Catching Up

It’s been a busy time, since last I stopped by here. The entire month of December is gone, and we’re a week into a New Year. So what’s going on?

I went to Portland for a long weekend in early December. It was my step-mom’s 70th birthday, and I went up to help her celebrate. Ted didn’t come with me, mostly because of his cat allergies, which means he can’t come inside (or at least not for long) most of the houses for our family. That can work fine in summer, we sleep at a hotel or house sit for neighbors, and we eat dinner in my parents’ back yard. That wouldn’t work this time, as it was snow and ice everywhere. Maya didn’t come with me, because while the party was on Dec 10th, her finals started Dec 12th, so she had to be here to study. So it was me alone. While there, I realized that I believe the only other time I’ve gone to Portland without Ted and/or Maya, it was January of 1988, when I went up to meet my sisters for the first time. They were 17 years old and in high school. I’m pretty sure that Ted came with me on my trips after that, and there were times when Maya and I went without him (cat issues, or work), or the three of us went. It was nice in a way, though I did miss them. I flew up on Thursday, and on Friday my dad and I went down the hill from the house to help get ready for the party. A neighbor, who has parties and fundraisers in her house often, offered the use of her home for the party, which was great. Dad and Julie live on a VERY steep hill, which is absolutely no fun when it is covered in ice. So to get down the hill can be tricky. We had walking poles, but it was so steep, we decided to slide down the hill on a piece of cardboard. That sounds more fun than it was. The ice was thin, and not at all smooth, and we felt every bump and rock on the way down. The cardboard shredded by the time we got to the bottom of the hill. My dad took this picture of me when I’m part way down. At this point, I’m frustrated, and thinking it would have been more fun to stay in the house with a cup of hot chocolate or something. This little puppy ran out to say hello and urge me on. It worked, the puppy was SO cute, it cheered me right up. The rest of the way to the house was still slippery, but we had our poles, and it wasn’t steep, so we were fine.
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I spent that evening with my sister and her husband, which was really great. They married in March, and we went up to celebrate in September. We’ve met her husband a couple of times, but this was the first time I got to spend time with just Melissa and Jason, and it was really nice to get to know him better. Saturday, Melissa and I did some Christmas shopping, and had lunch with Jason and some friends. Saturday night was the party, which was great, the ice had melted and everything was lovely. Then Sunday I came home. It was a fun trip.

What else…well, I caught a stupid cold. We had our annual baking day, which was fun, and I put together a box of cookies to bring to my friend Trudy. I used to deliver Meals on Wheels to her, but she went off of the route last year, when she moved from her home to an assisted living facility. I brought them to her on the Sunday before Christmas, and on Monday realized I was sick with a cold. Damn. It was a crummy head cold, which then went into my chest. I didn’t deliver Meals on Wheels that week, because I felt horrid, and also I worried about getting the clients on my route sick. I went again the Thursday after Christmas, and I asked another woman on my route, Dana, if she had heard how Trudy was doing. Trudy passed away the Tuesday after Christmas. Crap. I hope to hell I didn’t give her my cold. She was 101, and when I saw her last, she was not doing well. Not much appetite, not dressed, just taking it easy. Not really like herself. I am going to miss her, she was a real character and such a sweet woman.

Last weekend was my birthday, and it was beautiful weather, so Ted, Maya, Mulder, and I went to Pescadero, which is a little town at the coast between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. They have a bakery there that sells some amazing bread with artichoke hearts baked inside. So we ate delicious artichoke bread, then went to the beach to smell the salt water. It was a perfect day, and when we got home and cleaned up, we got dressed and went out for a delicious birthday dinner. Here’s Mulder at the beach.
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Now here we are, it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon. We’ve been watching the screeners that Ted gets for being part of the SAG-AFTRA Union. We’ve seen Lion, which we loved, and Fences, which was very good, and I liked it more than Ted did. We have a couple of others that we haven’t watched yet. Manchester by the Sea, Jackie, and likely one or two others that I’ve forgotten. We’re supposed to get La La Land, but it hasn’t happened yet. We’re also watching the new One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix, which we are really enjoying. Mostly it’s been a good winter so far, but I could have done without losing Trudy or getting sick. Next weekend we bury my Grandma’s remains, and my mom’s as well. My Grandma was cremated, and wanted to be buried in the grave with her first husband, my Grandpa Roland, who died when my mom was 5. We are going to bury my mom’s remains in with them, as well as a bit of my Uncle Forrest’s remains, and a picture of their baby Roland, who died a few weeks after birth. There’s good and bad to that. I miss my Grandma, and it’s going to be sad. I miss my mom, and that’s going to be sad, too. I miss my uncle. Blech, it all sucks. But on the other hand, 4 of the 6 cousins will be there, including my brother Richard, who I don’t see often, since he lives in Alaska. I’m looking forward to seeing him.

That’s it for now. Hoping you’re well.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my birthday!  This is the last year of my 40s, and next year I’ll be 50, which seems so much older than I feel.  Then again, with the arthritis that’s been plaguing me, I am feeling a lot older than I did 6 months ago.  Oh well, I’m treating myself to a prednisone, which should help somewhat and allow me to have energy for the things I want to do today.  Which include:

  • Going to breakfast with Ted and Maya.  We’re going to a place in Pleasanton that is known for its omelets.  I love eggs, so this seems like a great idea to me.
  • Going to San Francisco, to the Yerba Buena Center for the arts.  I thought of going to the Legion of Honor or the DeYoung, but neither of them have exhibits I really want to see right now, and we’ve been so many times…so we’ll go somewhere new for a change.  Fun!
  • Shoe shopping!  A DSW opened in our neighborhood a few months ago, and we’ve not yet gone.  I’m not sure what I’ll find, but hopefully there will be something interesting or comfy or pretty (or all three, how would that be?)
  • Nice dinner.  Ted’s making duck, per my request.  We’ve never cooked duck at home, so this will be a treat and an adventure.
  • We may or may not stay up until midnight to ring in the New Year.  It’s rarely my favorite thing to do…I generally like sleep more, but who knows?  Could happen.

I’m looking forward to my birthday gifts, which are mainly in the form of delayed gratification this year.  My brother got me Season 5 of Downton Abbey on DVD (can’t wait!), but that isn’t released until near the end of January.  Ted got me the annotated biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is on back order and I’m not sure when it will come.   My parents sent me money, which I am going to use to go to the hair salon.  That won’t be as long of a wait, I just need to make an appointment.   I got a gift certificate for a massage for Christmas, which I haven’t used yet.  I haven’t decided WHEN I want to use it, yet.  Maybe on a warmish day, as the spa is connected to a gym, and they have a nice outdoor pool.  The shoes, should I find them, the breakfast, the day with my family, the duck, those are all no-wait treats, and I know that I’ll enjoy them mightily.  One nice thing about a New Year’s Eve birthday is that I always (at least since I left hotel work) have the next day off.  So that will be nice.  Oh, and Maya has a job now, which means that she has spending money, and bought me very nice Christmas gifts, and there’s something under the tree from her for my birthday, which I look forward to opening.  (A birthday near Christmas often means birthday gifts under the Christmas tree!)

There’s something about birthdays that tends to make one reflect a bit, and a birthday on the last day of the year likely enforces this proclivity.  So I’m reflecting today on all of the things I am thankful for…my beloved husband and daughter, my family, my friends, my home, my job, my health. I feel so fortunate to have so much.

I miss my mom every day.  I miss her on Mother’s Day, her birthday, and the anniversary of her death (which sometimes falls on Father’s Day), more than ordinary days.  But the day I miss her most is my birthday.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps because of everyone on Earth, she knew me the longest.  We were together before I was born.  She knew me for all of my childhood, my ups and downs, successes and failures.  I’ve lived with Ted now longer than I lived with my mom, which is a crazy thought.  So likely he knows me more than she did, or at least, the adult me.  But there’s something about that mother/child relationship that is unique.  I miss her uniquely.

Friday Randomness (belated…)

Graduation Invitation
Isn’t that a cute Graduation Invite, for a proud parent to send out to invite her friends and family to show off her daughter, and celebrate said daughter’s accomplishment in school? Yes, it is. See how cute, the picture of her Kindergarten graduation? Her official Senior photo (in my great aunt’s pearls), her other, casual Senior photos? Sigh. The thing is, Maya doesn’t want a graduation party. She doesn’t want to hang out with a bunch of Ted and my friends, feeling self-conscious because everyone is looking at her. She and her friends will have been partying at the ‘All Knighter’ (They’re the Knights), and she’d rather go from party to party at her friend’s houses. I don’t blame her. But still, I’m a little disappointed. I have attended parties for several of my friends’ kids, and I enjoyed them. I enjoyed admiring the graduating senior, hearing about their plans going forward, all of that. I want my friends to enjoy that coming to see my child. So here I am, letting it go. LETTING IT GO. It’s her graduation, not mine. I’ll have a party later in the summer with my friends, and we will have a lovely time. They will admire my child, not because it is her graduation, but because they love her, and they love me. So there.

Friday afternoon, our front door lock broke. Always on a Friday, right? Of a holiday weekend? That’s when the kid comes down with a fever (though generally they wait until the doctor’s office is closed), the stove/air conditioner/hot water heater goes out, that kind of thing. All things you want fixed NOW, and you will have to wait until Monday. I’ve heard that what duct tape doesn’t fix, WD-40 will, I tried oiling the dead bolt. No help. (The issue was that the dead bolt would only come out about 1/5 of the way, not the full extended way.) So I took the door knob thing apart (two little screws were all that was needed), figured out what was wrong, then went to look in my ‘fix everything around the house’ book that my Grandmother gave us years ago. No help at all. None. So I took the pieces to my local Ace hardware store, hoping that they could either tell me how to fix it, or sell me a replacement. Nope. However, at 4:40 in the afternoon, they gave me a recommendation to a local locksmith. Across town. So I called them and asked them if they could maybe stay open until I got there. They helpfully said yes. Across town I sped, thankfully against the afternoon traffic. I got there at 4:55, before they even had to stay late. The locksmith took one look and said, “Nope, can’t fix it. The part that’s broken, they don’t sell just that part.” So we looked at the several options. One was $15, but very temporary. One was $300, and required us installing the new door stuff ourselves. The fact that I call it ‘door stuff’ should inform you about how good I am at this stuff. Ted is better at it than I am, but he’s not a handyman, he’s an academic. The third option was to pick a different brand of hardware (aka, door stuff), which would be cheaper on the parts, but would mean drilling and painting our stupid door. Blech. So here I am, it’s 5:05 on Friday of a three-day weekend, and I’m frustrated. Finally, the locksmith said, “There’s another option. I can remove the broken part, which isn’t necessary. The broken part, being broken, is getting in the way of the rest of the mechanism. It will certainly get you through the weekend, and it may even work long term.” OK, I’m in. Why couldn’t he have suggested this to begin with, I wondered. However, all I said was, “How much?” Free. I love that price. I said no, he should be paid for his time and expertise, and he said no. So he took out the broken part (which required some expertise to do), and I took it home and put it back together. The door knob is looser, doesn’t fit just the same anymore, but it works. It works well, locks properly, and was free. So I went on FB and yelp and gave full props to the locksmith, hoping maybe I could pay them back in some way. If the solution falls apart and it turns out that we need something more, they’ve earned my business and I’ll go back to get a long term solution.

This morning, Maya had a job working for one of her teachers (who has a successful side business, Pinot Days, very wine related), so while she went and took care of that, Ted and I went and ran errands. We went and picked up the badges earned by Maya’s Girl Scout troop, then to breakfast at a place we haven’t been to before. It was tasty. It was a little expensive for a semi-fast food breakfast place, but the quality of the food was good. We liked it. Then we went to the farmers’ market and got the essentials…strawberries, nectarines, and eggs. We ran a few more errands, then came home, and I took a delicious nap. Saturdays can be lovely indeed.

The other day I went to the video store…we still have a video store we love to try to keep open. I picked up a DVD, ‘Labor Day’, with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. For some reason, I knew nothing about the film, and thought it might be a romantic comedy. It wasn’t. It was closer to a love story. Josh Brolin is an escaped convict, convicted of murdering his wife and child, who forces his way into the home of Kate Winslet and her young teen son. He’s camping out for a few days. The pace is slow, the acting superb, the story not quite as dramatic as you might want, but at the same time, because of that, it seems more real. We really liked it a lot.

I’m reading the new ‘David Sedaris’ book, borrowed from our library. I like it a lot, though I can’t plow through it as quickly as needed for the online rental. We’ll see how I do, if I finish in time.

In other news, I tried a new quinoa recipe. YUM. So good. I’ll post it here soon. It had pickled onions, nectarines, and arugula. Really good.

Enjoy your weekend.

Air Pollution Hits Home


I was looking at the news today and one article in particular made me sad, and for some reason I decided to bring that sadness here. Bad idea, probably.

Here’s the article. It is about the 7 million people every year who die from air pollution, 1/2 of whom die from complications of indoor pollution.

“One of the main risks of pollution is that tiny particles can get deep into the lungs, causing irritation. Scientists also suspect air pollution may be to blame for inflammation in the heart, leading to chronic problems or a heart attack.”

Indoor pollution comes from coal and wood-burning stoves, leaky furnaces, etc. It’s that leaky furnace that gets me. Because that was a huge contributing factor in my mom’s death. She had a stupid leaky furnace in her apartment, and she was never the best at noticing things. So she didn’t realize that her furnace was leaky until the walls were grey with it. Her pictures that hung on the walls were ruined. Her clothes were covered in soot. Everything. As soon as she woke up and noticed what was going on, she called her landlord, and they replaced the furnace. But the damage was done. When she had her bypass surgery, the doctor said that her lungs were in terrible shape, and looked like those of a heavy smoker. Without healthy lungs, it’s difficult for your heart to function properly.

I don’t know how things would be different without that stupid furnace polluting the hell out of her lungs. Maybe she would still have needed the surgery. Maybe she still wouldn’t have been strong enough to recover from it. Maybe nothing at all would be different. And maybe, everything would be different. Perhaps she wouldn’t have had a heart attack in the first place. There’s no way to know. But it makes me sad to think about, and even sadder to think about more than 3 million people in the world dying from similar situations, and there’s no calling the landlord and getting a new furnace for them. Sigh.

5 Years


Today is the 5 year anniversary of the day my mom died.  I still miss her horribly, and I’m still pissed off sometimes that she had to go and die on me, but it’s easier than it was.  More of a dull ache, not so sharp and jagged.  She was a real character, boisterous and loud at times, always with an opinion on almost anything.  She loved her kids to distraction.  She was my friends’ favorite mom, because she would listen to them, and it was obvious to them that she genuinely liked them and cared about their problems, their hopes, and dreams.  She was completely besotted by Maya, wrote her stories and letters and wished she lived closer so they could be close friends, wished she had more money so she could buy her things.   I miss her and wish she could be here to see how wonderfully Maya is turning out.  She would be so proud.

A few weeks ago was Ted’s father’s birthday.  He died almost 20 years ago now, and he would have been 91 this year.  We celebrated his life by going out to dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, The Sizzler.  Ted ordered the meal that he would have eaten, though he didn’t go so far as to order his steak well done.  In the same spirit, we decided to have my mom’s favorite dinner tonight, to celebrate her life.  Fried Chicken and Angel Food Cake, which she wrote about on her own blog.*

For my 17th birthday we were invited out for three birthday dinners, and Auntie cooked one for me as well. Grandma asked me what I wanted, and I said, “fried chicken and angel food cake;” Mommy Lyle across the street asked me what I wanted, and I said, “fried chicken and angel food cake;” Mama asked me what I wanted, and I said, “fried chicken and angel food cake;” and Auntie asked me what I wanted, and I said, “fried chicken and angel food cake.” At one point, Auntie asked me if I was sure I wouldn’t like something else at one of those meals. “Oh, no. I love fried chicken and angel food cake,” I answered obliviously. Only years later did I realize that while I got to eat fried chicken and angel food cake four nights in a row, Auntie had to. But, she never complained about it.

*Link is to the post she wrote, about her life with her great-aunt Julia, who was likely the most important person in my mom’s life in many ways, and for whom I am named.

Tonight while we’re enjoying our fried chicken and angel food cake, I’ll be thinking of both of them, my mom who was so good to me, and her great-aunt, who was so good to her.

A Tale of Two Nurses


I’ve been fortunate enough in my own life thus far that I have seldom needed the help of a nurse. Not that nurses are bad, but often you find them in hospitals, and I’m fortunate to have only been in hospital myself when I had Maya.

I was reminded of two nurse stories by two different comments on Facebook, by two friends who do not know each other, neither of whom I’ve met in real life. One is a bloggy friend of mine, who commented that Karma is real, and we need just wait for it to catch up with us. The other is Kelli, who was an online friend of my mom’s, though she is younger than me. Kelli is going to nursing school, and posted a story about a kind and caring nurse.

Both of my stories are from my mom’s hospitalizations. Once in 2005, when she had her hysterectomy, and before she had started blogging. The other was in 2008, when she had her bypass surgery.

My mom was borderline diabetic, meaning she treated it with diet, and did not need to be on insulin. I know that when you are in the hospital, they give diabetics insulin to shore up your body against the stress of what you’re going through, even if you handle it OK with diet at home. When she was in the hospital in Sacramento for her hysterectomy, one day they brought her french toast for breakfast. She was trying to be conscious about her diet, and asked if they didn’t have something with less sugar, something that a diabetic might be better off eating. The nurse disappeared for about 45 minutes, and then came back with a packet of oatmeal, which she gave my mom. No bowl. No water. No spoon. No earthly way to eat it, unless she was supposed to open the packet and pour it into her mouth dry. Now, I do know that it was not the nurse’s job to get her oatmeal. It was not the nurse’s fault that food services were bringing sweets to diabetics. But perhaps she could have been kinder. She could have told my mom that she wasn’t able to get her anything else. She could have ignored her. But a dry packet of empty oatmeal with no way to eat it? That’s just stupid.

Then there was the nurse in Anchorage, when my mom had her bypass. I was staying at the hotel next to the hospital, and I didn’t have a car. I asked my mom’s nurse if there was a place within walking distance where one might buy a few things, the most important of which was hair spray. It was cold Alaska February weather, and I was willing to walk, but not more than necessary. She asked when I needed it, and I said, tomorrow maybe. She brought me a care package the next day…she had stopped at the store on her way to work, and brought me hair spray, a magazine, some chocolate and pretzels. She let me pay for the hair spray, but nothing else. I was so touched by her kindness, it almost made me cry. When my mom was out of surgery, but not awake, and the doctor told me it might be weeks or months before she woke up (because of the condition of her lungs), this nurse is the one I turned to for a consoling hug.

And a third nurse, while we’re talking about it. The day I left Alaska to come home, with my mom semi-conscious but not awake, still intubated, I stopped to see her before my flight. I was miserable at leaving her like that, and wished I could stay longer. Had I known she would be awake the following day, I would have changed my flight, but I had been there for 2 weeks already, and with an indefinite time of unconscious ahead of me, I couldn’t stay. I asked her nurse what time I should leave in order to get to the airport to make my flight, and she offered to drive me to the airport, as she was getting off of work at the time I needed to leave, and lived near there. I accepted her offer, and she got me there quickly and would not take my offer of money for gas.

I am sure the oatmeal nurse has had many kind days behind her in her practice of nursing. I am sure the two in Alaska have perhaps been less kind than they later wished they had been. We all have our up days and down days. But the oatmeal story still makes me mad, and the hairspray and airport ride stories both still make me feel the kindness that was given those difficult days.

Revenge

There’s something about grandchildren, where they exact revenge upon the parents, and the grandparents sit back and laugh.  When I was young, I did this or that or the other thing to my mom, which surely drove her crazy.  She survived whatever it was, but then, when Maya came along and did to those same things to me, and drove me nuts, HA!  My mom was so happy.  Grandchildren are the best revenge, right?

What I didn’t know before, was that children can also be some kind of revenge exacted upon your grandparents as well.  (See how I skipped an entire generation there?  Crazy, huh?)  Way back when I was 29 or 30, pregnant with Maya, we were living in Philadelphia.  Ted was attending graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, and I was working in the Sociology department there on campus.  Walking around, pregnant, 29 or 30, I was in an entirely different head space from the undergraduates.  They seemed so YOUNG, which of course they were.  Walking around with their cell phones, thigh high tights, and dripping with money and youth.  Every once in awhile, I got a glimpse of a girl with her belly button pierced, and I thought that was pretty darned cool and sexy and daring, and yet….kind of hidden.  So that winter, we came home to California for Christmas, and my dad, my step-mom, and my sisters all came down to see us.  We met up at my Grandma’s house in Modesto.  I remember going out to dinner somewhere, and in the car on the way back to Grandma’s house, we passed by a piercing/tattoo parlor, and I flippantly mentioned that, were I younger, and not pregnant, I might perhaps get my belly button pierced, because I liked that look.   Everyone was quiet for a bit, and then conversation went on again.

Of course, when we got back to Grandma’s house, she took me aside (though in full ear shot of the family) and told me she hoped I would raise my child better than that, that I would set a good example and live a moral life for her.  I felt a bit stunned, but let it go.  My sisters and father all talked to me after, telling me they were sorry, that they had all been in these kind of conversations with Grandma, so they had learned to just shut down, let Grandma talk, and move on with their lives.  I had certainly gotten off easily, not knowing my Grandma growing up, I missed a lot of good, but also sometimes I missed some of the lectures and out of left field criticism as well.

Anyway, this weekend, Maya provided me the opportunity to exact a bit of revenge on my Grandma.  She has wanted to get her belly button pierced for awhile now, but Ted and I thought that was something too sexy and rebellious for a young girl, but perhaps when she was 17, that would be old enough.   Well, she turned 17 a couple of weeks ago, and amongst all of these milestones (driving, Prom, SAT, birthday) she decided it was time.  So on Sunday I took her to get her piercing, and I’ll admit, part of me thought, “Take that, Grandma!”

Under the Table


No, not drinking someone under the table. Napping under the table. When I was a kid, I loved to nap. I still love to nap. Now, my favorite napping place is on my sofa with my cozy napping blanket, or maybe on my bed. But when I was a kid, I loved to nap under things. Especially under tables. It felt so cozy, like a little cave, and if there were a party going on, I could hear the adults laughing and talking, and just soak it up until I dozed off. I know, I’m weird. I once fell asleep under a piano on a river boat*, and didn’t wake up when someone started playing it. So when I saw this picture on FB today, I had to share here.

*The link is to a post I did back in early 2008, about my life in Fairbanks. Perhaps one of my most favorite posts to go back and read, actually. And look, there’s a comment from my mom…just a week before she went into the hospital. I like seeing those comments.

Pomegranate Love

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I adore pomegranates, but truth be told, I seldom buy them. They’re expensive, $2.50 or more each, and they’re a lot of work. While I’m at the store I might think, “Sure, I’ll de-seed it, and we can snack on the seeds, or I can put them in a salad, or whatever…” But then, the expensive fruit ends up just sitting there, not getting eaten, because none of us obtain the wherewithal to deal with them. Until now.

On Saturday, Ted and I went into San Francisco in search of some specific walnuts to make a walnut pie for Thanksgiving (Franquette, which are rumored to have the best walnut flavor) at the Farmers’ Market there. Unfortunately, the walnut lady had stayed home due to rain, and we ended up getting plain old black walnuts. No worries, I’m sure they’ll be lovely in our pie. While we were looking around at the different offerings of the Market, I came across a booth with HUGE pomegranates, selling for $1 each. Even knowing my proclivity for laziness regarding extricating seeds, I couldn’t pass up that deal. So I bought 2.

Do you listen to ‘Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me!’ on NPR? If not, you really should. Really, it’s hilarious and silly good fun, and sometimes you find yourself learning something useful as well. Each week they have a guest, and this week it was Martha Stewart, who, amongst other things, told them how to get seeds out of a pomegranate. Good timing, no? When she described it, I couldn’t quite picture how it would work, so I went to my trusty internet, and found a video. Yay, thanks Martha!

I tried it, and it worked SO very well. Now I have a LOT of pomegranate seeds, and I got to smack the heck out of the pomegranates in the process. All of those seeds, from only 2 pomegranates, can you imagine? (I left the bowl of little tangerines in the picture, so you could get a sense of what a BIG bowl of seeds I have.)  Yum.

Looking Good

My mom was a big believer in reading. She was addicted to it. She read more than anyone else I have ever known. She loved to read everything, almost any genre, almost any book. LOVED it. When she was trying to figure things out, she would read to find a solution. Recipes, career advice, whatever. Parenting style. She loved her parents dearly, and she firmly believed that they did their best. But she also thought that they could have done better. So when she found she was going to have kids, she wanted to find out how to do things better than her parents had done. For the most part, I think she did an amazing job. She taught us so many things. To love your family and put them first. That people are not for hitting. That knowledge is more important than grades. That honesty is a value to be respected and honored, even if that means letting go of some much cherished lies. That a good book can be more important to you than a bad friend. That a good friend can be more important to you than a bad family member. That a good family member is worth doing anything for. I don’t know how much of this she got from books, how much she got from her family, and how much was just her. But I have felt really lucky in my own parenting, that I don’t often have to think ‘my mom goofed this up, how can I do it better?”

Of course, no one is perfect, and no parent is perfect. My mom made mistakes. She sometimes said one thing and did the opposite. She trusted her books too much sometimes. Anyway, I heard an author on the radio a while ago talking about a parenting book, about not putting excess stress on your kids by over praising them. Much of what he said resonated with me and I agreed with, but one thing he said reminded me of how we do not grow up in a vacuum, and that how our friends’ parents raise them also affects us. He said that you should not tell your kids, especially your girls, that they are beautiful or pretty, because it puts too much pressure on them to be pretty, and if they don’t FEEL pretty, it puts them in a strange situation of wondering if you’re lying. It gives them the idea that the most important thing that a girl can be is pretty. That if she isn’t pretty, she’s not worthwhile. That a better way is to tell them things you like about them. My mom raised me this way. She would say, “I love the way the sunlight reflects on your hair”. “I like your wrists…they’re so delicate and elegant”. “Your smile lights up your face”. All fine and good, but because my friends all were told they were pretty, in front of me, and I wasn’t told that, I grew up wondering if perhaps my mom thought I wasn’t pretty, and these compliments were just consolation prizes. Like, ‘too bad you’re plain, but at least you have elegant wrists.” See how good intentions sometimes don’t work so well? Sigh. So I grew up not knowing if my mom thought I was pretty or not. A girl should really think that at least her parents think she’s pretty. Yes, the pressure is out there, the pressure to look good. It’s not as important as how you treat people, as your sense of humor, as your brain or your heart or your soul. But it’s all over the place and very much there. I confessed to her how this method made me feel, once, when she was telling me the theory behind it. I think her heart broke a little, and she felt like a failure to a certain degree. But even then, I wondered, had she thought I was a pretty girl, a pretty child, or was she just trying to make me feel good? Maybe there’s no way to really make a girl feel confident in a culture so obsessed with looks, I don’t know. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if she had told me I was pretty every day. Perhaps I wouldn’t have believed her.

But back in November, I went through her boxes of books. All 55 of them. Looking for some books that Richard had said he wanted, some books that I could send him for his birthday in early December. Her books are still at Kate’s house, as she’s planning on selling them on ebay, and we don’t have room for them here, and they’re covered with cat hair, which would probably kill Ted. So I went to Kate’s house, and she and I and dug through box after box after box. One thing I found was my baby book, which was pretty awesome to find. I haven’t seen that since I lived with my mom, back when I was 20 or so. Maybe before that even. Another thing I found was a set of binders, where she was trying to work out issues she had with her parents, my Aunt Colleen, that kind of thing. I skimmed them, and decided I didn’t want to try to bring that much frustration and pain into the house, and that she had gotten a lot of that stuff out of her system on her blog, which I can read any time I want to. So I didn’t keep them. But as I was flipping pages, I found one page, written when I was maybe 15 or so…and all it said was…

“Julie is the most beautiful girl in the world.”

I carry those words in my heart now. They fit just right, and they feel good.

Mother’s Day

Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel
Like you’re less than, less than perfect
Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel
Like you’re nothing, you are perfect to me*

I don’t even like this song. Sorry Pink. Nothing personal. But the other day I was in the car, and it came on, and I found myself wondering if Maya knows that this is how I feel about her. I know, I nag. Pick up your clothes. Do your homework. Make your bed. Finish your girl scout award commitment. But none of that means I think any less of her. It means I know she’s a teen, and sometimes needs a little nudge and reminder to get things done. Really, I wouldn’t change anything about her, because all of the aspects that come together, including the need to be nudged sometimes to get things done, they make her Maya. She’s going to move out someday, and she’ll have to nag herself, with lists, whatever. I still have to nag myself sometimes. And I know, I’m far from perfect.

Except, perhaps, to my mom. There was nothing I could do wrong in this world that she didn’t see my side of it, didn’t empathize, didn’t forgive me completely. Thinking of that, realizing it, was like a slap in the face. It woke me up. It made me cry. Because who else will love you so unconditionally, so forgiving and completely, as a parent does? It made me miss my mom so very much. And it made me thankful to still have my dad. But mostly, because she’s gone, and because every single day I wish she weren’t, it made me miss my mom.

Mother’s Day is hard. I wonder if it always will be? Ted and Maya spoiled me with gifts and meals and cards and love. I love being a mother. I love being a wife, and the mother to Ted’s child. These are the best things I’ve done with my life. But I really liked being my mom’s daughter, too. I miss you, mom. You’re perfect to me.

*I’m not sure if there is a radio version where these are the lyrics or not, but this is how I hear them, without the censored F word. You know me, I don’t have a problem with the F word. But I like this song better without.

Dear Mom

I miss you all the time, every day, but somehow Sunday evenings are the hardest for me.  Sunday was our time, when we would talk for hours, sometimes about politics, sometimes about ideas – books, meals, Maya, family memories.  All of it.

I feel like the late teen years, I was so busy figuring out who I was, busy with work and school and friends, and I took you for granted.  But still, we lived in the same house and I saw you every day, even if it was just passing in the hall on our way out the door in the morning.  Then I moved out, went to San Francisco to college, and we didn’t talk very often.  You always said how much you hated talking on the phone, and I was so busy with work and school and friends and falling in love with Ted.  We talked, but it never seemed to happen as often as either of us wanted or needed.

Eventually we both realized that we missed each other, and we set up a schedule where we would talk every other Sunday evening.  Sometimes I wasn’t in the mood for a long conversation, considered skipping our call, but didn’t want to dissapoint you.  And I’m glad, because I always loved our talks.  It felt like we were able to reconnect, even though I sometimes got tired of hearing about the Hooligans or The Big Bang Theory, and you got bored of hearing about Genevieve or whatever.  That’s part of it.  Talking and listening even if you’re somewhat bored by the conversation.  These connections are so important, and I’m so thankful that we had them.

Then, of course, we had Maya, and there’s something about being a mom that helps you to understand your own mom in a whole new way, no matter how close you were before.  You start to understand motivations and decisions, and to have a lot more understanding of decisions made in the shadow of exhaustion.  I know I did.

And then there was the blog.  I felt like I found my own voice through blogging, and I really loved it.  And I loved that you read my blog, commented, kept in touch with my daily life that way.  Then you started your own blog, and I got a glimpse into your inner world, and it opened a new world of understanding for me.  Verbal conversations are such a back & forth, and carry on a life of their own.  A blog is a chance to flesh out thoughts, to fully express yourself, but it opinion or memory or whatever.  So this glimpse gave me so much that our conversations didn’t – just like the conversations gave us a lot that was beyond our blogs.

All of this is a rambling letter to my dead mom, whom I miss desperately, especially on Sunday evenings.

Love,

~J

One Wedding, Three Babies, and a Funeral

Circle of Life
(artwork by Amanda Dagg, found here)

Keep beckoning to me,
From behind that closed door,
The maiden, the mother, and the crone that’s grown old.
I hear your voice,
coming out of that hole.
I listen to you,
and I want some more.
I listen to you,
and I want some more.

She will always carry on.
Something is lost, something is found.
They will keep on speaking her name,
Some things changed, some stay the same.
~The Pretenders, Hymn to Her

That whole ‘circle of life’ thing is much on my mind these last few days. On Friday, I heard from my dear friend Janet that her father had died. He fought a long and courageous battle with cancer. Cancer won. Janet once told me that it didn’t seem fair that we, who both have young parents, should be going through this so soon. I agree wholeheartedly. When I first met Janet, we were going to school at the Junior College in my hometown, and she was living with her dad in a neighboring town. She seemed so worldly to me, having tested out of high school to model in San Francisco and London, after several years of ballet. She was now ready to settle down and do the school thing. I used to love to go to her house after school, watch dumb TV, and have grilled cheese sandwiches. Sometimes we’d go to our friend Katie’s house, because Katie had a pool. Janet’s dad would come home in the evening, and Janet would cook dinner. If I didn’t have to work that evening, I was always welcome to stay. She went on to Berkeley, I went on to SFState, and we vetted each others boyfriends, etc.  Her father was a kind and fairly quiet man, but always very strong and opinionated, always there for his daughters. I will always remember the look of love in his eyes when he shooed me and the other bridesmaids out of the room so he could have a private word with his daughter before he walked her down the aisle. She and her sister, and her step mom, will miss him terribly. He was a good man. I’ll go and pay my respects to him on Thursday at his funeral, and be there with my friend.

The day after I heard about Janet’s father, we went to Half Moon Bay to attend a wedding for some much younger friends, Ramzi and Katrina. I think they’re 27ish, which is the age Ted and I were when we married, 17 years ago. (I’ll give you a second while you add up and figure out my age. Done? Yes, I’m 44.) It was a lovely ceremony, though I did forget to turn off my phone, which rang right in the middle. Ooops. Ramzi is this tall, kinda goofy, laid back guy. He’s so mellow, just wants to relax and have a good time. He recently graduated with his Master’s Degree, and was hired as a school counselor in a neighboring town. A wonderful job for a man with a big heart. Katrina is a bundle of energy. She could not contain her joy or her energy during the ceremony, and looked like she was about to jump out of her skin. She’s always like that. She had a big happy smile on her face, and was bouncing up and down, sort of like maybe she had to go to the bathroom. It was a wonderful wedding, and a fun reception, though seeing all those young-uns doing their mid-20s dances made me miss my own friends from that time, and how we used to go out dancing and having fun. They’re all far away now, and besides, we’re at a different stage in our lives. The idea of leaving a reception before it ended back then would have been insane. Free booze? Dancing all night? Partying with your friends? What could be better? But we didn’t drink much, enjoyed a dance or two, and then came home to sleep in our own bed.

And the babies, the most joyous part of the circle of life. Cherry had her baby 3 1/2 months ago, and she’s growing so quickly, smiling and laughing and doing all of those terribly cute things that babies do. Oddly enough, it doesn’t make me want to have another baby. Just makes me want to hold Cherry’s baby, and look at old video of when Maya was a baby, and hold her tight now when she’ll let me. Tracy is now a mom, though separated from her babies by a few thousand miles, but only for a few more weeks. She and her husband are adopting two beautiful brothers from Ethiopia, one who will be 2 at the end of September, and one who is just a few weeks old than Cherry’s baby girl. Both Cherry and Tracy have wanted to be mothers for so long now, and it didn’t come easily to either of them. I’m SO thrilled that their dreams are coming true. I love my Maya so much, I cannot imagine the hurt of wanting a baby and not being able to have one. So now that they’re both moms, and Cherry is enjoying her time home with baby before work starts again, and Tracy is getting her house and her life ready for when they bring the boys home, I feel that they are blessed.

Having these three events so close together really brings home the beauty and the pain of life. Tracy’s father died just a week before my mom. Dorothy got married within 6 weeks of that. Then our blog friend Chrissy had her baby a few months later, which was scary because she was so premature, but it all turned out well and her baby is going on 2, and is healthy and strong and independent as can be. I remember when my mom died, we had two gatherings. My cousin brought her new baby to one of them, and holding her was a balm for my broken heart. It’s hard to cry when you’re holding a laughing, healthy, beautiful baby in your arms. My sister brought her new baby to the second gathering, and again, it was somehow comforting to have him to hold. I think it’s something about them not understanding the pain you’re going through at all, they just want to be held and fed and loved, and for some reason, it makes it easier to set your own pain aside for a few minutes.

I think I’ve lost control of this post. I don’t know how to end it, or what it is that I’m really trying to say. Except that my heart goes out to all of these friends, for so many reasons. In pain, in love, and in joy.

Bereavement

BereavementA couple of weeks ago, I was talking to one of the women on my Meals-on-Wheels route, Joan, and she told me that her doctor had put her on anti-depressants because she was depressed. She tried them for a day, and didn’t like the way they made her feel, and stopped taking them. I know that one day wasn’t enough time to determine whether they would work or not, and she’s not likely to find out. The thing is, the reason that she’s depressed? Her son died. He fell on the icy steps this winter, and broke his neck. She is understandably devastated. But she gets out of bed every day, she feeds and cares for herself and her dog, Sassy. She goes to get a massage when she can afford it, and takes care of getting her hair done. She doesn’t seem to be down in the depths of depression to me. She seems desperately and appropriately sad about the loss of her son. This is the second time she’s buried a son, and she’s a widow, so she’s had enough of death for awhile. I only get a brief glimpse of her life, a few minutes once a week, so I can’t say if she’s in need of medication or other care for her bereavement, or if time is the best aid for her.

I know for me, when my mom died, I ached. I cried. I hurt. I was confused as hell and couldn’t figure out how to live in a world without my mom. But while I was trying to navigate that, it never occurred to me to kill myself. It never occurred to me to not get out of bed, to not eat, to not try my best. If that had been Maya, or Ted, I might have felt differently. I don’t want to say that I love my mother less. But a parent is different than a spouse or a child. As ugly a fact as it is, your parents are supposed to die before you do. That doesn’t help much, and I felt robbed of the future I wanted with my mom for at least the next 15 years, but it would surely have been worse to lose my husband or child.

I was listening to Morning Edition yesterday, and there was a segment on the pain of bereavement, and how, up until recently, it has been the exception when diagnosing major depression. Loss of appetite, physical pain, inability to get out of bed or care for ones self, these are all signs of major depression, and can result in such a diagnosis, and perhaps in your psychiatrist wanting to medicate you. Unless you have recently lost someone important to you. If you have recently lost a parent, a child, a spouse, or other loved one, these symptoms have been considered normal, perhaps even necessary to the healing process.

The question, then, is whether that extreme pain is necessary. Do we need to fight our way through that horrible time in order to come to terms with our loss?  Personally, I feel like it was.  Losing my mom was the worst thing I have ever endured, the worst thing that has ever happened to me.  I feel that grieving her, and my loss, so deeply was part of loving her so deeply. That first year was an extremely difficult time, a time I hope to never have to repeat. But it was honest and true, and it was how I felt. I loved my mother very much, and she should not have died, and I miss her terribly. To have tried to cover-up or deny those feelings would have felt wrong to me.

But what if I were feeling suicidal? What if I had honest feelings of killing myself, or started harming myself in some way? What if I had somehow become dangerous to Ted, Maya, or Genevieve? Perhaps then, it is time to intervene. The difficulty, I suspect, is in figuring out when someone is truly in need of help, and what kind of help is appropriate.  There are support groups for the newly bereaved. I considered going, but I spent enough time crying, and didn’t think I could handle sitting in a room with others in the same boat. There is one-on-one therapy, which actually I was going to to help me cope with her illness and my inability to help her, but I stopped after she died, because again, I couldn’t bear the idea of sitting in a room and paying someone to watch me sob. My therapist asked me all of the important questions, and told me that my feelings were normal and that everyone grieves differently, so don’t worry if I felt more (or less) than others described to me. Or, just different. And there are drugs. Watching my mom struggle with the antidepressants they had her on has soured me on them, perhaps forever. I know quite a few people who take them, with varying degrees of success. Some do very well. Some search for the right medication, the right dosage. Some do well in how they behave, but do not like the way they feel on them.  Like Joan.  Me? I’d be very hard pressed to try anything that might make me as confused and frightened as my mother was.

I suspect that removing the bereavement exemption for major depression is probably a good idea.  The way that insurance companies work, it might well help a doctor to get a patient the support that they need once they have a diagnosis. But for the majority of us, those of us who are able to cope with our pain and somehow come through the other side of that dark tunnel of grief, I think maybe it’s better to try it without the medication at least.  Best not to try drugs too quickly, if they’re not needed.

The segment was interesting. You can listen to it here.  The comments on the print version were interesting as well.  Some said we medicate too damn fast in this country and it’s getting dangerous.  Others said that we should not judge those who need medication for treatment.  You would not, for example, have surgery without anesthesia.  Sometimes, the pain is too much, be it physical or mental.