Thursday, December 22, 2011

Passing down the passing down-- Family Traditions

I have decided that one of the best things about being a parent is sharing family traditions and creating new ones.  The very night that I met my husband, not knowing that he would father my children, we found ourselves conversing on parenting and procreation.  I was finishing what would be my "career" as an on again, off again preschool caregiver, a job I'd held through middle school and into my adult life, and had a six year old little brother at home at that time.  I loved those kids, every one of them, but at age nineteen I was burned out.  I had done my time and planned never to have children of my own.

The man that I was to marry looked shocked when I made this announcement and said, "Really?  That's the whole reason for living.  To have someone carry on your name."  This had never occurred to me since I still had the mentality of a kid, myself, but I thought about what he said for a second and decided that he was right.  I changed my mind right then and there.  I would have children one day, passing on my genes and unique character traits, if for no other reason than to live forever through them.  Pretty self-centered viewpoint, but my decision turned into a passion and I soon found myself daydreaming of what these little critters would be like.  Three months later I married that man, and we started planning for a day when we would be ready to have the children that would carry his name and inherit qualities from us both.

Well, those kiddos have been here for a while now and I have loved every second of it.  They are amazing!  I never imagined that they would be this fabulous.  The sleepless nights of newborn motherhood were surprisingly difficult.  The worry that accompanies one of them experiencing an illness or the fear that they could be harmed in some way is worse than I could have dreamed, but the laughter and sheer joy that I experience on a daily basis as a direct result from interacting with them is also much greater than I could have hoped for.  I really had no idea that it would be this wonderful.  I think of having more children, but what I really wish is that I could go back and relive every minute with these boys through all of the stages.  I hang on to them and each phase knowing that they will someday slip through my fingers and be grown men, moving on through life. 

Part of the fun has been passing down traditions that I shared with my immediate family members growing up.  Spontaneous road trips with no destination in mind, holiday menus, party food dinners for no reason in particular, Sunday brunches, leaving for vacation after the sun sets, Florida spring hopping, putting our shoes out on St. Nicholaus Day so they can be filled with treats, hiking sticks for even short jaunts, bonfires, camping-- all things I have passed down to my kids.

From my husband's side, the boys have gained the traditions of deciding on a "secret weapon" fishing lure before family fishing trips and the big fish stories that go along with this form of adventure, hiking mountain trails while discussing the best way in which to handle a confrontation with a wild bear (important, but we have yet to decide on an appropriate course of action if we should ever be unfortunate enough to find ourselves face to face with one), roasting marshmallows over the electric stove burner, making popcorn in the same manner and skipping the air popper method, movies at the theater rather than waiting for them to be released on DVD.  The last is a biggy with Hubby.  He loves the movie theater while I can't help but focus on sticky floors and the hygienic habits of the person who last occupied the seat I must sit in for two hours.

Our own family's traditions have also been created over the years.  Eating out together for lunch on the first day of school while all the other kids are sitting in a lunch room somewhere, just because we can, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade followed by the annual national dog show and Miracle on 34th Street while I finish the food preparation on Thanksgiving Day, annual trips to some of our favorite local mountain towns, backyard camping on Labor Day weekend, spring wildflower hunts, egg decorating, apple, raspberry, and now strawberry and pumpkin farm visits for U-pick fun.  We love them all and continue adding to our list of traditions.

Today is chocolate truffle making day for the boys and myself.  This one started when they were about four and two years old.  We share the finished morsels, but some are added to our German lebkuchen and confection tray that my mother passed down to me that she would use on Christmas Eve in the same manner, when our entire family would gather at our home for holiday parties when I was growing up.  The lebkuchen and German chocolates I buy with my husband and children in a little German town in the mountains of Georgia we traditionally travel to each December for this purpose.

I love traditions, especially around the holidays.  I think my favorite growing up was each Saturday before Christmas.  My dad started this one.  We would drive into downtown Orlando to Orange Avenue, the main street to our old downtown.  On this day, we would shop for gifts for each other in the old Woolworth and the McCrory store that still maintained its mid-century lunch counter.  One year, when I was about fifteen, it was rumored that snow was in our forecast, a rare occurrence for Central Florida.  We had finished our shopping and my dad and I were standing by the city Christmas tree.  Sure enough...snow.  He pointed out that you could just see the tiny flakes in front of the backdrop of the enormous, dark green tree.  More like specks of dust, there they were, twirling around in the gentle breeze.  The best part of family traditions is the memories they instill.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas miracle? We shall see...

Yesterday I went with my husband and boys to a German town in Georgia.  We have gone every year at Christmastime, with the exception of last year, since moving back to the South.  With my husband's work schedule, we just couldn't fit it in last Christmas and the boys and I were not going without him. 

Every time I visit the town and talk with shop owners who have relocated from Germany, I think of my mother and oma and our other relatives from Nuremberg whom I've met over my lifetime.  It's so difficult to hear a German accent from people who speak just like my Oma without tears welling up, but I bite my tongue and enjoy it. 

My oma passed away when I was in my early twenties and I'd give anything to be able to hug her one more time. I have wonderful dreams about her, and some sad.  I dreamed about her just this week.  In my dream, my mother and sister and I were parked outside of the small Florida home my oma lived in my whole life.  I was nervous to walk up to the house to go see her, but my mother and sister encouraged me to go, telling me that it would be fine.  I think I was nervous because it had been so long since I had seen her or even dreamed about her.  I walked up the path while my mom and sister waited in the car, watching.  When I reached the front door, it was open and I could see through the metal screen door that she was right there, inside, and wearing a peach colored t shirt, one she wore often when she was living.  She was so happy to see me.  I opened the screen door and she was in my arms.  I could even smell the fresh linen scent of her shirt. When I reached maturity as a teenager, she found it hilarious that I was taller than her and had to bend over to hug her.  My dream was so real that she even seemed to be the right height.  I hugged her so tightly that she laughed and asked why I was hugging her so hard.  I told her that it was because I hadn't seen her for so long and that I usually dream of her often. In my dreams I take the opportunity to hug and hug her.  It had been too long since I had dreamed of her and I didn't want to let her go.  She laughed.  My mother and sister came in.  Oma said that we were all going to wear wedding dresses that day and she pulled out a big box of them out.  It sounded like a crazy thing to do, but it was always crazy when my mother, her mother, my sister and myself were together, so without thinking anything more of it, we all began to dig through the box.  I passed on several gorgeous, pristine white gowns and in the bottom found a simple, dull and yellowed old gown with pearls sewn along the neckline.  It was perfectly me.  At this point, my husband's alarm went off and I woke from my dream, but it was very vivid and I can still feel her in my arms. 

This year, visiting the little German town was particularly difficult because it was the first time I've visited the town since my relationship with my mom has become so strained that we haven't seen each other for a couple of years.  It has always been understood that we would go to Germany together, now even thoughts of her in a mini replica of her motherland made me feel lost and lonely.  I had a fabulous time with my little family (how could I not?) but Mom and Oma were simply everywhere.  I have been there with both of them, so not only were thoughts of them with me but memories of them in different locations were with me as well.

I noticed late last night that I had missed a call from my sister.  I decided to check my messages in the morning to see why she had called.  It's strange enough to be getting calls from her since our relationship and my relationship with my baby brother and mom were damaged all at the same time under the same circumstances.  When a mutual friend passed away a few weeks ago, my sister called the night before the funeral to make sure I had heard.  She had only learned of his death and was determined to attend the service.  I felt awful for not telling her as soon as I'd heard the sad news.  I had known for five days and had assumed she'd heard, as well, since we have all the same friends and she lived not thirty minutes away from him. 

My sis is hard to get close to.  Think biker chic, tattooed and pierced from head to toe.  In fact, I've just described her perfectly.  She's awesome, but sandpaper to my sensitive soul and to the natures of my husband and children, as well.  Oil and water.  There are a few times in our lives, however, that stand out in my memory as times I've felt love and even nurturing from my older sister.  Her call to tell me of our friend's passing has been added to the list.  She was furious that no one had told her and, I could tell, so hurt by the loss.  She's German to the core.  Doesn't speak, but barks, like my Oma did, but with a soft heart that she refuses to let anyone see.  I was stunned when, at Thanksgiving, before I could call to wish her a happy holiday as I'd planned, she called and put me on speaker setting of her phone so her three boys could yell loving well wishes to me all at once.  I ended that phone conversation shortly because I could no longer speak around the lump in my throat.  Heaven forbid I let my sister know I'm choked up, that was NOT going to happen!

My little brother is a whole other story.  The fact that anything could have strained our relationship still leaves me stunned.  I was thirteen when he was born.  He says I was like a second mother to him.  The only thing I see now that could have come between us is his ill treatment of one of my children, of my sons who thought the world of him.  It happens all the time with everyone.  Family problems.  Not my family.  I was always able to sit and smile politely.  Well, everyone has a line.  I didn't know I had one. I did.  And when I finally stood up to say enough was enough, all hell broke loose and it has yet to calm.

When I saw that my sister had called for the third time in only a few weeks, I began to feel that there was hope.  Obviously she's trying and I won't slap her in the face by turning my back on that.  I've tried with my mother, spoken to my brother once since the Big Blow-up, but with such differences of opinion and my husband and myself feeling the need to protect our children from bullying they don't even get from other kids their age, it's been difficult to figure out how to go about opening doors or deciding at what point we are ready.  A little boy who is furious with the whole situation and deeply scarred by the incident has been another thing to consider.  Furiously protective of each other, these boys don't take mistreatment of the other lightly and even let me know when a punishment administered to the other seems unfair.  I am amazed at this little guy's strength at only age 11 and the level of confidence he exhibits.

As it turns out, when I listened to the message from my sister, it was actually my mother whose voice I was hearing.  I had mistaken her number for my sister's.  She was calling to let me know that my brother is flying in from out west tomorrow and that my sister and her brood are driving up to stay with her for Christmas.  They all want me and my family to come to "just have a jolly time" and that they would not speak of "anything controversial" (meaning homeschooling and what I see as the homeschool intervention that took place two years ago), or if we can't make it, they could all come over here this week.  I don't know what to think, say, or do.  Of course we are going, but I am terrified...just floored because it was my mom I dreamed about last night whose thoughts have been filling my head all day.  Shocked that it was her call I missed.  I was very close to calling her and would have by day's end, but I never expected this or such consideration for our feelings.  There are a few subjects that I have decided are off limits, if and when all of us were ever to be in the same room together, at least until my kids are old enough to hold their own, which they just may be at this point, but the fact that she knows this without me ever voicing my "ground rules" is reassuring. 

I've spoken to my husband, my best buddy in the world, about it.  I wanted to know if he thought I was ready and should risk what is to be a fabulously peaceful Christmas week with him and my boys by opening up this can of worms.  He was so wonderful.  We talked about how much I've learned about myself over the last two years and how much I've changed.  I told him that I hope that I have learned enough to deal with whatever could come of this visit.  He said it would be a good test.  I assumed that he meant it would be a good test to see if I truly have learned as much about myself and keeping my own harmony within myself as I think I have.  He corrected me and said that what he meant by saying that was, that it would be a good test for see if they have learned anything over the last two years.  My hero!   


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A little rant on being introverted...

This isn't really a blog post, just me allowing Carl, the author of the article, 10 Myths About Introverts,  to shout from the rooftops for me what I have always felt like screaming myself.  It's a big sigh of relief anytime I can relate to another human being because, so often, I simply can't.

It frustrates me on a daily basis that my own mother will never understand all of this, that when I told her that I realized that I am a Highly Sensitive Person and that there is a real name for my personality type, she answered wryly, "Is there something you can take for it?"  I don't know if the rift between us that has been there most of my life and has grown tremendously in the last few years, can ever be repaired, for this and for so many other reasons, even though I have begun trying.  My third attempt ended in an emotional pummeling, the same as the first two. Big surprise.  My mother invented the guilt trip.

It's fine that most won't care to "get" who I am, but the fact that she and my siblings only want to "fix" me, insisting that I, and now my children, should BE different than we are, just breaks my heart, especially at this time of year.  I'm tired.  Just one big mood swing, right now.

The fact that I have other relatives who share this personality type, including my own dear father who will also never catch a break from these same people, is consolation.  And it still amazes me that the reason I have a successful marriage is because my soul mate happens to be an introvert, as well.  He says "he knew" the first time he met me that I was the girl.  I knew soon after, once I was able to break through my shyness and actually converse with him and begin a relationship.  We were married three months later.  Now he is my sanity and my oasis in a world of the 75% of those who aren't like us, who think we are strange because we don't throw block parties every other weekend and our kids are more interested in artistic and intellectual pursuits than little league. 

Okay.  Big breath.  I'm done. I can get off my soapbox, for now, and back to my housework and holiday baking without scrunching my eyebrows together while pulling clothes out of the dryer, fretting over this topic.  On this day, I must get my duck house mucked and begin a gingerbread castle with my boys.  One tremendously fun chore, another so detested, it's a good thing I love those silly ducks so much or they would end up the centerpiece of our Christmas dinner table.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A 75 cent random act of kindess can make for a Merry Christmas.

It had been years since I had been home to Orlando.  My family gathers each year, the Saturday before Christmas, at a cousin's home north of my home town, but since I lived with my husband and children on the other side of the country, we were never able to make it to the annual family get together.  When we moved back to the South, we decided one year to head to Central Florida to celebrate the holidays.

After driving all day through the rural South, we crossed the Florida border.  How I'd missed the Live Oaks draped with eerie boas of Spanish Moss, stately palms with their crowns of fronds, the snouts and eyebrows of gators keeping cool just below the surface of the many lakes we'd cruise past before reaching my Grandmother's house where we would be staying.

By the time we were on the outskirts of The City Beautiful, however, I was feeling less welcome by the number of toll booths we were required to pass through just to use the highway, and even to exit when the time came.  I had listened to my father complain for years, while I was growing up, that the tolls had been set up before I was born to pay for the extensive road system and that the tolls collected since the system's establishment could have paid for ten times the amount of concrete and steel that had been laid for their construction.  Rather than the tolls being eliminated, the price to drive a vehicle on Central Florida expressways had gone up.  The money paid by commuters and weary travelers was now only used to "line someone's pockets", as Dad put it.  This made it more difficult for my husband to shell out that $.75 cents at each stop along the road that took me closer to home, albeit much quicker than it would have been to criss cross half of Florida on the small rural roads that lie beneath the toll roads.

We were nearing the end stretch, soon to be jettisoned off the ramp into the familiar territory that edged my home town, when we were forced to slow down for yet another toll booth.  How much money did the toll system generate annually, anyway?!  I imagined some pompous, overstuffed, politician sitting behind his desk somewhere in Tallahassee, smoking a fat cigar while adding up tolls on an old hand crank calculating machine.

Just as we neared the pavilion, a car shot past us to enter it before we could.  This always makes my husband's day, impatient drivers who have to get one car ahead.  What did it matter on a Friday evening?  Hot date?  Racing someone to the E.R., maybe?

When we pulled up to the toll booth window, the woman who would take our payment pointed down the road and said, "He got it for you."  We were confused.  She clarified, saying that the man in front of us had paid our toll.  We sat there longer than it would have taken to pay the toll twice and be on our way, just staring at her.  She smirked, seeing how surprised we were by such a random act of kindness, and said, "Merry Christmas."  My husband thanked her and wished her a merry Christmas as well before continuing down the toll lane.

We were dumbfounded.  It was only 75 cents, but such an unexpected gift.  And to think that we were annoyed with the driver of that vehicle for speeding past us to reach the toll booth first.  He was acting out of kindness, maybe because he saw that we had out of state plates, and it was the most welcoming gesture.  He didn't know that we weren't just some tourists lost in a web of arcing highways and brightly lit toll booths on our way to Daytona Beach or our first trip to Disney World.  Our kind benefactor wasn't aware that I would be sleeping that night tucked beneath sheets in a bed that rested in the upstairs portion of a home that my father designed and helped build when he was only 18 years of age.  A home that sat beside the school I had grown up in, on property that bordered a forest where my other grandmother's home was built just after WWII when she immigrated with her Army sergeant  husband.  There is no way he could have known how lost I felt, having been away for so long, only to return and see so many changes had occurred.

I assume that he meant to say, "Welcome to Florida.  Merry Christmas and have a great vacation!", by paying our toll for us, but what his act said to me was, "Welcome home.  See?  Things may have changed, but you are still welcome here.  This is still your home."  Or maybe it was a kind habit of his to do this all the time.  Maybe he paid too much and was actually in a hurry and told the toll booth operator to keep the change and she paid our toll with it.  I don't care.  And I don't care that it was a gift of less than a dollar.  It was worth millions to me and my family and I'll never forget it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Recovery Shake #5 -- Orange Dream

I wanted this to taste like a Dreamsicle.  It didn't, but was good.  I used natural orange extract and vanilla, but I think what it really needed was some ice cream.  But, alas, that would defeat the purpose of making these shakes. 

After his long awaited medical appointment, my husband has learned that he is, in fact, still ill and must avoid fats.  No ice cream allowed around here much anymore.  His doctor wants to see if we can help him to feel better by limiting certain foods.  I'm just very glad to hear that his problems should be manageable even though the diagnosis contains the word "disease", which doesn't sound good at all.  He hasn't tried our recovery shakes, but at least I can give him something delicious, but healthy, when he needs a sweet treat or snack. 

My boys and I will keep working to come up with new ideas.  We are trying to find a way to work chocolate into one of our shakes.  If only there is a way.  I guess we could just buy those chocolate soy protein mixes...I happen to love Spiru-tein in every flavor. I may have to ditch the scratch idea and go for what I know and love when I run out of recovery shake ideas.

Orange Dream Recovery Shake

1 orange, seedless, peeled
2 tsp. turbinado sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. yogurt
1/4 c. skim milk
Drop of orange extract
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Makes 1 to 2 servings.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Recovery Shake #4-- Tomato Veg.

After a weekend that included pizza and fondant lacquered birthday cake, we felt like we really needed this morning's workout and recovery shake.  I'm almost out of ideas, so today's shake was a repeat of one we had a few weeks ago.  It tasted very similar to V8 juice but only contained four types vegetables and the addition of a dash of red curry powder.  There is only what little protein is found in carrots, celery, tomatoes, and spinach in the shake, which breaks one of my two recovery shake rules.  I intend for there to be protein and fruits or vegetables or a combination of the three in each.  Very refreshing, however, and I think it will double as a detox shake as part of a post-holiday cleanse.

Tomato Veg. Shake

1/2 c. fresh carrots, peeled
1/2 c. celery stalks with leaves
1c. fresh baby spinach
2 c. tomato puree
1 c. water
Dash of red curry powder

Makes 3 to 4 shakes.  My boys said it needed more tomato.  I think next time I'll sub. the water for more tomato puree or fresh tomatoes.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A hustle and a bustle and a Huddle and a shiver.

I love spontaneity.  I love to have a plan, though I continuously set myself up for a fall by expecting there to be more hours in the day than there are, but when my schedule gets waylaid by happy unforseen circumstances it's like being given a little gift.

Yesterday I was feeling so funky in the morning.  Sad and just plain pissed off by the passing of a friend.  No more, "it was meant to be", "he's looking down laughing at us like he said he would", "he's in a better place" kind of crap.  Just plain furious.  I don't why they say good grief.  There's nothing good about it.  I was fed up.  I felt guilty for thinking about him so often which takes my focus off my family, then even more guilty if I pushed him to the back of my mind for being so selfish.  Is it really okay to TRY to get over someone's death?

To say I needed an attitude readjustment is an understatement.  I spent all of November trying to find something every day to be thankful for which really helped my usual "the glass is half empty" mentality.  In the middle of that, Will died.  I was so looking forward to our long chats and intense conversations on life and was enjoying his wit and never ending sarcasm that made those who understood him love him even more.  There just seems to be a great hole in the universe with the passing of this "enormous" person and I can't help feeling like we've all been cheated in losing him.

It's Christmas.  I didn't want to sit here feeling funky through  my favorite time of the year.  The months that stretch from Christmas season to Christmas season seem long enough as it is, that special holiday aura over before I know it, without my mind wandering all the time and a shadow hanging over my head.  And I KNOW he would be furious to know that we are all sad and pining for more of the "Will Experience" as he called it.  Time to buck up and switch gears!  My son's birthday party (cake, and presents at a pizza place with a couple of friends at our local arcade) is today.  I needed to buy cake ingredients yesterday and get the cake baked and fondant made.  That way I could spend a leisurely  morning before the party having fun decorating it.  Change of plans...

I felt the Christmas spirit smack me between the eyes as soon as I walked out the door.  Our front door is located inside a large sun room that we use as a dining room when the weather is mild and that doubles as the room that houses the Christmas tree because it has nine foot ceilings which allows us to get a tall tree, plant it in a five gallon bucket and still have room for the tree topper.  I honestly had forgotten that we already had a tree and decorations up.  That amazing spruce pine forest scent instantly filled my head with images of the season.  We were no longer just in party mode, but smack dab in the middle of the Holiday festivities.

A stop at our local feed store to pick up laying pellets and hen house bedding added fuel to my holiday fire.  The store was all decked out with rows of stocking stuffers, winter farm-hand clothing, scented soy candles...Fa-la-la-la-la...

Next on our list was a trip across the Georgia state line to a mega discount store for cake decorations/weekly grocery supply/Christmas spiriting.  Fun!  We specifically made our way to the garden center, which we had been avoiding since Halloween, where the Christmas decorations and floor to ceiling shelves lined with inflatable lawn ornaments are kept during the season.  Hoho...oh what fun! 

By dinner time, we were headed back across the border.  I needed to have dinner ready by 7 when Hubby came home so we could head back into town and buy our son's birthday presents.  Just as we'd reached the city limits, my phone started ringing.  I never answer the phone while I'm driving so I let it ring.  Another fifteen minutes later and I had the groceries mostly unloaded so returned the call which was from my husband.  Apparently, our town's annual Christmas extravaganza was going on while I was fooling around down in Georgia and I needed to get my butt to Main Street ASAP.  I can't believe I was so dumb not to know when one of my favorite events was occurring!  In goes all the cold stuff, thrown willy nilly into the fridge.  Kids in the van, key in the camera.  Back into the house, zoom down the road.  A quarter of an hour later, we step out into a winter wonderland.

Our town knows how to do it right.  Carolers, lights, decorations, every little shop open offering complementary cookies and cider or cocoa.  Holiday bliss and boy was I feeling it...and the cold.  I was dressed for a 62 degree afternoon in Georgia and was standing on a mountain street corner freezing my butthind off.  Nothing a little hot chocolate can't cure.  A horse and carriage ride later and I couldn't feel my feet.  The wind through my jeans took the feeling in my knees a little while later when the temperature dropped below freezing.  It was perfect.  I already couldn't wait until next year.  You know you have lived in a small town for a good long while when you recognize so many of the faces you see on the street on a night like that.  I felt like Cory Feldman's character at the end of the movie The Burbs.  "I love this street!"  So proud to live in the little town in which life has given us the opportunity to raise our children!

It was 9 p.m. and we still needed to do our birthday shopping.  Two out of four of us hadn't eaten a thing since early morning and were feeling puny, but it had to be done.  An hour and a half later, our purchases safely tucked in the back of our van behind the chicken feed and bedding that we hadn't had time to unload earlier, and we were looking around our small town wondering where the heck we could find a quick meal at that hour.

Huddle House.  Why do we never think of taking our kids to breakfast around midnight in one of those awesome, crappy little all-night diners where we can watch the short order cooks doing their thing and plates are being dealt out like playing cards in a matter of minutes?  Attitude readjusted.  :)  Took me till around 3 a.m. to get my toes warmed up despite slipping them between Hubby's knees all night, no joke, but I don't need to stop for breakfast because I'm still full of hash browns from our midnight snack and can get right to the cake decorating.  It won't be a leisurely task as planned, but it'll get done and nothing keeps me out of a funk like decorating a cake.  It's gonna be a GREAT day!