Happy Mother’s Day

This Mother’s Day, I thought it might be a bit  hackneyed to honor two women whose consistent and genuine goodness continues to amaze me. And since I’m always looking for an excuse to use the word “hackneyed,” honoring them is just what I’m going to do. My mom, Floralee, has taught me that service is nothing more than inviting another person to join your celebration. After my parents’ divorce, my dad married my stepmom, Mary, who has taught me the meaning of loyalty and friendship.

Floralee Shumway

HawaiiMy mom raised five children in a two bedroom condo. Even though we knew we weren’t exactly well off, we never felt like we had too little to share. My mom invited a different family to dinner every Sunday. She never baked just one loaf of bread or a solitary pie. Rather, she descended upon friends and neighbors with baked goods she mass produced the way Henry Ford did Model Ts. But my mom’s products came in a lot more shapes and colors. Every pie crust was painted with a picture of the fruit contained within. If it was a holiday pumpkin pie, it was topped with a chocolate poinsettia molded from red and green chocolate. When an occasion called for a savory dish, my mom brought a cheese ball shaped like an igloo flanked by scores of penguins crafted from carrots and olives. If it was summer, whatever she brought would look like an American flag.

Mash site 2Growing up with my mom, meals were more than just food. They were events. Dinner was an occasion for taste testing competing brands of sodas and tortilla chips and for dry runs before her new recipes went public. Every holiday was accompanied by festively food-colored dishes, which we had a perfect record of eating until the Halloween of the black milk.

Because of the way my mom celebrated the routine, we never noticed how much she sacrificed. For years, my mom cleaned our music teachers’ homes in exchange for our piano and vocal lessons. She brought in extra income by hiring out her clothes ironing services. In all this, she never asked for thanks, and she rarely received it.

Unasked, my mom recently delivered a different dessert every Sunday to the children of a family friend with terminal cancer. From the months before and after the funeral, my mom made it her yearlong goal to provide these children something to be happy about. 564362_10150810181571432_792562310_n (1)

My mom continues teach me that even when things don’t turn out the way you might have liked, you can still celebrate the people you love. For Floralee Shumway, service isn’t a sacrifice to fret over or try to fit into your schedule. Rather, it’s just a way of inviting one more person to join you as you celebrate life with music and rainbow-layered Jell-O.

Life didn’t turn out the way my mom expected, but her love and service never wavered. All my mom ever wanted was to provide an idyllic life for her children. When circumstances made that difficult, she worked as hard as she could and trusted that the rest would be provided. I will forever be grateful for my mom’s example of service: that she gave of what little she had, even when she didn’t know when she would have more.

Mary Shumway

JuliaMarySalinaHouseWhen my dad married Mary, she became an instant friend who joined us in movie marathons and midnight Slurpee runs. She listened and remembered every detail while we talked about school and friends, and she always took our side.

Mary stepped into our family at full-stride, and rather than trying to change us, she joined in the fun. Some of my favorite memories are of Mary giggling along with us as my dad tried to foster some sense of decorum at the dinner table. In fact, my little brother and I used to fight over who got to sit by her during dinner.

Mary was always coming up with fun crafts and outings. I remember her bringing home a box of art supplies and a book on how to make puppets. This led to hours of gluey fun. Mary provided the bread and transportation for countless afternoons of feeding ducks from the paddle boats at Liberty Park.

TylerJuliaMaryStevenThe longer I’ve known Mary, the more I’ve grown to appreciate her. She notices people’s needs and goes out of her way to serve people, even before they know they need help. Mary drove my high school best friend and me on a grueling hunt for the perfect homecoming dresses. She used her connections to have a job waiting for me when I finished my mission. She helped me pick my wardrobe for my first post-mission date. Every time I tell Mary about some new venture, she immediately provides a contact person, a recipe, a vehicle, an outfit, or hair products.

More than anything, Mary is a true friend. She’ll do anything she can to help the people she loves, and she never asks for anything in return. She looks out for what we need, more than just what we want. If we need advice, Mary’s full of wisdom. If we need to have fun, she’ll buy the ice cream or movie tickets. 2013-05-12

Because I’m apparently pretty self-absorbed, it only recently occurred to me how differently her 30s must have turned out for Mary than she’d expected. When she married my dad she also took on five kids who were a bit of a mess. My dad had been cooking layers of crusty Hamburger Helper—one on top of the other—in what I can only assume was his only pan, but Mary calmly swooped in and put our family back on its tracks. During the first year she and my dad were together, Mary calmly handled my allergy attacks, my little brother’s string of upholstery-destroying bloody noses, my throwing up all over her car and everyone else’s dressiest clothes after she took us to see The Nutcracker, and lots and lots of very vocal—and sometimes quite violent—sibling rivalry. On top of her creating order out of our family chaos, I’ll always be grateful Mary also made sure that my hair was combed every day and that I looked reasonably presentable. Including once when I fell out of a tree: Mary was the one who went out and bought me a new outfit so I could leave the hospital in style.

I am deeply grateful that Mary had the faith to accept unforeseen circumstances and that her capacity to love was great enough to make five rowdy kids a part of her family.

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Festive Nostalgia

If you’d ever had Thanksgiving dinner with my grandpa, you would have been treated the following story he learned when he was in Egypt during WWII:

Once upon a time, a rich man’s cook was preparing a fine turkey feast for his master and his friends. Just as the turkey was ready, the cook’s long lost brother showed up at the kitchen door, starving and begging for food. Unable to turn his brother away hungry, the cook tore a leg off one of the cooked turkeys and gave it to his brother.

When the cook brought the turkey to his master, the master asked angrily why the turkey only had one leg. The cook  looked confused and asked his master how such a wise man could be unaware that all the turkeys in this country had only one leg.

The master thought this quite the novelty and was excited to present the one legged foul to his friends. But when the master told his friends how all the country’s turkeys had only one leg, they laughed him to scorn.

At that, he got all up in a tizzy, that is to say, a murderous rage, and stormed the kitchen to demand an explanation from the cook. The cook acted puzzled and promised to prove to the master that all the turkeys in his flock had only one leg.

A wild turkey standing around on one leg like a flamingo. Graceful, right?

So, the next day, the cook took the master to his flock of turkeys and pointed at them all in the field, standing on one leg. The master had had enough of the cook’s antics. He waved his arms at the birds and shouted, “Shoo! Shoo!” and the birds were all startled and put down their other leg.

“See!” The master cried. “You can’t trick me so easily! As soon as they’re startled, they put down their other leg!”

The cook still seemed confused and asked his master, “Or course they do! But why didn’t you do that with the bird on the table?”

And, to close, a photo of my grandpa and me with his fiber optic Christmas tree. I set it up one day when we were about to head out some place. I said we may want to turn it off before leaving, but he wanted to keep the “Spirit of Christmas” going in his house. So we left it on.

Rosh Hashanah – September 28-30

A very belated Shana Tova, everyone! So, for Jews, there are four new years. One is for the trees, one is for the harvest, one is for the planet, and one is for cattle.

I celebrated Rosh Hashanah – the birthday of creation of the planet – with my first expedition into Jewish Orthodoxy. My roommate Lauren and I spent Erev Rosh Hashanah at the UMN Chabad house, which is probably the most welcoming place around.

And, for my comfort zone’s sake, I was grateful everyone was so welcoming because I became instantly aware that was a very different group from who I’d been brushing shoulders with in Reformed and Conservative circles. Beards, for instance. Lots of them. And side burns. Several people had the tzitzit going on all the time, and, hey, mysticism is very In.

Once the service got going, though, I got pushed even more out of both my comfort zone and the main service by way of a gender segregating partition down the middle of the room. I’d imagine this partition’s presence might be part of why the fella’s side was better attended than the girls’ side, and unfortunately it impacted the quality of girls’ side services. For one, the rabbi hangs out mainly on the dude side, and that’s where the singing gets most raucous. I wasn’t even sure, at first, if I was allowed to sing along or read aloud at first because the girl’s side was so much more reserved. But, hey, to start the evening, the girls’ side got to light candles, led by the Rabbi’s wife Chavi. I’ll need to ask what exactly that meant, but it was lovely. I don’t know why, but I really love candles.

Honey, apples, and challah

Fast forward to dinner. Judaism is all about symbolism, and my favorite bit of symbolism is that sugar signifies sweetness in new ventures. At Bar Mitavahs and before couples get married, you toss candy at them. In Church! At Rosh Hashanah, you dip apples in honey! Try it guys! Cheaper AND, I’d posit,  more delicious than caramel. Also, you get to dip the challah bread in honey, which I was told isn’t a year round thing.

Gefilte fish, which is basically fish meat loaf

Also: gefilte fish. It’s poached and minced fish all crammed back together, and I’d recommend all you carnivores get on board.

Oh, and then there was the moment when I came out as a Mormon. One of the girls asked where I’m from (Utah, dude), and she responded with, “Oh wow. Is that kind of awkward since aren’t there a lot of Mormons there?” My cover was blown, so I reveled in it by responding, “Well, actually it’s not awkward at all because” dramatic whisper, “I am a Mormon.” She got a really horrified look that I assume was because  she thought she’d offended me. Later we got in a talk about Christian versus Jewish holidays (Jews have it way better, I think; except for the whole not-getting-them-off-work thing, which has to blow), and she said she’d always been jealous of Christian holidays, like making ginger bread houses at Christmas. I wanted to let her know that gingerbread houses are pretty secular, since Jesus didn’t live in one, but I thought better of it.

Okay, so day two of Rosh Hashanah, I was accompanied by Joe. I hadn’t been able to observe, yet, if it was appropriate for males and females to make physical contact here. So, we began the evening with a science experiment: he was to warmly extend his hand to the rabbi, and then I’d see if the rabbi moved on to shake my hand. We discovered that, no, the rabbi wouldn’t touch females. Right after that I heard a girl ask a male if he shook hands, and I decided that would be my appropriate question upon introduction, and so far it has gone well.

Okay, so the service was quite similar to the previous night, but quicker. Also, as a plus, there were more girls, and so our side was more vocal, which made it fun. This time, at dinner, I came out as a Mormon more quickly. There were tons more people in attendance, and so answering questions about being a Mormon felt less like I was talking to the whole room.

Some kids had met Mormons before, though, so we bounced back and forth about having our own planets and not using technology on Holy Days and visiting the Garden of Eden in Missouri and Woody Allen and South Park Musicals and pogroms and Jell-O and gefilte fish and Pioneers and how, hey, both orthodox kids and recently returned missionaries don’t know how to deal with the opposite sex! What I learned from this conversation is that every religion is weird and externally irrational. But, having a personal relationship with my Creator is something I wouldn’t trade for anything. Even being sorta normal. This is how I imagine Trekkies feel.

Also, Jews sing at and pound their fists on the table! Where’d we Christians go wrong with misplaced reverence?

A shofar

Okay, okay, okay, so I was really excited about day services. I worked through them on Day 1, but Day 2, I got in super early so I’d be able to take off for the Shofar. Man, Rosh Hashanah day services are nearly Mormon-length (3 hours), but minus any breaks. Basically, the chazzan (cantor) is singing prayers the whole time, sometimes aloud with us joining him, and sometimes to quietly. When the chazzan is praying silently, Rabbi Yitzi would squeeze in stories. But with all the necessary prayers, it took like an hour and a half for him to get out a story that’d take about 5 minutes without interruption. But in the end it was a great story! Also, occasionally, he’d sound the shofar (ram’s horn). Also interesting: the mitzvah on Rosh Hashanah isn’t to blow it but to hear it. One HUNDRED TIMES! That takes a while.

Also, my favorite things about Rosh Hashanah is the bowing. So, apparently back in temple days, Jews would go bowing in the temple, all the way to the ground, every day. But, since early Judaism was so temple-centric, Judaism since the destruction of the second temple of Solomon has had to adapt a lot. Anyway, the bowing is pretty much gone nowadays. EXCEPT on Rosh Hashanah, which is such a holy day that it’s almost like being in the temple. So we got down on all fours and bowed our heads to the ground to God. Bowing jives with me because of its implication of absolute vulnerability and obeisance. And, since Rosh Hashanah is when you’re supposed to be thinking all about what you’ve done this year, and God is writing in his book everything that he plans to do with us over the next year, it seemed fitting. He’s making the plan, and we’re sort of responding, Hey, I’ll take it. Gladly. Thanks for creating me!

Stay Tuned for: Yom Kippur!