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Magic Intervened

December 29, 2013 12 comments
Christmas Candles

©2013 HannahRoseTeich & I’mThinkingHappy.com

“Oh, Come All Ye Faithful,

Joyful and Triumphant!”

Even though the Holiday has come and gone, I’m still basking in that warm and fuzzy, lingering feeling of love and caring, otherwise known as Christmas Spirit.

Like many folks who celebrate, Christmas is deeply rooted in tradition for me. My European parents have always emphasized Christmas Eve as the more celebrated day of the two. Unlike my all-American friends who opened their gifts Christmas morning, Santa always came to our house after dinner on Christmas Eve. When I was a child we would trade off each year with my Dad’s sister, celebrating in Westchester or Upstate New York with my two, older boy cousins who lived in the woods. By the time my children were born, my cousins had already started their own families and carried on the tradition in their own ways. Ours was tweaked slightly so we could continue to celebrate Christmas Eve with my parents at their home and celebrate Christmas Day, the American way, in my home. Santa’s magical flexibility allowed for him to drop off a few gifts at Nana & Opa’s house after dinner before making his way to our house Christmas morning.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years however, it’s that like it or not, change is the only real constant. You can go with the flow, embracing it the best you can or be miserable.

An incident at the beginning of December unfortunately,  made it clear that this Christmas was going to be different, forcing me to rethink how we normally celebrate Christmas Eve. Even though my parents would be celebrating as they usually do with our extended family, being there for us, was not an option. Circumstances beyond our control and careful consideration made it necessary for me to decline the invitation, in effect, displacing us and leaving us with nowhere to be on Christmas Eve.

Each generation tries to do better, provide more guidance and opportunity for their kids but mostly we all just want for our children to be happy.  My kids love their extended family. Talking to them about why we weren’t going to celebrate Christmas Eve with my family this year was really hard.  And even though after everything my kids have been through, it’s been important to me to try to keep certain things the same for them over the past two years, I realize life is filled with hard stuff. All we can really do for our kids is arm them with the truth and let them know we will always be there to love and support them.

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©2013 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

“Sing Choirs of Angels Sing in Exultation,

Sing All Ye Citizens of Heaven Above!”

I believe in magic; Christmas Magic.

It’s the gift that appears from seemingly nowhere and has no tangible existence to speak of, like the unlikely turn-of-events in a situation that you couldn’t foresee working out — working out. It can come in the form of an unexpected act of kindness or an expression of gratitude.  It’s when all things align and the view is suddenly clear, making way for something special to occur, like the sighting of a shooting star or the appearance of a rare blue moon.

It’s getting what you need, not necessarily what you’ve been asking for and recognizing it when it shows itself.

I love Christmas because it embodies the spirit of giving (and I don’t mean of things) from one person to another.

An unexpected, greatly appreciated phone call came about a week before Christmas. My Dad’s sister, the aunt we shared Christmas with when I was a child invited me and my children to join her, a friend and one of my cousins on Christmas Eve.

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© 2013 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

I haven’t spent a Christmas Eve with my Tante Christine in over 20-years.

She hasn’t spent a Christmas without at least two of her four grandchildren present in over 25-years.

This year Christmas Eve was different. None of her grandchildren could be there.

xmas2014 014

© 2013 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

My kids and I needed some family for Christmas.

My aunt, needed some kids.

We — needed each other.

Magic Intervened.

May the Magic of the Holiday Season fill your heart with joy and gratitude, as it did mine.

Into The Storm

December 15, 2013 11 comments

Storm3

She stood in the storm,

And when the wind did not blow her way,

She adjusted her sails.

                                                                                                                 ~ Elizabeth Edwards

Categories: Attitude, Challenges, Life Tags: ,

Pause

December 8, 2013 7 comments
Curtains 003

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The holiday season has been creeping up on us since right before Halloween. Like a strong, silent ivy spreading its way through cities all across the country. It’s been lighting up homes and leaving its mark on lampposts and in storefronts everywhere! Neighborhoods are all aglow with colorful lights and twinkling trees peering through living room windows. It’s a special time of year that promotes peace and giving and kindness, which my 12-year old daughter recently noted:  is free.

The Holidays can be magical, often making the seemingly impossible, possible and like so many other people, it’s my favorite time of year.

For some however, it can be a struggle; a sad and difficult time, especially this year, with fewer than normal days of  breathing room in between the great feast of Thanksgiving and the arrival of Christmas Eve. Hanukkah is already over! There’s a rush to the finish and the hustle and bustle of trying to get there, can quickly lose its charm and become frustrating, exasperating even.

Curtains 004

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Most people come forward with their best. But honestly, you never know what’s going on just below the surface of a carefree wave, an absentminded smile or a soft, slightly distracted gaze. Everyone has a cross or two to bear. It could be anything from a forgotten appointment to coming off of the end of a long work shift or suffering from indecision about something. Maybe you’ve had an argument with someone or are recovering from an illness. Perhaps there is a sick child at home or you simply miss someone, terribly.

Whatever the burden, no one is exempt from worry. 

Curtains 008

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

This season, if you can, pause to be compassionate toward the people you meet.

You never know what someone is going through.

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Peace & Good Wishes to All!

Categories: Holidays, Kindness, Life, Parenting Tags:

Masquerade

October 31, 2013 16 comments
group

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

People wear masks all the time, covering up all kinds of situations and emotions.

Halloween is one of my favorite celebrations. In disguise, you get to openly be whatever you want to be and get a bag full of free candy to boot! My memories of Halloween as a child are filled with endless hours of trick-or-treating (mostly treating) first through the 5-stories of our apartment building and then, all over town until our legs could take us no further. After that, my Dad would put us in the back of his shiny, red, Volkswagen bus and drive us to friends’ houses until our bags were stuffed and our eyes were bleary.

I don’t cut my Dad a lot of slack when it comes to my childhood. I can’t sugar-coat fear or disappointment. No one ever wanted to be on the receiving end of his wrath. You never knew what kind of mood he would come home in, if, or when he came home. Every day was unpredictable. He enjoyed holidays and parties though and could really get into the “spirit” of things– when he wanted to. Despite his ominous nature, he was big on costuming and we could pretty much count on his help for a clever idea and creative way of making it happen. He had an impressive repertoire of costumes himself. I remember him spending weeks working on them before the annual masquerade ball he and my mom attended every February at the German Club they belonged to. (I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my Dad is from Germany.) Every winter, the German Club celebrated Fasching which is a German holiday that resembles our Mardi Gras and is similar to Halloween in that parades are held and “clubs” host costume balls.

My Dad’s costumes always won awards, if not First Place.

These are a few of my favorites.

mummy

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

My Dad, the mummy.

The old man on the right is my Dad.

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

This “old man” was only in his late 20s.

old group

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

A group shot of my “old man” and his date who, of course, is my mom.

Third man on the right. My Dad is the Godfather.

Circa 1970s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The Godfather (4th man in)– is my father.

One year my Dad went as the Statue of Liberty. Another year he was a Prize Fighter who lost to a midget. He even dressed in Blackface as a Minstrel which now-a-days of course, would be considered offensive.

The minstrel and my mom.  Circa 1960s

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The Minstrel and my mom.

Another questionable but winning costume; large, blond lady wearing a dress made from potato sacks.

This blond woman wearing the dress made out of potato sacks is my Dad.

Circa 1970s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

My Dad loved masquerades and wore many masks.

As an adult, I realize he was a resourceful, creative man and I often wonder how different his life might have been if he had been raised and educated in this country. Like many people, he had to contend with his demons while they competed with his redeeming qualities. He loved to cook and I have happy memories of him lifting me up and setting me on top of the refrigerator so I could watch him roll out the dough on the kitchen counter to make donuts or melt sugar and butter in a pan on the stove-top to make candy. He’d dribble the hot mixture into ice-cold water to form droplets of yummy home-made caramel. He took our family camping and taught us how to play Yahtzee and Monopoly and passed along his love for puzzling.  I love my Dad.

He did the best he could.

Children are resilient. Thankfully, despite the imperfections of our childhoods or the tumultuous relations we have with our parents, most of us also have unconditional love for them or at least forgiveness. I don’t deny the turmoil of my youth but I do try to have compassion for the fact that no matter how tough I believe some parts of my childhood were, my Dad’s was unimaginable; growing up in Germany during WWII. As a parent myself now, I realize we all just do the best we can and I hope that when my kids reflect on some of the mistakes I’m making, they will have compassion too.

Climb Every Mountain! Then Wait For Help.

September 22, 2013 8 comments
Country Playing

Summer 1971 Playing at the “country”
(L) Oldest Boy Cousin (M) Younger Brother (R) Older Boy Cousin
© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Unlike the song in the title of this post, there is absolutely no inspiration in the following story.

Although, it is true.

My parents are immigrants. I’m first generation American. Growing up was interesting—to say the least. Our extended family were all back in Europe except for two, older, boy cousins who grew up about an hour north of where we lived in Westchester. Their house sat on 6-acres of rustic, rugged and crude land which we lovingly called the “country”. Abundant in fields, woods and streams it provided a whole host of exploratory (if not dangerous) opportunities for kids who were allowed to roam free in the wilderness, which they were. I loved it there. Complete with a full-size barn and chicken coop, I have some interesting memories of our play-time together there as I’m sure they do too, for the times they came to terrorize visit us. Our environment was the extreme opposite. We lived on the 4th floor of a 5-floor walk-up that offered dumb-waiter service and pick-up kickball games with random neighborhood kids in the concrete parking lot behind our building. Instead of hiking through woods and streams in the summers, we walked to the local beach or tanned on tar-beach which was conveniently located on the rooftop of our apartment building and also doubled as a laundry facility for hanging clothes to dry. My cousins were a little “rough around the edges”. They had NO FEAR of anything or anyone and always left a clear and decisive impression if not ABSOLUTE FEAR in the hearts and minds of the neighborhood kids they encountered in our neck of the woods. When gone, the other kids often referred to them as “your crazy cousins” which, they were. Crazy and my cousins. Not that we couldn’t hold our own of course, but truth be told, it wasn’t the worst thing for a gal growing up across from one of New York’s many “Projects” to be able to say,

“Oh yah? You just wait til my cousins come back!”     Ahh, family.

Back to Europe.

When I was eight, my mom took myself and my younger brother to Ireland to meet her family. My grandmother lived in an authentic two-room, thatched cottage that had a red front door. The living and kitchen area was dominated by a constantly burning hearth. Inside, a black iron kettle always seemed to be bubbling or brewing something. I wasn’t surprised to later learn that the townspeople often referred to my grandmother as the local witch doctor. During our visit my mom got sick one day and whatever my grandmother gave her to remedy her sickness blinded her temporarily for several hours. My six-year old brother and I were my mother’s walking guide back to the outskirts of town where we were staying with my aunt. Later during that trip, my brother took ill and whatever was given to remedy his condition caused him to have fierce hallucinations in where he saw leprechauns in his room and feared my dad would be an old man when we saw him next.  Ahh, family.

Three years after that European vacation, I took a trip to Germany to meet the rest of my clan. While my other friends went to day-camp or Playland or the Jersey Shore, I was sent went to Germany.

For six weeks.

Alone.

I was eleven.

Did I mention I didn’t speak German?

Giving Oma a Rose

1976 Giving my Oma a rose upon arrival in Germany.
© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The upside of that trip was that one of my boy cousin’s from America was also going to Germany later that summer with his mom. At least I could look forward to some English speaking kin after a month of speaking very slowly and loudly and using multiple hand gestures to try to communicate. Why is it that people think people who don’t speak their language can understand them if they just speak slowly and loudly?  It was fun and tough and a whirlwind of meeting relatives before my aunt and 13-year old cousin got there. Sadly, my grandmother had Alzheimer’s and didn’t know who I was or why I was in their home. After a few weeks I began to understand the language much better than I could speak it and I could tell she was confused about the strange child staying in her house. I’d overhear my grandfather trying to explain to her over and over again that I was her son, Guenter’s daughter.

When my aunt and cousin finally arrived from the U.S., it was a welcome reunion. After a few days of re-adjusting, my grandfather took us on a tri-country tour. By car. Compact car, that is. The five of us (six if you count my Omi’s over-stuffed white handbag) drove from Germany, to Austria, to Italy and back again.

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1976 Me and Opa in Austria
© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich and TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The most memorable part of my trip lies within the Austrian mountains of Tyrol near the city of Innsbruck. We stayed in a small village surrounded by mountains for a few days of sight-seeing. After a day or two of exploring the village’s architecture and taking a cable car to the snowy top of one of the mountains, my cousin and I set out for some play-time of our own. After all, he was used to roaming free in the wilderness. Why should that be any different in Austria? And why wouldn’t I follow him when he said,

Hey, let’s climb the side of this mountain.

You never really know someone until you climb a mountain with them.

Instead of taking the dirt path that wound itself upward, we — he, chose for us to rough it, climbing partly on the mountain’s side and partly on the concrete boulders that were wedged into the mountain every 50 to 100 feet or so. There were several of them, leading upwards. Their purpose was to slow the onslaught of a rock or mudslide that could come crashing down into the village below. They were several feet wide and about 5 feet high, massive to a girl of eleven and vertically challenged. As height was not an attribute of mine, it was necessary for my cousin to climb first. He’d haul himself up and then extend a hand to help me up to the somewhat smoother part of each boulder as we made our ascent. Every so often the dirt pathway appeared off to the side of one of the concrete slabs and our intention was to take the path down when we were done with all of our climbing. Soon after our adventure began, my cousin started collecting “rocks” and insisted they accompany us on our journey. As the cool morning hours turned into a warm afternoon, his rocks grew larger and heavier and by mid-day there were far more than I wanted to deal with. I was exhausted hauling them up to him one, by one before he extended his arm for me. I was thirsty and hungry and tired and finally sometime in the late afternoon, I refused.

No, I cried. I’m not carrying your stupid rocks up this mountain anymore!

Fine, he said, then I’m not helping you up the mountain, anymore.

With that, he jumped off the concrete slab and onto the side of the mountain. He climbed his way up onto the pathway and vanished. After hours and hours of climbing together, he disappeared in just a few short minutes, leaving me with his stupid rocks, stranded, atop a huge concrete boulder, on a mountain, in Austria.

Alone.

I was eleven.

It was nightfall and several hours later before I heard the dogs barking and the men shouting. Flashlights blinded my eyes when the Austrian patrol finally found me and lead me safely to and down the pathway to a frantic grandfather and somewhat hysterical aunt.

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My Cousin and I in Austria 1976
© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich and TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Life lessons I suppose begin when life does. I’ve said it before and it’s warranted again:

If it doesn’t kill ya, it’ll make you stronger.

I am a bull, who is afraid of heights BUT not afraid of being alone in the dark.

It’s all good.

I’m not quite sure what happened when my cousin descended from the mountain without me that evening. I remember being given “medicine”  when I got back to my grandfather’s room. He fished a bottle of pills out of my grandmother’s big white handbag and gave me two, to calm me when I started to cry for my dad and wanted to call home. Whatever it was gave me a similar feeling to one I had thirty-five years later when I was prescribed Valium before having a dental procedure. Only instead of lasting a few hours, it lasted the whole next day which I remember as a haze, literally. I didn’t call my dad and my fearless, crazy, rock-loving cousin was much nicer to me for the rest of our trip. Things resumed to normal. As they eventually do, with family.

These days my cousin lives far-away in another state and I don’t get to see him much but whether it’s two years or ten that pass between meetings, it always resumes to normal.

I miss and love him dearly.

Restitution

September 8, 2013 6 comments
bees

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat…..Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive…..Forgiveness does not excuse anything…..You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness…..” 

~ Wm. Paul Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity

Three years, thirty-three checks and $10,544.28 later, recompense has been paid and restitution made for some of the items that were taken from my previous home over a period of several months.

I’ve “let go of his throat.”

Now that all the money is in the bank, the question is, what should we do with it? How do you spend restitution money? Do you split it two ways or in our case, four ways? Should it be put toward education or bills? Should we go on vacation? Give it to charity?

What would you do with it?

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© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

After catching this “burglar” in our home three years ago, we’ve moved on, mostly. Although the journey continues. Two of us have left that house and relocated.

My Edward still stands guard in the window where I left him, where the rest of my family lives, right next door to where this thief lives.

The sun has faded Edward some but his effect is the same. Creepy, like my former neighbor.

Edward

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

An Order of Protection remains in effect until June, 2015. It’s a silly piece of paper if you ask me, considering the Order prohibits our neighbor from being within 100-yards of any of the four of us, yet there’s barely ten-feet of shared grass that sits between his house and ours.  Even though I’ve “let go of his throat”, truth be told, every time I drop off or pick my kids up from that address, I’m tempted to call the police. He is after all, in constant violation. He has been since the day the Order was signed, despite the pictures I provided the court. He’s also Caucasian, in his early twenties and always wears a hoody. I was suspect of him before I knew he was the one repeatedly breaking into our home and I will continue to be leary of any person, boy or girl, that chooses to hide their identity beneath a hood in public. I don’t care what color skin they have. I trust my instinct.

Two days before the last check was deposited, Diane from Probation called me.

It’s Diane, she said. I’m just checking in to see if you can speak on the 26th?

The other two woman who have sat on the panel with me since Diane started it two years ago will also be there. Twice a year this Impact Panel speaks before an audience of convicted felons. They’re required to attend as part of their sentence.

Yes, of course I will, I said.

It’s hard for me to say “no” to Diane when she was the only person in the judicial system who took the time to really listen and try to understand the impact of what happened to my family. She stood by my side when I spoke before the court the day of the sentencing.

Even though life goes on and we’ve all moved on, they need to know. They need to hear first-hand about how their actions can affect the lives, for years to come, of  the people they’ve committed crimes against. In our case, months of trauma was endured while we tried to figure out who and why? My kids were only 8 and 11. Now, we’re a family that’s been torn apart and all of our lives have been changed forever.

While it’s important not to dwell on the past, it’s equally important not to forget it.

The past can not be changed. It is, what it is. Our lives today are what they are, not because of the past but because of how we chose to deal with it at the time.

Hey, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. Right?

I am a bull.

Besides, restitution has been made, a debt has been paid and I’ve “let go of his throat.”

LastCheck

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Full Plumage

August 19, 2013 10 comments

Bus2

I’ll leave an envelope in your mailbox with a letter explaining what this is all about, he said.

It’s hard to believe school starts again in just a few weeks! Where did the summer go?

Where did the years go?

During the school year, my kids are super spoiled fortunate to be driven to school every day. Not like the early years when they actually wanted to get up early and take the bus; at least Noah did. Gone too, are the days when I’d follow the bus, every day, ensuring that my son didn’t get abducted along the way OR so I could be there, just in case he needed me in some way along the route OR God forbid, there was an accident and I needed to jump into rescue mode for my little boy on the big bus. Nope, those hovering masterful parenting skills vital to ensuring my son’s safe transport to school, are no longer needed. Indeed, it is no longer required of me — by me — to make a mad dash to my car as soon as the big double-wide doors are pulled shut. Trailing, oh-so-not-discreetly, behind the big yellow boat carrying my its precious cargo is something I just don’t have to do anymore.

Bus1

September 2003 ©Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile

Back in the day and during his entire first year on the bus, I’d follow and then veer off at the corner of Dunkin’ Donuts and Route 9 while the bus would head into Princess Circle where a cluster of apartment buildings were. The apartment-pick-up allowed me just enough time to run in for a cup-of-Joe and be back outside standing on the corner, ready to catch a glimpse of my then 5-year old who’d be peering out of the window directly behind the bus driver. The bus driver would make him sit in the seat right behind her every day.

I make all the little ones sit behind me, so I can keep an eye on them, she told me one day.

Bus3

September 2003 ©Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile

Thank you, Jan.

An older woman with a big heart, there was no pulling-the-wool over Jan’s eyes. And instead of balking at my stalker-ish behavior, she’d honk the bus horn two or three times and I’d over-hear her through her cracked window telling Noah,

Look, there’s your mom. Wave to her!

He and she, would, as they rounded the corner from Princess Circle to route 9, every time.

It made my day.  Every-day.

And, to-this-day, if Jan sees me around town she honks her big yellow bus horn and waves to me with a big heartwarming smile on her face.

Thank you, Jan.

But, I digress.

My 5-year old is now going on 15 and he can sit where he wants to on the bus. Plus, these days, he has a companion. Well, sort of.  He and his sister take the bus home almost every day together. Although I somehow doubt they actually sit together. And they don’t always get off at the same STOP. But people know they’re siblings, including their current bus driver, who Hannah has had now for the past two years in a row.

It was the end of June, school was over when the man on the other end of my cell identified himself as “Vinny”, my kids’ bus driver. He told me he would leave an envelope in my mailbox explaining what the call was all about.

According to the letter, each year the Federation of Workers representing nine units (including bus drivers) in the school district we live in, take part in a program that allows for 40 out of the well over 65,000 children served, to be recognized for exhibiting outstanding behavior.

WCSD Letter

Accompanied with the letter were 4-tickets to a Renegades game; our local minor league baseball team.

If our name comes up, Vinny said, we choose a student that we’ve come in contact with during the year that has shown exemplary behavior.  We’re only supposed to pick one but I chose both your kids because they’re both great kids and really deserving. They never give me a hard time. They say hi and thank-you, are polite and Hannah helps me out with the little kids all the time.

Like a peacock fanning her feathers in full plumage, I could feel the pride swell inside.

peacock mama

Since my last post boasted the sibling rivalry that exists between my pair, I thought it fitting, to highlight their cooperation; even if they don’t always realize or recognize it; sometimes, other people do. Way to go Hannah and Noah!

Thank you, Vinny!

 

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