Most every year, during the month of December, I carry two planners around with me. One is for the present year, and one is for the year to come because I am often planning ahead. That’s what planners are for. The last day of December often finds me closing out one and looking back over the fading year. I am doing that today.
The first half of the year was filled with quiet routine. The husband was housebound except for a few rides in the car and a restaurant meal now and then. We had a regular habit of reading in the mornings and sharing thoughts on what we’d read. Evenings often included him getting a wheelchair ride around the community.
I enjoyed the seasons – skiing in the winter, gardening in the spring and, most of all, planning for our August family reunion.
While family was arriving in late July, the husband had a stroke. Before that time I often wondered how his diagnosis of Lewy Body dementia would play out. He was obviously experiencing symptom progression but so slowly. I thought he was dependent on me in some ways, but little did I realize that being able to walk at all, and being able to eat are very independent activities. He was still doing those things at will, and amusing himself during the day with tv, phone calls, and books.
The stroke took all of that away. What followed was 25 days in ICU, 5 days in a step down unit, 49 days in acute care rehab hospital, 26 days in skilled care rehab, and 24 days in a nursing home. I’ve been sitting here with my planner counting up the days and marking the events. Most of these places were 90 minutes away from home. The last was only half an hour away. I’ve put thousands of miles on the car. I was weary of traveling and welcomed bringing him home. This is his 29th day at home, the 17th day under hospice care.
I am the primary caregiver, although we do have around 15 hours of care each week from CNAs hired privately. That is the summary of the second half of 2022 for the husband and me. It’s been a year to remember.
I can’t say that I have felt like writing much during this time. Occasionally it has been an emotional release. I might also like to have record of what we have gone through, at some later date when memory fails me. But much of it I would like to forget. Ten years ago I would not have imagined living the life I have now.
Should I say something about God and his part in the road we’re on? I see him as having been very patient and understanding of my fatigue, my not want to think deeply, or pray consistently, or immerse myself in scripture every day. In some ways I am numb to those disciplines in much the same way as a young mother with a house full of toddlers. God sees what overwhelms his humans. He sends me out on a “walk and talk” and I will tell you that the natural world has been my lifeline this year.
He sits with me when I cry. He gives me words for the husband when calming and encouragement is needed. When action is called for he has given me the thought of what must be done and the energy to do it. He has given me assurance about all the confusing and uncertain things – that I can trust him and decide not to fear, not to blame.
Many friends have said they are praying for us, and have reminded me of that often. That has weight with me. This is not the first time that prayer has been important to me, but still it is a mystery how God uses it. I want to be involved in that mystery, not necessarily to understand it, but just to have a part in it. Somehow God attaches great power to prayer and I love to see him be powerful , up close and personal.
I think it was good that we asked God for healing for Dennis. Why would we not? But it is also okay that he has not been healed because perfect health is not the only blessing God can bring with a hard experience. And we have always known that we will die at some time – it’s just the end part of being human. We will not waste the experience by becoming bitter or turning away from the most exciting relationship humanity has ever been offered. No, neither Dennis nor I feel any disappointment with God, or the way he has exhibited his friendship with us.
He has been “with” us. Sometimes he has been a peaceful presence on my walks. Sometimes he has sent others to us to spend time or offer help. I’m often told that I’m not alone and have felt like saying “Well, I feel pretty alone in spite of what you say.” But now I receive that differently. God puts that sentiment on the lips of others to remind me that he is with me, even when people are not. That’s enough. He is not named “Immanuel” for no reason.
So many thoughts come when I’m awake at night, usually waiting for a headache to resolve, praying because I cannot sleep. Those times are not necessarily bad, even very sweet once in a while.
People come to my mind, one after the other, and I realize how rich my life is with a wide variety of friends. Circumstances come to mind and I realize how complex the world is. Everywhere there are situations that make people suffer and cry. Some say that God, if there is such an entity, should step in and make it different. I’ve read in the Bible that it was different once, and the people of that time chose to trust their own decisions instead of the wise instructions they’d been given. Turns out that has been a prevailing trend ever since.
I’m amazed that there is so much hope, beauty, encouragement left in the world and it often steps into view when we need it most. That is not an accident. It’s the plan, to lead us back to the way it was, eventually. No one but an all powerful God is going to bring about a world that we will all want to live in. It’s too far beyond any world leader or government. I am encouraged because I see evidence of his forethought and control everywhere in nature. The question becomes, how then shall I wait?
What hope do you have if you cannot imagine there is a God who could be wise enough to solve our problems, who could dissolve the anger and hate in hearts, who could comfort the inconsolable and bring justice to both sides of every equation?
It is arrogance to think that because we cannot imagine something, it cannot exist. Our search should be for a better, more faith filled imagination.
The last post of the 2022 A to Z Challenge is always welcome in my world because posting for 26 nearly consecutive days is truly a challenge. My Z word today doesn’t have a direct link to my theme of relationship building, but then most of the other words weren’t direct links either. But here’s the final, true thing – because relationship with others and with God are the most important things in my life, almost everything in life becomes indirectly linked to those priorities.
I attribute many things which others call coincidences, or serendipitous moments, to God and his desire to give me a smile, a laugh or a touch of some kind. I happened to be looking at this scene in Julia’s kitchen on the day that I was searching for a post on Z.
A few minutes later I came upon the word zarf and realized I was looking at one and never knew what it was called. It brought to mind the many times Julia had made an espresso or latte for me and how I had enjoyed holding my zarf while talking with her.
I don’t know how it came about that someone initially roasted a coffee bean and soaked it in hot water. It seems that ever since coffee has had some kind of crazy hold on civilization. I’ve read a lot of stories about pioneer days in our country, how they were ALWAYS making coffee on their cookstoves or over their campfires. If you had nothing else, you had coffee, and maybe biscuits.
Our family has many people who enjoy coffee, and more than a few who might be called fanatics. Some go for the fancy, expensive kind from the shops that abound in our towns and cities. Most are content with a cup of plain, good tasting brew. I have to admit that coffee is a standard, a hub of our social gatherings. That is the indirect link to relationship building.
Rarely do any of us refuse a cup of coffee and a donut, or a homemade cookie. This beverage accompanies the best of conversations. Some of us feel secretly linked by our love of coffee. Coffee rituals abound. We have our favorite cups and we have signs on our kitchen walls, clever coffee quotes on our T-shirts. It’s okay. It’s even fine if someone wants to drink tea instead of coffee, as long as they don’t tell anyone what’s in their cup.
So, here’s a toast to that hot, fragrant, brown drink in the clear glass held by a zarf, and to the many relationships furthered by “coffee time”. (And to the end of the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge!)
The letter J has given me much anguish. After finishing a post with which I was very satisfied, I selected the text and moved my hand to select “copy”. My hand inadvertently touched something it shouldn’t have and most of the post disappeared. I could not make it reappear although I tried for an hour. I also could not remember what I had written. Wow.
To be up front, I consider jigsaw puzzles a diversion, an activity somewhat like washing the dishes, riding in a car or sitting around a fire. When you are lucky enough to be doing them with another person, you might as well talk while you’re working at them. You’re in close quarters with fellow puzzlers, doing something methodical and fun, and you can slow down if you wish. It’s pretty good for low stress relationship building.
My family often has a puzzle going somewhere in the house, and always at larger family gatherings, especially Thanksgiving. We even make jigsaw puzzles out of our family pics, just for fun. My daughters have grown up in this culture (loosely defined) and both will do a puzzle with me. Esther will join in for an hour. Julia has to be pulled away when the lights are shut out.
Since people respond differently to this activity, when the goal is working on a relationship, it’s good to consider carefully if it’s the right tool for a particular person. Some people think it’s absolutely crazy to spend hours fitting 1000 pieces of a picture together so you can take it apart and put it back in the box a day later. I have found that even those people will stick it out for an hour or so. They aren’t much help but they will converse, and that’s sometimes the whole point, right?
There are others of us who feel like puzzling is exercise for the brain and totally worthwhile. Our eyes are seeing the slight variations in colors and shapes and our memories of where on the table that exact piece is – well, doing all that is keeping us sharp. We have our methods of working on each type of puzzle and frankly, we’ve never met a puzzle we didn’t like. Or almost never.
Because of all this, you actually can find “your people” and develop some good relationships over jigsaw puzzles. So many times our Thanksgiving puzzle marathons have ended wit high fives and such a feeling of corporate satisfaction. We did it, and it was a hard one too!
I have also discovered that there is a far deeper level of puzzle love than even I knew about. Some people are perfectly content, maybe even prefer, to do puzzles by themselves. They find community by sharing their accomplishments on social media and developing their relationships there. They trade names of their favorite puzzle brands and talk about what they do and don’t like. They have a whole social world built around puzzling.
This is my present puzzle stash. Most of these beauties have been passed on to me by friends, because puzzle trading is a practical thing. I’m going to be paring down and would love to share some of these with anyone who is able to come get them, because I don’t usually get emotionally attached to any of them. This is not always the case. One of my puzzle friends has passed on her jig saw genes to her daughter who works as an artist for a puzzle company. Those puzzles are rightfully considered as family art and she probably won’t be parting with them any time soon. To her, puzzles have a definite relational aspect. Her puzzle library is also a little more extensive than mine. It’s serious, just sayin’…
That word you don’t want to yell in a crowded theatre! Danger aside, I think it’s our feeling that we can control fire that makes it so compelling to us humans. That, and how it warms us, and casts light into dark places, and is so colorful and active. I’m a closet pyromaniac, can you tell?
Fire is so mysterious and useful, but what about the relationship building aspect? I will tell you what I have learned. People will start talking about very interesting, personal things when sitting around a cozy fire. Maybe it’s because they know others won’t be looking at them when there’s a fire to look at. Staring at a fire also seems to hold space – talk gets interspersed with times of thought. It’s perfectly okay to just think for a while when sitting around a fire. If it’s night, it’s even safe to cry a bit if you need to and the fire will cover for you.
I have sat around countless campfires with family and friends and it has become a special activity for me. I think the daughters would agree, as I see hints in their lives as adults. Prominent in Julia’s yard is the fire circle set up by her uncle for her wedding celebration (the one where it rained and made fire impossible). Prominent in Esther’s yard is her Solo stove that we sit around most every time I visit.
And in my own practice of relationship building, I also have a Solo stove that serves as a gathering place. You’ve heard “where there’s smoke, there is fire” but the switch around is also true. “Where there is fire, there is smoke” and it’s so annoying when it keeps blowing in your face, following you around as the wind changes direction. My Solo stove is pretty helpful at keeping the smoke down. I love it, and sometimes sit outside in the evening, all alone, watching wood burn, and thinking. It’s that much better when I can get others to join me.
Going to a doctor’s appointment is not where I usually find things to laugh about, but there are exceptions. Mom and I manage to find them. We go together to her appointments, because two sets of eyes and ears are always better than one, and also because she has decided not to drive anymore and lets me take her around.
Yesterday found us at the clinic for a pre-op exam. We were hoping it would go well so she could have her carpal tunnel surgery next week. Mom wanted to ride in a wheelchair (why waste energy?) so after I parked, I went in and got one. It had no footrests, so in we went, masks on, feet held high, to join all the other compromised and infirm in the waiting room. It’s an exercise in gratitude to watch others who are living with conditions we are glad we don’t have.
But our observations were cut short when one of the assistants opened the door, with chart in hand and called out “Owen!” No one responded and we were all wondering where Owen had gotten off to, when she called him again. Still no response.
“Could you possibly mean Gwen?” I asked. The similarities in the names was something I had often thought about because Dad’s name was Owen – one letter different, and a G is a lot like an O.
And so started our relationship with Krisy, who was willing to laugh off her poor eyesight and be thankful she had not lost an Owen but gained a Gwen. We had our short stop at the scale, in spite of Mom’s joking attempts to get past it. Mom would make a great stand up comedian with her own kind of dry humor, which I think she gets from watching Golden Girls. Krisy directed us on into the exam room and in the course of getting us settled, she noticed Mom’s purse.
“I really like your purse! I need one like that to go with my new coat.” She went on about purses that didn’t go with her coat, until Mom, thinking that she would share a valuable secret with a new friend, told her where she had gotten her really cute red purse. Mom is unabashedly proud of her ability to find pretty much anything she needs at Salvation Army. Of course, there was no chance of finding another purse like that at Salvation Army now, so Krisy just answered her with “Oh, well that’s okay. I’m kind of a purse snob anyway.” I think she was surprised and I think Mom was glad she had gotten there before Krisy.
So the vital signs got taken and the routine questions got answered and recorded on the computer while Krisy chatted with us about the new coat. I can’t remember the exact words she used to describe it, but in general, it was black and shiny. I was picturing something like patent leather when she said shiny, but the image got more defined when she said one of her co-workers told her it looked like a garbage bag, the big, black kind. Krisy was having a great time telling us this so she must not have gotten offended.
It was not the end of the coat story either. She went on to say that her coat had fur trim around the hood which she really liked – very fashionable. Only one of the doctors at the clinic had told her it looked like a squirrel, checking out a garbage bag for something to eat. That cracked her up, and we had to laugh too. The exam was off to a real good start.
We had a good little wait time after she left. I went on a long verbal critique of the picture on the wall that I was facing. Mom felt a little cheated since her wall only had a mirror. She’s not big on mirrors and is always wishing to fix what she’s seeing in them.
We have a nice, woman PA and she finally came in and explained things that would be covered in the pre-op exam. Well, actually she only got about three sentences out before she got a tickle in her throat and had to leave the room, coughing into her mask. Mom and I kind of looked at each other in horror, or maybe it just seemed that way because all we could see were each other’s eyes.
These poor healthcare workers don’t have it easy. Our PA returned after a while, reassuring us that she had a cough drop in her mouth, and had gotten over her bout with Covid a few weeks ago “but that darn tickle” was hanging on.
The rest of the exam went just fine. Mom answered all the questions the right way. The PA listened to her chest and couldn’t hear anything alien in there. Krisy came back and did an EKG on Mom – she was still just as happy as could be. We finished off with a trip down to the lab for some bloodwork, and then out the door, feet held high, whipping off our masks.
Mom and I try to laugh a little everywhere we go, but as much fun as this pre-op exam was, I can hardly wait until the Covid test on Friday and surgery next week. Yeah, just sayin’…
She traveled farther than I did to get there. She had been decked out in some pretty fine cloth. She was due to arrive just in time for the event, for which she planned to be a prominent player. She started out the week of the wedding and all would have been well had it not been for the tire that exploded on the first day of the journey.
It was pretty bad – actually blew a huge hole in the wheel well. But four new tires later, and a quick clean up after the trip was finished, she was in place and no one was the wiser. She wasn’t the bride. She was the bride’s Airstream and this was not her first adventure, although it may have been her first wedding. We don’t know.
The venue was the Seattle Arboretum, Wisteria Hall. The day was July 24th, 2021 and it couldn’t have been nicer weather. Esther and Ryan had been planning their celebration of marriage since the summer before, when it was twice cancelled because of the pandemic. For the second time since COVID19 became a household word, I was mother of the bride.
The plan was to keep things simple and meaningful, and to share it with as many of their friends and family as were able to come. The husband and I traveled five days by car to get there. We were determined to be present and didn’t have near as much trouble as the Airstream did.
There were many things about this wedding that were non-traditional, and yet it had the important features:
The whole wedding script was unique to my daughter Esther and her Ryan. Never mind that there was no bevy of women wearing matching dresses that they would never wear again. Never mind that pizza and pie took the place of wedding cake.
Never mind that instead of musicians and soloists there were mothers, reading poetry especially chosen for this occasion.
At the end we were all invited to pronounce them husband and wife, and we did. Bubbles floated everywhere around us as they walked, arm in arm, back to the Airstream to sign official documents.
The happiness continued during the pizza party reception and the dancing. Yes, the dancing. It was pretty wild and joyous at times. We are just that kind of people.
To love, to commit, to live together, to help each other grow and thrive. Marriage. Esther Armstrong and Ryan Bruels. July 24, 2021
Zeal, “great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or objective”.
Alzina, or Alzie as we have come to know her, was passionate about her faith and her family. But she had zeal toward another objective as well, one that took up a great deal of time later in her life after she retired from teaching. The cause was prohibition of alcohol. She learned from a young age to work for the cause and although “Prohibition” never became a federal law, it was adopted in some states, Kansas being one of them. It happened largely through the efforts of hard working pioneer women. Here is how it went for Alzie.
The Peach Crop Story
By Emma Pomeroy Brandt, Alzie’s younger sister.
A few years after the Civil War, in 1867, my father took a homestead in Kansas. On it he planted both shade and fruit trees, including a peach orchard. He could not go to a store and buy everything as we do now. Indeed he and Mother saw very hard times trying to get a home started and raise food for a growing family. They had gotten deeply in debt and placed a mortgage on the homestead.
One year when most crops were burning up, they had a bountiful crop of peaches, but no market to sell them. One day two well-dressed men came driving in behind a fine team of livery horses and offered Father one dollar a bushel for the whole crop.
That seemed a wonderful offer and Father started to tell them he would bring the first load the next day. He said he would pick them carefully so as not to bruise them. “Oh”, they said, “you need not be too careful. Just shake them off and scrape them up. If you get a few rotten ones, it won’t make any difference.” Then Father asked, “What are you going to do with them, that you will take rotten ones?” They answered, “We are going to make peach brandy.”
That was a big shock to Father. He thought of his debt and his family needs, and then “me, a Christian man, sell my peaches to make brandy???” They told him he would be a fool to turn down their offer when he could not sell them elsewhere. But he said, “I am raising children. They shall never be tempted to drink brandy made from MY peaches.”
So the deal was called off. He struggled on for years, and had to sell his farm to pay the mortgage, but he kept a clear conscience. He moved his family across the road onto the “timber claim” and made there the home where we five younger children were born, and which was named “Prairie Home”. I can’t remember that we ever had to go hungry for lack of food.
Later, around 1907, Alzie’s mother Philena wrote to Alzie describing her “mother’s club” which she had started for local women. These women were wives of men who were working on the railroad. The husband’s wages were often spent in the bars, leaving the women to find a way to support the family. Seeing situations like this as she was growing up, and attending local Temperance Meetings with her family, made Alzie a staunch supporter of the temperance movement. Partially retired from teaching she took work as a field secretary for the National Prohibition Party. She traveled around the United States securing pledges and support for her Party’s candidates for general elections. There were many disappointments in her work, but her zeal was undaunted, as this paragraph in a letter explains.
“I gave much time in 1941 and 1942 to work for an initiative amendment, but failed to get enough signatures in time. But I learned many lessons, and more than ever came to the feeling that the Prohibition Party is the only force that God can use to overthrow the liquor traffic. It is the “Joshua and Caleb” of the dry movement. But, as the majority kept the people of Israel out of the Promised Land forty years, so the “old party drys” may keep from having prohibition that long, too. But the Prohibition Party will be victorious in the end as Joshua and Caleb were.”
There was no lasting success, although Kansas was a state that wrote a prohibition amendment in its constitution, and upheld it longer than any other state. Follow this link to read about some amazing women activists of the Temperance movement. Kansas and Prohibition
Alzina Boone, widowed at a young age and with a family of four children to support, finds herself struggling to be a teacher at school, and a mother at home. In the early days of Kansas settlement, life was not easy for anyone, much less a single parent. Her faith in a caring God, and sheer necessity kept her going when others might have given up. She was my great grandmother and these are her true stories.
“Life was full of interest to all of us, and when I heard the words in song, “earth has no charms for me” I realized that I might easily forget eternal things, if I didn’t earnestly purpose in my heart to “set my affections on things above”. The song “Nearer, My God to Thee” which has words “even though it be a cross that raises me” became my earnest prayer, as I thought of how fleeting are earth’s joys and how liable to change. A sense of impending danger and sorrow haunted me for some weeks after school closed. But my spirit rose above all dread and fear when I read the words in Psalm 145:18,19 one morning, about June 15th, in morning worship. “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him. He will fulfill the desire of them that fear Him.” This assured me that God was nearer to me than any danger, and I felt safe and light heartedly happy in His keeping. This presence bore me up even when the blow fell.
On June 28 Stanley was drowned while swimming in a creek a mile from home after 6 o’clock.
He had told us at noon that he wanted to go swimming after office hours and would be home an hour late. He was always careful to tell me where and when he was going and to return on time to give me no anxiety. So when he didn’t return before sundown, I knew something detained him. I got neighbors to go with John to find him. They brought his lifeless body home about 9 o’clock that night. While they were searching, some Christian women workers from the Faith Home came to comfort and help me and the girls. I went to my room to pray alone. I found myself praying more for Stanley’s spiritual safety than for physical safety and the words of scripture “It is well with the child.” came to me forcibly from the presence that seemed so near me. I was sustained and comforted even in the loss and grief I felt when they came with his body and called me to the door, saying “We found him. He is dead.”
A doctor had been called to join the search. He said the water was too cold and had given cramps to Stanley, making him helpless in the water. Had anyone been with him, they would probably have drowned with him. But how I wished I had not consented to him going swimming that night. But as I prayed, many comforting memories and messages were given me. Stanley had assured me that he wasn’t afraid of lightening as we watached a storm approaching on Wednesday night on our way home from prayer meeting. He said, “I know I’m ready now.” How it comforts the Christian loved ones when the departed dear ones leave the testimony that they are “ready”.
I longed for a visit from Stanley as I had been given in dreams of Milford Sylvester, but I did not pray for such a blessing, for so much had already been given me in proof of God’s care for Stanley. But God did give me such a dream, even if I didn’t ask for it. I dreamed I was late to prayer meeting and all were kneeling in prayer, many near the door. When we rose from prayer, a song was started and I sang too. I noticed a surprised look from the leaders toward my part of the room. So I looked around to see what was surprising and there stood Stanley, book in hand, singing too. When the meeting was dismissed, Stanley passed out with the crowd. I remembered I wanted to hear Stanley talk, so I hurried out and overtook him. I asked, “How do you like your new home, Stanley?”
He replied in his own dear voice, “Well Mamma, you know I never liked to move to a new place, but always after I got moved I liked the new place and wanted to fence it off and stay there forever. Well, it is just the same now in heaven, only always before there was something I lacked and longed for. Now that something I always lacked and longed for is in me and all around me.” And as he said this, I felt that he was filled with a bliss that I could not express. I believe God gave me the dream. “