Saturday, October 31, 2009

In the twilight

In the twilight, I watch my mother sleeping. She’s been in and out of it all day, barely awake enough to eat a few bites for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The hospital bed that was delivered to the house today has made her more comfortable, but it seems to me that she is sinking fast. Her vital signs are still good, but she is so weak that she can hardly take, even with strong assistance, the three baby steps needed to get to the bedside commode. Her mind is wandering a bit. Twice in the last hour she has asked to do things that are part of her morning routine and has been surprised when I’ve told her that it is evening. “It is?” she asks wonderingly – but her eyes are not open and she is clearly not quite here. Once she called out my name, but when I asked what she needed, she muttered that she didn’t know.

She crashed so quickly. A mere two days ago she was still doing some of her housework, still planning and preparing some meals, still using the toilet in the bathroom, still spending the night by herself in her bedroom. I think she will not be long in this world and I fight the choking sensation that I get when I think of life on this earth without her. Tonight, for the first time, there is the smell of decay and death in the room.

My brother is driving out again on Sunday, but, in truth, I’m not sure she will still be with us.

She may rally. My brother actually believes that, or at least so he keeps telling himself… and me. I suppose it’s possible that Mom may come back a bit, but I think my brother is in denial. Maybe that’s because I am here with her, watching the struggle, seeing the decline as it gathers speed with every passing minute.

I miss my husband so much. I miss my kids and my dog. I miss my home.

There is a part of me crying out in grief for the loss. I keep that part quiet during the day because she needs me to be strong. But she can't hear me in the middle of the night, and that's when the grief is probably most acute anyway.

It feels good to be needed -- Mom had always been so very independent -- and I wouldn’t have missed this precious time of ministering to her needs for anything.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Bad Day

Thursday: I arrived at 12:10 today – I wish I could have gotten here sooner but I had things to go over with my assistant, and it just wasn’t possible to get away from my work any earlier. At 12:10 my mother was already lying down on top of the bed and she was miserable. Feeling cold (despite the 80 degree heat in the house) and feeling sick. When I went in to say hello, she began to cry. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to eat anything all day, and she knows that loss of appetite is a strong indication that the body is in decline. I think she was momentarily scared – mostly because she felt so very, very unwell.”Don’t leave me,” she cried.

I hugged her frail frame for a moment, pressed my cheek against hers, reassuring her that I am here to stay. I reminded her that we are not bodies that have souls, we are souls that have bodies. The transition, when it happens, will be easy, I said, although the journey to that point is physically uncomfortable.

She calmed down and we talked about the turkey breast that needed to be put in the oven for dinner. Once that was accomplished, I helped her pull on her nightgown, cranked up the heated mattress pad, and tucked her between the sheets. Snuggled in, she thought she could eat an omelet, and would I make her one? I don’t think there is anything special about my omelets, but she always has liked them a lot. I hastened to prepare the food, and then I fed her forkful by forkful while she rested in her bed, too weak to sit up. She ate most of it and drank some water, too.

She feels like she’s making me into a maid. I keep telling her that I am happy to be doing all of this and that she is not to worry about anything. I mention that she’d have done the same for her own mother. She is silent.

Later I remember that her mother (who died when my mother was 24 years old) had been ill with heart disease for many years before her death in 1954, and that my mother had had to take over the housekeeping AND look after her mother AND go to college at the same time. All that with no help from her sister, who also lived at home but who refused to do anything but please herself. I suspect that, in her early 20s, my mother had found that burden too much and had resented her mother. She didn’t hesitate to move away from home within a few months of college graduation, leaving the household and the family to get along without her.

Maybe the “chickens have come home to roost” here and she is feeling bad about her feelings at the time, afraid that I resent her as she resented her own family? Pure speculation on my part, but seems likely.

I would like to ask her, but I don’t think I can. She’s got enough on her plate. In the meantime, I reassure her and reassure her and reassure her – I am happy to be here. Even on the bad days.

Friday – bad night for Mom. The worst pain yet, and we had to give her a dose of morphine. She also had a fever of 102.7. This morning seems better – she still doesn’t have any pain as I write this, and her temperature has returned to normal. They are delivering a hospital bed today. When she finally agreed to the hospital bed, she asked me, "Does this mean I have to be bedridden?" "Not if you don't want to be, Mom," I replied. This morning, so far, she's shone no inclination to get out of bed. But her legs feel better today than yesterday, so she might get up yet.

And so it goes.

Let me say, again, how very much your comments and prayers mean to us in this situation. Mom was touched when I told her that people all over this country are praying for her. It means the world to me, that's for sure.

- Catherine

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mixed Bag

It’s 4:20 a.m. and sleeping is just not an option, I guess. I went off to sleep well enough at 10:00 or so, but I got awake around 3:30 and that seems to be it for the night.

Partly it’s the weather, I think – warm and rainy and so humid that it’s hard to breathe sometimes. This is weather that I do not have to deal with in my new hometown out West, and this is weather that I have not missed since I moved away from the East Coast seven years ago. Ugh.

Yesterday was a mixed bag. I arrived at Mom’s around 11:30 a.m. to find her feeling pretty awful – weak, mostly, but she’d also had a good deal of pain in the morning and had taken a painkiller. The Hospice nurse arrived shortly after I did and she had a long talk with Mom about the various painkillers that are available if/when her present painkiller isn’t enough. She also persuaded Mom to order the oxygen generator so that it would be immediately available in the house should Mom need it (which she most assuredly will at some point). She failed to persuade Mom to order a hospital bed. There was frank talk about how Mom’s condition could decline very quickly at any time, and the nurse seems set to come every day from here on out.

I spoke with the nurse out on the porch afterward. She suspects that the cancer has spread to the lymph system and that possibly the kidneys are starting to shut down. We probably don’t have much time left.

Once the nurse had gone, I came back inside the house to find Mom still sitting at the table, but with her head down and resting on her arm. I helped her up and we slowly made our way to her bedroom. On the way, she gave me some instructions about clothes she wanted brought downstairs for good (her bedroom now is the former living room on the main floor). Once I got her settled in bed, I headed out to pick up some items that we could use to organize her clothing plus another pair of soft shoes that would accommodate her swollen feet. Thankfully, the current trend of “ballet slipper” shoes works perfectly for our purposes, so I purchased a pair that is two sizes larger than Mom’s normal shoe size. She loved them!

Mom was still in bed when I returned with my purchases, but she was awake and expressed amazement that she had slept so long. She said she’d slept deeply during those 90 minutes and she felt much, much better. She also remarked that the next time she felt that bad in the morning, she’d simply go back to bed. I agreed. At her request, I stayed for dinner – a dish that we always called “Glop” when I was growing up. (It’s a mixture of ground beef, cooked macaroni, canned tomatoes, onions and seasoning, all stirred up in one pot. It’s pretty tasty, actually, depending on how you make it. The name “Glop” stems from the sound it makes when you dish it onto your plate.)

Mom cracked a few jokes and ate really well. My stepfather was very affable and helped me with the dishes. I cleaned up and then headed back to my temporary home in town well before dark.

And here I am, at 4:45 a.m., sitting up in bed and writing my blog. My mind began racing as soon as I woke up and there seemed no point in tossing and turning. I usually pray when I can’t sleep, but I couldn’t get my thoughts to be anything but frantic and scattered, so I finally turned on the light and my computer. Now that I’ve done some writing, perhaps I can also have a lucid conversation with my Creator.

Yesterday was a mixed bag. Stay tuned for the next report…

Once again, I send my love and gratitude to all of you who are supporting me in prayer and tracking me through this journey. I could not do it without you!

- Catherine

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Update AND the Random Dozen for Wednesday

So, the update is that my mother had a good day yesterday, and so did my stepfather! I went over around 11:45 a.m. to help her clean out the refrigerator and then get her settled for her nap. She was almost sprightly, she felt so good! Well, as sprightly as you can be when you're dragging around an extra 30 pounds of fluid weight. She'd had a good night's sleep on her heated mattress cover (her first) and woke feeling better than she has in a while -- she said her bones didn't ache when she got up. She was able to stay awake all morning (which tells me that some of that daytime tiredness has been from not getting a good night's sleep).

I asked how my stepfather was and she said he'd woken up grumpy but that she'd been grumpy, too, and that they'd grumped at each other all morning long. He finally said, "You're contrary today." And she replied, "Yes, I am. But I'm on my two feet!" After that, he went outside to haul wood.

Wise man.

He came inside while I was there and was very affable. Of course, I also was careful not to overstay my welcome. I stayed just long enough for the Hospice nurse's visit -- about an hour and a half.

The Hospice nurse measured my mother's ankles -- they were 1/2 inch more swollen than the day before. Looks like the edema is about at the "Plus 3" stage -- on a scale of 1-5, that is. Soon, the fluid will rise high enough to affect her lungs and heart. She may die of complications from the fluid or she may die from the cancer on her liver. It's anyone's guess right now. Her kidneys aren't working very well, either -- her urine output is minimal, so it seems that things are shutting down.

In the meantime, yesterday was a good day.

And now, for the Random Dozen, thanks to Lid at 2nd Cup of Coffee:

1. Tell me something about your favorite teacher.

I’ve had some great teachers in my life, but my first grade teacher, Mrs. Schlamp, is the one that stands out in my memory when I hear the phrase “favorite teacher.” Sharp, intelligent, kind and fair are the words that come to mind. She was no pushover, nor was she one of those elementary school teachers who treated her students like they were “precious.” My brother had had her the year before, but she never held that up as a comparison for me, in my memory. And she treated me like I had worth and was intelligent – a situation I’d not really experienced before. I just loved her dearly and was sad to leave her classroom.

2. Tell me about one pivotal moment in your life.

After years of rebellion and trying to stand on my own two feet – and making a perfect hash-up of the whole thing – I had it out with God one afternoon. I’d been a saved Christian since I was a teenager but had developed into a very self-reliant, independent adult whose life had spiraled out of control because she didn’t lean on and learn from her Lord and Savior. I’ll never forget the absolute quiet that succeeded that storm of tears and sobs. I wondered if He was still there – I’d been pretty rough in my anger and rage. And He was, indeed, still right there. My attitude changed immediately, and I dove deeper and deeper into an authentic faith in the living Lord, a journey I'm still on and always will be.

3. About favorite colors--a lot of people will ask you what it is, but I want to know why it is. What feeling or memory does it evoke?

Favorite color to wear – pale pink. Why? Because I think it softens my strong facial features (square jaw, large nose, etc.) and makes me look more feminine.

4. What's a sure sign that you're getting older?

The fact that I struggle to get up off the floor and that I audibly groan along with my complaining joints when I do so.

5. Please don't sermonize, but Halloween--is it a yes or no for you?

Yes for little kids trick or treating in fun and non-evil costumes. No for teens/adults having drunken bacchanals or getting into satanic stuff.

6. What's your favorite musical?

South Pacific. It has an absolutely glorious score (“Wonderful Guy” remains one of my all time favorites) and there is still a timely message in the story (“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear….”)

7. Are you more of a city mouse or country mouse?

Country. The city wears me out and makes me feel hemmed in.

8. Did you know that it is possible, for a small fee, to name a real star after someone? (It's true! Google it!) If someone were to name a star for you, would you appreciate it for its whimsy and romance, or would you say, "Are you kidding me? For $19.95 we could have gone to the movie and actually bought popcorn."

I’d truly appreciate it from a close friend (or friends) and think it was a complete waste of money from anyone else.

This question comes from Paula at His Ways Are Not Our Ways.
9. What's the craziest thing you've ever been doing and texted during it? I only thought of this b/c I was about to try to text during my walking video but I didn't.

During rehearsal with my church’s praise band, when I’m playing the keyboard, I ignore incoming phone calls and text back the words “In rehearsal.” That’s about as crazy as it gets, I’m afraid.

10. "It's not a party unless _______."

it includes family and good food!

11. When you're stuck in traffic or a waiting room, what do you do to pass the time? PS: There are no magazines available.

I have a “Crackberry.” ‘Nuff said.

12. If you weren't yourself, would you be friends with you?

That’s a tough one. I think I’d like the fact that I’m loyal, funny and frank (not mean or rude, just frank). Maybe I wouldn’t like the fact that I don’t keep up with my friends as much as I should. Hmmm… that really is a tough question.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cold Light of Day

I won't pretend that our family relationships are all smooth sailing here. It would be nice to have the fantasy of tying up all the loose ends as my mother's life on earth comes to a close, but that really isn't happening on a widespread basis in my corner of the world.

My mother and I are fine, and that's the biggest blessing, of course.

My stepfather and I are not so fine, however. I still, to this day, have not the slightest idea when and how his enmity toward me began, but he is an unforgiving man, unfortunately -- once you cross him, that's it. He's been my stepfather since I was 17 years old -- I never lived with them, but no doubt I crossed him at some point. I don't know when. I just know that he resents my presence and that our good weekend was due solely to my brother being around. My stepfather likes him.

Now that my brother has gone home and it's just me, the real feelings are coming out again.

He is not a man that you can talk to. There are no discussions about feelings. There is just scorn and animosity as far as the eye can see, and any attempts at making amends would be greeted with derision. As I said, once he is crossed, he writes that person off.

I wouldn't care so much except that his temper sometimes gets the better of him and then my mother suffers (not physically -- there is no danger of that). She wants me here with her. My stepfather has been taking good care of her, but he IS 83 years old and he is tired. He cannot keep up with all of it and there are some aspects of her care that he's really not willing or able to do.

This is a long whine, I know. I'm not asking for sympathy -- just prayer that the miracle of God's grace will cover this situation so that my mother is protected and comfortable.

Many thanks to all of you for tracking me on this odyssey. Your support means the world to me!

- Catherine

Monday, October 26, 2009

Weekend wrap

The weekend is over and we are all back to real life.

Except that I'm 2000 miles from home in a coffee shop in the middle of Pennsylvania.

And my mother is dying.

The weekend went well, really. My brother and sister-in-law arrived shortly after noontime on Saturday, bringing with them a magnificent pot roast dinner that my sister-in-law had cooked at home the night before. Amazing meat, gravy, carrots, etc., etc., etc... you get the picture. We feasted, and Mom ate quite well.

She was really happy to see everyone there. But her strength gives out so quickly these days that we took a couple of breaks to drive into town simply to give her the opportunity to have a nap in her chair in peace and quiet.

My sister-in-law, Donna, is a home health aide, so she wrapped mom's legs for her - and taught me how to do it, too. The legs are terribly swollen with fluid, and they are red and starting to blister where the fluid is trying to escape through the skin. Wrapping them in non-stick pads helps to relieve the pain and irritation, and Mom was much more comfortable after we did that.

Comfort is the name of the game now. Last night we purchased a heated mattress cover, which will help keep her warm at night and decrease the need for lots of blankets (which are too heavy for her). With the heat from the mattress cover underneath her, she should be able to use a light comforter and be much more comfortable.

Tonight I'll be 'babysitting' while my stepfather attends a meeting (he's a township supervisor). My relationship with him has been good since I arrived, and I'm praying that it remains so. I feel terrible for the loss that he is going to endure -- my mother is the love of his life and his best friend in all the world. They've been together for 33 years, through thick and thin. The hole in his life will be huge.

Mom is slowing putting her things in order. She's closed her bank accounts and put all the money into my stepfather's accounts (to avoid complications later). She and I will be packing up the contents of her china closet this week - all the family china and heirloom pieces come to me. She and my stepfather have planned her funeral, picked out her casket, talked to their pastor about music and scripture, etc.

A good but bittersweet weekend, all in all.

- Catherine

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Visit - Day #2

I’ve found a terrific coffee shop down the street from where I am staying in Lock Haven, PA – free Wifi and good coffee. So, I’ll be doing my blog updates and email from here each day (well, not Sundays)

I arrived safely around 2:00 p.m. yesterday. It rained in the morning, as it had the day before, but once again it was dry by the early afternoon.

Strangely, I encountered the same phenomenon at the Ohio/Pennsylvania border that I’d encountered at the Illinois/Indiana border – namely, a reduced speed limit that resulted in people driving like it was NASCAR. It’s like they are throwing themselves at the border or something. Bizarre.

I’d forgotten just how beautiful are the river valleys of Pennsylvania, especially during the Fall foliage season. Despite the gloomy clouds, the countryside as you drive along I-80 is just a sight to behold! The rolling hills and deep ravines are completely smothered in yellows, reds and oranges. I reveled in it, I must say.

I found my mother both cheerful and tearful. As she slowly advanced onto the front porch, she held out her arms and said “Oh, Cath, I’m just so glad to see you.” It’s been a hard time for her, these last few months. My stepfather has been taking very good care of her, and that is totally evident to anyone who visits them. But she missed me, and I have to admit that that felt good.

I spent quite a lot of my drive across country in conversation with God. My relationship with my stepfather has been pretty darn tense at times through the years, and I prayed that we would find a way to stay on an even keel for Mom’s sake. It’s early days yet, but yesterday we were off to a good start. I will continue to pray that God helps my attitude remain in the right place and that, as much as possible, my stepfather and I would get along well while I am here.

It’s been very difficult to mentally and emotionally process my mother’s declining health. To have her hobbling around instead of bouncing through the house is a sight I’ve never seen before in my life. Her body is wrecked by the cancer – from the waist down she is horribly swollen from all the fluid retention. She can’t wear regular shoes – instead she has a pair of Crocs that have been slit up the sides – and her feet just barely fit in those. Her legs are so full of fluid that they have begun to weep through the skin. Hospice is coming today to show her how to bandage them to catch the fluid.

My brother and his wife will arrive later today and stay overnight in town. My brother is having an even harder time than I am with the imminent death of our mother, and I hope this visit will give him some peace. When our dad died, he was able to stay with him at the end. In fact, it was my brother who talked my dad through to the end. It’s upsetting Ed that he will not be able to do the same for our mom, due to distance and work schedule.

Perhaps it isn’t appropriate to speculate, but I have a feeling that when my mother dies, she will slip away in the middle of the night. She absolutely hates emotional scenes, and I think she will simply pass away when everyone else is asleep.

So, I’m off to my mother’s house now. I told my stepfather that I’d watch the college football game with him this afternoon (Penn State playing Michigan).

- Catherine

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Fave Five

I really needed to do this particular exercise this week -- it does the soul good to reflect on the positive during a challenging time of life.

So, once again, in no particular order:

1. A job that allows me the flexibility to work from the road.
2. The prayers of so many people across the country, moving me forward both on the drive and through this very difficult time in my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
3. The fact that when my mother's time here on earth ends, she will go home to be with her Lord and Savior.
4. My stepfather's niece and her husband, who are opening their home to me so that I can stay near my mother.
5. My wonderful husband, who is the most supportive human being on this planet.

And, for good measure:
6. Funny videos on YouTube -- like the video of the silent monks doing the Hallelujah Chorus. I nearly fell off my chair laughing. (Thank you, Pete, for sending it to me!)

- Catherine

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Day #3

Long day today -- I started out at 7:15 a.m. Central time and ended my drive at 8:45 p.m. Eastern time. That's more than 12 hours on the road, even allowing for the time zone change.

But.... I didn't drive that whole time. I did indeed leave at 7:15 a.m. in the pouring rain, and quickly realized that I couldn't drive an unfamiliar Interstate in the dark in the pouring rain. I pulled over three exits down and found a place to have breakfast until there was enough light for me to drive in the rain.

So, I left again at 8:00 or so. It rained all the way through Iowa -- and I mean, today it poured. Not fun. Not fun at all. BUT -- I noticed that I was still far more relaxed in the situation than I normally would be, so everyone's prayers are definitely doing me good.

I stopped for another 45 minutes for lunch in Illinois. Still raining at that point.

About the time I hit the Chicago area, the rain stopped and it was only overcast for the rest of the drive.

Did you know that the speed limit around the Illinois/Indiana border is just 55 m.p.h. Did you know that NO ONE does that speed? NO ONE! It was like the Indianapolis 500 on that section of I-80. I did okay (I did learn to drive in New Jersey, after all), but sheesh! It was like they all saw the speed limit reduction to 55 and immediately leaned on the gas pedal. Through a construction zone, no less!

I decided to take advantage of the dry roads this evening and pushed on to my target stop of Milan, Ohio. It's some 40 miles east of Toledo, putting me within about 5 hours of my mother. So, even if it rains tomorrow -- which it IS supposed to do, I might add -- I have time to go slowly if I need to and still arrive before dark.

The update on my mother is that they won't be doing that procedure to draw off fluid from her abdomen. Her hemoglobin is so low that there is a big risk she would bleed to death. I think that's it for anything they could have done to relieve her discomfort. She's still not having much in the way of pain, but the fluid retention makes her very uncomfortable in her feet, in her legs, and in her abdomen.

I'm so glad I'm making the trip now and didn't wait any longer. I can see and feel God's timing in this -- just as I did when my Dad died in 2007. I do not know how much time we have, but I sense it isn't going to be very long, and I'm very glad that I get to spend it all with Mom now.

- Catherine

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Greetings from the road - Day #2

So, Nebraska is a long state to drive from West to East, I must say. And nothin' but cornfields all the way. Wow! The landscape has the occasional ruined homestead -- a vivid reminder of the pioneer days of this country. But mostly it's just cornfield after cornfield after cornfield.

The temperature in Kimball, NE, this morning was about 35 degrees. In Urbandale, Iowa, this evening, it was 65. And it rained most of today, but there were enough breaks for me to be able to relax at the wheel for a bit before the next patch of rain started. Fortunately, none of it was pouring rain -- I'm very thankful I didn't have to deal with that.

I made it into Iowa today -- Urbandale is a suburb of Des Moines. Along Interstate 80 in Iowa are these absolutely enormous wind turbines -- modern windmills. And I mean, they are HUGE. And so high that the tops -- the windmill part -- were in the low-ceiling clouds, which meant that as I drove along down the highway, the enormous windmills loomed out of the mist and cloud. Very eerie and very cool. I wish I'd had a camera, but I wasn't about to stop driving just to take pictures today. Sorry!

Tomorrow my goal is to get to Ohio. We'll see. My left leg was pretty well cramped up by the time I pulled in tonight at 6:15 p.m. I'd driven for 10 hours today -- well, driving for a bit more than 9 hours because I did take time off for lunch. I don't know if I can do another 9 hour stint tomorrow. We'll see. The good news is that I am a bit more than half-way to my destination, so I should be able to finish it in the two remaining travel days and still get in before dark on Friday (in theory, anyway).

My mother is having an ultrasound done on Friday, and then they will draw off some of the fluid in her abdomen. That should make her more comfortable. No way I'll get there in time for the procedure on Friday, but that's okay -- I'll see her late in the day.

- Catherine

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Random Dozen -- the Wednesday meme

I know it's Tuesday night, but I'll be on the road all day tomorrow -- so here is this week's Random Dozen, thanks once again to Lid over at 2nd Cup of Coffee.

1. Candy corn: Your thoughts?

Candy Corn is something I never think about. Nor do I eat it. Nasty stuff.

2. Briefly, what was the first conversation you ever had with your spouse? (or best friend, if you're not married.) (Or someone significant, like your librarian.)

My first conversation with Tim was not in person – it was over email. I really don’t remember, but I think it was just a general getting-to-know-you kind of conversation. (I was not interested in Tim until a full year after we had first met, so the initial getting acquainted period isn’t etched in my memory, I’m afraid. He’s okay with that because in the end, he got the girl.)

3. Could you ever become a vegetarian?

Emphatically, NO.

4. Have you ever dressed up your pet in a costume?

See #3.
That said, my niece has dressed up our dog a time or two. Hank is very patient, and he looks kind of cute with nail polish on his claws.

5. Name something about childhood that you miss (like Clark Bars, Teaberry Gum, Malibu Barbie, cracking fake eggs on people's heads with your fist and "It's the Great Pumpkin" airing only once a year).

Tangible things? I miss the smaller sized candy bars that you paid 5 cents for (for which you paid 5 cents). Intangible things? I miss the sense of trust that people used to have of one another and the standard of trustworthiness that used to be the norm in our society.

6. Have you ever won a trophy? If not, what do you deserve a trophy for?

I don’t recall ever winning a trophy. I’m not athletic, so I would not have been on any sports teams or in any competitions. I think I won the Silver Badge for Physical Fitness one year, but that’s about it. As for what I deserve? I think I deserve a trophy for putting up with people who are either habitually late or simply don't show up to a function. It seems to be an epidemic in our part of the country – maybe it’s something in the water.

7. When do you think is the appropriate time to begin playing Christmas music each year?

In October, as soon as there’s a nip in the air and the trees and bushes are starting to die off.

8. What's your favorite board game?

Cranium, I guess. I’m not very much into board games, I’m afraid. But I do find Cranium to be pretty fun.

9. How do you feel about surprises (receiving, not giving)?

It depends on the circumstances. If someone throws me a surprise party or some other pleasant activity that is designed to make me (or someone I love) happy, then I enjoy surprises. If someone is just playing a prank for their own amusement and the situation gets in my way, then I’m probably going to let them have it with both barrels. And if it’s the kind of surprise where my husband says, “Oh, didn’t I tell you…?” three minutes before we have to be somewhere or, worse yet, at a family party where everyone else already knows whatever it was he didn’t tell me….. then murder is on the table.

10. Is it easy for you to say, "I'm sorry?"

For the most part, yes, although there are one or two people in this world that I’d probably choke before I’d say I’m sorry. Not very Christian, I know, and I AM working on it.

11. What is your favorite candle scent?

Eucalyptus. I love how it cleans the air and smells so fresh.

12. October is traditionally "open house" time in public schools. If you had a literal open house in your home (like a reception) what light snacks would you serve visitors and what would you show them (as in art projects, graded papers) that would uniquely represent you?

Snacks: 1) Black Bean Salsa with Tortilla Chips; 2) a cheese tray with crackers; 3) candy in a dish; 4) a selection of beverages.
Items for show: scrapbook pages and homemade cards, plus I’d definitely sing them a song.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On the eve

Some thoughts on the eve of my trip East:

I'm leaving tomorrow morning as early as I can get on the road, hoping to make Ogallala, Nebraska, by tomorrow night.

I've checked the time zones and I'll still be in the Mountain time zone in Ogallala. I have a conference call scheduled in the afternoon; I'm not looking forward to having to pull over the car for the call, but that will be the safest thing to do.

The forecast, as of last night, was for rain most of this week -- basically it will be following me as I go East. Lovely.

I'm about a third of the way packed up right now. I'd like to get done in time to watch Monday Night Football with my husband this evening, so I'm not spending too much time on anything else (except cleaning the house, of course -- because it probably won't be cleaned very much while I'm away).

Okay. Next blog post from the road. Please know that I appreciate everyone's prayers for us. I have truly felt supported and lifted up! Include a prayer for my safety, please, this week. I'm not nervous, but it's a long drive when you're by yourself.

- Catherine

Saturday, October 17, 2009

And now for the car ride...

My mother did not sound good on the phone yesterday when I talked to her. And the email that I received after our conversation was even more disturbing. There is nothing that the medical establishment can do for the fluid retention she is experiencing or for the anemia. She can’t wear shoes, she’s exhausted and she’s very uncomfortable. Yesterday morning she could hardly do any housework because she was so weary – could barely get her few breakfast dishes done. Hospice told her that the body’s health will go downhill as her appetite and fluid intake decrease – and she admitted to me that her appetite has started to wane.

It’s time for me to go.

And when I spoke to her this morning and said I would be coming in a week, she agreed that it was time. So that cements it.

I need prayer for good weather and travel mercies along the route (the majority of which will be Interstate 80 from Wyoming to central Pennsylvania). I had originally thought to do it in 3 days, however I don’t think I’m up to driving 10-12 hours straight each day (it’s a 30 hour drive). I think I will stretch it to 4 days instead, leaving Tuesday and arriving Friday.

I need prayer, too, for the family that I am leaving at home. When the time comes, Tim will fly out for the funeral and then drive home with me. In the meantime, I’ll be missing him and our youngest terribly. (And Hank, too, who will not understand why I am leaving him for so long.)

And, finally, I need prayer for the situation that I will find when I get there. Family relationships can be tricky, and the stress of serious illness can make them even trickier. My hope is to walk softly through the coming weeks and to be helpful without intruding.

- Catherine

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday's Fave Five

Now that I'm participating in the Friday Fave Five, I do find myself looking out during the week for good things to mention on Friday. That's helped my outlook, I think -- so, thanks to Susanne at Living to Tell the Story for creating this meme!

And so, without further adieu:

1. Hot, homemade scones right out of the oven. (I can make them gluten-free and they are really good!) Buttered while piping hot and served with a good cup of tea. Mmmmmm…..

2. Soft, warm, thick, cushy, real wool socks on a cold day. I get them at our CAL Ranch store -- a great farm/ranch supply store in our town (they are a chain in the West). CAL Ranch is also where I buy Christmas presents for the little boys in our family -- they stock some really cool John Deere toys and other stuff that boys love (and that you won't find at Toys R Us).

3. All the prayers that are said on behalf of my mother and me every day. I definitely can tell that we are being lifted up and supported by those prayers. It came home to me most significantly this week when a friend in Tennessee announced that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer and will be having a double mastectomy very soon. My very, very, very first thought? I can pray for her and her young family – and it WILL make a difference in her life. I know that because it has made a difference in mine and my mother’s.

4. Inspector Lewis series on Masterpiece Mystery. I’ve managed to miss most of the episodes of the new season, but I’ll catch it next time around. I love the Oxford setting (I have fond memories of vacation time spent in Oxford), and the character of Sgt. Hathaway is just so cool!

5. Our church’s Women’s Retreat this weekend – can’t wait!! I'm doing the music and the Saturday afternoon discussion - and it's been amazing to see how God has guided and prompted and provided for it all.

Have a great weekend!

- Catherine

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More steps on the journey

The thing that consumes me these days is the brutal fact that my mother is dying.

Back in the 1970s a book was written entitled “First, You Cry.” It was the memoir of a TV news journalist who had breast cancer, and I always thought the title was one of the best I’ve ever come across because it is so accurate and succinct. A diagnosis of cancer pretty much engenders the same response, whether it is your own life or that of a loved one: first, you cry.

When my mother told me last spring that the cancer had returned and was terminal, I cried. Since then, her spirits have been good for the most part, and she has, unknowingly, often carried me with her own good spirits.

Lately, though, I am finding myself tearing up at odd times.

Like the other day. While driving my car down the Interstate, I was mentally walking through my mother’s house, viewing once again the things quietly arranged (and meticulously dusted) on shelves, bureaus, dressers, etc. I saw again in my mind’s eye the grouping of mementos that has been on the bureau in her bedroom for years and years. Among that group is a small ceramic model of an open Bible, and I fell to pieces thinking about it.

I made that piece for her when I was in the 6th or 7th grade in Sunday School. The ceramic model was already cast when we started the project; we got to paint it and then put a decal on the front – the 23rd Psalm, as I recall. Being 1969 or so, we dutifully painted the outside “cover” black and the edges of the “pages” red, just as our own Bibles looked.

It’s not done very well – I had lousy eye-hand coordination and didn’t paint it very neatly, although I tried my hardest at the time. But my mother has always kept that piece on display. For some 40 years, it has been somewhere where she could see it. I never have asked her why. Perhaps I should.

The latest with my mother’s health is that she is retaining a lot of fluid in her abdomen, legs and feet. Still not much in the way of pain – just occasionally. The anemia and the fluid retention are pretty bad, though, and she sounds tired and a little depressed when I talk to her on the phone. Hospice is coming twice a week.

- Catherine

Random Dozen -- the Wednesday meme

I'm a lame blogger -- not one entry since last Friday's Fave Five. Have to do better. In the meantime, it's Wednesday already -- time for the Random Dozen!! If you want to play along, too, copy the questions to your blog and insert your answers. Then go to Lid's 2nd Cup of Coffee blog and link up with Mr. Linky (at the end of her blog entry).

1. I've always wondered why we were taught both printing and cursive. Do you prefer to print or write cursive? (Keyboard is not a choice.)

Cursive, if you can call it that. Really, it’s scribbling, no matter how you slice it. My fine motor control is long gone and I’m always in too much of a hurry to make it neat.

2 Are you a dreamer or a realist?

Realist with a capital “R.” My hubby is the dreamer of the family and I’m the one who keeps everyone’s feet on the ground. I hate investing my emotions in a dream and then coming up disappointed when the dream can’t be realized.

3. Billy Joel or Elton John?

Elton John is more talented than Billy Joel. Give me “Crocodile Rock” over “She’s Always a Woman to Me” anyday. (First time we heard that, my friend turned to me and said, well, what else WOULD she be?)

4. What is the scariest movie you've ever seen? Not limited to horror flicks but also includes ones where the tension or suspense is killer, for example, Flightplan (2005): A bereaved woman and her daughter are flying home from Berlin to America. At 30,000 feet the child vanishes and nobody admits she was ever on that plan.

The Wizard of Oz. Lame, I know. As a kid, I would hide my head when the witch appeared, when the lion tried to get Toto, when the monkeys took Dorothy, etc., etc., etc. I don’t watch any scary movies and I rarely watch anything that is suspenseful, either. I watched “The Hunt for Red October” because it had Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin AND Scott Glenn in it. End of story.

5. Now what is the scariest real-life moment you've had?

I can’t think of anything involving a kid at the moment, so I guess the scariest incident that I can recall right now is the moment that my horse reared up unexpectedly.

6. What word do you misspell without fail?

I’m one of those natural born spellers, so I don’t consistently misspell words. Now that I’m getting older, I do find spelling to require a bit more thought than it used to, however it’s still not a consistent problem.

7. Name something you like to do but are not really talented or good at.

Horse back riding. See #5. I’ve never recovered, as much as I love my current horse, Rainy (and she’s not the one who reared).

8. Do you get your emotional/mental batteries recharged by being around people or by having alone time?

Alone time is the only way to recharge my batteries.

9. Have you ever been on TV?

Yes, I was interviewed last year by a local news station on the day that we were cleaning up the booth after the State Fair – and the interview made it into the newscast that night. I sounded like an idiot. But I had my 15 seconds of fame, people! I also was visible in the TV audience of a “town hall meeting” on a local PBS station once – but I didn’t say anything in that one (smart, huh?).

10. Apple or pumpkin pie? (Don't be greedy.)

Apple, apple, apple. I make a good one, although my hubby can no longer eat it due to his Celiac problem.

11. How many magazine subscriptions do you have?

Just one: Cook’s Illustrated. I like other magazines and I read them pretty regularly, but I don’t have subscriptions. I like to read magazines on the plane when I travel (which I do pretty frequently), and I found that, far too often, the timing of the subscription delivery was just all wrong for my travel schedule. So, for maximum flexibility, I purchase copy by copy most the magazines that I read. Except Cook’s – it’s published only six times a year, so the timing isn’t a factor.

12. What lesson do you have to keep re-learning?

To let go of frustrating situations and remember that my purpose on earth isn’t to be right (or proved right) in every case. I’m here to glorify God – and let Him be right.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Friday's Fave Five

With a nod to Susanne, who hosts this particular meme....

Time to reflect on the good things.... (in no particular order)...

1. My dog, who makes me laugh at least once every day because he is so very, very comical. Yesterday's blog post was about yet another Hank Happening, and while I wasn't laughing at the time, I did laugh later. And my husband practically doubled over when I told him about the incident.

2. Button, button, who’s got the button…. Specifically, the magic “Skip” button on my satellite TV remote control that allows me to skip instantly through each commercial while I’m watching a program recorded on the DVR. I missed that button TERRIBLY during the year that we had cable instead of satellite. With cable I could fast forward through the commercials, but I couldn’t simply skip through them 1-2-3 and, in a couple of seconds, end up at the next part of the TV program.

3. A good massage therapist who finally located the area in my back that is causing a pinched nerve in my hand.

4. My husband, Tim, who loves me even when my middle-aged hormones are having a Really. Bad. Day.

5. A song entitled “Stubborn (Psalm 151).” I discovered this song (which is a few years old) only this past week and I LOVE it. When I first heard it, I thought, “Wow, this is a great illustration of the experience of coming to Christ.” But then the more I listened to it, the more I realized that it is also a perfect illustration of how we have to surrender our self will and find our faith in God anytime that we are in the midst of a difficult challenge. (I wanted to include a link to the song, but I don't seem to be able to. Bummer!)

Have a great weekend!

- Catherine

Hank, the Wonder Pup

Our dog, Hank Williams Jr. (no comma in the name) is a very comical fellow and also a very tender fellow. And also a very timid fellow. Today the timidity nearly did me in.

In our neighborhood there is an Ace Hardware, a store I'm very partial to for its eclectic mix of merchandise (like, they sell wine AND really cool leather bags AND nice down vests AND wood chips for barbecuing AND a whole bunch of other neat stuff). Anyway, I digress.

Ace Hardware welcomes well-behaved dogs to come into the store with their owners, so I take Hank with me and we make a nice walk out of it. Today I needed flood light bulbs for the recessed lighting in the kitchen. And I needed chocolate -- did I mention that our Ace also sells candy?

So, off we went to the Ace Hardware store, two blocks over and three blocks down.

Hank, as I mentioned, is very timid. He is nervous around a lot of people he doesn't know and in new situations. And he gets a little nervous when I take him into Ace, even though he's been there before. The staff love him, though, because he's very sweet and he is very gentle when he takes the proffered dog treats from their hands.

I purchased my box of six light bulbs and my candy bar (a Mounds bar today). We left the store and immediately a sharp sound rang through the air. It was just a workman filling in a nearby pothole but you might have thought we were being shot at, given Hank's reaction. He set off at a dead run, tail tucked under, with me being dragged along behind him. Thankfully I was able to keep my feet under me and my merchandise intact, but it involved a good city block of running before I was able to get him to stop.

The rest of the way home, he trotted at a very good clip -- under control, but still moving pretty fast. When we got in the house, he drank every drop in his water bowl and then, with a huge sigh, plunked down on the carpet in my office. And that's where he's been the whole time I've been writing this blog post.

Note to self: check for road repair work before taking Hank back to Ace. Unless I actually WANT another sprint behind a crazed dog, that is.

- Catherine

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Random Dozen -- the Wednesday meme

1. On an average, how often do you splurge and buy something for yourself?

Hmmm…. define “splurge.” Does that indicate a certain level of spending? Or just finally buying something that I want only for myself?
Most of my splurges are either for supplies for scrapbooking and cardmaking, or for clothing. The last time I really splurged for scrapbooking was last winter when I purchased a Cricut Expression. The last time I splurged for the house was just last week when my husband and I purchased two chairs and an ottoman. In between those two splurges? One shopping “spree” for some much-needed summer clothing, but that’s about it, I think.

2 What is the last creative project you began/finished? Feel free to post a pic of it.

The last major, completed project was the reupholstering of our dining room chairs. But that wasn’t as creative as the Scripture project I made for our grown kids last year, so I think I’ll mention that one instead. Using decorative chipboard books, I “scrapbooked” each page with either a Scripture verse or an inspirational saying – things that my husband and I think are important for the kids to ponder as they go through their lives. For our one son, who still moves around a lot, I substituted a one-page 12x12 shadow box he could hang on the wall.

Here are two photographs that show parts of the 12x12 page I made for Darren:

3. OK, Goldie Locks, do you consider your house too big, too little or juuuust right?

Too small. It’s very charming, since it is a “storybook cottage” style house from the 1930s, but it is just too small for two adults, a teenage boy and a large dog. And it doesn’t have a back yard because it’s in a city neighborhood of small lots. Tim bought this house in 1999, before we were courting, so I had nothing to do with the purchase. As soon as we’re done fixing up this place (and the real estate market recovers), we’re selling and looking for something a wee bit larger, both in square footage and lot size.

4. What is your favorite outdoor chore?

Planting the summer flowers in the deck planters. I love our old, shabby deck and love to see it dressed up with color and greenery.

5. If you knew that cigarette smoking was not bad for your health but would be a weight loss tool, would you use it? Why or why not?

No, because it’s still gross. Have you ever kissed someone who smokes? It’s like kissing an ash tray. Yuk. And the smell that lingers on your clothing and in your hair is just as bad.

6. On a road trip, would you rather drive or ride?

Drive. I spend a lot of time gasping and hitting my imaginary brake when my husband is driving.

7. What do you consider a trivial pursuit?

Trivial as in: “I’m the only one who enjoys this stuff?” That would probably be family history research. I love doing it – it’s fascinating to me to see the patterns in our ancestors’ lives and to see how those patterns repeat down the generations.

8. This weekend, we downloaded the movie "Duplicity" with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. Within 5 minutes, I was bored and annoyed, but I kept watching 5-10 minutes at a time hoping it would get better between small chores. I finally gave up and Jorge watched it alone, and then regretted wasting that time because he disliked it intensely, too. So ... how long do you watch a movie or read a book before giving up on it?

Watching a movie: I’ll give it about 3 minutes and then I’m either in or out for good. Reading a book: I give it at least 20 pages or as many as 50 pages to see if I can get into it.

9. Is there a song that you really love but are embarrassed to admit because it's not cool or it's racy or because it's by Hall and Oates?

“Gunpowder and Lead” by Miranda Lambert. (“I’m goin’ home, gonna load my shotgun, wait by the door, light a cigarette. He wants a fight? Well, now he’s got one, and he ain’t seen me crazy yet…”) Not exactly a Christian perspective toward resolving differences in a relationship….. but I understand the anger and sense of desperation expressed in the song.

10. On a scale of 1-10 (10 = extremely) how spontaneous are you?

I guess about a 6 or 7. My husband is definitely a 10, and I’m not nearly as spontaneous as he. In the end, it depends on how much work has yet to be done.

11. Are you a food and/or beverage snob?

Well, I suppose I am, now that I think about it. I’m very fussy about my morning tea – have to use filtered water and PG Tips tea imported from England. I like Starbucks coffee a lot better than, say, Folgers brand. When it comes to a glass of wine, I can’t drink the really cheap stuff or I’ll be sick to my stomach. We don’t eat processed foods – no frozen dinners, no meals out of boxes, no powdered drink mixes, etc. I prepare and cook from scratch as much as possible -- and that’s as much for health reasons as for taste, really. Yep, I guess I qualify as a “foodie” snob.

12. Who/What are you trying to control in your life?

I’m regularly trying to control my reaction to someone who seriously irritates the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of both my husband and me (that's whole 'nother blog post). Tim is very good at letting it all go. I certainly should let it go, too, and God knows I am trying to do just that.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I am continually appalled by our society’s general incivility.

And I’ve absolutely had it with the huge numbers of Christians who participate in that incivility on a daily basis. Please, people, while Jesus spoke forcibly and bluntly to the Pharisees, He had every right to do that – being that they were perverting His teachings and also because, well, He IS God after all.

Note that he didn’t run down anyone else. He spoke truthfully -- but without arrogance -- to even the lowest of the low, such as the tax collectors (who were master extortionists routinely preying on their fellow citizens).

As Christians, we have no business making other people – believers or non believers – feel small by our words or our attitude or our actions. And I’m not talking just about spiritual things. This would include that current hotbed of American emotion: politics. No matter which side you fall on, you give the lie to Christian humility if you are making fun or heaping scorn on people of the opposing viewpoint. Beware that arrogance because it is nothing but pride.

It is possible to make your point without being uncivil and demeaning another person (who is someone Christ died for, just as He died for you).

Okay, rant over. I ranted on incivility some months ago. It is still a very sore topic with me as I witness our culture – the Christian culture – going downhill at warp speed because of spiritual pride and arrogance.

- Catherine

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Blog from the Campsite

I wrote this one yesterday, sitting in our camper near the river:

It’s Sunday of our weekend away and we’ve had some wild weather today. Yesterday ended up warmer than expected, and the promised storm had not come by the time we went to bed. This morning I woke around 7:30 and took the dog out for a brief walk – still rather warm-ish, but now overcast. About an hour later, the wind suddenly roared down with gale-force strength, bending the trees and nearly blowing over another camper’s tent. Following hard on the heels of the wind was a violent rainstorm, after which came the dramatic drop in temperature. The rest of the day has proved to be windy, mostly – with times of rain and times of sun, but always the wind. And it has stayed cold.

I grew up near the Jersey Shore, land of hurricanes and nor’easters; I LOVE weather drama. Snug in the camper, I enjoyed it all.

Tim went off to the hot pools for one last soak today. I begged off so that I could indulge my desire to sit and read for a while. I finished one book and then started thinking about the program I need to put together for our upcoming women’s retreat. Pulled out my Bible in order to copy down some verses, plus spent some time searching for specific references with the help of e-Sword (love that software!). The hardest part of this is formulating good discussion questions, but I know God will bring some good ones to mind before the retreat actually takes place.

It’s been great to be away and not have to think about things to do around the house. Even when I take a Sabbath Sunday at home, I end up thinking about the endless to-do list. Here in the campsite by the river, I can just ignore all that until we get home later this afternoon. I needed the break, believe me.

Update on Mom: I talked to my mother this afternoon, and she is not in pain but is still, nevertheless, “feeling crappy.” There just isn’t any other word for it: “crappy” is really it. She’s tired, and tired of being tired. She is very grateful for the absence of pain, but she seems to be growing mentally and emotionally weary of being physically exhausted so easily and so much of the time. Can’t say I blame her. My mother was always a busy bee, even after she retired from working full time. The weakness she has now is depressing.

- Catherine

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday Fave Five

I have tried to resist trends in my blog -- simply for the sake of resisting trends and not for any other good reason (although refraining from mindless copycat work IS a good reason). But last week I took part for the first time in the Random Dozen meme that is put together over at 2nd Cup of Coffee, and in so doing, I discovered a community of nice people with interesting and intelligent things to say. I discovered, also, people who will hold you up in prayer if you need it.

And THAT, my friends, is golden.

I also discovered the reason for another trend known as "Friday Fave Five" -- wherein you publish a list of five good things from the week just past. In this day and age of being bombarded by the negative most of the time, it is a Very Good Thing -- for your own emotional health -- to regularly pause and compile a list of the positives.

So, here's mine:

1. The aforementioned discovery of a new (to me) community of people in the blog-o-sphere.

2. After a year of searching, we found the perfect chairs/bar stools for the “breakfast bar” section of our kitchen. The biggest problem to surmount was the price – I simply couldn’t bring myself to pay $200+ per chair, and all the styles that I liked were at least that much. Last night we found two that were deeply discounted on clearance and were just exactly what I’d been looking for. They swivel just a little, have nicely padded seats in a quality, neutral fabric, and the chair backs are wrought iron-style with an oval tile inlay. They were worth the wait. I’m so glad we happened upon the last that the furniture store had in stock and really, really wanted to move out of their inventory.

3. The Fall weather has arrived – I LOVE this time of year! The foliage color in the West isn’t as vibrant as it is in the East, but this is still a very beautiful time in the mountains.

4. We are going camping, just the three of us and the dog, one last weekend (leaving today). We won’t stray too far from home, heading for Lava Hot Springs about 30 minutes away. Cool weather, Fall foliage, and warm springs – can’t wait!

5. Found some creative inspiration within myself this week and am actually working up a few Christmas projects.

And... because there's always room to recount one more blessing:

6. Tim is finally recovering from his bout with the flu. We didn’t have an official diagnosis, but the symptoms and timing were completely typical for H1N1. Happily, he is making good progress now.

Have a great weekend!

- Catherine

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Results of the CT scan and tests.

My mother heard from her doctor today -- the results of a CT scan and the monthly blood testing.

The cancer count climbed by another 5,000 points in the last month. The tumor on the liver is starting to impinge on what is left of the bile duct (most of her bile duct was removed surgically in 2007, when the first tumor was discovered).

There is nothing more they can do for her medically except manage the pain when it finally becomes debilitating; for that, she will rely on Hospice anyway.

In the meantime, she's on her feet, doing what housework she can get through before her strength gives out each day (the anemia is pretty serious now). Hospice is still coming only once a week.

I still don't know when I should be going.

And I truly wish there could be some way for her to skip the coming pain and just go straight home to her Father.

- Catherine