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!

Complexity Has a Teenager’s Face

This is a tough one to put into print.

For almost a week I’ve been wrestling with mixed emotions about our granddaughter. It’s a strange sense of déjà’vue, taking me back over 20 years, to a time and place I never wanted to revisit. I’ve been hurtled back to a dark period in our lives, where we (as parents and step parents) struggled through endless days of deceit, trickery, thefts of property, cars and money, underage drinking, runaways, truancy (gee, did I miss anything? …probably…), trying to fix whatever was broken in my older son. He did not want to be fixed, thought he knew better, thought we were dumb/mean/the worst parents ever and wanted to get away from us to a ‘better place where people would understand him/let him do what he wanted’. For those thinking, oh, he was just a typical teen, I need to say, No, no he wasn’t. I know normal. I experienced ‘normal’. I could have dealt with normal ten times over. His behavior was anything but normal, day after grueling day. Those days turned into years that included foster care, 72 hour emergency inpatient assessments, escapes from institutions, prison and ultimately, multi-year spans of silence broken by intermittent promises to change that have yet to become permanent.

My oldest son remains broken to this day. Contact is sporadic and I remain guarded and protective of our family. The truth is, I love him as my son, but I don’t like him. That’s very difficult to admit.

Our middle granddaughter, one of his daughters, has a deep seated resentment for him. I understand it because he let her down at every turn, making promises that were unkept, not contacting her on special occasions, etc. She had her mother’s love, but needed more. And us? We didn’t even know she existed until a little over a year ago. She was already a teenager. She’d been told nothing about us-just left to think we knew about her but didn’t want to have anything to do with her. That couldn’t be further from the truth. So, we came into her life and encountered a woman-child filled with false bravado, wanting to reach out but fearing rejection. Intensely intellectual. Highly emotional (what teenaged girl isn’t?). Volatile, with a penchant toward drama. Self abusive.

She doesn’t want to be anything like him, she proclaims. Yet, all her behavior is following his pattern. Lies. Deceit. Thefts. You get the picture. Tell her she’s like her dad and she explodes in anger, saying she’s nothing like him (NOTHING, do you hear?)… but I sense that, deep down, she knows the truth and that is her biggest fear.

Whenever her father broke the law while living with us, we called the police and pressed charges. He knew the consequences of his actions yet continued to make bad decisions, and then his actions became more brazen and he started breaking laws that didn’t just involve our home/property. He went to court more times than I could count. He played the game well, got his wrists slapped at first…but eventually, found that the court had run out of patience with a repeat offender. He could lie better than anyone I had ever met, and I often think he has actually convinced himself that the stories he tells are the truth. I told him more than once, son, if you would just use your mind for good, you could do anything. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.

Our granddaughter’s mom and step dad have followed a different path with her, giving her wide berth. She knows she can get away with things and she takes full advantage of it. She’s already been in court and now faces fines and possible jail time if those fines are not paid. That does not frighten her…yet…because I’m sure she believes her parents will pay the fines for her to keep her out of jail. For all I know, she could be right. It isn’t what I would do, but I am not them.

I would let her go to jail. I would take her calls and listen to her pleas, but I would not cave in. But again, that’s me…and we all know how well that worked with her father, don’t we?

So, here we are. She barely knows me as her grandmother, but she DOES know I am a strong woman who is somewhat immune to her rants. I love her dearly as my granddaughter and pray for her every day… and yet, there’s a silent, unspoken reality that says that, while I want her to know we love her unconditionally, we will not allow her to walk over us and use us until we are no more than nubs. And therein lies the rub. Because I cannot make excuses for her behavior. She’s too smart and too savvy for that. To say she’s the victim of her past is too easy. We all know people who have come through much worse childhoods and not only survived, but thrived. We all have things in our past that we should not have had to deal with as children. So, we take those things and say, okay, I know what NOT to do…and I know how to be a better person…and they don’t become crutches for bad behavior.

I wish I could instill in her a sense of self worth that would overcome whatever demons she is dealing with. I worry about her. If I could mend her with love and duct tape, I would do that. At this point, all I can do is pray for her and love her. If you have any spare prayer time, I’d appreciate you sending some for her, too. Thanks.

My Nick Note

Hindsight is always 20-20. If not perfect, it’s dang close most of the time.

When I got home from work yesterday, Nick was sitting on the couch, face streaked with dirt and his eyes looking (as my dad used to say) ‘like two piss holes in the snow.’ He was dead-ass tired. He had been working on the trail most of the day (remember, he said he needed help to finish? Yeah. Not strong on patience when he wants something done, that man of mine). He was spent. I noticed he was breathing a little hard and asked if he was okay. “I’m alright,” he assured me. “Just tired. Really, really tired.” I took his blood pressure anyway and was relieved that it was normal. He didn’t say anything, but his face said, “See, I told you. Just tired.”

He said he was just going to relax while I went to spin class. We kissed goodbye and told each other “I love you.” I left with that thought in my head.

Yet, somehow, when Chris’ phone rang while we were spinning, I knew the call was for me. I knew it before Allan came down the stairs and pointed at me. “That was Ken. They are taking Nick to the hospital. They think he’s having a heart attack.”

I’d ridden to class with Dana so I had no wheels of my own. Allan drove me to the hospital. The whole way there, I worried that he would be gone when I got there. I wanted to scream. To cry. I didn’t… because it have done no good. Instead, I concentrated on holding it together and praying. That took everything I had.

I ran into the ER lobby and was by Nick’s side in less than a minute. My mind took it all in: Nurse. Nick. Good neighbors and friends, Don & Sue Q., who had driven him to the hospital when things started to go south. Busy room. Lots going on. But the main thing was: Nick. He was conscious. Vitals were stable. Heart was beating…strong…watching the blips on the screen comforted me almost as much as seeing his eyes focus on me… Oh, so much better than the LAST time we were in that SAME ER ROOM—don’t think about that, Deb; focus on the present, not the past.

They’d given him nitro and started an IV. His limbs and lips were tingling and he kept asking me if I was rocking the bed, because that’s what it felt like to him. No, hon, it’s ok. Just relax. Take it easy. Keep breathing. Stay with me. Don’t go.

He did. Eventually the tingling left and they gave him a shot to attack the headache. Jake came by and made Nick smile. Rest and relax, everyone kept repeating. Don’t worry about anything and stay calm. Take it EASY.

Then, they sent us home. Unsteady and weak, home we went, thanks to strict medical criteria and insurance rules. But I digress- We’re home. He is still tired and his headache is lingering. He’s sleeping a lot. That’s okay. Rest, my love. Rest and recover.
I was here with him today and will be here tomorrow, too. He shouldn’t be alone and I don’t want to be away from him.

Nick will be absent from facebook for a bit. He doesn’t want his phone, either — so you know he’s just not feeling well. If you call his phone and I hear it, I may answer – but probably not. At this point, we’re just tuning out the world most of the time.

Good thoughts and prayers would be most welcome.

The Heart and Mind of a Child

I looked into the face of a young girl this morning who’s body shape and size reminded me sharply of myself at her age (12). Overweight and self conscious, she was respectful (though quiet) and an easy person to be around.

My heart hurt when I realized that I just put a real face to only one of thousands of kids who worry about real life, adult issues because the caretakers in their lives are less mature than they are.

Let me just say this:
Kids should not have to worry about where they will live after being evicted.

Kids should not have to worry about whether a parent will get another job after receiving (another) drunk driving ticket…or where they’ll go if that parent goes to jail.

Kids should not have to worry about getting adequate nutrition. They shouldn’t feel they need to eat junk food as ‘fillers’, or to overeat whenever possible, just in case they don’t know when or where their next meal is coming from.

They shouldn’t have to worry about loving each parent equally, what to say in front of whom so they don’t set off a parent’s rant or whether or not they will get to see one parent again because a parent owes child support or has angered the other parent.

I know I can’t save the world. I know there are countless details in parents’ lives that complicate situations.

But I would go hungry myself and work at any (ANY) job offered in order to take care of my children or grandchildren. And I darn well wouldn’t be spending money partying while my children worried where they would go to sleep that night…or in a few weeks. Giving them a stable, safe living environment should be a basic responsibility, not an option.

This girl, with her soft, dark eyes and quiet ways, is haunting me today. To say much more than that could compromise her anonymity. I don’t want to do that. Know this – she has people in her life who can/do care for her. I just hope she has enough good role models in her life to overshadow the poor ones.

I’ll be praying for her.

A Short Conversation With My Mother

I had a short conversation with my mother today. It was short, not necessarily because she’s been dead since 1994, but because I finally got fed up with her negative comments as they re-played in my head this afternoon.

Some people just make better parents than others. I realize that now. And, while I’ve made peace with my demons…every now and then, at the most inopportune time, they regurgitate themselves like bad bile, leaving a sour taste in my mouth and heaviness in my heart.

It happened today during my very first ride on my beautiful new road bike. I was struggling to learn coordination and balance while clipping my bike shoes into the bike’s pedals – all new for me. I knew I’d need to practice and had already prepared myself for the probability of falling — and I did! My left foot was firmly clipped but I was struggling to get my right foot into the cleat when I wobbled and lost my balance. Being left handed, my instinct was to put down my left foot — except it was still attached to the pedal — and down I went.

It was a moderately easy fall – some road rash, a broken blood vessel – not nearly as bad as it could have been, but a fall nontheless. I sat on the ground a moment, assessing myself and thinking, “OK, that’s what it feels like…all good…let’s get up and go again…”

But before I could push to my feet another voice popped into my head. It belonged to my mother. “I’ve told you over and over again…I should have named you Grace, because at least then you’d have had some. You are the clumsiest person ever born on this earth.”

Years ago, she’d tell that to a gawky child many times a week. She’d say that (and other mean things) to a girl who was very uncomfortable with her body. As a result, I constantly felt unworthy of love. Without remorse, she’d watch my eyes fill with stinging, hot tears. Often times, she’d make fun of my sensitivity. She’d mimic my crying as I slunk away to lick my wounds alone in my bedroom. Food became a good friend, never talking back, always accepting me. No wonder I was overweight.

Now, as a parent and grandparent, I cannot imagine treating my children or grandchildren that way.

The thing is, in public, she treated me so differently that even people who knew us well never saw that side of her. She saved the ridicule for our ‘alone’ time. I was an only child and my dad was an over-the-road truck driver, so there was no lack of that.

So, today, at 58, well into my fitness journey and training to become a triathlete, she came calling. I’m sure that some psychologist could give me a wealth of theories why it happened. The truth is, it took me by surprise. I certainly didn’t expect it. But, what’s cool is how I responded. Because, without even thinking, I told my mother something I never would have said to her while she was alive. “Mom, shut the hell up,” I said. And she did.

I got up, brushed off the gravel and sand from my legs and mounted my beautiful bike. Without giving her another thought, I clipped in my left foot, pushed off and cleated my right foot perfectly. The wind caressed my face. There were no tears, no gawkiness. I may have fallen, but it wasn’t due to clumsiness. I’m merely learning. I may fall again – in fact, I probably will. But I don’t expect to hear that comment again. It has lost its sting.