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Thanksgiving Gratitude

I first shared this post November, 2007. I don't think I could write anything else that better reflected how I feel this Thanksgiving or every day of the year.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my US friends, and to everyone, I wish you a year filled with abundant blessings and gratitude!

Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes of which all men have some." ~Charles Dickens~

          In a couple of days it will be Thanksgiving, and I must admit, I know exactly how the Pilgrims felt. They invited their new Native American friends over for dinner, and they were astonished when they stayed for three days! Talk about a challenge! Those early American hostesses needed to figure out how to turn leftovers into savory meals that would nourish and sate a houseful of noisy guests for what was perhaps the first 3 day weekend! As I prepare for my out-of-town children to descend, I check and recheck the pantry and fridge to make sure I have enough on hand to keep their tummies full and their taste buds delighted. Unlike the Pilgrims, I have the luxury of planning our meals and sleeping arrangements, but I can visualize our creative foremothers, scratching their heads under their starched bonnets, and coming up with yet another way of serving the Thanksgiving bird! (Which, I’ve been told,  was pheasant, not turkey!)

            When thinking about this year’s Thanksgiving story, many delightful tales come to mind. There was the year my brother and his wife bought a turkey that was so huge it wouldn’t fit in a roaster, and they placed it directly on the lowest rack of the oven. (Instead of cleaning the oven afterward, they threw it out! They really did need a new oven, this just hastened the process!) Or the year my daughter brought home 2 college dinner guests. One was from India and one from Korea. Neither had celebrated an American Thanksgiving, and after loosening their belts and reaching comatose levels of gluttony, they whole-heartedly concurred that America was truly a wondrous place! Or the Thanksgiving when I threw up every 10 minutes (a terrible case of morning sickness) and was fearful that the smell of roasting turkey would forever be nauseating to me! (Fortunately, I got over that!)

            Finally, I decided to share a story that has nothing to do directly with Thanksgiving, but it is in fact, all about giving thanks. My mother grew up on a farm in a tiny town in Texas. My maternal grandmother, Bushia, had 13 children. Before she passed away she had buried four of her own children; her first born died of heart problems when she was just three days old, a ten month old son died of pneumonia just as he was learning to take his first steps, a son was killed in the Korean War, and her oldest son died of a heart aneurysm. I can’t even begin to imagine taking care of so many people while spending a total of TEN YEARS PREGNANT! But most significantly, I can’t imagine living in a time and place where common childhood illnesses were life threatening. (My fraternal great-grandparents lost all five of their children in one episode of influenza before leaving Poland and starting all over in America!)

            But on to my story! One day my cousin and I were visiting Bushia. We were sitting around the kitchen table comparing notes, and I suppose, complaining…a lot. (In our defense, I wish to point out, at the time neither of us were married, and we were bemoaning our boyfriends, not husbands and children, so I gotta think Bushia’s reaction was probably fueled by listening to her own daughters complain, and we were simply the recipients of the proverbial “final straw” syndrome!) She was busy fussing in the kitchen, coming in and out of the room, and not directly involved in our conversation. We were shocked and aghast when on one of her “pass-throughs” she stopped, slammed her hand on the table, and said, “You women have it so easy today. When I was a young woman I didn’t have dishwashers or washing machines. I couldn’t go to the grocery store to buy dinner, and there wasn’t a television to watch if I got bored. I didn’t worry about how much attention my husband was showing me, I was too busy! So was he. A good day was a day that everyone got fed and no one died. Stop whining and start being grateful for what you have.”

            With those words she went about her business…even in old age she was always busy making her house a home and providing for the comfort of others. And she was happy…or maybe a better word was content. My cousin and I continued to sit around the table talking, rather shame-faced, both making a silent pact to NEVER vent around Bushia again! But in my heart, I knew she was right. Not that our lives today are perfect and without worries. We have concerns today that my grandmother never had to contend with, but the most valuable lesson I learned that day was that happiness is not something given to you by other people or things; it’s something within you that permeates everything you do. Every day you can choose to focus on the things you don’t have or be grateful for the things that you do.

            So this Thanksgiving, and every night before going to sleep, I take a moment to ponder my day. In the simplest of terms, if I can say “Everyone was fed today and no one died” it WAS a good day, worthy of praise, and a reason for Thanksgiving!  

Ode to My Second Child

In parenting, sometimes irrational fears can get the best of us. Here's a story about one of my fears, and the 7 pounder that taught me a lesson worth learning!

I can only image what it must feel like to stand on the moon and look down (up, over?) at the Earth. You’ve always know the Earth existed, you’ve walked upon it every day of your life, but seeing it from this fresh perspective must give you a new and glorious understanding of the scope, complexities and beauty of the planet that we call home. I felt much the same way when I laid eyes upon my first born. Before holding my babe, I thought I knew what love was. I had loved many, been loved by many, and thought I understood the intricacies of love. But much like the Grinch that infamous Christmas morning, when I held her in my arms, my heart increased in size. Seriously, I believe that, because there is no way possible its previous size could accommodate the sheer girth and weight of the love that now consumed me.

Fast forward one year. For the past 365 days my love affair with my daughter evolved, changing from “love at first site” to a complex relationship that enlightened and challenged my sensibilities, intellect, and yes, at times my patience. This love somehow filled a void in me that I never even known existed. She completed me. This love, above all others, was a love worth dying for. Yes, I would literally throw my body on the live grenade to protect her. Love for my child, and her wellbeing, became my new working definition of love. I had now, figuratively, stood on the moon, and got a complete panoramic view of love.   

And, the story could stop here… the story of a young woman that learns about a “mother’s love” and lives happily ever after, but when Michelle was one year old, I conceived my second child. I was filled with joy. Soon, well in nine months, there would be a new being, precious and diminutive, to love. But something insidious happened during the early days of my pregnancy, as I went through the delightful sensation of morning sickness. Despite my desire to nurture, I often had to keep Michelle at arms’ length as I tried to contain the contents of my stomach. Now, I couldn’t pick her up or frolic until the nausea subsided. A thought entered my head, fleeting at first, but growing in size and stature as irrational thoughts of hormonally charged preggoes are prone to do… this second child, the one growing inside of me right now, was somehow going to come between me and my daughter!

I was filled with fear and shame. What if I didn’t love my second child as much as my first? And how could I? At times, my love for Michelle seemed almost all consuming. Of course, I still loved all those other people; my husband, my family, my friends, but this was a different kind of love; a possessive love, a protective love, a consuming love. I couldn’t possibly love another human being as completely.

I discretely broached the subject with experienced moms with multiple children, only to be waved off with, “I love all my children equally.” LIES, I thought… LIES… like telling someone that needs to have a root canal that it isn’t so bad. Of course it’s bad! But since the procedure is imminent, why add to their fears up front? Or, worse yet, maybe they weren’t lying, and there was something innately wrong with me. How was it possible that all these other women had this seemingly endless supply of love, and I had managed to use up all of mine on my first born?

The morning I went into labor, I remember dropping off my sleeping 21 month old at my mother’s. I rocked her in my arms, with tears running down my face. “Oh, I’m so sorry, sweetheart”, I sobbed, “Our lives will never be the same again. You are going to need to share Mommy’s love with someone else.” Secretly, tenderly, and so softly that the words didn’t even reach my ears, I whispered, “But don’t worry. I will always love you best.”

My labor and delivery was an oxymoron of emotions. On one hand, I wanted to deliver my child… to meet him, to know that he was healthy. On the other hand, I was panicking. I wondered if he would sense, from the very start, that I was a terrible mother, unable to love him as completely as he deserved. Eventually, a final push brought my son into the world, and he was placed on my chest… on my heart. My hands gently, protectively cradled his head and bottom.  He was so tiny, so perfect, so totally and completely mine. As his mouth rooted for a nipple, and he began to suckle, the unbelievable happened… I felt my heart expanding again! In that instant, I KNEW, totally and irrevocably, that I was capable of loving this babe, this second child, every bit as much as I did my first. I did not need to share the love I felt for my daughter with my son, he brought his own supply.

Looking back, I feel rather foolish for all of my fears and concerns. If my first born taught me how to love completely, then, in a blink of an eye, my second born taught me that a mother’s love knows no bounds. NEVER would I need to share my love for my daughter with my son (and eventually my second son). Each child comes equipped with their own supply, and, like all those wise mothers before me, I learned that I did, in fact, love them all equally. Adam, like Michelle, would provide his own joys and challenges, but my love for him, my second born, was as strong and consuming as the first. 

Of course, my daughter did need to learn to share me with her brother, and there were times I needed to split my time between them, but I was right about one thing… our lives were never the same again… they were better :)

(So as not to leave out my third born, Drew, not to worry, he taught me about love, too, especially about gracious love, but I’ll leave THAT for another post :)

At one time or another, all parents experience irrational fears about their ability to parent well. Fortunately, our children are very good teachers, and as long as we are attentive students, they have much to teach us :)

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Please do not reprint any material found on this blog without written permission from Kimara Wise. You can contact her at weefolkart@yahoo.com

 

 

The Importance of Reliable Equipment

Eighth grade was my year to bloom. I went from little girl… my bras still had training wheels… to a woman with a perfect 36-24-36 figure. I must admit I was not unaware of the stir it created with the boys, and daily I was discovering the power of my new found femininity. But there was a downside to this metamorphic transformation… I also grew up. And not “grew up” in terms of mental and emotional maturity, but rather my physical stature approached what I believed to be at the time, Amazonian proportions!

My mother was short; she measured in at 5’ 2” if her feet were swollen. Bushia was short, as were most of my aunts. Pietrowski women were “petite”. So, when eighth grade rolled around, and I reached my mom’s height, I was thrilled. When I sailed pass it… not so much so. Okay, so I wasn’t the tallest girl in my class, but they weren’t my yardstick for perfection. My mother was beautiful, and I believed a large part of her beauty came from her diminutive stature. I saw youthful pictures of my mom and dad together. He towered over her, as it should be in fairy tale romances. So, if my mom was the princess at 5' 2", at 5’6” I would have to be the ogress.

One evening I sat around bemoaning my height. Because it bothered me so much, my brothers teased me unmercifully.

“God”, Keith said, feigning horror, “Look how long your toes are!”

My toes? I hadn’t realized there was something wrong with my toes. But looking down, I could see what he meant. After staring at them long enough, their length made them appear deformed and unsightly. I ran to the junk drawer and got out the tape measure. When I sat down and started to measure my longest toe, I realized the tape measure was broken, and the first inch had snapped off. So after taking the measurement, I did the logical thing… I added the broken off inch back on to the measurement. With the adjustment I made for the faulty tape measure, the length of my toe came in at an impressive 4 inches.

“Oh my God,” I moaned. “My toes are 4 inches long!” (A bit of an aside… I wish to point out, I was a whiz in math and very analytical. The fact that I had added instead of subtracted an inch from my phalange’s measurement, and then did not immediately see how inane a toe measurement of 4 inches was, speaks to my distraught state, not my intrinsic intelligence!) Anyway, as tears welled up in my eyes, my brothers were doubled over in convulsive fits of glee.

“4 inches”, Kev repeated. “They’re as long as cigarettes.”

“With toes that long,” Keith quivered, “you could scale telephone poles barefooted.”

Shame reddened my face, as scalding tears burned my checks. I went running out of the room, seeking the sanctuary of my bedroom. I should point out that my internal balance system was not yet calibrated properly to account for my recent height increase and mammary protrusions. Tripping over my own feet was a daily occurrence, and as I fled from the room, I failed to negotiate the metal rimmed step up. As my feet went out from under me, the shin on my left leg barreled into the step. This only fueled the laughter behind me, and as soon as I righted myself, I continued running upstairs to my room.

It was only after I got in my room, that I felt a hot trickle down the front of my leg. When I looked down, I was horrified. A thick stream of maroon blood trailed down my leg. The impact had been so intense, that it took several minutes for the pain receptors to transmit their signal to my brain. The tissue around the 2 inch cut (about the size of my toe) was swollen creating a linear crater. The flesh had retracted exposing my bone.

Later that evening, when my parents decided that I did not require a trip to the emergency room and had justifiably chastised my brothers for their grievous insensitivity, I sat on the couch with my injured leg on the ottoman. A towel filled with ice cubes rested on my injured shin. The atmosphere in the room was subdued, but out of the corner of my eye I could see the smirks my brothers still wore, and I swear I heard one of them whisper, “God, look how long her neck is!”

I still carry the 2” scar from that day to remind me of my “awkward stage”. I actually came to enjoy my height… as soon as the boys in my class caught up! Below is a pic of me at eighth grade graduation partnered with a prepubescent classmate!

What did you keep in a box?

As many of you know, Tim and I did not meet until we were in our mid 40s. Besides the obvious… he’d never be able to see the “killer bod” I had at 19… there were so many things we missed. Pregnancies and graduations, job interviews and college parties! So, on a regular basis, I would say, “Tell me something about you I don’t know.” Well, to begin with, it was a no brainer for him. Tim is never at a loss for words, except when he’s asleep. Nope, I take that back. Quite maddeningly, he talks in his sleep, too, but I only get to hear one side of the conversation! “Oh yes. I like that. I like that a lot.” I ask you… are we talking romantic interlude here or has a dream geek just shared a particularly concise line of code, and does the fact that that makes sense to me make me a geek by association? Sorry, not at all relevant to this blog! Anyway, over time, stories of Tim’s childhood and young adult life were shared. Some tales of woe and many of wonder, but as time went on the obvious recollections began to diminish. And because I wouldn’t relent, Tim got smart and started collecting memories to have on hand, so when I asked the inevitable, he was ready with an answer. And then one day, when I said, “Tell me something about you I don’t know”, it happened. His response… “I can’t, I’ve told you everything.”

Obviously, this couldn’t be accurate. So, my questions had to become more precise. “What board games did you play with your siblings?” “What did you do on snow days?” “Tell me about the first time you closed on a house.” See, tons of things I didn’t know yet! The other day I asked, “When you were a kid, what did you keep in a box?” His response, “How do you come up with these questions?”

Well, I thought this was a particularly pertinent question, and that the answer would be quite illuminating. Because, when you are a child, your most treasured possessions are stored in boxes.

Think back to the story of the Littlest Angel. You know the story. The day Jesus is born all the angels in heaven go to pay homage. Gifts are bestowed… impressive, magnificent gifts… gifts fit for a king. The Littlest Angel fretted because he did not have anything worthy of a king BUT then he had a thought. On Earth he had a special box he kept hidden under his bed with his most valuable treasures. Surely, if he only had that, it would be something worthy to give. An understanding grown-up angel heard the Littlest Angel, and made a speedy trip to Earth and returned with the little angel’s box. But when the Littlest Angel opened the box, he was filled with shame. What was he thinking? Here, in this tattered box, were treasures that certainly were not fit for a king. Inside laid a tattered collar from a beloved dog, a robin’s egg, a couple of smooth white stones and a wing from a butterfly. The Littlest Angel tried to hide the box, but to his horror, it was pulled from his hands by an unseen force and placed with the magnificent gifts near the Christ child. The Littlest Angel tried to skulk off, but he was summoned by God himself. Fearing a deserved reprisal, he approached, well aware of all the eyes that looked upon him with sympathy and pity. But, to his amazement, God did not chide him, but rather commended him for his selection of gifts. “This”, God said, “Above all other gifts, is exactly what a child, born of this Earth, will treasure the most.”

“So”, I persisted, “What did you keep in a box.”

As it turns out, and this in no way came as a surprise to me, on Monday mornings, Tim and his best friend traveled the neighborhood going through people’s trash at the curb. Tim was a resourceful lad, always on the lookout for… electronics! Some treasure butterfly wings some treasure transistors… tomato <pronounced toe-may-toe>, tomato <pronounced toe-mah-toe>. (As our son Mike pointed out, pronunciation is lost in the written word!) Anyway… when Tim was young, what he valued most was electronic parts that could be used to make an automatic sling shot or a battery operated space ship. So, although it appeared that Tim’s box was filled with discarded wires and transistors, switches and dials, it was in fact, filled with the things dreams were made of! Isn’t that, after all, what should be inside every child’s treasure box?

And, of course, it must be asked… what did you keep in your box? 
 

Edit: Tim pointed out that I never mentioned what I kept in a box. I kept the key to diary, a hair that fallen onto the lapel of my grandfather's burial suit, (okay, maybe a little morbid, but I was raised Catholic, and relics, like hairs and bone spliters, were big!) the bi-laws to a secret club I belonged to, and a letter I had gotten from Paul McCartney. (Okay, maybe his secretary, but when I was in 4th grade I assumed it was from Paul himself!)

As I grew up, I continued to have treasure boxes. And then, as a mother, I had a special tin. One day I was showing the contents of the tin to Tim. When I removed the lid, there was a very unusual smell. The contents included the first pair of glasses my pre 1 year old son wore, a hefty braid cut from my daughters hair, someone's retainer, about 30 baby teeth, 1 shriveled ambilical cord, and 1 ear tube.

Me: Yikes. This smells funky. I think this stuff is decaying. What am I going to do. I can't throw this stuff away.

Tim: You don't have to. Just put the top on it and never open it again.

He's so understanding! And so I did just that. I can't bring myself to throw its contents away, although its a rather macabre collection of paraphernalia, but I treasure what each of the items represents. So despite that fact that it needs to remain hermetically sealed, I know its contents marks major events in my children's lives. A pretty priceless treasure!  

Cooking Malfunctions

My parents use to say that they never needed to worry about me… that was the job of my 3 brothers. And over the years, each of them has looked after me in their own unique way. I can remember after one particularly awful date, while the octopod walked me to my front porch, he had the nerve to make one final assault on my chasten resolve not be become one of his conquests. Before I had an opportunity to plant an upper cut to his jaw, the front door opened, and there stood my 10 year old brother, in his jammies. “Is there a problem?” he questioned. “Not anymore”, I replied. And with that I turned my back on my date and went in the house. Just as I was closing the door I heard his tentative comment, “So, I’ll give you a call?” Jeeze! Anyway, when I was safely inside, I gave the little guy a hug, and asked him what he was doing up at midnight. “I didn’t trust that guy,” was all that he said as he climbed the stairs to bed.

But, every girl that has ever had brothers knows that brothers are definitely not all fun and games. On the average, for every good thing they did, there were usually a half dozen actions that I was ready to strangle them over. One of their most annoying behaviors was their incessant proclivity to share my culinary failures with would be suitors. I don’t why they thought it was so humorous, it’s not like most young men highly valued a girl’s gastronomic expertise. At this point in their lives, physical attraction and his date’s willingness to watch action films were all that truly matter. But that didn’t stop my brothers from falling into their roles as would-be comedians on open mike night at a comedy club.

They: Kim is such a bad cook, she burns Jello.

(Lie: I did not burn Jello. I just didn’t mix it thoroughly enough and when you dug into it you hit pockets of non dissolved Jello, which spewed dry powder into the face of unsuspecting diners.)

They: Kim is such a bad cook, she melts salads.

(Lie: I did not melt a salad… well, not directly, at least. My brother, his date, my date and I, were making dinner when my parents were out of town. My job was the salad. Being fair to me, the veggies had probably exceeded their “best if used by date” and the lettuce wasn’t very crisp. I had one of my scathingly brilliant ideas… why not pop the salad into the freezer for a few minutes to “crispen” it up! Now, I could go into all the scientific reasons which I learned about later in biology (stuff about cell walls and such) why this wasn’t a brilliant idea, but suffice to say, when I pulled the salad out of the freezer, it did in fact achieve my desired outcome. The lettuce was crisp. BUT, in the time it took to walk the salad to the table, the lettuce began to thaw, leaving behind a slimy vegetated mess that looked like it belong in the bottom of Mr. McGregor’s compost heap! God love my date, he valiantly slathered it with salad dressing and swallowed a couple of bites swearing it wasn’t so bad. When his third bite brought about involuntary gagging, the salad was removed from the table and the next course was introduced.)

They: Kim is such a bad cook it took 2 of us to carry her veggie meatloaf to the table.

(Lie: It did not take 2 of them to carry the veggie loaf to the table, it only took one, and it’s never been substantiated that this caused my brother’s hernia that required surgery!)

Over the years I’ve had my share of perceived cooking malfunctions. Just ask my children. There are 2 entrées in particular that all 3 of them site when discussing food prep gone awry. The first was a perfectly edible vegetarian spaghetti, made with spaghetti squash instead of noodles. I knew the recipe was doomed when my ex grumbled and groaned about it without so much as a taste. The children all watched him in anticipation as he begrudgingly took one miniscule bite. Then, with all the emote of a drama queen, he pushed the plate away, and promptly went to the phone and ordered a pizza. (And to think I’m not married to that man today… shocker!) Anyway, I wasn’t surprised when the children pushed their plates away with confidence as they looked to their father for approval. As for me…I sat at the table by myself and ate a perfectly lovely dinner. (Ah, truth be told… not so lovely! But I certainly wasn’t going to give Benedict Arnold the satisfaction of having me join them for pizza!)

The second food they all go on about was this very delectable chilled strawberry soup. It was one of the last days of school before summer vacation, and we were having their teachers over for lunch. I made this chilled strawberry soup and served it with a curried couscous chicken salad. Yum, right? Well, I could see them turning their noses up at the soup, but I gave them my best “don’t you dare do that in front of company” look, so under duress, they spooned what they considered to be a loathsome concoction into their mouths. Lunch was barely over before all 3 of them were in the bathroom throwing up. Seems they were all coming down with the flu, and lunch was enough to encourage its onset! To this day they blame their malaise on the soup, but I swear it was just a common, garden variety, virus that done them in!

Although today I have years of tried and true recipes tucked under my belt, I’m still open to trying new recipes and techniques. Case in point… Most days my grandbabies and their mother are over for lunch. Sometimes lunch is leftovers, sometimes I’ll prepare an entire meal, and about once a month I serve breakfast for lunch. This is generally one of their favorites, especially if pancakes and bacon are involved. Usually, I’ll buy this yummy maple flavored bacon to serve with pancakes. On this particular day, I did not have maple favored bacon, just regular bacon. So, dare I say it? I got another one of my scathingly brilliant ideas! Why not throw a little maple syrup in the pan while the bacon was frying? I often do that with left over ham, seemed to make sense that I could do the same with bacon. What I didn’t take into account was the temperature I was using to fry the bacon was evidently considerably higher than the temp I used to reheat ham. The temperature was hot enough to transform the syrup into a hard candy coating in seconds! Within a minute our bacon was securely preserved in a hard outer coating like a prehistoric mosquito in amber! Still hoping the bacon was edible I brought it to the table. Bug went to take a bite of the rigid bacon. Through clenched teeth that had been welded together by the candy coating he said, “Something’s wrong here!” We convinced him that as soon as the sugar dissolved he’d be able to move his jaws once again, but we realized there was no saving the bacon. Although the children were devastated, they weren’t nearly as surly about it as the 3 dogs who realized their bacon lust would go unrequited!

I’m hoping that my grandbabies were a little too young to have internalized this little culinary faux pas otherwise, I’m certain it would become yet another amusing anecdote to share at inopportune times. But who am I kidding? They are young, which means I have years and years to provide them with plenty of cooking disasters to enrich our family’s folklore!

Two types of cooking experiences get remembered…the really good and the really bad. But let’s face it…it’s the really bad ones that we love to recount over and over and over again!