Irreplaceable Gifts

I was lying on the bed several different evenings over the span of the holidays with Son #5, recapping gifts that have been both given and received. It’s amazing the impact that a few wrapped items regardless of size or value, can bring to an individual.

But what about those gifts, often taken for granted, that are priceless, never have duplicates, and require consistent investment both on the part of the giver as well as receiver?

Yes, I’m talking about legacy and friendship.

I’ve written here before about my friend Cathy’s love for football. But the love for football has deep roots and connections to a lot of life that has been lived over the years, memories that have been made, jokes that are consistently referenced, and finally…regret-free living.  That’s one of life’s best gifts ever, is it not?

You’ve seen this picture several times before.

Kaba Award 3

It represents the last Jamboree in June of 2011 my brother coached.

Kaba Award 31

What hasn’t been highlighted, is the fact that this particular event was an hour away from Newport, and an equal distance from Cathy’s home.

Working full time, having a schedule that reflected that, and a son still in high school; it was a stretch to request that she attend.  Tim asked her to be there.

And she almost said no. But have I mentioned how much she loves football?

As you well know by now, I’m there for two things: the cheerleaders and half-time show.

Tim rode the bus, and my mom and I, who were visiting Seattle at the time, road with Cathy.

Cath and Ter at Newport Jamboree1

She watched each play fervently, texting my brother on the field regularly with her commentary.  ( THAT was appreciated…NOT!)

Afterward, Tim rode with us and we stopped for dinner at his favorite place: Red Robin.

They talked players and plays, plans for the season, and ins and outs of football that I shall never get no matter how many years pass by.

It was late when we were finished.  We said our goodbyes, hugged one another…and that was it for Cath and Tim.


For in September, Tim was gone.

Over the Christmas holidays, Cathy and her kids visited Southern California.  Born and raised here, she returns often, and we have been Disneyland buddies and “family” for over 20 years. Despite the fact that her husband, Dave couldn’t make it at the last minute, she forged ahead, making the drive alone.

Ugly Sweater Disneyland trip01

But really, there is so much more to it.

Here we are this last trip.

Ugly Sweater Disneyland trip1

I had received a text that we were going to have “Ugly Sweater Day.”

Ugly Sweater Disneyland trip09

Ugly Sweater Disneyland trip10

Something we pulled off rather well, if I do say so myself.

Park goers had some serious commentary about our group.

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Ugly Sweater Disneyland trip04

Ugly Sweater Disneyland trip05

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Ugly Sweater Disneyland trip08

Ugly Sweater Disneyland trip06

Our group that had individuals in it, who had driven an hour or more to be a part of said day’s festivities.

At a season of the year when time itself becomes a gift and commitments encroach upon structured schedules in every way; priorities must be chosen.

For most of our now very mature adult lives, we have been investing in traditions.


Ugly Sweater Disneyland trip02

(Notice the WET in this shot?)

Those traditions have given way to legacy. A legacy of traditions and events that have woven deep and lasting relationships: relationships that can only become this rich and meaningful with time.

While we were discussing the football Jamboree, Cath said to me ( for about the 100th time), “You have no idea how grateful I am that I overlooked convenience and decided to go.  Because of one decision, I have no regrets.”

Life is rarely convenient, and relationships are forged through adversity; regardless of how big or small.

I’m so grateful that amongst our friends and family we can offer and build into our children true gifts:

Gifts of lifelong relationship coupled with no regrets.

Irreplaceable indeed.

Here’s to many more in 2014.

Keep In Mind that One Posts Ahead…LOVE this!


I apologize for the posting hiccup!  Truth be told, I forgot to upload to the publishing area of my back office!  I was too busy having fun with my family; making memories and recognizing traditions that we anticipate all year.


TAH-DAH!  Behold the final phase of the “Christmas Card Debacle!” I’m sharing the front panel portion here with you, because you have laughed and felt my pain regarding this First World problem in my life.

I hope you are making glorious memories and solidifying relationships this blessed and sacred season.  More on that Tuesday…

Until then:

Helms Christmas 2013

I hope yours has been beautiful!


A Look Back with my Brother, Tim: Merry Christmas!

Holidays are bitter sweet.  I’m becoming quite comfortable with the fact that many aspects of grief honestly last a lifetime.  I received a text yesterday from one of my brother’s dearest friends.  It was short and sweet, offering a toast to him and the annual tradition of decorating their family’s tree to a compilation of Christmas songs he had personally burned on a CD for them.

Family, friendships and traditions are priceless gifts. Enjoy these holiday moments, memories and events; for they are what make up the fabric of our lives thread by precious thread.

This story highlights one of my all-time favorite memories.  The photo says it all!  Perhaps you are familiar with the “Flat Stanley” books.  I think Tim fit the definition of “Flat Santa”, in that the beard was literally wafer thin and non-dimensional in any way.  FYI..the child is my “niece” Amanda, who is now a photographer extraordinaire and has shot so many of the photos of the boys you enjoy here on TommyMom. The quality stinks, but I couldn’t locate the hard copy on such short notice, and took a photo from a frozen DVD frame!  You get the idea, and it was fun to watch.

Merry Christmas, Tim!  I miss you every day.


Tim as Santa with Amanda1

One of my first steady, memorable jobs was working for Ernst Hardware store.  I was a customer service clerk, but I had many small jobs inside of this prestigious title.  I did everything from stocking shelves until 1 a.m. (which fit in perfectly with my college schedule), to unloading pallets of bird seed, to even playing Santa Claus during the holidays- handing out candy to kids!  I must have been convincing, because even my own dog didn’t recognize me.  But the most memorable task I was ever assigned was that of Christmas tree salesman. I will never forget the day my manager took me out into the nursery to give me an orientation for my newly appointed duty for the upcoming 6 weeks.


As the trucks (notice the plurality of that word) began to unload these giant timbers I began to lose sight of the forest for all of the trees that were piling up.  “You have 6 weeks to sell these.” Wow the in-depth strategy and guidance were overwhelming!  I was swimming mentally at the notion that I was charged with getting rid of…er…selling what obviously took 50 years to grow, months to cut, wrap, pile, ship and 6 weeks! Add to that, the LOVELY spring-like weather we have in Washington in late November through December, and my hands were all but singing the Hallelujah Chorus. Are you sensing the sarcasm? Because I’m laying it on pretty thick.

Initially, the enthusiasm that I brought to the job, combined with the excitement of families to have their tree early and dive into the holiday spirit propelled sales to a good number.  But as December came, and folks got busy with parties, wrapping, and drinking hot chocolate, no doubt…my little tree farm was not generating great numbers.  I was contemplating hiring someone to start a small forest fire in the nursery so that I could fulfill my task, AND keep my hands warm simultaneously.


Then, it happened.  I was given the “okey dokey” ( technical hardware store code language) by my manager to start giving people deals on the trees.  I actually had the authority to mark the prices down!  After making a few shrewd negotiations with the public, word must have spread like wildfire; much like the one I just mentioned that I had hoped to set days earlier!  People came from miles around to score a deal on a tree!  I actually had workers who had never set foot in the nursery previously, come out just to see what was causing such a stir!  Long story even longer, I was able to sell EVERY tree on that lot.  The best sale I made was to a woman who only had 10 dollars to her name.  She came out to see if I simply had garland she could buy to decorate, or some branches that perhaps had fallen off of some trees that I would be willing to give her.  “Do you have a tree?,” I asked. She hung her head. With a wave of my Sharpie marker clutched within my frozen fingers, I assured her that the noble fir she was admiring had just gone on 10 dollar clearance…including tax!  She kissed me.  No joke.  I appreciated the body heat more than the affection at that moment, but nonetheless…

I was given a certificate of commendation by the corporation for my efforts.  Never before had anyone sold every tree.  To this day, I take pride in that.  It sounds silly, I know.  But it didn’t matter what my title was or how much money I was being paid, or how much recognition I was receiving while I was working.  The pride came from being given a huge task, and tackling it one day, one tree at a time.  In addition, being given the trust and authority to do my job as best as I saw fit, added the fuel needed to keep me going.

During the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, take a moment and hopefully relax.  Take pride in your labor, and the fruit that it brings, one day, one individual, one memory at a time.  Also know, that you have been gifted the trust and the authority to do your jobs the way you see fit.  And doing what you do, matters for others.



Just a Friendly Reminder…

Salvation Army Kettle3

Just a friendly reminder during this Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

a season of good will and cheer.

If you are looking for venues to give charitably…

The Salvation Army kettles are a wonderful option.

This past weekend, as we pulled up in front of our local Trader Joes…

Salvation Army Kettle1

there were our friends the Whites and the Blodgetts!

They were cheerfully singing while ringing the bell!

The kids were adorable in the child-sized aprons…

and my friend Genevieve…

Salvation Army Kettle2

was a two-fisted ringer!

A couple of facts for your learning pleasure:

The Salvation Army does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or religion…

and one hundred percent of everything you give to the red kettle stays in the local community…

where it is received to address needs there.

Easy-peasy!  And definitely a way to help “Do the Most Good!”

The Great Christmas Card Caper

I honestly don’t know what I was thinking.

Five sons and one soon-to-be-daughter-in-law, together for a photo shoot.

Problem #1: Putting the wrong kid in charge of getting the perfect shot.  Because said kid could give a fat flip about the wardrobe. This will become painfully evident shortly.

Me, to Son #2: “So, you’re going in for a lovely evening together, and I really need a favor. When you meet up with your brother, (Son #1 and fiance’) will you please take some pictures for our Christmas card at the beach?  It will be the only time you’re all together prior to the holidays.”

Son #2: “Sure!” Problem #2: Notice the lack of any details here. Please also note the lack of any questions regarding further details that may be necessary to actually succeed in gaining a mother’s satisfaction.

I must’ve been completely brain dead.

Off they went. To the beach.  And then to Los Angeles.  All five sons, plus one soon-to-be-daughter.  I waited with great excitement and anticipation.

Brace yourself.  No self-respecting mother, who searches for the perfect Christmas card, who anticipates them from others as they arrive daily in December, who pours over the family Christmas letters and annual happenings of others, could ever, ever, EVER be prepared for the visual assault you are about to see.

Behold: Photo #1.

Christmas card debacle2

Me, after nearly choking to death on a sip of water: “What IS this?”

Son #2: “Our photo.”

Seriously? Apparently so. The visual assault of color discord alone was nearly making me weep.

Me: “May I ask what you were thinking?” And before he could answer “Is that Son #5 in his peace sign shirt? For real?!”

Christmas card debacle1

Why yes, indeed it is!  Realizing I would have an absolute cow, they had quickly managed to troubleshoot (using the term ever-so-loosely) and had him turn it around.

Side note: Doesn’t my future daughter-in-law look adorable as well as appropriately FESTIVE? And I shudder at the on-camera gangster activity of #3. One medical tattoo and apparently, it’s all down hill on a very slippery slope!

I will interject here that a first born child generally does what they are told.  To the letter of the law.  I know, because I am one. Stand on the line, face west, no talking.  We’re great conveyor belt people when the need arises. This day, in this awkward, “what-message-are-you-conveying?” Christmas card moment…Son #1 shines!

Christmas card debacle3

Ding, Ding, Ding!  We have a winner!  All of those coordinated outfits, with matching pacis, and meticulously chosen shoes-you-would-never-walk in, paid off in the subconscious arena!  You, dear child, are my favorite for the next 2 hours for this near-heroic feat! You are definitely a part of the beautiful people in this OCD-Christmas-card mother’s mind!

And what a card it was to be!  I had gone with a company whose creativity nearly made me weep.  I mean, it was slated to be a Christmas mantle showstopper!  I was smug.

Until the company called and told me, while I was catching a business flight, that they had cancelled the entire series.  I was rooted to the floor regardless of the fact that they were calling for boarding.

Me: “What do you mean exactly?”

Card Company Employee: “What we’re trying to say, Mrs. Helms, is that the quality of the paper promised was compromised.  There won’t be anything offered in this series.  Might we interest you in something else?”

Phase One of Leadership Education consists of Core.  In it, you learn right from wrong, good from bad, true from false…you get the idea.  And honestly, those who have a rocky or undesirable start in life get to go back and learn it at a later time.  It is the basis upon which the foundation of your life is formed.  Reform is most difficult. And back-breaking.  And time consuming.

It was in that moment, that I paused, and thought about my card. My kids had taken these photos on the way to an event that they had planned for months.  Truth be told, they orchestrated it quite well; inclusive of extremely memorable details.  They saw composer Danny Elfman’s work played by a beautiful symphony orchestra, with performances that featured Danny himself.  They stayed in the new Marriott Live, and the little boys got a midnight teaching lesson from their future sister-in-law while she slept! The following morning, they topped it off with a 4-D screening of The Nightmare Before Christmas at the El Capitan theatre, which made its debut in Los Angeles in 1926.

It was apparent that none of this involved me, or my Christmas angst…but in reality, it did. For amidst all of my nit-picking about clothing, coordination, and lack of style; Core Phase showed itself to be beautifully, solidly, consistently in tact where my children were concerned.  More than anything, they love to be together, honor our family’s values and standards, and seek to prioritize what matters most. They will be best friends for life, both theirs and mine.

It’s both humbling and thrilling.

And my card?  Oh, I redid it.  And it will most likely be late, as  I am still awaiting its arrival.

And these folks? Total beach creepers, I tell you.

Christmas card debacle5

“Yeah, there was one lady that was really keeping an eye on us.”

No need to wonder why, people.

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Oh! And if Synchronized Bird Watching at the Beach is ever an Olympic consideration…

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Gold Medalist family right here.

I’m so glad we could bond over this debacle at my expense. Consider it my gift to you, along with the laughs that no doubt accompanied it.



‘Twas a Night Before Christmas…

Yes, I know it’s a busy time!  Five minutes of yours will make your day.  Promise!

True Gifts

The shallow nature of Black Friday events complete with trampling, assaults, and arrests were front and center by Saturday of this past weekend. High drama and spin are the only things appearing to be worthy of attention by the media. And yet, with the holiday season officially under way, there can be gifts offered to us that may prove to be the very best that are given.  Timeless, character-building, and ultimately treasured; they will call to us year after year; for the lessons they offer, are of the kind that will continue to keep on giving.

Son #3 is the fortunate and grateful recipient this season. Hero Hubby “volunteered” him for a job that served to bless and honor an elderly gentleman in need. Initially, said son was not the least bit amused. Those of you who have graciously read for any period of time, realize that the #3 position in our family birth order comes equipped with heavy doses of humor. And ADHD. And a childhood filled with antics resulting in adventures, as well as an overwhelming amount of misunderstanding on the part of onlookers.

These so-called maladies have also historically come with ticks, knee-jerk responses, and every cliche’ ever heard.  While the frustration exhibited by others isn’t entirely unfounded, what many have missed in the final years of maturing to young adulthood, have been the patience, compassion and rather biting insights that being labeled and misunderstood have forged within this child holding fast to position #3.

May I also add, that the sensitivity of kids who operate within the sphere of the ADD/ADHD world is quite often missed altogether by those seeking for the fast train out of their circle of influence! I know that on days that wear thin; seeming to appear as if absolutely no progress with the gift of a child such as this will ever be made, I too have been guilty.

And yet, the examples they set, and the occasions they often rise to, teach, encourage and minister to all those fortunate enough to witness them.

Their honesty can also be most convicting and refreshing.


Enter Dale.


And Harriet…


who together, upon settling in this valley, forged out staggeringly successful businesses laden with generosity and a profound sense of loyalty to community and others.  They are well-known for the practices surrounding those businesses that represent success, as well as the family they raised during 65 years of commitment to a marriage and loyal companionship.

“Um, Mom?” (Yes, it is one of those, “Can you see I’m laying here IN the bed, ATTEMPTING sleep?” moments.) “Can you talk?’

“I think I’m actually scared to take this job. I mean, I’m going to get close to him, and then he’s going to die.”

I couldn’t deny the candor or the fear with which he spoke.  After all, it has sort of been the theme of my own life for the past two years, in which he has also been both an observer as well as a key player.

Me: ” I understand.”  Because I really do. And yet, there were so many opportunities presenting themselves, that I could see based on living more of life than he.

I launched into a discussion of Dale and Harriet’s legacy, some of the amazing things that they have accomplished while forging a living and making a life.

It is a generation aware of sacrifice both personally and as a nation; a generation committed to keeping their word and living out conviction of purpose.

So off he went, Son #3, to assist Dale and oversee his needs when obligation and commitment kept family from doing so themselves 24/7.

In spite of limitation brought about through circumstance, a friendship was quickly formed, involving raw vulnerability, cooperation, and a lot of give and take.

On the days that he worked, #3 would come home with stories of looping vintage westerns and discussions forged through patience needed, while halted speech delivered the desired communication. Son #3 reciprocated with passionate commitment and loyalty that rose to each and every occasion presenting itself.

He observed the undying love between two ailing individuals, who regardless of daunting challenge, were nevertheless there for one another.

Harriet and Dale hand holding1

He infused their lives with his own brand of humor, and neither of them cared about the often existing shock factor. Rather, they responded with short, succinct answers that were equally as funny!

And most importantly, he learned to conquer fears and formerly daunting, nearly-impossible tasks.

He was gifted ability emotionally, while gifting the same in physical form.

The day after Thanksgiving, Dale passed.

Son #3 wept.  I must think hard to remember other times, it is so very rare.

“It’s harder than I thought.”

Me: “Was it worth it?”  There is a long pause.

“Yes. And I can’t wait to see him again when we can continue our friendship, and he is completely well. It will be so awesome.”

 True Gifts.  Often, they come in many forms, through interesting circumstances, while leaving us extremely rich; yet possessing nothing tangible.

Son #3 has received many from a man who, by all appearances and circumstances seemingly had none left.

And he isn’t content to stop.  This past Saturday I received a text: “I’m at the beauty parlor with Grandma. (Harriet) “I don’t feel uncomfortable now being around people I can’t understand. It’s all good.” While this was in the context of Spanish flying, as dryers blasted, it is a deep insight from one generation into another as well.

A truer gift would be hard to find.

Let the season of gift giving begin!


Happiest of Thanksgivings to You!

From sunny, slated-to-be-75-degrees-today Southern California, Happy Thanksgiving!

You vote with your time and how you spend it.  I am grateful that we share time together each week here on TommyMom; and for the richness that our friendship brings to my life.

May you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with love, laughter, and memories.

Mickey Norman Rockwell1


Finding the Funny

With Thanksgiving preparation under way and Son #1 making his way home to the desert this evening, we are anticipating a wonderful holiday filled with gratitude and memory making.

I came across this hilarious white board drawing from last year.  I’m certain it is the hope of every turkey today!

(Grateful that the spelling has vastly improved as well.)

Turkey and Pumpkin 1

The innocence of childhood.

There’s simply nothing like it.

Back to cleaning, prep, early cooking… on days like today, I love it all!


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