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Filtering by Category: fears

gold tried in the fire : part 3 / sifting the ashes


This is my story of the last year, told in six parts. Paragraphs in italics are my dreams, and the dated snippets come directly from my daily journal. I trust my family to forgive me for all that I've shared, because I can't tell this story without including the heart parts … and some of them are raw, and hard to swallow.

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6

sifting the ashes

We got the house tidied up from the whirlwind move that left things all over the place and drawers half emptied. We decided that yes we were taking the camper with us to the beach, so there was an epic sort and removal of the majority of the things and projects the boys (well, Fynn mostly) had flung all over the basement and any other surface that wasn't already covered. A daunting detangle in a space that had been in flux for weeks, and barely kept functional as it was. I also started to get glimpses of how much I'd buried that might start coming to the surface if I dared to relax, and worried a wee bit about that. To top it off, the weather was bitterly cold, and in attempts to empty our black tank before leaving we discovered the valve was frozen. Trying to thaw it with a space heater blew a fuse. I gave up. Our camper isn't built for winter use so the tanks are not heated, and we'd been doing everything we could to keep them from freezing and cracking. We finally pulled out from between the snowbanks on Thursday afternoon, staggering with tiredness, cold, and a dawning elation at being pointed towards the beach and Michael's family.


Two Days on the Road : one freezing night at a truck stop pointed into the 5° air blowing at 20mph and leaving the truck running all night to power the furnace, one frozen and cracked sewer hose, one night in a WV campground that was miraculously open, one warm bourbon at the empty campground's non-empty bar, one tire changed for a couple of ladies stranded with their trailer, one late night arrival, one backing up of a very long driveway with the camper, one cozy tuck in between two huge beach houses, many hugs of welcome.


Seven Days Together : one solo sit in the hot tub, one girls afternoon out, one CodeNames tournament, two family game shows, one beach photo session, two personal breakdowns, four ducks consumed, six fantastic meals that the women didn't have anything to do with, one forging demonstration, 14 life updates given, every day filled to the brim with intensity.


Seven Days Home : one caravan to Raleigh, one fantastic pizza joint, two lovely days with Uncle Dick and Aunt Judy, three days in a familiar state park, one set of taxes almost finished, one lovely Fynn Fort, one night in a free riverside campground on WV land George Washington used to own, one speed bump at 30 mph, one smashed litterbox, one epic camper mess, one long gearing up to return to work, one safe arrival back at 2nd Ave.


We dragged ourselves back to work; emptying the house one box at a time, visiting at Park Ave (the new abode), celebrating Paul's birthday, sitting with Mom on Sunday mornings, and starting to pick away at the overall renovations on the old house. The lists were daunting. Michael spent his days on working on the house, and his nights on communicating with family over some subjects kindled by the time together. I'd assumed for years that Michael and I would be the ones dealing with the cleanout and fixup of 2nd Ave, and Dad had confirmed that in the fall when the decision was made to move them into Stephen and Rene's place. I love working with Michael, and we'd both been looking forward to this for months. So why were we having trouble getting up to full steam ahead?


The cumulative weight of the first six months in Chicago wasn't entirely lifted in the two weeks we'd been gone. I'd barely scratched the surface of anything emotional to be honest, and had come back to more adjustments, endless decisions of how to get rid of things, a preoccupied husband, and a daunting list of things to accomplish. There were more social opportunities now, which were lovely, but we both struggled. Part of the difficulty was due to the transition from a tightly structured schedule as to my responsibilities to Mom and Dad (pre vacation) to a family life with a day job (post vacation), and the resulting re-negotiations of how decisions were made, balanced, and executed. The focus was no longer so narrow, and the emergence from tunnel vision a bit blinding.


We finally found a working groove, got going on spacking and sanding and painting, and Michael's brother Nathan showed up to join the fray, bringing his very welcome electrical and plumbing expertise to the stack of lists now living on the dining room table. The lists that were partly buried under a dish of keys, piles of things to go to Park Ave, envelopes of photos to sort, boxed up teacups to mail, and things to get Dad's input on the next time he stopped by. We sailed jerkily through the next month and I struggled with some resentment at sharing Michael as my work partner, and deep sadness at old issues rearing their heads.

March 1 / Stephen to Mom … “Mom, you raised three little pigs …” Mom “No, I certainly did no…!” … her most coherent response in months!

March 2 / Dreamed I was watching and caring for Grambie

The Sunday mornings I usually spent with Mom were delightful and quiet. Most often just the two of us, though sometimes Michael came along. I came to fully appreciate the changes in our relationship that had come about during her care, and really enjoy the closeness. She wasn't super responsive, but still reacted to things with her eyes and the very occasional word, picked up and ate small snacks with her increasingly gnarled fingers, and listened to stories and music. I'd tell her things, and assume that she knew exactly what I meant. The painful truth was that as fiercely as I'd loved my Grambie (Dad's Mom) during her life, I hadn't felt that same fierceness for my own Mom until the last six months. It made quiet time with her all the sweeter.


3 / Dreamed about an eight-ish year old girl, a “princess”, being driven down a road in a cart, surveying. She saw groups of women in funny handmade green suits walking across fields. The princess character sees them. Freezes for a second, then resumes the ride but is changed. The ladies see her and are a bit wary, but are not threatened.

Being back in Addison, working in the house I grew up in, and temporarily in a very similar social circle to the one in my teens and 20's, was a bit of a mind flip. I'm no longer the same person I was in those years, the one who believed that other people had a right to judge everything we had, did, and wore, because a good bit of our income was based on donations from folks wanting to help out Bible Truth Publishers, where my Dad worked (and still does). I felt I had to always be useful, helpful, and an example to others of a holy and modest Christian. I had to help my family be worthy of the charity that we accepted.


I built that self image on my “approval ratings”, and so never wanted to disappoint anyone, especially not my father. I wanted to be all the things I was supposed to, but the internal dichotomy grew between the image I tried to project, and the person I was covering up in the process. I grew roots of worthlessness and unworthiness, because I could never live up to the standards I set for myself, or felt were being set for me. I tried to be more liked, more loyal, more humble. I also got somewhat proud of how unworthy I was, though I labeled it as piety at the time.

I believe my identity now, at 48, is closer to the 7-year-old who moved to Chicago in 1978 than I've been for nearly 40 years. That girl was confident, rather outgoing, self-assured, happy, and a bit wary of change. She didn't have a self-image to live up to, but knew who she was, and didn't shy away from it. The shift really started to take hold last spring.


A few months before we came to Chicago, I had a dream. It was triggered by having a friend help me dig up the unworthy/worthless roots, which set off a cascading realization as to where so many of my defaults came from. My identity was not rooted in who I was born to be, it was based on what other people thought of me. A slippery slope for sure, and one that I'd scrabbled on for most of my life. I knew in my heart that my true freedom is being unafraid, confident in knowing that I'm loved and approved of by the God who made me (thanks to Jesus), and that love is a gift I was born to share. Divorcing myself from the deep need for my fellow humans' approval was daunting though, and I had to have a little help in getting the process started.

I dreamed that I was in a slowly moving and loosely knit group of people, no known destination or purpose or scenery. Only person I knew was Michael, and I didn't see him but knew he was there. I became aware of a slight warmth and fullness growing in my abdomen, and realized it was pooling blood ... and that I was internally bleeding and it was going to kill me. There was no distress or pain, just curiosity and a sense of very limited time left. I rather enjoyed the feeling, mostly out of curiosity, but also found the warm belly to be comfortable. I thought almost idly of heaven, and thought That Will be Nice, but didn't focus on it.

I started to feel like maybe there were some people I should talk to before I died, and had an itch to call my parents. I don't know if I did or not, nor do I remember any words being spoken at all, but the feeling passed. Possibly because I realized the end was coming soon. I had a more urgent desire to talk to my cousin, and Michael helped me find a room off to the side somewhere where there was a desk and access to a phone somehow. I just made it in the room and into a chair, but could feel my life ebbing away. I had to acknowledge that I didn't have the strength to call and talk, and felt very slightly agitated about that.

I don't remember dying, the dream just ended there, and shifted into a different one in which I ran into a couple more people that I thought I should contact. What came clear to me was that the blood of Christ was filling me up to the point that the false identity (worthless and unworthy) that I'd been building on had to die. I had to be reborn, in my heart and my actions, as nothing more than a child of God, no strings attached. It left me feeling light, strong, and peaceful. I was still drying the wings of this newfound freedom when we got to Chicago in August, and I dove back into the bosom of my birth family.


That's a lot of navel-gazing digression, but I had to lay it out to get to my point. Diving in and being very quickly handed the reins of responsibility, by my Dad, for something I'd never expected to have to do, and then not getting one single iota of judgment from him for any decision that I made, most of which directly affected the life and well-being of the most precious-to-him human on earth? It was my father, and my Father, saying to me that if you do this for me, and for her, and for love, that is all that matters. I do not condemn you, shun you, or judge you as unworthy for any decision that you make. I just love you. There will be gold too. Oh yes, there will be gold. It's not about earning approval at all. It's just about doing the good that's put in front of me, with everything I've got, and trusting the results to God. What immense relief I find in that, and stronger wings too.

As John Prine puts it …

Well I'm thinking I'm knowing that I gotta be going
You know I hate to say so long.
It gives me an ocean of mixed up emotion
I'll have to work it out in a song.
Well I'm leaving a lot for the little I got
But you know a lot a little will do
And if you give me your love
I'll let it shine up above
And light my way back home to you.

Cause you got gold
Gold inside of you
Cause you got gold
Gold inside of you
Well I got some
Gold inside me too

Back to Part 2 / On to Part 4

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gold tried in the fire : part 2 / turning up the heat


This is my story of the last year, told in six parts. Paragraphs in italics are my dreams, and the dated snippets come directly from my daily journal. I trust my family to forgive me for all that I've shared, because I can't tell this story without including the heart parts … and some of them are raw, and hard to swallow.

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6

Turning Up the Heat

Nov 29 / I dreamed that Cedar found my purse, which had been stolen, but wouldn't give it back. I had to poop in public.

The number of people who sent cards, prayed for us all, thought of us, brought meals, worried about my sanity, texted, called, stopped by, and just plain lifted us up, were legion. All of it was lovely. I didn't reach out at all though, rarely answered the phone, and pretty much kept my head down. I felt I had to in order to survive, and that reaching out and touching the world beyond my immediate one was dangerous. It made me lose focus … and yet I needed it too. My regular identity and role in life had all but disappeared in the circumstances, and Cedar, knowing me intimately, was holding on to it for me until I needed it again. Giving me an anchor, a touchstone, a place to find myself again. The tricky part was knowing that I would not come out the other end of this experience the same. The fire would refine me too, or at least get rid of some of the crap. My weaknesses would be exposed, even as I learned and grew.


Managing Mom's care, and the disbursement of all the household possessions, was not a one person job. In all the intricacies of those participating … family interactions, hired caregivers, meals together, and the ever-changing needs of both Mom and Dad … exposed weaknesses abounded, many of them mine. Poor or incomplete communication, blindness to the things our arrival had taken away from others, martyrdom, head-down plowing ahead woven together with control issues, pride, holding grudges, wrong assumptions … just a few of mine that surfaced. Those of us that were together the most often, Stephen and Rene and Paul, Martha and Alex, Michael and I and the boys, and of course Mom and Dad … we found a lot of rough edges, had a lot of hard conversations, and learned to understand each other immeasurably better. It wasn't easy though.


You can't go through intense emotional experiences without some fears and insecurities surfacing, and when we sloshed into the pools of loss that scattered behind Mom towards the end, it got rather slippery. We Rules are pretty adept at buttoning up our feelings, and at least appearing to be stoic in the face of great internal upheaval. We grieve behind closed doors. Hayhoes (Mom's family) seem to come with the wash Warm setting, and are pretty good at letting the tears out when they need to. Neither family, in my experience though, is likely to willingly name the elephants in the room, or address any rough subjects head on, at least not without a fair bit of prodding. We keep things pretty close, and soldier on. There's also a good dose of Wait and See, which means that you take fewer preventative measures than you do remedial ones. This can be hard to marry into. Thankfully though, those in the family who were not born with the last name Rule have introduced a healthy dose of plain speaking and It's Worth a Try! into the mix.


With these inherent biases, I'm guessing I managed to step on Rene's toes more than anyone elses, and my insensitivity and head-down blinders caused me to offend her multiple times. One interaction, which I hope she'll forgive me for talking about, involved a phone call in which I took ownership of some project that I thought would make things easier for her, not realizing that it was yet one more thing that used to be her purview. She felt slighted and upset, and I got equally emotional on my end. We retreated to our corners to reflect, and when we reconnected a few hours later, we both were able to see each other's hearts, and vulnerabilities, and realize that assumptions and fears had sabotaged the entire exchange. She helped me see that taking more responsibility isn't always appreciated, and that not explaining myself better was a big hindrance to understanding. I was beginning to see in all my interactions, with everyone … that if I could see the motive behind a statement, and address what was emotionally driving the comment more than the words themselves, potential conflict often evaporated.

(I find it extremely amusing that just as I finished typing that paragraph, a friend texted me to ask “Is it true that the way Stephen used to breathe would bother you when you guys were younger?” I think I still have some sensitivity issues myself!)


Without getting into any more nitty gritty, over the course of our time in Chicago God worked for good in every single relationship that I had, and could see. Some hugely, some quietly, some loudly. He smoothed edges, prompted realizations, healed breaches, poured on understanding, illuminated fears, fostered empathy, grew patience, taught frank communication, mended breaks, and removed blocks. He knit us together in ways that I didn't quite see coming. No one gave up, and everyone gave it their all. We all found more gold, and were Seen, and loved.

Dec 2 / House emptying progressing, and the reality that it won't be here the next time I come is hitting hard.


Dec 9 / Dad determined to get Mom in the car with the Hoyer lift. We do, and he takes her for a ride to Stephen and Rene's. She was very pleased.

Dec 14 / Dad at the dinner table shared his thought that buying gold tried in the fire … some of that gold is Mom, as she is now. I cried.

As the month rolled by, it started to hit home what an incredibly stable presence Mom was. Her character didn't really change despite the Alzheimers, other than a period years ago where she was still talking a lot while her filters were going, and did some uncharacteristically blunt speaking of her mind. She otherwise had no real shifts in her demeanor, in almost vivid contrast to the rest of us. No anger, fighting back, arguing, or complaining. She quietly and happily kept on … surrounded by our fussing, dancing, swallowing, worrying, rearranging, second-guessing, and stressing. She was the steady thread that we tangoed with, but never knotted. Her presence was unflappable.


By mid December, the fact that Mom was in a downward slide was pretty clear. She started having occasional seizures, and though short, each one took a very visible toll. She was out of it a lot more of the time, drooling frequently, and sleeping longer. Getting responses from her was growing more and more difficult too. As she declined, I struggled with the responsibility. Dad had clearly given me the job of decisions regarding her care for the time being, and he was always careful to not second guess whoever had the job. The worse she got, the fewer options I had to work with. By the end of the year, she was clearly sick, but would perk up for a day here or there, making us think she was on the rebound.

Dec 30 / Everyone off. Sick, tired, scared. Dad and Mom stared each other down for awhile, and she cried. Real pain.”

Jan 2, 2019 / Mom miserable. Could quiet her with “God loves you. Christ is in your heart, the Spirit in your belly.”

Jan 4 / Mom won't drink. Scared that I'm not able to help her. I told Dad that I'm out of options.


On January 5th, after a nudge from her sweet Saturday caregiver Annabelle, and discovering that her blood pressure was dropping, we all agreed she clearly wasn't in a position to be helped at a clinic, and needed immediate intervention. I called 911. They arrived within 5 minutes, and the paramedics got her out the door, down the ramp, onto a gurney, and into the ambulance in a sudden rush that left me almost shaking. Dad rode with her to the hospital, and as they pulled away I stood on the sidewalk with Michael's arm around my shoulders, rather stunned by the sudden and enormous feeling of relief. The responsibility was off of my shoulders.


She was stabilized in a few hours, successfully treated for sepsis stemming from a UTI in a few days, and tested for her ability to swallow with no success. I spent most of each day with with them in the room, reveling in the times that it was just the three of us, with no other visitors, though family came often, and others too. It was lovely, quiet, and peaceful, and she was awake and more alert than she had been in the previous few weeks. One afternoon, Dad coaxed her to say “I love you” back to him, and she clearly tried to respond. We all processed the thought that there was nothing anyone could do though, and that she was not likely to rebound in any real way even though her infection was gone. Letting her go. Hard, but at peace.

The staff started politely working to boot her out of the hospital to some form of home care or hospice, and Dad began working on his own to get her to swallow again. We'd been trying for days to get her regular Dr to return calls, with no success. On Friday afternoon, after murmurs of three or so days of waiting to get into a hospice facility, and researching home health options on our own, Dad's favorite doctor came in. When she heard that we hadn't yet gotten a call back from Mom's GP, she asked his name, said she'd go call him, and came back with the news that Mom had a bed at the nicest hospice in the area, and that she'd be moved there in an hour! It just so happened that Mom's GP was the new head of the facility … God in the details for sure.

She was picked up and moved into a huge beautiful room with a double hospital bed, and every amenity you could think of. Dad moved in with her. The next morning they took her off of all of her meds, and her doctor explained that there was nothing more to do but make her comfortable. Hearing it from the him made the remaining bits of hope fade, the situation clearer, and hearts heavier. There was acceptance, but it was painful.


It only took a day to understand the rave reviews I'd heard about hospice, and wonder at the spirit of nurses who worked there day in and day out, as they bore no resemblance to the ones at the hospital. The focus is on helping folks die with dignity, not fighting to keep them alive, and the peace that permeated the place was tangible. No rushing gurneys, loud noises, beeping monitors, or lights on all night. The only beep and scurry I ever witnessed was a 'bed alarm' when someone had managed to get up that wasn't expected to and they feared a fall. The staff truly take cares of everything, leaving you to just enjoy being together.

If you ask though, they'll tell stories … the lady who lived on chocolate pudding for four years, or the one who walked out to the nurse's station to say “I can't wait for my aunt …” “But she's coming tomorrow!” “No, I can't wait.” and walks back to his room with perfectly good vital signs, goes to bed, and never gets up. There were more, and I became fascinated at how the nurses maintained their empathy and kindness in the face of such constant death and loss.


Mom's brother Danny and his wife Chris arrived the day she got moved, and stayed for several more. Danny got her to smile. Dad got her to sip water with a straw. Then slid a few bites of baby food down her throat. Hope sprouted. The nurses got Dad to eat, despite his assertion that he wasn't hungry. Visitors came and went. Kleenex abounded. Family sings with Paul or Michael playing guitar, the nurses apologizing but shutting the door as we were a bit loud. Stories. Laughter. Mom kept eating. Now there was hope that she might be well enough to transition to home hospice, and the mood in the room clearly shifted. It also became clear that we were the anomaly at our end of the hall, the room next door had changed occupants almost daily, and it was hard to watch.


It was confirmed Mom could move by the weekend, and that “home” now meant Stephen and Rene's place, where the renovations to the in-law apartment were being frantically finished. The final plumbing was whipped together by Michael and our friend Bernie. A whirlwind move of furniture and basics was orchestrated by Rene, several others pitched in, and we managed to bring enough touches of home and pictures and things over that by the time they released Mom two days later, she had turned it into a most warm and welcoming space, with everything they needed already put away. I rode in the ambulance this time, and it started to hit me as they were unloading her and wheeling her into the house. This is it. They are never coming back to 2nd Avenue, that era is over. A lump lodged.

We all had dinner together that night, with Mom pulled up to the table in her wheelchair and even chewing a few bites of chili, and it was a gathering I'd never expected to see happen again. Delicious in every way. The hospice nurse came and went, and I helped tuck Mom in one last time before we left, forcibly swallowing my heart. Our bedtime routine had always been the sweetest part of the day. As we were walking out the front door to go home to the camper at 2nd Ave, Stephen smiled and said “Have you felt the transition yet?” In that moment the final piece hit home … I'm relieved of all responsibility for them both. A bigger lump, another swallow, a bittersweet relief. The baton was passed.


The transition was a hard one for everyone. New roles, new boundaries, changed routines and needs and “wait but whose job is that and how are they going to do it?” Everyone bent over backwards to make it as easy as possible, but there were a lot of changes for everyone, and it took weeks to get it all sorted out. For myself, looking back it reminds me a bit of my feelings when I moved out of my folk's house after college, and into my own place. I didn't go 'back home' for a meal for months, working to establish my independence and territory and way of doing things. My folks clearly felt it, but didn't push me in any way. This was a wee bit like that, from the other side of the fence. Knowing that I needed to keep my hands off and my mouth shut, it wasn't my puzzle to solve or responsibility at all, and I'd just muddy the waters if I tried. We didn't wait months to visit though, and fairly quickly got used to whose living room was used for what, when doors were to be open or closed, and how to navigate visiting in a home with two households in it, that overlapped in so many ways.

I had plenty to do anyway, there was more than enough work at 2nd Ave to keep me busy and out of trouble … and we had a trip to plan! One of the things that I'd had to mentally give up on was going to the Vedder family reunion, which had been scheduled to start on Jan 26th in NC. Somewhere in Mom's slide in December, I'd tearfully let go of the assumption that I'd make it there, and left it that if God could work miracles, and let me be free to go without leaving Mom at death's door or being in danger of missing a funeral, then that was great. I did not, however, see any way in which He could pull that off. It clearly looked impossible. She ended up in the hospital on January 5th, and I mentally and guiltily calculated the possibilities that she could die and a funeral be had before the 26th, and set it aside. She moved to hospice on the 11th. I went through the same drama in my head, still not seeing how it might work. I wasn't counting on it, no, but I certainly hadn't quite let it all go, had I? It wasn't until the doctor OK'd her move to home hospice that I allowed myself to believe the trip could, and probably would, happen. She was happily settled in their new home by January 19th! A miracle for sure.

Back to Part 1 / On to Part 3

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


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 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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Two mornings ago, I came into the house where my family had gotten together for a few days (we slept in the camper in the driveway) and my sister informed me that the boys had made butter before I got up. The Boys would be Fynn and Alex, my sister's youngest son. The two that had been nearly inseparable for a month now, but periodically needed to be separated as they tend to squabble a fair bit … two last-borns competing for attention I think. But, butter! They'd made butter. I found a half pint jar on the table, with a nice golden lump swimming in some cloudy liquid. It didn't appear like they'd used any, but simply had the fun of shake/churning it before I ever got out of bed. I really wish my dreams were as efficient as that.

Not making any sense? I thought not. I haven't been for awhile now … my thoughts churning and flip flopping all over the place, without any real answers or solutions or clarity appearing at all. No buttah, just lots of queasy stomachs and cloudy hearts.

Back when I started homeschooling, my sis-in-law warned me that I'd be confronted with my own issues in ways I never had before, so be prepared. I was a bit baffled, but soon saw exactly what she meant. Time together with someone who has large quantities of the same DNA and spirit and abilities that you do can be utterly maddening, delightful, and problematic. You see yourself reflected, amplified, and not always in the best light either.  No one warned me that this trip would do that all over again, but in deeper and more fundamental ways. That I'd be confronted with memories of all kinds … things I'd buried, feelings I'd stuffed, and wounds I'd never licked. Relationships lost. People I'd loved. Personas I used to be.

Tangled together with all of this is the undercurrent of my mom's continued slide into Alzheimers, and what it means for me and my family as a whole. I'm already utterly uprooted physically, I'm watching one of my foundation stones crumble, and I'm trotting around the country throwing myself into the laps and homes of past friends, new friends, relatives, and all kinds of people who know me directly or indirectly, get a lot of my past, and often have at least a fraction of an idea of who I am and what makes me tick. Lots of mirrors, lots of shards.

Churned, but not seeing much gold yet.

So part of what's made me able to even articulate my current state is thinking back to the 6 weeks we spent on the East coast of Florida, in the Hobe Sound / Jupiter / West Palm Beach area (picking up right where I left off in the last post).  Michael had committed to another Sol LeWitt job a couple of months earlier, so we'd had to prearrange where we'd be when that started. I'd also been invited on a cruise with my sis and friends, leaving from Miami, so parking ourselves on the coast near friends in Jupiter just made a lot of sense.


Michael's job started first, so the day after we got set up in a campground in Hobe Sound, we shipped him off for 12 days of scribbling in NYC. The kids and I settled in, and then went to visit Rebecca and her family … the Rebecca I've known as long as I can remember. My first concrete memory of her is playing on her family's rooftop in Lima Peru, making pea soup out of the pellets we found up there … only to discover it was rabbit turd soup thanks to the abandoned hutches left by the previous owners. I could go on for days … countless long summer weekends playing on her farm in southern IL (driving 4 wheelers all over the place while our dads talked for hours), wandering San Salvador in rattletrap taxis and on foot when our families visited there together in our teens, 3 weeks backpacking in Europe, an infamous spring break in AL that resulted in spending a night stranded in a gym with the residents of an old folks home, after we tried to get home ahead of a once-in-20-year snow storm. Her gregariousness balanced my shyness beautifully … we were always friends.

We drifted apart somewhat in our 20s thanks to a split in the church, and after her wedding we didn't see each other for what turned out to be many years. A couple phone calls, finding each others blogs, and news via friends kept us up on basic life events, but we'd not had more than a cursory conversation in nearly 20 years. I missed her though, and was pretty sure our kids would get along famously if we'd give them the chance. Within 5 minutes of walking into her house, I felt right at home. Open hearts, open book, open door. Picking up for the most part right where we left off.

By the time Michael got back the kids were fast friends, and we'd been woven right into the community she and her husband John have beautifully gathered around them, including going to church with them, and meeting old and new friends there too. Waters I'd barely stuck a toe into for the previous 12 years … but ones that are a huge part of who I am and where I come from. My tribe by birth. The tribe where my real foundation as a Child of God was inadvertently trumped by Child of BTP, Daughter of Don, Granddaughter of Albert, Great Great Grand of A.H. Rule.  Shoes that pinched just a bit too much when it came to my freedom to worship, and so I'd left them on the mat and backed tearfully out the door ten years ago. A massive churning, that was.

So going to church with John and Rebecca was no little thing. Not to my gut, my heart, my history. I dipped a toe in, wondering if I'd get scalded, but trusting too that if Rebecca's heart was representative of what I'd find there, I had nothing to worry about. Love won, hands down. Hearts were just as open as I used to find them … even when my last name and history were figured out … and my fears crumbled. I was met with warmth, understanding that surpassed anything I'd expected, and offers of friendship and work and help.

Lots more Florida pics if you click this photo.

Lots more Florida pics if you click this photo.

Help that I was still afraid to ask for mind you, for fear of taking advantage somehow. Need won out over fears however, and when my brakes failed as I was about to pick up Michael from the airport, I eventually called John and he came right over, diagnosed the problem, took me to pick up Michael, bought parts (and then more parts), and had the burst brake line fixed by the next afternoon. Love and kindness, that was.

Community loves on each other, helps each other, and looks out for each other. Shares when it can, builds when it can, and reaches out when it can. Knits itself into a unit of some sort that functions best when all its parts are working. The church I grew up in excelled at community, and still does in many cases. I missed that almost more than anything, after walking away … it was a huge piece of my foundation. My sense of belonging somewhere, to something bigger than myself. I've found bits of it elsewhere … in a co-op preschool the boys attended in Brooklyn, on our block in NYC in the later years, and in the delightful neighbors we had on the Delaware River in PA. Truly developed communities, that worked together like a family.

So to find community in Florida, in a group I was no longer nominally a part of, was somehow a shock. A heart-twisting one, given that I'm not willing to give up the freedom I have to worship elsewhere in order to 'belong' to that group again. But it showed me I didn't have to belong to contribute, nor do I have to give up what I believe is right. If I love across invisible fences, they have a tendency to disappear. They're only fences if I treat them as one. Love wins.

We left Florida after I got back from a week of utter bliss on a boat in the Caribbean with 3 women whom I adore, and I took with me the feeling that something had healed (in me), something had grown (my hope), and something was breaking (my heart) the more we started wandering north. Alabama and New Orleans and Mississippi and Arkansas and St Louis were all still to come, but each one was a step closer to Chicago, to my folks, and to a year's worth of changes in my Mom.

My beautiful Mom who now needs 24-hour care, is confused often, and has less and less ability to access the memories that are becoming locked in her head thanks to Alzheimers. There's been a guilt war waged in my heart for months now, as there have been hints here and there that maybe I should go be her caretaker as I'm 'free' at the moment. While I don't feel called to do that right now (and my family would have very little of me if I did), I trust that if I am hollered at, I will listen. In the meantime, my inherited and well-exercised tendency to guilt is alive and kicking … some things are hard to let go of, yes?  I'd do well to take notes from my Dad, whose acceptance of what is happening to Mom, and steadiness in the face of constant change and curtailing of his own freedoms, is rather astounding. A glimpse of that buttery gold, methinks.

Carry on, Mr. Bowditch.


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“The One that Got Away, and the One that Didn't”


We left Palmetto and needed a few solo days as a family before Michael took off for a Sol LeWitt install in NYC, leaving the boys and I parked on the east coast of Florida, near friends in Jupiter. We didn't have a campsite booked when we pulled out, and didn't really have a budget for anything, so aimed for a boondocking site that was mentioned somewhere online, supposedly on the edge of a USAF Bombing Range in central FL. Right up the boys' alley, and so I did my best to navigate us in the right direction. We pulled up at the gate at long last, only to discover that all three camping areas were “Closed for a military event” and that was that. When we asked for any local alternatives, the gate guard mentioned a County Park on the other side of the lake we'd been circling, before allowing that “You can turn around right over there ...” and shooing us off.

We pulled around the bend and out of sight before pulling over to do some Googling and some calling. There's a mighty LOT of Googling and calling on this trip by the way, mostly done by me. I don't know how we'd do what we do without it, though the Atlas is pretty handy too, and lives on my lap when we're driving. But back to the side of the road along Arbuckle Lake in central Florida, just out of sight of the tight-lipped USAF gatekeeper. Michael called the County Park number, and got a very down-to-earth guy named John (I can ALWAYS tell the character and accent of who he's talking to, as he unconsciously mimics every single one), who said that they had plenty of sites for a mere $22 a night, and only a couple spots were currently taken. As I was really hoping not to WalMart it for the next two nights, we headed the long way around the lake (the USAF owned half the perimeter), and several phone calls and a hitch hiker later, we finally found John. Google didn't know where he was, once again telling us “You Have Arrived” in the middle of a deserted road. (A paved one this time, however!)

John chatted, showed us possible sites, offered parking advice, chatted some more, talked about his grandkids and the history of the place, mentioned the gators and their usual hunting spots, pointed out the fence 15' from our door which marked the border with the other side of the USAF Bombing Range from where we'd started, and made us feel right at home. Michael parked, and I raced through inside setup while he chatted with John some more. We seem to have that bit down to a science now … Michael and the boys unhitch, put down the leveling jacks, stow the sway bars and all that, and get the whole camper leveled out. I do the power and water and sewer hookups, and move all the things inside back to their “camped” places that were secured elsewhere during travel.

We kept the cats in the first night, not willing to let them out after dark, though Michael took the boys out on a moonlight wander, which included the sighting of an owl. The next morning we got up for sunrise (yes, really!) and scoped out the lake, the dock, and the humongous wild grapefruits just out of reach over the fence. The USAF fence. Just barely out of reach, mind you.

We mucked around, did a little hike, and let the cats out but kept a pretty close eye on them as the gators were known to stroll past our chosen campsite at times. We had a little point of land between our campsite and the water, which was defined by The Fence, a reedy bit on the lakefront where gators were known to feed, and cypress trees along the third side that bordered the boat ramp inlet. A magical little spot with some benches built into the trees, and piles of lizards scampering through the cypress knees. A veritable cat paradise.

My nervousness about the cat/gator situation was much higher than Michael's, and honestly it's higher than the rest of them pretty much all the time when it comes to the cats. I'm the natural worrier, and wary of rule-breaking, as well as of the cats getting into fights that they very likely might lose. Most places require leashes, which we have and sometimes use, but Sparrow HATES it, while Edmund has learned to tolerate it. We often go against campground rules though and let them wander, after checking with the vibe of the place, and sometimes with our immediate neighbors. The dangers of local wildlife and traffic are assessed, as well as the likelihood of offending others or angering the campground hosts. Most places people seem to gladly turn a blind eye, or more often truly enjoy them, sometimes trying to get the cats to come and have their ears scratched. They never comply, but skitter just out of reach. This place had no rules, just cautions from John about the gators.

So the second night there, Michael gets it in his head that it's a crime to let those massive grapefruits fall off and rot, and he's determined to get one. He knows better than to tell me what he's plotting however (see the previous paragraph) and so the first thing I know about it is him coming in the door of the camper with one of the grapefruit cradled in both hands, and a rather triumphant grin on his face. He explained his process of making sure that our camper was between John and the chosen tree, and how he'd just barely hopped the fence. It was truly the best grapefruit I think I've ever eaten, and chock full of seeds, which we saved. So delicious in fact (stolen fruit and all), that the next day a second one was procured with the assistance of a certain smallish someone standing on his father's shoulders. Ahem.

The second afternoon was a lazy one, and I was sitting outside the camper reading, keeping half an eye on the cats' whereabouts, after scanning the water and not seeing any gator heads at the time. Lost in my book, I suddenly heard the SNAP of jaws at the tip of the point, and saw thrashing and splashing through the bushes. Terrified, I threw down my book, hollered in the camper that there was “a gator that just caught something on the point and I don't know where the cats are!”, before taking off at a hesitant trot towards the point. I quickly found Sparrow, unceremoniously tossed her inside, and went back to hunting for Edmund. It was clear that if he was dinner then that was it, but I called, went as close to the still twitching water as I dared, and then ran the other way, hunting and calling.

I finally found him waltzing slowly up to the camper from the other end of the park, and my heartbeat began to slow a wee bit. It only took about 2 minutes in all, but it was an awful two minutes. I know it's the price I pay for letting them out, and the risk we take, but the alternative is miserable cats as they've never known being cooped up. So be it.

I suspect what did turn into gator dinner was a heron or something like that, though I never went close enough to check for floating feathers.

Lots more photos here.

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10 things, one year, 4,517 miles


Christmas Eve marked the one-year anniversary of the start of this adventure, and over 4500 miles on the road so far.  It's been full of surprises, realizations, growth, and much joy.  Without further ado, 10 things that stand out for me about the first year of heartLOOSE …

1. Adapting to life in the camper has been way easier than I expected, in terms of the physical space and the ramifications that has on four people plus two cats. I've very rarely found myself wishing for something I didn't bring, and out-of-sight-out-of-mind is proving pretty accurate. The lack of kitchen counter was rather sucky until about two months ago, and now is no issue at all thanks to our reconfiguration of the kitchen table area! We have a lovely 6' long wooden counter that can either be 12” or 24” wide, and when not in use we have an extra wide couch area instead. Yay!

2. I didn't know how much more in love I'd be with my husband after a year of this, I was really afraid that we'd both miss personal time and space so much we'd get pretty cranky with each other. While that's happened a few times, it's nothing like I thought it might be. I love working with him and being with him more than ever, and actually parenting together? That's nearly a first … we so rarely were both with the kids at the same time in the past, other than a few evenings a week, and some weekends. It changes everything. In a very good way, and I love it.

3. People we visit are far more open than I ever expected. I wrote a bit about that last month, but it continues to amaze me. Open hearts and open doors … the trust, the vulnerability, the sharing of daily life in all its beauty and pain and sometime drudgery. Anything done together ceases to be drudgery though. Sharing the burdens and the joys for a bit is energizing, eye-opening, and delightful. It's a kind of intimacy that I had much more of when I was younger, and the sometimes false sense of connection I get via social media is no real replacement for face-to-face and side-by-side.

4. I thought we'd be on the West Coast by now! Twelve months and we're right back in the spot where we spent the 2nd night of the trip, in Knoxville?! While it is home base for us, I figured we'd have made it through a lot more states by the one-year mark. Hitting roadblocks in the first 5 months is the biggest reason for that, but we're also staying places longer than I anticipated. There's just more to do, and more willingness to let us do stuff, as well as the need for downtime.

5. Speaking of downtime, we do need it, a surprisingly large bit of it actually, in between visits. One or two nights on our own aren't enough … we need space to be just a family, to recalibrate our relationships with each other, and to concentrate on the things we can't do easily while we're “docked”. Things like writing, phone calls, do-nothing days, and getting stuff fixed and modified in our living space. And most importantly, head-space to figure out what's next, and take stock of the bigger picture.

6. I think I've learned more about myself in the last year than in the previous ten. A surprising and delightful side effect of getting out of my comfort zone, having lots of deep conversations and friend-mirrors, and being unbound from the usual constraints of time and expectations and commitments. I'm loving being unmoored, but had no idea it would help me see myself more clearly. Change of scenery, change of perspective. Similar to that vacation-inspired epiphany that makes you see your real life as needing a tweak or even a wholesale makeover once you get home. I've got an IV-drip of that going on. It's not all vacation mind you, and in fact far less so than you would think. But it's a real chance to gain viewing points, perspectives, and skills for choosing to act and react differently to things. Some of those things are absorbed just by watching relationships work, and some come by being introduced directly to new ways of thinking, healing, and interacting. A smorgasbord of information and knowledge.

7. Living one day at a time is easier, and more peaceful, than I ever expected. I knew I need to let go of a lot of things to make this way of life work, and yet I feel like the first five months of feeling stuck were partly because I didn't trust God to really take care of us. We thought we had to do more. Plan more. Become side-income wizards before we could take the first step. Hah! We just had to take the first step … and then the next one, and then the next one, and so on … one. day. at. a. time. Living on faith that if we do what's in front of us, and move on when we feel it's time to go, that it will all work out. And so far, it has. The blessings keep piling up … mostly in ways that have nothing to do with money, and everything to do with life.

8. It's become screamingly obvious to me that emotional work is just as important as physical work. For all of us. Not just the four of us, but everyone we meet. People are increasingly hungry for meaningful connections, and maybe I'm just extra hungry after two years of living without much contact with anyone but my kids for five days a week, but we need to spend time connecting. To listen, and not judge. To be heard, and still loved. To see, and speak truth. To hear, and understand. To learn, and change heart. It's all as vital as putting food on the table and fuel in the truck. We need to love, and be loved, and it happens best in person.

9. I love working together with my family. I know I'm repeating myself but it's true that it's one of the most personally delightful parts of this trip for me. Not to mention, I'm learning a LOT and reveling in that too … I do love adding new things to my skill set. It feels healthy, and good for all of us. We're not harnessed together, but we do dance, and it's deeply satisfying. We haven't yet gotten the boys to feel the same about it all, and while they never may, it's my wish that they at least learn how to work through all this, and then they'll be equipped to do anything they choose to apply themselves to in the future. They're not there yet though, and I'm hoping to find a better way to teach that, soon.

I just re-read the list so far, wondering what 10 should be, and it jumped out at me from number six …

10. I'm loving being unmoored … living the wandering life. I was not at all convinced that would be the case, and thought that being rootless would be a huge strain on my routine- and home-loving heart. So far, that fear is completely unfounded. I don't crave schedules, or a fixed address, or steady income. I do miss having a regular community, but I'm finding ways around that. I have no idea how long this will last, but I trust it to take me at least as far as the end of the trip, wherever and whenever that is. It's a bit like I've come over to the dark side (no plans! disorder! irresponsible freedoms! unconventional freaks!) and feel way more at home than I ever thought I would. My Type A tendencies (except when it comes to the boys' Lego habits and haphazard cat care) are in remission, and may stay there indefinitely.

It's been an exceptionally interesting year. One that has defied expectations, and slithered away from too much definition. It's been, simply ... rich, remarkable, gut-wrenching, savory, and full. Thank you God, thank you friends, hosts, family, and followers. Yours is the love on which we feast, the hope which we carry, and the work which we do.


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Liberté, égalité, fraternité


I had a dream last night in which I was in some kind of school/college setting, and everyone else was wearing blue plastic watches given to them by the school, but I didn't have one as I'd just arrived somehow. I took my place at the end of a long conference-type table with all the other students, and tried to figure out what was going on and how to catch up.


At 5am the sounds of the highway next to us started to pick up, and I woke for the first time, the dream nearly drifting away from me completely. Daylight? Why was there warm light seeping through the mini blinds? I rolled over and pried two slats apart with barely functional fingers, and then remembered … we're camped in the WalMart parking lot … the lights never do go off, do they? The lights themselves weren't actually visible as the window was covered in beaded moisture, some of it drifting in rivulets down the pane. A night's worth of breath, condensed and pooling in the window frame. I felt hungry, slightly stirred up, and a bit adrift. Should I get up? Go back to sleep? How cold is it out there now anyway? I picked up my phone and wasted some of the last of its battery life checking the weather. Summersville WV, 21 degrees, but feels like 17.

I chose to haul myself out from under the two wool blankets, cotton quilt, and sheet that keep us toasty on most nights, flipped the covers back down so both Michael and my side of the bed would stay warm and Sparrow wouldn't be covered, and padded to the bathroom, past the green-wrapped bodies of my gangly boys half falling out of their bunks. A pretend flush (you hope you've peed enough to send the toilet paper down without any added water), and I scuttled back to bed, the camper swaying slightly with each step as we hadn't bothered to put down the stabilizers for one night and were still hitched to the truck.

Back to sleep? Why that dream? And the other really bizarre one about part of my toe falling off? Really? I want to write. I need to write. I wish I could write in my head while I half-sleep in that delicious skid towards the deep trenches of rest where you're too far under to dream, and then have it magically transfer itself into a word .doc the next morning. I need to tell the stories, and need to have them read. I don't know where I fit anymore. I haven't a community. Not one I can see, or one that sees me regularly at least, and worries if I don't show up. I feel utterly invisible, except when I blog. Or Instagram. Or post on Face Book. I have incredibly great conversations at every house we stop at, and love every minute of it. Then we move on.

I bring bits of each person along with me … snippets of conversation, memories, recipes, advice, new books to read, things to pray for, and the feeling that I was truly part of their household for awhile. Let in both the heart door and the back door. All in … briefly a very real part of their daily lives, and not just walking past the warm window casting its glow into the dusk, wondering how that family lived and what went on in their house. I can't tell you how many windows I've wondered over in my almost 45 years, it's tens of thousands by now I think. And now I'm actually getting into some of those living rooms, and it's the most fascinating thing ever. A growing trail of places that I know, and people that I love, from the inside.

So why am I dreaming about nondescript school life and feeling behind? Perhaps I have an inkling that living sans-watch, as we do now, is going to make it hard to integrate again into a more fixed life. So be it, but the watch was only part of it. They'd all been together for some period of time, doing life together, and I was just arrived. It's the community that I miss I think. The knowledge that I'm a part of some greater collection than just us four, and that I have a meaningful part in it. I have no doubt that I DO have that, I just can't see it at the moment. Can't feel it a lot of the time, either. It's a new kind of lonely. It always happens, and I just now realized that's part of the process going on in my heart. The more the love, the more the potential for feeling alone. It's happened at with marriage, kids, and how this. I'm stealing from one campfire to the next, taking treasures with me, and my heart now knows exactly what it feels like to stand in Jane's kitchen and chop carrots next to the sink while she stirs the stew and I watch her neighbors run their dogs in the twilight. It knows that Erica's probably planning her outing for Wednesday, and putting Kayla to bed in the next 20 minutes. That John's puttering around his basement getting tools for some project, and Marcie's taking the dogs out for the last time before bed, shivering in the cold but not quite ready to put on a winter jacket. The list is endless, the heart is stretching yet again.

I can't see the whole picture. I feel it being stitched together though, with heart strings and prayer bits and smashed fingers and new understandings and shared lives … I just have to get my bearings a bit every time the scene changes. Figure out how to assimilate what I gained, process what it all means, and check that my heart is intact and my mind still my own. I'm a fitter-inner, and historically have played the chameleon a bit if I'm not sure how my opinions will be received. This no longer works, and in some ways the constant scene-changes are facilitating the growing tendency to speak my mind. I'm just not sure what it's doing to the whole story. The one I'm writing without words, but with my life. I like to KNOW, and this I can't. I like to feel SURE, and that's now reserved for the fewest of the few things. I like to BELONG, but am leery of being boxed in or judged. So I'm gathering up the warmest stones and most interesting bits of fireside chat and relationship gold, and praying that when they're no longer wet from the current (and tears) of this journey, that I'll find them even more worthy of carrying onward.


I did go back to sleep, woke once more to eat a banana in the half dark, and then slept again till just before 8, when a brilliant sunrise started drying up the condensation on Michael's window and warming the room up a bit.

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