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I had a lovely school vacation adventure by taking 20 kiddos who are blind to New Hampshire. What a lot of work, you say???? The work doesn’t compare to the joy that fills my heart as I watch these young children socialize and help each other, several of whom were away from home for the first time, many of whom had never stayed in a hotel, and several of whom had never swum in an indoor swimming pool, (or swim anywhere at all for that fact.) I want to share some heartwarming moments to possibly warm your own hearts as well during this cold, cold winter.

* A six year old Cambodian girl who had never been away from home before and whose mom had not packed properly for her, was wearing a donated bathing suit so large it had to be tied onto her so as to cover the “important parts”. As she held onto the railing of the pool and took that first step into the water, her serious face started to smile. On the second step, the smile grew larger, and on the third step, even larger still. By the time she was in the pool, she had a grin from ear to ear, and was giggling excitedly. She bounced up and down in the water, hearing it splash all around her, laughing louder still! She giggled throughout her first swim, and that made my heart giggle.

* A fourteen year old girl took the initiative to help a seven year old girl, leading her to the activities, bathroom, dining table and so forth, with both of them using their white canes. In school, this teen is often seen as “helpless” or to be pitied. As she conscientiously stuck by the side of the younger girl, choosing to do the activities the younger girl wanted to do instead of more selfishly choosing teen activities, her demonstration of compassion and leadership made her a great role model, not to be pitied but to be admired. Her pride made my heart proud.

* Three young girls, bundled up and huddled together in a single, large Superman sled, coast down the snowy hill, twisting and twirling, their laughter piercing the air with screeches similar to those made when going on a roller coaster. Their request for “more, more, more” despite the frigid temperatures belies their joy in sledding, something none of them had done before. Their excitement filled my heart with excitement.

* A young boy, used to having his food cut up by his mom, practiced using a knife on his chicken parmesan, sawing the knife back and forth to release each savory piece, then stabbing it with a fork and bringing it to his mouth with a look of satisfaction. The young boy next to him, who is used to eating EVERYTHING with his fingers, (he’s BLIND, you know….he can’t possibly use utensils are his parent’s thoughts,) was taught to use a piece of bread to coax his food onto a fork by the teen sitting next to him. At first, much of the food didn’t reach his mouth, but he kept trying, urged on by his seat mate. By the end of the meal, he had independently filled his tummy, filling my own heart with his feeling of success.

* All of the kiddos were up on the dance floor, bopping and bouncing to songs such as YMCA, The Chicken Dance, Cotton-Eyed Joe, the Hokey Pokey, the Macarena, The Hustle, Stomp and the Cha Cha Slide. Line dances are perfect for them, and they teach each other the steps. No one is left out and everyone has great fun, wildly swinging their arms, kicking their legs, and sashaying their hair. Watching this group of kids dance, almost in unison, with smiles and giggles and laughter, fills my heart with beautiful music.

And one last little moment: it had started to snow, big, fat flakes of snow, some an inch around and as fluffy as cotton balls. One child started the movement by looking up into the sky with his arms wide and his mouth open, catching the flakes on his tongue. With excitement, the other children follow, arms out, mouths open, allowing the fluffy pieces to rest on their tongues and drop down onto their faces. They were amazed!! So THAT was what a snowflake looked like! At home, they usually rush through the snow, heads down, but on this date they were welcoming the experience. They didn’t need to see the snow to enjoy it, they could feel its beauty and how the warmth of their bodies melted the fragile snowflakes into little piles of water. How amazing! How joyful! What an eye opening experience!

I’ll Stay Inside Til Spring

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Looked out the window today and all I saw was snow. Literally, the entire window was covered with snow, which reached up to the roof. Due to the high winds that blew the light and fluffy stuff across the small lake on which we live, our house window resembled the inside of a freezer. This actually kept the outside of our house “warm” at 32 degrees, compared the the howling wind outside at negative 15 degrees!

The saving grace is that the snow outside the front door is much lower at about 4 feet. Because one of my sons has consistently shoveled the walkway throughout these snowstorms, only about a foot of fresh snow covered the walkway. That’s the type of snow I hop through like a bunny. Jump, jump, jump with the longest strides I can muster, over to my car. Ready to go for the day! BRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!

Wish I was Punxsutawney Phil who could burrow down into my warm home, emerging in the spring!

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I was late for work this morning. It is difficult to get to work on time with 3 1/2 feet of snow on the ground. Fortunately, my son, Steven, shoveled our driveway. Unfortunately, after he did so, the snow plow came down our small, side street again, piling another two feet of snow behind my car. He came back and shoveled away the same snow from an hour ago. Getting the car out of the driveway necessitated the technique of “rocking”…stepping on the gas all the way in “drive” and the car rocks forward three inches…quickly stepping on the gas as the car rocks backward four inches…repeat, repeat, repeat until the car is free from the driveway and in the middle of the snow covered road, (and my fresh, hot cup of tea has sloshed out of the cup, all over the floor mat in my car.)

I inched down the middle of our street, slip sliding away here and there, but generally staying in the street. Fortunately, no car came in the opposite direction as I am sure we would have both ended up in the snowbanks on the side of the road. At the end of our street, I had to practice another snow driving trick…speeding up way before a hill in order to have the speed and the traction to get to the top of the hill without sliding down backwards. This can only be done by an experienced snowy hill driver because one must also be able to stop at the apex of the hill in order to look for traffic coming in both directions.

Once safely at the top of the hill, I turned and joined the cars on the main street, usually a street plowed well enough to get to work without further delays. On this very windy day, however, the main street was littered with snow drifts and snow piles where they are generally least expected…in the middle of the road! I unsafely drove for a mile or two, dangerously plowing through the snow and frantically turning my wheel against a skid in order to set the car right on the street again. Then I unexpectedly learned “the trick”…I started to follow a bus! Most drivers hate to follow buses because they make a lot of stops, but in the frigid weather and with 6 feet of plowed snow covering the sidewalks, not a lot of people were waiting at the bus stops and the bus kept driving through. Quietly, lurking in the rear shadow of the bus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that IT plowed through the snow, making a safe path for me. Traveling along behind the bus, I giggled at myself and my discovery! And because where I work is on a bus line, I was able to turn off into my agency’s parking lot without further safety concerns.

I will just have to wait for a bus going in the other direction so I can find my way home safely…

A Home is a Home is a Home

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I was going to a home visit with a colleague the other day and the house we went to was absolutely gorgeous! Probably a $500,000 house, perfectly laid out and decorated. A comfy family room with a large screen tv and new, modern furniture. It had a large, expertly maintained backyard with a perfect multi-level playground system for their happy, young children. As we left the visit, my co-worker told me that she would LOVE to have a house like that, as would her children. Since her divorce, she has had to explain to them that they can only afford a small house, using the excuse that she only has limited money so she can’t afford anything better. It was an honest comment, and one that many people probably share.

I have four wonderful, loving sisters-in-laws. They all have beautiful, large, and well maintained houses. Granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances, (which I’ve learned from House Hunters is a “must”.) We gather at their houses regularly for birthday parties and holidays, and I always enjoy admiring their latest piece of new furniture, wall decoration, or new carpeting. After that conversation with my co-worker, I realized that I admire their houses, but I am not jealous, nor do I covet their homes. Good for them that they have the money to have such a nice home for their families! I am happy for them! If I had the money, sure, I’d be happy to have a home like that, but I don’t, and I’m still happy.

The thought never crossed my mind to to feel badly about my own, old, ramshakle house. After spending much of my childhood living out of a VW van, I think ours is a perfect house for our family. It is old because it was once a summer cottage and my dad, in his schizophrenic frenzy, added on here and there. It has some quirks; the hot and cold water faucets are backwards, the doors of the kitchen cabinets are made out of wall paneling, the parquet wood floors have been stained from years of foot traffic in and out from the snow, and the windows are old and some don’t open anymore. But we managed to set up three suitable bedrooms on the main floor, (sometimes four while fostering infants, when we turned the laundry room into a nursery,) and three suitable bedrooms in the basement. (Only our biological son and adopted children could sleep in the rooms in the basement because the Department of Children and Families does not allow foster children to sleep there.) We also have a large dining area to fit 16 at a long table with benches for seats, and a family room where the tv, toys and computer are kept. And we commenced to raise our family. This house, while not elegant or even attractive, suits us. We’ve had many years of children’s laughter and tears. Many years of care and patient acceptance. Many years of tragedies and triumphs. Even though we don’t have the money to have more luxurious surroundings, our home contains the most important thing of all; indescribable, life affirming, heart warming LOVE!

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Marie and I attended a baby shower for a cousin today, and had a fabulous time. For an activity, they decorated baby onesies. Marie, who is very artistic with fabric paint, designed six. Each one had a fabulous design and appropriate wording-for HER. My favorite was a picture of the dad. She perfectly captured his beard, big, bright smile and curly hair. His blue eyes actually had a gleam in them, and his cheeks were pink with excitement. On it she wrote: “Happy daddy, baby boy yes”, replicating how the words are signed in ASL. This for a new dad who did not yet know the sex of his child!

Driving the 45 minutes to the restaurant, Marie was in charge of the GPS. She loves it when I give her this “job” because it keeps her active during the drive. Previously when riding in a car, Marie would try to sign to me, but I have to keep my eyes on the road and taking my hands off the wheel is problematic. The problem was solved by making her my navigational guru. She takes her job very seriously. She motions me into the proper travel lanes, and tells me when and where to turn. It is especially tricky when driving in a city as we were today. “In 2 tenths of a mile take a left.” Left here. she points. “In 4 tenths of a mile take a right”. Right there, she motions. We efficiently executed the twists and turns to perfection, and she was very proud of her directional skills when we arrived. Should I ever tell her that the GPS was also talking to me?????

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The holiday season joyously reunites my family! Although Francis is not entirely a Prodigal Son, he is the one son who moved out of state to seek his fame and fortune. Having his Ph.D. from Cambridge specializing in Human Computer Interaction, he has found a fruitful niche among the computer conglomerates in Silicon Valley, California. He has purchased a modest half-million dollar home, (very much similar to the small ranch style homes back east, only less yard and much costlier.) He married an amazing woman who can DRIVE and for whom his vision impairment is not an issue. They recently had a one of a kind baby; a baby so pure and white and bald that she resembles an Alien. (Ooooops! I didn’t just say that, did I?) The best thing is, he comes home every Christmas!

Preparing for his arrival takes a lot of work. Being somewhat of an advocate for letting dust live out its life where it lay, I spend the month before his arrival cleaning; the usual spots, of course, but also those spots not generally covered in a regular cleaning; washing and waxing the cabinets, washing all of the walls so they look as clean as the day they were painted, cleaning under the soap dish in the bathtub, pulling out every speck of dust hiding under the radiators, and cleaning “his” bedroom so clean that it could be considered a sanitary room for a person undergoing a bone marrow transplant. I’ve added a rocking chair for baby to feed lovingly and comfortably. The sheets with flowers are washed with “spring” fabric softener, giving them a sensational floral scent, perfect for a multi-sensory feel. (Yes, sniff in the scent. It is a happy, welcome home scent!)

The decor of my home is generally early mishmash, but when Francis comes home, the walls are decorated with a multitude of photos of all of our children, hastily put together from photos from Facebook. (It is something I mean to do all year but never get around to doing.) The Christmas tree and house decorations are pulled from the bowels of the cellar, decorated and placed in traditional places. Same candles in the window as when Francis was a child, same tree, same decorations including the nativity scene that Francis enjoyed rearranging when he was a child. (He loved to put the donkey in the manger and lay the Wise Men down for a nap after their long hike.) All reminiscent of Christmas’ past.

Hubby, who is generally an excellent cook anyway, also prepares for the special visit. He makes seafood casserole, baked stuffed lobster, “stuffies”, prime rib (sorry fattened calf,) lasagna,and baked ham. For Christmas, we have a traditional turkey dinner, with Marie leading us in saying grace in sign language, joined in by all, (except Francis’ new wife who has not yet caught up in communicating with Marie.) The week is a gastric feast like no other, and poundage is added to us all.

For this one week of Francis’ visit, “normal” life is put aside for a week of conversation, a clean house, a joyful present exchange, visits to nearby sights of interest, (the ski area with the tubing hill, the amazing number of Christmas lights on houses that spend thousands of dollar on decorations, the local breweries, the wild, ravaging waves of the ocean, and, of course, Dave and Buster’s.)

Francis and his little family will be leaving tomorrow and life will be back to normal. I will miss him. And I will be waiting for his return next year!

Do any of you have prodigal children who return for the holiday? How is it for you?

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Celebrating New Year’s Eve with the children has always been a challenge. They have different tastes and interests. It is especially difficult with Marie because she is deaf. Movies are okay for her with closed captioning, but she only has a first grade reading level, so most of the words are beyond her understanding.

On Christmas day hubby hit the jackpot. Our oldest son, Francis, bought him the entire collection of the Three Stooges! We took advantage of this thoughtful gift on New Year’s Eve. The whole family sat around the television, gourmet pizza in hand, and apple juice as our simulated alcoholic drink. And we watched the Three Stooges. For HOURS. From 2014 to 2015. Their slapstick humor, so completely socially inappropriate now, was so funny that we doubled over with laughter and tears ran down our cheeks. THE WHOLE FAMILY! ESPECIALLY MARIE!!!!! Near the end of the evening, Marie, who had been sitting on the couch next to her dad, leaned over and put her head on his shoulder and her arms around his robust body. Almost afraid to move lest he scare her away, he gently put his arm around her, and looked at me and smiled. This child, who has a serious attachment disorder and from whom affection has been doled out in minuscule doses, was cuddling with her dad!

Afterwards, when we were all laughed out and the morning was near, one by one we reluctantly sauntered off to bed. While hubby and I were cuddling before allowing sleep to take over, hubby began to cry. “Did you see how Marie cuddled with me?” he asked. “It was the best night of my life.”

Yes. Yes it was!

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