Tag Archives: Family

Moving Home: Balancing my “Big Family”, my “Little Family”, and the Space Between

A new chapter.

I have been MIA for a while, but for good reason: Jason and I moved back to Wisconsin. We decided after several frustrating conversations, that neither of us were happy. He wasn’t happy with his graduate work since it was far from what he actually wants to do, and I wasn’t happy working as a receptionist. I am a writer. I am a teacher. There is no creativity in doing menial bitch-work for 5 business owners. Neither of us felt like ourselves and we didn’t feel much like the “us” that we want to be.


So much has happened lately that I can’t seem to keep up. After a year away from my friends and family, I feel overwhelmed. My first week home I felt like I was trying to make everyone happy and cram a year’s worth of quality time into a few days. I missed Jason and our cats – my Little Family. My Big Family, my friends and family of origin, wanted to spend as much time with me as possible; which is great, and I want to spend time with them, but it was difficult to take in all of the invitations and events without turning others down. I was glad for Jason to come home at the beginning of the next week.


I am from Oshkosh. My Big Family is in Oshkosh. Jason is from South Milwaukee. Right now, my Little Family is living in South Milwaukee. I love my Big Family, but it is nice to have an hour and a half of highway between us while my Little Family figures out where we want to be and how we fit back into Wisconsin.

mlk to osh


Return from the Wedding Rabbit Hole

Jason and I have finally emerged from our wedding rabbit hole as husband and wife. Somehow we managed to pull off a beautiful Wisconsin wedding in two months of planning abroad with a tiny budget.


The ceremony, that took so much time to plan, happened in an instant; and though I was stifling tears before I walked down the aisle with my father, I ended up smiling and laughing through much of the ceremony. Our readings were light-hearted and at one point our five year old ring-bearer scratched his nuts (luckily I didn’t see this until viewing the video of the ceremony). Jason’s vows were beautiful and descriptive even though he had been struggling for weeks to write them. I looked out on our friends and family while I stood under the arch my father built and felt the warmth in that room. Though it was secular and officiated by our friend, we were complimented several times by our religious relations on the simplicity and beauty of our ceremony (I could finally breathe since I thought the lack of God in our vows would stir the Catholic/Lutheran/Etc. mindsets that looked on).


Our bridal party entered the reception to Gangnam Style, but was shown up by our ring-bearer doing a maniac version of the running man that nobody could have planned, but everybody loved. Though we were surrounded by our closest friends and family, Jason and I were thankful to have our own small table to ourselves while our bridal party sat with their families. In between clicking glasses and expected kisses, Jason and I enjoyed the first real meal either of us had had all day. We circulated to thank everyone for coming and, at my father’s request, asked if everyone had had enough to eat. We danced our asses off until midnight for the New Year’s countdown and toasted 2013 as husband and wife.

Things were not perfect, but I would not have wanted them any different than they were. 

The House on Oak Street

With the seasons changing so rapidly here in Canada, I start thinking about the holidays and back home. Here is a fairly nostalgic poem about my childhood home.


The House on Oak Street

Mindy M. Wara


Spring awakens Mom’s sunny tulip cups

along-side the white house, mint

in 1991, when Dad first drew out the “For Sale” sign

as if he were Arthur pulling the sword from the stone.

My sister and I can never resist the urge to pluck

the tulip heads from their stalks, mashing them

into potions along with poison berries.

We were warned never ever to eat them,

but I made her try one once. She was fine.


As the last puddles of spring evaporate,

I drag the storm-blown birch stick

through my dad’s left-over rainbowed gasoline spots

on the driveway. The iridescent spectrum swirls in on itself.

I discover I am an artist, not a mechanic,

as my father had anticipated,

though the grease stained coolots and jumpers

in the hamper suggest otherwise.


Dead geraniums allude to autumn,

hanging their weary wilting heads

in the planter below the mailbox.

The cheapest pumpkins

we could find at Fernau’s stand guard,

etched with the scariest faces Dad’s knife can carve,

the orange mucus, guts, and seeds

our fingers squish around in

is left crusted to the table for Mom to clean up.


Peering out the living room window,

I see blue snow under streetlamps.

It takes over the yard, the jungle gym,

the windows as I lick and stick the snowflake window clings,

readying the house for reindeer and grandparents,

offering Christmas warmth from the muted world.

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What vivid memories do you associate with your childhood? Please comment and share!

My Cousin’s Funeral, October 2010

On the 29th of this month, it will be the second anniversary of my cousin Brad’s death. Though we were not close, it took me two years before I could write about it. This is my recollection of the days following his suicide.

It was a few days after my fiancé had left me and I was living alone for the first time in my life. I rarely left the brown armchair my step-mother had given me when Aaron moved his furniture out of the apartment. I never realized how large a full size bed could feel until I was the only one sleeping in it. I was between jobs, so I had little to do other than sulk in my own self pity and attempt to do the homework for the college courses that had taken a backseat to my depression.

The knocking started around six in the morning on a Saturday. I opened the door to my father, step-mother, and the news of my cousin’s recent suicide entered the room.

Brad was only a year younger than me and his birthday was a few days ago. He went to a different school when we were growing up. We were not close. I did not know that he had been living in Appleton, only a thirty minute drive from Oshkosh, where the rest of our family lived. I noticed that he had not been to a family get together in a while, but not everyone comes to those things so I never gave it much thought. It wasn’t like we were going to chat over a few beers or anything.

They had called before stopping over. I didn’t answer. My phone was on silent. It was six in the morning on a Saturday. My recent self loathing, jilting, and unemployment frightened my father into thinking there may be a Wara-family-suicide-epidemic.

I didn’t know how to feel. Of course I was sad, he was my cousin and he had recently died; however, I did not know Brad that well and all I could think about was that I should be more upset.

A few days later, at the wake, my family and I arrived at the funeral home. Upon entering the funeral home, I saw my father’s siblings, all nine of them and their spouses and children mulling about and nobody knowing what to say. My uncle Jim was the worst. It is hard to look at him. He was Brad’s father. He could barely stop crying long enough to thank people for coming and spent the majority of the evening pacing around the casket in the t-shirt with Brad’s baby picture printed on the front.

Though I have a hard time dealing with somber situations and have a tendency to make jokes at inappropriate times, my younger brother was the one to do it. I do not remember what he said, but I remember chuckling under my breath. I do remember the teary look in my sister’s eyes and the disgusted look on her face when she realized that Caleb had made a joke. I remember feeling sick to my stomach immediately after laughing.

The rest of the evening people talked quietly, watched the slideshow of Brad’s pictures on repeat, and ate the treats that were set out in the reception room. For the most part, everyone sat with their immediate families except for one of my uncles, who floated around from table to table making inappropriate conversation about his church and the Packers. And then he came to ours.

I had been trying to keep a low profile and not talk much to anyone so they would not notice that Aaron was not in attendance at this family affair. Until that moment no one had noticed. Except for my uncle. He plopped down next to me at the little round table, his boney knees visible through his dress pants and unable to fit themselves underneath the table.

“So was it Megan or Mindy that is engaged?” He looked from me to my sister waiting for an answer and possibly a verbal invitation since he was not invited to the last family wedding. everyone was quiet. I could feel the red leaking into my face and the tears filling my eyes. “It was Mindy. So, when’s the big day?” I couldn’t help it. The guilt of the tears for my lack of fiancé melted my face when I knew they should have been for my cousin in the next room. Still not understanding, he continued, “Where is Aaron today anyway? Did he have to work or somethin’?”

My dad stepped in, “That’s enough.” Finally, he took the hint and went back to his own family.

The next day, since there was nothing I could do to make the situation better, I felt it was my job to provide everyone with tissues. I filled my purse and coat pockets with to-go packs and whenever my uncle Jim started crying, I pressed the little white folded rectangles into his hand. Though I have been to his house and swam in his pool several times growing up we were never close; he squeezed my fingers in his large cold hand.

We took our seats and the pastor spoke fondly of my cousin, who he had never known. Brad’s mother, my uncle’s ex-wife, spoke next. I know that everyone grieves differently, but it was frustrating to watch her play the chipper hostess and not cry or waver as she spoke. I wanted to know what was swimming around in her brain and was angry that she was not hurting in the same way my uncle was. It didn’t seem right. Next, my cousin Wesley spoke about his brother. They were not that close, but I can’t imagine losing one of my siblings. He reminisced about their childhood which made me remember.

It was hard to watch my uncle speak. His burgundy suit shook and it was difficult to make out his words. He had talked to Brad a few hours before he hung himself. He had no idea Brad was having such a hard time. His schizophrenia and depression had finally been subdued by the right cocktail of medications. Jim broke down, kissing the corpse, trying to hug his son close to him for the last time. For the second time in my life, I saw my father weep, not just a tear or two, but bawling into the tissues I had pathetically been handing out to my family members. I knew the tears were not for the loss of Brad, but out of empathy for his brother and the thought of losing one of his three children.

After the service, in the cold October rain, our crowded car crept through Appleton to the burial plot my uncle had picked out. Brad had some terrible episodes in Oshkosh, and would not have wanted to be buried in the Wara family section of the cemetery. I know this hurt my father since he is the one who created the Oshkosh burial site and had offered my uncle a plot. Everyone trudged from the cars to the sodden grass to listen to a few more prayers before Brad was slid into the wall of a cream colored mausoleum. Several people returned to the funeral home to eat; we drove home in silence.

Mayonnaise Jar and Two Beers

I wish I would have thought of this myself, but as intelligent as I am, I do not think I am wise enough to have thought up this demonstration . My best friend, a fellow teacher, posted a message about this demonstration on her facebook and I had to share it. I hope that you get as much out of it as I have.

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 Beers.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.The students laughed..’Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.. The sand is everything else—the small stuff.’If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life.If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn.

Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.

Our First Canadian Thanksgiving

Today Jason and I made and ate our first Thanksgiving in Canada and without our families. Though it is not November and not Wisconsin, I think we did a pretty great job. As I have mentioned before, I am not huge on cooking and tend to avoid the kitchen; but today I made a pie from scratch. (Jason is an amazing cook and took care of the rest of the dinner. The turkey was amazing!) We spent the day in our sweatpants, cleaned the apartment, and watched FRIENDS until dinner. When we sat down at our table, set with superhero glasses (the only glasses we have), everyday plates, and paper napkins it didn’t feel like Thanksgiving. We barely made a dent in the turkey and were full after one plateful each. The dinner seemed to be over and done with so quickly and we had been preparing most of the day.

I am trying not to think about everyone sitting around my grandparents’ dinning room table, passing dishes around the table counter-clockwise and – though I do not participate – saying grace before digging in to their colorful plates full of my grandmother’s cooking. I am trying not to think about the relaxed environment at my dad’s house where everyone grazes on crescent rolls, corn, potatoes, and turkey. I am trying not to think about putting up the Christmas tapestry above the fireplace and wrapping greenery around the wooden banister leading down the stairs. I am trying not to think about the midnight adventure to Kohl’s that my sister and I would take to kick-off our all day Black-Friday shopping trip.

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I know it is not November. I know I am not in the states and Jason and I had a lovely meal together in the home we have made for ourselves here in Saskatoon. I know that when we move back to Wisconsin in a few years and get settled in that we will host Thanksgiving at our home and make the same foods we ate this evening for the friends and family that I miss today.

Short Story: “Home for the Holidays”

“Home for the Holidays” is the alternate version of “Christmas After Mom”. Which story do you prefer?

“Home for the Holidays”

Mindy M. Wara

            It looks exactly the same. The house is old, but well kept. The new siding she helped her father put up last June is doing well despite the Wisconsin snow and ice. The driveway and sidewalk is shoveled, as usual, even though it continues to snow. She knows her father will shovel again later that night. He doesn’t want it to pile up. The wreath her mother had made during her last December merrily hangs from the hook on the door. Lena knocks and waits.

“You’ll get a kick out of my dad, he is something else. Don’t be offended if he starts talking about politics or anything; he is really set in his ways and – ”

“You’re dad isn’t going to offend me. You’ve met my parents. If they aren’t offensive I don’t know who is.” Mason squeezes her hand through their gloves.

Lena knocks again and decides to walk in, she knows the door will be open. The living room lights she saw from outside are the only lights on in the house. There is no tree. There is no mistletoe tacked to the middle of the door frame.

“Dad! We’re here!” There is no answer. Lena leaves Mason at the door and goes to the kitchen. She flips on the light – no snowman dish towels, no plastic poinsettia centerpiece on the four person dining table. There isa note magneted to the fridge:


Went out to the store. Be back soon.


            “Dad’s at the store. Come on, let’s put our bags away.” Mason leaves his boots by the door, picks up his duffle bag, and rolls Lena’s over the carpet. The one hallway is narrow with pictures lining the wall: Lena’s school pictures from kindergarten to high school graduation, her parents’ wedding picture, grandparents, and one of Lena’s mother, a dark wooden frame with braided details along the edges, ivory and gold matting surround a picture of her smiling through rosy cheeks sitting on top of her snow mobile. To the side of the hazy picture:


Origin: English

Literal Meaning: Merry, Lively


She loved to snow mobile with her husband, Randy and daughter, Lena

Gail was caring and honest

She was known for her apple pies and cheerful smile

She was most skillful with her hands

“Just set those in here. This used to be my room.” Mason sets the bags on the pink comforter. The room is edged with a pink rose boarder and pictures of Lena and her friends from school.

Mason stops to take in a few of the pictures, “Nice braces”.

“Don’t start. I’ve seen your mom’s picture albums. You weren’t exactly a stud in middle school either,” Lena looks around the room, “he hasn’t changed the room at all.”

“Why would he?”

“I’m just saying, nothing in the house has really changed. My mom’s stuff is still all over the living room. I bet her clothes are still in the closet in their room.”


            Lena and Mason wait at the kitchen table. The backdoor struggles to open as Lena’s father and three grocery bags make their way through. Mason opens the door as her father tumbles in.

Putting down the grocery bags, “sorry I’m late. I ran into Dan at the store and you know how once he starts talking you can’t shut him up. I got you some cranberry sauce. This must be Mason,” sticking out his hand to Mason, “Nice to finally meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too, Sir.”

“Dad, where are the Christmas decorations?”

“I don’t know where to put anything. Your mother always did that, Lena.”

“You didn’t even get a tree?” The house smells plain and there are no pine needles covering the carpet.

“I didn’t get a chance. They’ve been offering overtime and so I’ve been working twelve hour days.”

Lena doesn’t know what to say, “did you pick up some eggnog?”

That I did remember,” her father digs into the grocery bag and pulls out two pints of eggnog. He sets one on the counter and the other inside the door of the fridge. Pulling three mismatched glasses from the cupboard, Lena wonders where her mother’s holly etched tumblers are as her father pours.

“Oh, Dad, Mason is allergic to eggs, he can’t have any.”

“Sorry about that,” he carefully pours the contents of one glass back into the carton, “do you want a whiskey or something? A beer?”

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“You sure? I’ve still got the Gentleman Jack that Lena got me for my birthday.”


“What do you take it with?” He rummages through the cupboard.

“Coke, if you have it.”

“We got some RC, that’s about the same.” He pours Mason’s drink and adds some Gentleman Jack to his own eggnog, “Lena, you want some Jack?”

“No thanks. Dad, we could put up some of the Christmas decorations. Don’t we have Grandma’s old fake tree in the basement somewhere?”

He doesn’t answer. No matter how much she wants it, Christmas is not going to be like it was the year before. Lena sits close to Mason on the couch, his warm leg matchs up against hers. Mason and her father talk about the Packer game and the likelihood of them making it to the Super Bowl. She fells alone.

Holidays had always been just Lena and her parents since her grandparents lived out in Montana. She remembers the small, but real, Christmas tree they chopped down every year and the presents for her that would appear on Christmas morning. She remembers the whole house smelling like pine needles and searching for her stocking like it was an Easter basket. Her mother always hid it in the same shelf in the pantry behind the canned foods. Lena always pretended not to know where it was.

She remembered her mother’s pajamas. She always wore the same faded flannel nightgown on Christmas morning. The previous year her mother was so thin she nearly drowned in the worn flannel and had to wear a sweater to keep from shivering. After months of chemotherapy she only weighed 85 of the 150 pounds she once was. Last Christmas Lena and her father joined her mother in bed to open their gifts. She wanted home to feel like home and to curl up in her mother’s comforter and fall asleep.

“I am getting pretty tired, I think I am going to bed.”

“Lena, it’s only nine,” Mason grabs her hand in a plea to stay.

“I know, but I have a bit of a headache. You two can stay up. Bond. I just need  aspirin and some sleep.”

“Okay, good night.” Mason lets go of her hand. Lena breezes her lips past his briefly before heading for her room.

“Good night, Lena,” her father calls after her.

“Night, Dad.”


            She lays on her childhood bed, still dressed, and starring out the window at the falling winter. She watches it float down from the blackness above and disappear into the already whitened yard. Each flake suspended in the air seems to stop in time.

She can’t stand the thought of waking up Christmas morning to no tree, no lights, and probably no church since her father only ever went because of her mother. She thinks about how awkward it will be. Will her father make a morning drink too? She wonders about what it will be like if she and Mason have kids someday. Willthey even come to visit her father for Christmas?

Mason’s parent’s house was all decked out for Thanksgiving – Thanksgiving! Lena didn’t realize how many decorations were possible for Thanksgiving until entering through their pilgrim themed door decorations last month. She wishes they would have gone there for Christmas instead. She imagines a tree  adorn with homemade ornaments from when Mason was little, a tree skirt his mother had sewn, and warm candlelight coming off of the piano in the corner of their living room.

With warm images of where she would rather be, Lena falls asleep.


            Lena wakes up next to Mason. For a moment she thinks her father might surprise her by getting a tree and decorating the house while she was sleeping. For a moment she feels the rush of Christmas morning the way she did as a child. She slips out of bed and into her bathrobe so as not to wake Mason. She creeps to the living room just to check. Nothing. It is just as it had been the night before. She picks up the empty glasses her father and Mason left out the night before, rinses them, and sets them in the kitchen sink.

She slinks back into her bedroom, slips her jeans on, and leaves her bathrobe on the edge of the bed. Mason hasn’t moved. Lena returns to the kitchen. She opts for her father’s over-sized heavy coat instead of her own peacoat and pulls on her boots. Gently closing the door behind her, she feels the chill of December lick her cheeks. She breathes in the cold, it nips at her lungs, but takes every ounce of sleep out of her. She treks to the shed in search of her father’s saw. She finds it amongst the sawdust of a project he had abandoned in August. She blows the sawdust off the handle and struggles to pick it up in her gloved hands. Frustrated, she shoves the gloves in her pocket. Her liberated fingers pick up the saw.

There is one tree in the backyard. It is a scraggly jack pine that has been on her father’s to do list of things to take care of since her mother passed. Lena nestles down into the needles and snow and begins sawing. At first she cannot get a groove started, but the faster her arms moved back and forth, the further into the wood she cuts. She doesn’t notice how soar her shoulder is from lying in the snow with her weight pressed down upon it, only that her blade is getting closer and closer to the other side of the trunk. She has made it through, the tree falls hard away from where she laid. She stays in the snow a moment catching her breath. Her sweat incubating her body, she takes off her father’s coat and leaves it in the yard.

Finally standing up, Lena grabs the rough bark of the trunk and drags the tree towards the house. Guiding it through the snow is easy, maneuvering it up the back steps is difficult. She doesn’t care if she wakes Mason or her father anymore. She flings the door open, it slams the kitchen wall hard. Tracking in all of the mud and snow from outside, Lena tries to pull the pine through the door. She doesn’t care that the lower branches are much wider than the door frame, she is getting this damn tree in the house.

Her father enters the kitchen. He doesn’t say a word, just grabs the end of the trunk and starts pulling. The tree shoots into the kitchen, shedding needles everywhere.

“I’ll grab the tree stand,” he hurries down the basement stairs and returnes with a rusted green stand for the trunk of the tree. Lena drags it to the living room and steadies it while her father holds the stand in place.