Tuesday, December 29, 2015

No Snow Here, Just Beautiful Sunsets

    It was surprisingly beautiful today, sunny, mild again, and pretty. I enjoyed my walk with Henri so much that I came to the realization, for the first time in my life, that a winter with warm temperatures and no snow would be alright with me. I immediately tried to banish such a dreadful thought from my mind because thinking such a thing must mean I'm getting old and soft. But it was so pretty today and it was so nice to walk with my jacket unzipped, how could I not enjoy it? And then we had this sunset right around 5:00 pm. What is not to embrace about this day?!
     As I rounded the back of the house, I saw Mari's artistry near the basement stairs. There had been lichen and moss on it as well, but those must have blown away. I like the things that she leaves behind to remind me of her. I can still see her bending over this and working intently on her creation.

     We tell ourselves the days are beginning to get longer again, but it's still dark so early. By late afternoon I methodically go through the rooms and turn on all the lamps and candle lights. It makes the house feel cozy with a warm, golden glow. Anything to banish the darkness until spring arrives.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Don't Blink

     Once again, Christmas has come and gone in the blink of an eye. Looking over my photos, I don't see any creative or artful shots. I took the iconic Christmas morning photo depicting happy children sitting on the floor surrounded by torn wrapping paper. It was perfect.
     The weather was too warm for my northern taste of what Christmas should be, but Steve loved it and declares that the entire winter can remain at seventy degrees for all he cares. Some of the stand-out memories from the weekend include:
1. Driving through fog and rain to the store, alone at midnight, for infant Tylenol. It was actually a peaceful experience and I was wide awake. We thought Matthew might have an earache and I will do anything for that little cutie.
2. Seeing Mari and Jack enjoy these Hop Balls. We had these when our girls were young and they enjoyed them. They're a great way for cooped up children to expend some energy when it's rainy and they're fun outdoors in nice weather as well.
3. Answering my phone in the morning and seeing Chelsea's face! I didn't know about Facetime and I was so shocked and surprised when I saw her face on my phone. That was a real treat. We "Facetimed" two more times after that and included everyone.
4. I love to give gifts and it felt so good to give my gifts. I received some really nice things as well : )
5. Gingerbread cookies with Homestead Creamery eggnog makes me do a happy dance.

On another note, I watched two very good movies. The first one I found on Netflix instant play and is called Little Boy. Usually instant play movies on Netflix are just so-so, but this one is really good! It's a heartwarming story about the cutest little boy ever and how he longs for his father's return from war. There are characters you will want to love and characters you will want to hate. The actor who plays Little Boy did an excellent job. It's simply an all-around good movie.

The other movie I enjoyed, which was on DVD from Netflix, was Finding Vivian Maier. I am fascinated by this woman and her photos. It was an excellent documentary that answered almost all of my questions about Vivian Maier except, "Why?". I guess I shall forever remain fascinated...

Monday, December 21, 2015

It's Never Enough!!

     I've been pondering this whole 'people-getting-depressed-at-Christmas' phenomenon. Obviously people are depressed all year round, but depression tends to rise at Christmas time. I admit to having some melancholy moments myself. Tragedy and illness don't take a Christmas break, do they? I am fascinated by the strange dichotomy of people feeling depressed while simultaneously creating this frenetic celebration. We are hell bent on finding that Christmas spirit even though we're a frazzled mess or secretly crying in the bathroom. We attempt to recapture childhood memories by reliving a perfect Christmas past or glue and tie our way via Pinterest to a picture-perfect holiday home. Cue the snow, please. We are seeking perfection. We think we can recapture this by giving the perfect gift or creating the perfect party. We keep searching to create with our own hands the perfect Christmas and it can never be. Nine times out of ten, it will fall short because something is always missing. Every gift we give or receive, every cookie we bake may bring a smile and a moment of satisfaction, but it will fall short of our heart's deepest desire. Within days we will be longing and seeking all over again. We want our loved ones back, we long for fractured relationships to be mended, or we suffer for poor health to be healed. More gifts or that perfectly decorated tree can't make it better. The moment we think we've achieved it, we turn around and something else is out of sync. It cannot be fixed by our own hands; not in a million years. No wonder it all comes to a head on this one day of the year that we want to be perfect, Christmas.
     How can we find joy when our hearts are broken?  The world is broken in a way that man cannot repair, not individually nor collectively. Joy will come only when we realize that we can let go of our striving to make it perfect. We need a Savior. We need to know that we need a Savior. Jesus came and fixed it for us. He is the substitute perfection for all of our imperfection. Therein lies our hope. That is what we are celebrating!
     So, rejoice in burnt cookies, light strands that have gone dark, tears shed for the mothers, fathers and children we desperately miss. This is exactly what we should feel. We need to know what we are missing and be able to name it. We are celebrating all that is broken and that God sent a Savior to mend it and to make it more than right! There is nothing more to strive for other than to keep our eyes focused on Him. Every year and every day I need this reminder.
     I love how Handel's Messiah takes the promises of Isaiah and sings it to fruition with the Gospel of Luke. Listen to this beautiful oratorio this holiday season and hear the promises of the Gospel put to song.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;
and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.                                                                                    Isaiah 9:2 & 6


Friday, December 18, 2015

Scattered Thoughts

     Cold, blustery air blew in today and we saw snow flurries! I ran outside with the camera, but it was too dark to capture the flurries on film. Or is it on digital? What do we say now? I thought the house looked peaceful, though, so I took its picture.
     It seems like there's so much going on in general yet, at the same time, things are pretty mundane. Tess completed all her finals and can enjoy a little break from classes, Christmas is wrapped in pretty paper and placed under the tree, Mom fell again and knocked out a tooth, Steve is changing jobs within the company and may travel less, but work more, if that's possible, and I decided that I'm saving up bubble wrap and I'm going to wrap my mom in it for protection. Oh, and Steve started building a very long handicap ramp from the back door to my car. It's not very pretty, but as my mom slowly shifts from walker to wheelchair, this will be an absolute necessity in order to get her out of the house. I think the grandchildren are going to love playing on it as well. I overheard Steve tell someone that it's sixty-four feet long! He's building it out of his head with no drawn plans. He designed it in sections using complete 4x8 sheets of pressure treated plywood (not shown) on frames (shown), bolted together. The ramp can later be disassembled and reused as sides to build a shed. Genius!
     It was so warm last week that we were all outside in T-shirts. In contrast, this weekend got cold enough for a nice fire in the wood stove thanks to the enormous load of hickory that Steve, Simon, and John cut over Thanksgiving. Hickory has a strong, distinctive odor and I was a little worried about how it would smell when it burned. But it smells much, much nicer burning than it does 'raw'. Steve found two boxes of marshmallow Peeps in the freezer and we roasted a few tonight : )
     My thoughts feel pretty scattered, which is simply a result of how my brain has been functioning lately. It's hard to stay on topic these days. My guess is that it's because I am standing guard, ready to race into action when something bad happens (mainly with my mom). It's hard to focus on any one thing for very long or to allow myself to completely relax. I'm aware of the long term implications  on my own health and I'm working on that as well. I can't help anyone if I start to fall apart. I have many, many thoughts on how our society approaches elder care and how little support there is for home care of the elderly. But that's a whole other topic for another day.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Mistletoe and a Broken Nose

     Steve and I have the same taste in Christmas trees. We like the kind that look like bottle brush; a stick up the middle with bristly branches sticking out and lots of empty space in between. They're not exactly Charlie Brown trees, but the skinny ones come pretty close. I think they are called Canaan Fir. Nelson's Tree Farm still had plenty of these trees in their fields. Some of them have grown too big to be practical, but we were given permission to take the uppermost part of those too-big trees if we wished. The elder Mr. and Mrs. Nelson, who started the Christmas tree farm, passed away a few years ago and their four sons have kept it running. One of the sons planted 1400 new seedlings. We spoke with him and he said they are still unsure about the fate of the property. It could end up being rented or sold, but he hopes to keep the tree farm operating. We saw rows and rows of the seedling trees when we were hunting for our tree.
     Here we have it! It looks huge in this photo! We cut off the upper three fourths to be our Christmas tree and saved the lower boughs to use for other decorations. We always have a good time walking over to Neslon's to get our tree. Every year I say I'm going to cut one of the super scraggly trees and use it in our upstairs hall and then I always find an excuse not to bother.
     The next day, we came down from the high of tree trimming happiness when Mom took another bad fall. She broke her nose again; this being the third time in the past eighteen months. We spent Sunday evening in the ER and got home around midnight. The Carilion Emergency Room staff gave us the bare bones basic treatment of a CAT scan. Otherwise her care was pitiful. Her entire ER experience took place in the hallway. It was degrading. We sat in the hallway for three hours and I had to keep moving her gurney because it was in the way of others passing by. I noticed the hallway was numbered along the top of the wall just for this purpose of parking gurneys with patients. We were parked at number ten along the hall with three other patients, one of whom was vomiting. She was in her nightgown and slippers, it was cold, and she was in so much pain. I kept trying to cover her bare legs with the skimpy flannel sheet. My poor mom is too old to be handled this way. They never even gave her an ice pack for her swollen nose and eyes. Once the radiology was complete and they knew the extent of her injuries, I asked the nurse if they could give her some Motrin for the pain. The nurse winced and said she's have to put in a request to the attending doctor and it would take a really long time to get approval. She actually told us it would be quicker to get the Motrin after we got home. So we waited for them to discharge her, we drive thirty miles home, and then (four and a half hours after she fell), she got some Motrin. She was too tired for the ice pack.
     My mom is a real trooper and she's handling this very well despite feeling miserable. While I nurse her back to health, I worry about the next fall which inevitably will come. I feel like she should avoid the Emergency Room at all costs, but what are our alternatives?  My friends suggest going to Lewis Gale rather than Carilion and we might try that, if or when there's a next time.
     In the meantime, Christmas comes in fits and starts. I wrap a gift here, place a decoration there, and somehow it all comes together beautifully. Then, in the late afternoon when the sky is darkening and the tree lights are on, I park my mom in front of the Christmas tree and she starts remembering stories. I remember too. It's one of those places in time where love and loss and pain and joy all intermingle and the memories are cherished.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In the Quiet After Everyone Has Left

Youngest comes to say hello to oldest.
     As quickly as they came, they are gone. It was a perfect week. The weather was gentle with warm, sunny days and a bright, full moon at night. The daughters and their families injected life and fanfare into the house. There was much coming and going, games, hikes by day and walks under the moon at night. They played the piano, chased the grandchildren, stoked the bonfire, gathered and split a winter supply of firewood, and cooked for us. We attended a baby shower for Chelsea, ran to the supermarket too many times, and Claire and Daniel hiked MacAfee's Knob with baby Matthew. (That's the Knob in my header photo.) We feasted on Thanksgiving day and three days afterward. The best part of all was simply having this time together to visit, talk, and share plans for the future.
     Inevitably, Sunday morning came and the last children departed. I allowed myself a few tears at the window. It was too wonderful a week to have it end with tears and I'd much rather remember it with a smile. I walked around the house and found items accidentally left behind- a child's toy, a sock, a dryer full of laundry that was not my own! Yes, it was a crazy, busy week. We'll see one another again, as often as we are able. Steve and I went out for a few hours while Tess stayed with my mom. This diversion from the too-quiet house helped a lot.
     The first day back to the Monday routine was drenched in clouds and rain. How apropos to have daybreak greet us with cold and dreariness. I had plenty of time to think while I did laundry and washed the floors. My car is out of commission for a couple of days, so I will take down "Fall" and prepare for "Winter". After all, Christmas is coming!