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.

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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!

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Friday night was special. I spent the evening with family celebrating my great niece’s seventh birthday. Seven is a fun age, and her party was packed with things a seven year old girl would enjoy – pizza, new clothes for her doll, and a three layer cake covered with pink frosting and chocolate chips.

One of the reasons I enjoy family events is because of the laughter and love we share whenever we are together. Emily, the birthday girl, and her younger brother Evan who is four years old, kept us smiling all night. But it was an exchange that happened early in the party that continues to play in my head.

I was sitting with my sister Sandy when Evan approached us. Like most children, Evan is intrigued by my wheelchair. When he was younger, he was content to simply ride on my lap. Now he is determined to figure out how the controls regulate the various aspects of my chair, such as speed and seat elevation. Standing next to my chair, he displayed remarkable restraint keeping his hands at his side rather than reaching for my joystick. Suddenly, he turned his quizzical gaze to Sandy and this delightful interchange took place.

Evan: Aunt Sandy, where’s your wheelchair?

Sandy: I don’t have one.

Evan: Why not?

Sandy: Because I don’t need one yet. Maybe someday I’ll have one.

Evan: (looking delighted and excited, and clapping his hands) Then you’ll be twins!

The three of us laughed as Sandy picked up Evan for a hug. The party continued, with pizza, presents and cake. But Evan’s comments stuck with me and caused me to reflect as I boarded the bus to go home.

At four years of age, Evan already knows that a wheelchair is a cool piece of equipment. He does not view me with pity. He does not perceive a wheelchair or a disability as being a Bad Thing, with a capital b and capital t as said by the late, great Stella Young. Of course, he doesn’t understand all the intricacies of life with a disability because he is just four years old. But he understands critical information other nondisabled adults seem slow to grasp, such as:

  1. I am my own person.
  2. My wheelchair is not the worst thing in the world, or a reason to shy away from me.
  3. I do not have a poor quality of life.
  4. I am capable and competent.

Evan is not unique in his abilities. All of my nieces and nephews, and now their children, have been exposed to my wheelchair and my disability their entire lives. They have all developed a level of disability cultural competency through their interactions with me, a disabled family member. This has created a level of comfort with disability at a young age in many of them which their peers may not have developed.

When I am with my young family members, I don’t hear negative comments about disability. I don’t hear pity. I don’t hear insensitve or ableist comments like the ones I hear from strangers on a regular basis, such as:

You manage that thing pretty well!

Slow down – you’ll get a speeding ticket!

You got snow tires for that thing?

You’re so pretty for someone who uses a wheelchair.

Oh, you work?!

And my personal ‘favorite’…

I don’t know how you manage. If I had to use a wheelchair, I’d kill myself.

My young family members who have been exposed to my reality as a disabled woman say different things. They say things like:

That man has a red chair like Aunt Denise’s!

Maybe you could drive us to skating when you get your new van Aunt Denise.

Will you read to me Aunt Denise?

We put the ramp down for you Aunt Denise!

And my personal favorite…

I love you, Aunt Denise.

If my young nieces and nephews can understand disability is not the worst thing, why can’t more adults figure it out?

30 Days of Thanks Day 28 – Guest Post by Via Mari

My final guest for this month is Via Mari. We “met” through an online writing group and learned we shared a love of travel. I enjoy learning about Via’s research process, and the importance of keen observation when it comes to getting the details right when describing a location in writing. I am excited to share her gratitude post as we near the end of 30 Days of Thanks. You can read more of her work, including descriptions of her books and insights as to how she researches her writing, over at her blog.

Thankful for Memories

When I think of thankfulness so many things come to mind, but as I ponder what I am really thankful for this year it has to be my memories.

As a young girl, I recall waking up in England and following the scent of mom’s baked goods down the stairs to the kitchen below. The large walnut crank- out table was the place we gathered to eat the sweet, flaky pastries and drink the robust black tea which mom always cooled slightly for me with a little milk and sugar.

As a teenager, I recall shopping with mom for special occasion dresses. It’s the laughter and the fact that I could tell her anything that I remember so vividly. We would spend hours talking through all life’s little troubles as we went from boutique to boutique. Together we would search until we found the perfect dresses. The little frilly red and white ones for holidays and pictures with family, a long pale yellow formal for my first dance, and a flowing midnight blue sparkly strapless for prom and another short, more sophisticated black strappy dress with sequins for the young woman who was about to graduate. Then it was the wedding dress, the ultimate pursuit. Bridal shows, boutique after boutique, day after day of laughter and talking until we found the simple, classic white dress I would be married in.

As a young woman, I recall my children enjoying the same holiday customs I experienced as a child. My mother’s traditions of baking Gramma’s homemade yeast rolls from scratch, the sausage and apple stuffing which would be lovingly prepared to accompany the turkey, and engaging them in the laughter and conversation that was always so much a part of the day.

As a woman today, I sit quietly watching my mom interact with our extended family. I am thankful for all the memories we are making and that I will have the ability to look back and remember every extraordinary thing about my mom today.