Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Embracing the Spirit of Giving

Embracing the Spirit of Giving

“Giving is the style of the universe. Giving is woven into the fabric of existence… Giving is what we do best”. Eugene Peterson

Every year—at about this time—I start writching around to crank things up a notch. To pull out all the stops. To get the house fully decorated for Christmas, get friends and family fully fed with a meal or two, and get special Christmas treats baked, ordered or picked up for festive holiday entertaining. I confess to anticipating the arrival of Christmas every year with a spirit open to its marvelous story. But I engage midway through Advent with a palpable anxiety about getting everything “done.”

Sometimes the pace of the four weeks leading up to Christmas wears me out, and I almost collapse at the mere thought of getting preparations done with even the tiniest bit of flair. And other times, I get a sudden burst of energy and am able to stand in long lines at the post office, the grocery store, my favorite shops or my wrapping counter without breaking a sweat or reaching for a dark chocolate bar. Sometimes, I can go for hours on end without nibbling on a single thing nor feeling the teensiest hunger pang; other times, I feel like I need to have an elephant in the passenger seat of my van so that I can take a bite after every Holiday errand.

Unfortunately, energy levels—and mood swings—are unpredictable. We oftentimes greet the day with the best intentions only to find ourselves surprised at how quickly a traffic snarl or an impatient clerk can make monsters out of the best and most energetic amongst us.

Part of the secret of preparing for the Holidays is to set a pace with which you can be comfortable for the entire month leading up to Christmas, so that along with meeting deadlines and fulfilling all of the season’s commitments, you find yourself truly enjoying the days. Experiencing joy on Christmas Day healthy and happy—rather than haggard and hapless—should be one of your primary goals. Moving closer to the One who forever changed the world—embracing the message and the miracle of Christmas—is, of course, the reason for the season.

I’m passing along, as promised, some strategies I personally use to prepare for Christmas. I don’t pretend to be smarter or more clever or more creative or more anything. I only hope that some of these tips will help you make more sense or obtain more order to these next few days. If you gleam even one tiny idea, this Newsletter will have met its goal. So here goes:

1) Outline the month. In broad, general terms. Believe me: I’m not that organized, I hate detailed bullets and anything even hinting of “red tape.” (This includes budgets set by my husband, time lines set by my kids and artificially-imposed deadlines set by moi). But getting a general sense of some of the things you hope to accomplish during the Holidays is extremely helpful in getting your act together. Do you want to invite the neighbors over for coffee? Host a luncheon? Babysit a toddler so her mom can go shopping? Take an elderly friend to the mall? Map out your idea of how you’d like—ideally—the month to play out. My own personal goals are to host a girlfriends brunch, to host dinner parties for four to five different families, and to host my daughter’s fourteenth birthday party. Admittedly, it’s taken some finely-tuned organizational skills to pull all of these off while simultaneously staying on track with all of my other Holiday responsibilities. But I’m more than halfway there….

2) Take this broad outline and look at it in context. Do your kids have violin recitals two weeks before Christmas? Are school concerts on your calendar? Do you need to work the pre-school party? Is your daughter coming home from college? Do you need to budget in some travel time? What’s on your calendar that is absolutely mandatory—barring illness or emergencies—and what can be done or enjoyed only if all of your little duckies line up in perfect rows? In our own family, we’ve already attended three violin recitals, three school concerts and look forward to our church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, where two of our kids will perform violin solos. Holiday entertaining—along with shopping, wrapping and shipping—will fall into place within this context.

3) Pick your entertaining dates well in advance and get the word out expediently. I know I know. It’s considered tacky to issue invitations via email. Miss Manners would wring my neck if she only knew. My day will come when engraved invites to my annual Christmas brunch will seem perfectly normal…but that day is not today! For the sake of expediency—not to mention sheer economy—email invitations are the only way for rocket moms to go. Being sleep-deprived with young ones exhibiting serious signs of the barnacle-syndrome hardly leaves room for endurance runs in creativity. I admit that in not too many years past (two, to be exact) I hand-wrote, hand-addressed and hand-stamped every invitation that left my house. These days, I prefer to spend that time doing other things. You have my official permission to be tacky if you so desire. So go online and either write your invitation in Word, copy and paste it into your browser and send it to the group you’ve created in your email system; or get more official and go to, which will record RSVP’s automatically, send updates, and streamline the whole process for you.

4) Start getting your act together early. I’ve forever been of the mindset that I’d rather give simple presents to many people than give a mere handful of extravagant gifts to a select few. You might feel entirely differently. That’s fine. But to stay in line with my guiding principle, I start shopping for Christmas as soon as Christmas has past. No, I don’t deal with the day-after-Christmas-madness-at-the-malls (been there done that. Yuck). But I do keep my eyes constantly open for gifts throughout the year, I keep my list in my Filofax and refer to it frequently, and I always stay on the lookout for good shopping deals. Out of town and out walking around a few cute gift shops? Keep your friends and family in mind. Hitting a great clearance sale at the mall? Think Christmas gifts. Your favorite shop offering a one-time special? Buy in bulk. Or decide on a theme well in advance and buy things along that theme whenever you see them on sale. It might be wonderful soaps or candles or papers or stationery or perfumes for all the girlfriends on your list; or musical toys or books or games or puzzles for all of the kiddies; and robes or slippers or ties or unusual t’s or books or coffee or gift certificates for the men on your list. Start thinking along theme lines early on in the year, shop for such, and you’ll find that by the time Christmas comes, you’ll be in pretty good shape. You can shop this way and still be creative in your gift-giving. For example, I bought homemade natural olive-oil soaps for a few of my girlfriends this year and chose scents according to personal preferences or lifestyles, giving lemongrass-scented soaps to my gardening girlfriends, pine-scented soaps for those who use fresh trees, etc. The key is always keeping your eyes open and keeping your family and friends ever-present in your mind as you shop. Store purchases in your gift closet or on a few shelves in an obscure place in your house, record what you bought for whom, and feel the enormous satisfaction of greeting Advent with lots of things already checked off on your list.

5) Set your color theme early. You can’t imagine how tickled I was to watch the HGTV Holiday special on The White House Christmas and see that the decorators and florists opted to use a lime-green-and-red color theme throughout the mansion. Wow! Lime-green bows held up every wreath, lime-green bows adorned the ornaments and lime-green tablecloths draped every table. I’ve been using a lime-green-and-red theme for the last few years in an effort to feed my lime-green addiction (OK, obsession…or illness…depending on who you talk to) and it makes me happy to see that I’m not the only one out there who sees Christmas colors with this unusual twist. If you love using the traditional Christmas green and bright red, that’s perfectly wonderful, too. But perhaps you’d rather use hot pink. Or burgundy .Or purple or blue. Splendid. Go for it with gusto. Start purchasing ribbons and wraps and gift tags and gift bags early, so that when you line up all of your supplies, you have a very color-coordinated look. For example, I bought red striped cellophane bags, lime-green tissue paper, lime-green silk ribbon, white gift “tags” and wrapping paper that is all red-lime-green-and-white so that no matter what I’m wrapping, I can reach for a supply and know that it’ll work with whatever else my hand has grabbed off my wrapping counter.

6) Set up a wrapping and shipping schedule to beat the Holiday rush. Even before Thanksgiving, I laid all of the gifts I had purchased throughout the year on my wrapping counter, organizing by theme and by family. I laid out all of my supplies—including tissue paper, ribbons, tags (I buy rings from the office supply store), shipping boxes and bubble-wrapped envelopes—and mapped out an organized production line. As gifts were wrapped, they were immediately placed into my van, so that if I ever passed the P.O. and saw an open parking space, I could make a quick shipping stop. But I blew it this year in that I’m at least a week behind schedule. Dag-gone-it. With Thanksgiving hitting a week late, I am late accordingly. As I generally ship anywhere from thirty to forty gifts out-of-state, I need to make three or four runs to the post office in order to ensure that gifts arrive on time. I try to get this done in late November so that I can: save on shipping charges (by shipping parcel post rather than priority), beat the excruciatingly long lines at the P.O. (no one ships in November), and get the immense satisfaction of crossing this off my list early on in the season. I must have been a slacker mom this year, as I still have one more trip to go, I wound up being forced to ship everything priority, and I’ve endured excruciatingly long lines at the P.O. with this weekend’s record forty-five minute wait hardly being a super-fun way to spend my time. There’s always next year…

7) Determine a “signature gift” and send it every year. Last year, for the first time (and as an experiment of sorts), I shipped and hand-delivered a custom-ordered, custom-made candy-cane fudge from our local candy shop. The reviews on it were so hearty that it’s become my signature gift again this year. I ordered dozens of boxes and it’ll wind up everywhere from Texas to Florida to New York. Easy. Festive. Hassle-free. Already gift-boxed. Perhaps there’s something clever—signature—that you can do: turn digital photos of your artwork into stationery or greeting cards; paint miniature canvases; bake an unusual cookie from your ethnic heritage; make your special cocoa or spiced tea? One of my girlfriends has been making homemade vanilla extract for almost twenty years; it’s her signature gift. She pours it into old-fashioned brown medicine bottles (which she buys wholesale and in bulk) and affixes a festive sticker to the front. I look forward to receiving a bottle every year…..

8) Get your cards out as soon as possible and build in plenty of margin time. Ok. You got me here. I am never organized enough to get this done early (even though I vow to be better each year.) Taking a good pic of four kids, sending them to the printer, and addressing and stamping almost two hundred envelopes is sheer hard work. It always gets done, but it always takes a back seat to other, more pressing responsibilities. I figure, if I can slack on my timeline somewhere, it’ll be here. I always buy my cards on sale the year before (generally picking them up at half-price), buy Christmas stamps before Thanksgiving, and buy my paper at the office supply store in bulk. I still haven’t gotten the whole digital picture thing under control over here at our house even though we’ve been using digital cameras for the past three or four years (it’s that whole business of shifting over from print to online photos that’s still got me confused as how to best organize and execute); surely you’re better at this than I am. My advice: make it a priority if you enjoy the tradition, but give yourself some freedom in getting them out as no one minds receiving them after Christmas.

I pray at Christmas that you embrace the spirit of giving. Not just in your thoughtful gifts to friends and family. But that you practice generosity in your time and in your talents, too. That you sing in a choir if you acknowledge your talent as a songbird; cook a meal for a friend if you grasp the joys of hospitality; take an elderly neighbor to the grocery store if you understand the importance of sacrificial love. That you take dinner to a family in crisis because you realize the physical and emotional tolls of illness or injury. Or lift up someone in need because you’ve witnessed the power of intercessory prayer.

Eugene Peterson, one of my most beloved authors and translator of THE MESSAGE, writes: “Giving is the style of the universe. Giving is woven into the fabric of existence… Giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Giving is the way the world is. God gives himself. He also gives away everything that is. He makes no exceptions for any of us. We are given away to our families, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our enemies—to the nations. Our life is for others. That is the way creation works.” (*)

May you be filled with all blessings on Christmas Day—and everyday—by fully embracing the spirit of giving.

Merry, merry Christmas!


*NOTE: Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 42, 43.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Rocket Mom Shops New York City

It was over-the-top, being treated to four days in New York City at Christmastime by the generosity of a Fortune 100 company. Its beauty was breath-taking, with a heavy snow preceding our trip blanketing Central Park; and lights, garlands and trees accenting everything from doorways to ceilings (Saks’ twinkling white lights strung along its ceilings and through tree limbs arching over every aisle is nothing short of glorious) to rooftops; and the temperatures, while nippy, were hardly bone-chilling. From Rockefeller Center to Times Square to The Met to The Park: New York was magical.

My promise to bring to you New York City bargains was ever-present in my mind as I pounded the pavements throughout mid-town Manhattan and much of the lower West Side. Due to the nature of our trip, I confess to spending much more time on Madison and Fifth Avenues than I did in Chelsea, Greenwich Village, SoHo and Chinatown, where bargains abound and where shops carry everything from the edgy to the kitschy to the fake to the cheap. So I’m going to share a little of both worlds with you. I also observed that in our corporate—and global—group, travelers from different parts of the world very much wanted to buy very different stuff. While this will seem overly-simplified and perhaps a bit stereotypical, the Western and Eastern Europeans desired American clothing (especially blue jeans), Clinique make-up, iPods and digital cameras, while folks from the Asia-Pacific rim shopped for expensive (Italian and French) handbags. Almost everyone was in search of some type of electronic device, with iPods and digital cameras being in the highest demand. The non-New Yorker Americans shopped for the run-of-the-mill, A-to-Z type bargain, looking for anything and everything that was either less expensive or more available than it is back home. As this Newsletter spins ‘round the globe, I’ll try to give everyone something to check out. Here goes:

• If you travel to New York City during the Holidays, be prepared to pay dearly—or in blood—for a hotel room. They are simply not to be had; ones that have availability are in extremely high demand with prices out the roof. Our room at The Essex House overlooked Central Park and was absolutely glorious, but my pockets wouldn’t be deep enough if I had to pay for it with my own MasterCard this time of year. One of NYC’s best-kept secrets is the Riverside Tower Hotel at 80 Riverside Drive (corner of Riverside Drive and West 80th Street; phone 212-877-5200.) Check them out first before calling hotels at more popular locations.

• Dining in NYC is a sport. Be prepared to play with the professionals. We enjoyed dinner at Michael Jordan’s in Grand Central Terminal, lunch at the 21 Club and a dinner party in the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center, among many other special dining treats. (I can hardly mention our private dinner party atop the ABC Studios in Times Square as it was one of the most incredible views…as well as one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had and one which I’m sure I’ll never have again). When my feet landed on NYC soil and I had to pay for things with my own nickel, I enjoyed a pressed sandwich at Europa CafĂ©. Also check out Cosi for cheap eats in the Big Apple. You would do just fine for a long weekend eating at either one of these places for breakfast, lunch and dinner…and they’re scattered throughout the city.

• Want something somewhere between Michael Jordan’s and Cosi? Try Cafe Saks Fifth Avenue (611 5th Avenue); Bloomingdale's Le Train Bleu (1000 3rd Avenue); Bergdorf Goodman - Goodman's Cafe for Women (2 West 58th Street); Bergdorf Goodman - Goodman's Cafe 745 for Men (745 5th Avenue) or Fred's at Barneys (660 Madison Avenue). I also have always had good luck at little bakeries strung along the Upper East Side on Madison. There’s nothing wrong with coffee and a bran muffin for lunch after all. Or hot roasted chestnuts from the street vendors. Yum!

• Allen Edmonds (551 Madison Ave. around 55th St.; phone 212-308-8305) is having a sale on men’s shoes right now. Men I spoke with found this to be irresistible. As most of their shoes are in the $200-300 price range, it’s nice to think that one might save a little by buying now, if treads are wearing thin. And one of the best reasons for buying their stuff: you can send your shoes back to Allen Edmonds for re-soling….at least once before buying again.

• Loehmann's (101 7th Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets; phone 212-352-0856) remains one of my longest-running favorites and is, by all counts, the grand dame of discount stores. I bought a fabulous pair of beaded flats by Kenneth Cole for less than $30. With black and red beads on a black satin background, they’re perfect for Holiday parties (with longish black-sequined peasant skirts and glittery tops). Loehmann’s stuff changes daily, so it’s hit or miss. Keep checking. And get into “shopping mode” before you head over there; lines will be long, the building is on the hot-ish side and you may have to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for something wonderful in your size. But it’s worth it.

• Century 21(22 Cortlandt Street-- Between Church and Broadway in Chinatown; phone 212-227-9092; has been billed by native New Yorkers as the best discount place in the city and Zagat has given it top billing as well. Our guide dropped us off there for an hour’s worth of shopping and I walked out with nothing. Nadda. Zero. Truthfully, it didn’t grab me. Too much stuff. Poorly displayed. Not enough variety to make me want to pull out my wallet. But the Europeans on-board were thrilled. Great boots and shoes, apparently. And lots of Ralph Lauren fashion jewelry at ridiculously low prices. Handbags, too. Also spotted: trendoid Oliver Peoples sunglasses at rock-bottom prices. And if you’re shopping for Clinique cosmetics, you can find it here at really decent prices.

• Almost next door, check out J&R for great deals on electronics of all types (Park Row across from City Hall Park; phone 212-238-9000; Fax 212-238-9191; Travelers on my tour found iPods, digital cameras and video cameras there that made their hearts sing.

• DSW is theeeee place for designer women’s shoes. (102 N. End Ave in Chinatown; phone 212-945-7419) Very hit or miss. The stuff—because it is so wonderful—moves out extremely quickly. I once eyed a pair of Lilly Pulitzer’s at a DSW store in Miami, hesitated, went back the next day and found that the entire stock of Lilly’s was gone. If you gotta have it, get it as soon as you find out it fits.

• While you’re in the lower west side, check out the deals on Canal Street. Cheap. Fake. Fun…if you must. Everything from fake designer handbags to cheap jewelry to hats and scarves to t-shirts.

• If you gotta have a drop-dead gorgeous Italian leather handbag for Christmas, call the good folks at Suarez on Park Avenue at around 56th St. (450 Park Ave; phone 212-753-3758). A family-owned business for something like three generations, their staff is courteous and their stuff is super-pretty. Their bags come in fourteen colors, including an absolutely incredible Tiffany-blue. But your pockets better be deep: prices start at $300 and rocket on up from there. They’re having somewhat of a sale, with their $550-on-up bags currently at 20% off.

• After sleeping on a Suarez purchase by my husband (for my Christmas gift) not one, not two, but three nights…I decided that with four kids to put through college (and two sofas to reupholster and yada yada yada) that an expensive handbag was a little bit too over-the-top right now. Ernie and I opted instead to buy a gorgeous Italian handbag, the “Kelly Bag” (think Grace Kelly) at a wonderful handbag store that is losing its building and combining two stores into one and therefore discounting all of its merchandise by 80%. Yes. As in 80% OFF. Their gorgeous $650 bags have been discounted to about $130. At that price, you can perhaps think about buying one in a color you wouldn’t normally entertain…and if you accidentally ruin one, you won’t be crying all the way back to the city to get a replacement. And you might even be able to justify buying two. Call Michel’s Bags (510 Madison Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Sts; phone 212 355-8309). Ask for Kathy and tell her the-gal-from-Connecticut-who-couldn’t-decide-which-bag-to- buy-but-who-finally-bought-the-Kelly-bag-on-Monday sent you. She’s lovely. And hurry up! The sale ends December 31 and they’re quickly running out of stock.

• Pearl River Mart (477 Broadway, between Grand and Broome Sts.; phone 212-431-4770; has not only cheap stuff with which to decorate—china bowls, tea services and placemats—but fun little no-nothings for stocking stuffers. I found—though did not buy—the cutest paper lanterns on the planet, and if I needed yet one more thing to put into my daughter’s bedroom, they would quite probably be it. I did, however, make my only afternoon purchase, because I hadn’t seen them elsewhere: pretty glycerine soaps for children with embedded “cute-isms” like “smile,” “joy,” “laugh,” “love,” etc. I bought a half-dozen to give to a family with four young daughters, along with silk draw-string bags in orange-with-white-polka-dots for festive packaging. All for something like $18.

• Kate’s Paperie (phone 800-809-9880; is still the best shop in NYC for stationery and super-pretty papers. Hands down. No contest. With four locations on NYC (its SoHo shop at 561 Broadway is incredible) it is a must-see if you are a paper lover or simply need some eye candy. Call to order, but if you’re in the city, do not miss the Kate’s Paperie experience.

• Dean & Deluca in SoHo (560 Broadway; phone 212-226-6800 or toll-free 800-221-7714; is the place to find all food-related things that you cannot find elsewhere. Glorious olive oil “brick” soaps, pots and pans, and gourmet candies are amongst my favorites there. See if they can special order you some chocolate-covered gummy bears. The best.

• Baking a lot for Christmas? Need cookie cutters? Baking pans? Icing tips? Try New York Cake at 56 West 22nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenue. Incredible selection. Phone or FAX orders: 800-942-2539; FAX 212-675-7099.

• Lee's Art Shop (220 W. 57th Street, between 7th Avenue and Broadway; phone 212-247-0110) has fantastic kids’ art supplies, stuff for adult artists, creative stocking stuffers and the best art tools in the city. If your area lacks a great art supply store, this is it.

• Museum gift shops cannot be ruled out as amongst the best outlets for creative gift ideas. I had a wonderful time—after a two-hour guided tour of The Metropolitan Museum of Art —in their large gift shop (1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd St; phone 212-570-3894), which is a destination in and of itself. If you can’t find that art book you’ve been looking for, give them a call. Beautiful silk scarves and ties. Jewelry, too.

• Also check out The Museum of American Folk Art Shop for wonderful gifts, most made by American artisans: 45 W 53rd St between 5th and 6th; phone 212-265-1040.

• The Holiday Gift Shops at St. Bartholomew's have some unusual gifts that you won’t find elsewhere, but you’ve got to be in the city to access them. If you’re in the city, check them out at Park Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets.

• If you do get into the city, do not—and I repeat, do not—rule out the fabulous pashmina and cashmere shawls that you can pick up from the street vendors for $5 or $10. OK. I haven’t exactly checked out the fiber content with a magnifying glass, but hey, for ten bucks, how can you go too wrong? I pick one up each trip into the city and have found some real beauties. The color range is quite wonderful. Yum. The latest have a gorgeous jacquard weave and I find one wrapped around my neck at every venture out of doors. Particularly good locations? Try just west of Fifth Avenue around 50th or 51st Streets.

• Gotta hit the large department stores? OK. So do I, but not for bargains. They remain, I admit, a feast for the eyes and a veritable New York experience. You’ve got to get the salespeople spritzing you with the latest perfumes and schmearing you with the latest anti-wrinkle creams upon arrival. No one does this better than the good folks at Saks Fifth Avenue (50th St. and Fifth Avenue) Very elegant. Very expensive. Really, no bargains to be found except after Christmas, when discounts of 50% will be commonplace. I love their contemporary sportswear and their private label. Beautiful night show of dancing snowflakes in the windows timed to Christmas music. Magical. Bloomingdale’s (Third Avenue and 59th Street or in SoHo at 504 Broadway; phone 212-729-5900) is trendy, bustling and exciting. Their tagline it's like "no other store in the world" is true. They carry some pretty cool stuff that you just won’t find anywhere else. Watch for deep discounts…but not until after Christmas. Some bargains can actually be found at Lord & Taylor (38th St. and Fifth Avenue) as they are continually bringing in new merchandise. Granted: most of the NYC stores are doing the same, but Lord & Taylor does this consistently and does it well. One of my favorites. Bergdorf Goodman (754 Fifth Avenue at 57th St.; the men's store is located across the street. Phone: 800-558-1855) is not a store that you necessarily shop in, and is certainly not a place in which to behold a bargain. It is simply a place to train your eye. To look at beauty (and the beautiful). Their windows are the best-dressed and the same could be said for their (real) customers. Lines of gawkers outside their blue-and-white china window were five deep. I could hardly take my eyes off it. If you make the trip in to the city, you must make a quick stop here. ‘Nough said.

• Crate&Barrel (650 Madison Avenue at 60th Street; phone 212-308-0011) is beautifully decorated for Christmas and contains enough low-priced stuff that it’s certainly worth a visit. If you’re looking for a small kitchen appliance, especially, it beats the prices at Williams-Sonoma. This should be part of your Madison Avenue experience; a phone call is also worth it if you know what you’re looking for.

• For stuff for the home, I have two favorites: ABC Carpet and Home (888 Broadway at 19th St; phone 212 473-3000) is filled to the brim with treasures—and rugs—from around the world. Not to be missed, you’ll find things in all price ranges, including arguably the best baby department in the city. Pierre Deux (625 Madison Ave at around 56th St; phone 212-521-8012) is not only for the Francophiles amongst us; it is a jewel box in the heart of Madison Avenue. Roosters lurk in every corner; gorgeous French fabrics fill every square inch; expensive furniture lines the downstairs footage; and reproduction paintings and lamps and shades and china take center stage through this large retail space. Ahhh….A little retreat into wonderful.

That oughta do it. Stay tuned: next week, I’ll share with you how I shop for the dozens of family and friends on my list, as well as the menu and recipes from my annual Christmas Brunch.

Happy shopping!


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Where Hustle Stops Bustle

“At Christmas play and make good cheer,
For Christmas comes but once a year.” Thomas Tusser

After spending a good part of last week hustling to prepare for Christmas—“determined-with-list-in-hand-shopping” all afternoon Wednesday; one last getaway and leisurely shopping experience with Nick in New York City all day Thursday; and “smart shopping” at the outlet mall a little bit on Friday—it was so wonderful to kick back and relax with dear friends from Kentucky, who visited us for the weekend at our home in Connecticut. We spent our time on a leisurely stroll around town, in leisurely conversation on sofas around the fire, and by breaking bread around my dining room table. No scurrying around. No serious deadlines to meet. No long lines to contend with.

As I sit here and look at my own calendar for December, I imagine that it looks very much like yours. Too many appointments in too little space. Double-bookings in the same exact time slot. Near panic at the realization that something will get left out of the mix: that perfect gift will not be found; that perfect lunch date will not work out; that perfect party will not be attended.

The nearly universal common denominator among all mothers is the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed by the demands of spouse, kids and home life. The near-constant shuffling of little people from school to lessons to activities to friends’ homes; the never-ending cycle of grocery shopping-meal preparation-cleanup-and-laundry; and the nearly-impossible requirement of keeping ourselves in peak-performance physical shape—all on too-little sleep—baffles and confounds even the best of us. And “the math” never gets more complicated than during the Holidays. We become overworked, overstretched, and overburdened. I feel it every year. I know you do, too.

My visit with old friends this weekend validated what I’ve always known—but have often been simply too busy to stand back and rightfully acknowledge: hustle stops bustle around a table.

When all—and I mean all—is said and done, the holidays really boil down to: faith, family and friends. And if we whack that out of perspective, if we wrongly juggle the mix, or if we lose track of the things for which we’re scurrying, we miss out on the season.

When my husband and kids and I sat down around our dining room table to share several meals with two of our dearest friends in the whole world, I was able to leave the hustle and bustle of Christmas behind me. We were able to enjoy the food we had prepared, the catching-up-with-each-other-conversation we had longed for, the break in the routine we had looked forward to, and the ambience we had lovingly designed. With candles aglow and silver sparkling, the cocoon of home and friendship took over to do what it has always done best: provide love and safety and shelter—and relief from the busyness of the world. Hustle stopped bustle this weekend at my dining room table.

I know this sounds trite. Oversimplified. Almost like a “duh, yeah.” But when we’re too busy running around, too busy making everyone else happy and too busy “doing” the Holidays, we truly lose sight of what it takes to fully enjoy and appreciate them. Stopping smack in the middle of the Christmas season to sit down at a table with best friends—to eat and to drink, to laugh and to cry, to share and to pray—was one of my favorite gifts. I told Kathy: “You are my Christmas gift.”

One of my favorite Scripture verses is: “There is a friend who sticketh closer than a brother.” We all know that we can’t choose family, but we can choose friends. Some of us are blessed with family who we would also choose as friends. We acknowledge that we are blessed indeed. And that we are doubly blessed when we have good friends whom we can count on and lean on, through the good times and the bad. With whom we can both celebrate and mourn.

And it’s rarely more obvious than at Christmas.

As you go through these next few weeks leading up to Christmas, I encourage you to gather around a table. Your own or that of your friends. Or at a club or favorite restaurant (as I got to do in New York when Nick and I met an old high school friend of mine for lunch. Wow! Two “old-friend-treats” in one week!) It’s going to be hard for you to fit this in during this month. It’ll stop your momentum. Break your shopping rhythm. Interfere with your chores. Or your workout or your hair appointment or your pedicure. But the mere act of stopping—of deliberate pause, deliberate slowing down and deliberate dining—may possibly prove to be your best Christmas gift ever.

I feel truly blessed to enjoy an overflow of friends. I often feel that my cup runneth over. That people move into my life in the most surprising ways. And enrich it and expand it by encouragement and compassion.

I pray that you also have not only an abundance of friends with whom you can celebrate the Holidays: I pray that you take the time to do just that.

Blessings on your week,


A Nick Note

Nick and I kept our promise to each other that we would spend a day together in the City during the Christmas season; we went in on Thursday and shopped and yes—dined around a table. Hustle stopped bustle at the Cuban restaurant Havana Central on 46th St. between 7th and 8th. One of his Christmas gifts was a night at the theatre. If you’re a Billy Joel fan—as we both are—you’ll get a charge out of Movin’ Out. But hurry! The show leaves Broadway on the 18th. Nick’s counts are terrific and he’s gaining strength each day. His renewed health is my greatest gift this Christmas.

A Special Request Note

I received a sad email from a dear friend and fellow rocket mom this week who asked that I use this forum to circulate a special request. The Kaufman family lost their 12-year-old daughter, Alexa, unexpectedly and swiftly to leukemia over the Thanksgiving holiday. She died within three days of her diagnosis. A fund has been started in her memory. Please check out the Kaufman story at: and help us stamp out childhood cancer.

A Rocket Mom Society Note

The site for the new forming Rocket Mom Society will be up and running this week. Granted, it will not yet be fully loaded. Tons of resources will be added, both as quickly as I can write them, as well as how quickly we can develop them by personal experience and direct observation. In other words, at our monthly Rocket Mom Society meetings, our talking points will be accessible to all society members—chapter members and virtual members alike. Audio streams and video clips will also be added as available. As with all large undertakings, these things take time. Please be patient with me! It is the Christmas season, after all…..go to and click on Rocket Mom Society.

A Quick Note

I’ll be giving the keynote presentation “Mary’s Response” at the Princeton Alliance Church on Thursday, December 8th. Discover how Mary responded to the Annunciation by Gabriel...and how our own responses to life's annunciations profoundly impact our lives. If you live in the Princeton area, please contact the church for details.

Monday, November 28, 2005


“We are not to avoid the Holiday rush. We are to avoid rushing the Holiday.” Rev. Bill Pfohl.

It’s official. The world can be divided yet one more way: those who doorbust and those who don’t.

Surely you’ve heard the term by now. It refers to folks who get up pre-dawn— most notably on “Black Friday”—and literally bust through stores’ doors as they open in the morning for business. This lovely little ritual is just a few years old...and it appears that it’s starting earlier in the day and attracting more and more devotees each year.

As several of my friends engage in this practice, I can’t put it down. My understanding is that those folks who doorbust think it’s the most normal thing in the world; those of us who wouldn’t be caught dead doing so think they are absolutely nuts.

Talk radio on Friday morning was loaded up with discussion on this phenomenon. Shockingly, the calling audience overwhelmingly felt that doorbusting is actually a rather virtuous practice. That is helps teach kids the value of a hard-earned buck. That those who engage in it exhibit perserverance. Work diligently for what they want. Are willing to sacrifice sleep and comfort in order to get it. Are smart spenders. Exercise good stewardship.

Me? It was a mute point, as I needed to get Nick to the doctor for his weekly check-up. Couldn’t have doorbusted even if I wanted to. And I cannot imagine—even in my wildest dreams—the mere thought. Hate crowds. Hate standing in lines. Hate standing in lines in the cold. Hate giving up my morning coffee ritual. Wouldn’t dream of leaving my warm bed in the pre-dawn cold and dark.

I admit, however, to once again feeling overwhelmed by my long shopping list for Christmas and would love—as my doorbusting friends can now boast about—having it nearly finished. Gifts bought, wrapped and ready to ship. I face frustration once again as I contemplate how to most graciously allow the true spirit of Christmas to enter my family’s reality while meeting all of the season’s demands. Of heeding my pastor’s advice in this week’s sermon: “We are not to avoid the Holiday rush. We are to avoid rushing the Holiday.”

Every year, at about this time, I make my gift list, review those of the past few years, and resolve to be more clever, more thoughtful and more efficient. Every year, at about this time, I under-budget the three most important factors—time, money and energy—for getting my act together. And every year, at about this time. I submit to some of the inevitable: mall-shopping, post-office waiting and last-minute ordering. I resolve—year after year after year—to “be better.” And yet, to keep my eye on the ball. To remember that this season of Advent is to help us move closer to the Christ child. To deepen our relationship with Him.

So where does that fit in? Where, amongst the parties and the pageants, the cookies and the cards, does the message of Christmas weave itself into the fabric of these next four weeks? How does one remain true to the message and yet live in consistency with cultural expectations? Gift-giving is one of the mainstays of the Holidays. And yet it exacts an emotional, financial and physical toll. Whether we like it or not.

For whatever they’re worth, these are my guideposts for preparing for and celebrating the Holidays with vigor and verve:

Think natural. There’s just something about natural beauty. In faces, fashion and home decorating. Friends this year will get gifts from the outdoors or from my local garden center: flowers, bulbs, topiaries. Clay pots, sphagnum moss and all. No gloss. No shine. Simple.

Think small. It never fails: just when I think I’ve outsmarted the system and have figured out perfectly well the exact postage for my smaller packages, I wind up making three or four long trips to the post office with a half a dozen boxes in my arms each and every time. This year, I’m thinking small and lightweight. Gifts that can be easily stuffed into small padded envelopes. With pre-determined, pre-affixed stamps. Stationery, note cards, writing tablets. Jewelry. Smart.

Think homebaked. I adore receiving homemade cookies, as I almost never bake in my own home. (Not my thing.) And so I assume that others love receiving them as much as I do. I never forget our family’s time-honored hands-down best Christmas cookie: Ritz-cracker-peanut-butter-sandwiches-dipped-in-dark-or-white-chocolate. Packaged in pretty tins or boxes, they remain a perennial favorite, and will find their way onto my kitchen counter as well as into a few brown packages this year as they do every year. Easy.

Think handmade. I always think that this Christmas will be different: that I’ll paint large quantities of miniature canvases in oils, hook multitudes of stockings out of hand-dyed wool, decoupage glass plates for all of my neighbors, or needlepoint belts for all four of our kids….and then life gets in the way. Amidst the hustle and the bustle, I invariably wind up at my favorite local merchant, filling his counter with a dozen or so of my favorite things, and giving said item to each and every one of my girlfriends—whether she likes it or not. Not necessarily the most thoughtful approach, but certainly one of the most expedient. But if I can time it just right, I’ll be tinkering in my studio this year, trying to create something out of my heart. Using my own hands and investing time more than any other ingredient. Honest.

I admit: this approach only works for the grown-up set. Girlfriends are amongst the most appreciative set I know. But as for all the little tykes on your list: give it up. You’ll find yourself at more toy stores than you ever thought possible, searching for talking dolls, action-packed video games, new bikes and glow-in-the-dark balls. And you’ll spend way more of those special three—time, money and energy—than you ever planned. As for those teens on your list? My own daughter is so hoping for Juicy Couture and I am so hoping that they’re all sold out. Malls and madness. Yuck. The mere thought exhausts me.

If only I had doorbusted.

Happy week!


A Nick Note

Nick is handling the maintenance part of his chemo protocol extremely well. The highlight of his week was visiting with his many friends who came home for Thanksgiving. It was wonderful seeing him so animated….

A Quick Note

If you live in my area and missed the Official Launch of the Rocket Mom Society but would like to come and learn more about it, please send me an email and I’ll send you an invite to a Christmas party at my house.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Abundant Blessings

“And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” So God granted him what he requested. 1 Chronicles 4:9-10

I was feeling a little blue last week. Out of sorts. I had a funny sensation all week. Couldn’t really put my finger on it. I was feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. An uncommon feeling for me and one that I haven’t experienced since I can remember. I came to the conclusion that it was because I was entering unchartered territory in getting this Rocket Mom Society officially launched. That even though I see the need, feel the need and am eager to respond to the need, that others would not necessarily catch my vision. That to get it up and running was too much work. That I was unqualified. Technologically retarded. Feeling a tad bit sorry for myself—no, feeling sorry isn’t quite right—um, maybe feeling that I had over-stretched my personal limitations. Yes, that’s it: stretched too much. Reached too far. Dreamed too big. And my emotions hadn’t yet caught up with my brain.

I needed perspective, but far more, I needed wisdom. I needed to read that going out on a limb produces anxiety. That these feelings were normal. That I wasn’t nuts. That it was okay to ask for blessings. For reassurances. That praying for enlarged territory was not only “allowable,” but it was part of God’s design on my life.

I curled up on my living room sofa with one of my favorite books: Bruce Wilkinson’s The Prayer of Jabez. Having read and re-read it many times, I needed to re-read it now and capture, once again, the wisdom contained in its few pages.

Growing up as one of those Christians who believed it would be greedy of me to ask for even more of God’s blessings when I enjoy so much to begin with, I had a hard time with the concept that it was not only okay to ask for more, but that it was what God wants from me. For starters, I had an incorrect understanding of the word “blessing.” I had, of course, heard the word, seen the word. Hundreds if not thousands of times before. But we use it incorrectly. And it leads to misunderstanding. As Wilkinson discusses, we say “Bless you” after someone sneezes. We casually tell people we wish them blessings. We bless the food, bless the turkey, bless the pumpkin pie.

But “to bless in the Biblical sense means to ask for or to impart supernatural favor.” (1) When I ask for God’s blessings, I’m not asking for more of what I could get, or more of what I could accomplish or more of what I believe I deserve! I’m asking for God to impart to me—through His supernatural power—something which I could not attain by my own.

In Wilkinson’s book, we see that Jabez left everything up to God: how he should be blessed, what blessings would befall him and how he would receive them.

It met me exactly in the moment in which I needed it. (I love when that happens...) I was able to finish the book, pull myself up off the sofa (after a nice little nap) and bounce through the weekend with renewed energy and enthusiasm. I had a simple prayer: “Lord, show Yourself powerfully. Show me that You are here. All around me. Working everywhere. Even in my loneliness and my fear.”

And funny little things happened all weekend long. I got emails from friends with whom I hadn’t conversed in weeks. Phonemails, too. Kind gestures were bestowed on me…catching me totally off-guard. Like when I offered to watch a complete stranger’s little girl in the outside lobby at the Cheesecake Factory so the mom could check on the estimated length of her wait, only to receive during dinner some food sent over by her as a way of saying “Thank you.” Several more small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness occurred over the next couple days, giving me very much a sense of God’s presence. Of His working everywhere.

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I would ask you to give special consideration to the word “blessing.” It is not meant to be taken lightly. It is a word which we raise up to our Creator in prayer. With humility. We ask for showers of blessings in order to further glorify God. Praying for God’s desires to be met. Not ours. We pray without ego. Or competitive ambition. But just to better walk these days in service to Him and to our fellow man.

My Thanksgiving prayer is that you would receive supernatural blessings in order to live more fully God’s design on your life. That He would abundantly bless you so that all of the things that He desires in the world would be met through each one of us bold enough to ask for our place in it. That however God wants to use you to fulfill His goals, you would be up for the challenge. And that it would be crystal clear, that it will not be by your works—or by mine—that His will be fulfilled. For as Scripture teaches: “The Lord’s blessing is our greatest wealth; all our work adds nothing to it.” (Proverbs 10:22) I hope you use some of the “downtime” of the holiday weekend to prayerfully submit yourself to God’s work in this world. To be fully open of how and where you might fit into the eternal drama. That your heart would be pricked in such a way that you would be open to the miracles which God wants to do through your life.

May God’s richest blessings come to you, on Thanksgiving Day and everyday!


Wilkinson, Bruce, The Prayer of Jabez, Multnomah Publishers, Sisters, p.23.

A Nick Note

Nick and Ernie spent four full days in Atlanta, this being the first time in over a year that he received doctor’s orders to go so far away from home. They relaxed together, had some nice meals together, and attended the Georgia-Kentucky game as well as the Falcons-Tampa Bay game. We’re most thankful this Thanksgiving for Nick’s health, for his increased energy and stamina, and for his very bright prognosis and future. I continue to pray Jeremiah 29:11 for him: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” I would covet your continued prayers for Nick, and encourage you to pray this simple prayer for blessings on your own loved ones.

A Rocket Mom Society Note

The RMS officially launched to a small gathering of women on Thursday night in my living room. Healthy, lively discussion followed the laying out of my vision. While I’m taking all comments to task, I am proceeding with its development and am committed to trying to meet the needs as I see them, feel them and understand them.

As I look around and try to digest not only what I’m learning from my own nearly twenty years into parenting, but also from what I’m learning as I share this journey with you, I realize that even though our navigation systems may have constructed different charts, we’re all in the same proverbial boat. As an international sisterhood, we admit that we face a universal search for wisdom and that our everyday challenges are strikingly similar. We all want to know how to cope with the terrible two’s as well as how to keep our girls looking wholesome in the age of Madonna and Britney. We all want to know how to keep on top of technology’s increasing role in our kids’ lives in the age of online pornography and internet predators. We all want to know how to preserve our family relationships in the age where business moves at the speed of thought. How to prevent the cultural divide from swallowing us all up. Or how to meet the firestorm of pop culture effectively when our arsenal seems to have the power of a squirt gun.

We acknowledge that as cradle-rockers and vision-casters, we possess the unique privilege of shaping the world. And together, we can try to do just that. But there are structural challenges—bureacratic practicalities, in a sense—that must be met in order to fulfill this goal. My hope is that via downloadable documents, audio streams and video clips, I will be able to reach those of you who are interested in joining this potentially international sisterhood society but who are unable to meet me in my own home. Please give me some more time to work on the online infrastructure so that I’ll be able to best serve you. In the meantime, if you’re interested in more details, please send me an email. I’m keeping a list……

Monday, November 14, 2005

Launch of the Rocket Mom Society

Never before have the issues of parenting been more critical. I believe that it’s more than my increased consciousness due to having three teenagers in our house, or that because I read and write about parenting issues all day long I am more in-tune with everyday issues and dilemmas. I feel—in my bones—the pervasive pop cultural erosion of those things I hold most dear. I see floundering parents fixated on Super Nanny and teen girls fixated on Vogue.

How do you elevate the moral consciousness of your family? How do you raise morally responsible teens? What values should I be pro-actively instilling in my kids? When and how do I start? Are there specific steps I can be taking? Clever strategies to get our family on the right path?

If you believe that moms need a voice, that we need to seek solutions to our most pressing problems, and that—together—we can band together in our journey, then I hope you will consider joining the newly forming ROCKET MOM SOCIETY. Launching this Thursday in Ridgefield, CT (USA), I hope to “encourage, equip and empower moms for excellence.” If you have not received an invitation but would like to join us in our launch party, please email me directly at: With the infrastructure almost in place, I am hopeful that registration can begin on Friday. Please watch for an email message notifying you of the signup link. While none of us can claim to know all of the answers, we can claim to at least asking most of the right questions. This will be the goal of all members of the ROCKET MOM SOCIETY. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 07, 2005

It Only Takes a Spark

"The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion
and the will to help others." Albert Schweitzer

It Only Takes a Spark

To get a fire going. Ahhh! We know that only too well. One poorly-timed word, sideways glance or accusatory question to a teenager….and sparks go flying. Before you know it, voices start running up an octave or two, muscles start tensing and words start spewing forth for the impending, unavoidable flare-up. A veritable bonfire could be in the works before you know it! Ha! No one ever told you this parenting thing would be easy. Call for such stamina, nerves of steel and worn-out knees.

On the flip side, it only takes the spark of one individual, one heroic voice, one visionary or one touched by social injustice, personal tragedy or immeasurable suffering to try to set the world right again.

Such was my experience Saturday morning, when I traded in leisure time on a perfect-postcard New England fall day to attend a mandatory training session for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Having been personally touched by childhood cancer, I wanted to become actively involved in this top-notch organization as a goodwill ambassador. Not only because they would be granting a wish to our family, but because I believe that my testimony could prove encouraging to others facing similar circumstances.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation has the system figured out: rules, regulations, security background checks...and they do an excellent job of acquainting their volunteers with the basics before getting truly started. They also do a wonderful job of reminding you why you signed up in the first place. Video clips of children as they are receiving their wish-—along with film of the selfless acts of devoted volunteers in shaping the wish to its fullest potential-—bring that lump-to-the-throat experience that could hardly find expression anywhere else. Dressing up in hulas to deliver a wish for a Hawaiian trip, or as Spiderman so that a little boy could be “Beetle Boy” for a day and save the city of Pittsburgh from the evil Green Goblin...all served as powerful reminders of fulfilling Make-A-Wish’s vision of “bringing hope, strength and joy” to children around the world.

The foundation got its start after a family lost their own son to leukemia. The mother, so moved by the local police force which granted a wish to her son just a week before he passed away, inspired her to found a program which would exert that same power over countless other children facing life-threatening illnesses around the world. Her singular joy in watching her son receive his wish sparked the fire which would spread around the globe.

Around the world people are following that still quiet voice which inspires them to jump out of their comfort zone and into the arena of hunger and hurt, poverty and pain, illness and illiteracy. Folks like Roberto Perez, international leader of Alfalit—-a literacy group that our family is involved with-—who retired from his career as a social worker in order to advance the cause of literacy throughout Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries of the world; or of James and Carolyn Loftin, who felt the pull to meet the spiritual needs of the people of China, and founded the Follow One International organization, leaving family, friends and personal comfort behind. There are thousands of others. All felt tugs on their heartstrings to enlarge their circle of concern and stepped out onto the world stage of need.

Most visionaries have suffered inordinate personal suffering. Not witnessed it secondhand. Not read about it. Or heard about it. But experienced it. It seems to go with the territory. A rose isn’t beautiful without its thorns, after all. It is the suffering, really, which serves most often as the springboard for profound change and energetic movement to goodwill on a massive scale.

Pricked by cultural contradictions-—as well as the current intersection of media attention and personal anxiety (ever watched even one episode of Desperate Housewives?)-—the time is ripe for the launch of the Rocket Mom Society. In no way comparing it—-or my vision-—to some of the aforementioned luminaries, the need for an international sisterhood is both real and pervasive. Too many parenting seminars, newsletters and media interviews have found me responding to too many attendees with the deer-in-the-headlights-look too deeply etched onto their faces to understand just how real the need truly is. Young moms, especially, lack role models…not to mention a clearly-detailed instruction manual for each one of their kids. With their own moms living hundreds of miles away, few neighborhood moms showing them the ropes, and pop culture stealing commonly-held notions from the best-intentioned of us; this motherhood experience has left many of us feeling hopeless, hapless and helpless. It’s time to put back some good old-fashioned unapologetic optimism back into the parenting equation.

At the risk of sounding holier-than-thou or like the-know-it-all-you-love-to-hate, I will be launching the Rocket Mom Society on November 17. I welcome your support! As a potentially international sisterhood of like-minded moms, our goal will be to “encourage and equip moms for excellence.” Like others who have come before me with a vision, my heart has been pricked, and I need to move forward. Faced, too, with inordinate personal tragedy in my own life, it will serve as a springboard to helping others. Please email me if you live outside the Fairfield County, Connecticut (Westchester County, New York) area. If you live nearby, you are invited to the launch with a simple email for the asking.

The late arrival of this week’s newsletter into your inbox is a reminder that, when push comes to shove, my own kids and husband come first. A need on my own home front will always supersede a need anywhere else. But hopefully, I’ll be able to serve my own family well, while simultaneously enlarge the circle into which I feel especially drawn. I hope you consider becoming a card-carrying member, too. Details will be forthcoming and are also available by sending me an email. I will continue with my weekly newsletters, but I will also move full throttle developing countless hands-on strategies for those I feel called to help. It only takes a spark, and I hope that you’ll add to my fire.



A Nick Note

Nick started the maintenance phase of his chemo protocol on Friday. After four halted attempts, he endured two procedures which got the ball rolling. He should expect to feel much better than he has in a year. Though not yet back to his highest energy level, he’s playing tennis, eating well and looks terrific. His hair is even coming back...more and more each day. It was especially heartwarming to read the dozens of emails which poured forth this morning with combined fear for his health and well-being. Again, my apologies for giving you such a fright! But I feel covered in prayer for my whole family, and for that I am extremely grateful.

A Quick Note

Two exciting media opportunities are moving forward. They will help move the ROCKET MOM message to a wider audience and are, indeed, a good thing. I’d love prayer for increased energy and stamina!


I’m working on the infrastructure for the new ROCKET MOM SOCIETY. It should be up and running by launch time. To help those living far and away (like a new rocket mom in Nigeria), I need a system for keeping all of you in close contact above and beyond this newsletter. Details next week about how to sign up!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Standing on Tall Shoulders

"That best portion of a good man's life, his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love." William Wordsworth

All Saints Day comes once a year to remind us of the tall shoulders upon which we stand.

The day seems long-forgotten, what with jack-o-lanterns in every window, skeletons hanging on nearby trees, and witches and monsters hiding in the shadows. Costumes have been hand-sewn or purchased, and super-sized bags of candy have been dispensed into baskets, ready for the doorbell ringing trick-or-treaters to devour.

Halloween, per se, has never been my favorite holiday. I’m just not a huge fan of spooky, dark, morose things of any kind. I don’t read horror books. Don’t see scary movies. Hate any hint of evil. Even seeing monsters and make-believe Frankensteins gives me the heevie-jeevies. Halloween—-as we know it anyway—-is a uniquely American, post-1930’s phenomenon. The pre-Christian Celtics used the day to celebrate the official end of summer; early Christians to remember the recently departed, faithful servants or saints (hence, All Saints Day). Its earlier folklore even used the practice of knocking on doors to collect monies for relief of poverty or for overseas missions, presumably to reinforce the saintlike behavior of those who had come before them.

I suppose it’s one thing to celebrate folk rituals. Folklore must go on, after all. And celebrating folklore—-I admit-—is downright fun. It activates the creative juices. And I guess one could argue that designing a kid’s costume-—or those for an entire family-—is one of the most creative endeavors of the season. But its huge secular influence-—witches and black cats, Frankensteins and monsters, ghosts and goblins, gruesome masks and fake blood-—is enough to make me want to stay home by myself and watch reruns of Mayberry RFD.

And did I mention the mischief-—or downright vandalism-—that goes on during Halloween night? Smashing pumpkins, a lovely little ritual that my own husband confessed to our kids over dinner to having taken part in (and for which he felt guilt at the time), seems mild in light of some of the stuff my teen son has witnessed (firsthand, unfortunately). Soaping windows and “t-p-ing” a house might seem like good ole-fashioned fun, but yuck: have you ever tried to clean up after being soaped or t-p-ed?

I’m going to try—-as best I can (I still have kids little enough to once again enjoy or endure the trick-or-treat ritual, depending on how I think about it)-—to celebrate the holiday by spending some time thinking about some of the wonderful folks whose lives crossed mine but who are no longer among us. On whose tall shoulders I stand. Denise was a saint who faithfully prayed for Nick each and every Sunday, even though she was dealing with an aggressive cancer herself, which ultimately took her life a few months ago. Chantal, though ten years old at the time of her death last month, taught me many lessons about life, even though she lived only a fraction of the time that I have. I’ll spend some time not only jotting down the names of recently departed saints; I’ll meditate on the lessons they taught by their everyday lives. Simple. Uncomplicated lessons. Lessons of hospitality. Or faithfulness.

And I’ll look around at those saints who still cross my daily path. Real, live modern-day saints. Like the kind older lady who helps me fill my prescriptions at my local pharmacy; she hugs me every time I go in for a refill for one of Nick’s drugs. And Nora, who works part-time there, yet remembers to send me emails of encouragement, as she faces battles and fears of her own. And Wellington, who fills up my gas tank-—as well as my emotional tank-—every time I pull into the station. He never fails to ask about Nick, and promises to keep him in daily prayer. Elmer, the restaurant owner; Ron, my pet food supplier; and Matt, my photo copy guy. Unlikely saints moving and living in my circle. Just doing regular, un-glamorous jobs. Yet bringing saintlike movements and wisdom into my everyday, workaday world.

So scoop out the pumpkins seeds and carve jack-o-lanterns. Bob for apples and bang on doors demanding candy. Keep up the secular if it brings you and your little ones some joy. But don’t forget the spiritual aspect of the day, too. All of us stand on tall shoulders. We wouldn’t be the people we are, where we are, if spiritual giants hadn’t come before us. I hope you take some time out today-—whether it’s while you’re walking your kids down the dark streets in search of chocolate and a trick or two, or whether it’s during a long, contemplative cup of hot tea—-to gratefully remember both the saints who came before us and those who live among us. Aspiring to be a little more saintlike is a good thing. What can you—-and I—-do towards that end?



A Nick Note

Nick and I will be heading to the doctor’s office Monday morning to get a check on his “counts.” Hopefully, they’ll be high enough to start the maintenance phase of his protocol. If so, he’ll get a spinal tap, a bone marrow aspiration, and a handful of chemo drugs. That’ll be the worst of it for the month; most of his treatment will be oral meds, with a weekly finger-stick thrown in for good measure. He’s feeling much stronger and is really looking forward to getting this next—-and final-—phase of the three-pronged protocol underway. As always, we covet your prayers for his complete and total healing.

A Quick Note

The official launch of the ROCKET MOM SOCIETY will take place in Ridgefield, CT on Thursday, November 17th. If you live in the area and would like an invitation to become a charter member, please send an email to: Or call me! 203.438.7164. Details are almost complete and will follow next week. This is going to be TMF!!! *

A Fun Note

One of the biggest kicks I get from being a writer and speaker is talking to groups of young moms. I’ll have that distinct pleasure on Thursday evening, November 10 . Are you a member of a group looking for some good parenting advice? Great discussion? Fun and fellowship? Need a keynote? Hosting a birthday party and want to do some fun “mommy games”? Ever come to my “What Color is Your Purse” seminar? TMF. Give me a call. I’d love to come and meet your club or group, too. 203.438.7164.

Another new little venture: local cable TV. I’m in the process of starting a community access ROCKET MOM TV show. Details to follow.

Ahhh. Life is settling back into a more normal routine. I am so grateful….

Monday, October 24, 2005

Finish Lines

"Nothing will sustain you more potently than the power to
recognize in your humdrum routine, as perhaps it may be thought,
the true poetry of life." Sir William Osler

Finish lines. We’ve all crossed them. Going through nine months of pregnancy to cross the finish line into labor. Enduring long, painful labor to cross the finish line into delivering a newborn babe. Pulling our hair out during the “terrible two’s” to cross the finish line of the third candle in the birthday cake. Discovering that the three’s have a life of their own, to cross the finish line into the four’s. Gliding through the golden ages of five, six and seven to cross the finish line of early childhood, only to turn around and realize that you’re smack in the middle of adolescence. Crossing the finish line with a new driver in the house. Followed by the finish line of high school graduation. Then College. Your wedding day.

Life is full of them.

When Nick was initially diagnosed with leukemia, I remember thinking: “If only we can get through the torturous three-year protocol. Then we’ll be fine. We’ll have crossed the finish line.” And then the words of my minister, who came to visit during that first Yale Hospital stay, lingered: “Don’t forget that life happens in the middle.” With both eyes firmly fixed on the finish line, it was easy to see that I might be missing out on everything else that was happening meanwhile. In the middle.

Funny. It seems that we measure life not only by how many finish lines we cross, but by how quickly—-or fully-—we cross them. The crossing of a finish line into the next corporate promotion is measured by level bumps, salary increases and stock options. Measured in fullness. The finish line of early education might be measured in swiftness of reading, of comprehension and vocabulary. Measured in speed.

I’m as guilty as the next person in quantifying and validating my existence by easily measured finish lines: everything from my placement on Amazon’s sales lists to the number of attendees at a seminar to how many articles I’m able to write in a month; they all add--or subtract from-—my “success.”

And I see it all around me in motherhood: moms comparing progress in their children to those of their peers, teachers juxtaposing child against child with grades and easily quantifiable data. IQ tests and achievement tests ranking one child higher than another. College acceptance letters to your first choice going to someone other than your own kid.

Nick crossed a finish line this week by completing prong #2 of a three-pronged protocol in his treatment for leukemia. He crossed the finish line of prong #1 (a 28-day treatment to get him into remission) only to begin a brutal one-year intensification phase of the chemo program. He crossed that finish line-—prong #2--on Friday. But it is rather short-lived: he’ll begin prong #3 next week and chart a year-and-a-half course until he crosses the next finish line. At that point, he’ll still have a couple of years to go until he crosses that “magical” finish line of the “five-year mark” before he is declared officially “cured.”

If we stay completely focused on the strength, speed or fullness with which we cross finish lines, we miss out on most of the good stuff. We miss out on what happens in the middle: life. I need to constantly remind myself that while Nick is running towards the finish line of complete and total healing, that his three siblings are fully engaged in living. That his dad still works a job and mom still tidies up the house, feeds the dog, washes the dirty laundry, and deals with groceries and dinner. That community service gets attention; gifts get wrapped; letters get written and times tables get memorized. That life happens while we’re waiting to cross finish lines.

I hope you spend some time this week thinking about your own finish lines. Be it getting through the next few months and crossing the finish line of Christmas, or watching your senior fill our college applications to cross the finish line into acceptance; life holds one for you in one form or another. Just don’t get so caught up in the “line” that you forget the daily interactions, the easily dispensable conversations or the quickly dismissed moments that happen in between. Don’t forget that the best of life happens between the finish lines.



A Nick Note

As mentioned, Nick crossed the finish line of prong #2 and will
soon begin the third prong of a three-pronged treatment for
leukemia. He'll get a blood transfusion today, and, because his
counts are so low, get a one-week break before beginning the
maintenance part of the protocol. Finish line #2 crossed, he is
getting his sights set on Wake Forest University, where he will
begin as a college freshman in January. He'll look at the next
two months as much-needed time to regain both strength and


A Fun Note

The Rocket Mom Society will officially launch in Ridgefield,
Connecticut on November 17th! Sensing that the time is ripe to
begin a potentially international sisterhood society, we will
launch at a private party in my own hometown. If you live in or
near Ridgefield and would like to receive an invitation to join
as a "charter member," please email me ASAP:
Guidelines and details forthcoming! Full court press planned,
including the upcoming interview on the TV program, "Moms Gone
Mad," on Tuesday, the 25th.

Too young and vibrant for the Red Hat Society but yearning for
all of that fellowship and fun? Forgetaboutit. Join the Rocket
Mom Society by emailing or calling me today!!!
or 203 438-7164.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Brook's Song

Today’s Quote: “The brook would lose its song if the rocks were taken away.” Elizabeth Kellogg

Avi Salzman, in Sunday’s New York Times, describes Autumn in New England arriving “like a prom queen, draped in boastful reds, yellows and rusty browns, perfumed with wood smoke.”

I had the privilege this weekend of chaperoning 40-something musicians in the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra to a large retreat center in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Not exactly New England. But close enough.

The fall foliage was splendid, and daily walks through nature trails and around the on-site lake were nothing short of spectacular. What with the bite of the crisp fall air filling my lungs, an on-again off-again drizzle wetting my cheeks, and the occasional aroma of a leftover nighttime camp fire arousing my own childhood camp memories, it would be hard to miss nature’s extravagant call.

I didn’t notice the plaque on the wall of our quintessentially-campy cabin until this morning, when I went back to clean up after the twenty gals sharing my quarters. With sleeping bags and luggage safely tucked into another cabin for pick-up, I was sent up to perform one last bunk-check. Lifting up skimpy mattresses to look for lost clothing, pulling back shower curtains to check for forgotten toiletries, collecting garbage to lighten the housekeeper’s load, and turning down both lights and thermostats, I happened to glance up at the back wall as I was tying the final plastic garbage liner. The plaque commemorated the completion of the lodge which bears Ms. Kellogg’s name. It was shortly after reading her selected quote: “the brook would lose its song if the rocks were taken away” that I began my morning walk around the lake. For the first time all weekend, I noticed the brooks. It was one babbling brook after another, each singing its own song. And even though each day had brought a nature hike or two-—walking right past these brooks each and every time-—I had not heard their songs before.

I confess to taking nature for granted. We live-—my family and I-—in the middle of a large wooded lot, which is surrounded by a fifty acre nature preserve. Wildlife abounds: deer, wild turkey, rabbits, and fox are familiar creatures sharing our everyday space. I try to remember how fortunate I am, being able to view the raw beauty of nature each and every day. To drive down a long and windy driveway with an abundance of trees, wildflowers and yes, babbling brooks. Yet I don’t. And so traveling to yet another beautiful mountaintop retreat-—to co-habit with nature-—was, I admit, a splendid, though not particularly unique experience. I deliberately took in the beauty of the changing leaves (and it was especially beautiful); I deliberately used my free time each day for nature hikes (and they were certainly special); and I deliberately lingered at the evening campfire (sans s’mores) to be especially sure that the smell and the smoke of it would stick to my memory for one full year, until I could recapture the experience once again.

But it was the words on that plaque that most struck me. That especially gave me pause. Wondering what kind of “rocks” had filled Ms. Kellogg’s path. Pondering why they-—among any words or quotes she could have possibly chosen-—had inspired her. Why she chose these words to immortalize the dedication. Questioning if it were, indeed, the “rocks” in her life that fortified her to move forward, that gave her wisdom, or that taught her lessons she would otherwise have never learned, that allowed her to be where she found herself on the day in which a building was dedicated to her.

And so I took my walk around the lake, stopping for the first time to listen to the song of the brooks. To forget about having a cardio-workout or making good time. To just stop when I got to a brook and listen to its song. I noticed for the first time the abundance of rocks lining each brook’s formation. And realized that-—rock-free-—each would simply be a mere silent stream of water.

Perhaps I would not have noticed the plaque in any other year. “Rocks” would not have had the significance that they have for me today. No. Reading the plaque was serendipitous to be sure. It helped me realize that people who have something significant to offer to the world have walked a rock-studded path. That silent streams of water might be beautiful in and of themselves, but that they cannot offer a beautiful song. That the brook’s song is sweeter. Because of the rocks.

The serenity of my morning nature walks provided me with much-needed perspective. They helped to balance me. With no sound other than the wind rushing through the rapidly-changing fall leaves, the light rain hitting the ground, or the melodious song of the brooks: I came to the quiet resignation that rocks are a good thing. And that man—-throughout time-—has acknowledged the same. It was the whole into-every-life-a-little-rain-must-fall-no-one-ever-promised you-a-rose-garden thing. But out in nature-—in the middle of the Catskills-—I accepted it with peace. Not taking away from the glorious music which 40-something young musicians were producing inside a campy retreat center, it was the song of the brook that rang more majestic than ever.

I hope that this fall brings you time to retreat into solitude, too. That be it into nature or into a friend’s home; into travel to a faraway place or into the down-filled cushions of your living room sofa: that you are able to make time for solitude. For wisdom and soul-searching and decision-making and finding life’s meaning come not in the busyness and rush of everyday life, but in the moments captured in silence and solitude. In hearing the song of the brook.

A Nick Note

Nick has three more chemo sessions scheduled for this week and
will then complete his year of intensification in his treatment
for leukemia. Hopefully, his counts will be high enough after
the end of the week to start on the maintenance session of the
protocol; a more likely scenario is that he'll need a one to
two-week break before the next phase. His spirits are great and,
despite being neutropenic, he has stayed healthy and fever-free.
Please continue to keep him in your prayers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

During a visit to Chartres, I had to pose in front of these charming, handpainted shutters. The flower shop inside, was delightful.  Posted by Picasa

When a walk down a Paris side street revealed a lime green sofa setting smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk, our entourage just HAD to snap a picture of me and my favorite color obsession.  Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 10, 2005

Snipping Dangling Threads

“Being organized…frees you up to prepare you for both the dizzying frustrations and distractions, as well as the surprising opportunities and celebrations, that come our way.” Carolina Fernandez (from ROCKET MOM! 7 Strategies To Blast You Into Brilliance)

Towards the end of the summer, I took my thirteen-year-old daughter and her friend on an unexpected shopping excursion. Having gotten kicked out of Six Flags Water Park by thunder and a cloudburst, the girls voted on—and won—a quick trip to the mall on the way home. Dragging me (and younger brother and brother’s friend) to a favorite clothing shop, we were met by two denim skirts possessing magnetic powers, as they almost immediately found their way onto these girls’ torsos. Proving adorable on, we got two. The fact that my daughter’s skirt has a row of dangling threads (seems to be the new style) doesn’t diminish my liking to it. But I find myself with a nearly insatiable desire to get out my scissors every time my daughter prances by wearing it. I want to snip those loose threads. Trim it up. Have it hang from her dangling-thread free.

The story of my life.

My personality yearns for a dangling-thread-free life. For loose ends to be snipped. Garbage taken out and clean laundry folded. Thank-you notes written and emails replied to. Calendars synced up and ducks perfectly lined up in rows.

Don’t get me wrong. Oil painter that I am, I have a fairly high tolerance for chaos. Half-finished canvases have lined my family room floor—in my makeshift studio—for months. A pint-sized violin rests most days on the back of my living room sofa, rather than safely tucked inside its case. And Victor’s new oboe finds itself almost always on the edge of his bed, which remains, many mornings, only half-made. What with four kids in four different schools, a traveling husband and a needy lapdog, my life can be summed up by my girlfriend’s license plate: “BEDLAM.” Add to that our ongoing chemo protocol with upwards of nine-hour days away from home some days, and I’m ready to throw up my hands in desperate resignation.

I long for simplicity. For having loose threads snipped such that I can meet my responsibilities—with discipline—as well as celebratory opportunities—with creativity—that come my way.

Fall is officially upon us. Leaves are falling (onto my freshly-swept deck); bulbs are begging for planting (in my just-weeded garden); and clothes are waiting to be rotated (in my recently-edited closets). Thankyouverymuch.

There’s always something.

So how do we rocket moms get our acts together in order to lead more creative, gratifying lives? While oodles of strategies are found in my book, ROCKET MOM!, here are my 4 Quick Tips for fall:

Sniff: Walk around your house and sniff our patterns of inefficiency. Last Tuesday, in a bout of fall fever and its resultant flurry of housekeeping, I realized that no one in my family—including myself—was benefiting from my art “studio” plunked squarely in the middle of the family room floor. Nearly-constant-begging-for-a-barn-studio-for-my-birthday notwithstanding, I realized that, in the meantime, I needed to create a more organized workspace for my favorite hobby. So I carried all of my extraneous canvases to the basement and hid all extraneous supplies in a nearby cabinet. I left two easels standing, each one holding a half-finished painting, and kept the rest of the area bare. Once done, I started walking around the whole house, doing the “sniff” test. Piles of clutter were perused; useless stuff was tossed. I kept sniffing until I was satisfied that things were (almost) as they should be. I venture to say that you border on the bizarre if you are capable of maintaining a perfectly perfect house while simultaneously raising kids and your spouse. But keep sniffing and keep trying.

Snip: Whatever threads are dangling, snip ‘em. Be they painful letters to write or junk mail to sort, toy closets to re-organize or car seats to vacuum….resolve to use this changing of the seasons to snip anything that’s been dangling over you. The resulting liberation is nothing short of dizzying! I confess that the piles of papers on my desk and the dozens of emails in my inbox are the two dangling threads in desperate need of snipping this week. Claim yours, too.

Sort: Clear out anything that reads “summer.” Now that the weather’s finally changing, sort out t’s, shorts and sandals; get ready for sweaters, jeans and boots. Sort through your kids’ clothing and donate or rotate. Give away items that no longer work; shuffle things around so that fall clothing is more readily accessible. Ditto for closets. Be scrupulous. Regular sifting and sorting prevents painful dredging a few years down the road. Trust me.

Stage: As Ernie took Nick to chemo on Tuesday, I had a “free” day with which to deal with my fall fever. When a girlfriend called that night to check up on me, she was shocked to hear me tell her that I had “staged” my home for fall. Having no idea what I was talking about—she admitted that her home looked the same all year long—I explained that I had put away all summer accessories and had brought out those for the fall. Floral arrangements were re-arranged, annuals were replaced with mums, and summer’s fresh colors were reinvigorated by autumn’s subdued warmth. Mantels and window sills and tabletops were given renewed status for roosters and sunflowers, porcelains and candles. Are you building collections? Use the changing of the seasons as an opportunity to showcase and stage them. Your home needn’t look like it fell out of a Ralph Lauren scrapbook or a page in the Orvis fall catalog. But it can be creatively staged to reflect the new season in which we find ourselves.

In short, use these next couple of weeks to get your act together. Allow the crisp, fresh air to invigorate and inspire you to organize your home so that you can lead the creative, energetic life into which you were called.

Blessings on your week,


A Nick Note
Despite a week of back-to-back chemo and transfusions, one of which produced an allergic reaction so intense that he narrowly missed an ambulance ride, Nick has held up shockingly well. (Mom has held up not quite as shockingly well.) His protocol calls for two more weeks of intense chemo, although we suspect that since one of the chemo drugs is “count dependent”—and he is currently neutropenic (low counts and almost zero immunity)—that his roadmap will be extended by a couple more weeks. He’ll receive chemo and more transfusions this week and next, at least, before beginning the maintenance part of the protocol. As always, we covet your prayers. Periods of neutropenia are especially troublesome, as any sign of weakness or fever will land him—no questions asked—at Yale Hospital. He’s been incredibly fortunate thus far. We pray he responds equally well these next couple of weeks.

His best friends are home from college, due to the Columbus Day holiday. He’s enjoying their company more than words can describe, and yearns for his life to return to some level of normalcy. He’s still on target to begin studies at Wake Forest University in January.

A Quick Note
Three big projects are in the works, and I hope to be able to share some definite details with you in the next few weeks. A book project, a media opportunity and an epiphany that I experienced Friday are all pointing to some exciting new directions for the grass-root efforts of Rocket Moms everywhere. Stay tuned!

Many of you have requested autographed copies of my book, ROCKET MOM! Please send me an email and let me know how you’d like your copies inscribed. FourQ Press accepts all major credit cards! For non-autographed copies, please call our toll-free number where a customer service agent will take your order, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! 888. 476. 2493.

Monday, October 03, 2005

God Lives Under the Bed

“Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.”

Tough week. The memorial service of ten-year-old Chantal, marital troubles of one of my dearest friends, a 5-days-in-a-row week of brutal chemo for Nick, and the shocking news that his doctor’s own 15-year-old daughter has a brain tumor, plunged me into despair which I have not felt in months. My wings are too heavy to soar. Traveling under a storm cloud has certainly curtailed my usual “zip-a-dee-doo-dah” attitude towards life. Unable to dispel wisdom, strategies or even a teensy bit of optimism, I am sending instead a story that found its way into my inbox this week. Sent by a friend (its author is anonymous) and re-circulated again, it resonated so highly that I deemed it worthy of this week’s Newsletter. I pray that you will take a lesson from Kevin…and that it will sink deeply into my own soul so that I can meet you in full force next week. Until then….

God Lives under the Bed

“I envy Kevin. My brother Kevin thinks God lives under his bed. At least, that's what I heard him say one night. He was praying out loud in his dark bedroom, and I stopped outside his closed door to listen. "Are you there, God?" he said. "Where are you? Oh, I see. Under the bed."

I giggled softly and tiptoed off to my own room. Kevin's unique perspectives are often a source of amusement. But that night something else lingered long after the humor. I realized for the first time the very different world Kevin lives in.

He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result of difficulties during labor. Apart from his size (he's 6-foot-2), there are few ways in which he is an adult. He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed, that Santa Claus is the one who fills the space under our tree every Christmas and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them. remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever dissatisfied with his monotonous life?

Up before dawn each day, off to work at a workshop for the disabled, home to walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for dinner, and later to bed.The only variation in the entire scheme is laundry, when he hovers excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child. He does not seem dissatisfied. He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work. He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for his next day's laundry chores.

And Saturdays-oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That's the day my Dad takes Kevin to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land, and speculate loudly on the destination of each passenger inside.

"That one's goin' to Chi-car-go!" Kevin shouts as he claps his hands. His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.

And so goes his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips.

He doesn't know what it means to be discontent. His life is simple. He will never know the entanglements of wealth or power, and he does not care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be.

His hands are diligent. Kevin is never so happy as when he is working. When he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in it. He does not shrink from a job when it is begun, and he does not leave a job until it is finished.

But when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax. He is not obsessed with his work or the work of others.

His heart is pure. He still believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept, and when you are wrong, you apologize instead of argue. Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always transparent, always sincere.

And he trusts God. Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ, he comes as a child. Kevin seems to know God - to really be friends with Him in a way that is difficult for an "educated" person to grasp. God seems like his closest companion.

In my moments of doubt and frustrations with my Christianity, I envy the security Kevin has in his simple faith. It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge that rises above my mortal questions. It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap. I am. My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances--they all become disabilities when I do not trust them to God's care.

Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn? After all, he has spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love of God.

And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts, I'll realize that God heard the simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed.

Kevin won't be surprised at all!” (Author Anonymous)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Watering the Grassroots

Just returning from a three-day trip to St. Louis, I feel a little bit like Pooh-—with a head stuffed with too much fluff-—and Alice in Wonderland—-with a head filled with overwhelming wonder. Each and every time I go to this forum (I started attending eight years ago) I come back with a head literally swimming with confusion and uncertainty, along with some newfound conviction...and righteous indignation to boot.

Topics ranged from our Missile Defense System to our Trade Imbalance to Job Losses to Asia to the Overmedication of Today’s Children. Hardly light material. Heated lectures were presented by Congressman and Justices, by physicians and lawyers. Most attendees were like-minded, though certainly, one could only expect that when faced with issues charged with this level of controversy and intensity, 400 folks from all walks of life—-in all age brackets, from virtually every state in the union-—we wouldn’t always be on the exact same page.

And indeed, as I sat in on my very first session, one trying-to-be-helpful attendee asked me to consider putting Nick (who’s battling leukemia) on the best-selling “Natural Cures” protocol, urging me to give up the tried-and-tested chemo regimen of forty-plus-years in the making in favor of this most recent fad. Before I could say “nobutthankyouverymuch,” I found my girlfriend grabbing me by the elbow as I felt the words “Because he’s a quack” forming quite boldly on my tongue.

Ahhh! Controversy. Not exactly something which I thrive on, but something which I acknowledge as necessary for social, economic and political progress.

I happen to hate conflict. Perhaps my distaste stems from a long-forgotten childhood experience; perhaps from pure birth order (I’m that proverbial peacemaking middle-child); perhaps it’s written in my genetic code. I do not have that lawyer’s instinct for argument, for slicing and dicing minutia, and for debating every fine point of every law on the books. I am-—as my 81-year-old “adopted” mother and conference roommate described—-much too much of a free spirit. For while I admit to heartily enjoying a good debate, I abhor intense conflict, and hate dotting all of those nasty little “i’s” and crossing those silly little “t’s.”

Not so, these presenters. They wallowed in detail. Delighted in controversy. They argued their points with passion, hoping to ignite in each one of us their urge to move their messages forward.

It is this recognition of the power of grassroots movements that impressed me this weekend. Recognition of the power of one. Of research backed by belief. Propelled by vision or divine intervention or spiritual guidance. Powered by energy and enthusiasm and determination and persistence.

Most of the world’s great movements were fueled by anger or by righteous indignation. At social injustices. Economic imbalances. Medical emergencies. Political persecution. And many of these were pushed into the national consciousness by the power of one individual who caught hold of a vision and boldly moved forward.

Amidst the “overwhelmingness” of your everyday reality: of lunchboxes and homework drills, nursings and night duty, carpools and booster clubs: seek involvement in issues of monumental proportion. Involvement not only ejects you out of your own personal problems; it injects you into the national (if not universal) equation. Something, sometime, will hit a nerve somewhere in you. Perhaps you’ve faced a life experience which has left an indelible imprint such that non-involvement would seem heretical. Dealing with childhood cancer has had that impact on me; I will be serving as a goodwill ambassador for the Make-A-Wish foundation. And Nick is contemplating medicine-—for the first time ever-—as he ponders the why’s and how’s of his personal journey with leukemia. My husband has unusually high sympathies for the plight of immigrants, as his own family fled Cuba under Castro’s regime; we now support families facing similar circumstances.

Each of us faces unique combinations of experiences, abilities and personalities which shape us into persons of unique forces for good. Working at causes far larger than those faced by our own families help us shift our focuses away from the dilemmas and concerns facing us on a close and daily basis into a much larger circle of concern. Expanding this circle, while seemingly exhausting and arduous during this overwhelming child-rearing phase, has potential for consequences of epic proportions.

I encourage you to embrace indignation. And anger. Pain. Suffering. To water the grassroots movement stirring within you. And to allow it to sprout into something which might benefit the whole world. It seems like an improbable scenario. One too far removed from the routine, mundane reality of your workaday world. But somehow, somewhere, you have your place in it. I know that I do. I wish you the joy of discovery; simply attending a national conference always has this effect on me. I wish you participation in the fulfillment of your destiny.

Blessings on your week,


A Nick Note

With the ink on last week’s Nick-is-doing-great-Nick-Note still wet, we endured a night of horror as we watched helplessly while muscle spasms sent Nick screaming in pain. A middle-of-the-night trip to Yale Hospital’s ER-—something which he fought to the end-—was aborted around 4:30 AM when the cocktail of tylenol-codeine-advil-benadryl finally kicked in. A mid-week visit to his doc proved that it was “only” muscular pain, something which we could nothing to avoid nor to help. Intense chemo sometimes does that. Relief came by the end of the week, and Nick was able to enjoy a weekend visiting friends, virtually pain-free. Today brings the start of a new four-week round, the last of this year’s intense chemo protocol. It includes a spinal tap as well as a powerful combination of three chemo drugs, all of which make him vomit more than I care to describe. We have, indeed, thrived on your prayers on his behalf. As always, we continue to ask you to keep Nick in your prayers, until his full healing has been revealed to all of our senses.