2017

My Dinner Debacle

I made a dinner for my family the other night that was so unbelievably bad (I am kind of gagging just thinking about it) that I need to blog about it to exercise the demon.

For proper context, my family is in a food rut. My husband and I have about 5 dishes that we make well and quickly and that can please the whole family (including one vegetarian). I can name them right now:
• Pasta with basil, grape tomatoes, olives and feta
• Chili
• Spinach rice
• Cheese enchilada/taco/burrito type meal
• Grilled “stuff” (steak or chicken for the majority; tofu for the vegetarian; veggies)

We have a couple of these dinners a week and fill the rest in with take-out: Chinese, Indian, Thai, Italian or pizza.

I am sure this happens to all families, especially those of us with two parents working outside the home. Don’t tell me to try a food prep delivery service. We tried it.

The first one we tried was so fancy that it would take us hours after a long day at work to prep and cook the bespoke food in the box. So, we jettisoned that one.

We tried another one that was dubbed “easy and fresh”, and while it WAS pretty easy and pretty fresh, no one liked it. It wasn’t bad, it just kind of felt like eating a school lunch.

So. Here we are.

Then the other night, somehow my husband and I both got home before 6 and decided to go grocery shopping together. We googled a recipe for Chicken Divan (something my mom makes that we love). For the uninitiated, this is a baked casserole type dish with chicken and broccoli in a cheesy cream sauce. Don’t ask me why I didn’t just use her recipe. I guess I thought the Googleverse could one up my mom.

What Chicken Divan is supposed to look like…

We got the ingredients and brought them home. Hearing the plan, Sophia (our vegetarian) immediately opted out of any talk of a veg version of the recipe and ejected from the house to a friend’s like someone in an airplane about to crash. Foreshadowing.

Sophia captured ejecting from the house as we started to cook the dish.

We started the recipe. The first problem I noticed was that the baked chicken we bought didn’t seem totally cooked. This freaked me out and I asked my husband to take the chicken off the bone for me (not a fan of handling raw meat).

At first, he poo poo-ed this “No way. We bought it as a fully cooked chicken” (to provide a little marital context: he is a knowitall an engineer, and often poo poos any of my observations related to the physical universe). But then, he started to look at the meat more closely, and too was a little weirded out by the partial rawness, but reasoned that it would be cooking for 45 minutes in the oven and that would “take care of it”.

Next thing was that the sauce seemed “over” creamy for its own good. Creamy in a crazy-ass Paula Deen-type way. In this recipe, you not only add mushroom soup (which as I recall is in my mom’s 70’s glorious recipe), but also some sour cream AND MAYONAISE! AND WHAT?! That really made me pause, but I figured this is a 5 star recipe from a food aficiando site.

Ok. Next was some white wine (which I also recall from my mom’s recipe) but also lemon and curry. The latter seemed like a good idea to me at the time. I love curry. But that would come back to haunt me.

Last was a bread crumb, parmesan cheese and butter mixture mixed on top. For those keeping “fat” track, we were now up to sour cream, mayonnaise and butter. I am not a low-fat fanatic, but was seriously starting to worry about our health at this point. But, too late. I was committed.

In the oven it went. It was now 8 PM. My starving 13 year old son was interrupting gaming on his iPad every 10 minutes to ask “is it ready yet?”.

Finally at 8:45, it came out of the oven. It looked pretty good in the pan.

However, when we dished it up, we noticed that the artery clogging sauce looked “puffy” (in my husband’s words). And not in a good way (if there is a good way for a sauce to look puffy). Also? The sauce was colored a weird yellow by the curry.

The sauce was as weird, puffy and yellow as this Boohbah.

As we took the first bites, we were silent. The taste which was weird at best (I think due to the curry, lemon and mayo) somehow got worse with each bite. The odd taste combined with the crunchy bread crumbs was just unpleasant.

Finally, I broke the silence. “This is pretty bad”.

My husband tried to put a spin on it. “It is weird but I think I can eat it”. (LOL. I love him dearly. His forebears were settlers in Nebraska. I envision this was something one of them might have said while trying to choke down a squirrel.)

Theo screwed up his courage, his expression looking full of pity for me, and said “Mom. This is really not to my taste. Can I just have dessert?”.

I have to say the latter was a pretty proud parenting moment. Having tried to eat this monstrosity myself, I wouldn’t have faulted him in saying something more profane, but I loved him for trying to tiptoe around his disgust with all the tact of an English gentleman.

We all moved right to dessert. Some ice cream to cleanse the palate.

And the next night? Pizza.

We were as happy with the pizza as this stock family.

kales@umich.eduMy Dinner Debacle
read more

Blooming During Drought (guest blog)

Note: this is a guest blog from my brave, smart and beautiful 17 year old daughter Sophia about her struggle in the past year with depression. It is highly personal, but I have her permission and blessing to share it, as do I have the permission from my husband Patrick whom it references. Patrick, Sophia and I firmly believe that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and are committed to sharing our experiences of the past year to help others and in doing so help ourselves.

“They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds.” Mexican Proverb

I lived in the personal hell of my father’s alcoholism for nearly a year. I’m not going to get into all that for a couple reasons- It’s extremely personal and emotionally exhausting for me to relive, I feel some of it isn’t my emotional property to give away, it isn’t necessary for this story. The only reason I get into it is that at the tail end of my father’s alcoholism I developed major depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder, and symptoms (note not the full on disease) of obsessive compulsive disorder. Every night I sat in our basement from when I got home from school until I fell asleep in the same spot, sometimes weeping or hyperventilating but mostly burying my face into the couch, eyes open, wishing I could suddenly just not exist, unable to do anything. This was my life. This was my excruciating reality that I barely lived through each day. I became close to someone who didn’t care about me at all, who was emotionally abusive and so insecure himself. I cared for this person as I care for all people so deeply that I took on his emotional labor with my own, staying up at night to tell him he was a good person when I didn’t believe it about myself. Some days I could physically and emotionally only compel myself to go to a couple classes a day, and obviously my grades plummeted but more humiliating for me, I felt ostracized in some of my classes, that the students around me didn’t have the empathetic capacity to understand that I was showing the typical signs of someone whose brain is trying to kill them rather than some “delinquent” who doesn’t have my priorities straight who doesn’t care about school. I was slowly dying and these people were judging me for the symptoms of my illness. I’m not really one for dwelling on the negative but I feel that I need to communicate to you how horrible this time was, like nothing I’ve ever read about or seen accurately depicted in shows. Not only the internal stress and overwhelming and heavy despair but the crushing external stigma. I would never wish what I went through on anyone, nor would I ever willingly go through it again- in fact, that has been a fear of mine. However going through these days on end where it felt like so little mattered, one thing always mattered to me, even more so the worse my depression and anxiety became- relieving others of these symptoms. I started to share my experience with mental illness and express that many social ills that I care so deeply about and that I do so much work to cure are intersectional and deeply intertwined with mental illness. I became a peer counselor at my school, talking to teens like myself mostly with mental illness and helping connect them with resources or just get through the day. Helping my peers who had the same feelings, the same experiences as I did brought so much light and love to my life. Seeing these people who I know have so much intrinsic value and bring so much joy to others suffer let me see myself from an objective point and understand how worthy I was of support and acceptance and love. Slowly, in this seemingly endless darkness I found out what love truly means- kindness, compassion, empathy for others. I’ve never loved people the way I do now. I’ve never let people love me the way I do now. My light at the end of the tunnel was sharing my experience, telling people how it feels to be mentally ill, helping others find treatment and acceptance and love and in turn finding acceptance and love for myself. After I told one friend about my experience she texted me: “Sophia I am so sorry I didn’t know, I feel like a horrible friend. I always get annoyed when people tell me stuff like I understand or I know what you’re going though because they don’t and I haven’t experienced what you’re going through in the same way so I’m not going to say that but I recognize how horribly difficult it must be. You don’t deserve this-you’re the most beautiful person I know and you inspire me every day. You fight for what you believe in and you have this firey passion that I haven’t found in anyone else. You are your own person and so smart and talented. I love you so much and if you ever need anything at all, even so small as like a hug or a coffee because you’re tired, always come to me I’d be honored to do anything for you. I miss our time together in macro-we should hang out or go out to breakfast soon. Love you Sophia stay strong”. I have never, never in my life experienced this kind of tangible, overflowing, joyous love. Expressing my love for others so unabashedly has caused me to love and see the beauty in myself in a way I’ve never imagined possible. Knowing the depths of human emotion is an enormous weight to bear- but it’s made me into a person who understands other people. A person who doesn’t judge other people regardless of circumstances because I personally experienced ostracization- however small the scale or unintentional it was- because of my mental illness. A person who loves who I am today and what I have accomplished and overcome. A person who loves, truly loves, every single person I meet and sees their virtue as an individual being who experiences despair and setbacks and trauma- and loves.

kales@umich.eduBlooming During Drought (guest blog)
read more

Put away your tickbooks! Post cards from London, part III (final)

I have been thinking this week of Professor Peterec. He was one of the best professors I had at Bucknell University. He taught political geography with a larger than life presence. Almost live theater. His class was stellar and eye opening for 20 year old college kids. One of the things I remember most from that class was him talking derisively about “tick book travel”. Basically, this is traveling to another place with your list of things to see (your “tick book”), hurtling from one sight to another and checking them off as you go. In doing so, you are little changed as your interactions with true local culture are minimized. I have thought a lot about this over the years and tried to fight the impulse to merely check off sights in my tick book. Of course, to some extent, I still have one; on our first trip to London we made sure to see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, etc. But I have tried to push myself to go beyond this “ticking”. This has been made easier by being raised by a father who tended to befriend everyone we met when we traveled as a family, whether in Athens or Warsaw or wherever. I am not quite at Tony Kales level yet, but my kids do laugh (as I did when I was their age at my dad) at my need “to talk to everyone!”.

As mentioned in Part I, we have stayed in a different part of London this trip. While the East End is definitely “hip” with lots of pockets of restaurants and trendy shops, it is also very diverse both culturally and in terms of class. Our building, Adelaide Wharf, is surrounded by what the British call council estates or public housing. It has been delightful to see the children marching off to school this week (their summer break is only 6 weeks) in their matching uniforms walking by the flat. Adelaide Wharf itself is a really interesting building and won awards for its design; it includes both privately sold and “socially rented” apartments and contains a large internal garden and play area.

I have loved walking the surrounding streets and seeing the murals on the buildings. Very different from West London.

And of course, the other thing that is quite non-tick book about this trip is the working nature of it.

The rest of the week at the conference has gone very well. My poster was presented on Wednesday. It was kind of hilarious to see what happens to posters if they are left behind. Poster graveyard.

That evening, Tasia and I traveled to Soho to meet the son of one of my best friends from residency. He  is getting his PhD in the UK and his girlfriend is attending medical school in London. We had a delightful dinner at Cinnamon Bazaar and particularly enjoyed comparing notes on British vs. UK humor. And also, getting the important question answered of why there are two toilet buttons in the UK.

On Thursday, we had the big unveiling of a report issued by an international dementia care commission that I was privileged to serve on. Two colleagues from the UK and I gave commentary about the impact of the panel to a crowd of about 150 people. You can read the gist of my comments here. The report has been widely picked up internationally including in the US which is very gratifying. To see a group of international experts come together and get something truly relevant done has been a great process. So very “chuffed” about this as they say in the UK.

That night we celebrated with a dinner in the Covent Garden area at Café Murano and also toasted to a new grant that my team will be participating in. We made plans to meet at the conference that is being held in Chicago next year as well as for two of the colleagues to visit Ann Arbor.

Tasia finished up her week at the National Health Service on Friday afternoon. She has had an amazing experience going to many different types of sites. One of her favorite parts of the week has been the home visits; seeing people in their own homes adds an important part of the picture that we clinic doctors often do not see.

We headed off for a last day adventure, starting off to Palm Vaults, a café and coffee place recommended to us by our waitress at El Ganso several nights earlier (whom we had befriended when we told her we were going to ‘steal’ the 1/2 consumed bottle of sparkling water and she termed us “naughty Americans”).

Next stop was the Hackney City Farm where, missing our 2 dogs like crazy, we got in our fix of adorable animals. We never saw the “inquisitive goose” mentioned in the picture below but the description gave us a laugh.

That evening we decided to go to the West End to see a play and chose “An American in Paris“. It was lovely with exhilarating choreography, striking sets and Gershwin music. A perfect ending to a great trip with its themes of living as an American in another city. Goodbye to London for now!

 

kales@umich.eduPut away your tickbooks! Post cards from London, part III (final)
read more

Postcards from London 2017- Part II

Monday was a working from “home” day for me. I worked all day from the flat while Tasia went off to her National Health Service clinical observations. Two things about that:

  • It surprises me how quickly a place becomes “home” if I am comfortable. I love this flat. I love the street noise that lulls me to sleep with my open window. I love making myself a cup of strong French press coffee in the morning. I love looking at the flowers we bought at the Columbia Market. Lots of work got done including my prepared remarks for a Thursday press conference at the meeting.

Work from home Monday messy casual.

  • Tasia had loads of interesting experiences at NHS on day one, but the one that cracked me up the most was one of the doctors asking her “Are you in a sorority?” (No.) And then “Are American sororities like what you see in the movies?” She said the room fell silent as she gave her answer and everyone turned to her with rapt attention.

Once back, Tasia and I walked to Shoreditch and went to The Grocery, a sort of smallish Whole Foods-type store where we bought the makings for sandwiches and some pre-made soups. Some blush wine on the deck was a perfect ending to the evening.

On Tuesday, I met a colleague and collaborator in Canary Wharf. This is a really new, modern part of London. You really don’t feel like you are in London there. It is all skyscrapers and business-types bustling off to their jobs. He and I played a round of what felt like hide and go seek to find each other as it turned out his saying “meet me at the Canada Square exit of the Jubilee line” was too vague. Turns out there are about 4 exits and we were at different ones. We eventually found each other after 1/2 an hour via a combination of phone calls (though it was really hard to hear each other with all the street noise), texts and pictures of where we were standing.

Waiting on a friend in Canary Wharf.

We walked a short ways over to West India Quay where we had a lovely lunch meeting at Browns in a converted warehouse area, and discussed our collaborations including a paper we are working on and a possible grant.

After our meeting, he suggested that I head over to the Docklands Museum in a way that is adorably British: “there is a brilliant exhibit on things they have found while excavating for the new Crossrail like people’s skulls and bones”. This turned out to be a great suggestion as this free museum was awesome. The exhibit on the excavations for the new trainline was truly “brilliant” with vivid displays of finds from the Roman (coins, bones), Medieval (Black Death burial grounds) and Victorian periods (lotsa china and goblets). Other features of the museum include a sobering exhibit on the British role in the slave trade as well as a lively exhibit on the evolution of the Docklands including a simulation of walking thru the Docks in the 1800’s and the role the Docklands played in WWII. I had a funny conversation with one of the staff who asked me where I was from and hearing Michigan, responded “Is that what they called ‘flyover country’? I heard that in a Jason Aldean song”. LOL.

Loads of skulls and bones as promised.

This cracked me up for some reason.

Back to the flat, where I met Tasia and we headed off to the Old Spitalfields Market area for some shopping where we found a shop called Gandys that we loved.

Then to fabulous bar called Dirty Bones for some cocktails. My Lavender Martini was sublime (topped with a flaming spring of Lavender. C’mon!) and Tasia enjoyed something called “the littlest Hobo” (cute, right?).

I will dream of this drink for years to come.

We headed back towards the flat for dinner at a local wonderful tapas place called El Ganso where we were so close to the other diners that we could have eaten off their plates. At one point, the diners from the restaurant to the left asked us what we were eating so that they might try it another day!

Three random observations from the past two days:

  • On this trip we have been Uber-ing all over as the area we are staying is not so proximal to the Tube. I have been amazed at the diversity of the drivers; in three days, have been driven by people from Somalia, Romania, Poland, and Pakistan to name a few. The driver from Pakistan and I had a long conversation and he told me how ideal Uber is for him to make a living wage (he now owns his own home and is very “house proud” as they say here) and have the flexibility for his family of three small boys and a wife who is training to be a social worker. He noted that there is no discrimination on Uber (as there might be for more traditional British jobs) as the rides are determined by computer algorithm. So, while I know people feel mixed at times about Uber, I thought this was really interesting.

 

  • I love love love British slang and have my ears pricked up at all times for new words. “Brilliant” for anything good is ubiquitous and known from past trips and my collaborators. New faves include: “lazy bint” (slothful be-yotch), “silly slag” (dumb coarse woman) and “drunk punter” (drunk/bad customer).

 

  • As stated, I am in love with the flat, but I am in hate with the lip on the shower. I cannot stop tripping on it and stubbed my toe so hard, it felt like it was broken. I might be a silly slag with regard to this part of the apartment.

It’s me vs. this lip. Every. Damn. Day.

Cheers for now!

Me and Tasia with her ‘littlest hobo’.

kales@umich.eduPostcards from London 2017- Part II
read more

Postcards from London 2017-Part I

We left for London on Friday night. This trip, it is my older daughter Tasia and I. For me, a week in London at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, as well as meeting with London collaborators on dementia research. For Tasia, a pre-med student, the opportunity to shadow doctors at the National Health Service. On our fourth trip to London, we decided to stay in hip East London to experience a different part of the City. The specific area (Shoreditch/Hackney) has been compared to Brooklyn and the Meatpacking district of NYC. So, pretty different than the places we have stayed before in the West End. Also, having “done” the usual sites (Big Ben, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, etc) on prior trips, we wanted experience something a little more local.

The trip started pretty auspiciously. We had time for a quick snack at PF Changs in the airport and got these promising fortunes.

On the flight, we settled in Delta Economy Comfort with that little bit extra of legroom. However, despite sleep masks and good intentions, neither of us seemed able to doze off for more than 15 minutes at a stretch. Arriving in London at 6:25 AM, we guessed that both of us had had a total of 3 hours of intermittent sleep.

We stumbled thru customs and got in touch with Tasia’s friend and University of Michigan housemate Abby. Abby has been traveling all over Europe this summer and arranged to meet us in London for 2 days. We found a “Hotel Hoppa” bus (the name of which in our sleep-deprived state gave us the giggles as we repeated it to ourselves) to take us to Abby’s hotel. The bus must have stopped at five hotels before we got to Abby’s and we amused ourselves by crabbing to each other about everything and everybody on the bus. Once there, calls were made to the management of the flat where we would be staying. We were dismayed to find we couldn’t get in until 2:30 PM. Now the task was to stay awake, upright, and sane until then.

We dragged our suitcases to the East End where the company offices were and ditched them there. We then headed off to the BOXPARK shopping area of Shoreditch (a popup mall made out of shipping containers) and wandered around. While ordinarily I would have been thrilled by such a jaunt, I found myself tired and completely irritable. Tasia recalls saying at one point,  “Look at that dog!” To which I nonsensically but crabbily replied, “Oh great. Here we go.”

Realizing I had “had it”, I retired to a coffee shop to read email while the girls continued on. We stopped for lunch at Dishoom which we had discovered on the last trip. Dishoom is said to be modeled after the old Irani cafes of Bombay, and has delicious Indian food in a vintage comfortable atmosphere. We sunk into a booth and lunched on Samosas, Ruby chicken (think chicken makhani) and Dishoom’s version of calamari. Feeling slightly better, we realized it was time to go get our suitcases and Uber-ed over to our home for the week.

Sadly, the 2:30 time came and went, and we were still standing outside the building. At this point, I could barely stand up. I tried to sit on my suitcase, and somehow fell over, which cracked the girls up. The building manager saw us and after seeing our paperwork, let us into the lobby to wait. There, to Tasia’s chagrin, I laid down on the couch.

My rest was shortlived as I realized that my phone was dead and I couldn’t reach the flat manager. I found a plug behind a desk and briefly charged my phone to call her. A woman with a baby carriage waiting for the elevator suddenly confronted me “Are you charging your phone? You know, that is electricity we all pay for!”. Dumbfounded and beyond grouchy, I somehow calmly but sarcastically stated “Seriously? I am charging for a few minutes to make an urgent call. But thank you SO much for your concern.” She slunk away and the girls dissolved into laughter. In a Seinfeld George Costanza moment, I realized the only thing that would have made that retort more perfect would have been to bestow a pound on her for the electricity I was using for that minute.

Finally, a woman came down and led us into the flat. Totally worth it. I will let a few pictures tell that story.

Loving the chandeliers.

It only took me an hour to figure out how to turn on the stove.

View of Regent’s Canal from the living room window.

The girls went out for Italian while I headed to the local Tesco for the basics including coffee and single cream (there is no “half and half” in the UK, half cream is hard to find, so I get the same effect by using single cream and watering it down in my coffee). I also purchased a new battery for the smoke detector that was constantly chirping, and was thrilled that I was able to change it myself (usually such tasks are reserved for my engineer husband).

Look at me! Fixing something!

After a shower and some Cheerios, I began to feel a little more normal. I sat on the deck overlooking the bustling street and enjoyed the sunset.

After a wonderful sleep, we woke up on Sunday and headed for the Columbia Road Flower Market, a short walk from the flat. Every Sunday, this street is transformed into a garden of flowers and foliage. Walking toward the market you see people carrying everything from bouquets of roses to giant rubber plants. Of course, I had to buy flowers for the flat.

 

Beautiful bouquets. Crazy bangs due to the cool/humid British weather.

After the Flower Market, we headed to the Geffrye Museum whose stated purpose is to depict the home lives of the “middling classes” in London from 1600 onward. Tasia had found it online and said “Mom, you will totally love this”. While we walked to the Geffrye, we noted weekend “markets” selling everything from paella to hand made clothes everywhere we turned. Once at the Geffrye, it did not disappoint (Tasia knows me so well), with time capsule rooms including my favorite mid-century period.

Art Deco room.

Mid-century room.

Outside, the Geffrye’s gardens (also by time period) were also a delight. I had to laugh at the signs on the lily of the valley that noted not to eat them as they were poisonous. My parents have a ton of those outside their condo in Ann Arbor. Duly noted not to eat.

After the Geffrye, the girls and I went to a smart café called Beagle. I observed to the girls that I was the oldest person in the restaurant—by far. They laughed and then Tasia scanned the place and said “Oh no, there is a grandma over there with a young family”. Haha. Great.

I parted ways with the girls who went on to see some sights since Abby had never been to London. I headed for the meeting at the ExCeL conference center. Located East of the City, ExCeL is monstrous, and it felt like I had to walk a mile to get to the registration. Following that, I loaded up my slides in the speaker’s ready room and headed off to where I would give my talk.

A quick stop in the bathroom confirmed my worries that the cool but somehow humid British weather was funking up my bangs even worse, but there was little I could do about that. I found that the meeting room was much bigger than expected, holding several hundred people. I quickly adjusted my expectations, noting that I would be talking to a crowd rather than the handful I expected in the late afternoon on a Sunday.

Once the bangs start to curl up, there is nothing I can do but smile.

Sitting in on the featured talks right before ours. Cavernous room holding hundreds of people.

The talk went fine and people were very interested in our DICE Approach and WeCareAdvisor tool. As I left the room, people continued to ask me questions, which was very gratifying. Presentation #1 down and 2 more to go later this week!

I headed back to the flat, meeting Abby and Tasia. We walked over to Broadway Market, an East London street running from London Fields to the Regent’s Canal in Hackney that is full of shops and restaurants. We chose Bella Ditta, a lively Italian place and had delicious pasta and shared a scrumptious dessert (forget the name but some kind of chocolate cream-puffy thing).

Off to bed to start the rest of the week! More updates to come. Moral of the story so far: when you hit the wall, push through because what is on the other side is pretty great.

kales@umich.eduPostcards from London 2017-Part I
read more

Watching the nest

The return of a mother robin

 

This spring I was thrilled to have a robin return to the nest on our porch to lay her eggs. I had left the nest there with the hopes of this happening. The nest sits atop an IKEA mirror cabinet and is afforded protection from the elements by virtue of being under our overhang. I was so excited about the creation of the nest last year that my husband installed a little wireless camera so I could watch the whole process unfold. Robin voyeur. Therefore, when I saw robin mom #2 (I would love it if it was the same robin mom as last year, but even I have to acknowledge this may be unlikely) start remodeling the nest, my first instinct was to turn the camera back on and watch from my home office computer.

 

Soon, we had 4 beautiful light blue eggs.

Gorgeous blue eggs.

 

A week or so later, two somewhat homely birds suddenly emerged and mom and dad robin took turns literally feeding them all day.

 

A day or so later, #3 baby finally hatched. I kept looking and only seeing three babies, and kept thinking that maybe this was the limitations of my camera and that somehow #4 was just never in view.

About 10 days after the first births, baby #1 was gone. Baby #2 soon followed. Each would get in and out of the nest a bunch of times, testing the waters (by sitting next to the nest) before flying away for the first time.

Baby #3 hung out a few days longer, befitting his third child status. I grew pretty attached to him and one day walked up and started talking to him as he was in the testing position next to nest. Suddenly, he flew out of the nest right in front of my face. I involuntarily let out a blood curdling scream which brought the mother robin from out of nowhere to protect her progeny. They flew away together to the wooded area of our yard.

Baby #3 getting ready to leave the nest, a day or so before my up close and personal meeting with him.

Recovering my wits, I went in to look at the empty nest from my computer. There it was. Egg #4. Never hatched. I felt kind of sad, but a part of me also chalked it up to nature. This is what happens sometimes, And mom needs to move on and take care of the three that hatched. It’s her job.

The one that didn’t hatch.

The parallels to my own motherhood were not lost on me. Thoughts of my miscarriage 13 years ago as I looked at egg #4 and the robin that would never be.

But other thoughts soon followed.  About how in the robin mom world, babies turn into teenagers in 10 days, and mom has to quickly transition from spending all day feeding them as babies to letting them fly which is literally a leap of faith.

No doubt I am not as good at this as robin mom.  I remember when my kids were little and I felt like every day was testing my mettle, older relatives and friends would say things like “just wait, you think this is hard? Wait till they are teenagers!” or “little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems.” Of course, this was never as helpful as these folks thought it was in telling me these “pearls of wisdom”, but I can’t say it isn’t totally true.

The teenage years of mothering are tough. Even the terrible twos are balanced by lots of snuggles and “I love yous”. Teenage years not so much.

And yet, it is probably the time when your kids may need you the most. A time when feeling as unloved and unappreciated as you do at times, you have to keep going. Watching them like the robin mom as they test the waters and get ready to fly, and helping to protect them from people and things that might be threats (even inadvertent ones like my talking to robin#3).

And so, I will keep on watching, close but not too close. And waiting to jump in in case I am needed. And snuggling my dogs for those times when the hugs from a teenager are few and far between.

 

 

 

 

 

 

kales@umich.eduWatching the nest
read more

Beyond Valentines: Lessons from my relationship heroes

 

Today is Valentine’s Day: a day of hearts, flowers, chocolate and the hope for love. In our family, Valentine’s Day was always also a family holiday, where my mom gave each kid their own little gift. One special gift I recall my mom giving to me on Valentine’s Day when I was about 10 was the book “The Secret Garden” with an inscription about how much she loved me. So I grew up loving Valentine’s Day because I felt so cherished.

By the time I got to high school, Valentine’s Day had upped the ante. Some club in our high school had a fundraiser where they sold carnations that people could give to each other: white for a friend, pink for someone you were interested in, and red for someone you loved. Tired of getting all white flowers one year and seeing the cool girls walking around with bouquets in a symphony of pink and red, my friends and I decided to get crafty and give each other the pink and red ones, “signed” by the boys from other schools we were interested in (the boys really existed, but clearly were not clued into Hershey High School’s carnation of love system). I cherish that memory because it demonstrates our ingenuity and a sort of “Galentine’s Day” solidarity before that was a thing.

My friends Jocelyn and Chantal and I did Galentine’s Day without knowing it.

As an adult, Valentine’s Day continues to be a family holiday for us. I plan to give each of my kids a little something today. But alas, my husband is away on a work trip this week, so in a sense, I find myself in the carnation situation again. After almost 25 years together, it is ok, because our love is more than hearts, flowers and chocolate (although Pat if you are reading this, flowers would be nice. They do have phones and the internet in Minnesota).

It gets me thinking about marriage and how to get it to last, it has to be more than the Valentine’s Day stuff which while heady and exciting, will not get you through the hard times. And in any marriage, there are hard times. So for Valentine’s Day, I thought I would ask five couples who are my “relationship heroes”, people who have great loving relationships after many years, how they do it. What I love about their answers is that, while each is a bit different, you will find common themes embedded.

Dr. Ling and Betty Tan: The Tans are ethnic Chinese who emigrated from Indonesia in the 1960’s to the US. The Tans have been married for 56 years, years that included Ling’s stellar success as a physician and Fulbright Scholar in his 70’s as well as the tragic loss of their beloved son Bobby 25 years ago. Through it all, the Tans have retained their love, faith, compassion and common interests (they are avid ballroom dancers). They are my relationship goals for their easygoing presence with each other as well as everyone they meet.

Helen: Dr. Tan, I am writing a blog post about beyond Valentine’s Day. Any thoughts about how you and Betty have sustained marriage through life’s ups and downs?

Ling:  Helen, this is a question that’s not too easy to answer. I guess most of it just happens naturally or perhaps instinctually. But like in all enduring relationships, a good compromise is necessary, where the process of give and take, or push and pull consistently apply. Certainly love and patience help quite a bit. To be respectful to one another, show loving kindness and thoughtfulness, generosity and gratefulness, and have the capacity to forgive are all important ingredients to a sustained marriage.

Helen: One more question, any wisdom on handling fights?

Ling:  As a husband I always follow the two rules: Rule #1: The wife is always right.  Rule #2: When in doubt, quickly go back to Rule #1.  As a wife, you always allow the husband to have the last words, which are “Yes dear”.  Whatever the fight was about, always make up before sleep.

Ling and Betty on their wedding day 56 years ago and today.

Drs. Tony and Joyce Kales: Full disclosure. These are my parents. I have written about them quite a bit, but in a nutshell, they were famous psychiatrist-researchers who had three wonderful and fantastic (especially the middle one) children. Their ups and downs included many career successes as well as some personal losses including the premature deaths of each of their brothers. They share a faith, with Joyce having become Greek Orthodox later in their marriage, and a passion for all things family, and have been married for 55 years. They are my relationship goals for their steady commitment to family.

Helen:  I am writing a blog post about beyond Valentine’s Day. Any thoughts about how you and Dad have sustained marriage through life’s ups and downs?

Joyce:  We believe in perseverance (stick with what you know is right), love (of the type described by St. Paul) and hope (this too will pass). We pray together. We try not to dwell on problems, but on solutions as in “don’t complain about the darkness, but light a candle instead”.

Helen: One more question, any wisdom on handling fights?

Tony:  When you are really angry, you start not to think clearly. As Dick Vitale used to say during basketball games, that is when you “need to take a T.O. (time out) baby!!

Tony and Joyce surrounded by their kids and grandkids.

Lynn and Tim Holland: Lynn was my daughter Tasia’s preschool teacher from when she was a baby to when she was in kindergarten. As such, Lynn became a friend and part of the family as did her wonderful husband Tim. Earlier in their marriage, the Hollands sustained tough times with the help of counseling and stayed together and have now been married 36 years. They are my relationship goals for a couple who are truly best friends and enjoy each day together in wonder and laughter.

Helen:  Lynn, I am writing a blog post about beyond Valentine’s Day. Any thoughts about how you and Tim have sustained marriage through life’s ups and downs?

Lynn: Haha. We are arguing about what to say!! So, having a sense of humor and being kind to each other. Turning towards the other person. Tim says putting each other first and gratitude. We also spent a lot of time and money on therapy. Couples and individual. For when you hit those speed bumps of life.

Helen: One more question, any wisdom on handling fights?

Lynn:  We always say, fight fair and fight in the present. Don’t dredge up the past.

Lynn and Tim, living their dream on a daily basis.

Karen and Angelo Ialacci: Karen is my cousin and she and Angelo have become the hub of my generation of my big fat Greek family (Angelo has his own big fat Italian family, so he gets it). They are in business together, running numerous pizza franchises. They have also weathered the illnesses and surgeries of their children, always together, always with grace and humor. They have been married for 30 years and are my relationship goals for a couple who is always keeping each other laughing and retaining a positive outlook despite whatever curveballs life throws at them.

Helen:  Karen, I am writing a blog post about beyond Valentine’s Day. Any thoughts about how you and Angelo have sustained marriage through life’s ups and downs?

Karen: We believe marriage is a forever thing. You don’t enter into marriage thinking it may not work out. It’s important to choose the right person. We definitely laugh a lot and give each other the space we need. That’s kind of hard because we are together 24/7, but we enjoy each other’s company.

Helen: One more question, any wisdom on handling fights?

Karen: I let Angelo win! LOL. Or at least he thinks he’s does. If we are in a real heated argument, we each go to a corner to cool off and meet back and talk, but we always get through it.

Karen and Angelo, partners in pizza and in life.

Lauren and Rich Grubb: Rich was in my high school class (Hershey High Trojans ’83!) and married Lauren who is the younger sister of another classmate. I became reacquainted with Lauren on Facebook where I have grown to greatly admire her approach to life and her marriage to Rich, which is one of the most solid around. Notably, Lauren sustained a traumatic brain injury four years ago in a car accident and lives daily with the consequences including severe migraines and memory loss. After 30 years of marriage, she and Rich continue to create a beautiful life with their three daughters, and are my relationship goals for their continued devotion to each other and their commitment to celebrating the small moments each day. As you will see in her responses below, despite her TBI, Lauren is also one of the most eloquent writers I know.

Helen:  Lauren, I am writing a blog post about beyond Valentine’s Day. Any thoughts about how you and Rich have sustained marriage through life’s ups and downs?

Lauren: I think when you love someone, you find a way to work through the highs and lows. In sickness and in health – these wedding vows have been our test of our marriage these last four years. The easier thing for sure would be to just give up. So many times I say to Rich, just go, be free of all of this with me, but he always says in return “um ya no, that’s not an option, next?”…which makes me feel special despite my deficiencies.

Communication has always been key for us. We have a rule that if something is bothering us we talk about as soon as we can.

Our faith too motivates us to not give up and is our foundation that we built our marriage on.

Taking time to make US the priority, by having date nights, giving little surprises, get aways, walks, slipping uplifting notes in lunches, inspirational quotes or just a thank you or an I love you by text in the middle of the day can recharge the mundane. These are all essential ingredients to our marriage. The unexpected spontaneous moments keep life fun too. Not everything needs to be planned.

Hugs. Hugs and more hugs. Never enough hugs. A hug is saying ‘hey I got you and I’m not going to let you go at it alone’. We are a team and team’s only are a team if we all are working towards the same goal.

Our goal is to be together as long as life allows. I definitely married my best friend. He makes me laugh with his silly moments. I feel fortunate but marriage is still not easy. But we aren’t promised easy, or even happiness, and knowing that makes the work that goes into a strong marriage worth it all in the end despite the tough trials that come with this journey.

Helen: One more question, any wisdom on handling fights?

Lauren: Life is about choices. Marriage is about choices. Compromising is a way to agree on decisions.

Lauren and Rich, then (1985) and now

So there you have it. Enjoy the flowers, chocolates and hearts today. But to get beyond Valentine’s Day, consider the advice of these relationship heroes.

kales@umich.eduBeyond Valentines: Lessons from my relationship heroes
read more