Do you recall watching the movie, Backdraft? I watched it with my (career) firefighter-brother, Mike. We both cried at the end as Mike was touched with the brotherhood among firefighters. I became emotional because one of the firefighters died. I told him I could never imagine something like that happening to him.
Mike was an author, worldwide training specialist, and instructor in rope and confined space rescue. He was the alpha team leader for FEMA in charge of search and rescue at the Oklahoma City bombing, overnight lead on search and rescue at the World Trade Center September 11, 2001 and rescue worker following Hurricane Katrina. He had some stories to tell and we always wanted him to start a book about these experiences. I feel that many of the mental images, however were too painful to bring up again and write about.
Having served over 30 years as a firefighter than battalion chief in Virginia Beach, he didn’t die in active duty. In fact, he had retired 10 years prior to his death. He died July 27, 2020. My brother – Michael Gordon Brown, was my hero.
Mike was three years younger than me and six year younger than my older sister, Sherry. We grew up in one of those 1950-60’s homes where the dad worked, mom was at home cleaning and cooking until we were of high school age. We owned one car. We played Kick-the-Can until dark and the neighborhood mothers all used different whistles to call us home.
In high school, Mike was a police dispatcher and served on the volunteer fire and rescue squad in Blacksburg. He pretty much blew off college weighing in at about a 0.0 his freshman year. This was much to my father’s dismay as Dad was a university administrator at Virginia Tech. His love was fire and rescue. Dad along with the rest of the family were ever so proud when he graduated at the top of his fire school training class in Virginia Beach.
Mike was a social kind of guy and just fun to be with. His booming voice and massive presence would fill a room. He was my little brother; but he was bigger than life to me!
Mike saved so many people throughout his lifetime. And he could have died in the line of duty time and again. But he didn’t. We were gifted with his presence for 63 years. When he died, Mike tripped and fell at home. It was later deemed a stroke, but it was apparent, it was his time to go.
Mike had retired to Little River in Floyd County, Virginia with his wife Lisa and dog Ax. When we spoke on the phone, he would tell me “Ax” stories. He told me how Ax just looks at him as if he understood him and related how Ax was the “smartest dog” he had ever had. He had an idea that he wanted to write a children’s book featuring Ax. Since I had written a few children’s books, he asked me how to start. He identified Fire Safety as the topic. I told him to start conceptualizing the book and I would come take photos of Ax to use within the book. The day we visited Mike and Lisa to take photos was the last day I saw him alive. He gave me a big bear hug, as always, but this time, he lingered… comforting me. The reason we were there was an escape from our day-to-day reality. We were in mourning (as he was), after the death of my daughter 20 days prior. He and Lisa put together a little picnic lunch, and we drove his ATV down by the river to let Ax play while I took pictures for his book.
His death was a complete shock for all of us. We held a memorial service (during a pandemic) and honored his life with friends, firefighters, and family in attendance at his home, outside by the river. Ax was there too.*
Following his death, Sherry (my sister), and I were determined to complete Mike’s book. He had already entitled the book, “Oh Snap! It’s Ax!” Indeed, we completed the ABCs of fire safety children’s book. It is available on Amazon.
We are the final phases of having it translated into Spanish. I give credit to my long-time friend, Julia de Atiles for helping us understand that first of all an ABC book doesn’t translate word for word alphabetically. Ax, for example, in Spanish is Hatcha. Watch for the Spanish version entitled, “Oh Snap! es Ax!” We feel this is a great book for families, schools, and fire departments. It and can be used to highlight safety during fire safety week October 3-9, 2021.
We honored Michael following his death by completing a book. Of course, I would far rather have him still here with us but have so many proud memories of my brother, my hero. Who is your hero?
To honor Michael, a scholarship fund has been established to help train future firefighters. Contributions may be sent to the fire training academy scholarship fund that is being established in Michael‘s name. Checks may be made to: Fraternal Order of Virginia Beach Fire Chiefs, address is P.O. Box 56151, Virginia Beach, VA 23456-1151. Note the contribution is for the Michael G. Brown scholarship fund.
* Ax now lives with Mike’s son Garrett and enjoys life with Mike’s grand daughters pictured here.
A storm is coming! It may snow overnight! Did you hear the weather report? And if so, did you buy bread, milk and eggs? What’s everyone going to make with these items? This trio is always on the winter storm shopping list. Are you perhaps making, French Toast?!
How do you prepare for a storm and what do you do on a cold wintery day? We build a great fire and sip hot coffee or tea. We read, watch movies, and maybe do a little crafting or cooking! But make French Toast, probably not! We will wait and bake that for you when you visit!
Luckily our chickens have started laying again so we don’t have to pick up any eggs.
Isn’t it interesting, however that bread, eggs and milk are those staples that get us through a storm? We can certainly do a lot with eggs such as baking, frying, or even making a cake. And milk is certainly a wholesome ingredient. As for bread; always a staple. There is nothing is more essential on a cold day than a toasted cheese sandwich!
With a cold wintry day in mind, we are sharing a few favorite recipes with bread, eggs, and milk in mind. And yes, you can substitute gluten free bread or almond milk to any of these!
From our house to yours, stay warm and enjoy.
Layer these two ingredients in pan:
8 slices of bread (cubed)
8 oz. Cream cheese (cube)
Mix and pour over top:
2 c. milk
1/3 c. syrup
Let sit overnight
Bake 375 degrees 45 min., 9×13 casserole dish
6-8 slices cubed bread – arrange in 9 x 13 glass pan
1 lb. Sausage – brown, drain and sprinkle over bread
½ c. shredded Swiss cheese
4 slightly beaten eggs
1 ¼ c. milk
1 t. prepared mustard
1 ½ c. sharp cheddar cheese grated
¾ c. light cream or canned milk or half n half
1 c. mushrooms
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
Brown sausage, drain and put over bread, spread cheeses and mushrooms. Combine mustard with milk add cream, eggs and seasonings and pour over dish. Refrigerate overnight. Bake 350 degrees 35-40 min. 9 servings
Using a blender, blend in this order on high for 30 seconds. Scrape side and blend 20 more seconds.
2 T. melted butter
1 1/3 c. milk
1 c. plain flour (or GF Flour)
½ t. salt
1 T. sugar
Refrigerate batter or use immediately.
Pour ¼ cup batter in medium warm slightly greased 8-10 inch skillet. Tilt skillet to a thin batter coverage. When light brown, turn to cook other side. Makes 12-16. Fill with jelly of sweetened fruit. Roll up. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar or top with whipped cream. Serve with syrup.
Almond Cream Crepe filling
Blend with electric mixer.
1 16 oz. cream cheese
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. almond extract
2 c. sour cream
1 (5 oz can of evaporated milk
1 t. ground dry mustard
1-2 t. salt, pepper to taste
1 c. grated cheddar cheese
Bunch of Cilantro
325 degrees. Spray cooking spray on a 9X 13 pan. Sprinkle cheese in bottom of pan. Beat rest together. Pour over cheese. Bake 40 min until firm. Cut into squares.
2 T. water
4 oz. Shaved smoked ham, chopped
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese (divided)
About 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
Preheat oven 350. Beat eggs and water with wire whisk in a medium bowl. Stir in ham, ½ of the cheese and 1 T. cilantro. Pour into greased 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 30 min or until puffed and golden grown. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro.
If you follow the Bedford Landings blog, you have been seeing teasers about a new art piece to be added to the water feature area in the yard. Thanksgiving day, our family gathered to reveal and dedicate the sculpture designed to be in memory of Karen’s daughter, Whitney, who died this past June, 2020.
The artist Larry Betchel from Blacksburg, VA, entitled the piece, STRENGTH, FALLEN, SOARS.
The sculpture is abstract encompassing the Chinese symbol of strength, which Whitney had tattooed on her shoulder. The complementary tendrils reach towards the heavens and drape to the ground. Some days when it rains, the raindrops will flow into Marthy’s creek which was designed for and named after Whitney’s Grandmother (died 2014). The sculpture was conceptualized to represent Whitney’s fierce strength and determined movement. At some angles, it looks like a bird in flight while others days, a dancer, or a scarf in the wind.
There is a purple accent jewel which honors her beloved husband Quentin (nicknamed Purple) and represents her favorite color and her birthstone. Glassblower, Tim Burke, from Floyd, Virginia (Crenshaw Lighting) blew this teardrop-shaped piece particularly for the sculpture. Incorporated in the glass are some of Whitney’s ashes. The glass will reflect the light during different seasons of the year.
Jack designed and constructed the base. It is a Scottish cairn (a tower of rocks). Cairns often mark a grave. The old Scots Gaelic blessing ‘Cuiridh mi clach air do chàrn’ or ‘I’ll put a stone on your cairn’ is said to mean ‘I’ll always remember you’ and ‘you will not be forgotten.’ Each family member added a stone to the base.
We apologize to our readers that we have (therapeutically) been such an open book about our losses this year. Hopefully we can bring some closure as we share a few other important celebrations.
Our friend and artist, Nancy Rae Brown (previously of Smith Mountain Lake and now living in Wilmington, NC), completed a beautiful colored pencil drawing of our sweet Bella who died in October. The sketch of Bella (lower) now join Kramer (upper) on our walls. She did an amazing job capturing her sweet personality!
Fire Chief, Michael G. Brown of Virginia Beach, Virginia was my (Karen’s) brother. Along with my sister (Sheridan Brown), we edited and completed a book Mike had started featuring his standard poodle, Ax as the storyteller. The book teaches about fire safety using the ABC’s. Designed for 5-12 year old children, the book has pages where children can “fill in the blanks” and gives at least 26 safety rules to learn. This book was presented to each family member and we read it together Thanksgiving night. The book is available on Amazon.
It is entitled “Oh Snap, It’s Ax!” Perhaps this would make a good gift!!
Our home becomes your home (all except use of the kitchen and my room!) when you stay at Bedford Landings B & B. So please visit so we might share more with you.
We wish you a happy holiday season! Wear your mask, stay safe and above all, remember to love each other NOW!
I am thankful for my amazing, smart husband that has been lovingly building a (Scottish) cairn. Many times, a cairn marks a grave, the old Scots Gaelic blessing ‘Cuiridh mi clach air do chàrn’ or ‘I’ll put a stone on your cairn’ is said to mean ‘I’ll always remember you’ and ‘you will not be forgotten’.
In my last blog I alluded to the fact that there is a new structure coming to Bedford Landings B & B. This cairn will serve as the base for a sculpture to memorialize my daughter, Whitney, who died this summer.
Jack poured a footer, then poured a concrete column to stack the rock around. Among the skills we had building our B & B, laying stone was not among them, so we had to learn how to adhere a rounded rock to a flat surface. It has been a little frustrating as the rock was falling off and we tried product after product. But I think Jack’s patience paid off and it is almost complete. The braces are to hold the rock until the 24-hour curing process has passed before removing the braces.
The sculpture is near complete thanks to the artistic oversight of sculptor, Larry Bechtel. It is in Floyd, Virginia, awaiting the final step. The sculpture is an (polished steel) abstract but will have a “jewel” affixed to it. The “jewel” is a piece of blown glass that has incorporated some of Whitney’s ashes into the design. Tim Burke, is the glass blower in the Glassworks shop at Crenshaw Lighting in Floyd, Virginia. Pictured is the hot molten glass that he is working on. If all goes according to plan, we are anticipating picking it up by Tuesday to mount on the cairn.
We are hoping that on Thanksgiving we can give thanks to the light that Whitney brought into our lives for 35 years. And then give thanks for each other in our family.
Each year, we take a family photo but this year a few important family members will be missing.
This Thanksgiving take some time out of the busyness of kitchen. Sit with your adult child and look at them. Listen to them. Love them and appreciate what they have brought to your life.
We expect four adult children (Katie, Garrett, Shawn and Quentin – we will be missing Jennifer, Alex, Tony, and Megan) coming to share their partners (Ashley, Tianna, and Chris) and seven children with us. Risky during a pandemic? Yes! But we are all promising to have been cautious the past month and to be cautious while together. I want them to each know what joys they are to each other and to us. We will miss our Whitney, our Michael, our Eloise, and even our sweet Bella. But look who is still here! Look around you! Who do you appreciate? Give Thanks.
We are planning a new addition to Bedford Landings that I am anticipating our guests will enjoy and hoping it will bring my family good vibes and a sense of peace. We are working on it but not ready for the big reveal yet. I am going to share with you some of the process so you can anticipate along with me.
My daughter, Whitney died 138 days ago now. I blogged about it earlier in the summer. Her death was followed by three other deaths; my younger brother Michael, Jack’s remarkable mother, Eloise, and our friendly dog, Bella. While coming to terms with each of these losses, we have pondered over how to memorialize and honor them.
Eloise was laid to rest in Jackson, TN during a beautiful ceremony where she was buried next to Jack’s father. Her headstone marks the eternal place where we can visit and remember her. My bother was honored by the City of Virginia Beach that established a scholarship fund for firefighters in training named the Michael G. Brown scholarship fund. Also, later in the month, I will announce how my sister and I are honoring my brother in another way. Michael was cremated.
Whitney was also cremated. With a cremation, there is no place for her family to “visit” her gravesite. That is why we decided to memorialize her with a sculpture in the “Marthy’s Creek” area of our yard. If you have stayed with us at Bedford Landings, you may have enjoyed the sound of water (or singing frogs),or enjoyed roasting marshmallows to make S’mores at the firepit by Marthy’s Creek. We built the firepit a year after my mom died (who suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease). After the creek was installed, Destiny (Whitney’s daughter) came to visit. AT the time, she was about 11 years old. When she visited us and she sat pensively by the creek, as if saying goodbye to (great) Grandmommy. It is indeed a special place. This will be the site for Whitney’s sculpture.
I interviewed three different artists who proposed designs before selecting Larry Bechtel from Blacksburg, VA. Being a native of Blacksburg, I was already a fan. But having him understand my great sadness combined with wanting to honor her memory endeared me to both he and his wife. One Sunday afternoon, they drove over from Blacksburg to speak to me and learn about Whitney. Certainly, no artist could ever replicate her beautiful face, so we settled on an abstract design. I wanted the piece to represent her strength, her determination, her fire, and to show movement. Larry has entitled the piece he is creating, “Strength, Fallen, Soars.”
One aspect became the inspiration for the art. When Whitney was a Senior in high school she was heading to the car with her date to attend the Senior Prom. It was then that I discovered that she had gotten a tattoo on her left shoulder; a Chinese symbol of strength. Angered that she had done so without mama’s permission, but happy that she looked so beautiful all dressed up for the prom, I wasn’t going to scold her there in the front yard. That symbol, continued to define her, however. It is this symbol that was the inspiration for the piece. It is anticipated that the sculpture will be in place by the end of the month. That is why I wanted to give an introduction so I can then share subsequent developments as they unfold.
I want to thank my dear friends from Michigan who contributed to this project. Thank you Krista, Jan, Diana, Carole, Mary, and Libbie.
I also want to thank my ever-supportive husband, Jack who is helping to build the base upon which the sculpture will be mounted. He has cut steel and welded the steel for the base plate. We have also ordered rock… but that is all I will reveal at this time. Stay tuned as this piece of art comes together.