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It Helps Us to Say Thanks, Part III

Two years ago, I posted a blog about my poem that my brothers and I agreed to have engraved on the memorial paver at Como Zoo and Conservatory in honor of our parents. About a year ago, the paver was installed, but it took me this long to get over to take a look. The reason it took so long for the installation was because the weather conditions were not ideal – the ground was too soggy from rainy days. The reason it took me so long to get over to take a look is another story – other plans kept getting in the way.

Finally, that nudging feeling to go pay a visit won the battle against my procrastination.  The day my son and I visited, the weather was similar to when I visited during It Helps Us to Say Thanks, Part I. It was so warm, the animals sat close to the walls of cool buildings whether they were inside or out making it difficult for us to see them.

The brick looks very nice and is settled amongst other memorial bricks.  The shade from the trees gave the paver a shadowy look.

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After we visited some of the animals, we went to The Ordway Gardens which is a recent $2.8 million addition to the conservatory. We looked at the indoor gallery of bonsai trees, and I couldn’t help but take these pictures along the outdoor path:

I wonder if the sign above says “thanks” in Japanese.

The new Japanese garden is the only place in Minnesota that has a top-curated Japanese plant collection. It was if we were carried away to another place.

Even though Mom and Dad wouldn’t have wanted us to make such a fuss with the paver, I’m glad we took a long time to say thanks.  😉  Visiting Como was one of my parents’ favorite things to do so it’s nice to see the place continue to grow and improve.

Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.  ~G.B. Stern

 

 

 

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Home Away From Home

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Ireland was so welcoming, that it felt like our home away from home. When we checked into Flannary’s and saw that the room that the staff thought was ready for us wasn’t quite ready, we went back to tell the receptionist. We ended up getting a larger room with an extra bed. Now we had one double bed and two twin beds. Dad said, “One for each of us:  Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Baby Bear!”

Since Papa Bear and I had traveled for hours and were awake most of that time, Papa Bear stayed in the room while Baby Bear and I went to the hotel restaurant. The restaurant was crowded for that time of day. Everyone seemed bubbly as their conversations seemed to bounce off the walls. As we looked at the menu, even though we longed to try an Irish coffee just because of its name, we decided to get a Bailey’s coffee instead.  We knew it would taste better to us.

The waiter looked our way every once in a while in between waiting on tables. When he checked in with us, I admired his lilting voice. Most times I could understand the Irishmen, but when the men talked very fast, it was difficult for me to understand. I was glad to have Katie there to translate for me, even though they were speaking English!

Because Katie and I hadn’t had a good sit down chat for quite a while, we talked for a couple of hours! Lately our only means of communicating had been through Skype or sending in-box messages every once in a while. Not knowing what was new in her life was quite a change for me since I was used to hearing from Baby Bear almost every day.

When Papa Bear joined us, we decided to stay at the hotel restaurant for dinner since the food appeared to be quite good. When Sean delivered our entrees, it was like the comforts of home to sit down and eat a warm meal of roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and veggies. Papa Bear liked his fish and chips, and Baby Bear enjoyed a plate of pasta.

As we munched away, a gentleman who was sitting at the bar, suddenly busted out in song. We had no idea what he was singing, but the Gaelic words and melody were a hit amongst the crowd.  His act of bursting out in song didn’t seem like it was anything out of the ordinary to the staff or customers.  His serenade only lasted a short while, and then he was gone.

As we finished up our meal, it felt like a blessing to have the car safely parked in the lot having survived the travels of our first day.  We were glad to get ready to settle in and get a good night’s sleep on a bed!

Mama Bear’s bed was “just right!”

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A Sight for Sore Eyes

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I stumbled out of the car and briskly walked towards the door. I was so relieved we arrived. A series of moments had taken place to get me to that door, and I think maybe the seed was planted by the TV show, The Gilmore Girls. Rory, the main character, always talked about how she wanted to backpack through Europe. As my daughter Katie and I watched the show, Katie often commented on how she would like to go to Europe someday.

I would say, “Oh, but that’s so far away. You really wouldn’t want to go that far away from home.” Katie was often reminded about traveling to far away places when her classmates from grade school and high school travelled away on mission trips. “I didn’t even want to bring it up because I knew you and Dad would say no,” she told us. She was right about that.  After Katie went off to college, she hinted about travel abroad programs to Rome and Greece.

“Oh, but that’s so far away. You really wouldn’t want to go that far away from home for that long,” I repeated over again and hoped that something would distract her and make her want to stay. Or I said, “How about you do a short trip, like your sister.” Laura traveled abroad for three long weeks when she was in college. But, Mom’s idea of keeping Katie close to home was not an option for the determined young lady. Katie informed us that she went to a travel abroad meeting at school. “I am going to go to Ireland,” she announced. “The director is awesome, and I think I would learn a lot.” A plan to go to Ireland was smart because of the Irish roots Katie inherited from her father.

It was funny how the orientation meeting for parents and students was on St. Patrick’s Day. I wore my shamrock scarf and my husband dressed in bright Irish green colors. Katie told us that we looked like we were going to a party. As we learned more about the trip, the better we felt.

Next thing we knew, Katie was packing her one suitcase and one carry on that would have to last her for a semester in Ireland. It was hard for me to imagine how such a fashionable young lady was going to manage with one suitcase. As she scattered all of her favorite clothes on the bedroom floor and resolved to eliminate the unnecessary items, I still marveled how her dream of traveling abroad wasn’t even going to be stifled by having to abandon about 90 percent of her wardrobe!

When Katie stood in line with her future travel companions to check on her suitcase at the airport, I realized that the hardest part of being a parent is the letting go. But letting go doesn’t mean that we couldn’t go visit! I never thought that I would be one who would travel abroad, but my husband and I set about making plans.

Soon we were on an airplane to Philadelphia and then on a flight to Dublin. We flew over the Atlantic Ocean at night and having had a very busy day, I longed to lie down, but there was nowhere to go. I thought about how beds were underrated. I snoozed a bit until I was woken up by bits of turbulence or fellow passengers who were coughing, snoring or emitting unusual odors.

Thankfully, the sky started to light up and we saw how different the clouds looked beneath us. They seemed more compact and fluffy! As we went through the cloud bank, and the patchwork quilt of greens and browns greeted us, we felt lucky to see a land that was unfamiliar.

We ate a quick breakfast of eggs, sausage and potatoes and wondered why the breakfast menu offered pudding. We didn’t order pudding, but later Katie told us that Irish pudding is pig’s blood mixed with some other stuff like grains and looks like sausage!

We found the Go Bus, got on board and traveled through the sleepy town of Dublin along the Liffey River. After we went through a long tunnel, we were able to enjoy the countryside. I said, “This is the longest I have ever traveled to see someone!”  We snoozed off and on, and in between we spotted cattle or sheep happily grazing amongst the many colors of green that are divided by stone walls.

When we arrived at the bus station in Galway three hours later, we were surprised that we had to pay 20 cents to go through the turnstile to get to the bathroom. It’s the first time I had to pay for such a visit. The words, “I like to live in America, everything free in America,” a song from West Side Story kept running through my head.

My husband called the rental car company and a very nice young lady came to get us to deliver us to our rental car. We carefully paid attention to how she drove on the right side of the car, but on the left side of the road. It was scary how the traffic came at us from what we thought was the wrong direction. The pedals on the floor are the same as in the US, but everything else was backwards. We could not find signs identifying the names of the streets. The driver pointed out that sometimes they are on the sides of buildings or stuck on stone structures!

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By the time we were in our rental car and ready to go, I prayed that we would make it safely to our destination. My husband drove, and I think I was glad it was not me.  It took a while, but we found our hotel which was quite crowded with people trying to check in. When we got to our room, we grabbed a few items from our suitcase to deliver to our daughter, went to reception to ask for directions and headed out.

I felt cramped as we drove along because the streets are quite narrow and don’t have shoulders. It always felt like we were going to hit the curb, and I hated that I felt like a driving instructor as I had to remind myself and my husband to stay on the left side of the road. The travel book that I read before we left said that driving in Ireland is stressful; I wished that the author would have elaborated that point a little more because I missed seeing how beautiful the sky and mountains were and the pretty bay that we passed by because I was worried about everything! When we saw the sign we were looking for, we scooted over into the driveway, got honked at, passed by a parking lot, and found the cottage with a big sigh of relief.

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We rehearsed the procedures of putting the car in park. I got out and knocked on the door. We arrived at the time we predicted. When Katie greeted us, I thought to myself, “You are really a sight for sore eyes.” We hugged and I knew that all that it took to get to that door was going to be worth it. Not only to visit with our daughter but to be in such a beautiful place.

The journey to that door helped us discover that our children’s dreams can be and often are contagious!

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.  ~St. Augustine

I Belong to You

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I felt a little awkward wearing a bright red t-shirt that day even though everyone else in the family was wearing one.  When we walked up to the front to greet the rest of the family, we sort of made a ruckus.  A lady in a pew behind us reminded us that people were trying to pray.  We simmered down and were good even though we were excited.  We waited for this day for a long time and were happy that it finally arrived.

Towards the end of Mass, the priest approached the front pew where we were sitting and announced to the congregation that someone was celebrating their 100th birthday.  Grandma stood, turned slightly and waved, as Father introduced her.  Father asked us to sing Happy Birthday.  Grandma smiled, and the rest of us couldn’t help but smile right along with her as we were very proud of her accomplishment.

After Mass was over, we went to the family reunion.  Groups of people trickled in.  Some brought Polish food.  The first presentation was poppy-seed bread.  A cousin made six loaves the day before.  Then the polka kielbasa made an appearance followed by Aunt Mary’s homemade sausage.  I had no idea what the ingredients were, but it tasted fabulous.  The beet and horseradish condiment tasted great with the different sausages.  Then the cabbage rolls were ready to eat!  I got a lot of exercise going back and forth, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from getting full.  As if that wasn’t enough, a caterer set very large rolls, pasta dishes, salad and more desserts on the tables.

As people visited with each other and made a point to see Grandma, I thought about how Grandma had been such a great companion to me and the kids when I was a stay-at-home mom with three small children.  We tried to visit with her at least once a week.  She went to the park with us to help me push the kids in the swings.  Other times we visited the library to get books for the kids and Grandma got some too.  Visiting the mall was fun especially when Grandma announced that the kids could pick out one special toy.  Just as a grandma should, she always made sure that we had cookies or some kind of treat to bring home with us when we parted ways.

The day I married my husband, I was blessed with two Grandmas.  They both treated me like I belonged to them.  That made me happy because I never got to meet my biological Grandmas because they passed away before I was born.  I didn’t know what I was missing until those two wonderful ladies warmly welcomed me into the family.

As the party started to wind down, I sat down next to Grandma.  I like the way she always holds my hand when we first talk to each other.

“Hi, Grandma,” I said.

“Hi Mary Ann.”

“Are you having a good time?” I asked her.

“I’m overwhelmed by all the people.  It’s so nice how they all came to talk to me.  I just wish that my husband could have been here to see everyone.  He would have really liked this.  Sometimes it was a little hard to figure out who belongs to who.”

“Well, I belong to you!” I said.

“That’s right,” she agreed.

A while ago, I asked Grandma what her secret was and how she got to live to be the age she was then.  She said, “Don’t eat the same foods every day.  Be sure to eat something different.”  But I know it’s more than food.  It’s her attitude.  Once she told me, “When I feel down, I ask myself, why?  I don’t have a reason to be.”  Last Christmas, Grandma remembered it was my first Christmas without my Mom, and she said, “I know it’s hard, but you just have to look forward to all the fun things that are coming your way.”

One of my favorite things that Grandma said when someone told her that she spoiled her grandkids was, “If I don’t spoil them, who will?”

If a person can get spoiled by their Grandma’s love, then that makes me rotten!!!

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A Splendid Time!

1009914_10201539903926297_351803285_n[1]Laura & Michael

As I tried to balance my plate in one hand while eating morsels of tasty treats, I wondered if it was starting to rain. I thought I was doing a good job of keeping eye contact with the person who was talking, when it seemed like a little raindrop passed by and missed my plate. I politely nodded and listened as the conversation went on. I waited for another drop to fall. When I didn’t hear, feel or see one, I thought it must have been my imagination. Plus, I could not picture rain falling on such a decent day in August. The sky had been beautifully bright and blue with hardly a wisp of a cloud the entire day.

My husband popped in on our conversation, and asked, “Was that a squirrel?” He got hit on the head with something. The four of us looked up, but since it was getting dark, we couldn’t see any animal hiding in the very tall oak tree. When we looked down, we saw evidence of acorn shells scattered about.

“Oh, that’s not a good sign,” we heard a lady say. “If the squirrels are acting so crazy about acorns already that means it’s going to be a cold winter.” Somehow the talk of winter made us scatter and mingle. I wandered over to the table and tried to decide if I wanted more shrimp cocktail, veggies & dip, meatballs, cheese & crackers, a wrap, or my favorite:  a delicious bit of roast beef piled on toast and topped with a tad of horseradish. I took my favorite, and while I chewed, I stared at the cupcake tree stand. Since the cupcakes were chocolate, I knew I had to have one. The frosting looked like it was some sort of marshmallow that had been whipped into a bouffant.  It reminded me of a hairstyle from the 60s. I plopped one on my plate and it didn’t last long there!

There were high tables neatly arranged about the yard with smatterings of other conversational areas. Each table was decorated with colorful bouquets of flowers that the hostess arranged in a most attractive fashion. I headed toward the table with the comfy chairs and umbrella just in case the squirrels decided to bomb us again.

Laura was holding Michael’s little nephew. I got up close, looked at his little nose, peaked under the blanket and saw his tiny feet. His left hand was bunched up into a fist and rested on the bottom of his chin as if he was in some sort of deep thinking process. I wondered what little babies dream about.

“Do you want to hold him?” Laura asked me. I hadn’t held a baby for years. When people ask me if I want to hold a baby, I almost always say no because sometimes it makes me nervous.  But that day was different. I said yes mostly because that little baby and I are going to be connected with and be a part of the same family.  Plus, he is one cute baby who didn’t make me feel fidgety!

As I sat with the little one and patiently waited for him to open his eyes, I looked around the yard.  Even though a lot of us were meeting each other for the first time, the conversations felt like we had known each other for years.

When Michael asked for our blessing to marry our daughter, I knew it would be the start of new  beginnings for us. For me it means getting to be the Mother-of-the-Bride, plus I am looking forward to being a Mother-in-Law!  Even though Michael has seemed like a member of our family for quite some time now, it will be great when we get to officially welcome him to our family next year when Michael and Laura tie the knot.

Before this event, I didn’t even know that engagement parties existed.  An engagement party is a nice way to start off all the events that come with planning a wedding and a good way to meet each others immediate families.  I’m so glad I had such a splendid time at my first engagement party!

What a great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people! ~ St. Teresa of Avila

It Helps Us to Say Thanks, Part II

A year ago, I wrote about some fun times at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in a blog post called It Helps Us to Say Thanks.  My brothers and I thought it would be nice to get a memorial paver there in memory of Mom and Dad.  We suggested that memorials be given to Como in honor of our Mom who died last year.  We recently submitted a poem that we all liked, but it didn’t get approved because it was too religious.  It wasn’t really a poem:  It was a prayer!  Since the zoo is a public place, they said they could not inscribe a prayer on a paver.

So I wrote this instead:

Thanks Mom and Dad
For the family that we were with you,
And teaching us truth in all that we do.
By showing us what is wrong what is right,
And helping us keep our attitudes bright.
By having you laugh around our small brood,
It helped us to stay in such a fun mood.
By caring for us and showing the way,
Work is important but so is to play.
By loving the world in which we do live,
All of creation it helps us to give.
Kindness to people and animals too,
Tending the flowers and trees as did you.
By thanking the wind the sail that it blew,
Moving us along to explore what’s new.
By missing loved ones when they go their way
We do that now too, but memories stay!

Mom loved flowers and they both loved to sail.  I thought this would be a nice remembrance!  I hope Como thinks so too.

I Heard Someone Say “Rhubarb”

Today I bought a bunch of rhubarb at the Farmer’s Market downtown. I passed by several stands before I came to one that looked to have a very nice selection of ruby-red stalks with some green parts in between.

“This is all grown on a farm in Elk River,” the lady said to me from behind the stand.

“It looks beautiful,” I said. I thought it looked like a real bargain too at $2 a bunch. Other stands were selling their rhubarb for $3 or $4 a bunch and the colors weren’t as vibrant.

“The honey dew is a $1 each,” she said as she opened a plastic bag. My friend and I looked at the large melons, and we looked at each other and laughed.

“No, we both ride the bus, and it would be too much to cart on there. I can just imagine the melon rolling down the aisle,” I laughed.

“Well, we don’t want to haul it back either!” she said. She packed up the rhubarb for me, and away we went.

It all started about a month ago when I heard someone say rhubarb. I started to think about the rhubarb sauce my Mom used to make for us when I was a little kid. She served it to us warm over cold vanilla ice cream.  I searched recipes on-line, looked through my own cookbooks to see what recipes I could find for rhubarb sauce, but deep inside I knew that I really wanted to use the recipe that my Mom used for her rhubarb sauce.  I wish I knew I wanted that recipe way before now.

Today when I got home, I searched through Mom’s recipe box and cookbook for the first time since I became their new owner. The recipe box had tabbed dividers that said: Beverages, Bread, Cake, etc. When I found casserole recipes under the Sauce tab, I figured out that Mom didn’t divide the recipes up accordingly, so I leafed through the entire box. There I found the many recipes that I typed up for Mom when I was just a little kid. I loved to type away on the old black typewriter. It was the kind that had ink on a ribbon and you had to push the keys down so far that you built very nice muscles in your fingers. It didn’t work from any electrical energy. It was all done by manpower. Those lovingly typed up recipes were mixed in with Mom’s handwritten index cards and lots of recipes cut out of newspapers. I found a pepper enchilada recipe that sounded good, but there was not a recipe for rhubarb sauce.

I pulled down the large green cookbook from the top shelf of the pantry in the kitchen. The Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book, © 1942-1946, informed me that rhubarb is a vegetable even though it is usually served as a fruit. I always wondered! Many pages are devoted to rhubarb, but page 254 explains how to make spiced rhubarb, stewed rhubarb, baked rhubarb and rhubarb sauce. My own Betty Crocker Cookbook doesn’t even have that many options! The rhubarb sauce from Mom’s book called for lots of water and cornstarch, and I knew that wasn’t right. I decided to try the stewed rhubarb:

  1. Clean and cut 2 pounds of rhubarb in 1-inch lengths. Place in a saucepan with 1/2 cup of water and 2/3 cup of sugar.
  2. Cover and simmer over low heat 12 to 15 minutes or until tender but not mushy.
    Makes about 3 cups.

I cooked it a little too long, and it looks a little mushy. It tasted okay but not as good as Mom’s. I’ll always wonder if this is the right recipe, or did she just make it up on the way every time even though it always tasted the same. Now, for the rest of my days, I will be trying to figure out how to make rhubarb sauce that tastes just as good as Mom used to make.