A cruise plus a visit with our granddaughter equals perfection

SD_1On the second day of our cruise, we ate breakfast while watching our ship pull into San Diego. This was the day for which I was most excited. What’s so great about San Diego, you ask? That’s where my number one granddaughter lives!

No shore excursion could match our itinerary. Our daughter and granddaughter were meeting us mid-morning, we’d go play at a park, eat lunch, then go play some more until our granddaughter’s nap time. If you have grandchildren, you completely understand my excitement. If not, well, I’m sorry – there’s no way to explain it, but trust me, this was the highlight of the cruise!


Our daughter called to let us know she was on her way to the ship. We left our cabin, maneuvering past the photographers wanting to take souvenir photos so they could charge us an arm and a leg for these “treasured memories” of our cruise. Once off the ship, we were unsure of where our daughter would be able to meet us. We asked a port official where vehicles were allowed to pick up passengers and she told us anywhere along a certain area. We began to walk away, when she said, “I think this might be who you’re waiting for,” and she pointed to our granddaughter who was running toward us.

SD_3I wanted it noted that she ran straight into MY arms. I got the first hug! This is important because the rest of the day (as it is when we Skype) it was “Poppa, Poppa, Poppa!” The husband has always been a charmer.


That’s our ship, the Sapphire Princess, in the background.

We walked along the pier, which is quite picturesque, visiting with our daughter and granddaughter, stopping to take photos and generally relishing the fact that we were face-to-face with no computer screen in between.

Our daughter is in the Navy, so she took us to a park where the USS Midway Museum is located. If we’d been there without the girls, we’d have definitely gone on the museum tour. The husband loves WWII history and would have enjoyed exploring the ship. There’s a HUGE statue of the famous photograph taken at the end of WWII in Times Square, so of course we posed for a picture.

SD_5A few steps away is A National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military. Set up on a plaza are 15 life-sized bronze statues. One is of Bob Hope in front of a mic, and the rest of the statues represent military from different wars or conflicts. They are arranged as if attending a Bob Hope show, and excerpt of his shows are played. We thought it was great, but our granddaughter thought the statues were “scawey,” so we didn’t linger. “Thanks for the memories!”

We headed to the more child-friendly location and end up at a really nice park in Liberty Station. Swings, climbing structures and lots of sand kept Poppa and Izabel busy, while my daughter and I enjoyed the sun and some catching up.

When it was time for lunch, our daughter thought we might enjoy Slater’s 50/50. Who can say no to a burger made with 50 percent ground bacon and 50 percent ground beef? These burgers were good, but HUGE! In hindsight, the husband and I should have split one. If you live in Southern California, or plan to visit, they have several locations. Check ‘em out!

We went back to the park after lunch, somewhat surprised that Izabel hadn’t hit her grumpy, “I need a nap” point, yet. We were able to play/visit for about another hour and a half before we knew she’d had enough. We headed back to the ship and within five minutes our little sweetie was fast asleep in her car seat. Even kissing her goodbye didn’t cause her to stir. She was completely worn out. I have to admit we were a little worn out ourselves. It’s tough saying goodbye to your kids, not knowing exactly when you’ll see them again. Tight hugs, a kiss and a wave goodbye and don’t look back or you’ll cry.

We got back to our cabin and made reservations for dinner in the Santa Fe dining room. We weren’t hungry, but perhaps we would be in a couple of hours. Nope, we weren’t hungry, but went to dinner anyway. Hey, you’ve paid for the food, so you kind of feel obligated to eat, which is probably the reason people gain weight on a cruise.

I have to say the piña colada soup was amazing. Non-alcoholic, not overly sweet, it was the best part of my meal, and I probably should have ended it right there.  The specialty of the Santa Fe dining room is fajitas, so naturally I had to try them. I left the tortillas to the side and just ate the chicken and veggies. Still so full from lunch.

SD_6Back in our cabin, we watched our ship pull out of port from our balcony. If our cruise had ended the next day, I would have been satisfied. It had been a lovely day making memories with our granddaughter, and I went to sleep with the thought of her little arms wrapped lovingly around my neck.

(Next: Who cares about Ensenda? I’m watching football on a jumbo screen, poolside, in JANUARY!)

Connecting with family reunions

Summer is a great time for family reunions and we had the opportunity to reconnect with my mom’s family in August.  There are 62 of us (four generations), but only 28 of us were able to attend this year. It was a lot of fun to catch up with family we don’t see very often.Family_reunion

My sister and her husband hosted the reunion at their home, which has plenty of space for large groups to eat and play. They also had a brilliant idea to ask a friend who does photography as a hobby to come and hang out for the day and take some candid and formal shots. We have some great photos to help us remember the day! Most of us are so busy talking, eating and playing that we often forget to take pictures.

We were also supposed to attend a family reunion on my husband’s side of the family. We were really looking forward to this event, because we had never met these family members. My husband’s great-uncle’s family has been having family reunions for decades, but they were unaware that there were extended family members who lived close enough to attend. We connected through Ancestry.com and because their relative was the oldest in the family, they have a great deal of old family photos and documents. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend due to my being quite ill with a “bug” and subsequently, a migraine. They hold their reunions annually, so we hope to attend next year.

My dad’s family has been scattered and distant due to the death of his mother when most of the children were school-aged. They were raised in different homes, and to the best of my knowledge, the last time all eight were in the same location was at their mother’s funeral in 1936. They have all passed away, but we cousins are beginning to connect through social media.

Pat_meI recently located my dad’s brother’s oldest daughter through a combination of Ancestry.com searches and Facebook. She was anxious to meet her cousins and traveled from Chicago to Portland for a visit last week. I shared old photos I’ve acquired and it was interesting to hear her tell stories about her dad, step-mom and siblings. It helped fill in the blanks for both of us, although I suppose there will always be questions about how our dads and their siblings coped (or failed to cope) during those childhood years after their mother died. We hope to connect with the other cousins from our dads’ side of the family next summer with a reunion and discover more about our shared history.

I’d love your suggestions and tips for organizing family reunions. What would make you attend a reunion? Have you hosted a reunion?

The organizing struggle continues

I’ve written three posts detailing my mission to help my mother organize (Helping a collector organize, A collector chooses organization, Organizing payoff). While she’s more willing to let go of things than when we started 16 months ago, she’s still extremely sentimental and somewhat unrealistic about craft projects she plans to start and/or finish. She also continues to shop and add to her collections. (BIG SIGH!)

We continued working in her garage going through boxes. Some of those boxes were packed two moves ago! It’s reasonable to think that if she hasn’t needed anything in those boxes since 2003 she doesn’t need any of it now. I really don’t mind her sifting through the paper to see if there might be a photo or money, but I get a little cranky when she wants to read cards or articles from long ago. However, I’ve learned this is what she needs to do to let go of things, so I summon all the *finesse I can muster and remain silent.

I’ve also learned that she doesn’t keep or buy things because she was raised in the depression-era. She keeps and buys things to give away to others. She’s not content to give these things to a Goodwill or Salvation Army unless it’s really something no one would want. If there’s the slightest possibility she can personally find a new owner for her stuff, she will hold onto it with clenched fist.

Progress is slow, but we did manage to fill three boxes which are sitting in the back of my Acura MDX awaiting drop off at the local thrift store, fill her recycle can half way, and fill her garbage can to the top. We also brought in a shelving unit to get some of the containers off the floor. I have to focus on what we accomplished rather than what is left to do. I’ll go crazy otherwise.

I need to schedule one day a month to help her through this process. She tries to go through things on her own, but is easily distracted by the memories brought to mind. I could just let things be, but mom turns 81 this month and at some point we will have to deal with the clutter. I’d rather spend time doing it with her, than without her.


My organizing finesse level:
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert

What’s your organizing finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

A special blood connection with my dad


So that’s what they look like…

My dad and I shared a blood connection that goes beyond the ordinary. Not only was he my natural father and blood relative, but we also shared mosquito repellent blood. They didn’t like him and they don’t like me. If you showed me a picture of a mosquito and asked me to identify the insect, I’d fail the test every time. The little blood-suckers would eat my mom and sister alive, while displaying an odd aversion to me and my dad.


Me & Daddy before one of my band concerts

Being invincible in a swarm of mosquitoes wasn’t the only connection I shared with my dad. We also connected through music. He was a very talented musician, and helped me hone my talents vocally and instrumentally. I’ve enjoyed that part of my life immensely, and still sing and play the piano. It’s been a great connection between me and my son, as well.


Me & Daddy after Christmas church services

We connected through faith. My dad was quiet and reserved about his faith, but he lived it every day in the way he was devoted to my mother, dedicated to me and my siblings, and how he treated those around him. As a result, I am a devout person of faith, and I’ve done my best to pass along that heritage to my children and grandchildren.

We connected through humor. If daddy liked you, he teased you. He had a great wit, and his eyes disappeared (as do mine) when laughing at a good prank or just a highly humorous situation. I really appreciate that I can take a joke, tease and giggle like a five-year-old at my own jokes. Life is too short to be overly serious.


My biggest fear was that my dad would die of a heart attack before he was able to walk me down the aisle.

Life for my dad was extremely short. I visited his grave a few days ago. His headstone reveals the year of his birth, 1933, and the year of his death, 1985. The dash between those dates stands for 52 well-lived, short years full of music, church, camping, water skiing, and lots of teasing and laughter.

He’s been gone so long and so much has happened in his absence that I occasionally feel disconnected from him. That is until someone complains about those pesky mosquitoes.

Why I’m not “grandma”

I overheard a middle-aged man ask somewhat rhetorically, “Why don’t women want to be called grandma anymore?” I don’t know where he’s been hanging out, but I know plenty of women who love being called grandma. While, I love being a grandma, it’s not the name my grandchildren use, so I’ll answer his question.

First of all, it’s not about pride. I don’t think people look at me and think “grandma,” but they’re also not surprised to learn I am one. I’m certainly within the age range, and I’m content with that fact. I readily admit to being a grandma so I can talk to you about my granddaughters until your eyes roll. I proudly carry their photos and am ready to whip them out at the slightest mention. Consider yourself warned!

It is, however, a matter of practicality. Babies cannot say grandma. As they approach their first birthday, they can say simple syllables such as da, ma, ha (translated “hi”) and ba (translated “bye”). Between the ages of one and two, they add more words to their vocabulary, like mine and everyone’s favorite, NO!

We make it easy for these little budding linguists to say grandpa, by shortening it to “papa.” However, you can’t shorten “grandma” in the same manner. Babies have ONE “mama” and that’s a sacred relationship.

So, being the practical person that I am, I went in search of a name my grandchildren could pronounce – something simple. I know a few grandmas who are referred to as Mimi. Cute, simple and easy to pronounce, but that’s what my son called me as he was transitioning from saying mama to mommy. Somehow that didn’t seem right, and it’s also the name my son’s mother-in-law chose to use.

With my usual *finesse, I searched the internet and found a site that provides the word for grandma in other languages. I’m the first to admit that I’m pretty much a mixture of anything and everything Northern European. I’m Irish, English, German and Flemish with a tad-bit of Cherokee thrown in. In other words, I’m a mutt. However, since my Irish heritage is strongest, I looked up the Gaelic word for grandma. I found the following translation and definition: seanmháthair, literally meaning “old mother.” Children would not be likely to address a grandmother by this term. They would use instead Maimeó or Móraí.

It’s self-evident that I’m an “old mother,” so I chose not to have my grandchildren announce that fact every time they called my name. Besides, seanmháthair is even tougher to pronounce than grandma. I clicked the on the pronunciation of maimeó and heard, maw-moh. Okay, we have a winner!

My husband and I are Poppa and Mamo, respectively, and our almost two-year-old granddaughter has no problem saying either name. She actually demonstrated this for the congregation at church as her mother was taking her to the nursery midway through the sermon. As they were leaving the sanctuary we heard her strong, sweet voice saying, “Buh-bye, Poppa! Buh-bye, Mamo!” Her mother may have been slightly embarrassed, but it was one of the proudest moments of my life.

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Julia Child? Not even close

Like most children, I played chef. I’d press my Play-Doh ® into cookie-shapes and make “cakes” in my sandbox. My mother and I regularly watched a cooking show on one of the local television stations. I watched my mother prepare meals and I even took a 4-H cooking class. However, none of that really taught me how to cook or bake.

chickenDid you notice how I described what my mother did in the kitchen? I wrote that she prepared meals, which is far different from cooking or baking. My mom would rather be outside weeding or pruning than inside cooking or baking (truth be told, she would’ve rather spent her days water-skiing!). She took full advantage of all the time saving ways to prepare meals. Fry a chicken? Why go to all that trouble when you can buy pre-fried frozen chicken, pop it in the oven and dinner’s ready in about 45 minutes. Almost anything frozen or in a box was her favorite way to tackle dinner.

Mom made most of our birthday cakes (she’s famous for her pineapple upside down cakes), but they all came from a box mix. She usually made her own frosting, but other than that, it was all from a box.

yeast_rollsMy grandma, her mother, was a great cook and baked wonderful breads and rolls. I loved the warmth and heavenly aroma of her house when she baked. She could grab the most interesting ingredients and make something incredible! Mom’s younger siblings are good cooks, especially her brother. I’m sure my mom must have observed her mother cooking and baking, but for some reason, she never emulated her mother’s domestic talent.

So, I suppose it’s not surprising that I am not a good cook. I remember making pancakes for me and the husband one Saturday morning shortly after we were married. They weren’t good. I tried a few more times without any luck and turned to mom’s solution – Eggo® waffles.eggo

Oh, I can make a few things, well. The husband likes his mother’s chicken and rice recipe and her chicken enchiladas. Those turn out well, but I’ve never mastered her meatloaf. If he wants her meatloaf, he asks her to make it.

I’ve come to terms with my lack of culinary skills and usually just stick to my strengths. However, I recently came across a recipe that looked really good and really easy. I correctly followed the directions, used all the correct ingredients, and popped it in then oven at the correct temperature for the correct amount of time. It should’ve looked like the picture, right? Wrong!

Maybe I should have just picked up some pre-fried frozen chicken.

My cooking *finesse level:  Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert

What’s your cooking finesse level? *finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Presidential relations

white houseBefore anyone get’s the wrong impression, this blog post is NOT a Monica Lewinsky-type confessional. Neither the husband or I can brag about being direct descendants of Presidents or First Ladies, but since we are celebrating Presidents’ Day, I thought it might be interesting to explore how we might be connected (if at all) to those who have occupied the White House.

Ancestry.com has a cool feature that allows subscribers to find famous relatives, and this is what I discovered.

Speaking of Monica, President Bill Clinton is the husband’s 5th Cousin 1 times removed on his mother’s side of the family.

RBHayesHis paternal side of the family is a little better connected:
First Lady Elizabeth Kortright Monroe – 5th Cousin 5 times removed
First Lady Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison – 6th Cousin 3 times removed
President Millard Fillmore – 8th Cousin 4 times removed
First Lady Jane Means Appleton Pierce – 5th Cousin 5 times removed
President Rutherford B. Hayes  – 6th Cousin 3 times removed
First Lady Lucy Ware Webb Hayes -6th Cousin 3 times removed
First Lady Ellen Louis Axson Wilson  – 7th Cousin 2 times removed
President Richard M. Nixon – 7th Cousin 1 times removed

My connections on my dad’s side of the family:
First Lady Jane Means Appleton Pierce – 5th Cousin 7 times removed
First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley – 6th Cousin 3 times removed
First Lady Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt – 7th Cousin 3 times removed
Teddy_RooseveltPresident Theodore Roosevelt – 7th Cousin 4 times removed
First Lady Ellen Louis Axson Wilson – 7th Cousin 3 times removed
First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge –  8th Cousin 4 times removed
First Lady Lou Henry Hoover –  9th Cousin 2 times removed
First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy – 10th Cousin 2 times removed (Hey, Caroline! Can I drop in on the family at Hyannis Port?)
President Richard Nixon – 7th Cousin 3 times removed
President Jimmy Carter – 6th Cousin 4 times removed

My connections on my mom’s side of the family:
President Rutherford B Hayes – 6th Cousin 6 times removed
First Lady Lucy Ware Webb Hayes – 8th Cousin 4 times removed
First Lady Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt – 8th Cousin 4 times removed
First Lady Ellen Louis Axson Wilson – 8th Cousin 4 times removed,
First Lady Elizabeth Wallace Truman (or Bess, as the family calls her) – 8th Cousin 3 times removed
President George H.W. Bush – 8th Cousin 1 times removed
President George W. Bush – 9th Cousin (Get the BBQ goin’ in Crawford, Cousin, ‘cause I’m comin’ by for a visit!)

If only our common ancestors had kept in touch! Do you have any presidential relations?

Always in our thoughts

Yesterday came and went without mention of our daughter’s birthday. She would have been 32 years old. I know I remembered and I know the husband remembered. It’s something you don’t forget. Even if you could forget, that’s not what you’d wish. Remembering is the only thing that keeps her alive in our hearts.

I was about 28-weeks along in my pregnancy and on bed rest after being diagnosed with preeclampsia.  It was Jan. 20, 1981 and my due date was March 25. I was so bored and couldn’t imagine resting for the next nine weeks.

Watching television was not a cure for boredom as the only thing being broadcast was news of the American hostages being freed from Iran and the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. I was thankful for the release of the hostages, and the inauguration was interesting, but only for an hour or two.

I noticed some lint on the carpet and decided I could vacuum without exerting too much energy. I figured I could even sit down and just move the sweeper back and forth.

Once I was on my feet, I felt a little funny. I sat back down. I can’t really describe what I was feeling, except that something was off. I went into “mommy-mode” and sat still until the husband came home from work. I asked him to take my blood pressure.

“170 over 120,” he said calmly.

“That can’t be right,” I said. “Take it again.”

He did, but the numbers were the same.

“You must be doing something wrong,” I insisted. “Call the fire department and have them send someone to take it.”

This request was granted, but this must have been hard for the husband. He was a volunteer firefighter and had passed his EMT class. He knew how to take someone’s blood pressure.

Charlie from the fire department arrived and took my blood pressure. Still 170 over 120.

We called the doctor and he said to come right in and be prepared to stay until the baby was born.

I was given magnesium sulfate, which gave me a horrendous headache, but did not lower the blood pressure. My doctor transferred me to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit. My blood pressure came down, but was still in the danger zone. I was stabilized until Jan. 29, when I had a seizure.

I now had eclampsia. According to preeclampsia.org, eclampsia is “a very serious complication of preeclampsia characterized by one or more seizures during pregnancy or in the post-partum period. In the developed world, eclampsia is rare and usually treatable if appropriate intervention is promptly sought. Left untreated, eclamptic seizures can result in coma, brain damage, and possibly maternal or infant death.” Fortunately, I wasn’t aware of what was happening or how dangerous the condition was for my baby.

I had an emergency cesarean section and our beautiful little girl was born 8 weeks early weighing three pounds, eight ounces. Rachael Suzanne was tiny, but perfect in our eyes.

Her little lungs were another matter. Her lungs collapsed a week later and on Feb. 8, we chose to remove her from anything that artificially kept her breathing. The first time we were allowed to hold her, she died in our arms.

At the time I thought I’d lose my mind, and I never thought I’d be alright with the grief. Surprisingly, I didn’t lose my mind and the grief is just ingrained in who I am. It’s like a scar, only it’s on the inside.

We recently learned that friends of ours lost their nine day old granddaughter. The husband and I sobbed in each others arms as if the loss were our own. Yes, the scar is on the inside, but it’s very close the surface.