Missing Mommy Day

Bluffton - Court, Steph and mom

Visiting my sister at Bluffton College during her freshmen year

That’s what I will always call her, my mommy. In the later years I had called her “mom” because mommy seemed too childish. Our relationship was evolving from one of mother-daughter to also being good friends. She was the kind of good friend where she understood everything about my past, my dreams, and me. I only wish that we could’ve grown more in that role. She was my world and when she died, my world crashed.

Young Courtney and mom

My mom was always my biggest supporter

Nine years has passed since that life-changing day (June 22, 2004) but the pain at times feels as raw as the day it happened. The uneasiness of not having your “rock” to hold onto for comfort and support. The unknown of facing life’s challenges, successes and joy without your biggest supporter by your side.  So this is my Missing Mommy Day. I allow myself to do whatever I feel fit to honor my mom’s memory, celebrate her life, or just plain cry. It doesn’t matter. It’s Missing Mommy Day (in case you’re wondering, I chose to enjoy lots of cookie dough today while thinking about her)!

It has been some rough years full of tears, love, pain, and laughter. But we (my dad, sister and I) have managed to move on, grow and continue to find joy in life. It’s what she would’ve wanted. She always focused on the positive and would’ve wanted us to move forward. In her short time here, she taught us many valuable lessons.  Here are just a few of those lessons.

Sequoia - Mom, Steph and Court

One of the last photos of my sister, mom and I. Sequoia National Park

1. Be grateful. There were times in my childhood when my mom would make us write down (or go round-table at the dinner table) three things we were grateful for. It could be anything from “a beautiful rainbow” or “playing with a friend” to “cooking in the kitchen together.” It didn’t matter what we were thankful for but that we realized that even on the worse days, there’s usually some good.

2. You don’t have to know your life’s passion immediately. I was the ultimate planner. I loved to have my life planned out but it was hard determining what I wanted to do after HS graduation. My mom simply said, “You’ll figure it out as you go.”

She was speaking from experience because it was not until her 30s that she found her dream job. Prior to having me, she had worked at a bank and as a LPN nurse but then she took time off to raise my sister and I. When my little sister started kindergarten, she began working at our school’s library. The library became a media center with the addition of a computer classroom. She learned how to trouble-shoot computers, research new computer games that engaged children, and set up computer labs. At the time of her death, she was assistant technology coordinator for the school district. She had finally found her dream job!

3. Life is not all about your career. Anyone who knew me before the accident, knows that I would almost inevitably only talk about my career goals with very little thought going to other aspects of my life. I just remember my mom always sighing and say “Courtney. Outside of your career, what will you have in 5 years?” I would look at her crazy…like working insane hours at a big advertising firm in Chicago wasn’t enough!  I guess it’s safe to say I learned that there was more to life. This was the most profound lesson because I didn’t get it until after she died. It was only then that I realized there were so many things to life and let’s be honest, a career does not provide as much joy, happiness and love as those special people in your life.

So nine years down. Next year will be a big one…ten years! Still trying to figure out how I will properly commemorate so much time without one of my favorite people. Thankfully I have a year to figure it out!

Courtney
Going to a Broadway play with mom BG 1999 - Court, mom and dad Mom court and Dad Christmas 1982? Family photo with AprilCourt & MomBG graduation - toasting with Steph and mom

Una pausa, en el camino

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One of our best memories along the Camino was stopping at this small church

This phrase was written on a stamp we received along our first leg of the Camino de Santiago.  It became the stamp we would routinely flip to and reflect upon for the remainder of our  Camino. We received it from a  little church called Igelesia de San Esteban (Church of St. Stephen) located above the road in Zabaldika.  Many pilgrims passed by the church without detouring to it. One of our pilgrim friends said, “I can see it from the road so no need to walk up!” It’s true. You could see it from the road but sometimes things that are right in-front-of-your-face turn out to be the best surprises.

After a sloppy walk through a river area, my husband asked which route to go; the lower river route or the high route. I figured I was here to see and experience everything. The little churches and chapels were there for good reason. They were the placed along the camino as a place of refuge for weary pilgrims so up we went!

We hiked up the hill (it really wasn’t that bad!) and were greeted by the sweetest old woman. She was chatting with a local when we approached, but her friend quickly said goodbye so she could take care of the passing pilgrims. She warmly welcomed us, encouraged us to enter the immaculate church despite our muddy boots, took a picture of us in front as a keepsake, and gave us the stamp to our credencial (pilgrim passport).  The stamp simple read “Una pausa, en el camino” or “a pause, on the Way.”

I don’t think there was a better phrase to describe this small church. It was a pause on a pilgrim’s journey. One that many passed without stopping. It is also a constant reminder that those small pauses, or moments, tend to create the best memories. We were so glad we paused.

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Looking tired and exhausted after hiking in rain for several days

She also gave us what became one of my most cherished keepsakes from the Camino.  A simple prayer, Our Father For Pilgrims, and the Beatitudes of Pilgrims. These two pieces of paper were beautiful reminders of our journey.

The Beatitudes of the Pilgrim:

1. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “camino” opens your eyes to what is not seen.

2. Blessed are you pilgrim, if what concerns you most is not to arrive, as to arrive with others.

3. Blessed are you pilgrim, when you contemplate the “camino” and you discover it is full of names and dawns.

4. Blessed are you pilgrim, because you have discovered that the authentic “camino” begins when it is completed.

5. Blessed are you pilgrim, if your knapsack is emptying of things and your heart does not know where to hang up so many feelings and emotions.

6. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that one step back to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without seeing what is at your side.

7. Blessed are you pilgrim, when you don’t have words to give thanks for everything that surprises you at every twist and turn of the way.

8. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you search for the truth and make of the “camino” a life and of your life a “way”, in search of the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

9. Blessed are you pilgrim, if on the way you meet yourself and gift yourself with time, without rushing, so as not to disregard the image in your heart.

10. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “camino” holds a lot of silence; and the silence of prayer; and the prayer of meeting with God who is waiting for you.

Pistachio Pesto

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I’ve always loved pesto. Genovese pesto, sundried tomato pesto, walnut pesto, cilantro pesto….basically, anything pesto!  It’s a brilliant sauce because it mixes so many flavors and textures into a power punch that dresses up any dish. However, it wasn’t until I tried pistachio pesto that my heart skipped a beat.

While living in Spain, our friend Lucia would routinely return to her hometown in Sicily. Knowing that we loved good food, she would bring me back wonderful treats.  They would range from pistachio-laced pastries, dried pastas and condiments to her mother’s homemade arancini. One day, she brought back pistachio pesto. I was intrigued by how it would taste and  headed home with a plan to enjoy that jar of pesto that evening.

That was the start of a love affair that has traveled halfway around the world and led to countless attempts at recreating the recipe. I’ve tried and tweaked it as much as possible to mimic the pistachio pesto I would receive from Sicily. Purchase good quality pistachios since they are the main ingredient in the recipe. Your pesto will appreciate it. I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as my family does.

Note: This pesto freezes very well. I usually mix up several batches and then freeze them in containers perfect for my husband and I to enjoy for dinner. It makes for a great (and easy!) mid-week dinner.

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Pistachio Pesto
Serving: 6

7 oz. unsalted roasted shelled pistachios (approx. 1 1/2 cups)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 TBSP chopped basil
1 garlic clove, minced
½ cup finely shredded pecorino cheese (cut into chunks)

Blend pistachios in food processor until coarsely chopped. Add oil, basil, garlic clove and cheese. Pulse until smooth.

Use immediately, or store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. You can also freeze pesto for several months.

Life after the Camino

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The beautiful village of St. Jean Pied de Port in France. It was our starting point for the Camino de Santiago.

We’re back in Japan! It was a whirlwind trip full of sightseeing, delicious food, and the Camino. I’m thankful for walking the Camino because it gave me the carte blanche to eat whatever I felt like (well, at least in my rationale!).

I’m still processing this trip. It was an amazing and overwhelming experience. There were moments on the trail where I was thinking, “What the hell was I thinking when planning this trip?” But in the end, this was quite possibly the best trip ever. I got to know myself better. I got to know my husband better. And more importantly I got to grow and share this experience with several other pilgrims that I met along the way.

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The French countryside of St. Jean Pied de Port

I haven’t had this type of close and intense bond with people of so many varying backgrounds since my college years. And maybe it’s based on the situation; I can see the parallels between the two experiences.

We were all pushing ourselves to something greater. We were open to change and others. We shared in the highs and the lows. We shared communal living areas in the albergues (pilgrim hostels). We helped pick each other up during those challenging moments. We cheered on each other. We shared meals along the trail where we recounted the day’s activities, people we’d met, and our lives. We were detached from our extended support system. And most importantly, we were all working towards a common goal, Santiago de Compostela.

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Walking through the vineyards as we neared Villafranca del Bierzo.

The views along the path were breathtaking from the Pyrenees to the misty, early morning walk through O’Cebreiro in Galicia.  There were also the unspectacular views of walking along major roads with cars passing you and the sidewalk pounding as you entered and exited many large cities. However, what I still remember the most are the people. They were my friends, my family, and my travel companions on that brief adventure.

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The beautiful village of Portomarin perched above a lake

It’s ironic that at the end of the trip, I was ready to leave Santiago de Compostela after only three nights. In that time, our pilgrim friends had begun to make their journeys back to their part of the world. I could no longer walk the inner city and run into Dr. Spaghetti and his Italian crew. We would no longer be enjoying beers with fellow American pilgrims at a local tapas bar. We no longer knew the pilgrims entering the plaza after having completed their Camino. The time had come. It was time to return to reality but take this experience and its lessons with us.

I will be posting more about the Camino and our European adventure that included stops to Paris, San Sebastian and Madrid. Of course, there will be some cooking classes and food tours in that mix!

More to come…

Courtney