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lyla colorDear Lyla,

Sometimes change is hard. Often when it seems like you have a handle on this game called life, someone comes along and changes the rules. Getting used to new ideas and experiences can be a little scary. When you came home from the first day of school and I asked you how it went and you replied, “Mrs. Taylor did not do her job last year;” I knew you had inherited my predisposition to be a bit wary of change. Apparently, according to you, Mrs. Taylor (whom you adore by the way) did not do things in precisely the manner in which Mrs. M. (whom you also adore) does and thus….”first grade is going to be really hard and Mrs. M. says there is going to be A LOT of homework.” Now that you are almost a month into your first grade experience it seems that your apprehension has all but dissipated. The stubborn little girl who insisted on not reading and only making up her own stories (because Mrs. Taylor said that was acceptable) has now demanded that after mommy reads it is Lyla’s turn. A looming fear of any pain that would come with losing a tooth has been replaced with anticipation for the return of the Tooth Fairy (mostly because Daddy instructed her to put a $5 bill under your pillow for the first one). Anxiety over homework becomes a celebration of  “Mommy-Lyla” time and you seem to love school now more than ever. I am sure that to your six-year-old psyche it seems ages ago since you had any trepidation over beginning a new school year; and that is the lesson to remember Little One. Change is inevitable and sometimes scary; but time has a way of softening our memories and dulling the ache of fear associated with the anticipation of something new and different. Life will continue to offer new and exciting adventures; not all will be welcome but they will come just the same. My hope for you Little One is that you remember that without change we cease to grow both in body and in spirit.

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lyla snowDear Lyla,

Last night as we were watching the weather and waiting to see if the “snowpocalypse”  would find its way to our neighborhood I was surprised to hear you hope for school to be cancelled. You love school and miss your friends terribly over the weekend. Then it dawned on me; you have been hanging around Daddy too much. I find it amusing that high school teachers are just as thrilled to have a snow day as their students. Perhaps you were excited at the prospect of Daddy staying home with you so you could spend some time together. Maybe you will convince Daddy to bundle you up so you can make snow angels and then come in for some well-deserved cocoa and a viewing of one of your many animated films. Whatever mischief you two decide to get into on your snow day I am sure that by the time you are my age you will look back with nostalgia. As you know I grew up in north central Minnesota; we had lots of snow and cold weather but snow days weren’t as common as you might imagine. Minnesotans are well equipped for snow and it is a rare occasion that the fluffy white stuff stops them in their tracks. When I think back to the snow days I spent at home when I was your age I remember two things; hot cocoa and the fireplace. Bumpa worked regardless of the weather; he had things to check on and he wasn’t going to let a little snow get in his way. That left us home with poor Grandma who was used to spending her mornings in relative peace. She would indulge us on snow days by letting us stay in our jammies until mid-morning. Then we were instructed to put on our winter gear and head outside. I know that my sister and I would haul in wood on those days, as the fireplace was our central form of heat in the main house, but it is but a fleeting memory. What I do remember is rolling down the big hill to the lake and trudging back up again. I remember making snowmen, snow-angels and forts and getting my hat and mittens so caked with snow that you could not make out the original color of the fabric. Grandma would call us back in before we turned to little blocks of ice ourselves. As soon as we stepped inside the heat from the fireplace immediately started to melt the snow. It wasn’t until we felt the warm air on our skin did we realize how cold we had been and just how wet we were.  The feeling of my socks and pant legs wet and sticky after being outside in the elements is still one of the most unpleasant sensations to date. Grandma would instruct us to shed our wet clothes as she made hot cocoa on the stove for us from scratch. My sister and I would head to the living room and sit either on the hearth right next to the fire or curl up close by in a chair with a blanket and the dog. Back then we didn’t have 24/7 cable or satellite and reception was spotty at best during snow storms so we would settle in for the day with a good book. My sister preferred Nancy Drew books while I was drawn to Little House on the Prairie and the Anne of Green Gables series; Grandma read romance novels. Those days seemed so perfect in retrospect. As if somehow for a day time stopped and all rules were suspended. It was as if Mother Nature was making sure we took a mental health day. While I am at work today I hope that you and Daddy break some rules. Have some fun and go play in the snow and when you are utterly exhausted I am sure that Gigi would love to snuggle up with her human on the couch. Ask Daddy to read your new book aloud to you, string some beads, play in some cardboard boxes or create some art. However you choose to spend your time, enjoy your snow day Little One.

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Lyla & MommyDear Lyla,

In my last letter I introduced you to my childhood friend Granny Bailey. While Granny was special to our family there were many others at the nursing home that we looked forward to visiting on a regular basis. Bumpa struck up friendships with many of the residents that lived at the facility opposite the shore of the lake on which we lived. What a beautiful view at that nursing home; one could watch the soothing roll of the lake all day long if so inclined. Bumpa soon realized that although, the panorama was spectacular, many of its inhabitants lived incredibly solitary lives. Too many souls had no family to speak of and unfortunately even more had absentee family members. It is a sad reality little one that the aged in our culture are often overlooked or discarded; a judgment that somehow they had outlived their usefulness and had nothing more to offer. Bumpa would categorically deny such a fallacious conclusion, he would argue that the stories they have to tell are a rich bounty deserving of our respect and admiration. Many who knew Bumpa and Grandma Jo would characterize him as dynamic and assertive and Grandma as nurturing and stable; these assessments are both correct. However, your Grandma is a tiger little one and your Bumpa was all mush on the inside. Together Bumpa and Grandma knew that once introduced to these sage and interesting individuals it was an impossibility to forget their existence; to ignore the need for human interaction would be the unkindest cut of all. That winter Bumpa and Grandma began a holiday tradition that lasted until after I had left for college. Beginning in November Grandma would rally the troops to make dozens upon dozens of cut out sugar cookies; when December arrived an assembly line at the kitchen table was established to decorate the cookies. It was a sight to see; the family covered in frosting of bright Christmas colors and sprinkles everywhere! A week before Christmas all of the cookies had been adorned and it was time to make old fashioned fudge; Patti and I frequently fought over who got to lick the spoon. On December 23rd, as there was no school, Grandma, Patti and I would begin to assemble individual goodie packages; it took all day long. Grandma always made it a fun experience; there would be hot cocoa, Christmas music and lots of laughs. Bumpa, normally an imposing and larger than life character, became almost childlike; he was more likely to steal cookies and fudge than Patti and me. Those Christmases when it snowed lightly during these preparations were my favorite, it was almost like a blessing from heaven; an acknowledgment of our holiday offerings. On Christmas Eve day we would sleep in and lounge in our PJs as long as possible; it would be a long night. That evening we would get dressed up in our holiday best and head to church. To me candlelight services are always special and magical; but when I was younger singing the last strains of “Silent Night” meant that our Christmas Eve had just begun. Having loaded up the goodies prior to church meant we would only have to go back to the house to pick up one item before heading out on our appointment rounds; the dog. Our dog Mutley played prominently in our plans for holiday merriment. Dressed in a red and green sweater, resplendent with tinkling bells, Mutley would lead our family through the front doors of the nursing home; this is when our Christmas Eve really began! We went from room to room giving each resident a pack full of goodies; Grandma even made sure there were special sugar free treats for those with diabetes and a huge plate of holiday cheer for the staff. I loved this part of our Christmas tradition; how fabulous to have that many surrogate grandparents. Endless hugs and kisses were offered as gifts in kind. Sometimes a resident would break out in song, so what else were we to do but join in! These were magical nights for our family, how blessed we were to be so loved and welcomed on one of the most special eves of the year. As we made our way through the facility to head home Bumpa and I would stop one last time to see Granny Bailey. As I got older I understood the pain of what it meant to have no family left to care for or about our elderly friends and I was in a melancholy state by the time I reached Granny’s room. Granny immediately sensed I was in distress and so I shared my grief with her; she smiled, patted my hand and said “Dear, you are their family.” She was right little one; when you give of yourself to others the love you share will find its way back, in spades.

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Lyla RainDear Lyla,

It has long been my policy that the word family is fairly broad term. It can be used to describe the people that you are related to; happy accidents of fate that result in shared DNA. Family can also denote those you chose to embrace and care for regardless of blood bonds. Lucky are the families that are diverse and numerous in their membership. Your Grandma Jo would say that ever since I was little I brought home strays; dogs, ducks, turtles, chipmunks and people. She would joke that I never met anyone that I didn’t like or see a problem that I felt I couldn’t fix. While there may be some truth to that, I learned my compassion for others from my parents. I can scarcely remember a holiday where there was not seated at the family table a neighbor or acquaintance that had no family to claim them; and so they became part of our family. I learned to “collect” people from your Bumpa; he could find the unique and special qualities in almost everyone he met, conversation flowed easily from his lips. Bumpa especially liked to chat with those from an older generation; he loved their stories and was eager to soak up their knowledge and wisdom. One winter he was doing renovation on a nursing home in the area and met an elderly woman who had been blind for years. Apparently one day she called out to him to “come and sit a spell”; she offered the invitation because liked the sound of his voice. Never one to shun a compliment, Bumpa began to spend his lunches with this elderly sage; her name was Granny Bailey. On the weekends Aunt Patti and I would frequently help Bumpa at construction work sites  cleaning up debris or painting. It was during one of these mandatory work details that I met Granny Bailey. She knew who I was without being introduced; she knew by my cadence and incessant magpie-like talking that I must be Bumpa’s daughter. Granny Bailey summoned me to her room to sit and “chew the fat”; she wanted to know all about my friends, the music programs at school, my family and any subject you would expect your grandma to want to be kept abreast. In hindsight, I suspect that Granny didn’t have any family to speak of and she adopted us as her own. Long after the renovation was done we continued to visit Granny Bailey.  Bumpa tried to coax her into coming to our house for holidays but she did not want to leave the familiarity of the nursing home and so we went to her. In high school I read the daily news announcements for a local radio station; Granny tuned in every day to hear what her adopted kin would have to tell the community about the comings and goings of the town. The details of Granny’s face are muted in my memory but the feel of her warm, frail hands clutching mine as we would talk is still fresh in my mind. Granny Bailey was someone that would hear all of my troubles without judgment or sanction; at times during my turbulent teens she served as a port in the storm. When I could drive I would regularly visit Granny.  I am not sure if Bumpa or Grandma Jo knew about our extended visits; I did not apprise them of my outings to see Granny because time with her was a private and special just between us. Granny Bailey has long since gone to heaven little one, but I miss her. What I wouldn’t give for just one more visit to tell Granny how special she was and how lucky we were to call her family.

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Koel and LylaDear Lyla,

If I could choose the shape of the family tree on Mommy’s side it would be a Christmas tree. Like you, I love all of the holidays but have special place in my heart for the yuletide. The magic of Christmas has long been an accepted fact for the Pier clan; and the adoption of that particular viewpoint starts at a very young age. Evidence of our love for the season can be seen on the Christmas tree in our front room, there are ornaments on that tree that I made in preschool; lovingly preserved for me by Grandma Jo and passed down to me at an age when I was old enough to understand the value in such rudimentary handiwork made by tiny hands. You and I watch the same Christmas specials that have been around for over 40 years; yet the cadence and timbre of Boris Karloff’s voice as he narrates “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” resonates with each new generation. As I grew older I began to appreciate and relish how children envision the season; how they make sense of the impossibility of a large jolly man stuffing himself down every chimney in one short night.  The sweetness of the revelation that, for those who believe, the night represents that birth of a baby that would be a light to the world; a gift of sacrifice. Long before you came into our lives Daddy and I had the pleasure of watching our nieces and nephews experience the awe of the season. Your cousin Kaila was the first of the grandchildren to be born to Bumpa and Grandma Jo; overboard does not even begin to describe the spoils the little urchin gathered on that first Christmas.  It was a good many years before Kaila had any competition around the Christmas tree and then Koel was born. Daddy and I lived very far away from Kaila and Koel when they were little and we did not get to see them very often. However, there was one Christmas when Koel was about a year younger than you are now that we traveled up to the lake to see everyone. How excited the children were for Christmas to finally arrive; they counted the days and nights with the solemnity that belongs only to children waiting for Santa can express at this time of year. Koel was finally at the age where he could identify and recount for any adult who would listen all of the trappings of Christmas. So enamored was he with Santa that Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, pronounced “Roo Doo,”  became his best friend and constant companion. The adults in the room would receive frequent admonishments because of our rude behavior; we were forever stepping on poor Roo Doo’s toes or blocking his path.  Afraid of another tongue lashing from our wee nephew we would ask as to Roo Doo’s whereabouts before entering; often  Koel would tell us that his friend was outside having a snowball snack or taking a snooze on his bed,  the coast was clear. Koel’s conviction and faith in the symbols of Christmas was so strong that he inserted himself into that holiday narrative. At sixteen Koel no longer carries on conversations with his childhood friend Roo Doo, but I do believe he still believes in the magic of Christmas. How blessed you are little one to have such colorful ornamentation decorating your family tree. I hope my little cherub that you and I never reach the age when we no longer believe.

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