Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Two Cans of Sauerkraut

We have a pantry off of our kitchen.  Well, it's not really a pantry as such, more of an afterthought of a storage area/mud room/shelves tacked onto the back of the garage from the previous owners.  It has a low slung Hobbit type door that opens onto our eating area in the kitchen. (My husband has lost many brain cells from bumping his head into the framework more times than I'd like to admit.) But I digress...

On one of the shelves sits two cans of old sauerkraut.  Let me state that I hate sauerkraut.  It's awful (to me).  I know plenty of people love the stuff covering their hot dogs, but not me. 
So why do I have these two huge cans sitting there?  Unused.  Never-to-be-used?  Well, it's a reminder.  It's to keep me humble and focused.  And most of all...they were a gift when we needed it most...

Since June 2014, my husband had been out-of-work. (He has since found a job, but I'll get to that later.) At that time, he chose to leave an underpaying job that he had reluctantly taken the year previous (that he took only because he had been out-of-work then too!)  He took a risk and accepted a temp-to-perm job at a therapeutic horse farm through an agency.  The executive director was young and enthusiastic, the pay was slightly better than the previous one and he was leaving behind a brutal, over-long commute to upper Manhattan.  It seemed a blessing at the time.  His start date was none other than April 1st.  April Fool's Day...we should have seen it coming...

I was not home at the time when he started this new job as I was in Texas, alone, reeling over my father's recent death.  He passed away, bumpily, holding tight to my hand just four days prior.  I barely had time to process anything going on at home--halfway across the country in NY--it was all I could do to get through the memorial service without my family at my side.  My kids never got to see their grandfather prior to his death (it had been about 2 years previously) and we all were trying our best to get through it all in our own ways.  My husband, full of hope, went off to his new job, my kids back to school and I planned services and stayed in Texas for another week.

About two months into his new job, things began to unravel.  There were tense meetings between the Board, the staff and the clinicians.  There were rumblings and grumblings among them all, but so new to the place and loving what he was doing, my husband stayed primarily out of it.  It came as a total surprise the end of May when the Board abruptly fired the ED and consequently, negated the contract that provided the job for my husband (and a co-worker) and promptly let them go.  No unemployment benefits available, no severance, nothing.  The agency he was hired through could not find another suitable position, his previous job was filled.  No where to turn.

I at the time was also facing job issues, but being a part-time organist/pianist, it wasn't forefront in my mind.  I could always pick up extra gigs it seemed.  I was healing from my dad's death, wounded from this most recent job loss, trying to negotiate schooling issues with my youngest daughter and trying to keep my college age ones on track.  I honestly think that God keeps us busy with stupid stuff just to keep us sane sometimes.

So back to the sauerkraut...

Why is it there and where did it come from you ask? (I'm hoping you ask that, hoping you've read this far...) About five months into what became an 18 month period of unemployment, we received a Thanksgiving care package of food from our church.  There was turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce and way too many cans of yams.  There was jello and of course, canned green beans and crunchy cans of onions guessed it...two cans of sauerkraut.  I was stumped.  I put them on the shelves thinking, "well, hopefully, it won't get so bad that I have to eat that!"  Guess what?  It did.  But we never cracked open those cans...

We as a family, endured a long, grueling year and a half without work.  My husband from that June 2014 mark, myself losing my position in April 2015 (Easter Sunday no less).  I was pretty sure God was testing us for some reason, but I was too angry and hungry to ponder it.  By now, I'm sure you're asking how we did it?  I'll have to detail that in another post--it's quite amazing actually--and it can be done on such a small income (not to be recommended, but survivable).

The most important thing was--we got help.  Lot's and lot's of help.  We were brought to the very brink of desperation and literally driven to our knees.  Sometimes, all I could do was groan.  There's a verse in the Bible (yes, I had to look it up, I don't have it all memorized like my family thinks I do...)  but it says: "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Romans 8:26  

I did a lot of that.  Groan.  Cry.  Worry. Pray.  A lot...

We made it through though.  The call came in on New Year's Eve 2015.  My husband was offered a job.  I had been appointed Music Director at a new church a few months prior, but that job didn't start until the new year either.  Both of us started our jobs two days apart.  After all that time--Groaning.

I went back into the pantry yesterday.  There sat the two cans of sauerkraut, obviously old, very outdated, probably poison by now.  I thought "I should throw those away", but no.  Not just yet.  They are a reminder of the hell we've just recently been brought out of.  The hell we were held through, guided through and supported through.   A reminder of the help we were given and the help that I'm hopeful to give to someone else when they need it look at them again...they are a blessing.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Dang, I hate math...I hate teaching even more.

I found this post that I wrote in 2013 and kept in my drafts but never published.  It's funny how you can look back at situations several years down the road and have such a different perspective.  I thought I'd post this one today:

"I hate math. This is not a good thing.  I home-school my two daughters.  I have to teach them math.  Lots of math. I tell myself that this is a necessary and positive thing and yet, there it is...I still hate math. 

Tonight, I started a math review course online with my daughter who is a senior this year.  We're trying desperately to get ready for another college entrance exam.  The first one didn't go so well and I totally blame myself for this fact.  I had her work through various online courses throughout high school and yet, when it came to the math ones...we both blanched and pushed them to the sidelines.  She has excelled in English and Science and History, but, well...yeah.  Math. It has defied the odds, because of me. I would start these courses with her and try to guide her or advise her and then flashbacks to Mr. Lehman's algebra class would haunt me!  Or my 10th grade geometry teacher (I've thankfully forgotten his name) will flash into my mind.  The orange walls, the open classrooms, the carpet...yeah--I'm a child of the "open classroom" of the 70's.  No wonder I never learned anything--I was too busy listening in on what was going on in the next classroom or staring in-between the partitions at the latest cute boy.  It's a wonder I made it through any class at all in those years, let alone, get into college and beyond.  But, I'm getting beyond myself.  My point isn't about me or my past.  It's about my fear of math--or more specifically, a fear of inadequacy.  I feel that I don't measure up to the teachers that my daughter could have had or would have had if I had decided on other options throughout the years.  I find myself second guessing my decision to home-school in the first place and yet...I know that for us this was the correct decision for the situation. My daughter's both are very anxious and have school phobias that I will go further into in my next post.  I guess what I am saying and/or feeling right now is that, yes--I hate math--I hate many things in my life, but because they are necessary at this time, they are totally do-able.  Like math, I figure them out.  I put the problems in my mind and figure them out.  My answers might not be the logical ones that most mathematicians will come up with , but in my imagined inadequacy, I have still been able to teach and guide.  My daughter's have learned and continue to learn.  The world is their classroom and I, humbled, am their teacher, with or without math skills.  I will always hate math, but it is my hope to not let them know that and to open the doors to things that I never quite mastered, but always just "did"....."

So yeah, an update...that high school senior did "graduate" (see my other posts) and went on to college to study pre-physical therapy (yup...home schooled and all) and is still studying with anticipated graduation of 2016 or '17.  My younger daughter enters high school in the fall, something I can't even comprehend.  She has persevered through many bouts of depression and other issues.  Ever onward we go.

As a mom, yes, I'm filled with feelings of inadequacy, but I also have started to trust my instincts and know that when I look back, I might just find that I actually did something right...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


My cell phone rings.  It's a number I don't quickly recall, so I let it go to Voicemail.  No big deal, I hate those anonymous calls anyway.  Bad idea--it was my dad calling, almost six weeks after his open heart surgery and the first time since the day of the surgery when I had last heard his voice.

His message is long and rambling.  His speech is slurred and halting and yet, I am frozen to the floor listening intently to his every word.  He is calling and speaking to me--and it is bliss to hear him.

I can't even remember everything he said, but it was precious and so welcome to hear.  In the weeks prior, I had feared that I would never hear that voice again as his surgery was a drastic and life threatening thing to his weary body.  He's 85 now and challenged with Type II diabetes and life-long MS among other things.  The procedure was risky but necessary as his heart valve had stopped functioning.  Open heart surgery was the only viable solution.  The mere suggestion of it terrified the whole family. What seemed like a routine procedure to a young doctor was a fearful roller-coaster to the octogenarian on the table. The octogenarian being my father, in more words than could be described, was scared, helpless. Seeing your parent scared is not an easy thing.  You always assume your parents are super-heroes in a way and therefore, can't be broken or remotely weak.  

I know when I was faced with breast surgery in 2008 for a milk duct removal, I was terrified but tried to hide it for my kids sake.  I remember the IV technician having difficulty finding the best vein to start my glorious sleep juice.  I was helpless.  The operating room was undergoing construction work to expand it and my gurney was pushed up against a wall, wedged between shelves of cartons and supplies.  The nurses tried to pull a curtain around me for some privacy, but, hey, we're not fooling anyone here.  I saw the full blue plastic crates of tubes and gowns.  I just had to trust I would wake up from my slumber with one less tumor and a good prognosis.  At that time, I didn't know if it was cancerous or not and just the unknown was enough to undo me.  The prep, the surgery, the recovery, the waiting.  None of it for myself, or my family was easy. 

So back to my father--it was a similar feeling, from a different vantage point.  His being on the table, mine being almost 2000 miles away from him.  We were both helpless.  Unable to reach out to each other, unable to comfort each other and yet, several weeks later and many phone calls to siblings--I finally spoke to him.  

Yes, he's weak, for now.  He improves every day.  He's in rehab now and has crested the hill of independence a little more.  I call or text and check in.  The updates are less frequent, less dire.  This is good.  

Both he and I are feeling much less helpless these days.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wait...I Meant to Write That Down

     I can't begin to say how many times I've sat down to write something witty only to be interrupted by life.  Somewhere along the way, I've realized I'm a horrible "blogger", but a halfway decent writer.  I have been published, which last year sounded so impressive, but now?  Eh?  So are many people.  I can't take it all too seriously...and yet I am glad I wrote.

     So what's my beef tonight?  I suppose lately, when I've had the time to put my brain to work and actually have had the courage to write, I realized something.  It takes a working brain and courage!  I've scanned many a blog and many an article, story or book and every single one of them takes courage.  The ability to feel that putting your thoughts out there is worth a look from someone else.  I guess that's why journals/diaries are so important.  Many want to put thoughts into words--not everyone wants them to be read.  I think that's where my brain is--writing so much, but holding it in my mind, my heart.  I really mean to write it all down, but alas, it takes that extra ounce of courage.  I suppose I need to go in small increments, baby steps, if you will and learn to share much more than I am usually willing to share.  If you'll read it.  Only and always, if I think someone will actually read it.  That, I imagine is what most true writers feel, if you believe that what you wrote down is worth reading, not just by yourself, but by someone else.  So tell me, did you read this?  This time, I meant to write it down, I did, and now I invite you to read it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Home-schooling Mom's "Graduation"--Tribute to my daughter, Heather

I’ve been on a journey.  A crazy, roller coaster ride, pajama clad, late morning, long discussion, tear filled journey with my oldest daughter.  She has been home-schooled for the bulk of her education and she is “graduating” from high school.
It’s been a weekend of mixed emotions for me and her.  We’ve had to watch her public school friends post pictures of their graduation ceremonies and proms, Sr. breakfasts and picnics, awards nights and other celebrations.  We’ve watched her friends scramble frantically to finish up their school year and take their tests.  It is an exciting time for these young friends.  As I watch them, I also see my own daughter, no less fortunate for having been home-schooled.  In fact, I see it as a victory and one that should be celebrated.  It’s just been difficult to figure out how to celebrate it. 
I’ve been teasing her, telling her that I was going to make her a mortar board and make her walk the backyard, but she quickly stopped that idea.  She went with her boyfriend to a mutual friend’s pre-prom and people were (rather insensitively) asking her if she was bothered about not having a prom or graduation to go to.  I know she was bothered by both the questions and the situation.  Just how do we mark this time period?  
She admitted to me in the car the other day that she felt a high school graduation was a huge milestone and I sensed that she was feeling quite left out.  It broke my heart because secretly, I wanted her to have all those experiences too.  I wanted her to have the crappy prom with the drama, I wanted her to be annoyed by the finals and wear a tacky robe and hat to her graduation.  It’s a rite of passage, right?  Then I stopped myself and my overactive emotions and started to really focus on what has happened through the years with her…she has had an education in not only schoolwork, but in many other things through the years.  This is my celebration of her and her work.  This is my “graduation ceremony” for her--

Heather was a force all her own even before she was born.  She came into our lives a week late and weighed in at almost 10 lbs.  The doctor apologized to me for letting me complete a natural birth and told us Heather was face up and therefore, they never knew how large she really was.  As she came out, she aspirated amniotic fluids and was quickly rushed to the NICU for a week.  She was such a big baby she didn’t fit any of the tiny equipment usually used on the one-pounders there.  Obviously, she survived her ordeal and we quickly brought her home to join our not quite two year old son Josh. 
Through her toddler and pre-school years, we realized that Heather was fearless in the comfort of her own home environs, but quite shy and nervous in public.  She would climb huge trees and hang upside-down, pick up all sorts of creatures, hunt for worms, swallow quarters and stuff coffee beans up her nose and embrace life fully,  but when brought to pre-school, she shrank in fear.  Heather’s separation anxiety was fierce and palpable.  People at church would comment that she was my “shadow”, always hiding behind me when spoken to.  We struggled with dropping her off at her pre-school, always parting with tears and her being hugged by the teacher.  I always felt as if I was abandoning her to some horrible thing although I knew in my heart that once the break was done, she would be fine.  And she was.  It was like this for some of kindergarten and first grade but by second grade, it became even more pronounced.  We had moved to a new home and school district and she had a new baby sister to deal with.  It was an overwhelming situation for any child, let alone a rather shy one.  It was also 2001 when this happened.  We moved into our new rental home one month shy of the September 11th attacks on the Trade Center.  My husband was working in lower Manhattan at that time of our lives.  I put Heather and Josh on the school bus, strapped little five month old Grace in the car seat and drove husband Pat to the train station.  As I left the station I heard on the radio that a plane had “mistakenly” hit the Trade Center. 
 I pulled into a gas station to listen to the report and soon realized in horror the situation as it was unfolding.  I frantically tried to reach my husband on the cell, but also found out later how impossible that was.  Not knowing what else to do, I drove quickly home and turned on the TV.  As the event was unfolding, Grace was rolling around on the floor in a surrealistic scene of safety and tranquility.  I spent the morning trying to reach my husband and the kids spent the morning at school fearing it was the end of the world.  In some ways to them, I imagine it was.
I did get my husband back home, unlike many others and my kids did make it home from school.  We huddled together, the five of us, forever scarred by that event, as most people were in one way or another, but I feel it forever changed the direction of Heather’s schooling from then on.  She never again felt safe or secure in a school building and thus began her homeschooling journey.
We struggled from then on with tears each morning and her separation anxiety grew each day.  Her teacher or the school nurse would have to literally peel her off of my body as I dropped her off.  If I tried to get her on the school bus, (“Oh Mrs. Norberto, just put her on the bus, she’ll be fine” the administrators would say) it would never work.  They had no idea what the scenario would be at our house.  Baby under one arm, older brother saying “come on!” (He himself mustering up courage to go back to school and vomiting in fear), Heather would hide behind the garbage cans and avoid the bus.  Then it would dissolve into my son going off to school embarrassed and frustrated, me strapping baby Grace in the car seat and dragging Heather off to school to face the school nurse who would then put her in a horrible “therapeutic hold”.  All this did was to further scare the crap out of her and I would retreat, baby in arms to the car and weep.  It was not a good time. 
By the time Heather reached fourth grade, she was still struggling every day to overcome her fear of school.  We had every diagnosis you could imagine thrown at us, most of which were accusatory towards either her or my parenting skills.  During the Christmas break, she developed strep throat and therefore, the duration of the break was an extra week.  It was after she was well and we tried to drop her off for school that it became the breaking point.  She never went in the building willingly again. Her absences due to fear mounted.  I ended up pulling her out to home-school her because the district was threatening to call Child Protective Services because of “educational neglect”.  Little did they know what was truly going on.  I tried to explain it to them, but unfortunately it fell on deaf and unwilling to learn/listen ears. 
This pattern evolved through the years—home-school, sign her into public school in the fall—anxiety rose—pulled her again to home-school.  We did go the classification route and they suggested all manner of therapeutic school settings.  We would dutifully go and look at the schools and would find children with severe learning disabilities or social disabilities.  They would try to put her in classes with autistic children or rooms of only learning disabled boys.  Heather was mortified and it further made her fearful of public school settings.  When we were home and learning on our own, it was a natural progression of education and she blossomed.  We would do science experiments in the kitchen or yard, we would do numerous fieldtrips and research on the internet.  We would go to the library and book stores.  We would struggle together on math.  She did complete one year in a God-send of a therapeutic school in eighth grade.  They integrated animal therapy with schooling and Heather, being the animal lover she was, thrived and built up her confidence.  In the fall of 2008, we tried again with public high school.  The communication between her previous school and the public school was weak and they placed her in the wrong classes.  She started bravely, but was soon overcome with anxiety as the pressures rose and the social interactions overwhelmed her.  After struggling with the district on how to “properly” educate her (our view being quite different from theirs), we decided to home-school again and that was that.  She never looked back.
High school for Heather has been divided between textbooks purchased, online courses, internet Regents, SAT & ACT’s and numerous trips and community service situations.  While other kids were toiling away in a small classroom, Heather was able to travel and work with her dad and the wounded vets he worked with.  She went to Florida and Texas with him on trips.  She volunteered her time with them, worked with the homeless in NYC on Midnight Runs, made food for local shelters, worked summers fixing up houses for people unable to and generally learning about how the world works.
If there is anything I could say about her right now, it’s that she’s a fighter.  She’s an achiever, a person willing to stand up and overcome her fears.  She never feared an education, only the physical school building itself.  She seems ready to shed that fear and enter into a college setting.  (“I’ve had enough of you being my teacher Mom”.)  Graduation….

As I look at other kids going through a formal graduation, I wonder how many are really ready to face the challenges of college and life beyond?  Will they be mature enough to make the right decisions?  Will they be able to handle the pressures of finances, schooling, responsibility?  Life?  Yes, she and I were a little sad to see the constant postings on social media such as Facebook etc.  She looking at prom and graduation photos, I, reading the proud boasting of parents.  No milestone in life should be treated lightly and Heather’s “graduation” is no different than any other child’s.  She is done with one phase of her life and ready to move onto the next one.  I’m ready to help her make that transition (hard as it is for me to do).  She is ready to proverbially spread her wings and fly and I, as former teacher and mom, must let her do so.  Her anxieties are gone, her confidence is widespread, she has blossomed in so many ways.  In all senses of the word, Heather has “graduated”…I wish you well my lovely child…now spread your wings and fly!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Storm's a'blowin

     According to a March 1, 2012 post by in Louisville, KY, about 130 tornadoes had already rolled through their region with many more predicted for the upcoming season.  They attributed it to not enough snow or cold weather during the winter months.  I can believe it.  We had a mild winter here in the Northeast and although I love the early blooms and green grass, I can only imagine what July and August will hold for us.  I dread the long, humid, hot summers that befall us after a mild winter and the calls for limited water usage and danger of brush fires.  It is all a delicate balance from year-to-year. 

     Last night, I was privileged to perform in a benefit concert for some of the victims of the mid-west tornadoes and their early onslaught this year.  We had a small, intimate offering of music from some local, but oh-so-talented musicians that raised money to be sent to the relief efforts there.  I can only imagine what a horror it must have been for the people there.  To hear the rush of wind or the absence of sound prior to its hit is not only terrifying, but awe-inspiring.  We are so small in the scheme of life and these events bring us to our most base self.  I think (and I say this in my currently standing house, so maybe I know nothing) as we are laid bare, as a community is laid bare, we are at our strongest.  In that moment of terror and the after effects, we are provided a strength unlike any other.  We are able to draw ourselves up and start over again.  At least, that is what I try to do and if there are others that at that time are not able to do so, I try to help them stand again.  This is what we tried to do last night and hopefully our little bits will blow to them and perhaps, fill in a crack or two in the foundation of their new lives... 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wisdom and our mothers...

On a cold winter morning I took a leap of faith in myself as a writer and poured out a memoir about my three mothers.  It was a painful and yet necessary undertaking for me.  I wasn’t sure where the words would take me as I never am sure where they will go.  I resist the urge to put things down in writing even though my brain cranks the stories out night and day.  I assume most writers are more than willing to put words to paper once they are formed, but mine seem to need time to simmer on the back burner of life until they slurp forth from the “pot” they boil in.
                I wrote an essay and entered a contest in early 2011 that resulted in my story being published in “Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother” edited by Kate Farrell.  It is a wonderful compilation of 25 authors looking for meaning and truth in their relationship with their mother.  This has since been published and is a wonderful book for all, especially mothers and daughters to share.  I’ve also been privileged to guest blog for them and moved to read about the other women with rich stories to tell.  I would urge anyone to purchase a copy for their own Mother’s Day gift or for the simple joy of sharing in the many ways we love and live with our mothers.
                Share with me the gift these women have brought to paper.