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Archive for the ‘Family & Friends’ Category

So, I hadn’t meant for my little vacation to be a blog-cation.  The holidays are just so busy, no?  Add to that the little odds and ends to wrap up.  This is going to turn into  a miscellany of items.  But hopefully, you’ll enjoy them nonetheless.

First, here’s me in my ugly Christmas sweater.  Witness its bedazzled glory.  Ignore my hair.  I’m not sure what’s going on there, but I think I’ll blame my hat.  Yeah that sounds good.  It’s hat hair.

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The earrings were a special bonus–lights that lit up.  They don’t so much any more.  That’s what $2.99 gets you at CVS.

Next, my de-lurk contest.  I know I said we’d vote.  But seeing as how it’s my blog, I’m changing the rules, and awarding the award to Christina.  Because her comment was original and cute and flattering.  Sucking up gets you everywhere.  Christina is getting married this weekend, and I unfortunately am unable to attend.  So she likely isn’t doing a lot of blog viewing.  But if she is, or when she returns, Christina, you win!  Email me your address for your prize.  I’m giving an honorable mention to Domestic Goddess who left me a cute quote about cliches.  I don’t like them, I try to avoid them like the plague (haha!).  She’ll get a mini-reward.

I spent a lot time with my family and friends last week.  On Tuesday I spent the day with Erica and her son.  I played with cars more that day than I had my entire life.  Erica’s son is a pretty talkative two year old.  And so adorable.  He gave me lots of hugs and was pretty upset that I might not be there when he woke up from his nap–I was though.

I also grabbed a few drinks with some high school friends that night.  Two glasses of wine, four hours of conversations and lots of catching up.  It was fun.  And it wouldn’t have happened without that whole reunion thing.

Family stuff for Christmas Eve and Day.  My mom and I attempted to make my grandmother’s knedlicky (potato dumplings in Czech).  They are tricky and being an old-school grandma, she never had a recipe just “add enough flour until it feels right,” whatever that is.  But my cousin replicated it and we got the recipe.  Grandma must have been with us, because other than needing a bit more salt, they were good.

I went to mass with my mom on Christmas.  I didn’t necessarily feel like I fit in there any more.  I basically said so long to Catholicism a while ago, and to be completely honest, been going through a mad-at-God phase lately.  But I didn’t think my mom should have to go to church alone on Christmas.  So I went too.

My mom and I went shopping on the 26th.  Because with all those sales and no tax in Minnesota, damn skippy I braved the crowds.  And got some lovely things to boot.

I celebrated Christmas with Erica, Erin and their families and gave what I consider spectacular gifts.  And of course, I got some too.

It was our first Christmas without my grandma.  I felt it.  Painfully so.  It reminded me yet again, how much I’m looking forward to saying good fucking riddance to 2008.  This year had its good moments–trip to New York, birth of my niece, promotion–but damn was it difficult too.   I’m ready to put it behind me.

That’s if for now.  Back to work, seeing the lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo, celebrating NYE and then Texas in the Fiesta Bowl! Hook ’em Horns!

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“I had four glasses of wine last night,” I declared to my friends on Sunday evening.

“Nice, where were you,” was the typical reply.

“On a date.”

“How’d it go?”

“I had four glasses of wine!” I’d remind them.  And realization would cross their faces.  “Oh…Dating sucks.”

Yes, yes it does, but let’s back up a bit.  To Thursday.  I went to a holiday party, with an open bar.  I found out later well drinks weren’t open, but wine was and I went for the red–a pretty good Cabernet.  Know what happens when you offer me free wine?  Like completely and totally free with no strings attached other than show up for work, which I do anyway.  I partake.  In three glasses.  In two hours.  Let me tell you, I was feeling that.

Saturday night was the aforementioned date.  I had a glass of red to take the edge off, because as stated above, dating can be tough.  Then I was off to what I can only describe as a bad date.  I knew it was bad; he knew it was bad.  There wasn’t any one particular thing that made it bad.  We just didn’t click.  There were long, awkward stretches of silence where he didn’t even look at me (come on, I’m cute, right?!).  And then, well then it got interesting.

Three men who’d been selling Christmas trees at their kids’ Catholic school down the street showed  up.  All I can say is that these men must have been nipping at the Jameson all afternoon.  They looked pretty toasted when they arrived.  Maybe two sheets to the wind. And they started to chat us up, especially as I began lamenting the choice of the OU qback for the Heisman.  But I digress.

And as the night wore on, I polished off three more glasses of wine and something called a chocolate cake shot (it was good).  No food; some conversation around the drunkeness surrounding us.  And I began to drink water to counteract my vino.

By midnight or so, Mr. Tree man was beyond three sheets.  His buddies had left, his wedding ring disappeared and he was groping one of the drunken girls who had showed up behind us and were soon slurring “Cheryl, you’re cool!  Yay Minnesota.” (don’t ask).  It seemed like a good time to call it a night.

Now, I’m no expert on dating, but a word of advice to all the guys out there.  If you had a bad date, if you’re on the precipice of second date (or maybe even second shot at a first date), and you’ve gone to a bar/restaurant halfway between yours and your date’s house and that means 3-4 blocks, and it’s past midnight and icy, and you’ve had a socially awkward evening with her thus far, do NOT point her in the direction of her house and say “Well you’re going that way and I’m going this way, so goodbye.”  Offer to walk a girl home.  Just offer.  It could mean a lot.  Like the difference between getting that second chance.

As I wrap up, I’ve realized that in a matter of just over 48 hours, I drank seven glasses of red wine.  And some vodka, and did a shot.  My liver can’t be happy with me.  So I think I’ll refrain from drinks this week.  At least until my next holiday party.

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Yesterday was a rare day for me, but I really enjoyed it.  I baked.  I cooked.  I entertained.  Who am I kidding?  I loved it.  Well, I don’t love the big ol’ pile of dishes left from it and this is why I re-declare, come spring I’ll have a dishwasher!

A few months ago Sixth Degree, Bluebird and a few other friends and I decided to start a book club.  On this, our second meeting I decided to host.  Our first meeting was hosted by someone I’ll call Domestic Goddess.  Domestic Goddess really set the bar high with home made empanadas and spinach and artichoke dip and countless other goodies.  So I decided to make dinner.

Originally I was going to make a stew, but then two things happened.  First, we decided to also do a cookie exchange–make three dozen goodies, leave with three dozen other goodies.  Then I decided I wanted to make this absolutely delicious, yet easy to make, baked brie with raspberry and almonds. 

So, now my preparations included three dozen cookies and a baked brie that seemed to fit Italian better than stew.  Thus, I made a penne arrabiata.  Well, to be honest, Trader Joe’s made and froze it.  I finished in on the stove top.  But I did make the baked brie, tossed a fab salad, poured the wine and served it all up.  And I did that all after I made cookies.

The first couple of hours of my baking/cooking extravaganza were centered on cookies.  A while back my fabulous blog bud at To Kiss the Cook, posted a rather intrguing recipe–Junior Mint chip cookies.  I decided to try them.  I even bough a brand new toy–a mixer–for the occassion.  I did NOT want to mix cookie dough entirely by hand.  Banana bread proved difficult enough.

As I was making the cookies, in all my poor spatial perception I began to wonder if I’d have enough dough for 36 cookies (I ended up with 47).  I got a little nervous because I literally had the half teaspoon of vanilla extract–no more, no less.  So if I needed more dough, I was going to need more extract.  Fear not.  As I said  I had more than enough.

However, I did decide that the grate Parmesan in my fridge was too questionable to serve to my friends–while it looked, smelled and tasted fine I just decided they deserved the freshest.  So, a quick trip to Trader Joe’s (for the second time that weekend) was in order.

Mental note: there is no such thing as a quick trip to Trader Joe’s on a Sunday afternoon. 

Just to park took 10 minutes.  While I was able to quickly grab a Romano/Parmesan blend for my penne and the salad I was tossing, “quick” does not describe my trip through the checkout.  Yet all was well.  The brie was popular, the cookies fab, the penne delicious and the salad well-tossed.  And one evening of dinner, conversation, wine and games later we called it a night.  That makes the dishes that await me all the more worth it.

PS> If, this holiday season, you’re looking for a really delicious appetizer, look no further.  I’ve got you covered:

Baked Brie with Raspberry Preserves*:

-1 sheet puff pastry dough

-1 8 oz wheel of brie

-about 1/4 cup of raspberry preserves*

-handful sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 425 F.  Lightly grease cookie sheet.  Place puff pastry on sheet.  Place brie on pastry, centered. Spread preserves over top of brie.  Sprinkle with almonds.  Wrap dough up around brie.  Coat with melted butter.  Bake 20-25 minutes.  Serve with crackers. 

*Really, you can use any type of preserves.  I just like raspberry.

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You know that saying that friends are the family we choose for ourselves?  Well, I’ve chosen well, if I do say so myself.  I’ve written before about my friends Erica and Erin.  I met them both at various points in high school.  By the time we graduated, the three of us were really good friends, and in the 10+ (yikes!) years since then, we’ve stayed that way.

And so, through college and marriages (theirs) and family deaths and then some births (again, for them) we’ve shared many tears, even more laughter, long talks, inside jokes and lots of love.  And I think of them not as friends, but as sisters.  Which means that Erin’s daughter and Erica’s son are more like my niece and nephew, even calling my Auntie Saryl (well the nephew does since he can actually talk, although he can’t quite say “Cheryl” yet).  Now, I may be biased since I’m their aunt, but these kids are freakin’ adorable.  Aren’t they?

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There has been a lot going on at work the past week or so.  Forgive my silence.  But now I have excellent reason to break it.  I just got a photo text from one of my best friends, Erica, showing me my new niece, Sophie.  That’s Erin’s daughter.  You’ll remember I went to her shower about a month ago.  And now, she’s here.

And I’m happy 🙂

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One round-trip fight, 13 hours in the car, two days in a relatively remote northern Minnesota, and many tears later, my grandmother’s funeral is over.  It went about as well as a funeral can go.  My mom and my two aunts did not want it to be an overly sad affair.  They refused to sing Amazing Grace, opting for something a little more upbeat.  The thing I liked best is that the funeral was held in a very small, non denominational church.  That meant it could be anything my family wanted.  It wasn’t restricted by the church’s guidelines like it would be at a Catholic church where they mandate types of reading and when you sing and even require communion.  Instead, this was designed purely by my mom and her sisters.

Thursday night, as we ate dinner my mom asked if my sister or I wanted to say anything.  I said I would.  I thought it was important to my mom, and it was something I could do for my grandma.  So, I started with the original blog post I made when she got so sick, about her being my example of unconditional love.  I was incredibly nervous.  But I had a lot of encouragement and some sound advice and just hoped for the strength I’d need to say what I wanted to say.

It turned out the strength I needed was to be vulnerable.  No sooner was that first sentence uttered, “My grandmother was the epitome of unconditional love,” than my voice cracked and tears began to flow and I had to pause.  But I told myself to keep going, for her.  And I saw my cousins and aunts nodding because I knew that they knew exactly what I was talking about.  Afterward, I got some compliments on what I’d said about her.  All of it true.

Northern Minnesota is extremely quiet.  I’d forgotten how quiet it is up there.  Baudette is a no-stoplight town, so you can imagine how little traffic there is.  Except for a regular rumble of the Canadian National railroad roaring past, all you could hear were the bugs and the wind.  It was a different kind of quiet than I’d noticed in Northern Ireland, where it was just still.  The quiet there could almost make you forget you were anywhere.  In Minnesota, there was just enought quiet to remind you of the world.  That’s a good thing to remember at a time like that.

We left behind that small, small town and a cemetery filled with relatives I’ve never known, save for a handful.  My sister and cousins stated they didn’t think they’d be back.  I pretty much knew it.  Because now, there really isn’t a reason to go.  Everyone we left up there is coming with us.

 

 

Bridge to Canada and, well, Canada on the other side, of course.  This picture ended up being too small to see the maple leaf waving in the distance.

The night before the funeral, when we got to town, we saw this rainbow.  It would wane a bit, then come back.  I don’t think it means anything, other than that it was something that brought a smile to my face.

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I was sitting on my couch, watching today’s episode of Jeopardy! on my DVR when I heard, faintly from across the room, “My brown-eyed girl…You my brown-eyed girl.” I grabbed my cell phone, expecting it to be Best Friend. She and I were going to dinner, along with Bluebird in my old ‘hood, and I was supposed to come by so we could walk together.

I looked at the caller ID and saw “Mom.” In a split second, a plethora of thoughts that take longer to actually say popped in and out of my head. “Oh no,” “Maybe it’s just an update,” “Maybe things are better,” “You know better. This is it.”

“Hello,” I cautiously said into the phone.

My mom’s voice was heavy, so heavy I could feel it drag my spirit down from 400 miles away.

My grandmother died tonight.

My mom and aunt went to visit her in the hospice they had moved her to. And they told my stubborn grandmother to just let go. They were going to be ok. They will take care of each other. Just go be with my grandfather. It’s all right now. Within the hour, she had done just that.

We spoke briefly about plans, still up in the air. I wondered if I should reschedule an appointment I have for Tuesday. Hard to say. They haven’t even begun plans, and this funeral will be long-distance–up in steps-from-Canada, northern Minnesota. I wondered silently if I should still go to dinner. But I knew I couldn’t be alone. It was ok to be with my people.

The last few days, according to my mother, my grandma had become even more frail than when I had seen her. She’d been agitated and in pain. Finally she’s not. And after 94 years, what more could any of us ask of her, of God, of ourselves in that situation? With all do respect to Dylan Thomas, sometimes it’s ok to go gentle into that good night. It is, after all, good.

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