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Mary's Blankets

In a phone call the other day, I realized an important detail. I am very different from my mother-in-law. This is not rocket science, this is not an earth-shaking newsflash.  We've known each other for more than twenty years now. But in learning to appreciate her for who she is, and in learning to see her unique talents and gifts, I can finally quit expecting her to be like me. She never once expected me to be her carbon copy, but maybe I went into this relationship with the wrong expectations. Maybe a young bride assumes that her husband's mom will be a lot like her own mom. Wrong. Sorry sweetie. That's not how it works.

The other day I was hoping she'd share some words of wisdom, or write down stories for me to tell her grandkids when they get older. But she's not a writer. She's great at talking on the phone, and she loves to laugh. I'm guessing her sense of humor has gotten her through some very difficult years. One of her best talents is being able to work effortlessly with her hands. She's crocheted dozens of blankets over the years. That's a lot of yarn!

This year's stockpile is almost ready to donate to charity. She loves the Project Linus group, and she'll get all the blankets loaded up and ready to give away before Christmas.

She's given blankets to many different family members. We have blankets from my husband's childhood, blankets for newborn babies, for big kids as they got old enough to have favorite colors. We even have handmade teddy bear sweaters and potholders for my kitchen. Each gift of love has kept us warm and cozy. This legacy of blankets is one of our favorite treasures.

Other treasures are less tangible. One character trait that I hope gets passed down: bravery. She's fought through cancer for nine years now. Each time she's lost her hair after chemo, she's found a reason to smile when it grows back again. 

Optimism is another gift. Thank goodness for a sense of humor. Liz explains: "Mom had asked me to come over and buzz her hair off because it was starting to fall out and get itchy. But this time around (2018) she said she wanted to have a little fun with it and post some funny pictures so she also asked Doug to come over after work to take a twin bald picture. They asked me to step between them and put my hair over both of their heads for a funny picture of me providing hair for both of them :-)

Once again my Mom showed me her resilience, strength and faith. In a time when most people are struggling with the effects of chemo, my mom decided to have some fun with it and try to get some laughs.
She and I were talking and she told me that sometimes her strength and faith come from the scriptures and other works from the church. Sometimes it's dreaming about what she can do in the house and the yard & sometimes it comes from crocheting two beautiful receiving blankets for the newest great grandchild. What it always stems from is a future for her with her family!!

The previous 18 chemo treatments (from 2010, 2016 & 2018 <6 per year> she lost all of her hair.  The 18 treatments (once a week for 3 weeks with 2 week breaks from Jan to June) for 2019, she DIDN'T lose her hair. She was already to have me come over to buzz it off as it started to fall out, but it didn't happen this time. Of course those were the ones that really took a toll on her heart by severely hitting her platelets each treatment, caused anemia & ultimately gave her the pulmonary embolism that she now has to give herself the blood thinner injection twice a day." 

As the oldest daughter, Liz has shouldered a heavy burden in this battle as well. Words are inadequate to describe my gratitude for her courage and compassion. I'm pretty sure she'd say her efforts are ordinary, but to me they are heroic. She has been there for her parents and cared for her mom through this very difficult journey.

Two years ago, Grandma and Grandpa drove south and joined us in Utah in the springtime. I'm glad we took a picture that day at Thanksgiving Point. It was the last trip when she was strong enough to travel to visit us.

This year we flew north and managed to see them in the summertime. The family get-together after church was priceless. We spent a few hours with all the cousins and aunts and uncles at the park for a picnic. Serious thanks to my sisters-in-law for their work and preparation to pull that off! I'm realizing now what a precious gift it was, to have a moment in time where everybody could smile together and laugh. Just a few days later, Mary was in the hospital, yet after a few very scary weeks she rallied and got strong enough to come home.

In sickness and in health, she's loved her family. She's loved and accepted me all these years. I can't crochet or make blankets, so her gifts have blessed my family in ways I cannot. It seems like our opposite talents and gifts were meant to be. My kids are lucky to have her as their grandma. For me in this unique relationship as daughter-in-law, it's kind of like a coming of age. I'm finally old enough to see how hard this mommy thing is, to appreciate what she did as she raised children and grandchildren of her own. I'm finally old enough to recognize some of her struggles and sorrows, to see behind the scenes, so to speak.

Mary is also an excellent cook. My favorite recipe from her kitchen has been a classic in our family for many years now. I shared it last week at a fall festival. It was actually a chili cook-off, which I've learned is a Texas thing. You start with small cups so everybody can taste twenty different varieties, then go back and eat more of your favorite. We'd already eaten a few chili dinners during October, so I made cheddar chowder instead. It was a win, as evidenced by the empty crockpot at the end of the night.

Cheddar Chowder

Make a roux:
1 cube butter
½ C flour
2 cans evaporated milk
2-4 C shredded sharp cheese

1 large onion
½ stalk of celery
1 lb carrots
6-8 potatoes

Cube the veggies, then boil in salt water for 10 minutes. Drain most of the water. Add a blob of chicken or vegetable boullion.
Combine veggies with cheese sauce. 

1 lb cubed ham
2-3 C peas

½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp white pepper
Salt to taste

Cheddar Chowder is as hearty as it sounds. Serve it with Ritz crackers.

Food has been a thing that's brought us together. In the early years of my marriage, when they'd come to visit, she'd always give us jars of grape juice. This gift of love represents hours and hours of work. Early October in central Washington, they used to glean grapes after the harvest. Some of the farmers would let people come and pick their own, purchasing them at a cut rate. Then Mary would spend a few days making grape juice. It takes about 2.5 lbs of grapes to make a one quart jar. That's a lot of grapes! Mix with an equal amount of water or sprite.

This last photo is with her great granddaughter.

As we look ahead to the holiday season this year, one of the prayers that we keep lifting up, is that her "chemo holiday" may continue. Every day is a gift, and health is another precious treasure. The treasures she's shared with us include blankets to keep us warm, and delicious food like cheddar chowder and grape juice. She's been gracious to share the good things in her life.

Post Script
August 2021
Mary passed away a few hours ago. 

I realized today as I was reflecting, that the best gift my mother in law ever gave me wasn't a tangible thing. She always loved and accepted me, as is. She was certain that I'm good enough. Sometimes they even joked about how they liked me better than Norm. Of course that's not true, but it made me feel loved and gave me a sense of belonging. She was always happy to talk to me when I called on the phone, and I will miss hearing her voice.

Below is my favorite photo of her from June. Nancy made an amazing picnic for the family at a park on the Columbia River. I love the smiles on both of their faces.

Dear Mary, God be with you 'til we meet again.


  1. What a beautiful tribute! Aunt Mary is a lovely woman. That last picture is so precious. All of the pictures are. I am glad you have been able to learn to appreciate her. I think a lot of people feel the same way you do, that your expectations aren't always met and it takes a while to learn to appreciate that.

  2. Hi Kari, thanks for leaving a comment. Sorry I'm terrible at leaving replies here on my blog. So glad you liked the pictures and tribute. Yes, you're right that we often make expectations for all kinds of things, and then have to re-evaluate. You said something very poetic: "It takes a while to learn to appreciate!" Learning to appreciate what we have is a gift for sure.


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