Friday, December 31, 2010

Rachel's Visit

The absolute highlight of our Christmas was Rachel's surprise visit. She popped into the house right as we gathered in the kitchen to pray for dinner. Of course, Joe and I knew she was coming, but no one seemed to notice that there was an extra plate at the table. And they were all totally and completely shocked...and elated! Don't you LOVE a surprise! (BTW: Our Christmas crowns came out of the English crackers that you pull apart with a pop to find surprises inside.)

There's no doubt about it. This wonderful young woman, the first on the left in that picture above, is adored by one and all of us. My dear daughter-in-love made our Christmas this year.

Rachel and Izzy and a couple of happy grins!
This is how we all felt, and we were ecstatic when the airport traffic jam forced her to have to stay a few extra days. A great big gift to us!

Rachel's a multi-talented artist and loves to take pictures. Among other things, she's a web designer, a graphic designer and a photographer extraordinaire. You can link to her website on my sidebar, and you will see her work and see that I am not overstating her talent. She took these shots the day after Christmas and I borrowed them from her.
Here she is taking a snowy self-portrait in the marsh.

This is the front field at the farm with our new friend waving hello.

These are the bold and graphic doors of our black barn.

And the antique cigar sign that hangs on the barn's back porch. (I think Joe intends this to be the "men's smoking porch" and may even buy a few cigars one of these days.)

Rachel took this beautiful snowy picture of the farmhouse and duck pond from the woods.

In this one, someone obviously grabbed the camera from her hand and took the shot. She's not that good of a photographer! I love this picture of her standing by our frozen creek in our magnificent winter wonderland. It was all too beautiful for words.

But this is Rachel's work. She's got an artist's eye and it's magnetically attracted to icicles.

And perfectly round snowmen...surrounded by cheerful people standing in a blizzard.

And kooky reindeer...

And people who fall down in the snow and laugh hilariously...

Joe took this one. Daughter-in-love and daughter at the bay.
These pictures make me so happy.
Rachel is our beautiful pearl in the oyster of loss.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

White Christmas

Joey and Rachel in Aspen, Winter 2008

We've had an unheard of eleven inches of snow dumped on us in the last 24 hours. It's absolutely gorgeous, so still, so pure, so soft. I heard the snow has put Virginia in a state of emergency, but we are totally loving it. I realize it isn't such a blessing if you are a homeless person or if your power has gone out, but for those of us lucky enough to be in warm, cozy houses with blazing fires and electricity and yummy food in the oven, it's a treat and a half. We are enjoying being all together and having Rachel with us for this, our third Christmas since Joey went to Heaven. We miss him so much it hurts to think about it. The snow is a great distraction, and distraction is a helpful thing for mourners. Today everyone donned their snow clothes and built a great big, perfectly round snowman out front. When I say perfect, I mean picture perfect --Christmas card perfect. Not sloppy in any detail, and that's because we had some artists working on it (Rachel, Clare, JoAnne). It makes a difference, you know.

Our snowy Christmases always included Joey. His absence is profound. Today I just want to tell him that I love him from the depths of my mother's heart, and that I sorely miss all those times we had and wish they hadn't ended so soon. I do hope that he is having an incredible Christmas in Heaven. I suspect that they celebrate it there, in ways we can only imagine. I believe that he misses us too, and that he is gathered with his grandparents and Kit and our dog Mooshui, and Lindsey and Cody, and maybe some new friends like Baby Kaia and Angie and Katie and Sarah and Josh. I believe he prays for us, and looks forward to the day when we are all reunited. Death is a cold, hard barrier when people love each other, but I am convinced that one day the wall will come down. Our eyes will be opened as never before to a place that we have only dreamed about in our deepest heart of hearts. I can hardly wait to be together again and for the joy of hugging my beloved son.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Unvarnished Story

the beauty
the radiance
the peace
were they there?
heavy, bulky
child with child,
travelling at term
no padded wagon
just a stubborn pack animal
no backrest
no hot coffee to go
long days
in the cold
in humiliation
to the ancestral home
family friends waiting?
ahh, no room for her.
a dirty stable
labor pains
no midwife
no mother to reassure
just an inexperienced man
useless arguing with God.
not his plan.
not his child.
not his way.
no friends no family
no proud cigars
the butt of jokes.
really God?
an indifferent town
an unpadded stable
a smelly place
animal droppings
cold hard noisy
no chair no bed
a trough for a bassinet
scratchy straw
poking in blankets
animals snorting
no hot water
no nurses
no hospital corners
no mirrors
no sink
no toothbrush
no lip gloss
a small, wet baby
pushed out the usual way
who helped?
who cut the cord?
who taught Mary to nurse?
who cleaned it up?
strange visitors
shepherds kings angels
gold, frankincense and myrhh
but still
no room service
no diaper service
no rest
scary dreams
running away in the night
soldiers slashing
babies dying
mother's crying
Her Baby
can you feel it?
in the mess.
has come to thee
O mourning Israel


Isaiah 9:6
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas at the Farm

Welcome to the farm. It's beautiful right now, covered in snow. This huge tree stump on the edge of the woods looks like an enormous bird in a nest. I am spending a few days out here enjoying the beauty and thought it was a good time to share it with you all.

Welcome to our porch. It wraps around three sides of the house. We are happiest at the farm when there are cars everywhere. That means we are sharing it with people we love.

Come on inside and hang up your coat. The pictures on either wall are of a blue and a white heron, native to these tidelands, and a sight to behold when they are walking by our pond. We bought this place unfinished, and it is a work in progress. We have finished the electricity, the gas, the heating, and painted the barn and the outbuildings. It's starting to have some presence.

Welcome to the cozy living room. This room was the entire original house, built 110 years ago. The pine plank floors are the original wood, but the fireplace was rebuilt a few years ago. The fire is hot, and Christmas music is playing. On the mantle are precious pictures of Joey surfing and boating. It brings him here with us. He would have loved this place.

It's difficult having Christmas without him. But we are at least doing better than the previous two years. The focus of our Christmas tree is the best news of all: "there's a good time coming".
That's where our hope lies--in a bright new shining world where we will all be reunited again.

Have a seat. Joe's is the red one, mine is the leather one. I know it's kind of a role-reversal, but that's just the way we prefer it. But we share both chairs with whoever wants to sit and stay awhile.
The windows behind the dining table look out on the woods. It is so renewing to watch the trees. They give me comfort and strength.

This is my rustic, roomy farm kitchen. Notice the farm sink, the wood counters and the 48" stove. Cooking here is a real treat, especially if someone is sitting at the island counter, talking to me. If not, I put the country music channel on the tv and get all swept away with mixing and stirring and the charm of the lyrics. I never knew I was such a country girl till I moved to the South.

At the bottom right corner is my bicycle. I found it at the Goodwill. It was born the same year I was born, so it gets a place of honor inside the house. It's red and blue and has a brown leather seat. It really deserves a post of its own, so one of these days I will do that.

Thanks for visiting. More pictures later!
Merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Duck Surprises

Surprise 1: they ate a pile of cracked corn last night. It was as if they knew what I had posted yesterday, about them refusing to eat cracked corn. Not an hour after I wrote it, they sauntered up to the golden pile and gobbled it up like nobody's business. It was slushy, so maybe that's the secret. Corn soup! Maybe it just needed a touch of slurp going down. No matter what, I rejoiced! I don't want my ducks to starve this winter, so I am glad to see some versatility in their eating habits.

Surprise 2: They like, I mean LIKE, maybe even LOVE, the cold. They proved it today by taking ice baths in the melted slush. At least the girls did. They took their time and relished every moment. No hurrying. They dawdled at it. They savored the moment. White downy breasts plunged in the water, over and over again...just soaking up the icy cold in the arctic air.

They also did a bit of paddling and wing-flapping. It was like they'd been given a pass to the day spa. They flung the water over their heads and backs for a shower.
They were in slushy sub-frozen bliss.

There was also some dedicated neck-craning; some extensive grooming from gray to glossy white; they waddled and flapped and washed themselves feather by feather.

Except Coal.
Surprise 3: He wouldn't go near it. He turned his back on his girlfriends the entire time they were in the water. He just stood there, without budging, with his backed turned, and wouldn't even look.
What the heck? Was he bored? Was he mad? Was he worried? or...
was it some secret duck code of honor--eyes averted for the ladies' bath?
We will wait and watch for the answer to this mystery, but let's just face it, people. We may never know the mind of bossy duck boyfriends.
(and yes, this was pretty much what I did with my day)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lucky Ducks

Today, we are having our 3rd snowfall of the season. Very unusual for southern Virginia, so we are loving it. I just worry about these little guys. But honestly, they seem not a whit concerned. They are paddling about, grubbing for frozen bugs just like it's the middle of summer.
Except they have snow on their beaks. I try to keep in mind that when the wild ducks fly south for winter, this is where they fly to!

I worry about them getting enough food, though. Unfortunately, they are food snobs. They refuse to eat bread, cracked corn or nuts and seeds. Heaven knows we've tried. We've got little piles of various duck food combinations all over the farm. Regardless of our offering, they turn tail and walk away... without a how-do-you-do or a thank-you-ma'am. Without exception.
They prefer juicy bugs and stubbornly refuse to notice anything else offered to them. They ARE fat, though, so maybe they do know what they are doing.

The snow is so cozy, peaceful and soothing. (I love the snowfall against the black barn. It's so beautiful here today.) The only sound that breaks the silence is the happy quack, quack, quack of our ducks. They are very serious, and not to be taken lightly. They look like intense little power attorneys negotiating settlements when they put their heads together.

The lake is frozen, but that is not a problem for these ducks. As I said, they are snobs. They have declared themselves non-aquatic and have resolutely refused to notice the lake, even when Joe tosses them in for their own good. They flap their wings and promptly climb out. They don't like the stereotype. They don't want to be that kind of duck. They are happy being grass ducks. Snobbish, snow-loving, negotiating, bug-eating grass ducks.
So there.

Just Enough Snow

Papa and Aidan are up to something...

It's 32 degrees out there, but it doesn't bother them...

"Come take a look, Nana!"

Their creation: the littlest snowman ever!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

His Last Christmas Before Heaven

Christmas season comes with all kinds of memories. The ones that are most important are the ones you can never make again, the ones you don't ever want to fade away. I miss his easy smile and the warmth of a Christmas morning together.
Never again, and therefore all the more precious...

A treasured white Christmas, worth every dime and every bit of travel hassle as we came from three different directions to share this blissful week.

Phone in one ear, computer on his lap; he brought his work with him, and when he wasn't skiing, he was doing this.

Candid snap of brother and sister at breakfast...
Thank God for cameras and their capacity for saving what we can't bear to lose.

A rare shopping trip with me...oh, how I miss him joking, laughing, just being next to me.

A beer at the Million Dollar Cowboy bar in Jackson Hole, WY.
So glad we did it, so wish we could do it again. I miss you, beautiful son.
Make and savor your moments. Sometimes they are the precious last drops.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Blue Christmas

It's a herculean challenge for the bereaved to feel enthusiastic during the holidays. Those jolly mall songs don't resonate with the ache in the heart. There are bittersweet memories lurking everywhere. The memories pop unbidden out of old photo albums and sagging boxes filled with the accumulation of years of ornaments. I hang these memories on the tree and mantle, as I have repeatedly over the years, but now they look different. A few of those time-worn ornaments stand out from the crowd. They belong to My Child... who was a brother, a friend, a precious beloved... who is no longer part of this world. Instead of cheer, they represent emptiness, loss and pain. They bring a sharp stab in the heart and tears, not the warmth and smiles they once engendered. They are this month's reminders of a story with a tragic ending. And all of us who knew him closely, his circle of companions, we all quietly mourn him this month. I can picture each of them lonely for his presence. I feel it in my tight chest, my shallow breathing, and in the silence of the night. I hurt for me and I hurt for them.

I used to live in an innocent world where Christmas was simply a busy amalgamation of gift shopping, culinary overload and childish delight. Now it's complicated. It's an aching annual reminder of someone with whom I will never share another holiday. It hurts like crazy.
And Elvis had it right, "I'll have a blue Christmas without you. I'll be so blue just thinking about you". Blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas.

This is my 3rd and now I am resigned to it. My happy ending will be found elsewhere, in the world to come. The sad Christmas carols in the minor keys, the ones that no one likes to sing, are the only ones that apply salve to my broken heart. They remind me that in spite of relentless sorrow there is an unquenchable rumor of HOPE. Though I am required to endure this heavy burden of loss, I will nonetheless, by faith, put my trust in the Almighty God. The one who promises to turn my sorrow into dancing.

O come, O come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

Who mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice, rejoice


Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

A New Word

lim·i·nal·i·ty   /ˌlɪməˈnælɪti

–noun Anthropology .
the transitional period or phase of a rite of passage, during which the participant lacks social status or rank, remains anonymous, shows obedience and humility, and follows prescribed forms of conduct.

Origin: limin--threshold
The waiting place between a past and a future.

"It's as if we were caught in a darkened vestibule between an old way of being and a new...the doors of the past close behind us. The doors to the future are still unopened. Too often we forget that only by enduring our time in the liminal space between those doors, waiting for an opening, can we eventually move across a threshold into the future." -Jane R. Pretat

Psalm 56:2 O Most High, when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Luke 11:9 Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.