Category Archives: Holiday

Halloween Traditions

Gavin and his Pumpkin

Gavin and his Pumpkin

“Tis the night—the night
Of the grave’s delight,
And the warlocks are at their play;
Ye think that without,
The wild winds shout,
But no, it is they—it is they!”
Arthur Cleveland Coxe, Halloween: A Romaunt

Are you ready for Halloween? Chances are, you have plans this evening. You may have a party to go to or maybe you’ve already been to one? Maybe you’ve carved a pumpkin and roasted the seeds? 🙂

This past Thursday, we did what we have done for years. We made our way to my mother’s house for our traditional Halloween dinner. There were seven of us this year for her famous pastichio and salad. Jim and I, Michelene and her boyfriend John, Aunt Joy and Gavin- all at grandma’s house.

This has been a tradition of ours for at least thirty years. Since we live at the end of a short lane, I took my own children, and then my grandson to my mom’s. She still lives in the neighborhood I grew up in with lots of houses and even some of the same neighbors. I felt very safe taking my kids trick or treating there for years. When Gavin was born, we did the same thing with him.

Mom makes us dinner (she’s 86 now) and afterwards we hand out candy. I thought about taking some pictures of the kids for this story but I worry about their privacy. So you will have to be happy with this one picture I found from the past. It’s Michelene and her cousins. She loved to dress up as a black cat.

Michelene, Jerra, and Daniel

Michelene, Jerra, and Daniel

One tradition Michelene had with her son Gavin was the yearly carving of a pumpkin. Every year it was a different carving and over time she came up with some pretty good ones. Gavin is now fourteen years old. It’s hard to believe time has gone by so fast.

Gavin loved to carve pumpkins!

Gavin loved to carve pumpkins!

For years we also went to Hozak’s Farm at least one Saturday in October. We would pick out a pumpkin, enjoy hot apple cider, and look at all the Halloween decorations. It’s a great farm with hay rides and beautiful scenery.

Michelene, her friend Joyce, and John

Michelene, her friend Joyce, and John

I’d love to know what you do for Halloween. If you have a yearly tradition be sure and leave a comment below. If you follow this blog via Facebook, attach a picture of your carved pumpkin or your favorite trick or treater onto the post. Happy Halloween!

 

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The Saturday “Not So” Blizzard

Olivia Marie and her favorite doll

Olivia Marie and her favorite doll

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
Coco Chanel

The day started off pretty simple. I had signed up for a cupcake class from my friend Brandi. She’s a Wilton instructor and the owner of her own cake business, Event Cakes PGH. During the winter, it pays to look for something creative to do and one of Brandi’s classes was just the ticket.

This was too much fun!

This was too much fun!

My daughter Michelene was due to meet me right after class. We were headed to our cousin Nick and (his wife) Kristen’s house. Kristen had offered Michelene some professional clothes, as Michelene has a special work conference coming up in April.

I had checked the weather that morning. I knew there was some snow predicted but ultimately, I left it up to Michelene to decide. She said let’s go.

The ride to Nick and Kristen’s was smooth. No problems. A snowflake here or there but overall a pleasant drive. We arrived and Olivia Marie (their three year old daughter) was there to greet us in her Valentine’s Day red dress and silver tights.

I hung out with Olivia while Michelene and Kristen looked over the clothes. Kristen’s house was warm and pretty, with fresh tulips and roses on the counter. Nick arrived soon after, with more flowers, and we settled in for a nice catch up conversation.

Around 1pm I looked at Michelene and said we should go. She agreed, so we said our good byes and headed out. All was fine until we went off of 70 West, onto 79 North. It was like suddenly crossing an imaginary line. The weather went from nothing to a big something. Snow came down so hard I could barely see to drive.

The view from my windshield

The view from my windshield

So I did something I don’t believe I’ve ever done before. I pulled over. I said to Michelene, we’re going to wait this out just a bit. I went onto the berm of the road and put my flashers on. Soon, a few others did the same and we were like a mini line of flashing red cars.

Michelene checked the weather map on her phone and then apologized for getting us in the middle of the storm. I wasn’t worried. I knew the original forecast was for one to three and already one inch had fallen before we even left that morning. I told her not to worry.

And sure enough, about fifteen minutes later, the visibility improved. The scraping road truck went by and we pulled out shortly afterwards. We took our time and probably didn’t go above thirty miles an hour (like every one else) until we got off the interstate. The roads were better then and the snow had stopped.

When I told my mom this story, she asked me if I was scared. I said No. I knew what the forecast was and that the snow was predicted to be intermittent. I felt confident that we were not in danger. It was not so much a blizzard as a bit of a blizzard.

And I’ll tell you, it was worth it all to spend some quality time with Olivia Marie. She is the sweetest little girl and we had a good time together drawing on the artist board she got for Christmas. And I am thankful for Kristen, who was so giving of herself to share her beautiful clothes with Michelene.

Just too sweet

She’s the best Valentine

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Angelic Voices

Gavin's Choral Concert December 2014

Gavin’s Choral Concert December 2014

“If I cannot fly, let me sing.”
Stephen Sondheim

My daughter and I always find out about my grandson Gavin’s (age 13 already!) choral concerts at the last minute. It was that way again this past December just a few weeks before Christmas. But find out we did, and off we went.

Since I don’t have the greatest memory these days, I can’t remember exactly what songs he and his chorus sang. I know “Silent Night” was in there. I can remember this- all those young people together, singing in harmony, was absolutely beautiful. Their melodious voices and the deep meaning of the holiday came together in that one night when all I had to do was sit there and enjoy. (I always have to have kleenex in my purse too!) I was in silent admiration of the music teachers as well. They were so clearly devoted to the students, and had the amazing ability to corral them all to make such wonderful music. Kudos to them!

Songs on the CD

Songs on the CD

Gavin’s concert was on the heels of my fall trip to North Carolina to see my sister Mary. During one of our rides into her work, Mary played a CD of recorded music from when we had been in middle school chorus. (It had been given to her a few months before from an old high school friend Laurie.) Listening to our music from almost 45 years ago, I was speechless. It was as if we were back in time, on those bleachers, singing all over again. And here’s the thing. We were really good.

Mr. Zana was the choral director for the school back then. He was also my piano teacher. I freely admit now that I was terrible at practicing for my weekly lessons. But Mr. Zana was always patient and encouraging. And sometimes he included me in piano backgrounds at the choral performances in school.

We sang everything back then. The Hallelujah Chorus, This Little Light of Mine, Cabaret, Light of the World. Mr. Zana’s energy was boundless and I could feel his presence in the music, even as I listened to it all these years later.

My sisters and I also sang in our church choir when we were growing up. In the summer, we had a junior choir to give the grown ups some time off. One Sunday, my sisters and I were the only ones singing up in the balcony. Afterwards I asked my Aunt Olga if we sounded ok. She said, with a beautiful smile on her face, we sounded just like angels.

All these years later, I know what she means. There were plenty of children on that stage with my grandson. And they sounded like a multitude of angels. This is my thought. God presents us with these wondrous opportunities to experience joy and happiness. We should live in the moment as we experience them, and then remember them always.

I tell you, I’d pay my grandson $20 to sing me one of those songs he sang during that choral concert. He is so shy, I know he will say no. But I still might ask him. 😉 It would be worth every penny.

“He who sings scares away his woes.”
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

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Finding Holiday Peace of Mind

Winter Sunrise by Jim C.

Winter Sunrise by Jim C.

“The Simple Path
Silence is Prayer
Prayer is Faith
Faith is Love
Love is Service
The Fruit of Service is Peace”
Mother Teresa

How are you finding holiday peace? I have to tell you- I am not finding it at big box retail stores. It’s not in the canned music on the radio station either.

Instead, I am finding peace through time with friends and family. I am also finding it through tiny bits of service.

I don’t have much extra money these days so I look for creative ways to serve others. Last week, a good friend of mine gave me a pail of dog food. She lost both her pets a few weeks ago and I said yes to the food for my dog Jordan. Here’s what happened on the way to my mom’s, less than an hour after she gave me that pail.

I was driving up a long hill and noticed a small dog running across the road. I slowed down. Then a young teenage boy appeared, running after the dog. I slowed down even more. Next thing you know, the dog runs back across the road and the boy is flailing his arms as if to stop traffic.

I remembered that dog food in the back of my car. I pulled over and flipped open my hatchback. I grabbed a handful, sat down on the ground, dropped the dog food next to me. Can you guess the rest?

I called the dog and here he comes. It takes less than one minute. The boy grabs the dog while it goes for the dog food. In between hugging his dog, the young man says at least three or four grateful thank you’s in a row. I said “thank you for helping me do a good deed today.”

My Grandson Gavin (L), Anna, My Daughter Michelene (R)

My Grandson Gavin (L), Anna, My Daughter Michelene (R) making sandwiches!

At my church two weeks ago, fifteen plus volunteers assembled 240 ham sandwiches to make 120 lunches for the hungry families of FOCUS Pittsburgh, the Orthodox ministry center in the Hill District. Jim and I delivered them next morning and wow, was that a good feeling.

Small ways to serve, and BIG ways to serve. I read with interest the woman who went to Toys R Us in Bellingham, Mass and paid off $20,000 worth of layaways. (I wondered how much her personal wealth is. Maybe that was most of it?) Or 9 year old Jarrett who cashed in a $160 tablet he won in a school fundraiser, grabbed tags from the angel tree and bought gifts for 15 children. Amazing.

It’s nice to do great big things but it is also very fulfilling to do small things. I believe it doesn’t matter if you do non profit work for a living (I did for a long time). When I get paid for work, I don’t count it as service. We all have a few extra hours to do something for someone else less fortunate this holiday.

My friend Daleen recently wrote a post on keeping dollar bills handy for those Salvation Army buckets. I personally never pass one up. I give small amounts but when I think of those like me (who also give small amounts), I bet those add up to BIG amounts.

No matter your contribution, this is what I believe the season is really all about. Kindness, compassion,  new birth and life. We owe it to ourselves and others to give in the most generous way we possibly can.

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Celebrate Me Home

My son John and I, Christmas Day

My son John and I, Christmas Day, Photo by Christina Machuca

How was your Christmas? I hope you had a chance to be with loved ones and the special people in your life.

Did you travel? Are you home?

I think wherever we are on Christmas Day, that is home. Home is where we can put our feet up, sip a toddy or a good cup of coffee and eat one of our aunt’s delicious cookies.

Home is where our dog is, our children are and the fireplace is lit. There is laughter and music, jokes and good times.

We cherish those we are with and miss the ones who are gone. Our heart breaks a bit but is mended by the knowlege that their memory lives on in our soul forever and ever.

I found this video of one of my favorite songs and it is my Christmas card to you! Blessings to you my friend, for the rest of this year and the year to come! 

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What I Am Grateful For

Pine Trees Winter 2013

Pine Trees Winter 2013

Here it is- the first big snow of the season. Today is Thanksgiving in the USA and the Northeast is in the grips of some pretty cold weather. Thankfully, I am not traveling. I am the chef du jour, making most of the gratitude dinner with a little help from my friends.

My mom has been with me for a few days. I gave her a lecture a month or so ago about snow. If we are expecting any big accumulations I said, you have to come over. She didn’t argue with me when I told her Monday morning I was coming to pick her up.

So she and I have been spending some quality time together. I decided to put up my Christmas tree on Tuesday because I had a whole free day (and it snowed all day!) and those little lights just bring a lift to my heart. The nativity set went underneath right away. I have to keep in mind the reason for the season.

Region 1 DVD cover

Region 1 DVD cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We indulged in a whole recliner session of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It occurred to me how Rudolph was bullied- no playing with the others in reindeer games, all because of that red nose. I seriously shed a tear when the program was over and Santa said “Merry Christmas!” from his sky high sleigh.

So as I think about Thanksgiving, there are many things I have to be grateful for. I wanted to share my list with you and I’d love if you’d leave a comment and tell me what you’re most grateful for.

1. Family- Where would I be without them? My husband Jim, my kids Michelene and John, my grandson Gavin, Gavin’s dad Jonathan, my mom Katherine, sisters Mary and Cally and their beautiful partners Starr and Raymond. Jim’s family and both our extended families. My beautiful yellow lab Jordan. They are my greatest treasures.

2. Friends- Oh they have seen me through some troubling times. As has my family but my closest friends are privy to my thoughts, words and deeds of high and low. I owe my salvation to my recovery friends and their infinite wisdom on life and teachings on practicing these principles in all my affairs.

3. Faith- Deep as the ocean, infinite as the sky, my love for God only grows and grows each day. I realize how walking a spiritual path has changed everything. It makes me understand that I am not in control and God is.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! If you are alone, give me or a close friend of yours a call. We should all be together on Thanksgiving.

I wish you a happy Thanksgiving of great blessings! Tell me, what are you grateful for?

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Welcome Christmas!

DSC_0666

Dear Friend,

Today is Christmas! No matter where you are, no matter what you are doing, have joy in your heart and warmth for your fellow man and woman.

I searched for a good Christmas poem (tried to write one myself but poet I am not!) and this beautiful winter poem is the one I finally settled upon to share with you.

Love, Joanne

Glorious Winter

by Theodora (Theo) Onken

Come, oh most glorious Winter
Be quick to lay your silence down
Blanket us with your white coverlet
And i will wear my Green Christmas gown…
We will revel in your snowflakes-
Delight in a skate upon your iced over pond
Build forts and ramparts with much glee
Form a White Winter Bond…;
Come, oh most glorious Winter
We welcome your haunting White Noise…
All your white lanes all aglitter
Trees branches weighted-with White Winter Poise;
All agleaming and crisp making…
Comes thru the Decembers quick air
Completely dressed up in your Winter White
Oh, most Glorious White Winter, so fair!

Merry Christmas my friend!

DSC_0661

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Unwrapping Joy

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” ― Marianne Williamson

JOYI meet with a faith based group of close friends a couple of times a month. During the holidays, we share in a special event where we get together, have yummy snacks and unwrap a small gift.

Inside of every gift is a WORD. Yes, a word. This word is always something meaningful. This year, when I opened my gift, my word was JOY.

Now, I have to tell you that the night before this get together, I was not feeling Joy. As a matter of fact, I was feeling a bit of anxiety over a family issue that I was not sure about. I did not sleep well that night and said a small prayer in the morning for guidance and strength.

When I opened my gift and saw Joy, I felt immense peace. This meant to me that no matter what the conditions around me, God wants me to feel Joy this holiday season. I also took it to mean that I should rejoice and be glad in what is present in my life, because truly, I am blessed.

churchAfter that event, I started to see the word Joy everywhere. It was mentioned several times in a book I read that night. The next day when I pulled into the parking lot at work, there was “Unwrapping Joy” written on the marquee at the nearby church! Also I stopped at a retail store for a few gifts and JOY was actually an ornament on the Christmas tree. Joy was everywhere.

Though there is always something that can cause us a heavy heart, it is important we remember to breathe, live, celebrate and be joyous.

May you be joyous in these days leading up to Christmas! What is bringing you Joy in your life today?

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