Posted in Meditative Monday

Mindful grief

I wore a brightly-flowered skirt and matching blouse to my father’s funeral. Immediately upon entering the church I knew I was inappropriately dressed. I’d forgotten funeral etiquette. After giving birth two months earlier, I had nothing to wear that fit, and I’d gone shopping in a haze.

When I tell this story, most friends usually try to comfort me and say I chose something that would make my dad smile. Actually, if he was looking down, Dad would have thought my skirt terribly unbefitting. Yet there I was, in front of the whole congregation competing with the alter gladiolas.

I made no apologies, and to this day chuckle at the misstep. I was young, consumed by grief, drunken with hormones, and a mother of three. If anyone was allowed the mistake, surely I was.

There may be five common stages, but we all move through grief at our own pace and in our own way. There’s no right way to grieve. It’s a personal thing. Even when faith, culture and etiquette dictate one right way to mourn, it’s crucial we show self-compassion and honor whatever it is that helps us to heal.

By accommodating our own process, it affords us the ability to do the same for others. It may be easier for us to feel empathy for the one who cries than for the one who didn’t attend the funeral. Yet, it’s entirely possible that the one who didn’t show feels such pain they can’t leave the house. It’s possible the one who is angry has hurtful regrets. It’s possible the one who makes jokes is afraid.

We can’t know what stories are deeply buried in another’s heart. Sometimes we scarcely know what’s in our own.

May we feel deeply for all affected by death and open our hearts to love and compassion for their healing.

Peace . . .
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Posted in Family

Go Into the World . . .

UntitledThere is a quilt draped across the back of my desk chair.  It’s just a small lap quilt, the kind I remember from nursing homes.  The fabrics are old-fashioned prints, woven from cotton.  The simple squares are sewn together in random sequence.  The layers are tied with yarn at the corners of the pieces.  I don’t even know who made it.

It is, by all standards, a quilt of no distinction at all.

Given to the University of Minnesota by a quilting group, it was made to keep oncology patients warm.  Diminishing weight and the treatments they endure leave cancer patients extremely cold all the time.

UntitledWhen I first saw the quilt, my father sat at the kitchen table, where all memories of my father lead.  He wore a thin grey goose-down jacket.  The stocking cap Mother knitted sat high on his head.  The quilt lay across his lap and over his slippered feet.

The strong, firm man of my childhood was now frail, thin, and weak.  His face produced a genuine smile that visually drained precious energy from his body.  I noticed the quilt immediately.

“Where did you get this?”

I hugged him then walked over to do the same to my mother.  She explained where he received the quilt, and we all agreed how very nice it was.

UntitledAs the weeks progressed, my father was never without his quilt.  And now, as I look at it these twenty-four years later, I imagine it wise and gentle.  The threads woven in purpose.  The pieces cut with precision.  Love somehow supernaturally layered between patchwork and batting and backing.

For decades the quilt sat neatly folded on my bedroom shelves as a reminder of the care my father received during his last months from so many faceless angels.  It is a steadfast message that we just never know when the good we do will affect the lives of others.

Recently I brought the quilt from its place on the shelf and rested it on the back of my chair.  When the temperature dips down, as it can in Minnesota, the quilt comes out to lay across my lap and over my slippered feet.  It reminds me, as I work diligently at my job, to do well.  But more importantly, it reminds me how lucky I am to be in a position where I can do good.

Untitled“Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”

― Minor Myers

Peace . . .

Posted in Family

The Metaphysical Mini Donut

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Yesterday included my annual pilgrimage to the Great Minnesota Get-Together, otherwise known as the Minnesota State Fair.  For most, this is a venture into the exploits of gluttony; corn dogs, pork chops on sticks, buckets of chocolate chip cookies, and mini donuts washed down with all the milk you can drink for a buck.  For me, it is a metaphysical event; laced with spirits from the past and traditions not yet established.  Yes . . . and a temporary lapse into the exploits of gluttony.

I can sense my mother is within me when I start to hum the theme song from  State Fair.  It was our song on the drive from Fridley to the fairgrounds every year.

Mom actually called in sick for me at school, just so we could go together when the crowds were lower.  We arrived before any attractions opened, and sometimes before the kitchens.  After eating breakfast at the Pancake House, which no longer exists, we would head straight to the Creative Arts Building.  If we timed it right, we would be among the first to enter.  There she strategically surveyed each and every piece of handiwork on display, critiquing the judges as much as the crafters.

This year I passed up the Creative Arts Building.  Experience has taught me that it no longer holds magic without the magician by my side.  But I smiled at the women waiting patiently outside the unopened doors early yesterday.

I ate breakfast sausage on a stick, followed by a double latte with sugar-free vanilla. Really?  Sugar free?  Was that a feeble attempt or force of habit?  I dipped the breakfast sausage corn dog in real, full-strength, high fructose-laden maple syrup.  Nutrition is a balancing act, after all.

I only walked another block before the tears came.  What set them off, I can no longer remember.  But they came, and I searched for a direction to face in order to hide my sudden display of grief.  This is an expected reaction, a tradition since my mother’s death; merciless in its timing, yet cleansing upon its arrival.

Giant slide, Minnesota State Fair, Falcon Heig...
Giant slide, Minnesota State Fair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My kids visited the fair with my mother and I a couple times.  Those years Mom always went twice, just so she could spend more time seeing the things she wanted to see.  When you have children in tow, there is a different perspective of the place.  Sailing down the big slide is something I hadn’t done since I was a child, and probably not again until I have grandchildren.  One year we saw piglets being born.  The kids and I had our own song we sang on the way to the fair.

Bubba thought about coming with me.  Everyone thinks I’m crazy for going alone, but I prefer it.  My favorite parts are the talks and demonstrations.  Sometimes I can hardly make it from one to the next, weaving through the crowd from the Agriculture Building to the Progress Center in ten minutes flat.  If someone is with me, I won’t put them through that.

I learned a lot about pollinators and rain gardens yesterday.  I gained resources and education on things like systemic pesticides and edible landscaping.  I logged over 20,000 steps, necessitating a half hour break in my car with my shoes off and feet out the window.  I texted and Tweeted, took selfies and Instagrammed.  I’m just not one to let being by myself hinder my fun.

 

One of the things Mom used to do before we left the fair every year was to have a beer.  She would say that nothing tasted better than an ice cold beer on a hot day at the fair. And so I stopped in the Beer Garden before heading out.  I sat there, by all outside appearances alone, and drank to memories, to tradition, to sore feet, and to next year.

I do believe that nothing has ever tasted better.

Peace . . .

Posted in Family

The Kitchen: Heart of the Home

IMG_20140719_200225_256It is called the heart of the home.  The kitchen is where, no matter how big or small, everyone gathers at the same time.  The dinner table of my childhood was in the kitchen, nestled tightly between the basement and back doors, and the pocket-door to the dining room.  The traffic pattern rivaled Grand Central Station, yet five of us sat comfortably, served from the white gas range which stood against the wall.

The floor that was there before it was upgraded to linoleum was speckled, as were the counters.  The incandescent light was small, and gave off a golden glow amplified by the cheery yellow walls.  Frilly curtains ruffled from the window over the sink.

The kitchen is where Dad got me to eat canned peas by telling me they taste better when squished with the back of my fork, and fresh tomatoes by sprinkling them with sugar.  He put a scoop of ice cream on cantaloupe, and he dolloped ketchup on his beef stew.  Most of his meals he ate with a slice of bread slathered with butter and strawberry jam.  I can still summon his spirit with a slice of that goodness.

IMG_20140719_200749_195The refrigerator has changed remarkably since I was a girl.  Not only has it gotten bigger with more compartments and easier to maintain, it contains a plethora of condiments, seasons, sauces and flavors that never existed in my childhood fridge.  We had ketchup, mustard, Miracle Whip, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Hershey’s syrup, and possibly a leftover jar of pickles or olives from the last holiday dinner.  There was no salsa, chili paste, Szechwan sauce, hot peppers, tabouli, pesto, hummus or even minced garlic for that matter.  Back then there was meat and there were vegetables.  If you were lucky, there was Jell-O for dessert.

Cooking and eating were not the only reasons we spent time in the kitchen.  My mother and grandmother ironed things like sheets, handkerchiefs and underwear in there, discussing the best practice for dampening the wrinkles, or starching the work shirts.  A child-sized iron and board sat in the corner, for pretending.  It really plugged in and warmed a little to the touch.

Haircuts were given to my reluctant teen brothers, who would rather have donned long sweeping styles like that of the Beatles.  Draped in towels or old sheets, the boys argued, whined and complained while the buzzers and Dad’s special hair-cutting scissors removed lengths of hair to the kitchen floor.

IMG_20140719_200807_532We shared news in the kitchen.  My brother leaving for the Marines, another getting engaged and later having children were all disclosed at the dinner table.  Accounts from the day and headlines from the paper were discussed over cups of milk or plates of spaghetti.

The kitchen was a classroom.  This is where my mother learned to cook from my father, who learned what he knew from his mother.  The grandmother I never knew was one heck of a cook, whose lemon meringue pies cannot be matched to this day, I am told.

My mother, ever the student, one time subscribed to a cooking class encyclopedia.  She pledged to take it one class at a time until she was a master at the art of French cooking.   She cooked for hours upon hours, and did finally serve a delectable coq au vin in our formal dining room by candlelight, but not after scouring the city for chicken feet, or beaks or some such part.  We laughed all through dinner about how she had finally given up and used chicken wings.  It may have been the only recipe she ever used from that expensive volume of books.

IMG_20140719_200507_780Of course, I learned my love of food, both eating and preparing, in that kitchen.  There were early mornings watching Dad prepare the Thanksgiving turkey.  Late nights helping Mom with Christmas cookies.  Favorite casseroles cut from the newspaper, salads created from the side of a pasta box.  The heart of the home.  The home of my heart.

After my mother’s death, the things from my childhood kitchen were laid out, dollars and cents scribbled on tags hurriedly attached on the handles.  I will leave this full story for another time, but I was told, “These are just things.  They can’t bring her back.”  The words were meant to comfort me; to dry the tears rolling down my face.  At the end of the day, I did end up bringing home the things that meant the most to me.  And do you know what?  It does bring her back.  Just a little bit.

 

The photos in this post are some of the things I grew up with in my mother’s kitchen and are now a part of my daily life.

Peace . . .

 

From Shirley’s Kitchen:

Chicken Breasts with Wine

  • 4 boned chicken breast halves, skinned
  • 1/2 c. flour, seasoned with garlic powder and paprika
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine
  • 1 c. sliced fresh white mushrooms

Coat chicken with flour mixture. Brown in oil lightly. Remove chicken, melt butter, add wine and mushrooms; sauté over low heat until the mushrooms release their moisture.  Pour over chicken in baking dish.

This may be done the day before baking and stored in the refrigerator.

Bake uncovered 350˚ for 45 – 60 minutes.