Loss, and grief, and helping

Published November 3, 2015 by livinggraciously

A year ago today my mother died. It was not a surprise; she had made the choice to discontinue painful treatment and to go into hospice. That gave me an opportunity to fly out to Montana and spend some time with her while she was still lucid. We had a good visit: much laughter, much reminiscing, a bit of old business that needed to be dealt with and gotten past, and then more laughter and reminiscing. I will always be grateful for those days.

I’m still devastated. It’s still hard to believe, a year on, that I can’t pick up the phone and hear her voice. Returning to the West, being in the places that she knew and loved–both last April for Ferrett’s book tour and on last month’s adventure–had me time and again thinking, “Oh, I should tell Mom about this,” before remembering that she wasn’t there to tell.

But as hard as losing Mom was, the death of a parent is in the natural order of things. We know that our parents will die. We expect that they will die before we do.

Not so, the death of a child. A child’s death disrupts the timeline. It feels like an insult to our very existence.

When children are dying, there is a wealth of resources for support for that child. Make-a-Wish is just the best known, but there are lots of other organizations and businesses who reach out to help. Our sense of the unfairness of a child dying, of how wrong it is that their life experiences will be stunted, cut short by death, motivates people to provide what fun they can for that short life.

But once the child is dead, all these organizations walk away, ignoring that a broken and grieving family must go on, must try to figure out how to function as a family with that hole in the middle. Surviving children, who spent the last months or years always feeling like they came second, like they were a continual afterthought in the face of medical treatment and last days, have resentment and guilt to work through. Parents often feel that everything they’d put on hold for the last few months needs to be handled *right now* — even if right now is when they most need a break from the demands of the world. In the stress of readjusting, a family can get lost and overwhelmed trying to cope with everything at once. The divorce rate for parents of a deceased child are more than twice that of other couples.

And all the help that preceded their child’s death? It’s gone. Yes, there is still grief counseling, but the kind of help that let a family walk away from their problems for just a little while? Nothing.

That lack of support is what inspired my friend Kat Meyer to start Rebecca’s Gift. After Rebecca died, Kat looked for resources to help families coping with grief and in need of time to get away, but there simply was nothing there.

The philosophy behind Make-a-Wish and other organizations is to provide experience to a dying child, but the family that’s left behind is a damaged and frail entity, and in need of healing. The Meyers took a family trip, a trip that took them out of the day-to-day demands and distractions of life. It helped them rediscover themselves as a family unit. Without friends and TV, all crammed into one hotel room, they weren’t distracted from each other. They bonded.

That is the mission of Rebecca’s Gift: giving the families of deceased children a chance to get away from the stresses and demands of daily life and rebuild their bonds. Like Make-a-Wish, Rebecca’s Gift will send families on trips so that those families can rediscover themselves.

Rebecca’s Gift is having their first major fundraiser on Sunday, November 15, 2015. Rebecca’s Boardwalk will celebrate Rebecca’s great love of the Jersey Shore and all the games and foods of summer. This is a family event, with lots of prizes and games for kids, and it’s for a need that truly is not being met by any other organization.

If you are local to Cleveland, please come and enjoy the fun. If you are not local, please consider donating. Help bring joy into the life of grieving families.

Apricot chicken

Published November 2, 2015 by livinggraciously

Driving back across country, I spent my final night away from home with our very good friends Laura and Jeremiah, in their wonderful new house in the Chicago area. I arrived late and left early, but I did get a few hours with them in the evening.

And in the morning I was sent on my merry way with a wonderful treat: 8 jars of Laura’s homemade jam. She’s been doing a lot of canning this year, and has impressed and intimidated me with her urban homesteading while holding down a fulltime job that often takes her from home for weeks at a time. She’s my hero now.

Anyway, when I got home I decided to make apricot chicken. Now, I’ve had apricot chicken that was too sweet, too cloying, the chicken sort of boiled in a sweet soup of apricot. That’s not what I was looking for. So instead I came up with this:


My family pronounced it delicious, so I thought I’d share it with you. Like all my recipes, there are no measurements. I am a jazz cook, and my recipes are more like a fake book than actual sheet music.

Apricot chicken

5-6 bone-in chicken thighs
1 large onion
handful of shredded carrot
3 cloves garlic
8 oz. jar of apricot jam, preferably home made by a kitchen goddess
olive oil
salt & pepper
garlic powder
Dijon mustard
balsamic vinegar
4 cups cooked rice, salted

Preheat over to 375.

Chop the onion and garlic. Cover bottom of skillet with generous amount of olive oil. Saute the onions and shredded carrot until they are soft and onions are browned. Add garlic and continue sauteing until it browns slightly.

While onions and carrots are sauteing, generously coat the skin side of the chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Think you’ve been generous enough? Unless you do this regularly I bet you haven’t been generous enough. Go back over them one more time. Trust me.

Once the garlic is the color of an early summer tan, scoop the veggies out of the skillet, draining as much of the olive oil as possible, and set them aside in a small bowl. Turn up the heat and gently place the chicken thighs, skin down, in the skillet. If you haven’t salt/pepper/garlic the thighs again, and cook them about 5 minutes, until the skin is browned. Turn them over and let them cook another 5 minutes.

In the meantime, spray an ovensafe pan with cooking spray and put your rice into it, smoothing it out to the corners. When the chicken is ready, place the pieces skin-side-up on the bed of rice. Return the skillet to the stovetop and turn off the heat.

Add the sauteed veggies and the apricot jam. Stir until smooth. Add a little Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar to taste. The balsamic should not be overwhelming, just enough to make the flavors pop. Spoon this glaze over the chicken thighs, being careful to cover them completely. This won’t be a thick covering, but it should be enough to cover the thighs.

Bake for 35 minutes for a convection oven, 45 for a conventional. Serve.

We had ours with roasted asparagus. The leftovers didn’t last until morning.


I’ve had an adventure. And now I am home.

Published October 26, 2015 by livinggraciously

We are coming up on the first anniversary of my mother’s death. When she died, she left me her cedar chest and my great-grandmother’s treadle sewing machine. But these items were in Montana, at the home my sister now owns, and getting them from Hamilton to Rocky River was a logistics nightmare. Shipping them would be expensive and a lot to ask of my sister. Renting a U-haul to drive them across country was also expensive.

And then I got a brilliant idea for a harebrained scheme. I would fly to Seattle, visit friends there, and buy a used van for cheap. When I got back home, I would sell the van for essentially the same amount that I bought it.

And so I took off for Seattle on a one-way ticket, relying on friends to help me in the quest for a van. Friends and Craig’s List. On day one I sent off emails and texts to an assortment of folks with vans listed and then went for a walk in the neighborhood. It was amazing to be once again in a place where neighborhood gardens can look like this:

And then you cross the street and walk immediately into this:

I hiked down off the bluff, finding a charming waterfall at the bottom of the hike:

I really do love the PNW.

When I got back, there was an email from a person living across the sound, telling me his van was still available. So the next morning I figured out the bus and ferry system and chugged myself out to Bellevue. The ferry ride was lovely, in spite of the rain:

The person who put up the ad, however? Not nearly as lovely. After three buses and a ferry ride, I found myself standing in a grocery store parking lot, no van in sight. And no further response from the person. It was someone’s idea of a prank call for the 21st century.

I was pissed. And my feelings were hurt. I worked my way back and started on the process of finding more vans. The next day, I found the perfect van. I swear that karma was involved, because in order to make myself feel better about the wasted day I bought a homeless person a sandwich.

Anyway, here’s Sebastian:

He’s a 1999 Ford F250 Econoline with 250,000 miles and great maintenance. He’s a real working van, with built-in shelves and drawers in the back. Working AC, cruise control, and an updated stereo that has an auxiliary jack. I could listen to my tunes for the rest of the trip!

Sebastian secured, I spent one last day visiting in Seattle, then went down to Portland to see family and my best buddy from high school. Had a great time, then headed for Montana. Spent a couple days with my sis, loaded up the furniture, and headed for Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone wowed me. Just gorgeous, lots of wildlife, and geysers. This beautiful river was right at the entrance, and then this amazing formation looked like a glacier but was actually minerals and bacteria growing in a mineral stream:


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It was late when I arrived, so I had to work my way out of the park to find somewhere to camp. Even though the weather was gorgeous, all the park campgrounds were closed for the season. The place I found was a forest service campground 5 miles off the highway, where I camped all by myself under amazing stars.

I hung my food in a tree, then laid on the picnic table looking up at the sky until I heard a footsteps. Turning on my flashlight, I shined it right into the face of a coyote about 10 feet away from me. I shooed him off, but was suddenly very aware of how alone I was. Time to lock myself up in the van!!

The next morning I got up early and returned to the park. This was when I got into the caldera. As beautiful as Yellowstone was just for its natural environment, holy cow was this awesome! Even though it was raining, I stopped at every hiking area and walked around the wooden paths that were set up all around.


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And, at last, I arrived at Old Faithful. The first thing I did was go to the Visitor Center to see what time the next eruption was predicted. Only 20 minutes! Perfect time to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, and snag a picture from this big guy, who was lying right outside the door to the Visitor Center:

Right after I took this, the ranger came out to chase people away from the bison. Because of course it’s half a ton of sleepy critter that could suddenly turn cranky. Eep!

Then it was out to the platform where less than 100 people waited for the geyser. Ended up talking with a cute family and explaining to their boys that a prediction wasn’t the same as someone flipping a switch. But the geyser went off within 5 minutes of the prediction. I was surprised by how quiet it was, and how long it lasted.

I stood there, thrilled, watching. And then I was suddenly sad. I had been loving my independence and traveling at my pace, but having no one to share with was suddenly lonely. I left Old Faithful and headed on through the park, spontaneously deciding to head for Grand Tetons National Park with the idea that, after seeing the mountains, I would head for Mt. Rushmore.

It was raining and cloudy, so my peek at the Tetons was minimal. But I headed north along the Wind River Valley, one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever experienced. It was granite ruggedness followed by Badlands-style landscape followed by red rock canyon country. Alas, no pictures because it was raining.

But at that point, all I was was homesick. So I turned east and started hoofing it. I drove down and across Wyoming, getting into Nebraska. That night I called Ferrett. “I know I was supposed to be out here for another 8 days, but do you mind if I come home day after tomorrow?”

Ferrett had been quietly lonesome and miserable, missing me terribly but not saying anything because he wanted me to be happy and enjoy myself. He was *thrilled* to get me back early. I cranked across Nebraska at 85 mph, blew through Iowa, and stayed the night with friends in Chicago. I slept in that morning and got home at dinner time last Tuesday.

Now Sebastian sits in our driveway, and I’m sort of attached to him. Rather than selling him, he may become a camper for us. And I’m glad to be snuggled in the arms of my sweet weasel, every night.

I’m glad I had my adventure, and I’m glad I had home to come home to.

In which I admit my hypocrisy

Published October 1, 2015 by livinggraciously

When it comes to language, I am a proud Luddite. I cling to the proper use of grammar. I object to people using the word “problematic” to mean “a problem” when the actual definition is “questionable,” and agree that I can hand you the remote, but you haven’t asked if I will. I insist on spelling out words in texts, eschewing “cu l8tr” for complete sentences with proper punctuation. I champion the Oxford comma.

And yet.

And yet.

I now regularly use “ima” in place of “I’m going to.” Oh, not in writing. But speaking? “Ima stop at the grocery store. Want anything?” I hear myself do it, at least part of the time, and reflect upon this slippage of my speech. I know it’s not the only example of my speech getting slangy, it’s just the one of which I am most aware.

There is nothing about this phrase that is superior to the other phrases that I reject. It just works on my tongue. I have to admit, then, that language is a living thing that does, in fact, move and change.

But I still believe that grammar and vocabulary are important. Precision of thought requires precision of language. Communication beyond the basics is deepened by mutual agreement about the meaning of words.

Ima keep fighting the good fight.

Full House

Published September 17, 2015 by livinggraciously

My younger daughter has just moved in with us for a while. Her big sister is moving to Colorado next week. Her furniture and belongings are all being hauled away in a truck this afternoon, so she, her boyfriend, and their dog will be staying with us for the next week. There will be five of us, and one bathroom.

I can’t wait.

I feel so grateful that my daughters have both grown into women that I love to be around. They’re thoughtful, intelligent, and wickedly funny. We can talk about everything. They are both passionate about the world they live in, and insightful.

The years of raising kids were not always easy, but having adult children who are such a delight is such a blessing. I’m thrilled that my snowboard-passionate daughter is getting to fulfill her life-long dream and move to the Rockies, but boy am I going to miss her.

For the next few days I will be cooking for five. I’ll be making all the kids’ favorite meals and we’ll talk and laugh and probably argue over the stupidest damned things. Because we’re still family, and family means we rub each other the wrong way now any then, particularly in close quarters. Both girls have tempers, and like all sisters know just how to get each other’s skin. I have a bit of a temper, too, and they can trigger the “mom voice” in me. But we will have a great time together.

Junk drawer

Published September 15, 2015 by livinggraciously

I get so irked at myself for not taking before and after pictures of things. Suffice to say that I stumbled into accidental dejunking today when I went to look for something in the junk drawer.

The problem with junk drawers is that every house needs one–that repository for batteries, lighters, takeout menus, scissors, tape, pens–but they quickly become the tossing place for everything that comes into hand but you don’t have time to deal with. “I don’t want to throw this out, but I don’t have a place for it. Hey, the junk drawer!”

Also, I live in a household where certain people (not naming names) have a tendency to change the battery in something and toss the dead batteries back into junk drawer. Also to treat empty tape dispensers like they may grow new tape if they’re left alone in a dark place for a while.

I, on the other hand, have a tendency to receive photos of friends and family and, not knowing what to do with them in that moment, toss them into the drawer. The thing is, I *do* know what to do with them; I have a special drawer just for photos. Only I forget that. All. The. Time.

I’m as guilty as anyone else in the household of not wasting the brain power to figure out where a thing actually goes. So the drawer had reached the point of needing to be jammed shut.

Not anymore. I put away, or threw away, at least 60% of what was in there. It’s neat and organized, and I found that pair of scissors I’ve been irritated had disappeared. I feel very accomplished.

It will last about two weeks….


Published September 10, 2015 by livinggraciously

In this day and age, when everyone has jumped on the superhero bandwagon, there are a lot of people sounding like hipsters: “I was into the Avengers before they became popular.” For many of them, it’s kind of a disappointment to find that the passion they’d learned to embrace as the thing that made them different is now shared by millions.

To me, this is great. My biggest fandom is Star Wars, and having all this new merch around is fun–even if I buy next to none of it. I’m not worried about over-exposure. I love what I love, and seeing Star Wars stuff everywhere makes me happy.

I learned many years ago that there is a difference between fandom and geekdom. When visiting a friend for the weekend, I was informed that, though I had not watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, that night was the finale, and she was watching it live. She’d watched the whole series, and she wasn’t about to miss the end of it just because of out-of-town company. So we watched, and seeing that final episode was the impetus behind my going back and watching the entire series in reruns. Since it was on 5 days a week, I accomplished in just a few months what she’d taken seven years to complete.

The movie Star Trek: Generations came out a couple weeks before another visit. When I got to her house, she asked if I’d seen it. I told her yes, and then excitedly expounded about how, in the last iteration of the time loop, we hadn’t actually seen Lursa and B’etor die, and so maybe those characters had survived and could come back.

She gave me a kind of side-eye look and said, “You’ve gotten way too into this….”

That’s when I realized that there will always be levels of fandom, and that I would always be the kind of person who, when I fell in love with something, took it to extremes that other fans wouldn’t even imagine existed.

And that’s cool. My friend isn’t less of a fan because her fandom doesn’t drag her into a depth of passion that mine does me. I can love the Marvel movies and DC television shows even though I don’t have an understanding of the history behind the characters that Ferrett, as a comic book geek, has. I’ve seen his glee, while watching The Flash, at the introduction of characters, and I know that he’d “getting it” on a far deeper level than I am. But that doesn’t mean I’m not having fun.

Yes, you are probably much more of a geek about the things you love passionately than other people who like that thing. But it’s a big tent. We can all fit in it.


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