Friday, December 8, 2017

Grandma Claire

This photograph hangs in the hallway of my grandparents' house. This is me with my grandmother, in 1979 or 1980. I'm just a wee thing and my grandma was maybe 40 years old - close to the age I am now.
She died last night, from complications from a virus that's going around. My relationship with my grandmother is complicated. As I wrap my mind around her death, I find that I'm having a hard time landing on an emotion. I am sad that she's gone, sad that my grandfather is now alone; but we weren't close for much of my life. Traumatic events in my childhood and attitudes (both mine and theirs) throughout my life have broken our emotional connection.
In 2014 my mom and I drove to Sacramento to visit my grandparents. We stayed with them for a week and in that time I saw a side of Grandma that I had never even glimpsed before: she could be funny, and generous. She wasn't always kind, to me or to others. She's responsible for significant emotional damage to many of us in the family, but my last visit with her showed me that people aren't always one thing.
Here's a (terribly blurry) picture of the two of us from that trip; she rolled her eyes when I snapped the photo because she didn't want me to take it, but afterward she hugged me tighter than I ever remember her hugging me.
During my visit with her and my grandfather, I took the opportunity to ask them about their early life. I heard about some experiences Grandma had as a girl, some of her hurts and fears. I heard of the courtship of my grandparents, and I saw the loving look that passed between them as they reminisced on fifty-one years of marriage. I got some advice from them on how to be a married person.
Here is a photo of the two of them at a dance (they did square dancing!) - I forget the year she mentioned, sometime in the 60s.
To say that I didn't know her heart well would be something of an understatement. The few pictures I have of her as a younger woman show someone laughing, beautiful, and happy. I remember her that way sometimes, on the rare occasion when I had time with her alone; she would sew and I would sit at her side waiting for the chance to bring her a piece of fabric, or throw away her bits of string for her, or dump her ashtray, or fetch her coffee. She would hum little tunes that I can still hear in my head.
Here she is a year ago with my grandfather; he had been in the hospital with a procedure and she took him for a little walk. I love the smiles on their faces, their clasped hands.
Over the course of my life this woman has caused so much pain for my family. I didn't always understand her actions, or her motivations, and for most of my life I had my mind made up that I needed to keep my distance from her. When I saw her last she showed me a file she had of the cards and letters I sent her. She had every single letter I ever wrote her, including pictures and notes from my earliest childhood. She saved them all, for all these years.
I may not have understood her, but I know she loved me and that is what I am choosing to focus on.
Rest in peace, Claire. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Convenience store fire

There was a fire in a convenience store in my neighbourhood on Sunday. The building was completely destroyed, and a woman was found dead among the devastation. My heart is broken for her family. Today I drove past the building for the first time since the fire and the sight really hit me. My parents had a house fire a few months ago and while I wasn't personally impacted by this convenience store fire the site of the burnt building, the blackened wood and piles of debris, the flowers and stuffies stuck to the fence hit me where my most raw feelings live.

On my way back home, I stopped to take some photographs of the building. As I walked up to the fence that surrounded the property, I noticed a circle of firemen standing near the gas pumps. I didn't get a chance to photograph them, but they were standing in a circle with arms folded and heads down. I am sure they were praying.

Here are a few of the pictures I managed to snap.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Photo dump: Progress

This cow. Its pasture is at the front of our property line, so this is what we see when we look out our front door. When I first moved to Washington from California I was intimidated by any large animal that wasn't a horse (having spent time around horses as a girl, I knew how to be around them). Cows were especially strange and scary. The first time I saw this cow, it came running up to its fence when it saw me and I've sort of loved it ever since. Today when I walked up to his fence to say hello, he ran up like he does and let me pet his nose. We are going to get on just fine.

Not a whole lot has changed on the house since last time I was there. Some more of the roof is up but it snowed in most of the house.

Side porch of my in-law's side. They will have a little patio off their living room (in addition to a shared deck in the back) with a decent sized yard for their little dogger to play.


View from the kitchen window. I spent a few minutes fantasising about looking out at my goaties playing in their pen. I might be turning into a crazy goat lady.

View from the back of the house. We've chosen these lovely french doors to open onto our deck and the view looks all the way down the length of the property to the tree line. Someday we will have a barn, chickens, goaties, maybe sheep; some fruit bearing trees and a garden. At the very end of the property at the tree line there's a little area that would make a perfect pet cemetery. I'm still talking Steve into that one.

I'm tickled silly every time I see how close The Kids will be.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Photo dump: Snow day

We got some serious snow. Well, serious for this area; it doesn't snow all that often, and rarely quite this much. Being such a California girl (read: cold-sissy), I put on all the layers and ventured outside with my favourite things: husband, dogs, camera.

Riker, Pixel, and Steve - surveying the land? Plotting their next move? Deep thoughts, for sure.

When we first brought Riker home, he wouldn't even go out in the rain. Now he frolics in the snow.

These two are practically inseparable. Where you find one, you'll generally find the other. Pixel does get trampled on a lot because Riker is sort of a bully.

Riker is wondering why she's standing around on the deck. I didn't catch it, but just after I snapped this photo, he started pawing at her and knocked her over. Bully.

Pixel has a strange habit of biting at the snow. Usually accompanied by growls and barks.

I couldn't really get a decent shot of this boy. He loves the snow and is constantly on the move.

Exploring behind the flower beds...

Pixel spent most of her time on the deck, staring balefully out at the rest of us. I think I'll knit her some booties.

Cool snow dude in my neighbour's yard.

Snow-covered weepy-type tree. Everyone else's yard has cool stuff in it. We only have a fire hydrant.

I think I've begun taking these trees for granted. I was so surprised to see these large, beautiful, majestic looking trees all covered in snow. They've always been there, and they're all around my neighbourhood, but it took the beauty of the snow for me to actually see them.

Not pictured is the pasture between me and the back of this house. The pasture looked nice but this shot really grabbed my eye. I think it should be a puzzle.

After many years, I've still not learned much about photography; most of the settings confuse me and the pictures next to the settings really mean nothing to me. I took 13 photos of this tree, one for each setting. I liked this one the best- the setting is "guide" and I don't know what that means.

I hope you all are staying safe, wherever you are and whatever your conditions.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Year in review: 2016

I've been thinking of what I want to share here for a few weeks. I have seen and experienced so much in 2016 and it has taken me a long time to figure out how to share it all. I have more pictures than I know what to do with, more stories than you actually want to hear. I have been extremely blessed in 2016. I have also gone through the motions in a few areas. I suffer from occasional depression, and sometimes it gets the better of me. I haven't spent as much time with family and friends because of that, and in that aspect I wish I would have done better. I have also learned a lot about myself this past year; what I am capable of, where my emotions are, and what I really want out of life.

If you know me at all, you know I like to knit. I spend a fair amount of time doing it, thinking about doing it, planning projects, and buying yarn. I knit all sorts of things- my favourite things this past year have been shawls and scarves. I am cold a lot and shawls are great for layering and keeping cool air off California-girl skin. Also featured are baby bibs, the beginnings of a poncho, a blanket I knit for my dad, some decorative flowers, and a temperature blanket project I started last year (LAST YEAR, folks) and never finished. It's on my ever-growing to be knit list.

There is a delightful little yarn shop in Alexandria, VA called Fibre Space. I have the opportunity to be in Virginia several times a year and so, several times a year I traipse into Fibre Space and put my hands on every last skein of yarn in the place. I was tickled my first trip, I made my husband take a photo to share with my knitting group. Knitting goals for 2017: finish last year's temperature blanket and maybe start a new one; knit afghans for various folks; finish that sweater I started ages ago; tackle some techniques I've been too afraid to try. Oh, and reduce the number of WIPs (works in progress) I have lying about, tying up needles and collecting dust in baskets.

October of 2016 marked my one year anniversary with a volunteer group, Awesome Breastforms, which provides knit and crocheted prosthetic breastforms to women who have had mastectomy or lumpectomy surgeries. The breastforms we create are free to the recipient- volunteers take on all cost associated with creating and shipping the form; they are light-weight and comfortable- they don't pull the skin or put pressure on sensitive scar-tissue. These forms are made-to-order with love in every stitch.

As a volunteer, I have had some ups and downs. I've been in tears over my forms; our group insists on awesome quality, and sometimes my knitting just isn't up to being awesome. I've never fought so hard with a knitting project until working on these forms. The feedback our volunteers have gotten, personal letters from recipients, really shows how one small act of kindness can change a person's experience in the world. It is so uplifting and challenging and wonderful being a volunteer in this group.

Know someone who can benefit from our services? Want to become an Awesome Volunteer? Check out our website!

Our local news channel got wind of our volunteer group a couple years ago and each October -which is breast cancer awareness month- they send someone out to do a local interest piece. This year, I was invited along with a couple other ladies to join that interview. I never got my hands on the video, but here are a couple pictures of us during and after our interview.

It was exciting to be interviewed for television, but also really nerve-wracking. I do that nervous rambling non-stop babbling when I am socially uncomfortable, but thankfully the news editors cut all that out. To be a part of something like this, something that helps women feel better about their appearance in such a personal, private way is an amazing thing. It feels like a special bond to be able to provide something so valuable.

I am blessed to be surrounded by this amazing group of women. They have taught me so much about charity, friendship, and love.

In November I attended a conference called Time Out For Women with some friends from church. This conference is an event that focuses on uplifting spiritual messages from women who are facing the daily challenges of life in the gospel. This was my second time attending and I really can't even put into words what this experience does for me... there are talks from members of the church, some talking about their conversion stories and the challenges they've overcome; others talk about how their work and "church" life intersect; there is music and laughter and fun.

The girls in the picture with me are two amazing women - both examples of faith and endurance that I have so much respect for. Attending the conference with them, and the many other ward-mates and friends we run into there, was such a treat for me.

Among the festivities, we heard a talk about the refugees in our country and learned of some of the efforts our church and leaders are taking to support them. The LDS church has a humanitarian arm that funds education and community support efforts for those in need. The alphabet cards you see in the picture will be used to help teach incoming refugees English. We were asked to take a few and colour them in while we listened to the various talks.

In October I participated in a 5k to raise funds for suicide awareness. Many of you know that I lost my first husband to suicide, so this issue is one that is near to my heart. With the help of the friends whose names are listed on my crisp, white shirt, I raised $150 for suicide awareness. This money went directly to the foundation and helps to fund awareness campaigns for high-school children, counseling for survivors, and so many wonderful programs.

This was the first race I participated in by myself. I was nervous at first to be there alone, but by the end of it I had a handful of new friends. A group of ladies saw that I was by myself and surrounded me with their love and their laughter and their support. It's been 16 years since my loss, but the pain is still there and the kindness of those ladies was very special for me.

I was also moved by the support I received from friends and family and the money they donated. So many people helped me reach my goal, and others helped me spread the word in their own communities to help me fund-raise. It was touching to be part of that, and to feel that kindness from those around me.

In August I participated in the Portland to Coast relay race with 7 other women. Our team is the Pavement Princesses and we had the crowns and the tutus to prove it. I'm not going to lie, there were tears. There was also heat stroke, hurting body parts, dirt, and hunger. And there was laughter, camaraderie, friendships formed and re-kindled, and a light-heartedness that comes only with true exhaustion.

2016 was my third year; for the last two years, on the days leading up to the race I vow that *this* will be my last year. In 2015 I was truly done. Miserable, wet, cold, and tired, I wanted no part of it again. By the time I'm in the car on the way home though, I miss it. After I'm home and I've had a shower and a proper meal, settling down after being miserable for a day and a half, I can't help but want more. I haven't done any training for the past few months, but I'm looking forward to another year and another experience.

I've had an almost obsessive fascination with Australia for many years; I used to practice Buddhism, and there was one particular monk whose teachings really resonated with me- Ajahn Brahm (ajahn means "teacher"). He has a monastery in Serpentine, Western Australia. He has written several books and holds the title of "spiritual director" for various institutions. He's got this amazing sense of humour and teaching style that really made me feel connected to Buddhism.

Steve and I had an opportunity to visit Australia for work in April; we were there for 2 weeks and traveled to several areas-one of which was Perth, which is *really* close to Serpentine. We had some extra time on our last day in Perth so we went on a small sight-seeing trip. We found the LDS temple there and spent some time on the grounds before driving out to Ajahn Brahm's monastery for a quick visit. It had been a desire, what felt like an impossible pipe-dream, to someday visit that place. To walk those grounds, to meditate in a building that Ajahn Brahm himself built and had taught in. While I am no longer Buddhist, the teachings that I learned from him and from Buddhist spirituality have irrevocably shaped me into the person I am now, and I was in actual awe of that place. It was a deeply moving experience and it testified of the truth of the spirit of God to me.

Most of you know by now that we bought some land and are building a home. We've got 3 acres in Hockinson- enough room to build a nice house for ourselves and even better- a small house for my in-laws. Our kids are building a house in a couple acres two doors down so we'll have a good part of the family on one street!

I've been researching farm animals- we have decided on chickens, sheep, and goats. Maybe a horse in a year or two. I'm such a city girl, I'm not even sure where all these farming inclinations came from but I am beyond excited. I've been learning about all the things one can make with goat's milk and I can't wait to make goat's milk soap! We have big plans for our little farm and I am thrilled that we will have Steve's parents here with us. I married into this family late in life and so much has happened that I didn't get to experience. To have them close is such a blessing for me.

I'm looking forward to the hard work, getting dirty in my pasture, the family dinners, board games, kids and grandkids next door, gospel discussion. Sitting on the back deck, talking late into the night during the summer with only the stars for light... I never imagined myself living in the country and I can't wait to experience that adventure.

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