Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ardievu, Vecmamma

My Vecmamma died last Friday. I was by her side, singing a folk song with my sister. If we had known we would be accompanying her last breaths, maybe we would not have chosen Āvu, āvu baltas kājas. But it was a fine-enough song to sing her then, an old story of a girl dressing her feet in white and weaving herself a wreath of roses that would be taken by the wind into the sea. It is the song my mother sang to me when I was a babe and cried.

My Vecmamma had been in the hospital just over a week, asleep most of the time and unable to really talk even when she was awake. I did what I have often done in recent months, as her memory faded and conversations grew shorter. I sang the songs she knew from childhood, the words she would remember even after she said she'd forgotten. I sang the lullaby prayer I grew up singing, but the version that mentioned Jesus' blood... I had learned those words from her. I sang her favorite folk songs, the sad ones and the silly. I sang every song I thought she knew, because I had time enough to sing them again and again.

After Marija was born, the nurses eventually took her from me to weigh her, and I told Joe to follow and comfort her, and he sang her Lovesong by The Cure. By my grandmother's bed, I often wonder what songs met her as she came into this world... whether her mother and father sang her the same ones on the way in as I was singing her on the way out.

We had thought Vecmamma might recover, and she was awake and nodding her head at happy news we had been longing to share with her. But her body started to fail in the night, and by the time I was back at the hospital, her medicine was the only thing keeping her alive, and there was almost no hope of healing. The nurses stopped the medicine around lunch time, told us there was no way of knowing when the end would come but it would be a couple days at most, and I thought I would stay with her and sing when she was awake and rest as she slept. But she did not sleep that afternoon. I think, now, that her heart began to race, as the nurses said it would. But then, I was surprised to find myself with hours to fill with nothing but prayer and song. I stroked her forehead, and from the way she moved her face, I could tell she knew I was there.

I got cramped from bending over her bedside, so I lay back in a chair. I wondered if it really would be days I would fill with her. I ate snacks and longed for my sister to join me so I could leave and get some dinner. I read the newspaper a little, even though I might regret it later. I sang a little less often so I would still have voice in the night, but I was still singing. When it got dark, I turned on a few lamps.

When Anita came, Vecmamma looked at her, but I thought it was too bad she wasn't responding as much as she had earlier in the afternoon. We showed her pictures of Marija on Anita's phone, though it was hard to tell if she liked them. Anita and I talked to the side a little while, and then Anita suggested we start to sing together.

It was almost eight thirty. Our first song was one of her favorites, about a rooster, Kur Tu teci, gailīti mans? Anita and I messed up a verse, said Vecmamma would no doubt know the right words. And as we started Āvu, Āvu, Vecmamma's breathing began to slow, then stop. I looked at her face to see if she looked distressed, and was suddenly aware of the skull beneath her fragile skin. Her body looked like a machine that was winding down... there was a pause, and then a last few breaths.

Vecmamma had lived with my family since I was a year old. When I was little, her bedroom was a fun place to hide away, a place I could eat Skittles out of her little candy dish and try to get her to rub my legs while she watched Wheel of Fortune. When I was in college, she'd invite me to lie on that big bed with her when I was tired, and I often fell asleep there on visits home. But though she always appreciated us there, it was only in the last months of her life that she protested when we said goodnight and went our own way. On nights my parents were away and I was bringing her to her bedroom, she'd ask me "Can't I sleep with you instead?"

Oh, Vecmamma. How I longed to climb into your bed with you and hold you in those last days. How aware I was of so many times I could have loved you better. Thanks to God for your 99 years, your two years knowing my daughter, for our precious hours together at the end. My prayer to be with you at the last was answered indeed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Getting ready for Easter

Our long winter has turned into almost-summer. Now we are opening most of our windows, keeping just a few shades drawn, and living outside as we can. Marija asks to go outside all the time and often gets upset if I tell her to stay in.

But she came in to dye Easter eggs today, lured in by the other kids who came to dye with us. I enjoy teaching people how to dye the Latvian way, with onion skins, like my family always did growing up.

Here we are assembling our ingredients... we have an egg, some leaves and flowers from the yard, onion skins, and water for dipping.

We wet the leaves and flowers to help them stick to the egg. This was the only part Marija wanted to help with.

Actually, she just wanted to put one clover into the water, and then onto the egg, then back in the water, then onto the egg again...

Once she got bored of that and ran off to play with the kids, I stuck some more greens on.

The greenery leaves white spots on the egg, and the onion skins leave a brown pattern.

So we surround the eggs, then fold the cloth and wrap it all up...

The thread keeps everything together, and the initials (made with a permanent marker) let us keep track of who made which eggs.

We added leftover onion skins to a couple pots of water, heated the water to boiling and then added the eggs. After about 10 minutes, I turned the stove off and let the eggs sit in the brown water.

About 20 minutes after that, the eggs were ready. We ran them under cold water to cool them and then unwrapped...

Beautiful eggs!

The big one is a goose egg we got from a friend!

If you like videos, here is one with a little more information about the tradition.

Today was so nice, I saw neighbors doing all kinds of things outside: eating, sorting clothes, carving a deer out of wood. (Okay, Joe was the one with the deer, finishing his carving.)

But in the morning, before the kids on spring break started waking up and spilling out of their houses, it felt like Marija and I had the neighborhood all to ourselves, for playing in.

May your Easter be blessed by our loving, giving Lord of all.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Happy St. Joe Day

To celebrate the name day and saint day of my favorite Joe, I made some naan for dinner and some honey-glazed pumpkin scones for dessert. The food took me some time, especially the naan: making dough, rolling it out, putting it in the pan, flipping it over... I am apparently no longer afraid of recipes requiring a spatula.

Lately I've been more conscious of the way I can use food to show my love. I think Joe did feel loved, and we are both glad to have lots of naan left over. But because I was busy making flatbread, I didn't get to the playground with Marija, though she got out briefly in the morning and enjoyed a stroller ride in the afternoon. And there are a hundred other things I could have done but didn't, because I was busy cooking.

I realized it when Marija was born... I never reach the evening and think I have loved her enough. I may have loved her well, but I never stop loving because she could always use some more. So could my grandmother. So could Joe. So could the lonelier ladies at the nursing home.

I am thinking this is one of the problems of this world, the days that end before our loving is finished.

But all we can do this side of heaven is keep pressing on, praying for help along the way, yes?

If I were a real blogger, I'd have a picture of the naan here. Instead I'm off to bed. You will have to imagine them -- soft wheaty ovals with toasted brown spots, mmm.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

More than food

This is just a bit of my mundane little life, but now I've become the coordinator for my moms' club event called Cooking Club. I think it should really be called Eating Club... once a month or less often, we gather at someone's house with food to eat and talk and maybe share recipes. Some bring their children, so we have playing... lessons on sharing... tense moments in which we dig dirt from the flowerpot out of a baby's mouth.

There is usually a themes, to inspire people. Here are a few we've had:
Appetizers and salads
Fresh from the Oven -- anything baked
Think Spring (having it this month) -- anything colorful, fresh or appropriate for Lent or Easter

I have some ideas for themes for the future, including a picnic. I am telling you all this because Joe thought some of my ideas were cheesy or something, so he started suggesting themes of his own:

Farm animals (this ham used to be a piggy!)
Food you wouldn't eat unless you were starving

For the last one, he suggested I just tell everyone to come hungry.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Quiet hour

Lately I've found life pretty lovely and a bit overwhelming. And I wonder if Marija will wake from this long nap, currently being conducted in my lap, in time for me to change her and pick up the living room before we have visitors. Meanwhile, I am typing with one hand to get ready for Latvian school, looking forward to another Sunday of teaching children who understand God in the simplest terms.

But I am taking a break now. For a moment I am enjoying Marija's sweet breaths (a sigh just now), soft songs in the background, peace of heart perhaps.