Woes of March – Thinking About Mom and the Most Remarkable Women I Could Ever Want to be Like

March and I aren’t on the best terms. I’ve kinda had it with how the month teases about Spring yet tastes like Winter. How it stirs hope, but historically has kicked my family in the gut.

March and I aren’t on the best terms. I’ve kinda had it with how the month teases about Spring yet tastes like Winter. How it stirs hope, but historically has kicked my family in the gut.

This soured relationship started six years ago when March threw a duster of a curve ball with My Guy’s medical emergency and flirtation with death. Fast forward to 2020 … I had just posted on FB that we had hit the 5 year mark from that family crisis … reflecting on the remarkable healing and recovery that My Guy had been graced with.

Within hours of that post a whole new March Crisis unfolded. Mom fell and broke her hip on the 8th and then, passed from this world on the 20th … the first day of Spring. Her attendants at the hospice house remarked more than once how she had lingered so long, but Mom always hated Winter. I think holding out until the calendar clearly had the season of gloom in her review mirror was her way of saying, “It’s all good. Don’t get swallowed up with sorrow because I’m about to begin a whole new life in Christ.”

On top of it all was … of course … COVID. I found myself in such an eerie world those first days of Mom’s fall and transfer to hospice care. I spent much of my time with her at that facility in the city where every day more businesses closed … rules about where you could and couldn’t go changed by the minute … strangers more strange than ever … everyone cautious … suspicious even.

It was a lonely time made lonelier.

I remember walking through one of more desirable and historic neighborhoods of the downtown area to a popular grocery with an in-store deli. It was strange walking down the streets … people deliberately moving to the opposite sidewalk or making an abrupt detour down a side path. Masks weren’t part of the scene yet, but there were no nods and definitely no eye contact. Few smiles … even those coated in caution.

Photo by Laura James on Pexels.com

The store bustled as people stocked up … uncertain what to expect. But even here …an obvious neighborhood hangout … warmed by the smells of homemade leek soup and generous slices of sausage and mushroom pizza … there was not rudeness exactly … but a feeling of distance … of people retreating to themselves … every stranger a possible harbinger of disease … maybe even death.

It was a time where bonds with other humans were tenuous … especially with strangers … everyone afraid of sickness and dying … but for my mom death was already eminent.

I look back … 365+ days later … and I reflect further. I suppose there are lessons to drum up … wisdom to expound upon … both from the loss of my last parent … and from a world radically shifted in the matter of weeks. Lessons for sure, but at the moment only a few simple things stand out to me.

First, it didn’t occur to me until today that March is also Women’s History month.

As I’ve written about and reflected on Mom’s life in depth the last year, I’ve contemplated her and the other women like her, who have thoroughly shaped my thinking and my soul.

None of them are likely to end up in the women’s history books or celebrated in headlines during History Month … none of them have the power of today’s women politicians and celebrities (I don’t want to get start down a rabbit hole … but little bugs the snot out of me more … this is one of Mom’s sayings … than front page headlines that tout what celebrities are saying about major issues … Why?😞 If you want a truly thoughtful response, ask my grandma.)

Sorry … back to my point.

Photo by Tabitha Mort on Pexels.com

The journey of this year has brought me back to the remarkable strength of the rural women around whom I was raised … woman who hauled butt on farm tractors and semi-trucks pulling trailers … who helped bring in the harvest while still fixing meals for hired crews and washing combine grime out of their Wranglers … who sorted out spuds caked in dirt, helping to ensure that the best ones would make it to the middle man and on to the grocery store.

Women who rose with dawn to squeeze milk out of the udders of grumpy cows … who fed their families for a whole year from gardens that they had planted, weeded, harvested, and preserved with their own blistered hands.

Women who filled the bellies of the hoards gathered at town picnics and weddings and funerals and anniversaries and big birthdays and … well … and for gathering that would be better with food.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Women who didn’t worry about who was “bringing home the bacon” because they knew that their fella might bring it home, but he sure couldn’t cook it up like she could.

Women who might gossip about a neighbor but would have that same neighbor’s back in a heartbeat. “They might be a piece of work,” was said of town trouble-makers, “but they’re OUR piece of work.”

Women who ran the local “five and dime”, built houses alongside the guys, played softball, worked at the bank, could throw a bowling ball with precision, chugged a beer with the best of them, liked her wine too, and enjoyed being the star of the local 4th of July production.

Women who enjoyed the guilty pleasures of hot-buttered rums, soap operas, and Harlequin romances. (If you were born after 1980, insert Starbucks coffee, Fire Fly Lane on Netflix, and Hallmark movies.) … who might let a swear word (or 30) fly, but loved her hymns and knew how to ask forgiveness.

Women who kept the books on the farm or for her husband’s mechanic shop while stretching budgets thinner than one-ply toilet paper when the price of wheat fell to nightmarishly small numbers.

Women who didn’t worry a flip about the color or a person’s skin … anyone was welcome at her table … you just better offer to help with the dishes.

Women who would eventually and reluctantly learn the ways of smart phones, Facebook pages, and social media … or not … but didn’t need them anyway in order to hunt down their kids in a millisecond if they caught wind of said kids sassing a teacher or bullying another kid or if the kid was skipping out on chores.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Women who have never owned a little black dress, but made a pair of snug Levi’s and oversized plaid shirt look sexy.

Women who looked in the mirror and didn’t always like the size of her body … but others looked at her and saw nothing but the size of her heart … a heart we all loved.

Women who fought off raccoons and coyotes from preying on pets … and could take down a derelict with a stare for daring to come too close to one of her own. Who drove school busses full of sugar-jacked kids and yet managed to deliver them safely home every single day … even when mountain high drifts erased the view of the road and made for a treacherous ride.

Women who didn’t care if you were her flesh and blood … if you needed a roof over your head and a meal in your stomach … especially if you were a confused kid … you were gonna find it … and maybe a hug or two as well … at her house. She’d do anything for you except stay in a room with a spider.

Not every one of these things described my mom … but most of them do. The point being that her heart beat with a drive to make life better for others, even when she felt unworthy herself. It’s the heart in all of these beautiful women I’ve known … rusty and rustic … cut from frayed county cloth … women who are maybe not destined for history books but who leave a spicy legacy of beauty and grit.

I don’t think my role models stand up to the definition of a modern woman … not the 2021 versions I see on newspaper pages and TV shows of late … or the political versions out there …

But I’ll take them … my role models, that is … and I’ll celebrate Women’s Month and mourn my Mom with them. Put me in a crisis and let me choose my tribe. First pick is my Mom … one of the spiciest of them all. Then fill the rest of the spots with country-fried women as described above. Courageous. Stubborn. Kind. Ornery. Hardworking. I seriously think if you want women to run the nations, you need to come where I live and glean from the best. Stuff WILL get done.

The other profound thought I’ve had about Mom this year is how much she would have liked our puppy.

There are a lot of things I miss about Mom but I really wish I could watch her face as we tell stories about our pup pouting in the crate while on timeout for impersonating a shark. Or about her persistent attempts to get the cat to play chase. I picture smuggling the dog into Mom’s room for just a quick pet … a chance to let Tillie lick her hand while Mom’s eyes light up from the love of a sweet, innocent creature.

Yes …

It has been a year, alright.

A hard one of missing Mom and of watching these other beautiful women who are made of the same stuff she was … watching them struggle with aloneness … with being shut away from all they love most in attempts to give them a few more days on earth … of watching them wither under a sense of usefulness.

Oh March … there you go, making me all melancholy again …

Hurry up April.

Taken this morning … Spring and Winter still playing tug-o-war.

Thank you for reading “Small Stuff”.  This is the second of two blogs sites that I write.  You can find more on my thought&faith blog at rashellbud.wordpress.com. Wishing you a beautiful day full of the Small Stuff that transforms life into BIG STUFF.

A note to my “silent” readers … thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my work. I’ve learned that many of you are shy about commenting or hitting the like button, but I want you to know that I appreciate your visits and invite you into the conversations whenever you are ready.

Wishing you peace in all things … Shelly

Small Town Dog Owners – 5 Observations

There a few things that quickly come to mind now that we have ventured back into life with a puppy in our little town.

1 – Don’t dare bring home a new dog and not immediately introduce it to all of the neighbors and shop owners in town. They don’t have dog teats in their pockets and behind the counter for nothing. (I’m still working on smoothing things over at the Coffee Shop)

2 – Dogs are not pets here. Neither are they simply members of a family. They are an extension of the whole community. (I’ve sometimes wondered if they get included in the census.) Farm dogs … town dogs … big beasties … little yappers … everyone knows whose dog belongs to whom, their names, their favorite type of treat, their birthweight, their barking decibel .. . okay … I exaggerate … but I do think many of us know more about each other’s pets than possibly about each other’s kids.

3 – Photos are a must. If you have a cell phone, you’d better have a picture of your pet especially if you use the word “puppy”. Even dog haters seem interested in puppies. Puppies are immune to the loathing created by grown-up barkers, garbage hounds, growlers, whiners, cat-chasers, poop-in-the-neighbor’s-yard leavers.

4 – People in our community don’t feel compelled to give you advice about your pet unless you ask. Well, usually. I was surprised at a restaurant (not in my town) how quickly the waiter jumped into advice-mode, grilling us with questions when we mentioned that we were considering a puppy. “Do you have a fence?” “How big of a dog?” “Are you home during the day?” “You know they’re a lot of work, right?” The person didn’t even know us or our past experience with dogs yet seemed compelled to dive into what was wrong or right with breeds we were considering and with our living conditions.

We only mentioned that we were thinking about a puppy, yet out poured the interrogation.

“He just loves dogs, Honey,” My Guy said later when I aired my irritation. “I don’t think he meant it personal. He was excited for us.”

Still … it seemed over the top.

It’s been a little of the same on social media too … people jumping in with their advice and loaded opinions about dogs once they learned we have a puppy. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to happen overly much in our circle or in our rural town where dogs are a staple of farm and small town life. The dog-loving souls here assume that if you’re getting a dog you know what you’re doing or will ask for help if you need it. And if you don’t, there’s always our local code enforcement officer who will clue you in upon a couple of complaints. (Wink wink)

5 – Yes, it’s certainly a “more the merrier” feel around here. Until … 1:00 in the morning on a hot summer’s when windows are wide open, an invitation to cooler air. That’s when we all become aware of just how many pooches are in residence. It takes about a day for the disgruntlement to wear off as folks air out their frustrations at the coffee shop or in front of the post office the next morning …

“Did you hear that 101 Dalmations mess last night? Gawd, every dog in the county must have been yacking their heads off .”

“Who didn’t hear it, except my wife who turned off her hearing aids. What a racket … the neighbor said he heard coyotes first tho’. That’ll get everyone started. Coyotes have been moving in closer and closer … people are losing cats, someone said.”

“That so? Well, I guess all those mutts are just doing their job. Gee whiz, tho’. Between the heat and the mutts … how does a body sleep?!”

I guess we don’t sleep on those hot summer nights … but at least we have faithful companions to wag their tails at us the next morning and remind us of how cute they are. How worth it … right?

So far, Tillie isn’t much of a barker except when playing.
Bonus observation … a Pandemic is both a good and rotten time to get a new pet.

Good … because the extra companionship in a world of social distancing and isolation is nice. Life feels a little more normal with a playful puppy. Puppies aren’t aware the half the world has seemed to lose its mind in one fashion or another. They just play, poop, and make life a little more fun.

Rotten … because I’m now more confused than ever about what’s in my pockets. Face mask. Hand sanitizer. Glasses. (Face mask on … glasses off and visa versa.)

And NOW, doggie doo-doo bags and dog treats. Life wasn’t complicated enough trying to maneuver all of the COVID rules … now I have to maneuver puppy protocols too.

I sometimes tuck some chocolate covered almonds in my pockets (for me) … but after almost chowing down on a dog biscuit instead, the human treats are not for pockets any more.

I may have to resort to a doggie back pack to carry all of Tillie’s goodies around. Guess there’s bigger problems to worry about in the world, so I’ll end up my complaining with some cuteness. Wishing my readers a bit of hope as we come upon one year of craziness. Hope you are well and that life is settling in good ways for you and yours.

And not to be forgotten … we still love our cats. Sophie is making sure of it, so I’ll let her have the last look.

Thank you for reading “Small Stuff”.  This is the second of two blogs sites that I write.  You can find more on my thought&faith blog at rashellbud.wordpress.com. Wishing you a beautiful day full of the Small Stuff that transforms life into BIG STUFF.

A note to my “silent” readers … thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my work. I’ve learned that many of you are shy about commenting or hitting the like button, but I want you to know that I appreciate your visits and invite you into the conversations whenever you are ready.

Wishing you peace in all things … Shelly

The Little Christmas Liar, Part II

I realize now that my brother had been about to call her out on that Christmas day.

Thank you for reading along and sharing this memory with me. Part I is found here.

PART II

After presents, the three older of us kids were shooed outside into a world of crunchy snow and cool breezes. “Blow the stink out of your pants while I finish up with the ham”, Mom pushed us toward the door.  Grandma asked if she could now tidy the room and clean the dishes which were crusting over with half-eaten oatmeal. Grandpa wanted to see Dad break in that new pipe and join him with a well-worn one of his own.  

Thus occupied, the adults ignored us as we scrambled for our rubber boots and layers of wool socks.  A stack of used bread wrappers sat by the door.  These were to go over our socks before wrestling our feet into boots that were slightly too snug to begin with.  The wrappers made “swish-swash, swish-swash” sounds as we stomped through the snow, but they did serve well enough.  Our “poor-man-snow-boots” (as my brother called them) … they would suffice. Never mind that it was so cold that snot froze inside our noses almost as soon as we stepped off the porch or that we would get scolded for spreading soggy breadcrumbs throughout the house later.

Just as I don’t remember how we finally got to the tree and presents in the living room, I don’t remember how Marla came to join us in the front yard, but there she was.  The sun, which decided it wanted to be a part of the day, sang in falsetto as it did nothing to warm up the morning, yet in its brightness, created a stunning world of crystal and dancing light as we broke into the ice-layered snow and tried to form snowballs.

“Let’s make a snowman,” Marla suggested.

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

We didn’t see our neighbor from down the block much in the winter time.  She went to a tiny, church school on the other end of town, so our playtimes were usually restricted to the summer months. The fact that she joined us now was unusual but welcome, and I wanted to please her so that she would stay.  My brother had a different mindset. 

“Snow’s too hard for that,” he snapped. “Don’t you know anything?”

Marla stay stooped over her pile of snow, patient with her attempts. Her mittens were worn through and soggy, so she stripped them off and worked bare-handed.  Once he saw that he wasn’t going to get a reaction from the girl, he huffed and marched to the garage in search of our sleds.

Marla had gotten used to ignoring him.  They were about the same age and had for some mysterious reason slid into the role of enemies.

There were a lot of things my brother didn’t seem to like about Marla. First of all, her parents were “as old as Methusela”. (He ignored the truth that our own father wasn’t any younger than Marla’s parents and was, in fact, almost two whole decades older than Mom.) He often taunted how poor they were.  We were poor too, but they did appear more in need than us.

The war between these two had escalated the summer before over a bag of bananas. The helpless bananas had been snatched out of Marla’s hands as my brother and his friends raced by her on their bikes.

Later that day, Marla’s mother trudged meekly up the sidewalk to our house and asked to see my mother.  She talked in quiet, yet firm tones which resulted in Brother having his bike locked in the garage for a week. Worse, he wasn’t allowed to play with his friends for twice that long.  It wasn’t just the stealing of the bananas, which were squished and thrown into the yard, it was the taunting.  “Marla is a baby! Marla is a baby!” they had  called out, making fun of the fact that they had caught the girl, who was their age, singing and playing make-believe with her dolls in her back yard, as if those toys were her real friends.

Photo by alleksana on Pexels.com

Marla had not cried in front of them, but wasn’t seen outside of her house for most of the rest of the summer.  “See, she is a baby,” my brother’s friends chanted when they road by on their bikes.

She might not have come around our house at all except that there were other no kids in the neighborhood.  All those who went to her school lived far out in the countryside … too far to walk or even ride a bike. As an only child, she got lonely, I’m sure. 

“What did you get for Christmas, Marla?” 

She didn’t seem to hear as she swept more snow toward her mound and tried once more to get the pile to form a ball. Her hands were red and shiny, the way mine got when I grew so cold that the pain left me in tears.  Marla seemed to know no such pain; she worked on un-phased. 

“I got a doll,” my little sister rambled, “And candy. And so many, many toys.  Santa brought us a whole sleigh full!”

“I got a China doll,” Marla suddenly stood up.

“The doll was just part of it,”  her words started in a slow cadence but gained speed as her eyes widened with excitement.  “She will sit on a shelf in our front room. She came with three of the most beautiful outfits a person ever saw.  And … “

She paused as if trying to find the perfect, magical words for something so magnificent that natural words might not do justice.

“And … I got three dresses in my size to match.  Such beautiful dresses … too beautiful for our town.  When I wear them, people are sure to mistake me for a princess.”

I sighed. I  couldn’t imagine owning something beautiful enough to be be mistaken for a princess, not that I liked dresses much or ever considered being a princess before this.

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

Marla wasn’t finished. Her gray eyes, much too big for such a thin face, sparkled like the crystalized snow around us. Her yellow hair stuck out in a number of spots on her hatless head like the straw of a scarecrow.  With a long neck and red cheeks, she reminded me of one of my picture books of Alice in Wonderland, minus pretty ribbons and a flowing gown. 

“We got the hugest fruit basket with the sweetest, most tasty fruits. Tropical fruits. And then! Then, there was a brand new chess set … boxes and boxes of chocolates … new stationary … a wooden yo-yo … a shiny pair of Mary Janes with an ever-so-slight heel … bubble bath and perfume … and brand new sheet music for Mama.  A new felt hat for Father and … lace curtains for our front windows, and so much food for our pantry that I couldn’t name it all … and a goose.  We’re eating goose for dinner.”

My brother had returned from the garage with our banged up metal sled … the Flying Saucer … in time to hear this extravagant list.  He “Hmmm-huffffffed” past, marching to the small hill at the end of the driveway. Once there, he suddenly spun around, gritted his teeth, and opened his mouth like he was about to shout something, but instead shut it, and chewed on his bottom lip..

“Are you going sledding with me or not?” he glared as he gripped the rope handles our dad had fastened to the round and dented metal disc that served as our favorite sled for the way it spun us round and round as we whooshed down hills.

I was not. I wanted to hear more of such gifts, so did my sister. Brother stomped off on his own.

I was both entranced and dismayed, a cloud I did not understand covering me.  It would take looking back to understand the weight of jealousy that had found its way to my heart.  My six-year-old brain wrestled with the thought that it somehow seemed unfair that my family had finally experienced great riches at Christmas, and yet plain, ol’ Marla should have gotten so much more.

Marla lived in a broken down house … more broken than ours … with broken down things.  My Dad patched our things, while Marla’s parents seemed unable or just too tired with age.  They were rarely seen except at their church or when coaxing a severely complaining truck to the mountains to gather wood  … their source of income and of heat.  Their unpainted, wooden house was paper thin.  No insulation padded the walls.  Newspapers covered the windows in the winter; both to add warmth and to keep out the stares of the nosey boys who tormented them.

Photo by Sausmus Photography/property of smallstuffliving.com

We all thought her parents odd and Marla odder.  Not only did she still play with dolls, she built forts and playhouses outside as if she were a member of the Swiss Family Robinson, banished to a life on a deserted island. Once, before the feud with my brother, she invited the two of us to roast potatoes in “my jungle” as she called it.  She had smuggled three mid-sized bakers out of the house and kept us in hushed tones as we tried to coax a flame out of leftover logs.  Without enough kindling to encourage a fire, we burned up all the matches. She crept into the house in search of more, but her mother heard and discovered what we were up to. We were sent home. I always wondered if Marla got her roasted potato that day; she seemed so hungry. 

Music. The one truly normal thing about this family was music.  Morning, afternoon, early evening, piano music escaped through those thin window pains, drifting as far as our house sometimes.  Often I snuck to the trees next to their lot and sat underneath, listening to the hymns and classical pieces played by someone who seemed to have magic fingers the way they made elegant sounds come out of that dingy house.

It was Marla’s mother who mostly played, but sometimes I heard the banging of keys and halting measures repeated again and again and again until there was less halting and fewer sour notes. I assumed it was Marla practicing, eventually growing in skill so that I had to listen very carefully to know which of them was playing.

Just as I was about to ask Marla how they were going to cook that goose for their dinner, we were called in to ours. All thoughts of Marla and my jealousy faded as we sat under the beam of Grandpa’s smiling face, stuffing our stomachs with ham, cheesy potatoes, and orange jello salad, trying to leave room for the cherry – pudding cheesecake with a graham cracker crust and Grandma’s once a year traditional, licorice-flavored, Springerle cookies. BUT not enough room for her mincemeat pie.

File image / source unknown

The rose colored glasses that viewed that wondrous Christmas didn’t crack until college.  It made no sense that while laboring over some all important paper about layers of deceit in King Lear or something like that, it hit me.  

That. Big. Fat. Liar! 

It took me a moment to know what I was even thinking about … the memory so random and so long tucked away.

Marla …. Marla lied. 

No china doll. 

No fancy gowns.  

No piles of books and puzzles or boxes of chocolate and stationery. 

No goose dinner.  

No lace curtains to replace the yellowed newspapers. (Why had I never noticed that they never appeared in those windows?)

I realize now that my brother had been about to call her out on that Christmas day.   There had been no tree in the window or decorations outside. There was likely a box of oranges and some baked goods from church members.  Maybe even a gift-wrapped classical book or sturdy, practical shoes, but that would have been it. 

My brother … yes, he could have ratted on her that morning … put his enemy on the spot. And why wouldn’t he, given the chance to get even for squealing about the bananas. But he didn’t.

He gave her her imaginary Christmas. 

And … then it occurred to me … my Dad was complicit too. He could have spoken up that day as well. He could have said no to my Grandfather’s whims … but he didn’t. He carried the burden of letting Grandpa pay for our house and a car big enough to carry all of us about. And then, to jab the knife a bit deeper, he paid for Christmas while Dad struggled to keep basic bills covered all year long.

Dad also knew the stories of Grandpa’s neglect when my mom was our age and that not all of the drinking binges led to funny endings like the night he had been locked out of the house. Now, there he was … taking the spotlight on that Christmas … a spotlight Dad might have felt was undeserved.

But Dad let Grandpa be the star.  And that was a good thing because Grandpa left us the next spring … illness swooping in and snatching him away with no warning.

Those are supposed to some of my most glorious Christmas memories because they were our last with Grandpa. But now they’re invaded by a liar, leaving a residue of guilt.  We had our wonderful Christmas … Marla’s was dismal.  And I had been jealous of her bragging only to discover that it was my bragging that likely heaped more misery on her. 

I have no idea what became of Marla, but a new thought occurs to me today.  Somewhere out there is a 60-something-year-old woman preparing for another Christmas.  It is a dark world for all of us right now (2020) but I pray for her today … and I wish I could say …

Marla,

You may have never gotten those fancy dresses or eaten goose for dinner (trust me, it’s not that great) … you may have never found your way to a mansion and may still have newspapers for curtains …

but I hope that wherever you are, that you have a piano to tap out songs of joy and peace … and I hope that the light of Love has found its way to you … you dear little Christmas Liar.

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

Thank you for reading “Small Stuff”.  This is the second of two blogs sites that I keep.  You can find more on my thought&faith blog at rashellbud.wordpress.com. Wishing you a beautiful day full of the Small Stuff that transforms life into BIG STUFF.

A note to my “silent” readers … thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my work. I’ve learned that many of you are shy about commenting or hitting the like button, but I want you to know that I appreciate your visits and invite you into the conversations whenever you are ready.

Wishing you peace in all things … Shelly

My Grandma Changed the World with Cookies

My daughter signed me up for a website that asks me to respond to weekly prompts, sharing about my life and memories … thoughts to be passed down to the family. I haven’t been very good about keeping up with it … sorry, Honey … but a couple of the prompts have lined up with things on my mind at the moment.

This week, the prompt was to write about someone who was a positive influence during my childhood. I started typing without really knowing who I was going to write about … turns out to be Grandma.

Grandparents … and our senior citizens in general … have been taking up a lot of my “thinking time” during this pandemic. It crushes me to think of the elderly isolated and withering away ALONE in their homes or rooms in a senior home … lonely … afraid … sad … scared … alone … alone. (Repetitions intentional.) Some I know have died without their family at their bedside because of restrictions. Awful …

I won’t stray any further into what the pandemic is doing to our elderly… as it’s not what the prompt or my response was about. I’ll just add that all this COVID stuff, especially during the holidays, has made me nostalgic.

Here is my response to the prompt from my daughter with a little more added in.

Who Had the Most Positive Influence on You as a Child?

I feel like I had a lot of good influences as a child.  One that stands out first is Grandma (my mom’s mother).  

It’s funny because as a teen, I think I was pretty hard on Grandma and didn’t see her as a good influence because she had become a hermit and shut herself off from people.  She didn’t like to go places and had stopped driving long before I was born.  I guess I saw her as someone who was very afraid of life and therefore weak. She started a lot of sentences with “Aren’t you afraid” … and by the time she finished asking, I guess I was afraid too.

For her struggles with anxiety and fear, Grandma was an amazing person.  With Mom so busy wrangling four kids and Dad trying to juggle enough work to keep us all fed, Grandma was our extra bright spot.  She had the time to fuss over us, play with us, and make us cookies.  Lots of cookies.  We always said that Grandma pretended she was making the cookies for us, but she was the one with the sweet tooth.

From Grandma I learned that the trick to good cookies was making sure that the butter and sugar were fully creamed.  She made me do this with my hands so that I could feel what it took to melt the ingredients together until I could barely feel the sugar crystals any longer.  Eventually I would  use a wooden spoon and could tell by the color of the mixture when it was truly ready for the next ingredients.

Peanut butter cookies (I loved making the patterns with a fork as we smashed down the dough), snickerdoodle, and ranger cookies (cookies with cereal and nuts in them), and occasionally brownies … filled her little kitchen and its pink plaster walls with scents of love.

Ice cream was another of Grandma’s sweet tooth staples.  Her favorite was Marigold’s Strawberry ice cream with chunky pieces of frozen strawberries imbedded.  She usually had Chocolate Ripple, and Tin Roof Sundae on hand as well. If there was only one serving of Strawberry left we knew what we would be having … it would NOT be the Strawberry. That’s about the one thing I remember Grandma standing resolutely on … the Strawberry was HERS.

For not liking to be in groups of people, Grandma always had other people on her radar.  She was a very loving person, always mindful of others.  She sent birthday cards faithfully, called the little old ladies in town on a regular basis (always referring to them as the “old ladies” as if she wasn’t one of them), and kept up with all the graduations and big events in the lives of her many nieces and nephews and their children.  She made sure there were flowers on all the family graves at Memorial Day, and kept my imagination alive with stories of her childhood and of family memories about people I only knew through photos because they had passed on before I was born. She received more Christmas cards than anyone I knew, probably because she was so faithful about sending them out and including a personal hand-written letter. (She would not be a fan of the modern form letter popular these days.)

If someone was in need, Grandma would have my Mom get money from her bank account and send an anonymous letter with some cash tucked in.  She was very generous with us kids and it was because of her we had a lot of basic things like school clothes and new shoes covered. Because she didn’t like to leave the house, she gave us money at Christmas and birthdays. We never minded, because the older we got the bigger the numbers got on those checks!

Even for all of the fears she battled (probably stemming from a battle she had with a brain tumor in her forties and a challenging marriage to Grandpa, who drank too much sometimes), she had a deep and simple faith in Christ.  We used to sit at her organ and she’d play hymns from the old German hymnals she had.  She didn’t like to go to church any more even though it was a block from her house, but only because it meant being in a crowd. She cherished visits from the Pastor and parishioners who checked in on her regularly. She read her bible often and tucked in notes from the radio preachers who inspired her.

Grandma filled my childhood with scented memories.  I got to spend a lot of Friday nights at her house.  (Each of us kids took turns having a special night.)  We, of course, baked cookies, and we ate frozen meat pies, heated up in her oven as soon as the cookie making was done, the smells of that pie crust and the meat, vegetables, and gravy tantalizing me. I loved bathing in her oversized claw foot tub, filling the bathroom with the aroma of a rose garden from the bubble bath she kept on hand.

She kept a closet of toys and puzzles for us, took me on walks, read books, taught me to crochet, taught me a lot about gardening, instilled a love of flowers, and of story telling. And most of all … a love of all things sweet.

Although my siblings and I may have been good excuses to bake cookies in excess, those cookies … and every ingredient … and everything else we did together … speak to me of a fully invested love from my Grandmother. Can’t think of a much more positive influence than that.

This was all I wrote for my daughter … but I think a “cookie post” is on it’s way. I recently came across a box of some of Grandma’s treasured recipes and I’ve been thinking especially about her gingerbread cookies.

Stay tuned.

But before I go … what about you … any special memories of a grandparent’s influence? Or someone else in your childhood? Or maybe it’s your turn? Are there any special traditions you have with your family?

Thank you for reading “Small Stuff”.  This is the second of two blogs sites that I keep.  You can find more on my thought&faith blog at rashellbud.wordpress.com. Wishing you a beautiful day full of the Small Stuff that transforms life into BIG STUFF.

A note to my “silent” readers … thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my work. I’ve learned that many of you are shy about commenting or hitting the like button, but I want you to know that I appreciate your visits and invite you into the conversations whenever you are ready.

Wishing you peace in all things … Shelly

The Fine Art of Not Having Thanksgiving Traditions

Looking back is sometimes sad, until we realize we’re going to miss this year … even 2020 … too.

November 2020. With a pandemic wreaking havoc on normal life, this is a good year to have the tradition of not having traditions.

I grew up in a family short on grocery money and even shorter on relatives. My mom was an only child and my dad and his siblings drifted apart after a squabble about an inheritance or something along those lines. I don’t think they were the sort to fuss about holidays anyway. A few years ago, I found one of my dad’s childhood journals, started during the Great Depression. No mention of Thanksgiving. Christmas Day was spent resting and fiddling around with his tools, making an end piece on a cabinet for his mother. Dinner meant extra portions of stew. But no gifts … and noted disappointment in Dad’s scrawled remarks … “Phooey! No presents.”

During my childhood, holidays meant just us … mom, dad, my grandmother, and us four kids … a mildly dysfunctional family who wasn’t into church (not during those years, anyway), football, or big gatherings. For us the day was largely about eating.

The success of the intended goal … eating … fell to Mom and Grandma, who collaborated for weeks prior over what dishes would make it to the table that year. An oven roasted turkey, cooked in one of those new fangled “plastic” baking bags … always … at Thanksgiving. Grandma’s sweet potatoes with perfectly toasted marshmallows on top (surely that recipe alone contained a lethal amount of sugar). A lime Jello® and 7-up® salad. Pecan pie … Mom called it Washington Nut Pie. Whole AND jellied cranberries so that nobody could complain. Store-bought potato rolls. And … olives … black olives.

This was the one day in which my younger brother and I, who were usually red-alert-annoyed with each other, would sneak into the kitchen and snitch olives. Mom turned a blind eye as we loaded our fingers and thumbs with the dripping black blobs and then raced to see who could eat theirs the fastest without choking.

Just wait. Next year we’ll be missing THIS year.

Said by one of my parents a long time ago. They didn’t know about 2020.

The menu of my childhood was traditional, but that was about it. We might pull out Monopoly or play Kings in the Corner like our neighbor had taught us, but it usually resulted in a squabble, so didn’t last long. We weren’t the family that sat and watched the Macy’s parade (not with much interest any way), gathered with others to play touch football, went on a hike, went to a church service, or anything like that. I knew families who couldn’t wait for the yearly gathering to play killer games of Spoons or who drove to “town” to watch the latest movie. (We went to one movie in my childhood … a drive in showing of Cinderella when I was six.)

We just weren’t traditional in any of these ways. We had hard working, practical parents who saw this as a day of rest (well … only for Mom, in that she made us kids do the dishes after all that cooking).

We ate … we rested … and we talked … listening to Grandma’s stories and witty puns … none of which I can recall … I just know that she always had us rolling with her unexpected dry humor … she was otherwise a little on the mousy side. Sometimes Dad would surprise us with a story about the animals he had as a kid and other childhood stories.

I liked hearing about the mule they had. “Jack Ass,” my mom would smile. “Your Dad was named after him.”

“Hey, now,” Dad … Jack … didn’t let her get away with the joke. “I was born first. The mule was named after me.”

“Is that any better?!”

I loved it when they teased like this.

Then … we ate … again. Mom and Dad said nothing if we went back for a second or even third piece of pumpkin or pecan pie. By the time bedtime showed on the clock, the lone pie left on the counter was mincemeat with only the tiniest slivers missing. No one wanted to hurt Grandma’s feelings, but she never seemed to get the message about that mincemeat.

By the time I got married I was thrilled with the idea that Thanksgiving and fresh traditions were wide open territory. My Guy and I could make it whatever we wanted it to be. However, once I discovered that he lacked fondness for Mom’s 7-UP® salad and that I was never going to live up to his mother’s version of sweet potato casserole, I knew we needed to set an entirely new course.

The problem for me was figuring out what traditions we should adapt … while My Guy can eat the same foods over and over … why mess up a sure bet, he always says … I am the great experimenter when it comes to holidays.

Our turkeys over the year have come to the table via being roasted in a brown paper bag, smoked on the grill (never make gravy from this method!), soaked in apple cider brine, simply roasted with butter and stuffed with gloves of garlic, stuffed with stuffing, sans stuffing … pretty much whatever method was popular in the latest “home living” magazine I’d come across. (These days it’s Pinterest.)

We’ve had green salads garnished with cranberries and apples as an appetizer. One year we warmed up our appetites with pumpkin soup cooked in the pumpkin shell itself. (My Guy wasn’t a fan … so that remained a one hit wonder.)

Desserts have ranged from pecan pies, Costco’s pumpkin pies (why fight it when they do it better than me), pumpkin cheese cake, apple crisps, chocolate … lots of chocolate.

Relish trays and sausage rolls (introduced to us by a friend).

Candy turkeys made from candy corn, round crackers, and chocolate kisses. Apparently THESE ARE a tradition. I saw them in one of those many magazines and gave them a try when our kids were small. We made the sticky creatures several years running … frosting everywhere … always scrounging to find candy corn after Halloween. (Quick Stops at gas stations. THEY always have them!) Then, when the girls were in high school, I decided to save some money (these little treats get spendy) and didn’t gather up the supplies.

“Wait …,” one of the girls said. “You mean we aren’t doing turkeys this year?”

“I figured you guys were too old to want to make them.”

“But, Mom … they’re tradition.”

Okay … we have one stayed tradition.

It’s taking time to find God’s blessings, even between rain clouds.

But …

It’s not the food.

It’s the people and the memories.

And … again … there’s been nothing traditional.

Some years we entertained a household of nearly strangers … anyone who didn’t have home to go to.

Sometimes it was extended family … other years … many years … we traveled to where we live now … to visit my mom … and ate at the local restaurant who put on a magnificent yearly feast. (Sadly, that ended this year … with COVID restrictions ringing a death knell to this 14 year old business).

The last two years, our holiday has whittled down to just immediate family … a big deal having the girls come from far away … we wanted to soak up all that the time with them that we can.

I often dreamed of us having a traditional activity. We almost got there when, several years running, I made us walk the Narrows Bridge in Tacoma when we lived on the West side of the state. Turkey in the oven, we headed out to cold air and beautiful views … and lots of complaining. My Guy did most of it!

“Do we really have to do this?”

“We’ll only go half way and turn back.”

My Guy held me to it but the girls ran ahead completing the whole mile each way. The next year though, they brought friends. After that, it got harder to coordinate dinner and schedules.

Last year was the last one we had with Mom … she didn’t actually make it to Thanksgiving dinner … turned out to be one of her hard days. Dementia does that to a person. BUT, she had one of her amazing good days earlier in that we and insisted on coming to help make pies. So … so thankful we got that day.

Tomorrow … it’ll be just My Guy and me. And probably some FaceTime with the kids … we’re trying to figure out a way to do a virtual version of some of our favorite board games. If it’s a fail, there’s always Charades.

This year the turkey will be a re-heated turkey breast from Costco. All the candy turkey makings are in the house but so far the caramels and candy corn are sitting untouched. We had visions of making them and taking some to neighbors who didn’t go anywhere this year. We’ll see if our good intentions make it out of the bag(s).

It’s connecting with loved ones. A text, a phone call, online chat, in person, a cherished memory of someone not with us … it’s all good.

Besides the candy turkeys, I realize that there is one tradition that found its way to us since the first year of marriage. Taking time to let each person voice something they’re thankful for. (We learned to do this while we’re eating, instead of before … we got a lot more out of hungry teens that way.)

Some years were awkward for sure … the kids especially felt put on the spot even though they knew what was coming. Sometimes it felt forced and a little superficial. But the words that have been said have stuck with me. We’ve been given so much. And even in years like this when so much has been taken, there are still bright spots. The sadness of change and the loss of my mom and other extended family weigh on me a bit … yet I find peace in reflecting on what they have each meant to us.

It’s a weird one … 2020 … but I’m sure we’ll look back and decide that this chapter of our long book on non-traditional traditions wasn’t half bad.

Hope yours wasn’t half bad too.

Happy Holidays!

These are not the same as ours. We make ours with chocolate kisses and with caramels as the stands … but this gives you an idea.

Thank you for reading “Small Stuff”.  This is the second of two blogs sites that I keep.  You can find more on my thought&faith blog at rashellbud.wordpress.com. Wishing you a beautiful day full of the Small Stuff that transforms life into BIG STUFF.

A note to my “silent” readers … thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my work. I’ve learned that many of you are shy about commenting or hitting the like button, but I want you to know that I appreciate your visits and invite you into the conversations whenever you are ready.

Wishing you peace in all things … Shelly

Small Stuff Christmas

Our new family motto: Make memories, not injures …

The Christmas forecast played with us.

Snow.

Oops …

No … rain.

Oops … hold that.  It’ll be a cloudy, dry Christmas.

Warm (winter warm) temperatures.

I love white Christmases, but with family driving over mountain passes and flying to an airport an hour away from us, I was okay with the final forecast of a mild Christmas day.

SURPRISE …

We woke up to a dusting of snow.

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White, frosted hope … a sprinkling of all things refreshed, made new.

How appropriate for a Christmas day.

A couple of days earlier, at our little church, the pastor asked the kids why they think people like snow so much at Christmas.

After giggled answers of  “It’s fun” … “I like sledding” … “Snowmen are awesome”… a second grader piped up.

“Snow reminds us that baby Jesus came so our bad stuff can be white … like what snow does.”

Well said, little boy.

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I have to say, the fresh snow felt like a gift from above … a little reminder that in a moment, life can look fresh and hopeful once again.

Since that snow dusted Christmas morning, we’ve slipped into the new year … a whole new decade, even.  A heavy snow met us on the last day of 2019, only to be washed away with heavy rain by the bursting of New Year fireworks.  At least, I think it was all washed away …  our weary bodies didn’t last until midnight to ring in the new year or watch any fireworks on TV.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t celebrate the New Year though … well … at least half of us did.  We’d been looking forward to pot luck and Bunco Night at the town restaurant.  We had joined in last year and had a blast, making new friends, laughing over simple, silly things.

Darn …

I was smote with a nasty sinus head ache late in the afternoon, so sent My Guy to forage for pot luck food at the little market where he found chips and store-bought cookies, while I sat by the fireplace and waited for the the essential oils and pain reliever to kick in.

As I sat there, looking at the fake flames in my otherwise cozy fire place, I thought of all the small stuff that made this holiday season and the upcoming year feel so rich:

The mystery plate of cookies at the front porch.

Another plate of cookies handed to me at work by a woman I admire but rarely get to interact with. It was such an unexpected, heart-felt gesture.  (Not to mention that my family was super pleased since I haven’t taken the time to make cookies the last few years.)

An unexpected text and then exchange of photos and more texts with a friend from childhood. We grew up together just 12 miles away from where I live now, having both travelled parts of the globe, and here we are, still connected at the heart.

The festivity of our small town, including a stunning show of lights across the train trestle that is soon to be converted to a bike and walking trail. 

The kindness of the community to put together a Sharing Tree that provided gifts for families needing extra support this year … a long standing tradition in the community.

The joint effort of two churches who come together at Thanksgiving to worship and then take up donations to provide meals for families during Christmas.

Mom “willed” herself to join us on Christmas.  It was not one of her easier days, but she came, and we so enjoyed the time.

Visits with our kids. Something I know we can’t take for granted. I was very aware of the huge gift these small moments were as many around us lost family and loved ones of late or just were too far away to be with family.

Well-thought out, simple gifts from family. (We kept our budgets very low this year, and somehow, I think the gifts were far more meaningful.)

Laughter as our son-in-law ventured up a giant tree to rescue My Guy’s brand new (bargain-priced) drone that magnetically drifted to the highest limbs of a 50+ foot tree.  (Well, laughter afterwards.  I actually was at work, so wasn’t told of the hi-jinks until all were safe on the ground again.  Thus … our new family motto: Make memories, not injures. Thankfully, we were successful!)

I saw a lot of kindnesses displayed this Christmas … more than I listed here, as many of the stories are not mine to tell.

I don’t watch news much anymore because I see so much cruelty and unkindness.

But, here, in the small stuff, I’ve seen that kindness and compassion for others is still alive and well.

That’s a good note on which to end one year and start another.

 

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Wishing you a year overflowing with kindness and small-stuff possibilities!

 

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Our main street and the whole town was so pretty and festive this year.

 

 

Color With My Mother

My Guy and I moved far away from the fervor of city life and embraced small town quietude primarily to care for my mother.

The scope of what that was to look like has changed multiple times once we got here and began to understand what Mom’s needs look like.

Lewy Body Dementia is rough.  Any disease that steals a loved one and molds them into someone only loosely familiar, someone who is often scared … frequently worried … and possessing little control … well … its rough.

But there are the small things that make it tolerable, even special.

It was a typical Friday afternoon visit in her cozy room.  I poked my head in never knowing if this is a visit where she’d welcome me to sit awhile or look up lost, listen to a few words from me then say her ritual, “I think you’d better go.”  The second is hard … I try to push my welcome so that she knows we’re always here and so that she doesn’t have to be alone.  But the plea comes with a look in her eyes that almost begs … “I don’t want people to see me like this.  I’d rather be alone.”

The Friday she was standing by the sink looking at things on the counter.  I would be welcomed to stay.

First was rehearsing some things she’d been working hard to remember to tell me.  Personal items to pick up.  A table cloth back at her home that she wanted me to look for and pull out for the holidays.

Then she sank into the soft recliner from her old living room and pulled out her color books and pencils.

Three Christmases ago, a family member gave her some colored pencils and books, thinking Mom would enjoy them.  She didn’t seem the least bit interested.  Then one day, after moving to where she is now, she asked us to bring her books and pencils.

It’s sporadic for sure, but more and more she’s been filling the pages with color.  Detailed. Careful.  … I don’t remember her ever paying so much attention to artistic detail except for a brief period over 40 years ago when she enjoyed a stint painting ceramics at our neighbor’s shop.

She set out all her pencils, then gave me orders.

“Here.  You color the top.  I’ll color the bottom.”

Quiet. Working.  We only talked to consult color choices.

Peaceful.

This small moment mattered … every huge achievement in my life paling to mush.

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Mom has always loved color …

And gardens …

And flowers …

And bossing me around.

More about our journey with Mom and with dementia here and here.