2010 christmas letter

December 2010

Merry Christmas from the Gordon Dykstra Family! I say this every Christmas, but it bears repeating: I love this time of year. One of the things that make it special is hearing from you and learning how the year was for you. We’re not the greatest at keeping in close contact with all our friends, but I try to connect at least once a year just to communicate that we still think of you and love you. If you’re reading this letter, know you’re thought of and loved.

Gordon is in his 13th year with Edmonton Transit and has had a good year in the Business Development Section; he’ll complete his 3rd year there in the spring. Early this year he took an occasional Saturday evening pad-his-wallet job driving a 16-passenger limousine. It turned out to be not so occasional in the summer; but he always has fun stories for us on Sunday. He stays busy, be it as a landlord, our go-to fix-it guy, or loving on all his electronic gadgets. That gadgety love is an area in which I go cross-eyed listening to his exciting tales. As a fix-it guy, he’s the best. He saves us thousands of dollars I’m sure. On more than one occasion I’ve said, “Can’t you please just let it die so I can get something new?” I’m grateful for his ability to fix almost anything – and so are our friends who benefit from his Midas touch. He went camping with friends in the summer and it’s been a long, long time since he’s done something like that without his estrogen-loaded family. He had a great time.

Our summer holiday consisted of camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park with our family friends, the Lozchuks. That was a good time too, as usual. Our kids really enjoyed each other, in spite of all the complications of teen life, and it was delightful for the adults to see. As icing on the cake, Deborah caught a big fat delicious walleye, her first fish ever!  It turned out to be quite tasty, and our girls overcame a bit of their general aversion to fish. It was quite a memory.

Deborah and I went to Arkansas in October. Rachael and Hannah went with me several years ago while Debs stayed home. Deborah finally got her trip this year. While there I saw extended family (cousins, aunts and uncles) that I’ve not seen in 20 years. That was one of my highlights. The main highlight was babysitting my grandkids, Roman and Avery, while Stephanie and John Mark went to Cancun. That was how the trip originated; Steph and John Mark booked a holiday and that seemed a prime opportunity for bonding, and it was. I enjoyed my grand babies so, so much. And, of course, I saw my precious mom, dad, siblings, and my delightful son Christopher. He lives in Tulsa now and starts avionics studies in January. And did I mention I’m going to be grandma again? Stephanie and John Mark will welcome another little lady to the family in March.

Rachael is 15 and in high school. She has two paper routes, loves music, enjoys her friends very much and has a boyfriend who spends way too much time at our house. (Just joking. We like Scott.) She has had three poems published and loves to write. Her musical tastes are drifting seriously toward “hard rock”, which Gordon and I find somewhat hard to handle, and she is going to begin electric guitar lessons in the new year.

Hannah is 14 and in her last year of Junior High. Hannah gave us lots to worry about this year, and as you can imagine, that’s just what we needed. I am happy, very, very happy, to report that she’s back to the Hannah I always enjoyed so incredibly much, but more “grown up.” It seems Gordon and I produced kids that morph into aliens for about a year around their 13th year. Two down, one to go. (If it’s going to happen again before they leave home, please don’t tell me. I can’t bear the idea right now. Ignorance is bliss, I maintain.)

Deborah is in grade 6 and I don’t know how she got that old. She got a lot more freedom this year and it’s been hard letting go. That’s a lie, I’m actually enjoying letting go. Gordon and I have dates whenever we want them and even got away to a marriage retreat this year which we loved. Deborah’s still the sweet and polite child (more often than not) that makes us look like decent parents. I’m glad we got one of those. She took up swimming this year and does lots of that - sometimes three or four times a week. She is growing up a bit earlier than her sisters did since she has them to emulate, oh gaity, bliss, oh joy. Sometimes it gets a bit scary, but we make steady progress in our own character and hopefully theirs too.

I started a new job in March and love it. At this time last year I had just started a new job. That turned out to be a very bad experience and I was “delivered” from it in March when I got this job as an office administrator. I’m incredibly happy to be back in this line of work. I’m working full-time for the first time in 18 years. I paddled again this summer. Although my dragon boat team didn’t do quite as well this past season, it was fun in its own pain-seeking way. I walk lots, read lots, write lots, and in January I start cross country skiing lessons. I published my first book of family memoirs this year and am pleased with my lovely book called Don’t Count the Cows. It was also big highlight of my year.

As I write this, it’s -20 degrees Celsius (-4 F) and a good day to be inside thinking of all the people who’ll read this letter. I love summarizing our year as a family for my own recollection and I love hearing from our friends and family, especially those we don’t hear from all that often. I hope we’ll hear from you.

It’s a great time of year. I love, love, love this season. I hope you experience the joy, love, and peace that this Christmas season represents, and remember the greatest reason we celebrate.

God’s blessings to you all.

With Love,

Valerie, for the Gordon Dykstra Family


deborah's perfume

Deborah

(Deborah in NC, 2004, 4 years old)
When Winston Churchill was a little boy, his nanny, whom he loved very much, was diligent in making sure he had Bible and school lessons. His learning the Bible was important to her and of course school lessons weren't optional. Little Winston hated math. During one lesson he wailed that if she made him continue to study math he was going to "bow down and worship graven images." I love that story.

This morning I was looking for an article I wrote about five years ago. I didn't find it but I found this reminder of life back in 2005.

Gordon had just returned from his sister's house with Deborah. Aunt Joanne had given Deborah a gift box with six little bottles of perfume. Deborah was in smelly-good heaven. After much deliberation she gave each sister a bottle of perfume. Her joy in giving lasted about five minutes before she began begging and pleading to have her perfume back.

I explained that she had given it away and she couldn't now expect them to give it back. She wailed as though she was in the throes of death. Seeing that she was losing the battle, she wimpered desperately, "I think you want me to go to hell."


tribute to debbie

(Debbie in her cute, subtle way promoting breast cancer awareness. 2010)  
Debbie's ribbon
I never thought I'd see the day when I wouldn't be at the funeral of someone so special to me. But as I type this, Debbie's funeral is in progress. Gordon and I debated what to do and concluded we would take the amount it would cost to fly there and put it toward my walk next year in the Weekend To End Breast Cancer. You will all be called upon to sponsor me for this 40 mile walk. My goal is $3000. I'll be walking for Debbie and my cousin Cindy who both lost their lives to breast cancer.

This is my tribute to Debbie. It was read at her funeral by her daughter Katie.

Remembering my dear friend Debbie

Tannehill 2 Debbie and I became friends in 1984 through our husbands. Steve and Kent were best friends, so after Kent and I married, she and I were forced into friendship. She was forceful, blunt and assertive -- in many ways, my polar opposite. I was aloof and snotty, she was jovial and gregarious.  Being assertive like she was, she forced her way into my life and I fought her every step of the way.  Debbie always forgave me, always accepted me for who I was, only occasionally calling me a snot. 

As we grew closer, I didn’t think I could love and appreciate her more. But when my first baby was born Debbie became an even bigger part of my life. She loved my Stephanie, loving to take her out, babysit her, and buy her special things.  There’s no better way to worm your way into a mother’s heart than to love and dote on her baby. Debbie was that person in my life. She loved my baby and I loved her more for it.

We eventually ended up living on the same block, just a few houses from each other. Over the years we realized we had "community" before it became a popular term. Back then neither of us knew how good we had it. How many people can walk to their best friend's house in two minutes? How many people can feel comfortable chatting in the living room while the other irons? How convenient is it when you can phone and say, "We're ordering Sonic. Y'all want anything?" I'd give nearly anything to have that kind of "community" now.

Debbie was hilarious, laughed easily, and never took herself too seriously. She was also quirky. I've never been big into the ironing scene, but Debbie use to iron everything. How could someone so detailed in ironing totally miss obvious details in other areas? One evening Debbie cooked supper for us. On this particular night there were four jugs of curdled milk sitting on her table; there had only been three a few nights earlier. When Kent and I walked home, he said, "There was another jug of sour milk on the table tonight."  He sighed, "I've been thinking, maybe we shouldn't eat her cooking anymore." Twenty years later, Debbie and I still laughed about that.

She was my co-conspirator and we spent hours in each other’s living room, car and kitchen scheming. Once we decided we could make some serious money by having a booth at a craft sale. Over a few months, we sanded, stained, and painted a bazillion geese, cutting boards, and bright wooden tulips. The night before the craft sale as we knelt on the floor wrapping our hand-crafted valuables, Debbie said, "I figured it up. If I sell everything I've made, I'll make $435." Our craft sale weekend delivered a heaping dose of humiliation. We sold one cutting board and it was, no doubt, a sympathy purchase.

Debbie and I were always trying to make money. On our last garage sale I wore a new, grossly uncomfortable, under-wire bra. I went inside to take it off for some much needed relief. I had no more gotten in off when Debbie bolted through the back-door screaming indiscernible craziness. "GET OUT THERE! Oh Dear Jesus, help me! GET OUT THERE! GET OUT THERE! Bob, Bertha and Bessie are out there. GO, GET OUT THERE!"

I didn’t have the first idea what was wrong with her or why she couldn't face these older folks from church, but I wasn’t about to go outside without a bra on. She screamed again, "GET OUT THERE!" and I screamed back, "I DON'T HAVE A BRA ON. I CAN'T GO OUT THERE." We screamed like crazy women and I'm sure our patrons heard us. Debbie calmed down enough to forgo yelling to beg, "Please, you've got to go out there. All the wedding gifts they gave us are out there."

We both ended up out on the patio. Bob, Bertha and Bessie bought all the gifts they'd given Steve and Debbie as wedding presents, going to Debbie to pay for them.  That day, I thought we just might die laughing.

Once during Debbie’s treatments she went to the doctor for a checkup. The doctor did his touchy-feely thing with Debbie’s breasts. Anxious to confirm there were no new lumps, Debbie asked, “Do they feel good?” She was able to laugh at herself immediately.

Her ability to laugh at herself is one of the things I admired most about her. She was my mentor in moving beyond humiliations and foibles. Whereas I could be embarrassed for hours on up to 25 years, Debbie was able to immediately see the humor in her own mis-steps and mis-speaks.

(Easter 2010)

TannehillsDebbie was an awesome friend and an amazing person, one of the most amazing I’ve ever known. Through her illness, she didn’t complain, never sought sympathy, continued to laugh, to see beyond herself and her problems. Debbie had more selfless devotion in her pinky finger than I will ever have this side of heaven. Debbie loved her family and would share sweet and funny snippets from their lives with anyone who would listen. She loved to talk about her kids. Katie, I remember when she called to tell me  you thought all babies came from the airport (all Debbie's babies did come from the airport). She was the proudest mom in the world when she finally got you, the gift she’d waited for so long. Caleb, she loved the man you are becoming. She loved your strength of character, your dependability in helping out, your love and affection. Carli, you were such a gift to your mom. She told me about your sweetness, tenderness and wit.

This world lost a treasure last week. Thankfully we have memories of who Debbie was; strong, wise, faithful and true, and ceaselessly pointing to Jesus in the way she lived.

I wish I could be at this celebration today. Debbie’s been promoted and I wish I could be at her promotion ceremony. I have no doubt she heard “Well done my good and faithful servant” last Saturday evening.


memaw's passing

(Memaw, left and Uncle Kelsey, 1917)

013_13 (3)Elsie Eason Piearcy age 94 of Mena died Friday, September 17, 2010 at her home. She was born on Tuesday, June 13, 1916 to James Lonnie and Llewlyn Moore Ross Keen in Binjin, Arkansas.

Elsie was a loving wife, mother and grandmother. She was married to her first husband, Red for 50 years and raised seven children. After Red’s passing she married Bill Eason and was married 6 years to him before his passing. Family was very important to Elsie and they were her most treasured possession. She was a faithful member for over 50 years at the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Wickes and after moving to Mena she joined the Calvary Baptist Church in Mena. Serving and doing the Lord’s work was something Elsie took very seriously and hardly ever let a day go by without sharing her faith to someone, either by doing a good deed or just by the way she lived her life. For 15 years she worked at the Bogg Springs Missionary Baptist Camp and enjoyed seeing everyone year after year.

(Ma, Pa, Kelsey, Memaw, Inez early 1920's )

013_13 She is preceded in death by her parents James and Llewlyn Keen; her first husband Phillip “Red” Piearcy; her second husband Bill Eason; one son David Piearcy; one daughter Cleta Rose; one brother Kelsey Keen; one sister Inez Beasley; three granddaughters Deborah Jean Callahan, Cindy Gramer and Melody Smith.

Survivors include three sons and daughter in laws, Phillip and Beth Piearcy of Mena, Bob and Denise Piearcy of Mena and Jackie and Carla Piearcy of Perry, Arkansas; two daughters GeralDean Funderburk and her husband Bob of Mena and Vernie Jean Smith of Mena; one daughter in law Virginia Piearcy of Justin, Texas; one sister Betty Alexander of Little Rock; seventeen grandchildren; forty-nine great grandchildren; twenty four great-great 013_13 (2)grandchildren; several nieces and nephews and a host of other relatives and friends.

Funeral services will be Monday, September 20, 2010 at 2:00 P.M. at the Hall Funeral Service Chapel in Mena with Brother Donnie Jewel and Brother Doyne Cantrell officiating. Interment will follow in the Daniel Cemetery in Wickes. Visitation will be Sunday, September 19, 2010 from 4-6 P.M. at the Hall Funeral Service Chapel.

Pallbearers will be Michael Callahan; Greg Smith, Paul Piearcy, Todd Piearcy, Fred Rose and Derek Smith.

Honorary Pallbearers will be David Piearcy, Josh Austin, Philip Piearcy, C.J. Callahan, Jacob Gramer, Jeff Shreve, Jonathon Alexander and Hunter Piearcy.

(1936, Memaw, Jill, Mama, Inez) 

*********    

I thought the obituary in the paper was lovely. At the funeral my sister read her tribute to Memaw. It was even lovelier. I know Memaw would have been very pleased. Here is Diane's tribute:

(2010, at her 94th birthday party)

Memaw I am Memmaw’s oldest living grandchild.  I had occasion to live with Memmaw and Padad the first couple of years of my life.  Though I do not remember it, I have always felt that that circumstance created a special bond between me and them.  Actually, I thought that I was their favorite.  As the years have worn on, however, I realized that other cousins thought they were the favorite.  And in time, I had to concede that Iwas not the special one, but it was Memmaw.  She had the ability to convey to her abundant crew of descendants that each and every one of them held a special place in her heart.  I hope I can master that art like she did with my own grandchildren.

When I review my memories of Memmaw, I am glad that I can well remember beyond the last few years when she has been confined to a wheelchair and a little detached because she could not hear all that was being said around her.  I remember her as busy, somewhat robust, a hard worker, loving, and proactive before the term was popular.  I always smile when I think of Memmaw getting the urge to remodel her home.  Not of the modern school of thought that requires one to draw up the plans and get three bids, Memmaw—in her late sixties or early seventies—took a hammer to her walls and started demolishing them.  And all this in a dress!

(5 generations, 2009)

5 generations with romanAnd speaking of dresses, I only saw Memmaw in pants once in my entire life.  Her church was having a Sunday afternoon baseball game.  Memmaw donned a pair of slacks and faithfully participated.  My mom said, “Mother will do anything for the church!”

I remember hearing one of my uncles bemoaning the fact that most of his friends’ “elderly” mothers were irritating because they drove too slow.  Not his mother!  She got speeding tickets.

And no tribute to Memmaw would be complete without mentioning the legacy of laughter she has passed down to us.  I used to think that all families were like ours—that when they get together, they laugh.  It has only been this year that I have learned through a couple of observant outsiders that that is not the case.  My earliest childhood memories are of Sunday afternoons at Memmaw’s house with all her kids and each of their little broods assembled for Sunday lunch and a full afternoon of laughter.  Memmaw had the ability to see humor in life—even at her own expense.  She would laugh at herself as quickly as she would laugh at anyone or anything else.

(Memaw visiting her parents' graves in Hugo, Oklahoma)

031_31

The greatest legacy Memmaw leaves us is a spiritual one.  From earliest childhood, I heard the term, “being saved.”  I knew that this was of the utmost importance, because on this subject, Memmaw did not laugh.  We were taught by word and by example that everything else in life was a far second to the knowledge that you were “right with God.”  This emphasis caused me to record and to always acknowledge the date of my salvation—June 30, 1969—because I intuitively knew that that date was actually more important than my “natural birthday.”

Memmaw, though minimally educated, was a student of the Word of God.  Her Bible did not collect dust.  She read it—even in the last weeks of her life, she read with the help of a magnifying glass.  She loved discussing it, not for the sake of debate, but because she truly believed that in the word of God are the secrets of abundant life.

(2010, our last picture of Memaw. Although she looks pretty, I was amazed how she looked nothing like herself, at least not to me. This is the first time I've ever seen her not smiling.)

Memaw in casket Of all Memmaw’s gifts to us, the rarest one is her longevity.  And I am not speaking of her 94 years of life on this earth.  I am speaking of her devotion to Christ.  There are lots of good starters when it comes to following Christ, but very few who finish like Memmaw did.  She never looked back; she never considered a different path; she never threw in the towel when the going got tough.  She finished her course.

Her gentle transition from mortality to immortality has served as a reminder to me—to all of us—that this life is only the beginning; it is not the end.  I am happy for Memmaw; I know all is well with her.  I can only imagine the joy that she is experiencing now.  I think the reason we all weep is because we feel as if a part of us has died, a part of our roots, our history.

 

Those of us who are walking with God can, no doubt, trace their spiritual heritage back to Memmaw’s influence and her prayers for us.  And it’s not over yet.  She has joined that great cloud of witnesses and now together with them she continues to cheer us on in our race here on earth.  Let us—those she loved the most—resolve to honor her memory in the most noble fashion: let’s follow her footsteps and finish well!

*******

Many of Memaw's descendants were with her when she died and were wowed by the awesomeness of the experience. When her heart rate was down to four or five beats a minute, the nurse told them she was in the process of passing. They put in a cd made by her son David (who passed away in 1987, I think). As he finished singing Beulah Land, she breathed her last breath. Truly a peaceful and very beautiful exit from this world. 

Memaw was very loved and I know she would have been (or was) very proud of her family right to the very end. Like Diane, I'm thankful for the Christian heritage she left for us. I want to follow in her footsteps and finish my race in life well.


marty from reno

Obsessive
It's not safe to talk about anything and everything on my blog like it used to be. With Facebook, anybody and/or their dog can find you. And sometimes they do.

I'm as bad as anyone at creeping people's Facebook. I think of someone I haven't thought about in decades (or since yesterday) and see if they're on Facebook. Finding them I look at their pictures and see who their friends are and then stalk their friends' pictures and then look at their friends' friends . . .  I'm a relatively busy person, but give me some down time and a computer and I can cover lots of territory.

If I do this kind of creeping and stalking, it stands to reason that somebody out there just might be curious about me. It's a stretch, but it could happen. If someone gets as far as finding me on Facebook, it's a simple jump to this site which used to be my little babbling joint. When I started this blog in 2005 it was a fairly safe place to post my intimate little thoughts. Not quite as safe anymore.

I'm really thankful for my Gordon. I landed a really good husband, much better than I deserve. It's the grace of God, let me assure you. I dated some doozies.

Let's call the fellow in this story Marty and let's pretend he lived in Reno. Marty and I met through work and started talking on the phone. I went to Reno to visit him. Then he came to visit me.

When rabbit owners get ready to breed their rabbits, they take the doe to the buck. If the buck goes to the doe's cage, he's distracted with the change of scenery and doesn't perform. I am similar to bucks this way. Not that I went to Reno to breed, but I was distracted by the change of scenery and stuff to do and was unaware how terribly incompatible Marty and I were. I was into seeing new things and Marty was subsidizing my sight-seeing so I had a good time. I realized afterward that Marty had nothing to do with my enjoying Reno. Nothing whatsoever.

Several weeks passed and Marty decided to visit me. The gender-confused buck in this story was on her home turf and no longer distracted by the scenery. Things were obnoxiously clear; Marty was the worst obsessive compulsive disordered person ever. 

At my house, when I came out of the bathroom he got up and went and straightened the towel I'd just used. After I got a drink and put the glass in the sink he jumped up like a jack-in-the-box to wash it with soap and water. He rearranged my Tupperware and swept the porch. He put my videos in alphabetical order. He always turned my radio and air conditioning off when I stopped the car.

About 12 minutes into Marty's Arkansas vacation, my head was about to blow off. I didn't think I could possibly last two more days. I took him to work hoping to wear him out on the people who had more destructive behaviors than me:  Hey look, Herbie missed a belt loop. Edith has ink on her finger. One of the stalls in the ladies' room is out of toilet paper. Oh drats, the janitor missed this spot. See her chipped nail polish?

My efforts back-fired; colleagues thought my predicament hilarious. The office crew went to lunch and invited Marty. Turned out Marty had a Reno stomach not a greasy Southern-fried one. He got diarrhea from our little diner. For the next six hours he reported all his bowel movements complete with how many sheets of toilet paper each took.

I was beside myself with crazy. We went home and I promptly went to the mailbox to get a breather from him. When I got back to my front door, it was locked. I knocked and he opened the door and told me Stephanie and Christopher were "wild" and asked, "Why can't they be more like your sister Stacie's kids?"

If it were possible for eyeballs to rupture out of one's head in fury, I never would have seen my eyeballs again. I told him I was taking him to the airport. And I did. 27 hours before his plane left.

Some people don't get into Facebook. That's fine, but they shouldn't start a profile and not finish it. 

Last night I told the family about my few long hours with Marty. Out of curiosity I got on Facebook to see if Marty had ever married and see if his kids were noticeably deranged. I found him. His profile had nothing but his age and location, not even a picture. I went to his friends and thought it ironic and hilariously sad when this notice popped up: Marty has no friends.


me tootin' me up

Due to the overwhelming sales of my book, I'm working on volume two. The previous line is of course baloney. Stacie, mocking my sales numbers, said, "I better hurry and get mine before they're all sold out."

I am seriously working on volume two. In the process I ran across these sweet greetings I received many moons ago. You all know I'd rather walk on my lips all day long than toot my own horn. But these are too sweet not to toot up a little. So picture me walking on my lips as you read these toots I received for my birthday several years back. Yeah, I should have waited till I had a birthday to share them, but I was just so overwhelmed with the feely-goodies than I wanted to share them RIGHT NOW.

006_6 (3) (Stacie and me, '71 or '72)

Stacie made my day with my first birthday greeting.

"Happy Birthday, Valerie.

You always write such eloquent birthday tributes to those you love and this simple greeting seems so pale in comparison.

What do I love about you: You have the most wonderful humor. You can make me laugh like no other and you laugh with me so whole heartedly. Your writing is so fun to read because it can make me laugh though you are so subtle in the effort. I'm so impressed.

You are a great listener. Truly. You don't interrupt (like me) and I always feel like you really hear. Poor souls that have no one to listen. You listen to me blab on about what I made for dinner, what I wore to work, all the places I went, blah, blah, blah. Wonderful.

You are a willing learner. I mean, you've learned to sew, candle make, quilt make, cake decorate, genealogy sleuth, write, etc? You do it with gusto and competently. I stop before I start because I know I can't be an "expert".....

You are humble. Yes, you are and no, you haven't always been.

You share freely and graciously your mistakes, mis-judgments, hurts, pain, embarrassments, social errors, mis-steps, etc. There is something "freeing" about it when you share your confessions so honestly. God bless this trait.

You are a wonderful sister. I love you so much and I am so blessed to have such a dear dear friend and confidant. You are important to me and I miss you ever so much. Happy birthday, Stacie"

*****

And then, lo and behold, my sister Diane wrote:

Scan20014 - Copy (2) (Diane and me, 2000)

"My favorite thing about you is how much fun you are and how easy you laugh. I was thinking about this today, and I've decided that we Callahan kids enjoy ourselves like no others. I mean literally; we enjoy OURSELVES. I enjoy me, you enjoy you, etc., etc. No one laughs harder at our funnies than we laugh at our own. That's the mental picture I got when I was thinking about you today. I could see you making a funny comment and then slapping your knee real hard and laughing boisterously! I laughed just thinking about it (because that's what we do; we laugh at ourselves).

You and I have had soooo many fun times laughing at ourselves and at each other. Do you remember the time we were at the motorcycle rally in Colorado and a guy walked off after talking us near-comatose? Before he was out of earshot, you turned to me and said, "He bores me."

I could go on and on, but you have already written about most of our funniest times, so mine would be redundant and not near as entertaining. You are a great writer. I always laugh out loud when I read your blog.

On a serious note, I appreciate how transparent you have become. You used to protect yourself at all costs, but you have become very vulnerable and "real." I truly appreciate that, but especially since I know how hard it must have been for you.

I remember vividly the day you were born. Do you remember how much I doted on you when you were a little girl? I know, I know, you remember what a witchy older sister I was, but maybe in the recesses of your mind, you can conjure up a memory of when I used to call you "To-Val." Strange nickname, I know, but it was my pet name for you.

I love you and wish you the very happiest of birthdays. Diane"

*****

I couldn't have asked for more feely goodies in one day. But another one came from my aunt, Jill. Scan20031 - Copy (2) 

(Twins, Aunt Jill and Mama)

"I love you because you are funny. I love you because you are articulate. I love you because you are intelligent. I love you because you so obviously love me! I love you because you are strong.I love you because you are warm and supportive. I love you most of all because you are you! Jill"

*****

Beautiful. I had all I needed for days and days of high spirits.

You know how I hate talking about myself. Ok, so that's a lie. But you know how it's so much cooler if someone else toots your horn rather than you tootin' you're own? Here's my rootin' tootin' niece Mindi tootin' me up:

Scan20008 (Dustin and his lovely wife Mindi, my niece)

"Valerie, I know that you cannot know what you mean to me. As a child I always felt a bond to you because I was often told that I was so much like you. Little did I know, that the adults in my life were referring mostly to negative traits that we had in common, namely stubbornness. As an adult, I still feel a close bond to you, and now it is because there are traits that I see in you that I admire and want to develop in myself. I admire you as a mother and a wife. I admire your commitment to your marriage, and your commitment to raising your children to be kind people. I admire your skills in the domestic life you lead, as well as the way you push yourself to try new things all the time, even if those new things lead to "butthole roses" in a cake decorating class. I admire your transparency. It is ever so humbling to admit our shortcomings. If you are anything like me, humility is not our strong point. I appreciate your open mind, and for proving that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. I in no way think you are old or a dog, but I can't think of a better metaphor. Who would have thought that a little country girl from Arkansas, would grow into a tree-hugging, Wal-Mart boycotting Canadian. (All said in jest, of course.) I do admire you Valerie, and love you dearly. I hope your birthday is fabulous. *ching ching*

*****

When the goodness was just too much to imagine anymore,  my sweetheart added this to my day's blessings:

Scan20003 (Gordon and me, 1997ish. Perhaps that's a monstrous zit between my eyes.)

"I love you because you hung on. It has not been easy, but you kept getting up each morning and caring as you could, without going anywhere. I love you because you have learned through much pain to adjust to my weaknesses without kicking back. I love you because you keep trying new things, even when the last thing didn't work out like you planned - including things between us. I love you because you love our kids, and do your best to bring out their best, even after they have annoyed you into temporary isolation. And, I love you because you kept on laughing at my weird, silly, and sometimes asinine comments, and then went and cooked a meal or did the laundry or just prayed for all of us. I guess if you get right down to it, I love you because in spite of how life works out sometimes, you have been faithful to me, our kids, our life together, and our common Lord, in big and small ways, even when it was the hardest thing in the world for you to do. And I'm thankful to God for it. Will you be my Valentine, Valerie? Love, Gordon"

That day was a most glorious birthday. I don't think I've ever received so many kind words. I was truly blessed that day and re-reading them today, I was blessed all over again.

Thanks for listening as I tooted.


happy birthday hannah

Scan20001(Newborn Hannah and me, 1996. She looks kind of cute here.)

I am very very behind on this. Hannah turned 14 in August. Her birthday always gets the short end of the stick around here. No matter how often I tell myself it won't happen, it does. Even her "birthday post" is weeks overdue. The poor dear.

She turned 14 on August 22.

These pictures are a few sweet reminders of her little life.

(See how ugly she was. 1996)  If they hadn't taken her straight from my body and laid her on my chest, I would not have believed she was mine. I would have said, "This isn't my child. I have cute babies." But I was there. She is mine. I was awed once again by a new baby, but this time I lovingly said, "Awww, she's so ugly." 

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Thankfully she started cutening up several months later. It was acutally quite a few months before she was truly cute. But she was precious all along. She had no choice but toughness. With a sister just 13 months older, she was the brunt of all Rachael's experiments - including be drawn on with marker and pen regularly.

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But by one year old, she was genuinely very cute. She had lovely long hair but wanted a hair cut. She was just as cute with short hair.

(2 years old, 1998)


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Then she was in school and losing her first tooth.

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It wasn't long before she was in grade 4. She was tender kind and sensitive. She loved animals more than any thing. She read her Bible, wrote in a little prayer journal. She was a true seeker. She was delightful.

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Now she's an independent 14 year old. She can be super crazy and high energy. She reads lots and enjoys art. She's growing up too fast. She has abandoned all things cute. Recently she started rejecting all those cute things in her room -- storing them away or just getting rid of them. It's sad. She's saying goodbye to those cute things and opting for more teenager ways of decorating. Strangely, I never expected that of Hannah. The other kids yes, but I thought Hannah would stay the Hannah I knew. I don't really know who Hannah is. She was the one I thought I understood best, now I don't understand her at all. 

But my love stands firm. I'm still trying to understand her likes and dislikes but having a real hard time nailing it. I wouldn't consider buying her clothes or anything else nearly. For her birthday I gave her a shopping spree -- took her out on a shopping trip and didn't like anything she bought. I tried to get in her brain just to see if I could. I picked out a couple blouses, she was mortified by my taste. So I just relinquished the effort.

She's the subject of much prayer. There's a wall between us. She doesn't like me and I'm not scaling that wall very successfully. But I love her with everything in me.

Hannah I hope this year is a great year for you. I love you so much.

(2009, 13 years old)


  


thursday thirteen

Greetings from Alberta.

1. I am home again, having had a wonderful trip to Arkansas to see the southern family. Deborah went with me, her first trip to Arkansas since she was four. Her highlight was spending lots of time with her biggest sister Stephanie.

2. I saw my precious grandchildren. I didn't just "see" them, I babysat them while Stephanie and John Mark took a little vacation to Cancun. (Sucks to be them, eh?) Babysitting Roman and Avery was amazing. I got really familiar with and fell more deeply in love with them. It was truly awesome.

(Memaw, Deborah and me, 2000)

Scan20104 3. There were a couple of unexpected turns during my trip that left me feeling extraordinarily blessed. My grandmother, the last of my grandparents, got very ill and the family was "called in" thinking she was dying. Because of this, I got to see extended family I haven't seen in 20-25 years. Specifically, I was very happy to see my cousins Paula, Vicki and Lisa. It had been so long. Without Memaw's illness, I wouldn't have seen them. Seeing them was a definite highlight of the trip.

4. My Uncle Corkey, on the other side of the family, passed away. It was very sad to see my cousins suffering, but I was so very glad that I got to see them. I haven't seen them in 20-25 years either. Seeing these cousins was another highlight.

5. It was great getting to be with my dad at his brother's funeral. All Daddy's kids were there and that was very very special for him.

6. My grandmother is still in the dying process. Her family is with her right now, probably singing and reading the Bible to her as I type this. That's what they've been doing over the past couple of days. They've expected her to die for several days now. All her remaining kids are with her and a number of grandchildren and great grandchildren. I can't be there, but I'm so very very thankful I got my goodbyes in last week when I saw her. As I was leaving her bedside last week I told her I was going back to Canada and she responded with "When will you be back?" Then we exchanged I love yous. I'm so so thankful.

(Memaw last year when I was down there, 2009)

Memaw 7. To be honest, I assumed my last three trips to Arkansas were my last time to see Memaw. But this time, I'm relatively sure was indeed the final one. She is 94. Thankfully she's been lucid up to now.

8. Deborah, who hasn't seen Memaw since she was four, got to sit by her bedside too. A couple times Deborah was briefly all alone with Memaw. When I walked in Deborah was stroking Memaw's arm. I was touched by her tenderness and sweetness. I was also touched by Memaw's gentleness. I'm sure she didn't know Deborah from Adam, but she smiled lovingly as if to tell Deborah she was special.

9. My book, which was dedicated to my dad, was a big hit with him. I just realized I've not posted since holding the first copy of my book, don't count the cows. It's a lovely little book, I must say. Chock full of mistakes though, typographical, grammatical, layout, etc. 66 mistakes. Yep, I counted 'em. And that's just the ones I caught. Very, very hard on my anal retentive tendencies.

10. School's back in session and this mama is very, very happy about that.

11. My work is going well. My friend Shelly pointed out that I never mention my job. That's because I want to keep it. Have you read about the people who've lost jobs because of saying things on the web? I don't want to be in that number. However, I love my job and am thankful to have it.

12. The sky was spitting white stuff today. What's up with that? It's September.

13. Rachael's boyfriend was over last night. He went into her bedroom. I jumped up and went in there and said, "Excuse me Rachael, is there a boy in your bedroom?" They both turned toward me as Rachael said, "He's just looking at my cds." I said, "So it's true, there is a boy in your bedroom? I thought we had some sort of house rule about this." While she and I talked around Scott, he left her room. I felt powerful and smooth.


michael's hemorrhoid commercial

Tucks It's a holiday Monday here in Alberta. Instead of being at work I've been busy, busy cleaning my office/sewing/hobby room. Here is a little something I came across during my organizing from my brother Michael. 

He wrote: 

Every month I meet with a group of men for leadership training. This month is a retreat and the topic is public communication. Our homework has been to write a couple of 30-second commercials that we will do on video and then watch them to see our mannerism on camera. Here's one of mine.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Are you a hemorrhoid sufferer?

Does your anus feel like a fiery cauldron?

Do you refer to it as the "burning ring of fire"?

Have you worn a hole in the seat of your favorite pants from squirming due to itching?

Here at Tucks, we have the perfect solution.

(Holding up Preparation H Gel) The makers of Tucks Medicated Wipes know that you are not an automobile in need of a lube job.

(Holding up Preparation H Suppositories) We also know you aren't a jelly-filled doughnut.

(Holding up a canister of Tucks) Here at Tucks we say, "Wipe away your pain."

Four to five medicated wipes after every bowel movement, not only douses the fire and relieves the itching, but also leaves you feeling clean and fresh all day.

Tucks Medicated Wipes. Available over the counter at drug stores everywhere.

 


happy 15th birthday, rachael

Our sweet Rachael had a birthday last week but I didn't finish this post until just now. I'm perpetually behind these days. She's 15 now. 15!

R 3 weeks and dad

3-week-old Rachael with her proud daddy.

Hannah has always been her best bud. 1997

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I love that little tummy.

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I love this picture of her sleeping. It captures who she was as a wee one. She fought sleep and would go and go and go until she collapsed in the middle of whatever she was doing. Those were sweet reprieves for me as she was quite the little dandy.   

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Rachael with Beppe', Gordon's mom.

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She's a fine big sister. Always has been. Here she is with her sisters, 2000.

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Summer of 2009 at Gull Lake Camp.
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Summer of 2008 on family holidays to Montana's Glacier National Park.

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When I came home from Arkansas last time, this is what greeted me. I was shocked. Thankfully this phase lasted just a couple of days. 2009

Rachael gives me enormous joy. She's funny, a great conversationalist, fiercely independent, a hard worker, fun to be around. 90% of the time I would describe her just like that. All her teachers talk about her being a joy, a crazy independent child, but a joy. She is highly individualistic, just fine doing things her own way whether people approve or not. The other 10% of Rachael is the part I struggle with. Again, we're back to that fiercely independent part. In this place, she likes the tough girl image. Once she gets through this phase, I know we'll have a wonderful young lady. Until then, I'm hanging on with white knuckles. It's only about 10% of the time, but that 10% scares me like crazy.

Happy birthday my 15 year old. I hope you enjoy these years of finding out who you are apart from who your parents are. We will always love you, our beautiful Rachael.   


lethbridge dragon boat festival

This race wasn't our finest performance, but I think you'll agree that it's not exactly a poor performance either. My team in Wahine Kei Waka (lane 2). We photo finished in 4th place. That means it was so close between 3rd and 4th place that the winner was determined by photo. No medal for Wahine.

This race was in Lethbridge Alberta a few weekends ago.

This past weekend, we raced in Leduc Alberta. We raced seven times over Saturday and Sunday and one of those races was a 2-kilometer race. (I 'bout died.)

So, what do you think?


for pabob

D's fish 1 These are the last pictures I'll share from our camping trip to Little Bow. Pabob is the fisherman in my family, so these are especially for him.

Click on the pictures to get a closer look at Deborah's face. So sweet.

Deborah reeling in her first fish.

Debs' fish 3

 

 





2)  Getting help from Uncle Tom.






D's fish 2

 

3) She's not exactly comfortable touching it. {Smiles}


camping at little bow

Not our campsite
Unfortunately, this is not our way of camping.








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Humble as it is, our camping looks more like this. We met our friends the Loszchuks and enjoyed another good camping trip with them.







Bike ride at sunset

 


 
Taken on my bike ride at sunset.







 

 

Jerrod, deborah, uncle tom and d's fish




Jerrod and Uncle Tom took Deborah fishing with them. She caught this fish, a walleye, I think, but she didn't want to hold it for the picture.





Debs' fish






After a little coercion, she agreed to hold up its fin. Tom cooked it in beer and it was delicious.





















 








 

Debs bd cake





Deborah turned 11 while we were there.















Our little trek to the swimmin' hole

 








Our little trek to the lake.








V & d swimming




Deborah and me, swimming in what felt like glacier water. Fortunately by afternoon it was much warmer.







Little bow lake in the distance





Our lake is way in the distance. See it? I loved this view.






My beautiful alberta





When I first moved to the prairies, I felt exposed and vulnerable. The terrain made me feel lonely. Now I love my beautiful Alberta.




2010 family holidays are going to be pretty skimpy this year. Gordon and the girls will probably go camping again in August. I have a newer job and can't get any more time off. Especially since I already called in all my negotiating resources to get time off for a trip to Arkansas in September.

I have three, maybe four, more dragon boat festivals this summer. It will continue to be a good summer even though our holidays will be on the lean side.

 


deborah is 11 today

Brand spankin' new from the womb, Deborah and her daddy admire each other. Gordon leaned over me and whispered, "She's so beautiful and alert. She's perfect."
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She was nearly perfectly content. The only exception was Sundays. For the child who was to become my social butterfly, it's strange that church provided too much stimuli in her early days. She was cranky and unsettled every Sunday till we were home from church. As soon as she and I were in our living room in the rocking chair, she was back to her easy disposition. She was an easy baby to mother.

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We thought we were going to adopt little Shawny boy. His departure from our home was traumatic and painful. Deborah would have been a terrific big sister. We fostered several babies younger than her and she was wonderful with each one.

When Shawn left, Deborah talked about the social worker often. She had a broad vocabulary and talked with ease. During this time period, one of her big conversations was about Shawn's social worker. "Patty Jo is a very mean person. She was bad to take Shawn." It was a twisted time in our history. I wasn't doing well emotionally, which precipitated Shawn's leaving. When he left, I sank to deep depths of guilt. Not Deborah. Without a doubt, Patty Jo was ALL to blame for Shawn's departure. She grieved deeply, too.

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Deborah was an adorable child. Always ready to love on people and ready to receive their affection too. Everyone loved her.

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Deborah 2004 
 Christmas, 4 years old.

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Then suddenly she was old enough for Brownie camp. This was her first outing for overnight.
  
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We were camping last week, as has happened several times for her birthday. I picked up a cake and we celebrated at the campsite.

It was low key, but was warmly received by my little 11 year old.

Deborah, your life has made mine fuller and richer. I love you. Happy 11th Birthday, my love.


festival and a hannah story

Db lethbridge This past weekend I had a dragon boat festival and was away from the family for Friday - Sunday. Not something I've done a lot of. The kids were on my mind often. There was a 10ish-year-old girl that reminded me so much of Hannah that she startled me every time I saw her. She had on an orange t-shirt like one Hannah used to wear way too often, she was long and thin with blond hair. For a split second I'd think it was Hannah, then I would realize it wasn't Hannah and that Hannah hasn't been that "short" for several years. I couldn't wait to get home to Hannah and hug her. That little girl at the festival kept Hannah ever present in my mind. I realized anew how the girls are growing up. Hey, I was away for the weekend. If that's not evidence that they're growing up, I don't know what is.

When we are taking our boat to the starting line we're supposed to be totally focused, "all energy in the boat", not looking outside the boat for anything. Saturday, at the end of the lake near the starting line, there was a spot where a few spectators sat. They were far away from the crowd sitting in their own quiet private spot.

Scan20222 (This picture is Hannah in "that" orange t-shirt, 2007)

As we approached the starting line, I heard a crystal clear "hi". My heart instantly smiled, my face joined in. I "left" the boat -- meaning, I let my focus drift to the little girl who stood there so innocently seeing if anyone would answer her greeting. I smiled and waved before I realized what I'd done. The innocence of that little girl gripped my heart. "Hi," she said so sweetly and trusting. It was precious.

My kids have grown/are growing up so quickly. Some days it staggers me with sadness, other days I bite my tongue, hard, so I won't yell, "I CAN'T WAIT FOR THE EMPTY NEST SYNDROME."

A few nights ago Hannah came into the living room and said, "Adam is so weird, so lame." I asked why and she said they were chatting (via computer) and he started talking about puberty and how boys have it worse than girls because, and I quote, boys "have urges."

The word "urges" in our family is barely shy of a curse word. Gordon and I have a skit that I'm dying to perform for someone. We haven't had opportunity to perform, but our poor kids have had to endure it a few times. In our skit, the main word is "urges" and it's kind of sick. You'd have to see the skit to get it. Suffice to say, "urges" is a gross word to us.

Imagine Hannah's disdain when Adam started talking "urges". Adam told her about "boy urges" and then said, "Do girls have urges?"

Hannah was mortified. Rachael and I both screamed, "Well, what did you say?"

Hannah said, "I said, 'I don't know, why don't you ask one.' Then I logged off."


emergency room talk

Val and chris (My sweet boy Christopher and me, 2009)

Deborah and I are going to Arkansas for a couple weeks in September. We are excited. Deborah hasn't been for six years and she has a real spring in her step since learning she's going. We are very happy.

One night on my last trip down we shared emergency room stories, two having worked in the ER. It was this evening that I learned that sniffing silver paint can give a man an erection that WILL NOT go away no matter how he tries to turn it off. "It" turns black and the erect guy screams in pain for over 24 hours. (What do you talk about over dessert in your family?) As we heard about this horror, pain and the shots that our blessed nurse had to give "it", we were sobered and momentarily speechless.

Silence was broken when John Mark flatly said: "That would be so demoralizing." 

Christopher, pretending to be the afflicted and NOT demoralized, jumped off the sofa, pointed down there and yelled, "You kidding me? I get so hard I need shots to GET IT DOWN."


colorful speech

Beppie visitOne thing I miss about Arkansas is the picturesque speech. Actually, it's not that I "miss" it, rather when I'm around it I realize how it's absent in my life.

The colorful speech that I grew up with is very effective and efficient in summing up emotions. When I was in hard labor with Christopher, Mama said, "I feel as useless as tits on a boar hog." My mom doesn't usually talk like that, but doesn't that sentence colorfully describe her feelings? Don't you hear her discomfort, her fear, her anxiety just by hearing her one sentence?

One of my great-nephews was three years old the last time I was in Arkansas. Once my dad asked someone, "Is he soft in the head?" I had never heard the expression, but I knew what it meant immediately. Soft in the head. It's not exactly clinical, but it is tender.

Set straight that Ezra was not soft in the head, Daddy defended his question, "Well, I was just wondering if he was runnin' at top speed."

When I go to Arkansas, that kind of talk bursts out my mouth with no warning. In Canada, they might think me soft in the head if I talked that way.

Once I was riding with Stacie on the freeway. She was drifting into the right lane while passing another car. I brought it to her attention. She denied it. I replied, "Stacie, he was practically fondling me." 

I'm looking forward to getting back to my roots for a few days and smiling at their colorful speech.


grandpa

Eric and girls(Grandpa and the girls)

Eight years ago today my father-in-law passed away. He was 67. It was a hard time for our family, but I have some sweet memories from that time that I cherish.

We told the kids that Grandpa was very ill and that he would get to go to heaven soon. Deborah was nearly three. Rachael was nearly seven, Hannah was nearly six. Each of them processed it very differently. Rachael acted like it was no big deal, but that's a regular coping mechanism of hers. We knew it was big to her.

Hannah was astute and forthright. During prayer time at church on the Sunday before he died, Hannah's voice rang out clearly as she asked for prayer. "My grandpa in very sick and he hurts really badly right here," she said as she pointed to her side. (He had liver cancer.)

I thought Deborah was too young to process it one way or the other. I was wrong. One day I was in the garden and I overheard her talking to herself in the tree-house. "Grandpa is very sick and he's going to heaven soon." She said it several different ways, several different times. At that point I knew she was agitated too.

The call came that he'd passed away and we went to his house. We gathered around his bed and his kids and wife told stories, we prayed and sang a few hymns. We learned that one of Eric's favorite hymns was "Morning has broken, blackbird has spoken...." We sang it.

When we cleared out of the room for the funeral home to come, Hannah asked if she could see him once more. She and I went back into his room alone. She held his hands and thanked him for being a good grandpa. She told him she looked forward to seeing him again in heaven and then she kissed him.

After the funeral home had his body on the gurney, the sons and son-in-law carried him to the waiting car. We all stood in the yard, solemnly watching them drive away. As soon as the car turned out of sight, 2-year-old Deborah jumped up excitedly and said, "Yaaay! Grandpa's in heaven." In Deborah's mind, when he got out of sight, that's when he entered heaven.

Over the next day or two, even Rachael revealed her heart. We had learned that "Morning has broken, blackbird has spoken..." was a favorite hymn of his. Rachael drew her therapy. It's a card. The front page is a blackbird in a limb.

Rach's card 1 

Inside the card, there is Grandpa on his bed and Beppe phoning us to tell us he had just died. May always wore a bun back in those days. See her bun?

Rach's card 2 

These memories and this card are precious to me.


my kids are... ?

Scan20191 - Copy (2)(Precious Rachael and Hannah, in 2000)

Because I'm getting wiser with age, I resisted the urge to title this post, "My Kids Are Idiots." That was noble, I think.

In the 80's I loved watching The Cosby Show. In one episode Dr. Huxstable comes home to find Clare seething. She hisses, "I want you to go upstairs and kill your son." More than once I've said that to Gordon. Unfortunately he never watched The Cosby Show and he doesn't have a son, so my theatrics are sorely lost on him.

Quoting movie phrases is one of my coping mechanisms. Even though Clare Huxstable's saying is not perfectly suitable in our house, I keep it in my repertoire of fine things to say when I'm on the verge of snapping. Thank God for all the movies that have given me anti-snapping phrases through the years. I've not even come close to injuring a child, so there's proof they have served me well.

(When a potential employer asks how I handle stress I respond with a professional smile, "I tell my husband to kill the kids.") 

It's no wonder that sometimes mama animals eat their young. I'm guessing it goes something like this: Mama rat looks at baby rat rolling her eyes at her and thinks, "Yep, this one's liable to steal the family car when she's 13." Chomp chomp. "Took care of that problem."

I won't tell present problems, but I'll share one from two years ago. Rachael was 13. In some homes that might mean she's the cock of the walk, the boss, the indomitable force. In our house 13 means you're an idiot. (In a couple years I'll share our present woes, if I'm not doing time or rolled up permanently in the fetal position sing-songing, "They were such sweet babies.")

Dear, sweet, idiot child Rachael, with her friends, planned a boy-girl movie night. "We're going to the movie and then we're going to Adam's house." Gordon and I shook our heads like dogs hit between the eyes with a tennis ball. Gordon gave me the shut-up-wife look just as I was forming the words, "Like hell you are."

I had an appointment that I could not miss so I had to leave. When I got home I asked how things had turned out. Gordon said he'd take her to the movie. He'd unobtrusively sit elsewhere in the theater. She could invite the kids to her house afterward. Rachael responded with, "Well that's going to be mildly embarrassing." Gordon responded, "Mildly embarrassing, eh? Sounds to me like mildly embarrassing is a good balance between wildly humiliating and uninvolved. You choose."

That little battle turned out well. Rachael went to the movies with friends, Gordon went too. She invited the friends over; girls came, boys didn't.

She was not bitter.

Rachael is doing well these days. Her mind is coming back. Slowly but surely, I see signs of sanity. She's kind of between stages, part idiot, part sane.

Hannah is 13. I think a lot about the above mama rat.