Category Archives: Family

Sunday Salon/Currently: Climbing My Family Tree

Maybe it was President Shithole’s hateful, racist remarks this week about people from other countries. Maybe it was a desire to spend less time on Facebook and more time with other interests.  Maybe I was seeking a distraction from a new development in a situation that’s been weighing heavily on my mind for awhile. Whatever the reason (probably some combination of all the above, plus a snowed-in day), I spent the majority of Saturday hunkered down in a genealogical rabbit hole.

Pittsburgh’s library system has a robust collection of free genealogy databases and subscriptions (including to Ancestry.com!), all accessible with one’s library card. I’ve known this for years but never explored any of these resources — all free, mind you, and the ones that are only accessible in the library happen to be located a mere two floors above my office. We had a major ice and snow storm Friday night into Saturday morning, making the beginning of this three-day weekend a lazy one of cancelled appointments and events. (I really feel bad for The Girl; she was really looking forward to a church youth group sleepover last night. I just wasn’t comfortable driving in this weather. She understood that and made the best of it by staying up late anyway and watching a Bowie documentary on HBO.)

I went on a genealogy binge a few months before the kids were born but never really did too much with it. Wait, that’s not true; I was able to reconnect The Husband’s grandmother with some of her long-lost cousins. That was nice. But wrangling newborn twins didn’t leave much free time for pursuits like climbing the family tree (most days I was just trying not to climb the walls!).

So yesterday I spent some time with my paternal great-grandparents Anton Middleman and Frederika Krause Middleman (also known as Freda and/or Frieda). All I really know about them was that they owned a cigar and candy store on Tioga Street in Philadelphia and that they were immigrants from Germany. It looks like they came to America together in 1889 and got married in 1892. They had six kids, the youngest being my grandfather, Edward.

I also looked into my maternal great-grandparents. According to the 1940 Census, my great-grandmother Mary Schiffler is listed as being the head of her household, which included seven children ranging from age 8 to age 21. This I knew. The Boy reminded me that today would have been my maternal grandfather’s 100th birthday. I miss them.

Currently …
Woke up with a wicked tension headache today which ends my headache-free streak for 2018. It has been two weeks since my last headache. I think that’s close to a record. Right now I have all my go-to remedies underway: hot shower; ginger and turmeric tea with honey; essential oils; Excedrin Tension.

Reading/Listening … 
I finished listening to It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell this week. At 20 years old, Mitchell weighed nearly 300 pounds and knew she had to begin addressing her life-long struggles with food, its connection to her relationship with her parents and her sense of self. It Was Me All Along is the story of that journey. I thought this memoir was heartfelt and honest, especially in recounting the emotional, difficult aspects of her childhood. Mitchell does an excellent job of narrating the audio version.

Celebrating …
Our Eagles won! The Steelers on the other hand … well, that’s a disappointment. (My football loyalties are complicated. I’m first and foremost an Eagles fan, but I can’t help but root for the Steelers too.)

Sweating … 
I finally went back to yoga for the first time in 2018 (and the first time since October). Thursday was a stressful day and I just needed some way to release some tension and work some shit out. This was my 3rd yoga class ever — and a hot yoga class at that.  (Hot yoga is IN.FREAKIN.TENSE.) It was hard. Really hard. I spent nearly half the class just laying on my mat. What I really love about this studio is its emphasis on being a non-judgmental, accepting place, especially for newbies like me.

Hope you have a great week!

 

 

 

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

Sunday Salon/Currently … Wrapping Up 2017

“And that’s what I think I need to focus on more in 2017 — the moments themselves. Otherwise, the weighty expectations, anxiety, and emotional quagmires become too overwhelming. This isn’t a new realization or epiphany—just one that’s become more clear to me lately. Because yes, even in this craptastic and depressing year, there were some good moments. There’s always some good. Sometimes it’s hidden and hard to find, which means we need to look closer, go deeper. Make no mistake, though: count me among those glad to be drop-kicking 2016 into the ether of time while remaining vigilant of the dark days awaiting this brave new world arriving in 2017.”

~ written by me ( “may we all have our hopes, our will to try“) 12/31/2016

And here we are, at the end of another year … and my God, what a year it was, right? What can I say that hasn’t already been said about 2017? I’m certainly glad it’s over, but at the same time, I’m apprehensive about what the new year will bring. I mean, there’s always some uncertainty but living in these times makes it even moreso. Still, we survived the first year of this godawful regime, which is no small feat.

For this last post of 2017, though, I don’t want to focus on the political.  There’s been plenty of that and next year promises more of the same. I’m planning to resist just as hard — if not more–in 2018. Nor do I want to dwell too much on what was difficult about this year. There have been more than a few disappointments and challenges, ones that won’t vanish at the stroke of midnight. They will still be with us in the days to come. But instead, as I wrote last year, I want to spend the last remaining hours remembering the good moments of the past 365 days while looking ahead to 2018.

Best Moments: Reading 
Reaching my goal of reading 50 books. For those of you who care about such things, I have a separate post in the works with my favorite books of the year and other fun bookish stats.

Best Moments: Writing
Writing for Shelf Awareness where I had 29 book reviews published. In addition to those, I had the privilege of interviewing Douglas Abrams (The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World), John Boyne (The Heart’s Invisible Furies), Heather Harpham (Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Happily Ever After), Natasha Pulley (The Bedlam Stacks), and Beatriz Williams (Cocoa Beach).  I only had one review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, of a book (Lucky Boy) I didn’t like. I say this every year, but I’m hoping to write more in 2018, both on the blog and elsewhere. I need to develop a plan to make this happen.

Best Moments: In the Kitchen 
Getting an Instant Pot!  It has changed my life.

Best Moments: With the Family
Although the weather didn’t cooperate, we enjoyed a relaxing vacation at the shore. It was a nice break in the midst of an intense time. The Boy went to a four week day camp this summer, which also didn’t work out as well as we had hoped. It just wasn’t the best fit. He’s made at least one close friend this year at school and has actually joined an after-school club. He’s been doing a lot of writing. He helped another friend who was considering suicide.

The Girl volunteered at the library this summer, learned how to play the drums (and wants to learn the guitar) as part of Girls Rock Pittsburgh, and participated in two summer writing camp programs. She’s also become quite the artist and is in the Art Club at school. She’s helped several friends in crisis situations, too. Both kids made the High Honor Roll this semester. They’re not perfect — none of us are — and while I wish they would get along better, I’m incredibly proud of both of them.

Best Moments: In Music
Seeing Bon Jovi in concert with The Girl. A great show, even though it was a bit abbreviated because of Jon not feeling well.

Best Moments: At Church
I joined a women’s group at church. We meet monthly and discuss various topics. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know these women. The Girl became more active in the youth group.

Best Moments: Healthwise
I had some routine bloodwork done last week and was surprised to learn my cholesterol and triglyceride levels have actually gone DOWN! I’ve also maintained the 10 pound weight loss from when I was running. I haven’t kept up with running but in September, I decided to try yoga — and I really liked it. That’s among my goals for 2018. Oh, and I’ve also gotten into essential oils.

So, here we are. Another New Year’s Eve. Tonight is no different than any other night. We’re hanging out at home, just the four of us, no big plans. I’m finishing up my 50th book of the year. The Husband’s watching something on his iPad — basketball, I think. The kids are in their rooms, doing whatever. Maybe we’ll stay up till midnight and watch everyone freezing their asses off in Times Square. Maybe not.

Wishing you and yours a happy 2018. See you on the other side.

 

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow

There was an unsettled feeling to this Christmas, a kind of betwixt and between sense of things. Or, perhaps more accurately, the feeling of being on the precipice of a new, still unsettling normal in our lives. I mean, sometimes one’s new normal descends quickly; it’s here, deal with it, like it or not. Then there are times when the change is more gradual yet still palpable — you see it and you feel it and you know in your heart that everything from here on out will be different.

None of this probably makes much sense, does it? I’m not sure it makes sense to me, despite rewriting that paragraph dozens of times, over several days. I should probably state that the kids are fine. The Husband and I are fine. We’re muddling through some issues (obviously), some of which I’ve discussed here (my father-in-law’s dementia) and some which I haven’t. It was just a reminder of how much has changed, the absence of certain people, and the uncertainty that the future brings.

We spent a few days in Philly for Christmas. It was mostly fine, but there were a lot of reminders and memories of what once was and what is missing. My father-in-law racing around collecting all the wrapping paper as soon as the gifts were opened. My mother-in-law baking cookies. Getting together with several of our longtime friends. For various reasons, none of those things happened this year and I missed all of it. I tried really hard to “get out of my head” and focus on the here and now, to enjoy the holidays. I was semi-successful.

Here are some photo highlights:

Winter solstice sunrise. I happened to catch this in the parking lot of the hospital where I had to get some routine bloodwork done and I was glad I did.

On Christmas Eve, my mom was looking for some things in a closet when some papers fell out. Among them was this Christmas list of gifts for me and The Husband, written in my Mom-Mom’s handwriting. We never saw this list before. Christmas was a big deal for my Mom-Mom.  Her house was always beautifully decorated and she always went overboard with the presents (she shopped for Christmas year round). She has been gone almost 14 years now, and I chose to look at this as her way of wishing us a Merry Christmas.

(Also? The fact that this is written on an investment advisor’s notepad is laughable because my grandmother spent every dime she had (and the dimes she didn’t) on her grandchildren. We were the bonds she chose to invest in. At 48, I can tell you it paid off bigtime.)

I like going back to our former Unitarian Universalist church for Christmas Eve services. The service is generally the same and many of the congregants are familiar faces from when we first attended 17 years ago. It’s a time for me to slow down and reflect on the season. During trips like these that have so much change, it’s a place and a routine that remains constant for me and I love that.

Philly didn’t get a white Christmas this year (completely fine by me) but rather a sunny and extremely windy one. This was a quiet moment at my mom and stepfather’s house on Christmas morning.

We kept the gifts for The Boy and The Girl to a minimum this year — only three per kid, including a bag of small stocking stuffer items.   Some popular gifts, from left to right: For The Boy, Wii Survivor (he’s an expert on all things Survivor — he absolutely loves anything and everything having to do with the show and can talk strategy and eliminations for days); for The Girl, an issue of Teen Vogue guest-edited by Hillary Rodham Clinton; also for The Girl, a Litograph of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, her absolute favorite author.

My mother-in-law’s traditional Christmas morning breakfast of French toast casserole (on left) and an egg casserole. We all look forward to this every year. As we did for Thanksgiving, we arranged to bring the meal to my father-in-law at the long-term care facility where he is living (The Place) and we were able to eat together. We also had fruit, coffee (which we picked up at Dunkin Donuts beforehand), and juice. For Christmas dinner we did Chinese.

The Girl and I attempted a Scrabble game. It didn’t go well. As soon as I started winning, she wanted nothing to do with the game. (I don’t believe in letting kids win, especially when they’re 16.) So much for trying to start a new tradition.

 

I’ve been off from work since last Wednesday, thanks to having a bunch of vacation days to burn. This week between Christmas and New Year’s is my favorite time of the year. As usual, I had grand plans to accomplish ALL THE THINGS — decluttering the house, collecting certain receipts for tax purposes, organizing my overflowing bookshelves, cleaning out my closet, reading my January review books (and writing the reviews), prepping some blog posts, revamping the blog, going to yoga ….

I wound up doing some of those things. A corner of the kitchen is in the process of being decluttered. I have the majority of the receipts in one place. I prepped some blog posts. I also watched a movie (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”) and did a “Glee” marathon with The Girl. I cooked some homemade freezer dinners (minestrone soup, chicken breasts with mashed sweet potatoes and vegetables) to take to my mother-in-law and, once in Philly, we took her grocery shopping. I got my required bloodwork done (thyroid level monitoring). I finished one book (H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald) and am almost finished with a second (Autism Adulthood by Susan Senator), putting me within one book of my 2017 Goodreads goal of 50 books. I’ll have some bookish wrap up posts throughout the next few days.

“And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday–the longer, the better–from the great boarding-school, where we are for ever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest. As to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we will; where have we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree!”  ~ Charles Dickens

“After so long an absence
At last we meet agin:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the prophets two or three berries
In the top of the uppermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year;
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.”
“The Meeting” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

the blessings of a blue thanksgiving

 

Towards the end of our family’s Thanksgiving dinner, our 9 year old nephew started doodling on the paper tablecloth.

“I’m going to draw … a submarine,” he announced, followed by a necessary clarification.

“It’s really yellow, but I’m going to make it blue.”

The submarine was perched on a rainbow next to a leprechaun (“he’s really green, but I’m going to make him blue”), a cowboy (“really brown, but now blue,”), as well as a turtle, camel and dollar bill, among others.

All — you guessed it — blue.

He had no choice. All he had was a blue pen; hence, things that aren’t typically blue became such.

And with that, a little boy’s imagination summed up everything I want to remember about this Thanksgiving.


We traveled to Philadelphia this year, knowing that this Thanksgiving was going to be different than any other we had before. (Except for, of course, the Thanksgiving dinner when the husband suffered a seizure and I had to revive him on the bathroom floor.)

I’ve alluded to the Ongoing Family Situation in recent posts and have gotten permission from The Husband to share a bit more on the blog about what’s happening. My father-in-law, who is only 71, was diagnosed with dementia this spring. I know many of you have experienced this within your own families and loved ones, so you know how this horrible disease changes everything and affects everyone. We’re fortunate that my father-in-law is able to be in a long-term care facility, which, after evaluating several options, is where we gathered for Thanksgiving dinner.

We had no idea what to expect. We just knew it wasn’t going to be like anything we experienced before.

It’s really supposed to be _______ (insert blank with whatever vision we have in our heads of what Thanksgiving should be like). 

But I’m going to make it blue. 


My sister-in-law ordered a delicious dinner and brought it to the home, where our reservations were for 3 p.m. in one of the facility’s conference rooms.

We ate, and then for more than two hours, we sat around the table as we laughed and talked about old family memories. My father-in-law was, thankfully, having a really good day.

I had asked The Husband if he was OK with me taking photos. He agreed, but in the end, I didn’t take a single picture — not of the food (which I’m notorious for doing), not of the relatives, not of our nephew’s drawings on the tablecloth.

One of the things dementia does is force you to be more present in the here and now. It’s all about today, this very moment, because the future is too damn uncertain and the past is … well, gone. You can wish things to be different all you want but that’s not going to change the reality of what is.

It’s not going to make something that’s blue suddenly turn back into green.

Or whatever color you think things should be. 

So I deliberately kept my cell phone in my purse, didn’t take any photos or post any updates to Facebook.

Remember this, I told myself, in all its uncertainty and all of its sadness.

Remember how much laughter  and smiles and light and love there was, in a moment and a time when you didn’t expect there to be any.

Remember that you always, always have the power to change the color. That even if it’s different, it can still be beautiful.

Remember the blue.

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

wordless wednesday

waiting for us at the end of a long drive tonight.

spending the evening laughing and looking at old photos with the girl.

#nablopomo resumes tomorrow.

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

Weekend Cooking: Like Buttah

Earlier this year, I joined a women’s group at our UU church. I saw this as a way to become more involved in the congregation while connecting with others, especially after the election. Each month, our meetings focus on a different topic. For November, our  theme was food and memory — appropriately enough with Thanksgiving just two weeks away.

We were asked to bring or make a food that we associate with a memory, along with an accompanying photo, if we had one. I knew right away what I would be baking.

I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and its suburbs and most of our extended family lived close by. Many special occasions, holidays, and celebrations included family dinners at my grandparents’ house with my aunt, uncle and cousins. Those get-togethers also always included butter cake, often from Geiger’s Bakery located on Frankford Avenue. My grandparents lived a few blocks away from the bakery; whenever we visited my grandfather would have already “walked up the Avenue” to get one.

If you didn’t grow up in Philadelphia, chances are you probably don’t know what I’m talking about with this butter cake. (I’ve since learned it is popular in St. Louis, too.)

It’s a thin crust of eggs and (of course) butter, topped with a mixture of cream cheese, powdered sugar, more eggs. It’s ridiculously decadent. Suffice it to say that butter cake is the food of the gods. I mean, if they serve food in heaven — and I would like to imagine that it’s a 24/7, all you can eat, calories and carbs be damned to hell smorgasbord — then butter cake definitely has a place on the menu.

So, I knew that I had to bring this. And I knew I had to make one because you can’t find a real, authentic butter cake here. Nobody I’ve met in Pittsburgh has ever heard of butter cake.

However, I’m now gluten free and butter cake doesn’t quite lend itself to being easily converted.

Or so I thought. That’s why Google is your friend. Searching for “gluten free butter cake” led me immediately to this recipe for Gluten Free French Butter Cake from The Frugal Farm Wife. 

I’ve never made a butter cake, so this required doing a test run on Monday evening in order to have time to fix anything before our Wednesday night meeting.

As one might imagine, the fact that Mom was baking was met with much delight in my house. The Husband, who was part of more than a few of those family dinners back in the day, was eagerly anticipating the results of this experiment. The kids couldn’t remember ever having butter cake, which was just another reminder to The Husband and me that since most of their formative years have been spent here in Pittsburgh (plus four in Delaware), they don’t identify as Philadelphians the way we do.

I’ll cut to the chase. This butter cake?

Absolute.

Perfection.

And the fact that it’s gluten free? That’s just … well, the icing on the cake.

The kids were in love at first bite.

“WHY HAVEN’T YOU EVER MADE THIS?” they demanded.

“To be honest,” I admitted. “I thought it would be harder than it was.”

That’s true of a lot of things in life, isn’t it? We have a notion that something is too complicated, difficult or beyond our abilities and lo and behold, we surprise ourselves by succeeding. The butter cake was well received at the women’s group meeting, during which we also feasted on pavlova, jello salad, date nut bread, port wine cheese and crackers, sparkling cider, shortbread and noodle soup and heard wonderful stories connected with each of these dishes.

My kids requested that I make a butter cake every week. No, I told them. For one thing, we’ll all gain 500 pounds by Christmas if I did. Besides, there are reasons why it’s a special occasion cake. It’s part of its magic.

But now that I know how to make it, I’m betting we’ll be seeing it more often.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

currently … in a funk

That’s a photo from a Pirates game we were at in 2013 — a lifetime ago, really. I’m kind of bummed this weekend because The Husband and I had an actual, honest-to-God date planned down at PNC Park where the Pirates are, as I type this, playing the Yankees in a rare series. We like the Pirates just fine; however, The Husband is a Yankees fan and it’s not often he gets to see them. This weekend’s games here in the ‘Burgh would have been the perfect opportunity and I encouraged him to get tickets as a belated birthday gift for himself. Unfortunately, The Husband hurt his foot on Friday — we suspect a sprained ankle (he’s getting it checked out on Tuesday) — so he sold the tickets on StubHub and here we are, watching from the living room on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.

I was looking forward to the game, so not being able to go has added to my general bummed out mood lately. We’re dealing with a family situation that’s incredibly sad and difficult, one that falls in the “not entirely my story to tell” category of blogging, so that’s weighing heavily on our minds. We were in Philly last weekend for Easter because of this. It’s a hard time and being so far away from everyone right now makes us feel even more helpless. My attention span is nonexistent.

Reading … I’m in a bit of a reading funk. I brought Anne Lamott’s new book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy with me to Philly last weekend, thinking it might provide some comfort. I really wanted to like it but found it kind of rambling and scattered. That’s been the case for me with a few of her books lately. I’ve also abandoned two potential review books. I can’t seem to get into anything new.

This week wasn’t a complete loss in the books department. I finished The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, a novel that draws heavily on the true story of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. In 1936, Stalin attended a performance of his opera and … well, he didn’t like it. Which does not bode well for Shostakovich, whose life is placed in danger. It’s a compelling story, one that feels especially relevant in these times. At times I felt a bit lost (I think the narrative assumes the reader has more knowledge of music and Russian history than I do) but I found it fascinating and disconcerting at the same time.

I also read Jennifer Jackson Berry’s new poetry collection, The Feeder, which is … emotionally intense. These are raw, personal, soul-bearing poems dealing with infertility and loss and sex and pleasure. I’m a fan of Berry’s work and this collection is one that stays with you.

Watching … Still in the middle of the first season of “Grace and Frankie.” Such a stellar cast in this show, which I am enjoying. I really want to see “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Maybe we’ll watch that tonight.

Loving … My new laptop. My hard drive died a few weeks ago and while it can be replaced (and we were able to save all my data), the laptop is four years old. The Girl really needs a laptop for homework so I decided to get a new one and repair my old one for her. Also, I’m loving this weather. It’s finally nice enough to sit outside at lunch with a book and on the deck after work.

Running … Slowly but surely, I’m starting to get back into some semblance of a running routine. There’s a great little walking path at my mom’s so I was able to get in a 1.25 mile-long walk on Sunday, with a little running tacked onto the end. We also did a walk on Friday evening too.

AnticipatingDewey’s 24 Hour Readathon is next weekend (April 29). I love this event, which happens every spring and fall, and I try to participate as much as I can.  I’m really hoping my reading rut will have ended by then.

Thanks for sharing this post!
0