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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Share Your Gift

It was a cold and sunny Saturday afternoon as a crowd gathered in the parking lot in front of Shop Rite. The focus of this group was a large square contraption with large bells and wires with a bench and pedals and levers. Perched on the bench behind the bells sat a man dressed completely in black save for a gold bird-like mask. As up tempo music poured out of speakers, the man began to stamp and pound on the pedals and levers, working the bells. Theatrically he engaged the audience while making music best described as haunting and medieval. The instrument he worked was a bronze carillon, usually only heard from a church tower.

As I stood there with my family watching and listening it occurred to me that there is no better way to temporarily lose oneself than to be at a performance in which the performer is enjoying what they are doing so much that they draw in the audience. This Christmas season I have been lucky enough to be seeing performers who get such joy from what they are doing that it beams into the audience, drawing in all those who are there. We went to an Advent afternoon of music at our church in the beginning of December. It just seemed to me that all those who performed were enjoying themselves and sharing that joy with all who were present. The final act was a group of adults who, because they enjoy making music, formed a “garage praise band”. The whole church rocked as they donned sombreros and treated us to their rendition of “Feliz Navidad”. If the Christmas season is about finding joy, then I have found it time after time in the past few weeks. What a wonderful gift performers give the rest of us when they are fully enjoying what they are doing and invite us to enjoy it with them.

My wish for all of you, my faithful readers, is that you find joy and pass it along in whatever way you are talented. Whether your talent is music, cooking, hugging, or just listening I urge you to share the gift that God has given you. In doing so, may you find the joy of Christmas in your heart. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Memory

**Disclaimer: If any of my brothers read this and find that the facts are not accurate, I apologize, but it DID happen and forgive me if the details are not exact***

Looking back on the Christmas seasons of my childhood brings an eclectic deluge of memories. I can remember hearing the rustling of bags and packages late at night while my mother and aunt whispered excitedly, and my father’s footsteps while I lay in my bed pretending to sleep. One Christmas Eve we had a snow storm complete with thunder and I remember standing on my bed and peeking out the window hoping to see Rudolph’s nose glowing through the snowy night. Rehearsals with the children’s’ choir and special holiday dresses, one purple crushed velvet long skirt in particular, along with the feeling of an excited queasy stomach are among my memories. When I was a bit older I recall walking downtown with my friend after school to do some Christmas shopping with our babysitting money, and returning home to the smell of cookies baking. I recall that it was my job to help wrap gifts, and I loved the scotch tape with the Christmas designs embossed on it. I also enjoyed the time my brothers and I spent inventing games for ourselves.

Of all the events, sounds, smells, and feelings that I remember it is something that happened at some point during the Christmas season that always makes me chuckle. It was perhaps during the week off from school after Christmas, or a Christmas Eve afternoon. My 3 brothers and I were goofing around, as kids are likely to do when at loose ends. Someone decided that we would play a game of jumping over someone’s leg. One of us sat in the chair just inside the living room wearing a Christmas stocking on their leg and sticking it out while the others took turns running from the kitchen into the living room jumping over it just as they came through the doorway. Our house was small; it was originally someone’s 2 bedroom summer cottage that my parents made into a 3 bedroom by some strategic wall building as their family grew. So it was understandable that the doorways were so low that a 6 foot tall man had to duck his head to walk through the doorways in the house. At any rate, of my 3 brothers, brother number 2 was the tallest, even at a young age. In third grade he was taller than his teacher by at least a head, and it may be that this was the age at which he last played this jump over the leg game. I’m not sure if it was my leg or brother number one’s leg but when it was number two’s turn, he ran, he jumped, he hit his head on the top of the door jamb and howled. The rest of us, of course, rolled on the floor laughing and that is all I remember about it. I am sure my mother must have come running to find out what number two was crying about, and I’m sure the rest of us got into some trouble. Number two is no worse for the bump; he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at a private college. I’m not sure if my brothers remember that day, no one ever mentions it when we are all together. How funny that I don’t remember any of the many gifts I received for Christmas, but I remember a silly game and my poor brother hitting his head.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Don't Ask For A Milkshake

It’s been a running joke with my family for the past 18 years or so. Don’t ask for a milkshake, you never know what will be in it. It all started out of my desperation to feed my youngest and avoid a feeding tube.

When Hillary was old enough to be given soft baby foods, she simply would not eat. Anything. She would drink anything, but put a spoon to her lips and she would retch and/or vomit. It was pretty gross, pretty frustrating, and pretty unhealthy for her. Between her seizures and the myriad of medications she was (and still is) on it was quite a challenge. I was determined that I would not deal with a feeding tube any sooner than I had to. It was discussed with the doctor, but I REALLY didn’t want to do that. Real food is better for the digestive system anyhow, so I pureed regular food and put it all in milkshakes. I had other parents tell me how gross that was and advise me to put her on some type of formula, but, as my older daughter observes, I don’t do beginner level. Ever. I tasted all of the shakes to make sure they didn’t taste as yucky as others thought they sounded like they would be. Chicken, sweet potatoes, a vanilla instant breakfast and milk actually wasn’t bad. Chocolate & peanut butter were good for making beef and peas palatable. The texture was just a tad grainy for me, but the flavor really wasn’t bad, and we got by that way for a year or so and then I was able to introduce the spoon again with the help of a speech therapist. Eventually, of course, we had no choice but to have a feeding tube placed in her abdomen and supplement her diet with formula. My bottom line is always to keep her healthy, but avoiding the inevitable for so long allowed me to form a nice relationship with her. Meal times are social times and I can’t imagine not having had that time to bond normally with someone who has many differences.

I no longer make those milkshakes, but my reputation lives on; at least in the minds of my family. How interesting that we no longer have a blender in the house. I wonder if they’d give me one for Christmas?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


My friends amuse and comfort me. Friday late dinner, and as usual the wait staff has to tell us it's time to leave because they are closing. The three of us together never run out of conversation. For a year or two our friendship was strained by an event that altered all of our lives in a very personal way. One of the things that initially brought us together left us bereft and reeling, so sudden and stunning an event that although we initially became closer, in time we bagan to drift apart, two of us still in the same boat, one of us barely treading water. Yet somehow we knew that 16 years of friendship could not end, that somehow it was better to continue to meet and work through the pain together than to be forever without each other's companionship. Although we are not all in the same boat any longer, we can come to shore and walk along the water's edge together and feel as one unit for a bit. There is no better way to spend time than with people who amuse and comfort.

Best Buddies

After having run around like a crazy person for 5 hours preparing food, setting up, and selling lunch & snacks to high school kids, it was time to visit my daughter's classroom. My younger daughter has multiple disabilities. They had a "Best Buddies" Thanksgiving feast &; invited parents for dessert. For those of you not familiar with the "Best Buddies" program, it is a national program set up to partner developmentally disabled teenagers with non disabled peers. This is my daughter's first year at high school and with this program. The room was crowded and noisy with the chattering of at least 40 kids and adults, all of whom had partaken in the feast. It was a happy place to spend an hour. You cannot fathom the happiness of developmentally disabled kids when they have a chance to form friendships with their peers. These are the types of programs that will eventually change societal opinions and the way that the developmentally disabled are treated. When kids grow up learning to respect and value those with disabilities, they become adults who don't find it odd to include them. Our future policy makers, volunteers, scientists, and teachers may make better decisions that affect all of us if they see from their earliest school days that EVERYONE is valuable and deserves to be included in daily life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


You can’t turn on the TV or computer, or open a magazine without someone trying to convince you you’re not good enough. Teeth not blindingly white? Hair not shiny? Skin not glowing? Your floors are not perfectly shined and there’s some lint on the carpet? Did you buy the wrong brand of coffee, and have only the most basic types of foods in your pantry? Might as well just crawl back under the covers. Watch out! They might not be soft or fresh smelling, and your mattress may not be the right number for you. What?! You like it, you’re satisfied with it? Are you settling for good enough? You’re not alone. Me too.

There are, of course, times when you want perfection and anything less just won’t do. You don’t want your surgeon to say “Well, that’s good enough” half way through an operation and sew you up. Nor do you want the chef to halfway prepare your food and decide that’s good enough, then serve you an uncooked meal.

On a normal day, however, good enough works. It’s taken quite awhile, but I’ve come to accept that I’m happy with average. I brush my teeth and visit the dentist. So what if people around me don’t squint when I smile? My hair and skin are both clean. I’m not a Stephanie Meyer vampire, after all. I finally get it--nobody expects me to sparkle in the sunlight. My house will not be featured anytime soon in a magazine, but the beds are made, I’ve run the vacuum and done a cursory dusting. There may be some clutter, and too many pictures on the piano, but the people I love live here, and friends and family are welcome to visit. I promise to serve completely cooked food and make everyone feel welcome. Surely it’s good enough, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Serenity Prayer Reflection

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” --Serenity Prayer

How many times over the past 18 years have I prayed that prayer? I couldn’t begin to guess. The problem is that sometimes it is hard to know which is which. It’s not too hard when looking through the glasses of clarity. Mostly though, praying that prayer is because I’m having trouble differentiating between what can or can’t be changed, and fear. Looking at things through one of the latter three makes it difficult to figure things out.

Learning to accept things I cannot change is at times easy. I cannot change the facts about Hillary. Part of her brain is missing, her retinas have punched out areas, she will never have the ability to walk or talk, and she will always have seizures. Things I cannot change. What I can change (or have control over--depending on how you want to look at it) is what quality of life she will have. She deserves to have as many typical life experiences as possible, just like any other person. I cannot change other people’s reactions to Hillary or my requests on her behalf. I can only change my actions, reactions, and thoughts. There have been times that by changing my actions I have been able to achieve the outcome I was after. Figuring out when to keep chipping away at the walls I encountered and when to go around them is when I need that wisdom. Sometimes just changing the way I think about a problem is the key to finding the way to achieve it. Adapting to what is needed by the people erecting a wall can help me to get them to remove enough of it to get through. The times that I was looking at an obstacle through the lenses of fear, fear of failure, fear of another person’s actions, even fear of success were the times that things were much more difficult. Those were the times that I felt like giving up and saying “it’s impossible”. Reciting the Serenity Prayer is a way for me to refocus my efforts and ultimately identify and work through my fear which allows me to attain my goals for Hillary and give her the quality of life which she deserves as an American citizen and human being.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Entry # 3

The final losing entry.

Dear Reader,
When I’m feeling stressed or drained I head to the kitchen. There’s something about cooking that relaxes and soothes me. I turn on some music and my senses take over allowing my mind to wander at will. Memories come rushing back and I’m transported to another time. I don’t have to be cooking anything complicated to get the benefit of the calming effects it has on me. When I’m doing something as simple as opening a can of tomato soup and stirring it in a saucepan it takes me back to simpler times.

Every Sunday when I was a child my family went to church. Dad dropped off my three brothers and I for Sunday school, Mom went a little bit later in time for choir practice. As each of us grew old enough we joined her in the choir. After the service we visited with friends at the coffee hour before going home for lunch. In cold weather lunch was always soup, bread, and crackers. My favorite was tomato soup made with half milk and half water. It was a deep pink color and creamy without being heavy. My oldest brother crumbled up so many crackers in his that it was pink mush which he ate with such enjoyment that I can still picture the contentment on his face. I preferred to crumble a few crackers at a time so that I could eat them before they were too soggy. Alternately I’d dip buttered soft white bread into the soup, letting a corner soak just until it was ready to fall off and then quickly bite it off. How delicious I remember that being!

Today I am more likely to make a home made soup. I enjoy the chopping of vegetables, sautéing, measuring and stirring involved in the process. One of my favorites is potato soup. It was a recipe I learned from a friend in high school and has become a cold weather staple in my house. It combines the best of two worlds; cutting, chopping and simmering, and the convenience of canned soup. For stress relief it can’t be beat. Even when I’m tired it’s a recipe I can manage whether I’m feeding 2 or more. I’ve even made it to treat the school staff who work with my daughter. Made the night before and then dropped off along with my crock pot in the morning along with finger sandwiches and crackers it is always appreciated.

It is not a surprise that all my adult life I have worked in kitchens. First I worked at a doughnut shop and currently I work at a school. You’d think that once I get home I wouldn’t want to cook, but that’s not the case. I find it an enjoyable way to end the day and clear my mind of the day’s events.

Potato Soup
6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon butter
1 can chicken broth
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 soup can milk
Salt & pepper to taste
Sautee garlic and onion in the butter until onion is tender. Add the potatoes, chicken broth and enough water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer just until potatoes are tender. In a bowl, combine cream of chicken soup and milk stirring with a wire whisk until smooth, add to pot and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


She stood unprotected in flammable rain
Just waiting for Smokey the Bear
Although people were running and pushing and shoving
She knew there was no one to care.

The flammable rain ran in rivulets
Down her cheeks from off of her hair
While all ‘round was chaos she stayed where she’d stopped,
When she turned to look no one was there.

For time beyond measure she stood in that spot
While the rain lashed about in the wind
She was left all alone while she stood still as stone
Never realizing Smokey’s not real.

The flammable rain collected in puddles at her feet
And it splashed up onto her knees
Yet she moved not an inch to the right or the left
Begging save me please Smokey Bear, please.

She waited and waited with eyes full of tears
Holding onto her Smokey Bear dreams.
I’ll never forget all that flammable rain
And how sometimes things aren’t what they seem.

Susan Donald

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Contest Entry 2

Also a non-winner :-(

Mom’s Iced Tea

All my life I remember my mother making freshly brewed iced tea. In the cool hours of a summer morning I’d watch her while eating my breakfast. Now that she’s gone and I’m an adult I find myself following suit. There is nothing so refreshing as a tall, cold glass of fresh iced tea on a hot summer day. It’s one of the things that make me feel like she is still here, even though she has been gone for many years.

My mother’s family had a big family reunion every year on the Saturday before Labor Day. It was held at a rental hall that someone had connections to and each family brought a covered dish or two and a jug of something to drink. Mom brought lemonade and her iced tea. Her oldest brother, Stanley, always said there was nothing more thirst quenching on a hot day than that iced tea. I can still picture him taking the first sip, smacking his lips, sighing and saying, “Phoebe, that’s good iced tea.” Some of my cousins brought guitars and we had sing a longs in the early evening after an afternoon spent running around, playing ball and fishing in the creek for crayfish. I don’t recall how late into the evening the event went, but I’m guessing there were games of hide and seek and catching lightning bugs with all my cousins while the adults sat around talking. Those were some happy times.

Making freshly brewed iced tea isn’t hard; it just takes a bit of time. In the cool of a summer morning I make it, remembering that Mom always put it in the same glass jug that at one time held orange juice. It had a narrow neck so she used a funnel to pour the sugar and lemon juice in while the tea was brewing. Then she used the handle of the longest wooden spoon she had to stir it with. The neck was so narrow that she had to crack the ice cubes in her hand with a wooden spoon before adding them to the jug. We had no ice maker; we used metal ice cube trays with the lever that had to be lifted to release the cubes. If the person who filled the trays had put too much water in it was a challenge to get the ice. None of us have been able to exactly duplicate that delicious brew as she didn’t really measure the sugar or lemon juice. My younger brother and I did a decent job of figuring out the formula. There was a certain scoop she kept in the sugar that she used, and as for the lemon, she used an iced tea spoon which she kind of just turned 8 times while pouring in the juice. Even so I make it and think of her every time I pour a glass.

2 quarts water
8 tea bags
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
In a 2 quart saucepan bring water to a boil. Clip together 8 tea bags and add them to the boiling water. Remove from heat and steep 20 minutes. Place sugar and lemon juice in 2 quart container. Remove tea bags and pour tea into jug; stir. Fill container with ice. Serve immediately in tall glass over ice or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Contest Entry 1

Well, for the third year in a row I entered the same write a column contest and didn't win:-(
I sent in 3 entries as this year there was no limit to how many you could submit. Here is the first one I wrote. I'll post the other 2 soon. Enjoy!

Dear Reader,
There’s something special about a cookie recipe handed down through generations. I mean the ones that were made before anyone started thinking about how bad all that sugar and butter is for you. I have many such treasures in my file, some written in my mother’s hand, some by mine, some typed on file cards and some scribbled on random scrap paper as they were told to me. Each of us has that go-to recipe that we can make without much thought when needed. Mine is Scottish Shortbread.
I never had shortbread cookies before I met my husband. His paternal grandparents, Gram and Mampy, with whom he had a close relationship were from Scotland. He told me that Gram generally kept a tin of shortbread in the pantry. As Gram passed away about a month after I married into the family, Mampy was the one who showed me how to make it. Side by side with him one summer evening in my mother-in-law’s kitchen I was instructed in the making of this simple cookie, my sister-in-law interjecting her methods and my mother-in-law quietly sipping coffee. As it baked, we sat around the table drinking coffee and listening to Mampy recite stories from his childhood. One of my favorites is how as a young lad he and his friend caught birds and put them inside their jackets. They went to the movies and opened their jackets to release the birds that then flew toward the movie screen. He always laughed when he told this story. I bet he was something when he was a kid. How I miss listening to his stories told in his Scottish accent over cookies!
I taught my oldest daughter how to make shortbread a couple of years ago. Her first solo effort was last Christmas. As a junior in college she had a campus apartment with 3 friends and they enjoyed baking. As a treat she wanted to make the shortbread for them. That evening I received a frantic text message from her that included a picture of burnt shortbread with the question “what did I do wrong?” I called her to try to trouble shoot from a distance and it turned out that the oven temperature knob was not accurate. She was very disappointed, but her friends ate some anyway and declared the cookies to be delicious. How very kind they are to each other! In the spring she came home for a weekend and tried again. This time she was successful, and took it back to share with a class for which she had to write a report about a family recipe. Another generation making the same recipe, unchanged through the years. Even though my daughter was young when Mampy passed on, and she never knew Gram, she takes a piece of them with her through knowing how to make the shortbread.
Ingredients: 1 stick butter
1 stick margarine
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
Sugar for sprinkling on top, plain or colored
Cream butter, margarine and sugar until very creamy. Mix the flour in well. The more you work with it, the better. Divide dough into 9 balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten each ball into a ¼-½ inch thick circle. Press the tines of a fork around the edges to make a pattern, then prick the inner circle a number of times. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 275* oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven, immediately cut each circle into 6 wedges and remove to wire rack to cool. Makes 54 pieces.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Well, readers, here is a bit of silliness that came from a writing prompt given at the writers group I go to. A potential new member stopped by one time and just LOVED this poem. She never came back, but asked me to read it several times, asked for a copy, and asked me to write my name on it. Hope you enjoy it as well.

I was on the shelf then
You took me home
Choosing me for my cover.
I was blank inside but
As we went along
You filled me up with
Adventures of all kinds.
We went trhough it all
I gave you shade,
Shelter from rain,
Helped you communicate.
I gave you answers and
Held your secrets.
Now I'm full
We've reached the end of
Our time together.
Now I'm
Packed away
Until one day
You find me again
And read on my pages
The person you were
That school year.

Friday, August 27, 2010



There’s a tarantula living in my minivan. I live in New Jersey where they live only as pets in aquariums or at the zoo. No it is not my pet. I have an intense dislike of all spiders. When I find one in my way I get rid of it. I’m aware that they eat insects and are good for the environment, but they’re not good for my peace of mind. Besides, insects do not live in abundance in my house or van. I know some type of arachnid has taken up residence inside my vehicle because every morning when I get in there are a few silken threads draped across the dashboard.

One year there was a large spider living behind my side view mirror. It had built an intricate web going from under the mirror to the door handle. No matter how many times I brushed it away it was always there the next morning. Eventually I gave up and left the web in place. That was a bad decision! One day as I cruised along the highway with the windows down I happened to glance over at the mirror. My stomach lurched as I saw, holding tight with all eight legs, a huge spider flapping in the wind. Always a fast thinker, I rolled up the window and drove on, screaming inside. When I got to work, I gingerly got out and shut the door with my foot in order to keep as much distance between the monster and myself. Upon entering the building I looked at two of my co-workers with wild eyes and screamed, “Oh my God there’s a spider on my van!” They looked at me for a moment, taking in my wide-eyed panic. One of them calmly grabbed a broom and the three of us went out to do battle with the creature. The arrogant bugger was still there, clinging to the center of its web. Raising the broom, my co-worker swiped away the spider, rolled her eyes at me, and marched back inside. The following spring a new web appeared and Monster Junior took up where his parent left off. As long as all I see is the web I can live with that.

I’ll return now to the current resident inside my van. One day when I got into my van there it was a mini jumping tarantula on the dashboard. As I was trying not to spill the coffee I was holding, my response time was somewhat delayed and just as I was ready to squish it with a napkin it jumped into the vent. Now I’m afraid to turn on the fan, what if it gets blown out at me? Probably I’ll wait until after my husband drives it so the creepy thing can blow out at him. That’s one of the privileges of having a husband.
Recently my friend posted on a social networking site that she has a spider living in her car so she’ll have to burn it. Nearly everyone responded with a bug in the car story. I guess that the occasional creepy-crawly in the vehicle is one of those unifying things that have no prejudices. I’m not sure why we’re so freaked out about insects and arachnids in our living spaces, but it’s one of the great equalizers in the world.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


The beads, the beads,
Thank God for the beads!
Shiny and smooth
Cool to the touch
Make a gentle noise
When not moved too much.
But just get them going
A hand's all it takes
Is the noise that they make.
Sometimes they're so loud
I can hear them outside.
They make her so happy,
She smiles and she coos
They get her excited--
She yells in that mood.
Sometimes she just sits there
And stares at them quiet.
Then she gets going--
It sounds like a riot!
And when in the evening
We put them to bed,
She follows them longingly,
Turning her head.
Then there's a sigh as away she goes
Off to her nest to snooze and to doze.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Freedoms taken for granted. What freedoms do each of us take for granted? This thought occurred to me while walking to the ladies’ room in Macy’s. I was out with my sister-in-law Laura, Hillary and Anna. Usually I’m out with Hillary alone and a trip to the ladies’ room is inconvenient at best. I appreciated the chance to have the freedom to go alone. It got me thinking about the freedoms that we all may take for granted that others might give their eyeteeth to have.
I enjoy the freedom to go places alone with Hillary due to the wheelchair accessible van that we have. Even when I’m cursing about the malfunctioning door on the ten-year-old vehicle, I’m aware that it has served me well. It has given our family the freedom to go wherever we desired or needed to. I’m thankful for that. It’s partly because we have the van we’ve been able to lead as normal an existence as most families in our community. I cannot imagine life without going shopping, visiting family, and keeping appointments needing only to strap the wheelchair into the van and go. Sometimes I take this freedom for granted, forgetting that not everyone is as fortunate. Some people must move their family member from the wheelchair, into a car seat, back into the wheelchair upon reaching their destination. Even more restrictive is having no way to travel with a family member who has physical disabilities.
I have a friend who has an eighteen-year-old daughter who has multiple disabilities. She is a delightful child, but cannot be left alone. Every summer her daughter goes to sleep away camp for 6 weeks or so. During this time, my friend is able to enjoy a freedom that most of her friends take for granted. The freedom to come and go as she pleases, or participate in activities her daughter cannot, without having to make sure there is someone to care for her. She takes full advantage of this freedom because for the rest of the year she is tied to the schedule of her daughter’s school, activities and needs.
I have another friend whose daughter passed away a few years ago. She has more freedom now than ever, yet she would give it up in a second to have her child back. She yearns to have the freedom to hug her little girl whenever she feels like it, but never again will she have this. Do I take for granted the freedom to hug Hillary as much as I wish? Yes, sometimes I do. I think it’s human to take for granted what we have around us every day thinking that all the world is the same as it is for us, forgetting that somewhere there is someone who would love to be in our shoes.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

She Grew Up

Two little hands
That want to help
“Mom’s too busy now
Watch t.v., go away
I’ll show you how
Another day.”
Two little ears
That want my voice
“No time to read
Please go and play
I’ll read your book
Another day.”
Two little feet
That run about
“Please don’t run
What’s wrong with you?
Can’t you find something
Quiet to do?”
Two little eyes
Are watching me
“What do you want?
Did you want to say
That you can’t wait
Another day?”
Two little hands
Wipe two little tears
“Mommy, Mommy,
Can’t you hear?”
Another day, another day
The ‘little’ hands are
Slipping away.
And it came to pass. The little hands that wanted to help are now the hands of a capable and independent young woman.
I wrote this poem in December 1993 when Anna was 4 1/2 years old, and Hillary was 1 year 3 months. It had been one year since we first noticed Hillary’s seizures and began the journey of being a family with a child who has special needs. It was a very stressful time for all of us, and emotions were such that riding the most thrilling roller coaster would have seemed like riding a turtle in comparison.
So it was that as Anna turned 21 I reflected on what kind of childhood she’d had. Would she remember the times I was too stressed out to play with her, the times I lost patience, or did I hide my feelings from her so well that she didn’t realize how upset I was? I first wanted to remember a happy time when she was our only child, when everything was easier and optimism about the future ran high.
It was the summer of 1990, probably a month or so after her first birthday. Anna was busily climbing in and out of the kiddie pool, picking tiny cherry tomatoes from the garden, washing them in the pool water and eating them. White puffy clouds occasionally blocked the sun just enough to keep the July day from being too hot. I remember sitting in the grass, alternately watching Anna and the honey bees buzzing from clover to clover. It is the last memory I have of being truly at peace. There were probably more times I felt that way, but this one sticks in my memory. There was a companionship between us, mother and daughter, that had been apparent from her birth. She cried when someone else held her for too long, and when she was upset there was nobody she wanted except for me. Poor Bruce! He’d be trying to calm her and I’d take her from him and she’d quiet right down. When she was about eight months old, she’d turn and give him such a look once in my arms, and curl her raised little hand into a fist as she looked at him.
Fast forward a bit to 1992 and the expected event of Hillary’s birth. We told 3 year old Anna that being a big sister was an important job, and all the fun she would have teaching her little sister how to eat, run, and play. Always a serious child, Anna took her job as big sister to heart and once Hillary was born took delight in helping take care of her, kissing her on the head, and sitting on the floor next to her. I recall coming out of the shower to find Hillary in her infant seat on the floor with Anna sitting next to her on the floor watching a Barney episode in which two girls were singing a song about sisters, and Anna singing along. Even after Hillary’s medical and developmental problems began to show themselves, the big sister’s attentions never lessened. She’d go to some of the doctor’s visits with me, and when Hillary started having therapies in early intervention in 1993 she’d participate and help in any way she could. Anna took it all in stride, and even when I was giving Hillary injections of medication to try to control her seizures, she gave her favorite doll shots, like it was just part of being a baby. I recall one time that she asked me when her own seizures stopped--she truly thought all babies had seizures. What a tough thing to explain to a 4 year old!
Anna still remembers a dream she had when she was about 5 years old. The gist of the dream is that Hillary is sick and on a stretcher covered with a white blanket and being wheeled out of the house and Anna can’t find me. I remember her telling me about it at the time, but was surprised that she still remembers it now that she is an adult. When she was in second grade, the teacher gave an assignment with a writing prompt. The children were to write a story about finding a magic pebble that would grant them one wish, and what that wish would be. The stories were posted on the wall outside the classroom for parent teacher conferences. Reading the stories while looking for Anna’s was amusing, as mostly the kids were wishing for toys or sport related things. When I came to Anna’s, tears filled my eyes as I read her wish: that her sister could talk so they could stay up all night talking to each other. It is for this reason that I’m not surprised that she is considering  attending graduate school to become a speech language pathologist with the hope to work with young children. Of all the things that we told Anna she would have to teach her younger sister, I believe that Hillary’s lack of speech and communication is the most frustrating and heartbreaking to her.
Perhaps the reason I remember that one golden day in July of 1990 with my first baby is that things were so simple, and the future seemed so happy and easy. I hope that Anna remembers all the fun times with me, and not the times that I was so stressed out and busy that I put her off. One thing I know for sure is that time flew and that little girl, in spite of all the stress in our house, has become a wonderful, smart, talented young woma

Saturday, July 10, 2010


All summer long the poison ivy mocks me. It grows up the trunks of two of our trees out back. It's huge! The leaaves are the size of a basset hound's ear. It waves at me as I walk around the neighborhood. At the park it watches me from the trees and among the weeds as I stroll along the pathways by the lake. I can hear it giggling while trying to entice me to touch it by intertwining itself with other benign plants. In my yard I try to keep it at bay with weed killer. Laughing at me it slurps the tasy treat and begs for more. As I trim the forsythia growing by the patio, it licks at my ankles until I notice then chortles as I run into the house to wash and put on socks in July. Knowing that I will become distracted by the heat and one day show up once again in sandals to do some yard work in its proximity it waits. I know that it feels safe, as it is ubiquitous and I cannot rid my yard of the nuisance. It alwyas threatens me, knowing that if it can just sneak into my grasp I will be itching for weeks. I remember all too well the last time it was able to get past my defenses by mixing in with old leaves in the spring and finding the one spot on my arm not covered by coat or gloves. In moments of unreasonable paranoia just before falling asleep at night, I swear that I can hear it rustling, growing closer to the house wanting to knock on the window by my bed. It sighs in contentment as it hears time after time that my attempts to hire someone to eradicate it have failed. In spite of its tenacity I will not give up.
When I was about 9 years old my slightly older cousin Randy, the daredevil, ate a leaf off a poison ivy plant in answer to a challenge from his big brother Keith. I thought that he would get poison ivy inside of him, on his tongue, growing out his ears, itching inside his stomach. But nothing happened to him. No itching, no leaves growing, he was still just Randy my daredevil cousin. My sister in law is so allergic to it that if she is exposed to it she will need a prescription to treat the rash. Me, I just get the itchy, weepy rash that lasts for a couple of weeks at least. It's inconvenient and uncomfortable, keeping me up at night in spite of antihistimine and Calamine lotion.
We have an odd relationship, the poison ivy and I. I don't want it in my yard, yet I see the beauty of it. In the Autumn it turns a beautiful golden color. Funny, I thought it was only reddish or green shiny leaves, growing gracefully up the trunks of trees. The tiny roots on the vines holding it tight to the trunks look like fuzz, tempting me to touch them to see if they are as soft as they look. I know that if I gave in to my curiosity about the texture my skin would be in trouble.
In the Autumn, it gives up its aggressive growing and is content to rest there on the trees and the ground. Covered with a blanket of fallen leaves, it will rest peacefully through the winter until the warmth of spring awakens it to resume its trek towards the sun. Are the trees in cohoots with the poison ivy, allowing it to grow up the trunks, and agreeing to protect it with a blanket of leaves for the winter? In exchange for what? What is the ivy doing to help the trees? Perhaps it is more like a bully, "let me grow here or else"! Could it be that the tree is indifferent, "grow where you like, just don't bother me"? It's a mystery to me, one which I ponder occasionally over a cup of coffee enjoyed here on the patio, where my mind is free to wander where it will for a few moments as I take a break from the activities and cares of the day.
What is that rustling noise behind me?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


The mortgage is due, the car payment too
Dinner time’s coming my family is running
No money for fast food but they will be hungry.
What will I make them?
Open the cupboard, the freezer, the fridge
What do I find there? Not much to see
But I start grabbing things to make
Dinner for three. A handful of this thing,
A cup full of that, smidgens and dashes,
Pinches and shakes, pour some of this in,
Simmer or bake. Looks pretty good now,
Here comes my family.Hungry as bears they sit at the table
Sniffing and smiling anticipating the meal
That is coming. Sure hope they’re hungry enough
To just shut up and eat it. The food’s on their plates now,
Forks flying, they stare at the cook in pure wonder
Because of what’s there.
My husband says
“ Dear, this is really a treat. What is this new recipeWe sit here and eat?”
Like a deer in the headlights
I’m staring at them as they wait for my answer
I say, “A-hem, Don’t ask me what’s in it,
I’m glad that it’s good, just shut up and eat it
And be glad we have food.”
They’re clamoring, cajoling
For the recipe’s name or a list of ingredients,
And then I exclaim,
“If you must have a name
For this dish that I made, it’s called ‘SHUT UP AND EAT IT’ !”
My new claim to fame.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I Am Not Always Gracious

I’m not always gracious. I suppose that many people are that way, but they aren’t me. I try to be as gracious as possible when someone is going out of their way to help me. Sometimes the help goes awry, and turns annoying or into an outright inconvenience. When I’m feeling especially stressed out I have a really hard time mustering the patience that graciousness requires.
I’m currently experiencing a hectic period of time in which I’m running from one thing to another, barely finding any time for myself. Now there’s a recipe for a patience shortage! Add in the fact that this hectic time is also emotionally stressful, and it’s the perfect combination for some ungraciousness. Last night Hillary graduated (after 9years) from our town’s middle school. This was a relatively last minute decision, and I‘ve decided that 6 weeks notice was not enough time for me to adequately deal with the thoughts and emotions such an event holds for this mother of a child with special needs. There are currently other situations in my life which I am stressing over, and this was just the icing on the cake. I’m not fond of a lot of “hoopla”, and large crowds of people have never really been my thing. So I was not looking forward to attending the graduation ceremony. I could have told the school that Hillary wasn’t going to participate in the ceremony, but is it really about what is easiest for me? Of course not. I have always just wanted to give Hillary as many “normal” experiences of life as possible, and graduation is part of that. Although I would have felt better not having to go, how could I deny Hillary that experience? Even though she was unhappy about all the preparations we had to do at home, she did seem to enjoy the experience: taking pictures, gifts, flowers in her hair, a special outfit, the gown, the processional, the speeches, the band, the applause and being with her peers in front of all the parents. I, however, failed to enjoy it. It was a lot more work for me to get her ready at a time of day when all I wanted to do was curl up on the couch with a book, my computer, and the tv remote. I got her ready, got myself together, and off we all went to the ceremony. I had been told by the school that we would have a parking spot reserved for us as well as 3 seats right up front in case we wanted to take Hillary home early. The parking spot was taken by someone else, and one of our chairs was missing. I’m afraid that even at this early stage my graciousness and patience were dangerously low, and I snarked at the man taking the tickets. This man was gracious enough to ignore my poor attitude and asked someone to get us another chair. I managed to get through the ceremony but the rudeness of the other parents really wore on my last sixteenth of a nerve that I have left to get through the month on. By the end of the whole thing I was cursing just above what would be considered under my breath, and barely managing not to shove people out of my way in order to exit the building to meet up with Hillary and her aide. Once outside, I couldn’t wait to get home, get Hillary in bed and then relax. I suppose that once some time has gone by and I can catch my breath I will be able to see how good this was for Hillary, and be glad that I did it. At some point in time I will be gracious enough to be thankful for all the extra effort put forth by the school personnel to include Hillary in such a way that she felt like part of something besides her family. Then, perhaps, I will rest easier in my mind.
***by Susan Donald

Sunday, May 30, 2010

More Rainbows of the Heart

Bruce doesn’t bring me flowers often. It’s ok, because I am notorious for forgetting to add water and then leaving them on the piano in the vase until they resemble potpourri on sticks. I love getting a bouquet of flowers, but since I don’t take care of them I can’t blame him for not buying them for me often. Even so, I know he thinks of me often throughout the day. Sometimes he’ll bring me a favorite treat from a vending machine if he happens to see something he knows I like but don’t often buy for myself when grocery shopping. Sometimes he’ll send me a text in the middle of the day if he knows there’s something stressful going on for me.
On a recent trip to the shore, I didn’t feel like walking along the beach, I just felt like sitting on a bench near Hillary and watching the ocean and the seagulls. He decided to take a walk by himself as we can’t both go at the same time unless Anna is around to stay with Hillary since we can no longer get her onto the sand due to her heavier wheelchair. After a time he returned to me. I could see that the bottom of his jeans were soaked, and laughed at the sight. Come to find out, he had gotten too close to the water when washing off one of the “treasures” he found. Along with the sea glass he found was a starfish. I had never seen one on the beach before, and this one seemed to be still alive. After we finished examining it and wondering at it for a few minutes, he walked back to the water and returned it to the ocean. I added the sea glass to my collection when we returned home, and keep the memory of the star fish in my heart. Who needs flowers?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Summer Memory
A warm sticky summer night and I’m lying in my bed with the little window fan going at full whir until my mother comes in when the air gets cool to turn it off. The cool fan-stirred air felt good after a hot day spent chasing butterflies, playing hide and seek, and riding my bike. It is this scenario that comes to mind on this mid-spring evening of an above average temperature day.
Sometimes I long to go back to those days. Carefree and fun with my biggest worry being whether or not any of my friends or brothers would be around to play with me. I remember hot pleasant days the summer between fourth and fifth grades, which I spent collecting butterflies and assorted other bugs. My father, always ready to build or fix something, used a cardboard box and a piece of screen to build a cage for butterflies. I filled it with grass, a few twigs, and a small jar lid with water in it, and headed across the street to the field in front of my elementary school with my butterfly net. Small yellow, white and brown butterflies were in good supply there, and it wasn’t long before I had one in my net to run across the street with and put in the cage. Once there, I spent time watching it drink some water, and crawl among the grass, occasionally testing out its wings. After a while I’d let it go and repeat the process. I also caught other bugs such as grasshoppers, holding them in my hands for a bit before letting them go. My mother provided me with a large mayonnaise jar for my observations of assorted other bugs. Our neighbor across the street, knowing of my interest in bugs, called me over to his garage one time to see a huge green dragonfly. It was as long as his pointer finger, with beautiful lacy translucent wings. Another time I caught a praying mantis. We kept it for a week or so in a gallon sized jar with holes poked in the lid. We put grass and some twigs in the jar, and my father caught spiders at the factory where he worked and brought them home in Styrofoam coffee cups covered with foil and a rubber band. After dinner, we fed the praying mantis the spiders, taking delight in the triangular head and huge eyes that watched its prey. When the time was right, it would strike out with its arms and capture the spider. I believe it crushed the spider before eating it, but I don’t quite recall that part. When we let the praying mantis go it hung around our yard for a while before flying away. Eventually I grew out of my fascination with insects, but I enjoy the memory of that summer.
Now that I am an adult, a wife, and a mother, we have central air conditioning. We sleep in the summer with the windows closed and the ceiling fans on, but every once in a while I wish for a small window fan whirring away into the night.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Despair in the Mail

There hasn't been much of this lately, but it is part of life. No matter if you have a special situation, or are just a "regular" person with a "regular" life, eventually something is mailed to you that makes you feel this way. Realizing the feelings of hopelessness are transient is the best way I have found to cope with them. This particular poem came about when we were trying to obtain funding for the patient lift system simultaneously with fighting with insurance for a new wheelchair. Feeling overwhelmed would be grossly understating my state of mind at that time. It was all hard work, and extremely stressful, but worth it to have what we need to properly care for Hillary.

Open the envelope
Out jumps despair
Stomping and jumping,
Painting the heart
Putrid black
Inviting Hopelessness, Isolation, Apathy, Worthlessness
To join the party.
From under the wreckage
Out comes Resolve
Lighting the ember of Hope.
Despair exits
Taking the others
Out of Hope’s light
Back into the darkness.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Strangers can make or break a day. An unkind word or action can be the defining moment of a bad day. On the flip side, and unexpected kind word or action can turn a bad day into a good one. Everyday errands can be good or bad depending on how strangers act.
We were a small percussion section. The sticking brake on the wheelchair clicking away and the thumpy rattle of the shopping cart as we made our way through the store was our convoluted cadence. Occasionally Hillary added her voice to the mix, just to keep it interesting, or maybe to warn the people coming out of the intersecting aisles. One of the challenging parts about shopping alone with Hillary is pushing all 230 pounds of girl and wheelchair with one hand and pulling the shopping cart behind with the other without running into other shoppers or displays, or knocking things off shelves by cutting corners too close with either piece of equipment. Trying to stop in time when someone stops suddenly in front of me adds challenge and interest. So far I haven't hit anyone. I have thought occasionally about putting spikes on the end of the footplates of the chair for those times when people just don't want to give an inch, but up to this point I've controlled myself. At times I have wished I had an air horn at my disposal for those talking on their cell phones, oblivious to other shoppers trying to navigate the merchandise. This particular day there was no temptation, it was Nice People Day. I love Nice People Day! The cashier helped unload my cart onto the belt without being asked. She was cheerful, effiecient, and used a minimum of bags. The day continued its pleasant theme when I exited the store as, amazingly, when I needed to cross the parking lot with my little caravan the traffic stopped to let us get off the curb and cross to our vehicle. Might sound like no big deal, but I assure you that it doesn't often happen and I sure do appreciate it when it does!
It is the simple things that strangers do that can sometimes either make or break my day, and this day they made it. Must have been the convoluted cadence was a happy one.

Monday, April 26, 2010


She's a queen who sits upon her throne
And utters not a word.
She looks at those around
As if they were all quite absurd.
The cook, she tries to tempt her
With the greatest of delights
But she simply turns her nose up
And coughs with all her might.
Her servants try to please her
And dress her in good taste
She doesn't like it much though
When they fix her hair with haste.
They do not understand her
When she tries to tell them "no"
So where they wish to take her
She must surely go.
Sometimes it is quite taxing
To be rushing here and there
So she simply tips her head down
And sleeps soundly in her chair.
She really is quite happy
To have a family
To share with her
And care for her for all the world to see.
Contentment could describe her
For her world is filled with love
And so she's found frequently
Cooing like a dove.
They love her beyond reason
This family of the queen
Regardless of the season
Together they'll be seen.

Monday, April 19, 2010


It has been five years since I lost my mother, I offer the following as a tribute to a full life led by an amazing woman, Phoebe Elaine Parr Rutan.

"What a beautiful sweater!" the woman exclaimed when my daughter and I came into view. "My mother made it for me when I was a kid," I replied. "Now my daughter wears it. Those hand-knit sweaters last forever." The woman smiled in response and we each continued on with our daily business.
Later in the day I became pensive about that pink and white sweater with the kitty-cat buttons. I remembered going to the store with my mother and picking out those black and white cat silhouette buttons. Becoming nostalgic, I thought about the comforting sound of the clicking knitting needles I grew up listening to. How exciting it was to have a new article of clothing made by my mother's hands! That thought led to consideration of my mother's hands.
Those hands that knit that sweater had a busy life. They changed four babies' countless diapers. They wiped away the tears shed when a baby died, and folded in prayer for God's help numerous times over her 76 years on Earth. They held hymnals and bibles and Dr. Seuss books. Those hands held those of her husband and children and grandchildren. They clapped for countless children's performances, laid Scrabble tiles over and over, and dug gardens. In her younger days growing up on a farm, those hands touched cows, petted dogs, picked vegetables and learned how to make bread. They were not just the hands of a mother, they were the hands of a sister, a daughter, a wife, a friend and a volunteer. Those ten fingers made beautiful music on a piano, typed countless pages of meeting minutes for PTA and church groups. The woman who owned them nearly froze them hanging laundry on the line in the winter until they cracked and bled, and squeezed lemons for lemonade to go with sandwiches in the summer. Not only could they work magic with yarn, they could sew clothes, embroider,and bake countless batches of cookies over the years. Near the end, the hands that had been so productive, so happy to cradle a baby's head, so busy, forgot what to do. They were idle, no longer was their owner able to make beautiful things, she simply couldn't remember how to make them work. As her illness erased her abilities, others took her hands to lead her. When finally her time on Earth was finished, God took her hand in the night and gently led her Home.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Nobody in their right mind would do this. That is what I say to myself every time I am trying to maneuver Hillary from her bed to the bath tub. The process involves first getting her into the sling, then lifting her with the motor unit, pushing her along the track suspended from the ceiling to the doorway. Then I climb the step stool, open the door that adjoins the bathroom, reach in and grab the next strap and hook to attach it to the handle, lower her until the bathroom side strap is taut, unhook the main strap and hook it onto the bathroom strap loop, raise her up until the extra strap is slack and unclip it, then climb down from the step stool. Next thing is to get around the end of the swing away shower curtain rod, position her over the bath seat in the tub, hold her legs so that she won't get them caught between the seat and the edges of the tub and lower her into the bath seat and unhook the sling from the motor. Once I have the motor (still suspended) secured out of the way, I can turn on the hand held shower and commence washing my 17 year old daughter. She doesn't like it and doesn't keep still. Shampoo and soap get in her eyes, occasionally she gets a mouthful of water, and she tries to pull away from me when I want to wash under her arms. Telling her to be still and relax is pointless but I do it any way hoping that one day she will understand and take my advice. Once she is clean and soap free, the whole thing starts in reverse with a towel around her so she won't get chilled, and a quick stop to put her tangled hair into a ponytail so it won't get tangled even worse during the drying off and getting dressed process. Once she is dressed and finally in the wheelchair, I begin the task of detangling her hair. Rub in some anti frizz and start combing with a wide tooth comb. She hates this, but it must be done. She cries and keeps moving her head but I just keep going. When all the tangles are out, here comes the hair dryer. This she tolerates a bit better, but still isn't thrilled with it. Finally her hair is dry and I can once again comb it and put it in a pony tail which then gets braided. After and hour and a half Hillary is clean and ready for breakfast. Like I said, nobody in their right mind would do this.

But I am lucky. Hillary is mostly easy going and once the physical things are done she's happy, it doesn't send her into hours of screaming. Not every parent is so lucky, and I thank God that I have a child who can easily be soothed. Choices are few when you become the parent of a child who has special needs. You can keep them with you and do your best to care for and protect them, give them as happy a life as it is in you power to provide, or you can give them up, let someone else do it. I don't sit in judgement of anyone, we all do the best we can within the parameters of who we are and what our situation is. Sometimes it is hard to think that, not to judge others, or ourselves. If anyone is judging me, it is ME. Couldn't I give her more time, better care, a happier life.......etc. But when I take a moment to just sit down and consider all the options and how happy Hillary is, I realize that I am simply doing the best that I can and while perhaps someone else could do it better, I'm doing a darn good job--even if I'm not in my right mind.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


On the first warm sunny day every spring he returns. I get home from work and he's waiting for me by the front door. It's Bob and he's back to guard the entrance to my house until the return of cold weather. He hovers in front of me not allowing passage until I say, "Hi Bob, it's just me." Quickly he moves away and I can continue on my way. Going back outside later he's still around, he hovers near but doesn't stop my progress. My daughter arrives home from school, my husband from work and he greets them, as well as any visitors we might have, as he first greeted me.
It's been nearly ten years since Bob made his first appearance. We were all wary of him at first. We tried to get him to leave, but persistently he stayed. After a while, when we realized that he meant us no harm, we named him Bob and just went about our lives. As I sit on my front porch writing on a beautiful sunny summer morning he passes by. he does that occasionally, even when I'm on the back patio. He'll just stop by, hovering at eye level as if to make sure I'm OK. I greet him with "Hi Bob! and then he buzzes away up over the roof toward the front of the house. He's black and yellow and about the size of the last joint of my thumb. According to the exterminator he's a carpenter bee. He had been eating holes in the wood trim under the eaves. In the evening when we were sitting on the porch enjoying the summer twilight we could hear him munching away, little piles of sawdust leaving evidence on the floorboards. In spite of having the bug man spray the holes, and eventually having vinyl siding put on the house, Bob is still around. I don't know where he lives now, but it must be close by.
Of course I realize that bees don't really live for that long. It is one of the mysteries of nature that there is always one carpenter bee that hovers at eye level around the front of my house. There he goes again: buzzzzzzzzzz.......

Monday, March 29, 2010


If it hadn't been for Hillary and Francesca, I never would have met Carmela my dear friend. I think about them often and these last few days more than usual. It has been two years since Francesca left us here on Earth to join God in Heaven. We are all still trying to understand what she was supposed to teach us while she was here, and trying to help those she left behind to bear the pain of separation.


Her long thick hair
Her angelic face
Memories of her
All over the place
A picture here
A doll over there
A vision of her
As she walked down the stair
The scent of her powder
The feel of her hand
It's all together
More than she can stand.
Friends can't understand,
They've not traveled her road,
How every day
It's a too heavy load
That nobody can share.
So she conjurs a smile
While she's crying inside
And longing to hold her
The child who died.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Free Dancer

A quick note about this poem. At writing group sometimes we get a prompt to write about during our meeting. The prompt tonight was to write a poem or short story about someone dancing without using any "musical" words. We had about 5 minutes to do it. The following just flowed out onto the paper.

Free Dancer

Laughing with her body
Flying in her mind
She moves to nothing audible
Sees like she is blind
Yet stumbles not
Around the floor
Partnerless is she
The Prom is for the others
Who don't know
How to be free.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Reconnected Friends

When the dust finally settles and you look around, frequently things look different. Sometimes it takes many years for the dust to settle sufficiently to allow a new view. This realization comes to me after recently getting back in touch with a number of classmates from high school. It’s been over 30 years and I’m so glad to be in contact with these women from my past. Mostly I didn’t run in the same circles as them, but we did have classes together over the years and we were aware of each other. There seems to be something unifying about having survived the same town and high school. It’s the one thing we have in common to start with, as well as being women of the same age and having survived thus far through the trials, joys, and challenges life has brought and continues to bring each of us.
What I most like about this recent reconnection is our support for each other. There’s a kind of collective cheering for happy events, and collective hugging and empathy for sad and challenging events, and just a general camaraderie that has been missing from newer friendships I’ve made since high school ended. It’s knowing that there is a network of women who truly want me to succeed in whatever I do that is making such a difference for me, and the knowledge that there is no need to explain myself or my childhood for them to “get” me. They were there even if only in the background or around the edges of my life.
So now as we each achieve or come near to a milestone birthday, we are cheering each other along. Celebrating our lives in a way someone we have known for less time can’t completely do, simply because they haven’t been there for our formative years. It’s my hope that we will continue to maintain contact for the rest of our lives, however long they last so that along the way there is someone who can say to our families, I remember the funniest, craziest, nicest, most impressive thing that she did. It will be the greatest gift to our families to get a glimpse of who we were before adulthood conspired to change us.
Susan Donald

Monday, February 22, 2010

Waiting For the Storm

The evening before the big storm
Darkness hugs me
The rumble of a jetliner over head
The swushing of the traffic on the highway
In the distance
No breeze,
Just still darkness
Winter bare trees
Jutting up out of the snow
Like broccoli stuck in mashed potatoes
On a child’s plate
Seen in relief against the
Slate and salmon sky
Back lit by distant streetlights
Steam rises from the teacup
I am holding in my hand
Waiting for the snow.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rainbows of the Heart

He arrived home while she was pulling the garbage cans to the road in preparation for garbage day. He asked why she didn’t wait for him, but she had no answer. She just wanted to get it done. What he said next she didn’t expect. “Do you see it? No, I think you can’t from here,” as he pointed to the sky. “See that cloud there, right above the trees? The rainbow cloud,” she looked up and gave half a nod of her head. “Now, look over there to the left a bit, and there’s another one a little further over than that, too. Neat, huh?” She looked up, following his directions but the late day sun was in her eyes. It didn’t matter to her if she couldn’t see them for the glare, because of all the things he could have said upon getting home--he could have complained about the long commute and the traffic, the lower pay he was getting, or how hungry and tired he was--he chose to point out to her rainbows in the sky. She felt the rainbows in her heart and contentedly walked into the house with her husband.
This really happened and it just serves to point out that it is the daily gifts we give each other that make relationships last. It’s the lunches packed for each other, garbage taken out, hedges trimmed, laundry folded, grocery shopping, dishes done, control of the remote given up, letting the other person pick the destination for a day trip, and pointing out a flock of geese flying over or rainbows in the sky that count. Special days like Valentine’s Day are nice, but I would rather have the little daily gifts that show how much I am valued and cared about than all the roses and candy in the world.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


In days past
When snow would fall
Frosty used to
Come to call
He’d live outside
In our back yard
Smile and wave
When us he’d spy
He’d move away
On a warm sunny day
But return again
Next winter’s fray
But now he’s gone
He returns no more
For the child
He played with
Is grown and gone

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Shaky Tail Squirrel

We have a squirrel at our house. Well, maybe saying “a” squirrel is like saying “a” mouse--very rarely is there just one. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of the “Lone Squirrel”, have you? For the sake of this story, though, we’re going to talk about “a” squirrel, and assume it is a “him” although in truth Shaky might be a “her” or not always the same one, as there is a nest of them in the huge old tree that stands not 20 feet from my house.

Shaky got his name because I most often see him sitting on the deck rail across from my front door looking into my living room and shaking his tail. I have no proof that he is actually looking into my house, but it surely looks that way when I am sitting in the rocker and spy him there. Most likely he is looking at his reflection in the window of the door. There have been occasions, however, when he has thrown himself (o.k., jumped) against the door and clung to the screen for a minute or so before jumping down and scampering away. Trying to get in? Can he smell the peanuts my husband is snacking on? Perhaps the scent of peanuts is a kind of “squirrel nip” and makes him crazy. One summer when Anna, my oldest daughter, was about four I sent her and her friend Kevin outside with peanut butter sandwiches. They shortly came running back inside to report that as they were eating, Shaky crept over and sat under Kevin’s chair and just wouldn’t be scared away. Again, the scent of peanuts…………

In the summer, when I have my potted plants hanging from the hooks on the deck rail, Shaky likes to sit in them, hidden among the flowers and leaves. I suppose it’s a nice cool microclimate in there. Sometimes I catch one of the pots swinging when there’s no breeze. Then I know he has just vacated his hiding spot to hop across the grass and sit on one of the lower branches of the tree. He barks at me when I walk outside. Occasionally I’ll hear a “thump!” against the bay window and I’ll know that Shaky has misjudged the distance while trying to jump from the deck rail to the roof, has hit the bay window and fallen into the butterfly bush. Crazy squirrel.

In late August and until I take the potted plants down, Shaky spends lots of time hiding acorns in the plants. I wonder if he finds them once we stack the pots next to the shed out back for the winter? Once we put the jack - o - lanterns out for Halloween, Shaky has something new to eat and play with. He gnaws at poor Jack - O’s face and hat, and flips the hat around. I suspect he also climbs inside and sits there inhaling the scent of fresh pumpkin, although I have never actually caught him doing so.

One year I planted approximately 100 flower bulbs in the fall, hoping for a beautiful display in spring. Wouldn’t you know it, Shaky dug them all up--probably grateful for the free feast. Only a few tulips emerged in the spring. I don’t plant bulbs any more…..

My father had a running fight going with the squirrels for years. He would put baffles on the bird feeders in an effort to keep the squirrels away, but they would either jump down from the roof or trees, or find a way to climb up the pole and over the baffle. They would even chew on the plastic baffle until enough of the edge was eroded away that they could manage to climb over it if they tipped it. My father tried greasing the poles, using metal baffles, shooting them with a water gun, sprinkling the bird seed with cayenne pepper at the suggestion of my mother, and even giving them their own feeder stocked with corn cobs. Despite all of his best efforts, my father never managed to discourage the squirrels from eating at the bird feeder.

My next door neighbor dislikes squirrels so much that he put out a humane trap in an effort to relocate them. When his oldest daughter was in her early teens she would free any squirrel that ended upside the trap. If, by chance, any were still in there when he came home, he would take them to the other side of the lake and free them (well, that’s what he told us he did. How true it is I cannot say….). The population never diminished and I believe the trap is buried under other unused items in the back corner of his shed.

In the winter Shaky can be found scampering through the snow, or sitting on the fence post with his tail curled over his back against the weather. On sunny days he can be found sitting on the deck rail, shaking his tail and looking into my living room………

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Spirit's Vacation

Sometimes there is just too much reality to deal with. It is at those times that I need most to be outside. Something about being out doors helps make the reality somehow more managable and smaller, less important in the over all scheme of things. Whether it is a long walk or just enjoying a cup of coffee in the back yard, the beauty and honesty of nature somehow brings things into perspective. What is more honest than the way a branch moves in the wind, or a bird flying through the sky, and what is more beautiful than the shape of a tree or the sky reflected in the surface of a lake? How reassuring it is to know that in the spring the grass will grow, in the summer flowers will bloom, in the autumn leaves will explode into a riot of color, and in the winter colors will be muted and shapes revealed. Getting lost in thought even for a few moments is such a relief and vacation for the spirit, a reminder that God is with us, for how else could everything be so balanced, so beautiful. When I return to my personal realities, it is with a fresh sense of acceptance, optimism, and faith that somehow everything will be good in the end.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Shopping Zombies

As I approached the intersection of the parking lot that would lead to the center aisle in front of our local big box department discount store I noticed an unusually large number of people walking toward the entrance. “Wow!” I mused, “What are they giving away to bring all these people out today?” Once inside, with my list in hand I perceived that there weren’t actually that many people in the store. Guess we just all happened to arrive at the same time.
I was walking toward the grocery department, trying to figure out where everything is now that the holidays are over and they have done some rearranging. I just hate it when they rearrange everything in a store, I am the kind of shopper that just wants to get in, get my stuff, and get out, and rearrangement makes it nearly impossible to do that. As I was looking around I noticed something about my fellow shoppers. They were all walking around (as I’m sure I was) with a glazed, zombie like expression. As if once inside the store something takes over the mind. On a few of the faces I thought I recognized the same thing I was feeling, an overwhelming sense of confusion brought on by too much information to process quickly. Occasionally one of us would stop and look around, like a small child who has lost sight of his mother, until we found the direction we needed to go. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I don’t truly enjoy shopping. I don’t think that I’ve seen the same expression on the faces of the shoppers at a small out door market that I’ve seen in a magazine or a clip on the TV. Those people all seem to have their wits about them and know exactly what they are looking for and which stall to find it at.
The same thing happens at those big home improvement stores. I don’t recall my father ever walking into our local hardware store and looking around as if he was lost. Then again, in my father’s day there would be a nice friendly clerk around to say hello and ask if he needed assistance. It was a different time. Last winter, on the night before a big storm was expected, we realized that we were too low on ice melter to be able to wait until another day to buy some. I remember that parking spots were hard to come by and that once inside the huge cavern of hardware & home improvement, we became confused. We did stop at the courtesy desk and inquire as to the whereabouts of ice melter. The woman working pointed us in the general direction and off we went with our empty shopping cart. As we walked, I felt the need to look behind me and suddenly it was like a scene from some bizzarr remake of “Night of the Living Dead: Suburban Winter” as there were what seemed like hoards of fellow ice melter searching zombies following behind. We picked up the pace and arrived in time to see the last bag being loaded into someone else’s cart. Standing there, looking around in eye glazed confusion wondering among ourselves how it could be that there was no more ice melter, one of us over heard two employees talking about a “secret stash” of ice melter in the corner of the contractor’s entrance behind the lift truck. “Quick!” I urged my husband, “Go get a bag!” He was already on his way, but so were about 6 other male zombies, who had heard of the secret stash. One man with his zombie like strength jumped over the forks of the lift truck and was loading several bags into his cart. The people who arrived shortly after the initial word got out rushed over and I lost sight of my husband for a minute or two. Anxiously my daughter and I waited, not breathing, until finally he emerged triumphantly carrying a bag of ice melter. It was a sad thing to witness those who were not so lucky, looking on in consternation at the empty pallet and the bag of ice melter in the carts of those of us who were lucky enough to have arrived in time. Next, it was a race to the registers. No one wanted to linger lest things turned ugly and people started stealing the ice melter they desperately needed. Clearly those jumbo sized stores are not good for our brain function.
Fortunately for the general well being of our society the zombie like trance of the big box stores mostly disappears once we are out of them. With any luck, I won’t have any need to visit one of them any time soon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hot Chocolate Memory

By Susan Donald
When I was a kid I spent a week every summer with my grandparents at their farm house in Phillipsburg, NJ. My grandmother, Mama, was a sturdy woman of mixed German and Scotch descent. I was the only daughter of her youngest daughter, who was the youngest of seven children. My oldest brother stayed for 3 weeks, as there were 4 of us and my grandparents could probably only handle 2 of us at a time. The first night of our stay was always a bit teary since I missed my parents very much, as most young children are likely to do. Having had seven children and numerous grandchildren, Mama knew of an excellent way to bridge the gap between tearfully waving at parents and siblings driving away and a peaceful night’s sleep for all. She would take us into the big old farm house kitchen with the circle of a florescent bulb casting a dim yellowish light on the big wooden table and make us some hot chocolate. Not the instant kind, the kind where you heat the milk in a sauce pan on the stove and then stir in the chocolate and sugar before pouring the delicious liquid into a mug. Then she’d get out a box of graham crackers and we’d talk and munch waiting for the cocoa to cool enough to sip without burning our lips. By the time we were finished, we had nearly forgotten about how much we missed our family and were looking forward to the week ahead, filled with lazy days playing by the creek, rolling down the grassy hill, card games, and feeding the black birds crusts of bread each night after dinner. There must have been a hundred of them. The lawn would be covered with them eating the bread and then they would take off as one forming a large black cloud as they noisily returned to the trees. I have never forgotten the healing power of hot chocolate.
When my oldest daughter was about 9 years old, I felt like she needed some prompting to talk to me about whatever was bothering her, and to get her homework done. I took to making us mugs of hot chocolate and just sitting across the table from each other. There is something about that which makes things cozy and invites confidences. It was with this comfort in mind that I packed up a dozen home made sugar cookies and a couple of packets of hot chocolate and tucked them into my daughter’s bag as she was leaving to return to college. Hot chocolate can really help make things cozy and homey.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


So I went to a concert today at Hillary's school to see her perform with the chorus. They did a program about Martin Luther King, Jr. It was nice, and they had Hillary with her aide on stage with the chorus and she was playing a drum and a tambourine. As I sat there I was torn between being happy that she was being actively included in something that she obviously enjoyed, and feeling kind of sad and tired of watching Hillary doing pretty much the same thing and feeling like I was pretending that she could really do it herself. It was bittersweet to be sure. Most of what I do with Hillary is bittersweet. Happy that she is being given the chance to do "normal" things and have a happy life, sad that she can't enjoy them the same way that I would. But if she is enjoying things in her own way, why should that be sad? We all experience life in a slightly different way, no two people take the same thing away from a shared experience.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

So change can come suddenly and without warning. How you react is what makes the difference. Don't really like change much, but it is inevitable. I especially don't like sudden change that comes with life altering experiences and decisions.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Where Are the Paper Bags?

In search of the elusive paper bag. Just can't seem to get them any more at my local supermarket. We have to ask for them, and most of the time they say they don't have any. What is up with that? I use them to recycle the newspapers. Can't recycle newspapers in plastic bags! Don't need more of the plastic bags, anyway. No place to recycle them any more around here, except to use them as small garbage bags, which I do, or take them back to the store on shopping days. I have some of the "green" bags that I either bought or got as a giveaway at some event, and I do use them, but ...I really need some paper bags! I saw a cashier with one today when I was using the self check lane. I left my stuff and went to the spot he got it from, but there weren't any there. My question is what happened to them? Is there a secret compartment, or can only employees see them? And why can't we have them? I would have pursued this further, but I didn't want someone else to take my stuff that I just paid for, and I was on a time limit because I had to make sure I was home in time to get Hillary off the bus. Perhaps there is some secret code word that one has to know in order to get the paper bags. But how can I find out the secred code word? Where do we get it? It sure is a well kept secret! I remember when all there was available was paper bags, even at department stores. I prefer the sound of a crisp paper bag to the slippery rustle of a plastic bag. Paper bag, paper bag, where for art thou, paper bag? Perhaps they will do a story on the disappearing paper bag on the news one day. They should put a reporter on the case, and get to the bottom of it because surely I am not the only one who would prefer a paper bag.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Welcome to my blog! 

broken shells

Anyone who has ever spent time on vacation as a beachcomber knows that what you are looking for is the perfect, complete shell. No cracks, nothing broken off, beautifully polished by the ocean; whole. This is what I was always looking for, passing over the broken, slightly imperfect, and small pieces of broken shells. They were not perfect, so why give them another thought? What value were they to anyone? You couldn’t put them on display, say “look what I found!” with pride. No, at best you might put them in the bottom of a potted plant for drainage. How could they possibly be worth anything? Let them be--eventually maybe they would be pulverized and become part of the sand, easily forgotten.
That is what I used to do, and think. What changed my mind? My children. I say that like I have so many. I have two. Two girls. One whole and perfect, the other broken, imperfect. Oh, she looks perfect in her baby pictures. But look at her when she’s a little older and you can see right away. Even if the wheelchair didn’t tip you off, the low facial muscle tone would, as would the drooling and a host of other things. She is my youngest. Is she the one who taught me to see the beauty of broken shells? Well, not really. That honor goes to the older one. When Anna was a small child and we would go to the beach, she helped me look for shells, but she was not as discriminating as I was. She looked for pretty colors, nice shapes, interesting patterns, no matter whether it was whole or just a small broken piece. To her it didn’t matter. She would bring them to me as if they were diamonds, precious pieces to be wondered at and admired, displayed with pride when we got home . That was when I began to see the beauty of broken shells. When Hillary came along and we realized that she was “broken”, it was a devastating shock to all of us except Anna. To her, she was just her sister, someone to play with and love, someone of great value--like the broken shells she used to bring me. It was Anna who saved me from falling apart. There she was, just being a kid, talking to and playing with her sister, introducing her to her friends as if she were just like their siblings. In some ways that was true, she was a rival for our attention, she made noise and needed us. If Anna needed to have a ride to scouts with someone else, it was it was the same as the other kids. The only difference was the reason she needed one. While the other kids might need a ride because their sibling had soccer at the same time on the other side of town, Anna needed one because her sister had physical therapy. To her it was the same basic thing--she needed to be at point A at the same time Hillary needed to be at point B.. It was I who felt the abnormality of the whole thing. When I just stopped and looked at Hillary through Anna’s eyes, I could see that in spite of her “brokenness”, she was the perfect sister. Someone to be placed right along side her friends’ siblings, someone who was a natural part of her life, her family, and of great value.
Watching how Anna developed a relationship with Hillary taught me that every shell, every person, whether whole or broken or just a sliver of what they were intended to be, was beautiful and valuable and worthy of a place of honor. And so I see my daughters as shells, one whole and perfect, the other one a sliver that has such great beauty I simply do not care that she isn’t whole. I’m just glad that she is.