Friday, December 31, 2010

Mug Shots ...

...because it's easier than writing about my resolutions for 2011 before it is here.

The coffee cups in the cupboards, like the t-shirts in the t-shirt drawer, seem to multiply and resist all attempts to be weeded. Still, when I reach into the cupboard, I tend to instinctively reach for one of five mugs, each of which probably says more about me than I might like to think.

Magic Kitties I got this mug from a quilting friend from upstate New York. She carried it to a quilting gathering in New Mexico to give to me, and I carried it back to Virginia. That's the sort of thing friends do. It's colorful and jazzy and tends to make me smile if I'm not smiling already or, if I'm already smiling, smile a bit more.


This is one of the Demotivator designs from It reminds me somewhat quirkily that the only thing separating most of us from doing jobs that challenge us and asking "Would you like fries with that?" is a bit of work and a spot of luck. I've been fortunate enough to have had only one job that really depressed me, and taking it was by choice not necessity. It was a fairly well-paying job, too, but the mindlessness of it would have crushed my soul had I stayed in it longer than I did.

This is another classic Demotivator that helps keep me humble. This is often the mug I choose the morning after I have a karate class because I often feel as if I am the student most likely to be used to illustrate how not to do a technique. Of course, working through how to do something is one of the challenges that keeps me going back to karate. If it came too easily, it wouldn't be as satisfying.

Funky It's hard to do better than a mug with a monkey on it. I had a gift certificate to a local boutique, and this is what I chose after an arduous search. Like the Magic Kitties, Funky makes me smile. He also holds a sizable amount of coffee, a fact for which I am usually grateful first thing in the morning.

Journeys I saw this saying on a plaque at the local Hallmark Store and thought it the perfect Christmas present for a dear friend of long standing (some might say that we are old friends, but I prefer to think of us as friends of long standing). When I saw the same saying on a mug, I thought it the perfect Christmas present for myself. I usually initially jump at the chance to travel, then hesitate out of fear of leaving my comfort zone. The hesitations are lessening as I get older, because I look back and see how previous trips have changed me, usually for the better. The woman who returned in August 1975 from a summer studying in Spain and traveling in Western Europe was a stronger person than the girl who left on the trip in June 1975. The Jean who came back from 2009's Grand Adventure was an improvement over the Jean who started out. Journeys not only reminds me of the transformative power of travel but also usually brings back a memory or two.

Morning coffee or evening tea...they're both better with old friends.

The resolutions will come; in the meantime, Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Back

I mentioned a couple of posts back that my dad died this past fall. Most of the people who read this blog never met Dad. The people who have read this blog since its inception, or who went back to see what they missed in the early days of this blog, met Dad through this post. I can't really describe Dad any better now than I did then.

My dad fought and, for the most part, beat prostate cancer for the last two decades. He fought, but in the end lost to, multiple myeloma for the last five years. Given his age--he was 81 when he died--that his battle lasted five years is noteworthy. When the end came, it came somewhat suddenly. Early in his second round of chemotherapy (the first one had bought him another two years), he developed abdominal pain severe enough that he was sent from his doctor's office straight to the ICU. A few days later, my stepmother's report was that it didn't look good. I flew to Florida two days after that, planning to stay for five days. My brother was able to get time off from his job; he and his wife arrived in Orlando the same morning I did. Dad's sister had arrived the day before.

Our first full day there, Dad wanted to make sure my brother and I knew all the details of his estate, the location of the obituary he'd written, and the things he'd done to try to make the logistics of his death easier for our stepmother. He also wanted to talk about our childhood, how he worried that he had been absent for too many important moments in our lives after he and our mother divorced and his work took him to another city. We shared our side of that story with him, that while he had certainly missed some things, he had been there for the ones that counted most. High school graduation. Weddings. His grandsons. We laughed a bit together, and we cried a bit together.

The second full day, Dad asked for time alone with my brother's wife. He also made the decision to stop all treatments which were, his doctor admitted, only buying him time. The pain that caused his ICU admission had been traced to a clot that was blocking any blood flow between his kidneys and his liver. Dad said that the time he'd been bought had let him see his kids and his sister, and that he was done fighting. I can't say that I blamed him. The treatment buying him time was heparin, which required that his blood be tested every four hours. The night before, it had taken 11 needle sticks to find a vein from which enough blood could be drawn. They moved Dad from the ICU to a private room and began arrangements to admit him to a hospice the next day, the day before my and my brother's flights to our respective homes. Thanks to a relatively low-pressure, part-time job and a wonderful boss, I was able to cancel my flight and stay on. My heart almost broke watching my brother say good-bye to Dad. I felt a bit bad that I was able to stay when he had to go. Two days later, my aunt returned to her home in Nebraska.

Dad was in the hospice for six days before he died. He and I had several more talks from the heart. Among other things, he told me how proud he'd been that I had insisted on keeping my maiden name in addition to the husband's surname and using both though without a connecting hyphen. He also told me, not for the first time, how much he appreciated the decision the husband and I had made to have me stay at home with the sons when they were little. I was able to tell him how much that support had meant to me. Dad had always loved Frank Sinatra. I had my Mac along and set iTunes to shuffle through the four Frank Sinatra CDs I'd stored. Sometimes Dad and I just sat there holding hands and mouthing the words along with Old Blue Eyes. We needed no words of our own. My stepmother and I made sure Dad always had someone there, and we gave each other private time with him.

Dad was pretty much out of it the two days before he died, but we took turns sitting with him, talking with him, and just being there. The hospice nurses and aides were absolutely incredible. I cannot praise them enough for the care they gave Dad and for the care they gave my stepmother and me. I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I knew of hospice in only general terms before all this. It was just amazing.

I put in my Christmas letter that as deaths go, Dad's was a good one. It was. He could have been hit by a truck or had a heart attack and gone without warning, with no chance for the goodbyes my brother and I got to share with him. I might not have been able to read him the e-mails I got from the sons, each sharing the memories of him that they will cherish. He went out on his own terms, with dignity, sharing one last lesson, setting one last example for me.

Finally, I must admit that my father was an atheist of long standing. The only times I ever saw Dad in church were during my appearances in Sunday School Christmas pageants, one reason that this year's Christmas Eve service left me in tears when the candles were passed, and at my wedding. A hospital chaplain visited Dad after he had left the ICU and was in the private hospital room for one night. They evidently had quite the discussion of faith or lack thereof. Dad told me after he'd moved to the hospice that he hoped the chaplain might come visit him so that they could continue their discussion; he said the chaplain had told him that he was the first atheist he'd met who clearly articulated why he chose not to believe. The chaplain did visit Dad in the hospice, but not until Dad was basically continually sedated. He confirmed Dad's account of their initial conversation and said he, too, had looked forward to continuing their discussion.

My post of two years ago referenced above alludes to Dad's somewhat daring nature, his willingness to bluff his way through certain situations. He was a lucky fellow when it came right down to it. And even at the end, Lady Luck smiled on him. Atheist though Dad was, one of his tennis buddies was a retired Catholic priest. I'm blanking on his name as I write this, but I'll call him Father Mike. Father Mike and some of Dad's other tennis buddies came to visit during the time near the end, when Dad was out of it. As they were getting ready to leave, Father Mike asked if he could offer a prayer. I told him that I thought that would be nice. I told Father Mike that my aunt is Catholic and Dad's atheism was very painful for her, and that I knew it would give her comfort to know that a priest had offered a prayer for Dad near the end. Father Mike pulled out his pocket prayer guide, we all bowed our heads, and he read what essentially amounted to an absolution of all Dad's sins. I'm more "spiritual" these days than I am into any organized church faith, but I figure that Dad left this world with all his bases covered. If he was right, and there's no God and nothing to come after death, cool. If he was wrong, well, he certainly didn't have the chance to commit any sins after all his previous ones were absolved.

For Dad's 80th birthday, in 2009, I gave him a copy of Showing up for Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime by Bill Gates, Sr. In one of those last talks with Dad, when he apologized for missing so much of my childhood, I reminded him of the inscription I'd written in that book. "It wasn't always easy for you to show up, but you always managed to be there when it mattered most. Love, Jean"

He was always there when it mattered most, and I wouldn't be who I am today without that. I miss you, Dad, and always will.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas...

I'm still struggling a bit with really feeling Christmasy. I mailed my cards today, with the traditional Christmas letter for those who aren't up on some of the latest family news. The cards we've gotten are hanging above the fireplace, making a banner between the stockings hung to each side. Various handmade Christmas things I've been given as gifts over the years sit on various surfaces around the living room. And, with less than a week to spare before the arrival of the Big Day, we did put up a Christmas tree following the traditional argument between the sons over which one to choose at the tree place.

Decorating the tree has become less of a big deal over the years, as the sons have grown. This year, the husband was jet-lagged and slept soundly on the couch while I strung the lights on the tree. He did wake up when I yelled to the sons who were upstairs that I was starting to hang the ornaments just in case they wanted to help. They did, and each hung some ornaments that are special to them. These included two that they each made in the first grade they attended at a local religiously affiliated school. (You'd never see Christmas-themed costumes in a public school around here.) Younger son is no longer the angel he once was, though older son is still known to wield a stick from time to time. When the husband and I first got married, he started stitching a star on plastic needlepoint canvas for the top of our family tree. His mother came to visit, saw it lying there, and finished it for him. He was a bit perturbed about it at the time, but I don't think it bothers him now. At some point when the sons were little, older son realized that one of their stuffed primates could sit atop the tree thanks to a zippered opening on its back. To this day, each year, the Christmas ape sits atop the tree and wears the star as a hat. As for the tree in all its glory, it's far from a designer tree given that most of the ornaments are handmade, many by small children. There's a story behind almost every one. I'm embarrassed to say that the pile of presents under the tree does not constitute all that we have. Some of the sons' presents to their father are too large to put in the small corner allotted to the tree, so they're sitting in the foyer. We'll pull them into the living room to be opened on Christmas morning.

Other Christmas traditions here include the Christmas Eve service at the church some friends attend. That comes after the Christmas Eve dinner that I have do nothing for. Some years, it's take-out Chinese; other years, the husband and sons cook. Before we leave for church, I'll make a double batch of dough for cinnamon rolls. The dough will do its first rising overnight in the refrigerator. On Christmas morning, the sons will sleep in while I get the rolls rolled, sugared, cinnamoned, and otherwise ready for the second rising. We'll open presents while the rolls rise and bake. The rolls will have to last everyone until dinner, though I typically serve Christmas dinner in the late afternoon. Most years, I manage to fit in a soak in a bubble bath with one of the books I get as gifts. The other tradition is the male-oriented movie that I annually present to "the testosterone trio." They already know that this year it's the remake of "The A Team." The sons and I saw it in the theater; now it's the husband's turn to experience the mayhem. How can you not like a movie that contains the line "overkill is under-rated"?

After Christmas Day, the tree stays up until New Year's Day. I'm usually the one taking the ornaments and lights off it and packing them up for next year. The husband cleans up the needles the tree leaves where it stood and on its way out the door. The sons are all too happy each year to hack the tree apart with whatever sharp implements they fancy at the time. Some of our traditions are a bit far up on the banks of the mainstream, but they're just that--our traditions--and what makes this holiday one I genuinely treasure year after year after year. If you celebrate it, Merry Christmas! If you observe another winter holiday, Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Mom Moment

I took younger son to the local airport this morning. I asked him if I should just drop him off or go into the terminal with him. Noting that the short-term parking lot was not too crowded, he said why not come in with him. I did, and watched him confidently present his government-issued ID and obtain his boarding passes. I accepted the hug he offered, wished him luck, and told him I'd see him on Wednesday. We shared "love yous" as I felt tears start to roll down my cheeks. "Just a Mom moment," I told him. Having seen them before, he nodded, turned, and headed for the security checkpoint. I turned for the door to the parking lot, not trusting myself to watch him walk away.

Younger son is 20 though within spitting distance of being legal to imbibe. Five months from college graduation, he's sitting comfortably on one good offer of a good job. He's flying to Seattle today, picking up a rental car, and driving to Redmond, where tomorrow he will interview with Microsoft. Tomorrow night, he will red-eye back east, for two class presentations on Wednesday. Thursday, he will apparently (details still being arranged) fly to Mountain View, California for a Friday interview with Google. He'll get home Saturday, to the break he says he's looking forward to more than he has any other.

When did my kid grow up and get so confident and self-assured? I tell myself one moment that I must have done something right along his path through childhood and adolescence and the next moment tell myself that it must have been all his father's doing. I tell myself one moment that I could never have done what he's doing and the next moment remind myself that I did do similar things at a similar age though in a different world and time. One moment I want to hold him close and never let him go or go too far away, and the next moment I can't wait to see what he accomplishes next.

Being a Mom is like that, I guess.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A is for Anniversary; B is for Bras

It is December 12, one month since my last post to this blog and two months since my father died, a subject I will write about here once I feel ready. So much for the Anniversary side of this post. As for Bras, they can be made into great purses, as I have blogged before, here. The purse shown in that post went to my stepmother. I made another one for the woman with whom I partnered when I earned my black belt in Myo Sim kendo; unfortunately, I forgot to photograph that one before I presented it. I have since made three more, and after being asked on Facebook about photos, decided to post photos and the story behind them here.

Several years, ago my dad and stepmom relocated to DeLand, Florida. As the years went by, a social group evolved of my dad, my stepmom, and three of her friends, all widows. They dined out together most Friday nights, saying that it was "Jerry and his harem." During the last week of Dad's life, when he was in the hospice, two of these friends saved me from having to make early (as in 4:00 a.m.) trips to the airport shuttle, first with my brother and sister-in-law and later with my aunt. They were at the house the day after Dad died, with dinner, wine, and empathy when all were needed most. They had previously admired the bra purse I'd sent my stepmom, so I thought bra purses would be one way to thank them for their love and attention, then to both of us and now, to my stepmom.

As it happened, I already had three bras in my stash of fun things, in ivory, purple, and black. The purple and black ones might better be termed "luggage" than "purses" being 46 C or D, a size I have never known not even when pregnant or nursing. I wanted each purse to be different, but I also wanted them to share something. For this, I chose one set of three embellishments--purple and green flowers with black stems--that actually reminded me very much of tattoos. I put one of these on each purse. Not looking ahead, I took no photos as I made the purses, but I did photograph them in their finished state, hanging from a hook on my porch. As I said, I wanted each one to be unique. The ivory one actually got nipples thanks to a pair of thrift-shop earrings I knew I could use for something somewhere sometime. The embellishment shared between the three purses provided really the only color against the ivory. While the ivory purse had nipples, the black purse had fringe. The shared embellishment can be seen at the top. Finally, I ended up putting, quite unknowingly, a face on one side of the purple purse. The "mouth" is the shared embellishment.

One fun thing about making purses out of bras is trying to use different parts of the bras in the construction of the purses or, to put it another way, limiting the non-bra used. Although it can't be seen in the photo, for example, the hooks and eyes that hold the purse closed are actually the pieces that would ordinarily hold the back of the bra closed. The bow on the side, which was put there to hide where the two halves did not meet exactly, was crafted from the side panels of the bra. The bow at the top of the ivory bra was made from the back straps of the bra.

Did the recipients like their gifts? Well, it certainly looked that way to me in the e-mail and photos they sent.