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Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

There’s Something About Christmas Time

In Family, Pursuit of Happiness on December 24, 2010 at 5:55 pm

“There’s something about Christmas time that makes you wish it was Christmas every day.”

Bryan Adams captured the essence of what many people feel around Christmas.  “Christmas Time” became one of my favorite holiday songs from the very first listen.  It is one of those songs that I have to hear each year to get into the spirit of the season.  Thankfully, YouTube has eliminated the need to try and catch it on the radio.

This morning, I was playing the song on YouTube with my son at the table.  He instantly started to get depressed as he started to realize that Christmas marks the end of the holiday season.  It never dawned on me that a child would be able to get into that mindset on Christmas Eve…just hours before the arrival of Santa Claus and presents.

Christmas Eve has always been the day that I look forward to the most because it is the peak of anticipation as Christmas morning approaches.  Once all of the presents have been opened, I instantly start to feel the Christmas hangover.  I guess that the thing that makes Christmas feel so special is that the season only lasts for a short time, and then life returns to “normal” whether we are ready for it or not.

Because we only listen to certain songs during the Christmas season, they remain special.  These songs are like an old friend that you only get to see once a year.  They remind you of Christmases gone by, and faithfully return each year to set the tone for the new holiday season.  Everyone has their favorites – ranging from the traditional to the modern.  I have an appreciation for the traditional songs of the season, but the ones that mean the most to me have been recorded more recently.

In addition to “Christmas Time”, here are some of my favorites:

“Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You” – Billy Squire

“Same Old Lang Syne” – Dan Fogelberg

“I Believe in Father Christmas” – Greg Lake

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Band Aid

“Happy Christmas (War is Over)” – John Lennon

“Father Christmas” – The Kinks

My all-time favorite Christmas song is one that most people have never even heard.  It was recorded by a hard rock band from Brooklyn called American Angel.  This song holds special meaning to me because I wrote the lyrics to it in the first Christmas card that I ever gave to my wife when we were dating (see below).  When we first met, I was already working, but she was still in college.  Needless to say, my wife didn’t have much disposable income back then.  She wasn’t able to spend much money on gifts, and I wanted her to know that it didn’t matter at all to me.

Please click on the following link to listen to the song – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLi2y1Yoai4

“The Best Part of Christmas” – AMERICAN ANGEL

The time is drawing nearer, and we all can think much clearer about

The good times, the bad times, and all that’s in between

There’s a spirit…can you hear it?  You can feel it in the air

And winter sends its chilling winds, and most don’t seem to care

You can’t put a price on all that we’ve been through

And even though it’s Christmas…this is all I want from you…

All I want from you is you on Christmas baby

The gift I give to you is an everlasting love

I only want to be with you on Christmas baby

Because the best part of Christmas….is us

There’s children singing in the playground, as we lie near the fire and talk about

The best times, the hard times…I hope they never end

Chimes are singing…bells are ringing…you can hear it everywhere

Forgiveness lives within us all…and now it’s time to share….

You can’t put a price on, all that we’ve been through

And even though it’s Christmas…this is all I want from you…

All I want from you is you on Christmas baby

The gift I give to you is an everlasting love

I only want to be with you on Christmas baby

Because the best part of Christmas….the best part is us

You’re the best thing that ever happened to me

Christmas can’t get much better…when you’re next to me

And as we live those golden years…

The best part of Christmas is having you here….

So much has changed over the years, but no matter what happens, these songs remain an important part of my holiday season.  While I wish that the song that I played this morning didn’t cause my son to think about the end of the season, I think that someday, he will look forward to these songs the same way that I do.

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A Perfect Shade of Gray

In Family, Pursuit of Happiness on December 22, 2010 at 9:25 pm

As a native New Yorker, I have certain expectations when it comes to the weather around the holidays.  Needless to say, 84-degrees in Texas on the first day of winter fell far short of my expectations.  It felt wrong to be breaking a sweat while walking around wearing a short-sleeved shirt.  Turning on the air conditioner to cool the house was actually a bit depressing.  It’s hard enough getting into the holiday spirit being so far away from all of the traditions that that we were used to in New York; the balmy weather just made it that much more difficult.

While driving today, I noticed how perfectly gray the skies were.  Not a single beam of sunlight broke through the heavy cloud cover.  And though the temperature was still in the low 50’s, the gray skies and wind made it feel more like winter.  It’s still a far cry from the white Christmas that we had last year, but the hint of winter reminded me of home just the same.

It’s funny how much we take things for granted and then long for them when they are beyond our reach.

Living in New York, I always found snow to be a nuisance.  I dreaded shoveling and dealing with the bad road conditions.  My kids, on the other hand, reveled in every flake that fell from the sky.  And why not?  To them, snow meant sleigh riding, building a snowman, making snow angels, having snow ball fights, drinking hot chocolate with miniature marshmallows and missing school.

While my wife and I found yesterday’s summer-like weather to be depressing, it didn’t faze the kids at all.  The prospect of Santa Claus and presents keeps them fully immersed in the spirit of the holidays… regardless of the weather.  They gleefully count down the days until Christmas.  Each piece of chocolate from their advent calendars brings them one step closer to the moment that they have been anxiously awaiting.

The magic in the air around Christmas is something that I look forward to each year.  And though it hasn’t felt the same this year, I know that the joy on the kids’ faces on Christmas morning will make the magic happen…no matter what the weather is like outside.  In the end…that is all that really matters.

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Ornaments Tell a Story

In Family, Life Lessons on December 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Growing up, I didn’t have a Christmas tree in the house.  Most Jewish families didn’t.  Years ago, when I started dating my wife, having a Christmas tree became as much a part of my holiday tradition as having a menorah to light for Chanukah.  In all honesty, the tree itself wouldn’t be very meaningful to me, if not for the ornaments adorning it.

Every family has their own tradition and vision of what a Christmas tree should look like.  Some decorate their tree with such elegance that it adds a touch of class to the room in which it sits.  Others use an abundance of lights causing the tree to catch the eye of all passersby.  Our tree is far from elegant, and it is so subtly lit that it would draw very little attention to anyone passing by.  But it has meaning to us.

Even though we didn’t add many new ornaments this year, it looks different than it did in years past, largely because my 4-year old did so much of the decorating.  My wife and I did our part to make sure that the top of the tree wasn’t bare, and my son took care of the middle of the tree.  But this year’s tree is very bottom-heavy with ornaments, and quite frankly, a bit sloppy looking.  That’s what happens when an excited 4-year old is allowed to decorate with reckless abandon.  And though it wasn’t intentional, my little one managed to create a tree that is a microcosm of our lives right now…chaotic, cluttered and a bit cramped.

Some of the ornaments date back to when my wife was a kid.  The rest have been added over the years as our lives have grown together.  One look at our tree and you know instantly who our favorite sports teams are.  You know what characters from our childhood hold a special place in our hearts.  You know some of the places that we have visited.  You know when my wife and I celebrated our first Christmas together…our first Christmas with our son…and our first Christmas with our daughter.  The hanging dreidels and menorah ornaments show that in our house, our tree is actually a “Chrismukkah” tree.

It is said that every picture tells a story and that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Perhaps that is why my wife and I both love the picture frame ornaments that hold photos of the kids when they were younger.  The ornaments on our tree tell a story, but not the whole story.

The holidays are a joyous time, but can also be painful.  While decorating this year, we got to experience the sheer joy on my little one’s face as she hung each ornament in her own little haphazard way.  We also experienced sadness as my son broke down and cried as he held the ornament inscribed with our departed dog’s name on it.  Thankfully, the moments of joy far outweighed the moment of sadness.  But that is not true for everyone.

The picture above is of an ornament that is very special to me, and to the others who have received it as well this year.  It commemorates the life of Olivia Grace Armand, a little girl who passed away on 12/11/2009 (10 days before her 5th birthday).

Today would have been Olivia’s 6th birthday.

Today, Olivia celebrates her 2nd birthday in heaven.

Today, the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation ornament hangs on our tree and tells a story of its own.

It reminds us that life is precious, and that we must live each day to the fullest.  It reminds us that things are usually not nearly as bad as they seem.  It reminds us that we should be grateful for the things that we have instead of longing for the things that we don’t.  Lastly, it reminds us that the greatest gift that anyone could receive is the moments that they get to share with the ones that they love.

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A Year Ago Today…A Little Angel Earned Her Wings

In Family, Giving Back, Inspiration and Motivation, Life Lessons on December 11, 2010 at 3:11 am

The text message simply read…..“She’s gone.”

As my heart sank into my stomach, I stared at the message in disbelief, wanting it to be a mistake, wishing that I could somehow turn back the hands of time and make things right with the world again.  With tears streaming down my face, I dialed the phone to reach out to my good friend, Trish.  It was a call that I knew that I would have to make someday, but I wasn’t ready to make it yet.  And surely, Trish was nowhere near ready to receive it.  Not before her sweet Olivia got the chance to celebrate her 5th birthday.  Not before Olivia’s wish was granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  And not when things seemed to be looking up.

But ready or not, Olivia Grace Armand earned her wings a year ago today (just 10 days before her 5th birthday).

When I made the call, I didn’t expect Trish to answer, but I felt like I had to leave a message, even though nothing could possibly lessen the blow of this tragedy.  To my surprise, Trish answered.  She was in the room getting ready to give “Cookie” one last bath.  As she told me what she was doing, I broke down…crying uncontrollably.  We both did.  No words can accurately capture the pain that we shared in that moment.

I don’t remember everything that was said.  I just remember telling Trish over and over again that I was so sorry.  And I’ll never forget that somewhere in the middle of our conversation, Trish seemed to be the one comforting me.  There are no words to describe the incredible strength of this woman who has been dealt the cruelest hand that one can possibly be dealt…the pain of losing a child.

Trish knew that this day was coming years ago when her daughter, Olivia, and her son, Mikey, were diagnosed with a rare metabolic storage disorder called Mucolipidosis II (or “I Cell”).  Children with this disorder are born without the Lysosomal enzyme which is responsible for breaking down complex carbohydrates in the cells.  Although both Olivia, and her brother, Mikey, were given bone marrow transplants to obtain the missing enzyme, it does not cure the disease…it merely slows down the progression.  Children with “I Cell” rarely survive beyond ten years.

Many people (including me) were in constant contact with Trish when Olivia went into the hospital last November.  We were all elated when the news was good, and saddened and worried when things took a turn for the worse.  We all fell in love with Olivia through the photos, videos and stories that Trish shared on Facebook.

Even though I never got to meet her in person, I feel a very strong connection to this amazing little girl.  My kids feel that same connection to her.  They love watching the videos of Olivia and Mikey.  My son is old enough to understand what is going on…my daughter is not.  At 4 years old, she cannot grasp the gravity of the situation.  She just adores these kids, and cannot get enough of watching their videos or seeing their pictures.  There is an excitement in her voice and on her face that is simply indescribable.

The video that always comes to my mind is the one of Olivia eating pancakes during her final days.  She seemed so happy and full of life, and as adorable and lovable as usual.  I remember smiling while watching it last December, and thinking that things were going to be okay.  After watching it again today, it is still so hard to believe that this little angel earned her wings five days after this video was taken.  It just makes no sense.

Trish has done amazing things since her daughter’s passing.  She has shown strength and courage that many may dream of, but very few achieve.  Less than a month after ^^Olivia^^ earned her wings, Trish established the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation (www.OliviaGraceArmandFoundation.org) to “pay it forward” in her daughter’s name.

Because of their disorder, Trish’s children have spent many days in hospitals.  Aside from the support of her friends and family, the one thing that helps Trish during these trying times is the incredible nurses who dedicate their lives to pediatrics.  They are truly unsung heroes who help to ease the pain for families whose children are hospitalized.  But there aren’t enough of them, and Trish is doing her part to change that.

Today, on the one-year anniversary of ^^Olivia^^ earning her wings, the first pediatric nursing scholarship is being awarded by the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation to a very worthy candidate named Susie Kustad.  Once again, in her darkest hour, Trish will be the one giving support.  Simply amazing!

The presentation of the first scholarship today will surely be a very bittersweet time for Trish.  The fact that she chose to present it today speaks volumes about who she is as a person.  If only there were more people like her in the world.

The greatest gift would be to bring ^^Olivia^^ back into her mother’s loving arms.  Sadly, that is not possible.  But it is possible for others to help Trish in her quest to increase the number of pediatric nurses in this country.

Despite a tough economy, we can all find a way to contribute something…a few dollars or whatever you can afford.  Think about the good that can be done if each person decided to give one less gift this year and put that money towards this incredibly noble cause.  Please visit www.OliviasCookieJar.org to donate whatever you can.

During this holiday season, remember that the greatest gift that you can give cannot be found in a store.  It cannot be gift-wrapped, and it can NEVER be returned.  It is the gift of time, and being there in the moment with your loved ones.

This holiday season, think about the little angel who earned her wings (a year ago today) as a reminder of what is truly important in life!

Olivia’s life was short, but her impact will last a lifetime!

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