Tuesday, December 31, 2013

do not leave this life with your song still in you

We're in Massachusetts this week, visiting my family.


And like always, whenever we come up here, the flickering dream that Charlie and I have of what it would be like to sell off everything and move to New England, ignites!


Yesterday, we visited my sister, Janet and her husband, Bob, who live on a picturesque farm in central Massachusetts.  My sister, Janet, and I are kindred spirits. We're cut from the same cloth and have always shared many of the same dreams and passions. For example, we love decorating, gardening, organization and cute little knick knacks. Here's Baby Jesus from Bob and Janet's nativity, with a blanket made from wool from her own livestock...


Years ago, I wrote about a desire that I have to live off the land, raise sheep, and use their wool to knit blankets and hats. And not very long ago, Janet and her husband moved back to the 120+ acre farm where Bob spent his childhood and over the past few years, they have carefully restored the farm house which was built in 1760.  Their home is a real gem in the area.

They bought two sheep and now have 10.


Each spring they shear their wool, spin it in to yarn, and sell it in a little store that they set up on their property, which I wrote about three years ago.


My sister is living my dream and it was so much fun to spend the day together.  Here are the children with Wilbur, my sister's 18-month old angora rabbit.


In my life, I don't think we've ever seen a more adorable animal!


Even Charlie loved Wilbur!


The hair that Janet brushes from Wilbur is spun in to yarn ...


And used to make little hand-knitted animals that Janet also sells in her store.


Long story short, after a wonderful day and wonderful meals ...


And wonderfully thoughtful gifts from Janet's store...


We took a tour of their property.


And the kids told us they never wanted to leave.


Bob let Charlie take his new tractor out for a test drive...


And the next thing I knew, Charlie was talking with Bob about the plot of land that we could buy from them where we would build our house, and we could live nearby so our children would be closer to relatives, and experience real country living ... and I could work with Janet in her little store.


Everyone knows that we cannot leave this life with our song still in us.  And I think that a big change which will better align our spirits with the universe will be happening very soon.


So ... that's how we wrapped up 2013.

I'm so excited to see what happens in 2014!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

90 years young

Today, is our sweet Jimbo's 90th birthday.


Jim and my mother are both doing well and are enjoying their annual five-month winter break in sunny Florida. This week, they will be departing on a week-long Caribbean cruise with my sister Eileen, her husband Clark, and all five of their children.  We recently had the privilege of having all of them at our home for Thanksgiving (minus my niece Emily who is finishing up her senior year in college in California), and it was such a pleasure to have the 14 of us squeezed around our dining room table, listening to Jim share his experiences of serving as a US Navy blimp pilot during World War II.


His role was to locate enemy submarines off the eastern seaboard of the United States, in an effort to keep the harbors and naval convoys safe.  He also told us that if he flew low enough over the beaches, he'd be able to wave to the beautiful women that might be out sunbathing. Rascal!


Not only is his mind sharp as a tack regarding his experiences during the war 70 years ago, he is also a whiz at crossword puzzles and only completes them in ink.  And whenever my mother brings him along to play Bridge or some other card game - he'll usually skunk everyone and come in first place.


Jim, we are so glad that you have joined our family. Even if we kicked you out of the house and you had to stay in hotel over Christmas in 2004 when the triplets were premature newborns because you had a cold, and we couldn't risk exposing them to anyone who might be contagious, we love you to pieces!


And we wish you the happiest birthday ever!

Friday, December 27, 2013

favorite thing friday: the green machine

Well, you might imagine the tear that sprung to my eye today when I read the follow-up article in the Washington Post about the little girl named Christmas.  After I read the newspaper article to the children, one of them suggested that we read one of our favorite Christmas stories, Great Joy. So I did. But by then I was a teary mess, so we went outside and raced the Green Machines that Santa brought to us around the driveway…  



The weight limit is 180 pounds so you better believe that because I'm under that limit (by the Grace of God what with all the peppermint stick ice-cream and gingerbread cookies and fondue that have crossed my palate the past week), I was racing our children 'round and 'round and 'round and doing my best not to lose control.  I'd do great until I'd enter the second entrance on our circular drive, and would suddenly spin out and find myself facing up hill.  Sorry, there aren't any pictures of that. At least not that I'll post… 



Wow, those things are so much fun to drive - and such a work out!  These scenes are actually from Christmas morning, but as of today … 


My Carolyn is still the course champion.

(And our rule of wearing helmets when riding any wheeled toy have since been implemented). 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

what do you want on your tombstone?

One of the traditions that Charlie brings to our family, "English Crackers", is a tradition that his family had as he was growing up. A tradition which he believes extends to his mother's parents and was likely picked up during the time that she lived, as a young girl, with her family in England during the 1940's.  English Crackers, which are also known as "poppers" can be bought just about anywhere, these days.  You can open them, on your own, or you can share the fun and have someone hold one end - while you hold the other end - and pull the little paper tab inside which makes a loud POP!


Inside the crackers are a paper crown, small toy, and usually some kind of joke.  The joke that was inside one of our crackers on Christmas Eve queried, "What is Good King Wenceslas' favorite kind of pizza?" The answer, "Deep pan crust and even."  The children, who know all the words to "Good King Wenceslas" thought this was hilarious and now count this among one of their favorite jokes.

Today, the day after Christmas, is the Feast of St. Stephen which Good King Wenceslas was looking out upon, when the snow was deep and crisp and even. Many times today, we've listened to the song and we've talked about what it means to bless the poor and in turn, receiving blessing yourself.

Yesterday, as I was reading the newspaper, this story about a girl named Christmas who lives in a local homeless shelter really pulled at my heart. She is one of 512 children that live at this shelter, and she received one present for Christmas … which she couldn't even use because she lacks a refrigerator. The first thought that popped in to my mind is how I'd like to buy her an easel and enough paints to last her childhood. Then the logistics of doing such a thing - and the complications of not bringing gifts for the other 511 children at the shelter struck me. Still all day yesterday and again today, as we played with all the new toys the children received for Christmas, and enjoyed a seemingly endless supply of wonderful food, and warmed our bodies and souls next to a raging fire, and inhaled the smells and sights of Christmas … I can't stop thinking of those less fortunate. I think of those who have no family, no home, no place to call their own. And I think of the children whose families don't have the means to buy them something as simple as a coloring book.

In addition to our tradition of English Crackers, one of our traditions is to donate toys to the Toys for Tots program.  It brings us immeasurable joy (OK, so Henry's getting there)...


… to pick out toys and bring them to the Fire House, where we know they'll be donated to children in need.  But I really ache to do more and am trying to find a local organization, similar to the Hilarious Givers, who took me to Mexico - five four years ago this week, and opened my eyes to the extreme poverty that exists just south of the US border.  Our children are all at an age where I'd like for them to have more exposure to that same kind of person-to-person experience which has had such a profound impact on me.  This is the photo montage that I put together following that trip in 2009 and which I've posted every year since:

As a mother, I believe the most important gift I can give my children, is the gift of compassion.  There is so much need in this world and we really don't have to look very far to see where we can bring light. Maybe it's stopping by to say hello to the elderly neighbors who are alone for Christmas. Or inviting the child at school who is new to this area over for a play date.  Or maybe it's raiding our piggy banks and doing a spontaneous drive-by a homeless shelter and dropping off coloring books and crayons for all the little kids.  Because at the risk of sounding selfish, it really is a blessing when you can bless others.

PS: In regards to the title of this post, who remembers Tombstone frozen pizzas and those witty commercials, "What do you want on your tombstone?" And the people would reply, "Pepperoni and mushrooms!" I thought it was fitting seeing as this started out with how Good King Wenceslas likes his pizza, and as I was writing this, thought about what's important in life and what I hope to accomplish in whatever time I have here.   On a different note, have I mentioned how awesome it is to be on vacation and not have my mind consumed with WORK and things that have little relevance to helping children in homeless shelters? Although, this photo which I took a few weeks ago of the 200+ bicycles that my company donated (and my co-workers helped to assemble) for needy children in the area…


Certainly makes me feel good about working with such a great organization.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

joy to the world!

The weeks leading up to Christmas had been very busy what with travel and illness (again and again and again). But since we're all on vacation for the next two full weeks, the past few days have been everything that the days leading up to Christmas should be. There has been a lot of lounging around the house in pajamas and slippers (or not), with big brothers reading some of our favorite Christmas stories to little brothers…


Fathers teaching their daughters to play Backgammon, and then getting totally schooled by said daughters (Charlie has the two brown pieces on the ledge, while all of Elizabeth's white pieces are in territory and on their way off the board. I think bunny gives her an extra advantage…)


Photographic-memory sons playing the game, Memory, with their aging mothers, and then schooling their mothers (final score: Henry = 26, Me = 10). What's really sad is that I'm not one of those parents that "let" their children win, I was actually trying my best to defeat my six-year-old and couldn't for the life of me remember where anything was. He thought I was joking…


Hitting the malls to shop for gifts for our siblings (no, you can't all have iPhones)...


And bringing some donuts to our local firemen with our best wishes for a healthy and safe holiday season and 2014….


While at the firehouse, we also dropped off our annual donations to the Toys for Tots program.


As I told sobbing Henry, if you love the present so much that you picked out for someone else, you did an awesome job, because just think how much they're going to LOVE it, too!  His response, "I've got some toys at home that I can give to them, please, please, please - why can't I keep THIS one?!"


After our toy drop …


The captain was just in the middle of giving the children a tour of the ambulance when an alarm went off and they had to jump in the ambulance and take off. So we all took a moment to offer up our prayers for their safety - and for the well being of whomever they were responding to. Life can change in a split second … even during Christmas.


These days, there has been a lot of dressing up and pretending we are reindeer…


And Elves (this is our best attempt to keep our eyes OPEN in a picture)...


On Christmas Eve, the kids sprinkled Magic Reindeer Dust all over the front and back yards….


And then everyone was able to open to one present …


An Ear Wax Vacuum? Charlie said this immediately reminded him of me, and is something I've never known I've apparently always wanted because I'm so practical. My Man, keeping the romance alive!


We headed off to church wearing our brand new wool coats and hats (Charlie received a hat just like the boys, but he says that he "forgot" to wear it. Uh huh… sure he did.)


Our Christmas Eve candlelight service was as lovely and thought-provoking as always…


As soon as we returned home, the kids had to quickly check Santa's status via the NORAD Santa Tracker…


Before we sat down for dinner.



They set out cookies and milk for Santa that they had baked earlier in the day.


Along with some handwritten notes, which they thought were necessary to drive home a specific point.




Once the children were in their pajamas, they listened to "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."


Exceptionally narrated by William…


And then checked Santa's status again via NORAD before retiring to bed for the night; or at least 10 minutes until they were up asking, "Where is Santa now?"

How about now?

And now?

…. now? 

… yawn. Now?


Scrolling through these pictures, everything really looks so idyllic.

Lovely children, lovely decorations, lovely traditions!


Not shown is the bickering, teasing or whining that is known to occur. Also not shown, the frustration and sudden lack of patience that can crop up out of no where and without warning. Most notably when brothers knee each other in the face and then scream in pain, and you hold your breath waiting for the blood to start gushing from a broken nose, or another prematurely lost tooth.  Make no mistake, we've got our challenges a la plenty.

But during this blessed and magical time of year, we're focusing on our love, hope, and faith.


And also, our major SCORE on Peppermint Stick ice cream earlier today (there are two more low fat 1/2 gallons just like this one in our freezer).  Yes, Jenny ... there really IS a Santa Claus!


May your Christmas be full of sweet moments and miracles, too.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!