A future without him

9 May
me with Dad

The last photo I took with my father in April, 2016

One week ago today, my world changed forever. A nurse from the rehab where my Dad was staying called with news. The woman had an accent and at first I was confused… so I asked her to repeat what she’d said. “I’m so sorry but your father has passed away.” This time her words were clear and all at once it felt like the floor was falling away beneath me. Even though I’ve known that this day would come, those words were still so very hard to hear.

The last week has been filled with a “busyness” I’d never have chosen to go through. Thankfully, I’ve been able to weather it with the help of my husband, Emile. He has been the rock I needed and has held me as I sobbed, made me eat when I didn’t even know I was hungry, and helped me to be patient when all  I wanted to do was scream (think Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment). I’m so grateful that he was with me to help me navigate this life transition in as graceful a way as possible .

When I try to make sense of my sadness, I think it’s because for many years I’d wanted for my Dad to be happy and yet, try as I might, I always felt like I’d failed. I wonder how I thought I could have ever have made up for the life situations he faced? As a child he saw much hardship—and then before he was 25 he lost his Dad, two brothers, and a child. In later years, he lost my Mom to cancer and my sister, Nancy, to Cystic Fibrosis. His world wasn’t just half-full, at times it seemed damn near empty!

Throughout the years, Dad and I rarely found a way to talk about the pain in his life.  That wasn’t something we knew how to do.  The last time I was able to take him out to dinner, however, he sipped a glass of wine and told me a few stories that were new to me. As I listened to him, I wondered who he might have become under different circumstances.  When I took him back to his assisted living facility, he joked with his nurse and then they both laughed out loud.  That laugh brought a smile to my face, and Dad said, “You don’t even know why we’re laughing” and I replied, “It’s not important… I’m just so glad to see you happy.”

Dad was never one to offer words of praise… I guess because he’d never heard them himself.  That’s probably why I’ve been amazed to find so many pictures, emails, newspaper articles, and other mementos of my sisters and our families stuffed throughout his condo. Clearly, even though he didn’t know how to say it, his family meant the world to him.  That knowledge will help me face a future without him.

This journey of loss has just begun. I ask that you please be patient with me as I travel it.

“One should never be ashamed to cry.  Tears are rain on the dust of earth.” Charles Dickens

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

A quiche I baked for my father’s neighbor in Florida

Angels in our midst?

30 Apr

The beginning of April found me flying to Guanajuato, Mexico with four friends from the Ashland Rotary Club. We are working with the Rotary Club of Guanajuato to bring fresh water to the rural areas of the region.

school for the deaf

In the week there, we also toured the School for the Deaf in San Miguel Allende, planted trees at a preschool, and met with many selfless people who are dedicated to serving others. I was honored to be a part of that team.

Here I am with my friend, Angelica, and my wonderful hosts, Oscar and Marta.

OSCAR AND MARTA
While in Mexico I got a message from my sister that my Dad was once again in the hospital, so instead of returning home at the end of the week, I took a plane from Los Angeles to Florida to visit him.

At first, he spent a few days in the ICU and it was very hard to see him suffering. What helped make the situation bearable was that my sister and daughter were with me and the fact that my Dad had several amazing nurses. My favorite nurse, Nicole, hailed from Kentucky and made the experience much easier to handle.

me with Dad
Nicole had such a gentle way with Dad (and with us) and I wanted to show our thanks so, of course, I made her and the night nurse each an apple pie.  It was really fun to see the happy smiles when we delivered them!  Surprising people with pie just happens to be one of my favorite things… (Sound of Music soundtrack anyone?)

apple pie
After ten days in Florida, with Dad stable and in rehab, I was ready to go home. I went to the airport for my flight with United and saw a huge crowd at my gate. The details are too long to go into, but the final result was that I gave up my seat in exchange for travel money and a flight home the following day. I was happy as I’d see my Dad one more time and the travel credits will come in handy, but what blew me away was that the gate agent, Beth, booked me in first class all the way home!  If I could have, I’d have made her a pie too but instead I gave her a pretty shell and thanked her for her grace and calm under pressure.

A few days after I was home, I realized that I had a couple of gift certificates from Shooting Star  Nursery that had expired during my extended trip. When I called and told them what had happened, an employee told me that he thought the owners would likely be understanding and jokingly added “especially if I brought something I’d baked myself.”

Clearly he didn’t know who he was taking to!  Yesterday I walked into the office and surprised a few employees with a warm pie. When I shared what I’d been told on the phone the young man in charge said I didn’t have to do that… But really, I did!  Later the crew sent me a sweet text message thanking me for the pie. I was so glad to receive it.

Life is full of challenges and every one of us has “stuff” to deal with. I think we all do the best we can… but still, life can be hard. That’s why it’s nice when every now and then we get a helping hand with that “stuff” thanks to the kindhearted strangers (or are they angels?) who we meet along the way.

“We are each of us angels with only one wing; and we can only fly by embracing one another.” ~ Luciano de Crescenzo

Happy Pi Day!

14 Mar

Early this morning I received a shout out from my friend, Karen, wishing me a “Happy Pi Day” and that set the stage for the day.  I am sure I would have remembered it sooner or later, but it was nice to get the word “pie” on my “to-do” list right away.

pi day quiche prep

It took a trip to the store to gather some ingredients before I could bet started… apples, mushrooms, eggs… and then the pie making began. It was far from an orderly process, but before long, I had made the pie dough made (two kinds – one “regular” and one that was gluten-free). Then it was time to cook the vegetables for the quiches – one with broccoli and mushrooms and one with asparagus.  When those two pies were in the oven, I got the apple pie going. Finally, after a few hours, I had three pies sitting on my counter.

three pie are

Looking at those three pies on my counter made me think back to high school geometry class (it is pi day after all!)  From what I recall, at the beginning of the year, my head felt like it was swimming, but my teacher, a very patient woman named Mrs. Simmons, explained it all.  Before long, I was able to recite theorems, solve for x and y, and I learned that math could be fun.

Mrs. Simmons

Unfortunately, I don’t think I ever properly thanked Mrs. Simmons for guiding me through geometry that year and it is too late to do so now.  Claire Anita Simmons passed away nearly six years ago (I just looked it up).  I would have so loved to gift Claire Simmons a pie with my deepest thanks for sharing her love of math through teaching.

Instead, the three pies found homes with my friends. One, a teacher, was thrilled to have the Apple Pie to share with her children. The Asparagus quiche went to a friend and her husband as they face health challenges… and the Mushroom Broccoli quiche went to a friend simply because she loves my quiche.

As Pi Day 2016 comes to a close, my hope is that you all had a lovely pi(e) day. And, while you still have the chance, I hope you’ll take the time to thank a teacher who made a difference in your life.  Or for that matter, take a moment to thank anyone else you owe some thanks to. I promise, you’ll both feel good about it!

“A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.”

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

 

 

 

 

 

Home again, home again…

3 Feb

With yesterday’s snow on the ground outside, it was hard to believe that we just came home from two weeks by the ocean in Mexico. We’ve been going to the same town – Barre de Navidad – for a number of years and this year we brought a couple of friends with us and introduced them to “our” small Mexican town. At first, I wondered if they would love it as much as we do… after all, it is not a resort town in any sense of the word. Fortunately, they did. We all enjoyed sitting on the beach, playing games, eating tacos (thank you Ritchie Ruiz!), and sipping the local beer. It was really a wonderful time.

gandj

George and Joyce

Emile and me

Emile and me

Before going to Barre, I collected an assortment of gifts to bring along. Usually when you sit on the beach, vendors approach selling their wares.  Most of the time, we say, “No, gracias.” However, I would also ask, “Tienes ninos?” Most every vendor did have children, and then I would ask how many and their ages. Once this was determined, I would let them choose a gift for their kids. It didn’t cost me much, was fun for me to do, gave me a chance to practice my Spanish… and I made friends along the way!

gifts for Mexico

Beanie Babies, Crayola Crayons and Pencils, etc.

We had friends visit us in Barre as well. David and his wife, Rosalba, used to live in Ashland but now have returned to their home near Guadalajara. When they know we will be in town, they make the long drive to spend time at the seaside with us.  They are salt of the earth folks and we feel like a part of their family. Somehow we communicate quite easily because hearts will find a way to do that if you give them a chance!

Ramirez family

Leslie, Miriam, Rosalba, and David

Because I really need to make pies, I brought along ingredients to make a few. I hauled several pounds of cookie crumbs and a half dozen pie tins through TSA (I wonder if that even seemed strange to them?)  Of the five pies I made, three were coconut cream and two were chocolate cream and  I know at least two were delicious as we shared them with our friends.  One of the three pie “gifts” went to an old man recovering from a recent illness. He didn’t really know me but we had stayed at his inn about five years ago. I walked in and (all in Spanish) explained that we had once stayed there, that our friends stayed there the week before, and that we really loved Barra all while holding the pie.  I sensed his confusion and finally blurted out, “Esto es un regalo… gracias por todo. ” The smile that appeared on his face was absolutely glorious! Lesson: Next time, lead with the part about the gift and maybe those other details won’t even be necessary!

pie prep in barra

Parts of the pie-making process

coconut cream pie in Barra

Coconut Cream Pie

marketplace bowls

A trip to Mexico wouldn’t be complete without a day at a local crafters market. The bright colors of the pottery and the array of shining silver jewelry are stunning!  I’d love to take it all home with me… but alas, that is not possible. Instead, I limit myself to a few items as gifts and a few more as colorful reminders of our time there.

Market Vendor

Jose Ruis Montoya and Artesanias Huichol

Beach items

Gifts from the Sea

Each time as we walked the beach, I took a bag to pick up debris because I really feel that Barra is my beach and I want to do my part to take care of it. Occasionally we would find evidence of the recent hurricane but, all in all, the playa was pretty clean. I found this spigot and couldn’t leave it behind though I don’t know what I’ll do with it yet. The beach glass is something my Mom used to collect and I think of her each time I find a piece.

At the end of two weeks, it was very hard to leave Mexico behind because I feel so comfortable and at home there. It was shortly after returning from Barra five years ago when I began my pie project because I realized just how much I have to be grateful for. For many reasons, I think that a part of me will always remain in Mexico even when I am home again… And, really, that is as it should be.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”  Confucious

 

 

Time for an Epiphany?

6 Jan

Noah's Pie

A Pie for Noah on his Birthday

It’s a bit late to say this but, but I want to wish everyone a very Happy New Year!  My hope is that the year to come brings you more joy than sorrow, more prosperity than hardship, and enough love and support to help you grow into your best self.

On a very sad note, this week my cousin Wayne lost his battle with cancer. Wayne was funny, smart, and big-hearted and he’s left us way too soon. My heartfelt sympathy goes to his family, friends, and loved ones.

wayne

Among the many other thoughts crowding my head these past few weeks has been the issue of homelessness. Each week, our church opens on Monday to offer shelter to those without homes.  We are fortunate that there are many wonderful volunteers who serve as hosts on these nights.  For my part, I try to make sure that there is a warm pot of soup available for those weary souls.

Sue J's pie 1

Over the time that I’ve helped with this mission, I have become familiar with some of our guests and will check in with them if I see them around town. Occasionally, I will buy them coffee or offer a peanut butter sandwich, but I know that even stopping to say hello is important. It demonstrates that these people exist… they are not invisible.

A few nights ago, I watched a film called, “Time out of Mind.” In this movie, Richard Gere plays a homeless man in New York City.  You don’t know much about what went wrong for his character, but you get a glimpse into how hard it is to be homeless.  In one interview, Gere shared that for a scene in the movie he stood on a street corner in Manhattan for 90 minutes begging for change. In that time he received about $1.50 but he said that not one person who gave him money looked him in the eye and no one recognized him at all.

sues pie prep 2

Recently, on a bitter cold day, I bought a coffee a local Dutch Bros kiosk. As I was waiting for it to be made, I noticed a homeless person across the parking lot and decided to give it to them. However, by the time I turned my car around, he was gone. Determined to find someone to share this treat with, I headed home scouting for someone in need.

When I passed through our downtown, I saw a man with a backpack walking his dog. I wanted to stop but all of a sudden was overcome with this thought “How presumptuous of me to think that he was homeless!”  This made me pass him by, but as I’d not seen anyone else around, I gathered my courage and drove back to him.

pie tilted

He was a man of about 50 and he walked with a slight limp.With my window rolled down, I asked, “Sir, would you like a latte?” The man stopped and looked at me for a moment before he spoke and then he said, “Yes, thank you, Maam.”  I handed it to him and said, “He’s a cute dog.” He said it was a “she” and that’s when he seemed to straighten up and grow taller. Then he stated his full name, and these last words, “US Navy Seal.” I thanked him for his service, and if you know me at all, you know I drove home crying.

According to many traditions, today is celebrated as the day the Three Kings visited the Christ Child”; it’s known as the epiphany.” This word is also used to describe “a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” My wish is, if  nothing else, that the next time you see someone on the street, that you not turn away, for there, but for the grace of God, go you or I.

upside down

A quiche for Sue and her new knee

Do not judge by appearances; a rich heart may be under a poor coat.       Scottish Proverb

I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that. Then I realized, I am somebody.  Unknown

The idea that anyone who has worn our country’s uniform spends their nights sleeping on the ground should horrify us.  Michelle Obama

 

Thanks… and giving.

30 Nov

apple pie NovemberIt’s been over four years since I started this blog/gratitude project. It seems only fitting that during this season of Thanksgiving that I share a few of the things that I am grateful for. Of course, I am thankful for the basics… a warm home, plenty to eat, and good health.  A few other important things on the list include:

Friends. The people that have known me forever and when we speak after many months we pick up right where we left off. You know who you are. I hold you all in my heart and am so grateful for your love and acceptance.

pumpkin pie for george Continue reading

A Crying Baby and a Few Pies

27 Oct

Late last month I boarded a flight to Portland for the first leg of my journey to see my daughter, Alex, in New York. I sat in my assigned seat, greeted my seatmate and waited for takeoff.  A few minutes later, a young couple with a crying infant headed for their seats – one row in front of and across the aisle from me. Moments later the baby’s cries became more frantic.  At that point, the mother handed the baby to the dad, and he sat there holding his screaming baby. The “mom” in me thought that by waving at the baby I could distract him for a moment, and maybe his cries would abate.  Instead, the baby’s Dad saw me waving and handed the baby over to me.

screaming baby

I was stunned!  The baby was screaming so immediately I tried bouncing him on my knees. Then I decided this situation called for serious measures and stood up and began rocking him from back and forth. The first flight attendant said that this was okay to do and that he’d let me know when we were ready for takeoff, so I continued to rock and talk quietly to the child.  In a matter of minutes, his cries became less frantic, and soon he stopped crying altogether. Then I noticed that the baby’s head was beginning to lean on my chest and before long he was sound asleep.  At that moment, the second flight attendant told me that I needed to sit down, so I handed the baby back to his parents. When I did that, the flight attendant looked at me in disbelief and said, “He’s not yours?”

No, he wasn’t mine, but I was happy to help because (let’s be honest) many of us have had that same experience. We’re stressed out for so many reasons (for example, packing and getting ready for a trip, rushing to the airport, etc) and of course, our baby picks up on that stress. Instead of being an annoyed passenger thinking “Oh no, a crying baby” I wanted to do something if I could and, fortunately, it worked out. The baby slept for the rest of the flight, Mom and Dad seemed more relaxed, and I got to soothe (and hold) a new baby.  Win-win-win!  What a way to start my trip!

high five

The reason for my visit to New York was so that I could help celebrate Alexandra’s, 27th birthday.  We did so by attending The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (cost: free!), The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (cost: free!), and the musical The Book of Mormon (SRO tix only $27!).  We also took long walks, dined around town, and simply spent time together. It was such a good visit and I know that I am a very lucky mama!

alexandra

Alexandra

While there I baked three apple pies… one for my brother-in-law, Mike, one for our friend Tom’s birthday, and one for my daughter’s amazing friend, Royce.

me and roycePie for Tom Minor

Royce with me and his Apple Pie and an Apple Pie for Tom.

Sullivan Street Bakeryimagine

Enjoying scrumptious bread at Sullivan Street Bakery and visiting Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial site.

Once back home, I baked another Apple Pie for one of our favorite singer/songwriters, the amazing Martin Sexton, who opened Jefferson Public Radio’s One World Performance Series. Then, a few days later, I baked yet another Apple Pie for a woman who donated to a charity that I help with. It was such fun to surprise her with a pie to thank her for her gift. Finally, a Bacon and Roasted Pepper quiche found its way to a dear friend who is going through chemo. It’s something nourishing that she can eat when she feels like eating and will also hold for a few days when she is not able to do so.

quiche for JoAnn

It’s been a long time since I’ve written and part of the reason for my delay was that there were so many stories in the news that have felt especially devastating. Some days I’ve found it hard to read the paper or listen to the radio because the stories break my heart. At times like this, I wish I could do something magical and change the world for the better. Until then, I will continue to give away pies… and maybe, every so often, I’ll rock a crying baby.

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”  David Mamet