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Oh, how I wish I could get my blog site set up the way I want it. Because it’s not what I envision, I tend not to write, but I have so much to share! It’s not that I think everyone is eager to hear what I have to say. But I do love to express, document, and share what I’ve learned. I have learned a lot. I look forward to a time when I will write regularly.

Much has occurred since my last post in late May. I worked at my Principal Secretary job through the summer. It was good, and it was also hard. The job wasn’t hard (it’s much better than the first many months when everything was new), just working was hard! I know. Many people do it. I’m both grateful and frustrated. I’m grateful for a job. And I’m frustrated that I don’t have more time to accomplish more in my life. But those topics are for another day.

We lost our beloved Rocky two weeks ago. He was sick for three weeks with a bulging disc or slipped disc or both. We don’t know for certain because with my finances, I couldn’t justify surgery, and if we weren’t going to do surgery, I didn’t think  the cost of x-rays made sense. We chose the route of recovery without surgery, which can be successful, but instead we and he endured 3 weeks of pain. The pain got intolerable, so we decided to put him to rest. It was heart wrenching. We loved him immensely, and Bridgette misses him terribly. I can cry at the thought of him, but here’s the truth: Two dogs were hard for me. That also may be a topic for another day.

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Rocky is the reddish brown dachshund.

Today I’m writing about death, grief, rejoicing, and peace, all at once. This is unique to the one who looks to God as her savior. It’s unlikely the person who doesn’t know God can relate to the ability to face all emotions at once. The ability to experience all these emotions simultaneously has been a mystery to me.  This morning Bridgette and I laid in bed and we thought about exactly this.

We woke up early to the news that a community member for whom we’ve fought beside in prayer and otherwise, for 6 years, had died. He was 13 (I think). We’ve known him since he was in early grade school. His sister is in my son, Bradley’s class. Sam Day died of Ewing’s sarcoma. Bridgette is home from OSU for the weekend. It’s nice that she can do that for many reasons. It’s really nice when she needs to grieve, as well as cram for an anatomy final. There’s been a lot of grieving lately, and a lot of reconciling emotions.

As  we laid in bed, both acknowledging that our stomachs twisted as we hurt for Sam and his family, we also discussed Nathalie Traller. Nathalie died last year of Alveolar Soft Part Sarcoma, otherwise known as ASPS. She was another community member who we got to know indirectly because we chose to fight her fight with her.

This last week Nathalie’s dad had written an article about his grief and I hadn’t yet read it,  but Bridgette had. This morning, I read it and wept. I had just cried because of Sam. Not just wet eyes, but tears that accompanied unfamiliar sounds, as if I was  personally losing someone. As much as I know Sam, I did not know Sam. I did not live life with Sam, or his parents. The same was true for Nathalie. Both Bridgette and I (and Bradley has loved on them as well) weren’t what I call a personal friend, but we were committed to these families in prayer. We had personal contact with them, and volunteered on their behalf, in an effort to raise funds that would further medicines that would bring them and others to healing. We had invested in them, and it felt our investment had been taken from us. It hurt.

As we laid in bed, thinking out loud about death, we expressed sincere conviction that we knew Sam and Nathalie were in heaven.  We wondered however, how we could be both so grieved and relieved for them, yet not feel happiness. If heaven is the ultimate goal, shouldn’t we be ecstatic? And if heaven is that wonderful, what’s the point of life here? We’re not the first to have asked these questions. But it was the first time the two of us asked these questions of each other, and in the context of a mother and daughter. As much as I know we were exploring these questions with each other, I am the mom, and I wanted to give my grieving daughter words she could hang on to.

Our grief comes from our investment, and the loss we experience when we don’t get to cash in. Regardless of what the loss is, we have typically invested in the thing we have lost, in some form. Otherwise, it’s not much of a loss. The more we invest, the more pay off we expect.  As good stewards and servants, we contribute in this world. On one hand, we read in Psalm 128:2 “You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.” We have instructions to “…‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” in Mathew 22:39. In fact, it’s not instructions; it’s God’s command: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. … in Matthew 22:36-40.

Yet, King Solomon in Ecclesiastes says ““Meaningless! Meaningless!”  says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”

We invest, yet it’s meaningless? If it’s all meaningless and our ultimate destination is to be with Jesus, why can’t we skip this part? The part where we toil and invest and love, here on earth? Can’t we just do that in heaven?

I don’t have all the answers to that, necessarily. As a mom and a Christian who depends on my relationship with Jesus each day, I had some answers for Bridgette. I knew to tell her that we are here to glorify God and to bring others to know him. And that God’s plan is so intricate, complex, and unique to each of us, that we can’t necessarily understand it, but that we can see its beauty as it’s played out. Beauty, not like rainbows and unicorns and Pinterest quotes, but beauty that is uniquely experienced by us when we are intimate and relational with God and with others.

I assured her that each of us brings something unique to each other, so unique, that without each other, none of us can be the person God intends us to be. That in each moment, we are offering to the other something, and that something is either building the other, or tearing the other. Building the other is living within God’s will. Other than God’s word (the bible), there are few people who can communicate clearly what God’s plan looks like (although, for me, CS Lewis comes very close). I prayed that my words in this moment would resonate with Bridgette, and I’ll leave the rest up to God’s word, and CS Lewis sometime if she chooses.

As Christians, we are able to rejoice in our grief, because we believe that our ultimate destination is to be with our heavenly father, where all things will be good.  Yet we cry when we know someone has gone there! Shouldn’t we be shouting for joy, absent the grief? But we cannot, because of the investment that we have made in this life and given to those we love.

We are placed in this world by our heavenly father. While living within his will, we are to embrace it. We are to glorify him in everything we do. We are to work hard, to love well, to love our neighbor, to parent with wisdom, to teach, to feed the hungry and to give to others. Everything about Jesus is relational. Everything we are asked to do requires heart and grit. But. It can be taken away.

For those who don’t know our heavenly father, they have no insurance. They only have grief. For the person whose car has been stolen and has no insurance, he has only anger. For the person whose beautiful home has burned to the ground, but has not enough insurance to recover his losses, he has only loss and probably torment. But for the person who has vested into this life, according to God’s will, with heart, and faced hard times with grit, our loss means grief, with the insurance of our heavenly father backing us. So, we both grieve and rejoice. And part of that beauty that we can’t explain is promised to us in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Thank you, Bridgey and thank you heavenly father for a moment with my daughter to explore sadness and you.

 

 

How can so much happiness occur, two days in a row? Again, it has nothing to do with the typical things that produce happiness. Well, that’s not completely true. Food does typically make me pretty happy. But this is about more than food. It’s about using a piece of equipment at will, and achieving success. There’s a theme in these last two posts: use equipment and it works like it should. That makes me happy.

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I’ve had a charcoal BBQ for two years. The gas one died, and I didn’t want to deal with propane.  Bradley helped me at first with it, but since he’s moved I haven’t been successful with my attempts. I don’t know what guardian angel decided to tap me three times and grant my wish, but I’m happy about it. I longed to be able to come home, throw some charcoal on the grill, and cook me up some meat. My last birthday request from the kids was to teach me how to do it. My copy cat attempts from You Tube were failing me, so I’d hope my kids would be more successful. They must have decided that buying a gift was easier than figuring out the trick to a charcoal BBQ, because they didn’t come through with my request. I’m not complaining about the gifts I got, though. Bridgette’s got a great gift for gifts.

So, here is my success. And yes, it tasted as good as it looks. See below for my tips that I’m HAPPY to share.

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Lighting the Charcoal BBQ

Build the briquettes in a pyramid (got these instructions right off the bag). I purchased a cylinder when I bought the BBQ. It was recommended and I know a lot of people like them. But I wasn’t successful with it so I decided to do what the bag says.

Douse with BBQ fluid, about 10 seconds, placing it all over the briquettes. Don’t ever put the lighter fluid on top of burning briquettes. I’m not just saying this to protect myself from a lawsuit. I really believe it’s not a good idea.

Light the briquettes… light more than one. I lit as many as I could. The flame starts slow, so it’s not a problem to do this.

LEAVE THE LID OFF. The briquettes need oxygen.

Check on it in 15 mins or so. At this point I moved the briquettes around a little bit. I checked in 5 or so minutes, then spread the briquettes in a single layer (again, off the bag), but touching each other. I blew on them, to stimulate some flame. I’m not sure if that helped or not. It was a still night, so I decided to give it a little kick with my breath.

The fire seemed a little slow to get hot, so I placed the lid on, with the vent opened all the way. Remember, it needs oxygen. That seemed to get more flame going. Soon there was smoke, and I removed the lid, placed my chicken on the grill, and let ‘er cook. Flames began to ignite because of the drippings, so I played around with it, flipping the chicken occasionally. When the flames got too big, I returned the lid, and kept the vents open. That seemed to reduce the oxygen, but gave it enough to continue cooking. I really just watched it back and forth with lid on and off. In between I weeded my yard and talked on the phone with Bradley. I love to multi-task, and since I could smell the chicken cooking, I was feeling very accomplished.

CHICKEN RECIPE

I used 5 chicken thighs. I like ALL chicken. Mostly dark, but if white is cooked so it’s not over cooked, I like it, too. I put the pieces in a Zip Lock with about 2 T of olive oil, some garlic mixture (2 T?) I found in my cupboard, and half a lemon squeezed. I rubbed those all together while in the Zip Lock and voila (my computer doesn’t have the French accents), and that was it!

Happiness.

Those words are usually reserved for romance, proud parent moments, or maybe a significant accomplishment in education or a career move. My happiness in this moment comes from none of those. It comes from something more ordinary, yet elusive up until now.  I am sitting on my back deck with a glass of red wine. The deck is clean and pretty, with lights strung from one side of the covered deck to the other. And, the rest of the yard is under control.

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I’m not happy because it was I who did it. Yes, I did do it. But I’d have been very happy for someone else to do it. I don’t feel the same satisfaction some people get because they accomplished a task.  I get satisfaction simply because the task is complete. Regardless of whether someone else has done it, or if I have done it, I own it. I own this house, this yard, my children (you know what I mean), these dogs, this life. It was important to me that the yard be functioning, and I wanted it completed.  It was an ongoing project since we’d moved in almost two years ago. It was like looking at an unmade bed each and every day, and I wanted it made!

As I mowed yesterday, I thought, “How long does it take a single woman without lawn mowing knowledge and who is ill equipped to mow a lawn?” The answer in this case would be, “About a month.” I’ll share with you some back story, but this post is mostly about the lawn mowing. It makes some sense as to why a big project like a yard overhaul might be difficult, for anyone. But I thought mowing the lawn would be easy icing on the cake, and when it wasn’t, I was reminded of how the most simplest of tasks aren’t simple if one doesn’t know what they’re doing. I need to remember this lesson when my kids confront me with a similar frustration regarding something I ask of them!

When I bought this house two years ago in August (I cannot believe it’s been that long), the back yard was a mess. The sellers had big dogs that they trained, and they had the run of the back yard. The front yard was decent, but the sprinkler system didn’t work, so it also began to deteriorate. I finally made a hard decision last November to pay for a landscape design and had it installed. I didn’t implement the new design in the front yard because the front yard was good enough. But I had the foundation of the back yard installed. It was flattened, sod was laid, and big concrete squares were positioned into a patio. I saved a lot of money by being responsible for planting the plants (I wish I could say that meant that the project was inexpensive, but it wasn’t). A couple of friends listened to me whine about it, and they helped me with some planting as well as some other yard work. When one is soley responsible for everything in one’s life, a friend who offers to plant a plant or do some trimming, is like an umbrella in a rainstorm. They are a relief and a refuge, and it hugely warms my heart.

The yard has been an ongoing project. It’s been through winter and spring rains (with some sunny relief), weekends and after work that I’ve soldiered through finalizing its completion. It’s consumed me as I raced to beat the seasonal time clock of the harsh summer sun. While others bemoaned the rain, I quietly praised God. When it didn’t rain, I spent an hour most nights watering plants in my desperate effort to save my investment.

So much attention was spent on the digging, moving dirt (clay and rocks), uprooting old shrubs, pruning, and watering, yet one other task was unavoidable; I had to mow the lawn. I procrastinated at this project because I was certain I’d whip it out in no time at all. I have three small patches of lawn. I had a reel mower that I’d not cared for well. In the moves from house to house it got ignored and sat outside. But I was certain that it was good enough for my small job. But I was wrong. It didn’t cut well. I decided to sell it and buy a new one. I assumed the poor cut was due to my lack of good care.

But of course, it wasn’t that simple. First, I tried to get the Fiskars reel mower sharpened. I called two places within 10 miles of my home and neither of them would sharpen a Fiskars reel mower. So, then I decided to sell it, and use the money toward another mower. I Craigslisted it, and fortunately sold it.

Buying a new mower wouldn’t be simple, though. Would I get gas, electric, battery operated or stick with my plan and go with the reel push mower. The latter was appealing on so many levels. No gas, no complications when pulling the start cord, and the biggest was this: I get to work out while mowing my yard (workouts have gotten very low on the priority list). I purchased the store’s recommendation and bought their reel mower.

It met all three objectives. I didn’t have to buy gas, there were no start complications, and I got a workout. Like, I really good upper body workout and not so good lower back workout. And, my grass looked like, crap. Ugh. I do hate that word. But there’s no way around it. The mower was eating it up the lawn. A goat would have given it a better finish. The mower missed large clumps of grass, no matter how many times I went over it.

The grass on the edges fell over, laying flat around the perimeter of the lawn. So, I purchased an edger. I had more decisions to make, but suffice it to say, the options for the edger were the same as for the lawn mower. I purchased an electric edger after work one day. I couldn’t wait to use it, but it sat in the garage for a couple of days like a piece of chocolate cake that had to wait until the big day to be eaten. The lawn taunted me each day I pulled out in the morning and pulled back in for the night, begging me to rid it of its scraggly perimeter, but my schedule wouldn’t allow for it. Since the plants were at risk, I had no choice but to place watering at a higher priority, and let the edge of my lawn hold out like a badly needed haircut until the stylist had an opening.

While the edge waited for attention, the weeds, grass, and blossoms popped up over night and every night. Edging was not the only thing that needed attention. I mowed the lawn first, hoping for improvement over the last attempt, with my brand new shiny reel mower. But there was no improvement! Crap. Crap. Crap. Between each “crap” I asked God to give me a break.  But I eeked out a wee bit of hope. It all rested in my new edger, in a hope that it would compensate for the sub par lawn cut. After assembly (another learning curve), I revved it up with hope beyond hope. But there would be no satisfaction on this night. I hadn’t anticipated yet another learning curve. I didn’t know how to use an edger.

You Tube here I come, again.

By the time I was done, green grass and wet mud spewed onto surfaces that weren’t intended for grass and mud. Bark dust was covered and grass stains smeared my cement squares that make up the patio. I love power wash, but I couldn’t imagine when I would find the time. My handling of the edger carved a new lawn design that looked more like a jig saw puzzle than anything else. I wanted to cry.

 

The amount of energy I was expending on my yard without success was depressing and I had an overwhelming sense of failure and loss of hope. My work days are full and I have a limited amount of time and money to spend on my home, and I’m tired of the constant effort that produces so little harvest.

I texted three or four friends who knew I’d been working on my yard and showed them some pictures and shared my frustration, to a severe degree. My filter was thin. They encouraged me, and offered help. As much as I like help, I knew that wasn’t the answer. Help would be never ending. My answer would be in new skills. I have to know how to whip out a mowed lawn, so I can still cook dinner or see a friend or pay bills in an evening. It seemed like such a simple task. I’d had the yard designed for easy maintenance, yet it was very hard (for me).

Yesterday my friend and her husband came over so he could show me what I might be doing wrong, and it made all the difference. He determined the brand new shiny reel mower was not cutting the grass (yea, I wasn’t all to blame) and he showed me how to use the edger. After some time, they left and I left too, headed straight to Orchard Supply to purchase a new lawn mower (I knew they were having a 20% off sale, plus they’re super nice and helpful there). As I pondered back and forth, feeling anxious about another wrong decision, a customer in the lawn mower aisle assured me that an electric lawn mower was a good decision. After 2 more stores (stock availability) I drove home with my new Craftsman electric lawn mower and determination to finish my lawn.

Again, a learning curve. I hadn’t considered the abuse by the heavy extension cord my plants would take, nor did I anticipate tripping my circuit breakers. After several trips to the garage I realized I need to turn off all the lights on that circuit when I mow and I need to move the mower forward and back, not in the traditional square or circle we’re used to with a gas mower. This will help with cord management. Oh, the things I’m learning.

Then, I decided to hang the deck lights that I’d purchased from Costco a year ago. Off to Orchard Supply for the fourth time in a day, to purchase eye bolts and quick links (new terms to me), per my instructions from Build.com on You Tube. After almost two hours I got them hung. The lights are heavy duty, so they’re weighty. I had a hard time on a ladder matching the hook part of the string to wood that would accept the eye bolt.

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All this detail for what seems like the most ordinary basic things. My friend and her husband were so gracious in ensuring that things were in good order before they left. While Blake was playing around with a sprinkler head, he proclaimed that he had broken it. I was a bit alarmed, but I trusted him to make it right. Within twenty minutes he’d muddied himself but it was fixed. That twenty minutes would have taken me hours, days, or weeks, dependent on my schedule, other peoples’ schedules, and their availability. I forgot to add that I had finally got the sprinkler system fixed, after many attempts to connect with sprinkler people. We never did meet in person. We communicated through emails.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Chinese Proverb

Thank you Blake and Sally (OK, Sally was mostly here for support) for showing me what I needed to know, so I can mow my lawn, and cook dinner in the same night. And mostly, so I can enjoy my home. This makes me so happy. And maybe next week I’ll “get to” power wash.

It’s been May 9th since my last post. The one before that was February 22nd. One might assume that I have more to share than a post about my eyebrows. And one would be correct. In fact, I have so much I could share I could write a novel and then a mini series. The events in the last four months or so are involved, personal, mystifying, confusing, and fifty other adjectives. So not only have I not posted because life feels too intimate to share publicly (should I be blessed with a reader or two), but I can’t find the time. I can’t find the time to write, or to design my blog the way I imagine it to be. But a quick post about my missing eyebrows is manageable.

I’m frustrated with my eyebrows. I’m sad, too. It feels good to say I’m sad about something, without concern that that the sadness is going to define me. For that reason, thin or not, I love my eyebrows, because they are a safe topic about which I can openly express my grief. They’ve been disappearing for awhile now. At age 55 (as of April 16th), they’re virtually non-existent. I feel much too young to wear painted on eyebrows, drawn on in a perfect arch. Heaven forbid they would have an orange tint. However, I do use a pencil by Revlon called Brow Fantasy, Dark Blond (no pic). I used to use one by Mary Kay that I loved. It is called Classic Blonde. It was awesome because it was the perfect color for every eyebrow color. Literally, it complimented blonds as well as it did brunettes. It was a good price, but the Revlon is a little less money, and I cut corners where I can. I’m renovating the living room and have some other hopes of home projects that take priority over my eyebrow care.

The brow thing is interesting. They really accentuate the eyes, and I love framing my eyes with my brows, but just when I discovered the affect they have on our beauty, I started losing them! Like most things, we appreciate things more when we don’t have them. Every day, I’m appreciating them more. Each single hair that composes my brows is precious to me. I don’t take one for granted.

We have to laugh at these things. Thinning brows is something about which I can share. I can express myself without concern for anyone else. I suppose that will be the real test of a writer. When I can write hard truths with redemption and without exposing another person’s faults or deficits. My lost brows and the feelings about them is TMI, but that issue is irrelevant in the big scheme of things. I’m almost grateful for this discovery. For 30 seconds each morning I am distracted from things that are more serious. Maybe I can discover more insignificant relatable topics and share them. I need frivolous subject matter so I can improve my writing skills. While that’s not the vision of my blog, until I’m able to refine my site in a way that allows me to write openly, but safely, my substance will likely suffer. Hopefully during this time, I can emote some laughter. I don’t know if I’ll think my eyebrows are funny when they’re completely gone. Until then, I’m getting a good chuckle and I got to write a bit, and there’s value in that.

Happy Summer, this 21st day of June, 2015.

Joni

It’s been over two months since I’ve posted anything. On January 1st, I posted A Prayer for 2015. It was a prayer that while working full time, I would be organized, fruitful, and productive. I wanted to hit every area of my life, and I imagined how I would do it. But, I haven’t done it. And that’s largely why I haven’t written in over two months. Working full time and learning a new industry has been like learning a new language, complete with a new alphabet. And, as smart as I sometimes think I can be, much of the time I feel really dumb.

All that to say, the job is going well! But it’s not without hurdles. And other areas of my life have presented some challenges that at times have wiped me out. And that’s not something I’ve been up to sharing. So. Even though all that is true; it’s really an explanation of my absence, and my segue into an opportunity to post something fun: sweet memories from being a mother. I actually wrote this for our company newsletter, when we were all invited to offer a “little” something. My submission wasn’t so little, thus wasn’t included in the company newsletter, but it’s perfect for my blog:

This Mother’s Day, my mind doesn’t flood with childhood memories of a typical mom.  But my own two kids have granted me “mom memories” that have long since compensated for the absence of boastful memories about my own mom. I’ve jumped for joy when my daughter won her heat at a swim meet, cried when my son struck out, and I beam when he tackles a receiver, as much for his success as anything else. Living day in and day out with one’s children creates endless memories.  Like many moms, I could stay up well past midnight talking into the night about my kids, or I could write a book that would make me beam and make me cry, completely at the same time. That’s a mom. Here are a couple of sweet memories to share with you in honor of MOTHER’S DAY.

When my son was two or three, he had a small spot in the middle back of his neck that I loved to snuggle and kiss. I’d grab his little body, wrestle it into mine, pull him tight and say, “Where’s my “favorite spot? I love my favorite spot!“  One day I over heard him say to one of my friends, “My mom loves to kiss my ‘private spot.'” EEEKS!

One night at dinner we stumbled around general conversation. Alex (a little boy I babysat and Bridgette’s friend) was with us. They were four or five years old. Bridgette asked if she was going to marry Alex. We explained that we didn’t know, and that a lot had to happen before she got married. “What has to happen?“ she asked, always the planner. I said, “Well, first you’ll go to school all the way until you graduate from high school. That will take 12 years. Then, you’ll go to college; there’s at least another four years. You might meet someone in college, and then after college, you might get married.” I’m trying to set the stage so she believes there’s no deviation of that plan. At age 4 or 5, I could do that. She says, “Then, I just pick one?“ “Well, yeah,” I say. “We’ll do it together. We’ll look at colleges and decide which one is best for you.“ “No!” she says. “Pick the husband. How do I pick him? When I go to college, do I just pick the one I want?“

I never wrote these memories down, because I can’t imagine forgetting them. They’re embedded in my memory and heart forever. Until I forget anyway. I turned 55 in the two months that I haven’t written and it’s clear that the memory doesn’t last forever. Not that things suddenly began to slip on my 55th birthday; but it’s easier to use 55 as an excuse than it is to use 45.

Here you go, sweet peas. These memories are now recorded and are yours.

Happy Mother’s Day!