In with the new…

The family — that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to. ~Dodie Smith

It is the week for taking personal inventory, isn’t it?

We are the only creatures who do this. Dogs live in the here and now, and while cats appear to hold more grudges, I doubt that they spend a lot of time beating themselves up about it. Only humans make mental checklists of their successes and failures as one year ends and a new one begins.  It’s kind of our thing. I read this week about a festival in Peru called Takanakuy, which translated, means “when the blood is boiling.”  It is an annual ritual that allows residents of the community to solve differences by beating the holy hell out of each other once a year on December 25th.

I read this and was fascinated. You can’t make this stuff up. Well. You could, but I didn’t. Google “takanakuy” if you don’t believe me.

On the day of the festival, men, women, and children gather in bullrings and engage in bare knuckle fist fighting refereed by local officials.  It is an indigenous tradition intended to really clear the air with family and friends before the new year begins.  There are only two important rules. You don’t kick an opponent when he or she is down. And once you’ve fought, you forgive and forget.  You hug it out and move on.

I guess that’s one way to settle scores. I can’t see it catching on here, but you never know.I suppose it depends on how many people you’ve had around at your house for the past week using your towels and eating all of your food and watching football and just generally being in your business.

They will all go home soon.  I promise.  And then, you will miss them. You will.  If you have young adults home visiting, they will have to go back to work. If you have college students, a new semester will begin. If you have kids home on Christmas break, they will eventually go back to school, too. And if you have grandchildren, you will clean up the mess their parents let them make in your house and be sad a week from now that there are no more sticky fingerprints to wipe off of anything.  You will take down the tree and pack Christmas away for another year. Then, you’ll collapse with a cup of tea or something stronger, proud that you didn’t punch anyone for anything.

So take a deep breath this week and count to ten. Or twenty. Or a hundred, if you must.  Count your blessings and love your dear ones.  Step away from the bullring.  You’ll be glad you did when a new year dawns, fresh and bright and full of promise.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

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Pie

It seemed like a simple enough question.

If you could only have ONE type of pie for Thanksgiving, what kind would you want? 

In asking it,  I hoped to reach a  pie consensus.  Instead, I got the following requests:

Pecan….no wait!   Pecan Fudge!!

Blueberry! Strawberry Rhubarb!

Pumpkin…no wait!  Jameson Pumpkin!

Frozen Peanut Butter! Cherry! Raspberry!

Pumpkin Cheesecake!!

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE?

I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner for twelve people.  I am pretty sure that if they had it their way, there would be twelve pies cooling in my back porch right now.

Clearly, we are pie zealots.   In fact,  if there was an organized religion we could all  join that had pie as one of its central guiding principles, we’d never miss a Sunday.  Our patron saint would be in an apron holding a rolling-pin.  There would be a smudgy spot of flour right in the middle of his forehead.  On Thanksgiving, we would light a pumpkin spice scented candle in his honor.

Okay, so maybe I’m overstating it.  But I do think that the world would be a kinder, gentler place if people baked more pies.

Cookies are a ridiculous waste of time.   Spending all that time dropping spoonfuls of dough onto cookie sheets and then waiting for each dozen to bake isn’t my idea of how to spend my life. Besides, about fifty percent of the cookies I bake are either too hard or too soft. And cakes are just kind of dumb and fluffy. How hard is it to open a box,  crack a couple of eggs, add oil and water and bake?  If I had a monkey, which I don’t, I could teach IT how to bake a cake.

But pies? From scratch?  Now pies take time, and effort, and creativity.  Every slice of pie is a flaky little fruit-filled wedge of love.

Last summer, I spent one glorious August afternoon picking wild blueberries with a dear friend. She was the perfect picking partner, and we spent hours squatting in an enormous bog picking some of the most beautiful berries I’ve ever seen.  I will remember that day for the rest of my life.  I froze a couple of bags of the berries, and this week when I made my blueberry pies, I thought of her and that day in the bog with the sunshine on our necks and was thankful for her friendship, the memory, and those berries.

On Thursday, once the dinner dishes are cleared, I will sit at the table that first belonged to my great-grandmother with most of  the most important people in my life eating my pies and be thankful for the noise and the laughter and those everyone-talking-at-once-between-bites moments  that never come often enough in any family.

Other Thanksgivings will come to mind, too.  The ones when there was always a custard pie for my grandfather, baked by my grandmother.  Holidays when it was me coming home,  not my grown kids.   I’ll look at the faces around my table and remember the babies that the set of young adult cousins there used to be.  And for another year,  I will be grateful that all five of them are happy, healthy, and whole.

The faces at my table will remind me that time passes.  That chairs left empty by the passing of one generation in a family are filled by the next, and then the next.  That life is a circle.  Like a pie.

It takes some effort to bake a pie, raise a kid, make a marriage last.  When one has been blessed with the gifts of family and health and enough of what’s important in life, it is easy to take all of it for granted.  My prayer today is that I never do.

Some day, hopefully a long time from now, someone will write my eulogy. I hope when the time comes, that I will be remembered for more good things, than bad. But if they can’t think of anything else to say, this would be enough:

“She was grateful for her many blessings.  Oh,  and that woman could bake one helluva pie.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Real mothers

November is National Adoption Month.

A few weeks ago, during a conversation with a dear, well-meaning friend, the idea that I did not have children “of my own” came up, as it does from time to time.

And so, I have been thinking of two other mothers a lot.

One mother has a son.  He was a busy baby and a crazed toddler. When he was 16 months old, he cut his head open and had to have stitches. He was a boy who made it his mission , daily, to remove all of the plastic containers from my cupboards. He was scared of things that went bump in the night. He has never fully trusted that there weren’t space aliens poised to remove him from his bed as soon as he closed his eyes. He hates peas. His friends are his world.  He is smart, honest, and loyal. A wonderful son and brother.

The other mother has a daughter.  She was a baby who sucked her thumb and followed her big brother all over the yard when she was little. She is a singer and dancer. A lover of books who gets angry when people turn the corners of pages down instead of using bookmarks. She has really small feet, which is only problematic when she can’t find anything age appropriate in the kids’ shoe section. She is a natural leader. She is smart, honest, and loyal. A wonderful daughter and sister.

Adoption is a miracle and a gift, it’s true. But adoption is also about loss.

Most women never think twice about being able to conceive a child. They decide to start a family and it happens. Women who are infertile do not have this luxury. Adopting a child makes women like this mothers, but it doesn’t take away the loss of the phantom children they thought they’d have. I think that’s important to understand.

Most women raise the children they’ve brought into the world.  Women who place a baby for adoption do not have this luxury. And so, while adoption may well be the least terrible option for a woman with no good choices, it doesn’t erase the heartbreak of losing a future with a child who is very, very, real. I think this is also important to understand.

I raised two, very real, children. I was not a perfect mother, but I did my best. And even when I was tired and crabby and overwhelmed, I loved them desperately and still do. There are only two people in my life that I would gladly stand in front of a speeding train to protect. My son is one. My daughter is the other.

Her son.  Her daughter.

And so, adoption is filled with both joy and pain. Gains and losses. This is true for everyone involved. Adoption is, in a word, complicated.

Love, on the other hand?

Not so much.

 

Mothering

Legend has it that on the day my mother delivered me, the doctor nearly lost both of us.  The permanent dent in my skull from the forceps and a shoulder blade that is noticeably lower than the other one remind me things got pretty ugly that day for my fifteen-year- old mother with the narrow pelvis. The end of the story is that her parents, not known to be big drinkers, went home that evening and drank quite a few very stiff, adult beverages. They were not celebrating my birth; they were just relieved that both my mother and I had survived it. Thankfully, blessedly, the rest of the babies born into our family arrived with a lot less fanfare. No more dents. No more crooked shoulder blades.  This is good because Lord knows we have enough to deal with in this family without everyone else walking around all crooked and dented, too.

In other news, today is Mother’s Day.  I got a beautiful bouquet and sweet texts from my two sweet kids. I brought my own mother a bouquet of orange tulips this morning and sat in the sunshine with her. And so, it has been nice day.

Even so, I am thinking of other mothers I know. The ones who might be needing a little mothering themselves today, or this week, or maybe just for the rest of their lives.  That’s what women are best at when we are at our best, isn’t it?  Mothering each other, I mean. I’m grateful to be a mother myself, but I’m equally grateful for the women who’ve mothered me throughout my life.  My mom. My aunt. My grandmother. The mothers of my friends. My own friends, too.

As far as I know, doing so was only life-threatening for one of them.

Thanks, Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

 

Rising

It is Easter morning.

The sun is rising over the lake, and high in a tree, a single bird is chirping. Lately, more and more, there seems to be a competition between my bladder and lower back as to who will get me out of bed the earliest. This was one of those mornings. And so, I have been awake for an hour, drinking coffee in a dark, silent, house.

Our birds flew back into the nest for the weekend. There will be Easter baskets to find when they wake up. They are under the mistaken impression that I do this for them. The baskets remind me that once, there were small humans living with us who giggled and bickered and left crumbs and candy wrappers everywhere like two chipmunks. Those were good days. These are good days, too. If we’re lucky, some day there will be grandchipmunks who visit and look for Easter baskets, just like their parents did. I’m crossing my fingers on this.

This morning, we will pay a visit to the Methodists and sing the hymn about Jesus rising. And then, later there will be ham, cheesy potatoes, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting here at home. After that, our chipmunks will go back to adulting, and life will return to whatever passes for normal for all of us.  The snow pile by the driveway will continue to melt, and the baskets will be stored away for another year.

And so, whoever you are, and whatever you believe about the things you believe in, I hope that this April day and the blessed re-birth that is springtime gives you more joy than pain. More laughter than tears. More togetherness, than loneliness. More singing, than silence. A chipmunk, or two, to warm your heart.

Happy Easter.

 

 

 

 

The laws of healing

I learned about pendulums and motion at the age of three when the sharp, metal seat of a swing connected with the bridge of my nose. Every summer after that, once my face was sun-tanned, a thread-like, white scar re-appeared to remind me of that day by the swing set. By the time I started school, scars the size of quarters on each knee were proof that I had also developed a rudimentary grasp of gravity and friction the hard way.

In my teen years, I had a part-time job as a cook. It was the hardest job I ever had. I have the scars from sharp knives and deep fat fryers to prove it. A girl can learn a lot about what she doesn’t want to do for the rest of her life by dumping heavy pans of french fry oil into a sticky, rancid, barrel behind a restaurant. Yuck.

As a young mom, I tripped going down some steps from the garage into the house while carrying one of my toddlers. As I fell, and to avoid landing directly on my son, I somehow managed to twist in mid-air, and landed on my right elbow instead. There was a lot of blood. Thankfully, none of it was his.

The scars we collect throughout our lives offer a road map of the accidents and surgeries we’ve endured. They remind us of the things that happened that were beyond our control. The things that terrified us and brought us to our knees. Our maps are as individual as our fingerprints. They tell our story.

I was thinking about this recently as I was visiting with old friends after the memorial service for the husband of one of our other friends. We are all women nearing the age of sixty. Losing the people we love, and comforting friends who’ve lost theirs, is the hard and yucky part of growing older. That day, I was sporting a bandage on my wrist from my most recent refresher course in the laws of physics.

Some wounds heal quickly. Before too long, the one under the bandage will be replaced by a scar that looks like an almond. We hurt, and we heal. We are torn, and then we mend. It is far more complicated for our sweet, sad, friend. Her wounds are more complex and profound. For now, we are helpless to do much for her but gather, hug, eat egg salad sandwiches, and tell her she’s loved.

Fully aware, as we pray for her healing to begin, that the scar that’s forming will reside in her heart.

 

 

Artificial toddlers

The dog is camped near the breakfast nook watching her other Human eat his lunch. We have a rule around here. She may watch us eat, but she must not bark, groan, or beg while doing so. I am a stickler about this rule. The human currently eating his lunch? Not so much. I am the fun-sucking, rule-enforcing, human mom who tries to make Lilly behave herself.  When you’re a mom, it comes with the job.

And so, you could say that she has us both figured out. In a lot of ways, owning a beagle is like having a human toddler who never grows up. Beagles test both your sanity and your boundaries on a daily basis. They are loud. They are stubborn. They spend the bulk of their days eating, sleeping, pooping, and looking for naughty things to do. You have to be a little crazy to share a home with a beagle.  But then, I guess the same could be said about most of the toddlers I’ve met. This is why God makes them cute.

A couple of weeks ago I attended South by Southwest EDU in Austin, Texas. It was fascinating. Technology has changed everything since I was a new teacher decades ago learning to thread a film strip projector.  I felt a little like Rip Van Winkle as I manipulated a beating heart using 3D technology and made a surgical incision in virtual reality. Another vendor was demonstrating personal robots or”Lovots” that use artificial intelligence to gauge human emotion and bond with the humans who take care of them. If you really want to scare yourself silly and seriously question where we are headed as a species, watch this:

https://lovot.life/en/

It’s a whole new world, my friends. A whole new world. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that humans have created machines that bond emotionally with humans. I know.  It’s a lot to digest.

For now, I think I’ll just stick with beagles who beg.

 

 

 

 

 

Baggage rules

There are times when simply admitting that you’re an idiot is your best course of action.

I remember when standing in baggage claim waiting for your suitcase, the one with the piece of red yarn tied around the handle, to bump onto the carousel was still part of traveling. Now, everyone carries their bags on to the airplane. I learned a hard lesson about what not to put in an overhead bin a few years ago when I yanked a much-too-heavy suitcase out of one and it landed on my head. I actually saw stars. After that, I got a smaller carry-on bag that I could stow under the seat in front of me. Much safer. Fewer stars. This carry-on works well for me unless I forget to double-check the baggage rules when I make a flight reservation.

Then, admitting that you’re an idiot is the best course of action. That’s what I did when I realized that I was only allowed to carry a bag on to one of two flights I had booked for the trip home. The airline employee at the gate was a woman about my age. I didn’t get ornery or make excuses. I didn’t yell, sob, or tell her how to do her job. I just looked her square in the eye and said, “I apologize. I’m clearly an idiot. Charge me if you must.” She was sympathetic. She told me she didn’t want to charge me.  I told her it was okay, Really.

It was 6 a.m. Both of our days were just starting. Hers would be filled with customers. Some nice, some not so nice. Mine would be spent traveling from one end of the U.S. to the other. By the end of the day, we’d both be exhausted for different reasons. Finally, after thinking it through, she leaned in toward me and whispered, “how about if I charge you half of what I should?” I thanked her. Then, I thanked her again as she scanned my boarding pass.  She winked. I smiled. We’d both broken the rules and were really fine with it.

This is because, while women of a certain age might all carry a certain amount of baggage, we’ve pretty much stopped worrying about what the world thinks of us.  When we love someone, we say it. When we want the extra dessert, we order it. And when we screw up, we admit it. We don’t always read the fine print or follow the rules or be as careful as we once were, but guess what? There’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with not giving much of a rip.

I met a good woman this week.

She lightened my load in more ways than one.

 

 

Light

It is the middle of February, which means that we’re crossing over to the light, sort of.

Every morning, the sun peeks over the eastern horizon a few minutes earlier, and in the evening, it hovers in the western sky a bit longer. This is good. Light is a precious commodity, as far as I’m concerned. When I work at my desk, I use a “happy light” which I’ve discovered makes me a little less maudlin and moody.  Some days, I stop what I’m doing and hold my face close to it. The dog watches me, concerned that I might be flying too close to the sun. Then she pesters me because she’s tired of being cooped up and needs more exercise. I pat her on her silky head. Me, too, I tell her. Me, too. And we take a walk.

Historically, the people I love always seem to break bones or get really sick in February.  My sister is a musician. She tells me that she plays for more funerals for older folks in February than any other month. She and I have decided that this is because while people buck up through the holidays and hold it together through January, they must see February staring them blankly in the face and think, “Good grief” and decide it’s a good time to walk toward the light. This is why, when the calendar flips, I hold my breath and hope I’m wrong about February. That the sad, crazy, painful things I associate with the month have been flukes. Just coincidences.

But here I am again, in the middle of February, and I’ve seen things. Sacred, mystical things. Hard, beautiful, things. I’ve talked an awful lot about exactly where heaven “is” with a Kindergartener. I have watched a pop-up village of friends and family arrive and embrace that Kindergartener, his sister and his mother as they are fed, and held, and loved through such a hard thing as saying goodbye. And I have been changed by it.

He was a 43-year-old transplant recipient. He received the gift of two new lungs and then, two additional years of life. Two more years of Nerf fights and bike rides, holidays and memories. “There will be miracles” is written on a sign on their living room wall.  I must have read that sign a million times in four days while I prayed for the one I wanted, but here’s the thing. We don’t get to custom design the miracles we receive, but if we are fortunate and brave, the miracles we need are granted. As I said, I’ve seen things.

The miracle might be taking a breath. And another, and another.

It might be a hand to hold. A sweet story told.

Sometimes the miracle is faith. Sometimes it is hope. Sometimes it is light.

Always it is love.

Especially during the times when we need it the most.

https://www.donatelife.net/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Believing in bears

My grandmother was not generally the story-teller in the family. She left that to my grandfather, who wove fantastic, make-believe tales for his seven grandchildren until the day he died.

A no-nonsense type of woman, her stories were usually more fact than fiction. Stories like the one about her brother’s dog who’d dropped her first litter of puppies all over the yard as she wandered, dazed and confused, one summer day. According to my grandmother, some females in every species had maternal instinct, and some clearly didn’t. The puppy-dropping mother dog was proof.

When she wasn’t baking or imparting her particular brand of wisdom, what my grandmother loved best was picking berries. She knew that bears loved blueberry patches, too, and knew that the most dangerous place for a human to find herself was between a mother bear and her cub.

The recent news story about the three-year old boy in North Carolina who went missing in the woods and was found alive in thick underbrush several days later has me thinking not only about maternal instinct, but also miracles. After his rescue, the child is reported to have told his parents that he’d “hung out” with a bear. There is no proof that this happened.  There is no proof that it didn’t happen, either.

An Angel can look like anything if she puts her mind to it. Maybe his was dressed like a bear. Or maybe his rescuers found him just in the nick of time. Maybe another day exposed to the elements would have been too much for the small boy. Maybe it was a miracle.

I believe that there are mysteries we humans aren’t supposed to be able to solve.

I believe in instinct, maternal and otherwise.

But mostly, today, I believe that if there really was a bear keeping that boy safe, that it was definitely a mama one.