It’s all about the PANCAKES

amaranthCrepes_mainAs a pancake flipper, my husband crushed it. His pancakes were legendary and looking back, I should have eaten more, lots more.  But my tempestuous stomach competed with concern about my waistline to keep a lid on my appetite for these light as air suckers. Though I hadn’t eaten a lot of pancakes since my kids left home, when they were small I made more than my share of super healthy fat ol’ pancakes. Mine had apples, oats and wheat germ packed in but I never got any complaints. Of course, mine were all they knew.

Enter the pancake king.

From the decadent iHOP variety to stacks of homegrown hotcakes with the mom-forbidden syrup, (pancake syrup is only maple FLAVORED!) pancakes are always a go-to for kids. And the same kids who inhaled pancakes themselves, passed their love of the circular bites of goodness to their own munchkins. When my husband came on the scene, they discovered quickly that his specialty pancakes were like no other. Even I was crazy for them, but why not? These light as air pancakes were the crepe variety – delicate, delicious and often studded with blueberries.

Hungry yet?

Even nights when the exhausted work warrior trudged through the door, if grandkids were there and they asked for pancakes — they got pancakes. He’d drop his briefcase, and head to the kitchen, yanking out the griddle, eggs and spatula as he went to work. Before the first pancake was lightly browned, the kids were at the table begging for more. And crepe-like pancakes are labor intensive! The poor guy barely had time to breathe before grandpa duties got him by the apron strings — and he loved every minute of it. If grandkids asked, the answer was always yes. Continue reading

Black. White . . . Technicolor.

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Life is a mess of contrasts, isn’t it?  Few things are strictly black or white. Sometimes the same thing that makes you supremely happy can also be bittersweet, even really sad. You know, the kind of thing that makes you feel like your foot is on the gas and the brake at the same time. That pretty much sums up how we feel remembering holidays, birthdays, and yes, anniversaries after the person who was central to that day is gone. It’s also EXACTLY how I feel this week.

There’s a ton of stuff swimming in my head as my second wedding anniversary— without the groom—rolls in this week. There are some fun memories to be sure, like when my son whispered to me as he walked me down the aisle “Mom, what’s the rush?”. I had no idea I was practically racing to the altar but I had seen my guy’s adoring face and couldn’t wait to get there. (Sorry, my sweet son, you know I love you endlessly!) Now remembering my rush to get to my bridegroom I can’t help but wonder if, even then, I knew subconsciously that our years together were numbered. But blissfully ignorant, we still managed to wring every happy we could from the years we had.

Funny how memories barge in when you least expect it. Often, some of the most telling are ones that seemed insignificant at the time but years have raised their place in memory. Grey moments sandwiched between the black and white bookends take on a technicolor tinge. One of those moments was the morning of the wedding. Both sitting at the kitchen table, my youngest daughter teased the groom-to-be about needing to change into his tux somewhere else. She jokingly insisted that he uphold the tradition to ensure not bringing ‘bad luck’. Hah! Given our medically challenged life from that day forward, admonition had to be the most ironic turn of phrase!

Last year this time, I dreaded that once incredibly happy date. My daughters and granddaughter took me to dinner and a movie in the hopes we could all somehow just get through it together. We each were basically whistling in the dark but did pretty well on balance. At least I didn’t, like the Wicked Witch of the West, melt into a puddle of tears – but then I came home. Walking into the empty house, I had the perfectly masochistic idea to pop our wedding video into the TV. Brilliant. Seeing my husband so vibrant, healthy-looking, happy and in living color was a stellar way of kicking off a major pity party. Yet, I continued to watch. (No one ever accused me of being a quitter) I saw all our friends in their excitement for us, our kids so glad for our happiness and me, the radiant bride, totally clueless of the speeding train just around the proverbial corner.

They say love is being stupid together. If that’s true, we had honed it to perfection.  Remember the rubber ducks in the margarita fountain I told you about? The hot dogs that rotated above elegant canapes in a theater snack bar rotisserie?  We prided ourselves on silly fun and that wedding wingding we threw was a total hoot! But just like lovers being stupid together, as C.S.Lewis knew well, love is also being vulnerable together and we were that, too. When cancer has the first wedding dance, vulnerability is part of the package. But that package can also weave you together in ways that stitch more depth and knowing than the years you are given.

I’m not at all nonchalant about the anniversary rolling in this week. Even though it most likely won’t knock the wind out of me like it did last year, I still won’t be popping champagne either. The reason for that kind of celebration left when he did but I can still toast what we had because we had a lot. Maybe I’ll even drop that wedding video in again, but hopefully I’ll watch it differently this time. As the scenes of that day roll by, yes, I’ll be reminded of how blissfully unaware those two people were of what they would lose. But this time, I might also smile, even laugh, at the crazy couple who, despite all they lost through the years, kept and grew the love they began with. Contrasts, right?

Like one of the songs we danced to on that wedding night, sometimes what we don’t know, is a good thing. Life is not black or white but all the feelings, colors and hues in between. Good or bad, healthy or not, happy or sad, we loved each other like there was no tomorrow – until the day there wasn’t.

 

“And now I’m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end, the way it all would go.

Our lives are better left to chance; I could have missed the pain

. . . But I’d have had to miss the dance.”

Garth Brooks, The Dance

 

 

In Like A Lion . . .

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Once upon a time, March was one of my favorite months. Now, it’s when I seriously consider getting out of Dodge except wherever I’d go, my weathered emotional baggage would still be with me. Swell.

Before I met my husband, March memories were the stuff of angry lions. The windy grayness paired neatly with the feelings I had assigned to it. March was the month my brother celebrated his birthday, except for the year he would have turned 21. It seems a lifetime later but memories of those weeks before and after he died 40 years ago never disappear completely. His birth and death dates will forever bookend the month. They remind me that even when you think that particular kind of pain is one of a kind, life has a way of proving you a liar.

When my guy came along years later, he arrived like an impulsive March wind with a brand of love that set the month on its ear. It was a chilly March 5th that year that we had our first ‘real’ date in a cozy restaurant that became ‘ours’ from that night on. Just one year later, we spent the 3rd of March in the courthouse – getting married. It was a bit off script but the cancer monster had raised its ugly head and my health insurance offered the coverage we needed to fight the beast. No big deal; we just postponed the cool church wedding until a few weeks later. It was all good.

March 25th dawned cold and brilliantly sunny that year.  The day was as bright as our moods as we prepared to celebrate our wedding day with the excited loving family and friends. They all knew well both our challenges as well as the fierce love that defined us.  Like most everyone on their wedding day, we were two little kids at a birthday party — and boy, was it a party! Cupcakes piled high on a handmade tower topped with bobble-headed figures with a remarkable resemblance to the kooky wedded pair. Rubber ducks swam in a fountain of margaritas while Hors d’oeuvres disappeared faster than they could be passed. A cool Pantone (Dun, I’m a graphic designer.) spring green bloomed in all the decor, painting both March and our wedding with hopeful new life. It was all just perfect.

Almost. Trying to pack all we could into the month, we snuck a dream honeymoon to Italy into March’s last days. Unfortunately, the trip turned out to be one week before my husband’s first cancer surgery. Looking back, that might not have been the brightest strategy but hey, it was Italy!

Through the years, we celebrated plenty of anniversaries of times when things were simpler. We toasted moments that had been brand new and those after cancer colored the months and years. When that guy of mine died suddenly, it was more than easy to sweep all of those times into the grayness of grief. When memories seem broken, who wants to remember them? Yet, those happy times were no less happy and they are no less part of us. They are just more painful to remember. When the person who helped make those memories is no longer here, our memories become both lion and lamb. But then the flip side of joy is pain – and vice versa. That’s just life’s dichotomy and who complains when the pendulum swings the other way? Life is perfect — said no one ever.  It hands us things we have no control over and sometimes they suck big-time. Like a temperature inversion, the fog eventually lifts, however, and suddenly choices are in our hands.

The year my husband-to-be rode his white horse into town, he  redecorated the month of March with some pretty good feng shui. When the lion caught up with him, he left behind  a hell of a lot of memories and I have all I can do to remember them without bawling. When you’re left without a right, it’s hard to find your center- but I’m giving it my best shot.  What I tell myself (and it’s a handy public service announcement) is that just because the moments are over — doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. Boy, did they happen.

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I barely remember celebrating my brother’s birthday. So many years have gone by since he blew out candles on my mom’s homemade cakes but I have to believe he was happy then. And no matter how much time elapses, nothing can change that any more than I can or would erase the memories of our wedding celebration. The ultimate end to our grand romance does not erase the life of the miracle couple who dared cancer to divide them. The fact that death eventually did does nothing to deny the years my guy defied the odds.

One day I hope to travel again to the home of my ancestors across the pond. I’ll make new new memories in Italy but the singular memories of a goofy couple on their honeymoon will always remain. Just picturing that warm March afternoon in Rome, scarfing snacks on the hotel rooftop we climbed up to by accident, makes me smile and always will.

Everything that happens, even one moment after it does, is a memory. Some are better than others but all are part of the fabric of your being, ready to prop you up, give you hope and make you smile when you need them most. That doesn’t mean you won’t cry in the process, but that’s part of life, too. It’s the part that weathers months and storms, and still ushers in spring each year. We can learn a lot from this tempestuous month that comes in a like a lion and eventually becomes a docile lamb. Our crazy quilt of memories is stuffed with months, days, years of both pain and joy. Depending on the season of our life, one side or the other has us covered. Only we know when we are able to flip that quilt to the other side.

The last two weeks I’ve noticed that, in spite of itself, March’s frigid ground is giving way to nature’s Powerball ticket. Even if they are watered at times with tears, stubborn but hopeful green shoots still show up ever year. That’s the thing about spring and about us resilient humans.

Hello, March — my new friend.

HimsELF. . . on a shelf

elf-shelf-1920x640-1024x341Does that red-suited, creepily cheerful holiday imp visit your house each Christmas? If you have anxious little munchkins, the wacky, double-jointed sprite shows his bad self in a different spot each day. Though I’m well acquainted with this Santa tattletale, my grand- teenies just visit so the imp doesn’t do acrobatics in my house. The only mischievous Elf I’d want to see — left the building before last Christmas. Since then, he’s been sighted on shelves around the house, but now stilled in timeless frozen smiles.

Last year, there was plenty of tears, numbness and grief. A plastic smile and lots of fake cheer prevailed. This year, I’m determined not to have a ‘bah humbug’ Christmas. My Elf would HATE that. Oh, he’d definitely understand last holiday’s emotional sipher. In fact, if I WASN’T in in joyless funk so soon after he died, I suspect he’d be more than a wee bit surprised. But I also remember well his favorite retort to any conversation he thought went on longer than he wanted. “Don’t belabor the subject” he’d say. Of course, the phrase was usually uttered after my spousal unit related his views on something — but before I came close to finishing mine. (And yes, it ticked me off bigtime!)

Each person has their own timetable for grief. That ominously annoying phrase really isn’t welcome in that space. Though we might each have a loving village, we come into our healing in our own time. With the expectations of Hallmark happy, holidays don’t really help change the narrative. If anything, as all the firsts morph into the next year, and the next, you might be wondering why you feel even worse. (if that’s possible)  Unless there was a second coming, your loved one hasn’t returned; nothing really has changed — except you. Each holiday comes and goes and, you sometimes you really would like your seriously deflated (I’ve fallen and I can’t get up) spirit not to ‘belabor the subject’. Continue reading

Thanks…for the memories

memory_box-800x533-jpg-pagespeed-ce-udtj0ynkc8“Sometimes,” said Pooh, “the smallest things take up the most space in your heart.”

Ah, the little things. The memories that are tucked up in your brain just waiting to sneak out at the smallest moments. People say the best thing about memories is making them; the next is remembering them. These days, it’s not always easy.  In fact, sometimes even a little remembrance can knock the wind out of me. Memory lane might be the hardest road to travel, even when it’s only to the grocery store.

I may have forgotten to mention that I hate grocery shopping.  But I have to eat so I ran to pick up a few things yesterday and as I was mindlessly sliding my credit card, a picture flashed in my mind. It was an image of my husband always whipping out his card before my hand even opened in my purse. I don’t know why – it all came out of the same account, but it was just a habit like so many others. Caught in that silly reverie, I almost missed the elderly man in front of me teasing his equally elderly wife, winking at me as he did, about her always needing ‘one more thing’ and keeping him waiting. As the two exchanged good-natured comments, I remembered joking with my husband that ‘one day we’ll be them’. them’.

That would be a no. Continue reading