The pain of memories…

So some days there are moments when your head just explodes. Sometimes it is a result of not enough caffeine (rare in my house) or not enough sleep (becoming the norm), and sometimes it is fall-out from interacting with others. For me, it has been a combination of moving (the physicality of it all, in addition to the emotional stress of relocating) and of trying to restore order and normalcy to our life habits, in addition to the preparation for my mom to come and live with us. So much change!!

My true pain came from a FaceTime session with my ailing mom. I realized how much this stupid disease is stealing from us all. She had no idea who my grandchildren were, nor did she truly understand what she was seeing. I took her on a tour of our new home, and showed her the room she would be living in, as well as her bathroom. Her comment was, “Well, at least I don’t have to go outside in the snow to go pee.” And we chuckled at it. (She has some odd, but common, misconceptions about life in the “Last Frontier”).  And then, as I walked from the bathroom, around a corner, to the living room, she asked me, “Are you ever going to move to a bigger house?” She was back to the house we just moved from, in her mind. It took about 3 minutes. And when my sister and I reminded her that she could not stay where she is, she said, “I’m not leaving here until I die.” And she was adamant about it. My sister and I exchanged looks, knowing this will be such a hard transition for her – for all of us, really.

But what prepares us for this process? Not much, really. I have not taken a course on caring for aging parents (I probably should look into that). I know my mom will probably become a toddler again, in some ways. It hurts my heart for her and her dignity. And dreams we all had of growing old and sharing our children and grandchildren. I am hoping that being around my grandchildren will energize her (or wear her out! Ha-Ha!).

And I am confused, as well, by all this information I keep seeing about why the preponderance of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is so rampant in the USA – some link it to our diets, some to our sedentary life style, or processed foods, or the mercury in all those old vaccinations we were forced to get in the 40s and 50s and 60s. There are now so many dementia patients who are only in the their 40s! And it is not in Europe or elsewhere as pronounced as it is in America. I question standard medical practice and embrace much that is considered alternative. Why? Well, I grew up around medicine and I know they play at it. I have seen doctors create solutions on the fly, going against normal procedures on a whim, and having it work out better than what they would have achieved, had they not been creative. I have seen chemical mistakes turn into cures. My brother broke his hand – crushed his fingers – on a Saturday afternoon when he was, I believe, 14 or 15. He was one of the star running backs at our high school. Did my dad rush him to the local ER? No. He drove him about an hour away, after having called his friends (no cell phones in those days) who met him at the hospital where they all had faculties, and they experimented and came up with a casting system (it was replaced several times during the season) that would allow him to pass the referee’s requirements thereby keeping the season intact. Did my parents pay for that? They did not. Did my brother get excellent medical attention? You bet he did. But medicine and research of his incident was used as the payment. He was their guinea pig. My point? Science can be flexible. There are thousands of stories of doctors and staff using their families as guinea pigs. So I know there is stuff going on out there, for this horrid disease. I also KNOW that big pharma has a hand in all of this. Why cure Alzheimer’s and dementia when there is money to be made off the victims? Why cure many of these horrible diseases when healthy patients don’t need to see their doctor or take their medications as often or as long? When did medicine become pharmacy instead of prevention?? When did dietary and exercise advice become a prescription or a surgical procedure? When did doctors stop treating the person and just focus on the symptom?? It makes my head spin.

After my frustrating FaceTime with my mom, with my head exploding, I laid down on my bed. I diffused lavender essential oil on my dresser. I cuddled with my cat. I cried for my mom. I cried for my kids and grandchildren, too. I have a parent with Alzheimer’s, which means it is more likely I may get it, too. My dad has Parkinson’s Dementia. (I am not sure about my possibility for Parkinson’s, but it is out there). But it seems like the medication he is taking keeps him more with us than when he was first diagnosed. (Shocking result, to be honest. I seriously doubt our pharmaceutical world). He is having more Parkinson’s symptoms and less of the dementia, although he had to stop driving. He has a hard time even walking some days. His speech today was slurred, but as we spoke longer, his voice got steadier and we had a great conversation. I cried. I know my parents are leaving me. And I realized how lonely that can leave you, even with a spouse, children, and siblings left behind with you. And I cried for my future. How long do I have with my husband and children, and grandchildren? Moving exhausts you; it truly does. I am pretty spent. And the future is just so cloudy, surrounded by lots of tears.

I will rise up. I know I will. My exhaustion brings on melancholy and thinking. Ha-Ha. Maybe I just need that cup of tea and a break! I know my world will continue through my sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. And I know I have lots of time to spend with them, making memories for them to hold after I am gone. Right now, I am still facing a garage full of boxes. Many of them contain my memories. So I will bask in those wonderful memories, as well as embrace what is before me. I will also prepare for my future. My hubby and I realize we need to return to our Whole30 eating regime and add back in some supplements for our future health. We need to stop being lazy in food and meal prep, as well as getting ourselves healthier. Mindwise is back on the menu for me!

I still may have to escape to the mountains for some much needed respite. And believe me, I know that sounds funny, coming from someone who lives in Alaska, in a town of just 8,845 people! But the mountains do call to you! Almost as much as all this green growing all around me gives me peace, the mountains give me stability. I know I am tired. And I know I am blessed. I also know summer is coming. The sun will help. So does God. 

 

 

“Therefore, do not worry…”

I awoke in full panic mode. I was having a hard time breathing, my heart was pounding, and I was sweating. “How are we going to do this?” This is the third night in our new home. It is an amazing house. The situation of the property is incredible. I feel like I am in a park. Our dog is having a hard time adjusting to eating and going potty. She is intimated, I think, by all the wildlife around her. We have no fencing – just an acre of green – trees, wild roses, and all sorts of birds – a frog hopped across my foot as I got out of my car last night. When I took the dog out for her morning poop, she squatted and looked all around her, eventually poo-ing in a circle. I think she was worried a moose would pop out of the wooded area in the back. It was hysterical to watch. And our cat? She is just all messed up. Meowing all through the night, off and on, wandering all over. She loves to watch the wildlife outside the windows. I just wish she would let me sleep. I am exhausted. And so panicking seems on par. Ha-Ha!

We have been praying for a place to put down roots, where we never have to leave, and where we could gracefully grow old together. A place where we had room to entertain our family and friends, where my husband could “putter” and where I could just relax in nature. And we never thought, after all the issues we have had financially because of poor economic health in our nation, that we could buy a house, again. We really thought we would rent indefinitely. And we also thought the American Dream was a dead idea, whose day had passed. But somehow we qualified. Somehow, the lenders had faith in us and our ability to care for this property. We attended a course offered through our state housing authority and that qualified us for all sorts of programs, and it also informed us about the process of buying a home. The laws have changed since 2008! Not only have we lived in 3 states since that time, but the world of home buying changed a lot. Far more protection for the buyers! Yay! And there is a lot of grant money to be had out there. (Go check it out!).

As I ponder the view from my window – sorry for the poor quality – I know that because we have prayed for this, and because so many people have approved this move, we are going to be okay. Somehow we will make this work. I panic every month, wanting to be sure our bills are all paid and it has finally paid off – stellar credit and our dream home. So why worry? “I keep waiting for that other shoe to drop” is what I keep telling our realtor. He laughs and says I need to stop and just enjoy our home. I guess he is right. Maybe once I get past all these darn boxes, I will feel better. There are just so many of them!! LOL!

My kids (keep laughing, Kathleen and Bryce) have given me such a hard time, as have my friends (I am so grateful, Tina) and even my brother (thanks, Mark) for saving boxes. Not just any box, mind you; the boxes all the things I own came in. Like coffee makers, the computer, our phones, a rice cooker, etc. I keep them all, just in case I need to return them, or to use when we move. (“Mom, you have a Nokia phone box? They don’t even make phones anymore!!!”). The kicker is that when we came across these boxes, we had already packed the item, or it was 2-3 versions ago (notoriously go through coffee makers!!). And so I have vowed to finally get rid of them all, because this is my last move. Ever. I have resolved that this is my dream home, and I am calling it my casket house. I will be taken out of here in a casket…but not with boxes.

I am learning to purge things from my life I have hung on to, for some weird reasons, and just let them go. I am not sure why I have some of the stuff I do have, and why I kept what I did. Kind of makes me laugh. And a bright side is that when I was setting up our trash service, the gal told me about how they recycle all the cardboard and paper and bubble wrap right next to the dump. She said, “Why pay to drop it off when you can get paid to drop it off?” Sounds good to me – even more incentive to get rid of boxes I have held on to.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns—and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?

And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans pursue all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6: 25-34

And so I am trying to let it all go and let God handle my anxiety. Because I do trust Him. When I try to take things back into my own hands is when the panic appears. So I take a deep breath and I unpack another box, adding it to our recycling pile. We can do this. We are settling in, making this our home, and praising God we have this little corner of the world for our own.

 

 

“…Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

winterroad

Oh do we have snow! Not as much as they have been warning us about (although it’s not over, yet) but everything is white. You see the world in whites and grays in this winter wonderland. The light from the sun weaves its ambient presence among us and the world is much more quiet and serene. Even the local dump is pretty, covered in beautiful layers of snowy goodness! As we wander into the last days of this incredibly wild year, I have pondered what my next days will be filled with. I am not good with “resolutions” and even the word sounds so final. I rarely keep them. I intend to, which is the main thing, but my follow-through for an entire year is usually weak. And since I know that about myself, and am “of an age” where I can readily express that with no embarrassment, I do! Ha-Ha!

2017

I do wish everyone a blessed and happy New Year. I pray that 2017 is a year of profound peace and prosperity, in whatever ways mean that to you. For me, I am seeking a return to what I somehow laid aside. I am anxious for inner peace – moreover, an inner contentment. It has somehow escaped me and I spend many nights tossing and turning, many days exhausted from a lack of good sleep, and an overall feeling of impending doom. That is no way to go through life. I am working on my health and my supplements! I know I need more vitamin D! I am working on that. We had a very successful experience trying the Whole30 elimination diet and we did so for 49 days, until Thanksgiving. Since then, we have both seen our overall health tank. The old aches and pains are back, some new ones cropped up, and we have an overall feeling of just plain, well, “yuck.” So in 3 days we will back at this Whole30 experience. You can google it, if you are unaware of what it is, and you can also look back at some earlier posts, when I explained in more detail what we are up to.

This year, we met a lot of new people and I can honestly say, our lives are the better for it. Our perspectives have broadened, and we have found areas that we want to grow in. It is wonderful, too, to find a group of like-minded individuals. While many of them have younger families, we have found a group where we are among our peers. And we both love being with people our age and life experiences. It is fun. And so in the coming year, we hope to strengthen these relationships, make many of these people close friends, and grow and learn many new skills. Living where we do, we are deeply intrenched in the seasons of the earth. Right now, in deep winter, we are all hunkered down and only occasionally getting together. I cannot wait for spring and summer – more opportunities to mingle, lots of new things to experience, and more people to get to know. And, we get to try our hand at a better garden this year!

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One of the things I have learned this past year is that social media, while it can be a good thing, can suck you dry. It can pull you in, because perhaps you are lonely. It can take over your day. You can be so caught up in checking Facebook and emails, tweets and pins, that you forget to be present to those around you. You forget to live this life in the here and now. I do believe our computers aid us (I am typing this on my gorgeous, and purple, MacBook) but I also think that the ease with which they purport to make our lives, also complicates them. I can’t recall the last time I went days without checking things on either my computer or my phone. I deleted a bunch of apps off my phone the last few days. I decided it was just too much. Facebook Messenger was insane. Ugh. My phone beeps and tweets and sings to me all day long. Even when I turn off my notifications, something beeps at me. And I came to the realization that I sit far too long, looking at the activities of other people, and not having enough of my own. How silly is that?

So I am trying to keep a sort of “resolution,” in that I have deleted apps from both my phone and computer, and I am simplifying. I mean, for instance, I am down to 1 Angry Bird app. Period. And I am down to 1 solitaire game across all media platforms.  That is progress my friends! I am seriously thinking of deleting my aquarium app, as I have 6 tanks and if I don’t feed those darn fish…well, you know. (Gross). But seriously. I am 60 years old. And I play Angry Birds. What is up with that?? I feed make-believe fish in make-believe aquariums. I think I knew I was going off the rails when I started breeding sharks in amongst the angel fish. I mean, how sick is that?? And what am I NOT doing whilst feeding imaginary fish and  defeating imaginary pigs? I am not praying. I am not reading. I am not becoming a better me. Does Angry Birds help me get closer to God? Uhm, no. I think He is probably shaking His head at my silliness.

We are all called to be His children. We are all called to share the Word of God with those around us. We are all called to help our fellow man. Angry Birds does not do any of that. I spent an afternoon canning with some new friends this fall. In a very out-of-the-way place (where there was not even navigation in my car or phone reception, and yes, I got momentarily lost as I journeyed home) with some wonderful new people in my life. The conversation was great. We shared stories and we laughed. The skills acquired were really a re-introduction to canning, as I had not done it in years. But the skills shared, the wisdom in that cabin, has stayed with me. And I hunger for more of the same. These were some real people and I felt so welcome and so “at home.” We shared, with one another, the gist of who we are in the simple tasks of washing black currants, and boiling water, of making coffee, and slicing and blanching carrots. What a simple joy that afternoon was. And it profoundly struck me. That is what I want more of.

Do you know I have only been shopping in our one, large mall here 1 time? Guess what? I have no desire to go there. At all. I’ve never been a shopper, and I am really growing to hate crowds of people. But you know what I am anxious for? What I want to do? What I am excited for? Getting together to cook and  make some scrumptious recipes with some of my new friends. We’ve been teasing each other with recipes! I am looking forward to some shooting lessons. I desperately want to feel more confident in my basic skills in regards to being prepared for our next “snowmaggedon” or our new volcanic eruption, or the next big earthquake. Learning to freeze foods; learning to dehydrate foods. Canning, in all its glory. Planting a well-thought-out garden. These things excite me.

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As we age, our dreams change. I no longer foresee a house in a development, or master-planned community. I envision a place with space around it. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s home; it doesn’t have to please anyone else. But I would like it to to be simple, serene, and away from the “maddening crowd.” I dream of a log cabin, although I am aware of how much adjusting and upkeep they require. I don’t need my own lake or river, but it would be nice to have one close by so my dear husband can grab his fishing gear and walk down to the water, and relax while challenging the salmon. I would love to have space so he can hunt if he wants to, without having to drive miles upon miles to do it. And I want a space where others feel welcome and want to come and hang out. Even if it is simply for some card games and coffee. I would like my forever home. Because I am so very tired of moving. I want my roots in this land to go deep. I want a home where my grandkids will someday say, “Remember grandma and grandpa’s house in the woods where we got to fish and run around?” I want to make those memories with my grandchildren, and with my children, and my husband. I want inner serenity. I want peace and contentment. I certainly don’t want millions of dollars and all that it requires to take care of it. I want to be safe and comfortable, in a space where I can host others, and share some peace and laughter with them.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

And so for 2017, I wish for you the same. The peace the world cannot offer; the peace of Christ. I wish for all of us, to have fear leave us and for contentment to find us. I pray the world will calm down and we can each find this peace in our own little corner of it. For some, it will be an apartment in the middle of a vast city, driving to and from on complicated highways and byways. For others, it will be on farms and rural homes. Still others in suburban hideaways, where they can escape the madness of their commutes. But at least once a week, I pray we can all find our way to kneel before the One Who created us, to give thanks, to be humbled, and to enjoin with Him Who gave us life and breath, and hearts to love. “Our thoughts determine our lives” (Elder Thaddeus) is something I try to live by. If we all have thoughts of peace and we share them, peace will emanate from us and fill those around us. One way to find peace is to seek the quiet and serenity wherever, and whenever, we can. For me, I think I will slowly unplug from the rat race. I may still play a round or two of Angry Birds, but I am trying to rein that in, too. I know that waking early, spending some time reading the Word of God and having a chat with Him, starts my day off right. I also love to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, and a little time with my husband before he is off to his day. These good habits that ground us are often hard to come by, and hard won. But they give us peace and prepare us as we enter into the work the Lord has given us for this day. And for me, I will take these “resolutions” and tackle each day, one at a time, as I resolve to find peace, contentment, and work on all these new things and new people in our lives. “…Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

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God’s blessings on you and yours as we wade into this new year – 2017.

Forget-me-not…

alzheimers-brain-puzzle

My mom has “stage 3” Alzheimer’s disease. It is not static; it is progressing. And so, I had a long chat with my sister yesterday. I call her my sister, but she is officially my “step sister.” And that seems just weird to call her that. We are sisters in our hearts. And she does not have a sister from her parents, and neither do I – it works out perfectly. We met when we were both in our 20s. Our parents fell in love and began living together, and after much pressure from us kids, were eventually married. My mom’s husband, aka my other dad, passed away just three years ago, from a very short and ugly bout of cancer. And it seems like he’s been gone forever. He will always leave a hole in our lives. To my children, he was their grandpa, not their grandma’s husband. He always made sure to let each of us know how much he loved us. And we all returned that love. He was an incredible man. And he loved my mother so very much. She knows he is gone. She kisses his framed photo each morning upon rising, and each evening at bedtime. My sister reminds her so very much of him. And she loves my sister as her own; even loving all of her husband’s grown children as her own. And her grandchildren through him, too. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple of years before my stepdad became ill. But at his death, it became obvious we could not let her live by herself. So, we moved her to a retirement home just after my stepdad passed away. My brother could not take her, and I live thousands of miles away. She is so attached emotionally to my sister, and we gratefully found a place just 5 minutes from her house, in sunny Southern California.

purpletreeleaves

Today, we came to the conclusion that where my mom is living is no longer working. We’ve skirted this issue for months now. Not only is she beginning to require more care, and this facility is not a memory care facility, but she is also no longer happy there. She knows she is not with her family. (She calls it her “prison.” She says it’s a beautiful one, but it is still a prison). She is missing the interaction with her kids and grandkids, and even the great-grandchildren she has. And we came to the almost inevitable conclusion that we need to move her up here, to be with me (I am the oldest and sort of expected this to happen – eventually). But, to actually live with me. And now my stomach is in knots. We are almost an empty nest, and I just turned 60 years old. My mom is 87 and healthier than I am (other than this horrific disease)! I. Am. Scared.

forgetmenot

God never gives us more than we can handle. I know this. I do. He also has a great sense of humor and irony. Do you see that flower up there? The Forget-Me-Not? It is the flower of the Alzheimer’s movement, as is the color purple. I recently got my first tattoo (don’t be too shocked) and it is purple. I love purple. I reside in Alaska. Do you know what the Alaskan state flower is? Yep – the Forget-Me-Not. See? God is smiling at me and my panic.

“…but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.” 1 Timothy 5:4

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” Exodus 20:12

Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you.” Isaiah 46:4

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8

On and on go the admonishments to care for one another. The admonishment is not just to our own flesh and blood – “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Galatians 6:10). We need to be taken outside of ourselves and our own needs, to care for the “least of these.” (Matthew 25:10). And I am being called in a very personal way, to care for my mom. And still, I am scared.

empty-nest

It’s rather ironic that we just celebrated our youngest son’s 18th birthday and are talking almost daily about his future and college and becoming an adult…yada yada yada…and then I talk to my sister. I jokingly offered to let my mom live with her. She said that she and her husband are actually thinking of retirement and selling their big house…maybe even living in a motorhome for awhile. They love having an empty nest. Ha-Ha. Further irony? We downsized when we relocated here. We gave away and sold everything and put what we could squeeze into a 25-foot u-haul trailer to live here. My husband and I were recently discussing our dreams of a camper/trailer we could haul all over the state, going from fishing hole to fishing hole, in our old age. Sans kids. Possibly allowing grandchildren! Ha-Ha.

I am flummoxed. There is just so much to consider, becoming the caregiver of an elderly relative. We did that for my paternal grandmother. We still had all our kids at home. She lived with us during her final stages of life, which ended up being just a few months. The house we owned was large enough to accommodate her and her hospital bed, as well as all the other equipment and space she needed. We met an amazing hospice staff and they came and went at all hours of the day and night. But it was such a blessing to share in that with my grandma. I treasured those last months and moments with her. I was glad to do it. I loved her dearly, and still I miss her. She made us laugh all the time. She was like a second mother to me. My mom and I have always had a rather contentious relationship, because I am somewhat like her, but also like my dad. I infuriate and frustrate her because of how much I am like my dad, her ex-husband. I moved out the moment I was 18 and only moved home when I was around 20-21, coincidentally right when my brother moved out to get married, and my dad left. I was there with her through her divorce and subsequent bout of breast cancer. But that was more than 40 years ago now. We held each other many days and nights, mourning the loss of our family unit, and her health. It was a devastating time for both of us. My mom is not a quitter. During those months of radiation and chemo, she announced, “This is not what will take me out.” And she meant it. She fought cancer with everything she was. She asked the American Cancer Society to leave our house one afternoon, disappearing into the back of the house. She called me back to her and said, “Please ask them to leave. If I listen to how depressing they are, this disease will kill me. And I have no intention of dying. Get rid of them!” And I did!  She is cognizant that she has Alzheimer’s. She hates it. When she is lucid and we can talk about it, she bemoans the fact that she knows she forgets things and people. She thinks others will think she is stupid, because she cannot remember them or events. We re-assure her that she is not stupid. We just repeat things so she can grasp onto them. But nowadays, that ability to grasp new things is passing her by. And her ability to remember all of the people in her family is also passing her by.

sadfaceAlzheimer’s is one of the worst diseases I know. My mom is a healthy woman. She isn’t on medication, except for the Alzheimer meds, which are no longer effective. She has only gone to doctors for illnesses, like her cancer or when she hurt her shoulder and needed surgery. She rarely even catches a cold. But this disease is ravaging her mind. And it hurts to see. If my mom knew she was like she is, she would hate it. She was always so put together. Her outfits always matched. She still wears matching jewelry, even if it is the same couple of pieces every day. She always wears make up (which I don’t even do) and her hair is always done just so. She used to iron her denim pants. (She never calls them jeans). My mom is a proper, little, British woman. And her life in New Zealand and her years as a young woman are now where she is living, mentally, most of the time. And it makes me so very sad. She remembers the 60s and 70s…she recalls outfits and events from the 1950s. But she does not remember some of the people she knows and loves. And that is hard. And I am scared of having the responsibility for her. Total responsibility. It is almost like thinking of having another baby in a couple of months, at my age.I just had a grandchild! My fifth. That I can do. But this? It intimidates me.

alzheimerssign

And every time I forget something, I wonder if I am getting this disease. Each time life gets confusing, or when I try to recall something and can only conjure a white wall in my mind, I am fearful. Will this be my fate? My dad is now 90 and has dementia. Because it is a type and function of Alzheimer’s disease, and it is on both sides of my genetic tree, will this be me in 20 years? My mom is only 27 years older than I am. Am I headed in this direction, too? How will I care for my mom if I start slipping away? Will my husband, or my sons, be burdened with all of my family? Will I become that which I fear in my mom? That is a terrifying thought.

But back to my panic and my faith. Back to my current reality. I know that the Lord will watch over us. I know that He intends for us to bond, as a family. Caring for my mom takes me way outside of my comfort zone, but perhaps it is where I need to go. One of my friends, and a leader in my company, said in a live feed yesterday, that whatever it is we are fearful of, is probably what we need to tackle next. And I am deeply fearful of taking care of my mom. My entire world will be turned upside down. We will have to move. Seriously. Like in the next few months move. And packing up this house and relocating again – I am seriously tired of moving. Horribly tired of moving. I don’t know how many moves I have left in me. It’s that bad. We’ve been here for almost 5 years, so I guess it’s time! Ha-Ha-Ha. But this move is so very different. This is a necessity for my mom. For her last years. I am not ready to say goodbye to my parents, to my mom. It frightens me because it is sort of like a final curtain; a devastating ending. I know it is inevitable. I know time marches on and we all come to an end. But having it thrust into your face, into your little cocoon, that is a different experience. I love my mom. Sometimes I need my mom. But she is no longer capable of being my mom, in the sense of me relying on her. And I know, that in her lucid moments, being dependent on me is not something she is comfortable with. Getting in a nurse to assist her is not something she will like, but having me bathe her or dress her would make her even more uncomfortable, although I have done it in the past. The first time I saw what her mastectomy honestly was, and when I had to assist her with her bandages, I broke down (literally fell onto the floor) and just cried. She was standing there, wet and naked in the bathtub/shower, trying to comfort me! My mom is an amazing woman, truly she is. Difficult? Yes. But I will treasure those moments when my mom held me while I was sick. When she held me as I wept. When she comforted ME – over the loss of her breasts and her health and her marriage. My mom has done so much for me, just being her, in all that she is. And I am so not ready for this last stage. Being with my mom, as her caregiver, is almost as frightening to me as losing her, once and for all.

alzheimers-fight

 

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Aurora.1Sometimes the world can seem so vast. There is so much that we are not truly familiar with. And yet, we make judgement calls about the world all the time. Judges, meting out justice from the bench, are supposed to be using their knowledge of the law, and making a judgement based on the law. They are not supposed to make their own laws, but rather uphold the ones we have on the books. They spend years learning laws, learning ways to defend the law, or the person accused of breaking the law. Some people are called to be prosecutors, some defenders. It is a pretty black/white thing, taken in its pristine form. But, as with much of life, there seems to be ambiguity inherent with our law system. And opinion; one cannot forget opinion. Trust me; I have one, which is why I blog. I share my opinion, my thoughts, with those of you who are interested enough to actually read them.

Today I was confronted with attitude. From several different sources. I love that I was blessed to haphazardly find my way to Anthropology from my start as a pre-law major, morphing into history, and finally finding archeology. I learned to have a broader perspective about things, and I also learned to appreciate differences. To actually look for, and explore differences. I try to not accept things on the basis of the cover. I was accused of judging young ladies one of my sons was dating, simply by their clothing, tattoos, and wildly colored hair. And I admitted that I was prejudiced – in my head, a “normal” girl didn’t present herself that way. I was so wrong. I also have learned that there are so many things that are not truly known to me, or by me. The world is, quite honestly, more complex and varied than we think. There is such a variety in the way in which we approach things. There is such a variety in how God presents His world to us.

moon sky mountains

I was raised and lived in pretty much a 100-square mile area in Southern California. I know traffic. I know smog. I know crowds. I know the beach, the mountains, the desert. I can tell you how to get somewhere and the relative amount of time it will take you to get there. Malls – I know all the good malls in Southern California. I know where to get deals on pretty much anything. The good towns, the places to avoid, the amusement park deals. Parades and major league sports venues. SoCal is full of all of that, and more. I just never realized there was something more out there. I mean, who knew what seasons really were? I never understood the whole Fall/Autumn thing until we lived in Washington. Oh my goodness. Fall is glorious in the Pacific Northwest. I also found out I could plant and grow, successfully, my own tulips. I had no idea there were so many types of tulips. I did not get gourds (why do we carve pumpkins and devour pumpkin pies??) until I lived where they grow them. I never liked asparagus, either, until I could buy it fresh, for less than $1 a bunch and cook it in so many ways (I mean, garlic and butter pretty much makes shoe leather edible). Another experience was living in a snow state. It is a wet state (parts are considered rain forest) but it is also a snow state. I learned to drive roads that are almost verticle on all-weather tires in ice, and also learned to maneuver around all sorts of road construction in pretty awful weather. I LOVED it! And then we decided to have the adventure of a lifetime (while we were still young enough to do it successfully) and relocate out of the contiguous United States, to the very far north. I can honestly say it has lived up to my expectations, and outdone them in so very many ways. This land is something that I never expected, and something I will take the rest of my life learning about and appreciating.

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One of the things I have learned is that I DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING. (Hope those close to me, who know me well, didn’t just have mini-strokes, or heart attacks at that declaration!). And I love to experience new things. I am so interested in everything. I try to expose my mind to new things all the time. I try to not be closed off or to place walls between myself and new discoveries, knowing there is just a vast amount of knowledge I do not have. I’d like to chip away at acquiring more, the rest of my life. I want to constantly embrace new things and fill my mind, and my soul, with all the things I can learn. I am trying to leave words that hamper this desire out of my vocabulary (never, can’t, won’t, no). And I am working on not pre-juding people, situations, or even places and/or experiences.

I get frustrated when people say things like, “I would never…” or “I can never do…” when they have never ventured, never tried, never gone there (insofar as experiences). It is like a judge, who has the law before him, making a decision based on an opinion gained by reading the newspaper. We may think we have all the information we need, we may have dipped our toes in the water, but the ocean is not the beach. Saying all that, I KNOW I could never jump out of a plane. I can barely manage flying in one, let alone stepping out of one. My son used to do it for a living and told me, years afterwards, that he hated jumping, but got a kick out of landing, successfully. Adrenaline rush, etc. Not me. I am a scaredy-pants, just like my elusive cat, Rosie. So I do understand not taking certain risks, or do life-endangering antics, for the kick of it. And I do not judge those who are able to entertain those ideas, and even to act upon them. So, for the sake of my musings here, I am discounting that section of participants.

From the Book of Wisdom 7:21-25 (Douay-Rheims):

“And all such things as are hid and not foreseen, I have learned: for wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me. For in her is the spirit of understanding: holy, one, manifold, subtile, eloquent, active, undefiled, sure, sweet, loving that which is good, quick, which nothing hindereth, beneficent, gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power, overseeing all things, and containing all spirits, intelligible, pure, subtile. For wisdom is more active than all active things: and reacheth everywhere by reason of her purity. For she is a vapour of the power of God, and a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God: and therefore no defiled thing cometh into her.”

I believe we all need to learn as much as we can. I don’t want to just grow older. I am praying that I also grow in wisdom. We need to make bucket lists and check those awesome experiences off, as we do them! I think we need to be brave, to embrace those roads less traveled and to not fear the new, the untried, the unfamiliar. Yes, there is danger around every corner. Sometimes there are no guarantees.

Looking back

I am the biggest chicken insofar as trying much that is new. I have the same clothes I have worn for the past ten years. I re-read the same books, over again, two or three times. I listen to music I listened to in high school. But about three years ago, as I was speeding down this very deserted highway (in a foreign country no less) at around 75 mph, on all-weather tires, on about a foot of ice and snow, I thought, “What are we doing?” My husband was trying to follow me, as I saw him through my rearview mirror, reaching out to manually wipe the accumulating ice and snow off his windshield. He was doing whatever he needed to do to stay wtih me. How blessed was I? Of course, he was also yelling into our walkie-talkie, telling me to “Slow down, woman!”  Ha-Ha. Good times. I doubt quite often the choices we have made. We plunge into things, thinking we’ve corned the market on all the possibilities. We try to really think things through, but inevitably, something comes out of left field that we had never expected. We got snow the week after we moved here – in June! I discovered icicles on my house and fell in love with them. (Now I totally understand icicles on Christmas trees, and those Christmas lights for your house that mimic real icicles!). What a bonus! I learned how to take out laundry in sub-zero temps. I can now cook moose and it tastes good! I can manage a sweater as my only cover in 20-degree weather. I have learned to make Ukrainian dishes for the different feast days. Me?! I am British, as in pot roasts and pots of tea! Ha-Ha!! I learned how to make Pascha cheese, in panty hose, in my shower (trust me – it really works!). But I am learning, still. I am experiencing new things. Still. I am trying to remove “no, can’t never” from my vocabulary. I am trying to not prejudge something I have no honest, direct, knowledge of. Please, let’s keep one another in prayer over the pursuit of Wisdom. Over the experience of the new, the unknown. The Lord has given this immense land to discover, filled with unknown adventures and a myriad of different people, traditions, and faiths. Let us approach these differences with an eye to this immense knowledge, and wisdom, of God. And let us at least try, one step at a time…

Babysteps

“…and will bring you into your own land.”

“For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.” (Ezekiel 36)

0804-ss-glacier-1A year ago today we arrived in Alaska.  We were beat up.  It had been a long and arduous journey to arrive in one piece.  We chose to leave the “lower 48” for many reasons.  I loved living in Washington.  A trip to a local farm to buy pumpkins by the pound was one of our best times in Washington.  I loved wandering Pike’s Market and getting fresh flowers and a cup of coffee from the original Starbucks, as well as the deals on local cheeses and vegetables.  I came to love the season of fall in Washington.  One of our most memorable Thanksgivings was spent with dear friends and family just north of Seattle. Living in Washington was a preparatory move and very good for us.

wet pumpkinsBut we had decisions to make about our living and work situation and we missed, terribly, our children and grandson who lived in Alaska.  Our middle son was in the midst of getting married and setting up his household, not knowing where he would live, and encouraged us to get away and live closer to his big brother.  So, we packed up 30 years of marriage and memories into a 20+ foot U-Haul truck, loaded our pets and suitcases in our car, and off we went, into a very uncertain future.

Alaska.dirt roadI learned to drive on ice – on “all weather” tires, no less.  The AlCan Highway is truly an experience I will never forget – nor will I ever repeat it.  Our journey to Alaska was one that was charged with so many emotions.  The physical part of the journey was harrowing and nerve-wracking, and extremely tiring. I remember at one point asking our then-14-year-old if he thought we would see Alaska over the next mountain…all I got from him was a grunt.  (He was thrilled with the trip because he played his x-box non-stop!  I don’t think he looked outside unless I told him to).  Our U-Haul truck was full and heavy and ungainly on those snowy and icy roads.  Watching behind me as the snow and ice gathered on the windshield of the truck and Ed reaching out the window – while driving – to try and clear it! Scared me to death, but we were so afraid to pull over and stop because the terrain was erratic and we were not sure if we were on the road or off the road. These crazy truck drivers would zoom past our little caravan with no warning and nary a peek in our direction – talk about “ice road truckers”!!!! They would spray snow and ice all over us. I was shocked at how fast they drove on those harrowing roads. Learning later on that the roads are not even paved did nothing to enhance my memories!  Up and down, up and down, and around and around some pretty incredible curves on those mountains;  I am just glad it is done! I even bought myself a sticker that is on our refrigerator, “I survived the AlCan“! Ha! And I did.

Alaska2.2012When we crossed the Alaskan border, I cried.  We finally arrived!  We were in constant cell contact with our daughter-in-law most of the journey and we arranged to meet her and our little grandson for a burger before we followed her to our new home.  We were so thrilled to see a familiar face!  It also cemented for us why we made this amazing journey.  When we drove into town, seeing that Welcome sign that said we were home, I was never so excited to be “home” in my life.  Our little house, settled into its quiet corner of Alaska.  I think there are two stoplights here.  Two.  I love that I am far enough out of town to have the peace and quiet, and close enough to drive into it as often as needed.

I have learned so much about living in a snow state since moving here.  Things I never even thought of, growing up in SoCal.  And I have so many blessed memories packed into this last year, I am blown away.  While we have been here, we have seen the most incredible sights. This state is incredibly beautiful and still very wild.  We have had eagles in the trees in our yard.  We have had a moose lazily make its way through our yard, eating the leaves off the trees. The vistas here are simply breath-taking.  Every time we go out of our little house, we want to take photographs! We still feel like we are tourists. I am sure it will take years to feel like real Alaskans.

Alaska.sunSome of the amazing things we experienced over this past year only deepen our gratitude to God, as well as help us realize how blessed we are.  Our middle son welcomed his first child, a daughter, into the world in May.  What a blessing her arrival was!  I was thrilled to visit them in SoCal for her baptism and to spend some time with my mom. An incredible summer spent watching Andrew get in his glider and orientation flights with CAP.  And in October, our oldest son welcomed his second child, also a daughter, into the world.  We were actually here and were able to see her, hold her, and cry all over ourselves on the day of her birth.  What an amazing experience.  We’ve been here to celebrate holidays and birthdays with our oldest son and his growing family, which is something we have not been privileged to do in more than eight years.  We had Christmas with our grandchildren.  We have walked on glaciers.  We have seen the ocean, waterfalls, mountains, fields and fields of green, and gorgeous blue skies.  We have seen the wildlife here, just roaming freely.  It is truly amazing and I love it!

20140315--Dean-Biggins--U-S--Fish-and-Wildlife-Service-We left everything familiar behind us.  We left access to the “lower 48.”  We left friends of decades behind us.  We left adobe and tile roofs and they have been replaced with siding and downspouts that grow the most amazing icicles!  We’ve learned to shovel snow instead of dirt.  It is a simple life.  It is a quiet life.  We left the maze of freeways and highways and toll roads for a state that has no interstates and only 3 highways.  We have driven through some crazy snow storms, sliding all over the road, and barely able to see where we are going.  But we made it just fine.  My oldest son commented that I needed boots higher than my ankle for those “snow drifts” I may have to wade through. My return comment to him was, “I am the grandma. I have sons who will shovel or plow those out of my way for me.  I do not need high boots.”  He laughed when I reminded him that he was one of my sons! Ha-Ha!

water-cascading-from-a-bull-mooses-antlersWe have been exposed to one of the best homeschooling experiences I have ever had.  I have now homeschooled and/or had someone in school in three states and I can honestly say this is the best place to educate your child, hands down.  Over 60% of the state homeschools because of environment and location.  Because of that the materials and resources available to families is amazing.  In addition to receiving a top-notch education, our son has been reunited with a family we’ve been friends with for over 20 years, and their children.  It has been wonderful. He has been able to continue with his CAP involvement and is growing into an exceptional young man. He is making friends through CAP, through our parish community, and through our friends and outreach opportunities in homeschooling.  For our youngest son, this move was a blessing. He is looking forward to more hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and other outdoors experiences here.  Alaska is a place where you are constantly outside, exploring this wonderful place.

St. Nicholas of MyraAnd we found a new church home, as well.  We have struggled with our new parish because it is so unlike anything we’ve experienced as Melkite Greek Catholics.  We are changing, and our parish is undergoing major changes, but I tell you, we have been more welcomed here than in any of the churches we visited while in Washington.  And I am making some wonderful friends. I am learning all about new cultures (as I detailed in my Easter basket prep saga) and learning to appreciate new and different ways of doing things (even at my age, I can still be taught!!).  I have had to turn inward more and more, because I don’t have friends who drop in for tea or who I can pick up the phone and gab with. It’s hard when you have had intense friendships for so long, to not have your friends around you. But I know this is where God brought us, and He brought us here for a reason. I feel so blessed to be here.

  “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”- Anatole France

I truly believe God brought us through so many changes, out of a place that was not feeding our spirits, and into a land that is hard and tough and requires us to change not only who we are, but how we see who we are, in order to make us better people. There is a philosophy I have touched on many times in my posts on this blog and it is called, “Theosis.”  Many people mistake this for man thinking he can become God.  But rather, it is the process through which man becomes like God.  We aspire to all those qualities that God has, and we try to incorporate them into who we are.  We become as He is.  Each day we take steps towards our final destination. Each day we are faced with choices that make us more like God, or our choices take us further away from Him.  I have imagined the days when Adam and Eve strolled through the Garden, deep in conversation with God.  But they were tempted by the Serpent and they chose to eat of the Tree of Life.  Once they were equal with God, He cast them out of the Garden: “And then God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3: 22-24)  So it is not for us to become the same as God, nor is it for us to become a God.  But rather, it is for us to strive to be like Him in all things.  And I know I am in this place because it gives me a simplicity of life.  An approach that is simple and sincere, saved from much that used to distract me from pursuing the best of the person God wants me to be.  Each day is a step in the direction I choose for it to be.  And moving so far away; moving to a place that is incredibly beautiful but at the same time harsh in many ways, is proving to be the place where I can be tested and formed and made in the likeness of Him who sent me here.  It all began one year ago today, as I unloaded that first box. God is good and we are so blessed with this new life.

alaska.2012

 

“..struggling towards…”

My house is a mess, a chaotic mess.  We are moving in a couple of weeks and I am seriously purging and packing.  I opened it up to our homeschool group online and a young woman, just starting out, came by to look at our things.  When I say my house is chaotic, you have to watch where you walk.  There are plastic crates stacked in the living room; my dining room is my packing table.  There are items from my cupboards in the kitchen all over the countertops.  There are piles of “things to keep” and “things to get rid of,” as well as piles of “just throw away.” I can barely function.  And this sweet young lady, carrying her 1-year-old boy, says nothing of the mess.  We walk into the kitchen so she can peruse the dishware and her first comment to me was, “Oh, I love your icons.”  And I looked over at our mantle across in the family room area, the only place left that has not felt the packing chaos, and it was a place of serenity.  There is the Blessed Theotokos, holding the Christ Child, looking down at us. There is Christ, Pantocrator, gently showing us his book of Scriptures and gently beckoning us closer; the many saints and Holy Day icons…we have at least 25 icons on our mantle.

Mantle with icons I realized that this little nest of Our Lord, the Theotokos, the Saints…they are a bastion of sanity in life.  I was drawn to just look at them, standing there in the midst of packing crates and packing paper, tape, and kitchen stuff!  And I sighed deeply and just smiled.  “ And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)  I smiled because I was helping someone, and witnessing my faith at the same time; it felt wonderful.  My husband has been worried that I was being forced to leave so many “things” behind and that, after 30 years, we would be moving with less than I brought to this marriage.  I actually smiled and laughed at that, because I am finally at the point in life where I don’t want the stuff.  I don’t want to have to worry about things because I want to spend my time with my family, not cleaning and dusting a big house full of things.  I want small, simple, and humble…freedom from the burden of things.  Christ exhorts us in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And I really feel like I am getting there, closer to where I want my heart to be – surrounded by my family.

As I was going through things today, I was contemplating a dish and realized I didn’t actually need it but that I liked it; I also realized that God is asking me to give it up.  I looked at the icons and realized the Heavenly Hosts are around us all the time.  They are watching us, interceding for us, and praying for us.  They encourage me through the words of others, and through their presence in the Church Triumphant, to make the right choices when faced with decisions.  The greatest gift God gave us is the gift of sharing His life.  We have been made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 PT 1:4) and when we live a life of faith, this relationship is deepened, furthering the process of our divination or theosis.  This movement continues through our life and death and will not be complete until the resurrection of all mankind on the last day.  Then our risen bodies as well as our spirits will share in the resurrection life and partake in glory, “We know we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 Jn 3:2) [God with Us publications, “What Eastern Christians Believe”].  I am certainly not a finished product, but a work in progress.  Today I learned that this process of theosis begun in me is sparked now and then through the words and actions of others.  Just bringing my attention back to the icons on our mantle took the drudgery aspect out of purging, packing, and moving, and brought me back to the reasons we are doing this – a new life. And it was so very easy to put that dish I was contemplating into the “give away” pile.

Russian baptismGod has given me this incredible gift of faith and even though many would find me to be middle-aged, or even old (agh!!), I feel like I am just beginning to live what I believe with no compromise.  I spoke with a man on the phone today who is a devout Catholic, husband, and father who is suffering through a divorce he does not want.  He was lamenting how easy it is for most people to set aside their beliefs and choose the culture over those beliefs.  I agreed with him and tried to offer him some comfort.  But there is not much I can say, other than to agree with him.   It is much easier to accept what we don’t believe, when their is societal pressure to do so.  That is witnessed by the divorce rate, abortion rate, unmarried parenthood the norm; so may examples to cite.  And it is a one of the prime motivators in why we are choosing to move.  We are going toward family, but it is also an opportunity to do with less, to live simply, and to become the people we really want to be.  My husband is free to choose a completely different career.  We are also choosing to shape our daily lives in a different way; time is going to be spent enjoying our family and not so focused on working.  We are also going to worship in a more family-oriented way.  God has been giving us chance after chance, and we are taking this one and choosing the path that God is offering us.  A step in faith, to be sure, but it is not out of fear, but with that same joy I felt when I looked up at the icons on our mantle; a joy deeply felt that God is with us, and with the cloud of witnesses there to comfort me.  And I know this is right.

Blessed Seraphim