Last Day of My Summer..

time spent with family

August 31st.

School starts for teachers tomorrow. Most of us have already been back for weeks, preparing our classrooms for the kiddies to arrive on Thursday. Our two days of professional development begin tomorrow.

It was a busy, fun and productive summer. We celebrated my grandmother’s 100th birthday, (the “real” day is actually this Thursday.) Our cousins from all over the country came to New Jersey and we celebrated for nearly three weeks! I think I wound up seeing more of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York with my Western cousins than I would have ever done had they not been here!

We took a “historic” tour of Greenwich Village, visiting the places Grammy grew up, the apartment she and my grandfather lived when they were first married, the church my grandparents were married in and another church where my father and his brothers were baptized.

We went to the beach – so incredibly close, yet for some reason, a place we hadn’t gone in over a year, and to the Poconos with a trip to Bushkill Falls. We got to see another one of our cousins play in a performance of “Rock of Ages”. We went bowling, to a trampoline park, to the zoo and to the pool. We watched a Mandala be constructed in my own home town!

All of this happened in just those three weeks! The rest of the summer, I worked at Camp Maple, where I have worked for the last seven summers, so although we were outside and having fun with our campers….it wasn’t quite “my summer” yet.

On Friday, we take DJ to college. He is one of the last of his friends to leave for school and he is ready to go.  Dave and I….maybe not quite so ready to have him leave, but we are excited for his new adventure.  That might officially end summer for me. A new batch of Kindergarten parents, leaving their babies with me as I leave my “baby” in Massachusetts. It is going to be a week filled with bittersweet tears for all of us!

Mandala Project

This week, our community was honored to host five monks for a week long mandala creation project. I had never heard of a mandala, but learned that it is a piece of artwork created by taking millions of grains of sand in various color and laying them out in geometric patterns creating a spiritual piece of artwork . Mandalas have been created for hundreds of years. The meticulous work takes days to create and it is thought that they create positive energy in the universe.

I was a bit skeptical at first but since I was asked to take photos of the opening ceremonies I decided to check it out. Listening to the guttural moans and chants coming out of these monks was mystifying, intriguing and enthralling! I cannot think of enough adjectives to describe it! The monks were from The Drepung Loseling Monastery in India.


The mandala is said to be a spiritual representation of the universe. Some say it gives energy and balance. The process took all week and I found myself checking into The Woodland, where it was being constructed, nearly every day this week to watch the process. I became truly riveted. Watching their steady hands as they drew the lines and spread the sand captivated me. I spent hours there just watching!

Throughout the week, yoga and meditation classes were held around the mandala. You could truly feel the energy! Believe me, I am a skeptic and truly didn’t think that was possible, but it was. Whether that energy was coming from the mandala itself, or the hundreds of people who came daily to watch the construction, it was there!

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After the opening ceremonies, (which made me feel so spiritual even without understanding the language), they began drawing the lines. It was math, science and art all in one! I took hundreds of photos of their hands and the lines and none of them can do it justice. The chalk as it rose above the lines in a cloud as they laid the lines, the steadiness of their hands – those will have to stay in my memory.

As they began to lay the sand, the richness of the colors and the designs in each quadrant, were becoming more and more vivid. With each day that passed, it became more elaborate. The three dimensional effect was remarkable.

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I decided to try some of the meditation classes that were offered. One was a guided mediation which I loved – again, going in skeptical and cynical but leaving inspired and rejuvenated. I also had the good fortune to be invited on an early morning walk through the reservations with the monks. I jumped at the chance and although the walk wasn’t long, watching their faces as they saw the New York City skyline and the faces enthusiasm of the few of us on the walk, I was once again energized.  That spirit was truly in the air and whether it was “all in my head” or not, it gave me such a sense of peacefulness.

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Yesterday, was the final day of the project. All of that hard work and beauty was swept into swirl of color. People were invited to take a small spoonful and the rest was carried in a procession and poured into the local brook. It is said that by doing this, they are releasing the energy of the mandala into the water, dispersing that energy into the universe sending blessings to all. Such a beautiful sentiment.

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The entire project was filled with love, peace and kindness and for the entire week, it truly brought that to our community. I was so sad to see it end and was feeling a little disappointed after the ceremony. That is why last night, when I got a last minute invitation to have dessert with the monks as they visited the home of a friend, I happily accepted! These friends have beautiful antiques in their home, most of them from Asia and the monks seemed fascinated to see many of them. I didn’t get to speak much to them, again, the language barrier interfered, but I shook each one of their hands, we exchanged our names and smiles. Truly an amazing way to end the week.


The Weather Gods Were Watching!

rain stopped

The rain stopped! About one hour before Grammy’s 100th birthday party, the skies cleared, the sun came out and the weather was beautiful – albeit a bit muggy!  It wasn’t supposed to clear up. In fact, it was supposed to storm again, but the weather gods were watching over Grammy’s and her guests and blessed us with sunshine!  We even had a visit from a yellow butterfly – Drew was convinced it was my mom dropping in to say that she was there!

At 100, there are not a lot of friends around that are your age, but she does have a couple and they showed up. She was so happy to see them! She reminisced with them all night.  We took hundreds of photos and talked about the legacy she has created! The cousins have been together for days! None of them wanting to leave! Eight of them cramming into one bedroom just so they didn’t have to lose a moment of time together.

Today, five of the cousins are flying back home. Some will stay and visit for awhile longer, so there haven’t been tears….yet. We will make the most of their time while they are here. Maybe our Spring Breaks will coincide and this time, we will fly out west to visit with them! That would make Drew so happy!

Less than 25 days until Gram’s ‘real’ birthday! There is no way to top this celebration, but anyone that knows this family knows it will still be something special!

Celebrating in the Rain

rain rainbow

This has quite possible been one of nicest summers I can remember in New Jersey. We have had very little rain, and those few times were in the evening. There has been very little humidity – which NJ is famous for! There was only one week where there were more than three days in a row that were over 90 degrees!  The definition of perfect summer weather in my opinion!

We couldn’t have asked for better weather and having a summer job that is mostly outdoors, I couldn’t have been happier! Truthfully, we only needed ONE day to be perfect. Tuesday, August 11th. Today. The day we are celebrating Grammy’s 100th birthday. Outside.

All week long, the weather channels have been predicting rain for today.  We kept hoping that it would change, summer is so unpredictable, but it only seemed to get worse. If you looked at the 7 day forecasts, it displayed cute little suns on everyday EXCEPT Tuesday, where wind, clouds and rain icons replaced that sun! A day with no breaks of sun. “Higher than average gusts of wind expected….”

There is nothing we can do. The tents are already set up in her yard. The relatives have arrived from all over the US  and, although there is some disappointment that the party will have to move indoors, no one really cares so much anymore now that everyone is together.  Our family has been arriving all week long. Despite being thousands of miles away, stretching all the way to Alaska, these kids get along like they’ve been together forever. Having the party stretch out over nearly two weeks has made it so that the big event today isn’t really ruined because of a little rain!

If there isn’t any thunder and lightening, it just might be outside for the kids! The rain isn’t going to stop them! They were together until after 9pm last night running through the tents in the dark playing old games like “Ghost in the Graveyard” not caring that no one could see a thing, so I doubt rain will stop them!

Gram’s actual birthday is not until September 3rd but in order to get everyone here with school and sport schedules, we had to do it a little early. The party is going on, rain or shine. If it has to move indoors, it will. It isn’t very often that someone turns 100 and we cannot wait to celebrate her today!

Yellow Butterflies….still telling me something!


Yellow Butterflies are my good luck sign. I have written about them many times. I found this today when I did a search on the meaning.

“The butterfly is a reminder to make changes when the opportunity arises. Change and transformation are inevitable for us all, but it does not have to be traumatic.”

My change is occurring now…as I begin my first online education class to further my education…something I have been hesitant to do until now. One reason was because I didn’t know if I was up to the challenge but also, because I really just didn’t know what I wanted to do to move ahead in my career. I had thought about Special Education and Speech Therapy, but wasn’t inspired enough to go ahead with it. In May, I was invited by my school district to participate in a two day Restorative Justice/Practices seminar. Restorative Practices is,

“a field of study that has the potential to positively influence human behavior and strengthen civil society around the world. The IIRP Graduate School’s aim, as suggested by Albert Einstein in a speech in 1936, “is the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, see in the service of the community their highest life problem.” (International Institute of Restorative Practices)

Before the seminar, I had never heard of Restorative Practices. I wasn’t sure what it was about or how it worked. After the two day workshop, I wanted to learn more and this past weekend, I was able to take the  last two courses in the seminar. They were held in Bethlehem, Pa and now I am even more convinced that this is what I want to do!  The idea of restoring relationships, building positive attitudes, a solid community, decreasing crime and overall improve human behavior…it is everything I hope to do! It is as if this was developed for me! My biggest fear now is the online courses. I haven’t taken a college course in more than 20 years and online is so different than in person! I was told that this first course is quite intense and as I peruse the website and all an online course includes, I find myself getting a bit intimidated. I am taking one course. If it goes well – more will follow.  If not, and I realize this is jut not for me, at least I can say that I tried. As I was doubting myself though, on my walk with Emmy Lou, this yellow butterfly showed up as if it was telling me that I have to at least try.

Mom’s Things

meant to be

Today would have been a “big” birthday for my mom. She would have turned 70 years old today.  When I was a kid, I used to think 70 was so old but not so much anymore. Last night, we all went to my dad’s and ordered Chinese food (her favorite.) Today, we will release yellow balloons from her bench.

My dad has a hard time with change. He hasn’t let any of us move her things. This includes clothing from her closet and drawers. He is also a “saver” and all of our bedrooms are still filled with lots of “stuff.” Not just his stuff, all of our stuff.  My sister Kathi and I have the least there but both of us had a few things to get rid of. My brothers, although both live on their own, have their bedrooms almost exactly the way they were when they lived there.

My sister and her family have fallen on tough times financially and are going to be moving in with my dad for awhile, until they can get back on their feet.  This means, the five bedroom home – the very “filled” five bedroom home – needed to be cleared out immediately.

We finally convinced my dad to let us clear out my mom’s closet. Promising we would donate all of her clothing, shoes and bags and then, move all of her formal dresses that are in Kathi’s and my closet, (there are a lot them,) into the closet in the master  bedroom. The dresses were one thing he wasn’t ready to part with. Gowns from our weddings and special events they attended. We all understood and began purging.

My mom, who was a very simple woman, (she didn’t care about labels or names,) had SOOOOOO much in her closets, it filled two industrial sized blag trash bags and four boxes! That doesn’t even include all of the purses and bags, (Fendi, Gucci, Coach,) some of which I had never even seen since so many had never been used. Kathi and I each found a few that we kept for ourselves and we decided to try to sell the bags on a local swap page and the interest has been huge. I had no idea there was such demand for these “old, yet new” bags.

We gathered so many shoes and clothes, we needed to get them out of the house immediately because we couldn’t just leave those bags and boxes. We had divided them into bags with bag with “nearly new or brand new items” in some and one of “mom worn” items.  She was notorious for spilling on herself so those went into a different bag to drop off at a collection box.  There was so much collected, that DJ and I decided to take a ride and bring them, to the local church that was having a rummage sale and drop the other bag into the donation box.

When we got to the church, there was a sign on the doors saying, “No More Donations!” I didn’t want to put it all in a donation box because I have heard that a lot of that stuff just gets shredded rather than donated. I couldn’t imagine that! There were brand new clothes with tags on some of it! We decided to drive over to our own church where there are two collection boxes.

I let myself be naive enough to believe that the sign on saying it would go to Catholic Charities meant it just might be given to people rather than be shredded.  DJ and I unloaded the heavy boxes and bags and started to stuff them into the bins. The bins were so full, we couldn’t even get one bagful in. We tore open one of the bags and tried to put things in one piece at a time. We were only able to get one bag emptied and that was it. Not another stitch of clothing was getting in there.

DJ and I joked that mom was trying to send us a message; either she didn’t want us giving away her things, or she wanted us to “share the wealth,” so off we headed to another donation box in town. Problem was that box was gone. We kept driving and got to the donation box I had thought of first for the one bag of clothing in the worst condition.

As we started emptying the bags and boxes – which were too big to fit, once again, we had to take them apart to throw the clothing in one piece at a time. The handle of the donation bin kept jamming. Jamming up, jamming down….we couldn’t help but laugh. It took much longer than expected but we got it all in.

I kept apologizing to mom as I threw things into the bin. DJ kept asking why. He didn’t think she’d have minded and he is probably right.  She was probably laughing right along with us.

Feeding So Many

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A few days ago, I read on Facebook that one of our local food pantries was in dire need of donations for the upcoming weekend’s food handouts.  The shelves were nearly bare.  The post shared by many in our community, “went viral!” Well, as viral as it can go in our two towns, but the response was huge and the pantry shelves were filled in just a few days.

Unfortunately, after Saturday’s handouts, those shelves will be empty again.

After the Facebook thank yous and a celebration of a job well done, someone in one of the groups where it was first shared, suggested that a Facebook page be created for just this need.

I decided to take it on. With the help from a few friends, “Feed SOMany” was created. Our two towns are, South Orange and Maplewood, (SOM).  Dave came up with the clever name. I have to give him credit for that one! He’s creative with that sort of thing. Much more than I am!

The idea of the group, is to keep people informed of the needs of each pantry. To announce food drives around town and to let others know of collection dates for each pantry. Sometimes, all it takes is a small reminder and the goal of this group is to do just that!

One woman posted this morning, that Shop Rite is holding its Can Can Sale right now. A perfect time to stock up on those most needed staple items. Exactly what this group has been created for.

Summer is rough for food pantries but people are still hungry. People still need to be fed. A few extra food items in your shopping cart each week, dropped off to the pantries can really help.

If you are a resident of South Orange Maplewood, or a surrounding area, join the group. If not, maybe start your own because no one should ever have to go hungry.


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