And now I have a mink bear

My mom had beautiful fur coats but was so tiny that there was no way I could ever wear them. Plus I’m in Texas now and it’s hot; I barely wear a winter coat most years. So I gave the beaver and silver fox coats to her grandaughters in Colorado who will love and be able to use them. But the mink jacket hung in the closet for years without me knowing what to do with it.

So I had it made into a mink bear.

I know, it’s kind of an indulgent thing to do with a beautiful fur, but it was getting elderly and I had no other use for it. And having done some research (yeah, I do this a lot on just about everything), the monetary value was only a few hundred dollars.

So I sent it to Fairy Godmother Creations in Dayton, Ohio. They did some lovely work for me a few years ago, transforming my mom’s wedding dress into beautiful pillows and angel Christmas tree toppers. I see the pillows every day and think of my mom and my grandmother, who made the dress.

And now I have this really nice, very soft fully jointed mink bear to also remind me of my mom. The paws and the inside of the ears are made from the lining of the jacket. This is a boy bear, though, and I’ve named him William for my father and both of my grandfathers – and their fathers, too, for that matter, but mostly for my dad. He was generous and loving and gave the jacket to my mom who wore and loved it for years.

Merry Christmas to me.

Happy Birthday, Mommy

Today would be my mom’s 88th birthday. She was born in Brooklyn, New York City, the youngest daughter of Marion Cooke and William Flanders, and grew up with her sister Jane Anne in Newark, New Jersey in the home where their father grew up. I don’t look like my mom but I inherited her organized mind and gift for languages and music.

Mommy was one smart cookie. She went to Montclair College High School, a demonstration school for the state teachers’ college, commuting by train for six years. At age 17 she took the train again, this time south to Duke University, a place she’d never seen and knowing no one in the state. She met my dad on a double date with other people and they never dated anyone else again. She left Duke after two years with a diamond ring on her finger and went to Katherine Gibbs School for a year for practical secretarial training.

Mom was very disciplined and organized; in Myers-Briggs terms, my guess is that she was ISTJ. She was a stay-at-home mom until we were in Kentucky and my dad’s job changed, but she was busy with Brownies and Girl Scouts, as a den mother for my brother, involved in church Circles, working with and eventually running the PTA. She cleaned house and did chores on a weekly schedule (Tuesdays were bathroom days) and she started taking piano lessons at age 31 because she always wanted to play better.

And Mom was always thin. It drove me crazy because I definitely was NOT thin, ever. She never made a recipe without making changes to lower fat and calorie content, and almost never offerered dessert unless we had company or it was a birthday. I hate zucchini because we ate so much of it, and will never eat cottage cheese because it was a diet food so I had to eat it all the time.

So our relationship was rocky, and Dad stayed out of the whole “you need to lose weight” thing because that was between mothers and daughters. I’ve seen pictures of myself back in those days, and really, I was pretty. But I never believed it of myself and I internalized some pretty negative things that I know now were not meant to harm but did so anyway. It’s hard to separate myself from those emotions and be objective.

I lived over 1500 miles away from my parents for almost my whole professional life, focusing on my career and my own world. Trips home involved scheduling time off which wasn’t always easy, and making plane reservations – and therefore NOT using that time for vacation. For years we combined that by me seeing them in Park City, Utah, where my parents went for the month of August.

Mom and I took a trip to Austria and Switzerland together in 2001, leaving 10 days after 9/11. The whole idea of the two of us without a buffer for two weeks was a bit of a challenge but it was a chance to mend and see each other differently. It was a wonderful trip and I’m tremendously grateful now that we had that time, because Mom’s health went downhill not long afterwards.

She had COPD and her world shrank as her breathing became harder. She was hospitalized in 2007 with infection after an appendectomy (she self-diagnosed appendicitis by Googling symptoms), and her world was different after that. She was softer, quieter, more kind. Mommy knew her time was limited and drew on her strong faith. She died in 2014, three weeks after my niece’s wedding, when she had a chance to see all her family together and happy.

Death, three years later

P1010382Three years ago yesterday, my mom died from complications of COPD. She had been fading away for the few years prior to that, and since my brother and I had researched the disease, her death was more of, “Oh, it’s now” rather than, “OMG, NOOOOO.” My father, on the other hand, was devastated. He still is.

The last time I saw her was at my niece’s wedding three weeks before Mom died. She had saved all her energy for the weekend and it took everything out of her. Her body was frail, almost bird-tiny, and she had almost no reserves of energy. My sis-in-law arranged for transport wheelchairs for both of our moms for the wedding activities, and that allowed Mom to be present for rehearsal dinner, family visiting, the wedding ceremony, and reception, with the whole family (except bridal couple) gathered at the same table. We were all happy, looked wonderful, shared the joy of the day and the enjoyment of each other’s company. And we all said goodbye when she and Dad left to go home. We had our goodbye, even though we didn’t know it was the final one.

I lived half way across the country and didn’t see her often. We talked every day at 6pm my time, 5pm her time, for seven years, since she was hospitalized for a serious infection following an emergency appendectomy when she was 76. Note that she diagnosed herself with appendicitis reading Google search results. I am her daughter in more ways than one.

Three years after her death, I’m living in her house, cooking in her kitchen, caring for her husband of 62 years. And I listen to Dad tell stories about her every day, which sometimes makes me crazy because I hear the same ones, word for word, many times. Yesterday we went to a memorial service for a friend and it allowed us to heal a little more.


Quick Checkin from Texas

I had an easy flight down to Texas on Thursday after an extremely short night and trip through the dark up to the airport armed only with a giant bottle of Diet Coke and loud 90’s rock on the iPod.  When I got there I discovered that none of the little check in places in the airport open until 4:30 so next time I can stay home a wee bit longer.

I bought two tickets for this trip, not just one, because I didn’t want the stress of being squished into a seat and looking at the loathing on the faces of the people near me.  In fact, as I was getting to my seat on the first flight, I overheard two people in the row ahead of me talking about how bad it was to be squished next to an obese person for a 6-hour flight.  I couldn’t stand it and spoke up to say that, you know, the obese person was probably more uncomfortable than you were, and sometimes – right now, in fact – many of us do buy extra space so we don’t make anyone, including ourselves, feel that uncomfortable.  They had the grace to look chagrined and I didn’t cry, though at that early hour, it was close.

Got to east Texas without a hitch and have spent the last few days just hanging out with my mom and dad, taking little slow walks with Mom, carrying her 5-lb vacuum pump and letting her hang on to my arm, or helping out with meal cleanup.  The neighbors have been wonderful and are continuing to bring dinner, plus the freezer has enough soup to last them until April, so I haven’t needed to cook much.  Tomorrow after church I’ll do some laundry and scope out where my help is needed most.

Mom looks good and is getting better slowly.  I had a chance to see the wound when the home health nurse came yesterday to change the dressing – and it’s ugly, a wide slash of skin and a deep hole.  But Dad says that it looks much better than it did almost 2 weeks ago when they first hooked her up to the vacuum pump and it’s a nice pink color.  Mom moves with some considerable discomfort, especially after the dressing is changed, and it’s awkward to remember where the tubes are so you don’t sit on them or get them twisted up.  But her spirits are good and she’s determined to get rid of her little box because she wants to go shopping and get back to normal. It’s going to take a while but we know that she will get there.

Tomorrow is church in the morning, though Mom will stay home with her box that sounds as though it’s either burping or farting loudly, which would be disruptive in a quiet service.  She’ll do TV church instead and talk back to the preachers, which is always fun.  We’re setting up their new digital picture frame and I have some computer cleanup things to do as well to make myself useful.  Monday is our trip to the surgeon for the post-op followup visit, which will tell us a lot about her progress and how long the recovery will be.  And Tuesday I head home.  Keep your fingers crossed for good weather.

Be It Resolved?

It’s All About Me

I know, I know – another post about resolutions? Well, yes and no. I don’t sit down and write out a list of things I resolve for the new year because I’ve done it so many times before and failed miserably at accomplishing any of them. And then, having failed, I managed to work myself into self-loathing and resentment that I needed to accomplish those resolutions in the first place.

Losing weight and working out more are naturally two of those failed resolutions. Been there, done that, more times than I care to count. So instead of resolving things this time, I’m looking at what I want my winning outcomes to be. Yeah, I know, WW talk. But for me, it works.

There are really two big things on my mind and heart as I go into 2008. To be healthier and to live with grace.

To be healthier is the stuff I already know about but am, for whatever reason, not doing. Living with grace includes not beating myself up for who I am and the choice I make, and also making better choices because they are the right ones. It means accepting failure without whining and success without gloating. Living with balance.

And yes, it means doing the things I know I should be doing to be healthy. To eat less and move more, without complaining or trying to find ways to cheat and be lazy.

I read on someone else’s blog today about looking back over the year, finding herself 60 lbs lighter than when the year started, and I was hit by a wave of sadness that I wasn’t the one to say that. Not jealousy, just sadness, because I haven’t done anything to deserve being 60 lbs lighter. I do have the power to do something and my fresh start begins tomorrow.

My mom came home from the hospital late today and starts the new year in her own house, much to everyone’s relief. She will have her little vacuum bag and pump with her 24/7 for the next 6-8 weeks but can get out and do things as she has energy to do them. Just being home is big medicine and I’ll see her for myself next week. Good for all of us.

I have my food planned out for tomorrow and activities lined up to keep me out of trouble. Though if I wake up to snow … ah, well. It’s winter and some things just come with the territory.

May your new year get off to a happy, healthy start.