Category Archives: Family

Grandpa Welcomed Her Home

This week has flown by like a flash of lightning. Yet it feels like an eternity since we arrived in Ohio on Monday night. We turned into in my sister’s driveway at 9:15 pm and carried our luggage into the house. We embraced and chatted about plans for our visit…not ready to acknowledge what we were both thinking. This would be a bittersweet gathering. We were happy to all be together at Grandma’s but felt a deep anguish knowing this would be our first Thanksgiving without my Mother.

As we returned to the kitchen, the illuminated screen of my sister’s phone caught her eye. The notifications revealed a missed call from our step-father. The text message that had just arrived demanded her attention. The smile on her face was replaced with knitted brow and her eyes conveyed an air of confusion. Her voice quivered as she shared the brief message that had arrived at 9:30 pm “Mom passed”. His Mother, our Grandmother, was gone.

We rushed to the hospital to join our family. Everyone was in shock. Our sister Elli (who lives in Georgia) had visited with Grandma earlier in the day and had talked with her briefly over the phone during dinner. Grandma had been home from the hospital for three weeks and was doing good. She was excited to have everyone home this year for Thanksgiving.

We embraced one another and shared our tears…our pain…for yet another loss. My heart was breaking for my step-father. Exactly eleven weeks ago, Mom…his wife of 30 years, was welcomed to Heaven. And now, his lightly scabbed wound ripped open by the passing of his Mother. I lost the battle to hold back my tears the second I saw the pain in his eyes. When we embraced, I was overwhelmed by the intensity of my pain. It felt as if a carnival strongman was pounding my bruised heart with a sledgehammer. I managed to choke out a faint “I’m so sorry” between the sobs. We took turns visiting with Grandma while waiting for her transport. I was eerily comforted to see the familiar faces of the gentlemen from the Laubenthal-Mercado Funeral Home.

After deciding on a game plan for the next day, we split company with hugs. Elli was tentative about returning our Grandparent’s house (where they were staying) with her young boys. I’m sure her apprehension was growing as they navigated the train tracks and drove the last mile on the snow-covered road. The headlights on their Acura pierced the darkness to reveal a 10 point buck waiting for her in the front yard. She was shocked that the buck didn’t run away when they pulled into the driveway. Elli’s jaw dropped in disbelief as the buck continued to stand in the grass and look back at them…even when they poured out of the car.

At that moment, God spoke to Elli’s heart and comforted her soul. His still voice confirmed what she had believed to be true. Grandpa and Grandma were no longer separated by the temporary and eternal worlds. After 12 years of being apart, they were now together in Heaven. To Elli, and to me, The buck symbolized Grandpa welcoming Grandma to their eternal home.

Elli’s heart overflowed with peace…with an immense joy…knowing that God provided a vision to satisfy her need for confirmation…a need that she didn’t realize she had until it was fulfilled.

With this realization, the buck walked across the road to the edge of the vacant field. He paused for a moment…as if saying “good-bye”. Then, emerging out of the shadows, a doe stepped into the glow of the street light. A tearful smile spread across Elli’s face as she watched the pair disappear into the night.

My heart leapt in my chest when Elli shared her experience with me. I thought back to the beautiful sunset that God sent to us with Mom’s passing. Both were very different imagery but spoke to us the same way. And although we miss our loved ones desperately, we are humbled that God cares enough to deliver specific signs that speak to us in ways that others may not understand or embrace.

Alarming Thanksgiving Tradition

Family traditions…everyone has them. Some are sweet and heart-warming – the kind that elicit an “AHHHHH” when you share with friends. And some are…well…just different. The kind you tell ONLY your closest friends in fear of being labeled as crazy or strange. Regardless of the nature of the tradition…it’s something your family holds dear.

Ours is one of those DIFFERENT traditions. Prepare yourself…this could get messy!

For reasons no one knows, Mom started a new…unsettling…tradition when her first three children became teenagers. Fortunately, the tradition found a quick demise when we moved away from home, sparing her future step-children from the same seasonal “joy”.

OK…I’m ready…here we go…

Mom liked to serve our Thanksgiving meal for lunch. This allowed us to clean the kitchen and have everything back in order by mid-day. Eating so early also meant that we enjoyed a wonderful left-over meal for dinner. And, still had time to visit with friends or attend a movie during the evening.

To launch her plan, Mom would set her alarm for early Thanksgiving morning…EARLY…like in the WEE hours early…to prepare the turkey for the oven. Her process started with cleaning the turkey and removing the giblets. Then she carried the turkey to wake us…one-by-one…as she exclaimed “Gobble, Gobble, Gobble…say thank you to Thomas Turkey…he’s giving his life for you.” If we didn’t awaken soon enough…Thomas was inclined to assist with a tap from his wing or drumstick…whatever it took get us to stir.Turkey Wakeup 1

Turkey Wakeup 2

After attempting to fend off the attack, we reluctantly addressed the naked bird. Gratitude expressed, she moved on to the next child. And then back to the kitchen for further cleaning, stuffing, and into the awaiting oven.

Though this tradition hasn’t repeated for many years, we always relive the details during our annual Thanksgiving celebration. Perhaps it’s because we were traumatized during those formative years and the mere sight of a whole turkey brings back a flood of memories. This year our Thanksgiving stories are changed forever. It’s the first time that Mom will not be leading the stories of Thanksgivings past while hovering around the table…at the ready to replenish an empty plate

Hopefully mine is not the only “DIFFERENT” tradition out there. Does anyone have any traditions you’re crazy enough to share?

Recipes Lost

I went to a hands-on cooking class today. During the demonstration portion and subsequent one-on-one instruction, I was reminded how important those personalized tips are to the successful preparation of a meal. A recipe can give you the ingredients and order they should be combined, but few provide the level of detail necessary for a novice cook to be successful. For example, the recipe for a pie crust will tell you to pulse the flour, salt and butter in a food processor until incorporated. But as a novice, you have no idea what the “incorporated” consistency looks like…it’s pretty much a guessing game. And, to up the stakes on a new cook, not all recipes clarify the details that seasoned cooks take for granted. For example, the butter and water used for the pastry crust must be COLD and when you work the crust it’s strictly “hands off” to avoid warming the butter in the dough.

Even a seasoned cook suffers from omitted instructions when it comes to family recipes that have been handed down over the years. You may have Grandma’s handwritten recipes but unless you stood side-by-side with her (or someone who has worked with her), chances are your creation will not be quite right. Especially if your recipes include measurements like “add some X” without specifying how much “X” is needed.

I have to admit that this scenario has become a reality with the family favorites that my Mother has made over the years. Like many old-school cooks, Mom never measured anything. She just “put some”. I tried on a few occasions to guess how much she was adding but my attempts to duplicate were never successful. I wish I had spent more time trying to perfect her tried and true specialties. We have her recipes but not the special tips that make all the difference. Without divine intervention, we will not be able to resuscitate Mom’s recipes…they will be lost.

So, I am now on a mission to preserve the recipes of my husband’s family. Over Thanksgiving, when everyone is together, we are going to make a list of all our favorite recipes that we want to include in a family cookbook. Throughout the coming months, we are going to spend time cooking together and making revisions to recipes so those all important…CRITICAL…details that make reproduction possible are documented. I plan to scan handwritten recipes so they can be preserved within the pages of our book. Photographs of the cooking and baking sessions will also be included…our cookbook will be more than just recipes…it will become a new family heirloom.

Pbutter Balls

First up will be my husband’s “famous” peanut butter balls. He makes them every Christmas and shares with friends. We’ve heard multiple reports of family feuds (especially with one particular family) because the annual allotment wasn’t shared equally. One year we learned that the Mother of this family had eaten all of the peanut butter balls but hadn’t told anyone. The kids approached us asking when we would be sharing our traditional gift for that year. What could we do? We didn’t really have time to make another batch…but we couldn’t tell the kids the truth. So we did the only thing a good friend would do…we made another batch!

Now it’s your turn to consider the “state” of your family recipes. I challenge you to consider making a family cookbook before it’s too late.

Celebration of Life

I roused myself out of bed in time to shower, dress and drive to the Sawtooth School for Visual Art. Today, in the midst of their usual offerings, was a class tailored and sponsored by Cancer Services. The hands-on clay workshop was titled “Survivorship Seminar: Celebration of Life Box.” The focus was to create a box to store memories from our cancer journey.

Street parking was plentiful and free at this hour. I walked the half block on the brick pavers that flanked the unique architecture of the building. The roofline mimics the teeth of a saw…hence the name “Sawtooth”.

I was greeted by the director of Cancer Services once inside. She could barely contain her enthusiasm as she pointed out our workspace and refreshments. The ladies that arrived before me were getting to know one another. There was no mistaking which side of the room was designated for our class. The tell-tale signs of chemotherapy were evident…a head covering (hat, scarf or wig) cloaked extremely short or newly grown hair, absent or missing eyebrows, and an aura of fatigue. Yet they were all smiles and excited about today’s adventure. As was I.

Each station was supplied with two pieces of clay that had been extruded. The center of our table held a basket containing the tools needed to shape our creations. Around the perimeter of our area were bins and tables displaying a variety of stamps, molds, and texture sheets. Our attention was directed to the head table where the instructor meticulously demonstrated the first steps in preparing the bottom, top, and sides of our box. She then dispatched us to choose the design elements to embellish the creation that will hold our precious memories. As we explored the cornucopia of design options, it became obvious when the perfect pattern was discovered. “Ohhh…how beautiful!”

Everyone, except me, settled back into their seats and started working with the clay. The myriad of choices summoned the analyst in me that is always lurking just beneath the surface. Did I want something elegant or playful? As I pondered the question, I thought about the contents that would find a home within the confines of the box. The memories held within would be more than just those from my cancer journey. My “Celebration of Life” box would also contain trinkets that summoned memories of my Mother. The cancer treatments prevented me from making the eight-hour trek home to visit family. Now that I am better and can travel…the trips home won’t be the same without Mom waiting at my destination.

My thoughts were interrupted only by the “BAM” of the extruder as it choked out sheets of clay for the adjoining class. My eyes paused on the nature stamp…decision made. Butterflies and dragonflies are symbols of change – often associated with cancer. Mom loved gardening and spent countless hours with her flowers. Yes, the nature theme was perfect…but presented complications. The stamp was narrow and wouldn’t cover the full height of the box. Leaving me with a quandary of how to fill the remaining area. The stamp was also too short to fit the length of the sides requiring the stamp to be applied multiple times. The details in the stamp would make lining up the images tricky…requiring more skill than I possessed. Determined to achieve the nature theme, I carried my stamp selections to the sample clay beckoning me to practice. Several design scenarios were attempted and aborted before finalizing the plan for my project.

Time to create! The clay felt cool and firm in my hands. I made several passes across the surface with the scraper to replace the canvas pattern with a smooth surface. Slivers of clay peeled off onto the tool. I noticed that they were slightly warm to the touch. An interesting contrast to the initial sensations of the clay. Next, I marked the boundaries for the pattern using the cardboard templates. Before pressing the images, I painstakingly laid out the placement for the stamps. A continuous border would be too difficult so I opted for breaks between each placement. A trio of dragonflies would be pressed within the breaks. Line up…level…place …press with roller…lift slightly to check depth…roll more…lift…good…repeat.Celebration of Life Box - Front

After stamping the sides, I decided on the pattern for the top. Four dragonflies would converge on the center where a cross would stand. The strength for my cancer journey came from my faith. When times were tough, I leaned upon my scripture verse. And when my condition improved, I praised God for his provision.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Phil 4:13

“Dang it!” I cut the top but forgot to extend a half-inch beyond the template. The instructor’s solution…the top could become the inside of the bottom of the box. Crisis averted…Whew! But then I realized this was divine intervention…not an error. If the cross was on the lid, it would be covered by the handle. Not good. Now the cross is inside the box…representing that Christ is inside of me and the foundation of everything in my life. PERFECT!

A brief intermission was announced so we could watch a demonstration for the handle and legs of the box. I had an epiphany…I remembered a wood grained pattern that would compliment the  nature theme! Back to the lid. The dragonfly image was stamped onto the surface pointing toward the center. I cut out four dragonflies and attached to the handle as if they were taking flight…representing that I am moving on with my life…a changed person. VIOLA…done! I’m SO happy with the finished product.Celebration of Life Box - Lid

I realized that I was exhausted from standing but was beaming from ear to ear. I was noticeably more relaxed than when I started. I can’t remember the last time I worked with clay but am now considering a new hobby.

We said our “good-byes” and left our creations to be fired and glazed. Since this is a busy time for Sawtooth, our finished boxes will not be ready until December. I’ll share pictures when I get it back…promise!

Sawtooth Building” by Susan Smith is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Blueberry Respite

Thump…Thump…Thud…Clank….Thump…Thud…Clank…Clank…JACKPOT – OH MY GOD…THIS BUSH IS LOADED! Check this out…these berries are the size of quarters!

The melody of the berries hitting the inside of the pail was intoxicating. The rhythm interrupted by the sporadic voices of the families that rose early to gather berries for breakfast. Yes…today’s breakfast. We alternated between berries in the pail and berries in our mouth. At the Baumhart Blueberry Farm, it’s totally acceptable – even encouraged – to sample berries as you pick. And boy did we sample. The squirt of the sweet juice upon contact with your tongue was so satisfying. Only quality berries like these could bring me out to the fields on this hot, sticky Ohio morning.

Picking LowMy sister, Alisa, had already been picking for two hours by the time James and I arrived. She likes to spend her free time in the summer at the berry farm. She heads to the fields for herself and even for family and friends. She relishes her time inside the net draped enclosures – a quiet, serene respite from the outside world. Alisa is such a fixture in the fields that farm staff regularly search for her to inquire if she has berries to sell…and they in turn – provide to patrons stopping by for a quick purchase. Today, they came riding through the dirt path outside the enclosure on three separate occasions to retrieve the sea of blue from her pail. Over the course of the summer, her total berry haul weighed in at over 70 pounds. And that doesn’t include the ones she picked for others!

I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. My mind couldn’t absorb how picking berries could be so relaxing. But within minutes I was in the zone – perhaps triggered by that first succulent sample. I’ll never know for sure! My picking approach was far from productive. As we moved along the bushes, Alisa shared tips on finding the best berries. “Most people pick the outside and at height level. So you need to dig deep and go low on the bush. The berries they miss have more time to grow and ripen.” She coached me to use a two-handed technique. One to gently roll the berries and the other to catch the dropping fruit. If the berries are ready to be picked, they will drop off the bush with the slightest touch. And BOY was she right – on all fronts. Just look at the size of these berries!Blueberry Closeup

A gentle breeze flowing over the fields periodically interrupted the heat of the day. The fresh, clean burst of air rustled the bushes just enough to entice the beetles to take flight. They buzzed around momentarily before settling back to their feeding frenzy. These lucky beetles had exploited a weakness in the netting allowing them free rein at the table.

As we moved between the rows, you couldn’t help but overhear conversations. I found the banter of the younger children amusing. “Hey Mom, there’s TONS of berries over here!” exclaimed a young boy as he jumped up and down…pointing in the direction of the heavily laden limbs. One particular exchange made me chuckle out loud. The Mother explained to her daughter that she should only pick the dark blue berries. She then held a sample berry – a deep purplish-blue berry – for her daughter to observe. A few minutes later, the little girl declared “But Mommy, this one is red and it tastes good.” I wonder how many partially ripened berries made their way into that berry pail?  No matter…the memories that they created that morning will last a lifetime.

After three hours, James and I were ready to go. We were shocked when the scale flashed the results of our efforts. We picked 22 pounds of berries! What did we do with all the berries, you may ask? We packed our berries in dry ice and transported them home for year-round snacking. Berries from the store just can’t compete with those that go from field to freezer within hours. Blueberries are loaded with anti-oxidants and are highly recommended by the Cancer Dietician.

Funny thing though. Before chemo, I didn’t like blueberries. Not fresh, not on cereal, not even in pancakes or muffins. Chemo did a number on my body and thrush was an immediate reminder of the destruction going on at a cellular level. With every infusion I battled thrush. During the first week after treatment, everything tasted metallic – even water. The second week after treatment is hard to describe. The best description I can muster is dirty…everything tasted like pond scum. Of course, I don’t know what pond scum tastes like but it seems as good a comparison as any. By the end of the third week, food started to become appealing. But then the cycle started all over again. After my last infusion, I realized that I no longer enjoyed many of my favorite foods. So, now I try everything because I don’t know what I will like. Which brings me back to the blueberries. I LOVE blueberries…and wine. Oh yea, wine is another pleasant outcome of thrush…but that’s a story for another time.Dorothy Picking Berries

Zombie Connection

Mom loved games…cards, bingo, board games, video games…especially video games. When I was growing up, the free-standing “classic” video games were starting to pop up at the local convenience stores and arcades. Mom allowed us kids to walk the half mile down the road for an evening of electronic entertainment. THE HIGHLIGHT OF OUR WEEK! We each bought our snack of choice – making sure to get quarters for the machines. We took turns playing Galaga*, Pac-Man*, Centipede**, and Tempest**. My favorite was Centipede.

Our trips down the road were abandoned when the home gaming systems were introduced. I don’t remember which one we bought…but it was a great investment. Family time was spent challenging each other for high scores. The loser for the night was “awarded” additional chores by the winner. It was during these battles that Mom started playing games with us. She was mesmerized by the images on the screen. Her favorite game was Pac-Man. She gripped the joystick with such intensity that a dent was worn into her “joystick” finger. Many a controller met its demise in her clutches.

In the wee hours of one particular morning, we awakened to her persistent nudging. She herded us into the living room to validate her high score. I don’t remember the number on the screen but I do remember the look on her face…she exuded excitement…giddy…bubbling over…beaming…so proud of herself. We were in awe of her achievement.

Her love of video games remained with her over the years. When a game console wore out, she upgraded to the next version. I think the games were her escape from the burdens of being a widow with three children to raise. The games were also a way to connect with her family. I always found it amusing that a “game party” materialized when she was stuck on a level. During the “party”charade, she invited the grandchildren to see if they could beat the level that she just happened to be stuck on. It was during these sessions that Chris, young gamer extraordinaire, would get uninterrupted play time and unlimited attention from Grandma. After the level was passed, they went back to taking turns playing…each feeling that the other was taking WAY TOO MUCH time on their turn.

The sweepstakes craze brought her out to play games at the internet cafes springing up around town. Mom exchanged her usual home games for the games of chance and frequented multiple locations. She had a whole game plan devised for visiting each location based upon the available games and the free food and drink provided. She spent so much free time at the cafes that we started teasing her (tongue in cheek) about taking trips to the “crack” house to get her fix. (Please note that I am in no way comparing time spent playing video games to a drug addiction. This analogy is intended to portray the extent of her drive to visit the internet cafes.) Mom could spend the entire evening playing games at the cafe for twenty dollars. To her it was a social event. She enjoyed the food catered from local restaurants, drank the coffee and soft drinks, and talked to anyone who sat next to her. When we teased her, she quickly pointed out that she spent less for an evening of entertainment than we did. She laughed saying that we couldn’t even go out to the movies and get snacks for what she spends. Right as usual!

She turned her attention back to playing games on her computer. She didn’t play the high-tech 3D multi-player games. She preferred the more straight forward ones like slots, poker, Bejeweled****, Jewel Quest (all varieties)***, and her favorite was Plants vs. Zombies****. I remember chuckling to myself when she and my sister came to visit after my cancer surgery. The pain medicine caused me to fatigue easily. I wanted Mom to be entertained when I was sleeping so I downloaded Jewel Quest for her. She started from the beginning and by dawn the next morning she had completed all levels. She was on a roll…having a blast…and pulled an all-nighter. That’s MY Mom!

Her computer was on its last leg. I bought a new computer and brought it with me when I traveled to help care for her after surgery. The new computer was all set up with her favorite games. Ready and waiting for her. But Mom never got to play on her new computer. Sometimes I look at the computer and imagine a smile beaming across her face when she experienced the lightening speed of the new laptop. I imagine watching her play and listening to the game tips she always shared. I miss sharing in her passion for games.

I rarely keep games on my computer. Because I spend too much time playing games instead of doing the things I should be doing. But not now…Now I need to feel close to Mom. So I downloaded her favorite game – Plants vs. Zombies. And when I click on the grave stone, I escape into a fantasy world where Mom is standing over my shoulder…excitedly calling out instructions to help me beat the next wave of brain eaters. I imagine her pride and laughter when I make it to the next level. Check out the PopCap website for more information.

Screen capture of Plants vs. Zombies (PopCap Games)
Screen capture of Plants vs. Zombies (PopCap Games)

So…can I get anyone to admit they enjoy playing this game? Or perhaps you can share your favorite way to escape the trials of life. (Strictly PG rated please.)

*Galaga and Pac-Man, distributed by Midway (in North America)
**Centipede and Tempest produced by Atari
***Jewel Quest produced by Iwin
****Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies published by PopCap Games

A Letter to Mom

Hi Mom,

Been thinking about you a lot lately. I miss you…so very, very much. I long for our weekly conversations. No specific topic…just chatter about the seemingly insignificant events that played out since we last talked. Funny how those discussions don’t feel so trivial any more. They have taken on a whole new meaning. I now see them as the medium in which we expressed our love. Not by the specific words that passed between us…but by the time we spent sharing…keeping in touch over the miles.

Every weekend, I find myself habitually reaching for the phone to call you. You’re still at the top of my favorites list and contact list. When I added your number, I entered “A Mom” to make sure you sorted to the top…easily accessible…always visible…always there. I can’t bring myself to remove your number. When the phone rings, I hold my breath for an instant…wondering if you are on the other end. Then reality comes crashing down on me. I will never get to hear your voice again. Never again chuckle at the messages you left that usually started with “I’m not wanting anything…just calling to see what you’re into. You don’t have to call me back. Talk to you later.”

I wish I could have spent more time with you over the past two years. When I look back on those days, I get angry. No…stronger than that…I become enraged. To borrow your words…“Fit to be tied!” I’m livid that the cancer prevented me from traveling long distances…from coming home to visit. And no, I’m not mad at God. I know there’s a reason that I had to experience the cancer…but I DO wish He would let me in on the secret. No, I’m just mad at the circumstances…mad about the lingering side effects that have a daily impact on my life…mad that we didn’t get a chance to make up for all that lost time.

But I digress. You know how I ramble on and on…and on. Let’s get back to you. I just gotta ask…So, how’s that new body working out for you? I bet you’re thrilled that all of the needles and tubes and staples are gone. No one waking you up for more tests…more needle sticks or to take your temperature. I can see you beaming from ear to ear as you look at your new, shimmering skin. Bruises gone. I bet you’re walking on air…on cloud nine! OK…OK…I just couldn’t resist the clichés. You gotta admit it…now that’s funny, eh?!

I know there’s a lot of worshiping going on in Heaven. How’s the singing work? Do you automatically know the words or is it kinda like karaoke? You know I can’t sing worth anything…not one of my gifts. Which makes me wonder…does everyone sing good up there? I just can’t imagine being in His presence…what’s it like? I bet you’re talking His ear off. I think I would be speechless…which is pretty much a miracle if you think about it….me, speechless. LOL! Reminds me of the Mercy Me song “I can only imagine.”

Oh yea, before I forget. Thanks for the amazing sunset you left for us the day you went home. After we (the immediate family) said “good-bye” to you, we escorted the Hospice team to their cars. Everyone gasped in awe as our eyes absorbed the vibrant blues, pinks, and purples in the sky.Mom Smiles from Heaven

My heart leapt with joy…it immediately understood the significance and beauty of the moment…the significance that eluded me for several weeks.

We stood there…embracing in the driveway…alternating between wiping the tears and taking another photo. We wanted to remember this vision. We needed to remember your smile in the sunset…the beautiful purple sunset. By the way, did I ever tell you that purple is my favorite color? To be honest, I only just figured that out during cancer treatments…but that’s another story. I recently learned purple symbolizes spirituality. So I’m sure you can guess that I was overjoyed to see the image of Jesus silhouetted in the purple clouds. Welcoming you to your new home.

One last thing before I go…We could really use some help down here. We need some guidance on how to move on with our lives…how to live without you. Please help us to move past the pain to a place where the beautiful memories are not followed by the void of losing you. Help us to remember that you are happy, and healthy, and in the presence of perfect peace. Yup, that’s it…maybe you can send a bit of that peace our way.

Until next time…