Monday, December 26, 2011

He's the spirit of Christmas

      If I had a sentence to sum up my brother, Rick, it would be:  He truly is the spirit of Christmas.  This is a young man who takes time throughout the year listening to what people say about their likes, hopes, wants, desires.  He isn't the type to run into any old store last minute, trying to find a quick gift.  No, he begins a steady quest on the web, at estate sales, many different venues which none of us would think of. 
     He hears stories we all tell of special gifts we had as children, but had lost through the years.  The kind of gifts we held so dear to our hearts during the ups and downs of childhood.
      One year recently,  I was delighted to open a present containing my favorite doll from my youth, Beautiful Chrissie.  She had hair that grew long by the touch of a button, or you could wind her hair back into her head to create a shorter style.  This must sound strange to the young people of today of course, but she had the prettiest, happiest face, and Chrissie had gone everywhere with me once upon a time.  My own dear doll had been gone for many years, but there, in front of me, was that pretty face smiling up at me once again.
     Another time, I squealed with delight to find a favorite game of mine long gone, Voice of the Mummy.  It was an awesome game which had an Egyptian mummy as the main character which spoke cryptic phrases as you climbed the pyramid with your playing pieces.  I remembered hours upon hours with this beloved game, and here it was again!
     I once opened a gift containing that great, young adult game Mystery Date which first gave me the peek into the world of dating.  The pretty girls and handsome young men on the playing board were something I longed to be a part of.  My little girl's mind had many hopes and dreams to become as charming as they were.   My dear brother found this one at a yard sale, of all places.  I sit back and wonder, how does he do it?  How does he have the luck to find just the perfect gift, especially these collectibles which meant so much to me in my past?
     This year had to be the best though.  We have asked our parents to tell us about special gifts they had as children.  Our mother mentioned a dolly some person got for her one year, since her own parents never had the money to spend on three children.  Our dad said he never got toys either, usually some fruit and nuts in a stocking.  Yet there had been one year, when he was about ten, where his older brother had given him something which stood out.  Something he would remember all his life.
     Dad was a huge Lone Rangers fan.  He would listen to the program on the radio back in the era before television, hearing the amazing adventures of the masked man and his trusty steed.  To a young boy, back in the forties, this was one of the most exciting shows ever.  Dad's brother was several years older than him, and growing up, they weren't extremely close.   But one Christmas, Dad opened a gift which he treasured above all others.  It was a Lone Rangers watch.  The picture of the famous hero upon his horse, Silver as the face of the watch.  His older brother must have known how much he loved that program.  This was something Dad could really treasure.  As he grew older, he lost the beloved watch, as we all do when our attentions turn to more grown up things.
     Yesterday, on Christmas morning, we had finished opening our heaping abundance of treasures with everyone feeling content.  My brother reached behind the Christmas tree for a small, rectangular package.  This is also something he does.  Just when you think you have finished opening his piles of kindness, there is always just one more.  This year, Dad was the recipient.
     My son was ready with the camera.  Apparently he was in on it too.  Dad pulled the colorful wrapping from the small gift, opening the box inside carefully.  The look on his face at eighty one years old was priceless.  I choke back tears thinking about it even now.  There, inside the box,  was a Lone Rangers watch.  Not a replica, mind you, but an actual 1940's version.  My brother had done it again.  Dad couldn't believe his eyes.  Years melted away as the little boy inside him came to life once again with the most precious Christmas gift he had ever gotten.
     Thank you, Rick, from all our hearts.  You are truly the spirit of Christmas.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My mother's brush with death......

     It was February, 1971.  Snow had fallen the night before.  Dad was outside shoveling as I watched cartoons on a Sunday morning.  A huge noise from the room  above me, startled me.  My dog, Buffy, ran to the stairs, as I almost walked up to see what had happened.  I heard the strangest sound, a snoring, or gurgling from above.  My mother was upstairs, and it sounded scary.  I ran outside to tell my father.
     He came into the house to check on my mother, and called down to me from upstairs to phone my grandmother for an ambulance.  My eleven year old mind couldn't process what he was telling me, but I knew it was very serious.  I called my Nonna, who must have quickly dialed the ambulance service.
      A few moments later,  the ambulance crew arrived, quickly going up the stairs to see what had happened.  My mother had fallen, having a cardiac arrest, something we didn't know at the time.
     As they carried her out on a stretcher, she was conscious and spoke to me.  She told me not to worry, and to have fun.  My little mind couldn't process any of this.
     Years later, I heard details of her strange  hospital experience .  It seemed as they stabilized her for the night, my father was leaving the hospital to come home to me.  As he was walking down the hallway, he heard the code blue called over the loudspeakers.  He just knew it was for my mother.
     My mother had another cardiac arrest, this time much more serious.  She had to be revived, something I never knew at the time.
     The doctors and nurses were able to revive her after a few minutes.  When my father was able to see her again, she said something odd to him.  "Rich, I'm not afraid to die."  Then she told him her story.
     She felt herself being drawn down a long, dark tunnel.  The further and faster she went, she began to feel a profound peace settling about her.  She felt as if she was the only thing, only person that mattered in the world, and love was wrapping Itself about her.   She went no further, but was quickly drawn back to consciousness  and heard a loud "popping" sound as she came to.
      As I became an adult myself, I read many encounters of near death experiences.  They sounded very similar to what my mother had described.  She wasn't "out" as long as some of them, but long enough to have the experience she told us about.
      Mom has often shared this tale with people she meets, especially when they are grieving, or forlorn about a loved one who has passed.  Many times, she moves people to tears, and has often inspired others with her story.  I believe in what she says. 
     So, as St. Augustine said:  "God loves every one of us, as if there's only one of us."   I believe my mom had a glimpse of this.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A high school reuniting

     It is always fun to reconnect with someone you went to school with.  Recently I have had the privilege and pleasure of finding a good friend from my high school days, J. Michael Krivyanski.  Nobody could make me laugh like Mike did, back in my eleventh grade year.  He was a witty, fun, creative person.  It is no wonder then, my friend is a writer!  Hope you enjoy these interesting facts about a dear, old friend......Just don't tell him I said he was old!  Take some time and check out his books and blogs! 
J. Michael Krivyanski
Writer, husband, father and all around interesting guy

BORN: August 17, 1959 at U.S. Army Hospital in Landstuhl Germany.
(I’ll have to take people’s word on what happened that day. I don’t remember a thing and I really don’t look like that any more.)
MARRIED: July 25, 1987 – Present.
WIFE: Leatrice Elena. (Yes, her name is different. Her mother’s name is the same and she was named after the silent movie actress Leatrice Joy. There is also a flower by that name but it’s spelled different. When we moved into our home years ago my wife planted some of those flowers. I mowed the lawn one day and tore up her newly planted flowers. Unfortunately I thought they were weeds. OOOOOps. Still hear about that one when I go near the lawn mower.)
CHILDREN: Daughter, Alexandra born May 25, 1991(Should you want to learn about her younger days purchase a copy of Family Illustrated. It consists of many humor columns I wrote and published about being her dad.)
PARENTS: James (No middle name) and Elizabeth Ann MacLean. (To my knowledge I only had two.)
EDUCATION: Ambridge High School (I barely graduated. Thank you to those teachers who couldn’t wait to get rid of me.)
                          Point Park University, BA in Journalism and Communications. (I also barely graduated college. Thank you to those professors who couldn’t take my constant whining and couldn’t wait to get rid of me.)
(I’m always asked these questions for some reason.)
Movies: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
                As Good as it Gets
                Documentary about Poppa Neutrino
(These are just a few. There really are many more movies I love to watch.)
Music: 70’s and 80’s Rock-n-Roll. Classical symphonies. (Gustav Holst “The Planets” is one of my favorites).
Authors: John Steinbeck, Art Buchwald, Erma Bombeck, Dave Berry and John Kennedy Toole.
Books: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. (No matter how many times I read this book I always laugh and feel better when I’m finished.)
I began writing when I was fourteen years old. I saw a copy of Writer’s Digest and realized you could actually make money by telling stories. Up to that point I had only been punished for telling stories. I thought what a great way to make a living. I was not a good student. In high school I was usually in trouble for something. People in positions of authority were never impressed with the stories I had created.  They all seemed to have an obsession with the truth and reality. I wanted to write fiction.
At sixteen I had a joke published in a magazine. I actually got a very small paycheck for it. I never cashed the check. I walked around with it for a long time telling people I was a published author.  Everyone seemed to think I had just created another story.
After spending time in the military I started college and published poems and a few short stories. I met my wife and she became the focus of all my free time.
We moved to Burbank, CA after getting married. Following several failed attempts at selling a screenplay I had written I tried to give up on writing. I was convinced I had no talent. I was a new father and enjoyed every moment of it. Unfortunately I couldn’t stop writing. I wrote essays about the different aspects of being a new dad and just let them sit on my desk in our house. A friend who visited saw the essays, read them and insisted I send the essays out to newspapers. I thought he was crazy. I felt I had no talent. He wouldn’t let it go. I sent out a few of them to a local newspaper called The Burbank Leader. About a week later an editor from the newspaper called and wanted me to write a regular humor column for them. I was overwhelmed. I instantly agreed. Most of the columns I wrote during that time are featured in my book Family Illustrated.
We moved back to Pennsylvania in 1995. I continued to publish humor columns as well as various articles for local and national publications. I then began writing a humor column for Continental News Service which I still do today. I also continue to write articles for various publications. There are more books and even a screenplay in the works. I guess when you tell stories for a living the work never ends.



Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Morning Rays


    This is a little six sentence short story which I recently entered into some contests.  I didn't win, but it is a sweet little story you may enjoy reading.  There certainly is a challenge when one is confronted with the task of keeping a story to a minimum of words.  Lots of fun, not so easy, but definitely worth it!

     On a gnarled, oak bench, underneath a fragrant pine, sits my father, worn, leather prayer book open on his lap.  Jewel-colored hummingbirds dart to and fro suckling sweet nectar, when one flies near to whisper in my father’s ear.  Sunlight filters through the branches on this lazy morning.  He stands, stretching out the body, now bent from age, as his face turns upward letting the first rays of warmth course through him.  “Thank you, Father,” he says.  It will be a good day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A move to the big city

     With that deer-in-the-headlights look, I began my first day at a new job over five years ago.  Twenty seven years at another job, and there I was starting over again.
     My husband  Jim and I had met at an online dating site.  After a few failed attempts at other relationships, my brother opened up my world to this type of dating.  Scary at first, it grew to be quite fun.  There were a few others I met in the cyber world, but Jim was the special one.  The one that could make me laugh.
     I had left everything behind, brother, parents and old friends to pursue my new life with this man.  We hadn't dated too long before deciding to marry.  I found myself moving to a larger city, and a strange, fast-paced lifestyle that was foreign to me.
     Oddly enough, I had practically grown up in a dental office, as I had begun my career as  a dental assistant when I was only eighteen years old.  There I was, forty six, and trembling at the thought of learning dreaded computer skills.
     The former dental office had been quaint, old-fashioned with a rickety, old typewriter that had been my daily companion.  Before me was a keyboard that didn't look anything like my dear old friend.
     Patiently, my new boss, dear Kathy sat by my side, encouraging me every step of the way.  She may never know the stomach pains which had gripped me in those first hours and days.
     Soon enough, I realized the bulky monstrosity was so much more than the old, Royal typewriter I had left behind.  It could do things I had only dreamed of.
     Maybe this new, fast-paced lifestyle was something that could be embraced.  Something to look forward to.
     The stomach pains faded as the days flew by.  Here it is, almost six years later.  The big city has brought so much more into my world.  Love, new friendships, a church family closer than anything I could have dreamed of.   And not only has the office computer become my friend, but my boss Kathy has too.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


     Recently I was talking with an old friend about her daughter.  She was thanking me for being there for her when her daughter was going through spinal surgery for scoliosis.  She mentioned that someone should write a blog, sharing their experience with curvature of the spine to help others who may be going through this trauma.
     You see, when I was about twelve years old, I noticed something about myself in the mirror.  When a young girl should begin to develop curves, I was developing lumps.  Something was distinctly wrong with the image looking back at me.
     My pants were fitting funny, my back was aching.  It wasn't until my poor mother was scratching my back one day, and noticed something very wrong with me, did we even know there was something to be truly concerned about.
     All I could do was panic and cry when mom said we should call for a doctor appointment.  I think I had been fooling myself that something would change. 
     I asked Mom what she thought we would find out when we saw the doctor.  Did she think they had to do some type of surgery on me?  She assured me, no, there was probably nothing like that which I would have to go through.
     Was she wrong!  We sat in a specialists office with a doctor who had no bedside manner whatsoever.  He blurted out that I had scoliosis, would need a spinal fusion, which was major surgery, and would be in a body cast for almost a year.  Surgery was quickly scheduled.
     In June of my twelfth year, I found myself in Children's Hospital, amidst young people with so many different stories.  Some of them had the curvature which I had, yet others had even more serious issues.
     During my time there, I met some wonderful angels in the form of the nurses, candy stripers, volunteers and other patients.  I was to learn through each of these people something which I would take with me for the rest of my life.  Courage, determination, hope, patience.
     We all learned to communicate on our hospital ward with pen and paper.  My parents were the couriers who brought the notes back and forth to all of us children going through many different surgeries, as we couldn't get out of our hospital beds.
     I was in the hospital for three weeks.  My parents were so very strong for me at that time.  I would never know how hard it was for them, seeing their little girl going through so many things.  But they were my saviors, and strength.  The cards and letters that family members and friends sent, were encouragement to me.  Books became my best friend at that time.
     It was not easy at first but after leaving the hospital, adapting to a new style of life in a body cast soon became second nature to me.  I had to be tutored at home, since school was going to be difficult.
     I didn't like feeling so different from other girls I was seeing.  They were beautiful, curvy, free from the confines of a  plaster prison.  I felt like some sort of freak show whenever I would go anywhere with my parents, as people always stared at the huge contraption I was wearing.  I think the only place I felt normal, was at the hospital, or doctor's office for the many xrays they had to take.
     A smaller cast was placed on me after about eight months, and it was strange having my neck free to move about once again.  Something I had taken for granted before, but it all felt so free!  I could move again!
     The hardest part is being a young teenager when you are going through something like this.  Feeling like an alien, or feeling like an outcast.  But know there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it is all worthwhile.  Our bodies are free from severe deformity.  Something people in the past weren't even able to go through. Let's thank the Lord above that there are surgeons out there, good surgeons who do their jobs well. 
     Let's all be a light for one another, and pass our stories along to help the next person possibly going through the trauma of spinal surgery.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

He's twenty four

     I am amazed when I see my son at this age.  How can he possibly be twenty four, when I was just that age a few, short years ago?  No, it was alot longer than that, but it still puzzles me to think time has passed so quickly.
     What a fine, young man he has become.  I see things in him I never would have seen in myself.  He has more courage, more spunk than anyone I know. 
     It is nothing for him to just pick up and drive to downtown Pittsburgh on his own.  Mind you, no GPS involved.  If he asks someone to go with him, and they can't, he doesn't even seem bothered by it.  Just grabs his awesome Nikkon camera, and heads off.
     The photos of the buildings, the angles he captures are breathtaking.  It's as if he's laying there on the busy sidewalks on his back, staring up into the sky.  I learned to appreciate our town even more through his eyes.
     I don't comprehend photography.  I hate carrying a camera with me.  It is a burden I want nothing to do with.  My son carries his everywhere.  You never know when there is going to be just that perfect shot, he'll say.  Believe me, he captures things that make beautiful photographs.  Some of his work seems destined for enlarging, and framing. 
     Every few weeks we get together on a Sunday for an outing together.  I am thrilled that he wants to be with his mom, going places and seeming to enjoy the time with me.
     We went to the Aviary this year, where he proceeded to photograph all the colorful species of birds held captive in that building.   Phipps Conservatory was another place filled with photo opportunities for him.  I like walking around, taking it all in.  The burden of a camera isn't something that appeals to me. 
     I am not sure this fall, where one of our outings will take us to.  I look forward again, to seeing the world through his eyes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My dad

     Early this morning, my dear, sweet, eighty year old father called me before I went to work.  It is always a surprise for me hearing from him, as he hates the phone, and prefers time spent together face to face.  He is a precious human being, and sometimes he reminds me of Fred Rogers.  He has that quiet way about him, and in some ways, even resembles him.  Once, when I was little, he put a sweater on, the way Mr. Rogers did, and even sang the beautiful day in the neighborhood song.
     I spent the weekend back home with my family.  I moved away five years ago to pursue a new life and new marriage.  Even though life is new and fresh for me, I miss them so very much.  I especially miss the mornings spent with my dad.
     He had major heart surgery over twelve years ago.  When he was recovering, we would meet each morning before I went to work, and would take long walks together.  It was good therapy for his heart condition, but better therapy for me.  I learned things about him, I could never have known before.
     My father's first language was Italian.  His parents were first generation immigrants and came to this country with no knowledge of the English langauge.  I am amazed that he and his siblings learned English so well, and that his parents, my beloved grandparents, were able to speak English so well after a short time in this country.
     I laugh now, because my father hardly remembers any of his first language.  Whenever we are around Italian speaking people, he muddles through somehow, but seems very uncomfortable with it.
     He has been a tower of strength in my family's life.  Always there for us, hard-working, kind and giving.  Also quite the talented builder, for my father makes models of all types.
     When he was younger, he built classic model ships.  Huge ones filled with tiny rigging lines and small plastic parts that you had to pick up with tiny tweezers.  He has graduated into doll houses now, large, Victorian models with winding staircases and individual roof shingles, hardwood floors and tiny bricks.  Patience is one of his greatest virtues.
     I look forward to my next conversation or visit with my father.  When I grow up, I hope to be just like him.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lunch with an old friend

     Out of my very busy day, I made time to meet with an old, dear friend.  Well, don't tell her I said that, she isn't by any means, old.  But, dear, she is.  We had worked together for the last five years, and she left the dental office we worked in together just a few, short months ago.
     Our big dilemma today was where to eat for lunch.  After kicking around pizza, Chinese, or sandwich shops, we mutually decided on Chinese food.  It was amazingly good food at that!  Why didn't I ever hear of honey glazed chicken before?  It was tender, white meat, with a light breading, and the most delectable honey sauce on top.  It left my taste buds just tingling.
     None of those fast food type Chinese places for me.  I like a good, sit-down restaurant.  We made it there a little before noon, and then it began filling up.  I will say this though, we didn't have to wait long for our service, and the food was hot and filling.
     We drove to my house afterward where we proceeded to spend the next two hours non-stop talking, catching up on one anther's lives.  I didn't realize just how much I missed my friend. 
     You see, I only lived in this town for about five years.  I left behind family and old friends to marry a man that I met later in life.  Again, don't tell him I said that, it isn't that much later.  But this dear girl, is the first true friend I made out here in what I call the big city.  
     Every day at work, I would await her humor and antics.  She sang as she put patients in the room.  She hummed when she cleaned instruments.  Life was good, and very happy in our small, dental world. 
     There was a time, she decided that the Geico gecko was the funniest little critter in the world.  She began placing pictures of the little guy everywhere, hoping I would find them and laugh.  I did.
     We took daily walks in a nearby park on our lunch hour.  We solved many a world crisis on those days.  We laughed, we cried.  We became the best of friends.
     Now my time with her is limited.  I am lucky to see her every few months.  But I am blessed to still count her as one of my dearest, dearest friends.