#Worth Revisit: On Her Birthday

On what would have been her 101st birthday (and she’d be furious at me for divulging her age), a tribute to my grandmother, revisited from 2 years ago.

word by wordI wrote more about my grandmother in my chapter of Word by Word; her witness was a huge influence in my life.

We called her “Nanny.” (She hated the nickname, but once a little kid learns it, you’re stuck with it.) Today she would have turned 99 years old.

Only two of my kids remember her, though we do have a picture of her with all 3 of them. She passed away when Little Brother was about 7 months old.

Nanny lived 2.5 miles away from our house. I know this because when I was in middle school (and high school) I used to ride my bike there, and my dad made sure we all had odometers for our bikes.

Nannys HousePictured here is Nanny’s house as it looks today. She lived on the second floor. When I was in middle school, I received my own key to her house. By that time she was recently retired from her job as a secretary in the courthouse in Paterson, NJ–and she was tired of going down the stairs to let us in when we’d show up to visit.

We were always welcome in her home, even unannounced. And she always knew we’d been there if we showed up and she wasn’t home. We started leaving her little notes on the kitchen table so she wouldn’t worry about someone breaking in.

I inherited my grandmother’s supersonic ears. She could always tell when we were raiding the glass bowl of M&Ms she kept on the dining-room table. (I inherited that table.)

I wish I’d inherited her crossword-puzzle skills. Every Sunday she bought the New York Times, removed the magazine so she could do the puzzle, and threw away the rest of the paper. She’d sit at the kitchen table and work on the puzzle while her Sunday chicken roasted and the potatoes boiled. If I rode my bike over there in time for dinner, I got the wings. And sometimes she’d let me take a crack at the puzzle after she’d gone through it.

Nanny’s house was four blocks from the Catholic school where my mom taught and where at least 3 generations of my family (including me, my brother and sister) were educated. Maybe 4. My great-grandfather might have gone there too. On sick days, Mom would drop us off at Nanny’s house, where we’d be set up on the couch with a crocheted daisy blanket and a book to read. (I inherited that blanket too.)

Nanny was a daily Mass-goer and Rosary pray-er. She always went all out in decorating for Christmas–INSIDE the house–right down to the fake snow on the mantelpieces in the dining room and living room. One year for my birthday she gave me a big box of art/office supplies:  new crayons, scissors, pencils, stapler, art paper and more. I was thrilled.

Hands down, Nanny made the best roast chicken, mashed potatoes, turnips, and tuna-fish sandwiches (on Wonder bread, with butter. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.) I don’t ever remember her baking anything, but she knew where the good bakery was, and when she went there, she’d bring you back a lemon cupcake or blueberry tart. You could always find Coke in the fridge and Mallomars in the cabinet, and the Milky Ways were kept in the vegetable drawer.

I miss Nanny, and more than that, I wish that my kids had what I’d had:  the chance to grow up with anytime-you-want access to your grandmother.
worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

Order Word by Word at Amazon and support Franciscanmom.com with your purchase!

Advertisements

Family First: Why I’m Not at the World Meeting of Families

family first missing wmf2015

I didn’t think, when I first heard about it, that I’d want to go. I’m not into crowded places, big cities, traffic nightmares.

It’s the company I’m missing: the fellowship; the chance to see, in person, the smile that’s attached to the author/reporter/speaker/Sister/priest I follow on Twitter. The chance to get acquainted with several writers whose work I admire–my amazing coworkers in the vineyard that is CatholicMom.com.

And it’s the fact that it’s right across the river. It’s closer than the hospital where TheKid sees his endocrinologist. It’s only about as far as Middle Sister’s university, and just a little bit past Big Brother’s rented home in Fishtown.

It’s right here. And I’m not there.

When I saw tweets from my boss as she crossed that bridge that stands between me and the city, it hit me: there’s so much I’ll be missing this week.

Screen capture of tweet by Lisa Hendey.
Screen capture of tweet by Lisa Hendey.

Monday morning, while my coworkers and friends and people I’ve admired from afar for a decade tweeted about picking up their press credentials, I stood in the car line at TheKid’s school, where I was substitute teaching for the day. I opened minivan doors and helped four-year-olds gather their lunches and backpacks. I greeted fifth-graders and chatted with the principal and the PE teacher about my daughter’s rugby game. I stood next to the Paper Pope that the pastor pulled out of the church vestibule, and laughed at the little kids’ faces when they realized they weren’t looking at the real thing.

That’s as close to the Pope as I’m going to get this week, and I’m going to need to be OK with that.

This year, family circumstances do not allow me to attend the World Meeting of Families that’s happening right in my backyard. At this stage of my mothering journey, I can go hours at a time without being needed–but it’s those times when I am needed that count, and diabetes being the random disease that it is, I never know when those times will happen. Right now I don’t see my way clear to be more than 20 minutes away.

My cell phone buzzed in my pocket during Mass this morning: it was the school nurse. TheKid’s been battling a stubborn high blood sugar (plus seasonal allergies) all night, and he just wasn’t feeling good at all. So I went over to school to pick him up, and he’s parked on the couch now with a fresh insulin-pump set and a huge water bottle.

That’s my reality right now. I am grateful that TheKid is doing as well as he is. But I can’t let that lull me into a false sense of security, because diabetes is a 24/7 disease.

My first job right now is to be available for my family. I can hobnob another time. And during those times when I’m not needed right this second, I can watch things unfold on TV, on Twitter, on Facebook and on CatholicMom. I can pray for the success of this week’s events and for the safety of all involved. And I can try as hard as I can to be genuinely happy for everyone who is blessed to be able to be there.

#WorthRevisit: Old Neighborhood

I’m breaking the rules for this week’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday (hosted at Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb.) You’re supposed to find an old blog and reblog it.

But yesterday I attended my great-uncle’s funeral, in a day that was all about revisiting.

On June 9, 1979, I graduated from St. Bonaventure School, part of the 100th 8th-grade class. I’ve been back in that church only a handful of times since I moved away from that area as a young adult. It’s almost always been for funerals. Yesterday, on my graduation anniversary, I was back for another funeral.

Nannys HouseI arrived early today, because I live 100 miles away from St. Bon’s and I didn’t want to be late–you never know what the traffic on the NJ Turnpike is going to be like. On my way to the church I took a 3-block detour so I could see my grandmother’s old house. It’s changed in the past 13 years. But I have many great memories of time spent there. Those won’t change, no matter what the new owners do to the door and the siding and the front porch.

My memories of St. Bon’s Church are all tied up with my grandmother. So, since I was early, I revisited the attached Shrine of St. Anthony. Nanny was a regular visitor to that shrine, and I honestly didn’t realize that all churches didn’t have those. (Then again, I was probably in 8th grade before I learned that not all priests wore brown habits.)

I couldn’t take photos in church because I wasn’t alone in there, but I did grab a few shots of the shrine (inside and out).

St Anthony Collage

This wasn’t my old neighborhood but I spent a lot of time there. Quality time. It was good to go back, even for only a 2-hour visit.

 

Menu Monday: Dinner for 3

menu Monday

I’m joining up with Mary Ellen’s Menu Monday feature. I used to publish meal plans, way back when, and I do miss that!

IMG_0237-0This is no guarantee I’ll stick to this plan, but that’s why I do my menu plan in pencil. I have everything I need to make all these dishes already on hand except for the rolls and provolone for Tuesday’s dinner and the fresh produce.

My biggest cooking challenge right now is Dinner for 3. It’s been a whole month since Middle Sister left for college, and over 6 weeks since Big Brother moved to a townhouse near his job. I haven’t yet gotten the hang of cooking in smaller quantities. When Middle Sister was living here, I usually just cooked for 5 even if she wasn’t home for dinner, because she’d eat the leftovers at midnight while working on homework, or for breakfast, or after school. I’m trying to scale back, but I’m still eating a steady diet of leftovers for lunch every day.

Here’s the plan:

MONDAY:  Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans. I’m still in the habit of buying the biggest Oven Stuffer I can get. We’ll eat the drumsticks, thighs and wings tonight, and the white meat will be frozen for future dinners. Based on the size of this chicken, we’ll get 4 meals out of it, and I’ll use the carcass to make some broth, too.

TUESDAY:  Roast-beef sandwiches with provolone on Italian rolls and a salad on the side. Easy dinner before Little Brother’s soccer practice.

WEDNESDAY:  Spaghetti and meatballs (we have this almost every Wednesday! It’s folk-group practice night, and this is easy to cook and clean up before we have a houseful of musicians. I host folk-group practice AKA Music Therapy; people bring their kids, we celebrate birthdays, and, oh yeah, we practice Sunday’s music, too!)

piccata bites 3THURSDAY:  Chicken piccata bites with rice and a vegetable to be named later.

MEATLESS FRIDAY:  Vodka pasta and a salad. (Pre-soccer-practice fuel!)

SATURDAY:  Takeout pizza. This is our one weekend a month when we play at the 5:00 Mass, and we’re busy ALL day.

LaSalle explorersSUNDAY:  “Miss Jill Chicken” with potatoes and a vegetable. This is a quick and easy dish, which is not usually needed on a Sunday, but we’re going to Mass and brunch for Family Weekend at LaSalle to see Middle Sister. Big Brother will be there too!

On Her Birthday

We called her “Nanny.” (She hated the nickname, but once a little kid learns it, you’re stuck with it.) Today she would have turned 99 years old.

Only two of my kids remember her, though we do have a picture of her with all 3 of them. She passed away when Little Brother was about 7 months old.

approach to nannys houseNanny lived 2.5 miles away from our house. I know this because when I was in middle school (and high school) I used to ride my bike there, and my dad made sure we all had odometers for our bikes.

Pictured here is Nanny’s house as it looks today (thanks, Google maps!) She lived on the second floor of the tall house in the center of the photo. When I was in middle school, I received my own key to her house. By that time she was recently retired from her job as a secretary in the courthouse in Paterson, NJ–and she was tired of going down the stairs to let us in when we’d show up to visit.

We were always welcome in her home, even unannounced. And she always knew we’d been there if we showed up and she wasn’t home. We started leaving her little notes on the kitchen table so she wouldn’t worry about someone breaking in.

I inherited my grandmother’s supersonic ears. She could always tell when we were raiding the glass bowl of M&Ms she kept on the dining-room table. (I inherited that table.)

I wish I’d inherited her crossword-puzzle skills. Every Sunday she bought the New York Times, removed the magazine so she could do the puzzle, and threw away the rest of the paper. She’d sit at the kitchen table and work on the puzzle while her Sunday chicken roasted and the potatoes boiled. If I rode my bike over there in time for dinner, I got the wings. And sometimes she’d let me take a crack at the puzzle after she’d gone through it.

Nanny’s house was four blocks from the Catholic school where my mom taught and where at least 3 generations of my family (including me, my brother and sister) were educated. Maybe 4. My great-grandfather might have gone there too. On sick days, Mom would drop us off at Nanny’s house, where we’d be set up on the couch with a crocheted daisy blanket and a book to read. (I inherited that blanket too.)

Nanny was a daily Mass-goer and Rosary pray-er. She always went all out in decorating for Christmas–INSIDE the house–right down to the fake snow on the mantelpieces in the dining room and living room. One year for my birthday she gave me a big box of art/office supplies:  new crayons, scissors, pencils, stapler, art paper and more. I was thrilled.

Hands down, Nanny made the best roast chicken, mashed potatoes, turnips, and tuna-fish sandwiches (on Wonder bread, with butter. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.) I don’t ever remember her baking anything, but she knew where the good bakery was, and when she went there, she’d bring you back a lemon cupcake or blueberry tart. You could always find Coke in the fridge and Mallomars in the cabinet, and the Milky Ways were kept in the vegetable drawer.

I miss Nanny, and more than that, I wish that my kids had what I’d had:  the chance to grow up with anytime-you-want access to your grandmother.

We are all losers here

With a disease like dementia, there are no winners. Except maybe the people who make the drugs that cost a small fortune and don’t even work, but which people buy because it’s better than having no hope at all.

In my mother-in-law’s case, those drugs seem to be making matters worse. After a rough few days at the end of last week, my husband moved her in with us. It’s no longer safe for her to remain in her own home, even with a part-time caregiver.

There is a lot that I need to write about, just to get my mind around all this, but which I don’t want to publish here. This disease is cruel and embarrassing. The limits of my patience and capacity for mercy are definitely being tested. I am caught in the middle right now–stuck between what she wants and what she needs, and that’s hard when you’re talking about an adult.

So I guess that while I will continue to process this experience through writing, it’s going to have to stay unpublished. That’s OK too.

But I can say that I don’t know how to handle some things in the most kind way possible. For instance, making her coffee. Hubs gives her the cup of hot water, the jar of instant, the packets of blue sweetener. Then he has to remind her how much to measure in, and that she has to open the sweetener packets, not just throw them in the cup, paper and all. I just make her the cup of coffee and deliver it. It’s not like we can ask her which she’d prefer.

It’s a lose-lose situation.
Posted with BlogsyPosted with Blogsy

Say “Uncle”

Tomorrow I will head “up north” to attend the funeral of my dad’s oldest friend, my brother’s godfather, “Uncle John.” They’d been buddies since the first grade.

Uncle John was one of only two people whom we called “uncle” although they were not blood relatives. The other is my godfather. I can only guess that this is because my dad considered both of them to be as close as brothers to him.

When I think of Uncle John, I think of laughter. He found joy in the simple things–his family, his friends, a backyard picnic, a funny joke, a childhood memory that he’d spin into a story that would leave everyone in tears from laughing so hard.

kuvaszWhenever Uncle John told a story, you were never quite sure if he was serious. On a whim yesterday, I looked up a dog breed that he’d frequently referenced. I don’t know why he talked about this type of dog so much; maybe he just found it fun to say. But in the back of my mind, I always thought that he’d made it up. Turns out that the Kuvasz really does exist. That makes me smile.

Uncle John had the biggest heart of anyone I know. I’m sure that Aunt Mary, and his children and grandchildren have a huge treasure of happy memories of Uncle John. I’m sure that most of them involve lots of laughter. I pray that these happy memories will console them in their grief. Uncle John was one of a kind, and I am blessed that my dad knew him as a friend and an honorary brother.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

They Held Down the Fort

I’ve got to hand it to my kids. Because TheDad is absolutely swamped at work (and has been for about a month now, with a bunch of unrelenting project deadlines) they were largely left on their own this week while I was at the writing conference.

There were a few “distress calls” in the form of text messages from the Big Kids, but the issues were minor ones.

I’m going to reproduce some text messages/exchanges exactly as they happened–grammar and spelling issues notwithstanding.

Big Brother:  “How do i use dishwasher” That was the simplest one to handle.

Middle Sister: IMG_0728

I’m pretty proud of myself for not losing my mind over that. To be fair, I will admit here and now that one time I poured the bleach in that “middle thing” that is supposed to be for fabric softener.

Which reminds me. I need to go run the washing machine with vinegar in that “middle thing” right now to rinse out the rest of the soap.

Big Brother cooked dinner for two nights. That’s not really newsworthy in itself, since he cooks at college all the time. But he outdid himself this time–he served edamame one night as a side, and apparently Little Brother “destroyed” it.

calphalon panOn Thursday we had quite the detailed textversation about whether (and at what temperature) he could put my Very Favorite Skillet into the oven. I told him exactly what kind of pan it was–it’s my one piece of *really good* cookware and I’m obsessively kind of protective of it–and sent him off on a Google search to find out. (Apparently, it’s good up to 500°.)

Later, I got a text during dinner to let me know that dinner had been a success:IMG_0729

That was quite entertaining for everyone in my table.

Middle Sister announced, upon my arrival, that she will make a good housewife.

There were no dirty dishes in the sink and the clean ones were put away.

I do need to teach my kids how to properly load a dishwasher, as I’m obsessive particular about that (and I have mad Tetris skillz that translate well to dishwasher-loading).

And all 3 of our cordless phones had gone AWOL. I’ve been home for over 4 hours but I’ve only found two so far.

But all in all, they did a great job. They ate well, kept the place just about as neat as it is when they’ve got adult nagging supervision, got Little Brother to and from our town’s recreation day camp and one soccer practice, and dealt with him when he wasn’t at camp or soccer. And Middle Sister’s doing a show at the same time.

I’m gratified to know that I’m not obsolete yet (as evidenced by the small difficulties they encountered) but that they’ve proven themselves to be quite independent when they need to be.

Limbo, Limbo, Limbo

Just trying to keep things normal here in my house, for my kids, and for my husband and myself, as we sit here in Oncology Limbo getting through a few more days until we have a better idea of what he’s fighting and how the hospital plans to fight it.

For the record, he will be treated at one of the best cancer hospitals in the country; I was there for my non-cancer surgery 6 months ago and we are comforted by the first-hand knowledge of the wonderful care I received as a patient in that hospital.

I am comforted by relatives and friends alike who have showed us so much care and concern (and made offers to help that I know enough to accept–and will do so soon). Some of these people are fighting their own battles with cancer right now. But they have reached out anyway–that means so much. Other friends have beaten cancer in the past.

Today I received a lot of encouragement from Pat Gohn. We were supposed to be recording a conversation to be used in her Among Women podcast, “Midlife Madres” series. I don’t know if Pat got anything she can use or not, but she knows how to listen and she knows what it’s like to go through this kind of scary time. I am grateful for each and every minute we spent on the phone today.

As I told Pat at one point, I am wrestling right now. There will be many decisions to be made. There will be things I’ll have to “outsource” to others, kids’ games I’ll miss, plans I’ll need to lay aside. It’s not so much a “why me?” kind of wrestling as it is a “how do I handle all of what we’ve got going on and keep our collective sanity relatively intact?”

I might look calm on the outside, but my unscientific research is showing that hot flashes increase exponentially along with one’s stress levels. Every so often it reaches its peak and the hot flashes bring along impatience, anger and, yes, tears. Even when I try my hardest to keep that from happening. So yes, calm on the outside, but my stomach is in knots and I think those knots are extending to the rest of me, because my pain level is off the charts today.

But there’s a rosary in my pocket, ever ready for a prayer or ten. I’m getting to daily Mass as much as possible. I’m thankful for the encouragement and advice I have received. And when this after-dinner cup of (decaffeinated) Irish tea doesn’t cut it, like now, I’m glad there’s a carton of chocolate-peanut-butter-cup ice cream in the freezer.

Upside Down

I spent the morning yesterday in a hospital waiting room. My husband was there for same-day, minor surgery. I drank a lot of coffee, prayed the Rosary, and tried to ignore the overly-loud, overly-large TVs. I was nervous, of course, but not very worried, because we’d been told so many times that it was ” probably nothing.”

I should have known that my uncharacteristic optimism was misplaced.

I kept thinking to myself that it would be No Big Deal, all the while in denial of just how easily No Big Deal can turn into a Very Big Deal Indeed. Minor can go to major in less time than it takes to spell my last name. And your whole world turns upside down as the surgeon says those 3 words nobody wants to hear.

As we try to let it all sink in, as we think of how to find the words to make the kids understand, we simultaneously scribble down specialists’ phone numbers on Post-It notes and assemble folders full of referrals, test results and form after form after form after form.

It is all these details, I think, that will make me crazy and at the same time keep me from going crazy. If I concentrate on the details, I won’t have to think about the big picture. I don’t want to see the forest for the trees.

We will have to wait more than a week before the next step can be taken, before all the results are in and appointments can be made with just the right doctors. And all those other minor-league problems we’ve been dealing with? We’re not feeling the need to deal with those just now. Can we please just put that stuff on the back burner for a while?

One thing at a time, Lord. It’s hard to turn this over when I want to take the ball myself and run with it. I’m a ball-hog in that regard, just as much as some of the hotshots on Little Brother’s soccer team. It’s hard to turn it over because if I abandon it, if I relinquish the control I try to hard to maintain, I might just go to pieces when it is least convenient.

Mom doesn’t get to fall apart, you know. That’s a rule. And if nothing else, I’m a rule-follower.

Even–perhaps especially–when our world has just been turned upside down.

Pray for my husband, if you would; for his doctors; for the kids and for me as we negotiate this new and scary road.

And thank you to Barbara for the beautiful Rosary!