A white peace lily flower stands amidst dark green leaves.

30 Days of Thanks Day 26: Flowers

I got back from my Thanksgiving holiday this afternoon. When I walked in my apartment, the first thing I saw was a new flower on my peace lily plant.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of my peace lily plant, and the significance of a new flower, I encourage you to read this post.

Coming home to a new flower felt like my sister and my father were greeting me as I returned from this past weekend. I smiled and offered a prayer of gratitude.

Then I managed to shove eight containers full of cookies in my freezer.

30 Days of Thanks Day 25: The Cookie Journal

Today was our family’s annual cookie bake. Eighteen bakers ranging in age from 4 to 90 years, nineteen cookie recipes, two ovens, and seven hours of chaos in my sister’s kitchen.

I think it’s my favorite day of the year.

Our baking tradition started in 1990 when I was an exchange student to Australia. My sisters Donna and Caroline joined my mom for a day of cookie baking when she was missing “her baby.”

In 2002, Mom gave us little notebooks as gifts. My sister Mary Jane suggested we turn one of them into our cookie journal. I offered mine for the cause.

For fifteen years, we have kept notes in this journal. We write about our flops, like the year Mom forgot to put sugar in the fancy brown cookies because she was worried about Mary Jane and I driving down in snow. We write helpful hints, like how important it is not to put too much filling in the pecan tassies. We sometimes make reference to the fact that someone didn’t read the journal about the last time we had difficulty with a cookie.

Mary Jane started the journal that first year and anointed me the keeper of the journal. Over the years, other sisters and family members have all added to the journal, but each year it comes home with me.

The journal is a record of our family history. The year my father was in the hospital for Thanksgiving, we recorded how we baked in shifts so we could all take turns going to visit him. New births are recorded, as are tragedies.

We all cry when we see Mary Jane’s last entry in the journal tucked against my sister Susan’s words. Her simple message of love, written a month before she passed away, reminds us why we gather together for our annual tradition.

The day isn’t really about the cookies, although we do make some really good ones if I do say so myself. It’s a day full of love and laughter, and I wouldn’t want to start the holiday season any other way.

30 Days of Thanks Day 23: Thanksgiving Bounty

Today most Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving. As I have for the last ten years, I spent the day with my sister and brother-in-law, and his family.

It was a day of laughter, love, great food and gratitude. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, squash, beans, corn, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, rolls and pie. It was a feast of plenty, and everyone had leftovers to bring home.

Now my sister and I are sitting near the fireplace. Her three dogs are sleeping and lightly snoring. I’m sipping tea while watching Elf.

I have so many reasons to be thankful this year. I hope all of you found gratitude this year. Happy Thanksgiving!

30 Days of Thanks Day 21: An Escape Plan

This is a collection of most of what I will need to bring with me for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Once again, I am headed to my sister Caroline’s house. I will celebrate Thanksgiving with her husband’s family on Thursday.

But the real reason I am excited about an escape from reality will take place on Saturday. That is the day we gather for the annual DiNoto Cookie Bake. Regular readers know how much I look forward to this family tradition, as I have written about it in several posts.

Tonight I am grateful to have an accessible place to run to when I need a break. My brief escape from day-to-day reality also gives my Personal Assistants a respite. How fortunate I am to have a sister who is willing and able to assist me from time to time.

Being Number Six

All my life, I have been referred to as “number six” by my father. Dad used numbers to describe me and my five older sisters whenever he spoke about us to others. Sometimes we would be at a party and he would call us over to introduce us to a friend.

Have you met Caroline? She’s my number five daughter. Caroline – come over here!

When my parents were first taking me to medical appointments to determine the cause of my disability, Dad always pulled out his wallet whenever the nurse or social worker expressed astonishment upon learning I was the youngest of six girls. Beaming with pride he would flip through the photographs in the plastic sleeves, naming us and offering a tidbit of information he felt important to share.

That’s Susan, number one. She’s pregnant with our first grandchild. And Mary Jane, number two. She’s studying to be a violin teacher.

Photo of six white women varying in age and their elderly parents. One of the women, the author, is seated in a wheelchair.

Dad always said he didn’t care what jobs we did when we grew up, as long as we we did them to the best of our abilities and helped others along the way. When he bragged about us to my orthopedic surgeon, he was as proud of Donna as he was of Sandy.

Smart girls, both of them. All of my girls went to college, and hopefully Denise will too. 

Dad had his favorite stories about each of us. When we gathered as a group for a family dinner or celebration, he would reminisce and share his memories with whoever happened to be around the table. It didn’t matter if you had heard the story many times before, you still laughed when he talked about the time he sent the “five girls” (how he always spoke about my sisters before the time I arrived) outside with a gallon of white paint so he could watch a football game in peace and quiet while they painted the fence. My mother arrived home later that afternoon to find my sisters had used an entire can of paint on just five feet of fence, but also on the grass, rocks, their hair and clothes.

You should have seen her face! She was fit to be tied. You girls were covered in paint.

I was an adult before I realized how much Dad had worried about me. As a child, I never knew he was anxious about whether I would become ill, or if my disability would shorten my life. Then last year at our annual DiNoto cookie bake, he took my hand as I was telling him about work and gave it a squeeze.

Well Niecie, I guess I don’t have to worry about you dying young anymore.

I was stunned, but tried to laughingly reassure him I was doing just fine and was now too old to be considered young if I were to die. While I squeezed his hand in return, I asked if he was still truly worried about me that much.

When you were little, they couldn’t tell us much about what to expect for you. I’m your father. I worry about not just you, but all my girls, all the time. It’s what dads do.

That was the last time I saw my father in person, the last time I held his hand, the last time he pulled me in for a hug and kiss.

Three weeks later, my phone rang as I was returning home from my early morning swim on a cold December morning. When the caller ID on my phone read “Mom and Dad” but Caroline’s voice came through the line, I knew something was wrong. Caroline’s voice cracked as she told me Dad had died. I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation, probably because some of the other sisters were trying to call me and my phone kept beeping with incoming calls.

The day passed in a blur as I made plans to leave for a week in my hometown. I washed and packed clothes, wrapped Christmas presents and prepared cookie trays while fielding calls and texts from friends and family. Eventually I crashed in bed, exhausted from crying on and off all day. I fell asleep reviewing my mental list of what was left to pack in the morning.

I dreamed about Dad that night. He was getting ready for a fishing trip. I was a child, standing next to the pile of his gear, watching as he packed the back of his truck. When he was done, he slammed the tailgate. Turning to me, he smiled and tucked my hair behind my ear.

Don’t worry Niecie. I’ll bring back enough for all of us.