Thursday, June 19, 2014

Forever, Mother and Child

I regularly go back home to upstate New York to see my mom and my sister. There are people and places there that are precious to me and I will forever be drawn to my original home. But, (and herein lies the problem) I am emotionally exhausted when I return to Virginia.  It takes me a day or two of foggy brained, head aching lethargy to recover from these trips. I'm in such a state today after returning home Wednesday night.

My mom is ninety-two and she lives alone these days. She's falling more often and the two most recent falls have landed her in the ER. About three years ago she broke five ribs after falling in her bedroom. She's fallen on and of since then with minor bumps and bruises. Two weeks ago she fell in another bedroom and broke her nose. Then, on my first day home last week, she fell again, right in front of me! This time on her front porch and hitting the same broken nose area. She required fourteen stitches to her forehead. It was pitifully sad.

We have begged and cajoled her to move in with us. We have plenty of room and it would alleviate her dread of a nursing home. I have offered to be her devoted caretaker; to cook for her, drive her places, keep her company, help her visit with her grandchildren and great grandchildren, to no avail. She can't bring herself to make the final decision to move.


I understand, I really do. But at the same time I am so frustrated and weary of it all. It's getting old and it sounds like a broken record in my head.

The fallout from all of this also makes me sad. My dad and older sister are long deceased so, happy family reunions are no more. My mom is tottering around, beaten up and sad. I see the pain in her eyes when I tell her that I demand she not go down her basement steps any more. (We've arranged for my sister to do her laundry.) I hate demanding. I devote my visits to my mother's needs and to keeping up her home. Hence, there's no time for me to visit with old friends, go to my favorite places, or anything of the sort. I hate my selfish agendas. I feel a strong dislike toward going back home. I hate not wanting to visit. I ask myself, "Is she really putting my sister and me in the position of forcing her to move against her will?" I hate being annoyed with my mother. Agh! I hate all this hating and grumbling!

I am at war with myself as a result of the frustration. I'm a "fixer" and I feel compelled to find solutions to problems. But this one is a puzzler. I return to Virginia with a heavy heart. Nothing stays the same. People we love get old and die. Sometimes we are powerless to change a thing.

And so, I pray. Long, hard, coming-to-grips-with-reality prayers. I'm searching for God's will and what am I to do in all of this. In my prayers, I can't get the image of my dazed, terribly bruised, and bleeding mother out of my head. It prompts me to include the plea of a small child, "God, please don't let my mom be hurt."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Building Raised Garden Beds

In May, 2013 we began building raised garden beds. We researched types of wood, cost, availability, etc. Steve liked the idea of railroad ties because they were the most cost effective. Standard railroad ties, such as these, are 7" x 9" x 8 1/2 feet long. He found these untreated ties at Kopper's in Salem, VA. They come in loads of twenty-five ties for $250. Our neighbor has a landscape business, so he picked them up for us in his heavy-duty delivery truck. They were beasts to handle, but Steve managed to build the beds almost entirely alone.

We used the site of our old garden, one of the few flat spots on our property. It used to have a fence around it but it had begun to decay. I was tired of weeding and I knew that raised beds would be easier to tend. We calculated room for six, 4 ' x 8' beds.

 The timbers upon delivery.

Steve cut each bed to size with a chainsaw. He then laid them out in their approximate positions.

 He rested the longer sides up on the shorter sides and marked notches for the rabbet joints he would cut. He used a template to trace out each joint. One template was 7" x 9" and the other was 3" x 9".

All cuts were made with a chainsaw.

 Each joint will be drilled and bolted with 10" x 1/2" diameter lag bolts. The bolts weren't added until all the beds were properly positioned and leveled.

Steve used a post hole bar to level the beds. He pried the timbers up and I pushed gravel under until they were level.

 All six beds finished.One pick-up truck load of soil filled two beds. We bought top soil mixed with cow compost. The lag bolts are visible on each side near the end.

For the paths, we placed landscape fabric between the beds and covered it with pea stone. We used bricks to define the areas. 

Weeds already! They'll be easy to pull from the gravel. As I said, we wanted (really) low maintenance.

We only had enough time to plant three beds last summer. We did not use landscape fabric inside the beds. I pulled and/or killed all the weeds before we filled them with new soil.

We are very pleased with how these turned out. There were enough ties to build eight beds, making the cost per bed at about $55 including soil and bolts. Gravel paths would add to that cost, but we already had the pea stone and bricks so I haven't calculated that in.

They are a breeze to plant and tend and much tidier than our previous, weedy garden. We will have to add some simple electrified wire to keep the deer from eating everything. They found the beds right away last summer. We'll place one or two high tension wires around the entire perimeter of the beds.

Steve admits the ties were backbreaking to handle. He did not have heavy equipment for moving them or for preparing the site. Otherwise, we would definitely do this again.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Love Song in Two Perspectives

 I love this song and Peter Gabriel's "So" CD in general. It's been my driving music for several weeks (!) because I keep forgetting to bring it in the house. But the point I wanted to make is that secular music takes on an entirely new dimension when processed through a Biblical perspective. My guess is that this was written as a love song. It was used in the 1989 Cameron Crowe film "Say Anything" and I don't find anything written saying Gabriel intended it as anything otherwise.

But, when I hear this song, I hear words that speak of the irresistible pull of God: 

"Days pass and this emptiness fills my heart. When I want to run away I drive off in my car. But whichever way I go I come back to the place you are. All my instincts, they return and the grand facade so soon will burn, without a noise, without my pride, I reach out from the inside"

I hear words of redemption:

"In your eyes, the light the heat, in your eyes I am complete In your eyes I see the doorway to a thousand churches. In your eyes, the resolution of all the fruitless searches. In your eyes, the light the heat. In your eyes, oh I want to be that complete."

And I hear of longing fulfilled, love for love:

"Love, I don't like to see so much pain, so much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away. I get so tired of working so hard for our survival. I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive."

It's a great CD no matter the perspective from which you listen. I just think it's interesting that the framework from which we view reality and make sense of life and the world can be impacted to such a degree as to completely change the meaning of lyrics in a song. I know we all see art, hear poetry and read stories in a subjective manner and in my mind, this makes created works even more miraculous.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In Remembrance

     It would not be right to let this week go by without mentioning the passing of my Uncle Tony. He died Friday night, at home and at peace at the age of ninety-nine. He was my mother's last surviving sibling out of seven and he was the last of all my aunts and uncles on both sides of my parents. I feel my mother's sadness. Her loneliness on this earth for someone from her past is palpable. She is all that is left of her generation in our family, the very last one, and she misses them terribly. All I can do to ease her grief is to listen to her tell me the stories. Each morning, over the phone I listen, and I never tire of them.
     We have so many Tony's in our Italian family, we make jokes of it. But there was only one "Uncle" Tony Maffeo. We said his last name with the "Uncle Tony" part when mentioning him in conversation in order to differentiate between him and our other Uncle Tony- Carusone. There were actually three Uncle Tony's, but the third was Uncle Anthony, so that solved that dilemma. The stories my mother tells of their life as children in the 1920's and 30's in downtown Albany, New York makes me long to be there, to play alongside them. The stories have become rich and even foreign in our age of technology. I picture the scenes in sepia because that is how all the photographs have captured them.  
     One particular story tells how my Uncle Tony and his friends built a car when he was nineteen. They built this car from scrounged parts. When it was finished, the boys drove it to the World's Fair in Chicago. The year was 1933. Can you imagine something like that happening today? Uncle Tony was very good at building mechanical things and he also built an airplane two years before. I don't believe it flew, but it had wings and he did drive it on the road. He was seven years older than my mother and when he was fourteen and she was six, they got into a bit of trouble together. One particular day in 1928, he was told by my grandmother that he was not allowed to go to Mid City Park. There was a big city pool there and amusement rides. He disobeyed and went anyway, toting his little sister (my mother) along with him and his friends. I guess they had a grand time until she lost her shoe on one of the rides. He had to carry her piggy back all the way home, a distance of two and a half miles. The lost shoe gave away their deception and my mother recalls being grounded for a very long time. This is the memory my mom talks about most often these past few days, how she so clearly remembers her brother carrying her on his back all the way home.
     Ironically, Uncle Tony was a sickly child and suffered several health issues throughout his long life. Yet he is the longest lived of all the siblings so far. I love the irony of that. He would have liked to have been able to say he lived to be one hundred, but I have a feeling he is much happier that he didn't wait another year to make his final journey home. I picture him with all the generations gone before him, everyone reunited, one by one, into the presence and the glory of the Lord.
     I miss you all, my aunts and uncles, father and sister. Please save a cannoli for me!

Aunt Millie, Uncle Tony, Aunt Katherine, Aunt Angie, I believe the little child on the left is my mom's cousin Maccala and then my mom. (Maccala was named after the Immaculate Conception, but everyone used her nickname which was pronounced, mock a la')

Five of the seven siblings, Aunt Angie, Uncle Lenny (after whom I am named), my mom Marian, Uncle Tony, Aunt Katherine

My grandfather's store, my first cousins Dan and Sonny (with the bike), my Uncle Anthony in front of the window. The Maffeo children were all born and raised in the flat above the store.

Uncle Tony with his beautiful bride, my Aunt Marie

Monday, April 8, 2013

Oh My Gosh, These Kids Crack Me Up

     My current job title is Lunch Lady, in slang terms that is. My proper title is Cafeteria Aid. I actually crack myself up with the jobs I choose. I don't even know why I do what I do, but that's another story for another day.
     I do not prepare or serve food, I monitor. In the span of an hour and a half, I assist approximately 300 K through 5th graders with lunch. I open water bottles, cut open fruit snacks and yogurts, slice apples, hand out napkins, give the evil eye, lend encouragement, and keep order (or at least try to keep order.) On occasion, I yell. As in the case of the recent Raisin Throwing Incident. I yelled, "Whoa! That is not cool!" Otherwise, most of the children are absolutely adorable and many of them treat me like I am a good friend and confidant. They tell me jokes, ask earth shattering questions, cry for their Mommys, show me loose teeth, hug me, make me laugh, or if they're a 5th grader, ignore me.
     For the first part of my morning, I assist in other areas of the school. I float around and lend a hand wherever it may be needed. But the real excitement culminates in the cafeteria. There is one incident I'm still chuckling about from two weeks ago. A little boy summoned me to his table with two other first-grade boys. First graders, mind you and cute as a button. One little boy motioned me to come close. I leaned in closer. With eyebrows raised, he asked, "Is 'pushy' a bad word?" With a puzzled look I stood up straight and said, "No. 'Pushy' is not a bad word." He then asked, "Well what does it mean?" "Pushy? Well... pushy means someone is being aggressive. Like when someone pushes or shoves you when you're standing in line. It's not nice behavior, but it's not a bad word.", I reply. The little boy triumphantly turned to the other boys with a look of self-satisfaction and cried, "See! It's not a bad word."
     As I walk away, I shake my head. Whoever told him that 'pushy' is a bad word must have had a lisp.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Confessions of An Addict and How I Use

     Hello. My name is Leonora and I am a compulsive collector of recipes. I don't merely collect them, I use them. Welcome to a peek into my not-so-secret world of the hows and whys of my addiction.
     I like food. Heck, I love food. As a child, when my mother put supper on the table, I clapped my hands with joy. In college, when I was flat broke, I baked extravagant  breads to give my girlfriends at Christmas. I still remember the confused look on one girl's face who just didn't get it. She's not my friend any more.
     My first cookbook was given to me in 1977. It's the red, Betty Crocker's Cookbook. I still use it if I can't remember how long to boil shrimp or how many minutes per pound to roast the pork. I also have my mother's first cookbook that she earned for selling magazine subscriptions during WWII. I have four shelves of cookbooks, including Tempting Kosher Dishes by The Manischewitz Co. copyrighted 1930 and written in Hebrew. I can't read Hebrew, but it's a fascinating cookbook. I collect cookbooks and recipes like some people collect shoes or stray animals. It's very difficult for me to turn them away. Once or twice I've needed to thin my collection. When I feel compelled to do this, I choose the books from which I only use a handful of recipes, copy them out and then give the book away. In recent years, collecting cookbooks has given way to collecting recipes in general. This marked the turning point of my addiction.
     Nowadays, it's so easy to share thousands of recipes over the internet. Magazines are also chock full of beautiful photos of foods and dishes to try. Southern Living, Martha Stewart, even House Beautiful all have good recipes. My friend B. started us on Bon Appetit several years ago and back issues still line one shelf in my cabinet. What's an addict to do?
     Because I was collecting recipes in a whole new way, I needed some way to keep track of them and to save the ones we liked. In the beginning, I had manilla folders stuffed with pages ripped from magazines and index cards scribbled with recipes. In the 1980's I tried the recipe card index route. Painstakingly copying each recipe onto a card. The cards were filed in a kitcheny little box, but it was awkward to use and it just didn't do it for me. I needed something stronger for my addiction. I also wanted it to feel more organized. This was around the time that the computer came into our home and I learned about Microsoft Word. I had the brainstorm to type up all my folders of loose recipes and index cards and store them on our computer. Brilliant! Because I still wanted a hard copy to have on the kitchen counter when I cooked, I printed out each recipe. This way, I could glue accompanying photos onto them. I then slipped each one into a clear, plastic page saver and filed it into a binder categorized by food groups. In the beginning, I started out with one binder that held all of them. After the second year, it became too full, so I had to divide desserts out into their own binder. And recently, I introduced a third binder, sub-dividing appetizers, soups and breads out of the Main Dish binder.
     The system works great for me. Every recipe is filed on my computer which Steve periodically backs up so that all cannot be lost. If a friend ever wants one of my recipes, I simply print it from my documents.
     I had a few months worth of recipes to type recently. I tend to save this job for the winter months when I know I'll have more free time (and no one is home to see). The top photo shows my work spread over the table today, gluing photos to the typed recipes, slipping them into the plastic sleeves and filing them into one of three binders. I culled out some old recipes that we didn't like which made room for some new ones. I've also noticed that tastes in food and ways of cooking have changed over the years. Cookbooks can become outdated whereas cooking from current publications, including the internet, keeps things fresh. We're more tempted to try new things, eat healthier, or simply freshen up our menus a bit.
     My two oldest daughters, who also love to cook, tell me that any recipe they want or need is on the internet. My eldest simply browses the food or recipe she is interested in, then props her iPad on the kitchen counter to cook. While that's a good idea too, I like to be able to browse my recipes when I'm writing a shopping list and more importantly, I want to save recipes that are our favorites. I don't want to look something up every time I need it and take the chance that I won't find it. Plus, I don't have an iPad or tablet or whatever. Maybe I'm just too old to change at this point. Whatever. My addiction is stashed in a safe place where I can easily get my hands on it.
    I almost forgot! Last year, when our third daughter turned nineteen, I printed out all her favorite recipes plus ones that I thought she might like to have. I bought a new binder, made a decorative cover to slip into the front pocket and presented it to her as a gift. She liked it. I don't think she'll become a recipe addict like me, but she likes to be organized. Organizing can be an addiction too. I try not to let that one show. Oh, and bloggers like The English Kitchen and The Smitten Kitchen? Yeah, they're my enablers.
The plastic page-savers wipe clean!

I tried a couple of different cheeses for this recipe and liked this one best, so I tucked its wrapper  into the page saver as a reminder.

I like to add notes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thoughts On Forgiveness

     Someone important and dear to my family has betrayed us. The weight of their betrayal is deep and reaches far into a community of people. But this is not the focus of my story. It no longer matters what propagated the pain. It is done and it cannot be changed. What I focus on now is my role in this; the act that requires me to step onto the stage. The act of forgiveness.
     Offensive acts are categorized into two parts; those that break a law and those that break hearts. Sometimes an offense will do both and other times it will fit just one or the other category. We have written codes of law that address those offenders who break it. Their crimes, and the immorality that accompanies them, are punished and their debt to society is said to have been paid. But what about the other face of the offense? The face that has lied or betrayed us? The face that may or may not have broken a law, but has certainly broken our hearts? For this, we must look within ourselves and our own moral code to determine how we are to respond.
     As a Christian, I refer to the teachings of my faith to provide guidance through this moral quagmire. But even with this guidance, and even with a generally forgiving heart, it can still be a very hard thing to do. Forgive.
    Exactly what is forgiveness? I believe the foundation of the Christian faith is based on forgiveness. God sacrificed His Son as atonement for our sins. That even while we were still in our sin, Christ died for what was surely our own transgression. To a perfect and just God, our debt was paid and our sins were forgiven. The final result is the restoration of our broken relationship with God and our acceptance into Heaven as pure and guiltless. It is finished, it is complete, there is not one thing more we can or need to do. This is a representation of perfect forgiveness.
     Are we instructed to forgive others the same way that God forgave us? When we pray the Lord's prayer, the fifth petition says, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." or "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." We are petitioning God to help us forgive others in the same way that He has forgiven us. In the Book of Ephesians 4:32, the ultimate example is given, "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God in Christ forgave you." I respond with more questions: But God was perfect, I say! And we are not. How can imperfect humans behave in a perfect, God-like way? Is it okay to use our imperfection as an excuse to agonize and struggle, never reconciling with someone because it makes us uncomfortable? Or, shunning those who have hurt us even though with our mouths we say we have forgiven them? Again, if the final picture of forgiveness is restoration of the relationship, then how should we forgive?
     Dr. Timothy Keller, American Christian apologist, pastor and author, says the following;
  "What is forgiveness, specifically? When someone has wronged you, it means they owe you, they have a debt with you. Forgiveness is to absorb the cost of the debt yourself. You pay the price yourself, and you refuse to exact the price out of the person in any way. Forgiveness is to a) free the person from penalty for a sin by b) paying the price yourself. How did God forgive? We are told that he does not ‘remember’ them. That cannot mean that God literally forgets what has happened–it means he ‘sends away’ the penalty for them. He does not bring the incidents to mind, and does not let them affect the way he deals with us."
     The last sentence seems to reassure in my heart what I know I must do in my actions, "He does not bring the incidents to mind, and does not let them affect the way he deals with us." My problem is, what I should do and what I am able to do are very different. A friend likened this struggle to the swelling of a wound that cannot heal until the swelling goes down. Sometimes we need to let the hurt subside before we are able to forgive. I suspect 'grace' plays an important role here. God extends grace to us because he knows we are incapable of perfection. He also uses our inner struggle to teach us other important lessons about ourselves and perhaps see His divine nature more clearly.
      One thing I know for sure; this struggle makes me see how imperfect I am. It also makes me realize, again, what God has done for us. He forgave a people mired in sin, who did not not deserve nor earn His forgiveness. He forgave us instantly and forevermore and he continues to do so. He embraces us, smothers our faces with kisses and welcomes us home. I want to learn how to forgive like that.
     I imagine myself sitting on the edge of a precipice, deciding whether to make this leap off the edge. My reasoning is telling me to do it, jump, forgive! But my human frailty and imperfections hold me back and make me fearful. I am afraid to forgive like that. I would rather forgive with strings attached (OK, hooks and harnesses!). The funny thing is, I know there will be a huge rush of adrenalin if I jump. It will be so worth it! In the meantime, I sit on the edge and agonize. I'm working on it and God is with me as I wait, whispering encouragement in my ear.