Saturday, May 11, 2013
Saying "Goodbye," to my mother was very difficult for me. Although I knew she had lived a full life I felt her passing would leave a void in my world. I learned so much from her that I still recall today. These are lessons that I still use in my life: how to cook my own meals and eat out less to save money, to carefully balance a budget, to take care of myself and my children and husband, but most of all she showed me how to have compassion for others. Many times I would visit widows with her. She would go to their houses and cheer them up. Yes, she had much to do at home, but she always had time for these elderly women, especially the ones who most recently lost their husbands. She showed me the value of classic things in her interest for jewelry and antiques. She had her own business and sold collectables every weekend. Many times I was bored as she dragged me, her youngest child, along to garage sales but I eventually learned that better made items hold their value and mass produced objects are of lesser worth. She showed me that well cared for pieces are held in high esteem. It is the same for relationships and life. Take care of yourself, maintain your body and soul, never cheapen your character. My mother's life wound down faster than the doctors expected. Once the diagnosis of cancer was announced, the physicians gave her six months. She only lasted six weeks. Every several days she lost another skill, first her balance, then her walking, but she had a sharp mind and a fragile wit until just before she lapsed into a coma. I knew I had to let her go. She had a full life, one with adventures and compassion. She had suffered enough but how could I say, "Goodbye," now that she was at the end of her mortality? I said, "Mom, when you're up in Heaven and you're thinking of me, send a dove." My sister joined us and sat on Mother's bed. She began to gently brush the hair of a dying woman. Suddenly, our mother just let go. Our cousin, who was also the attending nurse, said, "She's gone." It's been more than six years. I am watching my daughters grow, graduate from school and get married. I hope I can teach them all that my mother taught me. Sometimes I hear a dove cooing or see one resting on our barn roof. I look up into the Heavens and say, "Hello, Mom," because I know, goodbyes aren't forever. -Liesa Swejkoski (Originally Written 2010)
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Today my nephew Stephen asked "How do you think obesity relates to the word of wisdom? Can you be obese and still be following the commandment to treat your body as a temple?" The Word of Wisdom is a health code that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints choose to live by. It predates most other health movements including the one John Harvey Kellogg and his brothers founded by at least eighty-five years. I answered Stephen via facebook: "There are many people who believe they are eating healthy and consume traditional meals (recipes). They aren't munching on junk food. They still cannot lose weight. There are GMOs, additives, preservatives and high fructose corn syrup in everyday things that we eat. HFCS is even found in yogurt, apple sauce and soon, milk! It won’t even be required to be labeled in milk!!! That's really messing up the metabolism and digestion of human beings. The heart suffers and the brain also becomes sluggish. The only way I can see past this is to grow your own foods, in season. Buy heritage seeds, preserve your produce and keep rabbits or chickens in a pen. Buy your wheat from a farm that pledges to not use GMOs. Purchase your meat and milk from farmers that promise to never use hormones on their livestock. It's expensive and the average American family cannot do this. Most countries ban these nasty ingredients. Ours doesn't! Even the average pet is becoming obese. So next time you see a "fat" person, just take into consideration, they may be eating very little and eating healthy by traditional standards, but battling chemicals that are trapped in their bodies." So yes, an individual may not be smoking, consuming alcohol or coffee. He might even be eating produce in season and very little red meat. He may be watching his portions and exercising moderately and still fail to lose the weight. He is still treating his body as a temple, following the Word of Wisdom, and we are not here to judge. It is between him and his doctor and God.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Your elderly mother is visiting from out of town and tells you at least three times this weekend that when she gets home she's going to the hospital to have a cyst removed. You mutter under your breath "Be sure to have the doctor check your brain, too." Instead, you should hold her hand and lovingly say, "It must be weighing on your mind. You're thinking about this procedure a lot, aren't you?" A little patience will go a long, long way. Still you wonder, is Momma suffering from Alzheimer's? Why do we just assume the elderly are suffering from dementia? It's a fact that teens and young adults as well as the little ones need to be gently reminded of things. How many times does that seventeen-year-old boy run into the house, set his keys down and run to the TV, then when it's time to drive his kid brother to practice he forgot where he put those keys? Then the eight-year-old forgets to put her bike away. The college student who lives in your basement forgets to take her assignment to class, thinking it's in her backpack. Your thirty-nine year old husband puts the wrench down to get a glass of ice water and can't find it in the tool box when he returns to work. (He left it on the porch.) Then you're talking to your forty-eight year old neighbor about the new family that moved in down the street. She simply cannot remember the last name of the family and she just met them earlier that morning. That's just our minds filled with so many daily tasks that need to get done, plans that we're making and lists of things to do. We excuse ourselves. However, the minute Grammy forgets you told her last week that you don't like sweet potatoes, the stuff hits the fan and "She must be losing her mind!" Well, the more memories you stuff into that mind, the more that brain has to remember. It's not crazy to want to share wisdom with the younger generation and after twenty-five grandchildren and several great-grand babies, you forget who you told the tales to. That's not Alzheimer’s. You'll know grandfather is "losing it" when he picks up a spoon and tries to cut his meat with it, and he normally has the table manners of royalty. When Uncle Bob who has led scouts on campouts for decades suddenly forgets how to light a match, then you can be sure, something is seriously wrong. Either way, simple forgetfulness or serious mental handicap, love that person with endless patience. Set an example of how you'd like to be treated when you're that old. Aging happens to all of us. The other choice leaves us six feet under.
Saturday, April 6, 2013
Today I thought about my first home, in the Delray part of Detroit. I remembered something awful that I couldn't possibly recollect, but it was talked about enough that I recalled the story. In fact, it's included in my second book, "A Sideshow Journey". I was either an infant when it happened, or not born yet. Anyway, it was the early 1960s. There were some really rough kids from the neighborhood around Dill Street. They were brothers. They got ahold of my sister's kittens, poured gasoline on the little calicos and set them on fire. The youths thought it was pretty funny. My dad had to finish the kittens off as they were beyond saving. My sister was inconsolable. My dad called the police, and a vet had to examine the little things, as part of the investigation. The police talked to the kids' parents who "reasoned" with the cops. The police then said, "Well it was just cats. What are ya' gonna do. Boys will be boys." Those boys were thugs and later ended up in prison for assault and worse. I can't help but think, what if there had been intervention sooner and the parents hadn't stopped the authorities from doing their job? Those kids might have done better with their lives and the victims might not have suffered. Today while I was walking through a park in a really nice town, I saw a kid beating on a wall with a broomstick or pole, doing damage. I told him to stop. He wouldn't. I had a talk with the middle-school aged kid and told him to do good, build something rather than tearing it down. Instead he followed me for about a mile harassing me. Finally I went to a house and the elderly couple that lived there saw what was going on and called the police. I wonder what will happen. Will his parents say "It's just a wall he was beating and no harm was done to the "little lady"?
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
My daughter is a breastfeeding advocate. She's in training to become a lactation consultant and I don't think she knows just how proud I am of her. Many women these days nurse openly in stores and diners. I covered, because it was the 80s and 90s. I did this for modesty and because my oldest baby was distracted by EVERYTHING! I had European neighbors that supported me, even the men who said "We're used to it, it's natural. We've seen our sisters and aunts nursing and it's not a big deal." On the other hand, my sister-in-law insisted "Nursing past three months is pointless. They got all the healthy stuff already." I just quietly disagreed. In my opinion, when the baby is running around with a sippy cup, she is weaning herself, and my girls did just that around a year of age, each. Sometimes they wanted a little before bed time, but after a while they forgot about breastfeeding, except when my two year old nursed her dollies while I breastfed her baby sister. Back then it was unusual for American mothers to openly breastfeed up to a year, let alone, longer. When did we in the western hemisphere push our infants aside in favor of powder and water? Why did we as a society fall for the formula companies’ propaganda? My concern is this: in farming, calves and foals are separated for many reasons from their mothers. They are given a "peer" or stable mate, even an entire heard to commiserate with. Their will is broken and later these animals are more easily led by the herd or the farmers. Is this what we want for our children? Do we want them to fall to peer pressure, or do we want children who turn first to their mothers and families for advice? Additionally, when family is far away, when our children are at college or living in another state, do we want them to follow the crowd or do we want them to think for themselves? We are human beings, not herd animals. We should NEVER fall for some big pharma company telling women to abdicate their God-given rights to feeding their children the way nature intended.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
There were two men. Each had a backyard with a half-acre. One planted beautiful flowers all around his house. The other planted some flowers to share with the neighbors, but in the back, he planted potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, onions and fruit. The first man was gratified by the praise of the neighbors. He never shared his flowers. The second man, although not growing the most beautiful flowers, shared his seeds and wisdom. When the crops came in, he bottled and canned, sharing some of the produce with people in the neighborhood. Some of these people snickered behind his back, “What pathetic apples! They aren’t smooth and shiny like the ones at the market! Look at these tomatoes. They are so tiny!” The first man secretly looked down upon the second man and sneered. A couple years went by. The first man brought home a trophy wife after a long honeymoon in some foreign country. Weeks later, the second man married a pretty girl in a small church ceremony. They spent their honeymoon in cabin. The first man and his wife looked down upon their simple neighbors. While the first couple showed off their possessions and fancy yard, the second couple spent their money on necessities, planning for a family. The second wife became large with a baby. That child was followed by another and yet another. She was fertile like her husband’s garden. The first wife wiggled her little behind and caught the attentions of every person on the block, with her beauty and the latest fashions that she wore. The second wife shared her skills with the neighbors: how to save money during hard times, how to can. She tended to the sick and kept confidences. She was a true friend to all. Her children helped the elderly and were a joy to many. The first wife’s hands were smooth and she feared marring them with the hard work that comes with helping the needy. She was put off by the thought that people might think that some of these deprived souls were her friends and wouldn’t be seen near them. One year, there was a drought. It continued into the next year. The markets had little food and what little there was cost an unprecedented amount of money. The first couple soon ran out of funds. The second man shared what he had with the neighbors but the first couple was too proud to take the canned goods he offered. Every day, the second family walked all the way to the little stream that was once a broad river and carried back large buckets of water for their plants. There was not enough to nourish the flowers, but they knew what was more important than the blossoms’ beauty: it was the harvest. The crops had their own appeal, from the petals in the spring to the variety of colors and flavors in the autumn. The drought went on for a decade. All the while, the first wife grew old and restless. Her skin no longer had the dew of youth. The resentment for her living conditions began to show on the woman’s face. Yet, the second wife’s happiness seemed to radiate. The woman’s husband and children were her joy and together they helped the neighborhood make it through. In the end, everyone acknowledged that the second man and his wife were wise and kind. They were remembered long after the first wife left her husband, long after he died of heartache and loneliness and was lowered into the ground. We are not statues to be worshipped, but basins full of water.
Monday, December 3, 2012
Originally written 2009-- (You may reprint this only with permission from the author. Please, contact me via this blog or facebook.) ------------------------------------------------------ Oh the joys of growing up in Michigan. That statement might sound like it’s dripping with sarcasm but I truly mean it. I was fortunate enough to be born into the Hungarian neighborhood of Delray in Detroit where I was introduced to European cuisine at a very young age. I teethed on Kolbasz, a kind of sausage similar to the Polish Kielbasa. However, my true cravings were for Pinkelwurst and Hurka. A true passion developed for chicken paprikash, a Hungarian style dumpling dish. Christmases were filled with Lebkuchen, a German ginger bread, and my mother’s delectable homemade fruit cake. People that state they don’t enjoy the pastry and would rather regift it or use it as a doorstop have never tried my parents' recipe. After having delivered the Christmas cakes to neighbors and friends, we would open our gifts on Christmas Eve, German style, and eat more ethnic goods like Eastern European cheesecakes or Kolache, a poppy seed roll. My neighbors, German like my mother, loved to hunt. One occasion they cooked up some venison, which I enjoy. This time it was greasy which was unusual but nevertheless, very tasty. Then I was informed it was bear meat. I didn’t want to even touch it after that. I’ve since learned, according to one book I read, that bear meat is a Cherokee’s favorite food. That explains why I liked the taste, I guess, because my papa is Scots-Irish and Cherokee. As a preschooler when we first moved Downriver, my Arabic neighbor Amelia who lived next door, served my family flatbread and lamb. She was born in Lebanon. I soon learned to call her “Grandma”. More than the unfamiliar taste of Kibbe I enjoyed sneaking out of my house before my parents woke up to enjoy a breakfast of coffee and donuts at Amelia’s. Of course, my drink was mostly cream with just a dash of coffee to warm it up! Despite my childhood protests, my mother made me try a little of everything. If at first I didn’t like a flavor, if not pressured into tasting it, I’d eventually grow to love it. I grew up with Chinese, Italian and Southern cooking, in addition to many other styles, due to the varied cultures that had settled in Detroit. I listened to Rock-and-roll, Mariachi, Polka, Country and of course, Mo-town. While some people dip into ice cream or grab chips for comfort food, I heat up a jar of sauerkraut or drown my tears in Southern Beans, my American Grandmother’s recipe. Also handed down for several generations is what my Grandmother’s family called biscuits. They are actually called “scones” in Scotland. Grandma also made a true cornbread from white cornmeal. It is unlike the sugary cake-like bread made from yellow cornmeal. It has an almost popcorn taste and is not sweet, but comforting to me nevertheless. I absolutely love Asian food too! My sisters are of Japanese descent (as a result of my mother’s first marriage). My oldest sister taught me how to make wontons, Korean style. Additionally, my mother taught me how to make Japanese fried rice. As an adult, living part-time in the southwest, I’ve come to love Tex-Mex cooking. I actually can do these recipes in my home kitchen as the ingredients are found in abundance at my local market, unlike most other goods I need to make European fare. I guess I can chalk that up to supply and demand? I have Scots-Irish, Cherokee, German, Polish, Hungarian, Arabic, Asian, Filipino-Creole friends and relatives. Is it any wonder why I love all these fantastic flavors and foods? I can talk to virtually any ethnicity or culture and for the most part I love them all with few exceptions. Whatever cultures are not in my family will most likely marry into it in a generation or two. What we like about each other comes from the heart. What we dislike stems from petty grievances and past mistakes that are, as yet, unforgiven and have nothing to do with our ethnicity nor religion. I feel fortunate that I grew up in metro-Detroit and met all these wonderful people from a variety of cultures. Simply put, we all have the ability to live with each other peacefully. That is, after all, the mission of a tiny baby that was sent to us over 2000 years ago. May your family be blessed with peace, may your home me filled with traditions and may your table be laden with delicious foods. Happy eating and Merry Christmas.