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Category: family

2011 Holidays

Christmas was a quiet affair filled with good friends and family, which is what it’s all about. I made out with some very thoughtful loot and ate slightly more than my body weight in cookies.

But I have prevailed; the cookies are all dead. In my belly.

I enjoy the week between Christmas and New Years an awful lot because it is so quiet. After all the hustle and bustle of lights, tree, cooking, family, etc., it becomes almost necessary downtime. The trains are quiet, nearly everyone is gone from the office, and I have no excuses for not getting a great deal done. As a productivity nut and worker bee, this makes me very happy. As a person with an exciting life to write about, well, not so much. But it’s been a nice quiet. I’ve been able to conquer the world in Civilization get some writing projects done, master some Bach and finish some big projects that have been hanging over my head at work. It’s a nice feeling.

I see other bloggers out there doing lists of what they’d like to do next year. It’s made me think about some of the highlights of this year. This year, I:

– got engaged to the love of my life (this is a celebration, not an accomplishment)
– actually managed to get good enough at the piano to be able to sight read stuff where the left hand does more than play chords. Slowly, mind.
– learned how to fox trot, to rhumba, to merengue
– learned that if fox trotting, rhumbaing or merenguing with a 6’3″ man, heels are a good idea. Otherwise, neck injury occurs.
– (self)published a knitting pattern
– had the realization that not being my skinniest weight ever does not, in fact, make me a bad person
– watched my ward pull in grades higher than he thought possible on his report card, despite having skipped most of two years of school a few years back.
– adopted a house hippy. Everyone should have one.
– learned to rip up carpet and stained all the wood for a new staircase in a weekend
– went to a spinning convention and actually learned how to spin yarn that looks like yarn
– fell in love with the mountains of eastern Oregon and took some awesome pictures
– bought a cowboy hat
– knit multiple sweaters, learned to not hate knitting socks and designed a few more things on my own
– have actually done a little bit of wedding planning, despite hating it like you wouldn’t believe
– actually genuinely enjoyed the holidays for a third year running

It has, all in all, been a good year. We are all safe and happy and the family grew again this year (see the house hippy aspect). I am filled with gratitude and can only marvel at my good luck. Life is good; my only goal for next year is to keep it good.

Happy New Year everyone. Let’s make 2012 even more filled with light than 2011.

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Waiting for the rain

We are due, within minutes, another epic flash-flood rainstorm here on Long Island, which will be the second in as many weeks. Last week’s rainstorm rained ten inches in one day, which is an awful lot of rain, but particularly when you live four feet above sea level, as it has absolutely nowhere to go. Also much of what is dropping down on your head just came from the ocean. Some of it straight into my dining room, which was unfortunate.

But fortunately I live with someone who knows what to do about that. In fact, at this point, *I* know what to do about it. The house has been filled with drips and leaks that we’ve been slowly plugging up as we go, which is probably what I get for buying a 90 year old house.

So I’ve taken measures to keep the rain on the outside of the house and we’ll see how it goes.

It’s otherwise been a very quiet weekend, which was just what the doctor ordered. I’ve watched three entire movies while not actually doing something with my hands, which is a serious indication of how exhausted I’ve been lately. We went on Friday and saw One Day (likable, not challenging, lame ending). Then, as our hippy rightfully is fed up with movies that always have to end with a romantic ending, he picked out a couple to watch that were not uplifting, but were very, very good. We started with Boys Don’t Cry, which….just has to be seen, but not with children. Then we followed up with Skin, which at least ended with some happy music. Also very good. Go see it. In fact, skip right past basically anything in the movie theaters to see it.

I mean, it was One Day or Conan the Barbarian.

I did pick up the kid from the airport today, so my little family is almost nearly reunited. Himself is still in Ireland for another week, but the house is slowly filling up. On Tuesday, I’ll be picking up a cousin from the airport (I really should have priority parking at JFK by now, as this will be my fifth visit in a month), which I’m really looking forward to. This is the last visit for the summer, which must mean that things are winding down. The season change is upon us, so I grabbed up all the tomatoes I could handle and made sauce to freeze. That’s what August is, isn’t it? Frozen tomato sauce?

The rain has finally hit us, which is a great relief for the humidity and my sinuses, which have been awaiting this storm via giant headache. It is now the absolute best kind of summer day, as I never feel as fantastic as I do the day *after* a killer sinus headache. Nothing but blue skies tomorrow.

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Visiting Time

When I went to your town on the wide open shore,
Oh I must confess, I was drawn, I was drawn to the ocean

It is summer and we live by the ocean, which means that we’ve had a steady stream of visitors for the last month, which is an excellent thing indeed.  I’ve also been doing my share of visiting, having popped down to Virginia in the beginning of June to meet one very excellent baby.  I’m afraid I have fallen rather in love and have been compelled to knit and buy small things.

This was followed with a far too short but excellent visit with a very old friend and a new friend, where we spent most of our time on the beach in both bad weather and good.  There are some friends that you can just pick up with after any amount of time away and the time spent together is so restful.  Too short, but incredibly wonderful.

Last weekend, my aunt came for a visit, where we went to see lots and lots of art in jewelry format.  The jewels were so scintillating that after two rooms, I actually had eyestrain.  I found the exhibit really inspiring from a knitting design perspective; I have some ideas in my head that will be hitting paper soon.  Then we took a day to wander up to Boston, taking the Port Jefferson ferry over to Connecticut, then stopping for lunch in Mystic.  I got to tourist Boston for the first time – despite morning thunderboomers and storms, we made it to Fenway Park (and I sat on the Green Monster) and walked quite a lot of the historic trail and waved at Sam Adams’ grave (why yes, that is my beer of choice) and went shopping at Quincy Market (where I proceeded to get overwhelmed by a cosmetic purchase, which you’d think I’d have gotten down pat by the age of thirty-one).  Dinner was excellent Vietnamese, which sent us off to sleep, only to awaken to a day at the Science Museum, which is pretty much the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time.  Lightning bolts and amazing ship models?  In one place?  Awesome.

The social life continue this weekend with some more very dear friends coming up for a visit and barbeque and FIREWORKS IN THE BACKYARD.  We’re not all that patriotic, but we sure do like setting things on fire.  Just hopefully not ourselves.

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An unexpected series of events; my grandmother

This last two weeks have been ones to go down in the record books. My birthday was on the first of the Mondays and it was also the day that my maternal grandmother passed away.

It wasn’t a big secret that this was coming; she was nearing ninety and her health had been declining for some years. Several years ago, she moved into a nursing home and had had constant medical care available to her. There have been a few scares along the way. So not unexpected, but with any conclusion of a chapter, there is always sorrow.

There is also the largest family gathering that I’ve seen in years. I’ve arrived in Wisconsin on the Wednesday, having made rather sudden travel arrangements on Tuesday when I got the news. I’ve been blessed in being able to be involved in helping plan the ceremony itself and handle some of the details. I helped in putting together some pictures of her life into a tableau. It was a great honor to be able to be among the first to the wake and to be able to greet people as they came in. I think that particularly because of the distance at which I’ve always been from my family, this meant something particularly special for me. Family is a rare and cherished event for me.

My grandmother was an ambiguous character. She was at her best with small children and really spent her life with them. She gave up teaching when she was young to help raise her older sister’s kid. She married and had six kids, but when her own children were old enough, she went back to school and got her teaching certificate and spent her career teaching head start classes. Little kids were her thing.

She had a difficult life, raised in the Great Depression and moved thither and yon in order to survive and get an education. Her father died when she was two and her mother did what was necessary to support her four kids. My grandmother finished her primary and middle school years in a one room school house, then had to board with strangers in a bigger town to get her high school education. She worked for her board, helping take care of the kids and acting as a mother’s helper. But even though it was the 1940s, that level of education wasn’t good enough for her – she went straight into a teaching academy. My grandmother, in one of her most superhuman feats, raised six kids as a single mother. And then, when they were old enough, she went back to school to finish her education credits. Wowza.

My grandmother often frustrated her family with her distance. My memories of her all come from when I was very young and we did crafts together. As I grew older, our visits became more awkward. I remember her speaking to me frequently through my mother and resenting it. When she’d lost some of her mental acuity due to diabetic complications, she remembered me as “Merry’s daughter”, but couldn’t remember my name. And I think that’s how she thought of me – as a person that was intrinsically related to my mother, but not someone she really knew. I wished for years that I knew her better. I wished that I knew how to. I don’t know if it was on purpose that she was so distant, or if she thought she was protecting us, but I think most of us wanted to know her better than we did. I’ve been heavy hit with grief; more than I expected given how often we communicated over the years. I apparently took a lot more solace in knowing that she was there than I realized. I’m now the oldest in my direct maternal line and I am not ready for it.

I seem to come from a long line of remote and admirable women; women who don’t let their period of history limit them. I’m at least a third generation feminist, just one more fighter in a line of fighters. And my grandmother’s legacy was so obvious at the funeral – the room was filled with people that wouldn’t exist if she hadn’t made the choices she did. Goodbye Grandma – may we all live to die of old age, surrounded with the evidence of how we changed the world. You taught us to love music and crafts and education and to care about social justice. You done good.

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Weddings for Feminists

I am clearly not a stereotypical bride. In the three weeks in which I have been engaged, I’ve started doing some research in wedding planning that is driving me nuts. This began with signing up for theknot.com so that I could access their checklists. The Knot presents you with a nearly 200 item checklist that is largely presumed to be my responsibility. Because I’m the bride, which means that apparently I’m meant to have been dreaming about my wedding day for my entire life. (Hint: never once thought about it.) I’m meant to have a vision and colors and some dream about a dress style, all of which makes me want to have no wedding at all, because it sounds like a lot of expensive work that I can pretty easily screw up by picking the wrong napkins, etc. It all makes me pretty grumpy, but I am a fan of ceremonies and rituals to mark the important events in your life and I love seeing my family, so we’re going to have one anyway.

Weddings, in their default traditional state, are pretty creepy. It’s probably no surprise that the heavily orchestrated gender roles of the process are giving me trouble. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on how to make my wedding awesome instead. I refuse to degrade my friends with the whole bouquet/garter toss and I would prefer both of my parents to walk me down the aisle, if only that were possible. I’d like a drum circle and dancing until the wee hours. I don’t want a groom’s side and a bride’s side – I just want our friends and family together, for a day filled with love and joy. It is a day for two families to come together, a day where I will not just make my fiancé my family, but also his family. It’s the day where he officially becomes part of mine. And that’s where I want the focus to be, not on the price tag of my dress or the rings.

We want something that’s authentic to us, which doesn’t sync very well at all with the traditional ceremony. Above all, I don’t want it to be boring. People will be paying a lot of money to come to our wedding, since most of our relations and childhood friends are far away, and I want to make sure they have a good time and talk about it for years.

No pressure there. None at all.

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Cupid in the Corner, Sloshed

As we are burgeoning alcoholics[1], we’ve started a tradition of making a different cocktail each Sunday. It’s fun and it lets me justify the purchase of The Complete Bartender’s Guide, which I bought when I first moved into my house, since I love to throw parties. (Note, parties thrown to date: three, which happens to be an average of one per year. But all memorable, I assure you.)

Tonight, I started with a Grasshopper for my fiancé and tried it and decided that I didn’t like it much. We didn’t get green crème de menthe, so it wasn’t even pretty. It was pretty minty and heavy on the cream, which I’m not such a fan of. We refer to plain cream as Irish cream in this household, as Americans know better than to eat it without sugar. Cultural differences were discovered at an inopportune dessert moment for which we still sometimes bow our heads in mourning.

So for my cocktail, I browsed through the book for Things That Use Chambord, as we had just returned from purchasing some at the liquor store. I settled on Cupid’s Corner, which is equal parts cognac, Chambord and heavy cream with a dash of grenadine. You then use some cream to draw a heart on the top of the drink, which I got better at by the second one. The trick seems to be to barely touch the surface of the drink – you’re laying the cream on top of it, rather than putting it in the drink at all.

Personally, I found it far too alcoholic to my taste, although we were admittedly pouring doubles for lack of real cocktail glasses. Of course, you can see what that leads to.

[1] As the child of an alcoholic, I can make that joke. And no, we’re not really, but everyone needs a goal.

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Reader, I married him

On New Year’s Eve, at thirty minutes until midnight, my live-in boyfriend went down on one knee on the James Joyce bridge over the River Liffy in Dublin.  We’d just had dinner at a Spanish restaurant with some friends and his brother.  He had a ring.  I figured I’d better say yes and so I did.

Now I find myself engaged and it’s changed absolutely everything.  (It’s even made me want to take up blogging again, because the wedding industrial complex is insane and I’m afraid of boring my friends.)  A permanence and a gravity has been added to our relationship that wasn’t there a week ago.  We are people who take marriage seriously.  Perhaps even a little too seriously, since it’s our first engagement each and I am thirty and he is forty-four.  But we’ve finally gotten here.  And it’s good.  It feels right.  It feels solid.

It would be hard to be happier.  I figured I’d better tell the world.

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Family Changes

What a month!

About a month ago, I took my kid brother into my house and set about the business of raising a teenager. Although strange at first, this has gone surprisingly well, and it’s been just delightful having a young mind around the house. I really enjoy his different perspective. Even if the spaghetti I made for dinner sometimes ends up on the carpet. And my socks. And pants. (Really, I thought the spaghetti throwing stage was supposed to be over at a much younger age. Perhaps the aim just improves.)

Two weeks ago, I had news that my maternal grandmother was not doing very well. She seemed to have suffered a stroke and the reports were dire. As such, I caught the next flight to Wisconsin that I possible could and spent the weekend at the retirement home where she was being made comfortable. On Friday, she had stopped breathing for a few minutes – by Sunday she was eating a little and speaking a little. We are all somewhat amazed at the robustness of the human body and – more specifically – of Grandma.

I did leave the kiddo with my lovely boyfriend – and reports are that they got on just fine all weekend and did not miss me one bit. Harrumph.

Sometimes I look at my life a year, even two years ago, and I just can’t reconcile it to where it is today. It seems like ever since I got the call telling me my mom was sick, life has decided to keep throwing things at me that I never imagined for myself. The last two years have been an incredible roller coaster, but the sort that ends at the top of the hill, not the bottom. There have been dips and bumps along the way, but on the whole, it’s looking up.

Coming home each night to family is very, very nice.

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Visiting the Homestead

It has been a very busy month. I just came back from a visit to Wisconsin, where I saw quite a large percentage of my mom’s side of the family. It was the first time I’ve been there without her, so it was a little sad from that perspective, but it was nice to be around people who remember her. People who knew her can laugh with me over all the crazy things she would do. It’s nice.

Family visits are always a little odd to me because I was raised geographically distant from both sides of my family. I have cousins, but we didn’t grow up together, which has always made me kind of sad. I have a brother, but he wasn’t born until I was fourteen and we’ve never lived in the same country. My aunts and uncles and grandparents all live in other states. I don’t even recognize most of my extended relations without someone whispering “great-grandfather” or “cousin” or “your father’s cousin”. For most of my daily life, family consisted almost entirely of my mother.

I think this is why I like visiting family so much – I do always wonder what it would be like to grow up with more regular interaction, but it’s really nice to be creating memories. And perhaps the wildest part for me is discovering all the things I have in common with people that I’ve had pretty limited exposure to. I’m pretty out there – and comfortable in my strangeness – so finding people that I share a lot of things in common with is rare. To find such a large group of people who think like I do, act like I do, look like I do and laugh like I do is really empowering. Some things must just be in the genes – which I find really comforting.

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Six Months Ago

My mother died six months and two days ago. She’s been on my mind a lot, obviously, because round numbers are the sort of thing that stick out.

Whenever the 9th rolls around, I find myself thinking back to those awful days in the hospital. Watching her breathe through the respirator, the colonoscopy bag, her swollen limbs blistering and changing color as I listened to the awful suck-in/suck-out of the machines that were keeping her alive. Almost fainting when I spoke to the first doctor, when I realized that I would not be going home in a day or two, because she was sicker than anyone I’d ever known before. Feeling the responsibility settle in because I was the only one around to make decisions.

The room had a smell to it, half Lysol and half sweetness from her illness, the kind of smell that lingers in your nostrils long after you’ve left the room. I remember staring at the toilet in the room when I first got there and sat on the chair waiting for the nurse. “Your awesome daughter is here,” I wrote on the white board in a red Dry Erase marker, “and I love you.”

Not that I spent a lot of time in the room, because seeing her bloated form was very difficult. She didn’t look at all like my mom, who was a vivacious and often frustratingly silly woman. My mom was petite and curvy. The sick body on the bed was all of the opposite. Her body in the coffin looked nothing like her at all, because her body was so beat up by the illness. I never got to talk to her, never got to find out how she felt about what was happening to her. I didn’t hold her hand when she died, because I was scared to touch her, but I was there. I witnessed it, although I didn’t think that I could. I watched her turn blue, the thin lips that I’ve inherited changing color in a matter of seconds.

I really don’t know how I would have gotten through those days without the kindness of the people around me. Old family friends, her church, my “family” of friend in Virginia all flocked around me and provided support when I needed it. It was an awful time, but also an incredible time, and I have walked away knowing that I’m very loved, which is something that I’m not sure I really understood before she got sick.

I am such a different person now from who I was then – so much in my life has changed. I find myself longing for her, even though we were never as close as I wanted to be, and as time passes, her death just becomes more unreal. I know she’s dead, it’s deep in my consciousness, yet sometimes I nearly pick up my phone to call her. We had gotten into the habit of it in the months before she died, because I finally got over the grudge I had against her for never keeping my contact information. She was so organized in some ways and I had resented her for not loving me enough to keep my phone number around.

But as one gets older, the small hurts just go away – what matters is grabbing the people you care about and loving them unconditionally. No one is perfect, but one of the things that unites us all is that our time together is very short.

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