Thank You Jesus For This Food, Amen.

Sharing food with mi familia has always celebrated milestones, created memories and filled our home with so much joy. This weekend I’ll be busy, maybe even in panic mode getting my ingredients together to feed my familia. Ya se, all those well prepared planners are way ahead of the game, pero yo? Well I just hope I find everything I need and if I don’t, I’ll just do like my ama taught me, work with what I have and keep my family happy. It’s a long day in the kitchen for me but I truly do love it when we gather around the table and counter. I am so very thankful for Thanksgiving, and thankful for my food.

Pero, before the Thanksgiving feast food coma, and before the frenzy of grocery shopping I’m thinking warm and fuzzy food thoughts. Remembering those foods that connected me to a love. I’m basking in those occasions that left a jewel in my heart. These are not necessarily Thanksgiving memories, but food memories that I’m thankful for. Mira:

  • I remember my amas avena during the cold desert mornings. Creamy avena for us was either oatmeal or cream of wheat, slowly cooked in leche with a cinnamon stick and teaspoon of sugar (or more) The chilly weather lately has me cooking avena, como me acuerdo de mi ama. She was adamant about avena with breakfast. We couldn’t leave home without a nice breakfast that always started with hot creamy avena.
  • I remember the fresh flour tortillas she whipped up for breakfast lunch or dinner. Absolutely unacceptable to have a meal without tortillas. She taught all her girls to make them, but my older sister Lupe mastered the “art” . One shelf in her fridge had a flat container of premade bolitas, dough balls; that way she only made dough a couple of times a week, and fresh tortillas were served daily in her home.
  • Nancy’s homemade bread- Ya se, from tortillas to bread. That’s how it is in a Multicultural familia. My suegra taught me how to make homemade bread. I’m so thankful for it and I think my family and friends are too since I enjoy sharing it, especially during this time of the year. 
  • Sourdough Pancakes- A Greene family tradition. This is my Benjamins show. Bien presumido! He loves to show off his sourdough pancakes, he absolutely believes the world is missing out not having his sourdough pancakes. They are pretty delicious though. Plenty of times he gets carried away inviting friends over for breakfast on Thanksgiving, a feast before the feast. My boys get so worried that there will not be enough pancakes for their usual 2nd and 3rd servings. 
  • Yams- These are not a big hit in our house. It used to be my sister Patty and I that loved the oven baked brown sugar and marshmallow yams, now it’s just me, it could be that Patty is having her own yams in heaven? Yams at Thanksgiving are another little tribute to my sister.
  • Cranberry sauce- This made the list because every year Ben insists he must have me serve it. I somehow remember to get the cranberry sauce and every year I forget to put it on the table. Asi es, cranberry sauce an old Thanksgiving dinner tradition, or some kind of berry. Pero, my cold blooded Englishman doesn’t notice that it wasn’t on his plate until after the food coma sets in. 
  • 3 Step Cheesecake. Exactamente just 3 steps. We have tasted better cheesecake, sometimes it bakes too dark, but I stick to this easy recipe. It’s easy, it’s inexpensive and now it’s tied to the Greene family. Thanksgiving without our easy 3 step Philadelphia cheesecake is unimaginable.
  • Pumpkin Pie- I can’t make my list and not include pumpkin pie, even though Thomas just uncovered to me this month that pumpkin pie is not a favorite of his on Thanksgiving- is that even allowed to be spoken? Esta loco! Pumpkin pie with whipping cream y un cafecito, mmm  
  • Broccoli salad- Pues, it’s supposed to be Joan’s Broccoli Madness Salad, pero ya sabes, it has becomes Rosies “lito bit of this and that” Broccoli salad. Again, it started off that Patty and I enjoyed the salad, now it’s me and Daniella. My one and one child that eats veggies, likes my broccoli salad. Provecho Daniella! 
  • Thanksgiving Leftovers- Is it possible to cause division in the camp because of leftovers? Sometimes you feel the tension. Patty and I made a pretty good team for our Thanksgiving planning, she forked out the money and I forked out the labor, a win win. One year she had also wanted to buy a turkey dinner from Honeybaked Ham Co. and I told her that was silly, que exagerada. She came prepared with her containers for leftovers. She was shocked and disappointed that she had leftover empty containers. Que langaros! We ate so much she had minimal leftovers to take home that year, or at least that’s how she saw it. Daniella and Thomas help themselves, no questions asked or comments made. Pero Jonathan, he’s  like his tia Patty, he wants to make sure I make enough for him to take home leftovers. Emery, he’s my lil flaco, he doesn’t pay attention until he comes around looking for leftovers then wonders who took them all! Ben simply expects to be served some leftovers the next day. 

The busy days before Thanksgiving make me a little crazy but of course I wouldn’t have it any other way. This Thanksgiving is lined with some sad thoughts. There will be a missing place setting for my apa and it is a second Thanksgiving with Covid hovering, but Gods hand in my life is undeniable and I must remember to Thank him for his goodness and provision. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Acuerdense, that feast is about storing up food memories, not calories.

It’s not about the food really, its about the people we love. When all five senses come together to celebrate with the people most dear to us, the memories last.

Thankful for my Ama

I am thankful for the short 22 years I had with my Ama. She gave a lot for her family, and it’s only in hindsight that I can see the trail she left behind so that I could follow it to find my way. Isn’t it always the case that afterwards we see better? She was a daughter, sister, friend, wife, in-law, mother and grandmother. Looking back makes you see and regret what you missed, it makes me sorry for all the things I didn’t do to make her life easier. I’ve definitely regretted  the attitudes of ungratefulness and the sassy disrespect. Ahora si, I understand un poquito what she must have felt with the weight of her decisions. If only I could tell her all the decisions, sacrifices and labors I’m grateful for. I am praying and believing in God for the opportunity to say all this to my Ama in person one day. Cómo dicen por hay, “Practice makes perfect” I’ll start now:

10 Reasons I’m Thankful For My Mother

  1. For coming to El Norte with my apa. You left so much behind. You left your ama, not knowing when you would see her again. You followed your heart with your ama’s blessing and big brother backing. I remember those days when you spoke about your big brother El Chino. The one who stepped in when your father died. He protected and guided you and took care of you. I remember the respect and grateful heart you held for him and I remember your yearning to be near him again. 
  2. For coming to America, my fathers dream. You gave up much of your culture and comfort to follow him, you gave him all your love and brought it into a new home for him and your growing family.
  3. For insisting on “En esta casa se habla espanol” I’ve managed to retain my Spanish although some might call it my spanglish.
  4. For raising us with some tough boundaries. Thank you for not letting us bully or manipulate you into compromising our safety and our future. 
  5. For persevering in your marriage. When things got difficult and you wanted to throw in the towel, you didn’t. I am eternally grateful for your willingness to establish la familia Zepeda.
  6. For teaching me the unseen side of homemaking. You worked hard and cooked with love in your kitchen. My flaco is thankful too.
  7. For opening your heart and home to your in-law children. Even though you and Ben didn’t speak the same language, your hospitality communicated your acceptance. Your kindness took away my fears.
  8. For keeping us connected to our extended family. I’ve learned so much about you through them.
  9. For believing in me. You always saw good things from me. Yo se que I was a selfish little teenage brat and an insecure young adult but you thought differently of me. Mom, I can’t wait for you to meet my kids- they are great! You would be an abuela clueca with all your beautiful grandchildren and great grandchildren. 
  10. For pointing us to the God of the Universe. Teaching us that our hope rested in the author of our lives. Gracias, that you embraced the things I learned in my born again experience and you rest in peace today. No me canso, I wait patiently (most of the time) for that blessed hope when I see you again ama. 

Mil Gracias Ama (A Thousand Thanks Ama)

Questions for Ama:

I have some snippets of stories told about my amas life, like puzzle pieces. But the puzzle is incomplete. I have so many questions I’d ask her if she were with me today. Those details that mostly us girls are interested in. Ama? What was your wedding ceremony like? Was there a celebration on such a grand day? Ama? What did you feel like the day you knew you were having your first baby? Did you ever think you’d be away from your mother? What did you think when you found out you were having your 9th baby? The questions multiply as I experience things she experienced too, the latina in me creates novelas with such climatic endings. 

Feliz Cumpleaños 

Although I wish I would have had more time to forge an adult relationship with her, I am so grateful for the years and memories I do have. She lived her life in love with her family and it showed by all she gave up. This coming week is her birthday and I wanted to remember her again. Ya sabes, birthdays are for celebrating. Imaginate, God took some time to form and shape us and it’s nice to appreciate Him for that on our birthdays. I’m grateful He shaped my Ama and that He chose her to be my mother to shape me. 

Gracias Te Damos Señor

Tis the season to be thankful. I take too many things for granted, in these strange and difficult days. Good health and strength is something I’m so grateful for, especially as I’m climbing that mountain. Wait! Or am I…. descending the mountain? A healthy mind to process life does not go unnoticed in my book anymore. I’m recognizing again that we have things for seasons and sometimes we get special one time experiences that a grateful heart will tuck away into the memory, sometimes dormant, until something triggers it. Today was a trigger day. 

Usually when things happen they pile up needing attention ahorita mismo! This entire week has been chaotic, as all hands are on deck to plan a baby shower for our 8th, asi es 8th grandchild. As you can imagine everything is a mess, and with the weather being dry, everything is dusty and dirty. De repente, I get notice that I’ll have guests, que exagerada! It only felt like all of a sudden a grenade was launched and I had to get busy to save my life! The room I had to prepare was my apas room. I call it Tatas room. His room has had use, but not often in these past 11 months. I use it and it is not weird or painful to go in it, no mas que ahora I had to do some deep cleaning, and dusting reaching areas that require moving furniture around, ya saben. I had wiped down photo frames with images of dad and family. These faces look right at me whenever I go in, they’re part of the room. Suddenly I was transported back to those initial transition days of taking care of my apa. It was such a confusing and difficult time for him. He said he could do life alone, and he truly believed he still could. He stood his ground, there was nothing wrong with him he argued, he wasn’t stupid and he certainly wasn’t a baby. Dementia was already present but of course he didn’t know it.

We brought my dad’s pictures from his home into his new room.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, was yet another fall in his daycare facility, a blow to the head that sent him to the hospital. My sister and I scrambled. One of his caregivers was with him in the ER waiting for test results and for me to arrive. I already had a room ready for him in my home.

I’m going to attempt to describe what it is to battle Dementia, or mejor dicho, what me and my sister experienced with our apa. Dementia refers to memory loss and the loss of other reasoning abilities. It  is a progressive disease, which when severe enough will alter a person’s ability to function daily. Our apa dealt with dementia of the Alzhemiers kind.  It gets into the brain and squashes out memory and spreads until it reaches across the mind. Many sundown experiences put us into a twilight zone episode where we spun around in circles getting nowhere. “Redirect him,” the nurse would tell us, and when we weren’t bound up in frustration and angry emotions, we could manage that. Some of the more successful evening battles against dementia usually involved dad telling a childhood story from his long term memory archives. I tried to always be prepared with my writing  tools. 

Sometimes the skirmishes at  sundown left me confused! Today, deep cleaning this room, triggered a night time conversation I’d had with my apa. That first night in his new surroundings he was uncomfortable and awkward. We had settled him into bed and he wondered where I was going to sleep since he had taken my bed.

Me: No apa, es su cama

Apa: No, mi cama esta en mi casa

Me: Esta es su casa

He chuckled, like I was being polite, you know how we latinos open our home up, “mi casa es su casa.”  Que casualidad that he remembered that he wasn’t home. Sometimes dementia made me suspicious that perhaps he wasn’t confused, could he be faking it? Apa was worried about where I would sleep. I assured him that I was going to my room but if he needed anything I would hear him call and come check on him. I had a good monitor that picked up even the sound of his breathing.

Apa: Y Ben donde esta?

Me: Apa, Ben esta en nuestro cuarto.

He chuckled again, looking at me sideways. 

Apa: Ese no es Ben! Hijole! Dads long term memory only remembered the young Ben not the… hmmm… mature one 😀

Of course I was offended, dementia or no dementia mi apa was insinuating that another man would be in my bed! Imaginate! I stood up for myself of course and explained and explained again, four or five times, that Ben was the only man for me. I eventually resorted to the redirection trick and it worked. We survived our first night, apenas!  Another thing to be grateful for is my flaco who was patient and kind even though his suegro many times thought he was a stranger in the house.

Dementia torments it’s victims and their caregivers. Y por supuesto, my outlet has been my writing. It cages you up sometimes. At times I felt sorry for my apa and other times I was right in the cage with him. We experimented with him living part time in my home and part time in his, but we realized after a few months that it had only confused him more.

dementia is a humbling experience for both the patient and the caregiver.

I wrote this after a long evening of confusion for him and fatigue for me.

Caged

When are you taking me home?

Dad, you are home.

This is my home?

I must be losing my mind.

Where’s Lupe?

Your wife died last year.

What? I saw her last night.

I must be losing my mind.

Is my mother alive?

She died a long time ago.

Why didn’t anyone tell me?

I must be losing my mind.

Where’s my wallet?

In your pocket.

Where’s my keys?

I must be losing my mind.

Is my car outside?

It’s right outside.

I can’t see it.

I must be losing my mind.

Tell me about your family?

Your husband repairs tires?

That’s my sisters husband,

My husband paints houses.

I must be losing my mind.

When are you taking me home?

You are home Dad.

Don’t you recognize the pictures?

I must be losing my mind.

Dad voiced those words many times when he couldn’t remember and then he would get confused and plenty of times angry because we didn’t understand him. It was a vicious cycle.

Today, I was sad for a moment about that trigger that led me down to that memory, but then I was glad for the opportunity to have lived it.

I am thankful for those years with my dad and for all the years I’ve had with family and friends. I’m grateful for every year that I have a healthy mind, to cherish, understand and appreciate my loved ones.