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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Last of the year!

So the last day of 2017 is finally here. It's been a mixed bag of a year for me; some really good stuff happened, most notably my new job, and some really bad things happened too, the worst of which was losing my beloved mother in law in early December. The first week or so of January is going to be tough, too (please send some good vibes Gregg's way on January 2nd when he has his scan) but after that hopefully we'll have smooth sailing into the new year.

If all goes according to plan this will be the year we finally buy a home of our own. I'll have the summer off to look forward to, and the birth of my friend's baby at the end of May. Who know what else is on the horizon? Only good things, I hope!

Thank you all for being here. Thank you for the friendship, and the support, and the laughs. This community of bloggers that I've come to know mean the world to me. It's been a real privilege to have you here.

I wish each and every one of you health, happiness, luck and prosperity in 2018.

From our home to yours, Happy New Year!!

Love,

Jennifer, Gregg,
Ginger, George,
& Marco

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Two things

Only two things of note happened today. Thing the first:


The latest David Austin catalog arrived in my mailbox. It made pleasant reading in bed before my afternoon nap.

Thing the second:


It's bitterly cold outside, so I contrived something for George to wear on our walk. It's a soft, warm shirt of mine that shrunk in the dryer. He actually seemed to enjoy it! I also put a knit hat on him, but couldn't get a photo of that.

How was your day?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The luxury of time off

It's been a real luxury to have so much time off around the holidays this year. I don't think the novelty of it will wear off for a few years, at least.

I've been able to keep the house cleaner and tidier than usual with all this extra time. I got the Christmas tree down and packed away yesterday without too much stress. It's nice to see the living room put back in order. A major cold front is moving in (we may even have some snow and ice over the weekend) and I plan to make a big pot of vegetable soup with the leftover ham and hambone from Christmas. I may even bake a cake.

The days off work have been useful in another way, too. Gregg has inherited a third of an IRA from his mom, and the application to open a new account had to be faxed in ASAP so that we wouldn't have to pay a large tax penalty for not taking out the "required minimum distribution" before December 31. Given that she died on December 4 that didn't leave much time to figure out all the complicated paperwork, even with the (almost expert) help of Edythe's husband Lou. I've had to exchange several emails with the investment company, and Lou, and travel back and forth to a UPS store to send faxes....all things I wouldn't have much time for if I were at work. It's been a huge help to Gregg for me to take on the paperwork for this. All he's had to do is sign in a couple of places. I do hope the rest of Edythe's estate won't be as complicated for him to inherit. This IRA thing has required a small crash course in investing for me and has been a real pain, to boot.

I've also had time during this break to catch up with friends I haven't seen in a while. I met my friend Susan for breakfast today. She's such a good friend to me, and as a cancer survivor herself, she was just the person I needed to talk to about Gregg's upcoming PET scan. She went through almost the same scenario a year ago, and it turned out to be nothing but scar tissue. She's convinced that will be the case with him, too. I hope she's right! I also got to hear about how her son Alexander (a former coworker of mine that I really like) and his wife are doing. We ended up talking over coffee for almost 3 hours! She's a teacher, so she's on the same holiday break as me.

The only plans I have for the rest of my time off is to do a little bit of decluttering and organizing in the house. We have several cupboards and closets that desperately need cleaning out, and I can do it at my leisure over the next few days. It will be nice to start the new year with a cleaner, more orderly home than usual after the busy holiday season. Once again, I'm beyond grateful for my new job.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The day after.


We had a nice Christmas. Too much food (we'll be eating leftovers all week), too much alcohol (me), too many sweets. One big gift for the two of us together--a new tv, much bigger and nicer than the old one, and internet-ready to boot. Nice neighbors stopping by, fun with friends, and an easy visit to my parents' house for lunch and exchanging gifts. The dogs had fun: lots of treats including big marrow-filled bones on Christmas morning. And while we were outside giving them said bones, somebody inside the house was sneaking around getting into mischief:

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Raiding the bowl of roasted pecans. Brat!!
Now comes the part I dread: taking down the Christmas tree and decorations. I'm going to be sad to see it go. I know that in most parts of the world, it's weird to take down the decorations the day after Christmas, but it's tradition in this area to have it all down before New Year. Gregg always says that trees look sad to him the day after Christmas, and he does have a point, so today I'll at least get started on getting the house back to normal. Putting away the tree will be the worst part, so I plan to do that first.

By the way, the cookies Marla and I made turned out nice. And we had a good time decorating them!

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I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, filled with all your favorite things.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve

Wishing all of my friends and visitors here a holiday filled with peace, joy, and love.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!




Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas in the kitchen

Christmas is only three days away, and last night I finally made it to the grocery store for my big pre-holiday shop. I always make a large spread of appetizers and finger foods on Christmas Eve, and today and tomorrow Marla and I are getting together to bake cookies and other treats. Today will be the baking day, tomorrow will be the decorating day (we're planning several batches of iced sugar cookies).



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Snowflake sugar cookies we made in 2014.
I ended up buying pounds of butter, sugar, and eggs. You can't have too much--nothing is worse than having to run back out to the store mid-bake. I still forgot a couple of things last night, but I'll go buy them before we start. I can't believe that after a two hour long and really expensive trip to the store that I still managed to forget a few things!

When Gregg helped me unload the car last night, he said "Holy shit! You know we're just two people, right?!" after he saw the back of the Scion loaded down with bags. He said he hoped I hadn't spent a small fortune on food! (I did) (I don't care). I'm determined that this Christmas will be a festive one. And since I'm off work next week, I'll be seeing friends and family that I can share the leftovers with anyway. It's going to be nice to have Christmas Eve off to listen to music, sip wine, and cook. A lot of the food we have will be homemade for once since I have all this time. I just sat down and made a list of the foods I'm planning to serve and it may be a tiny bit excessive:
  • Brown sugar Coca-Cola baked ham
  • Spicy grape jelly meatballs
  • Deviled eggs
  • Crab stuffed mushrooms
  • Assorted cheeses (gouda, brie, sharp white cheddar) and crackers
  • Crudite platter with sour cream dip
  • Roasted pecans
  • Cranberry, mandarin orange, and walnut compote
  • Watergate salad
  • King's Hawaiian rolls (to go with the ham slices)
  • Assorted sugar cookies and homemade candies
  • Mulled wine 

Oh well. It's just once a year, right?

Well, I'm off to do a little extra pre-bake cleaning in the kitchen before Marla gets here. It's a shame she can't drink wine with me this year, but maybe there will be less chaos if one of us remains sober! The last time we baked while drinking we blew up my stand mixer (it died dramatically in the middle of a batch of dough) and we made a monstrous mess of the kitchen. It looked like a bomb had gone off the next morning! It's all part of the Christmas fun, though. Next year when she's had the baby we can resume our shenanigans. :)

How are your holiday preparations coming along?


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice to all my friends here in the blogoverse. In honor of the day, here is an essay I wanted to share with you from my favorite nature writer, Hal Borland. The return of the light is a miracle everyone can appreciate.

December 20th and 21st

Winter Solstice

"The year achieves another Solstice as the great wheel of time turns with the Earth and the seasons. Winter, by the calendar, begins in mid-morning today, though the year's shortest days have been upon us for almost a week. The Solstice is a marker on the charts, but Winter abides by its own schedule of wind and weather.


Since man was first aware of the changing seasons, the Winter Solstice has been occasion for awe and wonder and a challenge of faith. Hope and belief are easy in a warm, green world, but when the cold days come and the sun edges farther and farther South, cutting a constantly smaller arc across the sky, the imminence of utter darkness and oblivion seems at hand. Then the sun stands still. The turn comes. The crisis passes and the sun slowly climbs the sky once more, reaching toward another Spring, another Summer.

It was, and still is, an annual miracle. Hope and belief were, and still are, once more justified.

There is order in the Universe. The seasons still march in their eternal sequence, and Winter is neither pause nor punishment, but a part of the year's whole. Ice and stormy wind are inevitabilities, but they pass even as the leaf and the blossom, equally inevitable in their own season, ripen and are gone.

The year has its own fourfold truth, indelibly marked on the turning Earth. Now we know it whole for another turn of the great wheel. The cold verity of Winter completes the cycle."

Hal Borland
"Twelve Moons of the Year"
December 1963




*
Winter solstice 2017 in Northern Hemisphere will be at 11:28 AM on Thursday, December 21st (Eastern Time)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

And now, this.

Yesterday was Gregg's bi-annual oncologist appointment. A week or so ago he had to have his yearly CT scan so the results would be ready in time for the doctor to look over and discuss at the visit. All standard stuff in the 6 years since he had lung cancer. Every visit in those 6 years (after surgery and chemotherapy were over, of course) has been great, but yesterday was different. There have been some changes.

As some of you may know, Gregg lost his entire left lung at the beginning of 2012. When they did this latest CT scan, they found a "thickening" in the tissues of his chest cavity where that lung used to be. Dr. Smith, the oncologist, said it's probably nothing, maybe scar tissue, but because of his history we can't be too careful. They've scheduled him for a PET scan on January 2 to check for any possible recurrence of cancer.

My blood ran cold when I heard the words "PET scan". Almost no one was reading my blog back in 2011-2012 when Gregg had cancer, but it was the most horrible time of my life. I never said it out loud, and I'm sure I never wrote it down on the blog, but I was afraid he wouldn't survive. The odds were grim. Those were terrible, terrible days, in all sorts of ways and for a multitude of reasons. Lucky for Gregg, he barely remembers any of it (he was on lots and lots of opioid pain medications after surgery and during chemo) but I can't think of that time in our lives without a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. So you can imagine how I felt yesterday when he came home from what should have been a routine checkup and gave me this latest news. And today, December 19th, is the sixth anniversary of the day when Gregg walked in the door and said, "Baby.....I have cancer" and my world fell apart.

So yeah, I'm scared.

Dr. Smith did say it was probably nothing, probably scar tissue, but with a history of serious cancer they can't just ignore what may be the first signs of something. They ran a complete blood panel (that's a standard part of every check up) and everything with that was perfect. Gregg's weight has stayed almost exactly the same, and he feels good. The doctor also said it would be "highly unusual" for this to be some sort of cancer after the amount of time that has passed. And thank goodness the changes they noted were in the empty space where his left lung used to be and not in his remaining good lung. All good signs, but still...

The earliest appointment he could get for the PET scan was January 2, and Dr. Smith will have him back in his office the following week to discuss whatever they find (hopefully nothing). We'll just have to live with the uncertainty through Christmas. My poor husband--first his mom dies at the beginning of the month, and now this. I've said it before, and I'll say it again--I despise the month of December. If anything bad or tragic or scary is going to happen to us, chances are it will be around Christmastime. I guess it's just as well that it will be January before this can be sorted out, but waiting and not knowing is so hard.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A closer look...

.....at our Christmas tree! My previous post didn't show the ornaments very well.
We have quite the collection--here are a few of our favorites.
You'll notice a lot of fish and bird themed ones, for obvious reasons.
The star topper is new this year. 




Nicky was our beloved Cocker Spaniel that died right after Christmas in 2006. Gregg's nieces and nephews gave him ornaments almost every year when they were very small. I believe this one dates back to about 2003.

Another ornament for Nicky. For several years after he died, I couldn't bear to put these on the tree,
but it's been long enough now that seeing them only brings back happy memories.

Glitter fish.

Goofy pink fish ornament--a gift to Gregg one year when I worked for Pier 1 Imports.

Look! It's Santa!

I also collect rabbits, and this was a gift from Gregg's mom one year.

A "Li Bien" ornament from Pier 1.

My grandmother gave me this over the summer when I went to visit her. It's a Marjolein Bastin
ornament--I especially wanted to show this one to my friend Terra. Isn't it sweet?

It's a major award!!!

Careful, kid...you'll shoot yer eye out!

I love silver decorations and glass icicles. I have a big collection of both.

Our tree is stuffed full!


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Seventeen

After 17 years of working (and working hard) in retail over the holidays, I can't even process the fact that I have 17 days off over Christmas this year. Today is my first official day off, and we go back to work on January 2. I'm beyond grateful for my new job.

Here's the Christmas tree at our house this year.



Sunday, December 10, 2017

Circle of Life

The month of December has always been a hard one for me. Anything tragic or sad or scary that happens in my life usually happens this month. Now I have another unhappy event to add to our December calendar--the passing of Gregg's mom.

We were putting up the Christmas tree when we got the call that she was dying. If it wasn't already up we wouldn't have bothered this year, but since it is I'm glad to have it. The warm glow of it is cheerful in the house.

Yesterday my friend Marla came over and spent the afternoon with me. We are so thankful for her help while we were in Raleigh last week; the dogs and Marco love her and so she came over and made sure they were fed and cared for while we were away. She's a true friend that can always be counted on when a need arises. What a comfort friends are!

And yesterday she confirmed something I've been suspecting for a couple of months now: she's expecting a new baby at the end of May! Regular readers here will remember how she tragically lost her first child, Alice, three days after she was born. Marla and her husband were heartbroken and it was too sad for words--they never even got to bring their daughter home from the hospital. I felt that I had lost a niece, a niece of the heart and not of blood, maybe, but no less precious for all that.

And now a new baby is on the way! Marla seemed well and cheerful and deeply happy when she told me. I had been telling Gregg for two months that I thought she was pregnant and he was beginning to doubt me, since nothing was said. But I knew. Marla's been one of my dearest friends for about 15 years now, so I know her pretty well! She is now 15 weeks along, and she and her husband decided to surprise their families with the happy news at Thanksgiving, so of course she didn't want to tell friends before her mother and father and in-laws. So yesterday was the day, and I was finally able to tell Gregg, "Told you so!!" We're so happy for her!

"In the midst of life, we are in death......" but also, in the midst of death we are in life. It's so wonderful to think of a new baby to love next summer after the loss of a mother this winter. Edythe would be absolutely thrilled for Marla--she was so sad for her when Alice passed away, and she loved babies and young children. The circle of life continues as long as there is love and family and friendship tying us all together. What a wonderful, comforting thought that is!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Saturday Poem


You Darkness

You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything:
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them! —
powers and people —

and it is possible a great energy
is moving near me.

I have faith in nights.

Rainer Maria Rilke
(translation by Robert Bly)




I first read this poem on the night Edythe died, lying in a spare bed at her house, in the darkness. As I was sleepless, I had pulled up the blog on my phone and Cate over at Beyond the Fields We Know (see sidebar) had shared it. Something about it spoke to how I was feeling in that silent, sad house and it's been on my mind ever since, especially since we are entering the period of the year with the longest nights. I did a bit of reading about Rainer Maria Rilke and it turns out that his birthday was the same day that Edythe died--December 4th. It seemed a strange coincidence.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Peace

Thank you everyone for all of your concern and kind words after my last post. Gregg's mom passed away peacefully Monday night, surrounded by her loved ones.

I would like to write more about Edythe, her life and what she meant to me and to the whole family, but I can't right now. Things are still too raw and my emotions are still too mixed up to do her justice, so I'll just say this: she was a good woman and as devoted a mother as I've ever seen. From the day I first met her almost 20 years ago, when Gregg and I were still barely more than friends, she treated me like one of her own daughters. People make jokes about mothers-in-law, but mine was a second mother (and a dear friend) to me. I am so grateful for her life, and for the son she raised into the good man he is today.

As per Edythe's wishes, her body has been donated to Duke University Medical Center for research purposes, after anything still useful was taken for organ donation. We are so proud of her for that! Lou (her husband) told us yesterday that her corneas have already been donated to someone to help them see again. When I think of what a blessing that will be to some family over the upcoming holidays, a tiny bit of the hurt inside me is eased. I admire Edythe's spunk. Not many girls born on a farm in rural North Carolina in the 1930's would ever consider foregoing a traditional funeral and instead will her body to science and ask her family to throw a party in her honor, but those were her wishes! How cool is that? There will be some sort of very small gathering for the family a bit closer to Christmas, the details of which still need to be worked out, but will probably involve a catered meal at the house and a little time for everyone to be together. It's all so wonderfully easy on the family; there's nothing pressing anyone needs to do right now, and that's a blessing at a time like this. What wonderful foresight on Edythe's part, and a loving thing to do for us.

We're sad, but doing okay. We have each other, and we have the rest of the family, and that's all that really matters in the end, isn't it?  Love is stronger than death.


Edythe in late 2016, pictured here with her three greatest treasures on Earth--her beloved children.



Monday, December 4, 2017

Family vigil

My dear mother-in-law is dying.

Her health has been steadily declining for years, due to a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease and (suspected) Lewy Body Dementia, but the sudden deterioration of her condition has been a shock. We got a call from Gregg's sister Saturday night letting us know she was in ICU and probably not going to live through the night. We jumped in the car and drove the 3 hours to Raleigh, NC, immediately. She's still with us, but hanging by a thread. Her blood pressure is getting lower and lower, and her kidneys and liver are failing. It's a matter of time.

So now the family is keeping vigil at her bedside. Gregg and I were without sleep for over 36 hours until last night. His brother drove up from Florida with his wife yesterday, and his sister and stepfather  haven't left the hospital in three days. Everyone is exhausted, and terribly sad.

Please keep us in your thoughts as we try to make it through these hard days.



Saturday, December 2, 2017

It's time!

December is here!

For the first time in years, I'm actually excited about celebrating the holidays. There's only two more weeks of school before our winter break and then I have two weeks off!! Our last day is Friday, December 15th, which is a half day for the students. Once the kids leave, we're having our staff Christmas party, and after that I won't have to go back to work until January 2!! I'm really excited to be getting a long holiday break for the first time in my adult life, especially after 17 years of working in retail.



The holiday fun has already started at the school. There's a giant 12-foot Christmas tree in the lobby, a smaller (but still big) tree in the library, and, as you can see, huge sparkling wreaths on the front doors. We're adopting four families of children through DSS and buying gifts for them, which is a really nice thing to do and something I'm happy to participate in. Several offices are decorated with tiny trees, garlands, and strings of lights. I'm planning to add some decorations to my desk next week, and I'll post a few pictures of it when I do.

At home, we've decided to finally buy a pre lit Christmas tree this year. That's what I'm planning to do this morning--go pick out and buy a tree. Tomorrow while I have the house all to myself I'm going to spend the day putting up the tree and decorating the rest of the house for the holidays. Now that we're into the month of December, it feels like it's time!

What about you? When (and how much) do you decorate for the holidays?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thanksgiving weekend camping trip

We went camping last weekend at Lynches River County Park, over my Thanksgiving break. It got really cold (down to freezing both nights!) but we stayed warm and had fun. I think the dogs did, too. Ginger discovered two tiny kittens sequestered in a large woodpile as soon as we arrived. We enjoyed watching a wild mama cat sneak in and out, caring for them, all weekend. Thanks to the efforts of the park rangers,  there was plenty of free firewood cut and stacked for any campers to use. We were able to keep a big fire going the whole time we were there. We saw four shooting stars. We had lots of delicious camp meals.

All in all, it was a nice time.

Here are some pictures.















Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thankful

This is the first Thanksgiving in 17 years that I've had a real holiday with time off work. I spent today shopping and running errands in a leisurely way, and it was such a luxury!  Tomorrow I'm making a roast turkey breast with a few easy side items for our holiday meal. It will be just the two of us, enjoying the day off together, and then Friday morning we're going camping for two days. I'm so excited! I love building fires, sleeping under the stars, and spending time in the fresh air. It's going to be a perfect holiday weekend for us!

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. And to all my friends here, no matter where you live, please know that I'm thankful for each and every one of you!



An anniversary

Ten years ago today (on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving) I came home from work and found a stranger hiding under a chair on our back porch.

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Thanksgiving Day, 2007

At the time, I was less than thrilled. We had lost our beloved spaniel, Nicky, the prior December, and I was still devastated by the loss. I wasn't even close to ready for a new dog. The previous spring we had moved to a house in the country on a large piece of land (14 acres) and we only had a couple of close neighbors. It was pretty obvious that someone had dumped an unwanted puppy from a car and left her to fend for herself. (We heard later that that's a pretty common practice out in the country). It's a terrible thing to do to a dog.

The young dog was friendly and determined to make her home with us. The original plan was to try to find someone to take her, someone who was ready for and wanted a dog. Of course, that never panned out.....

....and thank all that's good or right in the Universe that it didn't! Ginger has been a blessing to us. She is the best dog I've ever known.....fiercely loyal and protective of her people, intelligent, loving. She's never done bad-dog things like chewing things up or barking excessively or getting into trouble.

Ginger is country girl at heart. Her first three years with us she lived a wild and free outside life on the property we were renting. When we finally moved back to the city she adjusted beautifully to life in a neighborhood, much to our surprise. She still prefers being outside almost all the time, especially as the sun comes up in the morning or when it sets in the evening. She likes watching the birds and squirrels and people waking up and moving about. She loves her daily long walks, and still requires a good deal of exercise. She has a certain dignity now at ten years old.

She's helping us raise George (we need all the help we can get with that wild boy) and has no problem putting him right in his place. He shows her ultimate respect and understands she's on par with us in the family hierarchy. It's funny to watch him defer to her now that he's so much bigger than she is! He loves her devotedly, though. It's really sweet.

Happy anniversary/homecoming to our beloved girl! We had no idea on that Thanksgiving eve 10 years ago how much joy and love this abandoned puppy would bring to our lives.



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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hometown

A few pictures from the little town where I was born.



Lonely railroad tracks.

Old ramshackle tobacco barns are everywhere. 

Small farms. It's a rural area.

Main street on Saturday afternoon--a ghost town.

About to cross the great Pee Dee river on my way back home.