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Filtering by Category: leaving

gold tried in the fire : part 6 / well I got some gold inside me too


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

well I got some gold inside me too

Dad showed up the next morning, sans sleep, and put himself back to work on the deck. We all wobbled a good bit. Some of us limped along, some of us worked ourselves ragged, some of us didn't sleep much, some of us slept a lot.


Michael went back to LA and spent two more weeks on his installation job, while the boys and I did a few small things on the house, and spent a long weekend in PA helping surprise a friend for her 50th birthday. It was a lovely sort-of-head-clearing trip, with great conversations and some deep sleep.

Sol LeWitt Wall drawing #89 being installed at MOCA Geffen in LA. More than 1,500 6” squares with lines in four directions.

Sol LeWitt Wall drawing #89 being installed at MOCA Geffen in LA. More than 1,500 6” squares with lines in four directions.

Back in Chicago, I struggled with feeling flat, untethered, and invisible. Intimidated by the amount of work to do on the house, and very limited in my energy levels. Limping for sure.

Michael got back from LA very late one Friday night, and at 6:40 the next morning a dumpster was dropped off in the driveway, as we had deck and bathroom demolition debris to get rid of. I wake up to a loud backup BEEP-BEEP-BEEP right outside our bedroom window, realize that the 6:45am alarm I'd set for the 7am drop off I'd been promised was useless, throw a sweatshirt and slippers on over my garish leggings-as-PJs and run out the door, nearly bumping into the side of the delivery truck. I'd had a very short and “yup”-punctuated conversation with a U-Fill-It man to arrange the drop off, and as I walk up to the driver's window, which starts a good 18 inches above the top of my head, I hear a “Well I didn't expect you to come out of there!” delivered in an amused and measured Mr. Rogers-ish drawl. It turns out he is the one I'd spoken to on the phone, and the price is $30 cheaper than I thought I'd heard. After he drops the dumpster right where I want, and scrawls me a receipt on a piece of notebook paper torn out of the same kind of little spiral-bound thing Dad keeps in his pocket, he allows that “Since I got it dropped right on the first try, and you're happy with the price, my day is DONE and I should just go back home right now!” He then tells me to “just call when you want it gone” and pulls out of the driveway, dwarfing Matilda on the way by. As I head back into the camper in the hopes of more sleep, I see that not only is Michael now standing by the garage grinning from ear to ear, but the neighbor next door is also intrigued, though still pretending to take care of his dogs from the front porch. I think we were all equally amused, and was grateful for a humorous start to the day.


We started to find our groove again, though still tired. The deck was finished, the bathroom demolished and started over, and we fit in some lovely meals with friends that hadn't been possible before. Mom's birthday rolled around, and nibbled at our hearts. I filled some of the hole by making time to write letters, which helped me think about things and process some memories and feelings. I still love the exercise of writing long-hand, once I find a pen or pencil that feels just right. My thoughts seem to come out a bit differently that way too.


Dad took a big job off of the schedule by hiring a roofer who was pretty hungry for work, and I was delighted. We were still pretty loosely connected in our family of four, scattered mentally, and running on fumes. As my thoughts started to ramble a bit towards what might happen after we left Chicago … land and building and putting down our own roots … I felt the exhaustion nibble away at the hope that we'd have enough energy to get the whole dream going. “Feeling old. Scared-of-starting-from-scratch old.” We had to let it go, and just focus on finishing well.


In late May, the lists we'd made months ago and then buried were dug out and posted on doors all around the house, and it started to make finishing seem more possible. There were plenty of things to cross off, and it made the place feel more like a work zone and less like my old home. Appliances were serviced, and a few more big checks written. Rooms started to get finished and staged for sale, and more and more things dragged out to the curb for anyone to take, or dropped off at charity.


Dad came over as often as he could, and started arriving at 9am on Saturday mornings in his work clothes, carrying a pair of Venti Starbucks coffees. Bernie spent every free day he had working on painting outside and plumbing and drywall and flooring. He was updating and finishing what he'd started back in 1984, when he designed and helped build the addition that took our small 3 bedroom ranch and turned it into a 4-ish bedroom house with plenty of space for guests and entertaining. His attention to detail made Michael and I feel quite a bit better about how our approach to painting and refinishing had gotten a bit obsessive, while Dad noted our mutual approaches with humor, patience, and ultimately, real appreciation.

The kitchen was left for last, and the soft spot in the floor by the sink had to be addressed. Under a single sheet of vinyl flooring, it was tricky to fix without having to redo the entire floor, or replace more than just the rotted part of the subfloor. They came up with a system, removed a whole bank of cabinets and the sink and dishwasher, peeled back the vinyl and part of the wall … and discovered a deserted mouse condo, complete with a neat row of drained mini cream containers and the ID tag that belonged to Chico, Mom and Dad's last cat who had been dead for a good 10 years at least! It was kind of fun to remove all the previous layers of flooring in that spot, and match the various colors up to the layers of paint that Michael had sanded off of the old back door. I love piecing together old house clues into a story.


The final stretch, the loooong stretch, took up the last few weeks of June, and then slid into July. We'd hoped to leave by July 4th, but there was still a garage to clean out, driveway to refinish, trees to trim, stuff to dispose of, hardware to find and install, carpets to clean, things to label, freezers to empty, paperwork to sort and fill out, prices to set, birthdays to celebrate, last dinners with family, last chats with the neighbors, last trips to drop things off at Park Ave and reStore and BTP (Dad's work) and whatever thrift store happened to still be open.


Somewhere in those last two weeks we also had the camper worked on, the truck worked on, passport applications submitted (just in case), the mountains of stuff we'd put in the house brought back out and sorted, bins bought to store the excess that had been acquired since we last tried to pack it all in, flowers watered one more time, and finally all of our stuff crammed and jammed back into Matilda and the camper. A seemingly endless flurry of lasts and oh-well-that-won't-happens and feelings and memories and hopes and aches and did-you's. Then that long late afternoon wait for the boys, who sat on the porch in the sun while I finally went over every corner of that house and property, taking pictures and inhaling it all for one last time. It felt full of love, lit with memories, and ready for someone else. Another letting go, another good end.


I never expected all the gold. The things I did expect; working with Michael in our usual easy way on the house, helping Dad more than Mom, spending a month or two … none of them turned out anything like I imagined. I had no idea of the depths I'd have to go to to care for Mom, or the strength I'd find in utter dependence on God in order to do it for so long. The nearly crushing weight of the responsibilities I'd be given, and coming to the absolute end of myself in that arena, only to discover that the end result was the healing of a fear that I'd held onto for 40 years … disappointing my Dad. That the relationship I had with my sister-in-law Rene could grow so much deeper and wider, and more transparent and lovely than it ever was.


I never envisioned that Stephen and I would find a shared joy in more than puns and walks and photography battles, discovering a language of the eyebrows and eyes and heart that went well beyond our childhood button-pushing (though it's still alive and well!). That Martha and I would spend months together in the home we grew up in, holding each other up, and burrowing even deeper into the certainty that we are mutually loved, seen, adored, and needed. That the boys would get to spend so much time with their cousins, and get past the bumps of teenage-hood and competitiveness and into the easy enjoyment of each other's company.


Who knew that my Mom, in her completely helpless state, could be so big, loving, delightful, and heart-responsive that I'd fall in love with her so hard and so deep I'd wonder why I ever gave up on that kind of relationship with her years ago. That her shoes would sit next to Grambie's in the doorway of my heart.


That my father, who I've adored as long as I can remember, and canoed with, worked for, spelunked behind, renovated houses with, traveled alongside, learned fearlessness from, given birth in front of, and thought the world of … that he would open up his heart to me, letting me see the vulnerability I thought was in there but was always hidden. That we'd share the sweetest communion we've ever had while walking Mom to the door of heaven. That I would get to hold her right hand, and watch him, as she took her last breath.

I'm thankful from every nook and cranny of my still-tired body for every single bit of the last year, glad to now be looking at it in the rear-view mirror, and working on finding my stride and voice as the next phase comes into view.


Back to Part 5

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gold tried in the fire : part 4 / refocusing the flame


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

refocusing the flame

March 15 / Working with M was the cherry that came after caretaking. Nathan has eaten part of it.

March 17 / Bawled in pm … Letting go of “needs”. Long ago loss of church (we called it meeting) as support and home, 4N405 as home, Mom and Dad as home, land requirement as home … letting go of a need/want for all of that in order get rid of the holes, and feel whole.

It's clear that in the thick of things (sorry Nathan), I wasn't all about trusting and accepting and doing things out of love, there was still a lot of I Want and I Need and I Deserve getting in the way of going full steam on the good that was in front of us. Full steam was really half steam at this point, and we still couldn't seem to find a rhythm that worked.


Michael signed up for a Sol LeWitt art install in LA in April. I knew it was right, but didn't relish the thought. The boys sadly gave up on going to TN for a camping trip, it just couldn't be worked in. Fynn started countless projects that stalled for lack of help from his parents. Cousin Ashriel came for five days, and he and Paul helped Douglas belatedly celebrate his 17th birthday. The deck re-do got underway, and Dad came over often to help. Nathan finished up his work, and headed back East.


The boys got roped into the cover-the-floor/clean/scrape/power-sand/spack/hand-sand/touch-up/vacuum/clean/paint routine on every wall and ceiling in the house, and did a lot of yard work and deck work too. Mid month, the deck was looked at by Bernie (our architect friend, the kind that spends all his days off helping you with your projects and then tries to take you out to dinner) and the half-fix we'd been pursuing was deemed unwise. The deck was ripped out down to the piers, and started over. I painted trim and windows till my eyes crossed. Menards started feeling like a second home, and the receipts piled up. In sync and full steam or not, we were making real progress.


Martha was in town when her birthday rolled around in early April, and she sat with Mom that morning. I chose to go to church with my family, and most folks stayed around for pot-luck dinner afterwards. Dad went straight home to be with Mom and Martha for lunch, and I felt a strong urge to do the same, so followed him back to Park Ave. Mom didn't seem to be feeling well, and was reluctant to eat much. I fed her while Dad ate, and the four of us sitting around their small kitchen table filled it up perfectly. I didn't know at the time, but I believe it was the last meal she took at the table. She started sleeping more and more, and wasn't really into eating or swallowing much. Dad realized she was hitting the “all sleep” stage, and fought it a bit just to make sure. We were back to where we were three months ago in the hospital … sad, torn, and getting realistic about her prognosis.


Stephen took the lead in getting funeral plans started, doing lots of research, and organizing things to share with Dad when he was ready. My very first reaction was “aren't you assuming a lot?” but I very quickly became thankful that he was taking the lead on it all, and saw he was clearly right that Mom's time wasn't too far off. Martha decided not to go back home, though she'd only planned to stay for a week, and we started showing up almost every evening at Park Ave for a sing around Mom's bed. The fact that she was at home, and all of us kids were there, made it all so much nicer than it could have been.

April 16 / Mom tried to purse her lips for a kiss!


I started spending most of my days at Park Ave too, and Rene adjusted to feeding increasingly unpredictable numbers of people. We all were softer, and sometimes edgier too, depending on where we were at in our processing. Every day I wondered if this was the day I should spend the night, just in case it was her last.

April 17 / Read to Mom my friend Hannah's vision of being presented in heaven to her Father. Cried.

April 19 / She woke up a tiny bit. Last day she was up in the wheelchair.


On the 20th, I stayed the night in Mom and Dad's room. She hadn't been awake all day, and seemed to be completely unresponsive. Once Rene got her as comfy as she could in bed, on her side to ease her rough breathing, Dad and I shared the watch. I spooned with Mom all night in her hospital bed, watching her breathe. “Can you not watch with me one hour?” playing through my head. I was utterly exhausted, and dozed on and off. Woke Dad at 5 when her breathing got really shallow, and we watched her till the sun came up, wondering if she'd go as it did. She didn't.


Mom skipped a few breaths in late afternoon, then was once again steady all night. I tried to watch with Dad, but we were both so exhausted he decided we should just go to sleep, and trust that she'd be there in the morning. She was. I slept in the chair, but from 12 to 1am I perched at her side and watched. I was reminded of Douglas' birth. “When will it ever happen?” This too was a real struggle for the energy to see it through.

April 22 / Harder and blurrier and clearer at the same time. Why is she still here? So close but in limbo. Hasn't been responsive for three days now. All in a turmoil at the house. Dad took the chair and I fell asleep in the bed next to Mom, at some point managing to wake Dad with my snoring. Without his hearing aids, he at first thought Mom's breathing had changed!


I dreamed that I was in a concrete room/hall at the corner of an industrial building, and there were people milling about but no seats. Fynn's cat Sparrow (a skinny version of her) was wandering around people's feet, and I realized someone was putting out food for her … oh … there it is. I go to look, and realize it's her brother Edmund's severed head (body eaten away but no blood) and he's still alive and not suffering. Just
helpless. Ugh. I didn't pet him, how can you pet just a head? I wanted to find Michael so he could put Edmund out of his misery, but realized that killing a head is harder than a body. Crush a skull? Distress. Woke up disturbed, but more so than I was in the dream itself. Fear of interpretation I think.

Mom was clearly Edmund, and I took it as confirmation that she wasn't suffering. That she was food for her sibling? That was a little harder to see, but we'd been wondering if Mom was hanging around to see her sister, who was due to arrive the next afternoon. I knew it would be very hard for Aunt Charlotte to see her that way, after not having seen Mom for over a month, and the huge changes in her during that time … yet perhaps it was necessary for some reason? Mom kept herself close for almost her entire life, and didn't really let that many people all the way in. She loved deep and hard, but didn't express her affections verbally to any but Dad really (oh those letters!) and yet we knew we were all well loved, and very well served. Her primary love language was acts of service, and birthday cards of course. To hang on the edge of life for a few extra days to see her sister? I think that fits her character perfectly.

Of course, when she didn't let go within an hour or two of seeing Aunt Charlotte the next day, despite even shallower breathing, I began to wonder. Now what? Don't we get to see and understand all the reasons why she's still here? The nurse came, gave her a bit of morphine, and said she could go anytime. I was fraying at the edges and desperate for sleep, and went home briefly to connect with my husband and boys, but left again feeling even more fragile than when I'd arrived. Somehow God lifted me up during the drive back, and I arrived back to Park Ave with a fresh shot of energy.

The 24th was another night spent curled up in the easy chair at the foot of the bed, straining to watch Mom's chest move as her breathing was so quiet as to be inaudible, especially over the oxygen that was on 24/7. The relentless focus on her state was exhausting, though strangely exhilarating too, and made it difficult to think about anything else. Once again, tunnel vision. We all spun in circles, trying to finish the plans and lists and documents that were going to be needed for her funeral, and all the people that might want to come to it. A pile of things that all hinged upon her death, which was closer than it was yesterday, but still unpredictable and unknown. Practicality and chaos bouncing off the walls, sometimes in the same room in which she was lying unmoving and unresponsive, her spirit still inhabiting the body that she could no longer control in any way.


The next morning, a Thursday, the watch continued, while Michael and Bernie were still madly working on the deck over at the old house. Only so many people can sit vigil, and as many as could were still going about their regular daily business. I went home for dinner with the boys, and realized how fragile they were. They knew what was coming, and found the whole scenario unsettling and hard to handle. I came back to Mom's labored breathing, and positioned myself in her room again. Others came in and out, caught naps, checked in again, and she was given a dose of morphine to try to ease her breathing. When Stephen checked in a second time, and didn't leave, I slowly realized that this was indeed the night. By 10:30 the room was full, with Dad, Stephen and Rene, Paul, Uncle Bill and Aunt Charlotte, Martha, and I. Michael joined us around 11. There were a few quiet songs, intense silence, and incredible focus. I held her right hand, stroked her arm, and told her in my heart to let go. Her face was turned towards Dad, and I watched him watch her. The emotions held in every furrow of his brow, move that he made, and breath that he took … remembering them now still takes my breath away.

The focus was hard to maintain, and my mind jumped around like crazy. “Cup of tea after? How is Aunt Charlotte doing? Did I make too much noise? Is Rene OK? Remarkably OK. My back hurts. I can't see her eyes at all, and am both glad and sad that I can't. Martha must be missing Tom. The air is filled with slight electricity. I can feel the hum.” It started to pour rain outside. Her body jerked several times, and her breathing paused here and there. “This is really really it! She's at the very last few minutes of life. She's almost free! She will see Him! Be whole! Be light!” Alternating smiles and tears. Slower. Shallower. Longer pauses. The longest pause … with nothing at the end. Dad closes her eyes. Stephen checks his watch, 11.21pm. We all draw in a breath, almost willing her to do the same, and feeling the incredulity that we still can, and she can't. She's crossed over.

Dad says “Let's pray” and does. I open my eyes after a few words, not able to stop watching her neck. I see the tiniest flutter. (I don't process until a bit later that I don't think she quite let go until he did. I am stunned, but not surprised.) He finishes thanking God, and we all do whatever comes into our heads. I say “Welcome home Mom!” to her still body, lay down her warm hand, kiss her cheek, give Dad a hug, and slowly walk out to the other room.

She is gone. Immeasurable relief and so much joy for her. Awe at the experience. At getting to walk her to the very door. She is Home.


The next phase begins.

Tea is brewed (I wasn't the only one with the thought), calls are made, Dad is left alone with her. The hospice nurse gets lost, and arrives very scattered and out of sorts. I go back and sit with Dad for her visit, and stare at Mom's body, marveling at how it's already started to change. The nurse is very kind, but off kilter. She never quite recovers, has to be called back to remove the forgotten catheter, and is still there when the funeral home director arrives. Perfunctory condolences are given, details discussed, funeral times set, and the room is somewhat crowded and chaotic. Unused hospice supplies are being handed to the nurse to take back, she is reaching behind the funeral director to grab them, the funeral director is asking about bed sheets and whether we need them back, and Dad and I realize that this is the moment where Mom's body … Mom who was always claustrophobic … her body is about to be wrapped up in a sheet and put into a colorful paisley body bag and zipped up. I feel glued to a horror movie, as Dad also realizes what's coming and tries not to look from where he's still pulling supplies out of the closet, but he feels what I'm watching ... the wrap, the lift, the slide, and the zip … and he can't help but glance over at the very end of it even as he's saying “That is something I DON'T want to see.” It's heart-shakingly final. Her spirit is gone, and her body has left the house.

After a few more details, I give Dad a big hug, knowing he needs to be alone but I'm heartbroken for him. Michael and I climb in the truck and head home, my first night there in six days. I am motherless.

Back to Part 3 / On to Part 5

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No Fixed Address


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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Keren & Bobby


When we first arrived at Keren and Bobby’s, I expected to only be in their home for a few weeks, and thought I knew them both pretty well.  My relationship to Keren goes waaaay back, and Bobby’s as easygoing as they come, so that despite the fact that I only met him about 6 years ago, it feels Iike I’ve known him forever.   As our visit progressed, I was proved very wrong on all counts.

When you move into someone’s home for something longer than a week, it takes a tremendous amount of graciousness on their part, and a lot of compromise on both sides.  When you have two active boys, (and your hosts are not parents themselves) it adds a whole other level of compromise and blending of ways.  Looking back, I can’t imagine a better testing ground for what it’s like to invade someone’s space for a period of time, and coming out the other side actually loving each other more, rather than less.  I think we got spoiled this time around.

Keren’s an idea factory, amongst other things.  She’s creative, energetic, organized, and a tireless worker.  She has big ideas, and knows how to nudge/inspire/motivate/corral a group into participating in an event, having a marvelous time in the process.  She’s got chutzpa, heart, a very very underrated opinion of herself, and determination in spades.  She’s gold, through and through.  I knew her persona as larger than life, and had a good glimpse of her heart before this, but living in her home for 5+ months showed me sides of her personality that I’d never really understood well before.  We talked over many trips to Starbucks, and many late night porch sessions, and I got to know the woman underneath the red-headed yellow swallowtail butterfly that most of the world gets to meet.  It was an honor.

Bobby, gracious, fun-loving, heart-of-gold Bobby … would give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it … and basically did just that for us.  When we arrived, we slid into the driveway with our camper, a small fridge full of half-empty condiment jars, some warm leftovers, and a couple hundred bucks in our bank account.  Not exactly the means to support ourselves, provide our share of food, and contribute to household expenses in general.  Bobby wasn’t fazed at all, at least on the surface.  He opened his home, his heart, and his own strained-to-the-max bank account, because this is what you do for family.  For someone in need.  You take care of folks.

I know it was really hard on him because we arrived at a time when the new house was under gradual as-money-allows renovation, and we brought a tornado of projects and paper and mess otherwise known as Fynn.  For someone formerly known as a gracious host-with-the-most, bare floors and patched walls were really hard for him to ignore.  He felt like he couldn’t give us what he wanted to, treating us to local events and restaurants and a richly-stocked fridge.   Their situation just wasn’t there at that point in time.  So we wallowed a bit, together.  Took stock of what we had, and what we could do with it.  Made cool dining room floors out of porch paint and stencils and leftover primer.  Threw parties with what we had.   Held contests using makeup and fabric scraps.  Built woodboxes out of scavenged lumber.  Talked a lot.  Played a lot of board games.  Made family dinner an event, every single night, even when 5 nights of the week were some form of chicken.  Evolved the may-I-please-be-excused thing into a whole ritual of trivia questions and answers and eventually, sign language conversations. 

We also railed a bit, bemoaned, struggled, and fought the circumstances we were in.  Felt oppressed.  Wondered why the jobs weren’t paying much (for any of us), and why we were in this leaky boat, together.  We learned to talk through it.  Pray about it.  Confront it head-on, rather than sideways.  We all got a rather forced look at what it was like to live together, work together, communicate effectively together, and, yes, parent a bit together.  My boys learned more manners at the hand of Keren and Bobby than I thought possible.  Lovingly, firmly, and consistently.  We grew into a functional unit that knew when and how to work together, and when to separate for a time when we needed space.   We learned how much our emotions affected each other, and it gave me some new tools for labeling and confronting those pesky elephants. 

So back to Bobby … for someone way out of his usual comfort zone, and in a rather distressingly difficulty phase of his life … he came through amazingly well.   With a few realizations of his own, I think.  He learned to turn a blind eye to chaos, to take space when he needed, and to give till it truly hurt.  And never ever once begrudged it.   No measuring stick was hauled out, to determine what they might have been able to afford were we not living there.   No calculations or regrets.   Just love, piles of love, and a flood of it following us down the street when we pulled away.  From both of them.  Tears, big hearts, and big dreams … intertwined in a way I never thought possible.  Knowing what I know now, I have every expectation that the next time we spend time together, the roots will go deeper, and the hearts even tighter.  It’s a friendship that’s not found its limits, nor do I ever expect it to.  It’s just a very beautiful thing, which keeps growing the more it’s worked on. 

(xoxoxo you two)


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loosening the Knox


the days are getting bittersweet, and my stomach is spending most of its time in slight turmoil.  yup, it’s the leaving thing.  happens every time, and every single time i’m caught by surprise.  the roots are deeper, the connections are stronger than i ever planned on.  as if relationships can be planned, hah!  they're a treat, a gift, a lovely beautiful messy thing that makes every day richer and every leaving harder.  i wouldn't have it any other way.  

we've been on this trip for 154 days, and 152 of them have been spent here in knoxville.  never ever thought it would be this long, but my initial thought of 2-3 weeks looks utterly laughable from my current vantage point.  expectations ... the death of me, of many relationships, of mindfulness, of joy in the moment.  (i know there's a flip side to all that, just not going there right now)  

i think it's fair to expect joy and love and happiness on this trip, as long as i also expect pain and growth and delays and arguments and meltdowns and detours, and the occasional real drama.  they come intertwined, sometimes within the same split second.  that deep breath where you're steadying your mind because your heart just exploded and you're not sure where the pieces are.  epiphanies, he-just-died calls, births, i do's, breakups, you name it ... any single moment in which you know everything just shifted, irrevocably, in one direction or another.  

i love those moments.  yes, all of them.  the moments (days, months, even years) that follow?  often they're the worst.  but in those single fleeting bits of time, every single one of them, i feel incredibly painfully amazingly alive.  my heart just took a hit, good or bad, and i KNOW it's there and working and oh so very present.  

this doesn't mean i look for those things, or revel in them if they're sad, but i do measure time by them.  measure life, measure it's depth and breadth and reality and meaning, and find that no matter what the experience, it leaves its mark, its touchstone, and i value every one of them.  they're part of who i am.  my collection, whether harvested deliberately, or tossed in without my choice.  mine.

i had no idea before knoxville that my heart had holes shaped like Marie, Sam, Carpenter, and Auzlo.  like Starbucks every week.  like loving Keren even more like a sister than i already did. like watching for Timmo and Natalie walking Piper and Rider every night (and hoping they'd stop).  like Mikey passing away in Bobby's arms and my arms not being long enough to hug them both at once, or ease the pain of losing his crazy furry companion of 15 years.  of a comfortable answer to the unnammed question "could you live near and work side-by-side with Keren and Bobby at some point in the future?" (that's a yes ...)

there are tracks worn in my heart also, from endless circlings and wanderings and designings and communicatings back and forth and back and forth ... how exactly do we hope to fund this trip?  (and how are we going to pay the debts we accidentally dragged along with us?)  assuming that the work wherever/however/for-whomever-we-can thing was the heart of it all (whether they could pay or or not), but likely too limiting if we expected it to fund the whole shebang.  wanting a bit of steady income, enough to cover our fixed expenses at least, to make it possible to take on jobs wherever, rather than feeling like we had to stick to paying ones.  

so the merry-go-round began ... newsletter subscriptions!  family-drawing-based art lessons, by e-book and youtube!  youtube-only "artLOOSE" videos, documenting all kinds of creative projects and asking for patronage/donations from viewers!

the tracks became messy, convoluted, and daunting.  and very very distracting.  every single idea fun on some level, or even many levels, but very time consuming on a monthly basis, even once we got them up and running.  things that would pull our hearts in so many directions, at least for now, that we couldn't see our way clear to do what was right in front of us.  floors that need painting here, decks that need shored up, stuff that needs organized and trimmed and chopped down.  FUN things!  

and michael and i were holed up writing business plans, trying to learn video editing, struggling with words and assumptions and guesses as to who and how to ask for what, and then guiltily emerging from the think-tank to involve the boys by trying to create logos as a family, or something equally strained or awkward.  trying too hard, all of it.  not to be confused with working, or the willingness to work, but trying too hard to figure out exactly who our audience is, and what we'll have time to do on the road, and how it will all fit in and around the projects that we're doing for other folks.  

the other morning those tracks all became very visible to me, in one big ugly pile, and i felt the weight of them all at once.  this was all just backwards.  GO.  DO.  STUFF.  NOW.  and the way will become a bit clearer.  we'll get vaguely in the swing of things, we'll find out how much we can really work creativity in and around what we do, and discover how much time we can spend working before we need to go away and look at nature and monuments and sunsets for a bit.  take time alone, to recharge.  i strongly suspect that somewhere down the road, a spinoff project or idea that we can sell on the side will surface, and we'll jump on it then.  not try to imagine (from keren and bobby's porch) what IT is, and what folks want, and promise to serve it up on a fancy platter once a month.  from a dicey laptop, via public wifi, using video and audio from an android phone.  not impossible at all, but not smooth sailing either.  

i felt a big sigh of relief in my heart after that realization, and the healing of something that had been dividing me.  and also a renewed level of queasiness in the "trust and faith" department, as to how the finances will work out.  as to the likelihood that we'll be asking directly for help sometimes, from humanity at large.  for donations for our living expenses, or for supplies for projects ... which i should have done already because we're leaving several things undone here, because the money isn't available right now for deck lumber and flooring and stuff like that.  

that said, there's great fun to be had in doing things with free/minimal supplies (cool dining room floor, yes?!)  but it often requires a lot more time, thought, and planning than it would if the materials were available.  it does inspire creativity though!  i'd dearly love to get to a point where we had a separate Supplies Fund that could be tapped into when we find a need, and have the time and resources, but no money for the materials.  we've talked a lot about putting out a call for sponsorship when we find a project that needs it, but the timing is an issue.  not wanting to run a kickstarter campaign for something that needs to start tomorrow, or preferably today.  (the wheels are turning fast, and you might be hearing more on that in the next day or two ... and thoughts welcome!)

i might as well say too that we're currently about 700 short on what we need to get out of here next week, to cover tax and registration on the trailer and a couple smaller bills.  hoping this weekend's jaunt to Market Square will net Michael more than last weekend's portrait drawing session, which should help somewhat. (he's working on a blog post all about drawing in the square, btw)

as i wrap this up, Fynn is off spending his last hour or two with his new BFF, who leaves tomorrow early, and won't be back until after we pull out next week.  he is going to need some tlc for the next few days i think, as well as access to my phone more often than in the past.  i have some goodbyes to say too, which i don't want to.  i never expected the richness of the connections we've made here, and have to say it's a very awesome pile of gifts to come from our very first stop, and truly worth every minute we've spent here.  it helps give me courage to step out and move on again, and to hope that we're leaving behind a bit of ourselves in return for what we've gained.  


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getting out


when you get an idea in your head, like ditching fixed life for the romantic notion of a camper and the open road and working your way around the country ... the preview that plays in your mind's eye includes sunsets, porch-building alongside your family, simple meals in country kitchens, and great conversations with dusty old-timers in front of some local barber shop.  it's the ultimate road trip!  the glow of the vision is tinged with a bit of sweat and grit, and some knowledge that it's likely to pretzel your mind into new shapes, your hands into mud, and your heart into scary new corners. 

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still here, still packing, still ... getting closer!


this packing up process is slow.  doesn't matter that we've lived here only two years, there are still boxes surfacing in the studio that have sawdust on them from the pre-nyc days in central PA.  storage space is at such a premium that we can't just toss it into storage without a thought.  old work projects, portfolio samples for packaging design that i'll never need again, oh, wait, that's a doll my grambie sewed for me that I'd forgotten about! ... you get the idea.  every box and corner is fraught with memories and decisions and more decisions.  will i ever use it again?  does it mean enough to pay to keep it?  will it fit in the camper?!  it's mentally and physically demanding. 

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