Category Archives: family

Rise up

DSC_0015Last year, I was blessed to spend Easter in the Black Forest.  There was a dusting of new snow that morning and I attended mass alone in a beautiful church where the only word I truly understood was “Amen.”  It was perfect.    In the little town of Neustadt, thousands of miles from “home,” I had a deep sense of belonging to something larger than the daily world I have made for myself and my children.  I loved that holiday.

7lbs of bone-in prime rib

7lbs of bone-in prime rib

This year, the boys and I enjoyed a special dinner on Holy Saturday.  I jumped off the meatless Lent train a day early and we feasted on prime rib and grilled asparagus.  I opened a fine bottle of Bordeaux which, after our meal was consumed and cleaned up, I brought to the neighbors’ to share.  There were more bottles of wine uncorked and I enjoyed a relaxed spring evening.  It was lovely.

DSC_0025 This morning, I mastered the lamb cake mold my family had mailed from Germany a few weeks back.  It took three attempts to nail it.  The first try was a disaster – the pan fell over in the (newly cleaned) oven making an impressive mess as the batter flowed into the most impossible to clean crevices.  Take two involved an unfortunate premature slide of the cake from the perfectly buttered and floured mold as the poor lamb lost its head.  Literally.  Toothpicks put things back in place, but I decided to give it one final shot this morning and I found success.

These different experiences from last year to now, offer a wonderful perspective, for me, about life and living.  Home is where we feel loved.  Friends are family.  Sometimes we need to keep trying to get something right.  And, finally, we all need to rise up and live the life we have been given.  Happy Easter.

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Filed under baking, family, friends, Germany, holidays, Observations, Spring

Motherhood and The Silver Star

This is either the perfect book or the worst book to read when you’re dealing with an impossible mother-daughter situation.  You’ve been warned.

Are you familiar with Jeannette Walls?  Her first book, The Glass Castle related the story of her own childhood and was on the NYT’s bestseller list for 6 years.  It was a powerful story, but her tale complete with two dysfunctional parents and an extended family,  was certainly not one to which I really related.  I did admire, however, Jeannette’s survival instinct and her ability to propel herself forward through sheer determination and the desire for stability.  I understood that.

Her second work, Half Broke Horses, delved even deeper into her treasure chest of family history, merging reminiscences and imagination into a tale which brought her maternal grandmother’s colorful life to readers.  This book was clearly an artful blending of fiction and nonfiction, and Wall’s grandmother, Lily, an almost mythical character.  Her resourcefulness and tough as nails attitude make her an unforgettable narrator and woman.

This new book, though?  Well, it kicked my emotional ass.  Here’s how the blurb from the library catalog begins: “Two motherless sisters, Bean and Liz…” Mentally replacing “sisters” with “brother and sister,”  I immediately checked the book out.  Last weekend I tore through the novel’s 269 pages, stopping to catch my breath after this passage -

“Mom’s account of my dad had always left me hankering for more details, but she said she didn’t want to talk about him and we were both better off if we put him behind us.  Mom didn’t have a picture of him, and she wouldn’t tell me his name,  I’d always wondered what my dad had looked like.  I didn’t look like my mom.  Did I look like my dad?  Was he handsome?  Funny?  Smart?”

Oh my God.  How did Walls know exactly what that conversation sounded like?  Even more painfully, how did she know precisely what having that conversation felt like?  Jesus.

The passage though, that nearly broke (or maybe Half Broke me) was this -

“I think Mom believes it, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.  Maybe she just needed someone to blame for the way everything turned out.”

Never before have I read anything which so clearly expressed my own experience with my mother.  Never, I said.  That was my own mother perfectly summed up in two sentences.  Mercy.

I guess maybe I don’t have to write that book now after all.

Screw the silver star.  Walls gets a gold one for this book.

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Filed under Books, family, moms, Recommendations, relationships

Giving up

You may not know this, but both of my parents came from large Catholic families.  Is that redundant?  I actually have an aunt and two deceased great aunts, who became nuns, for real.  I grew up hearing about how my mother’s family went to morning mass every day, staying for a marathon mass on Sundays.  It was kind of our family’s version of “I walked to school, uphill and in the snow…”  You get it.

Believe it or not, my mother somehow managed to have her two illegitimate children baptized in the mid-60s.  I can’t imagine that was an easy task.  Growing up, my brother and I made Holy Communion, but did not, other than on Christmas Eve, attend mass with our mother.  She was done.  I remember the challenge of being still and quiet for an hour, while outside the stained glass window summer’s blue sky beckoned.  It was harder than those wooden pews.  As I grew older, I developed more of an appreciation for the ritual – the readings, the up, down, kneel, the music and faces which grew familiar over the years.  And the sooty smoke wafting from those brass orbs dangling from the altar boys’ hands?  I loved it

Eventually, though, I really started listening to gospel, to the word, and some of what I heard I didn’t like.  I was in disagreement about gays and euthanasia and punishment for mistakes made.  I pictured a more benevolent god, sort of a cross between George Burns and John Denver.  I met with a priest at the Cathedral downtown and we talked and I explained my inability to own only part of my religion.  If I couldn’t believe in the whole thing, how could I practice?  Wasn’t it wrong to turn a blind eye to the tenets I found it impossible to embrace?  He echoed what I had been previously told by my Uncle Eamon, “Take what you believe in and leave off the rest.”  I walked away, sad, but committed to no longer feeling partially invested.  I left all of it.

On days, though, like today, I miss it.  The crossed ashes on my forehead, the quiet of the altar and the echo of feet on the stone floors, the honor of sacrifice… I think I’m going to mark Lent this year by exploring churches, be they literal or figurative.  A cathedral, a ski slope, a path through the woods, can’t they all be considered churches?  I’m hoping to hit each of those places within the next 40 days.  If you see me at any of those places, be sure to say hello.  Just don’t ask me join you for Burger Night at the Capital City Gastropub.  I gave up meat.

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Filed under aging, family, Germany, girlhood, holidays, Irish, musings

Our new DelSo dog

Jeter’s welcome to the DelSo from neighbors Lewis & Clark

Months back when we lost our Cassidy, the conversation began about getting a puppy.  Quinn was adamant about wanting a Golden Retriever (damn you to hell, Airbud) and I was equally resolute that we were not getting a Golden.  We negotiated and a compromise was reached – a yellow lab.

The family we had gotten Cassidy from didn’t have any puppies on the horizon and I was hesitant to buy a family pet from an unknown breeder.  Fortunately, a librarian (thanks, Melissa!) friend had a lead on a litter in Greene County.  We made contact and, on a snowy bonus vacation day, drove 40 minutes south to meet the impressively large litter of 14 gorgeous yellow puppies.

When we arrived at Jeter’s cozy home, I was immediately comfortable.  The puppies were a tumble of playfulness under the watchful eyes of their mother and grandmother.  This was not the home of an aggressive breeder and I was pleased to learn that Jeter’s mother had borne her first and last litter simultaneously.  Many of the puppies were already spoken for, but we had no trouble falling in love with our nearly white little boy.

A few days later we went back to bring Jeter home and it has been quite an adjustment.  I remembered, of course, that having a new puppy can be very similar to having a new baby. In theory.  I had forgotten (blocked out?) the numerous nighttime walks, the puddles and piles, the teething and chewing… I also had completely failed to factor in the season – shoveling to reach grass and shivering at 3 a.m. really kicks things up a notch.

Despite each of these nuisances, I can’t say I would change anything about bringing this sweet, sweet puppy* into our lives and our hearts.  As I spotted Jeter’s attempt at making his way down the stairs, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Cassidy’s late in life struggle to negotiate the same staircase.  And I smiled.

*B52s reference anyone?

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Filed under family, Random, winter

On the edge of 17

From last year's trip to Europe.

From last year’s trip to Europe.

It’s been almost 17 years since I became a parent. Impossible. When my water broke 5+ weeks before my due date, I remember feeling more excited than nervous, confident that my baby would be healthy and hearty. The unusually warm temperature (a record, it turned out) seemed a positive beacon and I went to the hospital with an easy heart and only a light sweater for warmth on a late February day.

My son’s early arrival was my first lesson in parenting and it was a bit of a challenge for me. After conceiving in my first month’s attempt and enjoying a very easy pregnancy, I was shocked to be completely lacking in control when it came to when (now!) and how (c-section) he would make his entrance. My world shifted and I scrambled to hold on.

I don’t think it is possible to predict how, or how much, having a child will change a person. Finding the balance between placing child(ren) in the center of our universe, while remembering the importance of retaining our own identities and independence demands grace and poise, not necessarily my strengths. It’s a strange thing sometimes. While I love being recognized as so-and-so’s mother, I often find myself hesitating when I sign my name on a note I’ve written to my children. Identifying myself as “Mom” still feels remarkably new, even after 17 years in the role.

Prior to becoming a parent, I had imagined all of the things I would teach my child – how to walk, speak, read, swim, travel… What I hadn’t really considered were all the things I would learn about myself from my children. I now know I can be incredibly patient, fiercely protective and relentlessly organized. On the less positive side, I’m critical, inclined to blunt sarcasm and often guilty of doing too many of the household tasks myself without demanding some effort from the boys. It’s probably a control thing.

Ultimately, though, what I find most fascinating about being a mom, is witnessing my children learn who they are as individuals. It is absolutely amazing to see the unique creatures that have been created by using the same genetic contributions. Seeing my oldest son evolve from a premature, critically ill infant into a strong and healthy young man has been remarkable.  As he marks his 17th birthday, I recognize that we both began a new life that February afternoon in 1997.

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Filed under aging, birthdays, Boys, family, musings

The ten best things about a new puppy

  1. All the Lego pieces, now defined as “choking hazards” finally get picked up from the floor.
  2. I get to hear my big boys’ “talking to a baby” voices.
  3. A puppy helps a house be a home.
  4. Naming a pet is a wonderful collaborative family decision.
  5. All 5 of us (1 mom, 3 boys, 1 male puppy) have been outside.  Together.  In February.
  6. Puppy breath, duh!
  7. House training is evolving into a family project.
  8. The boys find him even more mesmerizing than their PS 4.
  9. Having a baby in the house brings out the nurturing mommy in all of us.
  10. A new puppy reminds us that our hearts can always expand to make room for another.

    The newest Lilly

    The newest Lilly

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Filed under Boys, family

The Beatles, my boys and a birthday

If I think back on music from my childhood, The Beatles  immediately come to mind.  They were definitely the soundtrack of many car rides in my memory.

Freshman year of high school, I remember the painful decision of which album to pick – the Red One or the Blue One.  I don’t remember which I ultimately chose.  I know I loved it.

When my oldest son was born, 5+ weeks early, I didn’t have a pediatrician, nor did I know a single lullaby or nursery song.  Or so I thought. Doing the new baby rock and walk, I found myself humming Beatles’ songs, sometimes even murmuring the lyrics.

My first digital camera had a memory stick that held about 8 images or a seconds long video.  There was a mini movie of the oldest 2 Lilly boys singing their hearts out to Hey, Jude, including all the Judy, Judys and a perfectly timed and heartfelt “Ow.”  I have no idea where that memory stick is and it doesn’t matter. I’ll never forget that moment.

My youngest child turned nine today on the very same day that marks 50 years since The Beatles invaded America.  Perfect synchronicity.  Quinn’s love for The Beatles is pure and relentless, just like him.  He hasn’t yet tired of discussing the tragedy of George’s cancer or John’s assassination.  He knows the words to countless songs and when he doesn’t, he enthusiastically makes up his own.

What remains inside of us is a wonder only second to what, in fact, comes out.
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Filed under aging, birthdays, Boys, family, favorites, Music