Iron Nan(a)

Many people remark on Karyn’s incredible strength. They talk about how amazing it is and how surprised they are that anyone could be so strong.

You know who isn’t surprised? Anyone who has met Karyn’s mom.

Mary Kantola, AKA WonderMom, AKA SuperNana.

I’d argue she’s from another world, except for the fact that she’s so damn human. Take that, Superman.

If you’re lucky enough to know her, you not only know what I’m talking about, you probably collect the comic books.

Hold onto those comics and keep them in good condition. They, like her, are priceless and only increasing in value.

 

 

My Mom Is Love

I am so lucky to have a mom like my Mom. My children are incredibly lucky to have a Nana like their Nana. My husband is thankful and lucky to have a mother-in-law like his mother-in-law.

I have so many memories of my Mom, but on this Mother’s Day, I’ll share a some of my favorites. I’ll leave out the ones that would embarrass my brother. (You’re welcome Jon.)

1. My mom was always trying new things. Candle making, brining freshly picked olives, macrame, cooking school, spending a summer cooking in a Scottish castle, starting a cookie business. Some of them stuck and some didn’t, but she was always game to venture out to try new things.

2. She lugged me around to the various activities that I wanted to explore when I was young – swim lessons, tennis, ballet, gymnastics, piano lessons, more dance lessons. She supported my enthusiasm for each activity and didn’t get mad (at least not in front of me) when I decided to move on to another. In my defense, having a ballet teacher tell you that she knows your posture is correct because you’ll be able to hold a pencil between your butt cheeks can turn you off ballet in an instant and she agreed it was odd enough to quit.

3. My mom knew EVERYTHING. She had a sixth sense about where I was, what I was doing, and had no qualms about magically finding a phone number of some stranger’s house (where I wasn’t supposed to be) and calling to say she was on her way to pick me up. My mom had a way of scaring the crap out of me by letting me know NOTHING was going to slip by her. Somehow that made me feel loved and safe – even if I didn’t admit it at the time. I can only hope that I can scare the crap out of my own daughter.

4. She encouraged me to continue doing things I loved doing, even when some b#%#h of a teacher told me I was a terrible writer and would never, ever be a good writer (or something equally horrible to crush a kid’s soul and dreams.) It took me awhile to get over that serious blow to my confidence, but my mom never gave up encouraging me and telling me that she had confidence in my skills. And look at me now Mrs. Merrill! Ppssshht (or however you spell a raspberry sound)!!

5. My mom survived my teenage years when I was nearly impossible to live with. She let me know that no matter how horrible I could be, she was still going to love me (even if it was REALLY hard.) The drama and angst of my teenage years were probably awful and I’m sure my daughter will put me through the same sort of torture. Even through that torture, she did continue to love me.

6. My mom has always been there when I’ve needed her – driving 6-7 hours to be there for happy and devastating moments. She was there to take care of me when I had nasal surgery to correct my deviated septum – recognizing the signs of a bad reaction to Valium when I pointed out there were tiny men dancing on my nose and then listening to me swear loudly as they pulled 6 ft of gauze out of each nostril.  She was there when I had my tonsillectomy – learning along with me that foods you’d NEVER think were acidic are acidic and agreeing that baby food was nasty. She was there when my daughter was born – immediately loving her unconditionally as she does all of her grandchildren. She was there when I lost my second daughter and quite possibly saved her twin brother in the process, experiencing devastation and tentative relief in rapid cycles. She arrived in the nick of time before my son was born and went out to buy preemie clothes when he was 2 pounds smaller than expected. She was there when I was diagnosed with brain cancer, taking care of my children, my husband and me as I recovered from surgery, went through weeks of daily trips to Stanford for radiation treatments, and suffered through chemo. All of this happening during a kitchen remodel – proving her status as a saint.

7. When I became vegan and married a vegan and then we decided to raise our children vegan, she made every effort to learn how to cook vegan meals for us. She doesn’t have to, but she does. She willingly cooks 2 meals when we visit, even during holidays. While I help cook some of those meals, she happily makes us feel comfortable, accommodating and respecting our dietary choices.

There are so many memories of my mom, I couldn’t possibly name them all here. She is amazing and I have learned so much from her about how to be a good mother to my own children. Thank you Mom for all of the sacrifices, love, and support you’ve given me through good times and bad. I couldn’t have had a better mother to lead the way in life.

Happy Mother’s Day today and every day.

mommebaby mommeteen

momlucia   momciame

My Mother’s Gifts For Life

I am very lucky to have parents who love and support me and my family, who have shown me that marriage can be hard but it’s worth the effort, that nothing is more important than family – blood or ‘adopted’. They’ve also supported me through bad decisions, good decisions, and the choices I’ve made about how to live my life – even if my views don’t always match theirs. I’ve written about what my Father has taught me and I think it’s time to talk about the valuable lessons I’ve learned from my Mom.

1. She taught me how to cook and enjoy both the process and eating the results. My mom taught many others how to cook, but my lessons were private.  One important lesson I got was that you should have at least 3 colors on the plate (ketchup doesn’t count). I still feel like I’ve done it wrong if I see nothing but beige on a dinner plate. She also taught me that sometimes pulling dinner out of the freezer is ok, baking isn’t for everyone, and cookbooks are for inspiration 90% of the time – use your imagination in the kitchen. Family recipes should be passed down and most can be modified to fit chosen dietary restrictions. This life skill has allowed me to make the change to being vegan without losing the joy of being creative in the kitchen.

2. Sit down as a family for meals. No one is too busy to NOT sit down for a good meal and connect with each other ever day – even if it’s a quick meal. As an aside, for bigger special occasion meals, get ‘fancy’ dish ware that can go in the dishwasher.

3. Create a garden – love, nurture and enjoy the bounty. Enjoy the process and take the time to prepare your soil – it’s the foundation for growing. (Yes, the implication was intentional)

4. Play with your children/grandchildren – even when you’d rather be napping, cleaning, or watching cat videos on the internet. They will feel valued and encouraged to continue their creativity. No matter how busy you think you are, there is always time to clean, do laundry, cook later. Love unconditionally now. Building Lego creations or tolerating crazy makeovers with children/grandchildren will always be more important than anything else on your list of to-dos. Let them wear a monkey costume out to dinner and be proud of them for doing it with aplomb.

5. Read as much as you can and escape into each book. Read what you enjoy and share books with friends. If a book isn’t catching your attention, leave it behind – there are too many good books to waste your time on any that you don’t connect with. Teach your children the magic of books, beginning with reading to them every day.

6. Give love and support to others – it may be the only kindness they have that day. Strangers need this kindness more than anyone. Don’t make assumptions about them or the choices that may have gotten them into a place of need. If they don’t accept your support, let them continue on the path they’ve chosen for themselves – sometimes people aren’t interested in what you can offer, even if it’s just a meal or a conversation. That’s ok, some people enjoy being the ‘victim’ of life or choose to live in a manner different from your own. Show them kindness and then let them go.

Your family may have needs at critical times in their lives. Do what you can to help take care of them. My mother saved me by taking care of my family, acting as my nurse when I went through chemo and radiation AND made the questionable decision to move forward with a kitchen remodel at the same time. You know your mother is a saint when she helps set up a temporary kitchen, continues to cook for your family, and washes any non-disposable dishes in a teeny bathroom sink.

7. Every child needs to learn how to cook some basic meals, clean, garden, do laundry (including ironing), and sew on a button before they leave home. Extra sewing, knitting, and gourmet meals are a bonus. These are critical life skills to have when living on your own. And every woman is impressed by a man who can sew and clean a toilet well.

8. You can show love to a child or grandchild when you create structure, establish rules, expectations, and consequences for bad choices. Love comes in teaching morals and responsibility, setting a good example, and understanding different points of view with respect and acceptance. Love comes in sharing time, showing generosity of spirit (rather than in physical things), and celebrating everyone’s unique self. Love comes in encouragement of success, displays of bravery and accomplishments big and small. This love creates confidence, a sense of security and an environment where your children/grandchildren feel safe telling you about their fears, problems, questions and discoveries.

9. People can grow when they’re exposed to new experiences, new ideas, and new points of view with an open mind. Living unwed with a dreadlocked reggae musician can sometimes work out well for all involved – you just may get a good story and a wonderful son-in-law. Traveling the world gives you a broader understanding of others’ experiences and culture than you’d ever get sitting on your couch and watching the travel channel. Sometimes your children need to learn by making their own decisions in life – support them, but let them learn through those choices and any consequences – don’t feel you need to ‘solve’ things. Good or bad, the lessons they learn will stick more than a lecture or having a solution handed to them based on YOUR opinions and life views. Allow them to grow and see the world through their own eyes.

10. Sometimes the ‘small’ things in life are the most important. Enjoy watching the birds at the feeders, the trees in bloom, the changing colors in fall, holding a baby, snuggling with a child, baking cookies – just because, or watching your children play harmoniously. Too many things can be overlooked in the hustle and bustle of life, sometimes you need to just stop and enjoy the journey.

Happy Birthday and thank you Mom for being the best role model a girl could ever have in life.

momciame

 

One Less Thing On My List

I talked a while ago about my revised bucket list after my diagnosis.

One of the things on that list was ‘get a tattoo’ and I can now cross it off my list.

I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo for a long time, but when you’re going to put a permanent piece of art on your body it better be something that has meaning to you. It doesn’t matter if it has meaning for others – it’s yours and yours alone. It’s also something that you have to live with the rest of your life – so that meaning has to mean something to you 5, 10, 30 years from now. I’m old enough to not go into this lightly – no spontaneous decisions. My experience with brain cancer, the support of my family, and the promise of life gave me the inspiration I needed to come up with an idea for a tattoo that meant something significant for me.

The next step is finding images of the elements of the tattoo to bring to a tattoo artist, giving him/her enough to do what they do best. The right tattoo artist will use those elements to design a tattoo that incorporates them into a piece of art that reflects the image you had in your head. That tattoo artist should be someone recommended to you by someone who has experience with him/her and who’s work you’ve seen and like.

Then you need to convince your 10-year-old daughter that having a tattoo won’t change me as a person. That it won’t be on my face. That I’m old enough to make decisions that don’t require her full approval. That once it’s done, I’m certain she’ll like it. Finally to dispel the stereotypes that have obviously settled into her mind about what a person with a tattoo is like – reminding her that you can’t judge a person by their outward appearance.

This is the result of that experience for me:

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The tree of life
Blooms and leaves of new beginnings and the promise of ongoing life
Sisu – a Finnish (I’m a Finn) word generally meaning courage, persistence, and resilience
A heart representing the love and support my family offers to hold me up and keep me fighting
And 3 birds representing my children and my husband (also an homage to Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’)

This is a very personal piece of art for me. If you were to get a tattoo, it would likely be very different from mine. I think it’s beautiful and perfectly reflects the image I had in my head. I am confident that I will proudly display it for the rest of my life – which will hopefully be a very long time.

Goodbye Shirley

Shirley Temple Black’s passing touches my heart. Not only was she an inspiration for little girls everywhere who wanted to sing and dance, she was amazingly talented at her young age. Her movies offered an escape from the dark times during the depression era. She became a Hollywood and cultural icon and then, as an adult, became an ambassador. And they named a drink after her that gave children an opportunity to feel special when they went out for dinner with their family. No one can say she wasn’t amazing.

As a testament to her lasting impact on our culture, I had a Shirley Temple doll when I was little – in the 70’s. I loved her corkscrew curls and her smile, always her smile. She came to me with a cute little polka dot dress. I probably played with her for endless hours pretending she was singing ‘Animal Crackers in my Soup’ and ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop’ and dancing along.

My Grandmother loved to sew and she fostered my love of Shirley and dolls to come by making clothes for her. I don’t think I appreciated the talent she had in making complicated tiny clothes to offer Shirley a broad and diverse wardrobe. Shirley had pajamas, fancy dresses, coats, and casual wear – occasionally with a matching outfit for me.

My mom has carried on that tradition, lovingly making beautiful clothes for my daughter’s dolls. ‘Big Baby’ has jackets, pajamas, overalls, and fancy dresses. Her twin dolls, ‘Amelia’ and ‘Jackson’ have clothes she’s made as well – showing us that we’ve moved beyond Ken dolls and realized that boy babies exist in our world. My daughter has loved those babies and those clothes her whole 10.5 years and will likely continue to care for them her whole life – even if  she doesn’t play with them as she moves into her teenage years and becomes an adult. She’ll come back to them and remember her Nana’s love, just as I remember my Grandma’s.

I can sew – as my mother taught me, and continues to teach me – and I’ve occasionally ventured into doll clothes. I’m not nearly as patient or talented as my mom or Grandma, but one day I hope to be. I will continue to practice and hone my skills as I make clothes for friend’s children, getting to a smaller and smaller scale. American Girl dolls are fun, the wardrobes little girls amass are amazing (and expensive), but nothing will be as cherished and valued as the clothes made with a grandmother’s love.

I can only hope that I’ll be around to lovingly make clothes for my own grandchildren. I hope that my daughter (and son) will offer the clothes they’ve been given for their dolls to their children to play with and dress up their own dolls. I believe dolls are meant to be played with, not stuck on a shelf somewhere only to be viewed and not touched. For both boys and girls, I believe having a doll gives them an opportunity to learn how to gently care for another being – translating to the humans in their lives.

Thank you Mom and Grandma for these precious gifts and memories.

A sample of the many clothes my Grandma made for my Shirley Temple doll

A sample of the many clothes my Grandma made for my Shirley Temple doll

Positive Thinking

Promise Yourself

To be so strong that nothing
can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, and prosperity
to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel
that there is something in them
To look at the sunny side of everything
and make your optimism come true.

To think only the best, to work only for the best,
and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others
as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past
and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times
and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself
that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear,
and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world,
not in loud words but great deeds.
To live in faith that the whole world is on your side
so long as you are true to the best that is in you.

– Christian D. Larson

The Silver Lining

I know this will seem like a contradiction (you know, since I like planning ahead), but sometimes I need to find the silver lining and just go with the flow.

Since I’m not starting my chemo this week:

We get to have a spontaneous weekend getaway with good friends to one of our favorite places.

I know I’ll be clear headed and full of energy for my planned getaway with my daughter next weekend.

I enjoyed a cocktail last night. Just one.

I’ll be able to get some real exercise – not just walking up the stairs a couple of times, then needing a nap.

I will have enough energy to enjoy the 1-1 time I’ll have with my son next week while my daughter’s in camp. We may even be able to arrange a play date!

So, take that thwarted planning!

I’m trying really hard to live in the moment and squeeze as much as I can out of every day left. It can be difficult when I can’t manage to get out of my own way. Sometimes I need a little inspiration.

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This Is Your Life

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”  Henry David Thoreau

the Scared is Scared

This video is pretty phenomenal.  It’s simple and entertaining and helpful to both children and adults who occasionally wonder how to chase the Scared away.  You should watch it if it hasn’t yet crossed your email/facebook/other social media screens.

Kudos to Bianca Giaever! Thank you for sharing your art with us!