My Grandma’s Lasting Gift

My Grandma T made memories for her family. She made real, tangible memories with her own hands, loads of colorful yarn, her crochet hooks and a lot of love.

Birthdays and wedding showers brought stripe-patterned afghans meant to keep Grandma T’s loved ones warm on cold nights. Christmases were sure to bring new pairs of mittens, playful winter hats or long, bright scarves. My grandma was a product of the Great Depression and she found ways to use up or reuse everything in her house. Some of her creations were a crazy mix of colors because she wanted to use up all the remnants of her yarn supplies. Her gifts often came wrapped up inside empty cereal boxes or round oatmeal cartons.

When my siblings and I were growing up, there wasn’t a lot of money to go around in our family. New things came to us only on special occasions. We nearly crawled out of our skin with anticipation of birthday and Christmas gifts. And like all kids, our wish lists included many of the latest and greatest toys, games, music or clothing. If we were lucky, we might get one or two of those wishes. But Grandma T didn’t give the latest and greatest kinds of things when she gave her gifts. And that was just fine with us. We adored Grandma T’s  homemade creations because we adored her. Many cold winter days, we could be found fighting over which colorful hats and mittens belonged to whom.

Lately, it’s been hard to sit at a desk all day at work. The cold outside air seems to seep inside the office, under doors and through the windows. Sometimes I get distracted from my work by the chill I can’t seem to fend off. A few of my coworkers keep a sort of cape at work for this very reason. I’ve seen this kind of cape in stores. It’s a sort of designer blanket, made so that one can get away with wrapping up in a blanket in the office, without looking like one is wrapped up in a blanket. I’ve considered buying one. I’m just really reluctant to spend twenty-five, thirty dollars or more on something I’ll only use in the office. So I simply hope I’ll be absorbed enough in my projects that I don’t notice the cold. Or I try to remember to put on extra layers of clothing. Or I forget and suffer.

A few weeks ago, I was staring at all of the clothes in my closet, trying to decide what to wear. At the far side of the closet are things that are worn infrequently, or things that aren’t mine but couldn’t be parted with for one reason or another. Brad’s high school graduation gown is there. We had to buy it before the years when the school decided to just rent them. Kacey’s prom dresses are there too.

There was something else at that far end of the closet. It has been there for years. I’ve looked at it a million times and can’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before now. It was one of the many memories that Grandma T made for me while she was still here with us – a cream-colored, lovingly crafted cape. My memory might be fuzzy on exactly when she gave this to me, but I know I was young, in my grade school years, I’m sure. And I know I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I didn’t wear it often, either because I was pretty much a tomboy who would rather wear her Smokey the Bear sweatshirt, or because my mom was afraid I’d ruin the cape while in the midst of my tomboy pursuits.  Years ago, after I was married and living in a house of my own, Mom gave the cape to me to keep. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but Grandma T had made it for me. She was long gone by that time and I couldn’t stand the idea of giving it up. So it has hung in the closet, unused all of these years, until that day a few weeks ago.

I pulled it out and wrapped it around my shoulders. The cape had been made for a child, but it was still plenty big enough to wrap around my adult shoulders and cover my adult arms. I knew how I would keep warm at work whenever the chills set in from then on.

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

And it has "arm" holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

And it has “arm” holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

There are so many times I’ve been reminded of and missed my Grandma T. She loved her family so dearly. She was so quick to dole out praise and so generous with her heart. She was “home” to all of her daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Even as kids, the world could be such a difficult place, but when we were in the company of our grandparents, everything seemed simple and easy. How could we not miss Grandma T every single day? There are times I still hear her calling me Honey Girl and I still miss how she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me so tightly. Now I have a daily reminder of Grandma T to put a smile on my face. And I’ll bet she’d love the fact that her tomboy granddaughter is finally so happy to wear the beautiful cape she made.

A few of Grandma T’s mittens, hats and scarves still occupy space in the winter-wear bins in our front closet. They rarely if ever get worn. Some of her afghans are still folded up neatly in a cabinet in the family room. They are too short to cover our long bodies, so we opt for the newer, heavier fleece blankets instead. But all these years later, the cape is finally, happily worn!

And again with the weather!

20140126Boy, the weather sure is demanding our attention this winter, isn’t it?

My weekend did not go as planned, thanks to the weather. I was looking forward to some family time. Brad sent a text message early in the week, asking what we had planned for the weekend. I responded, “Nothing much. Just bowling. You thinking of coming home?”

“Maybe.”

I figured he was bored. I think all of the various hunting seasons are over and it’s probably too cold to go ice fishing. But I was more than happy to let the kids come here and hang out for a couple of days. We let Kacey know that Brad and Heather might be coming home, and soon she was contemplating coming home from school after her last class of the week on Thursday. I love that my kids like each other enough to rearrange plans to spend time together. There was a time when they would have done anything possible not to have to be in the same place at the same time.

Brad’s maybe turned into definitely and Kacey was home by dinner time on Thursday. It had been a really challenging week at work and all I wanted was to walk away for a couple of days and spend time with my kids. Wouldn’t you know it, though, the weather forecast began to look a little sketchy by Friday morning. Brad didn’t think he’d be able to leave work before seven o’clock and he sent me a text message that afternoon saying that if he and Heather couldn’t get on the road before the snow began to fall in their area, they would probably just stay home. I understood. As much as I love to see them, I don’t want them risking their safety to get here. The highway that takes them from there to here is notorious for white-out conditions when it snows and I always worry when they’re out on the road.

In the end, it wasn’t snow that kept them away, but sleet. Brad wisely chose to avoid traveling several hours in the dark in such slippery conditions. I was disappointed, but relieved that I wouldn’t have to worry about them.

And so a quieter couple of days loomed ahead. Still, Kacey was home and I wasn’t the only who was happy about that. Lucy knew she was in for some pampering.

So instead of big family breakfasts, Kacey and I cooked up an omelet to share on Saturday morning. Instead of dogs racing and chasing in the back yard, Lucy soaked up the attention Kacey showered on her and only her. Instead of everyone being home, Jake went to work on Saturday to earn some extra money. Earlier in the week, I envisioned family movie nights, when we would all get into our comfy clothes and wrap up in fleece blankets in front of the living room t.v. Some of us would fall asleep before the movie’s end. Instead, Kacey and I discovered a new series to watch on Netflix. By the third episode, I was losing the fight to keep my eyes open!

I pictured games around the kitchen table and imagined conversations full of laughter and so loud that one would overlap another. But those things weren’t to be. Instead, Kacey and I got out of the house. In spite of the cold and wind, we did a little bit of shopping. She had plans for some of her Christmas money. We grocery shopped and spent time in the kitchen making granola and a batch of soup for her to take back to school. We missed Brad, Heather and Dacotah-Dog because we didn’t get to see them in person this weekend. But thanks to the wonders of technology, we got to see them and talk a while on FaceTime. (For the record, dogs do not appreciate FaceTime. Neither Dacotah nor Lucy was interested in talking into the iPhone camera!)

We made the best of the change in plans and we had fun. Kacey headed back to school after dinner this evening, but not before making Brad and Heather promise to give it another try in two weeks. I sure hope the weather cooperates next time!

Quiet House

Lucy's chairFor the past month, the house has been so full of energy and activity. With Kacey home from school on winter break, there was never a dull moment here. We had frequent visits from her friends who would hang out here to watch movies and play games. Lucy reveled in all of this company and endeared herself to whomever it was that came through the door. Connor was here almost daily, watching football or hockey with Mark and eating whatever there was good to eat.

I loved coming home from work to find Kacey in the kitchen preparing dinner for the family. What a treat! And there was never a shortage of conversation, silliness and laughter.

Not that I wasn’t aware, but it really hit me yesterday that this was my last weekend with her before break came to an end. Kacey was still sleeping when Lucy started barking at a dog and its owner taking their morning walk outside on our street. She made enough of a ruckus to wake up Kacey. Kacey came trudging down the hall from her bedroom, trying to scowl at Lucy, but a smile snuck through instead. I wasn’t too sorry.

“Can’t you just not go back to school?” I fake pouted and nudged her as she found herself something to drink in the refrigerator.

“Um, yeah,” she said agreeably. “As long as you don’t mind me living here until I’m forty.”

“I don’t think I’d mind,” I said.

“I think I would,” she laughed. Really, I was relieved she felt that way. Good to know she’s got enough ambition to want to create a life of her own outside of this house.

Kace and Chase

Kace and Chase

This morning Kacey and Connor attended his baby cousin’s baptism and first birthday party. I puttered around the house, waiting for Kacey to return. I didn’t want to go anywhere because I knew that almost as soon as she was back, she would pack up her things. And then she and Connor would be on their way back to school. I didn’t want to miss my chance to hug her goodbye. She was back by early afternoon with stories about how adorable the baby was. She got to spend time too with Chase, Connor’s little brother. She always has fun with Chase. I think he likes her pretty well too.

I helped her pack up her stuff. There was a lot of stuff to pack. A girl apparently needs a lot of stuff for a whole month at home. There were a couple of duffel bags, a tote bag, a back pack and a giant, reusable Ikea bag. We laughed when she said she hoped Connor had room in his car for all of her stuff in addition to his!

As it turned out, there was enough room, and they were off. A couple of hugs, a couple of I-love-yous, and the car was backing out the driveway. I closed the front door as they drove away and the house felt immediately subdued. The water, heat and grocery bills will probably go down this month. That’s little consolation.

I know she goes to school fairly close. It’s not like we go months without seeing each other. She spends weekends at home pretty frequently. We text or call each other almost daily. I almost shouldn’t miss her when she’s away. But I do. I just love having her here.

When we were packing up Kacey’s things and I was looking at all those bags of clothes and accessories, all I could do was wonder how many more times I’ll be able to enjoy having my girl home for winter and summer breaks. She’s a college junior this year. Next year, she’ll likely get a job near school and her ability to come home on weekends and during breaks could be much more limited. Who knows? In the very near future, she may end up staying in her apartment over the summer instead of coming home. In not too many years, her own life will be taking off. And that’s what I want for my daughter. But until then, I will continue to love having her here, as often as she wants to be. Home always feels more like home when my kids are here.

Still in a holiday-lazy groove

I had to go back to work today after having the past two days off in honor of the New Year. This morning felt like Monday all over again. And it wasn’t easy getting out of bed. It’s been so cold for the past couple of weeks! I have a blanket, a heavy comforter and a quilt on the bed. Last night I threw a fleece blanket on top for good measure. Mark was gone to work for the night, so I tried to convince one of the dogs to curl up and share some body heat, but when Brad and Heather are home, which they are right now, Lucy forgets I exist and attaches herself like velcro to Heather’s side for the duration of their stay. Dacotah, sick of fighting for attention against Lucy, hung out with me for a while, but soon wandered off to find her own people again.

cold-weather-winter-outdoors-indoors-seasonal-ecards-someecards

Can you tell I’m one of those people who can never get warm? Now I remember why I was in an exercise slump around this time last year. Just the thought of making even the short jaunt from the gym parking lot into the gym in this kind of cold is almost painful. Of course now that Jillian Michaels lives in my DVD player, I can’t use that excuse anymore.

I didn’t exercise this morning, though. I had the best of intentions of going to the gym, but … it was  seriously cold out. Also, I didn’t really sleep much last night. The combination of “kids” home on break from school and work, coming and going, the dogs romping around as long as someone was awake, and Dacotah periodically wandering back in to stick her nose in my face and make sure I was still in my bed, all kept me from getting a solid night of sleep.

I was kind of cranky as I drove to work today. In weather this cold, the roads can be icy even when they don’t look it. But some drivers drive stupid anyway and it annoys me. And then I was thinking about how once I arrived at work, how much I didn’t want to have to deal with an annoying coworker who constantly comes across as such a phony and always manages to push my buttons. I literally prayed as I drove that she would call in sick. No such luck. She showed up to work not long after I arrived.

But I was busy after a couple of days away. There was plenty of catching up to do, several month-end processes to complete and a couple of client “fires” to put out. I barely had a free moment to spare and thankfully, my coworker kept her distance. It also helps that I’ve finally learned to refuse to respond when she initiates conversation over the cubicle wall. If she can’t come address me directly, I’m going to pretend I can’t hear her. It helps.

The day was full enough that it passed quickly. I got everything caught up and under control, enough for me to have one more day off tomorrow. I figured that since the kids are home, I might as well make use of all that PTO time I accumulated over the past year and stretch out the holidays just one more day. So by afternoon, that Monday feeling had passed and the Friday feeling took over.

Sure is going to feel strange to have to work all five days next week. But I think it’ll do me good to get back into a normal routine again.

Not Quite Perfect Christmas

In the hours before company started arriving on Christmas Eve, while I was puttering around doing last-minute cleaning and putting food together, I told my kids, “I think this is going to be my favorite part of Christmas. This time right now, when you are all here, helping me out, relaxing, and having fun with each other.” I’m glad I thought to tell them that.

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A quick nap for Dacotah and Kacey

020b

Brad and Jake having a friendly war

I had all weekend and Monday to get things ready for a house full of extended family on Christmas Eve. I was on top of things. Brad was supposed to work a half day on Tuesday, Christmas Eve. He and Heather were then going to drive home and arrive here in the late afternoon, just ahead of our company. But on Monday came reports of a big snowstorm in their area, beginning Tuesday in the early morning hours. Brad’s boss generously gave him Tuesday off and told him to get a head start on his drive home. He and Heather arrived home at midnight on Monday.  I was relieved to have them home safe and sound. During the day on Tuesday, while we prepared for the big night, my boys moved furniture in the living room to play Call of Duty on the X-Box. Kacey and Heather helped me in the kitchen. Connor passed through a time or two while taking care of his own last-minute Christmas preparations. They all laughed and joked and seemed to enjoy each other. It was a joy to be in the midst of it all.

I worried about other stuff, though. I’m sorry to say that I worried my way through Christmas. I wanted to pull off a nice Christmas for my parents. My dad had made it a point to say how happy he was to be home for Christmas this year and how much he was looking forward to spending it with all of his kids and grandkids.

Bu every family has its tensions at one time or another. I’ve had my share of family tension this year. I thought I could put it all aside for Christmas and particularly for my parents. The brother who had hurt me and my kids so much this past summer with his cruel, alcohol-induced words really seemed not to get that what he had done was so hurtful. I told myself that he had no idea how hurt I was and I should just let it go. I was ready. I wanted to let it go. But it wasn’t to be. Some people are just unhappy in life and the only thing that seems to help is making other people feel small so that they can feel bigger. I’m a non-confrontational person. When someone gets out of line with me, I seem to be physically incapable of speaking up. I do not sling hurtful words back in anger, as much as I sometimes wish I could. (Believe me, those words are inside of me. I just can’t make them come out.) In particular, with this brother, biting my tongue means keeping my parents happy. They don’t want their kids fighting and disliking each other. But I think I’ve hit the end of my rope with always having to say, “That’s just how he is. Let it go. Walk away. Be the bigger person.” A string of passive-aggressive communications from my brother and his wife during the days leading up to Christmas had frayed every last nerve in my body. It was stupid, juvenile, unprovoked stuff, like a text message conversation. “What food can we bring for Christmas? How about a veggie tray? We don’t want to bring a veggie tray.” … and then no further commitment to what, if any food they might bring to what is traditionally a somewhat pot-luck type of event. Their family of six showed up at the door with a 12-pack of Pepsi instead. There was the annoyed-sounding phone message left after I’d missed a call to my cell phone. “Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about something, but apparently you don’t want to answer my call. CRAZY!” And then when I picked up the land line, “Oh. Nice of you to answer the house phone at least.” I tried to brush it off, not take it personally, and did my best to appease them, the end result being a knot of anxiety in my chest that would not go away. Still hasn’t.

I think I managed to pull off something resembling a decent holiday for the rest of the family, but I came out of it…. scratch that… I went through it and came out of it feeling defeated and angry. I know that Mark and the kids were not the least bit oblivious to my stress. I clearly have not really let go of the old hurts and now every new hurt, no matter how small, seems monumental. I told Mark that I’m done… really done with the extended family gatherings. It’s just not worth it to make myself and my own family miserable before, during and after every event, just because one person can’t manage to treat other people with respect. Or maybe because I take things so personally. Either way, Mark says in another year’s time, I will have forgotten how passionate I feel about this right now and I will change my mind. Not that he disagrees that I have a right to feel hurt after opening up our home and spending hundreds of dollars to entertain twenty plus people. He just doesn’t feel as fiery inside as I seem to. Maybe I will change my mind. I don’t know. But it wouldn’t be so abnormal for us to start “doing our own thing” on the holidays. Our kids are adults. Not long from now, they’ll be getting married and having children of their own. It’s normal for the holidays to become more fragmented as families grow. I want to create good holiday memories with my kids, not leave them with a string of dysfunctional scenarios to mark the years.

I want to love my brother, but right now, I need to love him from afar.

After the big, loud, chaotic family party, Mark and I settled in the living room with our kids and Heather and Connor to open our family gifts. And it was wonderful. Wonderful. My kids are grown ups now, and I love to see how much more joy they now feel in the giving, rather than receiving. We laughed. I smiled. It was such a happy, relaxed time. I no longer felt as if I were walking a tight-rope.

Even Lucy got into the spirit!

Even Lucy got into the spirit!

We hit the sack well after midnight and Christmas Day arrived with a repeat of the extended family gathering with Mark’s relatives. I was physically exhausted, but much more relaxed not having to play hostess. There were family tensions there too, but at least they weren’t mine. And the day provided some of the most heart-warming moments and biggest smiles I’d felt in days.

My kids really seem to have grown up to like each other and enjoy one another’s company.

Christmas 2013 1We are all so excited that Heather will soon be our daughter- and sister-in law.

Christmas 2013 2And my kids are proving that they will someday be fabulous parents, aunts and uncles.

Christmas 2013 3

Ryan knows you are never too old to race Matchbox cars.

Christmas 2013 4

And Jake knows how to get a belly-laugh out of a kid.

I’m always sad that Christmas is over so soon. This year I have mixed feelings. There is too much I want to put behind me. I’m not proud of the way I let things eat away at me and the person I became as a result. I complained too much and couldn’t seem to let things go. This Christmas brought me many reason to feel blessed, but instead, I chose to dwell on the hurts. I need to move past this and move on.

New Year’s Eve, I’ll have another chance to spend time with all of the kids and Mark. I’m so looking forward to it. We’ve decided that we don’t want to go out, don’t want to have people over either. We’re going to get into our comfy clothes, eat appetizers, maybe play some games and watch movies until we fall asleep. I owe this to them.

A new year is just around the corner. A fresh start. A chance to learn how to deal with life better. I’m ready.

My unexpected early Christmas gift

My kitchen window paints pretty pictures when the temperatures drop below zero.Kitchen Window(Humor me here, and pretend you don’t notice that what the window is really telling me is that it’s not fully protecting us from the cold and needs replacing.)

The single digit temperatures are the reason that my Sunday morning began so early today. My dad had duties to fulfill as his church’s deacon and was on deck to deliver the homily at both the eight and ten o’clock masses today. He did the five o’clock mass last night too, and Mom attended that mass with him. But it’s not good for her fragile health to go out in this cold unnecessarily, and since Dad can no longer see well enough to drive, I was out the door at 7:00 this morning to pick him up and take him to church for today’s masses.

I didn’t mind playing taxi driver for my dad this morning. It gave me an excuse to get my day rolling early and get things done once I dropped him off. ‘Tis the season and all that, you know? Lots to do. So my mind was already on the time just after I would drop Dad off and could be on my way. But the car ride brought something unexpected. It was a comment about the fact that even for Minnesota, this seems early for such drastic cold. My dad agreed and started reminiscing. I remember years ago, when I was still working at Brown and Bigelow. We had to work Christmas Eve day back then. They didn’t allow us a day off as part of the holiday. We probably got to leave early that day and it had been snowing, one of those snowfalls where the flakes are big and wet. I could just wipe them off the windshield with my glove. It was snowing, but it wasn’t so cold that day.

Nothing earth-shattering in this story. You’d have to know my dad today to appreciate it. See, these days, his thoughts come more slowly. His words take a while to form. It’s painful sometimes to wait for his meaning to make itself clear while I try to be patient and resist hurting his feelings by finishing for him. It occurred to me that I was enjoying Dad’s little story so much because his words just flowed naturally and it brought me back to a time when he was young, when he was strong, when he was the one who took care of us. I wanted him to go on.

And then right after that Christmas, I remember working New Year’s Eve day. And then it was cold! Really cold. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to go out and celebrate the new year on such a cold night, but I suppose people did anyway. And I don’t think they were as strict about drinking and driving back then.

“Probably not,” I agreed peering through the windshield as tiny snowflakes battered against it, trying to read the street signs. I hadn’t wanted to interrupt him, but I was pretty sure I’d missed the turn to his church. I told him so and he took closer notice of our surroundings.

Oh. Yeah. I think that was it there, he pointed over his shoulder at the side street I’d just passed. My eyes aren’t so good anymore. 

“That’s okay, Dad,” I said. “It’s still a little dark out and the snow coming down doesn’t help.” I made a u-turn and then turned on the correct street. I pulled into the empty parking lot that would soon fill up with church goers and then walked Dad up the steps and into his church. He clutched the manila folder containing his homily that Mom had printed for him in huge type. I was a little disappointed that our ride had come to an end so soon. But Dad had things to do and so did I. I was on my way back to his house to spend the morning with Mom, putting up Christmas.

Because Dad is so dependent on Mom, there’s rarely a time when I get to spend time just with her. I meant to go to my parents’ house and get right to work, doing a little vacuuming and dusting and then putting up the tree. But Mom was sitting comfy in her chair with Little Bear (the dog) on her lap. We started talking and before I knew it, an hour had gone by. I told Mom that I had probably better get something done before Dad was back home already. I laughed and said I especially wanted to make sure I was done with any vacuuming and mopping, since Dad has a tendency to stand and hang around wherever it is I’m trying to clean.

After I’d run the vacuum around the floors, we went to the basement and Mom pointed out the boxes that needed to be brought upstairs. First, I assembled the artificial Christmas tree in the family room and Mom helped me fan the branches out so it didn’t look so smushy anymore. The Mom sat with Bear in her lap again while I fished ornaments out of the box and decorated the tree. Mom commented on the memory that each ornament held. There’s an entire set of bulbs with hand-painted depictions of local churches on each one. Dad receives one each year in honor of his donation to the Annual Catholic Appeal. Mom said that someday, us kids might want to divide them up. She clearly considers the ornaments to be special, but I hated the implication. Someday, when we’re gone…

The final touch to the Christmas tree is, of course, the Nativity set. Mom showed me where she wanted the stable to sit under the tree, then I took out the box of figurines and began to unwrap them. They’re a motley crew of pretty gold and pewter pieces as well as some old, painted ceramic figures that my dad made sometime years and years ago when he was a kid. The ceramic pieces aren’t the most artistic figures you’ve ever seen, but Mom and Dad have used them for as long as I can remember and their Nativity scene just wouldn’t be the same without them.

“Uh oh, Joseph fell over,” I deadpanned as I picked up the figure that had immediately fallen as soon as I placed him in the stable.

Maybe he’s been drinking already today, Mom joked and we laughed at our own irreverence. Mary, Jesus, the wise men and animals all behaved themselves and stood upright on the first try. The crazy angels with Pepto Bismol pink gowns and aqua blue wings took their place in front and soon the Nativity scene was complete.

NativityI had brought my iPod along and Mom and I had been listening to Christmas tunes. I picked up the docking station and carried it up to the living room. It was time to assemble the ceramic village and Christmas trees in the front window. The biggest ceramic tree has fake plastic light bulbs that have to be placed in their holes one by one. Mom and I continued talking, about I don’t know what, while I tried to make sure that the colors were evenly disbursed on the tree. Then one more Nativity scene needed assembly. This one is a clear acrylic set of figures that stand on top of a lighted base. I wrestled with a small broken piece, trying to figure out where it had come from. I couldn’t tell for the longest time, then finally realized that Joseph’s hand that was supposed to be wrapped around a staff was missing from his wrist. This clearly was not Joseph’s day.

“I’d glue it back on if I could figure out how it’s supposed to connect,” I complained.

Don’t worry, as long as he can stand up, no one will notice he’s missing a hand, Mom said. And she was right. Joseph will have to manage without one hand for this Christmas season.

I’ve always admired this set. It’s very peaceful and pretty. Mom remembered this too. Don’t forget, that set is yours, if you still want it, when I’m done with it.

“Yes, I still want it,” I said. “But not for a while yet.”

The house looked good and festive by now and I had time to take the boxes back to the basement and run a mop around the kitchen before my sister showed up with my dad. I had all the kitchen chairs back in place when they came in through the front door, just in time for Dad to come and stand – not on a rug – and let the snow melt from his shoes all over the clean floor! I laughed inwardly because there had been no doubt in my mind while I was mopping that this is exactly what would happen.

Hun? Mom said. Can you take off your shoes? Terri just mopped the floor.

Oh. Yeah. Dad said, not making to move in the least. But eventually, he did. It was lunchtime by that point and I had Christmas shopping to do so I said my goodbyes. My sister and I walked out to the driveway together and I said, “I had such a good time with Mom this morning.”

“Are you being sarcastic or serious?” She asked. I guess she thought I couldn’t be serious about having fun doing housework and putting Christmas up for a second time this season.

“I’m serious,” I laughed. And as I thought about it, I realized how grateful I was for the simple pleasure of spending time with my parents without rushing, without thinking how much I needed to be somewhere else or about all the things I wasn’t crossing off my own to-do list. This morning was a gift, one of those times I hope that as my parents continue to age and slow down, I will always remember as simple and unexpected and joyful.

My Girl is Home

Kacey is on “Fall Break,” which means she gets a Friday off from classes and came home tonight for a long weekend. I love when Kacey’s home and not just because she was standing in the kitchen cooking when I came in the door from work tonight. Gosh, it’s nice to see someone else in the family doing the cooking once in a while!

It’s been a few weeks since she’s been home and I’ve missed her. Even Jake, who may or may not come out for food on occasion, surfaced from the depths of his room. He came into the kitchen as we prepared tacos for dinner, all Mr. Social and personable.

“Can I help with anything?” he asked.

“What? Who are you and what have you done with my son?” I asked. Okay so I didn’t really, but don’t think it escaped my attention that he willingly came to the kitchen to converse with other family members. AND OFFERED TO HELP. (Seriously, it’s going to take me a while to stop marveling over that one.) I told him he could go to the refrigerator and find the shredded cheese, sour cream, and taco sauce. I’m pretty sure he set the table too while I wasn’t looking. Will miracles never cease?

Kacey comes home and breathes life into the usual routine. She tells stories that have me laughing before I’ve even heard the punchline…

So the other day, I burped in my room and it sounded weirder than usual. And then I heard Andi and Haley laughing in the other room and I was like, “Uh, did you guys actually hear that? And they were in hysterics and I was like, “Um, excuse me?

And so then Andi asked, “Have you ever burped in public and it came out louder than you expected…?”

It cracks me up that they actually discuss these kinds of things! I love that they do. All too soon they’ll have to be grown up and serious. Their opportunities to contemplate bodily functions will be much more limited in the near future.

I love having Kacey home because she agrees with my opinions. Mark and I have had an ongoing discussion about whether meals should contain a variety of color. This began one evening when we were eating leftovers. We had Chicken a la King on biscuits. Mark wandered to the refrigerator and pulled out some leftover cauliflower.

“Want some of this?”

“Eew, no,” I said, crinkling my nose.

“What? You like cauliflower.”

“I know,” I explained, “but it’s too much white food.”

He laughed and said he didn’t get it. I said we couldn’t have white vegetables with a white main dish. It’s important for food to have a variety of color. He shook his head like I was crazy, but tonight when I mentioned I wanted the “yellow” taco shell instead of the “white,” he was reminded of my food/color hang-up and started to make fun. Kacey put him in his place and said how it was important for meals to have contrasting colors (and weren’t the tacos just so colorful?)

She’s my kid for sure.

A trip to Target for three things turned into an hour-long excursion, mostly because we just kept wandering around the store talking, telling stories, looking at things. I put on a turkey hat that I found in the dollar section and she scolded me, “Mother! No! Take that off. Someone we know is going to see this. Put it back.”

And even though she pretended to be appalled, she couldn’t stop laughing.

I love that cooking a meal can be fun with her. I love that a trip to Target can be fun with her. I love that she’s home for the next three days.

Dog Possessed

Have I ever mentioned what an extreme animal lover my mom is? Always has been. Sometimes I think she likes her animals better than she likes her people. Sometimes I can completely understand that.

There are old pictures of my mom. One in particular stands out in my mind. It’s a black and white photograph of a young farm girl. She’s standing outside in the yard in a winter coat that reaches her knees. There’s snow on the ground and she’s wearing saggy tights and has winter boots on her feet. There’s a sweet smile on her face and in her arms, she’s holding a cat that’s nearly half the size of her.

There are stories of Mom and her chickens. There’s the picture of mom and the cat. But most often, there are the stories of Mom and her dogs. Another black and white photo comes to mind. Mom isn’t in that one, but three little Pekingese dogs are in it. One was named Penny. I remember that much. The other two dogs’ names are lost somewhere in the recesses of my memory.

Almost as soon as Mom and Dad were married, they had begun their family. We four kids came in quick succession and there were dogs right from the start too. I have no memories of him; I was that young or maybe not even born yet, but the first was Sugar Pooch. (Who names their dog Sugar Pooch? My parents, that’s who!) Then there was Neko. Neko I remember. He was a big, pretty Collie who thought he was little enough to wander around under the kitchen table while the family ate. (He wasn’t.) Our little house with a family of six people and a tiny yard proved to be too small for Neko. He was constantly in trouble. He needed space. Mom and Dad sent him to live with a cousin who had a farm.  I hated saying goodbye to Neko, but he was better off in his new wide-open space.

Kippy looked a LOT like this.

Kippy looked a LOT like this.

Sometime after Neko left us, around the time I was six years old and in Kindergarten, I came home to find that Mom had a new “baby.” His name was Kippy and he was a funny-looking little Pekingese dog. He had a smushy face and a curled, furry tail. He was really cute and Mom was head-over-heels for him. And Kippy soon showed that the feeling was mutual. He was fiercely loyal to my mom and was never far from her side. In fact, he was usually in her lap.

There are a few cute stories about Kippy, like the time my mom left her place at the kitchen table to answer the phone. She had just sat down to have a bowl of homemade vegetable soup. This was before cordless phones when a length of the phone cord dictated how far a person could move from the place where the phone was located. Mom finished her short conversation and turned to head back to her chair at the table where she saw Kippy, front paws on the table, happily licking up the last remnants of her soup.

Yeah… that was cute. But Kippy wasn’t always so cute. Like I said, he worshipped my mom. He was protective of her and barked viciously at anyone who dared to walk along the fence surrounding our front yard. And god forbid anyone come to the door! Kippy also felt inclined to show us kids who was in charge in Mom’s kitchen. We didn’t dare do our after dinner chores in stocking feet. Kippy hid under the open dishwasher door. If an unsuspecting kid tried to load the dishwasher minus shoes, Kippy would bite their toes. I know he drew blood from me on at least one occasion.

He also wouldn’t let us kids pass through the kitchen to go down the basement stairs. I remember trying to sneak past Kippy as he lay on the floor guarding the doorway to the basement. He snarled and barked and lunged at anyone trying to get by (except for Mom.) If we could get to the first step though, he was usually too lazy to chase us. It got so that when I knew I had to pass Kippy to go down the basement where my bedroom was, I’d go put on my winter boots. I laughed hysterically the first time I thought to do this. I put big, black snowmobile boots on my feet and let him attack the boots to his heart’s content. He couldn’t hurt my toes anymore!

Kippy’s favorite game was “tuck the kids in bed.” My sister and I shared a double bed. Mom would call down the stairs to let us know that Kippy was coming to tuck us in. We would squeal and hide under the blankets and Mom would come in carrying her baby, then set him down on the bed where he’d bounce around, snarling, trying to get the blankets off our heads.

Kippy scared the heck out of me. He had a nasty temper and only loved one person – my mom. He tolerated my dad, but he clearly felt he ranked above us kids in the family hierarchy. And clearly, my mom had some kind of twisted sense of humor to let her dog act so nasty to us kids. But believe it or not, Kippy provided many fond family memories. I remember being fed up with that vicious little ankle-biter more times than I can count, but when we tell childhood stories, they often involve Kippy.

Thankfully, not long after Kippy came along, Mom brought home a “sister” for him. She was another Pekingese named Tina. Tina was much nicer to us kids and never thought to bite our toes. Somehow, she made up for the fact that we had to put up with Kippy, a dog who often acted so possessed!

When I was thirteen, Kippy got sick with pancreatic cancer. It was my first real experience with losing a pet and really understanding that feeling of loss. I forgot all those years of feeling what a nuisance Kippy was. I forgot about his antagonistic demeanor and my bitten toes. Suddenly he was sick, weak and fading away. He didn’t scare us anymore, but we sure wished he could. Suddenly he let us kids pet him, kiss the soft top of his furry head and tell him we loved him. Suddenly he was gone and we were so heartbroken.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Abby often has stories on her blog that are prompted by the prompts at Mama Kat’s blog. Abby’s prompted writings often prompt me to remember a story. Today I read Abby’s story about her childhood fear of dogs, her response to Mama Kat’s promptSomething that scared you when you were young. Are you still afraid?  Abby’s fear-of-dogs story reminded me of when I was afraid of a dog and I decided to jump on the prompty bandwagon.

I was afraid of my family’s own dog!

Engaged!

The bowling alley was loud on Monday night. Three different leagues play on Mondays and they fill up the place. We girls were a ways into our first game and I had my cell phone out and was checking it periodically. When I’d left the house, Jake wasn’t yet home from work, which was strange. He’s usually home before me, but I knew he was on a big job so I wasn’t too worried. But I’d sent him a text message anyway, asking him to let me know when he finally got home.

After bowling one of my turns, I checked my phone again and noticed I’d missed a call from Brad. I knew I didn’t stand much chance of holding a conversation with him while I was in the bowling alley, so I sent him a text message asking, “What’s up?”

His return message said, “Call me, please.”

I glanced up at the board and saw that there were a number of players ahead of me. I could probably sneak away for a minute or so. I grabbed my phone and dialed while walking out of the bowling alley into the relatively quiet bar. Brad answered quickly, but my reception was sketchy.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“… just wanted to let you know…”

“Hold on, Honey,” I said. “You’re breaking up and I’m heading outside to get better service.” As I neared the exit, I said, “Okay, try again.”

“… just wanted to let you know … (unintelligible)… soon to be … (unintelligible) … in law.”

Now I had reached a place where my phone reception was clear. And I had an idea of what Brad was trying to tell me, but I wanted to be sure. And I was having trouble staying calm. “Wait! What, Honey? What did you just say? Tell me again!”

“I just wanted to let you know,” he said, “that Heather is officially your soon-to-be daughter-in-law!”

I think I might have squealed at this point. And my response was something to the effect of, “OhMyGod!YouDidIt?YouReallyDidIt?YouFinallyAskedHer?I’mSOexcited!I’mSOhappy!Congratulations!”

At this point, Brad confirmed that yes, he had finally asked Heather to marry him and she had said yes! After a brief, extremely happy exchange, he told me to go back and bowl.

“But I want to hear all about it,” I said. “Will you be home tomorrow night? How about if I call you then and you can give me all the details?”

“Okay,” he said, “But there’s really nothing else to tell.”

“I’ll call tomorrow,” I promised. I was beaming so hard I thought my face might burst. I rushed back to my team and announced, “I’m going to be a mother-in-law!” My girlfriends all squealed in delight, just like I had. A chorus of congratulations and hugs were shared. Everyone knows how much my family and I have been hoping that Brad and Heather would make this commitment to tie the knot.

I bowled really well that night. Maybe being really ecstatic is the key to good bowling?

Tuesday after work, I called Heather. (I knew Brad really wouldn’t have much more to tell me.) She told me how Brad made her think that he was surprising her with her birthday present (which he did) but then dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him. When Heather told me, “I always told myself I wouldn’t cry if this day ever came, but when he asked me, I couldn’t help it! I cried!”

I loved hearing that. I had tears of joy in my eyes as Heather told me how she felt. We have considered Heather to be a part of the family for a long time now. I loved her right from the start, when during one of her first visits home with Brad, she noticed Mark being crabby. She looked right at him and asked, “Are you wearing your crabby pants? You go back to your room right now and change out of them!” Dang if Mark didn’t crack a smile and shed his crabby attitude. The rest of us were in awe of Heather at that moment.

Over the last few years, as Brad and Heather have dated, it’s become obvious that she is the girl for him. They fit with each other. They respect each other. They have fun together and always look like they are right where they belong when they are together. It’s an amazing feeling to know that a person we’ve grown to know and love wants to spend the rest of her days with our boy, wants to share it all with him. I couldn’t ask for anyone more perfect for my son and I couldn’t be happier that Heather will officially become a member of our family in 2015! (Yes, it’s a long wait, but she wants to finish school – again- first.) This will be worth the wait!

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Happy Goals

Kacey came home from school for the weekend. She and Connor had a wedding to attend – his uncle’s. It was a casual affair, a second marriage for both the bride and groom. The event was a  fifties-themed backyard party and Kacey and Connor dressed accordingly, to the best of their ability anyway. As college students on limited budgets, poodle skirts and leather jackets weren’t really in the cards. But I thought they looked great.

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Mark and I went bowling while the kids were gone. We were home at a decent hour and the kids were already back from the wedding. They said they had fun. The food was good and there was even some dancing, which they love to do.

This morning, Mark, Kacey and I went to the farmers market in St. Paul. We bought carrots, bell peppers, sweet corn, radishes, beets, cauliflower and apples. I think Mark would have bought more stuff, but I reminded him that we had to be able to realistically eat all this stuff before it went bad. Besides, we couldn’t carry anymore in our overloaded arms.

At home, Kacey and I baked. I had a bunch of bananas going bad that we made into bread and I’d been craving some pumpkin cookies I made for the first time last year. So we did those too. I always have so much more fun working in the kitchen when she’s there to work alongside me or just keep me company.

We packed up some of each for Kacey to take back to school. She also took a little cooler of things I’d been freezing in individual portions for her. The oven in her apartment gets hotter than it should and the girls have burned a lot of food in their attempts at home cooking. So I’ve been stashing stuff in the freezer for Kacey – a couple of containers of pot roast and potatoes, some chicken and wild rice soup, pulled pork and taco meat. Kacey was thrilled. She said something about feeling a little bit bad for letting me do so much for her. I told her I enjoyed the chance to still “mother” her whenever I could. She said, “Good. ‘Cause I like it when you do.”

Everybody’s happy!

Speaking of being happy, I’ve been thinking about things I can do to promote a more positive attitude. I found a good quote to keep in mind this week. Considering where the idea of “happy goals” began, this seems appropriate.

Anger QuoteI’ve thought and thought and thought about what my specific goals should be. And I finally realized I was putting too much pressure on myself to come up with something really impressive. But then I finally realized that starting simple might be the better way to go, at least at first. So, this week I will strive to:

  1. Look for the good – There are usually more smiles, laughs and positive exchanges in my days than negative. I will choose to let the good stuff take up residence in my head and let the negative stuff roll off my back.
  2. Get outside – I spend too much time inside, at a desk, behind a computer. Fall is my favorite time of year. And I have a dog who loves to go for walks. She has plenty of room to run in the yard, but she would much rather go exploring around the neighborhood.
  3. Eat better - at least one vegetable a day. (I’m good with fruits, not so much with vegetables.)
  4. Perform a random act of kindness

In a week, maybe I’ll be willing to share how it all went. :-)