Saturday, September 28, 2013

Memories of Gramma

This morning I had the privilege of sitting quietly by my grandmother's bedside, keeping watch while my mom and dad played with my two boys. Gramma (my mother's mother, or MorMor in Swedish fashion) has been very ill, first with one thing and then the other. She is 91 and has very fragile lungs and has been on oxygen for several years, and a great deal of anxiety on top of it. Two months ago she wound up in the ICU for a week as they were trying to get her carbon dioxide levels under control. No one thought she would make it, and she came home on hospice.

True to form, she rallied emotionally when she got home, and was quite perky and engaged, in spite of the bipap machine helping her breathe at night and sporadically throughout the day. The struggle was getting enough fluid (and food) into her because she had such a hard time swallowing. My mom and her brother struggled through the issue of whether to have a peg tube installed so she could get fluid and nutrition directly to her stomach (which would require another hospital stay) or just let her essentially starve to death while she was so desperately thirsty. GAH.

So, hospital and peg tube it was. And she has now been back home for a couple weeks and is gaining weight back and is feeling much better and seeming much stronger, though she is still not up and around and still needs 24/7 watching and care. She still sleeps with the bipap and has her regular oxygen during the day. You can tell that she really has to work to breathe and talking is very hard for her. She gets out one or two words at a time, but she really wants to engage.

I was able to take the boys down to visit with her in between hospital stays and boy, was it hard. I can't imagine what my mom has to deal with every day. My vote, frankly, was not for a peg tube, but for medicating her up the wazoo with anti-anxiety meds and pain meds and letting her go.  I had some time to sit with her while she was sleeping on that trip and as I was watching her, I set down some of my memories in writing, via twitter. I thought it might be the last time I would see her.

But I am glad they didn't listen to me. When the boys and I were there last night and this morning, her voice is much worse, but she is very engaged. We arrived at dinner time Friday night after making it through rush hour traffic out of D.C. (not a fun thing on a Friday afternoon). My 7yo went right in to see her and raced to her bed to give her a hug. Her face LIT up to see him and she squeezed him hard. The boys ran out side to work off some energy and I told her about things. Eventually she asked for her keyboard. I sat there and watched her pick out O Night Divine with both hands. She was always a beautiful piano player (she played by ear much more than with music) and guitar player. And she looooved her ukelele. She came from a family of musicians. Her father and his brother were in a band that played around their county. Her brother was really a fabulous piano player and played on a Steinway concert grand. My great-grandmother played the guitar and sang. This is what they did on Saturday nights (that and cards....)

As she was playing her keyboard, my 7yo came back in. And he asked to play. Imagine the sight: my grandmother (who had the bipap machine on at the time) lying in a hospital bed; my 7yo beside her leaning on the bed and picking out the songs he has been learning in piano. The 4yo wanted in on the action so he ran into the other room and banged out some "chords" on the very out of tune upright that my parents have. She just glowed with happiness (and then later on asked if I had priced out a Steinway for him...I told her we had a Yamaha and that would do for us for the moment, thanks.)

Back to the point of this post: my tweets. Because this morning, as I was sitting with her I went on another tweet fest of memories and my friend Stephanie asked if I had written them down somewhere else. So here we go, my tweets in narrative form:

First of all, these from Aug 31 as I was sitting with her when she was between hospital visits and I thought it might be the last time I saw her:

"Woke up early. The strike even when they aren't around. Sitting w Gramma for a bit, reliving some of my fondest memories.

She made the BEST watermelon rind pickles. She always had a stash of fabric and yarn to play with. First thing in the morning, she had her

Bible out and worked through her prayer list. She could do amazing things w blackberries. Oh and chocolate pie? Lordy. I have a funny photo

of her at about age 17, with a sidearm in a shoulder holster and a cigar in hand (c 1939). She grew up on a farm but didn't know how to cook

until she married my Grampa at age 19. He was the son of a baker, and he gave her some pointers. But then she never looked back. She loves

to read. And sing. And play the piano. Knitting was a passion until her arthritis got too bad. She followed my Grampa around the country

for his job, packing up the house even w two kids, 19 times in 25 years."

And this batch from this morning:

"Once more, I have the privilege of sitting w my Gramma while she sleeps (giving the care helper a few hours to sleep). Bear w my memories.

Gramma was always annoyed she couldn't make biscuits as well as her mother did (and those WERE divine.) See, when she was a little girl on

The farm, she was a tomboy. She would be found helping her dad w the fields or animals, but when it came time for housework, she was up a

When it came time for housework, she was up a tree with a book. When she married my Grampa, she was 19 and did not know how to cook anything

Except veg soup. Grampa didn't know that. He did start to wonder why they had veg soup for lunch every day and went to her mother's for

Supper every night. Finally she confessed. He thought it was funny. Well, recounting the story years later he thought it was funny.

At any rate, he taught her how to cook. His father was a German baker, from a long line of German bakers. Although Grampa foreswore the idea

Of going into the business himself, he had picked up a few things all those summer sweating in the bakery. So, he set about teaching her.

Gramma was a quick study and surpassed him in short order. She made the best bread, eight loaves at a time. Summer squash casserole that

Makes my mouth water just thinking about. A corn custard that was a potluck staple. I am making her pound cake recipe for my sister's

Bridal shower. (I altered it by adding cream cheese. She has given that her blessing.) Fried chicken, of course. Did y'all know that I won

my husband's heart by making him my Gramma's fried chicken when we were dating? I did. The chocolate pie was the end to all big meals.

Replicate it, much to my chagrin. When I told her that, once, she asked if I had added the walnut flavoring. Well no. That wasn't on the

Recipe she had written for me. She giggled and said SHE always remembered at the very last minute, herself. But she never could replicate

Her mother's biscuits. We all finally decided that the deliciousness was a combination of a wood stove and actual lard. --30--"

Clearly, many of my memories of her involve food. Hmmm. Just as an update to the chocolate pie recipe....I asked her this morning about the chocolate pie and when I mentioned the walnut flavoring, she smiled and shook her head. "Maple," she croaked. Ah. Well then.

I'll have to remember that.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Exciting update to our family!!!!

 April Fool's!


(Oh come knew it was coming....)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Grateful I am here to write this post - Happy Birthday to me.

42 years ago, I was born. Nearly on Father's Day, as a matter of fact. I came a smidge early though. Mom had a relatively uncomplicated birth with me. Hospitals weren't baby-friendly in those days, though, and they whisked me off to the nursery. When Dad (a doctor) came to visit mom, she hadn't seen me yet. The hospital was really full, and she was in a side-room on a different floor. They wouldn't let her go see me and wouldn't bring me to her. Dad took care of THAT situation and went and retrieved me from the nursery.

All was well that ended well.

But it didn't start off well.

Shortly after Mom discovered she was pregnant, apparently she was exposed to Rubella. Rubella, also known as German Measles, is a relatively mild childhood illness, but is very dangerous to a pregnant woman.

Rubella in a pregnant woman can cause congenital rubella syndrome, with potentially devastating consequences for the developing fetus. Children who are infected with rubella before birth are at risk for growth retardation; mental retardation; malformations of the heart and eyes; deafness; and liver, spleen, and bone marrow problems.

Rubella is especially dangerous to the unborn child when the mother is exposed in the early part of her pregnancy. When Mom's OB got the results of a blood test that indicated that she had been exposed to Rubella, mom was about four months along. He sent them off to a colleague who was an expert in Rubella to get a better read on the results. That expert said that the test results indicated that she had probably been exposed to the disease during the most critical time in her pregnancy.

Mom was doing her PhD work in physiology and animal behavior at Johns Hopkins University. Her obstetricians were also there. Dad was working on a post-doc degree there. Let me be clear, Mom has her PhD in biology, specifically physiology, specializing in primates. Dad is a medical doctor. Both were working at a leading teaching hospital. Both had (and continue to have) intimate knowledge about how the human body works. They knew exactly what could happen to their unborn baby because of the Rubella.

Mom's thesis adviser strongly encouraged her to have an abortion. "You are young, why would you risk it? You can have more babies!"  Mom's obstetrician advised her of the option of medical abortion because of the danger to the baby. Although this was in 1970 and before Roe, abortion was legal in Maryland. However, mom and dad did need to make a decision quickly, as she was five months pregnant.

Mom said no. Mom had a relatively new faith, but was perfectly confident that there would be nothing wrong with me. She is a bit of a worrier (a little bit of an understatement) and so the real miracle was that she wasn't worried in the slightest.

But everybody else was. For some reason, the news about the pregnancy and the rubella complications had gotten around the hospital. Dad's colleagues talked to him about it, Mom's colleagues knew.

Dad was a bit more worried. He spoke to his father about it. My paternal grandfather was a United Church of Christ minister and my grandmother was a woman of faith, but they also knew the struggles of dealing with a debilitating illness. At the time, my grandmother was completely paralyzed with Multiple Sclerosis and they lived together in a nursing home so that my grandfather could have some help taking care of my grandmother.

My grandfather told my dad that he and my grandmother would pray about it. When my dad next talked to them, my grandfather reminded him of a scripture that said that once you have put your hand to the plow, you don't look back. He said that the child was from God and that he and my grandmother would be very supportive of Mom and Dad. That gave Dad a sense of peace about it.

Mom spent a part of her pregnancy out of the country working on her thesis research. While she was gone, her church prayed for her, and the baby. In fact, attending the church was a young doctor. Although he didn't know mom, when the group explained the situation, he was very concerned. He placed himself at the center of the group and asked them to pray over him as if he were mom. He prostrated himself on the floor before God and prayed that the baby would be "perfect in every way." My mother did not find out about this prayer until several years later.*

Aside from the rubella issue, my mother had a completely uneventful pregnancy. She continued to be unworried about the potential problems. In fact, more than one person commented on how peaceful she seemed to be.

After I was born and the pediatrician examined me, he reported to mom that, "She's perfect!" Mom, in the throes of post-labor euphoria, said, "Of COURSE she is!" The doctor looked at her to get her attention and said, "No. I mean, She. Is. Perfect. There is not one thing wrong with her."** Mom realized at that moment how very worried even the pediatrician had been.

I am very glad that my parents agreed to continue the pregnancy and not end it. I am thankful that Mom had such an assurance that she didn't have the authority to make a different decision when God had seen fit to allow the pregnancy. I am grateful to God for giving Mom the grace of complete Peace. I am thankful for my Dad's parents who gave him words of comfort and assurance. I am grateful for the many people who prayed to my parents and for me. We will never know for sure if Mom did have Rubella. She tried at least one more time to have her blood tested and was never given a satisfactory answer. I don't know if the miracle that occurred was that I was protected from the damaging effects of a dangerous virus, or if it was the more "mundane" miracles of peace in the face of a dangerous diagnosis, assurance when everyone else was questioning, and the prayers of many people occurring for one little baby. Nevertheless, miracles occurred in the spring of 1970. And then I was born.

* Mom and Dad ran into that doctor about five years ago at a medical conference. When reminded, he recalled the situation and was happy that his one act of faith had had such far reaching consequences.

** The pediatrician had no idea that the words he was saying to my mom were a direct answer to that prayer prayed on Mom's behalf. It was that much more meaningful to Mom, when she heard about the prayer several years later, and was a huge blessing for her.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Prayer in the Outland

My great-grandmother, Margarete Kayser, was born in 1883 in Boerrstadt, a little farming town in the Donnersbergkreis area of the Rhineland-Pfalz region in Germany. She was the second youngest of a family of eleven children. Her father died when she was 12 and her mother died just before she turned 19. She went to work for her father's cousin's family in Frankfurt. They had a bakery and an apartment building there. While she was there, she met my great-grandfather, Fritz (Friederich), one of the family's younger sons, who was home doing his required military service. They fell in love.

Fritz (hereafter known as Great Grampa) returned to the United States (he had come to the US earlier and returned to Germany to fulfill his compulsive service) and Gretel (his name for her) followed a year later and they were married in Springfield, Massachusetts where they settled and lived out most of their lives. They visited Germany a few times, but never stayed for long. They operated a bakery until fairly late in their lives. My great-grampa died when I was 18 mos old, and she died about a year later.

My great-grandmother inherited some of her mother's books, prayer books and hymnals and the like. Lovely little books printed in the heavy gothic German script of the late 1800s. She also kept a Book of Days (my term), a beautiful little printed book with a poem/verse for every day of the year. In it she recorded births and deaths in the family. In the back there were pages for notes, and she wrote in it. Her mother wrote in her books too. Unfortunately, even native German speakers are having a terrible time deciphering my Gr Gr Grandmother's writing. The books were not expensive, and the cheap paper and ink has deteriorated significantly. And the writing is in the old German style, which is very hard for even native speakers to read. However, my Great-Grandmother's day book had clear writing.

I asked one of my son's preschool teachers if she could translate it since she is from Germany. And she gave it to me this morning. It was a poem.

Prayer in the Outland
By Julius Sturm 1816-1896

Oh, it must be so sad, if you have to die so lonely (alone)
If no eye greets us to sweeten the pain

No one fluffs our pillow
No one squeezes our hand
When strangers stand around us
Who look at us coldly while we are dying.

For this I am praying to you, God
Oh, don't call me earlier from here to come to you.

Until I find again my dear Homeland
Where love is greeting me
sweetens every pain
And loving hands (from a friend) lower me into the grave.

There, where my cross is standing on a (little) tower
In a golden shine
Where also my brothers' coffins are
A green hill (hold "the coffins")
Not far from my sister,
There I want to be buried.

I read it to my mom this afternoon. Apparently Great-Gramma had talked about going back home, eventually, but she never did. And although my grandmother was able to find a Catholic priest to give her last rights as she was dying, and she became more peaceful as she was able to recite the familiar words in German, she did die alone.

But she isn't forgotten.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Just when you think they are little terrors....

I have realized that the problem with "blogging" is that I write for different reasons. I can't really make this an on-line journal, as that would have to be anonymous, for obvious reasons. I don't really want to make this anything controversial, so I refrain from writing what I really think about politics, or religion, or whether Virginia is, indeed, God's Country.

I started this blog because I wanted to jot down memories in a forum that I would be more apt to keep up with than scrapbooking. Because even though I am kinda crafty, I don't have the organization for that. Or the desire, really.

And so, I am here sporadically. And much MORE sporadically since I have gotten interested in Genealogy. When I have time to sit down at the computer and actually type, I am more apt to dig into some ancestor's birth record.

However, there are some things that are worth creating a specific blog post for, and this is one.

You might know that my church has been in the midst of a legal battle with the Episcopal Church. After two trials and one appeal, we have lost the church property. Long story. Ask if you want LOTS of details. Anyway, we have had to find a new place to worship, new offices, etc. Even though we know that "church" is more than a building, and even though our warehouse of a building was not special, it was special to us.

The second to last Sunday we worshiped there, our Rector asked the Children what was something special that they would remember about the place.

My 5yo raised his hand straight up, not tentatively at all. I whispered to him to find out what he was going to say, worried, as you might imagine, what would come out of his mouth. Before I could get a good answer out of him, Fr. Harper approached with a microphone.

"Jonathan," he said, "What will you remember most about this building."

And my precious five year old, who is currently obsessed with all things Star Wars and super heroes, said, "Love. I have felt loved here."

Oh. My. Heart.

Yes, son, so have I. So have I.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

How to make a superhero cape

Well, we all know how to make a superhero cape. But how to make one that doesn't choke your child? I came up with the easiest one ever.

Take one of your husband's old t-shirts. The bigger, the better. Whatever color. Don't worry if it has armpit stains, those will be cut off.

I have no pictures of the following, because I did it a while ago. But seriously, so what if you make a mistake? Don't you have at least seventeen old t-shirts lying around the house?

Cut off the arms. Slice it up the front up to the neckline, but don't cut the neckline. Carefully cut around each side of the neck, to the shoulder seam, leaving the circle of the neck intact. Cut down each shoulder seam to where you had sliced off the arms. Then spread out the fabric. You will have a squarish piece of fabric with a circle of neck at the middle and divots cut out where the arms used to be. The neck should still be attached all the way around the back of the shirt. Capes are roughly triangles. So, make a triangle shape, with the circle of the neck at the top. Do it however you think it looks right. Don't cut too far into the back of the neck where it is still attached. It should look something like this:

What you can't really tell is that after I made the "triangle" and put it on my son, the bottom corners dragged the ground because it was very long, so I just hacked off each corner until it didn't trip him up. This is going to be dependent on the size of the shirt, probably.

The rest of it is merely a "fitting" issue.

First, have your child step into the neck with the cape part in the FRONT:

Then have him work it up around his chest right under his arms. The cape should still be in the front.
Next, have him tuck his chin and start to flip it over his head, keeping his arms on the outside:

If you have to stretch the neck, that is fine. And the first time you do this, it seems like you are hurting your child. And he may complain. But if you have stretched it enough, it should be ok. See?
Then just continue flipping it over his head until it is flowing down his back.

I think this makes a kid pretty happy:

This will not fall off his shoulders as the neck is wrapped under his arms and around his back. It will not choke him if it gets snagged on something. And when it gets too stretched out to work anymore, you can make a new one! And I am sure there are some of y'all crafty types out there who can think of all sorts of things to decorate the cape with. Or, do the directions backward and keep whatever design on the shirt intact.

See? Easiest choke-free cape EVER.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Good Friday Miracle plus Theology from a 4yo before 7:00 a.m.

My children slept for nearly 11 hours. Thomas, who routinely wakes up at 5:00 or before, and who has never slept pas 6:00, woke up at 6:15. This is miraculous. Seriously.

And then Jonathan woke up about 6:30 and ran into our room and said, "Daddy, I had the most exciting dream!" When Marcus asked him about it, he said, "I was at Gramma and Grampa Bucher's house!" When asked what made it exciting, he said, "I played inside and outside! And Gramma Bucher and Grampa Bucher were there and Karen (the lady who helps with my grandmother) and Gramma Wenger AND Grampa* Wenger!" I repeated that last and he said, "Yes!" and then paused for a minute and asked, "Will God do the same thing to me that he did to Grampa Wenger? Will he make me alive again after I am dead?" When I said yes, if Jonathan believed in Jesus, he said, "Oh I DO believe in Him!" and then asked for breakfast.

*My grandfather, Karl F. Wenger, died at the end of September, 2010, at the ripe old age of 92 1/2. I was positive that I had posted something about it then, but it must have been only to Facebook. Which makes me think that I should write something about him here. Perhaps I shall.