Hindsight Lives On: Happy Birthday, Mama!

Today would have been my mom’s 58th birthday; she died of breast cancer four and a half years ago.

Recently, a new friend asked what it is like: do I miss her every day? What kinds of things do I miss about her? What things do I remember?

I don’t miss her every day, but I do miss her often.

I miss her most when I’m gardening or cooking, because those were two of the things she loved to do most. I plant petunias and impatiens and begonias because she did. I make potato salad her way. I remember her words about how to wash a turkey or not to roast tomatoes in a metal pan.

On our birthdays, Mom would always ask us what we wanted for dinner and what kind of cake we wanted. Yes, she always gave us gifts, too, but the cake and dinner is what I remember and miss the most.

Today it is her birthday. She probably would have wanted coffee-flavoured cake with hazelnut icing. Or just some sour cream glazed donuts from Tim Horton’s, accompanied by coffee, of course.

(Have I mentioned that I started drinking coffee at 16 because my mom did? Little did she know the monster she created…)

Like I said, hindsight lives on.

Hindsight is always 10%

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Playing Favourites: Some nostalgia with my coffee, please

Mom's mug

My mug collection is made up of a wide variety of mismatched receptacles. They were all either given to me as gifts, purchased as souvenirs, or inherited from my mom’s house when she passed away over four years ago.

This particular one is the smallest of my “coffee” mugs, and not necessarily the most attractive. It also can’t be microwaved because of the gold coating (unless you want to risk an explosion while enjoying the strange crackle and pop noises), but I love drinking out of this mug.

Perhaps I’m a sucker for nostalgia, but this mug was not only my mom’s, but is an anniversary mug from her Alma Mater, what was then called Ontario Bible College (OBC) (now called Tyndale University College). It would have been special to her, and so every time I pour my reductionist Americano into it, I think of her just a little bit.

My mom also loved coffee. In fact, I started drinking coffee because she drank it. She wouldn’t have been able to keep up with my progressively snobby tastes, but drinking coffee together with my mom is one of my favourite memories.

Raise a mug with me…. happy Monday!

Death of an Idealist

University changes people.

Or, at $7,000 per year for tuition, it had freaking well better!

I remember when I was a naive teenager in youth group, talking about former members of the group that had gone to university, and thinking that that was where they lost their faith.

At the time, I was active in my church. All of my friends were from church. All of my family, immediate and extended, went to church. It was a pervasive aspect of my life, and I didn’t foresee anything different for myself.

In my past life (before university, before my mom died), I had another blog that I called MuSiNgS, where I talked about faith-based topics. One such post in 2007 discussed an idea I took from a book called Velvet Elvis, written by Rob Bell, a controversial figure in the North American church. At the beginning of his book (okay, I’ve only read the beginning), he introduces two conceptions of faith: springs and bricks.

This is from my MuSiNgS post in 2007:

Rob starts the first chapter, titled Movement One: Jump, by comparing faith to the image of a trampoline, then goes on to parallel the necessary springs with the statements people make about their beliefs. Springs are the doctrines that, when working together with other springs, hold up the mat we jump on, or the structure of our faith. In order to make that trampoline work, the springs should stretch and flex, expand and retract according to how the trampoline is being used. Likewise should our doctrines, the truths that give depth and content to our faith.

By comparison, Rob points out that there are those whose faith more closely resembles a wall of bricks that are laid on top of each other. If one gets knocked loose, several more tumble. Brickians aren’t comfortable with questions being asked of their faith, because they haven’t been introduced to the trampoline. They aren’t familiar with the flexing of the springs. Rob cites the case of one Brickian who was adamant that, “if you deny that God created the world in six literal twenty-four-hour days, then you are denying that Jesus ever died on the cross.” Pull out one brick, the whole wall collapses.

When I was in youth group looking upwards at the people who had gone off to university, I was a Brickian. I couldn’t be flexible. Brickians are afraid of change, of new ideas, of anything that will challenge their worldview. I was afraid that my wall would fall down. I didn’t see that there was a trampoline on the other side of it. I probably would have been afraid of the trampoline if I had seen it.

Since those days, my bricks have slowly been falling down, one after the other, and sometimes two or three at a time. I have crossed lines I never would have dreamed possible for me. I have been introduced to the trampoline, and while I know that I am not pushing that trampoline to its limits, it is sometimes hard for me to remember those left behind behind their own brick walls, that may never discover the springs of a flexible faith. trampoline

Brickians are idealists. They have to be.

~~~

This year in university, I feel like I’m finally getting down to what really matters, things that are world-defining, like democracy and racism. I’m learning that there is very little place for idealism in the real world. Things are very rarely black and white, if ever. There are very few things that you can really know for sure.

Yes, I believe faith can help you be sure about some things. But it can help you hide from others. It can encourage ignorance and complacency. It doesn’t have to. But it can. For me, it did.

What I am learning about the world, my world, is knocking down the rest of those bricks. It’s opening up my mind. It’s causing me to re-assess those issues that I had been too scared to consider before, those things that I had deemed too controversial or too sacred to open up.

It’s a good thing. I may be losing my idealism, which I had thought a good thing, but I am not losing my optimism. Yet, anyway.

I am losing a tendency to hide behind crumbling pillars erected by fearful people, and gaining an ability to see critically. I’m not there yet… but I have another year and a half of university, and then hopefully many more years of life to continue to learn.

To continue to let idealism die, in exchange for wisdom.

 

Recipes and Memories: Mom’s Cream of Broccoli Soup

My mother used to make the most amazing cream of broccoli soup. Everyone loved it. Except those that didn’t like broccoli soup, I suppose. But a nice bowl of thick creamy broccoli soup, topped with cheese and salt and pepper… mmm!

I have wanted to try to make mom’s broccoli soup for years, but have never gotten around to it – until today.

As with most of her best recipes, this one was typed and printed back in the nineties, on our family’s first computer, a good old MS-DOS version with a crude word processing program.

Broccoli Soup Recipe

Of course, 4 servings was never enough for my family, so this recipe was always quadrupled.

First step: Broccoli.

broccoli bunch

Rinse. And chop:

chopped broccoli

I don’t think it needed to be chopped so fine… but live and learn.

The recipe calls for 2 cups, so naturally I chopped 8.

measured broccoli

I didn’t intend to quadruple it… but I did. I have always done better at cooking for several rather than one or two.

Put in a big pot with hot water, chicken bouillon (I used packets instead of cubes), a bay leaf, and chopped onion.

bay leaves

Bring to a boil and allow to simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.

broccoli soup stock

Meanwhile, start the white sauce that will make the soup creamy. Melt butter in a saucepan:

melting butter

Add milk or cream to the butter. I only had skim milk, which I wouldn’t recommend. Or, if I were to use it again, I would use less than it calls for, so the white sauce is thicker.

milk

Then, stir in some flour. I only had whole wheat flour, which, again, is less than ideal for a soup like this, but I feel better knowing it’s at least healthier.

flour

When the broccoli stock is tender, puree it in a blender, then add the stock to the white sauce and reheat.

soup cooking

All that remains is to serve and enjoy!

bowl of soup

I ate mine with grated sharp cheddar, and salt and pepper.

Mmm.

Here’s the recipe so you can enjoy it yourself:

recipe

 

 

Who’s the Dirty Birdy?

I love the chance to snoop without repercussions. Don’t you?

Today, you get to snoop in my medicine cabinet. Heck, I’ll even give you a tour.

Behold, the medicine cabinet of a girl living alone:

Medicine Cabinet

Yes, this cabinet is not the prettiest one you’ve ever seen. It needs some new paint, and, well, it needs to be cleaned. There you go – some dirt on me!

Top shelf, left to right:

  • Stub of a candlestick (faintly visible white thing). I have no idea why anyone would keep the stub of a candlestick. Perhaps in the event that the power goes out and I forget entirely how to get back to the rest of my apartment?
  • Sink plug which I only ever use if I need to soak something in the sink. What things I might soak in the sink I don’t want to say.
  • Vapo-Rub, or, should I say, Rexall’s Vapourizing Chest Rub. Yes, there are still people that have this product. No, I don’t use it. Hardly ever, anyway. But I do have some very comforting memories of my mom heating flannel cloths in the oven on cold winter nights, rubbing our chests with Vick’s Vapo-Rub, and then tucking a warm cloth between the mentholated goop and our pj’s. Ahhh.
  • Matches. To light the candle stub, of course. Ahem.
  • Two cheap-o plastic containers that contain a bunch of junk I never use and practically never look at, including white nail polish, tongue studs from way back when, dental floss (don’t tell my dentist), and old cheap earrings. Oh, and nail clippers, which I do tend to use regularly.

Middle shelf:

  • The tiny white package on the very left is a sample from Sephora that I haven’t opened yet. I may never open it.
  • Thus begins the gamut of my skin care regimen by Aloette (which I really enjoy and would definitely recommend): the night cleanser (Essential Cleansing Oil), which does a bang-up job of taking off make-up, too.
  • Toner is next. I am so fascinated with how the cotton pad can come off that particular shade of scuzzy grey, even after I have just washed and rinsed my face.
  • That lovely light pink stuff is actually body lotion, called Hand and Body Silk. It’s pretty fantastic: smells refreshing, rather than perfume-y, and is especially nice if you use it as a shaving lotion on your legs, though I’ll warn you that it will clog your razor.
  • Crammed in next to each other there are lotions, one for day and one for night. I use the lotion for day, because otherwise my face gets too oily. The creme is for night – it’s thicker. Yes, I do think it’s worthwhile to have two creams, especially during the winter, when skin tends to get a bit scaly. A thick night cream helps prevent that flaky skin that I tend to get around my nose when I have a cold.
  • Tucked in behind the lotions is Moroccan Oil, the newest addition to my beauty arsenal. It’s a very popular hair product that many swear by, though I’m not convinced it’s for me. Shame, because it cost me about $40.
  • The tiny tube is eye cream. I’m guilty of not using it every day, even though my mother said I should. It’s just one extra step that I keep thinking isn’t really necessary… yet. When I get crow’s feet, I will wish I had been putting it on every day since turning 5.
  • The small bottle with a pump is called Time Repair Serum. I think it’s to prevent my skin from aging, but in the meantime, I feel like it helps keep my skin nice and smooth. Or maybe that’s the same thing.
  • Behind the Time Repair is Visible Aid, a first-aid cream that really does a great job at helping heal cuts and scrapes and burns.
  • Thus ends the Aloette parade. Next in line is a character that needs no introduction, other than: “nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea,” the latter of which, of course, a lady never gets.
  • Last and certainly least used seeing as how it’s redundant, another toner, this time by Aveeno. From when I used to use an Aveeno cleansing regimen. I presume it won’t go bad…

Bottom shelf:

  • Avon “moisture effective” eye makeup remover lotion: a staple practically since I started wearing makeup. It’s cheap and effective, so why switch it up? In case you’re interested, I found out yesterday that it’s on sale for $0.99 right now! Time to call your Avon lady…
  • Hidden in the back left corner is a shine product for my hair which I obviously never use. But should, no doubt.
  • Next is something that could be slightly embarrassing because it’s not something most people would buy: a crystal deodorant stick. I got it from a health food store, then stopped using it because, well, I like Degree antiperspirant a lot, and had always used it. But, a couple of VIPs in my life reminded me that it’s worth it to not smell “shower clean” in exchange for using something that hasn’t been linked with breast cancer (antiperspirant, FYI). So, I made the switch, and only use antiperspirant if I have forgotten deodorant somehow. It’s different, sure, and has no smell, but it really works, and I feel much better about the whole scenario. Worth a try, both for men and women!
  • After that whole diatribe about MY deodorant, here’s a spare stick for my boyfriend. Sometimes, you just need an extra dab or two.
  • Clearly, my cotton supplies are low. Typically, those three jars contain, from left to right, cotton pads, Q-tips, and cotton balls. I need a trip to the drugstore.
  • The bottle in the corner with the pink on it is an ear-care product that has gotten me through several infections. Available at Claire’s, I believe.
  • And front right, a generic cream to help heal scars. Exotic, right?

There you have it: a sneak peek inside my medicine cabinet. Nothing crazy. And now you don’t have to worry about being caught in the act someday when I throw a dinner party and put marbles inside the medicine cabinet to embarrass the snooper. YOU’RE the “dirty birdy”, not me (thanks, Clinton Kelly, for that fabulous idea).

Four years later…

Every January 13, for the last four years, I set aside time to remember.

I buy flowers, one for each of my immediate family members, look for open water in or leading into Lake Huron, then I trek out to somewhere cold and snowy to toss the flowers into the water, just like my siblings and I did the day of our mother’s memorial service in January 2008.

On this date 4 years ago, my mom died after breast cancer had wreaked havoc on her body for about two years.

She was the strong tower of my life in many ways, and my life has never been the same since.

So, on this day every year, I write Mom a letter, telling her about what is happening with me and why I miss her. And I remember.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mama,

It’s a cold night in Goderich tonight. It’s been a very weird winter: yesterday I wore sneakers to school and today there is snow blowing everywhere. It was cold enough that I didn’t want to linger, or make Johnathan linger with me, out on the pier in the bitter wind, after we tossed your flowers into the rough water.

A freighter is being loaded with salt at the beach, even though it’s getting late into the evening. That’s one of the things that is the same about Goderich, though many things are different.

Perhaps you watched from above, but in case you missed it, shortly before your 58th birthday, on an otherwise beautiful Sunday afternoon, an F3 tornado hit our beautiful town. It came up from the beach, damaging parts of the salt mine and killing the man operating the equipment that carries the salt to the boats.

It then flew up over the hill, knocked down most of the trees in Harbour Park, then razed the houses on West and St. Andrew’s streets. It went through the Square, severely damaging many historic buildings and uprooting more trees, then sped along Park and St. Patrick streets.

John & I got to walk around town shortly after it happened, mouths agape, appalled at what had become of our beloved town: it looked like a bomb had gone off. Or a few. Hydro lines were down everywhere, roofs gone, cars crushed, trees were in the streets and branches were inside of houses. Windows were smashed.

There was a tree in the Timmy’s drive-through. People were walking all over town, because they could not drive. Emergency crews came from towns such as Walkerton and Hanover. Hundreds of people were hurt. Cops had blocked the Square off and were preventing people from going into town. The Knights of Columbus Center was set up as an emergency shelter for those who suddenly found themselves homeless and without food.

It took two to three weeks before all of the hydro was restored, trees and stumps cut up and removed, roofs covered with tarps, and people moved out of condemned buildings. Hundreds of people came from miles around, volunteering themselves to serve meals for workers and needy, help people pack their belongings, cut down trees, and so much more. Not everyone was honest and community-minded in this, but many were, and we were all encouraged and humbled. Everyone drew together to do what they could to help.

Five months later, Goderich does not look the same as you knew it. There are holes where there used to be houses. The skyline is strangely lacking trees, so that you can see the salt evaporating plant clear across town, and so that the grain elevators are fully visible from any point on top of the hill, where they used to be mostly hidden behind walls of tall trees. The Coffee Culture building is completely gone. The gazebo on the Square is gone. There were a handful of trees left in the square: none of them big ones. The Burger Bar was “killed” in the tornado and was subsequently torn down. Just yesterday, the buildings that housed Carman’s Cameras, Wing Hongs, and Bailey’s were demolished. It goes on and on.

But Goderich is re-building, and will rise again. Someday.

As for me, I just started my sixth semester of university, which means I’m almost 3/4 done! A year from now I will be starting my last term. I can hardly believe how quickly it has gone by. Still, a lot of sweat and tears have gone into getting me this far, and I’m not done yet. I have learned so much. I wish I could tell you all about how my perspective has changed and my worldview enlarged, and how much I’ve realized about myself and our culture.

I still live in the apartment that I got after you left us and I had to grow up in a hurry. It’s a fairly convenient spot when you consider that I drive to London, to Bayfield, and to Goderich a lot. Every year I think that I will move to London, but it hasn’t worked out yet, and I still have so many ties to Huron County that I haven’t gotten to the point where I am completely ready to leave yet. Remember all those years ago when you thought I’d never live in Canada again? Surprise! 5 and a half years later…!

These days, I’m not singing much: my band kinda broke up in the summer, just before I turned 30 (!!), and I haven’t really found my groove with anyone else since. Maybe when I move to London…

I am trying to write more, though I don’t make it over to this page often enough. I do, however, look for opportunities to write at school. I’m a regular contributor to my faculty’s student publication, the mitZine. I struggle between having ideas and feeling like I don’t really have the time to spare to write them. Yes, I need help in that department.

On the work front, I am no longer mostly a server. I have done some serving every year, most recently with what I think is the best restaurant around, the ArtSee Cafe and Bistro in Bayfield, but I’ve branched out into jobs that are more along the lines of my desired career path. I can add a couple of “firsts” to my life list. One is that I got fired for the first time in July! It really was a much-needed parting of the ways, but the brass tacks are that I was let go before I could anticipate it. It turns out that I have a fairly strong personality (!!) and cannot allow myself to pander to just anyone’s way of doing things. In this case, I had a really hard time seeing eye to eye with my boss, so I wasn’t able to do a good job. Not a good scenario for anyone involved.

Currently, I am employed short-term with the county as a data-entry clerk, helping to build a new culture and heritage database. I am also (I’m proud of this one) an On-Call Branch Office Administrator, or BOA, at the local Edward Jones branch, which moved to Bayfield from Goderich after the tornado. The best part about that is that my boss is a big-ideas lady who wants me to help her flesh out some pretty fantastic plans!

My love life remains pretty great. I often regret that you never got to meet Johnathan. You would be amazed at how good he is to me and all the ways he surprises me. For my 30th birthday, he gave me a ’52 Chevy pick-up! And then he proceeded to restore it, so that it went from a pile of rusty parts to on the road in about two months. It’s beautiful! You would love going for a ride in her. We call her Flo. 🙂 Again, I can hardly believe that Johnathan and I have been together for more than two years now. Wow.

I should stop rambling on and on, but just a few more things. I have just recently discovered a great way to encourage the curly in my hair, and so I am embracing it’s wildness and bigness! I thought that would make you smile.

Your grandbabies are amazing. Yes, I am biased, but they are four of my very favourite people. I can’t get enough of them. They are smart, funny, and adorable! I wish you could see them grow up.

Another anecdote: lately I hear your voice in mine more and more often. Not only in my saying something you might, but actually sounding as you might sound. It’s trippy. And I love it.

With much love and until the next time I think of you,

Sarah

Mom’s Way… to make Apple Crisp

Tonight, I bragged on Facebook about how much I love having my mom’s recipes.

For the uninitiated, my mom died of breast cancer in January of 2008. Her passing changed my life in many ways, one of them being that I had to get my own place for the first time. When my siblings and I split up my mom’s belongings, I somehow ended up with a mother lode: her recipes!

Mom wouldn’t have called herself a good cook, but she was. She had the ability to combine everyday ingredients into unforgettable dishes. Friends and family still ask me for her soup and casserole recipes.

When she found a recipe that she liked, she held onto it, adapted it to make it better, and used it over and over again, so that the best of her findings were locked into our (her kids’) culinary memories. The best potato salad? Mom’s. The best homemade macaroni & cheese? Mom’s. The best broccoli soup? You guessed.

Time and again, I get inspired to try to re-create one of those memorable recipes. I dive into books and boxes and folders of recipes, looking until I find what I’m looking for. Someday I’ll organize them so I can easily locate the one I’m looking for, but until then, when I find the recipe I need, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.

Tonight, I wanted to make apple crisp for my boyfriend. He’s a lucky man to get introduced to all of mom’s recipes! The last time I tried to make him this dish, I winged it and it wasn’t as good as I remembered, so I knew I had to find mom’s recipe.

apple crisp

It was in the file folder where all of her most recently-used recipes are. Jackpot!!

Sharing my excitement on Facebook led to a request for the recipe. And why not? So here it is.

I should note that this recipe actually came to my mom, Doreen, from her sister, my aunt Hazel, from whom a lot of mom’s best baking recipes came.

Well, enjoy!

Recipe:

Fruit Mix:

  • 4 cups apples (peeled & sliced)
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Topping: (double this if you’re using a 9 x 13″ pan)

  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats (Mom used large flake oats)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup melted butter

Directions:

  • Combine apples and sugar in a buttered pan (9 x 9″)
  • Combine topping ingredients, mix until crumbly
  • Sprinkle over apples
  • Bake at 370 (F) for 30 minutes or until apples are tender

Makes 6 servings.

 

“LOVE YOUR MAMA”

The A&W sign was referring to the Mama Burger, of course, but I thought it appropriate that I would see this message in lights today, January 13th, the day when I remember just how much I still (and always will) love my Mama.

Three years ago this morning, my amazing mother left this world for a better one. At least, that’s what I believe. Mom would never have expected me to stand outside in the middle of winter to take a moment of silence in her memory, but it has become a little ritual I treasure.

It was a not-so-snowy day in January, 2008, that my siblings and I trekked out to the end of the rock breakwater at the Cove in Goderich to have a private memorial together before the funeral. We each held a flower, which we took turns tossing into the open lake. It was beautiful and nostalgic. We read some meaningful prayers and poems, and took lots of pictures. For me, it was the beginning of an annual tradition.

One year later, on the coldest day of the year, my siblings and I gathered for dinner, then trekked out to the Maitland Bridge, under which flowed the only open water we could find. What a difference a year makes! Once again, we spoke a little, then dropped cut flowers into the river, where they would be carried into the lake.

Last year, only a few of us managed to get together. This time, we wrote little notes to Mom, put them inside plastic containers, and attempted to break the ice to get them into the lake, but wound up mostly just shattering our containers and scattering our notes. Still, we remembered our mama, who left us too young. There were flowers then, too.

Today, I’m the only sibling “in” Goderich, and I didn’t make any plans ahead of time that I could invite my siblings to, so it was only my boyfriend Johnathan and I. We walked out on the pier, my hand holding tightly to 6 stems of yellow mums, and Johnathan’s hand holding tight to mine.

We broke the think layer of ice with a nearby rock, and then stood back to ponder. And cry. And sob. Then I dropped the 6 stems one by one, imagining that they represented each of my mother’s children, and Johnathan held me and we cried some more.

It’s amazing to have a partner that loves you so much he will stand with you on a freezing winter day out in the cold and hold you as you sob, and even cry with you, for a person he never met.

I don’t think my mother ever had that kind of love on earth, and I ache to think that she didn’t get to meet Johnathan or see how well I am loved.

Still, I learned today that she was satisfied with her life when she came to the end of it, at peace with how she was leaving her family and her friends.

I also learned today that she accepted the otherworldly task of embracing and taking care of a friend’s baby who had died at birth, once they were in “the great beyond” together. I know she has plenty of babies to embrace in Heaven, and now also her father and brother Dean.

I wish she could hug me, though…

Missin’ you, Mama

I think my mom would have been amused to find her former favourite mechanic schlepping plates and making lattes as co-owner of one of the local cafes.

She would have cried when she heard my song on the Noted CD.

She would be surprised to find that I now like the uniquely-patterned couch and armchair I inherited from her. Birds being one of my least favourite creatrues, I was never very appreciative of the brown, red, taupe, pink and beige pheasants that gallivant on said furniture. Now, however, since I built my living room and dining room around the pattern and colour scheme, I have grown to enjoy it. She’d feel right at home, I think!

This fall, Mom and I might have been students together: She had planned to go back to school for a second degree, hoping to find a way to professionally use her intelligence, wisdom, and hard-earned life experience.

Though her death forced me to get my own apartment and enabled me to buy my Trixie Toyota, if she were still with us she would have been excited to no longer have to share her car with me (or find coffee stains on the upholstery), and I imagine her coming over for coffee every now and then… something I always wished for.

I think she would have enjoyed the memorial we had for Mark. It seemed like she was there in spirit, anyway, and that the event was honouring her life as well as Mark’s. I wonder what she might have done differently, or what her ideas might have been. Still, I have no doubt that she would have been proud of us, proud of how we chose to celebrate Mark’s life.

I’m missin’ you today, Mama. I’m so glad Mark is with you now, but I wish I still had you, too….

A Transparent Truth

The more observant of my readers may have noticed that all of my recent posts (notice I didn’t use the words frequent or regular), recent being over the last year or so, have been either about grief, ranting, or something superficial.

The reason? Fear, mostly. Fear of what others may think of me, of how those who have known me as The Good Little Missionary Girl might regard me if I delve back into the topic of faith, or get as truly