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all but the cats write here ... to remember, to share, to mumble, to shout ... follow along by RSS or email if you like.

Filtering by Category: connections

Walking with Mom

bethany

She sits at the kitchen table, clasping a pile of colored pencils in her left hand. She puts them down on the table, rolls them out into a neat line, looks at them for a moment, and picks them all up again. She may do it twice, or 60 times. She may stop and pick out a red one, drawing on whatever is in front of her, be it a card or book or coloring book or scrap of paper. Sometimes words, sometimes decorations, often lines or checkmarks adding emphasis to some portion of it. The longer she spends, the more layered it gets. Boxed, crossed out, repeated, and eventually large chunks are colored in solidly. Pick it up, put it down, be occupied … sometimes precise, sometimes idle … repeat.

 

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I've spent the last few days in a very deep funk. Depression perhaps, but a weird one that I've not experienced before. Nearly blank inside, unable to put any words or depth into what I'm feeling, just full and empty both. Stuffed-full-to-bursting heart, empty head.

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I'm trying to tease threads out of the jumble, so I can start unraveling some of the feelings I didn't have time to process over the summer. The summer we just spent parked in my parents' driveway while I helped out with my Mom's care, and the household in general. I'm not sure yet what it's done to me internally, but I'm going to explore a wee bit. I know I've learned a tremendous amount, and some of it is things I never wanted to learn, but apparently needed to.

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Caregiving is all-consuming, relentless, and requires infinite patience. It's cruel, beautiful, heartbreaking, rewarding, and ugly. It takes humor, honesty, and endless creativity. It takes hunting … endless looking and watching ... to find the clues that are hidden in demeanor and eyes and body language (and the very few words), to discern what's going on in Mom's head and heart. What's revealed for a moment, and hidden for the next week. What's felt, but not expressed. What's fought, feared, accepted, or enjoyed.



She's sitting in the car in the driveway, having just come back from a walk at the park. Caroline* took her out today, and I'm still in the camper working on cleaning up in the bedroom. I can tell from the sounds outside my window that it's not a hop-out-on-her-own day, and I keep one ear open while continuing my task. I don't want to interfere, and the more people involved the more confusing it gets. After several minutes it sounds like she hasn't budged yet though, so I go out and ask if I can help? I try some of the same things Caroline's likely already tried … repositioning feet, telling her where to put her hands, trying a variety of phrases for “please stand up”, before stooping a bit and looking her in the eyes … “Can you please stand up, Mom?” She looks up at me, defeatedly, “No, I can't”. A first. Tears lurking, we each take a side and gently help her out of the car.

 

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I love that I can still make her laugh … laugh more than I ever remember her laughing, just by choosing the right combination of slightly unusual words or using a touch of wry humor. I hate that she can't respond in kind. I love that she can laugh till she cries, if the joke is good enough. I love the look of wide-eyed-almost-scandalized delight she has in some things, though it's painful too. Where was that delight hiding for most of her life?

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Watching her be stripped, slowly, of all the skills and abilities that she's gained since she was born … it's gut wrenching. But also strangely gorgeous. Losing the things that have defined her; service, usefulness, caregiving, card-writing, hospitality, organizing … the ability to control her body, her words, her reactions … it has left very little visible, except her spirit. A spirit that's clearer, simpler, and lovelier than I've ever seen it. Unadorned with expectations, assumptions, guilt, or duty. It's just her. My Mom. In a body that's betraying her and a mind that continues to confound her.

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She seems to have accepted what's happening to her, so long as Dad is at her side (or coming home soon). She rests in him, and trusts him implicitly. There are glimpses though, many little ones, that show she is not (and does not feel) defined by her Alzheimers. She often knows and sees far more than she can express, if you watch her eyes and her reactions to conversations. She clearly ignores comments that sound demeaning or patronizing, and laughs immediately and appropriately when something is funny. She looks for things to laugh at too … it's her default way of looking for connection when she wants words but doesn't have them. A shared laugh means shared hearts.

 

We're in the living room long after supper, Mom and Dad and Michael and I, and it's nearing bedtime for Mom. I'd had the radio on for her sake earlier, and the classical music had switched over to Folk Night or some such thing. Odd little bits of song floated into the conversation, were mused over a bit as to their appeal and meaning, and then dropped again. Mom watched and listened from the couch, tracking every word out of Dad in his chair across the room, sharing amused looks with Michael and I, and taking obvious pleasure in it all. Dad eventually made a comment about it being time to head off to bed, and then launched into a medley/riff on the songs that had been talked about, personalizing it towards Mom and bedtime. Mom's amusement turned to delight, echoed heartily by the rest of us. Out of character, and an entirely perfect way to end the day.

 

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I spent the summer looking for the positives, to keep my heart from entirely breaking. Looking at how the dynamic between her and Dad has totally switched, and how I joy at seeing her at rest in a way she's never been. A more visible tenderness, a slowness, a sweetness of time spent together. It may be very very quiet in that living room when they're alone, but the love that's been put in for the last 53 years makes a mighty fine marinade in which to sit side-by-side. Also seeing, and marveling, at the acceptance that marks my Dad's approach to the entire journey. One day at a time. Planning but not fretting. Taking it from God, and keeping an eye on the big picture while still living moment to moment. Not lashing out at what he's lost and what's being taken away, but enjoying what can be enjoyed, and bearing what's been given him to bear. Knowing that it's costing him in terms of his own health, but not even considering that relevant.

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Those are the pretty threads. The gold in the pile of Other Stuff. Things like the grief I can't access right now that says I want to TALK to my Mom. Have her reach out with words, tell me what's in her heart, and how she feels. Tell me things I never asked when I could ask … didn't take the time or the care to ask, and now I can't. Ask her why she made the choices she did, and see if my guesses are right. Ask her what she regrets, misses, feels, wants. Aching regrets for things she never got to do, and never will now. Things she accepted, but never wanted. Seeing the beauty of her without guilt and duty and burdened about with much serving … and wishing it didn't have to be at the cost of everything else. Wishing she could have tasted it long ago. The refreshingness of being cared for, of being free of burdens and expectations sometimes. I see what she's reduced to, and I DO see the beauty of it, but it makes my heart ache abominably. I want more barefoot and bare-headed days for her, and I guess in a way she's getting them now. Hardly a care in the world, but oh … at what a cost!

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There were great weeks, and scary weeks. Days she could walk a mile and not be winded or tired, and days she forgot how to walk at all. Or couldn't remember how to tell her muscles to behave so she could stand up. Days she laughed like crazy, days she slept much of it away. Days she came out to the kitchen to help when she heard dishes rattling and chopped veggies like she used to (always snitching a few!), and the day she went catatonic at the dinner table. The May days she could almost play Boggle though she mostly copied my words, and then the June she felt intimidated by the concept of it. By August I finally acknowledged it wasn't going to happen again, and put it away.

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It's a winding down, a slow shaving, a hah-it's-back! but no-that-was-just-a-momentary-blip kind of slide into fewer and fewer things that she can do. Watching the skills fade into that part of her brain that she can't access, and knowing that it might reappear for a bit, but isn't likely to last for long. A reduction, an essence, a distillation … a stilling.

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I miss her cards (and I know I'm not the only one). Her desk just off the kitchen still has her monthly-card-holder notebook that she used for years on it, fat with all the cards-to-be-sent tucked into its pockets. The calendar that hangs behind it still has mountains of birthdays and anniversaries listed on it, and the roll of stamps is still plump. She hasn't touched it in years I don't think. She does still enjoy getting cards though, and hasn't quite lost her ability to read cursive, so if you're at all inclined to reach out, now would be the time. She has baskets of them in the living room, and pores over them often. Photos too. She still knows some faces, and can dredge up some surprising names too if you happen to catch the right moment to ask.

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I don't regret one moment of this summer, despite feeling it to be incredibly difficult. The hardness was balanced with a richness that I can't measure. To sit of an evening while listening to stories and family history from Dad, taking walks together, playing eye-games with Mom, tending to her needs, coloring together. Sitting side-by-side. Appreciating, soaking up perspectives and wisdom and a sense of how it feels to look at life from closer to the other end of the spectrum. A sharpening in my heart of what really matters, and what doesn't. An example of acceptance on such a profound level that I'm still grasping it. Peace that truly passes understanding.

How could I not find it all beautiful, while bursting into tears with an ache that comes from my very bones?

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I've finally finished running around gathering the detritus scattered around the house and the camper, and everything is stowed. Michael and the boys have hitched. It's time to go. Very clearly time to go, despite the wrenchingness of it all. It just is. Mom is sitting on the front porch in her chair, watching the hubbub and scurrying as it eddies into a slow swirl of goodbyes and hugs. I go up and crouch next to her chair, resting my head on her knee. I've done this hundreds of times before, but it's been 35 years since I last took the opportunity. It was Grambie's lap in my teens and twenties and thirties. I look up at her and tell her how much I'm going to miss her, and she repeats it back to me, twice. I rest my head again, pain mingled with peace making it hard to breathe. This is exactly how it should be. She is my Mom.

 

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* Her regular caregiver

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You're Invited

bethany

It's 5 o'clock*, and the door of the bath house slams behind Fynn as he emerges with wet hair and a towel slung over his shoulder. He was out working on his treehouse all afternoon, and had sap and dirt and sawdust in his hair to contend with. It's nearly time for dinner, and there are still chores to do. Eggs to gather, salad fixings to pick, and a bit of cello harmony to work out if he has a few minutes left before dinner is called.

It's the last Friday of the month, which means we're expecting a bigger crowd than usual. It's music night, and we never know how many locals will show up on foot or by car, or who will hike up the lane from the trail when they hear some picking and plucking and singing starting to waft over the mountain. I'm in the outdoor kitchen with Martha, Cedar, and a couple other folks (including a few mostly-willing teens), chopping veggies, making dressing, hard-boiling eggs, and frying up the leftover ham from yesterday. It's a salad-bar tonight, and I can pretty much count on a few regulars bringing some fresh herbs, homemade cheese, a can of beans, leftover chicken, or anything else they like to dump on a bed of greens. I'm craving lemons for my salad, but haven't had time to drive into town to get them, so it's bottled lemon juice tonight.

We've had a decent crowd this week, but it's still been quiet. Maggie's here for the week, with her young daughter, and they're staying up in the original cob cabin with Jane, who's been here since her husband died 6 months ago. She's been feeling ready to socialize again lately, and is happy to share the space now. It's only two rooms with a wee porch, but not far from the bath house and outdoor kitchen. It was our first cob structure, and has a few cracks around the window and some shrinkage along the eaves, but it's still cozy and cool in the summer.

It's June, and we're well into our latest building project, Michael's studio. He's been working out of the old barn for the last three years … when he has moment to paint or carve something other than a building detail … but we've finally knocked out the bath house/kitchen combo, the main part of our own stone/cob home (we moved out of the trailer last summer!), and three basically habitable treehouses. There are several more in various stages of construction, but the main push this summer is the studio.

There have been drawings scattered on shelves and tables and napkins for over a year now, and the pile of field stones got big enough to start laying the studio's foundation last month. The pile is large enough mostly because John stopped by on his Kubota It! tour of the U.S. a few weeks ago, and moved a bunch of the larger ones down the hill for us. It's to be a combo of stone, wood, and cob, and is set back a ways back from the main house, about a half mile up into the woods. We hope to get electric run up there soon, and plan to get a pump going from the stream to a slop sink as soon as that happens.

It's really more of a getaway than a full studio, but it will be a place to paint, sing at the top of his lungs, and do the alone-in-the-woods thing. The wood shop and slowly-evolving metal shop are going to stay in the barn. Todd introduced us to a lot of metal working tools when they came for a month last summer to check things out, and Bobby scavenged quite a bit of stuff from estate sales when he was still living in Knoxville, so the place is reasonably functional by now. We lost a fair number of tools in the first couple of years thanks to rust and forgetfulness and the occasional over-eager neophyte skil-saw user, but have slowly gotten them organized, and now that Nathan sleeps in the barn-loft and keeps track of things at days end, they're kept oiled and sharp and tuned up.

It's Douglas' turn to do the dinner call, and he's chosen yodeling as Ash is visiting and willing to help, so the two of them make enough noise to alert anyone within 200 yards that food's ready. It's 6:00 and the shadows aren't too long yet though it's beginning to cool down. Edmund and Sparrow take up their positions under the table, and Benny and Sam (the current dogs in residence) chase each other around the benches, tripping up a couple of the folks who are finding a perch, but Calvin gets them settled down in short order. It looks like about 20 are going to sit up to table, and Dave says a quick prayer before everyone digs in.

Newbies get a guest bowl and mug from the end of the serving counter, while the regulars bring their own, or pull the ones they keep here off of the shelves under the counter. Jars of forks and chopsticks sit in the middle of the 20' long table under the kitchen's big shelter/roof, as do jugs of water and a few bottles of wine. My favorite chopsticks are the ones with Kanji love notes on them that Sue makes, and brings us from Japan every fall. Some daring ones park themselves along the eating counter that takes up one long side of the space … Evan and Byron are already perched on it, and others are on a motley collection of stools that mostly came from one of Keren's game competitions earlier this summer, I don't remember the rules but most of the results are actually sitable. Douglas's entry was a folding ladder stool that's way too tall for the table, but gets used to access his tree-gym down the hill.

I'm beat, and really wanting to just find a corner and curl up with a book and my salad, but I get myself a bowl full and find a seat by Dan at the far end of the Kibitchen, as it's becoming known. It's the place where it pretty much all happens for a good eight months of the year. The cooking, the talking, the planning, the listening, the discussing, the singing, the fire-pit-chilling, the coffee swilling, the scheduling, the bible-chewing, the hey-guess-what-i-learned!-ing, the asking, the giving, the venting, the crying, the recovering, the supporting; the stuff that all takes more than one person. That takes a group, a diversity, a desire to connect, to see, to build, to learn … and to love. A community. One where you can dip a toe or a leg or your whole self, and see how much of it works for you.

Tonight, it's a whirlwind of eating and cleanup and dish-swilling in the wash and rinse buckets at the end of the counter, and then the fire pit lighting. As the last of the leftovers are put away, someone starts plucking a guitar and there's a bit of haphazard tuning. There's usually a mashup of hymns and folk and a bit of almost everything, most of it from memory though there are a few guitar chord books floating around. If someone comes who really knows their stuff (like Mike and George both did last winter), it helps keep things together. Fynn's learned to do some harmony to a few of the common songs, so Michael makes sure a couple of those get worked in somewhere.

Folks wander in and out of the firelight and the music, horseshoes clank, frisbees fly, and some disappear for walks in the woods. Hammocks, tents, and treehouses are retired to when space is needed or hearts are full. Keren and Bobby's B&B is due to open just down the road next spring, and that will give even fancier accommodations for those who want indoor plumbing and a little more TLC! There's plenty of room here though to be broken, to heal, to be alone, to be not-alone, and heart-food to nibble.

It's Friday night, it's home, and it's rich with all the things that matter.

You're invited.

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* 5 o'clock somewhere, on a Friday night about three years from now

want the long personal backstory that led to this? I just posted it (in three parts) over on my old blog InMyMiddle

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Hello, America

bethany

I woke up yesterday with a bunch of thoughts gelled in my brain, and while I went about my morning routine I was writing furiously in my head. Words, at last! Then, the road called … the six-mile dirt road that follows the turns of the San Francisco River flowing past our campsite, and off we went.

We wandered past a few homes down next to the river bed, marveled at canyons and cliffs to our right, explored a couple long-abandoned stone huts and walls, tried to figure out the pattern of smashed parts and glass from a nearly-pancaked blue Beretta at the base of a stony track, and hunted for big-horn sheep. Got a glimpse of the top of the mine beyond the far side of the river too. Delightful, hot, bizarre in places, and very remote feeling.

The river flooded badly in '83, demolishing much of the town of Clifton below us, and actually is the reason there's a cheap town-run RV park at the north end of the valley (our current resting spot). The USAC of Engineers won't allow homes at the north end anymore, due to flood fears. The rest of the town is protected with giant floodgates.

Our next stop was to go see the mine a bit better … the Morenci Copper/Molybdenum Mine that's run by Freeport McMoRan and is the largest copper mine in the U.S., and one of the largest in the world. When we headed to this RV park, by the way, we knew NOTHING about Clifton/Morenci. A look at the map showing a nearby Plant City made us assume there might be industry in the vicinity.

The terraced cliffs of the mine were apparent when we pulled in last week, and we'd gotten some amazing stories the day before from an old mine-employed chemist about the history of the place, but hadn't really seen it for ourselves. We headed up Hwy 191, aiming for the spot on the little cartoonized local map that said Mine Overlook.

The map didn't indicate how far the overlook was, or that we'd have to drive underneath the giant conveyor belt system that takes the mined chunks and gradually crushes them down into pieces that can be suspended in a concentrate solution. From there they use electrowinning to make big sheets of 99.9% pure copper. This particular mine produced 902 million pounds of copper in 2015. It's big. Mind-bogglingly huge.

Hard to comprehend, even while driving past enormous sheds, pits that make huge mine trucks look like tiny Tonka toys, and terraced literal mountains of crushed stone that we realized have been built one truck-load at a time. We watched the trucks inch their way up the zig-zagged grade, back up and dump over the side to the terrace below, and then zip their way back down the road for another load. It was like watching something out of Star Wars … a planet being terraformed.

 That little black blip on the top of the white ridge is a mine cart with 12' tires, about to dump its load over the edge.

That little black blip on the top of the white ridge is a mine cart with 12' tires, about to dump its load over the edge.

It's come a very long way from the first wagon-loads of copper being pulled to Kansas City for shipping east, back in 1865 when the mine started. Hillsides of black slag speak to the old ways of smelting and refining, and the barely visible corner of the old concrete-block high school that's peeking out of the side of a growing terraced mountain helps give some idea of how much change they've done to the landscape since 1985, when the school was abandoned and they moved into a new building in town.

We've seen the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, and the Morenci Mine all in the last 3 months. Three things that make you feel tiny, take your breath away, and are hard to wrap your mind around.

They have a way of putting things in perspective. Long-term perspective. Life and cycles and death and time and the smidgen bit of it we get to spend on earth, and what really matters to me.

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Almost all the traveling I did as a child was either driving in a car to visit people we knew, tenting for a week near a lake somewhere, or flying to South or Central America and visiting people dad knew or had corresponded with. Poor people for the most part, living in small towns or remote villages only reachable by perching in the back of an open truck. Some were in cities, like San Salvador or Lima Peru, but we still usually stayed with friends in apartments or in a cheap local hotel.

 Lima Peru in about 1976. I'm in Mom's arms.

Lima Peru in about 1976. I'm in Mom's arms.

I grew up thinking that Disney and Resorts and fancy hotels and big museums were for the folks who weren't lucky enough to go to a “real” destination where everything was upside down and backwards and dirty and sometimes scary … except the people. Ahh, the people. The warm, lovely, generous, curious, kind, simply-living folks who opened their homes and hearts and scarce pantries to us. I knew my friends didn't take vacations like that, but I didn't know anything else. I was a little spoiled.

This trip is no different, other than the fact that it's within the boundaries of my home country, the USA. It's a bit of all of it actually … camping by remote streams, visiting people we know, and some we don't. Seeking out the human interaction, the stories, the history, the wants and needs and desires and perspectives of a huge variety of people. Finding the similarities, musing on the differences. Looking for reasons for the differences, when they're hard to understand. Reveling in the connections, the humanity, the deliciousness and terror of what it means to get another day and choose how to use it.

The number of ways of living that we've seen in the last two years is astounding. Chemists who spent their life analyzing every 10th foot of a 1000' core sample and dodging the union strikers, pragmatic Navajo boiler-makers who still teach their daughters to kill and skin wild animals for food, Old Orabai Hopi mesa-dwellers whose homes perch on the remains of the previous thousand years of homes on that tiny little mesa, and trailer park dwellers who cling to that El Dorado that “rides like a living room” as their last ticket to freedom because if they get their night-seizures checked out they might lose their license.

 Blake hitchhiked with us from Tuba City, Navajo Nation to Flagstaff.

Blake hitchhiked with us from Tuba City, Navajo Nation to Flagstaff.

House painters with unimaginable personal losses, kayak-tour snook fishermen with lime green trucks and big hats and dreams to match, struggling marriages with new babies in arms, broken families that still smile and march forward, crazy-in-love spry senior citizens, private pilots, commercial pilots, broken down bus-dwellers, friendly Harley sightseers, retired museum docents that still have the joie-de-vivre of a 6-year-old perfectly intact, and countless people who just want to help.

They'll give you food, give you a new lift jack for your trailer, give you a diamond knife sharpener for your knife-obsessed child, give you bags of groceries, give you work, give you meals, give you love, give you opportunities to love, give you their deepest heartache, give you stories, give you trust, give you keys, give you respect, give you a chance, give you a fat envelope, give you an ear, give you a set of tires, give you their heart.

These humans have been rich, poor, left-leaning, right-leaning, lying down, marching, black, brown, white, hispanic, church-goers, sun-worshippers, Christ-followers, full-hearted, bodies failing, full of optimism, full of fear, satisfied and steady, seeking and restless, building their walls, sharpening their swords. These people have been my fellow Americans, my brethren, my tribe, my loves. My chances to grow. My opportunities to understand. My shoulders to lean on. My voices to learn. My lives to touch. My people.

Hello, America

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Westward Ho! / Wrapping it all up ...

bethany

Twelve days from Indiana to San Fran, intense and packed and sometimes heart-wrenching days. Emotional ones at the very least. So much to process, so much to see … life to live, relationships to work on, kids to grow, feelings to feel.

It's funny how, from the outside, it sometimes looks like we're on a multi-year vacation. Yes there is freedom to this life, huge amounts of it, but there are many many balances to it too. Large amounts of insecurity, if you're hoping to know what's next and how your daily needs are going to be met. Great stretches of loneliness, and disconnectedness, punctuated by intense interactions and deep conversations. Bouts of hard work, followed by dearths of any known opportunities to jump in and help.

I've been reading a Louis L'Amour book to the boys for bedtime story recently, and there's a line in it that really struck me. The main character (Echo, a spitfire crack shot 16-year-old-girl outrunning some would-be thieves, of course) was planning to hitch a ride with some settlers going west in a wagon, and the boarding house owner she'd been staying with disparagingly referred to those headed west as “Movers.”

Her response …

“We were all movers at one time, Mrs O'Brien” I said. “Even you when you left Ireland.”
“I suppose so, but somehow it seems different.”
“Settled folks always look down upon the unsettled,” I said, “but somebody has to open the new lands. When they are settled in their homes, they will feel just as you do.”

We're not doing anything new, but we're doing something Other. And I often feel the Otherness of it, keenly, even though the comments made and the sentiments felt by others are not disparaging, but wistful or a bit jealous or just plain encouraging. There's often the feeling of a complete disconnect … this isn't fathomable or understandable. Or perhaps just romanticized in the same way that I intently identified with Laura Ingalls standing and watching the long lines of braves and families wending past her house on the edge of the prairie as they left a council of war … wishing she were a wee one tucked in one of those saddle bags. I so wanted the very same thing, and I think I've gotten it as much as is possible in the year 2016.

There's some Mover in most of us … that bit (tiny or huge) that wants Other, and seeks out new experiences and places. Whether it comes in armchair galloping with Louis L'Amour, Netflix soaring over some new continent, trips of a lifetime that span the globe and inspire FaceBook envy, or choosing to live for decades as an RV gypsy … we get that itch, and we do our best to scratch it however we can.

I'm afraid I've rather systematically tried to debunk the notion that this is a relaxing vacation, or anything other than Life, made mobile for now. I keep bringing up the downsides, the struggles, the hard bits, and don't tend to sing the praises as loudly as I could be. I'm interested in keeping it real, and I think I've always been more fascinated with the messy bits than the pretty bits. Life, and relationships especially, are inherently messy and anything that seems to focus too much on the happy/solved/perfect parts is highly suspect to me. We're all broken, all imperfect, all unfinished.

I find something innately invigorating in the messy stuff, and while it may hurt like mad … it's a chance to change, to grow, to see things differently, and to maybe find a new viewing point. Asking what possible good can come from it, even if it's painful? There's always some answer.

I'm also a huge believer in community, fellowship, and sharing the load when we can. Chasing the joy to be found in connecting, in being seen, and in sharing whatever is to be shared, heavy or light. The joy at the end of this trip was palpable and filling. We shared in Aran and Lexie's joy, and it fed my tired spirit in a way that brought balance to the personal relationship work that kind of dogged the last half of the trip, evening up the keel for awhile. It was delicious. We've had many chances to share sorrow and hurt too, and it's always an honor. Being trusted with someone's pain isn't easy, but it's still a real connection. It's a window I try to never close, so help me God.

I said I was wrapping it all up, and I seem to be wandering in all directions. I've written and erased about 5 different endings actually, and none seem to do the job. I started out writing a travelog and ended up getting personal again … had to balance out all those pretty pictures, right?

So … it was messy, it was beautiful, it was worth every minute.

Onward ...


previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9 / DAY 10 / DAY 11 / DAY 12 / Wedding Weekend

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Westward Ho! / The Wedding Weekend

bethany

Saturday August 27 ... The Pre-Party

The bliss of Saturday morning's hot shower cannot be underestimated. Boondocking doesn't generally allow for showering, mostly because we don't travel with enough water in the tanks for it as every gallon adds almost 8 lbs to our total weight. So despite the fact that we were in a drought-stricken state, I allowed myself to stand there as long as I wanted, and it was a delight.

A quick morning trip to the thrift store (I was having serious doubts about the wisdom of platform heels) netted Michael a new tie, and I settled into the feeling that wobbly or not, I'd be wearing the shoes I already had. I've never been a heel-lover, and teetering just isn't my thing.

We took off for Golden Gate Park, where the pre-party was to be held … and as we approached the Golden Gate bridge it finally hit me that we were about to see Aran and Lexie for the first time in several years! The grin started spreading :). A last minute change in parking plans got us a lovely free street spot right in the park, and we walked over to the meadow and dove in for bear hugs.

 Lexie and Aran, summer of 2008

Lexie and Aran, summer of 2008

We met Aran and Lexie back in 2008, when Michael moved to MASS MoCA for 6 months to help install a huge retrospective of Sol LeWitt's work. The boys and I stayed in the city, but went up for two months in the summer, and got to know a lot of the crew Michael had been telling me about … including these two lovelies. We stayed in as close touch as we could, but once they moved to CA, it got a bit harder to get together. This was the first time we'd seen them in at least 4 years.

 Lexie and her Mom

Lexie and her Mom

As at any wedding … it's a relief when you know more than just the bride and groom, and we happily found a few familiar faces, as well as some lovely new ones. There were some lawn games, a food truck that came just for the occasion, and lots of fun and conversation. A great way to set the stage for the next day, taking some of the awkwardness out of meeting so many people for the first time. Maybe that's just me?

I have a lot less tolerance for new social situations than I used to, meaning I find big groups harder to deal with as I get older. My claustrophobia in packed crowds is far worse than it used to be … I could never do the Taste of Chicago on July 4th again, at least as it used to be done, with millions packed along the shore and no place to go. Makes me shiver to remember it! But I also find that I have to do a bit more mental prep for going into new situations than I used to. I don't like it, but it's where I'm at. I think a lot of the redefining of my identity in the last 10 years has added some new insecurities, but taken away a lot of others. It's different terrain now.

We helped clean up and then made our exit, comparing Golden Gate Park to Central Park as we made our way back to the truck. It was delightfully wild, and much less manicured than most of Central Park … a very welcome change.

We made our way back home over the procession of bridges that had gotten us there, gawked at San Quentin in the deepening gloom, and called it a day.

The Wedding / Sunday August 28

We went, we watched, we talked, we loved, we hugged, we took lots of crazy photo booth shots, we devoured, we listened, we met cool people, we toasted, we laughed, we danced, we dragged ourselves home, we slept.

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I'll let the photos tell the wedding story here, but add in that getting to be almost 6' tall for a day was really really fun. I'd do it again in a heartbeat! I didn't take my camera for once … it just felt like too much, so all these pics are from Michael's phone.

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lots more pics here

previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9 / DAY 10 / DAY 11 / DAY 12

one more wrap-up post to come tomorrow ...

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Westward Ho! / Day 7 ... Letting Go in CO

bethany

Sunday, August 21

We had a lovely couple of hours in the morning before picking a bunch of wild sage, saying goodbye to the river, and pulling out for I70 again ... heading for a lunch date in Carbondale.

Michael did a Sol LeWitt job in Aspen a few years back, and one of the crew had been a CO local named Takeo. We met up with him for lunch in a local park, before heading on west towards Utah. Passing Vail and Breckenridge in 93° weather was a far cry from what high ski season must look like, but it didn't hold any real appeal either way … my tolerance for big crowds seems to diminish with every passing year.

 The mighty Colorado

The mighty Colorado

We stopped in a town mid afternoon to try to figure out a campsite, and after spending 20 minutes thumbing through the apps I use (Allstays and RV Parky and freecampsites.net if you're interested) … the string broke.  The string that connected Freedom Bird's steering wheel to my Navigational Ninja hat, which was lying crumpled somewhere in the pile of snacks and papers and resentment swirling around my feet. 

After some toasty but productive discussion, my desire to have a known destination by late afternoon proved to be too much to deal with, so we ended up chucking it out the window, along with my responsibility to find said site. It honestly was mostly a relief.  My fears of a state trooper knocking on the door at 3am because we'd end up sleeping on the side of the Interstate? They ostensibly followed the planning out the window, but remained stubbornly glued to the side of Matilda, just out of sight. Hmm.

Just over the border into Utah, we stopped at a scenic overlook to watch the sunset.  The fact that we had no place to rush to meant that we stayed for almost an hour, soaking up every last drop of the changing light.

Three hundred photos later, we pulled around the curve to leave and discovered a level-ish spot on the edge of the drive; making the split-second decision to pull over for the night, right behind a rig already parked there. Voila, a free spot! And a beautiful one to boot. I felt less apprehensive about getting in any trouble for it, because someone else was already there. I know, I know, but it's how my mind works.

Wedding T-7 and counting …

lots more pics here

previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6

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No Fixed Address

bethany

I'm sitting in the shade of a live oak tree, looking out over a sunbaked and drought-goldened valley of grass. A hot wind blows, dead leaves dance at my feet, and a very dusty Edmund just sauntered off after lying on my foot for a few minutes. There are crows calling, the occasional squeak of dusty wheels on Fynn's latest lego creation, and the faint sound of an engine passing somewhere over the hill.

When I booked this campsite, the site photo included a lapping lake at the foot of what would be our domain. A lake that started shrinking 10 years ago, and hasn't really stopped. The horizontal lines undulating across the hills in front of me mark the shrinking of the years, and young trees mix with the rotting stark remains of the ones that were lost when this area was flooded in the late 70's, creating the 5th largest reservoir in California. It's astonishingly low now, having lost something like 60' of depth, emptying many fingers of it, and pretty much puddling others. The boats still come though, the houseboats huddle where they can, and the rangers smile wide.

I'm looking for those smiles, while struggling with my own. We've covered a lot of ground in the last few weeks, and a lot of emotional territory in the last few months. Time that's filled many corners, and thinned out others. Some wells good, other wells dry. I miss my Mom. I miss my family, my community, my friends. I miss the knowing, the depending, the sense of regularity and solidity that comes from a semi-ordered life. It comes from the approaching 2-year anniversary of this venture, and from spending 3 weeks with my sister and 5 with my Mom. From falling into communities, and then pulling out of them again. From not communicating enough, and not carving out enough family-based routines for ourselves and our kids. Things we Do as a family, no matter where we are. Exercises, end-of-day highs/lows, reading together, schooling together … the bits of routine that mostly fall by the wayside when we're in someone else's territory.

It also comes from being this far in, and feeling no closer to our end goal. No cob classes taken yet, no leads on location or property or final anything … I'm an awful lot closer to the buzzard who is currently circling above me than I am to the ground squirrel whose burrow I can see four entrances to from where I'm sitting. I love both. Crave both. And the two are rather at odds.

I had a long conversation with my sis this morning (sitting on the floor of the bathroom, so my phone could be plugged into the only outlet in this hookup-less campground) and she was talking about hesitating to take on another weekly commitment when I suddenly realized how this trip has basically made me commitment-free, and how utterly delicious that is. It's the golden flip side of no fixed address or community. My own little conundrum. The grass is always greener, blah blah blah …

So what Did happen in the last 7 weeks or however long it's been, and how did we get from Chicago to the foothills of the Sierra Madre?

We spent one – two – three! Weeks at my sister's place, having all kinds of fun and doing all sorts of projects. And playing with piles of perfect kittens, watching with deep amusement as our two cats fled from them in terror. The City Museum was devoured (a must for anyone who can walk or crawl), a dumpster filled, painting and sorting and organizing and roofing done, as well as some very fun demolition of a furnace and some ductwork. Interspersed with tea and conversation and delicious meals and nephew wrangling. All good, every bit of it. More, please.

Then a week of time with my fam at the same house we had last year in Indiana, swimming and gaming and talking and puzzling. Mom participated often, with her eyes, sometimes her voice, and sometimes her hands. She chopped and diced and set tables and put together puzzle pieces, watched her grandkids avidly, and watched Dad when she wasn't doing any of the above. That love runs so deep and strong you could calm a storm with it. I think they do, actually. It's what's there, what they've built, and it's carrying them through a constantly changing landscape that looks like it's heading into ever deeper canyons, but the ride is still smooth. Some ripples, but no rapids. It's a braid of love, acceptance, and God, and it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

After our time together we hopped on up to Ken and Tina's (retracing last year's steps again) and followed up on all the progress they'd made on what we started last year, and it was awesome to see. I did a bit more compulsive garage tidying (I truly can't help myself, the list of ones I've ravaged continues to grow) and in the process unearthed a dress that Tina's Mom wore in the 60's, promptly borrowing it for the wedding in CA that was on our radar for August.

Then we hiked up to Chicago and parked at first in Tina's folks' driveway, having missed them entirely in last year's visit there. We did a wee bit of work removing old solar panels and putting up a new mail post, but mostly hung out with my folks, celebrated a 10-year-old, and caught up with friends. I did a few days of Mom-care, filling in most of one week while her regular caregiver was away, and a few days the following week. Coming in off an unpredictable life, it was a remarkably serene and ordered change. We went through photo albums, took walks in the park, shopped and cooked, and once or twice lapsed into uncontrolled and mutual giggling that was a chunk of pure gold that's still warming my heart. Balm, that was. She watched, I worked ... she followed, I directed. She enjoyed, I looked for ways to connect, and worried a wee bit on the side. Not all that different from the mothering she gave me, I don't think.

We moved to my folk's driveway for the next 4 weeks, and spent half of it working on restoring an old playset/treehouse at the Kaisers to working order again. Growth and storms had rendered it unsafe, skewed and bashed in by falling branches, and rotting in places. It was a great learning experience, and one with a very satisfying result. I hear there's been a tent pitched on the upper deck since then, so it's solid enough I guess!

 Before ...

Before ...

 After ...

After ...

Winding down our time there included visiting lots of friends, painting some skylights, putting in a new radiator and building a fan shroud for Matilda (thanks Tim and Rebecca!) and getting to see That's Weird Grandma (thanks Su!), which was a hoot ... Michael wanted to join the cast on the spot, I think. There were many meals out, picnics on the back porch, and even a day at the lake going kayaking with Dad, while Mom watched on shore and was reassured constantly that he was coming back. Sometimes hard to be fully present and enjoying, with the flutter of the flag that reads Last? shadowing your back. Onward. Is there any other option?

Extricating ourselves was unbelievably hard, and if it weren't for Michael's “Let's Go Now!” I'd still be sniveling at the end of the driveway.

We pushed off for the dunes of IN for a few days of R&R, starting to sort out feelings and trajectories and plans. We were down to 3 weeks till the wedding in San Fran, but needed to catch our breath first. We also had a couple visitors who made the trek there to see us, enjoying 3 lovely days with Marie and Carpenter and Auzlo, whose visit we managed to keep a secret from Fynn until he ran into them in front of the campground office. Truly speechless for once :). Mike also came down and kept us lovely company for a few days, bringing music and musings and injections of confidence into wedding outfit choices (platform heels, yes, lovely ones indeed.).

The day after Mike left, we headed out … Westward Ho!

(to be continued ...)

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