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Diamond in the Rough

November 27, 2011 24 comments

Gratitude.

This week I can’t help but be thankful for the people in my life, my children and our health.

It’s a tradition in the school I work at, to celebrate each year’s accomplishments at a Stepping Stones ceremony in June. Throughout the year some of the faculty collect beautiful stones from a wide variety of places for each student to pick from.

A few years ago, one of our senior graduates turned the tradition around. He’d gone mining earlier in the year and instead of just taking a stone for himself, he gave each member of the faculty and staff a Herkimer diamond. It was a touching gesture.

Mine, was stolen from a drawer in my bedroom a year-and-a-half ago.

He passed away a little over a year ago.

This particular graduate was an extraordinary human being. I knew he could write, memorize and recite complicated monologues. But it wasn’t until his memorial service that I discovered the breadth of his artistic abilities. It was there that I was given a glimpse into just how talented he was. I didn’t know he had such an incredible eye for photography or that he whittled the pieces of an entire chess set out of wood or fashioned a beautiful wooden flute for his mom. He also made grand bags out of leather and bark and created with glass. He made beautiful marbles and knives. He was quite the unique individual and his art reflected that. In this technological age of all things electronic, he was a breath of fresh air.

He was a diamond in the rough.

Recently, his mom who is also an artist, had an art exhibit entitled 100 Hearts in his honor. I have three.

I spent a few days with her this summer at our place in the woods Upstate. I read her beautifully drawn journals, the ones that try to put into perspective what her daily life is like now without her son, how her grief is endless and how grateful she is for the time she had with him. As a mother I am in awe of her strength sometimes and heartbroken by her loss, always.

Just before the Thanksgiving break, I was in her classroom and she handed me a small bundle of tissue. Beneath the folds of the carefully wrapped paper lay not one but two of the Herkimer diamonds her son mined that year.

One is clear and small. The other is larger and contains rare impurities. Both are beautiful in their own special way. Heart stop.

Needless to say thoughts of this young man and his spirit have lingered with me all week-long.

Gratitude. Be happy for what you have — right now.

This week in particular, I’m thankful for the people in my life, my children and our health.

Hug your diamonds in the rough today.

Photo Credit #1 Gratitude

Photo Credit #2 Stones

Photo Credit #3 ©Karen Szczuka Teich & Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Photo Credit #4  Children

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Categories: Education, Family, Friendship, Life, Love Tags:

The Boy Who Lives…On

July 17, 2011 8 comments

If you haven’t heard of Harry Potter, you must live under a rock. If you have but haven’t read the books, what are you waiting for? If you’ve read the books and didn’t like love them, I may have to re-think our acquaintance. 

I’ve read all seven Harry Potter books, to myself, to my kids and then re-read some of them to myself, again. I immediately fell in love with the wide-eyed, innocent boy who spoke to snakes and had no idea he was special. I was equally drawn to the large and hairy, Hagrid who charmed me with his sincerity and devout loyalty to the Headmaster and to Harry. Then of course, there is the Headmaster; wise, beautiful and fiercely powerful, Albus Dumbledore. I don’t know how anyone could not love him. From the Weasley family to Dobby the house elf, the secondary characters are just as endearing and as important to the whole story.

My favorite character however is the Half-Blood Prince himself, Severus Snape. I was overcome with emotion when I realized I’d misjudged him. I hadn’t trusted my instincts and instead, I judged him. Lily was kind to Snape. She befriended him and forever, he loved her.

Kindness, is incredibly powerful.

Now, when I think of Snape, the image of a silver doe comes to mind and I could easily cry.

In her books, J.K. Rowling explores the power of love on multiple levels; how to love, who you love, what you do for love, what happens when you love.

For the past seven years, I’ve been getting lost in the friendships and the adventure, first in the words, then on the screen, submerging myself in the details surrounding this boy’s life. Watching him grow and learn through lessons of life and love. While the books don’t lack in humor, as a mom, I totally appreciate J.K. Rowling’s lack of fluff. Things don’t always go right and right doesn’t always win out. Things don’t come easy to Harry. They don’t come easy to most people. That, is life. And even though we overcome our struggles, our successes are often short lived, lasting only long enough for us to realize we are strong enough to overcome them.

J.K. Rowling also repeats the real-life-fact (over and over again) that things are not always what they seem, not with friends, family or strangers, reminding me again, to try not to judge people, their lives or actions but instead, to continue to strive to be true to myself.

Regardless of your age and despite the fact that the story takes place in a world of fantasy, everyone can relate on some level to some of the emotions these characters experience. Life is unpredictable and even painful. Sometimes things just don’t make sense but there is another side, a better side and when you fight for what you believe in, eventually, you get there. Perseverance.

You may love and you may lose people you love in the meantime but no matter what, you go on because life and love are worth it.

It’s so healthy to get excited about something and this weekend, boy was I excited! Not only did I LOVE the movie but I LOVE spending time with my kids too, so it was truly a win – win for me. Thanks to this gender-generation, transcending phenomenon, I had a date with my 10-year old daughter as well as my twelve-year old son who frankly, would otherwise, rather spend time with just about anyone else but me – but because we all share this common bond, this love for all things Harry Potter, any obstacles that would normally keep us at odds or apart, magically vanished for nearly three, whole hours and together we shared the experience of watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, at midnight!

Harry Potter, the movie epic has come to an end on the screen anyway but is it over? Hardly. In my lifetime, I can’t recall a phenomenon such as the Harry Potter series and how its appeal really has transcended genders and generations. Harry has already proven to have the same kind of staying power as the likes of Dorothy, Alice and even, Scrooge. J.K. Rowling’s story of “the boy who lived“, has earned its rightful place among the Classics. Harry Potter will live on and be read, over and over and over again, for generations to come.

Thank you, J.K. Rowling.

Who’s In Your Cup?

July 10, 2011 15 comments

“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”    ~Joseph Addison

Tea. When I was growing up, there was one flavor, two brands: Lipton and Red Rose. Nowadays, there’s a thousand flavors and ten-thousand brands. My favorite is licorice root by Celebration. Tea. It was an afternoon staple in our home and when Tante Rita came over, it was an all-out party.

“Rita saw it in my tea-cup. I swear!”

That’s what my mom told my dad after Tante Rita read her tea leaves and saw that she was pregnant before they’d told anyone. My parents had agreed to keep it “secret” for a while but no sooner had they found out, than Rita saw the “stork” at the very top of my mom’s tea-cup.

Oh, Vera! You’re pregnant! How far along are you?

Rita also saw “the young man in uniform holding a gun”, which was my brother going into the military, well before he graduated high school. And she described a trip I would take to Ireland with my mom and sister about 10-years before it actually happened.

Tante Rita was one of my mom’s best girlfriends. They’d worked together as bookkeepers in the bank when mom was single. Rita never married or had children. Always smiling or laughing, Rita was tall, thin and had milky-white skin and a red-headed bee-hive hair-do. She was from Scotland and had a very heavy accent. A lovely woman who was loads of fun, Rita was more like an “aunt” to us, which is why we called her, Tante.

Rita read all of our tea-cups. It was something she learned how to do in Scotland as a child from her mother; something she taught my sister how to do when she noticed she had a natural knack for it. Tea leaf reading (or Tasseography) is the ancient practice of interpreting the patterns made by tea leaves left behind in a cup – usually a bone-china cup.

From the time I was seven-teen and just about to embark upon life’s journey out on my own, until nearly thirty, I had my tea–leaves read on a fairly regular basis. Throughout the years, Rita would see and describe people in my cup who would become very important to me. Not the everyday people in my life, but the people who would come into my life and change it.

When I was in high school she saw “the initial A, next to a young woman”, who turned out to be my college room-mate of four years and a life-long friend. In college, “the older, harsh and demanding man next to the letter M” that kept appearing, would be my boss for nearly seven years after I graduated.

Ten years after Rita first saw the “unusual two-diamond ring” accompanied by the “proposal from a dark-haired man I would work with”, I married the “dark-haired man beside the letter L” next to the ring and proposal. And there was always the “tall man in my cup standing next to the initial T”. He’s been seen at the bottom, which is further into the future, midway which is somewhat in the distance and occasionally, at the top. Sometimes his facial features and hair color would change but he’s always been there. I’ve never quite pin-pointed exactly who he is, although coincidentally, I’ve had two significant “Ts” cross my path over the years, both with different hair colors and facial features. Both appearing and disappearing in my life at the most unexpected of times.

Tante Rita passed-on many years ago now but I still go back and check my “notes” occasionally, remembering her fondly and cherishing our tea-times together. All those readings gave me hope, things to look forward to. Maybe it’s hog-wash. Maybe it’s self-fulfilling prophecy as I suppose in hindsight, anyone could easily make sense of, and make the words work, if  they wanted to but I’d rather believe that there really was something to this ancient art of future telling.

Now, here I am again, embarking upon a whole new chapter of my life, with the same sense of trepidation and excitement that I had when I was seven-teen, wondering what my future holds, wondering, what would Rita see in my cup today and who would be there?

I’d like to think she might see an owl, indicating I have a little more wisdom and confidence this time around. I’d like to believe my cup is filled with impressions of kindness, forgiveness and lots of hearts for love. And while I suspect Rita would find a little sadness at the top, a few tears even, I imagine the bottom of my cup to be hopeful, clear and wide open for all kinds of adventure and opportunity.

Yes, I’d like to think there really is something to the leaves left behind in a tea-cup.

So, the next time you have a cup of tea, leave a swallow at the end, turn the cup three times counter-clockwise and let it rest upside down on its saucer for a few seconds. When you pick it back up and peer inside, think about what you see and imagine what could be.

Who knows what the future holds?

Have you ever had your tea-cup read?

Photo Credit #1: Google Images

Photo Credit #2: Life in a teacup

Photo Credit #3: Croque-choux

Categories: Comfort, Culture, Family, Friendship, Life, Love, Tea Tags:

Message in the Attic

June 12, 2011 5 comments

Somehow I let myself slip into the delusion that life would get easier as I got older. Maybe older, is meant for the over 60 crowd, in which case, I still have a little while to go. As for this mid-forties mom and for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, life just seems to be extraordinarily difficult right now and I find myself in the position of having to “let go”… of a lot.

Coincidentally, while recently rummaging around in my attic again (looking for more things to sell) I stumbled upon an old, yellowed-out piece of paper at the bottom of a box labeled “Childhood”. I’ve no idea where it came from or how I got it but of this I am certain, it’s mine and it feels like an appropriate time to share it.

Without credit of an author and in an old, bold, script type face, this is what was written on it:

Let go……..

to “let go” does not mean to stop caring, it means I can’t do it for someone else.

to “let go” is not to cut myself off, it’s the realization I can’t control another.

to “let go” is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.

to “let go” is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.

to “let go” is not to try to change or blame another, it’s to make the most of myself.

to “let go” is not to care for, but to care about.

to “let go” is not to fix but to be supportive.

to “let go” is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.

to “let go” is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes but to allow others to affect their destinies.

to “let go” is not to be protective, it’s to permit another to face reality.

to “let go” is not to deny, but to accept.

to “let go” is not to nag, scold or argue, but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.

to “let go” is not to adjust everything to my desires but to take each day as it comes, and cherish myself in it.

to “let go” is not to criticize and regulate anybody but to try to become what I dream I can be.

to “let go” is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.

to “let go” is to fear less, and love more.

Sometimes I can get so bogged down by the details of  “the issue at hand” that I just can’t see the obvious. Lucky for me, I believe in receiving signs, messages and answers from the universe (or whatever higher power has it’s hand in our fates) and I believe they can come in many forms and places. This time, it was in the quiet of a warm, stuffy attic and it was clear; certain circumstances are just out of my control and I need to let go.


Photo Credits #1 & #2: Google Images

A Wet Haven

June 5, 2011 4 comments

Think back to when you were a kid in grammar school. What would it have been like for you, if you were able to throw a bucket of water over your “favorite” teacher’s head without fear of retribution? What if, once a year, you were allowed, encouraged even to get the principal or head of school soaken wet?

My girl soaks her math/science/this is how you build a rocket, teacher!

And what if, even after you left that school, you were still allowed to come back at the end of the year and take part in a wild and wet, water-splash-out of students vs. teachers and parents?

My boy gets to come back and relive this thrill even after being gone for two years!

Six years ago, I began working at the small progressive school my kids attended so I could be near them and see firsthand, what it was all about and why my kids barely got any homework. Coming from a catholic grammar school and an all girl catholic high school, I was a little skeptical of the progressive education that I’d signed on to for them. I ended up getting an education for myself, on what it means for a child to be in an environment that nurtures their curiosity and fosters the development of a life-long love of learning. For eight years my son went to the Randolph School. He left after 5th grade. My daughter is finishing up 4th grade. Next year will be her last. I’m already feeling sad.

The curriculum at Randolph School is project based. Several months are devoted to one study at a time, such as birds, Native Americans and human flight. Math, English, Social Studies and Science all get incorporated into the study using a hands on learning approach. These kids are out and about, seeing, doing, building and loving what they’re learning. They’ve done some pretty awesome things too, like making paper and cooking an annual ThanksGiving meal with vegetables they planted and harvested themselves. They’ve tapped maple trees, collected sap and boiled it down to make their own syrup for a pancake lunch. They’ve been schooled on tracking people and animals, building shelters in the wilderness and trebuchets in the back field. They know how to use the resources they have to solve a problem. Each child builds a rocket and launches it every year and each year ends with an adventure day which usually involves a hike along the Hudson river or in this year’s case, a walk across the Hudson River on the newly opened, Walkway Over the Hudson. After the adventure there’s an all-school barbecue. After the barbecue, the older kids, students in kindergarten through 5th grade, get to camp-out behind the school with parents and teachers. Tents are pitched at the bottom of the same hill the kids and teachers, sled down during the winter. A bon fire is made, songs are sung, stories are told, s’mores are eaten.

Somewhere in-between the end of the adventure and the beginning of the barbecue, a twenty-plus-year-old tradition lives on. It began when two teachers who overheard a plot being hatched by two students to bring water guns to the camp-out, staged a surprise counter-attack, fully equipped with their own loaded water-guns and behold, a no holds back, teacher-parent-student water splash-out filled with 100% pure fun was born!

A wet haven for kids of all ages! Splash-Out June 2011

It’s tough being a kid. Society is drenched with all kinds of peer pressures and technological enticements. Finding a place in early childhood where children are free to be themselves, free of some of these stresses just long enough to give them a solid footing is a blessing.

So much of parenting is like playing pin the tail on the donkey. Without foresight, you point yourself in what you hope is the right direction and move forward, praying that you hit the target. Sometimes, you get lucky and hit it dead center.  Other times, you veer way off to the left or the right and have to go back and try again.

Sending my children to a school that encourages kids to be kids was a “hitting the target dead center” move — a blessing.

The result, is that they love to learn, they always will and I am very grateful.

What do you love about your child’s school?

 

The Power of Three

May 22, 2011 6 comments

To me, there’s no sweeter sound than that of a child’s laughter. It’s comfort food to my ears and fills my heart with a strong sense that something is “right” in this world. When it’s a giggling girl, it’s a little piece of heaven, add two BFFs and it’s an all-out party. That’s what it seemed like anyway when my 10-year old daughter had her two gal pals over for a play date this week. Ten is such a joyous age. It’s the pre, pre-tween-age of self-discovery, where everything is new again and funny.

After a brief stint of one-on-one-on-one basketball, there was the discovery of a blue bird’s egg on the front lawn and the nest that was knocked from a bush. They huddled around it with great concern trying to figure out what happened and what they could do to save it. They played on the over-sized swing-set that dominates a good chunk of our backyard and seems to get less and less attention as the years go by. I was happy to hear the boards creak again as they ran across the wooden bridge linking one tower to the other. Then they did what girls often do and tried on clothes for the next hour. My girl is a bit taller than the other two and has grown two sizes this year alone. One by one, they came out of their giggles to model their outfits. I was checking my Facebook on the kitchen computer as they cat-walked the runway for me.

A friend had posted the now infamous pictures of President Obama and his national security team as they were briefed about the demise of Bin Laden. I wondered what (if anything) three girls in the fourth grade would think about the removal of prominent government officials, who just happen to be women, from a government issued photograph in two news articles that recently circulated in Brooklyn, New York.

Without going into the detail behind the original photograph, I asked them to look at both pictures and tell me what they thought of them.

They immediately recognized that they were the same picture but that the two women who were in the first photo, were missing from the second and they wanted to know, why? In very simple terms I explained that it was a cultural decision.

“But it’s not true. They were there!”

10-year old girls believe in the truth.

“Isn’t that what they call sex…um, sex-ist?”

10-year old girls are smart and a force to be reckoned with.

“I don’t agree with it and I do find it very offensive but it’s their culture.”

10-year old girls are tolerant.

“That’s just wrong. I’m a Jew and that’s not my kind of Jew. I don’t like it.

Let’s go play.”

10-year old girls speak their mind and really do just want to have fun.

And they should.

I take great comfort in their play and all that it encompassed in just one afternoon. From their savvy athletic skills in basketball, their great display of compassion for the unborn bird and it’s home and their fantastic, imaginative adventure on the play structure, to their sophisticated sense of fashion on the runway of my kitchen, the promise of strength in these little women is evident.  And while one may be able to “faux-toshop” them out of a picture someday, I don’t think for one second, they will ever be out of the game.

They are powerful indeed and in a tough spot, this power of three. It’s the end of the school year and they are very much aware that one of the points that keeps this triangle in flow, will not be coming back next year. With a class size of ten, losing one makes a big difference, especially when they’ve been together since they’re two. It’s difficult for them and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to help them honor their growth, celebrate their friendship of eight years and acknowledge their parting of the ways as a natural part of life, albeit a sad one.

Sometimes we need to say, “goodbye” to the people we love in order to become all that we can be.

Life after-all is a series of “hellos” and “goodbyes“, some lasting longer than others, some merely preparation for when we meet again.

So, if it’s up to me, for now, I think I’ll just let them play as much as they can or want to, together.


Photo Credit # 1 & #2:  ©Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Photo Credit #3 & #4:  Yahoo! News The Cutline

Better Late Than Never

May 15, 2011 10 comments

I was slightly preoccupied last week, what with having to break into my house and all.

I didn’t get a chance to really acknowledge Mother’s Day or the millions of moms out there that make their children feel as special as my mom still makes me feel, even at 46-years of age. Maybe it’s because she used to tell me that all the time when I was growing up.

“You’re special you know.”

I believed her too, ’cause well, she’s my mom and everything your mom tells you is true. It wasn’t until well into my adulthood that I learned she used to tell my brother and sister the same thing. I wasn’t upset. I was glad they grew up feeling the same way; special.

When I had my son twelve years ago, I was ill prepared. After all, what did I know about how to take care of a baby, let alone a boy? Enter, Nana. My mom only lives 20-minutes away but after Noah’s birth, she slept at my house for two weeks anyway. When she left, I cried, even though I knew I was going to see her the very next day. She had just retired from the bank. How lucky, for me! For the next two-and-a-half years, we went from Fishkill to Redhook and everywhere in-between, in search of the best places for lunch and the best playgrounds for my boy to explore in. Precious, happy times.

When Hannah was born, my mom was in the delivery room. They share a unique, unbreakable bond and have been partners in crime ever since. Nana is the first person Hannah calls when she’s sick.

“Can you come and watch me today?”

“Of course, love.”

is the reply, 99.9% of the time, no matter what she has planned that day.

Selfless. She never makes you feel like it’s a bother or an imposition. She operates from the purest point of unconditional love. A gift she gives freely, a quality I strive to emulate.

She’s an awesome babysitter for sure but truth be told, day or evening, the chances of you coming home to find her asleep and your child wide-awake, “shh-shing” you as you come through the door, are more than high.

“”How long has Nana been asleep for?”

is usually my first question.

Nana is famous for accidentally, “letting the cat out of the bag”, realizing it in the moment and immediately trying to take it back. For example, she once left a message on my answering machine that went something like this…..

“Hi love, I guess you’re not home. Okay, well, I’ll see you at the surprise party on Saturday. (pause) Oh, wait! I didn’t mean that! (pause) I don’t know what I’m talking about, there is no party. I don’t know when I’ll see you again. Bye. It’s mom.”

One of my favorite things about Nana is how much she loves to laugh. Seriously, my kids and I  purposefully try to make her laugh because once you get her going, it’s very contagious and really hard for her to stop. If you take her to a funny movie, be prepared for all eyes to be on you, when she literally doubles over in laughter. Take her to any other kind of movie and chances are, all eyes will still be on you when she starts snoring after she’s fallen asleep.

For a time, mom had a German Shepard named Schatzie who was abandoned on a highway, picked up by my brother and left at mom’s house for an extended “weekend”, that lasted several years. People often joked about how she must have given birth to Schatzie because she treated her like she was her fourth child. People also joked about how Schatzie used to “walk” my mom, rather than vice-versa. Schatzie was huge, carefully eye-ing anyone who approached my mom or came too close to her; often trapping me in my car while barking ferociously, when I’d come to visit.

They loved each other dearly.

Nana’s 74 now and while she’s adamant about NOT having a face book page, she does read my “block” faithfully, when she can get to it, that is. Even though she subscribes to it, for some reason, she can never “open” it from her computer. I finally told her,

“Mom, just google my name and it will come up.”

So, the other day she went to Google and typed in:  “google Karen Szczuka…” Guess what?  It came up.

I was able to visit my mom for a while on Mother’s Day and it occurred to me, as it often does, just what a blessing it is to have her around. I don’t take her for granted. I’m grateful. I love that my kids love her and I love that she loves them as much as she loves me. She makes them feel just as special. I know this to be true and I guess that’s because she’s so special.

She’s kind and thoughtful and she’s my mom.

She’s been a wonderful power of example in so many ways, I suppose it’s better late than never that I say,

“Thanks for being my mom, Mom! I love you.”

I hope you and the millions of moms out there who make their kids feel special, had a very Happy Mother’s Day!

Please, tell me something special about your mom.

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