Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Marissa's Selfie, December 2016

Our youngest often says things that bring laughter to the family, some of which need to be written down before they disappear into my memory.

The girls were in the midst of opening their gifts when they came across the gift of pajamas. Marissa already had a requested Polaroid camera by her side, an electric blanket and other seemingly more desired items. She opened the box with pajamas and said, "Oh thank goodness -- PAJAMAS!" Apparently both girls were in need of new winter pajamas more than I had thought.

One of the gifts I got for Wayne was a gag gift for "poo-pourri." It came in a box that was called "Master Crapsman" and had two spray bottles of fragrance that you're supposed to spray into the toilet before you use it, and it traps the smell in the toilet.

Later in the day, Marissa and I walked by a bathroom where we could tell the poopourri had been used -- it smelled good, but underneath you could tell...it didn't.

"Well I'm glad Dad's using it" Marissa says, "It's a gag gift, but he really needs to use it. It helps the whole family."

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Eve Birthdays

My dad's birthday is on Christmas Eve; he would have been 72. This is the first birthday that he is celebrating in heaven.

Summer 2015
Growing up, Dad would get a single gift from friends and relatives that would be both his birthday and Christmas gift -- he usually didn't have birthday parties, since everyone was busy with holiday festivities. He felt like he didn't have birthdays like other kids did, and carried this sentiment into his adult life.

When my sister and I were kids, my mom made sure that Dad's birthday gifts were wrapped in birthday paper, Christmas gifts in Christmas paper. Every member of our family got to choose what the dinner was on their birthday, and for years my dad chose lasagna. My mom's homemade lasagna was our family's dinner on December 24th for years. All of his adult life my sister and I got him birthday gifts, even though we had stopped exchanging gifts with each other and my mom years before.

The traditions continue though he is gone.

My cousin Sam and his family live in Minneapolis now, and we invited them to join us Christmas Eve for church service and dinner. His parents drove up from Illinois and joined us as well. These are all relatives on my dad's side of the family, so it was appropriate that we were all together. Plus, they are wonderful people, and we enjoy visiting with them all.

We gathered around the tables set with the china from my childhood, china that my dad had bought for my mother while serving during the Vietnam War. We feasted on homemade stuffed pasta shells (the closest I can come to making lasagna), told stories and went through a few bottles of wine.

And, just like old times, we celebrated a birthday. This time it was Theodore's, my cousin's son who was born on December 24th last year.

Theodore unwrapping his gift.

A toy like the ones my girls loved when they were his age.
It was wonderful to spend this day with my extended family, making new memories and new traditions.

John and Deb Nemanich, Theodore, me, Marissa and Wayne, Sarah and Sam. Missing: Lindsey, who had a migraine

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.