Friday, December 28, 2012


We have been relaxing the past few days.  Sitting in pajamas, playing games, enjoying the light of the tree.  I am savoring every moment of Christmas bliss.  We have created an insular world of joy and peace and it feels good.  I won't check emails, I won't think about work, I won't think about the countless tasks that I put off and planned to get done over the Christmas break.  They don't seem so significant now.  I won't think about sad.  We are cocooning. 

I remember after 9/11 having the same feeling.  My family had rented a house down the shore at the end of September, not knowing how much we would need it.  It was just before my brother's kidney transplant and we all needed to be together.  I remember feeling so safe and insulated against what had happened and what was to come.  Everything was happy there, the calm ocean, the quiet of a fall sun, and the lone squawk of seagulls no longer confused by the crowds of the beach, no longer drowned out by the sounds of the crowds.  We spent the days looking forward without the full knowledge of the pain that was to come.  It protected us and my brother too.  When I was little, my mother used to say, "Just think about happy things." I think she even said it when I was in labor with my second child. "Just think about happy things." She was the world's best doula.  I know she also said it to my brother on countless occassions.   And she created those "happy things" for us all the time that we could use to look back on and hold us through the painful times.   We all need those moments, those memories to carry us through.  Keep Calm and Carry On,  Keep a Hostful of Memories, and you will be able to Carry On.

In the midst of all this Christmas cocooning though, I did venture out - to BJs to pick up food I thought I needed.  Obviously I hadn't looked in the refrigerator, because we didn't need anything of anything.  I guess the habit I'd developed over the last month of planning, buying, and cooking dies hard and I bought way more than I should have.  We had to plug in the other refrigerator when I got home.  But in BJs my eye caught the cover of People, Shattered Lives, Broken Hearts.  I felt my stomach lurch when I began to think about that.  Then I quickly tried not to - think about it.  Scarlett O'Hara said it best, "I can't think about that right now.  I'll go crazy if I do.  I'll think about that tomorrow."  There is a lot of wisdom in her famous last words, and in my mother's too.   We learn that sometimes thinking about it, whatever it is, is just too much.  And thankfully we can put it off and think about Happy Things and think about it tomorrow. 

Now you may expect me to say that we do have to think about and embrace it and deal with it, but I'm not going to.  I really am not.  I am going to keep on living in my Christmas dream world until someone shakes me and says, "Look, it's over.  It's time to wake up.  You can't do this anymore. Christmas is over."  I'm not even going to clean the basement today or try to get a jump on my tax returns that I have to do or think about anything sad.  I'll  think about that tomorrow.  Today I am soaking in all the Christmas spirit that is still floating in the air around here. A quote I read, "Christmas spirit in the air comes from Christmas spirit in the heart."  The candles that are glowing with the scents of Christmas (Thank you, Aunt Barbara!)  The tree with a few added new ornaments to remind us of our adventures this year.  The kids walking around in new sweatshirts from Santa for the fourth day in a row.  The toys that clutter every living walking-sitting-eating space in the house.  The cards that I never really looked at when they arrived in the mail, so busy I was just trying to remember if I had sent the sender a card too.  Now they hang properly displayed on the garland in the archway.   As Annie just said, "I can't stop looking at these.  I just love looking at them all!"  That is part of the cocooning - the happy faces of people we love surrounding us and reminding us of all the wonderful friends we have.  My husband wrapped in his own new blanket.  Charlie hugging the red velvet pillow that says, JOY.  (And of course, the joyful sounds of brothers who are so happy with their Christmas gifts that they can't bear to share the toys!)  Then, there's my son the whistler.  As long as I hear that I know we're all good.   

That's what my brother used to say, "It's all good..."  in his surfer's drawl.  "Du-ude, it's all goo-ud!"  We all have our own language for it:  Scarlett said, "I'll think about that tomorrow."  My mother said, "Just think about happy things."  My brother, "It's all good." So I'm pretending it's all good and you know what, it's working.  So I'm saying, "Keep Calm and Christmas On!" 
Caption this picture

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Something We Can Do

Last week I was in two different Kindergarten classrooms during a Lockdown Drill.  It's always a little scary.  One student, after it was over, said, "I was so scared, and I was so brave."  I imagine the little ones in Newtown were very brave.  There are children who don't feel safe or brave right now. 

I love the idea of Ann Curry's to do 26 Acts of Kindness, and am trying my best, but if you want to one thing more, I would kindly suggest that you visit Donors Choose.  There are tons of teachers who are asking for some very basic supplies to make their classrooms more loving and nurturing learning environments.   You can see where your donation is going and what type of district it is. 

A teacher asked her kindergartners this week to write letters to Santa.  Their wishes are so simple, yet so complex.  "I wish my daddy would come home,"  "I wish my mommy would get a house so she would be happy." 

In memory of those in Newtown, and for all the children everywhere, we can do one thing more.


We Need a Little Christmas

I have heard/seen reports that Newtown is taking down their Christmas decorations.  I beg them not to do it.  Newtown, you are precisely who Christmas is for. 

Christmas is not just for the little children who believe in Santa Claus and presents and whose faces light up under the lights of the tree.  Christmas is for those who need to believe in hope and love and joy again.  Christmas is the greatest gift to grown-ups, the ones whose hearts are hurting the most.

I know some grief.  I know that it would be easy to curl up and not be around this Christmas.  It's not going to be easy when you are missing someone who has been there every Christmas and who has brought joy and light to every Christmas celebration.  (One year my brother was not supposed to be home for Christmas.  He created this elaborate plan to surprise my mother.  His friend came to the door on Christmas Eve and asked for Austin.  My mom told him, sorry, Austin was not coming home this year... and Austin popped out of the coat closet!)  It is not going to be easy to smile at every happy face and be gleeful when we raise our glasses.  We'll be remembering all the wonderful times that we shared and we'll be sad.  But we can be happy too.  We have to.   One of the mothers from Newtown said as much to her son who was in the class.  "It's ok to be sad, it's ok to be happy," she told him.   And that is it.  We are human and we celebrate all the emotions of the season, missing those we miss, celebrating with those we love right now.  I don't want to remember this as the Christmas we didn't have Christmas.  We need a little Christmas now!  more than ever.

I listen to the songs playing and I know we are not the first ones to feel this way.  Why else would they say things like, "Make merry".  "May your days be merry and bright."  Because there has always been war.  There has always been grieving.  There have always been heavy hearts and broken spirits and torn apart families and children who are gone from us and mothers who are dying and dads who have disappeared.  And these are the ones who most need Christmas.  "Let your heart be light".  It seems like we can't, but we can.  This is why Christmas came:  to bring us hope and joy.   For I've grown a little leaner, Grown a little colder, Grown a little sadder, Grown a little older, and with Newtown we have all grown a little more cynical. 
And here's a lyric I didn't know until I looked it up:  (Apparently the song, We need a little Christmas is from a musical, Mame)
Mame says:  live each living day. 
It's going to take some work this year, more than before.  It's going to take some effort to be joyful.  We are no longer naive and innocent because our spirits have been eroded by chaos and sadness.  But we are still here.  Our spirits can be lightened.  We have children and families who depend on us and who need us to be joyful and light.  And we can be.

So roll out the holly, put up the brightest string of lights I've ever seen... because we need a little dancing, need a little laughter, need a little singing, ringing in the rafters...

Why do we put candles in the window?  Lights on the tree?  Because there is darkness in our world and in our midst and we need to remind ourselves in a real way that there is hope.  It's a little source of light that helps heal our hearts.  We will find love again, we will find hope again, we will find our faith in humanity again.  Christmas is a Sustaining Ritual that gives our broken hearts some peace and consoles our spirits.  That is the true meaning of it all.  The truest meaning of Christmas.  Christmas returns us to love.

 So now for the hauling-out-the-holly part.  sigh...  I'm sharing my mantle. 

The Mantle.  It's always such a big deal.  Garland?  Lights?  Stockings?  Holly?  What else?  Candles?  Angels?

In our family room I'm going simple.  I used these old candle wreaths as wreaths on either side of the old Warren Kimble painting my husband gave me on one of our first Christmases together.  (a little peace...)

I bought the candle sticks in Jackson Hole at a cool antique store on our trip this summer.  (feeling better already...)  I don't want to put them in the attic for Christmas. 

I like the caramel candles and the way they are melted just so.  :)   The lights were up from Annie's birthday and I don't feel like trying to add green garland. 

The joy and peace are old craft show finds.  (joy and peace, joy and peace

This burlap ribbon is about $10 a yard at Pottery Barn, but you can find it for $.79 a yard (yes that's right, the decimal goes there!) at JoAnn.  It's called chair webbing and it only comes in this color. And if you use a 50% coupon, well, Merry Christmas to me!!  I bought twenty yards.  Not joking.  (smile) Maybe that was a little crazy.  I don't know where I'll use it all.
I made big bows because this stuff is made to be used on a chair and hold like 250 pounds and so it is super thick and hard to bend, but it does.   I hung my "decorative balls" from garden twine and so we have our mantle decorations.  
My inspiration came from a little garden store around here.
I snipped some holly from a neighbor and may add that to the ribbons.

I was browsing through Paper Source and saw these garland kits for $$$too much money and so we made some of our own.  I love gingerbread men!  They're so cute! And seasonless too.

The living room is not so simple.  I don't know why.  I think it needs more pine.  Or balls.  Or something.  I am most excited about the curtain rod which holds our stockings.  I think each year I end up with broken nails and broken finger nails trying to hammer in tacks that don't show and do damage on the mantle.  I found this idea on Pinterest and bought two (instead of six) stocking holders to anchor the rod.  What I really love is that it is so flexible.  The kids can take their stockings down, they can go to one side if we use the fireplace, and they hang so nicely.  The problem is the hanger fabric has also torn over the years and I'm ready to replace them.  Is it a crime to buy new stockings?  The kids have each had theirs since their first Christmas.  But I'm thinking we need more burlap around here and I'm not afraid to take out my sewing machine.  (I'm just too lazy to hang garland.)  Burlap or green velvet or something that ties in more with the other decor.  Am I sounding snobby, because I really don't mean to be.  You know, you just get tired of the same old sometimes.  So here are my options:
monogrammed stockings
Very stocking-y!  Christmas-y, traditional-y.  Might be a winner.

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Love the colors, the individualism, the warmth.  (And recycled?  From my dad's old shirts that my mom has been trying to get rid of?)
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Nah.  Let me be more emphatic:  NO!

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Basket instead of a tree-stand
green + white christmas. I like the letter labels for each stocking... Then you can change out the stockings when you're ready for new decor!

And the winner is...  No monogramming necessary but still individual, simple.  Generic.  Cute.  Timeless.
Tonight I'll be sewing. 
Just remember...
He will bring us goodness and light.  Joy is on the way.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


When I teach religion classes, I teach the children that our prayers are really just like magic words to God - the same magic words we say to everyone else, "Thank you", "Please", and "I'm sorry".  "I love you" is a prayer too.  But I've learned this week that saying I'm sorry is so much more profound.  I am so sorry for those families affected by the violence in Connecticut.  We mourn with those who mourn, we cry with those who cry, we pray with those who pray.  I can't imagine what the people of Newtown are going through. I don't know why or how or what to say. The only consolation I have is this, that in the time of great need we are lifted up.  I am so so sorry.

On Friday morning I found myself in a little chapel for mass.  I hadn't planned to go.  It just happened.  The feast day was that of St. John of the Cross, and whatever your faith, there was an important lesson there that carried me through the news that would come later that day.  It's odd that in the midst of the Christmas season we think about suffering and sorrow.  We ought to be rejoicing, we may think.  Yet there is a gift in sorrow, the priest said.  In suffering we are brought together; we are consoled in our humanity, and we reach out and are connected to others who need us.  This was his homily.  I had no idea that one hour later this point would be made by a man, a very young man, who seems so absolutely disconnected from us and our humanity. 

Those poor babies in the classroom - I can't imagine.  But this is what I choose to believe.  That they were carried by angels, our prayers and our love, and didn't feel any pain.  I know that when the news first came that something had happened to my brother, I was able to be calm and to do what I had to do.  I didn't focus on the pain, I just began to go through the motions.  In the days that followed and led to his funeral, there was an amazing sense of peace that carried me through.  At the funeral I felt it most strongly and I know now what it was.  It was the love of the people around me that made the experience surreal.  It was the people who said, "I'm sorry".  It was the people who said, "I love you".  They were magic words.  In the midst of that extraordinarily hard time, call it surrealneass, call it shock, I felt separated from the pain, immune to the heartache, and I hope, I believe, that those children did too.  They were not in the room with that man, they had gone to a different place already and as they looked around their bright and happy classroom they thought about their blocks and their books and their stuffed animals, because their teacher seems like the kind of teacher who brought so much love into her room.  They thought about the gingerbread houses they would make that afternoon and they thought about their parents coming that afternoon to celebrate.  They did not know pain or grief because they were too young, thank God, to even comprehend what was in their midst.  They remained innocent in their hearts and were surrounded by the love of the people who loved them most. 

We mourn with those who mourn, we celebrate with those who celebrate.  It seems impossible to celebrate now.  It's hard to draw on any joyful energy when our hearts are broken.  Yet for my children and for those children, we do.  We will celebrate and we will keep on praying and keep on crying too.  They are all gifts of the season.  In our deepest pain, there is a human connection and the magic words that we were taught in first grade still work, we are so sorry.  We love you and we share your pain. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Wrap It Up

The other night in Dick's I hit the gift wrap jackpot:  BOXES!  I had asked for one box and they told me to take the whole case - they got their shipment late and had more boxes than they knew what to do with.  Being that it was ten o'clock at night on a Friday and no one else was around, another shopper and I loaded up with as many as we could carry, laughing all the way! 

However, in North Face on Saturday, the clerk looked at me very accusingly when I asked for a box (for a winter coat, it had to be bigger.)  "WE are a GREEN store.  WE are trying to ELIMINATE waste."  Yes, I am an awful person because I use boxes to wrap gifts.  I tried to explain to her that I am trying to go green and so was going to wrap JUST the lid this year, so I can reuse them and not have to throw away paper on Christmas morning, and I started blabbering and blabbering about how I HATE trash too and I really am at least a LITTLE green and all that wrapping paper on Christmas morning just gets in the way of seeing the kids and the presents and inevitably leads to something small being thrown away and that, too, is always a problem.  She was not impressed.  "NEXT!" she said in response to my apologetic tirade. 

But really, this has been on my mind a long time.  How do we manage gifts under the tree?  Can each child really tell whose pile is whose?  Should I wrap in different colors?  Still how do they know where to go?  (I eliminated tags a long time ago, when JJ told me Santa wrote just like I did!)  I really don't want to waste paper or trees or anything else, so I think I found a solution:
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So cute, right?  And so practical.  It's another present in and of itself!  And it makes such impact under the tree.  However, I'm a little too late to order them.  They charge extra to ship by Christmas. They might be a little feminine for my boys as well. 
Pottery Barn Kids has this version.
 Medium Canvas Buckets
Wouldn't that have been great if I thought of this in July, or even October?  Too late. 
Here's another idea that might work:
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Wire baskets would be good.  My husband has already warned me that the kids do not like wicker baskets, so I'm avoiding those but these might work.
However my ulterior motive is to have something that can corral legos and other toy debris when the kids go from room to room (like PigPen with his cloud of dust.)  An open wire basket would not be effective.

So how about this?
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 Galvanized buckets.  They look okay here, but might need some brightening up.  I can spray each one a different color and maybe a chevron pattern with a mongram, like this:
Spray paint a galvanized bucket & add monogram...simple & adorable! by jessicaj
I love this!  And I hadn't even thought of bows!  But I do have three boys.  Maybe Chalkboard paint would be more appropriate and I hear that is big this year. 
Another option:
Custom Burlap Covered Galvanized Bucket Pail with Black Lab......OR monogram for wedding OR home....Unique hostess or birthday gift.
How much fun can we have with this!
One more design:
Sherbet Chevron Galvanized Tub Rectangular Storage Bin

I'm glad to see that these can work for just about anything, boy, girl, big kid, little kid.  Really they are just grown-up toy boxes and isn't that the best, when we get to feel like little kids but act like grown ups!

So I'm not going to the mall to shop, I'll be at Lowe's or Home Depot.  And I won't be up all night baking cookies, I'll be spray painting down the basement.  Most importantly, I won't ask one more clerk if she has any boxes!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cookie Day

The December calendar is practically full already and I don't see where I'm going to fit in baking or wrapping or even bathing, but I know it has to happen. On Christmas there will be presents and food and fun and the lights will all be hung and the stockings too, but right now there's a lot more work to do. And I still have to work work. But I think I'm going to take a Cookie Day, not a day off, not a sick day, just a Cookie Day. I'll be in my kitchen all day with the butter and the flour and the mixer and the radio turned up high enough that I can still hear it. I'll dance around the kitchen all day. 

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe
One of my earliest childhood memories is baking with my mother.  She used to bake in our grandmother's kitchen when I was very young, filling poinsettia-covered cookie tins with sprinkle cookies and sugar cookies. The cookie tins were stacked on a shelf of a built-in hutch in my grandmother's pantry, and given to guests and relatives at Christmas. I remember Gran asking me to get a tin for someone off the shelf and feeling that that hutch held all the cookies in the world. Next to the tins was a canister of chocolate straws that she would bring out for guests as well and I can still feel that melting chocolate on my tongue. 

My mother baked cookies in a continuous loop.  The press out cookies, the chocolate chip, and something special, our "hand" cookies.  She would gently trace around our little hands with a sharp knife as it hovered over the sugar cookie dough.  I can still feel the tickle trying to move my fingers out far enough to get each finger cut just right.  If you pressed too hard with your hand the dough wouldn't come off the surface and we'd have to start over.  She somehow put our names on these and hung them on the tree.  Then we got to eat them!  It was our first breakfast on Christmas morning.  So fun!  (I know I threw her under the bus in another post, but these were the kinds of things she did to make holidays magical and Christmas was the most magical of all!) 
When we were older my mother hid the cookies on the top shelf of our kitchen coat closet, out of reach of ten little hands that would have eaten through them in one day.   She had a huge Tupperware tub that she lined with wax paper and layered the cookies carefully so they wouldn't crumble or break.  You can't find that Tupperware any more: I know because I've tried.  There's just no need for something that big any more I suppose. 
When my brothers were finally old enough they could reach right into the tub and get a cookie without too much effort - they didn't even have to tippy-toe.  They peeled the seal back and reached in without taking it down or pulling it off the shelf.  I remember asking for one because I couldn't reach.  My mother was determined to keep it filled though and would pull it out each night and lament about the fact that no matter what, she just couldn't get that tub filled and so would pull out her baking again, with the mixer and the vanilla and the chocolate chips and the eggs. 
So I am taking a cookie day and I am going to bake my heart out.  I'll leave the butter out the night before, or maybe get the doughs all ready so all I have to do is scoop the next day. (Then I can wrap while the trays are in the oven.)  Really I've been to countless cookie exchanges, but the only ones truly worth baking are the Tollhouse chocolate chips.  My family's not into anything fancy or with rum and coconut and chopped pistachios and pine nuts, just good old fashioned Toll house at Christmas.  Ginger snaps aren't bad, maybe some snickerdoodles and peanut butter.  Simple is best. Maybe I'll make some sugar cookies because Annie loves sprinkles and I'll cut out a few hand cookies too for Christmas morning.  It's going to be a great day. 

Here are two claiming to be the best:

** One note - I saw on America's test kitchens that the vanilla doesn't really make a difference, and that it can be eliminated.  I also heard somewhere that chocolate is best complimented by coffee, so I'm substituting Coffee (strong, left over kind that's been sitting there all day) for the vanilla.  I'll let you know how it turns out!!  I'm going to make sure I have good chips too!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dear Austin

Dear Austin,
I can't believe it's been six months since you've been gone.  We miss you something fierce.  I hope you are content.  I bid you peace.
There is so much to fill you in on, so much you have missed.  We have to catch up.  First, you'll be happy to know that Obama won the election.  I think I would have heard you yell from way over here if you had seen that election night.  It was pretty cool. 
You'll also be happy to know that Avalon survived Hurricane Sandy.  It was a really bad storm in October that knocked out much of New Jersey and some of New York.  I'm sorry to say that Breezy did not do so well.  Lots of damage.  Remember when we drove up there to pick up Walt?  That was a great trip.  Didn't we go on to New England?  We drove all day and night it seems.  Is that when you bought that Yale sweatshirt that I "stole" from you?  I can't find it now, but I'm still looking.  I know you ripped the collar when it didn't fit you anymore, but you kept it, right? 
Speaking of trips we went on our own cross country trip this summer just like we did when we were little.  It was amazing.  There were so many things we saw.  The kids were great and had a blast.  My favorite is still Jackson Hole.  I remember when you went fishing there and I love looking at the picture mom has of you fly fishing.  I hope you can do that again. 
The kids are growing up so fast.  Can you believe JJ and Dory are looking at high schools?  I remember when you used to come over to First Avenue to walk and see JJ and we would sit and talk on the front porch.  I miss those days, but hey, we all move on. 
We had a great time down the shore for your birthday.  We took some great pictures of the kids on the beach together.  Don't worry, we didn't torment them like for our old Christmas pictures.  It was really fun and they did a terrific job.  I think Walt and Jay and I took about 200 pictures in the blink of about 5 minutes, maybe a little longer.  We are giving one to Mom and Dad for Christmas. 
What else?  You know so many people miss you.  There were so many at your funeral and we all love you so! 
I'll never forget you sitting on the hearth here at the house last year at Christmas.  I think this year I'll save that spot for you so I can feel your presence.  I can hear the kids shouting "Uncle Austin, Uncle Austin!"  Annie is planning the annual family Christmas concert and is also concerned that we don't have enough decorations up yet, so I'm getting to work on that. 
I know I'm forgetting a lot of things, but I wanted to let you know that we love you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Alien Invasion

Today I threw away what is hopefully the last of the silly bands that began invading our house about 5 years ago.  It was right about this most wonderful time of year too, and I have to say that I was an accomplice in the crime.  I stood in line debating which pack of silly bands would be just right for each one of my children.  I was teaching in the classroom at the time and "the word" on the streets was that this was the hot toy for the year.  Every kid had to have at least one pack.  And so began the breaking and entering of the silly bands, for which I gladly held the door open.  It has been a long battle.  We moved once and were hoping to have completely rid ourselves of the invaders at that time, but apparently a few escaped us and quietly crept right into the new house.  I think I can finally put my feet up and say that I have won the battle and all silly bands are now where they rightly belong - in the trash. 

The funny thing is, when the kids found them in their stockings all those years ago, they looked at me and said, "But what ARE they?" hoping they would do some little trick or make some kind of noise.  They didn't perform.  "They are just like rubber bands, see?"  Yes, they were just rubber bands.  That's all.  Nothing more.  You can use them to do... well, I'm not really sure.  Hold papers?  Tie things together?  What kid needs silly bands - I don't know. 

But that's the thing about shopping for presents.  We think we've found the perfect gift - the hot item and we forget to ask, "What is it?"  Last night I stopped at a store to pick up something little for my daughter's birthday.  All the holiday presents and 'gifts' are displayed oh-so-prettily and yet I had to do a double take on a few things to try to figure out what they were.  "Oh, that's to display your  holiday cards in the reindeer's antlers!" said a voice behind me, obviously so proud that she had figured out what it was before I had.  Look, I'm pretty sure I know how to figure stuff out and I am pretty sure that this is one thing I definitely do not need nor do I need to waste the time trying to figure out what it is! 

There are other things that have invaded our house over the years, McDonald toys, cereal box toys, legos that will be here after the apocalypse, and thousands of other stocking stuffers that I feverishly gathered in an effort to have stuffed stockings filled to the brim with the hot toys for my kids.  But my kids are not the only ones who suffered as victims of this crime.  Me too.  I have more junk (like balls wrapped in twine  and 'decorative' bowls) than I care to mention.  What was I thinking?  I looked through a very fancy trendy store on my shopping spree the other night, and this is what I saw:  a Decorative Horse Head for over $100, or how about an oversized painted clock face, with no clock, for almost $200.  Please, "What is it?"  What does it do?  How does it help me?  The simple answer:  it doesn't.  In about five years, when the trend dies down, I'll be throwing it in the trash, or worse, 50 years from now, my kids will be burying me and saying "What is this thing and why did mom have a clock that never worked hanging on the wall?  THAT was the root of her problem! No wonder she was never on time!"   

So this year, for Christmas , I'm not going to open myself up to an alien invasion.  Anything that comes in has to be recognizable, familiar, and useful.  Something to wear, something to read, something to play.  I found this really cute sample list on Pinterest:
Printable Christmas list

I doubt that silly bands would make it to the "I'd really love" line. 

Today is giving Tuesday.  It's to make us aware of others this holiday who are truly in need.  It's not Christmas when we go on consumer binges.  Instead of stuffing stockings with FTH, future trash heap items, I can find a better use of my time and my money - like sending it to Hurricane Sandy victims.   Maybe then I can call it Christmas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Where is the Green Jeep?

Mem Fox has this incredible book called Where is the Green Sheep?  It is one of my favorite read alouds for little kids and I still laugh every time I read it.   The phrase has to be said with a lot of emphasis too, "BUT Whhheeerree is the GGRREEENnnn sheep?" It is so fun to say.  I heard Lester Leminack talk about the book once, and with his slow Southern drawl and dramatic flair, he added another whole dimension to the reading.  I highly recommend it.

The phrase has been echoing in my head lately.  You see, my brother drove a green jeep.  Not for long.  He had a white jeep that got wrecked and he quickly was able to find an old green jeep to replace it.  It was the perfect vehicle for him.  Big enough to carry his junk.  Cool enough to still be cool.  Old enough to look responsible.  Fun enough to go on ski  snowboard trips and camping trips.  He drove it to the shore.  He drove it to my house.  When I visited my mom, I would know he was around if I saw his Green Jeep.  I identified him that way.

After his death a weird thing happened.  I saw Green Jeeps everywhere.  It was weird.  One morning I was driving to work through Camden and I turned a corner and saw a Green Jeep parked in front of a little house. Now this is not exactly the kind of place you think you'll run into someone, but I thought, "Oh, my God, here he is.  He is in Camden, and we just couldn't find him!  I'll just go in this house and get him and it will all be ok."  Of course you might think I am crazy and I thought I was too.  It was just an instantaneous reaction to seeing that car, that Green Jeep.  Where is the Green Jeep?  Here it is.  It was just hiding all along.  For some reason I was still looking for him.

And my brother - he was just playing a game with us the way he used to when we were little.  You know, one time when I was babysitting, he told me he was running away.  I was frantic trying to figure out how to tell my mother that he had run away.  Really, how do you explain that when you are in charge and babysitting and the oldest?  I was a wreck about it.  I begged him not to go.  I begged and begged but he left and we couldn't find him.  But as soon as my mother pulled into the driveway, here comes Austin walking down the street as if nothing had happened.  He was hiding behind the mailbox at the corner THE WHOLE TIME.  He drove me crazy!

So when I saw the Green Jeep - well.  I did quickly snap out of it, but honestly, it happened a few times more before I was able to process it better.   "Oh, look I found him.  He's in Mt. Laurel, driving on 295."  I know it sounds crazy, and it is.  But it is also pretty funny.  I know logically that my emotional brain is blocking my cognitive brain from properly processing and all that but for that split of an instant I actually Believed.  Now I still see Green Jeeps everywhere.  Everywhere.  I see them going to the store, driving in California, I see the same Green Jeep in Camden each time I'm in that neighborhood.  Every time I see one I'm reminded that my brother is around.  He is just hiding from view but his spirit is there.  He is with me when I need him, and especially in Camden.  I just have to keep Believing.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Eat, Pray, Suffer, Love

When the book, Eat, Pray, Love came out a few years ago, there was much controversy on the authenticity of the author's experience.  Some people loved it, some people hated it.  Some found it phony.  I read it and I saw the movie.  I don't think I loved it or hated it.  It was just one person's experience and it had something to teach.  It resonated with me for reasons I can't remember now.   But I think it may have been because I could identify with her suffering, her searching.

Why is it that with love comes suffering?  We love someone, we paint a picture of a future together where every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, every summer that person is part of the picture.  We build hopes and dreams of a future.  We invest in a life together, a relationship that is strong and steady, supportive and nurturing, or at least can sustain the winds of turmoil that creep into all our lives.  Then something happens and that picture is no longer complete. We try and try to color in the space where they once were.  We look for things that will take their place but it is impossible.  And so, without, we suffer. 

I am trying to let go.  Trying to find a new picture that will include just what it needs and still be a good picture.  But letting go is a suffering in itself.  Grace is the only thing that can fill that space.
So, we pray.  We are praying for grace to face a future that seems hazy.  We pray for peace in our hearts and our lives.

And then we Eat.  In the times when we can do nothing else, we eat.  I am so torn about Thanksgiving this year - a holiday I remember spending always with my brother.  But I also remember how he frequently left the table, not able to eat, unable to indulge like the rest of us in the feast.  But this year I need that indulgent feast - that homey, loving table surrounded by those I love, filled with platters of mounds of delicious food.  I have pulled out all my cookbooks and collected recipes.  Apparently I've been planning Thanksgiving meals since 1995, never sure where we were going or who was coming, but knowing that we would have our own Thanksgiving feast at least on Friday if not Thursday.  I have lists and scribblings and scraps of recipes from Williams-Sonoma, Yankee Magazine, a teacher named Dori who I worked with back in Kenilworth, Martha Stewart, Cooking Light, Country Living, Southern Living, and The Bergen Record, which suggested cocktails called the Gobble-tini and Autumn Toast, and a website called pumkinnook.com.   I could make about 4 different versions of turkey and about ten different versions of stuffing if I followed all the recipes I clipped. 

This year though I'm keeping it simple.  I was tempted last night at BJ's to buy the smoked turkey, but when I saw the sodium was 27% of RDA, I went for the traditional one that I will roast on Thursday morning.   I will use herbs and oranges to stuff it and baste it.  I will make a winter salad with grapefuit, sweet potato pie, and butternut squash ravioli.  I guess I need another green vegetable in there.  I will make applesauce from Eldress Bertha Lindsay, one of the last surviving residents at Canterbury Shaker Village.   I will make caramel pears and oyster corn bread stuffing, both of which I found on pinterest.   I will make homemade whipped cream to top the store-bought pumpkin pie that I couldn't resist buying - it was just too good a deal.  We will drink hot maple apple cider and we will sit by the candle light and talk and enjoy. 
I don't know why I do this really.  My mother cooked frozen vegetables from a bag, about four different kinds.  She made Stove Top stuffing.  She made Pillsbury crescent rolls, which my brothers fought over, and served jarred olives and jarred gravy.   She tried to candy the sweet potatoes, but they never quite got to that point.  It didn't matter.  There was always so much love in her baking efforts and I guess she planned to sit with us and talk instead of being tied to the oven cooking.  The point was that we prayed, ate, and loved.   And she did always make her own pies.  I think she was more the baker and I'm a little more cook.

On Friday we'll drive to Maryland to see my brother's family. I'm making Sausage-cheese balls, Ham biscuits, and mini pumpkin cheesecakes. A little southern savory luncheon.  Anyway, we will find our way through the holiday where the food becomes nourishment and feeds our deepest needs for love and comfort.  We will talk and listen and cry and we will celebrate and find joy in the simplest things.  We will love.

On the back of all the old notes I have from old Thanksgivings, I wrote out lists for Christmas.  I don't remember doing this but maybe while the Turkey was roasting and the pie was baking I had a glass of wine and started thinking about the next thing, Christmas gifts.  It all comes back to love.  So we suffer, we pray for grace, we pray in thanksgiving, we eat, and we love.  Maybe Elizabeth Gilbert had it right all along.

Autumn Toast

1 1/2 ounce vodka
1 ounce Nocello walnut liquer
1/4 ounce dark creme de cacao
Chill in shaker and strain.  Serve with a cinnamon stick garnish.

Sweet Potato Pie

1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked, and mashed
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
3 eggs
1 3/4 c. milk
1 T. butter, melted
1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell

Measure out 1 1/2 c. potatoes.  Combine with sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Beat eggs lightly and stir into potato mixture along with milk and butter.  Spoon into pastry shell.  Bake at 400 for 45-50 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean.   *variation this year:  sprinkle chopped walnuts mixed with brown sugar and cinnamon on top!

Winter Salad
2 blood oranges
1 small head chicory
2 heads Belgian endive
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 c. oil-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
2 t. olive oil
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. fresh pepper

Using a sharp knife, cut away peel and pith from oranges.  Remove sections by sliding knife down one side of a section, cutting it away from the membrane.  Set aside any juice.
Add chicory, endive, onion, and olives to oranges.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Pour reserved orange juice over salad, toss well, and serve.

Eldress Bertha's Applesauce

5 1/2 c. chopped peeled Pink Lady apples
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
dash of almond extract
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce, heat, and simmer 35 minutes or until soft.  Discard cinnamon stick.  Mask with a potato masher to desired consistency.  Stir in salt and extract. 

*Maybe I'll try to make persimmon-cranberry pudding!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Blowing Leaves

Raking leaves today, I felt my brother looking over my shoulder.  I was using the leaf blower and blowing the leaves west.  At the same time, the wind was blowing from the west and ruining my perfect curbside leaf piles.  I started laughing.  I could just feel my brother shaking his head and laughing, "You're so STOOpid!"  he would say, in his serious-frustrated-light-hearted way, that left you thinking you are kind of stupid to keep going at it, against the wind, but then I remember that I taught him everything he knows and I can't be that stoo-pid.  But I would continue doing just what I'd been doing, egging him on, but smiling.  "What, what's the matter?  I'm blowing the leaves!"  He would shake his head and walk away.  Or he would go into some long life-lesson-speech about how to use a leaf blower, and how power tools are to be in the hands of professionals, not weekend warriors.  (My son calls them WEAKened warriors, or are we weekend WORRiers?)  He probably read this article on About.com, no he probably helped write it.  He was like that.  If he worked for a landscaper for like two weeks, he'd be like, "No, no, this is the way you landscape.  You're so stoopid." 

So it started me thinking, how often do I keep doing the same old thing, the same old way, without results.  This week our manager talked a lot about business as usual and how we have to break away from that in order to effect any change, and when we do, it will not just transform our work, it will transform lives, not just ours but the people we work with too.  She was kind in that she didn't use the words Austin would have used, "You're so STOOpid!" but let me just say, sometimes it would be easier to say it the way Austin did.  Really, it's so fun.  That was the thing about him, he said it in a fun way.  You took no offense, because he said, "You're so STOOpid!" in the same way that he said, "STELLar,  DOOde!"  He was laid back, like he knew you knew and he didn't need to make drama about it. 

So I keep thinking about things that need to change in my life.  I'm allergic to wool, but I have about ten wool sweaters in my closet.  I just gave them all away.  I have wool pants too.  But those I need to replace before I start walking around pantless.  The funny thing is, I've known this for years, but every fall I bring down the same old wardrobe and try them on and love the way they look, and they are so WARM and I'm like, "No, I'll be fine.  That was last year's problem."  I'll just wear stockings underneath.  Then about three hours into wearing my work clothes, my hands are itching like crazy and I can't wait to get home and change.  Why do we put our hands out to touch the fire that is burning us?  Why is it so hard to effect change that is so necessary it will transform lives?  Why do we keep doing things that are so STOOpid?  It's like blowing leaves.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

New Love

My new love in decorating is Barclay Butera.  I came across one of his books at a bookstore in Yardley last spring and I keep looking his stuff up on Pinterest.  I may need a twelve step program to get me off there.  It's really bad.   Anyway, Barclay's signature designs include lots of blue, lots of beach, lots of burlap, and he's not afraid to mix everything together.  Also lots of pillows that are plumpily fluffed, or fluffily plumped. 

I just love this room!  I wish!  So simple, so lived in, yet so elegant.  I'm not spending any money, but he gave me lots of ideas.  (It makes it sound like I had lunch with him, which I didn't.  But if I'd known he was there when we were in California, I would've made my husband take me to his store!)  What I did learn is that I want to accentuate with pillows a bit more.
Here is what I did on my bed:
Plain old pillow...

Two ribbons...

(I learned how to tie this from Runner's World...)
Make an N

Cross over like a pretzel...

Pull pretzel legs through...
(Have to trim the ends in this picture)

It works perfectly everytime!
And I have a new look to the bed for the Fall!
Thanks, Barclay!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bartender Life

Imagine that you entered every relationship as if your life depended on it.  As if what you put in and took away from that relationship would keep you alive. 

I am continuing to learn how special my brother was. I met friends of his the other night down the shore and it made me realize what it was that made him so special. Austin lived as if his life depended on other people. And it did. What if we all lived that way - as if our lives depended on the love we had for other people everyday.   Two stories:

The other night I visited the bar where Austin used to work.  His picture hangs over the bar with a quote that he is now famous for:  "Dude, you've been waving me down for ten minutes, and now you don't even know what you want to drink and you're making this beautiful girl next to you wait - at least buy her a drink!"   We've analyzed this story so many ways.  On one hand, it seemed it was his temper coming through on a busy weekend bar shift.  But if you look at it a different way, he was setting the guy up, he was building relationships.  I don't know who went home with the beautiful girl, but I'm sure she thanked Austin for the drink!  He was a good bartender.  He knew that his livelihood depended on it - on how he flirted and entertained and enticed his customers, on how he could draw them in with a story and on how well he could listen to theirs.  If he wasn't listening, he would go home with empty pockets that night.  He gave and people gave back.  He met so many friends this way - really good friends.  He entered every relationship with the attitude that his life depended on their being a part of it. 

When a friend of his called the girls from their old high school class to give them the news of Austin's death, every girl had nearly the same response.  This is what they said:  "You know, when we were young, he told me he loved me."  One after another they each said the same thing, "He loved me."  At first glance, he may appear to just be a ladies' man, a flirt, a cocky little jerk.  But the thing is, his love was true.  He loved them.  For however long, or however much, he made them feel special.   He loved whole-heartedly, as if his life depended on it.

This didn't start when he was an adult or even a young adult.  Austin, at the young age of two, had to depend on the adults and caregivers around him to survive.  He needed such intensive care and such medical expertise that he had to surrender to those adults in whose care he was placed.  Imagine knowing that your life depended on everyone around you.  What would you do?  What would you do if you knew that the shot might hurt a little less if you joked with the nurses first?  That the test might not be as bad if you thought about the time you went fishing down the shore and told the story to the technician before they began.  He built relationships the way some of us build our houses, decorating each room with special care.  Or the way we build careers, determined to reach the goal and have success.   Austin didn't have a house or a career the way most of us do, but he built a network of friendships that are the strongest of any I know.

I asked my mother once why he didn't listen to music.  We all had suggestions for playlists he might listen to that would help him relax during dialysis.  He never would, so I asked my mother if there was some reason.  You know what she told me?  "It wasn't about that with Austin.  It was about the relationships.  He didn't need to be distracted by music, he wanted to talk to you.  He wanted to know you."  That's it.  He wanted deeply to know the people in his life, however fleeting the time with that person might be. 

Imagine if we all lived that way, as if our lives depended on the people around us, really depended on them - everyone around you right now wherever you are.  And our relationship, our listening, our talking, our caring, our understanding of them and who they are,  that is what will determine our life.  For better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, he took his relationships seriously, befriending everyone no matter what.   He loved because his life depended on it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Leaning In

An old boyfriend of mine way back in college once said to me, "I never want to feel that way again," after an argument we had.  The problem was that after that, we, or at least he, didn't feel much of anything.  Trying not to feel masks everything.  Later that same summer after the heart-breaking breakup, I went on a business trip with a friend and she had sage Jewish wisdom.  She said, "Aren't you glad you're feeling something!  That means you are human, you are alive!  Imagine life without feelings!"  And of course we can't.

I went to the doctor a few weeks ago and they offered to prescribe something, but I think I'm okay.  I mean this is like, um, depressing.  So it's okay to feel a little depressed.   I'm glad I had my brother.  I wouldn't trade one minute with him to not have these feelings.   It's just hard.  It's painful.  But it's real.  I'm feeling something.  Not to feel would mean that I couldn't feel the joy in my kids faces - and that's just when they are eating ice cream.  Or watching Matt swinging on the tire swing. . . Remember that feeling?  I think I'm okay feeling that.

There are a few different ways I've noticed that runners start their runs.  One is, of course, from the blocks.  The blocks allow the runner to push away, to launch off from the angled block without even touching the ground.  Another that I try to do is a kind of jump.  I hop for my first step and I can get into a good rhythm for the rest of my run.  The third way I've noticed is slow, ever-quickening steps that gradually gather momentum and end up in a good run.  But each way, no matter how you get started with your feet, you also have to Lean In.  When we were paddle-boarding in Lake Tahoe this summer the instructor told us to build up that good momentum and then don't let it go.  On a paddle board you have to lean in to maintain balance and speed.  You will be able to ride farther and faster once you have gathered that speed.  If you stop, you'll likely fall.   If you don't lean towards the hill you are climbing, you won't make it up very quickly.  If you are running you have to lean in to the wind to make it through.  If you don't lean in to the relationships you are having, you likely won't be feeling anything.  

Tomorrow is Austin's birthday.  We are all gathering at the shore to celebrate and share our grief.  I don't want to go.  I want to stay home and distract myself with Halloween pumpkins and yard sales.  I don't want to be reminded of what's happened.  I don't want to watch my family falling apart around me, remembering and wishing for the days when Austin would pull up out front in his white Jeep and yell to everyone on the porch, "Yo, dude!" grabbing his nephews and throwing them in the air.   But of course I'm going.  I'm leaning in.  I'm going and I'm going to feel the pain and the remorse we all feel.  But I'll also get to see my baby niece.  And we'll also drink some wine.  And we'll also cook and laugh and walk on the beach.   We'll eat a piece of candy everytime we pass the sideboard in the dining room.   We'll make french toast at 11 and forget we already had breakfast earlier.  We'll make nachos at four and try everyone's version of guacamole and compare it to the best we've ever had.   There will be baseball games on tv and probably football too.  People will smile. 

For some part of the summer my friend and I often discussed why 50 Shades became such a popular book among so many different people.  I think its because we all wonder how much pain we can actually tolerate.  How much do we hurt sometimes because there is also love?   We lean in and we feel and sometimes it hurts, but mostly there is love.

Austin's death hurts, but there is also love there.  If we stop hurting, if we stop leaning in, we also stop feeling the love. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mom Moments, or Packing for New York

My eldest son turns 14 today.  I am overwhelmed.  I feel like I am running out of time with him.  My favorite book about caring for children, The Baby Whisperer, which I have mentioned before, describes the day with a newborn this way:  E - eat, A - activity, S- sleep, Y - you.  The Y is when you take time for You, doing whatever it is to help yourself stay rejuvenated and energized to get ready for the next EAS.  The activity she suggested back in the day may only consist of a diaper change or a lullaby. Those sleep-pajamas-all-day days are long gone.  I used to sleep or make tea or watch tv or refinish furniture (Yes, really) during my Y time.  Between all of our kids, the household still functions on those basic steps.  Eat, activity, sleep, school, sports.  But if we do sit down to relax for a Y minute, inevitably someone realizes that their uniform isn't clean, or they have a spelling test tomorrow, or there is an urgent need for making cupcakes, or something else that forces the bubble to break and we are set in motion again.  Usually it requires some work, however small, on my part, and I am distracted from the hypnotic state of laying on the couch.  I am on the job.  So when JJ calls to me, I have to force myself to look up from what I'm doing to make eye contact with him, (and I now have to gaze UP to see his eyes) because before I know it he is on to his next thing, too.  At this point I think the Y should stand for "You will never have this MOMent again." 

So I was hoping today, with all the kids in school, to take a minute with an old book I found while readying for the Yard Sale (another major project I probably shouldn't take on right now.) It is called Simple Abundance and a good friend gave it to me back when I was teaching 15 years ago.  I was hoping to turn to a page about getting You ready.  I seemed to remember that the author, Sarah Ban Breathnach, spent all of September talking about back to school and back to school supplies and clearing out and loading up for the winter, or for autumn.   I thought I would enjoy a refresher on cleaning the closets, hosting a yard sale, and making things new for Yourself.  But that's not what I found.  It's about a new career, which kind of really threw me into a tailspin.  The last thing I need right now is to start thinking about that.  I just need to get my closet cleaned out.  So I carefully put the book back on its shelf.  But if you're up for it, I encourage you to check out the website.  It seems she has some great new motivational stuff out there. 

Back to the closet.  I know that with our busy lives I'm going to need to keep my clothes straight.  I need to have things in order even if I don't have very much mom time.  Here is what I did:
This was the before.

I cleared it out and GLUED, with a simple glue stick, this drawer liner paper on the walls as a fun border.  (Honestly this takes about ten minutes and transforms your life!  My whole closet smells like lavender now and it's fun to open the door!)

I stacked a few old boxes, you could go out and get cute coordinating baskets too, and this old picture on top of the dresser.   (I have to tell you that this picture was in W magazine in the summer of 1990.  It was my dream - the mom and kids have just come off the beach and the boys are sitting on the little step, the younger one obviously getting talked to - I think of my Matt everytime I see it.  It was one of those Cotton - The Fabric of Our Lives ads!  It's probably time for it to go to the yard sale, but I can't.)  I love this dresser in my closet for scarves, negligees, and even flip flops that often get lost.

Then hung the clothes I think I will still wear...

Sorted the bags on top...

Stuck on these fun mirrors...
(These are from a friend, and I can't find them on line.  I have to ask where she got them!)

And my husband hung these matching mirrors on our closet doors. 

I wish I had the before picture to show you what a transformation this made.
I'm far from done.  I still have to bring down fall clothes and we are planning to go shopping for fall on our day off this week.  I have to work harder at purging.  Jamie Lee Curtis suggests that to decide what to keep in your closet, you should pretend you are packing for New York for two weeks in the fall.  Put all those clothes on the bed, give away everything else, and reload your closet with the clothes you packed.  I keep this in mind, but haven't really done it yet.  Then a friend gave me this great wool suit that I love and want to keep, but I have to think if I would take it to New York.   Hmmm.  What would I wear in New York?  It's fun once you start fantasizing.  JJ has his fantasy football - we need a fantasy football for moms. It will be called Fantasy New York.  Where would we go?  What would we do?  Where would we eat?  Who would watch the kids?   Maybe I'll have to actually go for some Y time after all!   

Monday, September 17, 2012

Safe at Home

This weekend a boy on my son’s baseball team hit an over-the-fence homerun.  It was so exciting.  Around every base he waved his arms and ran his heart out.  The smile and the disbelief grew on his face with each base he touched.  The team gathered at homeplate welcoming and congratulating him.  He must still be reeling from the feeling, still be feeling the ringing of the bat in his 11-year-old hands.  I can’t imagine that kid slept much last night. 
I think I can say that I feel something of that emotion.  We finished.  We made it home and safe.   We rounded each base and touched down safely, checking off the miles and the sights.  We saw the most incredible scenery and the most incredible places.  We met really cool people along the way.  We experienced things I hope we never do again, felt things that we’ll never be able to fully express, and some that we’ll spend forever trying to replicate.  I hope we can someday, somehow.   Here is a list of where we went:

Kalahari, Sandusky, Ohio

Chicago, Illinois

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Wall Drug, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Crazy Horse, South Dakota

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Sheridan, Wyoming

Shoshone Lodge, Cody, Wyoming

Canyon Campground, Yellowstone, Wyoming

Grant Village, Yellowstone, Wyoming

Lexington Inn, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Twin Falls, Idaho

Lake Tahoe, California

Yosemite National Park, California

LaSelva Beach, Santa Cruz, California

That’s a lot of bases to cover, but we made it.  And in the end the fates called us ‘safe at home.’  Each stop along the way was filled with adventure, some with fear.  We dipped our toes in:  Lake Michigan, Lake Arlington, Yellowstone Lake, Jenny Lake, Lake Tahoe, and the Pacific Ocean, and the Courtyard Pool.  We crossed a creek in Yellowstone to see this incredible Rock Fountain and Annie slipped on the wet rocks.   We put our hands in the HOT water that bubbled out of the rock and was immediately cooled by the mountain creek.  We rode horses named Paco, Jimbo, Harpo, Uma, Dutch, and Spud to a Cowboy Cookout and then descended down a rather
hill, watching the sunset on our way back to the corrals.  We climbed a mountain during a thunderstorm and were quickly chased back down by clouds and lightning.  We were awakened by a BEAR (I think I will forever capitalize BEAR now!)  while we huddled WITHOUT MOVING inside our tent in the middle of the night, (think Parent Trap without the Hollywood producers) and were quickly chased into a HOTEL which thankfully had room for us!  We saw a Redwood Tree that we could have lived in.   We ate Bison Burgers in Jackson Hole as a rainstorm moved in.   We laughed as we ran down the street carrying our takeout trays.  We saw a shootout that for a split second seemed like it might be the real thing.   We ate pancakes as big as a globe, partly because they were griddled at 8,000 feet altitude and caramel s’mores (JJ's idea) that were scented with freshly chopped pine and s’mores that were made on a dark beach in California by a firepit that reached 10 feet high.  We ate hotdogs there too that night.  We laughed a lot.  Especially when one of the kids read that if you laugh for 15 seconds straight, you’ll live an extra two years.   We visited Badlands at 7:00 am and saw a Rattlesnake.  We woke up before he did.   We went to a Ranger talk at 9:00 pm to hear about the bears in Yellowstone and Charlie fell asleep – “a little bit,” he says.  We met a college couple that had practiced their mountaineering techniques and that was going back to climb the Grand Teton at midnight; while it usually takes two days, they were hoping to finish in one.  We met a girl at the Wendy’s in South Bend, Indiana, who served us Frostys and she got the chills as she told us she grew up in Westmont, New Jersey, until her father moved them there so he could fulfill his life’s dream of being affiliated with Notre Dame, where he worked the rest of his life.  I could tell it was never her dream.   We watched as two very special people made vows to each other under a warm sun overlooking the Pacific Ocean.   That was a dream come true.

We went through 16 mini-boxes of cereal, 3 big boxes of cereal, 32 packs of cheese crackers, one jar of peanut butter (finished off by the bear), one jar of Nutella (carried off by the bear), I never found the jelly, three loaves of bread, two gallons of milk, one half gallon of oj, one package of shredded potatoes, one quart of egg whites, four cups of dry oatmeal, one bag of pasta, one soup mix, three large cans of chicken breast, two large cans of tuna, one package of shredded cheese, one package of tortillas, one bag of coffee, three bags of chips, 6 boxes of Cracker Jack, and five tubes of biscuit/pizza/cinnamon rolls, three of which burst because of the water in the cooler, and one box of Clif Bars.  No one went hungry.

We bought 6 airline tickets, 5 one way and 1 the other way.  We logged 3950 miles on the car and my husband and father added another 3200 on the way home.  They took the straightest shot possible across the midline states and took in a few sights along the way.  He brought me a t-shirt from the lodge in Aspen where my brother used to work, which is now a spa.  It meant so much and feels special when I wear it.  I’ll never forget seeing him for the first time again after that week of waiting and wondering where he could be, if he was okay, if my dad was helping with the driving, or driving him crazy.  He looked good, no worse for the wear, and I was happy, happy to have him safe at home.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Taking It All In

A few weeks ago as we anticipated the closing of the pool, the end of the summer, the beginning of our trip, my 13-year-old, who was floating around on the raft in the pool, said, "You know mom, I don't think I appreciate this enough.  I mean the whole summer has almost passed and I really don't appreciate it.  I think for the rest of the summer I'm just going to take it easy!"  Well, I really couldn't contain my laughter.  Really?  You are going to take it EASY?  I wanted to say.  You've slept past 10 every day, you have no job, no responsibility besides making your bed, and showing up for dinner and you are going to take it easy?  But I think what he meant was, "I'm going to take it all in."  That's the hard part.  Taking it all in.
Here we are in the middle of the country and seeing all sorts of new things.  Learning new words, learning new people, learning new places.  Trying our best to take it all in.  But it is hard.   There's so much to do and such a short time to do it all.  We are on to the next place, the next thing, the next exhibit before we know it.  We've been on vacation overload.  It's almost impossible to process it.  We have to stop and think about where we've been and what we've seen and somehow we're already onto the next place.  It's not a matter of stopping to smell the roses - that's what we are doing.  It's just that we have to let it sink in.
In yoga practice, after all the stretching and working the instructor will settle everyone down and say something like, "Let it sink into your muscles.  Let your muscles create the memory of the work you have just done."  I think that's the part that is so important.  Letting the memories stay.  Finding time to process and reflect.  It's so important. We want to experience it and relate it to something we already know. But sometimes we have to create a new file, a new system for recognizing it. It is amazing. It's amazing how the brain works and how kids learn and how we learn to take it all in.  Part of the learning is slowing it down and taking it in. 
While we were walking through Yellowstone among the many different types of geysers, I asked Annie, "What do you say when you see that?"  I was asking her for the name of the type of geyser we were looking at and she had researched Yellowstone and I knew that she knew the different names.  But I was in a sleep-deprived state and didn't phrase my question right.  So when I asked What do you say, in response she just said, "Look at that."  We've been saying that a lot.  Look at that, look at that, look at that.  It's a type of reflection, a type of prayer almost.  Wow - look at that.  That's amazing.  And it is so amazing.   And we are taking it all in.

Monday, August 27, 2012

False Start

Imagine.  Feet in the blocks.  Hands and fingers crisply stretched across the painted line of the track.  Heart loud.  Brain wired.  Eyes focused on the path ahead.  Adrenaline pumping.  Lungs deeply inhaling.  Anticipating the crack of the gun.  Run.
No.  False start.  Back to the starting line.  Do it all over again. 
I've never actually run a race on a track but I do know that when I'm in the corral for a 5K I'm all adrenaline.  It's an awesome, terrifying feeling.  You have to pace yourself.  You can't go out too fast using all that energy or you won't have any left for the end of the race.  It's all about mind over body.  You have to hold back a little. 
We were all set to be far from here now. All set to be well into the race.  But it was a false start.  We are back in the corral waiting, anticipating.   We have a good place - a pillow top bed, a warm shower, a nice pool, a hot tub.  But if we wake up here again - if I see that same alarm clock - I will feel like I'm in Groundhog Day, that awful movie when Bill Murray couldn't get on to the next day.
At least we have each other to stay amused in these 200 square feet.  It's funny.  The kids are piled on the bed watching Sesame Street that they haven't seen in years and wouldn't dare watch at home.  What is about a new place that makes everything new again?  I ironed the damp bathing suits from last night to try to get them ready to wear today, and Charlie says, "Mom is wire-drying the bathing suits!"  He is the compound-word-maker-upper.  He knows what an iron is and has seen me use it on quite a few occassions, but somehow his new term was so much more descriptive of what I was doing.  Right - who irons bathing suits?  So we are having fun learning about each other in more ways than would be possible at home.
And there's a major city out there to tour!  We made the best of it yesterday and will again today. The sun is shining brightly, there are thousands of parks in Chicago that boast the best of everything and we'll find the best for us.
Then tonight around 8 we'll get on the road for a fresh start, driving through the night to the Badlands!  Hopefully its better in the Badlands!  Hopefully we are just pacing ourselves for what lies ahead, conserving our energy.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Thursday afternoon.  8 hours til departure.  The house has a quiet buzz to it.  The kids are 'napping'.  The phones, kindles, ipods, cameras, lanterns, airpumps, everything are all plugged in.  Everyone and everything is charging.  Charging up for an adventure.  The kids need those 'screens' as we call them, they are Digital Natives, a term I heard at a conference this summer.  To not take them would be like taking corn away from Native Americans.  They need them to communicate, to feel connected.  So we are packing them and charging them.
I am baking.  The old fashioned stuff that keeps us charged.  Oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips, nuts, and honey.  No Raisins.   There are a minority who don't like raisins, so we give them preference.   We want to keep them happy. 
So we are fully charged.  We've got trail food to keep us charged and we are on our way!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pounding the Pavement


Finding a new way to go to work

Walking the side streets

Driving to California


Seeing things differently

New perspective

These were my notes.  The things I wanted to say and talk about.  We are leaving soon for a long trip.  Escaping.  I cannot wait.   But right now I hope I can leave some of the anxiety behind and experience each moment.  Right now I'm wondering if I have everything packed.  I do wonder about grizzly bears. I've gotten over carjackings, because really no one wants a minivan with a roof carrier on top with New Jersey tags, it wouldn't make for a quick getaway.  Right now I'm worried about kids who drown in Yosemite.  (Kids, ages 8 and 10)  And wildfires.  But I'm also worried because our son was just diagnosed with allergy-induced asthma.  What's he allergic too?  Grasses, birch trees, dust.  So when your son, let's just say, says "Mom, I'm so tired, I can't go any further,"  and it is on a hike around a lake that is SURROUNDED by BIRCH TREES, you probably shouldn't say, "Matt, this is our hike we do every year with our family and you are ruining it, and you are so going to bed early tonight!  You just took a break.  You are the only one complaining!  Everyone else is enjoying themselves!  I know all you want to do is play VIDEO games, but this is our vacation!!"  No, don't ever say those things.  So I wonder if Yosemite is surrounded by birch trees.  I wonder if our car is full of dust.  I am packing the inhaler and the drugs and a bandana he can wear around his face if he wants too.  I think I've got everything we need.  Now I just have to let it go.

Last week I took the train into work each day.  This was different from my normal routine of driving in and parking in a lot and paying condo rental fees for a car for 6 hours.  The train made for a nice getaway.  I felt professional and Yuppie.  (I know, that's a really old term, but when I was in high school, our neighbors were Yuppies and I so wanted to be like them taking the train each day to Center City!)  So I took the train and walked the ten city blocks to work, through Rittenhouse Square, and down the side streets.  And I'm so glad I did.  Out of the car, the honking, the traffic, the air conditioning, the closed up feeling.  It gives you a different perspective on things.  You take your time, you stroll, you take in the sights, you take in the people, you soak up the history.  It was really beautiful.   Things I never would have seen.
 The street names in bronze in the stone.
 Will someone meet me here for breakfast one day?  We'll pretend we are Parisiennes!
 Very ornate...
 Such intricate work...
 A tree grows...
 Imagine the ladies who walked down these steps in ball gowns over a hundred years ago..
 So amazing.

I used to eat at this same place in college!

I saw roses in bloom in center city outside the Episcopal church, I saw a cellist playing on a park bench in the Square.  The people fell into a trance created by the soft mellow notes and the quiet peace made the walk that much sweeter.   I am hoping I can carry those feelings with me as we walk through the Black Hills and Yellowstone.  Soaking it all up, pounding it into my memory with each pounding step.  I also hope I can transfer that feeling to my kids.  I hope they will soak it all in and savor the moments, the quiet, the flutter of leaves, the babbling brooks, the expanse of the sky.  In a few weeks they will be kept inside four walls for the majority of the day, at least during Peak Playing Hours.  It is a shame.  I don't know what it is about school that makes us think that being outside is too distracting.  Can I tell you that in 90% of the classrooms I go into, the shades are drawn all the way down?  No looking outside.  I've heard the phrase, "There's nothing out there for you to see!" Come on teachers, open up a little!  I just read of a school in New Hampshire where all the learning takes place outside, rain, snow, sun, cold, outside.  "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing," the article said.   That's pretty cool!  This school in Andover, Massachusetts, gets it too.  I think that will be my one analysis on back to school night, Are the shades drawn? 

So, we are off on an adventure, seeing new things, learning new things, including what not to say to your children when they get tired!