Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I fear that my children are becoming brats.  Not in the sense that they are mean spirited or nasty, but brats that do not appreciate anything. 

I worry with good reason. 

Because they don't.  Appreciate.  Anything. 

They receive constantly.  Gifts, attention, treats, toys, special events. They know no other world than one where they are the center.

 Things revolve around them. 

Sure, they say "please" and "thank you" but those are just words.  The true meaning of appreciation must be learned. 

It is not their fault that they are not appreciative.  They are children.  They learn what they live, and they happen to live with people who are not currently setting a good example.

We are not bad people, my husband and I, but we are not good people either.  We occasionally go to church.  We never volunteer.  We sometimes go through the toys and clothes to "donate" to Goodwill but this is more in an effort to free up space rather than a kind-hearted gesture. 

We talk about being appreciative and thankful for the wonderful things in our lives.  Being grateful for everything we have.  We tell our children to "thank God" for family and friends, for a home, and food and people who love them. 

We tell our children to be appreciative and thankful and then we,

the adults,

sit around and complain that we are fat.  We complain that we don't have enough time or enough money.  We complain that we have too many obligations, too many plans.  Too many people who want to see us.  

We make lists of things.  Things we want to buy, to have, to own.  Things we "need" to make our lives, easier.   More convenient.   Better?

Do as I say, not as I do...isn't that how it goes?

The realization hit me like a bolt of lightening.  If I want my children to be more appreciative, I had better start practicing what I preach. 

Tonight when I get home, after I drag my weary body into the house I am going to remind myself to be thankful that I have legs. 

And arms. 

And a house to drag myself into. 

I am going to thank God for all of the blessings of my life. 

I am going to be thankful for my beautiful, healthy, amazing little brats. 

Tonight when I tuck their little bodies into bed I am going to lead by example and let each one know how much I appreciate them.
And then we are going to church

Monday, November 29, 2010

Good Guys on the Gridiron

Yesterday the football watching world was treated to a brawl.   A knock down, drag out, fourth grade school yard kind of brawl.  Helmets were ripped off and punches were thrown and when the dust settled the I called my children front and center to learn an important lesson. 

It was a teachable moment in my household.  An example of how to stand up for yourself and say enough is enough.  I am certainly not an advocate for solving problems with your fists, HOWEVER, I also think that kids need to learn that it is not okay to let another person push you around.

While it was reported that the Houston Texans mild mannered wide receiver Andre Johnson was embarrassed and apologetic about his behavior, I for one was happy to see it.
You see, as I learned in a few simple Google searches, Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan is a bully.  He desires to be the "NFL's Dirtiest Player." 

Andre Johnson, is anything but. 

Texan's #80 was featured November 2 in an in-depth profile on ESPN E:60.  This revealed Johnson's commitment to 10 year old Cyril Jones Jr.  Cyril Jr. is  Johnson's godson, child of the late Cyril Jones.  

Jones and Johnson were best friends, nearly brothers, teammates on the Miami Hurricanes.  After Jones became entangled in Miami's drug scene and was found shot to death in 2002 Johnson stepped up and became a father figure for then 2 year-old Cyril Jr. 

Johnson provides financially and as a father-figure for this young man.  He visits frequently and is an ever present mentor.  For his dedication to Cyril he seeks no fanfare,  he is self-less and unassuming and leads by example.

Johnson's reputation for quiet leadership dates back to his days with the Hurricanes, as co-MVP of the 2002 Rose Bowl he was known as a player who "shuts up and lets his game do the talking."  His 1,831 receiving yards is still ranked 5th on the University of Miami's all-time career list.

Among his other credits Johnson created the Andre Johnson Foundation in 2003 which supports children and teens being raised in single parent homes and raises his own daughter born in February 2010. 

To deliver the message we took some time to explain to our children what was happening before the fight broke out.  We explained to them that Cortland Finnegan is a dirty player.  We explained to them what that means. We allowed this spectacle of two grown men, two highly paid professional athletes acting like children be a lesson in standing up for yourself. 

As the mother of a oversized 6 year-old with a gentle, empathetic soul I felt it was imperative to show him sometimes you have to show the other guy who really is boss. 

As the mother of the a small, scrappy 4 year-old with a mischievous, trouble making streak I felt it was imperative to show him that sometimes the other guy will level you when he has had enough.

As the mother of a sweet and spunky 2 year-old with big brothers I felt it was imperative to show her exactly what will happen to anyone who messes with her. 

You may question my methods or debate the message.  That is your prerogative.

For my part I am just hopeful that my monkeys got it loud and clear.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the way down.

As my beloved stares down the 35 candles on his birthday cake I reflect on his self-described mid-life crisis. 

We have been celebrating birthdays together for eight years. I, for one, think they keep getting better even if the only factor this opinion is based on is my choice of hair color. 

He believes that the sun is setting on his youth.  He fears that he is getting old, slowing down.  Gone are the days his birthday held the promise of something exciting, something new.  

He longs for wide open horizons and new endeavors.  He worries they are gone.  Before he resigns himself to this life of sameness, he looks at me in earnest and asks me to consider having another baby. 

Oh, Buddy.

What he can't see because he is too close is that we are not on the down slide, we are merely on the precipice.  We aren't even at the halfway point.  I imagine us somewhere close to the one mile mark.  It was a crazy start and there is a long road ahead. 

 As he sits on the sofa covered in children looking at his birthday present project that was made with love I realize he may need to be reminded just how AMAZING we think that he is.

So...here it is my love.

You are a comforter. A cuddler.  A coach. 

You are "throw me." "Show me."

 "Chase me," "Carry me,"

"Catch me," "Can I?" 

You are a take-down teacher and tickle monster. 

You are consistent and caring.

You are conscientious and clever, and anything but cautious. 

Courageous, capable, charitable and considerate.

You are completely incredible
and we love you like crazy. 


You are footprints to follow.  Big shoes to fill. 
This is only the beginning my love...the possibilities are endless.  
And the answer is yes.  

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What do you mean by that?

I walk into the kitchen and announce to my husband that the toilet is running again.

My two year-old looks up at me inquisitively, "How is it running? I wanna see it!" 

I laugh right out loud.  I try to explain to her that the "running" I am referring to is the water in the back of the tank.  This is lost on her.  She stares blankly back. 

I realize I'll need to show her.  We take a field trip to the potty and I lift the heavy lid off the tank.  She looks at it in amazement.  I can see the wheels turning in her head and I am thankful that the lid is too heavy for her to lift on her own. 

I try again to show her what I mean when I say the toilet is running, knowing that she is still picturing a toilet with legs.  My words fall on deaf ears as the moment has passed.   She is off to find her brothers and scheme about getting back into the magic toilet tank. 

As I reflect on this exchange it makes me think about how often adults say things we don't mean. 

I was stuck in traffic and subsequently late for dinner, I called to tell my husband that they should eat without me.  My husband relayed this information to my two youngest children and they suggested that the family bring hammers and go help me get "unstuck." 

So literal.  So tangible.  So concrete. 

As skilled as we are at communicating; speaking, writing, phoning, texting, tweeting, adults often forget to be clear in the message being sent.    The definition of communication is the conveying of ideas from one entity to another.  The give and take to create shared understanding.  Communication does not happen in a vacuum.

Miscommunication occurs when the real meaning is misinterpreted.  Generally not an issue of comprehension but reception.

Adults have expectations of communication.  A preconceived notion about the message that being delivered.  These notions are based on our own beliefs, attitudes, opinions, experiences and values.  

The Internet is fraught with guidelines and tips for communicating more clearly but what is missing, in my humble opinion, are tips for eliminating the filter on what you hear another person communicate.

How do you teach yourself to believe that when your boss says, "You finished that project quickly." 

It doesn't necessarily mean, "I bet you didn't do a good job."  

When your husband says, "Do you remember the last time we ate food that was prepared in our own kitchen?" 

It might not mean, "You are a terrible mother."

How do you train yourself to believe that the message intended JUST MIGHT be the message that is sent.  The words might just be words. 

I, for one, am going to study my children and attempt to be more like them.  Innocent and honest.  No insinuations, no underlying meanings.  I am going to say what I mean and mean what I say.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Monday, November 22, 2010


My mom has three sisters and they are all...



My mother and her three sisters are four of my favorite people on the planet. Separated in age by four years each, one is funnier than the next.  Together they are a comedic act that rivals the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” but to be honest I do have a favorite.  

My favorite aunt is one part Coco Chanel and two parts Costco.   She is a firm believer that with hard work and a little lipstick all things are possible.  A graduate of the school of hard knocks she is a self-made success and expects others to do the same. 
She will never host a “poor me party” in your honor but will instead dress you head-to-toe in designer clothes and send you off to an interview feeling like a million bucks.  She will not lend you pity but will always lend you one of her genuine “kate spade” bags.    
Fake it until you make it, she certainly has followed her own advice.  Widowed with three small children, she had no choice but to dig in and make it work.  And work she did.  Three jobs to provide the best life possible for her children.  She began in the kitchen of a Howard Johnson’s – she finished as one of the most successful female executives in Marriott history. 
On the other side, as a grown-up, she is devoted to giving back.  Born in July of 19- just never you mind, she is seasoned enough to know that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”   She volunteers with many organizations and never ceases to amaze me with her capacity to care.
She teaches us all about the about the importance of taking time for yourself and knowing your limits.  She is not always popular for her decisions but she makes them with the confidence of a woman who owns her choices. 
She is high fashion and fabulous, flawed and sometimes fearful, she is fun and fantastic and she is my favorite.
My favorite aunt is friendly almost to a fault.  Approachable and affable she invests genuinely in every person who crosses her path.  She knows the stories, the situations, and the stars.  Be it the man who stocks the shelves at the grocery or the waitress at the local watering hole, she expresses her authentic interest inviting people to engage.

Sitting at a table with a couple two tree beers, she will recount in heavy Scranton lilt stories that have been told a thousand times.  Her comedic timing and delivery delight and enchant the listener.  She is a riot, raw and real.
She requires no fan fare for a visit.  Come as you are.  Quick to smile and easy to please she is the epitome of mellow.  Her humor is a dead pan, sarcastic, hysterical. She leaves every audience in stitches. Famous for bringing a tray or two of Old Forge style pizza she is no fuss, no muss and there is nothing that a Miller Lite and a glass of ice can’t cure, heyna?
Her connections with others are the stuff legends are made of, a legacy of her friendliness.  She was left a monetary bequeathment.  The woman who passed away was a patron of the bank where my aunt worked for many years as a teller.  When she received the call about the sum of money she been gifted she wasn’t quite sure who the woman was.  But that is just how she is…
She is familiar and flexible, sometimes flaky and always frank, effusive and occasionally frivolous.  She is my favorite. 
My favorite aunt is sophisticated yet sensible.  She has an amazing eye for decorating and design, Nate Berkus meets Bob Villa.  Repurposing furniture before it was trendy, a dresser is a table, a table is a chair.    
A savvy shopper, she frequents Salvation Army and Goodwill, trolling for unique finds and rarely coming back empty handed.  Creative and quirky, she can take a can of spray paint and rework an entire room with stunning results.   Slow to spend, she knows the value of a dollar and how to make it stretch. 
She conceived, carried and cultivated three children and never took a sick day.  She is unflappable under pressure taking all things in stride.  Calm, composed and cool as a cucumber she remains temperate even in the most tenuous of situations.  
Witty and wise, honesty is always her best policy.  She does not hesitate to tell you exactly how she feels.  She says what she means and means what she says and you will always know where you stand. 
In all of my years she has never missed a significant event in my life.  She is a reliable as the sunrise.  Tried and true, she has never let me down.  She always comes through in the clutch, whether moving apartments or closing a pool, she is there for whatever it is that you might need.  She would leave her deathbed to deliver the cake that she promised to bring.  She is that kind of dependable.    
She is forthcoming and frugal, funny and multi-faceted, focused and a fresh coat of paint.  She is my favorite.
My favorite is wholesome and unassuming.  The “baby” by birth order she approaches everything with a childlike simplicity.   She is slow to anger and quick to forgive.  Expecting the best in everyone she meets and easily ignoring the rest. 
She is a born inventor.   Armed with a hot glue gun, Velcro and a pair of scissors she makes adjustments she deems necessary to everything from swimsuits to sofa cushions.  Her mind is always spinning, a whirling dervish of ideas.
She is welcoming and warm, always making you feel wanted.  A gracious hostess even when company is unexpected.  She is famous for quite literally making “chicken salad out of chicken shit.”  Standing at the kitchen sink cutting cantaloupe or capping strawberries, she is forever preparing fruit.  She listens intently to her guest as she works but never stops moving.  Pulling assorted and sundry items out of her refrigerator she creates a delicious offering even if it is just scrambled eggs and toast. 
When she does finally sit in the cozy kitchen she brings to the table a reheated cup of tea and some delicious sweet treat that she pulls magically out of the air.   She also brings an optimistic view of the world, believing strongly that every problem has a gift for you in its hands.   She offers gentle guidance suggestions often centered around being kind to yourself and then paying it forward.  She will often follow this with the suggestion of a nap and will tuck your sleepy bones into bed assuring you that “fatigue makes cowards of us all.”  
She is faithful and fidgety, friendly and forgiving, sometimes flighty and always fortuitous.  She is my favorite.

I hope that I am the best of all of them, I know that I am the worst of some.  They my link to the past, my bridge to the future.  They remind me of what is really important.  They are my roots.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

I heart Shutterfly.

In the
 big, broad blogosphere there are a few things that I am learning about. 
Contests, giveaways, and ethical blogger reviews to name a few. 
As I wade through the flood of information on "making it" as a blogger most of these concepts have floated by me without notice.  I find it challenge to wrap my head around all of the work, time and effort that this would take. 

 Read : ::NOT INTERESTED:: :

Enter Shutterfly 50 Free Holiday Card Promotion.

Hold. The. Phone.

Did they say 50 free cards? 
I have been a faithful Shutterfly user since 2003.  I don't know when the site itself actually began but I know when it changed my world. 

Shutterfly safely and securely houses the BILLIONS of pictures that I take of the life and times of the Dillsburg Robells

Shutterfly is my creative outlet when all else is lost.  My husband....not a fan. 

Shutterfly is my original "time suck." I have been known to spend countless hours, selecting, perfecting the images for photobooks and calendars that become cherished gifts.  Their offering include everything from standard prints to beautiful canvas Wall art and other Photo Gifts

Over the years I have made many purchases from Shutterfly and I have never been disappointed.

I experience sheer joy when the package arrives in the mail.  From the cheerful packaging to the crisp, well printed and consistently wonderful product inside Shutterfly Mail is one of my favorite things on Earth.

Each year around November the yearly debate begins, Holiday Cards:  Will we or won't we??

Husband:  Why do we need to send Christmas Cards?
Me:  Because they are beautiful, its a tradition, I don't ask for much **false...by the way, totally false,** because people love them, to see how much the kids have changed.
Husband:  Okay fine, do them NOW so that you are not running around on December 23 like a headless chicken.
Me: ...logging in...
Husband:  Do you need any help? 
Me:  ....silence...
Husband:  Erin, do you need help?  Addresses, labels, stamps?
Me:  ....more silence...
Husband:  Hello?  Er, are you gonna order them now?  Er, Er?  HELLO???
Me:  (in a zone....cannot be reached for further comment.)
 I heart Shutterfly.


Friday, November 19, 2010

The In-Between

There are such lovely shades of gray. 

So many beautiful colors that, to me, seem so different. 

I could never paint a room "Nimbus Cloud" when clearly "Granite Dust" is a better choice.  I am enamoured with colors.  And while I can appreciate the simplicity of black and white, to me, it is always just shades of gray. 

The same is true of my feelings about people.  I find it impossible to see people as good or bad, right or wrong.  I look to the circumstances of each situation to see what influenced the choices that were made.  I look behind the behavior to see into the need. 

Some call this wishy-washy, foolish, weak.  Others, like my mother, offer the more gentle terms, open-minded, compassionate, empathetic, understanding.

What ever you call it, I lack the ability to be concrete, which incidentally is a shade of gray.   

For some people there is comfort in the contrast of black and white.  They feel secure knowing that things can be classified, confidently and without question into one of two categories.  There is true power that comes from making a decision, in really owning it.  Big or small, being able to say definitively that you are "sure" you made the right choice.  As George W. Bush sits brazenly with Matt Lauer and refuses to acknowledge any error in judgement, makes no apology for being, even to the bitter end, the "Decider-In-Chief," I wonder what gives a person that kind of confidence.

In the eyes of a black and white person, a person who makes a decision based upon faceless facts, I am easily a doormat, frequently taken advantage of, spineless. 

It  has taken my husband the entirety of our relationship to try to understand that I am okay with this because it is who I am.  It is woven into the fibers of my being.

I am a person who looks to see the humanity in even the most despicable person, the 911 terrorists and the DC Sniper, Susan Smith and Andrea Yates - these people have done things, made choices that turn my stomach, however, I can and do have sympathy for them in my heart. 

My husband stands before me INCREDULOUS - unable to grasp my naivete.  He argues powerfully that these people hate me because of my religious beliefs, because of where I was born.  These are evil people.  They would point a gun in my face, pull the trigger and never bat an eye. 

He gets so angry because he doesn't understand the gray.  But maybe that is why we are together. 
There are things to be learned from the gray. 

But you can't have gray without black and white. 

I understand that he is motivated by love by an animal-like instinct to protect his family. He has finally accepted that I will always be the champion of the underdog. 


And somewhere in the in-between....there is our balance. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I loved her first.

I have a sister and I love her desperately. 

Not because she is beautiful and funny.  Not because she is smart and talented.  Not because she is clean and organized.

I love her for very different reasons. 

Because she snorts when she laughs.

Because she knows every Friends episode by heart.  Every. Single. One.

Because when I was pregnant and scared she dropped everything and came to hold my hand.  

I love her because her birthday, May 13th, is celebrated for a month from May 1st until June 24th, the day before mine.

Because she had no eyebrows until she was 13, just the hint of a muscle that would furrow when she was mad.

Because she makes practical purchases and wears sensible shoes. 

Because she is everything that I am not.

I fancy myself a tortured artist, she is a practical pragmatist.

I fret over the color and consistency of the icing, she makes sure the cake arrives on time. 

I claim perfectionism as my reason for procrastinating the wedding program that I insisted on making for her friend, she attaches the tiny bows to the unfinished masterpiece on the plane as we fly out to the wedding.  

I am indecisive and apologetic, a people-pleaser with resentment issues, she is unapologetically sure of her decisions, clearly communicating what she expects and what she DOES NOT want. 

She sends cards with thoughtful messages, pre-purchased and stored in a Hallmark card holder. 
I call and tell you about the funny card I read, purchased but forget to send.

I can never find my phone.  She is the most skilled BlackBerry user on the planet.

She is responsibility.  I am whimsy.  She is organized, I am scattered.  She is schedules, I am misplaced to-do lists.

She is Vera Bradley, I am a Coach knock-off.  She is a Pandora bracelet, I am jewelery found on clearance at Kohls.

As much as we are different, we are the same.

Both educators, giving more to our jobs than our paycheck warrants.

Both devoted daughters, who would move Heaven and Earth for either of our parents.

Both loving spouses, understanding the shortcomings of our partners and learning to live with them, adoring them in spite of it, because of it. 

Both mildly neurotic, slightly controlling, overbooked, overworked, overwhelmed. 

She is my truest first love. 

I loved her first. 

I love her still. 

I love her always.