Fierce

LEOPARD

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For my birthday, my Washington sister-in-law gave me the book Writing Down the Bones. I suppose it sounds rather gruesome, but it isn’t. The idea is just to write. Sit down. put pen to paper, crayon to paper, hands to keyboard. Don’t worry about what it sounds like. I just read the chapter entitled “Writing is Not a McDonald’s Hamburger”. We writers want to shape it all, have it come out looking all recognizable and stuff. It simply isn’t like that. We can’t have it “made to order”. Sure, we can edit afterwards. But even then, our roles are limited. Let it come out, uncensored and wild.

This is where I have struggled in wring about Barb. I am having a tough time getting the words out in any coherent fashion. We were in Wisconsin for 3 services – a viewing, a funeral and the interment at a VA cemetery in Union Grove. One of the speakers at the funeral used the word “fierce” to describe her. I suppose it has negative connotations, but it fit her. She was fiercely loyal to her family. She stood up for her friends. She believed wholeheartedly in the power of the cross and in the United States itself; no half-measures for her. She was all in with every art project…though she did not finish them all, we discovered as we attempted to excavate her studio/craft room/lair.

I did okay at the viewing. Not a fan of them as a rule, but understand the necessity. All of my father-in-law’s siblings and spouses showed up, one from as far away as Florida. Some of the cousins came, too. That felt like a reunion. We caught up, laughing and talking and sharing stories. I suppose it was the Nazarene equivalent to a wake, minus the food and liquor.

The funeral was tougher. The songs reminded me of how Barb served the children in the church and community. She taught Sunday school, helped with VBS and supported missions. She and George were missionaries in Kenya for a year. Ruby and I cried together. Barb and Ruby had a special connection. Her creativity inspired Ruby. She encouraged Ruby to make things, draw and paint. She taught Ruby to use a sewing machine. The American Legion supplied a small cadre of soldiers, some old and young, one elderly gentleman bent almost double, another sporting a ponytail. They all proudly saluted the casket. We trooped outside for the 21-gun salute and “Taps”. I flashed back to my grandfather’s funeral, Col. Daniel Murray Cheston III. He was a West Point graduate who helped plan the amphibious invasion at Normandy. Back then,  we stood outside in the May air for the flag folding and everything. The officers folded the flag and presented it to my grandmother. “Your country thanks you for his service.” I also remembered Grandpa Giles’ Isham’s funeral, with similar honors.

The flag presentation for Barb happened at the VA cemetery. It rained that day, cooling things down slightly. The floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the chapel revealed a moody sky. The very brief service in the chapel contained scripture readings by one of the pastors of the Nazarene church and the flag folding by a white-gloved officer and enlisted man, all sharp synchronized movements. Another 21-gun salute went on outside during the flag folding. And “Taps”.

Life isn’t “made to order”, though we dearly wish it was. We don’t get to choose the things that happen to us, because wouldn’t we choose better?! Less pain and sorrow, please. Despite some rough experiences during Barb’s brief stint in the Navy, she never stopped believing in the mission of the armed forces. She was proud of Zac’s decision to enter the Air Force and looked forward to his bootcamp graduation. She never lost faith in America’s military or her God. As we drove to her final resting place at Q-24, I considered what it means to press on, even when circumstances turn against you. She was fierce, and she will be fiercely missed.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. – 2 Timothy 4:7

Unwelcome?

I’ve meant to write something every day we’ve been in Wisconsin. There simply hasn’t been a good time. Now, as we prepare to fly back to Washington, I have a little time. Everyone else is asleep.

Finding a place to stay in the Madison area proved challenging. Turns out the National Cross Fit Games are coming up in the beginning of August. Competitors have checked in early to get used to the humidity, aka swimming while walking on land. We found a place in McFarland. We arrived at midnight local time to a house located on a quiet, established street. We walked into a house that smelled sour. However, a few unique touches greeted us.

I love me some Betty Boop.

I mean, how often do you show up at an Air B&B place and find a piccolo in your room? This is a first for me. Memories flowed over me. Marching band. Stars & Stripes Forever. The ringing in my right ear. Anyway, I picked it up and squeaked out a few notes. Because, why not?

The décor was…eclectic.

I won’t even mention the collection of pig mugs.

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But these are the sum total of the good things. The carpet smells of paprika. We had doors made of paneling and 1970s mass production hollow core. Every time someone opened or closed a door, the hallway shook. Each bathroom had exactly only 2 sets of towels, one of them white. White! The A/C kicked up to 75 at midnight, leaving us drenched in sweat. Jonathon would stumble out to the hallway and push it back down to habitable levels.

But this, folks, was the capper for me.

Separate microwave for guests and family.

No use of the basement at all.

It felt like we weren’t welcome here, despite paying a hefty sum for the privilege. I am all for quirky and understand the nature of staying in someone’s home. We’re guests. We were blessed to find a place to stay at all. Yet this attitude of guilty until proven innocent grated on us. We asked the homeowner for the key to do laundry but she wasn’t available. Tra-la! Thanks a million. Probably better at this point if I *don’t* sign the guest book.

Just when I couldn’t handle another bratty detail from the homeowner, I remembered the backyard. Stepping out of the hermetically sealed house onto the back deck brought us into another world brimming with life. Hibiscus bushes hosted hummingbirds. Wild rabbits came and grazed any time of the day, seeking a quiet, shady spot. Cardinals called to each other from treetops. Masses of cicadas alternately roared and whispered. Ruby and I spotted orange and blue butterflies fluttering around. And yesterday, out of nowhere, a wild turkey wandered into the yard. The yard is only maybe 20 x 50′, hemmed in by woods and a broken-down fence. Nothing impeded the creatures from finding their way to us.

This 5-day trip has been busy and frustrating at times. Sometimes, in the moment, the minor irritations eclipse the greater blessings. I have searched for God’s peace as we move from one venue to another to honor Barb. This tiny yard offered a respite for us weary travelers, reminding me of who has it all under control. He welcomes us to come to him every moment of every day.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. – John 14:27

Starts and Ends

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Tis the season for changes.

On Thursday, Jonathon’s mother died. Just one year ago, we travelled out to Wisconsin to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. In August, a month later, they discovered her 2 inoperable brain tumors. All the pictures are now coming up in my Facebook feed. The picture just before we got on the plane. The mustard museum. And more. This week, Jonathon’s youngest brother kept in close contact via text. She was fading fast, marked unresponsive last Saturday. She was unable to swallow or speak, yet managed an “Love you” to her youngest son. She also said she  had no pain. They increased her morphine as her body shut down and she was able to let go in peace. Barb passed into glory on their 51st anniversary.

Two days day before that, Zac travelled up via shuttle to MEPS in Seattle. MEPS is Military Entrance Processing Station. You stay overnight, in Zac’s case in a hotel room with one other guy. Staff examine you physically, take blood and urine samples, and put you through bizarre fitness tests, like duck walking wearing only underwear. Zac took the ASVAB to enter the Air Force, scoring 97 out of 99. He was sworn in on Wednesday. On Thursday, after he returned home, he was offered a fusion analyst position. It’s a good gig, only open to the top scorers. Zac turned it down. He wants to return to MEPS in order increase his overhead lift from 80 to 100 lbs. and take another technical test to earn his first-choice position. He is psyched and encouraged and ready, practically jumping out of his skin.

It’s been a bittersweet week.

As I put Dakota through her paces this morning, the blush sunrise and setting gibbous moon greeted me. My head swirled with logistics for the trip back to Wisconsin for the funeral, the 3rd in a year. Need to get dress clothes for the kids, as Shelton’s uber casual style won’t cut it. Zac desperately needs a haircut. How will I keep up with classes?

Barb was someone who challenged the word impossible. She took on daunting tasks, creatively solving problems and making the best of the worst. We ate Isham pizza in her honor last night, a recipe she created while living in New York City as George completed graduate school and the two oldest Isham boys were toddlers. She got her B.A. in Fine Arts in her 60s. She pretty much planned our wedding back in 1992. She held out hope for hopeless situations long after many of us. She bought my wedding dress, on sale for a (then) astronomical $200. One of Barb’s fondest wishes was to see Zac graduate from boot camp. Zac’s endless term with braces precluded his entering any military group until very recently. I like to think Jesus whispered of Zac’s acceptance to her before she left us. Somehow, she knew.

I looked up at the towering trees. The air smelled piney fresh. We’ve had days and days of tropical, humid weather. Rain, dark clouds and gloom lasted way into our usual summer. But now, sun.  I thought about road races. Often, the start and finish are at the same place. You make a great loop of sorts and end up right where you began, passing through hills and valleys and sometimes dodging traffic. Everyone runs their race and finishes the best they can. We all came from our Father who created us; to Him we return when our race is run.

See you on the other side, Barb. Enter into His rest. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

Wisconsin Winter

This is our third trip to Wisconsin. We first visited back in the summer of 2016 and stayed in Green Lake. Last summer was the second time, again for a family reunion. It’s not summer any longer.

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Wisconsin winter 2

The ground is frozen solid. Corn fields lie torn down, ravaged by the harvester. The wind whips over the prairie. I took a walk today in the 20-degree morning. A gibbous children’s moon hung in the pale sky. I didn’t bring the right stuff for running. Because I *thought* there’d be snow. There isn’t any. There wasn’t any in Chicago, either. Only cold, dry and barren.

We spied lakes, a skim of ice on top. Flocks of Canadian geese stopped to rest and refuel, fishing around the crusty top. Creeks flow slowly with their frozen tops. We have seen and heard crows and chickadees. Hawks spy from naked trees.

In short, it’s nothing like the lush green of summertime. Locals say this is the strangest winter they’ve seen in awhile. No snow. Very dry. I don’t mind. I am loving the sun.

We’re staying in a little 3-bedroom, 2-bath place in Beaver Dam. It’s about 20 minutes or so from my in-laws’ house. It’s very quiet here. Last night the wind lulled me to sleep. I awoke in the night with the moon shining in on me. I thought again of Laura Ingalls and her family. This region would have very few trees if people hadn’t planted them. They seem to be clustered around houses and water sources. Living out here seems rather, even now. Closest town is 15 minutes out.

There’s a quiet beauty to winter. It’s a rest period, like an inevitable sabbatical for the earth. Rains will fall to soften the ground. Spring will come again and flowers will shoot up. Corn will unfurl out of the prepared soil. Deer will come out of hiding and nibble the fresh green shoots. The cycle of life will continue as God intended. He’s truly got the whole world in His hands.

Meanwhile, the wind howls around the house. I sip coffee. The sun shines down. Christmas is coming. All is calm, all is bright.

As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night. – Genesis 8:22

Journey of 2,000 Miles

This morning, we fly to Wisconsin. We were just there back in July, visiting Jonathon’s folks. Today we make the trek again because his mom has brain cancer. I’ve hesitated to write this, because I want her to beat it. She’s an amazing woman, strong and unstoppable, able to do almost anything she sets her mind to. But the fact is the doctors have given  her less than a year to live.  Hence the trip.

I’m sitting here typing this in front of the fake fire. It’s raining outside. Zac is showering. Ruby is doing whatever takes teenage girls so long to do in the a.m. Jonathon is reading something on his phone. It’s quiet. Right now, I need the quiet. It’s been go-go-go for weeks now, with the church Christmas program last night plus ensuing rehearsals f work exploding and me trying to fix it, navigating power outages (at work), and on and on.

I am tired. Coffee has touched the exhaustion, but barely. I am tired down to my hair. Even my fingernails feel pooped. All I want to do is curl up in bed and sleep until next week.

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One can dream.

I’m looking forward to the time with my immediate family and the Isham clan. We’ve got a 2-hour drive to SEA-TAC, a four hour flight and then a 3-hour drive to our rental home. Wisconsin has snow. Tempts are slightly above freezing during the day and then slide down to the 20s at night, at least in Beaver Dam, which is where we’re staying. Christmas forecast shows a light dusting of snow is possible. The kids are stoked.

It’s going to be good. I will lean on the joy of the Lord and He will hold me up. He will hold all of us up.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.

They will soar high on wings like eagles.

They will run and not grow weary.

They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31

 

Wisconsin Surprises

This was my third time to Wisconsin. I have noticed some things this time that I didn’t before…
I hate to say this, it being the heartland and all, but…Wisconsin drivers are rude. Ever been tailgated in the slow lane? No? Guess what? You will in Wisconsin. Keep in mind I’ve lived in Oregon, Washington *and* California. I know what rude looks like.
And in what other state do drivers need to be REMINDED to stop at crosswalks with little signs in the middle?stop for peds sign
The small town we stayed in had a large Catholic presence – school, church and cemetery, all on the same street. Several crosswalks had these signed, permanently mounted to the ground. Perhaps drivers speed over to confession after they hit a pedestrian. “Well, did you clip him or run over him? It makes a different. If you ran over him, that’ll be 20 more Hail Mary’s and a dozen Our Father’s”.

Kidding.
The signage is puzzling, too. So. Many. Signs.

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Why?! Poor bossy GPS lady had a mouthful every time she directed us. “Take the next left onto County Highway N, Wisconsin 15 N, Palatine Road.” Whew! Is it just me, or has she gotten more insistent over the years? Oy.
While out walking, I met several dogs, including a greyhound, but never saw a single cat outdoors. Okay, it was above 70 most days with 90% + humidity. I did spot one ginger cat perched inside on a window sill on my last day. Guess they know when to hide out from the heat.
The billboards in Wisconsin are the best I’ve seen anywhere. And BIG.


The house we stayed in was big enough and serviceable, if quirky. For instance, the front door opens on into the living room. Around the corner lies the kitchen. Bedrooms are up 2 stairs, with a shared bath, or down 2 stairs to the basement, with another bath.
Does this look like a doggie shrine to you?

Also, what’s up with these switches in the bathroom? Yes, I could reach the upper one. Don’t laugh.

In Wisconsin’s defense, it also has marvelous cheese. And cool birds, like sandhill cranes. Ruby thought them to be ostriches as we sped past on the highway.

sandhill cranes

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Let’s not forget fireflies and mustard. My in-laws live in Wisconsin, as well as a brother-in-law and his family. That alone makes it a great place. The green rolling farmland, the scent of growing things and the big sky all combine for a lovely backdrop for great memories. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Lost in Wisconsin, Part 2

We’re visiting Wisconsin again to celebrate Jonathon’s parents’ 50th anniversary. Two days ago, we pulled up to our Air B&B house in Sun Prairie at dusk. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a spark. A bonfire next door?

“Fireflies!”

They winked on and off in the neighbors’ yard. Then we spotted some in our yard. They put out a tiny light in the darkening sky. After we moved all our gear inside, Ruby and I hung out in the yard. We tried to catch them, but they were too quick.

fireflies

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We didn’t see nearly this many, but we are in town. It felt magical. The last time we visited Wisconsin, I missed seeing fireflies. I sacked out when it got dark. Jonathon and Ruby saw them, swirling around our cabin in the woods. I couldn’t understand why the neighbors didn’t enjoy them outside with us. Then I got bitten by a mosquito, under my clothes. Never mind.

It’s humid and stormy here of late. It rained off and on most of the day yesterday. Did I mention I brought no long pants on this trip? Because, Wisconsin in July. And when I’m outside, I’m not cold. But wet clothes + frigid air conditioning = cold all the time. So. I learned something. It’s okay to overpack a little. Fleece can span the seasons.

Today, despite a bit of run-walking yesterday, I only had energy to walk. I got out and the air blew cool. Rabbits fled from my presence. I walked along, admiring blooming yards. I willed myself to wake up. I spied a cardinal on a high wire, greeting the morning. I walked all the way out of Sun Prairie, past the cemetery and the middle school. I turned around and walked back.

I figured I’d check into one of the small neighborhoods off the main street to add a little more time. I hooked a left and then went straight. I found a penny on the sidewalk. Ala the Non-Consumer Advocate, I picked up the scruffy cent. I felt the back of my pants to slide it into the pocket. Why was my pocket inside out? That can happen with workout pants. A little embarrassed, I reached back and tried to push it back in. Which is when I realized my pants were on inside out. Again. Really?! I could see the logo on my right thigh, the North Star that guided me in getting dressed this morning. Now I noticed it was the embroidered underside of the logo, not the top. Up to this point, I hadn’t seen a single person out this early on a Saturday morning. A piece of God’s mercy, that. I pulled my shirt down all the way and prayed my good fortune would continue. I went on and took another left to get back to the road. But the left took me to a T in the road. Left was Davenport Court and right was Elvin Street. Hmm. Now what? I should mention the street was torn up, a sandy gravel surface and fresh concrete pours all blocked off. I was lost. Also, again.

Sigh.

I backtracked the way I’d come. I saw the street I’d turned down, Kohler, and ambled back to the main street. Aha! Now, which way? I looked left. I looked right. I saw the dumpster I’d passed before. Was that before or after I’d gotten turned around? I decided to take a chance and step right. “You can’t steer a parked car”, as the old saying goes. Then I saw the sign for MARS (a remodeling business, not the planet), with its paint-chipped Buddha squatting underneath it. Almost home.

As I walked down the short street, I remembered how getting lost can help us appreciate home, no matter where we are. I thought of a combination of bumper stickers I saw on the way into work the other day: Wander Home. It’s okay to get lost, to find adventure, but eventually wander home and find safety. Love. Security. Peace. Family.

P.S. Also, sometimes it can pay to get lost. But it might be only a penny.