Two Cards

A man walked by me in Safeway wearing Old Spice the other day. The smallest things are reminding me… Father’s Day is here again.

CardsLast Thursday, I stood in the Hallmark store at the mall, searching out two Father’s Day cards – one being for my husband. My girls aren’t ready to give him one yet – I don’t know when or if they ever will, but I think some will, someday. Some probably won’t, but some will. He isn’t their father of course, so they don’t even think of it yet – a card. How could they? Why should they? That card will come, if it comes, from a life lesson that can only be learned looking back – the one that teaches us that, while our “father” in biological terms may have singular distinction, the men who love us and ultimately raise us are the men who go out the door to work each day to provide for us, who come home tired and worn and still find time and energy to play a game or take a walk with us. The men who raise us are the ones who sacrifice for us – they choose us when they must choose, often over themselves. They worry about us when we stay out too late at night. They hear us cry and they silently wish they could do more… They inspire our dreams, they give us confidence, and they stand by us when no one else can or will. Because they love us. Whether we embrace or reject them, tolerate or torment them, love or hate them – they stand fast. These men – whether biological, adopted, grand-, step- or something else entirely – these men keep us in their hearts every moment of every day. We are lucky if we have even one man such as that in our lives growing up. If we have more… (I had more…) oh, we are so blessed. Because these men are the ones who guide us toward who we will become.

The man who raised me – the man who kept me in his heart every moment of every day…my Dad… was not my biological father, but he was the only father I ever knew. I have a bio-father, still living. He is an architect and lives a few hours south of me, but I have never met him. I’ve seen his picture on Facebook – I’ll admit it: I was curious – and there learned that he and I share, if anything, a great love of horses and the outdoors. (But really, what girl growing up in the PNW doesn’t? It’s hardly ascribable to genetics.)  Nevertheless, I can probably thank him for the delay in the graying of my hair – at 50 I still only have a few random grays around the edges, while my bio-mom and sister have been “red heads” for some years now.  I’ve also seen pictures of his children – I have a half-brother and -sister who likely do not even know I exist. His son looks something like me. His daughter’s name is Camille (I have always liked that name). My bio-father knows about me and has seen pictures of me grown and with my daughters. He told my mom he thought I was pretty when she showed the pictures to him. She made a special trip to see him just after she and I reunited some years ago. I’ve even written him once or twice, but he has never replied. I don’t know how I feel about that, or him, but I do know that I don’t need to send him a Father’s Day card.

I’m losing my way… back to Hallmark… so I’m standing in the aisle at Hallmark, looking for cards and trying to avoid the pushy woman in the bright apricot pants who seems to have to take up the entire aisle, shielding great expanses of the card rack like an NBA point guard. So, there I am maneuvering around her and picking up this sappy card and that one, reading every sticky-sweet line, trying to find just the right one for my kind, sentimental husband and trying not to think about my own Dad. I’m fine. No tears – I’m fine. Really. Then, down the way, past the apricot pant lady and her very large suspendered companion, I see a young woman dressed in blue cotton, leaning into her husband (I assume, based on their conversation) to show him a card she has found.

“Oh, it’s perfect! That’s Dad! That’s absolutely Dad!” She runs her finger down the words on the front, encouraging him to read it, then opens it up with a flourish. “Don’t you think that says Dad all over?” She is excited – giddy. Her husband reaches around her and pulls her close. He smiles and nods and they laugh quietly together. “Perfect,” she says again, “just perfect.” Her tapered fingers reach for a tan envelope and then she links his arm and they both turn toward the counter. As they whisk away, I can’t help myself: I have to see – what is so perfect? What is her Dad all over?

SnoopyI pick up a card from the same slot and before I can even get it open, I feel my cheeks warm and my eyes begin to well. Snoopy. It’s Snoopy. Snoopy dancing – with his head thrown back and feet flying. It could have been any one of a billion other cards that Hallmark makes this time of year for Father’s Day, but it is Snoopy. My dad loved Snoopy – just loved him. Honestly, I think he had more of an affinity for Charlie Brown – he related. But he loved Snoopy. And now I can’t read the words – they look like they are at the bottom of a swimming pool. I will never know what the blue cotton woman’s dad is all over.

So there I am, crying all by myself in Hallmark, trying to pretend that I’m not. I make my way down the aisle, away from the popular cards. Sniff. A little woman who barely comes up to my chest (I’m 5’3”) passes by and looks up with concern. “Sorry – allergies,” I say, and wipe my nose as I put on my best allergy face and try to look very interested in the “Happy Bar Mitzvah” card that my hand has fallen on.

Stupid dancing dog. Stupid card.

Father’s Day isn’t simple for me. It should be, but it isn’t. This is my seventh Father’s Day since my Dad died, and it is the first one for which I didn’t buy him a card. I know how crazy that sounds, by the way: I have six cards tucked away, signed and sealed up for my Dad who will never see them. But this year, I didn’t buy him a card. I didn’t even look for one – I no longer need the ritual. My grief, while still tender, has been softened with time and with the great peace and boundless happiness my life now brings me. So instead, this year I am buying a second card for another man, to give together with my husband – for a man who has captured my heart in a way I never expected… my father-in-law. Pop.

Pop has been married to my husband’s mom for 22 years now, and her kids, as far as he is concerned, are his too. He loves every one like a great treasure, and tells us all often what it means to him to be surrounded by a family that loves him. I don’t know all that Pop has been through in his life, but my guess is that his soft, gentle soul is the result of long years of wear on some formerly rough edges. I think perhaps Pop has learned the hard way how precious family is, and how “family” is something we make, not something destined because of biology or designed by law or social mandate; but rather formed and forged through health and sickness, struggle and success, acceptance and understanding, time and unconditional love.

I will never forget the moment I realized how much I love him. Last spring, on the day that I married my husband, Pop came up to me and put his arms around me, hugged me tight and said, “Now you’re my daughter. I don’t call you my daughter-in-law because that’s not how I think of you. You’re my daughter.” He meant it. I could tell he had been waiting some time to say it and could feel to my bones how deeply he meant it. And just like that, right there in the middle of the reception hall floor at my own wedding, I fell in love with him.

PopPop is patient, hard-working, and kind to a fault. He loves a cold beer and good joke and he can be a little stubborn sometimes (some might say “more than a little”), but he is completely and passionately devoted to the people he loves. He loves a good country band too, and at 83, he can still out-dance most of the young people on the dance floor. Sometimes he even finds it in his heart to lead me in a two-step; when the dance is over he always smiles his widest grin and patiently tells me that I’m coming along… that I’ll get it sooner or later. If I don’t accomplish anything else this year, I want to learn to two-step well enough to make Pop proud.

So the second card is for him – for Pop. Not my bio-father, not the man who raised me or even one of the men who had any part in who I grew to become – but nevertheless a man who keeps me in his heart every day now, as I keep him in mine. The card I chose for my husband and I to give to him isn’t fancy or sophisticated; simply stated, it reads:

We want to say
how much you’re appreciated
for your love and caring,
for everything you do
for a family who loves you
very much.

It is Pop, all over.

Dad’s 10 Life Lessons

Scan0005I lost my Dad almost seven years and a lifetime ago, and I miss him every day. I miss his dumb jokes. I miss his “just one more roll” at holiday dinners. I miss how his face lit up when I would bring my girls to visit. But mostly, I miss our talks.

Dad was one of my best friends in life and we talked about everything. I trusted him with things I didn’t even tell my best girlfriends, and his advice was my guiding light when life got dark and hard to maneuver. His absence has been especially difficult as over the last few years I have taken an unexpected road; one that lead to dramatic transformations in my marriage, my family and my faith.  In every way, I have experienced a metamorphosis, and it has not been easy, but now the sun is shining and I have finally grown my wings.

Throughout the process, family members and friends who knew the close bond my Dad and I shared have occasionally asked me, “What would your Dad have thought about all this?” Sometimes the question is genuine; other times, it feels more denunciatory.  Either way, I’ve given it a lot of thought.  Now, as Father’s Day draws near, I feel it is an appropriate time to share a few of those thoughts.

Daddy lived and raised me on a simple code.  I have tried to faithfully live by those principles, and though the last few years have been especially tumultuous, I can see in reflection that he has been quietly standing by my shoulder every step of the way – through the lessons he taught me:

  1. Look for the good in all things.
  2. Love unconditionally.
  3. Be a good and loyal friend.
  4. Be kind.
  5. Do the best you can.
  6. Take walks.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. Listen to your head.
  9. Follow your heart.
  10. Never, ever give up.
Daddy gave me everything I needed to learn to fly - I just needed the time to grow wings.

Daddy gave me everything I needed to learn to fly – I just needed the time to grow wings.

What would Daddy have thought? Well, first, he would have told me that he loved me. Then he would have asked me to ask myself the hard questions. To clarify what was happening as I saw it. To clearly see the consequences.  To contemplate carefully every moment. And then, after a very long discussion that involved a lot of laughing and crying and probably a walk to the park, and likely a metaphorical story about something that happened in the Navy during The War, he would have put his arm around me and said, “Sis, follow your heart.” And then he would have hugged me hard, and told me the one about the priest, the bishop and the rabbi. He probably would have starting laughing before he was halfway done.

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This Contrary Vegetarian has a New Home!!

For a long time, I’ve been casually posting a recipe now and then under the catagory “Contrary Vegetarian” (because I am not a vegetarian – I just cook for a few of them) and toying with the idea of starting a food blog.  Well, today I did it!!  (That’s not entirely true – I’ve been working on it like crazy for a week or so now – but I launched it today.)  So, without further introduction, I’m excited to announce ~

What’s for Dinner, Mama?

It’s been over 10 years now since one of my daughters decided to go vegetarian, and when she did, I resolved that I was not going to cook two different meals every night – one for her and one for everyone else.  I also didn’t I want her to live on Tofurkey and PBJ’s her entire life, so I started cooking more vegetarian-friendly choices and developing adaptable meals – meals that can be made for both vegetarians and omnivores at the same time.

That daughter has long since been lured back to the meat-eating side, wiled away by the seductive scent of bacon (and no, my dear vegan/veggie friends, your facon does not taste like bacon, no matter how much you like to think it does), but there are still plenty of vegetarians in my life to cook for, and since then, I’ve never looked back.  In fact, I’ve learned a lot about cooking for vegetarians in an omnivorous household, and even more about living cleaner, greener, and healthier – and that’s what What’s for Dinner, Mama? is all about.

Pop over today – you’ll find four recipes (under the tab Recipes →Cooking Basics) that are staples in my meal-prep arsenal.  Next Monday, I’ll put them all together and post a recipe for one of our all-time favorite meals – warm, healthy comfort food that both veggies and omnis will love.


P.S.  I’ll get the results of Save a Book posted this weekend!


Save One Book, Part 1

My niece-in-law (is that a thing?), Katie, recently posed the following question:

You are standing in front of the world’s biggest library – in the midst of the coming of an apocalyptic end to the world.
You can save one book.

Which book you would save and why?

You have to prove that it is worth saving. Remember, it may be the only book humankind ever has left. 

Include any quotes that help to substantiate your argument.

If you are a reader or a writer, you’ve likely pondered this conundrum at one point or another; I know I have.  But this time I got to wondering what my answer is these days, and how it might have changed with the turning pages of my life.   And how other people out there might answer differently.  And why.

So, at the risk of doing Katie’s homework for her, I’d like to offer a slightly modified version of her query…  Excluding:

  • Sacred writings (e.g., the Bible, Koran, Torah, Tao Te Ching, Writings of Ellen White, Book of Mormon, or anything else that appears on Wikipedia’s very long list of religious texts.),
  • and Reference Works (e.g., the dictionary, thesaurus, Compton’s 1973 Encyclopedia – Volume M),
  • and Technical Manuals (really?)…

What book would you save?  And why?  The aforementioned exclusions notwithstanding, everything else – fiction, non-fiction, or anything in that grey area (like political biographies) – is fair game.  And, like Katie, I’d love it if you could share a quote or two from your chosen volume to help substantiate your argument.

I’ll post the results, along with my own answer, later this week.  I’m pretty excited to learn what everyone will be carrying out of that library.

Image courtesy of Paul /

P.S.  Just a note ~ I’ll be delaying publishing comments on this post until Save One Book, Part 2 is posted later this week: I’ll be using some of your comments in that post.  Thanks!

Day of the Girl

International Day of the Girl

As the mother of five girls living in the United States, I feel very blessed – from birth, my daughters have had access to education, health care and running water.  They can choose to go on to college, to pursue a traditional career, to be a stay-at-home mom, or to break outside the box.  They can choose if and when and where and who they marry.  They can reach for a multitude of life’s adventures, and they are hindered only by their own fears, insecurities, and the practical limitations of middle class life.   In short, they are free to follow the inspirations of their hearts.

I want to take this moment today to share with you the first International Day of the Girl Child, with the hope that it will remind you (as it does me) that as citizens of this planet, we have a responsibility to help, to support, and to empower all of our children.

I posted the following link on my Facebook page this morning: Sihiba on Pinterest

Soon after, a dear friend shared it on hers, and to her posting came this response: “She has the internet, a camera, and posts pictures on pinterest? heart wrenching, but someone else is using her for some reason.

Here is the reason: (Please take three minutes to watch this video, created by the African Medical and Research Foundation.)

Of course they are using Sihiba. They are using her to make a point, to make people think, to raise awareness. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think about the plight of Tanzanian child-moms on a daily basis. Or what my responsibility to them is as a fellow human being. They are using her to make us think. And possibility act by encouraging governments to act.  They are using her to give people HOPE.

From the Day of the Girl website ~

There are a billion reasons why we need the Day of the Girl, but let’s start with just a few facts:

  • ILLITERACY – By 2015, females will make up 64% of the world’s (adult) population who cannot read.
  • SCHOOL DROPOUT – Only 30% of girls in the world are enrolled in secondary school. In America, the dropout rate is worse for boys but one in four girls does not finish high school, and the dropout rate is even higher for minorities.
  • FORCED MARRIAGE – One in seven girls in developing countries is married off before age 15.
  • VIOLENCE – In the US more than half (54%) of all rapes of females happen before age 18.  One in 5 high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. Worldwide children as young as age 11 are forced to work as prostitutes. Some estimates have as many as 1.2 million children being trafficked every year.
  • BODY IMAGE – More than half (54%) of 3rd-5th grade girls worry about their appearance and 37% worry about their weight. More than half (57%) of music videos feature a female portrayed exclusively as a decorative, sexual object.

You can learn more at Day of the

And to all girls (and women) everywhere – You are STRONG.  You are CAPABLE.  You are BEAUTIFUL.  You are WORTH IT!

Keep On Chasin’ That Dream

Sit back, youngsters.  I’m gonna tell you about the olden days.

I went to my first concert back in ’77 – BOSTON – at what was then Portland, Oregon’s premiere venue, The Memorial Coliseum.  Back in the final days of festival seating, before that fateful concert in Cincinnati that pushed us all forever into assigned seats.  Back when standing in line for hours… even days … before an event was part of the deal.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First, we had to get tickets.  The “we” being my then boyfriend, Carl, and (if I remember right) our friend Frank, a fine-looking boy who wore his Levis so tight that a doctor once told him if he planned to ever have children, he’d better change his wardrobe.  (It may have been our other friend, Mark, but Frank sticks in my memory… wonder why?)  Anyway, getting tickets wasn’t going to be easy – BOSTON was riding high on the tide of their self-titled debut album, released in August the previous year.  (To this day, the record still ranks as the best-selling debut album in U.S. history.)  As the hottest band coming to our little town in months, their concert sold out before we even knew the tickets had gone on sale.  (Oh, what we would have done for eBay!)  Of course, back then, as now, you could get a ticket… if you knew a guy and could pay the service charge.  But I was just 14, and Carl was 15 – and we didn’t know any guys yet.   So we asked around, but we had pretty much given up on going.  Then just a week or so before the concert, I was standing on the corner of NE 82nd and Siskiyou waiting for a bus when I overheard a girl talking to her friend about how she couldn’t go to this concert the next week because she and her boyfriend had broken up and …blah, blah, blah… honestly, all I really heard was that she had two tickets she needed to get rid of.  I tried to act all calm, cool and collected while I made the arrangements with her, but I was jumping out of my skin; I couldn’t get home fast enough to call Carl and tell him!!  I met up with her at the bus stop the next day, and paid $32 for both tickets – just a dollar or two over the selling price.  Carl and I had decided that we could chance getting another ticket down at the Coliseum – there was sure to be a single that someone wanted to unload, and Frank was OK with paying the price.

Now came the really hard part – convincing my Dad to let me go.  Did I mention that I was 14? Two years out from being able to officially date, according to our house rules, and a universe away from going to a “rock concert alone with boys.”  OK, so I know that I should have gotten permission “first.”  In fact, if any of my girls pulled that on me now, I’d probably say no just on principle.  But it was the 70’s.  Things were different in the olden days, girls.  That’s all I’m gonna say about that.  I won’t bore you with the details, but it involved a lot of promising, pleading, tears, and Carl’s mom intervening on my behalf.  (Mama S., I still love you – you sweet lovely woman!)  Somehow we managed to convince Dad (a man who later did not even let me attend my senior grad party) that I would be safe, protected and well-supervised whilst attending this uplifting musical event.

We arrived early in the day.  Frank scored a ticket in the first few minutes – and paid over $20: enough to buy 30 gallons of gas or 42 dozen eggs back then.  We stood, we sat, we leaned, and we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Finally, the gates opened and we made our way to the entrance, where we lifted the hems of our bell-bottoms for security to scan our socks for contraband, and then pushed our way through the turnstiles and into the roar of the crowd.

BOSTON was Awesome.

Like candy from a parade float, that word gets thrown around a lot these days.  But in the truest sense of the word, it was an Awesome show.  Because while, after 35 years, I may struggle to recall some details of the night – including exactly who went with us – I will never forget the chills I got as the Coliseum pulsed with Tom Scholz and Barry Goudreau’s amazing guitar harmonies backing Brad Delp’s vocals through the most incredible rendition of Long Time that I will ever experience in this life.

So no, Tom, we didn’t forget about you after you were gone.  No one forgets their first concert.  The details, yes.  Maybe even a few of the participants.  But that first concert, the way it made you feel, the place the music took you – that stays with you forever.

Lighters high, my friends.

Epilogue:  BOSTON toured again this fall with veteran Scholz anchoring the group, but the closest they came to my hometown was Sturgis, South Dakota.  C’mon guys – the left coast misses you.  It’s been such a long time…

Planting Bulbs

Daddy and me at my Grandma’s house – 1967

Daddy died in the quiet of the early morning on the last day of September, six years ago; I was the last person to see him before he passed away.  Before I left his hospital room that last night, while my mom waited out in the hall for me, I took a few minutes to sit and hold his hand and talk to him – he was only semi-conscious, and I don’t know how much he heard, but it made me feel better to say what I needed to say.  I didn’t know he was going to die that night (or, maybe I did) but I took the time to tell him that I loved him, and recalled for him some of our favorite shared memories.  I told him that it had been a blessing and an honor to be his daughter, and that I was grateful for everything he had taught me.  He taught so much.  Finally, I told him that if he needed to go it was OK – no one else would tell him that it was OK, and I knew he needed to hear it.  Then I squeezed his hand and walked out the door.

It wasn’t until I was halfway out of the hospital that I remembered my first wedding day so many years before.  Daddy and I got in such a hurry to get down the aisle that I forgot to give him a kiss, and when I remembered a few minutes into the ceremony, it niggled at me throughout the rest of the service.  It was a silly oversight – no one else knew or cared, but the memory of that tiny lapse has turned me around so many times since then – to give a last hug, or say a proper goodbye.  So this time, when I realized that I had forgotten to give my Daddy a kiss goodbye, I asked Mom to wait a second, and I hurried back, past the empty wheelchairs lining the hallway, past the late-night custodian, past the nurses’ station.  When I opened the door to his room, he was sleeping soundly, so I tiptoed in, kissed him on the cheek, and left.  He never even knew that I was there again.  But I knew.  And when the hospital called at 5:20 a.m. to tell me that he was gone, one of my first thoughts was, I’m so glad I went back.

You never know how much one little moment will mean.

A number of years ago, a dear friend of mine wrote a touching essay about planting bulbs.  In it, she drew a beautiful analogy between planting bulbs and raising our families – in both cases, we don’t get to see the results of our work right away, but if we are patient and have faith, we will create something beautiful, and it will continue to grow and bring us joy year after year after year.

Yesterday was the first time since Daddy died that I haven’t returned to his grave on the anniversary to pay my respects (read: talk to my Dad).  But one of the most important things he taught me was to trust my inner voice – the one that makes me turn around, or say a word, or do what needs doing, or take the time.  I haven’t always been very good at listening, but I’m trying to be better, and this year, for the first time in a long time, instead of looking to the past, I am looking toward the future and to what I hope to create.  So instead of visiting the cemetery, I chose to stay home: home with my daughters and my husband, where we spent a warm autumn evening all together in our front yard, planting bulbs.

In loving memory of Robert Hancock, August 1926 ~ September, 2006