Monthly Archives: December 2011

Christmas Morning

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It’s early Christmas morning, and the house is quiet.  Everyone is still asleep.  I’ve taken the dogs for their early morning walk – my Bella and “grand-dog” Lulu.  I’m alone with a cup of coffee, my prayers and devotionals. In a little while my girls and my brother will get up, and we’ll have our Christmas morning together. The girls will be wearing their matching pajamas, which I surprised them with, giving us all a good laugh. Matching pajamas were a tradition every Christmas as they grew up, and it’s been awhile. I am so blessed to have this precious time with them together this year. 

I needed some spiritual refreshment and was looking forward to going to Mass. But Christmas Eve Mass was a disappointment as holiday Masses usually are.  A ridiculous number of people crowded the church, and we were forced into a small side room where you could neither see nor hear anything that was going on. Although it was annoying for us and all the regulars, I know God was probably glad to see everyone. Besides, maybe the extraordinary abundance was just family visiting family. 

Three children of different ages took turns distracting us in the tiny room.  A rambunctious four-year-old girl in the pew directly in front of us alternated between tormenting her older brother, stomping her feet, talking loudly and feigning anger.  Her tired mother with sad eyes had no control over her. She seemed drained and seemed to have given up trying. An older couple was with them, I’m thinking her parents.  Where is her husband? Is she divorced?  Is he working the night shift or serving overseas?  I’ll never know.  Intermittently, a two-year-old girl in front of them squirmed and cried and rambled on loudly as her grandmother and parents doted on her without reprimanding her at all.  She, in turn, was distracted by a newborn infant in the pew in front of her. “Yook, daddy, Yook,” she tells her father.  “See the baby? I want a baby! Maybe Santa will bring me a baby tonight.” I couldn’t contain my laughter.  I know God is probably getting a kick out of all of this.

My daughter Megan lays her head on my shoulder, and I lay my head on hers. We stay that way for a long time.  Uncontrollable tears flow.  Soon she’ll return to Florida where she lives. I miss her so much already that my heart is aching. I look over at my other daughter Katie who smiles at me. When did they become such mature young women?  Wasn’t it only yesterday that they were those little girls in church?

Time passes much too quickly. I miss the days when they were little –  when each Christmas morning was a magical time filled with so much excitement and wonder. Things have changed – life has altered. Time and distance have become a circumstance of life. But my family is with me today, and I am grateful. I am blessed with this precious present of all of us being together to celebrate the birth of a loving Savior who keeps us close in heart and soul.

Katie and Megan

To you and yours, Merry Christmas!

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CHRISTMAS COOKIES OR BUST!

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 Twelve days before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring except me, the elf.  I swore last Christmas I was not going to bake EVER AGAIN!  But I just can’t help that I’m a sucker for an icing-covered sugar cookie with jimmies on top. Nobody makes them quite like me, I’m told – at least that’s what my daughters say, buttering me up so I butter up all those cookie sheets up once again.  So, while they’re nestled all snug in their beds with visions of cookies dancing in their heads, I speak not a word and get straight to my work.

The kitchen’s a furnace, the oven is blazing, the heat is arising and at recipes I’m gazing. The frost is still thawing on a cold December morn, and yet as I run around the kitchen, beads of sweat form. Away to the window I fly like a flash for cool air – my cheeks are like roses, my nose like a cherry.  As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, so my rolling pin, spatula and cookie cutters I try.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear but pounds of butter and margarine softening and tons of baking goodies so dear. With a wink of my eye and a twist of my head, I see I have nothing to dread. I thumb through my recipe cards, which are tattered and stained. I stroke the ones beautifully scripted by my Mom, and my heart is suddenly pained. I’m hurled back in time, baking with my Mom and feeling so fine.  There I am, a little girl with blonde curls, dusting and decorating those fine pastry pearls. I miss Mom so much, my heart is aching, but then I get back to my dough which is caking.

Traditions…they’ll drive you crazy, but skip them and your lazy. So I whistle and shout and call them by name, “Now, Toll House!  Now, Christmas Bells! Now, Chocolate Chunk and Sugar Raisin! On, Peanut Butter Kiss! On, Chocolate Mint! On Cream Cheese Lekvar and Nut Ball!  To the top of the oven, to the top of the rack, now dash away, dash away, dash away all! Out of the kitchen there arises such a clatter, but no one comes to see what is the matter – they know it’s just me trying to make everyone fatter.

Hours later the heat circles my head like a wreath, and I’m beginning to seethe.  My hair has turned flour-white as snow, giving the luster of mid-day to objects below. Chocolate is smeared on my scarlet red cheeks; nuts and raisins are stuck in my teeth.  Some cookies are torched; my forearm is scorched. Nails are encrusted with dough; yet the old mixer still goes.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear – 1124 cookies and high cholesterol to fear. My hips are aching, my wrists are numb and in spite of it all, Christmas Carols I hum.  By the New Year I know I’ll be all chubby and plump – with a belly shaking like a bowlful of jelly.

“I will DEFINITELY NOT bake like this EVER AGAIN!” I sneer, but everyone knows they have nothing to fear.

I spring to my bed and turn off the light. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

A Higher Calling

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Thought for the day:  Ps. 2:4  “The one enthroned in heaven laughs….”

Sunday Mass seemed a bit too solemn, and the priest looked distracted.  The service was bordering on boredom, and the children weren’t the only ones fidgeting in the pews.

Then someone’s cell phone went off – ringing loudly over and over again until a nervous man’s fumbling fingers finally silenced the device.  He wiped a touch of sweat from his brow as his faced reddened with embarrassment.

The priest sternly looked up from the altar feigning agitation as the congregation nervously shifted in their seats.  He sighed heavily then said, “I told God not to call me while I am working.”

Laughter resounded through the church, and with it a pleasant lightheartedness brightened everyone’s demeanor.  We finished our worship service connected in a new way.

 Dear God, thank you for the gift of humor that lightens our hearts and diminishes our somber reserve.

 

 

Bella Jella Kiss a Fella

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Thought for the day:  Can’t live with them and can’t live without them

“Bella Jella Kiss a Fella,” I call to my 95 lb. yellow Labrador retriever in a sing-song voice only she can love. Bella runs to me wagging her tail wildly, grinning from ear to ear – then side swipes me and keeps on running.  Coming to me when I call her is just not her style. Teasing me into frustration with her cat and mouse game is much more her forte, since she seems to relish having me chase her around the neighborhood like a bumbling Keystone Kop.  Her greatest satisfaction is seeing me hopelessly trying to catch my breath as I turn beet red.

Bella has never been an easy dog.  She is probably the worst puppy I have ever had – chewing furniture, rugs and two or three dog beds, tormenting my cats and eating everything she can manage to sneak behind my back.  She drags me around the park like a rag doll and infuriates me with her passive/aggressive behavior around other dogs – we pass them; she becomes aggressive.  Not that she’s an attack dog – she just can’t wait to get close enough to lick them to death.  Her approach is obnoxiously forceful as she pants furiously, intimidating the poor owners and their scared pets until they run away from her like she’s a rabid lunatic.

Our good walks are those we’ve managed to have in complete solitude.  It is then that she is quite well-behaved for the most part and almost a pleasure.  But let her spot a dog in the distance and her character immediately switches from Doggy Jekyll to Mastiff Hyde in a hurry.  It’s embarrassing when she starts huffing and puffing, jumping up and down and acting like, well, a completely mad dog. I’m a bone’s throw away from testing out a shock collar and am desperately considering a 911 call to Cesar Millan.

But I love her.  Don’t know what I’d do without her.  She is my…

 …Belly Button…jelly belly…butterfly chaser…buggy catcher…bath lover…rug chewer…pool plug puller…soccer ball destroyer…slipper hider…foam padding ripper…frisbee leaper…stick fetcher…cat attacker…nap taker…puppy school graduate?!…bunny sniffer…in-the-shell peanut eater…dog intimidator…park patroller…peanut butter lover…friend LuLu licker…food beggar…moon gazer…under the deck hider…apple peeler…tag ripper…cookie stealer…bone chewer…linoleum floor hater…car ride wanter.

Smart as a whip; quite a pip. That’s my Bella.

Early Morning Meditation

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Thought for the Day:  Carpe Diem

Every morning I take my exuberant yellow lab Bella for a walk along the grassy causeway down to the bay.  It is usually very early, sometimes even before the sun has risen. Most of the world is still fast asleep, and the silence enfolds me. The tall sea grasses rustle in the gentle breeze.  A lonely seagull flying above lets out a mournful wail. A foghorn groans in the distance.  A young deer scampers in and out of the brush while a cat perches on a mooring, intently stalking an invisible prey. I take a deep breath and fill my lungs with the cleansing coolness of the ocean air.  I can taste the salt on my tongue.

As I make my way to the bay, I thank God for a good night’s rest, if I’ve had one.  Otherwise, I thank Him for my cozy, warm bed and that the night is over. I thank Him for the people in my life and the love He’s blessed me with.  I tell Him my troubles and rattle off a litany of my doubts and fears.  A little while later my soul is satisfied and calmness overshadows the worries on my mind.

If I’m lucky enough and it’s early enough, I get to see the sun peak over the darkness of the water with a bright orange hue that paints the clouds a purpled pink.  I watch intently as it majestically rises from the water to take its place high in the sky. The rays stretch down like tentacles through the clouds, and I close my eyes, feeling the warmth upon my face. 

Searching the horizon to the right, I spy a glimpse of the Barnegat Bay lighthouse.  There it is – its beam of light guiding ships in and out of the inlet. On some foggy days, I can’t see it at all.  But then a shaft of light rotates over the water, and it’s comforting to know it is there doing what it is created to do.

A buzz from a motorboat of an early morning fisherman breaks the silence.  I watch as he maneuvers his boat over the foaming ripples to where he will cast his line for the morning catch.  I take another deep breath and gaze over the bay beholding its astounding beauty as the sunrays shimmer across the deep blue of the water.  The seagulls circle above, more boats go by, the lighthouse stands stoically in the distance and the cool sea breeze ruffles my hair. God is all around me.

As I reluctantly turn to head for home, I drink in the majesty of it all one more time. Walking in the other direction, if I’m lucky enough, I can see the outline of the night moon fading into the morning brightness of the sky.  It’s smiling down at me.  I turn down the road along a lagoon to the house and see a robin up on the telephone line and grin.  I don’t really understand why she would be in this area in December.

Most mornings I want to stay in bed as all of us do. Today I awoke with a headache and didn’t want to extract myself from my warm cocoon to brave the early morning chill.  But Bella beckoned me for our walk, and it’s my duty to take her out to do her doody.  As usual, I’m glad I did because now that I have returned, I am refreshed and renewed and ready to take on what the day beholds.

When the red, red robin comes bob, bob bobbing along

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Thought for the Day:  Keep hopeful.

My spirits were low the other afternoon as I walked my dog Bella. Glancing up into a tree almost barren of leaves, I noticed a flock of robins flittering about.  Robins aren’t usually a bird you see this time of year. You’re more likely to spot a turkey or a turtledove, so I was pleasantly surprised. Instantly my mood lightened, filling my heart with expectation because to me they are symbolic of hope and good things to come in new seasons in life.

This sighting reminded me of something I had written one early spring day not too long ago:

As I pulled into my driveway that gloomy March evening after a particularly bad day at work, it came to mind that I hadn’t seen my first robin of spring.  Sighting that first robin each year was a ritual when I was growing up. As a kid, the hunt for the elusive, red-breasted bird began every January, even though it would be months until a sighting.  My mother was usually the first to see one and point it out.  “Look in the yard,” she would say as she peered excitedly out the window, “it’s the first robin of spring. No more winter – spring has sprung!”

Then I remembered the day I went into the hospital to give birth to my daughter Megan on February 27. I was feeling nervous and anxious until I glanced down and saw my first little robin of spring, picking at the ground outside of the hospital door.  It seemed way too early to see one, but it filled me with hope and calmed my fear of giving birth.  It gave me the strength I needed to deliver my beautiful baby.

So on that cold, dank evening of unusual glumness, all I could think about was retreating to an early bedtime.  It was just as well with the “woe is me” attitude I was harboring.  Tomorrow’s another day, I thought.  “Thank you, Lord, for helping me through a rough one,” was the only prayer I could whisper before I feel asleep.

The next morning I lifted the blinds in my bedroom and glanced out onto the front lawn in disbelief. I saw not one but a whole flock of robins!  Never had I seen so many together at one time.  Spring had sprung, and hope was in the air once more.

When those bad days come along as they always do, keep your bird-watching binoculars focused because that red, red robin will come bob, bob, bobbing along before you know it.