50 Wishes for Happiness

Photo: Carry My Wishes to the StarsOn the most auspicious sixth day of June in human history, my youngest sister was born. If you don’t know what made it the most auspicious, you haven’t met my youngest sister. On this anniversary of her birth, I offer her these wishes for this and many, many birthdays yet to come. Blow on the seeds and let them carry the wishes up to the stars (I give you a milkweed rather than a dandelion, because the former are bigger and bolder, and every seed makes a new plant to feed both butterflies and even more wishes)—Kjæresten Min, may you:

1: Always know that you are loved.

2: Live surrounded by flowers.

3: Breathe fresh air deeply and often.

4: Be grateful for your good fortune.

5: Embarrass yourself just often enough to keep you humble (but

6: also) Wear the armor of unassailable self-confidence.

7: Find money under the furniture every time you clean house.

8: Get hugged whenever you need it.

9: Be generous at every opportunity.

10: Enjoy your ongoing status as the Smartest Sister.

11: Hear fabulous music wherever you go.

12: Never have awkward holes in your clothes.

13: See rainbows in every rainy day.

14: Rest and recover easily.

15: Never be too mature for anything important.

16: Live long and well.

17: Wear only what’s comfortable.

18: Choose joy, every chance you get.

19: Let politics roll off your back.

20: Never sit next to a person who smells awful.

21: Learn to enjoy everything you Have To Do.

22: Be a little wild when you can.

23: Have underwear that never rides up and socks that never fall down.

24: Always be comfortable in your own skin.

25: Smile knowingly with great frequency.

26: Have plenty of opportunities to stretch your horizons.

27: Stay warm enough in winter and cool enough in summer.

28: Wear your silliness proudly.

29: Revel in great good health.

30: Keep monitoring the halls because you care.

31: Be forever glad that you live wherever you live.

32: Frequently learn new things that interest you greatly.

33: Never run out of chocolate.

34: Tuck and roll when necessary.

35: Age with style.

36: Travel in comfort and explore with relish.

37: Be invisible to pests.

38: Think every day is the Best Day Ever.

39: Remember the stuff that matters to you.

40: Forget everything that makes you sad.

41: Immerse yourself in welcome silence.

42: Avoid toxic situations neatly.

43: Keep your savoir-faire intact.

44: See your beauty as clearly as others see it.

45: Miss every pothole in the road ahead.

46: Celebrate at any-and-every excuse.

47: Find unexpected goodness around you everywhere.

48: Be overflowing with contentment.

49: Continue to shine brightly.

50: Always remember that you are loved.

And have the happiest birthday yet…until the next one…and the next…!

Writing, Wandering, Wondering, and World Peace

I dream of being a better writer and artist. Of being a lyricist or maybe even librettist. Of taking many of my designs for furniture, clothing, sets and costumes, building materials, architectural elements, jewelry, inventions, and any number of the other concepts that constantly float around in my skull into the realm of actual production and use. Oh, yeah, and I dream of World Peace, too. Really.

Some people dream of simply having a healthy child with the average odds of survival and success in an average-length life. That was not my dream, but I know that it’s one shared by millions, not least of all by the author of an outstanding blog, The Hartley Hooligans. Gwen is always a superb writer and a tremendously insightful amateur sociologist-cum-psychologist with a wicked sense of humor. She outdid herself in one recent post. It’s a spectacularly beautiful meditation on how, in general, to live life boldly, fully, and richly. The article is ostensibly aimed at mothers or parents of special needs children (the author is mother to two profoundly ‘challenged’ kids and one who’s not), but I realized as I was reading it that it’s perfect advice for anyone, anywhere. (Note: Unless you’re a self-employed home-dude like me, reading The Hartley Hooligans may occasionally prove NSFW! But never, never dull.)

I don’t ordinarily publish anything that I didn’t write or illustrate myself, but in writing, supposedly, to the parents of special needs kids, Gwen offers insights so universally applicable to any of us who find ourselves with different realities than we had fantasized or expected in life, I think others should hear her uniquely graceful, bracing, hilarious, and touching take on the how-to and why-not of holding fast to our hopes and keeping up with the business-busywork tasks that make them possible.

For myself, I just substitute for her discussion of [special needs children] with the concept of any deeply felt, long-held dreams that I’ve felt unable to achieve or too intimidated or ill-equipped to accomplish, or have thought would be forever out of my reach for any reason.  I replace her talk about [doctors and caregivers] with those advisors and companions of any kind whom I assemble to support me in my life. The advice this wonderful, earthy, real woman gives on how to make the most of any situation; to give myself permission to be human, not superhuman; to credit myself with what I do accomplish and build on it; to surround myself with real, two-way relationships of love, respect, challenge, and support; and to make the most of everything I have with gratitude, is inspiring and pretty priceless.

I’m not one for sharing others’ work on my blog often, but this really spoke to me in a direct way that I think is far more broadly applicable than the already impressive comfort and wisdom of its intended point. I suspect we can all learn from it, so I feel compelled to share it here. Enjoy.

Many heartfelt thanks to Gwen for permission to share this epically useful, sane, marvelous insight of hers with my friends here in Bloglandia!

Digital illo from a photo: Everyday Superheroes

What do superheroes look like? Ordinary people who believe, and persist. No masks and capes required. Halos optional.

Rosemary, that’s for Remembrance

Photo: RemembranceBecause its distinctive and elegant, resinous perfume and flavor are so potent, the herb rosemary is intimidating to use. Hyper-sensory persons like my spouse can be reluctant to choose dishes when they detect a larger presence of herbs, and this beauty is among the most extroverted and easy-to-spot on that list. It can overpower extra delicate ingredients if used heavy-handedly.

But, like many accomplished and self-assured characters, when this fabulous herb is showcased to its best advantage, it’s the life of the party, the belle of the ball. With such a unique, recognizable scent and flavor profile, it’s easy for me to see how it would be the obvious choice as a symbol, and indeed, stimulant, of memory. Whenever I pass a rosemary plant I am compelled to stroke its incense-laden leaves, their odorous stickiness seeming to hold my hand in a reciprocal grasp. I inhale a long, deep draught of that alluring oil and am transported hither and yon in time and space. Of course, I was thinking about this unusually potent attraction when I wrote about the garden just last Tuesday.

Then, last night, I was reminded of how long the name has had a special resonance for me as well. My email held a little note informing me that my great-aunt Rosemary had just arrived at my blog as a subscriber, and without the aid of any herbal catalyst to take me there, I was transported back in time to when I first remember her, when I was very young and small. This Rosemary, too, has always had for me great beauty both inwardly and outwardly, not least of all because she was kind to little me and my siblings and our young cousins and friends and, especially, to my great-uncle, but also because she was eagerly intelligent, thoughtful, and full of quiet strength.

My great-uncle, her husband and companion of so many years, died just recently, and I can only imagine what a sea change this makes in her life. It’s a strange thing when relatives we have rarely been near in person for great lengths of time, whether the distance was one of miles, ages, life paths, or a combination of these as in our case, die. My great-uncle’s sister, my grandmother, left this world in an entirely different way, having been usurped by Alzheimer’s some years before she died and thus becoming a wholly different person than the one I’d known, while still living in a place where I could manage to see her occasionally without crossing the country. Two different sorts of separation, but in both instances, the person I knew from my youth had effectively been removed from my sight and my daily life for a long time; yet when each died, I was surprised to find I experienced the loss afresh. I suppose it’s partly being able, now, to mentally return to the place and conditions in which I felt I knew them best. Memory, yes, it is a strange and magical thing.

No more icebox cookies while reading in Grandma’s living room, or watching her crochet her perfectly aligned tiny rows to make the best potholders on earth while we visited. No more leafing together through Uncle Ralph’s gorgeous black-and-white photos of a full life and all of our relatives looking ever so much younger and more mysterious and glamorous in them, or hearing him discuss anything from nature’s beauty to what was on the table to psychology with avid, probing attention. Heaven knows there are enough quirks in our extended family to have kept his keen and trained mind busy with this last topic to the degree that I can only imagine it will continue to entertain him equally in the afterlife. He’s probably our there having a good laugh over my having said so.

But as for Rosemary, both the herb and my great-aunt, the preciosity lies, not just in the beauties of memory but also in being stalwart, graceful, and remarkably unassuming for such strong and lovely creations. It is truly good to reconnect with and be blessed by those gifts. One chapter of the story ends and a new and sweet one begins.

Motherly Love

It’s no secret that I love my mothers. I post about both the wonderful woman who carried me into this world and raised me and the marvelous woman who joined in mothering me when her son and I became partners for life. No amount of Mother’s Day posts, no matter how heartfelt, can tell anyone who doesn’t already know it how important these two superb people have been, and will always be, in my heart and in my daily existence.

Even telling you that I had to compose this post entirely from scratch twice, thanks to the joys of hiccuping technology, and was still willing to do it, can’t convey the height and depth of my affection and respect, of my love for them both. Though, if you know how technologically inept I can be, the latter might come close.

I’m here, though, to say thanks not only to Mom W and Mom S, with sincere gratitude and delight, but also to the innumerable stars in the sheltering sky of motherhood. Those who conceived (with a bit of help) and carried (with, or without) children and raised them from infancy. Those who have raised, or helped to raise, others’ children. People of all ages and socioeconomic levels; the educated and the self-taught; the mild-mannered and the most colorful characters on earth. Nature doesn’t guarantee aptitude or attitude, nor does nurture: like many people raised by outstanding, wise, and loving mothers, I did not feel the call to motherhood as a biological imperative myself, and of course many who do are not granted the opportunity.

I think men can mother. Youth can mother age. Persons with no genetic or legal relationship can mother. Anyone with the commitment to bettering the lives of those around them who may have a moment—or a lifetime—of need may be motherly material. I think that the truism “it takes a village to raise a child” isn’t far off the mark, but might be interpreted more broadly than some would do. History has handed us so many examples of familial bonds and gifts that extend far beyond an individual marriage or household or lineage that it surprises me we don’t celebrate the motherly instinct in any and everyone who is willing and able to exercise it for the good of others in their life’s path.

So I say Thank You with my whole heart to my beloved mothers. And I must add my deep appreciation, too, to every next-door mom, teacher mom, sports team coach mom, lady at the local convenience store mom, psychiatrist mom, librarian mom, delivery truck driver mom, classmate mom, and dive bar mom who ever counseled, taught, comforted, held, humored, read to, chastised, fed, and showed patient kindness to the rest of us when the time arose. My “village” has been a grand one, and good mothering is one of the best reasons it is so.Photo: To Mothers of All Kinds

Full Medical Coverage

I told you that I’ve had medical stuff on my mind lately. One of the reasons is that, among my collection of Adjunct Sisters (you didn’t know that was a Thing, did you? It is, and a very important one at that.), one member is battling a disease I’d never even heard of until her doctors diagnosed her: Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) or Devic’s Disease. Not funny, as you can tell if you look at the link. But the lady I know who is learning firsthand what that ugly condition is, she is funny. She’s fabulous in so many ways, and not least of them is her wildly adorable sense of humor, one of the many characteristics that has endeared her to our family since she joined the gang years ago as a friend and sometimes college-roommate of both of my younger sisters and laughed and loved her way into the whole family’s hearts.

So when I send her love and “advice,” since I am ill (no pun intended)-equipped to offer her anything of medical value, I try to give her, if not a belly laugh, at least a little smirk of silliness to help distract her way through the tough times. Today’s topic was medical masks and the myriad purposes they can serve. Perhaps those of you undergoing health challenges of your own can benefit from this utterly useless but well-meant meandering as well. And I do mean well. Forthwith! Here’s what I sent her today:

I think you know that Sister #3 is sharing your email updates with the other three of your sisters here, and I hope that you don’t mind terribly, because it’s so important for all of us to know what’s up with you and what we can be studying on your behalf and all of that. And of course, keeping you extra tightly in our arms, interwebbian though they may be. At least the latter makes us sound like friendly aliens, which of course is exactly what we are. You’ve known that all along.

Rituxan [the treatment proposed by her medical care team], as I understand it, is a chemotherapeutic drug. With that, I would guess it means that the intent is to kill off targeted invasive tissue, like those lesions of yours. I would also assume, especially with the liver toxicity warnings, that it means your immune system will be working extra-extra hard while you’re being treated, so I say, don’t be shy about watching out particularly vigilantly for your own health and protection during all of this time, whether it’s fending off a “mild” cold or dealing with any infusion side effects. Go ahead and take any old extreme prophylactic measure if your mood or the occasion warrants it.

Those who love you can and will support you in this adventure of yours if you let them learn how to be truly on your team by keeping them as informed as they can handle; I’m betting that those who do care about you deeply know or guess much more than they let on both that this is serious business and that it’s very stressful for you. No doubt everyone has frustrations and impatience that are surely exacerbated by seeing what stress you’re under. I can’t imagine there are too many parents, for example, no matter what the relationship with their kids, who don’t get a little extra crazy when they think their child is under attack and they can’t do that much about it.

As for protection, I can’t speak to the medicinal side of it, but I can offer my two (or two hundred) cents about some practical/tactical issues for protecting yourself from a few flying germs, and possibly, from a few unwanted attentions during the treatment and recovery process. Or how to get more attention, if that’s what you need.

In one word: masks. Medical masks aren’t as commonly used in the US as they maybe should be when what’s floating around us in our breathing air—whether of our making or someone else’s—poses a danger. Asia has been much more forward-thinking on this particular medical front, having had a couple of national crises with flus and other public health problems that resulted in some remarkably fashionable fashion shows, cultural events, and general public expressions of the usefulness of the mask.

A quick web search offers a wide range of options in this regard, and you may choose to consider using some of them either merely while hanging around in the clinic or hospital where you get your doses of Rituxan or as ways to visibly express your current state of being so you don’t have to make constant update reports to everybody when you’re already tired.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 1 If you want to go classic, there’s always the familiar rectangular style but with the slight upgrade of some dainty pastel colors for a little fashion flair. The shape and texture tell me that if you want to go classic but super cheap you could always find some vintage style maxi pads and tie them on around your head. This would, of course, have the bonus effect of startling others into leaving you alone.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 2

For the classic style with, well, more style, you can find lots of fashion prints online, or you could do as has many a stylish stagecoach robber or gang member of yore, and use your standard medical mask with a bandanna or scarf artfully covering it. This could provide an added benefit in making the nice people at the admitting desk respect you more, and possibly feel compelled to offer you a sudden, steep discount on your treatment, although eventually this latter effect could be hard to defend in court if the security cameras in the facility happen to show you in a poor light.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 3

Perhaps a more glamorous treatment of the above effect, and with good germ-averse coverage as well, this little combo can instantly turn you into the health-conscious chef/superspy you’ve always dreamt you could be.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 4

While designed to wear one at a time, these babies have the obvious secondary option of being combined as a uniquely-you bra or swimsuit after you’ve recovered from your illness, and for those of the younger set, the advantage of those screw-top central covers for infant-nursing convenience. Or a hot new pole-dancing uniform, should that be preferred.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 5

Sometimes just affecting a more cuddly mien (or meow) can help one to feel more cuddly. A touch of ‘kawaii,’ that delicate cuteness our Japanese friends treasure so deeply, could be just the solution. Hello Kitty is a good choice, although I personally would endorse the Hello Miss Kitty line in deference to my favorite writer-artist.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 6

There are lots of other cute options out there if you like the idea of others comforting you with a gentle pat on the head or scratch behind the ears, or perhaps a handful of immunity-boosting kibble.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 7

When you’re finding it hard to smile and put on a show of concern for your normal beauty regime, you can opt for the Marilyn look. Whether you choose Monroe or Manson is up to your taste and your mood, naturally.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 8

Other expressions may be more appropriate for some occasions than others. I like the bronze hat with which this is shown, as you can use it to bonk people over the head smartly if they should refuse to respect your feelings with appropriate alacrity. An alternative version of the hat would of course be one like the legendary bowler sported by Oddjob, who knew how to handle disrespect very directly and succinctly as well.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 9

Perhaps a little facial hair would serve to embolden you or divert attention from your sense of feminine vulnerability? Here’s your mask!Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 10

For those who might prefer to project other ideas than mere germicidal ones, there are numerous elegant choices on the market. Or the black market, depending on how other those ideas may be. The shaven head is not only a good-looking addition to this particular mask format but also offers an excellent location for attaching a temporary thought balloon if you have something on your mind but aren’t sure just how to say it aloud.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 11

Just want to embody a fierce opponent to your symptoms? Or to the nosy parkers who insist on offering medical advice like mine? A good wild beastie muzzle is sure to get you fired up and ready for battle.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe 13

And you should never underestimate the versatility and expressive power of a full face mask, if you want nothing more than to keep your real facial expressions to yourself, along with the veil of separation from the viral vicissitudes of the world. A traditional Plague Doctor mask can be ideal for some persons, but there are numerous other beautiful variants out there. Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 12

This one comes complete with eye patch in addition to the full-face coverage, a plus for optical injury and illness care, and remarkably self-explanatory facial presentation that says, “Yes, I’m feeling Fabulous, thank you, and I do so appreciate your contribution to the beauty of my day today!”

Well, that’s enough high-powered medical advice for today. If I can ever be of actual support, I hope you’ll let me know, but in the meantime, I wish you amazingly speedy and thorough healing, and lots of love and laughter along the way. All of you!

Foodie Tuesday: The Gingerbread Woman

The scent of cinnamon drifting out as I open the door invites me to plunge inside, but I can’t help taking my time. A deep, slow breath: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice. Ginger. A smack of icy air throws my collar up around my ears and gives me the final push to dash inside, the storm door slamming behind me.

Gingerbread.Photo: Gingerbread 1

Mama loves us. The school board thinks it better we all traipse home, damp and frost-speckled, through the sidewalk maze of shoveled snow than that we stay snugly tucked into the school with a sack lunch, and we kids complain at the bitter wind and the icy ground. Slipping sidelong into the snowdrifts isn’t as fun when we still have the slog back to afternoon class ahead, wet and miserable, blue around the nose and chin or not.

But some lucky few of us have the respite of bath-towel-wielding mothers, a pair of dry socks hanging over the back of the chair, and on top of it all, a homemade lunch waiting for us at home. Lunch with gingerbread. Sweet, so hot from the oven that clouds of spice envelop us at the threshold. So hot that even after we’ve gobbled our sandwiches and soup to get to it, the layer of homemade applesauce on top can’t keep the uppermost layer of whipped cream from melting faster than those last snowflakes in our hair.

Gingerbread. Mother’s love and blessed relief from the cold winter’s day all wrapped up in a helping of almost unbearably delicious goodness. Sigh. Back to school. Repeat. Maybe there will be enough gingerbread left over for after supper, if we hurry home fast enough.Photo: The Gingerbread WomanMy Own Gingerbread with Rum Caramel

Preheat oven to 350°F/177°C.  Blend dry ingredients gently with a whisk: 2 cups [gluten-free, in my case] flour, 1 cup packed brown sugar, 1 cup granulated sugar, a scant 1 1/5 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, spice mix [2 T ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp each cloves, nutmeg, and white pepper, + 1 hefty pinch each cardamom and salt]. In a saucepan, melt 3/4 cup coconut oil and add to it 1 cup molasses, 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt, and 1/2 cup dark rum (cane sugar cola, root beer, or ginger ale is a great non-alcoholic alternative), warming just until thoroughly blended. Add 3 large eggs and beat them in well, tempering the wet ingredients if the warmed ones are still at all hot so the eggs won’t curdle. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and pour into a heavily greased and floured (I used cocoa powder mixed with cinnamon, to keep from building up any unseemly white dust blooming on the finished goods) cake or loaf pan, cupcake tins, or a combination of these, allowing plenty of space for a bit of rising as the batter bakes.

For small portions like the cupcakes, start with no more than 18-20 minutes’ baking; larger batches like a Bundt pan can be checked later, allowing up to nearly an hour for full baking. Check occasionally, removing them from the oven when they seem nearly done; a very little under-baking keeps them nicely sticky and gooey, good cousins to the Britons’ glorious Sticky Toffee Pudding.

While I’m on the subject of toffee, there’s nothing at all wrong with the idea of a caramel kind of topping to accompany a nice, intensely spicy gingerbread like this. So I made some Rum Caramel Sauce: in a nonstick saucepan, I cooked together, until melted, 1 cup brown sugar (again!), 1/2 cup browned butter (I’d just made up a nice big batch of my beloved beurre noisette), 1/4 cup dark rum (see above note for non-alcoholic versions), plus a touch or two of cream to thin it as desired at the last. Terrible stuff; you wouldn’t like it at all. May I have your serving of it?

Lastly, of course, if one is feeling particularly indulgent-and-when-am-I-not, it’s good to top all of this with a heaping spoonful of cream whipped up with lots of vanilla and dark maple syrup. The resulting calorie-free, eternal-life-conferring dessert met with approval at snack time, after dinner, in the late evening, and for breakfast. So you can expect that my friends and I will be outliving all of you. Or at least, dying contented. I didn’t get any no-thank-yous when I offered thirds, anyway. As I’m sure my mama never did, back in the old days of snowy trudges and school lunches.

Dear Ones All

Photo: Bouquet of the Day 1I have my own Theory of Relativity, and I hope you’ll find it useful, too, as you grow from the tiniest curl of humanity to a venerable old woman. No claim of scientific knowledge here, only an observation on what I think really matters in my small corner of the universe: relationships between people.

Relationships, regardless of economic or social, religious or political status, can be begged, borrowed, and bought; they can be stolen, stumbled upon, forced or freely given; there are also, of course, the clearly genetic sort or the biologically driven. All are valid, and many of them necessary, but none of those fully encompasses the best of what I think defines Family.

For starters, none of those aspects can guarantee a relationship’s ultimate failure or success. Human connexions, like living creatures, can suffer from Failure to Thrive, whether through damaging acts or events or mere neglect. Estrangement is, I think, the perfect name for a lost relationship: what was familiar has somehow changed, become alien. Whether birth, common interests or goals, affinity, or contract is its basis, a relationship can still fail. Or it can flourish.

Family is, for me, the height of relationship, the pinnacle of human interaction. Bloodlines, religion, and legal bonds don’t own it. My view of the ideal, when it comes to family, is that it should spring from an ongoing will to maintain and foster the connection; just keeping it plugged in is useless unless all involved see that it’s well-oiled, reboot it when in need, and occasionally, polish it to a high gleam and rediscover its original beauty.

In my heart and mind, family as that highest form of relationship is an earned status, a privilege. If it doesn’t work in mutuality, with both parties contributing, it’s a different sort of transaction. I don’t see it as a constantly equal balance; in fact, the level of need versus the level of resource and capability in any individual varies greatly over time and situational changes, and the more people in the equation, the more the possible iterations. Sometimes the crisis is virtually universal, everyone called to extraordinary service for each other’s good. The established bond helps bridge those gaps between need and sparse resource in the moment. Happier times and better circumstances, when life is more gracious again, will replenish the void for more balanced give-and-take in days to come. Ebb. Flow.

The crucial elements in all of this have, for me, much more to do with respect, mutual values, friendship, and delight in one another’s company than with lineage, contracts, or societal expectations. I’m a rarity in having both born relatives and married ones that do meet and surpass my standards for true family. Further, I’ve a remarkably expansive extended family, acquired over the years through shared ideas and experiences and the love and respect that grow out of them. I know that with all of these joys, I’m beyond blessed. I have a world-sized circle of good people, both related by DNA and not, surrounding me and, through that, one of the largest and most wonderful of familial relationships possible. I’ve spent years discovering just how wide caring arms reach to embrace me, and how deep open hearts’, minds’, and hands’ resources go, regardless of physical proximity, when anyone anywhere treats me like family.

It is a wonderful world, my beloved, and there is always room in it for more like us, if you are willing to take on the role and cultivate the larger Family too.Photo: Bouquet of the Day 2