...and I am very happy there.

...and I am very happy there.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Present

Cookie baking, Midnight services, the tearing of Christmas wrappings, the joy of children's laughter, aah the sights and sounds of Christmas.

Christmas returned this year. Our grandchildren came to visit!

While we do understand the babe in the manger and his purpose for coming to earth and why we celebrate Christmas, having family to share in the celebration completes the picture for us.

Having had to celebrate a Christmas without our kids and grandkids last year, Jim and  I know too well the loneliness that can come without family members around.

Seeing  the anticipation in the children's eyes when they see all the presents under the tree and hearing their excitement upon opening their gifts. just accentuates how joyful the occasion of the Christ child is.

"Keep Christ in Christmas!" Is the chant on the street, in the church, and on this new communication technology called FaceBook. I wonder what God thinks as he looks down on his creation celebrating a holy day in honor of his son's birth. I can only relate it to how I feel to see my children and my grandchildren experience the joy of the day. Celebrate! Yes, celebrate with abandon this day.

Parents, teach your children the meaning behind the gift exchange, the lights, the tree, the manger, the star. Help them to see beyond the Santas and elves and reindeer.

It's impossible to avoid the commercialism, so use it to your advantage to save money, buy gifts for those that won't have any gifts, invite a lonely widow, widower, or someone that has no family to celebrate with you. The Christ they see in you may be the only Christ they will ever see.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010


In my humble opinion, Santa has been given a bad rap.  

My cousin sent me this and I love it! If it doesn't capture the spirit of the Christmas, I don't know what does. 
I re-post it here for you...
For those who refuse to believe in Santa...

I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma.
I was just a kid.

I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"

My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her "world-famous" cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus?" she snorted...."Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad!! Now, put on your coat, and let's go."

"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun. "Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days. "Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.

I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.

For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.

I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class. Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough; he didn't have a good coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat! I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that."Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down. "Yes, ma'am," I replied shyly. "It's for Bobby."

The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, "To Bobby, From Santa Claus" on it. Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially, one of Santa's helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going."

I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma.

Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.

Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were -- ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.

I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside: "$19.95."

May you always have LOVE to share,
HEALTH to spare and FRIENDS that care...
And may you always believe in the magic of Santa Claus!

With love, JoAnn

Friday, December 10, 2010

O Christmas Tree!

Replacement trees that will grow for years to come.
Earlier this week we went and cut down our Christmas Tree. We have been doing this for years. I always wanted to do this when I was a kid. You would think living on 75 acres of land we would be able to find one pine worthy of the role, but either the snow was too deep or we ran out of time. And believe me most trees that grow in the wild do not look as classy as the trees you find in the tree farms. They do trim them to grow that way or trim them just before the buying season starts so you will think they grow that way.

I do remember as a kid being dragged from lot to lot trying to find a reasonably priced tree (was Mom looking for a bargain?) the week of Christmas. I remember thinking, "why do we have to go out on THE COLDEST day of the year and get a tree at the last minute, when all the lots are cleared out of good trees???" Maybe it was because money was tight and we lived paycheck to paycheck. Whatever, it was not the romantic tree hunting expedition I saw on television or read about in books. (Thinking Little House on the Prairie here).

As I look back on old Christmas pictures from when I was growing up, the trees are pretty pathetic. (My sister's tell me there was one year that dad tied two trees together!!) But the only memories I carry are the decorating on Christmas Eve with either Christmas music on the HiFi or from Lawrence Welk on TV. I remember "singing along with Mitch Miller" but usually that was after the tree was decorated so I could follow along with the music book that came with album.

Why we decorated on Christmas Eve I never knew, today I cannot even imagine squeezing that in to our routine.

One Grandma and one grandson ready to go!
When my own kids were old enough to enjoy the thrill of picking out a tree, we would all pile into the van and go on our way to a local tree farm to find THE PERFECT TREE. On the way to and from the farms, we would play our favorite Christmas music. This always included Gene Autry's Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer album which was a favorite growing up and soon became my kids' favorite. Irreverent though it may be (sorry Jess) it started us off on our celebration which culminated in recognition of Christ's birth.

The one for us.
They all look good, but only one can be THE ONE!
When my nephew was a young boy, he and his father went out to cut a tree from the ones we had planted years before on the land we owned in West Shokan. That was as close to the romanticized picture I had at the time. What took away from that picture was the cigarette hanging out of my brother's mouth as he led the expedition and then cut the tree.

Dad gives a lesson in saws.
Let the cutting begin!

That is until years later, when I took my own grandson and went on the hunt for a tree. After many years of scoping out different farms and comparing prices, I settled on a nice farm on the Ulster/Greene county line. I loved the idea that these folks were common folks just trying to make a little extra money. (Greene county is one of the poorest in our state.) I also loved the idea that NY city dwellers hadn't "discovered" this hideaway and ruined its pureness. I also loved the "green" idea of always replanting new trees for subsequent years. It was a bit more expensive than buying a precut tree, but it lasted so much longer and made it worth the price.

So one year, I took my son and his son to the farm to search, cut and load up the perfect Christmas tree. They were staying at the Jollies (Jess' parents) so we met at the farm. On our drives to the farm it started to snow. PERFECT! When we arrived, because it was early we were the only ones on the lot - PERFECT! Bryan took the camera and started shooting. Eventually we picked a tree and as he cut, I shot the photos. The tree was beautiful. A memory was made. The romantic tape in my head was almost completely realized. (A roaring fire and hot chocolate with the rest of the family would have made it perfect.)

Nowadays, its mostly just Jim and I that head to the farm to pick and cut a tree. It's not quite the same without the kids, but it gives me a sliver of nostalgia that I would like to hold on to. We don't have the Christmas music on the CD in the truck as we head out, because we are usually reminiscing about the "old days" and when we get home it's Chai Tea Latte instead of Hot Chocolate. No, we are not stuffy, elitists -- we just like Chai better than the chocolaty stuff. If the kids ever join us again they will have a choice!

Oh, and for those that get their shorts in a tizzy about what a tree represents, get over it. We look to the tree (especially a living tree) to draw us closer to the Light of the World. It still is the one time of year, when most of the world is at least thinking about the Christ child and may ask the question, "What child is this?" and the gospel message goes out once again. Yes, I too hope we look beyond the trees, the gifts and the food to see the Truth of the Christmas holiday...that unto us a child is born, and he shall be called the The King of Kings! See Luke 2:1-20 in the Bible (yes, it's probably that dust covered book buried in your bookcase somewhere. If you don't have one, contact me and I'll see about getting you one for free.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Good Read...

I just finished a book that was both satisfying and enlightening.  

 Eve's Daughters by Lynn Austin is a story of four generations of women and how the decisions they made in their lives affected future generations.

It was also a great piece to show the differences of two faiths that both believe in a Triune God, but relate to it differently and seeing the affect it has on decisions people make.

I love a book that gets me into the characters so well that I can literally take on their situations as I read about them. This one does just that very well.

I came away with a better understanding of two faiths I have followed in my life and a healthy respect for how committed each side can be. This is a must read for those who wonder who, what and why of main line religion without getting "preachy."

It also gives a wonderful perspective of why we keep some deep dark secrets and the effect it may have on the lives of those we love.

A pleasure to read.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

As we drove home after celebrating Thanksgiving with our sons and family in Georgia, we ended up being on the road for more than 20 hours. Thanks to our GPS we were able to avoid most back-ups and take alternate routes around the problems. This took us past many homes that were already decorated for Christmas. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera at home so I was unable to take pictures of the sights we saw.

An Elijah Bell creation with the help of Grandma.
I used to feel appalled that Christmas lights were up so early. Yes, I understand that Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season, but what's the rush?

As I get older and time passes so much more quickly, I tend to see the reasoning behind the early decor. I also think that when I was a kid we kept our tree and decorations up way past the first of the year...probably because we were Catholic and I learned much later in life that it was sacrilegious to take down the Christmas decorations before the Epiphany. (Thank you, Mrs. Dedovich, for that lesson.)

Today, I like to start putting up my decor starting December 1. After all, that's when the Advent Calendars begin. I like to space it out too, so it's not so overwhelming. We have about 10 bins of Christmas decor, including the Creche, the outdoor lights and decorations, the wreaths, the tree decor and loads of stuff to be placed around the house. I love the whole Christmas season, can you tell?

Gingerbread Boy decorating with Jollie children.
Where I grew up, in the boonies of West Shokan, no one drove past our house, so we rarely put up lights or decorations outside...only when we were teens and put lights up around the door, do I remember seeing any. Inside, we always put up the tree on Christmas Eve. I can't imagine that in my home! The only other decor we had that I can remember were the trains and Christmas village, the Creche and one year I made a pipe organ & angels out of the Christmas wrap rolls and  Reader's Digests. (Very creative, I must say!)
I can still hear the excitement in their voices,
"You want US to decorate your tree?"

Over the past few years, my aim was to SIMPLIFY the season. I take most of the stress out by shopping throughout the year, using decorations I have had or purchased the previous year on clearance, and get everything wrapped and shipped by the second weekend in December. Then I can start concentrating on the food, especially the cookies!

I love having meals prepared in advance and cookies stocked up. Of course, I would love to do all this with my grandchildren, sisters, sons, family or anyone, but most are not around or are too busy during the month of December. But I have even been known to import some kids to satisfy my craving for the exciting sounds of joy and laughter.

So lets bring out the holly, and the evergreens and lets get a start on the symbols of Christmas.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thankgiving...Giving Thanks

While the picture above may be the romantic depiction of the first Thanksgiving, (some say the Indians actually served the Pilgrims), I just want to focus on the theme and not get caught up in the politically correctness of our images.

It wasn't the Pilgrims or Indians giving thanks to each other that started the idea of celebrating Thanksgiving each fourth Thursday in November, it was to give thanks to our Provider. I believe as a Christian nation, we always looked to a Supreme Being for our sustenance whether it be food, clothing, shelter, guidance, wisdom, forgiveness, love or life. No human will ever fulfill the need we have inside us for any of these.

As my past blogs have shown, family is very important to me. But more than friends, family, my own children or husband, my God is to whom I am thankful for all of them and all he provides.

I have been in situations where others have let me down. I have been in situations where I have let myself down. I have been, at times, feeling very needy or unloved or unlovable, but thankfully there has always been someone and somewhere I could turn. 

As I stated in previous blogs, I grew up in the Catholic church. It was there that I was introduced to God. It was there that I learned of him, but I never got to KNOW him. Later in another church they taught of a personal relationship with the living God; that he was a God I could talk to and seek guidance. He was a God that had provided all I needed in sending his son to take on my short comings and repair the damage that had been done to create the gulf between us. 

By asking God to come into my life and to clean me up through the shedding of Jesus Christ's blood, I could have that personal, open communication with God. For that I am thankful. For that I give thanks to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who see me as a worthy being. They provide all I need. They, the Three-in-One, will always be there for me to turn to when life on this earth is too overwhelming. 

I pray for everyone to know who their Creator is, what their purpose is in life, why we are here and what is going on now and what will come. Everyone is searching, some have found other means to cope, but Christ says he alone "is the Way, the Truth and the Life" and "no one comes to the Father but through the shedding of his (Christ's) blood." While others may seem to offer the same, I challenge them to really study what they believe -- even if it is to believe in nothing. Study it, find out for sure what you believe and why you believe it. Too many take it lightly that whatever they think in their own mind is to be the truth. Find out! 

If Christ is the ONLY way, it would be good to know, no? If he isn't, there is nothing to lose. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanks Giving...Friends

JoAnn's 1st Birthday & Guest
Wow, five posts on Thanks Giving! As I stated in my last post, I count family as one of the greatest possessions I am thankful for. I also count many friends as family and am thankful for every one of my friends.

I guess I had friends very early in life. As you can see in pictures of my 1st birthday, there was a little girl in attendance that lived down the road from me. Believe it or not, I can remember the cake, the candle and my family washing dishes on that day, but I can't remember the little girl in the pictures! Her name was MaryPat Molloy, her brother, Chris, and I became good friends, but MaryPat was quite a bit older than me and we never really became friends.

Kathleen Scanlan, Chris Molloy,
& Melinda Robinson
Chris and I walked to school together and were like buddies. We stood up for each other when the neighborhood bullies attacked. We shared home room together in High School. I still count him as one of my buddies even though he is in Colorado and I am still in NY. We have recently reconnected through FaceBook.

Susan at 6th Grade Graduation
Ann at JoAnn's 16th birthday
Neighborhood friends, Patty Burgher, Ann Roser, and Susan Henderson, and Kathleen Scanlan were also good friends of mine.  Ann and I pretended we were sisters for a few years and she is as dear to me as a younger sister. Ann and I stuck together through all our school years and even beyond. She was the Maid-of-Honor at my wedding. At least two of our kids played together. We will occasionally get together now to share a sushi lunch and catch up! I wish we were closer now, but life changes pull us in different directions. Susan was my friend during the early years and through elementary school. Once in high school we went our separate ways and though we only live about 30 miles from each other we have only gotten together a few times over the past 30 years. Other than a few phone calls we haven't been able to reconnect like we would.

Debbie Dodge
Another elementary school friend that I was very close to was Debra Dodge. Her family was my second family. I was over at her house most of my high school years. Her family went to our church. They treated me as one of the family. Her parents taught me a lot about keeping fun in your marriage, joyful family life, and devotion to each other. Deb was a Bridal Attendant at my wedding. Even though she lives not far from me, it took her mom's funeral to get us reconnected. We struggle to get together for lunch at times, as again, life issues pull us apart.

Clare & Tom McCanna, Rick Muller & JoAnn Muller
& Karen Olsen
In my high school years, I had many friends. Clare and Tom McCanna were in my home room -- brother and sister, they were a "package deal". Artist, smart, fun, calm, I loved their multi-faceted personalities and loved to go to their home and sit with them and their parents. They were so normal in an THE most un-normal place I knew of -- Woodstock, NY. I never understood how they came to live there. Just a few days ago I ran into Mrs. McCanna and we picked up our conversation as if we had seen each other just recently. I think it's been several years since I last ran into her. I think it was the day before my wedding I ran into her long ago and told her I was getting married. She smiled and in her sweet French accent said, "Don't do it!" Not at all the response I was expecting! We hugged, laughed and moved on...Clare and Tom are due back home this Christmas...and I WILL see them. That would be a tremendous Christmas gift for me.

High School Reunion w/Linda Denise,
Robin Wood, & Nancy Smith

JoAnn with her team: Susannah Satten
& Debbie Fury working at
The Healthy Women's Partnership
In my employment years, many coworkers became long time friends like Anna, who I wrote about in a previous blog. Some friends have come and gone, one became my boss. Some are peripheral friends. I see them time to time, but we don't share the same camaraderie that I do with others.

The Jollie Family who we are now related to!

All in all, my friends have been great! With my closest girlfriends I have laughed, cried, and shared many, many secrets. I value each relationship and would love to reconnect with any of the ones from my past and will not hesitate to make new ones in my future. Some I count as family and some even became family!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanks giving..."Families are like fudge - mostly sweet with a few nuts." ~Author Unknown

Traditional Family dinner in someone's basement
Circa 1940's

This fourth segment of my Thanks Giving series may be obvious for my regular readers, but it would have to be family. I have already covered parents, spouse, and sons. Here, I emphasize the family I grew up with. In later blogs, I will tackle extended family, including aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and so on. I also consider great friends a part of my family and those members of my church -- my spiritual family, but that too will have to wait for a later blog.
George, Lynn, Elaine & JoAnn Muller
in front of family homestead in West Shokan, NY

I was raised one of seven children and was born eight years after the first group of five, but to this day, my brothers and sisters and I maintain a pretty close relationship with each other. Coming off a challenging year of selling my mom's house to my youngest brother raised some conflicts, but what would you expect when you have seven people giving commentary and input on each step? Feathers were ruffled, but under the surface there is a love that cannot be wiped out by disagreements and offenses due to some process that we had to go through. As they say, "blood is thicker than water" and I see us uniting as a family when the time calls for it.

Having three older brothers and two older sisters was more a blessing than a curse for me growing up. I say curse only because at times I felt I had several moms and dads, especially when I did something wrong. As a baby, I contracted the mumps and my sister Lynn nursed me back to health. She continued throughout my life to be my "second Mom" giving advice wanted or not.  As a defiant child, my sister Elaine washed my mouth out with soap when I back-talked my mom. Elaine and I were very close because she came home most weekends and spent one-on-one time with me. We had a special bond, I felt she was usually fair and justified in her reprimands. As a rebellious teen, almost all my elder siblings played a role in trying to keep me on track when they felt mom and dad were too lenient. While I may have considered this a curse at the time, I can look back now and see it was truly a blessing to know they cared enough to get involved.

Then there were the perks of having so many older siblings. Rick and I were showered with more gifts for birthdays and Christmas than Mom and Dad could have ever afforded. We were often given new clothes on special occasions and whenever our sisters took us to stay with them. We had several places to go to when summer vacation came and it was not unusual for Rick and I to be staying with a brother or sister for a week or two. Whether we were off to NYC or Ohio or Georgia, it was a great experience to be both away from home and off with one-on-one time with a brother or sister.

Did I mention the tons of advice given? Though at the time most of it was unappreciated, it didn't fall on deaf ears. I can remember one time telling my sister, "Just let me make my own mistakes, will you!" But then I would go to that same sister to ask advice as to what to do with a challenge I was having at school. Of course our elder siblings were not experts. Most of them were just starting to experience life outside the home themselves, but Rick and I always looked up to them. For myself I have to say, I always listened and heard what they said and even though I didn't really want them to know it, I tried to take the advice most of the time.

Rick and I were on again/off again friends/rivals through our growing childhood. We shared a room for the earliest years (with so many in the family there were times -- three shared a room!). Then as the elder siblings moved out we had our own rooms. These became our coveted sanctuaries and we detested when the other would invade our domain! I remember how we used to set traps for each other to catch the invader breaking into our rooms. We also made sure Mom didn't mess up the balance of chores. In our teen years, we pretty much went our own way. I hardly remember Rick being around during my teen gatherings or high school years. We became closest after we were out of the house and he played a big part in my sons' lives.

When I made plans to marry, I was told by my sisters that I was too young. The advice continued until I had kids. This was because of the fact that, other than Charles, none of my siblings had ever had any children. It wasn't until I had children of my own that I felt I had finally gained the respect of my elder brothers and sisters.

As we have all gotten older and have entered ages of what we remember our parents being, we have taken on new perspectives of each other. We see each other's moral values, political stands, and even our weak points. There is a pack mentality that comes and goes depending on the topic. Sometimes it's sisters against brothers, sometimes it liberals against conservatives, or righteous against heathen (!?!) (I just put that in there to get some of them riled, heh, heh.), but behind all the opinions and stands and varying beliefs, is a family that truly loves each other and sticks together through thick and thin. We continue to get together for family reunions, weddings and family gatherings and will often be the group that participates and has fun.
Muller siblings at Cousin Lorraine's son,
Scott's Wearley's Wedding 2009

While we have our tiffs from time to time, just watch and see what happens if ANYONE tries to come against any one of us. The Mullers have proven to be a force to be reckoned with. We are family (cue the Sisters Sledge song) and we love each other.

Several of my dad's brothers also had large families. I would be interested to hear how they view their family experiences growing up and now.

Stay tuned, I will continue at a later time with extended family, close friends and spiritual brothers and sisters, not to mention --the Bell and Atanasio families.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thanks giving ...Three

One segment in my November Thanks giving posts has to include my three sons....

Jessica, Elijah, Bryan, Asher, JoAnn, Corinn, Aaron, Jim, Dan
at Aaron and Corinn's Wedding in June 2010

I always wanted to be a mom more than anything.

It all started a long, long time ago when I wanted to be a big sister to a little sister as a kid, but that never happened. My brother Rick was born two years after me -- too close for me to really "take care" of him. So I started with babysitting my eldest brother's friends' babies.

JoAnn's first try at babysitting with the help of her
younger brother, Rick

In my preteen and teen years I helped take care of, and later babysat, many children. I loved "playing house with real babies!" I remember once when walking with my niece in a carriage a neighbor friend of mine asked, "JoAnn, do you have a REAL baby in there?" to which I indignantly replied, "Of course!"

JoAnn Muller & niece, Sandra Lynn 1968
I loved having my niece and nephew to dress up and take care of. I loved shopping for them too. I can still remember the thrill I had in buying my nephew his first work boots and overalls....sooo cute!

Then I married and started a family. Whoa... Big difference. Bryan was born in December of 1977 and I was just about to turn 21. I remember after they brought him into my room at the hospital, immediately hopping out of bed to change his diaper. I couldn't wait to start my new role.

Once home, we settled in. Bryan was a great baby, he slept a lot and noise never seemed to bother him. We were a team for five years. He went everywhere with me and rarely were we apart.

Then Aaron was born. I had hoped for a little girl but was happy to have another little Bell boy join the ranks. Aaron was born with red hair and since there was another mom in the hospital with the last name Bell at the time, we wondered if we had the wrong baby! Aaron was our light sleeper -- once we got him to sleep! When he was a toddler, every night it was a chore to get him to stay in bed or to fall asleep and stay asleep. He'd fall asleep in the car, but awaken once the car stopped. Any little noise and he was up.

Two years later (one week prior to Aaron's birthday), Dan was born. I had really hoped for a girl at this point, but just before his birth a nurse told me it was another boy -- she could tell by his rapid heart beat.

Bryan, Aaron and Dan at Arianna's home in Pawling, NY
Dan was an easy going baby, but he was intuitively linked to me. Every time I awoke, no matter how early, Dan would begin to fuss. If I walked into the room he had been sleeping in, he'd get up. It was a challenge to find "me" time with three kids and one who was constantly aware when you were around and wanted nothing more than YOU to hold him.

Alas, the years went by and each of the boys grew and developed their own personalities. Bryan, the adventurer, practiced daring tricks and used his brothers as participants. Aaron, became a little wary after years of this and eventually began to hold back on trying new things. Dan was happy go lucky and just would follow his big brother, Bryan, everywhere and try to do whatever he did.

Karate Kids at Aunt Elaine's

We often would observe the kids together and try to figure out what they would be like in their adult years. Bryan would be the creator, he would come up with a plan and he would direct the implementation. Aaron would observe and add commentary and supply the funding because he was the only one that had a savings account and started working prior to being a teen. Dan would add a practical element and provide some logical thinking.

It was humorous to watch. Most of the time watching them was painful because as the saying goes: "Three's a crowd." Unfortunately when sibling rivalry rose its ugly head it was usually Aaron who was left out. It drove me nuts that it always seemed to be two against one all the time. In later years, they learned to work together, especially if it was to devise a scheme against their parents. Oh, the stories they put together to cover each other!

In their teen years, Dan and Aaron were home while Bryan was off to college. Because the "third wheel" element was gone, they bonded together more than they had in the past, but still maintained a wary distance of each other. Of course teen hormones probably played a role in all this too. Ugh, I hated the arguments we had with each other or that they had between themselves. I was home-schooling both of them through their high school years and two more opposite students none could find! But they both managed to pull through and go on to college and make successful lives for themselves.

Dan, Aaron, Bryan home for Christmas
Then came the years they started to leave home. Bryan was first when he went off to New Jersey for college. Because of his challenging Senior High School years, it was more of a relief than a disruption to have him away. Our relationship with him increased greatly through his college years. I can still hear Jim and I laughing at his emails that he passionately wrote to us. We loved hearing all that he was involved in and all that he tackled and overcame. He was very independent and got along with his professors better than his fellow students. It was amazing to see him evolve from a rebellious teen into a respectable young man. Then he connected with his friend from years back and started a relationship with her that pulled him away from us. This was not a bad thing! He eventually went on to marry her and now they have given us two beautiful grandsons that we just adore.

Aaron was home-schooled through his high school years and then went to college locally, so he was home the longest. After surviving the rebelliousness of his brother with us, he maintained his thoughtful calmness. But once those teen hormones kicked in and his college education started feeding his psych, he did what most teens do and started advising us on matters. It was interesting to listen to his logic which sounded so profound at times, until he decided he knew best and wouldn't tolerate what we were suggesting or doing. Aaron never became the rebellious teen his brother was, but he was a challenge just the same. He was a thinker. So you had to really listen to him and let him know he was heard or the conversation just ended. It was a challenge for me particularly, because he could sound so intelligent yet be a tad off course at the same time. I often felt sorry for Aaron as I was recovering from Bryan's teen years when Aaron started entering his own. Wary of what might be coming, my guard was up. This created friction and we had some lively discussions as a result. Aaron also always felt he was cheated somewhat being the "middle child". We tried to go out of our way to make sure he was treated fairly, but it never seemed to be enough. Then came the day I got him a kitten for Christmas, something he had always wanted. Our relationship made a major positive shift after that, but Dan also moved out of the house, so I never knew which had changed the dynamic -- the cat or Dan's move. Today Aaron is a very responsible young man and husband to Corinn, a NY native that grew up in Florida (and also his boss's daughter!) He has proven himself to be very sensitive, sensible and a strong advocate for working out solutions to almost any problem.

JoAnn, Dan and Aaron
on the bridge at Grandma Muller's
Dan was our charmer. He could weasel his way into anyone's heart, especially his teachers. He once was in a special class to help him with his reading and though he had succeeded in all the teacher had for him, she wanted to keep him in the class because "he is such a delight!" He became such a socialite in class that he was given extra jobs to keep him "busy". This was all before the age of 10!

From the age of four we  could see Dan had a mechanical mind. He would take his brother's construction toys and build them into a vehicle just by looking at the picture! (A major feat when I couldn't build it reading the directions!) Dan overcame his reading problem and proceeded to jump two levels on his own to catch up to his friends. This was a new "problem" for the school, but they did work with him. By fifth grade he wanted to be homeschooled, and even his tests showed he was over the class level. So we started homeschooling him in seventh grade. He did this until 10th grade when he asked to go back to public school. It was not an easy adjustment for him. But he exceeded and then went on to college. He moved to Florida to attend college and graduated with a degree in Computer Graphics. Now he designs graphics for training simulators and has his own apartment still in Florida. We are very proud of the young man he has become and can't wait to see where his talents take him.
Aaron, Dan and Bryan
in Grandma Muller's stream

Funny but as we look back on each of our sons lives and where they are at today, we can proudly say they are all respectful, responsible, intelligent and very thorough thinkers. While Jim and I look back and wonder how that all happened, we are grateful and proud to be their parents. Our hope is they continue to live happy and productive lives whatever they choose to become.

To each of our sons we want to extend our heartfelt thanks for the joy you have brought us through the years.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thanks giving...two

My 20th birthday
In continuing to write throughout the month of November about things I am thankful for, I have to extend my thanks to my husband, Jim, who has lived with me and put up with my quirks for more than 30 years. How is it that when you are a teen you think life is going so slow and then you get to your later years and realize that you have been out of your parents home (hopefully) longer than you were in and the people around you now know you better than anyone you lived with those first 18 - 20+ years?

July 10, 1976
Jim and I met at his dad's automotive garage when a friend introduced us. As I got to know him, what I saw in him was stability. Jim was much more mature than most of the guys I had dated. He didn't drink, do drugs or sleep around. He was a homebody who respected his parents, held a steady job, saved his money and was very detail oriented. While he did not go to college, he had mechanical mind that could plan and complete anything he set out to build or fix. As a teen, he built his own race car and drag raced for several years. He helped his dad in the family business and did small engine repair. He remodeled his parent's home and helped with many maintenance repairs. He wasn't flighty or unsettled as most my male friends at the time. Eventually he worked for more than 25 years as a Mechanical Engineer.

We got to know each other through many long talks in his dad's or my car into the wee hours of the morning. At his father's urging he took me out to eat, the movies or camping. Eventually we moved in together and a short time later married and started our family.

We have raised three great sons and are now enjoying a renewed relationship with each as the kids have moved out of our home.

Christmas at Mom Muller's with Rick 1977
To some we appear to be polar opposites. While I like to be organized, I do put limits on it. Jim is more of a neatnik and kiddingly says he has had to lower his standard while living with me! I like to plan long range, he likes to tackle things closer to the date -- but not spontaneously. While I tend to jump into things, he tends to think things through and hold back until he has thoroughly researched them. These attributes of our personality, while causing some bones of contention through the years, have also helped give balance to our lives. Sure we struggled through some disagreements, but we have also come together when the time to be united was necessary.

I am luckier than most in that Jim has provided for us and given a firm foundation to build our family on, yet wings to fly off and do my own thing. If he didn't want to participate in projects or causes I was interested in, he never stopped me from doing what I wanted to do. That's not to say he didn't suggest curbing some ideas when he thought I may not have considered all the consequences at times. I, on the other hand, helped him to try new things and go places he had never been before even though he may never have done them on his own.

Christmas 1982 with Baby Aaron
He has also been a great dad to our three sons.
Coaster car built by Jim & the boys.

Aaron's hernia surgery - Age 2
This was another area we balanced each other out. Because I was home with the boys more, I tended to be the disciplinarian. I was the main teacher when home schooling and I was the one who handled the bulk of the challenges that came along. But when I needed him he was there.

One of our last gatherings with boys at home.

Today we are working on being a couple once again. We greatly miss our kids since they have moved out of the home and out of the state! We try to make it a priority to spend our vacations with them as much as possible, but we have also learned that we do need respites with just the two of us.

Grandpa learning one of Elijah's new gizmos.

While we are both challenging to live with, we have hung in there through life's changes. It is said that marriage is work and we both would heartily agree. Marriage is also forgiveness and compromise. Some say marriage is the giving up of yourself for another. Personally I do not agree with that, nor do I believe marriage is 50/50. Marriage is more like an ocean current with some nice calm areas in it. If you do anything to bring something new into the relationship, you cause ripples, waves or unfortunately, crashing waves that create some hard knocks. Once you learn your way through the change, you have calm -- until the next pebble or rock is dropped in. So when you marry, purchase a home, get new job, have children, even bring a pet into the home or decide to follow a particular faith, you both have to work through the resulting ripples. This means bringing two personalities together to a place you can both live in harmony. That's the work of marriage. Not one losing oneself for the other. Or one compromising all they are to keep peace. It's more give and take. Currently, we have grandchildren in the picture, which is a very happy ripple for us to sail together on!

I am grateful for a husband who is willing to WORK through all the choices, changes and challenges our life together brings to us. Thank you, Jim, for sailing with me and keeping us on course. I look forward to many more years together sharing our past experiences and making new memories. 

Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?  The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him. Proverbs 20:6-7