Let’s Talk … and Listen

When I posted just a few brief words the other day, hoping that more posts would follow that action, Jacqi kindly commented that blogs are just a conversation and that my blog can be whatever I want it to be. Thanks, Jacqi.

If blogging is a conversation, it remains one-sided unless you read it and engage with it in some way. If you engage with my words, I think it does become a conversation, even if you don’t comment. If you leave a comment, there is some proof of our conversation. Feel free. :)

I had a conversation with myself in the shower this morning and thought I would share it with you. It was prompted by this photograph.

hockensmith familyMy sister posted it on Facebook yesterday as it was apparently National Siblings Day – a day none of us knew existed prior to the invention of Facebook. Her sharing the photo prompted some conversation among the siblings in the picture as well as a few of our friends and relatives. I’m the oldest kid and all of our names begin with K. Let’s just call us K1 (me), K2, K3, and K4. The picture was shared by K2, who is missing a few teeth. This prompted K3 (on the right)  to crop just the gap-toothed one, repost it as a comment, and LOL. K4 (the baby) laughed at our hair – three of us with basically the same “do” – a 60s flip. Several of K2’s friends commented on how much K2 looks like our mother. I added helpfully that if you hold your cursor over mother’s mouth, you can see the likeness even more clearly. Go ahead – try it! :)

This picture was taken when I was in high school in Corsicana, Texas, probably for a church directory. My other comments on the Facebook post were that our mom is so pretty and my sisters adorable. Also that I look a lot like our dad in this photo. This is funny, because he is my step-dad. I recalled that around that time, someone had commented to dad and me about how much I looked like him. We just smiled at each other and let it be our little secret.

In the shower this morning, I was thinking about these comments, about our beautiful, loving mom and my heroic dad. Mom’s brain has been taken over by Alzheimer’s dementia. The disease has taken most of her memories and has turned a loving, compassionate, fun and creative woman into someone who can be mean and fearful. Everyone knows it is the disease talking, but that doesn’t make it easier to experience. I’m sheltered from this because I live so far away and have been unable to travel during my long illness. Dad has been a hero to me since he loved me as his own flesh and blood the minute he married my mom – when I was 7 years old. And now he bears the burden of caring for mom during a long and difficult disease. His love for her compels him to protect her and keep her in familiar surroundings for as long as possible.

As I engaged myself further in conversation (and ran up the water bill), I thought about my frustration with residual changes in brain function that remain post cancer and how difficult it is to explain when it isn’t obvious to anyone but me. And how frustrating that is for me. And how I think mom tried to tell me something was wrong with her brain long before it was evident to anyone else. And how I did what people do to me. I said, “Oh, I do that too.”

I had a check up with my oncologist yesterday and I asked him if there was anyone out there (meaning in town) working with chemo brain. He called it the “proverbial chemo brain,” which started to piss me off even though I dearly love and respect him. He indicated (with his arm outstretched), that I was way “out there” – which I took to mean that I am a distinct minority of his patients who have brain complaints, especially a year after completing treatment. He surmised that we don’t know if it is the chemo that causes the problem or if it is the cancer itself, or if it is just the beating our body/brain takes as the result of a trauma, be it cancer, surgery, or something like he experienced last year – an aortic rupture. I guess that’s why he called chemo brain “proverbial.” I didn’t stay mad at him because he said he would do some checking and on the way out told his nurse that she should remind him about my chemo brain. There – he said it!

This all makes me sad that I didn’t listen when Mom made remarks about her memory years ago. I knew she was reading lots of books and articles about Alzheimer’s and what to do to try to prevent it. I knew that. And when we talked on the phone, she would say things like, “Boy, it seems like my memory isn’t what it used to be!” And if I asked what she meant and she gave an example, I would say, “Oh, I do that too! Last Sunday I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of the woman I sit behind in church every week.”

And if that conversation only happened once, or maybe twice, that response may have been ok. But it happened more than twice.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I believe that Mom was trying to tell me that her brain had changed and she was worried. I wish I had listened to the intent behind her words. I wish I had accepted her words as truth and validated her concerns. I understand now that my misguided attempt to reassure her instead belittled her reality. I wish I could take that back.

Christmas Decorating: Mom’s Influence – The Advent Calendar

Sometime before I had kids – I’m thinking late 1970s, I was visiting my parents and mom was making an Advent calendar that she copied from a friend. She bought enough of everything ahead of time so I could make one too. We worked on our calendars at her kitchen table – soon covered with felt, scissors, glue, sequins, thread, paper, pencils, sharpies, burlap and with her sewing machine nearby.
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I still have the instructions that I wrote from her copy.

Advent Calendar instructions 1Advent Calendar instructions 2Advent Calendar instructions 3Advent Calendar instructions 4

And the pattens for the ornaments and tree.
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I didn’t finish all of the ornaments during my visit, so it was up to me to finish on my own. I didn’t understand a few of the ornaments – like the owl, for instance. A Christmas owl? What’s that about? I understand the imagery of the fish – but this one is maybe a little too “fishy” for the Christian connotation…
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And how about the pig?
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In the creative comfort of my own home, I didn’t always use the designs provided. I got the designs for the doll and the teddy bear from coloring books.
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DSCN3311 - Version 2I don’t know if you noticed, but I never finished the Advent calendar. See that pocket with the number 1 on it? It’s empty. Over 30 years later and I still have one ornament left to make. Typical.

Here is a look at our almost fully decorated Advent calendar.
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The missing ornament is supposed to be a reindeer, but I didn’t like the one in the pattern. As I was preparing this post, I found several ideas I had considered for the last ornament. Living in Texas, these included an armadillo and a pair of cowboy boots. Hey – unless you can explain the owl, I think the armadillo and boots are just as relevant. Besides, my husband used to collect armadillos, so it would have had meaning for us at the time.
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That armadillo is traced from one of my husband’s signature armadillo doodles. He drew the cowboy Santa too. :)

Leave a comment and suggest what I should make as the final ornament.

Or should I just leave it as it is – a testimony to imperfection?

When we only had one child, she got to put each ornament on the tree to count down the days to Christmas, but with the birth of two siblings, it was necessary to evenly divide the task – which did not divide evenly among three children since there were only 23 ornaments. These days I hang the calendar on the pantry door in the kitchen and I alone have the privilege of counting down the days on our Advent calendar.

Thanks, Mom!

Mom also made the tree skirt that we use under our tree every year. You can read about it (and get the directions) here: Christmas Decorating – Mom’s Influence: The Tree Skirt.

Family Recipe Friday – Mom’s Pumpkin Bread

Mom newspaper recipes copyHere’s my sweet mama showing off some baked goods in the newspaper. Mmm-mm, she was a goooodd baker!

Mom newspaper recipes copy 2I love that cookie jar! It still sits on the refrigerator in Mom’s and Dad’s kitchen. It’s at least as old as I am – guess that’s why I like it so much. Of course, this old newspaper photo doesn’t do it justice.

We had recently moved to Joplin when this article appeared in the paper. I don’t know how it came to be. Guess I need to ask Dad if he remembers. Being a small city, I suppose it was pretty common to have news about the movers and shakers in the community – like the new assistant manager of the Sears store and his wife – featured in the paper. lol

I’m not going to post the whole article as there is just a little too much personal info that I don’t have permission to share, but here’s the headline.
Mom newspaper recipes copy 3. jpgMom shared two recipes – Pumpkin Bread and Maple Butter Twists. I don’t know what the third thing is on the counter, but it could be a second Maple Butter Twist with a slice cut out and shared with the newspaper person.

In our ESL class the day before Halloween, we had a discussion about the different ways pumpkin is prepared around the world. When I mentioned that I make pumpkin bread, one of the students asked if I would share the recipe. I’m going to share it on our group Facebook page today in hopes that some students will follow my lead and share some of the dishes they talked about in class – pumpkin curry; a pumpkin dessert made with fruit, cinnamon and milk; honeyed pumpkin seeds …. I hope they will!

Mom newspaper Pumpkin BreadOnce Mom found this recipe, she made it every year – mostly in the fall and at Christmas. She liked to frost her pumpkin bread with buttercream icing. At Christmas time, she would add a few sliced candied red and green cherries on top to decorate. Many loaves of decorated pumpkin bread were given as gifts at Christmas.

I make it every year too. It’s just so good and must be made. But I usually don’t frost it. It’s fine just the way it is.

One thing I notice her recipe doesn’t say is to grease the pan. I usually line the bottom with waxed paper or parchment paper too, so that it pops right out.

Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients:
3 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs
1 teaspoon each of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon
1 cup salad oil
1 cup water
2 cups mashed pumpkin
3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup chopped nuts, if desired

Method:
Add ingredients, one at a time, in mixing bowl and blend well with an electric mixer. Bake for 1 1/2 hours at 325 degrees in a loaf pan, 9 by 5 by 2 3/4 inches. Turn out of pan at once. Frost with powdered sugar icing flavored with almond extract.

I usually use canned pumpkin – the slight difference in measurement doesn’t make a difference. Mom and Dad would often cook and freeze fresh pumpkin to use for pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie.

I’ll share the recipe for Maple Butter Twists another day.

What is your favorite pumpkin recipe?
Family – let’s hear every story you can think of concerning pumpkin and pumpkin bread!