Again, I Say Rejoice!

Do you have any family traditions? Hopefully, several pop into your mind quickly. If not, stop and take a moment to think about what traditions your family celebrated when you were a child. Were there beloved family customs that stopped when some “keeper of the flame” passed away? What traditions do you miss the most and why? Have you started any new traditions with your family?

Why am I asking these odd questions? It is because I have been cooking and baking most of the day, because that is one of my family’s traditions based in the celebration of Easter. I am groaning because my back is aching, but simultaneously I am energized to realize the tremendous blessings of this day! I rejoice because I am still able to clean, cook, bake, prepare baskets for my grandchildren, and work side-by-side with my dear husband. I am grateful because I have the wherewithal to purchase groceries and invite others to share a meal. All this joy and gratitude erupts from the celebration of a tradition!

Today I reached into the cabinet over my refrigerator. It’s that hard-to-reach place. I always need to get a chair or step stool to access that cabinet. There, all the way in the back, is my grandmother’s lamb cake mold. The only time I use it is at Easter. Still, whenever I bring it down, I feel my grandmother and my mother performing this same ritual year after year. Even though my grandmother died when I was seven, and my mom has been gone over 13 years, in that one moment we are together again. That’s the type of tradition I am hoping you have somewhere in your memory.

Many traditions cluster around the holidays. A great number of customs are centered upon religious symbols, holy days, and rituals. One of the reasons I am cooking and baking, as if there is no tomorrow, is that my Polish-Catholic heritage promotes a fast from midnight on Thursday through Saturday, after we have our Easter food blessed. For generations we have felt the hunger, when Saturday morning finds the house filled with the aromas of ham baking and Polish sausage (fresh and smoked) being prepared for this ritual. Our stomachs become the physical expression of the spiritual hunger we have been pursuing throughout Lent.

On Saturday in the late morning or afternoon, we gather with many other very hungry people. The amazing thing is that, as we gather at our local parish, despite our growling tummies, everyone is smiling and greeting each other with the customary “Happy Easter!” Our bellies, like our souls, sense that the forty days of Lenten sacrifice and self-denial, are coming to an end. Easter arrives with the dawn!

I am not naive. I realize that this two-thousand-year-old tradition, does not end every problem. When I awake tomorrow, my arthritis will still be there, my mortgage will need to be paid, the concerns I have for my children, my grandchildren, my neighbors, and the world, will still be in my heart. What will be different is that the tradition will have reminded me that a promise has been made and is being kept, even though my human vision is clouded.

Traditions are the lenses that clear our vision to see, if only for a moment, to a place beyond the physical world. My human eyes and mind tell me that my mother and grandmother are gone, but when I hold that lamb mold, experience the sweet smell of the baking cake, and spread the frosting, something miraculous happens. For a split second, I see them more clearly than ever, I feel them breathe through every breath I take, and my entire body inexplicably rejoices.

Your traditions may be completely different. Maybe yours is watching a movie for the hundredth time with that someone special, going to the first ballgame of the season with your best friend, anticipating that annual fishing trip with the guys, or making hot cocoa “just like Grandma’s.” What really matters is that it is the one gift or memory that you want to reproduce and hand down to your own children. It is some act which touches you at a depth beyond logic. You can’t explain why, all you know is that it makes you feel connected to something or someone greater than yourself. It unites you to generations past and propels you toward future generations.

My prayer for you in the days ahead is, if you have had no family traditions, may you make an effort to begin one today! If you have lost touch with some cherished customs, may you rediscover them soon! Most of all, if you have and are continuing family traditions, may you realize what a tremendous blessing that is, and truly rejoice!

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Home in Home Ec.

Between September 1967 and June 1968

  • Fifty thousand participants protested the Vietnam war in the “March on the Pentagon.”
  • U.S. Navy pilot John McCain’s plane was shot down over North Vietnam.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
  • Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated.
  • The first human heart transplant was performed in South Africa by Dr. Christiaan Barnard.
  • The World Health Organization launched a program to eradicate smallpox.
  • Aretha sang “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” The Irish Rovers had a hit with “The Unicorn,” The Beatles released “Magical Mystery Tour,” and Otis Redding had the first posthumous number one hit with “The Dock of the Bay.”

It was during this time of protest, turmoil, medical advancement, and eclectic music, that I was a sophomore at Holy Family Academy, an all-girl Catholic high school in Chicago. My classes included, Religion, Latin, Biology, Geometry, English, Physical Education, and Home Economics. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth were our teachers, and they were still wearing the “full habit.” There were only two “lay teachers” in the entire school.

My H.F.A. Home Economics teacher was Sister Mary Eymard. She was a delightful woman, who really seemed to enjoy her days in the kitchen helping young girls learn to cook and manage a home.

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In “Home Ec.” most girls disliked the white aprons we were required to wear over our uniforms. The apron had a front and back panel, to protect the uniform blouse, and was attached to the usual apron of gathered fabric which tied at the waist and covered our skirts. The back panel was secured with 2 thin strings that tied from back to front. When those were secured, we would reach behind and use the the much larger ties to secure the skirt part of the apron with a bow in the back. Even though most disliked the aprons, I think we ALL hated the hairnets which were also required.

In those years, we had no knowledge of a microwave oven. The concept of fast-food was still in its infancy. The hours invested in daily meal preparation and home baking were always considered “time well spent.” The Home Ec. class taught the basics of health and safety in the kitchen, along with food preparation. We had to write out recipes including, Scrambled Eggs, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Puffy Omelet, and Cinnamon Coffee Cake. I still have many of those original recipe cards!

At that time in my life, I was contemplating entering the convent. Little did I know  that a young man named Richard, who was my brother’s fishing buddy and a friend of the family for years, would steal my heart and help me realize that God was calling me to the Sacrament of Marriage, raising a family, and becoming a wife, mother and grandmother. That Home Ec. class was actually one of the most practical classes I took and I have used those skills almost every day of my life.

Sister Eymard and I remained friends long after graduation. I received her recipe for “Super Coffee Cake” sometime between 1970-72. It is a yeast-based coffee cake and takes about 1/2 hour to complete the dough. After the dough rests for 2 hours (or overnight), it is formed into a braid and decorated with filling. It rises for about 2 hours, is brushed with an egg/cream wash and sprinkled with a streusel topping. It bakes for about a 1/2 hour and then is drizzled with confectioners’ sugar icing.

In the forty-six years I worked outside the home, I only baked this coffee cake once every 2-3 years, on very special occasions, because of the extended preparation time. Now that I am retired, I hope to bake it more often. This weekend I will be sharing that recipe with my readers.  It will definitely be part of our Easter celebration this year and maybe you will make it part of your special celebration too! Thank you, Sister Eymard!

It’s a Beautiful Day

Just a few weeks ago, when I began planning this site, I made a promise that I would always be honest with myself and my readers. So I feel compelled to preface this post with the confession that it holds a tinge of melancholy.

The day started out fine with the words of Mr. Rogers’ opening song ringing in my ears, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!” I think that is the hidden gift of living in the Midwest on the verge of Springtime. In early March, when you are greeted by a 50 degree morning, and the weatherman says “the temperature is going to reach 60 plus degrees by midday,” there is definitely a visceral reason for rejoicing.

Shortly after waking, I received information detailing the funeral arrangements for a dear friend. Her name is Rita and she was 80 years old. She had been widowed 5 years and 2 months. Her final years were spent living with dementia. To many, it seemed that she was losing all the memories of her adult life. I believe otherwise.

Then, within hours, I discovered that Mike, a friend-of-40-years, passed away at age 64. He had been born a little more than a year before me. For 20 years he and his wife raised their five children in a house that we could see from our back patio. We were more than neighbors.

In a heartbeat, all my plans for today’s post took on a new meaning. I would be lying, if I said that I was still singing “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” My mood had suddenly turned dark and introspective. Poets and musicians have said it far better than I, this earthly life is fleeting. We are but “candles in the wind.”

It was time to go on a hunt for the beauty hidden at the heart of the sorrow. I took a long prayer walk, because experience has taught me that there is a deep well of comfort and wisdom bubbling in the silence. Most of the time, I am too busy and pre-occupied to hear its message, but when I venture into the stillness, there it is, awaiting me with open arms.

Today, as I gazed into that well, I saw reflected so many treasured golden memories of shared laughter and tears. Once again, I could see our children growing and playing in the sunshine. I could hear engines revving, and envisioned young men working on cars in the backyard and having a cold beer in the sweltering days of summer. In my mind’s eye, I watched those same children becoming adults, getting jobs, finding love, getting married, and having children of their own. My heart caressed anew each and every cross-stitched ornament enclosed in annual Christmas greetings. The gift of imagination allowed me to taste afresh the foods shared at many church dinners and the moments of spiritual union as we sang, “one Church, one faith, one baptism”.

The music of the morning, buried by grief, began to swell again. My soul tearfully whispered, “Open the eyes of my heart. Please, open the eyes of my heart!” The blessing of holy tears unlocked the cold chain of grief that had encircled my spirit. The sheer joy of life gently washed over me like waves sliding onto dry sand. The souls, of all those who have gone before me, reached out and walked beside me, not bound by space or time. They sang into my heart their passion for living. They imparted their memories of surviving, no…THRIVING, through many tumultuous years. The violence of Prohibition, the scarcity of the Great Depression, the sacrifices of World War II, the uncertainties of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the horrors of assassinations, the strain of several recessions, the agony of personal trials, and the threats of worldwide conflicts could not defeat them or stifle their song! They continued to strive and move forward with brave perseverance and love.

Though they may no longer be visible in this world, they continue to guide me toward a path which leads to a life of dignity, courage, faithfulness, hope, AND JOY! I shall miss their physical presence, but I have been greatly blessed to have shared so many exceptional days, weeks, months, and years with an entire choir of wise and loving people. It truly is a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

I’m So Glad You’re Here

Welcome! You are in a very special category! This is my first blog post and so you are in the first group of people reading it. If you are one of my family members, Facebook friends, alumnae of Holy Family Academy in Chicago, or members of Christ the King Parish or St. Patrick Church of Hartland, I thank you with all my heart for joining me in this new adventure! For those of you coming to this blog from a recommendation or engine search, please know that I appreciate the time you have invested in this visit.

The first question on your mind is most likely, “What will I gain from the time I spend reading this blog?” I can tell you that I will make it my business to create a place of peace and positivity. I hope you will return here, whenever the world seems to make no sense, and you will find a verbal “comfy couch” where you may put your feet up and find rest and refreshment.

In choosing the title for this blog I considered the fact that the greatest joy in this time of my life is my eight grandchildren. Of course, I love my three children, after all, without them there would be no grandchildren! Still, for the past 12 years I have repeated the wisdom of some other unknown author, “If I knew grandchildren were this much fun, I would have had them first!”

Yes, indeed, grandchildren are tremendous fun because as a grandparent my only task is to love them and pray for them. Grandma’s Door is the portal to joy, acceptance, gentle discipline, and peace. Children live at a high level of energy, excitement, and busy-ness! Their lives are being pushed along by current societal trends and expectations. When they arrive at Grandma’s, I want them to be anticipating an energetic hug, a genuine smile, some great food, and a understanding ear.

That is my pledge to all my readers, I will make Grandma’s Door a place where you may enter just as you are and find words of comfort, peace, and sometimes gentle challenge. When the Spirit leads, I will share some old family recipes for genuine comfort food. I hope you will make the choice to stop by on a regular basis, because Grandma’s Door is always open and you are always welcome!