Tag Archives: Christmas

The Holy Family

Last Sunday was the Feast of the Holy Family. The Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated the Sunday after Christmas. If Christmas falls on Sunday, then it’s celebrated on December 30. It’s not a feast of solemnity or holy day of obligation, and it was created in the 20th century in an effort to focus on the family as the family unit began to decline. This feast celebrates the family unit of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

I haven’t really taken notice of this feast celebration in the past. This year was different, because they handed out prayer cards in church — from Pope Francis in preparation for the World Meeting of Families to be held in Philadelphia, PA in September 2015. While Pope Francis is certainly a more liberal leader, I really like some of the things he puts top-of-mind — like family. He asked all of us to pray in union and continue to do so.

Deacon Don gave the homily at Mass, and he asked each of us to think of our “best family memory.” I couldn’t think of just one — I could think of themes and good times, but not just one favorite. Tom and I talked about it on the way home, and we both agreed that when we were asked to think about “our best family memory,” we both went back in time to our childhood. We didn’t even think of our current family unit. Maybe if we had kids — maybe then we’d feel more like a family unit. I wonder how many people actually went back to their childhoods in search of favorite memories?

I can understand why it’s celebrated after Christmas. Obviously it’s celebrated near the birth of Jesus, but it’s already a time when our days are filled with family and friends — a time when we already celebrate each other. We have multiple parties at multiple houses with all kinds of food and celebrations. We make an effort to see family and friends we haven’t seen in a while. And we celebrate the family and friends we see all the time.

All my brothers and sisters and my Mom. We haven't all been together in a photograph for some time.

All my brothers and sisters and my Mom. We haven’t all been together in a photograph for some time.

As we wrap up new years and reflect on 2014 and make resolutions for 2015, I think maybe a couple of weeks of quiet time sounds really wonderful. But as I reflect, I am so thankful for our family and friends and making the most of the time we had together this year. And resolve to make every moment count in 2015.

Happy new year! 

A L W A Y S  B E L I E V E !

World Meeting of Families Prayer
God and Father of us all,
in Jesus, your Son and our Savior,
You have made us
Your sons and daughters
in the family of the Church.

May Your grace and love
help our families
in every part of the world
be united to one another
in fidelity to the Gospel.

May the example of the Holy Family,
with the aid of Your Holy Spirit,
guide all families, especially
those most troubled, to be
homes of communion and prayer
and to always seek Your truth
and live in Your love.

Through Christ our Lord, Amen

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us!


Another successful Christmas party! As Tom is scraping cooked-on pasta and other burnt nuggets off my crockpots, I thought I’d write an update. We had a fantastic party today to wrap up the Christmas festivities at the Peters’ house. It’s been a busy week of traveling and visiting, eating and drinking — as well as a week of reflection, prayers and blessings.

The week started with a call from my cousin, Kathie on Christmas Eve. My Uncle Frank was rushed to the hospital, awaiting immediate surgery. We sent prayers and I said a Chaplet to St. Jude before we finished the lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner. I also got word to my brother Bob so that he could join us in good thoughts and prayers for a successful surgery. My Mom and I lit candles for him at Christmas Eve mass in both our parishes. We got word after mass that the two-hour surgery took double the time, but was successful. Now the healing would begin. So we continue our prayers for Uncle Frank, as he’ll be in the hospital a bit longer.

Not long after I finished preparing the lasagna, I got a text from Gert. Our dear friend, Ronnie’s sister Rose had been rushed to Presby Hospital with a feared brain aneurysm the evening before. They didn’t expect her to live through the day. I didn’t know that she had passed away until I talked to Ronnie’s friends at Christmas Eve mass, as I was lighting candles for my Uncle Frank, my Dad and Rose.

As I prayed in church, I tried to make sense as to why Ronnie and Marg would have to lose Rose on Christmas Eve. You would always see the three of them in the last row at the 5 pm Saturday evening mass with their other friends. I got to know Ronnie and Marg well over the years as they never missed St. Gregory Super Bingo. And Ronnie had been coming our Christmas Eve parties for quite a few years. My heart went out to her as I heard how hard they were all taking it. Rose was the youngest of them at 81 years old.

And then there was a little bit of fate that evening or maybe it was a little Christmas magic. I hadn’t served as a Eucharistic Minister for a couple of years. Both Tom and I stopped serving shortly after my brother Bob left our parish. My heart just wasn’t in it any longer. Anyways, Sister Patricia had asked me if they needed me to serve if I would mind helping them. I told her I had never served with Father Larry, but if they needed me to please wave me to come up. So there was all kinds of confusion, but it was obvious they needed my help — so after climbing over everyone (the mass was unbelievably packed), I helped give out communion on the side next to the organist.

It just so happens that my line got backed up as people waited for the wine, and I had about 15 seconds to stand there waiting for it to move. And, it got stopped right at my friend, Dona (who also works at MarketSpace), who happens to be good friends with Ronnie. I had wondered when I saw her in mass if she knew about Rose. So I mentioned it to her in line. She didn’t know. Dona text me later on Christmas Eve to thank me, as her family had stopped by to see Ronnie after mass. We couldn’t believe how all the little pieces fell into place — so perfectly-timed — it felt like I served only to get a message to Dona in line in that few seconds. Somehow I imagined that maybe Ronnie had some added comfort that evening on this holy night. And amid a terribly-timed loss, maybe there was a bit of perfectly-timed love.

I reflected on that as I said my prayers that evening. I thought that while we were celebrating good cheer this year, there will always be those that are deeply hurting. And maybe somehow that hurt is perfectly-timed. I fell asleep believing that “God truly does have a plan for us all.”

At church last night, Father Gallagher talked about an eight-year old little girl from Reading, PA who had made national news. I had already read the story online, but the way he told it — in his wonderful tug at your heart strings way — it was difficult not to break down and sob. The story is about Delaney “Laney” Brown who was diagnosed with Leukemia in the spring. None of her treatments had worked and she grew very ill this past month. With only days to live, she had only one Christmas request — to hear the sounds of Christmas. And on December 21st, between 6,000 and 8,000 people surrounded her home and sung Christmas carols so loudly that Laney could hear them inside her bedroom. She couldn’t get out of bed, but posted a picture to Facebook with thumbs up and said, “I can hear you now!! Love you!”

She died on Christmas morning. While other children her age were gleefully rejoicing in their gifts that Santa Claus had brought, Laney had passed away. I can only imagine the sorrow in that home — on Christmas day! I couldn’t recite the Creed. No words would come from my mouth. I think if I tried to produce a sound, it would have been a sob — thinking about what a heart-wrenching story. And then I thought that maybe it was as it was supposed to be. She was no longer sick — she was with the angels in Heaven. And she was having Christmas like no other child would have it this year. These are the moments we must have faith — we must believe. For as we have faith, we trust that everything is part of God’s plan for each one of us. We won’t know what gifts Laney left behind for those who loved her. She was part of God’s plan for them.

So today was our Christmas party, our celebration of my good health, as last Christmas I was in the hospital. Today was Ronnie’s birthday — she is 86. And Rose’s viewing at the funeral home. My Mom and I went to the funeral home before our party began — and Ronnie and her daughter, Chris joined us in celebration between the viewing hours. It took Ronnie’s mind off of things — even if just for a few hours. She had the chance to laugh, eat, drink and be merry amidst her day of loss. And today, we cracked open our expensive bottle of ice wine from Sheldrake Point Winery in the Finger Lakes, NY and we toasted to a year of continued health.

So as we hear these sad stories at Christmastime, we hug our families a little more tightly this year. We tell them we love them maybe one more time than we would have. We count our blessings. For they all come from God and are perfectly-timed.

Always B E L I E V E .

Christmases Past

I feel like I was in the Chevy Chase movie, “Christmas Vacation,” — the scene where Clark Griswold is sitting in the attic watching 8 mm home movies. Yesterday I started to go through our 8 mm home movies, looking for glimpses of my Dad and my grandparents. I’ve been feeling very sentimental the last couple of days as we get closer to Christmas, and I knew there was a lot of Christmas footage through the years.

My Dad took every single piece of 8 mm footage himself, except for his wedding video and a couple other small tidbits. My Mom gave me all the movies to have them converted — and she knew I would cherish them. I have hours and hours worth of movies — it’s such a treasure!!! I’m sure Dad didn’t realize he was doing it at the time, but he captured so many relatives on film. I have more images of my grandparents on film than photographs.

I dedicate this compilation to the Miller Family Christmases past — to Mom, Bob, Debbie, Tom and Aunt Mary. And in loving memory of my Dad, Theresa and Frank Miller (my grandparents), Laura and John Knowlson (my grandparents), and Tony and Midge Ditoro (Tommy’s Godparents) who are all shown in this movie.

Merry Christmas to all!

The Simple Life

I watched a video/short film today that really got me thinking again about this whole idea of the commercial side of Christmas.

It started off this morning with an article I read on one of my marketing sites where Patagonia, an outdoor gear apparel retailer was actually discouraging Black Friday shopping with their “Worn Wear” campaign, “a film about the stories we wear.” The short film (click on link for video) is 30 minutes long, and I have to be honest — I couldn’t really relate to the stories, but it did make me think of my brother, Bob — who lives for outdoor adventure. I’m familiar with sustainability and reducing our footprint on this earth, but this video showed me that there are some people who truly live that lifestyle everyday, and take it to an entirely new level than I ever imagined. As does Patagonia — they really embrace the same thinking.

But I could relate to the video. Or I at least tried to put myself in the shoes of the people in these stories, and I realized that part of me simply loved the simple life they led. The simple life. Maybe there’s something to the idea of living a simple, frugal and minimal life on this earth, leaving behind a very small footprint. I thought of Jesus and how his life might have some similarities if he lived on this earth today. As much as I loved the simplicity, I know there’s no way I would ever wear a coat that was taped together, just because it told the stories of where it had been and what it had seen. I guess that goes with the territory — the kind of people that loved the outdoor adventures were the audience for this video.

Yet it still spoke to me. The video is worth watching just for the amazing places these stories take place — that’s a common thread. I tried to imagine myself on top of the mountain I just climbed, hiking along incredible red rock walls, photographing amazing wild animals, cross country skiing in the wilderness or surfing the ocean waves. I wish I had that passion for the adventures of the outdoors. I guess to a small degree I do.

So back to the commercial part of Christmas. While Patagonia is one end of extreme, stores opening on Thanksgiving are the other end of the spectrum. Everyone is fighting for that one sale — to get your money before the competition does, because after all, people are spending less.

Or are they really spending less? I can’t see how they would be — with all the electronics today — $200+ televisions and $400+ iPad Airs. When I was a kid, we got Barbies, Fisher Price play sets, Lincoln Logs, Erector sets, dolls, puzzles, board games and all kinds of crafting things. We were fortunate — we got more than most. But, all of our clothing and toys added up for all of us kids wouldn’t total as much as one HDTV, computer or tablet that kids get today. I think I got a boom box when I was in high school — it was like a $125 purchase — and that was about all I got that year. Oh and I remember a year when I got a Polaroid camera.

Santa/Turkey CartoonSo people aren’t spending less, but they’re only buying a couple big ticket items — and those are the items that retailers want purchased at their stores. And once they get you in their store, you just might do another 75% of your shopping there. That’s a big deal when competition is so steep. So one retailer decides to open on Thanksgiving and then another, and before we knew what hit us — pre-black Friday deals are showing up in our email as early as Monday of the week of Thanksgiving. Most stores are opening at 8:00 pm on turkey day!!! It reminded me of this cute cartoon I seen on Facebook. Wait your turn Santa!

I won’t be shopping on Thanksgiving. I hope everyone else does the same and retailers get the message that we’re not buying it. But chances are, there will be those few who think they have to be out to get the steal of the season. I was talking to a close friend who is the manager of a McDonald’s restaurant. He now has to work on Thanksgiving, and he called it “corporate greed.” They have to be open, because the retailers are open — everyone wants that consumer dollar. It’s really quite ridiculous. It all makes me want to spend less this year.

My husband is laughing at that revelation right now. He knows I’m a shopper. He knows I would never wear a piece of clothing until it fell apart. He knows I like new clothes. But I can say that the Patagonia film really had an impact on me. I thought about it all morning and into this evening. As with anything in life, it’s about finding balance. And for me, simplifying my life has been a goal for the past year. If I take a long, hard look inside, I know that I have to change some of my thinking to reach that goal.

“Maybe Christmas”, he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”
— from How the Grinch Stole Christmas

By the way, the article went on to say that Patagonia’s sales are up 40% since first running variations of this concept since 2011. It’s amazing what happens when retailers do the right thing.

First Signs of the Season

It’s that wonderful time of the year. My favorite time of the year, too. The Hallmark and Lifetime channels have been running Christmas movies for the past week or so leading up to Christmas. I was fortunate enough this weekend to flip between the channels and get some good movies in. Tom always comments that, “we saw this one,” and typically, yes, we saw that one at least once, twice, probably even more than that! My response is, “yes, but we haven’t seen it yet this year!”

When we were kids, we had four TV channels that came in clear. Channel 2/KDKA, Channel 4/WTAE, Channel 11/WPXI and Channel 13/PSB. We might be able to get another station from Youngstown, OH if the weather was clear. And maybe a couple of other channels that played old movies. Those were always fuzzy stations. Of course, we had an antenna that ran along the side of the house that was bigger than our chimney. Every house had one of them. And we had rabbit ears on the black and white TV in the game room. In the living room, we had this dial contraption device that sat on top of the TV set that you could wind up and it would turn the antenna outside to get better reception. It’s amazing how quickly technology has changed all that!

Anyways, we would scan the TV Guide and find all the Christmas movies. Of course they didn’t start running them until a couple of weeks before Christmas. The holiday didn’t ever kick off until Black Friday or the day after Thanksgiving. We watched all the animated Christmas classics like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Twas the Night Before Christmas (one of my favorites), The Little Drummer Boy, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and a few others. Today, Tom and I will still catch those and make note every year of all the things that happen during the movie that would be inappropriate to say/do today. As we got older, we watched It’s a Wonderful Life that usually ran the evening of Thanksgiving. And we would catch Miracle on 34th Street at some point as well.

I love the Christmas season! I love when the house is decorated and all the preparations are underway. The Christmas movies kick that off for me. They remind me of things that are good this time of year. Did you ever notice that so many of them are set in small towns? I watched three movies yesterday set in the most charming towns in the middle of nowhere. Main Street USA. Those movies reminded me of Ellicottville, NY. Driving through that snowy town at Christmastime with all the Christmas decorations, the lights and the Christmas music. It’s very nostalgic and paints that picture from a Christmas card from long ago — the cards with all the glitter on them that I loved as a kid.

It all starts with Thanksgiving — which is second favorite holiday. Debbie is cooking this year and we’re going to her home. I’ll watch the Macy’s Day Parade before we go. When I get to Debbie’s house, I’ll probably leaf through all the Black Friday Sale ads, while Tom and the guys will find a football game somewhere. And my Mom and I will decide if we’re going to go shopping on Friday at all. It will depend on the weather and if we feel like it. Debbie and the girls won’t be going this year! But that’s because they are going on a shopping excursion in New York City on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and are leaving on Friday night!!! I would have loved to join them, but I just can’t walk that kind of a distance in an all day marathon of NYC shopping.

As kids, Thanksgiving was very special for us. My Dad and Mom got up early and put the turkey on. By the time we got up, you could smell the bird cooking throughout the house. Debbie, Mom and I loved the Thanksgiving Day parade. I’d watch most of it in my pajamas on the couch with a big glass of cold chocolate milk. We always had chocolate milk on Thanksgiving. And not the Nestle dry mix into white milk, but chocolate milk — the real stuff. We always had a full house — my grandparents and Aunt Mary and my cousins, Teresa and Matt and their parents. There were other relatives that came sometimes too. All of us kids ate at the “kids table”, which consisted of a card table set up in the living room. Later in the day, the girls played board games, while the boys always fell asleep watching a football game in the game room. It was the same every year and I liked it that way.

It’s almost Christmastime! That magical time of year when miracles happen if you believe. Last year we didn’t have Christmas until the end of January because of my surgery. It was a difficult year for us. But one of the best Christmases ever, because I believed in the miracle of Christmas — and had so many signs — it was truly a special experience.

Well, this year is a year of celebration! I am looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas, since I missed all of it last year. So while many people are rolling their eyes at the first signs of the season,  I’m looking for ways to make this Christmas a very special one. Special for my family, my friends, my staff at MarketSpace and all those in need, especially during this time of the year.

Always B E L I E V E.

Moments in Time

Peters' Pub

Belated Christmas Party at the Peters’

Well, feeling almost fully recovered, Tom and I decided to have our annual Christmas Eve party on January 27, 2013. We invited the immediate family (we hadn’t even exchanged gifts since I was in the hospital over Christmas) and a few close friends from St. Gregory’s parish.

I made an orange dreamsicle jello salad and two banana cream pies on Saturday. I cooked most of Sunday, making Pittsburgh Potatoes, an Italian, three-cheese pasta dish, a ham, pepperoni rolls and pretzel bites. I spent most of the day on my feet and paid for it with cramps all night long in bed. But it didn’t matter, it was worth it!

My mom got me two bottles of my favorite wine (Well Hung from the 3 Brothers Winery in Finger Lakes, NY). I asked her how she managed that, and she had my brother make a special trip to that winery when he was there over Christmas. And he got me another favorite of mine, Niagra from Lakewood Winery. Oh, if you’ve ever been the Finger Lakes, there’s no place like it. My brother, Bob goes to the Finger Lakes every year at Christmastime to get an ornament from each winery for a wreath — it’s a holiday tradition at the wineries in the Finger Lakes.

Tara, Megan, Tom and Debbie opening gifts at the party.

Tara, Megan, Tom and Debbie opening gifts at the party.

My brother, Tom got us a queen-sized mink blanket for our bed. It’s a very interesting blanket with giant leopards on it. It has that 1970’s vibe (I think it belongs on a water-bed). I joke, but the last few days have been so cold that I am loving it! Not to mention, I have to wrestle it away from Benny who curls up on it every chance he gets! It hasn’t even made it to our bedroom — I am using it right here on the leather couch.

My sister, Debbie got me this crystal that you hang in a window and it shines rainbows all over the room. How amazing is that? The side window in the dining room has morning sun and it’s absolutely magical. She also found this beautiful art glass sculpture that I’ve already added to my mantle.

Megan and my Mom stop to smile at the camera while opening gifts.

Megan and my Mom stop to smile at the camera while opening gifts.

I loved all the gifts and there’s too many to list here. But this year, more so than any other year, were not important. I sat on the chair watching my family — my sister and her girls and my brother all crammed on the couch, just joking and laughing and it was a moment frozen in time. For me, I caught a little tear in my throat, because I know how lucky I am to have moments like this. It could have been so different. And it’s why this year is the year of renewed faith in life. And this event — our Christmas, in January — was the first of many celebrations. I owe so much gratitude to God. I thank him for carrying me when I was weak, and here I am — on the other side. He saw me through. If you don’t believe — B E L I E V E ! For God works miracles every day.

I am wishing everyone a healthy and prosperous new year.