Saturday, March 26, 2011

Comfort Food

If you never had the pleasure (and I do mean pleasure in its purest form, the form of the ultimate happy place you go to when you need escape, escape from the reality of any given situation) of eating Hot Cross Buns, I truly hope there is something in your life that compares to this. Something that brings you joy. Something that feeds your soul. Hot Cross Buns are my comfort food.

These simple treats, humble mixtures of flour, eggs, yeast and raisins (not currants, please, the raisins are just enough) have historical significance in Christianity and carry with them a multitude of folklore tales (I particularly like the thought that they should be kissed before eaten, however this could bring about a 'kiss my bun' remark and that's been overdone lately). Regardless of their heritage, they are my comfort food.

With the closing of Piscopo's Bakery, our local bakery that truly mastered the art of the Hot Cross Bun, my sister and I have searched for a replacement without success. The grocery store bakeries try but cannot come close to producing the perfection of Piscopo's. Trust me on this, we've tried them all. They use currants and the frosting is too thin. I know what they should look like and what should or should not be in them, they are after all, my comfort food.

Last week I visited a homeless shelter, let me rephrase that, a homeless community, and was privileged to sit with members of this community and talk with them, hear their stories, see their courage (3/20 post - Courage) and learn from them what their lives are like. In that place, in that community of people who care is their bakery. A bakery they built and manage. A bakery that builds them and returns life to that community. I heard the people,their stories. I heard them. And before I left their community I bought bread from them and Hot Cross Buns.

I knew before I tasted them that they had it right, they were raisins only and their frosting was white and thick and held the shape of the cross. I knew I had found comfort again.

Yesterday, in my office, between meetings and emails and phone calls I had a rush of desire, a longing for comfort. I longed for the comfort these silly pastries bring to me, but not for their aroma or flavor. What I longed for was the sound of my mother's kitchen chairs as my mother, sister and I sat together on Saturday mornings with Hot Cross Buns and tea. I longed for the time we spent together, the sound of my mother's voice, her laughter. I longed for that feeling, that complete peace I held when my mother, sister and I were together on those mornings. That complete peace. That comfort.

Hot Cross Buns will always be my comfort food, but my mother and sister will always be my comfort.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


When we talk about courage what comes to mind most often are our soldiers, police officers, firefighters, rescue workers and those who put their lives on the line for our safety every day. Those heroes who, when asked, simply say they are doing their job are right, they are doing what they chose to do, choices that took courage and jobs that take courage to complete. While I take great pride in the fact that many of these courageous people are my friends and family, there is another brand of courage I witnessed last week that is not a courage of choice but of circumstances.

I had the privilege of attending a meeting last week of a community of people who live and work together. A small community that looked from the outside like any other with the generations intermingled, the children smiling and itching to get outside on an unusually warm late winter day, the elders smiling, the parents shushing while the presentations of accomplishment continued. The awards were greeted as all are, with smiles, enthusiasm, congratulations, support and applause, lots of applause. As always happens at events such as this, there is pride that runs through the room, contagious in its palpability, its presence.

Present also in this room and among the people of this community was courage. Initially I didn't see it, I missed it because I didn't expect it to be there (how easily our assumptions lead us from seeing the obvious), I didn't expect to find it there, I didn't know how much this community held itself together with courage. I'm not certain they even realize it, but it is there.

It was there in the award given to the man who had just entered this community and for the first time made his pledge for one day of sobriety. It was there in the award given to the woman who completed one week of sobriety and the man and woman who made it two weeks, the others who had survived thirty days, sixty days and even one hundred days clean and sober. One man told us he had not ever had more than five consecutive days clean and sober since he was twelve years old but now he stood in the midst of his community with one hundred days without drugs or alcohol. His friends and neighbors cheered for him and I admired his courage.

The stories I heard from this community are not the usual stories of courage. They were not the stories of rushing into a burning building to rescue a child or leaving a family behind to deploy to a war zone or even those of responding to a call for help. They were instead stories of individual courage, courage of a different kind. These stories were the stories of lives lived on the edge, lives lived immersed in risk, lives lived in danger, lives lived in fear.

Everyone knows we have a problem with homelessness in our country but when viewed from a distance, a comfortable distance, the image that comes to mind is not an image of courage. We do not see, perhaps we do not choose to see, the courage that it takes to survive in the homeless world. The courage of a person choosing to join a community when all they have known from communities is rejection. The courage of a parent to escape violence and bring their child to a community when communities have not been safe for them. The courage of a person who has been in this community before and left, to return and be welcomed. The courage to reach out to a community when all you have reached is the bottom. The courage to hope.

This is the courage I saw in this community. It was raw. It was painful. It was humbling. But it was there and I was grateful to be in their presence. My definition of courage has been altered.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom

Dear Mom,
I thought of you a lot today. So much has happened in our lives since you left us I thought I'd take the opportunity of your 86th Birthday to tell you about it all (or at least some of the highlights).

Of course the kids have gotten big, your great-grandchildren are something to see. It's so much fun for Penny and I to watch our children with children of their own. And there's another on the way! Michelle and Jay are going to have a baby! You would be so excited for them, I know how much you liked Jay, you used to tell me that you liked his face and then you'd smile as you thought of him. We're pretty excited for them. Ryleigh has named the baby Snowflake and is ready to move in with Auntie and Uncle Jay to take care of the baby. She's quiet the little mother herself. When Charlie, Isaac and Owen come over she's very protective. It brings back memories when they're all together.

Brandon is really growing up fast. He just did a big report in school about Teddy Roosevelt. He worked hard on it and was very excited to tell everyone in his class all he knew about him. He's fascinated with the Presidents. I told him the other day that you could recite the Presidents in order of their terms. He thought that was a pretty good thing to be able to do. He's a sweet boy.

Jen and Rob are taking good care of the house. It looks great, I think you'd really like the colors and it's fun to see Charlie growing up in the same place her grandmother and I did. It's a great house for a family.

Joel and Kelley have a nice home, too. Kelley puts a lot of videos of Owen online and it's like watching Joel all over again. Joel likes his truck driving job (a little Uncle Kenny in him?) They're a happy family.

Sara and Ian are settled into their new place, too and it's fun for all of us to be so close. Isaac has a great playroom and he's talking a mile a minute. Sara started a new job and seems to be happier there.

Lacey and the kids are fine here with us. She has had some changes in her job, but all in all it's going okay for her. We talk about when she moves out, but I don't think any of us really want that to happen. We have fun together and I think Kenny would go nuts without the kids here.

Penny and Jim just got back from vacation and it was a long week without her for me. (Yes, we're still on the phone or together a lot.) They are wonderful grandparents and loving every minute of that.

I've been in touch with Jeff lately. It's tentative and we don't talk about some things, but at least we're in touch. I know how it upset you that we were estranged. It's not easy or even comfortable, but it's a step in the right direction.

Kenny and I are good, too. We just got back from a great vacation in the Caribbean with Garry and Jane. It was a lot of fun and everywhere we went I saw all those little things I liked to buy for you. I walked away from them this year and pretended to be interested in other things. My job change has been hard on Kenny, but as you always said about him, he is a good man. He takes good care of me, Mom.

I thought there would be more to tell you, events and celebrations, major changes in the world and in our lives but now I realize it's not the big events, the holidays and celebrations when I miss you the most. What I've found over these past two years is it is the every day stuff, the day to day moments that I miss sharing with you over cups of tea in your kitchen. I even miss watching Ellen with you at the Nursing Home.

I think of you when I drive to work in the morning, in the middle of my day when I should be thinking of work, on my drive home and in the evening when I'm alone. I think of all the ways you influenced me in my life and look for signs of you wherever I go. The kids think of you when they see a cardinal and I think of you even when I don't see one.

I have met so many people since you left and at times I can't believe I have people in my life who didn't know you. I told someone about you the other day. I told them how strong you were and how proud I was to be your daughter. I told them how much I missed you.

A lot more has happened over the past two years but it all seems a bit irrelevant to me now. The days have come and gone and your family has stayed strong, we've stayed together and loved each other just like you taught us to. I think you'd be proud.

I miss you, Mom, and hope you spent some time today with your mother and that now you know how special it is to have a mother. I know how special it was for me.

Happy Birthday, Mom.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Mother's Cats

From the moment I first considered accepting this position, this new role that charges me with caring, gives me the responsibility of caring, I have wanted (not wanted...longed for) my parents. I wanted to talk with them, seek their counsel, listen to their advice about my choice, my future. I wanted to hear my father's voice, hear his words. (I wanted to hear his mock horror that I would join a Republican Administration!) I wanted my mother, too. I wanted her with me, I wanted to share this with her.

This wanting, this longing, has been my partner for the past month, these past weeks of decisions and farewells and hellos have been shadowed with absence, with the space in my life they held.

So why a picture of a mug with a cat in a window? Because it is my mother (not literally, I'm okay), it is a duplicate of the picture that hung on her door at the Nursing Home. It is the picture she and I talked about every day during the last months, weeks and days of her life. (See my 3/30 post.) It is a memory for me. A memory of her and all she was to me and how I miss her.

This mug, this mug with the cat in the window, will go with me to my new office, to my new role, my new role of caring and it will remind me. It will remind me of her and how hard it was to lose her, how hard it was to watch her slip away from us. It will remind me of all of this but it will also remind me that she is with me. In a small way, in my small way, she will be with me.