Tag Archives: Holidays

Success in stepmotherhood is like success in ‘Survivor’

I was remembered today on Mother’s Day with a phone call, a card and a Facetime connection that included both stepchildren, my granddaughter and both granddogs. Lucky me.

I survived 40 years without giving Mother’s Day a second thought (other than to thank my own mother), so I’m still a little surprised—and pleased—when I’m thought of on Mother’s Day. Far beyond just being remembered on a Hallmark holiday, I’m fortunate to have two wonderful stepchildren with whom I get along well. Stepping into the role of stepmother hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes, it has been … well … how do I say this … bang-my-head-against-a-wall, heartbreakingly difficult. Days like today make all those other, less satisfying moments worth it.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ve updated a post I first wrote six years ago. “Survivor” is still around and so am I, so it’s worth pondering again, updated for this season’s “Survivor: Edge of Extinction.”

How being a stepmother is like “Survivor”

1. Outwit, outplay, outlast. If you can’t outwit and outplay a 13-year-old, you’ll never outlast one.

2. Do not be the leader. Leaders get voted out of “Survivor” (look how it turned out for Reem), and bossy stepmothers are unlikable all the way around. I learned early on that I had no role as disciplinarian, and thank goodness, my Beloved was up to the task.

3. Don’t be a follower either. Children—biological or step—learn how to push their parents’ buttons. If you let them get to you, they win.

4. Be nice but don’t be too young, too pretty or too stupid. Having to compete for your spouse’s attention helps no one. Be yourself. Be sincere. Help with homework. Care.

5. Keep your emotions in check. The frequent tears on this season’s “Survivor” are a little too much; methinks Jeff Probst might be pushing the contestants a little too far in the pursuit of TV drama. Yes, the actions of my stepchildren have made me cry. Crying is good sometimes. But not on camera or under the hot lights.

6. Being a good cook helps. If you can’t be a good cook, tend the fire. My tastes and my stepson’s tastes do not jive. Thankfully, my Beloved is a good cook. And I clean up after him well.

7. Lighten up. On “Survivor,” lunatics get voted out (hello, Wendy) but people like to keep funnymen around. In the end, the comedians are often the “fan favorites.” In my step-dynamic, Caswell tells the jokes and I laugh at them. In the words of Martha Stewart, this is a very good thing.

8. Avoid lying. Blindsides make for good tribal councils, but blindsided contestants tend to hold grudges when it comes time for the final vote. That goes double for stepchildren.

9. Win immunity challenges at any cost! There have been a lot of challenges in this season’s survivor requiring contestants to stand, balance, figure out puzzles or hold on the longest (even if it means passing out). Similarly, sometimes the best tactic for a stepmother is hold on longer than she ever thought she could.

10. Don’t monopolize the challenges either. If you’re seen as huge threat, you’ll be voted off (can you hear me, Joe?). Stepchildren don’t like threats to their security either.

Enjoy the “Survivor” finale this week! And happy (step)Mother’s Day!

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Potluck dessert

Looking for a delicious dessert to bring to the Easter potluck this weekend?

How about S’mores Cream Dessert with No-Bake Graham Cracker Crust?

I created this dish from three different recipes for an event this past summer, and it delivered on a promise to look like a show-stopper and taste as good as it looks.

Enjoy!

pan of S'mores

S’mores Cream Dessert with No-Bake Graham Crust

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 2 cups crushed graham crackers
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Cream Cheese Layer

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups Cool Whip

Pudding Layer

  • 2 boxes (3.9-ounce size) chocolate fudge instant pudding & pie filling
  • 4 cups cold whole milk

Topping

  • 8 ounces Cool Whip
  • 1 7-ounce jar marshmallow cream
  • 3 Special Dark Hershey’s chocolate candy bars, chopped up
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 1 cup graham cracker chunks

Directions:

  1. Crush the graham crackers with a rolling pin. Melt stick of butter in a bowl in the microwave (on high about 15 seconds at a time). Add crushed crackers and granulated sugar to the bowl and mix. Press into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan.
  2. With a hand mixer or strong arm, combine cream cheese and powdered sugar. When smooth, use a rubber spatula to fold in Cool Whip. Spread mixture onto graham cracker crust.
  3. In large bowl, whisk pudding with milk for two minutes. Let it sit for three minutes to thicken, then spread evenly over cream cheese layer.
  4. Gently stir together Cool Whip and marshmallow cream. Spread evenly over pudding layer. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Just before serving (so graham crackers don’t get soggy), top with chopped candy bars, marshmallows and graham cracker chunks. Serves 15.

dessert close up

 

 

Happy Irrelevant Cultural Holiday

When I was growing up—in Minnesota, nearly 40 years ago—St. Patrick’s Day meant wearing green or risk getting pinched. I remember one year in high school—probably about ninth grade—I was late for school because I couldn’t find something both green and flattering to wear on St. Patrick’s Day. And I really didn’t want to get pinched.

Finally, I decided to wear a necklace with light green beads. Weak, very weak showing on St. Patrick’s Day. I probably got pinched anyway.

About a decade ago, I moved to Illinois and I was astounded by what St. Patrick’s Day meant to people. Sure, some of the folks here wear green and Chicagoans dye the Chicago River green, but if you’re observing this patron saint’s day properly in Chicagoland, you better be toasting with a foamy green beer and a plate of corned beef.

Green leaves

Ah, green, a reminder of spring. Not beer.

Just about every restaurant around here has a St. Patrick’s Day special that includes corned beef and sometimes cabbage or soda bread. Maybe Chicago is particularly merry about this holiday, but I think this secular fascination with all things green on St. Patrick’s Day has spread across the country. I blame lazy marketers who run every great religious holiday straight into the ground by starting too early, going too literal and turning it into a secular excuse to drink alcohol.

If it’s Irish, it has to be green? Really? St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish. He was born in England and brought by pirates to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped, found God and returned to Ireland as a missionary.

When we should be remembering his courage and benevolence, we’re honoring St. Patrick by wearing dorky four-leaf-clover hats and complaining about how gassy cabbage makes us.

Most of us wouldn’t know even his first name without the green beer. All we Americans need to twist the meaning of a solemn holiday is liquor, a three-day weekend and fireworks (see: Independence Day). Because newspapers/magazines/bars/TV newscasters need a hook to get our attention, we’re all celebrating a holiday that means nothing to most of us because it’s an excuse to get drunk. Yes, I get curmudgeonly about it.

If you like corned beef, you can eat it any day of the year. And if you like green beer or Irish coffee, you should examine your excuses for imbibing at 10 a.m. You may have a problem that can only be solved with a 12-step program.

Wikipedia now defines St. Patrick’s Day as a cultural and religious holiday honoring Irish heritage. OK, this is nice for the Irish, if not St. Patrick, but one has to dig pretty deep in Google results to find holidays honoring Nigerian or Japanese heritage.

Since I am a little bit Scotch-Irish (which means I could be Irish but it also means I could be Scottish), I am wearing green today in honor of St. Patrick, not St. Patrick’s Day (and also, to guard against getting pinched). And I might enjoy some corned beef because it’s delicious and plentiful. I’m passing on the green beer (though I might quaff an amber one). My advice? You do you.

I’m also sharing a little bit of St. Patrick’s Breastplate, a popular prayer attributed to the patron saint which was shared in church today. This is the most secular bit of it, and it’s quite beautiful whether you believe in St. Patrick or God or green beer:

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

Thank you, St. Patrick, for inspiring today’s blog post. God rest your eternal soul.

Throwback Thursday: Memories as clear as smudge

In honor of Ash Wednesday this week, I’m dredging up this semi-entertaining entry first published Feb. 22, 2012. Seven years ago? Only? If you’d like to read the original entry, complete with an image of my ash-strewn forehead, click here.

# # #

Music is a powerful catalyst to evoking a memory.

Someday, when I’m 102 and sitting around the social hall at the nursing home, some old fogey who’s retired and out volunteering but not yet old enough for my chair will come in with an antique electric guitar and start playing “Beth” by Kiss, and I’ll start chattering on and on about some short boy named Chris and how I slow-danced with him while he stood on a chair in the junior high cafeteria during a Friday night dance in seventh grade. “Where’s Chris? I don’t want to dance with a short boy. And why are the lights on? Turn off the lights!” And then I’ll start singing along: “Beth, I hear you calling but I can’t come home right now. …”

And the nurse’s aides, who are 20something and standing around eldersitting us, will roll their genetically engineered eyes and text to each other, “God, I hate it when we play the oldies around here and the old ladies just won’t shut up.”

Something like that anyway.

While I was sitting in Ash Wednesday service tonight, we sang “Just As I Am, Without One Plea” and I was suddenly struck with thoughts of my sister. Not sure why that hymn reminds me of my sister who I would describe as a God-loving Christian who is, at best, lukewarm about going to church.

I think she had to learn that hymn as a child for some public event having to do with church or school, and she wandered around the house for weeks singing those lyrics. I called her to get the 411 (“Good for you for going to church,” she said), and she can’t remember either, but she immediately started reciting the lyrics.

Music is like that. I can remember all 50 U.S. states because of a song. I know the words to 1 John 4: 7-8 because I learned the verses set to music at Lutheran Island Camp when I was 12. And I think of a freakishly short kid named Chris when I hear Kiss.

At least I think his name was Chris.

crater lake without one plea

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

~ Charlotte Eliot

# # #

In observance of Ash Wednesday, I’m asking big questions about life and death this week on Minnesota Transplant. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a six-week season during which Christians focus on the life and, in particular, the death of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, a celebration of a life.

Bearing witness

Is this heaven

If you think meditation requires sitting cross-legged and chanting “Om,” you might be surprised to learn that’s only one way to practice meditation. Dozens of contemplative practices exist including everything from sitting in silence to dance and many acts in between. One of them is bearing witness, defined by Jules Shuzen Harris as “acknowledging that something exists or is true.” He suggests the Buddhist perspective of bearing witness “is to embrace both the joy and the suffering we encounter.”

For the past six months or so, I have been participating in a meditation practice with a small group of women at a nearby church. Last month, we met in my church (that is, my house, which used to be a church). After we rang the church bell, we meditated to the sound of bells. It was lovely.

But today I’m thinking of bearing witness as a meditation because I did so earlier this week when I spent a few minutes in silence holding a dying man’s hand. Without getting into the sticky HIPAA details of who this man is and whether or not he is actually dying, let’s just stipulate we all are dying. But we’re not all breathing with a ventilator in the critical care unit of a hospital. This man was. If you’re a more hopeful sort, you might argue this man was recovering, not dying. To-may-to, to-mah-to. Unless you’re a baby, we’re all in some state of disintegration.

This experience has clung to my consciousness like Pig-pen’s dust cloud, not in a haunting way but in a solemn, reverential way; it seems appropriate with the observance today of Ash Wednesday, which I associate with one’s path to death and resurrection. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. For dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.”

In between the hullabaloo of a number of visitors checking on this man’s well-being and the nurse washing his face and pressing various buttons on his monitors and intravenous drips, I was left alone in the room with him for about 20 minutes. Cell phones were not allowed in the ward. Food wasn’t permitted. There wasn’t a TV in the room. Only the man, carefully arranged in a hospital bed, and an array of machinery. Instead of seeking a distraction, I paid attention to the moment.

I took the man’s hand and was surprised to find it warmer than my own. I held it gently because he was so frail.

I considered singing a lullaby, but he is hearing impaired and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be heard by anyone else or that I could remember whole verses. So I sat in silence listening to the ventilator do its work.

Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out.

Every breath is a miracle if you think about it, but it was even more special in this setting. This is exactly what one might do to center one’s mind during meditation, only one would be concentrating on one’s own breath instead of someone else’s.

Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out.

Though mostly unconscious, it was clear this man was suffering. Occasionally, he would open his mouth and grimace. But he would also sometimes turn his head and smile. There was small but real joy in these fleeting moments. He was warm. He was breathing. He was alive. Life, being a gift, should be celebrated even in the midst of pain, I believe. Sitting there with him, this is what I bore witness to.

Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out.

I did not consider the future. I have the luxury of being emotionally separated enough from the man that his state did not disturb or worry me. I was in no position to help the situation or control it or even speak words of comfort (he couldn’t hear me anyway and with a tracheotomy, he couldn’t speak either so conversation was not an option). I could just be. Holding his hand. And bearing witness. See him in the moment instead his past mistakes or all the machines in the present or what the future might hold.

According to Harris, bearing witness has psychological and spiritual benefits for the bearer: “It enables us to connect with a place of real empathy. It also provides a kind of catharsis, a release from our emotional reactions of pity, shame, or fear. Spiritually, bearing witness invokes a sense of interconnectedness, of oneness, a direct realization of the wholeness of life.”

I felt these benefits while sitting with this man. For a few minutes, I let go of my shame and pity, and in bearing witness to his joy and suffering, I felt fortunate. My private moments in that room were a blessing to him, I hope, and to me. It’s not every day one observes so intimately the process of living and dying.

# # #

In observance of Ash Wednesday, I’m asking big questions about life and death this week on Minnesota Transplant. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a six-week season during which Christians focus on the life and, in particular, the death of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, a throwback with a lighter perspective.

A less selfish first question than ‘How did he die?’

Ash Wednesday dandelion

I firmly believe that practice of reading obituaries is more about the reader than the dead.

When I heard Luke Perry died yesterday, my first thought was not about him or his family. It was about me.

“Only 52? I’m 52! How did he die? Stroke? What causes strokes? High blood pressure? High cholesterol? Diabetes? Obesity? Smoking? OK, I’m good. I don’t have any of those. Oh, too bad about Luke Perry. Well, I didn’t watch ‘Beverly Hills, 90210′ anyway.”

I’m just being honest. If you’re 52, this is what you thought, too. Unless you watched “90210,” in which case you thought, “Oh, another piece of my youth. Dead.” It wasn’t about Luke Perry. It was about your own youth. Or its demise. Or your health problems caused you to think, “Uh-oh.” Again, it was all about you.

I can’t quite believe all the news coverage Luke Perry is getting about his death. Poor Margot Kidder. I didn’t know she died last year until I saw the Oscars’ “In Memoriam” tribute, and then I had to look it up: The 1978 “Superman” star died by suicide on May 13. Three weeks later, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade took their own lives, and everyone was talking about the epidemic of suicide. But Kidder’s cause of death wasn’t announced until August, so maybe that’s why I missed it. And, she was 69. Not so uncommon to die at 69 as at 52.

All too often, the first question someone asks when they hear of a death—whether its a celebrity or a relative—is, “How did he die?” What’s really being asked is “Could I die like that?”

A less selfish first question, after you offer condolences or at least consider the dead’s loved ones, would be “How did he live?” Being interested in what the deceased person offered the world, instead of the odds of whether I’ll leave this earthly plain in a similar way, would have been a more gracious and generous way to receive the news of Luke Perry’s death.

I’m going to blame my journalism background here. I once wrote obituaries for a living, and just about every obituary begins the same way, “Claim-to-fame So-And-So, age, died day of week of a cause of death”: “‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ heartthrob Luke Perry, 52, died Monday of a massive stroke.” How someone dies is a necessary fact in a complete report of death.

Pragmatism. My excuse for rudeness.

Still, in the future, I’m going to try to ask “How did he live?” before I ask “How did he die?”

# # #

In observance of Ash Wednesday tomorrow, I’m asking big questions about life and death this week on Minnesota Transplant. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a six-week season during which Christians focus on the life and, in particular, the death of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, bearing witness.

Nonsense and honesty

Felix

Hello! My name is Felix. I’d love for you to take your picture with me, but please don’t touch my head or hands. I’m very old … and I volunteered for this.”

This is Felix. His skin is smooth for how old it is, and his hair! I only wish I could have run my fingers through it! That dreamy look makes you believe in the permanence of Constitution again. We, the people and all that. Felix even has a hashtag: #prezwax

I don’t remember the details of his resume anymore, but I met Felix a couple of years ago at the National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, South Dakota (just a stone’s throw from Mount Rushmore), and today, as the snow comes down everlastingly, this picture strikes me as funny. It reminds me of warmer days. And I’m using it as a segue to commemorating Presidents’ Day, which we Americans celebrated earlier this week.

Ah, yes, February’s other holiday.

Abraham Lincoln would have been 210 last week, and if he’d stuck around to see what he’d wrought, George Washington would be 287 on Friday.

Isn’t it interesting that the two presidents we celebrate on Presidents’ Day each have legends of honesty associated with them. With Washington, it’s the cherry tree myth, how he confessed to his father that “I cannot tell a lie … I cut it down with my hatchet.” And, of course with Lincoln, he was known as Honest Abe.

With these two great men on my mind, I give you two great quotes:

“A sensible woman can never be happy with a fool.”

~ George Washington

Can we assume Martha wasn’t just a pretty face then? Such handsome jowls, hers. And speaking of pretty faces, this:

“There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.”

~ Abraham Lincoln

This explains a lot about all the selfies I delete.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Mount Rushmore

This is how Mount Rushmore looks if you don’t pay $18 to park.