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Celebrating Christmas, Celebrating Mom

8 Dec

“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”  ~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

To say my Mom loved Christmas and kept it well was an understatement.  She baked jillions of cookies, decorated multiple trees and hosted a holiday open house with tons of different appetizers, cookies, Scandinavian delicacies, and drinks.  She loved to share her decorated home and culinary skills, and particularly loved that people she invited brought others with them and that the parish priest would stay until the very end of the party and take home leftovers.  She was in the middle of planning her holiday party when her recurring cancer landed her in the hospital.  She died Christmas Eve.  I like to think she went to party with the angels for Christmas, and they took her at that moment to make Christmas extra special for her.

People ask if this sad moment has “ruined” Christmas for me.  Not at all.  I’m a bit melancholy, but mostly, I try to decorate, cook and entertain in the way Mom would have.  I celebrate Christmas and celebrate Mom.

Mom had a shed on her New Mexico property she called the Christmas Shed–packed to the rafters with all manner of Christmas decor.  I brought a few things home with me, a tub marked Norwegian Tree, and a few of her treasured trolls.  Mom’s mom was Norwegian, and Mom identified with all thing Norwegian.  The tub had ornaments, linens, and candlesticks painted as a Norwegian man and woman in their traditional finery.  Here’s my Norwegian tree, decorated with Mom’s ornaments and those she had given me over the years, and festooned with strings of Norwegian flags–just like she would do.

Norwegian tree

Mom had a huge collection of trolls.  Trolls are beloved by Scandinavian people and according to Mom, these must be complimented on their beauty and charm.  If you dare speak of them in terms of ugly, homely or scary, they will play pranks on you at night.  These are my three favorites:  The Fairy, The Angel, and The Mom.  Aren’t they beautiful?!

trolls

Here are the candlesticks, complete with the candle wreaths she bought for them.  The friend that made them for her tried to paint them to resemble Mom and Dad.

candle sticks

Mom liked to decorate trees in each room of her house, each tree with its own theme.  While I don’t have trees in every room, I do have themes:

A snowman tree,

snowman tree

A kitchen tree with tiny kitchen utensils and cookie cutters,

kitchen tree

A tinsel tree that reminds me of the big one my grandparents had that had a lighted wheel that cast the tree in different colors as the wheel rotated,

tinsel tree

A silver and gold tree with spun glass ornaments that belonged to my mother-in-law,

silver and gold tree

The big tree with ornaments from my childhood and those my family has collected over the years.  It’s traditional to use an ornament as a decoration on a wrapped gift.

big tree

Some of my favorite ornaments from my childhood are these:  my glass Santa, an elf who sits on a tiny pine cone cushion, and a birdcage whose “bird” spins from the heat rising off a Christmas light.

ornaments

I also set out a couple other trees; a lighted ceramic tree that belonged to my mother-in-law, and a stuffed red tree Mom made for me.

ceramic tree

stuffed tree

My hutch gets decorated with a collection of red, green, and white, including three little choir boys Mom painted when she was a young woman.

hutch

I also set out a pair of Christmas plates, also painted by Mom.  The Santa one has Mom and Dad’s names as well as the names of their friends of the time, on Santa’s list.

Christmas plates

While planning for the holiday party that never happened, Mom called to discuss what sort of tasty bites to serve and asked if I could find Aquavit and bring it when we came for the party.  Aquavit is a traditional Scandinavian spirit, distilled from potatoes and spiced with caraway, dill, cardamom, and anise.  It pairs nicely with fish and is usually served in tiny glasses and meant to be sipped and savored.  This week I found a local liquor store that carries it!  We had friends over last night and toasted to Mom.  Skoal!

aquavit

I miss being able to call Mom when I’ve made a delicious recipe, or to ask for advice, or to share a cup of coffee and just talk.  Going all out with Christmas keeps her memory vibrant and close to my heart.  I hope she enjoys my efforts.

Up On My Education System Soapbox…Continued Thoughts on Chicken Little

12 Mar

Newspapers, blogs and Facebook memes are filled with stories about what’s wrong with the American Education System.  It’s those lazy teachers!  It’s the teacher unions!  The school year is too short!  The school day needs to be longer!  Summer vacation is so long, students forget what they’ve learned!  Schools in poverty areas don’t provide the same level of education as schools in affluent neighborhoods!

Lots and lots of accusations.  Committees form to assess the situation.  Committees form to come up with accountability plans.  Tests are created to hold students accountable, though they tend to be used more for teacher and school accountability.  Committees form to assess the results of the assessments.  Committees form to bring curriculum in line with the assessments. Committees form to standardize instruction of the curriculum to the point where teachers across districts all each the same thing the same way on the same day.

education reform

Tests are given in controlled environments where teachers read instructions, carefully warning students to not mark in the margins of the test booklets, often over a two-week time period where all instruction is ceased. The scores come back the following school year–5 to 6 months after the tests are completed, compiled school scores are published in local newspapers and the community runs around screaming, “The scores are falling!  The scores are falling!”

Loop back to accusations and committees.  Factor in multi-million dollar budget cuts, schools now focused entirely on readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic and we’ve stepped back to a time when few kids went to college, some went to trade schools or apprenticeships, and many worked hard labor or agricultural jobs.  The world is no longer that place.  We live in a complex world with complex problems that cannot be solved by learning there is one right answer that can be bubbled in on a test with a number two pencil.  “Make your mark heavy and dark, if you need to change your answer be sure to erase completely.”

Universities worry students aren’t prepared for college-level coursework, and they’re right.  Public schools prepare students for tests, not to be problem solvers; many students are unable or unwilling to think for themselves, let alone wrap their heads around a problem that might have more than one correct solution.  Money is being funneled to the “core” subjects of reading, writing, math and sometimes science, now taught with lock-step precision with no room for exploration of the teachable moment.  Electives are cut, library services are reduced or cut, creativity and problem solving disappears from our children’s education.

The reason I’m on my soapbox today?  My college freshman, who went through the local school system, called last night after struggling through a research assignment.  The librarians were asked to not assist the students from this class–they were on their own with whatever research skills they brought with them.  The professor expects her students come with research skills.  What are our local schools doing to prepare our students for college-level research?  Cutting library services.  Librarians are often reduced to clerks, checking books in and out, completing book orders and paperwork, and proctoring the annual standardized testing.  There is precious little time for librarians to teach research and presentation skills; not that many teachers have time in their prescribed curricula to collaborate with their librarian in the first place.

The big mystery is why studies such as The Colorado Study are being ignored.  Schools with degreed, certified, teacher-librarians presenting a full and comprehensive library program from well-stocked and up-to-date library collections have higher test scores.  Higher test scores.  What all the Chicken Littles are seeking.  Not only would students get the researching skills they need (and not only for college, but for big life decisions like buying a car, buying a home, deciding where to live….), but the communities would have their coveted scores.

Don’t even get me started on test scores vs poverty, homelessness, kids whose parents are in and out of jail….  OR that at the bottom of it all, we’re talking about KIDS here.  Little people.  Precious little people who should be coloring and pretending in pre-school, not already in classes learning to read….  OR that over-analysis of books sucks the joy out of reading…..   OR  trying to teach subjects to kids who are not developmentally ready, just because that subject is on this year’s test….  OR testing kids with learning disabilities who read below grade level with tests AT grade level….

OK.  Breathe.  Gonna step down from my soapbox–for now–and have a cuppa.

IMG00110

Heart Roller Coaster

13 Mar

Tonight I’m writing with a heavy heart, all squinked up and small, just days after my heart felt like the Grinch’s at the end of the story, where it grows 3 sizes in one day.  A Mom’s heart has to be pretty elastic for the many ups and downs of raising a baby to a boy to a man.

The sheer joy of his birth.

The times when he cried and continued to cry after I had fed him, burped him, changed him, rocked him and bounced him.  (So I cried with him.)

His cute little gummy grin.  His first tooth…marking the end of the gummy grin.

The funny, silly way he said things; the way he put words together.

The time he tearfully sobbed, “Momma, you hurt my heart.”

Learning to ride a bike.

Crashing the bike and getting a huge owie–as his dad put it: “he left part of his knee at the end of the driveway.”

Finding out how academically talented he is.

Finding the work he hadn’t turned in, in his locker.

Playing the “you WILL be in music in middle school” card, he picks band, ends up with trumpet, hates the trumpet and wants to quit band.

“Pick a different instrument.”  He falls in love with saxophone.

Learning to drive, getting his license.

Watching him drive out of the driveway the first time on his way to school at 6am.

High school: alto sax, soprano sax, tenor and bari, clarinet, oboe, flute and euphonium.  Marching Band, 3 Concert Bands, top Jazz Band.

Girls.  Nuff said.

Acceptance to a university, oboe and sax auditions, acceptance to the university’s school of music.  A state-wide honor (or honour, using the British spelling he prefers) band, an amazing alto sax feature with Spectrum, the jazz band.

And today.  I found out he had changed dorms, not necessarily for the better.  We had a text discussion over Facebook postings and what growing up is and is not.  Times like this when I feel compelled to let the air out of his exuberance raises little barriers between us.  He chose to stay at his dad’s tonight to let things settle out a bit. 

He’s an awesome kid.  He’s accomplished so much, has a pretty good plan for his future–all the way to a doctorate.  He’s always been so easy.  Days like this, when some sort of guidance must come from me and is not exactly well received, well, they hurt my heart.  I know this is what parenting is at times, and I know I’ve been amazingly lucky.  I also know we love each other the most-mostest, and the barriers will go away.  New ones will happen, but love, and maybe a cup of coffee, will help us keep taking them back down.  So proud to be his Mom.  ❤

Where I’m From

21 Jan

With the recent passing of my Mom, I’ve been immersing myself in memories, keeping her alive in my heart.  We didn’t always get along or agree on things, but Mom is the single biggest influence on who I am.  Some years ago, I assigned my students to write a poem with a particular structure–The “Where I’m From” poem.  Even though they have a set format, they are cathartic and beautiful.  I wrote one as an example, and came across it just this week.  Great memories of Mom here.

I am from clothes on the line and starched collars, from a 7-Up bottle with a sprinkling lid, wetting wrinkles out of my dad’s shirts and Mom’s capris.

I am from a banister, sliding down with my sister when my parents weren’t looking.

I’m from the smell of mock orange in the spring, its pretty white petals like snow when seen from the branches of the climbing tree.

I am from a gang of kids playing cowboys and indians through the alleys, splashing barefoot through puddles and feeding breadcrumbs to ducks at the park.

I am from cornflakes with banana slices in Grandma’s kitchen, the fins of Grandpa’s tan Chevy, and their fancy aluminum Christmas tree.

I am from wait til your father gets home, from I’m your mother, that’s why.

I’m from fudge cooled in the snow, entire pans of Rice Crispy Treats eaten in front of The Partridge Family and sauerbraten with gingersnap gravy.

I am from First Communion, Confirmation and Christmas Midnight Mass; a veil over my blond braids every Sunday.

In a brown leather album, my mom kept for me, I am the baby who grew into a girl who vacationed, had birthdays in the park and sat with my cousins on a couch.

Here’s the very first picture in that brown leather album.  Mom and me, 1959.

Before she died, Mom and I called each other every week to have a cup of coffee together across the miles between our houses.  Have a cup of coffee with your mom this week, if you can.

Busy-ness, Moonlight Hikes and Life

14 Aug

I’m retired.  Somehow, my idea of retirement and the reality are two very different things.  I had envisioned lazy days with an extra cup of coffee, watching birds at the feeders, reading books, blogging, puttering around the house and garden, cooking,….. 

The reality has in part, been altered by my decision to go with the “high deductable” insurance plan.  Usually healthy me had big adventures with kidney stones and now needs to work a bit to pay the deductable.  Sigh.

AND.  I’m a band mom.  On the board of our Band Parents organization.  It’s Marching Band season.  Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely ADORE marching band, but this is a super busy time of year, with band camp, meetings, fundraisers, marching competitions, half-time performances, more fundraising, more meetings….you get the idea.

AND.  The garden I love is loving me back.  A lot.  I nixed a trip to Denver this weekend because I needed to make pasta sauce from the tomatoes, do SOMETHING with at least some of the zucchini and make more hummus from green beans that were once again getting away from me.  This would be groovy if it weren’t for needing to work 2 days a week and keep up with the stuff I need to do for band.

Sigh.  So, last night I sat on the couch, freshly showered and working on a zucchini bread (how I decided to deal with the zucchini!) post for my other blog.  I keep Facebook running in the background (because I’m that kind of social, and I was monitoring the Band Parents page I administer) and noticed an open invite from a friend, suggesting a moonlight hike on the Colorado National Monument.  After checking to see how Michael might feel about that and a few back and forth comments,  I left the blog post unfinished, we got spontaneous and went for a hike! 

The weather was warm, but not like it is under the scorching sun.  Clouds wandered around and covered the full moon from time to time.  We found a section of slickrock between the trail switchbacks, laid on our backs and watched the stars and clouds, hoping for a glimpse of the International Space Station or a meteor from the Perseid shower.  We used cell phone apps to identify stars.  I found out that a cell phone camera does not capture what the eye can see in the dark, but a pretty image was captured, nonetheless.

 

 

The wind came up, covering us with grit, but we laughed and chatted and ended up drinking blueberry wine as a nightcap.  We could have spent the evening watching DVR-ed TV or Food Network or whatever, but look at the fun and relaxing time with friends we would have missed!  We are not spontaneous.  We are schedulers–partly due to being a bit over-scheduled with “stuff”, but somehow feel the need to have a plan no matter.  It was somehow rejuvenating being spontaneous! 

John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”   I’m glad I listened when Life gave me an opportunity last night.  I’m keeping and ear out from now on.

 

They Grow Up So Fast

16 Feb

This week I filled out a “Schools of Choice” form for the very last time of Mr16’s school career, to keep him in his school for his senior year.  Also this week I was notified of the upcoming ACT testing and trotted out to the bookstore to purchase a strategy book that “guarantees a higher score” that will guarantee Mr16 admission to college and the beginning of his adult life away from me.  Things like this cause me to reflect on how I ended up here, today, when only yesterday I held him in my arms for the first time.

Do you remember when your child was born, and “They” said, “Cherish every moment; they grow up so fast?”  And there you were staring out into the vast future of your new life with this precious punkie, thinking, “I have YEARS and YEARS to enjoy this new little person!”  That was like, yesterday….and today that precious bundle of joy is 16, going on college?

Do you remember waiting for those “firsts”–like the first tooth, only to mourn that his cute little gummy grin was now gone forever?  A child’s life goes that way; marching steadily forward toward new firsts and growing up. 

I find myself caught in a whirlpool that lets me look back, see the present and look to the future at the same time, and sometimes find myself weepy.  Weepy over missing laying on our bellies coloring, weepy over pride at a music performance, weepy over college and the eventual “moving out forever.”

Right now, I’m struggling between hanging on to Mr16 for dear life and letting him go, all the while reminiscing: “Remember when we built things from blocks/read together/colored/had birthday cakes that were shaped like your favorite thing at the time/grew the mutant pumpkins/when it was fun for ME to be your Valentine?  When a kiss could really fix a boo-boo?  When a hug or a snuggle could keep bad stuff away?

That little boy that needed me as much as I need him is still in there, zipped up inside the young man with a beard and a life of his own, just like the cartoon.  I know this.  I know the best way to love him right now is to let him go out and explore on his own.  My logical self really does get this.  My emotional self wants to stop time and keep him close a bit longer. 

He’s talking of moving to California or Europe.  He needs to escape our Colorado cold and the local spring allergy season.  He yearns for adventures of his very own.  Not too long ago, it was me needing to escape the Iowa cold and humidity and find my own way.  Paybacks are a bitch.  I never went back, and rarely visit my parents, even now that they live in a warmer place. 

Thank goodness for new technologies like Skype.  I’ll be able to see his eyes when he says he’s fine and know for sure if he is or isn’t.  I’ll be able to visit with future grandchildren, read them stories and see them grow up even if I can’t hold them every day.  Every now and then I tell Mr.16 about how cool it was having my grandma right across the street when I was little……a little tiny guilt trip can’t hurt.  😉

Who knows.  Maybe he and I will share a second cup of coffee via Skype between Colorado and some little Italian cafe some day.  Maybe he’ll relent and live right here in town and we can share our second cup right across the table from each other.  Right.  😉

Zits comic strip by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman.  December 2009.

The Six Degrees….

3 Feb

You’ve heard of the theory that every actor is six connections, or degrees from Kevin Bacon.  I find that this concept has been occurring in my life.  Probably it comes from age–the longer you live, the more you experience, the more “small world after all” moments you have.

Here shall commence some ramblings based on the interconnectedness of the world, even though we’re not connected in the traditional sense of how people were connected decades ago. 

I grew up in a “real” neighborhood.  A place where every mom knew every kid and all the kids played together while the moms drank coffee.  The connections were straight forward–right next door. 

Then I went away to college and was part of my dorm family, which was part of the campus neighborhood.  Later, I got married and moved to an apartment…and knew no one.  Everyone kept to themselves.  Even later, when I move to a neighborhood, I only got to know a few people.  The people at my job became my neighborhood, and I tended to socialize with them instead of the people who lived right next door.  Connections were still happening, but not like they used to. 

These days, you never know how one thing might lead to another; what sorts of connections might happen.  For example, Mr16 is a talented saxophone player.  He auditioned and was selected for the Ft. Lewis College Select Band.  This event is held in Durango, Colorado.   While Mr16 was learning saxophone, I became a librarian.  I met and became friends with author Will Hobbs as part of that job.  Will and his wife Jean live in Durango!  Unfortunately, they’re out of town the Select Band weekend, and we won’t be able to see them.  But!  I’m also friends with someone who owns a coffee shop–The Coffee Studio.  Her shop buys some of its coffee beans from Desert Sun Roasters.  Desert Sun Roasters is in Durango!  I posted a question on their Facebook wall asking for their favorite Durango coffee shops.  They provided a nice list and invited me to stop by and visit them, too.

Isn’t it great that we really do live in a small world?  I like feeling a connection to people around me. When these little pieces of serendipity happen, it reminds me to continue nurturing friendships, and to continue expanding my experiences.  You never know when you’ll meet someone that will lead you to a new opportunity. 

When I’m in Durango, I’ll have my second cup in a shop recommended by the folks at Desert Sun, and maybe….maybe I can get them to teach me how to pour a rosetta in a cappucino–something I’ve wanted to learn!  (Watch the second video)

Image attributions:  Kevin Bacon   Saxophone  Desert Sun