The Other Half of Me

30 06 2012

I have my mom’s slight frame, her sister’s smile, and her great-grandma’s eyes.  My sister’s daughter looks like me when I was her age, and my brother’s daughter looks enough like me to be my daughter.

For all 49 years of my life I have seen myself as my mother’s daughter.  I’m not a prude – I know I wouldn’t be here without my dad.  It’s just that I’ve never identified with him or his side of the family.  We didn’t spend much time with them when I was younger, and I don’t resemble anyone on that side of my family tree.  And he and I didn’t have much time together; he died soon after my 16th birthday.

A recent conversation has redefined how I see myself.

I was sitting outside at dusk on a picnic table talking to friend who was asking questions about my photography background.  His questions reminded me that my dad was a newspaper photographer before I was born.  “I never made the connection until now that we both enjoyed taking pictures,” I wondered aloud as the sunset yielded to the first stars of the night.  “We never got to share our interest.  My dad died before I bought my first camera.”

That got me thinking.  Dad had also been a staff writer at the newspaper.  I vaguely remember him congratulating me when I won an essay contest in junior high, but we never really talked about liking to write.

And this week my mom added another surprise to my already churning thoughts.  She mentioned that Dad kept a detailed scrapbook of his published stories and photos.  My dad a scrapbooker, too!  Maybe I’m more than just my mother’s daughter.

I started making a mental list, tracing photography, writing, music, love of nature, playing practical jokes, long walks in the woods, the quest for a simple life, doing what’s right (not popular), back to my dad’s influence.  How did I not see that before?

Unconsciously, I defined myself through a filter that didn’t include an important half of who I am.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying getting to know my dad— and myself— through the interests we shared.  At every stage of life I have grieved not having him around.  Now I find myself wanting to ask him how he would have framed a shot.  And I would love to know if he would have made the jump from film to digital.  I wonder if he would have had a blog; or at least subscribed to mine.

The dawn is putting out the stars as I finish writing in the quiet of a summer morning.  Looking out the window at the rain, I am mourning that we missed each other, like the two ruts of a forest trail—both going in the same direction, but never meeting.   And yet in a sense, as I turn to focus a shot, there he is, smiling beside me.

I am my father’s daughter.


A grade school photo of my dad


What I Want for Mothers’ Day

6 05 2011

-A letter to retailers*

The 20-pound newspaper from last Sunday just landed in the recycling bin with a louder thud than I expected. The volume of ads the weekend before Mothers’ Day is second only to the stack in the Thanksgiving weekend paper.  “What mom really wants!” and “She will love you for this!” brought out a cynic-dragon from under my maternal skin.

“What makes you an expert on me, Retail Establishment?” I leered back at the ads loudly clamoring for my attention.  “How do you know I need a solar-powered crystal hummingbird with color-changing LEDs?  Do you think a family birthday bracelet made of authentic imitation gems will make my day perfect?”  (I am not making any of this up!)  A box of pink tools won’t make me feel special, either.  I like tools, and I know how to use them.  “Pink handles with a touch of bling” is just pain insulting.

Can I let you in on a huge non-retail-friendly secret?  Can I tell you what most moms really and honestly want for Mothers’ Day?  You most likely don’t want to know, and you don’t want the word to get out, because it will not be good for your bottom line.  I’m just an ordinary blogger, however, so my small voice in the vast cyber-sea of com- munication probably won’t make the slightest difference at cash registers this weekend.  But this is my blog, and I have something to say on the subject.

What I want for Mothers’ Day

I want to know I’ve made a difference- that the small and large sacrifices I make are worth it and appreciated.  And I appreciate a small sacrifice on this special holiday, something from the heart, something that costs more than cash.   I’d like to be a little spoiled or pampered on Sunday, but extravagance and over-the-topness is hard to take, especially if Mothers’ Day and my birthday are the only days I know you think of me.   A handmade card scrawled with crayon letters made with chubby fingers trumps the flowery Hallmark $8.50 version hands down, and an FTD vase of 24 long-stemmed roses doesn’t compare with a paper cup of smashed dandelions, even when the giver has long-since grown up.

A slow-pace, free from stress and drama, will make my day sweet.  That probably means we won’t be standing in line at noon for a fancy buffet.  Peanut butter and jelly served to me with an ear-to-ear grin while I have my feet up will be lovely, followed by a walk around the block (to work off the fat in the pbj!) with fun conversation and our happy Border Collie, Lizzie.  And we always make new memories with lots of laughter when we watch a slide show or home video, or take a scrapbook trip into the past.

I am an ordinary girl with simple tastes.  Other moms may enjoy adding to your profit margin, but please understand when you don’t see my family in line at a cash register this weekend.  We’ll be enjoying each other and sharing with my husband’s and my mom how special they are to us.

* My family does VERY well in making my Mothers’ Day special.

The Gauntlet

11 04 2011

The gauntlet begins in eleven days.

By the end of June I shall be tested to the limit of my endurance, completely celebration-ed out.  From April 22 through June 19, we will celebrate my husband’s 54th birthday, Easter, our son’s 25th birthday, my mother-in-law’s 59th wedding anniversary, our 29th wedding anniversary, our daughter-in-law’s 24th birthday, our son’s and daughter-in-law’s 2nd wedding anniversary, Mother’s Day, and my 50th birthday, which is on Fathers’ Day this year.*

Maybe it’s presumption, but this year there will probably be more than one party in my honor for my semi-centennial, adding more events to our overly-full calendar and inches on our middle-aging waists.  And maybe I’m looking at the future through the past, but in previous years by the time we reach my birthday, I’m tired of celebrating.  A day at the library poring over magazines I don’t subscribe to is preferable to one more party.

This string of parties is complicated and hampered by the fact that the party-planning gene got left out of my DNA strand.  And I don’t like cake.

American festivity IS cake.  Birthdays can’t be celebrated without trick candles atop two overly-decorated layers.  Weddings require skyscrapers covered in cascading fondant roses.  Most holidays (thank goodness pumpkin pie reigns on Thanksgiving!) must also have a cake to be properly feted.  In our society celebration just can’t be done properly without cake.

My feeling is why waste half of the party calories on dry floury crumbs, when they could be totally spent on ice cream?  Luscious creamy goodness!  There is no contest!!

Growing up in a large family, I ate any and all sweets (including cake) because my (also party-challenged) mother baked desserts infrequently.  When she discovered the recipe for Cream-Filled Cupcakes, birthdays got way better for both of us.  Since frosting isn’t needed, they were easy to make for a harried mother-of-five, and I got my cream-fix in my cake.

Now in my own family, these two-for-one cupcakes have become our birthday tradition.  I pushed them so hard when our sons were growing up they didn’t have a chance.

Although I’ve never heard any complaints.


*That leaves our other son’s birthday, my mother’s and mother-in-law’s birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to be spread throughout the other ten months of the year.

Cream-Filled Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes

1.  Make chocolate cake mix*, preheat oven according to package directions, and put batter into cupcake papers/pans.
2.  Beat:    8 oz softened cream cheese
3.  Mix in:    1/3 c. sugar
4.  Beat in:    1 egg
5.  Stir in:    1 c. (6 oz.) chocolate chips (and colorful sprinkles if you like)
6.  Drop a teaspoon of cheese mixture into each cupcake batter.
7.  Top with sprinkles.
8.  Bake as package directs.

* I never use more than 2 eggs, even if the box directions call for more.  I also increase the water by 2 or 3T.  This will ensure that the batter isn’t too thick, allowing the cheese to sink to the bottom of the cupcake as it bakes.

These cupcakes are sweet enough without frosting.  The sprinkles and candles are all that’s needed to make them pretty.

Happy Apple Birthday

19 06 2009

This morning after sleeping in on a luxurious day off, I had a late Birthday Breakfast.  Nothing special—two rice cakes with unsweetened peanut butter and an apple.  But in that ordinariness a blessing was waiting!

Several days ago I left a note for our son to buy milk, eggs, and a bag of apples at Aldi on his way home from work.  He did, but I’ve been so busy with work (early mornings/late nights) I hadn’t been in the fridge to see if he had remembered.  This morning as I began gathering my breakfast, I noticed the five gallons of milk and three dozen eggs.  The bag of apples was also where it should be, in the fruit drawer, and I retrieved it and set it on the counter.


As I turned to get a plate, the label caught my eye:  Chazy Orchards.  “NO WAY!” I laughed out loud!  ‘The largest MacIntosh Orchards in the World’ were just a few miles from our previous home in West Chazy, New York.  My imagination walked back to our home there, and I smiled.  Not a clear-across-my-face grin, but a wistful nod.  Troubles and heartache have continued to bombard us since moving to Indiana several years ago.  Thoughts of home in West Chazy during a simpler time surrounded me—like an ample cloak, heavy with familiar comfort.  Yet as I remembered more realistically, I realized that even after 16 years, it still hadn’t really been home.

So I asked myself where home is for me.  Working backward through the places I’ve lived, I came up empty.  Both my family growing up, and now my married family, have moved into towns and cities and not been able to become a part of the “home town” circle.  My roots go down quickly and deeply, but they have always been stunted by the clay of long-established associations.  There are places, however, which have seemed more like home than others—and it’s always been because family was nearby.

For me home=family, whether or not I have felt included in the lives of others around me.  The sadness that no place feels like home is an emotional cord that grows stronger with each heartache, tying me with growing longing to my True Home and Forever Family.  That is my home where I belong—truly belong.  That is where real family lives and loves.  That is where every good and perfect gift originates… like a bag of Chazy Orchards apples!

%d bloggers like this: