Crying Tears of Joy, In the Garage

Ever find yourself sitting in the garage after you’ve pulled in, unwilling to get out of the car because the song that’s playing is making you feel something?

That was me just now, and damn, it is great to be alive.

Every once in awhile I find myself, because of a song, or a video, or a thought, or something my honey or the grandsons or the dogs do, just loving being alive. And not just loving it, but being so overwhelmingly grateful that I’m here, enjoying whatever it is that’s making me feel so much at the moment, I cry.

There’s a story behind this. Yeah, yeah, isn’t there always?

The story is a tad long, but it’s mine, and today I’ve decided to tell it. Here goes…

At the end of 2009, November it was, life was moving along just fine. Work, home, friends, family, dogs… a good life. Then, unexpectedly and out out of the blue, my honey got sick. Not just sick, but really sick. Sick as in we went to urgent care, they said oh, you have pneumonia, and here … have a shot in your bum, and go home. Only to be called by an emergency room doctor a couple of hours later who, after reviewing the blood work, told me to get her in immediately. He even told me all the other hospitals along my route in case she lost consciousness. Seems she was sicker than we were originally told. She went into the cardiac critical care unit. One of her lungs was completely full and the other was half full of stuff. This was effecting her heart as well, hence the cardiac critical care unit. She was delirious, literally. I didn’t know what she was saying half the time and she didn’t know much of what was going on. The nurses repeatedly told me she was the sickest person on that unit. She was there in critical condition for a week, before they were able to downgrade her and then finally send her home. I stayed with her at the hospital, never leaving. How could I? She’s my everything. It was the worst week of my life. Which, after you hear the rest of the story will mean even more than it does right now.

Fast forward to May 2010, six months after her illness, and I started not feeling that great. Looking back now I wasn’t feeling great for a little while, but by the end of May 2010 I really wasn’t feeling good. On June 1st we had yet another fateful trip to urgent care. Some blood work results, and they sent me directly from urgent care to the hospital, by ambulance. Seems I was so sick by then that if I’d gotten in a car accident on the way to the hospital from urgent care I would’ve bled to death. The EMTs took me directly to the oncology unit. A couple of transfusions, a bone marrow biopsy (my first of three) with the results a couple of days later, and what we feared had come true. I had leukemia. I was told that it was the deadliest form, but if I lived through the first month, it was also the kind that was curable. Scary, but… good? Yes. Good. If I lived, I thought, I might live.

I spent a month in the hospital… multiple transfusions, multiple tests, and my first round of major chemotherapy. I say first because though I got out of the hospital a month to the day that I went in, I had to go back in later in July for a second round. I was in for a week that time. Then again in August, for another round and another week. And then, in September, I got to do my last round, which was only two pushes (the last of which was on my birthday), outpatient. Unfortunately I ended up getting a neutropenic fever after that round and ended up in the hospital again, for another week, anyway.

By October I was done with the major chemo and starting on maintenance treatment. Which would last for two years and entailed me taking rounds of ATRA (the thing I started right in the beginning that really saved my life), low dose chemo in the form of pills, and a shot, every week. I had to go into the infusion center every week for that shot. It was my life, our lives, for two years.  My first, and diagnosing, oncologist, who was an amazing guy, told me that the maintenance treatment was akin to sweeping the floor. Done to make sure we got anything that could be lurking. I was all for it. My attitude, during the whole thing, was let’s go. Whatever we have to do, let’s do it.

In November, of that first year, I had the third of my bone marrow biopsies. They did a molecular scan and I was cancer free. No aberrant cells found at all. Yay!  I cried, my honey cried, my Mom cried.  I think I might have breathed deeply for the first time since the ordeal started.

Here I am, three and half years later, no longer on maintenance treatment, still getting blood work and seeing an oncologist every three months. Leukemia free. I will do this for another year or so before, once again, my protocol will change and I will only have to go once every six months, and then, at some point, maybe once a year. Who knows. I’m OK with whatever the schedule is.

I chronicled part of this journey here, on this blog. Not posting during that initial time in the hospital, except maybe right in the first few days, but posting here and there during the months that followed. I posted about things that happened, but I never really posted about how I felt.

Damn, I’m so glad to be alive.

I was, as maybe you can or can’t imagine, scared as hell. Scared doesn’t even cut it really. I was terrified. When you hear the words, “your body is chalk full of Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia” everything sort of freezes. Slow motion starts and you look at your honey and your Mom and your brother who are all there with you and they all start crying at once. You look back at the doctor and he’s looking at you, and you say something that seems like it comes from you, and from someone else all at the same time. You say, “OK, what do we do, let’s go”. I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry at all. Everyone else was crying, but I just felt this thing come alive in me. Will. An amazingly strong will. It was there, nuzzled right up against the terror. I would be so determined and yet I kept thinking about things like, oh god, if I die my honey will be alone, my Mom will lose a child (which is unthinkable), my brother will lose his sister, that my grandson won’t know me, that my honey won’t have any more adventures with me, that my dogs won’t understand if I don’t come home. I was so worried about everyone else. Interesting. I kept rehearsing the speech I would have with my Mom if it looked like I was going to take a bad turn. The speech where I tell her to be with my honey, to help her through losing me, to comfort each other. I wanted to live, I was fighting to live, but I also had to prepare myself mentally for the other thing that could happen.

I went through some awful things while I was sick. After the first round of chemo, while I was still in the hospital, I got so sick I don’t remember much, thank goodness. I had to be helped to the bathroom (by my honey or my mom), someone (my honey or my mom) had to shower me, I would throw up and have diarrhea at the same time which the nurses would have to clean up. During this time I also had to have a test (one of many), I don’t remember which one, and part of it was that I had to drink some stuff. I remember my honey, who spent only one night away from me during that entire time (working from the hospital, sleeping there, taking care of me) having to try and talk me into drinking it because I was getting so sick from it. I was sick anyway, and having to drink that stuff didn’t help. She convinced me and encouraged me to get enough of it down so I could take the test. She also had to talk me into taking my pills every day, and trying to eat, and taking a shower. She was my champion.

Everyone talks about the chemo, but no one talks about the other things… weird little side effects from basically having no immune system, like yeast that develops on parts of your body that you can’t get rid of, and other just as lovely things. I had a reaction to one of the transfusions and had to have a major dose of benadryl shot directly into me. I had neutropenic fevers followed by loads and loads of IV antibiotics (two at the same time), which didn’t help with the nausea. I had a pic line put in that was very difficult for them to get in and three weeks later an infection from that pic line which resulted in them having to take it out. I had ultrasounds because I had so much scar tissue in my veins in my arms after pushes and lines and blood draws and IVs that a couple of times they wanted to make sure I wasn’t clotting too much in there. I ended up at urgent once, during those first few months, because I got a hemorrhoid from all the laying and sitting, that started to bleed. Gross.  But, so it went.

I think the worst of it though, ultimately was, and is, the anxiety. I’m a person who never had anxiety before all of this. I’m pretty laid back. Pretty care free and pretty full of joy. Anxiety was something unknown and foreign to me. But during this I developed anxiety. So much so that leaving the house, after I had been allowed to go home, was scary for me. My body would just react… feeling like I couldn’t breathe, heart pounding, panic. When I was neutropenic, which was a lot during those first months as every time I’d have a round of chemo my numbers would crash, I had to be so careful. When I was in the hospital the precautions for neutropenia were major. Gloves, masks on everyone who came in, no flowers in the room, no fresh veggies or fruits on my food tray (and if there was, even a sprig of parsley placed there accidentally, they had to remove it quickly from my room and get me a whole new tray), restricted visitation, basically creating a germ free zone. It wasn’t just that I might get sicker, it was that I could die. My body couldn’t fight anything off when I was neutropenic. An infection became life threatening, as did a cold. So I got anxious about a lot of things. When I was permitted to go home my honey had to remove all house plants from the house (there’s a fungus that can be in the soil that could kill me if I inhaled it), we couldn’t have fresh fruits or veggies, no one could see me if they had even been around someone who might have been sick. I was weak and tired and nauseous most of the time. And just when I’d start feeling better, just when the numbers would start to rise, I’d have to have another round of chemo. My life became very boxed in and small. Hospital for treatment, then home where leaving the house (I’d have to wear a mask when I was outside the house) was not worth it or even possible sometimes. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t do anything really. My honey didn’t even sleep in our bed during this time. She slept on that same air mattress she’d used in the hospital, next to our bed, with the dogs, who couldn’t sleep with me either. It’s not just that things were dangerous to me, I was dangerous to them. I was leaking poison out of my pours most of the time. No kisses, from my honey or the dogs, no using the same toilet even, because I was toxic. All of this created anxiety in me. I still get it actually. Less and less all the time, but I do. I have pills for it. I got them a lot in the hospital, and used them a lot during those months of chemotherapy. They help. And thank goodness for them. Sometimes my mind would go and go, worrying, and worrying. A loop of worry and fear and anxiety and sometimes, panic. As I said, I’m better now, but I don’t know how many times my honey has had to look me in the eye and say to me, “it’s OK my love, you aren’t sick anymore, there’s no leukemia in you… none”. And the rational me then sort of wakes up, comes to again, and knows it’s true.

And damn, it’s amazing to be alive.

I guess I’m recounting all of this because I never have before, and it’s time. Time for me to say it aloud, as aloud as this is. But I guess it’s also because all of this is the counter point to what I was feeling just a bit ago sitting in our garage after having come home from running some errands. Nothing big happened while I was out. I just went to the library and then to the coffee roasting house and then drove home, sipping some coffee and listening to music really loud in the car. It’s sort of gray outside today and the leaves are falling. But as I drove into the garage, and shut off the car, staying in there to listen to the rest of the song (Change by Rascal Flatts, for anyone who’s wondering) I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed because the leaves are falling, and the dogs were barking in the house knowing I was home, and I knew my honey was in her office working, and earlier today we’d gone swimming with our grandson, and the music was so beautiful. I started to cry.  Crying from a place of overwhelming happiness and a feeling that life is so big and wonderful, and so fully felt.

Damn, it’s so so good to be alive.

I am grateful and I’m humbled by the quality of my life.

The thing I learned from my honey’s illness, and then mine, was something I already kind of knew anyway, but it got reinforced big time. It’s something, a feeling, I wish everyone could feel and something I wish everyone could know, without having to go through something so major, so awful. It’s the surety of knowing that there’s nothing important in life save for the people we have in ours. That is, period the end, the only thing that matters. Stuff, problems, annoyances, possessions… none of it matters. Not really. The time we spend having adventures and experiences with the people we love and who love us, that’s what matters. That’s what you think of, what you fear you’ll miss, if you think you could die.

It’s so damn good to be alive because I have so many fantastic people in my life. People, and dogs that is. People I love to be with, who love to be with me. People who I miss when I don’t see them, who miss me right back. Dogs who love me unconditionally and bring me so much joy I can hardly stand it sometimes. People who I laugh with, and get angry at, and cry with, and am silly with. People I have adventures with. People. There is nothing more important than our relationships and the experiences we create together.  It’s the journey we’re making, with each other, that matters.   It’s what matters most to me.

I am so happy, so thankful, so grateful, and so overwhelmed to be alive. Life is so beautiful.

1094041_10151884167640802_293897564_o

Missing People Just Plain Sucks

Missing people just plain sucks.

I’m sad.  I just finished watching a video about the School of Piano Technology in Vancouver, Washington.  And no, pianos themselves don’t make me sad, just in case you were wondering.  What just made me sad was missing my dad.

My relationship with my dad was… complicated.  My parents divorced when I was a young pup.  Knee high to a grasshopper.  My dad, who didn’t want it, didn’t handle it well.  My mom, for her part, wishes she would’ve done the whole thing differently, but we’re human, and we handle things the way we do.  Better or worse.  Life is messy, and so was this.

After the divorce my brother and I lived with Mom full-time.  Dad had visitation and Mom, who still thought he was a great guy, wanted us to have him in our lives.  She talked kindly and fondly of him and often encouraged us to call him.  Dad, who was a person filled with light and joy by nature, couldn’t handle the separation and his best defense was to ignore that it happened, and consequently, to ignore my brother and I.  Simply put it was easier for him to pretend we didn’t exist than it was to actually be engaged with us on a part-time basis.  The whole situation was made more difficult by the fact that he remarried and after a few short years together they moved to Montana.  Being so far away just put further distance between us.  My dad had a great life there.  He and my step-mom had five children together and were happy.  It was good for them, for him.  But he was still my dad and though I loved him, and knew he loved me, he dropped the ball in the being a parent to my brother and I department.  He dropped it big time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

There were hardly any calls to us, and when we did talk to him it was because Mom had asked if we wanted to call him.  And when, finally, we were on the phone with him, after we’d made the call, he would cry, say he missed us so much, and ask how come we didn’t call more.  We were pre-teens, he was the grown up.  Who should have been responsible for keeping in touch?  Apparently, according to my dad, the pre-teens.  I think I only ever got one or two birthday cards from him.  He never wrote a letter.

Missing people just plain sucks.

When he first moved to Montana we didn’t see him for four years.  Not because Mom stopped us from going, but because Dad didn’t ask us to come.  I remember our first visit there, I was 12 when he moved and 16 when we went for the first time.  My brother and I went by train.  It was strange suddenly being with him, with his new family, and feeling outside of it all.  Feeling apart.  He tried to make us feel like part of the family, but he was a tad clumsy with those things.  I have memories from that visit all clouded by this feeling of us all being a bit uncomfortable.  The weird thing is that when we were with him we were his everything.  In person he was fantastic.  Showered us with attention, talked as if nothing was off, as if we hadn’t just spent four years not really communicating at all.  We were his light, when we were there with him.  I’m sure that then made it strange for my step-mom and for my younger siblings.  Suddenly he was all about us.  Wanting to introduce us around town, spend all his time with my brother and I.  He would say things to us like, take this to your mom, referring to our step-mom as our mom.  It didn’t feel right, to us or to her.  He wanted one big happy family when we were there.  Like I said, he was awkward with things like that.  Then, when we weren’t with him, when we were back in Oregon, it was as if all the lights shut off.  All communication once again stopped.  Like a switch.  A switch I wasn’t very good at understanding for a long long time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

This happened every time we went to Montana to visit, or my dad and all came to Oregon, which wasn’t a lot.  After I was a bit older I drove out for my little sister’s high school graduation and then for my younger brother’s high school graduation.  Same thing.  Switch on.  Switch off.  It’s something K saw first hand a few times after we got together and she never understood it.  She always said it was so strange that he didn’t communicate at all with me and then when I was with him he couldn’t get enough of me, showered me with attention and affection.  Switch on…. switch off.  It was actually kind of nice to get her opinion about it.  All those years feeling that way, to then have her confirm how odd it was, was comforting.  Made me feel a little less off kilter where the Dad situation was concerned.

My brother and I handled this whole switch scenario very differently.  When we were younger my brother had Dad on a pedestal, way up high, something porcelain and delicate and beautiful and not to be disparaged or messed with.  Dad was the end all and be all to him.  For me that wasn’t the case.  I was angry.  I remember my brother and I having big yelling matches about Dad.  He defending him as I screamed about what an ass he was for not caring, for not talking, for not being there, for basically abandoning us.  I wrote Dad letters I didn’t send.  Made mixed tapes for Dad that, unfortunately, I think I did send.  Embarrassing, and yet not embarrassing.  I was a teenager who desperately wanted her father to love her.  To acknowledge me when he wasn’t right there looking at me.  To be my father, my dad, whether or not he was standing in the room with me.  Because honestly, I adored him too.  I wanted desperately to have his attention.  After we were adults, my brother and I did a swap in this regard.  Me, having come to grips with who Dad was as a person and who he would always be, and my brother having an experience with Dad in regards to my brother’s wife at the time that would make him so angry he didn’t see or speak to Dad for six years after.  Dad didn’t really do anything, but he didn’t stand up for my brother or his wife and my brother couldn’t make excuses for him anymore.  I think all the anger he hadn’t allowed himself to feel over the years came out because of this incident.  And I think the amount we love and adore someone informs the amount of anger we can feel for that same person.  He was bitter and enraged.  For a long time.  Just as I had been bitter and enraged for a long time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

Later, after we got older and Dad and his second family moved back to Oregon, it was really too late.  They lived not far from Mom, probably only 20 minutes or so, but I never thought of visiting him.  It wasn’t a vindictive thing, it was just that it didn’t occur to me.  He had made himself so absent in my life that he was absent in my thoughts.  By then I would see him every couple of years and that was about all.  I didn’t even think of seeing him.  Didn’t think of making that effort.  Strange.  It’s amazing how someone can be gone from your life for so long that they are no longer a part of the every day culture of it.  You think of them sometimes, and those thoughts and feelings are usually warm and tender and genuine, but during the course of a normal day they don’t even enter your mind.   It’s sad, but that’s what happened with Dad.

Missing people just plain sucks.

Several years ago now I got a call from one of my younger sisters.  She told me Dad had had back pain and had gone into the hospital.  Everyone always teased him about how he whined about his pain or an injury, or whatever.  This time he wasn’t whining.  He went into the hospital and 11 days later, having gotten out and been sent home on hospice, he died in that house 20 minutes from my mom’s place.  I was there.  During those last few days I spent time with him at the hospital, listening to him writhe in pain as the cancer that was attached to his spine grew so quickly it broke his back.  I was there telling stories from my childhood with him and our visits together over the years.  I asked him questions, he asked me questions.  I was there at their house, one that had never been mine, watching the stream of well wishers from their church who brought food and spoke so fondly of him.  I was there to talk to him about music, which was his life’s blood, and laugh with him about some silly thing or another.  I was there standing by his bedside with my brother when our dad apologized to us for not being the father he should have been.  I was there to forgive him and to tell him I loved him.  I was there when his breathing slowed and then stopped for the last time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot after watching the piano hospital video, which made me cry and cry.  I was thinking he was such a joy-filled, emotional man, and here I am, a joy-filled and emotional woman.  I’m blessed to have been his daughter.  He didn’t always do it well, being my dad I mean, but he did do some things right.  Most especially when I was with him.  In person he was awesome.  He was passionate and joyful and silly and fun and so warm.  He was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known.  Honestly himself regardless of the situation.  He loved to laugh, and that laugh was so infectious anyone hearing it had to laugh right along with him.  He had music in his blood.  So talented and effortless, able to play pretty much any instrument, though he stuck with the pedal steel guitar because it was the hardest thing to play and he loved that about it.  I loved to listen to him play.  Loved it.  I loved watching his face when he was playing and singing.  I swear light shot out of him in all directions when he was sitting at that guitar.  Getting to see he and his band play together, live, was always awesome.  I loved his mis-matched outfits and his love of sweets and his gray hair and how when he walked places he moved fast.  He never moseyed.  He was blind, but that guy could move.  I remember watching him do single axle jumps while Ice skating and can picture him floating the river with us.  I can see him playing frisbee at my step-grandparent’s house, leaping in the air, and I remember fishing his glasses out of the river after he, my brother, and I went into the water when the raft ripped down the middle.  I love how he loved his coffee, with loads of sugar and cream, and how he was always the first to lend a hand when someone needed it.  I loved how he smiled and I loved his laugh.  I remember being a tiny girl visiting him one night at the gas station he worked at at that time, and how he walked over and bought us hot chocolates at this diner next door, and then lifted me up so I could clean someone’s windshield.  He made things an adventure.  I remember feeling like I was having an adventure almost every time I was with him.  Not many people do that, give that feeling.  He did.  It was a gift.

Image

Missing people just plain sucks.

Now, thinking about him, the all of him, I’m proud to be his daughter.  I had, long before he died, come to grips with who he was.  The guy who wasn’t the greatest of dads, yet was.  I’d wrapped my head around the fact that he was who he was, and that he would never change.  He wasn’t emotionally mature where my brother and I were concerned, but that was what it was, and it was OK.  I came to a place of accepting him for him and accepting and forgiving myself for putting him in the place I ended up putting him in my life, which was sort of on the side, just out of reach.  And I learned a great lesson from him.  I learned to be there for the people I love.  I learned that the hard way from him, but I learned it.  I think he’d be proud he taught me that lesson, even though I know he wasn’t proud of the way he taught me.  I’m also proud that he passed on his dorky sense of humor, his ability to be light and silly, and his love of all things coffee.  I’m grateful for those gifts, and for the gift of having had him in my life, even the little amount I did.  I’m grateful he gave me my younger siblings; my brother from our mother, and the younger five he had with my step-mom.  They are fantastic, and even though we don’t spend loads of time together, not nearly as much as I’d like, when we do it’s wonderful.   They are, simply, great people.   Each with a great smile.  I have a great smile too.  My smile came from both of my parents.  They both, Mom and Dad, have and had great ones.  Smiles from the inside.  Smiles that light the eyes.  It’s the thing most people notice about me, and it comes from them.

Image 1

Missing people just plain sucks.

It just does.

I miss Dad, and I love him, and sometimes, when the light is just right or my mood is, I see him in me.  Smiling.

Keyser Soze Has Nothing On Us

Wow.  And wow again.  I think I may have started more than one blog entry with that word and here I am using it once again.  Oh well, I’m getting older and that means repeating myself repeatedly.  I’m OK with that.

I digress…

Wow.  It’s been a whirlwind of activity and adventure since we left our little hovel in Urbana, Illinois for places west on July 5.  Here we are on August 14 and I have no idea where the time has gone.  Day after tomorrow we pack up Thor, our tried and true Volvo, our two pupinos, a bunch of crap, and ourselves for the trek back home.  Six days later, and some 2500 miles we will once again be back in the Midwest.  Where has the time gone?

When we were planning this sojourn we thought, OK, six weeks (including two weeks driving) would be plenty of time, but  then again how can there ever be enough time spent with the people you love.  There are so many people here who are in our lives it’s been tough to see everyone.  We haven’t seen everyone.  That’s a hard one.  To leave without seeing everyone.  Seriously though, how could we?  We’ve been so busy.  Let’s recap…

Six days driving here, get here and have appointment with Oregon oncologist, start treatment in Oregon, see Stan and Connie who drove to Salem just to see us (you guys rock), drive up to Portland to meet my cousin and his family after he finished the STP bike ride, eat pizza, have yogurt, drive up to Burlington, WA (and Marblemount, WA) to participate in the spreading of my grandparents ashes and next day check out the estate sale put on by my Mom and Aunts and Uncles at my grandparents house, from there take off for three days in Long Beach, WA (after a 5 hour drive to get there), enjoy the beach, drive back to Salem, drive back up to Scappoose, dinner with friends who invited us over (thanks SJ and Angela, your house is awesome), trips back and forth between Salem and Scappoose every week so I could get my shot in Salem, helping Mom sprinkle some of grandpa and grandmas ashes at Willamette University, work on the yard in Scappoose, and more work on the yard in Scappoose (thanks to Mom and Kev for helping us out with that one of the days… you two are amazing), dinner out with friends (thanks Maggie for taking us to dinner for our birthdays), dinner with friends from Urbana who happened to come to Portland for a wedding while we were here (great dining with you Evelyne and Natalie), showing our friend Jen (who also hails from Urbana) around Portland, and the farm, for three and a half days,  the treat of breakfast out at the Screen Door courtesy of Vicki (thanks girl, the chicken and waffles there can’t be beat!), a few walks in parks both in Portland and Salem with the pupinos, one of which included a piano solo by Karen, a trip on the river with Stan, dinner at Stan and Connie’s place for us with some of our good friends (so great to see you guys), a walk at Cathedral Park with Liz and Jake and Ilsa and Indy followed by a tour of their new house (love it you guys!), a stop by my old office for some chat (Stacia, I love ya girl) and lunch with some of my old work mates (I miss you Josh, Linda, Chris, Liz and Stacia!), packing up the car and driving back and forth between Salem and Scappoose every week (oh, I think I said that already), our annual walk through of one of our rentals with the renters and a drive by of the other, a couple of barbecues thrown for us by POD members, one including splashes in a pool and the other including a tasty salad made with home grown veggies, a couple of trips to the Portland Saturday Market (Sundays too!), a zoo concert (Melissa Etheridge) with some of the POD, dinners out at various places we didn’t want to miss while we were here (Piazza Italia, Little Big Burger, tacos at The Varsity, The Stepping Stone, Ruby Jewel for ice cream, chicken and waffles at The Screen Door, Mississippi Pizza, a food cart or two, Pok Pok, E-San for thai, burritos at Muchas, etc.) all of which made us each gain about 10 pounds, breakfast with my sister Kay, time spent at the farm with Mom and Don, time spent in Scappoose with Kev, packing up the car and driving back and forth between Salem and Scappoose every week like gypsies, sun, fun, and loads of love.

It’s been an amazing time.  We’ve had so much fun.  Though, seriously, I think we’re ready to be home again.  Not that we don’t love it here, and love everyone here, but we’re ready to be home.  Sleep in our own beds, be in our own house, see and spend time with the kids and our little man, who we have missed very much.  I guess that’s what happens when you live in two places.  Live in two places in your heart I mean.  You are always missing something, someone.  That’s the nature of how life works sometimes.  We moved to Illinois to be a part of of the kid’s lives, to be in Sebastian’s life, and we are glad we did.  We wouldn’t change that at all.  It’s just that this is home, and always will be.  The people here and this place make it so.  We are torn, but that doesn’t make us any less happy to be there when we are there, or here when we are here.

That bit there being a few moments of reflection.

So we are heading home on Thursday morning.  Leaving early to get a jump on our longest driving day of the lot.  10 hours the first day.  We’re going to Boise, Idaho by way of Bend and Hwy 20, then Driggs, ID near the Tetons, and from there a drive through the Tetons and Yellowstone and then stays in Sheridan, WY, Chamberlain, SD, La Crosse, Wisconsin, and home.  We’ll get there just in time for the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival.  Yum!

We’ll miss you Oregon, and everyone in it.  It’s been a flash, and now we’re almost out of here.  A month, poof, just like that and it’s gone.  Keyser Soze has nothing on us.  We love it here, and we love the people here.  This wonderful adventure has flown by, and been fantastic.  But be rest assured… we will be back.  It’s time for us to go back home, to more people we love, but we will be back.  We will miss you while we’re gone.  But be rest assured… we will be back.

Honor Thy Mother and Thy Father

;

See these people? They are the epitome of class, love, honor, good humor, integrity, fellowship, and nice. They are just plain nice people. I am proud to know them.

This last weekend these people, my mom and aunts and uncles, had a gathering up at Marble Creek Campground near Marblemount, Washington to spread my grandparents ashes. My grandparents spent many days and nights at that campground. All of us, children and grandchildren alike, have memories of staying up there with them. It was fitting they should have their ashes scattered in a place where so many family memories were made. In a place they loved and spent so much time. In a place as lovely as the woods of Washington State. The next day there was an estate sale at my grandparents house, all proceeds going to the Burlington Edison Alumni Scholarship Fund. They were all there. Very cool.

So many times I’ve said my grandparents, my mom, my aunts and uncles, are the best people I know. I’ve described them that way to everyone I’ve ever talked to about my family. And it’s true. When a person goes along, having a life, they meet many people. I have. Some of them fantastic and some of those I’m still lucky enough to have in my life, or lucky enough to just have met. But there’s a special thing about coming from a family of people you respect so much, love so much, and are so proud of. When I say these seven people are the best people I know, I am proud to actually mean it. In fact they have been jokingly and not so jokingly referred to as the angel children by us, their progeny. Not that they are without fault, just that those faults are honest and have not hurt anyone. They are good people, from good stock. Again I will say, they are nice human beings.

This was never more evident than during the events of this past weekend. When parents die there can sometimes be bickering, nastiness, and divisiveness between siblings. Not these people. There are seven of them and they have managed, at least to my eye, to get along through this process. And maybe that’s not a huge feat as they get along so well anyway, but still it’s a wonderful thing. This ability they have to get along, to enjoy each other, no matter the event, to work out the process of it all, among the seven of them… pretty spectacular. I was impressed by them, yet again.

To me this ability to be these people they are even under these circumstances, the scattering of the ashes, the deciding how to handle the estate, etc. is a direct reflection of who they are. It is also a direct reflection of who grandma and grandpa made them. It’s a direct result of a good upbringing, of who their parents were to them. And it so honors their parents, my grandparents. These fantastic people… wow. My grandparents would be so proud of them. They always were proud of them, of us, but they would also be proud of this. Proud of how well their children have handled this sad time, of who their children have been through this process, how well they have been there for each other and for their own children. My grandparents would be so very proud. I know I am.

Living The Legacy

I’m so fortunate.  I have always known this somehow, even though I’m no stranger to trouble and obstacle and death and sickness.  I’ve known it.  I’ve also been lucky to somehow always have known the things that are most important in life.  Which again I will say are the people you love and who love you back.  That and all things gadgety.  Well, maybe not really, but I love gadgets and was attempting humor.

Anyway… I’m fortunate to know these things, but then I experience something like I did this past weekend at Grandpa’s memorial service and I not only feel that fortune magnified, but I’m humbled by the enormity of it.

There we all were, family, friends, friends of Grandpa, and former students and teachers of Grandpa’s.  The later groups, the former students and teachers, surprised us all.  The surprise was not that they were there so much as what they said.  It was humbling to know that Grandpa, who we as family already knew was stellar in his role as father and grandfather, was also stellar in his role as friend and educator, as boss and mentor.

The memorial started and we were sitting up toward the front.  All of the family was around us, tables filled.  I hadn’t looked behind me until it came time to pass the microphone around and offer people a moment to share their thoughts and feelings about Grandpa.  We’d already had the siblings, his children, each offer their memories.  We’d had a couple of musical selections.  We’d listened to the words of some of his grandchildren.  All fine and lovely and heart felt.  All fueled by the deep love and admiration we all share.  But then… then the time came for others present to offer anything they wanted about him.  I turned around to look and listen, totally surprised by the number of people there.  There were a lot of them, and offer they did.

From the man (and forgive me for not remembering their names) who talked about being a terrible student until he had my Grandpa as a teacher for the 5th and 7th grade and how he learned lessons from him in confidence and how to be a better boy, and therefore man, to the man who said he’s known two great men, his father and my Grandpa, and how he named one of his son’s after Grandpa.  This man a student of his so long ago.  There were stories of him as mentor to new teachers, a friend when he worked as an accountant before he was a teacher, as principal and in his role as assistant superintendent of public schools.  Story after story of his heart, his integrity, his willingness to be a friend, and to help someone out.  Stories about the quiet unflinching discipline that made people want to be better, to do better.  Stories of his honesty, his being quiet and gentle, of him as a man of high expectations and a big heart.  Stories of how people in his work life knew the most important thing to him was his family. I was, as I think we all were, floored by the outpouring.  Person after person stood.  It went on for a while.  And as it did I think my heart actually grew.  Swelling with the emotion of it, the wave.  Swelling with pride.

It’s not that I was surprised by it, it’s just that my experience of Grandpa was/is as a member of his family.  My time with him was always family time.  He never spoke of his work.  I mean, never.  Not to me. The closest I ever got to that was occasionally hearing he and Grandma discuss something or another about his work when he was assistant superintendent and that was always fleeting. Grandma bringing something up, asking a question, Grandpa answering, and then moving on to being with us.  Attention on us.  Attention on his family.  So I never thought of him really as a working guy, which of course he was.  And when people starting standing up, starting talking about him, bells went off inside, along with a swell of pride.  Because, of course, he was the same man everywhere he went.  And because he was the same man, he had the same effects on kids he taught in school, kids he had to discipline in school, people he hired and mentored as teachers, friends he made along the way.  He was the same man everywhere he went, and being that man, he touched so many lives, more than I imagined.  

I sat there, tears coming down, feeling an overwhelming sense of him, as a whole man, and along with that feeling an intense sense of honor and pride at being his granddaughter and all that entails.  We have a legacy.  This beautiful amazing legacy left to us by both our Grandpa and our Grandma.  It’s such a privilege to be a part of that legacy, to be a part of this family, and also such a responsibility.  We must use those lessons taught to us so well.  We must honor his memory, and the memory of our Grandma, by being the best people we can.  By living the best lives we can.  We must continue to put out that energy of acceptance, warmth, laughter, expectation, guidance, heart, adventure, good will, integrity, humor, and abiding love of life and family.  We must.  It would be his wish, his expectation, and that expectation is strong, still.  He and Grandma would want us to continue on with love of life, love of family.  And, they would be, and I feel are, proud of us.  Proud of the people we are.  The people they made of us.  Just as we, to the last of us, are oh so proud to be Grandpa and Grandma’s children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and great great grandchildren.  

I am proud, and honored, to be their granddaughter.  More than I can articulate adequately here.  There really aren’t enough words to describe it.  And maybe that’s OK.  Maybe my Uncle Tom’s words, said at our family gathering after the memorial, say it all, “My Dad is a rock star”.  And yes, yes he was, and still is to all of us.

William R. Atwood

A couple of days ago Mom called as we were driving home from Oklahoma City.  Karen answered and I could tell by her response that it wasn’t good news.  Not entirely unexpected, but not good news just the same.  My grandpa, William R Atwood, had passed away.

What to say about Grandpa.  First and foremost is that he was the center and origin of joy.  We are lucky in this family, the Atwoods, to be a group filled with joy and curiosity.  It’s part of our genetic makeup, a part that most certainly came from Grandpa.  Where Grandma was the inspiration and adventure and mischief, Grandpa was the happiness with a good natured easy going manner.  This was never more evident than when anyone entered his space.  He would light up at just the sight of someone.  A truly genuine and amazing thing.

Grandpa had no pretense.  No agenda.  He wanted to be right where he was, saying right what he was saying, enjoying everything you were saying and doing, without a thought for anything else.  He knew what it absolutely meant to live in the moment.  Always did.  From teaching me how to tie my shoes and play backgammon, to walking in the woods, enjoying a laugh with family, making pudgy pies while camping, and just smiling from the eyes as he listened to you tell a story about this or that thing, he was there with you.  Full mind, body, and soul.  A lesson, always, in being present.  You always felt listened to, heard, loved, and adored with Grandpa.  He had that kind of magic.

I used to watch him with people, I loved doing that.  The way he seemed almost giddy at whatever one of his 19 grandchildren or 7 children had to say.  The way he loved, and always went along with, Grandma’s ideas to take off and roam around the country.  His response was always… sure, let’s do it.  He was the same with everything.  Ready, available, open, eyes always on yours.

Grandpa knew how to have a good time.  For him that usually meant whatever he was doing at the time, with whoever happened to be around.  A special quality that allowed him to truly enjoy himself and those around him, no matter what.  This all sprang, I’m sure, from his uncanny ability to be at ease.  He was so good natured, so mellow.  I don’t know, in all my life, if I ever saw him mad.  Maybe slightly miffed a couple of times, but never really mad.  He knew how to put things in perspective.  Another gift.

Grandpa and Grandma had an enormous, loving, amazing family.  Seven children, 19 grandchildren, a passel of great grandchildren, and now some great great grandchildren.  Grandpa liked to say that he had 70 progeny, and if you include all the people he touched throughout his life via his music, work as an educator, friends, and extended families through marriage, there were many more than that who were touched by his spirit for living, his warmth, and his ability to include everyone.

I smile when I think of him.  I always have.  He had that kind of effect.  Still does.  I think of him playing the piano in only the way he could, with an almost childlike exuberance not often seen.  I think of dancing with him, keeping up with Grandpa rhythm, the rhythm only he had.  I think of talking to him about life plans and hearing his non-judging acceptance and encouragement.  I think of watching he and Grandma interact with each other… Billth and Marth.  I think of walks in the woods and lessons about life and spontaneous runs for ice cream and plays put on in the barn on the farm and I smile a big ol’ smile.  I think of Grandpa’s smile and that makes me smile all the more.  He had a one of a kind fantastic smile from the eyes kind of smile.  A smile with a twinkle.

He was, to the very core, a stellar human being.  An honest, genuine, fun loving, real, true man who always made me, and anyone in his presence, feel special.  That’s the kind of man he was, who he was to me.  He made me feel special and loved and his being able to do that, to be that for me and for all of us… that was another of his magic gifts.  Just as he was a gift to all of us.

I love you Grandpa.  I love you.

Pronunciamento

I love words and this is a great one. Pronunciamento. Meaning… pro·nun·ci·a·men·to   [pruh-nuhn-see-uh-men-toh, -shee-uh-] noun, plural pro·nun·ci·a·men·tos. a proclamation; manifesto; edict.

I came across this one today as I was looking around the dictionary.  Or more precisely, in this new age, dictionary.com. It’s a wonderful word found in a wonderful place.  Dictionaries are exciting, to me anyway.  I’ve been reading them since I knew what one was and found one in our house.  Words.  Wonderful.

I used to play word games with some of my work mates.  Emails going around with sentences made up of words with the same letter.  Peter picked pickled peppers.  Like that.  We’d start with A and work our way to Z and back again, or we’d rhyme, or be cute some other way with wonderful wacky words.  Fun, to us anyway.  We’d stretch our minds, our vocabularies, and we’d laugh and laugh.  Words are good like that.

Today as I looked around I came across this great word.  Had never heard of it.  And now I love it.  I am also, I think, going to use it here.  Make a pronunciamento about things I’d like to do this summer… a proclamation of sorts.  Here, publicly, live and “in person”.  Maybe if I put some things down here I will do some of them… maybe I already have.  Maybe I would anyway.  No matter… it’s a fun exercise.

(Riley is playing with her Uncle Kevin right now… he’s rubbing her belly, she’s growling, barking, and jumping up to wiggle around and play bite at him.  She’s like popcorn. It’s cute.  They missed each other.)

Anyway… back to the pronunciamento.

100 things to do this summer… and in life.

  1. Be present.
  2. Act with grace.
  3. Ride my bike around town.
  4. Use the frisbee golf set I purchased.
  5. Play with Sebastian.
  6. Eat grapes.
  7. Get my photos better organized.
  8. See an opera again.
  9. Hold hands.
  10. Be patient with people.
  11. Listen.
  12. Walk.
  13. Sing loudly in moving vehicles.
  14. Eat more whole food, less processed food.
  15. Play guitar again.
  16. Travel to foreign places.
  17. Write.
  18. Be silly.
  19. Dance suddenly and randomly at home, and sometimes in public.
  20. Be child like.
  21. Hug my honey more than I already do.
  22. Use the library more than I do.
  23. Make pudding.
  24. Sleep outside.
  25. Be less afraid.
  26. Live more sustainably.
  27. Don’t buy anything for myself, including music, clothes, videos, etc. unless it’s second hand. (related to previous point)
  28. See a few movies in the park.
  29. Stop and listen to live music (street corners, festival bands, etc.)
  30. Paint something.
  31. Go to the drive in.
  32. Take photographs that inspire me.
  33. Continue to evolve.
  34. Give more than I get.
  35. Show respect to strangers.
  36. Buy meat from a farmer.
  37. Write and send actual letters.
  38. Study other cultures and ideas.
  39. Honor my ancestors.
  40. Swim in wild waters.
  41. Walk in Central Park in New York, eat lobster in Maine, watch hot air balloons in New Mexico.
  42. Use the crockpot to make dessert.
  43. Put my feet in lakes, oceans, rivers, puddles, tiny wading pools.
  44. Do another paring down of my clothes and shoes.
  45. Eat tomatoes from our tomato plant.
  46. Sit quietly outside in the wind and sunshine listening to the trees and not talk or play on the computer or phone or any other man made thing.
  47. Live responsibly.
  48. Worry less.
  49. Try new foods that scare me a little.
  50. Use hairbrushes and wooden spoons as microphones.
  51. Give the pups even more attention than they already get.
  52. Go snorkeling.
  53. Take random day long road trips with my honey to nowhere in particular with good music playing and great conversations.
  54. Embrace my dorky nature.
  55. Go to museums.
  56. Dinners with friends.
  57. Be in awe.
  58. Make people laugh on purpose.
  59. Learn.
  60. Make and eat pudgy pies.
  61. Talk to strangers.
  62. Laugh at myself and things that might irk me, but shouldn’t.
  63. Be the nicer version of me in taxing situations.
  64. Do things I love more than things I should do.
  65. Make and drink naturally flavored sun tea.
  66. Make a fort out of blankets.
  67. Smile often and only from the eyes.
  68. Camp in wild beautiful places.
  69. Put my toes in the sand.
  70. Color.
  71. Eat more fruit and less bread.
  72. Read at least two books a month.
  73. Make stuff.
  74. Take care of my honey like she deserves.
  75. Skip, hop, and jump.
  76. See the AFI top 100 films.
  77. Know what’s going on in the world.
  78. Read poetry again.
  79. Play games and cards.
  80. Volunteer my time.
  81. Be passionate in life.
  82. Always look people in the eye.
  83. Wear funky hats.
  84. Write random and unexpected emails to friends and family more often.
  85. Love.
  86. Get paid for being creative.
  87. Take the dogs to parks and on walks.
  88. Be an agent of positive change.
  89. Travel to new places.
  90. Take the train more often.
  91. Ride a bus to Chicago or maybe some other random place.
  92. Sit around our chiminea with good company.
  93. Make a s’more or two.
  94. Say what I mean and only that.
  95. Smell flowers.
  96. Live free.
  97. Eat handcrafted ice cream.
  98. Help out friends and family.
  99. Be kind to myself.
  100. And lastly, though I could go on, laugh laugh laugh at why WordPress has famous nuns and Saint Peter as recommended highlighted links down below this as I type.  Hmmmm….