9 Lessons I’ve learned from my Mother since her Death

9 Lessons I’ve learned from my Mother since her Death

Over the past year, I have shared over 25 posts with you all and for whatever reason, you have stuck with me! When I started this blog, my greatest hope was that people would be able to relate to my family’s experience with cancer and grief, and to keep my mother’s spirit alive. Maybe it would help someone get through a hard day. I never could have predicted how much writing and sharing these stories would help me heal as well.  At times, I have worried about sharing too much or being perceived as someone who feels her experiences are superior or more worthy than others’. But that has also been part of the challenge: finding the confidence to share my voice and staying true to who I know I am, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

In honor of Me and my Moleskine’s first birthday, I want to share a list of lessons from my mom that I’ve been compiling over the past year. She taught me a lot in eighteen years but these are the lessons that needed more time to ripen and mature in my mind, the ones that have taken nearly four years for me to fully comprehend. I never stop learning from her example. Although her death has changed the dimensions of our relationship, it has not broken the bond that ties us together. My relationship with my mother continues to evolve each day as I gain a better understanding of what it means to be a woman and how to make my way in this world.

1) Appreciate your body and what it can do for you: One of the cruelest aspects of watching someone struggle with a terminal illness is watching their body fail them over and over again. As a result, I have learned to never take my body for granted and to take advantage of this period of life when I can run, skip, jump, swim, and dance as freely as I want. This has changed my body image and the way I perceive exercise. It is a BLESSING to be able to go on this run today, to have my legs carry me as far as they can, to breathe and sweat hard. It is a physical and mental challenge to see what I am capable of. One day, you will not be able to do all these things.

2) Value your voice and take the time to find it: This lesson has been the major theme of my life this year and my mom’s encouragement to speak up and find what makes me happy has been a constant reminder that it is okay to have different dreams than your peers. Some people are lucky enough to find their calling early but the rest of us need time to wonder and wander before we find ours. Writing about my experiences and discovering new countries and cultures have helped me figure out what my priorities are in life and what I want to accomplish.

3) Don’t live for the weekends: This is something my mom used to repeat over and over to me in high school at a time when I really hated school (who doesn’t loath junior year?). Although I think I did take this message to heart back then, there are certainly times when we slip into counting the days until something instead of appreciating where we are in the moment. But there is so much life that unfolds between the weekends and if you’re just holding on for the weekend, you’re missing out on so much living! Whenever I am having a particularly stressful week, her voice always pops into my head reminding me of this.

4) Kindness is a life skill: People will hurt you in this life, be it intentional or accidental. But time and time again, I have learned that the only way to move forward is to treat them with the kind of humanity that we all deserve. When you hold on to the anger or the pain, you are the one losing out. The power of a kind gesture has also been particularly evident while I travel to countries where I sometimes barely speak the language. Whether it’s a smile, holding the door open for someone, offering a helping hand to your host, or assisting other lost travelers, sometimes being kind is the only way you can connect with people on the road. Be kind for the sake of being kind and don’t expect anything in return.

5) Never underestimate how important your friends are:  There was a time when my mom was my greatest confidant, the person who understood me better than I understood myself, and who I sought out for all emotional support and advice. As a result, learning how to take care of my own emotional needs as well as how to reach out to others for help was one of the greatest challenges after losing her. But I think my mom knew this would be the case, as one of the last pieces of advice she was able to give me was to lean on my friends and that there were so many people who would be there to love and take care of me if I just let them. Still, it took me a while to heed her advice, preferring to stand alone to fight my own battles. Until this year. This year I have learned that there are friends who will literally tuck you into bed after a breakup, go out of their way to support you in all your endeavors, won’t judge you when you make decisions they already know are not the right ones, let you crash on their couch, and make the effort to be a part of your life when you move half way across the world. Never have I appreciated my friends’ love and support more than I do now. If you don’t have these kinds of friends, they are out there. You just haven’t found them yet.

6) There won’t always be an explanation for why something happens; accept it and move forward: This one is courtesy of my brother but holds true for me as well. My mom knew better than anyone else that sometimes life doesn’t provide you with a reason for why something happens. She actively cultivated this balance of being at peace with the life she had and making the most of each day, in spite of living with a terminal illness. You can drive yourself crazy questioning and searching for the answers but it won’t always change the outcome or bring you closure. Find meaning in your experience but do not dwell on the things that can’t be changed. This is a life-long process.

7) Fight like hell to make the world a better, happier place:  You may not be able to change life’s course for you or your family but you can make a difference for other people facing whatever challenges or injustices in the world that anger you. My mom was a microbiologist who knew that the research she and her colleagues were working on would never come to fruition in time to save her life. But she believed in science and dedicated her time to producing research that would hopefully impact future generations. When it came to discussing her cancer with her children, she found this incredible strength to put her discouraging prognosis into perspective in order to encourage us to not be bitter and to empower us to use our experience to help others, even if it seems like what you have to offer is too small to make a difference.

8) Love never dies:  This lesson is the most important. It has seen me through a lot of hard days and I would never be where I am today without knowing it. Its premise is simple: I believe in her love. I believe that it can carry me through anything and that I will always be connected to her because of it. I believe that it will continue to grow and nurture me as she did for so many years. Death has not change her love’s strength.

9) Don’t pop your zits. Just don’t do it.

So here’s to a year of blogging and growing up along the way! As always, thanks for reading ❤

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How to throw a Dinner Party in an Hour: a Lesson in French Cooking

How to throw a Dinner Party in an Hour: a Lesson in French Cooking

I am not, and never will be, a five-star chef. Nor do I see myself as a food writer. That being said, food is one of the pillars of French culture and, therefore, it seems appropriate, no, mandatory, to share one of the many cooking experiences I’ve had during my six months living here. The French way of eating isn’t exactly new to me. I grew up eating a very Mediterranean diet with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, fish and other lean proteins. Growing up,  my brother and I never really ate the “kid foods” that America succeeded in mass-producing and that unfortunately, can now be found on the shelves of French supermarkets as well. I don’t think a bag of Goldfish ever crossed the threshold of our home, my father only recently “discovered” the existence of frozen pizzas as a empty-nesting single father, and Lunchables were a treat reserved for the last day of school. And I have a distinct memory of being made fun of in third grade when I shared with my class that my favorite food was steamed eggplant and homemade split pea soup. Although I suspect that had more to do with the fact that half of my classmates had no idea what kind of vegetable that is and the other sounds like a bodily fluid. I got over it.

Despite my eclectic taste in food at a young age, I have always hated cooking. Actually, it was more the idea of it that I hated because I never really gave it a shot. I was content watching my parents work their magic in the kitchen. Both are very good cooks but now that she is no longer here to whip up her recipes from scratch, I look back on her cooking with a special fondness. Soups of all colors and a variety of mixtures, stir frys, quiches, casseroles, ratatouille, I could keep going. And until returning to France in September, these flavors and smells had been missing from my life for over three years. The dishes my family makes over here taste like memories of Saturday afternoons spent doing my homework at the kitchen table while my mom prepared dinner.

As the months have progressed, I’ve put my keen observational skills to use and made an effort to note how to create these magnificent dishes. I’ve asked questions about the process as well as the techniques. But what has surprised me the most in my six-month study is the casual attitude yet sincere dedication that French culture has toward cooking. While watching my uncle prepare what was to be the most life-changing chicken curry I’ve ever eaten, I asked him how he got to be such a good cook. He laughed, saying he just “throws things together,” a concept that is completely beyond my skill at this point. When my American cousin came to visit and made a similar remark over a pot-au-feu, the comment was also brushed off. Again and again, I have witnessed family members and friends downplay their ability to create a delicious five-course meal, some including delicacies such as a heavenly foie gras and a chocolate mousse that just melts in your mouth. How do these people not realize how amazingly good the food that they’re making is, I kept asking myself. The fact is that they do not identify themselves as being good cooks. They just see a need to create a wholesome, delicious meal that will feed plenty and they do just that. In America, I think those of us who are not naturally inclined to learn how to cook tend to view it as a skill than is endowed upon others rather than something that anyone can learn to do. You might not be a five-star chef (and I am not trying to take away from those who are incredibly talented in the kitchen), but you can still eat well and become knowledgeable in the kitchen.

I didn’t understand this self-denial of an appreciated and admired skill until last week when my family invited some friends over for dinner on the spur of the moment. In participating in this race against the clock to create a tasty and presentable meal, I think I finally understand this difference in thinking about cooking. So, here is a breakdown of what you need to put together a French dinner party in an hour and fifteen minutes:

First, put a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator to chill. If this is not done right away and you end up serving lukewarm champagne, all is lost before you’ve even touched a pot. I’m not actually sure if this is so much a part of French culture as much as just a family standard. But you’ve been warned; if you serve warm champagne to a Barbier, they’ll start bringing their own chilled champagne to your party.

Secondly, you’ll need to be as busy as possible the day of said party. You have other things to do than spend the entire day in the kitchen slaving over a meal. There is nothing like repeatedly putting yourself in this position to put you off cooking entirely. To avoid such drudgery, pick dishes that you know you are good at making and that you could practically prepare in your sleep. Keep in mind that dinner parties are about the comradery and sharing food with other people, so who cares how fancy the dish is or how long it took you to make it.

Secondly, make sure you have all hands on deck. Recruit all members of the household to participate in the mad rush of peeling and chopping vegetables, greasing pans, boiling water, etc. It doesn’t matter if those among you have never peeled a turnip or don’t know the proper technique for slicing a pear. The way you learn these things is by doing them. As long as they’re not slicing off their finger, put them to work. Take care of all peeling/chopping/dicing/washing of ingredients at the start so that everything is ready to be thrown in when needed.

Next, carefully evaluate what needs to be put in the oven first and which dishes can go in together, if possible. Maximizing how you use your oven is essential for throwing together a last minute dinner party. Prepare each dish in assembly line fashion (this should be mad easier by the fact that all your ingredients are all ready to go) and delight in the intricate dance of three people moving around a small space, passing platters to and from the oven. If you are said vegetable peeler who just barely walked away with all her fingers, this may be your cue to leave the vicinity and let the more experienced jugglers handle the rest. Besides, you only have thirty minutes left until your guests arrive so you’re in charge of setting the table.

If you didn’t stop by your fromagier for cheese, make sure you have a delicious dessert. If you don’t have time to make a dessert, take the time to prepare a killer cheese platter. Either or may serve as the last course of a meal, especially for a last-minute dinner invitation. No one will ask any questions.

Once the last dish is simmering, the table is set, and all disputes have been settled, it’s time to get dressed. You have ten minutes to choose something to wear and do your hair and makeup, but that’s okay because aren’t the best outfits the ones you don’t have that much time to think about?

Break out the *perfectly chilled* champagne. This is mandatory.

 

french cuisine
Roast beef with vegetables.

 

 

french cuisine 2
Sliced and baked rosemary potatoes.

 

 

french cuisine 3
Apple and pear cinnamon crumble.