35 years…and Counting

Thyrold survivor 35 years 2

35 years ago today I opened my eyes from a hospital bed and saw my dad sitting stiffly in a plastic looking, avocado green chair with round wooden arms. His eyes were red and full of tears. I knew without asking but still had to hear it, so I asked, “Was it bad?”

“It wasn’t good, but you will be alright.” Immediately, images of my 5 and 7 year old boys flashed through my head and I began to cry. And that’s when I became a thyroid cancer survivor.

Cancer took something from me that day, but, unbelievably, gave to me as well.

It gave me the strength to leave a one-sided marriage, despite my love of our farm and the desire to keep our so-called family intact. Cancer made me realize that, if I was going to have a short life, those years, and those of my children, should be happy ones. I was eroding from the inside – and not just from hungry, malevolent cancer cells. Of course, divorce is never easy and the aftermath and emotional turmoil for my kids was worse than I could have known. Hindsight is 20-20. Looking back, I would have done things differently, but I would have still left. Otherwise, I would have lost myself, with or without cancer. Cancer gave me the power, the ability, to see what was happening to me. I just wish that somehow, the children could have been unscathed. That is my biggest regret.

Cancer reinforces my optimism for life and gives me the ability to face whatever life brings. It helps put everything into perspective, too. After all, does it really matter if someone doesn’t put their dishes in the dishwasher? Yes, it’s annoying day after day — but, in the giant picture, it’s a pretty small annoyance and not worth getting my panties in a knot.

I became a great-grandmother Feb. 19th. Me. I never thought I’d live to see my children grow up, let alone dance at their weddings…or my granddaughter’s wedding. And now, a great-grandson.

Our family picture from Jan:
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And our newest family member:
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I have been given enormous joy. Countless blessings. More love than I deserve.

I am a cancer survivor. Every moment is a gift.

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Newsflash: Fat Lady Is Singing “Auld Lang Syne”

Because we’re human, it seems we can’t cross over into a new year without conducting our own personal assessments of the one just ending. We need to strip off the make up and examine our bare faces (and other body parts – yikes!), complete with all our pock marks, scars and blemishes. We need to ask, Did we accomplish enough? Did we ‘make our mark’? Did we succeed?

So, as the numbers 2 – 0 – 1 – 3 swirl around the bowl one last time before ducking out of sight into the commode of life history, I’ll get mine out of the way now. It’s pretty heady stuff, so prepare to be amazed. Ready? Okay, here it is: We made it.

Deep thoughts, right?
I know!

As I was thoughtfully meandering through the past 11 + months, there were a lot of milestones that flashed up on my mental slide show. Our families and friends shared births, weddings and, sadly, funerals. We marked birthdays and anniversaries and celebrated joys and sorrows of our own and with others. Images cascaded through my mind, each with its own distinct memory. If I hit the mental ‘pause’ button at any given point, I could take a mental time-trip back to their exact moment and re-experience it all – sights, sounds, feelings and even smells. Ah, the wonder of our minds!

Going through it all, there are many, many moments I’d like to re-live and share and also more than a handful that I don’t ever want to go through again (although the life lessons remain). If I could, I’d place my hand against the side of your face and do the Vulcan mind-meld with you. I would watch the expressions on your face in splendid wonder and, at the end, we would both sit back and sigh, exhausted and exhilarated.

And that’s why I boiled it down to those three words.

We made it.

Now, enjoy some of the images from our lives this past year…
2013 year in review 2

Christmas Confession

Confession time. I actually toyed with the idea of not putting up a Christmas tree this year.

Now, as Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story…

We’re not celebrating Christmas with the family until next month because of timing and other families’ celebrations. It just gets to be too hard on the kids and grandkids.

Odds are, we probably won’t see them until then (insert sad face here). Not complaining; just stating fact. And, since we have no parties planned here either, I thought maybe, just maybe, I should not ‘bother’. After all, it will be ‘just the two of us.’ I asked Nick his opinion last weekend and got “it’s up to you,” in response. (sigh). Decorating the tree has always (always) been a special part of our family tradition for the Advent season. I normally am chomping at the bit to put the tree up right after Thanksgiving. After all, it’s time. A happy time. An expectant time: Jesus’ birth is coming. Family will be all around – even if not on Christmas, soon afterwards. All is right with the world. But somehow, this year, the looming, extra-length emptiness has been lingering around my heart and making even the smallest Christmas efforts seem monumental.

I even thought about putting up a smaller, table top tree on our dining room table instead of the big tree. That’s tough for me to admit because it takes me back to the year when my folks quit putting up a full sized, real tree in THEIR house. I can distinctly remember walking into their living room that year and seeing a little tree – it had to be the cut-off top of a tree – perched on their entertainment center. Sharp disappointment hit me – it was the end of an era and I knew it. At that exact moment, somehow, it hit me – the recognition that they had passed a point and would not be returning. I knew that the end (of their lives) was much closer than the beginning (does that make sense?).

While in a store last weekend I stopped in front of their display of various sizes and designs of little pre-lit trees. It made me sad to look at them. I waited to see if anything ‘hit’ me. Nothing did. “Why not just wait and see if you feel like putting up our tree sometime between now and Christmas,” my personal ‘wise man’ said as he stood beside me, looking at my sad boo-boo face. “I don’t think all of these are going to go anywhere.”

So, every night this week, I sat in our living room, looking at the corner where the Christmas tree normally sits by now. The rocking chair there seemed to mock me. Normally, it’s fine. But now, not. Nothing seemed right. Maybe I should decorate the rocker instead, a part of my brain mocked. Oh, shut up, I told myself.

Then, this morning, it hit me full force. WHAM! Tears down my cheeks. The whole she-bang. Listened to Christmas music and cried through every song. Sadness and probably a bit of self pity, but I managed to turn it into joy when I realized the real reason for our Christmas season. How selfish I was being by not wanting to truly celebrate our Savior’s birth!

So, the tree went up tonight. Here it is, in all it’s glory, with our precious Nativity scene underneath it. IMG_2371 (2)

My Thanksgiving Goose

It was going to be a slightly different Thanksgiving meal that year. A family friend had given my mother a goose the week before after she found out that mom would be joining us for dinner. “Make the goose,” she had told my mother, “and you’ll never go back to turkey again for Thanksgiving. It’s that good.”

Mom told me about the gift. “I don’t know how to make a goose,” I said. “Is there a lot to it?” Mom explained that geese are fatty birds and that I’d need to take extra steps to remove the fat before cooking. “Other than that, the goose is all set to go,” she said as she handed me the wrapped bird.

Famous last words.

I opened the package and stared down at the fowl. Hmm. Something just didn’t look right. Reached down and pulled — yep — pinfeathers. WTHeck? I called my mom. “So, this bird…” I began…”this bird from your friend…all packaged and ready to go…did your friend say anything about the fact there were still pin feathers in it?”

“What?” my mom exclaimed. “Well, you can’t cook it like that! Those have to come out first!” I wanted to say, “No sh*t, Sherlock” but bit my tongue. “Yes, I figured that out all by myself,” I answered drolly. “What’s the best way to do that?” (realize that this was before the internet and YouTube)

After listening to her for a few minutes I realized that there really was no good way to do this, especially since the bird had been frozen with the pinfeathers before it got to us. I thought about taking a ham out of the freezer just in case…but pride and determination kicked in. Instead, I started to heat a big pot of water and headed off to find tweezers…

Yes, that’s right. Tweezers.

It was a epic failure. The bird was slippery and I couldn’t get a good hold while trying to pull out the darn feathers. Now, just to be clear, these weren’t the kind of invisible little ones that remind you of little hairs. These were the ones with white feather roots staring at you from their base inside the bird. How this ‘friend’ missed them, I’ll never know. Mr. Magoo, perhaps?

After more than an hour of trying, I gave up. It took ten minutes to get my hands degreased enough to dial my mom again. “This isn’t working. I think I’m going to have to skin the bird. That’s the only way I’ll be sure the feathers are all gone.” She ‘tsked tsked’ appropriately. We commiserated. I hung up and grabbed a knife.

Before I go on, I just want to confess that I always lost at the game “Operation”, even when I played as an adult against my kids. So, from the onset I probably should have known what was coming. But, there was that inherit determination (okay, at this point you can openly call it stubbornness) driving me…and in I went…literally. The bird was so greasy that within minutes my knife, handle and all, was slippery. All my attempts to carve off thin, even slices of skin were in vain. Instead, I gouged and gutted my way through and around the bird.

It was difficult and I was at wit’s end. By the time I finished, I was sweating and in tears and I wasn’t feeling thankful AT ALL. It was 10 p.m. and I’d started this debacle around 4-ish. I was tired and angry and just plan FINISHED. I walked away from the bird thinking, maybe I’ve just looked at it too long…maybe it wasn’t THAT bad…maybe I’m being too hard on myself.

My husband was working 2nd shift and came home a bit later. He walked in the front door with a smile and then saw the bird sitting on the counter. His face told me everything I needed to know – and I burst into tears all over again.

He grabbed me close and held me. “It’s okay,” he said as the saga spilled out of me. “It looks…well…it will be okay. We’ll eat it. It may not look great but I’m sure it will taste just fine.”

Famous last words.

By this time, I had prepared a ham and added that to the day’s bounty. So at least we had backup.

I was cooking the goose in my roaster and the ham in the oven along with the casseroles and other goodies. I was busy. I had put the debacle behind me and was looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner. The table was set. Everything was going pretty well.

And then I took the lid off the roaster.

There, sticking out of the bird, were more pinfeathers. Too many to count! It looked like a gazillion of those turkey thermometer inserts – you know, the ones that pop out to tell you when the turkey is ready to eat – only these were white, wet and yes, somewhat stinky. I don’t know where they came from because I had hacked and carved away all the skin — or so I thought. But, there they were, defiantly staring at me. It was SO BAD. I burst into tears AGAIN – and my husband, mother and kids all came running.

“WOW, Mom, that looks really bad,” said one of my sons.
“It smells bad, too,” said the other one.
“We don’t have to eat that, do we?”
“I vote for ham!”

I was crying pretty hard by that time.

“Honey, I think we’re going to have to pass on the goose this year,” said my husband diplomatically. “Yes, I agree,” my mom chimed in. “The ham smells SO GOOD!”

I had worked so hard — for this?? “Don’t feel bad,” my husband said. “It’s not your fault. And it won’t go to waste. We’ll give it to the dogs – they’ll have their OWN Thanksgiving feast!”

I knew he was trying to buoy my spirits, but I grabbed onto that thought with gusto. At least it wouldn’t be a total failure. The Newfs would love it.

So, after we’d eaten our ham dinner and all the leftovers were all packed and put away, I attacked the bird for the final time to get it ready for the dogs. We made a celebration out of it, with the whole family taking it out to them. The kids told them, “Happy Thanksgiving!” as we gave them their ‘treat’. Bear, our oldest boy dog, smelled the meat, looked up at me and then gingerly picked up a piece and started lumbering to the back of their enclosure. ‘Good,’ I thought, ‘he’s going to settle down and eat it’. Instead I watched him proceed to dig a hole, drop the meat into it and cover it up completely.

Even the dogs knew it was a failure. I started crying again.

There probably aren’t a lot of people who can say they cooked a goose so badly even the dogs wouldn’t eat it…. but I can….

So, if your gravy is lumpy today, take heart — it could be worse… a lot worse.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Recipes and Life

Funny thing about recipes – some people follow them to a tee; others use them as a guideline and still others look them up and go off entirely on their own. Kind of reminds me of life…

Me? Well, I am a blend of the first two. You see, my mom was a good cook but somewhat lacking in the motherhood skills, so I did not know how to cook when I married my first husband. My mother in law at the time, a German farmer’s wife, taught me how to cook and bake. She used basic spices, cooked hearty lunches and dinners that always included desserts and spent many hours in the farm kitchen preparing meals that gave her family plenty of calories to burn for the hours spent outside in all weather. I learned those skills from her but was very young and quite unsure of myself, so I followed recipes diligently and was blissfully unaware of the culinary possibilities that existed outside my realm.

Fast forward to today. Re-married to a guy who grew up with a mother who was an awful cook; a guy who took cooking classes as basic survival skills and expanded that knowledge to every spice and seasoning known to man (or so it seems). He’s a guy who may start off using a recipe as a guideline but will almost always head off on his own, unfettered and unafraid. Because, as he says, if it doesn’t turn out, we can always make something else or go out. Recipes are more of a suggestion to him…again, that mimics life…

Over the years, he’s learned not to stand over me in the kitchen giving hints or trying to gently guide me (gently is the operative term there, as I am sure he thinks of it that way, whereas I feel a freight train pushing and pulling me toward a derailment). Leave me with my recipes and my instincts. I’ve developed into a more creative cook over the years but I still like a good recipe. I may deviate a bit, but when starting out in a new realm, I’ll follow one pretty darn closely to be sure I get the knack of it before invoking the ‘imagination clause’.

Yesterday, I went to my recipe box (I know, I know, pretty much ‘old school, right?) to look for my recipe for piecrust. We had been talking about pie crusts at my cousin’s last weekend during our Lefse Fest and someone asked me to share it with them, as it is extremely flaky and tasty. Now, before we go too far, I have to tell you, I do keep some new recipes on my computer and have entire CDs from Weight Watchers and other sources. So don’t think I am adverse to using technology for collecting my favorites.

But while looking for my piecrust recipe, I pulled out a chocolate crinkles recipe written by my first husband’s grandmother. IMG_2328_edited-1
It was one of the first ones she gave me. It’s written in her distinctive handwriting and I hear her voice as I read her words…she’s been gone many years… I found the rhubarb cake recipe from my ex Mother in Law (she’s now in an assisted living center and no longer cooks or bakes)IMG_2331_edited-1
…a Texas hash recipe from my husband’s Auntie Vi, in her handwritingIMG_2333_edited-1, recipes from my cousins
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IMG_2335_edited-1 and sisters in lawIMG_2334_edited-1, another aunt IMG_2329_edited-1 and my own handwritten (well used) ones as wellIMG_2330_edited-1.

I even have all the recipe cards from a friend’s mother who passed. His girls did not want the recipes, so I gladly took them. I cherish them all and think of her whenever I use one of them.

To me, recipe cards are more than just ‘recipes’, although even if that’s all they were, it would be sufficient. Recipe cards are ways to pass down traditions in the very best sense of the word.

And recipes themselves give us whatever we want: they can provide the foundation and framework and building directions for your masterpiece, full sets of blueprints per se, or can be design suggestions for the creative minds.

When I think of my life and how I approach challenges and opportunities, I tend to follow directions – but that doesn’t mean I’m tied to a recipe that doesn’t allow any substitutions. I believe we can’t be paralyzed by the fear of change in our lives or our recipes. So, embrace the mysteries that present themselves to you and use all the spices and seasonings at your fingertips to create your own personal masterpiece…YOU!