I was blessed to receive a surprise invitation to call and speak to Mom by video chat this week. Mom was lively and funny, and we sang together the silly love song from Guys and Dolls. For me, the most important part of the five-minute call was that I was able to tell her that it was my brother Simon’s birthday. (I won’t tell you how old he is (Old man!) because it might embarrass him.)
Mom didn’t understand what I was talking about, but the nurses managed to shout out congratulations in the background. They all remember Simon from his last visit here about two years ago; Simon has a way of connecting with people.
When I told Simon about my serendipitous conversation, he just felt sad. His birthday, by all accounts, was fun, tasty, and filled with love. And yet, the woman who gave birth to him, who used to remind us that her birthing soundtrack had been the Beach Boy’s “Good Vibrations,” and who emphasized how Simon was a lovingly welcomed addition to our family (and her favorite), is unable to acknowledge Simon’s maturing.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving quotes is by Rav Adin Steinsaltz, who passed away in August this year at the age of 83. Rav Steinsaltz recognized that the light of giving thanks is sometimes overshadowed by the “dark side.” He stressed that we should still give thanks, even from a place of sorrow, so as to bolster our ability to “perceive the good.”
“The structure of giving thanks on a regular basis, even in hard times, encourages us to focus on the positive side of life. It does not mean that we forget the dark side, just that we keep a true perspective, giving the positive side its due. Sorrow and anxiety should not extinguish our ability to say ’thank you’ for our blessings, even when they are obscured by pain. Harder times can shake us from complacency and may enhance in us the ability to perceive the good as a gift to be appreciated and acknowledged—in good times and in bad.”
What is there to add to these nuanced thoughts of giving thanks? We have the ability to look at a bleak situation and still find something to be thankful for. So it is with Alzheimer’s. So it is with this pandemic. So it is with life.
Light in Alzheimer’s? Right now, I am overwhelmed by how alive Mom is. Yes, she’s lost most of her memories, and she’s forgotten who we are. But I will take that any day over the withdrawn empty shell that had become her reality.
The pandemic? It brought my daughter home. We’ve enjoyed so many moments together, especially now as we set up her bedroom and furnish the house.
And life? Life is great! The big picture is loving and wondrous. Sometimes the details do get me down. I can—almost—see my way to a sporadic income after ten months of unemployment.
I do want to clarify that lest you think that Simon is actually maturing, he’s really just aging with dignity. Happy birthday, dearest brother.
The secret to a good pie filling is, well, sugar. And cinnamon. And butter, if you use butter. I’ve always read that the sourest apples make the best apple pie but I used small yellow apples and I have to say, they performed admirably.
I only managed to take the photo of this pie by hiding the remains in the back of the fridge. Everyone wanted to finish it! And, lucky me, it was mine for the taking.
2 cups flour
2/3 cup margarine
4 Tbsp cold water
½ tsp salt
8 to 10 small yellow apples, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg (optional)
2 Tbsp margarine, cubed
1 Tbsp lemon juice
In a large bowl, cut margarine into flour using a fork to blend. Add salt and water, one table spoon at a time, mixing first with fork and then hands until a dough forms. Wrap in plastic and place in fridge for at least ½ hour. Preheat oven to 450° F / 230° C. Peel and core apples then slice them into a large bowl. Add sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir and set aside. Remove dough from fridge and divide into two halves. On a floured surface, roll out dough then place bottom half in a 9” / 23 cm pan, making sure that dough flows over the top of the pan. Pour apple mixture into pan then top with remaining margarine cubes and sprinkle with lemon juice. Roll out remaining dough as thin as possible and wider than the pan. Moisten rim of the bottom pie crust with a little water. Place second crust on top of pie then flute the edges with a fork, removing any extra dough. Cut small slits in top of pie to allow steam to escape. Place a large piece of foil in oven under pan to catch any drippings. Bake for 10 minutes at 450° F / 230° C then reduce oven to 375° F / 200° C for 40 to 45 minutes or until pie crust turns brown.