My parents are 80 years old. My Mom had her birthday last month and my Dad is this spring. It is becoming more and more apparent I won’t have them around forever and so the time I spend with them becomes precious.
My blogging buddy Andra Watkins speaks about the importance of making memories. She walked the Natchez Trace with her Dad, and then wrote a book about her experience: Not Without My Father. She’s got a twitter feed at #makeamemory where people share their stories.
When we asked my Mom what she wanted for her 80th birthday she said she wanted to go out with just her girls. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. There are schedules to shuffle, kids to arrange for, and some history of unpleasantness between us. But it’s what she wanted, so I got on the phone.
We kept it a secret until Mom’s actual birthday. Then my middle sister (the one who lives closest) gave her a card with an “invitation” inside. Lunch with your daughters, January 2nd. She was SO excited! We didn’t “do Christmas” until just this past weekend so it was nice for her to have something to carry her through the actual holiday.
Even on the day we had a few minor scheduling issues. I volunteered to pick up my little sister and forgot she’s outside of the GPS maps so we were a little late arriving. My middle sister was babysitting and needed to drop off her Grandson “on the way”. She was driving Mom, who also wanted to stop and pick up a few groceries.
In the end we all made it to lunch. The waitress snapped a photo to prove it. It was a pleasant leisurely afternoon. We sat and ate and chit-chatted about nothing important. We kept it all light and friendly.
My Mom was thrilled. She still talks about how wonderful it was for us to do that for her. She says finally, for the first time in her life, she got exactly what she wanted for her birthday. We made her a memory.
For me, it’s not the lunch that’s the memory. It’s being able to make my Mother so happy, with such a simple thing. Aging is hard for her. She struggles to continue to be relevant, to be heard, to participate and she does better than she thinks. But this day, for her birthday lunch, she could be the center of attention, “the Mom”, and not have to work at all.
This was not my family’s Thanksgiving. I don’t know that this has ever been my family at Thanksgiving. But it’s the picture many of us hold in our minds of what family gatherings “should” look like.
As my parents age, and particularly my Mom, she becomes more vocal about how much she would like to see us be her vision of family when we get together. I suspect it’s one of her personal “measures of success”, perhaps as a parent or maybe just as a person. I know I catch myself occasionally looking for that ideal to affirm my own sense of accomplishment.
I’m pretty sure my Mom never had a Thanksgiving that picture perfect growing up. But I think she remembers it that way. Rose colored glasses and simpler times often shade our memories, especially where our loved ones are concerned. We would love to be able to paint that picture for my Mom, to enact the “perfect” family united.
There are no scripts for that kind of drama. And even if there are, they are often impossible to recreate. For instance I believe my Mother’s scene truly requires a bird she cooked, her stuffing, her wild rice. Except no one else can make it “just right” and it’s really too much for her to do it herself without creating an enormous amount of stress that isn’t part of the picture. I think all that pretty china, silver, and tablecloth get swept up and disappear without anyone washing (or breaking) dishes, or doing laundry or getting crumbs on the floor.
The reality of this Thanksgiving was no more “perfect” than any other. The smoke alarms went off when the dressing spilled in the oven. The turkey took an extra hour to cook. Dad made the “wrong” bread (delicious, just not the kind we expected). In the end, though, everything was tasty, everyone had plenty to eat, and there wasn’t a major fight.
We’ll all remember this Thanksgiving as Norman Rockwell perfect. I suppose that’s something to be thankful for.
November has been a very stressful month, and it’s not over yet. Some of the stress has been in a good way, so I’m grateful. I’m grateful for having the opportunity to speak at the Minneapolis Women’s Club at the Women of Words event. I’m also grateful to have the opportunity to speak to our local Ostomy Society. What a great bunch! I’m grateful to the people at both presentations who took the time to tell me exactly why what I have to say had such a strong impact on them.
I’m grateful, as always, for my time at Gilda’s Club. I’m putting in an extra shift this week, stepping in for another greeter. Since Thursday is my usually day I’ve got a “day off” so I suppose it’s not really extra. Besides, there’s a social event this morning so I would be there anyway!
I’m grateful that I’m not hosting Thanksgiving. The family I grew up in has two generations under it. I’m a Great Aunt. The crowd is getting too big for us all to be together in one space. It’s bittersweet to break it up. At the same time I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend a little more intimate Thanksgiving rather than all the noise and chaos. I’m grateful, especially after this summer, to still have both of my parents. I’m grateful both of my children will be there.
I’m grateful for all the things I say I’m grateful for in my speeches. Telling my story means I am revisiting points in my life where I had reason to be very grateful, for people, for circumstances, for support. It’s challenging for me to open up that way, but it’s also a great reminder of how blessed I’ve been.
I’m looking at the Syrian refugees. I’m looking at the shooting (by the police) of a black man just a few miles from my home that’s threatening to turn Minneapolis into Ferguson. I’m looking at the bombing in Paris. I have so much to be grateful for, so much bounty, so much privilege, even my stress seems minor in comparison.
So I give thanks and stand in gratitude and pray for healing around the world.
For someone who’s trying to recover from a major surgery I’ve been awfully busy. It’s hard not to celebrate a birthday, even when you’re not feeling entirely up to it. This is my first birthday since the bariatric surgery, and my birthdays have historically been about food.
When we were kids one of the things we got for our birthday was the opportunity to choose the menu. We didn’t go out to eat a lot as a family, but my parents cooked. Favorites ran the gamut, but I discovered seafood early and stuck with it.
This year has been a challenge in many ways. The hysterectomy has me moving slower, not getting around easily and pretty achy. In addition, just having the surgery has decreased my food tolerance and portions. That’s kind of normal, except given that I was already working on tolerance and portions it seems a little extreme.
Of course where there is a will there is often a way! My dreams of baking myself a cake to take to a party, or making myself a special dinner were very unrealistic. I’m not that far along in my recovery. But I have friends and family who managed to keep me eating all weekend long.
Thursday my daughter took me out to Oceanaire for birthday dinner. We ordered one Restaurant Week meal, a couple extra appetizers and a cup of lobster bisque and shared it out. Beautiful food, well prepared, very tasty and oh so very much to eat! I may not have had much (and took home leftovers) but I was more than satisfied and had a delightful evening besides.
Saturday I was taken out for sashimi by my ex and my son. That was also a treat. Again we managed to shuffle the meals around so that everyone got something they liked and there wasn’t too much extra. I had time enough for a nap before going out again that evening with friends.
That wasn’t specifically for my birthday and much of the “pot-luck” was vegan, but it was good to see some old friends and catch up. I brought a bag of clementines – not something I would buy for just me. I can eat a couple of segments at a time. It was a treat and definitely qualified as a vegan dish.
Sunday was our annual women’s ritual. Again the food was lovely and in huge quantities. I did manage to “cook” Tzatziki to go with my frozen appetizer spanakopita from Trader Joe’s. There were ribs, meatballs, and spiced nuts, liver pate, stuffed clams and scallops, and hummus, olives, and a variety of cheeses. I definitely needed a nap! The liver pate came especially for me to help with that anemia problem. Yummy!
I have so much to be grateful for this year. The hysterectomy took care of the cancer – no chemo or radiation necessary. I have had incredible support from my friends and family to get through these past few weeks. I may be grumpy I’m not improving fast enough, but I do continue to be able to do a little more each day. I’m also reassured that I really am doing well, I’m just impatient. And I have some great leftovers to help me through the coming week!
It has been my blogging tradition to do a post about my family’s holiday meal. This year everything was different – literally everything! My whole perspective on food is shifting because of the bariatric surgery I had in July. I’m eating pretty normally now – normal apparently for normal people. I’m still astonished by how little food it takes to make me feel satisfied. The problem is that my volume is so low I can’t seem to get enough protein. So not only is protein a priority, it has become the priority.
The second thing most different thing was the menu – or perhaps how the menu was established. Entertaining at this level has become a little too much for my Mom and Dad. (They still do it occasionally, but we won’t “make” them do it for us anymore.) We see how long it takes them to recover. That won’t stop them from contributing! You may recall that although my sister hosted Thanksgiving my Mom made the turkey (and stuffing and wild rice) and my Dad baked bread and there were contributions to the appetizer table.
This year my 21-year-old daughter (the baker) decided she was going to take on the family holiday. She’s worked in a production kitchen. She’s helped plan and prep meals for weekend retreats. She’s had lovely dinner parties for 4, and hosted (with help) dinner parties for 8. But the family holiday is a whole new level of stress. She’s got her Grandmother’s china setting for 12. She’s got enough open space in her apartment. She’s got the culinary chops to pull it off.
She doesn’t have place settings for 20, or 19, or 21 or Who is coming to this event anyway?!? She doesn’t have table space or seating for that many – room, but not the furniture. She doesn’t have linens or enough silverware or glasses. She also is waitressing, covering shifts for everyone who asked off for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day along with her regular shifts. Five busy and under staffed work days followed by a dinner party for 20ish you’re hosting on Saturday is something only to be undertaken by someone that young. Oh, and my parents coming into town planning to stay with her as well.
She really was brilliant. She told everyone what she was making (ham and mashed potatoes) and what they were to bring. She rented tables and washed up my old linens and dug out my stored silverware. She did everything in her power to make sure everyone would be comfortable, contributing, and welcomed. For most everybody that was enough. The few lines in the sand she drew (no you can’t bring him he wasn’t invited/if he doesn’t want to be here he can go home) were appropriate and as gracious as possible.
I ate all week. Karina, Orion and I opened presents to each other Christmas eve and I made king crab and beef tenderloin. I had a crab leg and maybe an ounce of beef. On Christmas day Karina panicked and I went over to help her decorate her tree and get the house ready. She took me out for lunch – Chinese of course. Friday my parents came into town and we went to the restaurant where Karina was working for dinner. Mom had mussels, Dad had a vegetarian pot pie, Orion had fish and chips (and my fries and Mom’s fries) and I had a steak and Stilton pie (mostly just the insides). I baked my Mom a birthday cake and so we had some of that as well. The restaurant staff was happy to have their share of cake too. Plenty to go around when a “piece” amounts to a few bites.
Then there was the big dinner Saturday. Dad made a tin of his caramel corn (a tin the size of a 4 gallon tub) and several loaves of bread. He swore they’d eaten all the gravlax (he makes that too) for breakfast. (Some found its way to my refrigerator, but no bagels.) Mom brought shrimp dip, oysters and caviar, and artichoke dip. I added a cheese ball (Mom’s recipe) and some pomegranate salsa and chips. Just a little to whet the palate! I managed to have a bite of everything but some of it waited until the next day.
Dinner was the lovely bone in ham that Karina made, along with her mashed potatoes and gravy. Darcy put together a beautiful spinach salad with almonds and blueberries. My Mom dug out her homemade blue cheese dressing. I roasted up some vegetables. My little sister, Janine, made desert – a raspberry bomb – a tradition from our childhood that I haven’t had in years. What a treat! (2 bites worth, but I know where the leftovers are….)
You’d think I would have taken photos, but I was busy helping out in the kitchen and getting the tables set. Kept me from drooling all over the food that I couldn’t eat. (Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t have done it. There was too much!) It was actually a more simple meal that we usually have, but it was especially tasty and more than enough.
We were missing Andrea (part of the reason Karina hosted was because our Thanksgiving hosts were out with his family) and my niece. But we did have Janine and her boys (another coup for Karina). Everyone left early. The elders were tired, Janine had to get home, Darcy and Zac had more relatives to visit before the day was out. Karina was asleep in my lap within an hour of everyone leaving.
I’m so proud of my daughter for pulling off a daunting affair at her age. She may even be willing to do it again next year (paper plates?).
I’ve started to write today’s blog several times over the course of the holiday weekend. I had a follow-up post about gratitude. I had a post about family and relationship dynamics. I always have the option of a post about food, and this year in particular with the huge Thanksgiving meal a challenge after my bariatric surgery. I had a post about the weekend and going to see comedian Josh Blue.
I don’t want to finish any of them. In fact the only thing I really want to do is crawl back into bed under the covers. It’s Monday. It’s COLD outside (the windchill is hovering near -15 and the temps are just above Zero). I didn’t get to sleep in all weekend. It’s the post-holiday let down.
There is some comfort in returning to routine. The problem is that between Thanksgiving and Christmas/Chanukah/Winter Solstice/Kwanza all routine gets thrown in the trash (along with the excessive packaging). There is a LOT of cleaning to do. There is a LOT of cooking to do. There is a LOT of decorating to do. And then there’s shopping, and wrapping, and writing out cards.
Since Thanksgiving was so late this year I’ve been able to keep my head in the ostrich hole for almost the entire month of November. Now I’m somehow surprised that it’s December and I’m not ready! Somehow I don’t think going back to bed will help.
We went to a family wedding this weekend. I’m at that age where I really appreciate “weddings and funerals” as an opportunity to get together with the extended family, the relatives I don’t see very often. Even at these events people tend to cluster with their “immediate” families. Still, it’s nice to see how everyone is doing, aging, and whose kids (the names I can’t keep track of) are now grown.
This wedding was particularly special. On my Mom’s side of the family I’m the oldest of the girl cousins, and Becci is the youngest. Additionally our families have been close. We used to camp together growing up. My Mom and my Aunt would plot to sneak the leftover marshmallows into the other one’s camp kitchen to take home. S’more’s are essential camp food with kids, but neither family had any real use for marshmallows in their day-to-day lives.
My Mom is the oldest girl in her family and my Uncle the youngest. Their age difference is about the same as mine to my Uncle. That’s about the same difference as between me and my cousin. That’s about the same difference as between my cousin and my daughter. Becci is getting married in her 30’s. She’s breaking the chain. But waiting for “Mr. Right” seems to have held her in good stead.
The wedding was particularly well attended. Both the bride and groom come with large extended families. Both of them also have a presence in their small town communities. People have watched them grow up, build careers, and wished them well throughout their lives. It was a nearly impossible task to keep the guest list numbers down.
Those of us who’ve had weddings know there are a certain number of invitations that get sent out with the expectation that those people will never come. They are invitations that are necessary to send, as announcements or because of an obligation of manners. People spread out in our society and traveling 3 hours, 6 hours, 9 hours, 12 hours, days “just for a wedding” gets expensive. However, for Becci and Caleb people were willing to do just that. There were so many responses they had to change the wedding venue. Instead of getting married in the church where her Uncle preaches, Becci got married in the Auditorium of the High School where her brother teaches music. They filled the seats!
It was a beautiful event. They did a lovely job decorating the space. The service was personal and joyful. The caterers served good food to nearly 500 people and everyone ate in less than 1 ½ hours. (We tended to have meals in town at the restaurant that catered the event.) The DJ’s did a good job with the music and Orion got to dance with the bride. I even danced a little!
Being in Wisconsin, we even had time between the wedding and the reception to sneak over to the bar. There is nothing like fresh fried cheese curds for an afternoon snack! Wisconsin beer, however, is off my menu post the bariatric surgery.
As Orion so eloquently told everyone the next morning, “I have nothing but love in my heart for the newlyweds!”
As I come into 2014 I recognize that I have a lot on my plate. There are new adjustments to make in terms of income and diet and services for Orion and taking care of my own health. I have some big stressors and some exciting opportunities. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. When I start to feel this way I’ve learned that the best answer is to shift my point of view. Instead of listing the “to do” and getting bogged down I find it’s more productive to count my blessings.
1. HEAT It’s -25F outside this morning. There’s also a wind, so the speed at which frostbite happens is equivalent to a temperature closer to -40F. (THAT’s what wind chill is for those of you who’ve heard the term but never experienced the sensation.) Last week I woke up one morning to a house that was less than comfortable. My furnace had gone out.
I have a fireplace so I managed to keep the temperatures stable if chilly (55F) until the gas company could come out and fix it. I called at 830am, they arrived at about 630pm. I didn’t get my errands run, but I do have a working furnace. There are plenty of people who don’t and I’m grateful.
2. FAMILY My Aunt Donna died this fall and my Uncle Ronnie died just last week. Both of them had struggled for years with the diseases that would ultimately take them.
I am incredibly fortunate to still have both of my parents. Certainly they are aging, but they still manage to participate in their community, entertain friends and support me in innumerable ways. I treasure every moment I get with them.
My kids are a joy. I even like it when they grumble at me. I’m proud to watch As they work to establish their own lives and it’s nice to know I am still a touchstone on bad days.
My sister, the one who hosted Christmas, is so open-hearted, generous and patient it humbles me. I am blessed by the fact that family is important to her and that she’s willing to work to maintain traditions. She’s passed those values on to her children. Even the sister I don’t see much would show up if the situation was dire enough. Family you can count on is a rare gift and I’m grateful.
3. FRIENDS We got to get together with my kids’ “other mother” last week. Because of Orion’s special needs he had personal care attendants growing up. When Kauser came into our lives she was new to the country, but she took us all under her wing. Her oldest is the same age as Orion and they became “best buds”. We were pregnant together with our seconds. She went on to have a third.
When Kauser started with us Orion was 3 and over the years had my kids both on and off the clock. Because of changes in the income stream, and her other job responsibilities everything changed when Orion became an adult. We still keep in touch, but the day-to-day has slipped away. Her kids are all away at college and her husband is working out-of-state.
Seeing her and her eldest this week was like coming home. We picked up right where we left off and spent a long lunch catching up. This family would do anything for me and my kids. Friends like that are hard to come by and I’m grateful.
4. FRIENDS I have several clusters of close friends: my circle, my women’s group, my business support group. All of these (mostly women) people have supported me in various ways throughout the years. The women’s group has been a place to explore and expand spiritually and when hard times come they are an emotional support that is invaluable. The business group is the reason I managed to write my book and dared to see it published.
My circle includes the members of my coven and those friends who identify as Pagan who have supported me in the larger community. I am not a strong self-promoter and it is these people who know my teaching and presentation style who have helped me make connections stronger and broader than I ever could have on my own. I am grateful.
5. FRIENDS You didn’t think I’d forget you did you? If you’ve read to this point you are indeed a friend to my blog and therefore to me. I write for myself, but it is the support and encouragement of you, my readers, that keep me plugging away. It’s the sharing that makes it delicious, savory, and fulfilling and I couldn’t have that without you. Thank you so very much.
There is much more to be grateful for. There are so many more blessing in my life, too many to count. I am surrounded by generosity and support and warmth. That’s a good way to start the year, and also helpful on a cold Monday morning. May 2014 be filled with an abundance of blessing for us all. And may we remember to stop and count them every now and again.
Here I am smack in the middle of holiday celebrations. The solstice last weekend rang in a whirlwind of festivities. I took a small part in a public Yule ritual put on by Harmony Tribe.
This was an afternoon event and very kid friendly. I think there were almost as many children present as adults. There was storytelling about the traditions of the holiday, including flying reindeer. It was a short and simple ritual with lots of laughter and singing. I like the public events for the post ritual food. It’s an opportunity to catch up with folks I don’t see regularly. Lots of hugs and sharing.
That same evening the small coven I belong to gathered for their Solstice Rite. The Deities we were working with are travelers, migratory and so the space was filled with carpets and pillows to make a wayside rest, a caravanserai. The God in particular has a role as guardian for the shamans. Think about the neolithic caves, the walls painted with stories of shamanic travels. This God sits before the cave entrance to guard and protect those who enter to journey. So we started the rite with drumming and guided meditation seeking help to fulfill our visions for the coming year.
Feasting is a big deal in our group and we did well this year. We had smoked salmon and apples and hard cheese and fig whip. We had pork roast and venison with gravy. We had brussel sprouts and garden salad and wild rice. Desert included baklava, stollen, and sugar cookies with a poppy-seed frosting. Since I can’t find the cord that lets my camera talk to my computer I didn’t take many photos. I’m not nearly as good with the camera on my phone. I promise I’ll try to do better along the way.
Sunday was another Solstice celebration. This time with the community at Walker church. I wrote about them when the old building burned in a fire. The new church is built and just opened so we got to celebrate at the new hearth fire. Solstice is the celebration of the returning light after the longest night of the year. For this ritual start in darkness and light candles representing the blessings that have shone for us that they may light us into the new year. It’s a pretty ritual and it was a delight to celebrate with this community in a beautiful new space.
Being one of those folks who values spirituality in whatever form it’s offered I still have Christmas celebrations to come. There is cooking to do this week in anticipation of the holiday. Next Monday’s blog will give you the play-by-play of my family’s Christmas “Chopped” challenge. I even have plans for a pajama party for New Years eve!
Hope your holidays a full of love and laughter. May your travels be smooth and safe. May your holiday wishes come true. I’ll light a candle in thanks for all the warm comments you’ve left over the year. Thank you for reading! Blessed Be.
It seems early to consider things like New Years resolutions. (I don’t really work well with those anyway.) Still I seem to be getting lots of push from the Universe to review the past year and think about dreams, wishes and goals for the next. My women’s business group is working on creating our vision statements for 2014. Our Yule ritual planners have asked us to consider where we’ve been in this past year and what our hopes are for the next. Even visiting with old friends at the funeral last week and digging through the holiday ornaments put me in that reminiscent state of mind.
Luckily having a blog gives me a handy record of the past year. My first post in 2013 was about the family egg nog challenge. This year our “secret ingredient” is sugar. I have desert, which seems easy at first until you start thinking about having an impact after a full meal where every course features sugar in some form. All I’ll say is that this year I’m playing to win.
Then in February I took a trip to sunny California. Given our early sub-zero temperatures I’m looking forward to giving a workshop presentation at Pantheacon this year. March was Paganicon where Orion and I hosted the con suite. This year I’m seriously considering proposing a new workshop (that will likely cause much controversy – my middle name.) It’s good that I’m planning so many presentations since I’m really hoping my second book “When Gods Come Knocking: A Continuing Exploration of Relationship with the Divine” will be released (through Immanion Press) early in the year.
April and May were all about welcoming spring. I didn’t garden last year and I really hope to do at least a little in 2014. I also hope I’ll manage to get my taxes in early for a change. In June this year we had that big storm. I expect a little (metaphorical) storminess about that time in 2014 as well. Karina is turning 21 (my baby is all grown up!) and I’m planning to have bariatric surgery. My big wish for 2014 is to get my health back on track and that surgery will go a long way towards making it happen. My weight is aggravating my back problems to the point where some kind of surgery seems necessary. This one will potentially address more than one problem.
July and August were about adventures in camping. I’ll be recovering so it’s hard to say what will be possible in 2014, but I remember doing a lot of similar post-surgery travels in my 30’s so anything is possible. As we moved into the fall I got caught up in a rush of busy. I can hope for more of the same in 2014. Hopefully I’ll find some time out amidst the crazy. Maybe I’ll be editing my third book by then.
That will pretty much bring us around again to the holiday season. My wishes for next year are that my family will stay happy and healthy – and that I will myself on that bandwagon. I hope my writing influence expands out into the world and finds its audience. I also hope that my readers will find my work inspirational and affirming. I hope that I can do my part to make the world I live in a kind place and that we can live in beauty and bounty.
Thank you all for being with me this year. I hope you will continue to read, comment and share in the next.