Friday, December 14, 2007

December 14, 2007 letter

Our house, in a snowstorm

I'm back from Michigan, still a little exhausted and depressed from the ordeal. I spent two weeks going through boxes and boxes of papers and photographs, trying to figure out what is in the house, so we can be prepared for the time when everything has to go out of the house. I've done my best to do this without ruffling feathers. I'm not sure how successful I've been.

I was able to see Mom almost every day. That was nice, but most of my time had to be spent at the house. I do think Mom is more relaxed now at the facility. She doesn't have so much stuff to worry about, and I'm sure she is more comfortable physically. She is doing her best to look forward, but it is very hard for her to think about not having the house anymore. Right now, as far as I know, there is no plan for what to do with the house. I'm leaving that up to my brothers.

When my mother's mother died it was a big surprise. Likewise, when her father died, she and her sisters had only a few days to sort through everything and figure out what to do with it. Mom told me a story that has always stuck with me about how, after her mother died, she went through all of the pockets of her mother's suits and dresses looking for a letter, because she was sure her mother would have left a message for her, telling her what to do. Mom didn't want that to happen for us, so I have had the job of going through zillions of bits of paper--

I have to stop now, to explain. One thing that made an impression on my husband Robert as he was considering joining Clan Hogg, was that when one was served something to eat on a paper plate, often, that paper plate was covered with writing. (People who know my family are going to be smiling about this--) I don't know why Hogg people write on paper plates--because they're there? Because nothing can be truly explained without affording the explainee a diagram? Because eating food is conducive to thinking up plans, and paper plates are usually handy then?

Anyway, Mom is a list maker, and I have found those lists EVERYWHERE, in hundreds (although I am prone to exaggeration, I am not exaggerating here) of notebooks, on Post-It notes, in files and on paper plates and yes--even in pockets. In these notes and lists she has written goals for herself , and dozens of prayers for the things she has hoped for her children and others who she feels are like her children, for good relationships and love and creativity and financial safety and spiritual growth. Going through all these scribbles has given me a special insight into my mother and the things that are important in her life that I think other people don't get to have with their own parents. I feel very fortunate--but it also provides me a burden. Mom has written about her need to record everything. One of her essays was about her hope that her children would be able to know her as a human in her lifetime. She hoped her writing would allow that. I will be sending some of her essays to some of you soon.

I have learned about my mother is how important it is for her to finish a project she has been working on for decades. As a young child she had been interested in bundles of letters between her parents when they were courting, when her mother was a Nebraska schoolteacher and her father was (yes, he really was!) a cowboy in Pioche, Nevada. Mom inherited those letters and started writing a book based on them. She then collected old letters and photographs from other family members, and reels of old newspapers on microfiche. Everyone's concern was that she was enjoying the research so much, she appeared to be forgetting to do the writing. I realize that for my Mom's life to be important (and bearable) she has to have something to look forward to, and the publication of her book is a goal I hope to help her accomplish. If I can't do much about her physical condition, maybe I can improve her emotional health!

Mom made multiple copies of everything she ever wrote, as well as keeping copies of every draft. I did my best to sort out duplicates before bringing files and files of papers home with me. Some of these are hadwritten, many are in faded dot matrix type from Mom's original Epsom computer. Everytime one of her computers died, someone would give her a second-hand replacement with obsolete programs, and a different word-processing program incompatible with just about everything else. The result was, as each successive computer died, her processed files died with them. I was especially happy to learn, from Mom's notes, how thrilled she was when I gave her a brand-new PC with Word installed on it. Unfortunately, I have found only a few discs that contain parts of the book, so almost everything has to be re-typed from scratch.

Knowing what a terrible typist I am (you don't see my first draft of this, friends!) I was freaked out about the goal I'd set for myself, then my husband asked me, "Didn't you ask me to retype all that stuff for your Mom the LAST time she changed computers?" And indeed, I did! And indeed, he did it! (at least Parts I and II of the book) What a prince I married! I'll tell you, Mom's prayers for me, at least, came true! And now, my prince is re-typing the other mish-mash of pages. When we see Mom at Christmas, I'm hoping we can talk about what she wants me to do regarding the rest of the book. I think workingtoward getting this book published is what my Mom needs to give her a boost and something to look forward to. Her sisters, Rosie and Lois, have signed on to help with the postage costs and figuring out the photographs that ought to go with it.

I am still jobless, and more freaked out about that than I care to admit, although I feel in my bones that things will start hopping after the New Year. My nebulous and fuzzy feelings about God lead me to believe that it is not for nothing that I find myself without a job at the same time my organizational skills and time are required to take care of my mother and her needs. I am sure, in the long run, I won't regret a moment of these days, as difficult as they are. I hope, when my Mom does die (and there's no reason to believe that will be any time soon!) she will know that she accomplished what she set out to do.

So that's my goal. I am hoping to send out a couple of inquiry letters to publishers before Christmas.

Since coming back to New York I have spent days going through the stuff I shipped home with me. In addition to the papers I brought back an antique dresser and one of Mom's cats. (She still has three at the house--anybody want a nice kitty?). I spent the entire two-weeks while I was in Michigan trying to cozy up to a gorgeous long-haired calico Mom calls Pussyfoots. I tried to warm that cat up with bits of ham, and I set a trap for her the last night I was there. Unfortunately, on the morning I was leaving (and trying to get on the road early enough to avoid a snowstorm in Pennsylvania) a different cat was snoozing inside my cat carrier. I did my best to interpret this sign from God, and decided a cat in the carrier is worth two on the lam.

This kitty's name is Twerp. He's a young, light-tiger kitty with cream-colored eyes. I had expected spats with kitty Mabel, but there haven't been any,and they have become good buddies. Unfortunately, when I made my early-morning decision, I wasn't thinking that maybe my brother Tim had promised this cat to his daughter, Lindsey. Lindsey has forgiven me. I don't know if Tim has.

All of this stuff has kept me so busy, I wondered whether I should skip putting up a tree this year. It is something I really enjoy, but I got a late start and we'll be gone for Christmas week. Another decider was that when I erected Mom's fake tree for her in Michigan, Twerp and another cat named Foggy were almost instantly inside it, gleefully batting down ornaments. Here at home I have very expensive, blown-glass ornaments that I treasure, that would all be ground to glitter if I left two big, fat, never-saw-Christmas-before kittens home alone for a week (or even minute!) I hope by next year Mabel and Twerp will be less rambunctuously curious.

We had an ice storm yesterday. I had to shovel twice. A kitten's first experience with snow is not not unlike a baby's first steps, so I took my camera with me when Mabel insisted on going outside. She went out there, her ears went flat, and before I could even turn the camera on she had zipped between my legs back into the house! I took a picture of our house (I LOVE OUR HOUSE) in the snow, decked out in pine garlands, swags of little white lights and wreaths, but something screwy is happening with our digital camera. When I upload them, the pictures never leave the camera, and when I try to attach them to this blog, all I get is gobbeldy-gook.

So if I can do it, there'll be a picture of our pretty house in a snowstorm at the beginning of this letter. (Robert did it! He's a genius!)

I don't know when the heck I'm going to find time to write my Christmas letter! Probably not until January. Anyway, have a happy, happy Christmas or alternative seasonal holiday, and have a GREAT NEW YEAR! If I take the time to send this letter to you, you know how important you are to me. Talk to you soon--

Franny (and Robert)

P.S. I cook lots of soup in the winter/fall. I have specialties, such as Hoggwilde Autumn Soup with hamburger and veggies, clam/corn chowder, navy bean and ham soup, red lentil soup and fresh mushroom soup. (Ask for recipes, I'll send them!) But I made some soup last night (practicing for a dinner party I plan to throw in January) that was SO FABULOUS it is going to be a FAHL signature dish from now on! Very easy and cheap and pretty and delicious!

Here it is:

Caribbean Pumpkin Soup

Saute 2/3 cup chopped red bell pepper and 2/3 cup chopped onion in a soup pot with some olive oil until onion is transparent.

Add 2 1/2 cups chicken broth (I used partially home-made stock, with little bits of chicken in it) --very yummy!

Add 1 tsp. ground cumin and 2 tsp pureed garlic

Add 1 15 oz. can of pumpkin puree and 1 can of rinsed black beans

Add a 15 oz. can of chopped tomatoes, if you'd like (I accidentally left this out when I made it, and it was still GREAT), and salt and pepper.

Serve with crusty bread and hot sauce!


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Love, R and F