Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Planning a Decade?

In Tahoe with Steve celebrating ten years of marriage – and enjoying the beauty of the mountains.

Reading together A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Can’t stop thinking about Afghanistan. Keeps me up.

Planning out our next ten years together.

How do you plan the next ten years? I can’t even plan dinner.

This first ten went by so incredibly fast, my head is spinning just thinking about it. There is no way we could have planned all that has happened. What we did plan, at least in a general sense was swept aside by circumstance and choices in the moment – where priorities realign themselves.

So… we’re “planning” to do more backpacking and exploring in the high country.

We’re “planning” to make some career changes.

But who cares what we plan? Life shows up unexpectedly and sweeps away our plans. What is coming our way that we are NOT planning?

When we got married one decade ago, we had no idea what was coming our way. That’s why those marriage vows are so all inclusive! We’ve had our share of for better and for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, and we still love and cherish each other, and, hopefully that until death do us part part is still a long way off. I had no idea that in the first decade of my marriage I would become a grandmother to four, going on five, grandchildren!

Not to say that some of our plans didn’t work out. They did. Like our plan on being hospitable, balancing our personalities, establishing our marriage, strengthening our family relationships… these things have been a constant guiding light that we are still following.

So… what do we plan on now? Ever heard the old evangelical pick up line? “Hi. Did you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?” Actually, I think it should be more like “Hi. Did you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your plan?” I imagine He must be amused as we sketch out what we want the next ten years to look like. The only thing I’m pretty sure of now, is that whatever we sketch, it will NOT be that.

We do our best, day to day to be prepared for emergencies and for the unexpected, but we can’t plan for them. We can set good intentions about hobbies and activities we want to participate in. We can set financial and career goals. All these are good. But they’re just like throwing darts blindfolded in a fog.

So what can we plan for? We can plan for who we will be. i.e. I will be grateful – and content. I will live in the present – let go of old regrets – let go of those evil shoulds –  “I should be doing this or that by now” –  and the pressure to measure up to my “potential”.

I plan to just BE – fully, abundantly, gratefully, presently, lovingly, – ME. No one else, nowhere else. Just BE HERE NOW. Period. So much energy is wasted on trying to DO THERE THEN or HAVE WHERE WHEN!  (I’m playing with these words, but hopefully, you get my drift.) Whatever! I want to be with whomever I am with, right here, right now. And nowhere else, with no one else. When I am with YOU, I am with YOU. Fully present. Fully aware. Fully alive. Whatever “potential” lies in me either shows up here and now with you or it doesn’t exist. Period.

So my plan for the next ten years of my marriage to Steve? BE HERE NOW. Give myself fully, abundantly, without reservation to our marriage – Show up, speak up, get up. Engage our life together with curiosity, wonder, and full participation. I have NO CLUE what the next ten years will hold. It’s like this wonderful book we are reading. I don’t know what’s in the next chapter, but I can’t wait to turn the page and find out.

So… to do that… I need energy. I need to take care of my fifty-year-old body. Exercise, diet, maybe take some supplements to increase my stamina. I find that my energy increases when I’m engaged fully in life… but a few vitamins can’t hurt. Time to shed the resentments and regrets along with the old papers and books; eliminate the distractions and engage the uncomfortable present. Time to clean house. Get rid of old clutter both physical and emotional that ties me down. Find the treasures hidden under the dull, beige, dusty clutter. Dig for the gold. Time to decorate – make it MY home – I’ve been here ten years after all. It’s time to paint!

Who do you plan to be over the next ten years?


Fried Okra

Fryin' up the Okra with Sandy

When I was young, my mom, who is from Texas, used to make fried Okra. I loved it. Like most things otherwise considered nasty, Mom would get us to eat it by smothering it with sauce. i.e. broccoli and cauliflower always came smothered in melted cheese, cooked spinach always came with a hefty dose of a yummy pepper vinegar sauce. Liver was always buried under a pile of sautéed onions (this one never worked though. It’s liver after all…). Okra was no different, and being a good Texas girl, Mom kept to her roots even while raising her family in California. She’d slice it really thin, dip it in egg, then in corn meal, and fry it in oil. (My grandmother used Crisco ’cause “they didn’t know any better back then”). Then you serve it with ketchup. Simple.

So – being here in Louisiana, I asked Sandy about getting us some good Southern Fried Okra. I had some with Kim in North Carolina, but I think they use flour instead of corn meal. Sandy had NEVER had it (and frankly wasn’t very excited about the prospect)! So I told her about my mom’s yummy recipe. We called my mom and got the instructions. First you slice it into really thin pinwheels, quarter of an inch or less. Then you dip it in egg, followed by cornmeal. Fry it in hot oil until very crisp. Serve with ketchup. This takes all the sliminess out of it.

So here I am the Texas to California transplant teaching my dear England to California to Hawaii to Louisiana transplant friend how to cook good Southern Fried Okra.

To make it fun, we called our friend Roy… the same one who took the photos of Sandy’s house. Roy was born and raised in Louisiana, not far from here, transplanted to California, then back to Austin, Texas. Not only is Roy a great photographer, but he’s known back home in California as a world-class chef. Roy, of all people should know how to cook fried Okra. So we called him. Notice the cell phones on the counter while Sandy and I are cooking. Turns out Roy HATES Okra. (See yesterday’s sermon about hate, dear Roy). His mom had tried to get him to eat it in some kind of soup and it was slimy and yucky. Won’t touch the stuff. Sandy had a similar experience when her mom was out of town and left Sandy and her sister with some canned food, including a can of slimy okra to eat. Poor poor dears. They didn’t have MY Texas mother to fry it up nice and crisp for them.

We followed Mom’s recipe, and sho ‘nuf, turned out great. Everyone loved it. Some went back for seconds. Only thing we would change would be to add more seasoning to the egg or corn meal for flavor. Crunchy and delicious. I just love being right.

Auntie Em & Uncle Lawrence

I’ve spent the last two nights with Emilyn and Lawrence Kogan in Stamford, Connecticut. Emilyn is Steve’s late mother’s sister. I never got to meet Steve’s mom, Fritzi. But being with Emilyn helps me have a sense of her. It helps me know and love Steve all the more. Did I ever tell you how much I love my Jewish family?

I was pretty beat from the two-day train ride-DC ordeal, so we decided NOT to take another train into NYC for our one day together. Instead we stayed at the house all day in our jammies and talked – and worked on some family genealogy. Ah… lovely. It was a day full of family history, photos, and stories. This Brooklyn Jewish immigrant community was so far removed from my small-town Southern Baptist Oklahoma /Texas/California upbringing, we might as well be from different planets. Steve and I are going on ten years together, yet I have so much more to learn about this fascinating family with a rich culture, traditions, and strong ties.

Both Em & Lawrence’s grandparents emigrated from Europe to Brooklyn. They didn’t speak English when they arrived, but they learned it quickly and went to work. The next generation owned businesses. Emilyn’s father, Steve’s grandfather, registered for the draft for both WWI and WWII. Em & Lawrence’s generation had jobs, and Lawrence served in Europe during WWII. Their sons are now professionals in the legal and medical fields. Their grandchildren are working hard on their education and are destined for success. They’ve had their share of troubles, like any normal family, but through it all their love and commitment for one another remains strong.

Em & Lawrence are in their seventies and are always fun to be with. The same year that I was born, they left Brooklyn and bought this little house in Stamford for $18,000. Sometime later, without refinancing, they scraped together enough to add a second floor and more bedrooms upstairs. So now they own a six-bedroom home in a lovely quiet NYC suburb… free and clear.

Lynne, Em, and me

Steve’s cousin Lynne turns fifty on July 9, the day after my fiftieth birthday. To celebrate both our birthdays, Em took Lynne and me out for dinner last night.

What fun. Lynne has a vision for starting a home for women who are just out of prison and who want to be reunited with their children who are in foster care. The home would be an opportunity for these women to get back on their feet financially and socially, and have a supportive environment to rebuild their relationships with their children. She has the know-how to make it work, bringing in grant money, and gathering the right staff. I can’t wait to hear the outcome of this one. For her fiftieth birthday, Lynne and her family are going to the Caribbean for eight days. Cool beans.

Every two years Jay & Lynne’s synagogue takes their youth group on a civil-rights tour through the South. They visit the famous sites of the civil-rights movement and learn about what it took to bring a powerful change in American culture. They also do internships in Washington, DC to learn how to lobby for justice.

Lawrence and Yonaton

Lynne’s oldest, Jenny Rose, is at the University of Vermont. Jenny’s cousin Yonaton is at Harvard. He’s spending the summer in New York City working at Planned Parenthood. He stays with Em & Lawrence when he’s not house sitting in the city. He arrived last night and we stayed up with tea and cookies and talked. For his just-for-fun summer reading, he is plowing through Anne Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. He’s on page 800 out of 1000. He’s reading it because he disagrees with the philosophy behind it and wants to better understand the opposing point of view. He reads to expand his own mind and challenge his own presuppositions. What a novel idea. I loved our discussion.

These are my in-laws. I love them dearly – and amazingly – they love me too.

Right now I’m on Amtrak’s Downeaster, heading from Boston to Portland, Maine, where I’ll start my next adventure with Harrah. I’ll write again, next time I have wi-fi. Might be a day or two.

Thanks for following along.

All I Don’t Want For Christmas

All I DON’T want for Christmas is….

that the people I love most in the world, will rush in, throw the gifts under the tree, have some coffee and pastries, open the gifts, and rush off to the next event.

All I DO want for Christmas is…

That we could come together, breathe, enjoy each other, work a puzzle, play a game, talk, laugh, go for a walk, cook something wonderful, just be.

I don’t need another sweater.

I need you.

And you need me.

I’d like to just put a bow on my head and sit under the tree myself and say,


My time is yours.

My ears, my eyes, my voice, my hands, my heart,
my life, my hopes and dreams are yours.

Won’t you join me under the tree?

Will you put a bow on your head?

Giving Thanks, especially this year….

I’d like to post something I wrote last year at Thanksgiving, before I had a blog. I’m pulling it out of the file because it’s still fresh. We’re doing it all again this year, only adding my in-laws. Can’t wait. Pray for the turkey!

Thanksgiving 2008

This year’s Thanksgiving took on a deeper meaning for me than ever before. I hosted my first Thanksgiving feast….. on Saturday.

My Sister-in-Law, Linda, has “owned” Thanksgiving in our family for probably twenty years. My Mom and Dad, my sister and her husband and my niece and nephew all come to my brother’s home in Newcastle for Thanksgiving weekend, joined by their two sons Kyle & Kevin. There are strong traditions, and everyone’s special recipes, killer card games, and a tradition of each one in turn expressing one thing we are thankful for. Inevitably Family is the number one object of our gratitude. We all get along, have fun together, love each other, and generally get through the weekend without all the drama and hurt feelings and tolerating of each other which we hear from some of our friends’ reports of their Thanksgiving “feasts”.

This year, we received a special request from Steve’s daughter Erin, asking if we would host Thanksgiving at our house for Steve’s three kids and their families. We’ve never done this because, as I said, my sister-in-law “owns” Thanksgiving. Also, there are all the other in-laws, ex-laws, etc. etc. to compete with.

But the golden request was made, and I was thrilled. So, we offered to host a Saturday Thanksgiving, allowing everyone to enjoy Thursday with their “other” families. Now, bear in mind, I am 48 years old and have never before cooked a turkey. Oh the advice that came from all quarters…. It was pretty humorous…. Add to that an out-of-town trip just before the big feast. (Fresh or frozen bird, 12 lb or 25 lb, when to pick it up, take it out, put it in, roast it in a bag, out of a bag, barbecue it, thermometer in the breast or in the thigh, stuffing inside or outside, Mom’s southern cornbread stuffing vs. Linda’s Yankee stuffing….). What to make ahead, what to ask others to bring, when to clean the house, set the table, etc. I went on line for help (a week before Thanksgiving of course) and found a simple four-week planning guide for Thanksgiving! Ha!

In the end, everyone arrived, a bit of turkey drama showed up, but Brian and Bill stepped in with their expertise and saved the day. Everyone pitched in and twelve people sat around the Thanksgiving feast. I introduced the tradition of going around the table and declaring what you are Thankful for. When it came to me, I was almost speechless. Looking around this table, in my own home, with my husband, I realized something very significant for me. My deepest sorrow is missing the opportunity to have or raise children of my own. It’s been the topic of my deepest anger at God, crying till my face is swollen and my voice is gone, lying on the floor in a despair so deep there seems to be no way out. That deep hole is still there. I carry it every day, and it expands as I grow older. But here, on this day of Thanksgiving, I join hands around this table with these dear people, none of whom are related to me by blood. They have adopted me, and I them. These are my family. I love them like my own children and grandchildren. What more could I say? I am thankful for my family. In eight short years of being married to Steve I have a full family – the whole thing. My heart is full, my cup overflows. When it was my five-year-old granddaughter Alexis’ turn to speak, she said “I’m thankful for Nani”. In that moment, my life was complete.

In these days of stress, worry, war, darkness, and gloom, I find it is easy to start feeling nervous and anxious. The circumstances seem so out of control. Will I have a job next month? Will we be able to make the mortgage payments? Will my parents be ok? What about my friends who are hurting? What will the future look like? I can loose my bearings. If I was a nail biter, I’d have no fingers left. But when I stop, and let my mind and heart sit at that Thanksgiving table, and gaze at the beautiful faces of my beloved family, the anxious thoughts dissipate, the worry dissolves, and overwhelming love, joy, and peace fill my whole being. I lift my heart to God in gratitude too deep for words and say Thank You. Though Heaven and Earth shall pass away, Your love, your tender mercies, will last forever. This is my Rock.

Marriage is a Three-Legged Race

Yesterday was the nine-year anniversary of my marriage to Steve Kraut. It amazes me how quickly time goes by. I still feel like we’re newlyweds trying to figure out what our marriage will look like, and what we want to do when we grow up. We still haven’t finished decorating the house, some of my stuff is still stored in the garage, and we’re just getting started. Yet I will turn 50 next year, and Steve will turn 65. He’ll be eligible for Medicare and I can start wearing all those purple and red things from the red-hat club. Marriage is an interesting thing. It brings a dramatic change to your daily life, and then again, nothing has really changed. I’m still the same person with the same neuroses; I’m just sharing them with someone else’s neuroses. Sometimes my marriage feels like a three-legged race. We used to do them at camp when I was a kid. You know, where you and a partner each put a leg into a burlap bag and then try to cross the finish line before anyone else. If you both try to run separately, you end up tumbling onto the grass either laughing or yelling at each other. It doesn’t work until you figure out a rhythm for running together. Inside leg then outside leg. Inside leg, then outside leg. Hmmm… In my marriage, it means bringing my own independence into rhythm with our shared life together. Both are needed, but they need to work together for the common goal. One cannot run faster than the other or we both fall down. But if we submit our own pace to the other’s, and find a rhythm together, holding up the sack with one hand, and holding our partner with the other, we start to find a stride. After that awkward struggle, we find ourselves gliding across the grass. Not that we don’t stumble, trip, and fall often, but then we get up, get set, and go again.