Sunday, May 17, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad

I have been trying to write this blog and the universe is either saying don't do it or I am simply having trouble. Several months ago my "e"key fell off and I have been struggling to hit the right spot in the vacant key spot to iterate an "e". E is the most common letter in writing so you can gauge my level of frustration. So today because I am out of home most of this week and next week I surrendered my computer to the geek squad to repair the errant key. I tried to log-in on my work computer and ran into the google/blogspot morass of wonder. So after a good bit of time I am on! Thank you!

Last year at this time my Dad escaped from the hospital after wrestling with his a-fib issues. We all held our breath and wanted his health to return. Things didn't improve much and he was scheduled for a trip to the Cleveland Clinic to have the medical cognoscenti scrutinized and analyze and strategize. In the middle of all of this was the Henry vacation. Twenty plus years of family ecstasy in a gorgeous location. Needless to say we were on pins and needles over whether Dad was going to make it. We needn't have worried because he made it in typical FC Henry style. All of the medical trials and tribulations were a non-issue for the week - he was here to have fun and be with the people he loves and those who love him back to the nth degree. He reigned over the week, helping with the cooking, hanging out and giving advice and comfort to the enemy (men's side of the table) in the nightly game of slip a**. We went to a beach bums ballgame, savored meals, cornhole cocktail hour and the general joy of four generations playing, laughing and celebrating. It was awesome. Spending this time with Mom and Dad and the rest of the family is a soulful time for me. I connect. I breathe in these people of my blood and choice who are dear beyond measure. This time always helps me get my groove back. I love watching Mom and Dad's reactions to this time. Mom exults in being in the middle of all of this and her laughter and sidling up to be with someone working in the kitchen or gathering laundry to add to a load speaks her love of being in the middle of all the brouhaha and chaos. Dad loves this as well but he seems more to soak it all in and you can see the happiness on his face as he reflects on his and mom's success in creating a strong supportive family. He is far more introspective about all of this but his eyes shine in delight when Gabe strolls over to him to show him a treasure from the yard or look up at him with a big grin. Dad looks at each of us and considers the person and enjoys their happiness reflected through the filter of their personality and it generates many a chuckle for him.

It's always been my goal to be like my Dad. Like Mom, he was one of my first role models. I saw his high standards and desire to do the right thing. His compassion for others and respect for his patients were characteristics I treasured. Not always his politics but you can't have everything. I most wanted to create in me and my own family the sense of being protected and cared for and being a beacon for the future. I don't know that I'll ever be able to recreate the incredible sense of being safe I felt with him though I've tried and tried.

I love the sense of adventure and fun in him. When we were little he would speed up on hills so we would temporarily leave the gravity behind and our stomachs would roll with fun. It was so exciting. Again Daddy do it again we would cry and he would find another hill. He and Aunt Lil taught us to water ski and when skiing on his own he literally walked on water - ask Uncle Ralph the Tennessee cannonball. He took us snow skiing. We went out with him to gig frogs at night and he found an opportunity to show us frogs mating. We also went canoeing with the Polks to catch snapping turtle for dinner. A grand adventure was learning to drive. He had me drive the family from Toledo to Monroeville to practice. My sisters were in the back seat screaming about their impending death. That was crazy! He took us for airplane rides when he became licensed to fly. We would fly together over the city and fly past our house. On one occasion we looked up to see someone parachuting in front of us. A quick turn of the wheel saved his life and ours.

At one point he decided he would read a classic to us and we gathered together to read Treasure Island. I don't know if we finished but I do remember his voice reading the story of adventure with pirates. He loved history and arranged historical vacations that celebrated American history and allowed us to see our country. We canoed and were taught to fish and even had opportunities to learn to shoot a rifle. The last time Dad canoed he was paired with me. Within 100 feet of the place we put in I managed to get us stuck on a log and ended up tipping us in the water. Dad was so not happy and his grim smile to my apology let me know being wet from a canoe snafu was not in his list of favorite things to do. He took us on some wonderful fishing adventures. One was at a club in Canada he belonged to - Wabe. It was such fun. We had to fly in on a float plane. We fished and laughed and spent a night at Benoit. That cabin had no electricity. We slept in sleeping bags on cots and listened for bear. No bear just the scratching of mice through the night. I didn't know who taught him to fish and asked him. He shared that he wanted to learn so he did and he became an accomplished sport fisherman who fished in some exciting and exotic places. Dad taught his grandchildren fishing and shooting. His two great grandsons have fishing poles sized to them to begin their fishing skills taught by Bobo. He hated golf and had some choice opinions of golfers but for some reason decided to take up golf in retirement and did pretty well. So much like Dad, he shot a hole in one on the Veronica Valley golf course near Leland, MI. Walk on water, hole in one - you get the picture.

Dad loves to laugh. He has some great stories from his life and experiences. When he gets tickled he chuckles and chuckles. He has a circle of friends who are like him larger than life and the source of some great fun and laughter. He laughs over their misadventures and delights in the fun he shared with them over the years. We vacationed in Hawks Michigan on Lake Nettie for a number of years. One summer Dad and Uncle Ralph rented a catamaran for us and a little sailfish. In true Dad style he and Uncle Ralph decided to take the cat out to see if it could be upended and how hard he would have to work to make it happen. In other words were the kids at risk or was the cat safe. Dad and Uncle Ralph took the family dogs out for the sail. Cricket Jones and Mandy Henry were willing sailors and quite at ease. Finally Dad and Uncle Ralph managed to tip the cat. They moved the dogs to the side of the pontoons that were in the air. Seeing this, the kids fired up the outboard and raced to rescue - of course - the dogs. Dad and Uncle Ralph were a little challenged by our priorities but saw the humor in the situation. Dads are invincible, dogs are not. When we visited Mom and Dad in Florida Dad found a video that tickled him endlessly. A bull wandered into an English grocery store and terrorized a shopper. Dad laughed endlessly as he described the image of the man being chased by the bull through the aisles of the store. He would laugh again just thinking about the video.

This post hasn't really documented Dad's professional career, his financial wisdom or his medical accomplishments. It is more some recollections of one special Dad who created a legacy of love and family that he inoculated in his family and the generations. He is modest and doesn't want to be in the spotlight but he takes pride in his accomplishments nonetheless. It's his birthday on the 18th of May. It's a day for celebration, joy and remembrance that I'll honor to the end of my life. My Dad has shared much wisdom with me through the years. I think we could write a book with Dad's pearls. My favorite is this. You will never see a greater return on investment than the effort and love you invest in your family. I believe it from my own life and know this to be true for me and my family. Thank you Dad for being you! Happy Birthday!

Dad grills a superb anything. One of our favorite meals is a 2 1/2 inch thick porterhouse steak grilled and served with a compound butter.

Heat the grill to high and then regulate the flame to about 350 degrees. Season the steak with Montreal seasoning on both sides. Put the huge hulking 2 1/2 inch wonder on the grill. Do not fuss with it but watch it. Let the steak roast for about 20 minutes and then turn it. Continue to cook until a thermometer reads about 135-140 degrees. Remove the steak from the grill to a platter and tent with foil. Let the steak rest for 15 minutes then bone and slice. When everyone comes to vacation we grill 3 of these for our family. Sometimes there is some left over. We slice it thinly for steak salad the next day.

Paprika Parmesan Butter

4 ounces softened butter
1 clove of garlic minced
3/4 tsp. paprika
1 T. chopped parsley
3/4 C grated parmesan cheese (fresh please)

Mix thoroughly. On a sheet of waxed paper shape the butter into a log. Roll the waxed paper around the log and roll until evenly shaped. Chill.

Serve a slice of the compound butter with the warm steak. It oozes over the top and is quite delightful.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

She's my mom!!!!

I am so late with this post. My connection to the internet was out until this morning. Not a good day. You know about Miriam Steven Diamond the newest woman to join the clan. I'd like to let you know my mom Mary Knisely Oechsler Henry. Mom or Mimi as we call her was born in the late twenties. Her dad was a banker and her mom was a legal scretary in a law firm and then secretary of her national music sorority Mu Phi Epsilon. Mimi has an older sister Dorothy Anne or Dorr. Dorr taught nursing for many years before her retirement. My grandma and Aunt Dorr focused on work, cultural activities and gardening. Granpa was a golfer and if he wasn't at work he was probably golfing and enjoying socializing with his friends. Mom was also social and an appreciator of current culture. She had a boatload of friends in high school and was very active on clubs and committees. She was and remains a social person loving dances and parties and a general good time. Grandpa had a favorite story of Mimi and her friend Suzette Halbert. One day they went to the movies and didn't come home. Grandpa went down to the movies and found the girls sitting through yet another movie. I think this captures my Mom's early focus on friends and the joy of being with them. My Mom had a short career working in a soda fountain. A perfect job that could afford her the opportunity to see everyone.

After graduation Mom went to OSU where she joined Aunt Dorr. Aunt Dorr had an invitation to a blind date but couldn't make it so she fixed up Mimi with - you guessed it! - Bobo. Thanks Aunt Dorr for being busy! Mom and Dad married when she was 20 and he was 23 and 14 months later I was born. Mom and Dad wanted to have children while they were young. That started the whirl of a medical practice, having 2 more children, a pediatric residency, a stint in the army and ultimately a move to Toledo.

Mom is a wonderful wife and a fabulous mother, Mimi and Great Mimi. She is a woman who kept a sparkling home despite her children's best efforts. I grew up listening to big band music and my mom's voice singing along. One memorable time involved watching mom singing and dancing with the dog. She tripped, fractured her foot and wore a lovely cast for weeks. It is amazing to watch the looks on people's faces when they heard the source of the injury! In addition to dancing and singing skills my Mom was a seamstress. Her creations included Halloween costumes, party dresses and dance recital finery.

She spent years in the PTA and supporting a huge variety of school efforts. She helped with school projects and field trips and was active in church. My younger sister Sue was in confirmation class and I will discreetly offer that her academic prowess in that class didn't match her efforts at school. It was a source of some chagrin to my parents who really liked the minister and valued his regard. So Mom became a confirmation class mother diligently seeing that Sue showed her acadmic gifts. It was really important to my parents that we do well in school and Mom worked hard to do what she could to support our academic careers. My youngest sister had some grades that were disappointing. Dad and Mom decided to counsel Rebecca about her grades. Rebcca listened to their advice and consternation and then said vehmently , "But Dad, I'm the funniest kid in the class!" Mom doubled her level of academic support. Today my sisters are a college professor and teacher so Mom's efforts didn't go to waste. I will spare you more stories of my sisters' misadventures. Just know that many of our friends would stop in to see us and stay to hang out with Mimi.

I challenged Mom and Dad in a different way. Most of my reblliousness caused more chagrin for Mom and Dad and my teen years with her were not always rewarding for her. In one episode I went shopping and purchased a lovely corset with long elastric tabs to attach stockings. I returned home and mom wanted to see my purchase. Needless to say a quick return was made. On another occasion a dance was scheduled at my high school. There was no one from my school I wanted to go with so I invited a young man from the Junior Council on World Affairs. Mom was horrified that I would do this - you just didn't do that in the 60's. The JCWA was definitely not hooking up on facebook because it was a meeting ground for geeks. She needn't have worried. I think the Sadie Hawkins Dance was enough of a challenge for her. My freshman year in college my parents dropped me off and to my mind beat a hasty retreat. After going home for Thanksgiving, Mom and Dad drove me back to school. Mom helped me drop off my things in my room. When I opened the door and she saw my room in disarray - clothes piled on the bed and desk stacked with stuff it was a bit of a shock. My Dad told me she cried all the way home. I don't recount these stories as a matter of pride but more to inform you dear reader of the challenges my mom faced as a mother. As she could tell you this is the tip of the iceberg.

When I married and became a mom myself my mom became much smarter. She supported me as a person and a mother and loved my children with her wonderful Mimi brand of love. She would help us get settled after moves, help new moms get adjusted and even coming for a short visit would gently say, "Would you humor me and let me run the vacuum?" Mimi washed the lightbulbs! She and Dad had the grandchildren visit for a week at a time and outdid themselves helping guide their family and keep us all going no matter. My Mom would tell me she couldn't bring herself to wash fingerprints off the windows after we left bcause she wanted reminders of those little people she loves so dearly.

Jen would be sad if I didn't mention Mimi's laundry. Among my mom's many achievements in many areas is her laundry. Jen is a particular admirer and continually asks for Mimi's laundry tips bcause her goal is to make her laundry smell like Mimi's. Mimi continually recounts that it is the Tide and the Downy but we know better. It is that little touch of Mimi that makes everything special. It is the way she puts herself in her family that we treasure.

Almost 20 years ago my Dad gave me, Mimi and my two sisters a trip to the Caymans. It was during that time when my sisters laughed when during a conversation my mom turned to me and said OH Annnne that caused us to laugh and remember. For me it was fun to be able to laugh about those times that caused that reaction. I must confess some chagrin that I hadn't always brought her joy and pride; that I couldn't see how hard she was working to be the best mom in the way that she thought was best for me and yes that I saw she loved me but I was resentful that she didn't like me as the free spirit I found myself to be. If I could go back I wouldn't change a thing about my mom. I would however be more patient, more willing to really share with her my deep love and affection for her even in the face of frustration. I would want to make her know in her bones what a wonderful unique person she is and how much I treasure that in her.

So Mom I want you to know that I understand from my own life as a mom and a Granna that the people who are best for you are not the people who are just like you or agree with you. You learn from the people who by their lives cause you to ponder your own life and the person you want to be so you can carry in you the parts of them that you love and want to grow in yourself. Mom you are so much one of those people for me. So you are up there with the people I admire Thomas Merton, Teilhard de Chardin, Annie Sullivan, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Malcom Boyd, Tina Turner, and other authors, writers and heroic people. I hope going forward you will have many opportunities to know what you are to me and my gratitude to you for being who you are. I love you!


Friday, May 8, 2009

A Diamond Trifecta

OOOOweeee! Today is a big day. Miriam Steven Diamond was birthed this morning in Seattle. Josh and Jen got up very early left their two sweet little men to anxiously await their chance to meet their new baby sister. At about 2 I received a happy phone call announcing that everyone is well and healthy. Mira is 7 lbs 14 ounces of cuddly love. She has very light hair and to me looks like a lovely blend of her two big brothers. Later, her two bros stopped by to see her and Mom and Dad. Both held Mira and were captivated by this new member of their family. Gabe and Eli were leaving and Gabe asked his Mom and Dad who would stay to care for Mira. Being cared for is huge for Gabe. Jen and Josh assured him all is right with the world and Mommy and Daddy will be there for her. Jen and Mira return home on Sunday.

Jen and Josh are wonderful parents. Each is incredibly attuned to their children and are firmly grounded in each child's unique personality and perspective. Jen and Josh are so present to their children. They have a saint's patience. For me there is an incredible sweetness watching them. At Eli's birth, he was taken to a bassinette to be cleaned checked and measured. Jen lying on the surgical table urged Josh to be with Eli and soothe him with his voice. I had the wonderful honor of carrying Eli back to Jen's room. To hold this precious being and understand the weight you carry is the weight of generations in one tiny form. Babies carry the past but are our prayer and hope for the future. To place a young one in life is faith and trust despite the world's harsh realities.

I am thinking of my grandmas and grandpas and Josh's grandma Miriam and wish they were here to share in this exciting time. They would feel keenly the presence of the past, present and future in this new life and see themselves going forward. Maybe it's a bit like Our Town. The characters in the play who had passed on observed how oblivious those they left behind were and how caught up in every day humdrum. Those characters wished for their loved ones the ability to sense how precious it all is and how fleeting. The birth of this baby like all births slows things down and calls us to sense anew the meaning of love and commitment to our children and family for the time we have.

I talked to my Mom and Dad several times today. They are thrilled and anticipate holding Mira and seeing the big brothers in August. Our family time will be wonderful. Aunties' and cousins' arms ache to hold the baby. Mimi wanted to know what the recipe for this post might be. She suggested pablum. This recipe is more about people and what it takes to make a family.

Josh gives his presence as a stable ship in both calm and stormy seas - sailed with a wry grin
Jen is heart and fierceness as she stands for her family
Eli is the watcher and visionary seeing opportunity and creating possibility
Gabe is adventure and laughter, life lived with abandon and joy
Miriam is a cuddly sweetness, a touchstone, a connection
Love stirred in gently on some days, shaken on some - they are a family.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Before there was Dancing With the Stars

We are back from a wonderful time in Florida with my Mom and Dad. We ate, we saw sights, we swam, we relaxed, I worked a little but mostly we talked and laughed with my Mom and Dad. Of course a significant amount of time was spent reminiscing! We laughed over stories from Dad about Bill the goat his beloved and pesky childhood pet, Mom's summers at Devil's Lake while she was growing up, trips and happy memories. We talked about Dad's carer and Mom's life wrangling kids and a household. One of the many fun conversations was the one about the Big Apple.

Not the city but the dance. This dance was formed in the African American community out of church. Apparently a church became a club. Three white boys heard the music and saw the dancing and begged to enter. The man who owned the club charged them 25 cents a piece and made them sit in the balcony to watch. The boys were so enraptured by the dance they brought their friends. When the music stopped the boys would throw down nickels to get the music and dancing started all over again. The dancers had to the nickelodean. One of the boys was related to someone who was a choreographer. He described the dance to the choreographer and the dance appeared in several movies.

When Mom and Dad were younger they were part of a review sponsored by the Academy of Medicine. Their role in the review was to be a part of the dance called the Big Apple. They had costumes and Mom wore a big skirt with apples on it. I am sure they were quite the thing that night. I remember seeing the skirt and hearing about the event but I never knew specifically what the dance was. When I returned home I googled Big Apple Dance video. I will tell you it was a dance! I've included the URL so you can see it too. The URL shows the dance from one of the movies where it appeared. (The other movie starred Judy Garland - no comment) You can also see a later version from a club in Seattle in 2006. Just search Big Apple Dance Seattle 2006. Enjoy the view and imagine your Mom and Dad hoofing it. Cheryl and Gilles Little Kim and Derek eat your hearts out!

So the recipe? - Big Applesauce

I learned to make applesauce from watching Mimi whose applesauce is a family legend.

You can make this with any amount of apples you like. The trick is to apply sugar and cinnamon judiciously. You can add more but you cannot take it out.

Use your chosen quantity of firm apples. I wouldn't necessarily use apples rated for sauce because the joy of Mimi's applesauce is in both the taste and the texture. Put the pared quartered apples in a pot. Put water up to 1/3 of the height of the apples. Bring to a simmer and cook the apples until they are tender and chunky but not broken down totally. The goal is to have sauce with yummy chunks throughout. Begin by adding 1/4 C. sugar, stirring gently until the sugar is dissolved in the sauce. Add sugar stirring gently after each addition until the sauce has some sweetness but remains very appley and a bit tart. At the very end add cinnamon to give a hint of spice. Serve cold if you can wait!