Monday, January 31, 2011

Old Henry

If you know me well, you know how much I love my dog Charlie. She's been a part of my life for sixteen sweet years. But you would have to have known me in my teen years to have met Henry. Charlie has a rarely used formal name of Charles Henry. Henry was known by his own famous moniker, Henry the Burping Dog.

After my childhood dog Scamp died at age 11, oh she was the most beautiful collie-shepherd-beagle mix, a dear dog who was my pillow and my protector as a child, my parents and I made a trek to the Bangor Humane Society where we'd planned to get a puppy. I was so excited as at the age of 12, I'd never had a puppy. I remember looking at the ones available and zeroing in on a little brown pup in particular. But then I was told that one had already been claimed. "Anne, come here. Look at this one", I heard my Dad calling. I politely made my way over to my father but I had no intentions of selecting a grown dog. But there he was, a raggedy black and white Old English sheepdog mixed with the breed of airedale we'd be told later. His tail was broken but it had not been bobbed in the traditional sheepdog fashion. He sat extending his paw through the kennel bars as if shaking my Dad's hand and introducing himself repeatedly. He was awfully cute I had to admit. "But he's not a puppy", I thought. Still, I couldn't leave him. I suppose what they say is true, you can't help who you fall in love with...

We found out that Henry had been in the shelter for several days. They were not going to keep him around much longer. He had been abandoned by a family that could not care for him. They said he was only six months old but later our vet would say he was only five months of age. He was not housebroken but it took my Mom only a day or two to solve that problem. He indeed came home with our family. And by that evening, he'd been named Henry.

Henry seemed like a formidable protector. But although he had a fierce way of bounding down the driveway to meet my new friends and boyfriends who were always taken aback by his size, Henry was nothing but a cuddly teddy bear. Scamp had nipped at others who he saw getting too close to me, but Henry had his own way of communicating his affections. The only embarrassing fault of his was that he had a habit of burping. Yes, I had adopted a burping dog. This quality of his quickly won over my teenage friends who found Henry to be most entertaining.

Henry lived to be 14 years old. He missed me when I went away to college at age 18 but he lived long enough to meet my daughter Sydney. My favorite home video of Henry is of his taking a drink from the lake and as if on cue, two year old Sydney bent down to lap up the lake too, right at Henry's side. He was a good dog. Aren't they all?

I have this dream that when I go to heaven, I'll meet up with Scamp and Henry and good ol' Charlie and whoever comes next. And yes, I'll see my kitties too--Sam, Jazz, Louie, and Boo. You see, Heaven would not BE Heaven without our furry loved ones. Of this I am sure.

To close this for tonight, I want to share how my friend Gerard once immortalized Henry in a poem. The poem is seven stanzas long, proof of Henry's inspiring personality! In the last four lines my friend wrote,

So knowing my luck when I'm dead and I'm gone
And off to Heaven I race,
I'll find that God has hired Old Henry
To guard those pearly gates.

Scamp, Henry, Charlie, and which ever future dog wins my heart next... how much I will adore seeing you on the other side.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Learning To Grow

It took me 40 years to begin filling out those annual forms to file my own taxes. Yes, I know. That's pretty bad. But you have to understand; I was not spoiled but rather well loved by a Mom who was a Volunteer Income Tax Assistant. I told myself she actually enjoyed doing my taxes for me each year. But two years ago I knew it was time for me to tackle that responsibility on my own. I was a little nervous but I did it.

And the Christmas before last, my parents unexpectedly could not come to our house for Christmas. So I knew it was up to me. I bought two pounds of ground pork and I called my sister. After getting the how to, I made the traditional Christmas morning creton by myself for the very first time. It wasn't half bad.

But I cannot master preparing my Mom's baked beans and I have failed at making Mom's onion dip. I've tried. I don't know what I am doing wrong with these two recipes! I also cannot successfully make her saucepan cookies. It's been a few years since I've even tried. I remember making them too soupy one time and cooking them too long and having them turn out dry and crumbly the next. Still, I vow to try again...someday. But in the meantime I'll continue making other cookies and buying Bush baked beans and the tub of onion dip they sell at the grocery store. Life goes on.

It is a strange thing at my age to be learning self-sufficiency in areas such as taxes and creton, but I suppose it's just proof that it's never too late to realize I still have a lot to learn. Someday I'll make the baked beans, onion dip and saucepan cookies. I've got time. I'll get there. It's never too late to learn to master certain recipes. And it's never too late to learn to grow up.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Weighty Branches

We should be kinder. We should work harder to understand that others are challenged by their lives and we should try hard not to be judgmental of those challenges. What seems to be "no big deal" to one man, may be quite devastating to another. Who are we to evaluate what others are going through? Who are we to say how long a person has to resolve their issues or to get over their hurt or their grief?

People have burdens. There's no escaping them; they are a natural part of life. We all have our own stresses and our own trials. Plato's quote comes to mind, “Be Kind for Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Great Battle”. Perhaps not all the troubles a person faces will be Great Battles but the sentiment should be the same.

This week I have spoken to people who are struggling. I found myself giving a little advice to a new friend who is saddened by the negativity and bitterness he sees in others. I patiently listened to an old friend who spoke of her anger and frustration; she's feeling hurt and betrayed. I try to be there for others but I am not always sure how much I am helping. Still, for each friend, family member, or coworker I talk to, there are countless others who keep their pains hidden. The ones who do the most for others are probably the ones who are afraid to stop and admit to their feelings of heaviness. For if they falter, if they cry or fall down, they fear they may not be strong enough to pick themselves back up, and then they'll be of no service to their loved ones.

Like everyone else, I have my burdens. I talk about the specifics with a couple of close friends and when I stuff my feelings down so much in regards to other pains I dare not often speak of, I find myself in tears at the most inappropriate times. I find myself tearing up at work. My tears fall in the middle of Mass. Today I even found myself with tears of sadness during the funniest part of the movie I watched. Try as I might, I can't function without that release valve working. But I'll be okay. I know this too will pass. I am blessed to have those dear friends watching out for me. And in return I will always have their backs.

I am truly not one to throw advice at people. But today I want to offer just one small piece. If your branches feel heavy today, be good to yourself, be patient with yourself. Let go, let God. And when your burdens are lessened and you feel your strength returning, reach out to someone else who may need a friend. Don't be fooled by all the smiles you see around you. We're all in need of a good friend. We all need someone to listen, someone to empathize, someone to hold onto us without judgment. Be kind.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Your Day Will Come

When you're the younger brother of two, no, THREE teenage girls, you have to get used to sacrifice. The girls will have seemingly more important things to do like high school homework, so time after time you'll have to pull on your sneakers and go get the dog who is barking out in the cold. You'll have to be the one not to have a friend over because the girls have several activities that Mom has to get them to, and well, when you need a hair cut, you may have to wait weeks because the girls might need to make special trips to get make-up, phone cards, and flashdrives.

You might spend a lot of time on the Wii, which you enjoy but not more than playing outside in the snow with someone just as enthusiastic about making snow forts as you are. You might play on Mom's school laptop because everyone is busy on Facebook, something Mom won't let you get close to yourself until you're 15 or 16 years old at least. (At least you can hold out hope for a cell phone and an ipod when you go to the Middle School next year...)

But when you're as sweet a younger brother as this, you find that you are by no means invisible or neglected. You might have to be extra patient, but your day will come often enough. There are days like today when Mom zips home to tell you she's gotten you a 4pm hair appointment at the shop you prefer over the other one that cuts your hair too short or that pulls your hair, an appointment that will finally get that hair out of your eyes before your 5:30pm basketball game. You'll realize it's a day when Mom comes home with Nutty bars, chocolate chip cookies, and cinnamon swirl bread because she knows you've gone without junk food long enough this week when she didn't have time to go grocery shopping last weekend.

It's a day when your sister doesn't squawk about tagging along with Mom to attend your basketball game, where they will quietly cheer you on as you take quick glances over to them to make sure that they saw that awesome pass you made. It's a day when your Mom will suggest you all watch that movie you wanted to see, and you watch it together over bowls of pasta, and you all laugh at the good parts and you all sit on the edge of your seats when the plot gets intense. It's a day when you will happily turn in for the night without being asked, because it has been a day of pure satisfaction.

When you're the younger brother of two, no THREE teenage girls, you will give your Mom the night she most needed this Friday, a night of watching basketball, eating pasta, and watching a movie with the best 11 year old boy in the world.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Call Me Nana

Some days I am inspired to write about something in particular, and after deciding upon a topic, I go in search of a picture to complement my piece. Other days I feel a bit more lost and I either turn to my folders of pictures for ideas or I simply look around and take in my surroundings. A few nights ago, I snapped a picture of a small wind up music figurine, a little French clown or pierrot I believe it is named. It sits on my bedroom blanket chest. A poster of another pierrot is framed in my master bathroom. It's a classic poster of a clown holding a rose. She has one small tear about to fall from her eye. The items were in the master bedroom of my first apartment and I remember there were two little dolls with porcelain heads that I had perched on a bureau in there too.

My tastes in decor have certainly changed. I have long lost the little clown dolls and almost every time I go in my bathroom, I look at that poster and think, "What is that still doing hanging on my wall?!" But since the master bathroom is a project for another day, it remains.

I can think of several changes I have made to my home's decor. I would not go so far as to say that I make constant changes but I have switched around the furniture layout from time to time, I've torn up wall to wall carpeting and replaced it with hardwood, and several years ago I took down another collection of figurines that I began collecting in the late 80s, a set of Precious Moments collectibles that I originally had thought I wanted to house in a curio cabinet. I would not want one in my house nowadays and those poor Precious Moments figures are now spending their days in the deep bottom drawer of my dining room empire chest, a piece my husband and I excitedly found at an antique store two summers ago.

Some of my preferences have remained the same. I still love Shaker furniture and I adore my simple dining room table and chairs as well as the clean lines of my Shaker four poster bed and matching bedroom bureau. I treasure the sentimentality of other furniture pieces such as my Nana's blonde mahogany furniture that my girls have in their bedroom, or my Mom's hope chest which has a prominent place in my living room.

My parents call me "Nana" at times when they notice I have changed my home's decor or have moved the furniture around. My Mom tells me Nana, her Mom, used to switch her home's layout around too and Mom used to stub her toes at times when she'd come into a room without first switching on a lamp. Perhaps that's why my Mom is my opposite, opting to change her rooms very minimally over the years.

But all in all, I think change is healthy. I'll continue to keep my treasured pieces but I'll make room for the new when I so desire. Something tells me I'll be donating the pierrot poster in my master bathroom next summer when I take on that redecorating project. But I'm pretty sure the little music figurine will always have a home here with me, for it reminds me of where I've been, who I was, and what I loved. And if I'm wrong and I decide I don't need that object to remind me of such things, I'm sure the Precious Moments figurines will welcome its arrival in the deep drawer of the empire chest that they call home.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Books, Lo Mein, and a Daughter named Emma

I remember Syd's senior year. I told myself that I was going to play it cool. Understanding how emotional I am, I coached myself early on, long before her final year of high school began. I knew it was going to be tough at times, but I vowed to hold it together and to not "cry that it was over, but to smile because it happened". "And truthfully", I said to myself, "just WHAT was supposed to be "over" anyhow"?!

But truth be told, despite the fact that I only teared up once at her graduation ceremony, and only once when I saw Bunny had "made the cut" and was packed in the back of the van on moving day, I knew this game of staying positive was going to be a true challenge for me. However, Syd and I talked openly about the changes we both had coming to us, and I knew I had raised her right when we both began talking about Emma.

If there was one thing I was looking forward to as my firstborn daughter headed off on her new adventure as a college girl, it was that I would now give a lot more of my attention to my second born daughter, Emma. It's not that the two of us hadn't shared our own endless number of memorable times, but well, she and I had always turned to Sydney first rather than to one another. That would change. We all knew it.

The months of September, October, and November proved what I knew would be true. Em and I grew even closer as we leaned on one another in Syd's absence. But then something quite unexpected occurred. A very bright shining star entered our lives in the form of a vivacious young Italian girl named Noemi. By Thanksgiving Emma and I were opening our lives to a charming foreign exchange student who needed a new host family. Emma and I knew we were doing the right thing but we also gave one another a look that said, "This has been nice while it lasted. Look me up in July? Or...maybe September?"

But despite the fact that I now have THREE daughters, all so very dear, all so very talkative and happy to share their life experiences with me, their lucky Mom, Emma and I aren't waiting until next September. We've learned that it's the small moments that bring us closer together. Today it was a simple impulsive decision to turn right instead of left as we left the high school. We drove to the next town over, ordered a huge amount of Chinese food to bring home for dinner, and happily chose Bridgton Books over Reny's Department Store to visit while we waited for the lo mein, teriyaki, and fried rice. We smiled at one another as we saw the armful of books we both had found in less than 15 minutes and we each giggled with excitement that tonight we could go home, load our plates, and dive into our first new book.

As Emma unpacked the food onto the counter, she said to her younger brother, "Chinese food and new books! This has been the BEST DAY EVER!" Despite this autumn's attempt at stoicism, I found my eyes watering as I thought to myself, "Yes. I agree, sweet Emma. The BEST DAY EVER!"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tiny Records

Before my i-pod and before Pandora radio, I listened to cds. Before cds I bought cassette tapes. Before cassette tapes there were albums, and before albums were my siblings' abandoned 45s. After years of sitting at the bottom of a bedroom closet, the 45s are a bit warped now but I cannot bear to part with them. I remember playing them on my little gray record player that I kept in my bedroom. It made frequent trips out to the garage on Minuteman Drive when I went through my rollerskating dance phase. I sang, danced, and roller skated to songs such as Help by The Beatles. Help I need someone. Help! Not just anyone! Help! You know I need someone. Help! Or Hot Sand by Shocking Blue. Hot sand. Na na na.. I'm walkin' in the hot sand. Na na na. Makin' love on the hot sand. Na na na. Together with you, yeah, yeah, yeah. (Okay, the Na na nas were my own addition I think).

Later there would be (gulp) DISCO songs. My friends and I somehow got away with choreographing Donna Summer's Bad Girls (Mom and Dad, did you ever listen to my music?) and found it really funny to learn what a hooker was in our preteen years. Then came sweet songs by Olivia Newton-John (before her out of character Physical album), like Suddenly. The onslaught of the 80s hit then and I began purchasing more and more 45s before moving on to cassette tapes. But it's the old "tiny records" that I inherited that bring back the best memories... well, with the exception of Barbara Mandrell's If Loving You is Wrong which for some strange reason was acted out numerous times in very sad "Variety Shows" that I'd force my friends to perform day after day for the audience of my all-too-patient parents.

I learned early on that I had days, weeks, months, years of songs to sing, dance to, and otherwise perform. I may have hung up my roller skates long ago but the places I've traveled to, the lives I've envisioned, and the joys music have brought me are unending.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Big Black Cat named Boo

In my next life I'd like to come back as a cat. Not just any cat however, but a big black with the personality of my nearly 12 year old black cat Boo. You see, I'm feeling cranky tonight. I can be loving and patient and affectionate, and I usually AM, but some days I just want to wait at the end of the stairs for the next person going up and attack their legs, just for the heck of it. I want to pounce on them and make them fear me. And then I want to go up to the sweetest thing in the house (which is usually our dear 16 year old dog Charlie), and swat her face, just to be a brat.

I want to leave black fur all over everyone's clothes when I decide that the most comforting place to sleep is in the closet. I want to hide when company comes and make everyone wonder where I am. I want to come out only when I feel like it, like when someone is enjoying a big bowl of ice cream, and then I could lick the bowl clean while teetering over their shoulder as they try to watch tv.

I want to scratch at the door or at the rug when I want to come into a room or be let out of one five minutes later. I want to fool everyone into thinking I want to be petted and then turn and bite them when I've had enough loving. I want to cry to be lifted onto the counter where my food is, day after day. I'd know I could make the jump but I want everyone to give me a free lift, just so they'll know who is really in charge.

Yes, I'm feeling cranky tonight. I want to be selfish and do what I want. Yes, in my next life I want to be a big black cat named Boo.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Blessing of a Sister

Growing up, my sister was my #1 hero. She was beautiful, tall (unlike me), a brunette (unlike me), fun, confident, and simply, AMAZING. Although she went off to college when I was just two years old, I remember being so incredibly excited to talk to her on the phone when she'd call, and so thrilled when she'd agree to come upstairs to play Barbies with me after arriving home for school vacations. To this day I remember pulling on her arm, begging her to come upstairs to my bedroom to play. When she married, I was her 4 year old flower girl and I could not have been more proud.

She always treated me special. I'd receive presents and cards in the mail and for about 10 years, from age 8 to 18, I would join her in NH for a week or two of complete indulgence! Together we would make trips to amusement parks, go on picnics, have lazy but magical days playing in her home, go out to dinner, see movies, and visit the toy store where she would buy me any toy that I wanted.

When her son was born and baptized she asked me to be his Godmother. And when I married she served as my Matron of Honor. She continued to be an attentive sister sending me handmade bittersweet wreaths to hang on my apartment door and inviting my husband and I to her home. Spending time with my big sister was always a treat. Incredibly, despite our 16 year age gap, we both became mothers of little girls within a few months of one another and together we raised our girls with frequent visits to one another's homes. The girls became close and to this day, it takes a mere 10 minutes at the most for them to sink into silliness when they get together.

But it was in 1999 when I went on maternity leave with my son that my sister and I truly grew close. The technology of the internet and email allowed us to check in with one another daily. We began talking about things, big and small, and discovered we had more in common than we had ever realized. Email allowed us the chance to vent with one another and to support one another on a daily basis. We laughed over ridiculous parenting struggles and our favorite television shows, and we supported one another on days when we felt like we were falling apart. We became one another's sounding board, asked each other for advice, sent pictures, and traded recipes.

As a little girl I used to look up to my sister. She was an astonishing creature to me. I likened her to the most attractive actresses I would see on tv. To this day I still tell her that she looks like Mariska Hargitay and/or Sela Ward. But in truth, she is much more beautiful than they are, because she's more to me than a pretty face. She is a strong, creative, fun, intelligent, and loving woman and in her I know I have someone I will love and admire for the rest of my life. The best part is that I know she feels the same way about me.

Almost 43 years ago, my sister received news that after being a big sister to three brothers, she finally had a sister. I was blessed to have one my entire life, but it's truly a beautiful thing to have your childhood hero evolve into your equal in adulthood. It's a blessing to have your sister be your best friend.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

No Martha Stewart

I'm no Martha Stewart, but I sure love browsing through her Living magazine and I catch her television show from time to time. In fact I love HGTV, Better Homes and Gardens, and those once-a-year organization publications that give tips on how to find a place for everything and keep everything in its place. In short, I need to be organized. I make lists, I color code school correcting folders and course syllabi, and over the years my kitchen calendar has helped the family stay on top of appointments and activities.

Yet, life gets busy and I get tired. And as much as I'd like to think otherwise, I am kinda messy. Wow. It took me about five minutes to write that last sentence; I wasn't sure I could bring myself to admit that. Despite the pride I had in reorganizing my walk-in closet last year, outside the closet door now sit two laundry baskets heaping with clothes that need to be put away. My bill drawer is overflowing with receipts, I have two tables at school with papers needing filing, and please, do not go into my cellar. Despite how orderly it was a few months ago with new bins labeled Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is simply an embarrassment now.

I wish I could turn to one area, however small in my home, and say "Well, at least that is organized". And although it would take me only five minutes perhaps to put my make-up away on top of my bureau or to clear off the end table that houses all those organizing magazines I haven't had a chance to sit and enjoy browsing through, the truth is, my house reflects a woman who tries her best to juggle a very full life.

There's something almost comforting however in looking at the clutter that abounds, especially upon my kitchen island. I snapped a picture of it the other day and took time later to examine the photo. In the middle of the picture there are remnants of Christmas, evidence that the holidays are over but that we haven't yet taken the final steps to put away the decorations. In the background there's a piece of music tacked up to the bulletin board, my cantoring assignment for Mass on Sunday, and some stray family photos we hung for Sydney's graduation party last June. There are the usual pens and pencils, and a couple of new flashlights in preparation of winter power outages. A cheese grater shows my attempt to help Noemi prepare an authentic Italian dish, and there's a new smoke detector my husband bought that will be put up this weekend. At the forefront of the picture is the usual collection of mail, paycheck stubs needing recording, AFS mailings, and a couple of new Netflix movies which will hopefully be viewed before the next month. There's a Yankee candle, a Sharpie marker for the kitchen calendar and oh yes, a bottle of Motrin. Despite the clutter, the mess isn't anything that I can't handle. If I have my usual help from my husband and children, we can get the house orderly and ready for company in an hour or two. My children grew up knowing that Saturday mornings I'd have music blaring on the stereo and that we'd all take time to pick up the week's disorganization as we sang and danced our way through the clutter.

I'm no Martha Stewart and truthfully, I don't think I'd like to have her over for lunch anytime soon, but anyone else is more than welcome...just give me a couple of hours and don't go into my cellar until Spring cleaning time.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Smart Little Bugga

Last week she asked me to get on Skype. She said she had something to discuss with me. My husband was there too and we both logged on and saw her pretty face coming on the screen. "So, the reason I bite my fingers? It's all your fault. I did not get enough nourishment as a baby and that's why I do this now". I smirked. She'd apparently forgotten the adorable thunder thighs she had as a baby, thinking only of my story of how I had to stop breastfeeding earlier than I'd hoped to put her on formula when she needed more than I could provide. "Oh yeah? Is that right? Well. What else did I do wrong honey?" I said teasingly. My firstborn, having gone to the first few classes of her second semester of college, is taking Child Psychology. She's excited about all that she's learning and it reminds me of how I also called home to share with my own parents during my own college years.

Thinking back over her babyhood, childhood, and teen years, there are flashes of her that make me smile. I remember holding her little hand through the rails of her crib as she fell asleep after numerous peeks with one eye to see if I was still there. I remember her at the tender age of three, her little arms embracing me as she tried to comfort me when I knocked down some beloved porcelain figurines. She would do the same five years later after my miscarriage, the second time I broke down sobbing uncontrollably in front of her. I remember folding laundry with her and having her wear a cool whip container as a hat. Another time I placed an empty box of cheerios on her head for no reason other than to be playful and to take a memorable picture. I laugh at how we always had fun doing the most spontaneous silly things. I think of what an amazing big sister she always has been. I remember all the great talks we've shared, many of them taking place in the car during our travels here and there, and of all the singing, the dancing, and laughing.

I've heard from other firstborns that their parents made all of their mistakes on them, that the subsequent children fared better due to the parents' experience. As the baby of five children I do believe my older and wiser Mom and Dad had certainly learned a thing or two by the time I came along, but I can't say that they did any better with me than with my siblings. We all turned out pretty darn well I'd say.

My college girl turns 19 years old today. Having her away at college on her birthday is strange but satisfying. As much as I miss her, there is no where else I'd like her to be today. She's a smart little bugga as my Dad would say. She is doing well in her classes but is also embracing the social experiences of school with enthusiasm. I know our children don't tell us everything but I also believe that she's making good choices now that she's away from home. I trust her judgment and I believe in her with all my heart. She may falter at times as we all do, but she'll know how to pick herself up or how to ask for help when she needs it. Most importantly, whether she's being serious and determined, kooky and silly, or compassionate and kind, she's going to continue to be a positive force in this world. She will continue to share with me all the mistakes I made with her in her upbringing, of this I am sure, but I'll continue to smirk. Because when I look at her and see all that she is, when we talk and she once again embraces me with a big strong hug, I can't help but believe that in doing the best we could as new parents 19 years ago, we did just fine. We actually could not have done any better.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tying the Knot...Waiting to Fall

I like one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's well known quotes, When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. It serves me well when I get overwhelmed. When I feel myself buried in work, I feel my hands slipping down that rope, inch by inch, but I remember, I won't fall if I can remember the importance of tying that knot.

Although the idea of the quote is to "hang on" until help arrives or until you have the strength to crawl back up the rope, I also tend to bring to mind my children's faces as they joyfully sway from the rope swing at camp, letting go of the rope, and jumping into the waters of Ambejejus Lake when they are ready. Every summer we make our trip by boat over to the next cove. For years I'd not known about the swing but one day my husband told us of the fun times he and his friends had enjoyed swimming out to it as teenagers. We discovered the rope swing was still there, all these years later. So now it's become an annual summer event. We cannot leave camp until the kids have had their turn jumping from the rope swing.

I go as the photographer and cheerleader. I watch my children grab the rope and after minutes of having each of them build enough courage or confidence to jump from the edge of the island, I smile back at them and snap their pictures before they hit the water. "Did you get a good shot?" they ask time after time.

Someday I think I'll ask my family or friends to snap my picture as I reach the end of my rope time and time again. It happens frequently at the end of school quarters when I have a pile of correcting to do and grades to record for the 100 teenagers I teach each semester. I'll have them help me remember that I've been on this rope many times before and the knot will hold until the work is done and it's time for me to let go. And then the pictures can remind me of the joy I have felt as I abandon the rope and fall into the oasis of a job well done.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tomorrow is Another Day

Yesterday we all got home from school early, thanks to a snowstorm. We built a fire and spent hours reading under blankets together. I baked cookies and all seemed right with the world. I even slept so soundly that for once I did not hear the plow guy clear our driveway in the middle of the night. I should have known what today would bring. Why is it that more times than not, the day after a terrific day becomes an especially grueling one? It's as though the universe needs to remind us that we're not in Heaven yet.

Today could have been worse, I realize that. But driving to work on messy winter roads always exhausts me, and then on the way to school I remembered that I had an afternoon dentist appointment which would require me to ask for permission to leave work early on the day of a department meeting. That's never a good idea. I'd then have to commute back home to pick up my son before traveling another 40 miles to the dentist's office for our appointments. At work I administered two sets of midterms exams. I corrected papers and projects, checked in with my department liason, and packed oodles of work to take home with me. I made it home with only a few minutes of turn-around time before having to head to the dentist. We were running a little late and an overly cautious driver was in front of me for a good 20 miles before I could pass him. And of course at the dentist's I was told I had to have x-rays taken (gag) and that I have a small cavity that must be filled. The hygienist gave me the news so apologetically. In fact, looking back, she was especially kind and sensitive towards me today. She must have read in my bloodshot eyes just what kind of day it'd been for me thus far.

By the time we arrived home I was exhausted. The extra taxiing had done me in. I knew I had hours of correcting work ahead of me still. I opened an email that put additional work on my plate. I also foolishly opened my Visa bill. Ah yes, that particular Christmas present had been a charge and it'd be due soon. That's when I remembered it is time to pay the month's tuition bill. At the discovery that we'd run out of milk I was about to cry. My daughter had agreed to make pancakes for our supper but without milk, we'd have to resort to leftovers for the second night in a row. Darn. Those pancakes had sounded good but the idea of jumping in the car to run to the store for milk was too much for me. Leftovers it would be.
Still, on days like these, there always seems to be something or someone that reminds you that tomorrow is another day. That someone for me tonight was my daughter. When she realized she couldn't make pancakes she then prepped a meal to go in the crock pot for tomorrow night's dinner. She followed the recipe, put in two pounds of boneless chicken thighs, and expertly cut up carrots, potatoes, onions, and celery. She cleaned up the kitchen too and even baked brownies.

Today might have been less than a stellar day for me, but tomorrow looks incredibly hopeful. After all, there will be a delicious brownie packed in my lunch at school and when I get home tomorrow, we'll have my daughter's chicken stew waiting for us. Maybe this isn't Heaven, but it has got to be close.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sabrina and Kelly

We were just 8 years old when we met one another. My memory of our first day together is hazy but she tells me that we played "pass the orange" at a church youth function. I do vividly remember years of playing at the school playground which was just a few minutes' walk from our homes, and how we'd play games of make-believe, day after day. Our favorite games were King's Landing which involved many physical challenges such as lifting yourself up out of a stairwell without using the stairs, and Charlie's Angels where she chose to portray Jacklyn Smith's sexy character, "Kelly". I chose my favorite, Kate Jackson's brainy character, "Sabrina". Together with her older sister, who also became a very close friend of mine, we made a great team as we sidled up to houses with our walkie-talkies and our play guns or as we crawled out the window of her parents' parked station wagon and pretended to escape a speeding car before her parents realized we were crawling all over their car.

She had the perfect play area, a small room in her basement, complete with working sinks where we set up "House". She married "The Fonz" and I married "John Davidson" before divorcing him and moving on to "John Travolta" when she divorced and married "Eric Estrada". I think I ditched Travolta for "Shaun Cassidy", and she may have gone with Starsky for a while too. We were modern women balancing divorces with full time jobs and a handful of children.

We went skating and cross country skiing, sledding, and swimming. We saw each other through first and subsequent boyfriends, and had a couple of spats over boys too. We got competitive...always. I had "easier friends" but none challenged me as much as she did. I found our friendship worth the challenges. She did too. We let one another grow up and have different friends and interests, but we always held onto one another.

We graduated from high school and went our separate ways but not for long. The summer after our freshman year, we impulsively moved in together for three and a half months. We got jobs at a NH mall and although we probably didn't save a dime for college after paying rent and spending money on various things (I made the mistake of working at Filene's and came home with a gorgeous wardrobe, thanks to my employee discount), we had great fun. It was a most memorable summer.

In 1988 I married. She was my Maid of Honor. Three and a half years later she became my daughter's Godmother. A couple of years later I served as her Matron of Honor and a few years after that, she asked me to be her son's Godmother. We now have nine children between us and although life continues to take us in different directions, we continue to keep in touch. At first we sent letters and pictures. We mailed off Christmas gifts and birthday cards. Then we began emailing. We went to our 20th class reunion together and got ready at her childhood home. We made regular visits to one another's homes when she moved back to Maine. I watched her lose her Dad and then her Mom and I think it was then that I realized how very precious life is, and how dearly I love our friendship, how dearly I love her.

In the last several years I feel we have grown even closer. We continue to be challenged in our friendship for we still live miles away in different towns, have busy families, and individual passions that take our time, but the competitiveness between us has matured into a fierce loving protection of one another. I am happy to say that we indeed grew into strong modern women with a handful of children, but I am also happy to report that, thankfully, we are happily married to our FIRST and ONLY husbands.

I picture us years from now, swapping pictures of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I see us posing as "Sabrina and Kelly", the hippest elderly duo of Charlie's Angels. I hear us recalling our days of picnics on the rock or on one of her porches--the back golf course today? Sure!, of trying to remember who had the coolest Barbie accessories (She did. She had the motor home), and I feel the milk running through my nose after laughing too hard once again.

Ours is a friendship that will endure. We never need worry. For we have continued to cling to one another for these past 35 years. There is nothing that will ever make me let go.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Oh Brothers!

When I was expecting my third child, I knew I was supposed to say, "Oh it doesn't matter whether I have a boy or a girl", but I truly longed to give my two daughters a brother. So I was overjoyed when my son was born. I'd never officially had a little brother, although I'd always felt I had one in my nephew, who was just four and a half years younger. I surely had older brothers, three in fact!

I came along when my parents already had an established family of four children. My 16 year old sister was delighted to finally receive a baby sister after having three little brothers. My brothers, ages 14, 12, and 10, now were sandwiched between us two girls. Over the years I've heard stories of who my parents trusted to babysit me, and who they did not. But my own memories of my brothers are most special to me, because by the time I was eight years old, they were all moving on with their adult lives.

My oldest brother was another father-figure to me, always calling me "dear", always patient, and always willing to give me a hand. He took my nephew and I to camp, always played lifeguard, and made us our meals. I remember one time when I was a teenager, he came to meet me halfway on a trip home from my sister's house. We took the long way home, stopping to eat dinner along the way. I don't remember what we spoke about for those several hours in the car, but I remembering treasuring our time together.

My "middle brother" was the cool brother. He had a motorcycle and my earliest memories of him are of putting on a helmet and getting rides on it. I remember his pretty girlfriends too and the special gifts he bought me, like my own acoustic guitar, that always made me feel more mature. One of my favorite things to do when I was old enough to ride my bike around town, was going to visit him and his son at his apartment in town.

And then there was Kevin. My youngest brother was around the most. We used to fight over which television shows to watch and over imaginary games that I'd play in the car. I'm sure that having a kid sister who was 10 years younger than he was quite annoying at times for a teenage boy, but most of the memories I have of my time with him involve our laughing, or lovingly teasing one another. He's the one that taught me how to talk while pushing jello through my teeth, who challenged me to learn current events, who shared his music albums with me, and who paid me for wrapping his Christmas presents or for doing other odd chores. When I went off to college he was there inviting me over for dinner, and when we each started our families, our children visited Santa's Village and shared Christmas celebrations together.

My three brothers are all individuals who each played significant roles in my childhood. In recent years, the relationships I have with my brothers have evolved. Watching them with their own families and with my own children has been rewarding. I am proud of us all.

Watching my son with his two older sisters always puts a smile on my face. Being much closer in age, the three of them have played together and have grown up together in ways I did not have the chance to experience myself. But that's okay. Having my three older brothers and knowing that we still have years to enjoy together as adults makes me happy. They all continue to influence me today. I cannot imagine my life without them.

Happy Birthday Kevin.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

There. I Said It.

I'm Catholic. There. I said it. I make no bones about it, but I do at times grow weary of hearing the term "Recovering Catholic" and the laughter that follows, and I get bothered by remarks I overhear from others who lend their sensitivity to almost every other group of people but we Catholics. I do not think my Catholic faith makes me better than anyone else. I do not think I hold prejudices towards other faiths. I am not defending anyone who may have been too strict with the baby boomers in their Catholic schools, and I have little to say about any other hurt that others may have faced in their Catholic upbringing. However, my experience was much different. My Catholic upbringing shaped who I am and gave me incredible gifts. I only want to be accepted as a Catholic woman. I only want to be treated with kindness and understanding. Whoa. I realize I am becoming defensive. I don't like that. Let me try to explain how I got here.

I was raised in a Catholic family. My parents took me to church every Sunday and on every Holy Day. We also went to Mass on occasional First Fridays or at other times during Lent. My Mom was my CCD teacher for awhile and we'd meet after school at my house where we'd snack on rice-crispy squares before sitting down to learn a lesson and do a related activity. Going to church for me was never a chore. My friends went to church too. It was as natural a childhood event as was going to school.

When I was a little girl, I had a red Catholic picture bible. I read it cover to cover and to this day, I still think of its illustrations when I hear a particular bible story. In addition to playing House and School, I played Church. (Of course I also played Office and Taxi and Newspaper but those are stories for another day!) I remember taking down the long pillows that made up our den's day bed and using them as pews. I'd squish white bread to make hosts, and I'd set up the piano bench as the altar. There was a time when I was upset that I couldn't set becoming a priest as my career goal. But I set that disappointment aside and practiced my lectoring as I read from a borrowed missalette.

My parents said Grace before meals. My father casually talked about the weekly homilies as he drove home their messages, in case I hadn't been listening. I was embarrassed to sing aloud in my hometown church (something I have only recently overcome, strange to say considering I am a cantor and soloist at my own parish now), but I always felt God's presence.

When I was growing up, I was a rare teen who made a point to ask adults if I could go to church when we were on trips out of town for school events or when I was visiting people without my parents there too. In fact recently one of my school classmates reminded me of that. I was very touched he had remembered that about me. When I went to college I tried the Mass said on campus but it felt weird. So I asked my boyfriend (now husband) if he'd help me travel to the Catholic church in town, and that became my church. My husband told me he wanted to become Catholic before we married. Father Paul told him not to rush that intention and asked him to start classes after our marriage, lest he change his mind. He didn't.

Raising our children in the Catholic faith was never a question and although time will tell as to whether or not they too will fight for their Catholic faith as other distractions and temptations arise to abandon it, I continue to pray for their continuance of their Catholic faith.

I never faced any discrimination for my faith until I became an adult. I don't wish to speak of that today. I only wanted to write of how, over the years, I grew in my Catholic faith.

There. I said it. I'm Catholic. Please forgive me for getting defensive. I need to work on that.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Pink Kitchen

Although it wasn't a traditional choice, a very long time ago, I made the decision to paint my kitchen pink. I'd had a pink kitchen in my first childhood home where I had lived for 8 years. I think choosing the pink was my way of hanging onto the memories of my beloved childhood home. So I bought pink dish cloths and found other pink items including a stained glass pendant lamp to go over our kitchen/dining room table.

Yet, to be honest, I sometimes wonder about the paint color choice. I am not convinced it's the best color for my home; admittedly, it's a little odd to have a pink kitchen with turquoise glass accents. But whether or not I eventually decide to repaint, my kitchen/dining room is colorful in more than one meaning of the word.

At the island my children and I have prepared cookies and Easter eggs. At the message center, they've left doodles on the chalkboard.

At the table we've played board games, celebrated birthday parties, shared family dinners, and hosted the traditional Christmas Eve buffet. In the middle of my kitchen my son and I have had karate fights, and my daughters and I have danced.

When I spend time in my pink kitchen, I recall my childhood, but more often, I smile remembering the great times I have had in there with my family over the past 19 years. In the future, whether the walls remain pink or not, memories in my kitchen will continue to be made and will forever be.

Friday, January 14, 2011

No Man is an Island

Despite being the baby in my family and having taken full advantage of a generous Mom who spoiled me by making me special requested snacks when I was comfy and lounging after my school day, on many occasions in my life I have been most independent. I rarely ask for help, preferring instead to figure things out on my own. My husband has come home to redesigned rooms with heavy furniture placed in new arrangements. I prefer to do research than to bother people with simple inquiry questions, even if it'll take me longer to get to the answer, and I tackle new tasks relying on my own determination to make sense of the situation at hand. For the most part, I believe this character trait of mine to be a good one.

But every once in awhile, I'm thrown a curve ball and I have to ask for help. That happened today when one of my children developed a fever at school and needed to be brought home. I was a good 30 miles away at work, had a demanding schedule of classes ahead of me, and was without my own car as I had driven to work with my husband, a rare occurrence given our different after-school schedules. What was I to do?

I felt torn. My first inclination was to leave work, travel back home, pick up my ill teen, then return to work. But I knew I couldn't make it back in time before my next class. I wondered if I should ask my principal for a substitute but I thought also of the slew of students who would be upset that I hadn't been there for them on the last day of the quarter with midterms approaching the next week. If only I could be instantly cloned or have supernatural powers! The nurse at my daughter's high school had suggested I have someone swing by to bring my girl home. "She'll be fine if she can just get a little more sleep I think", the nurse had said. Great. But that would mean picking up the phone and asking for help from someone close to home.

I heard words from my childhood. "No man is an island". But I wasn't comforted. Who could help me out? Wouldn't everyone be busy with their day? Should I ask someone to go pick up my sick daughter? Was that even appropriate? Shouldn't I do it myself? But despite these nagging insecurities I picked up my cell phone and started scrolling through my phone book. Wanda and Michelle were definite possibilities. But I didn't have Wanda's home number, only her cell, and my message quickly went to her voice mail. I then realized I didn't have Michelle's number on my cell. Why was that? I quickly sent both of them an email but I knew I needed more options. I searched online for Wanda's home phone number as she runs a business from her home and I found it. But the line was busy for a solid 10 minutes straight. Maybe it wasn't the right number? I thought of my cousin Cathy and immediately felt bad when I realized I hadn't been in touch with her since the last time I'd needed a favor. I felt low. But I called her anyway and unable to reach her too, I left another message.

I continued to scroll down my list of friends and family. Most lived too far away. "I need to put more local numbers on this cell phone", I thought to myself. I saw Kim's name. She would be the one I'd call if I was delayed in picking up my son from After Care. Should I ask her? Something had taken over me now. I called her number. Another voice mail box. Another message left.

By this time I realized I needed an old fashioned phone book. I was on a roll. I began to think of a few more people I could call to ask for help, but as I flipped through the pages of the teacher's room phone book, my cell phone rang. What a glorious sound! It was Cathy. She was to be my savior once again. And get this, she was happy to help.

I would end up talking to Kim in the next 10 minutes and she too made a point of saying she would have been more than willing to drive over to the high school for me. Wanda and Michelle, who coincidentally had been on the phone with one another when I had tried to call Wanda earlier, both emailed me messages saying similar words of support.

My daughter arrived home safely with Cathy's assistance and slept off her fever. My students, never realizing their teacher's stress, bounded into my room with last minute questions and with hands full of work to be turned in on the last day of the quarter, and I rode home with my husband at the end of the long day.

It is perhaps a noble goal to be self sufficient and independent. But it's also perfectly okay to ask friends and family for help, even when you would prefer to move heavy furniture on that pretty island of yours with your own hands. Burdens are lighter with the occasional assistance of others. Their love and compassion is greater than I often take time to realize. I must remind myself that I would be quick to offer them assistance so why wouldn't they want to do the same for me? I am vowing to remember this in the future. But I still doubt that I'll ask my husband for help moving the couch. Between you and me? I don't want his input on where to put it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sacred Vows

I remember when I fell in love. Or rather, I remember when Eric told me, "I think I love you". I was just fifteen years old. He was eighteen and he gave me butterflies in my tummy and made my head spin. I couldn't believe he saw something special in me. After all, I was just a baby. He even convinced me that I was beautiful, truly beautiful. I actually think I fell in love with Eric one day when I made him laugh. I had no idea that I could be so funny. That was a quality I'd seen in my brothers and my sister, but not in myself. When he genuinely laughed and thought I was witty, that's when I think I fell in love with him.

Eric was a senior and I was a freshman. My sister had been a bit alarmed with my dating "an older man", but my Mom and Dad liked Eric. My parents were pretty sure that Eric would move on when he went to college. He didn't. I did. I was fifteen. There were a lot of cute guys that I enjoyed flirting with in high school! But I could not let him go for too long. I ached for him when he was away and I fell into his arms quite naturally when he was back in town on breaks from school. By the time my Junior year prom rolled around, I knew I didn't want to risk losing him forever so I held on to him and didn't look back.

He asked me to marry him when I went to college. I thought I was too young so I kept saying no. But one day I went home and talked to my Mom about his proposals. She and I had a good long talk that day. The summer after my Freshman year in college, I said yes. We kept our engagement a secret for a little while but not for long. And on Thanksgiving break during my Junior year in college, we were married.

That was the easy part. Since that day in 1988, Eric and I have grown. We have fallen more deeply in love and have become even better friends, but it hasn't all been easy. We have had a lot of fun and we have had our share of struggles. Falling in love is easy. Marriage takes work. We are incredibly lucky however, because although we married quite young, at ages 20 and 23, we chose to grow (and/or to grow up) together. Either one of us could have made any series of choices that could have put a wedge between us. Either one of us could have given up, or taken rest when we needed to keep working when times got hard. Either one of us could have entertained the idea of seeing something better or at least something "fresher" along the way. But we always chose each other. We always chose to believe that we were meant to be together, until death do us part. We had taken our vows to heart. We never considered them being anything other than sacred vows we'd made before God.

However, we are not so foolish as to think we did this on our own. We both have parents who have set the bar for a healthy, loving marriage. His Mom and Dad have been married for 46 years. My Mom and Dad have been married for 60 years. Do the math folks. That's 106 years of loving devotion.

On this day, my Mom and Dad's 60th Wedding Anniversary, I want to thank them and other loving couples in our life who have shown us how to work at marriage. By their example, Eric and I have strengthened our love for one another. He's my best friend. He's my everything. After our first 22 years together as a married couple, I can honestly say that I have never felt stronger butterflies in my stomach than I do today. I have never been wittier or more special or more beautiful than I am today. And never have I ever been more in love.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Snowfall at Night

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show. ~Andrew Wyeth

I went outside for a walk this morning. Charlie and I trudged down the unplowed driveway. It was a magical sight. We have one of those long winding driveways that goes over a little brook. In the summertime the trees' lush leaves create a canopy and in autumn, driving up the path gives me the feeling that I'm in a beautifully illustrated fairy tale; the colors are so artfully crisp and bright. But in the winter, the driveway is best appreciated after a snow fall. I am sure that if we were not teachers enjoying snow days that keep us at home after a storm, we'd have a much different opinion. However, knowing that we're all happily at home for the day, it's not uncommon for us to venture out, either to walk Charlie, to try the sleds, or to take pictures of the trees.

After my jaunt with my old girl, I came inside to do some cooking. Deviled eggs, banana bread, chicken pot pie, and pumpkin cookies would be prepared over the next several hours. The kids all went out to play in the snow and came back inside with big smiles and contented sighs. After enjoying a day of puttering in the kitchen I made myself sit down and do some school work for a couple of hours. But I then took a look outside after dark. The light caught the snow on the burning bush near my window and I just had to grab my camera and dash outside one more time before my day ended.

This time I went outside alone, leaving Charlie to sleep on her warm blanket. The air was chilled and snow continued to fall but I was dressed warmly. It was dark and still. Peacefully promising. I snapped a few pictures realizing that I could barely see what I was taking pictures of, and I felt that feeling I have always had on these snowy nights. It's a feeling that takes me back to my childhood, to the nights of grabbing the sled for some "night sliding" down the hill in my backyard on the snow-packed chute Dad always prepared each year, designed to take me all the way past the house and down to the street.

There's something incredible about the way in which the trees appear after a snowstorm. The next day's sun will make them glisten and that will be glorious too, but to capture a snowfall at night takes me back every time.

Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow,
And we, we were children once again.
--~Bill Morgan, Jr.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In My Own Skin

I am loving my forties. My older sister told me 13 years ago that the thirties were the best decade, but I have to disagree. Oh sure, I have a few more wrinkles than I had 10 years ago, but in the past few years I have sensed a certain wisdom emerging within me. I have become more intuitive, more aware. Bolder. Happier.

A few years ago I was in a very bad place. I was angry. I was hurt. There were a number of reasons as to why, but they need not to be mentioned. Let me simply say, that emotion of anger exhausted me. I fought too many battles and tried my best to stand up for what I believed to be "right" within several different circles of my life, only to be met with failure on more than one occasion. I grew cynical. It wasn't pretty. I started to lose myself. And then one day I leaned on an old mentor. His words gave me a new perspective on life. Thanks Roger.

Today, one of the old ghosts came back to test me. But I spotted it the second it appeared. It came to rattle me, to spit on me, to mock me, or to otherwise knock me down. It was cunning, arriving in costume and using words disguised in initial flattery. However this time, I acknowledged the ghost's pain. I saw its loneliness and I threw it a lifeline. I found no need to defend myself or to argue my position. I simply listened. I tried my best to offer up compassion and the altruism that I knew it had lost within itself, however temporarily. I didn't take its abuses personally. It was not about me.

In giving up the fight, I have become stronger. I no longer need to be "right". I no longer need to battle. I know who I am, for better or for worse. I continue to reflect, to listen and to observe. I continue to learn and I continue to grow. Oh, and believe me, I'll still work to find my quiet ways to affect positive changes, make no mistake about that. And if I deem there's a need to boldly take center stage again for the sake of a cause I believe in, I'll enjoy that too for a short time. I've been comfortable in the spotlight for years now but I know when it's time to make my exit. I'm not going anywhere. I'm just looking at things a little differently.

There's a quote that reads, "Practice as though you are the worst. Perform as though you are the best". I'll never stop working to learn more about this world and its people. I may have a long way to go, and hopefully I have many more decades to experience, but I'm loving my forties because I am truly and perhaps finally comfortable in my own skin.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Wooden Box of Recipes

I enjoy being organized and for years I have thought of transferring my box of
recipe cards onto the computer. I've also contemplated the idea of keeping my recipe cards inside protective plastic pocket sleeves within a binder. But there is something quite satisfying about opening the little wooden recipe box that my friend Sharon painted teal blue and on which she decoupaged designs of assorted fruit. I think of Sharon each time I open the box and of others as I paw through my stack of recipes, many of which bear the handwriting of dear friends, former coworkers, and of course my relatives too. There's a strawberry bread recipe from Mary, Cathy's fruit dip, Bill's pizza dough, and Linda's blueberry muffins. A recipe given to me by my student teaching mentor, Jean, is inside too, along with numerous magazine recipes that I have torn and stashed there, vowing to try, someday.

However, a good three fourths of the recipe cards inside the little wooden box were written out by my all-time favorite chef, my Mom.

I asked Mom to pass on to me her recipes as I prepared to move into my first apartment. "Which ones would you like? she asked. I had several requests and I have to laugh now as I see recipes for corn-on-the-cob and chicken soup, for it's been almost two decades since I've needed reminders to boil the water, shuck the corn, and sweeten the water with a little sugar! I also haven't used a recipe to make any kind of soup for years and years, understanding now that all it takes is a glance into the refrigerator to spy the leftovers ready to help create a batch! But learning the craft of cooking and baking wasn't something I mastered overnight. And some cards show this to be true. The card with my Mom's chicken tetrazini recipe is worn on its edges.

I probably do not need many of the recipes any longer, having committed most to memory, but it still gives me joy to be reminded of all the people in my life who, over the years, have added to my cooking repertoire. It gives me comfort to see my Mom's handwriting. And it always will. These cards, stained with years of use, are not going anywhere... other than back into the little wooden recipe box.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Christina-Taylor: A Face of Hope

As The Washington Post and other media reported this weekend, "Christina-Taylor Green's short life was pinned between two national tragedies: She was born on September 11, 2001, and she died Saturday as a gunman apparently targeting Representative Gabrielle Giffords shot 20 people in Tucson".

Reading of little Christina-Taylor made me wish I'd had the chance to know her. I immediately felt tears in my eyes as I read of the nine year old's recent election to her elementary school's student council, and of how proud she'd been to have been featured as one of 50 babies born on the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in a book called Faces of Hope.

I'd first heard of the Arizona shooting on Saturday when a scrolling news feed went across my laptop's screen as I was looking up the local forecast. I gasped and my daughter, who was sitting next to me on the couch, quickly asked, "What's wrong, Mom?" But it wasn't until today that I learned the identity of the victims.

Representative Giffords is in the hospital and will hopefully recover. However, killed yesterday was a Federal Judge, John Roll, who was heading home after a trip to church. He had stopped briefly to visit with Rep. Giffords. Two women in their 70s were also killed, as was a 30 year old communications outreach director who had worked for Gifford for four years. Each of the lives taken is tragic. But of course, being a mom, it was the news of little Christina-Taylor that broke my heart. She had just received her first Holy Communion at St. Odilia's Catholic Church in Tucson. At the tender age of nine, she is reported to have had a very mature appreciation of life and often repeated the same phrase to her mother: "We are so blessed. We have the best life".

As on the day of Christina-Taylor's birth, I wanted to be upfront with my children about the day's events. I chose my words carefully so as not to frighten them unnecessarily, but I spoke with honest emotion. "That's really sad" was their response. Yeah. It is.

I can't make sense of such tragedies but I can continue to pray for those affected by the world's nonsensical acts of violence. And I can continue to teach my children to do the same. As we are all encouraged to participate in a moment of silence on Monday, January 10th at 11:00am, I hope that everyone will think of little Christina-Taylor and of the other victims of Saturday's shooting, and perhaps we can all hold one another a little bit tighter and strengthen our resolve to promote peace.