Thursday, May 22, 2014

Welcome back, little friends. How was your journey?

Yesterday afternoon I saw two medium size black butterflies, three yellow dots, give or take, dipping, swirling around the lantana bush at the bottom of the carport. The flowers are tiny, pink and yellow. Just the color a little girl or a couple of butterflies might like. I used some in a bouquet for our supper table.

Isn't if funny how one day the butterflies are not around and you don't even notice their absence, and then all of a sudden, there they are again and you greet them like a lost friend.

PS supper was a roasted chicken grown in house, stuffed with fresh sage leaves and thyme from the garden. Judy brought snow peas which we flashed in the pan for just a handful of seconds, and I made my favorite beet salad, dressed in a lime and honey vinegarette flavored by fresh dill and chives I grabbed out of the garden. For someone who used to hate beets until a few years ago, this side dish is divine!!!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Muscle Memory

It is Monday.

The sun has gone down and the air is fresh. A gentle breeze is stirring in the trees.

I had it in me to cook the kids a nice dinner of one of our chickens, roasted, with Brussels sprouts and red peppers, a salad and toast.

We ate on the gazebo in the backyard. They all ran off their separate ways; karate, a run, work, a friend, the tv. I let the chickens out of their fenced-in yard so they could cruise around for fresh grass. Free range chickens and gardens equal tears and curse words. Unless garden grower works in garden whilst encouraging chickens to range elsewhere.

So I worked in the garden even though I was momentarily tempted by Netflix.

I planted some silver queen corn in the area where we had our compost last year. A tiny little plot, but we shall see. An experiment? Planted some green beans, cucumbers, yellow squash. A bit more okra. (the chickens ate part of the last bit I planted earlier this season.)

Pandora played on my IPhone. The Fernando Ortega channel.

Something about Fernando Ortega's music soothes me. Stirs me into worship and quiet contemplation. So I sang and planted and moved the sprinkler around and tossed stones at the errant chickens.

After a pretty painful weekend, I felt soothed. Balm of Gilead kind of soothing.

On Friday I drove to pick up Thomas from school in Roswell, NM. He has a month break. On the advice of a friend I drove the long way to Roswell, via Marfa, Valentine, Van Horn, Guadalupe National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and then up through Artesia and into Roswell.

What good advice well taken. It took me 45 minutes longer. Which I admit is pretty costly. But instead of crazy lunatic oil well truck drivers (yes, I know that most oil well truck drivers are not crazy, neither are they lunatic, but there are a few on that road who drive quite a bit over the speed limit, crowd their lanes, and are pretty dangerous) there were great big open skies, mountains, an antelope, some wildflowers, an occasional tourist, and lots of 70's rock and folk music.

After quite a long list of big city errands, Thomas and I got back home Saturday evening. On May 10th.

Which is just another day for everyone else, but for us, no matter what we do, no matter how full, or satisfying or busy the day, it still ends up being May the 10th, the birthday of Philip James Hillery, who was born on that date in 1958.

I have been told a time or two or three that we oughtn't think about Philip so much. That making such a big deal out of these days just stirs up more grief than necessary, and that we are making it harder on ourselves than it has to be. They have told me that if I would just leave well enough alone, move forward, let the past be past, etc etc etc etc etc. we would be better off.


I could say a few words about that kind of advice, but I guess it wouldn't be very gentle or kind or Christlike, would it?

No matter what, we all get a weird, raw feeling on that day. I remember the advice of Martha, our grief support counselor, who told us it was better to name it, than to stuff it. That we wouldn't get over the death of our dear loved one. We would learn to adjust and live and love our lives, but differently.

And here we are, still adjusting.

We got home and a few chores had been done. The grill was started and I gathered makings for burgers. In Carlsbad I stopped to buy one of those helium balloon tanks, because the last three years the kids have asked to release balloons as we remember Philip, and, who knew? there is a world-wide helium shortage, since helium is now being used in lots of different areas, like MRIs, aeronautics, and billions of kids' birthday parties. Helium balloons are not available in Alpine, but I had a vague inkling that my nemesis, Wal Mart, would carry the blasted stuff.

Sure enough, it was available.

The things we do for family cohesiveness.

I asked the kids to fill up some balloons.

"Mom, what?!? Do you want us to kill a bunch of birds and other wild life??? You know helium balloons are bad..." a sensitive child shouted.

"I am NOT going to sit down at the table with him/her. Do you know what he/she said to me this afternoon?"

"oh. hamburgers. I guess you forgot I hate them."

It wasn't a lovely evening. I was exhausted. Had a horrible neck and back ache from the drive. Stacks of work that were piling up, since I was out of town for a day. The house was dirty, our expectations were bouncing around all over the place, and all I wanted was some peace and family love.

I finally yelled, sent guilt inducing text messages to kids inside the house, and miraculously everyone ended up around the table in the gazebo. Burgers were grilled and grimacing (internally bleeding) people sat down and I prayed. Thanked God for the food. For our family. I begged God to meet us in the middle of the raw. And then thanked God for Philip, and for the gift of his life and influence. We talked a bit about how he loved to make us laugh. How he would suck the helium out of balloons and talk in a cartoon voice just to make us laugh. He was so easy to please. All he wanted for his birthday was a big platter of cheeseburgers to share with the kids, and then a hot date with me.

We talked about human statues and his work and about how sad it is that not all the kids have the same memories because they didn't have the same amount of time. So one child's grief is different from the others, depending on if they are grieving the actual memories, or the memories they didn't get to make.

We talked about God's grace and how Jesus did not come to earth because we were so good and deserved him.

Jesus is all about the real us. The sad, mean, mad, broken, hurting real us. The real us that needs compassion, and forgiveness and redemption.

Philip was all about all of that.

So we tried, we huddled. We all cried. Then we took our balloons out to the middle of the yard, spent a couple of moments silent, saying our personal, private words to our dear one who is no longer here in the flesh. Then let the silly balloons fly up to the sky.

It was actually pretty powerful.

Then everyone went back to bickering, to texting, to instagraming, to watching tv. We tried putting helium into the balloons with LED lights, but the light mechanism made them too heavy to float. Not too heavy to bounce around with kids on the trampoline.

So they bounced. We stayed up too late for a Sunday. Kids went to bed and I couldn't force myself to be inside so I took a blanket and my pillow to the trampoline and settled in there for a sleep. Sobbed over all the lost things. Sobbed and heaved. Then watched the stars and listened to the wind.


By the way, Mother's Day was pretty awesome. And kind of hard, too, because of all the energy spent the day before. But the kids were each amazing, and I will try to write about that loveliness later. Because it is noteworthy. And I haven't even mentioned you, Mom, but everyone knows that if it weren't for you, I would not still be standing. You gave me the example of a strong woman who could manage to maintain tenderness. You gave me the example of the importance of beauty. Of quiet. Of music. You taught me that it was okay to ask, not only ask, but to require time of solitude.

You deserve a million pages in a million books. But here it is, almost ten o'clock and kids are still up and I need to get them and me to bed!!!

So more later.

Good night.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dust to dust

After getting a big part of the garden planted yesterday afternoon, the sky turned dark, the winds howled, and a mega dust storm blew through Alpine. We quickly shut doors and windows, trying to keep the dirt outside instead of inside. Where did it come from? Africa? Kansas? Mexico? Arizona? I didn't pay attention to the weather or to the direction of the wind. Just the menacing sight of dark taupe moving slowly, predatorily creeping down the side of the mountains, making its way stealthily through the passes.

Yes, I have a vivid imagination.

It felt a bit Lord of the Rings-like.

We had to be some place at 6, so hurried with our supper. I let Maggie and Rose drive home from the event and walked the near two miles home because something drastic had taken place in the atmosphere. A cool breeze blew, the air had been cleaned, and dramatic clouds captured the bending light of the setting sun.

It felt rather magical, the quick transformation. When the air was thickened and darkened by dust, I felt as if we might be doomed forever! The crack of a well hit baseball and cheer of parents in the little league field, the sound of dogs yipping in the distance, the sight of couples on their evening walk seemed like a picture of the gospel.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Searing hot wind chases away last weeks' freezing cold.

We hope for some may showers.

I am going to plant some garden in faith. The early plantings were frozen to death when we were slammed with a 25 degree cold snap. Even a warm blanket wasn't enough to save them.

Never mind! This is pretty typical for our high desert altitude. Last Thursday we huddled in jackets and blankets as Nora played softball. Yesterday we were toasted by warm afternoon sun.

FYI, the chicken butcher went beautifully! We have a freezer shelf filled with 6-6.5 lb beautiful chicken. It is so delicious, and to tell you the truth, the experience was a time of restoration for me.

A girlfriend came over to lend a hand and to learn. I missed our old set up, with Patrick and James on the first end, visiting kids helping with the gathering of the birds. The big pots of hot water, the chicken plucker, Serge and me at the evisceration station, Rose and occasionally Maggie in the gizzard peeling zone. This time, kids were all in school, the plucker didn't make it to Texas as I doubted we would ever raise meat chickens again. So, back to the real olden days, our fingers did just fine. And the spelt dusted fried chicken we consumed like barbarians for lunch, from the free range, healthy poultry we raised in our small town backyard was about the most amazing thing I had consumed in a very long time. I felt hope. I felt like we were finding our way and a little bit of new normal.

The day ran out of time and I left three more big guys for a later date. I am still waiting for the time to finish up our "harvest." Maybe later this week?

Things are still hard here, but hard of the progressive sort, I think. I have an almost completed new kitchen. Wow. Lots of hard work, but so awesome to make things more efficient. We have converted a greenhouse into a spare room. Not quite brought to completion, but coming along. Patrick has been accepted into a wonderful university and his graduation from high school is imminent. He, Maggie and Rose had an amazing year in track and cross country this year, not to mention all the academic competition. State history fair, literary criticism, current events were just a few of the areas where they excelled. Nora is thriving in karate and softball, and is really coming into her own. Thomas will be completing his two year stint at ENMU-Roswell in their amazing program for occupational training and independent living. He has applied for a job here in our little town and I am hoping and praying that he makes a smooth transition into a new chapter of young adulthood.

We have our bumps in the road, some heartbreaks and stubbed toes. To tell the truth, I think I am still recuperating from last year's health issues even though I feel fine physically. The oncologist found a polyp at my last visit and had to send it off to the lab to see if it were cancer or not. Thank goodness it wasn't. But to tell you the truth, I was a bit more shaken up than I wished to admit to myself. Even if it were, the doctor reminded me that the reason I go in to see him every three months is to catch things early. Early detection means early intervention, which means life.

So, nothing to really worry about, just acceptance and adjustment, and facing my fears. I don't really feel like dancing and delighting these days. But if the opportunity comes along, I will try to take it. The other evening a couple of my bff's here in town and I went to the local live music venue. A terrific band was in town from Austin: El Tule. An 8 or 9 man and woman band, playing lively salsa and merengue. We ladies danced and danced and had as much fun as we could. I am holding on to the spiritual lessons I read over and over again in scripture, the concept that eventually our mourning will turn into dancing and that our tears will be replaced with joy.

Bring on the joy, Lord!

We have so many beautiful, lovely things going on in our life. Like the big pitaya cactus by my carport. It is covered with vibrant magenta blossoms. Yum. Those blossoms make my mouth water, thinking of the lovely sweet tart fruit we hope to see on that plant in a couple of months. The fig was hit hard by the freeze, but new little green leaves are starting to show up.

The chickens are mess makers and are causing me to scratch my head, because I haven't yet figured out a happy medium, that is, free-range that doesn't extend into our garden! But they give me such delight. I really love having chickens again. Brownie and Blackie are doing a great job protecting them from local predators. Makes our home seem more sustainable. And raising our own meat and eggs is so encouraging. Having the opportunity to share some of our experience, teaching others how to harvest their own meat, pluck feathers, make fried chicken, well, that's just about the best thing that has happened for me in quite a long time.

Okay, okay, I have GOT to get back to work. But bear with me as I try to stumble and start and get back to writing.