Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Say it Now

It's not great to think ahead about the death of a loved one.  But it was so sad that I wrote a tribute to the things my mom gave me and meant to me in my life only after she was gone.  I decided that wouldn't happen with my dad, and I set out to do something about it.  It was a good exercise in using my grief for good, and distracting myself, too.

I LOVE the hand-painted, subway sign I ordered from CantonAntiques on Etsy, and have hanging in my kitchen.  I didn't think I could afford a custom one for Dad, and it was more heartfelt to put in the effort to make one myself anyway.

I started by making a list of the special memories and things Dad had done for me and our family.  Then I hit the internet for "DIY subway signs."  That's when I found this post by TemptingThyme.  The examples looked just like what I wanted, and the instructions were helpful.  

This technique used PicMonkey, which is a fun and free photo editing site. (To tell the truth, I splurged and paid the small yearly fee, so I could get more fonts and effects.) The funny thing is, for this project, it's not about editing a photo, image, or document, but covering an image with a solid color, and customizing the sign with text in colors and fonts of your choice.  I have to say it was quite rewarding.  I won't 'reinvent the wheel' by repeating the instructions you can follow on TemptingThyme.

After creating my 'masterpiece,' I saved it to my desktop, and placed an online print order with FedEx printing.  Click on "Set your own Print Options." Upload the image, and you'll likely get a message that says "this file contains non standard print size," and you can click on "review options" to choose a standard size or stay with the original.   If you choose one of the preset sizes, you will be able to preview your project.  For Dad's I chose 11 x 17", and hit "convert."  You can always trim if your project doesn't cover the whole sheet.

 I recommend specifying a heavier weight paper (32# or 60#) to prevent wrinkling hassles when applying the project to a board.  To do these prints in black and white are about 42 cents (!!!), and in color, less than $2.50.  You might be able to do the printing yourself, but only if you have a laser printer.  InkJet ink will bleed when you apply a finish.

I mentioned a board, and didn't explain where it came from...   I had Hubby cut and glue 3/4" boards to create a base of the proper size.

My print had a white background, so I painted the sides of the boards with white acrylic paint, and let it dry.  That didn't take long...A half hour, at most.

  The gluing/finishing process was the hardest part.  I used matte ModPodge.  I applied it to the board with a foam brush, and let it dry until tacky.  I applied the printed paper, smoothing as I went, using a dough scraper as a squeegee, to avoid any air bubbles.

On my first attempt, following instructions I'd found elsewhere on line, I waited only about 45 minutes before applying the finish coat of ModPodge over the whole project.  The paper stretched and bubbled (see pic above), and eventually scratched and tore as I worked to try to smooth it (see pic to the left).  Thankfully,  Hubby had made 2 boards, and I started over.  This time I let it all dry overnight after applying the paper to the board.  The next morning, I did 2 finish coats and the result was much smoother.

Unfortunately, after days of curing, and after it was in my dad's possession, a few air pockets formed. I used 24 or 32# paper, but there was also 60#, and maybe I should've used it.

--But my dad doesn't mind the little bubbles.  He said it was nice and commented that I'd remembered a lot of things.  It may not sound like it was a big reaction, but I think I heard a catch in his voice and spied moist eyes, which means, with a man who loves gifts but is a little tough to 'wow,' this was a success.  :-)  He's told me since that a lot of the staff in his assisted living facility have commented on what a really nice gift it was.  --I don't say this to brag, but to be thoroughly thrilled that he likes it so much and is feeling appreciated.  

I know I've been a little vague about the directions, so if you get lost after visiting TemptingThymePicMonkey, and/or FedEx, please don't hesitate to contact me for further help.

Mostly, I'm saying that if you have someone you love in your life who means a lot to you, and you have certain reasons you are thankful for them... TELL THEM.  Somehow.  You don't know when the opportunity will be lost forever.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Good Medicine

It is uplifting for a grandma's melancholy heart to have such a cheerful, adorably cute-- and quite insistent! --helper... 
(He pushed and pulled on my legs until I picked him up to let him in on the action.)

And so great to have my kitchen used in one of the ways it was intended, even though baking with grandchildren seemed so far away when it was designed!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Anniversary I Dreaded

"It was a halo bright
     sent down from Heaven's light.
The sweetest gift--
     a mother's smile..."   

I miss it... I miss you, Mom.  

It's been a year now.  A long, hard year.  It seems so long that we've been without her that Mom's very existence seems almost like a dream.  But, at the same time, we got to "the year" landmark so fast.  (Here is what I shared about her at that time.)

Last November started out OK.  Mom was bouncing back from the surgery to remove a brain tumor, and recovering from the subsequent radiation, just as she had recovered, like a champ and against some major odds, from serious surgeries in previous years.  She was like a Timex..."Takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'."  Or like a cat with 9 lives.  The tests showed that the brain tumor (which left no ill effects) had metastasized from elsewhere, but they couldn't find where.  All the scans were negative. November 4th, 2013, therefore, seemed a normal day for me... with every expectation that things would go on like they had. There would surely be a few turns and bumps in the road, but with the journey together continuing well off into the distance.

But the morning of November 5th, the doctor decided to scan her gall bladder to see if he could find a cause for some stomach pain she had.  An aggressive form of cancer, completely absent from extensive scans just 5 or 6 weeks before, was found spread throughout her abdomen and all her major organs. After hospice care at home, it took her from us only 12 days later.  At our dad's request for immediacy, we held her memorial service 6 days after.

Princess Bossy changed her flight plans 3 times, moving it ahead with each change, to make sure she saw Grandma one more time.  But Mom breathed her last just about the time Bossy's plane was landing at the airport.  --My mom always made us call whenever we got home from visiting them, wanting to know we'd made it safely.  She knew the princess was coming, and I was a little surprised she didn't use her strong will to wait.  But now, I think maybe God told her that the plane was safely on the ground with family there to meet her.  The princess was safely home, so Mom could be free to go Home, too.

We were fortunate to have a little over a week with her to hug, visit, and say lots of "I love you"s.  It was merciful for her, and us, that she didn't have to suffer for weeks or months.

But, it was somewhat like the whole family had fallen blindly into a sink hole.  In the blackness of the landslide there was sadness, fear, shock, and disbelief rushing around us, and, of course, many necessary tasks to perform, like it or not.  On the 28th, I looked at the date, realized it was about to be December, and burst into tears.  Where had November gone?!  So much had happened:  sickness, dying, death, the service, and then some.  Mom was 'fine' at the beginning, but hadn't made it through with us to the other end of what was a black hole of a month.  

It was time to start digging our way out with our fingernails... through unfamiliar territory back to some sort of new and odd normalcy. With a focus on making sure Dad was ok, safe, and healthy, and so busy trying to keep up with daily, family life in some kind of reasonable way, our grief has been infrequently aired, and the glimpses of sunlight have been dim.  It's felt impossible to be a good daughter, sister, wife, homemaker and mother, especially homeschooling mom, in the time and with the energy I have.  When I give to one, I am neglecting another.

When I was a child, I cried a lot.  It was frustrating to those around me, and seeing it was unacceptable, I grew out of it.  Years later a doctor asked me if I ever just threw myself on the bed and cried... He thought it might be good for me.  But I 'didn't do that kind of thing.'

This past year, though, the tears come out of nowhere, even when I didn't know I felt sad.  
 --In the doctor's office when she asked if I was stressed at all.  
 --When I'm feeling fine and a certain song plays on the radio.  
 --In the car when I'm driving down to see Dad, especially if I'm by myself.  

Sometimes it overtakes me even when CuddleBunny is along, but he is young enough to still ride in the back seat and doesn't see the tears flowing up front.  I just feel, suddenly, overwhelmingly SAD sometimes.  

Last week my dad wanted to go to the house and pick up some things.  It was the first time I'd been there since he moved to assisted living.  I saw the blanket we'd made my mom and her favorite red one that kept her warm until the end.  I wanted to curl up and hold them, and just wallow and cry.  But I had to keep track of Dad and help him where I could.  

Meanwhile, Prince CuddleBunny took the puppy out to play in the backyard.  Pretty soon, the puppy was back in, but the prince wasn't.  I went to see what was happening.  He was watering dead plants --the pots my mom had tended on the back porch.  Watering the plants was his special job for Grandma whenever he was there, and, there was no question, he had to do it this time, too.  He seemed purposeful rather than sad, but it was bittersweet to watch.  It was a glimpse into how he's handling this.  I wonder about how the kids are doing, and if they have feelings/thoughts/questions I should know about.  I worry there is something I should be doing or saying to help them, but am too busy and missing the signals.

So now that it's been a year... The anticipation of this month looming closer was a source of anxiety for me.  Is this adjusted life supposed to be normal now?  Is it supposed to be OK to be without her?  People feel bad for you and understand that you're sad when you say your mother just passed away, or even in the past several weeks.  I'd imagine that when you say, "My mother died over a year ago," most would think, "Yeah...So?... Get over it."

A vein of sadness runs through my soul now, presently pretty close to the surface. I have just realized that, even if it gets deeper, it's permanent.  I don't mean to sound dramatic, and don't plan to give in to it, or obsess about it, 24/7.  But it's part of my story.  Mom was part of me, and still is, of course, but the void she left is now a part, too.  I will never NOT be sad to be without my mom.  

There are so many things I still want to ask, and so many things I want to share.  She'd be so excited to see how what our GrandPrince is learning, and so fast! -- Actually, no, she'd be delighted.  --That better describes how she enjoyed such news, and celebrated the people in her life.

As my sister reminds me, Mom wouldn't be happy that I'm sad, or that I spend any time crying.  She'd want me to rejoice in her freedom from pain and her transition to eternity with the Lord.  And I do.  I imagine that she is joyfully singing praise songs, day and night... and we await the day to join her.  But I am here, where she is not.  Death and sadness are part of living in this fallen world, and it's serving to make me a deeper person, learning new things about myself and God, and with more appreciation.  

This is only so hard because I was so blessed.  Thank you, God, for the great blessing who was my mom.  

Feeling the sadness does not mean I don't have faith, and I guess it's just what I have to do right now.  It'd be nice for someone to see it and really understand when it overtakes me, and that it's always there to some extent, but God does.  I think He's trying to teach me that He's all I need... That in a world where I sometimes feel that no one truly knows or sees me, or holds the net when I need one, He does.  

Psalm 139: 1 - 6

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Rock may crush Scissors, but not Steel

Hubby said he'd get my old, beloved pizza stone cut down for me to fit in the Gagg oven, so along with the pizza steel in one, I could utilize both cavities for last week's big pizza feed.  Unfortunately, he thought he could do that just minutes before the crowd arrived, forgetting or not thinking that it would have to heat for an hour or more to be of any use.  That meant I enlisted the help of the special, Gaggenau baking stone and element again, giving them another chance to prove their worth.

Kitchen forum friend JC thought there might be something amiss with my Gagg stone, because of the white crusts I got on previous pizza baking outings.  So this time, I had Prince CuddleBunny fetch the infrared thermometer Hubby got in a goody bag at a conference.  After preheating for well over an hour at 500, the surface read about 500 degrees.  So I'd say the element is doing its job.

Speaking of temperature, that is part of what makes the competition between the Gagg stone and the baking steel a little bit of an unfair fight.  The steel bakes pizzas well at higher heats than the stone does.  I need to keep the stone at about 475 when I'm baking pizzas, but the steel can stay at 500.  

As you can see from photos I took well into the pizza feed, I wasn't getting equal results from the different surfaces.

The first "pop"...Just 2 or 3 minutes in, shortly after the pizza hits the hot, hot surface:

On the Gaggenau stone and element set

The great rise on the baking steel

And the baking steel pizza is beautifully done in about 8 or 9 minutes, 

while, at that same point, the Gaggenau pizza stone pizza needs an additional 5 to 7 minutes.  

I admit that I still use parchment on the stone, and my friend
 says that may be affecting my result.  But that would mean
forming each pizza, one at a time, directly on cornmeal on
the pizza peel, and that just wouldn't work well
for the number of pizzas I need to bake.

That means the steel put out at least 3 pizzas to the stone set's 2.  My guess would be that I baked 8 pizzas on the stone, and 13 better ones on the steel.

I'm done.  The Gaggenau baking stone set loses again.  It's not worth my time (and the muscles to heft it around) for that result, and even though I got a deal at the time I bought the oven, it still far more than the price of a baking steel or other stone options, and wasn't worth the expense.  I still hope Hubby gets to cutting down my formerly favorite stone, and then I can compare it to the steel.  I've missed using the double oven to its full capacity to make pizza!

Monday, November 3, 2014

30 for 31. Shoot.

I almost made it!  I can't believe I got a post published for every day of October except the last! I'm not even sure the excuse was a good one, but maybe I'll write about that later.

If nothing else, I could've posted photos of this year's cross country team pizza feed.  We had 18 athletes, including 2 of our own kids.  There were 2 coaches, 1 of whom was Hubby.

For the 22 people here, my best guess is that I made 21 pizzas.
Hungry kids!!!!!
Every time I tried to get a pic of the table full of pizza, it already
looked like this!

In prior years, I always had a team of 2 helpers.  This year, it was just me and the CuddleBunny, who disappeared to the garage to hit baseballs just as everyone was showing up!  But he's 10, and it's kind of his right to be a kid.  :-)

Princess Sassy stopped in to give a bit of a hand,
with pizzas, and her little prince is always welcomed
by the crowd.  He has started calling his grandfather
"Bop," as his current version of "Pop."
Cutest thing ever!


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