Christmas Trifle and Love Lost

Guest blogger, Cathy Donovan, writes:  Certain women have the luck of marrying men who love to cook. I was not one of them.  My husband Tommy was a tall, lanky Irishman, with cornflower blue eyes and a wide smile. He could make a respectable soft-boiled egg, but that’s about it.  However, he did make one thing and only at Christmas time.

Tommy was born of Irish parents, and a Christmas pudding was always at his holiday table, along with a trifle. When he first proposed making trifle for my family, I had visions of a fancy confection with homemade custard in a footed Waterford dish. His trifle was far more down to Earth, a simple layering and mixing of seven ingredients. The recipe was long ago perfected by Tommy’s two aunts, Delia and Sheila, who lived to be 100 and 101, each drank a Smirnoff martini daily, with an olive, not a twist and shared their recipe with us.

Christmas Trifle recipe - 1 pkg. lady fingers; split 1 can drained fruit cocktail;1 sm. pkg. strawberry Jello; 1 sm. pkg. instant lemon or vanilla pudding; whipped cream. Split lady fingers and arrange on bottom and sides of glass bowl. Add fruit cocktail to lady fingers. Prepare Jello, pour over fruit and lady fingers. Chill until firm. When it's firm, prepare instant pudding and pour over Jello. Chill. Garnish with whipped cream and maraschino cherries.

One Christmas eve, as our small daughter Molly watched, Tommy tied an apron on his 6’3” frame and began making the trifle. He gathered the ingredients I had purchased for him: fruit cocktail, Jell-O (yes, Jell-O!), strawberry jam, Birds English Custard mix, heavy cream for whipping and the essential ladyfingers. And the rum. That was most important ingredient.

As the snow fell, Tommy prepared his trifle. He boiled water for the Jell-O and let it set.  He lined a Pyrex lasagna dish with ladyfingers and told us of Christmases spent with his aunts and cousins in Vermont when the aunts cooked this very same the trifle. When he finished layering all of his ingredients he spread the top with whipped cream and decorated it with 6 maraschino cherries, cut in half and arranged in 2 simple lines. The trifle was then put in the fridge where it spent the night awaiting my family the next day. That Christmas was the third of 24 Christmases that Tommy, Molly and I spent together, with our families, serving the trifle. My mother was partial to the trifle, as was most anyone who tasted it.  Tommy’s trifle became the most requested dessert at our Christmas table.

Christmas 2008 marked my 25th year of marriage and it passed with Molly and me on our own. Tommy died unexpectedly after a short battle with cancer early in that year. He lingers deep inside of both of us, our Christmases together a clear and enduring memory. I cannot bring myself to make the trifle any longer. I don’t have the touch. Maybe one day I will make it again. But sometimes at Christmas, when I see the array of cookies and cakes set out underneath the flicker of candles burning low, I think of that trifle and have longing to taste it and to hear his voice again, just for a moment, a single second.

Editor’s Note: Though not exactly like the recipe in the story, here is a recipe for your Christmas trifle.  Feel free to add rum!


1 pkg. lady fingers, split
1 can fruit cocktail, drained
1 sm. pkg. strawberry Jello
1 sm. pkg. instant lemon or vanilla pudding
Whipped cream
Split lady fingers and arrange on bottom and sides of a glass bowl. Drain fruit cocktail, add to lady fingers. Prepare Jello, pour over fruit and lady fingers. chill until firm. When it’s firm, prepare instant pudding according to directions on the box and pour over Jello. Chill. Garnish with whipped cream and maraschino cherries, if desired.

Photo credit: Amy Lenzo



Love and Rivalry: A Holiday Story

Mary Dell writes: My dad and I were father-daughter close on 364 days of the year. But on Thanksgiving Day, collegiate loyalty trumped family ties as we watched the game together but cheered for the rival football teams of our alma maters. For 96 years, the Texas A&M Aggies (Dad) and University of Texas Longhorns (me) played a hotly contested holiday matchup. It was “our game” and our tradition, a reminder of college and family, love and rivalry. During the Thanksgiving holiday, like every other one that came before and those that will stretch into the future, I thought of my father with nothing but gratitude.
Grandfather and granddaughter
We did not always sit on opposing sides of the proverbial stadium, and I grew up eagerly listening to stories of his college days. As children, my sister and I would alternate playing with Barbies and a herd of plastic horses with swinging on the jungle gym in the back yard. After he came home from work, Dad joined us, still in his suit and tie, sitting cross-legged on the pink and white checked rug in our shared bedroom. He told us about the real horses he had ridden growing up in West Texas. He taught us the lyrics to the Aggie War Hymn while we clapped and sang together.
Good-bye to Texas University, So long to the orange and the white…
Dad’s loyalty to his college was fierce. He and my mother were 21 and 19 when they married and she joined him at College Station while he completed his engineering degree, paid for by the GI Bill. My mother’s older brother, also an Aggie, left college to fight in WWII. She was an enthusiastic member of the A&M fan club and, had it not been an all-male school (changing to co-ed in 1963), she would have enrolled to complete her degree, too.
As I grew from a little girl to a teenager, I swapped out sweetness for surliness, a fact my father gleefully reminded me of when my eldest hit his teen years. When it was my turn for college, my parents consented to my choice of UT. Freshman year, as I stepped out of the car from the three-hour drive from Austin for the Thanksgiving holiday, Dad greeted me with a hello bear hug wearing his favorite A&M maroon cardigan sweater. Love and rivalry served in equal parts!
For decades I have lived in New York and knew my father would place the first call on Thanksgiving Day. He and I gloated or groaned, depending on the latest score or blunder. Though we were no longer sitting side-by-side watching together, I saw him clearly in my mind’s eye, on the edge of his saddle-colored leather chair, clapping for his beloved Aggies. I knew that on his right hand, brown-speckled with age, would be his well-worn, class of ‘47 A&M ring.


My parents excelled in their roles as “Granny and Pa,” and our kids grew up in their loving embrace. Adult hands grasping little ones, they strolled through the zoo and walked to the playground. They sat together, drinking lemonade from tiny teacups and nibbling on freshly baked sugar cookies. During our annual Christmas holiday visit to Texas, we gathered in the den and watched countless college football bowl games, regardless of the opponents.

In 2005, a month after he turned 80, my dad died. Our two children were 15 and 10, old enough to have rich and enduring memories of their grandfather. The legacy he leaves them, and me, is his example as an honorable man, a great parent and a wonderful grandfather. I miss him most keenly on Thanksgiving Day. I hope that his love and life lessons are ones that I so completely absorbed during my own childhood that I am able to follow in his parenting footsteps. It is my most heartfelt desire that my children will do the same.

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Football and family - the story of a daughter and her dad and the legacy he left.

Confessions of a Stalker Mom

Marjorie Rosenblatt, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: I am a physician, and a writer, but first and foremost, I am a mother. While having our children grow up and move on is a natural progression, it somehow is not feeling so natural to me.

Stalker mom

I was never one of the “powers-that-be” mothers, able to ensure my child’s role in the school play or acceptance on a team as a result of personal contacts or social status. Nor was I ever a helicopter parent, preoccupied with the minutiae of the everyday lives of my offspring. I attended as many parent-related meetings and school performances as I was able. If I missed something, it was not lack of interest or desire for involvement but rather my rigorous work schedule that kept me away.

As a result, we ate dinner as a family every night, during which my children were subjected to painstaking interrogation regarding the details of their day’s occurrences. The fact is, however, that I was the primary breadwinner and therefore, my employment had to be a priority, leaving my husband to serve as the Friday “pizza mom,” the parent organizing “learning from our differences” and the yearbook photographer at the elementary school.

Thank you social media!! Now, with the ever-growing number of communication-oriented applications, as my children get older, I have discovered myriad ways to spy on them – to make up for lost time, if you will. I have become an obsessive electronic stalker. I wake up and check Snapchat to see if my son, now a college freshman, has posted any of his numerous drunken snaps to his story.

I proceed to see how many of his new snarky tweets can be found on Twitter. Instagram is the next stop on my surveillance train, where I view photographs posted by my ninth-grader, and then on to Yik Yak, where my two college student’s universities are readily accessible under the heading of “my peeks.” There I have the opportunity to learn what is “hot” at their schools, while silently playing the always-fun game – “guess which yaks were posted by my own children.” (For those unfamiliar, Yik Yak is an anonymous posting site, designed for college communities.)

Facebook is next, where I view the walls of all of my children; I note new friends (whose walls I may then also peruse), recent posts and, of course, photographs. Not surprisingly, I am not infrequently met with a look of disgust when my older daughter mentions her friend Jim, for example, and although I have never actually met either, I ask “Jim Smith or Jim Jones?,” oddly familiar with both from having previously surveyed their Facebook pages.

I may also review the Facebook pages of my daughter’s a cappella group, or my son’s fraternity, just incase a minor detail of their lives has escaped me. Finally, before I retire for the night, I examine Find My iPhone, intended to help trace a lost phone, but employed by yours truly to find comfort in the fact that my children have made it home safely yet another night.

Stalker Mom

Why, one may ask, do my children consent to what they refer to as my “creeper” behavior? The choice is not theirs. It is our house rule that when one gets Facebook, he/she must accept his/her parents as “friends.” Similarly, as we pay for the iPhones, we must be allowed to track them if lost. Neither my husband nor I ever comment on what we learn from our voyeuristic activity; it is our hope that as long as we stay in the shadows, the multitudinous modes used to follow my children remain in their unconscious…out of sight, out of mind. Alternatively and, I suppose, preferably, as they become adults, they simply may not feel they need to maintain secrets, as they did when they were younger.

I (and others) often question why I participate in such obsessive behavior. An easy answer would be that I feel as if I have missed significant pieces of my children’s youth, for which I am now over-compensating. It is also possible that I am overseeing, trying to make sure that they are employing good judgment and avoiding trouble. More accurately, I believe, is a need to remain connected with my children as each day they inch toward independence. Perhaps I am trying to diminish the sadness and loss that I feel, as they become more self-sufficient and create their own autonomous worlds. There are evenings when I crave having their once tiny bodies snuggled up against me in search of comfort. I am no longer the first face they see in the morning, or the last at night; in exchange, I have made them my first and last association of the day.

And so I stalk. Snapchat. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Yik Yak. Find my iPhone. These sites are enablers, supporting my pathology, and providing me a pseudo-sense of continued involvement in the daily lives of my children. The tiny bits of information I glean serve as few stitches in the gaping hole in my heart.

Time to go…social media awaits…

Marjorie Rosenblatt







Marjorie Rosenblatt is a physician, wife and mother of three. She enjoys writing about her experiences and passions, including (but not limited to) her family, medicine and karate.

Photo credits: Baron Squirrel, David Goehring, Marjorie Rosenblatt



Empty Nest: Would You Do It All Again?

Lisa writes: I recently heard the story of a friend, who turned to his wife as they dropped of their youngest child at her college dorm and said, “…as I was saying.”

The conversation between the spouses that was interrupted nearly two decades earlier could now resume. While this was surely said in jest, there is an element of truth to the fact that active parenthood is a long, loving interruption to our adulthood that, once the kids are gone, can resume in one form or another where we left off.

Empty Nest: Would You Do it All Again?

In that vein, I have noticed a few things about life without kids:

It would be easier to like living in an empty nest, if it had a different name. I would rather not define the next few decades by what is absent from my life.

The journey to the empty nest is an adjustment, every bit as big as the adjustment to having children. It will come in phases, some filled with great pride and joy, others with tears. It mirrors the experience we had 18 years earlier. With a lot more sleep.

The grocery store has more hidden memories and reminders than is possible to imagine. Every aisle seems to contain someone’s favorite food and the tiny bout of nostalgia that goes with it.

In the same way that a world of mom friends opened up to me when my first child was born, there is a world of empty nest moms who are happy to make dinner plans on a school night. And there are no school nights.

The shell shock of having this wondrous stage of your family life abruptly come to an end takes much longer than three weeks to recover.

My kids, God love them, were utter pigs who felt no compulsion to put anything away. While I always suspected this, now the evidence can now be seen in my home and in their dorm rooms.

My husband is neater than I once believed. I think he may have been tarred with the brush of my messy kids.

The low fuel light on my car never lights up, a sight that often greeted me first thing in the morning.

No matter how much focus you promise yourself you will give to your spouse, kids at every age are an incessant distraction. It is truly a gift after the chaos of the last two decades to find him still here.

An empty nest comes with a certain feeling of lightness, of having set down a heavy load. Even on the days when you are physically free of your kids, they are in daycare, school or at a friend’s house, you are not psychologically free of their day-to-day lives until they have left home.

You never realize how loud your kitchen appliances are until your kids leave home.

Activities that once felt like a burden, the carpools, the practices that ran late or the 11pm Saturday night pick up, were actually wonderful moments to share with other parents, moments that it are easy to miss now.

College kids may be homesick, they may miss the comfort of their own beds, but a teen who is ready for college will move onto their new life at a speed that will make your head spin. We may pine for the past 18 years but, if all goes right, they will barely look back.

Kids come with mountains of garbage from the first baby swing to the last discarded backpack and I will miss not one item of their belongings. Purging your home after your kids leave is like finally cleaning out the minivan; you had no idea how bad it was until you started.

The silence that comes with an empty nest is both slightly disquieting and oh so nice, all at the same time.

Only teens mess up a kitchen in the middle of the night. No teens, no mess.

All of the jokes about college kids and laundry turn out to be true. That first panicked phone call or text really will have to do with mixing brights and whites.

After decades in my home my children do not seem to know how often their sheets were washed. This will be the second call.

At some point, visiting your kid on their college campus, seeing the classes they are taking and friends they are making, you will forget how happy you are for them and in a bout of extreme envy, want to be them.

And finally the empty nest is going to be great, this I really do believe. But the truth is, I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.

Send Selfies

Lisa writes: Today is the day I have dreaded since that second little stripe turned a very pale pink and my heart leapt into my throat. Today is the day without a rushed breakfast, the day in which I did not scream or worse curse, the day I made no threats and took no first day of school photos. Today is the day where the first name I called was the dog’s.

Shadow in doorway

But even as I find missing my kids was every bit as bad as I thought it would be, I have been given the gift of wisdom by two extraordinary women.

I am missing the day-to-day bustle of family life that already seems like a dream. I find it all but impossible to admit to myself that the decades of living wrapped in a cocoon of family intimacy, a world unto ourselves that once stretched out long in front of me, are over. Late this afternoon when none of my boys come bursting through the front door, our house will feel far too still, like a shell that has been cast aside, having fulfilled its purpose. A small part of me will feel like that shell.


I did not parent alone. Along with my husband, my sons’ father, I had female friends and acquaintances at every step of the way sharing their thoughts, broadening my insight and now, once again, easing this transition. This morning my phone rang off the hook, two friends dropped by. Everyone was checking in on me, wanting to see if I was okay. And while each of these calls was heartwarming and I am of course okay, if a little heartsick, it was the wisdom of two women, deep profound wisdom, that will see me through.

Liane Kupferberg Carter published a piece in the Chicago Tribune last week. In it she examines the notion that her nest may never be empty. Her younger son, who has autism, may live with her and her husband for many years. In a truly must-read article she explains:

My husband, Marc, and I inhabit a peculiar no man’s land. Our children are grown, but we are not empty nesters. The realization that we will in all likelihood never be empty nesters is a sadness all its own.

…I’ve been a member of an invitation-only Facebook group of middle-aged female writers. …They lament their empty nests, but mostly they write with excitement and joy about rediscovering themselves. They celebrate their newfound freedom to travel, return to the workplace, new hobbies or new passions.

I’m embarrassed to admit how much I envy these women. I’m not scaling Machu Picchu, sailing the Galapagos or climbing Kilimanjaro. I’m not “finding” myself. I’m right here. Where I have always been.

In her beautiful writing I think Liane is not asking her reader to feel sorry for her, nor is she arguing that having an empty nest is not a real feeling of loss. She knows the heart tug of our kid’s moving on as she experienced it when her eldest son left home. But the wisdom she shared with me was to step back, to zoom the telephoto lens of life out and take a far broader view of existence than that offered by the confines of our own experience. As always, Liane brings warmth and humor to everything she writes, but in reminding her reader to see beyond their own narrow slice of life, even if they cannot fully understand it, she has done me a great favor.

Another wise friends reached out to me the night before I took my youngest to school. She asked me to remember that the thing which pains us is that which gave us such joy. And that like everything in life, we only fully appreciate things that are not forever. I wanted to argue with her, tell her that I appreciated things that were forever, that if my children had stayed small forever, lived with me forever, I would have remained grateful.


But I know that to be a lie. I may have loved my sons’ childhood because my love for them is the purest emotion I have ever known. The marvel of their very existence never lost its novelty, but it would be untrue to suggest that in the grind that is daily life when our days together still seemed limitless, this remained uppermost in my mind.

I heard the sound of time whooshing by in their very first weeks of life. In the days and months as their infant selves grew and changed rapidly I could feel an undertow so powerful that I knew it would lead us to this day.

This morning I sent my sons a group text and said, “First September morning since 1994 that I am not taking your first day of school photos. Send Selfies.” I am still waiting for those selfies.

Photo credit (black and white): Cathrine White
Photo credit (color): TBKilman