Friday, November 23, 2012

Creative Month of November: Blog 4- Letters from Mom & Mimi

Dear Ellie,

With the season of Thanksgiving upon us, I think it’s important to always reflect and be appreciative (particularly since we are so blessed to spend Thanksgiving with family in Disney but in our excitement and haste among the parks, I think sometimes old traditions are forgotten).  It is here that I want to share a story of a young girl who captured not only my heart but those around the world recently.  She is a 14 year old Pakistani girl who wanted to go to school.  Sadly, her village was still among those in control of the Taliban (a militant group adamantly opposed to western culture, women’s rights, and everything in between).  They are the antithesis of democracy.  Because of this girl’s blog (in which she stated her opinion about females and education), she was gunned down by the Taliban on October 9 of this year.  Her name is Malala Yousufzai and she is healing currently in the United Kingdom (because the Taliban warned that they will come again for her if she survives).  My heart breaks that her home has become her enemy but I love that the world has adopted her cause.  This is where my story of thanks begins.

First of all, I am thankful that Malala is alive as her survival amidst that ambush is miraculous.  Secondly, I am grateful that she is stoic and strong.  She has become a beacon for basic human rights.  But more than that Ellie (as selfishly as It may sound), I am so appreciate that you have a role model beyond our television screen, music industry, and social media outlets.  Malala’s purpose is far greater than herself and her image.  And she’s only 14… courage defies age and is limitless.  Kids can do great things- they can be shakers and movers too.  Like Malala, I want you to stand up and be a voice for those who can’t or won’t talk.  I want you to stand up for not only yourself but for those weaker than you (and Ellie if your 2 year old self is any indication of how you will be at 14, you will be the lion not the zebra).  It’s ok to question, to formulate well reasoned and educated decisions, and to go deeper than our pop culture addresses.  At two and half, your favorite show to watch on television isn’t a cartoon, it’s the adult musical movie Hairspray.  I’m sure the singing and dancing make it entertaining for you but I wonder if this foreshadows your years ahead as the show confronts societal issues like the Civil Rights movement and weight barriers (I know this seems silly but the fact that you choose this over Elmo, Barney, Mickey Mouse, and countless others shows me that you are different from your peers). 

This excerpt is taken from Ashley Fantz (CNN)’s article called Pakistan’s Malala: Global Symbol but Still Just a Kid from 10/15/2012
She (Malala) rarely showed fear, and she didn't hide her face
"I have the right of education," she said in a 2011 interview with CNN. "I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up."
Why do you risk your life to raise your voice? a reporter asked her.
In perfect English, she answered that her people need her.
"I shall raise my voice," she insisted.
"If I didn't do it, who would?" she said.
Girls who are scared should fight their fear, she said.
"Don't sit in your bedrooms”

Ellie, I am beyond thankful that you can sleep safely at night and that I know here in America (and with us as your parents), you will be educated to your full potential.  And although we don’t live in a perfect place, I hope that you are always treated equally with regards to gender.  While we are so far ahead of many other countries, we still have our own issues with sex and race particularly).  But maybe that’s for your generation to confront and make peace with.

And so Ellie, as we are enjoying our family vacation, I want you to remember to give thanks.  This isn’t a letter to make you feel guilty about what we have but rather be grateful about the circumstances in which we have it.  But secondly, remember your voice- it’s God’s gift to you to be heard so use it with care, strength, power, and love (like Malala).  You have the right to live, to be happy, to rise to your potential (without harming others in the process… remember Spiderman’s adage here- “With great power, comes great responsibility”), and to change the world as you see fit (particularly if you see a miscarriage of justice).

Ellie, be a catalyst for a transformation if you see deem It necessary (and be ever-thankful that you live in a society that may not necessarily embrace it but will enable you speak your mind and explore paths not taken).

It would only be fitting to leave you with a Walt Disney quote on the subject, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

I love you and I so appreciate that we have this week as a family in Disney World!  Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 16, 2012

Creative Month of November: Blog 3- Letters from Mom & Mimi

Dear Ellie Bean,

Well, your mommy has given me a couple of weeks reprieve before diving into our next story.  (Good thing too El as ‘life’ as we knew it no longer exists!)  And that is a good thing!  Because your Daddy and Mommy made a long thought out decision this past summer to return to their roots here in State College, the hustle and bustle of the three of you settling in to your new surrounds has been quite busy these past few weeks.  Your Poppy and I love, love, love seeing you on a more daily basis. (Skyping was a Godsend when you were in Denver, but nothing beats the real deal… having you here to watch, to enjoy and to love each and everyday.  
We are in heaven my darling grand daughter to say the least.  So I think it is befitting to follow suite with your mom.  In her last blog entry she wrote her hopes and dreams for you and your future Ellie.  I had the chance to read them before they went public and I couldn’t agree with her more.  So this week I would like to do the same thing… write my hopes and dreams for you as you grow up from a grandmother’s perspective.

I know all babies are born with ‘personalities’, but Ellie yours was truly unique from the ‘git-go!’  The day you showed your Walter side- and that was at 2 days old- was the day your Mommy and I realized that your character traits were going to be quite broad.  
Your determination to do things on your own has shown many your strong will…(some may call it stubbornness, I call it destiny to great things.)  Your sense of timing when someone needs a kiss, a hug or just a silly laugh is uncanny and shows your compassionate and gentle side for someone so tiny.  But it is your ability to listen, to understand and repeat that really has me in awe.  Ellie, I am talking about how (again) starting from a baby you were able to sing the words to the songs your Mommy and/or I sang to you.  One of the songs in particular that I sang to you from Day 1 was your Uncle Ryan’s favorite- I Love My Teddy bear.  You would watch my mouth and my eyes so intently that after only a few times singing it, you were able to join in on many of the words with me.   Your Mommy would sing another one to you called You Are My Sunshine.  
You knew those words by heart, or let me be clearer and say that you knew the words to the only verse your mom repeatedly sang to you by heart.  The day I sang it and proceeded into the second verse… you looked at me as though I had two heads!  Ellie, it was the funniest look I ever got!  And the funniest look you have gotten from me is your ‘2 minute rule.’  You have mastered or should I say manipulated that saying to perfection… “It is time for bed”, “2 minutes”…  “Please put your toys away”, “2 minutes”… “Say Goodbye”, “2 minutes”… “It’s bath time”, “2 minutes” and this can go on and on!  Another “Ellie” original is your version of playing Hide-N-Go-Seek.  
You let me count to 10 while you hide.  Even though I know exactly where you are I prolong finding you by looking in other places.  While doing so I always make statements out loud and to myself as to where you are not.  Example: I’ll say “Hmmm… is Ellie in the closet?” of which I will hear a far off response from you saying, “No I not.  I in here!”  Then I will go to the next place and say “Hmmm… is Ellie in the bathtub?” of which you will again answer from some far away place saying, “No I not.  I in here!”  I continue with these random ‘room’ visits and you always respond the same way.  When I do finally go in search of you, you are usually standing in direct eyesight screaming with excitement!  We then play the game another dozen times with you usually hiding in the same exact place!  And the best part of all Ellie is that the game never gets old with you.  Each time you hide and whether it is in the same spot or not, you still scream with delight and excitement upon being found!  But as usual, you can see that I have slipped off task.  When writing Ellie and the Magic Teapot stories I have to stay focused on the adventure at hand, but with you there is already so much to write about.  Each day you bring us a different ‘Ellie’ adventure and so many ‘Ellie-isms’!  And it’s only been 2 ½ years so far.

So if I were to share my hopes and dreams with you Ellie, besides all the wonderful things your mom has written and yes I agree to all of it, I would have to add ‘For You To Be Happy.’  I pray that each morning you wake you are happy that God has given you a beautiful day to explore.  I pray that the people who come and go in your life bring you happiness and insight on how to be sincere and compassionate with others.  I pray that you are happy in your school environment and absorb like a sponge all the knowledge (and then some) that is taught to you.  I pray that opportunities and experiences (especially the rare ones) bring you happiness and a drive to make a difference that leads to a better future for those less fortunate.  I pray that your faith brings you happiness when guiding you down your path.  I guess what I am saying Ellie is that I pray Happiness not only follows you but is actually a part of you, for when you smile nothing radiates more as it is truly genuine.  On a more personal ‘Hope and Dream’… I would love for you to someday join your mom and I in writing our blogs and possibly even our Ellie and the Magic Teapot stories, although I am not sure how much weight the whole “Left-Brain/Right-Brain Thinkers” will play a part in this hopeful ideal of mine.  You see even though you are only 2 ½ at this writing, I am leaning (but not 100%) towards your way of thinking to be left-brain: logical, analytical and objective because your ability to already reason is uncanny.  The right brain thinkers are said to be intuitive (which you do seem to have a connection with Kyle), thoughtful (when it is on your terms) and creative (your coloring would put Picasso and Jackson Pollock to shame!), so we will have to see as the years go by where your strengths lay.  With the amazing genes you have acquired from both sides of your family and a bit of luck to boot, may you find yourself evenly balanced between the two El!

But right now there is a whole world waiting for you to explore.  You my darling Grand-daughter have brought so much happiness to so many others that the time has already begun for you to enjoy each day to its fullest and hopefully discover your passion as well as your purpose for being.  May each step you take bring a smile to your face and happiness to your heart!  Oh, and by the way… I also have a ‘hope and dream’ for myself too.  It is that I never get too old to play with you!)
Love you Ellie-bean!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Creative Month of November: Blog 2- Letters from Mom & Mimi

Dear Ellie,

We finally finished our last Ellie and the Magic Teapot story... and like before, your Mimi and I had a blast writing it.  We loved developing the crazy characters that Ellie and Lion, the main characters, encounter.  But really, I think your Mimi and I can both agree that what we adore most is weaving in your personality throughout (and even though our character Ellie is older than you are, she is you in her strength, quirkiness, and nature).  Although I find writing these weekly blogs to you to be therapeutic (my way of journaling I suppose), I find myself stressing out when your Mimi tells me that her part of the blog is finished and it's my turn to continue.  Your Mimi writes so well and so descriptively, I feel inadequate because I don't think I can write my piece at a level that she did.  It usually takes me about four days to ponder, worry, and dwell before diving in to begin my piece.  Writing back and forth is such a good exercise and writing tool as it forces you out of your comfort zone and pushes your limits (when you are old enough, we are going to get you in this routine with us).  I think I've become a better writer because of the bar your Mimi sets (she forces me to take my time and not rush, which has always been a weakness of mine not just in writing).  Because this story did take a lot (we pour many hours into Ellie and the Magic Teapot series as we have such a passion for creative writing) and because we have some busy weeks ahead of us, we aren't going to write another Ellie and the Magic Teapot story until January.  Late November and December will still be creative months but we are going to draft some poetry for you in the interim. As for these next two weeks, I wanted to address our move to Pennsylvania one final time by drafting letters to you with our hopes for you in your new home (this week I will do it and next week, your Mimi will). 

We definitely miss our Colorado friends who made our time out west memorable and I know we will keep in touch.  We have so many relationships that came out of our time spent there- people welcomed us transplants with arms wide open and accepted us as if we had lived there forever.  Remember Ellie, we don’t good-bye but see you soon.  But now it’s time for a new chapter.  

So my Sweet Girl,

I have come full circle... I am home.  And I hope that you feel like this is home too.  I truly never thought this day would come.  Your Dad and I left Pennsylvania in 2006 and it was one of the best decisions we have ever made.  Leaving the comfort of our family and friends strengthened our marriage in ways that that wouldn't have been possible had we otherwise stayed.  We learned to lean on each other.  This reliance gave us a solid foundation that enabled our relationship to flourish.  I am most proud of how we learned to communicate effectively (as we really are opposites).  But now, nearly 7 years later, we are a solid unit and you my dear Ellie have molded us into a family.  What I learned is that sometimes you need to leave to gain perspective.  Ellie, I will encourage you to spread your wings as you grow.  Growing up in a small town can be such a great opportunity.  Namely it shelters you from a lot of the world's woes.  However, small town life can be confining and smothering.  I will push you to travel and try new things but I will also remind you that nothing is as strong as family.  If you choose to follow your Mimi and my paths to move across the country someday, I will fully support you (just as your Mimi did for me) but know that I will make sure our bond stays strong (and be prepared for many visits).  No matter how far you go, your family will always be in your heart (and on your doorsteps whenever possible!).  That being said, your Dad and I realized that after your brother Kyle's passing and watching you grow, we need to be around those that love us the most.  And especially for you, what a better way to develop and grow than being around grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins!  It does take a village to raise a child and I want you to feel the love and encouragement that I felt growing up amidst our family. 

In these next few years, I want you to be comfortable with your family (your Mimi and Poppy won't ever expect you to knock and will expect you to visit for tea often), explore the outdoors (I have many hikes planned), and take advantage of the wonderful academic opportunities (the school district is fantastic).  I also want to be able to introduce you to the many cultural places that are within a few hours’ drive- NYC, Philadelphia, and DC.  I know we won't have access to a zoo or aquarium (or a decent mall) everyday but the university in the center of our town will offer new possibilities.  And I expect you to make new friends here- lots of them.  It's so convenient that many of my old friends, whom we will be back with, have children too.  You will fit right in.

Most of all Ellie, I want you to feel the security and warmth that being near loved ones bring.  You will never have a shortage of people at future concerts, recitals, or award ceremonies.  You will never be lonely.  But also remember that these things that will be bestowed upon you, you need to reciprocate and show love, respect, and acceptance to in return.  If you feel stifled, make sure you find a healthy outlet (writing is that for me).  And try to remember how blessed you are to have this opportunity.  It wasn't until I moved to Denver that I realized how much I took for granted.  When I would think about home, memories of lively dinners, crazy holidays, Saturday lunches, evening theater, daily tea time, reunions during tailgates, and eccentric classes would make me long to go back.  And now here we are!   

Oh Ellie- the fun we will have.  I see so many adventures in our future but the best part of them is that they will be filled with family alongside of us!  Never forget where you came from because it is why you are the person you are today and it lays the backbone for who you will become tomorrow.  And one final note- home isn't a specific place but one that is filled with love, warmth, security, comfort, friends and family.  For me, home is this cloudy small city nestled in a valley in the middle of nowhere- not necessarily because it's beautiful or bustling with activity but because of the people it holds within, the nostalgic memories it has given me, and the bright future it holds for you.
I love you Ellie and I am so happy to be home! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ellie and the Magic Teapot Into the Secret Forest: November Blog 1- Letters from Mom & Mimi


Poppy came to help us move back home and spend time with you (thank goodness we had him here with our extra unexpected time in Denver due to Hurricane Sandy)!
Dear Spaghetti,

We made it back to Pennsylvania Ellie, even with Hurricane Sandy delaying our flight by a day (and we are keeping all those affected by its destruction in our prayers, including our South Jersey family)!  You had a lot of fun with your Poppy who came out to help with the final part of the move (and I feel so lucky that he was here not only to work out the logistics of everything but for his company- you and I both enjoy spending time with him).  You were an angel on the plane (and these past few hectic days with all of the schedule alterations).  You and I were both so excited to see your Daddy who was waiting anxiously for us at the airport.  Since we arrived on Halloween night (amidst trick-or-treating), we improvised on the normal traditions and it turned out to be the perfect way to introduce you to your new house- dinner with Daddy, Mimi, and Poppy while handing out candy!  

Despite feeling completely disorganized (as all of our belongings are sealed up in the moving boxes hopefully on a truck being carted east), we are happy and adjusted (and loving being reunited with your Dad as a family again).  Since we have so many people to catch up with, it will take a while before we can see everyone and create a new normal.  Life is pretty fantastic right now.  We feel so loved and blessed that we found our way back to where we belong- HOME!

And now here is our yearlong bedtime story/stories (with many chapters to write!) for you. 

So as for our weekly guidelines: I write a piece one week in regular font, and then your Mimi will write a piece in italics the next week.  The only things your Mimi and I agreed on were the characters- Ellie and a magic teapot and the setting (a forest with trolls).  Anything else is fair game and will make our adventure a new tale.  We also need to figure out an illustration to go with our part.  Our goal Ellie is to have a beloved bedtime story for you and future generations.  And so we will continue our third piece of fiction. 

This is our last chapter of this story Ellie!  How fitting that we are closing this book and opening a new piece next week (although it was a coincidence, it couldn’t have mirrored our lives any better with our new start back in Pennsylvania)!  We hope you liked reading about the characters in this one as much as your Mimi and I did inventing them.  Trolls may have been hard to write but they allowed us to have such freedom with our imaginations!

Ellie and the Magic Teapot: Into the Secret Forest Part 14
As Ellie pulled the teapot out of her pocket, she handed it to Lion and told him to go and fill it up with water while she set the teacups and their saucers on the table.

“All right El, I will as long as someone points me in the right direction,” Lion purred.

Trudy overhearing Lions statement cackled in a grandmotherly voice, “Go around to the south side of my cave and you will find a well filled with fresh water that you are welcome to use.” 

So Lion did just that, and a few minutes later he came skipping around the corner with the teapot so full its water was sloshing over the sides. “Here you go Ellie,” a slightly wet Lion sang breathlessly.

Ellie giggled and took the teapot from Lion.  Then she carefully poured its contents into each cup while whispering the magical words, “Baooohhhaoooahaljaljljljafooj….” And just like each time before; music, glitter, and rainbows swirled all around lifting them up, up, up.  As they floated further away from the Secret Forest and right before it completely disappeared from their sight Ellie and Lion heard a faint (and very familiar) cackle singing a song off key.  It brought laughter to their bellies and a smile to their faces as Trudy sang her “Giggle, Giggle, Coo” song.  But this time it had a fresh new verse.

“Giggle, giggle, coo,
Chuckle, chuckle, hey,
Thank you for the laughter
And friends you brought today.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson,
Not to take what isn’t mine,
I need to think before I act
And trust that all will be fine.

The secrets in our hearts
And no one needs a key
For if it’s filled with kindness
The cost of friendship is freeeeeeeee.”

As the songs last word trailed off into silence, Ellie and Lion knew that Trudy’s heart was now filled with goodness.  And on that thought Ellie and Lion landed right in the middle of Ellie’s comfy mattress with a soft thump. 

“That was some adventure El,” Lion crooned as he scooted into a sitting position while unconsciously rubbing the fur on his chin with his left paw. 

“Indeed it was,” Ellie responded.  Then she sidled up next to him settling all her weight on her shins.  “But you are looking a bit perplexed Lion.  What is it that you are thinking about?” she questioned. 

Lion answered, “Well… you know how much I love it when your Mom reads us The Secret Forest book every night before bed?  It really is my favorite Ellie because your Mom voices the best expressions of all.  And I think I have it almost memorized because she makes it sound so exciting every time.  It doesn’t matter that the book never changes… I still get excited when the adventurous parts happen and you hold my hand, and when the scary parts come and my heart skips a beat you give me a comforting hug, and when the funny parts take place we giggle and giggle and giggle.”

“I agree with you.  So why the confused look?” Ellie encouraged him on.

“Like I said, I know most of the book by heart.  But now that we took an adventure into the story everything that was familiar to us has changed.  Especially the ending!  What happens now Ellie when your Mom reads us the story tomorrow?” fretted Lion.
“That’s easy.  It will still be the same story we’ve heard each day since Mimi sent the book to my Mom all those months ago.  But Lion, the cool thing about books is that sometimes someone will think up a different ending and will go ahead and write a new version of it.  In our case, since it was you and I that experienced first hand the changed adventure in the Secret Forest, well… I guess it is up to us to try and rewrite a fresh version and a new ending to this story.  How about I get out my zoo tablet and penguin pencil and we get started!  I’ll be the narrator and you can jot down everything I say,” Ellie bossed.

Lion yawned, “Anything you say El.  But right now can we just crawl under the covers and close our eyes for the night?  We’ve had such a busy day that I think I need to sleep now.  Can we be authors tomorrow?”

“Mmmmm… I guess.  I’m pretty tired too,” Ellie answered while dragging Lion up to the head of the bed.  She made sure the pillow was fluffed before they lay down.  Then she reached for the blanket and covered them both.  Within moments they were sound asleep.

Shortly after, Ellie’s Mom came into her room ready to read their favorite bedtime fairytale.  She was surprised to see Ellie and her favorite stuffed animal Lion were already sleeping and quite soundly too.  She also noticed the open book lying on top of the covers and figured Ellie had read it to herself.  Instead of waking her up, Ellie’s Mom bent down to give a gentle kiss on the side of her cheek.  Then she bolted upright with a quizzical look on her face.  While scratching her head she whispered to no one in particular, “Ellie-spaghetti where on earth were you and your furry little friend exploring?  I know we did not have noodles for breakfast, lunch or dinner today, yet you and your Lion each have one stuck to your clothes!  And what’s this?” she questioned silently upon closer examination of Ellie’s stuffed animal friend.  “Your Lion has a tinge of green on his fur… now where could that have come from?” she mumbled as she searched Ellie’s room for something out of the ordinary.  “Spaghetti-girl, I know you did not leave this room while I was on the phone but yet you always seem to find a bit of mischief to get into.  Hmmmm… I guess I will have to ask you when you awake in the morning.  Till then, sweet dreams my precious darling daughter.”  And then Ellie’s Mom turned off the light as she tiptoed out of her bedroom.

Smiling in her sleep Ellie’s mind was already dreaming.  She was conjuring up hers and Lions next adventure….
We love you Ellie!
Mom & Mimi