Sunday, December 28, 2014

Leaving Kentucky

Talented Niece #1 draws Commuter Family on Crayola Drawing Board.
We are driving out of Kentucky Sunday morning. We had a truly wonderful holiday week with Brother, Nephew, Niece #1 and Niece #2. One of the complexities of living life after losing a loved one is feeling happy AND dealing with grief at the exact same time.

Christmas Eve day included the endearing smells and activities of preparing a holiday dinner:
- Fragrant cooked onions for Commuter Husband's family favorite dressing 
- Pumpkin pies prepared by Youngest Son and Niece #2 with my help
- Greenberg Turkey carved and plated by Brother
- Cranberries simmering with sugar and orange zest
- A table set with Christmas China and holiday napkins

Niece #1 and Niece #2 lit the new Advent Wreath candles and we shared a lovely Christmas Eve dinner. Then the kids opened one gift each as has been their tradition. 

We prepared for Santa next as Brother's family had done for many years. Niece #2 helped me make the sugar cookie dough and Niece #1 rolled it out between floured sheets of parchment paper. Both Nieces and Youngest Son used Christmas cookie cutters to create cookies for Santa. Niece #2 set out oats decorated with colorful sprinkles for the reindeer. And off to bed for Niece #2 so Santa could arrive!

The evening took some new turns as well. Brother, Commuter Husband and I organized gifts and wrapped those that went under the tree. Niece #1 (age 13) and Youngest Son (age 12) snuck downstairs to help us complete the preparations. And Elf on the Shelf was busy creating a hilarious scavenger hunt while Santa finished building a Green Machine. The whole crew finished by 2am or so - whew!

Christmas Day was spent in our holiday PJs opening gifts, playing board games and fierce competition in 42 (dominoes.) Nephew lit the Advent Wreath candles including the final special white candle. That evening we peeled off our comfy PJs and went to the movie, Into the Woods. 
Gift from Santa for Niece #2 - the purple Green Machine!
Playing Family Challenge while drinking hot chocolate
We were there at 1900 hours. I loved it but musicals are not a favorite for all.
It was about this time that family bonding took an unexpected turn. Nephew had been diagnosed with flu on Christmas Eve and Brother had not felt well either. Within 24 hours, five of us were running a fever and on Tamiflu. Only Niece #1 remained symptom free. Friday was spent sleeping, popping pills and watching television - oh my.

On Saturday, we managed to get to Louisville Sluggers Museum and Factory which was an interesting factory tour and we got free souvenir minibats! Commuter Husband's and Oldest Son's energy level faded quickly so they went back to Fort Knox afterwards. The rest of us played Laser Tag where Niece #2 and Youngest Son were victorious - SO fun! Back at the house, our last night was a late one playing spades and more 42 - not sure any of us wanted the week to end.
Arcade fun between Laser Tag games - Nieces and Brother.
Bats and smiles for all ... Well except Nephew who stayed home with sick girlfriend.
And now it is Sunday morning which brings me back to the complexity of this time. Throughout the week, I know that my late sister-in-law was constantly in my thoughts and there were tearful moments. Driving away, my heavy heart is back as I think of Brother's journey to lead his family to healing. I wish we lived next door or the same town or the same state. Thank G-d they will they will be moving permanently to Stephenville, TX next July.

My Brother is the bravest, strongest person I know. My heart beats with his every minute of every day.
Together Family Strong.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

8th Night in Fort Knox

Shortly after midnight, we arrived at Fort Knox, Kentucky for the first time. Brother and Nieces waited up for us while Nephew was running a fever in his attic bedroom. We unloaded our belongings and holiday gifts into this different house but exceedingly familiar contents. I could feel my late sister-in-law everywhere. Heavy heart was exactly the right description for my grief manifesting itself both physically and emotionally.

Then today began. Oatmeal and coffee was delivered to me by my sweet Commuter Husband while I finished a conference call. By late morning, we were out the door to make the trek to Mammoth Cave. We enjoyed our outing together but the cave itself was disappointing (hard to beat NM Carlsbad Caverns and TX Sonoma Caves spelunking.)

And then the 8th Night of Chanukah arrives! And the eve of Christmas Eve!
Tonight's gifts were worth every penny! Who does not love footie PJs?
Our 8th night reflected many of the traditional happenings: Commuter Husband frying latkes, Brother laying out the meats for dinner, kids playing dreidels and me reading the Chanukah story.
A double frying method employed by Commuter Husband. He first cooks in the skillet and then drops into pan for a deep fry crunch. They were great served with apple sauce and sour cream! 
Niece #1 was a mighty dreidel spinner. Niece #2 was concerned about losing her gelt! 
We kindled very special lights tonight. The five Chanukiah we transported included the unique and artsy black iron one given to us many years ago by my brother's late wife. We also lit the Advent Wreath candles given this year to my brother's family by the wise and caring Aunt D in Waco. Aunt D is my late sister-in-law's sister.  What a lovely way to respect our interfaith families and introduce a new tradition ...
Shimmering lights of the Christmas Tree, the Chanukah candles and the Advent Wreath.
We are a colorful crew this year! And we are Together. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Poster Child for Prevention

Warning: A blatant advertisement for cancer preventive screenings and medicine.

In January 2013, I elected to undergo a bi-lateral mastectomy. I had DCIS in my left breast found by a conscientious radiologist in a routine mammogram. I had a preventive screening that lead to a preventive treatment option.

Two months ago I woke up Saturday morning in Poland with a substantial amount of bright red blood exiting from my backside. It subsided by midday allowing me to wait until I returned to America to deal with the situation. 

A visit to my valued internist resulted in a reccommendation to have a colonoscopy since he could not determine exact problem. Off I went to the gastroenterologist who felt it was most likely an ... ahem ...internal hemoroid. Yuck. However, we mutually agreed to move forward with the colonoscopy since I will be that magic age fifty next year anyway. 

"Well, it is a good thing you came in" said the experienced gastroenterologist. Surprisingly, he removed a couple polyps of which neither was (thankfully) malignant. However, the large polyp was the kind in which most colon cancer originates. I am now on the 3 year colonoscopy schedule not the routine 10 year after age 50 approach. I did not ignore my symptoms and a routine screening test stopped what could have been. I will not miss that next screening in 3 years.

AND I have also had a couple Mohs procedures on my face for removal of basil-cell carcinoma. While definitely not life threatening, the spots on my forehead were found when I went in for a routine dermatologist check up. My fair complexion had zero sun screen the first 25 years of my life and common sense dictates prudent attention from my practical dermatologist.

So to all my friends and family who are aging with me: schedule your preventive screenings, keep your appointments and follow up on any needed treatments

A holiday message from my soapbox - sent with loads of Love!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Granny's Gift

3rd night of Chanukah ...
Last night Oldest Son and Youngest Son received Granny's Gift. Granny passed away in September this year. When I went to close her bank account there was, surprisingly, a bit of money. What to do? Granny would have been overjoyed to give Oldest Son and Youngest Son a special gift so that is what I did. Oldest Son and Youngest Son now have an awesome, incredible, higher end ping pong table!

And I have been thinking about this gift and how truly happy Granny would have been. Then I had an epiphany. Granny's Love Language was Gifts. I have written about Love Languages before ( CLICK HERE ) When I was growing up she gave me many wonderful and significant gifts: special dolls, a car, a set of luggage, clothes, shoes, a rolex watch, my diamond wedding ring, trips and many other things.

As her monetary resources dwindled, she would often have something in hand from her house for the kids or me or Commuter Husband. Honestly, I would get impatient with her - it seemed like more clutter in a life filled with too much stuff. I simply wanted to spend quality, peaceful time with her and I did not get the "gift thing." Obviously, my Love Language is not Gifts; I scored zero in this category.  I do wish I had figured this out about Granny years ago. However, this whole realization falls into that category of regrets which is a dangerous and sad place to linger.

Youngest Son and Granny were very close. He was so caring and considerate of her. And guess what? His Love Language is Gifts also. When Youngest Son was six years old, he started taking his personal treasures and wrapping them in toilet paper to give to us on birthdays and anniversaries. On our recent trip to London, he made sure to get gifts for certain teachers and his friends. Last night, Youngest Son told me that my Chanukah gift that he is making at school will be late but that I will love it.

So perhaps my way out of regret is twofold. This one last gift from Granny to our family will give us hours and hours of happiness with family and friends; she would be so proud that she made this possible.  And I can learn from my past relationship misstep and apply this newfound understanding to accepting and showing love to my Youngest Son.

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" Kamakawiwo╩╗ole

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.