Friday, April 24, 2015

A Gift of Encouragement--

--for my mother-in-law last Saturday continues to make me smile. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

On the Shores of Lake Erie

Mike and I returned from our anniversary weekend away last night:  A day and night in Erie, PA and a day and night at his parents' home.  Perfect little getaway for us right now.  A month has passed since Mike's dad died, and the sounds of the seagulls and the tides were balms for the soul Friday. 
Ice-cold water--some snow was still mounded under the shade of trees--but restorative for us, nonetheless.
I didn't notice until I uploaded the photo below from my camera that the word "Hope" is clearly written in the sand here. 
Mike said he had noticed at the time that there was something drawn in the sand, but he hadn't paid any real attention to it.  Hope, I tell you!  That's at least as sweet as all my found hearts
The last time I'd visited Lake Erie, I was about thirteen years old.  The beach and woods bordering it are just as I remember. 
This time, though, instead of making the trip with my dad's older sisters, I was with my husband--
--and instead of spending a humid summer day giggling as my aunts teased me about having crushes on lifeguards, I was using my husband as a windbreak as I huddled for warmth against him on a log.  It was really too chilly for bare legs and bare feet, but that's what beaches are for, and the comfort of sand and waves against my skin was worth every second of mind-numbing FREEZING COLD.  :)
Ducks--Mike's favorite--and seagulls paddled before us, and to hear the gulls later outside our hotel room too was just bliss to me.  ♥  Although we were only staying for a night, we allowed ourselves the one-bedroom hotel suite that offered balconies and a rare-to-us bit of luxury.  I figured we deserved to treat ourselves a bit, and so we did.  
Saturday evening, we were greeted at my in-laws' home by their gorgeous-eyed cat--
--and equally striking spring flowers. 
A rock wall is a "must" for my dream home and Mike has known this for ages, but it didn't occur to him for the longest time to mention that oops, oh, that's right, his parents have one out in the corner of their backyard.  Methinks this is the same lack of attention to detail that made him oops, see that someone had written something in the sand in front of us but not care enough to read it.  Gah.  :)  My mother-in-law's flowers looked heavenly in front of the rocks, making it hard to decide if it was the shore or the cat or the wall that counted as Today's Charming Thing. 
The rock wall may have won. 
More beauty on my in-laws' back porch--
--and inside their home, an adorable picture of Mr. Mike from a less recent beach trip.  :)  My all-time favorite photo of him, I think. 
And yes, after Anniversary Cupcake Fail, Mike did, indeed, get his Krispy Kreme doughnuts over the weekend.  The bee-topped one was mine. 
A lovely getaway, and a couple more days off to get caught up here at home.  I'm redoing our bathroom and requesting permission from the landlord to paint our bedroom.  ("Dare to dream.")  And in the next few weeks, we will be visiting both Mike's family and mine, and I will get more interstate driving experience, so as sad as this past month has been, there is more to look forward to on the horizon.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Daffodil Cupcakes and Random Acts of Kindness

In the wee hours of the morning, I baked and decorated two fondant Daffodil-topped cupcakes--Daffodils were my bridal bouquet flower--so Mike and I could share from afar a belated anniversary dessert while I'm at work tonight.  Ooh ahh, I was quite pleased with these little cakes, and pride goeth before the fall, for they tipped over and into each other right before I took this picture.  Then after prying them away from each other and fixing the frosting and flowers as best I could--notice the careful placement of our wedding cake topper--I decided to try a bite of mine, since it was already looking the worse for wear, and Disappointment Number Two was that the new-to-me white cake recipe I used for these had produced cupcakes that tasted like Play-Doh--and had the same consistency.  Anniversary dessert FAIL!  We are going out this weekend, though, and there is a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop along the way, so maybe I will treat Mike to bakery-made anniversary doughnuts instead. 
A sweeter-than-smooshed-Play-Doh-cupcakes anniversary surprise came a couple years back while Mike and I were out for breakfast.  As we ate, the woman in another couple in the restaurant called over to us, "Will your meal cost at least [such-and-such amount]?"  I was wondering why someone would ask a stranger such a thing when she continued, "If  it will, we have a half-off coupon you can use."  And she brought it over to our table, and we four talked and laughed for a moment, and that kindness became one of the highlights of our anniversary and remains one of my favorite anniversary memories. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Four Years Ago Today

Four years ago today, Mr. Mike and I got married.  This anniversary reminds me of Laura Ingalls Wilder's The First Four Years, and while we have had our challenges, let us thank God that our own first four have not been quite as difficult as Laura and Almanzo's.  My dear and dearly-missed friend Jane, author of the blog Manorisms, wrote to me in a 2007 email, "[Bob's and my] life together has been a good one, but one of my bits of wedding advice is for a couple always to remember that some years are definitely better than others."  That continues to be one of the wisest and most helpful things I've heard regarding marriage.  It hasn't all been carefree sunny days and sweet strappy shoes and colorful sugar cookies, but the older I get, the more I appreciate all of life's carefree and sweet and colorful, so maybe it more than balances out. 
 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Sweet Easter (and Lovely Family and Salad and Bark Candy)

This Easter weekend was sweet, just the bit of fun and family-time we've been needing here. Our  dinner at my in-laws' home was Saturday evening.  I had worked Friday night so was going on no sleep by the time Mike and I arrived at his parents' house Saturday afternoon, but his mom had a bed ready for me--(Is there anything more inviting to a weary traveler than a cozy bed with a soft old comforter prettily folded across the foot of it?!  Saturday afternoon, at least, I thought not.  "Close the window blinds if you want to," my mother-in-law said as I headed upstairs, and ohhh, bliss!  It felt like The Best Nap Ever)--and even those two hours of sleep in it were enough to revive me for the day ahead.  By the time I got up, my brother-in-law and his girlfriend had already arrived, and soon, we were all visiting and cooking. 
I had volunteered to make macaroni and cheese and a couple desserts, Mike arrived with snack mix and pink beet-pickled eggs, my brother-in-law's girlfriend made green bean casserole (love!  ) and brought a giant chocolate fruit/nut egg and graham crackers to go with a dessert dip, and my mother-in-law baked the ham, a beef roast, potatoes and gravy, rolls, and this amazing tossed salad (minus the curry powder that's called for in the recipe).  Oh my goodness, I finished my first serving of salad and refilled my bowl twice more, and I would have happily eaten even more of it.  The recipe sounds so simple, and the dressing sounds like it would be too sweet or just not flavorful enough--just mayonnaise with sugar?!--but all the salad ingredients go so well with that simple dressing, this has become one of my new favorite foods.    I ate another bowl of it for lunch yesterday afternoon after Mike and I helped sort and clean his parents' basement.  Love, love, love. 

Since I'd known I'd be going on almost no sleep Saturday, I just made a couple quick and easy desserts:  Chocolate-covered jumbo bunny-shaped marshmallows topped with mini chocolate chips, Easter sugar pearls, and chopped nuts, and Easter bark-type candies/layered bars.  The jumbo bunny marshmallow had no discernible shape by the time the melted chocolate and toppings covered them, so I'll probably just neatly pipe chocolate onto them next time, then add the toppings, but everyone seemed to love the Easter bark, and for something that only took about five minutes to make, that was especially sweet.  There are countless photos of Easter bark online, and they're all gorgeous.  The layers of pastels and the textures of all the different ingredients people use:  Just gorgeous.  For these, I mixed a bag's worth of melted white chocolate chips with about three cups of mini Easter bunny marshmallows, some broken-up pretzel sticks, more of the Easter pearl candies, some chopped-up pastel chocolate-covered egg candies, a splash of vanilla, and a sprinkle of salt, spooned it all into a 13" x 9" pan, added a bunch of mini marshmallow bunnies to the top, chilled it in the freezer for about twenty minutes, then cut/broke it into pieces right before we got on the road Saturday morning.  The pretzels and salt cut the sweetness just enough, the milk chocolate candy eggs cut some of the strength of the white chocolate chips, and it was just textured enough to be interesting and was certainly pretty enough to satisfy me.  It would likely look neater spooned into pretty cupcake papers, and I have seen photos of the bark cut out with cookie cutters, as well, but the rougher cuts suited me, and doing it this way was so fast and easy Saturday morning.  Mike's mom made Rice Krispie treats with Easter egg and grass sprinkles on top too, so there was no shortage of charming desserts. And charming desserts always tickle me, so seeing everyone make up little paper plates of pastel bars and candies and marshmallows and crackers and dip made me happy.  
Sometimes a holiday is just what you need, with all its inherent family silliness and childlike fun, and indeed, this weekend with all its pastel prettiness did our hearts good.  There was a shared crying jag over my father-in-law's absence at the table while we said grace Saturday, but as I pointed out, he would have loved it that we had all gotten together instead of skipping or ignoring the holiday this year.  Life goes on, and we will continue to show up for it, indulging in naps and tears when needed and sharing Rice Krispie treats and chocolate-covered eggs along the way, as well. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

For My Father-in-Law

Mike's dad died last week, most unexpectedly, and all the days since have, of course, felt surreal.  Today is the first day of a spring that was going to be our first that found me finally driving the three hours to Mike's mom and dad's house with my newly-attained license.  Instead, we begin spring suddenly without one of our parents, and the father-in-law I always called "my good buddy" will not be anxiously awaiting our arrival on his front porch.  I had so been looking forward to hearing his impressed and relieved "So you got here in one piece!" as I pulled up and his oft-repeated "BE! CAREFUL!" as I drove away.  And knowing that Mike will not be on the phone with him rehashing the Yankees games this season or watching the games on TV with him during his visits home sends an almost-nauseating wave of sorrow over me.  Poor Mike had surely expected shortstop Derek Jeter's recent retirement to be the saddest aspect of watching Yankees baseball this year.  Oh, Life.
Every time Mike would get off the phone with his dad, he would turn to me and tease in mock-disbelieving tones, "Well!   Isn't a certain someone just so fond of YOU!  Apparently, you can do no wrong!" or "You sure have someone back home wrapped around your finger!  Oh, on and on about how you write such nice letters!  It's like he's your number one fan!"  It has long been a joke between us that when Mike says something that aggravates me, I cry out, "Well, now!  Let's just call your dad and see what he has to say about THIS!" or "I don't think your dad would care for the way you're speaking to me!"  He told Mike a few months after we got married that just as he had "found [his] angel" with Mike's mom, he thought Mike had found his angel in me.  An angel, I am not, but may we all be so blessed as to be so purely loved by someone.
During the four days and nights we spent in the hospital last week, we kept the room's TV on the Turner Classic Movies channel, and the films' actors and characters already seem as much a part of the landscape of all those rich but draining hours as the many doctors whose names we in the family couldn't keep straight and consequently referred to amongst ourselves as "Richie Rich, with the Blonde Hair and Clogs," "The One with the Red Tie," "The Wrestler," "Frank-the-One-Who-Talked-with-Us-in-That-Little-Room," "The Grey-Haired Nighttime Equivalent of Frank," "The Research Study Guy," "The One With the Beard and Glasses," and "The Doctor We Liked Who Had All Dad's Info in Her Back-Pocket."  I don't know if a day will ever come when I won't remember Paul Newman in The Hustler, an oddly-orange-skinned Jackie Gleason in Don't Drink the Water, James Cagney in Picture Snatcher, or, most memorably to me, Ann Sothern in a late night marathon of Maisie movies as people with whom we shared the horrible events of the past week and a half.  Today it still seems like a glimpse of any of these actors will forever take me back to room 303 with its wall of taped-up family photos I'd brought in from home, Mike's navy knit Yankees cap resting flat on top of his dad's EEG-lead-covered head, and Mike and I in chairs on opposite sides of the bed, providing a sometimes-mocking commentary on the old movies while we held his dad's hands.  The channel was only changed once last week, when Jackie Gleason was really hamming it up in all his wide-eyed, over-the-top glory and Mike declared that his dad would prefer the basketball game.  

I think Wednesday night was Maisie night, when I had sent Mike home to feed Stuffed and try to get some sleep and I volunteered to sit at his dad's side overnight.  The Maisie marathon was, strangely, my last bonding experience with my father-in-law.  The medical team told us all week that he was unaware of what he was experiencing and that he was feeling no distress, but when I realized, during one of the movies, that I'd been babbling at him non-stop for the better part of an hour, I joked that he was probably quite tired of the sound of my voice.  As Maisie got her man, visited the Congo, had knives thrown at her during a circus act, and marched down a dirt road in a peplum skirt-suit while carrying her luggage, I held my father-in-law's hand and filled him in on the absurdities of the films, fully believing that he could somehow hear me and that he was there in spirit.  "Oh, you'd love THIS!"  I chattered.  "Maisie's driving her car while carrying on a conversation with a policeman driving his own car in the lane beside hers.  No need to look at anything but each other while they drive, of course.  And you worry about ME on the interstate!"  In the wee hours when I could no longer even pretend to concentrate on Maisie's misadventures, I talked until my voice was raspy about family news, updated him on Stuffed--he'd always loved Stuffed--and reported on what everyone had found to eat in the hospital cafeteria that day.  "Everyone's taking good care of you," I heard myself saying multiple times that night and throughout the week.  "And everyone's taking care of each other too.  You don't have anything to worry about.  Everything will be okay."  And whenever I looked up, I'd see dear determined Maisie, hair curled in some sweet 1940s do, dusting herself off after her latest trials and taking on the world anew. 
"My good buddy" died as he had loved to live:  With his family gathered around supporting him and each other.  I have to believe that he knew we were all there with him and that he enjoyed our laughter as we shared funny memories of him in his final minutes.  It was too beautiful for him to have missed. 
I found a number of hearts last week, as I tend to do, and I took every one as a hug from God, as I always do.  Our first night in the hospital, I spotted a paper towel scrap-heart on the floor of the family lounge.
One morning at breakfast in the cafeteria, a heart-shaped potato "cube" tumbled out of my cup onto my tray.
I looked down as we prepared to enter my father-in-law's room as a family for the last time and saw another paper towel scrap-heart on the floor outside the intensive care unit's entrance.
 One melted spot in the snow at the cemetery after the funeral was heart-shaped.
And a stunning heart-shaped knot stood out in a tree trunk there, as well.
Almost twelve hours after the funeral Monday, after his mom had gone to bed, Mike and I sat together at his parents' kitchen table for a belated supper of Sloppy Joes and potato chips, occasionally sneaking scraps of lunch-meat ham to the stray cat his parents had recently taken in.  All day, I had felt twenty years older than I had when the week before had begun, but eating Sloppy Joes beside my husband in his childhood kitchen  was what broke me and made me feel too young for all we'd been through already, and soon we were off to bed too.  We know, though, that life will go on and that the thoughts of Turner Classic Movies and the Yankees' Opening Day won't always punch us in the chest the way they do right now.  Everyone's taking care of each other, as I kept repeating last week.  Everything will be okay.  While guiding our rental car down a steep and winding  hill on the way to his parents' house the morning of the funeral, Mike mentioned that whenever his dad would drive down the same hill, seemingly flying out of control as the car gained speed, he'd call out, "Dig in your toenails!  We're going up on two wheels!"  Ah, my father-in-law.  :)  "Dig in your toenails!" became a catchphrase of sorts between me and Mike that day, and it continues to strike me as astute, albeit homespun, advice for all the heartbreaking days ahead this spring.  Our plucky and unstoppable Maisie would concur:  We're up on two wheels here, but everything will be okay. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Daffodils and "Downton Abbey"

It is still a snow-covered world here today, but the first Daffodils have hit the stores.  I look forward to this little treat all year.  And it is a gorgeous blue-skied sunny day so far, making Daffodil Bouquet Day even sweeter.  
March 6th already.  Bring it!  This February was rough.  "And the hits just keep on coming" kept coming to mind each week.  I had five days off beginning February 28th, and I!  completely!  vegged!  out!  I finally watched "Downton Abbey"--ALL of "Downton Abbey," beginning season one Saturday morning and watching the season five finale late Wednesday night--and was as charmed by it as everyone assured me I would be.  Mr. Carson--"[the] old booby!"--has won my heart.  Love that character.  And Violet's laugh makes me laugh every time I hear it.  Mrs. Hughes' "Oh, heavens, girl!  You're building a fire, not inventing it!"  The aqua drawing room with the cream doors.  The swishing of the dear pup's tail in the opening sequence.  The music.  The DRESSES!  Violet and Isobel together.  Lovely Sybil.  Ah!  It was well worth the wait, and it was the perfect way to put a horrid February behind me. And now March is here, and here with Daffodils and sunshine.  Happy day. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Patricia/Balisha

I took this picture two weeks ago today in the hopes of finding articulate--and ideally, beautiful--words to accompany it in honor of sweet Patricia of the blog "Simply Balisha" (and another blog for years before that one).  Only a month after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Pat has entered a hospice facility and has posted her goodbye in her final blog post.  She has found words, and I still have not.  Clergyman Phillips Brooks once shared his belief that none of us can be good without the world somehow being benefited by that person's goodness, and since I can't seem to find my own words this month, I'll simply agree with his as I nod toward Pat. 
 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February

"Did you know," inquires my dad in his last letter, "that ice-chipping is much worse than snow-shoveling?  Well, it is.  75 lures later, I still have three weeks to kill before March 1st--my sanity cut-off date.  Pitchers and catchers report coming soon.  Cardinals are singing.  I'll cling to any ray of hope. "  Indeed.  I wasn't minding winter until this past week but now feel like I've gotten the gist--If I were in Boston, I'd say I've more than gotten the gist.  We got hit by our own three-feet-of-snow blizzard here in February 2010, so I empathize--and am ready to move on to spring.  This photo. . .after a mile-and-a-half walk a few days ago. 'Have been in a rotten mood all week, and it's not like me to be in one for this many days.  I blame the wind, the slippery sidewalks, everyday life nonsense in general, phantom wisdom tooth pain--they were removed thirteen years ago, but now and then, the site of one missing tooth starts aching--and lack of enough real walks.  Blehhh!  I echo Mom's postscript-drawing in Dad's letter below. 
My younger brother turns thirty-three today.  It is my father-in-law's birthday too.  And by Saturday, a small package containing chocolate-marshmallow hearts for my niece and my nephew and a copy of this sweet book will reach my niece Alyssa--of bat-and-cat-drawing fame--who turns eight this weekend.  Both my grandmothers, Mike's niece, a great-aunt, and my older brother have all had birthdays this month too, and each circled cake-and-ice-cream date on the calendar is a bright spot in this otherwise dreary month.  And thank God for that. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mom's Orange Sunset

My mom began oil painting when I was about five years old, and when I would return from school in the afternoons, she would be in the process of finishing a piece and arranging her makeshift kitchen table/studio back into its usual red or blue gingham tablecloth-covered self.  The smell of the turpentine she used to clean her paintbrushes instantly transports me to those afternoons, as do the voices of painting show hosts Bill Alexander and Bob Ross.  Their "happy little trees" were such a part of my childhood.  I can still hear the whippa-whippa-whippa as Mom's wide brush slapped back and forth against the canvases with the oils.  And how many times did I hear her comment that the only thing about oil was, it took the paintings forever to dry. . . .
Mom painted mountains and rivers and forest scenes and bodies of water.  Much later, by the time I was in high school, she would prefer painting in acrylics and would be selling her artwork--mostly landscapes and wildlife--in local shops and in both Farmington and Mystic, Connecticut, as well. 
While home a few months ago, I lamented that I hadn't saved any of her old paintings.  She had always sold them or given them as gifts, and it seemed such a loss that we had none of them--and not even pictures of any of them.  "Oh," she said looking pleased to have been asked, "I still have one canvas somewhere in the basement.  I don't know if it's in your colors, but you can have it if you want it."  She rummaged around downstairs for a few minutes before handing me this orange sunset. 
I treasure it, of course. 
Mom's paintings were beautiful, both in what they captured and in what they represent to me now:  My young mother--just-turned thirty--only thirty!  almost a decade younger than I am now--became interested in something, set out to learn how to do it, did it, and managed to do it without a proper or permanent work-space and while busy raising three young children.  My younger brother was only a newborn when she started, I was in kindergarten, and our older brother was around eight years old.  I think of my mom, getting us off to school, taking care of my then-baby brother, doing everything that needed to be done around the house, and still carving out the time to set up easel and paints in our little kitchen, only to disassemble it all each afternoon so she could be ready for us by the time we got home--and simply because it made her happy and she loved it. It mattered to her, and so, she made the time.  Beautiful.