Tribute to “Special”: A Gem

Welcome everyone! Happy fourth (?) day of Christmas–assuming you observe and/or celebrate, and depending on when you start counting ;). I was blessed to share another wonderful Eve and Day with Hubby (Christmas #21–who woulda thunk it?); our boys; our moms, family and friends. Can I ask for better?

It’s so important to hold on to joy, folks, and to make memories when we can. We never know when we’ll do that ‘last’ thing. Here’s one reason why:

“Special” means so many things, especially when one works in an educational setting.

When it comes to ‘Jewel’ it takes on more than one.

‘Jewel’ (not her real name) was truly a gem. In school, both as a child as an adult, she was often referred to as ‘special,’ perhaps minus the higher IQ that society uses to classify someone as ‘not special.’ A kind spirit, a simpler soul: soaring in goodness and the understanding of function. Did I mention she could play some beautiful pieces on the piano and had no problem kicking out a song too? And how she reportedly devised clever ways around eating the fun foods relative to celebrations her religion restricts?

Jewel didn’t drive. She walked, took the bus or got the occasional ride from staff member(s) or her senior mother—with whom she lived and with whom she is said to be the best of friends.

We go back, Jewel and I. Twenty-two years, if I remember correctly; personal aide for the one of my first six students in the district that now employs me. She never lacked for dedication.

Some other things that made Jewel special:

She was rarely without her smile. Her hearty laugh was always at the ready. Jewel joked and teased without ever hurting a feeling. If a piano was nearby and the timing was right, she played and often sang, too. More times than I can count, our conversations morphed seamlessly into songs with related lyrics. At the end of last school year she auditioned for our school’s first (?) talent show, fretting for a few weeks on whether or not Gladys Night and the Pips’ Midnight Train to Georgia was an appropriate choice for elementary school-aged kids.

She shied away from technology, but learned enough of the basics to help her students make use of it when necessary. Despite that, she knew how to foster function and independence in her charges, often the most physically challenged kids. She cared for them with her strength and with her heart.

Pairing Jewel with her current student—a very physically-challenged child—was the logical choice. They got along well and had a lot of fun. (We all did. You couldn’t help having fun when Jewel was around.) Chances are, Jewel’s heart led her to attend her that student’s holiday concert just ten days before Christmas. After the performance, she took off for home, a mere few blocks from the school.

It was to be the last thing she did.

She never made it home. Jewel was struck by a truck while crossing the street and died of her injuries en route to the trauma center. Reports we heard or read suggest that poor timing ultimately caused the accident.

I’m not quite sure how to wrap this one up, so I’ll share what I told Jewel’s mother at the wake: “Your daughter made people happy.” And in my sadness, I still feel happy, because all my memories of her make me smile.  Jewel is one of those folks whose spirit will be consciously with me more often than not. I will miss her terribly, in many ways like the friend I wrote about several weeks ago.

Thank you for taking the time to read about my special friend. If you are so inclined, please pray for her mother, whose new reality leaves her without daughter, roommate and best friend in the day-to-day we tend to take for granted.

Hug, hold and love those with whom you make your memories.

Happy New Year,

Joanna

All the Best and The Greatest Gift of All

Hi everyone.

It’s been a BUSY (past) week and weekend. The Christmas shopping is pretty much done (except for food). Now begins the food buying and prepping since we’ll be hosting a small gathering (10 or so?) on Christmas Day. (It’s all good.)

Liv room--Christmas 2014 ©2014 Joanna Aislinn

Of course, I was keeping this one shorter, and wishing all of you a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah and/or Kwanzaa. Here’s to feeling blessed and sharing time, joy and love with all those who matter most to you.

I’m also praying big-time for peace on earth and good will to men (and women, of course), the greatest gift of all.

Funny. I’m certain I’ve heard, read, said or sung those phrases since I’ve been old enough to talk. I was singing it the other day (along with Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, to the The Greatest Gift of All,  off their Christmas CD–one of my top-five favorites). It struck me, in this world of horror, terror-filled news, how incredible a gift it would be for people to want good for each other. For the first time, I feel as though I owned those words. I sang them with intent that was new, real and heartfelt in a way I hadn’t fully understood before. (Maybe that’s just part of growing older?)

Anyway, that is what I’m wishing all of you, during the holiday(s) you celebrate. Peace in your hearts and good will toward all those who impact your days. And if you are inclined to do so, please consider praying for those who suffer and for those who wreak evil too. At the very least, the hearts, minds and spirits of the latter are most likely in one heck of a place to do what they do.

On an up note, I’d love to read about how you’ll be spending the holidays. Feel free to list your favorite music too. I linked you too, to my favorite tracks from my top five Christmas CDs. Enjoy!

1. Steven Curtis Chapman–The Magic of Christmas (my #1 favorite song of all time is from this one)

2. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton–Once Upon a Christmas (A Christmas to Remember)

3. Donny Osmond–Christmas at Home (A Soldier’s Christmas)

4. Garth Brooks–Magic of Christmas: Songs from Call Me Claus (Baby Jesus is Born)

5. A Very Special Christmas (Red label–Baby Please Come Home–U2)

sofa--dressed up My sofa, all dressed up (to hide the cat damage, lol). © Joanna Aislinn 2014

Thanks to all of you for your support, your time, and for sharing your thoughts. You are tremendously appreciated.

Peace,

Joanna

 

 

Thoughts on THE HUSBAND’S SECRET

Hi all. Hope all is well and that all the holiday ‘stuff’ crowding our already busy lives is getting done. Hubby and I knocked out about 60% of our gift-buying at the Walgreen’s gift card wall, lol. It’s a beautiful thing and (almost) zero stress.

tree 2014 My serenity space–when it’s uncluttered and clean, anyway. 😉

Feel as though I have been looking for my attention span for the better part of these past couple of years. Since I kind of gave up looking for it, I decided maybe I could cultivate a new one, especially when it comes to reading.

I’m sure I loved books prior to being able to read, and reading has been a passion since I learned how. IDK what’s happened these past years, but I have such a hard time getting into that next book, or even wanting to pick one up sometimes.

Lucky for me I have a friend who feeds me good fodder. She loaned me a copy of Liane Moriarty’s THE HUSBAND’S SECRET. I liked it enough to write about it.

This is an account of a happily married wife and mother of three girls who comes across a letter written by her husband. The script on the envelope instructs Cecilia to open it only in the event of her husband’s death.

Of course, Cecilia eventually opens the letter. (She held out, though. She really did.) Now she has to deal with what she’s learned. She also has to decide if she’s keeping her husband’s secret, and the ramifications of doing so as the story events unfold.

Of course, THE HUSBAND’S SECRET entails much more than I shared in that short paragraph. The writing is quite good, and the author kept me smiling with frequent parenthetical asides. She did well tying together the external and internal character journeys of her three point-of-view characters. I also feel the ending did the story justice overall.

I did find the opening chapters—which introduced each of the lead characters—a tad hard to follow at first. As the story progressed though, a definite rhythm kind of took over. I found it hard to not keep turning the pages, especially once the pace picked up. I could feel the author carrying me faster and faster to the climax.

Two things I liked:

(1)  The story’s ‘circular’ feel; it reminded me of the movie LOVE ACTUALLY, in which the seemingly separate sets of characters were all interrelated somehow, and the story brings it all together at the end. Having stated that, I’m still not completely sure that Tess’s story connected completely to the other lead characters’ external plots, nor do I fully get the metaphor of the Berlin Wall. (I did, however, look up images and information on the BW as a result. I love when fiction prompts me to do that, and that I have an internet that puts history in my hands.)

(2) The author’s take on marriage (relative to Tess, who had to decide whether or not to salvage hers): “Falling in love is easy. Anyone could fall. It was holding on that was tricky.”

Last thought: I don’t think the Epilogue added much. Where the story proper ended seemed pretty appropriate and fitting.

Have you read THE HUSBAND’S SECRET? If so, what did you think about it? Have you read any other of this author’s work? What are you reading now? Do you have to force yourself to read sometimes?

Have a wonderful week, folks. Don’t worry. It will all get done.

Joanna

When Your Gift Says “Love”

Hi all,

Hope the middle of the week finds all of you well, and that you’re not overwhelmed keeping up with all the extra to-do’s the holiday season brings. Hubby had surgery to his other shoulder last week. He’s hanging in there and dealing with the pain and discomfort like a champ. His wife-the-occupational-therapist-by-day gets to treat him with some stretching (and frequent reminders to put the cold pack on). So far, he’s been a pretty good patient.

Younger Son put the decorating-the-house wheels in motion; he’s got Christmas handled both indoors and out. At 16, he’s really into it, and getting better every year at making our home look (almost) better than I can. 😉 As long as he helps pack it up after Little Christmas…

silver tinsel tree

So this past Sunday, Hubby and I met up with my mom. We did our annual trek to purchase grave covers and the Charlie Brown tree we always put up at the cemetery. (You can read about how that tradition started here.)

Because the day before had blessed us with at least three inches of rain, I decided boots—fashion of course 😉 –would be the best choice of footwear. As I slid on and tied my knee-high, lace-up pair, I remembered that these were ‘special’.

Why? Well, I’ve got a small foot and a calf that’s larger than the average person with small feet probably has.

Translation: knee-high boots and I don’t see eye-to-eye on where the zipper should stop closing. 😦

A few years back, I’d come across the pair I wore Sunday at a large retailer. The zip-and-lace-up design accommodated my legs well. Of course, they were out of the half-size-up I prefer when I buy boots. Guess I mentioned to Hubby I would have liked them as a Christmas present.

I got them. He made his way to a branch of that store about 40 minutes away in one of the worst downpours that year to insure I got what I wanted for Christmas.

That says, “I love you,” in my book anyway.

How about you and/or yours? How have you shown—or been shown—love when it comes to gift giving? Do you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? Do you have a favorite? What makes it so?

Okay, folks. I’m supposed to be doing paperwork and trying to figure out why I’m having technical issues elsewhere that need attention.

Enjoy your day,

Joanna

On the Sixth Day of Christmas…

Joanna got it together long enough to wish her family, friends and followers all the best–albeit belated–this holiday season. Last week got away from me—as did this one, with all the hustle and bustle this time of the year is known for. (I always say, clichés are clichés for a reason, folks.)

So, I slowed down between the Eve and the Day to draft this note–see how sidetracked I get?–and finally getting it out here. Hope those of you who celebrated enjoyed a blessed, peaceful and joyful holiday, spent in a way that made YOU happy. If you didn’t, hey, there’s still time. There are six days more until “Little Christmas” (a.k.a. Epiphany).

Christmas tree 2013    Blue tinsel tree 2013

This is about the time of the season when I actually enjoy just sitting and looking at my tree(s). So relaxing. Loved my little tinsel tree too, a Target and Five Below special combo, lol. 

Be well and thanks to each and every one of you for being among the gifts I hold more dear than can be communicated here. Happy New Year too. Be blessed with health, peace and all that you need to follow through on those resolutions.

Cheers,

Joanna

Unlikely Holiday Traditions?

Good day, everyone. Hope everyone is getting caught up with their holiday goings-on AND doing better than the NY Giants’ football team did this past Sunday. They were positively pulverized by the Falcons. I tuned out at 0-27 in the 4th quarter. Final score: 0-34. (They should have saved some of their points from last week’s game against the Saints, whom the Giants beat 52-27.)

Then there were last Friday’s heart-wrenching events—as recent superstorms hadn’t devastated people in the northeast enough. I keep trying to process the horrific happening and praying throughout the day for those impacted. Gratitude somehow keeps moving further front in the consciousness department.

That brings me to something I’m particularly thankful for: the opportunity to live out the traditions we’ve established as a family as time wears on. Rather than go into every one, I was thinking about those I never imagined I’d have. Of course I’ll illustrate then pass the blog wand for you to take a turn at sharing.

My family celebrates Christmas. As Italians, we’d do the fish dinner on Christmas Eve. (Can you believe, until last year, I didn’t know that tradition requires seven types of fish to be served? Obviously, we did not have that many types at my house. Most likely cost too much $$, lol.) Christmas Day included a pretty large dinner with immediate family—which most of the time is now held at my home—and a trip to my aunt’s afterward.

Pretty basic stuff, huh?

Here’s the one I could never have conceived as a kid. I am the oldest of three children. In May 1987, the older of my brothers died of leukemia, three weeks shy of his 22nd birthday.

My mom wore black for the following six years. (A tradition I dislike tremendously. Her friend’s son died three years earlier. She’s in mourning garb to this day.) Mom refused to do anything Christmas-related that year. Not sure she did a dinner.  No decorations. In the tradition of Italian mourning, no music was allowed (someone might think we weren’t unhappy), so I’d wait until she was at the other end of the house to turn on my stereo and play it so softly I had to sit next to the speaker to hear it.

Of course there was no Christmas tree either.

I insisted we have one and put up a traditional-style one (a Charlie Browner)—at the cemetery.

I’ve done so ever since. Hubby and my stepsons worked with me when they were young. Now me, hubby and my guys give my brother his ‘gift’ together.

 

This year, my mom bought a small artificial one for my uncle’s grave.

So, what unlikely tradition has become a regular part of your holiday season?

Have a great day, friends! Thanks for stopping by!

Joanna

Just Video Games or A Social Network?

Good day, everyone!

Since we talked about Christmas on Tuesday, let’s finish this week’s blog-set with one related to the same holiday. Then, we’ll put Christmas to rest—until after Thanksgiving (or maybe July ;)).

My 13-year-old son must have revised his 2011 Christmas list six times (and not for editing purposes, I can assure you.) Can’t tell you how many times I told him this particular holiday isn’t “mail order.” Kids, however, will be kids and this one was true to form.

He waxed and waned between a new gaming system (PS-3) and several other pricey game-related items (for X-box 360, which he has). He finally settled on the former as he handed over the final draft of his list.

       https://gustavus.edu/gts/Xbox_360

When hubby and I got to the gaming store and looked over the list, I noticed at least one-third of the PS-3 items he wanted he’d recently acquired for X-box, at the tune of $150-200. Seriously? After I asked the young guy behind the counter some questions why one system would be favorable over another, a judgment call was definitely in order. We picked up games and acc  essories for his X-Box 360 that were on his list as back-up, plus some other goodies Mom thought he could use: a robe, NY Giants’ hoodie—you know, essentials. 😉

   http://us.playstation.com/ps3/

FYI: The big draw for PS-3 is said to be free online gaming, but Sony had been hacked earlier that year and was down for three months. X-box 360 requires X-box Points to play online and must be purchased separately, at the tune of roughly $8/month or $60/year, a significant savings if you’re willing to put the bigger cost up front. (BTW, video games are no longer an individual activity. Kids play online with each other, within the online framework of the gaming system they have. They invite each other to virtual “parties” or play football games against each other, work as teams on other games, etc.)

Most of my son’s friends have X-Box 360; the system, so far, seems to have the staying power of Windows XP. In other words, it’s been around and most likely will remain popular a while longer. (Dang! When did I learn all this stuff? I hated computers when they first arrived on the scene. Hubby bought me my first one, lol. )

Fast-forward to Christmas morning: To say I had a very disappointed child on my hands is an understatement. Folks, we had DRAMA, and all that talk about the real meaning of Christmas, expectations, mail order, etc wasn’t going anywhere. (Thank goodness our visit to church changed his mood, as did having Christmas at our house.)

Of course I questioned the choices hubby and I made as a different aspect of the potential problem hit me: Were we cutting our son off from the social network his games provide by not having gotten the new system? I decided to delve further by asking my son some questions. Turns out, only one friend got PS-3 and plays X-Box along with the other “core crowd” of gaming buddies. (Sounds like I’m not the only parent who thinks this way.)

I’m grateful to report things worked out. (Somehow they always do.) By evening, after the festivities wound down, my son came to me and said, “I feel like a fool about the way I acted this morning.” (And, he was glad he didn’t get the PS-3; the next day, he stood in line for at least thirty minutes and came home with an I-phone, which he bought with his Christmas money. He did need a new communication device). Even as I wrote this, he rethought his behavior and vocalized his feelings on having missed looking forward to opening gifts because of his attitude. I found it especially saddening on Christmas day to know how upset he was. Besides it being every kid’s favorite holiday, this same child pretty much decorated the house and did all the wrapping (save his and his brother’s presents; momma handled those). He brought the festive look to our home and saved me tons of work. But, if he learned something from the experience that will stick with him, then I suppose the rough start to the biggest day of the year was worth it.

One more notice: He recently played on a friend’s PS-3 and decided he didn’t like it after all. Then he started talking about what he wants for Christmas 2012. (That’s when the hand went up—I was, after all, watching the NY Giants’ Wild Card game and was in no position to consider the next holiday season, lol.)

So what are your takes on this subject? Have you ever had to make that call that you know would so disappoint someone? What did you do? How did the situation turn out?

Have a wonderful weekend–it’s an extended one for us–and ttys! Go Giants (and Packers)!

Joanna

On the Second Day of Christmas–We Shared 2011’s Memorable Moments

Merry second day of Christmas, friends. Unless you’re out with the 12/26 shopping crowds, I’m thinking the commercial peace of Christmas starts about now. (Though I’m a tad tempted to hit Kohl’s–mom-in-law gave me her Kohl’s cash since she has no intention of using it. :D)

My house is in relative order after Christmas dinner here—only my mom, hubby’s mom and hubby’s friend joined us; some of my son’s friends later shared dessert. Everyone is asleep—shh!—and I’m now enjoying a very quiet moment alone with my laptop, looking around at the seasonal décor and loving it.

I also started thinking about that special gift that stood out from the others and why. Hubby gave me a gorgeous antique sterling silver necklace with an amethyst pendant—perfect for my taste. My younger son’s greatest gift started immediately after Thanksgiving and continued through Christmas Eve: that 13-year-old pretty much decorated the house and handled all the wrapping as awesomely as any Macy’s employee (and for no charge, either ;)). He also had a hard time with some of the choices hubby and I made regarding his gifts but seems to be taking some very mature steps toward the positive—another blessing that can’t be ensconced in paper and bows.

My older son couldn’t wait to give me his gift. (He made it in woodshop at school and seems to have a nice little knack for the craft.) He was sure I’d love it b/c (1) it’s handcrafted; (2) he altered the original design to put his spin on it; (3) I’d pick up on the theme and the ‘love’ that went into it. Not sure he realized it also symbolizes the most important intangible to me: peace in my world that comes from peace in my spirit.

   

As per memorable moments, my 8-year-old nephew gets the honors. We spent Christmas Eve at my brother’s along with twenty or so other guests. Long story short, we were among the last to leave, circa 10PM. My nephew started fretting about ‘missing Santa’ if the house didn’t clear so he and his siblings could get to bed. (In other words as he sort of said, to  my brother’s chagrin: “Take your coats, gloves, gifts and go–now.”)

So there it is. Your turn: what will you remember best about this year?

Here’s to a day of enjoying the peace (or at least a few dedicated moments). Expanding on the slowing-down theme a bit, I’ll be joining my very dear, freshly pubbed author-friend Calisa Rhose this Wednesday (12/28–debut day for her debut novel HOME) at her Chit Chat page for a virtual cup of coffee and discussing why no one seems to be able to just sit down and chat over one anymore.

TTYL,

Joanna

Merry Christmas to All!

Just taking a moment to share a few photos and wishes for a wonderful Christmas to all of you. May each of you be blessed with the joy you bring to me! Best wishes for health, happiness and safety during all the festivities, whether they’re rooted in Christian, Jewish and other traditions! Thanks so much for being there!

   

Peace,

Joanna

 

Recipe Recap–Just in Time for Christmas!

Hello friends!

We’re winding down to Christmas and getting close to cooking time. Because life does things its way–and today I’m blessed with the ability to take what it brings and make the best of it–I wasn’t able to post the recipe I wanted to share. Here, though, are two I’ve run before: my super-easy stuffed mushrooms and make-ahead rosemary-wine chicken. And fans of pumpkin, check out this page at my website: you’ll find recipes for creamy pumpkin pie, cheesecake and cookies, too. 🙂

Now here are the easiest stuffed mushrooms ever: simple, elegant and absolutely delicious! Makes a great appetizer or side dish. (Stuff a Portobello and you have an instant meal!)

Ingredients:
10-oz package white mushrooms (not sliced)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½-2 cups seasoned bread crumbs (add more as needed)
grated cheese (I use Parmesan)
fresh or frozen parsley (optional)
canola and/or olive oil
¼-½ cup white wine (or to taste; optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Remove stems from mushrooms and set aside. Under gently running water* wash the stems, carefully rubbing off any dirt by hand or using a mushroom brush. (Those can be purchased anywhere cooking gadgets are sold, but more easily found in a store like Bed Bath and Beyond. The brushes look like surgical brushes—a great substitute for those who have access to them . I simply wash them by hand.)

*Some folks don’t wash mushrooms—they simply brush off the dirt so that the mushroom doesn’t get mushy. I can’t go for that. Moving the cap or stem in/out of gently running water wets the flesh enough to loosen the dirt. The underside of the cap is occluded by the stem and can only have so much dirt in it. Soaking that part will make your mushroom soggy; keeping the round part of the cap upright under the water will easily eliminate this problem. Air dry each piece on a wire rack while making the stuffing. BTW, you can stuff them slightly damp.

Okay, the stuffing:
In a mini-food processor (or by hand) mince all the mushroom stems; add the garlic and continue processing until finely chopped. (It will look like a lot. Don’t worry—mushrooms really shrink when you cook them.) Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in bread crumbs, cheese and parsley.

Coat a 10- or 12-inch frying pan (preferably non-stick) with cooking spray then with enough oil to coat the bottom. Heat the oil (and the wine) over medium heat. Add the contents of the bowl, stirring to coat everything and moisten it. Saute for a minute or two and remove from heat.

Using a regular teaspoon (not a measuring spoon) stuff the mushroom caps with the mixture. You can level off the stuffing or mound it—your choice; depends on how much stuffing you have.

Coat a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Place caps (stuffing side up), if necessary, layer them across the spaces formed by the bottom layer (or get another pan). Cover with foil** and bake for approximately 30 minutes at 375˚F, or until mushrooms are tender. Serve immediately.

**At this point, you can refrigerate and bake the next day. Leftovers can also be refrigerated and reheated in the microwave.

As always, I thank you all for stopping by. Please keep someone (or two) very near and dear to my heart in your prayers–have a great day!

Joanna