June 6, 2021

One of the writers I admire, in all her formats (books, blog, newsletters, and podcast), writes a quarterly post about the things she has learned in that season of life. It is supposed to be that literal season of the year; but it always seems to me that life’s seasons are often as easy to pinpoint as weather-related seasons. For that matter, the two are linked: I have noticed that my moods, feelings, and decisions, can very easily coincide with shifts in weather patterns.

But that’s a bit tangential to the point. The point being that this writer/podcaster shares her learnings, and invites others to join her in the reflective exercise.

I always find it interesting to think about this topic; yet I also struggle, when life feels full/overwhelming/stressful/complicated (hmmm—am I simply defining the word “life,” here?), to put words to the passing of the days. I hate this. I hate it when I think back to moments of my own life and realize that I had nearly forgotten those parts altogether, due to the rapid transition on to the next thing. It prompts a fear of “wasting” my own life—an angsty feeling I get if I have too many impactful experiences without making them “real” by documenting them. I envy those who can live fully present in the moments of life, rather than obsessively writing them down. 

That said, I hereby commence said obsessive writing-down of a season in which life has whirled and swirled so much that I don’t know where to begin in a list of things learned. Rather than follow Julie Andrew’s lead in this case (though I am shamelessly unabashed when it comes to random belting out of her songs—combined with dance, of course), I will start at the end, as it were . . . start with my most recent “learning.”

  1. I can handle wound care, even in its most gruesome forms. This week I washed a leg that was so far gone it had maggots crawling in the open sores. Yes, I know—too much information. But it was real life. We would like to imagine that such gruesome cases are a thing of the past—or at least not to be found here in the modernized and “progressive” world we are in. So I am here to bear witness to the fact that people all around are warring against physical and emotional horrors. May we remember to watch out for each other, to check in with those close to us and with those who come to mind, for you never know when you might happen upon someone who needs you, no matter how unprepared, ill-equipped, or inadequate you may feel. 
  2. I seem to be better suited to working with people not in my own age bracket. Every once in a while we have a young (i.e. my age) patient in the clinic. More often than not, I find I’m thrown off kilter when this happens. I’m generally a bit uncomfortable around people my age—insecure? self-conscious? But somehow, put me with people a fair bit younger or older than I am, and I end up feeling more comfortable in my own skin, and more confident in whatever it is I’m doing. 
  3. I love Aldi. Today’s triumph was discovering that Aldi has yet another item that we purchase regularly, and that is gradually eliminating our need to shop at any other grocery or large-and-unnamed-chain-store. It is a beautifully streamlined and fluff-free (I don’t know, either—but that’s the term my strange brain came up with) shopping experience. Chit-chatting with the cashier as I checked out, I was thrilled to learn what distinguishes Southern Germany from Northern Germany Aldis. I am Jeopardy-ready at the moment, thanks to my new knowledge. If any reader out there would like to be in on my little learning secret, feel free to ask ;-)
  4. As age creeps in, I have an increasingly narrow window of temperature tolerance. This past Memorial Day, I had a holiday from work. My intent was to enjoy an outdoor swim, with many pools opening on that day. I have historically loved the simultaneous joy of Vitamin D plus lap swimming. I also know I am a cold water wimp. I do not even swim in indoor “lap pools,” opting instead for pools intended for swim lessons or water aerobics classes . . . (hmmm. Is there a parallel here with learning #2?). All that to say, with the extra cold weekend we had, I knew better than to look for anything other than a heated outdoor pool. The heater was broken. I jumped in. I started to swim. And I gave up, waving my white flag of surrender and rushing for a warm shower instead. Later that day, I watched my nieces gleefully splashing around during our family get together. Their lips were blue and their teeth chattering, but they were beyond oblivious to the cold. I sat with a drink in hand, chatting with family members, watching their gleeful faces and not, for one brief moment, being tempted to jump in. On the opposite end of the thermometer spectrum, me + commute + little Camry = match made in H-E-double-hockey-sticks  (see previous, two posts ago, blog post for an explanation of this statement).
  5. I am ridiculously predictable. Take any given Saturday night when hubby and I are home. Me: “Let’s watch a movie tonight!” Husband: “Sure” Me: *looks up all the recent new recommendations from blogs, podcasts, and news sources. Finds something that looks fun, and is available for free. “Ooh—here’s one. Let’s watch this one!” Husband: “Sure” *sets up his computer for us, asks me about volume level, and gets the show going. Me: *sitting with my laptop or book, 5 minutes into the show . . . “I don’t know. Maybe we should just watch another episode of [current favorite cheesy series on cheesy channel that we apparently have an unlimited free trial of] . . . what do you think?” Husband: “Sure”

a prayer

May 30, 2021

I’m afraid. Afraid to hope. Afraid to admit to anyone, beyond whispers to my own quivering heart, that I love my job. Having “loved and lost,” as it were, there is a very tangible fear that I’m kidding myself to think that I am doing something good here … that the amputees and aging patients I see may be helped by my work … that my coworkers may appreciate my presence … that I may have found the “right fit.” Lord, grant me the wisdom to know the next right step, and the serenity to accept each next injection-giving, wound-caring, and pain-level-documenting. Grant me patience for the patients. And please, dear Lord please, let my heart not be broken once again. Amen. #prayerofahealthcareworker

tortoise

May 24, 2021

Race day. The day on which the world’s most elite athletes gather in our humble town for one of the world’s most elite races: the Ironman (yes—THE Ironman!). The day on which said elite athletes wage war against both their own physical limits and our fine Southern weather, while the rest of us observe from the comfort of our cars, lamenting the difficulty in navigating roads that are now reserved for runners and bicyclists. Well, maybe some are in “comfort;” that is a decidedly relative word when summer hits, in my little non-AC’d, dark-interior’d, oven of a car. But that is another story, for another day. 

Today, like I said, is Race Day. So this morning we discovered that we had timed our drive to church perfectly, hitting one of the main roads precisely as the first wave of bikers shot past. At each intersection along the route, policeman are stationed, so we slowed to a halt at the sight of the officer’s ramrod-straight arm and stern face as he indicated we were to wait. We waited–a lone vehicle on a road now dedicated to cyclists. A long time. Eventually even my inordinately patient husband began to comment on several gaps in the stream during which he knew he could have made it. But we waited. Finally, once several cars were waiting on each side of the intersection, two vehicles were given the go-ahead. We made it in plenty of time, though, thanks to a church service known for it’s “relaxed” start time.

A few hours later I geared up for my own athletic endeavor: Project Survive-the-Drive-to-GramBea (her place being across town, and directly across the path of the race. Sure enough, I soon hit a similar barricade to the one Peter and I encountered this morning. Approaching the officer, I could not help but notice his referee-like stance, with knees bent, legs primed for motion, arms lifted, and head moving back and forth as he surveyed the scene. When I got close enough for him to see that my window was down (Yes, in 90-degree weather. See paragraph 1), he leapt over to the window. Rather startled, my eyes widened with the fear that I had goofed somehow. I’m not the greatest driver in the world and have been known to make dumb mistakes, forgetting proper driver protocol or etiquette . . . or driving too slowly and provoking road rage behind me. But that’s another another-story, for another day . . . 

Back to Race Day.

Leaning in towards me, the officer shouts, “Two seconds-then gun it!”

He dashes back to the road and I realize, with horror, that he intends for me to shoot across the road in the next way-too-small gap between cyclists. I begin to sweat (Oh wait—I was already sweating like a madwoman. See Paragraph 1). I realize that there is no way my 2001 4-cylinder straight shift is going to make it. Or at least, not with my level of driving skill. But what am I going to do? There’s no time to argue even if I were so inclined. I take a deep breath. I clutch the steering wheel (not hard to do with my oft made-fun-of, granny-style habit of scooting the seat as far forward as I can). 

I hear a shout. “GUN IT!!!”

I practically squeeze my eyes shut and hold my breath in order to do it. But I do. And somehow, miraculously, I manage some form of “gunning it.” And I don’t even mar an innocent cyclist in the process.

The rest of the day passes in a sort of smug certainty in my newly discovered prowess behind the wheel.  And a memory comes to mind from years ago, when I was living with my other grandma—Oma. She once admitted to me, slightly sheepish due to her staunch, law-abiding, good German Baptist status, that she occasionally had a bit of a “lead foot.” Her driving record bore witness to this, in fact, although she was quick to clarify that it was not intentional; an unfortunate tendency to lose track of . . . speed? So perhaps it is in my blood: destined to be lead-footed? 

Today, however, I choose to revel in my self-proclaimed prowess. Just call me Mario

And a time …

May 19, 2021


Against all odds (considering they were planted by the world’s blackest thumb), they are blooming. And even for one who prefers daisies to irises, I cannot help but smile at the hope these blossoms bring. Hope that something I have worked for can come to fruition. Hope that all is not lost in a world of cynicism and sarcasm. Hope that childlike delight can prevail—the kind of delight that comes without hesitation or self-conscious questioning. Delight in an extravagant display of absolutely, impractically useless, beauty.

fire

May 10, 2021

Last night we decided to test our fire alarm. Mind you, it actually goes off with some regularity thanks to my culinary adventures [you know how professional chefs experiment with innovative techniques? Others of us experiment with levels of tolerable “crispness” on the bottom of a pot of rice. Or the top of a shepherd’s pie ;-)]

But that’s beside the point. Point being, we conducted an official test:

Coming in from our Mother’s Day festivities, in the middle of a brooding thunderstorm, I set about cozying the house for the evening. When lighting the candle in the living room, I noticed the odd flame on the lighter, with a large, two-pronged flame. It still did the job, so I lit the candle, put the lighter back in the junk drawer, and continued with household routines.

Walking back into the kitchen a few minutes later, I saw an odd glow under the counter. At that point, while I opened the glowing drawer, our fire alarm when off. In an un-thinking, single-motion reaction, I leapt back, reached into the sink and tossed the dishpan filled with “suds” (soapy water left over from our last dish washing) onto the drawer.

Peter was walking in the door as I did this and he, responding to the scene in front of him, swept in behind me, pulled the drawer out from its hinges, and dashed back out the door with it. It didn’t take long for the fire to die, with the water filling the drawer and Peter batting down the flames.

“Guess we needed to clear out the junk drawer,” Peter quipped, as we recovered our normal breathing rate after the fact.

Nodding to the cup of chocolate I had mixed, directly above the drawer, I agreed, adding that I’d also decided to experiment with an innovative new chocolate crème brulée.

All things considered, it was a remarkably damage-free event (a solitary black spot left on the wooden bottom of the drawer, and most of the “junk” in the “junk drawer” relegated to the garbage. The longer-lasting effect on me has been that of gratitude—gratitude for the mystery of instant crisis responses (I know that mothers experience this all the time, reacting instantaneously and without thought to the myriad of potential threats daily life presents to the well-being of a child). In this instance, I was not consciously aware of that pan of water sitting there near the flame—but somehow my split-second survey made it the logical recourse for my problem solving brain. Likewise, Peter had no apparent preparation for the sight of me flinging soapy water across the kitchen; but he certainly didn’t hesitate to wrench that drawer out from the cabinet.

This has been a season of discomfort for me—as it has for many, if not most, of you as well. I often think of the word “angst” when trying to describe the state of insecurity and second-guessing that has been my inner reality more often than not. I tend to argue with myself over this state, feeling that surely I should be old enough to be beyond such feelings of inadequacy. Clearly that is not the realty of my experience as a human being. And because of this fact, I find it wonderfully comforting to discover that, regardless of what I may feel competent in, or confident about, when push comes to shove, we are, truly, fearfully and wonderfully made. We have no idea what we are actually capable of—and I, for one, find this realization to be helpful in the face of the fear that life can, and does, provoke.

A few days ago Peter and I were trying to work through some relational questions/conflicts. He called me out on my tendency to react in ways that suggest an underlying fear. Fear is something I would have likely not been aware of in my younger days of “adventure” and world travels. But I have known for quite some time now that my outwardly bold and adventurous younger days belied my true state of inner fear . . . and that in fact it was the fear itself that prompted many of my apparently bold actions and choices. This is a musing for another day, however :-)

For now, suffice it to say that this same fear is these days making itself manifest in my relationships. There is no room for love in a fear-filled and fearful heart. And what is a life worth if not for love? 

So, Lord help me, I choose to choose love, not fear. 

How did a post about a fire turn into a plea for a life of love? I am as clueless as you, reader, on this question. But, I suppose, in the same way that a body reacts in mysterious and wonderful ways when faced with a call to action, a heart can do the same. May this heart, then, faced with a fear-provoking future respond, instead, with swift action  . . . with bold love.

Two years ago …

April 23, 2021

Grief has no sense of decorum. So it did not occur to me to question my actions when I interrupted the chaplain, with his head bowed and hands folded, to place myself in front of my grandfather’s face. As he tugged on the tubes, wildly waving his hands, and craning his neck up while his head turned side to side, I planted my face in front of his. “Hi PaCharley,” I said. Over. And over. I saw his clear blue eyes. I saw him. He saw me.
After weeks of stoic, walls-up, business-mode, yesterday my dam broke. Intending to call my husband, and update him on the coming family meeting at the hospital, instead I lost it. “I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I’m so sorry . . .” It was an involuntary, illogical (so I thought) reaction, but I lost all control. 

Had our year gone as planned, we would not be here now. We would be in the flurries of school life, finishing out the year in Ghana. Only after arriving would we find out the family business that would occupy us so completely, for so many weeks, that would pass in a rapid blur.

Truthfully, over the past couple of months, I have questioned what I’m doing here at all. With nothing tangible to account for our days, they have, at times, felt wasted. And the “work” we’ve been doing has left me painfully aware of my shortcomings. I have been impatient with errand-running and hospital visits, and bad-attitudey about the changed grandfather he seemed to be. The man who never met a soul he didn’t like would now complain about doctors and nurses. The man who was always in a good mood spoke constantly of how bad he felt, and how much the tubes, the pricks, and the medicines were bugging him. He fought back, trying to coax forbidden foods and drinks from unsuspecting visitors. And I watched, stunned at the changes in this man I’d loved all my life. Mind you, he still had good moments and “normal” days as well, but the negative moments were so shocking to my perfect image of him that they overshadowed the good. I wondered why he couldn’t let people do what they needed to do to care for him, and I even resented the trouble caused for those closest to him.
But yesterday I realized how wrong my perception had been. When I saw him—and when he saw me—all I could think was I get it. I see. I see.
I see a man who has lived 92 beautiful and full years. A man who has given himself, without reservation, to his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. A man who has worked hard, running his own business and rising up from the depression era. A man who fought well, who “won,” as his great grandson aptly noted, as a good, good soldier. A man who “fought the good fight, [who] finished the race . . .” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8, NIV)
And now, for the past few months, he has been unable to care for others, wholly dependent on the help of those of us who had always before come to him for that same help. He never wanted anyone to trouble themselves over him. He never wanted to be a burden, on anyone. And when the time came for his independence to be gone, he fought back.
One week ago, on his 70th anniversary, he told my grandmother that he intended to be home in a week. He told her this as if he was going to get back to independent living in the house he had loved for 50 years. But when my sister relayed this to me over the phone last night we knew what had happened. PaCharley was true to his word. PaCharley found his way home.

bloodlines

April 10, 2021

Three days. Somehow it felt like an eternity, those three days of missed phone conversations. I had begun to grow paranoid, imagining that she had decided she wasn’t going to take my calls. I wasn’t worth the trouble . . . a failure. This is where a mind can take one, if irrational emotion overtakes reason. Because what I know to be true is that my grandmother loves me. Unconditionally. And I also know that she takes as much comfort from our daily calls as I do. But still, when I heard the familiar, “Anna!” I could not help but choke back the little catch in my throat accompanied by a stinging in the eyes. “Yeah, GramBea,” I sputtered out with forced cheeriness. “I’ve missed you!” I almost blurted out, “Are you disappointed in me?” but managed to hold back. A bit into the conversation, it was quite clear that she was not. She was in a calm mood, showing grace and wisdom as she asked about my mother, job news, and Peter. 

“Oh,” she interrupted, when I started to talk about the latest homestead project, “I’ve been meaning to tell you how good Peter looks.” She must have noticed the haircut I’d given him right before our visit last weekend, I thought. I began to inwardly take credit for her compliment, until she added, “You can see that he doesn’t get anxious.” I frowned slightly, wondering where she was going with that. “He’s so good for those of us who worry, isn’t he?” Then I laughed, both at the surprise continuation of the thought as well as at the profound truth of her statement.

Yes, GramBea, you’re right. Thank you. Thank you for reminding me that my husband is so good for me. Thank you for lumping me with you, reminding me that we are two of a kind, linked by the bloodlines that carry with them all manner of issues and angstinesses—but also a bond of love that leaves us clinging to each other with all our angsty strength. Thank you for jolting me out of my self-centered paranoia . . . and thank you for being my grandma. My GramBea.

held

April 7, 2021


Now that’s a proper Easter bunny … never mind the fact that his name is “Stew” 😉 But for today, at least, he got to enjoy a velveteen-rabbit-style appreciation. And Peter and I got to enjoy the exquisite joy of good friends traveling to come visit us here on the farm 🥰

Incidentally, on the topic of farm life, I made a discovery today:

Thanks to some chick-sitter-needy critters, we are currently housing some eggs in an incubator. One hatched, ahead of the anticipated schedule. As a result, this chick has been a lonesome little soul for a few days now. 

When my husband left this evening, he realized that with the extra activity in the house, he had forgotten one of his new chores. So when we touched base via phone, he mentioned it to me in case I had a chance to fill in.

A bit later, while on the phone with my brother, I remembered this request. I asked my brother if he could hear the chirping, when I explained to him what I was doing. He did. For a moment. Then silence. My jaw dropped open and my heart quickened as I realized what was happening. You would think that an animal would be frightened by an unknown giant picking it up. But no-rather, this little creature immediately settled into my palm. It stopped cheeping altogether, and quietly nestled into my cupped hand. I could feel its heart rate slowing, and sensed that it knew, in a deeply physical manner, that it was not meant to be alone …

life. still

April 4, 2021

My tulips died. No match, it seems, for winter’s last hurrah; our 1st-of-April frost did a number on my husband’s garden as well but, with my gift for short-sighted reactions, I am more inclined to bemoaning the loss of my kitchen table blooms than to thinking ahead to the usual summer vegetable extravaganza that graces the same table. I’m not proud of this fact; I admire long-term thinkers like my husband and tend to be a bit ashamed of what feels like a sign of my self-centered nature (I’ve been known to curse gathering rain clouds because they interfere with my outdoor plans, even if I know that our parched farmland is in desperate need of nature’s watering can). But one good thing about being as old as I am (or at least middle-age-ish) is that I’m less inclined to spend the time apologizing for things like my own faults; time is becoming increasingly valuable, and precious moments lost lamenting things that aren’t likely to change are just not worth it. Lord grant me the serenity . . . to accept (for now) the things I (am unlikely to quickly be able to) change?

Back to tulips. Have you ever noticed that you run to your mother when you need something? And that moms have a way of taking care of what you need before you even ask? It seems that each time I start to think about a loss of some sort, mom just appears (or calls, texts, or emails) offering just what I was longing for, even if that something was as of yet unknown to me. So yesterday I went by my mom’s place on the way home, ostensibly to pick up a sampling of her latest culinary creation. Being in the midst of a season of melancholy, I’ve caught myself lingering awkwardly, hovering in a way that I know must be annoying to others, with a sort of waiting for something . . . wanting someone, somehow, to take me out of this state of hesitant uncertainty. I have learned the hard way that the “real world” has little grace for this state; it requires confident certainty and bold productivity. Not to mention speed. Yeah . . . right . . . says the turtle.

Back to the moment with mom. She acted as if it was the most normal thing in the world to have me hovering next to her in the kitchen. She pointed out to me the birds she’d noticed recently outside the window. She commented on the peaches she’d used for her latest breakfast bread. She chitchatted.

And you know, funniest thing—this was exactly what I needed at that moment. I am overly aware of my inadequacies, oddities and failures; it was a sweet relief to just be barely noticed, in one sense . . . but exquisitely seen in another. As she talked, i noticed a small bouquet of purple blossoms next to her. “What are those?” I asked. She told me that she thought they were grape hyacinths, and that Lou had picked them for her down the hill when she sent him down to look for asparagus. He didn’t find any asparagus. Spoiler alert—nor did I.

I did, however, find a few more of the purple hyacinths. I also found a few other wildflowers in bloom. Roaming her yard that afternoon, bundled up against the wind, I found myself soothed by the simplicity of the quiet, and warmed by the sun; it felt as if I was rediscovering a part of myself that had been forgotten in the season of striving that the past year and a half has been. Climbing back up the hill, I hugged mom goodbye and headed home. I put the wildflowers on the table and set about preparing a meal for Peter and I. That was it. That was the extent of it. Riveting? No. Real? Yes. Life? Yes.

here. now.

March 25, 2021

I was let go this week. “We want you to know that this has nothing to do with you as a person. You are such a kind person. But we just think that you are not the right fit for this busy practice. We need someone who is faster, who can keep up with the pace of all the doctors here, and who can multitask with the needs we have. Do you have any questions?”

I stammered through my tears. “Um. I guess I just . . . I don’t know. I, well, I wonder if I can say goodbye to Dr. M?”

I’d been called away from her, via text on the app we use for work communication, to go to the supervisor’s office. Everything was in-the-middle—my patient vitals, notes about what to follow-up on, paperwork to be scanned . . . a few minutes earlier I’d commented to the nurse whose station was next to mine, that I’d had a “first”—an insurance claim I’d submitted had been approved. I was able to call the patient and tell her that she had coverage for her medication. “I did something right,” I commented. She chuckled and said, “How long have you been her again? 3 weeks, right? Give yourself some grace!” I smile back at her, from underneath my mask. “Thank you,” I said. I realize later that in the flurry of this job time has passed way faster than I was aware of in any given moment -I’d actually already been there for over a month now!

Ironically, a few hours after that, I was to return to tell her, though tears, that I was leaving. Not fast enough . . . not good enough.

I saw the petite frame of Dr. M, as she dashed towards the next patient waiting in the room. Seeing me out of the corner of her eye, she stopped, veered towards me, reaching for the blue paper I still held in my hand, waiting to give it to her. “Oh yes,” she said, “I need this, don’t I?” she shook her head at her forgetfulness, and took the paper from me, turning towards the room again and waving her arm for me to follow.

“Wait, Dr. M. No-I’m not coming with you.” She turned. “I’m leaving now. They let me go. I’m too slow . . .” I started to cry again.

She came towards me. “Sweet Anna,” she said, hugging me. “You know I was let go from my other hospital, 4 months ago, for not being fast enough—for not doing enough surgeries.” With her blue eyes peering closely into mine, she hugged me again. “You’ll find the right place. I know you will.”

Then she was gone, rushing back to attend to the waiting patient.

I left in a daze, blinking at the light of day that I’d grown accustomed to missing. So this is it. 

That night I attended a book club that some friends invited me to. It was our first meeting, and we had read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. During the discussion, one friend mentioned the photos accompanying the book. I nearly interrupted her, excited to remember my own reaction to one of those photos. “She looks like me!” I thought, peering more closely at the black-and-white photo of a traveling librarian seated at the bedside of a hospital patient, book in hand. And she really did resemble me, as odd as it seems to say such a thing about oneself. With her expressive features and large nose, in profile, she looked like she could have been my great grandmother. Maybe she was, considering the unknown element of my family’s Appalachian roots . . .

In the days since then, still raw in the newness, I’ve tried to keep to routines to stay functional. I wonder if I should pause and reflect for a while … but am more inclined to try to get back on the horse and try to find another – better – fit. The fear, though (the inner voice that whispers “failure”) is that I’m just not good enough for anything; a temptation to wonder if I just faked it through the “real world” till now, and am old enough now that I just can’t cut it.

Clearly, this post is not a happy one. My perspective will no doubt change as time passes. And knowing that, I questioned whether or not to share this at all. I will probably continue to question it after hitting “publish.” So be it.

My first tulip bloomed this week. Yesterday I snapped this photo while on the phone with my sister, bragging about how warm and sunny it was (her weather at the time being significantly colder). At the time I was feeling relatively at peace. Today storms are raging and the sky is dark. My emotions are tempted to mirror that sky. I am tempted to brush it off, to argue it away, and to numb myself, in some form or fashion, from the pain. But instead, I choose to try to sit with that pain and ride it out.

So be it.