Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Getting Carded

I love Christmas cards. The whole process: picking them out, dusting off the list, sending them, receiving them. They are as much a part of the holidays as carols and tinsel.

Our Christmas card list has grown over the years -- my habit, I guess, of my willingness to let it snowball year after year, adding new friends and colleagues and deleting no one except in the case of death.

The addition of kids changed our style of card, as we began to opt away from the crease-folded greetings with jolly pictures and cute verses. Far-flung friends and family wanted to see our growing brood, so we began including photos inside; these were eventually replaced by picture-cards that showed the girls -- often with toothless grins -- in holiday garb. 

In an attempt to provide updates on what was new with the kids, especially to those far-flung, I wrote small notes inside our cards: Amanda rolled over; Claire is now on solid food; Kristin is sleeping through the night, Glory be!

But the pressures of time and the volume of cards eventually forbade this luxury. In response, I began a yearly newsletter -- The Weckerly Wire -- to encapsulate what had gone on in our busy household over the past 12 months. It started as a once-and-done solution, a quick way of gathering all our news and updating all our family and friends in one swoop.

This was a big step for us. We have received many of these over the years, and frankly, I didn't always hold them in very high regard. I tried a different tack, however, making sure they provided the full picture of the year, not just our accomplishments and outstanding moments. The good and the not-so-good.

I also tried to keep mine light and fun. One year, I wrote completely in verse, copying the style of A Visit from St. Nicholas. Another edition parodied Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

I knew I was on to something when I would hear from recipients afterward, either through e-mail or phone, about how much they had enjoyed receiving our wrap-ups.

I wrote every year. I still have archived copies; a good way, I suppose, of keeping a continual family history.

There is one gap in the chronology, though. In 2006 when we lost Dad, I found Christmas to be a very difficult affair emotionally. I struggled with everything that year because so many of our Yule traditions were closely bound with him: trains, Springerles, Christmas music, outside lights.

It was all just too much. And so, in deference to my ongoing grieving process, I skipped that year.

I now regret that decision, just a little. Future generations, going through the annals of the family and its developments, will probably puzzle over this lapse. I hope they understand.

This year in which we face our own version of a fiscal cliff because of my eight months of unemployment, the Christmas card list has been drastically trimmed. If you were a usual recipient and this year found no Weckerly Wire in your mailbox, I apologize. It wasn't a matter of thinking less of you; it was purely a resource-allocation issue. We're trimming just about every holiday-related budget item this year, including the line item for cards.

If you're interested in The Weckerly Wire content, however, you're in luck. It's here. Its presentation on a blog may not have the charm or warmth of receiving it in your mailbox, but if you were never a fan and didn't like it anyway, you can skip it in a much more environmentally friendly manner: close your browser rather than crumple it for the trash.

"Next year, all our troubles will be out of sight," sings Judy Garland in the lyrics to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." 

Next year, God willing, our financial setback will be well behind us, and the Christmas card list can swell to its former breadth.

At lease, we hope and pray that it can.

In the meantime: Merry Christmas!

Once again the calendar has flipped 12 pages since our last yearly update. 2012 will be remembered as a tough year, but despite the difficulties, we are taking this time of the year to reflect on the positives that were part of our past 12 months.
There were two major setbacks for us this year: One was my loss of full-time employment in April. The other was the untimely death of Kathy Weckerly from cancer.
These were two big hits in a relatively short time, both of which sent us reeling. We are still sifting through the aftermath, but the passage of time, the comfort of friends, and the strength of faith have gone a long way toward helping us move forward.

Grateful and Hopeful

As I said, we continue to be grateful for the highlights of 2012:
·         Eileen found full-time employment in the waning weeks of 2011 and began 2012 with First Niagara Bank in Skippack. This was a big change for her, leaving the education field where she worked for five years. But she is using her finance skills—coupled with her outgoing personality—to offer great customer service to her clients. The branch has already recognized her outstanding performance, and new opportunities for her are opening.
·         I have also returned to full-time work, connecting with a job in the waning days of 2012. I am now the Communications Manager for the Valley Forge Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau. Our savings may have dwindled over the course of the year, but our cup of blessings overflowed. Thank you to all who offered support, concern, prayers, referrals, advice, and friendship.
·         Amanda (19) is now a sophomore at Immaculata University, advancing toward her degree in Early Education. She is gaining increasing exposure within actual classrooms, both observing and, now, moving into hands-on assistance with her kids. She has visited grades K through 4 and is gravitating toward the younger set, where she enjoys responding to their calls of “Miss Amanda!” “Miss Amanda!”
·         Just before Thanksgiving, Amanda was reunited with her boyfriend, Andrew, who spent a semester studying abroad in Prague. She was a little lonely while he was out of the country but made ample use of the Internet to keep in touch with him. She is very glad he is home to spend Christmas with.
·         Claire (16) spent the spring continuing her freshman year at Pope John Paul II High School. In March, we thoroughly enjoyed the JPII production of Anything Goes. Claire was one of the impressive corps of tap dancers, setting the decks of the S.S. American thumping with syncopated feet.
·         As a sophomore, Claire’s academic success was officially recognized and documented; in October, she was inducted into the National Honor Society, with both parents looking on and beaming.
·         In November, Claire earned her learner’s permit, leading to much shuddering and breath-holding from her parents. Drivers of western MontCo, beware!
·         Kristin (11) did extremely well academically in fifth grade, and her string of good grades continues now that she’s in sixth. Kristin’s school, St. Eleanor, Collegeville, PA, regionalized over the summer, changing names and increasing class size. Despite having to overhaul all her uniforms (the new name is Holy Cross Regional Catholic School—a mouthful!), she has made the transitions well and is making new friends.
·         Kristin is also enjoying sports—volleyball and basketball seem to be her favorites—and is preparing for her Confirmation next spring.
·         Labrador Retriever Parker is now 1.5 years old and tops the scales at 86 lbs. As I tell strangers, “He has the body of an adult and the brain of a toddler.” Parker also earned official accolades this year, gaining both his Therapy Dog Certification and a Rally Novice title from the American Kennel Club. Parker and I are regular visitors to Limerick Elementary School, where, like his predecessor Wesley, we help build student’s reading skills.
·         I continued as part-time as music director for St. Eleanor Church. I have now been “officially” part of the staff for 10 years, guiding the choir and cantors.
This year, we were the recipients of a true gift from the heavens: A parishioner decided to offer the church her baby grand piano! It had been sitting idle in her living room for a number of years, and as she told me, she would “…rather see it being used in church each weekend than gathering dust here.” The instrument was moved and tuned and now adds color and character to our weekend Mass schedule. It’s also causing me to bone up on my piano technique, something that has been a shaky part of my music abilities forever.
·         I accepted a friend’s challenge to join her team for the 2012 MS City to Shore Bike Ride in September. I spent many of the warmer months accumulating miles on both the Perkiomen Trail and the Schuylkill River Trail so that, by race day (September 29), I was as ready as possible.
The ride was incredible, with 7,000 participants churning along from Cherry Hill, NJ, to Ocean City, NJ. The weather was a bit overcast but fortunately, no rain and no scorching heat, both of which were concerns to this first-timer. The 78-mile course was a bit challenging—especially the two formidable bridges at the end—but with plenty of rest stops and encouragement, I crossed the finish line. Eileen and the girls were waiting for me, cheering with signs a-wave.
It was a fantastic experience, deeply satisfying to do something for those less fortunate, and I am already planning on riding again in 2013.
·         We managed two low-level trips to the Shore, as is our habit. The scope may have been trimmed by budgetary restraints, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the sun, the beach, and the chance to de-stress for a time.
The second jaunt was with our good friends the Clancys to their home in Sea Isle City. Fortunately, Hurricane Sandy was very gentle on their particular home when she roared through on October 29, and they experienced little damage beyond some clean-up.
·         I may have lost my position in writing for Corporate America, but that didn’t keep me from writing in other venues. Shortly after being let go, I started a blog, responding to the call of many friends that I should be writing online. It is not fully themed to my search for employment (although that is certainly a topic), but it is more a collection of reflections both current and past. If you’re inclined to check it out, it’s here: http://dweckthequillofvictory.blogspot.com/
·         I’ve also published a novel! That dream has been with me for a long time, and finally, I was able to act on it. I was contacted by an e-publisher looking for talent. I dusted off a short-story I had written in the early 2000s and submitted it for evaluation. The reaction was extremely positive, but the length was too short. I spent the summer expanding it from about 3,000 words to 25,000 words. I resubmitted and again got green lights.
It is now on Amazon! (available here: http://www.amazon.com/Intrepid-ebook/dp/B00AKPMFYO/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1355011994&sr=1-5&keywords=Intrepid). Spurred by the initial success, I started on a sequel, which may see a 2013 e-publishing release.
So as you can see, it was still a year of achievement, enjoyment, and blessings.
I end the year eager to test my professional skills in a new setting, meeting new people and tackling new projects. I fully expect next year’s letter to announce good fortune in the next phase of my career.
We also take this opportunity to remember Kathy Weckerly as both sister-in-law and aunt. We thank God for giving her to us for the past 17 years we’ve known her, and in her name, commit to continuing on with her generous spirit, positive outlook, and tight family bonds. May she rest in peace.

Our Wish

And speaking of peace, that’s our seasonal wish for you and yours. May the final weeks of 2012 find you healthy and happy, surrounded by loved ones, warmed by the memories of Christmases past, and looking forward with faith, hope, and love to what may come.

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