heard, still

September 22, 2022

On September 22, 2021, my GramBea had a joyous reunion with her sisters, PaCharley, and the multitude of hosts also there, waiting to welcome Busy Bea (or perhaps more likely attempt to keep up with her as she dashed about, on to the next, heavenly project).
I like to think she thinks of me each day, as I do of her. I like to think she’s proud of me . . . but, on second thought, I know she is. As much as this life often hurls messages of “not good enough,” I never had to question that with her. GramBea’s voice rang loud and clear:
“You can do anything! . . . “You’re so smart!” . . . “How in the world did you know how to do that!?!”
But, of course, if in fact I have ever been able to do, be, or learn, anything remotely noteworthy, chances are pretty stinkin’ high that she had something to do with it :-)

So today, in recognition of that day one year ago, I re-post what I wrote about her back in the early days of lockdown, when we were reeling from regulations that kept her isolated in the assisted living facility she had moved into just months before the pandemic began.

Recognizing her present reality makes my thoughts at that time seem fitting today:

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This morning my 93-year-old grandma got to sing happy birthday through her computer screen, to my 6-year-old nephews. They showed off their handsome faces, dressed to the nines in their button-down shirts and bowties. She smiled and waved and “wowed” their antics. From across the ocean, now face to face. Technology is amazing.
This afternoon my grandmother’s brother-in-law died. It was a peaceful passing, and I am grateful for the daughter who cared for him in the home for those final days.
I want to say that all is well. My husband and I have all we need in our home; and we have work and homestead routines to occupy us. There is much that is right.
And yet.
All is not right. I want my grandmother to be with her sister right now. When my grandfather died, I watched them comfort each other. At one point in the family funeral gatherings, I saw them together on the master bed, arms draped over each other, able to sleep peacefully in the quiet company unique to sisters. GramBea’s world had fallen apart but, for a little while at least, all was well . . .
I wish we could have spoken in person to relay the news of this passing. But we could not.
I want to be able to hold GramBea’s hand right now. But I cannot.
I can handle that.
At the moment, however, I am battling the frustration of knowing that the sisters cannot be together. I have no answers for this madness of a world we live in right now. I do the best I can to keep informed and up-to-date; yet at times it seems as if the more I learn the more ignorant I feel, overwhelmed by the rate at which things are changing and by the swirl of new, and often conflicting, information.
In my little sphere of life, though, I know one thing right here, right now: things are not as they should be.
Would that I could wave my magic wand, bringing the two sisters together for solace in the grief.
This afternoon I see a missed call when I come in from milking the goat. I call her back immediately, worrying . . .
She sounds ok. We talk about the birthday party this morning. She says she is ok. We chat a few moments longer and the conversation lulls. “I love you,” she says. “GramBea . . .” I pause. I don’t know what to say. I’ve never been good at verbalizing emotions regardless—especially not with family. What comes out of my mouth is cringe-worthy at best. Something along the lines of, “You’re in my heart.” I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, never mind why I say it.
But she hears me.

the goat who galloped

September 11, 2022

She was our initiation into the world of #crazygoatfolks , coming to us with one of the kids from her latest litter. A large Nubian mix, she captured our hearts from the get-go, slightly worse for the wear due to the wear and tear of mothering goat-kids (though never enough to keep her from getting wherever she wanted to get, whenever she wanted to get there).

In those days, as we learned what homesteading looked like for us, milking was a two-man job. Most of the time I would do the manual part of the milking while Peter held onto her back legs, holding the strong kicking at bay.

The first time I was on my own for the job, we both almost died. I’m not exaggerating. Well, maybe just a little bit; but it felt like it at the time.

She kicked, and somehow managed to do so with such force that the entire back end of her body careened up and over the brace of the milking stanchion. For an eternity-feeling several minutes, she was then caught, splayed over me while I frantically tried to free her neck from the stanchion.

Looking back at the event now, I’m actually not sure how I managed it, considering how large, and strong she is. As soon as I had, though, my adrenaline turned to tears and I crouched there on the floor of our shed with her, rubbing her sides and sniffling to her about how sorry I was.

I don’t remember many difficulties with the milking process after that day; maybe we both moved significantly forward from that point on in our respective skill/tolerance.

Lady was the inspiration for my foray into the world of fiction. I didn’t plan to write a middle grade story; the experience of falling in love with the quirks of this bizarre creature, however, made it feel impossible for me not to dream up a tale about a goat. A goat who longs to gallop like a horse. A goat who learns more than she expected from a horse named Harriet. A goat who galloped.

The process of writing this story, once I had begun, ended up being one of the most challenging writing projects I’ve ever undertaken…and probably consequently, also the most rewarding. The process also surprised me with its entertainment factor, as I found myself laughing out loud at some of the scenes I was writing.

That was a year and a half ago.

After quietly sitting with my completed manuscript for that time, I mentioned it, a couple of months ago, to a fellow writer friend. Thanks to her knowledge about, and help with, book formatting, and thanks to the talent of an artist friend, I am now putting the final touches on Glory’s story: The Goat who Galloped.

The final days of this birthing may, sadly, be the final days of Lady. Who knows for sure: we’ve had goats miraculously bounce back before. But we are preparing ourselves for the possibility of sending our Lady onward, with the deepest gratitude for the goodnesses that she has brought to our little farm. 

held

September 6, 2022

I’d scheduled a phone call this afternoon with a friend who moved away a year ago. Shortly before our call, she texted me to apologize in advance, as it looked like her daughter was not going to go down for her afternoon nap. I told my friend that I understood the woes of colicky little ones and said to please not worry about it: I’d be available if she ended up free, but would happily reschedule if not.

Later on she thanked me for understanding. She said that the day has been spent holding a little one who would have nothing other than being held all day.

My response was immediate; but as soon as I had written it I stared at the words and realized I had written them for myself: “…. We could all probably take a lesson from A, and be honest about those times when all we want to do is be held all day …”

This past week has thrown me for a loop. I’ve ended up having to admit, to those closest to me, that I’m not in a good place. My mind has been running a loop around a series of work events that left me questioning my place in this world.

If I were to admit the status of my heart, it would be very similar to that of a colicky infant.

On our evening dog walk, I told my husband that I felt guilty for not being able to rein in my thoughts enough to produce any solid creative content this weekend. I wanted to use the extra day off work to put something meaningful out into the world. But I have not had the words.

Last night my stepdad gave me a lesson in playing the harmonica. I sat on their porch after dinner, following his instructions and perfecting a few short tunes. While running errands today I pulled out the harmonica and gave myself a practice session as I waited for a deluge of rain to lighten. 

Tonight my husband and I watched another episode of All Creatures Great and Small. After discovering the new series on a Saturday visit with my great aunt, I obsessed about it so much that I signed up for a PBS free trial just to watch the show. It gave my mind a blessed rest from the loop. It brought laughter. It brought tears.

Another friend I spent time with today lit up at my mention of the show. She too has discovered, and loved, its simple beauty. I could not help but think of C.S. Lewis as we sat on her couch and sipped our drinks. 

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.

A harmonica.

Tales of farm animals and bucolic British life.

Friendship.

Held.

*another photo of our cat. For no reason. Except perhaps the fact that I am still without a functional keyboard, depending upon my phone … and I may or may not ever finish that previous post ;)

LET SLEEPING CATS LIE

August 28, 2022


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TAKES # 

The above was a frantic attempt to carry on with my job without a functioning keyboard. Ever wondered what it’s like to type with a stuck “shift” key? No, neither had I. Until about 9:30 on a Monday morning. And I can assure you, it is not enjoyable to try to troubleshoot this issue when in the middle of a patient visit, in mid sentence, when your job is to type as quickly and accurately as possible, while being as invisible, and professional, as you can be.

After a few minutes of a valiant effort at maintaining my cool, I shot my hand up in the air. The doctor turned and looked down at my schoolchild appearance, squatting on a little stool and peering up eagerly, waiting to be called on.

“Um, excuse me,” I said. “I have a problem.”

After running around the clinic for a few minutes, frantically asking if anyone had a computer they didn’t need, I re-emerged in the room and attempted to pick up where I had left off, while logging into someone else’s laptop, and putting pieces together as to the parts of the conversation I had missed.

I had a sneaking suspicion that the week was not going to be a smooth one.

I also wondered if I am death to keyboards, this being the new computer I had bought to replace the previous one that had also, oddly enough, gone kaput on me while I was in the middle of a patient visit while working as a scribe.

Is it Friday yet?

I tend to ask that question, as do many, I suppose. But my reason for asking it is not because Friday is the last day of the week; rather, it is because Friday is the day of the week when I get to do clinical work for the whole day. I do not hate scribing . . . but I do not exactly enjoy it, either.

But Friday—ahh, happy Friday, with all of its bodily fluids, and syringes, and stool samples, and . . . (what, you’re not convinced?) For whatever reason, at least in this season of the life I am living, I find clinical work insanely challenging . . . and utterly gratifying.

This week Friday was a doozy. We were pummeled on every angle, it seemed, by short-staffing issues, an apparently very ill city population of little ones, and unexpected emergencies. By 10:00, I realized I’d been working for over 2 hours already without having a chance to take a sip of my morning coffee. This, in my world, is not a minor detail. I also realized, however, that my working adrenaline had been so strong that I had felt caffeinated without a hint of >>>TO BE CONTINUED> MY SHIFT KEY JUST GOT STUCK AGAIN AFTER WE FIXED IT>
*PHOTO IS A SHOT OF OUR CAT PRETENDING SHE IS A PROPER FARM CAT AND NOT THE SPOILED PET WE KNOW HER TO ACTUALLY BE. PHOTO APPLIES TO THE CONTINUATION OF THIS BLOG POST >>>

lesa wa wa ma

August 18, 2022

The moment she began to speak, I knew her accent—felt it deep within, as one does with the sound-memories of a childhood home. 

It was with the rushed and harried aura of a mother in distress that she spilled out the words I quickly typed from the corner stool. In the background the infant wailed, unconsolable and in obvious pain. It didn’t take long for the Nurse Practitioner to realize that more needed to be done than we were equipped for, so after a brief 15-minute visit, she stepped out to consult the the doctor, and then returned to tell the mom that she needed to go, now, to the emergency room. She stared back, stunned—alarmed at the rapid turn of events. Coming in today had been, she thought, the solution; but things were worse, so much worse, than she had imagined. Starting to gather her things she stopped, “May I go to the bathroom before I leave?” 

“Of course,” the NP responded and then, when the mom hesitated, looking down at the child in her arms, I stood and asked, “May I?”

She handed the infant to me, then rushed down the hall.

The NP also left; before seeing our next patient, she wanted to call the ER so they could expedite the process while the mom and child were en route.

Alone then, with the child, I rocked him back and forth and then began to sing. Lesa wa wa ma, Lesa wa wa ma. Lesa wa wa ma, kinye wa wa ma. 

Over and over I sang the refrain and then, miraculously, he stopped crying. Closing his eyes, his breathing slowed and, when the mother returned to the room, I was still singing and he was sleeping, calm. 

“Thank you,” she managed. And again, “thank you.”

I nodded in response, then buckled him into his car seat, while she gathered her things. As she walked towards the exit, she stopped and turned back to me, “Please, remind me your name?”

I told her. She thanked me again, and then was gone.

I don’t know what the outcome was. The rest of the day was a flurry of other patient visits – of typing. Typing. Typing . . .

Praying.

God is so good. God is so good. God is so good. He’s so good to me.

*photo is simply a moment of softness from our weekend on the homestead…sharing the bunny love with a young friend

inheritance

August 6, 2022

Nursing is an art. I suppose one could say the same about a number of different careers. But the more I settle into this new one, the more awed I am at the level of precision, focus, and concentration involved in the work that so many spend all their daylight hours, long shifts, and body-wearying workdays doing, quietly investing in the health of the world. “Quietly” because, at the end of one of these days, there is little energy left to care for one’s own household and family, never mind to talk about what it’s like to do what one does. So as I observe the nurses I work with, it has not taken me long to develop a deep respect-awe, even-for them. I know that the perspective of age makes it difficult to accurately gauge how challenging one season of life has been compared to another; but it really feels as if, on the days when I get to work clinical, it is the hardest-and most rewarding-work I have ever done.

Today our clinic participated in a community health fair, with a booth offering vaccinations. I had no idea what to expect going into it, but even so was shocked by the large scale of it all. I’m a poor estimator of crowd numbers (perhaps due to the fact that anything larger than a group of 20 or so overwhelms my introverted-ness); that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if thousands were involved in the fair. It filled up a two-story university gym/student center, with people seeming to occupy every square foot of it. 

We were, as you might guess, kept occupied.

At one pause in the flow of patients (customers?), I lifted my mask off and commented to my coworkers that I wasn’t quite sure how to handle the lack of struggle involved in this day’s work. Giving injections to grown-ups is just unnaturally quiet and calm.

A few minutes later a woman probably a decade older than me sat in my chair. “Which arm would you prefer?,” I asked, after introducing myself to her. In response she pulled her left arm out of the sleeve. I turned to put my gloves on and pick up the syringe, and when I turned back toward her, I saw a scrunched up face and heard sniffles. Slightly alarmed, I paused and started to abort the procedure. Her sniffles then changed to chuckles and she smiled, “Oh don’t worry honey-I’m just teasing.” “Oh! Of course!,” I stammered, embarrassed at my immediate assumption. While fixing a Spider-Man bandaid on her, I heard what seemed to be the words “You’re good!” Not exactly accustomed to such feedback from my usual young clientele, I paused to look at her smiling face. Then, assured, I grinned like an insecure middle schooler in front of a demanding teacher. “Thanks!” I gushed.

On a scale of difficulty when it comes to a clinical day’s work, this particular vaccination did not rank very high up. In fact, I have yet to feel competent, never mind confident, in some of the blood work that we do. But I must admit, it felt good.

Recently a group from my church began another in a series of memorizations we’ve been doing. Usually, I gravitate towards using the 1984 NIV version for these, as this is what I read for most of my childhood. When I picked up one of my early Bibles (that I am thankful made the trek across the ocean decades ago), however, I realized that this one was NKJV. It didn’t take me long to decide that this was it, though, for this particular project. One line, in particular, grabbed my heart and has been rolling around in my wordy brain for the past few weeks. 

Yes, I have a good inheritance (Psalm 16:6).

Good.

Indeed. I am beginning to let settle, deep into my bones, the truth of this. In spite of it all-and in the midst of my oftentimes anxious and wavering emotions-the truest truth is that, yes, it will be good.

It is good.

When she arrived, knocking on the door, she saw me sitting on the kitchen floor, half-stripped down and battering my legs. Letting herself in, she looked at me inquisitively for a moment before I said the word that explained it all. “Fleas!” She jetted back out the door. Getting up myself, I ran out behind her and then sat on the lawn, picking and slapping. 

I’d walked in unsuspectingly, to pick up the mail and make sure the house was locked up. A few minutes later, tickling legs made me look down and then screech with horror. I have, to put it mildly, unpleasant past experiences with the tiny beasts. We quickly evacuated to a house that was clean and pleasant—a breath of fresh air for us both. Picking blackberries and heirloom tomatoes together, we talked of teenage drama and family angst. We compared similarly swollen left knees, lamenting the ways our mid-40’s bodies are beginning to tell on us. 

There is nothing I can do to solve the unsolvable dilemma she is facing in her home.

There is nothing she can do to solve the overwhelming needs in my clinic.

When we finished in the garden and were walking back, I turned around. “I’m experimenting,” I said, “to see if walking backwards helps my knee.”

She followed my lead, doing the same. Then she turned back around, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Walking backwards hurts my other knee!”

We laughed.

I wage war against flies on a daily basis. Thanks to our porch structure, farm life, and tendency to go light on air conditioning, we often have bothersome intruders. I keep a flyswatter handy and periodically go on murderous sprees. One evening last week I started counting out loud. Peter, attempting to get in his afternoon nap, was interrupted by my periodic, gleeful announcements. 16 . . . 19 . . . 21! I know how to woo a man.

There was an old lady . . .

For 4 weeks, the petite 6 year old had been feeling a discomfort in her ear. She no longer complained of pain—though I suspect it had been there initially, dulled by the passage of time. Thanks to her lack of a social security number, her parents were ineligible for health care for her, and so they had not been able to go to a regular hospital. When she first came to us, 2 weeks ago, we did not have the right equipment. We had attempted to clear out the blockage but the machine had failed so, 45 minutes later, the doctor seeing her that day had given up, asking them to make an appointment for later, and hoping, praying, that we would be able to get the equipment in time.

We did.

The beginning of the appointment this week went smoothly enough but, after the ordeal she had gone through before, when we held up the water pic to her ear, she panicked. For the first 10 minutes, 3 of us attempted to get to her ear, trying to assure her that it did not hurt, and that it was just water. The doctor paused at one point, stood back up, touched the girl lightly on the shoulder, and asked if she wanted a break. She nodded and, as I watched, a switch seemed to flip inside her. I wondered if she realized that she had the ability to do something, and that it was up to her to be strong. She told us that she would like to sit in the chair, rather than lie down on the exam table.

The doctor gently lifted her up, placed her in the chair, and then asked, “Lista?”

Almost imperceptibly, she lifted her chin up, and back down again, and braced herself.

The machine began its whirring, and the girl’s fists clenched. But she remained still. The water streamed into the cup I held under her ear for about 5 minutes, as it filled up. Running low on water, the doctor paused and stood up. As she did so, she stopped and peered more closely into the cup. “Ohhh-los pies!”

We all stared in and there, indeed, were a pair of unmistakeable insect feet.

She quickly got up, rushing out to get more water into the machine and then, back again, we started up with the whirring. A few minutes later she once again paused, looking into the cup, and then saying, “Oh, never mind. I thought I saw something . . .”

I looked in again, and then gasped. She followed my lead, looking more closely. And then we collectively cheered. So loudly that the entire clinic was watching when we later emerged from the exam room. For there, floating in all its water-logged glory, was the largest fly I have ever seen. 

We practically danced out of the room that day. The little girl beamed from ear to ear, her ponytail dripping as if she’d just gotten out of the swimming pool. 

She took home with her not one, but two of the Imagination Library books we keep as prizes, walking out that day holding up her board books as if they were banners waving triumphantly behind her. They might as well have been.

in a boat out at sea

June 20, 2022

It occurred to me this afternoon, while roaming the poolside with on of the newer nieces on my hip, that the pleasure of the moment was largely due to the fact that I had no agenda with her—no devious intent to measure her head circumference, count out her heartbeats with my stethoscope, or invade her privacy with a small thermometer . . . no agenda.

And in fact, this day has been a lesson in the same. I tend to expect some sort of pivotal lightbulb moments when there are annual gathering, and my level of inner anticipation this time around was extra amped up due to the new absence of my GramBea for this Father’s Day tradition. But somehow the afternoon passed in a state of calm un-noteworthiness that felt almost anticlimactic; except for the fact that it was, well, perfect.

At one point, I asked the hostess if I could help with anything else and she said that, no, she was done and we were expected to just enjoy each other’s company. So I stifled the urge for productivity and did just that.

I laid on a pool float and “splashed on” poor laughing nieces.

I lost a competition with my brother over conquering the challenge of standing on the bodyboard.

I chitchatted about nothing of consequence.

And then I hugged folks goodbye and we drove back home for the evening chores.

That was it.

Hugging one cousin, I asked him how he had been since this the last I’d seen him. “Better than I deserve,” he said, with a grin.

I grinned back, and wished more of the world operated with such a mentality.

Today I listened to a song that I love, but haven’t heard in a long time. 

You belong among the wildflowers

You belong in a boat out at sea

Sail away, kill off the hours

You belong somewhere you feel free

Our towering sunflowers came to mind. 

I brought a bouquet of them for the front of the sanctuary this morning and, during worship, noticed that one woman was pointing the the flowers, whispering to another as she did so.

After the service, I walked over to her with the jar of flowers and, rather abruptly, said, “Please, take these”

Her mouth dropped open a bit and she stammered, “You don’t know how much this means to me . . . you won’t believe this, but I was just telling Jane about how amazing sunflowers are. Did you know that they follow the sun?”

I smiled and told her that yes, I watch my sunflower heads gazing at the sun. Boldly claiming its glory.

It begs that ancient question: how smart are we, really, compared to those “lilies of the field”?

a ball gown

June 12, 2022

Alone in the kitchen tonight, I played Spotify as loud as my aging iPhone would allow. I imagined Lyle smiling as he heard my harmonizing across the air waves. 

If I needed you, would you come to me?

Would you come to me for to ease my pain?

If you needed me, I would come for you. 

I would swim the sea for to ease your pain . . .

It took about twice as long as necessary for me to slice the pumpkin and chop the kale, pausing in mid-slice to belt out a crescendo—but efficiency was thankfully far from my radar on this mood-lifted Saturday. It had been a good week, in many ways; but workdays get long, and needs overwhelming, even in the best case scenarios.

But as grateful as I was for a Saturday, the Joy I felt was a person: Aunt Joy. I had spent the afternoon listening to her stories about life here, in the same neighborhood in which she now lives, 80 years ago. I pictured the parts of town she described and I marveled at the experiences I was getting to relive through her. I also wondered how I spent 40 years in her company without asking the simple questions that today prompted such a wealth of narration.

But of course, that’s what it is to grow up in a family—you spend time around your great aunts and grandparents and great grandparents without thinking to ask any questions; they are “just” family, and don’t register to young lives as people who were once living young lives themselves.

Great-aunt Joy, a few days after my last visit with her, called my mother to tell her how beautiful the roses I had given her were, and to describe how each of the little buds had blossomed into full blooms. That was, of course, my hope when I had cut the blooms, and so I smiled heartily when mom relayed the message . . . joy.

“You know,” she said, “I need to shop for a something to be buried in—I used to have some nice dresses but then I got rid of them. I wish I’d thought about how those funeral home folks have fasteners they can use on the clothes, so no one notices they don’t fit anymore. I just don’t want to be in that casket wearing a dressing gown—a ball gown maybe.” She stopped, adding with a wink, “But then again, I’m only 88.”