Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Coming Home

We drive into Cherokee, the Great Smokies enfolding us like welcoming arms. We can rest easy here. I fled to these mountains years ago when life was chaos and uncertainty. My sister and my mother sheltered me and nourished me. I think of other times when my brothers, at their own crossroads, strengthened me. Ancient mountains, they know the secrets and pain of the past. God provided a place of healing.

As the familiar sights come into view, I think of happy times bringing my baby girls here. They dipped their toes in refreshing mountain streams and walked beneath boughs of green forest. They were welcomed and loved strong by aunts and uncles and cousins. I've never lived here, but when we pull into the gravel drive in front of my mom's house, this is coming home. The girls go up the ramp to the door ahead of us, shy. They haven't seen their grandma in three years. She draws them in with hugs and chatter and they are immediately at ease. As usual, she lays out a huge spread: her best-ever potato salad, Kentucky ham (Mom says that's the best kind too), jello with strawberries and real whipped cream, and anything you could possibly want to drink. We fill up on food and love.

Later we walk through the shops and the museum. We've been in all these places so many times before, but it's tradition! My mom doesn't seem to mind doing it all over again. The girls, older, learn more and understand more each time. The town is slow and sleepy this day. Deserted almost. Where are the tourists? Mom says it's the economy. We note which hotel has changed hands and name, which stores have closed up. Nothing stays the same. Except for the circling mountains. Their faithful presence brings us peace.

Buying Time

If we actually had to buy time, would we spend it more wisely?

--Ann Voskamp

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I hadn't seen my family in three years, I'm ashamed to say. No excuses. So we headed to North Carolina, a very long, long car ride. I don't do that well. Half of my childhood was spent in the car--traveling across the desert to visit my grandmother in California or spinning around the mountain roads in northern Arizona at a high rate of speed. Narrow roads and a big old car. My dad with one hand on the wheel and another around a beer can, my mother yelling at him to stop right now and let her and the kids out on the road to prevent our untimely deaths. Four of us kids bouncing around the backseat--no seatbelts--and usually me, carsick, looking out the window wondering how it would feel to careen down the cliff. No, I don't like long car rides.

When we left today a storm was brewing, the sky black. Worse than an ordinary long car ride is one in rain. I drove once from Atlanta to Philadelphia, all in one day, blinding rain. But this day we outran the storm by skipping lunch altogether until we got to Roanoke. We all played hangman while we waited for our food in Cracker Barrel, and I realized the drive wasn't so bad after all. Fred and I had time together to talk about whatever came into our minds, neither of us rushing off to the next task. I enjoyed hearing the girls sing all the way down while they listened to their ipods. Each was singing a different song at the same time. It made for interesting music. Sometimes I could even figure out what they were singing. Or else they were playing the license plate game. We are fiercely competitive with that. Fred and Liana on one team and Arielle and I on the other. You would think Fred would be at a disadvantage driving, but no. His sharp eye caught all the different state plates. He would see them way before my old eyes could even bring them into focus.

We stopped for the night in Bristol. Fred could have driven all the way, but there was no point. We did not have a room in Cherokee and it would have been stressful to drive through the mountains when he was tired. A hotel with a pool! That's all the girls need to be happy. The four of us all together without distraction. That's all I need.

More later.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fair Days Once Again

Another three days at the 4-H Fair. The girls look forward to this all summer. We've spent many days and many hours measuring and pricing fabric and sorting through donations of all kinds of sewing notions--patterns, buttons, yarn, crafts, needles, thread, trims, etc., etc.. So much stuff, but the potential to find treasures. My two big finds this year were enough matching calico for backing a quilt I already pieced and flannel to contribute to another quilt my mother started and I am finishing. All free. We workers get credit for our hours and get first dibs on the fabric. The girls brought home armfuls that will inspire them all winter.

The doors opened to our huge fabric sale on Thursday night. Crowds filled the old gym where we had carefully stacked and arranged our goods. In no time, fabric littered the floor from the careless shoppers and we were constantly re-stacking and arranging. Then my help was needed on making a baby quilt that would be auctioned off the next day. I worked with Liana and two girls who are beginners, but we finished piecing it that night. It was beautiful!

On Friday Lana came with us to the fair. She loves it as much as my girls. Then on Saturday we picked up two of my other grandchildren and spent the day with them. Every year the fair ends with an informal fashion show under the tent. Very few people watch because most have gone home. But the girls always do this just for fun. This time their teacher invited Mattie to participate. She is only 6 and too young to join 4-H now. The look on her face was priceless. She just lit up. Liana helped her design an outfit from scraps leftover at the sale and she paraded around like a big girl, proud as anything.

Sewing season is over. But we need to keep up the momentum so we stay busy and inspired until next year. I'm trying to build inventory and possibly start an on-line store.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Test Day

After putting off a necessary test for six years, I finally had an upper endoscopy. Blood work long ago revealed I likely had celiac disease, but it is so easy to let go what needs to be done, especially something potentially scary and painful.

My son had this test done in Europe with no anesthesia at all. He just had a tube shoved down his throat in a doctor's office. Our medical group is much more civilized and the test was really not much of anything because I was out cold. Oh, I had some apprehension. Like when I signed a form acknowledging that the scope can kill me, or if it doesn't, maybe the drug they give me might. It was also pretty frightening to see how much co-pay was required to get this done. But I'm thankful for health insurance because otherwise it would have been out of the question to do it at all.

"Okay, now we are going to sedate you." I had an IV in my arm and I guess someone injected something into it. I don't know. I don't remember anything else. Hiccups woke me up. It was annoying when I just wanted to keep sleeping, so I tried holding my breath to get rid of them. Then I realized that if I had the brain power to think of that, I must be alive and not brain damaged from the drug--one of the side effects listed on that paper I signed. Thank God! I could hear my heart beating on the monitor and the blood pressure cuff was pumping up periodically and no alarms went off, so I figured I must be okay. I heard a nurse call Fred and tell him to come in thirty to forty minutes. So long? Let me go now. The nurse brought me cranberry juice that burned my throat and she gave me a gluten-free cookie that expired last January. I realized I only had one shoe on! How did that happen? But then I think, I had a tube down my throat exploring my stomach, and on it traveled into my small intestine where the doctor took biopsies--cut me--and I didn't even know what was happening. Amazing.

I'm writing a few hours later and I guess this is coherent. So my brain is working, I'm alive, and I'm healthy-- today. We're all just buying time, aren't we?

Family Picnic

Love rushes in when there is a big hole in your heart. Kelsey and Seth will be leaving soon, so we planned a picnic in the park to see them off. We took a very short hike before grilling. Short because it was sauna weather--steamy and hot. We pretended we were in the Amazon jungle and the kids called out what animals we might be seeing along the way. Then while Damien cooked his famous chicken, the little ones manned a cold, vacant grill and imagined they were barbequeing mushrooms (toadstools?), skewering them with sticks. After several warnings about never to touch them or really eat them, we let them play.

Monday, August 08, 2011

For Joan

Last Monday the ambulance came for the last time and took my friend Joan away. You are never ready for that news. On Friday we went to the memorial service at her church. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot my mind was full of memories. Over there, at the school, Joan and I had a fun night of bingo a year or so ago. We were hoping to win a Vera Bradley bag. We didn't win but we enjoyed being together that night. As soon as we entered the church I remembered other services here, baby baptisms-- joyous occasions. And the last time we came here Joan and her husband had invited us to an Irish concert. Good times. Today her casket is before us and her broken family is receiving the mourners.

Joan and I were the same age, only weeks apart. There is something special about having a friend exactly your same age. We grew up together, states apart not knowing each other then, but still we had many of the same experiences. We remembered the same songs and laughed about the craziness of that era. I met Joan before Fred and I were married. We found out we lived in the same neighborhood at one time, but never met each other then. Joan was a member of a walking club and that's what she liked to do. So I walked with her many places. We would walk with baby Arielle in her stroller, and later Liana was in the stroller and Arielle walking beside us as the years went by. The girls loved Joan. She was an aunt to them, even though she had many nieces and nephews of her own.

Joan and I took a quilting class together, and, except for color, made identical quilts. We both loved chai tea lattes and we would catch up on life while sipping our teas. Joan was a devout Catholic, but our differences never came between us. She was interested in my church as I was in hers. We talked about what we had in common instead--our faith. Joan was always looking for ways to help others. Her willingness to serve others, even strangers, was evident early on. When we took walks through the neighborhood in the morning, she would right the fallen trash cans, picking them up from the street where they had been tossed and returning them to the houses where they belonged. Oddly, that memory comes back to me. I've written before how she cared for my girls in October when Fred had surgery, arriving about six in the morning and staying until dark. Arielle was gone part of that day, so Liana has special memories of playing board games and watching Old Yeller with Joan, just the two of them.

The last thing we did together was take a class at my church: When Life is Hard. Life became very hard for Joan when she was diagnosed with cancer. She was sad and frightened. Oh, how she wanted to live! Dying is so very hard. She was honest about her thoughts and emotions and I learned so much from her. I've also written before about the turn of events that brought her to this class, and I realize now that God was drawing close to her before her time on this earth ended.

In church yesterday we heard this beautiful song. This is for you, Joan:

"Sometimes the way is lonely and steep and filled with pain. So if your sky is dark and pours the rain, then cry to Jesus, cry to Jesus, cry to Jesus and live!

...And with your final heartbeat, kiss the world goodbye. Then go in peace, and laugh on glory's side, and fly to Jesus, fly to Jesus, fly to Jesus and live!"