Scary, Isn’t It? Time Changes Everything…

My 9th grade Siena Honors English class just finished reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.  Throughout the year, they will undertake a study of the theme of survival in literature and I felt this novel, more than some of the others, would be a great way to start off the year: a little bit spooky, a possibly haunted house or a possible woman slowly battling the terrors within her mind, well it just might hook them right from the start. And hook them it did; they devoured the book, came up with some excellent comparisons between the book and some works of poetry, and then finally, worked to write a lengthy compare and contrast paper which focused on the heroine in the novel and the heroine of film from yesteryear; one that I was counting on them never having seen.  The film, PG rated, summer sleeper from 1982– Poltergeist produced by Stephen Spielberg.  And what an eye opening experience this viewing was…for myself and my 14 students.

I never thought students who are growing up in the age of CGI monsters, and American Horror Story could be spooked by this movie! Chairs piled on tables, a tree coming through the window, and some skeletons floating out of the swimming pool? We are not talking special effects that are anywhere near today’s standards. In fact, I prefaced the viewing by telling the young ladies that they were not to be nodding off or doing other work- they were to be taking notes for their major paper assignment. I need not have worried; they were riveted to the screen!  By the 2nd day, I had to preface pressing play with the warning” No screaming! No yelling!” Without meaning to; I had spooked my students.  At the final moments of the film, one young lady actually hid under her desk. When we had a discussion, the feedback I got was that it was “so spooky” and “old fashioned scary”.  I was so happy with the success of this lesson.

However, now that it is over and done and we in Siena English have moved onto another book, I have a confession of my own to make.  This was the first time I watched Poltergeist and was SCARED while watching it.  And no it was not the tree or the eerie “They’re here” moment, or even the creepy clown doll. (Clowns were scary in 82 and are scary now!) It was how “ancient” for lack of a better word some of the scenes in the film made me feel, as I had to pause to explain it to students.  They did not understand why there was no 24 hour television programming. I had to explain the old practice of TV sign offs and then the fade to static till the morning. They did not understand neighbors being on the same cable network signal; which could create havoc depending on which family wanted to watch what.  And the TV itself; a square floor model encased in a brown hutch!? They could not wrap their heads around it.

Normally, I don’t feel old, but I was five years old in 1982; when VCR’s were just coming into homes and Cable TV meant maybe you had HBO in addition to 2, 4,7, 9, 11, and 13.  I turned the knob, there was no remote! I adjusted the antennas (or my parents did) for a clearer picture. And now, 35 years later, the VCR is extinct, antennas are only found on Halloween costumes, and if there is a knob anywhere in someone’s home, it may only be on the stove.  Times change and lately, with new tech advances at our fingertips, the saying time flies has more meaning than ever.

And so, what remains the same from 1982 to now? That belief in family love and family loyalty is the same. The bond between a parent and child remains the same.  The sacrifices that parents will make when their children are sick or hurt or are in danger remain the same.  It’s nice to know that the most important things will never change, for me, for you, and for your daughters and their families someday.

Still, I can only imagine, with new advances bursting forth every day, how old I will feel when I finally let Abigail view this spooky classic and have to explain the world of 1982 to her!  I could be tempted to let her watch the remake, but, as we all know…the older, original versions are always the best…both in film, and in families!

Face Your Fear: Become Empowered

October is the month of fears and this year, we have a Friday the 13th coming up at the end of the week. GASP—that just adds to the spooky nature of the month!  And, is if that weren’t bad enough for those of us who are superstitious, I am spending that Friday the 13th and in fact the weekend, camping in a cabin on a secluded lake in Bass River State Forest. Talk about facing fear?! I drove by this cabin on a sunny day in August and even then it seemed shrouded in shadows, and looking as if Jason himself might just spring out of the woods, hockey mask gleaming in the sun. And yet, my sleeping bag is ready, my sweatshirts are packed, and I am heading out into the wild for the weekend of Friday the 13th?

Why, you ask, am I going if I am fearful of this? Well, because I am a Mom and Moms show no fear! Abigail wants to go camping and so off we go. (Lest you panic thinking I am solely supervising this outdoor excursion, my Dad is joining us and hoping some cousins will come as well!) Will she be a little nervous, as the sun sets and the moon rises? Yup! Will every crackle in the trees and snap of the twigs cause her to jump in my lap? Of course! Will her clothes smell of wood smoke and her hands become sticky with s’mores? Of this, there is no doubt! And will she have in her little mind a memory of camping with her grandfather that will live forever in her heart?  She will and that, more than any other reason is why I am facing my fear, becoming a brave Mom and camping out- for the memories it will give to Abby.

Also, because I am a teacher, I know that this experience will teach her a valuable lesson as well.  That it’s ok to be afraid, as long as you do not let fear overwhelm you. That it’s ok to be nervous about being in a new situation, as long as you recognize the strength within yourself to adjust and make a place for yourself.  For what better example can the Head of School at a school which empowers women for leadership set than to march into that cabin on Friday the 13th and face my fear?  I will work to set that example, for my own daughter and for every young woman that walks the halls of SDA each day.

WE are strong. WE are empowered. WE are brave and WE can overcome of fears because  WE believe in girls! WE believe in the fact that we can make a difference in the lives of others. That is the message of empowerment that SDA has sent forth since 1878 and that is the message I will carry with me this weekend.

That said…if I see a hockey mask anywhere near that cabin, I’m out! I may be brave but I am not crazy!

Pumpkin Spice and Prayers

October has finally arrived, hopefully bringing with it cool autumn breezes, chunky sweaters and warm boots on weekends, jewel colored leaves on trees and piles on the ground just perfect for crunching,  flickering Halloween lights and of course, pumpkin spice everything. From coffee to candy, from paint samples in Lowes to slogans on sweatshirts (and yes, I have one!) it’s that pumpkin spice season once again.  Those who don’t even like pumpkin flavored things may feel encouraged, or cajoled, (or even pressured) to purchase at least one pumpkin themed beverage in the next 31 days.

Why the infatuation with pumpkin, with fall, with fuzzy scarves and fleecy sweatshirts and football Sundays and All  Hallow’s Eve?  I do not remember this “craze” as a youngster or even as a very young adult.  Fall was just “back to school” season; uniforms, homework, sports or clubs, one show on tv and then bedtime before the routine began once again.  Maybe one pumpkin decorated the steps and a few ghosts hung from windows and maybe my mother made pumpkin pie once in October. (One October, the “scariest” of my youth, she made pumpkin stew in the actual pumpkin. My reaction when called to the dinner table that night is still remembered by my parents and brothers!!) It’s as if our society realized that we needed something to celebrate during the fall, not just that one day of October 31st, but rather a full celebration of the season, of the beauty of nature that occurs between the first day of fall and the advent (no pun intended) of the holiday season each year.  And what better iconic fall symbol to celebrate than the pumpkin?  On its own it’s a harvest symbol, carved it’s a Halloween one and for those of us who look to see the gift of God in the world around us, it can call to mind our own selves and how His hand helps to shape us daily.

For me, and for you, believing in God’s presence in your life is a little bit like being a pumpkin. He calls to you from the patch, picks you, and brings you into His presence.  His love washes away all the dirt and His grace helps you to open your heart and let go of the seeds of doubt, hate and greed.  During this autumn season, this season of pumpkin spice, allow God to carve in your soul a  new, smiling face, and allow the gift of His light to shine inside you for all the world to see.

Happy October!

The “Great Pumpkin” Time of Year

As September moves rapidly into October ( a favorite month of mine), our nightly televisions will soon be full of Halloween themed episodes, movies, and specials. A favorite each year for me, ever since I was a little girl is the classic “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”  Of course, parents when you and I were younger, we got to watch it ONCE a season when it was on network television. (Do our kids even know what network tv is? Hmm…network, is that like Netflix I can hear them asking!?) Thanks to Netflix and other wonders of technology, it can now be watched as many times as little minds want to see it. So, in my house, it has been on more than once a week since the 1st week of September, and what Abigail watches, Mommy watches too!

As such, I have become quite an “expert” in Great Pumpkin lore, as presented by Linus and his blue blanket, but today that is not what I want to talk about with you for a few moments. Today, after having watched Lucy yank that football away, call her brother a blockhead, boss the neighborhood children around on Halloween night, I want to talk about sisters; especially big sisters and what it means to be a sister! During my first viewing (this season), I thought to myself “Wow, what an awful sister that Lucy is.” And then, as I watched (and watched and watched), while I still thought she was pretty mean most of the time, I noticed a better side to her as well.

Being a big sister myself, I do know how it is possible to get frustrated by little brothers at times.  Do I recall, with some tinge of regret, yelling at my brothers during our childhood, making fun of them, bossing them around?  Yes I do. (I also recall numerous grievances heaped upon me by the two of them, but that is perhaps a tale for another time.)  And so, I can understand this cartoon girl’s frustration- she does not want her brother to get mocked for sitting in that pumpkin patch. She does not want him to miss out on trick or treating or the Halloween party. (In fact, she asks at each house for an extra piece of candy for him, calling him a blockhead while she does it!) But, because it is sometimes hard to express one’s true feelings; how does she try to ensure that he does not miss the fun of the season?  By harassing him until he sees things her way; which he never does.  Is her approach the right one? No, but it is the one she is most comfortable with, the role she knows best and so, that’s how she “cares” for him.

For those of you who have not had the chance to watch it this season, (you can message me I will give you our DVD GLADLY!), let me remind you of the end of the cartoon. It’s 4am after the fun of Halloween is over and big sister Lucy gets up to check her brother’s room.  His bed is not slept in. And so, she dons her hat and coat (and scarf…where does the Peanuts gang live if they need scarves on the first of November?) and goes out to the pumpkin patch to guide her little brother into bed. She takes off his shoes, tucks him in, and leaves and he never wakes up long enough to notice this gesture of kindness and love. I am sure most of the kids watching don’t really notice it either- they  just laugh at the idea of a kid sleeping in a pumpkin patch. But it has caught my eye again and again. This big sister really loves her brother; she cares for him but cannot fully express it.

At Saint Dominic Academy, we have worked since 1878 to build up that sense of sisterhood; that every girl who walks through the doors of the school is connected to every other girl- “spiritual siblings” to each other as they journey through high school together.  Does every girl always treat every other girl with kindness and compassion 100% of the time each and every day?  Sadly no, but as a sister, I know how much of a challenge that is.  However, in our school, there is always that sense, that feeling that every girl truly cares about every other girl’s well being. Every young lady at SDA would head out to the pumpkin patch at 4am if another girl was left there. Every SDA alumna would trek out there too to retrieve an SDA sister.  The sisterhood encompassed, not only inside the four walls, but inside the hearts of every member of the SDA family is what allows each young lady to be a big sister to every SDA girl who comes after her and a little sister to every SDA alumna who has walked the halls before her.  It’s tough to be a sister at times, isn’t it? But, I know too it is also one of the nicest things in the world to be as well!

Christmas Reflection #4

For the month of December, the Head of School’s Blog will be a series of reflections on the meaning of Christmas. All reflections have been composed by the Head of School in previous  years during the Christmas season. It is my sincere hope that these reflections will bring tidings of comfort and joy to you and your loved ones throughout the month of December.


A whirlwind of white

Downward spiraling amidst the glow of streetlights

Coating the trees

Enveloping the world in

The silence of snow.

Awakening in darkened rooms

To purplish skies

One can feel its presence

And hear its silence

Long before it is glimpsed through curtains

Its heaviness is tangible

Even before it is touched.

Its coating blankets the world

And speaks volumes of memories

Without saying  word.

So too, does the Light of the World

Quietly descend each Christmas Eve

HIS love tangible

Enveloping us in HIS spirit

Speaking volumes to our souls

Without saying a word.




Originally written in 2007

Christmas Reflection #3

For the month of December, the Head of School’s Blog will be a series of reflections on the meaning of Christmas. All reflections have been composed by the Head of School in previous  years during the Christmas season. It is my sincere hope that these reflections will bring tidings of comfort and joy to you and your loved ones throughout the month of December.



The poinsettia flower…

Its blossoms travel from house to house, from altar to altar,

Its reddish triangular leaves draping Christmas tables and banking fireplaces each year.

A Christmas icon since

“Flores de la Noche Buena”

A long ago Christmas Eve in Central America,

A poor girl, on her way to Church, with no gift to bring Baby Jesu.

Sad and ashamed at her lack of a suitable offering for the Christ she loved so much,

She gathered weeds and with her wee, chapped hands, so red from her walk to church,

Brought them before the altar and laid them at the crèche.

And lo, they transformed into luscious red flowers…a Christmas miracle.

As legend tells it, the poinsettia was born.

Love transforms…love sees beauty in the most commonplace hearts and in seemingly ordinary souls.

So, Christ sees this in each of us…our inner beauty and our eventual transformation

From ordinary, to extraordinary…with Him.

At Christmas, and always, let love be your greatest gift.

Share it, as you would gifts under your tree, in small acts of kindness.

Deliver it, unwrapped to family, friends, and those close to your heart.

Give it, not sparingly, but as willingly as He did,

When He came that Christmas night,

And transformed us all forevermore.


Originally written in 2010.

Christmas Reflection #2

For the month of December, the Head of School’s Blog will be a series of reflections on the meaning of Christmas. All reflections have been composed by the Head of School in previous  years during the Christmas season. It is my sincere hope that these reflections will bring tidings of comfort and joy to you and your loved ones throughout the month of December.

One star,

Rising in the moonlit sky.

Hovering, beckoning,

A shining beacon…

Sending a signal to all

Three Magi…

Not confident kings

Merely scared explorers,

A daring venture…

To seek new wisdom

Far away from home,

Lost, disconnected, stranded

No comfort, no hope, no end in sight

Endless evenings stretching before them…

Endless days alone

Their journey harsh,

Their fears manifested at every turn,

Continuing to take the forks in the roads

No guidance sans a shining star…

And the feeling in their souls

The three travel far

Following the sparkling orb

Which leads them to


And God is with them forevermore

Embrace journeys,

Take roads not taken,

Accept loss, stumble and fall,

Fear neither the endless night nor the star lit sky…

Emmanuel is with you

HE is in you, in us

Feel Emmanuel in the hearts

Of all those encountered on the journey of your life

Their hearts touch yours with HIS love…

At Christmas, see HIM in everyone’s eyes.

Continue to seek HIM always…

In the hearts of all…

While HIS star shines…

You are never alone


Originally written in 2009.


Christmas Reflection #1

For the month of December, the Head of School’s Blog will be a series of reflections on the meaning of Christmas. All reflections have been composed by me in previous years during the Christmas season. It is my sincere hope that these reflections will bring tidings of comfort and joy to you and your loved ones throughout the month of December.


Holly leaves, waxy green with shining red jewels

Wrap themselves around trellises,

While snow white lights twinkle in the evening’s shadows

And beckon warmly from windows.

Mistletoe hovers in doorways,

Inviting kisses from those who cross under archways

And stockings dance on mantles,

Dangling empty, awaiting fulfillment.


Balsam trees grow in parlors,

Festooned with intricate ornaments,

Each containing its own Christmas memory,

Speaking secrets without words as it is hung on a branch.

Gleaming packages, festively adorned, sit waiting,

Containing tangible dreams and wishes for all.


Take a moment,

Look over, around, and behind the treasures,

So carefully purchased to make someone smile

And see the intangible gift…

Nestled beneath branches,

Sacred figures, frozen in positions

Over two thousand years old,

Offering homage to

The Christmas Story.


Celebrate this year, the Renaissance of Christ

His intangible gifts to us all,

His loving message for our lives

And remember your most treasured gifts,

The meaning you bring to the lives of others

And the meaning they bring to yours.




Originally written in 2008

Getting In the Holiday Spirit

December is only three days away! Stores are decorated, trees are coming out of storage, decorations are being unwrapped and arranged, cookies are being mixed, stockings are being hung, and hopefully…children are being good as gold, in anticipation of what will be under the tree the morning of December 25th. And all this is done, of course, to music.  A question, for those of you who read my blog each week- What is your favorite Christmas carol? (Please do post comments and let me know!)  Are you a fan of religious carols or the more secular ones? Do you turn up the volume when you hear Jingle Bell Rock or change the station when Springsteen sings Santa Claus is Coming To Town. ( I must admit, that is NOT my favorite carol!)  How many of you, singing in your cars on the way to and from work, strain to hit that high note in O Holy Night?

Christmas carols are a key element of the season; we each have our favorite and perhaps our favorite song is linked to a treasured memory of a Christmas long ago. Time Magazine did a study of the most popular Christmas carols, based on how often each song has been recorded since 1978. The result? “Silent Night,” it turns out, is not merely the most popular carol; with 733 copyrighted recordings since 1978, it is nearly twice as dominant as “Joy to the World,” a distant second with 391 records to its name. I thought it was wonderful to see a traditional, religious carol take that top spot; I much prefer Silent Night to All I Want For Christmas Is You, which seems to be on the radio every time I turn it on lately.

Christmas carols of a religious nature are an important part of our holiday spirit, as they serve to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas. Without What Child Is This?,  Angels We Have Heard On High, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and We Three Kings, to  name a few, some of the real magic of Christmas would be lost. We need to hear these songs to remind us of our primary reason for Christmas; the celebration of the birth of the Savior. Of course, we need to hear some childhood favorites too; Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Up on the Rooftop, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, because they help us remember the Christmas memories of our own childhood and of how Santa made our dreams come true. White Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry  Little Christmas, Holly Jolly Christmas all play a part as well; they can encourage us, when we have been standing in lines; to pay for gifts, to mail packages, to see Santa, to keep our spirits up and to really appreciate all of the merriment that goes along with The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  Music is a big part of the magic of Christmas.

Nobody knows that better than Mr. Joseph Napoli and the Saint Dominic Academy Glee Club. For 38 years, our now iconic Christmas concert has been setting the mood of the season. I remember going to see the concert when I was in high school; I had friends performing. I remember seeing it in college, when my cousin sang with Mr. Napoli, and my first Christmas as a member of the SDA administration, my daughter was lucky enough to be invited to sing with the Glee club as they performed a medley from “Frozen” at their concert. For those of us connected to Saint Dominic Academy, we know that Christmas would not be Christmas without this musical event.

This year, the Glee Club and the Dominoes will be spreading Christmas cheer throughout Hudson County, as they perform at the Tree Lighting at City Hall, the Cusack Care Center Christmas party, at pre-schools and at other holiday events. However, their showcase Christmas performance will be at our very own Christmas Concert, on December 11th at 4:00pm at Saint Aloysius Church. Combining religious, classical and contemporary pieces, this event is not to be missed. Mr. Napoli stated “ Great music never gets old…from the brooding atmosphere of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” to…the Latin American rhythms of “Carol of the Star”…the Glee Club will…fill with joy this Christmas season.” If you believe, as I do, that music is the key to the season, then please join Mr. Napoli, the Glee Club and the Dominoes on December 11th and have all of the magic of Christmas unlocked for you! I hope to see you there!

Thanksgiving Traditions

In a few short days, we each will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Perhaps some of us will be doing the cooking; others the table setting and clearing, and one specially selected person at each Thanksgiving table will be saying grace before the meal begins, I am sure.  The days leading up to the Thanksgiving feast are hectic ones for many of us. Trips to the grocery store, trips BACK to the grocery store to pick up a forgotten item or two, and then yet another “final” trip back for extra milk, butter, eggs, etc that have been eaten  by a family member, even though you purchased them specifically for Thanksgiving! I wonder how many people, as they are frantically stuffing birds, mixing pie filling, and mashing potatoes the morning of November 24th are thankful that Thanksgiving only comes once a year? It is a tiring holiday, especially for those who host and prepare the meal.  However, to put things in perspective, let me share this interesting tidbit…

The first Thanksgiving, which was held in 1621 in Plymouth, MA had 143 guests and lasted for 3 days.  90 of those guests were Native Americans and 53 were Pilgrims.  Well, when I realized that, I became instantly more thankful; my family Thanksgiving will consist of 11 guests and though 4 of them are under the age of 8, I would prefer 11 over 143 any day.  And it gets more interesting…those 143 guests were served dinner that was prepared by 4 women and a handful of female children.  Yes, I typed the correct number. 4 women and their daughters cooked, served and cleared a 3 day Thanksgiving dinner for 143 men.  And now, I am instantly thankful that I was not born a Pilgrim woman! That statistic kind of put my mother’s request to prepare dessert for 11 in a new light; what was looming largely as a hassle suddenly became a very reasonable request.

My point this week is not how those women were taken advantage of, or how tired they must have been, or even how that specific statistic is left out of most history lessons centered around Thanksgiving; I never see those numbers on a Thanksgiving themed worksheet!  It’s the idea of thankfulness and how, at different times, each of us are thankful for different things. And, to an extent, what each of us is thankful for can at times be unique only to us and may not make much sense to those around us.   It is important, on Thanksgiving and on every other day to take a moment and reflect on the fact that it may not always matter what we are thankful for, as long as we pause for a moment to be thankful.

Thanksgiving is, for many of us, the true start of the Christmas season.  If you have small children, the Elf on the Shelf may arrive on Thanksgiving morning…to be hidden in a different spot every day until Christmas Eve. ( A tip from an Elf pro: once the Christmas tree is up, you can hide him / her behind a different ornament each day!)  Perhaps you head to bed early on Thanksgiving and rise before the sun to take advantage of Black Friday sales with a family member or a friend.  Maybe you and your loved ones spend Thanksgiving relaxing with Christmas carols on the radio and a muted football game on TV.  Maybe your children begin to write their letters to Santa, if they are young enough to believe and their Christmas Wish Lists for Mom and Dad if they are older.  For me personally, I know I will have the Macy’s Parade, a Thanksgiving tradition since 1924, on all morning. I also know I will drop whatever I am doing, scoop my daughter onto my lap and tune in for Santa’s ride down 5th avenue; for me that Miracle on 34th Street moment is the start of the most wonderful time of the year.

Regardless of how you spend your Thanksgiving Day or the long weekend that follows; look around you, at the shining eyes of your friends and family, laughing, smiling, and just pause for a moment. Be thankful, for all you have been given.  Be thankful, for all the love that surrounds you.  And, take one tiny more pause and pray for all of us who are part of the SDA family. I will pause and give thanks for you: SDA parents, alumnae, and the wonderful young ladies who I see here each day.

From our school to your home, happiest of Thanksgiving blessings!


Ms. Degnan