The Last Day

12-31-2019

This morning is my cry time. It just hit me hard that this time I looked forward to so much is ending already. One daughter has left already, in the dark, on the trip to the airport three hours away. The other one leaves this afternoon. We have spent a week together, wearing ourselves out with talk, food, and as much activity as we could pack into a week of weird winter weather.

I am not put off by stillness or being alone, but the contrast is so vivid right now that I can’t not think about it. I’m looking at the special things they bought to eat and drink, but didn’t finish. I’m putting away the last puzzle we agonized over before we found out that one piece was missing. I’m trying desperately to think of what adventure I can plan next to mask this feeling of missing people I love.

I want to hug my kids again and tell them how much they are loved, and how much I hope they will always love each other. I want them to see how beautiful they are, how unique, how disarming and precious in those moments when they struggle.

There are always a few struggles even in the coming together. This winter gathering seemed characterized by the words “awkward” and “ bizarre” which we heard a lot, and said a lot in our conversations. Even in our commonness we are awkward and bizarre, and memorable because of it.

We are family, with the chance to display a special kind of love to the world. God help us to do do that.

Assisted Living 101: answering questions

Assisted Living: Who Decides?

I have come to the conclusion that the answer to this question is different, case to case. I can think of examples for every possible scenario. I can only give what has happened for our family.

My parents moved numerous times in their lives. They were tied to a general area but not to a particular house. Each time they moved they practiced parting with things. They practiced flexibility. Some people are not that way. I have always been a bit surprised by their flexibility because I have seen the opposite happen with my grandparents. They were not as comfortable with change and they stayed in the home they were familiar with until it was impossible to do so.

Mom has jokingly said that she looked forward to nursing home social life, playing bingo and cards, etc… so I know that she has thought about the subject way before she had to. Watching others go through decisions about caretaking made her lean in the direction of not wanting to be a burden on her children. We have all had to reassure her that we are all “burdens” to each other if we want to view it that way, and that every burden, planned for and accepted cheerfully, has corresponding joys and rewards. For mom, this means she can know she is loved and can depend on us. For us, this means that we trust mom to make a decision for herself, and that we will do everything we can to make it happen.

Mom was not afraid to put her name on the waiting list, but I think we were all surprised when it was announced that she was next in line for an apartment. This announcement came at a time when Mom was struggling with her feelings of loneliness and isolation, the shortened days and long dark nights, the winter cold. There were people she could reach out to, frequent phone calls and my brother and his family checking in on her, but even with all this there were sometimes days at a time when she was not face to face with anyone. She became very clear about one thing – she no longer wanted to live alone. Maybe it was not a coincidence that there would soon be a place for her in a warm, secure building with people to see and be with any time she wanted. When you are a praying person, you examine “coincidences” in a whole different light. And that’s what Mom has done. She says she owes it to herself to find out if this is right for her, and why not do it while she is young enough to enjoy the many perks?

Meanwhile, my brothers and I are battling winter with Mom in any way we can. I am so happy that I am free to visit her in Wisconsin for an extended time. Since I have been here, the apartment has come open and I will get to help with the move. We are having fun getting ready. Wait ’till you see what Mom is doing! Clue – a lot of red paint is involved.

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Mom and her five “kids” spending time at her home in Hayward, Wisconsin

 

 

 

Moving Day

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Yes, it’s the day.   The family that has been with us in our house since the beginning of the month will get the key to their new home today. Except for the few days when the septic system backed up, it has gone seamlessly, and even that was taken in stride.

I have loved having someone to help with meals. Loved listening to the sounds of kids riding their bikes in the drive.  Loved the discussions around the table.  Loved watching a family of six function efficiently under unusual  and sometimes challenging circumstances.  Yesterday, after breakfast, I found a clean table and this little line up of bowls, left by the children on the kitchen counter. It typifies some of the disciplines in place that have made them easy house guests. The husband and I will miss them.

They are up early. Dad has started a new job and leaves by 7. Mom and the four children usually start school (at home) by 8, but today they are packing up and will have a different schedule. I will help with the move. Mom Amy and I are picking up a trailer, loading it from their storage locker and driving all their stuff down to the new house. I am mentally reviewing my rusty trailer backing skills. Actually, I’m thinking of all the ways I might be able to avoid backing up.

Whereas it might have seemed a little daunting – to have invited in a group three times larger than the house was used to – it felt right from the start. It’s another one of those common occurrences that I attribute to God’s leading. He is good at making provision in circumstances where we feel a little “out of control”.  His timing is excellent. How else does a family go from closing on a sale of their own house, moving to temporary quarters, house hunting and completing a purchase with a closing date in less than three weeks? How else was this experience so peaceful and agreeable to everyone? Yes, good work God.

It is an exciting day for them. Shiloh, the youngest gives me a hug and agrees it is exciting, “and sad” he adds. Exciting and sad. I think that describes a lot of life. Just sayin’…

Scallops and the Sea

The Inner Life of Someone’s Mother – Tales from the Archives

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We moved from the north woods of Wisconsin to Florida – a shock actually. The realtor put us in an apartment on the beach while we looked for a home. It was late fall, early winter. Instead of tramping across wind-swept snow drifts the children and I were tramping across wind-swept white sand. The visible similarity was striking even while the contrast was unmistakable.  We went to the ocean nearly every day to wander, to marvel at our new surroundings and to look for shells.

Looking for shells on a beach full of shells is an art. I compare it to doing a jigsaw puzzle. You must school  your eyes to detect a certain shape, a certain color amidst countless shapes and colors. I didn’t want lots of shells since there was no challenge to that (and soon no place to put them all). I wanted to find one special shell each trip, a scallop as near perfect as possible, with maybe a bit of color. At least one. And soon it was a ritual and a way of entering into our new life.

It is thirty years later. I still look for scallops.

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I love everything about this – the words, the composition, the sentiment, the hand that penned it…  Poem by E.L.D.A.

 

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Grandma Gwen and J.J.D. at Siesta Beach

 

Making Faith Common

I woke up this morning knowing that my plans were in jeopardy. I had the awareness that we should have been up and around, getting ready to travel the four hours to see the daughter whose birthday is tomorrow. That was still in my mind last night as I rounded things up and put them in the car for an early start. It was nearly 7, and we had meant to start at 8. I could tell already that wasn’t going to happen.

But don’t panic. Your plans may need to change, and that will be alright.

I checked my phone, as usual, and saw a couple text messages that had come since I had gone to bed the night before. My daughter was undecided about the weekend. She was going to have four days off and was wanting to make good use of it, maybe travel away from home to look for a new job. She was also concerned about her dad. He had hurt his back and she knew he wouldn’t want to sit in the car for hours and hours. Should she come home to us so he wouldn’t have to travel? The possibilities were confusing. I wanted to talk to her but she wasn’t answering the phone.

You’re right. Don’t rush around trying to get ready and don’t be upset or confused. I know what’s going to happen and you will know, trust me.

 My husband wasn’t even stirring yet. I knew he liked to go slowly in the morning even when he was feeling well. His painful back was going to make it even harder to get ready. It seemed okay to let him sleep since I wasn’t sure what we were going to do anyway. An hour later he came shuffling out of the bedroom, every step taking effort, and headed to his favorite chair – the one that made his back feel better. I told him the situation. “It would sure be easier if she could come here, but I’ll go up there if she can’t. I want to be there for her birthday.”

You know what you need to do – ask me for help and affirm your trust. I’ll take care of the plan.”

 We had been praying together in the mornings pretty regularly, so it wasn’t hard to decide to do it given this situation. We asked for peace for our daughter and for ourselves. We asked that she be blessed on her birthday and that she would know that she was valued and loved. We asked for the best plan to be clear and that we would not balk or feel inconvenienced. “We want what you want Lord, so we’ll wait until you let us know what it is.”

Soon after, my cell phone rang, and my daughter and I talked. “We should have thought more about this weekend, I guess.” She was subdued and sounded tired.

“Yes, Dad doesn’t look any better this morning. He’s not moving very well. It might not be the best thing for him to travel.”

“That’s why I asked if I should come down.  His bad back wouldn’t be comfortable sleeping in my accommodations either.  I want to get away from here anyway, stay somewhere a little nicer this weekend. Can I bring the cats?”

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The cats seem to have settled in already. It’s their specialty.

And so it happened that instead of going to Jacksonville for the weekend, Jacksonville came to us – the girl, the dog and two cats and that really does seem best to us all. I was consciously aware of and thankful for the fact that I did not waste energy worrying about how it would turn out. I did not struggle with the change of plans. There was no miracle here, no dramatic voice from above, just a quiet interchange of spiritual thought in a rather common type of situation. What makes it possible is the claim of God to be caring about the details of my life and the response to believe him. It is very freeing and my wish is to be able to apply it, practice it, until it is second nature in all situations. It is like having adventures with someone who has all the time in the world for me. And I thought I would say that I like that, very much.

 

A to Z Family Stories: N for Nona, Storybook Grandma

Nona, her name, or at least the name she was willing to tell us. Her “real” name had something to do with Rosa or Rosabelle but she was not going let us call her that and never explained why to our satisfaction. She was my grandmother.

Three of my brothers and I were born in succession, two years apart, to a young mom who was thrust into childrearing almost before she was done being a child herself. We also lived in semi-isolation in the country. We desperately needed a good grandmother and fortunately, my dad’s mother, Nona, was that person. She and grandpa lived fairly close to town so it was a grateful mother who would drop us kids off to play in safety while she did grocery shopping or errands.

Grandma was always glad to see us come, always had a smile for us, gave us freedom to play and explore outside and seemed to be waiting for us to come in and have story time. She commonly sat at the kitchen table for letter writing and other work but come story time she would move to her recliner. We would grab a handful of books from the shelf in the stairwell and pile on top of her and the chair and listen as long as she would read. Peter Rabbit, Elmer Fudd, and other Little Golden Books were our well-worn favorites.

Grandma Nona wore an apron, the kind that goes over the head and covers the front of the dress, because she wore dresses all the time and they needed to be kept stain free. The apron only came off when she left the house to go to town or when pictures were being taken. It was a functional piece of clothing, used to carry everything from eggs gathered in the coop, to asparagus picked along the fence row. Besides the apron, her “grandma uniform” was pretty consistent – the same kind of dress, thick flesh-colored stockings, the same type of shoes. Once my aunts got her to wear a polyester pantsuit which she liked and acknowledged as comfortable, but I never saw her wear it again. She was probably saving it for “good” like all the other new things given to her as gifts.

Grandma stopped going to church when I was very young. She stayed home and cooked dinner for us, on her wood fired cook stove. We would arrive shortly after noon, to a very warm kitchen, where we sat down to fried chicken, mashed potatoes, garden vegetables, rhubarb sauce or some other dessert. Grandma baked her own bread and was also know for her cookies which were kept in a tightly covered lard can in the cupboard under the sink. All girls, including me, washed dishes after the meal, dried them and put them away. The vegetable trimmings, kept in a “swill pail” under the handwashing sink, would be taken out to the chickens or thrown on the garden. Then a couple of hours of quiet play would ensue while the grownups digested, slept or read.

Even when I went away to college, grandma was one of my strongest supporters. She would write to me regularly, as well as writing to each of her three daughters every week. When I would visit home she would watch out the kitchen window for me to come down her driveway. She would sit at the table with me, smiling, and listen to everything I could tell her about school, home, my life. I remember after I was married, bringing my firstborn daughter to grandma and setting the baby in her lap as she sat in the recliner. “Little sweetie” she called her. Somewhere there is a picture of that.

I miss her now. I think of many things I would ask her if I had the chance to do it, deeper subjects, questions that no one who knew her seems to be able to answer. I’m just sayin’, if you have a grandma, an aunt, a mom, who is close to you, have those conversations while you can. They are precious.

Grandma Nona wearing her apron, sitting in her recliner, maybe waiting to read a story...
Grandma Nona wearing her apron (a rare picture!), sitting in her recliner, maybe waiting to read a story…

A to Z Family Stories: E for Every Easter

There we were.
There we were.

There we would be – however many of us there were at the time.  All lined up, or as close to that as possible, in the moment before the boys got into some dirt, the moment before we were herded into the car – hopefully not late for church.  It was the Easter photo op.

Weeks before the event the planning would begin.  Mom always made a new dress for me and I still have memories of many of them, partly from seeing the pictures so many times but also I remember how I felt in them, what I thought of the fabric, who I was trying to look like.  Little girls always got a hat. Who started the Easter bonnet thing is still a mystery to me but it was a habit that died hard.  Easter was also one of the two times when one might expect to get new shoes to go with the new dress.  And because the snow might be melting by Easter I sometimes got to wear the new shoes without boots over them.  There were so many things about the holiday that spoke of spring freedom.

The real miracle of Easter was getting all my brothers cleaned up and dressed in their church clothes before something tragic happened to one of them. For simplicity’s sake they always had matching outfits in various sizes. Often one component or another would go missing – a sock, a belt, a shoe – adding to the craziness of the morning.  I can remember family routines of getting things ready on Saturday nights (commonly referred to as bath night). Shoe polishing must have been one of my favorite things to do as I have a mental picture of small shoes lined up, last week’s newspaper underneath them to protect the floor.  But it was mom who did most of the work. I think she was the one who took most of the pictures, just to prove she had done the job.

Our church family and the routine of the church calendar added much to my growing up years.  It was a pretty safe place to be, and there weren’t expectations of perfection that left me disillusioned, jaded or burned out.  We were just people and we seemed to know there was something about God that called for our attention.  Sometimes we gave it fully and lots of times we didn’t. I don’t think God was surprised.

The Family Vacation

Let me say first of all that I am very understanding of people who take vacations and go someplace where they don’t know anyone. That is a very healthy thing (not that it’s my experience but I’ve heard it said…). I, however, am blessed with family, all of whom on occasion choose to give up some “alone time” to bond and connect with other family members. I am also blessed to live in Florida. Like, who wouldn’t want to come visit this?

Yes, I live here.  It's great.
Yes, I live here. It’s great.

Those of you who don’t get to have family vacations with other family members really need to see how it works. One of my brothers and his family decided to escape four months and several feet of snow and spend some time in my sunshine. The five of them arrived for the one week this year when there was fog and grey skies pretty much every day. This is a weather phenomenon that you can expect to happen.

I love my family and don’t want them to get sick on their vacation so I do clean my house (sort of). But I will say that if you don’t have time, just forget cleaning the floor, because after the group arrives you can’t find it anyway. Get people tired enough from their traveling and they will sleep anywhere, on the floor, on the couch, on weird mattresses. “Just find a place that looks good to you”, I tell them. And from that point on, don’t ask people how their night was and if they slept well. Don’t do it.

Refugee camp decor...
Refugee camp decor…
Blankets, pillows, bags, shoes, stuff X 5 = no visible floor.
Blankets, pillows, bags, shoes, stuff X 5 = no visible floor.

Maybe your family will need some down time after being in airports and cooped up in planes for a day, but maybe not. We went to the beach the first day. Nobody came here to sit in the house. The fog was thick but we found our way. The squirrels were plentiful, the waves were big, it was surprisingly warm and peaceful on the beach and we big people might have taken a short nap. There were a couple minutes of sunshine. I had a great time and learned that I can indeed carry two kayaks on my small car. Yay.

At least the white stuff isn't snow.
At least the white stuff isn’t snow.
Only people from up north go swimming in 65 degree water.
Only people from up north go swimming in 65 degree water.
The moment of sunshine.
The moment of sunshine.

The second day of my brother’s family vacation was also his wife’s birthday. She did not mind at all that the activity planned for that day was a zip line/ropes course high above the ground. Wouldn’t you like to test your youthfulness and defy aging in such a challenging way? Of course you would. It was awesome (watching them from the ground and taking pictures). That evening, in spite of terrorist mall threats, we had a superb evening meal at the new University Town Center – to celebrate the birthday and the fact that we had no significant injuries from the day’s activity. A fun, fun night.

Gearing up for hanging from high places.
Gearing up for hanging from high places.
High places.  Yep.
High places. Yep.
More "down to earth" activity - at dinner after an exciting day.
More “down to earth” activity – at dinner after an exciting day.

The third day of family vacation, my daughter and my sister-in-law ran away to the shopping outlet for some quality girl time. The rest of us “elite” shoppers went to the flea market. But on the way, just to make it an educational outing for the homeschooling teens, I took them to lunch at the local Hispanic grocery store/deli. I find that this is one of the most fascinating places to experience a different culture. I will say that most American kids are not used to seeing whole cooked fish, with eyes and scales. It is so exciting to order a meal and not know exactly what you’re going to get. Who knew that “Fajita Mix” was a plate of meat big enough to feed all five of us? At the flea market we had excellent success getting the things on my nephew’s list – a watch, sunglasses and an antique teapot. He is a guy with very eclectic interests. That night we sat out in the yard watching a bonfire and dodging the sparks and smoke. For some reason this is a favorite activity with my family and they ask for it all the time. Go figure.

Humongous plate of meat.  We took it home for another whole meal.
Humongous plate of meat. We took it home for another whole meal.

Day four. Did I mention my nephew has eclectic interests? One of his goals for me (bless his heart) was that I should help him sew a cape that he could wear to the Renaissance Festival. Because he might actually have picked up some sewing skills it was classified as a school activity. So, that day’s drama had a lot to do with floor sweeping, black velvet, hooded clothing. We did however take a break and a ride to Apollo Beach to see the manatees gathered at the electric power plant. The water was full of the large, gentle creatures just trying to stay warm. There were so many of them that I couldn’t help but wonder what they were all finding to eat. It was like a big family reunion where no one planned any food. But maybe I was just projecting some of my own anxieties, yeah, that was probably it.

Me and my sister-in-law with our manatee friend, appropriately blue with cold.
Me and my sister-in-law with our manatee friend, appropriately blue with cold.
Brrr... poor manatees.
Brrr… poor manatees.

And finally, the last day of their visit with me was today. We invited some more family over for breakfast, waffles and strawberries, conversation and reminiscing. They packed up their things in their rental car and headed off to spend time with another brother several hours away. They will come back briefly to spend the night before flying back to the cold,snowy north.

I love my family. We plan together, work together, play together and want to stay together. Because we live in such scattered places, sometimes that “family vacation” is the way we do it.

Christmas On Call

The blogging world is full of posts about Christmas, lights, trees, presents, the good of it and the bad of it.  None of that here. We spent the holiday with the lady horse doctor who was on call all weekend.  The best decoration we saw was not red and green but was best described as ROYGBIV.  It was a stormy drive up to Jacksonville and for the last hour we saw the most beautiful rainbow directly in front of us.  It was the most vivid, bright rainbow I have ever seen and it just kept getting better and better.  My pictures don’t do it justice but here it is…

the prettiest decoration we saw
the prettiest decoration we saw

Being on call for Dr. Julia means having to go everywhere with the vet truck and two cell phones just in case someone needs an emergency visit.  She got through Christmas Eve and the next morning with no calls. Finally,during the one celebratory dinner that we were invited to, the answering service finally found out she was the designated doctor and the calls started coming.  Off she went to help a suffering horse.

I say that she had to take the vet truck, but part of the challenge of the weekend was that her truck was in the shop getting wheel bearings replaced.  She borrowed a truck from one of the other docs and it had to go back to him the next morning.  So, for Friday morning’s calls she had to bear the indignity of driving around in “the Mary Kay car” as she calls it (no it’s not a pink Cadillac, It’s my gray Mazda with a small MK sticker in the back window…). And I got to come along.  We put on a couple hundred miles driving up to the Jekyll Island area to check out a horse with a swollen eye.  It was a sunny, warm day and the Georgia coast was stunning. I want to go back when I have time to stay. While I’m thinking about it, if anyone wants to help me start fund raising to get Dr. Julia a good truck that doesn’t break down every other week, let’s do it.

Sinus infections.  Yes, horses get them and they have a lot of sinuses in those long heads.  The next stop was to check out a horse with copious, foul smelling drainage coming out of it’s nose.  Dr. Weldon and Dr. Julia got to put a camera up this horse’s nostril and rule out a tumor/lesion, after which Dr. J. punched a hole into the sinus and irrigated it.  Not your average Christmas activity.  Not smelling at all like pine boughs and cinnamon.  It was gross.

See the little square over the sinus area where the hair has been shaved.
See the little square over the sinus area where the hair has been shaved.
numbing the area
numbing the area
working the large bore needle into the sinus to drain and irrigate
working the large bore needle into the sinus to drain and irrigate
looks brutal but it works (I've seen just about the same procedure done to humans)
looks brutal but it works (I’ve seen just about the same procedure done to humans)

This horse felt a lot better when she was done.  Really.

The next day when her own truck was back, Dr. J graciously allowed the husband to ride with her on morning calls and he found it very interesting. His only complaint was there weren’t any stops for food and it was way past lunch by the time she brought him back. She still had to do one more barn call up in Georgia.

What a great weekend it was.  I love spending time with my grown children, seeing what they do, what makes up their days. There is time to talk while we drive or fix meals together, or watch Master Chef episodes back to back.  I love to help with the housecleaning and dishwashing, I don’t mind sleeping on the couch, letting the dog out or feeding the cats.  It’s all good.

Sunday morning we threw our bags in the Mary Kay car and headed out into the fog toward home. Dr. J was standing at the door and there was a text on my phone, “I miss you already.” We waved and cried.  And those are the things that I will remember about Christmas on call.

(Order Mary Kay from me in 2015 and help fund a vet truck for a struggling horse doctor ... just sayin'.)
(Order Mary Kay from me in 2015 and help fund a vet truck for a struggling horse doctor … just sayin’.)

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Someone Else’s Life

When you think about it, it’s a rare thing to step into someone else’s life and live there for a few days when they are not there.  It’s a little surreal in fact. This week I am still me, but I am living as a “stand in” for my brother and his wife while they are gone on a well deserved anniversary trip. This morning after sleeping in their bed, with their dog, I got up and watched the sky get light from my sister-in-law’s favorite chair in her second story bedroom.

My brother's house and the upstairs window that looks to the east - love it.
My brother’s house and the upstairs bay window that looks to the east – love it.

I walked over to my parents house for my first cup of coffee for the morning, and then back to have breakfast with my brother’s two children Claire and Evan. Today they are starting the week’s schoolwork which is scheduled in detail for them.  They study at home and I’m warned there might be questions about algebra, geometry and writing.

My nephew and the dog studying together.
My nephew and the dog studying together.

My brother and his wife have a genuine interest in their children and their children’s friends.  They invite a small group of teens from their church over to their house every other week – yesterday was the day for that and my brother explained how he hated to cancel it just because they weren’t going to be home. So he didn’t. I am glad my brother isn’t afraid to freak me out, and I’m thankful God keeps me calm and trusting when I’m challenged.

Evan and I went shopping Saturday and got healthy snacks and he cleaned up the family room in preparation.  What a responsible guy! After church on Sunday, Evan and I got into the van and I sat waiting for the rest of the kids to come out and join us,  I didn’t realize they were already seated behind us until one of them asked me what i was waiting for.  What a quiet, well-behaved group! (this really happened).

At the house they had a great time cutting up apples and making hot chocolate. They spent half an hour eating and talking with each other, half ah hour listening to me talk about my experiences with teens in Cambodia, and half ah hour playing a game while waiting for their parents to pick them up.  They were respectful to me, kind and encouraging to each other and still looked like they were having a lot of fun.  What a refreshing look at today’s youth!

Getting ready to play Dutch Blitz
Getting ready to play Dutch Blitz
the game gets crazy...
the game gets crazy…

The family dog really misses my sister-in-law.  He is a lap dog and it’s almost like having a baby in the house – one that wants to be held all the time.  He is getting used to me though, as is the family cat.  This morning they were both giving me “the stare” as I started doing things in the kitchen.  The water bowl was empty and they seemed to know how to get someone to fill it.  As i said, the dog sleeps quietly all night on the bed with me, and yesterday he took me for a walk too.  What a sweet dog!

Scruffy, taking Aunt Shirley for a walk
Scruffy, taking Aunt Shirley for a walk
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More of what we saw on our walk, the dog and I.

It’s all good so far and I fully expect the rest of the week to go smoothly.  I suppose it’s partly a case of extra good behavior to go easy on Aunt Shirley, and that’s okay, but mostly I think it’s a blessed life that I’ve stepped into and get a chance to live in, for a few days.  What an interesting opportunity!

I love birch trees.
I love birch trees.
I love autumn.
I love autumn.
I really love autumn!
I really love autumn!
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I love this silhouette of a martin house against the sky!
I love water scenes.
I love water scenes.