Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Five Kids and a Flood

(How God Provides After the Storm)


The call for mandatory evacuation didn’t scare us; the city of Long Beach stretches between the Atlantic and the bay with less than a mile across. It often cried wolf before a storm. 

“Guys, don’t go crazy packing—we’ll be home in a day or two. Just two outfits and a sweatshirt.” Andrew dropped his baseball gear on the wooden floor next to Stephen’s new guitar amp; Elijah and Aaron left their video games on the coffee table. Jordan threw a few Barbies back in her toybox. I finished a load of towels and left them in a laundry basket on the floor.  

Gene shook his head as he stomped downstairs. “My mom refuses to leave, so I’m staying.”  

I grumbled, but at least our dog could stay back too. 

I drove our five kids to my parents’ home on Long Island’s north shore, away from the ocean. As the wind howled, trees cowered; one snapped and knocked down power lines. In the dark, I checked my glowing phone every two minutes. 

 Mom squeezed my shoulders in a bear hug. “Don’t worry. I’m sure they’re fine.” 

“I know.” I dialed again. Why wouldn’t he answer?  

After the storm calmed down, Gene finally called. “Everything’s destroyed.” 


“We’re fine, but the whole first floor is ruined.” 

“What happened?”  

“The ocean met the bay, and water rushed in like the Titanic; it filled the basement and rose two feet high on the first floor.” 

Was it worse than I imagined? 

“…Are you still there?”  

“Yeah. At least everyone’s okay.”  

“Hug the kids for me. I love you.” 

What now? 

If anyone asked, I’d smile and answer, “We’re okay.” We were a healthy family, had food and survived Hurricane Sandy; how could I complain?  

So we endured. God provided us with strength to deal with the many challenges and inconveniences. My mother-in-law stayed with relatives; we moved upstairs in her two rooms while workers gutted the first floor.  The kids slept on blow up mattresses or piles of blankets for two months. Without heat and hot water, we warmed pots of water for bathing. We cooked frozen food in a toaster oven. On Thursday nights, we gathered ten garbage bags of laundry to wash at the Laundromat and drank coffee. After so much was taken away, we rejoiced at every step back to normalcy. Even clean clothes. 

Government aid (FEMA) covered the initial cost of gutting our house, but we were left with a skeleton of a house without kitchen, first floor bathroom, or even doors. Finishing the house would cost five times what we spent on de-molding. 

Gene’s forehead creased as he spoke softly: “I know you want to keep homeschooling Jordan, but we have to be realistic.” 

My face muscles tightened. 

“If you work full-time, we can pay our bills…and we have two kids in college next year.” 

His whispered words sounded painfully loud, but I nodded. I knew. I wanted to curse the storm for changing everything, but I prayed instead. 

The day after we talked about me getting a better job, I was promoted at work; I’d work nine to five at double the pay. Thank you, Lord. Having more money helped, brought us closer to enough, but without having flood insurance, fixing our house still seemed impossible. Our home felt more like camping, like we’d be camping forever. 


And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus. (Philipians 4:19)

Ten months later… 

Pastor Pete asked us, “How are you guys?” 


“Have you applied for help from Samaritan’s Purse Ministries?”  

They’d set up their offices at our church since the storm hit, but we never thought to ask. 

Four weeks after applying, we began telling ourselves, “There are so many people who need help more than us. We’ve been blessed with a healthy family, and…” but truth is we were disappointed before we ever got an answer. 

Five weeks after applying, we got a letter from Samaritan’s Purse—a “Yes” letter. Our house would be fixed—mended by the loving hands of God. 

Today, willing volunteers show up in orange shirts, ready to help us rebuild and share God’s love with our community. I look back at this year and the time wasted worrying, and He reminds me: “See how the lilies of the field are clothed?” (Matthew 6:28-34) How can I ever doubt how God provides again? Even after a storm.






Saturday, November 9, 2013

Goofy-footed on the Bunny Slope


 Me at age 12, performing a very dangerous skateboard trick.
Don't try this at home without proper training. 


Time to dream… 

Careful what you wish for…it might not fit. At age twelve, I wished I could hang-glide and skateboard. Knowing Mom/Dad wouldn’t go for the hang-gliding, crashing-into-a-mountain idea, a new skateboard topped my Christmas list. 

Dad’s portable radio was set on the twenty-four hours of uninterrupted Christmas music channel. Jingle bells danced in my head. But it wasn’t music keeping me awake—just the hopeful sound of wrapping paper crunching and possibly wheels turning on a new skateboard. My dream present. 

As soon as the slightest sliver of orange lined the horizon, I darted to my sister’s bedside. “Wake up, Laur! It’s Christmas!” She popped out of bed like our old Jack in the box—fast with a bit of morning squeak to her voice. 

“Let’s wake ‘em! I hope I get a baton.”  

The scent of candy canes and steaming coffee smelled like Christmas, like I might get that skateboard.


I opened colorful sweaters, a pair of earrings, and an art kit, but no big rectangles. 

Then mom hinted, “I think you both have one more gift hidden in this room.” With our hope rekindled, we dashed around the living room until we found our gifts. Laurie twirled her new baton, and I skated down the hall on my new skateboard. We declared this the best Christmas ever.  

Time to learn… 

In 1980, skate parks weren’t everywhere; Dad found one forty-five minutes away and signed me up for lessons. He warned me the place might be intimidating. 

The skatepark smelled like old tires and grilled hot dogs. I don’t know what I expected at a skatepark—girls wearing tutus? This was a boy’s playground--boys in band t-shirts and jeans. We were early, so I watched the kids skate up the ramp, twist and turn, and zoom back into it. I wanted to do that. It looked easy and scary…like the high diving board that didn’t look too high until I stood overlooking the water and shivering in my bikini. 

The skate park sounded like a thunderstorm during a concert. Dad looked at me with his mouth moving. “What?” 


I nodded yes, the wrong answer. 

The instructor, Matt, about eighteen, squeezed a tight helmet on my head. I felt like a pre-school student on her first day. His wavy black hair skimmed his shoulders. Dark eyes. Cute smile. And he could skate. I was sure I was ready for the big ramp, but Matt brought me to the mini-ramp, the bunny slope of the skate park.  I stepped on my board, ready to push up the incline… 

He smiled or was it a smirk? “So you’re goofy footed?”  

“I’m what?” Aside from red as a radish, did I look as silly as a cartoon? 

“You start with your right foot forward.” 

“Oh, yeah, I do have goofy feet.” I knew that. 

He laughed. I melted like a shrinky-dink. 

“So what do you want to learn? How to drop into the half-pipe? Kick-turn or do a fakie?” 

I stared at him. Totally blank. Do skaters speak another language? “I want to skate on that ramp and learn how to turn.” 

“It’s called the half-pipe; and you kick-turn like that guy’s doing. Watch him. Or do a fakie, switching lead foot without a turn.” 

He demonstrated a kick-turn a few times and left me to practice. So I practiced and fell, practiced and fell, practiced and fell, while Matt talked with the only other girl there, the cute redhead selling hotdogs.                                    

Where were all the beginners? Am I the only one with a sore bottom? Are they all born with the ability to kick-turn? Where are the girls? The expression “fish out of water” came to mind. I wanted to turn around and swim back to my little pond, practice skating down my driveway with only my cat to watch me fall.  

Time for truth… 

I’d like to tell you I met the challenge, stuck it out, was the first girl to skate the half-pipe; I broke my arm, but didn’t give up, so you could cheer: “Good for her.” And cry tears of joy. But the truth is I quit, said: “No way am I going back there. Please don’t make me.”  

Thank God I have a nice daddy who didn’t want me to break any bones; he was happy to hammer two nails in the garage to hang my pretty skateboard right next to the pogo-stick I got last Christmas. 

Time for a new dream.
(written for weekly writing challenge--1st place editor's choice)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Rise and Shine

Awake for cake, maybe? 


Something is wrong about getting up before the sun, but I do. Waking to moonlight could explain my werewolf mood of the morning. Pure willpower and possibly too much defaf coffee before bed force me to dash upstairs to the bathroom. I don’t want to, but in our house of seven plus grandma, it’s the only way to have a peaceful shower.

My soul is just not ready to start the day. Or ready to start their day…

At first, gentle words grace my lips, full of love for my sleeping children: “Rise and shine, my little chickadees. Time to get up and go to high school.” Just like Snow White singing to her bluebirds. Okay, minus the little chickadees, and minus the rise and shine part. “Get up,” said in a reasonable decibel.  

Ten minutes pass. 

“Get up, Elijah.”
“I am.”

“You’re not.”

“I’m going.”

“You haven’t moved.”


“Get up, Aaron.”

“I am.”

“You’re not.”

“I’m going.”

“You haven’t moved.” 

Twenty minutes. 

And no sign of my boys anywhere but snoring under the covers in a room that smells of rotting broccoli. I’m sure fur is growing along my spine and claws are breaking through my paws—I mean hands. The bark builds inside me until I burst out: “Elijah! Aaron! Get…up…NOW! You’re going to miss-the-bus…AGAIN!” When Gene and I named our little boys, I never imagined a day I’d be screaming the Bible prophets’ names out loud for the neighbors to hear.  

The full moon hides behind the poplars, and the morning fog dissipates, but I still want to howl. 

Next the empty threats: 

“If you miss it, you bike to school.”

“No taxi money today.”

“Your dad left already, so no free ride.”

The walls shake a bit. Could I cause a small earthquake with my bark? 

Finally, the boys get up, but I’m not done. It’s hard to talk with fangs poking my lip. But if I don’t announce the time every ten minutes, they’ll miss it by default, and say they didn’t know how late it was so they stopped to tie their sneaker. They could be a shoelace off from catching the bus. Sometimes it’s the lost sneaker or missing backpack. Today it’s a “Can’t find my socks day.” My heart races as if I’m trying to catch the bus.  

“Hurry! You’ve got two minutes!”  

“I forgot to brush my teeth.” Elijah disappears upstairs. 

“One minute! Where are you Aaron?” He flies past me and out the door. 

“Bye, love you.” 

“Love you too. Have a great day.” My fangs begin to recede. 

Elijah sweeps by me next. 

“Bye, love you.” 

“Love you too. Run!” But I know the time. 

Two minutes later, he’s back. “I missed it.” 

I sigh; all the bark in me, expended. He smiles, knowing the werewolf is gone like the bus. And I won’t bite. “Could I please call a taxi?”  

The rolling clouds do suggest rain, and I wouldn’t want him sick, biking in the cold…so I call. 

Before my daughter’s turn to get up, I open my Bible and read Ephesians 4:26… “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…” In this case, the moon. As sunlight streams in through the window and warms my face, shame fills my body. I failed again, let that werewolf out and barked half the morning away. I close my eyes, pray, and let the warm sunshine travel to my heart. I know I’m forgiven. Again. 

Maybe I’ll do better under tomorrow’s waning gibbous moon. 


This is dedicated to all the werewolf mothers of teens…I can’t be the only one. There is hope that we’ll be ourselves again. Graduation day?




Saturday, October 26, 2013

One Time

Our street after Hurricane Sandy
(a year ago, October 29 2012) 


Some listened, some ignored
Some left, some stayed
As the storm crept up the coastline

Her arrival

And when her time came,
She lashed out pent up rage,
Swirling and smashing, tearing and toppling
In a tantrum, daring to destroy 

Too late
To evacuate 

Ocean water invaded homes
Killing memories
Of other times, special times 

When her stamina waned
And she faded into a gentle breeze
Time changed for those she abused 

Thrust back to pioneer days—
Time measured by the setting sun;
Dusty lanterns found;
Unused jars of scented candles
Now lit
Cloaked the darkness with vanilla and jasmine;
Blankets replaced heaters,
Canned food replaced meals,
Tears replaced time

How long til time passes
And tick-tocks back to normal?
Days were cancelled
Scribbled events on calendars
Never happened
Time stops when towns are torn

But who owns time?
Who controls tomorrow?
He who made today
Who gives and takes away

Some see the ruin
Some see the light
Storms will happen
Stealing what we cannot hold
Stealing time,  

Matters . . .


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Funny Want-to-be


 Oh so serious me
My funny family and me in my ironman coat
I’ve always wanted to be funny…but we don’t always get what we want. Thanksgiving, age thirteen, was the first time I realized how humorless I was. Sitting at the kids’ table with my cousins, I listened and laughed as each one took turns telling jokes…but I had nothing to say. I didn’t know one joke to tell other than: “How did the chicken cross the road?” Wait, I even got that wrong. I also lacked confidence, so was afraid to try being funny for fear that I’d be the only one laughing like a big goober. And this is with relatives—imagine how quiet I was in school!

I made up for my serious and sensitive soul by having funny friends and marrying a funny guy—hoping it would rub off or just opposites attract? Gene and I produced five funny kids. I’m sure funny is a dominant “gene.” Ha ha, get it? Or do I have to point out the pun? And I love writing—can edit forever until I almost sound funny or at least make myself laugh. And it’s okay. This is me, the me God made. He knows what He’s doing and can use me the way I am. Funny or not. So for anyone else who ever wished they were funnier, prettier, smarter, thinner, or more normal, accept who you are and you’ll find contentment.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27 Not that I want to lump myself into the foolish category, but the point is that God can use the imperfect to do His work and love people. What could be better?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Three Blank Pages

I’d rather a room dripping with paint like a Jackson Pollock. This classroom felt sterile and prisonlike. The walls were bare, void of anything inspiring. The lingering smell of newly painted walls mingled with burnt steak from a restaurant nearby and fogged my head. Maybe I was in the wrong room. This had to be where juvenile delinquents earned a diploma, not where art was taught.  

A woman glided in draped in what looked like large scarves for a skirt. A twisted one in a different paisley pattern wrapped around her head, securing her dreadlocks in place. Tassels swung as she moved, and her cheeks caved into two dimples when she smiled. 

She passed out packets of four papers: the first one had the directions; the next three were blank. 

The woman swooshed to the front of the room.

“You will have two hours to finish three drawings. Be creative and demonstrate your drawing skill as well. There’s a lot of competition this year, but you’ve made it this far. The judges from our faculty will choose the top three artists to receive a full scholarship here at the School of Visual Arts. Please title your work. Okay, you may begin.”  

Two hours seemed more than enough time, but my heart pounded as I read the directions: Draw a scene on each page, from the past, present, and future. Each scene must repeat an element or object in a different way. I glanced at the clock. Ten minutes had passed already? Think, think. I waited for an idea to burst into my brain, something so unique and creative the judges would instantly pick me as the winner. 

Fifteen more minutes passed, so I informed my brain that this wasn’t funny; I needed enough time to draw. Was the paper growing? The white empty space expanding? I’d swear it was. And the clock hands moved faster than normal…thirty-five minutes had passed. The only pencil mark on my paper was my name. The boy next to me scribbled away like his pencil was on fire. He wasn’t the only one; to my right, to my left, in front, and behind, pencils wiggled at every desk. I was alone in my blankness.  So I danced my pencil around as if it were drawing. Tick, tick, tick…how does anyone think or draw under this pressure? I prayed silently: “Okay, Lord, do you want me to be a math teacher? I’m about as creative as a worm right now.” 

Wondering what the guy in the blue Mohawk and cheek piercings was drawing, I stretched my neck and leaned just a bit in his direction. In my pink plaid shirt, next to his black ripped jeans and chains, I felt too, too pink, as if I wore pigtails and bows. He turned his shoulder to cover his paper. “Relax, buddy, you can’t cheat on an art test. I’m not about to copy your skulls, even if they are amazing with the rose vine weaving through the eye sockets.” 

Suddenly, as I stared at my white cloud of paper, I had an idea that didn’t completely stink. A test. I’d draw a boy taking a test today, in the 1800’s, and at the end of life. 

The present was easy; I drew Mohawk boy taking a test from an odd angle of an empty room. For the past, I drew a one-room schoolhouse; in a close up view, through the window, a boy—without a Mohawk—was hunched over, taking a spelling test. I didn’t have much time to get into detail so the drawings were mostly contour with a hint of shading. I had ten minutes to finish the futuristic scene. Angels surrounded a boy who leaned over a cross and held a paper with one question etched on it: “Do you believe?” His pencil hovered over the yes and no box. 

As I sketched the final scene, my heart rate slowed down and peace replaced the pressure I felt to win. My bold question wouldn’t score many points in an art school, but maybe one for heaven.  

A few kids finished early and left after the first hour. No doubt, they turned in masterpieces of creativity. I stayed until the woman of many scarves announced: “Time’s up. Please bring your packets to the front.” 

I knew it wasn’t my best artwork, and was a bit corny, but at least it wasn’t blank. 

Inspired by a true story.




Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Home Again after the Storm

 Long Beach Boardwalk destroyed in Hurricane Sandy 2012

I like Long Beach, and I’m thankful it’s home. Last summer, as I rode my bike along the red path overlooking the bay, I thought the same thing. Living in between the Atlantic Ocean and the bay is like living at a vacation spot. The beach is beautiful with soft sand and rushing waves. The boardwalk is great for running, biking, or walking with a picturesque view. I can bike anywhere and don’t need to depend on a car; everything seemed perfect in Long Beach. Then Hurricane Sandy flooded our town. The ocean met the bay and filled our homes. Water filled our basement and continued to rise two more feet on the first floor. Those who stayed, like my husband, lived through a scene from Titanic. Well, almost.

Like many Long Beach residents who evacuated, we returned to a ruined home. Everything wet had to be tossed out to prevent fast growing mold; the streets became lined with ten-foot mountains of garbage. Brand new washers, dryers, ovens, and mattresses waited their turn for the crane monsters to lift them away. The surging water had smashed the boardwalk and carried sections of it blocks away as if a bomb had exploded.

The National Guard drove army trucks filled with emergency supplies to central areas.  The Recreation Center became a storage place for donations. We filled yard bags with needed supplies, towels and warm clothes for all of us. We wore our donated FEMA clothes, happy to have more layers as the temperature dropped in our drafty house. Nothing was the same. Even the evergreen trees turned burnt orange from salt water. It didn’t feel like home for more than half a year.


But I have to thank God for blessings today. Samaritan’s Purse Ministries is going to fix our home sometime around mid-October. Shortly after Hurricane Sandy hit Long Beach, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers came to help our town and set up their offices at our church. I’ve heard of their ministry through church and knew they travel all over the world to help where natural disasters occur and help the poor, but never thought we’d experience their help personally.

Another special aspect of how this ministry works is that they depend on volunteers and even our family will be required to volunteer and help with another family’s home. It will feel good to encourage someone else going through a similar experience. Hopefully this will be something we can continue even when our home is done.

God is so faithful. Even though our hope and faith sometimes wavered, He had a plan. Going through hard times does bring blessings we could never experience otherwise. It opened our eyes to have compassion for others who experience a similar loss and to appreciate the wonderful people who care and go above and beyond in helping and providing for the needs of others. Every act of kindness during that difficult time brought tears to my eyes and prayers of blessings for them in return.

I intend to update posts of the progress in our home. Can’t wait!


Our living room being gutted a month after storm

                                                        Where’s my kitchen?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Where's My Kitchen? 3rd place Winner of Faithwriter's Best of the Best 2013

Fragments of “Clair de Lune” mingle with the steam of boiling noodles. My quiet kitchen is transformed into a music classroom as Stephen, my oldest son, practices his keyboard and classical guitar in his favorite room of the house. The gentle notes transport me to the scene of a foreign movie. I sit on a wooden stool in a stone cottage and shell beans. Sunlight streams through the open window until a beep pierces the air . . . the fire alarm jolts me back to reality and I bang it off with a broom. His steak is done. 

The reality is that this is not my kitchen anymore. 

I used to like eggs. Ever since my nineteen year old aimed to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger I’ve had to endure the smell of eight eggs boiling every morning. Sulfur gases spiral through my nostrils as he peels the shells, leaves six yolks to roll around the plate and pops two in his mouth. Stephen devours eight egg whites, a bowl of oatmeal, and a bowl of bran flakes, and I wonder if he is really my son. 

I used to like being in the kitchen.  

The heavenly scent of a cake rising, the comfort of sprinkling cinnamon on toast, the sizzling sound of chicken cutlets frying. My favorite scents have been replaced by the smoke from burning steak. Stephen doesn’t seem to mind that it’s ninety-three degrees outside and even hotter in the kitchen. He needs to eat and eat and eat. 

I can’t help but ask him, “Why don’t you cut back to six eggs so a carton will last two days?” 

He looks at me like I’ve asked him what two plus two equals. “That’s not enough,” he answers while mixing his protein shake. 

When I was his age, I was obsessive in the opposite way of counting calories and eating only enough to keep from passing out. I can’t relate to the concept of wanting to gain weight. 

“This is how it works,” he explains, “I need to eat a protein food every three hours and after working out to gain the most muscle mass.” 

Two hours after his power breakfast for champions, he’s in the kitchen. Again. Stephen bakes plain chicken and boils brown rice, overcooked rice that smells like popcorn. He consumes a portion that could feed a poor family of eight. I want to tell him. Sometimes I do. He just shakes his head and says, “You don’t understand the science of body building.” And why should I?  

I wonder if he’ll ever leave the kitchen. 

Something must be wrong; I hide boxes of bran flakes. Stephen has his own box that he’ll gobble through in two days; mine will last two weeks if he doesn’t find it. I get mad when he steals my flakes. Backpedal one hundred or even fifty years: Moms wore aprons and served their sons hearty meals to grow strong. They didn’t say, “This is your grain, so stay away from mine.” Yes, something is wrong with our kitchen. (It’s supposed to be mine not a six foot tall non-stop eating musician’s.) 

The kitchen does not look like my kitchen. 

Dirty dishes and clutter spread throughout the kitchen like gangrene. The shiny counters of the previous night are decorated with used spoons, empty boxes, bowls of cemented oatmeal, crumpled paper towel balls, protein powder dust, egg shells, and even the skull of a pepper. Every cabinet stretches wide open to catch a breeze. The floor catches whatever rolled off the edge of the counter. 

But was an empty kitchen a better kitchen? 

When I’m not complaining about the lack of counter space for two cooks, we talk, share our creative interests, our hopes and dreams, and share our beliefs and faith. I need to close my eyes, enjoy the chords of melody, and drift back to the days he cooed as I fed him oatmeal (that didn’t turn to cement.) When I open my eyes the anxiety of the kitchen chaos returns. I want my kitchen back. 

So I try to remember priorities; the Mary and Martha lesson with a twist. 

I’ve a healthy muscle-bound lad who cooks, fills our home with music and loves God—more important than the trail left behind. 

The kitchen has become a good place to pray and learn…a little about myself, a little about my son, and a whole lot about patience, pride and protein.  

Truth: I still want my kitchen back.