Tag Archives: family

At 4 to 1, they outnumber me, but they’re still my favorite guys

A friend recently described how her older son teases his little brother. We both remembered our older brothers teasing us — sometimes to the point of tears — but now, years later, we still love them. In fact, we both think of our brothers as friends now and love spending time with them. The teasing? It’s still there, but we’re big girls now and can dish right back. They taught us pretty well.

As the youngest of five children — and the only girl — it was suggested that I was spoiled. This might be true, but if anyone spoiled me, it was the boys.

five kidsApparently, they didn’t object to being dressed in plaid like their baby sister.

They let me climb trees with them, play basketball and baseball with them (except for the time James knocked me out by whacking me in the forehead with a baseball bat), and took me swimming.

Sure, they forced me to take my quarry test despite our mom’s instructions that they wait until Dad was with us. I passed and they were happy that they no longer had to take turns babysitting me in the pool. I, on the other hand, was thrilled to join them on the big slide and to play hide and seek around the rafts.

One of them rescued me from the manure pile and one of them hosed me off. One of them told me stories when he put me to bed when our parents were gone. The two younger ones let me sleep in their trundle bed and taught me to play the cartoon game (our version of “I’m thinking of….”).

Now that we’re older and they live far away — all are at least a nine-hour drive from me — I love staying in touch with them via email, phone and Skype. They make me laugh with funny e-mails and can easily make me feel better when I’m down.

But the hours we spend in each others’ company are the best. Whether we’re walking or running together, fighting over who gets the last cookie, discussing our mom’s health, or cooking together, these are the moments that remind me of what big brothers really mean to me.

older five kids

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peacefulness of early morning runs marred by thoughts of violence

In 35 years of running, my early morning runs have provided me with much time to think, to pray, to meditate, to plan, to talk (and not just when I have a running partner because who better than oneself to talk to), and to completely lose myself in memories.

Tuesday morning’s run was in many ways like every other run. The early morning quiet was welcome, broken only by birdsong and the occasional car passing by. But the peacefulness of the early hour was marred by conflicting thoughts of sorrow and anger as memories of the horrendous bombing at runnersMonday’s Boston marathon.

As I ran, I reflected on all of the finish lines I’ve crossed, happy in knowing that my family was often waiting to cheer me on. It never once occurred to me that I could be putting them in danger, that there might be someone angry enough at the world that he or she would set off a bomb at a road race.

Even as this thought crossed my mind, a distant rumble of thunder broke into my reverie, sending chills down my spine. It reminded me of the old lady in “Under the Tuscan Sun” who agrees to sell her crumbling villa when a bird defecates on Frances’ head. “Le signe, le signe!”

If that thunder clap was a sign, it was perhaps more a sign that we all need to remember that we Americans aren’t the only ones facing acts of violence every day. Even as the bombs exploded in Boston, there were about 20 separate car bombings in Iraq that killed at least 37 and injured more than 140 people, all in one day.

I’m reminded of a statement by a cousin — “We are not alone in our grief.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/16/world/middleeast/attackers-strike-across-iraq-as-elections-approach.html

In the weeks to come, those early morning runs will serve to remind me of our shared grief the world over. I’m sure I won’t be alone in my thoughts.race

 

 

 

 

With 3/5ths in their 60s, we’re still just Mary and the boys

As my family’s “middle child” turns 60 today, 3/5ths of us are in their seventh decade. That leaves two of us still in the baby stages of the 50s. This, of course, is of no special significance except to we five and maybe to our mother. I sometimes wonder if she looks at us and thinks we’re still just kids. After all, she still refers to my four brothers as “the boys.” Which, of course, they are. Boys.me and the boys

For some reason, I don’t remember my parents turning 60. It must not have been a big deal because we didn’t have any major parties. There was no sobbing, no gnashing of teeth. Life just carried on except Dad may have baked cinnamon rolls for his students and Mother may have given her students extra stickers.

As far as I know, none of my brothers have had big whoop-de-doo parties on their 60th. Does that make us boring? Or does that mean we don’t put great stock in celebrating? My husband would say — not unkindly — that we aren’t sociable.

So…just to prove him wrong, I have big plans for 2016, which will be my year. I’m having a pool party at the local swimming hole. And my big brothers had better be there because there will be a giant ice cream cake roll. Because that is what our mother made us every year for our birthdays.

My mother? I have no doubt she’ll still be around and she’ll still be referring to us as Mary and the boys. NFS_0184After all, we’re still just kids.

 

Letter to Dad, part 2

Dear Dad,

Guess what. It’s fruit fly season again and you know what that means. We’re inundated and you know how happy that makes me. But I have to thank you for taking Fred under your wing and teaching him the fine art of fruit fly food production.

Last night I arrived home to find Fred preparing assorted berries for a pie he planned to bake. As soon as he had that in the oven, he admitted that we now had a “little fly problem”. Something in the back of my brain kicked in and I could see your grin light up your face and hear your gleeful, “Oh goody, time to make fruit fly food.”

I remember all too well those hot summer days, coming home from the pool to find you stirring something on the stove….it usually turned out to be that thick syrupy concoction. Standing on the counter nearby was a bottle with a paper cone taped to the mouth, just waiting for you to fill it with…yep…fruit fly food.

So anyway, there was Fred, pouring goop into a tall bottle with the all-too-familiar cone…with that RFP evil scientist grin down pat.

Lo and behold, this morning, the fruit flies had abandoned the countertop and windowsills for the syrup and there they were, trapped inside. Gorging, no doubt.

Dad, you taught us so many useful things, like how to trap a fruit fly, how to back a car into a tiny campsite, how to give a really good foot massage, how to watch tv and grade papers at the same time, how to make the perfect angel food cake, and how to remove the tiniest splinter from a screaming child. I still have your forceps.

I’m sure you knew, but I’m sure I never said it enough. Thanks.

Love you,

Mary

What I learned from my mama

So…it’s Mother’s Day. I don’t remember much about Mother’s Day when I was little. I don’t think we ever fixed her breakfast in bed or took her out for dinner. The truth is, she probably cooked for us on those days, but I could be wrong. You’d have to ask her.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of us don’t come to really appreciate our moms until later in life when we finally realize what all they taught us.

My own mother turns 90 in about five weeks. 90. Wow. That simply amazes me. This is the woman who is still teaching me new things nearly every time I’m with her. She might not realize this, because often these are things that I learn simply from watching her and listening to her.

Yesterday, I called her at 8 a.m. and began to apologize for waking her up. She just laughed and said she’d been up for hours and was out walking “way out here in Birch Court”, which is probably a good half mile from her place.

So there you have it. One of the things I learned from her is the value of exercise — at any age, and despite whatever aches and pains might be nagging at us.

My mom and dad raised five kids on a small college professor‘s salary, supplemented by her earnings as a piano teacher. She sewed, gardened, preserved the produce, and knew how to stretch a dollar. And while I learned to sew and garden, the one thing I regret never really learning is how to budget. It scares me. But I did inherit her tendency toward thriftiness — also known as “cheap”. 

When I reflect on the many things I learned from my mom, the one I value the most is the ability to sew. Because of her, I’ve always made clothing for myself and my daughters. One of the first things I remember making was is the early 60s when wrap-around dresses were popular. These resembled the hospital gowns that have three armholes. She made one for herself and one for me, and I made one for my doll.

And that was how I learned the art of sewing. From doll clothes, I progressed to simple clothing for myself. Of course, this is also where I learned my propensity for perfection. If I made a mistake that had to be ripped out and begged her to fix it, she’d fix me with a look and say, “Nope, you do it.”

That drove me nuts. It often resulted in my throwing the item down and running off to do something else. But eventually, I returned to complete the project. As a result, I can read nearly any pattern, change whatever parts I don’t like, and alter just about any item of clothing to fit me.

Now that I’m thinking about this, I’m pretty sure I’ve never thanked her for teaching me to sew, to look at a ready-made clothing item and instead of buying it, thinking that I could make it for less and know it would fit better.

So Mother, thanks. I love you. For many, many reasons.

Ike’s visit to the Windy City

Ike decided to tag along on a trip to Chicago this weekend. Actually, he didn’t see much of the city, since he had to stay home while the folks went to town. But that was okay…he had plenty of new experiences.

Here’s what he learned:

If he’s pushy enough, he can weasel his way into the front seat of the car for much of the five-hour car trip. Like a child, he spent the first hour popping up and down to peer out the window,  the scenery of which he did not recognize.

Good thing he doesn’t get carsick.

Sitting in the car for five hours was worth it. He got to spend much of the weekend running leash-free around the fenced-in backyard. This is a big deal for a Schnauzer whose only two times outside off-leash involved mad races through Bluffton trying to elude his weary captors.

Sadly, his dreams of catching up to one of those furry little animals that hop hop hop across the yard while he watches out the window, remain unfulfilled. He discovered today that they can out-hop him.

That’s not to say the hopping bunny didn’t give him an interesting adventure — there was that lovely-scented little nest that just begged for a good sniffing.

Those two little girls who look an awfully lot alike are lots of fun to chase around. Emma even helped him investigate the bunny nest.

Ally — or maybe it was Emma (he still gets confused over which one is which) renamed him Mike. He’s not sure how that happened.

New houses have new smells and sounds, all of which serve to both confuse and intrigue. New neighborhoods have unfamiliar dog smells, which requires careful investigation of every inch of grass and every tree trunk in every yard on the block.

What with all this excitement, life could be pretty boring back home.

 

 

 

 

On turning 70 and celebrating big

Nope. Not me. This time it’s the other Mary Steiner celebrating a milestone. My sister-in-law, Mary Steiner Lord, turns 70 on January 3. It is a fact that amazes me. Probably it amazes her, too.

This is the woman who — according to an unnamed source — saw Elvis Presley in person. It was one of his usual performances complete with “screaming hordes of girls”. Apparently, my source’s details are sketchy since he was, at the time, just a little brother.

This is the woman who plans elaborate Halloween parties for her eight grandchildren, ranging in age from 16 to 2. No one is allowed in without a costume. Everyone complies, including her husband, Guy, and grown children.

This is the same woman, a faithful Quaker who — faced with living in Salt Lake City with her doctor husband and young children —  joined the local ERA chapter, distributing material door to door, pre-school-age daughter in tow. It was she who sent a tiny ERA t-shirt when our first daughter was born.

This is the woman who takes her grandchildren along to the annual Quaker summer meeting — even when their parents can’t attend — making sure they get to experience the week-long activities.

Mary Steiner Lord (back row, second from right), with her family

When her young Bluffton nieces are old enough to travel without their parents, she invites them to join her family in Milwaukee, taking them to Brewers’ games, art museums, zoos, and revolving restaurants high over the city, where she indulges their fondness for fancy desserts.

It is also she who also generously invites the daughters of her distant Swiss cousins to spend entire summers with her family in Milwaukee, taking them to Chicago and Bluffton to meet their other American cousins.

This is the woman who loves to paint, play piano, attend the symphony. She wouldn’t miss a single performance of her grandchildren — Irish dancing, violin, piano, soccer, cross country. And when her daughter, daughters-in-law, and sons decide to tackle triathlons — she’s there.

But this Sunday, the focus will be on her. It’s going to be a big “Let’s fete Mary” party. But I’ll betcha anything, her eyes will be on her kids and grandkids — the loves of her life.

“Twas three days before Christmas…

‘Twas three days before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring ‘cept Ma and her dog. One child and two cats were nestled snug on the couch, when Ma and her Ike tiptoed into the room. From out of the dark, there rose such a howling, the quiet household shuddered and woke with a start.

So much for a quiet start to the day. And so much for my attempts at poetic license. I knew that there would be an extra cat in the house, but I’d been assured that Peaches the Queen and the visiting Casio, would “just ignore each other”. What we didn’t plan on was the rude awakening of said cats and child by one wriggling, tail-wagging miniature Schnauzer, eager to join the sleeping trio.

Ten minutes later, one cat had been relegated to the outdoors and the other one to the basement. Ike, the innocent instigator, was upstairs in bed with the other child and Harvey, the calmest dog on earth.

Phew. Quiet reigned again…for a few minutes anyway. I took that as a sign that I could take a shower. Halfway through that, daughter number 1 pops her head in the door to say that “I was trying to find an outlet for the coffeepot, and I unplugged your bread machine. Does that matter?” Matter? Why would it matter that a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread had been unplugged mid-cycle? A little deep breathing reminded me “not to sweat the small stuff”. Lo and behold, she’d plugged it right back in and the bread kept baking. Huh. Must have some sort of surge protection on it.

30 minutes later, I headed off to work. As I walked out the door, I heard two hoots of laughter from daughters number 1 and 2, watching something on the Internet. Which reminds me. All cat- and dog-fights aside, it’s good to have my family home.

 

 

Secret family recipe revealed

Whenever I see granola for sale in groceries, a very clear visual pops up in my mind. There is my dad, standing at the kitchen counter with a huge stainless steel bowl in front of him. He’s carefully measuring ingredients into the bowl. Oats, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and sliced almonds.

On the stove top, a mixture of honey, oil and vanilla are warming. He reaches for the pot, slowly swirls the mixture over the dry ingredients. Using a large wooden spoon, he carefully and methodically stirs the mixture, gently turning it over until each grain, nut and seed is coated.

For Dad, making granola was a welcome change from his usual days spent in the lab and classroom, teaching his students to blend the right ingredients for experiments. Yet, in many ways, his hours in the kitchen were very similar to those in the lab — the right ingredients, perfect measurements, temperature control, and most important — staying nearby throughout the process.

Because once he had the ingredients mixed and spread in baking pans, he knew timing was crucial. If he didn’t watch it carefully, at timed intervals removing the pans from the oven to stir them, he’d end up with a burnt batch. And on a college professor’s salary in the 70s, a batch of granola could be expensive. A burnt batch even more so.

Once the granola was done, he’d remove it from the oven, set it on racks to cool before spooning into old tins and coffee cans saved just for this purpose.

Thinking back, I must have taken that granola for granted. It was always there. Secretly, I’d filter through the cans for the big chunks. My favorite way to eat it was on top of ice cream.

My mom still makes granola regularly; probably some of my brothers do, too. Awhile back, my husband, daughters and I made a family cookbook to give to family members as a Christmas present. My parents’ granola recipe stands front and center, an icon of our family history.

Today I had a hankering for granola…the real thing. No coconut. I don’t think any of my family members (brothers, parents, children) has ever liked coconut so it’s not in the recipe. You could add it, but then it wouldn’t be our granola. It would be yours.

This is the original recipe, with notes about any changes I made. When making mine, I took poetic license and added some flax seed — the wheat germ of the 2000s. Dad would have understood. He was all for change as long as it was a healthy one. Mother, of course, has probably made more changes to her own versions over the years. Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, dried fruit.

If you decide to make your own, remember this caveat: Do not leave the kitchen. Sit at a nearby table with a cup of tea or coffee and set a timer. Unless, of course, you like your granola with a blackened quality.

Granola

1/4 c. safflower or canola oil
1/2 c. honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. rolled oats
1 c. wheat germ
1 c. sliced almonds
1 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. whole wheat bran
1/4-1/2 c. flax seeds (OPTIONAL — this is my addition)

Heat first three ingredients. Add to remaining ingredients and stir (mix well). Spread on oiled cookie sheets or baking pans. Bake at 325 degrees (stir twice during baking) 20-25 min.
Store in tightly-closed containers.

Annointing service intended to bring restoration of wholeness and health

Last week, my cousin, Doug, mentioned that his family had had an announting service for his older brother, who is struggling with some health issues. He suggested that I might find this comforting. Our church periodically has had annointing (healing) services for members who are ill, but also for those who are entering into some leadership position. However, those are usually done during or after a church service, with an entire congregation taking part.

I’m a little leery of feeling so “exposed” in front of a large group of people, so knew that wouldn’t work for me. So I talked with our associate pastor, Louise Wideman, about having a private annointing service with just family members, and in one of my favorite places — at the edge of a local quarry, which is no longer a working quarry, but has for years been filled with water. There is a path that leads to the water’s edge, where the village placed large square rocks, perfect for sitting on. It’s the place I go often during a walk or run, to sit and think about whatever I’m facing.

The timing was perfect, because two of my brothers and one sister-in-law were in town, so they were able to attend, along with my mom, my aunt, my husband, Louise and me. Oh. Right. And about a million cicadas. All voicing their opinions throughout the entire service. In fact, my husband taped it on the Flip, but the cicadas drowned out most of the human conversation. I figure that was just nature taking part.

In the days leading up to the service, Louise and I had a few conversations, during which she explained the history of announting services. This may help others understand.

*Biblically, anointing was used in the Old Testament for several reasons – leaders were anointed for their special roles; a person was anointed for comfort (Psalm 23:5); anointing oil was used in the cleansing ritual for lepers; and objects in the tabernacle were anointed for use in worship.   In the New Testament, Jesus had a ministry of healing people and James 5 includes instructions for anointing the sick with oil.

“In our Mennonite history, anointing services in the past have been very private and often with persons who are extremely ill.  Today however, several congregations offer anointing at the end or during a worship service in the context of the congregation for any variety of reasons – physical or emotional health and well being, commissioning for leadership and spiritual renewal.

 “We know there is a connection between the mind, body, and spirit – so that when a person is anointed, we are considering the whole person.   Anointing with oil for healing is a means of God’s grace and blessing intended to bring restoration of wholeness and health.”

Prior to the service, Louise asked me to reflect on my illness, my ongoing anxieties and fears relating to it, as well as my hopes for the upcoming weeks. This kind of thing is very hard for me to do openly. Somehow I managed to put down a few thoughts — mostly, I think, because I’d spent the week with some pretty indepth conversations with my brothers and of course, my husband. One thing I mentioned is that I recently asked my aunt for some advice on prayer. I’ve always been so awed by her very thoughtful prayers. They remind me of my grandfather’s — he was a pastor. Her very simple response eased my own thoughts about praying for personal things.

We began the service at 7 p.m., just as a fishing boat crossed the water. I think they sensed something private because they immediately moved to the far side of the lake. We began with my brother and SIL singing “Amazing Grace”, followed by Louise’s explanation of the annointing service, some scriptures, prayer, a song by Louise, my own statement. There was a brief “laying on of hands” and the others were invited to say something.

It was a brief, but meaningful service. For me — a very private person when it comes to faith — this was a new experience. All day today I’ve thought about it. I don’t feel greatly changed, but I do feel comforted. My anxiety is slowly easing, and I hope that over the next few weeks as I reflect on this, I’ll continue to relax and better focus on recovering with a more positive attitude.