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Posts Tagged ‘family’

It’s a beautiful early Spring day. The air is crisp, but not freezing. The sky is the deep blue that looks clean and fresh, the sunlight is streaming through the (dirty) windows. (Time to clean. Later.) My son was just playing beautiful music on the piano. Marty is reading on the couch, still in pajamas. I cleaned the bathroom and am getting the laundry done on my own time, not in a frenzied rush. I’m not doing my homework or schoolwork, I’m simply breathing in yoga pants and a hoodie, eating lunch, getting ready to go to the library and then write. The anxiety and depression monsters are out for the day and I can relax.

Life is good right now.

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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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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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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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Dear New Daddy,

You didn’t know it (or you might have, who knows?), but I watched you the other day. Not in a creepy stalker way, although my husband may disagree, but I couldn’t help myself.

We were guests at a wedding, an absolutely wonderful time filled with love and laughter. At the reception, across the room from our table, you were holding your new daughter who, I found out later from her grandmother, was ten weeks old. She was adorable, this little bitty peanut in a navy blue dress with the obligatory giant bow on her little head.

If you know me at all, you know that I am powerless in the presence of babies. In my family, I have the reputation of being the baby-stealer. I adore them. Every maternal instinct in me cries out to cuddle those little snug-a-bugs and I don’t care who knows it. Social anxiety be damned, it’s no match for my baby fever. I lose all inhibitions at the chance of eliciting one little gummy smile from a cherub face, of wiggling an irresistible toe. Your baby was one of many little ones that day, adding even more joy to a wonderful day.

While your baby was reason enough for me to be admiring her, it was your interaction with your little one that made me keep on stealing glances.

You had her tiny head cradled in one of your big daddy hands, her little diaper butt in the other. You were engaging her, talking to her, smiling at her, making those goofy faces that adults only make when we talk to babies, and she was fully into watching you, those bottomless eyes watching one of her favorite people in the world. I love when people talk to their children like that; no texting or other cell phone distractions, just pure parent/child time together. The thing that touched me so much that I decided to write about it, though, was the love in your eyes as you looked at your baby girl. For that moment, nothing else mattered to you; she was your whole world, a wee girl and her Daddy. It gave my heart the warm fuzzies to watch. My eyes still well up when I think about it.

Why am I gushing on about this? It’s simple. I want you to remember. I want you to remember that exact moment when it was just you and her in your own little world, not noticing themusic, the cake, or the baby-crazy lady a few tables over. You connected, you were bonding, you were loving this adorable little human with everything in your soul. Remember this, Daddy, because there will be times in the next eighteen years when you don’t feel quite as close to her. Buckle up, Buttercup, because parenting is no joke.

There will be sass, hopefully less rather than more, but at some point, she will assert herself and it will completely take you by surprise. I still remember hearing that first, “I don’t have to listen to you!” pop out of the mouth of my sweet boy and it rocking my world. Oh, yes, there will be sass and the bigger they are, the worse it can get. Prepare yourself.

There will be slammed doors, maybe from her, maybe from you. (I am guilty of this after losing my temper because of, you guessed it: sass.) There will be angry tears, cries of, “You’re SO unfair!”, and rolled eyes. There will be friends of hers that you can’t stand, hours of PBS Kids, and endless messes to clean up. There will be times when you wonder what you were thinking. It is so important that during those difficult times, you remember those beautiful moments, the moments like I witnessed, where all is right in your world. Those are the moments that will get you through those tough ones, like when you’re trying to figure out how to get nail polish off of a wall or dealing with explosive diarrhea in the middle of the night. (All over the bathroom. Enough to where you have to get entirely new bath rugs, towels, and shower curtain and spend two hours bleaching everything else. I’m not kidding. Seriously, I have PTSD from that night.)

There are moments that I hold onto now, with Youngest Child being a teenager. Teenagers, you see, are their own special category. They can be both extremely frustrating and incredibly lovable, often in the same day. The same teenager that whines and moans about emptying the dishwasher or cleaning the lizard cage can say something profoundly sweet in the next minute, sometimes without an ulterior motive. In a word, they can be a challenge. I digress…

One of the moments that I hold onto with Youngest Child is when he fell asleep on my chest on the couch. He was around six months old, still a little bobble-head, and had been having a difficult time settling down to his nap. He wanted to be with his mama, and snuggled up to sleep so sweetly in my arms that I just let him take his entire nap on me. He little cheeks were so soft and he was so warm and cuddly that I couldn’t bear to take him up to his crib. My heart was full, in that moment, life couldn’t have gotten any better for me. When he woke, he realized where he was and smiled at me so happily that it melted my heart even more. It was perfect.

I remember that moment, and many others, when he comes home covered in mud on my clean floors, when he stalls so he doesn’t have to clean his room, when he “forgets” to let me know who he was with. Those moments remind you that you can get through this, that you do have this bond with your child. And, lest I completely scare you off, it does get better. They start understanding why you made the rules that you did and, as they get more independent, they understand you better. We’re experiencing this with Oldest Child right now and, let me tell you, it is balm for a parent’s soul when they have to clean their own place.

New Daddy, these moments you have right now are precious, something that you will look back at with misty eyes the older she gets. I still can’t watch family videos without tearing up. You’ll make tons of wonderful memories, plenty to draw from during those difficult times, but I’m telling you to not take those moments for granted. Treasure them, cherish them, just as you do that baby girl of yours. Children should be cherished, they should be loved with our whole hearts, even when they make us crazy. We have to take a step back, cool down, and remember. Remember that toothless grin, that grip of a tiny fist around one of our fingers, the sloppy, open-mouthed kisses, the first, “I love you”. spoken in a tiny voice.

You’ve got a good thing going, New Daddy. I wish you and your little girl much love. Thank you for letting me be a witness.

 

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I’m becoming jaded by the news and I don’t like it. I detest the ugliness, racism, misogyny, lies, and disregard for the environment in our country today and it makes me feel hopeless. I don’t understand why people intentionally ignore facts, excuse blatant wrongs, hurt each other, and don’t take responsibility for their actions. I don’t understand why adults ridicule traumatized children. This country needs a big dose of Dr. Phil and/or God right now, but I have to focus on something else for a minute. I have to, or else the anxiety becomes my whole world. I have to focus on good, beautiful things that I love. Here are some of them.

  • My husband, for so many things, but his hand on my hip as we sleep is something that makes me love him all the more. I’m a light sleeper and I have a lot of bad dreams. Most of the time, when I wake up, Marty is there, a reassuring presence who makes everything alright. (Even if he is snoring loudly.)
  • My boys, individually and all together. They’re so unique, I love talking with each of them alone. And then, when they’re together, it’s like having a heap of puppies romping through the house, except the puppies shoot dart guns, play baseball, and creatively insult each other.
  • Fuzzy kittens. Enough said.
  • My neighborhood party store. Brothers Steve and Randy know me and sell me my weekly MegaMillions ticket on my runs. It’s like Cheers, but not a bar.
  • My theatre. Well, not my theatre. My niece thought I owned it, but no, lol. It’s a place where I’m accepted and I can be myself. I can express myself. A nice place to be.
  • My penpal/dear friend, Sabrina. She lives an ocean away, but is such a kindred spirit. And she puts up with my crappy Italian.
  • Music. It gives so much meaning to life. Hamilton, Pentatonix, and Lindsey Stirling are my current obsessions.
  • Writing. I have an outlet. I’m sort of good at it, but still have a lot to learn. This week, I completed a novel on Bessie Blount, the real one, not the sleazy HBO version. Accomplishment.
  • Babies. Babies are my heart, my joy. Incredible innocence. They’re a promise that life goes on.
  • My church. My church is progressive, including people of all races and sexual identities. I love that.
  • London. London is my dream, my hope, my destiny. I’ve never felt more at home anywhere in the world. Six years now… it’s been too long.
  • Italy. Italy is life to the tenth power. I can’t wait to get back.
  • Cadbury Mini-Eggs. Can’t help it, I adore them.
  • History
  • My therapist, Renee. She’s listened to me for seven years now and I adore her. Most of the time. Not when she’s telling me something that I don’t want to hear, but I know it’s for my own good, but, yeah, she’s awesome.
  • Ireland. Such fond memories of an impossibly beautiful place where I went with some amazing people.
  • Genealogy. I’m a sucker for historic records and long-ago grandparents.
  • Easter candy. Right now, this is an essential part of my diet.
  • God. I saved the best for last. Prayer is essential in these times of confusion/craziness and God remains my rock, every day. My spirituality keeps me centered, grounded, and keeps me sane.

Take some some time and reflect on what makes you happy. Leave it as a comment if you like. I’d love to hear what you love.

Until next time, a presto.

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