Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Blue Christmas

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name; who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

I still pick out a Christmas gift for my mother every year, even though I haven’t shared the holiday with her in 16 years. I don’t actually buy it or wrap it, but usually in my shopping travels I see something that she would have liked, or just simply experience something that I know she would enjoy. It makes me wonder about what her preferences and likes would have been in this technologically advanced age. I like to imagine her with a smartphone and a Kindle, tagging me in numerous Pinterest posts and commenting on my progress on Goodreads. Its all very much a fantasy, though.

To be honest, I think she would be disappointed with me this year. Try as I might, the events over the last few days, weeks, and months have weighed me down this season, and I just haven’t been able to muster up much Christmas spirit. The tree and the house lights were put up, the cards were sent, but the other customs and staples of the year; the baking, the nativity figurines, the thrill of giving, were glaringly absent. From the outside looking in, I’m sure it seemed like a happy Christmas, but I’m still lacking that renewal of spirit I associate with celebrating the anniversary of a certain child’s birth. I find myself just unable to find the joy in wrapping gifts when I think about those parents and families in Connecticut who won’t have the joy of watching their kids opening their presents Christmas morning. Or make cookies with my own sons and daughter when theirs will never be able to sneak one again, or just simply enjoy licking the spoons. To watch my six year old Monkey catching snowflakes on her tongue in a magical Christmas Eve snow without remembering 20 five and six year olds that will never experience another snowflake. I can’t savor snuggling into bed at night with my husband when neighbors in my town - in my state - have no beds and no homes to gather into. The disparity of so many people banding together to try and make it a wonderful holiday for some, and others setting out to unleash their evil on the civil servants who selflessly sacrifice to help and protect us make it impossible for me to see the hope and goodness in our country. Maybe even in our world. There is so much arguing and blame going on right now. Everyone wants a solution, but nobody wants to work together to really get to the right answer.

This isn’t the world I had in mind to bring my children into. A country that is more invested in their individual right to bear arms, than in seeking to heal the people as a whole through proper health and mental care is not where I want them to grow up. Legislators who are determined to undermine and cut the pay and benefits of educators - the people who have the job of shaping the people who will lead our future - are not the people I want in power over my kids’ learning opportunities. And thinking about those teachers that died, who did the same things that they award medals to soldiers for when in combat, it seems like the biggest insult that they are not supported more by the public, or by our own government. Finally, I can't get those poor parents out of my mind. How many holidays will they spend like me, seeing gift opportunities for someone they can no longer buy for?

The future just looks bleak and unpromising to me. If ever a child’s birth could deliver us from evil, I believe it would need to be now. Searching for that feeling of Christmas while donning a lead mantle of depression is an exhausting and bitter enterprise. And yet.... and yet, even as I go to bed this Christmas night with a heavy heart I keep digging inside myself. For as in the words of Anne Lamott, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”
Surely the miracle of the season has planted a seed of hope inside me somewhere. Inside all of us. Somewhere dormant and ready to bloom in the light of the morning.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." -  Matthew 19:14

The news today is tragic, and heartbreaking, and I just don’t want to believe it. What is this world coming to when any and every public place is becoming an open arena for others’ twisted sense of justice and judgement? Workplaces, highways, malls, movie theatres, and schools. Kids even killing one another for their bicycles. Nothing is safe anymore. I feel there is no sense of security anywhere in the entire United States.

And all those little children. I just cannot understand what any little child has ever done to a grown adult to deserve the bloody and violent end they met in Sandy Hook Elementary today. Being a mother, knowing so many mothers, so many who have fought for and cried for each one of their own children, my heart cannot comprehend the loss of so many. For something so senseless.

When did we usher in this era of people seeing death as an only resort? Taking their own lives because of stress at home or at school. Taking others with them for no other reason than the fact that they are there at the time. Or releasing their frustration on innocent bystanders because of some trivial disappointment and then turning the guns on themselves. How did death and murder become such a logical option for these people? Why does the decision to kill, and to kill so many, even come up when contemplating seemingly insurmountable problems? When did this currency of annihilation become so abundantly used by our youth?

There is something inherently wrong in society if more and more young people are turning to death for the answer. We are severely failing our children in teaching them coping methods and problem solving skills if shooting their frustration out of a gun or ending their life is the only option they can see when faced with difficulties. This has to change. This has to stop. We need to stop medicating, stop labeling, and get to the issue of WHY all these children are so depressed and desperate to begin with.

And tonight - a night I should be going to bed happy and inspired by my own son’s birthday - I will spend crying myself to sleep. Praying with all my heart for all those families who will never have another birthday with their loved one, or with their child. Who will be spending the remainder of the holiday season planning funerals instead of celebrating. I will be praying for an answer to end this senseless cycle of violence. And the ability to teach my children better. For the betterment of all the world.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Having a two-year-old is like having a blender that you don't have the top for. ~Jerry Seinfeld

Tomorrow you’ll be all grown up, and no longer a baby. Even though you’re already walking and talking, and spouting your preferences and denials in full sentences that could no way be attributed to an infant. You continually blow my mind with all you say and do and understand. I see your whole world opening up before your eyes, and it is bittersweet for me. This is the last time I’ll be traveling this road with my own child. The last time I’ll be amused by mangled expressions and pronunciations, or charmed by innocent looks and smiles. I see you growing up and away from me every second. It makes me sad because I miss the sweet baby you were. It makes me proud to see glimpses of who you will grow up to be. You stretched every last minute of my patience with your arrival two years ago, a habit you still continue to this day. But you are worth every second of the wait. Happy Birthday my Little Bear.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

You Can’t Go Home Again

 When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile.  ~Author Unknown
The Sands Beach Club, next door to the venue we held our wedding reception. photo credit: A.Mills
I’ve been trying to write this post for days. Unsuccessfully. Revisiting the task was like revisiting the well of emotion I have reserved for what happened. I could only tiptoe around the edge lest I fall in and drown. But I feel that its somewhat disrespectful if I don’t. A disservice to gloss over it. So many things have been lost, so many families have had their homes, their jobs, their possessions, their LIVES destroyed. All we lost was power for eight days and a 10 foot long section of siding on the house. There is just no comparison.
But it still is hard. The storm is not over. Although the wind and the rains have ceased, the tide of emotions is still rising and falling. Its hard to embrace the comfort of thankfulness when I’m overridden with feelings of guilt and helplessness in the face of those people not 2 miles away, who carted the entire contents of their house to the curb. Hard not to cry every time I click on a link to read another story about how people still don’t have power when its been below freezing temperatures at night, and has been for weeks. Hard to not give into the murderous rage I feel when the news reports come in of people stealing generators from their neighbors, siphoning fuel from the emergency response vehicles, and attacking the out-of-state linemen who are thousands of miles from home trying to restore utilities to all of us who were affected by the storm. And then the good tide rolls in. Election Day brought a brief surge of pride for my neighbors as people lined up in our powerless little voting station, generators humming to supply electricity to the polling booths and floodlights. Residents filling out forms by flashlight, and standing in line to vote with smiles and hellos, even though the none of us had any heat or lights or conveniences at home to speak of. The news covering government officials actually working together for once to aid the people they were elected to lead. And the stories of the donations and relief efforts make my eyes well up with gratitude. Of common men doing uncommon goodness for strangers. And for the mighty coming together in efforts to provide benefit concerts and events to help those devastated by the storm. Yet, there is only so much donating money and food and baby clothing, can do to ease the feelings of impotence.
People in my own town emptying their flooded homes after the storm waters receded. photo credit: M.Sullivan
Before Hurricane Sandy hit my state, I already had that horrible premonition feeling in my stomach. The initial reports of flooding and extraordinary wave size that were rolling in even before the storm made landfall were just confirmation to me. I went to bed on October 29th fearing the morning, not really able to sleep, and occasionally dozing off only to have horrific nightmares. Spending the next morning powerless on my cell phone checking the news and Facebook as people posted photos of the devastation was like still being locked in one of my dreams. I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing. I still don’t want to believe it. Places that shape entire chunks of my memories, that define rituals of the seasons, that were the landmarks of pivotal moments in my life have been wiped away. 

Dock from the river washed up on the front lawn of a home in the next town.
Home. To me, its that feeling you get. Not always a defined place on a map with a fixed latitude and longitude, but most often, the place where the rhythms and cycles of the flow of life are familiar and resonate within you. I am a creature of nostalgia, most likely because I haven't had much stability with people, and I find that returning to familiar whereabouts gives me the most comfort. These past weeks I find myself adrift and rudderless in the wrecked remains of this expanse, without my familiar touchstones and reassurances. This storm has ravaged the property of my memories. It has destroyed the areas I've celebrated at, ripped apart where relationships began, where friendships were renewed, and where I've sought solace and remembrance. In short, it has demolished my home, my haven, my sense of security. And the sad part is that its that way for everyone who lives here.
The very beach  my husband proposed, missing most of the boardwalk and sand. photo credit: C.LaPlaca

For almost four months of the year, the small strip of sand that marks the threshold to the ocean is adopted by everyone in the state. Even by people from states away. This is a loss that will be felt hardest by its residents, the people who live and work amid the devastation, but it is a loss that is shared by us all. I can’t see how anyone in this great state made it out unscathed. No matter where our permanent homes are, every one of us has a part of ourselves invested in those magical miles by the sea.
Me and Little Bear at our yearly August beach retreat earlier this year. Notice the houses upper left.
The same houses shown in my beach photo from August. photo credit:A.Mills
The same beach we sat on only two months before, viewed from the walkway between the houses. photo credit: A.Mills
Everything in Sandy’s path has been touched and reshaped. Landscapes have been rearranged. Landmarks have been expunged. And most of all, the people have been irrevocably altered. We will recover. We will rebuild. In a year or two, we will look back with pride at what we have overcome. But I don’t think we will ever be able to forget.
As so wonderfully suggested by a NOLA writerwho has lived through this type of devastation amid the aftermath of Katrina and lived to tell about it, are the words from Ulysses;

“Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Stay strong.
These people are doing amazing things for the people needing help along the Jersey Shore. Please think of donating. Project Rebuild Recover and Waves for Water.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rearview Mirror

The most valuable lesson man has learned from his dog is to kick a few blades of grass over it and move on.  ~Robert Brault

I  have a tendency to hold onto things. I always firmly grip the belief that things can be salvaged or repaired. I sometimes even see objects as what they could be instead of what they are. When its things around the house, I have to make sure I'm not setting us up for the next episode of Hoarders. But when it comes to the more intangible areas of feelings and relationships, its a much harder struggle to justify the decision of giving in or letting go.

I think that sometimes its just a matter of getting to a tipping point. You let things roll off your back, but the feelings tend to not brush away as easily. You think they've washed away when they really are just settling down into the dark crevices of your mind. Lying in wait to rise up again in a swirl when faced with another rush of emotional onslaught. And I try not to make my decisions when immersed in the murky sludge of the moment. I try not to be petty, or vindictive, or locked in the memories of the thousand past little hurts and injustices that came before this new moment. But sometimes, the act of continually offering the other cheek starts to feel a bit like assault and battery. Sometimes, always saying "yes" to someone else is actually saying "no" to yourself. And sometimes it just hurts too much to keep holding on.

Sometimes, you just have to let it go, and leave it behind you. And sometimes, the hardest thing about it, is not looking back as you go.

Eyes front. Let's roll.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Six Years Around the Sun

A lot like yesterday, a lot like never.  ~Tim O'Brien

You're six years old today. Six years since you were a squalling pink bundle, completely unimpressed with your new surroundings. You've gone from plump and dimpled to as slender as a spaghetti noodle.You still sing and laugh and giggle. But now you can read and write and speak some Spanish. You're learning to tell time. You love to color and create masterpieces. To dance and make up stories and try to make people laugh.You're fierce. Fiercely loving, fiercely stubborn, and fiercely passionate about what you think is right and wrong. You are a great teacher to your brothers, a great sharer to your friends. You have your own sense of style. You insist on skirts over jeans, and dress shoes over sneakers, but your favorite thing to do is still dig in the dirt to find bugs, and chase after insects and butterflies.You like to dress up your animals and your Barbies, and take care of all your baby dolls with their cribs and strollers.You're wild over Hello Kitty, Cinderella, and My Little Pony. Have an intense love for horses, cats, and puppy dogs, and want to grow up to be a veterinarian. I hope 60 years from now you're still as bright and sensitive and full of laughter as you are today.

Happy Birthday, Monkey-bean!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Lucky Strike

Better to lose count while naming your blessings than to lose your blessings to counting your troubles. ~Maltbie D. Babcock

 We went to the beach one evening to have dinner with wonderful friends of the family and then watch some fireworks with the kids. It was beautiful the entire night, but apparently the weather at home was a different story. About two hours after we left, a nasty thunderstorm rolled in at our house and lightning struck the massive oak tree next to our driveway. Our neighbor called to tell us about it, and we immediately asked after hubby's Passat since it was parked nearby in the driveway. She said it looked fine, that no branches had fallen on it or anything. However, when we came home at night, we noticed that although the car had suffered no exterior damage, something was definitely wrong. The entire dash was lit up, but blank, with no mileage or time showing, and all attempts to start the car failed. The only explanation was that the car had been hit by the lightning as well.

It was a sad day when they came to take the car for assessment, not knowing whether we'd ever see it again. And ultimately, in the end, the insurance deemed it totaled. Then the fun began of looking for a replacement. Since my GTI wouldn't fit all five of us plus dog, we decided we still needed a larger family hauler, but that it didn't make sense for hubby to drive it to commute to work. The GTI got better gas mileage, so that was passed into his possession, and we found me a pre-owned Mommy-mobile. 

Say hello to my Mazda5, or as hubby likes to call it, the macro-van. We ended up driving three states away to get it, but it covered all the needs and wants on our list, like a manual transmission, and three rows of seats so the kids aren't punching each other in the eye while I'm driving. I never wanted to be a minivan driving mom, but I must say, it was extremely less painful driving with the three kids and dog up to our vacation in Canada than it ever was driving two towns over with the three of them in the GTI. Separated children make for much better behaved children. And the folded down seat in the back is the perfect size for our furbaby's travel crate. She was one happy pup to be included in our vacation. And as I've been driving it for over a month now, I have to say its growing on me. I still miss the creature comforts of the GTI (especially the heated seats when I have to drive Scootch to preschool in the mornings), and of course the response and handling is nothing like my sporty 2.0 liter turbo was. But all in all, I must say, if there was ever a happy outcome to a lightning strike, I'm thinking a car upgrade is it!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lazy, hazy, crazy days

Summer in recap;

Sesame Place


Car Shows
The Beach




Monday, July 16, 2012

My Own Marvel-ous Super Villians

“Children need love, especially when they do not deserve it.” ~Harold Hulbert

My kids have superpowers. They can make me crazy like noone else. And, Like Voltron, they can combine their talents to become a superforce of mayhem and chaos. I have always known that Monkey is the game changing force around the house. The effect and influence she has on her brothers is extremely apparent. Even when she was in Preschool, there was such a change in Scootch from when he was home in the morning with Little Bear and I, to when Monkey came home in the afternoon. This summer is proving no different. Having them home all together is proving challenging and an ultimate test in patience and negotiation on my part. But I also think I’ve also been able to pin down each of their superpowers.

Monkey - AKA Red Hawk. Red Hawk’s superpower is in the power of her voice. She can scream at such a high pitch and volume that you’ll fear for the solidity of all the glass in the immediate vicinity. Red Hawk can also sustain her verbal attack for what seems like hours on end. If the audio onslaught doesn’t bring you to your knees immediately, the persistence of it lasting is sure to make you cry or give in to her demands.

Scootch - AKA Scrambler. Scrambler’s method affects your hearing and your mind. He has the power of talking so fast and so unclearly you are immediately incapacitated by confusion because your brain is struggling to sort out whether what he just said is a threat or not. Scrambler’s advantage is that he is tireless and knows to keep up his streams of gibberish so that your mental capacity never has a chance to catch up. You are literally reduced to a pondering lump of confusion and find yourself agreeing to his stipulations whether you meant to or not.
Little Bear - AKA Bruiser. Because he is still developing his abilities for verbal attacks, Bruiser’s talent is purely physical. His method of disarming you is to lure you in with a charming smile or minor accident. When you get closer or come to his aid he will immediately change tactics and strike with his python like grip, usually incapacitating you by grabbing your legs together below your knees, or latching onto your hair or your mouth.You are rendered useless immediately and find yourself with no other option but to take his lead and bend to his will. 

As you can imagine, the talents of hubby and I are weak in comparison. Time outs and bribery have no positive effect on the super trio. Usually there are long negotiations for cease fire involved which are extremely tiring. Lately our best defense has amounted to the exhaustion and dazzle method. We work them outside to the point of grumpiness and then bring them inside for downtime on the couch with books or a movie. We’re hoping to stick it out for the next 6 weeks until school starts up again. Nothing negates their super powers like the power of teachers and peers!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Camo Cake

(Otherwise known as the obligatory after-party baking post) ;-)
I've become addicted fallen in love with Pinterest. (Its the same thing, right?) Anyways, I saw this great idea for camouflage cake that one mother made for her son's birthday. Scootch saw it and was over the moon excited. So I figured I'd give it a go for his bowling party.
It was actually easier than I expected. I have scratch recipes for cakes that are allergy friendly for him, and they only yield a dozen cupcakes, so I made a whole batch of vanilla, and a half batch of chocolate. The batch of vanilla I separated and made one portion green so I could get the three colors.

Then it was just a matter of dribbling the colored cake batter into the cupcake liners, and voila!




Happy Birthday Boy enjoying a second cupcake! 

Sweet success!

Onwards and Upwards

“The prime purpose of being four is to enjoy being four - of secondary importance is to prepare for being five.”  ~Jim Trelease

Scootch turned four on Monday. Maybe its more bittersweet because I have Little Bear to compare him to, but he seems like such a grown up little man. I miss the snuggly baby boy I used to have. But he makes us so proud every day, which I wouldn’t change for the world.
He can sing the alphabet song, and identify almost all the letters. He can count to 12 by himself, and can read numbers up to 10. He loves to dance, and to sing and play music. He has such a curiosity of things going on in the world around him, and asks the most amazing questions. And his resilience sometimes makes me so emotional. Dealing with his food allergies isn’t easy, but for the most part he shrugs off the disappointment and sadness when he can’t have something he wanted to eat. 

This year, when i asked him what he wanted to do for his birthday, he told me he wanted to go bowling. And so the Friday after his birthday we invited some friends and cousins out to play a game with us. I think it was a success, judging from the smiling faces and number of victory dances the kids did in the lanes while they were bowling. I’m hoping the years ahead are just as happy!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Memory Project

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.  ~The Wonder Years

Today marks sixteen years passed, and while I was thinking last week of what I wanted to do to try and celebrate my mother, I realized I'm facing a new challenge born from her death. My children don't really know their Nana.
Monkey is usually the one who tries to guess her identity in pictures, but Scootch doesn't recognize her at all. He's convinced its always funny pictures of me. I tell them as many stories as I can, but since I only really knew her as a child myself, it isn't much. I have plenty of pictures of when she was a child, but once she became the photographer of the family there are very few occasions where her face filled the frame. So my idea is really a call for help.
I want to make my children a memory book of their Nana. My mother touched so many lives, and knew so many people. I'm hoping that I can petition for everyone to share a remembrance or a photo of her and I can print them into a book that will share her life and (mis)adventures of her adult years. Hopefully it will help my children learn why certain things they do make me laugh and tell them they're just like their Nana. Or why sometimes a certain smile or way they tilt their head makes my heart squeeze. They carry her within them everywhere. I hope this will help them know it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Story Girl

You have learned something.  That always feels at first as if you had lost something.  ~H.G. Wells

The Monkey is reading! She has been doing well with her sight words and flash cards at school, but a few nights ago, before Daddy left for his business trip, she asked him if she could read the bedtime story she had picked out. And she did. It was a little halting, and definitely took much longer, but she read the whole thing herself! Her new favorite thing about bedtime is now reading her story of choice on her own to the rest of us. I see so much of myself in her, especially when I come into the living room and see her curled up on the couch sounding her way through a book. There is so much I want to share with her. I know I should take it slow, but I can't wait to share all my favorites; Little House on the Prairie, The Secret Garden,  Mandy, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Ramona, Bunnicula, Tom's Midnight Garden.....I have a whole Tupperware tote full of books. I hope she's up for it. :-)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Gift of Conscience

There is an ongoing battle between conscience and self-interest in which, at some point, we have to take sides.  ~Robert Brault

The Blistex lip balm, purchased with a five-finger discount

It has been a trial of months with the Monkey. There is a whole shopping list of unwanted and unwarranted behavior that she has been displaying since she started Kindergarten, but I was really hoping it was all in the name of adjustment and peer pressure. Hoping in vain, it seems. As much as I know every child has to push to define boundaries and limitations, my fingers were crossed that her past lessons and upbringing would steer her in the right direction. Apparently, she is in need of a refresher course.
Monkey has been sneaky from an early age. I remember how she used to slink off to the pantry when I was busy with a baby Scootch, and try to sneak food. She never quite realized that the wrappers have a distinct crinkling noise when trying to be opened by little 3 year old fingers. She has been hiding and lying for awhile now. The fact that she always tries to hide the evidence of her hair cutting experiments and other destructive pastimes clues me in that her conscience is already well developed and functioning. Its just a little disheartening that she ignores it - just like everyone else. For a few weeks now she has been coming home with assorted items she doesn't own - like a ZhuZhu Pet - and falsely claiming she got them as a reward from the prize box at school. But yesterday she upped the ante in her arsenal to shoplifting a chapstick from Walgreens. Cue the parental embarrassment.
The biggest hurdle with all of these trials is the eternal lying that precedes, surrounds, and follows the incidents. She lies when you ask her what she's doing. She lies and makes up fibs when you catch her doing something she's not supposed to. And afterwards there is no possible way to get the real story from her in her own words. Its always a conceded confession after we've interviewed three separate witnesses about the event and confronted her with our findings. To say I'm at a loss is a gross understatement.
The hardest part of the whole ordeal is the aftermath. Monkey's groveling takes form as this;

repurposing and wrapping my things to give me as "I'm sorry" offerings. These two happened to contain three pairs of my dangly earrings in one, and my body spray in another. I also get homemade cards covered in pictures and "I Love You"s. As a Mother, its nice to know that she still loves me enough that she wants to make me happy by giving me presents and making me cards. But I also wish I wasn't given a gift tainted with guilt and repentance. Stealing my things to wrap them and present to me as a peace offering is still fostering the whole element of theft and deception, and I feel like by doing it, she's ignoring and discrediting everything we just talked about in regards to what she was doing was wrong.

So many things I'm reading indicate that dishonest, kleptomaniac, five year olds are the norm. Besides growing a stronger conscience, its also supposedly helping them define their concept of self and others - mainly that parent's aren't the mind reading creatures their children think they are. Kids at this age are learning they can keep secrets from others by lying. While I have to swallow this as a parent, and acknowledge that its actually a good thing from one perspective - because it shows she's progressing well psychologically - I still can't help but not like it. Especially when I don't see her realizing the ill of her ways. And doubly so while she's using up all of our wrapping paper.