Monday, February 16, 2009

Family farewell

I feel like I should tug on my ear or something. The last six years have been a joy to share with the readers of the Mountain Democrat. We went on a journey together that commenced on a Monday in May 2003 on Memorial Day. I remember it was the start of the summer and I had nothing to write about except swimsuits, three kids and JD’s proclivity for air conditioning.

Since that weekend, I have shared my life with you, the ups and down, the seasons of my family and the people who shape my life. My kids grew up. I went from homeschooling to nursing school. On father’s day, you read stories about my husband, my father, my father-in-law, & my grandfather. On mother’s day, I wrote about my mom, momaher, grandmother and aunts. You read about weddings, family reunions, and family funerals. You read about the families in Jersey and the Barry's from Nebraska. You soon came to know my friends and my neighbors. You got to know my choir director, my pastors and my study buddies. My college friends and professors, colleagues and teachers still talk to me despite being the fodder for my musings in this column. I wrote about extraordinary people, young and old. I wrote about what was special to me and in a way, it was selfish of me to think you would be interested in that.

You read about my godchildren and my children. You read about Clare, Jordan, Maddie and MaryJane. You met Adam, Wally and Frank, extraordinary people who were special. You read about people I loved, who lived and then died; my Gram “Betty Boop,” Aunt Carol and Grumpy Jack. You read about my father Tom, who died serving in the air force, before I was born. You read mostly about my life long-father “Pop-Pop” who raised me and whose survival propelled me into the nursing profession.

You read about wood whittlers and communists. When my family was in a crisis, I shared it with you and when times were good, you read about that too. The Italian cousins and MoMaher were major ingredients of Family Fare…lucky me because they are so lovable. You read about my children Shannon, Conor & Birdy, the main ingredients of my life. I suppose in the kitchen, the big spoon is JD. You see, in life as in the kitchen, the big wooden spoon in the family is the one that ensures the consistency of everything. My husband has been the salt of the column. He flavored it all.

Golly, it was fun writing about the films I liked and the books I read. Mostly, I enjoyed writing about the people in this community, particularly those involved in the hospitality industry. It was a pleasure to meet and write about people like George Rupp, who works as an usher at the Regal in El Dorado Hills, Giovanni & Shari Gaudio who created Boccanato Trattorio; about Cindy and Daryl at Lucinda’s and the Kathleen & Bob Ash who own Bella Vista B & B. We live in a beautiful place. I love the intimacy of this newspaper. The stories of the locals, the schools, the teams, and the people are the vibrant tapestry of El Dorado County. For 150 years, you have been the fabric of this newspaper.

Writers must write because inside themselves they are constantly writing. I wish I could count the conversations and letters I have written in my head to people I care about, while driving the car, but have never had the time to send. Even though the Thursday edition of the paper is ending, there are a few things I want to leave you, not that I matter, but the editor of this paper read a couple stories about hamsters and children and let me write for you. What a privilege.

My family and people I met along the way, they are your family too. Your friends, your pastors, and loved ones shape you in ways you can never measure. You have had adventures in your life, you have stories to tell and share. Your thoughts are important; so is your faith. I believe inside every person is a story. Share it.

This column was about memories; long ago and those from a week ago. In a way, the diary was mine, but the readers had the key. Sometimes I said too much. I wish I could say more. I was able to share my faith, my friends, my family and I thank you. I served it up whether you liked it or not and you were a gracious guest. Sometimes readers write to tell you a thing or two and you had such nice things to say. You let me know you were reading. I often met in you in the line at the grocery store and it meant a lot to me to know that what I wrote meant a lot to you. Thanks for the space to park all the words.

Tammy Maher will continue to write on her blog and sends many thanks to Pat, Michael and the Mountain Democrat community for the experience. It was a lovely ride.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Farewell Grumpy Jack

My grandfather was a quiet man who was not much on words. I remember meeting him when I was a kid and thinking he was about the scariest thing I ever laid eyes on, but then again, the Cameron family has a knack for rendering ‘the evil eye’ and I guess my Pop learned how to give us the look from having been raised in a house ruled by Grumpy Jack. He passed away Monday night after a short illness. I guess the person I am most worried about is my grandmother, married to him for more than 65 years, who possessed the only set of keys to him, who now has to carry on without him.

Grumpy Jack, or the “Old Man” was a first generation Scottish immigrant tradesman, a World War II Army Air Force combat veteran (Purple Heart) and father of seven children. If you count my cousin, Cameron, he raised eight kids. He leaves behind a plethora of grand kids and great grand kids scattered around the U.S., and if you were to give him a pop quiz on all their names, I am sure he would give you the evil eye.

My memories of him thinly span 40 years and the memories can be best categorized as intermittent and few (there goes my nursing cap). Several things stand out. Grumpy Jack liked to work outside with his hands and so did my Pop. Since he taught my dad all there was to know about auto body restoration, I guess you could say he was an artisan of sorts. He ran his own auto body business. In his middle years, post retirement, he was a vocational teacher. I say I was scared of him, but there were times I challenged myself to talk to him, cracking a hard shell where inside was a soft nut . He loved to show us around his tropical backyard when we were young. He raised and bred orchids and loved living in the hot humid climate of south Florida. During the Category five hurricanes, he hunkered down and refused to leave his homestead. No one could tell him what to do.

My memories of conversations with him are vague. Being a man of few words, we would usually be on the receiving end of his declarative short statement about something we said or did; or a question he wanted you to answer. I always felt that I had the wrong answer but sometimes he would throw you off with a grin that had you believing he actually liked you.

Grumpy was stalwart in maintaining his personal space and protecting my grandmother. I suppose he was reluctant to trust, something characteristic of having survived the depression years, a World War, fighting Communists and raising children in uncertain economic times.

The finest thing Grumpy ever did for me was to get on airplane (something he absolutely abhorred) to fly out for my wedding twenty years ago. It felt like a singular privilege, given that he was not one for flying anywhere to see anyone. I pray that he knows he was loved and that somewhere in heaven for him, is a nice patch of beach, a few of his orchids, a cold glass of beer, and a warm breeze, like home.

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her on the web at

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Me Matey Skip!

When JD brought home Skipper eight years ago, I was perplexed, because he was never the doggie sort of guy. Even though I tried to convert him early on, he just wasn’t a person who adapted well to critters in the animal kingdom. I don’t know what the issues were, as I came from a long line of dog lovers on my mother’s side so for me, the addition of a canine to our growing family seemed only natural in the mergers and acquisitions of marrying each other, and having children and raising them in their formative years. After all, these delightful creatures taught children the importance of nurturing, responsibility, life skills, caretaking, dog walking, dog waking etc. The best pet funeral I ever attended was the one officiated by my Dad for my hamster Snuffy, one night in the rain when I was 10 years old. Pop was quite the serious undertaker. I learned some of my best life skills prepping that rigor mortis ridden rodent in a hair dryer box for his final resting place in the backyard while Pop worked up the sermon on the Mount. So, imagine my surprise when my dear hub spontaneously showed up one day after school with a rather large puppy in a box, after absolutely refusing for four long years to get a dog inciting reasons such as the transmission of fleas, rabies and the possibility that a dog could substantially ruin his life and his furniture.

What really happened was that one of JD’s favorite students had a litter of mutts and not being particularly astute at the mixes and breeds and temperaments of any non-Bassett Hound type looking dog, agreed to adopt a cute little puppy. I almost laughed at the cute ‘little’ Belgian Sheepdog, Lab, Cocker Spaniel-Red Fox mix with paws the size of small dishes. This was no lap dog, it was a small horse. Skipper’s name was undeniable. He was in charge from day one. He painfully cried away his first night of residence with us, whimpering in the kitchen until be broke free of his cardboard bondage whereby jumping up onto 9 year old- Shannon’s bed in what scientists aptly refer to as “imprinting”. She took over conservator ship of the 8 week old puppy and she’s been his mommy ever since.

I’d like to argue the point that the last person to walk Skip, drive him in the car with the wind beating on his head, and whoever so hath delivereth the best table scrap to his drooling chops, to be his master du jour of the moment, but it’s me talking here so what do I know? But, I swear that big old dog smiles at me. Maybe it’s because I’m his grandmother. There are limitations to my state of responsibility however, as anything regurgitated out of either end of that dog is promptly referred back to the mother to pick up and she never complains about the dooty duty.

So in honor of all creatures Great and Small, and in celebration of Birdy’s birthday last Saturday, we met the family in Sacramento to catch John Grogan’s book to film version of “Marley & Me”. In essence, it’s the story of a young couple, their growing family and how indelibly situated their dog; Marley was in the center of it all. I have to warn all my dog loving friends out there, this film is not for people who hate to laugh and cry at the same time. Shucks…it might as well have been titled, Me Matey Skip, or my grand dog Skipper….or in technical terms, my daughter & Skip. Shannon was the only person who refused to see the film. She simply could not face a future reality of a world without Skipper in it.

If you have a fondness in your heart for your animal friends who bring you unconditional fury and joy at their antics and intuitiveness, you must read the book and see the film. So much of Grogan’s story is your own tale; you will find it difficult not to see the Marley in every pet you’ve ever known.

While Skipper is still rather youthful at age 8, known to take and carry his leash to the front door in his teeth and telling us in his grunts and whines that we need to get going in that Skipper dog dance that he does; often twirling around excitedly like a pony, we know that our years remaining with him are less than we’ve had thus far. In his own little way, no matter who is responsible for the next step out the door, he always makes you feel like you’re his Matey and he’s your Skipper and that all dogs, no matter what, go to Heaven.

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in the ordinary

Christmas Eve & Day are the most special days of the year for me, primarily because no matter where I am, there is a different feeling in the air on these two days, unlike any other days I've experienced throughout my life. Expectation, joy, peace, all emotions I've felt on December 24 and December 25. It's a mystery to me...and it repeats year after year. I've also had years of sadness and loneliness on these days, dealing with loved ones who were ill and in crisis. My grandpa collapsed on Christmas day and died four days later when I was nine years old. Thirty six years later, it's still a prominent memory for me. My Dad was in the hospital three years ago and now his best friend is there, a man who sat with us for three months...patiently waiting like us, for Dad to come home.

To equate this time of celebration with love and grief is unavoidable because the emotions are so interconnected...We grieve those whom we have loved. God comes to us gently in His example of His birth because I think He knew and understood the world He had created, one in which joy and fear shared seats in concert, with passion, love and anger. How can one not stand in awe of the fragility and beauty of a newborn infant? In the midst of chaos, the world did not stop. The world celebrates simplicity in extravagance. He was/is a contradiction. Being born in the bleakness and beauty of humble surroundings, via a vessel of grace, we had among us the Godchild, a Light in the darkness.

We are celebrating Christmas this year, grateful for the blessings we've received and will receive in the coming year, worried about extended family members dealing with a devastating diagnosis, a good friend in the hospital recovering from a fall off a roof. Life is a circle of joy and suffering, gain and loss. In the midst of running around this Advent, it was important for me to lie low and hang out with the kids. My sisters and I decided we wouldn't exchange gifts. We thought it best just to help each other with the dinner preparations. We wanted to welcome friends we haven't seen in a year. They are Jewish friends who want to experience Christmas and they asked to share it with us. It wasn't about what we bought. I know, I know. The stores opened early and closed late with discounts and deals beyond belief. Someone reminded me that a good deed is better than 80% off anything that is usually discarded soon after it's opened on Christmas. We filled up our gas tanks with loose change. When was the last time we could do that?

Who needs you? That is what this Christmas is about. Does a friend need a lift, a kind word? Does someone need a ride, a meal, a shoulder to cry on? Better than that cashmere sweater, or Blu-Ray DVD player, how can you give your time? What about having everyone in for a movie night, a home-cooked meal, a night out with a babysitter? Who needs me? My family is about to lose me to a 12 month nursing program and I have to remind myself that I need to set aside time for them. Sometimes, just hanging out in the kitchen baking with my kids is a gift.

When Christ was born in Bethlehem, He came as an infant, in secret and in love. He revisits us in the sacraments, in other people and even sometimes challenging us by coming to us in the people we don't care for too much. God comes to us through our family members and friends. As quietly as He arrived...he stays patient for us to recognize Him in the ordinary. Cook something nice, be present to your loved ones, take the phone of the hook, go to church, even if you haven’t been there in a while, open a bottle of something to share and have a very Merry Christmas.

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Put me in coach...

It feels like a very long baseball game is finally winding down after extra innings. After what seemed like an interminable amount of time in school preparing for a nursing program, this old bench warmer is finally having to step up to the plate and hit something, because everyone wants to go home, darn it! I say that tongue in cheek because after being so worried about getting into school, rejected by lotteries and retaking classes I had B’s in for A's,I was too tired to be happy about it when it finally happened…in a trio of acceptances into two bachelors program and one masters program.

I narrowed it down to two. One costs as much as a loaded Lexus and lasts 12 months, the other is much slower paced, less expensive and is a 2-year program. At my age, I should be practical and take door number 2, but I am Bob & Sally’s daughter, so I always do things that are risky and so I go for what Monty Hall is holding in his left breast pocket, which is a roller coaster ride to hell and back.

Luckily, misery loves company and my old pal Trudy decided to jump on Hell Ride 2 with me. She’s just as a nervous, but we’re old broads with moxy and we’re just gonna jump on the ride, fasten our seat belts and scream. In the process, we hope we lose a few pounds.

I tried on my nursing uniform last week and my son laughed at my shoes. “Are you going outside in those?” I know this is going to be one of those experiences not unlike what my nephew went through at Basic Military Training. There is no glamour and glory in being a student nurse. There will be times when I will feel stupid and probably do something wrong. I know I will have to swallow my pride and get ready for the boot stomp, but at the end I will be a different person. I will be a nurse. In the meantime, I hope to have the stamina it takes to endure cramming what most students study in 2-3 years, into an accelerated 12 month 2nd degree program. Knowing the family won’t see me much, I have started to build of arsenal of support. Carpool plans, study groups, buying books early (reading). I’ve had parental help with books and supplies, and I’m on a first name basis with my loan officer. Note to self: Consider hiring a housekeeper to prevent mental breakdown in the middle of the year. JD and the kids assure me they will be waiting for me at the end of the ride. So I go.

We went to orientation last month and a faculty adviser suggested we keep a journal of the year, only because so much will happen during the program, we’ll want to look back and see how we’ve changed. I decided to keep an on-line diary which I will blog for anyone interested in reading about student nursing or the nursing profession in general. The blog journal can be accessed at

A friend of mine who graduates tonight from the same program I will begin on January 5, is not the same person I went to Folsom Lake College with. He’s been through a process that redefined him. I saw what it was doing to him last summer when we met him and his wife for dinner. I thought to myself, “I will never do it that way” and in true Tammy fashion, promptly signed up for it in November. He is so much happier now, like the end of the roller coaster ride that made you really sick, but elated to come out the other side, or the really long baseball game that never ends. His first job will be working in the Operating Room as an OR nurse so I guess you can say he hit a home run. Put me in coach.

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her on the web at or

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Parla come magni

“Speak the way you eat” or something to that effect, is something I pulled out of a book I am reading titled “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. At moments in the book I find nothing and everything in common with the author, whose journey through Italy, India and Indonesia puts her on a journey of self discovery and one might argue her path to loving God. I had a similar journey about 10 years ago, but most of it occurred within a 20 mile radius of Sacramento. So boring, and I doubt anyone would really want to read my memoir about it. I am convinced this Thanksgiving that life is simply a journey where we are required to eat, pray and love; in the process however, it would be nice to leave something worthwhile behind. Parla come magni, at the end of the day means “Keep it simple”.

Parla come magni…I remember a similar journey in the summer of 1983. My parents decided that the family should see Europe in a manner of weeks, much in the tenor of the film “Its Tuesday, it must be Belgium”. I have some great memories from that trip. Sometimes a moment becomes a mantra and there was one event in Holland that indelibly defined my family. We had exited the tour bus in Amsterdam and my mom wanted to see the home of Anne Frank. The rest of us were hungry and disoriented after standing in front of Rembrandt’s famed ‘Nightwatch’. Mom was irritable and probably LBS (low blood sugar)…so she took off in a fit. Being a woman who is perimenopausal, I thought my mom was nuts back then (little did I know at age 20). Realizing that we should all probably follow her, we all sort of stepped into the pace, except we did it in single file, sort of spontaneously. Mom, Terry, Tricia, Dad and Me all walking single file down the street…when suddenly to break up the tension, Dad started to quack. Like a duck. “Quack..quack…quack…” with each alternating step we took, looking ridiculously American in the process, the spectacle of it became quite funny. I think at one point Mom couldn’t be mad any more. We were all laughing hysterically. It stuck. In later years, when Pop walked us all down the aisle at our weddings, he quacked. Whenever we found ourselves in line anywhere, the quacking would intuitively start. We were forever known as the duck family. We’ve added a lot of ducks since then and everyone has been initiated. Yeah, it’s a weird family thing. Families can be that way.

I am thankful for a life where eating, praying and loving is part of the recipe of my family. This thanksgiving, give thanks for the good times, the bad and all the in-betweens. My own family, that being JD, Shannon, Conor & Birdy have sort of followed me, lock, stock and barrel through some hair brained ideas, absolute demands and long term commitments. Whether it was whether or not, we were going to continue homeschooling, where we would go on vacation, go to Mass on Sundays or eat dinner, they always went along with the Mama Duck. When I took time off to take care of Pop and as I start my year long nursing program this January, the kids have always honored and stepped into pace with the disruptions in their lives. I asked Shannon to take on some major responsibilities now that she is all grown up, and she has complied with each request, without too much quacking and Birdy and Conor have done the same. I guess I am the luckiest mother duck on earth. No one complains much. I guess the duck family was born, long before Amsterdam 1983 somewhere in the genes of some Irish people with a sense of humor, or some Italians too mad to come to blows.

J.D. is willing to support his crazy wife who wants to be a nurse and has always been there to walk beside me in this journey of life, like a great spouse and best girlfriend. With a journey that involves simplicity, complexity and sometimes insanity, this Thanksgiving, I wish you joy in eating, praying and loving your family. It’s an insane and wonderful life. From my duck family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her on the web at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

All shall be well

Next week my Dad goes back to the hospital for surgery. It was three years ago this month that he faced a similar situation and we almost lost him. I know things are going to be better this time because I have faith that ‘all shall be well.’ It would be a waste to worry and fret. We’ve done that before and it made us crazy. I was cleaning out my old desk in my bedroom and noticed a card a friend had given JD a couple years ago with the words “All shall be well” inscribed across the card. I tossed it to JD and said that we should hang onto that. Reminders are just that…little urgings from the past telling us that everything is going to be OK. This brings me to a column I wrote a few years back during Lent and I wanted to revisit it again because I need to remind myself sometimes to stop fretting. Some things are just beyond my control.

The reminder is for those who might be going through a rough patch right now. Whether you are grieving the loss of a loved one or suffering some insurmountable loss of health or bad news about a loved one. You know who you are. You are the ones that suffer mostly in silence. You try your hardest at work and at home to put on a happy face. When people ask how you are doing, the only words you can find are, “Everything’s just fine…thanks.” But when you get into the shower or collapse into bed at night, you let the tears fall. In secret you are suffering because you have a lot of things on your mind and you know you need to keep going. Maybe life has dealt you some hard blows and bad cards. Perhaps you are suffering the loss of a job or financial woes. I see those of you who are not sleeping at night, maybe because you are losing your home or your job and you are wondering how bad it’s going to be, now that the Holidays are approaching. Maybe your business isn’t doing as well as you expected, or that home renovation project is driving you crazy. Some of you are struggling with managing it all…school, work and home. Perhaps you are failing to meet expectations you and others have placed on you. It’s very difficult. Hard times happen and we don’t always understand the reasons why. A friend of mine who is a priest reminded me today that there is the hardship of carrying a cross (a mystery), but our hope is in the glory of bearing it well.

Some of you have loved ones who are far away from home. The worry is getting to you. Your teenager might be having emotional or scholastic problems. Maybe your marriage has fallen into a rut. Perhaps you are lonely or have suffered a betrayal in a close friendship. Without becoming absolutely too maudlin in outlining common problems many people suffer in days like these, I offer you a few thoughts, only because you’ve been on my mind.

You are not alone, even when it seems as if you are. This too, shall pass….and no problem is bigger than your own strength to bear it. Don’t give in to despair. Try and persevere. Sometimes, the highest thing we can do to beat problems like these, is to be absolutely dedicated to helping others with a kind word or deed. Maybe you can’t do much right now. Perhaps picking up the phone and calling someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time, mending a fence, delivering a meal to a neighbor, or writing a letter to a loved one would give you a brighter outlook. Finding a kind word, hugging someone who needs one, lending an ear and listening well, make our own problems seem less significant. Negativity breeds contempt and bitterness. Make time for family. Try to relax and slow down.

If you are ill, the very idea of usefulness escapes you. But your work is valuable and has meaning. Perhaps your primary job is that of using your own suffering as a means to sanctify those around you. Perhaps you are teaching patience to others by your own example of suffering. Your virtue is your patience.

So much is changing besides the season. Be patient and unafraid. Sorrow is seasonal, like a rough and cold winter. If you are in the throes of a difficult time, this, too shall pass and Spring is only a few months away.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and a bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at