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30 Years in Heaven

6 Jan

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My beautiful mother, Eleanor, holding me while my Dad, Jim looks on.

Some of us remember dates better than others.  I don’t know why that is… but I have an idea.  When an event creates an indelible mark on your heart, to you or someone you love, it can be hard to forget.  Some of those events can be joyful such as the birth of your children, and others sad, as in the death of a loved one.

Well, this post is about the latter. Today is the 30th anniversary of the date that my mother succumbed to the cancer that she battled for 12 years.   I was a new mother and my baby girl was three months old when my mother passed away.  It was so strange to lose my Mom when I was just becoming one.  All the questions about parenting I never knew I had, would never be answered by her.

Since I had no mother to turn to, I often reached out to other women to help guide me along the path of motherhood.  The advice came from my Aunts, my friends, and sometimes complete strangers.  As they say, it takes a village, and if you don’t have a village, sometimes you create one.

One of my dear “villagers” was Irene Orselli.  She was my neighbor in Portland when Alexandra was a small child.  Irene never had children, yet, even so, she doted on my children as only an adoring mother could.  Irene got me, encouraged me, and inspired me.  It felt as if I was given another mother to help me and I will always be grateful for her love and support.

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On this day of epiphany, I would like to recognize all of the women, and men, who have been a part of my village.  I am deeply in debt to you for your wisdom, guidance, and love.

Finally, please allow this proud Mom a moment to celebrate the release of my dear daughter’s first book, The Secret Joy of Hygge.  I’d love it (and be so thankful) if you would take a look and consider supporting her.

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A Pear Kuchen for a friend.

“Losing a Mother doesn’t happen in a moment.  It takes years to appreciate the impact of what’s gone.”   Lisa-jo Baker

 

Celia’s House

19 Dec

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A pie for Alicia to thank her for reading me my forgotten shopping list!

Just recently, I embarked on a new endeavor.  If you had asked me if I saw this opportunity coming, even just a few months ago, I would have said no.  I would have said that this opportunity wasn’t for me… I’m far too emotional.  But standing on the other side, I think I might have misjudged myself.  In some ways,  I realize I have been preparing for this new position all of my life.

What is this new challenge you ask?  I am managing the culinary program at a home for hospice clients.

In my first few weeks, I have met many wonderful people.  There are the many volunteers who share their time and energy to help create a beautiful space for our patients both inside and out.  Then there is the staff who work tirelessly to keep our clients free from pain and as comfortable as possible.  And finally, I cannot express enough appreciation for the families and friends that come to spend time with their loved ones, often for long hours.  Their love is palpable and inspiring.

Stepping into this position was, to be honest, a bit scary.  I was worried about committing to a long-term agreement because I thought I would wash away from all the tears that I knew would come. Even the first week I started, I had a friend who was a patient in the house.  Initially, she had moved into the house for a respite from the medical journey she was on, but soon she made the very difficult decision not to pursue further treatments.

Some might think that she was giving up — but they would be wrong.  In her last weeks, my friend demonstrated incredible strength, grace, and peace and I was able to witness the beautiful expression of love from her friends and family.  This was an honor that I will always remember fondly.

What I have learned about my new position is that my role is not just to prepare food for our clients.  At times, I am finding ways to be a support system and friend for their loved ones.  Sometimes that is as simple as offering a meal or a treat to keep them going.  Usually, they don’t need or want much, but they are always so appreciative for having been asked.  This position gives me a way to help others and sometimes it is through food.  But often, it is simply to be present with love.

Finally, I would be remiss for not thanking the woman who asked me to be a part of Celia’s House (You know who you are!)  She recognized the strength and compassion in me that I did not.  And for that, I am most grateful.

 “We cannot change the outcome, but we can affect the journey.”  Ann Richardson

Nice is a Four-letter Word.

4 Sep

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An Apple Pie for Lauretta and Uwe in Berlin.

When I was a little girl, I heard a lot of things from the adults around me that didn’t serve me well.  This phrase was popular, “Good girls should be seen and not heard (wtf?).” And then there were a number of phrases that began, “Nice girls don’t ………… (fill in the blank)”.  For me, talking back was not acceptable… and if someone said something mean to me, I was not permitted to stand up for myself.  Often I heard about the troubles the other person was having (marital problems, etc.) and was asked to be compassionate.  I was taught to care for others, but not myself. I was a nice girl… and I became a nice woman.

Well, it’s taken a long time, but I’ve decided that I don’t want to be nice anymore.   Here is the definition of the word nice: pleasant, agreeable, satisfactory.  Who wants to be referred to as satisfactory?  What a wishy-washy word (wishy-washy is defined as feeble, lacking in strength or boldness)!  There are a host of words that I would prefer to be called rather than nice, including but not limited to the following: courageous, strong, compassionate, funny, determined, loving, reliable,  generous, spontaneous, intuitive, passionate, even crazy.   But please don’t call me “nice.”

A few years ago, when my ex told me about his affair, he thought my response would be “I’m so happy for you.”  Clearly, he thought I was that “nice”.  A few days later, he asked me to watch a movie, and I agreed.  But instead of sitting with him on the couch, I stood and ironed his shirts.  Was I being nice?  Not at all.  I was doing something I knew how to do as I tried to figure out what had happened to my world.

While I might have wanted to dump manure on his lawn, scream at him in public, or toss his stuff in the street, I didn’t.  I was trying to be mature, dignified, and I was learning to walk with grace.  Truly, being nice had nothing to do with it.

In closing, I acknowledge that this post is a bit of a departure for me… I’ve shared more here than I have in a while.  My hope is that in so doing, someone out there may feel more comfortable sharing their story or at least they’ll know that they’re not alone.

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Pie prep in Berlin… using a wine bottle for a rolling pin!

“When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less alone.”  Glennon Doyle Melton

Happy 24th Anniversary in Heaven to my sister, Nancy.   I wrote about that day in this post… and about Nancy here so I won’t go over it again.  I want to say I was so lucky to know her… we shared many happy times and many silly jokes. I miss her more than I can say.

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Nancy with her two biggest loves… Jimmy and Wayne.

 

 

 

Springing Forward

31 Mar

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I’ve always loved Spring.  The flowers are blooming, the sun’s warmth returning, the fresh earth filling the air with its’ scent.  It’s all about renewal. Yet the reason we celebrate renewal is that things we love have died or gone dormant.  The trees that have shed their leaves, the grass that has died, the loved ones that have left us behind.

A few weeks ago, I remembered that a friend’s daughter had succumbed to cancer.  This happened in October while I was in Florida clearing out my Dad’s condo.  Her daughter had passed months ago and because I was busy with my own “stuff,” I did not send a card.  When I finally did remember, I sent a card expressing my condolences and my sadness for her loss.

I told another friend, who’d lost her husband recently, that I felt bad that my card was so late in coming.  She told me that it is never too late to send a sympathy card because grief does not go away quickly.  While others have moved on with their lives, the person grieving will still be “walking through the valley of the shadow”, as my pastor calls it. Simple expressions of sympathy are likely to be welcome for a very long time.

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After my friend received my card, she got in touch with me and shared that she’d been unable to go into her kitchen to cook; it was just more than she could handle.  She asked if she could pay me to cook for her.  My heart hurt and so that very afternoon I baked her an Asparagus and Pepper Quiche and brought it up to her house.  I told her that since the next day was “pi” day, the “pie” was my gift.  She invited me in for what I thought would be a few minutes… but instead turned into a two-hour visit with her and her husband as they shared their story with me.  It was an unexpected moment of grace… and for that, I am truly grateful.

When faced with the enormity of a friend’s loss, we can feel powerless… because we can’t fix what went wrong.  And while that is true, what we can do is visit with the one who is grieving and bear witness to their pain.  We don’t need to find the right thing to say.    What our friends need is to tell their story and for us to listen.  At times, they may need you to hold them as they (and maybe you) cry.  Just being with them is a precious gift.

In the Jewish tradition, the act of being with a person in mourning is called ‘Sitting Shiva.’ During the period of Shiva, mourners sometimes sit on low stools or boxes while they receive visitors. This is where the phrase “sitting shiva” comes from, and it is a practice that symbolizes the mourner being “brought low” following the loss of a loved one (Shiva.com).

Can you relate?  I sure can.  When grief has hit me, I have felt like my legs buckled underneath me and found I was unable to stand.  It takes time to find ones’ bearings after a great loss and I love that friends join the mourner in sitting low… recognizing the blow that’s been dealt.

At this time, I send you all warm wishes for a beautiful Spring (and Easter or Passover) and encourage you to reach out to friends who have suffered a loss.  If you can, offer them something tangible.  Perhaps you can mow their lawn or clean their gutters.  Maybe you can bring a meal or bake a batch of cookies… or a pie.  And, please, just sit for a while with your friend who is suffering.  It will make you both feel so much better.

So it’s true when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.” 

E.A. Bucchianeri

On a completely different note, this happened!

Looking for the Gifts

18 Jan

We are wading into a brand new year and I (belatedly!) offer my best wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy 2018.  The past year for me was a challenging one, and yet, because of the love and support I’ve had from friends and family, I am happily looking forward to this coming year.  I’m on a journey I’d never have chosen, but am doing my best to find the gifts along the path.

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Recently,  I was feeling down because I’d fractured a bone near my ankle.  As I sat in the doctor’s waiting room, I looked across the way and saw a pretty mom with her young son. Then I looked down to see that she had not one, but two prosthetic legs.  Much like the quote, “I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet” the universe had reminded me that my situation was merely a temporary inconvenience.

How often do we find ourselves complaining about something simply because our schedules have been disrupted? How we handle these disruptions says a lot about us… and can determine our happiness.  Which brings to mind this quote, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him about your plans.”

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Lately, I’ve been trying to notice the gifts in my daily comings and goings and want to share a few with you.  Hopefully, I can encourage you to find the gifts that have been placed in your path.

This year I was lucky to be in Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.  It was a warm day and I joined a long line of folks waiting to buy a beer. To pass the time, I began a conversation with the woman in front of me.  Melissa and I were just sharing small talk at first, but then she told me that she had recently battled cervical cancer and was now cancer free.  I was honored that she shared her deeply personal story with me and was inspired by her determination to survive for her young sons.

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One of the greatest gifts this year has been the chance to spend more time with my adult children.  We celebrated holidays together, but also did simple things together, like taking walks and cooking dinner.  It’s been such fun to witness the lovely beings that they have become and I’m so grateful to have them in my life.

Finally, on my return trip home, I found myself waiting at the gate for my last flight. The plane was delayed and there were many unhappy travelers.  One of those travelers was a 7-week old baby who was screaming non-stop.  Her parents were struggling to soothe her and I inched my way over to them because I’ve been in their shoes. I began by saying something like, “You know, she’s only doing what we all want to do right now,” and then I asked her name and age.  The baby continued crying and I so asked, “May I hold her for a moment?” Her Mom looked at me quizzically but handed her over.

We continued talking and within a minute the baby stopped crying. The Mom was stunned and I told her, “I think what’s going on is she’s noticing that something is different. Most likely she’s picking up on the fact that my scent isn’t the same as yours.”  We talked some more and as I continued to sway the baby drifted off to sleep.  Then it was time for them to board and we said goodbye.  Later the Dad told me the baby had slept the whole flight and he thanked me.  Then, I thanked him for giving me the chance to hold their baby.  It was such a precious gift.

“Every gift which is given, even though it be small, is in reality great, if it is given with affection.”  Pindar

 

August Pies

1 Sep

What follows are few pie stories I’d like to share from the last month…

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Early in August I made a pie for a woman named Pam who owns two golden retrievers named Milo and Chester.  Often I will see Pam when I am out for my morning walk and for a few minutes I get to be loved and snuggled by her furry companions.  Recently Pam told me that she would soon be moving to the coast and I asked if I could make her a pie before she left.  She readily agreed and when I asked where she lived, Pam pointed to an alley and said she lived “at the second house in.”

It never occurred to me to ask for her address… or what her house looked like.  So about a week later when I made the pie for Pam and set out to deliver it I found myself knocking on door after door trying to locate her.  Finally I knocked on a door and a man answered. “Does Pam live here?” I asked, and he said, “I’ll be Pam if I get to keep the pie!” We laughed and then he said, “Pam lives next door.” At last I’d found Pam and her husband, Mike, at home and they were tickled.  It just so happens that the next day was Mike’s birthday! It had all worked out perfectly.  However, instead of just expecting to find my next pie recipient, I might just ask for their address and phone number just in case!

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Sadly during this month I have also made pies for two people facing terminal illnesses way too young. My heart breaks for my friends and their families and yet I am also deeply moved by their courage in facing death.  They are using the time that they have left to be with those that they love most. Spending time together and sharing their stories and getting ready for goodbye.  They’ve been dealt a hand that no one would want, and yet, they are living out their final days with grace and love.

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Finally, last weekend I made a pie with my old friend Lauretta and her husband, Uwe. They had come to Oregon to see the solar eclipse and then afterwards came to visit me. After a relaxing weekend of visiting, on Sunday morning Lauretta and I gathered ingredients to make a pie.  As I nibbled on a piece of cold Calzone, Lauretta noticed and immediately we both began singing a few lines from a Christine Lavin tune “Cold pizza for Breakfast.” It was so awesome to find ourselves on the same wavelength after so many years!  Later, we sent this photo to Christine and told her that we’d been thinking of her!

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Lauretta and me with her Strawberry Rhubarb pie.

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Lauretta and Uwe with “Wilbur” their pop top camper.

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What ties all these disparate stories together? I’m not really sure.  Maybe it’s just about me trying to make sense of this crazy life… and also trying to trust the universe and absolutely loving it when things work out.  Sending love from me to you.

“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.”  Margaret Shepard

 

Be the Light

4 Jul

It seems to me that this has been a hard year for many people.  I’m not talking politics… though there is that.  When the year began, I was facing a future I’d have never chosen willingly and was feeling pretty devastated.  Soon, however, I realized that I was not the only one going through a difficult time.

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Fritatta for Maureen

I’ve watched a dear friend lose her spouse of many years, saw another friend succumb to illness, and yet another friend go through chemo.  You don’t have to look hard to find trouble all around.  And yet…. During this time I have been buoyed by friends who have stopped by to write words of encouragement on the chalk board at my front door.  Other friends have sent cards or called to check in. What I am saying is that my journey through grief has not been a solitary one.

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And still, whenever I can, I bake a pie or make a dinner for someone who I think needs to be reminded that they also are not alone.  Though I rarely say the word, love is what I hope to bring to these folks.  And what I find amazing is that after seeing someone made happier by a gift of my food, I always find that I feel better.

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An Apple Blueberry Pie for the reunion

Along those same lines, my daughter, Alexandra, is visiting this week and yesterday she read me an article by Elizabeth Gilbert that had us both in tears. Here is an excerpt:

We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it’s extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith, and love. You witness events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it. 

But what if you are the light? What if you’re the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for? 

When you think about the many people that you come into contact with each day, it’s easy to imagine how you can have a positive impact on someone’s life simply by being a beacon of light.  No need for heroic measures here, just show up, smile, hold the door, maybe even share a hug.  Be willing to share a moment of your time with someone who might need it more than you’ll ever know.  Or you just might try baking someone a pie.  It seems to work for me!

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As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.  Audrey Hepburn