Maine….part 1

Thirty Years. Two-thirds of my life. That is how long it had been since I had been back to Maine. I had spent a portion–or all–of every summer from the ages of three to fifteen in our extended family vacation properties, but it had taken me thirty years to go back.

The family legacy in Maine goes back to at least my great-grandfather. He had joined a group of people who had purchased a small peninsula between the towns of Bath and Phippsburg back in the early 1900’s. The Field Cabin, which the descendants of my grandfather now share, was built in 1936. Around 1956, my grandparents, with their family of five children, bought the island house, which had been built in 1912, for a few hundred dollars in back taxes. From the time I was three, when my parents first took me to Maine so my father and his siblings could help scatter his mother’s ashes in the river, we had gone back to vacation and spend time in the family properties. The spring I turned sixteen, we moved from Maryland to Georgia, and although I did not know it, our summers in Maine had come to an abrupt end.

In my clouded and hazy memories, of which there were far too few, I felt as if Maine had been one of the two “safe places” of my childhood. It is hard to write about this, in part because I don’t want to hurt the memory of my newly-departed father nor do I want to hurt my mother or my  siblings. Our childhood years were difficult. Mom and Dad often fought, and there was too much alcohol consumption. They loved us, and they had their own personal demons; we had some really good times, but there were also some really bad times. The sexual abuse I experienced at the age of ten at the hand of a “family friend”  was another obstacle to my memories. I simply blocked it all out–the good, the bad, the in-between. My defense mechanism was simply to forget. In later years, because I never dealt with that trauma or the emotional consequences of it, I refused to feel at deep levels. The hurting continued because I was continuing it.  After going through Making Peace with Your Past and The Wounded Heart I had dealt with my own self-sabotage and the toxicity in my own relationships with God, myself and others  (all of which are an on-going process!), but the memories were lost. I feared I would never get them back, maybe because I also feared I would.

When my father died in November, my siblings, my mother and I all sat around Mom’s dining room table and discussed his wishes for his remains. He wanted to be cremated and for his remains, if possible, to be scattered in the New Meadows River as his mother’s ashes had been. We decided we would honor that wish and make it happen. My sister requested that we do it on her 40th birthday, which was July 3.  My brother Eric and my sister Jenny had been speaking to me about Maine. They had been going to Maine for at least five years, probably more, spending several weeks each summer. After they returned from Maine last summer, Eric told me that they had decided that this summer was MY summer. Eric was going to fly me up for a week or so, and I would finally get to return to the place that had meant so much to our family. Then, Daddy died, and the plans for me to return morphed into plans for our WHOLE family to be there.

God did his part in providing a very nice tax return, a large chunk of which I set aside to pay for this family pilgrimage.  The Handy Man was able to get three days of bereavement leave, which we really ended up needing because of his injury in April when he was out of work for three weeks. I purchased his plane ticket, and we made plans. This was not going to be a cheap trip. I had to drive the van to Maine, I had to have lodging on the way, and then we would need money for all the expenses involved in being there. Each time there was an emergency and I had to dip into the Maine money, I felt a sense of panic, and each time God reminded me that He had already planned for this for me. We had enough money to cover the trip.

Dee had to work, but I was leaving, so it was decided that Sweet Pea would go with me. I also had Little Princess, Lil’ Adventurer, and Curious George traveling with me. Gladys Mae would come a week later with my mother, after she finished the second week of GAP. Lindy, Dee and Star Child would drive up together around the 30th of June, and The Handy Man was going to fly into Portland late on July 1st. Star Child had just adopted a ten month old puppy, and she was loathe to leave Journey in a kennel, so Journey was also to travel to Maine. The logistics were complicated…the coming, the going, the lodging, the driving. Mom and Eric graciously offered to rent a neighboring cabin for all my girls as there was not quite enough room in family property for all of us. I was in the one-room Field Cabin, which sleeps six with the newly installed air mattress, and Jenny was hosting everyone else on Sheep Island, including British cousins Kaf and Ruscha. Both my brothers, my  mother, and Jenny’s husband and three children were also in the Island house. But all that was not until around the 30th of June. I was arriving on June 22nd, and it turned out to be a huge blessing for me to have that time.

I had planned to leave home on Father’s Day, June 19th. The week leading up to that day was hectic. I had a million things to do, and no time to do them. Little Princess had won a week at 4H camp, and I had foolishly allowed her to go. I sorely missed her help! Gladys Mae was working for two or three different people that week.  Both girls were supposed to be packing their room so The Handy Man and I could put in a new floor while they were gone (for they were going to leave Maine with my mother and travel all the way out to the west coast and back through the middle of the country on a grand tour of the USA lasting about five more weeks.)  I had a garden to care for, although we had planted very late in anticipation of being gone and unable to harvest anything in late June and early July. My friend GR had so graciously been coerced  volunteered to weed my garden the weeks I was away, and I needed to show her the ropes. Of course, that week it was beastly hot. I was so grateful for our air-conditioned home!

Two days before I was scheduled to leave, Star Child called me and asked me if I would help her find some shoes appropriate for job searching. She had just moved into my mother’s house, and she was looking for a  waitress position in Mom’s town, but she still had a nanny job up here once a week, and she was still helping at the dog rescue up here, too. I did not have time to help her shoe shop, but I couldn’t say no.  As it turned out, Little Princess also needed clothes; as I was trying to get her packed for her eight weeks away, I realized that she had very little that fit and almost nothing nice to wear. Camp clothes, she had, but civilized clothes were sorely lacking.

So, the afternoon before I was to leave on my grand adventure, I was climbing into Star Child’s car with Little Princess to go shopping. We very quickly found a pair of shoes, on sale no less, and I thought we were going to be finished quickly. Then Star Child got a peculiar call.

My friend Tammy had called the day before and  asked me if Gladys Mae could help her with yard sale clean up that Saturday. Gladys Mae had worked in the chicken houses of her future brother-in-law all morning, and she was presumably at our homeschool group yard sale helping Mama Tammy haul everything away.  She had called Star Child to tell her that she had “found a duckling” at the church, and Star Child was adamant that we had to go see it. Now, I protested because I honestly DID NOT HAVE TIME for that! She promised it would take just a minute, and I capitulated. There were a lot of cars I recognized in the parking lot, but they were having yard sale. and I thought nothing of it.

As I rounded the corner of the church building, I saw tables with flowers set up, a buffet line of food, and many of my homechooling friends.  I quickly ran through my head all the things that could possibly be happening: had I forgotten a birthday party?  Was this a private function being crashed by a duckling?  What was going on?!?

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Then Tammy said, “This is for you.”  I was dumbfounded, speechless, completely and utterly surprised.  It was my surprise retirement party after ten years of being group director and more years than that on the board. It was such a sweet thing for my friends to do….and I realized then that the shoe shopping was a ruse, as was the duckling (which was really good because I was already formulating reasons why we did not need to take a duckling home!)  There was a huge cake for me. There were cards and gifts. But the biggest gift for me was that my friends would take so much time to clean up after a yard sale (which was NOT a ruse!) and transform the gym for a party complete with food and decorations for me. The Handy Man had gathered the children and had raced to party location, and he had even thought to park behind the other building so I would not see the van.  I was so very touched.  They blew me away.

Funnily enough, none of the four older girls who knew about the party mentioned it to The Handy Man. Tammy had been shopping in Ingles the day before–in our town, not her town, which she never does–and had run into him. She asked if the plan was set, and he had no idea what she was talking about!  She filled him in, and he was able to make it. Tammy and GR also told me separately how thankful they were that I was so distracted that last week as they were afraid they would accidentally blow the surprise! Tammy had graciously offered me the loan of her GPS and I had asked to borrow some of her DVDs for the long days in the van. She had planned for me to pick them up after the yard sale, and thus get me to the party, but I ruined that ruse by calling her and asking if I could come by on Friday to get them. She said she was not going to be home, but I asked if she could either leave them outside on her freezer or leave them on the kitchen table since I know she does not lock her back door.  She later told GR that she couldn’t say no to that because we are good enough friends that I could come into her house when she isn’t home to get something! (She ended up being home anyway, and we had a great visit that morning.)

We ate dinner, socialized with our friends, and then they presented me with a plaque. I gathered all my sweet cards and gifts, told Star Child to take the cake to some college friends who would eat it, and we left after about an hour. My friends understood….they had agonized over the timing, knowing I was leaving  the next day, but it was the only day that was available for all the players, including my husband and children.

plaque

We still had to find clothes for Little Princess. I got into the van with my family, bid goodbye to Star Child who was going elsewhere, and we went shopping. Well, Little Princess and I shopped. The Handy Man and the boys stayed in the van with Sweet Pea. They waited patiently for about 90 minutes as we looked for clothes appropriate for a cross-country trip. In the end we found a number of cute things for Little Princess, and we left with a bag full of things for her to pack.

I had planned to try to go to bed early. Thankfully, all my non-perishable  foodstuffs were packed, all the activity bags were packed, the baby supplies were packed,  and most of the clothing was packed. I still had to load the interior of the van and pack the coolers, but the roof bag was loaded. The Handy Man told me to forget about cleaning the house; he would take care of that. (I hate coming home to a dirty house! True to his word, it was clean when I arrived home 23 days later.) I fell into bed exhausted much later than I wanted, but feeling mostly ready to leave the next day.

Abi baptism

Gladys Mae had chosen to be baptized that morning at the local church where she had connected through the youth group. We decided to go and support her. It was Father’s Day, so there were cards and gifts for the Handy Man. I tried to make a good breakfast…I think we had eggs that morning.  We went to church, and then we came home and ate lunch together.  We packed the coolers and the rest of the bags, and then Little Princess, Sweet Pea, the boys and I departed. The first leg of our journey was under way….

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(see the next installment for the continuation of this journey!)

 

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A response to the Orlando tragedy

I was not aware that something bad had happened in Orlando until church service on Sunday morning. As I began to hear more and more of the details, and then as I began to see Facebook posts about it, certain themes became apparent.

It seems popular by some to somehow blame Christians for this tragedy.  Some folks seem to think that Christians delight in this tragedy. I have even heard us being accused of thinking this is God’s judgment. No. No. No.  This was an act of evil perpetrated by a man motivated by hatred for PEOPLE.

God hates sin, but he LOVES sinners. I know that it seems trite to say  we should hate the sin but love the sinner…..I know that seems an empty phrase to some folks. What does that look like? In order to love you and accept you as a person of worth and dignity, must I agree with ALL your lifestyle choices?  Let me turn that around: do you only love me if you agree with all MY lifestyle choices?  I really hope not. I hope you will love me even though I am a sinner.

Sinners always need Jesus. I NEED JESUS.

The apostle Paul writes in the first letter to Timothy that Jesus came to save sinners…and then Paul does something amazing. He says that HE is the CHIEF sinner.  Paul, the greatest missionary the world has every known, identified himself as the greatest sinner. True Christians know something that maybe we don’t communicate all that well. WE are great sinners. Just like you. The difference between you and us is that we recognize that we NEED a savior, and that Jesus IS that savior. We are not trying to earn our way into heaven or depending on good karma or trying to balance the scales in our favor by doing good works. We are depending on the grace of God who sent His only Son to take our punishment on him. We deserved hell and damnation, and He gave us mercy and grace.

So why does all that matter?  It matters for a few reasons. First of all, as a believer in Jesus, I know that all people–no matter what their sin appetites, color of their skin, or religious beliefs–ALL PEOPLE are created in the image of our Sovereign God. That is why murder is wrong. What happened in Orlando is not tragic because the targets were in a gay club; it is tragic because they were PEOPLE.

Second, it matters because so much negative attention is given to a few folks who do not represent true Christianity, but who act is if they do.  These false prophets want you to believe that one particular brand of sin is a) worse than any other, b) not redeemable, and c) deserving of more hellfire than any other. All sin separates us from God. As Paul realized, the closer we walk with the Lord, the more our sin natures are revealed to ourselves. My sin is not “better” than your sin. My temptations are not more holy than your temptations. If you are tempted to a homosexual lifestyle, that is not sin. Living that lifestyle IS sin. Is that sin any worse than a heterosexual couple having sex outside of marriage? No. God calls a lot of things an abomination–and if you believe that homosexual actions are the only things, you are dead wrong. Look at Proverbs 6:17-19 or I Corinthians 6: 9-11. And yes, there are many verses that also speak about homosexual behavior. Here is the point: we are all guilty of breaking God’s law, and we are all guilty of doing things God calls abomination. (Have you told a lie recently?) The ONLY way to escape the wrath we deserve is to call on Jesus and accept that He stood in our place. God doesn’t hate you because you are gay. He loves you and wants you to come to Him. And yes, He may just change you….as He does all of us who are His. We are called to repent and to trust Him for the change of heart. Your sin is no worse than my sin. You are loved, just as I am.

And third, this all matters because the vast majority of us who call Jesus SAVIOR do not hate you. We HATE what has happened to you and your loved ones in Orlando. We HATE how the conversation has become so jilted.  Please understand that the man who did this hated you, and he hated us because, according to his religion, we are infidels. Yes, it was your community who suffered this time, but Islamic extremists want us all dead. That is our common enemy.

Please understand that when I do not celebrate your sin, it does not mean I hate you.I love you…you are my friends, my neighbors, my family. Because I love you, I will speak the truth, but I sincerely hope I never use it as weapon to bash over your head. I want you to know the freedom of knowing Jesus. I want you to have the joy of complete acceptance.  I want you to live long enough to have that option.

 

 

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A time for everything

When I began homeschooling in 1999, there wasn’t a local homeschool group in our area. There was one in the next county over, but I quickly realized that I did not fit in there. Many of the families were very nice, and many of the other women were nice, but they were more stereo-typical homeschoolers: denim jumpers, long hair in buns, etc. As much as I aspired to be like them in the flesh, I just felt out of place.

Some time later—I am not even sure of the year at this point, but I think it was fall of 1999 or spring of 2000—I responded to a newspaper blurb about some folks trying to meet other homeschoolers in our area. I went to that meeting, and while I missed some fireworks when the different parties did not agree about what kind of group this would be, several of us who had similar ideas began to meet regularly. More time passed. Several of those original folks dropped out, and what was left was a core group of families who wanted something more organized. We started meeting weekly. Several of us attended a seminar on how to form a homeschool group.

A year went by, and we labored to create by-laws for our newly formed group. I was there with the core group, laboring over every single word and provision. It was exhausting and exhilarating all at once. We held our first election, and I was on the Board. I cannot remember my first position, but I think it was activities coordinator, or perhaps it was parent support. I did both those jobs in the early years. And then our beloved leader moved, and I was nominated as the director. I served just a few years before Little Princess came along, and I opted to resign. Another director was voted in, but the very next year, she moved, and I was once again tapped to be the director. And there I stayed for ten years.

I love my homeschool group so much. These friends have seen us through our darkest times, and I am so grateful for them. I did not want to let go. A year into The Handy Man’s unemployment, I was finally able to say to the Lord that I could let go of my group if we found a job out of town. The job out of town did not appear, but I was letting go of more and more in my life. The issue was no one wanted my job. So I continued leading–not always well, and certainly lacking some of the energy I had in the beginning.

This year I was finally able to hand the reins of my homeschool group over. We found a woman–younger than me, in a different stage of life with fewer children–and most importantly, ardently serving the Lord–who was willing to become the director of the group. We voted her in, and I was done. People have asked me if this is good or bad, and I have to shout it: GOOD!  I know the new director has fresh ideas, more energy, a desire to serve the homeschooling community with integrity and love. I am SO excited to let go of my “baby” and let it fly with a new captain at its helm. There is relief in saying that THIS job of mine is done.

As the Handy Man and I move into a different time–he will be going back to school, I will be working, and Lindy is getting married!–it feels good to shed some responsibility. God alone knows what it coming down the pike. For now, it feels good to know that my group is in good hands.

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Mom’s Spring Break

God has blessed me with some really amazing friends.  Two of these precious women have been there for the biggest, scariest, and most painful times of my life–and they have not run away screaming.  They both have older children right around the ages of Dee, Star Child, and Gladys Mae…and they both have a child around the age of Little Princess. They both have daughters that have a number in my family (Number Eight, Number Nine and Number Ten),  and they have both been called some form of Mama by my children. In other words, we are close. The fact that I am by far taller than either of them  is of no consequence….these ladies are GIANTS when it comes to faith and faithfulness.

Three amigas at the beach

A few weeks ago Tammy called me. She had received two nights in a resort hotel and Myrtle Beach, and she wanted to know if I wanted to go on Spring Break with her. We immediately thought of Gayle-Rae, and plans were made to take a three day vacation. Each of us had been dealing with stresses, and we all desperately needed some time away from the emotional and physical demands of caring for our families. We needed a re-charge.  And then the Handy Man fell…it did not look like I was going to get to go.  My children stepped in and said, “GO!” and The Handy Man said, “GO!”

So we went.

We headed out on Wednesday morning. Tammy’s husband had given her a bonus card he has from work that had a good bit of money on it for some restaurants at the beach, and he had given her instructions to make sure we all had FUN. Sweet man that he is, he knew that if we all fun, Tammy would come home refreshed.

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We began our trip with a little law-breaking. It was completely accidental. I promise.  We were on a toll road outside of Greenville, and as we approached what looked like an exit, the GPS on Tammy’s smart phone (which I, as the shot-gun navigator was holding) insisted that we stay LEFT.  It had an arrow and everything. So we stayed left…and drove right through the Palmetto Pass lane.  Being residents of  a state that is NOT South Carolina, we did not have a Palmetto Pass. As we passed under the sign, Tammy pointed over to the toll booths and remarked that we should have been in those lanes. I wish I had a picture of us as drove through….Tammy pointing, Gayle-Rae looking confused, and me holding the phone and peering at it intently. Tammy later had to text her husband to tell him that he would be getting some mail from the South Carolina State Patrol.He has a keen sense of humor and laughed.

view of beach

ocean view from the room!

We arrived at our hotel–it was very swanky–and a nice bellman helped us carry our luggage to the room. I had the bulk of it because I insisted on bringing a cooler of food to fill our mini-fridge. It was all THM approved–and it was nice to be able to breakfast in our room as the hotel did NOT have a free breakfast option. (Apparently, the swankier the hotel, the less likely you are to get a free breakfast.)

We walked the beach, and being the homeschooling moms that we are, we had to stop and take photo of the dead jelly fish–after we tried to flip it over to examine it. Every adult does this on vacation, right?

jelly fish

We headed off to the Pirate Adventure Show. It was a dinner theater centered around a Pirate ship set. It involved several sets of animals (Scarlet macaws, Golden macaws, a set of sea lions, and two dogs) and lots of food like a half-chicken. Oh, and no knives or spoons because we were pirates.  The show was entertaining. It was like Cirque Du Soleil meets cheesy dinner theater (not that I have ever been to Cirque Du Soleil–but I have seen commercials, so obviously I know all about it, right?) . The aerialists were amazing, and we really enjoyed watching the acrobatics.

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We then hit the boardwalk downtown and got REALLY wild. The three of us got tattoos. That is correct. Tattoos. Matching tattoos on our right shoulders.  Henna tattoos, but tattoos just the same. We sent  Star Child a photo  because we knew she could keep the secret, and her response was hilarious. “Please, please, PLEASE tell me that is real!  You will make my year if that is real!”  It is real. It is real henna. 😉  We may not have left the henna on long enough–none of us remembered to snap a photo of the directions before we left. We all agreed that we could be part of a gang…the rogue gang of henna-tattooed homeschooling moms. Sounds dangerous, right?

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That night we studied our first chapter of Philippians…we were there to recharge, after all!  We had prayer and fell into bed.

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The next day was filled, too. We began the day with the second chapter of Philippians, then we went and got pedicures. We had lunch at Cheeseburger in Paradise, and we ordered an adult beverage.  Lindy had jokingly told me that I should get a mojito on my vacation. We took it as a sign that, as we sat down, the drink menu fell over and opened to the mojito page. We really enjoyed our shared mojito! We spent about an hour or so playing putt-putt, and then we went back to the hotel and took a shuttle over to their other resort to spend some time in the whirlpool and sauna. We stopped off at the gym, too, where Gayle-Rae tried out the weights–she said she had horrible form.  (If her kids read this–she KNOWS she had horrible form!)  We agreed that next time we may actually work out.  We capped the night with another stroll down the boardwalk after dinner and some souvenir shopping. Chapter three of Philippians was followed by a good night’s sleep.

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wild and crazy moms sharing a mojito

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It is hard to convey how much we laughed and joked and just enjoyed each other. We laughed about our toll-jumping adventure, and Gayle-Rae called Tammy and me Thelma and Louise. We decided that we would not pursue their end. We laughed about the mojito and walking the boardwalk. We laughed as we shared our insights from Philippians. I have not laughed so much in so short a time in a very long time.  It was an exhausting trip, but I came home recharged.

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Sometimes a  mom just needs a break. I think maybe my family needed a break from me as much as I needed one from them. What I do know is that I had a much needed reprieve and the chance to recharge with two of the sweetest friends God has given me. Proverbs 17:22 says that a merry heart doeth good like a medicine. My merry weekend certainly did my heart good!

 

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Always an adventure

I have not blogged recently, as I am reminded every few days when the Handy Man asks me, “have you added anything to your blog lately?”  It isn’t that I have had nothing to say, but rather that I have not known quite how to say it. I have felt weary–oh, so weary. But this week, in the midst of some trials and uncertainties, God allowed me a blessed and much needed respite.

We are barreling down to the last few weeks of Gladys Mae’s high school years.  She has been very resistant to the idea of college, and in fact, resistant to finishing some of the courses I wanted her to finish. As she is almost eighteen, I have been, frankly, ready for her to just quit and get her GED.  I know, not a very flattering or Godly response as a mom–I am just being real here. Sometimes homeschooling is fun and exciting, and other times it is like pulling teeth. When eager mom meets stubborn, decidedly marching-to-a-different-drummer child, sometimes the ensuing struggle is enough knock the life right out of eager mom.  We have been consumed with so many extra activities–co-op, choir, archery, poultry judging, Awana, music lessons, etc.  (I am going to simplify next year!) And then there is the constant financial struggle. The Handy Man has been employed for a year and a half–and we are grateful–but it is clear that the earning potential in his current job is far less than what it could be, and indeed less than we need to keep our chins above water.

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     always glamorous Gladys Mae 

 

We have been doing some exterior remodeling of the house since last summer. The Handy Man has been installing new vinyl siding, replacing exterior doors and a few windows, and has plans to replace the skirting around the bottom of the house. In December we had a central heat and air unit installed. What a God-send that has been! We also had some short walls poured around the perimeter of the house to which we can anchor the skirting. The walls are also there to provide a barrier so the water running off the hill does not go under the house anymore. The children’s rooms are much drier!

Last Saturday, The Handy Man was working on the siding when he had a rather nasty accident. We are not sure what exactly happened.  At 3:00 he was in the house and commented on how fast Sweet Pea was eating her apples. (The child LOVES her fruit!)  He was back outside around 3:15 while the boys and I puttered around the house working on laundry, finishing the clean-up of their room, etc.  They had done a good job, and I was waiting on a load of laundry to finish, so we sat down at the computer to watch an episode of our current favorite cooking show, Cutthroat Kitchen. Little Princess and Gladys Mae were off at a 4-H event (where Little Princess received a score of 100% and won first place in Creative Stitchery at the  regional District Project Achievement) so The Handy Man was without his main helper.  At 4:30, I heard a noise behind me, and I looked over and saw the Handy Man sitting in my chair at the kitchen table. He looked a little dazed and had black streaks on his face. I walked over and saw that it was dried blood, and I asked him what he had done. He replied, “I don’t know.”

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Little Princess and her first-place-winning dress

Some of you know The Handy Man in person, and you know that he can be something of a smarty pants, so when he said. “I don’t know.”. I immediately thought that he was being one then. I asked him again, and he said, “I think I just woke up.” And that was when I knew he had really injured himself. His cheek had not just a trickle of dried blood, but huge GLOBS of dried blood.  (We washed those off before photos were taken. You’re welcome.) I walked around to look at the back of him, and the back of his head was covered in dried blood and mud. I called for Lil’ Adventurer to get me a wash cloth so I could try to identify the blood source.  As we started to look more closely, I could see that the dried sheets of blood on the back of his head and neck had come from his ear. As I looked at his ear, it looked okay, but as I pulled the top a little, I could see that it was completely detached from his head at the top…and the dried blood had simply congealed and glued it back into place. Keep in mind, that this all took about 90 seconds. I put the clean wash cloth over his ear, grabbed his hand and  placed it over the wash cloth, and told him to not remove it under any circumstance. I yelled for the boys to put on shoes, and I grabbed a clean shirt and diaper for Sweet Pea. We were out the door in less than five minutes, a record for us. We buckled The Handy Man into the front seat, and set off for the emergency room.  Most people are amazed that I did not call an ambulance. I am not sure why I didn’t–maybe because of the children–but I am not even sure it crossed my mind. The Handy Man was upright, talking…the blood was DRY.

As we drove down the dirt road, he said to me,”What day is this?”  And that was when I was sure he had a concussion. He could not remember the day at all–that it was Saturday, that we had argued over how early we had to get up to get the girls to 4-H on time (I won–and drove them) or even what he had been doing that day. He could not remember that Lil’ Adventurer had been helping him by handing pieces of soffit up, or how he had injured himself. As we drove to the ER, I called Lindy and asked her to meet me there so she could get the kids. Well, she activated the Emergency Sister Alert, so by the time we arrived, Dee was there and Star Child was on her way. Both had left their jobs and flown to the hospital. Lindy’s boyfriend, Andy, was there, too.

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Lindy, Andy and Dee were standing in the parking lot waiting for us. They had arranged for Dee to take the children since Lindy is the EMT in training.   I got out of the car, told Dee that she needed to go to the meeting place to get Little Princess, and off she went in my car. (Gladys Mae was staying the night as they had a special formal for them. It was senior retreat weekend.) Dee had the children and we had The Handy Man. We walked him in, sat him in a wheelchair, signed him in, and then they took him straight back. No triage, no waiting–it is amazing how a lot of blood can make the ER wait time disappear.

They wrapped the Handy Man’s head, put him in a neck brace. By that time, Star Child had arrived, as had Number Seven.  (You will recall our “adopted” children all get numbers.) One of my sweetest sisters in Christ, Gayle-Rae, also came. I had called her as a back-up, but she insisted on coming even if we had it all covered. Our oldest son had also arrived….and the hospital decided at that point to enforce the two visitors per room limit. They took The Handy Man to CT, so we were all in the waiting room just waiting. Meanwhile, Andy whipped out his phone and was showing all of us the ring he planned to give to Lindy. (He had gotten the Handy Man’s blessing the Saturday before Easter.)  They brought the Handy Man back out, and I  chased them down the hallway.

 

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We were there for a while before they came back and said that they were transferring him to the bigger hospital in Gainesville. He had a head fracture, and they were not equipped to take care of him. That moment was terrifying for me. Number Seven walked me down the hallway, and I was about to lose it.

So now we were waiting for medical transport; he got his ambulance ride after all! The ambulance arrived, and we all headed out. Star Child and Number Seven went back to Seven’s house so Star Child could borrow some clothes. Dee had to work, so Lindy and Andy went back to the house to relieve her. Lindy gave me her car so I could drive to Gainesville behind the ambulance. I had given them a list of things I would need for the night, and Gayle-Rae insisted on going to the store for me to get some food items that would fit on THM plan. Somehow they all met up…

Lindy was planning to come down to the hospital, too, and she left Andy at our house with the four children (Little Princess, Lil’ Adventurer, Curious George and Sweet Pea. Talk about being thrown in the deep end!) She had his truck, he had my Lincoln (with the car seats) in case he needed it, I had Lindy’s car, and Dee was at work. Star Child and Number Seven met me in the waiting room in Gainesville, but  it was  a good half-hour or more before we were allowed to go back to see him.

The Handy Man had fractured his temporal bone. His ear needed extensive repair. His shoulder and ribs were extremely sore, as was his opposite wrist. he had a concussion. A plastic surgeon came in and began cleaning the mud out of the ear injury. He repaired it in the ER while we sat with The Handy Man. The ear had detached around the top–and it required many, many sutures inside and then the external repair. The surgeon was most concerned about infection because of how contaminated the ear was.  An x-ray was taken of the wrist. Other than a cracked head, nothing else was broken. Of course, he had injured his “good” ear. As we like to joke, he is deaf in his left ear and hard-of-hearing in his right one.

The initial estimate was that we would be in the hospital for a week, but a seasoned nurse came in and said that, based on how well he was doing,  she would not be surprised if he was allowed to go in one or two days. And indeed, The Handy Man, apart from being in severe pain, was acting like himself–joking, giving the nurses a lot of good-natured grief. I clung to her words of wisdom like a life raft. The Handy Man was transferred to the ICU.

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finally got that pesky collar removed!

Lindy arrived with my cooler of goodies from Gayle-Rae and my overnight bag. Star Child and Seven took turns with Lindy coming in and visiting. Seven is a nursing student, so she found all the gory stuff very interesting.  They eventually left, and we were left in the excellent,  attending care of the ICU nurses. The Handy Man rested fitfully between neurological checks, blood pressure checks, temperature checks, IV monitor beeping, blood pressure cuff readings, etc.  His blood pressure was fluctuating, sometimes really high. His blood sugar was also very high. Both were probably due to the trauma. My rest was even more fitful–between all his interruptions, his occasional moaning, the very hard chair cot,  and the fearful thoughts that kept assaulting me in the night (how long would he miss work, how would we pay for all this, would he really  be okay, etc.)  I found I had to preach the gospel to myself over and over that night. I finally begged the Lord for rest, and I had about an hour of uninterrupted sleep.

My mother arrived the next day  for a visit, bringing with her some food for me. Other friends came–Tammy and  Scott; Michelle and Bob. The Handy Man had done well and was being transferred to a regular room. I was relieved to find that the sofa cot was much more comfortable than the chair cot had been, and there was a comfy recliner, too. The Handy Man was in bed for the remainder of that afternoon, but the next morning, he moved quickly to the recliner. He was up walking around. He insisted on wearing his pajamas. They removed his IV as he was drinking well. We were ready to go home!

The Handy Man is “grounded” for two weeks. He can not lift more than 10 pounds, he cannot drive, he cannot operate heavy machinery. He is going nuts. His body still hurts, his ear is still very swollen and hurts, his head hurts. BUT he is alive, he is mending, and we still have him!  Hopefully the neurosurgeon will clear him when he goes back. I am afraid the plastic surgeon may take longer–he cannot wear glasses for 3-4 weeks, and he has to wear protective goggles for work. His injured ear is very swollen and sticks out of his head at a weird angle. That should go back to normal when the swelling goes down.

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Good ear for comparison

I have no idea what the hospital bills will be….I do know that our deductible is so high that it will take us a long, long time to pay off the bills. However, God is faithful. I have for a while prayed for God to show me what He would have me to do to help our family finances. I begged him for something I could do and still homeschool my children.  On Tuesday, I received a call from the local school board about an application I started but never completed (last fall!) to be a bus driver. I have an interview next Thursday. Whatever happens, I know that God has us…He always has and always will.

Our friends and family have been wonderful. I was encouraged to keep my plans for a spring break get-away with Tammy and Gayle-Rae, and I did. We had a blast! (post to come soon!) Our adult children (including Andy) all stepped in to make sure that someone was here to care for the children, provide transportation, and care for The Handy Man.  Yesterday, on my way home, I received a call from Lindy. Andy had popped the big question, and she had given him a “yes”.  What a way to end a week of incredible lows and surprising highs!  It is indeed always an adventure.

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Hannah ring edited

Happy, newly-engaged Lindy. He even got the ring right. She LOVES blue!

 

 

 

 

 

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Life in Death

Curious George turned six in November.  He had never had a party with friends, although, let’s be honest, when you have a large family, every birthday is a party.  Still, though, he yearned to have a “real birthday party” with friends, and we were happy to oblige.

November is a busy month for us. My father’s birthday was the 13th, a birthday he shared with one of his younger brothers, my mother’s birthday was the 18th, a birthday she shared with Curious George, and a few other uncles and various family members also have birthdays in that week. Lindy’s birthday was the 21st, a day she was sharing with Curious George for the sake of his party, and the day, it turns out, which we will always remember. It was the day on which my father died.

My father fell on November 11th and broke his pelvis.  He celebrated his 74th birthday in the hospital. I was not there that day, although I did end up spending two nights with him in the hospital–the first one and his fifth one. I did wish him a happy birthday by phone, but Dad was not able to talk on the phone. Parkinson’s disease had robbed him of so much, but the fall robbed him of so much more. Between the pain and the pain medication, his lucid moments during those painful days were few, brief and unpredictable.  He was transferred to a rehabilitation facility on November 16th, and he passed away on November 21st.

In the last few months, Dad had lost confidence in his mobility. He was still getting around okay, but his steps had become less sure. He had been relying more and more on his walker. His brain did not process things as quickly. He was having more days where he just couldn’t find his words. And yet, his sparkle was still there. He would still tell jokes. He  would get a gleam in his eye when something tickled him. He was less able to tolerate noise, which made his Thursdays with us a challenge at times. For him, it was about constantly having to make allowances for noisy boys and a baby who did not understand that Opa needed quiet. The boys had to learn how to reign in the inner noise-maker.  Even with the challenges, though, it was still a privilege to care for my father that one day a week. Even on the bad days, when he would mostly nap, we enjoyed each other. Always, though, he looked forward to seeing Mom at the end of the day. He always wanted to know how much longer before she would be home.

Being with Dad was exhausting. It gave me such respect for my mother, who cared for Dad day in and day out, taking time away only to teach a few days a week. She was the true hero in the midst of the last year. She could have put Dad in a “home”. She refused. She cared for him lovingly. Spending one day a week with my father was the very least I could do, and it was my joy to do so.

In the last ten days, the entire family rallied to make sure Dad had visitors every single day. Some of us were able to take turns staying with him in the hospital around the clock, while others were able to visit him daily at the rehabilitation center. Dad rapidly and progressively lost his ability to talk coherently, although he did say different names, and we knew he was thinking of different people.  At one point in the hospital, he looked at me with tears in his eyes, and he said, “You are such a good girl.”  In that moment, Dad was present, and he knew who I was.  It was a balm to me to hear those words. Dad felt so honored that we would all take time out to care for him and visit him in the hospital.

Dad often gestured towards things we could not see during those last days.  He was often restless, and then we would hold his hand or speak to him, and he would calm down.  The hip fracture made it impossible for Dad to sit up or roll over on his own.  He was in so much pain. But he knew when we were there, and he responded to us.  On our last Thursday, Little Princess and Lil’ Adventurer went with me to visit Dad in the rehab facility.  He was pretty unresponsive at first, but he rallied when Little Princess asked him if he wanted some juice. He said her name, and he indicated he wanted to sit up a little. And he drank his juice and some water for her. My sister lived very close to the rehab facility, and when she called to see how we were faring, I mentioned that Lil’ Adventurer was very bored. She came by and picked him up. He got to spend the afternoon with his cousins. So Little Princess and I just sat with Dad until my mother arrived. I got him to eat most of his dinner. We all kissed him goodbye, and we left. It was the last time I saw him alive. I am not sure I would have done anything differently had I known that I would not see him again.  I think that loving someone well does not leave room for regrets, but it does leave room for sorrow that there wasn’t more time.

It is strange the way that life and death coexist. We had a house full of family and party guests the day Dad died. Mom had opted to spend the afternoon with us to celebrate the birthdays.  My father had developed pneumonia, and my brother had called my mother to tell her that the rehab facility wanted to transfer Dad back to the hospital. My brothers and sister had been with Dad that day, along with a family friend. They had all just left after spending hours with him. That’s when his heart stopped beating. A nurse walked in to check his vitals and immediately knew something was wrong. Five minutes after leaving the parking lot, my brother got the call. We, in turn, got the call while all our guests were still here.

The rest of that day is a blur. My dear friends were here, and they took over. Little Princess was distraught, and Mama Tammy took her home so she could process her loss. My friend Gayle-Rae stayed here and folded mountains of my laundry and cleaned my kitchen with Gladys Mae. I went with my mother to the rehab facility so we could say goodbye to Dad one last time. He was gone–his body nothing more than a cold, empty shell.

I am grateful for my mother and all three of my siblings. We spent that evening together, reminiscing, grieving, crying, laughing. I am grateful that in the end, we were all able to be with Dad in various ways, freely loving him as we were able. In the end, Dad knew he was loved.

I don’t know that my father knew Jesus. I loved my father as well as I could, flawed though I am, and I have to trust God with everything else. I am so very grateful that I was reconciled with my parents when Dad’s time came.  We had precious times with him…..taking him on school field trips, having him listen to Lil’ Adventurer as he read the latest phonics reader, seeing him encourage Little Princess with her piano playing. We took Mom and Dad out on a pontoon boat a friend owns up on Lake Rabun last August. That was a fun afternoon.  All those sweet memories play in my mind, and I am grateful that I have them.  Through it all I tried to show him what it meant to trust Jesus.

In my younger, Pharisaical days, I quoted so much Scripture and spouted so much dogma, I know it turned my family off.  (Some of them have been gracious enough to tell me so–followed by the assurance that I have changed.) It is not that I stopped believing the truth. Rather, I began to believe even more fervently that God is the one in control of who believes in Him and who goes to heaven. I do have a responsibility to share the gospel. Sometimes I even use words, to paraphrase John Wesley. But what do you do when the person you so desperately want to share it with refuses to hear it?  Well, then you do what Jesus did…love them anyway. And love them well.

I am glad I don’t have to depend on my actions being enough. God’s wisdom and power are so much mightier than my own. In fact, I know I was often not enough, but there was grace to go around.

We are leaning on that grace now as we mourn and remember. I am watching my children process their loss. Curious George is least shy about asking questions. Today he wanted to know what Opa looked like when he died. (We had Dad cremated as was his desire.)  Other days he says things that are pretty insightful for a just-turned-six-year-old, like the day he said he had one grandfather left. He then quickly followed it by saying he really had two grandfathers, but one is just not alive any more.  Lil’ Adventurer has spent a lot of time fighting his little brother. His mourning looks like anger.  Little Princess spent a lot of nights crying herself to sleep, as Gladys Mae reported. (“Mama,” she said, “I might be breaking Sister Code, but I think you need to know that Little Princess cries herself to sleep almost every night.”)

Most of all, I just want to remember my father. His strength, his height (all 5′ 18″ of him), his humor (not always appropriate, though, as it was), his laugh, his deep bass singing voice.  I know my children will have different memories of my father. Their memories will be more of his last days. And I guess that is okay, because there was a beauty in those days, too.   Most of all, I want to remember that my father loved us, and that he was loved by us. In that, I think we all succeeded.

Love is the one thing that will stand at the end. God’s love for us poured out through Jesus, and in turn, poured out through us. God’s grace to all mankind. When all else fails, and it will, love will stand. 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  Amen.

 

Jim Blachly 1941-2014

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Selfie with my Dad at the Museum of Natural History

Dad and Lil’ Adventurer on Lake Rabun August 2014.

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Some of my favorite THM recipes

Trim Healthy Mama has changed my life.  If you struggle with weight issues, blood sugar issues, or just want to get healthy, I cannot recommend this book and way of eating more.  It is a game-changer and a life saver!

These hot, hot  summer days make cooking in our non-air-conditioned Georgia home a challenge. I dislike heating my home with the oven more than I absolutely MUST. Sometimes the oven is needed, but other times, I just like to be creative in my cooking. My crock pot is getting a work out. I am also using my microwave, not for main dishes, but for muffins in a mug, oatmeal and other assorted and easy items.

Easy breakfasts: eggs fried in coconut oil (S), peanut butter cup oatmeal (E) served with greek yogurt, cottage cheese with fruit (E), muffin in a mug (S) found on page 256 in the book.

Peanut butter cup oatmeal (E) is something I sort of adapted from a variety of recipes I had seen online. A lot of recipes are based on soaking the oats overnight. This would require me to actually plan my breakfast. I am way too fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants to do that regularly. This is a quick, easy and delicious oatmeal recipe ready in 2 1/2 minutes.  In a microwave safe bowl, add 1/2 cup Old Fashioned oats (this is important..NOT quick or instant oats!) and 1 cup water.  Stir. Add in 1 TBSP de-fatted peanut flour and 1-2 tsp. good quality cocoa powder. Stir with a fork to incorporate the cocoa. Add sweetener of choice. (I like a TBSP of xylitol mixed with a doonk of THM stevia powder.)  Add 1/2 scoop unsweetened vanilla protein powder. Stir it all up and cook for 2-2 1/2 minutes in your microwave on high. I eat this with plain Greek yogurt.

Muffin in a mug is made so much easier if you can make a bunch of mixes ahead of time. I use the little 1 cup jelly jars you can find at any box retailer. The dry ingredients fill the jar, then I can use a sharpie to write on the lid what is in the jar (chocolate MIM, cinnamon MIM, etc.).  I know that all I need to do is throw an egg and a TBSP of coconut oil into a mug, add my dry mix and microwave on high for a minutes. I often eat some greek yogurt with this. I love the chocolate version found in the book, but there are a number of other recipes available online. Pinterest is a great resource for MIM recipes.

Eggs are good alone, but sometimes I like to change them up by adding some greens. Left-over kale or collards, fried in the oil with a little dash of garlic, then topped with the eggs make a good, healthy greens-filled start to my day. Sometimes I need this meal after giving blood.

I also love to make breakfast smoothies. They always start with about a cup of almond milk, then a protein source (either cottage cheese or protein powder, sometimes both), and then my flavors. If I am going E or FP, I can add a little fruit…. a few strawberries or up to 1/2 cup blueberries for FP.  I love to play with extracts. Caramel extract added in with some defatted peanut flour, cocoa powder and sweetener makes a delightful combination. Another one I really love is to use cherry extract and a little piece of an 85% dark chocolate bar (I like the ones from Aldi best) to make a chocolate covered cherry shake. Sometimes I just like to do the Fat Stripping Frappa from the book (page 240.)  Often I like a smoothie for my morning snack if I ate my breakfast early enough. Sometimes I like a decadent smoothie like this one from Nana’s Little Kitchen.

I use my crock pot quite a bit to avoid the heat. I like to throw a family pack of frozen chicken breasts into the crock pot….just the frozen chicken with a little sprinkle of sea salt and pepper…and cook on high until they are fall apart tender. I use the boneless, skinless breasts more often. This is a great way to make some FP or E meals. I LOVE to use this chicken in large salads for our evening meal. Sometimes I like to combine the chicken with mayonnaise and other S friendly ingredients for a chicken salad lunch. A family pack of chicken can last two family meals plus enough left over for lunch for one or two of us. (Remember, I generally feed anywhere from 6-9, and up to 14, on a regular basis.)

My family really enjoys my white bean chili. This is an easy (E) meal from a bunch of cans…but it is good. I get my canned beans and veggies from Aldi. If I do not have any fresh or frozen chicken breasts handy, I will use canned chicken (also from Aldi.)  Here is my basic recipe: four cans of chicken with broth, or 5-6 chicken breasts (medium size) shredded (save the broth if you boiled these, like I often do in a pinch when I did not plan ahead well.)  One can each: white navy beans (plain), lima beans, butter beans, garbanzo beans, cannelli beans (or white kidney beans), 8 oz can diced green chilis, corn. Empty each of the cans into the crock pot with the chicken. Add in about 2 TBSP dried cilantro, 1 TSP cumin, 1 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, salt, pepper, and any other spices you like. (I don’t make it too spicy because the little people in my home do not like it that way, but you could add a little chili powder, or even some cayenne pepper.)  If you did not have chicken broth from the cans or cooking your chicken, add some now…or cheat and use chicken bullion. Make sure the beans and chicken are covered with liquid. Cook on low until hot..and all day if you must.  Serve with a large salad and some baked blue corn chips. (My kids get regular tortilla chips because they don’t need to lose weight and regular chips are much more affordable.) My children also like to eat this with a dollop of sour cream and a little cheese. I use Greek yogurt in place of sour cream and I skip the cheese.

Last night I found a new and exciting way to use spaghetti squash. Spaghetti squash is so versatile. We eat it with meat sauce like spaghetti or with cream and Parmesan cheese baked Alfredo style, and sometimes I eat it just with butter, salt and pepper.  I have taken to cooking my squash in the crock pot–just plop the whole thing into the crock pot, no need to pierce or add water, and cook on high 5-7 hours (more or less depending on your crock pot.) I have also been trying to better utilize the food in my freezer, so I pulled out a 2 pound bag of “seasoning vegetables” that I bought several months ago at a local store. It was mostly onions and green peppers with some red pepper and celery thrown in for good measure. I also  had a 14 oz package of turkey smoked sausage. We sliced and sauteed the sausage with the seasoning vegetables in about 1 1/2 TBSP of coconut oil. I let that cook down a little while I cut open and scraped out the spaghetti squash. I added the squash meat to the pan and let it cook down a bit more, adding about a TBSP of minced garlic and some sea salt and black pepper. There was a lot of moisture in the pan, so we just let it simmer a bit to allow for evaporation. It reminded the kids of sausage and sour kraut without the cabbage. We served this with some balsamic vinegar. It was a delicious light S meal and served six of us with enough left over for the Handy Man to take a small lunch portion.

And then there are the treats, because, let’s face it, I am not going to stick to any eating plan for long if I cannot indulge in something really good now and again. This young lady has a blog and posts some of the most incredible THM recipes. I won’t even take the time to detail my favorites. Just go visit her site and see for yourself!  Sometimes a hot, sticky day demands a good old fashioned ice cream treat.  In the old days of destructive eating, I would get the Pet ice creams bars when they went on sale at our local store, but now, I have MUCH better, tastier, healthier options. I started with the molds from Wal-Mart ($1.88 per mold, and each mold makes four pops.) This is a really nice FP  fudge pop….it is better if you hold it and let it start to soften just a few minutes. Then it tastes more like a pudding pop like the ones Mr. Cosby used to advertise. While you are there, check out some of the other recipes on that site. I have bookmarked quite a few.

One more website that I must share with you, I will name. Gwen’s Nest has so many helpful guides for a beginning THMer. I would always suggest reading the book, but Gwen has some amazing recipes. Here is my current favorite. I love it so much that I rarely get to the part where I coat the pops in chocolate. I just freeze and eat the ice cream. It is that good.

I have so many other recipes I could share, and perhaps I will do so later. Eating well and eating delicious food are one and the same in our home (most of the time!) I have lost 74 pounds eating this way…and hopefully more, but I am not allowing myself to pull out the scale for the month of July.

I hope you enjoy some of these recipe treasures!

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