Lydia and the Little Dish in the Freezer

I’ve read a few good books lately, and one of them is The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver.  I enjoyed it immensely, though it required quite a bit of suspension of disbelief.  Which I am okay with, as I often feel like my own life is better when I apply that mechanism.

However as I read, I found myself struggling with some of the decisions Lydia made.  I pushed through because if there is one thing I have learned in the past thirty years of my life, it is that we all grieve differently.  And that is OKAY.

Grief comes in and out, intertwining in our lives, in almost as many ways as there are people who grieve, and for those who say “Well I’d never…..” I seriously wonder if they’ve ever lost someone they loved.  Grace is most needed when grief is in our lives.

After cringing a little at one choice Lydia made in particular, I continued reading, emotionally invested in the story, because I remembered the container in my freezer that I found a few weeks ago.  Any sane person would likely judge me and be disgusted, grossed out, or say I needed help.

And all of that would be valid.

But still…..

The weekend of March 14 our dancer was supposed to go with her competition team to perform two numbers in Atlanta.  The decision was made by the organizers on March 12 to postpone due to the governor’s decision to limit gatherings to groups of no more than 50 people at that time.  So I found myself with a Saturday morning free that I had not expected.  It was a pleasant day outside, so I decided to defrost my freezer.  There are no incriminating photos, but suffice to say it’s been quite some time since I did this and IT NEEDED IT BADLY.  I had a grocery pickup for later that day, and I wanted to have room for everything.  I listened to music and loaded things into a cooler and turned on the blow dryer and watched ice melt.

It was actually quite pleasant.  And I felt productive, having no idea the long road we had ahead of us.

In the midst of my moving things to the cooler, I found an old small plastic container.  I saw my Mama’s trademark masking tape she used for labelling things before I saw her red Sharpie handwriting with what was in it and the date.

Y’all.

As some of you may know, Mama left this world in February of 2013.  The label was for June of 2012.

I have most assuredly cleaned out this freezer many times before this year, and so each time I have, I guess I made the conscious decision (though I don’t recall) not to throw it out.

Because–grief.

My Mama used to make barbecue when I was growing up.  She cooked the pork roast and shredded it and made her sauce from scratch.  I still have the recipe here somewhere, and while I might have tried to make it a time or two, to be honest, I was never a really big fan of it.  It was tangier than I liked back then (though now I have different tastes), so at some point Mama started putting some aside and making a gravy so that I had pork roast and gravy sandwiches instead of barbecue.  This was not a common occurrence in our home.  Picky eaters were not indulged, as we were a family of six and could ill afford to cater to everyone’s individual tastes and preferences on a regular basis.  And while it might not have been every time she made barbecue, it is a precious memory for me that Mama took the time to do this on occasion.  I felt seen, heard, and loved.

Never mind that it was delicious.

The label on the small container said “PORK ROAST W/GRAVY” along with the date in June of 2012.

A date of no significance.

It wasn’t my birthday or any other celebration.  Just an everyday.  Regular plain old get up and do the daytodailies kind of day.

But Mama made it special by making me this pork roast with gravy.

Feeding folks was her love language, you see, and I felt so loved by her.  When she’d eat my mushrooms off my pizza (only as an adult–as a child I had to learn to eat some things I wasn’t exactly crazy about), when she made my quiche without bacon (it was a phase), when she made every single meal special somehow…..I felt loved.

And so that’s why I found that little container with my Mama’s handwriting on it seven years after she passed.

Because it reminds me I am loved.

And while I’ve had to let her go, I didn’t want to let go of that feeling.  Or of the reminder, the symbol of being loved for all my quirks and both because and despite of who I am.

And remembering all of that, I forgave Lydia her choices and really loved the book.

Finding that dish reminded me we all have weird and off the wall and outside what might be deemed socially acceptable ways of handling loss.  ~Loss-such a funny little word for something that encompasses every breath and fiber of our being.~

As our lives have all changed so drastically, some more than others, since that day five weeks ago when I was cleaning out my freezer, grief is bound to come.  I encourage you all to let it.  And–as Mama used to say sometimes–“as long are you aren’t hurting anyone, I’ll allow it.” Grieve however you need to.  And allow others to do the same.  Grief and grace are best served together.

One more thing about that dish.  As parents or anyone loving someone else through this new way of living we find ourselves in, please know you don’t have to make big gestures to show someone you love them or to make precious memories.  And it doesn’t have to be a “special” day.  What that little dish with my Mama’s handwriting on it reminds me is that everyday, the “every” ordinary day is just as good as any special occasion day to show someone how much they are seen, heard, treasured, and loved.

May we all find a way to remind someone of that and to be reminded.  Make memories in the midst of the ordinary and the extraordinary.  Today is a great day for that.  In the words of my Mama, “Happy Everyday!”

Love to all.

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The Secret to Making Biscuits

One of my favorite memories from this past holiday season happened less than two weeks ago.  On the day after New Year’s my brother Bubba taught my oldest, Aub, how to make Maemae’s biscuits.

She even stood on a stool beside him, just like she used to with her Maemae.

Bubba told us the story of how he learned. Years ago he went to Mama in the kitchen and told her he’d like to learn how to make her biscuits.  She said, “Well, go ask your Daddy.  He taught me how to make them.”

So he went and found Daddy.  He made his request of Daddy, who asked him if he knew what the ingredients were.  Bubba replied, “Buttermilk, flour, and shortening.”

Daddy nodded.

Then he shared the most important part of biscuit making there is.

“The thing you need to know, the secret to making biscuits, is to remember that any biscuit is better than no biscuits at all.  Because you are going to make some bad ones.  It will happen, before you can get good at it.  But any biscuit is better than none.”  Daddy paused for a second.  “Now go on in the kitchen and let your Mama show you how to make them.”

And so he did.

Bubba was known for his cathead biscuits when he was in college.  Apparently grad school too, as his sweet wife whom he met there shared that she might have had her head turned by his biscuit making abilities.

I don’t blame her.

That boy can flat out make some biscuits.

Well, now.

It wasn’t always the case, but remember, any biscuit is better than…..

well, you know.  It’s the secret to making biscuits.  But let’s keep it amongst ourselves, shall we?

Tonight I’m thankful for the passing along of this family legacy–the biscuit making.  I’m thankful for a brother who makes time to share the stories and the gifts that he was given, and I’m thankful for our time together over the holidays.  It was far too short and more precious than all the gold or winning that big ol’ jackpot folks keep talking about right now.

Family, stories, and biscuits.  It’s hard to have a bad day when you’ve got all three of those treasures.

Love to all.

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Bubba’s biscuits as he rolled them out on the pan.

 

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I tried to get a photo of the whole pan, but someone was too quick for me to do it.  They were that good!

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Cooter’s biscuit with honey.  Mmmmm mmmmm.  That’s good eatin’ right there.  

the last one home

there is little better feeling than being the last one home

the last one to return to the roost where we all grew our wings

the lights on, hearts and stories waiting until all are there

and the smiles grow brighter

hugs are given and given again

and last just a moment longer than they used to

laughter accompanies the threats of telling that one story

that everyone already knows anyway

 

all await me behind the blinds with the light peeping through the cracks

beckoning me to their warmth

their affection the perfect protection from the cold chill

and darkness of the journey

 

all those I love and hold dear

tucked away inside,

piled up on every chair and cushion

and even curled up on the floor

 

plates are full

and so are the hearts

of those I love

and cannot wait to see

a sight for sore eyes

it’s been far too long

 

there is little better feeling than to be the last one home

unless it’s being the first one there, waiting,

anticipating

all the joy that is to come

 

A Grateful Heart

Whoo, y’all.

Today has been a busy one.

And I wish my poor Mama were here so very much right now.

Besides the obvious reasons, there’s this.

I’d set her down, bring her a glass of tea, whatever book she’s reading, and–

I’d rub her feet.

And back.

And shoulders.

All those years she put a veritable feast on the table, and all we could do is eat it.  In such a small fraction of the time it took for her to prepare it.

And then we children would work out the details about who was cleaning up what–I’m using “work out” as a euphemism here.

Bless her.

She could cook circles around me, as my children often lovingly *ahem* remind me.  Still, I know she was worn out from all the Thanksgiving dinner preparations.  Today I’ve only done about half of what she did, and I am one whooped puppy.

So tonight I’m calling it a night with a tired body reminding me how old I am and a mind already ticking off what needs to be done when I get up in the morning.

But first–

I am thankful.  For a body that can still do and a mind that can still plan.  I am thankful for the bounty of groceries that I have gone through today and yet, there’s still plenty more to cook from the next day and the next and the day after that.  I am grateful for the sanitation folks who picked up our trash this morning and will pick up from all this from my meal preparations next week.  I am thankful for the farmers and the growers and the folks who packaged and shipped and transported and shelved and sold me these groceries.  I appreciate the laughter of my children today while I was cooking and prepping and trying to figure out if I could find one more baking dish…..

Tomorrow we will celebrate and give thanks together once again at Blackberry Flats–our homeplace for right at 37 years now.  It’s been several years since we gathered together around Mama’s good cooking, and tomorrow, while she and Daddy and all those who have gone on up to the House will be missed–it will be a celebration of what is good and right to be back “home” eating Thanksgiving dinner.  The littles will climb trees and pet kittens and play good guys and bad guys or Star Wars or something like that, while all of us grownups will either watch football or try to figure out if anyone will notice if we close our eyes for just a minute…..or both.

Tonight I am thankful for so many things, and one big one is you.  Thank you for stopping in and reading my stories.  Whether this is the first time or the 622nd time, thank you.  When you read what flows from my heart and soul through my fingers to this keyboard and screen, you bring them to life.  And I thank you for that.  A story wants to be heard.  Thank you for listening.

Most of all, I am thankful that, as I picked up one of the potholders my Daddy made for my Mama years ago and I went over to the oven to peek in on my pies, I heard my Mama’s voice.

 

“And grant us, Lord, a grateful heart,

For these and all our many blessings.

Amen.”

Whether it’s original or not, I will always think of these as her words.  It was her prayer and how she lived her life.  No matter what happened, she always looked for something to be thankful for.

Is it any wonder that, despite all the cooking she did, this holiday was one of her favorite days all year?  She just wished we’d celebrate and give thanks year round.

Thankful to you and for you.
Love to all.

Comfort in a Cup

We have a few traditions when it comes to birthdays in our family.

First of all, we celebrate for more than a day–we have birthday weeks and sometimes happenings for our birthday month.  It’s all about the celebrating the lives of those we hold near and dear.

You get to pick what kind of cake (or pie or big cookie or whatever) you want for your birthday.  I spent years asking my Mama for a red velvet cake.  Only it was a brown velvet because she wouldn’t use all that red dye.  I think there was a study or something…..anyway, never mind the color, it was delicious.  For years she made me that.  In more recent years, I chose a Texas sheet cake.  Ooey, gooey chocolate goodness.  My mouth is watering as I type.

The birthday supper is a big deal.  The honoree gets to choose anything he or she wants.  And if you’re lucky enough to have your birthday on a weekend, you get to choose two meals.

And so it was for my girl.  She came home from college the day after her birthday, so we celebrated all of Saturday.  I knew she wanted Mexican food, so I had that planned for supper.  But for her birthday lunch, she asked for something I haven’t made in years.  Something my Mama used to make, and my new 19-year-old grew to love it sitting around the table with Mama and Daddy and whoever else happened to be at their house.  Easily among the best comfort foods ever.  The smell of it cooking.  I mean, y’all.  For real.  I was in memory heaven.

Mama was a good steward of what was in her pantry and refrigerator.  She rarely threw anything out.  Over the years she learned great ways to recycle leftovers in a new dish.  Her way of using leftover mashed potatoes might just be her most creative and best tasting effort of all times.

Baloney cups.

Pan number one of baloney cups....oh the smell of them cooking.....

Pan number one of baloney cups….oh the smell of them cooking…..

I grew up on bologna sandwiches.  I can remember being in my bed, waiting for sleep to come, and singing the O-S-C-A-R  M-A-Y-E-R song.  We loved our B-O-L-O-G-N-A.  I loved taking the red rind off and then making sure I had gotten every bit of goodness off it before throwing it away.  Delicious.

When Mama had leftover mashed potatoes to use, she used to pull out her biscuit baking pan and lay bologna slices out on it.  She’d put a scoop of mashed potatoes on top, and add a slice of cheese.  She put it in a hot oven to broil, and voila’ the house smelled amazing, and our taste buds were in for such a treat!  She served it with some fruit and we had a meal.

One of our favorites, though we didn’t get it very often.

I was surprised when my baby girl asked for this for her birthday.  Surprised and delighted.

Pan #2--who decided that 11 slices makes a pack?  Interesting choice, don't you think?  I mean a dozen or a baker's dozen, but 11?  Is that an Oscar's dozen?  :)

Pan #2–who decided that 11 slices makes a pack? Interesting choice, don’t you think? I mean a dozen or a baker’s dozen, but 11? Is that an Oscar’s dozen? 🙂

It was a special treat for all.  The Fella loved it and had memories of when we made this years ago.  I don’t think the littles had ever had it, and they were intrigued and not a bit shy about digging in.  (Suffice to say we went through a whole pack of bologna for the just the four of them.)

The way the house smelled took me back to a safe and happy place, and for a little bit I was home again and my parents were close, and oh–I think I might have gotten the greatest nourishment from those baloney cups, and I never took a bite–my soul was fed and my heart was full.

The only problem is I made the mashed potatoes from scratch.  And only used about half of them.  So now, I have leftover mashed potatoes…..and if a Mama has leftover mashed potatoes, chances are, she’s going to need some baloney to go with it.

 

Love and the comforts of home to all.

The Legacy of Leftovers

I cook like my Mama y’all.

Well almost.

She was an incredible cook.  She could whip up something out of nothing it seemed.  She knew what went with what and there were only two times I questioned her cooking sensibilities.

Chicken Chow Mein.   (Seriously, whoever thought that eating bamboo and those worm-like sprout things should be taken out behind the woodshed and given a good *ahem* talking to.)

Easter Egg Casserole.  (Y’all ever have this?  No?  That’s what I thought.  Mama used the leftover boiled/decorated eggs from Easter and put it with the Easter ham and cream of something soup and cheese and English peas and I’m pretty sure baked it with those fried onions on top.  The funny thing is that after ALL those many years of complaining about this thing that turned up EACH AND EVERY YEAR on or after Easter, the first year I found myself away from home living in Japan, I craved the blasted thing.  And so yes, I had to try to make it myself.  Sigh.  Isn’t it crazy what food can do as far as taking us home again?)

And–oh wait.  There were three times.

Each and every time she insisted on putting mushrooms in something.  Ugh.  Mushrooms.

Just say no, people.

And I’m not talking about the little squares that “occur” occasionally in the cream of something soups.  I’m talking she bought the cans of the really big ones.  Seems like they got bigger every year.  And when we all got out of the house, she started spending a little more and getting the fresh mushrooms and cooking them herself.

In chili.  Spaghetti.  On pizza.  In snap beans for goodness’ sake.  Why would anyone want to ruin a perfectly good cooking of those?

She and I resolved our issues in recent years though.  Every Monday was our crash hers and Daddy’s date at the pizza buffet day.  Mama and I would ask for a veggie with pizza spice.  We’d each eat several slices.  And my Mama let me pick off my mushrooms and give them to her.  Something that was never allowed growing up.  She wanted me to learn to eat what was put before me and be thankful.  And once I did that, I was allowed–no–encouraged to give her my mushrooms.  “Why do I want to waste good mushrooms on you?” she’d ask with a wrinkle of her nose.

All righty then.  I love you too, Mama.

But I digress.  So yes, I cook like her but not quite up to her caliber yet.

I cook like her in quantity.

She had a joke with my Fella–“Well,” she’d say, leaning closer, as if to share a confidence with him, “it might not be good but there sure is enough of it.”

Silly woman.  Of course it was good.  She’d given up making that chicken chow mein mess by then, and I was allowed to pick out my mushrooms.  It was ALWAYS good.

Quantity.  I have a family of five to cook for, and much of the time now, we’re down to four *sniff* with my oldest off at the Oldest and the Best–and I still cook like my whole extended family is coming over.  Most nights.  And most nights I have leftovers.  Lots of leftovers.

Can I just tell you how much I love leftovers?

A whole bunch.

And do you know that I’ve only in recent years discovered that there are folks who don’t “do” leftovers?

Y’all.  I’m for real.  I know, I was shocked too.  We were raised on sale with a coupon eating leftovers.  And I loved it.

(Except for those chicken chow mein leftover nights.  Okay, letting that go now.)

My Fella loves them too.  He is willing to eat “whatever’s oldest in the fridge and can still be eaten” on those nights when we’re cleaning out the Frigidaire .  I appreciate that so much.  I can’t imagine if he weren’t okay with them.

Leftovers do a couple of things for me.

First, they save me time and thought and preparation–it’s easy, we’re going to have this leftover with this leftover for supper for tomorrow night, done.  I do try not to serve something two nights in a row, but nobody really seems to mind or notice.  Except for my picky eater Cooter.  If it’s something he doesn’t like, then well, two nights in a row is borderline abuse in his book.

Second, I feel like I’m saving money.  I don’t mind paying a little more for the good beef if I know we’ll get two meals out of it.  It doesn’t always happen, but if I can have even just enough for the Fella to take for lunch the next day, I’m happy.  All about the bargains.

But there’s a downside to leftovers y’all, and please tell me I’m not the only one.

I get a case of LOSS every night when it’s time to put the food away.

Leftovers Storage Syndrome.

The struggle is real, y’all.

I have the hardest time deciding what to put my leftovers in.  I used to be really good at this when I lived with my folks.  I could nail what size dish down to the last drop of the leftovers.  It was rare that I’d misjudge and we’d have to wash a dish unnecessarily because something didn’t fit.  Very rare. It was kind of my thing.

Only now I don’t live with my folks.  And I stress each and every time I have to search for the right container.

It’s almost enough to make me stop cooking enough to have leftovers.

(Hush my mouth!  Did I just say that?)

Remember last night how I talked about my scatteredness?  It’s affecting my kitchen cabinets too, I’m ashamed to tell you.  I have dishes in this one and this one and that one, and something for real sho ’nuff is eating LIDS around here.  I will find the dish but no lid.  Time and again.  What is that about?  I think maybe the socks that keep leaving their mates behind are ganging up and kidnapping lids.  For what I have no idea.  But it’s the only explanation I’ve been able to come up with so far.

I have nice storage stuff too.  I just can’t get it together for storing.  So yes, I’m also embarrassed to tell you, that the other day when I had sloppy joes leftover, I grabbed what I could find because I was so tired of looking for the “right dish” and threw it in, snapped the lid and put it in the fridge. Done.

 

There was more in there, but yeah, it was an oversized choice.  I've lost my touch.

There was more in there, but yeah, it was an oversized choice. I’ve lost my touch.

And so every night when I go to have my yogurt, I have to double-check that it’s not my sloppy joes waiting to be eaten again.

Ah well, I’m grateful for clear lids.

Tonight I’m thankful for memories of my Mama in the kitchen.  She could work magic in there.  She showed us how much she loved us in that room.  So much laughter and teasing and  teamwork and storytelling went on in that kitchen, and it was all because of her.

I’m also thankful for the gift of leftovers. And folks who will gladly eat them.  That I even have dishes to put them in at all is also a gift, and I appreciate that.  I know how lucky I am, I do.  But I am also grateful for the ability to laugh at myself and shake my head and look at my chaos and shrug.  It’s just the season.  Fingers crossed “this too shall pass,” as my Mama used to say so often, and I will get organized, I won’t have LOSS anymore, and I will once again be the Queen of Sizing Up the Right Dish.

Until then.  Ah well, better to keep laughing, right?

Wishing you all just enough leftovers and love to all.

 

What True Love Looks Like

I was standing in the yard, I think I was at Granny’s.  But the trees were ones Daddy had planted, so they were precious to me.  And as I stood staring at this one tree, it fell over.  Toppled right to the ground.  In that moment, my heart shattered.  I fell to the ground crying.  It was a link to him, and it was gone.  Another connection cut off.  As I wept, my tears falling into the grass beneath me, I wondered if it falling was a sign something bad had happened to Daddy.  I thought about Mama and worried how she was handling it if something had happened. 

Then I woke up and remembered.  Silence.

Oh.  That’s right.

It was just a dream.

Lunch for the little today.  Tortilla pizza.  They love it.

Lunch for the littles today. Tortilla pizza. They love it. Just like their Cap did.

Today for lunch I made two quick tortilla pizzas for my littles.  We hadn’t had them in a while until I whipped them up one last week.  They were so excited and ate every bite, so we’ve had them a couple of more times.  Today as I was using the pizza cutter to slice one up for our Princess, I remembered that Daddy was also fond of this version of pizza in his last couple of years.  After my dream last night, he and Mama were on my mind more than usual.

“Hey y’all, Cap loved this kind of pizza too.  He told me about it after Maemae made it for him the first time.”

They both thought that was pretty cool.

“Mama, let me ask you something.  Did you have to feed Maemae?”

*absolutely out of left field, that was*

I thought for a minute.  “No baby, I didn’t.  Maemae wasn’t really able to eat anything those last few weeks.  They had her using something to help her breathe.”  I held my own breath, fingers crossed there wouldn’t be any more detailed questions.

“Oh.”  She thought for a moment, carrying her plate to the counter. “Did you ever have to feed Cap?”

Oh my.  I did on occasion.  It was mostly helping him get the cup Mama had put a straw in up to his mouth.  Just at the end though.  The last couple of days he wanted nothing.

I remember noticing in those last months when Daddy lost some of his motor skills, that Mama was fixing him sandwiches and then wraps.  She’d put just about anything in a wrap–fried chicken, meatloaf, you name it–if Daddy liked it, it went in a wrap.  At first I thought they had joined the “wrap”apalooza that the restaurants all seemed to be going to at the time, but then Mama commented nonchalantly about how it seemed like it was easier for him to handle a wrap.

Bless her.

Mama’s love language was food.  We’ve laughed and joked about it over the years, and we even teased her unmercifully.  She used to lay out a spread and apologize that it might not be “fancy” or “enough.”  We’d shake our heads and dig in appreciatively.  After Daddy died, and she was so tired from the diseases challenging her own body, she’d put a Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese in the oven, roast some broccoli, fry up some okra, and put out carrots and hummus as a side–and she would APOLOGIZE.  Oh Mama.  Don’t you know all we tasted was love?

Because that’s how she showed her love the best, it was important to her to feed Daddy.  She couldn’t ease his pain, she couldn’t slow down the progression of the cancer, but she could by golly feed him.  And feed him well.  She’d cut up apple slices with at least one meal every day.  He always did love his apples, and if she placed them in a certain bowl, he could get them out and eat them all by himself fairly easily.  And the wraps.  I don’t know if she fed him meals when we weren’t there, but I do know she got very creative when it came to making him good food that he could eat himself.  She preserved his dignity through it all.

Bless her.  I was watching.  And paying attention.

I know that Walt Disney, bless his heart, has created an image of romance surrounded by singing forest animals, dancing and sewing mice, sea creatures, dancing until midnight, book-filled rooms with candlelight, and all kinds of happilyeveraftertheend’s, but for me, I know what true love looks like.

True love looks like hands held across a hospital bed.  True love looks like a smile and a wrinkled nose.  True love looks like tired eyes and vitamins served in a little cup every night.

True love looks like a wrap.  Made special.  For the one you love most.

Love to all.

Chocolate. And Love. And Chocolate.

My Awesome Cousin has a shirt that I first saw over six years ago.  Her Mama made it for her I think.  It says, “Save our planet: It’s the only one with chocolate.”

I remember thinking that was brilliant.  I even embroidered that quote on a tote bag to share at our family reunion that year.

I got it, but I didn’t really get it.

I have always been a vanilla over chocolate kind of girl.  At least where ice cream is concerned.  And milkshakes.  And milk.  So yeah, vanilla over chocolate.  Until just a few years ago.

Maybe I can blame it on Mama’s Texas Brownies that I fell in love with.  Yes, IN LOVE.  They were the best.  But since they had coffee in them too, the results might be skewed.  I suppose I could blame it on my Joyful friend who makes brownies with a layer of Hershey bars baked right in the middle.  Oh my.  Hang on, I need to clean the drool off the keyboard.

Wherever the blame lies, I have only just in the past few years become the kind of person who needs (not craves, there is a difference) chocolate on a regular basis.  I think it might have something to do with the discovery of the deliciousness of dark chocolate.

Sure, growing up I loved Mama’s chocolate chip cookies.  She would call us into the kitchen and have us each test a  semi-sweet chocolate chip from the bag before she poured them in.  I never turned her down. It was for the good of the family after all.  When I was in Japan, around the time I gave birth to our Princess, one of the women in my Fella’s flight baked me “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever.”  (Seriously, that was the name of the recipe.)  Oh my word, were they ever good.  The best.

But my need for chocolate did not arrive until that first bite of dark chocolate.

Before, I only enjoyed chocolate.  Now I was savoring it and thinking about it and well, needing it.

So I started buying it.  And then the trouble began.

There is a great appreciation for dark chocolate with the 18-65 year old members of this household.  So much so that it gets real at Christmas when Santa puts the dark chocolate kisses in folks’ stockings.  Rest assured there will be no sharing.  To each his or her own.  And woe be the person who dives into someone else’s stash without asking.

We’ve finally reached a compromise, it would seem.  The Fella likes his frozen, so he keeps a bag tucked up high in the freezer door.  He learned to move it up there after we started finding colorful foil pieces all over the house in little corners or tucked in a planter or between the pages of a book. (Ahem, caught you Cooter!) Aub does not care for hers frozen, so she stashes hers elsewhere.  And they are off limits for me for a while (yes, condolences are appropriate here), so I’m coping.  And not digging into the stashes I know exist.  Some days it’s a moment by moment decision, but I’m doing the best I can, and it only makes me “slightly” grumpy.  (My family might say this is an understatement.)

Just before I had to cut out the chocolate, Cooter saw me grabbing a dark chocolate kiss (or two) on my way out of the house.  As we headed to the vehicle, he asked, “Mama, why are you eating chocolate?”

Without blinking, I replied, “Because I don’t drink.”

Okay, it was more to myself under my breath than out loud where he could hear me, but I think that just might be the truth.  Some days are like that.

I do miss my chocolate.  I look forward to the day I can have it again, and in the meantime, I find myself walking down the candy aisles that aren’t on the way to what I need in the store.  I find it fascinating that after all of the years of being a vanilla girl, I have developed an appreciation and affinity for chocolate.

Maybe the Peanuts cartoon was accurate all those years ago after all.

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Tonight I am thankful for the discovery of something new that brings me joy.  I give thanks for the willpower to give it up for a bit so my body can do what it needs to do.  And most of all, I am grateful for those close to me, both near and far, who share their love.  This might sound cheesy (adding in another favorite food I’m avoiding right now), but–as good as dark chocolate is, love is the sweetest thing of all.

Love to all.

Not just another January 15

The first January 15 that I ever remember is the one when I was five. 1974. We were at my Granny’s farm. Daddy had cows there, and I absolutely loved them. Mama had asked me to leave them alone and stay out of the pasture, as it was a special day. All kinds of goings on in the house, so after I poked my head in and spoke, I wandered back outside. Before the morning was over, I had found the cows. Yep. Mama wasn’t happy. With three little ones– me, age 5, Sister, age 3, and Mess Cat, 7 months, she had her hands full on a non-special day. But that day…..

it was my Aunt’s wedding day.

I adored her then and still do today. I remember how in awe I was of her that day. She has always been so beautiful, but I still remember how especially beautiful she was that day. And I remember thinking she was so calm finishing putting the roses on her dress. She had crocheted the whole gown. In Tiffany Blue, before Tiffany blue was in style. With beautiful crocheted roses. (And if I have these memories wrong, please forgive me. They’ve been rolling around in there for forty years now.)

Her special day, and I was starting to smell like a cow pattie, or at least a cow. I remember Mama bemoaning that I’d need another bath.

My memory doesn’t recollect that I’d done all that disobeying on my Mama’s birthday. But I had.

January 15 is the day this spunky precious treasure entered the world as well.

Check out my Mama.  The original Princess Leia buns!  Wasn't she a cutie!

Check out my Mama. The original Princess Leia buns! Wasn’t she a cutie!

I don’t remember how old I was when I “got” birthdays other than my own. But I’m hoping maybe by the next year. Mama was born in 1946 in January–her birthday became a light in the midst of the after Christmas blues. Eventually I wanted to make her cake. Over the years I’ve made her pound cakes (more than I can count of those), banana pudding from scratch (her and Great Aunt W’s favorites), and there was the year or two I made White Mountain Cake with lemon glaze (as she loved her citrus, being a born Floridian and she needed to cut back on her cholesterol). I loved baking for her. And vice versa.

She didn’t have the happiest of childhoods, but the amazing thing about my Mama was that no one paid the price for that. Except her I guess. She was an amazing and loving and fun Mama, despite the fact that she had had no example set by her own parents. I credit her grandmother, her aunts and great-aunts, and her mother-in-law, my Granny, for loving her through it and empowering her to be more. She was amazed by their love, and she worked hard. She even went to nursing school for a bit, something which I, a self-diagnosed hypochondriac, always appreciated. (Her usual response–“Tara, it will either get better or it will get worse, and then we’ll know.” Wise woman.)

Mama in her nursing uniform.

Mama in her nursing uniform.

She moved on from there to Valdosta State, where a friend named Cheshire introduced her to “The Joyner,” as he was referred to. Daddy wrote thoughtful and thought-provoking things, and this friend who was friends with Daddy too had already let Mama read his writings. I think it was at a Laundromat that they met for the first time. Where she said, “I could fall madly in love with you Mr. Joyner.” Oh boy. But I’ve already told y’all how that turned out.

Daddy was someone else whose love amazed her. Standing beside his bed, holding his hand, as he took his last breaths, Mama told God how thankful she was for having him in her life, what a beautiful gift he was to her. Y’all. Greater love did not exist. I promise you that. Theirs was one of the greatest love stories, a quiet one, mind you, but a great one.

That's my Great Uncle giving Mama away there.  He had nothing to worry about on that account.  And do you see how she's peeking up at him?  She adored him, and I know he thought she was pretty special too.

That’s my Great Uncle giving Mama away there. He had nothing to worry about on that account. And do you see how she’s peeking up at him? She adored him, thought she’d hit the jackpot in love, and I know he thought she was pretty special too.

They started their life out with Mama about to finish college, but during the spring semester she found out she was pregnant.  The doctors told her that it would be graduating or having a healthy baby. I’m glad she chose the latter, because by the time their first anniversary rolled around, I was a month old.

Mama doing what she did best--loving.  Me and my Mama.  How I miss her every single day.

Mama doing what she did best–loving. Me and my Mama. How I miss her every single day.

Three years later there was Sister, seventeen months after that Mess Cat joined the Fray, with her first words coming out–“My Turn.” Is it any wonder?

A little over four years after Mess Cat was born, and after some sadness and heartbreak, Mama’s Gem was born. Dark haired, blue eyes like his Daddy, Mama’s little cowboy entered into our family. She often talked about the first time she heard the song “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” with the line “Don’t let ’em pick guitars and ride in old trucks.” My baby brother had just gone on his first ride with Daddy…..in Daddy’s old truck. She knew she was in trouble then.

Mama who considered us her gifts--it was she who was our greatest gift.

Mama who considered us her gifts–it was she who was our greatest gift.

She loved her birthday cakes. Or maybe she was indulging me. I just know she is the reason I bake now. She let me mess up (as long as I cleaned it up) and use her cookbooks and experiment. I love baking because of her and my Granny.

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That Bassett Hound candle was originally on my cake.  I don't think we ever lit him, so he would show up from time to time like an old friend or a comfortable shoe.  I'd forgotten using him for her cake that year.

That Bassett Hound candle was originally on my cake. I don’t think we ever lit him, so he would show up from time to time like an old friend or a comfortable shoe. I’d forgotten using him for her cake that year.

Mama was an incredible cook. The whole time we were in Japan, I heard from my Aub that my food was okay, but it just wasn’t Maemae’s. I know baby girl, I know. Mama didn’t always have a lot to work with, but she made some delicious food from scratch and we never went hungry. (Unless there were mushrooms in the spaghetti and I just couldn’t deal with it that night. Let me amend that–if we went hungry, it wasn’t Mama’s fault.)

This is her "Don't take that picture--I mean it" face.  Ha.  We always did anyway.

This is her “Don’t take that picture–I mean it” face. Ha. We always did anyway.

The next round of January 15’s saw Mama gaining more children. She and Daddy have sponsored children through the Pearl S. Buck Foundation since I was born–even when times were lean. It just mattered to them to help others. Always. So they welcomed others into their home from time to time. And then they started gaining children-in-law. For Mama, that in-law part didn’t matter. In her heart, she now had four daughters (plus one more she loved like a daughter) and four sons, and she loved them just as fiercely as she did her own children she’d given birth to. As a matter of fact there were times when I suspected she loved my Fella more than she loved me. (Surely I was mistaken here. Ahem.) She found things to love about each one of us, and never stopped right up to her last breath.

Then the grandchildren started arriving. She would tell anyone who would listen and even folks who would not how GRAND being a grandmother was. She loved it. She was made for the part. Aub and I lived with them for a period of time, and though I know it wasn’t easy, she balanced being a grandmother with being more than that very well. I am so thankful for that. Each one of my children has precious memories of her, and for that I give thanks. Mama has fifteen (plus three who loved her as their Maemae too) grandchildren now, two of whom she gave a kiss and a hug to before they joined this world. They were her greatest treasures. Always.

Mama and Aub.  Sewing on her machine.  They loved each other to pieces--they were like two peas in a pod.  So thankful Mama was so much a part of her growing up.

Mama and Aub. Sewing on her machine. They loved each other to pieces–they were like two peas in a pod. So thankful Mama was so much a part of her growing up.

Over the years we gave Mama different gifts on January 15 (and later some years–it’s a rule, we celebrate birthdays all week long, sometimes longer). But the gift she gave us whenever she saw us was that smile. Even in the hospital when she was in so much pain, she would try to give us that smile. And the wrinkle of her nose that said, “I love you.”

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Oh Mama, yes woman, you are FABULOUS!

Oh Mama, yes woman, you are FABULOUS!

She loved reading. Especially children’s books. Her favorite thing, next to spending time with her family, was reading to the children in my Joyful friend’s class and her friend’s class over the years. They adopted Maemae as theirs and loved the books she shared, the animation in her voice, and the science experiments she would bring to show them. She loved children. She believed that every child deserved to be wanted and loved. God bless her, she tried to do it all herself sometimes. And as for us, the four who called her Mama first, she loved us and spoiled us rotten, never letting us forget about the switch bush right outside the door. Who was her favorite? I claimed it, just ask the nurses and doctors at the hospital.  But if you asked her, she’d tell you, “My favorite is the one I’m with right at this moment.” You gotta love diplomacy, don’t you?

Last January 15 we didn’t get to celebrate or party. My little guy, Cooter, was sick. Our Princess had ballet and tap that afternoon. Mama herself had been in pain herself since Sunday, two days before. Mama had told me all she wanted for her birthday was fluorescent light bulbs to replace the ones over her dining room table. They were doing that annoying flashing thing and it was time. Mama, not feeling good, sicker than any of us–including her–realized, did not feel up to going to Lowe’s and picking them out. She asked me if I would. “That can be my present,” she said. “You pick them out. Put them on my card. My gift is I don’t have to get out and get them.” She was going to ask her neighbor or Leroy to help her change them out.

Our Princess and I darted in Lowe’s that afternoon, hurrying and scurrying and then there were all these choices. Different colors of fluorescent lighting?  Who knew?  I mean, I thought a light was a light. Alas, no. Fingers crossed that I’d chosen well, but keeping the receipt in case I hadn’t, we checked out and hurried over to Blackberry Flats, leaving only a short time to visit before dance started.

I don’t even think we went all the way into the house. Mama really wasn’t up for company, and she knew we had to go. I hugged her and encouraged her to call me or the doctor if things weren’t better. I put the lights in the laundry room, and we made party plans for Friday. Friday and Stevi B’s pizza–it was a party date. We just knew everyone would be feeling better by then.

Only that wasn’t to be. Mama never saw those lights put up, though Leroy replaced them the following Saturday. I’ve thought about it a lot today. Do I regret the time at Lowe’s that kept us from visiting a few more minutes with Mama that day? Before everything started?

My answer, strangely enough, is no.

Mama believed in taking care of business. Getting things done. I think having those bulbs where she was then back in control of them being changed out was a gift that she needed. And the truth is, while I can’t call her up and ask her what on earth I should be doing or saying or thinking about this or that or the next fire that starts, I feel like she is still very much with me. Believe me, I wish I could hear her voice out loud, even if only over a “Speak to Your Loved One in Heaven” app or something like that, just for a few minutes. But this morning, when I was taking Miss Sophie out for her morning constitutional, I wished Mama a Happy Birthday and told her I love her.

And I swanee, I could hear her in my heart, where it really matters, whisper back:

“I love you too, baby girl.”

And that will do for this January 15.

Me and Mama, decked out in our best 70's fashion.  Pretty sure she made much of what we are wearing.  In case you haven't gathered this by now, I LOVE THIS WOMAN.  Always.

Me and Mama, decked out in our best 70’s (or 80’s?) fashion. Pretty sure she made much of what we are wearing. In case you haven’t gathered this by now, I LOVE THIS WOMAN. Always.

Happy Birthday, Mama! Thank you for everything.

Tears on a Tuesday…..Loneliness, Laundry, and Living on the Streets

Whoa, Tuesday!  You sure did jump out of nowhere and grab ahold of my heart today.  Totally wasn’t expecting all of that.

There have been tears today.  Over the realizing all over again what Thursday is and that she isn’t here to make her dressing.  I’ve only not had Mama’s dressing three Thanksgivings in my life–the year we were in Japan and the two years that Daddy was so sick.  I just don’t even know.  But I know there are harder things in this life.

Later Sister called saying she was thinking about making gingerbread cookies. I laughed, as she often calls looking for a recipe.  Often the same recipe I’ve given her before.  More than once.  She knows it–she owns it.  When I asked if she needed the recipe, she began sobbing into the phone.  Oh baby girl.  I wanted to crawl through the phone line and hug her.  Turns out she didn’t need the recipe after all.  She just needed me to listen.  Whenever she makes those cookies she thinks of Mama and all the times she called and asked Mama for the recipe.  Precious memories.  And hard.  But still I know there are harder things on this journey.

I was with my Sister Circle this afternoon at Daybreak. We had a small group as some of our friends were out of town.  As we talked about forgiveness and what that looks like and what it’s like to apologize, our conversation eventually turned to the holiday season.  We eventually got around to whether or not the holidays were hard for each of us.  One of our sisterfriends said no, that it was about being with family and she was so happy for Thursday and the opportunity to do just that–be with her family all together.  I looked over at Miss N, our sisterfriend who is the artist, and asked her.  She shrugged.  She won’t be going to be with her family this year.  “It’s hard,” she says.  “It’s only one day.  It’s just one day.”  And I could hear her unsaid words echoing in my head and heart.

“Why’s it gotta be just one day?”

I know.  I get it.  She’s lonely every other day of the year.  Why go and do this for just one day when she’ll have to go back as it was the very next day?  And every day after that.

Broke my heart.

I also saw my friend Mac today.  I guess I “conjured him up.”  I hadn’t heard from him in about two weeks, and last week some folks shared how concerned they were about him.  I called his Mama this afternoon to see if she’d heard how he was, and so yes, of course, he was right there in front of me after I hung up with her.  I was glad to see him.

He hung around for us to visit after Sister Circle was over.  It’s been cold, and today it rained all day long.  He looked like he was doing all right though.  But he’s tired.  He teared up as he talked about it.  He’s done with living on the streets.  Again.  He wants to go back to the transitional program he was a part of out of town.  Again.  He had lost the number to the contact there, a man who really cares about Mac.  I have it, so I handed Mac my phone with the number ready to dial. Was I calling his bluff, wondering if he was just telling me what I wanted to hear?  Maybe.  But he took the phone.  He made the call himself.  And he called back.  And he did this for himself.

Turns out he can’t return there.  Long story, but I understand.  And I agree.  But the person there cares so much, he called me back with two places to contact and see if they have an opening for Mac.  I am thankful for him and his caring heart.  Funny thing is, I didn’t see it in the beginning.  This tough love thing is hard to discern sometimes.  And judging someone at first contact almost always gets me in trouble.  He’s a good guy.  I appreciate him.

As I sat visiting with Mac, a volunteer called out a name, and a young couple went over to the half-door at the laundry room where several washers and dryers were working hard to keep up with all the needs for the day.  The volunteer who is there without fail every Tuesday afternoon handed over a basket of clean clothes.  What caught my eye was the look of sheer joy on their faces.  The young woman (honestly she didn’t look much older than my Aub) closed her eyes and breathed in the clean smell.  They both pulled their still warm clothes close to their chests and sighed contentedly.  The woman squealed with delight and her companion laughed loudly at her joy.

Y’all.

I had to look away and wipe my eyes.

I’m a spoiled you know what.
I have my own washer and dryer.  I have a precious family whose clothes I get to wash.  Whenever I want.  We have a place to store our clothes rather than shoving them back in a backpack…..and having to carry all of our clothes on our back or risk having them taken away.   Oh, how I have taken it all for granted.  How many times have I whined or moaned over the laundry, the washing the folding the putting away?

Watching that beautiful couple and their sheer joy over something that is so basic for me and mine…..

it made me thankful.  And ashamed.  And it put things into perspective.

At least for today.

So in the morning, in the midst of the traditional baking and remembering who is not with us this year, and trying to figure out if I even want to attempt Mama’s dressing, I will be making calls for Mac and waiting for him to call me and keeping my fingers crossed that something will work out…..and that this time he can hold his own in his battle with that demon alcohol.  And I will be playing catch-up with the laundry.  I am sure at some point I will find myself breathing in the clean clothes and holding the warmth close to my heart.  And remembering the joy I got to see.
Yes, I know there are far harder things in life.  The realization that the loneliness will return after one day of being with others keeping you from even trying, the horror of fighting a demon that puts your life in danger each and every day–and cold, wet night, and the life of carrying all the clothes you own around in a backpack…..I’ve seen them all today.  All I’m left with is the tears.

Oh Tuesday…..