Monday, December 30, 2013

Mother Christmas

Christmas Time 2013
For The Record
Part III

I suppose nostalgia is a normal part of Christmas time.  I do have many nice memories of big family festivities from childhood.
Of course our holiday celebrations have changed since then.   I realize that there is a direct correlation between the evolution of our family and the size, location and tone of our gatherings.  But actually the changes are definitely affected by Mother.
For instance, when I was child, Christmas eve and Christmas day were always spent at my grandparents houses, even though, it meant an hour car ride back and forth and then back again.
I have images of lots of cousins, aunts, uncles, food, music and laughter.
That changed when my grandparents died, particularly after my each of my grandmothers passed.
It seems that’s when the family separated into their own units.  And there was a new Mother’s house to go to for Christmas.
So the Christmas memories of my young adult years are filled with visions of my Mom and Dad’s house. The aroma of bubbling gravy on the stove and lasagna in the oven, the sight of my excited kid sisters and brothers and the sound of my father’s rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” are still vivid senses etched in my mind.
When my dad died, my mom moved into one of those adult communities.  By then our family had started to grow, with new husbands and wives and children of our own.  But we would still gather at Mom’s for Christmas.
As Mom got older, it became necessary for her to move into a smaller place. By then the dynamics of our family changed once again with moves out of the areas and multiple divorces. But even though her place wasn’t big enough for us to gather there, Christmas would be wherever Mom was.  By then the dynamics of our family changed again with moves out of the area and multiple divorces.
Since my mom passed away four years ago, as it happened with the passing of my grandparents my siblings I began to have Christmas with our own families.
The past couple of years, my kids and their families would come to our house at some time between Christmas and New Years.  Then last year a new tradition was established.  My daughter had Christmas at her house.  So now Mother has been passed on to her and that’s where we had Christmas again this year.  She and Derek did a splendid job.   Ham and all the trimmings for dinner and homemade cookies for desert. There were bags full of gifts and excited children.  We were all together, Ross and I, Derek, Jen, Bella, Ryan and Jackson, Anne, Domani, Ken and Jimmy.  New memories being made.

Christmas Eve
Even though the gathering gets smaller each year, one thing that has remained constant for the past several years is spending Christmas Eve with my sister Elaine and my brother-in-law Al. This year it was just the four of us.   There was delicious food, great conversation, laughter and love.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tis Better To Give Than to Receive… Or is it?

Christmas Time 2013
For Record
Part II
Over the years, gift exchange between Ross and I has transitioned and developed into a finely tuned tried and true tradition.
This year, about a month before the twenty-fifth, Jen told me about this website called “Ebates”.
Basically, the premise is that if you purchase an item from one of their many participating online shops, you receive a cash rebate.
So for instance, I ordered a few things from JC Penny and received a 6% rebate.  You can receive the rebate in a check, which is sent to you quarterly.  Or, what I chose to do is have it deposited into my Paypal account.
I was skeptical but it works.  And as far as I can tell there are no strings attached.
Anyway back to tradition.
When my packages arrived from Penny’s, Ross seemed a little upset.
He watched me open the boxes.  As I pulled out pajamas, a couple of sweaters, a few pairs of warm wooly socks and three pair of jeans, he seemed to be disappointed.
When I asked what was wrong, he said, “But we go shopping together. We do it every year.  It’s our Christmas tradition.”
Hmm, I thought back over the years and recalled that is what we would do.  Ross likes to shop.  He likes to shop with me.  So sometime in December, we would pick a day and the two of us would go on a spree.    I just didn’t realize it had become a holiday “tradition.”
He explained that now his dilemma was that he didn’t know what to get for me.

That’s when I sent him this list:

The Swift by Tom Bihn - The knitting bag designed by knitters for knitters

A GoPro Camera

A set of Caruso Steam Rollers

Needless to say I got everything on my list along with a soft cuddly robe and another pair of comfy pi’s.

Oh yes, and there was this little blue box under the tree.  There should always be a little surprise. 
Tiffany & Company Paloma Picasso Sterling Silver XO  Love and Kisses Pin

And we still went on our shopping spree.  

The saying that it is better to give than to receive is true, most of the time.

I was getting my hair done a few days ago, before Christmas.  As I waited my turn, I couldn’t help but overhear a young twenty-something guy boast about the gifts he was going to give his girl.  
The conversation went something like this:
Hairdresser:  “So did you finish shopping for your girlfriend?”
Guy:  “Oh yeah.  I got her a bunch of stuff.  You know little things, but a lot of stuff.”
Hairdresser:  “Oh, what did you get?”
Guy:  “Well, lets see…Uh, oh yeah, WaWa was having a sale on K-cups.  So I got her a box of those. Punkin Spice.  They were fifty percent off.  Uh…a back pack for when she goes to the gym to put her gym clothes in. It was on sale in Walmart.   The gym was having a sale on protein bars, so I got her a box of those.  I figure we can share those.  Oh yeah and a wool hat.”   I got some stuff for the apartment.
Hairdresser: “Oh, are you living together?”
Guy:  “Yeah she moved into  my place in September.  I think it may have been a little too soon.  We had only been dating for a few months.  And well, you know…I had to make some space for her, clean out a couple of drawers, rearrange some stuff.  Yeah, it may have been a little too soon. "

As I listened to this conversation, I had an image of this poor girl and the pure look of disappointment on her face as she opened up her box of K-cups and protein bars.  

I have a feeling that there will not be a little blue box under the tree for her. 

PS. For the record:
Ross kind of took to the GoPro.  It’s a toy, a gadget.  
I took the hint when he said he would like to try the new Kindle Paper White.
Since he is trying to get fit, I also got him the FitBit.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Is Christmas Twenty-Thirteen Already Just A Memory?

Christmas Time 2013

For The Record
Part I

Along with many other people, it is also a tough time of the year for me.  Actually, for the past few years I have not felt like doing anything Christmassy.
When I think back to the Christmas after Joe died, which was just 20 days after he passed, I cannot imagine how I managed to get through it that year.  I am sure I was very much in a zombie like state of shock.
Today, I re-read the 2011 and 2012 blogs that I wrote around this same time of the year.
As I was reading those posts, I realized how much I miss writing and want to get back into doing it more frequently.
When I began writing this post, I was going to mention how much I did not feel like putting up a tree or doing any kind of decorating this year.  When I referred back to those past two christmas-time posts, I found that I said the exact same thing each one of those years.
Even though Joe’s passing was more recent in 2011 and 2012,  I was still able to motivate myself to decorate for the holidays.  As I would start to go through the ornaments, I would find myself getting nostalgic and sentimental recalling what was special to me about each one.
This year I was much more adamant about not doing any decorating.  No one was planning on visiting.  I wasn’t in the mood.  I was not going to do it!
Then one day I got a phone call from Bella.  She wanted to know if we could get together during her holiday break for a special sleep over.  So, for that reason, I dug out the decorations and I put up the tree.
But it really was different this year.  I was sadder.   Perhaps I have finally begun to feel again.
As I unboxed and unwrapped each of the ornaments, they seemed to no longer hold the same connections for me.
I did most of my shopping online.  Usually I would do it first thing in the morning, with a mug of tea and a cozy warm laptop.   I find if you get there early, you usually beat the crowds. :)
I also find it is less depressing if you do not have to encounter the group of tired, grouchy and stressed out, shoppers who trudge through the malls.
For the third year in a row I did not send out Christmas cards.  I guess I am slowly being dropped from other people’s lists because we are also receiving less and less cards.
This year, just like in 2011, the cards we did receive were interspersed with sympathy cards expressing condolences for the loss of my brother.
I made several knitting presents.   It’s what kept me on a somewhat even keel.  Unlike shopping online for merchandise, I prefer to do my yarn shopping in my favorite local shop, WoolBearers.  My senses are aroused as soon as I enter the shop.  First, the sight of bursts and shades of color awaken my imagination.  Next is the therapeutic and calming touch, squeeze and caress of each and every hank of fiber.
While in the shop I discovered “Hollywood” by Cascade.  It has just a hint of sparkle and it is 87% Superwash wool.
I made a few really pretty headbands and scarves with that yarn.

Well, so,  I sparsely decorated my very realistic looking, white, almost origami-like Christmas tree, arranged a festive garland on my mantle and hung a wreath on my front door.
I finished all of my shopping, knitting and wrapping with days to spare.  And I managed to do it all with only one meltdown and a much needed good cry.

Part II tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

For The Record - My Brother Adam’s Memorial Service

December 6, 2013
For the Record
Adam’s Memorial Service

This was the Friday that we held the memorial for our brother Adam.
The day, well it was gray.  The rain was misty, and drippy and steady.
The service was being held in the Chapel at the Memorial Park.

Ross and I and Dolores were among the first to arrive.

The chapel was icy cold.  There were chairs set up and a small stand covered with a cloth.  I guessed that’s where the container holding Adam’s ashes would be displayed.

My brother-in-law, Mike, Marie’s husband, put together a poster filled with a collage of photos of Adam.  It was set up at the front of the room.

Ross and I brought 24 roses and we placed one on each chair.

One by one the others began to arrive.  I noticed how everyone kind of shivered and tried to wrap their coat tighter around them when they entered the icy room.

I watched from the front of the room as this family began to gather and greet one another.

The rituals of the greetings were touching.  They began with a warm smile of recognition as each person approached the other.   Next, at almost the exact same time, they would reach out and grab each other’s hands, and lean in for a kiss on the cheek.  Finally they would pull one another in close for a lingering hug.

Personally, for me, a hug is the most comforting.  A tight, warm close hug says, “I’ve got you.”

When it was time to start to service, my nephew Jacob, Marie’s son, asked everyone to take a seat.

Jake is a missionary student.  This was his first time leading a memorial service .  He talked about how important mourning is.  He explained that grief  should not be hidden, but worn publicly.  He added that a display of bereavement is a tribute to the love of the ones we have lost.
Jake showed an outstanding level of maturity and understanding as he guided us through the service.

Then we each had an opportunity to speak.

I along with my brother Ray, and my sisters Johanna and Marie each gave emotional testimonials and remembrances acknowledging the shared bond with our brother.

After the ceremony, we filed out of the of the chapel.  I suppose that it was fitting, almost cliche, that it we melded into a procession of bobbing, shared umbrellas as we made our way over to the gravesite.

At the end of a prayer, led by Jacob, we each said our good-byes and placed our rose on the grave.

Adam requested that he be buried with my parents.  His remains now rest with my mother.

We then all gathered at a local family restaurant called “Confectionately Yours" , not far from the cemetery.
Although we were a group of 32 unexpected guests, and there was an initial few minutes of panicky confusion, the staff was very accommodating and even set up their private room for us.

Due to circumstances, primarily  financial, Adam did not have all of the trappings of what we have come to expect or what we might, I suppose call a traditional funeral.  There was no viewing at a funeral home,  no flowers, no limos, no incense or church mass.

But, I believe that our remembrance of Adam was intimately more special.  Those who participated were truly his loved ones.

This is what I said when it was my turn to speak:

For My Brother Adam
We are gathered here today because we have an undeniable bond.  A resilient thread that ties us together.   There are times when that connection is stretched to it’s thinnest, but it does not break.

The fibers of my relationship with Adam were spun and intertwined together forming a  textured fabric, embroidered with strands of dark, bold and intense colors.

Over the years, anguish and anger began to place an immense amount of strain on our ties, causing them to fray so badly around the edges that I was convinced it had unraveled beyond repair.

I held on to the anger for a long time.

Then one day, I think it was about five years ago,  Johanna told me that she decided she wanted to reach out to Adam.  Frankly, I was quite surprised. I couldn’t understand it.  “Why?” I wanted to know.

"He’s a human being who is struggling.  He needs help. He’s my brother.” She said.

 I remember thinking to myself, “Wow baby sister, you are something else.”

Her expressions of compassion and acts of kindness opened up my mind and heart a little that day.

But I continued to remain separated from him.

Then, about six months ago, we learned that Adam was very ill.  Johanna had been notified that he was in a hospital, and comatose.

Without hesitation, everyone immediately came to be with our brother.

Everyone, except for me, that is.

He surprised us, by what I suppose was his shear will to live and recovered.  But his diagnosis was dire.

As Adam’s health declined, Elaine became his main caregiver and advocate.  She would frequently call me to tell me about the time she spent with him.

I know it was difficult for her, but she told me that he was like a child.  He needed help.  He was her brother.

Her acts of kindness and displays of compassion, opened my mind and heart more and more each day.

As the cloudy haze of anger, fear and stress eased, I was able to see my brother more clearly.

And then one day I called him.

And then one day I went to see him.

He was the fifth remnant  in our sometimes ill fitted, six piece, patch work quilt.
Even though he and I were separated age wise by almost a generation, we shared some of the same challenging childhood experiences.

Those experiences ultimately gave shape to our beings, who we became.

I don’t know…maybe it was birth order, circumstances, or forks in the road that may have led us in opposite directions, but our hurts and insecurities were really the same.

Each time I would visit with him,  I re-discovered that he had a great sense of humor.  It was similar to mine.  Dry, sarcastic and sometimes mocking, but funny, really funny.

He was smart. Not only street smart, because he was that.  He knew things about any number of topics and could speak intelligently about them.

In his own way, I know he loved us, we were always his family.

He expressed this best in a card he sent to me after Joe passed away.  At the time, I guess we were both at our lowest.

This is what he wrote:

“Dear Lynda,
I love you and my heart goes out to you.  Those kids are like my kids, the closest thing I have to my own kids.  I pray every night for you.  If there is anything I can do just tell me.

I am filled with grief for Adam.  As I reflect on who he was, I regret that I did not see him differently until there wasn’t enough time to appreciate him.
I’m sure we all did this.

When we spoke of Adam we would talk about his unusual behaviors and his uncontrollable addictions. We would cluck our tongues, shake our heads, sigh and whisper, “What a shame.”

We would ask, “Why couldn’t he change?  Why couldn’t he be more like us?   What a shame.”

But, I think, what we may have failed to see was the potential creativity that hid behind the craziness.

Our view was obstructed by the ridged armor he wore to protect the soft gauzy layers that cushioned his hurts.

He emanated a bristly and prickly electric like energy.   I suppose that if I were able to hear that energy it might sound like a discordant tune he would play on his guitar.

Perhaps if his undeveloped talent had been recognized and discovered, his dormant rock star could have emerged.

So imagine this.  Consider the possibility that instead of the small group here today, there were red carpets, limos, frantic paparazzi and throngs of Adam’s fans filling this chapel and beyond. 

I will miss you my brother.
I am stirred by the loving family members who came to be with us that day.

Aunt Edie and her grandson Dominic
Our cousins Ginny and Ray

Aunt Nancy and cousin Jimmy
Uncle Bobby and Aunt Pat
Aunt Ronnie and Uncle George
Aunt Dolores

Ross and I
Jen, Derek, and Jackson
Anne and Domani
Ken D

Elaine and Al

Ray and Patty

Johanna, Steve

Marie and Mike

Thursday, December 5, 2013

He Was Only Passing By

I wonder what today would be like if someone had whispered a secret in my ear on April 4, 1975.
“Here is your little boy.”  Hold onto him tightly.  He is precious and yours to keep for 34 years. “
Perhaps, today I would be able to feel the weight of his nearly 8 lbs when he was placed in my arms for the first time.   I might vividly sense a tickle as I recall the movement of his head from side to side on my bare chest.  I’m sure his new born smell would continue to linger and cling to me.
I would still taste the richness of the chocolate frosting on my fingers as I wiped it off of his one year old face.
Instead of a frozen moment captured in a photographic glimpse,  the memories of his milestones, his firsts, would be an instant recall, brought about, at my will.
Today, in my mind, the in betweens would not be measured in years but in moments, each one.
If someone had whispered a secret in my ear on April 4, 1975, I would have looked up when he called “Mommy, look at me.”  Not the fourth or fifth time, he called, but the very first time.
 I would have always known who he was, what he liked, how he felt, not just in the last ones of  his years, but in each and every moment of all of those 34 years.

Today, this December 5, 2013, I long for my son. I want to hear his voice. I want touch his hand, I want to especially see his shy little smile. I want to talk to him.  I want to listen to him.

I wish, I regret, I realize, that if I had known the secret I would have treasured each minute of every one of his 13, 393 days.

One of my favorite books, because it is told from the point of view of a mother who has lost her son, is “The Testament of Mary”, by Colm Toibin.

This quote describes how I feel most every day, but especially this day.

“But no one realized that it would be the realm of death he was destined for, that all the grace and beauty of his aura of specialness, like a gift from the gods to his parents and his sisters, that all of it was a grim joke, like being teased by the smell of delicious food or the possibility of plenty, when it was only something passing by destined for elsewhere. “

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Saturday After Thanksgiving Day Day - Memories Are Made to be Made

Saturday, November 30, 2013
For The Record

I can’t tell you what the weather was like today because I was too busy getting ready for our “The Saturday after Thanksgiving Day, Thanksgiving Day Gathering”.

I suppose our family is not unique.  Lots of people get pulled in many different directions as they try to fit holiday visits in with in-laws, moms and dads separated by divorce, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles cousins and friends.

Our compromise is to have the kids and grandkids over on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Since I figure that everyone is turkyed out by then, we make my famous lasagna.

We’ve been doing this for a few years now and every year Ross and I ask each other the same questions.  We never can remember how much ground beef and sausage to buy for the meat sauce. We mull over how many cans of tomatoes and paste will be enough so that we have extra.  We can never recall how much ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan we need.  Every year I say we should write it down.

But the biggest dilemma is trying to figure out what pans we should use to bake the lasagna in.

Every year, as we are hunting through our cupboards looking for suitable pans, Ross is reminded of the perfect lasagna pans he saw in the “Cooks Illustrated” magazine that he subscribes to.
 And each year he says the same thing, “I should have gotten those pans.”

So this year we did it.  It was last minute, but we ran out late on Wednesday and purchased two white porcelain ceramic, 9 x 13, with handles, perfect lasagna pans.  The brand is HIC (Harold Imports Company).

HIC is not a retail outfit.  You can purchase their products at various stores and online from other retailers.  We bought ours from Kitchen Kapers in Marlton NJ.

We give it *****.
The white porcelain is oven, microwave and dishwasher safe.  It is pretty enough to have a place on the dining table.

Three standard brand lasagna noodles fit perfectly across.  The dish handles three layers, which is also perfect.  The lasagna bakes evenly.  One of the best features are the handles.  They make it safe and easy when it is time to take the hot dish out of the oven.
And clean up is a breeze.
Now as long as we don’t store these pans in some tuck-away place, there will not be a  question of which pans we will use next time for the lasagna.

We were quite organized this year.   It seems like Ross has been making shopping lists for two weeks already.  I made the meatballs on Thursday.   We made the gravy (for non-Italians that would be the sauce) on Friday morning.   We put the lasagna together, very nicely I might add, in our new perfect lasagna pans.

Dinner time was set for 2:00.

The first “guests” to arrive were Anne and Domani.  Domani rang the door bell.  I peeked out of the sidelight window and saw his serious little face expectantly looking up at the door.  He reminded me so much of Joey in that moment.   I tapped on the window and when he saw me his whole being from tip to toe became animatedly happy and excited.

Ross was sitting on the sofa watching Domani, Anne and I put together a Toy Story puzzle when the front door opened and the next one to arrive entered.

I thought that I would be overcome with emotion, but it seemed so natural to see him come on into the house.  It was as if I were whooshed back to a time when it was that way.  I have to admit, I took a few seconds to savor the moment before I got up to greet him.

The oven buzzed telling me it was time to take the lasagna out of the oven.  It makes the biggest difference when you let it rest on the counter for 5-10 minutes before you cut into it.

The phone rang and it was Jen.   She was at the front gate and there was a sign on the gatehouse.
“Be Back in a Few Minutes.”
I thought, “How strange.”  But I guess even the 24/7 guard has to answer the call of nature once in a while.

A few seconds later the door bell rang again.  Derek came in carrying a sleeping Jax.  Jen had a dish of cookies in one hand and a pie in the other.   Bella hugged me.  Ryan slipped by and he and Domani  headed for the “toy” room.

So, even though Ross and I were super organized, with everything we could possibly do to get things ready a head of time, the chaos of getting food onto to the table inevitably ensued.

Times like this, when we are together, are blissful,  But times like this are also filled with such a mixture of emotions for me.

After dinner I stood in the kitchen doorway looking out into the living room.   I quietly watched my family.  Anne and Jen were sitting on the sofa chatting. Derek was rocking and bouncing his new son Jackson, trying to get him to sleep.  Jimmy was standing aside, looking at Domani and Ryan rambunctiously  playing and I thought about how difficult it must for him.

It’s at times like that, during the quiet time, when I stand apart from the rest, that’s when I feel the loss the most.
I thought about the time Joe came through the door carrying a sleeping Domani.  It was the day that Joe took Domani to the beach for the first time.
I am reminded of the last time Kenny and Ty were here.  It was a hard day, that day.  The boys were spending the night with us.  They were upset, wanting their mother and their father.  I had put a mattress on the floor for them to sleep on, fearing they would fall off the bed.  I squeezed in between them and read a story or two or three to them until they fell asleep.
And the next day Pop-pop and I took them to the beach, for the last time.

When it was time for Anne and Domani to leave, Domani decided he would rather spend a little more time with us.  As he rebelled against putting his jacket on, wriggling his arms out of the sleeves and then running away, displaying a little bit of a temper, I thought about how difficult it must be for Anne at time like this without Joe to help.

When it was time for Jimmy to walk out of the front door, wrapped in the knitted scarf, hat and fingerless mitts I made for him, I wanted to hold on to him forever.  “Text me when you get home, okay?”

Ross turned on the TV.  Ryan came into the room.  Where had he been hiding this whole day?  He flopped on the sofa and he and Pop-pop started watching Superman.  I went over to the sofa and sat down next to Ryan.  I grabbed him and snuck in a hug.  He giggled and wiggled out of my arms.

As I sat with Jackson, happy and content on my lap, smiling up at his big sister, I realized that this Saturday after Thanksgiving Day, day will be filled with the memories of my family, each and every one of them, because they actually were all here in one way or another.

By the way, Ross, I couldn’t have done this without you.  My goodness, you cleaned up the whole kitchen.  I didn’t have to wash a dish.  It was nice to have the time to sit and relax and make memories.