grateful

Mama b4 and afterMy poor mom was a victim of COVID. Although she had asymptomatic COVID at one time during the pandemic, that isn't what I'm talking about. She was a victim of the lockdowns. She was in a facility in Northwest Arkansas where she had enjoyed regular visitors. Mama was very social and all about family. With Alzheimer's, family visits were her best medicine. But when lockdowns were implemented, no one was allowed in to see her. Fortunately, we were allowed to FaceTime with her. She could hardly understand that and sometimes it just confused her more. She cried out for family members up to 12 hours a day, and was often hoarse from the effort. She declined rapidly. 
 
By six months into lockdowns, she had fallen twice, breaking a hip each time, she had two hip surgeries, and lost 26 pounds. But still, no family was allowed into the nursing home. One night, my sister nearest to Mama's facility, Diane, got a call from a nurse saying that Mama's vitals were not good and that Mama might be dying. Since she might be dying, Diane was allowed to go be with her. (If a patient is "dying" the family is allowed to visit.) My other sister, Stacie, from North Carolina, immediately headed to Arkansas to be with Mama too. 
 
After a couple days of Mama not dying, the administration told my sisters they had to leave and my sisters challenged them. It didn't go so well and instead they transferred Mama to a hospice house so family could be with her as she died. This was great news and once Mama was at the hospice house we all got to visit. Only one visitor at a time was allowed, but if the visitor was Mama's 84-year-old twin sister, another person could be there to prevent Aunt Jill from getting overwhelmed. It was a wonderful set up. We all spent lots of quality time with Mama. 
 
She was so precious. I'll always cherish the memories. Her mind didn't miraculously return, but her soul needs were clearly being met. We talked, she caressed us, patted us, called us Darling, Sweetheart, Honey and told us how much she appreciated us. Having not been able to see her because of  lockdowns, it was such a blessing. Such a blessing!
 
Well, with all the love and familial interaction, Mama rallied and the hospice house doctor told us she had to go back to the nursing home. We were utterly devastated. She got to the point she was at, we believe, from lack of human contact, and once she got the love, touch, conversation, and compassion she needed, she vastly improved. But improvement dictated that she go back to the nursing home and she was transferred that evening. We grieved and we wept. What a messed-up system! Mama roommate
 
We frantically started thinking outside the box trying to find a way to have her with us. That first evening, my daughter and son-in-law, Stephanie and John Mark, offered to let Mama and me live there until Mama died. We were over-the-moon excited. 
 
John Mark tore down the king-sized bed in the guest room and traded it for a twin bed making room for Mama's hospital bed. The room was set for us to be roommates. We were overjoyed knowing she'd get to be surrounded by family. I was committed to staying in Arkansas for as long as it took. I looked so forward to more time like we had at the hospice house. 
 
I was giddy with thanks. Thanks for Stephanie and John Mark offering to take Mama and me in, thankful for who they are, pro-family and pro-life in every sense of the word. Though a family of 10, they didn't hesitate to take in two more. Such generous spirits, they have.
 
I was so grateful that eight of my grandchildren would get to be part of sacrificial love in action. I hoped it would make a profound impact on them to see respect and dignity given to their great grandmother. 
 
I was so grateful for Gordon who shared the conviction that it was the right thing for us to do during this season of life. Not every husband would be supportive of their wife living 2000 miles away indefinitely (until her mother died, which we'd been told would be 1-3 months). I was so grateful that he is that kind of man, pro-family and pro-life. 
 
I could not think of a greater honour than to take care of Mama during her last days on earth. What a blessing to be able to serve her and help usher her toward her heavenly home with love and compassion. But that time was way less than expected. 

2014 in review

The end of 2014 is days away. It doesn’t seem possible. 2014 yielded some wonderful things, one of which is Jubilee in the weight department. Since August, I’ve lost 30 pounds and still progressing. I’m thankful for my friend Sarah’s weight loss and for her success having a powerful impact on me. She introduced me to U Weight Loss which has been the instrument used for my success.

Robin2014 delivered me my job at Alberta Health. I started working there in 2013 but it was as a temporary employee. On August 11, I got hired into my present position. I never knew such great jobs existed. I love my job and am thankful beyond words for all the benefits that come with it. A great pension plan, sick days, four weeks of vacation, every third Friday off for my EDO, Canada Savings Bonds plan and more. I’m surrounded by bright, bright people and that is wonderful. My administrative assistant colleagues are wonderful and are becoming very good friends. Robin is a devout Catholic and is outspoken about her faith. She is mentoring me in that way; she is an extraordinary example for me. She is in no way afraid to speak of God or her faith. I want to be more like her and am very grateful for her friendship.

2014 took me to North Carolina for Melody’s lovely wedding. Quite truthfully, it wasn’t a good trip in that I felt judged and ridiculed. Once home, God took me down a path of reading about His grace, showing me how accepted I am in His eyes. I gained clarity and saw God’s grace afresh in a beautiful way.

G & V jasperGordon and I went to Jasper and had a wonderful weekend there. It was great to be alone with him and whetted my appetite for more weekends away with him.

Improvements to our home – I’m loving them. We got new kitchen appliances, new cabinets, a wall removed in the kitchen, the piano moved downstairs which opened up the living room in a big way and most of the brick wall outside is finished. It’s still a work in progress, but 2014 yielded lots of fruit in the home improvements department. Gordon has worked hard and I’m so grateful for the money to accomplish these improvements and his health and willingness to do them.

2014 brought me home from the apartment. We’ve experienced lots of healing in our marriage during our separation and those awful / painful counseling sessions. We appreciate each other more and I think we are stronger for it all. I wouldn’t trade our relationship for any other. Truly. I love him so very very much.

I’m thankful for the character changes I see in myself. For most of my life I’ve been a “go big or go home” type of person. That’s not so much the case anymore. Even my travel bug indicates that change in my character. In the past when I dreamed of going to Europe, I wanted to see as many countries as possible at one time. My idea was to be able to say I’d been there, not to have really experienced it. Now when I dream of going to Europe, it’s usually one country at a time that entices me. I want to hike, walk, swim, immerse myself in the beauty of each country I visit and that will take time. I look forward to worshiping God in His creation that I have yet to see. Right now I’m thinking of the Tuscany Hills, mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, hikes in the Dolomites . . .

GrandkidsStephanie and John Mark and their angelic little family moved into their beautiful new home. I visited them in April and absolutely adore my grandchildren. How very blessed I was to experience them. I’ll never forget Roman telling me he never knew adventures could be so fun when we would go exploring in the neighborhood or walking along with Ella and her saying, “Beppie, I love you.” My heart is so full just remembering those sweet babies.  I’m so thankful for the way Stephanie and John Mark parent.

Christopher is in Tulsa working long hours and making lots of money. I didn’t have a lot of time with him in April, but what I did have, I thoroughly enjoyed.

Rachael, bike wreck2014 has shown us progress with each of the girls.  Rachael has been working at 7-11 for nearly a year. She loves her work. She has a wonderful work ethic. In spite of liking to party, she’s responsible and always goes to work. She was in a bad bicycle wreck several months ago while impaired. I’m so thankful God protected her.

Hannah still works at the daycare (although she has given notice for the end of January). She’s been there over a year. She and Darian moved to BC in the summer. They couldn’t get jobs that would support them so they came home after several weeks. I was proud of them for chasing their dreams.  Like Rachael, Hannah has a good work ethic and is responsible.

Girls Christmas 14It’s been a growing year for Deborah. This time last year, she was stealing lots, not going to school, doing drugs and alcohol when she could. I’m so thankful for her improvements in 2014. She has faithfully been going to school at Outreach, she’s not cutting or attempting suicide and occasionally she goes to church and church youth events. We’ve seen great improvements in her and are so thankful.

Darian, Hannah’s boyfriend, has yielded to the conviction of the Holy Spirit in his life. When we met him he was an existentialist / atheist. For five weeks he’s attended church and his spiritual appetite for the things of God is voracious. This, I guess, is the crowning beauty of my year. Seeing his spiritual growth is so exciting and beautiful.

We’ve all had good health this year. We’ve been protected from harm and all our needs have been met. I thank God and give him my praise for a blessed 2014.


july's 12 in '12

 

2012 july 12in12
July's 12 in '12

This is my July 12 in '12 collage. As I wrote here, for the remainder of the year I am journaling each month in picture. This picture is loaded with signficant and meaningful stuff irrespective of how insignificant it looks. 

1. St. Francis of Assisi is one of the great mentors in my life. I read something in late June that sparked a desire to re-read some of the things I've read on this great man. I wanted to rekindle some of the truths that I learned from him. In July I re-read these books.

2 and 11. These pictures are from Deborah's 13th birthday. I officially have 3 teenage daughters.

3. Hannah found this kitten near 7-11. It was meowing and she looked down at her feet to discover him there. She brought him home and nursed him back to health. This picture was taken after we had him over a week. He was tiny and had already filled out by the time this picture was taken. It is pitiful that something so small was all alone in the world. Hannah named him Haze and was diligent caring for him. He temporarily softened her heart and since we were desperate for Hannah's heart to be softened, it was a no-brainer that we keep him. He was much work though -- I think he was blind and he meowed nearly constantly. Hannah soon tired of the job and I took him to the Humane Society where I figure he found a good home. But for the short time he was with us, he touched us with his helplessness and his ability to soften a young girl's heart.

4. In June I went to a seminar and heard the benefits of giving up grain products. I checked some Paleo lifestyle books out at the library and on July 1 started eating the way a Paleo enthusiast would. It has now been 36 days of having no junk food, no fake food and no wheat products. Bonus, I lost several pounds in July.

5. This picture of Hannah was taken a few days before going into PChAD. In this picture, although it's a fine picture, the subtleties of her expression reveal her hardness of heart.

6. I love summer and I love my little container vegetable garden.

7. While in PChAD, Hannah resumed her former love for painting. She painted four pieces while there. It blessed my socks off to see her embracing a former love. It's probably been a year since we've seen this side of her.

8. Deborah has had nearly two good months of not cutting. However in July she had a huge upset and she cut again. I'll be sharing some big news on that front very soon.

9. Casanova!, what a cool cat. One day I came home for lunch and found him on top of the cabinet. I couldn't be mad, it was too cute. However, when I came home in the late afternoon, the cow, which was a gift from Stephanie, was shattered on the floor. Casanova was still on top of the cabinet.

10. This is the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC) sign that hung outside of Hannah's safe house for the PChAD program.

11. Here's Deborah with her 13th birthday cake.

12. This isn't just a silly vain picture of my hand. There's some significance here. When Hannah's behaviour started getting erratic and volatile, I read her diaries to try to determine the extent of her drug problem. One thing I read in her diary was how she hates her fingernails and wished they were prettier. I realized that was something I could help her with. I have never tended to my nails with affection, but when I read that I decided I'd begin to stock our home with nail supplies and offer to keep her nails manicured. And I have. As a byproduct of this commitment, my own nails have gotten lots of babying too. This is the first time I've ever worn red fingernail polish. I feel eccentric.


temporary empty nest

Hannah's art hand
Hannah's first painting in a long time.
Home is so calm, uneventful and quiet this week. Hannah is in detox, Deborah is at Gull Lake Camp and, of course, Rachael hasn't lived here for weeks. It's just Gordon and me. The break is welcome. I don't know if Gordon shares that viewpoint. PChAD, I think, seems radical to him. I think he thinks I'm half crazed in pursuing it.

Weeks ago when I told Hannah I was pursuing detox for her, she laughed. It was a big joke, maybe even a badge of honor to need detox. She joked about it with friends. I asked if she'd go voluntarily, she said no. On Monday she was shocked to find out that in PChAD she checked her "rights" at the door. She had to surrender every item she brought. She must wear the clothes they issued her and they confiscated every single item she took with her, right down to her underwear. She isn't allowed outside. Once she experienced this lack of freedom she was furious and it wasn't a big joke anymore. That's when she pursued an appeal. There was an element of pride in hearing this; her independence is incredible. She was granted a hearing with a judge via video satellite. I was proud of her initiative. But, thankfully, her appeal was denied.

Hannah's art lorax
A lorax. I love this playful side of Hannah.

 

I went to see her the day after she was admitted. She was angry and acted like she couldn't stand the sight of me. She is allowed to call us at 7:00 every evening and she does. I think she is so bored and lonely that she is willing to talk even to me. We visit her every other day during visitation. She started out so ill tempered and short, but several days into the process she was proudly showing us paintings she had done. Slowly, she is becoming her old self. She isn't having fun and resents being there, but after a few days, she is laughing. One can't imaging how sweet that sound is to me. I haven't heard her laugh without a hard edge in a long time. She talks about what she is reading. She hasn't read in a long time. I know she hasn't painted in a long time. It's like she is getting in touch with herself again. Remove the pot and the friends and our Hannah surfaces again. 

Today she said, "I think I want to be a librarian." I wanted to jump for joy. My heart swelled with pride. She was talking about the future and it was positive talk. I cannot remember the last time I heard positive words come from Hannah's lips.

Today I am very encouraged.


court-ordered intervention

Hannah on the beach

2004, Hannah's first experience with the ocean, Florida

Monday I went to court to get Hannah's PChAD (Protection of Children Abusing Drugs) order. I had to prove why I thought Hannah needed the protection of a court-ordered detox program. It was hard revealing these gross things to strangers who didn't know Hannah prior to drug use tainting her. 

The reasons I gave for the application:

  • She was caught using pot at school.
  • Her diary indicates frequent pot use, MDMA and cocaine use on occasion.
  • RCMP confiscated paraphernalia once.
  • She attended 4/20 at the Alberta Legislature and took her 12-year-old sister with her.
  • She frequently smells like pot.
  • She’s had violent outbursts where she has destroyed property.
  • She got in a truck with two strange men for free smokes. (This was the scariest one, the one which convinced me to pursue PChAD.)
  • She drinks alcohol as often as she can get it; has been drunk on a number of occasions.
  • She exposed herself to others while high. As a passenger on the Anthony Henday, she showed her breasts as they passed cars. (According to diary and confirmed by Rachael)
  • According to her diary, she had multiple "playing around" partners once when high at a party.
  • She “lives from one high to the next,” according to her 17-year-old sister.
  • She gives pot to her 12-year-old sister.

It was humiliating divulging these things about Hannah. Making these things public is equivalent to saying, "I've been a neglectful, bad parent," or at least it seems so. Others don't know my heartbreak and how I wonder and ask myself all the time, "God, what went wrong? I certainly thought I was being a good mom."

Hannah and casanova
Hannah and Casanova, a few days before going to PChAD

Once the judge gave me the court order I had to wait at the court house for the clerk to get the paperwork in order. While there I texted Hannah to tell her it had been granted and tell her I loved her. I'm thankful I had that opportunity to touch base with her about it because the next phase of the process totally caught me (and Hannah) off guard.

Once I had the court-ordered apprehension notice, I was told to take it to the RCMP for enforcement. I knew this was coming, but I had been told that it would take a few days as someone would have to be discharged from the "safe house" before they could admit Hannah. As it turned out, a constable read the court order then said, "I'll follow you to your house to get her." I was nearly speechless with shock. I hadn't prepared her, wasn't certain she was home, etc. It felt too quick and so wrong.

Thankfully, the officer was kind and personable. She spoke respectfully to Hannah and Hannah went willingly. I hugged Hannah, told her I loved her and watched her get into the backseat of the car. Then I sat down and cried. But, I was convinced the PChAD was the right thing to do.

Several months ago we had a huge episode in our house and I told the girls that it looked like I was losing all of them. "If I'm losing you, I'm not losing you without a fight," I told them. I hope they remember that and view these crazy things I'm always doing as me fighting FOR them.

God, please soften Hannah's heart. She so hard, uncaring, worldly, angry and filled with bitterness. Please use this experience in detox to soften her. Please give her clarity and direction this week. Teach her some things that will make her want to live differently. God, please work in Hannah's heart this week. Help her know how much I love her. Sometimes I don't think she knows. Show me how to show love to Hannah in a way that truly speaks love to her. Please be glorified in Hannah's life and help her turn to You. Please change her this week.

 


letting go

I love this girl so much. Rachael
Rachael, 2010, 10 years old

Today is Rachael's first training shift at Superstore. I'm so proud of her for getting this job. Last week she had a day of orientation and was so cute as she relayed some of the things she learned. The owner/boss told stories and anecdotes that interested Rachael and she took notes - the only new hire doing so. That's her mom and dad coming out in her.

The following day she excitedly told us of Nick and her plans regarding finances and living together. They've got it all worked out, at least in their minds. It was mildly heartbreaking to hear her innocence; they're going to save money all summer, get an apartment for $865 a month, split groceries and she'll contribute gas money. It made my heart hurt. So young and still fairly un-jaded, yet so experienced for only (almost) 17.

She moved out of the house on April 20, nearly three months ago. There had been several nights when she didn't come home and I told her there would be no more chances. "Honey, if you don't come home again, you are choosing to live elsewhere." She understood. We talked at length about it.

Rachael at the beach 3
                       Rachael, Vancouver, 2006, grade 6

She, Hannah and Deborah skipped school and went to "4-20" at the Alberta Legislature. "4-20" (April 20th) is "National Smoke Pot Day" and they joined the pot-smoking masses for the celebration. I was upset, mostly because she took her 12-year-old sister. (I spent a good amount of the day scared out of my mind trying to find Deborah, even involving the RCMP). When they came home I asked her what she was thinking taking Deborah with her. I reminded her of our discussions about house rules and told her she had to leave. She was ready. She phoned her boyfriend Nick and he asked before she said anything if she was kicked out. (That phrase, "kicked out", grates on my nerves. She was not kicked out, she chose to live elsewhere when she blatantly made the choice to disobey house rules. That is how I translate the conflict and how I believe Rachael understood the consequences.) He came and got her and they've been living together since. (They were intimate long before then.) First they lived in a house Nick was helping renovate. The understanding was they'd help renovate it then they'd get to rent the downstairs when it was done. They worked hard, especially Nick. (I love his work ethic.)

That arrangement didn't work out because the owners changed their minds about the reno plans. Rachael and Nick went to his mom's house and stayed for a while. His mom told them it wasn't a permanent arrangement and they'd have to leave in a couple weeks. Once they left there, we didn't know where they were for a few days. Then I discovered they were living in our garden shed. After Gordon and I went to work, they'd shower, eat, etc. Once I discovered them and it was no longer a secret, the shed became a teenager hangout as kids were always there, frequently smoking dope. Gordon gave them a deadline for when they'd have to leave and they left that day. (It was again heartbreaking as they offered to "pay rent" for the shed.) Several times Gordon reminded Rachael that she could always come home but she'd have to obey house rules and house rules didn't include her boyfriend living here.

2010 rachael beauty
2010, 15 years old

Since leaving the shed, they've been living with Nick's father. When Nick comes into town for work, he drops Rachael off at our house, therefore we see a lot of her. It's great to see her; she's extraordinarily pleasant to be around - truly a pleasure. But with Deborah as vulnerable and easily influenced as she is, we can't have a legal adult daughter living with us who is setting a bad example.

In Alberta, one is a legal adult at 16. As an adult, she can do what she wants. The only control we still have is having some "not in my house" rules. Rachael has never been unwelcomed here but she understands she has to abide by our rules or live elsewhere. She's chosen to live elsewhere.

Strangely, I've adapted pretty well. We get along well. While she lived here, there was ongoing conflict; curfew, marijuana, how she spoke disrespectfully and disregarded boundaries, not coming home, etc. Now we communicate pleasantly, affectionately, respectfully and with obvious appreciation for each other. I thoroughly enjoy having her around. I see good qualities that I got blind to while she was living here. I see her strengths and inner beauty. It's not been easy, but I'm starting to understand this process of "letting go" a little better.


mindi makes me laugh

Mindi
Mindi Rae

It has been almost a year since Deborah and I went to Arkansas in hopes that the family would be able to move there. (It didn't work out but that's a different story.)

On our long drive down, we stopped in Iowa to visit my special niece, Mindi. I commented on her cute decor and style. She said Dustin called her style "kindergarten granny." Dustin has more traditional taste than Mindi. Whereas Mindi likes turquoise walls, Dustin wanted neutral tones. As Mindi looked at his paint choices, she said with finality, "Dustin, these are just different shades of dirt."

I had just recently finished a book on my dad's ancestry. I told Mindi a few of my favorite discoveries as well as a few less-than-brag-worthy anecdotes. I have always been proud of my Cherokee blood, but this time I shared some less than pride-inducing stories. I ended by telling her I enjoy researching family history and there are always new discoveries to be made. She countered my lofty sentiment with mock disapproval, "Whores and Indians! Keep digging, Valerie!"

My dad's ancestry has some close ties with Daniel Boone. His wife and I are related (although we've never been close or anything). A distant grandfather pioneered alongside Daniel Boone right up to the moment he was beheaded by Indians. When I told my dad our connections with Daniel Boone, he smiled with pride and said, "I always had a feeling I was kin to Daniel Boone."

Tickled by Daddy's amusing remark, I shared it with Mindi. Playfully she impersonated him by shivering and saying, "I feel him all over me; it's Daniel Boone."

Mindi shared a bit about a "friend" of hers. The "facts" here are terrifically jumbled but I think the idea is intact. Said Friend has no qualms asking for favors, big favors, and never reciprocating.

Mindi and Dustin had just moved into their house; just moved in, as in boxes were still in the living room. Mindi was smitten with food poisoning and heaving uncontrollably. Friend visited yet offered no assistance with the kids (who were being very rambunctious), unpacking, or a meal. Nothing. As Mindi's head was buried in the toilet, Friend explained how difficult life was with her wild teen. She wondered if Mindi would mind coming to stay at her house to "babysit" the teen while Friend and her latest boyfriend Bob went on a cruise.

Mindi pulled away from the porcelain and stumbled to the bedroom. Friend followed, "She'll probably not be a problem for you. And Bob and I really need to get away from it all." Exasperated, frustrated, angry and very sick, Mindi responded, "Hell no. No! Hell the f------ hell no." Friend got the idea.

That is the Mindi I love and who can keep me gasping for breath from laughing so hard.


punk

Rach face

People ask why I'm not blogging much. I use to have so many things to say. My kids were angelic and oh, so very cute. Writing was easy because I had great subjects to write about. My kids ceaselessly delighted me.

Now, I'm not so easily delighted by them. To blog about their lives these days would make me very vulnerable, like opening myself up to judgement. I don't want everyone knowing the jungle I'm living in. Daily I'm confronted with self condemnation. I haven't yet figured out just what I did that produced these kids who are so unlike my visions. Confessing our home life would be like hanging a sign around my neck saying something like, "Ask me what kind of stupid my kids did today?"Rach ears

They still give me many times of joy but they give me moments (hours, days) of despair as well. That's why I'm a little quieter these days. I don't want people judging them, or me, harshly.

I know their beauty will surface again. But right now, they're kind of weird and I'm not in my proudest phase of motherhood.

That said, isn't my daughter Rachael (above) beautiful? She's almost 16. She has a lovely face and a lovely personality.

Rach hairWhen she turns sideways it's a bit hard to look at her though, at least it is for this mama. This is her ear look. I think it's pretty ugly, but I definitely prefer looking at this profile to the opposite side. For when I look at the other side, this is what I see . . . 

How did Gordon and I, two very straight-laced people, produce a Punk? It's a mystery to me.

She's a punk and proud of it. I just don't get it.

But she's got a beautiful heart and I love her with everything in me.


a wee safari adventure

Arkansas safari collage

One of the highlights of our visit in Arkansas was a trip to the Wilderness Safari. Here are some pictures from there. My favorite is the one with Roman covering his eyes. He wasn't comfortable with all the animals traipsing around the car so he covered his eyes. Surely, if he couldn't see them, they couldn't see him!

Avery couldn't get close enough and is standing in the window not wanting to miss a thing. Those two are like night and day.

A funny memory of the day was Roman seeing the gazelle or ibex (or whatever it was) and exclaiming, "What is that freakin' horned animal?"

 


emotionalism

Gordon and Valerie I really suck as a mother to teenagers. I'm really, really bad at it. I don't understand how I trained them so diligently to do xyz and now that they're teenagers they don't do xyz. I've been known to pitch hissy fits, I'll admit. But more than fit throwing, I tend to be a melancholy reflector. I sit for hours wondering what I did to make it all go wrong. Why don't they do xyz? Why do they do abc when they know damn well I'm against abc? I'm quite pathetic.

Among my common thoughts is that a good time for a mother to die is when she has teenagers. Truly, at that stage of her kids' lives, they won't miss her.

One day recently I ventured out of my pathetic reflective mode and demonstrated my fit-throwing prowess. I threw a towel, I said a swear word or two or three, and generally behaved unseemly.

About the time I got over it Deborah had an emotional breakdown. I rolled my eyes and whispered to Gordon, "All these hormones are about to drive me crazy."

Gordon, who had eyewitnessed my fit just moments earlier, droned, "Yeah, not everyone can rise above their emotions like you."


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


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.


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.


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.

 


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. 


happy birthday, stacie

006_6 (5)(Stacie and me)



018_18 (4)

Today is Stacie's birthday. I spent time this morning thanking God for such a dear, dear sister. She is everything a sister should be, everything I want in a sister. (Diane is too, but this is Stacie's day.) I love Stacie so much and cannot imagine life without her.

We are 2500 miles apart, but she's never more than a phone call away. We always pick up right where we are with no formalities needed. We dig right into sisterhood, friendship and sharing life. With us both working full time, our Ma Bell experiences are fewer than they use to be. However, Stacie is right with me all the time because I carry her so closely to my heart. I enjoy her so much and share such an affinity that it seems in some strange way that we're always together. I'd like us to be closer in flesh, but am not convinced even that would make us closer in spirit.

018_18 (6)Yesterday I was thinking of the road trip Stacie and I did a few years ago across the southern states. In the car for extended hours we really got "in the zone" thinking the same thing at the same time. We talked at length of our childhood church, singing the hymns of our youth (which neither of us is exposed to anymore), and usually in the spirit of imitation -- imitating someone from our childhood congregation. (My mom cringes right 086here as she reads this). 

We would finish a tune, laugh ourselves nearly crazy and then sink into our private thoughts, Stacie driving and looking straight ahead, me watching the countryside of kudzu, hills and oaks go by. Over and over these moments of reflection ended when at the exact moment we both burst into another hymn sung in the way so-in-so sang it.

It was on that trip I learned about incontinence first hand, always precipitated by violent laughter.

That is the relationship Stacie and I share. How very, very blessed I am.

Stacie, I love you more than words can express. You are, forever, my bosom friend. Happy Birthday, Swisser.

(Last picture, 2009, Stacie hammin' it up.)


thursday thirteen

I love Thursday Thirteen. It's a great way to catch up.

1. I've been kind of sad/contemplative/nostalgic lately. I've been busy scanning pictures from the days before digital photos. I've got a lot done, but still have a ways to go. Anyway seeing all those pictures of my little people, . . .  Now they are so big. It's enough to make a mama weep. A couple are grown. A couple morphed into a different species. And one is still a child. In a way it seems like a few days ago that Stephanie was born and in other ways it seems like a totally different life. Time keeps going.

2. As I looked at all the photos, over and over I saw evidence of Debbie Tannehill. She gave us sooo many clothes for the girls and all three girls wore them. Thank you, Debbie. You are such a good friend.

3. Was reminded all over again how incredibly sweet my wee ones were.

4. Was reminded all over again how incredibly tiring Rachael was. She was a handful. I created a few "funnies" for the occasion.

5. Funny 1.

  R mischief

6. Funny 2.

  God have mercy

7. Funny 3.

  R 2000

8. I love the smells of the season. I sat in the back yard last night and got intoxicated by all the floral scents in the air. I am sure heaven will have those same scents.

9. Do you remember that I'm working on a book? (Actually it's three books.) I'm getting pretty close to having the first one finished. I'm excited about the potential.

10. Hannah was such a writer/card giver when she was wee. This week I thoroughly enjoyed reading through a bunch of her sweet greetings from years ago. She doesn't write me love letters anymore. I miss those, but am thankful for the ones she gave me when she still liked me. {Sigh, people warned me about this.}

Scan20226

12. In case you can't see it, it says, "You are the best perins in the world. I love you. Have a Heavenly Day." See why I'm nostalgic and blue?

Scan20232 

13. Reading through Hannah's photo album reminded me of some of her quirky ways when she was little. And she had more than a couple quirky ways. I had totally forgotten one until I read it in her album. In 2000 we went to Colorado and met all my family for Thanksgiving. For many, it was the first time to meet my Canadian children. Hannah was four and Deborah was still nursing. Hannah was often invited into people's lap to get acquainted. Hannah's method of getting acquainted was asking, "Do you have milk in your breasts?" and/or "How come your breasts are so small?"


stacie, hammin' it up

Life has had me by the tail ever since I got home from Arkansas and I've not captured many of my memories from the trip. I told about the photo shoot my sibs and I had with my dad. Before we had the opportunity to have a group picture made, my hammy sister, Stacie, captivated all the cameras. She is a ham-dinger. I wish I'd gotten a little more of that gene, but I didn't so I just get to enjoy her.
 Stacie hamming

Stacie hamming while we wait 

She is so funny and entertaining. I lub' 'er lots.
As you can see in these pictures, she put on a show. So unintimidated, acting like a teenager getting her picture made. As you can also see in the pictures, we were all waiting for her to finish the production.
  
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michael, the farmer

I've been gone. I was negligent. I was overwhelmed. But I'm back, with bells on. Well, not really, but you get the idea.

Life is good. My new job schedule is starting to gel and I'm getting the hang of my work. I told Gordon that until my probation is up (3 months) I'm going to be afraid of the boss saying, "this just isn't working." It's never happened before, but this job is the closest thing to feeling out of my league that I've ever had. (That, of course, doesn't count the cake decorating stint where being fired would have been just too cool.)

You know how I get all reflective and spend a lot of time navel gazing as each year closes, right? Well, this week I've been thinking about the year and its blessings. I've had a number of blessings this year, but right now I want to hone in on my brother's heart surgery. Michael had a 7-bypass open-heart surgery and came through with flying colors. I am grateful beyond words. Thanks be to God, he's better than he's been in years. That is the single best thing about 2009 for me.

Michael 
 

Michael's my only brother and I love, love, love being around him. When all the siblings and my dad were at Michael and Lawana's in October, we decided to take some pictures. While Michael went to change shirts the rest of us went outside to hash out ideas on where to take some pictures. While we're chattin' it up, Michael walked out with an expression of "ok, let's get this over with." However, he had his sweat-shorts pulled up to to his chest. We all knew he was goofing off, trying to make us think he really planned on having his picture taken looking so ridiculous. And ridiculous just doesn't sum it up accurately. His shorts were up so high, well, I just can't describe it. But it was darn near vulgar. I started trying to take a picture of him, but in my hysterical laughing, I couldn't figure out the camera. So I got a couple shots, but by then, the shorts were already sliding down. If my fingers had been more nimble, even just two seconds earlier, you could have seen it yourself.

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Michael, although he's usually the life of the party, is still mildly anti-social. When he first got on Facebook, I was both surprised and excited, thinking we'd "talk" more. That hasn't really materialized. While in Arkansas I asked him if he ever got on Facebook and he said he goes on Farmville. I've never been on Farmville so I know little about it, except it's wildly popular. (I have plenty of vices on the web, but Farmville isn't one of them). I asked what he does on Farmville and he said a simple, "I farm."

He sounded like a little boy with a toy farm. He replied to my laughing with, "you may laugh, but I have a million bucks saved." I realized he had a little addiction to Farmville at that point and I think I may have sat with my mouth open for a few seconds. Lawana chimed in by saying, "It's true, Valerie. We work all day and then come home and farm all night."

Later my sister Diane told me that once Michael phoned home to remind Lawana to water the garden (that would be the Farmville garden) because he'd forgotten. Michael and Farmville. I never would have guessed they'd be so close.

I asked lots of questions about the surgery and saw the scar that you could drive a small car through. He told me he'd been having some problems for a long time. He'd told the doctor about his acid reflux getting worse and worse and the doctor kept prescribing new acid reflux meds. He said it was really cool that he had that relationship with the doc -- he'd tell the doctor the problem and the doc would prescribe the medicine he needed. Michael said, "only trouble is, I misdiagnosed."

So today, I'm smiling at some of my brother's cute ways, even laughing a few times. And especially, I'm again saying a thank you to God for taking him through his heart surgery safely.

Daddy and sibs


roman, the main man

It was wonderful to see Romie Boy again. I was a little "too present" for his comfort, especially in the beginning. He liked me in small doses but would be overcome with rudeness when he got up in the morning and I was still there. He took his time warming up to me, but he finally did. Not before I'd said, "well that little t-u-r-d," a few times though. I said this rude comment when he countered my, "Good Morning, Roman" with "Umph," which I interpreted as "Get outta my house."

Roman and quilt 
This picture was made on my first evening there. He liked the I Spy quilt I made for him and really got into the game. It kept him occupied for quite a while.

Romie and quilt 

On my second morning there, he came into the living room where I was sitting with his quilt draped over my legs. He rushed at me, grabbed his quilt and gave me a royal "Umph."

Roman 1
Roman finally warmed up to me, but not until I'd invested a bit of time. He loved playing outside, going for walks, and feeding the ducks with Beppie. I eventually became a friend.

Romie and beppie outside
Roman loves playing in his backyard and he and his daddy do it lots. But in a pinch, when Daddy wasn't around, Beppie could fill in. (I have several pictures from this little outing. When Rachael looked at them she said, "You're so pulling a dad-moment with those black socks and white runners.") Rudies (that's Dykstra-ese for "rude ones") abound in my life. :-)

Roman and avery 1 

Roman is a loving brother to Avery. I never saw any jealousy or ill-will, just love and affection. On my first morning there, I took Avery out to the porch swing. Roman started crying "Baby, Baby". It was kind of heartbreaking that he was afraid I was taking his baby.

Once when Avery was starting to fuss in her swing, Roman ran to the swing, dug around Avery and found her pacifier. He put it in her mouth and tucked her blanket back around her. Avery stopped crying and Roman beamed. It was precious.

Roman in wagon 

Roman loves the outdoors and loved when we did outdoorsy things. This wagon ride was a bonding moment for us.

Roman

Roman is just 2 years old. But he can spell his name and knows many letters of the alphabet by sight. I'm pretty sure there's a college scholarship in his future.

Roman putting his animals in a circle

When I left him this past Sunday, this is what he was doing; lining up his little animals in a nice clean circle or straight line. Then we drove off, and he cried, "Beppie, Beppie." I cried. And I just cried again as I typed that.


lil' miss avery claire

Howdy Y'all.

I got home Monday morning after a glorious little holiday to Arkansas -- where I met my first granddaughter Avery. Needless to say, she stole my heart with her sweetness. She kind of liked me, too.

In grandmotherly fashion, I have a few pictures to share.

Avery and quilt
I'm the first to admit this little picture isn't the hottest, but it captures Avery on the rag quilt I made her. Truthfully, she didn't seem too awed by the quilt, but maybe one has to be older than 6 or 9 weeks to fully appreciate it. You reckon?


 One of avery's first smiles

Avery was considerate to reserve her first smiles for Beppie. She knew I came a long way to see her and she wanted to say thank you in her own special way. Her first smile was for Beppie. I love her considerate nature. 

Princess ave full body

Stephanie and John Mark had their 4th Annual Laney Harvest Party a few weeks ago. Avery was the resident Princess, all dolled-up and adorablish.


 Avery smiling at beppie 
As in the above smiling picture, Avery is smiling for Beppie here, too. Isn't she precious?

5generations
Here is a 5 Generation picture that we made at Memaw's house. Aren't we blessed to still have a Memaw and a Mimi?

Meeting Avery was the biggest highlight of the trip, but truthfully there were numerous highlights. Stay tuned and you'll be privy to a few more.

 


my summer holiday

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This little cabin was home for the week.

We've been away on holidays. For the first time ever, we went to Family Camp with almost everyone in Gordon's extended family. Gordon and the girls had a fabulous time; definitely a highlight of the year for them. I crashed and burned and am quite embarrassed by the whole week.

I pride myself on being laid-back, easy going, well-adjusted, fun-loving, and a myriad of other positive things. :-) These characteristics cease and desist when I get around my in-laws. All my benevolence and patience and open-mindedness and well-adjustedness seizes up and dies, usually in an emotionally laden, fetal-positioned wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth sort of way. Not a pretty picture. It's probably the single biggest flaw in my character and person-hood. I hate this about me.

Before the holiday I tried valiantly to prepare and equip myself to "be in the now". I had a plan and some ideas for how I was going to be grown-up and good. I self-imploded and never figured out how to "be in the now" in any way that was helpful. When I tried to focus and regain composure by "accepting this moment" all I could think was, but it hurts too badly. That to say, my experimentation with pop psychology was unsuccessful.

Gordon is a wonderful husband and our relationship is warm, stable and loving. These good feelings we share degenerate when we are with his family. However, only very recently did I realized that the problem is in my relationship with Gordon, not his entire family. I'm not suggesting my negative history with the family is imagined. It is not. However, it's my marriage that is the "issue", not my in-laws. Here's what I've only recently come to realize: Mine and Gordon's relationship shifts dramatically when we're with his family. He changes, gets free-er. I change, get more up-tight. I clam up; he airs. I erect walls; he relinquishes all barriers. I tense up, ridiculously so. He becomes an open book revealing anything that comes to mind. Basically, I don't like him when he's around his family. That's not very good, eh?

I don't really know what to tell you about our holiday. I usually show lots of pictures and tell some highlights. I don't have any to tell this year. It was all pretty traumatic. Again, my family had a GREAT time, but I couldn't even enjoy their having a good time because I was so wrapped up in my own bad experience. I reiterate that I truly hate this about myself.

Day 1 was good. Gordon and I went on a 40 kilometer (24 miles) bike ride and I enjoyed that very much. I took pictures and loved the country scenery.

Day 2 Gordon and I started going cross-eyed with miscommunication. By mid-afternoon I drove 30 minutes to the nearest city to "get away." I went to Chapters and bought a Christmas gift, visited my favorite thrift store, went out to eat, and then took in a movie (The Proposal). It would have been a lovely outing had my thoughts not been churning with negativity.

Day 3 I had to leave and come home before I completely lost my mind. I felt like an idiot for not being able to enter into the "good time" everyone else was having, but knew I had to get out of there just to regain some emotional stability. I was smiling again before I got off the camp property. I felt hope.

It was on the drive home as I prayed and tried to figure out what had gone so sideways that I was able to articulate that this pattern in my life is a blemish on my marriage, not so much a blemish on my in-laws. That was the epiphany of the experience. Any epiphany at that point was a relief, even if it was hard realizing how it's me that's the problem (with some help from my beloved) and not someone "out there". The problem is me (and Gordon). I admit it.

So that was my summer vacation. The absolute worst I've ever had and hope to ever have. I'm happy for Gordon and the girls to do it every year, but I probably will only drop in a few times  instead of committing to the whole week. That seems like a fair compromise to me.

I hope you're all having a wonderful summer. I truly (aside from last week) have loved it. Only four more weeks till the kids head back to school. That kind of makes me sad as there are still so many summer things we want to squeeze in.


puh-roud

Calendar I'm sure you all well remember that I'm a basket case in my own appealing way. Which reminds me of the sitcom from the '80's called Designing Women. Once Julia went to bat for a demented woman -- I don't remember the details -- but in the end Julia got in someone's face in a polite genteel sort of way by declaring, "Here in the South, we are puh-roud of our crazy people." 

My family ganged up on me last night and I'm none too puh-roud of them for that. What they all need is a kick in the butt and a bit of experience living in the South and growing up with chores. Huh!, chores! What a lame word. I didn't have "chores" when I was a kid. I worked like a man starting at 4 years of age.

Last night I told the girls to make the sandwiches for lunches. You'd have thought I'd asked them to construct the Golden Gate Bridge. The (usually) fine husband and father of these darlings didn't even take up for me. I was none too happy. It wasn't one of our finer evenings.

It got worse. After they expressed their opinions about making sandwiches, the horror of horrors that that is, they tried to saddle me with guilt. "We never see you. You're always gone." They started naming all the commitments I've had this year, only one of which is still a weekly evening commitment. It's true I WAS over-committed but I quit every dang one of those commitments except Tuesday evening. No more Weight Watchers, no more dragon boating (I cried).

I'm sure as astute discerners of spirits, you've figured out that I'm just a little peeved. And as I've done in the past, I'll share some of this little family's humor. It always blesses my socks off to tell funny things my fam has done. I'm blessed indeed with a (usually) good-natured, fun-loving family.

In The Cinderella Story, a girl flick that my girls really like, the evil stepmother in her nasal voice says to the teenage stepdaughter, "You're not very smart and you're not very pretty. I'm glad we had this talk." That line has become a regular in our house. It's one of those little things we say to make sure everyone maintains a healthy self-esteem. Hannah particularly likes to say it, probably because she knows she'll get gales of laughter from me because she does the imitation so well. I might ask, "Hannah, does this blouse look ok?" to which she'll look up and down my long svelte body and reply in a most nasally voice, "Well, you're not very smart and you're not very pretty. I'm glad we had this talk."

Sounds warped, I know. But it makes us laugh. It makes me puh-roud.

Several weeks ago my poor Rachael got a short-lived little flu. She's usually healthy as a healthy horse so when I heard her puking I ran to the bathroom to find her hugging the toilet. Forgetting to check my humor at the door, I said, "Oh Lord, I hope this isn't that swine flu that's killin' everybody." Even in a puking state, Rachael started laughing and vomit dribbled out her nose. I know, sounds un-motherly and warped. But we laughed and that makes me puh-roud.

Deborah, the social butterfly, lives in fear of missing out on something. None of my children have had as many play dates and social gatherings as Deborah. And every time we pick her up from one of them she asks, "What did you all do while I was gone?" Sounds healthy enough, but what she really means is did I miss anything? Not one to let the opportunity pass to damage a child, I reply along these lines. "We had a party with ice cream and every candy you can imagine. Even pop, lots of pop. I hired a clown and he came with his donkey." As I'm saying my part, the rest of the family is adding theirs. Everyone belts out their input: We went skating. Kalyna called to see if you could sleep over, I told her no. We went for pizza. We laugh as we try to outdo each other's good time.

Ok, I THINK my family is back in my good graces. At least till I ask them to lift their pretty little fingers to help me out.

Hmm, maybe I spoke too soon.