Saturday, May 31, 2014

Day 360

May 31, 2014

Day 360

It’s so close.  Six days and I will have been widowed for one year.  The weight of grief, which normally is pretty manageable, is swelling every day.  I’m teary-eyed and sad…I wish I wasn’t a “date” person.

But, I will survive.  I know that much.  I remember the early days when I was positive I could not survive this level of grief.  I’ve made it.  I’ve been carried for a lot of the journey, but I have survived.  It’s kind of a hollow victory, but right now I’ll take all I can get.

I had highlights put in my hair yesterday.  I haven’t messed with hair coloring for several years, other than my monthly date with Miss Clairol’s root touch-up kits.  Will ever-so-kindly pointed out to me just today that, judging by younger pictures he’s seen of my mom, I’m graying a lot faster than she did – nice of him to notice.  I did it for a variety of reasons.  I remember when Ben was a year and a half suddenly being seized by the desire to cut my hair very short (it was quite long at the time of his birth).  It wasn’t until after I got the haircut that I realized the move was as much symbolic as it was cosmetic.  I was picking up the pieces of my life and moving on.  I kind of felt that way yesterday when I saw the results of my 2 hours in the stylist’s chair.  I don’t know what it’s going to look like, exactly, but I am making forward movements with my life.  Hopefully those movements make me a look a few years younger, too!

One night last week I was at Walmart with Will.  He has his text alert set to a whistle noise – not a train whistle, but the kind that a woman might hear walking by a group of construction workers – that kind of whistle!  We were in an aisle occupied by a lone gentleman and just as our paths crossed, Will’s phone went off.  The guy’s head whipped up and he looked at me, startled and obviously suspicious.  I could have just died!

It’s storming right now as I write this.  I probably should get off the computer.  But I’m taking advantage of a few minutes of quiet while the girls are in the tub.  I’m glad the weather wasn’t like this a week ago tonight.  Will had his bachelor party for Nathanael.  I would say it was a success.  The guys all went out and did some shooting.  Then they came back to my house where I fed them.  Some embarrassing gifts were given to Nathanael and then Will had games for the guys.  When you’re a Christian, you have to be creative with your bachelor parties.  The unsaved have it so easy – just go to a strip bar and get drunk!  But anyway…Will built a huge bonfire out back.  He wouldn’t have gotten very far with that tonight (the rain is coming down in torrents right now – hope it’s not washing away the fresh grass seed Will laid this week).  It was a sweet send-off for Nathanael as he embarks on married life.  I am thinking I may be the only mom in the history of bachelor parties to ever be invited to one, though.

Nathanael introduced me at the party to his future brother-in-law as his “other” mom.  Today, I met his mother-in-law to be at Nathanael’s sister’s graduation party and he did the same thing – totally warms my heart to hear him say that!  The wedding is two weeks from today.  That will be a long and tiring day.

We have an election coming up Tues – a primary to determine who gets to run against the Democrat this fall for the senate (I think).  I used to be so “up” on politics but ever since the girls arrived I guess I’ve been too busy and have lost a bit of interest.  I’m not too crazy about the Republican establishment anymore so that has definitely dampened my enthusiasm.  But I have gotten a kick out of Will about this election.  He is definitely his father’s son.  He won’t be here for the election, so he contacted the county auditor to get an absentee ballot.  He researched all the candidates and then very seriously sat down with me and explained why he was voting for whom and why I should vote that way, too!  I think I will manage to haul myself down to the polling place Tuesday.

David had a birthday this week.  That was a busy day!   We went to Chick-fil-A because that is his favorite restaurant.  Then, I needed to run to Target.  I ended up finding a dining set for my deck.  I’d been looking on Craig’s List and Amazon and, but just wasn’t feeling a peace about anything I found.  I found it at Target – all for 1/3 of what I thought I’d be paying.  Getting that loaded up pushed me to the edge, time-wise and we barely make it to  Learning RX in time!  Afterwards, I told David  I needed to swing by my friend, Sarah’s house (she’s my stylist), for some “hair” supplies.  I thought that was pretty clever of me, considering we were actually going there to pick up a rabbit (hair – hare – get it?) for David.  He’s been wanting one for several years now, ever since he got past the trauma of killing his first rabbit years ago.  For some reason, Sarah has 9 living in her garage.  She hinted that they may be ending up in her freezer before too long.  So, Bauer, (named after Jack Bauer from “24”) should probably count himself really, really lucky!

We got home and dashed off to softball.  Then, David wanted to go to the Dairy Zone, which is an East side eatery, just a few blocks from the fields.  It was dark by then.  I was ok, other than needing to keep an eagle eye on Ellie, so she wouldn’t run out onto University Avenue.  But then, as we stood at the window to order our ice cream, I happened to notice something in the glass.  It was a bullet hole!  After seeing that, I was decidedly uneasy about our visit and was very relieved when the last bit of ice cream was slurped down and we could leave!

David ended up blowing out his candles at 10:30 that night.  I think that is the latest we’ve ever celebrated a birthday at our house!  I didn’t even let the Littles have any cake – just shooed them off to bed with promises of cake for breakfast. 

I did get David a new bike for his birthday.  He had mentioned that he’d like a decent one so that he could make trips to the cemetery a little easier.  How could I not get him one after hearing that?

It looks like Ben and I are going to Orlando next March.  He has been chattering for a couple months now about a choir trip to take place next year.  I told him I’d have to have more information first and it would be wise for him not to get his hopes up.  Making this work is going to take some finagling because I obviously can’t just send him to Florida with the rest of the kids.  They had a meeting the other night (on a Wednesday – grrr…are we the only people in that school who go to church on Wed. nights?  It seems like meetings are frequently on Wednesdays) and after attending it, I can see this is definitely workable.  It sounds like a fun and exhausting trip – singing engagements, a Cirque de Soleil show (to which the kids would have backstage passes), Cocoa Beach, Disney World…But, I want to make this happen for Ben.  I suspect that for him, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  I don’t think his future is going to be a sad one, but it is going to be different than a person who doesn’t have disabilities.  And he loves his fellow vocal students.  After the meeting I talked with the sponsoring teachers and they were very enthusiastic about the idea of me accompanying Ben and said they want to work with us to make it more affordable.  I appreciate that!  Now I have 9 months to find sitters for my other 4.

The other day Lizzie asked me, “Mom, how come when it’s hot outside, you always say it’s ‘people’?”  I just stared at her.  I didn’t even know how to begin to interpret what she was asking!  People?  What??  Finally David piped up, “Oh-h-h…you say it’s ‘humid,’ Mom!”  It clicked then – humid – human-people!  My brain is either going to be amazingly sharp after raising all these kids or it’s going to turn to complete mush!  I have a feeling I already know which direction it’s leaning, though!
I’m trying once-a-month grocery and Walmarting again.  I used to do this more than a decade ago before we moved out here.  I got it away from it and have done twice-a-month trips for years now.  I had to do it last month – well, May, which is still technically this month - because we were going to be gone for a week.  But I really, really liked not having to give up another day to go shopping.  So yesterday, I did it again.  I didn’t get home with Lizzie and Ben, who accompanied me, until after 11 last night, but I am done until the end of June now!  I’ll be curious if this does end up saving me money.  Well, I’m nearly done.  Ellie is on a baby carrot kick right now and I forgot to buy her some so I need to go back to the store and get her some.  I’m not going to discourage vegetable desires!

I’m working on a summary post right now about my first year of widowhood.  It’s getting long – longer than I had anticipated when I first decided to write it.  I’ve done it piecemeal this last week, but Monday the Littles are going to Mishelle’s and then  David, Sam and Lizzie will be at VBS in the evening.  So I should have plenty of quiet time to really think and feel as I write.  I need to just order another computer for my bedroom so I can do all my writing in peace and quiet.  I get too grouchy with the kids when I’m out here in the main rooms, typing away.  But anyway, I’m working on that right now.  I suppose, in some ways, thinking on that makes this last week of the first year a little bit harder.  But it’s something I need to do for me.  I’ll slap it up on the blog when I get finished.

A year ago tonight Will’s party was wrapping up.  Paul and I were tired!  But, oh, what a good day it had been to help our oldest graduate and then to celebrate that accomplishment, surrounded by friends.  I remember that we were both so amazed that so many came to the party.  We had no idea we mattered to so many people!  The next few days were nice days, too, but that party will stand out in our mind as the last family event.   I am so thankful God gave that to us.













Friday, May 23, 2014

Day 252 (part 2)


May 23, 2014

Day 252 (part 2)

All right…more of my life as I get caught up on my blogging. 

It’s a beautiful day.  I think spring/summer is here to stay.  It had better be because I’ve been packing away all the winter things this week!  David’s birthday is next Tuesday, which to me, always signifies the beginning of summer.  His will be the last birthday I’ve had to get ready for on my own.  And I am – ready, that is.

Today Will is spreading the big dirt pile that came about as a result of the basement work last summer all over the yard with a skid loader.  He bought grass seed this week and has told us that nobody is allowed in the yard all summer long!  He is such a man…

This morning Sam could not find his glasses anywhere.  After searching everywhere, he suddenly remembered that he left them outside yesterday – in the dirt pile.  Those glasses could have been buried in the yard for centuries to come if he had not had a sudden recall like that.  And I would have been stuck buying him yet another pair!

A couple of weeks ago when the church guys put up my deck, one of them brought me a beautiful basket.  I felt kind of bad.  Ben was trying to tell me that his SS teacher had brought me a basket, but I was in a hurry to get he and David out the door so they could go to the Adventureland youth rally so I cut him off and said, “Yes, yes, I know, Ben – your teacher is here!”  I figured he was just trying to tell me his SS teacher had come to help with the deck, which I already knew.  Later, I discovered the basket on my table and wondered out loud where it had come from.  One of the Littles told me, “Well, Mom, Ben was trying to tell you Mr. Johnston brought it for you!”  Oh.  Mother of the Year, I am not…But anyway, it was a gift from the wife and mother-in-law of Ben’s teacher, two friends of mine from church.  They filled it with Coke and chocolate and wrapped it in cellophane with a big sparkly ribbon on top.  It was so pretty that I smiled every single time I looked at it that day!  That evening, I opened it up and discovered there was also a gift certificate inside for a hair cut and manicure from the place where I always get my hair done (Ziva Couture in Indianola – some free advertising –go there, Local Friends – they’re wonderful!)  I found out later that when my friends went to buy the certificate, my hair gal (and friend), Sarah, found out  about it and insisted on “upping” the value of the certificate.  The last time I was there she wouldn’t let me pay for my hair, either!

I’m going to get the manicure on June 6, I have decided.  I want something to look forward to that day.  Plus, we’re getting family pictures done the next afternoon, so it would be nice to have pretty nails for that.  If I can keep them from chipping for 24 hours, that is.

I had a run-in with my neighbor right before I left on vacation.  This is a 70 year old man who has developed an unhealthy interest in me.  In March, I thought I had made it clear to him that I was not interested in pursuing any type of relationship with him.  He backed off for awhile, but then gradually, started coming around more, getting more and more “friendlier” with each visit.  I wish now I had been more vocal and clear in my wishes.  I just didn’t want to hurt his feelings and tried to convince myself that I was misunderstanding his intentions.  After all, he is SEVENTY years old!  But a couple of weeks ago he  attempted to kiss and grope me.  I ended up having to push him off me (I should have never let him near me in the first place – he had asked -sort-of, but not really- for a hug and I wrongly hoped it would be an innocent encounter).  I was upset, although I didn’t really let myself think much about this until we got back from vacation.  This happened while I was up at City Hall, working.  About a half hour later he came by again and apologized, saying he knew what he had done was “wrong.”  But then he petulantly added, “I guess you can be mad at me if you want.”  And from there he went into his sad soliloquy about his marriage.  At that time I attempted to explain to him about how holiness, not happiness, needs to be our chief aim in life.  Of course, it went right over his head.  He appears to be genuinely remorseful, but we’ll see.

Last weekend I finally had clarity of thought.  I got hugs from a lot of people in the weeks and months following Paul’s death that I would not normally have.  The idea there, I’m sure, was to offer comfort to me.  And that’s the way it was with this guy.  He’d bring cookies to the house for the kids, we’d chat,  and  sometimes he’d offer a quick hug.  I didn’t think anything of it.  But somewhere along the line he got the wrong idea.  Hugging became something he wanted for himself.  And that’s what lead to the encounter in my office a couple of weeks ago.  But anyway, he will never touch me again.

He did stop by the house this week when we got back and I made sure to busy myself cleaning up the kitchen while he chatted.  He didn’t ask for a hug and left just a few minutes after he came.  I think maybe he’s feeling a bit chastened.  However, recent history tells me that I’ll have to be vigilant because sooner or later, he’ll try his luck again.

I have kept my pastor informed of all this and he has even offered to go talk to this guy for me.  But I think that this is an experience I needed to have in order to learn that I must be willing to stand up for myself and for what’s right even when I’m terribly uncomfortable doing it.  I have a protector in God and have a brother, a dad, sons,   and other male friends who I know would instantly rush to my defense if needed.  But this is an area where I need to learn to stand on my own.

I hate not being married…


I got to meet a Facebook friend in person this week.  Last fall, a mutual friend introduced me to Renae, who was widowed 6 months before I was.  She is raising 4 girls now on her own.  We’ve been chatting via text and Facebook for months but we’ve both been so busy we haven’t had time to meet up until now.  It was wonderful – our 3 hour lunch attested to that!  There’s such a commonality in heartbreak, especially when the stories are so similar.

And in an odd twist, Renae is good friends with the adoptive mother of the girls’ older bio brothers.  So, as a result of my friendship with Renae, I am now FB friends with this other mom.  It is such a small world, particularly with the advent of social media!

The other night the tv was on and PBS aired this special about the Siobobor  Nazi death camp revolt.  Will, Sam, David, and I watched it.  I have long been fascinated (and equally horrified) by nearly all the events of WWII.  I’ve read many books set in that time period.  Just this spring, I read a story that takes place in Germany during the war.  The main characters are sent to Siobobor, which was in Poland.  I had never heard, until I read this book, of the revolt in which the prisoners, weakened by starvation, cold, and abuse, managed to overpower their well-fed captors and escape.  Well,  only 50 made it to freedom, but that’s 50 more lives saved than there would have been.  The Nazis planned to exterminate all the prisoners.  So that was relatively fresh in my mind and then this special aired.

Will made an interesting observation that I have never heard before.  I have always assumed that Hitler was God’s way of punishing the Jews for rejecting Jesus.  And, I think he was definitely used for that purpose.  But Will pointed out to me that Satan knew he needed to totally eradicate the entire Jewish race in order for the book of Revelation to not be fulfilled.  Of course, the end of Revelation is the ultimate end of Satan when he is bound and thrown into the fiery pit forever.  But if there are no Jews, then Revelation cannot happen the way it’s written.  Very interesting!

David’s insurance rejected the idea that they should pay for his braces.  Sigh…his old insurance probably would have paid for at least a portion of it.  But Paul’s death made all the kids Medicaid-eligible.  That’s nice normally, but not right now.  I’m attempting to weigh out my options.  For me to pay for his braces out of pocket it will cost $6000.  I can knock off $500 if I pay it up front.

I explained my situation to the lady at the orthodontist’s and she was very nice.  She told me that Medicaid is becoming a nightmare for any doctor’s offices to deal with (which would explain my inability to find offices willing to take it anymore) and that they are refusing to pay now for things they used to pay for.  The lady said normally they finance out to 24 months but she was willing to go longer due to our situation.  I appreciate that, but that’s not my main concern.  I’m just trying to decide if David’s mouth is worth $6000.  I’m thinking it probably is not.  Really, he only has one tooth that is sideways and it’s not even a front tooth.  I had actually been looking into going with the invisiline system for my crooked-getting bottom teeth through my dentist (but had decided to wait, maybe forever).  That’s a $4000 method of straightening that could be an option for him. 

But even $4000 is a whole lot of money.  Besides, David doesn’t even ever smile with his teeth.  Maybe I should save my money for the Littles.  One of them might have a smile that really needs fixing.  Decisions, decisions…

I joined AAA this week.  Paul was always my “rescuer” when I had car issues.  Of course, when he would come to my aid, I would then be mad at him for letting the car get into a position where something could wrong with it! He always said he couldn’t anticipate everything that might potentially go wrong with the vehicles, but I never quite believed him.   With Will leaving next week, I’d sure like to have the peace of mind that if I’m stranded, someone will come to my aid.  I’m also thinking of checking out Jiffy Lube.  It sounds like they provide a lot of car-related services I can use.  I have learned how to check the oil in the van, but that’s about all I know.

Ellie had on a sundress today that’s kind of halter-top style, I guess.  I try to avoid those, but this one covers up quite a bit in the front, although the back is bare.  At 2 years of age, I think that’s ok.  But Lizzie saw that and asked if I thought her sister’s dress was “inappropriate.”  I told her it was ok.  Ellie got a big grin on her face and when Will walked into the room, she turned around, pointed to her back and said, “Hey, Will – I wear 'inprope' dress!"  That stinker!  Maybe I should get rid of the dress if she thinks she is getting away with something!

Awhile ago I downloaded a free Kindle book that a friend suggested I might like.  It’s called, “The Tender Scar: Life After the Death of a Spouse,” written by a Richard Mabry.  I started reading that this week and I am really, really liking it.  I wasn’t sure if I would because it’s written by a man who has since remarried.  He lost his first wife at the age of 63 after 40 years of marriage.  There’s a lot of differences between our stories.  But he writes in such an engaging way that I have found myself really enjoying the book.

The title was what caught my eye initially.  “Tender Scar” is such an apt way to describe widowhood.  I still feel like I have an oozing wound, but it’s not  laid open anymore like it was in the early days.  He comments about his title that eventually we will all have a scar where the death of our spouse occurred.  Healing will take place.  But, that scar will always be tender to the touch.  I know he’s right about that.

I’ve been hearing about the Kubler-Ross theory of grief since before Paul died, but especially since, where grief is divided into 5 sequential stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.  I can tell anyone right now that while all of these listed can be part of the grieving process, there’s no guarantee all will be experienced or that they will be experienced in the order laid out.  Grief comes in waves and these waves often contain more than one emotion.  There have many times in the past 11 ½ months where I have felt pretty good and then a grief wave hits, knocks me off my feet, and I feel like it’s June 6 all over again.  I do have to say, though, that each wave does seem to be a bit smaller as time goes on. 

But this author introduces the TEAR theory of grief, that I like a whole lot better.

To accept the reality of the loss

Experience the pain

Adjust to the new environment

Reinvest in reality

I think I’ve already done all these numerous times already, but nothing in a neat, subsequent, orderly manner.

I went to Ames yesterday with Ben for bocce ball.  His coach wasn’t able to make it, so I filled in, which is pretty interesting since I don’t even know the rules to bocce ball!  I must have done something right because his team got the gold!  Ben was supposed to go again today to throw a softball, but I decided to skip that.  I can’t see driving an hour both ways to watch him throw a ball a few times.  He does go tomorrow to compete at the state level for the relay race.  His coach is going to pick him up.  I do feel somewhat guilty, but Will needs me for the party.  This is a one time event.  Ben will be in Sp. Olympics the rest of his life.


Well, I’m caught up on blogging now.  I’ve got cakes in the oven for the party tomorrow and girls in the bathtub (who are NOT for the party – all my Littles will be spending the day with the Merritts).  I need to get all them out of their current habitations (the cakes and the girls)!   So, lots to do yet before I turn in.  I’m toying with the idea of re-painting the new hallway on Monday, which will be Memorial Day.  I don’t have to go anywhere.  We’ll see.

A year ago this weekend Paul and Will were working feverishly on the kitchen floor.  I’ll always remember that project this time of year, I think.

























































Day 352

May 23, 2014

Day 352

Two weeks from today is June 6.  The closer that day gets, the heavier this feeling in my chest becomes.  I don’t like that, but am not sure how to avoid it.  I read two different blog posts this week written by two different widows.  One said to simply not worry about the dates because you tend to dread them.  To my date-oriented mind, that’s just not real practical.  The other author was observing the 3rd anniversary of her husband’s death and she wrote about how she lights a candle for him and sings, “Happy Heaven Day” now.  I suppose I could do that.  June 6 is a horrible day of remembrance for me, but it has to be the highlight of Paul’s calendar for him – if they even have calendars in Heaven, which I suspect, they do not.

But, glimmers of progress still light my way.  I have been really, really busy all week long.  We got back from vacation Friday afternoon and I hit the ground running the next morning.  I’ve been gone non-stop from my house the entire week.  In fact, I was supposed to be gone today, too, but I finally said, “enough!” and cancelled everything scheduled for today.  I’ve got a bachelor party to get ready for tomorrow and right now, it looks they’ll be eating frozen pizzas and using a dirty bathroom (they won’t, but if the party was today they sure would be!).  So I’ve been in my van a lot this week.  A couple of days ago my mp3 shuffled to Rhema Marvann’s  version of  “No More Night.”

The timeless theme, Earth and Heaven will pass away
It's not a dream, God will make all things new that day
Gone is the curse from which I stumbled and fell
Evil is banished to eternal hell

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, "I AM"
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

See all around, now the nations bow down to sing
The only sound is the praises to Christ, our King
Slowly the names from the book are read
I know the King, so there's no need to dread

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, "I AM"
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

See over there, there's a mansion
Oh, that's prepared just for me
Where I will live with my Savior eternally

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, "I AM"
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

All praises to the great, "I AM"
We're gonna live in the light of the risen Lamb


It’s a beautiful, older song that I’ve always loved.  But the other day, as I was driving and listening, I found myself, for what seemed like the first time – and maybe it was – thanking God for taking Paul.  That’s not for my sake.  I’m definitely not to the point yet where I can do that, but I found that I could thank Him for Paul’s sake.  I got chills as I listened just imagining Paul’s delight in Heaven.  I would not take that away from him for anything.

No more night, no more pain, no more tears, never crying again…I can’t wait!

I found out the week before last that Ben was the recipient of a very special award.  His choir at school voted amongst themselves for the “student of the year” and they chose Ben.  I’m just amazed because that child can NOT sing!  But he loves to do it.  Perhaps that’s why they chose him.  They gave him the award the Friday before we left on vacation – totally surprised him.  Then, the next Tues. was the spring concert.  We were gone for that, but they did make a special announcement during the concert about Ben receiving the honor.  We’re going to frame his certificate.

A few weeks ago I received a phone call on a Saturday from one of Ben’s teachers, which surprised me.  But she had just remembered something and wanted to tell me before she forgot (she’s my age – I understand the sentiment!).  She said that Ben had approached her and asked her if she ever dreamed at night.  She told him that it was funny he asked that because she doesn’t normally, but lately she had been having dreams about her dead grandmother.  Ben then replied, “Well, I have a lot of dreams about my dad.”  This was significant because Ben does not like to talk about Paul.  I think it stirs up a lot of emotion inside him and with his autism, he just can’t handle that.  In fact, his teacher told me that they have attempted to try to draw Ben out about this subject, but he always clams up.  I’m pretty sure Ben has a whole lot of emotions about the death of his dad and they are coming out in his dream world.  Maybe it’s God’s way of ministering to him.

Bella has been super affectionate this week.  In fact, the day we got home, she was walking up to me and rubbing her head against my legs, which she never does. Several nights she has slept in my bed – and not just at the foot of it like she does sometimes.  She has plopped her (very big) body right on my chest and burrowed her chin under mine.  I think she missed me!

I thought it was interesting while on our trip, Sam repeatedly talked about how he wondered how Bella was doing without us and how much he looked forward to getting home to her.  This is my child who routinely loses “cat privileges” because he is normally so mean to her!


This has, obviously, been the saddest year of my life.  But something else sadder than sad has now occurred.  I…deep breath…finally had to succumb and purchase my first Spanx.  My grandma would have called it a “girdle.”  While I know “containment” technology has advanced in the decades since she was my age, it’s still a sad, day day for me.

In the months after Paul’s death, I lost 20 pounds.  I just didn’t have much of an appetite, which is really unfortunate, since people were doing all the cooking for us!  But this winter most of it came back because I wasn’t interested in watching what I ate (like I ever was, anyway) and watched more tv than I normally did in past years.  It came back and settled all into my stomach…sigh…So, since I could no longer suck it in and was having to unbutton my pants every time I sat down, I decided drastic measures were in order (not as drastic as actually cutting out junk food and exercising, though – that’s totally hard core!).  So I hauled myself to Younkers last weekend, begged help from a clerk, and came home with my first piece of flesh-colored, belly-containing elastic.  It’s helping and providing the extra benefit of another layer of clothing, which is nice since I seem to be cold all the time.  Although, that makes me wonder what this summer will be like.  I’m sure not going to wear this thing when it is 90 degrees out.  So, the majority of the time my mid-section will be moderately contained and less jiggly and roll-y.  But on those super-hot Iowa summer days I’m going to have to let it all hang out and that is just going to be really unfortunate and shocking for those that have to look at me.

A sad year, indeed…






















































Tuesday, May 20, 2014

South Dakota

May 18-20, 2014

Two weeks since I last wrote and I’ve got lots of little notes jotted down of funny things the kids have said and other things I’ve thought I’d like to write/think-out loud about.  But they’ll have to wait.  First, I have to write about our vacation.

But, before I begin – a disclaimer: Nobody’s vacation accounts or pictures are half as interesting to others as they are to themselves.  I understand that.  So, if my readers want to skip to the last paragraph or two of this lengthy account of a family trip, by all means, do so.  This thing took me three days to write.  It’ll probably take twice as long to read!

Yes, I did it!  I hauled all these kids out-of-state, 11 hours from home and actually enjoyed myself (more on that later).  My older boys were a big help, but I do have to say I am a little proud of myself.  I was nervous about doing this.  Going to Minneapolis in Feb.  was one thing,   That was only 4 hours from home.  I knew if I was not gone over my anniversary, I would have a horrible day.  It was a matter of survival, which sounds dramatic, but for this first year, that’s exactly what it was.  But this trip was something different.  We could have stayed home.  I wanted to stay home!  It would have saved me a lot of money and stress.  But I needed to go.  I needed to prove to the kids and to myself that we can still be a family, make good memories, and have fun without Paul.

And besides, I didn’t want to disappoint the kids.  Paul was not even buried yet and the kids were saying, “We’re still going to South Dakota, right?”  At that point I had no idea what each new day would bring and felt like I was existing in a surreal universe.  So I promised them that we’d make it happen the next summer.  And then we were offered the week at Family Camp and did that in August so we still had a sort of family vacation, after all.  Not that annual family vacations are a must, by any means.  I think it will be awhile before we attempt such a large trip again.  I’ve sort of committed myself to going to the Creation Museum by the time David graduates from high school, so I have some time to save money and work up even more courage.  We may try a little camping trip (in a cabin – no tent or camper for this mom) next summer and maybe we’ll do another week of Family Camp some year. 

Anyway, I wasn’t about to disappoint the kids.  They’ve had enough to deal with this last year.  And, too, there is the fact that Will is leaving ( two weeks from today – sob!).  He assures me he’ll still be vacationing with us in the future, but he has no idea how much his life is going to be changing in the next few years.  He’s going to get super busy with school and work and hopefully…a girlfriend and then a wife…and then babies… - not that I’m jumping ahead of myself or anything.  I wouldn’t do that. J  So this may have very well been our last intact-family vacation – as intact as we’ll ever be without Paul, that is.

So, here’s how it went: We left the house at 6:30 last Sun. morning.  I had to be up by 5:30, which about killed me.  What was really sad was that I forgot about setting the alarm that early and this past Sat. morning when I got to sleep in for the first time in my own bed for the first time in nearly a week, my dumb alarm went off at 5:30 AM!  Argh…

We had loaded up the van the night before so all I had to was load up the children, toss muffins at them, and hit the road to Council Bluffs.  When we pulled into town, the rain began to downpour.  So much for having non-frizzy hair!  Oh, anymore, I don’t care too much about stuff like that, thankfully. 

We visited our former church, which isn’t in our former church building anymore, which was actually probably a blessing to me (too many memories of Paul in that building).  But the people are all the same and it was tremendous for me to be back among them.  I had not seen any of them since the funeral, although I had talked to many in the months since.  I remember sitting in my van, waiting for the funeral procession to the cemetery to start and I saw all these people from my former church getting into a van.  They had driven all the way out to Indianola to say good-bye to Paul and to support the kids and me, even though we had moved away nearly 9 years earlier.  That’s love.  I remember wanting to cry over that that day, but my tear ducts didn’t work the day of the funeral until after every one had gone home and I was alone in the cemetery.  But that’ s a memory for another day.

So anyway, I was so thankful we were able to be in church with our “other” family.  I love those people.  Paul did too.

Afterwards, the rain let up and the kids I drove up I-29 towards Missouri Valley.  Wow – the flood of memories that washed over me as I drove that stretch of interstate!  For 5 years Paul and I lived in Loveland and I knew that part of the interstate like I knew the back of my hand.  Then – I turned off at the Loveland exit.  I wanted to see our house.

It was actually kind of sad.  The town is so run-down.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that bad when we lived there.  I remember a few houses being a little iffy, but the whole town just has this sad, neglected look to it now.  And our house…well, I’m glad Paul never saw it after we left.  The siding he put on and the wrap-around porch he built on the house were still there, but someone moved the steps (to a dumb place) and painted the railing on the porch.  Someone put up house numbers, but two of them had fallen down. Those crummy green garage doors we could never afford to replace are still on the garage.   A great big dog stared out the front door at me as I snapped some pictures.  Even he looked sad. As I looked at the house, though, my mind skipped backward 10-15 years.  I remember the day we moved in with a non-working air conditioner and a brand new baby with thrush.  I remember ALL the work we did on that house and I have a very clear memory of Paul building that afore-mentioned porch and finally hanging the siding I thought we’d never be able to get up.

  I gave a big sigh and drove out of town.

We then stopped in Missouri Valley and had our lunch.  The day before I had bought a bunch of Caseys pizzas because the church guys were putting my deck back on.  Feeding them was the least I could do!  We had quite a bit of left-overs, so Will had the idea to bring them with us.  It was Mother’s Day and I think this was my first Mother’s Day lunch eaten outdoors (I’m not a picnic girl – I’m more of a cook-my-food-and-serve-it-to-me,-cutting-it-up-into-bite –sized- pieces -for –me- would- even- be- appreciated type of girl).  To my utter surprise, the kids had a present for me.  Will had already brought me flowers a week earlier, so I assumed that was it for Mother’s Day.  I was ok with that.  I knew my Mother’s Days from here on out probably would not be what they were with Paul, but that was going to be ok.  But those boys went and bought me the newest Duck Dynasty book, the one written by all the women.  I had it read before we even got home!  I really do like that Robertson family!  But it was the card that made me tear up.  Each of those 6 kids had signed it and Will wrote this note:

Dad made it a point to honor you as a mother.  I knew he’s proud of the mother you’ve become and continue to be.  We’re very thankful and we love you so, so much.

I never have to be given anything again.  Ever.

We continued our trek northward.  I had read about the Blue Bunny ice cream museum in LeMars in my Our Iowa magazine.  So we had to stop there.  It was a neat place.  “Museum” is probably stretching it, but the building was antique and they did showcase Blue Bunny’s history.  The best part was that they sell ice-cream – every single flavor Blue Bunny makes.  We enjoyed that!

We didn’t realize how many huge cattle operations there are in very northwest Iowa.  Oh my goodness – we saw many, many spreads with hundreds and hundreds of cows each.  But even if we’d been driving blindfolded, inadvisable as that may be, we would have known about it.  These places reeked for miles!  We were sitting in the van, holding our coats to our noses as we drove through, wondering how anyone can stand to live there!  At one point, Lizzie demanded to know who among us had “tooted.”  I told her it was the cows.  Puzzled, she asked, “The cows tooted?”

We made it to our hotel in Mitchell, SD later that evening.  This was when I was thankful for my HSLDA membership.  Through them, I get a discount on Choice hotels, which made our trip more affordable.  The entire trip we had suites that slept all of us for the same price as regular hotel rooms.

The next morning we visited the Corn Palace.  Thankfully, it was free.  It was mildly interesting, but nothing I’d spend money for.  Then, we continued westward.

We stopped at a family diner for lunch in Merdo.  Just as I pulled into the parking lot, I got two city phone calls that I had to take.  Don’t people know I’m on vacation?!  Not when you’re the city clerk of a tiny town and the only office phone is your cell phone…  The diner forgot to make my food, but didn’t offer a discount for their mistake.  The service wasn’t very good, overall.  Then Sam rubbed peppermint oil in his eye, which caused a minor catastrophe for awhile until we got the burning stopped.  I was glad to say good-bye to Merdo!

The rest of the day went better, though.  We got to Rapid City and toured Badlands National Park.  It’s so pretty, although I’d still rather have the flat, rolling prairies of Iowa.  To me, it’s so obvious when looking at those rock formations, that Noah’s flood was a reality.  We also went to Wall Drug, which is actually west of RC.  Someone back home had derisively snorted, when I mentioned we were going to visit, that it was a “tourist trap.”  But – I happen to like tourist traps, actually.  So I enjoyed it!

Tuesday was a busy day.  We started the morning off with a tour of Wind Cave.  Will had done some prior research and found this one we could explore.  I don’t think I’d been on a cave tour since I was a preschooler and we went through one in Wisconsin, I think.  We rode in a boat and I remember sitting on my hands because the tour guide told us that if we touched the stalactites and stalagmites our hands would fall off.  At least, that’s what I thought she said…

Fortunately, Wind Cave didn’t have anything that would cause limbs to fall off.  It was a walking tour which meant Will, David, and I had to keep handing Ellie off to eachother.  The boys really liked the cave.  I could have survived without the tour, but I did find it interesting how  the tour guide told us how the cave must have been “filled with water millions and millions of years ago.”  Yes, on the water part – no on the millions and millions of years part!

Another (white) family touring had a black child with them.  Prior to the start of the tour, the mom had asked about Ellie’s leg and we chatted briefly, only about that and touring caves.  Later, one of the kids commented that this family’s son must be adopted, too.  Will said, “And did you notice that the mom immediately assumed you were Ellie’s mom?”  He was right.  I hadn’t noticed at the time, though.  Usually, I just get these interested looks from people.  I think they’re trying to figure out if I’m really Mom, a friend,  a foster mom, or the babysitter.

After that, we went through Custer State Park.  We saw buffalo there.  At one point, they were walking right toward our van on the road!  Later that week, I would actually eat some buffalo meat.  It’s a lot like beef.

Then we went to see the Crazy Horse Memorial.  I really, really liked this place.  I’m 1/16th Choctaw, so maybe that’s why I’m attracted to anything having to do with the Indians.  I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything Native American, though, because that’s just not my fashion or decorating style.  But I do like the fact that I’m part Indian!  I’m so grateful that before my grandma died she wrote down this family history for me.  I have names and tribes listed – it’s so cool!  I identify more with my European (but mostly American) roots but I love the fact that some of my ancestors were dark skinned tee-pee dwellers!

  Later, I heard David explaining to Lizzie why it is that he is so dark – because he is 1/32nd Indian.  I think he’s probably right.  All the white blood pretty much diluted the Indian right out of us, but David was born a shade or two darker than his brothers; it’s especially evident in the summer when he gets a natural tan.  I heard Lizzie reply, “Uh – I’m pretty sure that I’m darker than you!”  Ha, ha, ha – I about ruptured my spleen up in the front seat when I heard he reply!

You do see a lot of Indians up in the Dakotas.  At first I found myself wondering why I kept seeing all these Hispanic people.  To the best of my knowledge, S. Dakota didn’t have any processing plants that would attract them.  But then it dawned on me that I was seeing Indians, not Hispanics.  I doubt they’d be amused by misconception, though!

Then, we went to see Mount Rushmore.  Wow, oh, wow.  That is a cool place!  We spent a long time there.  I posted a picture on Facebook of our entire family taken there.  A friend of mine commented that I looked so “relaxed” in that picture.  I’ll write more on that later, but I think she was right.  I was enjoying myself!

That evening Will and David went back to Mt. Rushmore while I stayed at the hotel with the others.  They wanted to see it all lit up at night, as well as have a “guy” adventure.
Well, I’ll have to write more later.  Right now, it’s Sunday night and Monday morning will come before I want it to.  This week is going to be super-busy and I’ll be plunging into it right away in the morning.  Besides, my wrist hurts from all this typing! 
The next morning we drove to Wyoming – just to say we’d been there.  This was all Will’s doing.  I couldn’t care less, but he wanted to cross the state lines.  So, we drove across them, snapped a picture of the “Welcome to Wyoming” sign and crossed back to S. Dakota (yes, this mom is rolling her eyeballs just a bit!).  We then went through Spearfish Canyon, which was a really pretty drive.  There was still snow up in the hills – not much sunlight gets through there, I guess.

After lunch, we went to downtown Rapid City.  There were some neat little shops – including an antique store.  I have studiously avoided those since Paul’s death.  Antiquing was our “thing” and the thought of doing it alone was just sad.  Plus, I don’t need any more stuff in my house.  But we came across this little shop and I was about to pass by.  Instead, I stopped, pulled back my shoulders, and went in.  I don’t know if it felt good or not.  But I did it, just to show myself that I could.

Rapid City also has a unique feature of 43 life-sized statues of US presidents, all sculpted doing something unique to their personality.  We didn’t find them all, but they were fun to pose with when we did.

Thursday we visited Keystone.  I really liked that place – lots of neat little shops.  By the end, though, the kids were all in the van while I shopped and I was getting texts that read, 

Are you done yet?

Not that they were impatient or anything!

We then went back to Mt. Rushmore.  This time we explored the museum and watched a film on the carvings.  I found a number of books on American history that I look forward to using for homeschooling, if I ever get organized enough.  All the kids, except for Ellie, decided to hike on the trails for a little bit.  So I went to the gift shop!  Nature mama I am not…  I heard one older woman commenting to a companion as she walked through the entry way to the monument (a long, tiled walk arched by every state flag in the Union) that when she had been there last that path had only been made out of dirt!

Bear Country was the last item on our agenda.  I liked it, although it was a little expensive, I thought.  It’s basically a drive-through zoo, which is something I’ve never done before.  Their big focus there, though, are the bears.  And boy, do they get up close and personal!  I wondered who would pay for a paint job on my van if they put their paws on it.  Will kept rolling down the window when we were in that section, mostly just to freak out David.  It worked.

They have a section where you can get out and walk and see the cubs.  There were a bunch of them and two, a little brown and a little black bear, were wrestling eachother – so-o-o cute!

And then…and then it was time to start our trek home.  We made it to Sioux Falls about 10:30 that night (losing an hour as we traveled east) and stayed at a sub-par Comfort Suites.  The movie, “Jerry McGuire” was playing on cable and Will stayed up until after 2 watching that, which meant most of the rest of us were up that late, too.  But the next morning I got to watch a fun cable show about women who popped out babies, not even knowing they were pregnant.  I’m still not quite sure how that happens, but it makes for entertaining tv.  I’m thinking it’s a good thing I don’t have cable tv at my house – I would watch far too much of it!

We stopped in Missouri Valley for lunch at a Pizza Ranch – and picked at our food.  We were so sick of restaurants at that point!  I believe that Sam, who sat there munching on fried chicken, had begun to sprout some tiny white feathers.  This child ate chicken at every single meal we ate while on vacation.  I find it easier to just order off the kid menus for the short people.  Paul almost never did that – he’d figure out who who could share what and then dump everyone’s fries into a big pile in the middle of the table for sharing.  Right now my brain can only take so much strain.  And evidently, every restaurant in the universe offers chicken strips on its kids’ menu!

We pulled into our driveway right at 4:00 and I breathed a sigh of contentment.  This trip that I had been rather pessimistic about went beautifully.  Nobody got hurt, my van gave me no problems, we never got lost,  I came in under budget, nobody tried to strangle a sibling, and nobody tried to mug or murder me.  Success!

The best part to me was hearing my kids thank me for the trip and saying this was their “best vacation ever!”  I did it.  I brought some happiness back into their lives and created some good memories, even without their dad present.  I needed to know I could do that.

And, for the first time in nearly a year, I relaxed, at least a little bit.  I have been a bundle of nerves and stress since Paul’s death, more so than I have realized, I think.  Getting away gave me an opportunity to finally breathe.

I did miss Paul on this trip, of course.  We loved family vacations.  Even when we were doing things that the kids primarily enjoyed, there were plenty of quick kisses and long looks.  We’d kind of roll our eyeballs at eachother as we entered yet another roller coaster or hoisted another preschooler into a bumper car. But we were living our dream of family life.  We had the kids and the good marriage – life was wonderful.   It was so good to get away together, even if the kids were with us.  Paul particularly seemed to like it when I’d finally get the vacation pictures scrapbooked.  He said it was like going on vacation all over again!

So I thought about Paul plenty of times on this trip.  But this time, the thoughts were sweet and really didn’t hurt.  I was surprised by that.  I expected to be wracked with heartache on this trip, but it wasn’t like that at all.  I did notice as I got closer to home on Friday, thoughts of Paul would come and then those would throb more.    So, apparently, I hurt more at home than away!  Maybe that was just God’s grace at work.
This trip, too, was a way to vacation the way that I wanted to do it.  It’s not that I never got to do anything that I wanted on past trips – I did.  But with Paul not with us, I could set the pace and schedule.  Paul liked to relax on trips.  He would not have been thrilled about the go,go, go pace I kept for the trip.  I didn’t do that intentionally, but it did dawn on me halfway through that Paul would have been balking at doing everything I planned.

So, a lot of this trip was really about me – figuring out what kind of  a single parent I can be, discovering that I can have fun without my husband, and realizing that it is possible to enjoy my children without continually wishing their dad was around to share the joy, too. 

Of course, I would give anything to not have had to do this this way.  If I could change the last year and still have gone on this trip with Paul, I would have.  I miss him.  Vacation was good, but it wasn’t the same without him.

Still, I would do it again.  All the concerns, stress of getting ready, and money spent were worth last week.  We are still a thriving, functioning family. 

That knowledge feels really, really good.