stands on a high bank with the Au Sable River providing a scenic backdrop.

Learn about the industry that helped develop northern Michigan and the men who cut the timber that helped build a nation. Climb through a log jam, use a peavey, cut a wooden cookie with a cross-cut saw, and learn about the life of a lumberjack through video and displays. Hike the stairway down to the wanigan, a loggers floating kitchen, or take the short trail to the dune observation deck.

Picnic tables, bathrooms, visitor information, vending machine and small gift shop are available.


Canoer’s Memorial

Canoer’s Memorial was erected to honor canoers who have participated in the Au Sable River Canoe Race held each year. The Au Sable River Canoe Marathon was the idea of two men, Harold Brubaker and Frank Davis. They conceived the idea in 1947 as an aid to tourism. The first race took place in Sept. of 1947 in canoes made of wood and canvas. There were 46 teams entered, 15 teams finishing the race. Allen Carr and Delbert Case of Grayling finished first with a time of 21 hours and 40 minutes.

There is a spectacular panoramic view of Cooke Dam Pond.

For more on the annual race click here: Canoe Marathon

Iargo Springs

Iargo Springs offers a breathtaking view of the AuSable River Valley from a observation deck 300 feet above the river. For the adventurous, walk down 294 steps and enter a mystical place where springs come together and form cold water streams. Walk along the elevated boardwalk and enjoy the serenity. There is an observation deck, displays and at the top for those who do not wish to do the stairs.  There are also picnic tables and restrooms.


So pick a nice day, pack your camera, a lunch and some comfortable shoes and find your own personal favorite spots along this beautiful route!