Facets of Lucy

Looking at the various side of a life


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Let Them Eat Cake! Or, Why I Don’t Have a Cooking Blog

Sometimes the simplest things can trip us up.

To celebrate a family birthday tomorrow, I planned to bake a cake.  You know, a birthday cake, a basic requirement to celebrate such an event.  The only request was for homemade chocolate frosting. Even the flavor of the cake was up to me. This is something I’ve done for decades.  Not a big deal.

Pulling out the available cake mixes, I looked at what flavors we had.  Luckily, there was deep chocolate, devils food and white.  I opted for the white mix, a nice contrast to the chocolate frosting.  Now, these days the mixes are fairly uniform in what needs to be added.  Directions were followed, batter was split between the two 9″ round pans and baked. The layers baked beautifully, they were taken out once the toothpick came out of the cake clean.  I set them aside to let them rest for 10 minutes, as per the directions before turning them out to cool.

Cake2

But when I turned them out, one broke in half.  Great. I took the broken layer with a fork to my husband and he helped me get rid of it.

I was still upbeat as I washed all the utensils and bowls and prepared them to be used again.  This time I went with the deep chocolate mix.  I cracked eggs, measured liquids, added mix and beat exactly according to the directions.  The two 9″ pans went back into the oven filled with lovely batter.  With a sense of satisfaction, I began to clean up.  I reached for the coffee maker to wash the pot, and at the same time, spotted the measuring cup of oil, a critical ingredient sitting beside it.  I rushed to the oven, but it was 10 minutes in already and had begun to set. Groaning, I realized my good humor was slipping away. Time for the reinforcements.

While I let the oil-less cake finish cooking, my husband and I finished clean-up and turned our attention to the devil’s food box.  I measured; my husband double-checked. He verified the oven temperature for me. Before I put it in the oven, we made sure all the ingredients were included.  We set the timer.  What could go wrong?  I sat in the kitchen to mind the oven.  When the timer went off, I opened the oven and looked at…..two pans of batter.  What??? Guess who accidentally turned off the oven when he went to verify the temperature.  The digital buttons are easy to hit if you aren’t paying attention?  We turned on the oven and tried re-baking or to finish baking the cake.  It came out looking pretty normal but who know how dry it’ll be.

Cake1

It’s someone I loves birthday.  All they want is chocolate frosting.  At this point, I was thinking maybe I’d just serve frosting, no cake.  Luckily, our mutual sense of humor wasn’t lost so after a quick run to the store for supplies ( having gone through a dozen eggs).  Once home, we measured, mixed, stirred, double-checked, made sure the oven was on.  No problem.  Twenty-seven minutes later, we had two lovely chocolate layers. Tomorrow, I’ll add delicious home-made frosting.  The family will come over to eat, celebrate and enjoy cake.  Let them eat cake!  Let them laugh at the cake-making trials.  Let them enjoy seeing our exhibits from the failures.  I’m grateful to have been given a sense of humor .  We’ll all laugh together.


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Snowy Night Gratitude

The snow started falling last night.  It was beautiful but my 21 year old daughter still had to drive home from work at 11pm.  No, we don’t live in the hard-hit northeast facing much more snow and cold so I’m not going to complain.  However, with watchful eye on the window and cell phone at hand ready for a text or call, I went through my evening feeling anxious about her drive.  She isn’t a very experienced snow driver yet and  I am a worrier; I fear the worst, having learned about loss and children through the heartbreaking experiences of a few of my friends over the years. Grief is a horrible, painful process.  Each family dealt with it in their own unique way but I think they’d all agree that a part of them is broken.

I know when I was younger, I laughed at my parents’ concern.  I don’t know if I thought I was invincible but I brushed off their concern.  Payback is hell, as they say, and my kids laugh but humor me about my concerns.  But I still worry about their safety in unusual driving situations.

So I looked out the window, enjoying the beauty but wincing for my daughter’s drive. My husband and I were both a bit relieved when the snow plow went down our residential street.  Certainly the main roads were fairly clear if they could attack the back roads, right? It turns out that it was right, because my daughter bounced in at about the usual time.  The main roads were clear and she was home.

I’ve just written a blog post about a small snow event and my daughter getting home. I apologize but it got to me to today’s point.  I am so grateful for my four no longer really “children” children and for their health and continued safety.  There are those who would give anything to be able to write those words and my heart goes out to them.


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A Daycation – Making the Most of a 24 Hour Getaway

For reasons too varied and boring to explain, we’ve not had a summer vacation.

What we have had are a few long weekends.  Some of them have involved traveling to visit or help family, some were spent doing errands or household tasks.  But we had one wonderful “daycation” and I’d recommend it highly.

One late evening, my husband and I drove to a little town an hour away.  We did an errand or two and stopped at an inexpensive restaurant for a light dinner.  While there, we had a good laugh at one trucker’s parking job.,

Parking a Truck at a Strip Mall

Parking a Truck at a Strip Mall

After waiting out a sudden downpour, we made it to the car and headed to the next town over where we stayed the night.  What a nice beginning for our daycation!  There’s a little ice cream shop in the second town which makes THE best chocolate malts ( a kind of milkshake).  We each enjoyed one while we walked around, appreciating the varied home designs and gardens.  It was a lovely night, post-rain shower and the walk was a happy ending to the first few hours of our getaway.

The next morning, we were up and out!  Breakfast came from a not so unique little place – McDonalds.  When you want a fast and hot breakfast along with drinkable coffee, McDonalds does the trick. Once we were fed and caffeinated, we were off to ….go fishing!

Fishing

The spot we fished at was in a beautiful local park. Since it was a Friday morning, we had the place to ourselves.  It was so peaceful there.  The fact that we caught nothing didn’t take away from the fun.  We stayed just as long as we wanted and then packed up our gear.  Although I enjoyed the fishing, I was excited to move on to our next activity – antiquing.  This little town has a delightfully large antique “mall”, representing many antique dealers in that area.  Prices are more than reasonable, dealers are willing to dicker and the stock turns over often enough to check it out frequently. All I bought this trip was a Steve Miller record album (I’ll wait if you want to go look those words up) but we both had a good laugh at a collection of transistor radios (same offer), a wooden baby walker and so many other treasures.

We had only two scheduled activities.  One, to visit my sister and her family occurred around lunch time. Her son, “little man”, is a precocious 4 year old who is always fun.  (An example:  He called the other day to say he had a new joke.  We said  that was great, that we were ready.  So he said, “Knock, knock!” Then he cracked up,  laughing so hard at his own joke that he couldn’t even tell it.)  So a happy hour or so was spent with them, hearing about their actual vacation and catching up.

The last scheduled event is one we both looked forward to – dinner with our son.  Having graduated from college this year, he accepted a job at a firm about 2 hours away from home.  Thanks to the GPS, we took a route from my sister’s town to his.  What a surprise!  The route took us zig-zag across the state, by some incredible farms, some horse country and lovely small towns.  That trip alone was worth the travel.  We made it our son’s city in plenty of time to meet up with him.  The three of us enjoyed a delicious dinner at a nearby restaurant.  It’s lovely to raise children but the real pay-off is to get to know the adult versions and watch them evolve into wonderful men and women.  We so enjoyed our conversation that we lingered awhile at dinner.  Regretfully, we hugged our son and headed to the car.  It was time to head home.

Believe it or not, we weren’t horribly late getting home but even returning late added to the sense that we had been somewhere, that we had really gotten away.  The variety of activities with visits, and no drive too far made this really feel like a vacation.  If you haven’t gotten away and are lucky enough to have places you can visit not too far away, give it a try.  If money is tight, you can eliminate the overnight and aim for public parks, scenic spots and anything that intrigues you or that you know you enjoy.

According to the news, more and more people  in the U.S. and the U.K. are having stay-cations instead of long getaways because of the economy.   Consider trying the daycation as an alternative or another way to break up your summer without going broke.  Happy Travels!


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Letting Go

I am working on letting go, in particular, letting go of my recent college graduate.  I’ve spent the better part of 30 years holding him and his siblings tight, taking care of them, guarding them.

Before they were born, I ate right, didn’t drink, took vitamins and anything else that might help ensure they were born healthy.

Once home, I gated the stairs, put safety plugs in electrical outlets, locks on kitchen cabinet and padded sharp corners.  I read to them from the moment they were home because I was told it would be beneficial.  We never missed a well-baby check-up, dealt with illnesses as they came up and watched to make sure they followed the approved developmental schedule.

All through preschool and later, elementary and middle school, I encouraged, supported, and expected learning.  I wouldn’t say I hovered, but I definitely mothered.  Hugs were given, science fair boards were purchased and attention was paid to all the important stuff in between.

Time whips by (to that first-time mother exhausted by her two year old:  Its really true. They grow so fast!). They learn to drive and you have to let them go places without you.  Having watched and mourned with families who lost a teen in a car accident, this can be terrifying.  How many of us would follow behind, if they could, just to ensure their safety.  And when  you’re not worried about their physical safety, their hearts are also at great risk as they explore their romantic life and sexuality.

College provides an opportunity for your child to learn independence with a safety net.  They learn to live in an apartment but you’re paying the rent; that kind of thing.  They move into their twenties and they do mature.  Then before you know it, they’ve graduated.

Stock Graduate

It really is time to let go at that point.  Sure there’s so much we can tell them to make their transition easier.   But they are adults and can manage their way through society in the same bumpy manner that we did.  Some of us, me included, find it very hard to step back sometimes.  I know my husband has had the same problem with our latest to leave the nest.  He has so much to share and, in a not-disrespectfully way, my son says, “I’ve got it, Dad.” It’s hard not to take it personally but we’ve got to understand that there’s pride in coping with his new town, his new job and his new life.

My father recently said to me, “Will you take the advice of an 85 year old man?”  I said that I offered a lot of advice from my never-you-mind-how-many years and no one was interested so I’d surely accept his.   He said, “Step back.  Let him be.  It’ll work out.”  Easier said than done but I’m trying.

I wonder, in this graduation season, how many other families are feeling the tension between loving and protecting at a time when the protection is far less needed or wanted.  In letting go, don’t we show we did a good job, and doesn’t it  allow the relationship to mature? After all, we had to quit holding their fingers so they could walk alone and we had to take our hands off the bicycle to see if they could balance by themselves.  And we celebrated each milestone. This letting go is just one more milestone to celebrate.  Have you faced this in your family yet?  How did you handle your child’s need for independence? Share what worked for you.


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Lesson on a Snowy Day

It’s a snowy day today and they’re encouraging everyone to stay off the road.  I’ve been thinking about my grandmother lately and this cozy day inspires me to write about her.

My daughter, my grandmother and I

My daughter, my grandmother and I

I really only had one grandmother.  My other grandmother left the family when my father was only five.  He was raised by a step-mother who was our grandmother, until my parents divorced.  Apparently, that also concluded my grandparent’s relationship with us as well.

My mother’s mother was always there, however.  When my parents split, my mother did what a lot of women would do, she drove us to her parents’ house.  I hadn’t been there in a long time, if ever.  We walked into the kitchen where my grandparents sat playing cards with my great uncle and aunt and, I’m sure enjoying a drink or two.  My grandmother showed us around the house, helped us see where we would sleep and to settle in.

I adored my grandfather.  I have written about him time and again.  He was the best person I still have ever met.  My grandmother, who had 7 children and 31 grandchildren, was always on the move but never unkind.  She was just busy and didn’t enjoy children underfoot where my grandfather delighted in having grandchildren in his lap and willing to be taught.

Things I remember about my grandmother:  My grandfather didn’t think she knew how to handle money, so he made her save for things she wanted or needed via cards that banks used to offer that would hold dimes or other coins.  You saved your money on these cards and then used them.  I remember she got a new winter coat that way. Granddad even named someone else his estate’s executor, so sure he was that she would spend wildly or be misled.  I remember my grandfather did not like her to smoke, so she never smoked in the house but would often return home from errands or visits smelling like a chimney.  I remember she came to visit me in my college dorm and, after my mother left, sit back and lit up  (when one could still do such a thing). While he may seem harsh, my grandfather was actually very respectful and loving to “the Mrs.”, and expected the same from everyone else.

Nellie as a Young Woman

Nellie as a Young Woman

I didn’t know what made my grandmother “tick”.  She wasn’t a woman prone to long conversations – she always had too much to do.  She enjoyed crocheting.  She cooked a lot, but that may have been just because there were always mouths to feed. They had a small farm which every spring featured a huge strawberry patch.  She would use us grandchildren to pick the ripened fruit, one of my fondest childhood memories (Hello!  Pick two, eat one…)  Well, it was one of my fondest memories until I mentioned it to her in her later years and she said, “You damn kids only took the easy ones on top and I had to go back over them again”.  Crushed.   One thing she and I had in common was our love of old things – especially old photographs and books.  I inherited some of both when she passed in 1992.

Nellie (Back, Middle) and Family

I never knew my grandmother’s “people” as country folk might say.  I did hear she had relatives of some sort in a larger city about 4 hours away but I didn’t know who they were and they never visited.  So one day recently, I started digging through materials I have at home which is predominantly genealogy about my grandfather’s family.  Finally, I hit paydirt.  I found a letter from the Children’s’ Home Society of Virginia, dated March 13, 1958, addressed to her.  It said:

Dear Lucy’s Grandmother,

We have your letter of February 27 requesting help in getting a birth certificate.  You were born during the period when births were not   in this state and we do not have sufficient information in our records to have a delayed certificate filed for you.  However, I am enclosing a notarized statement which I believe will serve in most instances where a birth certificate is required.

Well, that was a kicker!  I had no idea she was ever in a “home”.   Behind it was the notarized statement which said, in part, “[She] came into the care of said Society at the age of six years and six months, and was said to have been born on November, 8, 1909 in Nelson County, Virginia.”  Six years old!  My heart ached for my grandmother.  Because I know this, too:  During the depression, my grandparents couldn’t provide for their children, so my mother and her siblings were also placed in a children’s home for a few years.  It must have broken her heart to have to do that to her own kids.

I dug deeper, needing to know more and wishing I knew enough when she was still alive to ask her questions.  But this is something she never mentioned.  Finally, I hit paydirt.  Well, it doesn’t fill in the softer questions but it certainly answered my main questions.  My mother had gone through a genealogy phase years ago and she had written up some information on my grandmother.  Let me tell you, you could flesh out a novel from this story.

Nellie (Grandma, can I call you Nellie?), was born to Samuel, age 49, who worked as a laborer at a nearby stone quarry and to his wife, Mary, age 46.  I was surprised by their ages until I saw the list of her siblings:

Samuel , born 7/18/1895
William Raymond, born 8/20/1897
Mary Elizabeth , born 8/18/1900
Lulu Mae, born 9/4/1902
Ellen, born 9/29/1904
Marie, born 9/23/1906
Walter, born 9/11/1911, died 9/21/1911

To remind  you, Nellie was born in 1909, making her the baby of a family of seven (not counting Walter who passed away  as an infant).

Tragedy struck the family, when Mary passed away on February 24, 1914.  But the final blow was when their father, Samuel, passed away on August 8th, just seven months afterwards.   I don’t know if there was any extended family but it doesn’t seem so because Nellie, six and a half years old and the youngest, and the others were put in the care of the Children’s Home Society of Virginia.  Nellie was placed in the Methodist Children’s Home in Roanoke, VA, and from there was placed in foster care with a family in a small town about 150 miles away.  Very little information is available but it seems unlikely  that they’d have been able to place seven children together.  It seems that Nellie remained with this family until she was 18.  At that point, she went to live with her sister, Mary Elizabeth who was 27 by that time, and brother-in-law  who lived about 45 minutes from the foster family.

Nellie's Wedding Day

Nellie’s Wedding . Day

This is the happily ever after part:  My grandfather was a good friend of Nellie’s brother-in-law.  He said that the first time he went over to his friend’s house after Nellie had moved in, he fell for her hard and right away.  But he was 10 years older than her and that was a big gap for an 18 year old.  So he was patient.  Well, he said he was patient but they were married on October 2nd, 1929 when she was almost 20 years old.  They were married until Granddad passed in 1991 at the age of 93.  Nellie passed on New Year’s Eve in 1992 at the age of 83.  Together, they raised seven children of their own, and had enjoyed 31 grandchildren and were getting to know all their great-grandchildren.

Discovering the loss and separation my grandmother faced in her early years gives me reason for more empathy for her and more respect for how she grew up and led her life.  I’d love to be able to contact the foster family to learn about her as a girl but doubt anyone who knew her would still be around.  I continue to be amazed by the people I know and meet.  We need to be gentle with one another because we all have baggage and backgrounds that others can’t know.  Nellie’s story may be a tragic one but she’s not alone in having sorrows to bear and most of us don’t wear them where they’re easily known.  And that’s my lesson on a snowy day.


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The Good Cousins

I come from a large family that I spoke of in my second post.  I’ll share again a photo of most of my cousins in front of my grandparents’ house some Sunday afternoon.

Family Photo

Family Photo

I did not have a lot in common with my cousins.  None were exactly my age; none lived in the same town as I did.  They’d lived there their entire lives; we moved close by after my parents’ divorce. Most of them did go to school together, making me even more of an outsider.  So with no close relationships, we drifted apart and I only knew what was going on in their lives through my mother.  As she grew older, I heard less until I couldn’t have told you anything about any of them.

The first time one came back into my life was after my mother had been moved to a nursing home.  She’d been there for over a year and was very unhappy. It was a beautiful facility that was horribly run, but that’s another post.  We were looking for a new place for her and this cousin contacted me.  She and her siblings have a band, and they perform for charities and had performed at many nursing homes in the area.  She gave us the name of one she was impressed by.  We went to look at it and my mother liked it.  She’s been there now for 3 years and it was a good pick.  The facility is not shiny and new, but the staff has no turnover, is truly caring and concerned and she feels at home.

Because my mother had “dainties” that she didn’t want ruined through the nursing home’s commercial laundry, my cousin who lived nearby, offered to do my mother’s laundry for her.  It was at this point when I named her “the good cousin”.  She was just so giving.  When I thanked her, she’d say, “Now you know you’d do the same for my mother.”  Would I?  I’d like to think so.  But I live four hours from my mother and my aunt.  I wouldn’t be tested.

My cousin and I began to communicate fairly often about my mom.  I get there every month but she was my “eyes on the ground” about how Mom fared in-between.  Her sister joined in the conversation and I got to know her, too.  She was also kind.  They became “the good cousins”.  I told them and they laughed.

Then I discovered this:  their baby brother, who had beaten cancer twice was in the hospital needing a heart transplant.  The cancer treatments had done damage to his heart.  He went through some tough patches and was to go through more long periods of hospitalization.  He is self-insured, being a small business owner.  The medical bills were astronomical.

I asked my mother if there was any fund to which we could contribute to help with the medical bills he was accumulating.  I don’t know if my question got them thinking or if it was already in the works, but a fund was started at a local bank.  To get it started, a local restaurant offered its premises to hold a fund-raiser.  They had the restaurant for 7 hours, from 2pm – 9pm.  Since the “good cousins” and their brothers have a bluegrass band, they know a lot of musicians and a lot of big-hearted musicians offered to perform. My husband and I attended and were deeply moved by how many people were there to perform, to contribute and to support.  Victor was still hospitalized, but was there via Skype.

Since then, their small town community has opened its heart to do anything they could do to help out this family. There have been quite a few fundraisers since the first.  Most have had live music but not all and they’ve built up quite a large fund to help Victor pay his medical bills. I suppose it might be a drop in the bucket by the time he has his heart transplant but the fund has given caring people a way to help and has given Victor a way to recognize how much support and love he has to get him through.  I’ve gotten to know “the good cousins’” brothers as adults, and they’re men of faith and family.  I am honored that they are family.  I’ve developed an appreciation for the depth and width of what the word “family” can contain.

By the way, at the latest fundraiser, there was a wonderful R&B/Gospel singer who performed an amazing set.  She also invited a sixteen year old rocker to join her in the song “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone”.  If you want a taste of it, click below. And remember Victor in your prayers that he gets his new heart.  Thanks.

To watch on youtube, click here:  Jane Powell and Logan Stegall 02/17/2013


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A Valentine to My Sisters

Sisters Dad

I am blessed with two sisters.  One is 2 years older than me, the other is 12 years younger.  I grew up living daily with my older sister.  My younger sister, actually a half-sister, was raised by my father and step-mother and we really only shared a roof full-time for one year.  This is my Valentine to them both.Sisters BigBig Sister, Ann.

Who stood on me daily?  Ann.

Who made me scratch her feet at night? Ann.

Who fought me constantly, never missed a chance to tattle and made me generally miserable?  Ann.

But there’s more:

Who helped me figure out how to handle our brother with anger-management issues?  Ann.

Who watched and worried over me during my teen years when the parents were oblivious?  Ann.

Who stayed in contact through the college years, at a time when it meant writing actual letters and getting them in the mail?  Ann.

Who loved my children like her own and spoiled them rotten when she could?  Ann.

And what about Jane?

Sisters Ice Cream

She was like a living toy when she was little.  Once we were in an ice cream store and had just handed her a cone.  She took one lick and off the scoop and it rolled onto the floor.  Before she had time to cry, a customer looked down at her and said, “Look, the little boy dropped his ice cream”.  Jane indignantly said, “I’m not a boy and YOU’RE FAT!”  Ann and I took her replacement cone and high-tailed it out of there.  Good times! She was, despite that episode, always sweet but we didn’t really get to know each other well, and in her teens, she went through the all black clothing and tattoo/piercing stage. I couldn’t relate.

Once she was out of college, things changed.  We were able to redefine our relationship as two adult women.  What we discovered was that we really got along well.  Eventually, she came out to the family and brought her life partner into the clan.  Always Daddy’s little girl, she surprised me by telling me that they were thinking about having a child years later.  I didn’t understand how she’d raise a child purposefully without a father in their life simply because our father is so important to her.  How wrong I was!  Her medically-challenged pregnancy brought all the local family members ever closer and their son is a joy and blessing to them and to us.  Where I worried he wouldn’t have a dad, he has a doting uncle (my husband) and aunt (me) just at a time where we’d love to have grandchildren. There are other family members who also offer strong male role models and lots of love. We’re closer still.

IMG_1520

And, Jane, the youngest one is actually one of my closest friends.  We check in often, keeping up with our daily lives as well as our parents’. We share life’s laughs and challenges and  she’s become an active supporter of organizations aiding people with Parkinson’s disease, which I have.

So what is a sister?

A sister is a best friend who grew up with you but also an old acquaintance who becomes a best friend as an adult.

A sister is the only other woman who shares your history and really knows where you’re coming from.

A sister can give great advice or, like me, terrible advice but can learn from it and  be forgiven.

A sister can give you children to love that are almost your own.

And aunts can be some of the best gifts you ever give your children.

Happy Valentine’s Day to my best friends, my sisters.