Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Traditions

Nothing says Christmas like a tangled up knot of metal ornament hangers in a Cheez Whiz jar.

To me.

It's funny the childhood memories that transition into adulthood. I vividly remember the hunt for the jar every year. Amy and I would dive into the boxes of Christmas decorations, in search of the Cheez Whiz jar. We couldn't hang ornaments until we found that magical jar of angst. Mom would unscrew the lid, and lay it on the coffee table. Pulling the nest of hangers out, she'd tap the knot on the lid, loosening a few hangers at a time. Rather than leaving the hot mess of hangers out to scratch the table, Mom gently forced the knot back into the jar. Amy and I would hang bobbles until we ran out of hooks, and Mom would stop what she was doing to get us more hangers. I don't know how Mom had the patience to pull the hangers out and tap tap tap, returning it to the jar. Perhaps it was all part of the ritual.

We never used all of the hangers, but it was important to not run out, thereby insuring the tangled assortment would avail itself to the Nelson family year after year.

Fast forward to 1988 and my first year living away from home. My roommate Jennifer and I cobbled together furniture and money to rent an apartment. Coincidently, my hand me down furniture matched her hand me down furniture and although dated with the 1970s burnt orange and wagon wheel pattern, the living room looked good.

We pieced together Christmas decorations and laughed about how it looked like "adults live here." I don't remember how we got the tree home from the store and into the appartment as we both drove Chevy Chevettes. Looking through the boxes, we realized we needed hangers. And I said, we need a Cheez Whiz jar too. She asked why and I said to keep the ornament hooks in. Didn't all families do that? She said no, but was willing to eat the yummy spread on crackers to empty the jar.

Fast forward to 2013. Yes, it's the same jar. 25 years of peaceful existance, containing tangled chaos. I don't think our use of the Cheez Whiz jar will ever amount to a significant viral internet story, or a Cheez Whiz ad. But it resonates within my heart, the spirit of Christmas, of spending time with my Mom, Dad, and Amy. Of listening to the Chipmunks sing Christmas Songs, (Alvin!!,) watching  A Charlie Brown Christmas, watching Mom douse her fruit cake with rum, and  listen to her mysteriously work behind the closed door of her sewing room late into the nights.

Merry Christmas To All, and To All A Cheez Whiz Night.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Family Noises


Grief hits me in the oddest ways. Our schedule has settled down a bit; my work travel is done for the calendar year and Saturday soccer games find us staying around home.
Being home each weekend, I find myself feeling like something is missing. That life is not complete and I should be doing something else.
Last year this time, we were still in our “honeymoon” phase. Still getting used to a routine, what he liked, how he wanted his coffee made, what time he liked to get up. Sounds like a new marriage right? But no, I was learning how to be his roommate.
And then his health worsened. And we had hospital visits and nursing homes stays. The second to last time Uncle Bob resided at Stafford Healthcare, I visited every couple days. He was on a rigid physical therapy and dialysis schedule that left him pretty darned tired and not inhis room at night.
I stopped in one evening as his departure neared just to visit, coordinate times, and check in on him. As I was getting ready to head home, he said with so much earnest and gratitude in his voice, “Wendy thanks for coming by and visiting.”

“Well you’re welcome Uncle Bob. I’m just stressing out over your homecoming in a wheelchair, getting a little amped up by it all and didn’t want you to feel bad. I just want to make sure we can take care of you. “
“It will all work out, don’t worry.”

“Hmmm.”

“You know, I really appreciate you coming by. They leave me to be pretty much, and once dinner is done and medicine, it’s pretty quiet.”
“Yeah, I bet it is.” We watched TV for awhile; I played on my smart phone. He didn’t need conversation, just being together was good. Looking at the time, I said “I should probably get going; got to get Reyde into bed.”
Not skipping a beat, he kept on his train of thought. “I kinda miss my family noises.”
“Your family noises?”
“Yeah. I know I’ve been spending a lot of time in my room, and not eating dinner with you, James and Reyde. But I know you are out there. I hear you talking, Nitro barking, Reyde playing. And one by one, all of you eventually check in on me through the evening.”
I laughed, because yes, we all did in our own way. Nitro checked his garbage basket multiple times to see if there was a snack to be had. Reyde would show him a Lego creation, and brush his teeth watching TV with Uncle Bob. James checked in every afternoon when he came home from work, and would say good night as he headed to bed. The first thing I did after work was visit with him, then get dinner going, and bring him his meal. After dinner we’d chat a few minutes about medical stuff that had happened that day or what was planned for the next day. Every Thursday was “pills and bills” day, writing checks and dispensing pills for the next week. His air was definitely interrupted from 4pm until 10pm nightly.
And so as the winter approaches and we come and go, I realize that I am dearly missing my Uncle being home, the house being warm and lights on. I miss the rigid schedule of pills and meals that kept us tied to the house. I miss the closeness of having Uncle Bob with us and adding more family to our family.
I miss the steady rumble of the oxygen concentrator, the country music playing every morning as I got ready for work, the NCIS dialogue drifting down the hallway in the evenings, his cowboy ringtone as his cell phone rang, the way he’d say, “Well Hello.” And each morning as I’d bring him his coffee, he’d say with gusto, “Coffee!”
Uncle Bob, I miss your family noises.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pumeggnogging Pie

It's a rare, rare day that I bake. A couple weeks ago, wanting to free up space in my freezer, I decided to use the pumpkin puree that Mom had so kindly made from scratch a few years back.
 
We'd been home all day, I didn't want to go out in the rain and decided to experiment. I totally feel comfortable doing this in cooking, but baking is so foreign to me. Using two lifelines, allrecipes.com and calls to Mom, my pumpkin eggnog pudding concoction turned out pretty darned good.

The next time I make this, I'll cut the recipe in half and use a shorter pan. This one is about 3" deep and the very middle didn't set as well as I'd envisioned.
 
Enjoy!
 
 

Divide as needed for smaller portions
This is what I used for my experiment.

8 cups pumpkin puree
4 eggs
½ cup flour
1 ½ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
4 cups egg nog
2 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp baking powder

Oil and flour pan with coconut oil for added flavor.

Mix all ingredients cold, whipping eggs first before adding to mixture. Heat on stove for 10 minutes or so. Pour mixture into pan, cover with foil and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. (Watch the time, using a shorter pan it will take less time I think.)

3 cups Bisquick
1 cup eggnog

In a separate bowl, mix Bisquick and eggnog.

Remove pan from oven, drop biscuits throughout the pan. Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes or until biscuits are done.

Serve with whip cream if you like.

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Din Din"

It's not like he was a bad father. But there was a disconnect that Amy and I could never mend. Had little to do with us, and more to do with his parents.

But we could always count on a meal bridging the gap. Dad loved to eat. Food delivered pure enjoyment to his being. Mealtimes brought us together, and sharing a favorite food connected us to him.

At the height of my troubled teenage years, when Amy was out every weekend with friends, or her boyfriend, or both, Dad knew I was upset and sad wondering why I didn't have friends and a boyfriend like her. I look back now and realize that he couldn't talk about my feelings or help me with feelings because of his upbringing. But what he could try to do was bring happiness to me by saying, "Let's go get some din din."

Because food brought joy to him, and therefore, food could make his youngest happy. It would fill the pit left by teenage self doubt.

Funny how grief hits. Been almost three years since Dad passed. For the last few months, as we sit down to eat, I hear my Dad say, "It's din din time." Or when we go out for dinner, I recall how he'd walk through the kitchen door, calling up to Amy and I, "Let's go get some din din!"

All his gruffness, and grumpiness, and lecturing, and hard to talk to on the phone, and crankiness are memories pushed back as I remember the things that brought Dad happiness. A respite for a brief moment, but peace nonetheless.

Dad, I've been missing you a lot lately. I know you're having some din din. Have some for me too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Last Thursday

I spent with my uncle.

Mom called in the afternoon. Said that he wasn’t good enough to go to dialysis and that the staff needed to speak with me to cancel the transportation and appointment. Her phone was passed to the nurse and then handed back. I heard the tears in her voice.

Mom, I’ll be right up. She said okay and hung up the phone.

I needed to see for myself that Uncle Bob wasn’t up to going to dialysis. Because this was a big decision I was making for him. The day before he was lucid and talking. He trusted me to make decisions if we ever got to this point.

And I needed to be there for Mom. I heard it in her voice. This wasn’t her situation to bear alone.

Walking into his room, Uncle Bob was sleeping. I go over and hug Mom and tell her that it’s going to be okay. Donning a mask and gloves, I lean down and talk to Uncle Bob. His eyes flutter, but he doesn’t awaken.

The nurse comes in and administers a breathing treatment. He still doesn’t wake up. Mom and I sit and watch him, the vapors of the medicine escaping from the mask. I stand after a bit and tap it to get all the medicine used. Condensation drips down. Soon it is completed and I gently remove the straps from his head. His glasses are pressing into his cheeks and I tell him that I am taking them off.

Sitting back down, I look at the clock. I’ve been there for 20 minutes and no change. Mom, I’m going to sit here for a while and see if he wakes up.

Okay.

Pulling my phone out, I began texting family; how Mom said he wasn’t well enough to go and I agreed. Stepping outside into the hallway, I called James; told him that Uncle Bob declined and that I wouldn’t be home after work. Do what you need to do Wendy. Thanks honey. I breathed deep, wiped my eyes and swallowed.

Walking back into the room, my Mom is watching over her brother. She is sad and upset and knowing that this is a big change.

Mom, does your church up here have someone that can come visit? Seeing her in such pain, I wanted her to be comforted as well as have some spiritual words spoken in Uncle Bob’s room. She said yes, I got the number and called. Someone would come over.

After an hour and a half, I couldn’t get Uncle Bob to wake up. Mom said she wasn’t going home; she’d stay until she needed to. I’ll go back to work then and get some things in order in case I am not in on Friday.

En route back to the office, Uncle Bob’s nurse practitioner called. Medicines, options, dialysis was discussed. We made a plan. And when Uncle Bob woke up, we’d talk to him as everything was still his decision.

I called Uncle Don and told him what was going on; asked him to stop by on his way home.

A few hours later, I arrived back at the skilled nursing facility. Mom, Don, Carol, and Sandy sat around Uncle Bob’s bed. No change, he was still sleeping and not very responsive. Uncle Don left and said he’d be back the next night.

I headed out to get dinner. Figured we’d be in for a long night. Upon my return, I see another person sitting by Uncle Bob’s bed. It’s the lady from the church. I placed dinner on the counter and joined the ladies. Quietly reading her spiritual words, Mom is comforted; Sandy, Carol and I respectfully listened. Soon we are sharing stories about Uncle Bob, explaining to the church lady what an amazing man he is, what a fantastic sense of humor he has, and how he accepted with such dignity and finesse the significant health issues in the last months.

I don’t know how much time passed. There were lulls in the conversation; 5 of us staring at him and wondering if we’d talk to him again.

Dinner was getting cold; I invited the church lady to join us. No thanks, I’ll be heading out. More small talk ensued, and I waited. Sandy said something, and I looked over the bed at her.

Uncle Bob opened his eyes, very alert. He stared at Carol sitting at the end of the bed. We all leaned in, waiting to see if he’d talk. Looking over at Sandy, he said, what? Are you waiting for the old fart to die?

Laughter erupted, Uncle Bob chuckled and we saw that sparkle in his eye.

I sat back and wondered, is that going to be his last words on this earth? They weren’t. We got a few more minutes with him before he went back to sleep.

Carol left, I cleaned up the containers from dinner, and Sandy said her goodbyes.
See you tomorrow she said.

Moving the chairs away from Uncle Bob’s bed, I sat down next to Mom and put my arm around her. You better now I asked? Yes, I am better; it was good to have her (the church lady) here. We sat quietly watching him sleep, peaceful and without pain.

You know James stopped by today.

He did? I called him and told him what was going on this afternoon.

Wendy, he is such a sweet man. He walked in and gave me a big hug. I cried and he cried.

And then I cried. And Mom cried.

Getting up, I held Uncle Bob’s hand and told him that I loved him and I’d be back in the morning. Mom said good night and that she’s going home to get some rest. And that she’d see him tomorrow.

Walking down the hallway, we say thank you to the staff for taking care of him. Mom was weary, and I prayed that Uncle Bob would understand our selfishness.

We wanted another day. We needed another day. We weren’t ready to say goodbye.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Can I interest you in dessert?

It is a tough economy out there these days. That’s what the news tells us, and therefore it is true, right? Higher level economic indicators are discussed by news commentators and the politician of the hour expounds on the virtue of his greatness to overcome the sluggish market. I think I can confidently say, most Americans are simply tired of hearing about who to blame, why it happened, and how someone can magically take us back to the 90’s and the era of super big growth on Wall Street and outlandish personal spending.

From time to time I choose to spend time and money to have manicures and pedicures. It’s a luxury. My nails are strong enough to grow them out and have them long and look nice. So why do I do it? Because I like the fact that the polish stays on for two weeks without flaking and peeling. And I like the look of artificial nails with a French manicure. As to pedicures, who doesn’t like someone else trimming your nails, cleaning your cuticles and paying attention to your feet? It’s an extravagance that is easily chopped out of our budget.

I have been to quite a few different places to have fills this summer. The first set was put on in New Jersey; I didn’t get a get chance to get them done prior to business travel. Had some time in the evening and stopped by a new place, touting a Grand Opening special. As I walked in I observed the cleanliness and thought, yes, I’ll have my nails done here. The owner suggested a young guy put my set on and they both proceeded to upsell me on a set of gel nails instead of acrylic. Value add came in the form of a bottle of water. The final value add came in the highly self regarded opinion of the technician of the beauty of square finished nails instead of round tips. I thought to myself, “might as well do as the locals do, I’m at the New Jersey shore.”

After Jersey, I had a fill in Kent. The owner of the nail salon in Kent looked at my nails and spoke in length to the technician in Vietnamese. I said I’d like a gel fill since that’s what I have on. He said it is better to fill with acrylic. No upsell in this salon, and in fact, it was such a poor fill that I haven’t been back.

The next experience happened in Vegas. Again, business travel and I couldn’t get to my favorite place, Lovely Nail prior to leaving. Lovely Nail not Nails? Yes, if you question that, so do I and most patrons of the salon. Lost in translation and each time I leave here all of my nails (plural) are lovely.

Anyway, back to Vegas. I figured I could pay top dollar on the strip or go off and get affordable nails. But then there is the taxi fare. So I went ahead and had them done at the casino. Unusual for sure, but I had a Caucasian technician. It was a lovely visit with clear understanding and no difficulty in conversation. Of course, she looked at my gel set with acrylic fill and went on about how so many of the Asian salons really don’t know what they are doing. No upsells at this event. I was paying top dollar anyway. Have to admit, the polish and sheen of the color I chose was absolutely fabulous. I had so many compliments on the color and how nice they looked. This particular fill was COMPLETELY luxurious; I am embarrassed to say out loud how much I really spent when so many people don’t have money to meet all of their bills every month.

In between Vegas and now, I hit Lovely Nail a couple times. And then two weeks ago, I decided to get my “Groupon” (can I use that as a verb?) Anyway, I’ve had this Groupon coupon for almost a year. And with my nail season winding down, I figured I best use it before it expires. I phoned to make an appointment on Sunday afternoon and asked about costs to make sure I’d be using the entire coupon. Yikes, a spa pedicure and a fill will more than certainly use my $50. Glad I only spent $25 for the coupon.

As I walked into the salon, I noticed the fine atmosphere, soft music, nicely decorated, and clean. The gal behind the counter called for a technician to escort me to the pedicure area. 95 minutes later, my pedicure was complete. I planned for an hour and a half tops for both services.

Being a Sunday afternoon, and Uncle Bob asking if I ever get “Wendy time,” I held back my anxiousness to move on to the next thing on my list. The gal behind the front counter said to follow her and she’d fill my nails.

I asked for an acrylic fill, that I didn’t want to have another material since I had some lifting with the gel and acrylic mix. Sitting down at the station, she takes my hands and studies my nails. And then proceeded to tell me the features and benefits of silk wraps. She has developed her own wrap process and it is the best for your nails, only to have natural 100% Chinese silk on them. On and on. Okay, since this is a coupon, I’ll go ahead and give them a try. With that, she begins to file and prepare to wrap my nails in silk. Having heard about this type of fake nail before, I am curious.

Soon I learn that the front desk gal is actually the owner of the salon. She tells me of her other shop in Covington that she recently sold and how she has 3 children, two of which are going to school at WSU. Go Cougs. She stops from time to time to reply to texts from her daughter who is driving back to Pullman that day. I think to myself, she’s done well for herself, emigrating from Vietnam, owning successful businesses, and raising three children and having two of them in college. No small feat.

The wrapping takes quite a bit of time, and we discuss a variety of topics. Pauline, the owner, asks where I typically go as I have my Groupon coupon. She knows of Lovely Nail, and doesn’t speak poorly of them. Her sales tactic is on the up and up, Pauline promotes her salon with best business practices, clean facilities, how the Groupon deal has brought a lot of business her way. “I use it as a loss leader. I’ve offered the Groupon twice. Don’t know if I’ll do it again, but I did sell a lot of them.”
I commend her for drumming up business, and keeping her clientele growing. With the economy the way it is, I comment that I’m sure she’s see a downturn in her business. It’s hard to spend money on your nails when you have bills to pay.

Pauline stops wrapping and says, “Wendy, you have no idea how many people come in here and pay for nails when they can’t feed their families. Yes, it is rough with lots of people with no jobs, but ladies are not willing to sacrifice this bit of beauty.”

Smart businesswoman I think to myself. She is running this place to make money and understands a lot about sales from technique, product offering and her client base. It was nice to have this type of business conversation, surprisingly at a salon. I hadn’t had a higher level conversation like this at any other salon. Not that I couldn’t inquire and ask, but Pauline offered up this information.

So as Pauline grabs the spool of Chinese silk out of her drawer, she begins to tell me about other services they offer. Massage and waxing services. Nice.

“Wendy, do you wax?”

“Yes, I get my eyebrows done.”

“Oh, well what about other waxings; like a bikini wax or a Brazilian?”

This takes me back. Umm, awkward. I don’t know this woman and she’s asking me about that? Not wanting to appear uncouth, I decide to roll with the conversation and tell her no, no I don’t do those waxings. Besides, that whole Brazilian thing is so personal.

“I wouldn’t worry about that. We don’t even look at it that way. And a lot of women really like it.”

“Hmm.”

“You should try it.”

“Yes, well maybe I will.”

Pauling goes into the details of her services and I get a little glassy eyed. I don’t want to think about that on a Sunday afternoon! The conversation segues into other topics and my attention span officially wanes. Two and ½ hours into my “Wendy time,” I am seriously considering why I have my nails done. This is 2 ½ hours I won’t get back, and was it the best use of my time on this earth? I cut my event short; let her know that I don’t have time for polish and head out the door.

“Come on back when you have time, I’ll put some color on your nails. And think about making an appointment for waxing; you won’t be disappointed. “

Driving away from the salon, I am agitated by the delay in my schedule but also impressed by the sales techniques employed by a persistent small business owner in America. We all know that restaurants try to upsell appetizers and desserts to increase revenue dollars per ticket. The upsells and add-ons in other salons are typically for French manicures, eyebrow waxings, and paraffin treatments. But this gal, she went for it. You never know unless you ask for the order right? That’s what closing business is all about in sales. I’m curious about her close rate.

Will she close this sale with me? I honestly don’t know. But should I choose to have that service performed, I’ll likely return to her salon. Pauline deserves the sale.

P.S. As most of you know, my sissy la la is my sounding board. I told her about the waxing conversation prior to writing and we laughed and giggled. Sharing my title with her I said I still had to work the title into the story to you know, complete the circle. Otherwise the title wouldn’t make any sense. She texted back something I so wouldn’t expect. So then here I am explaining that it’s all about the upsell and more revenue and dessert that way. Love her. And totally think she’s gotta get her fiction writing groove on.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Speechless

Left speechless at the dinner table tonight. Not from praise of the FINE stew I made.

From Reyde asserting himself. Looking at Uncle Bob and he says, "just so you know I wasn't talking to you."

Uhhh. WHAT? His delivery was impeccable, and I had to really hold it together to be stern without laughing at how funny it was. So I reprimanded, James chewed on him, and Uncle Bob didn't realize what was happening it occurred so quickly.

Love parenting.