October 19, 2015

Circle the Wagons

My Uncle died Saturday morning.  Suddenly, shockingly and devastatingly fast.  Our family is in shock as anyone might be.  He was 52, healthy, thriving, and full of life.  And yet, here we all are, waiting to wake up from some kind of dream as deaths this sudden take some time to really settle in.

I got the call while I was out getting Tommy a haircut.  My cousin's words of "My daddy is gone, my daddy is gone," still play back vividly in my mind.  I nearly fell to my knees on the floor of Sports Clips and wailed and sobbed loudly.  Everyone there stopped and surrounded me.  Strangers hugged me and asked what they could do.  A very kind man helped me to the car, strapped Jacob in to his carseat and paid for Tommy's haircut.  I was grateful to experience the kindness of humanity that day.

We all made our way to my Aunt and Uncle's house.  One by one, family by family, we all showed up.  We spent the day huddled together.  Crying in waves, recalling memories, making logistical plans, wondering if this was all real. We talked about how we always forget how precious life is until something like this happens.  It's as if we all wake up from a daze and realize that traffic jams or your neighbor's annoying dogs or silly disagreements really don't matter at all, because if you lose your family, you've lost a piece of your heart that you can't ever get back.  And how much of our lives we waste being "busy" when all of us threw all of our plans out the window that day and came together.  Nothing else mattered but family then.

Saturday and Sunday I wanted to keep close.  To have my people near me and where I could see them.  I wanted to do nothing more than sit with all of my family - my parents, my sisters, my Grandparents and cousins and just be together, because it felt safe.  Like nothing else can happen to us if we are all joined together as one.

For the handful of people that come here to read, I covet your prayers for our family.  We rejoice, knowing that we have hope in Jesus, that we will see him again.  And someday, there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more sudden goodbyes.

For now, we've circled the wagons.  And together, we cry and grieve and ache, yet we don't despair as we look forward in faith to that very day.

October 15, 2015

Bread baking day with Gramma

My Gramma is a special lady and I am more than blessed to still have her in my life.  She's 80 years young, feisty and full of spunk.  I've never known anyone who posessed the kind of joy she exudes.  It's something that oozes out of her and you can literally feel her joy when you're near her. 

A few weeks ago, Gramma spent the day at my house teaching me how to bake homemade bread  It's something she still does regularly and she wants to pass on the bread-baking tradition to her grandchildren so that when she is gone someday, we can bake bread and remember her when we take a fresh batch out of the oven.

Now, Gramma does not believe in bread machines.  She doesn't believe in electric stand mixers for that matter.  Every part of the process is completely done by hand and she wouldn't have it any other way.  She says it's the only way to make sure the love gets in, and the love is what makes it taste so delicious in the first place.  That, and her "seasoned" bread pans.  She saw how shiny and unused mine looked and proceeded to laugh at me.  Aparently, I have a lot of bread-baking to do in order to have my pans make the varsity team.

To bake Gramma's famous bread, she starts with 5 cups of very hot water and two packages of quick rising yeast  After that is stirred together, she puts sugar into the center of her hand until it looks just right and pours that in, and follows the same technique with salt.  She said our hands were about the same size, so my sugar and salt ratios should match hers.  I don't know what to tell the rest of you whose hands are of varying sizes.  But, she blew my "baking has to be exact measurements" thing out of the water, because she didn't measure a single ingredient after the water.
She adds "about" a cup of shortening to the water mixture and gets in there with her hands to break up some of the shortening.  And then the laborious task of adding flour begins.  She does not measure her flour, but keeps adding it until the dough feels just right.  I think she may have used close to five pounds of flour, but I'm not completely certain.  Gramma says that depending on humidity or temperature you may need more or less flour, which is why it's important to keep going until it feels right rather than concern yourself with recipes and measurements.  She let me feel the dough when she thought enough flour had been added.  The dough feels smooth and just slightly sticky.
 See?  Joy.  She is the jolliest woman I know.
When baking bread, Gramma goes by feel and texture and smell, relying on her instincts to let her know what the dough is needing.  With years of experience, her motions are fluid and familiar.  Baking bread is second nature to her and I delighted in watching her work, her aged hands and arms kneading and working the dough.   After this long process of adding flour and working the dough, she puts the bowl in an unwarmed oven covered with a towel and lets it rise for about an hour.

"Seasoned" bread pans folks.
After that hour, she puts a small amount of shortening on her hands and kneads the dough.  Then back into the oven it goes for another round of rising.  That is repeated again. 
 Dough perfection.
The third time, the dough is separated into loaves and put into her seasoned pans in an unwarmed oven to let those rise another 45 minutes - more or less depending on how quickly they rise.
And finally, after all the flour and the rising and waiting and kneading, you get to turn on the oven to 350 degrees, and cook for about 25 minutes or until golden brown. 
My house smelled like bread heaven.  Gluten divinity.  Something very godly and holy as five loaves of homemade bread baking in the oven would smell like.  Tommy eagerly waited, as did I, for the bread to finally finish.
To Gramma's surprise, my shiny new loaf pan that has been used maybe three times ever to make something silly like pumpkin bread, produced the largest, most beautiful loaf of the bunch.  She had never seen such a thing and she had to admit that perhaps my pans weren't so bad after all.  She did say though that if it was such a perfect loaf now, imagine what it would be like in ten years  She has quite a life expectancy of my bread pans.
Then the best part came.  The slicing, and buttering and the eating of the warm fresh-out-of-the-oven bread.  It tasted just like my childhood winter breaks that were spent at her house.  When it was gray and weary outside, but cozy and warm inside.  It tasted like all of the memories I have of my Great-Grandma, how she always wore matching sweatpants and sweatshirts, and would scold us for sneaking too many cookies out of her cookie jar.  And it tasted just like the love she had put into it, and I am convinced it had been made any other way, it wouldn't have turned out the same.
I don't know how many more Saturdays I'll get to have with my Gramma that get to look like this.  Each time I get a moment, a whole day like this one, or any sweet minute of time to make memories and enjoy her, I tuck them away safely into my heart.  I am grateful for her presence, grateful that I have her, and grateful for the here and the now and the new memories we're creating at 80 and 34. 

The best thing ever really is a slice of homeade bread fresh out of the oven.  The only thing to top it, is sharing that sliced bread with your Gramma.

October 2, 2015

Behaving Badly

Have you ever had one of those moments where you lost it at a total stranger?  You chewed out your cashier or the person on the phone or your Sonic carhop because something wasn't right and something that shouldn't have been that big of a deal, escalated quickly and some random person saw your big ugly and there was no way to take it back.  And then you walk away or drive away furiously or slam something down and shortly after you are filled with regret. 

Because that was not how you wanted to behave.  That is not how you wanted to show up and that was not the version of yourself you wanted to be.  And for one reason or another, whether it was the last straw, or something on top of an already stressful or bad day, you snap.

Oh, I hate those moments.  I had one today.  I was in all my glory at the school's pick-up line - a constant point of frustration anyway. 

The line is longer than it was last year.  It moves at a snail's pace.  Several times already, Tommy doesn't hear correctly what cone he is supposed to be at, and he's at the wrong spot and no one has told him otherwise.  And my favorite scenario, where someone takes five thousand years to get their kids buckled in the car and we all wait and wait and wait behind them until they are done and we can all drive away.  Other cars have pulled around these kinds of people before, and today, I followed suit and decided to go around.

But I was stopped by one of the teachers - she waved me down as if I was about to run someone over, came to my car and frantically told me not to pull around a car.  I explained that I was only doing what others had done before, and the lady who was holding the stop-sign wasn't holding it up anymore.  I didn't understand what the big deal was.  I don't even remember what all I said, but I wasn't kind.  I was frustrated that the car in front of me sat there forever, that the lady wasn't holding her stop sign up if no one could still move, that I was reprimanded for something I have seen plenty of others do. After I gave her a piece of my mind, I drove quickly out of the parking lot feeling angry and embarrassed. 

On the drive home, I debated trading in my car this weekend for something new so I won't be recognizable next week.  Or letting Tommy take the school bus so not only do I have to deal with the pick-up line woes, but so that I can hide in my shame of my bad behavior today.  Shame's faithful invitation is always to hide.

In the grand scheme of life, waiting in a school pick-up line behind someone who takes forever to buckle their children in - so not a big deal.  And there will always be messed up orders at restaurants, cable bill issues that require exhausting phone calls, and children that keep leaving their Legos on the living room floor for you to step on.  And like anything else, we get to choose how to respond in those moments.  I'm sure today won't be the last time my ugly comes out and I lose it on an unsuspecting stranger.  But, I'm taking a cue from the regret I feel after and the shame I'm invited to feel after these moments.  That's not how I want to show up or treat anyone. 

Yes, I'm human and I lose it and can have a bad day like anyone else.  And, I want to be kind and show love and patience and humility.  Even in the pick-up line after school.