Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Seasonal Switch

Today I performed the seasonal ritual of switching around winter and summer clothes. In the process I emptied two baskets of items that I'd procrastinated on hanging up. So, I got several pants and blouses properly placed on hangers. Several of the items in the baskets however went into my chest of non-seasonal apparel.

Opening up the chest of clothes is always an interesting experience for me, for I quickly forget what is in there, even though it has only been 7 months perhaps since I was last opening and switching out items. The chest is also a keeper of memories, for inside there are tee shirts from my own childhood--some from the elementary schools I went to, or from summer trips I went on with my parents, including seeing Andre the seal. There are also the bumper pads from my babies' crib, my first leather jacket from college, even a few of my high school prom dresses. There are a couple of precious pieces of clothing from my children's toddler years--such as the navy with yellow football jersey that immediately brings back Paul at age three, or the Victorian-styled coats and hats that my daughters wore. Today I even spotted Raggedy Ann, "Raggy", my beloved doll that my sister made me when I was just a toddler myself.

Many of these items should probably be boxed up and sent to Goodwill, but there is something that doesn't let me part with them. I rarely even look at the items too closely; I simply acknowledge that they are filling one-third of the chest and that's the way it is...maybe I'll rethink them being there next season.

But for now, the clothes have been changed out, and the lid of the chest is back on. There are two lamps, a tv/dvr, and picture frames back on the top and it would be an awful pain to get back inside there again. So, for now, the crib bumper pads can hang out with Raggy near Paul's toddler football shirt and other outgrown clothes. There's only so much a girl can do in one afternoon after all...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Our Memorial Day

At 7:50am, my day began.

As Paul enjoyed a lazy start to his day off, playing on the Wii...

...Emma and I jumped in the van for the 10 minute drive to the high school. She boarded a bus and traveled to three communities to perform at Memorial Day services.

I went home, grabbed my ipod and went for a neighborhood walk !

At 11:00am we went to the Village Green for the Memorial Day service.

Emma had the honor of singing the National Anthem...

..and playing TAPS.

We watched the parade...

...listened to the band...

...and took in our beautiful community.

For lunch I fixed Italian sandwiches served with tortilla chips and raspberry lemonade!

We spent the afternoon doing yard work...

...sweeping the driveway...


...and doing MORE raking!

We enjoyed a fabulous BBQ dinner of marinated steak, pasta salad, deviled eggs, corn-on-the-cob, watermelon slices...

...and marble cake with chocolate frosting...

...which we enjoyed while watching an old war movie.

As we prepare to end our beautiful Memorial Day, we give thanks to all those who serve or who have served. Thank you for making a day like today possible for me and my family...and countless other families too. We will not forget your sacrifices.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

At My Bedroom Windows

I love my bedroom windows. In autumn, the trees are rich in color, a kaleidoscope of fanciful patterns. In the winter I look outside and see falling snow covering the tree branches. In late spring, the lush leaves give the outdoors the appearance of a jungle. Beyond the trees there are always children outside playing; their voices carry in the air over the sound of the babbling brook. Tonight, at the end of May, it's another gorgeous evening here at home.

I hear the distant sound of traffic. In the summer I sometimes hear music playing at one of the downtown pubs; it's light enough to be pleasant to fall asleep to. On the holidays I'll hear the crackling of fireworks and often smell the aroma of a neighbor's barb-b-q.

A light breeze cools off the warm room tonight. The sun is setting. Some nights I can see the moon illuminating the sky; other nights the darkness only brings out the sound of peepers and crickets.

When I am at camp, I can fall asleep to the lapping waves on the beach and the sound of loons. It's truly beautiful, but there's also a beauty to be seen, heard, and felt being here at home next to my bedroom windows.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dancing at the Deck Door

Ah yes, they're back. The junebugs and Boo...at the deck door.

Dive bombing the screens, the big junebugs sound determined to get inside the window behind me, but I know that, try as they might, they'll be spending the night outside. But every once in while, like last night, one will be lucky enough to fly in while I'm wondering how long I will keep the deck door open as Boo tries to decide whether or not he's brave enough to be an outdoor cat. We'll do this, play this little game, most evenings for weeks before my neurotic kitty will decide it is okay to go outside for maybe 10 minutes each evening in the summertime. "Boo? Are you going to go or are the two of us going to spend the next hour trying to get all these bugs out of the house?" My daughter laughs at me as she hears me screech a little, each time another bug flies inside.

So there was the junebug. He'd flown inside and it was my job to get him back outside where he belonged. It was a simple gesture. One paper towel scoop and one little screech later, he was back in the night air.

One bug, trying desperately to get inside to be near the light. One cat, insecure and confused as to whether or not he wants to be outside in the dark. I'm not really sure why, but there is something about this little dance, that we'll continue to do near the deck door most summer evenings, that makes me smile.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Setting the Tone

I remember a conversation my Mom and I had years ago. It revolved around the idea of the mother of a home setting the tone for the entire family. I don't really remember too much about the particulars of the discussion, but I do remember thinking and taking to heart the idea that my family's stability and ultimate opportunities for peace and happiness would depend upon me. The discussion wasn't meant to put pressure on me, nor was it meant to suggest that homes without a Mom could not be stable, peaceful, or happy, still, we both felt that the Mom has a huge responsibility that should be taken seriously. There's a certain degree of complete selflessness that I suppose we both believed is necessary in this role.

Growing up, my Mom and I always had a very open and honest relationship. I always trusted my Mom and shared a lot more with her than most children probably share with their mothers. But she was always a great listener and she gave wonderful advice. As her fifth child, she probably had experienced enough with parenting with my four older siblings to make raising me something she could do in her sleep. She'd become a Mom at age 24 and had me when she was nearly 41. I always appreciated that she'd call me a "happy afterthought" instead of an "oops" baby.

My Mom was always a lot of fun too. She took time to make everything special. She was an excellent cook, a most creative woman when it came to decorating or costume-making, and the best partner when it came time to help me plan birthday parties. She took time to play with me, knowing that I did not have any siblings close to my own age and to this day I still have fond memories of her on the floor with me playing with Barbies or Fisher-Price Little People. As I got older we'd go shopping for clothes which was a ball as we both loved fashion, and she'd always tell me how my "cute little figure" looked adorable in that dress so we'd buy it and giggle about how we ought to just buy the other one too because there was sure to be another occasion where I'd need it.

When I was a teen the two of us were lucky enough to tag along with my Dad on his trip to Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. We'd traveled before to Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Bermuda, but our trip to Stockholm will forever be the most memorable. It was full of hysterical mishaps that got my Mom and I laughing uncontrollably in public. Laughing with my Mom, to this day, is one of my favorite things to do. It's when I know that all is right with the world.

My Mom's sense of humor, her protectiveness, her dedication as she sat in the audience of every single performance I was in (even when, as an adult, I'd perform in community theater productions), and her standing offer that I could always "blame it on her" when I needed an excuse not to go out somewhere or not to participate in something that would tough to explain, gave me the security and the confidence I needed as I grew up.

But perhaps the biggest gifts she ever gave me were the conversations we had when I worried that perhaps I was too young to become engaged to marry Eric...and later when I fretted about being a working mother, knowing she had always been a stay-at-home Mom. As with any other decision I'd made during my life, she listened to my concerns, asked me all the right questions, and then reminded me of how I would always know what was best for me. She offered up her own perspective while giving me the room to make my own decisions. When I decided to marry Eric a few months shy of my 21st birthday, she let me take the lead in making all the decisions about the wedding and she could not have been more "cool" about showing her excitement while letting me set the pace for the planning. When Sydney was born four years later, and I had to return to work after only a few months, she and my Dad drove four hours to my home every Sunday night to care for her, then would return home each Friday afternoon to allow Eric, Sydney, and I to have our weekends to ourselves. They did this for weeks, allowing Sydney (and her worrying new Mom) more time at home before we placed her elsewhere.

As I became more confident in my role as Mom, I'd call home periodically to ask for recipes or to share my day with her. As my children grew, Mom was quick to make the trip to dance recitals, theater productions, confirmations, and graduations. Christmas holidays began being celebrated in my home, but Mom (and Dad) continued to share those times with us, forever cementing my childrens' memories of a series of traditions and fun with their Meme and Grampy.

Yes, selflessness, honesty, patience, playfulness, humor, and tender-loving-care. These are the greatest gifts a Mom can provide to her children. My Mom truly did set the tone in my childhood growing up, giving me stability and endless opportunities for happiness, but what I don't think she may realize is how she helped me set the tone in my own home with my own children. So on that note, I'm going to go call my Mom. In my family's tradition, I'll gather my three children around the phone and when she picks up the phone, we'll start singing her "Happy Birthday". And then I'll get to hear her laugh and all will be right with the world...again.

Happy Birthday Mom. I love you.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Unmasked. Au Naturel.

I grew up in awe of my great-aunts. They were all so friendly and loving. Living together their entire lives, these elderly sisters shared an apartment downstairs from my Nana, their married sister. I had great affection for each aunt. Aunt Irma died when I was quite young but my Mom loved to tell the story of how I went right up to her body at her wake, leaned over the coffin, and kissed her "goodbye". Aunt Leonie, the only aunt living at the apartment with a husband, dear Uncle Camille, used to love to show me her antique dolls and one day gave me one to take home. (I loved that doll and as any young girl who loves a doll would do, I played with her until she fell apart in my arms). Aunt Irene, the one who looked the most like my Nana, lived the longest and became the one I knew the best. Aunt Irene was so sweet, had an easy laugh, and was so pretty. But today I got thinking of Aunt Emeline. She was equally nice as my other aunts. But it was my Aunt Emeline who was known for never being seen without being fully dressed, adorned with jewelry and make-up. She would be picture-perfect even at the breakfast table which she would set each night before going to bed.

Maybe influenced by Aunt Emeline, from the time I was entering high school, I used to have a bit of a phobia of being seen without make-up. At times this phobia still surfaces, although it's not as strong as it once was. Although I still won't go out to dinner or to the movies without having "my face on", you can occasionally spot me running to the store or to the post office au naturel. But it's taken years to get me to this point. Call me vain, but remember, I've got the blood of Aunt Emeline within me.

Where does such a superficial insecurity come from? Maybe from childhood teasing for my childhood platinum blonde hair...teasing at a new school that confused and hurt me at the time, although back then I tried to appear "tough" and tried my best not to let a single tear fall. Maybe from a few years of being a self-proclaimed "ugly duckling" as an adolescent when I first got my glasses. I picked out the most hideous pair or so I thought later. I really have no idea where these dumb insecurities come from. But I know that we all have insecurities. I'm just glad that I am not nearly as vain as I used to be.

In spontaneous conversations with my three children, each of them have told me separately over the years that when they think of me, their Mom, they picture me without make-up on my face and without my contact lenses. "I know the 'other you'", my son told me last week, "but that's the Mom who heads to work or is going out somewhere. I like to think of you as you are most of the time, at home".

I've been thinking of this shared truth of theirs. It makes me smile. It warms my heart. It reminds me that my children, who see me the way I naturally am, bare-faced, unwashed hair, and all (along with my husband of course, and other family members and close girlfriends) know me and love me for who I AM, unguarded, unveiled, beautiful for being their Mom...that's all. I'd like to think that I am authentic as that "other woman" who adores playing dress-up with make-up and fashion, but in truth, the fashion, the make-up, maybe even the contact lenses give me a "mask" that is not completely me. It's all a mask I am unwilling to take off for too many. The make-up and maybe even the contact lenses represent that "guard" that is there protecting me from someone seeing "the real me", someone not liking what they see.

It's silly. It isn't a guard that is needed, I don't think. But after 30 years of wearing it, it can be awfully difficult to remove. So lately, as I have begun wearing my glasses more often out of necessity, I have been thinking of all this. When I catch myself feeling vain I tell myself that I doubt even Aunt Emeline would approve of this. I don't approve of this. It's foolish and it flies in the face of everything that I have ever believed in and have wanted my children to believe in. So, if you do happen to catch me fresh-faced, wearing glasses or contacts at the grocery store, post office, or more predictably, out on the dock where I am always at my happiest, I'd love it if you'd give me a little smile and a sincere, "It's nice to see YOU". I promise I will keep my eyes focused on yours and smile back fully confident and at ease.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Where Are You Puppy?!

So, here we are. May 25th. Exactly one month away from that magic date when we can get a puppy. It'll be one week and one day after school ends, and the day after Paul arrives home from his favorite week of the year at a local boys' camp. One more month. Now where's that puppy?!

We've been checking the local shelter but we haven't seen one available for adoption yet. I would be more than tempted to get an older dog but the kids have never had a puppy (unless you count Sydney who was two years old when we got Charlie, but she doesn't really remember her puppyhood). So knowing this will probably be the last time a puppy comes into our family, a puppy is what we're looking for!

"What kind? Any special breed?" Everyone asks. We're not picky really, although we do not want the pup to look like Charlie if it can be avoided. Different coloring or a different mix of breeds would be better for us all for there will only be ONE Charlie after all. I have always loved big dogs but the medium sized ones are nice too. Charlie ended up being much smaller than we had anticipated when we got her. I love little dogs too but I almost think I'd still be looking for a bigger dog if I were to get a tiny one. Wow. Two dogs?! Yeah, I might just be okay with that too at this point!

I went outside today on this sunny afternoon. I sat on the deck and I immediately thought of all the time I spent with Charlie: as a pup when she led two-year old Sydney into the woods out back, causing the local emergency crew to come search for her; as a young dog who, when retrieving her beloved football, would suddenly take off and run away, chasing something, following her impulse to run; as an aging dog wanting to spend time with me on the warm deck, putting her nose through the deck railing to sniff the summer air; as an elderly dog doing her best to tromp through the snow for one last snowshoe trek.

We are all SO ready for a puppy. I know that some people are fearful or simply not ready to allow a new dog into their lives after the death of their beloved best friend, and I understand that, but there is something within me that works differently. I think of how my son Paul was conceived just four months after my miscarriage in the fall of 1998. People back then were a bit surprised by that turn of events. There's something within me that hollers out, "LIFE IS GOOD. TIME IS PRECIOUS. DON'T WASTE TIME. KEEP LIVING. BE HAPPY!". I'm so ready to hear us all giggling again at the antics of a young pup. I am so anxious to feel my heart melt at the little face as it sleeps. I am even ready for all the difficulties and expenses of owning a dog. It's been nearly four months since we lost Charlie. That's long enough for this house to go without a dog. We're ready.

So...where's that puppy?!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Down for the Count

It's been quite a while since I've had such a head cold. I've now remembered how much I detest them. It's bad enough to be fully congested but to then lose your voice and to suffer through a scratchy sore throat is miserable. I'm not a wimp either when it comes to such things. I usually "rally through" a cold but this one this week has me truly challenged. It has me just about down for the count.

I had the hardest time getting up this morning and thought of staying home and calling in sick, but I considered my classes today and thought it best that I be there to keep my seniors on track in their final days and to answer my juniors' questions over the new novel we're reading. But with just 20 minutes left in the school day, it became clear to me that I had not made a wise decision in pushing myself to come to school. "I hope you feel better" had become the mantra of the day with everyone's looks of pity cast my way. Yes, I should have stayed home. I'll know better tomorrow although I am still hoping this cold will dissipate before I have to call for a substitute.

Being under-the-weather is a bit ironic to me today as I see the first glimpses of sunshine and as I hear that tomorrow might be a full out sunny day, the first one we've had in a few weeks. I can't be sick under a fleece blanket on such a nice day? This isn't fair!

But it's on a day like this that I receive a very important reminder not to take my health for granted. The cloudiness in my head, my inability to communicate without coughing with pain, and knowing everyone knows you are not at your best just is not my way of doing business. I suppose it's natural that I am fighting this cold, fighting this illness by denying it's even there, but I am now giving myself permission to crawl into my bed to nap. I am giving in... for the night. I will take care of myself now and expect better health tomorrow. And if it takes another day or two to recover, I'll try to be patient but I'll also take time to remember how in comparison with those suffering from more serious illnesses, I am very lucky to have recovery be an option for me.

"Drink lots of fluids and get your rest". Okay. I'm paying attention now.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Pre-Teen's Chicken Parmesan Dinner

Nearly a decade after having gone through this with our eldest child, there we sat listening to the orthodontist discuss my son's treatment. Four months with a palate expander and 18 months in braces. No need for headgear and if he's good with rubber bands, he won't need the "spring things". After going through the information, the doctor's assistant turned to my son and said, "Are you excited?" Paul did his best not to be rude and he did not give her a weird look I thought the question may have warranted. Instead he smiled a little and said honestly, "NO".

As we jumped in the car for the ride home, Paul's attention was on the cool game room in the orthodontist's office, not the dreary fact that he was about to begin an uncomfortable series of appointments and be dealing with a mouth full of metal. "They had a real arcade game in there and a PS3 and all that costs a lot of money!" He was sincerely impressed. Of course my husband and I did feel the need to explain to him that we're just one of the clients paying nearly $6000 over the next two years to his arcade game owning doctor, but he's worth it of course. (Paul that is...)

We stopped at a diner to eat on the way home. As if to impress upon us both that he's getting older, Paul asked if he could order the chicken parmesan dinner, something not on the children's menu. He placed the order and also polished off our appetizer of onion rings as he chatted away about the things he wants to do during his lifetime. "First, I'll go to Olive Garden. Then when they come around with that cheese grater telling me to stop them when they've grated enough, I won't ever say stop. Then I want to go rollerskating at Walmart, just to see if they'd allow it". Oh yeah. He was on a roll now. My little clown with both parents in attendance to entertain. I was not surprised by his chatter at all. However to see him polish off that entire plate of chicken parmesan with all the ziti and sauce and a side of onion rings plus the garlic bread?! THAT surprised me. My little boy is (gulp) growing into a true pre-teenaged young man.

Suddenly the before and after pictures of my eldest child that they took years back at the orthodontist's sprung to my mind. In just two years' time I'd be seeing the "after" shot of Paul. If all goes well with his treatment, he'll be 13 1/2 years old, nearing the end of his 7th grade year. Will I even recognize my baby boy in that picture?

A part of me wants to be like Paul and answer the question of "Are you excited?" the same way he did, with a resounding "NO!" Can't we keep them little? Between the new glasses, the longer hair, the new lacrosse sport, and his picky fashion sense, he's grown up so quickly in the past few years; I fear I am unable to record these memories fast enough. But then it's all okay. As he finishes the last of his chicken parmesan dinner, he calls his older sister on my cell phone to brag that he doesn't have to wear headgear the way she had to all those years ago, and I hear him giggling. That's when I know for sure, my little boy is forever here to stay as long as he keeps teasing, laughing, and smiling that beautiful smile, crooked or straightened, for the rest of my days.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Bookworm, My Drill Sergeant

Mom! You can't stop! Keep reading! Mom! You've chosen a terrible spot to stop! Read one more chapter first!

At the end of the weekend, realizing that my head cold was getting the better of me, I not-so-subtly hinted to my family that someone should make us supper tonight. So, I was happy when I went into the kitchen and found my husband had taken my suggestion of making grilled cheese sandwiches to go with some minestrone soup. Simple but delicious, and any food prepared by someone else tonight was going to be appreciated. I enjoyed the meal then retreated to my bedroom planning on crawling into my bed with my novel. But there she was, waiting for me, already curled up under the covers...the drill sergeant.

She is on her laptop tonight. Sometimes she's in my bed doing homework. Most days she is in there reading. Known for sailing through books in one sitting, she's my bookworm. My bedroom is a quiet spot of course, away from the sound of the television or her sister skyping with friends over the computer. "This is my bedroom you know", I say to her almost daily. "Yeah, I know"", she replies. I suppose there is something extra comfy about a Mom's bed. I remember thinking that when I lived in my childhood home too.

After she makes room for me, I open up my novel. "Where are you now?" she asked. It's been nearly a year since we finished the first book in the trilogy, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and although she and my son quickly devoured all three books, I had not moved past the first book. Both of them have been anxiously awaiting me to finish the second book, Catching Fire...and next, the third, Mockingjay. So when I came home last week and told them both that now I had to read the second book as soon as possible since my dystopian literature students were reading the sequel to The Hunger Games on their own and were excited to talk to me about the storyline, they were quick to react. "MOM! We've been waiting for you to finish that book for so long! READ IT!" I told them I was planning to do so this weekend. But then the head cold hit. I started the book Friday evening but could not keep my eyes open. I read a little more on Saturday but again, got sleepy. So tonight, under the watchful eye of my daughter, I am on a roll, trying to read as many chapters as possible before bedtime.

"Wait. Let me see the book. I need to know where you are now", she says. I hand her the book and she tells me again. "You need to keep going!" After all those years of reading to her as a baby and young child, after all those trips to the school book fairs, to the library, and to all those bookstores, after all of our discussions about our favorite books, I realize that I have created a monster. This girl of mine is not only a dedicated book worm, but she is cracking the whip wanting me to read more of my book without taking any breaks. I sure hope she lets me go to bed tonight.

I'd like to tell you more about how I am ending my weekend next to my little drill sergeant, but I fear there is no time. I must get back to Catching Fire. I have to admit, I'm hooked. I need to find out what's going to happen in the next chapter, the one I was supposed to read before taking this break. "You have your own bed", I tease my daughter, without expecting her to leave. As comforting as it was to crawl into my Mom's bed when I was younger, I have to admit. It's even sweeter to have a child, even one who is nearly sixteen years old, crawling in mine to read with me.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Humor Love Tranquility

Tonight as I headed to bed I wanted to write. But I was not sure I had anything of any value to say. I felt uninspired. So just as I was about to give up for the night and give myself permission to skip a night of writing, I looked around my bedroom. I looked over at the shelves full of photo albums. I saw a box of photographs I made copies of and have yet to organize. There are numerous photographs in my bedroom. A few are in nice frames on the chest and wall. Several are tucked into the frame of the mirror where I get ready each morning. Then there are eight that I placed into two framed collages that I hung on the wall above my bed’s headboard. I looked up at those collages tonight and realized I had found my inspiration for tonight’s writing time.

Within the collage there are a few nature shots. One is a pretty picture of some Brown-Eyed Susans. I remember selecting that picture because the yellow of the flowers was beautifully bright against the pale blue walls of my newly painted room. Another picture shows some red berries. I remember picking that kind of berry when I was a child making mudpies and “soup” for my dolls. Another is a picture of some pine boughs, a typical sight but one I love. There there is the shot of some trees in silhouette. Those particular trees are my favorites. I snap pictures of them against the August sunsets at camp each summer. There’s also a picture of my favorite mountain range and the lake in front of it. On the lake, paddling out to the sunset, are my husband and I in our kayaks.

Another picture shows my husband and children snowshoeing with my dog Charlie following them. As usual, I had Charlie on a leash for our trek and I snapped the picture of us all heading out on one of the trails out behind our house. Snowshoeing in the woods behind my house is one of my favorite things to do.

At the top of one of the collages is a picture of my son on the morning after he made his first Holy Communion and Confirmation. Dressed in his new suit and looking extremely handsome, my second-grade son began dancing and I caught him in one of his dance moves. It’s hilarious.

Finally there is a picture of my son and daughter jumping off the dock at camp, each with an inner tube wrapped around their middles. They are looking at each other as they jump and I see nothing but joy and their closeness every time I look at the picture. It reminds me of the way in which my children have always been one another’s best friends.

The photographs above my bed are reminders of the beauty and peace to be found in nature and in the time spent with family. Humor. Love. Tranquility. It’s no wonder I selected these pictures to greet me each morning as I wake and to calm me each evening as I head to bed. How could I ever be uninspired to write when I have these reminders of my life’s greatest inspirations staring directly at me?

And just you wait until I speak of the pictures tucked into the frame of the mirror above my bureau!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Night Coma

Pulling my tired body out of bed this morning to head to work on yet another dark rainy day was tough, but I did it with the promise to myself that I would get home as early as possible and "make friends" with the couch for a well-deserved lazy afternoon and evening. A little guilt lingered but not much. It'd been a week of heavy duty correcting, final exams planning, emails to parents, morning/afternoon duty, and detention proctoring. I'd also taken time to do some extra tutoring and study skill work with a struggling student during my study halls. At home I had traveled to two doctor appointments, entertained company mid-week, and last night I had attended an Honors Society induction ceremony. It had been a good week--very productive--but a busy week. It'd been awhile since I'd been a true couch potato, watching tv for hours and I wanted nothing else today. The chores, the correcting, the exercising, even the hubby-requested movie date could wait until Saturday. So keeping my promise, I grabbed a fleece throw and settled in with the remote.

My family joined me for awhile as we watched some taped shows from the week. We started with a couple of silly comedies before moving on to some crime dramas. I got up long enough to put a couple of pizzas in the oven and then settled back in after dropping my daughter off at play rehearsal.

It was to be a Friday Night Coma at its best only if I could doze off on the couch, but I found myself heading upstairs before 9pm with my laptop and a novel. With the ceremonious release of the remote, I kissed my family goodnight. With the intent to write this blog post and to then "power down", soon I'd be cracking open my book to read until I fell asleep. I could not have planned a better end-of-the-week party for myself.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Serving Time

"I'll be home late tonight. I have detention". The first few times I found myself saying this to my children this year, I understandably received a couple of funny looks. They snickered and smirked, realizing I meant that I was proctoring detention for the afternoon, a rotating assignment shared by a small group of teachers who don't mind earning a little extra pay and keeping track of a few students who are dealing with the consequences of a poor decision or two.

Although I have had one or two fidgety students at detention over the past year, overall, the students are well behaved and enter the room with homework or a book to read for the two hours they are serving. I'm typically able to correct papers, plan lessons, or straighten my teaching materials during that time and I actually look forward to having the excuse to remain at work a little longer so as to make further progress on my teaching "To Do list". I have always enjoyed a quiet atmosphere and the peacefulness of the upstairs hallway at this time of day is conducive to focus and attention.

Being the youngest of five children, with four older siblings who were out of the house by the time I entered middle school, I never had to fight for a quiet spot to study in my home when I was younger. When I went to college, I was quick to get myself a "single" dorm room after having a rough semester with a roommate who was a decent person but who was not a good match for me. I've always needed time to be in a calm, serene environment and when I am not, I go looking for an oasis. At home, I retreat to my bedroom or go out on the deck. At school, I shut my door during my prep periods. At camp when a lot of company arrives, you'll see me making my way to the dock. And if the dock becomes crowded, I'll go for a walk or go kayaking. I definitely become a hermit during my time at camp also and then I feel bad when I realize that I've missed an opportunity to visit with a friend who is in town. It's not that I don't enjoy being with people; I certainly do, however the introvert in me knows that I maintain my energy and enjoyment of spending time with others by making time for solitude. Being with people constantly is especially draining for me and I need time to replenish my spirit.

So, if I come across as distant or sequestered, I do apologize. I do not mean to keep you at arm's length. I do not mean to be aloof or unapproachable. Dear God, I would hate to be thought of as unapproachable! I admit I do not always appear to be the most friendly of company but I do care. I am sympathetic. I am warm hearted. I even think I'm fun. I enjoy companionship and friendships very much. I simply know that to be at my best I must remove myself from the world of others when I am low on energy.

Today as I looked over at the two upperclassman boys serving their detention, (Yes, it's a small group. That's a good sign for our school this week I think), I saw one boy I know to be a whirlwind of activity, a smart articulate guy who is a constant talker and instigator, but who is generally a good guy. There he sat with his paperback book, a fantasy novel that kept his attention for those two straight hours. In contrast sat the other boy who asked for permission to keep moving as he made a poster before he emptied and then organized his backpack. It was definitely a long two hours for him. But for me and I suspect my novel reading ally, detention brought an excuse to stop, to pause, to think, and to breathe. It gave us time to sit in silence and to refresh all that we have within us that we'll need to do more. Let's just hope he'll stop short of doing whatever brought him to this detention room in the first place!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

God's Rainbow

God placed a symbol of hope directly in front of me today. I was not expecting one but there it was in all its glory, sitting upon the desk in my classroom.

One of my teens, an incredibly sweet girl who I first met when she was a freshman student of mine, left on my desk a two page letter that she said she was "led to write". It was a beautiful note of appreciation for my dedication, positive influence, and my intentions. She acknowledged my hard work and my attentiveness to all students. And then her selfless letter went straight to the heart of the matter at hand; it reminded me of God's rainbow.

"You wish the best for everyone and want them to take the high road, but some don't listen and follow a hard path. You said yourself, "I'm not Superwoman!". You can only do so much and then you have to let go and trust God will place someone else to handle the rest..."

She took time to tell me how I had personally influenced her through my "teaching and model". She gave me credit for helping her with her skills but spoke more passionately of how I had shaped her to be a better person. She continued her letter writing, "It's not about the work, it is about the challenges that you place in front of me. Life is about challenges because if God made life easy, do you know how boring it would be?"

A girl of great faith, she concluded her letter by reminding me of Jesus and his disciples. She told me I am doing my "absolute best" to follow Jesus' example and she encouraged me to "keep up the good work". She asked me to "consider the peoples' lives (I am) changing and the challenges (I am) giving myself to become a better person. "Ask God to give you strength for each day...you will always be in my heart and prayers".

I finished this angel's letter in tears. I read recently that Maya Angelou, who has spoken at several commencement events, has told students many times: “I call you rainbows in the clouds from a story in Genesis when it rained on the land so long the people thought it would never end, and God placed a rainbow in the sky to make it ease and give the people hope. This is what you are to your society”. She also said, “God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us—in the dreariest and most dreaded moments—can see a possibility of hope”.

Yes, God placed a symbol of hope directly in front of me today. I was not expecting one but there it was in all its glory, sitting upon the desk in my classroom. Thank you for sending me the most amazing rainbow today Lord. Thank you for working yet another miracle. Thank you for sending me a beautiful rainbow named Bethany.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Pretty Road

After a full day at work today I drove the 20 miles home to pick up my daughter for a dentist appointment. Forever loyal patients, my husband and I have remained with the dentist we first visited back in our college days. The only unfortunate thing is that his office is now a good 40 miles from our home. So Emma and I hopped in the van for the familiar trip to my college town.

As we entered town, we passed the gray painted apartment house where Eric and I first lived after we were married 22 years ago. My children are used to our pointing to the place and I always take a look to see what has changed to the building's exterior. I smile as I remember the various neighbors we shared the building with. Big enough for five apartments, there was the couple that loved to bowl who lived in the attic apartment and the opera student who lived next door. On the first floor lived a series of tenants, most of whom had children. I never did get to know them for they never seemed to stay for long. And finally there was Leo, an older man who had lived in the building for many years. He owned the corner gas station, a curious place decorated in Irish green and clover. Leo was a quiet neighbor unless you made the mistake of parking in his spot. I learned my lesson on squatter's rights very quickly.

Our apartment was nice as first apartments go. It had wooden floors throughout with the exception of the kitchen and bath. The rooms had big windows and charming built-ins including a lovely curio cabinet/bookshelf with drawers. The apartment was very sunny and sported a good size living room, two bedrooms, large kitchen, and den/office. It had a covered back deck and a pretty central staircase leading to the front door. We lived on the second floor of the building. The apartment had its peculiar features too however, including the fact that we had to deal with an apartment sized fridge and a bathtub that lacked a shower! (How we ever survived taking baths for three years is beyond me). There were hardly any closets so we used one of the bedrooms for storage but did put in a rollaway bed for guests. The apartment was what we called “a bowling alley”. The long hallway between the living room and the kitchen was shaped like an old fashioned shuffle board court and it was pretty common for me to take a running start and to slide from one room to another in my stocking feet. In the den/office we put an old sleeper sofa thereby ensuring that company would have enough room to spend a few nights with us on occasion which they did.

An older building though, we'd lay in bed in the apartment and listen to the sound of little critters running through the walls. We'd sometimes hear September (the opera singer) practicing her music and we'd occasionally hear the various families that lived downstairs come in or leave with their children in tow. At times I'd also hear a vacuum being used upstairs but overall, it was a quiet place to live.

It wasn't much but it was our first home as man and wife. In the home we created an oasis and hosted many friends and family. It seems strange at times that our children have only seen the outside but of course it was never their home. Well, with one exception. Sydney was born on a Tuesday and came home from the hospital on a Thursday. We spent five days in the apartment with her before we closed on our current home the following Tuesday. Take it from me however. Being a first year teacher, having your first baby, building your first house, and moving in when your newborn baby is just one week old makes for one CRAZY time! (But it was awfully exciting!)

One of my favorite memories of the apartment occurred on the Saturday before we moved out. A new mother who had just come home from the hospital two days earlier, we welcomed a number of family members and friends who traveled down to help us move into our new home. We had special permission to put our things in the new house but we had to promise we would not sleep in the house until the official closing. The “moving crew” helped us pack boxes and lifted furniture into various vehicles to travel the 40 miles to our new town. I ordered pizzas and sat on the couch cushions as everyone worked around me. One by one they'd come to sit with me, to check out the baby. We talked about how I'd be sleeping on an air mattress for a few days until we could move into our new home and they shook their heads and commented on how a new Mom shouldn't be doing that. But I did not care. I did not know any better. I was tired and sore and emotional but I was happy. A new chapter in our life had begun.

As we passed the familiar apartment building today, Emma, my middle child, looked around the neighborhood and as we reached the intersection to head to the dentist's office she commented, “This is a pretty road”. It was a simple but sweet observation said without any prompting and again I found myself smiling. “Yes, that is a pretty little road”, I agreed. I suppose that any road that leads me from one chapter of my life to another is going to be especially pretty.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Call me Lucy

I miss the days when I was told to go to my room to take a nap when I got crabby. Okay..although that makes for a good hook, in all actuality, I don't remember that ever happening (the being sent to my room part, not the crabby part). As a child I would get snappy with my older brother but when you're the baby sister in a family of five children, and your siblings are a lot older and therefore wiser than you, parents tend to look the other way thinking correctly that you're simply doing what you can to defend yourself. I always fought back with the only weapon I truly had...my caustic tongue. The defense continued to work in other situations as I got older. But then I was educated on the nuances of my acerbic wit.

Years ago, a particular person in my life (No, not my husband. He's too nice to be completely honest with me) told me that I reminded him so much of "Deborah", the character played by Patricia Heaton on the comedy series "Everybody Loves Raymond". He said it was my sly use of biting sarcasm that made him say this. I remember being embarrassed by this remark (even though he seriously meant it as a compliment--he told me so) and vowing to "watch my tongue" in all future conversations. However, I came to realize that sarcasm, sometimes called the language of the devil, (seriously?!), did not have to be completely abandoned, rather it could simply be toned down and used less frequently. Well, duh !

The other day when I listed a few of the roles I'd once played in the theater, I forgot one very important character, Charles Schultz's Lucy. I do not know what it means that I neglected to mention this one, for her pure joy at taking away Charlie Brown's football at the last minute and her taunting of Linus and the snatching of her younger brother's security blanket was such fun to play. Part crab, part antagonist. Who doesn't love Lucy!?

For the most part I'm pretty even keeled. I'd even go so far as to call myself sunny and optimistic. (Seriously, I'm not kidding. People have called me inspiring for my positive nature. Don't laugh. I know I've been rather depressing to listen to lately but I'll be back to normal soon. Give me a break). However when I am tired and stressed or otherwise irritated and disappointed, I have all I can do to bite my tongue. I very rarely "yell" (I abhor yellers) but I do admit, I can get snippy. (Don't you just love that word, snippy?!) Often when I am in a foul mood, I tell myself not to talk, not to even respond, not to get myself in hot water with others. I take deep breaths and try to relax. (It helps to have a good friend agree to kick you under the table when she senses your lips are parting to speak). But often, the more I suppress, the more sarcastic I become. What's a girl to do?

And people wonder why I take time to write each day...it's called therapy folks. But okay, okay. I'll tell myself before you tell me. I am going to bed early tonight. Mom and Dad may have been smirking in the front seat as I laid into my older brother, but they also taught me that in polite company, if you don't have anything nice to say...

Oh the heck with that. There are enough of those lemmings in the world already. Bring on the Lucy. Tonight I'm crabby. Nice to meet you. What's your name?!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Papa's Hug

Whenever we saw one another his first impulse was to tease. But barely a minute would pass before he'd say something complimentary. And then he'd ask me about my "folks". I remember a few people telling me he wasn't "a hugger", but following my husband's lead, I never failed to give him one. And I suspect he enjoyed them very much.

When we were expecting our third child, my husband and I discussed baby names. I thought for sure that we'd settle in on "Seth" if it was boy, as that would have been Sydney or Emma's name had they not been born girls. But we began exploring other names and the one name we both had an attachment to was "Paul". I'd had a few special "Paul's" in my life--a best friend and a childhood parish priest who had taken time out of his very busy schedule later on to meet and talk with Eric and I when we became engaged. But it was obvious that Eric's "Papa" was the Paul our son would be named after. Papa Paul and his wife, Eric's "Mana" were incredibly proud when our son Paul was born and named.

What I most loved about Papa was the twinkling in his eye when we'd gang up together and tease his son, my father-in-law. It was fun to have a partner-in-crime like him, someone who was quick to dig out past memories to use against the one who was often, albeit teasingly, giving me and my husband a hard time. But I also adored his devotion to his wife and to his family and I also greatly respected the hard working individual he'd always been. It reminded me of my own Dad, whose name joined Paul's when my son was born. I cannot think of a stronger legacy to have given my son than to be named for his great-grandfather and his grandfather. Many a holiday we would entertain my parents and Eric's, and invite Eric's grandparents over too. Paul and my Dad would sit and reminisce about the past for hours. I loved listening to them talking.

It was a little less than one year ago when we were told Papa's life was nearing its end. My husband and I struggled, wondering what was best to do. Should we remember him the way he'd always been--strong and full of life--or should we go to him to say our goodbyes? Should we take our three children with us? I agonized over the decision. But in the end, I decided we would go. It was the right decision.

Saying goodbye to Papa that day was very moving. My time with Papa allowed me a chance to tell him I loved him very much and I thanked him for being a wonderful great-grandfather to my three children. I also thanked him for being the grandfather that I myself had never had in my own family as my parents' fathers had both passed away before I'd grown out of infancy. When Papa died a few days later I was in the middle of final presentations with my teenage students. My family went to the funeral without me and I felt great sadness that I could not be there. But I knew he'd have understood. He would have been proud of me working hard to finish finals with my students.

In the year since his death we've gone by his home a few times on our way through the area. Each time we do we say hi to him. I pass by the cemetery where he was laid to rest too and I blow him a kiss.

But then last night I had a dream. In my dream I walked into a building and spotted a line of people. As I went to stand in line, I spotted a tall elderly man that I knew. It was Papa. He turned and smiled at me, with that same twinkle in his eye, and he opened up his arms to me and enveloped me in a big warm hug. It lasted long enough for me to take in the strength of his arms and the happiness of the moment. I began to laugh and heard him chuckling too. It was beautiful, truly beautiful. What a gift.

I miss you Papa. Thanks for all the hugs, especially the one last night. I needed that.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Love Rain O'er Me

I'm listening to the sound of rain outside my bedroom window tonight. In a little while I will be lulled to sleep by its song. I love to fall asleep listening to the rain. The sound is so soothing. It quiets my brain as I drift off, allowing me to focus on the patterns I hear, rather than the traffic of my day.

One night last fall, I slipped out the door and went outside in the rain. I walked around feeling the water on my face. My family, warmly tucked inside the dry house, had no idea I'd left. I walked down our driveway and looked back at our house with its windows lit up and I smiled. The phrase "she doesn't know enough to come in out of the rain" came to mind. But there is something magical about being out in the rain. And let's face it, there's little sexier than being kissed in the rain. Musicians sing of rain repeatedly. We all know of the romance and the power it contains.

When I learned years back of the spelling of The Who song "Love Reign O'er Me" I have to say I was a little disappointed. But once I listened to the lyrics of the song, all was forgiven.

Only love
Can make it rain
The way the beach is kissed by the sea
Only love
Can make it rain
Like the sweat of lovers
Laying in the fields.

Love, Reign o'er me
Love, Reign o'er me, rain on me

Only love
Can bring the rain
That makes you yearn to the sky
Only love
Can bring the rain
That falls like tears from on high

Love Reign O'er me

On the dry and dusty road
The nights we spend apart alone
I need to get back home to cool cool rain
I can't sleep and I lay and I think
The night is hot and black as ink
Oh God, I need a drink of cool cool rain

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Interrupted Service

I love a good power outage every once in a while. Unless it goes on for too long, making the house cold or causing worry for the contents of the refrigerator or freezer, having that quiet stillness overtake the usual routine brings a welcome pause. In my neighborhood, outages are more common than they ever were when I lived elsewhere. I do not remember having too many in my hometown for example nor do I remember them being a frequent occurrence at college or in my apartments.

When we lose power during the day the televisions go silent and the internet connection halts. Prepping a meal means no use of the oven and entertaining ourselves is redirected. The kids and I grab a few candles if dusk is quickly approaching. If we lose power after dark, we use our electronic devices as flashlights until we can get the candles lit. But the outage always brings us together.

Thursday night we did not lose power but after I went to bed I realized that the blog site where I post daily was in “read only” mode. I would not be able to post my writing for the day. This would not be a big deal to most folks but it was of particular interest to me. For 135 days I had posted to my blog and now, despite having one ready to go, I could not follow through with it. A few months back I had driven a couple of miles to post on my blog when our internet was down at my house. This time it would not have mattered where I was in the world--the site wasn’t operating and no travel anywhere was going to change that. After blogging for over 19 weeks in a row, I realized I would be ending my streak and strangely enough, I was okay with it.

It felt like a power outage. It was out of my control and despite the strange stillness that came over me, I felt relief. I already had a post written for the day so it was not that I was given a furlough day from my self-imposed challenge to write, but instead a wrench was thrown into my overall plan to post on the blog site each day until I "cried uncle" myself. I liked being reminded that I only have so much control over my goals, posting, writing, or otherwise. It's not always up to me. Well of course it's not! That's cool. Very cool.

The site was restored Friday afternoon and once again, I was able to post. I added the writing I’d done the day before and I smiled as I saw the one “missing day” in an otherwise perfect line of posts. I questioned whether that now meant I should take a day off from writing or whether I wanted to post a second time on the same day. Hmmm. I shrugged and decided not to decide until later. I took a fabulous nap, watched a movie with my family, and headed to bed at a decent hour. And then I found myself reaching for my laptop. I wanted to write.

Taking the moment when things were out of my control to stop and regroup, to find a candle or two to light so as not to stumble later, has brought a welcomed stillness over me. Posting to the blog is fun but it's not what this is about for me. The interruption in the blogging site's service wasn't an inconvenience; it was a good reminder that this creative outlet is not a contest. It is not a test for me at all. I love writing. That's all.

All the World's a Stage

It's not only fun to step out of oneself and into another persona, it's educational and life affirming too. As I think I have noted before, I have been an actress since the first grade. Over the course of my life on stage I have become a number of different things and/or people. I've been a run-away pancake, the Queen of Hearts, Cinderella's evil Stepmother, a snobby rich lady, an affable talk show hostess, Tolkien's Thorin, King of the Dwarves, Marion the Librarian, Mrs. Petronella VanDaan, Dolly Levi, Neil Simon's Karen Nash, an elderly woman, an opera singing witch, Thornton Wilder's Mrs. Webb, Ado Annie, Maria Von Trapp, Lady Larkin, Charles' Dickens' Nancy, The Wicked Witch of the West, Rosalie, a back up singer, and a Victorian housekeeper.

These different roles allowed me the chance to try on different faces, costumes, and scenarios. I had the opportunity to change my speech and to think in different ways. I find myself recalling a particular play or character from time to time. Each one made an impact upon me as I grew from childhood into adulthood.

Today I found myself thinking of my high school production of “The Diary of Anne Frank”. That particular play, the most serious play I'd ever been involved in, affected me greatly. In the role of holocaust victim Mrs. Petronella Van Daan, I went to the secret annex, protected by the Frank family who shared the space. Petronella's spirit was broken when she had to give up her fur coat so as to pay for necessities to be brought in from the outside. The final scene in the play when the Nazis find the group's hiding space is especially haunting and as an actress, it was the scene that made me want to pursue acting beyond the high school drama club.

I have only one life, but in my hobby of theater I have been able to live other lives. I have been able to “try on” the experiences of people very different from myself. I have experienced this to some degree in my reading, creative writing, and viewing of films too but an added dimension of stepping into another's shoes is present on the stage. It's something that I cannot get enough of. I find performing music also allows me a certain transformation into other time periods and experiences, but on a smaller, more limited scale.

My past experiences with acting have given me greater insight and understanding of differences. Not all of my characters have been admirable people but their individual challenges or struggles are worthy of respect. Each has strengthened my ability to become more tolerant and empathetic in my dealings with others in “real life” off stage. Actors typically draw inspiration for their craft from the real world. Their study of real people helps them as they work with characterization on stage. I suppose I'm reflecting upon the fact that I do the reverse.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Working Through It

In all honesty, this first sentence was written as I neared the end of tonight's post. I found myself needing to apologize for what I am writing about tonight. I find myself contemplating whether to hit the "delete button". If you're reading this now, I've obviously not done that. I hope this choice to "publish" isn't a mistake...

I have been pretty disgusted with myself lately. To be this sad or angry and despondent doesn't bring much value to others so I have been trying incredibly hard to shake this dark cloud over my head. More sleep. Let the tears fall. Ask for help. Talk to a friend. Put on a happy face. Wear yellow. I'm an actress after all, right? I should be able to feign a good mood and then have it become real for me. I think of all the blessings I have, of how fortunate I am and I feel guilt for being down. I see my husband's face and I hear him sigh and I know that this funk of mine has lasted too long. My children give me more hugs than usual and I know my disposition is affecting them too. Shame on me! Knock it off! Enough is enough! But it lingers...still.

I try to pinpoint what it is exactly that has me this way. Is it grief for those I've lost this past year or for people or relationships I can never get back? Is it work related? Should I even BE in this profession? Am I good at what I do or am I a fraud? Is it the changes in my aging body that I haven't accepted? Is it the turmoil of taking on too much? Am I bored? Am I overwhelmed? Is it the weather? Are my expectations for myself or others set too high? Should I keep trucking on thinking "this too shall pass" or do I make big changes? Oh God. Am I hormonal? Is this what they call a midlife crisis?! Wait?! Does that mean I'm OLD enough to HAVE a midlife crisis?!

I pride myself in being a strong woman, a positive role model, and someone with wisdom to heal herself. So in trying to be wise about this, I am angered by my cynicism, apathy, and temptation to crumble. I have no will power. I give myself pep talks that are forgotten minutes later. I grow more resentful and bitter. And then I begin to lose hope. I lose my sense of humor even. Damn it. I must be SUCH fun to be around...NOT.

To lose my confidence and the faith I have in myself is the scariest feeling. To become that vulnerable and weak is perhaps my greatest fear realized. Giving up, giving in can't be an option. I think of all that I have to lose and I grab hold of whatever thread I find above me and I think to myself, "Hang in there Anne. It'll get better. It has to".

So realizing that some things are better left unsaid, here I am wondering whether to delete this or publish it. Well, if I am nothing else, I am honest. I am honest about who I am and who I am not. I am honest with my emotions and I have courage to let people see the real me. Is that wise to do? I'm not altogether sure. Some people, despite thinking otherwise, really don't have a clue about me but in all honesty, if that's the case, or if they do see me for who I am and they turn away, that's okay. I get it. I may not want their company either to be honest. The real me is strong yet sensitive, patient yet demanding (especially of self), confident at times and then incredibly insecure and needy. I look in the mirror some days and like what I see; other times I cannot stop listing my faults. Some days I am incredibly lonely. Other days the love and support of my friends overwhelms me. And I then realize, the friends I have are there for a reason. I'm there for them. I'm a damn good friend in return.

I think the trick to feeling better is to realize that I AM in need of a good friend. I need to be my OWN best friend and give myself the time and the patience to find my way out of this. I won't let myself down. It may take a little time and a little more searching, but I'll be okay. I'll be MORE than okay.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I waited an awfully long time for a niece. Meaning no disrespect towards nephews, I could not wait to become an aunt to a baby girl. I'd become an aunt to Jason when I was just 4 1/2 years old and don't get me wrong, I was the proudest aunt. Later, when John, Ben, and Geoff came around, to be called "Aunt Anne" was wonderful. But for 17 years, after being an aunt for nearly 13 years, I still did not have a niece. So when Ashleigh was born in 1985, I was ecstatic.

We even shared the same middle name, Elizabeth. When her first birthday rolled around, I was excited to give her the present I'd bought and saved for her, a frilly white slip for her to wear under her dresses! Yes, having another girl in the family was going to be fabulous.

When she was a toddler however, she wanted to be "like the boys", her two older brothers, so she ran around topless most of the time at our family camp. I didn't like that her Dad jokingly started referring to her as "Al". She was a girl! But whether she was covered in sand or polished and pretty, I was still incredibly proud of the little pumpkin.

Soon after she turned three, she became the flower girl at my wedding. She wore an adorable dark red dress with little white tights and black patten-leather shoes. Holding hands with her cousin Geoff, Ash walked with a basket of flowers down the aisle in front of me and upon seeing her Dad in the pew, sprinted into his arms. It was adorable. At the reception Ashleigh was so excited. She pointed to my husband and I, ran around us as we danced, and kept repeating, "You're silly".

Of course, as a baby she had initially developed a stranger-fear of my boyfriend, now husband. Thank goodness she outgrew that! Later she'd travel down to our apartment for an occasional picnic in the park or a few days' stay. As a teenager, she'd play with my daughter and we'd all don facial masks and make-up. As she grew older, I saw her less frequently, but when we would meet up, often on the dock at camp, everything still seemed natural and easy. We'd fall back into the habit of teasing my husband or our brothers and we'd laugh.

Ash became the mother of a beautiful little boy not too long ago. She's a good mom and has grown to be a lovely young woman. She was quick to open her home to my daughter when she needed a place to stay for a week when she had rehearsals at college when her dorm wasn't open, and upon discovering that she was alone for Easter, Ash once again came to the rescue. Like her mother Ash is generous and kind, loving and humble. She is fun and funny but devoted and trustworthy too.

I eventually became the aunt to four more little girls and a few additional young women when they married my nephews. But Ashleigh or Ash (or Ashleighkins as I like to refer to her as) was my first niece and will always hold a special place in my heart. My time with her as she grew from babyhood gave me insight that I later appreciated when I became the mother to two girls of my own.

So at the risk of once again being called "silly", I wanted to bring attention to this beautiful niece of mine. I love my nephews too but it's simply been a joy to be her Aunt Anne.