Monday, January 27, 2014

A Tribute to My Uncle and His Brother

This is a tribute to my uncle and his brother.

My mom has one brother. They were born 15 months apart, to a father who had just served 42 months in WWII and to a mother who waited all that time for her love to come home. They are Baby Boomers.

My uncle was perhaps a bit of a hellion. Just after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the army. Because of his fall birthday, he was only 17 and had to get my grandparents to sign permission. He had visions of going someplace warm. Perhaps Hawaii. Unfortunately for him, by the time he got through Basic Training, it was 1966 and he ended up in Vietnam.

While in Vietnam, he made the acquaintance of a guy named Ron. I don't know the details of the story, but I believe my uncle was injured and Ron helped him out. Fast forward a few years, after two tours in Vietnam, and my uncle and Ron were stationed at the same base. So while they met in the jungles of Southeast Asia, they spent the rest of their lives together in New Jersey. They are closer than most brothers I know.

My cousins call Ron "Uncle." For many years, Ron and his wife have been closer to my uncle, aunt and cousins than we, their "blood" relatives have been. We've run into Ron over the years at different family gatherings. He and his wife drove up 3+ hours to attend my grandmother's funeral two years ago, only to turn around and drive right back because they had another commitment.

My uncle and Ron have done great things together. I'm sure I don't know one iota of what they've done. One of the great things that they have done is worked through the American Legion to help other Vets. They help them with navigating the digital interweb to receive benefits. They help other Vets learn what benefits are available to them. They educate others about the PTSD from which most Vets suffer. And they talk about their experiences, lest we forget the sacrifices that have been made.

But then this terrible thing has happened. My uncle has gotten sick. Very sick. His prognosis is quite poor and the whole situation is heartbreaking and awful. And I don't know why it never occurred to me that he would be, but Ron has been there. And will be there. And when I heard that Ron was at the hospital every day, I thought, "Of course he is. They are brothers."

Despite his condition, my uncle is concerned about not only his wife, kids and sister, but also how Ron in doing. He's worried that Ron is spending too much time in the hospital. He's worried about Ron's health. Which makes me laugh because it is so typical of my uncle.

I want to take this chance to be able to publically thank my uncle and Ron for their service to this country. For their services to other Vets. And for their dedication to each other. They are both great men and I am privileged to know them. I hate this situation, but I love that they have each other.

Ron, me and Uncle Ed, enjoying the finer things in life--cigars and beer.

I heard this song today, which made me think of my uncle (although he is never far from my mind right now) and Ron. This song is for them.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Valentine's Day Giveaway

This post is either super awesome or super lame, depending on your prospective. I was asked to participate in a Valentine's Day Book Giveaway by a fellow author, Hilary Grossman (Aside--I just finished reading her book, Dangled Carat, and enjoyed it very much). Hilary has done a lot of leg work to set up this awesome giveaway. Twenty-two authors (including yours truly) have donated books, both e-books and paperback, to be given away on Valentine's Day. The raffle is now open, and all you have to do is head over to Hilary's website to read all the summaries and what the prizes are.

So pop on over and and check it out. There are some good books on the list. Some I've already read and reviewed  on Goodreads, and there are some more that I want to read.

Happy reading!

(And for those of you that this post does not interest, I'm sorry. Hang in there with me, and I will try to have something else later this week.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Scrapbook

I've mentioned in the past that I scrapbook. I started it before I was married, and my initial project was going through my grandmother's albums and doing those pictures. I did not get all that far before life got in the way. Before I knew it, I was making a scrapbook for my boyfriend, who then became my fiancee. That turned into scrapping a wedding album and then a honeymoon album. Before I knew it, I had a child and there was tons more scrapbooking to do.

But life got in the way (new baby, new house, went back to school and was still working), and my pastime of scrapbooking took a back seat to everything else. Life continued and I kept taking pictures, so they piled up. About 4 1/2 years ago, I got back into scrapbooking.

I knew my time with my grandmother was limited. I tried to get all her stories from her so that I would be able to record them someday. And I realized how important it was for me to leave my stories behind. Sure, I love the "hobbiness" of scrapbooking. It is fun and relaxing. But I also see that I am leaving behind a gift for my children and grandchildren. I am leaving the gift of us. The gift of the family story. Those moments that you swear you will never forget, but somewhere along the line, you do.

Four years ago, I started going on bi-annual crafting weekends. I pack up and leave my hubby and kids for three days of bliss. I bring all my stuff and am responsible only for myself. I stay up way too late and get up way too early, just to work on my scrapbooks. Most of us who go have families and busy lives. We joke around that the weekend is all about "ME" since it is the one time we are not responsible for anyone else. We even sing the "ME" song (just repeat the word 'ME' to the tune of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, and you get the gist). Some people use the weekend to quilt or do other crafts. But I use it to scrap. I use the time to tell my story and record the important (and not-so-important) things in the lives of our family. Sometimes I get lost in the thought of the weekend itself, rather than what my mission is there. I look forward to these weekends so very much. They provide me with a respite from my life. There is good food and good people. People whom I had never met before are now considered friends because of the time spent on this retreat. We laugh until we cry, or pee a little. Or both.

Last January while on my retreat, I worked diligently on the scrapbook from our Disney vacation the previous summer. It had been our first trip, and I took over 500 pictures (although not all made it into the scrapbook). I wanted to capture the magic that our trip had been. I think I did, and am very proud of the scrapbook.

Besides being a wonderful memento of our week, that scrapbook has had a collateral effect. People I know were considering taking a trip to Disney. They were planning a 3-generation trip (kids, parents and grandparents), just as our trip had been. They had been hemming and hawing about the trip, and something had always gotten in the way of their actually planning and going. In discussing Disney, I whipped out (ok, lifted carefully, as that sucker is about 6" thick) my Disney scrapbook. They were able to look through the book and see all the who, what, when, where's and how's of the trip. After looking at the album, they decided they had to book their trip, and did so shortly thereafter.

They went on their trip this past summer and had a wonderful time. We saw all their pictures and discussed the parts of the park we liked when we were last together. Now, unfortunately, one of that group has become very ill. It is a grave situation with a poor prognosis. If their trip had not happened this past summer, it never would have happened. The time for that opportunity is gone, just like that.

Now, I know that they had been talking about it, and considering it. But I also know that the work that I put into my book helped them decided that NOW was the time to go and that they had to do it then. I have always considered my weekend retreats a gift to me, and my scrapbooks a gift to my kids. I now know that in some small way, my work had an impact on this family. I am so grateful that they had that magical week together, especially in lieu of the bleak prognosis.

I am heartbroken for them (and for us). Someday, when it is less painful, I hope the pictures from their Disney trip can make it into an album so their story can be shared, generation after generation, as well.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Letter of Farewell

It has been a long journey. I know neither of us expected to last this long. In this day and age, twenty years is a long time. Wow, I can't believe it has really been twenty years. And I can't believe you won't be here for another twenty.

You have sat by my side through the most pivotal years of my life. Always there, always dependable. Keeping me on track, getting me through. Providing illumination and entertainment. Capturing magical moments.

You have traveled with me. To my college dorm rooms and apartments. To my clinicals in Florida and Virginia. You were by my side when I moved to Ohio and were content to come back to New York.

When I am away, I miss you terribly.

The years have been kind to you. Of course, there is always something new on the horizon. But that is not what I want. I want you faithfully by my side. You've aged well. I like to think we've grown up together. Perhaps you are no longer the most stylish out there, but you are very good at your job. I appreciate all of the hard work you've put in over the years.

I've noticed that you've been struggling. I've pretended it wasn't happening, but that didn't stop it from becoming evident. I didn't want to admit that we, no, you were not strong enough to pull through this time.

I have used you ever day and you asked for nothing in return. Always reliable and steadfast. A constant in this ever changing world.

I know nothing lasts forever, but I had really hoped you would. I wish I could say that I will never be able to replace you, but I know I am not that disciplined. But I can guarantee that I will never be as fond of your replacement as I am of you.

Good-bye clock radio (with cassette player). I will miss you.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

But First

Now that the holidays are over, it is time for the annual "Oh my God, where am I going to put all this new crap?" ritual. It is tons of work, somewhat tedious, somewhat arduous, and at times, quite emotional.

I come from a long line of hoarders. My grandmother, as has been previously documented, was a closet hoarder. My parents prefer to use the term pack rats. Now, I mean this with no disrespect. Afterall, I did go and pick up my skis, boots, poles, goggles and gloves that have been at my parents' house since 1988-89 ish for a ski outing tomorrow. Every time my parents throw something out, I inevitably need it shortly thereafter. I tend am the same way.

The take-down-Christmas procedure is actually a series of "but firsts." And it is always the "but firsts" that kill you. To take down the tree, I need to put the presents away. But first I need to vacuum the playroom. But first I need to put toys away in the playroom. But first I need to make a space in the playroom. And on and on and on.

These are totally first-world problems. I get it. My kids have too much. I need to clean out and pass it on. I've been meaning to have a garage sale, but frankly, it is too much work for me. There are way too many "but firsts" for me to even begin with that. I found a woman who does a non-profit garage sale for Multiple Sclerosis. I am going to donate to her, as well as to a local organization that helps the needy in our area. They run shelters, so I hope they could use toys. I would like my kids to see how fortunate they (we) are to have all our wants and needs met. I would like them to see the joy on another child's face when he or she gets a toy because they have none. I hope that they can understand and then not fight so much when I try to purge.

I started the purge last week, anticipating the "but firsts" that were to come. I gave all my remaining maternity clothes to a friend. If I end up pregnant now, she is in BIG TROUBLE, because I will totally blame her.

Today, I attended a baby shower for another friend. In discussion, I realized that one of my friends could use some clothes for her baby boy. Knowing that I have bins of my son's clothes in the basement, I offered them to her.

When I got home from the shower (after I picked up my skis that my parents have been holding onto for 25 years--good thing I haven't grown since I was 13), I went to the basement and pulled out the baby clothes. I tried not to look at them too closely as I shoved them in a big black bag. I pulled out the few special outfits and bagged up the rest. I was able to take three large containers and condense them into one (with some room to spare). As I did this, my son, who is almost ten (gasp!), was playing basketball in the basement.

And I started to get nostalgic.
Where did my little boy go? How has he gotten so big? When did this happen?

And I realized that keeping his onesies or overalls will not bring that little boy back. Keeping my daughter's first baby doll and stroller that she used before she could walk will not make her that little again.

That time is past, and no amount of memorabilia or stuff will get it back. The past is the past, and we cannot get it back. That is why it is so important to make the present count.

I can look at pictures and tell our stories through my scrapbooks. Lord knows, I have enough of them to fill the Library of Congress (or so my dad says). That way, the kids will have their history and memories to share with their kids. I can preserve that way. And I can look at my kids and who they are now. Who they have become. All of the past has added up to today. And today, they are kind and caring and funny.

I hope they will learn by watching me pass things on to be charitable. I hope it teaches them to look out for one another and even people they don't know. I hope they understand how good it feels to give someone clothing that is of no use to us, but know that it will really help that person. I hope that the clothes and toys have another shot at making memories and making other people happy the way they did for us.

Plus, it feels really good to declutter and get rid of stuff. But first, I had to blog about it.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Idol

Last night, post dinner festivities, I noticed that my daughter was breaking out in hives. She had complained that her ear was itching earlier in the day, and I should have known something was up when she kept asking to have her back scratched. I tried not to freak out, but failed miserably. We tried to identify a food source that may have caused it, but couldn't. I did what any rational (read: irrational) mother would do, and I plopped her in the shower. I then covered her head to toe with Eucerin calming cream and hydrocortisone. I gave her Benadryl, and then I started to worry.

She got freaked out because I was freaked out and we debated taking her to the hospital. I was worried because the hives were centered around her eyes, her ears and neck and were starting to trail down her torso. I finally called the doctor. The on-call doc thought she would be fine, ordered another dose of Benadryl and to keep her cool.

I only checked on her 2-3 times during the night, of which I am proud.

When my daughter got up this morning, the hives were worse. Her other eye was almost swollen shut and she looked like she had gone a few rounds with Mohammed Ali. The hives were all over her body, right down to her hands and feet. I got her in with the doctor and then waited around for the appointment. Of course, I dosed her with Benadryl in the meantime.

The diagnosis is not hives, but Erythemia Multiforme. It is an immune hyperresponse, probably to the cold she had over the weekend. There is no treatment and the red spots can last weeks.

As a female, this is where I start to get concerned. How do I take her out in public like that? How do I send her to school? What if the other kids make fun of her?

She was concerned about it too. We had a conversation about it:

"Mom, will I still have these spots when I go back to school?"

"You probably will."

"What if my teacher won't let me stay in class and sends me to the nurse?"

I told her I would let the nurse know and she seemed content with that. She is not contagious, it's just her body over-reacting (I know, it's a shock that my kid would over-react about something).

As the afternoon progressed, the "hives" on her face are getting worse and worse. Her spirits are fine and she's a little trooper. Then, came the moment of truth: she looked in the mirror. I was afraid she was going to be upset.

"O! M! G!"

I waited, my heart ready to break.

"I am soooo cute!"

I hope someday to be as confident as my six year-old.