Tuesday, November 03, 2015


For my 63rd birthday I bought these shoes and dyed my hair red.  I am celebrating life.  I always liked funky shoes and I always wanted to dye my hair red.  If not now, when?  Why wear sensible shoes when you can wear fun shoes?

This was my best birthday ever!  But I think I say that every year.  Maybe because every year I realize what a gift it is to just live another year and hopefully I am learning not to take life and the people I love for granted.  

What a glorious day it was!  I woke to my kitchen table decorated with flowers and gifts and homemade cards.  Fred and I had an early morning date planned, and the kids were still asleep.  We celebrated just being together, made even more meaningful after another scary incident in our lives.

A couple of weeks before, Fred was adjusting a new patient downstairs.  I was in the kitchen making dinner.  This woman I'd never seen before suddenly came upstairs saying, "Your husband is not doing well."  I rushed downstairs to find Fred on the sofa holding his head in his hands.  "I'm so dizzy," he kept repeating.  He does suffer with vertigo occasionally so at first I was not alarmed.  But then I noticed sweat pouring down his face and neck and his skin was icy cold. And he was incredibly nauseous. My brain was searching for the answers, symptoms and diagnostic skills long forgotten.  What was this??

Heart attack or stroke.  It had to be.  But Fred had no chest pain.  I took his blood pressure and pulse.  Not unusual.  But he felt worse and worse.  I told him I was taking him to the ER and at first he protested, but then agreed.  He couldn't walk so I called 911.  Here we go again.  Now it was Fred in the ambulance and me following in the car.  Fred was lying on the bed being wheeled off for tests, and I was the one waiting in the chair.  

After a night of testing the conclusion was Fred has a blocked vertebral artery.  He had a cerebellar stroke.  He was put on a heparin drip to get his blood flowing properly again and admitted to the hospital.  When I left at 3 am to check on the girls, he was doing better but still could not walk alone.

The next day Fred was a new man.  He was feisty as ever, walking normally, ordering big quantities of food from "room service" at the hospital.  God is good.  He has healed and restored us once again.  After a couple of days Fred was released and sent home with meds.  No surgery.  No angiogram.  At one point he was ready to be sedated for the ordered angiogram when the neurologist rushed in the say it wasn't necessary.  She saw all she needed to see on the MRI.  God intervened to save Fred from a potentially dangerous test.

When I think back on this night and what could have been, it takes my breath away.  To lose my Fred?  It is unthinkable!  So today, on a glorious autumn day with brilliant sunshine, we celebrate our lives!  We drive out to a country village and our eyes are dazzled with the oranges and reds of the trees.  Arielle has planned secretly to meet up with Marissa and Anthony and there we all are together.  We eat lunch at a restaurant with a ridiculously incompetent staff, but instead of being angry we laugh and enjoy.  

Damien and Gretchen have invited us to dinner and we sit down to a fabulously delicious meal that only Gretchen knows how to prepare.  We celebrate family--sons and daughters and grandchildren to hold and love.  We celebrate all the assorted people that have joined our family in different ways.  What a joyful day!  My heart is full and ready to burst.  The windows of heaven have poured out a blessing and I cannot hold it all.  God is gracious and merciful, abundantly pouring out his favor on us all.  We live and love another day.  

Monday, September 21, 2015

Short Summer

Here it is nearing the end of September and I haven't written since May.  The summer I hoped to savor is long gone and we have been abruptly dropped in the school routine, maybe not kicking and screaming, but resenting and resisting the demands on our time.  

Liana had to write a composition for her class about her summer.  She was to think of three nouns that would portray it.  She chose friends, hospital, and mountains.  Two of those words would bring to mind the essence of summer for me too.  The difference is I would say family along with friends.  

The end of school and summer started with my number 11th grandchild Teagan.  Shortly after number 12 and 13, Elias and Jude arrived!  What a gift each child is, my sons and daughters given to me, my grandchildren coming after.  

We dove into summer in June, the long warm days lulling me into thinking these times will last forever. Liana was busy with her group of friends, Arielle started working full-time and I could think about sewing projects and house reorganizing and fun!  We took several trips to Lancaster to choose fabrics and visited farms to buy organic meat and eggs and raw milk. We went to the movies, church events, picnics and barbeques. We planted our garden. We went to the beach when the water was so cold it chills your bones.  On the 4th of July we had a cook-out with friends and family.  Summer stretched endlessly before us.  Then came July 5th.

After a night of feasting with rich foods, I woke in the night with terrible pain.  Indigestion, I thought, but that is unusual for me.  I don't even want to think about the rest of July.  I had night after night of that pain.  It came on predictably at bedtime and lasted about five hours each night.  There were doctor visits, an ER visit, testing.  What was going on?  No one could give me a definitive diagnosis. My dear faithful husband stayed up with me night after night, even though he had to go to work early the next morning.  Finally, one Saturday night I had some kind of incident.  It is still unclear to me what happened, as I don't remember much.  But apparently my blood pressure dropped very low and I couldn't breathe.  My sweet Arielle had to call 911 and paramedics came.  I do remember lying in the ambulance thinking, this is how people die. There is an emergency, you head off to the hospital and that's the end.  Something inside me raged up and I said no, no, no!  Then I fought--the mask of oxygen on my face, the paramedic trying to start an IV. He wasn't very competent and I let him know about it.  I will not die now!  God was gracious and let me live.

More testing.  I was radiated up and down.  I don't want to think about the damage that caused that I may have to deal with later.  The ER doctor thought pulmonary embolism. But they couldn't find any clots.  I was admitted to the hospital.  Still no diagnosis. A stream of doctors came into my room, each with a different theory on what my problem was.  I was given IV morphine and no food.  The pain stopped.

Two elders from church came in to visit the next morning.  They prayed for me, one very succinctly, asking for a quick resolution to my problem.  About two hours later another doctor walked in, one I hadn't seen.  He was a surgeon specializing in bariatrics.  Certainly nothing related to me.  But he said very confidently, "I think it's your gallbladder and I can take it out this afternoon."  He was a take charge kind of guy and I was tired of all the talking with no solutions.  I said, "Do it."  And he did.  Back in my room I woke at one point with so much family there the nurse said, "I've never seen so many people in this room before."  I am so blessed.  I am so thankful for so many things during this nightmare.  My faithful husband, my Arielle who took charge of the house in my absence, my Liana with her quiet spirit just sitting beside me enduring the tedium of doing nothing hour after hour.  My son Damien who prayed earnestly for me.  My son Jonathan who sat on my hospital bed reminding me of our hope in God.  

The next day I went home, sore and not sure the problem was resolved.  I think I had a bit of post-traumatic syndrome each evening, fearful the pain would return.  Our vacation to North Carolina had been planned for the coming week.  Could we still go?  I had put Fred and my daughters through so much anxiety the past few weeks that I didn't want to disappoint them and ruin their vacation.  So we just postponed the trip a couple of days, and miraculously I gained back my strength.  "...who forgives all your sin and heals all your diseases..."  Psalm 103, the Psalm of my life.  

In Cherokee we once again had the joy of sitting with my mom at her table as she served us a delicious lunch and we talked on and on, catching up on a year of stories.  This year we came down with my good friend and her family.  Remarkably her own mother was raised in Sylva, a nearby town, and she wanted to do genealogy research.  My family graciously welcomed this family and made their trip memorable.  Once again we were sheltered by the majestic Smoky Mountains.  Once again I was blessed to spend time with my precious sister and visit with my brothers and their families.  The kids tubed down a mountain stream,  we ate Kentucky Fried Chicken and potato salad under a canopy of green, and caught up on family news.  We drove to Gatlinburg swinging around hairpin turns, first soaring into the sky and then flying back down.  What a ride!  What a ride this life is.  But God is always good.  He is always faithful.  We can always trust him, but always remembering that he is more concerned with our sanctification than our comfort.  But whatever raging river we walk through, he is ever present and will see us through to the other side.

On the way back from Gatlinburg into Cherokee we drove to Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the Smokies, seven miles up from the main road.  Last year I could not hike the half mile path to the top because it is so steep and my asthma kicked in.  This year, one week after surgery, I went all the way up.  Miraculous healing, wonderful God!  

After another tearful good-bye at my mother's house, we headed home.  We still had August. Could we still have some summer?  We got in few more beach trips, baking in the hot sun, listening to the crashing of the waves, raising our faces to the salty breeze.  But it was over in a blink and here we are back in the crazy routine.  

I never want to take good health for granted again.  I never want to take my family for granted again.  I love them all so much, family near and far.  But I will.  We forget our blessings.  Here I am already complaining about our frantic school routine and summer being too short.  But after writing this I see it was full and rich.

This is a picture to capture summer--triumph over disease, family and friends beside me at the top of the world!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Letting Go

My daughter suddenly grew up.  It was the driver's license that changed everything.  In a matter of days she had her license, a full-time job, and a car.  And she drove off into the future.

Arielle has always been determined, focused and self-assured.  Once driving became her goal, she worked hard to achieve it.  She drove beside me for almost a full year, back and forth to co-op--a 40 minute drive each way--and every other place we went.  We talked endlessly of different traffic situations.  She endured my exclamations (sometimes shouted):  "Slow down!  Watch out!  Stop!"  She learned.  She earned her license.  

Arielle knew the job at the book warehouse was a summer possibility--good pay, flexible days, and full-time hours.  (Forty hours a week is hard to come by for a teenager.)  The warehouse is also far from home.  But one afternoon she applied for the job on-line.  Someone called her the next day and she quickly had an interview and was hired.  She has already worked a week.  I thought maybe it would be overwhelming for her--the drive, the long days. But no, she likes it!  Arielle has always thrived on busy-ness and people.  

I didn't know it but Fred was waiting for a reason to buy his dream car--this time a jeep.  So when Arielle got the job and would be needing a car, he got his jeep.  His old Honda is now Arielle's.  She immediately cleaned it out and made it her own, stockpiling it with all her personal items.  Even before the warehouse job, she started driving to her cleaning job all by herself, another long drive in the opposite direction.  She is filling in for Gretchen working for an elderly couple while Gretchen has some weeks with her newborn.  So for now, Arielle will be working six days a week.  She isn't home. I miss her already.  Letting go is hard for me.

My little Arielle.  This morning I went downstairs with her as she was leaving for work at 7 a.m.  She had her coffee, her lunch and her backpack.  I kissed her good-bye and just for old times' sake I yelled out, "Slow down!"  She laughed and drove off with her newly found freedom.   

I think of Fred long ago lifting Arielle into her car seat in his big truck.  She was only three when he took her to preschool Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  I would wave and pray for her safe return.  She was my baby, going off into the world.  It was hard to let her go.  At three she was so bold and confident, off on an adventure, never looking back.  So I pray now, as then, that God's favor would be her shield as he guides her into the future, unknown to me, but fully known to him.  I'm grateful for the privilege of being the mother of this amazing girl. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mother's Day Weekend

Could life get any better than this?  "The Lord has dealt bountifully with me."  I read that the day after Mother's Day.  God is good!

 The day before Mother's Day we planned a triple baby shower for my three daughters-in-law--Gretchen, Chrissy and Stacia.  Gretchen's baby was due the end of May and the other two babies are coming in July.  A big day was planned with gifts, food, and outdoor spaces for the little ones to run around.  The weather was sunny and warm, no rain to spoil this day.  Then I got a call from Damien a few hours before guests were to arrive.  Damien was taking Gretchen to the hospital!  He thought maybe it was just false labor.  But no!  About two hours later I got a text--  "It's a girl!"  What joy at the shower as we celebrated the arrival of Teagan Grace!

Mental snapshots from the shower to reflect on so I never forget this day:  Sidewalk chalk and all the children drawing and laughing.  Bubbles galore and small balls tossed around.  Arielle was so thoughtful to pick up fun things at the dollar store.  A little shoving and biting among small cousins.  Liana and her camera capturing it all.  Pregnant moms on the deck opening gifts.  Julie and her daughter--odd how we became friends--fitting in with everyone.  Julie and I had a good conversation as moms of older girls.  My friend Cindy comfortable talking with everyone.  Tiny Eva in her soft voice telling us the names of all the animals in Arielle's Webkinz collection.  Her vocabulary is amazing!  Lana playing the big sister role to all the children.  Caden scaling the stone wall to run away.  Joey trying to follow but not quite making it.  Jordan confused and upset at times.  Why weren't her parents here?  She would come in the house occasionally to throw herself in my lap in tears.  Poor child, her life will never be the same once she goes home to a new sister.  More dessert after dessert when most everyone went home and Cindy and I rehashed the day.  Late night clean-up.  It was worth the mess!  Family and friends celebrating life together.

Dominic and family came from D.C. and I had hoped to spend time with them but we never seemed to get a chance to talk in the crowd of guests at the shower.  I still have trouble balancing serving and relaxing to enjoy people.  We planned a day at the park with the little ones on Mother's Day.  Once we arrived though, someone said we were all going to Damien and Gretchen's house to meet their baby girl.  Jordan greeted us at the door, taking Liana's hand to show off HER baby.  There Teagan was in her cradle, sleeping peacefully.  We took turns holding her, this tiny person so new and perfect and precious.

We left for lunch at Red Robin and our crowd filled an extra room.  Dominic sat beside me and we finally had a chance to catch up.  I was at one end of our long table, Jon at the other.  I looked down that table at all my dear family members and felt such gratitude.  Moms were busy feeding toddlers, my number three grandchild Lana helping out by chasing them down when one would run off.  My sons, such good men, caring for their families.  Our blended family is one, Anthony and Kim among us with Fred enjoying little Joey.  My daughters beautiful beside me.  They are growing up so quickly.  My heart is full.  

Liana made me a pretty card with a sweet message that I will treasure forever.  The girls also gave me a shirt in my favorite color.  AND I got a new granddaughter for Mother's Day!  Family--it's the best gift.  We have times when we are at odds with each other, but in the end, we are strong and together.  It is reassuring to know my kids will always have each other when I am long gone.

 After hugs and good-byes,  Steven called Arielle.  His mom wasn't home and could he spend Mother's Day with us?  Why not? I often tell him he is like my fifth son.  He was worried because his dress shirt didn't fit anymore and he didn't think it was right to wear a T-shirt on Mother's Day.  In our family?  Casual and comfortable reign with us.  We got Steven and decided on a hike and geocaching in Mill Grove on this beautiful day.  Back at home, Arielle and Steven suddenly dashed out the door.  I had no idea where they are going.  (Although they had cleared it with Fred.)  They returned with two lovely bouquets of flowers, one for me and one for Steven's mom.  As the sun was setting on this perfect Mother's Day, I took this picture out on the deck. 

Thank you, everyone.  I am truly undeserving of all these blessings.

"You make known to me the path of life.  In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever more."  Psalm 16:11.

Monday, March 23, 2015


So here I am at the library again.  I love this particular library, only seven minutes from our co-op.  I'm here several hours every week.  Tuesday morning is lesson prep day, Tuesday afternoon is our history lesson day, and Thursday afternoon is a time to recover from a busy week and busy morning of teaching.  Sometimes Arielle and I just hang out together here with a cup of coffee until we go back to our last class.

It's quiet here, no distractions.  People speak in low tones (until my loud kids arrive).  The tables are roomy to spread out my books; the sunshine streams in the tall windows all around.  And I'm surrounded by shelves of books, books, everywhere!  It's the perfect place for planning, learning, preparing, dreaming.

I've always loved libraries, maybe because I didn't grow up with any--none in my elementary school, none in my little desert town.  In high school I don't remember ever having time to go there.  We did have a bookmobile that came to our neighborhood periodically.  But then later in life I discovered the magical world of libraries.  Old ones with musty smells and haunted aisles to explore.  Small ones where you can just about go through the whole collection in a day.  Before the days of inter-library loans you would read everything on the shelf by your favorite author and that would be it.  In college I discovered the quiet, the peace, the grand opportunity to read anything about everything.  I would spend long hours there, late into the afternoon with the sun setting outside the windows, while I did just what I am doing now--thinking, writing, studying.  

Tuesdays I pick up Arielle, Liana and Steven from the co-op and we meet up with Steven's mom to do our history.   The kids head first to the vending machines to get snacks, anything to delay the start of a lesson.  Then we gather around a big table with paper and pens and maps and books.  We've traveled through World War I, the Russian Revolution, and we're now heading into World War II.  If we need a reference book, there it is on the shelf.  A classic to read about our time period?  There it is.  If the library doesn't have what we need, we can order it. 

I take Liana back to her theatre class and then come back to the library.  Arielle and Steven do their homework, or wander through the shelves of DVDs, or work on the big jigsaw puzzle set up on another table.  It's a dreamy time for them too, caught up in the silence and walls of books and movies. Cindy and I pass the time just talking.  In hushed tones, of course.

We've had this routine since last September.  We drove the country roads in the autumn when golden leaves scuttled along in front of us.  Then winter when it was bitter cold out and the scenery was not pretty anymore. I would arrive wrapped in a scarf and layers of fleece.   But inside the library, it was always toasty and the coffee hot.  People speak softly and I work on lessons.  Bliss. 

The school year is winding down. The sunshine is brighter and the kids have trouble settling down.  They are dreaming of summer. I realize we won't come here anymore once school is out.  It's too far from our house.  I will miss this library.   But more than that, I will miss this year, this stage in my daughters' lives, the friendship and the laughter around the table.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Happy New Year!

In the last days of 2014, we had fun!  A few more pictures here from Christmas...Liana and Lana, my beautiful daughter and granddaughter.  Then Fred being silly.  Then we came to the very end, December 31st.  We planned our usual seafood feast, games and the party in New York City.  We stuffed ourselves with crabs, shrimp, clams and scallops and then Steven challenged Arielle to a game of Blokus.  He didn't know who he was dealing with.  Arielle and Dominic have vied for the Blokus championship for years.  Arielle is quite a contender.  She and Dominic even made a crown for the reigning champion to wear after each game.  As you can see, Arielle won...again.  

After dinner the kids figured out how to make popcorn in our new popcorn maker that Fred bought.  It turned out great, except one of the hinges on the little doors broke off.  The kids didn't want to tell Fred, as the machine is brand new, so they decided to fix it with super glue.  That led to a series of events that made us contemplate a trip to the ER.  Steven first glued the tube of super glue to his hand.  Yes, really.  Not meaning to, of course.  He got it off without ripping off his skin, but then he glued two of his fingers together.  Accidentally.  He got them apart, but then had glue all over his hands.  He went downstairs to try to clean it off.  Someone should have checked on him.  He was using his SOG seal pup knife with a very long blade to scrape the glue off his fingers.  Of course, he cut himself.  Blood everywhere!  After cleaning him up, we determined he did not need stitches so we just bandaged him up.

Fred then had a little episode of atrial fib due to his increased thyroid medication.  ER, we considered again.  But no, he was okay.  I don't think anything could have dampened the New Year's Eve frivolity.  Then we got out blankets and camped on the floor in front of the TV to watch the New Yorkers freezing in the cold and see the ball drop, which is always a non-event.  I guess you have to be there.  At midnight the kids went outside barefoot and banged on pots and pans to herald in the New Year.  I can't believe another year is past.

The next morning we made a huge breakfast of bacon, eggs, and pancakes.  Then Fred, in a very uncharacteristic way, asked if we all wanted to go to the movies.  What?  We never go to the movies!  (Although we did Christmas Day but only because friends invited us.)  We were all up for that and went to see the new Night in the Museum movie.  How silly and what fun!  

We came home to my crockpot dinner of sauerkraut and pork roast and then the kids worked on their science fair project, read the driver's test book, and watched a movie.  Could we cram anything else in this day?  But we didn't want it to end.  It was a peaceful, joyful time and I am ever grateful.  Happy New Year all!