Underwear for Christmas

As my heart turns to Bethlehem, I find it pulled closer to Syria this Christmas.  Amid a complex civil war, babies are killed and millions of widows and orphans flee trying to find safety. In this painful conflict I hear the words of Jeremiah 31:15

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted
because her children are no more.”

This Old Testament image of grieving mothers is too accurate for many in Syria today.  As I read about the birth of Jesus, this passage is quoted by Matthew 2:18 speaking of  Herod’s massacre of all baby boys two-years-old and under. A futile attempt to try and stop Jesus from changing the world.  I think of my two-year-old son and cannot fathom the anguish of those mothers. But evil did not triumph then, and it will not triumph now.

I hold my son  a little tighter and thank God for all we have, but often feel paralyzed to do much more.  Paralyzed by images of wounded children, by my own disbelief and fear, by a struggle to comprehend what is happening and what I could possibly do that would make any difference.  It is overwhelming.  It is confusing.  It is too far away.

Far Away: But this week more than ever my heart is in Bethlehem, which is so very near to this conflict.  The distance between Bethlehem and Syria is difficult to measure because of unclear borders and shifting country lines, but the city of Damascus in southern Syria is just 129 miles, less than the millage I will log in the car while visiting family this Christmas.  Aleppo, the site of greatest violence and tragedy at present is about 340 miles away.

Confusing: In this region violence seeks to overtake the holiest of lands where Jesus walked during his time on Earth.  We can become numb to the long complex history with many nations and groups fighting one another. But my focus in this present conflict involves the city of Aleppo where innocent civilians, women and children have been trapped for months with no way in or out surrounded by violence and death.  Evacuation efforts are in place but danger remains and the refugees have no where to go once they escape.

Overwhelming: This problem is clearly too big for me, or for any one person, group, or nation to resolve.  But I have been inspired by Nadia Alawa, a mom in New Hampshire who decided to stop waiting and start acting in 2011 to help these mothers and children in Syria and those living as refugees in neighboring Turkey.  She started an organization called NuDay Syria that built grassroots partnerships with people in Syria to get supplies and aid to the most dangerous of places.  Remarkably this is one of the few organizations still working on the ground in the war-torn nation.  They are meeting the most basic and important needs: getting diapers and milk to babies, undergarments and sanitary pads to mothers, not to mention food, clean water, tents, and warm blankets.

Now this is an idea I can wrap my head around.  A local mom, packing up supplies, shipping them oversees in giant 40ft crates and getting them into the hands of suffering people within 6 weeks.  And I can donate via Amazon gift registry, super easy!

I wish I learned more sooner. I wish I understood more now. But at least I can Amazon up some supplies and know that a mom experiencing unfathomable pain will at least have milk for her starving child and some undergarments to wear.  One mom.  I can do that.

So this year the most important gift I am buying is underwear.  It is not gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but I do think its the gift that Jesus asks me to lay at his feet this year. It may be delivered by a wise woman instead of a wise man.  It will be given to a mother who is caring for her child, in a land that has no place for them, who would humbly welcome the shelter of a manger. It is a far away place and struggle that I am much removed from but Jesus understands it in a very real way.  He is present in this time of suffering as much today as when he lay in a stable just 300 miles away wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Where to go from here:

NuDay Syria
Amazon registry

Excellent 5 Min Video Summarizing Syrian Conflict

Thank you to all my friends who posted on social media about the Syrian refugee crisis, until I finally took the time to listen and understand.

Thank you to the Boston Globe for this great article From Small Town NH, A Stream of Relief to Syria, Lisa Wangsness, 31 May 2015


Frosh Mom

Becoming a mom for the first time is a lot like transporting back to freshman year of high school. First there’s the excitement of entering a new phase of life. Then the post-partum hormones begin to mimic puberty causing inexplicable mood swings, sweating, and acne. You look in the mirror to find a body that you don’t recognize as your own. You’re tired, confused, and feeling like everyone else knows what to do except you. Cue the high school flashbacks now.

Crushes. From the moment you laid eyes on him you knew this was it, your first love. But new mommy love is not about notes that ask “Do you like me? Check yes or no.” This is a boundless, tireless, sacrificial love. It is a love that offers the sleeve of my favorite top for his runny nose mucous, a love that will eat the soggy cheerio he pulled out of his mouth to share, a love that will forgo years of sleep, solid meals, and even showers to usher this tiny human into life.

Cliques. No high school experience would be complete without catty girls, and surprisingly those mean girls also grow up to be mommies too. You would think that bringing new life into the world would bind us all into a sisterhood of life creators who understand each other’s hardships, self-doubt, and loneliness and offer encouragement and support. Yet, instead out of this very vulnerable and life-changing experience some chose to prop themselves up by putting down others. Breast vs bottle, co-sleep vs crib, maternity leave vs SAHM, organic food, spotless homes, exercise regimens…there are so many ways we divide and classify ourselves with great similarity to the lunch table cliques of our youth.

Upperclassmen. The “sophomore” moms have a couple years of experience in the world of motherhood. They are great because they sort of remember the sleepless nights, know about the current baby gadgets that will literally change your life, and their life still revolves around the dynasty of a tiny child. Juniors have put in more years parenting and may have more than one child. They know that what works for one baby may not work for the second, and similarly what worked for them may not work for you. They can offer advice and support without the judgement that comes with new mommy insecurity.

Seniors. These seasoned moms have it all together. Their kids are getting ready to enter high school themselves, and they are off on their own more and are preparing to graduate to empty-nester. These moms miss everything fondly: the grocery store tantrums, the splattered baby food, even that exhausting baby cry at 3pm each day. None of it will last and they know that all too well. These moms have succeeded in raising up tiny humans PLUS they will rock and snuggle your baby endlessly giving you a much needed break to take care of that forgone shower business.

BFFs. Think back to that day wondering how you would ever conquer algebra, imagine walking into your new classes and realizing disappointedly that you didn’t know any of the other students. As a new mom, that’s just another day at the park (playgroup, library, moms club etc.) Every Laverne needs a Shirley, every Rory needs Lane. Your pre-mommy friends are amazing, they knew you before you were a mom which will become both vital and hilarious with time. But they do tire of hearing how long since you have showered, how many times baby spit up today, and they are operating on a full night’s sleep which means they talk too fast and too coherently for you to keep up at this stage. For the first three months post-partum my vocabulary reverted back to basic primal sentences. I marvel at anyone who pretended to comprehend me.

Your new mommy BFF is key to maintaining sanity at this critical stage. As 13-year-old BFFs analyze nail polish colors, you two will analyze baby poo varieties- yellow? That happens? Your slow-paced, sleepless dialogue interrupted by baby cries will volley back and forth like a disastrous tennis match. As you head home you will remember fragments of thoughts cut off mid-sentence like stray tennis balls littering the court. And you will smile because you know that you are not crazy and you aren’t alone.

Superlatives. You are the Best Mom for your child, God chose you and only you to have this role, so accept that and own it as if it were printed under your name in the yearbook. This is a much greater award than best hair or class clown. Trust the decisions you make, pray for wisdom, continue to love unconditionally, congratulate yourself on your successes, and accept grace for your mistakes.  You brought life into the world and you deserve to celebrate like you just aced your first final.

Families and first forays at Cranmore

After a long day of skiing, sliding, and falling down, we all — children, parents, grandparents, and aunts — gather inside the condo overlooking the gleaming mountain. We peel off wet coats and clomp around awkwardly in ski boots as we lay slushy, snow-crusted mittens and hats on the radiator. The little ones hobble around the doorway and track in pieces of ice that become cool puddles in the carpet.

Later, we’ll notice those wet spots when they soak our stockinged feet, but at the moment we are too numb from the cold to care. We change into warm pajamas and sweat suits and gather in the living room to await the stroke of midnight.

New Year’s Eve at Cranmore Mountain Resort in the Mount Washington Valley has been a tradition in my family for years.

Sitting on sofas around the fireplace, we play cards, pour over puzzles, drink hot chocolate, and nosh on appetizers while reminiscing about past years. I recall one year that I bravely, and stupidly, decided not to start on a beginner trail; my cousin agreed that we were both accomplished enough to skip that kids’ stuff. She then got to see me wipe out. I still remember sliding down that mountain, skis and poles flying in all directions, spinning and falling on my stomach, trying to grip the slick snow.

Word to the wise: You are never too old for the beginner slope.

As we act out the scene for the rest of the family, fireworks crackle and spray across the dark, clear sky. Streams of red, blue, and purple slice through the blackness, and the Mount Cranmore New Year’s celebration comes alive with a parade of skiers skirting down the mountain, torches in hand, illuminating the night with a trail of twinkling flames.

This year, the celebration at Cranmore will last much longer. Cranapalooza 2005 will begin Jan. 1 and continue every Saturday through March 12. A family festival from 2-9 p.m. each Saturday will include jugglers, clowns, sleigh rides, and face painting at the base of the mountain. The terrain park, 11 lighted trails, and the snow tubing area will stay open after dark.

In addition to Cranapalooza, weekly ”block parties” are hosted most Mondays at Cranmore, 4-6 p.m., with games and activities for children and parents. Party themes include Hawaii, Wild West, and Mardi Gras; hot chocolate and popcorn are staples.

Indeed, the entire Mount Washington Valley has a weeklong winter celebration Feb. 25-March 6, with holiday festivals and parades. Ski resorts throughout the valley also have their own festivals with ski demo days, music, races, giveaways, and slopeside entertainment.

Black Mountain, for example, has a midwinter carnival in early February and a family ski-and-ride weekend at the end of that month. Attitash has weeklong Winterfest celebrations this month and in February with skiing and snowboarding competitions; guided snowshoe tours; family games, contests, and activities; and live music and promotions in Ptarmigan’s Pub for adults.

Bretton Woods has aprs-ski parties for children on Saturdays, 4:30-6 p.m. While their children enjoy sledding, animal shows, or movies, parents can relax with entertainment in the Slopeside Lounge. Another event in southern New Hampshire is the Mountain Dew Challenge, which travels to various mountains with games, prizes, entertainment, and races.

Tubing parks at Bretton Woods and Cranmore take sledding to a whole new level. Forget trudging uphill with your toboggan. Instead, take a chairlift up and choose a tubing run to come down.

To get started on these mountains, children as young as 3 can attend camps or lessons and strap on a snowboard or skis. These tiny beginners are often seen singing, giggling, and falling down at the base of the mountain, but an occasional preschooler, wearing a helmet half the size of her body, whizzes down the mountain, making even the most accomplished adult skier feel inadequate.

In addition to skiing, there are, of course, the famous (or infamous) outlet complexes. Pick up free maps in the ski lodges, restaurants, or resorts for the Tanger Outlets, Settlers’ Green Outlet Village Plus, and White Mountain Outlet. The Wooden Soldier Gift Store is separate from these large plazas, but can be worth the trip for the miniature, extravagant holiday dresses and coats for children.

Also, the Conway Scenic Railroad offers one- and two-hour round-trip train rides through the area. In the dining car ”Chocorua,” enjoy the scenery with your formal three-course meal.

Continue the evening at Nestlenook Farm, a Victorian-inspired winter wonderland with sleigh rides and ice skating. An ornate bridge crosses over the skating pond and a gazebo off to one side completes the picture. Finish the day inside the gazebo with complimentary hot cocoa beside a fire.

Reprinted from The Boston Globe


By Jillian Orlando, Globe Correspondent  |  December 19, 2004


Tune Up Your Soul

Reprinted from The Boston Globe


Rock will rumble through the White Mountains this week when SoulFest, an annual Christian music festival, takes over the Loon Mountain ski resort in Lincoln, N.H., for four days and nights.

The festival, Thursday through next Sunday, expects 13,000 attendees and more than 125 musicians, but you won’t find any alcohol, litter, or brawls at this event. If past years are an indication, the crowd will be family-oriented, friendly, and joyful. SoulFest forbids alcohol and smoking anywhere on the property.

A wide array of nationally known bands and small local groups is scheduled. All the performers are self-proclaimed Christians who use their music for worship, but don’t expect to hear church hymns. These songs sound like the top hits on the radio.

The artists, including Relient K, Rebecca St. James, and John Reuben, represent a variety of music genres including rap, rock, and R&B. The performers are considered “Christian rock” because they sing about religious joys, struggles, and biblical stories, and many open or close sets with prayer.

The musical celebration is now in its seventh year at Loon. The event was developed and organized by New Sound International, an event management company that plans concerts for Christian bands throughout the United States.

“We want to bring together Christians from all walks of life,” said Dan Russell, cofounder of New Sound International.

Each year, the festival starts with a candlelight ceremony. Last year after the sun set, approximately 10,000 concertgoers were given candles. The flame was passed from person to person until the mountainside glowed with tiny flickering lights and the band Audio Adrenaline took the stage. The performance electrified the reverent crowd and kicked off the four-day extravaganza. This year, popular Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman is scheduled to start the candlelight concert.

Three large stages offer a variety of musical acts starting at noon and continuing through the evening. The most popular acts take the stage each night from 9-11. Third Day, Jars of Clay, and the Newsboys are among the nationally known bands that are expected.

Smaller stages and cafe-style venues are set up across the mountain, including a majestic mountaintop stage accessible by ski lift where rows of wooden benches are set in a clearing with a breathtaking view of the mountains. For the last few years, Holy Fire has mesmerized the audience against that backdrop.

In addition to music, there is a lecture series for adults called Soul University offering workshops, group discussion, and even religiously inspired dance classes. A youth conference offers structured daily programs and events with religious themes for junior high and high school students.

Other activities include swimming in the Pemigewasset River, hiking, taking nature walks, and exploring glacial caves. A bungee jump and rock-climbing wall will be set up, too, for thrill seekers.

Merchandise tents will sell souvenirs, food, and Christian apparel and jewelry. Bibles, other books, and CDs abound in this open-air market as do information booths with details about charitable organizations. An important focus of this year’s festival is creating an awareness and compassion for victims of the worldwide AIDS epidemic.

“The church should be a group of people that love their neighbor and help the poor,” Russell said.

Camping is an option for families with young children who need to head back and take a nap midafternoon, or older siblings who may want a taste of freedom but can still walk back to the campsite. Other nearby campgrounds have additional amenities such as showers, electricity hookups, and laundry facilities. The Beech Hill Campground in Twin Mountain, about 20 minutes from Loon, even has an indoor swimming pool and river tubing.

For travelers looking for refuge from the heat, InnSeason Resorts South Mountain has air conditioning, indoor and outdoor heated pools, and cable television. The resort is within walking distance of SoulFest, but a free shuttle goes to the mountain every half hour. The Millfront Marketplace next to InnSeason Resorts has restaurants, gift shops, and a grocery store. The small movie theater in the marketplace is great for a rainy day or to beat the heat.

Now is off season for this ski town, but expect peak-season prices during the festival because it is the busiest week of summer in the Lincoln area.