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Monday, December 30, 2013

A Time For Everything

In life, there is a time for everything.  We've all heard the scripture verse telling us that is true...

A time to be born and a time to die...  A time to weep and a time to laugh...  A time to mourn and time to dance...

And never have these sentences been more true than now.  Right now.  This time in our lives.  Now is when we start losing those we love.  We are the sandwich generation.  We are caring for our aging parents and raising our kiddos.  We are seeing parts of both of these generations leaving us.  Parents are beginning to pass away.  Children whose lives have been cut short are leaving us too.  It's time for periods of mourning to come to us.

We, our whole family, just came home from the funeral of a special child.

It's not what any parent ever wants, to have to bury their babies.  The monsignor giving the mass even said so himself.  It's not right. It's not fair.  Parents should be able to see their children through all phases of their children's lives.  But sometimes it's not the way life happens.  And it's sad and tragic and we grieve.  Monsignor said no one ever truly gets over the loss of a child.

In saying all of this and preparing for the funeral, I thought back on my 39th year.  It's not that it wasn't a good year for me, it was a miserable year for me.  I spent the entire year pissed off and depressed.  I knew my 40th birthday was just around the corner.  I didn't want to turn 40 with a passion and a fury I didn't know I had.  I didn't want that clock ticking onward.  Stan was the receiver of most of my wrath and had to deal with my depressing attitude.  He had no idea why I spent my 39th year in a pissed off funk.  He just knew I wasn't the same anymore.  He knew the smile was gone and the anger was there.  He knew the lighthearted bantering was gone.  It was replaced by frowns and sullenness.  It was a hard year for him.  He spent the entire time wondering what happened and why.  Until finally one day he said these words to me, "I don't know what's going on with you.  I don't know why you are so depressed.  We have it good.  Our life is good.  We have three great, healthy kids.  We have a great family and wonderful friends.  We have it good right now.  It may not always be like this.  Our life might not always be this good.  And I worry that if something really bad happens you won't be able to handle it."

I let his words roll over me.  I let them sink in.  And I remember them with a greater clarity than I remember most things.  I needed those words.  They were the exact thing I needed to hear at the exact moment I needed to hear them.  And they were all true.

Life was, and still is, good in our snapshot of a minute, but it might not always be good.  I needed to relearn to cherish the little things in life.  I needed to relearn to submit to joy and live life with grace.    

To this day, I don't know why I let the thought of turning 40 ruin my 39th year.  Maybe I needed to have a rough spot to realize how good life really is.  Maybe I needed to provoke Stan to impart his words of wisdom.  Whatever the reason, I've kept hold of those words and carried them with me.  On days like today I break them out.  On days like today, I take those words and let the grief roll over me, feel it and then try to focus on the good.

Monsignor said today, "Death is never expected, but it's a part of life.  When it's a child, it's that much more unexpected.  But we need to celebrate the life of the child we have to say good-bye to."

Today, I took the words Stan said to me so many years ago and combined them with Monsignor's message of celebrating life.  We have to hold on to all of the special times and the memories of those we cherish on earth.  We have to remember the times when it wasn't a time to mourn, but it was a time to dance.  We have to focus on the good times and know that the bad times won't always be like this.  We have to focus on the time to laugh .

In life there is a time for everything.  And today my children saw a time to mourn, a time to die and a time to weep.   I want them to know about those times, but I want them to hold on tightly to Stan's words, and Monsignor's message, and use them when times get difficult.  I want them to use those words in every instance of life having a time for everything.

Oh, for the love of my children...

Friday, December 27, 2013

What's Out of the Picture

The other day I read a blog post one of my friends put up on Facebook called When Christmas Isn't Perfect by Rachel Marie Martin about the stress and disappointment of not being able to achieve perfection during the holiday season.  I can't stop thinking her blog post and how it can be translated and related to wonderful world of Facebook....

The concept of Facebook is fabulous.

It's a great way to keep up on happenings of friends and family, both near and far.  We get to see intant updates and photos of what is going on right at that very minute.  Facebook is a way to broadcast good news, like new jobs, new cars, new houses, vacations and any other little something that makes us all feel good.  And we all send our congratulations and virtual pats on the back.  Facebook, and by default all social media, can be a fantastic tool for all of us.

Facebook is also an easy way to let friends know when you could use a helping hand.  Sharing pictures is a way to show other's when you may have lost your job, or your car breaks down, your new house gets broken into, vacations go bad or any other little nusance that is part of daily life.  We all give an encouraging word or a job lead or whatever else might be needed when we see the posts of the not so good side of life.  But most of the time that's not what we see on Facebook.



Most of the time we see the happy, shiny side of people on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  And in seeing the happy, shiny side of people all the time, all of the social media out there also can be a way to brew discontent within ourselves.  It can breed envy and jealousy when used incorrectly.

The reality of Facebook can be something else entirely.

Social media only shows us what's in the picture, never what's out of the picture.  On social media people can adopt whatever persona they want.  They can make you believe whatever they want you to believe by the pictures they post.  They show you only what they want you to see.  They hide what they don't want anyone to know about themselves by keeping it just out of the frame of the picture they have posted for all of us to see and oogle over.

I do it.  I'm sure you do too.  I zero in on what I want you to see, obscuring what is messy or making sure what's not quite right is just out of the frame of the picture.  But what I really want my kids to learn and what I really want to teach them is that while social media can be a great tool, you have to be able to see what's not in the picture...

Let's go back to the blog post about When Christmas Isn't Perfect.  All through the Christmas season I sat back and clicked "like" on Facebook over and over and over again on the perfect pictures posted on Facebook.  I put them up. So did you, I saw them all and liked too many to count.

But what you didn't see in my pictures were all of the imperfections.  I showed you the pretty, shiny Christmas trees with the ornaments placed just so.  But what you didn't see sitting just out of the picture were the three boxes of ornaments I was just too tired and lazy to put up.  I showed you pictures of birthday cakes, cupcakes, platters of cookies, but what you didn't see was just out of the picture...a counter full of dirty dishes and more piled in the sink.  I showed you pictures of us standing in front of the Christmas tree, with bright sunny smiles, but what you didn't see was the irritation of one grumpy teenager who was completely over family picture night.  I shared pictures of our house decorated up for the occasion but what was just out of the picture were the scuff marks on the wall where the kids have run dirty hands down the hallway as they've headed to the their rooms.  I showed pictures of myself dressed up and ready to go, but what remained just out of focus were the gray hairs peeking out by my temples or my chipped toenail polish I didn't have the time or the inclination to fix because, well because I said, "Oh, well.  It's not gonna get done this year.  And that's OK."  Because life isn't about being perfect.  It's about being real and relatable and loved.  Life is about family and friends and loving those who touch your life.  Life is about being imperfect.

I want my kiddos to see the imperfections and laugh about them.  I don't want them comparing themselves to some false ideal of "perfection" they see plastered on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.  I want them to see life as it really is, warts and all.  I want them to see what's out of the picture.  And I hope I can show them through example.

Oh, for the love of my children...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Acceptance Letter

Never in my life have I been more nervous for one of my children.  I knew this day was coming, I just didn't realize how hard it would hit me.  Today is the day we got a letter from Zach's first, and only, choice of colleges.

He wasn't home when the mail came so I did what any reasonable, rational mama would do under the circumstances - I texted him a picture of the envelope while he was at school.  I apologize to any and all teachers I offended with my last sentence, but you have to understand, I was leaving to go pick up Claire from school and I didn't want Zach to make other plans.  I needed him to come home and open the letter.  I had no intention of opening the letter.  I needed him to get here so he could open it.

He had to come home and open that letter.  Fear seized every fiber of my being.  My gut wrenched.  My body became a conduit for the sweat coming out of every pore.  My head began to pound.  I needed to know what was in that letter.  

I knew sending him the text wasn't the wisest move.  I knew he'd feel exactly the same way I felt, only multiplied by 100.  It wasn't fair to do to him, but I couldn't help myself.  I reacted in a way I never thought I would, or at least hoped I wouldn't.  I thought I'd remain calm, cool and collected, but I turned into a basket case.

I raced out the door to get Claire as my phone sounded with text tone.  It was Zach.  In all caps, two words  "NO WAY"  I told him the letter was on the kitchen counter and that I'd be home as soon as I could.  His response was "I'm so fricking nervous."  Me too, Zach, me too.

It was a brutal 40 minute round trip ride to get Claire, but I had already given her a head's up that we needed to get back to the house as quickly as possible.  Her nerves were jangling as she raced to the car.  Her emotions ratcheted up about a thousand more notches as she fed off the vibes rolling off of me.

I had both responses ready for whatever was contained in the letter, at least I thought I did.  I had my conciliatory plan worked out in my head in case the letter was a deferment.  I had, what I thought, was my excited self ready to rock and roll.  I thought I was prepared to deal with whatever way the letter lead me.

Zach called me as we were on the last of the main roads back to our house.  With a catch in my voice, I answered, "Hey, Zach!" wondering if he was going to tell me the news contained in the letter.

My relief was palpable as he said, "Are  you home?"

I knew if he was asking me whether or not I was home, he wasn't and he didn't know anything.  "No, I'm three minutes from home.  Where are you?"

"I'm just pulling into our neighborhood now.  I don't want to open the letter alone.  I want you here with me," he said.

My throat constricted and tears filled my eyes as I responded, "I'm right behind you."

He was walking up the front walkway with his arm raised to us in greeting as we whipped into the driveway.  I opened the garage door and we met in the kitchen where the letter sat.  Waiting.

Zach put his head down on the counter and heaved a great sigh.  He lifted his head, carefully slid open the envelope and pulled out the folder, opened it and began to read...

He let out the biggest, giantest (yes, I know it's not a word), loudest whoop.  I only needed to see the words on the right side of the folder "Offer of Appointment" and I knew.  He did it!  He made it in to first, and only, choice of schools.  He swooped me up and hugged tight!  We both laughed, we cried, we heaved big sighs of relief.  Claire stood behind us, I could hear her sharp intake of breath.  I could hear her soft sigh of relief and I could feel her tears of joy.  Our hug became a circle with the three of us.  She was a proud of Zach as I was.  The hoots, the hollers, the high fives continued.  Lucas soon came home and the process began all over again.  The little brother and little sister beamed and beamed and beamed.  Their pride in Zach was etched in the giant grins they wore on their faces.  Stan's phone call came through with the "I love yous" and the "I'm so proud of yous."  The celebration continues on as I write.  

I said above, I thought I was prepared to deal with whatever way the letter inside that envelope led me.  I was wrong.  My emotions hit me stronger and harder than I ever imagined.

Proud. Joyous.  Sad.  Elated.  Awed.  Ecstatic. Excited.  Glad.  Happy. Scared.  Relieved.  Wonderful.   Peaceful.

If you take all of the emotions you have after having a baby, and after counting it's fingers and toes, knowing it's healthy, seeing the same baby walk for the first time, talk for the first time, run, jump, laugh, play and grow up a little day by day, and you multiple by a zillion that's how I felt today.

I thought I was ready to deal with whatever happened once the letter was opened, but I certainly wasn't prepared for the massive onslaught of emotions.  I'm drained, but the pride and happiness I have for Zach, and his achieving his goal, grows bigger minute by minute.  This is the first big step he'll take to realizing his dream of what he wants to be when he grows up.  The acceptance letter proves it.

Oh, for the love of my children...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Parenting Sucks

It's the early days of parenting and you're so sleep deprived you can hardly stay awake much less shower and look presentable for the world to see.  The baby you couldn't wait to hold in your arms instead of your belly won't stop crying and you're about lose what little self control you had.  Finally, you think you have this crying thing under control when the little creature you brought into this world starts shrieking again and you want to run away and hide from the constant barrage of noise coming out of a being so tiny there was no way it should be able to make that much noise.  But after months of enduring the constant stream of incessant crying and overcoming the urge to quit trying to be a good mommy you're rewarded with tiny, baby giggles.

Yes, parenting sucks.



After a couple of years you decide it's time to add another child to the family and baby number two comes along.  This baby is so much more calm and easy going, it's like a whole different world.  This baby seems to know he has a big brother looking out for him and loving him.













This baby falls easily into a routine and loves life,













his big brother


and you.













Yes, parenting sucks.

Fast forward a year or so and you become either crazy enough or stupid enough to believe you can handle another baby.  You know your last baby was a breeze.  He lulled you into a false sense of security and then WHAM...you are sucker punched with the baby from hell.  She was the baby you wanted so badly.  The little girl who surprised you after two boys.  She was the one whose gender you didn't want to know when you were pregnant with her because your heart knew once the baby was born you'd love it, whether it was a girl or a boy, but your head told you that you'd spend your whole pregnancy pissed off if you found out it was another boy.  She was the one you stayed awake all night for at the hospital after she was born marveling at the fact that you had a daughter, the best Christmas present ever.  But she is the second one who won't stop crying.  The second one whose shrieks, cries and baby screams nearly drive you to the brink of insanity.  You want this third baby to be as easy as the second.  You want her to realize she has not one, but two, big brothers looking out for her.


But she won't stop.  She's inconsolable.  Her brother pisses her off.



 Even when he's trying to console her.











 
It wasn't until she found her legs that she stops being inconsolable, and it's now you realized how desperate she was to keep up with her big brothers.  Once she could, she's unstoppable, adorable and more than a lot lovable.
Yes, parenting sucks.

You live through the tedium and daily routine of life with little ones.  You somehow muster the strength each day to read the same books over and over and over again, only to be rewarded with sweet sighs of contentment and little eyes drooping sleepily.  You live through the painful games of Shoots and Ladders only to be rewarded with a big sloppy kiss and a coveted, "I love you, Mama."  You rock and rock and rock the sleepy baby who needs to go to bed but implores you with a pinky finger held up and a little voice pleading with you to, "rock a minute" or stay and snuggle "one more minute."  

Yes, parenting sucks.

Then those babies turned into elementary schoolers and you work with them on homework you did in fourth grade.  You learn the state capitals all over again, and again and again.  You learn Virginia history not once, not twice but three times.  You work on spelling words until you think your head is going to explode when they misspell the word "safety" for the twentieth time.  But your reward is sweet when they come home grinning from ear to ear because they mastered, to the very best of their ability, whatever it was they needed to.

Yes, parenting sucks.

Jump ahead to the middle school years when the boys lose their minds and become creatures you never imagined.  

They pull stupid stunts, get caught for it and pay a hefty price both at school and at home.  They try your patience day after day as grades plummet and the goofy factor skyrockets.  You aren't so sure you'll survive the boys' middle school years.  But somehow you do and they not only survive, but come out OK, and maybe a little more than ok.  Your reward is a walk across the stage to accept their eighth grade "diplomas" with giant grins on their faces, ready to take on the world of high school.  

Yes, parenting sucks. 

You are blessed with the youngest and you know it.  She went from a shrill, shrieking inconsolable baby to a mature, intelligent young woman who is taking middle school by storm.   You can't believe your good fortune and you count your blessing every day, hoping and hoping that she'll stay on this path.

Yes, parenting sucks. 


Your oldest.  He is getting ready to fly the nest soon.  



He prepares you a little more each day.  He is testing his wings and cutting the apron strings just a little.  He likes his freedom and hanging out with his friends.  He is rarely home and when he is he is sleeping.  He goes away for weekends with youth groups and you don't hear from him while he's gone.  He is preparing you for his departure.  But then he comes sneaking in the front door after being gone all weekend and the first place he stops is your office.  With a huge grin on his face and his arms open wide he waits for you to jump out of your chair and straight into his arms.  He picks you up as you say, "I'm SO glad your home!  I missed you!!"  He says, "I missed you too!  I'm glad to be home."  Your heart is full as he walks out into the kitchen to greet the rest of the family who have been roused from various parts of the house by the excitement in your voice.

Yes, parenting sucks.  But I wouldn't change it for the world.

Oh, for the love of my children....

Charley's Chocolate Chip Cookies


CHAPTER THIRTY



The realization hits Charley as she is packing -- the time to leave is so close. She needs to finish organizing and making sure she has just what she needs. She has ordered a new University of Michigan jacket so she has something to wear to the game. She also bought herself some brand new Lucky jeans. They seem to emphasize every curve on her back side and make her feel about 200 shades of sexy, especially knowing she’ll have a pair of pink lace boy shorts underneath them. She’s still deciding what to wear on the plane. It’s chilly in Louisville, but she knows she’ll be traveling into warmer temperatures. She can’t get Peter’s request to “wear a skirt so if it blows up I can see your sexy panties” off of her mind. The contents of Charley’s suitcase grow bigger and bigger as she throws more and more things in, making sure she has just what she needs to survive the weekend.
With her suitcase packed, Charley has finally decided on her outfit for the plane. She has a knee length denim skirt that buttons up the front. She’ll wear that with her cowboy boots and a light pink cashmere sweater with a lace cami underneath. Charley zips up her suitcase, puts her make up kit in its case and heads downstairs to make sure every t is crossed and every i is dotted in her schedule. The last thing she needs is a snafu in her organizing.
Her schedule looks buttoned up and ready for inspection. Charley heads to the freezer to make sure the dinners she has pre- prepared are in order in the freezer.
Oh sweet Jesus, Garrett, Charley thinks to herself. He’s been around so infrequently this past week she has pushed thoughts of him, and any feelings of guilt, to the far recesses of her mind. Charley stops in mid-stride as she realizes her excitement about this weekend is all because of Peter. She can’t wait to see him, spend time with him, hear his sweet words for her and maybe....
“NO,” Charley says out loud and to herself as she stomps her foot, “I won’t think about that. I’m just going to New Orleans to have fun, watch some basketball and just...oh, who the hell am I kidding? I’m going because I get to see Peter,” she finishes, quietly and lamely.
Feeling a bit ashamed of herself, Charley redoubles her efforts to make sure the house is just like Garrett likes it -- neat and tidy, smelling heavenly and completely organized.

From The Point of No Return.  

Charley's Chocolate Chip Cookies will make it smell more than heavenly.




Ingredients

1/2 cup of butter (softened)

1/2 cup of crisco
3/4 cup of brown sugar
3/4 cup of white sugar or coconut sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbls bourbon
2 1/2 cups self rising flour
1 cup of chopped, roasted pecans (cooled)
16 oz dark chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees


One of the most important steps of this recipe comes before any ingredients are headed into the bowl.  MAKE SURE the butter is softened and the eggs are at room temperature.  They combine much better, make for a better batter and the end result is a deliciously wonderful cookie.  The second step is to roast the pecans in a 350 degree oven for 7 minutes.  The roasting of the pecans brings out a sweet, nuttiness that can't be beat.  Make sure they are cooled before adding them to the batter or it will be melty and hard to work with.  NOW, on to combining the ingredients...Put the softened butter and crisco in a mixing bowl and beat together with a hand mixer or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until well incorporated.  Add the sugars and continue beating until fluffy.  Add room temperature eggs, vanilla and bourbon, beating until all ingredients are combined.  Next add the flour.  Turn on the mixer gently or flour will fly out of the mixer and end up all over the kitchen, it won't be pretty.  Once the flour is gently combined add chocolate chunks and cooled, roasted pecans.

Drop spoonfuls of batter on cookie sheets spacing them about an inch apart, maybe a little more, and bake in 350 degree oven for 7-10 minutes.  Remove from oven when cookies are golden brown and almost set.  Place cookies on cookie sheet to cool for a few minutes and ENJOY!!!



















Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Charley's Pot Pie


Chapter 30


Charley sets to making her famous chicken potpie, a true family favorite that has won her accolades from everyone who has tasted it. Once she has the chicken gravy made, she takes the cooked chicken out of the fridge, pours it into the lasagna pan with the vegetables and tops it with her homemade biscuit topping. She pops it in the oven and turns to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Even though she won’t touch a bite of any of this, cooking and baking is easing her conscience a little as her excitement grows.

From The Point of No Return



Serves 6 who are moderately hungry or 4 who are REALLY hungry...

Chicken "Pot Pie": Preheat oven to 400



Ingredients


Biscuit topping
Whipping Cream (buy 1 quart)
Self Rising flour 

3 cups (or so) self rising flour in a bowl.  Add enough whipping cream to make a dough (at least 1/2 of the quart).  Lightly fold together (you don't want to over mix or the topping won't be fluffy).  Once all flour and whipping cream are incorporated allow to sit until ready to drop on top of "guts"

"Guts"
1 lb (or so) of cooked chicken breast. I baked it in the oven seasoned with salt, pepper and a liberal helping of herbs de Provence
frozen mixed veggies
1 can diced potatoes
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely  sweet chopped or two leeks
2-3 tbsp flour (probably closer to 3)
1 quart low sodium chicken broth (you can also add a jar of roasted turkey gravy from the soup aisle. Or if you're really pinched for time you can use 2 cans cream of chicken soup with water or milk added)

Bake chicken in the oven until cooked.  Chop into bite sized pieces.
Melt 1 tbsp butter in a sauce pan.  Add chopped onion.  Once onion is soft and a little browned, add flour and incorporate.  Allow to simmer a until thick and a little lumpy.  Slowly add chicken broth until a smooth "gravy" is formed (if you're going to add the turkey gravy, add it after this part is ready)
While gravy is cooking, steam frozen veggies until cooked. 
Combine cooked, chopped chicken, gravy, cooked veggies and the can of diced potatoes in a 9x11 casserole dish.  Take biscuit topping and pull it off in biscuit size pieces, stretching it out, just a little, in your hands to cover the top of the guts.  Bake in 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until biscuit topping is golden brown and cooked through.  The "guts" should be bubbling through the topping.  

ENJOY!!!

This picture is not mine.  It's from the Betty Crocker Website but this is what Charley's Pot Pie would look like!