The Ultimate in Pizzelle Makers

img_8605I glanced down at the handwriting in her cookbook, and tears clouded my eyes. Though Mom was still with me, she no longer wrote, despite efforts to put a pen in her hand. Maybe she was just tired, tired from rolling and cutting and scooping and mixing. Maybe her hand just got tired.

Those were my thoughts as I flipped through the yellowed pages of her homemade cookbook and read aloud the names of all the cookies she once coddled. As usual, I grew despondent during the holidays because I could never match my mother’s baking or Christmas prowess.

Every year, I dragged out the cookbook (I promise I’ll make copies, sibs, one of these days) and pulled out my pizzelle maker or the flour and the cutters, and I attempted to recreate Christmas in the same fashion Mom did all those years.

Next to God, no one else did Christmas better than my mother. She made Christmas out of every cookie cutter, sugar sprinkle, pot of grease, and pizzelle iron in existence.

Early mornings and late nights in December, I always found Mom in the Lincoln Street basement, where a second kitchen had been installed mainly for that time of year that filled our house with yeast and yum.

img_8603Sometimes, I gravitated to the basement to just sprinkle or roll – not too much, not round enough – I hear her echoes as I said the same thing to Davis while he helped me roll dough that would come close to tasting like Mom’s, but not really.

I wasn’t much of a talker, and Mom and I didn’t have the Internet to offer us topics on a variety of conversation, like Davis and I as we conversed over mostly sports while rolling the dough for the Totos. But I loved being in Mom’s presence, watching her hands. Like a magician’s sleight of hand, she created the perfect cookie.

In another life, our family would have packaged her pizzelles. I have seen the packs in stores and restaurants. But the cookies hardly tasted like Mom’s, first because they left out the anise or actual fennel seeds. Second, no one used the iron press anymore. And third, because to reproduce the taste profile, one needed to incorporate not only the smears of real grease, but also the years of elbow grease that went into every cookie that ever came off Mom’s press.

In conversation with Becky, the activities director where Mom lives, I retold stories of the myriad number of cookies that could be seen on any cookie tray at Mom’s home. When Fr. Weber came to visit, when Mom’s card club arrived for Christmas cheer, when boyfriends passed through the carousel of caring, when the one girlfriend stayed (we love you Kim). When the grandkids finally arrived, their first cookies were not those Zwieback ones bought in stores, but the biscotti and pizzelles cranked out fresh daily from Mom.

Of course, there was also the Grease Fire of ’94, in which the fire department had to be called and a bit of the basement kitchen replaced. And still, Mom burned on.

img_8596The other day, I took a few pizzelles to Mom. As soon as I unwrapped the pressed snowflakes from the wax paper, Mom grabbed one, then the next. “Oh these,” she said a few times through crumbs falling from her mouth. “Oh, these.”

Love you, Mom. But I may have loved your cookies just a little bit more.

***

Mom’s Honor Roll
12/20/2009

Mom is in the hospital this Christmas. A lack of eating, depression, dementia, or a bad combination of meds. No one is certain at this point. In consideration of the years she spent toiling over her Christmas cookies, here is an honor roll…of sorts. For those who were never the beneficiary of her fine tastes, well, I am truly sorry. You missed out.

Biscotti
Pizelles
Twists
Corn Flake Wreaths
Pecan Cups
Nut rolls
Nuthorns
Chocolate Chip cookies
M & M cookies
Peanut Butter cookies with Hershey’s Kisses on top
Sour Cream Drops
Italian balls
Fudge
Bowties
Sugar Cookie Cutouts
Gingerbread Men
Italian knots
Chocolate Crinkles
Totos
Rosettes
Buckeyes
Pinwheels
Cookie Press cookies
Church Windows – with colored marshmallows!
Thumbprint cookies with candied cherries and Cornflakes
Candy Cane cutout cookies

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

I Have the Ultimate Pizzelle Maker

img_8605I glanced down at the handwriting in her cookbook, and tears clouded my eyes. Though Mom was still with me, she no longer wrote, despite efforts to put a pen in her hand. Maybe she was just tired, tired from rolling and cutting and scooping and mixing. Maybe her hand just got tired.

Those were my thoughts as I flipped through the yellowed pages of her homemade cookbook and read aloud the names of all the cookies she once coddled. As usual, I grew despondent during the holidays because I could never match my mother’s baking or Christmas prowess.

Every year, I dragged out the cookbook (I promise I’ll make copies, sibs, one of these days) and pulled out my pizzelle maker or the flour and the cutters, and I attempted to recreate Christmas in the same fashion Mom did all those years.

Next to God, no one else did Christmas better than my mother. She made Christmas out of every cookie cutter, sugar sprinkle, pot of grease, and pizzelle iron in existence.

Early mornings and late nights in December, I always found Mom in the Lincoln Street basement, where a second kitchen had been installed mainly for that time of year that filled our house with yeast and yum.

Sometimes, I gravitated to the basement to just sprinkle or roll – not too much, not round enough – I hear her echoes as I said the same thing to Davis while he helped me roll dough that would come close to tasting like Mom’s, but not really.

I wasn’t much of a talker, and Mom and I didn’t have the Internet to offer us topics on a variety of conversation, like Davis and I as we conversed over mostly sports while rolling the dough for the Totos. But I loved being in Mom’s presence, watching her hands. Like a magician’s sleight of hand, she created the perfect cookie.

In another life, our family would have packaged her pizzelles. I have seen the packs in stores and restaurants. But the cookies hardly tasted like Mom’s, first because they left out the anise or actual fennel seeds. Second, no one used the iron press anymore. And third, because to reproduce the taste profile, one needed to incorporate not only the smears of real grease, but also the years of elbow grease that went into every cookie that ever came off Mom’s press.

In conversation with Becky, the activities director where Mom lives, I retold stories of the myriad number of cookies that could be seen on any cookie tray at Mom’s home. When Fr. Weber came to visit, when Mom’s card club arrived for Christmas cheer, when boyfriends passed through the carousel of caring, when the one girlfriend stayed (we love you Kim). When the grandkids finally arrived, their first cookies were not those Zwieback ones bought in stores, but the biscotti and pizzelles cranked out fresh daily from Mom.

Of course, there was also the Grease Fire of ’94, in which the fire department had to be called and a bit of the basement kitchen replaced. And still, Mom burned on.

The other day, I took a few pizzelles to Mom. As soon as I unwrapped the pressed snowflakes from the wax paper, Mom grabbed one, then the next. “Oh these,” she said a few times through crumbs falling from her mouth. “Oh, these.”

Love you, Mom. But I may have loved your cookies just a little bit more.

***

Mom’s Honor Roll
12/20/2009

Mom is in the hospital this Christmas. A lack of eating, depression, dementia, or a bad combination of meds. No one is certain at this point. In consideration of the years she spent toiling over her Christmas cookies, here is an honor roll…of sorts. For those who were never the beneficiary of her fine tastes, well, I am truly sorry. You missed out.

Biscotti
Pizelles
Twists
Corn Flake Wreaths
Pecan Cups
Nut rolls
Nuthorns
Chocolate Chip cookies
M & M cookies
Peanut Butter cookies with Hershey’s Kisses on top
Sour Cream Drops
Italian balls
Fudge
Bowties
Sugar Cookie Cutouts
Gingerbread Men
Italian knots
Chocolate Crinkles
Totos
Rosettes
Buckeyes
Pinwheels
Cookie Press cookies
Church Windows – with colored marshmallows!
Thumbprint cookies with candied cherries and Cornflakes
Candy Cane cutout cookies

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Making Christmas Not So Blue – The Activities Director

img_8493 “Hey, come here. Come here,” Mom called out, while Elvis crooned White Christmas.

Remember those days when you dragged yourself to the kid’s Christmas concert? The one that lasted all of an hour, maybe even half? And you hoped and prayed that your kid would do what he was supposed to do in his “starring” role. Well, as a caregiver, guess what?

Those days are back.

And they’re not half-bad.

While Mom shouted to the singer, I sat back, looked around for the activities director, and together, we laughed off Mom’s demand.

While I admire the many caregivers and nurses who care for Mom, the most challenging role in a care home might be that of Activities Director. How do you plan for events with a demographic that loses their concentration easily, likes snacks, but has an adult orientation and wisdom and set of experiences in life?

Recently, I had coffee with a friend who was considering transitioning her mother into a care home. We discussed our individual paths that had led us to be together in that moment with a set of shared experiences about our mothers experiencing cognitive decline.

“But how do you know you’re picking in the right one?” she asked.

I always had my pat response. “It’s only the right one, for right now.”

But that’s not what I told her. Instead, I struck upon different thought, after having spent two days in a row at two separate care home for two Christmas events.

“Meet the activities staff,” I shared with her.

She looked at me with a mixture of surprise and “aha”.

While Mom was still able to engage (express herself and cuss are two other phrases I would also use), I wanted to ensure Mom had the opportunity to interact with guests that came through that day, whether that person was an Elvis impersonator, a chaplain, or women from the local church who say the rosary.

But it wasn’t just the guest appearances on the calendar that were important. Many care homes can program a calendar.

img_8484But who is behind the programming? Who is responsible for knowing who you’re mother is, and where she is, in the moment, and what activities she might deem interesting enough to keep her away from the door (alarm on) when the temperature is 18 degrees outside?

I have one other learning from the larger events that include families, as the past two have. These events are designed as an opportunity to witness how all the staff interacts with your loved ones. Will they dance with the woman who always quotes Telly Savalas’ who loves ya, baby? Does the couple that knows Miss K. from church, sing with Miss H. because they know she loves her song? In essence, how well do other families know and treat your loved one?

Finally, when the activities calendar is plentiful, this too, is a chance for you as a loved one to sit back. Because yes, sometimes the events are planned with you, the loved one in mind, to take a break from being the person who oversees care of the loved one and to just relish.

“Hey, Mom. That’s Elvis. You know, Blue Suede Shoes. He’s pretty good, right?”

“Good. Yes. He’s large though,” Mom said.

“Well, Mom, yes, Elvis did get quite large. I guess about 160 or 170 at the height of his singing.”

Mom nodded, still rather fixated on Elvis, pointing to him several times, while he swung his hips and sang back to her.

Like all Christmas shows, I ate too many cookies and cried at one too many White Christmas’s.

The holidays are especially difficult for those of us with loved ones in a care home, the grief of a life left behind often overtaking the joy of the season.

But these events serve to remind me that, yes, when I was in third grade, my mother sat through countless practices and performances of Little Drummer Boy, listened while I pulled on the too tight white tights, or complained about wearing a tunic (with no pants, this was akin to a dress for a tomboy).

Now, it was my turn. To listen to Mom protest about not getting her cookies right away. “Hey, Hey, how ‘bout over here?” Or, because the music was too loud, and she was unable to discern many of the lyrics due to the singer’s baritone voice, Mom scolded me or maybe Elvis, “Oh, just hush.”

While testing my interpretation skills and my patience, holiday events are a test of love. And Activities Directors and staff are there to make certain I pass.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Post-Election: Finding Sacred Space

img_8347I moped while seated on the kitchen stool, aimlessly tossing the remainder of Pirate’s Booty into my dry mouth. The dog “hrummphed” at my feet. I stayed, rooted to that stool, head hung, crying.

I had known deep losses in my life, a husband, a father and a sister in a way. The ache that now arose, twisting, winding, through my queasy stomach and up my scratchy throat, in that moment, felt the same.

The election was over. My candidate. The candidate for the many “hers” in my life had lost. Texts, messages, emails stampeded through my every thought, kicking up dust, leaving only more smog.

I paused long enough to stop my stress-eating.

What would I say to all the “hers” in my life? My bonus daughters, my nieces, my writing sisters, my Januzzi sisters, the sister with whom I shared a soul. What would I say to the main “her” in my life, Mom?

I wanted to budge, needed to move through my day. Many, many to do’s awaited. Packing for a flight at 6 a.m., dropping off the dog at the sitter, paying the bills that trickled in, brushing up a manuscript that always required retouching.

And Mom. Sigh. Mom.

I needed to restock her supplies – how I delicately referred to her air freshener and Depends. But also, Mom. Seeing Mom.

I dropped one foot from the stool. Then the next. I leashed the dog. Took him outside. Watched him pee. Grabbed my purse. “She”, my candidate, had to move forward, consider and concede. I did too.

I discovered Mom, busily arranging plastic flowers in a wicker basket. To clarify, Mom was arranging not by any attempt to organize the flowers, but to chew on them instead. I knew that maneuver. It is one she undertakes when agitated or completely confused.

I greeted her with a tired hug. “Mom. Hi,” I muttered from behind.

She turned around and gave me a hardened look. I swore she always knew when I was taking leave.

I tried smiling directly into her eyes, like sunlight – appealing to her now tunnel-like vision.

“Hi,” Mom finally drew out. Then she proceeded to march up and down and all around the quieted hallways.

Our next hour was a combination of Laurel and Hardy, Helen Keller and Charlie Chaplin actions, exchanging words and gestures with Mom, her shouting, me cringing. Calling into one ear, leaning into the other.

Finally, Mom lowered her softening body into a rigid kitchen chair.

From the nearby table, I reached for a baby doll with pink, flirty pants, one of many that floated around the care home like Elf on a Shelf at Christmas. I placed the doll in Mom’s arms and she quickly lifted the “baby” into the left crook of her neck.

From her right, I leaned down. “Mom, I’ve got to get home. I’ll see you later.” I gulped. “Later” meant after I finished traveling.

“Ok, honey,” Mom said, forgiving me for the sin of leaving I was about to commit. She pulled me into the other side of her neck.

I could smell that day’s layer of lotion on her skin. For minutes, I was bent over into my mother’s chest and we breathed each other in.

My gaze was pointed down when I noticed a familiar bump, right above her breastbone. I reached up and touched my same bump.

“This is home,” I murmured to Mom, still partly in her embrace.

Yes, that’s what I would say to all the “hers” in my life. Find a space that is home. Find that part that still connects one to another. Therein lies the strength.

“I am home,” I said to Mom once more, before dislodging my arms, carrying with me my mother’s fortitude as a gift to the “hers” in my life.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Outside

img_8044

Outside

She lives now in the cracks
between summer and snow
as if the tenth month were not even
as if ones and zeros
and zeros and ones
have set out to destroy
the precarious balance
of her days ahead and those gone by.

There is a restlessness
reflected in the rustling leaves
the ones she chastises
for mere appearance on her path
She knows those dastardly leaves
will buttress the barrier
between her and outside.

Outside.

She thrusts her hands
at every door causing false alarm
tricking her friends to think
today must be Spring or
tempting them
with the treat of Summer’s sweet.
Caramel-colored days must be
just beyond
where the sidewalk bends
back into sun.

Certainly she will push her way
through to next year.

 

AJW 10/2016

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leaving Mom

fullsizerender-50Driving home from a day with Mom, a horrid thought struck me. I slapped at the wheel. What kind of daughter forgets?

Earlier in the day, I had been standing in the corridor of Mom’s care home, flipping through phone messages and waiting for Mom’s “release”. Angela, one of the older caregivers, completed her duty to get Mom “clean and pretty” before our day out.

Fall had yet to blow in, despite leaves fluttering across the sidewalk and earning my mother’s scorn for their clutter. Temperatures were going to hover near the eighties. I wanted to break Mom out of her care home before winter blanketed Ohio.

Mom reappeared in the hallway. She wasn’t wearing what had lately been her usual smile, when even the faintest of light was caught pooling in her faded hazel eyes. Instead, her eyes flutter opened and closed.

“Oh, she’ll be all right,” a different caregiver assured me. “Your mom’s been buzzing around all morning.”

And I agreed. I knew the routine. Whenever Mom endured a shower, she fell asleep afterwards. I planned a drive through Hamilton County’s Sharon Woods and a brief stint in the sun. What did it matter if she fell asleep in the car for the fifteen-minute drive?

Before leaving, I spoke to Angela. “I’m taking her to Sharon Woods. Then we’ll probably get McDonald’s. So, one less mouth to feed for lunch.”

Angela and I had grown close. We cried and hugged whenever a resident passed from our purview into that of the Universe. We wept and laughed over the silly things we too would do when we stopped at this station of forgetting in the waning years.

“Aw, you’re so good.” Angela trudged ahead of Mom and me, while Mom slid her fingers along the chair rail to check for dust. “I want a daughter like you when I’m old,” she called back.

“A daughter like you,” I whispered. My relationship with Mom had turned out OK, but hadn’t always been.

I was born in the middle of a few girls in our family, plus a brother in between. My mother had a hard enough time corralling five children, let alone keeping tabs on four girls.

I tried to do the right thing many, many times. But other times, I went in the diabolically opposite direction. Rebellion was innate, a right of passage for every teenage girl I knew or had known.

I demeaned Mom’s choice to stay home and sometimes cower in the face of her angry husband. I wanted Mom to break out. To stop asking Dad for money. To explore on her own. In essence, I wanted her to be free. Her freedom I would equate later to mine.

Of course, I never really knew my mother. Had she chosen freely? In my teen years, I was of no sound mind or stable hormones to make that call.

My mother was a devout Catholic. I wrote that statement yet, years later, I questioned that assertion. Was she? Did she just do what was expected at that time? Did I ask her, did I ask why?

Following college, I planned to marry a man who had been divorced. Mom wanted to make certain I was married in the eyes of the church through an annulment, but I felt otherwise. I had been separated from the Catholic Church for sometime, and now with good reason.

Mom explained her position. Priests had grown more favorably towards annulment, she had claimed. But I refused to listen, or sit before a panel of priests and allow them to judge me or my future husband. My husband, Devin, and I had our own day of reckoning when he was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently succumbed to the disease.

As the years took me away from Mom, Devin brought me closer back to Mom, to my parents. Because we had moved out of state, we flew my parents to join us mostly in Oregon by then, or Cincinnati, or Seattle. When Devin passed away, my mother worried for me. She always worried, or loved, as I see now. And regardless of the technicality of our marriage, she loved Devin like a son.

Now, we traipsed down the hallway. “We’re OK, right Mom?”

She stared in awe at the vase a fresh flowers now gone dry.

Mom’s disposition was still foggy, despite the sun piercing our view. I led her down the sidewalk and into my car. We weren’t in the car two minutes when her head bobbed. She squeezed her eyes shut, blinded by the sun’s rays cutting through the car window.

So I drove. I drove with Angela’s words bouncing around like Mom’s head each time I steered over a bump.

Mom woke briefly and muttered, “Oh my God.” Then she fell back asleep.

Is that what good daughters do?

A good daughter would have left Mom on one of the last day’s of October’s summer to sit and sleep in her room, with a little Frank Sinatra softly crooning her to sleep.

A good daughter would not have taken her Italian mother through the McDonald’s drive-thru and convinced her French Fries were on par with tiramisu or meatballs.

A good daughter would not have driven around Sharon Woods twice, ignoring the one flaming orange pear tree because she was looking for a bench nearest the calm waters of the creek AND a handicap accessible parking space. Then, force a mother out of her trance by enticing her with French Fries, park her mother on that bench, and breathe a sigh a relief that only lasted as long as the thought, We still have to do all of this in reverse.”

Time tumbled through like the driest of leaves. Mom woke several times when she heard the screeching voices of little children parading past. She gazed upon the children with a mixture of delight and, I noted, a little sadness. I did too.

I missed us, she as mother, me as daughter. I missed that time when she was grandmother to my itty bitty son. I missed that she would not witness the transformation of my beautiful bonus daughters. And I missed she no longer knew my new husband, Mark, who, more so than me, allowed Mom to be who was is in her disease.

Mom slipped back into sleep. I nudged her awake. We slogged back to the car. I acted as her walker, cringing as she gripped my hands for dear life. And hers was a dear life.

When we arrived at her care home, Mom steered me straight for the closest chair in one of the sunny sitting rooms.

I eased her down into the cushions. “Mom, I’ll be right back. I’ll tell Angela you’re here.”

Mom’s eyes closed as I spoke, and I turned down her hallway to find Angela.

Angela was unloading dishes. “Hey, Angela, I left Mom up in the sitting room.”

“Did you have a good time?”she asked in her jovial manner.

“We sure did, but she was a little sleepy. But gosh, the day was gorgeous.”

She looked up at the clock. “I can’t wait to get outside.”

“You’re gonna love it. Have a great weekend.”

I gave her a one-armed hug and walked back up the hallway. Another family was moving in that day. I hurried to move my car so others could shorten the distance their loved ones had to travel from door to car.

As I sat in the driver’s seat, my mind was on buying apples. I asked my husband to get a few from the market and began my trek through the neighborhood shortcut. The neighborhood consisted of 1950’s style bungalows, but the homes’ exteriors were kept in pristine condition. The abodes reminded me of my Grandpa Januzzi’s home. If my parents had moved to Cincinnati when my dad first threatened, this neighborhood would have been ideal.

I drove halfway home on the interstate, lost in thought about which apple cobbler recipe to use. The last one with cornbread topping hadn’t been a success.

And that’s when I smacked my hands on the steering wheel.

“I forgot to say goodbye to Mom,” I revealed to the empty sparkling water can and the guy driving an electric blue Hyundai in the next lane over.

“I never forget.” In fact, I always said goodbye two or three times before my actual departure as Mom held on to me, or took my cold hand and held it to her hot cheek, or reached for my warm hand with her cold fingers.

Four and a half years of leaving Mom. I had never forgotten until that day.

Suddenly, I laughed. I had walked right past the sunny room where Mom was seated and had probably eased into slumber.

The Hyundai driver kept glancing my way.

“Who forgets to say goodbye to their mom?” I shrugged my shoulders at the driver.

“A daughter like me,” I said, repeating Angela’s words.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Land the Mind Forgot

mn0144029

It was quiet. The women had been lulled to sleep by the usual bustling sounds of caregivers cleaning up after breakfast and nurses dispensing meds. The TV had been turned to one of those channels that shows the classics, like I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler and Moore, and of course, The Andy Griffith Show.  I entered the room, said a few good mornings, and one by one, the women in my mother’s corridor began to wake to start their day once more.

 

The Land the Mind Forgot

Evelyn extends her hands
again and again and again
wanting to clasp anything,
reach towards
anything to buoy her
while she paddles in the air
around the island where she lives.

Just then, a flicker from a time past –
of Mayberry and fishing poles
and Aunt B running for office
against a male-backed Howard
clearly not up for the job.

One might contemplate
the parallels of the day
but these women do not.
They are no longer of the mind
to consider such trite matters.
Theirs is a land
the rest of us, on another horizon,
can neither see
nor taste, nor feel.

Instead, a tune drifts
through the haze
bounces on the sunbeams.
That tune.
The Fishin’ Hole.

Someone, a live someone,
whistles
and suddenly there is joy
as if the women were not watching
the TV and its colored flickers
that strikes lightening upon their faces.
It is not the TV,
but the jolt of nearby whistling
that pierces
the armored proteins
of their minds.

A yellow sock, tapping to a toot.
Fingers, sometimes used as forks,
drum on a lap.
A mouth, that barely opens to speak,
whose lips form a round “o”.

And a sweet someone’s mother
who reaches for another’s hand,
holds it
to cheeks smelling like
the slick formula of Oil of Olay
no longer sold on shelves.

 

10/11/2016

AJW

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized