Sunday, December 21, 2014

A family heirloom tells a story

Elves come in and out of holiday decorating fashion. They’re back.
The younger generation believes that they have made a brand new discovery. Not so.

 Far into the distant past (I'll leave you to guess), my mother introduced me to the red elves and each Christmas the trio would be placed on the fireplace mantle with their arms and legs stretched in tricky bends outdoing the best of yoga moves. They were part of the magic of mistletoe and fir trees strung with popcorn and tinsel.

The elves were passed on to me, and I let my young daughter arrange them in different locations in the house. As she got older and only would come home occasionally, the last thing that she would do after her suitcase was packed, would be to move the elves like a Christmas prank. When I returned from the airport and I glanced around the house, a smile would come over my face when I spotted the elves in another spot. "Up to new tricks, huh?" That’s where the elves resided until I tucked them away for the next holiday season.

When I close the box in January, the three elves will have impish grins on their faces. May their year a head be as bright as my wish for you.

Friday, December 19, 2014

December nineteenth

A typical gray December day with light snow is how the meteorologist forecasts the 19th of the month in the Northeast. It is mind-boggling considering all the variations in weather from the East to the West Coast, Northern to the South region and within each climate zone right down to the immediate conditions on one side of town compared to the other in a twenty-four hour period. 

Let it snow, rain, hail, shine and puff warm breezes while the earth makes a revolution. 

Capture the rainbow joys of life whenever they randomly appear in your sky, for to each of you there is a different reason for appreciation of the uniqueness in the weather. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Eve Santa dines on split pea soup

      In a Face Time interview at the North Pole, Santa Claus predicts that Christmas 2014 will be the best ever recorded in cyber history. That’s tweet-able @OfficialSanta.  
     Precision GPS live reindeer tracking. Advanced worldwide weather technology. Biodegradable gift packaging.  
      Wait. Santa Claus has made this promise since scribes were recording on parchment with quill pens dipped into ink jars.
      Remarkably in this day and age, Santa delivers, too. Free. On time.
     How many years has Santa cruised the world while little children slept all snuggled in their beds? You know the visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads part, and you can repeat the beautiful, magical lines to the season’s favorite poem.
     Santa Claus has heard everything coming from the mouths of tiny tots. Two front teeth requested here. A dauschound puppy there. A new baby sister. Reunite mom and dad. Make grandpa well.  Mind you, Santa, in no particular order.
     Children are prompted by well-intentioned parents to sit on his knee at the mall  — “find pictures of presents on Pinterest, Santa” —  and smile for the camera. Photobombing by older brothers is strictly prohibited.
     Hopefully, Santa doesn’t traumatize a preschooler walking the toy aisle in a mega store. It’s happened, and he’s been told in no uncertain terms by parents to quit being so jolly and imposing. Stranger Danger out there.
     Sadly, the lists grow longer and longer by the year — text messages in shorthand hard to decipher — and more often than not, it takes the entire elf staff to puzzle over certain requests. LOL.
     Expensive gifts, too. iPhone. Xbox. Smartwatch. Boogie Board eWriter.
      Alas, most of these kids get one of each, too, a thing almost unheard of in the past. The sleigh is weighted down and the reindeer have their paws full gaining momentum while accelerating to carry the load.
     “My, my how things have changed,” says Santa of the wooden blocks and tops that made children happy for decades.
     Years ago Santa would slide down the chimney, drop off the gifts and look near the dining room for a glass of milk and a cookie. He’s sampled them all — chocolate chip, lemon, decorated gingerbread and peanut butter crisp. After umpteen homes, Santa was content with a job well done, and another calendar year completed.

    In the 21 century, Santa chows down on Kentucky Fried crispy drumsticks, Dunkin cappuccino and bison filled tacos. Even Chinese take out works in a jiff. Family time has gone out the window, and as for the meaning of the holiday, it’s been lost in the shuffle.
     Santa feels a little depersonalized like “one size fits all” thanks to sneaky parents hanging around the corners watching him in action. The pictures are posted to Facebook before daybreak showing off the whopping sum of their gift expenditure.
     Well, as I said, Santa doesn’t know what to expect from this younger generation, and pretty much rolls with the punches on the big night hoping for enough trail mix to make the return trip with fuel in his belly and energy for a post-season elf party.  
      Somewhere around the 42.5681° N, 77.5919° W in Upstate New York, Santa Claus pulls in the reins and circles a small green home on a back road. It doesn’t appear to have many decorations on the outside to help for landing accuracy, but then again, Santa uses the moon pasted on the dark sky to guide the reindeers down silently on the rooftop.

     There are gifts to deliver – a small number at this house of modest proportions. Santa chuckles, though, when he envisions the little boy and girl asleep upstairs.
     Santa remembers from the children’s Christmas wish list letter — an old fashioned note written in complete sentences — that dad had been laid off, mom is not well and generally, things are difficult. He grabs an extra puzzle, two pairs of warm fuzzy mittens, a candy cane or four and slides down the chimney.
     The inside is cozy. Sure enough, there is a small fir tree decorated with homemade popcorn and tinsel, and a kitty cat underneath defending his position. It isn’t quite the spectacle as in homes worshipping consumerism where Santa sees two trees necessary for the mounds of gifts.
     Santa tiptoes around the tree and places the presents. As he turns to head back up the chimney, a delightful aroma hits him reminding him of the soup Mrs. Claus fixes on chilly evenings when he comes in from toiling in the toy workshop worried about meeting his magical deadline.
      He sees a simple dining room table covered by a red cloth. There is a gallon pot with steam pouring out of the lid, a ceramic bowl and a big spoon set out. Candles flicker and a yellow paper crown rests nearby.
     A handmade kid’s sign on lined school notebook paper says, “Eat up, Santa. Life is too good not to share.”
     And that’s how it is that Santa dines on the best split pea soup ever, and feels the love pouring from this family in their giving of a gift made from their own hard work in the kitchen.
     After filling himself and leaving a “thank you” note, Santa is delighted that one family got the spirit of the season.

      The “list” the world hands you of what is “important” is a long one, and it is both foolish and impossible. If you fall for it, you neglect the short list. Only a few things truly have a profound effect on your well-being and success.   



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How did I get to be so wise at a young age?

My grandmother had no toleration for young children, and it wasn’t long into my life that I figured it out. She responded to my queries with bored and useless generalities, and I could sense that an annoying child was the last thing she wanted to put up with like an unwelcome fly hovering around the dinner table. I learned how  to retreat into myself, be quiet and observe when I was in her company. I transported myself to other places shared with happier people. 
 It has been said in African folklore that empty words are useless. I take that as wise advice. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Keep your focus

Watch a team of ants for any length of time and you will realize that life is forwards and backwards. It's best to share the load with others. Those two motions balance each other out in the long haul I would suppose.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Patience is a good thing

A trio of deer moving up the frosted valley takes over a half hour to reach the yard as the sun rises and is pasted securely to the eastern sky. They eat off the scrubland day in, and day out. I watch from the warmth of my kitchen and consider that when I wait, my situation might not change, but I will.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A present that lasts and lasts

     The mother of my third grade classmate was killed on the train tracks. She was walking home on the sidewalk in the residential section of town, and apparently she didn’t hear the whistle.
     I never knew the full explanation. Actually, it is not important here. Suffice it to say that the Long Island Railroad passed through our village, and I grew up with a cautious approach to the tracks.
     From my eight-year old self, I’ve captured a small memory and brought it in focus.
     Don’t judge the people and situation with today’s standards. There were no school crisis intervention teams for support, or social media sites spreading news rapidly. Children relied on the adults to keep them safe without giving much thought.
     We had just settled in to the school day when the principal knocked on our classroom door and hurriedly took Bobby out. No one gave the class an explanation, and we didn’t assume the worst. We went on to reading and arithmetic as per usual.
     Bobby was not told anything either, except to walk the three blocks home.
     At supper my parents broke the news about the accident. I was devastated. I knew Bobby’s mother well from numerous visits to his home, and that she was a lot older than the other mothers. When I put my head down on the pillow at bedtime, I tossed and turned for a long time listening for the familiar sounds of my mother and father cleaning up downstairs.
     During my hours of restlessness, I came up with a plan.
     The next morning I put a dollar of my allowance into a tin box and took it to school.  I slipped up to my teacher’s desk before the others arrived and asked if it was all right to take up a collection. She gave me a big hug, and I distinctly remember tears in her eyes. By the following day the box filled with donations from my classmates.
     I went to the florist with my mother to buy the flowers for the funeral. I chose a large yellow bow with “friends” scrawled in glitter to wrap around the bouquet.
     But there is way more to the story that makes it grow forever in my heart.
      Bobby stayed out of school for a few days while an older aunt moved in to help with a lot of household details. When he did return, I was shocked at his disheveled appearance and overall lack of luster. The boy that used to be witty and easy going had withdrawn from our third grade. He rushed to his seat and became invisible behind his book, a prop.
     In the weeks following, I waited each day in the hallway for my friend to come to school, and when he arrived at the very last minute, I tied his shoes and straightened his shirt as a matter of habit.
     I don’t remember much conversation between us, if at all. I felt sad that Bobby didn't have a mother, and that he was struggling with feelings that I couldn't imagine.
     I didn’t say a word to anyone for I didn’t want to bring it to attention. However, like any compassionate teacher, mine knew. Years later in talking with her, she said that she kept out of my way and never questioned me on why I was not in my seat when the bell rang. She gave me room to help in someone else’s healing process.
     As we moved up in grades, we stayed friends.  Sometimes I would see Bobby in the hall, and we would pass with a smile. We both knew a lot about what matters when you need a friend in a crisis.
     I never gave much thought to the significance of what I had done until recently. Bobby said that he was a lost soul for many years, and he remembered how I tried to keep him afloat while he was sinking. It was pleasant to hear that sentiment and know that I had done the right thing, although I didn’t need it to feed my ego. He had become a successful Los Angeles prosecutor, and I realized during our conversation that I was standing next to a man filled with an extraordinarily kindness for humanity.      
     I suppose that year in third grade started me thinking about becoming a teacher like the lovely lady that held a group of eight-year olds together to mourn with their friend while reading them hopeful adventures of faraway places and possibilities.
     Over my own teaching career I was faced with several unfortunate student deaths. Principals, support staff and funeral directors were essential to lean on for advice. Child-centeredness had changed radically.
      Facing death is an intense responsibility for a classroom teacher when children are most vulnerable and need a comfort zone. I was part of the process in leading young ones beyond the tears and helping them find personal memories.
     Children expressed themselves and made the tributes that would soothe them – a book of poems, a tree in the courtyard. Once a second grader broke out in song, “Jesus Loves Me,” in the middle of a lesson, and we all joined in to honor our deceased classmate.   Whatever it took, I allowed it to happen regardless of curriculum demands.  Grieving took precedence, and it was real life learning that no administrator or parent questioned.
     Follow your intuition, and put yourself in the service of someone in need – that person right in your path. It’s the small things you do for others that matter.   

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Everyone loves a free book

FREE for 3 days only, Dec. 3-5th. 
 Kindle Amazon. 
You don't have to be Irish to enjoy this book.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Getting to the bottom of the story

How do I recall moments so vividly that I am able to write about them weeks, months and even years later as if I am right there? 
I place my mind in the exact spot, take a nap and when I wake up a layer of memory starts peeling away. If I keep repeating the process over a period of time, a lot of senses will come to the surface, and the story gets told on paper well.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A scribe for the lovelorn

Guys paid me to write notes to girls on their behalf. I made decent pin money, and I considered I was in a service occupation for the duration of my college days. Word of mouth from one frat brother to the next pretty much covered all the necessary advertising. At least, that’s how it got started, and I was shocked that a ghostwriter would be in such demand on a campus. 
Most of the notes were one, or possibly two carefully worded sentences, on a slip of paper that would get passed in class, or in the precious minutes after, if it were meant to signal a letdown. I didn’t handle that part, though, and remained anonymous. Not a sorority sister of mine knew anything, and it had to be that way to protect the privacy of all involved.
Once I stood in a group when a girl got a “You’re demanding too much time” note and I had to fake tears over my own clever words. I did smile to myself when I walked away, and felt that hearing the truth is best.
I never got carried away with my ability and I didn't advance to writing term papers. My ethics came into play strongly.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Kathleen Turner smile

     A smiling face lights up one’s presence as if to enlarge the aura inviting those close by to feel similar thoughts of beauty. It’s contagious like a germ on the handles of the treadmill waiting actively to be lifted off and passed around. Sometimes joy of expression pulls in someone on the peripheral of society unsure to join or retreat in the company of others.
     Take Kathleen Turner, the actor. A chance moment to cross her path in the audience at a Broadway show, and after the mere seconds of questioning, “is she, or isn’t she?” her signature smile at my husband and I confirm the truth. She is part of the crowd appreciating an evening out, and she still is not afraid to be recognized at a distance letting her glow be absorbed into the bodies of others. 
     The point I make is that the loveliness of a smile can do so much for mankind to shed the divisions running rampant through the streets of our minds, and acted out selfishly in our relationships.       

Monday, November 24, 2014

You may not agree

Let yourself go. Fly a kit. Paint a picture. Scuba dive. There are millions of reasons why not, and a hundred excuses right at the tip of your fingers. The timing is never going to be right. Face up to it. Imagine having the confidence in yourself to soar by taking a risk and experiencing the reward. 

Out of all those explorations a new passion emerges taking the entire focus of your existence for the time being. Stick to it. Nothing worth achieving comes easily, or without suffering. 

The freedom within to try all sorts of things is inherent in a child and disappears with age sadly. Something can be done about it, though. You have to take the first baby step.