Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Hiatus

Hello.  Yes, I DO know it has been an awfully long time since I posted -- seven months, to be exact.  I’m sure my millions of readers have been frantically checking their computers 50 times a day to see if I’ve posted anything new.  It’s not that I haven’t thought about blogging.  It’s just been so hard to do.  I blog about my everyday life and my everyday life has undergone a massive loss.
You see, I lost my sweet mama two months ago.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago.  Two years ago, it came back in her lungs.  It was subdued for a while with aggressive chemotherapy.  Late last summer, it roared back with a vengeance.  First it attacked her brain and then it attacked her bones.  Through it all, she taught me.  Her love and concern for her family and friends overflowed. Even during those last, bedridden, pain-filled days she spoke about gratitude and continued to teach me about love, grace, forgiveness, and courage.  Trying to write about her is a bit like rubbing my aching heart over a cheese grater.  Everything still feels so raw.  But, NOT writing about her feels dishonest.  I mean, she was my mother.  She was my first love, first teacher, protector, advisor and champion.  How can I not write about her?

We spoke on the phone almost every day.  I miss her wise counsel.  I miss hearing her laugh on the other end.  From long habit, my hand reaches for the phone to call and ask her a question or relay some minutiae of my day that I know she’d appreciate.  How there’s a little wren building a nest in a pot of flowers on the deck again this year.  That my son will be getting braces soon.  That the groundhog has come out of hibernation and is, once again, tormenting my poor puppies.  How my heart was broken this morning when my own daughter told me about the boys at school who had teased her for something.
My resolution to practice being grateful in all things has been sorely tried over the last months.  I miss her fiercely.  There is a gaping, aching hole in my heart and I am fairly certain it’s irreparable.   But, at the end of the day, I AM grateful.  I am grateful that I had a mother who loved me, as the children’s book says, “no matter what.”   I am grateful that she chose to be my parent and didn't worry about being my best friend.  I  am grateful for all the life lessons and am coming to realize that there is one more lesson, one more thing to be grateful for:  She equipped me to do what I need to do without her.  Isn't that one of the better gifts we can give to our children? 

Thank you, Mama.  I love you and I miss you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dem Bones, Dem Bones...

Soon after we moved here, I joined a local gym and started working out with a trainer. This was a new experience for me, but after I got over the pain of the first three weeks, I was hooked. My trainer was great and before long I was feeling really good; healthy and strong. Sadly, for me, he completed his Master's Degree in Kinesiology and graduated. I was bereft. I tried a new trainer, but we didn’t mesh. I got injured and couldn’t work out for a while. Since I never really hit it off with the ‘new’ trainer, the healing break turned into 2 years. Ugh!

I finally reached my limit of feeling out of shape and decided it’s time to get back in the groove. I started asking around.  I talked to a friend about, Becky, the trainer she's been working out with this year.  Becky and I met last Thursday for a consultation and the vibe was good.  Today, the torture workouts began. Oh, my!  I thought I was prepared.  I thought I remembered what it was like to start up a new exercise program. Wrong.

Now, like most other people, I used to have bones in my legs. As a matter of fact, I still had them as of 9:00 this morning. Real, hard bones…femur, patella, tibia, fibula…the whole set. The kind of bones that support you when you walk.  Then, I had my first session with Becky.  Now my bones more closely resemble this:

It started out easy enough. She showed up at my house and we went for a brisk, 10-minute walk. Easy, peasy. Heart rate is up, feeling warm, feeling good. Came back inside and headed upstairs to the kid’s playroom where there is some open space. We did some squats, some lunges with a medicine ball. Now my legs are feeling a little shaky. “Okay,” she says, “let’s do some more cardio. Where’s that bike?”  When we met for our consultation, I made the mistake of telling her that we own a recumbent bike. A bike my husband, The Professor, bought when he was training for a marathon. I hate that bike. From this day forward, the bike will be referred to by its true name: Satan.

Satan lives in the basement, as all good monsters should. The basement. You know, DOWNSTAIRS. I’m on the second floor in the playroom. That means I have to go down a flight to the main floor and then down one more flight to the basement. “So what?” you say, “What’s the big deal?” Well, I’ll tell you. The squats and lunges had done their evil magic. My thigh bones were gone. Well, not GONE, exactly.  Transformed.  Transformed into something very non-bonelike.  Something soft and quivery and helpless.  Jell-o.

Over the next 45 minutes, I had to make that descent three times.  By the third time, I was gripping the handrail and hoping I didn't have to resort to crawling.  I hope my bones solidify before Thursday.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Old Friends

Over the past three months, I've had two opportunities to spend weekends with girlfriends.  Old friends from my Florida days that I love and miss.  Weekends away from home.  No kids.  No husbands.  Just girlfriends. 

Two weekends ago, I was in Chicago with three of my besties: Heather, Denise and Diane.  We had a fantastic weekend.  We shopped Michigan Avenue.  We ate fabulous food.  We saw an Oprah taping.  We took an architectural tour.  There were cocktails.  I got my sushi fix.  The best part?  Being together.  I miss this crew so much.  We worked together for a number of years and came to rely on each other first as colleagues, then as friends.  Really good friends.  Friends who nurse each other's wounds, celebrate each other's accomplishments, and cherish each other's gifts and similarities and differences.  I love you guys.

In February, I spent a weekend in Birmingham, Alabama.  Birmingham is roughly halfway between my current home in southern Illinois and my hometown in north Florida.  Birmingham is also the site of the "girl's weekend" planned each year by my friend, Vicky, and I.

Vicky and I have been friends for upwards of 20 years and she is the sister God forgot to give me.  We met in our early twenties and became roommates.  Though technically adults when we met, you could say we grew up together.  In our single years, we commiserated over broken hearts, safeguarded each other's secrets, nursed one another through the occasional hangover, celebrated each other's accomplishments, and cried over one another's disappointments.  In our thirties, we watched each other finally find THE guy and get married.  We had kids.  We turned 40.  She's the friend who loves me when I'm my best, most generous self.  More importantly, she's the friend who loves me when I'm mean, selfish, nasty, and have bad hair.  She's the friend who'll defend me when I'm right and tell me when I'm wrong.  She's the friend who knew I was going to marry my husband before I did.  The one whose eyes filled with tears of joy when I FINALLY got pregnant.  The one whose heart broke right along with mine when I couldn't conceive a second child.  The friend who was at the airport when we came home from China with our daughter. 

Then, there's my friend, Mari.  Mari and I met through our husbands.  Mari is like a ray of pure sunshine.  Always a smile and a positive outlook.  An amazingly gifted artist.  A woman who has an uncanny facility with languages.  A woman who attracts children like a magnet.  When visiting our home, Mari would often disappear for stretches of time and would be found in my son's room in deep discussion with him about Pokemon or whatever his current obsession might be. Mari tutored my husband and I in Japanese (her native language) for a year before we traveled to Japan the second time.  To her eternal credit, she never smacked either of us while we butchered the language.  Mari and I, along with our spouses, passed many an enjoyable evening at one another's homes cooking and eating and drinking wine.
For years, I lived within 30 minutes of all these friends.  We could see each other on a regular basis, snatch lunch or a quick drink, hang out at each other's homes.  I can't speak for them, but I took all of that for granted.  My friends were like air -- always there, day and night, good times and bad.  

About four years ago, the Professor, a.k.a. my husband, accepted a job offer 11 hours away from home.  Only a few days later my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.  My world turned upside down.  There was no time to dwell on any of it; things were moving too quickly.  I went to doctor's appointments with my mom.  We flew out to Illinois to look for a new house. I started trying to weed out our belongings to prepare for the big move.  My mom had surgery.  We had to get our Florida house "market ready."  Our belongings were packed up and we were gone.  It's all a blur now. 

But my friends were there.   They comforted me and made me laugh when I got too worried or morose.  I remember calling Denise to tell her about my mom.  When she was still in her early twenties, Denise lost her sweet mom to cancer.  Her response to me on the phone was so tender and compassionate it was like balm for my soul.  Another particularly vivid memory is of Vicky coming over to help me get our house ready to go on the market.  I remember her crawling under my son's bed, pulling out Legos, Pokemon cards, stray socks, broken crayons, and matchbox cars.  When moving week arrived Vicky and Mari came over to help me clean after the movers packed up our house.  There is no way on God's earth I deserve friends like that.  It's a true friend who will clean your baseboards and window sills in the face of your desertion.

We left our family and friends in Florida and moved to Illinois.  That entire first year was misery.  I was lonely and worried about my mama.  The Professor was traveling all the time.  I didn't know anyone in our new town.  But, Vicky and I talked on the phone nearly every day.  Her phone calls helped me keep it together.  Three months after our move, Vicky and her husband packed up the family and drove to our house. Soon after, Mari and her husband arrived.   Those visits were injections of sheer joy.

I no longer take my time with friends for granted.   When my family goes home to Florida, our visits are a flurry of activity and we are tugged in a hundred different directions.  Visits with friends are rushed and stolen in between family time.  We barely get to see one another.  We always have fun and it's great to see them, but it's always quick and not an ideal setting for catching up.

So, catching up sans husbands or offspring has become something I now view as necessary.  Girl's weekends away are casual and unstructured.  We talk, we eat, we drink. We talk, we shop, we talk, we get pedicures.  We talk some more and we laugh a lot.  In the blink of an eye, 48 hours are gone.  It's time to go back.  Back to our regular lives. I am blessed with a great life, actually. A life that includes a husband I love, children I adore and an amazing set of new friends that enrich my life and make me laugh.  But I will miss my old friends.  We go back to snatching phone conversations in those pockets of time that exist between working and running a household and driving kids around.  We email.  We send each other funny greeting cards.   And we start planning the next trip.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tortellini 101

And then there was the tortellini.  Little bites of yumminess filled with ricotta, ground turkey, spinach, red bell peppers, shallots, and spices. When we lived in Florida, we ate at Carrabba’s on a regular basis. It's an Italian chain restaurant, but the food is really decent and it's a kid-friendly place.  My husband’s favorite menu item was the Mezzaluna. Ravioli pillows filled with chicken, spinach and ricotta and served in a tomato cream sauce. This was my attempt to duplicate that dish.  Except I used turkey.  And I added red bell peppers.  And I made it in tortellini form.  And…well, never mind. You get the idea.

First of all, check out the photo below.  How lucky am I? I have my own personal sous chef.

Look at him go! He’s slicing, he’s dicing. Maybe we could get him his own infomercial. Pretty sure we’d have to do something about the hair first.  Just saying…

I also have my own dishwasher.  Miss Thing LOVES washing dishes. How long do I have before she figures out it’s really not all that much fun?  I can promise you I won't  be the one who breaks the news.

Okay...back the subject. First, we browned our turkey and added the shallots, peppers, etc. Cook until the shallots are translucent and then drop in the spinach. Because spinach has so much water, I let it cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. It needs to be a little dry. If it’s too wet, you'll end up with squooshy tortellini.  No one wants that.

See what I mean? That big bag of spinach cooked down to almost nothing.  By the way, I don't worry about pre-chopping the leaves or removing the stems.  I used baby spinach, so the stems are pretty tender and it's all going in the food processor with the ricotta anyhow.  Besides, all the best spinach vitamins are in the stems.  Okay, yeah...I did make up that last part.

After you put your pasta through the rollers, dole out little bits of filling. Use of a Little Mermaid spoon is optional.

Using a pizza cutter or a ravioli cutter, cut the pasta into individual squares. In my case, multiple helpers meant we used both types of cutter. Hence, ours have some straight edges and some zig-zag edges. Whatever. I'm not Martha.

To fold them up, bring the opposite corners together to make a triangle, making sure you seal the edges. Bring the points of the folded edge together and pinch. Miss Thing is dabbing a little water on the edges of this one before she folds it. That will ensure everything seals up nicely.

Here’s how the finished product looked. Notice the 'square' ones on the left side. Miss Thing got bored with doing it my way and wanted to make some "other shapes."  What can I say...variety is the spice of life.

At some point, the lure of folding tortellini lost out to other activities and I lost all my help.  I was left alone to finish assembling tortellini on my own.  Unfortunately, I made the proverbial butt-load of filling. A pound of turkey and a pound of ricotta go a looooong way when you’re only using a tiny bit in each tortellini. I gave up after the third batch and put the rest of the filling in a couple of freezer bags.  We’ll thaw it later and make some more.  If I open a bottle of wine, will you come help me fold?  Anyone?     

Friday, February 19, 2010

Remembering the Rollercoaster

They're heee-errre!  The dreaded teen years.  Not officially, of course, because he's just getting ready to turn twelve.  But, the first group of ill-mannered hormones are apparently unconcerned about the finer points of chronology and have decided to come to the party early.  *Sigh*

I once heard a comedian describe teenagers as "hormones with feet." I think that may be appropriate.  Yesterday afternoon he got off of the school bus in a deep, blue funk.  Shortly thereafter, irritation with mom set in because, clearly, I know NOTHING.  Upstairs he went.  Half an hour later he's back down, raiding the pantry, cracking jokes and being silly.  I got a big, unsolicited hug.  We ran the whole gamut again before bedtime.  My emotions can't keep up. 

It's painful to see this coming.  Not so much because he's growing up (that's fodder for another day), but because you know how crazy the puberty rollercoaster is and you can't make it better. Seriously, who among us would willingly go through puberty again?  Remember?  Body parts growing at disproportionate rates.  Braces being put on teeth.  Hair appearing in places other than the top of your head.  Pimples lurking beneath the surface of skin that was completely clear yesterday.  And, all of this starts happening at around the same time that you discover the opposite sex is pretty darn cool.  How unfair is that?

I remember being in English class the day after I got my braces on.  I laughed at something and covered my mouth with my hand.  My teacher called me out in front of the whole class and told me not to cover my mouth just because I had braces.  "You'll develop a bad habit and keep doing it when they're off," she declared.   Really?  Could she have made me feel a little more conspicuous?  She may as well have gotten out her megaphone:  "ATTENTION, EVERYONE!!  RONA KAY NOW HAS BIG, SILVER BRACES ON HER CROOKED TEETH!  PLEASE LOOK AT HOW UGLY THEY ARE!"  Now, I know she meant well, but at the time I was just mortified.  Because when you're twelve, you can't see that every other person around you is going through the same things.  Remember? 

Remembering.  Maybe that's a big part of parenting through the early teen years.  Remembering how easily embarrassed you were as a young teen.  Remembering the feeling of things changing so fast.  Remembering all those untamed emotions that keep popping their heads up for a look.  Remembering that fervent desire to be independent (or at least appear that way).  Remembering how self-centered your world was.  Remembering that need to be special, yet inconspicuous.  Remembering how much you needed to fit in somewhere.  Remembering how even smart kids will do stupid things.  Remembering how important friends are.  Remembering how, even though you didn't want to admit it, you really did need your parents. And, remembering that it's all temporary. 

Thank God.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Little Things

My 6-year-old and I made homemade fettuccine a few weeks ago.  It was our very first attempt and it was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.  Even my 11-year-son said it was "awesome."  (In case you didn't know, "awesome" is the highest form of pre-teen praise).  The whole time, I kept thinking that I could just buy the box of fettuccine at Kroger for $1.29. So...why didn't I?

What is it about making something yourself that is so satisfying?  Sure, you know exactly what is in it.  It's fresh and not loaded with preservatives and other 'stuff.'  But that's not the real reason -- at least not for me.  I've been thinking about it a lot lately.  In my case, I'm quite sure a lot of it is sentimental.  It gives me a connection to my past, particularly to my wonderful grandmother.  My grandmother was an amazing, talented, loving woman.  She was a gifted seamstress.  She could crochet like nobody's business.  She made the world's most fabulous chicken and dumplings.  She made homemade jellies and fig preserves that could bring a tear to your eye.  She had the greenest thumb imaginable.  She took me fishing.  She taught me to play gin rummy and solitaire.  She took me blackberry picking.  She encouraged and taught and advised and loved and hugged and made me feel like I was special.  She was, quite simply, the perfect grandmother.  Though she's been gone from this earth for nearly twenty years, I still miss her everyday.

So now, when I'm planting flowers or making a homemade pound cake, I think of her.  I can almost feel her there beside me.  And, now, I have this amazing little six-year-old and she loves to help me.  And I try REALLY hard to let her, even when it means things take longer and the mess is bigger, because I remember how much fun it was to help my grandma and how good it made me feel to do something "real."

So, if I make homemade pasta it takes longer.  Big deal -- what's my hurry?  This amazing little person whom I am fortunate to call my daughter is going to be gone before I know it.  I mean, really.  How did she get to be SIX already??  She'll have her own life and, maybe, her own family.  But one day, perhaps she'll be standing in her own kitchen making pasta and remembering that we used to do it together and that it was good.  'Cause it's not really the pasta or the dumplings or the blackberry picking.  As an adult I can see that it's the TIME my grandma gave me that was the real gift. 

Thanks, Nana.  I love you.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hoffer's Arithmetic

Sometimes, you need a change of perspective.

I spent most of 2009 feeling pretty sorry for myself. In my defense, it was an emotional, exhausting, trying year. My husband got sick with pneumonia in January. Both of my parents had cancer surgery; Mom in March and Dad in October. In May, my brother suffered a horrible ankle break that required plates and pins and screws. A few days later, a freakishly strong storm (known as a derecho) made a shambles of our small town and left our neighborhood without power for 8 days. My husband's stepmother died of breast cancer in July. The following week, my husband underwent a heart catheterization for a suspected blockage. In August, we learned that our daughter has a life-threatening allergy to wasp stings. Spending the evening in the emergency room with my hive-covered, wheezing, purple-faced five-year-old tops my list of scary things I never want to repeat. So, I spent many a day last year feeling like I was being picked on and being afraid of what was next. I frequently remarked to friends that I couldn’t wait for 2009 to be OVER.

A few weeks ago, on Christmas Day, I stood in my parent’s dining room with family and friends and took the hand of the person on each side of me. My dad offered a prayer for the meal we were about to share. He uttered the words “2009 has been…(long pause).” The words “a horrible year” sprang immediately to my mind. Then, to my utter astonishment, my dad continued “...a blessed year and we thank you for that.” The next thing that sprang to mind was a famous quote from the writer and philosopher, Eric Hoffer: “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.” 

Ouch. Time to brush up on my gratitude math.

Those simple words from my dad were the catalyst that changed my perspective on what I had come to think of as the year from hell. I can’t quite bring myself to say it was a good year, but I realize that there are a lot of things to be grateful for. My parents are both alive and active and doing well. I’ve had the opportunity to spend extra time with both of them over the past year. My brother’s ankle continues to improve. He is walking without a crutch, without a cane, and with only the merest whisper of a limp. The destruction of the May storm passed over the home of my family without damage and gave me multiple evenings of breaking bread by candlelight with neighbors. My father-in-law is managing his new, solitary life in an exceptional fashion. My husband’s heart catheterization revealed nothing except a healthy heart and clear arteries. My little one survived her anaphylactic episode and we are fortunate that she was stung in a situation that allowed us to get medical help for her quickly. Viewed in a different way, from a perspective of gratitude, things sure look different.

Now, just so we're clear, I’m no Pollyanna. I know bad things happen. I don’t want pretend everything is okay when it isn’t. But maybe, if I look with new eyes, I can cultivate a grateful heart. Maybe, with practice, I can master the arithmetic of counting my blessings.