Sunday, January 26, 2014


Yesterday morning Babygirl discovered that her guinea pig had died during the night.  Beauty, named for a long golden coat that nearly matched Belle's ballgown, has been around for a long time, as little piggies go.  Looking back, I think she came to join us in 2007!  Google says guinea pig lifespan is 4-5 years, so she was quite elderly. 

Beauty is the last in a long, long line of small pets.  We've had hamsters, parakeets, guinea pigs and a psychopathic rat - all in addition to the usual dogs and cats.  Every child has had a pet of their very own, usually more than once.  Curlygirl had a guinea pig who would snuggle up and trill like a tribble.  Citygirl had a small zoo in her room for a while, with a series of parakeets with fruit names: Kiwi, Blueberry and the like.  We had a cat who would let the hamsters out so she could play with them.  We had a hamster escape for so long we presumed it to be dead until we found it hiding under the fridge with an enormous stockpile of dog kibble.

Of all the little creatures, guinea pigs are my favorite.  They are quiet, NOT nocturnal, and have no desire to escape.  They complain when they are out of food or water, reminding young caregivers to take care of them.  They never bite, and they learn to love a good snuggle.  Since Babygirl is not allowed because of her transplant to handle any kind of feces, Beauty and I became good friends over her weekly cage-cleaning.  I will honestly miss her. 

Babygirl has been stoic, dealing with the aftermath of disposal and cleanup.  She doesn't want another piggy right now, and maybe later.....

But I think this phase of my parenting life is over.  There's been at least one small animal in the house dependent at least in part on my vigilance for nearly 20 years.  Babygirl is our last child, and her 'milestones' are things that we won't, for good or ill, experience again:  Elementary school graduation, first formal dance, last Barbie-shoe sweep-up.  I don't have to change a diaper again unless I choose to.  I don't have to sit through any more dance recitals, recorder concerts, violin practice or softball games. 

My brother was wistfully discussing the fact that this year is his youngest son's last time to participate in the pinewood derby.  I feel his pain. 

For those of us with more than one child, the chaos of the years where it feels like EVERYBODY is doing EVERYTHING and you have to be EVERYWHERE to see it all - it's overwhelming.  I'm sure I loved it - I remember LOVING it.  But for both my brother and I, our last kid is functionally an only child.  And there is a bittersweet awareness that this is it.  The rapid tumble of children leaving our home from 2006 to 2011 (six of them!) is over, and Babygirl is easing us toward an empty nest.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Year Three, Week Forty-Four - Planning for the SuperBowl....

February second is Super Bowl Sunday. We're giving some thought to whether or not to entertain, and if so, how and who and what time.  Pretty much everything except, so far, to wonder who is playing.  We never know.  We don't care.  We check out the teams as they come bursting into whatever stadium they are playing in and pick our favorites based on uniform color, personal attraction to a player or coach, or some other startlingly random reason of no sensible consequence.  I myself never have the slightest idea in advance what is going to happen except for the menu.

For me, for the rest of my life, Super Bowl Sunday will be a heart-flowing memory day.  Like the day when Citygirl was born.  Like my wedding day.  Like the first day I saw my name on someone else's prescription bottle.  Like the first day I helplessly held the hand of a dying patient.

Two years ago on Super Bowl Sunday we got out of ICU with Babygirl and her new kidney.  The supplies we'd laid in for our party at home languished in our fridge, uneaten and later discarded.  The massive IV pole with 24 pumps going full tilt to keep that kidney happy.  Babygirl's excitement over being able to eat chocolate and not needing to take huge pills with every meal.  Family bringing in a meal and staying to share it with us. 

I don't remember who played, who won, what the cool commercials were about.  What I do remember is the move from ICU, the LifeFlight helicopters landing on the roof above us, the overwhelming support and care of the hospital staff, and our sensation of giddy relief that all the bad times were behind us now. 

Every life has moments of such intense emotion!  We have such depths of pain, heights of peace, rivers of fear, tsunamis of joy, avalanches of gratitude - days and moments that twist our hearts into  entirely new and beautiful shapes.  The fact that one such memory is linked forever to a meaningless sports contest worries me not at all.  If anything it proves that I have a good sense of the absurd.

A part of me really doesn't want to share the day.  The intensity of my emotional response thinking about this is daunting, and my utterly irrational fear that any display of the crazy range of those emotions at a party might get me labeled as loonier than people already know that I am is a bit embarrassing, frankly. 

I haven't asked Hubby if he feels this way.  He's a guy, after all, and a sensitive one at that but I'm guessing that he'll be a little surprised by this. I'm surprised by it.  I've proven many times that I'm not terribly sentimental about anniversaries or even my own birthday (but if you want to throw me a party, please don't ask me to plan it or cook for it!).  But here we are, almost two years out, and like a woman reliving the labor and delivery of a beloved child, I am remembering. 

The blog post nearest to this day two years ago was about a frighteningly difficult day:  We were in it for the long haul, with no idea how close we were to the end of dialysis and all it's attendant horrors.  I didn't know yet that there were horrors still to come.  However inaccurate and misplaced my relief at surviving the transplant may have been, nothing I experience again is likely to feel so overwhelmingly wonderful.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Finally Feeling Something.......

After nearly four weeks of extreme short-staffing at work, after nearly four weeks of not getting home from work until nearly seven at night, after nearly four long weeks of what seemed to be some viral form of exhaustion and apathy that hit everyone in the house, after skipping church because I simply didn't feel like going:  I think I might be on the edge of survival (as opposed to on the edge of annihilation).   I can't remember any one period of time when I felt so crappy for so long. 

It's such a light feeling to wake up and WANT to get out of bed.  It's wonderful to see Babygirl and Hubby both looking less like the vanguard of the Zombie Apocalypse and more like baby bears awakening after hibernation.  It's wonderful to sit down and actually feel like having a conversation instead of randomly watching strangers remodel houses on HGTV.  It's good to drive to work and actually not hate the idea of being there.

There's a light at the end of this tunnel - and it no longer feels like it might be an approaching train.

Thanks be to God.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Year Three, Week Forty-Three - Spend It Like You're Rich......

After publishing last week's post (I went a whole week without a post?  Dang.),  Hubby and I went out looking for a new dryer.  We always check a local shop first.  They have two stores, one with everything they have to sell, and one that holds the leftovers, the floor models, and the "scratch-and-dents."  Our last washer/dryer came from there, deeply discounted:  one because it had been delivered to a previous buyer who sent it back unopened because it was too large, and the other for some minor chip on the BACK.

We got lucky and found a matching pair for $400 under list price, both very energy efficient, both double-loaders.  We negotiated to get the drawers that go underneath for a BOGO.  While the negotiations were underway, we wandered around and found a fabulous price on a memory foam mattress (on the list of aging things we have been planning on replacing).  We ended up spending less for all 5 pieces than we'd budgeted for just the washer and dryer.

On a roll with Hubby in a shopping mood, we headed off to another store to look at recliners.  Our TV area has an aging dirt-colored dirt-covered double recliner that seats two in a space where we commonly would like to seat three.  I had seen a shaker-style recliner that I wanted Hubby to see.  He's a big guy with bad knees.  Any chair we get for him has to be LONG and sturdy and preferably not too close to the ground.

We wandered.  We sat, reclined, criticized, laughed at ugly, admired pretty but impractical and generally made a nuisance of ourselves to the sales clerk, who must have pictured us as the no-commission time-wasters of his day.  Then we found it:  A couch. 

We were seriously NOT looking for a couch, but this one has a recliner on each end, a comfy middle seat, and is only three INCHES wider than the ugly recliner we are now using. It was on sale and we could get an additional discount by using the store credit card (the only credit card I have). We told the longsuffering salesman that we'd go home and talk it over.

Given the financial crises of Babygirl's illness over the past three years, we've been cautious.  We don't throw a lot of money around.  We do-it-yourself when we can, we don't do blowout Christmas and birthdays, and we 'redecorate' with a can of paint and bright pillows.  On top of the necessary replacement of two major appliances, it made us both a bit queasy.  But.....

Our overall care not to overspend has paid off.  We actually have the money to do this without cracking into emergency funds. 

So our new washer/dryer have been delivered and installed, restoring Zen to my life.  We are sleeping beautifully on our new mattress.  And the new couch will be here next Saturday. with time to spare for Super Bowl Sunday.  And that sales clerk?  He was absolutely stunned when we called him back and got him his commission.  All we have to do now is figure out what to do with a dirt-colored double recliner.  Any takers?

So now we need to eat whatever is already in the freezer for the next two months, but for one day we shopped like rich people.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Lack of Zen....

A few days before Christmas our dryer stopped drying.  It was trying to dry things - spinning senselessly away with no heat.  There's nothing quite like the demise of a major appliance in the midst of the holiday chaos, is there?  So we'd wash in our washer (which has begun to wash without wanting to finish a spin cycle periodically), and carry the wet clothes up from the basement to Mom's second-floor dryer. 

At some point in the midst of this, Hubby took the dryer apart.  He cleaned out all of the accumulated lint and explored the possibility that there might be something simple, like a loose wire, that he could reconnect.  In so doing, he had to move the folding table, the sorting bins, the baskets of clean clothes and towels.  And there was no simple problem.


I have a system here.  My laundry room is a small, well-run factory.  Laundry is a daily chore - one load in, one load out and folded, and all new dirty clothes sorted, pretreated, and readied for cleaning.  I do extra loads on the weekend as needed, and Curlygirl and JuJuBee come over on Sunday and Monday, respectively, to get their laundry done.  Malfunctions are a BIG DEAL.  When I moved my folding area to the other side of the basement, he needed to move it back to ?nowhere because he needed to use tools on that side. 

Laundry is a Zen activity for me.  It is soothingly repetitive.  It allows my mind to shut off.  I never worry when I'm doing laundry, I just focus on the task at hand in a form of meditation that is truly part of my daily routine.  It works out the brain cramps.  It relieves stress. 

I went through two weeks of holidays with no Laundry Zen.  No wonder I've been out of sorts. 

Last week the repairman came, replaced the broken heater coil and reassembled the dryer.  I happily loaded in some clean clothes and began sorting Mt. Laundry.  By the time I was done sorting, the washer was still running but the dryer had stopped, cheerily announcing that the clothes were dry.  They were warm, so one problem had clearly been fixed, but they were definitely not dry.  Puzzled, I set the machine to go for a dryer level of dry.  Ten minutes later, the dryer let out its happy "I'm all done!" chirp.  Damp clothes.  Dammit.  The heater coil did not fail alone - the sensor went with it.  Can the motor be far behind?

So today I'm back to running up and down two flights of stairs with wet clothes - a great workout but sucky Laundry Zen.  And I'm guessing that today will send us shopping for a new washer/dryer (since I can tell the washer is not far behind).  Ugh.  That's crappy Financial Zen. 

I think we all have activities that shut down our brains, allowing the task itself to let us unwind.  For my mom, it was doing the dishes.  Pulling weeds in the garden feels much the same.  We need these sane, normal routines to keep us grounded and loose, to let prayer flow quietly through and around our hearts.  I've never been good at the sit-still-and-meditate kind of prayer, and it took me years to figure out that I wasn't a spiritual failure if I needed an external focus to keep me in touch with God.  It seems silly that I am so looking forward to a new dryer for spiritual reasons, but isn't it when we lose our day-to-day spiritual practices that we lose touch with God?  A hundred years ago it could have been a washboard or a butter churn, a plough or the daily milking.  The slower, more repetitive pace of life connected people to the earth, to each other, to God.

While I await the new dryer I should bake some bread.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Year Three, Week Forty-two - Let Me Carry That.....

Whenever people are struggling, it is the nature of other people to try to help. Most of this is very well-intentioned, but I think it has hidden roots:  Your suffering makes me uncomfortable, so what can I say or do that will make ME feel your pain less?  Think about this.  We go to wakes and viewings dreading the moment when we have to face those who have had this loss.  We fumble for something to say and walk away, relieved that we have done our duty in comforting the bereaved.  We see parents with a desperately ill child and think of all the things we've 'done' that have prevented our having to suffer in such a way and struggle to say something supportive that at its root doesn't give away the fact that we blame the sufferer.  And we try to find and give comfort in the idea that there is some mysterious 'big picture' that makes all of that suffering somehow make sense.

In the last three years there are a few phrases that I've come to terms with.  Phrases that I know I'm going to keep on hearing no matter what, because our lives are no longer 'normal'.  Phrases that I'll continue to dislike but that I've learned to discern the motivations behind.  Believe me:  I know whether someone is speaking for their comfort or for mine. Each of these phrases, at its heart, has two meanings, and one or both may apply depending on the speaker.

1)  "I don't know HOW you do it!"  Expressing admiration for someone who is a stress-juggler struggling to keep all the balls in the air means either "You handle all of this with more grace and patience than I ever could" or "Better you than me, sucker!"  Either way, it denies the possiblity that my life is littered with dropped balls, and I'll tell you that those 'dropped' problems are the ones that cause me the most stress.  It closes the conversation in a profound way.  If I'm managing so well that you admire me for it, I don't need any help, right?

2)  "Let me know if there is anything I can do."  This means what it says, or "I hope you don't remember I said this."  It's a kindly meant thought, but I'm already clearly overwhelmed and you've just added more things to my to-do list:  Work up the courage and the energy to ask for help, and get organized enough to ask for a specific type of help and figure out if you are the person who could or would supply that need.  Great.

3)  "There's never a dull moment with you, is there?"  Well.  This is either commiseration, which I appreciate, or sadism, which I don't.  After all, I'm sure that I don't intend my problems to entertain you.  And they generally don't entertain ME.

4)  "You'll understand the reason for all of this someday."  While I understand that this is usually sincerely meant to be comforting, one subtext here is that I can't find the meaning of my life in this world.  And it implies a measure of cause-and-effect, which leans toward the idea that bad things can be avoided.  Frankly this makes me picture a cosmic domino line-up.  It doesn't matter to the last domino in the chain who or what flicked the first domino over.  That last domino is still laying flat on the ground and is going to need some help to get back up. 

5) "God will never give you more than you can bear."  Here's the big one/two on this one:  The fact that I find whatever situation I am in unbearable means that my faith is a miserable failure.  And it is God Himself who has put me in this unbearable place.  I recently read this amazing blog post on the subject:  God will give you more than you can handle - I guarantee it.  The author makes some enlightening observations.

She contends that it just isn't true.  We are frequently faced with the unbearable.  Nowhere in the Bible does it imply that we won't be.  But she finds this, instead: 

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11: 28-30)

Life can be unbearable.  God doesn't lay these burdens on us, generations of sin and separation from the love of God and the choices we and others make get us where we are.  A yoke is a device to spread the weight of a load from one beast of burden to two or more.  Jesus is offering to help bear the unbearable. In a spiritual sense it is a very calming thought.  In the physical sense, though, what does it mean?

"God has no hands but our hands." 

God calls us to "bear one anothers' burdens."  Our words can be intended to be kind, but our actions speak so much less ambiguously.  We are no longer in a place where we need someone to bring us dinner, give us money, send a tangible reminder that we are being prayed for or loan us a car.  But when we WERE in that place, people did those very things.  Over and over and over again.  God DID give us more than we could bear.  And His people yoked up and helped us bear it.

No one walks up to someone who is about to drop one of many shopping packages and says, "Dude - you are carrying WAY too much stuff!" and walks away.  We either completely ignore the impending disaster or we say, "Let me carry some of that for you."

Here, let me carry that.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Our second winter storm in one week.  School was cancelled last night in advance of the bitter cold and blowing snow, and soon I will have to go out, start the car, and dig out of the drifts.

Snow drifts are lovely.  Sculpted by God to look like sand in a desert, ocean waves, mountains - repeating themes of motion in stillness, and stillness in motion - reminding me of miniatures of the snowdrifts of my childhood. 

I grew up in a snow belt, where the phrase 'lake effect' had some punch.  I am not geezer-exaggerating when I say we would get eighteen inches of snow overnight and still go to school in the morning.  Our town had (and still has!) sidewalk plows.  I could walk all the way to school and never be able to see over the snow piles to the houses. The neighborhood boys would go to the top of the creek gully behind our house and walk out on the drifts, over the edge, until a drift broke and avalanched them to the bottom.  At the house I lived as a teen, the wind would hit the back of the house and curl the snow up around in a wave, leaving the ground bare so you could walk in a tunnel behind the house.  It wasn't uncommon to find hidden drifts in the woods in early summer, and once I found one taller than me at the end of July.

Drifts form from the action of free-flowing wind against solid objects.  The snow just goes where it is blown.  Our lives are like this.  We have little control over wind and obstacles.  But if we ride it all out we can be part of something breathtakingly beautiful.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Twelfth Day....

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me.....

The Christmas season has been peaceful.  Gentle.  Homey.  And today, on the last day of Christmas, I have been sitting here enjoying my last morning with the tree.  It's a beauty - tall and fat and brightly lit, covered with years of kid ornaments and angels.  The stockings still dangle from the mantle, and the Nativity set is still above the fireplace (not its usual location, but a safer, more Boo-proof spot). 

Christmas trees are magical to me.  The light, the stately grace, the memories - it all combines to one big restful piece of beauty that stays an entirely too short time.  But there are signs that it is time for it to go.

Yesterday Babygirl was helping me clean.  In a moment of frustration, she asked, "Why is is so CROWDED in here??"  Well, take out one ginormous tree and it'll be very roomy!  She also said, sadly, "The tree looks like it is dying."  Truth be told, it started dying when someone cut it for us, but it's been very springy and fresh for all its time here in the house.  It is starting to look a little grey around the edges, though.

So today the bins and boxes come out, and the tree comes down.  We'll pack up the lights, the ornaments, the Nativities and the candles for another year.  The tree has seen us through the shortest days and longest nights, getting us to the point where we can see that the days are creeping longer and that the hope of spring exists, even though it is still so far away. 

I understand that Christmas trees are essentially Pagan. But like the birth of the Christ child, it stands a symbol of life and renewal at a time of year where it is all too easy to lose hope.


Saturday, January 4, 2014


I am sitting in one of my favorite places in my home - in the TV area.  Those who know me can safely assume that the TV is off, and that it is the window that holds my attention.  Six feet outside there is a cedar hedge, about ten feet tall.  It creates a wall of green between our's and our neighbor's yard.

Boring, don't you think?

You'd think any view so short-sighted WOULD be boring.  But it changes daily.  Today it reminds me of my childhood, when we'd crawl into the snow tunnel under the white pine hedges, lay on our backs in the soft, dry needles, and look up through the white-covered green to the blue sky.  Or of a ski day years ago, when I rested at the edge of a slope, looking upward through hemlock pinecones to eternal blueness.  That particular visual memory became the mental picture I focused on during my long hours of labor for Citygirl.

It's all too easy to lose sight of beauty in the everyday rush of our lives.  But a winter snowstorm is a very, very pushy sort of beauty.  There is no escaping the sparkle, the brilliance, the deep contrast of every color to the white. 

My hedge is silent today.  The little birds who sing me awake in the morning and to sleep in the evening have stilled, huddled somewhere against the intense cold.  They are brave, these little birds.  They do not leave for the winter, and they sing almost every day.  They make my view a musical kaleidescope of green and brown and sometimes white until the cold stills the motion, like today. 

It's an oddly peaceful view.  It stills my mental to-do list.  It makes me take deep breaths full of gratitude for beauty, seasons, a good furnace and money to run it.  Blue. White. Green. Warm. Amen.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Year Three, Week Forty-one - Resolutionless......

I have learned, over the years, that New Year's resolutions are a waste of my time.  However well-intentioned they may be, they are rarely carried through by anyone, let alone me.  Life-changing events do not occur on any particular schedule, and decisions to change our lives do not usually fit a timed pattern.  I have the usual thoughts buzzing around:  Get healthier, spend more time with family, live life somewhere other than on Facebook....

Lately I suffer from a great deal of apathy.  I've run my inner mental health probe - I don't think I'm depressed, exactly, but general life stresses have made things rather grey, lately.  I can't seem to pull myself outside of myself, if you know what I mean.  And while the inside of my head is usually a fairly entertaining place, but there is a certain lack of energy there. 

Some of it is medical.  As the migraines increase, brain function decreases.  It takes longer to recover from each of the headaches, and I've had quite a few.  The migraine-prevention medications are still exhausting.  It makes me sad to think that this might be as good as it gets.  I'm asking my neurologist about Botox on my next visit.

Some of it is stress.  Changes at work, coupled with my Mom's ongoing decline certainly take a toll.  The ongoing need to keep up two houses, and keeping up on Babygirl's medications as well as Mom's (and mine!) add a certain tension. 

Much of it is a lack of control.  There is no way off this ride right now.  No downtime, no running away, no escape.  The chaos at work means that I am working at home, every day, even Christmas, so that I don't get hopelessly behind.  Taking a day away from my Mom requires a large amount of planning ahead, so no spontaneous runs off for a weekend with Hubby and Babygirl. 

Some of it is a lack of support.  Hubby and Babygirl and I work together and keep things running, but there are no offers of help from outside the three of us.  We can get help if we ASK, but there is that planning ahead thing again.  And really, should I have to ask?  Much as I love my girls and want them to visit and feel free to do laundry here, nothing would make me feel more blessed than coming home from work to an unexpectedly clean house - or at least a house that isn't in any worse condition than when I left.

I frankly hate feeling this way.  I want my energy, spunk, and joie de vivre back.  But I don't really have the energy to go looking for them.