Archive for November 2011

Now Here’s a Thought…

November 27, 2011

Thank goodness, another sunrise...

Several years ago I went through a reading phase where I read many books by women mostly who pondered elements in lives, some dealt with past lives, some mired in the present, some determined to share the path they thought most valuable to attain the future we all wanted. The writers wrote to appeal to the all inclusive we.

However, I believe for most of them they were mired in the I perspective. I had no problem with that; in fact many of the books gave me something to chew on. I can’t say that any of them became my guidebook for living. My mother might refer to that as my stubborn nature.

Maybe I am.

But while I’m an educated woman and I’ve read an incredible number of books, from mind numbing academic texts and treatises to commercial fiction, from books dealing with religions and their philosophies, from biographies to cookbooks, and everything in between, not one of them has totally changed my life.

None of them by themselves turned me into a better woman, a wiser woman, a more caring individual.

Maybe because I’m stubborn as Mom always said.

Am I sorry I read all those books, some more than once?

Of course not. In some way, in a measure larger or smaller depending on the book, its contents became useful to me—if only as a measure of what I didn’t like and agree with.

So as I ponder my life what has made me wiser, better, more caring? Maybe even more stubborn?

Don’t laugh when I tell you. And please don’t think I’m simplistic and dismiss the idea I put forth. But the most influential learning tool I’ve had is my life experiences and all that encompasses.

That means first of all accepting life is full of personal pratfalls—and I’ve had many. Literally. But if I don’t get up, dust myself off, and keep moving on, well, I haven’t learned a thing. In one particular case of taking a well-witnessed fall, I learned always to watch where I was walking, hang on to my skirt (that’s another story), and wear sensible shoes.

To paraphrase Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” (and my brother Jerry’s favorite song), mistakes, I’ve made huge ones. But I learned to learn from them, analyze them, figure out what I was responsible for so I could change it, and then work on that. I also learned to be wary of situations similar to my mistake so I could avoid them or prepare to deal with them in a better way.

Did I learn from them?

In both the above examples, I’m sure many of those books helped me come to my conclusions and knowledge gained from the experiences. However, I don’t think those concepts would have been as meaningful to me had I not been able to apply them to real life situations. My real life.

We’ve all heard that old saying, “Walk a mile in my shoes and then judge me.” Some of us may have used it. I’d like to alter it a bit and to say something like “If I walk a mile in my shoes with my eyes and mind wide open, I will learn more about me and life.”

Or maybe it’s that stubborn nature my mom talked about with me.

Stubborn nature or not, here’s my thought for the week: The more days we live, the more we walk/live a life. The more we learn. So treasure each day, each experience along the way. Do you agree?

Uncle Jim: A Thanksgiving Memory

November 20, 2011

Late November 2011 sunrise

I’m posting late today, but my reason is I’ve been busy caring for my disabled son. He’s a vent dependent quadriplegic—think Christopher Reeve a.k.a Superman. Neither one was disabled by Kryptonite but falls. Different circumstances for my son and Christopher Reeve, but the result was the same—a catastrophic life change. Neither one of them would ever be able to do anything for themselves again.

Catastrophic for the injured party. Catastrophic for their families.

In our case one of the consequences is that if we can’t leave him alone and often must miss events or appointments if we can’t get help with caring for him. Sometimes we can’t plan on this. People get sick, have accidents, die. That often messes with a schedule or free time.

So do holidays and vacations.

And this week in November has Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving week and Christmas/New Years are always difficult. But several years ago, 2002 I think, my uncle and godfather died on this day. I was caring for my son and wouldn’t be able to get to Minnesota for his funeral or to the small farming community in Iowa where he would be buried. I felt so bad then about that. I still do.

But I knew then and still do, that he understood why I wasn’t there. By staying positive about my responsibilities to my son I was honoring him in a manner he always understood. He practiced it himself. And by his example he passed that characteristic on.

Uncle Jim and me

Of course, he had a fantastic example in his father and mother. Both were always about family and being nurturers. My grandfather even extended that to his occupation as a farmer. Hed nurtured his land and his animals as he did his family and his friends.

As an adult my uncle and I lived a great distance from each other. However, my connection and deep affection for him never faltered. I loved his quiet sense of humor. I admired how hard he worked in his life to provide the best life possible for his family. I loved that he always honored his parents; I adored them.

I remember as a little girl and before he married, he tried to quit smoking. He always had a carrot in his pocket or a toothpick. I suspect he started smoking when he was in the service during WWII because my grandfather hated the smoking habit.

My Uncle Jim was younger than my mom but always her big brother. She loved him dearly In the last few months of her life when I was staying with her at night, she would talk of her brother and different experiences they shared growing up. A few days before she died she mentioned she was ready because she would soon be with those who went before her, especially Jim and my dad.

And that reminds me of another part of Uncle Jim. He helped me to understand my father and the complex man that he was. They were very different Uncle Jim and my dad. But they respected each other. They loved each other. Uncle Jim told me once he’d never forget that my dad drove my Gram, Uncle Jim’s mother, to Minnesota when Uncle Jim was very ill. He reminded me my dad had a sense of family and I should never forget it. (Sometimes that wasn’t easy with my dad and me)

Uncle Jim. Dad, Mom

And another special memory I treasure concerns a strawberry milkshake. I was at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and had endured two extensive and very long surgeries on my back. I’d not been able to keep any food down for over a week. The result—I wasn’t starting to heal. My uncle and aunt came down for the weekend. My mom who was staying up there to be near me was very worried. Uncle Jim had his usual calming effect and after about half an hour, he slipped from the room and returned later with milkshakes. Mom had strawberry so he got a tiny one for me. Just in case.

He teased me in his own special way, trying to get me to at least taste it. I had to try. After all, Uncle Jim asked.

That shake tasted so good. Even better it stayed down. Before he left the next day, he managed to get another one down me. Two weeks later I was finally able to go home.

I swear that shake was what started my healing process. Thank you, Uncle Jim.

So every year, Thanksgiving comes around. Every year I’m spending more time with my son. And every year I think of Uncle Jim and how he helped shape me to be the caregiver I’ve become. It’s tradition. It’s family. I’m thankful I had Uncle Jim in my life.

So who are you especially thankful for having been part of your life?

Food, Family, Preparing & Gathering Memories

November 13, 2011

Coming Soon

Since I’ve been really busy these past few weeks with final reading/editing Fireweed, the sequel to Black Ribbon Affair, I’ve avoided thinking about Thanksgiving until I had to.

But major holidays like Thanksgiving don’t just happen. Unless you’re a kid and need only show up. I could name a few other types, but I’m not generally one of them. I suppose it helps that I’m the oldest child in a family of six children who also happens to be a female. I also happen to be the oldest grandchild–again I’m still a female.

I learned very early on that Thanksgiving is so much more than the day, the history, the dinner, the football games, and maybe the deer hunt–but even then, those family hunters made a male version of our traditional dinner: stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, squash, turkey, the essentials.

So I found myself expecting to do the whole dinner thing this year but for a very small group of us. Our family has grown and increased with extended families. Once the “kids” started marrying then the yearly family Thanksgiving feast started a rotation of “in-law” years and “our” years.

We love turkey

This is an “in-law” year which for “our” family means my disabled son who lives with us, my hubby, my widowed sister, me, and whatever strays might show up. Easy-peasy for me to handle with my now much smaller kitchen and dining room. I even had the menu planned (easy since we are very traditional and have specific favorites) and when I’d be doing what to get ready. (Okay, I’m a planner and proud of it.)

But then the “kids” decided to do the Turkey Run/Walk and several would be staying around. And Thanksgiving doesn’t happen unless all family members in the area get together. As quick as a blink, Thanksgiving plans got changed. One of the “kids” offered host the dinner. Again this “kid” is the oldest in the area other than my disabled son, but he’s a guy. Fortunately, he’s married to this great young woman who’s fit in to our family routine very well. She’s also very organized–always a big plus in my book.

So in a flurry of emails, a few phone calls, maybe a tweet or two though I’m not going there, Thanksgiving changed in location. And once it was all done, I thought about how, the day and the dinner was two weeks away but we are ready. We all know what we are responsible for doing to make this day happen. Then it dawned on me: this next generation of family was stepping up. Since they have children, I suspect those little ones aren’t exactly thinking of anything more than Pilgrims, turkey, lots of foods they won’t touch because they’re different but maybe someday…

Polishing help, anyone?

And that produced other thoughts. About Thanksgiving, food traditions, family, memories. I thought back to my first memories of Thanksgiving. During WWII, my mother and I lived with her parents while my father was fighting in the South Pacific. I became very close to my grandparents and as first grandchild I got to spend much uninterrupted time with them and have so many memories that some of my younger cousins never had a chance to have.

But back to Thanksgiving. One of my earliest memories of the day didn’t happen on the day, but a few days before. That’s when I learned that Thanksgiving takes planning and it’s a fair amount of work. How much I didn’t really have a clue as I was maybe 3 years old at the time.

But Gramma opened the silverware chest and removed all the ugly black forks, knives, spoons, etc. She gave some to me to carry to the kitchen table which was now covered with newspapers. Then she showed me how to polish the spoons. While we did the chore, she talked of the days when she was a young mother and my mom helped with this task. I’m quite sure I wasn’t very good that first time, but I got better. We did that before every holiday. (Guess what I’m not doing these days???) But I treasure those special times with my Gram.

Spices for our recipes

Like I said earlier, we’re a family steeped in tradition when it comes to food on holidays. My mom remembered helping making the same things when she was a girl that I remember making with her and my gramma. I learned that my mom’s grandmother lived with them when mom was a girl and was part of the dinner preparations. I had my boys working alongside my mom and gram and me. I’m sure my niece will be having her 2 beautiful kids help her with the things she’s making. And yes, once she came into the family and made a special dish her family loved, we’ve pulled that wonderful vegetable dish into our list of Thanksgiving “must haves.”

So by my count, we’ve been doing this preparation, cooking, and coming together for Thanksgiving for six generations. I suspect it goes back even further.  What a legacy, what a family–I can’t wait for the day.

So are you a Thanksgiving planner and a traditional menu kind of person?

Leaves on the ground now

Or is your family one who’s always expanding favorites for the “in-laws” menu to add to your holiday meal?

November Slips Into View

November 6, 2011

November 1st sunrise

A beautiful night–crisp in temperature, a quarter moon bright in the star-filled sky. Then dawn arrived–a real beauty.

November burst upon us disguised as a glorious late October day. Mother Nature and the calendar fooled us into not thinking about that calendar flipping over.

To November. The month of monstrous gales off the Great Lakes. Ones whose fury has been immortalized in Gordon Lightfoot’s, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” That sinking happened on November 10, 1975. Sustained winds that day were 40-58 mph. Some were higher in the 70 mph gust range. Those winds and waves, some as high as 35 feet eventually took the freighter down. It’s all in Lightfoot’s song.

Well, last week after November’s Trojan Horse arrival, it launched its usual behavior. The next day gale force winds buffeted us living along the shore. High winds whipped 10-20 foot waves. They raced to shore and crashed against the rocks, bluffs, and sand beaches. We had overcast and dreary, dark days for a couple days.

Angry Lake

Nothing is more majestic in its fury than water, especially large bodies of water. The shipping freighters came closer to shore as they headed toward Chicago or the Soo Locks. November pushes them hug the shore.

November is the time nature prepares to rest. It must rest better with dim days and leaden overcast skies. Resting during the day mustn’t be enough as days get shorter and shorter and night falls well before dinner is on the table.

November has its good points. It contains only 30 days. They can swiftly move by as we prepare for the coming winter holidays.

November is the month we remember our veterans and the sacrifices they have made to keep our nation free and our democracy intact. On Friday, November 11, 2011, we should all stop for a moment and face east at 11:00 AM in memory of the moment WWI, the “War to End All Wars” concluded.

I remember as a child doing that. If that day fell on a school day, the teacher would watch the clock. Just before eleven, she’d have us all rise and face East. Then with hands over our hearts, we’d say the Pledge of Allegiance and then offer a prayer that peace would remain for the world. If the day fell at home, my parents and grandparents did the same. That was part of November for me and still is. And unfortunately, the initial reason for the day didn’t hold true. It wasn’t the war to end wars.

This year, come Friday, I will do as I’ve always done, but add another prayer–that the wars happening today will soon end and our world can find a way to live together with civility and fairness to all.

But back to November. For the US, we celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s the time to be thankful for the harvests we’ve been granted. It’s the day we celebrate the blessings in our lives. It’s often the day families gather together to remind themselves they are family and have traditions.

My Favorite Photo of my son and grandson

November is also the birthday month of my grandson. In fact his birthday will be tomorrow.  Fifteen years ago he arrived a few weeks early and had to fight to live. I will never forget the phone call I received that morning from my son, his father. The anguish in his voice told me more than his words how dire this baby’s chances were to survive and be a healthy child.

But the neo-natal team members were skilled and talented and Remi was a fighter. Each call from my son noting Remi’s progress showed concern, but less anguish. Within a day, this valiant newborn was doing much better and while he spent a few extra days in the hospital to get up to weight, he’s been a healthy boy.

Tomorrow he will be 15. As he’s gone through his childhood and I see photos of him and compare them to his day, it’s as if I’m taken back in time they are so much alike in looks.

Today is one of those gray November days. The wind whips off the lake and our lakeside trees are bare-limbed. Waves pound the shore like canon balls.

A November sight

We got an extra hour of sleep last night with daylight savings time retreating till next spring. That means this afternoon will be dark by half time in the Packer game.

What a difference an hour makes, in our calendar, in our day, in our lives.

November is a bitter sweet month. A month of contrasts.

What are your November thoughts?