Tag Archives: grandma

December Twenty-Sixth

When I was in fourth grade, my Grandma Mormor (which as an adult I recognize is like saying “Grandma Grandma” since Mormor is the Swedish word for grandmother… but I don’t care) passed away over Christmas break. We weren’t planning to go to Marquette for Christmas, but when an aneurysm in my grandma’s head burst, sending her straight to the hospital with a severe hemorrhagic stroke, we packed up our clothes and our Christmas into our blue van and drove straight up to the UP. Although she came through a surgical repair successfully, another stroke left my grandmother brain dead and life support was removed the day after Christmas. She was only 60 years old when she passed away on December 26th. I chose not to go to the funeral because I was scared (of the funeral? of death? of my grandmother’s body? I don’t know…), but I regret that now. I did write her a letter that was placed in the coffin. Regardless of whether I was there or not, she knew I loved her, and that’s all that really matters.

My Grandma Mormor’s birthday was February 24th and I always think of her then. She was happy and gorgeous and made amazing oatmeal on her kitchen stove. Her house always smelled good and she wore a floral apron in the kitchen. I know other people have other memories of her, but mine stop at the age of 8 and it’s all beautiful to me. I also always think of her on December 26th… the day she died. She would have died on Christmas, maybe Christmas Eve, without artificial prolonging of her life. But nobody wanted that, so she was allowed to pass on the 26th and the 26th always had something of a pall over it. It was not a good day.

Until 2011.

On December 26, 2011, my sister’s first child, her daughter Emma, was born. To me, it seemed like the universe had righted itself again. December 26th was no longer a day for mourning, but for celebrating this amazing little life that came into our family. Today, Emma is three and more amazing than ever and I am so grateful for the gift of timing the universe gave our family.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but December 26th feels bigger than that.

This year, December 26th also marked 14 days after IUI— the day I could take a pregnancy test. Something else to make the 26th of December even more significant. My sister found out she was pregnant with Emma on my dad’s birthday. We were both excited about the possibility of me finding out the same on Emma’s birthday.

I’m not pregnant though. No need to test. (I did, just in case, but it was negative. No ambiguity here.) Remember, I said I’d tell you either way. I was hoping for the other. But a promise is a promise.


I guess the fact of the matter is that we all struggle, in our own unique way. Maybe we don’t want children and others see our familial choices as incomplete. Maybe getting pregnant is easy, but the timing is poor. Maybe the timing works out, but our child isn’t as “perfect” as we would have expected. Maybe everything seems just right, but postpartum depression settles in. Maybe things get tough with your toddler, your adolescent, your adult child. Maybe you can’t get pregnant at all.

The good news is that you don’t have to get pregnant to have a family. And families are beautiful and imperfect, no matter how they come to be. There’s no right way, no wrong way, when you fill a home with people (or animals!) who love each other, it really doesn’t matter.

I know all of that, intellectually. But to really know it… that’s tough stuff. So for now, I’m going to let myself just be a little sad. Really sad. Disappointed. Confused and upset and frustrated and guilt-ridden. Just for a little while.


I’m also going to drink enough wine and take enough cold medicine to make up for all that I passed up over the last couple of days on account of the potential for pregnancy– a little Christmas cheer to go with my Christmas cold.

All in good time.

A Pinterest-Worthy Birthday Bash in a Church Basement. Also cake.

Of all the months on the calendar, April, May, and June seem to be the biggest months for birthdays and such in my year– my sister, my dad, my mom, my husband, my sister-in-law, several friends plus Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and I feel like I’m constantly falling behind on cards and calls and celebrating. (Also, I’m bad at mail and phone calls and such. Real bad.) Fortunately, all those people know how much I love them (so so much!) so I don’t think it’s a problem.

October was kind of like that this year too… not the norm, but when you turn 90, it calls for a big celebration. And a big celebration turns HUGE and relatively difficult to coordinate when it’s a Stankowski-style celebration, so my grandmother-in-law’s birthday party was moved up from December 17th to a weekend in October. We celebrated in Halder, Wisconsin, the same day my Grandma Rita celebrated her fourth annual 73rd birthday (how nice that she stopped aging at 73 years gorgeous!) in Lansing, Michigan, and my friend Krystal and Aunt Susan had some celebrating to do shortly after that.

So, as you can imagine, October became a month for celebrating some seriously amazing women… although, I’ve got to admit, that first party in a church basement in Halder was mildly panic attack inducing (yes, it’s an oxymoron and I know it) because I looked around at 90 years worth of a life well lived and thought “wow” followed shortly by “crap! I am so behind!”

Rational me: “Behind at what?!”

Crazy me: “Ummm… life! Obviously!! I should have at least” [pause for mental math…] “four kids by now if I want any hope of my 90th looking anything like this!”

Rational me: “Good point.”

And it was all over from there. Crazy is always more convincing.

You see, my father-in-law is one of 12 children, 10 boys and 2 girls. Not to take anything away from any of the boys because they are very talented at many things, but the two girls are absolutely reee-dic-u-lous at throwing meaningful and gorgeous parties. (Also they both try to give the other all the credit, but I have a sister of my own and I know that they are synergistic as a pair. That’s how sisters work. Btw, did you know that the term synergy was originally coined based on combining the words “sister” and “energy” into something even greater?! Seems reasonable, right? Maybe it’s even true…)

All 12 Stankowski sibs with their parents... just two of twelve girls. Good looking bunch, eh?
All 12 Stankowski sibs with their parents… just two of twelve girls. Good looking bunch, eh?

So Nancy (left of center) and Margie (right of center) did their thing and when I walked into that church basement I was absolutely floored.

Each table was decorated with a centerpiece carefully selected to represent some part of Lucille’s life.

From left to right, top to bottom:
From left to right, top to bottom: cookbooks and a hot pad, gardening tools, a rosary and favorite hymn, hummingbird nectar and canning rings, clothespins and clothesline, cookie cutters, buttons and a zipper for repairs, canning tools, lemon drops and a deck of playing cards, and denim for patching.

A childhood photograph of each and every one of Lucille’s nearly 30 grandkids was made into a flower.

Love, love, love these sweet pictures! Is this not the most Pinterest-worthy decor you've ever seen?! But it gets even better!
Love, love, love these sweet pictures! Is this not the most Pinterest-worthy decor you’ve ever seen?! But it gets even better!

Handmade Happy Birthday bunting.

The color scheme, the handmade-ness of it all, so in love!
The color scheme, the handmade-with-love-ness of it all!

Streamers, balloons, photos, food…

It's a big family-- hence the church basement.
It’s a big family– hence the church basement.

So much good going on!

Except, amidst all that good, I got a little sad, because like my crazy brain said, what on earth would my 90th look like? I’m (sniffle) not going to have any of that. It’s hard to have grandkids and great-grandkids if I can’t even manage to have kids. And spiral.

(Please note that I completely recognize the self-centeredness of the above. For real, my husband’s grandmother is amazing and she is the matriarch of an incredible crew– I’m super lucky to have been welcomed into the clan and I was really happy to spend the day celebrating Lucille. Unfortunately, my own truth has to be based in self-centeredness (see this post) so it’s going to sound that way for a little while… but I think we’ll get to a happy (and delicious) point and you’ll forgive me for the pity party, k? k.)

Later that month, Seth and I dropped our crazy fur baby off at my in-laws and headed to Green Bay for the weekend to celebrate our friend Krystal’s birthday and to meet their sweet new baby girl Amelia Mae and see her sister Charlotte Jean (I use their full names here mostly just to brag about what pretty baby girl names my friend Krystal picked). We had a blast with our friends basically doing nothing, as per usual. Their girls are incredible and so so so much fun and we always have a super relaxing and generally hilarious time when we hang out with the Kussows here, there, or wherever. But I have to say, and self-centeredly so (see disclaimer paragraph above), that the highlight of that weekend for me was the puppy chow.

Me, Seth, Krystal, and Justin… we have a problem with puppy chow. A delicious problem. Justin had made a big batch for us to munch on when we got there and when we finally got around to singing to Krystal and cutting the cake, here’s what she found:

Did I just learn how to make collages for Instagram? Why yes, yes I did...
Did I just learn how to make collages for Instagram? Why yes, yes I did…

A puppy chow pinata! Yessss!!!

So we ate and we laughed and we drank and snuggled Amelia and played with Charlotte and her puppy (and some of us got mani/pedis and went shoe shopping because it was Krystal’s birthday, after all) and basically just had a good time.

And that’s when this blog post started writing itself. Because I’m pretty sure that Justin and Krystal (they’re younger than me) and Charlotte and Amelia and Charlotte’s and Amelia’s someday babies will all come to my 90th birthday party!

They may not be blood, but family often isn’t. It’s nice when it is, of course, but family can be so much more. I blurred the lines between family and friendship just the other day, albeit in the other direction, but today I want to point out that the opposite can also be true. It’s what happens with in-laws, and you know I wouldn’t trade my bro-in-law Stuey or Uncle Ed for anything, so what’s the difference here? Not a thing.

On my Grandma’s previous 73rd birthday, I told you about how amazing she is and how welcoming a place her house always is, even on big “family” holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving. There were always friends and neighbors and other people amongst the crowd. I always thought of them as other people though. I imagine that my Grandma probably does not. To her, they’re probably just more family. Because family is a choice and can be built and blended in any which way.

So, when I turn 90, I want tables decorated with mason jars full of things that remind you of me (oh look, I’ve already got one full of rocks to get you started)… you’ve got 60 years to be my friend and make more babies for me to love and then let’s celebrate just like the Stankowskis did one recent weekend in October.


Isn’t that just like me? Bootstrapping my way up out of a pity party day after day? (And she’s humble, too…) You should consider filling a mason jar with bootstraps at my party. What are bootstraps anyway? I’ve always imagined them as boot laces, but then why bootstraps? And why is boostrapping suddenly a genomics/bioinformatics term too? I really don’t even get the concept. I ought to stop using the word. Maybe wiki can instruct me… huh… that is enlightening… the intro is worth a read if you’re interested. Idioms are hard.

E is for earrings. Earrings from Esther.

Getting my ears pierced was a huge deal to me. HUGE!

My mom took me to Meijer’s (and yes, I know it’s Meijer not Meijer’s, but I’m from Michigan and therefore allowed to make the names of stores arbitrarily possessive) on Carpenter Road to get it done. The woman we paid was Indian and she had a piercing in her nose— I remember being super impressed by that, but also very, very happy with my ears.

My mom and I timed the piercing so that I could take out the studs and put in my first pair of new, real deal earrings on the first day of kindergarten. We even ordered special gem stone earrings from Avon for the occasion– one pair deep green-turquoise and the other a deep yellowy-orange.  I think I wore the green ones on the first day of school, and man was I ever proud of them.

You know who else was proud of them? My Great Grandma V,  Esther Van der Voort.(although as far as I was concerned “Grandma” was her first name). She lived a few miles from us in Sumpter Township and we used to go there a lot to eat a bucket of KFC in the breakfast nook, look at old pictures, and snack on Windmill cookies. (Mmmm… I still get cravings for Windmill cookies.)

To my Grandma V (yes, she was my mom’s grandma, my great grandma, but we always just said “grandma” and I’m not going to belabor the “great” part at this point in my life) having my ears pierced was an awesome right of passage and something to be celebrated. Every time we came to her house after that, she would give me a little baggie full of earrings from her own collection– how I treasured those!

Truthfully, part of it may have been her participation in the taunting of my sister that I treasured so much… “You know, Abby, you could have earrings too if you would get your ears pierced.” I’m a real sucker for teasing my sister (so sorry, sweet darling, Shabsky Balu– you know I love you, ardently (look it up)).

I must have been in first or second grade when I started bugging my parents for a second piercing. It was obviously out of the question at the time, but they told me I could get one when I started 6th grade.

Ladies and gentlemen, an elephant never forgets.

The second 5th grade was over, I was back to begging. (Please note that this was around the time of the hair, so you can imagine it was relatively easy for them to give in to something that might make me just a bit more satisfied with my appearance.)

Ultimately, my mom and dad relented (good call, parental units), and by the time I was in 8th grade, I had three piercings in each ear and was jonesing for a cartilage piercing… which I got two of when I was in high school.*

Even now, at 30 years old, I still love, love, love my earrings. I feel completely naked without them. So naked that I pretty much just leave them in always and rarely ever change them. Three sterling silver hoops in each ear, one more in the cartilage on the right. It’s my look… my thing… what makes me feel comfortable.

On special occasions, I slip into the big, creamy pearl studs that Seth got me with two smaller pairs of chocolate pearls or two other pairs of diamond studs. Those always make me feel special, too.

Some people dye their hair, wear crazy make up, get their nails done regularly, get tattoos– most people, women especially, have a signature thing. My thing (besides this crazy curly mess on my head– raise the roots!, and this square-jawed robot head… my thing that I can control, anyway…) is most certainly my earrings. And likely always will be. Earrings never go out of style after all. And even if they did… like I would care!

Much thanks to my Grandma V. No matter how old and cranky, arthritic and drug-dependent (sadly), she became, there was no ruining my memory of her– her big cheeks, hearty laugh, multi-colored bingo markers, beautiful tea cup sets, and the earrings that slowly became mine.


*Later, my new-ish boyfriend Seth would literally rip both cartilage piercings out of my ear. It hurt. A lot. But I missed them. So I got one of them re-done with a gift certificate his parents got me for Christmas. Earrings 🙂


happy, happy Valentine’s day <3 <3 <3

Hi friends! Happy Valentine’s Day! I LOVE YOU! (Really! I do! I love you all!)

I used to be something of a gloomy gus every Valentine’s day as I lamented my single-dom and whatnot (the drama, I was like 16)… but then I met Seth, fell in love, and every February the 14th is now roses and kisses and rainbows and…

I kid… if you’ve met Seth before, you knew that long ago. And if you know me, and most of you do pretty well by now, I’m not actually a super touchy feely kind of person. (My singular contribution to my fourth grade class suggestion box was a note asking the teacher not to call me “honey”… because I hated that.)

So what was it then that reversed my Valentine’s Day attitude, you may wonder…

It was my Grandma! What else???

I’m not sure when exactly she started doing it, but it’s been many years now. Every year, a couple weeks before Valentine’s Day, my Grandma sends me several homemade baggies with ribbon ties– hand sewn in a different Valentine-themed pattern every year. She sends the bags to me empty, she and I both fill our sets with candy, and then we hand them out to our friends. It’s so fun!

Just a small sampling of the various prints, patterns, and charm...
Just a small sampling of the various prints, patterns, and charm…

My husband and I love each other every single day– it’s a given. It’s an expectation. Sometimes it goes unsaid; most of the time it’s said. We’re a family, every single day, flowers or no, chocolate or… well, we like chocolate… Our pupster (who is not having surgery today, fyi… sigh) is our biggest Valentine this year and we’re headed out to dinner at the Belvedere (our favorite!) to celebrate the evening with Seth’s mom and dad. It’ll be lovely and perfect for us– love all around; love that’s a given.

So for me, Valentine’s Day isn’t really about me and Seth. Rather, it’s about telling the people that may not just know it that I love them, too! I do that with a handmade Valentine bag filled with chocolates and tied with a ribbon. And as an added bonus this year, I also made some Harry Potter-themed, totally nerdtastic Valentines to hand out to a couple people… nothing says I love you quite like a heart with wings and the phrase “wingardium leviosa” on the front. Nothing!

Wingardium Leviosa Valentine

Except maybe a heart with a key hole and the phrase “alohomora”, a flame and “incendio”, or a light and “lumos”…

HP Valentines

(Am I unreasonably thrilled with my cleverness right now? Yes. Yes I am.)


I hope you enjoy your Valentine’s Day and that you know that somebody, somewhere loves you– because I do! And even just me must be better than nobody, right?




In other news: no surgery for my Curls today. We went down to Madison yesterday for an ultrasound of the patellar tendon (and there was some promising tissue on imaging that looked like tendon material that even if not usable, may provide some scaffolding for repair) and a joint tap to make sure there was no infection in the fluid pocket in her knee (the doctor really didn’t think there would be). But there was infection in that fluid pocket and we went back to Madison to pick our girl up and bring her home with antibiotics. In two weeks, we’ll try again. At least our sweet girl is home with us this weekend– everyone in our house is happy about that 🙂