27 August 2015

Funny Sayings, and a bit of last week's happenings

One of my favorite things about daily life in my family is what my girls say as they are trying to make sense of any number of things in life. Some are very deep and lovely, and make me think and grow. And some are so funny. I returned home from Utah yesterday. I'd been gone for 6 days, the longest I've ever been away from my girls. I couldn't wait to get home! I think I cried twice while I was gone just because I missed their sweet faces and funny sayings. (And their kisses and cuddles, and every single thing about them.)

Magnolia said two super funny things today. Sadly, I can only remember one. Tonight was Food Truck night at their school. Before we left home, we were looking over the menus of the food trucks and relaying vegan options. When Magnolia wasn't satisfied with any of her options, she stormed off while exclaiming,
"Mom! Why do we always have to eat vegan stuff!?" Then she quickly turned back and declared, "I'll have the tofu sandwich!"
With the exception of desserts, she is as vegan as can be. (She did not have the "tofu sandwich," but I did, and it was a delicious báhn mì.)

This school year is off to a good start. We switched their schools the week before school started. It's a kind of long story that involves paying tuition to the private school they'd been attending or covering much-needed orthodontic care out-of-pocket that Cora is finally ready to receive. We chose orthodontic care. The good news is that they've been happy to leave for school in the morning and happy when we pick them up. I left for Utah on their third day of school. I planned the trip before they switched schools, so I was fretting not being able to talk things out with them each day. Luckily, it's been a pretty smooth transition.

First Day of school - Kindergarten and 2nd Grade

Casey and Jane had such a sweet wedding in Utah.

Wedding Shenanigans

Reading with Genevieve and Seth

13 August 2015

AcroYoga with Jake and BrieAnn

Ever since Jake saw the photos of me doing AcroYoga for the first time at Wanderlust, he has wanted to try it with me. There was a little Acro challenge on Instagram August 1-8, and we decided to participate. Those 8 days were quite interesting! 

To forever document our efforts:

29 July 2015

If we have souls, they're made of the love we share.

I got sucked into a mediocre Tom Cruise movie on television tonight: Oblivion. The best part was the quote I used as the title of this post.

I believe we definitely have souls. And I really like thinking they're made of the love we share. At least in part. Or maybe mostly. At any rate, it makes sense to me.

I've felt those connections. There's certainly the love I feel for all humankind. Every person I know. And most living things...I'm not all the way there on reptiles and arachnids. But there are those few, precious connections, where I know my soul was bound to another - I feel them. Their presence is palpable even when they aren't near. My soul is drawn to theirs, despite any resistance my life's experience has built up for me.

This summer has been quite the experience. I was away from home for 6 weeks and 1 day. And in that time, I was stupid sick and healed, Jake and I attended the funeral of one of his former students, Cora learned to ride a bike, both girls are officially swimmers, we spent wonderful time with family and friends, I took my girls to stay at their [great]great-great-grandmother's home, I helped walk a loved one to another life, and I was with a dear friend when she welcomed her first child to this life.

Today I want to talk about walking with a loved one to her grave. It all happened so fast. I was in Colorado with my little family and Jake's family. We were staying at our friend's cabin in Estes Park. My mom called and let me know that my paternal grandmother was in the hospital with pneumonia, and her kidneys were operating at 10%. After a biopsy of her lungs and kidneys, they determined Vasculitis was the culprit of her organ failure. She had a bit of an upswing, but then the biopsy site on her kidney started bleeding, they spent two days trying to get it to stop, and by the time they did, her kidneys and lungs were shutting down. Mix that with pneumonia and congestive heart failure. She decided that she didn't want to undergo any more treatment. On Tuesday, June 30th, my mom called and said that Verda was being released from the hospital on hospice.

(Verda with Baby Magnolia, 6 months)

I cried, and struggled with whether I should stay with my family or go be with her in her final days. The moment it set in that she was still alive, and I could see her, and hear her, and talk to her, rather than just wait for a call to come for a funeral, was when I realized it was a really easy decision. I booked my flight, and 3 hours later, I was on a plane from Denver to Phoenix.

The next four days were busy, I helped my family with things most of us had never done in caring for one who is dying. We mastered changing sheets with someone still in bed. I learned that a wet washcloth across one's face can be the most luxurious treatment. Chapstick, ice chips, a red sippy cup, so many pillows, the hum of oxygen, swollen hands, talking to people who aren't there, her moments of lucidity, her "I love yous."

My mom, Aunt Teri, and I left for a bit on July Fourth to watch some fireworks. I drove up to an area close to my old Think Spot. We saw several fireworks shows with the whole Phoenix metro stretching out before us. When we got back, my grandpa was giving my grandma a blessing. The mood was very different from when we'd left an hour-and-a-half before. I silenced my phone and stayed until 11:30. I wanted to take Alice home so my Aunt Connie's dog could come out of the bedroom she was in. Her dog, Lucy, liked to bark at Alice, and I didn't want any chance for abrasive barking to shatter the peace. I hugged everyone. I went over to Verda and told her I loved her, and that I'd see her in the morning. She told me she loved me in her muddled voice.

(A little panorama of what our days looked like. Taken July 4, 2015)

She passed away at 4:30 AM on July 5th. My mom sent me a text at 4:43. I didn't look at my phone until 6 because I hadn't taken it off silent from the night before. I quickly got ready and drove to their house. As I was nearing their house, I saw a white van coming from their driveway. It turned in front of me, and I knew the body of the one we'd cared for and loved on was in the back. I paused before turning into the driveway to watch the van for a few blocks.

I arrived to family who had just seen her be taken away. It was very tender. I walked around and hugged everyone in the yard for a few minutes before heading inside. I went straight to the dining room to hug family there. When I walked into the living room, it was empty, the hospital bed she'd been in for 4.5 days was empty. That's when I cried.

By the end of the day, her obituary was written, and most of her service planned. The next day, Monday, we went to the mortuary and made the final arrangements, picked the casket, finalized the program. Jake and the girls met me for lunch after the mortuary. They'd made it down from Colorado. On Tuesday, Jake rehearsed a musical number for the service with a flutist, we finalized family luncheon plans, and Jake and I went to buy him some pants that he could wear to a funeral because all we had were vacation clothes. (Luckily, I had some dressier clothes than Jake.)

(The Chesnut Family Group Shot at the luncheon)

At 3 on Tuesday afternoon, I went to the mortuary with my mom, Aunt Brenda, Connie, Teri, and Terri. (I have three Aunt Ter[r]i's on that side.) It is customary for endowed members of the Mormon church to be buried in their temple clothes, and for other endowed members of the church to dress the dead. It was a very surreal experience - the whole week prior had been - but this in particular. I was present in the moment, but also having a sort of out-of-body experience. There was respect and reverence for what was happening, but also a sort of detached, "I have never done this before" feeling. I'd never touched a dead body before, let alone tried to maneuver one into stockings and a dress, and every other piece of ceremonial clothing. Her perm was a little too grown out for her hair to lay just right, so we curled her hair. As I was curling, I took all precautions not to pull her hair, and I shielded her eyes from hairspray. On a very random note, I had to ask if we could borrow a small curling iron from the mortuary to curl her hair. After Shawn, the worker who was waiting in the wings to help us, returned with the curling iron, I went to plug it in and saw two little grey hairs still attached to the barrel. I wondered how many other grandmas that little curling iron had help prepare for their final resting place.

When trying to decide how to describe the feeling of my grandma's limbs during the dressing, I couldn't think of the perfect thing. I sent an email to my friend, Mary Bliss, several days after the funeral telling her what had been happening on my side of the world, and she sent back the perfect descriptor: "Made of clay."

I was up late on Tuesday night writing Verda's life history. I'd spent the evening interviewing her children and a few of her grandchildren for material to fill the pages. I ended up going to bed at 4AM on Wednesday morning after I emailed a draft of the life history to my Aunt Connie. Verda's viewing started at 9AM. The service was at 10. The music was lovely. We walked into Jake playing Don Williams's "You're My Best Friend," which was Don and Verda's song. My Aunt Teri (one of them!) did a fantastic job reading the life history. Jake and the flutist, Laura Friar, played a lovely duet of "O My Father." When it was time for the family to leave, we walked out to Jake playing George Strait's "The Chair," one of Verda's favorites. We left the church for the cemetery and dedication of her grave, then returned to the church for the family luncheon.

(My parents and siblings and our children. Candid, just the way I like it.)

I hadn't seen a lot of that side of the family in over a decade. I loved every second of my time with them. Don and Verda became my grandparents when I was 12 and my mom married my [step]dad. With them came an amazing family. I got to see a lot of them over Mother's Day weekend when we were all in Arizona for my [step]sister's wedding. I had missed them. Don and Verda had become great confidants in the last few years. I loved sitting in their living room talking with them. I could tell them anything, and they always had good advice. I still expect many more years of good advice from Don, but I will miss Verda. So very much.

And that leads to where I am right now. Everything was so busy before and after her death. It's just been in the last few days that I've started processing the grief. I can't think about her without crying. She had this unique combination of tender and feisty. When I was in Arizona a few years ago, I went to Sacrament Meeting in their ward. (Sacrament Meeting is the hour block in the three hour church service where Mormons are together as a whole congregation and they take the sacrament (communion).) I sat next to her, and she softly rubbed the back of my hand for the whole hour. She also never minced her words. She kept it real. And because of that, it was easy to be real with her. Grief is such a funny thing. I feel like I've said that exact same thing in previous posts. I mean it.

But it's that love that our souls are made of. That love that makes my heart sing in connectedness and sting at loss. It transcends lives.

19 June 2015

Bike Rides and Families

The biggest news of today is this: Cora Adeline Grace Johnson has mastered bike riding.

Look at her go!!

I have spent the week recovering from pinkeye, a sinus infection, two ruptured eardrums, and two ear infections. My left eardrum burst in the middle of the night after I went to the doctor. I'm grateful it wasn't as painful as when my right eardrum decided it had enough.

I feel like today was the first day that could really count as recovery. I'm not sure how long it will take for my ears to fully heal, to lose the ringing and echo-y sounds, or to feel kind of normal again, but I am certain this wasn't what I had in mind for my summer. The not hearing well part isn't great, but the dizzy spells are proving to be the worst. If I turn my head too quickly, or move in a different direction, I feel like falling over. One of my new life goals is to never experience Vertigo. Ever.

Last night, we watched an old family video that touched me. It was Christmas Day at Jake's paternal grandparents' (Mammy and Granddad) home in 1990. Everyone was there. All four children, their spouses, and all eleven grandchildren. Grandmother, Mammy's mom, was even there. This woman is legendary, and I've never seen her on video before. It was wonderful. It was also bittersweet.

Mammy passed away just before Christmas. I haven't written much about it. I've processed her death very differently without having been there during the last few months of her life when Dementia completely took over, and she wasn't really Mammy anymore. In many ways I'm grateful that she was still her when we left for Los Angeles.

The part of the video that really got me was the timing. Six months after it was filmed, that family was put through the wringer. It was changed forever. Vaughn's dad, Granddad, left Mammy on Father's Day in 1991. He didn't just leave her, he left the whole family - stayed in the same small town, but didn't have contact with any of his children or grandchildren. Actually seeing the faces of those sweet little grandbabies, and a family enjoying being together juxtaposed with the story, made me have to work really hard at staying in control of my emotions.

I realized, in watching it, that I knew all of the people, but I didn't know that family. It doesn't exist anymore.

Jake's granddad actually lives a little over a block away from the home his parents' have lived in for the last six-and-a-half years. While Cora was riding her bike this morning, I saw his car back out of the driveway and come our way. Jake had Cora pulled over "up the hill" towards his house when he saw the car coming towards them. I wondered if he would recognize Jake, or see that little girl on the bike and know that it was his great-granddaughter. And not just know that it was his great-granddaughter, but do a tiny happy dance that she'd just made it through a rite of passage.

In the middle of my flurry of thoughts, he turned at the intersection right before he got to them, and I was sure that he [or his wife] decided make that turn as a precaution, to avoid the kid on her bike in the street.

16 June 2015

Ears and Eyes

We've been in OKLAHOMA for one week and four days. (I'm writing this on my phone, and autocorrect continues to automatically capitalize OKLAHOMA, so I've decided I'm just going to leave it that way. Every time.)

Much has happened, but the reason for being up in the middle of the night is what I'm going to focus on because it's at the forefront of my mind. After three really long hours of pain and pressure, my right eardrum ruptured just before dinner. The actual rupture was a huge relief in the pain/pressure department. My ear has continued to drain "stuff" throughout the night (if you really want to know, it's been a combination of pus and blood).

It started hurting enough again that I stopped being able to sleep through it around 3AM. The pain continued to progress, so I finally lifted myself out of bed around 3:30 to seek relief. I went into the bathroom, and there had to work through opening my eyes. Literally. The other rad part of the story is that I have pinkeye for the first time in my life. (Both eardrums ruptured when I was 8 or 9, so at least I have experience to know that it's not as scary as it sounds - though I don't remember it being quite this painful.) I rubbed warm water on my eyelids and lashes until they parted so I could see what I was doing. I went for some Tylenol and Sudafed. And then put a bit of Vick's on a cotton ball and placed that in my ear. I'm now back in bed with a heating pad along the side of my head and throat. And I'm up at 5AM typing away because it seemed like an okay thing to do.

I'm really looking forward to seeing a doctor tomorrow, er, today, despite my long running fear of ever needing one while in Holdenville.

02 June 2015

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
- Wendell Berry

I dropped our car off to get new tires right after I dropped my girls off at school this morning. I didn't have time to make my morning smoothie before leaving home, and I had some time to kill, so I decided to start walking west in search of food. I ended up walking about 2.25 miles to the beach, but not before stopping at Nekter and getting some juice. I really wanted a smoothie, but this juice just had everything I wanted.

Not too far into the sand, I saw a broken glass bottle. I carefully picked up the pieces with one hand while carrying my juice and shoes in the other. After the pieces of glass that used to be a bottle were deposited in a recycling bin, I continued on to a perfect spot of level sand right before it dipped down to meet the water. I sat meditating for a little while before working through a few asanas. One thought I had was of some woman who might be on the other side of the ocean staring back wondering about some woman who might be me. I want to meet her someday. I want her to show me what her days are like - how she lives.

I'm participating in two yoga challenges on Instagram. Both are in their second day, and it's the first time I've ever done anything like this before. Sometimes I think pausing to take pictures, or working on executing a certain shot gets in the way of my practice. My focus becomes capturing a moment, rather than being present in one. I've found it helpful to record my practice, and pick a frame for a still shot. So far so good. One of the challenges asked participants to do "Wild Thing" pose. It's my favorite.

When looking through the video of this morning's practice, I was a little sad knowing that a still shot wouldn't capture the sound of the waves, nor the wind moving through my hair. But I also knew it wouldn't do it justice. My skin felt the cool breeze, my hair still has sand in it, and my heart can still feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. 

In that moment, I was able to rest with the grace of the world. I was free.

I caught the bus back to the tire shop, and witnessed a quiet act of kindness I want to remember. An elderly man slowly got on the bus with his walker. A young man sitting just behind the section reserved for the elderly and handicapped quickly raised the seat in front of him to make room for the older gentleman's walker. The man with the walker ended up just keeping it in front of him in his seat. As the bus began to move, the young man reached in front and lowered the seat back down. I was touched. I said a silent prayer of gratitude for the young man, for his kind deed, and a hope that even though he wasn't taken up on it this time, he wouldn't hesitate to act in the same way in the future.

I think it's very rare that a kind deed goes unnoticed. It puts more love in the world. And that's palpable. Every single time.

30 May 2015

Keeping Track

Last night I spent a few hours with dear friends at LAX during a layover waiting for their flight to Hong Kong. It really goes like this: China, Malaysia, then Cambodia. They'll be in Cambodia and Vietnam for the next two years serving as missionaries. I left them around 8PM, and now, 25 hours later, I'm glad to see that they're finally past the halfway point in their travels. I've been checking in on their flight status approximately every three hours since 4AM.

As I watched the image of a plane make its way to various points over the Pacific Ocean, I thought that plane might as well be shaped like a heart. It didn't represent an aircraft moving at hundreds of miles per hour through different timezones and eventually into a completely different day, it was showing me where I could find people I love.

Every time I move, I find comfort in replaying familiar scenes in my mind. I imagine friends and family going about their normal daily tasks. Keeping on in their lives exactly where I left them. I imagine Ashleigh power-housing at United Way, Regan loving on Eva with Eli laying nearby. Meemaw is moving around from task to task, only to be interrupted by her favorite programs and three square meals. Grammy and Mammy reading books. Jake's parents are cozy upstairs watching something on television before bed. Mary Bliss sitting in the living room with her laptop and different bits of reading material around her, making dinner while listening to the news on NPR, or the sound of her walking up and down her stairs several times a day.

Certainly these scenes change. Mammy is in heaven now. Meemaw's normal days have been interrupted by [bleepity blank bleepin'] cancer. I don't know what sound Mary Bliss's feet will make as she walks around her apartments in Cambodia and Vietnam. Change is hard, and it still gets the better of me from time to time, but I've experienced enough of it to understand that change is one of the greatest catalysts for growth. And in that sense, I welcome it, even if begrudgingly at times. It will challenge me, and shake me, and chew me up and spit me out, but in my response to each shift lies opportunity for elevation. I gain a new view, a new sense of being, a new way of imagining.

Lewis and Mary Bliss will soon not have a way for me to track their every move, but I know that they are brimming with goodness and love, and it's not at all hard for me to imagine them spending their days sharing that whenever and however they can. You can follow their mission blog at Along the Hong.

(Face-timing with two young grandsons, the youngest of whom is shaping up to be an expert photo bomber.)

Counting the miles:

PS: Just in case you're keeping track, this is Day 299 in Los Angeles, and you know what? I've started feeling a bit fond of my new city.



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