Sunday, November 7, 2021

Words Matter

     As a writer, I love the power that words have to convey emotion, to tell the stories I am trying to tell. As a regular human being I sometimes hate words, for the power they have to cause pain or division. I know this truth, this aspect, as I have seen it too many times in my own life and in the life of those I care about.

    I want to focus right now on the power of words to give comfort and healing. As some people know, this past year has been an extremely hard one for our family, not just because of the world wide pandemic that everyone has been struggling with, but because of the deep loss in our family with the passing of my father, and then my mother's many struggles with her health and well being.

    Hospice used their words of guidance and encouragement to help me be prepared for the reality of our situation, to know that the actual end was extremely close, so that I could make strong choices such as fighting to be in the care facility with my dad, and then knowing when the time was at hand to stay 24/7, that there was no turning back from this.

    And then when the unfathomable happened, just before what would ordinarily have been a joyous Christmas holiday season for our family, it was the words of friends and family that brought great comfort. A dear friend of mine has been through a similar loss with her mother just two years before. Her priest had passed on comforting words to her, among them the thought that God takes home the ones He has the most tender heart for during the Christmas season, the souls He holds in closest regard. Those were words I clung to then, and still cling to today for comfort.

    Little could that priest know that his words of comfort to my dear friend, would later be giving comfort to others, to me. We never know what sort of impact our words will have on others. I am trying to be more mindful of the words I choose to share with others, of the stories I am creating for myself, and for them, to help us all be able to write the best outcomes possible.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Pause in the Journey

     As summer winds down I took a pause in my baking journey. This holiday weekend I chose to work with one of my standby cookie recipes, my sugar cookie recipe. I decided it was not time to delve into any new recipes. Several of the new recipes I have in my queue appear to me to be more autumn oriented. My sugar cookie recipe is year round for me, changed to be seasonally appropriate depending on the cutters I use. Since I bought several new cookies cutters at the summer sidewalk sales, I figured now is a good time to try them.

    I also made batches of my citrus trio cookies, as they seemed to be a great addition to my end of summer theme I wanted to create. I was quite pleased with how they all turned out. It was fun to indulge in some cookies just for me. I still created several gift plates, had sets of cookies I brought to two family gatherings, and my best friend was able to use several plates of cookies at her family gathering as well, so I felt I was being true to my journey for the year in that regard, while sort of recharging my battery for my creativity for myself.

    This Labor Day, as I pause to reflect, one aspect I have been grateful for on my baking journey this year, is taking the time to learn and work on new recipes just for the sake of learning something that I want to know more about and share with others. People have said in the past that I should do this as a business or as fulltime work, but for me that would take away the joy and relaxation that I experience when I bake, the ability to shut off my anxieties and just be. 

    One practical offshoot of this endeavor has been allowing myself to look at other labors or work that I do in my life with a new perspective. I have never had the best relationship with any of my past jobs in my younger days, always being way too dependent on them for my daily existence, for all aspects of my life, and so afraid of what might happen if I ever unexpectedly lost that integral part of my existence.

     Learning for the sake of learning has been the tool I needed to change how I relate to work. It has allowed me to take the time to step back and look at how I relate to my tasks and make changes that might not seem practical to others, but are necessary for me to finally have a healthier relationship with the concept of work, learning, career, and how I fill my time on a daily basis. 

    This Labor Day that is my hope for others, that they too may be able to figure out what it means to labor, to work, to create, to contribute to their life and their community, and how to do so in productive and healthy ways.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Baking with Crisco

     So, as I have been sharing my baking journey this year, friends and family have been sharing recipes with me, and challenging me to try some of their favorite treats. This has been an unexpected bonus to me as I never know what interesting tidbits I might learn.

    The other day I was overjoyed to receive an message from my dad's cousin, Wilma. She then advised she would be mailing me her mother's, my great-aunt Jessie, cookbook from 1930. Wilma and her husband John did not waste one moment of time getting to the post office. The book arrived just a few days later.

    I decided that my next new cookie recipe to try would be one from this cookbook, The Art of Cooking and Serving by Sarah Field Splint, published in 1930. 

    I knew I wanted to do the orange sugar cookie as it would fit in nicely with two of my other new to me cookies from this year, the key lime and lemon cookies. Another reason I wanted to do an orange cookie is because Wilma and John are from Florida and I figured this would be a nice little tribute to them, oranges always are associated with Florida in my mind. 

    I wasn't sure how it would go as I have never baked or cooked with Crisco. I knew I wanted to be authentic to the cookbook and follow the recipe exactly as printed at least for the first batch. I was able to find some Crisco at our local grocery store. They didn't have any of the cans I remembered sitting on the shelf in my grandma's cupboard back in the day, those were all sold out. I did manage to snag the last packet of butter flavored Crisco sticks and used that. It was easy to work with and the dough was very creamy and smooth.

    I now have what I call my Summer Citrus Trio. This has been one of my more popular gift plates of cookies. They are just fabulous!

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Resolution Review

     This year I took a different approach to New Year's Goals/Resolutions. 2020 was such a year of losses and grief for everyone, especially for our little household. We are still reeling from our new reality, the loss of my dad. That loss colored my approach to goal setting for 2021. I knew I needed to make a resolution that would set me up for success, that I couldn't take any more failure or loss. I also knew I wanted it to somehow honor him, distract and calm my churning mind, and maybe bring about some sort of good in the communities I belong to, somehow, in some small way. 

    After a lot of contemplation I came up with this plan, to try at least one new cookie recipe, new style of cookie decorating, a new dessert, or candy each month, that would be at least 12 new things this year. My dad was a great cook and he really loved to eat all the dessert I would make,

    I happened to start well, dove in when I had moments of ability to focus, and baking is a cozy thing to do during a cold Michigan winter. I also decided to share my baking experiments with others, especially with parents of friends of mine that found themselves having to be assisted living care or have lost their spouses, and always making sure to make my mom plates of treats. She has no interest in my new experiments. For her, I make her tried and true recipes, favorites that her mother, my grandma Marie, used to make. My mom's choice is usually either brownies or chocolate frosted chocolate cookies.

    I am happy to say that I have reached one aspect of my goal. I hoped to try at least 12 new desserts this year and I have already exceeded that goal! I have also shared many plates along the way, learned new stories about friends and family as I shared these treats, and have healed small parts of my heart. 

    Along the way, many people have sent me recipes they want me to try, so that has now shaped my approach on what desserts to make next. I also have been studying  more on the history of baking, cookbooks, recipes, and ingredients. Happily, this has proven to be a very satisfying endeavor.

    Here are the new to me treats I have made so far this year: 1.Almond Molded Candy, 2. Almond Melt Away Cookies, 3. Blueberry Muffins, 4. Chocolate Chip Roll-out Cookies, 5. Chocolate Frosted Chocolate Cookies, 6. Coconut Macaroons, 7. Espresso Cookies with Mocha Ganache, 8. Ginger Turmeric Shortbread, 9. Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies, 10.Key Lime Sugar cookies, 11. Lemon Lavender Cookies, 12.Lemon & Thyme Shortbread, 13. Molasses Cookies.

Monday, July 5, 2021

PSA-Let's Talk About Death

     I'm not sure why it was never discussed. I don't know if it was just us, or if other families have this same issue. I have started asking other folks about it, now that we went through this last year.

    My parents didn't have a will. Even after all my dad's health trauma in 2019, and him moving in with me and my husband in July of that year, we never discussed the possibility he might die some day. Even with all the years of my mother being ill, we had never discussed-what if she actually died, or he did. Even when it got to the point that he had already outlived the time frame of his immediate family by a decade, it never occurred to me to think about a time that comes to all people, that one day he might not be here with us any more.

    Once my dad moved in with us, we were so busy just getting through each day; finding small pleasures in watching old movies and me making him his favorite foods for breakfast, lunch, and supper, it never occurred to me to think about the what ifs. It never crossed my mind to consider if they had burial plots or ideas about their funerals. And being 2020, would any of their plans have mattered in the cluster mess that 2020 was???

    As it became clear toward the end of 2020, that time was not on our side, hospice was called in for help. And their help was invaluable. They helped guide me each step of the way. They helped me reach out to the national archives for my dad's discharge papers for his military service since he was entitled to a burial plot for himself and my mother, to military honors funeral, even if it had to be abbreviated due to Covid-19, and helped me find a funeral service company, Michigan Cremation and Funeral Care, that works with veterans and their families.

    At least now, since we have been through this with my dad, we have talked with my mother, about what she wants, what her thoughts are on death and after death. I have written down my thoughts in regards to the what ifs for myself, and advised what notebook they can be found in. My husband and I have had the hard conversations. It can happen to anyone, best to think it out now while everyone is well and can say what they want. Because if the unthinkable happens-a life altering illness or injury-it is hard to make those types of decisions for someone you love so dearly.

    My hope is that if even one person can have a bit of their pain lessened from the lessons we learned, then it will make all the panic and confusion we went through have some sort of meaning. We need to do better as a society in making conversations about death just as much a part of life as all the other things we fill our days with. 

Monday, May 31, 2021

The What Ifs

     It is not a game I recommend. It is not a game I like to play. Sometimes you just get sucked in, as the noise of the day fades away, and your thoughts start to wander around freely, the first sneaky questions slink in.

    What if I had been better at managing my own stress? Would I have noticed any signs or symptoms that something was amiss any sooner? Forget the fact that I was still only six months into my latest job and the first inklings about a world wide pandemic were being revealed. What did I miss? What if I had asked better questions? Would we have ended up with different answers and better outcomes?

    In the first few weeks after he died these thoughts ran amuck, tearing through my mind, ripping my heart to shreds. What if we could have got an in person doctor appointment? What if we had not gone in for this CT scan here but had gone for a CT scan at this other hospital instead?  

    He seemed to be off his feed, so to speak. I knew he needed more fluids so I made ice cubes, and made ice cream floats, I bought grapes and oranges, and other fluid rich foods. I should have done more. What if we could have gotten a virtual appointment, those were so hard to come by too.

    What if, when we finally knew we had to call an ambulance, that whatever this was, it was beyond us all, what if we would have chosen a different hospital as our destination?    

    And then begin the months of what ifs, each choice gets rerun in my mind. What if we had refused surgery? What if he had never had acute toxic metabolic encephalopathy while in the ICU after surgery? What if he got sent to this rehab facility instead? What if there had not been a massive infection in the surgical site?

    It is such an exhausting game to play. It is hard not to participate when my brain starts a new round. It sucks you in. It becomes harder and harder to not play the endless loop of what ifs. Nothing can be gained, but yet, you still feel maybe you can sort it all out and somehow reach a different or better conclusion. It is not true. It changes nothing. It just eats your soul.

    The first thing to bring me relief was to submerge myself in holiday baking shows. It was relaxing to watch people engage in technical skills I wish I possessed, to see their creativity, to watch their stress as they competed, and forget my own. It allowed me to shut off my brain, to reroute the nasty nagging game of what ifs, and start to deal with the way it now is.

    One of the things I loved to do for my dad was cook him meals and bake cookies and desserts. I decided to start a new baking journey for 2021--expand my repertoire of cookies--and bake at least one new to me cookie or dessert every month. A natural expansion of that goal--was wanting to share these cookies with others, so I have been sharing the results of my baking journey with friends and family that have also lost loved ones recently.

    I pair my new baked offerings with tried and true recipes as well. My Memorial Day plates had four different types of cookies-key lime sugar cookies and coconut macaroons-which were new to me, and the tried and true sugar cookies and chocolate frosted chocolate cookies.

    It is a small gesture that honors my father as I navigate through how it is now and keeps the what ifs at bay, allowing me to find comfort in this day.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Role of a Lifetime

    There are things we are just born to do. Sometimes you feel it when you have a dream in your heart and work towards it. It just feels right, even when you are not at your goal or full ability, you get in the groove of the work of pursuing that dream and it makes your soul sing. It doesn't matter if you spend most of your days hot, sweaty, and tired, or buried under piles of research and deadlines, you have happiness in the pursuit of the dream goal or role.

    If you are in the creative arts, you may have roles on the stage or in film that you long to play. Or there may not be that exact  role that you long to play, so you write that ideal role and produce that film yourself, creating that role that you know you were born to play, to tell that story you know you were meant to tell.

    Really, we all have multiple roles we are meant to play, in our lives and the lives of others. One of my main roles was being my dad's daughter, his first born child. It is a role I love and cherish. It is the role of a lifetime. I know that roles does not end, but it has drastically, and I need to figure out how to play this version of the role. 

    I loved the role I had, even as it evolved to be not just my dad's daughter but his caregiver and advocate. I suppose now part of my role is to be caretaker of his memory. I am still working out how to succeed at that, as well as how to develop some of the secondary roles in my life, to bring them to the forefront as I work with the fact that my favorite and best role has changed forever.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Mending a Broken Heart

     How do you put the pieces back together? I have had friends and family die before, people that I loved dearly. I remember those griefs even now. And yet, somehow, this all feels more shattering, more devastating, as if this will be raw and fresh forever. I know that sounds dramatic as soon I complete the thought. That is just how some days feel. We are coming up on eleven weeks since by dad passed, but it still seems like moments ago.

    The coming of the new year brought a focus to me, not for resolutions in the typical sense, but of a way to focus on healing my heart a little bit. I decided to embark on a journey with my baking. I usually have three types of cookies I make and I wanted to branch out a bit. I decided that for 2021 I would try to make at least one new type of cookie each month. My dad was a great baker and cook, so it seems like a good way to honor him in a small way. He always made food for everyone, so I also am sharing my baked goods. 

    For Valentine's day I made cookie platters for four dear friends/family members that have all recently lost someone, just to let them know I care. Three of them are currently in care facilities and cannot have visitors due to the pandemic, so it was my way to connect with them and let them know they are not forgotten. It won't fix anything, can't cure anything, but it can bring a bit of happiness. I like to think of it as healing my heart one cookie at a time. It is going to take time to put the bits and pieces back together and I am willing to do that work.

Friday, January 1, 2021

I Never Asked

     I never asked. It's as simple as that. I don't know why I never asked him. Now, I sure wish I did. It just never occurred to me. Maybe it was because for me, they were never "real" people, more like historical figures in the stories of our lives. I wish I would have asked my dad about the loss of his own parents.

    If I would have asked him about it, he might have had some great advice on how to navigate such a loss. I was two when my dad's mom, my grandmother, passed away. I don't personally have any memory of her. I "think" I remember sitting sitting on the stairway landing of her house, playing with some toys I never saw again. I can see golden sunshine pouring through the curtains on the windows and the way it looks like there are pixies dancing in the air. My cousins have told me she was the best grandma ever. They adored her. They say she adored me.

    His dad, my grandfather, died several years before my dad even met my mom. I never felt any particular connection until one day, when I was twelve, I went to visit my best friends grandparents. As she introduced me to her grandfather he said he he knew exactly who I was, that I was Ralph Rowe's granddaughter. Suddenly I received one of the greatest gifts in my life. For one brief, shining moment my grandparents were vivid and real, connected with me in the here and now.

    My dad would sometimes tell little stories about his parents, from when he was a child. He spoke about the time his mother had a fight with her own brother. My dad was a wee child. He remembered there was a violent storm out that night. He was playing with his cars under the kitchen table while his mother sorted out a situation with her brother. He remembered it felt like Night on Bald Mountain could have been playing in the background. His mother was fierce and did not backdown, she stuck up for herself, that was who she was.

    My dad also told stories about how his parents liked to go dancing and to watch car races. His mother also enjoyed books, music, movies, and would play with her son. There is even proof in the picture of her riding my dad's scooter when he would have been about eight and she would have been about forty-two.

    When my dad was grown, he took his mother on a cross country road trip. Among other sites they saw when they reached California, was San Simeon, the Hearst castle. It was an epic road trip that my dad would sometimes mention. They both enjoyed themselves very much.

    I think my dad was as close to his mom as I was to him, maybe even closer. I don't know. He never really talked about that loss, ever, as we were growing up. He would just tell small stories about his parents lives when they were pertinent to whatever was going on in our own lives.

    I just wish I would have known or thought to ask about it, so I could have known them a little more, known him a little better, and have a memory of his words to guide me through this loss of him now in this physical world.

    We did take his cue a bit last night and included a few stories about him, some humorous, in our New Year's Eve conversations. In that small way we were able to carry him into this new year with us.