Tuesday, December 16, 2014

1st Night Chanukah Smiles

The Spanish passages spill off Oldest Son's lips easily with Sr. Verde's encouragement.

The Hebrew: Shehecheyanu from Oldest Son and blessing over the candles from Youngest Son. 

The encouraging commentary from Commuter Husband via facetime.

The not so catchy tunes playing from Pandora's Chanukah station on Oldest Son's iPhone 6.

The curiosity from Sr. Verde surrounding his first time to kindle the lights.

The flickering of twelve candles: the shamash and the 1st night candle in the six Chanukiah.

The super soft touch of Youngest Son's UT blanket gift that twins the UT house shoes in size 9-10!

The sound of Oldest Son's beautiful laughter during a ping pong match with Sr. Verde.

The smell of latkes and the associated frying oil from Cindi's Deli. 

The scrumptious taste of Commuter's Husband's meatballs and gravy (that he left made for us.)

The ping of a text message from Brother wishing us "Happy Day 1 Hanakuh (sp?)"

The soothing sound of the water from the rain shower head in Youngest Son's bathroom as he prepares for bed.

Imagine by John Lennon playing way too loud from the iPhone player on the bathroom counter.

The silence of Oldest Son finishing up 9th grade homework.

The tiny tears of happiness spilling from my eyes. A simple 1st night celebration. 

Happy Chanukah ...
Youngest Son's 2014 dreidel ... we get the boys one each year. There is a connection to Youngest Son's name ... oh what could it be?

Sunday, December 14, 2014


At some point I need to sit down with my "go to therapist" to discuss the events of this Fall. In the meantime, I am in Car Therapy. Like many working Mommies, I spend a great deal of time in my car going to and from clients as well as kid destinations. I think during these drives. Allot.

I am thinking about mental illness. How we as individuals are not well equipped to truly help our loved ones. How we as a society are dismissive. How self-medicating with whatever is around is the coping mechanism. How the pain seeps onto all those touching your life. How the despondency is so gigantic that leaving this world becomes the only option left.

In 2012, an estimated 16 million adults age 18 and older has at least one major depressive episode in the last year - 6.9% of all adults.

A mood disorder describes a problem affecting a person's persistent emotional state or mood. A 12 month prevalence shows that 9.5% of the adult population suffers from a mood disorder and 45% of these are severe. Average age of onset is 30 years old and women are 50% more likely to have a mood disorder over their lifetime. 56.4% are getting treatment which is often minimally adequate.

Adults living with mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than other other adults, largely due to treatable medical conditions. Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in adults in the USA over the age of 18. It is only behind malignant neoplasms, heart disease and unintentional injury. There were almost 29,000 adult suicides in 2007. And even more disturbing, suicide is the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24.

And on and on ... here is what is depressing ... these statistics. Browse These. Read Them.

Many people with mental illness die of suicide. My statement. My opinion. My heartbreak. Although "My" is not really the correct modifier. When you talk to people, the stories come out ... brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, teachers, boyfriends, so many. Too many.

An internet search on "how do we help those with mental illness" reveals many items of which several are from just one hour ago. I also found this site:
CLICK HERE Suicide & Crisis Center of North Texas
I sent in a form to see if I can get information on how to Volunteer on Crisis Line. Let's see what happens.

Thinking of those whose torment is quieted ...  

CLICK HERE Somewhere over the Rainbow - Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwoʻole

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
And the dreams that you dreamed of
Once in a lullaby

Somewhere over the rainbow
Blue birds fly
And the dreams that you dreamed of
Dreams really do come true ooh oh

Someday I'll wish upon a star
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
High above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me

Oh, somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly
And the dream that you dare to,
Oh why, oh why can't I?

Well I see trees of green and red roses too,
I'll watch them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Well I see skies of blue
And I see clouds of white
And the brightness of day
I like the dark
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people passing by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, "How do you do?"
They're really saying, I...I love you

I hear babies cry and I watch them grow,
They'll learn much more than we'll know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world world

Someday I'll wish upon a star,
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
High above the chimney top
That's where you'll find me

Oh, somewhere over the rainbow way up high
And the dream that you dare to, why, oh why can't I? I?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Art of Condolences

The Art of Condolences
Expressing concern for those going through illness and loss is not easy for most people. With cancer in 2013 and the recent deaths of my grandmother and my Brother's wife, I have received many forms of ... love. Love is the only word that fits here. Commuter Family has been the recipient of phone calls, visits, emails, texts, facebook messages, notes,  scarves, clothes, meals, baked goods, shopping, errands, rides, books, plants, flowers, cookies, chocolate, cards, stories and other gifts of the heart. These have come from family, friends, work colleagues, my kids' school and our Temple clergy and staff.

This week I received a large padded envelope. A dear friend and respected work colleague sent the beautiful art of her young children and a hand written note on pretty stationary to convey her thoughts for us and my Brother's family. When I had cancer, she also took me to lunch and presented me with a thoughtful gift accompanied by the art of her oldest child.

Just a few weeks ago I received another similar envelope. It had a luxurious and unique scarf from a considerate friend and Temple staff member who has shown empathy for my cancer journey since I was first diagnosed. Two years ago exactly, I was deciding what treatment path to take and this kind woman was part of my support group from the first.
Picture does not show the softness of the velvety fabric and the rich colors. I wore it to a holiday dinner Sunday night with a black satin blouse.
I have learned to accept help and ask for help. Last week I reached out to three generous women who are mothers I have met through Oldest Son and are my true friends. They delivered dinner for my family and my Brother's family. We also had food sitting literally on our front porch the afternoon we returned from London - this gift from another "super duper special mother friend" met via Youngest Son. The food and the thoughtfulness nourished our souls in a horribly difficult time.

I am amazed at the number of emails and phone calls I have received from the various clergy at Temple Emanu-El. Likewise the meals, notes and reach out from Greenhill School has been tremendous. I was surprised and am comforted.

There are an endless number of examples just like these that I could describe. Thank You. Thank You a million times over. It has been an exhausting two years. I am forever grateful to all for surrounding my family and me.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


We buried my Brother's wife, my Sister-in-Law, last Monday in Waco, Texas. Both my grandmother and my Sister-in-Law have died in the last couple months. I have given a eulogy for both. Putting words down on a piece of paper seems to help me process loss. The grief for my Sister-In-Law, gone at age 48, hits me at odd times; usually when I am alone. Today as I am driving home from an errand, the tears flow. We are trying to move forward from a family tragedy and it is difficult.

I asked Commuter Husband "Will there be a day I do not think about Sister-in-Law?" 
He says "Yes."

Here is my Eulogy - revised slightly to mask the names ...


Hello. I am Mommy with Commuter Husband; Sister-in-Law’s sister-in-law, Brother’s sister and aunt to Nephew, Niece #1 and Niece #2. Sister-in-Law was Aunt to my sons, Oldest Son and Youngest Son. Thank you so much for being with us today. Many of you drove from long distances and we are grateful for your support and presence.

Yesterday in Sunday morning services at the First Presbyterian Church here in Waco, Pastor Leslie King included “the celebration of life for Sister-in-Law” in her announcements. This simple reference was so comforting. It is good to reflect on all the wonderful things Sister-in-Law brought to this earthly world and I would like to share some of these with you today.

Our beginning with Sister-in-Law was in 1994. Brother brought Sister-in-Law to meet Commuter Husband and me at the Fort Worth Kimball Art Museum. She was a “looker” with perfectly done blonde hair, her pretty face and tan legs in blue jean shorts. But more than beautiful, Sister-in-Law was witty and clever.  It was obvious from the beginning that she was intelligent and creative. At our Halloween bash that same year, Brother and Sister-in-Law showed up as the notorious Mickey and Mallory from the movie Natural Born Killers. Sister-in-Law donned a long platinum wig and Brother was bare-chested in a black leather jacket. This was when we first saw Sister-in-Law’s unique gift for Halloween costumes.

The next year in 1995, Brother and Sister-in-Law announced their engagement in September and were married soon thereafter. Once again Sister-in-Law was stunning in her white wedding dress set against a Lake Tahoe backdrop.

Sister-in-Law set up their first military home at Fort Hood, TX. This was where I saw her next talent. Sister-in-Law had a tremendous gift for decorating. She could take a garage sale find and turn it into an incredible accent table or use the just right frame for a cherished old photo or put together sale linens that were both comfortable and stylish. She could paint, glue, hammer, refinish, make curtains – the list goes on and on – she was incredibly gifted.

In February 1997, Sister-in-Law delivered the greatest gift. Nephew was born at Fort Hood and he was named after Sister-in-Law and her Sister’s father. Sister-in-Law was an attentive and loving mother to our vibrant, active and adorable Nephew. Sister-in-Law, Nephew and Brother transitioned from Fort Hood to Fort Benning, GA very quickly thereafter and I was amazed at Sister-in-Law’s ability to pick up and move as a new mother with an infant.

Just a few months later, Sister-in-Law, Nephew, Brother and their two cats stayed with us in Dallas for a few months while preparing for their next military move. They stayed in what we referred to back then as the Henry suite, which is now Youngest Son’s room. At the time, Commuter Husband and I were on the back end of a disastrous remodel and had just fired our general contractor. Sister-in-Law came in and totally took over. Thank goodness! She managed tile guys, the plumbers and the cabinetmakers – making easy friends with each. I found a shower curtain that I wanted for the boys’ bathroom but the accessories were very pricey. Sister-in-Law told me not to worry, that she could make them. And she totally did. Sister-in-Law hand painted the mirrors, the soap dishes and toothbrush holders – each item actually looked better than the ones that were in the store. She also hand panted all our light switches in the rest of the house and located the perfect tile for our new kitchen bar base. Sister-in-Law absolutely saved us. Commuter Husband and I will be forever grateful to Sister-in-Law for helping us complete our home.

Brother and Sister-in-Law then took their family of three to Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Sister-in-Law set up the next family home in a great apartment with newly added Hawaiian decor. Commuter Husband and I were fortunate to visit when Brother was promoted to Captain. Sister-in-Law was doing social work and it was fascinating to hear her describe the challenges of local Hawaiians and what she was doing to help them. Sister-in-Law had set up what I fondly called a racetrack for Nephew. Nephew went round and round and round the kitchen island pushing his toddler toys – it was hilarious! Sister-in-Law was always a patient and loving mother with young Nephew.

In August 2001, Sister-in-Law gave us her next precious gift. Niece #1 was born in Waco, Texas. Niece #1’s initials are the same as her father’s and her dad’s spirit shined through in her then as it does today. And in October 2004, Sister-in-Law brought our Niece #2 into the world in North Carolina and she is named after Brother’s and my mother.

Over the next few years, we visited Sister-in-Law, Brother and the kids in each of their homes in South Bend, Fort Polk, Fort Bragg, Fort Leavenworth, Fort Drum, Fort Monroe, Stephenville, Seattle and Fort Knox. Sister-in-Law was a military spouse through and through – always supporting Brother in the next move. In each of these nine homes, Sister-in-Law worked her special magic. I was always in awe when I walked through the door to see how beautiful and welcoming each home was – it was Sister-in-Law’s special expertise.

Sister-in-Law was also especially loving to Granny and Pa; our grandparents and the kids’ great-grandparents. She would visit them, purchase things they needed, invite them to stay on extended visits and just sit and talk to them. Sister-in-Law loved Granny and Pa very much as they did her.

And Sister-in-Law was an extremely giving person. She enjoyed shopping and finding unique gifts for all those she cared about. One of my most treasured items is a black, iron Chanukah Menorah that Sister-in-Law gave us many, many years ago. I think of her every year when we kindle the lights of Chanukah. And even this past holiday season, Sister-in-Law went out of her way to get a Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson Jersey for Youngest Son. He was thrilled with Aunt Sister-in-Law’s gift especially when Seattle went on the win the Super Bowl. Youngest Son was just wearing this treasured jersey yesterday.

Sister-in-Law was smart, intelligent, beautiful, caring, clever, witty, artistic, imaginative, handy, giving and funny. And all these qualities will live on in Nephew, Niece #1 and Niece #2 who are her legacy.

So today, we celebrate the far too short time with had with Sister-in-Law. Her memory will always be honored and present in the home of her loving family where
·      Thoughtful Nephew will embody her spirit
·      Sweet Niece #2 will show her heart
·      Funny Niece #3 will provide her humor

And Brother will provide the strength and unconditional love as this family moves forward.

My heart and love is with each of you now and always. 


In July 2011, Sister-in-Law visited us with the kids. This series of pictures shows five happy kids (Oldest Son, Youngest Son, Nephew, Niece #1, Niece #2) with their hilarious Mother/Aunt. On this Summer evening, we were blasting coca-cola ... the events in chronological order tell the story:

The Legacy of Brother, Sister-in-Law, Commuter Husband and me. Pure Joy. 

Thank you Sister-in-Law. May you truly rest in peace. 

Monday, November 24, 2014


We landed in London last Friday morning.

I had an urgent text from my Brother.

My sister-in-law is no longer with us.

My Brother will pick up the pieces to raise my nephew and two nieces.

In this moment, I have few words and many tears.

Someone else's words are a place to start:

. . . Vulnerability to death
is one of the given conditions of life.
We can't explain it
any more than we can explain life itself.
We can't control it,
or sometimes even postpone it.
All we can do is try to rise beyond the question,
"Why did it happen?"
and begin to ask the question,
"What do I do now that it has happened?"

-- Harold S. Kushner, in
When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Age Appropriate for the Young and Old(er)

Commuter Husband and I have always been conscientious of age appropriate activities, movies, games,  and experiences for Oldest Son and Youngest Son. Some might even say "overly conscientious." Certainly, Youngest Son would voice a big agreement with the "overly" descriptor.

Age appropriate goes two ways in parenting our children. Youngest Son is only twelve so PG-13 movies require parental guidance and permission to attend; permission is definitely not always granted. Mature rated video games are not allowed for either son - period - end of conversation. On the flip side, we subscribe to a free range parenting philosophy which provides freedoms that some may consider risky. Youngest Son can independently prepare a full meal including the use of large, sharp knives and a hot gas stove top. For quite some time, both boys have been riding their their bikes alone to the local shopping center to eat a meal out, pick up groceries for our household or get items they may need for school. Oldest Son has a checking account with a budget and now manages all his own expenditures which includes clothing, snacks, entertainment, haircuts and school activity expenses (homecoming was a surprise budget buster!)
Youngest Son preparing salads.
Commuter Husband and I are at mid-life. I am now recognizing that I also have age appropriate activities. After breast cancer, I set out to take better care of myself which included more and regular exercise. I made the decision to walk. Oddly, this was difficult because I had always exercised in a big way: running, weights, aerobics - "real" exercise. I decided that I needed to be pragmatic and weekly walking with my friends has turned out to be both fun and beneficial. Walking as my primary exercise has totally exceeded my expectations and surprisingly contributed to better physical and mental health. I am now adding some light running into the mix.

However, I have wanted to do a triathlon or half-marathon for a long time. I start and then stop; over and over. A full-time working mother with a Commuter Husband only has so many hours in the week to exercise. Over-exercising within these few precious hours when I am almost fifty is craziness and will only incur injuries. Reality is that I must be a better steward of my body as I age. So I am looking toward a more reasonable, age appropriate goal: one 5K race per month with each one faster than the prior. I will mix both long walks (over 5 miles) and shorter runs (2-3 miles) to remain fit and train.

I am also hoping this can be a family activity since all four us can do 5K races. We as a family must also maintain age appropriate together time. Commuter Husband and I have been running together since we were newlyweds. Our family of four has been doing races since the 2000 Turkey Trot with Oldest Son in a stroller at eight months old. Short distance running has and can cross the many phases and ages of both the boys and us.
 1998 BK (Before Kids)
2003 AK (After Kids) when Oldest Son was 3 and Youngest Son was 1. Oldest Son was out of the double stroller and running at this point.
And in 2013 when Oldest Son was 13 and Youngest Son was 11 - it was cold! The first year in which both boys ran much faster race than me.
Here are the first three 5Ks we will target in 2015:
Jan 17 - Hotcake Hustle

Feb 15 - Heart and Sole 

Mar 28 - Firefly

Our Commuter Family 5K in June 2014 - Disney Cruise Castaway Cay 5K - it was hot but totally fun!
We will see how this goes in 2015 ...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Poland – My Special Synagogue Experience

On my last morning in Warsaw, I wanted to visit the Nożyk Synagogue. I packed my suitcase and ate my breakfast by 8:15am. I set out on foot to find the Nożyk Synagogue which I had seen six days earlier. I passed the Palace of Science and Culture and then Prozna Street (the only standing street from Warsaw Ghetto.) I took a hard left and made my way through an ally of sorts. There it was: the yellow building. I made my way up the stairs hoping the door would open. It did. It was 8:30am.
I passed by this small Jewish Community Center. 
The Ester Rachel Kamińska and Ida Kamińska State Jewish Theater where all performances are in Yiddish! 
I was relieved to see the Nożyk Synagogue through the trees.
The backdoor I entered. No entry through front door is allowed due to security precautions.
The same gruff security guard who refused us entrance the previous Saturday was there. I politely inquired if I could enter. He said I could enter at 9am because services were in progress. I informed him I was Jewish and could I please enter. He asked me “Will you Pray?” I replied, “Yes.”

The guard checked inside my purse and led me through a door. He tells me “women’s section” and points to a staircase. I was not surprised as women are separated from men in an Orthodox Synagogue. I made my way up the stairs and sat to peer over the balcony wall. The Rabbi was concluding the morning service with about twelve men – enough for a minyan. All the men wore a kippah on their heads, most wore tallit over their shoulders (prayer shawl) and some had tzitzit hanging down each leg. After the service ended, they gathered at a table to share a morning meal. I could not understand the Polish of course but the talk sounded friendly and all interacted in an easy manner.
The view from the women’s section.
Women's seating on upper balcony.
I made my way around the top level and found a box of what appeared to be trash. It had books. I looked through them and found a 1946 book published in Palestine. It was plain brown paper and had penciled writing with a name, London, England and Hebrew writing. I also found a 1956 book printed in Israel. I think they are Haggadahs but written in Hebrew so not sure. I wondered if I could have them? I was tempted to just take them but did not feel that was the right thing to do.
The box on the left that I sorted through to find the Jewish books. 
Finally it was 9am. I went back to the security guard to ask permission to enter the main area of the synagogue. He mumbled with an affirmative nod of the head. One of the Polish worshipers said welcome to me in English. I am not sure how he knew to greet me in English.
The entry to the main area of synagogue.
Precious relics of Jewish life found in the synagogue.
Jewish children play here ... what could be better?
I wondered up some back stairs of the synagogue where I could see women entering for work. I approached one to ask about the box of books. She was not too helpful. I persisted and asked the next woman I saw. I was fortunate indeed! She was not only very friendly but also the Rabbi’s assistant!! She walked back with me to the women’s section so I could show her the mysterious box. I explained I was a Jew from Dallas, Texas and showed her the two books I wanted. She pulled out her mobile phone and called the Rabbi. He said “Yes and any books from the box.” I do not know why tears welled up as I thanked the kind woman. Just as tears are streaming down my cheeks as I write of this experience.
The 1946 Jewish Book printed in Palestine that appears to have come from London to Warsaw. It is now part of my 2014 Jewish home in Dallas, Texas.
The first page
Who is Shula Amin? Is she from London, England?
I cannot help but feel heartbroken for the three million Jews who were murdered in Poland during the German occupation in WWII. The fact that this one synagogue survived destruction is a miracle. The Rabbi’s assistant told me there were 500 official members of the synagogue and other nonmembers using it too. This too is a miracle to me. This functioning Jewish community in Warsaw is heroic. It is a testament to the undeniable spirit of Jews in the diaspora. Just like Auschwitz and Birkenau, it is important to visit Nożyk Synagogue where survival and faith are visibly present and alive.

And this is where my first journey to Poland concludes.

Oddly enough after I wrote this account, I read this article about Polish Jewish life in a documentary "The Return" opening this week ... and I understand.