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Filtering by Tag: family

gold tried in the fire : part 1 / stepping into the furnace


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 … but some of them are raw and hard to swallow.

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

I'm sitting in my little bedroom in the camper, on my scratchy but oh so delightfully yellow bedspread, with Sparrow grooming herself behind me. The AC is blasting, the Kentucky campground air outside is swampy and barely breathable, and I'm somewhat nervously munching apple slices and CheezIts that I've confiscated from Fynn's bed. Where do I start?

Dad had a heart incident on August 3rd of 2018 and ended up in the hospital for 18 days, getting a quadruple bypass and a new valve. Mom was already deep into her Alzheimers, and lost a lot of ground without her anchor. We arrived to help out on August 10th. After caring for Mom for almost five months in their home, she went to the hospital on January 5th of this year with a bad infection, and then hospice for a bit, before she and Dad moved into my brother Stephen's home with the home hospice program. Mom passed away on April 25th, at home surrounded by family. We stayed around to fix up their old house for a few months, and just left Chicago on Monday, July 8th.

I've spent several of the days since then re-reading my journals that cover the nearly 11 months we spent parked in my parents' driveway. We were there long enough that all Google streetview maps currently include our truck and camper, and Mom's wheelchair ramp up to the front door. I'm not sure how soon those images will be updated, but likely not before the house is sold, and I like to imagine it occupied by another family looking to raise their kids on a dead-end street chock full of other children and friendly neighbors. Walking out that door for the last time on Monday left me choked up, full up, and so stuffed with feelings that I had real trouble getting out the last word, as I turned around and whispered into the still air before I pulled the door shut … “Thanks!”

stepping into the furnace

The alarm rings in the camper at 6:30. I don't dare hit snooze. I ask God to help me get out of bed. I'm not sure I can, without help. I'm scraping bottom, and I've just woken up. I feel overwhelmed before I start the day. Blinders on, tunnel vision is the only way through. A laser focus on what is in front of me, and nothing else. Mom and Dad are in front of me, my boys are in the wings and I can see them with my peripheral vision. My husband is keeping me tethered to some kind of sanity, and God is keeping me alive. This is a completely emptied-of-myself kind of dependence that I've never experienced before.


As I mentioned in my last post (last October) there was an overwhelming feeling at the start that this was mine to do, and that God was pulling me through. While there were a few blips in the following months that made me sometimes question if I was doing more than I could or should, there was no shaking of the certainty that God had my back, and that His hand was in every single detail. It was up to me to get out of my own way and simply do the good that I could see in front of me … stomping on any tendrils of worry that tried to grab me, and addressing the roots of any fears that surfaced. Most of the extreme emotions were cut off at the knees by that last tactic, and any that weren't either erupted as frustration or anger, or were “stuffed back in” to be addressed later. There didn't seem to be any time for meltdowns, walks, headbanging, or writing. Many days, there wasn't even any time or energy to talk to Michael at the end of it.


Aug 11 / I have to keep things glued

Aug 13 / World shrinking to a pinprick of focus

Aug 21 / Dad's home!

Aug 25 / Felt frazzled, and like I was skidding down a hill, and getting more compressed as I slid.


Sept 25 / I dream I'm in NYC on the sidewalk, and my big black motorcycle is nearby. I wake up and it's covered with white fluff, out of which pop two sheep's heads, and a cat, who had all been nesting in the fluff. The cat hissed at the sheep, and they jumped down and ran off. I was upset with the cat, I'd wanted to pet the sheep!

Learning to let go was a continual battle. Over and over telling myself to let go of expectations, the freedom to choose, mobility, that bit of time to do anything more than what was directly in front of my nose. Any hopes or dreams or plans, or things I thought I deserved that I clung to … they inevitably made me restless, frustrated, and wishing to get back into a state of peaceful acceptance. I chased my own peace away.

Mom had every single one of those things taken away from her, slowly, relentlessly, and thoroughly. She never complained. She accepted the changes, without any visible protest. If Dad said she couldn't anymore, she didn't. Ok, there was one exception I saw a couple years back … the removal of a bag of candy bars, and her retrieval of them, putting them back by her chair with a mischievous and slightly defiant smile. But there was no fighting against the indignities, the changes, the losses, the turmoil, the steady and thorough destruction of any semblance of choice in her life. The removal of keys and shopping and what to wear and who to talk to and where to go, how long to stay up and what to read …every single thing that she ever had any control over. Gone. Her mind, continually playing tricks on her, stealing the connections that let her say what she wanted, express her feelings, put a name to a face, tell someone she loved them. It all slipped away.


Nov 4 / At the edge of sanity.

Nov 11 / Mom tried to say something as we were coming out of the bedroom. It came out garbled. She clearly knew it, and was horrified. Heartbreaking.


Once Dad got home from the hospital on August 21st, the weeks that followed were strange and beautiful and hard for everyone. He felt his limitations physically, but not as much as he was told he might. He chafed a bit under the restrictions. “Don't cross your legs, don't use your arms to push yourself up, do your lung exercises, take your daily walks.” His desires outstripped his energy at first, and I watched him wrestle a bit with what he could accomplish in a day. He spent many hours going through files and papers and bits of stashed-away-life that were being pulled from cabinets and drawers and boxes in the basement. I tried not to give him too many piles at once, but there were always more waiting in the wings.

After he went back to work full time, the sorting was relegated to after dinner, and we had our routine down by then. I spent the evenings on the couch across the living room from his chair, Mom parked in between us in her wheelchair. He'd share things that he uncovered, show pictures, and tell stories. Then fall silent as he got lost in something. Mom would be looking at cards or magazines, turning her head at every conversation (and clearly following all of it), and smiling often.


One Sunday afternoon a locked metal box surfaced that made him get a bit excited. He started scavenging around the house for the key, but came up empty. He was pretty sure it contained some correspondence he had deemed worth saving, most notably ALL the letters that Mom had written to him during their 16 months of long distance courtship and engagement. I remembered a desk tray with some small keys in it, came back with a pair, and sure enough they included the one he needed.

What followed was torturous and beautiful and incredibly painful. He pulled a letter out and started to read. Then another. And another. His face started to change. He got a bit choked up, and said “They are a bit like maraschino cherries, you can only eat a few at a time.” He then spent his afternoon “nap” reading too many, and getting up to take a sudden and epic walk in order to process things. To top it all off, a day or two later I remembered a box in the basement that I'd labeled “Dad's letters to Mom” when I came across it a few years before. I brought that up, and he began weaving together the story of those months of hope, love, and planning. They wrote each other almost daily.


Over the next week, he would pull out a letter or two every evening (and sometimes a few in the middle of the night when he couldn't sleep), look to see what he'd written to her that inspired her responses, stare at Mom for awhile, read a sentence or two out loud, and then get lost again in the memories. He was hearing her voice, the one that she no longer had. Seeing her as she was then, in her own words, and falling in love with her all over again, exactly as she was now. She felt it. The way he looked at her, spoke to her, loved on her. It tore him up, and gave him intense joy at the same time.


The slides and movies were uncovered a bit later, including the working-and-even-has-a-spare-drive-belt 1940's cast iron 8mm projector that had been his dad's, which was necessary to play those movies. The few that Dad really wanted to share were the ones he'd taken of us kids learning to crawl and walk.


He got the projector set up one night, and called us all to the living room to bear witness to me learning to get up and go, with my siblings behind me cheering me on, and even demonstrating what I was supposed to do. It was bizarre to watch, and left me feeling a bit strange. Seeing myself at an age that I have no memories of. Mom, young, holding me. That bit really threw me for a loop. I was sitting on the floor next to her chair, and when the lights came up, it appeared that it got to her too. She had tears in her eyes, and seemed sad for the rest of the evening. How could she not be, assuming she recognized herself, young and happy and holding her child? Any moment like that, where it appeared that the veil was lifted and she knew her current state … those were the worst. So incredibly painful to see her knowledge, however brief, that something was desperately wrong. The relief (but torture too) when she'd return to happy but unaware.


Nov 28 / I dreamed I was on a river boat and got separated from my family. The river ran into a building and petered out. I asked the clerk where I was … “Yesterday” was the answer. I go out into the courtyard to wait for my family to catch up, and while I'm there Maurice and Helen (friends from church) walk out, but they're both about 9 or 10 feet tall. Maurice is dead. I held their hands. I saw the boys arriving.

Trying to continue my roles as wife and mother, while being a daughter and caretaker, was never easy. The boys were told before we even arrived in Chicago that my focus would be on my parents, but the ramifications of that, coupled with an even more intense focus than I'd anticipated, made a huge shift in our family dynamics. It very quickly felt like I was on a track, moving at a fixed speed, while the Michael and the boys were drifting along somewhere just out of sight. During the first seven weeks, when he was working in Boston, it was even harder on the kids. They were fed at regular intervals (more regular than we've ever been, to be honest) but other than that, they (and my sister Martha's son Alex, who was there most of the time) were almost completely left to their own devices. They were shushed often, and frequently banished outside during Mom's nap. School work was done solo, they read books and plugged into media and fought with foam swords, made forts with Alex, played board games with Paul (my brother Stephen's son), and jumped to it whenever I hollered for help. Our family bedtime story, a staple since Douglas was a baby, didn't happen much at first, but was resumed once Michael came back.


Martha had moved in for most of the first 4 months, and she was a delight to have and a rock of sanity. She was able to take the boys all out once in awhile, which was a great break for them, and spent the rest of her time helping with Mom, doing laundry and breakfasts and errands and groceries, and filling in all the things I wasn't doing to keep the household running. My sister-in-law Rene often pitched in with bringing meals, having the boys over, cleaning, and sitting with Mom when she saw I desperately needed a break. She and Stephen and Paul had moved in and cared for Mom for the first couple of weeks Dad was in the hospital, and then for at least another month Stephen came every morning and evening to help get her in and out of bed.


Douglas really started stepping up his game as a helper too, making meals occasionally, and helping me with every transition and lift with Mom while Martha was gone for a week. He figured out the Hoyer lift once it arrived, and became an expert at operating it. The boys and I sometimes fit in grocery shopping together, late night WalMart trips, and a Starbucks treat every few weeks. I found enough oomph to just barely keep the household functioning, and it was an intense growing experience in my reliance on God, time management, and patience.


I wasn't good at asking for help though. I never have been, and this situation was playing on my guilt strings more than some. As Mom slid deeper into Alzheimers over the years, and was needing more care, the question of which of her kids were going to do what was bandied about. Weren't daughters supposed to be the ones taking care of their Mother? Weren't we living a free life, and able to move in and take care of things? I felt it keenly, but at the time didn't see how I could move to Chicago and become her caretaker without bringing my family life grinding to a halt, and we didn't see how that could be a good thing. However, I felt badly that to date I'd done so little towards supporting Mom and Dad. This was my chance to do as much as I possibly could, and I was assuming that it wasn't a 'permanent' job, but pitching in while the needs were great. God had brought us here for this, and Michael and I were clear that it was for as long as we were needed. Stephen and Rene would be taking over when things stabilized, bearing the brunt of the care.


The more time I spent with Mom, focusing on how to make her comfortable, happy, and occupied … the more the guilt strings faded. I wouldn't label it fun, but there was a deep and satisfying joy that flowed into the cracks. The pleasure of getting Mom to laugh, to smile, to connect, to light up. Holding her hands, lotioning her feet, washing her hair, bathing her body, singing her songs. Tempting her with food, reading her snippets of cards and stories, taking her on walks once the ramp was built, parking her on the back deck in the sun. Watching her light up when friends came to visit, sharing inside jokes that still tickled her funny bone, keeping her company in comfortable silence. Those things fed me, fed her, and brought my relationship with her to a point that I'd given up on reaching decades ago. I'd never tried hard enough, and maybe she wasn't ready either. Being reduced to having zero input in her own life though, she had to remain open to anyone and anything that came her way. God parked me in her driveway, even tossed me into bed with her the first few weeks, and then put me in the position of being, for awhile at least, completely responsible for her care. A total role reversal from that 8mm movie we'd watched together.


But the love? It grew. It filled the cracks, the little holes left by things I wished I'd told her, moments we'd never had, depths we'd never plumbed. Ways we'd never connected, or even tried to. Once the words weren't an option anymore, at least for her, I found myself looking for every other signal I could find as to what she was thinking or feeling. It worked better than words … made me dig even deeper to see her spirit, catch that twinkle, or see the stubborn silence when she was talked down to. I learned to see her. That gift alone was more than enough to make me almost horrified at what I would have missed out on, had God not given her Alzheimers, and me this job. Pure gold. Refined in a fire that left me raw, emptied, and shaken.

(And why were Maurice and Helen in that dream, in Yesterday? Maurice died of cancer many years ago, and I remember to this day, with regret, that the last time I saw him, walking slowly and clearly debilitated from his disease, I didn't run up to him and give him a hug, and try to See him. I missed my chance.)

On to Part 2

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I’ve never been the most consistent housekeeper, but you all pretty much know that by now. I do make lists often though, so will attempt to briefly update you on what we’ve been up to since the last post about the Land Ho! Art Sale in June.

The Sale is over!


The Land Ho! sale ran for two weeks, and we sold a nice amount of work! Enough to get a good nest egg going for our Land Fund, even after paying off all of the costs of scans and canvas and paint and shipping supplies. It was a lot of work to get everything ordered, packaged, and shipped, but it felt good to wrap up that whole effort and call it finished. Big thanks to everyone who ordered something, or sent in a donation, it was mightily appreciated!

Finishing up at Keren and Bobby’s …


After hogging Keren and Bobby’s basement and driveway and back yard for months on end, with all the forging and art making and sprawling that we seem to do, it was time to move on. We had to finish up some work first though that we’d started before the Art Sale became a thing, so we focused on the renovations in the basement that had been started before it was turned into a temporary studio and shipping center. Lots of trim and painting and flooring and sanding and door hanging before we had to call it quits because Michael had a Sol LeWitt job coming up in Cambridge Massachusetts … but first we had to get the trailer to Chicago so the boys and I could help out at my folks while he worked at Harvard.

Getting Out …


Getting out of any long-term stay is hard, and leaving after 6 months is even more difficult. There was a torn awning to remove and dispose of (sadly), many tools to sort and stow, and a seemingly endless list of things to pack and dispose of and tend to. We badly wanted a few days to ourselves before landing in Chicago, but it seemed like the window was getting so small that we might not have more than a night or two on the road. We had to be there by Friday August 10th at the latest. On August 3rd, we got a call that my Dad had something that appeared at first to be a heart attack, and he was in the hospital. We prayed, packed faster, and managed to get on the road on the 6th. After a few hours of heading over the mountains, we knew that Matilda’s transmission wasn’t just sending out warning signals, it was in its death throes.


After stopping for a night with Caleb and boys (pure bliss!) we tried to limp North but had to admit that we weren’t going to make it. We were forced into a …

Mini Transmission Vacation!


It was now Tuesday August 7th and we were in Wilkesboro NC with just 4 days until Michael had to hop on Amtrak in downtown Chicago. It was now looking like Dad had open heart surgery looming in the next week or so as he had some afib and a faulty valve, and they were busy giving him tests to rule out possible complications. We had to find someone who could get and replace the transmission in a 1995 F250 in 2-3 days. We asked God to point us in the right direction, limped into a big truck body shop, got a recommendation for a transmission place in the next town that said they might be able to help, and landed in a VFW campsite nearby.


After chatting with a friendly veteran, befriending the camp host’s 4 crazy dogs, and getting the camper set up, we took off to see if these folks could indeed help us. Matilda’s 20’ of red and white loveliness looked like the runt of the litter when parked among the rest of the trucks in Gear Jammer Transmission’s crowded lot. The mechanics came on out, crawled under Matilda and poked around, and made a few phone calls. After being assured they could get a new one and put it in in the next 48 hours, we hitched a ride back to our campground with the friendly owner.


Before collapsing for the night, we took the transmission guy’s recommendation of a hole-in-the-wall BBQ place a short walk from our campsite, devoured a quiet and delicious meal together, and mused on the way in which we were getting my strongly desired “few nights to ourselves” before landing in Chicago. It was hard to fully relax with the worries about Dad and his pending surgery, which ended up suddenly scheduled for Friday the 10th, but it was still lovely to be on our own and puttering for a couple of nights. We got a purring Matilda back late on Thursday, and prepped for an early Friday morning start.

Dad’s Surgery


Friday was our drive to Chicago day, and Dad’s surgery. I’d talked to him a couple times by phone, and knew he had no fears at all. We trusted that all was in God’s hands, and got on the road. He was scheduled for a valve replacement, a double bypass, and an ablation. He ended up with a quadruple bypass, a new valve to replace what they discovered was an abnormal 2-flap one, and a maze procedure. By the time we arrived in their driveway just before midnight, he was out of anesthesia and back in one piece in the ICU.

Michael and Harvard


Saturday morning we took stock of the state of things at the house where my brother Stephen and his wife Rene and son Paul were caring for Mom, briefly visited Dad in the hospital, and then Michael packed up in time for me to take him to the train heading downtown, where he’d hop on Amtrak to go East. I must have messed up my Metra schedule while reading it on my phone in the truck the day before, because the train he was to catch only ran on weekdays, and at the last minute I had to hightail it into Chicago to drop him directly at the station. The prospect of Michael being gone for 5 weeks while I was helping with Mom and Dad and the household, while also parenting and homeschooling, loomed large, and I tried to get my head around how to handle it all as I drove back to the house.


Michael dove deep in Cambridge where he was helping re-install a huge Sol LeWitt wall drawing in a museum on Harvard’s campus. A 5-story atrium with tight spaces and convoluted scaffolding and minimal AC was more challenging than some jobs, and between Harvard’s work rules and delays from the construction crew working in the same space, the job stretched to 7 weeks. Getting him back at the end of that time was pretty delightful.

The Scene at 4N405


Since we arrived on August 10th, much has changed. Dad was in the hospital for another two weeks after we got here, and was more than ready to come home when they pulled the final drainage tube out. Mom took a pretty steep dive downwards after he went into the hospital, missing the connection of being with him daily, and having seen what happened to him when he passed out while at the park. Their bond is a huge part of what keeps her going, and without seeing him or being able to be with him at all, she lost a lot of ground and basically stopped being able to walk.


Her care needs increased a lot as a result, and she currently needs 2 or 3 people’s help on a daily basis. They decided to move into the in-law apartment at my brother’s new home, which includes a flat floor plan and wider doorways, and plans are in motion to add a kitchenette and laundry to accommodate their needs. In the meantime, we have added a Hoyer lift, a wheelchair, and a ramp down the front steps to the household. Dad has gained strength steadily, and recovery is going well enough that he’s back to work and up to long walks and carrying boxes to the car. Those boxes would be the result of the sorting of his vast book collection down to one bookcase’s worth to take along to the new place.

A telegram my grandfather Elmer sent to his fiancée Juanita for Valentine’s Day in 1937, 8 weeks before they were married.

A telegram my grandfather Elmer sent to his fiancée Juanita for Valentine’s Day in 1937, 8 weeks before they were married.

We’re currently taking care of Mom with a lot of help from my sister Martha, working on sorting and emptying the house of a lifetime of accumulation (it is minimal by most standards!), and preparing to fix the house up for sale once they move. There’s a lot to do, and we’re here as long as we’re needed.


The land we had our eye on is still available, but we’re not focused on it at the moment. We’ve tried to just do what’s in front of us for years now, and the current situation is no different. There are needs, there is work that we know in our hearts is ours to do, and we’re in it with everything we’ve got.

Onward …

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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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the rules of summer ... 20 years and counting


the Rule clan has been getting together for a week every summer for the last 20+ years, and this past week was no exception.  as one of my nephews is in his 20's now, i think that means we started the year he was a baby.  it's become a tradition that's not missed, except for really good reasons like some of the years my brother was living in Ecuador, or Michael having a job that he couldn't afford to miss.  but most years, it's been all of us, and that all now = 15.  the first 15 or so years were mostly spent camping ... and yes, that would be tenting. 

one of the exceptions was the year we went to the hotel in brown county state park in indiana, during which michael asked me to marry him (not for the first time, but it was the first time i actually accepted).  that was the year too that we went crawling through some caves, back when my claustrophobia wasn't quite so bad.  so, a fairly memorable time. 

we stopped the tenting bit about 5 years ago, as it wasn't so fun or easy for my mom anymore, and it became a much simpler process for all of us to just get a house together somewhere for a week.  far easier packing, smoother meal prep for 15 at a time, and stuff to do no matter what the weather.  there was the epic tenting year that involved a huge deluge and high winds and flying tarps and lots of fun drama ... those are a thing of the past. 

we always seem to find some form of drama however, and this year was no exception ... the electric golf cart that came with the house rental proved to be the kicker, as there were more paths on the 40 acres we had to ourselves than there was battery.  it died several times, at varying distances from the house, and one rescue involved a fair bit of hunting and gps-ing and scavenging of batteries and chargers, though it ended up being solved by the loan of another golf cart from the campground on the adjoining land. 

there were many games (loved learning Thunderstone this year), many songs, mucho fishing, many conversations, and many companionable silences.  and waaaay too much food!  i forgot to take a picture of it, but this house has been used as a guest house/retreat center for a long time, and so had the biggest table and best stocked kitchen of any place we've ever stayed.  the table easily sat 16, and we could have eaten 3 meals without having to do any dishes.  truly comfortable, easy, and spacious. 

i try not to think about how many more years we'll have the whole family together, but just enjoy the times we do have, and savor the moments a little more fiercely.  hug a little harder.  feel a little deeper.  watch a little more carefully.  know a little more fully what it means to love, to grow, and to feel the passing of the years. 

it was a good year, a great year in fact, and one that i'm very thankful for.


we spent one night in a campground after leaving the rental house, and then moved on to Crown Point Indiana, where we're starting some house projects for friends, and hoping that the rain doesn't entirely foil our plans!

onward ...

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