Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Monday, December 30, 2013

To All the Tired Mamas


Photo by Ellie Holman, age 10
A while back I was chatting with my dear college roommate, Jackie, or Princess Gorkel, Daughter of Terri-lou Punk Frog of the Kingdom of the North, as she is known to me.  She was telling me how much she enjoys reading my blog when she is feeling down.  I told her that I sometimes picture myself writing to all the tired mamas at the end of the day, and what they might need to hear.  Now, I know that not ALL the tired mamas read my blog.  Certainly one or two go straight to bed.  But I bet all the mamas who DO read it ARE tired, because, well, duh... they're mamas.  It's tough work.  So this, my weary women, my tired-to-the-bone can't-fold-another-load friends, is for you.  And most of all, it is to Jackie.

To all the tired mamas at the end of the day,
I see you.

I see you up way too late, knowing that your day will be starting way too early again in the morning. I see you as you empty dishwashers and dryers and load them back up for a second, then a third run. I see you folding tired old towels with shredded ends, and breathing a sad sigh as you pull a little shirt from the basket to put in the donation bag, surprised at how fast it was outgrown by a not-so-little child.  I see your fury flare as you step on a lego, only to be extinguished by a sweet, sleeping mess-maker.  I see you turning out lights and locking doors, always the last one to bed.

I see you in the morning as you make your bed, though you'd rather climb back into it. Making lunches, planning meals, watching for sales to make the money stretch impossibly further. I see you clean a room over and over, only to come back through and find it destroyed. I see you welcome your children home, putting on a smile just for them, sometimes felt, sometimes not, but you smile anyway because you don't want them to think that what is troubling you is them. I see you batting the to-do lists out of the forefront of your mind as you listen to the chatter of a small one, telling you the plot to their favorite show. Again.

I see you.

I see the way you wrestle with how strict to be about a rule broken; the balancing act between justice and mercy. I see you fretting as you look into brooding eyes, worried because you aren't quite sure if there is more to the story than you are getting.  I see you trying to find teaching moments- to know when to leave it alone and when to speak up.  I see you wishing a hug and a kiss could take it all away like it did when they were small, and knowing sometimes the only thing you can do is pray for them.

I see you cooking and cleaning and helping with homework.  I see you rocking a feverish child, cleaning up what came-up, and offering comfort through a blur of sleeplessness.  I see you helping a friend, bringing a meal to someone in need, and giving your lose change to the woman at the corner, all the while feeling that you are not quite enough; wise enough, thin enough, organized enough -charitable, loving, kind- enough.  

I see you.

I see your heart of gold under your spit-up stained t-shirt, your beautiful face beneath a few lines of time and a few streaks of grey. I see your strength as you power through days and months and years of the sameness of tasks, and then take on tomorrow as well.

I see your eyes well with tears over ones you have lost, or never got to have at all (which is a loss all the same, is it not?); ones that were never born, or never grew older, or were never free of their own demons. I see you protecting your children from the world when you can, and comforting them when you can't, and carrying their pain as your own either way.

I see you.

And I know you.

And I am grateful, because when I see you, I learn.  I am inspired.  I am encouraged. 

When I see you,
I am free to make mistakes, because I see your grace as you try again. 
I am free from judgement, because I see your forgiveness and I can forgive myself.
I am free to follow that voice inside that whispers to me how to mother, because I see you follow yours.

I see you, Tired Mama.  You are doing a great job.  Now go to bed and try to rest.  It all starts again tomorrow.



Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Album and a few Merry Musings


When I was a kid  there were two days during Christmas break that I just loved.  Christmas, for obvious kid-ly reasons, and New Year's Day for the annual Collins Family Reunion.  My mother's sibs took turns hosting every year, and with armloads of yummy food to share, we gathered around card tables and sat on piano benches and had a blast.  We hugged aunts and uncles and measured ourselves against growing cousins.  We got to eat cookies and skip the veggies and have whole cans of orange and grape soda all to ourselves.  I loved it.

Then one year, who knows which, plans were differed to the summer, when it would be warmer, and that year, it all somehow...stopped. The reunion never happened, not that year, and not ever again.  The next time I saw my relatives, I was a married mama and it was at my uncle's funeral.

*****

I didn't make a Christmas card this year.  

I let it go.

I have made a card almost every year since Guy and I got married, and it is "the one thing" I get done even if I don't do anything else.  But this year I decided that if it meant getting all stressed out, the card would not be worth it.  It was so much easier to let it go after the year we have had.  A few folks lament not getting "their card" this year.  To them I can only say, I love you anyway.

I didn't make many homemade gifts, or bake.  I didn't hang the Christmas cards on the wall like usual, or take a billion goodie plates to friends.  I started to worry.  Was I letting go of my traditions? Would I lose something that I would never get back?

The week before Christmas I decided to put up my village.  I hadn't gotten to it, or to much else besides the tree.  I thought about the fact that I didn't put it up last year, and I decided that it was okay to let some things go, as long as I didn't let go completely.

And the ghosts of Christmas's past poked their heads out of the box and said, "Hey, lady!  We're baaa-aack!"  And then I found him.

The gator.

The tiny alligator that lives in our village.  It roams the streets and climbs the porches, terrorizing the tiny townsfolk.  And if you are the lucky one to find him, you get to hide him again.  Long before the elf climbed up on any shelf, this little roving reptile has been wreaking havoc in Holmanville.


And as I put the final touches on my village, the gator gave me a toothy grin and I grinned back, because I knew he knew it was all okay.  Traditions are a wonderful thing, as long as they don't get in the way of the actual living, and living is all well and good, so long as you make room for a little alligator in your life 
once in a while.

and on that note...

Coming soon: 
 The Collins-James Family Reunion
 on New Year's Day!!!

*****


Christmas 2013 Photo Album

Kathy and I made awesome little church bags for the kids that were a true feat of engineering for me, and turned out so well because Kathy's very presesnce made me pay better attention and not cut any corners.
They are the best thing I have ever sewn.

Ellie during her gymnastics performance.  She did great.

Pulla (pool-a), a lovely cardamom spiced braided bread from Finland,
 handmade by Guy, cuz he's awesome. 

And just to prove how awesome, look at the rest of our Christmas Eve spread!
Yes, those are Cannoli and See's.  Man cannot live on Pulla alone!

We spent the evening playing games, reading Christmas stories, and enjoying the yum.
Everyone got new jammies and an ornament to hang on the tree.
Guy will have to wait for his, I'm not quite done yet.
Our favorite Christmas stories: Luke 2 of course, The Christmas Candle,
and The Redneck Night Before Christmas.

"I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus!!!"

The Three Princesses

It's all about the Legos and Playmobiles, baby!

If you look closely you will find 6 human beings in this photo.
  It's like a Where's Waldo, but messier.


May your days be merry and bright!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and 

a year filled with peace and hope!



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Effort



I have deliberated over writing this post, but I think I will write it anyway.

Because this post is not about what we did, in some self gratifying way, it’s about effort.

Every year Guy tells me that we should have a present-free Christmas.  It is usually a pressure invoked response to nasty squabbling kids and stress-filled days leading up to a Christmas that feels more worldly, more self-centered and less Christ focused than Guy and I would like it to be. 

We got up early-for-us Saturday so we could go to the church Christmas breakfast.  Five tired, grumbling children staggered out to the van, complaining. They did have fun once we got there, eventually, but it took a bit of effort for them to relax and enjoy the event.  After that, Guy and I planned on braving some stores while the kids went to a Holiday cookie decorating party.  But the kids were being pretty obnoxious just before leaving, and though he tried hard not to respond, Guy was really feeling the strain.  Finally cornering him in our room, I asked him what was wrong.  He shared with me his disappointment over how our kids were behaving, and how much it was sapping his Christmas joy.  I gave him a pep talk, rehearsing to him all of the good qualities our children have, that despite how they could act, they didn’t really “always” and “never” do the things that we were noticing lately.  In fact, I don't think they are being any more lame than their normal everyday-lameness. We were just noticing more as Christmas approached.

When Guy and I finally made it out shopping, the store we entered was crowded and overwhelming to me.  I haven’t truly rejoined the human race yet, staying away from crowded stores, gladly welcoming my hubby’s propensity for bargain grocery shopping.  Everything seemed so expensive, and I felt awash in pre-buyers remorse.  Stuff just holds little meaning for me anymore.  Even so, another part of me wanted to offer my children a few nice things for Christmas.

Our plan was to hit a few stores, pick up the kids and drop them at home, then head back out.  Upon arriving home to drop off the kids, however, several quarrels broke out.  Soon the devil-spawn that are our children were taking turns performing demonic possessions on each other.  Guy threw in the towel on our shopping date. 

“Just go, take care of your shopping, and I’ll stay home with the kids,” he said, and walked me out to the van.  I pulled out of the driveway and headed down the block, the Christmas lights on all the houses blurring with my tears.  Guy was right.  I didn’t feel like shopping for the little monsters either.  Only I couldn't see how I could help the situation, and I knew crying about it wasn't going to help, and may get me into an accident.  I said a little prayer as I drove a few house lengths, and immediately felt like I should turn the van around.  I circled the block, calling Guy (hands free, of course) and said, “Get the kids in their shoes and coats, we need to go do some service.”

We went to the local dollar store, and began gathering things that someone who lived in the streets would need.  Only one rule: we would not look at or talk about anything for ourselves.  Every one helped, and soon we had a nice pile of non-perishable food and hygiene items in our cart.  As each item was suggested, the kids all talked about how it could be helpful, and what else might provide comfort or relief for someone who had no home, was not blessed as much as we have been.

When we got home we worked together on making bundles.  It didn’t take long.  Not the bundles, but the attitudes being changed.  And I don’t think it was necessarily the kid’s attitudes that changed, but Guy’s and mine.  We felt lighter and more appreciative of these 6 blessings.  Without the drone of a computer or television, we spent a mostly quiet evening together.  Guy read our nightly Christmas story, and as the evening came to a close, we prayed together as we do most nights. 

And I say most nights, because we try, but we don’t do all the things we ideally would do each day.  We are like all families.  We are trying.  And sometimes we are selfish and sometimes we are not.  No families are all bad or all good, just as no people are.  And there is no such thing as “always” and “never”. 
And it’s not only about what we succeed in doing or not doing, but the effort.



Monday, December 9, 2013

Remaking a Tradition


A bit ago Adam asked me if he could take the sleeping baby for me.  I told him I was fine, but what I really needed was something to prop up my leg.  He frowned at the thought of getting up from his cozy chair.  “Oh, so you were willing to get up to get the baby,” I teased, “but not a footstool?”

“Well, taking the baby benefits me.” He smiled back, and then got up and got both the footstool, then the baby.  He curled her on his chest and rocked her sweetly.

                            *******

Tonight we had Advent.  All by our little-old selves.  For the past few years we have been invited along on the tradition with Kathy and Wayne’s family, but tonight they had plans with their extended family, so I announced to the family earlier this week that we would be having Advent all by ourselves.  

“But we’re not Jewish!”  Ellie argued.  *Sigh*.  Clearly, I need to work harder on teaching world religions in homeschool.  I’m guessing she meant to say German, since Kathy is, and her Advent traditions include a lot of lovely wooden decorations from Germany, but with Ellie, you never know.  I just
 laughed and explained it one more time. 

After church I snuggled up with Natalie and we took a delicious nap in the living room.  I awoke to see Guy putting up Christmas decorations.  “For Advent.” He said, simply.

And so tonight after a candlelit dinner of a simple rice and sauce, Guy prepared the goodie table for Advent following the traditions Kathy has shared.  At some point during my sale yesterday he had slipped out and bought fancy cookies and chocolates.  He set out homemade fudge, peppermint tea and cocoa, lit the candles in the humble Advent wreath I made last year, and turned on Christmas carols.

Our Advent looked different than when Kathy does it.  We ate and chatted about Christmas memories.  Adam reminded me of how we sat up late last year making an Advent calendar out of match boxes for our friends the Motts, whose new baby was in the hospital, wrapping each tiny box in pretty paper after emptying out the matches.  He then informed me he had taken said matches, scratched off the tips and made a pile, which he then ignited.  He claims I was sitting just a few feet away.  How did I miss that?  The girls talked about leaving carrots for Santa's reindeer.  Jonah ran around like a maniac, jumping, singing, taking his clothes off- the usual.  Soon we were singing carols, but since we don’t have a tidy little homemade book of carols like Kathy does, we just did our best from memory.   Ethan accused me of massacring Frosty the Snowman, which indeed was true.  The girls asked me to join them in a rousing performance of Rudolf, wherein I sang the actual song and they did all the “Like a light bulb!” parts.  Their version of reindeer games included Chutes and Ladders and Parcheesi.  

At one point I really wanted to share a song from my childhood that talks about the meaning of Christmas, but as I sang, my voice was being drowned out by Jonah and the big boys, who were taking turns being his personal trampoline.  “Never mind,” I said, “no one’s interested.”

“This is their way of bonding.” Guy gently reminded. 

And it’s true.  Just a few days ago I was lamenting that these last two little kids won’t have really “grown up” in a house of six children.  By the time Adam leaves for his mission, which in essence means he will have left our little next to strike out into the world, never to really return, Jonah will be 8, and Natalie only 5.  These are the memories they are making.  Right now.

And at some Advent years from now, the memories Jonah shares could be, “I remember how Ethan and Adam used to let me use them as a jungle gym during Advent.” 

                            *****

Adam is asleep now in the chair, with sweet Natalie on his chest.  She won't remember tonight, but maybe he will.




Monday, December 2, 2013

Love Life


“Mama not lub me!!!!  Aaaaaa-haaaaaa!  Mama not lub me!!!”

Jonah has taken on “three” with gusto.  I am not used to it.  Yes, I have six rug-rats, but you have to realize that I haven’t had a little boy in many years.  

When Adam was three he threw a fit once.  Once.  I was so shocked, I said, “Who are you, and where is my little boy, Adam?” 

He burst into tears.  “Is me, Mama!  I me!”  I had broken his tender little heart. 

So, really, I haven’t had a wild child since Ethan was little, well over a decade ago.  I’m outta practice, man.  My crime yesterday was not letting Jonah play with my phone before his nap.  When he woke, the chant began.

“Mama not yike me!!!!”  he accused.  I wandered into my room and saw a lump under my quilt.  It whimpered.  I sat on the edge of the bed.

“I’m so sad,” I lamented, “I miss my little boy and I can’t find him anywhere.  I’m sad because I love him so much.” 

The lump began to cry, and insisted that his mama didn’t like him.  I curled around him, and lifted the quilt off his head.  I wiped big round tears off of his big round cheeks, and put on my best mommy voice, “What’s wrong sweetheart?” I was surprised at the depth of his sadness.  

“Mama not yike me.” He wept, as though he were talking about some other woman, some other mean mama, confiding his secret to a trusted friend.  I just held him close until the tears turned into giggles.

Tonight we had an encore performance when I said no to a third tortilla before bed (I know.  Call CPS.  I’m so mean).  But with tonight’s show he took it up a notch.  Now I not only don’t like him, I apparently don’t even LUB him!

I’m a mama.  I am other things too, but it’s my first and best job. 

In the past week I have been able to do a couple of other jobs, ones I also love.  When I do those tasks, though, it does take me away from job #1.  I got to help a dear friend this week as she welcomed her baby boy into the world (more on that later!), and I managed to get through the-day-before-the-first-day of my sale, which lasted until three AM and is way harder than the actual day of the sale (and more on that too!).  I've been busy in happy ways, even too busy to post here. But even though I am a doula, and an artist, and a wanna-be-writer, I’m mostly just a mama. 

And despite what some little boys might think around here, I lub my job.




Monday, November 18, 2013

Feeling

It was recently pointed out to me that I hadn’t mentioned here the follow-up results of my testing and CT scan.  I guess it just didn’t seem right to even think about it since it was during the same week that Stephie passed away.  I just couldn’t try to be happy about my news, when it is the news we all wish had been her’s, too.

All is well.  No cancer.  No anything else, either.  All of the blood tests looking for rare clotting disorders that are currently known came up negative, so my hematologist thinks I have a rare disorder that just hasn’t been identified and named yet.  Many suggestions have been made that they name it after me, but who wants a disease named after them?  Not me.  Let them call it Wong’s Disease (that’s my doc).  I’m still waiting on having a park bench named after me.  Or maybe an overpass.  Nothing says success like a dirty, grey, graffiti-decorated, someone-died-under-there concrete overpass.  For generations to come, every hobo that pees there will think of me.

But I digress.

Certainly, you expected no less from me.

I had another leg scan as well, just to make sure that all that new metal in there was staying shinny.  The stents are open and flowing, and on a clear day you can get AM radio on them, but you have to put your ear to my bellybutton to listen, so we might need to become better acquainted first.

I am often asked how I am feeling.

Hmmmm.  Loaded question. 

My leg, well, it’s not the same.  I don’t limp much anymore, maybe at night a little, but a far cry from my wheelchair of only a few months ago.  My foot stays cold to the touch.  It aches and feels funny, all tingly and such, but I am learning to ignore it for the most part.  I am finding the value of keeping my mind an hands busy.

My bod… it is taking a long time to get my strength back.  I am like a dollarstore battery, good for a short job but not very powerful, and fizzles out quickly.  I am exercising with Kathy now most mornings, but I would say I am at about 60% - but determined!  One day, one limp-armed jumping jack at a time.

My heart… aw, geez.  I don’t know.  I am just still so grateful.  Grateful to be alive, grateful for this unbelievably gorgeous baby asleep beside me,  to be returning, in any form, to my life; to kissing my husband and hugging my kids, to singing and making art and nursing babies and wiping butts and noses.

But not a day passes that I don’t think about the people around me who have and are continuing to suffer.  I think of Steph and Kristi, both young mamas, both gone from their families.  I think of Lyn, gardening one morning, in the hospital the next, unable to speak or move from a massive stroke.  And Dale, who went to work last week and suffered a massive heart attack and never came-to before he passed a day or so later.  Of Dan, and Dave and Tyler, alone.  My heart aches, because I got to stay.  Isn’t that strange? 

Stranger still is that I find I seldom cry for myself anymore; for my frustrations and rough days, but I am brought to tears for others in a shallow instant.  I am a giant receptacle for the pain of others, a mirror for grief. 

I am feeling… life.  More color, more flavor, more heat and more cold.  I find myself just watching everything around me in awe, and for now I am just feeling it all.  

Dr. F.  Messaged me a pix of this poster the hospital put up of him. Apparently they used the text on the poster from a letter of appreciation I sent to the department chief telling of our gratitude for the amazing care Dr. F. Gave us. I will forever be grateful to this amazing man. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Throwing Myself into My Work

When you make a painting you paint.

When you make a sculpture you sculpt.

When you make pottery, you throw.

I am getting ready for my 3rd Open Studio Art Sale and Boutique.

Nov 30thDec 6th and Dec 7th.

Details to come, but right now I am working on some nice little mugs and pots.  Tomorrow I will start the silk painted scarves, and I just finished about 40 jewelry items.  This year I am also making my own ceramic pendant and earring sets, each unique.  I am being joined by several artisans who will be offering their great handmades.  I hope you can come.  We will have items starting at just $1.50 and Guy will be making his awesome fudge again.

I am feeling so grateful that I am able to do my sale again.  It is not being super easy.  For one, I have a 5 month old; super cute but very needy. And for two, I have Jonah, or “Destructo”.  He likes to “help”.  Ugh.  And though sitting for a while makes my leg act up, I am just so grateful that I am alive and healthy-ish, and making art again.  When you go through a big trial, it’s hard to believe that any “little thing” will ever matter to you again.  Then one day you find yourself deeply invested in the cleanliness of your kitchen sink, or reading, or, as in my case, throwing.  And I am glad I care.  It is nice to be concerned over something that is not huge and traumatic.

It feels so good to feel good. 

******

(I'm having major computer issues, and so I'm am embarrassingly behind on posting, but I have figured out I can write my posts, email them to myself, and paste them in with an app on my phone. Hoping to get caught up soon!)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Patience Soup


Pride goeth before the Fall.
Or during.  I'm not sure.

One thing I am sure of, is the humbling nature of cooking.  You who have read this blog before will remember Candy Corn Soup.  I make it every year.  Every year it has all new ingredients, with only one constant; the candy corn.

This year, in my perpetual quest to stop being so darn lame, I planned to make the soup early in the week, on the night we would carve pumpkins, rather than crowd Halloween night with more to do.  Here is where the pride part comes in.  I set to work gathering a menagerie of ingredients from the fridge to dump into my pot; broth, onions, sundry leftovers and chunks of butter in crumpled wrappers.  It was less "soup-making" and more "artistically cleaning out the fridge".  I felt so proud as I used the last of this and the tail-end of that.  I'm funny that way; I get tremendous joy from using every scrap of leftover food.  I scrape peanut butter jars clean, use bread loaf heals, and get more mileage out of leftover rice than should be legal, all for the thrill of it!  Perhaps all of the starving-children-in-China talk from my childhood took vigorous root, I don't know, but I love me a good used-up leftover.

So on this night I was very pleased with myself as I chopped and dumped and stirred.  I noticed, though, that my jumbo pot of ingredients, some of them frozen, was simply not warming up.

(Oh, no.  You see it coming, don't you?  Put on your concerned face, and shake your head...)

I turned up the heat.

(now give an exasperated sigh.)

FLASHBACK MONTAGE: In this flash back you will see clips of the many, many times I have burned food, played in rapid succession to the tune of "Burning down the House" by Talking Heads (or The Platters"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" if you are of the grey-headed generation).  Smoke billows, my children fan the screeching smoke alarm with dish towels, and in the end, we see a cluster of clips of me scrubbing black char out of the bottom of the same darn cooking pot, over and over and over ...(in my flashbacks the part of me is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones.  She looks tragic, yet sexy, so you forgive her for burning the food).

There are, in my disjointed little mental-kitchen, only two settings on a burner; OFF and HIGH.

You know the next part of the story.  I walked out of the kitchen and got busy cleaning the tush of someone or another, and *sniff sniff*, that tell-tale burning smell wafted out to the living room, because bad odors always waft. Signal smoke alarm.
***
Yada, yada, yada, and I dump a ton of soup down the sink.  The bottom of my pot looks dismal.  The old me would have cried at this point, but I have to say - it takes a lot more than this to get me to eek out a tear these days.  I won't claim I wasn't disappointed, but I felt more embarrassed than anything, what with the waste of all those ingredients and the entire population of Chinese children depending on me to appreciate what I have.  I hung my head in shame and called Guy.

"I burned the soup." I pouted to Guy over the phone, almost hoping that he would say something judgy so that I could deflect the anger I was feeling at myself onto him.

"It's not a big deal.  Just fix something else."

"I'm so lame," I said, feeling the words more deeply than my joking tone would let on.

"You're not lame.  You just need to be more patient." was all he said.

What the heck?! Patient? What did patience ever have to do with cooking?  Patience is for potty-training and teaching a kid to tie their shoes, and the entirety of the teen years.  But the more I thought on it, the more I saw the wisdom in his words.  In my haste, I put the pedal to the metaphoric medal, often.  And if I allowed myself to think on it, I knew my speed-demon mentality spilled over into many other areas of my life, leaving a jet-stream of calamity in my wake.  Isn't it strange how something so true can elude us for so long?

Life is kind enough to give us lots of do-overs.  It is up to us not to waste them.

I went to the store the next day and bought some nice, squeaky-new, non-leftover ingredients, and vowed - not to NOT burn the soup -  but to make it with patience.  The next morning I slowly and carefully cooked a pound of bacon, staying in the kitchen the whole time, and not taking on any other tasks.  I boiled yams and potatoes, peeled them, and then set about to assemble the soup.

I will spare you all the unexciting details, except this:

 I did not burn the soup.  
It felt kind'a great

 (and tasted pretty dang good as well).


 This Year's Candy Corn Soup:

Patiently cook 1lb of bacon (save drippings. Here the word drippings refers to pork lard.  Deal with it.)

Bake or boil 5lbs of potatoes and 6 smallish, peeled yams or sweet potatoes.

Sautee 1/2 an onion and 2 tbsp. fresh minced garlic in the "drippings".

In a large pot, combine: cubed potatoes and yams, crumbled bacon, onions with drippings, 1 carton broth, 1 block cream cheese, 6-8 cups of milk, and 4-8 tbsp butter (oh, yeah, like you aren't eating your kid's Halloween candy right now.  You can do extra sit-ups tomorrow).

Blend with hand mixer or in blender till creamy, then simmer patiently 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add salt and pepper to taste, or until the guilt settles in... about 2-3 tsp salt.

Serve with 3 candy corns in each bowl (or with toasted candied almond slices), and garlic toast.  If you burn it, don't feel bad.  You are still a very nice person.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Seconds




Two weeks ago was ArtTrails.  It is an annual art event in Sonoma County that Guy and I make a pilgrimage trip for each year, and have never missed since we began going when Ethan was just a toddler.  Some of the artists have watched out family grow up as we return year after year.  This year we took Kathy and Wayne with us, dumping sundry children at various locations along our way for tending (thank you Krista and Joanna!), and headed for the rolling amber hills and sunset colored leaves of Sebastopol.

Our first stop has become an important one.  Talented potters Cheryl and Mikio of Nichibei Pottery have created a tiny haven there, and we are welcomed with hugs and smiles.  This year was no exception, as we toted little Natalie in to show off to Cheryl, who was just a little bit surprised at #6 and more than happy to love on her.  I will admit, though, we come here first for more than the sweet greeting; Cheryl and Mikio set out a "seconds" table.  But if you want to take advantage of the deals to be found there, you have to be an early bird.  Wait even a few hours, and the table will be picked clean.  We love their art, but as their work is so skillfully and beautifully made by two master potters, we cannot afford most of it at regular price.

We also planned on meeting our dear Francine there.  She had plans for the rest of her day, but as we have done at other times when we knew a long visit was not in the stars for that day, we met, however briefly, for a few hugs and a quick visit at Nichibei.

Francine and I wandered over to the seconds table, arm in arm.  We marveled at what made something a "second" here, as every single piece on the table was so much better than anything I could produce on my gloriously-best-pottery day.  A tiny chip on the foot, a pock mark in the glaze, a glaze that simply had failed to accomplish what its makers had hoped it would, and it was banished from the lovely studio gallery, with golden lighting and music playing, and relegated to the tired wooden table out by the kiln.  I spotted the pot I wanted right away, a tall green vase with a proper pot belly, a delicate foot below and a lovely beige rim...oh, and a flaw.  On this pot, it was four or five bumps, right on the front, where some other piece must have shifted in the kiln and touched the surface, breaking the uniform mat glaze with unwelcome texture.

I picked it up and hugged it.

I was amazed that something so beautiful had the misfortune of such marring, and pondered on the frustration it must have been when Cheryl opened the kiln with hopes of lovely pots, only to find this one in such a disappointing state.  I felt a pang of familiar disappointment in myself.

I had been feeling inadequate lately; broken, chipped, marred... flawed.  I see my housekeeping, my body, my to-do list (which is really a "to-be-improved-upon" list), and feel ever so much like one of those empty vessels, not having lived up to my own hopes.  I know there has been a lot in our lives the last 9 months that would certainly justify a lackluster performance on my part, but ever since the clots, and now losing Steph and Kristi (another friend who died suddenly the same day Steph did), I have felt an urgency to make major strides toward important goals, but falling short.

"I would be on God's 'seconds' table," I told Francine with a giggle to cover the little ache inside.

"Well, you'd have plenty of company!" Francine sang out with a sort of childlike laugh.  And I knew she was right.  Not a soul on the planet would be in the gallery under the glistening lights.  We would all, every single one of us, be on the seconds table.  I pictured a massive table top, a continent long, with millions of tiny people standing on it with little discount price tags on our heads.

And in an instant, there it was.  Freedom.

Freedom to be flawed,
permission to try harder without being ashamed of past failures,
and company
-lots and lots of company-
 there on the tabletop.

"And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.

Then the Lord came to me, saying,

O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord.  Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel."

~Jeremiah 18: 4-6





Monday, October 21, 2013

Amazing


My friend Ruth is amazing.  
She has 6 children; four in her arms, one in her belly, and one in heaven (and in her heart). 

Her baby boy, Rhys, died the day before he was born, three years ago this week.  As I have watched her grieve, I have learned so much about grace, finding peace, and  
about learning to be okay with not knowing all the answers.

Ruth never learned why little Rhys (pronounced Reese) didn't make it, and I can't say what she feels in her heart today compared to that terribly sad day three years ago, but I can tell you what Rhys's life, and Ruth's example have taught me.

That you can touch people you have never met.
That you don't have to grieve any certain way.
That sometimes the mission we serve in this life will be the opportunities we give others to give service.
That sad tears and happy tears can mingle sweetly together.
That you can witness greatness in another person's trial, and learn from it.
That we never know what path we will walk, or who we will be blessed to walk it with,
 but we will never walk it alone.
That each life is precious.
That somehow we make it through.


This past week our family was invited to share in the sweet tradition Ruth, Steve and their family have embraced as a way of remembering and honoring Little Rhys.  We met at the cemetery just before sunset, and we prayed together.  Prayers of gratitude, spoken and unspoken, rose to the heavens as tears moistened our cheeks.  Ruth said she looks upon this place as a place to come and remember Rhys, but that she knows he is not here, but with his Creator and Heavenly Father.  Then we released blue balloons, some with children's drawings tied to them, up into the clear autumn sky.  They rose in a cluster and stayed together until the blue of the sky enveloped them and we couldn't see them anymore.

We couldn't see them, but they were still there.  
Gone from our limited mortal sight, but not from God's.

Ruth told me once that she doesn't picture Rhys as a baby, but as a strong and wonderful young man, the essence of who his spirit, in an eternal sense, really is.

I love that.  



Happy Birthday to my dear friend, Ruth.  
You are an amazing woman.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

~Isaiah 40:28-31

Birthday Wish

Today was Steph's birthday.  

We got together with her hubby, son, parents and a few friends, and ate - per Stephanie's request- Shake'n'bake pork chops, Rice-a-Roni and peas.  Well, they ate the peas.  Steph knows I don't do peas.

We talked about her laugh, her jokes, and her antics.  It was a great way to spend her day, even though she couldn't be with us.  It's hard to believe she's only been gone 4 days.  Seems longer.  She was sick for so long.

Last Sunday, as Guy and I were at ArtTrails with Wayne and Kathy, Dave called to tell me that Steph wanted to see me to say goodbye.  We had just limped back to our motel on a spare tire after a blowout, and it would be at least two hours before repairs would get us on the road, and another two to travel.  We rushed.  There is no feeling like the feeling that you might miss your last chance.

When we got there, we slipped into her room as dim pink light filtered through the drawn curtains.  Her mama directed us toward some chairs, and we sat, not sure of what to do.  Prompted by her mom, I took Stephie's hand, and her eyes flickered open as she whispered, "hi", then fell right back to sleep.  We thought we might just leave so she could rest, but then she opened her eyes and spoke to us.

I asked if she was scared.  No, she said, just anxious to be out of pain.  Was she excited to see what was coming next?  Yes, she supposed.  I asked if she would say hi to my mom for me.  "Is there anything you want me to tell her?" she asked, but for all the millions of times I had wanted to tell my mom something, I couldn't think of a thing in that moment.

"My birthday is this week," she said after a while.
"I know, I guess you won't be wanting my present," I said.
"I always love your presents." she smiled.

I had thought about it, about her birthday and what I would have wanted to give her, but there is nothing I could have given her that she would not be leaving behind, so I said, "Can I sing to you?"

"I'd like that," she answered.

"What do you want to hear?"

"Surprise me."

I began softly with the only song that came to mind; the song I sang to Natalie as I labored with her, and what I sing to her now when she is sad.

"Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you,
sweet dreams that leave your worries far behind you,
but in your dreams, whatever they be, dream a little dream of me.

Say nighty-night and kiss me,
Just hold me tight and tell me you'll miss me
while I'm alone and blue as can be,
dream a little dream of me."

All through the song she closed her eyes and smiled, and at the end whispered her thanks.  She was so tired then, that we said goodbye.

***
We had pink cupcakes tonight.  She would have liked that.  It was her signature color.  We sang the birthday song, and had one of the kids blow out the matchstick we had improvised into a birthday candle.

I don't suppose anyone made a wish.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Wake-up Story in Pictures




  









Good morning.
Go snuggle someone you love.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Steph


My sweet friend, Stephanie
lost her battle with cancer tonight.  
No, you know, she didn't loose anything.  
She decided that she didn't want any more 
of the needles and scans and tests and radical treatments,
 and last week she decided it was time to go.  
I was blessed to be able to say goodbye.

It is hard tonight to see the last images I have of her in my mind's eye. 
 I prefer the image I see above.  

And I want to remember her best gifts and most joyful moments.

Steph was my friend.  She was a riot.  She was so fun and so funny.  She loved her family, her "babies" (nieces and nephew), and her son and hubby so much.  She and I had a mutual appreciation for all things chocolate, which we shared regularly.  She spent countless hours helping me with the kids when I was getting paintings done.  They would snuggle up to her and listen to her read for hours.  

She loved God.

I guess random things are floating into my mind 
as I try to make sense of her passing.

I can't believe she is gone.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Road Trip


I am writing this just 100 miles from home, on the last limping leg of our whirlwind weekend getaway to Southern California.  I sit between a finally-sleeping Natalie and a softly snoring Ethan.  And this is what the last 7 hours have been like…

Just before we left for our trip, the radio was pulled by the dealer to be repaired.  It has left us without tuneage, which left me with no choice but to discover how many 80’s songs I could consecutively butcher the lyrics to.  I did learn, however, that I know all of the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody, including guitar solos, and can do a stirring one-woman rendition of the opera segment wherein I sang every part.  Sadly, I am the lone witness to this feat, as everyone else was asleep at the time.  Galileo! Galileo! Galileo Figaro! (you’re singing it now, too, aren't you?  I can hear you… “Magnifico-o-o!”).

Sans radio, Jonah’s voice has been the back ground music for this trip.  A while ago he told me, “Uh-oh mama, I foh-got my cwoze” (clothes).  It’s a pleasant change from announcing his farts and burps every few miles, and his asking “we doh-ing home? No!!!  I wan’go Andwoo’s house!” fifty or so times.  My particular favorite was the scream about 10 minutes ago, blood curdling and painful sounding, all because Tessa LOOKED at him.  I know her eyes are a penetrating blue, but really?

This is our first family trip in our new-to-us van.  We have learned that it is the vortex of all sound, and though all 8 of us are contained in what seems like a duffle-bag-sized space, for some reason no one can actually understand each other.  None the less, cries of “Be quiet!” have blasted through the van like air horns at a football game.  I find myself in the middle row, middle seat, leg elevated, because dear Natalie was screaming for about 50 miles.  I climbed back and tried the car-seat nursing that I have done successfully with many a weepy babe, but she would have none of it.  As droopy as “the girls” have gotten over the years, they just weren't long enough to reach her.  She finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.

We now carry air freshener with us on road trips, because we have teenage boys.  They smell like mummy breath.  And that is before anything is emitted from their bodies that could be measured on a Richter scale.  If you have ever driven I-5, you will also know that the milk commercials claiming California cows live in lovely, grassy fields are absolute bovine pucky.  The kids are sure to announce these aromas and their respective feelings about each nuance of scent as we pass cattle yards with “happy cows” by the thousands.  Though I detest the cow smell, at least the cows don’t laugh after they blow methane. 

Then there is the food thing.  We are, at best, inconsistent with how we handle food and travel.  I succumb to the hunger cries of my offspring sometimes like a mother bird, and at others like a prison warden in an old movie.  It does not seem to matter how often you feed the children however, they are always like a nest-full of baby birds.  “I’m staaaaarving!” Tessa exclaims 30 minutes after our dinner stop.  Finally, I go from mama-bird to warden to bar-keep, and I cut them off.  The poor, sad babes whimper of their sure starvation until they fall asleep. 


I doubt any of us will remember this particular trip.  Though we might recall that we stopped 4 times in the first 5 hours, but the rest will fade like trips and childhoods do.  And while most are not noteworthy,  I wouldn't mind remembering the moment I am having right now.  The girls are awake and listening to their Mp3 player-  a mix of pop music and ballads sung by their mama.  “Ellie, “ Tessa says, “imagine what if mom was up on stage singing a rock song like on the Fourth of July but not on the Fourth of July.  That would be weird.” They giggle, and as I try to envision what they are seeing, I giggle a little too.  Adam rides shotgun, and as any good co-pilot would, he occasionally points out something interesting in the road signs and billboards we pass, to Guy, who has driven the whole way.  And last of all, to my left, my youngest child sleeps under a well tucked blanket, looking for all the world like Ethan did as a baby, while to my right, that very boy -now so grown-up -, sleeps with his head tucked against my shoulder.  I can feel his warm breath on my arm, and I can’t remember a time since he was small that he has slept on my shoulder.    

I love road trips.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Getting with the Flow

Two Cuties: Natalie and Jane

As I pushed Natalie in her stroller up the walkway at Kaiser South, a sweet old fellow was working on getting out of his car in a handicapped parking space near the door.  He was tall and dark, with a spritz of black freckles across his cheeks.  I gave him a smile, and he returned it with a deep sing-songy "How you doin'?"

"All right," I said with a shrug, in that chipper not-so-great-but-what'cha-gonna-do? tone.  "How are you?"
"All right." he echoed, his words a bit more tired sounding than mine, but with all the cheer.
"I mean, were both here, right?" I joked.  He looked up at the hospital as I pointed to it and laughed knowingly.
"Right." he conceded.

*****

After my procedure Tuesday for removal of my 4th blood clot in 8 months, I wasn't feeling great.  My leg, which usually feels "less" of everything after one of these clot-busting procedures -less fatigue, less pain, less tightness, less tingling - was feeling more.  And then some.  A strange new symptom had been added to the list.  I was having waves of  "the chills" that would stretch from hip to toe and raise almost painfully intense goosebumps on my leg.  What's more, my foot was chilly; according to Ethan's reptile thermometer, 13 degrees colder than my other foot.  And I was having pain where no pain had been before, in my pelvis.

I gave it a few days to see if it was just adjustments from the swelling, new stents, and tools from the procedure.  I could be brave in the daylight, and many times throughout the day I felt only very mild symptoms.  But each night as I lay in bed, the symptoms seemed more pronounced, and in the dark it was hart not to imagine that a clot was forming; to picture it in there, filling specific veins whose locations and names I now know all too well.  Popliteal, femoral, saphenous.  Though I tried to shut it out, my mind conjured the image of a clot growing and finally breaking off and hitting my lungs.  For several nights, I held little Natalie close and smelled her sweet, precious perfume, and prayed for sleep to come.

Monday I emailed Dr. F. a little 'heads up' and within 30 minutes was scheduled for an ultrasound with our angel Jane.  As it was last minute, I went alone with little Natalie.  Jane took us back, and her familiar face was a comfort.  After a pleasant chat we settled in for the scan, and this time, things were very different.  For the first time since the stents were placed, true blood flow could be captured by the ultrasound.  The vein was lit up with profuse flow, and Jane very happily showed me these new and surprising images.  Prior to my collaterals being blocked off by the new stents, there had been too much flow diverted through the alternative routes to force a vigorous flow through the femoral vein, but now that full flow was routed back along its normal course, there was no mistaking it.  The vein was clear.  Jane, Tara (one of my other favorite techs) and I celebrated, passing the baby around and enjoying the way a room feels that is filled with happy news.

Later that day I got a text from Dr. F. affirming what we had seen.  There was no need to guess if the stents may still be blocked, or to do an angiogram just to be on the safe side.  No drugs, no needles, no contrast dye, and no hole in my leg.  Hooray for stents that work!

Yesterday on the way to see the hematologist we ran into Dr. F. in the hallway.  He told us he had talked at length to my new doctor and given him a complete history.  More importantly, he said he trusted Dr. W. and really liked him, and thought we would, too.  We felt like we were being put into good hands.

Dr. W. met with us and though he had already spoken to Dr. F. and read my extensive and complicated file, he asked us to tell him all that we have been through.  It was a very nice way to start off.  He ordered some tests to look for cancer and other problems.  He believes that the reason I clot so well while on blood thinners may be a rare clotting disorder.  Most of the clotting disorders that are known today have only been discovered in the last 15 years.  He said that this disorder may not have been defined yet.  I guess well find out.  I gave blood, and now we wait.

Next up: CAT scan. TBA

Post Edit: I guess it would help to mention here that the reason I am feeling increased pain and sensitivity is due to the increased flow.  My tissues just aren't used to the intensity of it, and everything is coming back online as a result.  Eventually I should get used to the flow and it will come to feel "normal" again.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Number Four


Sweet Velma, one of my regular nurses.
Today when I went for my blood draw, Marina, Tom and Virginia were all busy, so a new tech was doing my blood draw.  She was chatting along and at one point said, 
"Well, life is full of surprises."  Yah, yah it is.

I guess I can say that when my leg is doing well, I just don't think much about it.  
Last week I started thinking about it.  A lot.

Now that I have fallen off of the pregnant patient wagon, I am just a regular, run-o-the-mill patient.  That means I fall under the umbrella of Dr. V., who hasn't seen me since I took a small flight and bouncy landing off of my son's bike in '09.  It turns out if you want to teach popping a wheelie, you should know how to land it.  I sent him an email to let him know that I wanted him to read my file, and that I felt like I was having the subtle inklings of a clot.

He sent me a reply, reassuring me that people
 don't grow clots while on blood thinners. 

You've heard of "read it and weep"?  Well, I did.  Cried actually.

Guy comforted me, assuring me that the doctor couldn't possibly have read my file.  We made an appointment, and waited the two days it took to see him.  He read my file, finally, while sitting in front of me.  It took several tries for him to even figure out which blood clot happened in which month.  Now, please understand, I really like Dr. V.  He has always been kind and helpful.  I understood that he must have just looked at my labs, which look like great labs for a regular person.  

Finally, he told it all back to me with the details in the right place, and then asked, 
"Where would you like to go for your scan?"

"South."

We drove to South Sac, but got there too late for Jane to scan me.  I got a new tech, and she assured me that though she couldn't officially tell me anything (sigh), she saw flow from my Inferior Vena Cava.

 I was awakened the next morning by a call from Dr. F., who said that the scan looked a little fishy to him, and scheduled me for an angiogram.  Next came an email from Dr. V. "Good News!" he said.
 The report on my scan came back clear of blood clots.
  Sheesh.

Tuesday we did the regular drill.  Fasting, IV, drugs, vitals, the usual.  Well, all except for when the nurse accidentally doubled my benedryl and I had a freaky reaction, which included watching the floor turn into water, and the chair seat throbbing.  It lasted about half an hour.

An interesting thing happens when I am on the table in the radiology procedure room.  I can't see anything, and once my leg is numb, I don't really know what's going on.  That's always when it comes, the news.

"Well, Laine, the stents are completely blocked."
Sigh.  Blood clot number four.

It was pretty hard to unblock them.  At one point
 he said what he was thinking out loud,
 "I'm pretty discouraged, here."

I became crestfallen. There was nothing I could do from my place there on the table.  He said he might have to go in through my jugular vein because the clot was too hard to get his tools through.  "You'll mess up my cool vampire-bite scar." I joked, trying to cheer him.  "I already have two nicely spaced scars, a third will ruin the effect."  I laid there and prayed for him to be confident, to find a way into my vein so that he wouldn't have to go in through my neck again.  

"I'm through." he said, finally.

He talked me through the procedure, explaining where the clots were, and what he was doing to break them up.  Eventually, he got it cleared and decided to place two more stents.  It was pretty painful, but we've been through worse.  It took about a 1/2 hour to stop the bleeding.

It was about 3 1/2 hours for the procedure, but of course the hours before and after totaled to about 8.  Because of the larger tools that Dr. F. used and how hard the clots were, it's been a lot more sore than previous recoveries,
 but today has been better.  

Dr. F. said he was perplexed; that even with my blood thinners and with the clot dissolving medication he was using, he was watching my blood clot on the tools right before his eyes.  "It shouldn't be able to do that," he said, puzzled.

  Next stop, a hematologist. 

My leg feels kind of weird now.  Not really sure what that means.