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Today, on Facebook, I saw a picture from a wedding. The two who got married are wonderful people and they work for The Henry Ford, one couple of many who met their spouse there. The picture was lovely; it was of all of the people at the wedding who had worked on Firestone Farm, a place near and dear to my heart. It got me thinking about my own wedding, and all of the Firestone Farm people who were there to celebrate that day with us.

When Marty and I got married, twenty-two years ago, I was still a “chicken” on the farm, one of the younger girls. The older ladies adopted us, many of us had “mamas”, and they taught us all that they knew. I hardly knew anything about cooking at all back then, much less cooking on a coal stove, and I definitely made some mistakes. (Helpful tip: Just frying a piece of chicken doesn’t cook it all the way through. You have to put it in the oven, too, or you end up with lovely, crispy skin and raw chicken on the inside.) But I did learn, enough to be a competent cook not only at work, but at home.

For our wedding, one of the gifts we got was a journal, pictured above. The farm folk, both women and men, had passed it around and everyone contributed their favorite recipes.

002.jpgMost of them were favorite recipes that we used on the farm, since we used a variety of cookbooks that were period to the year 1885. Some examples are baking powder biscuits, lemon tarts, and pumpkin jumbles. There were also more modern recipes, too, such as Italian macaroni, sausage and egg brunch, and carrot curry soup. There’s even one page with the phone number to Little Caesar’s!

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I love looking through this book, I always have. Some of the people who contributed have passed away, some I’ve lost contact with, and some I still “see” on social media quite regularly. This cookbook, though, brings those farm days back. It was such a special, happy time in my life. There was a lot of work, a lot of coal smoke, a lot of, well, manure and mud, but we were a family. We danced at each other’s weddings, celebrated new babies, and attended funerals together. For several, wonderful years, it felt like it would always be so. We even joked about making the farm our own country. Of course, it couldn’t last forever, and we could never recreate that time if we tried.

But I have this book, this wonderful, precious book. It’s worn out from use, the spine is gone, I’ve scribbled my own subsequent recipes into it, and it will eventually begin to fall apart, but I love it. One day, I’ll pass it on to whoever shows the most interest in it. Until then, I’ll continue to add more to it, taping it together if necessary, when the cover begins to fall off.

And, of course, I can’t just look through it without making something. A loaf of farm bread is baking in my oven right now, just in time for dinner. I may just use the leftovers to make cheese toast (a Firestone staple) in the morning.

May you remember your own happy times tonight.10398512_1104025886075_7984395_n

 

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Nine years ago, I left a class at college, not knowing that my phone had been going off. I had it on silent so that it wouldn’t ring during class. Marty had been calling to let me know that my Grandma Ruth had been taken to the hospital from her assisted living facility and that things didn’t look good.

I raced home and hurriedly made sub plans for the next day to email to my principal, along with an explanation and then went straight to the hospital. She had been unconscious since the staff had found her a few hours before and she never woke up. My family and I stood around her bed and made quiet conversation until she quietly slipped away, around 11:00 pm. It was characteristic of her, to go quietly, not wanting to make a fuss.

My Grandma Ruth was a beautiful lady, a strong soul. A Grandma who, after my mom married out of Catholicism, made sure that I knew where my bottle of holy water was on her dresser. A Grandma who kissed boo-boos, who made Christmas cookies, who, when I had my wisdom teeth out, brought over Jello. She wasn’t a gushy grandma, but she loved me. I knew it.

I always knew it.

Rest well, Grandma. I miss you terribly.

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I’m a sappy kind of person. I can get rid of tons of “stuff” with no problem at all, especially after watching Hoarders, but there are a few certain things that I have which hold special meaning to me. Things like the necklace that my godmother gave me as a baby, the lens to my father’s last pair of eyeglasses, which has traveled with me around the world, and the outfits my babies wore home from the hospital.

Several Christmas decorations hold that same nostalgic feeling. In the spirit of the season, I’ll share a few here.

The tiny stocking Great-Grandma B crocheted for me when I was little.

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Grandma B has been gone for a long time now, since 1995, but this stocking always goes on my tree. She was Grandpa Ballantyne’s mother and although we didn’t see her all that often, she would always write letters, mail cards at birthdays, and send presents at Christmas time. My mother gave me this to have when I moved out.

The ornament my Great-Aunt Stella made.

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Aunt Stella was a feisty, wonderful lady. My Grandma Ruth, her sister, adored her. She canned the most amazing peaches and pears, among lots of other things, sewed, farmed, and was involved in many small-town community organizations throughout her life. We usually only saw her once a year at family reunion time, but the fact that she took the time to make this little bell for me when she had dozens of great-nieces and nephews (literally; they were a family of ten kids) makes it special.

My skater ornaments that Marty gave me.

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He gave me these the first Christmas that we were married and I love them. As tradition holds, the fancy ornaments go near the top of the tree. Originally, it was to keep the babies from playing with them (you should have seen what Oldest Child did to a satin-wrapped ball ornament. They unravel quite nicely.) but now it’s just habit. Anyway, the beautiful skaters stay safely at the top.

The Nativity set.

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My mom gave me this when Marty and I got married. I think it’s beautiful. While playful Nativity sets like Little People and ducks are cute, I prefer sets like this. It reminds me of the one my Grandma Ruth had. She would set it up under the tree every year, but ours goes on top of the piano. Of course, Baby Jesus doesn’t enter the scene util Christmas morning. The boys take turns putting Him in the manger.

The tree skirt.

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My dear friend and farm mama Jackie made this for us when we got married. To say that she is a talented seamstress is a gross understatement. She has her own company and designed and made my wedding dress and veil. In short, she’s bloody incredible. The tree skirt is double-sided and we change it up from year to year, but this will always be the only tree skirt I use.

Ornaments that my boys made, or that have their pictures in them.

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My babies are precious to me and hanging their sweet little faces on the tree year after year makes me tear up.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” bells.

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I remember when Grandma Ballantyne gave these to “the girls” at Christmas one year, meaning my mom and the aunts. They were sets sold by J.C. Penney: twelve porcelain bells, each with a scene from the song. When she gave me my very own set the Christmas before I got married, I felt like I had finally grown-up, like I was one of “the girls”. It was special. Sadly, about eight years ago, a crazy squirrel broke into our house the week before Christmas and caused a bunch of damage, including a few broken bells. My mom graciously gave her set to me in order to replace the broken ones and the display was whole again.

And last, but not least…

Our name ornaments.

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Grandma and Grandpa Ballantyne started the tradition of giving all of the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren a name ornament from Frankenmuth every year. In case you’re not from Michigan, Frankenmuth is a small town that boasts the biggest Christmas store in the world, Bronner’s. One could, quite literally, get lost inside. When my original gold name ornament broke, I was just sick about it. Grandpa had passed by then and Grandma wasn’t in any shape to go to Frankenmuth anymore, so Marty and I went to pick one out. They didn’t have my name in gold, so I got this deep blue one to replace it. Our name ornaments line up all the way down the front of the Christmas tree every year and are the first ones to be hung.

These are just some of the decorations that make the season special, things that I plan on passing down one day. There are more included in that group, but it would take a much longer blog post to catalog them all and I have to start Christmas cleaning.

I would, however, love to hear about special items that you celebrate with and the stories behind them. Feel free to post about your cherished items in the comments.

However you celebrate, I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a joyous holiday season.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

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While researching family history, it’s inevitable that one will eventually come to a dead end. Records are missing, and/or lost, there are multiple versions, or mistakes have been made. Those missing folks are always listed as “Unknown”,  a word that means the family line ended, and it makes me kind of sad. Besides, it’s bs. Family lines don’t literally end; people don’t just spring up on their own like weeds. They had parent, grandparent, etc.  The necessary records for those who came before simply don’t exist anymore, if ever.

Those “Unknown” people were real, they lived lives and, somehow, history has lost them. I’m thinking of one of my grandmothers in particular, Charlotte “Lottie” Clark. The only concrete records I can find for her are census records and her daughters’ marriage certificates. She probably married her husband, my grandfather, Horace Gay, somewhere around 1878 or 1879, a year or so before my great-great-grandmother, Olive was born, but an actual marriage license hasn’t surfaced. If it ever does, it may have her parents’ names on it, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’m immensely curious about her. Where did she come from? The census records say that she was born in Pennsylvania, but where? Who were her parents? What was she like as a person? She died young in 1893, only around 37 years old, leaving three daughters behind. My grandfather, understandably, married again a few years later, but nothing more is heard about Lottie until her daughters married and they listed her name on the marriage licenses.

She’s buried in the same place as my father, Fort Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg, Ohio and I intend to visit her next time I stop by. History seems to have forgotten her, but I don’t want her to be forgotten. She deserves to be remembered, at least by her descendants. She was a blip in time, but without her, my grandma, my father, and I wouldn’t be here.

I’m raising a glass tonight to the “Unknowns”, to those who are the figurative end of a family line, to those whose names weren’t important enough to be recorded by some monk in an abbey or whose records were lost to fire, water, or misplaced over time. They mattered then and they matter now.

Slainte.

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“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.” E.B. White. Charlotte’s Web

It’s the end of another summer. Yes, I know that summer doesn’t technically end until September 22, but for me, as a teacher, summer is effectively over. And before anyone says anything about teachers having the whole summer off, blah, blah, blah, let me remind you that we’re working our tails off for ten months out of the year including our “own time”  during evenings, weekends, and holidays, PLUS we attend meetings , college classes, and professional development during the summer, so bugger off about that particular point. There, enough said about it.

I’m not a huge summer fan in terms of weather. I hate hot and humid and I’m an autumn girl through and through, but I enjoy the recovery time from my job.

This summer was incredibly busy, despite being the first summer that I haven’t worked a second job in several years. I think I tried to cram in everything that I’m not able to do during the school year and wore myself out in the process. Here is a sampling of Summer 2018.

  • I was able to let my natural body clock have its way again. I’m naturally a night owl and it felt SO GOOD to just sleep and wake up naturally. If only school started at 10:00.
  • I painted the living room. It really needed it, having been more than ten years since I had painted it last. While I love the finished product, I forgot how draining painting a room can be. At least I don’t have to do it for another ten years and I bought new curtains to boot.
  • Marty and I attended a lot of funeral home visitations and funerals summer, some expected, some not. Either way, it’s a reminder that we only get one shot at this life and I intend to fit in everything I can while I can. That also means staying active and being healthy in both mind and body so that I can do all of the things I want to do before it’s my turn. We said goodbye to some very special people this year. It makes you appreciate loved ones, and your time, all the more. We’re not promised tomorrow.
  • I did some spiritual insight seeking, learning to meditate and to spend time looking within, to be spiritually in tune with myself and with God. I believe we are given spiritual gifts, we just don’t use them like we should. I’d like to get better at that.
  • We went on vacation. See the July post for details about the “Ocean and Dead People Tour”, which was awesome. Anytime I’m near the ocean, I’m happy.
  • Speaking of our vacation, we did a lot more family history research. We’re kind of obsessed, although Marty would argue that I may have an addiction to Ancestry-crack.
  • I published my book, Traveler, as a paperback through Amazon.com and donated a copy to my local library. It was kind of a big deal for me. Check it out.
  • I read books that were not related to school or schoolwork. Heavenly.
  • I wrote. Not as much as I would have liked, but I did write.
  • I took Youngest Child to rehearsals and did hair for his show. High school kids are awesome, and I sincerely mean that.
  • I auditioned for a show and then I went to rehearsals.
  • I made two new adorable kitty friends. They live across the street and come to visit us pretty much every night for pets and treats. I love them.
  • We spent family time together, precious these days. The boys are starting to go off in their own directions and the time when they will only come home to visit is approaching quickly. I treasure our family dinners, the boys’ impromtu baseball and football games in front of the house, the flying Nerf darts, even the insults. I hope their memories of these days will be happy, too.
  • Marty and I went on lots of dates, including finally going to the Detroit Riverwalk for the first time. This is a good married-person thing to do. Often. I highly recommend it.
  • We started watching The Crown. I’m addicted. And Prince Philip is a jerky-jerk.
  • I rode my bike, Lulu, a lot. We didn’t get the theatre bike group going again, I was too busy to commit to a night this summer, but whenever I had to go to the library or somewhere within 3ish miles, I walked or rode Lulu. Good times.
  • Last, but not least, we took Oldest Child back to school today for his last year of college. Middle Child goes back next weekend. The days of us all together are finished until Thanksgiving. (I’m going to make them take a Christmas card picture while they’re home. Shhhhhhh…)

The crickets are singing, the bats are clicking.

Goodbye, Summer, goodbye. See you next June.

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We don’t take family vacations very often, cost is a preventative, but this year we decided to splurge a bit. Marty and I are both genealogy nerds so we decided to take a trip to visit cemeteries where some of our ancestors are buried. I also insisted on seeing the ocean again, since the ocean and I are BFFs and Youngest Child was the only one to never have seen it at all. Like all great tours, this one needed a name and so we settled upon the “Ocean and Dead People Tour 2018”. Yeah, our sense of humor is a little macabre, but we love it.

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I won’t bog you down with details, but here are some of the highlights.

  • Ohio is still boring to drive through. (Note: This is no way reflects on the people of Ohio or the good food that they grow, but 200+ miles of farms (broken up by Cleveland) tends to make one weary.
  • All food in Lancaster County is comfort food and portions are huge. Middle Child ordered meatloaf for dinner and got a slab the size of his head.
  • Intercourse, Blue Ball, Paradise,, and Virginville, Pennsylvania are all real places and all within the same area. Yes, the locals know it and, yes, they do capitalize on it.IMG_1716
  • I navigated driving through NYC!!! Of course, we did not visit Manhattan, since neither of us have people there, but we drove through Brooklyn and Yonkers where we, no kidding, got slightly lost. I had joked about that before we left, but it really did happen for a couple of minutes.IMG_1727
  • For such a small state, Connecticut seems to go on forever. It’s beautiful, though, so it’s okay.
  • Boston rush hour traffic sucks. There is no other way to say it. It’s even slightly worse than Chicago. We saw lots of rocky cliffs, though, so we had something to look at going one mile every five minutes.IMG_20180718_171210798
  • Seeing a sign for Framingham and Boston on the MassPike sent me into a dorky tizzy because, “We’ve gone from Framingham to Boston and we cannot find a pin!” (1776)
  • Salem is a busy place, but, wow! It’s really funny because there’s kitschy witch stuff everywhere, but there are also tours that are trying to emphasize the maritime history, so it’s a veritable mix of witches and pirates. I did not get a reading from any of the 50+ advertised witches.
  • I love Salem. It’s extremely walkable, busy, full of old history, and right on the ocean. I could happily live there while pining for London. IMG_1778

 

  • The Old Burying Point in Salem is quite possibly the coolest cemetery in the world.IMG_1740
  • I adore the ocean, but over the years, I’ve developed a fear of being in deep water where I can’t see the bottom. I found that I still have this fear while trying to dip my feet in the waters on the historic Salem Marina.
  • The ocean in Massachusetts is FREEZING!!!IMG_1761
  • Massachusetts accents are adorable, but not when Middle Child insists on using it the entire time we were there.
  • You can get chicken strips pretty much everywhere. Youngest Child supplied us with that knowledge.
  • Upstate New York is pretty, but a loooooooong drive from east to west.
  • I am really, really, happy near big water, including Lake Erie.

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  • We saw license plates from 41 states, the District of Columbia, and four Canadian provinces. The missing states? Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. The back of a Sausage McMuffin bag is an ideal place to keep track of this.
  • When the GPS dies, I can still read a map.
  • I added 3.5 states to my “visited” list, bringing my total to 21. I had changed planes at New York’s LaGuardia last year, so that only counted as a half for New York.

All in all, there was a lot of car time, but it was a great vacation. We saw a lot, ate a lot, and saw new things. I didn’t have to cook for an entire week, which was a vacation in itself.

Travel is the best.

 

 

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I attended a funeral this past week. A friend of my mother’s from her childhood had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, leaving behind two not-quite-grown children and a devastated husband.

Dee Dee was a quiet force of nature. I remember her from the very beginning of my memories, from those fuzzy edges when I was very small up until the more clear thoughts of today. I loved her. She had a pet skunk for a time, I remember, named Mandy. I wanted a skunk for the longest time after that and didn’t understand why my mother didn’t think that was a good idea. She always had animals, which made me an instant fan.

Her mother was my godmother, my Nina. I still have the cross necklace with a diamond chip in the middle that she gave me on my baptism day when I was just a few weeks old. They lived just down the street from us and it was there where I got to know Dee Dee’s three sisters, who fussed over me, and where I got my first delicious taste of lobster dipped in melted butter. (There is dispute over that. I remember them saying it was lobster, my mother said it was crab. Either way, the experience is etched in my memory.) Her family had been a refuge for my mother when she was pregnant with me as a teenager, loving her as their own, and they have always been in contact.

As I mentioned, she died rather suddenly, without warning, at only sixty years old. Sixty is young these days and although she did have some health issues, no one expected her to be gone so soon.

I met my mother at the service, held at a local funeral home. It was already quite full of people when I arrived, about an hour before the service began, but as the time drew nearer, more and more people poured in, leaving the staff to hurry and add many more rows of chairs. If I had to estimate, I would say that there were around 150 people crammed into that small room.

The priest began the service by welcoming everyone and asking Dee Dee’s son, and then her husband to speak. My heart broke for this strapping young man, set to graduate from college soon, as he choked back tears and referred to his mother as his best friend. Her husband, the shock still evident in his voice, told the room how there was not one single bad thing about her in the many years that they had been together.

The floor was opened to other people who wanted to share their memories of Dee Dee. It was touching and beautiful to hear from so many people, at least twenty, who got up and had a story to tell. Some were poignant, some were funny (the Sam’s Club Cheetos story had everyone laughing), and some were sad. For most of her adult life, Dee Dee had worked for a company that helps people who have disabilities and many of her current and former coworkers filled the room. I was moved by the stories of her selflessness, her patience, and her apparent love for her vocation, a calling she had always had. It didn’t surprise me at all. I remember when she had adopted a young boy with severe disabilities back when she was in her twenties, before she was married or had her biological children. Meeting him was my first experience with someone disabled to that degree and I remembered how patient she was with him. She taught me through her actions to not be afraid of people with disabilities, that they want to be loved and accepted like everyone does. I’ll always be grateful to her for that lesson.

The service lasted for more that an hour and a half as people shared their love for Dee Dee. In her short sixty years, she had touched so many lives, probably more than she ever thought. I’m sure she would have been embarrassed by all of the outpouring of emotion, she wasn’t one to toot her own horn, always working quietly in the background for the good of others. After the priest made sure that everyone was finished sharing, her daughter read from Ecclesiastes and her husband thanked everyone for coming. In closing, we all held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer together, then listened to one of her favorite songs.

When the service was over, my heart was full. The world is a scary place and these days, watching the news often makes me feel as if nothing will ever be right again, that hate, discrimination, and willful ignorance have taken over the world. Just read the comment section of any article to see some scary people. (Or don’t. Really, it’s horrifying to see what some people post online.) It’s hard for me to understand how people can be so awful to each other, or how terrible things are condoned or ignored because of money, religion, or politics. It makes me sick to my stomach sometimes. Hearing all of the wonderful things said about Dee Dee. though, reminded me that there are good people in this world, that things like love, patience, and understanding still do exist, even if they are hard to see through the haze right now.

Yes, I’m sure that Dee Dee would have been embarrassed about all of the fuss made over her, but what a legacy she has left behind! Think about it. We’re all going to die someday, whether our lives are short or long, whether we know it’s coming or, like Dee Dee, it takes us by surprise. There’s nothing we can do to prevent it, though we try to put it off as long as possible. What we can do, though, is choose to live so that we leave some good in the world when we’re gone and, hopefully, inspire others to do the same. We can stand up for what is right, we can help in a million ways, we can love. Yes, indeed, we can love.

We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to mess up sometimes. It’s human nature that prevents us from being perfect, that lets our masks slip now and again. But I firmly believe that the more we do the right thing, especially when it’s difficult, the easier it becomes. I also believe that when we own up to our mistakes and admit that we made a bad choice rather then blaming it on someone else or circumstances, we earn the respect of others and we grow as people. It’s not the easy way of doing things and it’s hard to bite that bullet sometimes, but it’s so necessary.

We need more Dee Dees in the world. We need more of that patience and understanding that she lived every single day. We need to accept people as they are, the way she did, and to protect those who don’t have a voice. We need to be good people.

So, I challenge you. I challenge you to open your mind, to open your heart, and to deliberately do something different today that will benefit those around you. It doesn’t have to be huge, it can be as simple as opening the door for someone when you normally wouldn’t. It can be letting someone go ahead of you in line. Instead of getting angry at another driver, take a deep breath and let it go. (I especially need to practice this one. I say a lot of bad words in my car.) The point is, the world isn’t going to get better if we sit back and wait for other people to do it. It begins with us. It begins with you.

I’m closing with part of Lin Manuel Miranda’s speech from the 2016 Tony Awards. I feel that it is appropriate here.

“We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.”

Dee Dee loved, with her whole heart. It’s a goal to work toward.

 

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