Tag Archives: family

Full of thanks (and full of food)

Today we celebrated Thanksgiving, which is a holiday bound in tradition for me. And much of that tradition involves food. Not just the eating of it, but the preparing of it, the serving of it, and the discussing of it. I love that we have this holiday which centers around spending time with family and friends, and about sharing a meal with them.

Thanksgiving always leaves me full of thanks and of food, but also of nostalgia. More than anything, I think of Thanksgivings past at my grandmother’s house. I remember setting the table with the special china, fancy glasses and candlesticks. I remember being shooed out of the kitchen so my grandmother could manage the entire feat of feast-making in her own way. (Also because her kitchen was tiny, and she didn’t want us in the way.) I remember enjoying so much of the feast when it came time to eat, pretty much loving all of it, except for the dreaded liver lumps in the gravy. (My grandmother would cook up and dice up the giblets, and toss them into the otherwise smooth and tasty gravy.) And I remember the extended time in the kitchen after the meal, typically with one or two other family members, hand-washing and hand-drying all of the dishes from the meal. (Because my grandmother’s house did not have a dishwasher. Also, my grandmother was happy to get out of the kitchen at the end of the day.) I usually got the job of drying. I can still remember the feel of the dishtowels in my hand, typically linen and worn rather thin from years of use, and getting more and more damp until finally you had to get out a fresh dry towel.

I spent much of yesterday and most of today preparing food and preparing the space to eat that food. (Our dining room had gotten rather buried over the past 8 months or so, but I was bound and determined to unearth it.)  We had a few guests (my mother-in-law, and a friend and her 2 kids), so there were eight of us. In spite of the moderate numbers, we had an immoderate number of food items on the menu.

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Some of the dishes I prepared: roasted root vegetables, roasted butternut squash with shallots and cranberries, roasted dijon cauliflower, and vegetarian stuffing.

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My plate. The plate itself is from our good set, a pattern that John and picked out when we had our wedding. I love using the good china for special holiday meals, because that is what we always did at my grandmother’s house. As for the food, the plate holds the 4 dishes listed above, plus green beans, mashed potatoes and vegetarian gravy, and cranberry sauce. 

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Pumpkin pie. The dairy-free version that has become a tradition for me. I had delusions that I would have time to also make something like an apple crisp. Ha.

Now that the day is done, and I’ve turned in for the night, I am still feeling full from the feast (which was blissfully free of liver lumps). I am also feeling full of thanks for the bounty of our feast, for our comfort and safety, and for the people in my life who make my life so full.

blank Friday

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After the push of the last few days, getting organized for Thanksgiving festivities with a house full of guests, it was nice to have a day that was almost entirely unscheduled. I did take my sister and nephews to the airport at 4 a.m., which was 2 plus hours round trip. And we had a puppy obedience class at 6. But between those hours, we didn’t have any scheduled commitments. What we did have was a bunch of things still to wash and put away.

In any case, the kids and I and my mother (who is visiting) played some card games and did a jigsaw puzzle together in between clean-up and organization tasks. At one point, my mother and I went in the kitchen to make some tea before starting a game, and I guess we were gone a bit longer than expected, discussing various place setting issues that had come up for last night’s dinner for 12. My daughter asked: “What were you talking about.”

“Oh, dishes,” my mom said.

“And utensils,” I added.

“I can’t wait to be an adult,” my daughter quipped.

It’s true. The ways of adulting are multifaceted and glamorous.

 

 

 

I left my scarf in San Francisco

Last week was the kids’ school vacation, and we headed out to California to visit my mother, my sister, and my sister’s family. It was a really great, if exhausting, trip.

We really lucked out with the weather, on both ends of the trip. It’s been a rough winter here in Massachusetts, with many a snow storm interfering with travel plans. We know a family whose Florida vacation fell through due to a blizzard the day of their scheduled departure. Another snowstorm the day before we left caused many cancellations and delays and complications (ask me about John’s car getting stuck in our driveway). Remarkably, however, our own flight was only slightly delayed.

Travelling with 2 young children is never uncomplicated, though, and the airline threw us a bit of an adventure by not giving us seats together. (They actually had Theo, the 5 year-old, sitting off on his own.) But after much runaround and wasted time on the phone and at the airport with airline employees who claimed to be unable to help, the gate agent gave me a free upgrade to a better seat at the front of the plane, in a section with more legroom, thus giving me better leverage to ask to exchange seats with one of the passengers assigned seats next to Theo. (There was that moment when John and I looked at this sweet seat, and thought that Theo might just be fine on his own…) In any case, the man seated next to Theo jumped at the chance to change seats, practically leaping out of his seat before we even had a chance to finish making the offer. (Oddly, he apparently didn’t want to spend the 6-hour flight sitting next to an unattended 5-year-old.)

In all, the trip out went very smoothly. Our luggage all arrived, we rented a car, we drove out to my sister’s house. We were, however, totally exhausted. The flight was scheduled for 8 a.m., and (living an hour from the airport) we had arranged for a car to collect us at 5. John and I were up so late getting things in order for the trip that ultimately, we didn’t end up going to bed. (There comes that moment when you can decide to go bed for a 2-hour rest to get up feeling like death, or just keep barreling through to get more stuff done.) Given the exhaustion, and the complications of getting there, it shouldn’t surprise me too much that I managed to lose something along the way: my favorite scarf.

Before having realized that I lost it, I might not have identified that particular scarf as my favorite. It was a scarf that I bought on my trip to London with John in 2005, our delayed sort-of honeymoon. I found it in a sale bin at Harrod’s while on a quest to find black and charcoal gray striped scarf. This particular scarf was not quite what I was looking for, being plaid with black and varying shades of gray. However, I quite liked it, and over the years, I found that it became my go-to winter scarf. It went with so many of my various black and gray clothing choices. It was also a very soft cashmere. I contacted a range of lost-and-found departments (airline, airport and car rental), but had no luck finding it.

In the end, the loss felt a bit like I had made a sacrifice to the travel gods for an otherwise safe and successful trip.

So, enough about the scarf, and more about the trip, which was mostly unaffected by my not having a winter scarf with me. Because the weather was perfectly gorgeous¹. It was mostly sunny and clear, with high temps ranging from the low to high 60s. (This after coming out of a New England winter with many days when the high didn’t get up past 20.) We had lots of fun excursions, big and small. We had quality family time, with lots of cousin playing and bonding time. We got to see my aunt and uncle who were passing through town, visiting my mother. We had lots of birthday celebrations (for my sister, my 2 nephews, and for Phoebe). The week rushed by in a blur of kid-wrangling and meal-planning and catching up with my family. I had actually hoped to be able to see some friends who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, some of whom I haven’t seen in many years, but never managed to make any arrangements. (So I did bring back some guilt for having missed those opportunities. However, it is always a very different thing to be travelling with my family than when I travel alone.)

Now we have been back almost a full week in the land of ice and snow, and our hectic over-scheduled schedule. I miss the relaxed mornings of vacation. I miss my family and the warm sunshine. And I also miss my scarf.

¹ This gorgeous weather, unfortunately, is not what California needs right now, as there is an ongoing record-breaking drought. Happily they did get a bit of rain after we left.

Harvest Home

With the big changes that have happened in our family this past year have come smaller changes. For as long as I can remember, we have spent Thanksgiving down at my in-laws’ in New York.¹ It seems quite likely that we have never before had Thanksgiving here in our own house.

This year, as I said, things changed. Since she is no longer taking care of my father-in-law full-time, my mother-in-law is now free to travel. John’s siblings, who all 3 live in Texas for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, invited their mom to spend Thanksgiving in Texas. This meant that, amazingly, we had no plans to travel ourselves for Thanksgiving. We would have the holiday at home.

While I have enjoyed the times visiting my in-laws for Thanksgiving, I was quite happy about the idea of staying home. I usually do all the cooking for our subset of the family for Thanksgiving anyhow, so that part was not a change. I was particularly happy about the idea of using our own dining room, and using our good china.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of holiday meals at my grandmother’s house. She had an extensive collection of china and serving ware, from a variety of family sources. The china cabinet covered one whole wall of the dining room in her house, with floor-to ceiling shelves hidden away by 3 wooden sliding doors. Setting the table with the fancy dishes was something of a cross between a ceremony and a reunion with much loved friends.

My children will never get to visit my grandmother’s house, but I am quite taken with the idea of starting the tradition of the holiday table here at home with them. (Holiday meals at my in-laws’ had become increasingly simplified and informal in recent years, with dinners typically eaten up in my in-laws’ bedroom at a card table.)

Today, we spent time clearing the dining room of the detritus of various projects, and we set the table in earnest: heirloom linen table cloth, cloth table runner and napkins, glass goblets, special silver, and candles. And, of course, the good china. We donned our fancy clothes and celebrated our bounty and our thankfulness for our family and our home.


The spread. Phoebe is here wearing a dress that had been my sister’s in the late 70s, and then my cousin’s.


Our turkey-less turkey day feast: Tofurkey with roasted root vegetables, stuffing, green beans. Not shown in this photo: fresh baked bread, cranberry sauce that Phoebe made, and mashed potatoes. Everyone participated in the preparation of the meal.


Our feast wasn’t entirely turkey-free: Phoebe made this little guy to grace our table.


Ready to dig in.


My pie. (With a rather sad frozen gluten-free crust, but the pumpkin part was very tasty.)

Hours later, I am still feeling full. And also rather fulfilled.²

¹ There may have been a few years when my work schedule interfered. I vaguely remember working Thanksgiving the one year I worked as a waitress, and then it’s possible that it was sometimes hard to travel on the day before Black Friday in the years I worked in retail. But even that was a long time ago, as I quit my retail job almost 14 years ago.
² But also somewhat daunted by the thought of all the hand-washing of fragile and heirloom dishes that is yet to be done.

twists and turns

The last week has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride.

After a week off from commuting, I had an extra day of meetings in Boston. I also was busy getting ready for Phoebe’s birthday party, which was on Saturday. (Yes, Phoebe’s birthday was in February. We’re a little behind.) The party came and went on Saturday, and it all went well, though it was quite a lot of work. (We had it at our local playground, so there was lots of stuff to be transported, especially since (me being me) I had to make things complicated.)

Saturday night came, and I was pretty zonked, but happy with how things turned out with the party. I thought about calling my mother, but decided to wait until Sunday. As it turns out, she wasn’t home Saturday night, anyhow.

My mother went into the hospital on Saturday with acute G.I. distress , which had started on Friday, and was diagnosed with a bowel obstruction. There was talk of surgery, and she wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything until the blockage in her small intestines was cleared. She went through tons of tests and procedures, and there was talk of new diagnoses. The short story is that by Tuesday, it was determined that she didn’t need surgery. X-rays showed that the obstruction had resolved, and further tests confirmed. By Tuesday evening she was allowed to have clear liquids again, and by Tuesday night she could eat (soft) solid food. I was elated!

More good news is that no evidence of cancer was found, and no new disease. The doctors now think that there was an adhesion related to her 2011 surgery. As of yesterday, she is home and recovering.

As you might imagine, the last few days were on the stressful and busy side. There were lots of phone calls and emails with friends and family. There were flashbacks to so many of the previous crises, including my mother’s cancer scare of 2011, and of course my little nephew’s ordeals with cancer and all the surgeries related to that. (Including, you may remember, 2 surgeries for bowel obstructions.) My own insides felt like they were twisted into knots. I checked out flights to California, and started to try to figure out my schedule for a trip out there to help with my mother’s recovery. It looked like things might go on for many days if not weeks, and recovery from surgery is never easy.

Now I’m feeling a bit dizzy from the week’s crazy ride. I’m so relieved that my mother didn’t need surgery, but sorry that I’m not out there. I’m so glad that my sister lives near enough to be there to help, but I wish I could be there, too. I don’t get to see my mother, my sister, or my sister’s family nearly enough. It’s times like this that the country feels entirely too large.

On Monday night, when John and Phoebe were out at their karate classes, Theo asked me to sit and draw with him. I drew the doodle above with colored pencils on a large index card, and found it to be very relaxing. I must have spent over an hour just drawing and coloring it, transferring much of the tension of the day into pressure of the pencils as I lay down the swirls and twists of color. It was only later that night that I realized how very intestine-like my drawing turned out to be! Twisty, turny, tangled and complicated. Much like life.


Here is Theo’s version of the squiggly doodle.

I am weary

The past few weeks have knocked the wind out of me. I hardly know where to begin, there is so much to say. The biggest news, at least for my family, was that John’s father died. It was not unexpected. It was not fast. It was also not easy.

Just over 2 weeks ago, we got the call that John’s father was not expected to survive the night. As you might imagine, there was much travel, and rearranging of plans. John was able to travel to New York to be with his parents for his father’s last few days. I stayed home with the kids. Things were complicated by Theo having a fever one day, then getting pink eye the next, which meant missed school for him, missed work time for me, and more trauma than I would have expected dealing with the medication. (This was Theo’s first sick visit to the doctor, which itself was remarkable.) Phoebe managed to pick up her first case of poison ivy, a bad one, including welts on her face around both eyes. This led to a doctor’s trip and missed school for her, too. Then there was the funeral. Phoebe ended up missing a whole week of school. This week is her school vacation. And did I mention the stomach bug that hit Phoebe Sunday night?

These were the weeks that I was supposed to be working intensively to make a last push to try to finish my degree. Time is limited before my subject pool, the BU undergrads, is taken away by finals and the end of the term. I have now lost 2 full weeks of work time. The only day that was not taken up by sick kids or travel or memorial services and time with extended family was one that I spent shopping for something to wear to the funeral.

My days are eaten up. My energy is eaten up. My motivation and momentum for my research have all but left the building. I have been trying to push through, in the windows of time that open up here and there.

But next comes a terrorist attack in Boston, and the wind is knocked out of me again. I was not there, but I am shocked and grieving. 3 dead and over 170 injured in a blast at Copley Square, a place I know well. The news that one of the dead was a child of 8 hit hard. The news that another was a BU grad student hit hard again. The realization that my friends and family from far away might be worried about my family hit me again. We could have been there.

I am steady in times of crisis. Strong and reliable, I keep pushing through. I know that I have to keep going until the crisis time is over. But I am strained and drained. I am edgy and touchy. I am slipping.

This is not the worst crisis I can imagine. This is not even the worst crisis I or my family have lived through. I remind myself every day how lucky I am to have John and my children here with me, safe and (largely) healthy. My mother and my sister and her family are safe and well. I have financial stability, a home, and wonderful friends. I am very, very lucky. But I admit that I am tired, and I just wish I could have a few days to catch my breath. At this point, I’d settle for one.

The past tense, and other grammatical implications of death

One of the things that often strikes us, after someone’s death, is that we have to make a shift in how we speak of that person. It suddenly becomes an error to say “he loves popcorn.” Indpendent of the subject’s history of affinity for popcorn, there is that crossover point between loving popcorn, and having loved popcorn. Survivors undergo a transition where they find themselves using the wrong tense, and self-correcting. The realization that we have erred nags at our minds like the red ink marks of a high school English teacher urging consistency in an essay.

Then there is the loss of conjunction. For years, you go to visit Grammy and Grampa. The conjunction and serves to join two noun phrases [Grammy]NP and [Grampa]NP into a single noun phrase. That noun phrase can then serve in a variety of grammatical functions: subject, with nominative case ([Grammy and Grampa]NP called), or various object positions, with accusative (Let’s visit [Grammy and Grampa]NP), or genitive case (We need to remember to bring that book to [Grammy and Grampa]NP‘s house.) With the absence of one referent, the conjoined noun phrase loses both the conjunction and the second noun phrase. It is a simplification of structure that belies the complicated nature of the end of almost 6 decades of married life, a conjunction of law and love and life together that are only hinted at by the word and.

With this loss of the conjunction, too, comes a shift from the plural to the singular, which of course brings its own implications for subject-verb agreement. In the present tense, English requires a different verb inflection for most third person singular subjects than for plural ones. Grammy and Grampa love it when we visit must change to Grammy loves it when we visit, with the inflectional affix -s added to the verb to reflect that singularity. This, of course, reminds us once more that there is only one of the two members of that former conjoined phrase whose actions, affinities and attributes will, by and large, be discussed using the present tense.

We mustn’t forget, though, that we can hold onto the present tense, and even the future; A whole host of constructions are available to us by keeping Grampa in object positions. I miss Grampa. It’s okay to be sad about Grampa. We will hold onto Grampa’s memory.