Coming Clean

I have a confession to make.

I do not own a dishwasher.

I guess that this is not very common these days, but to me it is normal.  In all of my adult life I have only had one (secondhand, portable) dishwasher. It was messy and sprayed water all over the kitchen. It was cumbersome and loud.  I used its butcher block top for extra counter space for a while and stored my Tupperware cake keeper in it, but I think I used it less than a dozen times.

A conversation that I had recently with an acquaintance went something like this:

She “I could not LIVE without a dishwasher.”

Me “Never really wanted one.”

She (horrified gasp) “That is unimaginable!”

By the tone of her reaction you would have thought that I had said that I preferred an outhouse to indoor plumbing! It is true, though.  In my 30+ years up here on the hill I have wanted many things…a hot tub, a sidewalk, even a bathtub for a time (but that’s another story), but a dishwasher is not one of them.

Another friend whose own dishwasher broke down right before the Thanksgiving holiday one year told me that she couldn’t possibly host the festivities without one.  To her the dishwasher was as important as the oven itself!

Don’t get me wrong – when I was a teenager and washing the dishes was a chore that had to be accomplished before I could slip away to be with friends, I hated the job.  I would do anything to get out of it, including trickery and deceit. I would make promises to my siblings that I never intended to keep so that they would relieve me of the job, and I was quite often successful.

When my own children were growing up washing the dishes and folding the clothes were the two main chores that they had to do each day. They will tell you that if I came home to a sink full of dirty dishes there would be much commotion. It is true that when I was exhausted from a long day at the office and needed the sink for meal preparation, I did not relish the task.

The kitchen sink is the heart of our home. Each member of our family has spent a significant amount of time in front of it.  We’ve bathed our children (and now our grandchild) there, pulled up chairs so that they could help us and taught them to do it on their own.  Thousands of basins of soapy water have been drawn there. My memories contain hours of telephone conversations had while scrubbing and rinsing and drying, watching the seasons pass by through the windows that are situated just above it. Gossip was shared, tears were shed, good news was revealed and bad news received – if only those walls could talk! Long conversations had while cleaning up after large family gatherings – holidays, reunions, graduation parties and even a rehearsal dinner brought friends and family members together long after the meals were finished and the table was cleared.

I remember my mother standing at my sink washing the dishes, even as her health began to fail.  She would bend from the waist, leaning on her elbows as she cleaned each plate and glass and pot.  She taught my sister and me that it was rude to leave someone’s kitchen without offering to help with the dishes, and I know that both of us feel the same way to this day. Sometimes when I am at the sink by myself I catch myself standing the same way she did as my back begins to ache from a long day of preparation and celebration. I smile to myself remembering how important this task was to her.

I would love to have my big country kitchen remodeled. I have thought many times about how I would arrange things, and what kind of cupboards and flooring I might have.  I have added marble counter tops, farmhouse sinks and tile floor coverings to my Pinterest boards, dreaming of how beautiful it might be.  The one thing that I never make room for in my imagination, though, is the dishwasher.  To me it is just unnecessary.

Think of all of those missed opportunities for memory making….

“Unimaginable!”sink, kitchen sink, country kitchen, dishes, doing dishes, chores

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Preoccupied

The past few weeks we have been a bit preoccupied here on the Hill.

Jim and I (mostly Jim) spent the beginning of June getting ready for the arrival of Fee (and her family) for a two-week visit.  We did a reno on the Master Bedroom, which turned in to a much larger project than expected – of course!  What project in an old house ever goes exactly like it is planned?  The transformation is not quite complete, but once things settle down I will be sure to post pictures.

The end of the month brought their arrival and the successive holiday week brought the rest of the family along for the festivities.  Today marks my return to work after a four-day weekend.  We still have house guests, and a proper update is well overdue.

In the meantime, they all seem to have slept in today! Since I found a few minutes of quiet, here is a collection of snapshots of Fee’s visit for her first American Independence Day celebration (among other things)

Tradition, Family and Rememberance

Memorial Day has always been a special holiday in our family. For my own children it mostly meant the beginning of summer, a day off from school and a family picnic.  During family visits like this we would always gather around the table and gossip talk and laugh. My girls always liked to spend time with their Grandma Prudie, because she seemed to always have a funny observation or story to tell.  Every year on Memorial Day she would remind us of the time in grade school when she was required to memorize the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McRae, a remembrance written during the first World War. She would recite it word for word, and we were always impressed that she could remember it all of these years later. We would talk of their Great Grandfather, who served in that war, but whom they had never met. A few years before she died, she challenged my youngest daughter to memorize it as well. She did, and now she can recite it (almost) as well as her Grandmother could! The poem now serves to remind our family of my Mom as well as the soldiers that it was written about.

This past weekend I tagged along with my sister and my 5-year-old nephew to the cemetery to plant flowers at my Mother’s grave and to visit the graves of our maternal grandparents. This tradition is one that my sister and mother shared for years before my Mother’s death. I was never really a part of the ritual, but I respected the fact that they did it together every year and it was meaningful to both of them.  I have joined my sister and her son the last few years to keep her company. I felt that it might be difficult for her to do this without my Mom,  and also because I wanted to spend more time with her family.headstones, cemetery, history, marigolds

Cemeteries have never really been “my thing”.  I guess that I felt that I would rather remember loved ones in places that I had memories of them.  I have told my own family that I have no interest in being buried in a cemetery – I want my ashes scattered and have told them to “plant a tree or something” if they need a visiting place. Better yet – they can go to Mexico and feel my spirit there!

This year Memorial Day  seems to hold an even more significant meaning for our family, because we lost another of our children’s grandparents last fall. Grandpa Ray, who was such a large part of their lives, was a Veteran.  He is buried in the Soldier’s Circle at one of our local Cemeteries.  His stone was recently placed, and Jim and I had a plan to visit his grave later in the weekend.

The time spent in the cemetery listening to my nephew’s observations, and his mother’s patient responses, along with the first visit to my father-in-law’s resting place have given me a better appreciation for Memorial Day and what it means to those of us that are left behind when loved ones pass away. The history that is present there and the lives and stories that the sites represent seem so much more meaningful when there is a recent connection. The love and care shown by family members trying to give something back, to make an adequate tribute, is touching and personal. I have a new-found respect for this annual tradition.

My children are very lucky to have had such involved grandparents on both sides of our family. They had the chance to know them and love them and learn from them. I am lucky that my sister feels so strongly about keeping up this yearly practice. It gave me a chance to think about what family means to me and how much richer my life is because of all of them.

Happy Memorial Day! Hold your loved ones close today and be thankful for the sacrifices of the ones that have gone before us so that we could enjoy this day.Memorial Day Flags Sunset Hill Cemetery

Dear Fee

Smiling baby in orange polka=dot skirt
Photo credit http://www.francescadb.com/

I am starting to get excited.

Do you want to know why? Exactly one month from today you are coming to see Poppa and me at our house here on the Hill!

You have already been here two times before, but this time I think it is going to be a little different. First of all…now that you are a bit older, I think that your Mama and Daddy will actually let you spend some time here with Poppa and I ALONE. (I think that by now an evening away probably sounds pretty good to them!)  That should be fun…and maybe a little bit scary (for me and Poppa :))  You see, we haven’t had a toddler around the house for a while. I am looking around the place every day now for trouble that you might get into.  Not on purpose, of course, but I am a bit of a worry-wart, so I want to make sure there is nothing around that can hurt you.

Also – we need to have some fun things for you to do here.  When we chat in the mornings you are very busy, so I know that we will need things to entertain you. I am hoping we can spend some time outside and use the pool that we bought you when you were here last summer. We will need to get a new ball and maybe a riding toy so that you can play out in the yard.  I am sure that Max and Moe will enjoy that, too – we will just have to keep them from popping the ball!

We want to take you to the park so that you can swim in the lake and maybe to Midway Park, where we can ride the train and the carousel.   Your Mama went there when she was little with her Grandparents. Of course we will go to the Parade up town on the 4th of July.  Village of Mayville Fourth of July FireworksIt will be fun to spend an American holiday with you (Don’t listen to your Daddy when he calls it “the day of Colonial aggression”, I know that he secretly enjoys it just as much as the rest of us!)  Maybe your parents will let you stay up late that night to watch the fireworks, too.  We will roast marshmallows out back and I am sure you will roll down the hill a time or two.

I have a pretty good feeling that right about now is when this grandparent/grandchild thing starts to get fun.  I am hoping that our morning Skype dates have made us familiar enough to you that you feel comfortable here.  I just can’t wait to hug and squeeze and tickle you. I am sure that this is just the beginning of many wonderful years of memories for us.Happy smiling baby in stroller

It’s going to be a long month of waiting…

See you soon!

Love and kisses,

Gram ❤

Perfect – A birthday story

When you get to be my age, birthdays are really no big deal.

Right?

After all, I am well past most of the significant years, the ones that are generally remembered with celebrations.  This year my age didn’t even end in a zero. Why then, did my weekend begin with such a feeling of disappointment?  And why do I now feel the need to apologize to my spouse for the next 12 months?

Let me explain.

When the girls were living at home, birthdays here on the Hill were a pretty big deal.  I always tried to make the day extraordinary for the recipient.  We had many traditions that our family followed from year to year. They received a small morning gift before school, the faded “Happy Birthday” banner was brought out and hung in the kitchen on the night before the big day and there was a large family birthday celebration complete with the honored person’s favorite cake. They each had parties with friends invited on those extra special birthdays…5, 13 and 16.  In a word, I tried to make the days memorable for them.  Perfect. Over the top? Perhaps, but we really didn’t do much for them individually at any other time of the year, so it felt good to spoil them on this one day.

As a matter of fact, all of our birthdays were celebrated with a family dinner and a cake; even the adults. We usually had the get-togethers here – we had the space to spread out and it was much more convenient when our children younger – but even when we went out to a restaurant we usually returned here for the cake.  Several years ago my father added his own little extra – he bought everyone one lottery ticket for each year of their presence on the planet.  Each gift had a guaranteed minimum; he would buy any of the losing tickets back for the dollar it cost – but if the recipient actually won anything they got to keep the winnings as a bonus. The whole family would sit around the kitchen table after gifts and cake and scratch the tickets together.  Unbelievably, there were never any big winners (even when my mother received 60+ tickets!), but we still enjoyed the ritual.

In the years since the children have left home and my mother has been gone, the lottery tickets have been replaced by single dollars, usually sent in the mail in a card, since everyone has moved far away. The big family gatherings have been less frequent.  The year that I turned 50 I decided we needed to go to Mexico to celebrate, so there was no family gathering at all.  It didn’t really bother me that year, so why did I feel so blue this year?

It has been said that I am difficult to surprise.  This is true.  It does seem that every time that someone tries…I figure it out.  I definitely do not do it on purpose – I spoiled far too many Christmases when I was a child by searching for my gifts.  I LOVE planning surprises, so I am always trying to think of new ones. There was the year that I bought my husband a dog, or sneaked my oldest home to be here for his birthday one summer. We even had a surprise “Sweet Sixteen” for our middle daughter at a beach bar in Mexico one year. I love to plan surprises – I am  the official “planner” of the family – but I am inquisitive by nature, so I inadvertently stumble upon things.    This does not keep me from  hoping that one year they will “get me”.

This year my birthday fell on the weekend,  so there was the possibility of something special.  Since nobody had asked me what was happening that day, I was sure that there must be something brewing. I tried to ignore little things that I thought might be clues so as not to spoil any pending surprise. On the day before my birthday when family members began to ask me what I was doing on Saturday it became apparent that there was nothing in the works. I have to admit that I went to bed on Friday night feeling a bit disappointed. I felt sad that I wouldn’t be seeing my children. I had planned a lunch with my sister and my nephew, which was nice, but mostly it felt like my “big day” would be just another day.

When I woke up on Saturday, this is the first thing that I read.Enjoy life now, don't wait for the perfect moment It made me start to think.

I had overreacted the night before when I allowed myself to feel the way that I had. I do tend to always look forward to the next big thing, building it up in my mind to such a production that I am bound to be disappointed.  I am always thinking “we could have”, or “I should have” instead of enjoying things just the way that they are right now.

Sunflowers make a wintery day feel like springWhen I came downstairs, I was met with a wonderful bouquet of flowers sitting on the kitchen table.  As I was drinking my morning coffee my husband suggested that we take a drive. The little monster in my head immediately began to think…”sure…there is no real plan”, but I kept my composure and agreed.  I called my sister to cancel our lunch (sorry Sis!), and we were off.  As we were driving we started to discuss where we would actually go.  We tossed around a few ideas, but since we were both starving we decided that lunch would be first on the agenda. We settled on the Melting Pot, which was located in a large mall just outside of Buffalo – about an hour and a half from home.

The Melting Pot - Dark chocolate and peanut butter dippersWe enjoyed a wonderful meal and the two glasses of Pinot Grigio that I consumed (it was after 1PM, and it was my birthday, after all) definitely improved my outlook.  Jim told the server that it was my birthday and we were enjoying a “spontaneous” day.  She seemed impressed and congratulated us and he gave me a wink because he knows that I am not a particularly spontaneous person, but I played along.

We wandered around a bit and did a little shopping – an outfit for Fee and three pairs of work pants for Jim – before I had enough of the mall. After that we stopped at the Home and Garden show, hoping to find some inspiration for a few summer projects. It turned out to be a bit of a bust, but we did still find it amusing to watch all of the people.

It had been an easy and enjoyable afternoon and we were ready to go home and relax, but since the shopping in Buffalo had not produced any significant finds, I asked Jim if we could stop at TJ Maxx on the way home. It seems that I can always find something in this store and that day was no exception. I found a dog bed, some bath mats and a sweater.  I ended up in the home decor section on my own and I found a wall sign that I liked.  It said “I Love  You More”, which is always my response when someone tells me that they love me.

When Jim came around the corner, I showed him the sign and told him that I thought I would buy it.  He responded with “you don’t want that”. This annoyed me. Yes, I DID want it.  It was my birthday and it wasn’t very expensive. I insisted.  He said “Honey, you really don’t want that.” When I stared to object again he finally said to me “You actually already have it at  home”.  I was confused. I had never seen the sign before; how could I have it at home?  Then it struck me. He had already purchased it for me – as a gift.  I had spoiled the surprise, once again.

I put the sign back and we drove home laughing.

Once we got back home he disappeared for a few minutes and came back with not one, but several packages.  As I opened them, I discovered that each one contained a small but meaningful gift.  The sign, of course, and some oil and vinegar from a special shop in a little town that he passes when he is on the road.  A magnet with a picture of a yellow lab, a wrought iron cross for my collection and a witches ball like the one that I have that was my mothers. The perfect gifts

I felt like a real heel.  He had actually been planning my birthday for days.  In his own way. As I apologized for being such a brat (for the first time), he told me that he had wanted to make the day special just spending it with me.

I am lucky to have such a thoughtful caring guy…even if I don’t appreciate him enough.  I have been blessed.

And my birthday?

It was perfect.

Dear Fee,

     Right about now you should be sleeping on Christmas Eve.  I am sure that the proverbial “Visions of Sugarplums” are dancing in  your head.   Hopefully you will only get up once (or less) during the night so you won’t catch Santa Father Christmas at his business!

Fee - Christmas Eve

     You and your parents have already been counting down on the Advent calendar that we gave you.  I hope that you will be using it for years to come! By now Mary and Joseph are in place,  just waiting for the baby Jesus to join them.  I think that you have probably listened to the books that Poppa and I recorded for you when you were here in November.  “The Night Before Christmas” and the Christmas Story have always been a part of your Mama’s Christmas Eve tradition and I am happy that we could be a part of it even if we aren’t there.
     I have to say that I am pretty excited for your first Christmas.  Even though I can’t be there to share it with you and your Mama and Daddy, I remember the days when Poppa and I were just starting out our own family Christmases. It was a wonderful time of new beginnings, and new traditions.
     I am pretty new at this Gram thing, but I already decided that Poppa and I would start a new tradition with you.  We are going to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, beginning with Jesus’ birthday tomorrow and ending with Three King’s Day on Epiphany, January 6.  We intend to give you one small gift each day in anticipation of that big event. You will receive your “big gift” on that day. It is my hope that one day I will live in Mexico and you can join me for the festivities there!
     I have had this idea for a while – mostly because of my love of the Latin culture – and wanted Poppa and I to start it for our grandchildren. Mind you, you are probably getting the best of it…by the time you have six cousins the first eleven presents will probably be VERY small, or we will go broke! Enjoy being the first – it is a special honor. it’s really not about the presents anyways, is it? It is more about the story and the anticipation, and the love that Jesus promised us all.
     I think that in your house Christmas will be quite different than it was in your Mama’s house.  For one thing, your Daddy will always have to work on Christmas.  This is probably a very good thing, because it will keep you all focused on the real reason that we celebrate the holiday.  I am afraid that over the years, I have not been very good at “keeping Advent” and remembering the reason for the season.  I hope that your family will always have that focus that we lacked.
     I hope that we get a chance to visit a little tomorrow, but if I don’t talk to you, know that I will be thinking of you.  Have a very Happy Christmas, my sweetheart. My heart is with you even if I am not.
Love and kisses,
Gram

Decking the Halls

Since the kids have gone, I don’t get as excited about decorating for Christmas.  It seems like there is nobody here to see it, so why bother?

When they were growing up we went as far as having two trees some years – one for their accumulation of ornaments and another “formal” tree in the living room with glass balls and silver beads. It was a family event decorating the trees, usually done with a bit of coaxing – but we did it together, along with Christmas music and it really got me in the mood to do the rest of the house.

I still have a glass ball that was made for me by my first grade teacher in 1967.  It has been our tradition to place it on the tree first, front and center – the place of honor. It is amazing that I have been able to save it all of these years and I am quite proud of it.

First Grade Ornament

As I said in a previous post, this year we have been having a bit of trouble starting the decorating process. This weekend, however, our middle daughter and her boyfriend had decided to come home for a visit,  so that was incentive to make the house look a bit more Christmasy before they arrived.

It was a pretty busy week, so Jim and I worked on the tree a little bit each night. He did the lights and beads and I helped with the ornaments. It was more of a chore to get it done – no Christmas music or cocoa to be had this time – but we finished it by Thursday.  It looked quite pretty in the living room and we actually enjoyed looking at it as it warmed the corner by the sofa.

The kids arrived home and we immediately went out for a bite to eat and a couple of drinks.  Imagine our horror when our daughter came out of the bathroom when we got back home and exclaimed “Guys you had better come look at this!”

Disaster

We really have no idea how it happened. Max (our yellow lab – and the culprit of most of the mayhem here on the hill) was in the kennel, so we can’t blame him. Morley, our chocolate, just isn’t the mischievous type.  I suppose it could have been a cat, but they are getting along in age and really haven’t shown much interest in the tree all week.  I guess we will never know. I am happy to report that my ornament survived the fall completely unscathed.  Luckily the kids were here to help with the clean up and we all laughed at the mess – what else could we do?

It looks like today’s festivities will now include purchasing (and decorating) another tree.  At least we will have some help this time!