Mentally flipping back the pages of the calendar to November of 2011, my husband and I were struck by all that has transpired in our lives over the past year. These twelve months has been some of the most difficult days of our lives. Amazingly, we both have come through health challenges and a major move. Today, we are happily enjoying our new home and surroundings in much improved health. Jim will need some surgery in the next month, but in so many ways, we are so much better. Somehow, just saying that I am grateful for all this healing and change seems a bit trite. After all, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Shouldn't we all be giving thanks? Isn't that why we celebrate this holiday?
Gratitude is not something I have ever expressed enough. I sometimes think I grumble and mumble about things more than I give thanks for things. I take all of the good things in my life for granted too often. I don't stop and take stock of all of my many blessings. During the month of November, I have been writing daily facebook posts about those things for which I am most grateful. Even that practice has not even scratched the surface when it comes to truly assessing the multitude of reasons I have to give thanks.
This past year has truly been one of the worst in my life, but it also has been the year when I have most been aware of how blessed I have been. In December of 2011, my husband had a 95% blockage of his LAD that was discovered before suffered what would have been a massive heart attack that most likely would have been fatal. (You can read about this by clicking above.) I don't even have the words to express my gratitude for my own ability to recognizing his symptoms and get him to the hospital. Thankfully, the doctors were able to save his life by giving him a stent. Thankfully, he was able to recover his health quickly.
Not even one month after Jim's heart incident, I fell down our basement stairs and had a brain injury. This injury was followed by months of dizziness and other symptoms that come from a moderate traumatic brain injury. I also suffered from a debilitating vestibular disorder, heart arrhythmia, and episodes of a very rapid heart beat. For over six months, I could not drive at all. I also suffered from anxiety attacks that nearly crippled my ability to carry on my normal life. During all of this, I also continued to deal with the grief of losing a daughter to suicide just a year and a half before. Somehow, today, I can say with extreme gratitude, that I am no longer suffering from these symptoms that were robbing me of the life I had always lived.
Many people, those in the healing profession, family, and friends, have brought both Jim and myself to this current place of health. I have had several women in my life who are in the healing profession without whom I would not be where I am today.
We have had two wonderful realtors. One helped us sell our home in Pueblo, and one helped us find our wonderful new home. We had a multitude of friends and family who helped us move from one home and get settled in another. When I think of friends, I can't forget about all of you in the blogosphere. You have been an important part of my journey this past year.
I have a mother who prays for me every single day. She is 96 years old. I am blessed beyond measure to still have her in my life. I have four beautiful children and seven amazing grandchildren. I am also blessed by three stepchildren and their beautiful children. My family life is rich and full.
This past year, my awareness of how shallow my gratitude expressiveness has been throughout my life was made painfully clear when I read Ann Voskamp's amazing book, One Thousand Gifts. This book played an important role in my healing. As I read and reflected on Ann's beautifully crafted words, I struck by the simple truth that gratitude brings healing. When one is suffering from scary symptoms that cause one to think that life as one knew it is forever changed, it is difficult to feel gratitude. When one is broken by grief over the loss of a child, it is even harder to find a reason to give thanks. Somehow, throughout my journey through grief, I have learned that my capacity for appreciating life has gone deeper, my soul has been expanded.
In the margins of Voskamp's book, on April 29, 2012, I wrote, 23 months today next this passage: "Love's a deep wound and what is mother without a child and why can't I hold on to now forever and her here and me here and why does time snatch away a heart I don't think mine can beat without? Why do we all have to grow old? Why do we have to keep saying good-bye?" These words were so painful to read 23 months to the day after I lost my beloved Julie. I too had once stroked my beautiful girl's curls. Tragically, the last time I did so was after she died. How could I feel gratitude? How could I not be bitter? How could I not stop living when I told her good-bye? How could I go on when I would never again hear her voice or feel her arm draped around my shoulder?
Many days, I sat in my chair and prayed for healing for my husband, for my children, and for me. Ann writes, "The only real prayers are the ones mouthed with thankful lips." Wow! That struck me hard. I have this wonderful family in my life. They are the blessings of my life. How could I not be thankful to have them to pray for? Many days I feared what the future would hold for all of us. Finally, I chose not to live my life in fear. I chose not to fear losing again. Ann also writes, "All fear is but the notion that God's love ends." Since I know in the very core of my being that His for me love does not end. It never has. It never will. I am able to be filled with gratitude.
Expressing gratitude frees the mind to see all that one has in this life. This is premise of Voskamp's book. She set out to write down one thousand gifts for which to grateful. It transformed her life while she kept this list. She helped to change mine as I read about her lists. She helped me to learn how to be thankful in the midst of much turmoil and illness. For that I am very grateful.
So while tomorrow will be filled with the traditional Thanksgiving activities, when I give thanks, it will be with a new sense of gratitude for more than I could ever begin to list. The short list will include much thanks for healing, for new beginnings, for a wonderful supportive husband, and for a family of children and grandchildren all of whom bring me great joy and give rich meaning to my life.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Moving is exhausting!
Boston and Jim took some time to rest in the midst of all the unpacked boxes and mess.
Bit by bit, we are getting it done.
We are sticking together and tackling the task ahead of us one day at a time.
I keep being asked, "Are you all settled in yet?" I just want to answer with a curt, "Are you kidding?" Tomorrow, we will be able to say, "We have been living in this house for three weeks now." In someways, those three weeks have seemed like a very long time. We are growing accustomed to our surroundings. We are beginning to establish a routine. This place is even beginning to feel a bit like home. We are not settled in yet though.
I am still writing this blog from my favorite chair in the corner of the guest room. I have not yet set up my desk, my office, my writing space. I did finally unload the top of my desk. It is no longer covered with boxes. I have not unpacked any of my office supplies. I don't even know where my mouse is for the computer. Thank goodness I use a laptop. Thank goodness a laptop allows portability and connect-ability. I think I have finally decided which room will house my office. I think my husband and I have decided what space will work for his office. Thank goodness, we are finally getting a vision on how to set this house up to best suit our needs.
We went from a two story house with a full unfinished basement to a one level patio home with a finished basement. We had four very large bedrooms at our former home. We now have three bedrooms that are not very large. Two of our bedrooms were large enough in our old home to allow for space for a bed and an office. This is no longer the case. In theory, I went from a five bedroom house to a three bedroom when it comes to space. What I didn't realize, was that I also gave up three very large closets! I had a lot of stuff (please note how descriptive that word is!) in those closets. Now, I am trying to figure out what to do with my stuff. My new favorite place to shop has become The Container Store! I am constantly on the search for better ways to store and have access to all that stuff that I need. Believe me, this stuff is the important stuff. I still have a storage shed full of stuff that isn't important that I need to deal with at some point. For now, I am just dealing with the important stuff.
The kitchen was the first challenge in this new home. I also didn't realize that I was giving up a large pantry, a pantry I constantly complained about and didn't appreciate. The pantry in this house, and the kitchen cabinets, took me about a week to arrange. I am still rearranging. My husband, my dear sweet husband who is patient and helps me so much, is still asking me to show him around the kitchen so he can figure out where items go. I have rearranged quite a few times trying to make sense of where each item should be placed. It has all been like one big puzzle, but I think the puzzle is finally coming together.
I love my new kitchen. I love cooking in it. Yes, I am actually cooking. That is not something I have done much of over the past 15 years. Our lives were too busy while we were working. Then, after retirement, I just never took up cooking again. I never liked my kitchen before. I loved how I had fixed it up. I loved its colors, but I didn't like cooking in it. This kitchen has less storage, but it is more functional, and I love being in it.
The first floor of our home is finally free of all boxes! This is something to celebrate. Now, I have to empty the dining room table of all the china and crystal and get it loaded into the china cabinet. That doesn't seem like it should be such a big task, but it is. The only thing I have more of than shoes is china or dishes. I love dishes almost as much as I love shoes. The everyday dishes are arranged in the kitchen; now I must take care of the "good" dishes. I must get them all put away. I lamented that I could not remember how I had the china hutch arranged. Thankfully, my husband had taken a picture of it before we moved. Now, I just have to look at the picture and not rethink how to arrange it all.
We are finally also making progress on the basement. A good friend of Jim's came over on Saturday, the second time he has been here to help, and loaded a lot of things into the crawl space. He brought his seven year old son who thought it was just really cool to take things into the huge crawl space. Wow, was that ever helpful. Our friend, Rob, also helped us get a vision for the family room. I think we know what we will do with the space now. He is coming back with his family to help us arrange it all and unpack books. We would not be where we are without the help of friends and family.
It hasn't been all work and no fun. We take time each day for a walk in our beautiful surroundings.
On the day after we moved in, I took Boston for a walk around our little block. Just three houses up from ours, as I rounded the corner, I was again awestruck by the beauty of where we live. This scene that I photographed is just steps from our home. This sight, the white sandstone rocks, the stately pines, and the Colorado blue sky, are there for me to admire when I round the corner from my house. I still can barely believe I have the blessing to live to in this beautiful place.
As I rounded the next corner, I saw a few of our neighbors were checking us out. Boston and I are the new kids on the block. I'm not sure what they think of us.
Boston was surprisingly polite while he met his new neighbors. He sat quietly without barking and kept his distance. I guess he didn't want to appear too eager to meet the other animals in the neighborhood for fear they would scamper away.
Boston spends most of his time gazing out of the window at his friends. This keeps him entertained throughout the day. He has his favorite viewing spots. This one is in the living room.
Our lives are very different here. Our vistas are different. We are settled in a small community of patio homes just over the hill from the Air Force Academy. We drive two and a half miles from the interstate up a wooded road to our home. I breathe a sigh of relief, of peace, whenever I drive this beautiful road on my way home. I am away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and yet, in just minutes, I can be anywhere in the city itself. We are surrounded by nature, trees, and lot of wildlife. I saw a fox tonight as we were driving home. I understand a bobcat lives in the area. Needless to say, Boston no longer is able to run freely in the yard, but I think he is ok with that. We give him walks, and he goes to doggie daycare to play on special days.
We have wonderful neighbors. Everyone has been so friendly. We are all about the same age. Most of us are retired. Everyone stops to chat when they are out and about. Everyone waves. We have had visits from our closest neighbors. They have brought food, flowers, and housewarming gifts. They have given suggestions on handymen and even helped with advice on where to hang pictures. We think we will be very happy here.
I have longed for a sense of community. I have longed to be near my family again. I worried that my husband would never really adjust to moving to a new town. So far, we are almost feeling like we are on an extended vacation as we get to know new places to explore. We are in the honeymoon stage. This past Friday night, we thought we would settle in and not go anywhere. For the first time in our marriage, we ate in on Friday night. (Really, that is the truth!) For the first time in years, we did not go out for Mexican food on Friday night. Jim put on his pajamas early. Then, we remembered we needed something from Home Depot before Jim's friend Rob came over on Saturday morning. Jim changed from his pajamas to his clothes and we were off into the night. We drove all over looking for a yogurt place. We found it and ate frozen yogurt just before the place closed. On our way home, I said, "We were in a rut before we moved. It is good to do new things and go new places." Just tonight, as we came home from another trip to explore new places, Jim said, "I love living in Colorado Springs." I am so happy he is happy here.
We've had our moments of profound homesickness. We miss much about our former hometown. We lived among the most wonderful people in the world. We lived in a place with great tradition where people have roots that go deep. We lived in a place that we dearly loved, but it was not where our children and other family members lived. We were an odd rarity in Pueblo. Most everyone in that town was surrounded by family. We were not. We knew our children would never move back. That is why we moved.
The move has been very unsettling in many ways, but in others, it has also given us a chance to begin again. For me that was most important. I needed a new beginning. I needed a new focus for my life. I've never believed a place will make you happy. I still believe that. This place will not make me happy, but I know that I will be happy in this place. Jim told me this past week that he thinks I am happier here. He is right. I am happier because I have the opportunity to move on with my life. We are both able to rebuild again after great loss. We've always been at our best when as a team we are building something new.
As we settle in, we recognize that we must take it slowly, one box and one day at a time. We also recognize that we are starting a new chapter in our lives and in our marriage. This is a something for which we are both very grateful.
Monday, November 5, 2012
Election Day Memories
(This post is an edited and updated post of an original post I wrote in November of 2008)
Well, the big day is finally here. I hope you all get out there and vote. I have been thinking a lot about our family and its involvement in politics.
My parents took us to the train depot that day and stressed how we were not only fortunate to see the former president, but also they wanted us to see history in the making. My father always brought us up with a rich appreciation for history. He also taught to take very seriously our responsibility to be informed voters who used our voice by participating in the political process.
My paternal grandparents, Avery and Elva French were staunch Democrats. (They are shown in this photo from 1971.) They always, as far as I know, voted the straight Democratic ticket, and they were very involved in local Democratic politics. Grandma French was an active member of the Jane Jefferson Club of Colorado Springs.
We all turned out for that day in 1952 to see Harry S. Truman come into town. I was surrounded by my parents, my siblings, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle and my cousins. We all loved Harry. I remember being hoisted up on my father's shoulders so I could see the President. I still remember the excitement I felt that day. The memory has stayed with me with great clarity these sixty years later.
Those days, politics seemed kinder and gentler. Even so, I remember hearing tales from my grandmother of back room deals that were brokered in the game of politics. Such things always angered her. Politics has never been a game for the faint of heart, but I find the nastiness and dishonesty or half truths that we hear today during a political campaign especially upsetting. I also am sickened by the money that is spent on campaigns. I think it is immoral for either party to spend the billions they do on campaigns. I will be grateful to have the current campaign behind us after tomorrow. I do wonder if we will really hear the end of it after November 6 though.
In 2008, Jim and I went to see then candidate Barack Obama when he came through Pueblo during his campaign. It was a very exciting day for us. I try not to be political in this blog, but you will probably guess who my candidate was and is by the photo I am including. I guess you could say our Democratic roots run deep. Jim's father was a loyal supporter of Harry S. Truman, just as my grandparents were.
Another Election Day Memory
I haven't always been registered as a Democrat. I have always had a more moderate view of politics as an adult, and for many years, I registered as an Independent. When I was a young wife and mother who stayed at home and did not work, I did a few odd jobs to earn money. One job I had, involved working as an election judge. The precinct where we lived in Utah was Democratic. They needed Democratic election judges, so I changed my affiliation to Democratic from Independent. The first election I worked was not a presidential. It was in the early 70's and the home where we voted was in a very poor part of Ogden, Utah. The woman who had the election in her home had done so for years. She was the mother of at least 12 if not 13 children, and she must have weighed about 250 pounds. She was in her late 50's, about 5' tall, and had stark white hair. I thought she was fascinating. During the day, she told us stories about elections and raising all of her many children. She reminded me of the Old Woman Who Lived in A Shoe. This house was tiny! It had three bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom and a kitchen. It was crammed full of furniture, books, papers, junk, and people. This is where our precinct voted! Mind you, she worked hard to keep her home as a polling place because she made extra money for holding the election in her home and by working as a judge.
The other judges and I brought food for the day. There were crock pots of great chili, veggies, chips, cookies and etc. I met some great ladies working as the other judges, and I met many interesting people who came to vote. Of course, as folks left from voting, the other judges told me all the gossip and life histories of these folks. I just wish I would have recorded the events in a journal.
Times were very different in those days. The polling places were held in homes, not always in schools or other public places. There was no early voting. This year my husband and I voted by mail. That did not happen in the 70's.
Election Day 1976
In November of 1976, on the two hundredth anniversary of our country's founding, I hosted the presidential election in my home. I finally reached my goal of earning $50 for working an election. I made $25 for hosting the polling place and another $25 for working. The polling place had to change in our precinct that year, and my home was selected. Our home was a bi-level, so there were complaints by those who came to vote about the site being moved from where it had been for years, and about the stairs they had to climb.
On the day before the election, my husband and I had moved much of the furniture out of the living room so that the tables for voter check-in could be set up there. Voters then could either vote in booths in the kitchen, or the booths in the basement family room, which also had been emptied of furniture.
I remember that our neighbor was one of the judges. Her ex-husband and son travel around the neighborhood with a speaker system in their truck exhorting people to get out and vote. Julie was just a baby at the time, and Amy was a toddler.
Jimmy Carter won the election. My folks were for him. I have a letter from them to prove it. I was not for Carter. So, as you can see, I have not always voted the Democratic ticket.
In 1976, I used the extra money from working the election to help buy the Christmas presents that you can see in the photo of Julie on Christmas morning in 1976. This was after much of the money had to spent on cleaning the carpets. Do you have any idea how dirty gold carpet gets after a presidential election is held in your home???
I don't remember working as an election judge again after that year. Perhaps, I worked one day in North Ogden. I don't remember,but I have memories of voting in North Ogden, Utah in the home up the street during the year that Reagan was elected. We already knew he would probably be president when we voted in the evening.
This year, history will again be made in this election. Please vote. Record your memories of why you voted the way you did. I think your children and grandchildren will be interested someday in reading about your views. More importantly, your commitment to voting and being a part of the political process is a teaching moment. It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.