I’ve been meaning to get this post up for, oh, months now. But life has been incredibly busy for the past two months and at the end of the day, I find I’m often lacking in the motivation department. The topic of this post (my mother) quite possibly contributes to my lack of motivation. Its been hard to decide what I want to say, and yet for many reasons, writing this post has been incredibly important to me.
As noted above, my life of late has been incredibly busy, and I’ve been feeling a fair amount of stress, uncertainty about the future, doubt about my current life path, and a general discombobulation caused by the current unsettled nature of my recently very nomadic life. Partly as a result of all that, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom… calling on her to help me meet life’s pressures. In the few moments where I have felt hopelessly inadequate and unable to meet the challenges ahead of me, the thought of failing her, of not living up to her legacy, has helped renew my determination to move forward.
My mother passed away in January. Her passing, while more sudden than our family had anticipated, was not unexpected. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in August 1999. She had a lumpectomy, radiation treatments, and chemotherapy that lasted until May 2000. In May 2005 our family breathed a collective sigh of relief as we passed the all-important five year mark without any recurrences. Two months later the pain in my mother’s shoulder that had been bothering her since January was re-diagnosed, correctly this time, as metastasized breast cancer that had moved into bone.
Never one to admit defeat or accept limitations that lessened her ability and freedom to enjoy life, my mother put up a truly epic fight. Up to the very end, when hospice was the only remaining care option, my mom was calling her radiologist for a second opinion and planning future family vacations. Teaching, one of her greatest passions, sustained her up until the final weeks of her life. Through her last few months of life, while enduring massive pain as a result of fracturing her hip, she continued to teach four days each week. No longer able to drive and having no choice but to use a wheelchair, she had a member of our family drive her to and from school each day.
She loved life and she refused to let the cancer, its resulting pain, her impending death, or her family’s lack of faith impede her enjoyment of all that life offered. She gardened. She traveled. She renovated her kitchen, redecorated the living room, and redesigned her bedroom. She played with her grandkids. She cooked. She shopped. She ordered books from Amazon on new subjects that caught her attention, like the Turkish Empire and the Silk Road. She went to concerts. She visited with friends and family and continued serving in our church.
I miss her all the time. About a month and a half after she passed away, I went to LA for a weekend with a friend. I felt her loss keenly over the course of the weekend. I kept wanting to call her; to ask her for directions or recommendations, to tell her we were eating at her favorite fish place in Malibu, to share my shock at how much the Santa Clarita valley had changed in the past 8 years.
With Mother’s Day this past month, I was reminded constantly that she is gone, that this is the first year I won’t be able to express my gratitude to her for the many ways she blessed and influenced my life. I can’t, and won’t, claim that we always saw eye to eye. We didn’t. But in spite of our occasional clashes, she truly was one of my best friends and definitely my greatest champion.
One of the greatest influences she had on my life, was to instill in me a love of and a curiosity for our world. She was my favorite travel companion. Trips with my mom were always a fun-filled adventure. One of my favorite memories with her was our trip to Iceland in 2004. That year she was planning to come visit me in Boston for a week over Labor Day. A month or so before her trip, I was talking to her on the phone, and seemingly out of nowhere she announced that she was contemplating flying to Iceland for a weekend while she was out visiting me. I was, to put it mildly, surprised. I think my first question was, “Alone?” She responded by saying, “Well, you can come if you want, but if you don’t, I’m going on my own. I’ve always wanted to go there.” So we bought our tickets and flew to Iceland for a long weekend. We rode horses, visited museums, saw some truly breathtaking scenery, and even spent time at one of the public pools so we could try out the hot pots (hot tubs). We had a fantastic trip and it was just one of the many ways she showed me how important it is to make the most of every day of your life.
This past month my sisters and I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band when they performed in Washington, DC. As always, it was an amazing concert, but in the lead-up to the concert I was a little worried that it would be a bittersweet experience. I felt sure that seeing Bruce without my mom (truly one of his greatest fans) would just make me miss her that much more. In the end, it wasn’t bittersweet at all, and if anything, being there helped me feel again her love. That night Bruce played Badlands at the very beginning of the show, and as I sang along, I was particularly touched by the following words, which I feel, are a very fitting tribute to my mother:
I believe in the love that you gave me.
I believe in the faith that could save me.
I believe in the hope and I pray that some day it
Will raise me above these badlands.
I probably should have mentioned food somewhere in my thoughts above, but there was never a moment where it felt right. However, my mother was a fantastic cook and she instilled a love of food and cooking in all of her daughters. This recipe has particular meaning to our family because when we lived in the Marshall Islands my mom would often make these for breakfast on Saturday mornings when our good friends the Ackleys spent the night. I’ve continued the tradition with my own friends and try to make these whenever the opportunity presents itself. Now, I know that there are A LOT of cinnamon roll recipes out there, but honestly, I think these are very hard to beat. I’ve had multiple people who profess to HATE cinnamon rolls happily devour these.
1 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar
2 T. Yeast
1 ½ t. salt
7 ½ c. flour
2 ½ c. warm water (about wrist temperature)
Mix in order given (I dump it all in my Bosch and mix together). Refrigerate overnight (can keep for 3-5 days in fridge). In morning, punch down dough, knead briefly, and then divide in half. Roll half of dough into a rectangle. Spread with melted butter. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon and sugar (you can also sprinkle with chopped nuts, if desired). Roll up lengthwise and slice into ½” slices and place in prepared pans (see below). Let rise about 2 hours (or until doubled in size). Bake at 350° for 25 minutes. Glaze (recipe below).
To Prepare Pans:
Cover bottom with 3 T. melted butter and a light drizzle of Light Karo syrup. I usually need 2 9×13 pans, but if you cut the rolls wider, you may be able to fit them into one pan.
1/3 c. butter or margarine
2 c. confectioners sugar
1 ½ t. vanilla
2-4 t. hot water
Melt butter and mix all ingredients together in a blender. Double the recipe if you make all the rolls
at once. My mom usually triples it because people love the glaze.
Note: To save time in the morning, you can make the dough sometime the day before, let it raise during the day in the refrigerator, then before going to bed the night before, roll it out and make the cinnamon rolls, put them into the prepared pan, and then let the pans raise overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning, all you will have to do is pre-heat the oven and throw the rolls in. Because of the increased raising time, this method yields a lighter, fluffier roll (which most people like).