Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Mom Photo Syndrome

In our family, I'm usually the one behind the camera. Whenever I see a moment happening that I want to preserve, I grab my camera and snap it. From birthday parties, to moments of sweetness between daughters or daughter and dog, I am often taking photos of the family.

The day we got Beauty.

Sisterly silliness at the apple orchard this fall.

Recently I've been working to clean up our photo library, which is constantly growing and, outside of being in chronological order, is difficult to search.

Luckily iPhoto has a facial recognition feature and has you tag people, so then you can search for people by their faces. It makes it really handy if you're looking for photos of someone for a graduation collage...not that I'm thinking about that already (gulp).

I started with my kids, the most infamous and photographed members of our family.

iPhoto identified more than 1,000 potential photos of each of them. It took quite some time to go through them, clicking on the ones that were indeed each child,  rejecting or correctly identifying those who were actually other people. For the most part the software had it right.

Then I worked on photos of my husband -- there were 540 photos of him, usually with the girls. The software was usually right too, though every once in a while it picked my stepdad, often in later years when Wayne's hair was more the color of Mark's.

Finally, I worked on my own photos, of which there were only 123, most of which were not correct  because my sister, sister-in-law and daughter all look a lot like me, so of those photos I re-tagged them with the appropriate person.

Screenshot of working through photos of "Jenny," 50% of which are wrong.
123 photos over the past 15 or so years. Sure, it's a lot of photos, but it's a fraction of the photos we have. I want my girls to look back on their childhood and know how happy both their parents were to spend time with them (and that we did). Sometimes photos are what trigger the memory - what will our girls remember about an event when the same person is always absent from it in photos? Although I do usually make my involvement in their lives pretty memorable, as time goes by photographs become the proof.

So I'm committed to making sure I'm in more photos. I never was a "selfie" person, so I'll be handing the camera to my husband or my kids more often, to capture more of life's moments with me in them.
Before-work selfie.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

What's a "Relish" Dish?

Thanksgiving traditions are changing as time goes by, but we still gathered with the Horsman family the Saturday after Thanksgiving for a big feast. This time we gathered at Kathy's home, and our family planned to drive down and back in the same day, since Millie's house is no longer available to stay.

My sister-in-law Kathy did all the planning and most of the cooking. She asked everyone who came to bring a side dish -- the specific request for me was a "relish" dish.

A relish dish?
What to fill these with?
Now, I know what relish dishes looked like that my mother put together back in the 70's and 80's. They were small little glass dishes with partitions in them. She would fill them with things like black olives, pickled green beans or pickled beets and little tiny Gedney pickles that apparently weren't tiny enough, because she would also slice them in half.

The relish trays were dutifully passed around the table with the rest of the feast, and would come back to the kitchen with only the black olives missing. Turns out Kristi used to put a black olive on each finger, wave them around for a bit and then eat them off. I remember having to use the tiniest tongs I'd ever seen in my life to pick up the itty bitty pickles and put them back in the jar, because they were mostly untouched.

I always assumed that's what a relish tray was -- food you served with meals that didn't really belong with the meal that no one really ate.

But now I was being asked to bring a relish tray to my sister-in-law's, to feed 27 people. So I had to ask all the sisters-in-laws: how do you define a relish tray?!

I got back suggestions of carrots and celery and dip (isn't that a veggie tray?). There was a suggestion of pickled herring or olives. Does pickled herring go with anything? Although that response did confirm my initial suspicion that a relish tray is filled with food you don't actually eat.

I decided to bring a veggie tray, cranberry jelly and another traditional side dish from my childhood, spiced apple rings.

Most of the spiced apple rings went back in the jar, but some of the cranberry jelly went. And veggies are always a healthy nibble, so those stayed out long after the feast had been put away.

I also learned that "crudités" is the fancy French word for a veggie tray. So next time I can just tell people "I'm bringing the crudités" and they'll wonder what I'm bringing and who this fancy-pants sister-in-law of theirs is.

Cousins playing pass the creepy baby.

How old, Kayla?!

Bear proves that he can sleep anywhere, including between two talking adults.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Visitation

My Uncle Pete, Aunt Phyllis and Dad.
Laughter. Talking. The tinkling of glasses.

I awoke from a dream  -- the most bittersweet part was the awakening.

In the dream my dad, his two sisters and their husbands were all sitting around in the backyard of Carol and Chap's house. (Their house in Illinois, which they sold more than 30 years ago.)

The sun was shining and they were visiting and laughing. From Phyllis high titter to my dad's big guffaws, a time was being had, as my dad would say.

Phyllis sent me in to make her a new drink, something that never happened at these gatherings. I think everyone knew better than to send Tom's youngest daughter to make a drink. Phyllis gave me instructions, I went into the kitchen and of course botched it. In a typical dreamlike event, I put a cinnamon roll in her drink because, of course, cinnamon rolls are often garnish in drinks. It soaked up all the liquid and made a disgusting mess.

My sister Kristi came in, made a face at the mess I was making, fixed a proper drink and brought it out to Phyllis while I cleaned up.

The laughter and visiting continued.

My Grandpa Vern's 75th birthday party in 1976.
I awoke with a smile on my face and a lump in my throat. Phyllis and Pete are still living -- this vision is incomplete without them. I feel an urgent need to call them, yet it was 5:00 in the morning. I waited until daylight -- they are doing just fine.

They know how much my dad enjoyed his time with them. Somewhere there is sunshine, a chair, a proper drink and company waiting for them.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

A Wake of Our Own

In happier days, at our Floria/Smathers family reunion in May.
My dad was initially diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007. He has been battling this disease for 9 years. Yet the day he died, we were all surprised at how "quickly" he went.

We received materials from the hospice nurse on the process of dying. We didn't even get a chance to review them when he passed. I flipped through them later on and realized that he had been in the process of dying for the past 6 months or more.

Kristi and I were the only two in the hospital when he died. Terry thought she would be by his side, but he decided that was not to be. We called Terry and asked her to come back to the hospital because he had passed. We cautioned her not to drive herself; she was too distraught, so she should get another family member to drive her.

Kristi and I made a few phone calls to family members on Dad's side; his sister, who had just celebrated her 90th birthday, my mom (his ex-wife), and others. And then we waited.

We sat in the room with dad's body for almost two hours. We could feel his skin cooling, saw his face draining of color, his fingernails turning from blue to white.

We marveled at his passing. It was just incredible that this had just happened. Stories were exchanged, tears shed, laughter shared.

And Dad had to have the last fart joke.

At one point his body passed some gas through his stoma. I looked at Kristi and said, "Was that you?" and she pointed to Dad.

Shortly after, she did indeed pass a little gas, and pointed to Dad again. "Sure," I said, "Blame the dead guy." We laughed through our tears. I'm sure Dad was laughing with us; he loved nothing better than a good fart joke.

We had become accustomed to his deathly presence. When the rest of the family arrived, some walked into the room cautiously, afraid of what they would see. Kristi and I welcomed them in. "Come, see Dad. He would want you to say good-bye."

We were two hours into the grieving process; others were just beginning. She and I had been holding a wake, just the two of us, while the rest of the family was just getting confirmation that he had passed.

It is amazing how quickly our human minds become accustomed when faced with the physical proof of death. My dad's spirit was no longer in his body. It is wherever we believe it to be, whatever gives us peace.

Now the process of grieving and of healing can begin.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

A Story of Photographs

Kristi and I spent some time the past few days going through the photos my dad had collected over his lifetime. He never threw out a single thing, be it a broken tool he was going to fix some day, a pair of jeans with a rip in them, and most certainly never, ever photos.

Years ago, Mom told me about the time when Dad was in the army during the Vietnam War. He would write her letters and include photos of the sunrise or sunset over the ethereal, foreign-looking Korean landscape. Never any photos of him, his fellow servicemen or the camp they were in, just endless pictures of the sun.

Kristi and I came across entire rolls of photos of flowers, bushes, trees, gardens, and dogs. The only person he took photos of with any frequency was he beloved wife, Terry. He always wanted to take pictures of her working around the yard, and then would ask her, "Why don't you take pictures of ME when I'm working?" She found it curious that he wanted her to photograph him at his dustiest, sweatiest self. She would rather that he captured her at her finest, freshly showered with hair and make up done. Instead she has photos of her gardening, painting, cleaning and other chores.

After Lindsey was born in 2003, Dad drove to Minnesota alone to visit his first granddaughter from his own children (by this time he had several step-grand kids on Terry's side). Wayne and I had been living in our Minneapolis home for only 9 months, and Dad was fascinated by our neighborhood. He couldn't believe that we could walk to so many places, were so close to the lake and had such a quaint, charming home.

He took pictures of flowers growing in our neighbors' yards. He photographed their homes, the street, the outside of our house, and, finally, the second-to-last photo on the roll, one solitary photo of his granddaughter. The last photo was of our dog Dax.

Dad's photos of his first trip to our Minneapolis home.
This was back when you had to wait to develop a roll of film to see what you'd taken pictures of, and he laughed when he realized he only had one photo of his new grandchild.

The only photo Dad took of Lindsey when he first met her. I think she's giving him the finger.
"Well, how come people take so many pictures of babies anyways? It's not like they change or anything," he joked. "You know, if I make a trip up there once a year, in 18 trips I'll be attending a high school graduation."

He didn't quite make it to her high school graduation; Lindsey's still 5 years away from that milestone. But I can guarantee I'll be taking pictures of trees or shrubs on her graduation day, in honor of my dad.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Losing Dad

February 2014, Arkansas.
We all knew my dad was going to die, we just didn't know it would be so soon.

My dad's been going through an immunotherapy trial in Nashville for the past 4 months. Each time he has a treatment, he gets a bit loopy, gets diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, takes antibiotics, it clears up and he regains his lucidity.

So when my stepmom called me on Wednesday to tell me she was taking Dad to the hospital and that he was out of his mind, we all thought this would be routine. Get the infection cleared up, send him home, and continue on the journey to a cure.

Instead, she was informed that the tumors had grown significantly in the past several weeks and were impeding his kidney function. There were no more treatment options; he had been out of options for some time. My stepmom was told that he had 3 days to 3 weeks to live. They recommended hospice care for him, to keep him comfortable until he died.

Kristi and I caught a 7 a.m. flight on Friday, October 28th. I had toyed with the idea of traveling on Saturday, but decided to go earlier since my youngest wanted me back home in time for Halloween.

She and I arrived at the hospital at 1:30 p.m. Dad was in a drug-induced sleep the entire afternoon, his chest automatically expanding with his breath, mechanical in its steady rhythm. He was snoring loudly with his mouth wide open, unable to squeeze his hand in yours, open his eyes or respond. He slept with one foot hanging off the bed, a familiar position that I remember from his healthier days. Kristi and Jessie re-positioned him, but throughout the afternoon his left foot kept drifting toward the edge of the bed, even though we never saw him move.

Kristi and I left the room at 5 p.m. to meet with the hospice nurse and set up the hospice care. We asked to see a chaplain, and spent the last 10 minutes of our time in prayer with the chaplain, praying for peace for dad. When we returned to the room, he was gone. The nurse told us she'd just been in just minutes before and he had been breathing the same as previously, so he must've passed in the past 10 minutes while we were praying.

So much for those 3 days.
December 2013 in Valparaiso.
I believe he timed it that way -- he did not want his loved ones to be there to hear his last rattling breath. But he knew his two daughters, the last two family members who hasn't seen him that week, had been there and had said our good-byes.
The Florias attack a model of Chicago.
I am so grateful that we had so many good times together of late. I had just been down over Labor Day weekend to visit, he had come to Minnesota the previous October, and Kristi had many more trips than I, creating many memories with him and with our southern relatives.

Kristi and I are in Arkansas now, helping my stepmom organize her life. We are erasing every sign of his illness in the house -- the adult diapers are being disposed of, medications being purged, hospital bed returned to the agency it was rented from, medical agencies phone numbers erased from the home phone. We are re-instituting the good memories that those items had pushed aside --  photos and the cherished items of his that had been shoved in closets to make way for medical supplies.

In some ways I lost Dad a long time ago; I haven't been able to call to talk books with him in a year. He hasn't been able to give me advice on work-related topics for longer than that. His cancer treatment was all-consuming; it was the only topic he would discuss at any length.

Yet now, he was truly gone. He will not be coming back to us.

It's a lot to process.

I'm sure I'll be writing more on my dad. He was a wonderful storyteller, I can continue on those stories to keep his memory alive.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Nine Grams

Marissa joined me in grocery shopping the other day. At this age, shopping with one of the girls is fun. We get silly, we look at foods we have no idea what they are, and we laugh.

I nearly bought this cereal, even though I knew no one would eat it, just because Marissa and I had a good laugh over it.

Marissa will pretends or actually sneak food into the cart that she knows I don't allow in the house, then run-walk down the aisle with the cart so I can't see what she put in it.

This sneaking of food into the cart tends to happen most in the cereal aisle. I thought back to when Lindsey and I did our sugar-free challenge and how difficult it was to find cereals with no sugar in them. I picked a random number and told Marissa she couldn't buy a cereal that had more than 9 grams of sugar. In the meantime, I was also scanning for a new gluten-free cereal for Lindsey to try.

I had no idea how challenging this would be.

Marissa brought me the "Dory" cereal which had 11 grams of sugar per serving, only two grams more than my limit. Surely only 2 games doesn't make a difference, right? She held her hand over the corner with the picture of the cereal while she asked for it, so of course I said she couldn't have it. The picture was of a cereal with marshmallows in it -- really, only 11 grams? I'd been reading ingredients lists of 17 grams, 23 grams and more. If that's 11 grams, how sweet and sugary are those other ones?

I decided to start looking at the "healthy" cereals vs the ones that I would assume would be more sugary.

First I checked out the Chex cereal choices. I looked at the GF "fruit and oats" variety, then happened to see the chocolate Chex next to it.

Guess which one had more sugar? Yep, the Fruit & Oats one.

She asked for the S'Mores cereal. Lucky Charms (which makes both girls crazy). Choc-O something-or-other. No. No. Nope.

Finally we got tired of studying cereals and saying "no" and went for a long-standing favorite in our house, Cracklin' Oat Bran.

It wasn't until we brought it home that I saw what the sugar content was -- 17 grams per serving. Guess we're crossing that one off our list, too.