Sunday, December 3, 2017

Christmas Decorating: the Nostalgia Factor

It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon in December, warm enough for just a sweater -- at odds with the Christmas music playing in the background and the twinkly lights on the fully decorated tree. But no complaining from this corner! I'd be happy if we get a light dusting of snow on Christmas Eve and then nothing for the remainder of winter. Other than Christmas and soup and fires in the fireplace, I'm not a big fan of this season.
So let's go back to that fully decorated tree... Ivan and I had a bit of a disagreement about when we'd last had a tree. This little ole blog came in handy, as I looked back through, and found we never put up our big tree in the casita, as I asserted and he disputed. We had, however, set it up in Sta. Rosa one year. But I determined it was too much work to decorate, enjoy for five days, and then have to take it back down, so that was that.

Christmas trees make me inordinately happy. And I think I may know why: according to scientists, decorating for the holidays can "create that neurological shift that can produce happiness... Christmas decorating will spike dopamine, a feel-good hormone." Nostalgia is a powerful force, my friend. Happy memories from childhood will make you want to recreate those same feelings, and I think that's definitely true in my case.

My mom made a big deal out of Christmas. (Well, actually, mom made a pretty big deal out of most holidays.) No doubt I get my love of over-the-top holiday decorating from her... no such thing as too much tinsel!... and I still remember how giddy she got when they came out with spray snow in a can.

Moving to Argentina, I downsized from probably ten big bins of Christmas decorations to two. TWO! And when we returned to the U.S. last year, that was further reduced to my most precious ornaments, the nativity set we bought our last year in Argentina and nothing else. I honestly thought I'd also also brought back our tree topper, the lovely wooden nativity from Betty in Paraguay, and the beautiful handmade tree skirt a dear friend made for me, but they are M.I.A., so I must have been wrong. I cannot believe I left that nativity! What's weird is I have the base for it, but the nativity itself is missing. We still have two suitcases waiting to be brought to the states for us, so maybe they're in one of those. I can only hope!

All that to say: we're pretty much starting from scratch here. I picked up our tree a couple weeks ago at the Mennonite thrift store in Goshen. Last year they had dozens and I filed that in my memory bank for this year and stalked the store until they were set out. Wow! There are some really ginormous fake trees! I was working within the constraints of a small space and low ceilings, so had to bypass the majority of trees in my search for one that would fit. My choice is no Charlie Brown tree, but it's also not one of those ceiling scrapers you see in McMansions either. Rather like Goldilocks, I feel my tree is "just right".

Besides those precious ornaments I toted back, I filled in the tree with unbreakable silver and red ornaments picked up last year during the after Christmas sales. Since I'm not about to pay the exorbitant prices they're charging for tree skirts -- even at Walmart! -- and I don't have time to make one, for now a long piece of red cotton fabric is wrapped around the bottom of the tree in loosey goosey fashion. And in lieu of a topper, I conscripted a large angel ornament to fill that spot this year. Our Argentine nativity graces the mantel.
And can we just talk about the mantel? I'm so excited I can hardly stand it. An honest-to-goodness mantel you can hang stockings on! Alas I'm too cheap to buy anything to decorate it. LOL  Plus I'm having major DMD about what I even want. Glitz and glamor? Homespun holiday? International flair? So for now the nativity shares space with what was already up there. Blah, I know. But it's just the beginning of December so maybe inspiration will hit and I'll figure out what I want to do while there's still time. Or not. Vamos a ver.

Meanwhile I thought I'd share some pictures of my tree. I told Ivan I was keeping it up until February, to make up for all the years I didn't have one :) What do you think? I could decorate it with blue and silver balls for January, then red and silver in February. Isn't that a marvelous idea?! Happy twinkly lights for three months. Might even help me get through the winter. 
Isn't this ornament adorable? My sister sent this to me in Argentina a few years ago. Of course I couldn't bring my pretty Ice blue KitchenAid mixer back to the states with me, but I could bring this ornament. (And my sister gifted me a new Ice blue KitchenAid mixer as a housewarming gift this summer!)
I love these two ornaments, grandson Simon on the left and son Jon on the right. Aren't they adorable?!
Thirty years ago we were living in Florida and my "secret pal" in the lady's group made two beautiful silk poinsettias for my Christmas gift. The wires on the white one rusted over time and I ended up having to throw it away, but this red one is still (somewhat) holding up. The wire is starting to come loose from the leaves, so I need to figure a way to fix that. Ideas?
 Have you decorated for the holidays yet? Did it made you happy? How did your childhood Christmases influence how you celebrate today? 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Being strong willed can be a very good thing!

We typically talk about someone who is strong willed in a negative way; we equate strong willed with being obstinate and ornery. But being strong willed is an excellent trait when you're 96 years old and have just broken your hip. You'll need every bit of that strong will to get back on your feet!

I'm so impressed with mom's quiet stoicism and determination as she faces recovering from all that she's gone through this week. She's never once complained, she always tells the nurses she's fine when they ask, and she didn't fuss at all when they got her up out of bed and on her feet yesterday morning. You know it had to be quite painful, but the only sound she made was a brief groan -- as they were helping her settle back into bed!

I have no doubt she will recover enough to get back to her apartment in assisted living, where one  of the prerequisites is being able to get to and from the dining hall on your own. She's also motivated to get back to church. When we were filling out the paperwork for the move from independent to assisted living in May, one of the questions was what hobbies do you have or what do you most enjoy doing? Mom's immediate answer: go to church!

Mom's dad was a pastor so she grew up in the church, and then she and her husband served for over four decades as missionaries in Argentina, before "retiring" back to the U.S. and getting very involved in the church she's still attending. There's never been a time when church wasn't an integral part of her life.

The people at her church are as close as family. One special couple was at the hospital all day Tuesday. Others have visited too. It's clear she's dearly loved by her church family. She's equally loved at the retirement village where she's lived for the past six years.

Grace Village has everything from condominiums to independent apartments to assisted living to medical care, and also a rehabilitation center. There was some question as to whether she'd be able to go there for rehab because her old insurance didn't work with them. We've known all year, since her hospital stay in January, that we wanted to switch her insurance but had to wait for the open enrollment period. We communicated with our own insurance agent who said he could set up an appointment to talk to us about our insurance, and with mom about hers. Our appointment got pushed to the end of the month because he was working hard to get those clients covered whose insurance companies were leaving the state. So for several weeks we've known and planned for the appointment by phone on Tuesday, November 28th.

And then mom fell and broke her hip the 27th.

So when it was time for the call on Tuesday, Ivan fielded it alone. Mom was fresh out of surgery, still in that happy place anesthesia takes you, and I was sitting in a dentist's chair in Ft. Wayne getting a root canal (another hiccup in the plans). I had done the legwork and figured out what insurance we wanted, and what mom needed, so it wasn't like I left Ivan hanging out there on a limb. And our agent and his colleague were great! His colleague drove down Wednesday and filled out all the forms on his computer. Mom was still pretty shaky at that point, and embarrassed at how wobbly her signature was, but her worst signature is better than my best. And within about an hour and a half, it was a done deal. Whew! 

So today mom will be transferred to the rehab center at Grace Village and begin the long, arduous therapy necessary to get back her mobility. I have the utmost confidence she'll do it! She's motivated and she's strong willed!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Loss Upon Loss

I wrote a lot about grieving after Sharon's death and then it's been radio silence ever since. But I've been journaling a LOT, and talking about all the feelings to people who can handle it. That's been helpful.

But it's not just Sharon's death. It feels like we're facing a season of "loss upon loss". That phrase really struck a chord with me. Reading Marilyn Gardner's post about "Death, Loss and TCK Grief" was quite helpful, especially since it was published on the day Ivan's oldest brother, Lynn, passed away. Lynn had been suffering from Lewy Body dementia and late stage liver disease, so while his death was not unexpected, that didn't make it any less difficult.

And now Ivan's mom has fallen and broken her hip (successful surgery yesterday) so she faces the loss of independence in the days ahead, during healing and rehabilitation, and we have no idea how long it will take.

Gardner writes: "As I've allowed myself to feel, I have opened the door to memories of other times of grieving and other grief patterns that are seemingly unrelated. But grief is grief, and loss is loss. They connect together like a dot to dot child's book, creating a picture that represents something much bigger than just one dot."

There is so much truth in that. 

While journaling, I've begun to see patterns. Something happens that, for some reason, causes certain feelings. I dig deep, trying to figure out why I've reacted the way I have, and what comes to light is something that happened during my younger years, and the more recent event triggered the same feelings as back then.

Life is filled with loss. It's inevitable and hits everyone with equal abandon. We can't protect ourselves from loss, and we can't protect those we love from it. I find it comforting that loss is talked about so much in scripture; honestly, no filters, head-on. God doesn't expect us to slap on a happy face and pretend everything is fine when it's not. He expects us to be honest about our losses, go deep into our grief, always knowing He's right there with us. I'm grateful He showed us His own grief and loss in the Garden of Gethsemane.

No, everything is not fine. And not to make light of things, but young Alexander hit the nail on the head when he said it was a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" and finished by admitting, "My mom says some days are like that". I'd like to add some months, years, even decades are like that. 

But it's hard to admit things aren't okay, that it feels like things are falling apart, that we're lost in our grief and loss. Part of it is our American can-do, pull yourselves up by your bootstraps culture, and I believe part of it is from our church culture that glosses over grief to focus on the joy, joy, joy, joy down in our heart.

Isn't it more honest, more biblical, to face reality as the men and women of scripture did? To acknowledge the depths of our despair, while clinging to the hope that He's hanging onto us when we don't have the strength to hang on ourselves? (Which, if we're honest, is all.the.time.)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Leaning Into Grief

Expecting to feel pretty slammed by grief on Tuesday, when all the family had gone and I would have the time to stop and think...and feel... it surprised me to just be numb and lethargic. I spent all morning reading a library ebook that had become available that day. Didn't get out of my pajamas until 2 p.m. Couldn't stay focused in the afternoon, thoughts flitting from one thing to the next in rapid succession. 

Then while surfing through my Facebook feed, up popped a link to a post about "leaning into grief" (sorry, I wasn't in the proper frame of mind and didn't think to note the author or title) and it made sense -- but how exactly do you do that? Lean into grief? The author said the point was to face it head on, rather than trying to go around or ignore grief. The idea floated in and out of my head all evening.

Wednesday morning I decided to read emails Sharon and I had written to one another in the months leading up to our departure from Argentina. As IRL, my emails were lengthy (blah, blah, blah)... while hers were short and to the point. We were so very different in so many ways but, for whatever reason, we totally understood one another. That's rare. That's a gift.

For me that's what leaning into grief looked like on Wednesday.

Monday, October 16, 2017

When Grief comes to visit

Grief is one of those guests who show up unannounced, assured of their place even though they're not welcomed with open arms. Grief keeps to himself a lot of the time, leaving us alone as we putter around the house or go shopping or to work. But every once in a while Grief becomes really annoying, getting right in our face, making demands. We can't shrug him off, or talk him into going away. He just stands there, front and center, immovable, and we can't get around him. He badgers and pesters and brings us to tears. Then suddenly he stops and goes back to his room for a while and we are left in blessed peace. Unfortunately we never know when Grief is going to come back out, so we're always a little on edge. He seems to delight in catching us when we least expect it, and then BOOM! he's all up in our business again.

The other unfortunate thing is that we don't know how long he'll stay at any given time. His visits can last weeks or months or years. There's no known way to shorten his visits, because what works for one person won't work for another. Some seem to handle Grief better than others. I wonder why that is? Grief is a mystery to me. I don't like him much, but he's a part of my life -- and yours -- and we just have to learn to deal with him the best we can. And that's going to look differently for each of us. I try not to let Grief overwhelm me (he's that sort, you know) and most of the time I succeed. But once in a while he gets under my skin and drives me absolutely crazy. I'd like to send him packing, but I know he won't go until he's good and ready. So meanwhile I hunker down and try to handle his unpredictable behavior the best I can.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Grace and Grief

I lost someone very dear to me this week and for a few days the words defeated me, as my Ugandan friends would say. My thoughts were a jumbled mess and I've felt like I was slogging through mud, both physically and emotionally. Then this morning I woke and the words were there, crowding my brain and I knew it was time to sit down and write.

The floodgates of grace released, pouring over and filling every nook and cranny of grief. Grief that I felt right down to my bones. Grief I'd been feeling all summer but especially this past month as Sharon's health steadily declined. Early in the summer it became obvious that the experimental drug trial she was in was not helping. Her lungs filled with fluid and had to be drained. Again and again. Her breathing was so labored that it hurt to hear her panting, gasping for air. And when she was hooked up to a monitor we could see how fast her heart was racing as it struggled with the oxygen deprivation.

Her big kind generous heart was slowly wearing down.

But she kept going by her sheer force of will, ready to try anything that might help. Chemo, immunotherapy, oxygen 24/7, pleural catheters... But it was becoming clear that nothing was really helping. Her sister Karen called her mom and other siblings. They started arriving last weekend. On Monday another breathing crisis meant yet another trip to the ER, but this time she was admitted to ICU. I wasn't there when the nurse practitioner from the oncologist's office came to the hospital to say they felt the best thing was to stop everything and just make Sharon as comfortable as possible.  I was on the way and had to pull over when her sister called to share the news; just sit there a while and pull my messy self together.

When I arrived at the hospital, I saw a glimpse of the old Sharon, purposeful and focused, using her last reserves to do what needed done, especially to help her husband and sons deal with her impending death. I held her hand a while and we talked and I held my tears in. Barely. Other people crying stressed her out. Her pastor came and she asked everyone to leave the room so she could talk with him alone. I said goodbye, not knowing it was for the last time here on earth. I did know it wouldn't be long though, and I sat in my car and cried for a good long while before I could leave the parking lot.

The decision was made to transfer her to a hospice facility in Ft. Wayne where they had the respiratory equipment she needed. That happened Wednesday evening. She was gone before dawn broke the next day. Thursday, October 12, 2017 I lost one of my best friends.

I don't know how long it will be before I stop thinking about things I need to tell her. I don't know how long it will be before simple things won't make me cry -- like seeing a generic Pinterest email in my inbox. She and I often sent each other pins, and we shared boards for various rehab projects. I don't know how I'm going to design and make this next baby quilt without her ideas and suggestions. I've never had to do this alone before. I don't know who to send funny animal memes to any more. I don't know who I can find to be snarky with about life; who shares the same irreverent sense of humor.

But amidst this great big whine fest, as I feel sorry for myself and mourn her loss, I have to also be grateful she's done suffering. Because believe me, she suffered. She did not go quietly into the night. She fought long and hard and with all her being, and it was hard. It was bereft of dignity as other people -- strangers mostly, although some became well known -- poked and prodded and scanned and drew blood and took x-rays and drained lungs... It was the loss of privacy for a very private person. It was becoming dependent on others when she could not do for herself, a person who had always done for others. It was painful and miserable and hard. And I can't but help feel relief that she's past that now.

That's where the grace comes in, flooding every crevice and pushing out the grief bit by bit. It will hurt for a long time. I will miss her always. But I'm holding onto the many memories and feeling thankful for the years she was my sister-in-law and my very dear friend.

Sharon Lynn Hoyt
Born: January 15, 1962
Died: October 12, 2017
Memorial Service: 
October 15, 4 p.m. 
Community Grace Brethren Church 
Warsaw, Indiana 

And because it would have pleased her to no end, I'm including a picture of her beloved dogs, Rilla and Walter (Little Cat is camera shy, but trust me when I say she rules the roost and those dogs!). She loved her pets to distraction and would have had more if it had been possible. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Wandering is a weak word for what I do.
But you relentlessly pursue me,
telling me again and again.....and again
that I am your beloved.

You bend grace when no one else would,
when my ugly is enormous 
and hurtful.

You shower me with joy
in moments unexpected,

You bend down to listen intently,
to every word or groan,
careful to hear my heart.

You are the Great I Am,
Almighty God,
Awesome Creator of all that exists,
Place of safety and rest,
Protector of the defenseless,
Provider of all that's good,
Relentless Redeemer.

My psalm offering for Harvest Sunday at Valley Springs Fellowship, 2017.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

You know that feeling when the adrenaline drops because your body senses the danger is over and exhaustion ensues?

It was like hitting the wall. As soon as we got the very good news that, while the tumor they removed from Ivan's kidney was cancerous, the tissue around it was clear, it felt like someone popped my balloon and all the air whizzed out. I could finally relax and, boy, did I! I found it hard to keep my head propped up, so I just laid the seat back, put my eye mask on and relaxed all the way home. When we got back, as soon as I'd put away all the clean laundry and things we'd taken for overnight, I climbed into bed and just laid there a while. I couldn't sleep but I couldn't move either.  I was completely immobilized.

Dinner was simple: roast chicken, green beans I cooked the other day and reheated, and a caprese salad made with tomatoes picked fresh that morning from Tina's raised bed garden. I couldn't have done more than that. My mind, which has been on overdrive for months now, is finally feeling like it can rest. This is a real problem for me. I'd love to be able to turn my brain off when I go to bed but I can't. I waste useless hours going over what has happened, thinking about all that might happen, completely overwhelmed.

That fizzled out feeling has persisted all weekend, and I woke up with a sore throat this morning. I'm gargling like crazy in hopes I can reverse the sore throat trend, and also keeping my distance from Ivan, who has a raging head cold. I'm not nearly as worried about me as I am about my sister-in-law. I can't help her if I'm sick, because it could literally be life threatening at this point in her fight against cancer. She really cannot afford to get sick!

So we are hunkered down today, resting and recuperating and praying for healthy bodies. Ours and others. Not just those we know but those we'll probably never meet. We're listening to reports of Hurricane Irma ramming Florida, while the news on the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana is still fresh. I'm reminded of how small we are in the whole scheme of things; how insignificant our problems, when others face such devastating loss. Who hasn't been brought to tears by the stories coming out of Houston, Port Arthur and other places? It's one thing to hear the numbers (which are staggering) and another to listen to the individual stories of people. It's one thing to hear an entire island is uninhabitable after Irma, but as the camera pans over the landscape of Barbuda, I wonder about the people who lived in those homes, most now razed to the ground. What is their life going to look like moving forward?

And my tired brain cannot even process what they must be going through. I've made two major moves in the past decade but had time to prepare for each of those. Gotta be honest, now feeling a little embarrassed that I whined about how hard it was to pack up and move in five months when we returned to the U.S. this last time.

I moved. They've been displaced. Their adrenaline is probably still pumping like crazy and it might be a while before their bodies sense the danger is over and they can relax, falling into exhausted heaps like I did this weekend.

Displacement. It's a word we're hearing a lot these days. I'd like to start a discussion on the topic, but broaden it to include what it means to be displaced for whatever reason: natural catastrophe, war, poverty, religious persecution... I know I don't have a ton of readers on this little blog, but I also know we come from a wide background in terms of politics, religion, geography. I'd like to maybe open all our minds a bit, to see what it means on a personal level, to be displaced. It's so easy to lump everyone into categories, isn't it? To put all "those" people in a neat little box, and assign them all the same beliefs, feelings, life. But it's not that simple. It's actually a lot more complicated and messy and beautiful and I'm hoping to find some people who are willing to share their stories with us. Because we aren't just numbers, are we? I promise to do my best not to get all preachy on you, and I'm asking you to keep an open mind and be a part of the conversation. Deal?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

My Medical Knowledge Is Expanding

Writing from the waiting room at Lutheran Hospital in Ft Wayne is a little surreal. It's a massive place and I've gotten turned around twice in the short time I've been here. Lots of comfortable chairs, TVs, tables and chairs, free tea or coffee, everyone so solicitous.

We've been in plenty of clinics over the past few years in Argentina as we chased a diagnosis for "all that ailed me" but the biggest could fit in a small portion of this complex. Although I think the real reason it feels so weird isn't due to the size of the hospital, but because this time it's Ivan who's the patient. My healthy "Energizer Bunny" husband hasn't been himself all summer. We knew his liver enzymes were up, but not why until an appointment with a specialist revealed his liver is big and fatty (like most Americans).

That alone didn't seem to warrant his feeling so run down though. We chalked it up to stress, and all the craziness that was our life... Ivan made a quick trip to Argentina in May to take care of some things, the primary one being a root canal and temporary crown. We helped mom move into Assisted Living. We were in the midst of trying to buy a house and, when that fell through, quickly moved into an apartment.

Then the day after we moved, Ivan experienced such abdominal and chest pain that we thought he was having a heart attack and went to the ER. They wanted to keep him overnight and monitor him, but he balked. I swear he got that same mulish look I've seen on mother's face many times, so I wasn't surprised when he began negotiating with the doctor. In the end we stuck around long enough to get a second round of blood work. Did you know you can have a normal EKG during a cardiac event? But the blood doesn't lie, hence the follow-up blood work three hours after the first.

My husband has a very high tolerance for pain so it took not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR attacks and another trip to the ER before he took it seriously.

(This all took place in the two weeks between we moved and our planned trip to California.)

That second trip to the ER didn't come any closer to determining the source of the pain, but it did reveal a small, fully encapsulated tumor on his left kidney. That, in turn, led to a flurry of appointments with various specialists.

Which brings us to this moment in time. They are currently doing laparoscopic surgery to remove the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue.

While I write from the waiting room at Lutheran Hospital in Ft Wayne, sitting in one of the many comfortable chairs, eyes straying often to the pager, eager for it to light up so I can gather my bags and make my way to the room where Ivan will spend the night. Where I can hold the hand of my beloved and listen to him make even sillier jokes than usual in his drug induced state. Although what can be sillier than his pre-op response to "Do you have any kind of reaction to anesthesia?"when he said, "I go to sleep."?!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

M-O-V-E is a Four Letter Word

I've sometimes envied those who grew up in the same house throughout their childhood, or lived in the same place their entire married life. That's not the life God chose for us. Both of us moved multiple times as children, and so far we've tallied 23 moves as a married couple (in 38 years). Four of those moves were in the past 15 months.

Now maybe you understand why M-O-V-E is considered a four letter word in our house :)

There's something to be said, though, for being mobile. We've seen and done things most people never have the chance to experience, and for that we're grateful. It's just that we're finding the older we get, the harder each move is, the more it takes out of us. Especially when it involves getting rid of 99% of what you own in the space of a few short months. At that point you're not concerned with whether you can sell something, you're just giving things away right and left, so you can be done with it. Because more important than the stuff is the people you're leaving behind. That's like a gut punch to your solar plexus, my friends.

The last two moves were done locally. In February, in the midst of mom's health issues, we learned we could rent a small apartment in the same retirement village. That killed two birds with one stone: we were within 100 feet of mom's apartment, making it easier to help her, and it gave us our own space while giving Alan and Sharon back theirs. It also allowed us time to find a house we wanted to buy and start the (very) lengthy process of applying for a loan.

And let me just take a moment here to rant, if you don't mind. Since when did the loan process become an endurance test? It took 2-1/2 months of gathering data and sending it in, again and again,  because apparently banks are not good at sharing between departments. And by the time we'd get everything in, some of it was "old" and we had to gather and send in the "new" data. Ugh. And all for naught. After all that time, money, and anticipation, we were turned down. Despite the fact that our credit is excellent and we had a little money for the down payment (enough for about 5% plus closing costs), none of that mattered because Ivan is self-employed. For those who are self-employed, banks require two years of W2s and tax returns from the new business, which we obviously didn't have. That means we have to wait until next year, by which time we'll have those two years of W2s and tax returns in hand.

This kink in the plans really threw us for a loop and left us scrambling to find a place to rent long term. The apartment in the retirement village was fine temporarily but it was very small and quite expensive. Plus mom moved into an apartment in Assisted Living (in the same retirement village) at the end of May, where they have round-the-clock staff to help her with whatever she might need.

We shared with a few folks at church that week about our predicament and within a week we'd looked at and secured an apartment owned by a family at VSF. Their last renter had just moved out and they were planning to remodel the bathroom before renting it again, but we assured them we've seen much worse bathrooms :) And we needed something pronto! Just a couple weeks later 15 folks from church showed up to help us move. Pretty sure it has to be the fastest move in history! With so many people (and vehicles), we were able to move everything in one shot. Boom! Done in less than two hours!

Of course, it took me the next two weeks to finish unpacking all the boxes and figuring out where things should go :) Actually, even though the boxes are unpacked and we are somewhat settled in, I want to go back through everything and see what else I can get rid of, because we have TOO MUCH STUFF. Maybe I'm gun shy, having disposed of an entire household not once, but twice, in the last decade, but I'm feeling a bit oppressed by all that we managed to accumulate in one year! And we didn't even buy the vast majority of it. People are so giving, and we took whatever they gave. Now that we're in our own place, we can see we don't need (or want) some of those things. It's kind of funny because I have a plethora of certain kind of kitchen ware but am lacking a simple nonstick pan. That's the way it goes.

It's not that we want to live a minimalist lifestyle, but we want to be very thoughtful about what we do own. I want to enjoy things that are useful and precious to me, but not be consumed with the care of them. Make sense?

I'll admit, it was a tough pill to swallow when we were turned down for a loan. I see people with bad credit and no money down being able to buy homes willy nilly. And we were so ready to be in a place of our very own! A place we could put down roots and maybe not think about moving for a few years (what a concept!). But already we've seen how God worked in that situation to spare us because He knew what was coming.

But that's a whole other story for a whole other post.

Meanwhile we are thoroughly enjoying our walk-out basement apartment that overlooks a beautiful yard and garden, in a very quiet and peaceful neighborhood. There's a screened in porch, where I spent a good portion of the past weekend, sitting and reading without fear of being eaten alive by mosquitoes. This winter we'll be oh, so cozy, in our living room with a working stone fireplace. There are three bedrooms, so one has been designated the study/crafting space/overflow guest room. I haven't had time to do more than put away my fabric and sewing tools, but I look forward to getting back into my favorite past time of quilting.

I'm a wee bit nervous about navigating the stone steps this winter and it took several tries to find a laundromat where I feel I can actually get my laundry clean (no hook ups in this apartment) but those are the only draw backs. We have a lovely, cozy apartment, great landlords/neighbors, and can relax for the next 11 months since we signed a one-year lease.

Who knows, maybe by next year this time I'll be writing from a completely different house, one that we've been able to buy ourselves. That would be lovely but would also mean another M-O-V-E, so it's not something we're going to think about right now, okay? ;)

Monday, August 28, 2017


Some months ago we began planning a trip to California for Adalyn's third birthday. The final plan was for me to go out August 1st and get some one-on-one time with little Miss A while her parents took off for a few days (to celebrate their 10th anniversary!) and then for Ivan to fly out the following week, in time for the birthday festivities. Some things happened right before, that almost derailed our plans (more on that in another post), but thankfully it all worked out in the end. Yeah!

I had a couple days with Jon, Nat and Adalyn first and it was fun to get to do things with them. Like go to the library for story time, after which Adalyn not only picked out books but also helped check them out:

That evening we went to the weekly concert-in-the-park within walking distance of their place. The park is absolutely beautiful and lots of people were out enjoying the lovely evening, the live music, food vendors and their neighbors.

Then Jon and Nat left and I got to enjoy hanging out with Adalyn and the pets. Adalyn is such a ham!

I shared a couple other photos from this time in my last post.

Ivan arrived the day after Jon and Nat returned, several days before the birthday party. Getting away ourselves for two nights/three days was part of the plan, made possible because Jon and Nat let us use their vehicle. We drove north to Sonoma and thoroughly enjoyed our first get-away in a really long time. I chose the lovely airbnb accommodations based on the photos of the back yard. We were not disappointed!

Mostly we just kicked back and rested, but we did wander into Sonoma for lunch the two days we were there. We'd been talking about how much the area reminded us of Argentina, but Ivan was really surprised to find a tree downtown with the Argentine national flower!

Natalie put a lot of time and thought into making a list of things we could do and see but time constraints (and the fact that we were just really tired) meant we only did one: a tour and cheese tasting at Achadinha Farm.
Ivan met a kindred spirit in co-owner Donna, and we stayed a long while after the tour talking about farming.

Back at Jon and Nat's we were excited to hit the Saturday Farmer's Market with them. It's the biggest one we've ever been to and I was thrilled to find a gluten free bakery stall. Oh my word! Weeks later I still dream of their cheddar rolls and drool just thinking about their chocolate chip rolls. *sigh* But the star of the market is, of course, the bountiful harvest of fruits and veggies.

Saturday afternoon was the long awaited for birthday party! Adalyn is obsessed with all things princess so she had to wear her princess tutu and each toddler got either a tiara or crown to wear. They were so cute!

They had the party at the Junior Gym which was great for the kids to run around and have lots of fun things to do (and release all that energy!).

Our last full day in California was Adalyn's actual birthday and we headed south to the beach. It was a little chilly and overcast, but to me that's perfect beach weather :)

We ended the day at Sam's Chowder House where we stuffed ourselves on seafood. I love this particular photo of Jon and Natalie. They are such nuts!

Our trip home didn't go quite as planned. A two hour delay leaving San Francisco meant we missed the last connecting flight to Ft. Wayne, so the airline put us up at a Hyatt hotel near O'Hare and we caught a flight out the next afternoon.

We're so grateful for the time we got to spend with Jon, Natalie and Adalyn! Living across the country is hard for this Nina and Papa who'd love to see them more often, but it just makes the time we do have together even more special!   

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Cuteness Alert!

It's been way too long since I posted photos of the most adorable grandkids in the world :) Since the oldest two started preschool this week, I thought it was an especially good time to break out the most recent pictures!

When Tina picked Simon up after his first day, she told him she'd missed him. His response: "Ok, but I didn't miss you while I was doing fun things." LOL  Reminds me of going back to work when Jon was about 18 months old. I was a wreck, leaving my baby for the first time, and it did not help that Jon didn't want to go home with me when I went to pick him up -- he was having too much fun with his cousins! Be sure and enlarge the photo so you can read what Simon wants to do when he grows up :)

Adalyn was more than a little ready for her first day, and too wiggly to stand still for a photo :) She also loves preschool, which isn't surprising since she's just as social as I remember her father being! Don't you love that shirt?!

Sweet little Betsy isn't old enough for preschool, but she spent Simon's first day of school wearing her "pack pack" everywhere. And that reminds me of her mama :) Tina always wanted to do whatever her brother was doing!

I just find it fascinating to see how much my grandkids are like my kids in so many ways. They're cute as buttons anyway, but it's extra fun when they do and say things that remind me of Jon and Tina when they were little!

And because I can't help myself, here are a few more photos :) I've stolen liberally from Tina's Facebook album; I can't begin to take photos as good as hers. The next post will be a recap of my recent trip to California and will be loaded with photos of Little Miss A but I wanted to include a couple of them here (and those I did take, with my iPhone).

This is one of my favorite photos of Simon this summer! The pure joy with which he approaches everything makes my heart glad.

Tina does a fantastic job capturing special moments. He was pretty intent on the job!

I love how he's sharing with his sister -- totally melts my heart <3

The kids love to play in their new outdoor kitchen -- pretty much daily. They have so much fun making mud pies and other delicacies.

She gets her style from her Nina! LOL

They joined us for church and a picnic at the end of July and Tina snapped this photo of us with the kids. Believe me, getting them to sit still didn't last long! Tina's learned to be quick with the camera :)

Pretty sure Miss A is singing as she works on her Play Doh creation. She loves to sing, and knows most of the words to a quite a few Disney movies, and really belts them out!

She does enjoy torturing Bailey. LOL  He looks so pitiful, doesn't he, just sitting there waiting for a cookie crumb to drop?! Leo is much more dignified, laying out of sight in this photo, but he's quick as lightning when Adalyn does drop something.  

Friday, August 25, 2017

"The Exhaustion of Unsatisfied Desires" + Grace & Kindness

After being in California for two weeks (where I had a fabulous time with our son and his family!), it was good to be in our home church Sunday. I'm loving our church more and more. It's exactly where we need to be right now; there are a number of folks who have already traveled the road we now find ourselves on: transitioning back to life in the U.S., and they've been a huge help as we navigate this portion of the journey. Beyond that, though, is the openness and vulnerability among this body of believers, such a high level of care and love, that is so refreshing and encouraging.

While I was gone, VSF began a new series entitled "God Through A Picket Fence", with different ones taking the pulpit each week, sharing how they see God at this juncture of their personal pilgrimage. This past Sunday Larry Crabb spoke. He and his family were a part of the VSF family when they lived here a number of years ago and the Crabbs have maintained close ties to the church ever since. At 73, and dealing with cancer, how Larry sees God at this particular moment in time is from the perspective of one who expects to meet Him before too much longer.

He discovered the phrase "the exhaustion of unsatisfied desires" in an old book from 1895, written by James Walker, with the catchy title: "The Blessed Dead in Paradise". As he put it, the book appealed to him since he will soon be joining those blessed dead in paradise.

He talked about how each of the Gospels approached Jesus' experience in Gethsemane a little differently, based on their slant: only John (who focused on Jesus as sovereign God) does not write about the turmoil Jesus was in, how he was wrestling with His impending death, while in Matthew 26 Jesus appealed to the Father's power, in Luke 22 to his Father's love and in Mark 14 to the Father's wisdom; that if there was any other way to provide salvation to mankind other than His own death, that the Father would spare Him. Have you ever wondered why Jesus even asked the question, knowing what the answer would be?

Larry said no greater challenge awaits us as we walk the narrow road to life, than to embrace "the exhaustion of unsatisfied desires" without expecting answers and no demand for relief. What I find interesting is that in Luke 22:43 an angel appears to strengthen Jesus; probably because Luke's focus is on Jesus the man, and as a man, he needed to be strengthened for what was about to come. How did the angel go about doing this? It's not clear. Was it something he said or merely his presence? What does this mean for us? How can we go about strengthening others?

One of the things God put on my heart several years ago was to be a 'safe' person, especially for other missionary wives or pastor's wives. It can be a lonely life, where you walk a thin line between ministering to, and being friends with, those in your sphere. It can also be lonely because of competitiveness ("their ministry is so much more successful") or making comparisons ("she's so good at everything and I can't do any of that"). Sad but true, we women especially can let our very human natures create conflict and be hurtful to our sisters in Christ.

How encouraging to see those who are taking a very different approach: to truly be there and support one another, to be encouragers rather than tearing down, to stand firm with rather than turn against other women. I'm appalled at the meanness I see displayed by so many believers on social media and television. Where is the grace?! 

You know what? We are never going to agree 100% with anyone about everything. E-V-E-R! So why get nit picky about things that DO NOT MATTER? Whatever happened to being known by our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ (I John 2:10:11)?

In this age of media saturation and instant communication, I think it's important to be even more thoughtful and intentional about what we say to -- and about -- others. The childhood ditty: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is blatantly untrue. Words do hurt; worse than a physical attack because they linger on and on, and can never be retracted. I loved the powerful illustration adoptive mom Amy Beth Gardner used to help her older daughter, entering middle school last year, understand the power of words. Gardner finished by saying, "Decide tonight that you are going to be a life-giver in middle school. Be known for your gentleness and compassion. Use your life to give life to a world that so desperately needs it. You will never, ever regret choosing kindness."

That should be true not only in middle school but throughout our lives. Looking back at my own regrets, it was always because I wasn't careful with my words. Every.Single.Time. I'll bet it's the same for you, am I right? So how about we work a little harder at choosing kindness? Will we get it right 100% of the time? No. Habits are formed by doing the same thing over and over again. So let's work at responding with kindness. It won't be easy, especially if you -- like me -- have become pretty cynical about other people's motives. But just hang in there! I think it's worth investing a couple months (or longer, if that's what it takes) into retraining our response to be one of kindness.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Moving Forward

I'd planned to do a one year post since our return to the U.S. (which was June 4th) but life was more than a little crazy at that point. I'm not sure why I continue to think life is going to slow down, or become less crazy and stressful, because obviously it is NOT. Circumstances change but the pace, the craziness, continues.

And the truth is I've turned to journaling more in the past few years and posting here less. Our stories are never just our own, are they? Other people are always involved and I find it unwieldy to excise sufficiently to protect another's privacy... so I end up not sharing at all. It was easier when I participated in Project 365 because I could post photos and little blurbs and it was 'safe'. But with all that's happened over the past few years, I've found myself more introspective and less willing to share on such a public forum.

At the same time, I've really missed the discipline of writing here, and the friendships and interactions that developed from this space. I'm not sure what direction this blog is going to take, now that it's no longer a medium for keeping in touch with folks "back home" and giving glimpses into our life in Argentina, but I do want to continue to write here in some capacity (and hopefully with more frequency).

Have you ever met anyone who said "My life is exactly what I thought it would be!"? (No, me either.) But isn't it interesting to think about the twists and turns our lives have taken? And to ponder the lessons learned, the expanding and overlapping circles of friends made? 

I want to write about our faith journey, what transition looks like, how living overseas changed and shaped us, what it's like to be plopped back into a place that feels at once familiar and foreign. I want to share life with whoever wants to show up, to brag on my grandchildren (cutest ever!), and talk about the books I'm reading. I want to tell you about the funny things that happen, and the sad things, and whatever else might be going on.  I want to share links to posts and articles that are helpful, informative or just flat hilarious. 

Blogging has changed a lot since I started ten years ago, it's more commercial and genre-driven, but I hope that those who tune in will find encouragement and something to make them smile (or laugh!) and, most especially, cause them to think.

After being married 38 years to a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda guy, some of that was bound to rub off and now I'm ready to move forward and just see what happens!

Thursday, April 6, 2017


I've noticed something strange since returning to the U.S. My habit of sounding out Spanish words while living in Argentina became so deeply ingrained, I find myself doing it now with English words. How weird is that? I'm a fluent English speaker and reader, so there's no need, yet I catch myself sounding out words on billboards, street signs, even once at a railroad crossing. I wonder how long it will take for that habit to fade? Hmmm...

Another thing I've noticed is how much of the English language I've lost/missed while living overseas. That brought about another realization: language has so much to do with the culture; the two cannot be separated.

It's culture that determines if a word is "bad". The bad words we know didn't start out that way, but over time our culture changed (or maybe I should say "warped") their meaning. That "bad" word referring to excrement was originally a technical term used for an intestinal condition in cattle.

How many of us from the Boomer generation have scratched our heads as words we thought we knew changed meaning? Like "That is so dope!" Isn't dope a bad thing? Now it's a good thing? Oh, it doesn't refer to drugs at all? Hmmm...

Or "Word!" Huh? I remember in a movie when the son said it and the dad, trying to be cool, used it too, but obviously had no clue what it meant. (By the way, it can have several meanings: 1) you agree with what's being said; 2) as a greeting; or 3) to convey that something was well said.)

Granted, both of these are older examples (remember what I said about missing a lot while living overseas?) but I'm sure you can think of at least a dozen words that have changed meaning in your lifetime.

And have you noticed that even if words retain their meaning, they can become...well, hollow is the best way I know to describe what I'm talking about. We've thrown words around so much they've lost their significance; so much so that we'd be hard pressed to provide an accurate definition. This is especially true in Christian circles.

For those who have grown up without even a base line of biblical knowledge, we can't use a spiffy little spiel we learned in evangelism class twenty years ago. We need to think intentionally about our words: What they mean and how we use them. We need to break down concepts we take for granted (sanctification, for example) into words clearly understood by younger generations.

And the best way to do that is start at the beginning of the Story.

Story, or narrative, is actually the best way to communicate, period. Give me a list of facts and I'll have forgotten 80% within half an hour. But tell me a story and it will stick. But others aren't going to "get it" if we don't tell the whole Story. Picking verses here and there to prove a point isn't helpful. The whole of it, the narrative, is necessary for true understanding.

It's also why sharing our lives -- our stories -- with others is so critical. God's story is still being worked out in us, at the most basic levels: where we live, where we work, where we play, where we worship... And how we do each of these impacts those around us. Do we just parrot trite sayings without any thought of how others understand them, or are we really, truly, honestly living out the Word?

Monday, February 6, 2017

My 2016 Reading List

Major fail on finishing Project 365 last year. Just didn't have it in me to take many photos, much less post them here. I'm sure I'll look back on this time and wonder what in the world we did but as I am still so fond of saying, "Es lo qué hay." And I'm not even going to try this year. Fully expecting 2017 to be about as crazy as last year, so I'm showing myself some grace in this area. Even my personal journaling has taken a hit.

Back to the topic of this post: books. One of the things I was really looking forward to about returning to the U.S. was the public library system. And it hasn't disappointed! In fact, I'm even more enamored because in addition to the actual, physical books I can check out, I can also borrow books on my Kindle. That's been a huge help with all the traveling we've had to do. What I find interesting is that I really haven't read any more books than I was reading before we returned, with 20 read while we were still in Argentina and 29 since we got back. And factor in that we were state-side for 7 of the 12 months of 2016, and it looks to me like my reading remained pretty steady throughout the year.

So far this year I've finished only one book (and can't begin to tell you how many I started and discarded). I'm not sure why but I'm finding it really hard to get into books these days. My attention span has been more suited to online posts and articles. Anyone else go through seasons when they have a hard time concentrating on a book?

So... 49 books read in 2016. A few standouts, but a lot more of "meh, that was okay but I probably won't read anything else by that author". I know everyone has different tastes in books, but I thought I'd share what I really liked, and why.

First up is "Looming Transitions: Starting & Finishing Well in Cross Cultural Service" by Amy Young. No shock there, heh? The book came out just when we most needed it, and I read it out loud to Ivan. We highly recommend this book to anyone going, coming, or switching to a different ministry. What was great is that it was immediately available as an e-book -- score! Amy is one of the lead women at a favorite blog for women who work in cross-cultural situations, Velvet Ashes. For those who like to read, one of the regular features is Book Club every Tuesday. ***And let me put a plug in for the VA Connection Groups to any lady serving overseas: They were a lifeline the past few years! I have been in four (they're offered each Spring and Fall) and the ladies in each group were so gracious, welcoming and generous with their thoughts and experiences. A breath of fresh air!***

Another favorite of ours (meaning I also read this one out loud to Ivan) was "The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction" by Adam McHugh, which rightly won a number of awards last year. This is a book I need to read at least once a year! Can't say enough good things about it. Just read it!

"The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper" by Phaedra Patrick is a novel I picked up simply because of the title, and I'm sooooo glad I did! This quirky little book takes you on an adventure with a widower who's not coping very well with his wife's death, and when he finally gets up the gumption to clean out her side of the closet, he finds a charm bracelet he never even knew she had. Each charm leads him to another person in his wife's life that he knew nothing about. Although I felt the ending was a little clichéd, it's still a favorite of the year.

Probably the best book I read last year is "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. I actually bought the Kindle version months before reading it, while it was on sale. (I subscribe to the daily email by blogger Modern Mrs. Darcy featuring Great Kindle Deals.) I kept hearing good things about it, and actually bought the hardback for my niece for Christmas, so I figured I should go ahead and read it myself. I learned later that it won the Pulitzer Prize, and for good reason! Here's what I posted on Facebook after finishing it: "How can a book turn us inside out and leave us feeling exhilerated, bereft and grateful all at the same time?"

"Wonder" by R. J. Palacio is another book I read because of recommendations by various bloggers. It's what some might call "kiddy lit" because it's for and about kids, but this best selling book has also captured the hearts of many adults, mine included. I'm pretty excited that this has been made into a movie (being released in theaters on April 7th). I'm often disappointed when books are made into movies but I think this one should translate really well to the big screen.

So those were the standouts for me this past year.

I also enjoyed books by some of my favorite authors:
Seeds of Deception and Among the Wicked (Kate Burkholder novels) by Linda Castille
Theory of Death (a Decker/Lazarus novel) by Faye Kellerman
The Nature of the Beast and A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries) by Louise Penny
Downfall (a Joanna Brady mystery) by J. A. Jance

And I discovered the kid lawyer books by John Grisham featuring Theodore Boone.

So what have you been reading?