Seasonal Thoughts and Thanksgivings

The seasons collide in the fall.
Halloween gives way to Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving bumps up against Christmas.
I’m not done with you yet.
I need to hang on the last vestiges of 
fall and the Thanksgiving season
 before I am hurled into the rush and bustle 
of December and Christmas.
My son called early in October and asked us to come out and spend Thanksgiving with them in Utah. I took him up on the offer.  They have a new home we had not yet seen, so we were excited to spend the inaugural Thanksgiving with them making new memories in their new home.  
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Jim and I flew out to Salt Lake City, Utah, and my son Ryan picked us up at the airport.  We ran around town with him while he did Thanksgiving preparation errands, and he gave us a grand tour of his new neighborhood.  I so seldom get to spend alone time with my son, that I couldn’t help but comment how wonderful it was just to be driving around town with him while we chatted.  He always makes the best of times even better.

Fall is the perfect season to capture the beauty of my son and daughter-in-law’s new home.  A branch adorned with golden leaves formed a perfect frame for this classic craftsman style home. 

I love the neighborhood where my son and his wife now live.  On a small porch at the corner house down the street from them, two college age guys dressed in wool coats and wool caps were sitting in lawn chairs listening to classical music and smoking cigars as they played chess.  I said to my son, “I love where you live.  It seems so civilized.”

Jim and Ryan led the way as we walked past houses still adorned with fall decor and headed to our home away from home to spend a quiet evening together.  

Our airbnb, which was just a block and a half from my son’s home, was so nice.  We really enjoyed the experience of staying in this home and in this neighborhood.  I kept telling my husband I was ready to move.  I loved the area around Sugarhouse in Salt Lake City.  

This was just one of the cool houses between our house (home away from home) and son Ryan’s.  

The next morning Jim and I walked back to Ryan and Sheridan's house and the four of us and Sheridan’s two boys headed out for the mile and a half walk to get breakfast at the best bakery ever.  I had their steel cut oats with fruit.  Seldom does one rave about steel cut oats, but I raved about theirs.  Oh, and I had part of an orange cinnamon roll too.  I wasn’t going to pass that up.  I fear we would visit this place on  daily walks if we lived nearby.

There are shops all around the bakery.  Across the street is a wonderful bookstore called The King’s English.  We visited it on the day after Thanksgiving.  All of this makes the neighborhood a desired location for living a life where shopping, and restaurants, and grocery stores are just a short walk or bike ride away.
The door to our apartment...

leaves on the ground, they all became subjects for me to photograph.  On this beautiful fall day, I so loved the experience of walking around taking in the sights found in a neighborhood filled with architectural delights.  It was just what my soul needed.  
At home, fall had left us during a blistery and wet storm weeks before Thanksgiving.  I had not been able to revel in the glory of fall and give her a proper farewell at home, so these last days of November in Utah were a special blessing to me.

Thanksgiving Eve, Jim and I walked over to my son’s house to participate in food preparation (ok, I watched while they worked) and to await the arrival of Amy and Jewett whom were driving from Colorado, and the arrival of grandson Bridger whom was coming down from Logan, Utah, where he attends Utah State.  

The beauty of the day continued.  I wish I could have captured the full effect of the moon at dusk, but this photo does give you an idea of how beautiful the evening was as we headed into my favorite holiday of the year: Thanksgiving.
We were worried about the travelers as a huge wreck had closed down the highway, but daughter and her love arrived safe and sound at a much later time than anticipated.  Thank heavens for cell phones and Google maps.  Bridger also arrived safe and sound from his drive down from Logan.  I was struck by how thrilled we were when Bridger arrived.  Does everyone always shout with joy when he enters a room?  I think so.  He is such a special kid.
The bounty for the planned feast was plentiful. I was struck by the beauty of the preparation of the meal itself.  Part of Thanksgiving is the anticipation of what is about to transpire as family comes together.  There is so much work in preparing the feast for a family the size of ours.  I so appreciate all that Ryan and Sheridan did to make the occasion perfect.  Thank you, Ryan and Sheridan!

While my family is large, the gathering itself was a bit smaller this year.  Ryan’s two older children, Regan and Parker, are living and working in Montana where they will be attending college, so they did not come home for Thanksgiving.  Amy and Jewett came from Colorado, but Amy’s two children stayed home with their father and had Thanksgiving with their other grandmother, and Samantha and Jonathan and their two children had been in Paris, France, the week before Thanksgiving and they were flying home to Colorado on Thanksgiving Day.  As with most large families, we are scattered all over.  That is why being together whenever possible is so special.
Thanksgiving morning, the house had been transformed in order to accommodate the expected guests.  (Don’t you love Ryan and Sheridan’s home???)

The guests arrived, photos were taken,and soon we were ready to eat the scrumptious meal provided by our hosts.  Really, they out did themselves.  Everything was perfect!
Photos were taken,

Daughter Keicha with her daughter Gillian

Amy & Jewett

My girls on either side of me
Keicha, Sally, Amy

the turkey was taken from the oven and carved,

the lentil loaf prepared for and by Sheridan for the vegetarians in the group was also taken from the oven,

the food was placed on the beautiful tables, 

Holidays bring with them memories both happy and sad.  Often, we are reminded of those no longer with us.  Sheridan was my daughter Julie's dear friend, and it was at Julie's memorial service where my son Ryan met our lovely Sheridan.  Blessings come from loss.  I'm so grateful for the family that was created because of a lasting and long friendship between Julie and Sheridan.  Julie's ashes are on the mantle and the empty chair reminds us of the one we miss and wish were with us to share in this joyous day.  

The empty chair reminds me that Julie would not be in it even if she were with us.  She had way too much energy for that.  She would be cooking and cleaning and arranging, and laughing, and joking, and loving on her nieces and nephews.  I miss her arm on my shoulder as she would have stood beside me in a photo of me and my daughters, but her spirit is with us.  I rejoice that we as a family remain strong and together and so appreciative of fall days at the end of November when we gather together to give thanks for all of our many blessings.  
There was more!  
In the evening we followed the tradition started long ago by Sheridan's wonderful dad by playing a spirited and competitive game of bingo.  The prizes were both great and not so great.  That is part of the fun.  Bingo and Thanksgiving pie now go together in my mind. 

 I love this tradition of more guests arriving in the evening with pies and gifts.  Sheridan's sister and her family and her mom and dad and another couple whom are good friends came to the house to play bingo after their own Thanksgiving dinners.  There was barely room to move around.  Jim was schooled on how to be the Bingo game caller, and we ended the day by playing Bingo which led to much fun and a lot of laughter.  

The memories of Thanksgiving 2018 are stored away in that place were all that is wonderful about this holiday live.  I am so very blessed with such a dear and wonderful family.  My children are so supportive of me and of each other.  I do not take that gift of family unity lightly.  Our bonds are strong and our devotion to each other is firm.  That is one hope I have always had for myself and and my children:  that we would celebrate and embrace the uniqueness that each of us bring to our family bond and they would seek to always build and affirm that bond and devotion to each other.  I'm so very grateful that again I witnessed and partook in the fellowship of a family devoted to each other.    My heart is full.
Perhaps, Thanksgiving comes at the perfect time of year because just as fall leaves us, we are given the chance to embrace her beauty one last time as we gather to spend a day giving thanks while eating delicious food with those we love best.  

Thanksgiving 2018, I needed you to be just as you were.  Now, I can let November days give way to the hustle and bustle that comes in December.  

Holiday Gatherings ~ A Time for Creating and Passing on Family Traditions

Earlier today when I had a task that seemed a mile long, I spent ten minutes that I felt I did not have to spare untangling a necklace chain from which the first letter of each of my children’s name dangle.  I could have tossed the necklace back in jewelry box and decided not to wear it as I ran errands, but I just had to untangle that mess.

“Being good at untangling chains” is not on my resume, but despite the time it takes, I’m usually up for the challenge of untangling such messes.  One pesky knot around the letter “R”  refused to untangle each time I would think I had it freed to join the rest of the letters. This is a metaphor for life,  I thought as I determinedly sought to free the chain from knots.  

So many times in the past, there have been assorted types of knots in the chain that links my family to each other.  These knots prevent us in one way or another from  joining each other in the creating events that strengthen in a positive way the ties that bind us as a family. Relationship problems, time, work obligations, schooling, money, and distance create the knots that keep us apart, yet despite these pesky problems, perhaps no other time of year stirs up longing for family like the holidays do. 

Family ~ Creators and Custodians of Memory of Rituals

I recently read an article which stated that family creates and becomes the custodian of rituals that define the family narrative.*  These narratives are especially developed and passed on during the holidays.  

The rituals of holiday were created for me as a child.  Now, those from the generation before me are gone, but those times when we gathered around the holiday table created connections that remain.  The traditions, the rituals, the connections become an important part of the legacy of family which I hope my children and grandchildren will embrace and continue long after I am gone. 

Cousins gathered in giddy anticipation of family celebrations create powerful memories that last a lifetime.  Cousins share a family history that spans the generations from childhood to old age.  Cousins remain connected long after the aunts and uncles are gone.  

It is worth every minute of untangling knots in the family chain that links us all together to create moments worth remembering when one thinks of the those nearest and dearest to the heart.  

This year, I know it was not without great sacrifice of time, money, and distance that my family and I came together to celebrate Thanksgiving.  That makes the celebration all the more precious.

Family ~  Memory of Rituals 

Filed away in memory bank are many wonderful memories of Thanksgivings from long ago.  Thanksgivings when I was a child were always spent at the home of my grandparents.

Sorting through those memories, certain images stand out in my mind:
The dining room table, large, solid, and the dominating feature 
of the room where my grandparents spent most of their time,
 was set for dinner long before the guests arrived.

The silver had been polished days before.
The china had been removed from the china buffet to be placed
 on white linen table cloths.
Each place setting was perfectly placed according to rule of etiquette.
We learned the rules of etiquette at home and at my grandmother’s table.
“Where is the salad plate?” my father would ask if his place setting was not properly set for even the simplest of meals.
Good manners were very much a part of my family narrative.

I have vivid memories of Grandma and the aunts bustling around the kitchen, 
best dresses covered with aprons, 
shooing all the kids out of the kitchen 
as they fill china dishes with Thanksgiving fare.
“Get out of the kitchen,” 
we were told as the cousins and I ran excitedly around the circle that connected
 the dining room, the kitchen, the bedroom where my grandparents slept, and the hallway to the bathroom and stair that led upstairs.

“Stop chasing each other.   Someone will get hurt.”
I did get hurt.
I was barely three, or maybe younger, 
when playing a game of chase around that circle I fell, 
 hit the foot of that gigantic and very solid oak dining room table.
 I knocked out one of my front teeth.
Was that on Thanksgiving, or Christmas?
Either way, the story became a part of my personal narrative of why I had a missing front tooth from the earliest days of childhood.

I love that my homes where grandchildren have come also have that circle that connects the kitchen with the rest of the house.
It reminds me of the circle that we cousins loved to run around at my grandmother’s home even as she reprimanded us for doing so.

Grandma was a wonderful cook.
Her Thanksgiving dinners were the best.
So, was Christmas dinner.
She made amazing pies, 
but her homemade candy was what we really looked forward to eating.

The trappings of Thanksgiving long ago created a rich tapestry of visual images that formed a template in my mind of how Thanksgiving should always look.

The table laden with food, the china, the silver, did not fully represent the perfect template for Thanksgiving.

All of those trappings would be absolutely meaningless if family were not there.

Family coming together to celebrate created the perfect blueprint for a what I remember best about Thanksgiving.

 Thanksgiving memories are priceless because the memories focus on family.

Time stands still in those black and white achieved photos from long ago.
Time with
aunts and uncles,
and cousins
made Thanksgiving my favorite holiday of all.

My father, mother, and Aunt Katherine on Thanksgiving sometime in the 50's.
Look at all those homemade pies!

Cousins in the 1960's
I am second from the left in the back row.
Next to me is my cousin Steven. He was killed in Viet Nam when he was only nineteen.

Continuing family rituals create a sense of
“Life Is How It Should Be.”

This year’s Thanksgiving plans were not made early.  In fact, as usual, we were still up in the air about plans for Thanksgiving early in November.  Daughter Amy announced she was going to Utah with her children to spend time with her brother Ryan and his family.  I know that Thanksgiving is the very busiest time of the year for Ryan and Sheridan.  Owners of a small business, Hip and Humble (click on the link) in Salt Lake City, Bountiful, and Murray, Utah, Sheridan is especially busy and involved in Small Business Saturday activities both with her own boutiques and with other small businesses in Salt Lake City, Utah. I called and invited myself to Thanksgiving anyway. 

I had not spent Thanksgiving in Utah with my family since 1981.  We've been together at my mom's or my house, but we have not been together in Utah for Thanksgiving for a very long time.

Jim did not want to make the trip with me.  His family narrative of holiday gatherings is different from mine.  He did not grow up with extended family gatherings.  He would just as soon go out to eat on Thanksgiving.  He doesn’t like to travel to Utah in the winter.  He had to work.  He bought me plane ticket, rented me a car to use for a week in Utah, and sent me on my way for a week with my children and grandchildren. 

This year, it seemed more important than ever that we all gather together.  The grandchildren are getting older.  One is already twenty.  Three are eighteen.  One is seventeen.  Two are fourteen.  Soon, they will be going off to make their own way in life, and they will no doubt be scattered to parts unknown.  Before that happened, I wanted as many as possible of us to sit around a Thanksgiving table and make happy memories of family being together.  That is exactly what happened.

There is a sort of passing of the baton that takes place in families as one generation ages and the next takes over the hosting of Thanksgiving.  I'm sure I could no longer pull off fixing a Thanksgiving meal for a crowd.  Yes, despite my children thinking otherwise, there was a day when I could do this.  Despite my lack of cooking these days, I can still shop at the grocery store, so armed with the grocery list made by my son and daughter-in-law, I shopped for Thanksgiving while they were at work.  I loved shopping at the wonderful new grocery store near their home.  We had charted out which store would carry the items on my list.  Did you know that Costco sells a four count package of Martinelli's Sparkling Cider?  Score.  I bought two packages.  They were a big hit.

Keicha had specifically requested that I make a lemon meringue pie.  "It's been so long since I had your homemade lemon meringue," she wrote in a text.  "It's been so long since I made one," I replied.  The pressure was on.  I made the pie with help from Keicha.  It not only looked decent, it was also delicious.  

Passing the baton for Thanksgiving preparation and hosting to my children has proven to be a joy to watch and experience.  Son Ryan and his wife Sheridan were the perfect host and hostess.  They both love to cook and to entertain.  I've had some very good Thanksgiving meals, but I must say that this year's feast was one of the best I have ever eaten.  

Sheridan purchased two fresh turkeys which Ryan brined before they were roasted.  The sweet potatoes and dressing were made from Sheridan's father's recipe.  They were delicious.  The gravy was perfect.  The rolls wonderful.  I loved the winter slaw that came from a recipe from Bon Appetit.   Ryan said there would be no green bean casserole made with canned cream of mushroom soup, but daughter Amy insisted on that favorite dish being prepared, so mom bought the ingredients and made the casserole at Keicha's house.  Sometimes, you have to have that old comfort food from the days when mom put together casseroles that came from ingredients that come from a can.

The tables were beautifully set when we arrived at the lovely family home that belongs to Sheridan's parents.  Ryan and Sheridan are living in this home while Sheridan's parents are in Denmark for a year.  This home is the perfect home for holiday entertaining.  (Thank you B & B for letting us use your lovely home for our Thanksgiving.)

Family photos recorded the day for posterity.

Our hosts for the day were all smiles.  

The Mordiansen's (A name for this blended family that combines Ryan's and Sheridan's last names)
Parker, Regan, Max, Bridger in back, Henry in front, Sheridan, and Ryan
Parker and Regan, a great brother and sister combo, are roommates while Parker attends college and Regan is working.

My daughter Keicha and granddaughter Gillian were joined by Gillian's boyfriend, Fran for a group photo.

Daughter Amy and her children Mason and Hannah flew in from Colorado for the holiday.

It is always a great time when cousins are together.

Sheridan's family brought a new tradition to our family: bingo!  After Thanksgiving dinner, Sheridan's family always plays bingo.  Each person brings a gift to add to the prizes that will be awarded.  When the hostess owns boutiques, the prizes are awesome and much sought by those playing the game.  At times the competition to win was quite intense because winners can take gifts from other players.  Once the gift is stolen, the original winner can't get the prize back.  Ryan was the bingo caller.  Grandma Sally kept winning.  I think the grandchildren thought I was cheating since my card was nearly covered with beans before long.  I soon had many cool prizes, but alas, I ended up with only a box of chocolate covered orange sticks.  The grandkids showed no mercy in taking away my gifts. Regan totally scored by winning a fleece lined flannel and a cool hat.  The amazing part is that she got to keep them.  What a blast we had playing bingo.

At the end of the day, I declared the Thanksgiving of 2016 the very best ever! 
While I wish that son Jonathan and daughter-in-law Samantha and grandson Atticus could have joined us, the day was nearly perfect.

 Thanksgiving, a day for giving and for thanksgiving happened because each family member that could gave up time, energy, and money to come together for a time of family celebration.

Thanksgiving, a day for expressing gratitude for the love we all share for each other, reminded us all what we really like about each other.   

Thanksgiving is a time for rejoicing in gratitude for those invisible bonds that tie us together across the years.  
Those bonds have brought us all both great joy and unbearable heartbreak.

Thanksgiving, is the perfect time to make new memories that will be added to our family narrative of both love and loss. 

Mama Sal surrounded by three of her kids is a very happy lady.
Amy, Mom, Keicha, Ryan
Whenever I am with my children, life truly is how it should be.

Thanksgiving 2016, is now in the books.  
It will live on fondly in my heart for a very long time.

*Tie That Binds...Bonds That Empower by Robert D. Caldwell

Home for the Holidays

Reflections on the Holiday Season

Decorating the Christmas tree brings back so many memories of years gone by.
My festive Spanish bell purchased in Mexico so many years ago triggers memories of times with dear people whom were so much a part of my life in the 80's.
Feliz Navidad,
I remember Christmas season trips to New Mexico.
I think of all the wonderful Spanish speaking students whom I taught over the years.
I think of the rich cultural traditions that others have during this time of year.

Some years a few new decorations are added to tree.
This year, dried wheat bunches from the Thanksgiving flower arrangement were gathered together and tied with Christmas ribbon to create a new decoration.
It will be a reminder of the wonderful Thanksgiving we shared with my son and his wife and son
and with 
my daughter and her son and daughter earlier this year.

My tree always is dotted with bells, lots of bells.
Somehow, many years ago, I started collecting so many bells that I decided that my Christmas tree would have a bell theme.
And so, to this day, bells hang on my tree.
The bells of Christmas.
Each bell has a story behind it.  
Each bell carries a special memory.

I love the bells of Christmas.
The angels.
The lambs.
The red berries.
The pine cones.
The red and silver balls.
The lights.
I love the beauty of Christmas.

Christmas decorations remain on display at my house until New Year's Day.
It seems we are so busy before Christmas that I rarely have time to sit and reflect about the true meaning of Christmas until it is all over.

Julie's tree,
the tree that holds only her special ornaments,
gives me great comfort,
but it also sometimes sends fresh shock waves through my mind
when I see her things in my house as a reminder that she is not here to put them up in her own place.

I'm never quite prepared for
 the scent of Julie
 that overpowers my emotions when I open the hat box that contains her Christmas ornaments. 
Yes, the tissue paper that she placed around each ornament still smells like her. 
It got to me again this year. 
I miss you, Jules.
 I love you. 


The holidays really began for me when my high school girlfriends all gathered for our holiday party on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
(That's me, surrounded by my girlfriends, 
smiling broadly,  dressed in orange, and sitting midway on the stairs.)

Oh how I love these girls!
As a group, and individually, my life is much richer 
because I met these awesome ladies over fifty years ago.
We giggle like school girls while we open our gag gift exchange.
You don't even want to know what we give each other!
We laugh so hard we can barely breathe throughout the day when we have our get togethers.
This year, Dove could not be with us, so she sent a bottle of real maple syrup from Vermont, where she lives, for each one of us.

We cry and give thanks as
we share our list of gratitudes for the year with each other.
Each of us feels loved and blessed because
we belong to something that is rare and precious:
a sisterhood of
of girlfriends
 with deep roots that began in the golden days of youth
 and has lasted until our hair has turned to silver.
We are there for each other no matter what.
As we get older, the "no matter whats" become harder to bear,
but we don't bear our trials alone.
Our friend with Alzheimer's called during our lunch.
Her husband placed the call so we could talk to her.
Three of the girls drove to Kansas this summer to bring her love and gifts from the group and to take her out for the day.
That's what I'm talking about.
These girls are true, forever friends.


Soon, the next holiday was upon us.
Thanksgiving was so special this year.
Ryan and Sheridan brought oldest grandson with them as they flew in for a short visit for 

We have plenty of chairs, but these kids like togetherness.

Firstborn grandson Parker is in his first year of college.
What a treat it was to have him with us during his short break!

Daughter Amy and her children were here with us too.
The siblings took over the kitchen for mom.
That is a good thing since I can't seem to put it all together like I used to do.
After a run through the neighborhood, they whipped up dinner.
(We also had a bit a lot of help from Whole Foods.)

I was one blessed and happy mom on Thanksgiving Day.
Nothing makes me happier than being surrounded by my children and grandchildren.

The trip to my house was a quick one for the newlyweds.
I'm grateful they were able to come at all.
The day after Thanksgiving was Black Friday.
The next day was Small Business Saturday.
Sheridan, as a small business owner, took time to be with us, her family,
 before she was off for the Christmas rush at Hip and Humble in Salt Lake City.

The day after Thanksgiving, Jim was also off to work at the Apple Store.
With me also working, this was a crazy, busy Christmas season for us.

Somehow, we managed to decorate the house,
shop for presents,
write and mail a Christmas letter,
and attend other holiday get togethers with friends and family.

My new best friends became the folks that own the nearby
PostalAnnex in the University Center in Colorado Springs.
I literally dropped gifts on the counter and asked, "Can you wrap and mail these for me?"
They did just that!
I didn't have to go to the post office or FedEx or UPS one time during the Christmas season.
Check them out for all your mailing needs.

A special event each year is hosted by my cousin and her husband:  The Cousin Christmas Party.
Thanks, Diana and Steve for again being such gracious hosts.
We shared great food and deep belly laughs throughout the evening.

On Christmas Eve, we celebrated with Jim's daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren at daughter Thia's new home.
What a fun time we all had.

Christmas Day was a very quiet day for the two of us.
Jim said, "Don't get me anything for Christmas.  I don't need a thing."
I thought of a few things he needed.
he needed new gloves that would keep his hands warm while he walks the dog
and navigates around his iPhone.
He needed technology friendly gloves.
"You can text while wearing these gloves," I said.
"No kidding?" he replied.
Then he happily tried them out and was quite excited about the new gloves.

He also needed another winter hat, one that he could wear to work.
He loved his new brown wool cap.

I also surprised him with new "tennis shoes" that he likes to wear to work.

Jim finds great comfort in honoring and remembering his heritage when we light the menorah.
On Christmas morning, my dear, dear Jewish friend in California sent me greetings via a text.
She then sent me a photo of her daughter and her husband, home for the holidays, seated in front of a lighted menorah.
I sent her this photo of Jim.

Jim spoiled me to death with many wonderful gifts.
He didn't listen to me either when I told him that I needed nothing for Christmas.

Cooking a large Christmas dinner has never been high on my list of things to do on Christmas.
Instead, I've traditionally made Christmas brunch.
This year, just the two of us enjoyed a brunch of chili relleno casserole, hash browns, a spinach salad, a fruit salad, and stollen. (We forgot we had also planned to have bacon.)
As we leisurely enjoyed our morning and early afternoon, I realized that we had not spent an entire day together without any obligations or work since mid-September.

Christmas Day the air was cool and crisp, but the sky was a brilliant blue.
We decided to walk in the Garden of the Gods.
We'd not been there in months.
Boston could hardly contain himself with joyful anticipation as we approached one of his favorite walking places.
We thought it would be the perfect day to enjoy the great outdoors now that all the summer tourists have gone home.
We were wrong.
Throngs of people had the same idea we did.
I don't know when I've seen this beautiful place so crowded.

Despite the crowds,
and Boston's over-enthusiastic reaction of being in a favorite place filled with lots of great smells,
 and lots of other people,
we enjoyed a crisp Christmas afternoon walk.

Home for the holidays is an ideal I have carried in my head for a long time.
I envisioned that this meant all of our offspring would gather around the table with us to eat a Christmas meal, or open presents around the tree.

the three D's of Christmas,
 have robbed me of much happiness at Christmas over the years.

This year,
acceptance of those things over which I have no control
allowed me to
with peace and joy,
a quiet
Christmas at home.

Wrapping Up Christmas - Part 1

The holidays, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, are a bit of blur.  It seemed we were constantly on the run going to parties, and shopping.  At the same time we were battling the cold, the snow, and illness.
I got sick before Thanksgiving, and I'm still not completely over whatever it was that hit me.  Despite the fact that I had my yearly flu shot, I got some sort of virus that laid me low for weeks.  I ended up with an ear infection and sinus infection.   I tried not to let the bug that bit me slow me down much.  I also tried to not pass it on to others.  For this reason, and because we were so busy, I took a blogging break from Thanksgiving until after Christmas.  Now, I'd like to catch you all up on some really old news:  Christmas!

Mid-December, I was really on the party circuit.  We had so many fun gatherings with friends new and old, that I was glad that I took a break from blogging so that I could, despite being sick a lot of the time, enjoy the wonderful parties that we had the pleasure of attending.  Of course, one of the highlights of the season is always our high school girl friend party.  This year, we again laughed and ate and laughed and joked and shed a few tears as we shared updates about what we had been up to since we last met in September.  We may have met more than 50 years ago, but we are still girls at heart, and "girls just want to have fun."  I love these girls and am so blessed by our friendships.  Here is our 2013 Christmas picture.  Aren't they all lovely ladies?  They are all among my great treasures in life.

We held a family Christmas party at our home on the Sunday before Christmas so we could celebrate with our Colorado family.  The night before the party, my daughter Amy came down to spend the night and to help me prepare for our guests.  Since this particular night was December 21 and the Winter Solstice, we celebrated the occasion by going out for pizza.  After eating we made our way to the Broadmoor Hotel to see the Christmas lights.  I need to work on my photography skills, but at least you get some idea from the photo I took of how beautifully the grand hotel was all decked out for Christmas.  
One of the great draws for the Christmas visitors this year was this gingerbread house made by the bakers at the hotel.  It was amazing.  

And, it provided the perfect backdrop for a photo of the grandchildren.
Hannah and Mason
I was touched by the beautiful expression on my husband's face when he showed me this menorah that he found on display at the hotel.  I see both pride and sadness in this dear face as he no doubt  remembers and honors the fact that he is the son of Holocaust survivors.  

When we got home from our night out, Mason and Hannah got out one of the board games.  They played the game of Life.  I love how they like to play board games.  We always seems to have that tradition of playing some sort of card or board game when we are all together.  

The next day, we were all jumped into high gear as we got ready for our Christmas dinner for the family.  I remembered a few more things we needed from the store.  Mason, at fifteen and a half, was thrilled because this meant he could drive Grandpa Jim to the store.  Off they went with Mason driving his mom's car while Jim became co-pilot.  I must admit I got a tear in my eye when I saw my grandson drive for the first time.  Where did my cute little curly headed baby boy go?

Amy, took over in my kitchen.  I could not have done it all without her.  She set up all the tables and decided how we would serve the food.  I just realized we sure have a lot of red in this house!  Can you tell it is my favorite color?  

I wanted to bring out the china for dinner and use real silverware.  Amy and Jim had their way.  We used paper plates and plastic utensils.  In my childhood, and whenever I have entertained the family in the past, we used the china.  This year, I was overruled.  Everyone thanked Amy and Jim when it came time to clean up.  I guess I am just a traditionalist.  My father was always strict about a well set table with all the proper utensils and a salad bowl and or bread plate.  Those habits of setting the table properly for holiday dinners are just too ingrained in me.  I also remember all the fun the aunts all seemed to have as they gathered in the kitchen to wash all the dishes and pots and pans after a big family dinner.  Ok, maybe they didn't have fun, but it seemed to me they did.  At any rate, we threw our dishes and utensils away when we finished dinner, and Amy set up everything up quite nicely.  
Once her chores were done, as we waited for all the guests to arrive, Amy put her feet up for a bit while I pretended to be in charge of kitchen.  

Son-in-law Greg, married to Jim's second daughter carved the ham.  

Grandpa Jim helped greet his daughter and others as the house began to fill up with our children and grandchildren.

We had an eclectic meal, but traditional for us, of green chili made by Grandpa Jim, and tamales.  We did not know where to buy good tamales in Colorado Springs, so we got these from Costco.  They were very good.  

We also had ham, and a wonderful jello salad made by Jim's daughter, and my Spanish rice.  (This year I didn't explode the pan on the stove just before the guests arrived as I did a few years ago.)  I also made homemade rolls.  They weren't my best effort.  I'm a bit rusty, but everyone said they were still better than store bought.  

The new hit for our family dinners, is this kale and pomegranate salad.  Amy first made it for Thanksgiving.  Thia then brought it for Christmas.  We have all declared it one of our favorite salads of all time.  

We now have mostly teenagers for grandchildren.  I don't know how that happened so fast.  They gathered to fill their plates for dinner.

Thankfully, we were able to seat everyone.  We had three tables set up throughout the house.

The older kids...

The younger kids...

The adults...
Trinette, Jim's daughter looked so lovely in the sweater that matched her eyes that I had to take a close-up.  What a beauty she is, inside and out.  

After dinner, we all went downstairs to exchange gifts.  Here I am with daughter Amy and her children Mason and Hannah.  

Olivia, Avin, Rachel, Daphne, and Trista all gave me their best smiles.

It's smiles all around.  Caleb, Darby, Greg, and Daphne await the gift exchange.

Brad and Thia check out a gift.

Grandpa Jim loves Christmas.  He really does.  I think the kids all like the contents of the envelope he gave them too.  They all got something green and it fits in an envelope.

At the end of the day, Jim and I were pretty tired when everyone left.  He has a saying about when the kids and the grandkids visit.  "I love to see the headlights, but the tail lights are even better."  We say this because our energy is not like it used to be, but we also can hardly wait for the next visit.

Jim went directly to his chair and used his new Christmas gift from me:  an electric throw blanket.  This blanket is pure evil because if you dare to sit in a comfy chair and turn the blanket on during a cold evening, I guarantee you that you will not want to get up and do another thing!  He loves his new blanket.

There is more to come.  On Christmas Eve, we went north to Amy's house for a celebration.  Then, we flew out of Denver the next day and headed to Utah to see more of the children and grandchildren.  Stay tuned...

Moving On, Or Trying To Anyway

The holidays always bring a lot of stress and activity.  This year, it seems our household has really been hit with a lot of unscheduled events that have added to the holiday stress levels.

First, there was my husband's health scare.  Thankfully, my husband is progressing well from the procedure that saved his life.  He is still very tired.  He tries to walk each day, and he is doing well in changing his eating habits.  Nevertheless, we have been set back emotionally as we deal with this new health reality.

Then,  last week, my daughter closed on her house in Northern Colorado.   I was away from home for three days last week helping her move.  We got it done, but believe me, it was a huge task.  She had a girl friend and Jason help her one weekend, then it was up to just Amy, her two children, and me to get the rest done.  Since Amy had to work two of the three days, I did much of it alone with a little help from the guy we hired to haul off things we didn't have time to donate or take to the dump.

  I am so grateful that she is in a new town home not far from where she lived before.  Her new place is very homey.  She says it "just feels like home."  That it does.  She has a spectacular view of Long's Peak from her living room window.  The kids have a sledding hill right outside their back door.  They are within walking distance of the recreation center where they spend a lot of time.  Schools are also close by.   While it was sad to leave her home where she had lived for more than ten years, there were many unhappy memories there.  It is good to move on.  I think she will be very happy in her new place and the kids love their new home.  

The move was hard on me because I kept bumping into so many of Julie's things.  Julie and Amy shared clothes, and shoes so much that at times, I wasn't always sure who owned which article of clothing one or the other might be wearing.  That being said, Julie had many beautiful clothes, and her shoes were always just plain cool. 

During the move,  I did fine when I saw the dress Julie wore to her class reunion.  I didn't lose it when I saw the jacket that she had on one time when she came home from work and looked so stylish and hip.  I even handled running into the pair of heels that she wore to the night she, Amy, Hannah, Mason and I went to Denver to see the Nutcracker a few years ago.  I remembered watching her walk her confident, fast walk in those high, high heels that had straps that wrapped around her ankles.  The night was freezing cold.  But that didn't seem to faze Julie.  I remembered watching her feet as she drove us down and out of the parking the garage after the ballet was over.  I remember how I admired her style and confidence.  Yes, when I ran into those heels, I just put them in car and moved them over to Amy's.  I didn't breakdown.

Then, late one evening, I ran into a shirt she had worn to a get-together with her high school friends a few years ago.  She looked so cute in it.  It was neatly folded among some of Amy's shirts.  I pulled it out and held it to my nose hoping I could still smell Julie on it.  Hoping that smell that came from her hair product that everyone could always smell whenever they got close to her would still be clinging to the shirt.  I don't think Julie's distinct fragrance was clinging to that article of clothing, but I wanted to believe it was just faintly present.
Julie & Leana at high school girl friend gathering

Amy walked in about then and saw me crying.  "No tears tonight, Mama.  No tears.  We can't have any tears."  By then we were both crying.  We held each other for a while, and then we got back to work.  

In my heart, when the move was done, I told Julie that I had done what she asked me to do.  She asked me to make sure that Amy was safe and away from a situation that was harmful for her.  It has been a long, hard two years, but now Amy has a new beginning.  My heart is broken that Julie isn't there to share it with her.  

Tonight I cried for Julie again.  My husband just let me cry, and then he held me.  I thanked him for letting me cry and not thinking he had to fix it.  "No one can," he said.  He is right.  No one can. 

I am now moving more fully into the holiday spirit.  I recognize how difficult the holidays can be for those who grieve.  I give myself permission to hurt, to cry, to feel anger, to feel regret, to feel longing.  Grief is messy.  Grief brings up much anger at times.  It also brings up a hurt that seems will never heal.  

Julie didn't like Christmas.  She never did.  She hated the pressure.  She hated how lonely she felt during the holidays.  So, I guess it is somewhat ironic that I have put up a tree for her.  I purchased a small evergreen tree at the grocery store.  I wanted a live tree because it represents life everlasting.  The tree was called an 'elf' tree.  I thought that was somewhat appropriate since we used to call Julie our little pixie.  

None of us remember Julie ever putting up a tree, but she had a round Christmas hat box that I had given her for Christmas a few years back filled with a few ornaments she had collected over the years.  Some were from her childhood.  She really had very few ornaments, but she had carefully packed away the ones she had.  I hung what she had on the tree.  There is a mix of childhood angels and Santa ornaments combined with a few beautiful crystal ornaments that she had either purchased or received as gifts.  I lit the tree on December 11 at 7:00 p.m.  I also lit a candle for her at the same time.  Compassionate Friends, a grief support group for those who have lost children, always has a candle lighting ceremony worldwide on the second Sunday of December at 7:00 p.m. in memory of those children who have been lost to death.

Some may say that by now, I should be much more down the road of grief than I am.  Some may think that I need to just get on with life and stop all this business with grief.  Once a friend compassionately said she could not imagine what I was going through.   Rather coldly, I replied, "I hope you never have to find out."  The look of horror that she gave me said it all.  I should never have been so honest with my reply.  

I was recently greatly comforted with this quote from GriefShare: 

Society often concerns itself with keeping up appearances, maintaining the status quo, and covering up problems, as if pretense will somehow make things right! 

"We want everything to be glossed over," Rev. John Coulombe observes. "We want everything to be gilded with gold. We think it should be tidy and nice."

But life is not "tidy and nice" and pretending it is will hinder your healing process and make it even longer. 

Right now, everything is not real "tidy and nice" in my life, but I know that I am continuing to heal and to grow.  I am also grateful that we are able to move beyond the tragedies of life.  My journey in life, and in grief has not been rocky, and at times very rough.  I am able to move on because of my faith, my family, and my friends.

I recently reflected on Psalm 34:18, "The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart."

As we enter into these final days before Christmas, as my husband continues to heal from his heart procedure, as I continue to deal with my own heart issues of arrhythmia and tachycardia, and as a family, as we deal with the loss of our beloved Julie, a loss that broke our hearts, I am comforted to know that on Christmas we will celebrate the birth of the One who came to bind up our broken hearts, the One who came to bring us peace, and the One who brings both comfort and joy.   

May all of you have a very Merry Christmas.  

Thanksgiving Thoughts

We are scattered this year.  I try not to think that we are scattered across the countryside like the dry leaves that cover the ground, yet, in some ways, that is how this Thanksgiving celebration feels to me.  Parts of me are scattered all over the place this year at Thanksgiving.  
In my heart, I gather all of my dear ones into a big pile.   I think of how wonderful it would be to have all those people I love most together in one place at the same time.  I imagine how colorful, interesting, comforting, and fun that pile of people would be.  
I  see all of my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, my siblings, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my parents, even my grandparents in the glorious pile of people I would love to have surrounding me this Thanksgiving.  
Time and space makes that vision in my mind impossible.  This does not stop me from remembering each one and for being grateful that I shared other Thanksgivings with them.  I treasure the memories.  
This year, I am in Erie with my daughter Amy and her two children, Mason and Hannah.  Jason, Julie’s boyfriend, will join us later.  Jim is in Colorado Springs with his daughters and grandchildren.  Boston is at boot camp with the dog trainer we hired.  Two of my children and four of my grandchildren are Utah.  One son and his family are in the Boston area.  My 95 year old mother is with friends in Grand Junction.  We are truly scattered across the country and the state this year.  
As a family, we suffered many losses in the past year and a half.  Our lives have been changed in many ways.  We have experienced the truth in a quote from a dear friend of mine who is also the facilitator for my grief support group. We have had a year full of both “tears and laughter,” and I think we have learned this truth:  both are  “such defining experiences for we are truly human in the combination of both...”
It is good to have a day when I can stop and remember my many blessings as I move forward in life.  It is also good to remember, to shed a few tears, to laugh, to dance with my daughter, grandson, and granddaughter.  I’m enjoying watching my daughter Amy prepare her very first Thanksgiving feast.  She wants no help from me.  That is a good thing.  I love her independence and ability to take on life and all that it throws her way and keep on smiling.  I love that in all of my children.  I learn so much from them.
 I am learning how to integrate the past with the present, pain with joy, loss with abundance.   I am learning that life is truly a combination of both laughter and tears.  I am learning to accept the human condition and experience.  For all of this, I am grateful that I have learned I can give thanks.
I hope all of my blogging friends know you are great blessings in my life.  I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.  

Unfortunately, This Is Not A Costume.

Today is Halloween.  I've never been one who really enjoyed Halloween.  It was fun when the kids were little to see their excitement over getting dressed up and going trick or treating, but even then, it was not my favorite holiday.

This year, I actually had to think about putting together a costume for Halloween.   My main squeeze and I were invited to a costume party that was held last weekend.  We dreaded getting dressed up because it just isn't our thing.  I guess we are just duds in that department.  We could think of absolutely nothing to wear, so, reluctantly, we went to the Halloween Store.  This seasonal store has been a fixture near our mall for several years.  We had never even thought of going there before, but when we were desperate for inspiration, we decided to go see what the place had to offer.

The place is a Halloween fantasy shop for sure.  We could not believe all the costumes, wigs, shoes, accessories, jewelry, and assorted props that were on the shelves.  These costumes are not cheap either.  The average price was at least $40!

Little did we know how much fun we would have looking at all the various Halloween outfits.  I guess we are still kids at heart as we found ourselves joking about the types of outfits and combinations we could come up with.

In the end, I was too cheap to buy anything but a couple of wigs and a pair of glasses.  I didn't have time to sew anything because, as usual, I had waited until the last minute to come up with an idea.  I bought a Marilyn Monroe wig for me and an old bald guy wig and pair of glasses for my hubby.  I was just sure I could come home and fit into my red sexy dress that would make me look like Marilyn.  "It was big on me the last time I wore it," I said to hubby.  (I wore it last in about 1988!)

Unfortunately, my bubble was burst when I got home.  I checked the size first: a size 8.  Thinking it would fit because it really did used to be too big, and still in denial, I tried it on.  It could not be zipped up because there seemed to be at least a four inch gap that the zipper could not accommodate!  I guess I've gained a few pounds since I wore it last.  In the end, I wore my grandmother's old mink stole and wig.  Jim looks a bit like Einstein.

Today, I am not in costume.  I wish I were when I look in the mirror!  I look how I feel: frumpy, old, and tired.

In the past four months, I have lost nearly all of my left eyebrow.  My right eyebrow still has a few hairs left.  My eyebrows suddenly disappeared in June.  As I told my daughter, "I've lost my eyebrows, and I really always kind of liked the ones I had."  Once, very thick, I constantly had to wax or pluck them to keep them in shape.  Now, they are gone.  (Are they gone for good?)

My hairline has receded so much that I think I look like my father more and more everyday.  I can't even get my newly cut bangs to cover up the loss.

I'm tired.   I barely can drag myself around.

Oh and then, there are the heart palpitations and racing heart that I am again dealing with.  These are accompanied with anxiety and near panic attacks.

Does this not scream that I must again be suffering from hypothyroidism?  A year ago, I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto Disease after being on synthroid for hypothyroidism for years.  A new regime of taking my medication worked for about nine months.  I knew it was no longer working, but sometimes, it takes the doctor a bit longer to decide to change my medication because the blood work says I am the "normal range."  I happen to know where I need to keep the levels to feel right, but that doesn't seem to count for much.

The doctor's office called this morning after I dragged myself into her office last Thursday and said that she had to find out what was wrong with me.  She ordered all kinds of blood work.   Sure enough, I am "out of range" on my TSH.   I need to change my dosage of synthroid.  I also need to go back on iron.  No surprise here!  Hopefully, I will start feeling better.

In the meantime, in order to not scare the little trick or treaters at the door tonight, I will put on my make-up, starting with penciled in eyebrows, and hope they don't think I'm dressed as a frumpy, worn-out, old woman.

Happy Halloween!  Are any of you dressing up this year?  Do you have plans for any parties?

Celebrating Summer

Early in June,  a dear friend invited me to her home to celebrate the awarding of tenure to a mutual dear friend of ours.  It seemed so good to be there among some of the great people who teach in the education department at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) as we joined together to toast a friend and colleague whose hard work and dedication was rewarded with tenure.  In many ways, it was a simple coming together of people I admire greatly, but it also seemed to mark an occasion when I finally felt like I was again doing the things I had always done before my daughter's death last spring.  I even remarked to my dear friend who was hosting the party that I felt as if I were coming out of a long winter and finally walking into summer for the first time in over a year.

I'll never forget the feeling I had as I stood among these friends, serving myself a bit of food.  It was an impression of feeling like myself again.  I remember saying to myself, "This feels like summer.  This feels like the life I once knew."

Sometimes, we take for granted simple get-togethers where someone hosts a barbecue and others attend to share food, drinks, good conversation and friendship.  This year, I was struck by how I had just gone through the motions of attending social functions last year.  I had attended a few social events, but I had not really been free enough in my emotions to be there completely.  I appreciated being included.  I appreciated being remembered.  I just couldn't fully participate in a sustained conversation while I was at a social affair.  My usual sociable self was greatly muted.  My friend's tenure celebration party marked a new step for me in my journey toward healing.

Despite my feeling that I was ready to step into summer's activities, initially early this summer, I had wanted to be away from home for the 4th of July.  I just didn't want to be reminded that I was going to have to go through yet another holiday.  I didn't want to have to wait to see if we had an invitation to a party.  I didn't want to go sit at a fireworks display and remember that much of my way of viewing life had had been irrevocably altered by my daughter's death.  I just wanted to get away and go someplace that was new and different.

In the end, my husband and I did not make plans to get out of town for the 4th.  There just seemed to be too many complications on too many fronts to leave town for a few days and escape into the mountains of Colorado for solitude.  We stayed home and threw ourselves into working on the yard and getting things done at home.

Last week, I called my cousin and asked if she and her daughter who was in town from Arizona would like to celebrate the 4th with us.  There was a fireworks ban in Colorado Springs, so my cousin's grandchildren were not going to be able to see a display.  In fact, because it is so hot in Arizona, they had never seen a fireworks display except at a baseball game.  They were happy to come down and join us.

Jim and I got our game plan going and put together a meal for our guests.  We even fired up the old barbecue grill.  We realized it had been at least two years since we had turned on the grill.  We also realized we had not gone to a fireworks display for at least two years.  Jim had a hip replaced during the summer of 2009 and was recovering over the 4th.  Last year, we watch various displays in the distance from our back porch since I just wasn't up for being in a crowd watching fireworks.

Again, simple things have great meaning.  I made a big potato salad yesterday.  I cried as I cut up the potatoes because I remembered the last time I had made potato salad had been Easter of 2010.  Julie had come to my side, draped her arm on my shoulder and said, "Hi Momacita.  What do you want me to do to help?"   That weekend would be the last time I saw her alive.

Despite a few sad memories, it was good to prepare food for a gathering in my home again.  It was good to look forward to having my cousin and her daughter and grandchildren coming to join us in celebrating a holiday.  It was good to fire up the grill and cook some hamburgers and hot dogs again.

After eating way too much food, we headed out to Pueblo's Riverwalk to listen to the Pueblo Sympathy Orchestra play a mix of Broadway hits and patriotic music.  It was good to see the beautiful display of fireworks light up the sky.  It was good to be a part of celebrating summer and the simple things of life again.

My cousin and her daughter and grandchildren

My cousin and I
with her grandchildren

Beautiful sunset

This evening I sit in my favorite chair gazing out of the window of the family room onto my snow covered yard.  I am filled with peace as I admire the soft orange, purple and bluish gray hues of the sunset.  It is early, not even 5:00 p.m., but the sun is setting for the last time on 2010.  I am truly blessed by the beauty outside my window.  The rose bushes are wearing their fluffy white winter coats.  The undisturbed snow blanketed yard is a reminder that Buster is gone.  I  miss my dear golden retriever friend.

We've had many losses this year.  Christmas was much more difficult than I ever thought it would be. Many times,  I found myself sensing that something was really wrong with the day because it seemed incomplete.  I was surrounded by my children and grandchildren.  For that I am so grateful.  We had such a great time, but this mother of five kept counting heads and kept coming up short.  I don't know if I will ever get over the counting and being shocked anew that one is no longer with us.

The great hole in my heart and in my family will never be filled, yet in the waning light of this day, as the sun sets on 2010, I am grateful for much.  I have known more love than I ever thought possible.  I have experienced grace that has expanded my soul and deepened my faith.  Many loyal friends have been there for me.  My family has kept me sane as they laughed and cried along with me on this journey as we try to adjust to our great loss. I look forward to the dawn of a new day and of a new year.

Happy New Year!  May the new year bring each of you hope, joy, and many blessings.

Over The River and Through The Woods - New Version

Brother and Sister
Together in Dhaka
Tonight I am praying for my oldest daughter who is flying somewhere between Dhaka and Abu Dhabi.  When she arrives in Abu Dhabi, she will board a plane to fly to Chicago.  Hopefully, she will be back on U.S. soil sometime tomorrow around 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon.  She will then fly to Denver.  Since she lives in Utah, she will not really be home until Thursday morning. She plans on spending Wednesday night in the Denver area.

Her journey gives a whole new meaning to the song we used to sing in school, "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go."  When I first learned that song so many years ago, I never imagined that my children would be so spread out across the nation, and this year across the globe, when the holidays hit.  The new reality is that many of us have our families very far away.

Keicha has been in Dhaka visiting my youngest son and his family.  I am so grateful they have had a wonderful time together making new memories.  We have kept up on a bit of what has been going on through Facebook.  It seems it was a very sad farewell when Keicha, Jason, and Keicha's friend, Amy left Jon, Sam and Atticus today. Before the visitors left for home, they all got  dressed up and went out on the town.

Jason, Keicha, Amy, Samantha, Jonathan
Going out on the town

Thankfully, Jon and his family will be coming back to the USA for good around the middle of December.  Another long journey will be made to connect family for the Christmas holiday.

My husband and I had originally planned on going to Utah this week to spend Thanksgiving with my oldest son and his family.  When I decided to go back to work, we changed our minds and stayed home. That might have been a good decision.  A terrible storm is set to his Utah tonight.  My oldest son's wife who works for the Red Cross in Utah said they are already identifying possible shelters along I15 because a terrible blizzard is being forecast.

If this blizzard hits, my former husband, who has been in Colorado for the past few days with my daughter in the Boulder area, could be driving right into it.  Keicha will arrive in Denver from Bangladesh and could fly into the storm in Salt Lake.

I am praying that this storm does not hit as it has been predicted.  In the meantime, I think of those simple days when going home for the holidays meant that folks only went "over the river and through the woods."