Wisdom Comes Suddenly

The Sacred Now

January 24th, 2016 · 4 Comments

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As per my tradition while mourning, all pictures are from times spent hiking. Nature soothes a hurting heart.

I know, I know. We were rolling about in post-Christmas bliss, cleaning out leftovers and taking down ornaments, and you were expecting my final piece about the hostess tackle boxes I crafted. I had a funny picture of me riding Kelly’s new bike around the 1st floor at midnight on Christmas Eve, cookie in mouth, goofy expression plastered across my face…my post was gonna be ALL THAT, my friends. But life has it own “all that” ideas, doesn’t it? All that and more, as it turns out.

Greg’s friend died, and she was too young, and this past week has been…so very hard (to put the hard quite simply).

We’ve been sad. We’ve been quietly and gently processing. We’ve been loudly and jaggedly processing. We’ve been napping, because hard things make us tired. We’ve been cranky with each other. We’ve been kind to each other. We’ve been distant. We’ve been close. We’ve questioned God’s timing. We’ve praised God for allowing us to help with her final days. We’ve… once again (actually 4th again, if you’re beginning to wonder how many funerals I’ve attended since fall)…come face to face with the harsh reality that life on earth is an extraordinarily temporary gig. But mostly, we’ve spent our time cherishing her legacy with her friends and family.

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And her legacy is LONG…very, very long. In the short time I knew Denver Hutt, and although she was 15 years my junior, she taught me things which have forever changed me (again, she was a friend of Greg’s with a large community of close friends…I am just an acquaintance who turned into one of her many helper-friends in her last week). It’s a rare gift to have our lives so profoundly affected by people as bold and as wise as Denver. I witnessed first hand a young woman who didn’t complain, even while in the midst of profound suffering. I witnessed her treat nurses and doctors with a graciousness I could never muster in the face of certain death. Even while on the fringes of consciousness, she communicated to those around her LOVE. Big love. PATIENCE. Big patience. Thoughtful decision-making. Big wisdom. And BRAVERY. Big, big bravery.

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Because there was no time remaining, Denver, her family, her friends and I, were thrown into a “Sacred Now”. We could only exist in the moment at hand, and hold onto each minute as a treasure. There were no wasted words. There was no pretense. We were both helpless and courageous, as we attempted to fill the air around her with love. I watched her friends muster a maturity so many in our society would like to believe isn’t present in “the younger folks”. Oh gracious…the false caricatures we paint and assign to our generational labels. The “younger people” who graduated from college in the depth of the Recession, and therefore have career resilience beyond their years. People who know security and possessions are a mirage, and live their lives by their values instead. Say what you wish about the Millennials, but as a disgruntled X’er raised by divorced Baby Boomers, I have yet to meet a Millennial I don’t like.

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Their intense focus on the quality of their connections with people and to their community is inspiring. Denver was a phenomenal human, but she equally surrounded herself with phenomenal people. And as we sat in the quiet night, I asked of their stories. Such divine moments we shared, because as time slips away, the Sacred Now grows in its vividness. We love to mark the joy of birth, and it’s right to do so. It’s a blessing. But witnessing someone’s battle is a blessing as well. We learn arcane things which shape us into better people. We grab onto the best humanity has to offer, and allow it to seep into every crevice of our consciousness. We discover the future is a myth, and what we really have is each other; seeing, loving, and knowing one another.

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Denver’s brother so eloquently shared at her Celebration of Life, “Let us not say things such as ‘All things happen for a reason’, and therefore absolve ourselves of any responsibility in drawing meaning from her death.” I clung to those words, as they so succinctly summarized all I’ve been trying to take away from this tragedy. I WANT to be changed by the legacy of someone with so much to offer. Here is what I know:

(1) Denver didn’t whine. Whining isn’t something adults should do. If Denver didn’t bellyache about end stage cancer in her 20’s, I can tough out my ridiculously dumb medical drama. Dumb, I tell you. Really, really dumb. Don’t question me on this; I’m a nurse. We are sworn to our nursing categories: (1) You made that up, you histrionic bastard. (2) It’s a cold. Take some Nyquil and go to bed. (3) Stop giving the entire city your dumb cold. Unless you are saving the world, drink some WATER and go to bed. (4) Dumb. Irritating and persistent, but dumb.(5) Um? You should get that looked at. (6) Crap, that might be a thing. (7) Oh no. Officially a thing. This shit calls for pie. (8) Aw, HELL NO. (9) How can I help you with comfort? It’s time to get real and get things done. No more saying stupid things stitched on pillows, as we are nearing the Sacred Now. (10) “Dear Lord, reveal to me how I may of be of use walking your child home. And please, please, please…don’t let me say anything dumb.” Seriously…I know that’s why we all fear going near dying friends. We fear we’ll say something dumb. Our friends NEED us in their most vulnerable moments, and all we can think of us is our own, egocentric fear about saying something stupid. Humans are, in fact, rather obtuse. You’d think we’d get used to this.

(2) Denver made everyone in her presence feel that he/she was the only person on the planet, and she absorbed and reflected her loves’ goals and dreams. She was the world’s greatest cheerleader and had a special talent for lighting a person’s path towards their heart’s desire. This was not something she did for the special few. This was something she did for the entire city in which she lived. How often will you read multiple news stories about a 28 year old losing a battle to cancer, and journalists are able to elucidate the massive hole left in the commerce of a large city? Denver’s loss is Indianapolis’ loss, to put it in the most basic of terms. HUNDREDS of people poured into her life’s celebration to mourn not just for ourselves, but for our city.

(3) Denver sent cards. Not emails…actual snail mail cards. I have to highlight this fact, as it’s something I have always loved doing. In fact, one of the last things Denver did was sit with her best friend and write cards. I received one in the mail the very week she died, so I’ll be keeping THAT card forever. I’ll be keeping one more card: The one I wrote to her, but didn’t get to mail. It’s sitting addressed, in my kitchen. I couldn’t take it to the mailbox because I was driving like a bat out of hell to the ER to meet her. How I wish I would have thrown it in my purse. We always think we have at least one more day, don’t we? As it turns out, we had exactly 23 hours. My last text to her read, “It’s raining and I can’t find a parking spot!! Screw it. I’m giving the car away. I’m on my way into the ER doors now.” See? Cards are better. E-messages are ephemeral. Print is forever.

(4) Denver loved, loved, LOVED our city, and made it her mission to make it a better place. She wasted no time in doing so. She flung her talents about and let her passion for Indianapolis get onto everything and everyone. For many of us tired Hoosiers (tired of hayseed references, tired of flyover state comments, tired of being made fun of by folks who pay too much for housing and spend their lives sitting in traffic), this born Californian opened our eyes to the treasure of a city before us. She became a Hoosier by choice, and she forced us to revisit our treasures: Our hospitality (we assume everyone is as friendly as we are), our culture (we have a lot more than most people realize), our community (take our shared value of kindness, and add-in the belief that if you are meeting a new person, you probably have a friend in common, and you’ll have a city of people who treat each other as friends). Indianapolis is just a truly nice place to live. I know a West-Coaster with a huge box of “I love Indiana” tshirts to prove it.

(5) Denver had mottos which have become an anthem ’round these parts lately: (1) If not now, when? (2) Her final words from her final blog post: “I will ask that you smile at strangers more this week. Be kind simply because you are a kind person. Judge a little less. Hold the door open.”

If we just lived by these uncomplicated words alone, we’d make the world a better place.

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We fear change. I fear change. But I’m so grateful for the personal change I’ve experienced after this unexpectedly painful past 6 months. This change means I no longer make decisions using my old platform of filters. Example: I’ve had a weird, uncomfortable, not-so-great week. Living out Denver’s legacy, I stepped WAY out of my comfort zone and committed to helping my city in a big way. Some of it was super cool. Some of it was not. I had a moment (many moments) when I feared I’d made a huge mistake. Perhaps I should run back to my safe and quiet cottage, and let the city remain “as is”. After all, I’m sure my beloved city will be just okey-dokey without me mucking it up. But those darned new filters of decision-making!

Me: I should quit. This is harder than I planned.

Denver-isn’t-here-to-talk-me-out-of-quitting-filter: Have your passions for Indy changed? Have your goals for Indiana changed?

Me: No.

Denver-legacy-in-my-head-filter: So whassup? You’ve never quit anything in your life.

Me: Seriously, dude. This is scary.

Denver-would-be-laughing-at-my-cowardice-filter: You’re scary.

Me: Yeah! I am.

Denver-loved-Indiana-filter: You can’t quit on our city. You have to stick with it. Look at the wrinkles as an adventure.

Me: You’re totally right. I know you’re right. And I know it’s bat-shit crazy to make up conversations with people who aren’t here, but it eases the pain of the missing.

Matt-isn’t-here-either-and-that-sucks: Keep your face towards the Son. Remember? You promised.

Me: It’s WINTER! There is NO sun!

Matt-took-zero-of-my-bullshit: Don’t argue with me young lady! I mean…OLD LADY WHO I KNEW WHEN SHE WAS YOUNG, AND THEN GOT OLD, BUT KEEPS TELLING ME MY EYESIGHT IS FAILING, AND SHE’S STILL YOUNG, LIKE I CAN’T DO MATH!

Me: Can’t we all just get a beer together and pretend this whole year never happened?

Matt-and-Denver-who-never-met-but-would-agree-on-this: Grow up. Stop whining. Get to work.

 

Version 2

We spend our lives fussing about, short-circuiting over things disguised as blessings, wishing the paths were less bumpy and less full of “adventure”. We forget to say “I love you” at the end of each phone call. And most importantly, we forget how limited our stories on earth will be. Denver knew better, lived better, and modeled a better attitude than most of us will ever have. She exhibited a graciousness which left me speechless. So if I had to leave only one legacy from this past year (and I deeply thank each and every one of you for witnessing my own story, as I know we’ve been through a tough year together), it would be this:

Rush towards people whenever you can. Don’t run from grief if people you love need you, because when it comes down to your final hand: Grief is inevitable. Love is the blessing for which we came. The Sacred Now is all we really have.

Wisdom Comes Suddenly. Godspeed, my friends. As always, Godspeed.

 


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The Christmas Eve Champagne Brunch

January 3rd, 2016 · Comments Off on The Christmas Eve Champagne Brunch

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Christmas doesn’t come without Goomommy. Go ahead, Google it. I’m so right.

A better title for this gathering would be, “The Christmas Eve Champagne Brunch, Holiday Tea, a little wine, A Hot Chocolate Bar, and Oh Good Lord, why does Lori always make too much food?” Or maybe the most fitting title is, “I’d never attempt a stunt like this without Goomommy being in town for a visit. No way, no how.” I push my limits with my Mother-In-Law at my side. She helps me learn as I go, and catches me when I fall short. We like to tease each other for doing too much, but seriously, when it comes to hosting, we are SO cut from the same cloth.

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For as much work as I put into this gathering, even with the holidays at hand, I am totally making this a tradition. It was super festive, and super fun seeing my friends on Christmas Eve. Such a great way to kick off everyone’s favorite 2-day party. OK, so the planning: I sent out paper invitations, and then I just started randomly inviting people because when I get it into my head I’m going to host “a small gathering”, I usually ix-nay that plan pretty quickly. More is more at the holidays. By the end, we had 35 guests, and that was just perfect. 75 would have been great too. Or 15. Or 50. Numbers are pretty irrelevant to me, but you knew that already.

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So, the menu. Prepare yourself. I left no stone un-turned or pot unused. Or dish left in a cabinet. Or bowl. And we used all the champagne glasses.

(1) Spiced Turkey Medallions with Tomato Jam; I turned these into sliders for the party, but the bread was unnecessary. Just keep them as medallions.

(2) Sweet Potato Hash; A huge thank you to Uncle Randy for showing me how to make this amazing recipe. I’ve served it at two brunches, and well…yum.

(3) Holiday Mini-Cheese Balls

(4) Minted-Pea Crostinis

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(5) Bacon, Cheddar and Chive Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey

(6) Clementine Iced Tea

(7) A Hot Chocolate Bar; I didn’t get any pictures of this, but it was for the kids, primarily. I had Crème Brulée and White Chocolate Hot Chocolate, along with marshmallows, whipped cream, 3 types of crunched toppings, and candy canes. I “had” a hot chocolate maker and server, which I won’t do again. It was cheap, it was awesome, and it broke.

(8) Hot Teas: Black English, Peppermint, and Cinnamon-Cardamon

(9) Ice Water, Coffee, White Wine, and Red Wine

(10) A Shrimp Tray, a Fruit Tray, and a Salad

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(12) The Sweets Table, everyone’s favorite. I had mini-apple fritters, donuts, a plate of Christmas cookies, Bark Cookies, Buckeyes, a Chocolate Chip Pie, and some breads. About 99% of this was thanks to Goomommy.

(13) And of course, CHAMPAGNE (cocktails and straight up). “I only drink champagne on two occasions. When I am in love, and when I am not.” -Coco Chanel. True story.

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My favorite partner-in-crime, Kathy. We are DANGEROUSLY capable. Seriously. You should see us clean a PTA Closet. People get hurt.

But what makes a party is not what you serve, or how perfectly warmed your buffet. It’s your friends and family. My house filled with my favorite people to start the annual celebration of Jesus’ arrival. THAT’S what makes my parties so special…love. Everywhere, spilling off the counter tops and getting all over everything. The sun poured through the windows, the air was sprinkled with Christmas music on the Sonos, and it was a gigantic smile-fest for hours. I walked into Christmas Eve service feeling so full of joy and gratitude, even with laryngitis, I sang out the carols.

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If anything ever happened to Amie & Kellie, I’m fairly certain I would turn to dust immediately.

You will hear from Greg almost daily, “Is this something you’d rather ask Amie or Kellie? This feels like an Amie/Kellie conversation.”

Music, laughter, clinking of coffee cups, and just everyone so glad to have made it to the finish line. I held the party from 10 am to 2 pm, but next time I’ll do this open house style from 11 am – 2 pm. There were those with holiday plans and traditions which means they couldn’t make it. There were those who were happy to take a short break between the rush between family and church to spend a few minutes with friends. And then there’s my continued attempts to find traditions that work for my own family. My parents are dear friends, and their spouses get along very well, but they live 100 miles apart (my house sits square in the middle). And when we’re not in DC for Christmas with Greg’s parents, they are usually in Indiana with us. Plus church. Plus my sister’s family. Plus my Grandfather who isn’t healthy enough to leave his house. Plus my Aunt & Uncle who flew in. I know…most of you are expert jugglers as well. The math for me includes 5 families, 5 different religions and traditions, located in 3 different cities on Christmas. Champagne, anyone?

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Papa Bill brought work-out gym-like gifts?! NO WAY. How unexpected (wink).

This brunch allowed EVERYONE to get together in one place, without me having to spend Christmas driving all over the state. Now that my kids know the score at Christmas, I’m done spending the holiday in my car. In fact, I didn’t even get dressed on Christmas. Once Christmas Eve services were over, I turned into a hermit, which is how I like it. In fact, I haven’t left my house in 3 days. I might be growing roots.

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Craft table was only 2nd to the Hot Chocolate Table. Aren’t I glad NOW that I can’t afford furniture in my sitting room? It made for a great kid room.

I did learn a great hosting “thing” from my new friend, Amy. She’s a teacher, and invited our family to a holiday gathering at her home this season. SHE’S the one who had the super-hip hot chocolate bar, and gave each child a holiday-themed scavenger hunt upon entering the door, and then had a table set up for crafts. Greg and I couldn’t stop talking about how well entertained our children were, especially at a party where they didn’t know many people. I shamelessly copied every one of her tricks. I’ll never plan another family party without putting equal thought into kid’s activities. I’m great at “adult parties”, and I’m great at “kid parties”, but I’ve never thought about the combination of the two. I didn’t want to just banish them to the basement with a movie on Christmas Eve. Not very “festive”.

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We’re almost there gang! Next I’ll share my annual crafting post, with this year’s theme being Hostess Tackle Boxes. It was a load of fun. Maybe a weird gift? I’m not sure. It’s possible that not everyone enjoys hosting as much as I do? But you gotta try new things! Traditions start somewhere! I hope this New Year has greeted you with health. I’m at Day #14 of viral laryngitis with a weird rash. I hate viruses. But I’m not overly miserable, and I do have a clean chest Xray, so to sum up: I’m still happy with 2016. Godspeed, my friends!!


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Christmas Dinner 2015

December 29th, 2015 · Comments Off on Christmas Dinner 2015

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Friends, the journey we’re about to take over the next few days will drive you to drink (I suggest a Hot Toddy made with Basil Hayden’s Whiskey). Reviewing the work any Mother does over Christmas makes us all shake our heads in a dizzied-retrospective-collective-UGH. HOW DID WE MAKE ALL THAT MAGIC? How did we ever unbury ourselves from the pounds of ribbon and tape? How did we not become total alcoholics in front of our 100th Hallmark Movie while hot-gluing crafts? Apparently my magic is fueled by whiskey, because I put a bottle on my wish-list. Good ‘ole Dad. He always gives the perfect gifts.

Tonight, we’ll start with what I called “a simple, easy, no-fuss Christmas dinner”. My Mother-in-Law just coughed up half a lung in a most sarcastic cough. She would have laughed out loud, but along with a full belly, I gave her laryngitis for Christmas. Christmas dinner was a “tad” bit more work than I anticipated, but oh-gracious was it worth every second. I absolutely loved this meal, which is why I’m sharing it first. Over the next few days, I’ll also share my menu from the Champagne Brunch I hosted on Christmas Eve, and a run-down of how I created custom Hostess Tackle Boxes for the Teacher Gifts this year. I warned you earlier this month I was feeling better. Life got a full dose of Lori this Christmas. LIFE is probably ready for a drink of its own. My dear, priceless Mother-In-Law is also ready for a drink, after working as my Sous-Chef. That’s not the world’s easiest task, and she’s probably chopping crystallized ginger in her sleep. I love you Goomommy. I love you more than my mandolin slicer, my new cheese knife, and all of my stock pots combined.

 

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FIRST COURSE

Spiced Apple, Cranberry, and Pecan Salad (modified from a really old Williams-Sonoma Cookbook I’ve probably had since college):

1.5 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I use red or chili powder, because that’s what I have on hand)

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 cup pecan halves

3 Tbsp of sugar

1/3 cup of plain yogurt

1/3 cup of light mayo

2 Tbsp honey

1 tsp of Balsamic vinegar

5 sweet apples (I used Honeycrisp, but next time I’ll use Granny Smith)

3 large celery stalks, sliced very thinly

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 head of red leaf lettuce leaves

 

In a bowl, mix 3/4th of tsp of cumin with 1/8th of the red pepper. Set aside.

Warm oil in a small skillet, and brown the nuts for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts (the time of this varies widely, but if you walk away, it will burn and be a bitter, ruined mess). Add hot nuts to the spices in the bowl, stir. Spread out on wax paper, and when cooled completely, chop coarsely.

In a small bowl, make your dressing by stirring together the yogurt, mayo, honey, vinegar, and remaining 3/4th tsp of cumin and 1/8th tsp of red pepper. Cover and place in fridge.

Slice each apple as thinly as possible. I run it over my mandolin and then chop it into quarter inch by 1/2 inch pieces. The original recipe makes the apples pretty chunky, which makes it hard to eat, because the beauty of this salad is getting it all of the flavors with each bite. Combine the apples with the celery and dried cranberries, and then toss it with the dressing. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Service: Layer a the lettuce on the bottom, top with a mound of salad in the center (but make it pretty and rustic…not like it was made at the MCL cafeteria), and top with the nuts. I eat this salad with a knife, so I can get the lettuce plus the toppings in every single bite. SO GOOD.

 

Christmas Ham

THE MAIN COURSE

Apricot-Cherry Spiral Cut Ham

This is ROCKET science, I tell ya’. Buy a pre-cooked ham. Rinse and dry it. Pull out all the doo-hikkie things that may be attached to it. Throw out the instructions because they lie. It takes 30 minutes per pound to warm a ham at 275 degrees, I promise you. Warm it at 325 to get that down to 20-25 minutes per pound. Keep it covered with aluminum foil while it warms. My oven cooks a little cool, so you may want to keep yours to 300. Any warmer and you’ll have one, dry ham.

In a saucepan, warm a jar of apricot jam (not jelly) with half a jar of tart cherry jelly. Add a little butter and lemon juice. Baste the ham every 20-30 minutes. Serve the warmed version on the side with the dinner.

Green Beans That Pair Best With Sweet Meats or Side Dishes

Use fresh green beans and stem them. Boil for no more than 20 minutes. If you make mushy beans, take my name off your recipe and change your name to Mertle, because you-is-an-old-lady. Mix in finely sliced white scallion parts and finely chopped cooked bacon. A tiny bit of butter and salt and pepper. The onion flavor holds up well if you’re eating a sweet ham or sweet potatoes.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes With Brown Sugar & Spice (My favorite of all sweet potatoes, but I’d take them off this menu. Too much sweet. Just a plain potato with chives and some chicken broth would have worked better on this menu. Even an Herb-Roasted Red Potato might be too much. Pumpkin-Sage Grits…that’s what I’d do, or something hot with Cheddar, but small in portion size. I’ve said too much, haven’t I?)

Bake 6 lbs of sweet potatoes, pierced, on a baking sheet for 1 hour. Cool, remove from skins (those things just fall right off). Add 3/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup of cream or half and half, 6 Tbsp of butter, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp of allspice, along with 1/2 Tbsp of vanilla. Mash. Season with salt.

Place in a buttered baking dish, topping with 1/2 cup of chopped pecans. Bake about 30 minutes and serve directly from the dish.

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DESSERT

Pear Upside Down Spice Cake

I do not, DO NOT like ice cream on ANYTHING I bake. Not on pie, not a la mode, no sir. I like my desserts pristine, and unobscured by cold, iced sugar (my name for ice cream). BUT, this dessert is not sweet. It’s delicious, and very dessert-y, but it’s not sugary. Pairing it in a dish with a scoop of cold, vanilla ice cream (the real kind with the beans) was just heavenly. And after a tart salad followed by a sweet ham, this not-sweet cake was the perfect dessert.

Again, this is from an ancient, dusty Williams-Sonoma book I bought at a dollar sale in a warehouse. Williams-Sonoma cookbooks are poorly written and are made specifically to drive you to their stores for things you don’t have or cannot find. Therefore, I choose which ones I make sparingly. BUT, and this makes no sense to me whatsoever, their recipes have never failed me. Everything in this recipe can be found at a normal grocery store (crystallized ginger is easier to find at the holidays and will be near the fruit cake supplies…bleck). Molasses? Ugh. This stuff is a mess. I’ll probably substitute a dark corn syrup or a maple syrup next time. Still, the flavor of the molasses held up against these spices. If a recipe is chocked full of things you don’t own or too many ingredients with which you are not familiar, you should sniff a disaster. I love to try new things, but one at a time.

6 Tbsp plus 1/2 cup of unsalted butter

1 1/4 cup of brown sugar

4 Bartlett Pears, sliced on a mandolin or very thinly sliced longways (or use any tart, crunchy pear)

1 1/2 cups of cake flour (trust me on this one)

1 1/8 tsp of baking powder

1/4 tsp of baking soda

4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk (I used 3 parts whole to 1 part skim)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1/2 cup light molasses

1 Tbsp grated orange zest

1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350. Pull out your 10″ springform pan (See? Guess who sells springforms? I own an entire set, so stick it W-S. Unfortunately, you can’t make this recipe, or any cheesecake for that matter, without one). Line the diameter and interior sides with aluminum foil using 2 pieces. Butter the foil. Sounds nutty, but this cake turned out beautifully.

In a small, heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the 6 Tbsp of butter, and then add in 3/4 cup of brown sugar and stir until well blended. Pour into foil-lined pan and spread out evenly. Arrange the pear slices like the picture above, making 2 rows if your pears are too short to reach the center.

Sift together the dry ingredients in 1 bowl. In a 2nd bowl, combine the milk and vanilla. In a THIRD (triple ugh on the washing this recipe requires) mixer bowl, place the 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup of brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg. Add the molasses and orange zest and beat until fully combined. Mix in the dry ingredients and alternate adding the milk-vanilla in 2 batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients (thank you W-S…that is not needlessly complex AT ALL). Using a rubber spatula, fold in the crystallized ginger.

Pour over the pears without disturbing their placement.

Bake about 55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Or until the special, silver-plated cake-toothpick they sold you at W-S for $19.95 comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes ($40 W-S cooling rack optional…mine works great and cost $4). Loosen the edges with a knife, unhinge your springform, and turn it out onto a cooling rack. Cool for 30 minutes.

I know I give Williams-Sonoma a hard time for being so overpriced, but I’m in love with this cake. I’m so tired of overly sweet cupcakes and pies with quadruple the sugar needed to enhance the flavor of the fruit. “Sugar” is not a flavor. I was so excited to finally find a dessert that isn’t chocolate covered chocolate with chocolate filling.

Hang in there with me (or hangover…I’m not here to judge), and we’ll keep eating. I mean…reviewing…what we ate. We ate so much. Oh God. We did, didn’t we? Wasn’t it just FABULOUS? Missed you guys. Hope your Christmas smelled as amazing as mine did. Godspeed us into the New Year!!

 


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This Lingering Fall: A Free Verse Poem About Depression

December 9th, 2015 · 2 Comments

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All pictures taken during my long hikes this Autumn

Depression. Even the word itself sounds like a thud. Like falling down a rabbit hole; but not the vividly colorful, manic hole Lewis Carroll described. Depression is darkness on the way down, with continued darkness at the bottom. One, last look at my family, and the falling began. Amazing how one can shift into automatic for weeks on end, playing at the game of life, as if it’s happening, while the mind is elsewhere.

 

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This hole and I have met before. After my parent’s divorce. After Sara’s birth. After the 2nd skin cancer treatment? Or the third? Suit up and ride the wave. First the silent, painful tears at bedtime. The stabbing in my chest. Then the 5 am wakings. Then the 2 am wakings. Then the insomnia. Last, but not least, the nightmares, which were blessedly brief this trip, because when they come, I occasionally skip sleep altogether. Writers have vivid nightmares, a truth kept quiet in circles of creative minds. Some things are better left unsaid.

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But then the Fall lingered, in a beautiful, magnificent way. Every single day sparkling like Jesus had kissed the air himself. Daily naps pressed me to my bed, pulling me from the sun. But one day, the walking began. And the continuing of this thing we call “breathing”. And the trusting this season of my life would pass. 10 years in Psychiatric Research…I am trained to KNOW episodic, life-event-induced depression passes. I couldn’t feel it, but I knew it. When? How long could this go on? Every day was an eternity of exhaustion and tasks too hard to manage. A single load of laundry = climbing a mountain.

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Tears stopped, switching to a pain building in my chest. After years of counseling friends that grief brings out the worst in people, and to pray for grace and patience, it was my turn in the grief-seat. My words flew away like trash in a windstorm. It’s a horrible study in human behavior to learn which of your “peoples” will stick by you during the hard. Some came and refused to leave, especially Greg. Grace pouring out of him, hydrating my soul day after day. Calls from Amie which never fail, no matter how many Oncology appointments her Momma has, the lunches with Kellie and Shayla, forcing me to shower (but sometimes pretending not to mind I looked and smelled like old seafood. And because Kellie JUST lost her Momma, sometimes I feel we just sat with food we didn’t want to eat, looked at each other, and silently communicated, “HOLD ON. We have to just KEEP GOING.”). The hugs from friends brave enough to look into my eyes and say the words, “I know. I know.” But some friends rang bells which cannot be unrung. Those stories haunt me; losing witnesses to our lives should be mourned. The inability to cry nearly choked me during the hard.

 

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But the sun. That lingering, gorgeous Autumn sun! It followed me everywhere I went, and seemed to shine right onto my face, no matter which way I turned. Matt said comforting and funny things into my heart. I felt his joy in heaven, his freedom from a contracted, stroke-ridden body. His contagious smile, his eyes as blue as an imagined sea, and his boisterous laugh…telling me the sun keeps rising on me for a reason. GET UP. GO DO THE THINGS YOU WERE MEANT TO DO. And don’t say anything you’ll regret. Friends will let you down. This is not new information. Move on. Still. Every day…he was missing.

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The moving forward…a very dark trip to my childhood farm to say goodbye to my Uncle. The closing of my esophagus where the emotional pain became physical. I finally fell to my knees and wept. Tears in which I fought against this lingering fall, this dying season, this ending of my season of service. Greg scooped me up, and took me home. Thanksgiving was waiting to hug us with its familiar scents (which I could barely swallow, but thank you to my doctor for trying all things possible to quell the heartburn. Getting me to admit my heartburn was partially due my heart feeling like it was on fire, and perhaps along with some Pepcid, I could use an antidepressant.) I returned renewed, calm, knowing the thick fog of fall was passing.

 

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I am slowly re-entering my life, carefully. A tiny bit fearful a misstep will trip me back down the hole, but so far, I am good. I’m me, inside me, reflecting me back to me. Those whom have experienced the lifting of depression are laughing inside their hearts, knowing exactly what those words mean.

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The last, long walk through 5 canyons. I walked through a lifetime in my mind on that hike. My precious teen years with Matt. My childhood on the farm, with my Uncle at the head of the family. My life fully decorated by my Grandfather, now too weak to shower while standing (watching someone lose their life 1 centimeter at a time is some HARD). Swirling around me like a rock in a river, with our joined histories flowing past me. Past me, never to return.

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Climbing out of the last canyon, the wind began to blow wildly, leaves flew all around, hiding the steps before me. After a day of hiking in the shade, the sun was fully on my face, as it had been the day of the hayride when Matt died. That awful afternoon when I couldn’t reach him, and I was so struck by the evening sun in my face, I took pictures, wondering what was afoot in the Universe. That moment of climbing onto the tractor when I fully heard in my heart, “I simply cannot go on. My body cannot keep going.” I stopped in my tracks, and looked up at the sun, and could not understand why these words were front and center on my mind. I did not yet know Matt was gone. I did not know those words were his words.

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That last canyon. Matt now shining as the sun, saying his final goodbye on that last hike of the Fall. The-Fall-That-Lingered. His last words to my heart : “Keep walking towards The Son. Hear me, Lori. THE SON. It’s all about walking towards The Son.” My final promise to this season which has forever changed me. I will. I will walk towards the Son.

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All seasons come to an end. The snow has come. The Christmas tree is up, along with countless rubbermaids of “stuff”. And I feel joy, so grateful the anhedonia has passed. Depression happens, and we must happen right along with it. I miss my life before the Season of Service, but I’d never undo it. We’re here for one reason: to be together, in support of one another. There is no other way than kindness, even when it comes at a very high price. We will all lose witnesses on our journeys. We will all lose our way in grief from time to time. When the story turns dark, just turn towards the Son. Godspeed, my friends. As always, Godspeed.

 

 

 

 


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We Take A Break From Our Normal Programming…

October 29th, 2015 · Comments Off on We Take A Break From Our Normal Programming…

DSC_0046I’d love to pump you full of happy tales about how I’m feeling GREAT and everything is GREAT, but in light of the fact that it’s total bull, I’ll skip being a fake shiny, happy person. Matt’s funeral was lovely, and will be followed shortly by my Uncle’s funeral, and Grandpa has decided he’s done leaving his house. For…ever. Halloween technically starts tomorrow with class parties, and as we all know, KELLY DOES NOT CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN. She does get a costume, but she DOES NOT HONOR this HOLIDAY FROM HELL. Her screaming started sometime last week and has yet to cease. Her teachers had to call me last week to get proof of life, as this Halloween season is now paired with a phobia that her Mother is going to die. Gosh. Can’t imagine where she got that fear. At any rate, I’m playing a manic game of catch up while fighting the constant need for depression-induced naps, while Kelly is running around with her psyche on fire. And Sara got braces this week. It’s…colorful…here. Things are…uncorked.

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So, in light of our current state-of-affairs, and my reticence to post some maudlin tale about walking through canyons and finding the meaning of life (give me a week on that one; I haven’t the energy to drag us through the 5-canyon hike tonight), I’ve decided we could all use some Kelly-stories. Especially Kelly.

Tonight at dinner:

Mommy: Did anything good happen today?

Kelly: Sara and I invented a new game called “College”! I LOVE IT.

Mommy: How do you play college?

Sara (very nonchalantly, because now she has braces, and that’s just COOL): Oh…you know. We go to class and then we do college-things. Things you do at college when you’re not in class.

Mommy: [Insert my mind on a mad-race through 4 amazing years: Is she referring to quarter taco night? Quarter beer night? Dancing at The Chug? Sorority Dances? Fraternity boys? OH GOD. Please not ANY of these things. Spring Break? NO. Definitely NOT that. Studying all night? Please say that. Say you’re studying. Wildly glance over to Greg who has the blank stare of someone who attended a Military Academy. He’s imagining marching? Making beds? WHO GOES TO THESE COLLEGES?! AND WHY DO THEY GO THERE?!]

Mommy (matching nonchalant with even MORE nonchalant, because I’ve had ALL the braces): Huh. Things you do when you’re not in class. Such as?

Kelly: Oh you know, the usual. Talking about Shakespeare and going to Science Dances.

Sara: I LOVE Romeo & Juliet.

Daddy: What does one do at a Science Dance, as opposed to something you do at a? NON-science dance?

Kelly: You drink bug juice named after caterpillar guts.

Mommy & Daddy: OH. Huh. OK then. Science dances. Shakespeare Club. That’s great. That’s very…college-y.

Mommy: Anything else good happen today?

Kelly: YEEEES. I sat with all of my friends at lunch and played Crazy I-Spy.

Daddy: OK. I’ll bite. How does one play CRAZY I-Spy, as opposed to say, REGULAR I-Spy?

Kelly: It’s JUST like I-Spy, only you can spy things that AREN’T REALLY THERE.

Mommy: Your friends have to look inside YOUR MIND?

Kelly: YES! And they are very good at it. But you have to spy something that would normally be in everyone’s mind. Like…you can spy an orangutan, even if it’s not IN the cafeteria. Everyone has SEEN an orangutan, so it’s IN all of our minds!

Mommy: This seems difficult.

Kelly: Not at all. Olivia totally guessed it.

Sara: But you can’t see things which are RARE. For example, you can see a butterfly, and you can even see a Buckeye Butterfly because they are found in the Midwest, but you can’t see a rare butterfly found only in the Amazon.

Mommy: How do you know where to draw the line?

Kelly: EASY! Monkey, but NOT the Proboscis Monkey. See?

Mommy: Um? What on earth is a Proboscis Monkey?

Kelly: It has a huge nose. You really should read more Ranger Rick Mommy. You’d lose pretty quickly at Crazy I-Spy.

Daddy: YEAH MOMMY. Why aren’t you studying Ranger Rick? In your free time?! Proboscis Monkey! DUH!

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LAST WEEK AT THE ORTHODONTIST:

Mommy: Doc, Kelly has been VERY nervous about having her teeth checked by you. We’ve told her it’s just a check, that she’s not ready for braces.

Doc: No Kelly, it’s not time for you to get braces. We’re just checking your Dentist’s Xrays and counting your teeth. It will be quite some time before you’re ready. We’re keeping an eye on your teeth just because your sister is already here, getting her braces.

Kelly: Well, that’s good, because my friend told me I’d have to get an Expander, and I’ve been very worried. So this morning, I played a game to distract myself. It got a little violent. I was a bear-hunter, and was made the Queen of Japan. THEN, I became a Minister. It was awesome, until my congregation ACCUSED me of being Jewish!

Mommy: WHAT?! What. Kelly! What does that mean?

Kelly (hand raised in some odd sign of 8 year old solidarity): ACCUSED ME, I SAY!

Doc: [Stunned silence]

Mommy: Synagogues have Ministers, Kelly.

Kelly: Mommy, I’m Jewish. I think I would know.

Mommy: You’re Presbyterian.

Kelly: That doesn’t make sense. My congregation was Methodist.

Sara: EVERYONE CALM DOWN. Kelly has been trying to convince all of us she’s Jewish for many years, because she figures if she celebrates Hanukkah AND Christmas, she’ll get more gifts. Kelly doesn’t the know the difference between any of these words, she just wants more stuffed animals. She knows her Jewish friends get a holiday all to themselves, and she’s jealous.

Doc: Well. That’s actually pretty smart. Who wouldn’t want more gifts?

Kelly: SEE? The Orthodontist understands me! I’M JEWISH!

Sara: Wait. Wasn’t I baptized Lutheran? What does that make me?

Mommy: Honey, I’m a Baptist, so don’t ask me. Now that our new Orthodontist team thinks we’re totally wacko, let’s move on, shall we?

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I hope these stories made you laugh, as they’ve certainly brightened my week. I hope your week has been easy, and full of sunshine. And sincerely, I hope no one died or became home bound. But if they did, take lasagna and a movie. You might find yourself laughing until your sides hurt, on a random Thursday afternoon, in the living room of a 90 year old, wishing you could stop Father Time. We take this break from our normal programming to count the many blessings surrounding us: a beautiful autumn, an understanding school overflowing with a loving community of people, the continued wit and cognitive strength of my waning Grandfather, the communion I’ve been sharing with friends old and new, and the hope that Thanksgiving will bring some wisdom as to why this year was a part of my journey.

In the meantime, Godspeed my fellow travelers. Godspeed.

 

 

 

 


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Never Judge A Guardian Angel By His Cover

October 19th, 2015 · 4 Comments

Matt13

I had been trying to call Matt and couldn’t reach him, when this setting sun captured my attention on a hayride. I didn’t know this picture was his text message back to me.

I did it. I Chaired Grandparent’s Day at school. 400 guests, 60 volunteers, countless hours of prep, a full breakfast, program, grade-level activities, and favors. And coffee. So much coffee. I came home after the wild day in a daze, slipped on my favorite, rather ratty, grey cashmere sweater that has become my uniform this past week. As I looked around for the cozy slippers I am perpetually misplacing, I began the slow dance of picking up from what is known at our house as “event week”. Coffee mugs in every room of my house. Glue bottles, pounds of craft paper…sticky notes on every surface. I have no idea what I ate in the last 7 days, but I have some serious heartburn.

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I put down my sausage gravy and biscuits long enough to take this picture. Heartburn Clue #1.

I found an empty wine glass on my bathtub’s edge, and I sat down and let the tears fall. Filling my robe pockets with Kleenex, I headed into the attic, where I found another empty wine glass on my desk. I couldn’t find the energy to contact even one more person, as I sat down to stare at an inbox full of messages. My phone? Fully blown up. Texts and emails all saying, “WHAT THE?” Congratulations on a great event, and “WHAT THE?!!!!

What just happened? HOW did it happen? My mind refused to slow down and fully embrace the reality that after months and months of caring for my dear friend Matt, he passed away very suddenly this week. He finished in-patient physical therapy. His clotting levels were all in-check. His meds were refilled. His house was prepared and meal delivery arranged, and after 4 months away from his own home, HE GOT THERE. Thousands of miles journeyed to have life-saving surgeries, months of recovery full of setbacks and challenges, and he went home in better health than he’d seen in years. He was home less than 2 days when a massive stroke took him away from us. And I was left to host the event he helped me plan.

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Matt was not overly-excited about my themed utensil holders on his buffet line, but had he seen them in their full glory, I think he would have agreed…FABULOUS.

It was a huge blessing Goomommy flew to town a day early, because she was at my side when the call came. She was there to rush the girls out of the room as I lost my marbles with Matt’s sweet, sweet sister, “SAY SOMETHING ELSE! Say ANYTHING else!” She was there when the note cards had to be folded, when the pennant banner had to be finished, and when the floral arrangements had to be made. I couldn’t begin to count the friends who flew into school to help me finish the prep. Alyssa and her Mom hung 1000 feet of pennant banner (when you make that much, you measure it). Greg gave his full logistics-talent towards getting 450 packs of note cards wrapped in ribbon. QUICKLY. Jane kept my head together the moment I simply couldn’t. Dan made the coffee when the coffee delivery guy screwed up my order. Laura stood at the ready with my list to check off every last detail, making me appear as if I had it all under control. Sumi should have been packing for her trip, but came in to make favors instead. Tammy did the same. Kathy did everything but give me oxygen. Wait. Kathy may have actually had to give me oxygen at some point in the last week. Kellie dropped everything and brought me a blueberry-peach pie (sorry, I’d offer you a slice but I ate it all). Kristin just kept doing and doing and asking to do more. Courtney made so many things I didn’t have the concentration to finish. And of course Holly, Rob, and Taylor just did what they do best: everything. They DO EVERYTHING. I’ve forgotten names. Heck, I’ve forgotten half the things I’ve said in the past week.

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Decorative Vases x16, all with welcome signs in different languages. My Zhuzh-Pots rise again!

Amie (who had to take that very difficult first call from me), Jessica, Cindy, Michelle, Marie, LaTonya, Christina, Mayuko, Leigh, Julie, Zoey, Melissa, even the Middle School Division sent me helpers. Carrie. Especially Carrie who has stuck with Matt through thick and thin these past several months, showing up to keep us company, staying late on the back porch laughing with Matt, dropping everything to meet us for lunch. Carrie is a friend’s friend, always has been. Every time I turned around, someone had my back. Someone was there to catch me. Matt was there to catch me. I won’t bore you with the hundred little ways he surrounded me, but I promise you, he was there. He was so.very.there.

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My friends saving my event while I cried on the phone with half of my hometown. You can cry and tie ribbon at the same time, this much I’ve learned.

When the last glass was washed, and the last mess was put away, I sat down and reflected what it meant to share so much time with Matt these last several months. Because trust me, it was hard to get past God putting us through such hard times, just to take him home. The hint at wisdom started with Kelly:

Kelly: You say Matt is with God, but how do I even know God is real?

Me: Well, God’s existence is like Matt. He was JUST here. You could reach out and touch him at the dinner table just last week. He was standing to greet you after school not more than 10 days ago. You gave him a gigantic hug. He was there. And now he’s not. Matt isn’t any less real just because we can’t see him. God isn’t any less real than Matt. He’s just somewhere out of our sight.

Kelly: OH! So that’s how it works. Matt will see his buffet even his he’s not there Mommy. This whole God-thing makes more sense to me now.

Sara: Seriously Mommy? She believes in Stuffed Animal Land, but she’s struggling with GOD?

Me: Zip It Duck.

Sara: Good call.

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The first time I introduced Matt to the girls, you could have registered the shock on their faces. He came walking out of a bar, legs covered in tattoos, walking slowly with a cane, arm contracted, his clothes packed in a ripped shopping bag, smoking a cigarette. I laughed out loud. That’s Matt. He’s a stubborn old Vet who proudly lives alone, no matter how hard it had become for him. He had help (his cousin will be SAINTED when he gets to heaven…SAINT-ED, along with his sister), but DUDE…Matt’s stroke a few years ago and his failing health had taken its toll. He’d tried time and time again to quit smoking, but the stress of losing his parents and losing his health had worn him out. If he apologized once, he apologized 100x times for mistakenly allowing the girls to see him smoke. He didn’t want to be a bad influence. I laughed out loud, “Matt, you’re a barely-walking anti-smoking campaign. After seeing what you’ve been through, they won’t EVER smoke!” We were known for teasing each other without mercy.

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Goomommy bravely beginning the pennant banner which I created (with A LOT of help) because I didn’t want to throw away scrap paper. 1000 feet of scrap paper. Good heavens.

He jumped in the car and immediately asked them if they were “Knuckleheads”. They liked Matt immediately. Kids are smart. They can separate quickly the adults who CAN talk kid-ese, and those who can’t. Matt was fluent. Plus, he bought them loads of milkshakes. If we were picking up Matt, it was a guarantee he had chocolate in his pockets for his little Knuckleheads. His speech was slower, so he listened longer. His advice came after serious thought, and was carefully worded. And if he wanted to coach them through a problem in their day, he never repeated himself. They were skeptical a guy who couldn’t lift 5 lbs could teach them to bowl, but by the end of 2 games, they were rolling strikes. As we left, Matt was missing. Sara headed outside and said, “Matt! We know you’re out here smoking! Finish up so we can go home. WE KNOW YOU SMOKE KNUCKLEHEAD!

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After some rough months (Gulf War Syndrome SUCKS, my friends), Matt’s health improved. He began showing up in ironed khakis and polos, just as he had worn in high school. His hair was washed and combed. We hosted a dinner party. His PT-athletic wear returned to the preppy-style he preferred, and he no longer needed an oxygen tank to climb stairs. He was finally able to get out and about, and I began checking him out of PT for longer stretches. He had the energy to cheer Sara through a Cross Country practice (“She’s a natural! She’s a born runner!”) I thought he was crazy, but he was so bored, he begged to come to Event Planning meetings. In what turned out to be his final days, a stubborn, unmarried, childless Vet joined the PTA. I thought he might be losing his mind, but as luck would have it, he loved it. He spent decades working in the Food & Beverage industry, and Matt KNEW how to host an event. Getting 400 Senior Citizens through a buffet they’d enjoy in a short span of time was nothing for him. He took my plans, threw them out the window, and rewrote my playbook. In the last 2 months, and for the first time in almost 30 years, Matt stopped smoking. He was still using e-cigarettes, but he no longer craved actual cigarettes. [This had nothing to do with the PTA, and everything to do with a thyroid setback which caused him to forget for a brief time he smoked at all. Some setbacks come with gifts.]

His menu was a tremendous success. Despite my puffy eyes and fragile state-of-mind, the event went very smoothly. You would not have known I was working with a 100-lb weight on my chest. But when I returned home with nothing on my schedule: it hit me quite hard: Matt is gone. I worked tirelessly to nurse him back to health, and it didn’t work out like I planned. Matt moved to heaven, leaving me with a bottle of whiskey, and a dinner party without a guest of honor.

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Oatmeal Bar, Yogurt Bar, Fruit, Danishes, Sausage Gravy & Biscuits. BAM! In budget! Great for people with limited diets (and possibly limited teeth). Options for diabetics and affordable proteins. Easily and quickly feeds 400 if set up correctly. Tier your pastries because you know everyone will want to grab a pastry. Holds up great on a buffet line. Matt knows his customers.

But then the girls started talking, and remembering, and crying, and hugging…and I realized: God didn’t send me to help Matt. God sent Matt to help me:

My daughters learned God is REAL. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. No…don’t. I was being ironic.

You can’t judge people based on how they look.

Friends might come from unlikely places. Get to know people. They might surprise you.

Just because you’re too sick to pack a suitcase, it doesn’t mean you don’t have value to add to this world.

It is important to take care of people, even if it’s hard.

It’s OK to risk caring for really sick people, even if you might cry in the end.

Hanging out with someone who “knew you when” might feel amazing. Not all of us have deep roots to our childhood, but some of us have friends who were like family when we needed it most. You’re never too old to run about town with the windows down, blasting The Cure with an old pal from High School.

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I can’t decide if we were never this young, or how the hell did we get so old?

Smokers trying to kick the habit like candy. Kids like candy. I am ready for a break from taking these Knuckleheads on record-breaking candy runs to the drugstore.

Sundays at nursing homes are lonely, and you should bring cake.

Stubborn-Old-Vets might be amazing singers, and might know an unbelievable number of Broadway musicals. Kids who have recently discovered the awesomeness of Broadway Musicals might find this trait quite appealing in a dude who walks with a mysterious cane.

God doesn’t care if you have vices. He loved Matt, and Matt loved him.

People go to heaven on God’s timing, not on ours. We’re not in control here. Better to just get your head around it and realize grieving is part of the human experience.

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The girls and I climbed an apple tree and stared up into the sky for over an hour. They said they could see all the way to heaven from this spot. Agreed. Me too.

In the end, I don’t question God’s timing. Matt may have regained independence and better health, but he was never going to drive again. He was never going to be healthy enough to work full-time. His cane and partially contracted side were forever friends. He had plans for his future, but they would include mountain-sized challenges. I can feel Matt’s joy in heaven, where I’m sure he’s playing football, singing in a band, and watching movies with his parents.

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It keeps going and going and going…

I’m in pain, and I’m sad. I’m left with this space I carved out for an old friend, and it’s going to take time to stop looking out over the week, and pushing away the grief that my “Matt-Days” are over. But he left me with much to treasure; much more than memories, much more than time well-spent. Matt gifted us these final lessons, and we cannot unlearn what we know. We are forever changed, and blessed for having brought him into our lives.

The girls just gained a Guardian Angel who probably convinced St. Peter to let him bring his Gulf War Veteran hat into heaven. He doesn’t curse, and he never gossips, but he probably needs a haircut, he HATES doing his own laundry, and if there’s a smoking section in heaven, he’s probably there. Don’t judge. I’m certain my daughters won’t.  Matt taught them to look past the trials of being human and see the beauty buried within each of us. Wisdom Comes Suddenly.

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Thank you Matt. You saved me during a very difficult time decades ago, and it felt amazing to return the favor. I’ll save up these stories and we’ll catch up when I get there. YOU HAD BETTER GET ME IN. Seriously. Now I know a guy. If I’m super old and you no longer recognize me, I’ll be carrying a bag of candy bars from Walgreens, and your favorite lunch, a Cobb Salad. HOW is that your favorite lunch? That’s just weird. HEY! My new favorite combo: waffle fries and chili…oh…man. You totally would have understood that combo. Wait! Heartburn Clue #2. [Insert Matt’s snarky way of lifting half a smile and giving me a half a laugh at my goofy jokes.] Love you Sweetheart (his last words to me). Godspeed, Old Friend. Godspeed.

 

 

 

 


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Kids Are Terrible Roommates

September 29th, 2015 · Comments Off on Kids Are Terrible Roommates

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I’ll admit I made a huge mistake when the girls were born by allowing myself to see them as equal partners in our family dynamic. Postpartum Depression plays with your logic, this much I learned the hard way. I assumed our kids would immediately recognize they won the lottery of parents, and we would be a cohesive little team of shiny-happy-people. Dreamy family life? CHECK. BAM.

I’m laughing out loud just writing it.

So you can imagine my shock and awe in the years that followed. Creatures born without the ability to lift their own heads do not come programmed with team building features. Duh. It’s called SCIENCE. Even now, after years of being schooled by these trail-mix spewing mini-mammals, I find myself slipping into my old assumptions. Last night as I picked up my 1000th random, dirty sock, found in the most unlikely of places, I said to Greg, “Kids are the world’s WORST roommates”. Oh, how we laughed.

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10 Facts Proving Kids are NOT Roommates:

(1) If the girls’ bathroom rug becomes crumpled, they will walk on it half-rolled up and wet indefinitely. I’m fairly certain if I don’t straighten out that rug, they’d leave it like that until college. In fact, I’ll bet they’d take it to college, and put it down on the floor, crumpled and dirty. If anyone asks, they will reply, “That’s how we do it in our house.”

(2) If there is an event in their life which necessitates a change of clothes while out of the house, on the way home from said event, they will dump out any extra items from their bags all over the car. School Picture day followed by Cross Country Practice? All formal clothes can be found buried under the seats a week later. If rain is in the forecast or a change in temperature, all layers will be discarded into the hatch with no intent of retrieval. And in case of a sock emergency, kids carry pairs of mismatched socks in hidden backpack compartments for YEARS at a time. Cleanliness of emergency sock-stashes is optional.

(3) There are 2 kinds of kids: those who refuse to wear a coat at any time, including blizzard weather, and those who must carry 2 coats with them at all times, including mid-August when the average temperature is 100 degrees. I have one of each because God knows better than to let me idle. Reasoning with this non-human trait is a waste of time. They are HOT! They are COLD! They are kids, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that kids are ALWAYS UNCOMFORTABLE. In all fairness, if I were perpetually covered in bike accident bruises and mosquito bites, AND my teeth were falling out, I might be uncomfortable too.

(4) If you tell your child your only requirement is she go to school in clean clothes with hair and teeth brushed, that child will wait until you’re having a horrible morning with a sibling (and therefore completely distracted), and will saunter out of your minivan wearing filthy sweatpants pulled out of the laundry with a rat’s nest for hair. And you just KNOW she didn’t brush her teeth. She’ll look back at you and smile. Stinky Child: 1, Momma: 0. Why does the scoring work like this?! SHE’S THE ONE WHO SMELLS LIKE GARBAGE?!

(5) I can sum up kid-roommates with 5 words: Wet towels on the floor.

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(6) If you buy the entire family BPA-Free water bottles of their own choosing, kids will drink ONLY out of the parents’ water bottles. They won’t refill them. They won’t have an explanation as to why they don’t use their own, no matter how many times you locate their water bottle whereabouts, wash them, and refill them.

(7) Kids take all the money. ALL.THE.MONEY. Where there used to be money, there are now receipts. I have purses overflowing with grocery receipts, and no matter how many times I clean out and log them into the budget spreadsheet, there are millions more crowding up my purse. If adult roommates took my money and left me with nothing but receipts for clothes I can’t wear and food I don’t eat, I’d kick them out. And when they left, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to hide my water bottle under lock and key.

(8) I lived with Amie for the better part of a decade and I never looked under her bed. Not once. Well…once. Her nephew heard we were taking him to the State Fair, freaked out, and hid under her bed. See? THE ONLY TIME I HAD TO GET UNDER AMIE’S BED WAS TO RETRIEVE A 4 YEAR OLD! If you have kids for roommates, “Under Bed Checking” is a real thing. “Things kids put underneath beds”; I can’t even. Fine. You asked. HUMAN HAIR. Maybe theirs? Hopefully not mine? Why do kids cut their own hair and then hide it? It’s a mystery ranking right above Stonehenge.

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Me & Amie, 1995. We-were-AB-FAB.

(9) Speaking of of living with adult roommates, Amie never puked on me, pooped on me, screamed in my face when I handed her cough syrup, or informed my significant other of my bathroom habits. Children will gladly tell anyone within earshot about that time you didn’t make it to the bathroom while stuck in a traffic jam. Can you imagine my 30 year old Roomie showing up at my office and loudly announcing, “Lori poops in her minivan!!!”? A kid will totally do that. A kid would give up their allowance to be allowed to do that. That ain’t right, you’all.

(10) Amie never walked in from a long day at work and yelled “SNACK!!!” at the top of her lungs while carrying a snack I bought for her, followed by the words, “I HATE THIS SNACK YOU PACKED!!! YOU NEVER PACK ME THE GOOD SNACKS!” Because who does that?! In reality, upon returning home from a long day, Amie often asked, “Popcorn and box wine for dinner?” Why yes! That sounds lovely Amie. Shall I pour while you pop? Remember that time we screwed up the spout on the wine and had to drink the entire box in one night? It was leaking and we didn’t own a pitcher! Oh Amie. Good times, good times.

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Yesterday was a tough parenting day. Perhaps you guessed. Their dentist whispered the words “Orthodontic Consultation”, and I don’t know what they HEARD, but it must have been, “You obviously got these kids on sale at the Stork Store. They are defective and will require years of painful interventions at the Teeth Torture Doctor.” I was caught off guard considering their dentist and her entire team are like beautiful angels of sweetness. Kids wear sunglasses to break the glare of the lights while watching movies of their choosing at the dentist. It’s more like a dental spa. I make appointments so I can relax and watch Rehab Addict. I’ve considered taking up a gummy bear habit, just so I can hang out there.

After hours of melodrama-madness, they finally calmed down and apologized for their less than stellar manners at the dental office. After answering their billionth tooth-related question, we curled up with some books, and talked in depth about the allusions to larger themes in “Brown Girl Dreaming”. We talked through the complex beginning of Sara’s newest assignment of “Tuck Everlasting”. Kelly happily spent her homework time drawing the differences in wavelengths from the sun hitting the earth’s atmosphere which create a blood moon, raising my hopes that a work ethic is buried somewhere within her.

The tough day ended well. I was able to reflect and consider my faulty assumptions about sharing a home and life with children, this time over a glass of wine poured from a bottle, my box days behind me. When you sign on your first mortgage, the adultier adults take your box of wine, hand you a bottle and 2 kids, and wish you well. You walk outside and discover your Infiniti sports car (which you really couldn’t afford) has been replaced with a beat up minivan. You open your purse to grab your keys and find you have no money, but you do have a receipt for a new corkscrew and an unreal amount of healthy granola bars. But I digress.

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While reflecting, I realized kids aren’t born knowing how to dress for the weather, clean a house, keep the inside of car empty enough that we can sit on the seats, BEHAVE IN PUBLIC, brush their hair, or politely request their preferences. They have an odd understanding of ownership in which no one can touch their stuff, but they feel they have full license to take other family member’s stuff. This misunderstanding alone can take decades to iron out. I know adults who can’t properly put away laundry, and yet I expect my kids to do it well? I suppose if I were perpetually uncomfortable with no ability to drive myself home, I’d over-pack. I’d throw stuff about a car in case I needed it later. I think I’d still brush my hair and wear clean clothes, but I guess I should cherish the days before the “caring about what everyone thinks” sets in.

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It’s hard being a kid. It’s hard being a parent. Between the 4 of us and 4 cats, it seems a lot of things are getting broken lately. I want to be patient about the 2nd broken sugar bowl, the chips in the walls, and the smells…so, so many smells. But some days are just hard. It’s hard not to imagine living in a spotless apartment with Amie was easier. It wasn’t. Amie and I both agree we’ve forgotten paychecks smaller than the bills, the fear of being single forever looming over us, my hatred of doing dishes, and our mismatched morning schedules. Between the giggles, cheap wine, popcorn, and all-night MTV Real World Marathons, we are blissfully happy in our memories.

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I got up today and tried to actively, gratefully…chose our current reality. I choose this family…us. All 8 of us, mess and stink included. Kelly awoke still certain I’d forget to pick her up from school, despite never being forgotten. Sara had to be pulled out of bed by her feet. The usual. Rufus spends his mornings on ledges higher than his IQ, so we start each day with Daddy yelling at a suicidal kitten. I had to turn the minivan around for forgotten things.

As the 3 of them darted off to their days, they took one, last, LONG look at me. Deep into my eyes they always look. “I love you.” They never forget to say it, and oh, how they do. Their every happiness relies on me being right here when their days end. For 3 humans and 4 cats, LIFE simply does not happen without me.

A couple of them may be the world’s worst roommates, but they are intriguing life-mates. I do believe I’m better off with them here. I’m messier, less patient sometimes, and not at all who or where I was when we started. But I’m better. Wisdom Comes Suddenly.

 

 


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Pressing Into The Corners

September 21st, 2015 · 3 Comments

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It has been a month since I wrote about the season of grief beginning. Amazing how the days get swallowed whole, and how easily one gets lost in the rhythm of school, homework, athletics, hurried dinners, and forgotten band instruments. I’ve been grateful for the busy, and for the distraction it brings. I’ve been so impressed at how well my friends are grieving. The good days and bad. The days they remember and laugh, and the days they remember and cry. The days they don’t call and the days they never miss a call. The last minute lunches and the late night texts. There is so much beauty and grace in how they are handling their seasons. I feel honored to call them friends.

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Our September days have been a deluge of sun this year, even with autumn upon us. I can’t get over how each and every day begins and ends with sunshine pouring over everything, like God just can’t wait to give us every little last drop of blessings. If he’s hoping it will help…well? It is.

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Even so, I’ve had my moments. On one particularly beautiful Sunday evening, I felt some despair. Grandpa no longer wants my dinners. His appetite is shrinking, and he’d rather I’d just visit with him, as opposed to deliver food he barely touches. He’s still so lively, so chatty. But…tired. So, so tired.

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I delivered a dear friend to Physical Rehab after I could not nurse him back to health. 6 weeks later…still there. Bless his patient heart (both literally and figuratively). We break him out for lunches and errands, but the work of Physical Rehab is a daily grind beyond most of our comprehension. And on that Sunday evening of sad, I returned home after making the drive to deliver goodies, laundry…who knows. Shampoo? Clean socks? The days are certainly running together for us both. He’s grateful for even the tiniest gesture. God Bless our Vets, and the health they’ve sacrificed so that we may live in safety.

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I returned home to the girls happily playing outside, and Greg was gladly organizing this and that in his garage. Sun was creeping into every corner of this house, and in my sadness, I heard Kara Tippetts (Author of “The Hardest Peace) say, “Press into the hard corners of your day. Jesus will meet you there.”

What if in my weakness while lying prostrate on my bed, I decided to take her literally? What if on this beautiful evening, I simply…pressed myself into the corners of my home? It’s not that I’ve grown tired of prayer, but…OK, crud-muffins on that lie. I’ve grown tired of the sound of my own prayers. Help us Jesus. Hear us Jesus. Strengthen us Jesus. Praise be, because he’s granted all the requests! But Lordy, he’s got to be tired of me by now.

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Rather than listen to my tired voice whisper yet again, “Dear Lord, Please bring comfort to…”, I picked up my camera. I walked around my house and I pressed my lens into my corners. I could most certainly feel the hard corners of my day, but this time, I decided to look for them.

I lingered in the girls’ Calico Critter Village, wondering about the story lines they abandoned to run outside and play. I smiled at my treasured little collection of autographed books. I can’t help but rub my hands over the corners of my Anastasia Krupnik whenever I walk by the bookshelf. I took a moment to be grateful for leftovers, easy to heat, easy to eat. I laughed out loud at all the bits and pieces my family leaves lying about, artifacts of their existence, proving they are here, and they are so very mine.

Even in her absence, Kara is right. I was comforted. Jesus met me in those corners, showing me peace. The peace of this home I’ve created, where friends come to find rest. There is a softness in these corners which suggests the hard hasn’t changed everything. And an unbelievable number of gently waning sunbeams, making our world feel but just a breath away from heaven’s door. I guess there are days when God allows me to see his voice instead of hearing it, and for this, I am abundantly grateful.

Thank you again to Kara, for everything. Wisdom Comes Suddenly.


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Hands Free Life Is Here!

September 7th, 2015 · 1 Comment

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Tomorrow, on September 8th, Rachel Stafford’s newest book, Hands Free Life, hits the book shelves. I know many of you have been waiting for a follow up to her first New York Times Bestseller, Hands Free Mama. A few of you have written to ask about my review, because after all, I mentioned a month ago that I’d read it cover to cover.

My words could not be written, because I was living out Rachel’s words with action. I know Rachel is smiling as she reads this, because that is the whole point.

Many years ago, Rachel and I started a conversation: She knew our generation of Mamas (and Daddies) wanted to be more present in their family life, but didn’t know how to grab it. The answer was right in front of all of us, but it takes a gifted writer to share painful truths in a way that opens the hearts of millions of people. Rachel is a teacher, so I knew she had the skills to show us. AND, she’s not afraid of hard work. PLUS, if you share french fries with her at lunch in the 8th grade, she won’t Bogart the entire basket. She’s a gal’s gal…this much I know.

Hands Free Mama was an invitation to acknowledge we had lost our ability to be present. This step is critical. It was a cold February morning in 2008 when I realized I was missing the boat on this ride we call “family”. Nothing bold or life-changing happened that day; I was simply walking through my living room, and I felt God whisper to me, “Wake up. You are not allowing yourself to be a part of your own story. You are trying in all the wrong ways. You efforts are not creating the family life you want for your home, and they are emptying your emotional bank account in the process.” When Rachel called me years later to say she suspected we weren’t alone in our desperate (and failing) attempts to be everything to everyone, I knew from experience she was right. In the months that followed, she wrote Hands Free Mama, A Guide To Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters! America responded to this book with a large, collective hug.

Rachel is now leading us on the next part of this journey, forming the habits that will create a well-lived life, presented in a parable-like format. She calls them the 9 habits, and they are, but Rachel doesn’t just volley about with big ideas. Remember, she’s a teacher. She presents them as chewable bites, told as stories, with follow up “habit-builders” to show us how to look for the signs our lives are changing.

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If you see yourself in the following list of habits, I want you to seriously consider opening your heart to this book. The greatest gift I’ve given myself is the permission to let go of my preconceived notions of how “I WANT IT TO BE”, and allowing myself to ride the tide of loving “HOW IT IS”. I’m the Mama. I’m the Leader of this (often) bedraggled band of people. They follow my mood, my health, my attention, and my ability to keep us on an even keel. It’s of utmost importance I go into each and every day with a full understanding of how my actions affect the lives of my family (and no, she’s not going to tell you to make your bed. A perfect home and life have no place in Rachel’s writing; let go of the notion she’ll teach you how to reach spotless Nirvana.) So here are Rachel’s habits I leave for you to ponder:

(1) Fill the Spaces: Songs of Life, Connective Silence, Sound of Hope

Habit-Builder: Take off the Ticking Clock

(2) Surrender Control: Be Free of Past Mistakes, Broaden Future Opportunities, Fulfill your Life’s Purpose

Habit Builder: Opening Clenched Fists

(3) Build A Foundation: Listening, Lifelines, Faith

Habit Builder: Build “The Best Ten Minutes”

(4) Take The Pressure Off: So that Others May Too, Live Life Fully, Embrace Good Enough For Today

Habit Builder: Making Today Matter

(5) See What Is Good: Nurture Inner Gifts, Gain Perspective, Become a Noticer

Habit Builder: Glimmers of Goodness

(6) Give What Matters: Play Again, Gift of a Moment, Ease the Pain

Habit Builder: Offering a Piece of Yourself

(7) Establish Boundaries: Protect Innocence, Protect Relationships, Protect Moments

Habit Builder: Hands Free House Rules

(8) Leave a Legacy: Grasp Simple Joys, Inspire a Future Generation, Self-Kindness

Habit Builder: The Presence Pledge

(9) Change Someone’s Story: Responding with Empathy, Opening Your Arms, Take the First Step

Habit Builder: The Six-Second Challenge

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Rachel & I have cleaned up nicely since the 8th Grade.

A mutual friend of ours stopped by my garage sale last Saturday to say hello. That morning, my house contained 4 cats and 6 kids. The mess of preparing for the sale and then turning my house into a play room was indescribable. There were 20 people on my lawn, and 5 friends who had joined me in the sale. I had been up since 5:30 am, and it was reaching the 90 degree mark outside. Anything past 82-ish, and my hair starts to look as if it’s been set on fire. And there, on the edge of my driveway, was Eleanor-whom-I-love-so-dearly. Eleanor who DOES Bogart fries, but who DID NOT laugh at my 8th grade gym class choreographed dance to Prince’s “1995”. Rachel didn’t laugh either, but both of them SHOULD HAVE.

I quickly pulled her inside to show her the new house. I’ve seen Eleanor twice in 20 years, but did I care that my life is far-from-picture-perfect? Nope. I showed her every inch of my “real”. Eleanor doesn’t care if my house is spotless or if my hair flies right off my head. My friends attended to the buyers while Eleanor and I caught up…my sweet, sweet friends. Amie, who let go of the idea she had to clean her entire basement in order to be in the sale, and chose to come as she was. Shayla, who dropped her to-do list in order to help me carry tables on a Friday afternoon, and let me see her “piles of junk” (which were treasures to all who came to shop). Kellie, who despite grieving the recent passing of her Mother, thought it might cheer her to purge some things she’d been meaning to sell. Jay and Greg, who kept us all in stitches through the hot morning, and cheerfully carried items for total strangers. And precious Jenny, with her interior design skill, who could convince anyone how to match their interior to the crazy items we had on our sale tables. Jenny is so far beyond judging, it isn’t even visible in her rear view mirror. No surprise she and Rachel were High School Tennis Doubles partners.

I looked around at the joy and the mess and the so-much-of-the-living, and I said to Eleanor, “I wish Rachel were here to see this.” Her perpetual smile agreed (it was hard to hear her actual words over the gleeful sounds of 6 kids playing). Yes. We wish Rachel could see our Hands Free Saturday in all its sweaty glory. We wish she lived closer to share a glass of wine so we could clink to her success. To the realization of dreams which formed within her long, long ago. Watching her fulfill her promise is a feeling like none other. Let her show you how to fulfill yours.

You can read Rachel’s Blog here: http://www.handsfreemama.com/

You can order Rachel’s new book here: Hands Free Life

You can order Rachel’s first book here: Hands Free Mama

Godspeed, my friends. I hope you are loving the journey as much as I am!

 

 


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The Little Prince(sses)

August 25th, 2015 · Comments Off on The Little Prince(sses)

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“I did not know how to reach him, how to catch up with him…the land of tears is so mysterious.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

It’s not like I thought I’d be cool forever.  I did, however, imagine I’d be cool in the girls’ eyes for a long, long, long time. LONG. Longer than say…today.

And it’s not as if they haven’t been sniffing me out for at least a year. Smart cookies these two; they know when I’m making it up as I go.

It began in earnest over the summer, the immediate veto of anything suggested by Mommy. I was initially irritated. I had my ugly moments when I verged on mad. See how I made that up? I didn’t “verge” on anything. I rammed straight past miffed and t-boned right into mad.

The girls are too polite to mock me, but time after time, I definitely chose the wrong board game, the wrong clothes, the wrong movie, and forget my suggestion to speak in pig Latin all summer. Kidding. I always choose the right ovie-may.

The time has come…the day all Mothers-of-Daughters fear: I’ve gone from Momma to Mommy to Muuuu-OOOMMMM. I still get countless hugs, and sleep isn’t even considered without my final goodnight kiss, but, and this is a GIGANTIC BUT: my opinion is no longer desired for the hundreds of tiny decisions they make as humans each and every day.

I’m finding my learning curve to be steep. I know how to dislike something so that my children will choose it, but as of late, I’ve been off my game. Or perhaps, more accurately stated, this game has changed. Reverse Psychology isn’t the go-to move at this age.

This evening at the library, to use my favorite of baseball phrases, I hit a real can of corn. Kelly was choosing a book to for her “fantasy genre” assignment:

Mommy: Oh good! Look! They have The Little Prince!

Kelly: What’s THAT?

Mommy: [Insert me reading the jacket with great intrigue and excitement.]

Kelly: UM….NO. No thank you.

Mommy: Kelly. It’s Le Petit Prince. It’s arguably one of the most famous fantasy books ever written. It’s a classic. I’ve read it both in English and in French. I mean…it’s…Saint-Exupéry. It’s unmatched.

Kelly: Have you seen the Rainbow Fairy Series around here? I’ll just read one of those.

Mommy: The Daisy Meadow books, of which we own at least 20? Fairies vs. a little boy who lives alone on his own planet, and travels across the space-time continuum, and comes to an understanding about humanity as a whole. A book full of timeless quotes and wonder. Not to mention, there is a FOX. Kelly…a fox. And you want to read a book about a purple fairy who is chased by the same goblins through like…120 books?

Kelly: Yes.

Sara: They are right over here Kelly.

I slid the book silently back onto the bookshelf, making a mental note to read it with the girls over winter break. Because EVEN IF we’re entering the “Momma’s suggestions not welcome” phase, just remember this my little prince(sses): Momma knows. Momma always knows.

 

 


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