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. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Make Do With What "You Got"

I am always unprepared.  Morning rolls into afternoon, afternoon into evening and dinner looms over me with its expectations.  I think of dishes to create, things to pull out of the freezer, ingredients that might be needed in the morning hours and yet, when the time comes to produce this wonderful dish, I find that I have totally forgotten to do all of the above.  I scramble by tossing meat in the microwave to thaw, sending my driving age kids out to the grocery store and scouring my cabinets for hidden items.  Basically, I punt.  I mix together what I have and hope for the best. 

This is also somewhat how I run my life.  I’m organized in my mind but when it comes to the physical, everyday production of life, I seem to scramble.  Our family has had a tough time of it through the years financially.  We’ve suffered through five job losses in less than 20 years and because of that, we’ve had to “punt” a lot.  This is a difficult subject for me to write about as it is such a deeply, personal issue and yet, I know that I am not alone…far, far from it.  Across this country and perhaps the globe, things are unbalanced and difficult.  People are losing their jobs and their homes.  Companies that were once thought to be untouchable are filing for bankruptcy protection, oil prices are sky high and banks are less inclined to offer decent interest rates or loans for fear of losing their own revenue.  I often say where did the money actually go?”  It’s quite a mystery to me.  

But I’m getting off course here. 

My point is, in times that prove monumentally dark and scary are the best times to make do with what “you got.”  There’s no sin in just simply treading water until such time things do improve. So back to my dinner scramble—it really ties in here, be patient with me.  In the same way that I’ve made do with what ingredients I have in the house to make a great dinner, I’ve made do with a lack of other things too.  I’ve improvised to help keep the balance in my family’s life and to hopefully instill a sense of normality and hope.  I think “hope” is generally what gives us the inner strength to “make do with what we got.”  Here’s hoping I’m right.

 I created this "make do" recipe from ingredients I found in my house, an online recipe for sauce (link provided) and one great teenager’s trip to the store for cheese and sour cream. Enjoy!


½ onion, chopped
1 pepper, chopped (red, green, yellow or orange)
1 small tomato, diced
1 T.  canola oil (or whatever you have!)
½ half bottle of Salsa Verde (green salsa)
1 15 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed.
1 pkg. Purdue Chicken Shortcuts, Southwest style
½ cup cooked rice  (you can do this ahead)
1 teas. Salt
1 cup shredded Cheddar or Jack cheese
12 flour tortillas
Enchilada Sauce (recipe below)

Sour Cream, Cilantro or Chives for toppings (optional)

Make the Enchilada Sauce first and set aside.

Heat your oil in large skillet/pan over medium heat.  Saute the onion and peppers for about 3 minutes or till slightly tender.  Add the tomato and toss around.  Add the salsa, black beans, chicken, rice and salt and heat for about 5 mins.  Fold in ½ cup of the homemade Enchilada Sauce.

Spread out ½ cup of Enchilada Sauce in 13 x 9” pan.  Take filling and put down center of tortilla, rolling up and folding ends in.  Place in pan.  Do this for all the tortillas and line them up in the dish.  Pour the rest of the sauce over the filled tortillas  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 30-35 minutes.  Take off foil, top with the cheese and continue to bake for about 5 more minutes to melt it.  Top with sour cream and desired toppings.  

The sauce is from Rockin Robin’s website and is amazing!  She has a video that explains its process.  It’s printed here with permission from Robin herself: 

Rockin Robin's Raving Enchilada Sauce
makes about 2 cups

  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 4 Tbs. Gebhardt Chile Powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon (less than 1/16 tsp.)
  • a little less than 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons plus 1/4 tsp. white flour
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil

First let's make a roux. In a 2 quart sauce pan add the oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, lower the heat to low and add the flour.
Mix with a wire whisk for about 1 to 2 minutes stirring constantly. You want to see a little bubble going on. Then add the chili powder and whisk in till fully mixed.
Slowly pour in the 2 cups chicken broth. Turn the heat up to medium again and stir till fully mixed.
Add the cumin, garlic powder, salt, cinnamon and sugar (the sugar is a little secret to eliminate any bitter taste from the chili powder) stirring after each addition. Bring to a boil as you continue to stir.
Once boiling, stir and cook for 3 to 5 minutes.
Turn off the heat, this enchilada sauce recipe is done.
As you can see, this enchilada sauce recipe is very quick to make.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My Anti-New Year's Resolution

Another year wraps up, another Christmas whoosh’s by as quick as a middle school crush and a pall comes over the horizon as I wait for winter’s quiet hush.  The morning light is slanted and gray, the silence familiar.  I have a love/hate relationship with this time of the year.  As a church musician, I have unfortunately come to loathe the preparation time leading up to the holidays.  The endless rehearsals, the planning of music and performers, the expectation to produce something “fantastic” and uplifting year after year, always expected to outdo the year before.  After almost 20 years of this, it is somewhat of a downer.
I must admit, I’m writing as I think, not really allowing the words to fully form in my mind and yet, perhaps, they have been forming themselves for weeks now.  I set out to post in this blog every week or so, even thinking that I might actually find the time to post several times a week, but, no…it’s much more difficult than that.  Sure, I have pressures from being a busy mom of three, but it’s a much deeper, visceral thing – it’s that the words come to my brain at times I just can’t seem to get to a computer or pen and paper to put them down.  I’ll be driving or showering, doing schoolwork with my daughter or in a meeting and the thoughts come to me.  By the time I get to sit down in the evening they drain away from me like a cold November bone chilling rain.  There is no amount of hot tea or soup that can dredge the words from my mind… they float away.  How sad that is.  
So back to resolutions--I don’t make them.  I find them sort of silly and yet I suppose in my mind I make deals with myself.  I try not to make them formal because I really don’t want to be let down later but there is an unmistakable sense of new beginnings--a freshness with the turn of the calendar that makes us all hopeful again.  I suppose my “resolution” this year is to write more and be less afraid to put down the words of the experiences I’ve had and those that continue to pave my future.  I suppose that this is a round-about, non-committal way to have a New Year’s resolution; I can tell myself “you’re not really making a resolution” and yet as fast as waking up to newly fallen snow, I’ve done it.  May I continue to keep it going long after the “newness” fades.