Friday, January 12, 2018

Crazy Christmas 2017

Maybe we are crazy. Maybe we honestly did lose our minds.

But we did it.

We piled into a 15-passenger van and headed to Texas.

But first, let me back up.

Christmas started, as it seemingly always does, as soon as Thanksgiving is complete...maybe even before. For my Little family of four, we stayed home on Thanksgiving Day, just the four of us, and put out all of our Christmas decorations with Christmas movies on in the background, and enjoyed a Mexican feast. The next day we went to my aunt Karen and aunt Cheryl's house. And I am incredibly grateful that we did. I kept thinking that all of us would be there to visit and spend time with my aunt who was ill, and that I would go back alone in January to have another visit, similar to the one my sister and I were able to have at the beginning of November. But it didn't happen like that. November 24th was the last day I would see my aunt. She passed away just a little more than 2 weeks later.

After the turmoil and grief and sadness of several days, and really weeks leading up to and following her death, I was feeling overwhelmed and sad and struggling to make it through each day without crying or wanting to just stay in bed. My extended family had been planning to go to Texas for a family reunion, but I just couldn't deal. The idea of planning a trip for that long, that far away, with so many schedules and moving parts was pushing me over the edge. I spoke to my mom about it and she was gracious enough to tell me that we didn't have to go if it was going to be too much for me. That gave me the strength I needed to jump in and make it happen. I had become incredibly aware of the limited time I might possibly have with my mom. And this is something she wanted above all things, so I knew I couldn't miss it.

After discussing airline ticket prices versus driving, I knew we had to drive. For 8 of us to fly to TX was going to cost easily around $3,500. So instead, we opted for the van.

December flew by. We celebrated Christmas at my mom's two weekends before Christmas and then we celebrated with David's family the weekend before Christmas.

We spent Christmas Eve going to church, at home packing, finishing up last minute wrapping and cooking, and reading the Christmas story while leaving cookies for Santa. Christmas day was spent at home with gifts and food and fun and laughter.

Then we woke up bright and early on the 26th and picked up the 15 passenger van that quickly became known as Hershey. It was actually really fun!! Nathan drove the entire way, though I tried to offer my help. We had an interesting stay in a motel, saw over 50 family members, all 10 of us (including my mom and JD) stayed with my aunt Sylvia and uncle Bob for several nights (they only have one shower!!), we got in each other's space, we learned to live with it, we got annoyed, we made up, we laughed, we cried and I wouldn't trade this trip for anything.
My mom took all of us (though my sister and I had been many times, our husbands and kids hadn't been before) to the farm where she grew up. We saw the house I remember my Granny and Papa living in and the land behind it where they tore down the original house my grandparents had lived in and where my mom lived for the first several years of her life - the house that had an outhouse and storm cellar and belonged to my mom's Granny. My aunts - Sylvia and Rae - were there to add to the stories my mom told. It was great fun to hear all of their memories and stories and thoughts about those days. We went by both of my uncles' houses and enjoyed driving downtown where my mom showed us her high school and where my grandfather worked and so many other landmarks, some that had stayed the same and some that had changed completely.
The family reunion was wonderful. I hadn't seen the majority of my family since my grandfather's death seven years previously. Xander had only been to TX twice, once when he was 6 months old and then again when Papa died in 2010. Amelia Jayne had never been, so none of my cousins had ever met her! It was so sweet to watch her play with my second cousin's little girl, Juliet. They had both brought their dolls, so they had things in common from the moment they walked in the door.

Everyone said I was crazy when I told them about this trip. I pretty much agreed and still agree, but I will always say it was worth it. Making memories is fun. Working through grief is necessary. I'll treasure these memories and our love for one another always. :)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Books I've Read - September-December 2017

The Sun is Also a Star
by Nicola Yoon
This was the YA book in our Community Read initiative at the library in October. It very interesting. Though it is a YA book the themes are serious and pretty intense - themes of immigration, deportation, young love and parental/family drama.
The questions to make you fall in love, referenced in the book, were fun. I printed out a copy for David and I to go through. If you watch The Big Bang Theory the questions might look familiar. Penny and Sheldon went through them together. Here's a clip you might enjoy. :)

Today Will Be Different
by Maria Semple
This was the adult book in our Community Read initiative at the library in October. I hate to say this because I work at the library and I'm part of this initiative, but I did not care for the book. To be honest with you I didn't make it all the way through. I just couldn't. I felt that the main character was whiny and self-absorbed. I couldn't deal with that.

The Five Love Languages
by Gary Chapman
I read this many years ago but decided to go back and get a refresher. I'm so glad I did. There was great insight on how to love not only my husband, but other members of my family and friend tribe, too. David and I have been married for 13 years and we've both changed a lot in those 13 years. I love that we're ever changing but that the basis of our love stays the same. Even though the love is always there I feel that I can always improve on my love for him. I tried some new things and gained new insights that have already proven helpful in our marriage.

The Five Love Languages of Children
by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
Though I had read The Five Love Languages before and even went back to reread them, I had never picked up this book before. It was very helpful. I've really been wanting some more parenting books and advice lately. I feel that there is so much information readily available about children ages 0-5, but after that it's not as prevalent. This was incredibly helpful for the ages my children are now. I'm on the lookout for more (good) parenting books for elementary aged kids, so if you have any recs, pass them on!

The Truth According to Us
by Annie Barrows
I technically started this back in the summer, but it has taken me forever to get through it. It's good, but it's not my go-to read when I'm bored. I had to make a concerted effort to finish this. I picked it up because it's by one of the authors of my beloved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Which, coincidentally, they're making into a movie due to come out this year.

Turtles All the Way Down
by John Green
Oh you know what a John Green fan I am. I just love the way he writes!! And this novel didn't disappoint. It went a different direction than I imagined, but once I was finished I realized I should have known John Green would focus more on the characters than the mystery or the plot line. I love the way he writes so much because of his character development and the reality he brings to these often bizarre people and their situations.

Love Lives Here
by Maria Goff
This was a recommendation made by a friend, but after reading Love Does by Bob Goff, I was very interested in reading this book by his wife. It had some very special insights that I will take with me.

The Light We Lost 
by Jill Santopolo
This was an adult fiction novel that I just blew through (which is rare for me as far as adult fic is concerned). It was so moving. I don't condone many of the main character's actions, but I couldn't help empathizing with her. It was touching and sad and funny and relatable.

Strong Mothers, Strong Sons
by Meg Meeker
My mom recommended this book after I repeatedly spoke to her about some challenges Xander and I were having. It's been a HUGE help. I'm technically finished, but I will be soon.

When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi
I began reading this book after a recommendation from a colleague of mine. I had told her about my mom's illness and she immediately thought of this book. It took me a couple of months to pick it up, but I couldn't bring myself to read it. Then, when I found out about my aunt Cheryl's lung cancer, I immediately grabbed a copy.
It's about a young neurosurgeon/neuroscientist who gets lung cancer. He wrote this book after his diagnosis, and his wife completed it and published it after his death. I'll admit that I read Part I back in November, but had to put it down for a bit and then picked it up again at the end of December. It was so beautifully written. What an amazing man - he was a scientist, but also had a love for words and literature. That must be so rare to have someone who is great at science but who also loves language and reading. I highly recommend this book - one of my faves for the year.

Amelia Jayne and I finished the How to Train Your Dragon series. There were 12 books in the series and I think it took us about 11 months to finish them all. This is probably one of my favorite children's book series ever. Maybe not quite as much as Harry Potter, but it's a close second. And the audiobooks just make these stories come to life in an even more amazing way. I know I've said it before, but David Tenant does a phenomenal production through voice acting. Fantastic. You must try it out!!
I've also read a ton of books with Amelia Jayne. She's really into Pinkalicious, Judy Moody, and Fancy Nancy just to name a few. We also read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and started reading Wonder. That girl loves to read!! And her own reading ability is progressing quite nicely. I'm so proud of her!
Xander is really into anything that has to do with Captain Underpants, Dogman or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I'm not in love with any of these books, but it keeps him reading. Over Christmas break, when we were in TX with his cousins, I overheard him raving about these books. When one of his cousins said he didn't like reading and that reading was dumb, Xander bravely stood up for what he likes and told him that he loved to read and that Carson just needed to find a book that he likes. I was so proud of him!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

My safe place

A few weeks ago, I was talking to one of my sweet co-workers who reminded me of why I blog in the first place. It’s not to impress, complain, annoy or even to delight.

It’s really just for me. It’s to reflect on what’s going on in my life. It’s to remember what it’s like to be a mother to my two beautiful children (growing pains and all), fun events that take place and life things that take up space in my head and my heart. There’s no timeline or deadlines or pressure to perform.
There have been seasons in my life that I have lovingly and consistently written about. And other times that I’ve pulled away. The past many months have been more of the impersonal-pull-away variety. BUT since I’m trying to muddle through this whole vulnerability thing, I’m going to start back up. I want to remember things. Even the hard things.
I love my fam more than I could ever express. But being a mom and a wife and a friend and a daughter have all come together lately in a mountain of pain and difficulty. Since this is my space, my safe place and where my heart can breathe a little easier, I'll write. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Loss & Love

Some days are harder than others. 
Though she didn't live near me and I didn't see her enough, 
she was (and is still) my family.

And to one? 
She was her life.
She was her passion and her everything.

How do you say goodbye to someone like that? 
How do you keep going day after day?

How do you see someone you love grieve the loss of her most beloved? 
And still manage your own grief?

How do we process and navigate a life without the one who completed it?

When we open up our hearts, we make them vulnerable. 
They are susceptible to the grandest of all beauties, the saddest of all sorrows. 
Yet being vulnerable is what allows us to feel those emotions that make life worth living.

I don't have the words to comfort a loss at this greatest of levels. 
I don't have enough tears to shed the sadness I feel.
I don't have warmth enough to push out the cold, hard reality.

But I have love. Deep down. Way down deep there is Hope, there is Love and there is Comfort.

As long as that spark is there, that soft glimmer of light,
I know it can blaze, once again, into an all-consuming fire.

Our lives are forever changed by the love, beauty and grace that Cheryl brought to it.
And I am beyond grateful to have known her and loved her.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The blizzard

I finished a book earlier this week that had numerous memorable quotes. I connected with many of the words, but the following quote seems to describe my life lately.

“There's an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem that's been rumbling around inside me ever since I first read it, and part of it goes:

'Blown from the dark hill hither to my door
Three flakes, then four
Arrive, then many more.'

You can count the first three flakes, and the fourth. Then language fails, and you have to settle in and try to survive the blizzard”
John Green, Turtles All the Way Down 

That's the way my life has been these last few months - I can count the first three or four things that tumbled into my life (or ripped through, as the case may be), but now I'm just trying to survive the barrage of endless happenings.

It's been a pretty rough year, arguably the hardest year of my life.

The challenges started in April. I woke up with a pain in my neck, and through a series of doctor's and chiro visits, tests, MRIs and x-rays, I found out I had a herniated disc in my neck. Thankfully, no surgery was needed. I went to physical therapy twice a week for 3 months and dwindled down to now I'm only going once or twice per month. I don't have the pain I was having (it was terrible and there is so much more to this story, but it's long and I don't feel like reliving it right now), but I still have some nerve issues depending on how I use certain muscles.

The same day I received the news that I indeed had a herniated disc in my neck, my mom called to tell me some test results she received about recent respiratory illnesses she had been having. She was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a disease that affects her lungs - it causes scarring, and it is terminal. This news has changed our whole family's lives, but obviously and most notably my mom's. She is on medication several times per day, she is now on oxygen almost 24 hours per day, she had to change some eating habits and exercise, and is learning how to slow down a little bit and say no more often. This news is staggering. Honestly I am still processing it and working through my own thoughts and feelings. There are days I'm overwhelmed with sadness and grief and other days that I pull on my bootstraps and get to work, thinking optimistically, positively and with great faith. I'm sure there is so much more I could say about this, but I'll leave it here for now. 
The third blow of this year was delivered by my sister the last weekend in October. My stepmom had called to tell her that my dear aunt, Cheryl, has lung cancer. Not only does she have lung cancer, but it has moved to her brain. She only has a short time left with us. This is my aunt who fits so perfectly into my family - she is my aunt Karen's partner of 30 years - our beloved, Cheryl. This news has also rocked my world. And I am overwhelmed with feelings. They come on me at times with such intensity that I literally have to sit down. Again, I could go on and on about this, but for now this is what I can share.
This fall has brought with it so many challenges, joy and sorrow. I have to make the choice each and every day for joy. Many of these challenges and heartaches take me down into the depths, but I still must choose joy. God is my ultimate Comforter, Provider and Protector.
As if the previous incidences aren't enough to keep my brain and body occupied, here are some other things that went down at my house this fall:
One of my very best friends came to visit me for a week. It was mostly a great visit because I got to see her and hug her and talk with her and be in her presence, but her reason for coming was due to some personal problems she's been having, so there was an air of sadness hanging over the visit.
I turned 37 - entered my late 30s last month. I was celebrated in several different ways and am so blessed to have such wonderful friends and family. 
Xander had an amazing soccer season where they were undefeated - he was fantastic! He was so exciting to watch and I can't wait to see how he continues to progress in this sport that he loves so much.
Amelia Jayne turned 6! We had a unicorn party for her at the house, which included decorating your own unicorn horn, making unicorn poop slime (it's a thing, y'all), playing unicorn horn ring toss, and making edible necklaces. It was a busy but fun day!

Erin and Nathan turned 40 (sorry, Nathan - he'll BE 40 in less than a month) and we threw them a surprise 40th birthday party at my mom's. Star Wars theme - May the Forties Be With You. ;)
We went to the beach the weekend before Halloween to spend more time with family - my mom and JD, Erin, Nathan and their kids. Then we had some friends over for Halloween night - ate chili, drank wine, lost children, found children and generally had a blast!
David's office is overrun with work, which is a great problem except that they don't have enough people to work it, so he's worked several 60-80 hour weeks lately.
My Dad retired and we are going to celebrate him and his 39 years as a commercial airline pilot. We will be going to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville for the celebration this weekend.

We had lice at our house for over a week. Y'all. This is a new thing for me - I've never had lice before nor have my children...leave it to my social, outgoing and touchy-feely child to bring them into our home. It's been a slight nightmare, but the good news is that I'm getting really good at spotting them and picking them out of her hair. If I weren't so disgusted by them I could start a business de-lousing homes. Gross.
And here is yet another quote that reverberates in my heart. I will leave you with this:

“Every loss is unprecedented. You can't ever know someone else's hurt, not really - just like touching someone else's body isn't the same as having someone else's body.”  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Amelia Jayne's Birthday interview - Age 6


TV show - Cupcake Gemma on YouTube 

Movie - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Song - Hello by Adele

Musician - Adele

Food - watermelon

Candy - Dots

Toy - Mooncake (her unicorn stuffed animal)

Activity - Art

Cereal - Chocolate Cheerios 

Vegetable - carrots

Drink - milk

Game - playing school with friends and stuffed animals

Book - Everyone Loves Cupcake by Kelly DiPucchio (followed closely by Everyone Llves Bacon)

Restaurant - Chick Fil A

Holiday -Christmas

Animal - unicorn

Color - Turquoise 

Vacation - the Beach

Sport - gymnastics

If you could change your name to anything, what would it be? Unicorn-tastic

If you could have anything you want this year, what would it be? "A real unicorn!”

What do you love most about Mommy? "That she loves me."

What do you love most about Daddy? "That he loves me."

What do you love most about Xander? "That he plays with me sometimes."

Friday, September 1, 2017

Books I've Read May-August 2017

Hands Free Life
by Rachel Macey Stafford
This was great, y'all. I had to overlook some of her sappier tendencies (and this is coming from a sensitive and sappy type) but the underlying message and encouragement oozing from each page had me. There were practical applications for each of the habits she mentioned and forgiveness on each page. Start where you are and really live your life. I found myself being so much more intentional and I've really taken stock in what's important in my life. I'm thankful I read this.

Cold Tangerines
by Shauna Niequist
This book was like talking to a friend. I want to be her friend. She struggles with so many things I can relate to - weight, pride and connection to name a few. Many of the things she wrote left me vigorously nodding my head and agreeing with her wholeheartedly.

Present Over Perfect
by Shauna Niequist
A couple of girlfriends and I did an online study with this book. I've known about Shauna for a long time but had not read any of her work. After seeing the first video I knew I was going to love her. And I do. She's just the right balance of real and honest. She's not too funny (which is intimidating to me! Like, I LOVE Jen Hatmaker, but we could never be friends - she's too witty and hilarious. She'd get bored with me fast!) but she's humorous enough that I still like her. And this particular book took me a loooong time to finish due to the time it took me to digest it all.

The Same Kind of Different as Me
by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
This was interesting and sad and inspiring and encouraging all at the same time. I especially found Denver's portion of the story fascinating and gut-wrenching, but without Ron's part of the story Denver's may never have gotten told. It was worth the read. I like a story about unlikely friendships.

Of Mess and Moxie
by Jen Hatmaker
Jen comes through again!! She is so amazing and I love her books. Everything about it is so real and so relatable. I laughed and cried and laughed some more. Whether you are dealing with marriage issues, parent issues, raising children or just being a woman in today's culture I think you'll love it.

by Shauna Niequist
I cannot say enough about Shauna Niequist. We really could be friends in real-life. I love reading about her life and her experiences. This was another winner.

Amelia Jayne and I continue to listen to audiobooks together. This summer we've listened to the majority of the How to Train Your Dragon series - books 4-9 to be exact. There are 12 in the series, so we're almost finished! It's been much better than I expected. The story lines have taken an intricate and sophisticated turn. I've been really impressed and have thoroughly enjoyed them. She and I have been reading the Boxcar Children series together during her "homework" time - we're on the second book right now - Surprise Island.