Sunday Offerings – Three Simple Joys

It’s a Sunday in Summer and, I confess, I didn’t make it to church today.  But, I did spend some time thinking about the following simple things that bring me joy and make me grateful.

!. Dodge Ball

Yesterday, Nico came home from a week at Boy Scout camp. He was covered in grime, and filled with stories of his camp adventures. He told me what he did each day, but when he told me about his last day at camp, his ever-deepening voice was filled with pride.

He told me that on the last day of camp, the camp staff challenged the scouts to an epic game of dodge ball. The game started out with about 30 boys playing against an equal number of staffers. Little by little, as the camper or staffer was hit by the ball, or failed to catch the ball, the player was eliminated. The game got down to Nico, the lone camper, against 3 of the kitchen staff. Nico threw the ball at one of the staffers. The ball hit the staffer’s legs and bounced off, hitting the second staffer, and both in one throw. With the game down to Nico and the last staffer, Nico threw the ball at the staffer. The staffer bent down to catch the ball, caught it, and then dropped it! The other campers who had been eliminated but were still watching the game let out a loud cheer for Nico.

The scouts won! Nico proudly told me how he was carried back to camp on the shoulders of his fellow scouts. What a great moment for him. Nico, the last man standing, triumphs in dodge ball!

2. Magical Cups

I have been helping my mom go through some of my grandmother’s things since my grandmother’s passing. It has been difficult and discouraging because she had so much stuff. We can’t just toss it out because some of it has value, even if it is just sentimental value. I took a few plant cuttings from my grandmother’s garden in the hope that maybe, in her death, my grandmother’s green thumb will have magically passed onto me. Yeah, we’ll see how that goes…

I also took these:

These are metal cups. They are the two remaining from a set which is long gone. When I was a child my grandmother would serve me milk in these cups. The milk always tasted so good when I drank it from these cups. Even though my stomach can no longer tolerate milk I wanted the cups, so my mom let me have them. Yesterday Diego, who rarely drinks milk, asked for a glass to go with his PB and J. Juan served him milk in the cup. Later, Diego asked for more milk from the cup. He said he had never tasted milk like that before. He told me the cup was “magical.”

I may not have my grandmother’s green thumb, but I have her magical cups.

3. Greener Pastures

About two weeks ago, Juan declared war on the grass. He looked at the patchy, yellow, poor-excuse-for-a-lawn we had in the backyard and said, “You and me lawn. I am going to win.” He went out and bought grass seed, lawn topper and set our sprinklers to automatic. Friday, we came home from a couple of nights out of town and we saw this:

Juan Wins!

Grass. Growing. And it is green!

Yeah. Maybe my grandmother’s green thumb went to Juan instead of me?

What about you? What simple things bring you joy? What simple things make you grateful?

50/50 Friday – Week 6

Is it Friday already? Well, then I guess it’s time for another update on my list of 50 Things to do Before by 50th Birthday. I have some catching up to do with Number 37 on my list, trying out new recipes, since I did not cook much in Weeks 4 and 5. So, here’s what I did this week: Rosemary with Prosciutto Corn Cakes and Chicken Sausages with Hot and Sweet Peppers.

I made this recipe for several reasons:

1) It was easy.

2) I had nearly all the ingredients. (And those that I didn’t have, I improvised or omitted.)

3) Who doesn’t like a meal that tastes like breakfast?

4) It was easy.

My boys asked me what was for dinner, and I told them we were having “Rosemary with Prosciutto Corn Cakes and Chicken Sausages with Hot and Sweet Peppers. They said “Huh?” And then they saw the corn cakes on the griddle and they said, Yeah! We’re having pancakes for dinner! Well, not exactly. So, I explained they were not pancakes but they were corn cakes. And they said “Yeah!” We’re having corn bread for dinner. Hmm. I started to think they would be disappointed when they ate them and realized that they were neither pancakes, nor corn bread. And to make it worse, the sausages were being served with (gasp) green peppers. So, when I put it all together with the sausages and peppers, I was fully prepared to have to use a back up plan for dinner, i.e. cereal. But, I was surprised. They liked it. Hey, Mikey! In fact, we all liked it. A new meal to add to my repertoire.

The second thing I made is not really a recipe, but it is something new to put into my bag of tricks. That is, the tricks I use to make my kids eat something green that is not artificially flavored or the color of phosphorescence. Kale Chips. Actually, I have my babysitter, Marian Poppins, to thank for this. She’s a whole blog post in herself, but for now let me tell you a bit about her. She is fantastic and has been a lifesaver to me and my family.  She also happens to be a vegetarian who volunteers once a week at an organic produce co-op so she sometimes brings us, ahem, interesting produce to eat. She introduced my kids to Kale Chips one day when she had a surplus of kale and wanted to keep the kids busy with a cooking project. Here’s what she does, and what she told me to do:

Take the Kale.

Wash it and pat it dry and tear it into smaller pieces.

Toss into a bowl. Drizzle olive oil on it, but not too much or it will get soggy. Sprinkle some salt and parmesan cheese on it. Toss it together.

Lay it out on a baking sheet.

Bake at 250 degrees until it crisps and browns but doesn’t burn. About 20 minutes. It shrinks up quite a bit, and it ends up looking like it’s a lot less than when you started, especially when you eat it as it comes out of the oven and before you can take a picture of it.

I am still one recipe short for my project but I will work that out over the weekend and post it next time.

The next thing I did for the month of July, was visit another local attraction/landmark, number 21 on my list.  I went to the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Actually, I have been here before, with my cousins and sister, when I about 7 years old.

At the LA County Arboretum, 1970.

It’s really silly because I drive past it all the time and it’s only 10 minutes from my house, but I have not been back in over 40 years. I needed some time to put my thoughts together to write my grandmother’s eulogy and I thought a walk would do me good. The trouble was, it was hot outside and I also wanted to sit down somewhere. I remembered my grandmother bringing me here. She loved botanical gardens, so I thought it would be the perfect place for a walk, and be inspired by the memory of my grandmother. I was right. The grounds were beautiful.

It was hot, but I found a nice shady porch to rest and write.

Recognize it? It was used in the 1980's TV series, Fantasy Island.

And then I saw this.

It’s a wickiup, or a kiy. It’s set up in an area of the arboretum where there are other early California structures. Even though it had been over 40 years since I was last here, the wickiup was familiar to me because I had recently seen a picture of it among my grandmother’s photos.

Me and my sister in a Wickiup, circa 1970.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wickiup via Instagram

Lunchtime Stories, An Epilogue

Two weeks ago today my grandmother died.  I haven’t really been able to write about it, because it’s taken me awhile to process it all.  Even though she was 97 years-old and had lived a long, full, life, and I knew she was declining physically, I wasn’t ready for her to die so suddenly.

I have written about my grandmother before,  here, here and here, and I have finally added her own story to this blog, here. Last March my grandmother fainted while my mom was with her. My mom called the paramedics and my grandmother was admitted to the hospital. They conducted all kinds of tests, including an ear-splitting MRI.  While she was getting the MRI,  I was allowed to stand next to her and pat her feet as she was slid into a tunnel of bright light and screeching sound.  The test was intended to determine if something happened inside her brain. In the end, the doctor’s had one diagnosis– she was old. She may also have been dehydrated. The remedy was for someone to be with her, making sure she was eating and drinking fluids.  But, the doctors didn’t know my grandmother. She was independent, feisty and above all stubborn. My mom tried to get her to move in with her and my dad. She refused.  We hired some people to come to my grandmother’s and take care of her. No way. She kicked them out. We hired Meals on Wheels to provide the food and a daily visit. She didn’t eat their food and barely acknowledged the visit. In the end, we all realized it was futile. She was not going to accept our help, and the only thing that would make her happy and keep her alive was to let her live her life on her terms. Independently. She said she didn’t want to be a burden on anyone, yet sometimes it did feel like a burden, the worry and care-taking that was involved in letting her live alone.

About a month after her hospital stay we had a family meeting to discuss how we could take care of grandma. My uncles, my mom, my brother and I each agreed to visit her once a week and bring food and sit down and have a meal with her.  My day was Friday. On Fridays I went to her house for lunch, or I would go over after work. We would sit together and I would eat with her.  I would bring her food I knew she liked. Fresh pineapple, a pastry, coffee and donuts. The salt-free, healthfully prepared Meals on Wheels would go untouched. We would visit. I recorded her stories, and I would sometimes sneak a photo of her, because she did not like having her photo taken. She probably hated getting her picture taken as much as she hated doctors.

Even though I spent nearly every weekend with here when I was a child, it had been years since I spent so much time with her on a weekly basis. Sometimes, it seemed like an inconvenience to have to drive to see her and race back to my office, or visit her on my way home from work on a Friday evening, when I was anxious to start my weekend. But, I did it and with each visit, I felt happy about the time we spent together, and glad that I had taken the time to see her.  It’s funny, I thought I was there to take care of her, but really, I think she was still taking care of me. She would protest when I would get up to wash the dishes, throw out her trash or do any household chore. She would make me feel cared for, and I would leave feeling loved, and grateful for the time we spent together.

On the last Friday I spent with her I could tell something was wrong. She seemed tired and weak. Usually she was anxious to go outdoors and sit on her patio so we could visit. On our last visit I asked if she wanted to sit outdoors in the warm sun. She said she would rather stay inside. When I asked if she felt okay, if she was tired, she replied, “No honey, I am not tired, I am old.” I tried to take her picture but she wouldn’t let me. When she wasn’t looking, I did it anyway.

The last picture taken of my grandmother, two days before she died.

The day she died,  I was at work when my dad called to tell me that my mother had arrived at my grandmother’s for her Monday visit.  She found my grandmother. She had probably died at night, alone in her house, the way she wanted. I left work immediately and went to her house where my parents and my uncles had gathered.  I was sad that she was gone, but I also felt at peace. These past several months when I visited her, took her for drives, brought her donuts, those visits allowed me to have peace in this sorrowful moment. I knew that her insistence that she live alone, as challenging as it was for all of us, created an opportunity for us, to spend time with her, to care for her, and for her to care for us. As sad as it is to imagine her spending her last few moments alone, I know that dying in her own home was what  she wanted. It was the reason she had so fiercely resisted all our interventions.

She did things on her own terms. And so,  it seemed fitting that during the funeral mass, my cousin surprised the priest when he read a poem by Emily Dickenson, instead of the New Testament scripture that was pre-selected and indicated on the program. The organist missed her cue and the deacon kept looking through the program to see if he’d missed something. Even I didn’t know what was happening since I had never heard the Gospel According to Emily Dickenson before. But, when it dawned on me what my cousin was doing, I laughed and thought how much my grandmother would have loved that.  The priest seemed equally exasperated when, as the mass was ending, and it became apparent the priest wasn’t going to allow time for my prepared eulogy, my father yelled from the first row, “Wait! There’s a eulogy!” The priest just threw up his hands at that point, and I sprang from my seat to get to the altar before I lost my window of opportunity. The priest didn’t seem to know what to do with us, these grandchildren who wanted to do things in their own way. I know that’s probably the way my grandmother would have wanted it too.

My grandmother in earlier days.

Lunchtime Stories, Chapter 2

This week I again went to visit my grandmother during my lunch hour, although it wasn’t to gather more research for my Historias page. This time I went to visit my grandmother for something more serious, but necessary. My grandmother is 97 years-old. She is feisty, and independent, and grows more stubborn each passing year.  She insists on living on her own, in the same house she has lived in for over 50 years.  She continuously rejects any offers from her children to go and live with them. She would rather live in her own house, on her own terms, rejecting  her children’s offers to clean her house, weed the yard and do any needed repairs. Plumbers, handyman, electricians have all had the front door slammed in their face as my grandmother turns them away when they are summoned by my parents to go to the house for necessary maintenance. In her mind, my grandmother, the one who sewed clothes, cooked meals, tended to a  garden and upholstered her furniture– in her own mind she is still capable of doing all of these things, on her own. In truth, and in fact, she is not. 

This week, when I arrived at my grandmother’s I was greeted with the same  cry I usually receive, “Que Milagro!” Never mind that I have been a regular weekly visitor lately. It’s still a miracle when I go to see her. Then she always asks for the children. “How are my Diego, and Nico? What about that Erica?” I don’t bring them often enough, even though I know she would love to see them. She can’t stop beaming when they are around. Luckily, my kids love her too. Diego will throw his arms around her neck, bringing me great distress that he might break her. Nico approaches her shyly at first but then hugs her warmly. Erica, my step-daughter, is not blood related to my grandmother.  Still, Erica is content to sit with my grandmother and hold her hand. Erica, who deeply misses her own grandmother since she died two years ago, once told me, “Diana, I love your Grandmother. She smells like my Grandma Lupe.”  But this time, my kids were not there. No. It was only me, and my mom, and my uncle. We were there to make sure my grandmother signed the Medical Durable Power of Attorney.

When my grandmother was 92 she broke her hip. My mother and grandmother were leaving a neighbor’s party when my grandmother lost her footing and fell to the ground. She refused to go to the hospital, until the next morning when she woke up and could not move without feeling excruciating pain. My mother had stayed the night with her. It was obvious that my grandmother needed help. Still, she would not be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. So my dad arrived and carried her to the car. They drove her to the doctor where she was told she had broken her hip. She needed surgery and recovery in a convalescent home. We all thought that would be the beginning of the end for her. But, she amazed everyone and made a full recovery and was sent home a couple of weeks after surgery. That was five years ago. Since then, my mother has constantly worried about what would happen to my grandmother when she needed medical care again. My mother can’t even talk to my grandmother’s doctors unless my grandmother is present or gives her consent. My grandmother has resisted all efforts to get her sign a durable medical power of attorney. We needed to do this, and the longer it was left undone, the more it caused my mother distress.

I was there to lend support, and because I know a little bit about law, I was there to explain to her why it was necessary. My grandmother did not like it at all. She was really mad. She told us that if she signed the document she would be sure to get sick. She asked why we always bothered her about this, and accused us of never visiting her unless it was to ask her to sign the document. It was terrible. It was painful for my mom, to be accused of not caring. My mother, who visits her own mother twice a week, and calls her twice a day to remind her to take her medication.  The notary, who we had arranged to be present for the signing, offered an encouraging word to my grandmother saying, “It’s for your own good.” My grandmother, snapped, “How do you know what’s good for me?” My grandmother’s beautiful hazel eyes dampened with tears, as she tried to keep herself from crying, resisting the idea that she would  lose control of her own medical decisions and put them into the hands of someone else.

I also fought hard to keep from crying. When I read to her the section of the document which asked if she would want extreme measures to be provided for her care, I became emotional, thinking of a day sometime in the future when my grandmother may be in need of life-saving care, but it would not be administered. When I explained what “extreme measures” meant, and how I would not want my children to see me in such condition if and when that day came, I could barely keep from crying tears for myself, and my own future adult children.

Finally, finally, we convinced her. She signed. The tension and emotion lifted in the room. The notary finished with her business and left. I started to leave and told my grandmother I would see her again soon and come for another visit next week. I told her that we would never have to discuss the document again. Next time I go to visit my grandmother it will be to talk about her childhood, her young married years, and the years raising her family and playing with her grandchildren. Soon, I will bring my kids to see her again. Diego will hug her until she nearly breaks and Erica will hold her hand, taking in her Grandmother scent.

Me and my mom, Erica, Nico and Diego with my Grandmother