Showing posts with label family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family. Show all posts

27 November 2013

A Week of Thanksgiving

For the past five days my sister and I - plus our surviving brother, who has driven up from Illinois - have worked to prepare our mother's house for sale. She has not lived there for more than two years, since we moved her to an assisted living facility better equipped than we are to deal with the later stages of Alzheimer's Disease.

The home is a plainer version of my own gable-and-wing Victorian, L-shaped instead of T-shaped, with a screened-porch made for lazy summer afternoons and sultry summer nights. In late fall, it is cozy, and even as we have packed box after box and bag after bag for delivery to St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill or the garbage collectors, we have - at least I have - found the experience mostly pleasant. It has taken us forever, it seems, as we started gradually a year ago, held four yard sales in summer and early fall, and each taken the items that mean something to us.

And there are many items there, as the house has been in my father's family since the 1930s, in the heart of the old cattle trader's neighborhood, three blocks each from church and synagogue. Only a few more blocks and you are in the old downtown, only a block from a busy street; you can hear sirens at night and train whistles in the wee hours of the morning.

My grandparents lived there for more than 30 years, my parents for 10 together and then my mother for 30 more years as a widow. It is the house to which we four children returned from college, from which we all married, and at which we celebrated many years of holidays.

The house contains china and glassware from grandmothers and aunts, my Grandfather Herb's college accounting books and my Grandfather Harry's railroad watch, my mother's 1940s fashions and hatboxes from the years she modeled, books and homework assignments from four children, odd bits of furniture from every side of the family and so much more.

Baby clothes, hairless dolls, old games, mismatched gloves, silver, old crocks and many many books; skies, golf clubs, basketball schedules, broken tennis rackets and old striped beach towels - these and thousands of other items complicate the job. It is easy to linger over each piece - and remember.

I have taken it upon myself to accumulate at least 10 boxes of old photos and letters, some going back to the Civil War. I will sort through them and make sure everyone gets a share.

Sorting through and discarding or rerouting old things brings laughter and tears - that's a given. It is especially sad that many of the items we are handling belonged to my brother who died three months ago; I will send them to his children.

Our task is 80 percent complete. Tomorrow we gather at my sister's house only a few blocks away for a day of rest and celebration - and dinner. Our celebration - being together, being able to do things for our mother (though she does not remember who we are) and completing a long, arduous task - will include this recipe.

I am exceeding grateful for many things this year; I have been most fortunate. But tomorrow I will be grateful for having had this tough but lovely week to spend with my siblings and our respective spouses. Here's to you!

14 October 2013

A New Name

I had high hopes seven years ago when I began blogging. I thought I'd experiment with French classics and explore my French and French Canadian culinary roots, talk a bit about my beloved Grandma Annie, and help the college freshman and sophomores I was teaching learn about blogging.

The name I chose was "French Kitchen in America," for that was what I was attempting to create. Our mortgage was paid off, and my husband and I were enjoying traveling to France, exploring Paris and the southwest of France, where we knew someone with a marvelous country home we could rent. I had visions of exploring new food while in France, and recreating the recipes in my own kitchen.

If I'd known what I was doing I'd have started my culinary adventures closer to home. A smaller start with less grandiose plans would have been the wisest course of action and easier for me to maintain when life got complicated.

In fact, my blog became a reflection of my life, which has changed dramatically since June 2006. I quit teaching and writing for a living, took a new job from which I retired last year. It's been nearly a year since my last food post.

I have been eating, of course, and eating rather well, but food has taken a bit of a back seat to my other projects, which include looking after my mother, who is 90 years old and has Alzheimer's Disease. She is in an assisted living facility, and I try to visit 2-3 times a week. I'm her laundry lady and the woman who does her makeup. I love to see her smile and make her laugh. I share these goals with my younger sister.

My sister and I have been attempting to clear her home so we can get it on the market. During the course of that we have learned much about our family and each other. Most of us go through this process, and I recommend it as part of life's more difficult but certainly rewarding activities.

Also during the course of this process, we unexpectedly lost one of my two brothers. If you have lost a sibling, you will understand the layers of this particular type of grief.

You may also understand my particular need for comfort food at this time. Coupled with the onset of cold weather here on the Wisconsin-Michigan border, it is especially fierce. I will need to get back to the gym soon.

I will need to get back to the kitchen soon, too. I miss it. Right now it's just a room I pass through from time to time. Yes, we still eat meals but more often than not, it is my husband who does the cooking. Or it's a grilled cheese sandwich.

Lots of recipes and cookbooks turned up in my mother's pantry, and in an old kitchen table with a drawer that we just sold to a local antique dealer. I hope to make some of them and share the results with you in the next year. We've also encountered some of Grandma Annie's favorites, most of which I no longer consume, but which I will happily share with you.

The blog's new name reflects the neighborhood where my grandmother and mother grew up, the west end of my hometown. More commonly known as "The West End," the neighborhood has its roots in the decades after the Civil War, when French Canadian families left their rocky, Quebec ribbon farms for the promise of prosperity in the textile mills of New England and the lumber towns of the Upper Great Lakes region.

I was lucky to know the West End in the 50s and 60s, when grandparents still spoke French at home and neighbors - often related by bloodlines or Quebec village origins - shared the bounty of backyard gardens.

I dedicate this post to my mother and my late brother (above, with me, in a backyard in Frenchtown), and as always, Grandma Annie.

05 February 2007

A Basket, Tomatoes and True Love

My first gifts of food were, not surprisingly, from my maternal grandmother.

I am speaking not of the Lady Baltimore cakes she made for our birthdays, but the first food gift for my home, the one that made me feel like a grownup. It was my first semester away at college, and Grandma Annie gave me a cheese sampler basket, probably from Wisconsin's own Figi's.

A humble gift, to be sure, but one that delighted me and started me on a lifelong passion for baskets. There was also a cookbook that Christmas, but that is for another post.

Recently I weeded down my basket collection to a mere dozen. Of course, the first basket stayed with me. As you can see, I filled it with cherry tomatoes for the photo above.

I will never let go of that basket.

Since I love tomatoes so much — and since Grandma Annie did, too — it is only right that I matched the basket with tomatoes.

On Jan. 30, I reviewed Laura Florand's delightful "Blame it on Paris," a book in which tomatoes (and other salad ingredients) have a minor but essential supporting role.

Let's put it this way: In Laura's book, tomatoes demonstrate the potential to stand between two people in love. Who knew?

But, I have a solution. A variation on a previous theme, you might say.

You can read about it at Laura's blog, starting Tuesday, Feb. 6.