Daily Affirmation

The best things in life are free.
The second best are very expensive.
- Coco Chanel

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

I've been wanting to get back to writing my blog for awhile now.  It's such a good reminder of where you went, what you did, and more importantly, how you felt.  So many things get lost in the day to day minutiae.  I don't think I can possibly update two years of absence, so I'll just start again with the here and now.

L and I are getting older, just like all of you, I imagine.  We are slowing down, sprouting new aches and pains, and new malfunctions.  It is easy to get lost in the discouragement of everything that entails.  I have had RA for years now, but also developed a sort of side-condition: Sjogren's Disease.  It's another auto-immune condition that, up until recently, just meant having a dry mouth.  Annoying but not debilitating.  Last year, I'd been experiencing increasing dry eyes - hard to wear contact lenses as long as before, etc.  On Christmas Eve, they seemed to be particularly irritated, but I (foolishly) popped in the lenses, and went to dinner at my Mom's.  I could feel that my eyes were a little uncomfortable, but nothing too bad.  When I got home, however, and tried to take the lenses out - holy crap!  The pain was awful, and my eyes were horribly inflamed, like the worst pink-eye ever.  I did everything I could to soothe them and just went to bed.  When I woke up on Christmas Day, I knew - I KNEW - that I would need to get help.  So LaMar and I spent Christmas morning at the local ER.  Antibiotic drops, and lots of waiting, and then more waiting.  Concerned DO who looked at my eyes, and then a referral for the next day to a rare ophthalmologist who was actually working the day after Christmas.  Long story short, it was the Sjogren's that was to blame for extremely dry, very angry eyes.  A condition that lasted for the better part of 2018.  I was unable to go outside without discomfort for about 6 months.  L and I had a couple of road trips planned - one to Utah in March, and another to Denver in April - and I mostly just had to shut my eyes and apply constant eye drops for the whole of each trip.  Any makeup was next to impossible and contact lenses were out of the question until about August, when I was able to gingerly wear only the daily wear kind on a limited basis.  It's been a delicate situation, and from what I understand, I'm extremely lucky to have eyesight in that eye - the infection was that bad.  I still have a little scar tissue on the cornea to remind me, and my sight will not be as good as before.  Growing old is not for the faint-hearted.  So now, in addition to my extensive regimen of RA RXs, In have now added Xiidra eye drops (they sting like a mother!) and Plaquenel. *sigh*
In my last lab work, it was also indicated that my glucose levels were high, so I've also started another new way of eating.  I eat dinner, and then don't eat again until about 11:00 the next day.  Apparently, the body will deplete it's excess glucose with the period of "fasting" so in about 3 months (hopefully) I will see those levels lower.  I do NOT need diabetes on top of everything else!  We purchased a Vitamix blender, and I'm very excited about that.  I made my first smoothie in it the other day from a green apple (unpeeled!), a cup of chopped carrots, some lemon juice, and some raw kefir.  And a frozen banana.  Since we have no ice maker (long since broken...) I have to rely on frozen fruit for the icy part.  But friends, it was DELICIOUS!   And even better, I wasn't hungry again until dinner time!  Usually I'm hungry in an hour after a normal smoothie (the really delicious, sugary kind), but this one was really good AND filling.  Yesterday I made one from frozen leftovers from that one, some fresh guavas from a friend's garden, and a cucumber.  Not quite as delicious as the first, but I think it's because I don't like guava that much.  But seriously, it was quite filling, and I'm kind of stoked about that.  I'm supposed to avoid all grains as much as possible to avoid the glucose problem, and so this solves a major breakfast problem of how to fill my (not so) little belly up.  I love this Vitamix.  I don't know why it took so long to buy one.  Oh, I know - it was the price.  But there came a moment when health concerns trump price, I guess.  And so we took the plunge.  Plus, my friend Lana told me about a delicious pineapple whip she makes in hers.  I can't wait...
My dear aunt Margie passed away this last June.  It all happened so quickly, it's still hard to believe. She was steadily declining and getting more frail (we had moved her to a memory care unit late in 2017) but she was still walking on her own (although not steadily).  She had a fall one evening and broke a couple of ribs.  For some reason, (we'll never know exactly what happened) she was unable to summon anyone with her LifeAlert device and so she was on the floor for a while before being discovered.  She spent the evening in the local ER, and was transferred late to the UCI trauma center after it was discovered she had internal bleeding.  There then followed the back and forth exchange of how much to do for her.  After conferring with my brothers, we decided that we would just address pain and comfort and let nature take it's course.  And she recovered.  Such a survivor.  She was back home, albeit with sore ribs, after a few days.  But then she began to complain of back pain.  After a couple of days of that, they tested her for a UTI which proved positive.  We were required to get all of her prescriptions from a designated delivery pharmacy and they took a couple of days to get the antibiotic to her - and I'll admit, I kind of lost track, and I blame myself for that.  She seemed to be responding, however, once on the medication, but I went in one day and she was pretty out of it.  Just kept saying "Help... help..." over and over.  I got someone to come in and help her to bed, but that seemed to be the beginning of the end.  It was a day or so after that when she sort of slipped into a sort of coma.  She would come out of it here and there, but was mostly unresponsive.  I called family to come say their goodbyes and it was hard.  Scott even came from Texas - he's just the sweetest.  Katie came with her kids, and while Katie visited with her, the kids were making the rounds with the old folks, who don't get to see kids very often.  They were very entertained, and it was lovely to see how much they enjoy seeing little ones.  It seemed like everyone was having their moment with Margie.  Except me.  By the time it was my turn, I think she was tired.  Or else someone else was in the room.  Katie finally had a word with her, and told her how important it was for me to have my own moment with her.  I went in, and she took my hand, and feebly, but very clearly, said "You're so good to me."  It was all I needed.  She was such a wonderful force in my life - for all my life up to that point - and I guess I just needed to hear that she loved me too.  Even though I knew it.  Hard to explain...  Anyway, after the commotion of family came and went, she slipped further and further away, and all of the caregivers who loved her so much were inconsolable.  She was a real favorite there.  With everyone.  I finally went home late on June 23rd with the nurse promising me that she would call if anything changed.  I went to bed, and woke up suddenly at about 3am with the words of a popular song going through my mind over and over and over.  It was sooooo annoying.  The chorus I keep hearing was "...already gone, already gone, bye bye I'm already gone...." It's a Brett Dennen song that I love, but the lyrics were just going around and around in my head.  Just then the phone buzzed and it was the nurse apologizing because she'd tried to call me an hour before to tell me that Margie was about to pass, but I didn't answer.  I KNOW that was Margie's private message to me - communicated with her usual witty sense of humor.  She must have been so happy to be released, and to see everyone she loves the most - what joy!  But she took a moment to come back and give me a private message with a gesture I will treasure always.  With brave wings she flies.  We gave her a lovely graveside service, and at the end we all sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."  She must have loved it!  I could (and still do) feel the approval and love from beyond.  She was a very great lady.
So now it's just my mom left from her generation.  I know it's very weird for her.  She is brave on most fronts, but I know it's a hard existence nonetheless.  Her great personal pride, instilled by her father, keeps her from asking for too much, but it would be easier if she would.  She would be easier to help if she would just let her guard down.  But - that's my mom.  Walls built high.  And so we just do the best we can.  She has a wonderful group of friends, and most of us live close by.  I'm going to have dinner with her tonight, and one brother has lunch with her every week.  His wife totes her to the grocery store and other errands.  The other brother and his wife deal with all of her financial needs (her finances are complicated and extensive, although she is able to live very comfortably).
My father's death made Margie's a bit easier - I felt more prepared for the various stages, and for the tasks that come after.  I guess this is also what growing older means: people in your life start dying.  Right now I have a friend dying from a heart sarcoma.  She is brave, but frightened.  We just found out that Diana, LaMar's brother Rick's wife, has stage 4 melanoma.  It's spread all over the place, and she's having a very hard time.  Diana is a force - amazing mother, amazing woman.  And she was the first of the Norman clan to make me feel especially welcome.  I have always loved Diana, although we couldn't be more different.  But this is breaking my heart to see the suffering their family is going through.  She is having surgery this morning, and we have prayed for her doctors best skills to be employed.  I feel that L is feeling a lot of fear that something will also happen to me.  He's been very quiet, and more caring even than usual.  We cannot control what our destiny is - only do our best to ensure the best outcome possible.  Hence the Vitamix, and new way of eating.  Trying to curtail my sweet tooth, and do more good things for my body.  A little late, maybe - but better late than never I say.
Well I could go on and on about events of the last two years.  All kinds of happenings with Katie and her family, but they just keep moving forward, and being strong.  Such a sweet family - I love those little kids with all my heart.  Ione is a little Boss Baby, but so much fun.  Dresden has moved on from being a terror to being the sweetest boy you could possibly imagine.  I never go there without him pulling a little gift he's made for me out of his pocket.  Hayden is like Katie at that age - all fun, and exhuberance for everything life has to offer.  Mia is sweet, and thoughtful, and serene.  An old soul.  They just bought and moved into their first home, and all of the adventures that brings to life - both good and bad.
Rex, Ronna, and those sweet kids are doing well in Colorado.  They bought and moved into a beautiful HUGE house in the last year.  Rex is doing well, Ronna does well holding everything together at home, and the kids are delightful.  Lexi is 12 going on 16.  Last we talked she loved the series Stranger Things.  Matthew is a typical 10 year old boy - all fun and silliness and candy.  Skylee is the dreamer/mermaid.  She dreams of escaping Colorado cold and moving to the beach.  Travis is sweet and tough - just like Rex was at that age.  His dark brown eyes sparkle.  We were there to visit in April for Lexi's birthday.  We saw them again a couple of months later when they were here for their yearly visit to Disneyland.  Can't wait to see them again.
Scott lives with his fiancee Megan in Austin.  I know... we wish things were different, but he is healing from a bad marriage, and we all seriously love Megan.  Their wedding is planned for October 2019 in Austin.
Andrew is doing well in Provo.  He runs the shipping department for L's little online business, Clean Screen Magic.  It gives him something to do, it gives him something of his own to take pride in, and he is thriving.  It's wonderful to see him doing so well.
Tim and Autumn finished up a year-long national tour of her play, "Something Rotten."  We saw it twice - once with my sister in law Jill, and once with our friends David and Lana.  It was wonderful, and so much fun to be able to have a little peek into the world of theatre.  They toured with their little one, Lincoln (now 3 1/2) and lived to tell the tale.  They are now back in NYC, Tim is back in private practice as a family therapist, and Lincoln is taking karate.  L and I are flying to Atlanta on December 8th to see Autumn in the Christmas play "Elf."  Looking forward to that one - it's one of my favorite Christmas movies.
Sort of up to date now.  I'm going to make the effort to write her more often - if only for my own memories.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Rhythm of the Ocean

L and I finished our chores quickly this morning and headed to the beach.  We'd heard that the waves were pretty big, and that's always fun to watch.  Traffic was horrific getting down there - I guess that means summer has officially arrived.  We had driven the Miata - the better to find a parking space - and we lucked out just one block from the sand!  A summer miracle.

We could see the crowd lining the beach watching each big wave crash onto the shore.  We had come down to the jetty, and the waves - if they're inclined to be big - can be especially so down there.  And, they did not disappoint.  There were a few brave body surfers in the water, and they were dwarfed by the huge waves.

Can you see the little heads bobbing in front of the waves?  They were bigger than they look in these pictures!

All of a sudden we noticed the waves getting even bigger, pounding closer to shore, and up on the rocks of the jetty.  To our horror, we saw two people on a jet ski trying to out run a really large, mean-looking wave.  And the wave won, driving the jet ski onto the rocks.  People started running out onto the jetty to save them, and half a dozen life guards sprinted into the water, screaming at the other people to get back off the jetty.  I've never witnessed anyone being saved from a life-threatening situation like that before, and so I was so impressed by how quickly they swam out, were able to grab hold of the two people, and swim back in with them.  The man (looked to be early twenties) seemed to be OK - a little tired and scared, but OK.  The girl was a little more battered, very tired, and had swallowed a lot of water.  She was so lucky though - no bad scrapes, no broken bones.  She needed to lay there and get some oxygen, but ultimately it looked as though she'd escaped a bad outcome.  The jet ski wasn't so lucky.  It got pounded on the rocks, and by the time the lifeguards were able to harness it and drag it in, it was in a few pieces.  Drama.  Right in front of us.

Other than that, the afternoon was beautiful.  Temps in the high 70s, we got seats on a nice flat rock, listened to the sound of the waves for a couple of hours, and basked in the salt air and ocean spray.  We even got to witness a rescue that had a good outcome.  Relaxation mixed with just the right amount of adrenalin, making us feel glad to be alive.  Perfect way to spend an afternoon.

This next week will be spent getting ready for our Colorado trip, and I'll also take a trip to Camarillo on Tuesday for Mia's 10th birthday - actually a day before her birthday, but who's counting?  She's a special little girl, our Mia, and she just gets sweeter every year.

I'll leave you with the sound of the ocean waves as we heard them today.  It's a short little video, but you'll get the idea.

Ahhhh... don't you feel better already?  I know I do.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Midsummer Dreams

Summer is well underway.  In fact, we're just heading into the first heat wave of the season.  90 degrees plus today, 106 tomorrow, and 108 the day after.  Bleah... that kind of heat is exhausting, but at least it doesn't seem to last for weeks on end. You can take anything for a few days. EXCEPT FOR THE A/C JUST WENT OUT.  AUGGGGHHHHH!!!

Our family had it's first official gathering - the week of Memorial Day.  Rex and his family were here in Southern California the entire week.  They rented an impossibly cute house in Anaheim near Disneyland, and we were able to get together several times that week.  The house had a different Disney theme in each room, from Peter Pan, to Frozen, to Little Mermaid, to Rapunzel.  The pool and backyard were Disney-inspired, and it couldn't have been more fun.
Could this pool be any more awesome?  The kids played in it for HOURS!
They did Disneyland a couple of days, and those were the days we opted out.  I just don't have the ability to be on my feet walking in Disneyland for an entire day anymore.  They spent those days with Ronna's brothers and their kids, so they still got in their family and cousin time.

One evening we went with them over to Downtown Disney for dinner.  We wandered around (it's about 1/4 mile from end to end) the length and back a couple of times, eating dinner in between walking the avenue at the Rainforest Cafe.

 Rainforest Cafe dinner - me next to Lexi, who is next to our beach girl Skylee.  Travis is asleep in the stroller in back! L, Rex, Matthew in his glasses, and Ronna are in the back.

We had such a good time being with our grandkids, pushing strollers, buying candy and macarons, and helping them each pick out a little treat for themselves.  Dinner was chaotic and fun, in between the thunderstorms that are part of the regular entertainment at the Rainforest Cafe.  Little Skylee determined that the giant butterflies fanning their wings on the walls were real.  No doubt about it.  Lexi chattered about the last day of school, about mean girls, about her friends, and about how boys are much easier to communicate with than girls.  I concur.  She is a wonderful little girl just on the brink of becoming a young woman.  One minute she is a child, and the next she sounds more adult than me (although that's not a hard feat).

Friday was their beach day.  Skylee had declared that she absolutely "loves all things beach."  She had never been to the beach, or seen the ocean, so that was the goal that day.  And she loved it.  The smells, the sound of the waves, the salt air.  And, as luck would have it, a pod of about 50 dolphin swam by as we were out on the Balboa Pier.  It doesn't get much better than that if you love the ocean like I do (and like Skylee does, apparently!)  Afterward, we wandered over to the Fun Zone and the kids did a few fun things.  We bought the boys each a foot long shark to play with in the pool (Travis absolutely loved his shark) and we bought the girls baskets of sea shells.  I thought Skylee was going to lose her mind at the sight of all those shells.  A man sitting outside a bar told me to bring Travis over to the door of the bar (but not to go inside!) and show him the big shark they had hanging from the ceiling.  Travis' eyes nearly popped out of his head at the sight, and he showed me how sharks chew things up with their big teeth.  Quite impressive.  I don't think I did any harm to a minor by showing him a shark in a bar, as we were concentrating on the shark, rather than the drinks.  Right?

Saturday was the real treat.  Katie and her clan came south, L and I picked up my mom (she had never seen some of Rex's kids) and my brother and his wife and daughter came to California, and we all met at Rex's rental house for a BBQ pool party extravaganza.  Katie had spent the night with the girls on Friday night so everyone got plenty of cousin time.  It was just the best time ever.  Our family hadn't been together like that in years and years.  My brother's daughter Arianna is just 1 day younger than Lexi.  So Lexi, Ari, and Mia each got to spend time with the cousins that are just their age.

 l to r: Arianna, Mia, Alexis

There were kids everywhere, it was a total food fest, and we all left better people after spending a great day together.  I have to admit that I actually cried happy tears on the way home - it was very emotional in a good way being together like that.  We missed Scott, but maybe next time it will be everyone.  I am grateful for the ones that were able to be there.  For me, it was just a love fest having all of those kids together in one place having fun.

Cousin time! Back row: Skylee, Hayden, Drezden, Alexis, Mia    
Front row: Travis and Matthew   

Black and white photo: Rex and Katie
Our newest little grandbaby, Lincoln, and his parents were here for a quick visit in May also.  We were able to spend one day going to the Santa Ana Zoo, and another afternoon at Newport Beach and the Newport Pier.  He's a cute one, that Lincoln, and he's learning so many new tricks now that he's mobile.  We had a fun time riding the carousel at the park, along with the zoo train, and we spent a fun dinnertime eating at Ruby's at the end of Balboa Pier.  They are hoping to move to California in a year or so, so we'll have lots more fun times ahead of us.

 Lincoln riding the carousel at the Santa Ana Zoo - look how he keeps his eyes on Grandpa L!

The week after Rex and his family left to go home, I boarded a plane for Nashville to meet up with some crazy friends there.  We were all staying at Linda's - she sent her husband and grandkids to Dollywood for the week! - and we had a wonderful time reconnecting and catching up.  There were 5 of us: Nancy, Mischell, Linda (our hostess), Kay (her daughter was one of my favorite babysitters) and me.  Linda's husband met us all at the airport and took us to dinner in Nashville at Jack's.  BBQ in Nashville is just THE BEST.  John told us it was the only time he'd have us all to himself before being banished to Dollywood, and we did enjoy being with him.  We wandered up and down Broadway, and in and out of Savannah's Candy (Caramel apples all around!)  We ended up in a little club called the High Watt, where my nephew was performing with some musician friends of his.  It was a little miraculous that as soon as we walked in he spotted us (although he didn't know we were coming) and enthusiastically introduced us to his friends (the only one I remember is the drummer from Alabama - there were so many and it was so loud!)  His band was the best one we saw, and it was such a treat to watch him having such a good time on stage.  He is a rep for Pearl Drums, and has many many musician friends and customers - many of them there that night.  Whenever he gets the chance to perform, he jumps on it.  Kevin is nothing short of A-type.  But in a good way.

 Newphew Kevin and friends performing at the High Watt - what a treat to watch!

The rest of the week was spent touring the sights, like the Opryland Hotel.  Gorgeous place with amazing gardens and a river running through the whole thing.  I got a major blister halfway through that day, and had to buy some new sandals in one of the shops so I could ditch the shoes I had on.  Goodbye $90.00... On the bright side, we all had pizza and - miracle of miracles - they had gluten free crust available!

Another day we did the tour of the Grand Ol' Opry.
All us girls standing on the wood circle that all performers stand on at the Grand Ol' Opry.

I liked that a lot more than I thought I would.  It was interesting, and I was impressed at how much music history filters through that place.  It was kind of awesome.  Of course we took millions of pictures and had a great time.  After that tour we went over to the Bluebird Cafe.  It's a venue for songwriters to showcase their creations, and it was time well spent.  For a minimum charge of $7.00 we were treated to an hour and a half of great music by four really good singer/songwriters: Adam Hambrick, Emily West, K.S. Rhodes, and Blake Chaffin.  Everyone but Blake has music available on i-Tunes, and I suggest - no STRONGLY suggest you check it out.  They were great.  I think that might have been my favorite thing all week.

Our last day was spent going to the Loveless Cafe for a late lunch/early dinner.  Folks, Tennessee is no place to be on any kind of special diet.  And the Loveless Cafe followed that same rule, only in BOLD TYPE.  Biscuits.  Heavenly biscuits.  I had to have one.  And then two.  Gluten-free be damned.  Fried chicken, fried green tomatoes.  The best of everything the South has to offer.  I knew I would pay for it eventually, but in that afternoon I didn't care anymore.  And now I can die happy, because I had biscuits that were as good as cake.  With butter and jam.

Following our feast there, and after doing some fun shopping at the shops around the cafe, (and rocking awhile in the shade) we headed for the little town of Franklin.
Rocking in the shade at the Loveless Cafe.  We love the South!
We'd heard that it was charming.  It did, in fact, ooze charm.  Every beautiful thing you picture about small towns was there.  Families out at dusk, in the heat, patronizing ice cream parlors, sitting in the park between two historical churches.  Tree lined streets with a roundabout connecting two of them.  It was idyllic and made me yearn for that lifestyle.  *sigh*

Back at the ranch later that evening, Nancy, Mischell, and I decided to go for a walk to walk off all of the Southern treats we'd had that day.  The stars were out in force, and as we stopped at the end of a cul de sac that ended at a field and group of trees, we were treated to the enchanting sight of fireflies making their magic among the trees and across the field.  Nancy had never seen fireflies before, and we were all spellbound.  A perfect end to a perfect day and a perfect week.

Summer isn't done with me yet.  Our A/C went out (just in time for 100 degree plus weather tomorrow!  Booo....) and so a little bit of suffering is in the cards.  In two weeks, we're off to spend the July 4th weekend in Colorado with Rex and his family to celebrate Matthew's birthday and share in his baptism day.  Then at the end of the month we're off for a roadtrip to Utah to spend the July 24th weekend (Pioneer Day!) with my brother and his family.  I've been looking forward to watching fireworks in two separate valleys at once from his deck all year.   Finishing up the summer, we will welcome the newest addition to the family - Ione - to the world in early September.  A lot to look forward to, and a lot of memories made.

Mom is doing pretty well.  She misses Dad, and she is having a hard time having her independence lessened because she can no longer drive.  Her eyesight is really poor and her balance is iffy.  A light has gone out there, and maybe it will come back on a little bit, or maybe not.  A lot depends on her attitude which, between you and me, has never been super positive.  Change has always been hard for her, so we remain hopeful, but not expectant.

I took Dad some flowers yesterday and had a little talk with him about the situation.  Hopefully he will find a way to help her or maybe whisper some good ideas to us, because frankly, we're fresh out.  But life, overall, is good.  Politics aside (don't even get me started here) L and I are optimistic and enjoying our travels together here on earth.  We seem to be able to calm each other down and encourage each other at the same time. What more can you ask of your best friend?

Our children are holding their own, and some are really soaring.  It's good to see.  We have happy, healthy grandchildren who are always thrilled to see us.  What a blessing they are to us!  We feel fortunate to be surrounded by such riches.  And a granddaughter who "loves everything beach?" Ah - that's the icing on the cake.
The whole motley crew in the Peter Pan room of the summer rental house.  l to r: brother Brent, L, me, Arianna, Greta, Mom, Matt, Katie with Hayden, Skylee and Mia in front, Drezden and Zach with Alexis and Matthew in front, Ronna, Rex and Travis - WHEW!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Life Goes On

I have to say that this is the very first time in almost a year that I've felt like writing.  Last year just kind of knocked the stuffing out of me.  It's been an adjustment, these past few months.  Not just my own adjustment, but trying to help Mom through it as well.  Learning how much to push, and how much to stand back, and let her find her own way.  She can be prickly and stubborn and difficult - probably just like most people would be who are surrounded by a bunch of overbearing children.  We hovered, we bossed, we cajoled.  And what I've found works the best is to just lend a listening ear and be supportive.  So what if she tells me for the 100th time how nice she thought Dad's service was?  It seems to give her comfort.  Who cares if it takes her months longer to arrange to get her house re-roofed than it would take any of us to do it for her?  The house isn't leaking, and it isn't going to fall down.  She is learning to do some hard tasks that Dad always took care of, and she's gaining some confidence in the process.  (We hope.  That's the plan, anyway.)  So we've learned to stand down, and let her handle things in her own way, in her own time.  Sometimes it's hard to watch, but I think she's making progress.  And she'll be so much stronger than if we did everything for her.  Which she doesn't want us to do anyway, by the way, although one of my brothers has tried very hard to convince her otherwise.

Mostly I've been fine.  It's weird without Dad being there when I go to visit.  I really miss him being there on holidays and for important family events.  But I know he's somewhere close by, supporting us and watching over things.  When I cry, it's usually in the shower where no one can see.  And there was last night while we were watching a bit on 60 Minutes about a new breakthrough therapy for cancer using the polio virus.  It killed me, knowing that it's too late to help him, and also to see the people who took part in the clinical trials who didn't make it either.  My heart hurt for their families. It made me cry.   But mostly I'm fine.  I imagine Dad discovering all kinds of things in the cosmos, and having such joy in the learning.  Consorting with all sorts of intelligent oddballs just like him.  Makes me smile, even though I miss him.  I try to bring him flowers from time to time so his patch of earth will look as pretty as the other patches of real estate around him.  So people will see that he is remembered and loved by his family.  Because if nothing else, Dad was a family man, who was fiercely proud of all of us.

This summer promises to be almost as busy as last summer.  Almost.  I don't know if I could do last summer again - it was so much fun, but I never stood still.  It's kicked off already with the arrival last week of Tim, Autumn, and 1 year old Lincoln.  We had a great time going to the little Santa Ana Zoo, and spending an evening taking the ferry across from Balboa Island to the Fun Zone on the other side of the bay.  We walked down to the end of the Balboa Pier and had dinner at Ruby's.  And then the ferry back to the island and frozen bananas all around.  So good to see them!

In a couple of weeks, Rex and his family will be here on vacation for a week.  They've rented a house with a pool close to Disneyland, and so Katie and the kids will come down and have a giant cousin slumber party.  We'll see if Drezden and Travis kill each other.  That should be fun.  It's been a few years since the kids were together, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Next weekend I have tickets for Katie, me, and the girls to see Fancy Nancy the Musical at a little local theatre.  Should be a good time, and I'm hoping we'll have time for a fancy dessert afterwards before they have to hit the road.  Girls night out.

In June I have another trip planned to Nashville with Nancy, Mischell, and one other old friend, Kay.
We went last year when our friend Linda lost her son-in-law, and then her daughter to cancer.  All within 2 months.  Unbelieveable.  Soul sucking, horrible time for our Linda.  She and her husband are now the guardians for their 3 grandchildren and have uprooted their lives in California to take up residence in Tennessee.  So we are going to descend again - the YaYas bringing our crazy, spirit healing nuttiness to Nashville and surrounding areas.  Perhaps an area near you.  It'll be a good trip, ya'll.  I love places where everyone calls you "honey" and where stores are closed on Sunday.  There are also some sketchy dive BBQ places where you probably aren't safe without a gun, but that's a story for another day.  

Early July will bring another trip to Denver for Matthew's 8th birthday and his baptism.  He is the sweetest boy alive, and we're excited to share these special milestones in his life.  And we'll be there for the 4th of July!  Rex always does it up right - lots of fireworks, and the neighborhood all comes together.  It will be a good time to spend with those special littles that we love so much.

Again the last part of July, L and I will take a road trip to Utah for the 24th of July - Pioneer Day in Utah.  From my brother's new house they'll have view of fireworks going off from two different valleys.  I've been imagining sitting out on one of their decks in the heat of a summer evening, watching fireworks with them - something I've been looking forward to ever since they mentioned it in February.  My dad's family usually has a big family reunion during that time.  And I've never gone.  But this year I'd like to go.  Reconnect with cousins who were so kind to come to his funeral last year - and we had the BEST time visiting!  Dad would love it that we showed up.  Going back for those reunions was one of his greatest pleasures.  That generation is all gone now - my dad was the last.  So now it's up to the cousins of the next generation to carry on the tradition.  Pioneer Day in Spanish Fork, Utah.

And last - but not least - one of my old college roommates lost her husband last week after years of long, drawn out health problems.  My first thought, after that first stab in the heart for poor Bronwyn, was are we here at that time of life already?  That place where we start to lose friends?  Especially when those friends are Our Own Age.  Unthinkable.  I haven't been the best at keeping in touch with my roommates and countless other old friends - although in the last couple of years the situation has improved.  I've learned that The Routine will still be here waiting for me when I get back from making time with old friends.  That these memories made are priceless and dear, just as the friends these memories are made from are indescribably priceless and dear.  It's always hard for me to blast out of my rut and travel to Somewhere Else.  Somewhere where my things aren't, and everything isn't comfy and familiar.  But oh, how worth it the minor discomfort is when I get to spend a few days laughing and reminiscing and loving some of the best people alive.  So we old roommates are trying to cobble together a trip to Southern Utah.  Coming from California, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, we will have our grand reunion, and hopefully reconnect with those young girls we once were, remembering dreams lost and realizing how many of them actually came true - although not always in the way we'd imagined back then.

So a busy summer once again.  And in between, I try to sandwich in weekends here and there with Katie and the kids, now that they're back in California.  They're still a couple of hours away - a journey that involves driving through Los Angeles and beyond - but once I get there it's so much fun. Oh - and did I tell you?  She is expecting her fourth and final babe in September.  A little girl.  Her name will be Ione.  What, you say??  Yes, IONE.  Katie just loved my grandmother, but my grandmother's name was Melba.  And no one wants to be named Melba.  But her favorite sister was a fun little lady named Pearl Ione.  And Katie just loves the name Ione.  We'll call her Onie for short, just like my great aunt.  At first, I admit, I wasn't thrilled.  But it's growing on me.  And somewhere - I just know it - Melba and Onie (and my dad!)  are playing with that baby while she waits to make her grand debut on this side of life.  And if she's like either one of them, she'll be a gem.

So that is life as I know it.  Life without Dad, but learning to carry on.  Helping Mom to find her balance and confidence without running her life.  Father's Day is coming and that will be a little sad.  L and I are both father-orphans now.  The holiday has lost some of it's glitter for us.  But we have trips to look forward to, grandchildren to catch up with, wonderful friends to sit with, a shiny new baby in a few months.  L and I are feeling lucky overall.  We are feeling blessed to experience so much Spice of Life, and hold it close.  We are savoring it all, as we realize - especially lately - that these joys are sometimes fragile.  Enjoy the present, and savor every last drop.  Tomorrow it could all be different, but you have Today in the palm of your hand.  Don't waste it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

My Dad

This is probably the hardest post I've ever tried to write.  It's been a jam-packed summer, full of fun activities, travel, family, and good friends.  It's also been a time of loss and sorrow.  Last month, on August 14th at 2:45 pm, my dad let go of his long, 20-plus year battle with prostate cancer.  He was a strong and valient warrior for sure.  He did not let go easily, although in the end he was able to go quietly and peacefully.  A tender mercy.

To back up, the summer had consisted of a road trip with old friends (see previous post) to Seattle and Victoria.  During that week, my dad's one remaining sibling, Uncle Nick, passed away.  That was a hard day for Dad, I think.  It meant he was the last man standing of his siblings.

A month later, and L and I were off again on a cruise with his family to Alaska.  Both of these trips had been planned a year in advance, and although I had misgivings about going at this particular time due to Dad's failing health, he encouraged me to go and do.  The cruise was so much fun - I really enjoy L's siblings - and we were able to see why people love living in Alaska. 

It is breathtakingly beautiful, and, while the winter weather is not for the fainthearted, in the summer I could picture the fun of having a house on a beach there.  Gorgeous. 

Parts of it reminded me of the rocky shoreline of Maine.  We saw lots of critters - reindeer, elk, bears, and - most important of all - WHALES.  I finally went on a whale watch where we saw lots and lots of whales.  Mama whales and their babies.  It was an amazing and awe-inspiring sight.  Being a cruise, we also did lots and lots of eating, but due to the fact that I am on a gluten/dairy/egg-free diet, I came home weighing exactly the same as when I left - BOOM!  Granted, I did not have as much fun with 24 hour dining as everyone else did, but it was worth it in the end, I say.  And L and I did discover a wonderful little pizza nook where they had - holy of holies - GLUTEN-FREE PIZZA.  It was a wonderful discovery.  It was a good week, relaxing and restorative for both L and me. 

When we got home, we spend lots of time with Mom and Dad telling them all about it.  By this time, Dad was in a hospital bed down in the family room, with almost round the clock care.  He relished visitors at any and all times, and never wanted to miss anyone who might stop by.  I'm glad I took the time to go as often as I was able to.  He usually ended up sleeping through most of the visit, but it didn't matter as long as he knew I was there.  And when it was time to go, he always called me "sweetheart," just like when I was little.  Sometimes he'd beg me to stay longer, and those visits really tore at my heart...

A few weeks after the Alaska trip, we had scheduled a four day visit to NYC to meet our newest grandson, Lincoln.  Again, I was worried about going, but plans were already set, so off we went.  We met and bonded with our little bean Lincoln and had some fun in NYC.  Thanks to Tim and Autumn for being such great hosts - and to Lincoln for putting up with many hugs and kisses.

Now THAT is a place where you can get some really amazing gluten-free and vegan food, and I was newly encouraged to learn to cook a new way.  There's an amazing restaurant on the Upper West Side called the Candle Cafe.  If you're ever there, DO stop in.  You would never know you were eating vegan food, it's that good.  Bare Burger is another.  Yes, my friends, there is still a delicious life after being sentenced to a gluten/dairy/egg-free diet.

We returned home, and Dad had started to decline even more.  Lots of sleeping, more mental confusion, lots of frustration.  Mom was having a hard time managing, but it was hard for her to want to accept/pay for the help she needed.  At one point, they both decided that they didn't need the caregivers for so many hours, and they stopped having someone there overnight.  I think that lasted for 2 nights before Mom realized she just couldn't do it alone.  She is tiny, and couldn't have handled Dad if he fell getting up, and by that time he was a serious fall risk.  She couldn't sleep well always listening for him to need to get up, and so her own health was declining.  All of us siblings tag teamed her and got her to agree that she needed the help, even though it was unpleasant to have to pay for it.  L was the most instrumental in talking to her - he is really good with her.  So patient!  There were points in time where I'd have to just walk out of the room to keep from shaking her in frustration.  I know - that sounds terrible - but she has what my sibs and I call the "Miller Stubborn Gene."  Or - she gets in the "Miller Mood."  Whatever you call it, it's a trial for anyone trying to deal with it.  I've seen it with my aunt (her sister) as I've cared for her these past 4 years.  I was HOPING it would be different with my mom, but it's not, darn it.  So L, with his infinite patience, deals with her best in the most loving way you could imagine.  And she adores him.  Win/win.

The middle of August came, and Katie and her family had moved back to California - WOOT!  I had scheduled a week to drive up (about an hour and a half - two hours away) and help her get her house in order, and have some fun with the kids.  Again, GRAVE misgivings about going, as Dad had noticeably declined.  He was on morphine and another painkiller (the name eludes me now) so he slept almost constantly, and wasn't really eating much.  The hospice nurse had talked about the end coming at any time, although at times he was completely alert and functioning, and would actually eat and drink something.  Mom encouraged me to go, as Katie really needed the help, and there wasn't really anything I could do for Dad at that point.  So off I went on Monday, August 10th.  The drive up was beautiful, and I was so happy to see the beautiful new area where she is living.  One of my favorite areas of California - one I wouldn't mind moving up to one day.  We unpacked, purged, tidied, and played.  I was just starting to feel like we'd really made progress, and one more day would really do it.  This was on Thursday the 13th.  We'd given ourselves the afternoon off to go over to the big neighborhood pool with the kids.  Gorgeous day, and the girls made a couple of good friends who ended up being in their school classes.  Dresden just ran around throwing toys in the pool.  (He's happiest when he's throwing something.  Anything.)

And that's when I got the text that Dad had slipped into a coma and wasn't expected to last the night.  I lost it.  I started to cry, and Katie, bless her heart, just rushed me back to the house, packed me up, and sent me flying south on the 101 freeway toward home.  I hated to leave her and the kids, but I don't think I could have borne it if I had not gotten home to see Dad one last time.  I prayed all the way home that I would get there in time.  I stopped off long enough at home to pick up L, and we flew down to the beach where my family had all gathered.  They didn't know I was coming, so they looked a bit surprised when I rushed in.  Dad was still there, but not conscious.  So I just held his hand, and talked softly to him, and told him how much I loved him, and that it was okay to go, and that we'd take care of Mom.  And he just hung on...  Thinking he might be more at peace if we weren't all in the room distracting him from being called away, we all left one by one.  Except Mom.  Hard to leave her alone, but she seemed pretty stoic, and Geoffrey the caregiver was there for the night.

The next morning (August 14 - coincidentally my Grandmother's birthday) he was still hanging on.  I got dressed and made my sad way down to hold vigil.  One of my brothers kept insisting that we stay out of Dad's room so he would feel more free to let go.  My mother seemed to agree so I had to abide by that.  But I couldn't bear to think of him all alone, so I sat on the stairs right outside the room and listened to him breathe.  And every once in a while I'd sneak in and hold his hand so he'd know we were there with him, supporting his transition.  I had just walked away from him and was talking to another brother in the living room, when my mom came in looking noticeably stressed.  She said to the two of us "You might want to come in now."  Brent and I walked up to Dad's bedside with Mom, and watched him take two last breaths.  And... he was gone.  Just that quietly.  Just that peacefully.  I stroked his hair, and whispered that I loved him.  We had Mom sit down and just hold his hand while we went into the kitchen and got Chris.  He called the hospice nurse to come and make it all official so we could call the mortuary, and we also called my Mom's good friends to come over and give her some support and much needed love and hugs.  It was such a surreal series of events.

Eventually, the mortuary came and took Dad.  My sister in law came over and asked if we wanted to see Dad before they took him away.  I declined but I also went and got Mom, who was starting to watch them transition Dad from the bed to the body bag.  She didn't need to watch that so I took her out.  Right after they drove off, I had a moment of panic, realizing that I'd just seen the last of him.  We weren't going to have any kind of viewing, so my last stroke of the hair, and my head on his chest had been it.  I regretted not wanting to see him one last time.  But now I'm glad I didn't because now my memories are of him alive and well and alert.

Mom didn't want anyone spending the night with her, and she didn't want to come to anyone's house for the night.  Truth to tell, she was exhausted, and she had a busy few days ahead of her.  We all did.  My tasks were to contact friends and family and to write and place the obituaries.  I was touched at the outpouring of love from all I contacted - especially from old friends I hadn't talked to in years, and my cousin (daughter of one of my dad's sisters) in Utah.  She helped spread the word to family members I wouldn't have had any idea of how to contact, and she wrote me the most beautiful email telling me how much my dad had meant to her.  It was lovely to read.

Dad had kind of an unusual story:  he was one of a set of twins born to a couple in Utah in1930.  They were the last siblings born into that family, as his mother died the next day, leaving her husband (a sheepherder) with newborn twins plus 7 other siblings ranging from age 15 to toddler age.  My grandfather wasn't even remotely prepared to deal with all of that, so he asked his best friends, who lived around the corner, to take the twins until he could get on his feet.  Fast forward about two years, and the friends still had the twins.  They approached my grandfather and told him he either needed to take over their care, or they would be happy to take them on a permanent basis (they had never been able to have surviving children of their own.)  My grandfather told them to make it a permanent arrangement, as he wasn't able to properly care for them on his own.  What an act of selfless love!  What a wonderful opportunity for the people who were the only active father and mother that my dad and his twin brother knew.  And what an opportunity for two little boys who would never have had the advantages they did growing up without these two parents providing for their needs.  As you can imagine, however, it did cause a bit of emotional conflict for my dad, growing up with one set of parents and his twin, yet having his biological father just around the corner, plus siblings who seemed more like cousins.  It's an unusual story, and my dad was an unusual man.  Rocket science intelligent, handsome, and quirky.  As a teenager, "quirky" isn't a quality you appreciate in your dad, but I have treasured that quality as I've grown older.  Sometimes we'd all just shake our heads as we walked away, but we've also gotten a lot of mileage out of "dad stories" and our family lore is richer because of my dad and his quirkiness. 

He was a thrifty man, always conscious of a dollar.  To a fault.  He left my mother with the most generous monthly budget I could ever imagine having, yet he would always act like they were on the verge of being penniless.  We learned to ignore it.  But as he lay dying in his last days, my brother Brent asked him if he was afraid.  Dad replied that yes, he was.  Brent asked him what he was afraid of.  Dad's eyes flew open and he snapped "BANKRUPTCY!"  Ahahahahahaha... that's my dad...

Dad was always there for every big event, every milestone.  Kids and grandkids alike. 

Even great grandkids' events, such as births and baptisms did not go unnoticed.  Dad was proud of his family, and he especially loved babies and small children.  Yes, he was a famous baby lover.

The service we had for him was beautiful.  I know Dad must have loved it.  So many friends and family gathered in his honor, so many wonderful stories told.  And the music... don't get me started.  The closing song was "Nearer My God To Thee."  It started with just a violin playing through the first verse.  Then the piano joined in.  Next the organ came in softly, and then the congregation was invited to sing.  I made it through the first verse, and then my emotions overcame me.  It was so beautiful, and my heart...my heart just missed him, and I wanted my Daddy just one more time.  But I know we will see him again.  I know he is always there, right behind me, just around the corner in the next room, watching over us, his family.  I feel he will always guide and direct me, and help me.  Grief isn't like I imagined it would be.  I had thought it would be an overwhelming all-day every-day thing.  But it's not.  I am fine most of the time.  But every so often, at the most random times, something will hit me, and I am awash with tears.  I just miss him.

My birthday was on September 7th.  My mom gave me a birthday card, and one of those random times hit me.  It was the first birthday card I'd ever gotten without his signature on it.  I'll never have one again with his signature on it, and I was glad that I'd been crazy enough to save the one I got LAST year that had his signature and a message from him in it.  I will treasure that card always.  Silly little things like that.  But knowing he is out of pain, that his body is released from that horrible cancer, that he is with beloved friends and family (and getting to know that mother he never got to know in his lifetime!) - all of these things make me smile.  I like thinking of the three mothers he is now reunited with: his birth mother, his "parent" mother, and my mother's mother/my grandmother, who loved him like her own.  As I said, he passed out of this life on her birthday, and I could very well imagine that little lady elbowing her way to the front of the line to meet him as he arrived.  THAT made me even laugh a little bit.

So it's been quite a year so far, 2015.  In addition to all of the above, we have also been dealing with the relapse of our youngest son, who suffers from mental illness.  He suffered a breakdown the day of Dad's funeral, and so L and I dealt with that in addition to everything else.  It never rains, but it pours... He is currently in a facility recovering, and should be ready to take the next step to a less restrictive facility sometime next week.  He's had a hard time stabilizing this time, but it looks like things are finally coming around.  So hard to see him struggling with this yet another time, and harder still to figure out how to help him have greater insight into what he can and cannot handle, what he can, and can NEVER do.

I am grateful for good friends.  I am grateful for family.  I am grateful for the feelings of unity my dad's passing has had on our remaining family, and especially on me.  I want to try harder to stay connected to cousins and those who loved my dad, and who still tell the stories of those of his generation.  I want to do better, live better.  Have greater patience and unconditional love.  And I suppose those are common reactions to the death of someone close to you.  Life is precious, and
tenuous.  And I don't ever want to look back and feel like I've wasted a day of it.    I miss my Dad, but he taught me so many things that will make my life more rich and full.  Love your family unconditionally, work hard, never lose your curiosity, never stop learning.  Thanks, Dad, for a good life.  For being my first love.  For being my champion.  Until we meet again...

Monday, June 22, 2015

Father's Day 2015

It was a small gathering for Father's Day yesterday. My oldest brother and his wife were away in Utah meeting their newest grandson.  My youngest brother and his family live out of state in Utah, so that left the celebration to L and me, and my SIL Jill and brother Chris.  Making her appearance on behalf of the absent grandkids (most out of state, and some even out of the country!)  was Chris and Jill's daughter Margot.  She is always fun to have around, although I'm not sure how fun it was for her to be surrounded by everyone old and older.  No matter - she has just been accepted into the master's program at USC, so we got to catch up with her.

Dad, as usual was anxiously awaiting everyone's arrival.  Sadly, we all have late church and weren't able to get there until late in the afternoon, but we had prepared a feast, and the fun soon began.  Normally, Dad just stays in the family room attached to his hospital bed, but he asked if there was anything he could help with, so I told him to come on into the kitchen and just visit with us while we made the last minute preparations.  He was happy to be part of things and was soon sitting at the kitchen table chattering away giving us his latest family news, and catching up on anything new we had to tell him.  Meanwhile, L and I put the finishing touches on the shrimp rolls (like lobster rolls, but with shrimp) and the corn chowder.  Jill had brought watermelon, so it was the perfect summer dinner.  Katie and Zach had just spent the weekend on Cape Cod following Zach's graduation from his residency program, and I was so jealous, I guess I was hungry for all things New England. 

Mom had set a pretty table (as usual!) and we all sat and talked and noshed on our summer food, and I enjoyed watching Dad enjoy it all.  He loves nothing more than to be surrounded by his family.  And we/I received kind of a bonus gift: he started to tell us some stories of his boyhood in Spanish Fork, Utah and they were stories I had never ever heard before.  And they were great.  I saw my dad in a whole new light - he was a real boy after all, rather than the serious, bookish kids I had always pictured him as.

The first story involved he and his friends driving through town at around age 14-15 throwing firecrackers out the window at the people the passed.  Can you imagine???  Not only was this a peek at a side of my dad I'd never seen before, it was a look into a world that just doesn't really exist anymore.  Anywhere.  So I absolutely must write it down here before I forget. 

But the best story of all was when they were, again, about 15-16 (that age is just trouble, I've decided...) and they poured gasoline across the highway (which admittedly, was not then the major Interstate 15 it is now).  Then, when a car would come along, they would torch it up just before the car arrived.  As luck would have it, the third car to come along was a police car, and he was going to arrest all of them.  Happily, though, the boys just told him they lived in Spanish Fork, and they needed to get home to make it to football practice.  And the policeman let them go!!  Because he didn't want them to be late for football practice.  And he probably knew all of their dads.  I laughed so hard at that one.  Only in small town America in the 40s.  No wonder my dad remembers such an idyllic childhood.  One where foolishness was gently corrected, and parents were left to do their jobs.  Not so many people to protect, so admittedly, it was easier to make the decision to be lenient.  But the best part was watching my dad tell the tale, remembering each detail, and laughing so hard that his eyes crinkled up in that way he has.  It was a good good night.

Too soon, we cleared the table and had dessert.  The caregiver, Geoffrey, got my dad in his PJs and all ready for bed.  And since my brother had just flown in from overseas the day before after two weeks gone, and was seriously jet lagged, they had to go.  L and I stayed a bit longer, talking and visiting until I could see Dad getting sleepy.  I didn't want a repeat of the last week when Dad literally begged us to stay longer.  My heart can't take much of that.  It sounds like they've got some things to keep them busy this week, and I'll try to stop in or give a call.

And next Sunday, we are ALL (except the brother in Utah) gathering once again for my parents' 63rd wedding anniversary.  L sat with my dad a few weeks ago and helped him plan this for everyone, while I was enjoying myself in Seattle with my girls.  (Yes, he is SUCH a keeper...to sit and help Dad with this!)  Dad wants to get food from Cheesecake Factory for everyone and, once again, be surrounded by his family.  I will have to look at the menu this week and place my order.  I'll need to try and record bits of the evening in video so the grandkids can see - especially if he starts telling stories again. 

In other news, this little guy turned 7 yesterday on Father's Day - which also happened to be his birthday. 

He had a wonderful Super Mario cake, which you can see in the picture.  L and I sent him a big boy sleeping bag (the one he has now we gave him when he was about 2 and it has plush bears on it.  He's ready for the real deal.  I also sent him one of those Simon games - remember those from the 80s?  Oh my, we had fun with ours, and I could just picture our Matthew becoming a super champ at it.  He is such a smart little boy, and so, so sweet.  I miss him.

So Father's Day this year was filled with all the best kinds of family memories - lots of laughing, lots of tenderness, and rounded out with good food.  I think Dad really enjoyed himself, being the center of attention.  And on the way down to that, I got to talk to cute Matthew and hear the excitement in his voice as he told me that they'd just finished dinner, and as soon as they cleaned up, they would have his Super Mario cake AND cotton candy ice cream.  That's the stuff good dreams are made of, my friends - birthdays that satisfy all of your simple, 7 year old desires.  I just love that kid.

Now let's see if we can give Mom and Dad the same good dreams next week as we celebrate their 63 years together.  And if luck smiles, there will be some good stories told.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Sister Trip

Time for a little fun.  Rereading the last post, I can see I've been in a difficult spot for the past few months.  You get used to it when it's your daily companion.  But this past week, it was finally time for THE GIRL'S TRIP.  We'd been planning it for the past year, the five of us:  Nancy, Mischell, Pam, Benita and me.  We are all old friends of 35 years or more, we hatched and raised our babies together, we experienced life's joys and sorrows together, and over the past 25 years we have all moved away hither and yon.  I moved the shortest distance - just down to Orange County.  Nancy and Mischell relocated to Utah, Pam to Arizona, and Benita to Washington.  As I said, life was sometimes good, and sometimes cruel.  A couple of these dearies have experienced the very worst sort of tragedy: the loss of a child.  All but one has gone through a painful divorce (is there any other kind?), and all of us have experienced life's downside and losses in varying degrees, as well as wonderful blessings of the best kind.  I have seen this one or that one over the years, but not one of us has been together with everyone in over 25 years.  High time.
A trip was planned that started with a road trip from Utah to Seattle.  I flew to Salt Lake, and was picked up by Nancy and Mischell.  A quick dinner at Ruby's served by Nancy's Andy.  Oh my - when did he grow up and get so handsome?? 

Didn't see the other twin, Tyler, this trip, but he looks just like Andy, so I can imagine he is every bit as handsome and fun.  We spent the night at Nancy's, where I immediately popped an allergy pill to counteract her cats' bad hoodoo effect on me.  Nancy had given herself a hot tub for Valentine's Day, and we enjoyed ourselves that night sitting in the hot water under the stars.  Laughing... so much laughing...  We were off to a good start.

Sunday morning we started off with our compass (GPS) pointed at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.  That was to be our stopping point.  One cosmic truth is that it's very hard to eat a largely vegan diet whilst on the road anywhere in Utah, Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming.  I subsisted largely on bacon and hash browns, with the occasional burger or grilled chicken from Wendy's that was lettuce wrapped.  Yum.  But you know what?  It did the trick and kept me going.  I'd also stocked up on a few road trip treats from Trader Joe's so it was all good. 
There was a kind of funny little place in Montana that housed a state prison.  The entire community was based around the prison: Prison Gift Shop, Prison Ice Cream Shop, etc.  The sad fact was that it was the Sabbath and everything was closed, so we contented ourselves with a couple of silly pictures after stretching our legs and before moving on. 

We ran into a spot of trouble right outside of Coeur d'Alene.  There was some kind of massive truck accident that had traffic held up going through a pass for over 2 hours.  Whole soccer teams were stranded with no cell service.  We heard all kinds of wild rumors and stories, we saw at least 4 ambulances race by, but we never did really hear what happened.  When we were finally allowed to pass, there was a semi truck on it's side all over the road, but everything else had been removed.  We were hoping for the best for whoever was involved in that tragedy, and we arrived in Coeur d'Alene for our night's stay.

On Monday morning we hit the road to get to Seattle in time to pick up Pam at the airport and check into our hotel.  The day was a little dampish, but our spirits were not.  Our trip was about to take off!  We got lost on the way to the airport a couple of times (Nancy and directions are not a good mix) but we did finally arrive in time to scoop up Pam and make our way to the hotel - The Camlin - in Seattle.
The party was gearing up, 4 girls now - one more to go!   Our arrival at the Camlin (after circling at least 5 times) was exciting.  They made us feel welcome, helped us in with all of our baggage (I, as usual, had by far the biggest and heaviest bag...) and we admired the beauty of the hotel as we made our way up to our room.  Nancy and Mischell took the Murphy bed, Pam and I had the queen bed in the other bedroom, and Benita (she arrived soon after!!) took the couch as she is five foot nothing.  Oh my, did the party ever start then.  We were loud.  We reminisced, we laughed, we were brought to tears a couple of times.  So many memories, and between us we have raised 18 children!  We swapped the pictures on our phones and devices around, showing off the amazing children we had raised, and the even more amazing grandchildren who had become our new miracles.  We remembered camping trips, beach trips, days at the park, swim days at Nancy's, girl's nights out, absent friends, husbands current or otherwise, and that insane pool slide that Nancy had placed on her patio roof above the pool.  It was a true rite of passage for the kids to slide down that slide into the pool below.  I only did it once, myself.  That was enough.

As I've said before, we relived memories good and bad, along with their associated angels and demons.  Most of the stories I'd heard before, but here and there a new one cropped up, adding to the treasure trove.  You need to understand that these girls are the sisters I never had.  The sistahs from another mistah.  No judging, no lectures.  Just love and understanding and more love.  It was going to be an amazing week.

On Tuesday morning we got up and walked to the Monorail that took us to the Space Needle and, sitting in it's shadow, the Chihuly Glass Exhibit.  Now, the Space Needle was ok - but it was a drizzly day, and so the view wasn't everything it could have been.  But they do force you to take a picture before you head up to the top, and that picture of all of us (in front of a panoramic backdrop that includes - what else - the Space Needle - made it all worth it. 

Next stop, the Chihuly exhibit.  If you've ever been to the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and seen the gorgeous display of blown glass flowers everywhere - that is Chihuly.  And this Seattle exhibit did not disappoint.  We were completely blown away by the fragile beauty of the glass, both indoors and out in the gardens.  So amazing.

There was a little Peruvian band playing outside the exhibit, and Benita and Mischell began to dance.  It was infectious.

After getting our fill of gorgeous colors and unusual landscaping, we decided to walk down to Pike's Market.  And so we set off.  Sadly, my feet were feeling it at this point, and I could feel my blood sugar dropping.  Mama needed to eat something.  We found what we thought would be a good place to eat - and it would have been if they hadn't taken half a year to seat us, and serve us.  Very disappointing, and by the time we'd finished the market was packing up for the day.  The one bright spot is that on the walk back to the hotel, we/I discovered a wonderful little bakery that had not only the usual array of treats but *holy of holies* they also had a wide variety of VEGAN treats.  Yes, my friends, you CAN bake a delicious cookie or scone without eggs, butter OR gluten.  And that night I had a wonderful Oatmeal Raisin cookie - a HUGE one, I might add - to enjoy.  And did I mention we stopped at a hat store and 3 of us bought hats?  I still haven't worn mine, but I will.  Hats are fun.

Now sadly, all during that afternoon I could feel a flareup coming on in my left shoulder and by the time we reached the hotel I could hardly move my left arm.  No bueno.  Benita kindly let me try one of her painkillers, but my shoulder wasn't having it.  Nothing more to do except take a bunch of Prednisone and go to bed.  We had a big day the next day taking the ferry to Victoria.

What a relief! - I woke up Wednesday morning relatively pain-free.  We were able to get up, get going, and get ourselves to the ferry with no fuss or trouble. 

It is almost a 3 hour trip to Victoria, so we had plenty of time to visit and have fun on the way over. Or get a little shuteye.

Upon arrival we were told to take the path along the water to our hotel.  Advice: do NOT do this.  It is twice the distance at least, dragging luggage and everything else with you.  However, it IS pretty.  We finally arrived, dumped our stuff at the hotel, changed shoes, and we were off to explore Victoria.

But first things first.  We were hungry.  One definite drawback to traveling in a group is that it's difficult to make decisions.  So we wandered a bit, unsure of where the best place to eat would be.  Finally Benita and I gave each other *that* look that said quite clearly "I'm done here" and we forced a decision, which turned out to be an Irish Pub.  Delicious, delectable food.  Unless you're gluten free and vegan.  Everything either had butter or wheat in it.  So while everyone else had Shepherd's Pie, or a luscious curry, or Banger's and Mash, I had the most bland fish and chips ever.  EVER.  But the service was great, the atmosphere was fun, and I got over it.  Our waitress pointed us in the direction of a bakery that had vegan treats and we set off in search.  Two hours later we still hadn't found it, and hadn't found anyone who had ever heard of it.  I called off the search as my dogs were killing me at that point, and cookies were losing their allure.  A quick stop off at a neighborhood market for some supplies that cost way more than they should have and then back to the hotel for an hour of hot tubbing it before turning in for the night.  So good...

Thursday took us to Victoria's Chinatown.  What fun!  Trinkets to take home, fun pictures to take, and I was also able to find a gorgeous tablecloth for myself.  I know - that doesn't sound very exciting, but it really is so pretty.  We stopped for a good lunch of various Chinese dishes, (including chicken lettuce wraps with plum sauce!) where we drove the waiter nuts with our separate checks.  On our way back to the water taxi we discovered a gorgeous home decor store just beyond Chinatown and we spent an hour in there.  Nancy bought herself a bracelet that is so "her", Pam also got some earrings, and I took a million pictures to take home to show L - ideas for a patio slab and also for a patio dining table he could make us, rather than spend a million dollars buying one just like it.  A morning an afternoon well spent, and we were happy girls riding the water taxi back to the hotel. 

Next, after taking our treasures back to the room, we walked the short distance to the closest Fisherman's Wharf.  We bought ice cream (sorbet for me) and walked around.  There were the most clever little houseboats I've ever seen docked there, and we could imagine what fun it could be living in one of those colorful cuties. 

As we sat on the dock admiring them, and also a curious seal who was swimming nearby, a woman passed us and said "Well, you all look like you're having a great time!"  We agreed that yes, we were, and talked about how cute the house boats were.  She replied that she lived in one of them, and would we like to come have a look around?  She didn't need to ask us twice.  Once there, we discovered a cute and compact space, decorated in a very cozy and comfy way, with four cats laying about here and there.  The downstairs consisted of a living room and kitchen, very small but not cramped.  You could get out to the deck via the front door, or through the kitchen door.  As we walked upstairs we discovered a wonderful little bedroom with built in closets and cupboards.  The bathroom was very small, but contained a clawfoot tub and a skylight.  'Nuff said.  How delightful would a hot bath be in that small space??  It was all I could do to keep from asking if I could come back later for a bubble bath.  So nice of her to ask us in.  She had recently moved there from Ontario to be near her sister, and I can't imagine a more fun place to live.
We wandered back to the hotel to change for dinner.  We were going to have a nice dinner that night at the restaurant next door - The Blue Crab I think it was called.  Almost all of us had the steak and lobster tail.  Oh.... YUM....  I went to bed very happy that night.

Friday: back on the ferry bound for Seattle.  Another almost 3 hours, but this time the trip didn't seem as long.  We were able to get our luggage and sail through customs effortlessly.  It seems that five 50+ year old ladies don't look very dangerous.  (Little do they know.)  We hailed a cab to take us back to our hotel and sadly - he was the crabbiest cabby I've ever seen, and we were thrilled when that 15 minute ride was over.  He got a little mad because we didn't know that way back to the hotel - but isn't that HIS job??  Whatever... he charged each one of us $10 for a very short ride.  Don't see that he had a thing to complain about.
Back at the ranch, we checked in again, dropped our stuff, and decided to go back to Pike's Market, since we hadn't really gotten to explore it before.  So off we went and we did have fun.  I was able to find a gift for L, as well as something for Katie's bunch and Rex's group.  And I hit up the vegan bakery again for another Oatmeal Raisin cookie and a lemon scone.  One of the vendors, who was selling quite likely the ugliest silver jewelry I'd every seen, told Benita to keep her "greasy monkey paws" off the jewelry.  REALLY?!?  It really hurt her feelings so we took turns walking up to the booth and giving the jewelry and the vendor stinkeye.  No reason to act like that - especially if you want to sell something!  Nancy said she heard her tell someone that she'd taken some medication that made her head feel like "it had bees in it."  Maybe that was it.

We tried to decide where to eat on the long walk back to the hotel and finally settled on The Dragonfly.  We had a good waiter who was very accommodating to my special needs, and the food was so good! 

 Discussing what items could be made vegan with our most excellent waiter

Our last night.  We were starting to feel sad as things were drawing to a close.  One thing I forgot to mention was that Nancy had brought some sort of herbal concoction that helps you sleep, and every night before bed she would make the rounds squirting a dropperful of it into our mouths - like baby birds.  But we slept SO WELL.  Pam and I ended up ordering some for ourselves, and I can't wait until it arrives!

Saturday morning.  Departure day, but first: breakfast.  My other "sister friend," Marion, came into Seattle to join us for breakfast. 

So good to see her and have her meet these other great ladies, and they, her.  Benita didn't join us.  Her daughter in law was coming to pick her up and she didn't want to cry.  She was already crying when we left for breakfast and was trying to give us all presents.  I will miss her little Energizer Bunny self.  She is a small package, but a mighty one.  She has more courage and caring and love in her heart than most people will ever realize exists.  Such a dynamo, always coming to everyone's rescue.  It was fun to reconnect with her exuberant spirit.

We said our goodbyes to Marion - another lady I can never get enough of.  She was off after breakfast for a trip to Macy's, and we hugged and promised another reunion soon.  Very soon.  Pam was next.  She had come on our trip almost straight from a diving trip in Roatan.  A week with us, and then home for a day or two before getting in the car to drive her prickly mother to a family reunion.  She referred to it as Driving Miss Daisy.  I have thought about her often this week, and am hoping she is having a better time than she thought she would.  Sometimes things have a way a turning out well in unexpected ways.  I'm hoping to see her in Arizona one day soon.  She owns a ceramics studio and I would love to play in the clay with her.  She also lives right on the Colorado River, and has invited us all to come and play in the water.  We need to make that happen.

And finally it was just Mischell, Nancy, and me in the car headed for home.  A little bit through Oregon, where we found this most fascinating sign in the bathroom, instructing us how to dispose of... I don't know... toilet paper?  I wouldn't have known how if they hadn't shown me, apparently, because we are hillbillies. 

We took a more direct route home than we took coming here and we had planned to stop around Boise.  Karma had other plans, however.  Between Nancy's map skills, our inattention, and driving in the dark, we somehow missed Boise and found ourselves hurtling towards someplace called Mountain Home.  By that time, I'd gotten out my own phone and GPS so we wouldn't pass that up as well.  As luck would have it, there was some gigantic convention there with "everyone coming up from Jerome" so all of the hotels were full. We finally secured the last King room at the Hampton Inn that also boasted a second King bed. Never seen that before, but okay...  Turns out the 2nd King bed was a double sofa bed that slanted down like a slip n' slide.  Yay.... but we were so tired (and desperate) that we took it.  Hungry, we set out to forage for food at 11pm at night.  In Mountain Home.  Jack in the Box was the only thing nearby that was open.  But only their driveup was open.  The manager WOULD NOT allow us to order at the dining room window.  So... sandwiched between a Toyota with two girls in it, and a big pickup truck with two cowboys in it, we stood at the driveup window and ordered our chicken vegetable bowls.  And then stood outside the open dining room door waiting for the delivery of our food.  So ridiculous.  But funny too.  Walked back to our room in the dark, realizing that Nancy had left the key in the room.  That night just kept getting better and better.  I think I inhaled that chicken bowl in two minutes flat.  And then spent the rest of the night trying not to slide out of that stupid sofa bed.  Hampton Inn should be ashamed to call that a bed.  I'd write a letter if I weren't too lazy to do it.  I remember looking at the space between  Nancy and Mischell on the king bed and thinking I could probably fit there if I crawled up very quietly. 

The drive home was about 3 1/2 hours long.  Most of it was through Idaho.  I never realized what a beautiful state Idaho is.  Such pretty little farms.  My mind is forever changed about Idaho.  Soon enough we were in Northern Utah, and then - at last - back at Nancy's house. 

Poor Nancy's bug-encrusted Lexus will take some scrubbing.  Her dog and cats were so happy to see her.  We rested there for a while, then took Mischell home before dropping me at the airport.  I was able to see Mischell's two youngest girls and THEIR babies.  I hadn't seen them since they were little, and they are lovely.  I had to remind myself to stop hugging them.  Sadly, Mischell's oldest daughter was killed in a horrible car accident 11 years ago, but we all remember Shannie fondly.  And we will all meet again.  I could see her in the faces of these two youngest, especially in their smiles.  Sweet memories.

At last it was just Nancy and me at the airport.  So hard to say goodbye.  It had been a week of weeks.  One of those trips where it isn't about what we did, so much as it was about who we did it with.  We could have sat in McDonald's and had just as hilarious a time.  Reminding each other of every funny thing we'd ever done, every crazy person we'd ever known, and catching up on each other's lives.  Has everything turned out as planned back when we were 20 and 30-somethings?

 Nancy and me - 1980-something - so young... the start of something very very good

 Definitely not.  There have been some real curve balls thrown.  Children have a way of surprising us in the most unexpected ways.  Sometimes good, sometimes not that good.  There have been deaths (Benita also lost a beloved daughter AND a husband), and fortune reversals.  But through it all, we are sisters, giving love and support to each other as we bump along life's road trying to do the best we can.  Cheering each other on, and encouraging each other to find that place of unconditional love and patience for ourselves and for those in our lives.  To realize that we're pretty good, after all is said and done.  We're not perfect by any means, but we're doing the best we can with what we have.  And somehow, during this week, heaven seemed a little closer and more attainable.  And it turns out that is the blessing of having these sisters in my life.

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