Glimpses of Heaven

Dear Alicia,

It’s been a while since I’ve written, but you’re never far from my mind. In fact I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately as I decided to celebrate my birthday Alicia-style. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly Alicia-style; it was Natalie-style-heavily-influenced-by-Alicia-spirit. I had planned to celebrate my birthday “big” this year in honor of your own love of celebrating. This idea was confirmed even more as I heard multiple people tell me recently that celebrating brings more to life than we really understand. Also, Daniel and I talked with friends about Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine at a party. Wine for those who were already well-sloshed to continue partying when he could have said “You already had so much you don’t even know the stuff I just made is the good stuff. Why bother?”

Maybe, Alicia, you understood more about God’s idea of celebrating life than I do. And as I think about your life now – a perpetual party in the sky (possibly?), I hope you can see some glimpses of heaven here on earth as you watch us from afar. And so I set a date to celebrate – really celebrate – my birthday this year, something I rarely do intentionaly beyond going out to eat with Daniel (although I always enjoy that too!). That date was January 21st.

However, my plans began to fade as I realized I wanted to keep my sister’s kids so she could have some much needed time alone, and January 21st became the date that seemed to work best. How was I going to celebrate while attending to the needs of 5 small children? I pondered this and came up with alternative dates – none of which suited my taste. Alicia, you may be privy to such information already, but Becky will have another appointment with the transplant surgeon the day before my birthday. All the news concerning her health lately has been dismal; while I try to hope this appointment may have a different report, I wanted to be able to celebrate easily and attentively– not in the aftermath of more bad news, trying to hide my tears and quiet my raging thoughts.

And then Alice got sick, a chest cold. Obviously Becky was not going to send her kids to my house with Alice running a fever of 102 and coughing incessantly. So I put my plan back into action, even though it meant mysteriously making Daniel stop at the grocery store on our way to my in-law’s house and throwing together my favorite breakfast at 11:30pm Friday night.

The day did not go as smoothly as I had planned. I had hoped to go running, play games with Alice and spend a large amount of the afternoon scrap booking. It snowed instead- no run. I awoke to a beautiful, pure white blanket covering the ground. I tried to imagine you had ordered it for me – sent down to remind me of beauty. The first real snow of the season is always so breath taking.

Alice was too sick to play games with her temperature at 104. I longed to have my little girl back, to see her smile and hear her breathe easily. We read instead, book after book after book until I thought I would go crazy. I celebrated when she ate a cup of yogurt instead of my birthday cake. My nursing and outloud-reading duties filled the overwhelming majority of the afternoon leaving me less than an hour to pull out my scrap booking. I almost didn’t bother.

A single phone call sent me into another cloud of self-pity. Our family vacation which I had been put in charge of planning and had done so by spending hours researching and agonizing over was changed to a totally different venue by a 20minute conversation. All my hard work gone up in smoke. (I know, I know – no use crying over spilled milk. I am glad the new location will be easier on the pocketbook and offers some amenities my plan did not – very excited about the nearby park.)

The icing on the cake, if you’ll excuse the expression, was an argument between Daniel and I over a movie (of all things) we watched after the kids were in bed. Hollywood – you drive me bananas! and so does the need to analyze every movie we watch because we rarely agree on the analysis.

By the end of the night, I was feeling so sorry for myself, I didn’t even want to eat my birthday cake. Then I stepped outside to put a can in the recycle bin and breathed the clean, crisp air; and it hit me – all the things I have to celebrate, my little bit of heaven right here on earth. And so these are the glimpses of heaven I had today. Maybe you saw them too and hoped I would live my day big, just like you loved doing.

I love you, Alicia. I miss you. But rock on, girl – can’t wait for the ultimate party with you.

Natalie

The reason for the mysterious stop at the grocery store.

 

One of my favorite breakfasts - monkey bread

 

A few moments of fun before regressing.

 

How she spent most of the day

 

Some me time

 

A sampling of the books for the day

 

My kind of birthday cake

 

Tomorrow's fun - a $75 meal for $21. Daniel and I will have a yummy time.

A Tribute to…

In my opinion, there is no cookie better than the classic chocolate chip. However, cookies in general frustrate me – so much work for such a small product. Actually all desserts that require individual attention (cupcakes, whoopie pies, etc) tend to drive me crazy (with Christmas cookies being the exception since it’s a special time of year). If the offending recipe can be converted to a 9X13in pan instead of individual chunks of time, I’m the gal to make that happen. Apparently I have a reputation because my family knows that if they want something resembling a chocolate chip cookie, they ask me for a “cookie bar,” not “cookies.”

When Alice asked me for cookie bar on Sunday evening, I said I’d make it Monday to which she asked – “Can I help?”. In light of the fact that our dvd player is now broken thanks to little helpers who were trying to fix it when it was already in top notch condition, those same little helpers seem to be more aware of what I do during the time they would be watching their routine morning video, which will never become a morning routine again according to my husband. (Yes, I admit it – put me in the SAHM’s Hall of Shame – if we are at home for the morning, my kids usually watch a 30-40min dvd which sometimes – ok, ok… many times – turns into an hour.) So now that we no longer have that diversion, it seems that once the mixer is gotten out of hiding and placed on the counter their little baker’s antennas shoot up faster than you can say “baking is for grownups,” and they are all about dumping, pouring, mixing etc. (I used to love baking with Alice. We had lovely bonding experiences standing side-by-side while I helped her carefully pour ingredients into the bowl, explaining in detail what we were doing, slowly savoring each step. But since Ian has become very interested in the process, it has become that… a process, not to mention a mess while the kids stand side-by-side with no room for mom to guide measuring cups to the bowl while listening to the discourse of “It’s my turn to pour the sugar in.” “NO, it’s MY turn. You did it last time.” grinding on my patience. And of course they are usually ready for the next step before I’m finished with the prior one. Any tips on baking with little ones would be appreciated because I don’t want to squelch their interest by not allowing them to help out.)

A little disclaimer: this is not a recipe post. I have nothing against blogs that showcase recipes. In fact, the 1-2ish blogs that I read with a bit of regularity do contain recipes many of which I appreciate. This post is merely a tribute to the classic chocolate chip cookie with a small twist which Daniel and I have found we cannot!! keep our hands off of, nor keep our mouths from ingesting. It is also a tribute to those of you who have had the pleasure of baking with little ones underfoot… or I mean “helping out.”

 

The making of a Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bar

Helping pour in the sugar
Contently (I thought) watching the mixer. But remember how I said they are ready for the next step before I am? Next thing I knew....

I won't tell you which one of my helpers decided to add the eggs all by his/herself
Can you tell which one looks upset and which one looks mischievious?
Round #2 - starting over
No more pictures until we're pretty much home-free of catastrophe. This helper has apparently has learned moderation. Pat myself on the back.
Hhmmm - this one seems to need a little more work on that moderation idea. (Or maybe he just takes after his mommy.)

 

End product - substitute 1/2 the butter in your recipe with an equal amount of peanut butter. Fabulous! and slightly more healthy for you.

 

Last Times

In November I was asked to write something for my church’s Longest Night service. The purpose of this service is to remember those who are not experiencing the joy and happiness that most people associate with the holidays. This may be due to the loss of health, a loved one, a job, a marriage or other relationship, etc. I ended up writing 2 pieces – just because the mood struck, both of which I was intending to post on the actual longest night in December; however that week our family was victim to a raging stomach bug, hence the delay. This is the first piece I wrote (which was not read at the service); and while I made a resolution years ago never to make another New Year’s resolution, this is about as close to making one as I think I’m ever going to get. The second something will be posted later.

 

This Thanksgiving was a first for our family. It was first Thanksgiving without my husband’s sister, Alicia. But for some reason, that part of the holiday didn’t even seem real to me. I guess sometimes in the actual moment, I can still fool myself into thinking she’s on a long trip and get caught up in the other activities going on around me. However, alone with my thoughts, I’m unable to make myself believe that and remembrances of our last times together filled my head Thanksgiving weekend brought about by a conversation on black Friday evening at my sister’s house..

We were in the process of washing up Rebecca’s dishes after enjoying the delicious!! smoked turkey my brother-in-law makes every year. During this time, my sister announced that her infant son had finally eaten his cereal without spending the first half of the feeding trying to spit it all back out. In response to this news, my mom said something like “So you’ve had another last time. You’ve experienced your last baby having his last feeding of not knowing how to eat cereal.” I knew exactly what she was talking about. Unbeknownst to my mom and I at the time, we later found out we had both read the same book this past summer in which a mother writes a poem to her youngest child about all the last times in his life that went by unobserved. The mother is somewhat remorseful about not celebrating – or at least commemerating – those last times – the last time he crawled, the last time he sat in her lap, the last time he asked to be carried. Of course, the tricky element of the last time is that most times you don’t know when the last time is actually occuring for the last time.

After my mom’s statement, there was a moment of silence that filled the kitchen as we all may have been thinking the same thought. Last Thanksgiving was the first time my sister exhibited serious symptoms of having LAM. The last time we gathered there to enjoy the delicious smoked turkey we contemplated whether Becky was suffering from severe asthma or a pulmonary embolism as the doctors did not want to perform a CT scan on her lungs to determine the cause of the horrific pain in her chest due to her early pregnancy. That was the last Thanksgiving we were unaware of the disease that was about to change all of our lives, and certainly her own the most.

But rewind a little earlier on Thanksgiving day of 2010 – last Thanksgiving before going to my sister’s place, we gathered at Alicia’s house totally unaware that that would be the last Thanksgiving we would have as a complete family. The last time – the last Thanksgiving, the last Christmas, the last superbowl party at her house, the last phone call, the last time I saw her.

Maybe many you have had similar thoughts or experiences. Or maybe you actually knew you were experiencing the last time you would get to hug your loved one or tell them you love them. Maybe you can look back and know that you were able to comfort your loved one or share words meant only for him/her to hear one last time. But maybe you were not so fortunate – maybe you live wishing you could have had that last time, wishing you had known this was the last time, wishing you would have said something or done something differently had you only known this was the last time.

Due to the nature of Alicia’s death, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t able to have a meaningful, loving last time with her. But as I process this stark fact and also the realities of my sister’s quickly declining health, I feel like I need to make a commitment that I will live today as if I am living my last times. And I ponder the thought –What would I do differently if I thought this was the last time I had with a particular person? Would I simply smile even if I felt like frowning? Would I attend to his physical needs with greater care and patience? Would I listen to her problems more attentively? Would I be more compassionate? Would I hug him – maybe hold on a little longer than normal? Would I thank her for the difference she made in my life and tell her how much she is worth? Would I tell him “I love you”?

In my sorrow, it’s so easy to look inward. “Most people don’t really understand how hard 2011 has been” is a thought that occurrs to me many times throughout the week. It’s easy to tell myself that it takes too much energy to live out my intentions right now as I wade through my sorrow, support my husband, help out my sister – and raise 2 energetic kids. And to a certain extent, that is true. I’ve needed to be patient in realizing I honestly can’t do everything I think I should be able to do. But I do need to go on really living. I do need to invest in others, not just their sake, but for my own as well. I intend to live each day as if it were my last. It won’t always happen – I will fail many days. But on the days I that I succeed, maybe some of the pain I bare of missing the last time with Alicia will turn into tiny moments of peace…. maybe. I won’t know until I try it.