Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Soaking in this time of year

Yesterday was one of those days where I don't have to look far or think hard to land upon a whole list of things that keep me going and make life feel full and overflowing. I've always said that I enjoy Jason's birthday better than my own, falling one day after mine and with all the pressure for me to enjoy "my" day over with. I tend to soak his up. It didn't hurt that I had the day at home, that Jason and I enjoyed quality time together during the day and ended the day with a gathering of good friends in our home. gives a really good smattering of recent weeks and the themes in those pictures give a glimpse of some of the highlights. Kali growing up (with her first lost tooth), a wonderful little person, neighbor and friend who seems to enjoy hanging out as much with us as we with her, tea parties and the best bunny pet I can imagine, the pantry full and overflowing and coinciding with that a decline in outdoor garden work/harvesting/putting up, and the beginnings of a dream come true of my parents building on our home for their retirement (first step being the placement of a shed to hold their things and our tower things until their "in-law suite" is done).

But back to yesterday.

The shed was delivered in the morning and I believe all three of us were mesmerized with the process. Once it was pulled up the driveway close to our house, the driver then proceeded to direct the trailer with the shed on it with a little remote control as he stood outside by Jason. It ended up needing to be jacked up higher than we had thought to be level so we had not gotten enough block. He will return tomorrow to finish up and then I imagine we'll give some time for Kali to enjoy it as a play house before starting the slow and long process of emptying the tower and preparing for its "deconstruction." There are many emotions associated with embarking on this journey of beginning another very different kind of construction phase of our home. It feels exciting, daunting, fulfilling, and like a lot of work, time and energy (which feel fully worth the investment). We continue to strive and hope for our home to be a welcoming place for all.

Shortly before noon, Kali went up the hill to redeem one of her birthday coupons of a play date with K and P. Jason and I set out shortly thereafter with a packed lunch for a hike to the lake not even 2 miles from our home. Such a unique and special time to walk comfortably in silence or in conversation and then sit by the lake watching a pair of grebes diving and rising, going from one side of the lake to another, getting separated and then coming back together, etc... I told Jason how much I preferred this kind of date to a fancy restaurant. I'm glad we are in agreement!

The evening was then spent with about a dozen friends who joined us for a birthday potluck. Fall is in the air and we chickened out on the potluck picnic and ate inside. I think that made it more possible to enjoy the homemade ice cream. We, those that remained, headed outside around 8:30pm to see Jupiter close to the moon and then to sit around the fire singing and talking. The night couldn't have been much more beautiful with the moon going in and out of the clouds and the air crisp and cool. We felt well celebrated!!

I'm trying not to focus on "favorites" in my life, to not encourage any further our daughter's obsession with favorites. However, I think I am almost ready to proclaim fall as my favorite season. There is something in the air that is so distinct that I love!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Times to remember

Jason and I went back and forth about where to put these reflections - on the old blog as they focus solely on Nora, on this new blog as our memories of Nora and our time with her are part of where we find sustenance, or in neither space. We chose to keep with this as the place to house reflections on various aspects of our lives, as we are also always in the process of integrating these various strands into our understandings of who we are, where we have been, and where we are headed.

We were asked to share briefly from our journey this past Saturday at the UVA Children's Hospital Memorial Service. as parents who have lost a child. Below is a copy of what we shared. We were grateful to be there with our parents, Kali and Jason's sister, E. As it was last year, it is good to gather with others (even if we exchange very few words) in that space to remember, grieve and celebrate these little people who had such a large impact.

UVA Memorial Service sharing:

Can any of us gathered here today find words to adequately describe the journey of loss we have traveled with our loved ones? How do we honor each of our stories, knowing that each person’s loss is their own? What we all have in common is that we had to say goodbye way too early to a child we loved, that we are grieving that loss and looking for ways to remember and celebrate the lives of our children.

Our daughter, Nora Lynne, was born here at UVA October 30, 2007 and died here on June 4, 2008. Nora was born at full-term weighing 3 ½ pounds with a rare genetic syndrome that prevented her body from growing properly. Despite avid nursing around the clock she never crested the 7lb mark. However, the syndrome did not cloud her mind or inhibit her relationships. She was inquisitive and cuddly and lit up when her big sister came into the room. While most of her short life was spent at our home in Keezletown with us and her sister, Kali, she spent about 5 weeks of her 7 months of life here at UVA. We struggled to navigate our way through the complex medical system, all the while attempting to care for Nora’s needs with as much grace and strength and integrity as we could muster under circumstances in which we never would have wished to find ourselves.

Yet during the course of her life we came to deeply appreciate not only the professional competence but also the personal strength and sensitivity of Nora’s medical caregivers. They shared a precious and painful time with us, and many of them got to know Nora better than some of our friends and family were ever able to. Even while the constant beeps and alarms from the various technologies heightened our anxiety, these caregivers often managed to fill those stressful and anxious times with compassion and empowerment.

A few months after Nora’s death we attended a retreat here at UVA organized by the Initiative for Pediatric Palliative Care for the benefit of the many persons, both family and professional, who care for children with life-threatening illnesses. The interaction with professional caregivers was very meaningful to us, and after the retreat Jason wrote the following poem, entitled Surf:

For those who care for dying children

Mine was

a swamp I had to traverse (I am

still wiping the mud from my eyes), but you do

this every day, and then you have

to go home and eat

your dinner.

It must come on you like waves, lapping, tumbling, crashing

even; never resting. And so maybe you are one of

the rocky ones, hardened against the surf, protecting your

shape, preserving the mainland. Or are you the sandier

shore? Do you allow the waves to change


Here is something I believe about you: no matter how you

bear the surf, there must be a place in you where a little water

collects. I wonder: have you ever, when the tide is low, gone there

and taken notice of how beautiful that pool can be?

Perhaps sometime we could go walking together, exploring the

crevices or scanning the sand, stooping to retrieve those

curious and delicate

treasures the waves have


How do we find these treasures in our grief? How do we continue living and what keeps us alive and hopeful? We have found that for our family turning towards rather than away from the memories and pain nudges us forward in the healing process. For us the journey of grief began about 9 months before Nora died, when we learned that she was not growing as expected in my womb. It has been a journey characterized not only by the loss of our baby Nora, because as time has passed we have had to grieve our lost one year old Nora and next month, at her second birthday, we’ll grieve a new loss, and with that so many dreams.

Grief is perhaps the most painful of life’s challenges, and though we can’t presume that what has helped us along on this journey is what will help you, we’d like to share with you a few things that have brought us comfort.

The first thing is the writing that we have done along the way. Journaling and poetry writing have been useful to us, but beyond that, frequent correspondence with a large number of friends and family during Nora’s life and since her death has allowed others to walk with us and provided a way for us to share even with each other our unique processes of grieving. Compiling all of those writings into a blog format with pictures has helped us to reflect back on our journey, and we are glad that we will have it as a resource for Kali as she grows up and processes her sister’s life and death. Writing has also helped us to keep looking in hope towards the future.

The second thing is the creation of a flower garden, established in Nora’s memory at the one year anniversary of her death. We held an informal gathering of family and friends at our home to which many brought divisions of plants from their own gardens or had purchased plants that in some way reminded them of Nora or our family’s time with her. Over the weeks preceding this gathering, Jason prepared the ground for new plants. This was a richly emotional time for him, and the experience spurred the writing of the following poem, entitled Reiterations:

A father’s love ignores the border
death presents. I worked for you in every way I knew, now
what to do with this: my aimless drive to help, my hoeing the abyss?
There’s nothing you could need from me; I’ll turn my hoe toward earth
and let the rocks and soil absorb my effort, and I'll wait for birth among the
blooming celebrations. I can work on these reiterations.

And so we put together what we can: we scrape
the weeds aside and mark a place where, when it needs to huddle
with the memories, a heart may hide. We’ve caught a hold on changes
in the calendar and seasons, have made spaces full of time: ad hoc
creations. We’ve established these reiterations.

I think it helps a little. Do I need to see reflections of my baby
girl out there exposed to wild, swirling air to keep me from forgetting? Maybe not, but
there is satisfaction in the knowledge that in moments when I need to whittle down
into the quick of loss, or glory in parental, proud elation, I can turn to these reiterations.

Thank you, child! You never read the clock to know the shame
of dallying. Your fingers never curled around a cent. When it was time
for you to go, you didn’t worry, you just went. Your heart and mind and palms were full
of room; your presence was a balm for wounds we couldn’t feel. How many repetitions
of your memory will be required for me to heal? And what’s my hurry? If I sit awhile in a
place, perhaps an insect sipping from a bloom will show the way to freedom from the
hectic expectations. I’ll depend on these reiterations.

I didn’t know I feared a fading of your presence, but I found that when I cleared
the soil space I knew relief, anticipating sprouting seeds. Your memory’s alive, and here
is how I know: I’ve seen it grow! How can this be: while thinking of the years ahead, a
smile? I’m eager to be watching all you were to us becoming what it is, what it will be,
and relishing your place within our family. Our love is strong, so time will find us
living out a leafy incarnation, still repeating these reiterations.

Both the writing and the establishment of the garden helped foster our sense of being part of a wide web of support, and we consider ourselves extremely fortunate. Maintaining meaningful relationships between grieving families and friends or relatives that can never truly understand can be very challenging for everyone, and tragically these relationships often decline after the loss of a loved one, just when they are most needed. If we can manage to love each other well through the most difficult of times, perhaps our hurting hearts will remain open to the gifts that our sorely missed and dearly beloved children have brought to our lives.

Friday, September 18, 2009

New recipes!

Both Jason and Kali created a new recipe within the last few days. Jason's was tested last evening:

Groundhog in crockpot
(thanks to our neighbor who knew Jason was interested in trying harvested groundhog and who finally caught a young one who was enjoying his garden too much!)

soak 4 groundhog legs in salt water (brine) in a sealed container in the fridge for 5 days
remove legs from water and toss in a bowl with salt, pepper, and 1/4 cup flour
brown meat in skillet with moderate amount of cooking oil, place in crock pot
add 2 apples, sliced
add water to a nearly finished-up mustard bottle, shake, add to pot
splash lemon juice

In separate small skillet, heat:
olive oil (2 T?)

Mix in:
honey (1/2 T?)
worcestershire sauce (1 tsp?)
teriyaki sauce (1 tsp?)
1 medium onion, chopped

cook onion in sauce, add to pot, add enough water to cover all contents
add cider vinegar (1 1/2 T?)

cook on high in crockpot for 6-7 hours

Kali gobbled it up! But she liked the chewy chicken in the second crockpot (made for anyone that needed an alternative to the groundhog) even more...

Kali recently made up a recipe that is supposedly for Daddy's birthday cake, so we have just over a week to refine this recipe. She wanted me to include the "translation" here but I think it is much more fun to let you all try to decipher her spelling. :)

Birthday cake for Daddy

2 cops of phawr (what little girl would make an "f" a "ph" without a VERY special little friend named Phoebe!!)
4 taes oof bacegsoo
4 cops of chken
6 cups of wodr
8 cups of tea

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

All in a day's work (or play?)

Yesterday afternoon while at the office I had the dawning realization that I was going to be at home the following day: this is my first week of going back to three long days a week in the office to make my 30 hours, rather than spreading it over four. This is also an attempt to get back to 30 hour weeks (rather than the 40, 50 or 60 that has become an unwelcome pattern of late.) Here was a day at home that I hadn't fully realized I was about to have and my datebook was blank. What would I do with myself all day??

I'm sure no one reading this will be surprised to know that I've been on my feet canning for the past 15 hours. The final canner load has started and I'm eager to call it a night!! I started in the morning making salsa and agree with my mom that this is not a task to do alone. I was pretty sick of chopping by the end of it but have 14 quarts of salsa to show for all that chopping! And I was very happy to do some experimenting which was deemed successful with our "best salsa in the world" recipe to make it possible to make with no catsup or canned tomato sauce. Jason noticed that I was proud of myself!!

It was early afternoon before I turned my attention to the apples that were accumulating in our back room - thanks to Jason heading up the hill to S & M's to pick Liberty apples. We only picked the most productive two of the six trees but it was still a bit ambitious for the amount of day left...Let's just say that when this final canner load in right now comes out we will have crested 60 quarts of applesauce. Jason joined in partway through and made things go much faster until he got overly excited about being almost done chopping and sliced his finger. He's been attempting to help since then with his one arm held above his head, but is now doing the most helpful thing possible - reading Ramona to Kali. It looks like she'll see in the new day as she is still chattering here at 2 minutes before midnight!

About an hour or so ago, Kali was ready for a "bed time snack." She chose chocolate chip cookies, of which we had none! But no time like the present. She had some leftover purple M&M's from her birthday and it was looking like we'd be up for quite some time anyway. So Kali made cookies, with just a little help from me. It is really fun to see her reading recipes on her own. She doesn't often let on but she is pretty much reading most words now. The cookies hit the spot and provided a bit of an energy boost that is now petering out! Better get those dishes done...

Monday, September 7, 2009

New encounters!!

I made a wonderful new discovery this week. And I can't seem to stop talking about it!! It is hard for me to believe that we have lived here for 4 years now and I didn't know about it prior. We live close to two entrances to the Massanutten mountainside. Both are marked that you have to have "permission" to enter and I don't enjoy doing things all that much without a clear conscience. So it was just about a month ago that we finally got our "pass" to be able to hike on the western slopes "legally." But with all the canning and other happenings, it was not until I had a wonderful friend visiting from Canada this week that I finally got our pass out and decided to take one of the trails to a lake that I was told was about a mile in.

It's a delightful hike - not very steep, a gravel or grass road the entire way, open pastures and some woods and then a large pond/small lake with picnic tables and what looks like the makings of a small campground. The following day I walked it with our neighbor K and then last evening after talking about it a lot, Jason and Kali were able to join me. We saw the most wildlife activity last night at dusk; a bunch of deer out and about as well as a red tailed hawk. Kali said she love, love, loved it times 10 or something like that.

We had just gotten home from being at Jason's sister's home for a short 24 hour visit with family. We had tented in her backyard which was fun and made us very interested in camping again! It was Kali's first experience of sleeping in a tent (she had camped in our little popup a number of times but not in the last 2 years) and she was very excited about it. Her excitement was tempered only by the fact that she was also very focused on falling asleep so that she could get her flu shot in her sleep, which she did and once again did not wake up. However, we are not fully convinced of the benefits of this approach. The first thing she said to me in the morning when she woke up was "Mommy did I get my flu shot yet?" When I assured her that she had, she got a big grin on her face and said, "I dreamed lots of dreams that you were trying to give it to me when I was awake." Poor girl!

I enjoyed waking up in the morning and looking out our tent right at a little red bud tree that A had planted in memory of Nora. I was grateful for the few moments I had to sit beside it.

Our walk last evening as a family after we got home left me feeling close to Nora. Maybe it was just the slowing down and the deep breaths I savored along the way. Maybe it was the beauty of our surroundings and being out in the natural world for an hour plus. When we got to the pond, Jason exclaimed, "It's so unfair that we live here." We hope to never take for granted how the beauty of our home and the outdoors around us plays a large roll in sustaining us. And hopefully we will also not forget to take the time to be out in it!! Tonight we'll be doing salsa again but for now I need to head to work.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Plenty of Rainbows

Some days are so "chock full of country goodness" (to quote a friend complimenting some homemade cookies with tongue firmly in cheek), that it almost doesn't feel fair.

Due to the time constraints associated with getting on the road to visit most of my family at my sister A's place for a 30th birthday and housewarming shindig, plus due to the natural editing effects of the passage of time (memory does its selection), I shall relate two elements of the most recent Thursday that K and I (Jason) spent together.

Janelle and her friend J, who was visiting on a short break from her work in Labrador, were galavanting around town looking for maternity clothes (for J) and getting J her fix of Thai food when K and I walked up the hill to S and M's aging orchard to get our fix of fruit picking. K has, for some time now, been expressing a preference against all things having to do with, among other things, apples and pears. There was, then, some resistance to the notion of spending an hour or so picking the [graciously offered] Grimes Golden apples and Seckel pears that were in danger of becoming deer cud. However, soon the adventure and the possibility of climbing trees overwhelmed her prejudice, and we were in business.

We picked the apples in relatively short order, getting what we could reach from the ground (and what Kali could reach by climbing) first, and then retrieving the picking basket from S and M's barn for the rest. A picking basket, for the uninitiated (most of us), is a wire basket whose bottom is fimly attached to the end of a pole, which has a protruding row of wire hooks along on side of the basket mouth. Sort of looks like an ungainly pioneer version of a lacrosse stick. Our neighbor K, with P on her back, walked past while we were returning with the picking basket, and observed with a smile that whatever we were up to, it had to be fun if we got to use such a contraption. Yes, I agreed. It's even fun already just looking at it. Kali loved hooking onto an apple and then hanging on the pole handle until the branch sprang back empty, then laboriously maneuvering the old tool until the gnarly little fruit (not all of them were like that) could be plopped in her half-bushel basket.

The pears required a totally different harvesting method. Again, we picked what we could reach from the ground and Kali picked what she could reach by climbing, but Seckel pears are pretty little, so picking with the basket was not time effective (not that it was a whole lot better with the apples when Kali was running the picking basket, but still...). Also, being light in weight and still at a somewhat firm stage of ripeness, it soon became apparent that shaking the branches to loosen the fruit, and then retrieving the fruit from the ground was the most effective way to harvest, especially as we were mostly planning on saucing the pears to mix with, and thereby sweeten, the applesauce. Kali thoroughly enjoyed the climbing and shaking while I gathered, even inventing a brand new game, on the spot, called "Try To Hit Daddy On The Head." Believe it or not (don't look now), she actually sped the process up considerably by doing so. In other words, she ACTUALLY HELPED! This is a milestone.

As I assumed would happen, Kali decided she wanted to try a taste of apple and pear. What she said about it turned my head just a bit, "I think I've decided that I shouldn't not like something just because I decided I didn't like it, but that I should actually try it and see if I do." This does to me what the loose tooth does to Janelle, that is; producing mixed sentiments associated with my little girl growing up. The pears, she decided, were too sweet, and the apples too sour. But she TRIED them (the next day, after dutifully cranking the apple strainer, she sat down with a bowl of warm apple sauce and the cinnamon sugar shaker and quietly and methodically ate it all down).

The other element of our day that has survived the test of memory for me came late, late in the evening. Janelle and her friend J had been planning to head to the Mountain House of Hope (Janelle's parents' second home in Harman, WVA) for one of the nights, and at that time we had sweetened the deal for the disappointed-to-be-left-behind Kali by proposing that I would stay up to midnight with her. Although we don't have a set bedtime for her, usually both of us choose to go to sleep earlier than that, and she chooses not to stay up alone, despite always complaining about not being tired yet (we always beg to differ). Anyway, she was happy with this compromise. So happy, in fact, that when Janelle and J decided not to go after all, Kali was not about to give up her opportunity to, as she insisted, "toast the new year." Kali loves holiday ceremonies of all kinds, and she remembers this one from January.

As on January 1, the plan was for Kali to toast with M&M's, rather than smooth white wine. Lacking smooth white wine myself, I also selected the M&M option. When the moment arrived, we got down wine glasses and started the festivities, toasting, according to Kali, the new SCHOOL year (of course!..Why didn't I think of that?). We are homeschooling Kali, and it cracks me up that she would bother to pay attention to the traditional school calender, but yet I was stirred in thinking of the educational project we are undertaking together, and our flamboyant, two-M&M-at-a-time toasts to healthy batches of chicks, lots of tomatoes, good memories of Nora, etc., etc. (all with Janelle and J sound asleep on the futon in the front room) could not have been more appropriate. I don't remember all the many toasts we each proposed, from the silly to the solemn, but I know we both nearly got sick on M&Ms, and switched to water for the last few. My favorite toast was one Kali proposed, perhaps with the prompting of a nearby multicolored wallhanging: "To plenty of rainbows!"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fresh Salsa

Yes, we are spending a lot of time with tomatoes these days!!! I love the process, but would enjoy it even more if it wasn't so often happening late at night.

Last evening we didn't get home until about 7pm as we had an appointment to donate blood at RMH. Next time I need to remember my camera. Kali is so cute going along, holding her little arms close to her while she sits on my lap in the initial checking in, lest they confuse her with me and stick her! But she likes the snacks and the little kids area and last evening had three little chairs (yellow, green and blue) lined up next to me. The blue for her with her blue dress and then she found a little yellow stuffed animal and a green one for the other colored chairs. I had a little cheer leading squad! I so looked forward to time to sit still and reflect, but the person working with me was very talkative so there wasn't a lot of quiet moments. I did learn from her that my blood, for a number of reasons, is the type of blood that will likely be saved to use for infants and children. That was new to me and felt appropriate because of Nora being my inspiration for becoming a regular donor. We are next eligible to donate the week of Nora's second birthday.

On our way home from the hospital Kali was playing with the new boxes of canning lids. We had quite a job waiting for us at home with tomatoes coming in in abundance. We were planning to make sauce with fresh tomatoes, garlic, onions, peppers, basil and oregano; all of those things growing within yards of our home. When I read the "Mild Fiesta Salsa" recipe on the back of the Ball canning lids box I groaned and felt more than a bit digusted.

You will need:
5 14.5 oz cans of petite diced tomatoes
1 1.3 oz pkg Ball Simple Creations Mild Fiesta Salsa Mix
That's it!! Thankfully they at least mention the possibility of substituting fresh tomatoes for the canned :)

It is hard for me to imagine someone who has not canned before going out and buying any necessary equipment, canning jars, salsa mix, canned tomatoes and making their own homemade salsa with the above recipe. It seems like an awful lot of work for a final product that can't taste much fresher than just buying salsa in the store.

It is probably good that we are nearing the latter part of the canning season for this year. Jason had to get out cardboard to help make a second layer of canned pints in the pantry as our available space it slowly diminishing before our eyes (with a lot of chopping and work involved in that progression!). I actually put out a plea this week for canning jars that are sitting unused in people's homes and have enjoyed trading empty jars for some filled ones this week.

One more piece of news and then time to turn my focus to the work day ahead and away from stocking up for the winter. Kali has her first LOOSE TOOTH!!!!!