Giving Thanks

1459342_10152131697541349_1446286180_nOh, the hustle and bustle of the holidays!  Is there any sweeter sound than the melody of family gathered together to celebrate a holiday, or any occasion?  We have had the same Thanksgiving tradition for the past twenty-one years.  We head to my mother’s house (about two hours from our home) the Tuesday before Thanksgiving at whatever time the girls’ afternoon activities end.  This year, it was after Katie’s evening piano practice (Christmas recitals begin on Sunday!).  We met our oldest, Rebecca, halfway to Mom’s.  She was able to get a ride with a friend at college, about three hours from home.  As soon as we entered the house, the smells of Thanksgiving were already in the air: pumpkin bread, chocolate chip bars, Southern Maryland stuffed ham, and Mom’s famous ham and bean soup just for my husband to have for Wednesday’s lunch.  For those who have never had the pleasure, stuffed ham is like eating a little slice of Heaven on earth.

This morning, my three nephews arrived to join in the fun and laughter shared by my three daughters and my niece.  I thought they were supposed to get quieter as they got older, but no, the raucousness never ends; and what a beautiful sound that is!  Later today, they will make gingerbread houses to take home to display throughout the holidays, and Mom and I will begin cooking the turkey.  By the time we go to bed tonight, the smell of turkey will fill every corner of the house.

When we gather around Mom’s dining room table tomorrow afternoon, we will all take turns thanking God for what we are most grateful.  That includes the presence of every person at our table and those no longer with us.  Then we will feast on turkey and stuffing, sweet and mashed potatoes, Grandma’s famous rolls, a plethora of vegetables, and (my own favorite) my father’s incomparable fried oysters, fresh from the Bay.  One of our traditional favorites at every holiday meal is my Godmother’s baked pineapple, a delicious mixture of pineapple and other ingredients that melts in your mouth.  See below for a special treat for you, my readers!

Once we have finished eating and cleaning up the dishes, we say goodbye to my family and head back across the great Chesapeake Bay to spend the rest of the day with Ken’s family.  We arrive just in time to eat again!  This time, our choices include pumpkin pie, homemade cookies, cheesecakes, and my double chocolate chip pound cake.  The day usually ends with a rousing long-distance run of Dominoes, from the double fifteen down to blanks!  Christmas decorating will begin on Friday as the holidays have officially begun.  There will be a lot of eating, a lot of driving, and a lot of family togetherness, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s these times for which I am most grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Godmother Judy’s Baked Pineapple (as mentioned in my upcoming novel, Picture Me – Sarah Book Publishing, Spring 2015)

Ingredients:

6 pieces of  toasted bread, buttered                            1 15oz can of crushed pineapple

1/2 cup of sugar                                                           1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla                                                        1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Heat oven to 350.

In a greased 2 quart casserole dish, combine the pineapple and its juice with the sugar, egg, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Add slices of toast, torn into small pieces.  Stir and mix well until all bread is coated with the pineapple mixture.  Cut the remaining toast into small squares, and arrange over the top, covering the pineapple mixture.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Serve hot and enjoy!

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Take a Stand

IMG_2644When I was younger, there was a song on the radio that said “you’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.”  I have always taken that to heart and believed that everybody should have something for which they are willing to take a stand.  Lately, it seems, that my cause has been championing the plight of children with Attention Deficit Disorder. I have watch my 15-year-old daughter struggle her entire life with a disorder that many people do not believe actually exists.  I can tell you, no I can assure you, it most certainly does.  To see a child who has tested as a genius repeatedly call herself stupid and actually believe it, down to her very soul, is heart wrenching.  My daughter has spent years being taunted by her peers because she rarely picks up on and understands concepts the first time around, asks many questions, and sometimes ends up being trapped in her own little world.  As we begin the journey toward college, I have to fight every instinct I have as a mother and remind myself that she needs to learn to do things on her own and stand up for herself.

While this issue seems very large in my mind right now, I know that there are far greater issues being faced by those around me.  I live in a very small town that is part of a slightly larger community known as the Bay Hundred.  Right now, the Bay Hundred is experiencing an illegal drug epidemic; and just this week, we lost another one of our young people to this monster.  A local group of mothers is forming a coalition to fight this war that is raging in our community.  In fact, the name they have chosen is STAND – Standing Together Against Needless Deaths.  This is a very scary time in the life of our community as we have seen many young men and women fall victim to this predator over the past couple of years.  These young people come from the wealthiest and the poorest homes, both public and private schools, and single as well as two-parent families.  It is a monster that cares not whom its prey is nor whom they could become.

We are faced every day with the decision to stand up or stand by.  Whether the issue is political, religious, life-threatening, or simply life-changing, we should all fee obligated to take a stand and have a cause.  What will you stand up for today?

Three Daughters

DSC00562-001This past weekend, our school community mourned the death and celebrated the life of one of our school‘s moms. She left behind three daughters, ages 11, 13 and 15.  Over the past few days, I have done a lot of thinking about my own three daughters and how I cherish every minute that we have together, so I hope you will indulge me this morning as I take a stroll down memory lane.

My oldest daughter will be turning nineteen in just a couple of months, and I can’t figure out where the time has gone. It seems like just yesterday I sat in the hospital bed, in between the second and third of three blizzards we had in the state of Maryland that year, and held my beautiful, new baby girl. I felt the bond instantly, and my love for her has never lessened over the years, but my admiration for her and the young woman she has become grows every day.  When Rebecca was eight years old, she and I embarked on our very first mother-daughter journey, taking in all of the sights and sounds of New York City.  After five days, four nights, three Broadway shows, two views from the top of skyscrapers, and one picnic in Central Park, it was a trip neither of us will ever forget. In fact, I decided to make it a trip to repeat with each of her sisters at some point during their youth.  One of my happiest, and yes, saddest times as a parent was watching her accept her high school diploma. However, we established another mother-daughter travel tradition just a few short days later when the two of us began our three week backpacking trip through Northern Europe.  Rebecca planned the entire trip, and we had an even more wonderful time than we ever imagined.  I look forward, every day, to her texts and calls from school to fill me in on her classes, social calendar, school clubs, and love life.  Yesterday she hit a milestone in the life of a Sophomore and declared her major of Criminal Justice with a double minor in Legal Studies and Philosophy.  I pity the attorney who comes up against her in Court someday!

My Katie Ann is one of those special people who lights up the room with her smile and has a true heart of gold.  For fifteen years, I’ve had the privilege of watching her grow into a beautiful young lady who spends her entire life looking out for others.  She’s gifted in music, art, and writing, and infused with a love of both the young and the elderly, and I can’t wait to see what she chooses to do with her life.  Katie and I made our way to New York last March over her spring break.  Much older than Rebecca had been for that first trip many years ago, Katie had an entirely different agenda planned; and we spent the entire time touring Broadway theaters, art museums, and the famed Radio City Music Hall.  Her choices of Broadway productions mirrored her eclectic tastes for everything else in life.  We marveled at the stunts in Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark; cried with Christine and Raul as they battled The Phantom of the Opera; and sat on the edge of our seats, tapping our feet along with the boys of Newsies.  Katie has two more years of high school, and every day brings on new challenges but also new joys as she discovers the greater world around her and becomes the woman she is meant to be.  I feel honored to be able to see it happen.

And now for Morgan, my strong, confident, athletic, and often out-spoken thirteen-year-old.  Morgan is a vivacious, sometimes brash, girl who could have more than held her own in a room with Louisa May Alcott’s Jo.  She has no desire to go to New York on our mother-daughter trip and has asked to go to Florida to learn to surf instead!  We’re still looking into that one!  How fun it has been over the past year to watch Morgan begin to become a young lady as she matures, discovers boys (the only moments in her life I’ve ever seen her act shy), and even more importantly, discovers herself.  She’s already planning her post-graduation trip (still four years away) to the Mediterranean to visit Greece, Sicily, and Turkey.  Always observant, and diligently sticking up for the underdog, Morgan could easily live her adult life as a superhero.  I can definitely see her racing the speeding bullet, stopping a locomotive, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, and rescuing everyone in peril.  From the time she was only two-years-old, Morgan has wanted to go into medicine.  I have no doubt that whether it’s that or another equally noble occupation, she will be the very best in her field, somehow saving the lives of everyone around her.

My heart breaks for the three young girls from school.  I hope that they will always remember how much their mother loved them.  So today, as I celebrate my love for my daughters, I hope there is someone in your life for you to celebrate.  Hug them fiercely, tell them you love them, and never let a day go by that they don’t know how proud of them you are.

Being Grounded

DSC09341Another revelation at the gym!  While in class this morning, I heard our teacher say the same thing over and over again.  “Your right foot should be grounded…”  “Make sure your left leg is grounded.”  “While in the half-moon, your right arm and right leg must both be grounded.”  I felt pretty good about myself after class today.  I had worked up a sweat, maintained my balance, and literally felt grounded!  Yes, my feet, legs, hands, etc. were firmly pressed to the mat during working poses, but more importantly, I realized that I am grounded in my life.

Looking back, how could I not feel that way?  My parents are phenomenal people who raised me to believe in myself, work hard, strive to do and be my very best, and never give up on my dreams.  They secured a good education for me, helped me find scholarships so that I could attend the college of my choice, and continue to support me in my adulthood as a wife, a mother, and a writer.  My mother reads every chapter that I write before I re-read it myself.  My father edits my work before I send it to my publisher.  They planted the very best roots for me and then allowed me to grow into my own tree and spread my branches.  And when I’ve dropped all of my leaves at various times, or had branches broken off in the storms of life, they have been there to help me reach farther and grow taller.

My husband is my biggest critic but also my strong and loving supporter.  He lets me know when I’m on the wrong track or not thinking clearly, but he always allows me to find my own way back.  I hope that, together, we have grounded our three daughters the way our parents grounded us.  Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way, but I think we have done all right.

Life is hard!  Everyone stumbles and falls; all trees bend in the wildest of storms.  The key is to keep from being uprooted.  We all need something to keep us grounded, whether it’s our families, our friends, our church, or even hobbies.  What is the old saying?  “No man is an island.”  What is an island missing?  Firm ground underneath!

In the novel that I’m working on these days, Courtney is doing a lot of thinking about her roots.  She moves into her late grandparents’ house to make a fresh start in a place where she feels grounded.  Oh sure, she’s going to be frightened out of her mind throughout the book, but she’s spreading her branches in the place where she first developed her roots.  She needs to feel that connection to help her overcome a recent tragedy.  We all need to feel that connection at some point in our lives.  Maybe your day is today.  Do you feel like an island, desolate and segregated from the rest of the world?  I promise you, the roots are there.  Take the time to find them, nurture them, and let them become grounded.  Close your eyes, spread your branches toward the sky, and reach for your dreams.  As my mother has always told me, you will make it some day.