Celebrating the Giving in Thanksgiving

During my 5k walk benefitting two local food shelves on Thanksgiving morning, I looked up and let the fat snowflakes hit my face.  It was a soft snow with little breeze, and in an instant I felt thankful.

UntitledI was feeling my age upon waking that morning.  The bones creaked and the muscles were rigid.  I poked my head out of bed a few times before I left, testing the layers I’d chosen, finally settling on the long-sleeve cotton shirt we received with our race packets, my food bank hoodie, and a pair of grey sweatpants.  I laced up my old-lady white sneakers, and loaded the shelf-stable groceries in the back of my son’s vehicle.

This year marks our second annual Thanksgiving walk/run for hunger.  Last year the thermometer read a daunting one degree Fahrenheit.  I learned a few things about the 5k/10k races, specifically involving winter weather.  As a runner’s sweat drips down his or her back, stalactites form on the seat of the pants, forming —  for lack of a better term —  butt-cicles.  It’s true.  My son’s facial hair froze into a grampa-white beard and mixed with the evidence of his mile-5 nosebleed.  He was terrifying despite the smile on his face.  Although these are not the reasons I don’t run, they definitely justify my rationale.

Today was about thirty degrees warmer than last year, but the snow lent a sense of adventure.  About 15 minutes after we saw my son off on his 10k run, the rest of us lined up for the 5k.  Once the runners had all passed, the dog-walkers, strollers, and I settled into a brisk, yet slower, pace.  My joints had stiffened standing in the cold, and they ached as I began.  I snapped a few pictures, found some good classic rock on Pandora, and firmly secured my earbuds.

Somewhere in the middle, I looked up into the swirling white, and I felt thankful.  And I thought about that word — Thanksgiving.  Giving thanks.  Certainly I am thankful to the people who organized the race, and to the food shelves who will put the proceeds to good use, and to my body for being able to carry me a whopping three miles on a frosty morn, and to my employer who gives me Thanksgiving off — even thankful to the earth for the crisp air and swirling snow.

UntitledBut there is more to it than thanks.  There’s giving.  In the end it doesn’t matter who or how you thank.  Whether you offer up prayer, or thank the cook, or tip the waitress.  Thanking is polite.  Giving takes more.  Here, as I looked before and behind me, were all these people who took time away from their kitchen, or got up early, or scheduled Thanksgiving dinner just an hour later, so that they could give of themselves.

And after all the participants have gone home, or finished their Bloody Marys (just sayin’), there are people who are cleaning and clearing the route of signage or trash, sorting and storing the collected food, packing the race gear away, and accounting for expenses and proceeds.

So while I’m thankful to all the people who provided a way for me to give last Thursday, I’d like to change my definition of Thanksgiving from a day to give thanks, to a day to be thankful for the opportunity to give.  I don’t give as much or as often as I could.  But while my body is able, to participate in this annual event seems like a perfectly splendid way kick off this season of giving.

Peace . . .

Ode to an Ornament

UntitledLittle ornament, I sometimes think of you on the warmest days of summer, waiting silently and patient in your storage box of red. You quietly guard so many memories beneath your glassy wings.

The day we brought you home, my mom and me, we found you hanging from a needled branch on a department store christmas tree.  The music piped, the lights twinkled, and we saw you dangling there.  We laughed at your tiny feet, your silly eyes, and eggshell hat.  My mother said, “It looks so fragile, I don’t suppose it will last a year.  But it’s so silly I think we need to get it, don’t you?”  I emphatically agreed as the saleswoman wrapped each of the ornaments we had chosen in layers of tissue and placed them in a bag.

Every year as you emerged from your ball of crumpled paper, Mom would exclaim with delight that you had made it one more year. And every year so far, you have.  Do you remember the year we brought you up to the cabin in Wisconsin?  You swayed nervously on the feeble bough of a tree so small we tied it to the window to keep it standing.

You’ve survived toppling trees, wagging tails, and even curious toddlers. You’ve seen the birth of many grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.  You’ve seen tears of joy and laughter.  And you’ve seen the tears of remembrance.

You see, you never know when you’ll open a box and the thing you find most precious is broken beyond repair.  And everything it ever was will remain only in the heart of those who love it.

Thank you for reminding me, especially at this time of year, that life is fragile and fleeting and to cherish my loved ones with all my heart while they are within the reach of my loving arms.

Peace . . .

The Hardest Gift 

 We are now only one turkey dinner away from being launched into the official gift-giving season.  I know that sentence made you cringe. There’s all kinds of bad juju wrapped up in there.  It brings to mind long lines, empty wallets, and whiny kids waiting to sit on a strange man’s lap. Tell me, when else do we let that happen?

And there is the added stress of finding that one gift that will change someone’s life forever. I received one of those gifts the last year of my mother’s life. It was the hardest gift I’ve ever had to receive. 

It was a pair theater tickets to the musical The King and I.  She loved the theater.  All four of my children had attended by the time they were six. She made sure of that.  We have a wonderful Children’s Theater in Minneapolis, and the productions are amazing. 

The catch was that it was a pair of tickets for the both of us. This would, under normal circumstances, have issued no grief on either of our parts. But these were not normal circumstances. Since my mom’s stroke six months earlier, I had only taken her out once or twice.  

At the risk of sounding shallow or selfish, I tell you I was afraid.  My mom had always taken me out to the theater. I followed her leads, and let her help me.  This was going to be very different. And it went beyond what I wanted to do or any fears I might have had. My mom wanted to go to the theater one more time. And she wanted to go with me. 

When I showed up at her house, her live-in caregiver greeted me at the door.  Mom was wearing her prettiest black dress, though it hung lake drapery on her thin frame. She wore makeup and held a small black bag, the tickets tucked securely within. 

I pulled up to the front of the theater, as she instructed, parking in front of the valet.  She pressed some bills in my hand, telling me to give them to him as a tip. The valet helped me unload and unfold the wheelchair. Leaning down, I wrapped my arms under hers, and around her back. I lifted her to her feet, supporting her while she shuffled to position herself in front of the chair.  The valet held the chair steady and, once seated, asked her if everything was okay. She nodded, and he grinned wide as I handed him the money she had provided. 

I was walking a tightrope, balancing between helping my feeble mother and letting her help me, as it had always been — offering some small piece of normalcy in the otherwise implausible life she now lived. And yet, it was no act. This was her world, not mine. I needed her every bit as much as she needed me. 

I followed her crooked finger, turning this way or that, past elegant ladies and handsome men. We took the elevator to an usher who directed us to one of the seats next to a bit of open floor where we parked and set the brake. It wasn’t long before the lights dimmed and I allowed the tears to swell in my eyes. 

I was ashamed at my nervousness and astonished at my pride. Proud for facing my fear, for having her want to spend this precious time with me, and proud, as always, to be seen with her. 

I’m not sure how she did it, perhaps by sheer will, but she made it to intermission without vomitting. You see, this is what really killed her. She kept very little food or drink down. Her voice was weak and coarse from the irritation of it. And she was slowly wasting away. But the fact is that the first half of the show was quite uneventful, aside from the magnificent story unfolding on stage. 

We pushed out to the lobby, each ordering a glass of wine against my better judgement.  We exchanged small talk, and I made sure she was comfortable. Back in my seat, the alcohol calmed me and made me sleepy. 

The man next to me leaned over me to ask my mother how she was enjoying the play. I will forever be in this nameless man’s debt. Perhaps he sensed my trepidation. Maybe he just wanted to make an old woman feel seen and heard. But his conversation brought me relief and I will always remember him.

The lights dimmed again, and the actors took the stage. I scarcely remember the production.  Each nerve in my spine stood rigid and ready, like taking a newborn home for the first night. I waited until it came. The retching. The straining. I held a bag with one hand while soothing her back with the other.  While I measured the distance to the door and which was the worst distraction to the audience, it stopped. I handed her tissues, and it was over, and the musical concluded in one grand finale.  

Before we left the theater, we found a wheelchair-accessible restroom. I wheeled the chair in, locked it in place, and asked what she needed next. Mom assured me she would be fine, but that she would leave the door unlocked, “just in case.”  I paced outside like an expectant father, waiting and listening for what seemed too long a time. When at last she emerged smiling, she suggested we find dessert. 

When the evening concluded, I left her in the capable hands of her caregiver. We kissed and hugged and exchanged thank yous. I imagine she slept well that night and awoke the next morning with a happy heart. 

As for me, I haven’t been to the theater since, and when I do it will never be the same.  I am ashamed to admit the fear I felt. I hope I was able to hide it.  Yet she was my mother, and mothers have a way of knowing.  

I’m not sure who received the greater gift that night, the giver or the recipient. And I can’t tell you whether the gift I received was the honor of having been chosen to receive it, ot the strength I found in carrying it out.  But I can tell you its greatness lies within the mystery. 

Peace . . .


Wisdom is Less of a Gift than a Purchase

Personification of wisdom (in Greek, "Σοφ...

Sophia, the Greek personification of wisdom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes I’m asked why I blog.

First and foremost, I blog for therapy.  Unlike a diary, it forces me to choose my words wisely.  Where a diary will take any abuse you want to give, my public blog requires I treat my thoughts with respect.  And in doing so, I find an appreciation for “life and all things peaceful, balanced, whole and precious.”

I blog for posterity.  It’s something to leave behind.  I don’t believe in a supernatural afterlife.  Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to hang around watching over my loved ones eternally.  In a recent mishap, I accidentally and unavoidably caught a glimpse of all the pictures on the Rebel’s phone.  Trust me when I say I don’t want to watch over them from above.

I blog to pass along a wisdom.  Ancient cultures sat around the fire listening to lore from their elders.  While I do have plenty of advice to share around the fire, most of it involves the perfect toasted marshmallow or the dangers of wielding hot pokers.  Besides, who has time to sit around a fire listening to their elders anymore?  Anything like that gets shared here as “Lore” for those who find it valuable enough to read.

Lady wisdom (2)

Lady wisdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure at what age one becomes an elder, but I think I’m growing into it as gracefully as possible.  That is, kicking and screaming, my brittle nails shredding on the door frame of old age.  My daughter, the Romantic, reminded me that I once announced I was going to age naturally and embrace it — gray hair, wrinkles, and all.  Yeah . . . I was thirty-something and knew nothing of disappearing collagen or finding coarse, white eyebrows reaching out like odd antennae over the tops of my bifocals.  And so this thing of wisdom that comes with age is less of a gift than a purchase, dearly paid for with my declining condition.

Perhaps there is a responsibility to share what has been so expensive to attain.  Maybe I want to spare my children and readers the pain I’ve born.  After all, the suffering of my children is two-fold; once for their pain and another for the remembrance of my own mistakes.  Or maybe I just want to give you a shortcut, a life hack, so you can surpass where I have been and finish farther ahead.  Whatever the reason, sharing lore is clearly a primal need, present since men acquired the ability to speak.

English: The Seven Pillars of Wisdom rock form...

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom rock formation in Wadi Rum, Jordan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The elders of my youth have all passed away.  They, too, shared the experience of their years.  Some of it I remember, most of it has probably been forgotten.  The truth is, I gained less of my wisdom in listening than I found in living.  The toddler learns more from touching a hot oven than from being told it is hot.  Riding a bicycle can only be mastered after falling.  We learn to guard our heart once we know how deeply it can hurt.

I’m told there is occasionally wisdom in my words.  If you find it here, it is yours.  If you want to keep it, however, it’s going to cost you a couple of wrinkles and maybe a white antenna eyebrow.  But I guarantee it will be worth it.

Peace . . .


Reach for the Stars

Our second date was a movie.  When I asked him what we were going to see, he said, “There Will Be Blood.”  I told him that was okay with me, but what was the name of the movie?  I think he thought I was trying to be clever.  I wish that were true.

Bubba is the entertainment manager in our house.  He knows the director, the actors, and which ones are up for awards.  He remembers story-lines and quotes for years.

I can’t tell you what I watched last night.  Which is why I use the Netflix rating system.  When asked, I can bring up the app, search for the movie and tell you what I thought of it.

Netflix has a 5-star rating system.  At first, the five stars seemed limiting.  However, once I attached meaning to the ratings, it was easy.

  • 1 Star:  I’m scarred for life.
  • 2 Stars:  Ninety minutes I will never get back.
  • 3 Stars:  I came.  I watched.  I was entertained.
  • 4 Stars:  I’d recommend it.
  • 5 Stars:  Changed my life.

I’m pretty sure Bubba’s looks like this:

  • 1 Star:  No chase.  No nudity.  No blood.
  • 2 Stars:  Not even the car chase can redeem it.
  • 3 Stars:  Eh.  The actress was hot.  Ending was predictable.
  • 4 Stars:  Explosions AND boobs within the first two minutes.
  • 5 Stars:  Great effects, heart-stopping stunts, 3D-worthy, awesome soundtrack.  Ending practically gave him whiplash.
Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the ...

Marilyn Monroe from the trailer for the film Some Like It Hot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And what if we weren’t rating movies, but life?  Is this what it means to “reach for the stars?”  My rating system certainly looks different from Bubba’s, or yours, or Marilyn Monroe’s.  Greatness is relative.  We can no sooner rate someone else’s movie for them than they can ours.  And by movie, I mean life.  My three-star day is forgettable.  A day in Katharine Hepburn’s 3-star shoes would definitely be 5-star worthy on my scale.

Screenshot of Katharine Hepburn from the trail...

Katharine Hepburn from the trailer Woman of the Year (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A 3-star film is the norm.  It’s the average against which greater and lesser movies rate.  So, too, is the 3-star day.

For instance, you know a 5-star day or film before it even begins.  Unless you win the lottery, you’ve planned for it.  It means something.  People are talking about it.  It will probably be the best thing that’s happened to you, but it has a huge disappointment potential.  And for that reason, it is emotional.  You get married.  Your child is born.  You begin the best job ever.  Five stars.  And I bet you can tell me the date.

I wouldn’t want every day to rate five stars.  Think about it.  They’re tiring!  Most 5-star days take a week of recovery.  And if every day were life-changing, my life would be in constant flux.

A 4-star day is probably where you aim most mornings.  It’s attainable.  In most cases, you probably have some control over achieving it, but it takes some planning and preparation.

Three-star days are where you are going to land most of the time.  It’s the median, after all.  You might have a 5-star breakfast and four minutes after leaving the house you’re caught in a 2-star traffic jam.  At the end of the day, you came, you watched, you were entertained.  Average.

No one plans a two-star day.  I don’t think any director really plans on producing a two-star film, either.  You just run out of resources — time, money, energy — to make it great.  Sometimes it’s a lack of planning, or sometimes there are circumstances beyond your control that bring your rating down.  Hopefully you learn from it, and your next movie will be better.

In a way, 1-star films are as memorable as 5-star.  Again, it is easy to compare a 1-star movie to a 1-star day.  They are usually worse than you imagined they were going to be.  You will never be the same, and thankfully they are rare.  The difference is that a 1-star film becomes a cult classic.  A 1-star day hurts deep in your chest.

Sometimes it’s a matter of realizing your day is falling in the ratings, and to take action.  For me, it’s a simple list.  A walk.  Drinks with a friend.  Giving.  A heart-to-heart with a loved one.  Sometimes just a home repair or accomplishment.  For you maybe it’s more complex, or intense.  Bubba might like a heated debate over gun control or the who is the best Marvel Superhero.

While the list is simple, the action is harder.  On bad days I hide behind my phone, both mentally and physically.   Two-stars are not uncommon these days.  As both director and protagonist, I play key roles.

The trick is to remember where my stars are . . . and then reach.

Peace . . .

This Hubble Space Telescope (HST) image of a d...

This Hubble Space Telescope (HST) image of a dense swarm of stars shows the central region of the globular cluster NGC 2808 and its 3 generations of stars. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)







Wasp Warrior Princess of the North

One fresh August morning, I thought I’d get some air and sunshine into the place.  I raised shades and opened windows in every room.  In the bedroom, there is one we rarely open.  The shade stays down and if we want a breeze, we use the adjacent window.

But as this was a day for sunshine, I yanked on the shade to retract it on its roller.  And was immediately taken aback in horror.  Attached between the inner window pane and the outer storm window was a wasp nest the size of a tangerine.  Not quite an orange, not a clementine, but — you know — a tangerine . . . but not quite as sweet.


Once I realized they had no access to the inside of the house, I stood perplexed.  It was like one of those bee hives you can watch from the safety of a glass pane.  Except I don’t want one of those in my house, and these things weren’t making honey.  They were making a home and they intended to stay.

I walked outside to view it from another perspective.  I posted it on Facebook, hoping for sage advice.  I texted friends.  I called my brother, who was on his way out of town.  Unfortunately, he said, he was not close enough to help.  I talked him through it, but he had little to offer.

My Facebook friends replied with everything from, “Walk back and forth muttering, ‘Tut, tut, it looks like rain’,” adding “It worked for Winnie the Pooh” to “Run!”  My text query produced the response, “Call an exterminator.”

There are a few things you should know about me if you don’t already.  I’m frugal.  I’m not going to pay someone to do something I can do myself.  I’m independent.  I’m not going to rely on a man for something that doesn’t involve brawn or . . . well . . . anything else I don’t have.  I’m resourceful.  If there’s a will, there’s a way, and I definitely had a will to get rid of this thing and all its little inhabitants.

My new outdoor perspective unveiled no answers.  I couldn’t see how they got in, nor could I see a way to launch an anti-wasp assault weapon at the nest.  As far as I could tell, the only access to the nest was from the inside.  I walked back inside and strategized.

The only safe way I knew to kill a nest was to shoot it with wasp and hornet spray.  The only access to the nest was to open the window.  In order to keep them out of the room when I opened the window, I was going to have to seal it off.


Step 1:
I sealed the window with painter’s tape and lightweight plastic.


Step 2:
Releasing a couple of inches of tape at the bottom, I used a pole to push the window up, pulled the pole out, and quickly resealed the tape.

Now, did I mention it was a very windy day?  No sooner did I raise the window, but a gust of wind came and puffed my plastic like a balloon!  I could hear the tape straining, then the wind sucked the plastic out as if taking a bigger breath, and blew against the plastic again.  I’d like to say I watched confidently chanting, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin.”  But it was more like “Oh my God . . . oh my God . . . oh my God!”


Because all the movement had agitated my little stinger-friends, they took to head-banging themselves against the plastic with fury.

Plan B was forming in my head, and it went like this:

  1. Run.
  2. Close the bedroom door.
  3. Call the exterminator.

But the tape held, and the wasps calmed.


Step 3:
I released the corner of the sealed plastic, as far from the nest as possible (we’re talking maybe 18 inches, tops).  Aiming as carefully as I could through the semi-opaque plastic, I deployed my weapon of mass destruction.  Once.  Twice.  Then quickly pushed the tape back down against the frame.

Part of being strategic is being able to add tactics as they become necessary.

Step 3a:
When pushing the tape to the window frame proved unproductive, I realized the wet spray toxin had rendered it un-sticky.  Hastily, I dispatched more tape to the corner, while wasps buzzed, drunkenly defending what they mistakenly assumed was their turf.

It’s a cruel death, really.  As pollinators, I appreciate them.  As tenants, I do not, and alas they had to go.

Step 4:
After a reassuring period of time passed, the plastic, tape, and finally wasps were removed.  I found their access, and closed the gap.

Only one live wasp returned, probably coming back to his rampaged home to discover his loved ones had perished in a savage attack.  Yes, I imagine bugs think like this, and it makes my life traumatic sometimes —  when I do these little things one must do to secure one’s home from pests.

Anyway, it was a mercy killing.  One swift and final blow with a fly swatter brought the last one to his fate.

That afternoon — I’m sure it was karma — three wasps came in through the back door.  After my earlier adventure, I felt all-powerful.  Fearless, even.  Swat! . . . Swat!  Kill, kill . . . KILL!

I tweeted, “Call me Jean, Wasp Warrior Princess of the North.”

Peace . . .


wasp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)





Minnesotans Grasp the Last of the Season

I love to watch the sun come up over houses across the way.  The neighbors’ trees stand high above their rooftops, and the sun lights them up like fire at this time of year.  How fast the summers fly these days.  Here in Minnesota, we grasp the end of the season like life itself is slipping through our fingers.

As I write, I see there is frost on the shingles.  It will be a good day to bring in the remaining tomatoes that might have ripened in the garden.  I made some notes for next year, entitled Garden 2016.  It says things like

No onions
More carrots
Lots of kale
Plant tomatoes in the side yard
Spread out herbs
Expand concrete block garden
Only two or three zucchini plants

Winter is as long as summer is short.  I tend to forget what it was I wanted to do unless I write it down.  Especially where zucchini is concerned.  Zucchini is one of those things that gives a gardener a boost of confidence.  If you’ve ever been offered an armload of zucchini, you know how prolific they are.  I don’t know how many seeds are in a packet, but there are several dozen too many for the average family.  Yet, planting two or three seeds from a handful of many seems somehow wasteful when it’s so easy to just pop a few more in the dirt.  And that’s where the zucchini takeover begins.

UntitledThe summer also brought me some really great luck with jalapeño peppers.  They started ripening at the same time as the zucchini.  One morning I began to harvest, stomach growling and mouth watering.  I thought to myself, “There has got to be something I can make for breakfast with zucchini and jalapeño peppers.”  And so I headed where all great cooks go . . . to Pinterest. I plugged “jalapeño” and “zucchini” into the search bar.  Lo and behold, my screen filled with tasty options.

The most delicious-sounding recipe was some type of zucchini-jalapeño pancake.  Unfortunately, I didn’t pin it, and I can’t seem to find it again to share with you here.  As I read the list of ingredients, I checked my mental pantry.  “Got that . . . yup . . . ooh, I have that . . .”  I knew I’d like it because all the ingredients were my favorites.  Then I read the directions.  It called for squeezing the hell out of the shredded zucchini no less than three times, separated by 15-minute intervals.  And I was hungry NOW!

Not being one to let the culinary arts get the best of me, I started to imagine something simpler.  Instead of grating the zucchini and squeezing the water out, I would noodle them with my Veggetti™ (which my kids maintain is a vulgar-sounding gadget), and sauté the water out.  Using all the same ingredients, minus the almond flour, I made the MOST delicious frittata.  It was such a mainstay of my summer breakfasts, that I want to share it with you here.


 1 T olive oil
1 medium zucchini, noodled or shredded
1 finely diced jalapeño pepper
1 slice cooked bacon, diced
2 eggs 1 T cream (or milk)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 c shredded parmesan


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat oil in a medium oven-safe skillet over medium heat until a drop of water skitters on the surface.  Meanwhile, whisk eggs with cream, salt and pepper.  Add zucchini noodles and jalapeño.  Sauté until vegetables are beginning to brown and the water has cooked away.

Pour egg mixture over vegetables.  Sprinkle diced bacon over the top and place in hot oven.

When the eggs are nearly set, sprinkle parmesan over the top.  Return to oven until eggs set. Best enjoyed al fresco!

Experiment with your own herbs, vegetables, and cheese.  I made several variations of this frittata, and I couldn’t tell you which was my favorite.  Whatever is in the garden and fridge is fair game!

Peace . . .


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