Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve

I am sitting here thinking about the past year, wondering what to share.

I COULD tell you how in July I lost the the ability to put on my own shoes or walk 50 feet without needing to rest. I COULD tell you how over the past three months we learned that my husband has a hernia, and three of us have degenerative heart conditions. I COULD tell you about visiting 25-30 doctors each month and our enormous medical payment schedule, or how our car is trying to die for the 4th time this year. And if I were writing this just one month ago - that's what I would share.

This is not about the past few months. This post is about  where I am RIGHT NOW. Right now, before dinnertime today, I have walked 5769 steps. That's at LEAST 300% more than I could have managed a month ago. Right now, I am getting ready to battle my kids in a Just Dance competition until midnight... or until I collapse. A month ago I wouldn't have bothered trying. Right now, I have two kids who are determined to graduate together, this coming summer. My son has a plan for his future, and is working towards it. My daughter has a plan for her future, and is working towards it. I couldn't be more proud of them. Right now, my husband is at work for a company that he feels good working for - with BETTER health benefits than we had at his white collar job of 16 years. Words can't express how much happier he is, and I couldn't be happier for him.

This year, I have lost 40 pounds... meaning I am quite literally 80% of who I was a year ago. That makes me Wonder Woman. With the help of six daily supplements, four separate therapists, and bullheaded determination,  I have fought to be able to walk half of the local zoo without a cane. That makes me Wonder Woman. I have wrestled with the fear of next year's open heart surgery - and I am packing a Wonder Woman shirt because I WILL BE Wonder Woman.

I am not as strong as I was a year ago. I do not have the stamina I had a year ago. There are things I can no longer do, that I thought I was decades from losing. For every day that I am active, I spend the next day on the couch. My hair is thinner, but so is my waistline. My energy is sporadic, but my determination is resolved. I will never fully escape the wheelchair again, but I can be "hell on wheels" as I learn to wheelie in the all-terrain wheelchair I'm saving for, when I need it.

At the beginning of 2015, I chose a word of focus and intent. That word was "persevere". For 2016 my word is... MORE. For the coming year, my goal is to BE more, DO more, FIGHT more, and BELIEVE in myself more.

I just bought myself a pair of walking shoes... something I never thought I would be able to justify again. These are my MORE shoes. May they fall apart from the MORE I have planned for 2016.

Happy New Year!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Playing Hooky

In the fall, when it starts to smell like dried leaves outside, I get an itch to go somewhere pretty... and just breathe. 

It started smelling like fall a few days ago, and between health complications and my husband's looong work hours we chose to steal time today rather than wait for "the perfect day" to arrive - and played hooky. No appointments were made, no cleaning was done, and our to-do list was set aside for another day. Today was just for us.

We hopped in the car just after breakfast, and followed the river north to a small town that my husband and I have been visiting since our dating years. Every fall he takes me here for a single brewed-that-day, mug of the frostiest tastiest freshest root beer ever. Still served in a heavy glass mug, by a carhop with a window-hanging tray. I've been daydreaming about my mug of root beer for a few weeks now. It's truly that amazing.

After our root beer, we explored the nearby state park, checking out the view from the bluffs and the glacial potholes. If you don't know what a pothole is... look them up. They're rare, and amazing.

It was a bit of a struggle to get down and around on the cobblestone paths, but we pushed on - and my husband & the kids left the path a few times for some more rigorous explorations. With all the rain we've had lately, most of the potholes were filled with rainwater, so there wasn't quite as much exploring to be done as in other years, but it was nice just to be away from the sounds of the city for awhile.

The trees were just starting to change color along the river. There was more green than color, but we pointed out each changing tree we saw.

We also saw: deer, eagles, turkeys, farm animals... and one very brave little chipmunk whom I'm certain I heard beg me to take his picture.

We've had a tough year, and we still have several challenges to face this year. But just for today, we followed our heart and ran away to sit by the river and be together.

It was worth it.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015


A year ago today, I spoke to my mother for the last time. Her last words to me were, "Love you... be good!" It's how she ended every phone call for two decades. 

This past year has been a year of learning to live without my mother's smile, her infectious floor-stomping dance, her advice... and her daily calls. Oh, how I miss those calls. Even the ones where we discussed  nothing but how many loads of laundry we'd washed, and whether or not we were simmering the same type of soup on our stoves because "it's a soup kind of day."

Some time ago during one such call, my mother shared a story about a ship carrying thousands of bath toys, that had capsized. Years had passed, and children were still recovering rubber duckies from the sea. The story captivated her, and she shared it frequently with anyone who would listen.

On the anniversary of our mother's passing, my baby sister (her blog post about this is HERE and includes a bit of the history on the place we chose) and I chose to send 66 rubber ducks down the Mississippi river... one for each year of her life. We had large ducks, small ducks, ducks with handwritten messages, and ducks dressed as everything from pirates to snowmen. When all our ducks were counted, there were just over 70 in the basket. Mom would have loved the extras and called them "freebies", so they stayed.

We chose a spot where two rivers met, and set about letting the little ducks go early this morning... first by gently setting them in the water, and eventually tossing them in to see who could toss them the farthest. There was an odd sense of "rightness" to the throwing.

Some of the ducks set right out, heading towards the Gulf of Mexico. Some went bottom-up, dabbling for who-knows-what, while others hugged the shoreline. And one silly duck floated BACKWARDS for as far as we could see. Mom would have liked that too... each duckie was obviously dancing to it's own beat.

We watched the ducks until they were gone from our site, while sipping at bottled Pepsi; a sugary tribute to her favorite drink.


Too many things this past year, have felt unfair. Too many moments have gone unshared; too many giggles silenced, and too many calls not made. But today is not a day to mourn what we've lost.

Today is a day... of release.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Reimagining a Dream

From the time that I was three, I knew that when I grew up I wanted to work with kids. Sometimes as a teacher, and other days as a stay-at-home mom. As I grew, my dream matured into an in-home educational daycare that would open once my children began school.

When my son was five, we decided to homeschool - one week before kindergarten started. My daycare daydreams were put on hold. Last year, just as I began to mentally rearrange the house, the state unionized daycares... essentially making it highly prohibitive to watch any children on assistance. And with my latest mobility issues, I no longer feel safe being the sole adult in a house full of children who can move quicker than me.

Twenty years of long-term planning, feel as if they've been flushed.

I still work with children at church, with an amazing troupe of teen helpers. And I still watch my youngest friends here, with the help of my own teens for speedy rescues from sofa-skydiving incidents.

For several years now, my daughter and I have been carefully collecting our favorite toys, books, and games. We called it "The Grandma Basket" and it's been a special bonding activity as we've discussed the merits and longevity of each potential item. Some are from our own childhood days, while others have been purchased specifically for the someday-daycare. But until a month ago, they were jammed into a corner of the dining room, largely inaccessible.

Last month, we began to rearrange the house. And while most of the changes were functional and unavoidable, we felt that now was the time to create a special playspace - as my nephew frequents our home and is big enough to play on his own now. So the Grandma Basket became... Little Friend Corner.

Tucked behind the sofa while still visible from the entire living area, is a special wall of low shelves housing our curated goodies. Now rather than rearranging the house each time a young visitor arrives, there is a permanent space along a wall that would have otherwise sat empty.

It may not be a daycare, but it has that not-too-big, not-too-small feel, that's juuust right. I don't know where it's going, but slowly my dream is re-imagining itself. In a whirlwind of frustration, this little corner is my happy-place.

Friday, August 7, 2015

2015 Garden - Part 4

Just a quick August update. This is when my garden tends to look pretty leggy, and I struggle to keep up with watering because of the sheer size of the plants. An hour each morning isn't nearly enough some days. *shrugs* Last night we had a wonderful soaking rain, and the garden has perked up just enough to be beautiful. So quick while it lasts, here it is... our August garden!   

Our tomatoes are touching the eaves again this year. The disappointing part is that this seems to be a poor variety. Every tomato we've harvested has had a black growth - and has spoiled before ripening. *sigh* Live and learn, next year we'll order our seeds in January so our beloved Bumble Bee cherry tomatoes aren't sold out! 

On the other hand,  just LOOK at our trellis! I have looped the zucchini vines up, across, and back across again; some of these have to be nearing 16' long! The cucumbers are doing just as well, and FINALLY we have baby melons! Last year all we had was blossoms, but I see actual melons this year! Most are the size of my thumb-nail, but we have ONE the size of a tennis ball that is being supported by an onion bag right now. Our fingers are crossed that this is the year we get FRUIT from our garden as well as veggies and herbs!

The rest of the garden is doing well also. I have 40-50 peppers just starting to blush, about a dozen zucchini growing steadily, countless (literally, I can't find them - my daughter finds them!) cucumbers hiding behind the zucchini leaves, and dozens of itty bitty melons! Not to mention the hundreds of tomatoes... that we're praying SOME will grow without this goshawful blight. I'm ready to swap out all our tomato soil, just in case it's in the soil at this point, but for now - we'll see if we can manage anything from this year.

The herbs are doing amazingly well also. I ended up harvesting a full half-pound of peppermint last week. EIGHT OUNCES - of an HERB! Our freezer is filling quickly of labeled baggies, as we simply can't keep up with that much fresh mint.

Even our leeks are starting to look like itty bitty leeks instead of awkward chives!

Despite quite a bit of five-finger discount losses due to the proximity to our sidewalk, our harvest count right now is at:
* 5 tomatoes, with a combined weight of 25.3 ounces
* One pepper, at .3 ounce (we'll be harvesting the rest of these next week)
* Four zucchini, with a combined weight of 35.7 ounces
* Six cucumbers, with a combined weight of 42.4 ounces
* And along with all the other herbs I haven't bothered to weigh, 8.1 ounces of fresh peppermint.
That's just shy of 7 pounds of produce... from miniature varieties of vegetable, BEFORE our prime harvest times!

We have already begun to evaluate the garden towards next year.
* So far we know that we WILL be growing zucchini again; either the same Table Dainty or a similar tiny variety. The Chinese long-beans will go away however, in favor of returning to our never-fail Purple Podded Pole Beans to help with nitrogen fixing.
* For cucumbers, we will continue with our miniature Dragon's Eggs - but are considering branching out into gherkins as well... for pickling. These will be underplanted with GARLIC next year!
* Our carrot beds - while they have a small handful of carrots growing, we feel as if we would have better yield returning to salad greens, so those will be planted with arugula next year; the princess and I can't get enough of it in the stores, so we'll be growing our own!
* We are loving the yields we are seeing in peppers this year, and the squirrels are actually leaving these alone! So the Maule's Red Hot peppers will return next year, WITH the companion marigolds! I don't know if we got lucky or the rumors are true, but peppers and marigolds SEEM to love each other just as we were told!

 The other things we know we will grow next year are: Sweet Alyssum, (can't get enough of their pretty white flowers or the fragrance) a few varieties of basil along with our other various herbs, and we want to try peas! IF our melons do not produce well, we may companion-plant edible-pod peas with either beans or the gherkins!

Plants we still don't know about are: our melons, (which could give way for peas & gherkins or acorn squash) the leeks, and the parsnips.

It's a learning process, but we love the journey. And being able to enjoy fresh produce grown right outside our dining room in our own "private oasis"... is priceless.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Inspiration + imagination = WOW!

I am going to call this my WOW... the Wheelchair of Wonder.

I try not to be vain, truly I do. But with multiple weddings and other special events in my very near future, I have been feeling rather self-conscious about the fact that I may need to use my chair. It's functional, but NOBODY could call it attractive. Ashamedly, this bothers me more than I'd like to admit.

The other day I was browsing Pinterest, when I came across THIS decorated chair. My initial thought was how LOVELY and thronelike it looked! With a chair like that, while I would still stick out like a sore thumb, at least it wouldn't be because of how ugly my chair was. (Told you I can be vain!)

I got to thinking about how to recreate something similar with items I have on hand, that wouldn't require a visit to the florist. After raiding the holiday decorations for chair ribbons, my jewelry drawer for a brooch... and a $9 order for a pashmina scarf via Amazon... my chair has been beautified.

Rather than THIS

I can now wheel myself about in THIS!

This may need a bit of tweaking; keeping the tassels out of the wheels and the scarf from bunching up are a few issues I'm working out right now. But isn't it so pretty? And it is SO easy to pull off that ANYONE could do this!

I am still working on my self-esteem and my struggles with vanity, but at least for the moment - I think this will help me feel less awful on special occasions.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

2015 Garden - Part 3 (photo heavy)

There's something surreal about how quickly the garden grows in July. Two weeks ago, I had cute little plants. Today? It's a jungle out there!

From the street, our garden has finally begun to take on a jungle appearance. It's still filling in, but the dinner-plate sized zucchini leaves, intermingling with the twining melon and  cucumbers - all in beautiful golden bloom right now, is quite the sight. I can ALMOST sit at the bistro table hidden from view right now!

The inspiring part of our garden right now, is the close-ups. I love a photo of tangling twining vines, but let's see some FOOD already!  Here it is! 

There are dozens of peppers, hundreds of tomatoes, and I counted a dozen "fingerling" zucchini this morning. I have at least 50 cucumber blossoms, but I haven't seen the telltale swell of fruit just yet. The same is true with our melons. But our garden is SO pretty right now!

The rest of our yard is also in full bloom right now. The lilacs & rose have long since spent their blossoms, but July is lily-season here. All of the lilies from my mother's garden are up and in their full beauty right now. I don't often share flower photos, but please enjoy a walk through my front yard.

We have had so many struggles over this past year, and there are several new struggles vying for our time right now. By this fall, we are hoping to have the finances together to start building a wheelchair ramp to our front door. I will be landscaping the side-yard at the same time into a pretty contemplation-garden in blues and whites... but our spirits are low.

At least for a moment, while the lilies are in full bloom, I can sit and contemplate the beautiful things in life.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

2015 Garden - Part 2

The Great War has begun. I'm talking about an all-out, no holds barred, war. It's the 9th annual battle between me... and the squirrels.

Forget all those fluffy squirrels you've seen on television sweetly dusting furniture with their tails, because it's all a lie. Squirrels are evil. They NEVER offer to help with the housework, and they destroy gardens. They dig up my plants. They plant trees in my beds. And... this is the reason I fight... they take ONE MEASLY BITE out of every vegetable in the garden, and then toss them aside. Spoiled for me, and uneaten by them.

This is what makes my blood boil. I wouldn't mind sharing with the local wildlife, but if all they're going to do is waste my organic produce - the gloves come off.

In past years, I have created "Squirrel jails" out of PVC and pest-netting. They chewed through it. I tried vinegar. They loved it. I sprayed the plants with cayenne and water, and was treated to an exotic dance as the squirrels thanked me for seasoning their dinner by running up and down the screen, creating holes as they chattered their thanks. I've also planted enough mint and pest-deterring flowers to prove that the squirrels are secretly working in seed-factories, creating labels for plants they WANT humans to plant, just so they can destroy them. I have even seen their sentries running ahead to warn the soldier-squirrels to flee, as we've come home from church. This is obviously an organized operation.

Our dog sits as garden-sentry, waiting to sound the alarm so we can let her out to chase rogue squirrels away from the garden. She takes her job VERY seriously, but these are ninja-squirrels who sneak up while she's snatching a sip of water or checking the front door for wayward mailmen.

Earlier this spring, I tried garlic. While I do feel an incredible urge to consume pasta every time I step onto the deck, spraying the deck rails and planters with garlic seems to have done nothing to deter the devil-rats as advertised. Perhaps they're Italian seed-factory working ninja mafia squirrels.

Now I'm going for cayenne. TONS of cayenne. Enough cayenne that I'm being reduced to sneezing fits for daring to step out onto the deck at the moment.

Here is how our garden is doing this afternoon. Please note the liberal application of orange cayenne, dusting EVERYTHING!

In the Southeast corner, the strawberries have been completely uprooted. Multiple times. I honestly think they're damaged beyond recovery at this point, I'm just too stubborn to give them a proper burial. Those Italian seed-factory working, ninja mafia squirrels really love their berries. In the back however, the tiniest of my tomato plants are already more than 3' high. Note I said - the TINIEST! More to come in a minute.

In the Southwest corner our chives need to be pruned before they start spilling onto the floor, and the marigolds are amazing. The peppers? I see flowers and the tiniest of peppers beginning to grow... but the darn squirrels are uprooting them every other day. The Italian seed-factory working, berry-nibbling, ninja mafia squirrels obviously adore Mexican cuisine.

The herbs, as always, are amazing. My lemon basil is spectacular at the moment... it's nearly 2' tall. Cowering below the herbs however, are my much-abused leeks. Whoever said that squirrels hate the allium family, obviously lied.

This is proof-positive that Italian seed-factory working, berry-nibbling, Mexican-munching, ninja mafia squirrels are working in the onion and leek department at Baker Creek Seeds. I will be lodging a complaint with their HR department later this week as this is an obvious and blatant violation of rodent working conditions. Perhaps this is the very reason that the group unionized in the first place.

Along the Northwest corner, our climbing plants are also having mixed success. The melons (blue bins) are being completely decimated by the squirrels.

The cucumbers are growing painfully slowly, but they have always tended to be my slowest plants to grow, so I'm still confident with them. The zucchini on the other hand, are growing amazingly well! Look how they're already starting to climb the trellis!

Just a few more weeks, and I'll have a green screen
hiding me from the street while I sit at the bistro table. I am contemplating using it for top secret guerilla purposes in my rodent-battles.

And in the Northeast corner, my tomatoes are once again becoming behemoths. I see dozens of beautiful parsnip heads starting to peek through underneath the nearly FIVE FOOT TALL tomatoes. Flowers are appearing all over the place, and they're starting to overhang the door!

My carrots however, have also been attacked by the squirrel footsoldiers. I am hoping that they'll be okay, but - *shrugs* It's up to the cayenne at this point.

I'm just praying that the unionized, biracial factory-working, fruit-salad munching, carrot-shredding, exotic-dancing, vandal ninja mafia squirrels don't happen to be from the hot pepper festival I hear is held locally. If they are, I may need to reconsider a pet cougar.