Category Archives: Sad Things

An odd testament to love

My stepdad, Joe, passed away last Thursday.

It was a shock.

I visited him with Audrey and Fiala the night previous, as we’d gotten word that he had taken a turn for the worse.  He was mostly out of it, on pain meds, but we had some now-memorable exchanges… One was me asking him if he wanted music in his room — he LOVED music — and he did.  I made a mental plan to follow up on that the next day.  A sick man should have music.  He taught my children all sorts of silly songs over the years — he and my mom started dating when my 16 year-old was an infant;  they were married days after he turned one — and I asked him if he might have a silly song for my girls.  He replied, “Not at the moment.”  When the girls and I were about to leave, I told him I needed to go back home to nurse baby Jean.  “Do you remember baby Jean?” I asked, not sure how connected he was with what I was saying.  “Oh, yes!” he said, and his face lit up.  The girls and I prayed for him, I told him that I loved him, and he said he loved me, too, and we left.

We got back home, and I told my husband, “He looks bad, but he doesn’t look like he’s on death’s door.”

I was wrong.

He died early the next morning.

Perhaps this seems odd, but I think his passing might be a testament to how much he loved my mother, and that makes me feel a little bit better.

It had been a hard, hard year with Joe.  Well, hard ten months.  My mother passed on October 18, 2012, and for the month or so following, things were good with Joe, although he was terribly — understandably — heartbroken.

And then things deteriorated.

Much of the deterioration revolved around my mom’s will and the way estate law works in Arizona.

The short version is that he didn’t think that myself or my three siblings should inherit anything from my mother.  He genuinely felt entitled to everything she owned and saved, and felt that we weren’t taking care of him by signing our inheritances over to him.

My sibs and I couldn’t agree to his desires.  My mom appropriated some things to her children…  The bulk of the estate went to Joe.  There was much that estate law would allow us to keep, or claim — property which wasn’t exactly specified in the will — which we didn’t.  We siblings were trying our best to err on the side of generosity, to keep all fighting to an absolute minimum, to find common ground…  We simply were not successful, and Joe remained upset at us.  Angry, really.  He was angry with us.

So.

It had been a very, very hard time, a difficult year.

—————–

I had long said that Joe was the most involved grandparent that my children had.

And, it was true for 15 years.

And then, not true for 10 months.

There were a few, encouraging steps forward… and those would invariably be followed by some giant sliding backward.

I’m not angry at Joe.  The issue of inheritance was a very difficult thing that was only resolved about a month ago.  But, even when estate matters were resolved, things were still not good, relationship-wise, with Joe.  While he was in the hospital, my brother-in-law suggested to Joe, “Can we call a truce?  And then, when you’re feeling better, you can be angry again.”  Joe thought that was hilarious — my brother-in-law is quite witty, and I think it was the perfect thing to say.  And, Joe agreed, at least in spirit…

While my family was on vacation earlier this month, Joe — who had for months been complaining of an ‘upset stomach’ — was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  And, less than two weeks after his diagnosis, he was gone.

I wrote to some friends:

Everyone handles grief so differently. As I’m typing this, I’m thinking, “He just could NOT move on,” and that fits with something else I was going to say: he has always tended towards bitterness and suspicion and hoarding… and we didn’t realize how much my mom kept that in check. In so many ways, she must have compelled him to move on, to get past “it”, whatever “it” was. And with her gone, there was no one who could speak that into him, and he just spiraled out of control. I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but it seems like a testament to how much he loved my mom, how much influence she had in his life, what a difference she made in his outlook and approach to life… it makes me feel better. And even with his cancer diagnosis. I think he just might have given up. I think if she had been alive, he would have fought.

When my mom was hospitalized, my siblings and I frequently discussed how much my mom loved Joe, but how foreign to us were his ways of expressing love to her.  I found myself rather desperately hoping that my mom was loved as deeply as she…  well, I hate the word “deserve”…  Needed?  Should have had?  I’m not sure of the right word there.  I just wanted her to be loved by her husband.  That was really, really, really important to me.  And there were times when I found myself wondering.

Yet, this last week, I have been, indeed, struck with just how much he much have loved her… She made his life worth living.  She compelled him to go on.  She called out in him the things that were noble, and helped the ignoble to be manageable, far less noticeable.

I’m a mishmash of thoughts and emotions.

Such regret that relationship wasn’t restored by the time of Joe’s passing.

So sad…  Sad for my children.  Sad for Joe.  Sad for myself.

But, strangely comforted about my mother, whose absence is a deepening hole in my life.

I’m comforted that he loved her.

Mom and Joe

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Dogs vs Tomatoes. The tomatoes aren’t winning.

I have created a monster:  Buddy, the Tomato-Loving Puppy.

It started like this:  On Wednesday, as part of the Crooked Sky Farms CSA, I ordered two extra boxes of organic, heirloom tomatoes, 30 pounds total (for $30!!)*.  On Friday, I processed half of them to make salsa, the first step being peeling and coring them.  After scalding the tomatoes and peeling them over the sink, I pulled my cushy office chair up to the island — that’s how I’ve been doing my meal prep:  sitting — and started cutting out the tough area where the stem attaches with a paring knife.

Our “old” dog, Tally, sat down next to me, very attentive, with a polite request in her eyes.  I kept declining, “Tally.  Really.  You don’t want a tomato core.  Dogs don’t like tomatoes.”  But, she patiently and gently disagreed.  Finally, I tossed her a core.  She snapped it out of the air and wanted another.  I tossed her another.  And another.  She ate them like candy!  In short order, Buddy, who is 5 months old, figured out that Tally was getting something he wasn’t and came to investigate.  Buddy is quite pushy and bossy — which bothers me — but I ended up using it as a training reinforcement for him to sit and stay.  Soon, he was on one side of me, Tally on the other, and as soon as I cored a tomato, I would toss it to alternating dogs.

Eventually, I ran out.  Tally was all right with that, and sauntered off to lounge in the living room.

Buddy was NOT all right with me running out.

He’s not a very vocal dog.  He whines a bit, but rarely barks, and is just generally a quiet dog.  But, after he figured out that nudging my leg with his nose was not producing any more tomato cores, he put up a fuss.  I wish I would have recorded it.  He vocalized with such incessant pleading, loudly begging for more tomato cores, deep in his throat with a variety of pitches, howls, and vocalizations.  He was also trying his best to sit and stay, maximizing the possibility of obtaining more tomato scraps.  But, he worked himself just about frantic in his quest for more tomatoes.  At first I was highly amused.  NEVER have I heard him talk like that!  But after a good ten minutes, I started to feel very sorry for him.  Not sorry enough to chop up a good tomato and give it to him, but I did commiserate with him and try to comfort his comfortless self.

Buddy, in a quieter moment

Buddy, in a quieter moment

The next day, Saturday, I processed nearly 15 more pounds of tomatoes for Tomato Confit Sauce, and the same scene was repeated, much to the dogs’ delight.

However, Sunday… Buddy decided to take matters into his own paws.

I have six tomato plants growing in my mini-garden.  Three of them are very large.  They haven’t been the most fruitful of tomato plants, probably because I haven’t as highly-prioritized my garden this spring/summer as I have in years past!  I’ve fed the plants infrequently, have not hand-pollinated, and other than putting tomato cages around them, mulching them with homemade compost, and watering them faithfully, I haven’t really done much with the plants or to them.  However, each plant has a number of tomatoes in varying stages of ripeness, with the very first tomatoes of they year JUST ready to pick.

And they were picked.  By Buddy.

My husband Martin woke me up on Sunday morning, “Babe… I’m sorry to tell you, but Buddy ate all your tomatoes.”

I was up in a flash.  “WHAT???”

“All the ripe ones.  They’re gone.  I was on the back patio and I could see him over by the garden, but I couldn’t really tell what he was doing until it was too late.”

I practically ran — with my 38 week pregnant belly — down the stairs and out the door to inspect the damage.  Sure enough.  Only bright green tomatoes remained.

I about cried.

And this is AFTER this past week where I have mourned him plucking four of the six muskmelons off the vine.  That, while I was heartbroken, I sort of understood:  They looked like oversized tennis balls.  I could imagine his confusion.

But all my tomatoes???  Oh, that saddened me.

And then, he one-upped himself:  He branched, later Sunday evening, into sampling the GREEN tomatoes.  He ate at least 2-3, and I found three more, on the plants, with teeth punctures in them.

Oh, Buddy!  How could you??  Rascal dog!!

The only good news about this is that, a short time later, he puked up the green tomatoes.  I’m hoping that the experience is enough for him to stop nabbing my tomatoes.  And in the meantime, my husband is going to rifle around in our shed and see what he can find for some temporary fencing.

~sigh~

—————–

*They have a Groupon going!!  $24 for 15 lbs of Crooked Sky organic, heirloom tomatoes.

In which I complain — and other stuff

I am 31 weeks pregnant.  I had two and a half glorious months, post-morning-sickness, where I felt AMAZING.  Now, my large belly has caught up with me, and I am feeling rather crabby and swollen and it’s hard to breathe, and I generally feel uncomfortable.  I’m also getting exhausted in a way… well, prior to my diagnosis with Celiac Disease, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome*.  I remember how it felt in the evening, anticipating even ONE outing the following day, and having to fight despondency, because I knew that ONE outing would wipe me out, entirely.  That is where I’m at, now.

Until the last few weeks, the worst I could say was that the mass of varicose veins on the back of my right leg was giving me pain.  All things considered, being a 39-year-old pregnant woman, I figured that was quite good.  I got my stinkin’ expensive “pregnancy support garment” — which is very much like a girdle, or a compression garment.  On one hand, it’s a blessing:  It allows me to walk around without feeling like my leg is going to fall off;  it minimizes the pain and pressure, as well, from vaginal varicosities.  However… it is 80% nylon and 20% spandex which, apparently, my skin doesn’t appreciate.  If I wear it for too long, I get hives.  But if I’m NOT wearing it, I can literally be on my feet for maybe 5-10 minutes at a time.

I went to Illinois this past weekend.  I went to my maternal grandmother’s memorial service and visited my paternal grandmother, who is very ill.  I traveled with my sister (who lives in the Phoenix area, as well) and my brother (who drove down from Utah to travel with us).  It was, all things considered, a wonderful trip, in spite of the sad catalyst for the journey.  I could write for a very long time on my thoughts and the events of the four days, but I likely can’t:  My experience is so intertwined with others’, for whom I deeply care.  Telling my tale would necessitate telling theirs, as well, and I don’t know if they would appreciate me broadcasting their story;  it’s not mine to tell.

Still, in spite of late nights, days spent going hither and thither on necessary business, spending my days in the endless company of others (which generally drains me, as an introvert) — whom I needed to see and wanted to see and LOVED to see, cramming a couple of weeks of events into those four days, in spite of unending exhaustion of both body and mind, an aching leg, and the aforementioned hives, it was an exceptionally worthwhile journey.

IMG_20130420_100838_168

Views like this refresh my soul. It does, doubly so, knowing that this land, this view, has been connected to my mother’s family for nearly 200 years.

I love Illinois.  The above picture was taken from the back steps of my aunt’s home.  I took it, steaming coffee in hand.  The sun was shining, it was about 7 a.m., and the temperature was 35°.  The view is a corner of a field, which will likely have corn growing in it within a month or so, and a little pond beyond that.  In the timber behind the pond is the remain of an old road, likely last used in the early 1800s.  It had rained torrentially in Illinois, the day before our arrival, so the ground was saturated and impassably muddy in many places, and I didn’t own the boots which would allow me to go down that lovely road-path.

My husband, though, is considering having our family return to Illinois for our family’s summer trip this year — which would be our first time as a whole family — and I will most certainly meander down that road…

Anyway.

It shouldn’t be odd that, with the absence of The Mom, there are many things, upon my return, that have needed my attention.  Life does go on, even when I’m not here at home.  Laundry continues to pile up.  Children still need attention in their schooling.  The dog’s medicine runs out.

Today was much busier than I would have preferred, even if I weren’t pregnant.  So far, I have:

  • Gone to a grocery store — needed especially for milk and meat for the week.  (In related news, I got three gallons of organic milk for $4.99.  This was accomplished due to the fact that Shamrock Farms organic milk was 50% off this week, with the final price of $2.49 for a 3-quart container.  Two containers were near their “best by” date, and were marked $2.50 off.  In other words, FREE.  I figured that even if they went bad before we finished drinking them, no harm done;  they’re free.  I got two other containers, as well.  Four containers, three gallons total, $4.99 spent.)
  • Done two large loads of laundry — it’s still not folded, yet.
  • Overseen school with my three older children.  I will admit my first grader, Audrey, did pretty much nothing today, other than some self-directed art and Lego-building.
  • I fertilized my mini-garden with fish emulsion and epsom salts — something that should be done every two weeks, but of which I was very overdue.
  • I called LG for my washing machine — again.  It keeps having issues.  I’ve needed to call them for a couple of weeks now, but kept putting it off.
  • I ordered Algebra 2 on Teaching Textbooks.
  • I had an overdue, hour-long conversation with another homeschooling mom, helping her (I hope) with some issues she’s having with one of her children.
  • I went to Trader Joe’s for more groceries.
  • I returned some overdue library DVDs.  Yes, even with a smart phone, I kept forgetting to renew our family’s DVDs while I was away, resulting in $7 in new fines.  😦
  • I went to the pool supply store and got chlorine tabs and shock.  Our poor pool…  It really needs a new pump.  It is under warranty until July, but a repairman has already been out once, and he said that there’s really nothing he can do, under our warranty, until the pump breaks.  If it breaks entirely before July, the $400+ cost of replacement will be covered.  If it only limps along inefficiently, as it has been doing, we’re out of luck.  I must admit that I am tempted to sabotage the pump to “help” it completely break.  My husband, though, man of absolute integrity that he is, wouldn’t hear of such a thing.  But, it’s in the 90s now, and our pool-cum-pond is unusable.
  • I went to pick up more fluconazole for our dog, Tally, who is still recovering from Valley Fever.
  • I stopped by a used furniture store and bought a small chest of drawers for the new baby ($25 — it needs to be either painted or lightly sanded and revarnished — I haven’t decided which, yet).  I also bought a very solid, medium-sized bookcase for $35.  It has a blond finish, and appears to be from the 60s.  It is almost cool.  Tomorrow, I will clear out the beleaguered particle board book case which is currently holding most of our school books for this year.  It keeps collapsing.
  • I still need to shower.
  • I need to make dinner — which will be the Crockpot refried beans I made last night, reheating a roasted Costco rotisserie chicken, and likely some roasted beets from the CSA I host each Wednesday.  Easy peasy.
  • I need to pick out the worship set list for tonight’s small group.  It is definitely one of those nights where, if I didn’t have to go to small group, I probably wouldn’t.  Frankly, I’d rather put up my feet, watch baseball, and read my current book** during the commercials.  When I’m actually there at group, I always enjoy it.  Always.  But, right now, I am tired, and wish I wasn’t compelled to attend by my responsibilities there…

So, that’s it!  That has been my day.  Too busy for me.  Still not over.  But, life could be worse, eh?  All things considered, life is still good — many things have happened in the last week that are stellar, and on which I cannot comment.

If you’re still reading, thank you.  🙂  Since it has been nearly three weeks since I posted, I felt that this post was overdue, as well…  Not my best work, but it will have to do for now.

Blessings to all my readers, those whom I know personally, and those whose acquaintance I’ve only made through this blog…  I’ve been feeling particularly thankful for you, lately.

 

—————–

*Virtually all CFS symptoms disappeared when I went onto a gluten-free diet.  I do believe that the underlying cause of my chronic fatigue was celiac disease itself.

**In spite of middling reviews (which I have not read — only noticing it has only about 3.5 stars on Amazon), I am still very much enjoying it.  Well, I just peeked at some reviews.  It appears that those who love Anne Perry’s mysteries, set in 1800s England, are most disappointed.  Perhaps that explains why I like the book:  I don’t care for Anne Perry.  (I did read her four-book series which was set in WWI, but once the series was completed, decided that any more of Perry would be a waste of my time.)

 

American politics, farming, charming visuals, and becoming recentered…

I think that one of my greatest frustrations with how the U.S. government works is that really awful riders can be attached to otherwise apparently-necessary bills, acts, laws, etc.  Earlier this week, when many folks were consumed (pro or con) by the conversation surrounding same-sex marriage being debated in the Supreme Court, the Agricultural Appropriations Bill was signed into law by President Obama.  In it was a rider that has been called “the Monsanto Protection Act” because it specifically protects that one giant chemical company — nearly single-handedly responsible for the chemicalization of American farming, and its resulting current and future destruction of environment and personal health — from litigation.  It passed the Senate and the House with many legislators not even knowing such a rider was included.  The way these giant bills frequently slip through the cracks is that a Senator might say, “Well, I agree with 80% of what is in this bill, so I will vote for it.”  Or, a Representative might have his or her own “attachment” that they’ve managed to slip into a detailed, hundreds-of-pages bill, and that one attachment is specifically important to the rep’s corner of their own state.  So, they say, “I can’t tell my people that I voted against this measure which is so vital to our state’s interests.”  So, even if they disagree with 98% of the bill, if there is a tiny corner of that bill which is of specific significance to that Representative, they may vote to pass it.

And, so the Agricultural Appropriations Bill with its enclosed “Monsanto Protection Act” passed this week.

Here’s where my thoughts have been going:

In a way — a small way — I’m kind of pleased.

Not about the “Monsanto Act” in particular, which I find horrid, gut-wrenching, and worrisome, but because my Facebook feed has been abuzz with, “HOW COULD OBAMA DO THIS???”

I’ll admit:  I’m a Republican.  However, since issues of the environment, food production, health, and farming are near and dear to my heart, there are a number of political websites I frequent which are, shall we say, not friendly to the general Republican cause.  I’m OK with that.  I don’t need to identify with the entire Republican platform.

Actually, I’ve felt for quite a while that there is no political “slot” into which I neatly fit.  Not the Republican Party, not the Democratic.  Not Libertarian.  Not Green.  Not the Tea Party.  No where, really, that I’ve been able to find.  I’m too liberal for the Republicans.  Too conservative for the Democrats.  Too convinced by the general goodness of the rule of law for the Libertarians.  I’m not angry enough — or Socialistic enough — for the Green Party.  Not fearful enough for the Tea Party.*

And, to an extent, I’m pragmatic like the Legislators I vilified above:  If I agree with, say, 60% of what the Republican Party generally stands for, I’ll often vote along with them…  I do see the irony.

Anyhow, in the more liberal edges of politics, to which I pay at least some attention, the consensus seems to be general, heart-broken disappointment with our President.

And, I’m OK with that.

From the very, very beginning of his campaign, back in 2008, the thing that bothered me most — more than any political stance, more than any stated goal, more than his “Democrat-ness” — is that he set himself on a pedestal as the HOPE for our nation.  It was his campaign slogan, for crying out loud!

Obama is not the hope of our nation.

Hope in a person routinely leads to disillusionment.

I’m OK with folks becoming disillusioned to the Obama administration.

I saw this, this morning in my Facebook feed:

Now, I’ll admit:  If you put a grassy field, a blue sky, and some freshly shorn sheep on a picture, I’ll probably like it, no matter what the words attached may be.

But the verse — John 10:11 — brought me back to the main and plain, the core of my existence:  My hope is in the Good Shepherd.  And He’s a good leader who does not disappoint.  He doesn’t do stuff that is 40% awful and heartbreaking and 60% good.  HE IS GOODNESS ITSELF.  And what’s more:  He’s a peaceful, but powerful and sacrificial leader.

He’s the one whom I follow.

There are some practicalities with being involved in the political system;  I’m not saying that I’m going to stick my head in the sand and never call my state Senator, never sign another petition (I favor real-life petitions, by the way), and quit voting.  I’m not even going to stop speaking out about issues that are important to me.

But, since a bit of doom and gloom and fear for the future of my country has weaseled its way into my mind and heart this week, I did need the reminder this morning of my Good Shepherd.  My GOOD Shepherd.

And may His peace, His goodness, His faithfulness, His wisdom be a comfort to you as well, my friends, as you contemplate your own future, and that of your own country.

——————–

*I’m sorry if this offends;  it’s my opinion and perspective of each party as it relates to my own beliefs and convictions.

Pecans, picture books, tradition, and memories of my mother

I have a friend with some tangelo trees and pecan trees.  I envy her.  Her property has irrigation, which is really needed to grow strong, large, healthy, productive trees in the desert.  We have two citrus trees which are nowhere near as nice;  they were neglected by the previous owner.  Actually, we had three trees, but one died (it was 95% dead when we moved here in July, and to my distress, we couldn’t rescue it;  it kept declining until its death).  One other tree is stunted and didn’t produce anything;  I don’t even know what kind of citrus it is supposed to bear.  The other tree is a medium-sized navel orange tree.  Its fruit is delicious (though hard to peel), but the whole tree produced about 30 oranges*.  I’m thankful for those 30 oranges, but I’m definitely going to make sure that the tree is well-watered and fertilized so that it produces MANY MORE oranges, next winter.  Thanks to the expert knowledge of my local, small nursery, I already learned that, in Phoenix, citrus needs to be fertilized on February 14, then again in mid-July, and once more in mid-September.

That makes me consider the valuable lesson of delayed gratification taught by growing one’s own food.  I think our society would be much more balanced in our perspectives if we all grew things to eat.

But, I digress.

In mid-December, my 13-year-old son Grant and I took my friend Jeannie up on her offer and picked probably 30+ pounds of tangelos (which are very tart, quite sweet, with easy-peel rinds) and about 10 lbs of pecans from her property.  Jeannie wasn’t at home, but her husband and I had a great conversation about homeschooling, parenting boys, and about land and growing things as we harvested.

The next day, before the children were awake, I sat at the island and started to shell the pecans.  As the kids trickled sleepily out of their rooms, there was a universal response of, “Wha…??” as they walked into the kitchen.  As in, “Why would you want to be doing that at 7:30 a.m.????”  But, each sat down at a stool to try their hand.  Soon, all five children were happily cracking away, breakfast delayed, perfect half or even whole nuts held up as a trophy of new found shelling-skill.  We exclaimed over eachother’s successes, and groaned over the occasional rotted nut or slipped nutcracker that resulted in a barrage of shell and nut bits broadcast over the table.

Quickly, in front of me, piled up the outcasts.  When one child didn’t crack the nut quite right, or the nutmeat was just plain stuck, rather than persisting (which is no fun, and can be hard on the fingertips!), they’d pass the nut to me.

It was all right.  It just meant that I was a whole lot slower than even my four year old, Fiala.  I worked at rescuing the stuck bits, buried in each shell.  It felt worthwhile, and I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away even the smallest nutmeat that could possibly be redeemed.

It became one of those unexpected moments where I found myself profoundly missing my mother.

I had a flashback to one of my mom’s favorite winter pastimes:  Shelling nuts in the family room, fireplace blazing, happily chatting around the family room coffee table, eating more than we shelled.  AND…. passing onto my mother our own tough nuts:  the ones we couldn’t best.  She redeemed them all.

I realized, as I worked on the bits of stuck pecans that December morning with my own children, that I thought my mother enjoyed the challenge of picking out the trapped bits of nutmeat.  Maybe she did.  She was like that.

But, maybe it was one of those things similar to how I thought she liked burnt toast, because she always ate it.  It wasn’t until my adulthood that I discovered that her burnt toast-eating was sacrificial:  She knew that we four children didn’t like burnt toast, but she didn’t want it to go to waste, so she ate it.

I thought she liked eating leftovers for lunch.

I thought she liked hand-me-downs.

And so on.

I thought she liked picking out those stubborn, stuck bits of walnut and pecan.

I would have liked to ask her.  I felt compelled, multiple times, to go pick up the phone to call her.  I had to remind myself that I could not.

I also would have liked to tell her that I was passing down what I didn’t realize — until that morning — had been a family tradition.

I have often lamented that tradition was in short supply in my childhood.  But, the longer my perspective is on my younger years, the more I realize that there were traditions tucked here and there… And every time I can pass one on, or share a joy with my children that I experienced as a child, there is such warmth in that, now more poignant than ever.

My mom passed on in October.  In general, I haven’t lamented her death.  She was long ill, and eager to go home to be with Jesus after years of fighting and staying strong.  It was her time, and as much as sad things can be, it felt very right.

I dearly love all of Robert McCloskey’s books.

I had an inkling, though, that there would be many days like these:  Where I would so love to call her and tell her something funny or tender or joyous…  And I just couldn’t.  And THEN I would miss her and deeply regret her passing.

So it was, with the pecan-shelling morning:  All five children happily chattering and squabbling over the nutcracker;  we only have one.  However, one of my children discovered that the garlic press worked wonders!  Ha!!  I had to implement a rule — which had echoes of familiarity — that each child can eat as many pecans as they cared to, as long as they were the one who shelled that pecan;  they can’t reach into the community jar and take a handful of others’ efforts.  “Did my mom say that, too??” I wondered silently.  I also remembered — and expressed to my children — how our pecan-shelling party reminded me of one of our most treasured picture books, Blueberries for Sal.  Sal’s mother had to tell her to go pick her own blueberries, and not take those her mother had picked;  her mother’s were for canning.  Similarly, the community pecans were going to go into Christmas baking and weren’t for general snacking.**  Again, the memories hearkened back to my mother, as she had first read the book to me, as a child.

Over the course of two mornings, we shelled about nine cups of pecans.  Then, our fingertips gave out, too sore to continue.  Still, nine cups was way more than I could have done on my own, despite how many pecans ended up in one small mouth or another!!

Pecans:  One of my happiest and saddest memories of this past month.

———————–

*It would have been about 40 oranges, but I discovered about ten of them with small plastic pellets lodged at various depths in the rind and fruit, and I had to lay down the law about NOT using oranges for airsoft gun target practice.  How could they????  Aargh.

*And, oh, how that added to our enjoyment of each baked good!!  Each child would say, “I shelled some of the pecans that went into this Cranberry Orange Pecan Bread!!”  Many items, we gave as gifts, and it really lent to the feeling of family, of community, of ownership, of pride in what we gave to others.

Domestic bliss didn’t last… but that is (almost) OK.

I keep waiting for life to return to normal.

I used to think that “a rut” was the worst thing that could happen to one’s life.

I now have turned 180° — or at least 160° or so — and have discovered that there is a reason it is called “Domestic Bliss.”  That is because when home life is wonderful, it REALLY IS wonderful.  Philosophers can devise witty sayings about how boring healthy families are, but when it comes down to it, if you have one, it really is lovely.

This past spring and summer was perhaps my most wonderful ever in my 39 years.  Well, I was 38, back then.  Everything was just right.  Parenting was going great.  I thought my husband was fabulous.  I had the garden of my dreams.  I had enough “spare” time to sneak in novel about once every 2-3 weeks, which, in my experience and for my personality is just right;  more reading than that means I’m not getting enough done in my home and family;  less reading than that means I’m stretched too thinly and stressed out.  We had just sold our house for more than we thought possible and had found the exact right place — right size house, right size lot, right location — for an amazing price.  I had lost about 20 pounds and was feeling great, and down to the same size I was before I had my first child, 15 years prior.  Other family relationships and friendships were sailing along at a beautiful clip.  Friends even purchased tickets for our family’s first-ever Disneyland trip.  Can you get much better than that?

I don’t think I’m a pessimist — truly — but I am enough of a realist to realize, even in the midst of all this amazingness, that it would probably not last forever.  It was one of those seasons where my prayer was, “God, please don’t let me forget this lovely season, especially if You’re gearing me up for hard times.”

And hard times have, indeed, come.  But, not exactly in the way that I had envisioned.

The good news is that I still think my husband is fabulous.  I have, in fact, grown in love and appreciation for him in the last couple of months.

By early October, my mother was sick, in the hospital, and appeared near death.

We were also in the throes of a remodel — a MAJOR remodel of about 40% of our “new” home — which I envisioned would take us about five weeks.

We also had a serious issue surface with one of our children…  Really serious, the sort of thing where it is just a deep, hard ache in a mother’s heart.

Then our dog got sick, a resurgence of Valley Fever.

Then my computer broke (I’m typing on my husband’s laptop), on which my children do about 1/3 of their schooling.

And… other things compounded my various challenges — like a dear friend (whose two sons are the best friends of two of my sons) moving out of state.  And a few other dear, long-time friends feeling led by God to become involved in various other ministries — leading them OUT of “my” church.  This put a hole in my heart, as well as made things logistically difficult, as I am now the lone worship leader for the 6-12 year-olds at church;  no one with whom to share that responsibility…

AND THEN, I found out I was pregnant with our sixth child.  And while that has been a huge joy — theoretically — I feel like crap, 24/7, and that just makes everything… extra-challenging.

And my mother did die, on October 18th.  That was hard.  It still is, especially when my four-year-old, Fiala, pipes up at lunch, scowl ensconced firmly on her face, “I don’t want Grandma to live with Jesus any more.  I want her to be here.”

We are still remodeling, nearing our 11th week of that massive project.  The good news is that I have a working kitchen.  I still don’t have a back splash, there is still some touch-up to do, I still don’t have a working sink in our powder room, and the legs of our built-in breakfast table (envision a bar, only larger and more rectangular) still need to be trimmed and stained.  AND, as I was dreaming — again — of the massive yard sale I’d have to enable the purchase of new furniture, it hit me like a ton of bricks that my Furniture Money would probably have to become Pay the Midwife Money.  Maybe that’s stupid, but it was one of those reality checks that made me groan, “Aw, man…”

Crappy picture taken with my phone, that shows evidence of my girls watching TV as I blog, and my home rather untidy, but about 97% remodeled.

My child with the “issue” is now in counseling, and though we’ve just begun, I think that will be really helpful.  Sometimes, it helps a child to hear truth from a different, non-parent source.  My husband and I are fighting — and winning, I think — not to feel like Giant Failures in Parenting.  Still, it’s been a blow to my confidence as a mother to have to call in the experts…

Our dog is still ill, but at least she hasn’t died.  The vet said that he rarely sees dogs with her blood titer level, because, “Usually a dog doesn’t get to that level;  they die before then.”  But, she’s on antifungals.  Sweet pup.  We’re not out of the woods, and it was hard to admit to my husband that I didn’t ask the vet to call in a three months’ supply of meds, which we could have done, and which is less expensive than buying it month-to-month, because I’m still not sure she’ll make it three months…  We’ll see.

My computer is still broken, which is making me feel like a bad homeschooling mom, because my kids haven’t done math nor typed anything in about a month.  Grant and Wesley also read from the encyclopedia on my computer…

The Sunday before I had the spate of friends become displaced from my life, in early August, the presence of God fell on me very powerfully during worship, and I felt God calling me to serve Him, and Him alone, for His sake — not for what I get out of my relationship with Him or out of my Christianity;  not simply because I was following my pastor (though I have a wonderful pastor — two of them, actually — absolutely amazing men of God who are excellent teachers and amazing leaders…)  I just felt Him calling me to Himself, no matter who does what, and when, nor what goes on around me.

I have really been clinging to that, and thankful to Him for preparing me.

I’m 11 weeks pregnant, and I still need to actually TALK WITH and MEET WITH my midwife, rather than exchanging phone messages.  I don’t know why, but I think I’m kind of dragging my feet about that.  It’s just one more thing that will go on the plate…  Know what I mean?

I hope this doesn’t sound like a bunch of complaining.

And I keep reminding myself how LOADS of people — billions of them — have it worse than I do.  In many ways, things really aren’t bad at all!  They’re just challenging, and I don’t enjoy being challenged.  I really don’t.

So!  That’s where I’m at.

Thanks for reading.  I wish I had something clever with which to tidily wrap up this post, but my stomach hurts too much to think of what that might be.  I think I’ll go make myself a piece of toast.

 

The most significant bathroom break, ever.

“Jean Marie,” read the very short text from my husband.

I was at a red light when I read it, out doing errands with my 13 year-old son, Grant.  It was five days after my mother had passed.  Her name was Jean Elaine.

“Wha…???” was my response, aloud.

I called my husband.  “Are you saying that if we have another baby, you want to name her after my mother?  You know I hate the name Marie.”

Our youngest turned four in October.  I will turn 40 in June of next year.  I’ve wanted “just one more” for a couple of years now…  It just never felt like our family was complete.  I wanted one more shot at having a home birth.  I wanted one more baby to nurse.  I just… wanted another baby.

My husband?  Not so much.  I would bring it up about once every six months — enough to let him know it was still on my heart, but not enough so that it was nagging.  It’s not a good idea to nag one’s husband into having a baby, I figured.  We needed to be in it TOGETHER, wholeheartedly.

“It’s already too noisy in here,”  he would say.

“WHAT??” was my kind response.  “You’re vetoing the life of a child based upon the noise factor??”

“Yes,” he replied with finality.  “And I’m not ashamed to admit it.  One more baby would send me over the edge, noise-wise.”

I couldn’t help but persist, “But a baby doesn’t make much noise.  A three year-old makes a lot of noise.”

“Yes,” he agreed, “But that baby grows up to be a three year-old.”

“But by that time, Ethan [our oldest, who is 15] will likely be out of the house.”

“That doesn’t count,” he replied, “Ethan hardly makes any noise at all.”

I had to admit he was right about that.

So, when the thought would surface, as it often did, I would just submit the whole thing to God, to His plan, to His timing…  I spent much time wondering if that was just the way He made my heart:  That I would always long for another baby, and that I was to funnel that into encouraging and equipping other mothers in their efforts to birth naturally.  And, it hasn’t escaped my notice that I could be a grandmother before the decade is out.  Maybe He was preparing my heart for that.

——–

About a week prior to that text, I was at my mother’s bedside, praying.  She had been in the hospital for nearly three weeks.  She had had a series of strokes, plus the doctors had discovered a large, vegetative growth on one of the valves of her heart, which was likely sending off bits of itself around her body, resulting in the strokes, as well as threatening the viability of her heart.  She had been in poor health before those incidents:  complications from Marfan Syndrome, two extensive back surgeries, a nerve problem similar to multiple sclerosis (CIDP), a half-paralyzed diaphragm that caused one lung to continually fill with fluid… And on top of THAT, she had aspirated a bunch of fluid and now her good lung was full and not functioning well.

It was a hard time.  During the first two weeks, I was at the hospital nearly every day.  The last week, I was there almost 24/7.  She needed someone continually at her side, and as good as the care in the hospital was, they just couldn’t provide that.  My stepdad took many days off from work — he works part time as a school music teacher — and is not in great physical health himself.  My sister works a “part time” job that is just a few hours shy of full-time, plus has a two-year-old daughter.  My older brother flew in from Texas for a time, and my younger brother drove down from Portland…  But eventually, TJ had to fly back to Texas, and Brian felt like he was behind the eight-ball, knowing how to care and advocate for our mom.  Everyone pitched in as they could;  everyone spent hours with my mother;  everyone spent nights at the hospital.  We called on friends and extended family to fill in the odd hours when no immediate family could be present.  But in the last week, I was the one able to be there most often.

I was continually thankful, especially that last week, for children who are acquainted with our routine enough to manage fairly well without me.  My dear husband, too, felt very strongly that someone should be with my mother continually, and was very supportive of me being there so much.  I was also thankful that, with our move, I was less than two miles from the hospital.  And for us homeschooling, which lends a great deal of flexibility to our schedule, further enabling me to be there.

“And…” I reluctantly prayed, “I have to admit your wisdom, God, in not allowing me to have a baby, much as I have wanted one.  If I had an infant right now… or even a two-year-old, this would not be possible.  Instead, I am able to be here at my mom’s bedside when she needs me.”

I was incredibly thankful for that.

During her last weeks, my mom would drift in and out of lucidity.  She would often be asleep, and visitors and conversation continued in her room.  It was always pleasant.  One of my favorite things about that time is the peace and kindness present in the room, by the Holy Spirit and His work in my mother’s life.  I had so many great conversations with family members and with friends who had come to spend some time with my mother.

My husband and I have five children;  most of my parents’ friends know that.  And when one has “a bunch” of children, it is frequently asked of me, “Are you going to have any more?”  As a response to that question, one of the several times it was posed to me there in the hospital by a visitor, I responded by saying that only a few months ago, my mother had said to me, unprompted, “I know you and Martin aren’t likely to have any more children.  And I think that for most families, six children would be problematic.  But I want you to know that I think it would be fine if you have more children.  If any family should have more children, it should be yours.”

After I related that story, my mom, with eyes closed — I had thought she was asleep! —  piped up weakly, “It’s because you’re such a good mother.”

I cried.

……..

Back to the conversation following the text from my husband, I continued, saying, “I’m really glad you are… amenable to the idea of having more children, but I’m not pregnant.  I would know.”

He responded, “I was just going to the bathroom…”

Let me interject here to say that my husband’s work-bathroom-break-prayer-times have always been inspirational to me.  How often have I, as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of five, thought — or said, “I just don’t have enough time for a ‘real’ quiet time.”  However, I have long known that Martin uses those few minutes of alone-time, purposefully to check in with God.  It doesn’t take long, really, to reconnect with Him.  Martin prays about what’s on his mind.  He listens to anything the Father might say in return, all accomplished within a few minutes in the middle of his busy day.  I now do similarly.

“…and I feel like God spoke to me,” he continued.  “If you are pregnant — and I think you are — and if it is a girl — and I think it is — we’re going to name her after your mom.  I’m not tied to the middle name, but her first name will be Jean.”

I was shocked.

“But I’m not pregnant!” I repeated.

“Go get a test,” he responded.

“What if I am?” I asked, “Are you going to have a hard time with it?”

“Nope.  God spoke to me.  I already dealt with it.  It’s all good.”

I really don’t like that saying:  “It’s all good.”  But in this instance, I did.

I also have to interject a positive note for serving a God who SPEAKS, a God who speaks TODAY to the people He loves, if their ears are tuned to His voice, not only through His Word — the Bible — but directly from His Spirit into our spirit, into our thoughts, into our lives, RIGHT NOW, words of significance to where we are in our daily lives, in our minute-by-minute concerns, in our current needs.  What if we didn’t?  What if my husband didn’t?  What if I got pregnant and he was upset?  That had been my lone concern about becoming pregnant:  I’d be thrilled, my husband would be distressed and worried, and I’d have to spend nine months reassuring him that it would be OK, and knowing that we weren’t in unity…  I didn’t know if I could handle that.  But, in a few minutes, within the space of a bathroom break, God spoke to my husband and changed his mind entirely on the subject.

“Go get a test,” he repeated.

I did.

And I am.

Baby Jean will be born likely the end of June, next year, just after my 40th.

🙂

A different kind of birth (and “proof” of God)

A few weeks ago, I sort of got into it with a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook.  I’m still not sure it was wise;  I mostly got involved as a defense to my friend;  it bothered me to see his Christianity under attack.  I learned long ago, that one cannot debate anyone into the Kingdom of God.

John 6:44 (Amplified Version) “No one is able to come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me attracts and draws him and gives him the desire to come to Me…”

My encouragement to him was that if he wanted to see God, to know God, to have some understanding of God, to ask Him.  He’s always willing to show Himself to those who seek Him.

Yesterday, my pastor was teaching from I Corinthians chapter 1.  As he spoke, I perused the verses above where he was camped, drawn to this:

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,

20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.

And here’s why I was so attracted by these verses:  The friend-of-a-friend was searching for proof — undeniable, scientific, irrefutable, tangible proof — of God’s existence, and stated that he could not trust anything less reliable that that.

Strangely enough, I was thinking about this exchange while my mother was dying.

As she drew closer to death, the kindness, sweetness, and presence of God increased on her, and in her room.  It was remarked upon, countless times, by hospital staff and visitors.  It was not “scientific, irrefutable, tangible proof,” but to me, it was truly evidence of God being in her life, working through her, expressing Himself through the weakest, most vulnerable person imaginable.

It just seems to me that this is God’s way.

27 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.

It’s His way to express Himself through the powerless.

It’s also His way, I believe, having experienced it, to make lovely the very things that would seem to be the most tragic.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT) 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Romans 8:28 (NLT) 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

And this is incommunicable to those who require book-proof of God.

Another beautiful intangible I experienced during my mother’s last hours was this:

One of my favorite aspects of natural birth is the “community” aspect of it:  During the most difficult hours of labor, everyone present is ultra-attentive to the birthing mother in a minute-by-minute way, in almost a prescience — alert to the point of foreknowledge to what the mother might need.  The attention of everyone is fixed on her.  Birth becomes an effort of not just the mother, but of those who love her;  everyone does whatever they can to help the birth come about.  Her preferences, her loves, her comfort becomes the shared goal of all present.

It was that exact same way with my mother.

We sang songs she had sung to us as children, as well as her favorite choruses from church.  We reminisced.  We took turns snuggling with her in her bed.  She smiled contentedly, head tipped back, eyes closed, soaking it in…

And, as things became more difficult — labored —  my mother wanted to sit up, with her legs over the side of her bed.  Nevermind that this was virtually impossible, and nevermind that it wasn’t rational.  Just like a natural birth, when a mother just feels like she needs to be in a certain position, all who assist her swing into action to accommodate.  So it was with my mother, near the end of her life:  One behind her, supporting her back.  One on her side, arm surrounding her waist or shoulders, keeping her upright.  At times, someone else in front of her, keeping her from slumping too far forward.

I had the thought, multiple times, “We’re birthing her into the Kingdom of God.”

My mom had been in the hospital for three weeks.  At one point, several days earlier, I unexpectedly ran into an acquaintance in the halls, and glanced at his wrist., seeing a familiar, handwritten band.  “Are you a new father??” I asked.  He affirmed that he was, only an hour or so into the mind-bending experience.

I internally marveled at the circle of life, come to bear, right in front of me.

Perhaps that sounds cliche:  “circle of life.”  But at that moment, it was profound.

The day of my mother’s death, I was talking with a friend…  She is a hospice volunteer, and mentioned how — on countless occasions — on one evening, she would spend time with the dying, and the next day, she would hear news of a brand-new birth.  She has been struck, too, by the same notion of life coming full circle, and how right it seems.

And then, with some excitement, I shared with her — this friend who is not a mother — that sense I had had, comparing a natural birth to a spiritual birth, and how, though it was in many ways difficult, how full of God it was, how much it felt like that was His plan.

She completely understood.

I can’t express how important her understanding was to me.  Just by her being completely on the same page, tracking right along with my thoughts and feelings, I felt like God was providing His love and comfort directly to my heart.

Yesterday, at church, she gave to me what might be the most unusual — yet apt — condolence card, ever.  It was a wedding card, embellished and lovely.  Inside, she had pasted her own sentiment:  “Remembering our conversation… She’s with the Prince of Peace in her white gown;  beautiful Jean.  He sings a song only for her.  She is free of pain and sings with Him her savior.”

What one thinks, when told one’s mother is dying

I wrote this yesterday, after an informative but discouraging meeting with five of my mom’s doctors, two nurses, and a social worker.  Also present were my stepdad and sister.  The unanimous consensus from her caregivers is that she will continue to worsen, not improve, and that her condition is not operable, in great part because her “rehab potential” is zero.  It’s complicated, but she has heart issues and has suffered at least two strokes in the last two weeks.  Afterward, I went to Starbuck’s for a few alone minutes, to collect my thoughts, which I always do best in writing:

My mom’s health history and current status is complicated, and so are my feelings and thoughts.  There are so many angles to consider — some of them disparate and competing — when contemplating the end of her life — contemplation from a practical perspective:  How do we best care for her?  And from a spiritual standpoint:  God’s sovereignty is impossible to quantify.  All I know is that He is the king of restoration, redemption, and love.  But how that is demonstrated varies considerably.  I want what He intends for her.  But I don’t know what that is.  Bot my sis and I feel that her time, her end, is near.  Yet, neither of us want to give up.  Plus, there is mother-daughter, sister, relationship care to consider.  And how do I minister to my children?  How much info is too much?  I’m not ready to mourn for myself.  I have wept.  And I would probably weep more if I had less on my plate and could just give in to curling up and checking out.  Feeling the love of God — both from His Spirit directly to mine and His love demonstrated by others — helps immensely.  I don’t feel alone, and I don’t feel angry.  I feel covered and loved, and that satisfies.  But there are still many unanswered questions, and I am still sad.

Events

 

  1. This is my kitchen, right now, as I type:
  2. We moved into this house in July with a plan to remodel about 40% of it as soon as possible.  “ASAP” has come upon us, much to my satisfaction.  People have been asking me, “Are you settled in?” and I have answered, “No, and I don’t want to be!  I can’t wait until the remodel starts!!”  I’m very pleased that I got to swing a sledge hammer and kick in drywall.  😀  Very cathartic.  I’m also crazy-excited about the finished product, which won’t be completed for another three weeks or so.
  3. You might be thinking, “How is she making dinner?”  The answer:  Crockpot, grill, and pre-cooked chickens from Costco.  I’m awfully impressed with myself that in 11 days of demolition and construction, we’ve eaten out exactly two meals.  My family is less than impressed, especially my kids.  They don’t see Costco roasted chicken and carrots with hummus (also both from Costco — the cilantro jalapeno hummus is all natural and VERY tasty!) as a real meal.
  4. To facilitate above-mentioned demo and construction, my father-in-law came to stay with us for six days, as he is a general contractor and pretty much overseeing the project.  He is a wonderful man, very easy-going, doesn’t expect me to cook for him, is totally fine with sleeping on my 11yo’s lower, twin bunk bed (though we tried to give him the master bed, and at least my son’s bed has a new mattress).  On a night when my husband was away at his Bible study, and the kids were all in bed, he looked at me and said, “I think we both deserve a Blizzard,” and off he went to Dairy Queen.  🙂  Hard not to love a man like that.  Hahahaha!!  However, even a house guest that is stellar company is still somewhat wearing, eventually, for a girl who tends to need some alone-time before bed each night, to maintain sanity.  He went back to Prescott for the weekend+, and is due to arrive again tomorrow.
  5. My mother is in the hospital.  She was admitted on the 27th of September, and is still there.  Long-time readers might remember that my mom has long had health difficulty.  Truly, I am SO VERY GLAD that she is still with us, in spite of a number of doctors’ very negative prognostications.  But, she averages a trip to the hospital around once every six months.  She is in ill health, indeed.  Even before her admittance, my sister and I were stepping up our involvement in our mom’s daily life, as she was frequently “getting into trouble”, so to speak, during the five hours that my step-dad is away from home at his part-time job.  It made me extra-glad that we moved close by my mom;  that is one of the reasons we picked this house.  She suffered a stroke, though it took a couple of days in the hospital for the doctors to come to a definitive diagnosis.  It doesn’t appear that it was a severe stroke.  However, we’re theorizing that this wasn’t the first one, as starting in February, after a surgery, she had difficulty recalling words.  Her health has never quite recovered from that surgery, and it has continued to decline markedly;  we’ve been in a search to find out what was causing it — her heart?  Oxygen depletion?  Early-onset dementia?  Conflict with medication?  Too many meds?  Not enough?  Is she just exhausted?  It still could be any or all of those, but the fact that she has had at least one stroke, and likely more than one, is now apparent.  The very good news is that she is already recovering mobility on her right side, and is no longer speaking gibberish, and is more aware of life and people.  There is light back in her eyes.  She is still in the hospital, but that is turning out to be a good thing, as the doctors are discovering things that are actually helping her… and her appetite, which has been gone for a couple of years, is returning.
  6. One of my dear friends just moved to the Pacific Northwest.  Their two boys are also some of my three boys’ dearest friends, and the whole thing has been wearing on me, emotionally.  I’m happy for them.  Heck, I would gladly move to Portland!!!  But, there is a hole of sadness in my heart, both for myself, and my boys.  They were some of my few homeschooling friends, locally, and we went to the same church.  I miss them.
  7. On Sunday night, two precious friends, who are also birders, went with me to a local birding hot spot.  There were reports of a Roseate Spoonbill there.  I had seen one, once, in 2004, on the Gulf of Mexico, in Texas.  They’re not supposed to be in the Phoenix area;  this one was clearly lost.  However, I’m glad that this particular Roseate Spoonbill made friends with a bunch of egrets and decided to travel with them, because the little trip to view him was such a precious time to me.  Spending time with friends who share a passion, just hanging out…  Talking about deep things and not-so-deep things…  Those two hours were a much-needed respite, and I thank God for good friends.

    (c) TPWD

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