Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Looking Back on Thanksgiving Weekend

Those five special days (Wednesday through Sunday) that cradle the greatest holiday of all lived up to expectation. Replete with gratitude, joy, family togetherness, great food, laughs, wine, and balanced by the bittersweet made for memories that stick.

It seemed that loved ones were coming and going very quickly; arriving to hugs and welcomes and leaving for home long before I was ready to bid goodbye.  We were 9 for the Thanksgiving meal and this year privileged to be joined by Heather's parents and brother. Plus, my 93 year old Dad who has not been in my home for a number of years was able to brave the weather and make it up the 12 steps into the house.

How could we have imagined a few years ago that we would sit around the Thanksgiving table with our son's wife and her family? Amazing how our lives change and grow to include wonderful new people. Heather and her family are a blessing to ours. We had to say goodbye to Wayne, Tina, and Tim on Friday morning but were thankful they could join us for the big meal and some extra together-time.

Although Chris and I had to work on Friday, Heather and Laura were able to hit the stores at Northgate Mall for the Black Friday sales. We all hung out together Friday night, heating a plate of Thanksgiving leftovers, watching TV and playing Catch Phrase.

By Saturday it was time for the "changing of the guard" as J.T. arrived from Houston (a whirlwind trip of less than 48 hours) and Heather and Chris headed back to Gig Harbor.

J.T. was in town largely to spend time with Dad. The highlight was getting Dad out for the church service on Sunday morning.  He was thrilled to have his son, daughter, and granddaughter sitting with him for the First Sunday of Advent. After church we took in Taco Time (was always a favorite of my Mom). I took a few pictures which tell the story. We must have been hungry, even for food that was.....well, Taco Time.

By Sunday night it was time to get Miss Laura to the airport for her flight back to snowy Spokane. By 4:30 AM Monday morning, J.T. was on his way back to Houston. The house which had been full of activity was suddenly very quiet. I'm left with wonderful memories.

I found myself missing Mom at odd moments through the weekend. I could tell Dad was missing her as well although he didn't say much. On Thursday morning as the cooking turkey filled the house with wonderful aromas, my ears were tuned  to the songs of tiny birds, dozens of them, twittering about in the crab-apple tree outside our front door.My Mom, lover of  all birds, was there. I know she was.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Seattle's Better Weather

This is how we know the weather has improved in these parts....back to the usual: rain, gray, and chill but NO freeze.





Saturday, November 27, 2010

Snow for Thanksgiving; (enough for a snowman)

The "kids" were able to make an impressive snowman in the backyard just before we sat down to the Thanksgiving feast on Thursday afternoon. The weather had just started to warm up with a forecast calling for grey clouds, rain and 40 degrees.After the snow and ice earlier this week, this was wonderful and welcome.

Snowman is looking a bit lean two days later but still holding up despite the balmy weather, as you can see....


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Day Before Thanksgiving

I love the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, almost as much as Thanksgiving Day. Today has been a bit different with worries ongoing about how Laura will get (safely) from Spokane to Seattle. She has a flight out this evening but the weather there is in the single digits and in the twenties here. Plus, it's the busiest day of the year for travelers taking to the skies as their choice for transportation. Laura forgot to put her suitcase in her car this morning when she left for work (at the airport) and now is depending on someone to bring her bag to her in time for the flight later today. I wonder how this is all going to work out. Denny says I spend way too much time worrying about stuff that doesn't "belong" to me. "But....but, but," I say.

Denny and I've been cooking up a storm today; getting many of the side dishes prepared for the feast tomorrow. About the only thing that is actually made on Thanksgiving Day is the turkey, stuffing, gravy, and mashed potatoes. Good thing we've got plenty of newly acquired oven space to heat up all the side dishes come tomorrow afternoon. The house is full of wonderful smells; onions, corn, cheese, sweet potato. Ahhh.

Our Thanksgiving has turned in to a tradition of blended family dishes (his and mine) over the years. This year with Heather's family joining us, we'll be introduced to a new dish, an old favorite in their family: yellow squash casserole. The line up looks something like this:

Turkey, old fashioned stuffing (no giblets), gravy and mashed potatoes
Holiday potatoes (made with cheese and hashbrowns); sinfully wonderful
Sweet potatoes
Squash casserole
Green bean casserole
Peas (plain and simple)
Old fashioned baked beans (Virginia's recipe)
Creamed corn casserole (made especially for my Dad; his favorite)
Turnip (may be rutabaga since they look very white and taste very mild)
Rolls (irrelevant with all the above)

Our favorite Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Mud House 2010 will bring out all the flavors. And then, the pies. Tina's bringing pumpkin and Denny made a pecan pie. Coffee anyone?

We are blessed to have this bounty to share with family tomorrow.  The table is set. We're ready.....

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dad Takes Over for Mom with "Good Night, Darlin'"

He's so sweet.

"Is that you, Kitty-Kat?", he asks when I call him on the phone.

We chat about this or that. He reviews with me his list of ritual recitations and the Exxon stock quote. I often beat him out by reporting the close for the day which I've extracted from the internet. I ask if he's doing OK and he generally admits that yes, he is.

Today I apologized for not being able to get up to visit; the "bad weather, Dad", I say.

"I understand. I'm just worried about Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward to coming to your house; the weather is so bad."

He really is excited about coming for dinner. It has been 4 years since he's been to our house for the big feast. Because we weren't  unable to get Mom up the 10 steps into our home after she broke her hip, we could never have them over for Thanksgiving Dinner or Christmas Dinner. This year, it's just Dad and the new deck in our backyard and the bank of Leyland cypress evergreens we planted two summers ago on the south side of the yard.  My but it's been a long time since he was in my home.

At the end of our conversation as we say our goodbyes, I say,  "I love you, Dad."

Then, he says what my Mom always said to me, "I love you too. Good Night, Darlin'"

Darlin'...she always called me Darlin'.

Wanna Drive on This?

Unfortunately, I will leave shortly to brave this insanity. Why? Because I'm supposed to interview a new candidate for our Nephrology section.

Update: Turns out, I was able to stay put. I've been spending my time getting ready for the big feast on Thursday; my favorite holiday of them all.

A Sheet of Ice and Blowing Snow

I never left the house yesterday owing to weather....actually I did but only to the local grocery store in the window of time when there were clear roadways. Despite my hibernation indoors with the comforts of electricity, water, and heat I got little rest for the worry about my two children, both braving the elements to get home from a day's work.

Chris had a nightmare commute; got on his bus in downtown Seattle before 4 PM, an earlier bus than usual to hopefully stay ahead of the rush. Not. He finally made it home at 12:40 AM; can you imagine 8 plus hours on a bus? No bathroom, literally stalled out on I-5 which was a parking lot, especially leaving the Seattle metro area. Seems every time we received a text from him he was still near Boeing Field, miles and miles and miles from home.At least he had his good buddy, Skiff, with him. I was curled up in bed, in and out of sleep, with an open ear for the text messages flowing in.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the state, Laura battled blizzard conditions in Spokane. The city is smaller and better prepared for assaults of cold, icy weather but still....she awoke to heavy snowfall yesterday morning with a commute to work, an admonishment to "not be late under any circumstances", and no decent clothing for this cold snap. She was planning on picking up her heavy winter jacket, gloves, and scarves when home for Thanksgiving. Awakened by a phone call yesterday morning at 6 AM, my dearest daughter described scraping her car of snow with a kitchen spatula (!) and traipsing through a ten minute walk from the parking lot to work with slippery conditions and no proper footwear. Sigh.
She made it home last evening and put my mind to rest for a brief time when her call came through near 7 PM. "I drove slow, Mom; really, really slow."  Good for you, I thought. As Dad once told me when I started to drive in snowy conditions, "You'll learn everything you need to know in 10 minutes because everything that can happen will likely happen...." Rather true. You learn quickly not to hit the brake and to drive S L O W in all that snow and ice.

I slept from near 1 AM last night until around 5:45 AM when Laura called to report that she'd made it (again) to work, through what Spokane is calling "blizzard conditions".  She said the wind was so loud it drowned out all other sounds. Blowing snow and slick roads. Poor visibility. She's dedicated to her job; not sure I'd be so determined to make it to work on time under these conditions.  Just heard from her again...."I'm selling lots of extra coverage today; no one wants to play around with this weather."  She's in the car rental business. I'm sure that folks don't want to worry about wrecks while driving their rental vehicle.

So, here I sit in my warm house. The sun is shining but it's bitter cold outside. We are so unprepared for this in the Northwest. The East coast folks are likely laughing....they've the snow plows,  sand trucks, de-icing fluid and salt that for some reason we in the NW can't seem to mobilize in a timely way. Sigh.

Who knows what will happen over the coming days?  Whatever it is will be interesting.
our backyard
Boo has the right idea on a winter-y day.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ritual Recitations

Evey visit to Dad these past weeks includes what I now call (to myself) ritual recitations. He says to me, "I'm slipping" and by this he means his memory is getting fuzzy. Funny thing is, Dad's memory has ALWAYS been fuzzy when it came to the recall of names. If he didn't know someone's name he just kept quiet and later on made up a name. Truly.

He's on a jag now to remember and recite the names of his aunts and uncles, his father's brothers and sisters. A large family of eight he apparently, by his report, lies in bed at night pondering their names and consistently gets hung up on his Aunt Beryl. Who wouldn't? What a name.

We go over the list every visit: George, Otis, Lewell (his Dad), Marshie, Beryl, Bessie, Margaret, and Reba.

We also review the names of his pastor and a lovely lady from church who likes to sit with him when he attends church. Most of the time I have to give him the names after he struggles for their names.  Truly, none of this is new. Mom could tell us that if she were here. She was the one for names. Spot on.

This and That After a Week of Going Dark

A week plus and no blog posts. I feel a bit like these fallen leaves, ground down, having seen better days aloft on the branches of  gorgeous maple trees in Discovery Park. I'm just off call after 6 days of fairly non-stop action  as the covering  Nephrologist for the inpatient hospital service. I'm struck over and over just how challenging and complicated our patients are. Lesson 1: When the kidneys aren't working, ain't nothing working (well).

Monday morning and I'm OFF for two days. Praises be.

Outside my window snow falls, dropping light and delicate flakes, dusting the rooftops and roads. This must be some kind of record. In nearly 20 years in Seattle, I don't recall snow every coming before Thanksgiving. The roads will be slick and icy; that's the norm in this town whenever we get frozen precipitation. I love to see the snow....but hate to drive through the treachery. I've a dinner meeting downtown tonight and had promised Dad a visit today but, we'll see....

My children have both weathered the roads today.

My 6 AM call was from Laura who was due on the job at her new location (the Spokane airport) and reporting a harrowing drive on the freeway in snow and slippery conditions. "I thought I was gonna die, Mom."  No snow tires, dark and slick roads. Oy. On top of that, she's stationed outside today in a small (but heated) booth, monitoring the in and out of rental cars. "I had to scrape 6 cars this morning," she lamented. "My hands are freezing; I don't have gloves 'cause all my winter stuff is at home (Seattle)."  Oy. "At least my manager brought me a hot latte."  

Meanwhile, Chris was at the Gig Harbor bus stop waiting for his ride into town. Wonder how long his commute will be today; snow throws a huge monkey wrench (the only appropriate descriptive I know) into an already long ride for him. 

So, no rest for the weary. I'm up and at 'em, thinking of my kids and the snow, and my Dad who would love a visit from me today. What I'd like to do is curl up with my book and watch a log on the fire and sip some tea.

Till later....we'll see what the day brings.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Some Wonderful Experiences Never Change

Don't you love to find an example of a wonderful dining experience that can be re-lived over and over again? No big changes over time, same friendly and efficient staff, great grub diner style, and the same fabulous view out the large windows.....this would be the Bay Cafe at Fisherman's Terminal in Seattle. We've been 'eating heavy' at this dockside restaurant featuring amazing omelets and other breakfast fare since first moving to the city some 20 years ago.

The only things that have changed in this time are the inevitable; we've gotten older (sigh) and the prices have gone up. I remember many an outing with two young kids in tow for a bust-your-gut breakfast, sitting in a booth looking out on the fishing boats docked just yards away. We still frequent the place, as empty nesters (like today) and with our grown kids. Son Chris takes his bride there regularly even though they live many miles to the south.

Today Denny and I split the California omelet as is our pattern. We rarely order anything else. This is a feast for two; how could one person eat all of this we wonder?  Good thing the staff is accustomed to bringing an extra plate to the table.  We're stuffed and will be just fine until dinner.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Waxing Fall Leaves

I've been collecting fall leaves of different shapes and colors for the last weeks and pressing them beneath a heavy book to keep them from curling up on the edges. Several days ago, I got them out, turned on the stove burner under a pot of paraffin and "waxed" them, a technique I learned from my Mom and she in turn from her mother.

Every November Mom would gather autumn leaves in Discovery Park and wax them for me. I'd use them to decorate the Thanksgiving table. Several years ago, I asked her to teach me. We took an outing to the military cemetery in the park, a site for amazingly large, yellow maple leaves. Then she taught me how to dip them. Properly.

Waxing leaves is quite easy. What's hard is resisting the temptation to get the wax too hot. Mom cautioned against this but mostly from the standpoint of risk..."a real fire hazard", she warned. What I learned is that wax that's a bit too hot burns the leaves; they lose their original color and crinkle up on the edges. Oh well, they still look pretty good and I'll use them this Thanksgiving.

 Happy (early) Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday to be sure.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wanna Know What's Dumb?

Check for 10 (stinkin') cents
Dad received a refund check recently; overpayment on a medical bill. The postage was 44 cents. The cover letter indicated that he had overpaid his account and a refund was due. Hey, that's nice, I thought.

Sigh.  Ten measly cents. What's the point? Makes me wonder if he had overpaid by one cent if he'd get a check back for that too. What is the cut-off?  I guess there isn't one even when postage is 4 plus times the amount.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Feather Showed Up

When it happened, I was surprised. I stopped what I was doing and said, out loud..."Is that you, Mom?" I wasn't sure; this was not the drama I had hoped for. Somehow I had envisioned walking out my front door into a snowstorm of white feathers. This would be my sign, my message from the beyond sent by Mom saying, "Yes, my darling, I've arrived safely and am doing fine."

This is the actual feather....
Just after noon today, a month to the day of her death, while swiping the dust mop underneath the large sectional sofa in our family room, out popped this feather amidst the dust bunnies. How weird is that? Why would a crow's feather find its way under our couch?

I wanted to deny the significance of this substantial black feather found inside my house. Placing it on the window sill, I rationalized that I'd think about this "find" later. Later.

When Denny saw the feather tonight, he asked about the circumstances and was blown away by my recitation. His confidence in the significance of this find, four weeks to the day after her death and considering that we've never found a feather in our house before, made me weep. Again.

She loved crows and ravens; their savvy ways, their persistence and keen eye. Always watching, ever vigilant. Few people find crows anything more than a nuisance. Not Mom.

This feather is jet black and large. No question that it comes from a crow.

I think I received my message. Thanks Mom.

A Month Ago...

My Mom died on October 12. Even though this is November 9, it's exactly 4 weeks ago today. In a year, I'll use the October 12th date as the one year anniversary but for each month that passes between now and then, I'll always remember the moment by the day of the week. Tuesday.

I'm doing quite well overall. For that admission of well being, I'll give myself a pat on the back. People say the loss of a parent is a big deal and especially the loss of one's mother. Although I grieved for several years before she died, losing her in phases and stages, slowly and relentlessly with her mental and physical deterioration, now I know for "certain sure" I can't pick up the phone and hear her voice, or visit and hold her hand, or wrap my arms around her and feel her warmth against me.

Where is she?
Why do I keep asking?
These are issues I obviously need to move through to find peaceful resolution to questions that (likely) have no answers.

I don't like the word Faith. Maybe it's because I seemingly have none.

I want so much to feel her presence and sometimes I can convince myself that I do.....but, if she's with me she's subtle, like a barely heard whisper, a gentle sensation vaguely perceptible. All potentially tricks of the mind.

I have not seen a single feather since she died, not a single one. That in itself is a bit odd. The skies are swarming with Canada geese, crows, gulls, and sparrows. I hear them calling and cawing.

Yesterday I sorted through her jewelry; organizing the small boxes and plastic cases that she'd  used to store  her necklaces, pins, and earrings. Everything now fits into the 1960's style train case that she used for so many years to hold not only jewelry but odd bits and pieces of her life. I found a pencil, un-sharpened, her name engraved into the wood with a piece of paper wrapped around it, secured with a rubber band. A teacher had given it to her in the 4th grade she wrote. There were also several notes tucked into various boxes with a description of the item and who had given it to her. Many were from my brother when he was a young boy. She had saved his gifts, treasured them dearly.

Sitting on the floor of my bedroom, organizing the items in that train case was emotional. For a while, the wall of tears kept me from seeing much of anything but I pushed ahead and the tears dried up. Did I feel her close by? I wish I could say yes.

Maybe I'm just not opening my heart or my ears to listen.

It's so quiet. I miss you Mom.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

24 Hours in Vancouver, B.C.

Denny and I drove up to Vancouver, B.C. yesterday and less than 24 hours later, it's time to head home to  Seattle. This was a quick trip; we could have stayed longer but that's not how we planned the mini-outing. Denny had a "Lawyer's Conference" to attend yesterday afternoon and this morning. I came along for the change of scene.

Vancouver is a great city worthy of more than a few hours look-see. We've passed through several times to pick up a cruise ship to Alaska but we've never stayed in a hotel, walked the downtown, or had a meal on the town. Last night we ate at Kirin, a Mandarin style Chinese restaurant. Fabulous. As Caucasians, we were in the minority; that's got to be good. Yesterday afternoon while Denny attended conferences, I walked the streets, checked out the shops and picked up a few things.....like chocolate bars and other candy/goodies that aren't available in the U.S. I'm in love with Crunchie Bars and Maple Leaf cookies.

The weather has been cloudy and rainy, breezy and cool. Lots of fall leaves, many trees entirely bare with blowing leaves everywhere. As the sun was setting in the late afternoon, there was a stunning rainbow lighting up the western sky. Here's what I saw from the hotel window.

Vancouver; I'll be back. I'll be back.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The One Left Behind

My Mom has been gone now for just over three weeks. The memorial service a memory, her personal effects removed from the bedroom, the death certificate official, the cremation completed, necessary paperwork that accompanies a death well underway.

I've been watching my Dad carefully through this process, keeping him updated and helping him settle into his new space (Mom's former room). I've visited regularly and called frequently. Dad has shown incredible strength. I know he's hurting inside, often lonely, struggling to accept what may seem like a bad dream that will eventually end but never changes, day after day. He is definitely the one left behind. Despite his seeming acceptance of what is, he will occasionally come out with a remark or two that leaves me speechless.

Many evenings, right around 7 PM, he'll call me on the phone. He's taken over Mom's role, "just checking in" or "just calling to hear your voice". I find this interesting since Dad always left the phone communication to Mom.  Our conversations are brief, to the point and without a lot of fanfare. He's a man of few words but each one counts. No fluff. It feels odd to hear the phone ring and to see his caller I.D. come up."Hi, Dad", I say.

Tonight he gave me the Exxon stock quote and explained he'd been studying the framed picture I gave him earlier this week of his five great grandchildren. "I'm working on naming them all correctly," he told me. He went on to say, "I get pretty lonely. The others here [at the adult family home] are used to being alone but I lost her: [Mom] BOOM ! just like that. I'm having a rough time with it."  I don't doubt it one bit, Dad. You and Mom, together for seven decades and then, it's all over and she's gone. How does he begin to wrap his mind around this new state of normal?

I suppose it's good that he verbalizes his grief. I've tried to be open with mine in his presence. We comfort each other. Just to sit in each others company feels good. I watch him look at Mom's picture. The 8 x 10 sits just to the left of his easy chair. 

"She was so beautiful in those days before she died", he told me earlier this week.

Yes, she was.

I feel so badly for the man left behind, the love of his life gone. Gone where? I wonder if he wonders like I do. We haven't talked about that question yet but we may get to it yet.