Fairy Dust

I’m spending the day at my childhood home while a Lowes installer puts in our new laminate countertops. I’m sitting at a folding table with my back to the work area, minding my own business when I hear the familiar whine of a circular saw. 

The ear splitting squeal of steel cutting through plywood takes me back to a day, in this same house, when I was a very small girl. The scent of freshly sawn wood reminds me of my daddy working in the garage on one project or another, and I remember watching him, amazed and impressed that he could make such wonderful things with blocks of wood. At different times in my childhood, he worked on any number of projects in that garage. He and a friend made wooden frames for a craft shop in Pasadena. The frames had routed edges, and oval openings in the center with the same routed detailing. Then there were the built in shelves he made for the closets in our home, to make them more storage efficient. And bookcases. And the wall shelf he made me with a bar for hanging a quilt. 

Probably the wildest thing he ever built that involved the scent of sawdust was the wing for a Stevens Acro plane flown by Doc Eoin Harvey, and later Debby Rihn. Over the years, Rihn modified the plane because what competition pilot doesn’t want to make their wings better, stronger, faster? But my daddy was a big part of the original dream and when I smell the scent of sawdust, I think of that project and the sheer enjoyment he derived from working on that wing. 

Who knows if the next family to live here will be craftsmen, woodworkers like my daddy? I’d like to think, however, some residual bit of sawdust will float through the air, revealing itself in sunbeams shining through the garage windows. And the new family, completely unaware, will be inspired by that fine little bit of fairy dust known by average mortals as sawdust.

Wisdom of the Ages

I have three posts in the drafts folder, but none are ready for posting. In the mean time, watch this video and see how it applies to our current day and age:

 

Dragnet

Education Major Rant

My daughter makes me so proud…

I’m an education major, and I keep hearing this phrase:  Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. I keep hearing horror stories of fellow educators who were asked why they settled…

Source: Education Major Rant

Discovered in the “Drafts” Folder…

I began writing this several weeks ago. I put it aside, but I guess I’ll go ahead and finish it today.

Snippets of blog posts have been churning in my mind for days — weeks, actually.  I’ll be driving down the road thinking about the last few months and words tumble over each other  in my mind, like rapids in the wilderness.  Bubbling, frothing, splashing — and much like the water falling wildly over the rocks, my words are without order, spilling over any boundaries that might resemble sentences or paragraphs.

The holidays were strange.  My family and I had the challenge of “firsts” a relatively short time after Mama passed away in August.  We took my niece to college mere weeks after the funeral, so my poor sister had to deal with the grief that comes with losing a parent and the ache that comes when a child leaves home for the first time almost simultaneously.

The next few weeks, I threw myself into going through the papers and photos and other things accumulated through the years. My goal of getting most of it done before going out-of-state to visit a childhood friend in October was achieved. It was good to get away for a bit. To think of other things, happier things, besides the last few months of bad news, illness, death.

November rolled around and with it, Thanksgiving. For the last several years, my sister drove to Alvin to pick up our mama and bring her to our house in Jones Creek. We would enjoy the afternoon, eating all our family’s favorite recipes. As the evening wound down, we developed a tradition of watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, which was one of Mama’s favorites, and then I packed up leftovers for her to enjoy and drove her home.

This year, we had all the right foods and we watched the Grinch. It was a good day, to be sure. But Mama was most definitely missed, and when I split the leftovers between us and my sister, I struggled with wanting to get out extra containers to fix some for Mama, too. I used to get frustrated with her, because two or three weeks before the holiday, she would start asking me, “Have you decided what you are going to cook?” This, in spite of the fact that we always made the same dishes, since to skip the favorites might mean a riot in the kitchen. I’m not a natural cook, so I don’t pore over cookbooks for enjoyment. My mama was a champion recipe clipper. She loved to clip them from the newspaper, and she loved to talk about recipes. I wish I could call and ask her a cooking question again.

Christmas Eve, I usually picked Mama up and took her to Angie’s, where we would enjoy a non-traditional meal like tortilla soup and open our gifts to each other. Mama did her Christmas shopping at home the last few years – choosing things from her treasures she thought each of us would enjoy having. The last Christmas she was with us, she chose a box for each grandchild. She had a thing for boxes – trinket boxes, jewelry boxes, display boxes. She gave her grandson a display case to put treasures in, her granddaughter an ornate box with a jeweled medallion on the center of the lid, and my daughter, a rich cherry wood jewelry box. She gave my sister and I each a piece of petticoat glass: a cake stand for Angie, because she’s the baker in the family, and a pretty bowl for me. I remember her serving Watergate salad in that bowl when I was a kid. When I picked Mama up last year, even though she was worried about getting to Angie’s on time, I drove through a couple of neighborhoods so she could see some Christmas lights. She always loved them, and I’m so glad we did that. It’s a good memory for me.

This Christmas Eve, we decided to do something completely different. My sister would be coming off a 12 hour night shift at the hospital where she worked, and it just seemed silly to try to prepare food after working so hard the night before. She took a nap and we went over mid-afternoon to open gifts. Afterwards, we went out to dinner at a very nice Brazilian grill in Clear Lake. It was really nice, and I think a little easier to handle, since it was different from our normal.

We’ve had a couple of birthdays since then, and I think my birthday was the hardest day I’ve had since she left. Every year since moving away from home, she would call me and sing “Happy Birthday” to me. If I concentrate really hard, I can hear her singing it in my head.

It’s been six months and I still miss her. I always will.

And I’m back…

I just read a thought provoking article and it rang true on so many points. I’m pretty sure that some will see the title and get their hackles up, thinking “Not ANOTHER list of rules…” Hear me (and the article) out, though.

Some of us are pretty damaged (parent AND child) by some of the teachings we heard and tried to apply as ‘homeschoolers’. Going to homeschool conventions, we heard seminars on discipline and courtship and purity, and in our heartfelt desire to please God, we tried to follow rules that were created by men, rather than just listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance through the years.

It doesn’t help that I’m one of those people who can be hardheaded when I think I’m right about something. When I try to explain that I’ve had a change of mind, the person on the other end of the conversation usually ends up struggling with doubt because I was so convinced before, and suddenly I’m not.

Reading this article though – it’s so full of wisdom and common sense. I just think it would be really hard to argue with any of the “rules” set forth, now or in the future. I don’t even like calling them “rules,” because it’s more a list of concepts to think about and apply as the Holy Spirit leads. There’s good stuff here, whether you plan to stay single or desire to marry some day.

Winter Stroll

Please read, share, and consider for your own lives and the important decisions you have to make as you journey through life:

10 Rules of Christian Dating

Words

I’ve been hanging out at the local coffee shop today, working on my novel.  My daughter had a break mid-day and so she met me for lunch and we had a great conversation regarding our writing and our words.

She let me read several poems she’d written on Evernote.  I’ve read her blogs and some of her stories, but I’d not read her poetry before.

She prefers free verse and I chuckled, because in my poetry writing days, I preferred free verse, too.  We agreed that sonnets and the like are too confining, too restrictive.  But as I read several of her poems I stopped chuckling.

Because she writes better poetry than I ever thought about writing.  And I won an award or two for mine, so it’s not too shabby.

I love my daughter’s words — her words like little mirrors reflecting the sparkling depths of her heart and soul.

Keep writing those beautiful words, baby girl… as if you could stop.  You’d sooner give up oxygen than give up your words.

Snapshots

I tackled and conquered another box last night/this morning.  Two down, six or seven to go.  The method that seems to work best is to drag the letter size file box into the living room, along with two archival “shoeboxes” and a photo labeling pencil.  After turning on a movie I’ve seen before, I start sorting through the photo packets, splitting up the duplicates between the two shoeboxes.  I don’t know about your mother, but my mother always ordered duplicate prints… so they could sit in a box with their twins for the next thirty years, rather than be shared with the people who would enjoy them.  I guess that sounds a little snarky, but the hoarding of memories is probably the thing I struggle with the most out of all the things that one works through after a loved one dies.

It’s a fine balance — the movie and the photos.  If I don’t have the movie running, my sorting speed slows down as I look at each photo, reminiscing — but since it’s a movie I’ve seen before, I don’t get distracted from sorting, either.  I take each packet and look to see if there’s any helpful information on the outside envelope — sometimes she made notes:  “Christmas 1979 – Alvin, Baytown” or “1982 AHS Centennial Parade”.  Other times, the only clue  is the date the film was sent in for processing, which could be the week after it was taken, or more likely, several months later.  So my Nancy Drew cap comes out and I sift through my own memories while looking at the photos to see if I can identify anything that will help me put them in their correct chronological spot in the shoeboxes.  When I’m pretty sure I have the date right, I scrawl a two digit year on the back with the photo labeling pencil and move on.  The time for enjoying the photos will have to wait until I’ve finished going through them and sorting them.  At a box a night, I think I should be able to complete that part of the project in a week or two.

I’m grateful to be self-employed.  I can’t imagine trying to tackle the disassembly of a home and the archiving of a life if I worked a regular 40-hour work week.  The flexibility of being in control of my own schedule has helped immensely.  Control is a power that can be used for good… or not so good.  I wish my mom had relinquished some of her own control when it came to these photos.  It would have made for sweet memories to be doing this with her, rather than alone.  Somedays my mind races thinking about all the things I’m learning from losing my mother.  Things like making the days count, since we have no idea how many of them we have each been allotted in this life.  Loving people the way they need to be loved, rather than the way we think they should be loved.  Assessing what is important to our loved ones and showing them they are loved by doing the hard things, the things that may not come naturally to us, but mean so much more just for the fact that they are hard.

Weary

It’s been six weeks and one day since my mom passed away.  The days between her passing and her funeral are a blur and it’s becoming more difficult to remember specifics about the funeral, although I do remember that beautiful moment when everyone in attendance sang together.  I don’t think I will ever forget that.  Since she was laid to rest in the Confederate Cemetery in Alvin, my sister and I have used every bit of spare time we have between our jobs and family responsibilities to work on clearing out the house in preparation for the next step.  Our immediate families have been willing to step in and help out when needed.  It has been hard work, physically, emotionally, spiritually.

I may have mentioned in an earlier post that my mom was a clutter bug.  A packrat.  A not quite ready for primetime hoarder, thank heavens.  Compared to what I’ve seen on those programs about hoarders, she was an amateur.  And truly — I can see the reasons behind some of the things she kept.  What has been really hard for me is the enjoyment that could have been afforded with a little (okay, a lot) of organization.  She kept things that were important, but because they were not in easily accessible places — or had been misplaced for such a period of time they’d been forgotten, the potential for enjoyment was lost.

Case in point:  I love cookbooks from the mid-century era.  Anything from the 50s, 60s, and early 70s captures my attention.  So as I was looking through some random papers, booklets, and magazines that had been put in a box at some point in time, I discovered a “Good Housekeeping Cakes” cook booklet, roughly 5 x 8 in size, probably 75 pages max.  I flipped through it to see if it was worthy of being added to my collection and on the last page, my mom had managed to type a cake recipe.  Keep in mind, this is a stapled booklet, similar to a small magazine.  She’d managed to roll that last page into a typewriter (Google it, youngsters, if you don’t know what a typewriter is) without removing the booklet’s staples and typed a cake recipe and frosting recipe.

No big deal except she made the notation “Recipe used for Laura’s 1st Birthday” at the top.  And down below, she’d written in her beautiful handwriting, “Made this cake for Angie’s 1st birthday, too.”

I tried not to cry when I thought about how — if the booklet/recipe had been in an easily accessible, logical place, rather than the bottom of a box — how we could have used that same cake recipe to make the first birthday cakes for our children, and what a wonderful tradition that would have been.

I find myself trying not to cry a lot while I’m working there.  I’ve brought home tons of photos that need to be organized and shared with my sister and other family members.  A friend who is in the process of scanning her family photos left to her by her mother a few years ago said, “Well, at least you got the albums!”  Except my mom’s photos never made it into albums.  There are dozens and dozens and dozens of envelopes from Eckerds (what CVS used to be called) full of photos that probably haven’t been looked at since the day they were picked up from the photo developer.  It wearies me to think of what needs to be done so that the surviving family can enjoy the photos, especially in light of the fact that a large percentage of my own photos are not yet in their albums.    I’ve also sorted through hundreds of cards and letters.  And that almost sends me over the edge, too.  When I realized how multitudinous the cards and letters would be, I made the decision to only keep the letters and cards that had lengthy notes written in them.  As I go through and assess whether a letter or card gets to stay, I find myself sniffling at the words of my grandparents (long gone from this world) — I miss them, and I miss my mama.

And I’m weary.  But I will keep on doing what needs to be done, and thank the good Lord for the strength He’s giving me from day to day.

Things…

It’s been a little over a month since our mama passed away.  We’ve made a lot of headway in settling her affairs, and we’re thankful for the strength that has to have come from the Lord in our ability to push forward when sometimes we want to just crater.  I’ve relied on the “matching” skills Mama taught me when I was a little girl — grouping like “things” together — a stack of boxes full of photos here, a stack of boxes full of crystal and glassware there, moving all the clothing to a single closet until it can be sorted through.  The photos have now been moved to my house, since Mama said I would more than likely become the family archivist.  My sister and I have divided the crystal and such — things I wanted, things she wanted, and things we think different family and friends would like to have as mementoes of our mama.

In the middle of all this sorting and dispersing, there have things suitable for donation and a couple of days ago I took four extra large gift bags containing neatly folded dresses to the Salvation Army.  These were dresses from her closet that were still in good condition, as well as two pairs of shoes that had never been worn.  Mama always had a high regard for the Salvation Army, and so we thought she would be pleased if we donated things we didn’t plan to keep to them.

I have to confess, I was a little startled when I noticed that the Salvation Army in Freeport had posted signs on either side of the driveway that stated “NO DUMPING”.  No dumping?  In years past, I have dropped off a bag or two of gently used clothing by the backdoor when no one was available to accept the donation.  But I never thought of that as dumping.

Did you know that when people drop off/dump items that are in poor condition, the Salvation Army has to pay to get rid of it?  I mean, think about it.  Anyone who has a trash can outside their house pays a trash collection bill each month, and if they have more than one can, they pay a higher rate.   So it makes sense that the Salvation Army probably pays for trash collection and the more trash they have to get rid of, the higher the monthly bill.  When people drop off things that aren’t worth having, that have no “life” left in them, it defeats the purpose of a “charitable” contribution, don’t you think?

I’m pretty sure that the things I’ve donated in the past have still been usable.  I’ve looked at t-shirts, jeans, and the like and thought “if I fell on hard times and needed to buy some clothes at a thrift store, would I be ashamed to wear this?”  If the answer is ever “yes,” the item goes in either the rag bag or the trash can.

I challenge each of you to donate with a conscience and with love.  Don’t dump worn out items that you’d be embarrassed to wear if you didn’t have other options available to you.  The Salvation Army does a lot of good work and the money earned from items donated to their thrift stores helps to fund that good work.  Statistically more of a Salvation Army dollar goes toward helping people than just about any other charitable organization out there.  So make sure you help them achieve the highest return for your donations so they can continue the good work they do wherever a Salvation Army exists.

Not Unexpected

“No one gets out of here alive.”

And it’s true.  At some point, some sooner than later, we all have to die.  Mama left this earthly realm at 4:25 a.m. on Tuesday, August 4.  The doctor pronounced it at 4:35 a.m., but she took her last breath ten minutes before that, while my sister and I stood on each side of her, crying, holding her hands and telling her how much we loved her.

I could write a play-by-play of how events transpired, beginning early Monday morning when my sister stopped by Mama’s house to deliver a prescription she needed.  How she noticed the corner of Mama’s mouth drooping and she immediately thought “stroke”.  How we knew Mama disliked the hospital in Clear Lake, so we took her to the hospital in Pearland, and how they didn’t have a neurologist on call with the ER, so they transported her to Memorial Hermann in Houston.  How Mama seemed better while at the Pearland hospital, passing their questions with flying colors (“Do you know the date?”  “What is your name?”  “Press against my hands — you still have good strength in your hands.”) and nodding when they observed that the drooping at the corner of her mouth seemed to have resolved itself.  How she asked several times, “After they check me out, can we go home?  I want to go home.”

My sister told her, “Mama, they are probably going to admit you so they can keep an eye on you for a day or two.”  She made a funny face.  She didn’t like that at all.  The EMS guys finally arrived to transport her, only to discover they didn’t have a piece of equipment on their truck necessary to monitor her during the trip into Houston.  Another 30 minute wait, and then the second truck arrived.  It seemed like there were six EMS guys cramming into the small trauma room to transfer her to the ambulance.  So my sister and I tried to get out of the way by stepping into the hall.

I remember looking past a couple of EMS guys and seeing her propped up in the bed.  I waved, said “we’ll see you there” and then turned to head toward my car with my sister.

I can’t remember if I told her I loved her.

You learn something new everyday, and I learned that you’re not supposed to follow an ambulance en route to a hospital.  We were hungry and decided to grab something to eat.  We figured by the time we ate and made it to the hospital, Mama would be settled in her room and we could figure out what we needed to do next.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to eat at a La Madeleine’s again.  At least not the one in Pearland.

We were headed up 288 toward the hospital when my phone rang.  Someone named Veronica was calling to find out if we were on our way back, and how long it would be before we got there.  I told her we were at the Beltway and 288 and we’d get there as quick as we could.  My first thought was, “Oh, great — we’re in trouble because we went to get something to eat and Mama’s wanting to know where we are.”  Then I asked my sister, “You don’t think something happened in the ambulance, do you?”  She shook her head “no” and said “surely not.”

We had a hard time finding a parking place.  Once we got inside, we asked for Veronica, who appeared a few minutes later and took us to a small room named after Dr. Red Duke.  I remember thinking the room wasn’t very fancy to have been named after someone so important.  Not only is Dr. Duke an institution in the Texas Medical Center, he also has the distinction of being the Parkland Memorial Hospital surgeon who received John F. Kennedy in the emergency room after the president was shot in Dallas.  Journalists have tried to interview him about that tragic day, but he refuses to speak of it.

Finally, a doctor came to speak with us.  Strange.  The doctor needed to speak to us before we could see Mama.  The feeling in my gut said, “this can’t be good.”  And it wasn’t.

When they brought Mama in, she appeared to be fine.  They got her situated in the trauma room to take her vitals and the doctor said she was talking and they were laughing about something —

And then she stopped breathing.

He told us they “got her back” with CPR and intubated her.  She was breathing with the help of a ventilator, and now that he’d explained everything, he would take us to her.  I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything so gut wrenchingly painful.  Mama wasn’t there any longer.  We stood on each side of her, crying and asking her to squeeze our hands if she could hear us — but she never did.  We were told that they were waiting for a bed in ICU and as soon as they had one, they were going to move her up there.  A little while later, we all made the trek to the ICU.

The nurses in that department are wonderful.  They told us that they were going to give Mama a bath and put a fresh gown on her; that we could wait in a room down the hall and they would come get us as soon as she was more comfortable.  About 45 minutes later, we returned to her room to find her still unresponsive, but looking a little better.

There’s no point in recounting the next couple of hours minute by minute, since really all we did was stand on each side of her, talking to her and telling her how much we loved her and how sorry we were for the things we wished we could have done differently — wishing we could have been there more for her.  Her blood pressure kept dropping and they kept bumping it up artificially with drugs.  She was trying to go, and they weren’t letting her.  So we talked to a kind nurse who understood that our mama did not want home healthcare or to be put in a nursing home.  We explained how many times we had asked Mama, “Can we please get some help?”  Not so we could “dump” her, but so we’d have some energy left to be able to actually make a few last memories with her.  She didn’t want anyone taking care of her but us, and her condition had passed a point where she wouldn’t be going back home.

The nurse spoke with the charge nurse, and then a doctor came in and the charge nurse said, “You have to be the one to tell the doctor what you think needs to be done.  It has to come from you.”

My sister is the bravest person in the world.  She told the doctor that the drugs and the ventilator were keeping Mama alive when Mama was trying to go.  She explained that Mama was a very private and modest person, and she would not want to live in such a dependent state, one in which she was not able to return home.  All I could manage was a nod of my head in agreement.  And so at 4:00 a.m. the nurses removed the ventilator and removed the drugs that kept her blood pressure from dropping.

Twenty-five minutes later, Mama went home to the Lord.

There’s comfort in knowing that she had a real relationship with Jesus and she will spend eternity with her savior.  While her passing was not unexpected, it was not expected quite so soon.  We thought we had a little more time — a month or two, at least.  Because of that mistaken hope, we didn’t make good use of the time we did have.  Truly, we both blame a great deal of that squarely on MD Anderson.  Mama was not in good health to begin with, and if the doctors at MD Anderson had taken her other issues into consideration, they would have said, “Ms. Swan, go home.  Spend time with your family.  Share your stories and look through your photographs.  Bake your mama’s coconut pie and sit around the table eating it straight out of the pie plate with forks.  Play cards with your grandchildren.  Give them some memories to finish out the story of your life.”

But it’s about money.  And so they prescribed radiation treatments that magnified her existing fatigue and fried her taste buds so nothing tasted good any longer.  Her already thinning hair felt out completely.  A short time before she passed, she began saying “I just want to feel good again.”  And even more recently she said, “I miss my mama and daddy.”

My comfort is that she feels better than she ever did, she has been reunited with her mama and daddy, and someday I’ll see her again.  But it’s so very hard to remember she’s gone right now when I have something to tell her and I almost reach for the phone to call her and say, “Mama, whatcha’ doing?”