Tribute to my Mom

To my mother, on her 87th birthday, with love.

You are always in our hearts. Today, I reflect on the legacy you’ve left us and the joy your smile brought to so many.

Ring in the New…

Capture

As we come to the end of 2014, many people feel the pressure to do more – to set goals, to compare, to somehow quantify their journey in some meaningful way. I get that. I’ve done it. Even WordPress feeds into that by providing you with statistics on your site – which I find interesting and have shared in the past. But in looking at it now, another year wiser, I am not simply looking for quantity in my activity, but quality. Am I focused on the right things? Am I spending time where I need to spend it, not simply to boost my numbers?

On the whole, my blog had more visits and page views. That’s good. The bad is that I had a two month hole where nothing was posted and I was otherwise occupied with living my life – some of which included writing, but not blogging. Being a recovering over-achiever, I was annoyed to see that gap. I suddenly felt pressure to do MORE. Then I slapped myself back to reality and said “Not more, but better.” It’s so hard to stay on the path of quality when we are a hamster wheel driven society.

Yesterday, I had the luxury of being alone in my home for almost the entire day. That hasn’t happened in a long time. And I enjoyed it immensely. I did a few things on my chores list in order to justify my existence and get my Norwegian mother out of my head, then I made a conscious choice  to read as much as I wanted and to be as lazy as I needed. And it was wonderful. I enjoyed the peace and quiet, and realized I was completely comfortable, one cat curled up next to me, the dog at my feet, a cup of coffee at hand and a good book in front of me. I looked outside and saw blue sky and evergreen trees and had a moment of pure bliss. No one needed me, no one expected me, and I had nothing on my schedule that demanded my attention. That was a perfect moment. I need more perfect moments like that.

I doubt I could handle that much freedom every day, but as a once in a while thing, it was a treasure. On desperately busy days, I will look at it, like a scene in a snow globe and remember the feeling of being safe, warm, and just where I wanted to be and it will replenish me enough to carry on.

This year, as we countdown the final seconds, I will be thinking about the quality of my days and my writing. I want more perfect moments ahead and fewer crazy making ones. I want the right words to come, not just enough to fill a post or a page. I want to look back a year from now and know that I have done, if not more, then better. That’s the only goal I plan to set for 2015. It will have to be enough.

May 5 Redux

The irony is not lost on me that a week ago, I posted about my dad’s birthday.  Today, he’s on my mind again, as this is the day he died. It feels inconceivable that it’s been four years already – in fact, in last week’s post, I said it had been three.  My brother reminded me that it was, indeed, four. Wow. How time flies.

In thinking about dad, it is with admiration and joy and love. He was a great dad and this post I wrote quite awhile ago captures him well. He was a force to be reckoned with when he was on a mission.  I love him and miss him and hold the best of him in my heart, and hopefully, in my actions as well.

Cheers to you, dad. You are remembered.

Dad

April 28 – A Tribute to my Father

When Jan was born she was so small my father could cradle her in one hand. He told us this story with reverence and awe, even 30 years after the fact. My sister was a premie before it was a given she’d live. She was my parents’ first child, their longed for baby, and they were scared. But she was determined to make it and she fought and she thrived and lived her life fully. The image of my father’s hands protecting her with love endured in my mind. His hands were big enough to hold us all, even when we were all fully grown. He was a good dad that way.

One of my favorite memories of my dad were his pajama adventures. He would load us older kids (3 or 4 of us) and take us out for a drive in the station wagon after we’d put on our pajamas. It wasn’t every night nor was there a common destination, but he made every trip seem like the most fun thing we’d ever done. He’d tell us stories and ask us riddles or on the really special nights, there was a stop for ice cream. At home, our mother could focus on getting the baby to bed without the noise and disruption of the rest of us bouncing around the house.

momanddad

I’m the youngest child in this photo.

As a parent, I see now what his real motive must have been; however, as a child, it was dad at his best – all ours for that special time. His stories weren’t like mom’s – his were more dark and a little scary, full of personalization – we starred in them and they seemed so much more real that way. He did all the voices and had us laughing in spite of any worries.

Today marks his 87th birthday. He’s been gone almost 3 years, which is still hard to believe. He is alive in my thoughts and  memories and his hand is still there, protecting us all. I held his hand when he left his life and held Jan’s when she left hers. I stood in as his proxy, knowing he would be there if he could.

I still feel him behind me knowing that sometimes his hand is there to help and other times to motivate me. He loved me like no other and always wanted the best for me – and wanted me to aim for the best for myself as well. I was lucky to have him on my side. On his birthday, I’m sharing a little bit of him with you.

January 10

So it’s your birthday
And what have you done?
Another year older,
A new one just begun…
me through the years
Reprising the great John Lennon here for a moment as I reflect on what my brother likes to call my “55th successful revolution of the sun”.  Yes, it’s my birthday.  No, I’m not having a party.  I am working hard to stave off a pity party.  Something about this year seems to hold special portent.  The double digitedness of it, maybe?  The fact that I am halfway through my (gasp!) 50s?  That this is an age where many people I work with begin to leave for retirement?  All of the above and possibly more.

What I don’t want to dwell on is all that I’ve lost in the past five years.  Back then, I hadn’t lost my dad, my mom or my sister to cancer.  I was physically fit, having completed a sprint triathlon the summer before and did another the following summer.  I hadn’t been diagnosed with an incurable liver disorder or lupus.  I hadn’t experienced a major breach of trust that almost ended my marriage.  I felt hopeful, optimistic, and ready for whatever came next.

Today, the headline that comes to mind after listing all that crap above is “All that you’ve lost”, which sounds like a lyric from a U2 song.  Clearly my mad skill for lyric memorization is coming in handy today.

But I need to change my thinking.  I don’t want to dwell on what I’ve lost.  I want to dwell on what is still possible.  I am 55.  I am alive.  That last item alone should be reason to celebrate.  While I may not have my health the same way it was, I don’t have a terminal cancer diagnosis, which is what my sister had at this age.  I have my kids in my life and they are all well.  I continue to like my job and don’t plan to leave it immediately – but I do have thoughts about when I might want to go and that sets off another set of thoughts around possibilities like “what’s next?”.  I have ideas.  I have dreams.  I have goals.  All of these are good things. So I need to nip any sense of pity in the bud and remind myself of all the good that being alive brings.

Birthday Toast
I remember standing up to raise a toast at my 50th birthday party, where my friends and some of my family had gathered.  I looked around the room and saw people from almost every major part of my life – elementary school, junior high, high school, college, various career junctures – and I thought how very lucky I was to be connected to so many who knew the story of my life.  I thanked them for being a part of that story and when I think about it today, I would want them all at a party this year, were I having one.  Plus, there are new people that I would like to include.  As I go through each year, I get richer and more blessed.  I will dwell on that, and I will think about possibilities, not what’s been lost.

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”

This lovely cliché is attributed to the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who predated Plato. I needed to look this up for something at work that I was writing about and found the actual translation of his work is, more accurately:

“Upon those who step into the same rivers flow other and yet other waters. All things…are in flux like a river.”

Trans. John Mansley Robinson, An Introduction to Early Greek Philosophy, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968) p. 91, Fragment 5.15 and p. 89, Fragment 5.10.

And so I view my life.  It is a river that I step through and the water that moves by me has been going on for all time.  I gather those drops that I need to sustain me, I hold them for a time, then, like all drops of water, they evaporate to become clouds and come back to the river as rain.

I am lucky.  I am blessed.  I am alive.

Erin_UK

Remembering Mom

mom

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 87. I am lucky enough to have her papers in a box in my office. She wrote sporadically over the years – observations, thoughts, and more fiction than I knew about. When I looked at these papers as I was helping to clean out her home, I realized that I have followed in her path. I am a closet writer, too. The idea took root at that point that being a closet writer wasn’t enough. It was then that I asked for my own room to write in and made a goal of doing more with it. I am happy to say I have stayed true to that goal.

My mom’s desire to write came from a deep place. She was an avid reader, a great editor, and knew more words than just about anyone I know. She loved to talk about the books she was reading and shared them freely with all of us, just so we could read them and talk about them more with her. One of her familiar habits was to quietly say “hmmm…” while reading something. That was an invitation to ask “What?” From there, mom would launch into a thought or idea that her reading had triggered. She was a thinker. She couldn’t help wanting to write.

Reading through her things is like hearing her voice once again. I dipped into the files yesterday thinking of her and found this small gem. It gives me comfort.

Words of Wisdom
– By Dory Kearney, Undated

I was asked recently if I remembered any part of my life with more pleasure than other parts. I thought about it a bit, said no, and then offered this little story as my explanation.

Some years ago, a group of us decided to make a quilt as a money-raising project for a favorite charity – each quilt square to commemorate some achievement or event in the person’s life. As the squares were returned, some of them were very professionally done, some were well-done, some were childishly prosaic, and some more imaginative. There was one which was awful, done by one of our group who had no experience with handwork, nor it appeared, any aptitude for it. But her square depicted a significant event, so it really had to be included.

But what was striking was that, once the quilt was put together, the overall effect was wonderful and that poorly done square was just as effective as the more perfectly done ones. Its very imperfection lent a tender authenticity that hearts had involved themselves in this quilt, not just expert fingers.

And that is how I look back on my life to this point. All my experiences are as a mosaic that I contemplate with fondness, the imperfect times contributing to the whole as fully as the more successful times.

In retrospect, periods of struggle have been instructive; what I have learned has been used to build on and without those experiences, subsequent successes may not have been the same.

97quilt2

Syv Slag, Holiday Traditions Made with Butter, Sugar, and Love

Throughout my lifetime, my mom made cookies at Christmas for our family and neighbors.  That was just something we did and I made the natural, childish assumption that everyone did the same.

As I grew up, I heard about other traditions – gifts of fruitcake, fudge, holiday breads – but in our house, it was cookies.  Our house smelled like heaven on baking day and my mom had to keep it much simpler than her Norwegian ancestors did where serving seven kinds of cookies (Syv Slag) is expected to properly celebrate Christmas. Mom had to limit her selection to about three or four – the time involved with baking and keeping her five kids out of the product took more than even her supermom skills could manage. 

Almost 18 years ago, I started baking cookies myself at Christmas.  To plan my attack, I took a piece of scrap paper from the recycling bin and wrote down the logistics:  which cookies I would make, how many I would need, and what the total measurements were for the sugar, flour, butter, and eggs. The  sheet I used was a daily report from my daughter’s school. She was 8 at the time she wrote it and each year I marvel at how much she’s changed since then.

I use that same sheet to map my way each year, the same four central cookies still in play, which are Chocolate Chews, Finnish Ribbon Cakes, Brown Sugar Shortbread, and Truffles (OK, not technically a cookie, but still delicious).  I keep this treasured piece of paper tucked into the Sunset Cookies Cookbook that I got at a school book sale which has three of the four recipes in it.  Others recipes are added as time, tastes and need dictate. 

cookies

This year, I hit the magic seven mark.  Working with my daughter, Laurel, and my son’s girlfriend, Pernilla, we made the four favorite cookies and added a few others to go along with them.  Pernilla brought gingerbread dough with her from Finland that her mom made, using a recipe that was her grandmother’s.  Pernilla patiently rolled out dough for 120 mostly Moomin shaped cookies, with a few holiday themed ones as well.  We added in a batch of Seven Layer Magic bars.  Once arranged on the plate, because I’d used two different types of jams for the Finnish Ribbon Cakes, we counted up the varieties and it came to seven. 

Pernilla took pictures of the plates of cookies to use in her presentation in Finland about Scandinavian traditions that are still in place in the US.  I thought of my mom and her mom doing the same thing, joined by heritage and tradition across miles and generations.

cookie plate

I was with my mom for her last Christmas in 2010. Recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, she was fretting over things she’d meant to do but hadn’t gotten to, things like send her Christmas cards and get gifts for her neighbors.  I offered to make cookies and package them as gifts.  We passed several wonderful hours while I baked, talking about holidays gone by and our family memories. I used my favorite recipes, which I had just made two days before for my own neighbors, and knew by heart. It was a labor of love to be able to do this for my mom when she could no longer do it for herself.

Everything about that day was poignant – the smell of the baking cookies in the air, the quiet companionship talking with my mom, the feeling of closure it brought to us both.  Tasting the cookies, mom said they took her back to Christmases when she was a child, the warm taste of butter and sugar melting in her mouth. She said they were as good as her mother used to make, bringing tears to my eyes.  I turned away so she didn’t see me cry – we’d cried too much already – but her compliment truly touched my heart.  I plated the cookies, put a card with them and delivered them to her neighbors along with the news that mom had only weeks to live.  It was a sad message delivered best with something sweet and homey, taking away a little of the sting.

That afternoon felt like the truest way to honor my mother.  Following traditions, remembering our shared journey, carrying those memories forward– I did for my mother when she couldn’t do for herself and knew that she was grateful. 

Baking this year with my own daughter and working side by side with Pernilla, I watched traditions being passed along, memories being made, and I felt my mom close by, nodding in approval. 

Cookies in work

Flash Friday Fiction

one-tomorrowCopyright John Nixon

I know this man. He’s lived a rich life, now circumscribed to walking his errands around the neighborhood. He’s made friends in all the shops; stopping to ask about people’s lives, their families, their days. His bearing is dignified in his Navy veteran ball cap, his smile ready, his presence a part of their routine now.

Word Count: 100

A True Gentleman

– Where is he? He’s usually stopped in by now.
– Who’re you talking about?
– You know – our gentleman caller. He’s late. Where do you think he’s gotten to?
– Oh – didn’t you hear? I guess you were off yesterday.
– What? Did something happen?
– His daughter came in yesterday to pick up their groceries. He passed away on Sunday. I told her how much we enjoyed his visits every morning.
A tear etched its way down her cheek as she spoke. Neither of them said anything for a while.
– Such a kind man.
– A good life, that’s what he had.
– A good life.

Please check out the links to all the other Flash Friday Fictioneers, which can be found here.
© Erin Leary

Flash Friday Fiction

Photo Courtesy of Lubyanka

Union Station, Washington DC – Photo Courtesy of Lubyanka

I passed through Union Station in DC last June on my way to meet with our state’s representatives and senators.  It is a monument to both change and endurance.  The activity level is steady, as passengers embark and disembark in droves – 40 million each year.  The building continues to serve as a hub of busy business into its second century.  It could be seen as the heart of our nation’s capital – or at least a part of the circulatory system!

Word Count: 102

Soldiering On

I rise from the basement where the Metro station is located, footsore and weary.  Like being born anew, I emerge from a narrow tunnel into the light, the heat, the frenzy that is DC in session.  Blinking, I adjust to this new world, steeling myself for action.

I carry with me facts and figures, details to persuade, cajole, and encourage my legislators to continue funding cancer research.  What they cannot see are the hearts I carry with me.  Father, mother, sister – I am their standard bearer, their voice, advocating for those who can no longer speak.

Time to soldier on.

Please check out the links to all the other Flash Friday Fictioneers, which can be found here.

© Erin Leary

Flash Friday Fiction

maui-from-mauna-keaPicture courtesy of Doug MacIlroy

Call the police, I broke the law.  Scattering ashes requires a permit most places.  Hawaii must have its share of scofflaws like me who come to honor a loved one’s last wishes…but then again, they have ashes in the wind on a regular basis.  This story is more truth than fiction.  Thanks to Doug for the lovely muse his photo provided.

Word Count: 99

Silver Linings

– Well, now you can scatter my ashes with dad’s on Maui this summer.

We were listing the positives of mom’s terminal diagnosis, trying to make the best of things.

– Somewhere near Makena Beach, if you can.  You kids used to have such fun there.

Hawaii wove through my parent’s life like a vibrant green tendril, tying together our memories.  It was their paradise, their place.

Rising above the clouds as we head back to the mainland, the sun paints their edges with liquid silver.   Promises kept, memories honored, we left more than our hearts behind this time.

Please check out the links to all the other Flash Friday Fictioneers, which can be found here.

© Erin Leary