Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Holidays

On Christmas Eve, Mark and I decided to take our pup, Micah, for a walk down by the pier.  The air was crisp and cool and there were just enough clouds in the sky to create the most sensational sunset.

This is Southern California.  One of the most beautiful places on earth.  When I spotted this adorable family celebrating Christmas right there on the sand, it made me smile.  This is just how we do things out here.  Sometimes irreverent, oftentimes laid back, but always, always unique.

Downtown San Clemente seemed to be floating against the cerulean blue sky.(Or maybe it was just my soul set free.)

The light show in the sky cast a purplish-pink hue down on the ocean.  Fantastically, I do not enhance my photos.  What you are seeing, is what you get.

My guys!

Merry Christmas, happy Chanukah, and most of all, have a very healthy, happy New year!  Can you believe that we are now a decade into the 2000's???

From our home to yours, may the coming year be filled with joy, love, inspiration and lots of good things.

I am so grateful to my wonderful readers, those of you who comment and those of you who just stop by. Each one of you inspires me to continue writing and to continue shooting pictures.  Just knowing that you are out there, whether sharing your lovely thoughts with me or just popping in quietly, makes me feel heard, supported and appreciated.  Thank you.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Chanukah and Living in the Light

 Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is the celebration of the first battle that was fought over religious freedom.  Over twenty-one centuries ago, the Jewish people living in Greece were being forced to forgo their religion by the ruling emperor.  Although the Jewish population was small in number, there was a group of Jews who decided to battle against the Greek army in order to defend the rights of their people to worship only one God.  The story is told that the very small band of Jewish warriors were able to defeat the large Greek forces, thereby taking back their rights to observe their own religion.  After the Jews won the war, they needed to rededicate the Temple and make it holy for worship, again.  The problem was that they only had enough oil to keep the Temple lit for one day.  They needed much more than that. The oil ended up lasting for eight days, allowing enough time for the Temple to be rebuilt.  Thus, a miracle had occurred.

The reason that we celebrate Chanukah for eight days is to commemorate the miracle which occurred during ancient times.  Chanukah is a celebration of the battle of good over evil, a few against many, light against darkness.  It is a time when friends and family get together to spend time with one another.  Conversely to what most people believe, Chanukah is not one of the main holidays in Judaism.  It has only become more emphasized to keep up with the elaborate gift-giving and decorating traditions of Christmas.  It is a lovely holiday, but it is a minor one, according to Jewish custom.  It is not the Jewish Christmas.  Sadly, for a holiday that is meant to rekindle the importance of religious freedom, Chanukah has become a way for many Jews to assimilate into society by overemphasizing the gift-giving and more commercial aspects of the holiday.  It is customary to give small gifts on each night of Chanukah when the Menorah(the candle holder) is lit.  There is, however, no such thing as a Chanukah bush.

This year, we shared Chanukah with many friends and family members.  We always enjoy introducing the holiday to those whom have never celebrated it before.  Most of my Angel Daughter's friends are Christian, but they really enjoy coming over to our house to light the Menorah.  The middle candle is called the Shamesh.  It is the "helper candle".  Its purpose is to light the other candles on each successive night.  That is why you will always find nine candles on a Menorah.  The Shamesh, or helper candle, is always raised.  There are many reasons for this, but my favorite reason is that helping others is what brings us closer to God.  When we help someone else's light shine, we are doing one of the greatest things that we can do.  We are bringing even more light into a world which is sometimes very dark.

This picture was taken on the eighth night of Chanukah.  Our dear friend, Chy, lit the candles for us.  I love the looks on the girls faces.  Precious.

Angel Daughter Number One was able to come home from Los Angeles to celebrate the first night of Chanukah.  It is getting harder and harder for us all to get together at the same time.  Good thing there are eight nights!  Angel Daughter Number Three's boyfriend, Jacob(who looks very handsome in his firefighting uniform), enjoyed his first Chanukah with us.

Angel Daughter Number Two brought her devil-kitty, Rex, home for her winter break.  Jacob thought that he could include Rex in a nice picture of him and AD3.  Oops!

On the seventh night of Chanukah, all four of my Angel Daughters and their boyfriends were home for dinner.  We also invited my Mother and her husband.  It was nice for the girls to have their grandparents there.

There is so much to celebrate in life, so much to be grateful for.  As my family concludes this celebration of Chanukah, I am reminded that there is still a battle that I must fight. Because as bright as the lights are throughout my days, there are two little lights which are still missing(although they will always burn brightly within my heart).  And the love that we feel for them...The connection that we will always have with them cannot be extinguished by anger, fear or hate.  My prayer is that next Chanukah, we will all be together, as we always have been.  My prayer is that my beloved brother will pull whatever strings he can from where he is, to ensure that this tug-of-war with my sister-in-law will end soon.  My prayer is that next year, this story will have an ending similar to that of the Chanukah story.  Good over bad, light overshadowing darkness, love eclipsing hate.  The miracles of everyday life.  My prayer...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Weathering the Storms of Life

As I sit here resting on my bed, I am trapped beneath the sometimes mind-numbing weight of my laptop computer and the warmth of my sweet cat, Callie, who is cleaning herself as I make the choice to busy my fingers by blogging.  It has been a stormy couple of weeks here in Southern California, from our white Thanksgiving up in Lake Arrowhead, to our first three rainy days of Chanukah at sea level.  There has been a lot on my mind, lately, as the news began with Jack, our eight year old little buddy who has tragically relapsed with neuroblastoma, to something which has laid very heavily on my heart since a few days after my brother died, almost twenty months ago.  Both the relapse of angel-boy Jack, and the constant reminders that my brother is no longer a phone call away, have caused me to remain ever-so focused on the fragility of life.  Of course, as with the storms which we have been experiencing in the weather, there are breaks of blue amongst the grey.  Beautiful lapses in storm cells that allow the spirit to regenerate, dry off and prepare for the rain, once again.  But sometimes the weight on the heart can feel almost suffocating.  And the only thing that can free my saturated soul is to release the words.
 I have thought long and hard about sharing some of the more difficult details of my life here, on my blog.  And I have done so with cautious abandon, finding that releasing the words and then soaking in the support which seems to come as a result of it, makes many of those details feel less burdening.  I suppose that is why painters paint, and sculptors sculpt, and writers write.  There is something about being in the midst of a storm and then sharing it, that allows us to understand that we are not the only ones who have ever gotten drenched.  And that sometimes, by being reminded that there are others who have stood threadbare in the pouring rain, with their clothes sticking close to their bodies like a second skin, we might remember to accept the offered shelter of a shared umbrella.
And so the words now come.  For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you might remember that I have four angel daughters who came from my body, but that there are two more angels whom I consider just as important.  My Angel Nieces.  Before my brother died, he and his wife and their two little girls who are now six and eleven, had a loving, close familial relationship with my family.  I will not go into detail about the days that followed after my brother's death, but they were some of the darkest days of my life.  The harder that I tried to be of support to my sister-in-law, the more she pushed me away.  I thought she just needed time.  I tried to convince myself that she was grieving and that I could accept being at the brunt of her anger, if that is what might make her feel better.  When I say that I have never done anything to deliberately upset or hurt her, it is the truth.  When I say that I have taken more negativity from her than anybody I have ever known in my life, it is truth.  I did not lash out, I did not get angry, I did not defend myself.  I wanted to see my nieces, my brother's children and if that meant accepting a few blows, then so be it.  For the first six months after my brother passed, I was not permitted to see my nieces.  I cannot express the toll which that took on my family.  I never stopped calling.  I never stopped trying and finally, my SIL agreed to get together with us.  I was overjoyed.  My nieces were so happy.  Mark and my four daughters were thrilled.  And then it happened again.  My SIL withdrew my nieces from our lives as if they were objects and not children.  Once again, I begged and pleaded.  I wrote a general letter apologizing for things that I hadn't even done, grasping, grasping because I felt my nieces slipping away the way my brother had done.  A month or so after I sent the letter, we called to wish my youngest niece a happy birthday.  My SIL never answers the phone, but we were accustomed to leaving messages.  To my delight, we got a call back and once again, without any reference to the letter I sent, or any explanation as to why we were cut off, we were allowed to begin seeing the girls again.  This went on for several months.  I was still treated very poorly by my SIL, but I was willing to put up with whatever was necessary in order to keep the girls in our lives.  The last time we were allowed to see my nieces was back in June.  After that, with no regard to her own children's feelings, with no concern for my children's feelings and for absolutely no regard for what my brother would have wanted, we were once again, cut off.  At first, my SIL would tell me that she was "too busy" to make time for us.  I kept trying.  She finally agreed to see us in September, but only for "a very short visit".  The day before we were supposed to get together, she left a message on my voicemail saying that her plans had changed and that they would not be seeing us after all.  I called her back and she actually answered her phone.  She was extremely cold and very rude.  I took a breath and asked her if we could please just keep the plans that we had.  She told me no.  I began to cry and told her that it had been three months since we had seen each other.  She told me to stop it and that it had NOT been three months but two months and two weeks.  I asked her to please tell me the truth about what was going on.  She told me that she was hanging up because I was attacking her.  I told her how much she and the girls mean to our family.  She told me not to call, not to leave her anymore messages and to leave her alone.  She was as cold as ice.  I finally hung up in tears.  Not only did I cry for my own loss, but also at the thought of what my poor, poor brother must have had to live with everyday of his marriage.  I knew there were problems.  I just never knew how deeply they ran.  I realized that just as I was remaining quiet to appease my SIL, so must he have done the same as her husband.  The tears came for a very, very long time.  And then, I reached the only resolution that I possibly could.  I hired an attorney.
Most people have heard of something called Grandparent's Rights.  At the same time, most people do not realize that the law is also written to include aunts and uncles.  We have been in the process of putting our visitation claim together for almost two months.  The last two weeks were spent with the process server trying to serve my SIL with the court documents.  She ducked service four times.  She had no idea what he was trying to deliver.  She is just an extremely disagreeable individual.  Several weeks ago, our attorney submitted a petition to the court to find out if our case would even be heard.  There was a possibility that it would be dismissed without a hearing.  Not only was it accepted by the Judge, but he set a mediation date, as well as a court date.  We recently found out from our attorney that my SIL's newly-hired attorney has already requested a continuance.  This means that the case will be pushed out even further.  I can wait.  I have been patient for twenty months.  I have done everything within my capabilities to resolve this without legal intervention.  I have even allowed myself to be treated as a scapegoat.  I have been pushed into a corner but now the continuation of this story does not depend on the whims of my SIL.  I have taken my power back.
For now, there is a bit of a break from the storm.  The rain has stopped.  Mark and I walked for hours on the beach today.  He kept asking me if I wanted to turn back, but I said no.  The sun felt too good.  I felt too strong.

When I was finally left by myself tonight, I began to think.  And in thinking, I ventured towards some frightened places in my heart.  The "What if?"places which can only be answered with time, but that I am sometimes foolish enough to think that I can answer all on my own.  It was then that I decided to write.  It was then that I decided to toss out the last vestige of fear that was keeping me from releasing the words.  It was then that I fully accepted that it is not me who has anything to hide from.  It was then that the words began to tumble from my fingertips from the grey and into the white.  I feel like I am taking them out from behind the clouds and placing them into the light.

Thank you so much for visiting Jack, and most especially, for leaving such loving messages for him and his beautiful family.  He has begun to read them himself, and he now has a map of the world on which he maps out all of the faraway places from which his visitors come.  Please continue to stop by his site.  He will be starting palliative treatment, tomorrow, which means that things are about to get even harder.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Snow Angels

An unexpected snowstorm swept across the San Bernardino mountains a couple of days after Thanksgiving, this year. For us Californians, this was not only a remarkable surprise but a gift of aberrant beauty. Although our rainy season is sometimes known to begin in the month of November, it usually does not bring any snow until early January. Over the past decade or more that we have been spending our Thanksgivings in Lake Arrowhead, this is only the second one in which we have received snow. Instead of putting on our sneakers to take a warm autumns hike in the gorgeous mountain air, my Angel Daughters and my husband put on their snowsuits and braved the snow. Waking up to the white stuff was absolutely glorious!

I heard the sounds of my family outside, before I spotted them. They were laughing and screaming with delight as they sleigh-rode down the hills by our home. When I opened the window to call out to them, Angel Daughter Number Four, looking much to me like she did when she was ten, came trudging up the hill to throw snowballs at me.
Soon after, my rosy-cheeked little Angel fell backwards into the snow to create a perfect snow angel!
At fifteen and more than a half years old, I am so grateful that she continues to hold on to her playful spirit. Oftentimes, teenagers take themselves far too seriously and they forget what it feels like to play. AD4 not only left behind a lovely snow angel, but she also left a wonderful imprint on my memory.
Since we do not get to spend as much time at our mountain home as we used to, the days that we do get to spend there are precious. This is the road that leads up to our cabin. Even just looking at it, brings a sigh of relief to my soul. For me, it is another place of quiet contentment.
Angel Daughter Number Four giggles as she plays hide and seek with her boyfriend, Jacob. She likes to tuck herself snugly into the top bunk of the bunk-beds. And although seventeen can sometimes be a broody age, AD3 can often be silly.(especially when Jacob is around!)
These are the moments that I could freeze forever. Angel Daughter Number Four has always loved playing with people's hair. When she was little, she used to sit on my bed and brush my hair. Now she likes to style her sister's hair. Angel Daughter Number Two receives a cute braid from AD4. So sweet.
Angel Daughter Number One always warms my heart with her smile. I love the way that she is always willing to share it with me, even when I interrupt her while she is in the middle of something else. Thank you for your patience, sweetie!
Micah, our Rottweiler, Doberman, Pit-Bull puppy is now ten months old. Although the breeds which make up his genetics are thought to be more aggressive, the only aggression this boy shows is in his constant need to love and be loved. When we were searching for a dog to rescue, I was sure that I did not want to adopt a Pit-Bull. Unfortunately, the pounds and rescue organizations are absolutely full of them. It is my belief that most of them are lovable, smart dogs who just need proper parents, but with all of our other pets, and lots of kids coming and going, I did not feel that our home would be a proper fit for a Pit-Bull. When we found Micah, we were told that he was a Rottie-Lab mix. As he grew(very rapidly!), Mark and I decided to have him genetically tested. There was NO way in the world that we wanted to get rid of him, but I felt that it was important to find out which breeds we might be dealing with. We wanted to make sure that he had proper training, if indeed, he turned out to be a Pit-Bull. When the veterinarian called to let us know the results of Micah's DNA test, he laughed because this gentle giant of a soul turned out to be not only Rottie, not only Pit-Bull, but Doberman, as well! Our vet described him as a "Drug Lord's Dream"! We do know, for a fact, that Micah's abandoned mother, as well as two other dogs who were left on the property, came from an area that is well-known for drug problems. Unfortunately, these dogs are often bred to be macho or worse.(Hello, Michael Vick...) Micah, his mother, two sisters and three brothers were rescued by an incredible organization which would only adopt them out after some very stringent background checks. They did not want these puppies to turn out to be what they were most likely, bred to become. We were so lucky to be matched up with this wonderful pup. And I am now a little bit sad that I had ruled out Pit-Bulls before ever getting to know one. I am a true believer in life presenting us with lessons that we are meant to learn from. Micah is one of my teachers.
Angel Daughter Number Two brought her little devil of a kitten, Rex. He is another rescue. She found him when he was only a few weeks old, abandoned and shivering on the grass near her apartment building. Immediately, it was love.
This is my old girl, Becca. She just turned eleven and is suffering from some crippling arthritis in one of her back legs. She is a good old girl and she owns my heart. With the help of prednisone and pain killers, she still gets around fairly well. I fall in love with my husband, Mark, all over again, each time I watch him carry her up and down the stairs. She weighs sixty pounds and is quite squirmy to hold. But Mark patiently lugs her around when he has to so that she can be by my side. She and I make quite the pair!
Angel Daughter Number Two's boyfriend, Sol, drove up to join us when it was first beginning to snow. He spent Thanksgiving with his family(good boy), and then came up to be with his girl. AD2 told me that when she asked Sol to get her a glass of juice, his reply was, "What baby wants, baby gets." Now that is the type of man who is worthy of one of my daughters:)
We decided to brave the cold and the snowstorm to go down to the lake by our home. Lake Arrowhead is a cute, little town with the lake being the center of it. There are some shops and restaurants there, but mostly it is a nice place to walk around. The snowstorm was lovely for visitors, but absolutely terrible for the businesses in the area. It took place on the day after "Black Friday" which caused most people to stay home. It was very sad to see all of the employees standing around on a day when things were supposed to be busy!
We did do some shopping as there were some fantastic sales. Of course my girls decided to be goofy! Another reason why I love them so, so much.
I decided to take some photos to use on our holiday cards. My girls only like posing for photos when they decide the time is right, but I got a few cute ones. They like to make fun of me because it takes me a while to press the shutter button, but that is only because I have to examine each one of them to make sure that there is no funny business going on! There is at least one in every group! They can be very sneaky little angels! But then again, another reason why I love them...
I'm not sure where the ducks are supposed to go when the weather turns, but it seems that these guys were just as surprised by the early snowstorm as the humans were. There had to be a couple hundred of them, but they don't go hungry because all of the shops sell bags of duck food.
Here is my youngest duckling feeding some of the ducks who came up to greet us.
The big guy in the middle made us all laugh!
After the snowstorm subsided, the sunlight shone through the branches of the enormous pine trees. There is something about the way in which the branches diffuse the light that creates such a beautiful sense of peace. If you don't already do so, try to pay attention to the way in which light can evoke your different senses. I am not sure that I began doing this until fairly recently, and it causes me to view things in such a different way. It is almost like discovering a color or even a scent that I never noticed before. Noticing the light awakens something within my spirit which might have been sleeping silently before.
Trees, that are hundreds of feet tall, tower gracefully over our cabin. They create shade below, but when you look up, it is blue. So beautifully blue.
A lone pine cone dangles precariously from a young tree. A sign of growth and regrowth and more growth to come.
Angel Daughter Number Two(our resident professional-grade photographer) noticed the sunset over the city below. She said that she could look at it for days and days. I have to agree.

Life looks a bit different at around six thousand feet above sea level. The air is thinner, the weather is cooler, and sometimes, if you are really lucky, the unexpected happens. An extraordinary snowstorm flurries down from the heavens like the tiny feathers off of an angel's wings. And you get to create snow angels for Thanksgiving. Or you get to observe them from above. Or, you get to spend several days tucked warmly into a cozy cabin with your family while sitting by a fire and throwing a stuffed toy back and forth with your Rottweiler, Pit-Bull, Doberman puppy.

Friday, December 4, 2009


                                          *Photo borrowed from the Camp Jack website

This is Jack.  Jack's Mommy is a very dear friend of mine and has been for over ten years.  Jack's Mommy was the most incredible teacher that my two oldest Angel daughters were lucky enough to have, and when they fell in love with her, Mark and I did, too.  From the day that I met Jack's Mommy, Jen, she talked about having children and was finally blessed with two.  Jack and Kate.  When Jack was three, he was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma, an extremely aggressive form of cancer.  He went through chemo, radiation, and two stem-cell transplants which bought him five years, eight and a half months of joyous life.  Those years were not without complications, as Jack lost much of his hearing and ended up needing to wear a hearing-aide, but to have Jack on this earth experiencing life with his little sister, Kate and his two Mommies, made all of the torturous treatments he went through worth it.  Jack was living life as only he could!  With love and joy and wonderment.  Jack is an amazing little man.

So, so sadly, neuroblastoma(a word I could barely pronounce, let alone spell before it reared it's ugly head inside of Jack's body) has returned.  It has returned in a way that may be consuming sweet Jack's body, but not his spirit...No, never his spirit.  Unfortunately, it seems as though his beautiful, battered body may not be able to stand up to the rigorous treatments which would be required in order to take a stab at this horrible beast, once again.  Jack has already been through more in his little life, than most adults will have to experience in a lifetime.  There are still options, but thinking about them is enough to make your head spin around.  Jen and Steph are now struggling with the decisions that they must make.

My hands are shaking as I type this and my broken heart is beating wildly, for there are just no words to describe what I am feeling.  No words at all.

Please add little Jack and his family to your thoughts and prayers.  His website is  I know that Jen and Stephanie truly appreciate knowing that their boy is being blanketed with lots and lots of good energy.  Feel free to leave this beautiful family a note letting them know that you are there.  They need all of the support that they can get right now.(Thank you, Ness!)

And as you go through your days, please think about Jack.  And when you do, send him as much healing love as you can muster.  Jack is a little man worth knowing.
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