Saturday, December 29, 2012

Coincidence? Maybe not.

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, 
some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”  
Hebrews 13:2

A week before Christmas I was having tea with my friend Monica.  We were warming ourselves in front of a fire when the doorbell rang.  It was mid-day.  The girls were playing upstairs lost in a world of Playmobile.  I was not expecting anyone.  
Parked across the street was a pick up truck, and standing in front of me was a man, asking if I would like him to work on our yard.  It was not hard to tell why he picked our yard.  We never did a fall clean up.  Dried leaves lined our fence and gathered at the bottom of our stairs. Our holly bush had one lone branch stretching towards the gutter.  Our lilac was unruly and overgrown.  It was not that we did not want to fix up the yard, but with Greg traveling and working extra long hours, our weekend time became extra precious.  Spending half a day doing yard work simply was not a priority.  
I asked him to wait a moment while I ran inside to gather my thoughts.  Should I ask him to do the work?  It would be a great gift to Greg.  Should I trust this stranger?  After a few moments of talking with Monica I decided that yes, I should.  She helped me communicate what would be done and a fair price since Spanish is her primary language. Coincidence?  Maybe.  I happened to have cash on hand, left over from the money we took out in preparation for Hurricane Sandy.  I never have cash on hand.  Coincidence?  Maybe.
In two short hours, my yard was cleaned of all leaves, the lilac, holly and boxwoods were trimmed, and the bags lined my driveway.  Greg noticed as soon as he pulled in from work at 9:00pm.  It was an early Christmas gift. He was very pleased not only with how great our yard looked, but that he did not have to do it this year!  I have Guillermo’s card tucked away for the spring time, when another clean up will be needed.
This is an ordinary story, but the part of this story that I have told to just one other person (who happened to almost drop the phone laughing -- at me.....) was that I felt compelled to let this stranger who knocked upon my door looking for work in.  In my heart I felt a parallel to Joseph knocking on the doors looking for shelter and being turned away until he finally found refuge in a manger.  I could not turn this man away.  Not a week before Christmas.  Not when I felt compelled to trust.  Coincidence?  Maybe......but maybe not.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Every Day

This is one of our favorite Christmas songs, written by Smokey Robinson (Christmas Everyday lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group).  
He was born so far away
So the story's told
We remember Christmas day
When winter days grow cold

With the time it passes by
We put away the trim
Then we live and wonder why
We can't remember Him

The Christmas star shines once a year
And then it fades away
Keep the spirit in your heart
It's Christmas everyday

It's not the bells and it's not the snow
And it's not the gifts we get
But He was born so long ago
It's easy to forget

Peace on earth, goodwill to men
But men can't go alone
We get lost along the way
But He can bring us home

Remember Him throughout the year
Without the star above
He left us all a Christmas gift
He left the gift of love

The Christmas star shines once a year
And then it fades away
Keep the spirit in your heart
And it's Christmas everyday

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cookie Day, a tradition continues...

When my girls are grown and moving out on their own to explore their own destinies, I wonder what my home will be like when the responsibility of major holidays shifts from my mother, to me.  What will be the staple meals that the girls ask for when they bring a boyfriend home for dinner or when they call and say they are homesick at college and want to come home for the weekend.

Of course this is making major assumptions, a) my girls will stay close to home as they mature and b) they will WANT to come home.  My family never strayed too far from home.  We move as a pack.  I live only 2 miles from my parents, my sister is about 30 minutes and my brother about 45 min away from home base.  This geographical closeness has allowed certain traditions, like Sunday dinner at my parent’s, to continue for years.  While we may not meet up every week, we can count on at least one or two dinners a month.  I don’t have to rely on Facebook or Instagram to watch my nieces and nephews grow, they grow and mature in front of me, where I can appreciate every stage they go through alongside my own girls.  

This Christmas I have come to realize that my girls are no longer the little towheads that would come waddling down the stairs in their footed sleeper pjs dragging a blanket and their favorite stuffed animals eager to see what Santa brought.  Now they leap out of bed, pound the stairs in a rush to see the gifts and open their stockings.   They now help build the fire and stir the hot cocoa.  In true spirit of not only Christmas but of sisterhood, their favorite gifts are usually not those left under the tree, but those that they give each other.  It does my heart proud each and every year.

I look back on the memories my family has made over the years, and there have been many.  So many that they fill countless scrapbooks and photo albums that line my bookshelves.  Our family history.  The good, the bad and the funny.  Every holiday we add new chapter to the story.  This Christmas has been filled with love and laughter.  From the baking to the music to the movies and the books.  We have taken time to slow down and appreciate the love we share.  

Now it is time to celebrate.  The last few moments before the celebration.  The anticipation.  The joyous festivities.  I know that I look on with love and admiration at these young people racing towards adulthood, finding their footing along the way.  I am so proud to share their journey.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fashion Design

The green shirt and red skirt were designed and produced by LSSN Designs!
Lilah has been developing a new interest - fashion design.  Discarded designs litter her bedroom floor.  A brand name and logo have been created.  Lilah is desperate for a dress form made from duct tape and pvc piping, and that is on our to-do list along with a much needed trip to Joanne's for fabric! 
I remember when I wanted a career in fashion.  I thought it would be fabulous to travel to the world’s fashions capitals and buy fabulous clothes from fabulous designers for fabulous stores.  I took art lessons and Italian lessons (so I could speak fluently while traveling to Milan).  In my dreams I would have attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.  
The reality was that I choose to study International Business in order to have a broader understanding of how business works and have more options available to me, than if I had a degree in something specialized like Merchandising.  I learned that a foreign language is not easy to learn if you do not have the opportunity to immerse yourself in it.  My interests and passions changes, as they often do, and I ended up moving away from my dreams of fashion. But once upon a time I was a girl with a dream.
Once upon a time, I remember my father telling me it was wise to choose a career based on a specific skill set.  Mechanics will always be marketable so long as there are cars on the roads.  Accountants can earn a decent income doing tax returns for those of us who have very complicated returns.  Computer technicians, hair stylists, plumbers, electricians.  Given the state of our economy and the fears that it may not dramatically improve any time soon, having a skill is a wise choice.  
When Grace shows an interest in computer programming and Lilah in being a seamstress, I want to pursue these interests.  Sure Grace may have her heart set on Meteorology (which can be a skill i.e. forensic meteorology) but perhaps she may also be a certified electrician on the side.  Lilah may want to be a baker but with sewing skills she can make aprons, table cloths, napkins and truly develop a brand.  If she continues to develop her writing, she can be a freelance writer, a novelist, a professional blogger, a technical writer.  The possibilities are endless.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Art Journaling: A Prayerful Offering

There is healing in the process of doing something that you love and turning it into a gift for others.  Our church is close to St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown.  The Religious Ed Director of that church has come to ours several times to speak to our parents and offer us new ways of thinking about raising our children in our faith.  A few years ago I was lucky enough to be in attendance and I heard words that changed my way of parenting, and actually my way of living.

The director challenged us parents to bring God into our children's’ lives.  They will not see him unless we point him out day after day, miracle after miracle, small moment after small moment.  He is with us in the warm embrace we give one another before we turn off the light and say goodnight.  He is with us when we share a meal with someone in need.  He is with us when we honor those we love.  He is with us when we need him, and he is with us when we think we don’t.  
We are living in a world that is blocking out our God.  He has been taken out of schools and any public institution.  He has been marginalized by the mainstream media.  Our faith is continually under attack by the liberal agenda that is trying to force Catholics to provide funding for things that are unconscionable to those of our faith.  “Christmas” has been turned into “holiday” and the fact that Jesus is the reason for the season is all but forgotten if you visit a mall or massive chain store.  
When there is tragedy, when there is pain on a scale that is so massive it bears a crushing weight upon us, we ask “where is God?”.  We ask for prayers.  We ask for peace.  God has not turned his back on us.  Our task is great.  Our problems may seem us.  I remember that in this time, our God is greater.  There is no task to large for him to handle.  If we believe, and if we have faith, we will see that light burning brightly, it will lead the way through darkness.  
Our church has been collecting prayers to give to St. Rose of Lima Church.  They have asked the parishioners to offer something, a prayer, a mass, a rosary, a fast, in the name of those who are grieving, who are hurting, who are suffering. Our family offered prayer, as well as a special Mass Monday night in which Grace volunteered to alter serve.  She was hoping it would not be like the All Soul’s Day Mass where she stoically lit the candle for families who were openly weeping for their loved ones who have been called back home.  This mass was not like that.  It was not sad although there were tears.  I need for my girls to know that they can find peace and healing and comfort and community through Church, through our faith, through our God.  
I used this opportunity to create an art journal page that would serve as the card in which to share our family’s offerings.   The page is simple and childlike. To the painting, I added the name of the victims.  I then searched through my Catholic Newspaper for words that pertained to our faith.  A thick coat of Modge Podge sealed the words and some decorative beading.  A trip to Staples resulted in a beautiful color copy to which our prayer cards were attached.  This small tribute was laid at our alter during this memorial Mass.  It will be shared with the residents of Newtown.  It may or may not bring a smile or express our family’s condolences.  I hope it does.  However, it brought me and my family peace and in some small way, healing.  

The hurt remains.  The tears still flow.  I choose to look for the light to lead me through this time of pain.  I know that God’s candle is eternal.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sandy Hook

On September 11, 2001 Grace was just three two days shy of her first birthday as she and I played in our family room and the phone rang.  It was my Mother, who was working on the West Side of Manhattan listening to reports that something was happening, while watching smoke rise above the skyline from the south facing windows of her building.  At that very moment I wanted to gather my loved ones close.  I waited hours and hours, pacing until I knew that she and my brother were out of harm's way.  I could not understand why Greg’s boss would not close the doors and tell the staff to go home and be with the ones they loved.  How could someone work as our world was seemingly falling apart? As long as I had them an arm’s length away, I could let out the sigh of relief knowing that they were safe, alive, and able to come home to my waiting embrace. 

Friday I had that same feeling, the same need to gather and protect.  My girls were with me, shielded from the events that were transpiring 20 miles away, in an elementary school, in a sleepy Connecticut town.  When it was time to tell them, we gathered together in the living room, and together we prayed the Hail Mary aloud.  This is my go-to prayer, the one I need to get me through the trials and tribulations of my life.  It brings me comfort every time.  The families in Newtown needed comfort.  I needed comfort.  Our county, state and nation needed comfort.
Once again I felt that need to gather ‘round.  To pull together. To have my loved ones be literally an arm's length away. I needed to be with my family and block out the pain that my community is feeling right now.  My brother came up from New York with his family. 

My sister came with hers.  

We met at my parent's house and we watched our children play.  The littlest is too young to understand any of this, and the oldest is almost too old to let himself be hugged.  Yet the feeling was palpable, at any moment we could look at our children and be reminded that far too many families are grieving during this Christmas season.  Then the tears flow, and the heart aches, and we seek comfort in community, in family, and in faith.
In faith I find my peace.  In God’s house I find comfort.  In the words of our Priest, I find solace.  I know that there is darkness is this world.  I also know that there is light.  This weekend brought me light.  There was light in the shining faces of the children who performed the annual Christmas Pageant and dedicated it to Sandy Hook.  

There is light in sharing your talents to bring others joy.  

There is light when people gather in a church at a special Mass to commemorate the souls of 26 people who no longer walk upon this earth but now reside in the afterlife, a place I call heaven, where there is no pain, and there is the promise of a joyful reunification when the time is right.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas at Rockefeller Plaza

Sometimes I worry that I am not a “fun” Mom.  I want to be.  I want to love board games, Black Friday shopping and New York at Christmas but part of me just does not like these things.  The older I get, the less I want to be around throngs of people.  I much prefer a quiet night at home, with a good book or movie, the dogs cuddled on my lap, and my girls warming themselves by the fire.  However, this makes me a dull Mom.

Yesterday, we caught a 3:00 train, and rather than spending the night watching Little House, we had the chance to relive what I honestly thought would be a one in a lifetime event, Greg’s holiday party at Rockefeller Center in New York.  Last year I told the girls to soak up every detail of that magical night.  That night will live on in my memory as one of my favorite family moments of all time.

Last night we made some new family memories.  One happened as we were walking along 5th Ave. A older gentleman stopped an NYPD officer to ask him where Gimbals is located.  The officer half laughed and told them gentleman that Gimbals closed.  After the man walked away, the officer's partner laughed and added "like 40 years ago!"  Ah...the magic of Elf. My girls laughed and wished that Gimbals were open so they could go visit and even this dull Mama would brave the lines to see Santa there!

I am grateful to Greg’s company for the generosity they showed their employees and their families last night.  They sure know how to throw a party complete with Santa pictures, DJ, game center, catering and yes...the skating!  

Renting out the rink at Rockefeller is such a treat that no matter if it is a sequel or a third installment in a series, there is nothing quite like stepping out onto that empty rink in the middle of one of the world’s biggest cities, that like Greg’s company, sure knows how to put on a party.  
Your eyes are drawn upwards to the fountain and the magnificent tree.  The flags blow in the steady breeze that puts a rosy glow on your cheeks, and the lights twinkle from every possible surface.  Saks did the most amazing light display on the entire side of the building that faces 5th Ave.  I wish I had videoed it, but from my vantage point the buses partially blocked the view.

This person had the perfect spot across the street 
to film the show that runs every 7 minutes.

The magic of this display is that as you are skating on the rink, you can look down the corridor of buildings leading out to 5th Ave, and you can watch the skating portion of this light display as you are in fact, skating.  Brilliant!  I marvel at creative minds that put these windows and displays together.

Speaking of windows, Greg’s friend (we call him G) was given the opportunity to design and construct a window for The Today Show.  This guy is great.  He has the world’s most beautiful office, which he gave my girls a tour of a few years ago.  He gave them an art lesson on his chalkboard covered wall.  He took the time to read Lilah’s Lovely Doll Story which was based on her dolls’ (which are only sold at Greg’s store) adventure when they were left behind in New Haven.  It was a treat for us to watch him on The Today Show as his window was unveiled.  Greg popped over and saw it live but again, I am not a “fun” Mom, and so we watched from the comfort of our living room.

I made a promise to Grace that I would take her to a taping of The Today Show so she can see one of her favorite meteorologists, Al Roker at work.  Last night she asked again if I will someday fulfill this promise.  Yes.  Of course I will wake up at 3:00am to take the 4:30 train to arrive at 6:00 which will give us time to grab a coffee and rush to Rockefeller with enough time to get the best spot on the plaza!  That will totally earn me the title of "Fun Mom"! Just wait until it gets a bit warmer.....please?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Elder Berry Syrup

I am deeply afraid of the changes that 2013 will bring in our healthcare system.  I am in agreement with most people that health care costs are skyrocketing, hospitals are no longer efficient because they are being used for primary care purposes and the baby boomer generation is aging and along with that being treated for age related illnesses. There are not enough doctors choosing primary care to treat the population and our needs are increasing from preventable diseases such as type II diabetes.  It is a recipe for disaster.

However, I do not support a universal healthcare system that adds huge numbers of people into a system that do not pay into the system they are using.  I find it offensive that the governing body who passed this law without ever reading it in its entirety exempted themselves from it.  To quote Andrew Wilkow, “Socialism is for the people, not the Socialists.”  I truly believed that our Supreme Court would have found this unconstitutional.  Never before have Americans been mandated to purchase a product or face a penalty (or tax).  I was completely disheartened when this “obamanation” of a law was upheld.
I am already impacted by “Obamacare”.  My doctor is dropping United Healthcare as of April 1, 2013.  Greg and I need to find a new primary care doctor asap.  Thankfully we have our Naturopath whom I adore, but I feel the need to have a primary MD as well.  
In response to this alarming societal change, I am learning to care for my family as naturally as possible, and to rely on outside medical intervention only when medically necessary.  If my child has a cold, or a fever, sore throat or earache, I am going to treat her naturally.  Bug bites, skin rashes, itchy eyes all can be cured with a natural remedy.  Appendicitis, Lyme Disease, Strep Throat, for conditions such as these, of course we would seek intervention from our pediatrician or primary care provider.
To date I have taught myself how to make:

  • All natural organic deodorant
  • All natural organic skin care/eczema relief salve made with calendula oil that I infused
  • An acne spray of thyme infused vokda
  • Elderberry Syrup for immune support

Elderberry syrup is quite easy.  I purchased my dried organic berries from Frontier.  First they must be reconstituted with 2 cups of purefied or filtered water.

After soaking for 4 hours, the water must be squeezed out. I used my garlic press to do this.  It took a long time but I did not have cheesecloth to squeeze the juice through.  I combined the pressed juice with the water that the berries were reconstituted in.  

In a sauce pan over med-low heat, I added 1/2 cup honey (I used Trader Joe’s Organic Raw) and I sqeezed half a lemon into the juice.  Heat until the honey melts and the juice just begins to steam.  Cover and remove from heat.

When cool, store in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator.  Shake before using.  Check with your doctor before dosing, as this may interact with some medications and medical conditions.  My family will take one tablespoon per day throughout the winter to help ward off cough, colds and flu. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Another Year Over....

Taking the month of December “off” has been wonderful.  I know that back in July when it was hot and we were still plugging away at our core subjects, it felt like torture, but my intent was to finish up what we had let lag due to our insane DI schedule, and close out the year.  Our academic year began in September and since we dropped so many outside activities, we have been very focused on academics.  There is no reason why we can’t enjoy lots of downtime this month and focus on the holiday season.  
Work still happens.  Lilah is working diligently to finish up her cousin’s picture book which will be given as a Christmas present.  Grace decided that she too would like to give this gift.  Her story is complete and she will begin working on her book. Grace discovered that the Kindle app offers all kinds of classics for free and is on chapter 2 of Wizard of Oz.  Lilah and her friend have been designing and making clothes.  They have a brand name and logo!  They still have 2 chapters left of their science text and will have that completed before we begin Zoology 2 in January.  There have been incredible amounts of piano practice.  Just this week, the Sister at church added O Come O Come Emmanuel to Grace’s program for the Christmas Pageant.  This has her a bit stressed, but she is dedicated to mastering the songs.
I am holding onto this moment.  Our fall has been tumultuous in many ways.  Friendships have changed in both positive and negative ways. Activities have changed.  Interests have been discovered.  Projects have been expanded.  Life and learning are now so intertwined, that that in many ways I am sad to see this year pass by so quickly.  
I am hard pressed to look back on another year in my life when I learned so much about who I am and what my role is as a wife, a mother and an educator.  My daughters have had the opportunities to demonstrate their beliefs, their values and their integrity as young women.  It is a double edged sword that I get to see all this transpire.  I will never forget the day I hid in the bathroom in order to get a moment of privacy.  I called my mother and asked her how she raised two girls through the teen years with grace.  There are times when the emotional aspect of parenting is just so hard.  She laughed at me and reassured me that we would get through the moment and the sun would still be shining.  And we did.  And we are stronger because of that experience.
It is through Advent that we prepare our hearts and our homes for the celebration of Christmas.  The next three weeks will be spent in preparation to say goodbye to this year.  This year that brought such intense highs and lows.  This year that brought sickness and health.  This year that gave me reunions and tearful goodbyes.  This year that taught me so much about not only who I am, but also how strong our family is together.
The rest of this year will be spent snuggled with my girls reading on the couch, watching the final episodes of Little House season 2, baking, cooking, cleaning, wrapping, laughing, singing, adoring, loving, and....always learning.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A New Season

Basketball has begun.  A new season.  Two new teams since both girls aged up onto the 5/6th grade and the 7/8th grade team.  Same coach, thankfully.  I have mixed feelings about basketball this year.  Last year ended with a trip to the ER, a mild concussion, and a sprained neck.   The injury was not caused with malicious intent.  The girl that stopped Grace short, knocking the feet from under her, causing her to topple backwards quickly with no way of catching her fall, did not do this as an act of revenge, or poor sportsmanship.  She was part of the actions that led to my daughter’s injury because she had not been taught to play the game properly.  For that, I blame her coach and ultimately the recreational league on which my girls play.  

I walked away from last season shaken, and angry.  Neither the opposing team’s coach nor the girl involved ever came across the court to check of Grace, to offer apologies, to accept responsibility or at least to ask “are your okay?”.  That left a very bad taste in my mouth.  I wish my girls no longer wanted to play.  But they do.

This is not our first brush with injury.  Grace skated for years.  She fell many times, sometimes hard.  She snowboards and has sprained her wrists.  While skim boarding at the beach she damaged her Achilles tendon.  While playing basketball with our neighbor, she badly sprained her ankle.  Fooling around in her bedroom resulted in two staples in her head.  The staples came a day before an important skating practice.  She threw on a bike helmet and skated with her injury.  Nothing has ever held her back.  Well.....the sprained ankle held her back.  Crutches for three weeks is a bit of a deal breaker but she healed in time for basketball season of 2012.  
I don’t want to hold them back from sports.  I just want to hold them back from this league.  Our town does not have middle school sports.  We could look at joining another town’s rec league but that involves travel and practice times that conflict with our schedule.  Plus they love their coach and I have to admit, he is fair, honest, a great sport, and teaches the girls to play well.  I guess in any league there will be good coaches and bad ones.  I would rather stay with a good coach I know than risk leaving for a coach I don’t know.

It is going to be an interesting season.  There are things my girls have to work out.  Team dynamics are different and they must find their place on their new team.  The first practice was not great but I have a feeling it will get better once the jockeying for the position of team leader dies down.  It is fascinating to watch.  I don’t know this group of girls.  I do know from watching the team practice for just a short time who is the leader and that she is struggling to retain her position.  I know who the followers are.  I know who is most talented and who is jealous of that talent.  So many dynamics among 12 and 13 year old girls.  It is both fascinating and infuriating.  Just play the game.  This is not about popularity.  Leave that for the school hallways.  
I am not the right parent for this.  I believe in individual sports, where the accomplishment is earned based on a cause and effect relationship.  The amount of work in = the outcome.  Miss a landing on a toe-loop jump?  You are not going to score well.  Your outcome is not determined by the performance of someone else.  Team sports frustrate me because there are so many variables such as referee performance, coaching decisions, team dynamics, skill levels, etc.  I sit back and I watch and I keep my opinions to myself.  
I will shuttle the girls to and from practice.  I will run baths to soak their sore muscles.  I will hold my breath as they navigate their way through establishing themselves among a group of girls they don’t know.  I will look for the positives, what they learn, how they mature, how they grow with every practice, every game.  And when Grace jumps for that rebound, I will pray that she lands safely on two feet.

Don't You Just Stay Home All Day?

It’s funny because last night at youth group some of the kids friends were discussing homeschooling and really truly felt that we stay home...