Categories
Family Food

Cake

The National Day Today calendar tells me that it’s National Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Day.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake was my father’s favorite. He’d always request it on his birthday, and we’d cheerfully oblige.

I’m not sure why he liked it so much; his food preferences tended toward plain vanilla (literally – that was his favorite flavor of ice cream). He was also reluctant to step outside of familiar traditions, so you’d think that he’d favor something more classic, such as a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. But every year, he wanted Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, and that’s what he’d get.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake can be a bit tricky to make. The recipe isn’t complicated, but the final step, the part where you flip the pan over to release the baked cake topped with the gooey melted butter-sugar-pineapple mixture, doesn’t always go as planned. My dad didn’t care too much about what his cake looked like, however. If some of the “good stuff” got left in the warm pan, he’d happily scoop it out with a spoon, smiling as he enjoyed each tasty, candied bite.

Here’s to Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, birthday traditions, and sweet memories of celebrating with the people we love.

Categories
Family Fun Nature

Whirly-twirly

There’s a tree nearby that is dropping its seeds right now. These seeds are designed to spin as they fall to the ground, like little helicopter wings. In fact, they are commonly known as “helicopter seeds.”

When my sons were youngsters, they loved playing with these types of seeds, which we called “whirly-twirlies.” We’d laugh as we threw several in the air at once and waited to see which one landed first.

Now that my sons are grown, we no longer play the whirly-twirly game. Still, I do sometimes pick one up off the ground, toss it up and watch as it whirls and twirls gracefully to a resting spot in the grass.

Here’s to simple fun and happy memories.

Categories
Family Life Pets

Baby

My dogs, Mollie and Charlie, wear sweaters. Yes, I’m one of those people who puts sweaters on her dogs when it’s cold outside.

When we first adopted Charlie, a few months ago, he was just a puppy. His sweater was small and fit him perfectly, covering his back all the way to his hind legs.

Today, I realized that he’s outgrown his sweater. I was watching him run around the backyard and noticed that his sweater only came halfway down his back. It was a bit of a shock, the suddenness of the change. I’m almost positive that the sweater was still the right size yesterday.

I ended up taking one of Mollie’s sweaters and putting it on him instead. Mollie seemed ok with it, but I’m an oldest child and know that it can be hard to watch your stuff be handed down to the younger ones. So, I’ll be buying Charlie a new sweater of his very own pretty soon so that Mollie can have hers back.

I suppose that, having had human children, I shouldn’t have been so surprised by the fact that Charlie had outgrown his sweater. That’s just what happens with babies, including puppies.

You get used to letting go of most of the toys, the shoes, the books and trinkets that represent the moments. For sentimental reasons, however, I have saved some of my children’s clothes, the ones that they wore for special occasions or that carry special memories. I’ll pull them out of their storage boxes from time to time, look at them and marvel at how small they are, hold them gently in my hands and remember those tiny, sweet boys. Sometimes, I can do so without tears, but most often, I find myself misty-eyed, deep in happy memories.

I’m a little embarrassed at having some of the same emotions today when I replaced Charlie’s sweater. He’s a dog, not a human. Then again, he’s one of my babies. Furry, with four legs instead of two, and, of course, different in so many other ways. But one of my babies, nonetheless.

Here’s to the passage of time and the sometimes obvious, sometimes surprising changes it brings. And, here’s to parents. We must let our babies grow up…but that doesn’t mean we can’t remember the babies they once were.

Categories
Family Holidays

Sleep

My sweet husband gave me this cuppa as a Christmas gift this year.

Our kiddos have outgrown Santa and toys. Christmas morning no longer involves happy giggles and excited shouts at the crack of dawn.

Like many other parents, however, our Christmas Day celebrations used to be preceded by late-night Christmas Eves full of wrapping and prepping and finalizing details. It was a labor of love, and we were delighted by our children’s bright, shiny faces when they saw the results. Nevertheless, our delight was shrouded in a haze of drowsy delirium. We were quietly grateful as the morning energy waned, and we were able to relax a bit, maybe even close our eyes for a few minutes while the boys played happily nearby.

Here’s to my husband, my co-creator of treasured family moments and my partner in sleep deprivation. Our holiday activities are different now, and remembering days past makes us a bit wistful. We haven’t stopped making special family memories, however, and now we’re getting more sleep. I’d call that a win-win.

Categories
Family Holidays

Toys

When my first son was born, I received several toys as gifts. They were designed for infants, with smooth edges and soft materials, and I looked forward to the days when he’d be old enough to play with them.

As he grew, we added more age-appropriate playthings with bright colors and cheery noises. We also added baskets and buckets to hold the toys when they weren’t in use. Not everything got put away every day, but the routine worked most of the time.

Over the years, our family increased, as did our toy collection. And as the children got older, the toys became smaller, with detachable pieces and parts (so many pieces and parts). They became louder (so loud). Gone were the sunny rhymes, gentle music, and simple designs of the baby items; in their place were roars and sirens, bells and whistles, ceaseless chimes and tunes, symbols and signals that echoed favorite cartoons or movies or adventure stories.

We still had the buckets and baskets, but the cleanup routine didn’t work as well as it used to. In the rhythm of daily life, we chose to prioritize other activities. But every once in a while, I’d steel myself for a Day of Sorting and Culling. I’d put the pieces and parts back together, designate storage locations, fix and group, discard and organize. It was both frustrating and soothing, an exhausting exercise that yielded satisfying results.

Eventually, however, the toys would resume their command of the house. The parts and pieces would again lie in wait, preparing for their assault on our bare feet in the middle of the night or angling to be the first to get caught in the vacuum cleaner hose. We’d sigh and complain, but we also found it comforting, this youthful clutter, one of the realities of raising children.

Then one day, after the parts and pieces were culled and sorted and organized, the baskets and buckets filled and straightened…they remained that way. The contents went untouched; the toys were no longer appealing. My children had outgrown their playthings. They’d moved on to new activities, new interests. It had happened without notice, seemingly overnight. I’d blinked, and it was over.

I suppose I’m thinking about these things today because it’s the time of year when kids are making their wish lists, describing their dreams of what they’ll find under the tree on Christmas morning. I’m remembering the fun of those early morning hours when the presents were opened and the excitement was tangible, sparkling in the air amidst the delighted cheers and smiling faces.

I don’t miss the clutter and the chaos of the plastic and noise, but I do think fondly of the days when my family was surrounded by childhood magic. I’m grateful for those experiences and memories, for the imaginary fun they contained.

Our Christmas mornings no longer include toys, but it’s not too late to help to make those moments possible for other children. There are many organizations working to bring happiness to families this holiday season, and today’s cuppa celebrates the people who devote their time and energy to this work. It also reminds me that it’s still possible to be a part of the special fun that comes from pieces and parts, sirens and music, cheery symbols and childhood clutter.

https://toysfortots.org

https://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/

https://www.operationhelpahero.org/operation-christmas-spirit.html

http://www.sharinglifeoutreach.org

https://wish.org

Categories
Family Holidays

Different

Halloween Past was something like this:

Costumes (of course), most purchased but some homemade. When they were young, my boys had simple requests – Ninjas, superheroes, knights in shining armor – options that could be found at the store and required minimal effort. As they got older, they became more creative, adding their own details to the purchased supplies.The last few years that he went trick-or-treating, my youngest son insisted on creating his own costume inventions with cardboard boxes and paint and wires. The results didn’t always turn out exactly as he envisioned, but they were still impressive.

Parties, at home and elsewhere. Many years ago, my husband and I hosted a party at our house far out in the country, set back in the woods. We were concerned that people wouldn’t want to make the drive, but the house ended up full. We had fun eating and drinking, talking and dancing among the ghosts and spiderwebs and skeletons.

Contests to determine the best pumpkin carvings, the best costumes, the best decorations. One of my favorite work memories is from the year the movie Twister came out, and we decorated our work space accordingly. It was quite elaborate, with fans blowing and papers flapping. We even crafted Christmas ornaments to resemble the data-collecting balls that the Twister team risked their lives to activate. When the contest judges came through, we acted out our characters, hanging on to the our chairs and desks, pretending to be blowing in the wind.

Trick-or-treaters, sometimes in groups of ten or 15 at a time, a constant stream of costumed kiddos knocking on the door, holding out their bags, saying the magical words. We used to have neighbors a few houses down the street who’d put out an elaborate display of crazy clowns and other creepy stuff. They called it the Psycho Circus, and it drew people from miles around. After they were done checking it out, parents would shepherd their kids to the other houses on the block to gather candy. Those neighbors moved a few years ago, taking the Psycho Circus with them, and the Halloween crowds as well. But we continue to get good numbers of trick-or-treaters every year, not as many as before, but enough that it is always wisest to stock up on candy.

Halloween Present is very different.

My sons are grown, too old for trick-or-treating, not interested in costumes. Parties are an unwise choice right now. Work-related festivities vanished with remote requirements and furloughs and job losses.

Still…we will have fun. Our front yard now contains a spooky battle scene, complete with a large dragon, skeletons, and swords. We’ll do our best to facilitate socially-distanced candy distribution, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer each time we replenish the bowl on the table at the end of our driveway, just in case anybody stops by. We’ll watch scary movies and eat popcorn and enjoy being together, grateful for what we have – our health, our home, our family.

Different can still be good.

Categories
Family

Year

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

Categories
Family Nature

Apple

A few years ago, at our youngest son’s request, we planted an apple tree in our yard.

Last year, the tree produced four apples. Unfortunately, a storm shook them out of the tree before they were ripe. Nevertheless, we were quite excited by our bounty.

This year, the tree has given us one apple. One perfect, beautifully ripe apple. It seems a shame to eat it. It also seems a shame not to.

It won’t keep forever, so eat it we will, after we’ve admired it, photographed it, exclaimed over it. I suspect it will be the tastiest apple we’ve ever enjoyed. The best of both worlds, the experience and the outcome.

Here’s to simple treasures and delicious moments.

Categories
Family Life

Humanity

I dreamt of my father last night.

In my dream, he was in the hospital, sick and in pain. He held out his hand, and I took it. He told me that holding my hand made him feel better. I told him I would hold his hand as long as he wanted me to.

And then I either woke up or moved on to another dream; I don’t remember. I do know that when I opened my eyes this morning, the dream was on my mind. I could still see his face and hear his words. I could still see his arm, swollen and bruised, reaching out to me, and I could still feel his hand, warm but weak, holding mine. The dream both saddened and comforted me.

My father died before the pandemic, before the necessary rules of separation and isolation. If one can be grateful about a death, I suppose I’m grateful for the timing of his.

I knew that his life was ending and was with him each day, along with my sister and stepmother and friends who came to see him, caring for him, talking with him as slowly, bit by bit, he grew weaker and then was ultimately unable to speak. In those last days, just as in my dream, I held his hand. I stroked his arm, his forehead. I sat quietly beside his bed, looking at his face, his closed eyes, his hollow cheekbones and thinning hair.

Regrettably, I wasn’t there at the final moment. That fact haunts me sometimes. I do find peace in knowing that other people were there on that day and that in the time leading up to that moment, he and I were able to say our goodbyes. I find comfort in knowing that we were together through most of it, that he knew I was there and that he was soothed by my presence.

There are so many stories of death right now, of lonely deaths in hospital rooms sealed off by protective measures, FaceTime goodbyes and remote grieving. There’ve been more than 200,000 of them as of today, and there are likely hundreds of thousands more still to come. They are in addition to all the other stories of death, of passings due to cancer or heart disease or car crashes, all the same fatal circumstances that existed before everything changed, circumstances that didn’t go away, that will continue to exist as long as humans do. Even those may be governed by the same strict measures and protective rules, necessary steps that limit in order to safeguard.

It’s tempting to avoid these painful stories, but I make myself pay attention to them. I do so as a means of honoring the people within them, but I’m careful not to take in too many at once. The sadness becomes too great. That sadness then leads to anger, which is justified and important, but which can also be incredibly destructive if not channeled in productive ways.

So instead, I focus on small bits of humanity. I look at the pictures the families have chosen to illustrate the existence of their loved ones. I learn about the special moments in these strangers’ lives. I vow to respect them by doing what I can to prevent more death, to acknowledge and heed the wisdom of those who speak in terms of science and history, empathy and common sense.

Very often, the stories mention the kindness of a nurse or a doctor or a hospital worker who was with someone at the end, who spent a few special moments to comfort and care when nobody else could. I think of these people as guardian angels, present in the absence of those who wanted to be there but who were unable to, were not allowed because of the reality of today. When we talk of heroes, these are the people we must include.

Death is inevitable, but we don’t have to be numbed by it. Feelings and connections are needed now more than ever. It’s such a simple gesture, holding somebody’s hand. It’s an easy choice, honoring the last moments of somebody’s life, acknowledging their existence, assuring them that they matter and will be remembered, even if we are strangers.

Categories
Family Life

Snapshots

Snapshots from a life together:

I’m walking down the aisle, nervously holding my father’s arm. The music surrounds me, like waves in water. I’m aware of people as I pass them, but their faces are blurry, the individual details lost. My focus shifts, and I see you, standing there, waiting. My heart leaps, my steps quicken. I smile. Yes. I do, I will, always.

Our firstborn is crying. It’s hard, being new to the world, adjusting to the lights and sounds, the temperatures and textures. I can’t calm him. You take him into your arms and quietly dance with him, gently back and forth, swaying to a silent beat that only the two of you can hear. He sleeps contentedly, safely within your love.

We are living outside of the city, in our house hidden within the trees, far back from the road, far into the peaceful quiet. I watch as you head toward the creek, our dog at your heels, our sons at your side. You will be gone a while, I know, and when you return you will tell me of your adventures. This land is ours; this land speaks to us, carries our dreams, shelters our souls.

We are traveling with our sons, driving in a rented car through unfamiliar territory. They are happy boys, they are good boys, but they are also young boys, and they do not appreciate the adventure in the same way that we do. For them, the experience is tiring, the road never-ending, the destination light years away. We entertain them with an episode of one of their favorite shows, but the player won’t advance to the next episode. It is stuck; it can’t be fixed. And so, they watch the same episode again. And again. And again and again. They are delighted. The voices, the music, the action and sound from the show echo within the car, bounce across the seats and off the windows, filling the space over and over. Despite our weariness from the repetition, despite our unwelcome, newfound ability to recite the episode verbatim, we are grateful for their happiness. Their laughter is musical. We revel in it. We soak it in. We hold it in our hearts.

Another trip, years later. We take our sons back to the mountains. We hike together, as a family, on paths, across fields, into the forest. Sometimes, we walk as a group, sharing jokes, telling stories. Sometimes, we separate, walking at our own pace, thinking our thoughts, enjoying the whisper of the wind in the branches, the sound of our shoes on the gravel and the grass. Our connection is built from love and trust, an invisible bond that holds us together as we walk. We have a destination and will get there eventually, but the journey is where the memories live.


Happy anniversary to my beloved husband. Let’s keep going.