5/21/2018

Monday Journals




May 16, 2018

I’ve always been the kind of person that handles extreme situations fairly well.  I used to work for Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.  (While I tend to disassociate myself with Liberty now, at the time I was a single mom and desperately needed the job) I worked for the University police department.  I started out working mostly dispatch but I had to have all the same courses at the security guards and police officers.  Because I was a woman (and they only had a couple of women working for the department) and because I took the courses to become an EMT, they often had me work as an armed security guard instead of dispatching.  (Anyone that knows me now, knows that I came to align myself with pacifism as a matter of conscience, but at that time I carried a gun 24 hour a day and was paid to do so for 8-16 hours a day, often pulling double shifts at the University Police Department.)  During that time, I was often in situations that were potentially dangerous or that required quick and deliberate thinking on my part.

Other times in my life that were particularly stressful included, my first marriage.  Later in my life, though things were great with my second marriage and peaceful between Mike and I, I faced the stress of the loss of my son and the court proceedings and sentencing of the young man whose actions either directly caused or aided in my son’s death.  I also learned that full time farming brings with it many stresses.  Stress seems to have been a theme of my life.    

All of us as humans face a tremendous amount of stress, and while my experiences are uniquely mine, I am not an isolated example of a person who has dealt with extreme stress. Stress is a part of life for all of humankind.  Over the last eighteen months, Mike and I have done a lot to eliminate many of our external stressors, realizing that we are getting older and life is short.  On the other hand, we have made choices that have proven stressful, such as the choice to move three hours away from Staunton and yet returning weekly to care for the children and to farm there.  The restfulness of our place in Laurel Fork was a good balance for us but I don’t think I realized until the very end just how stressful the frequent trips back and forth were on us.  The last few weeks have seemed brutal and I am weary and I feel like the soldier who has fought hard for a cause and when the end is near is so weary that she wonders if she can make it.  Although we no longer have to be in Staunton every Monday to watch the Little Girls, other family responsibilities and farming responsibilities have meant we have continued to make the trip weekly.

There is the recent injury for my grandma which has been a huge stress.  Initially I met the stress of her situation with deliberate determination and the strength that comes from knowing one has a difficult task to face.  Now with the details that face us and the decisions that have to be made I feel like I want to have a good cry and then sleep forever, but that hasn’t happened yet.  The hardest part is grandma’s confusion which results in her not understanding why she has to stay in rehabilitation right now, why she can’t walk on her foot, and why she can’t just go home.  This results in discussion between us in which I patiently explain to her again the necessity of her stay at the rehabilitation center at the nursing home.  Because we have two different people who are family members working with her there, we know that she is getting great care.  We know that during the day she is socializing, engaging in activities and conversations, and doing well.  We also know that at night as her “sundowners” kicks in that she gets frantic, irrational, and is miserable making things difficult for herself and for the staff.  This isn’t something new.  For several years now, she has barricaded herself in her house as night falls, pushing chairs and heavy furniture against the doors, drawing up the shades tight, watching her Gaither tapes until she manages to fall asleep for a few hours, and then getting up and pacing the floors frantically for hours from around 2 am until daylight.  We know this because she would tell me that she was getting up, that she was unable to decipher the time, and that her nights were miserable.  We mentioned this to her family doctor on several occasions and he gave her an anxiety med, but she would not take it on a regular basis.  The last couple of times Mike and I visited, we saw how it had progressed.  She would come into our room multiple times during the night, yelling at us to get up, telling us we were going to be late, or just simply barging in and staring at us like she was trying to figure out who we were and why we were there.  It was heartbreaking to watch her frantically running the hall, taking showers every morning at 2 am, fretting and exhausting herself to the point that when daylight finally came she would fall asleep in the recliner.  In the day time, she was perfectly able to carry on delightful conversations with others, loved to socialize, and was perfectly poised.  Her manner leaves those who don’t see her actions at home feeling that the family is over reacting about her condition.  Unable to even convince her family doctor that she needed more than just a small dose of anxiety meds (which she didn’t take) and that she needed full time assistance, I could not get the doctor to sign off on the fact that she needed someone to stay with her at night.  Without his diagnosis of such, I could not follow through with the next phase of paperwork needed to apply for assistance with the Veterans Administration.  I never said a word to the hospital staff or the nurses at rehabilitation about Nan’s evening anxiety issues and it turns out I didn’t have to.  Within 24 hours of her injury the hospital was calling Jimmy and I to try to calm her down.  At the rehabilitation center, they have been able to observe her pattern for almost a month now.  In less than a week’s time of her being there, the doctor said there was no way he would release her to go home without 24 hour a day care.  What all of this translates into for her grandchildren is that Nan, in her confusion, feels like she is being held hostage by people who are doing nothing to help her get better and she calls and wants us to remove her from the situation.  I just keep explaining to her the reasons she has to be in rehabilitation and reminding her how important it is for her to stay off of her broken ankle until they release her to put more weight on it and begin the next phase of therapy.  Jimmy and I talked again last night and currently there is nothing I can there to make things any better for anyone and my assistance on location is going to be needed at a later date, so I am waiting to visit.  Alissa and the Little Girls are going down this weekend and will spend some time there, visiting her in the rehab center.  I am hoping that Alissa’s visit will perk her up a bit.  In the meantime, the medical professionals have said that Nan is extremely healthy physically and they have never seen someone her age on so few medications and in such good condition.  For this reason, they feel that if she has a secure and safe environment where she can get the assistance that she needs for the areas where she lacks mental clarity, she can go on living a fairly independent life.  They feel that an assisted living facility is the best option for her and we are looking into that option.  The doctor said there is no reason why her ankle won’t heal completely and why she won’t get back her full mobility.  Nan’s helper has been preparing her meals for her, cleaning house, assisting with laundry (although Nan insists on doing that herself because she is so particular about how it is done), transporting her to appointments, etc.  She has been unable to do that for herself for a while now.  An assisted living facility would provide her with that amount of care 24 hours a day 7 day a week while still providing her with her own space and the ability to make independent decisions about what she wants to do throughout the day.  I have found myself at a place where the decisions that must be made feel heavy but Jimmy and I feel Nan’s safety and we realize that we can not personally provide her with that level of safety and care.  If we are able to get the financing, assisted living feels like the best option for her.  The accusations from others, non-family members, who want to judge and criticize, have already begun and where I might have wanted to defend our decisions to others in the past, I realize there are people in the world who are just looking for “a cause” and/or a reason to criticize and judge.  I continue to remind myself that another’s perceptions and reactions reflect on them, and not on us. 

May 17, 2018

I’m in the car, on a Thursday, riding in the back seat as we travel to Staunton.  We have had Mike’s mom with us since Sunday and it has been a good visit.  We have not done anything especially exciting or special, but Mike and I kicked back so that we could spend time Treva.  Mike’s mom has visited us previously on several different occasions and it seemed like we were so busy and so stressed.  This time we wanted to make sure that we slowed down and gave her time.  This week, today in fact, marks the anniversary of the passing of Mike’s dad.  I am sure it is on the mind of all of the family.  I am glad that Treva could be with us this week and perhaps the change of atmosphere for her was helpful at this time.  We laughed multiple times over the fact that all we seemed to do was eat and collect plants.  When we were not eating meals at home, we were out traveling to various produce stands and green houses and looking for the best deals on plants for the garden while catching a bite to eat on the road.  We always grow far more than we need, which is why we always end up with enough produce above and beyond what we can personally use and end up having it to sell.  Mike’s mom had asked him to plant a garden at her house like he always does and he did so, planting far more than we need more than likely, but still not as much as in years past.  We have our large raised bed in Laurel Fork full, and we have strawberry plants that are going to dictate another raised bed on our next trip to Laurel Fork.  For myself, I have been collecting herbs and planting them in containers.  At one point, we went to Ararat, Virginia because we had heard advertised on the radio a large company that had over 30 greenhouses and was open for retail and wholesale buyers.  We were quite disappointed as the place was too big, understaffed, and under new management who didn’t seem to be doing all that well at managing the business.  However, down the road, we found another smaller green house and then down the road from there an even smaller one.  That is where we bought plants.  The folks were personable and the plants more than reasonably priced.  We made a mental note to support them in the future.  We went from there into Mt. Airy and Mike shopped for a pair of work boots with his mom while I used the reliable cell phone service to participate in a conference call with the medical staff at the nursing home.  Unable to hear well due to everyone walking in and out of the mall, I found a spot in the corner and sat on the floor, phone to my ear, with pen and paper in front of me to take notes.  It was good to hear that grandma’s leg is healing well and that during the day, she is upbeat and enjoys the company of those around her, while participating in activities.  I had that information from my cousins who are with her and observe her there, but hearing the medical staff say it as well was encouraging.  Evenings and night are hard on her and the staff is looking for ways to help curb her anxiety. 

Monday was a very nice day for us in Laurel Fork and we did spend most of Monday working around the house.  Mike worked on some fence and did some other outdoor work.  I stayed around the house so that I could visit with Treva as I did a few things.  While we had a beautiful day, back at the farm in Staunton/Verona the weather hit with a vengeance.  Alissa called us to tell us that we should have someone check fences and check Treva’s house for damage due to the frightening, high winds and hail the fell in the area.  Alissa was driving and had to pull over, along with everyone else out on the roads.  Word from Mike’s nephew and a friend was that while the storm was very bad and damaging in many areas, Mike’s mom’s place was spared any serious damage.  While there was evidently a good many limbs in the yard, some trash blown into the fence line, and some damage to one of the sheds, the damage at the farm was really minimal.  There was no damage sustained at our place either, but we talked to a neighbor who said about 30 trees along his fence line went down just like dominoes.  A local bank lost their roof and a number of people dealt with flooding in their homes.  We were told that the horrible storm came out of the east and then a while later, a similar storm in intensity came out of the west.  It must have been truly frightening for those who went through the storms.

 Currently, as we drive down the interstate, the traffic is going about 20 miles per hour and the rain is pounding the vehicles.  The Staunton/ Verona area is slated to get another several inches of rain in the next few days on top of the 3 plus inches of rain that they already received.  Back in Laurel Fork, on the other hand, we have had a slow, steady, soaking rain with short periods of time when the sun came out. 

(My days have all run together and my writing seems to be taking the same path.  My mind is jumping back and forth between events and days and my writing is following suit.  Rather than sort it out, I am just going to write. )

On Tuesday when we went to Ararat and then Mt. Airy, we stopped at a cafĂ© we had been intending to check out for quite some time.  It was called The Olympia Family Restaurant.  It had the feel of an old-fashioned diner, not so much by the way it looked, but by the atmosphere.  There was a bar that faced the kitchen which was open so that customers could see the meals prepared.  One got their own seat and a waitress promptly appeared to serve drinks.  The menu was simple: American cuisine/Southern cooking.  It was hard not to enjoy the place.  The waitress wasn’t overly friendly (she was too busy) but was pleasant. The cooks in the kitchen, however, were joking, laughing, and singing along to the radio that was playing 80’s tunes. Their “good time” was infectious and by the response from the obvious “regulars” that must be the norm.  There was an older gentleman, perhaps Hispanic, who was cleaning off the tables.  I swear the man never stopped smiling.  Every time I looked at him, he was smiling.  He smiled when he was standing waiting for a table to clear and he smiled as he cleared the tables.  The portions were big and were good, although not anything exceptional, but the atmosphere was just so pleasant that I would go back again and again.  I thought about how a pleasant attitude can set the tone.  That’s not a huge revelation to anyone but seeing so many people work in harmony together with a great attitude, was really pretty cool and unusual anymore.

While we were eating our food, I could hear the men in the booth behind us discussing cattle trailers, making hay and other aspects of farming.  I didn’t pay much attention until their conversation turned to bulls.  The one gentleman was agreeing with the other as he told his story about someone working with him who was petting a bull on the head.  This gentleman went on to explain how he expressed his disapproval in no uncertain terms and told the man that the quickest way to turn a bull mean was to make a pet out of him.  I smiled to myself, for this is a topic I have preached on my blog and online forums.  Bulls are not intended to be pets and need to have a flight zone or need to be wary enough of humans that they don’t want to get close.  By making a bull familiar with humans, one is creating an atmosphere for a potentially dangerous encounter.  These men were old timers with common sense and that was evident by their conversation.  I didn’t turn around and look at them but sneaked a peak on my way out the door when we left to see the worn but pleasant faces of two men aged by the sun and weather finishing off their meal. 

Mike’s mom remarked when we left the restaurant about how friendly and courteous folks were in SW Virginia and North Carolina.  We had to agree.  It seems the folks we encounter do take more time to smile, to speak, and are more conscientious about their manners.  It is refreshing in a world that seems to have gone mad. 

Speaking of friendly, we have been watching as a man on a bike rides past our house each evening now that the weather is nice.  Mike was working down by the road and Treva and I had walked down to be with him as he finished up when the man on the bike came into view.  He pulled into our driveway and pleasantly began a conversation.  It didn’t take him too long to let us know that he was the preacher at the church closest to our home.  It also didn’t take him long to explain that they were “undenominational” in name but adhered to King James Version only translation of the Bible and that they used Baptist literature.  I smiled politely and bit my tongue.  He was a nice man and he was not pushy.  His tone was truly conversational and polite and he showed genuine interest in us as neighbors and not just as recruits for his church.  He is, in fact, a neighbor whose family just sold the piece of property that butts up to one side of our property.  A man in his sixties, has lived in the area all his life.  I recognized him as a link to be able to tell us a little bit about the property and the history of our place.  We have received conflicting information from people about the place and the original farm.  This gentleman confirmed what I had pieced together from research that the portion of the farm we own was just part of a larger farm that was divided up among family members over time.  As I suspected, the original house is the one on Hereford Road that borders one side of our property.  The house, neglected and falling down, appears to me to have been built in the 1800’s.  Beside that house is a large dairy barn that is falling down.  The property is grown up and neglected.  Next to it, on a small tract of land is a single man who lives in a house trailer.  He keeps his place very neat and is a quiet and reserved neighbor it seems.  Across from him is another small tract with a recreational camper/trailer sitting on it.  That land was being used only a few weeks out of the summer until recently when someone bought it and is now living in it full time.  All of the property described and more was evidently part of the original farm.  Our home, according to the deed, was built in 1930.  I have looked at the census for 1940 and it appears that the aging parents as well as multiple adult children used the same address for the census.  Really, the neighbor didn’t add much to what I hadn’t already heard other than the fact that he stated “The Jackson family was considered rich by the locals.  They owned a store and a large farm and were able to do just about anything they wanted.”  When I questioned him further about the property and activities that went on there where we lived, he said, “They lived a very self-sufficient, sustainable lifestyle with dairy cows, chickens, and a large garden.”  I had been told by someone else that Mrs. Jackson sold eggs, milk, and her canned vegetables.  In the 1940 census, I found the father and several family members listed simply as farmers.  No mention of a store but if they did own the store, then perhaps that is where some of the eggs, milk and produce were sold.  I don’t know.  From what I can piece together, it seems maybe one of the female ancestors along the line married and with her went the portion of the farm that had the Grade A dairy (that is now falling down).  The old, wooden barn that we own and recently refurbished, was set up to milk six cows in stanchions.  The set up indicates to me that the family who lived at our address either sold their milk locally to the community or they were a Grade B dairy whose milk was used to make cheese.  Of course, I have no conclusive evidence of any of this and as I stated, I get conflicting reports and have not met anyone who definitively can piece together the history for me.  Remarkably, there is very little information I can trace online.  I talked to a woman who moved to the area a few years back who had told me about an old, Victorian house that was torn down when the new Dollar General was built in Laurel Fork just a couple of years ago.  According to the neighbor that house belonged to some of the Jackson family and the store sat right along the road in front of where the old bank stands.  So, the Dollar General, which is a mile and a half from our property sits in very close proximity to where we were told the old store used to sit.  Our neighbor is the youngest of multiple siblings and he said he would ask his older brothers and sisters to see if they could remember more than he was able to recall.  I was drawn to our property in part because I could sense and see that the folks who owned it had set it up to be very self sufficient and given thought to things that others of that era either overlooked or did not have the finances to address.  The house is modest by all standards but would have been very comfortable and new in the 1930’s.  Thought was given to functionality with a large cellar in the basement and a separate, downstairs “canning kitchen” and laundry room.  The room needs a major overhaul to be usable as a canning kitchen again, but once we have completed other necessary projects, I would like to turn my attention to that room and restore it.  Right now, it is simply houses my washer and dryer, some old appliances that need to be carried to the county dump, and a large, piece of equipment that I had to research to figure out what it was.  Turns out, it was used to press sheets, table cloths, and seams in pants legs.  We were also told that Mrs. Jackson took in laundry for folks.  It seems, if the Jacksons were in fact “well to do” for the area, they must have earned every penny with their hard work.  The water to the house is still a spring fed gravity system but someone else told us that at one point the water was piped in to the basement and ran continually.  I was a little doubtful of this (and the source) until I heard someone else speaking of a similar type system in their grandmother’s house where the water ran continually into the sink and down the drain.  Cold, fresh water was then available all the time with this simple method of delivery. 

May 21, 2018

I’ve been really struggling to pull my thoughts together this week to write.  I have just been too distracted, in part I think because we have no routine yet, and in part because we have been with family so much that I didn’t feel I could take the time to go off by myself and write.  Over the winter, we had fallen into a predictable routine and I had a lot of quiet time in which I could write.  Now with the business of spring, lots of visit from and with family members, and no established routine, I am finding it difficult to quiet my thoughts and organize them.  I have had so many things I wanted to write about this past week and was excited to do so but getting it down has been difficult.  After another fast trip to Staunton to take Mike’s mom home after her visit, arriving Thursday evening and returning on Friday afternoon, we are trying to settle back in with just the two of us.  I had so much to do during the 24 hours we were there, that it feels like I barely saw the Little Girls.  Analia was in a wedding and was involved in a rehearsal and then the wedding itself, so they were in and out as well.  While I am happy that all the grandchildren are now with their mommas for the summer, I do miss them.  While I am happy not to have the responsibility for so much of their care, I am missing my Little People.  I’m not wistfully wanting to “go back” to the way things were.  I am happy to move forward, but still, I miss them.  Life is like that, isn’t it? 

Both in Staunton and in Laurel Fork we have been experiencing periods of heavy rain.  It has been most difficult to get anything accomplished outdoors due to the weather.  When it isn’t raining, it has been really too wet to do what we need to do.  Mike has hay he would like to make in Staunton.  He is waiting for an opportunity to have a few days of dry weather to do that.  He also needs to plant his soy beans but the ground is too wet.  In Laurel Fork, we have been unable to work on the perimeter fence because of the weather.  Mike did get a second box made for a raised bed for strawberries.  I have been able to work towards getting caught up on some things indoors that have been neglected. 

One thing I have been happy about the last few days is the return of the wildlife now that the contractors for DOT have stopped working on the road.  Our pair of resident geese now have other adult geese who have moved into the area with them.  The turkeys had made themselves scarce but we are seeing multiple sightings of different turkeys, hens coming off their nests to eat, Toms strutting or eating calmly in the fields and then walking through our yard.  We have not seen a lot of deer in our yard or across the road in the meadow, but I am actually happy about that right now.  I figure about the time we have produce in the garden, they will show up and eat it.  I love the deer but I don’t love it when they eat our garden.  And, the Heron that feeds from the streams on our property and in the meadow across the road has returned. 

We have been unable to be at our church for several weeks and have attended with Alissa instead.  While it was so nice to visit with friends in Staunton, I really missed our church in Laurel Fork.  It was so good to be back yesterday.  The church is planning a Blueberry Festival in June, a resurgence of an event they had back in the 90’s for about ten years.  They actually had a strawberry festival in previous years, but since one of the church members grows blueberries and is donating them, the decision was made to begin again with the festival and this time use blueberries.  I am actually excited to be involved in this event.  It will be a great time to be involved in the community and the proceeds will go to support local charities.  After church and the festival meeting, we came home to a house that smelled of roast beef and I threw together the rest of our lunch:  mashed potatoes, fresh asparagus and a salad.  We had homemade banana ice cream made from our Jersey milk for dessert.  I am so glad to be able to milk Promise now without fear of her getting milk fever.  (Shar’s milk is still not creamy white and contains a lot of blood.  I have never had a cow go do this long with blood in the milk, but there is nothing to be concerned about as she does not have mastitis, it is just taking a lot of time to get her cleared.) 

Mike got out the old 1966 Ford Truck and I washed off the dust from it sitting in the garage for a year, and we took it out for a drive.  I had forgotten how it is when we drive the old truck.  People strain their necks to get a look and most everyone waves.  As we passed one man out in his yard, he yelled “yeah”! The attendant at the gas station was all smiles as she talked about how much she liked our truck.  The more reserved folks will nod an acknowledgement as they pass.  It’s fun to get the old truck out and it is something that we did not do last summer for various reasons.  I am not sure what it is about getting the old truck out of storage and putting it on the road that makes us (and others) smile.  Perhaps it is the nostalgia of a time long since removed, a time when the technology we have today was still fantasy and life seemed simple.  Perhaps it is the idea that something old has “survived” when so many things from the past are just memories.  Maybe it is because just the truck itself causes us to slow down, to be deliberate, and to notice those around us, and create an atmosphere for connection.  Whatever the reason, driving that old truck brings those “feel good” moments for us and for many we with whom with come in contact.  Driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway in our old Ford,  the windows down, the outdoor air blowing our hair, and the scents of spring teasing our senses, we are firmly grounded in the present with one foot in the past and an eye for the future.  It doesn't get much better than that. 

5/14/2018

Monday Journals




May 10, 2018

Our resident geese who have made their summer home at the pond across the road are happy once again.  The heavy equipment moved in by a road crew hired by Virginia DOT has left after two weeks of beating back the earth so that drivers can see better as they navigate these twisted mountain roads.  Now the geese can go through their day undisturbed except for the occasional argument they have with one another. The same is true for Mike and I.  It feels like a sense of peace has been restored.  I hated the constant noise of the machinery beating against the rock and the fact that the flagman obstructed my view of the geese.  The deer are coming back to the stream to drink now that the noise has died down.  The birds are active, multiple “hummers” coming to the feeder, and a variety of birds eating the food I keep stocked for them. A brilliant cardinal, a pair of indigo buntings, and many varieties of which I am not familiar.  I have seen more pileated wood peckers here than anywhere else I have been.  I finally found where the Phoebe birds have built their nest.  Last year it was under window eave but the spot this year is much better for them and for us.  I won’t be able to view the babies as well, but they are tucked up under the porch on a nice sturdy beam in a spot where the weather will not get to them.

We always plan to “leave early” from Staunton and it never, ever happens.  There’s always too much going on there and it feels like such an effort to finally get away.  Mikes phone rings non-stop when we are there and it feels like I can never even finish a thought when trying to talk to him because he interrupts me to answer the phone once again.  I, on the other hand, will usually have a child on my shoulder or clinging to my legs, so I really can’t be too hard on him because I am not very accessible either.  This trip the car was filled with a bag of dirt, a four-foot fence gate, and jars of milk to feed the chickens.  It’s a good thing we didn’t need much in the way of personal items because there wasn’t much room for that.  We have very little time this week before going back to Staunton for Analia’s ballet recital on Saturday.  We have averaged about two to three days in one spot before turning around and going back to the other recently.  By coming back to Laurel Fork on Tuesday evening, we were able to stretch the time a little bit, but we are still running the roads this week, and depending on when we leave to go back will have three to four days in Laurel Fork.  We don’t need to be back to Staunton until Saturday afternoon, however, Virginia Tech is having graduation this weekend and we anticipate traffic being horrendous on Interstate 81.  We have not yet decided if we will drive middle of the night on Friday to avoid the chaos, taking alternate side roads, or allowing extra time on Saturday to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.  My vote is the Parkway. 

The good news is we were able to immediately settle into a peaceful home here in Laurel Fork when we arrived and get to work. Priority was the yard which although it had not been a full week since we had mowed, was grown up like a jungle.    The weather, so far, has been gorgeous which has made it convenient to work outdoors.  After a good breakfast of eggs and sourdough pancakes with maple syrup, we spent the entire day working outside on Wednesday.  Between the two of us we got the yard mowed, the flower beds cleaned out, some bushes transplanted, and a lot of board fence built.  At the end of the day it was so nice to step back and look at the transformation.  While the yard work is temporary, especially with how quickly everything grows this time of year, it was still satisfying to feel that good kind of ache of used muscles and the tiredness that comes after exerting one’s self physically.  Holding the 16-foot board in place for Mike to mark and cut them and then again for him to nail them in place on the fence is tiring as well, especially after so many hours of it, but with each board in place, it is like another piece of the puzzle.  I often compare it to when I piece together quilts.  There are many similarities and the piecing together of the board fence is perhaps even more rewarding.  We are actually talking now of bringing down part of the cows.  We just need a few more good days like we had yesterday and it can be a reality. 

May 11, 2018

You might be a farmer if you plan your trips to town around anticipated thunder storms. 

First thing we did Friday morning was to check the hourly weather forecast to see when it was predicted to rain.  Predicting the weather anywhere can be tricky but especially in the mountains where there seems to be a good many areas with microclimates that don’t exactly cooperate with the official reports.  Yesterday, however, we got pretty lucky.  It appeared that we would have good weather until late afternoon so we planned to work until somewhere around 2 or 2:30pm and then head into Galax to get groceries, run some errands, pick up some plants, and get my contacts that had been sitting at the office of the eye doctor for over a month.  (We typically only go into Galax on Saturdays but the office is not open over the weekend.)  Mike trimmed the top of the fence posts on the new fence, making them all look even and giving the fence a nice finished look.  He hung a gate and then he got busy making a large raised bed.  He has planted 80 tomato plants, green beans, peas, lettuce, beets, potatoes, etc in Verona at his mother’s place where he has planted garden all his life.  However, we really wanted to be able to plant a few things in Laurel Fork this year.  I’m glad he took the time to do it.  It looks so nice and I think once he is used to gardening this way, he will really enjoy the raised bed concept of gardening.  He finished the raised bed, filled it with dirt, and got part of it planted yesterday.  He worked until the last possible minute and just about the time we both were cleaned up and ready to leave for Galax, a storm blew in and it began to rain hard.  The timing for our trip to town worked out perfectly and for once, the conditions actually coincided with the weather report for Laurel Fork. 

I wanted desperately to be out doors yesterday morning but family is possibly coming for a visit next week, I felt like I really needed to clean the house.  I am so lax about deep cleaning anymore and the evidence of the Little People’s visit last week along with smoke from the end of winter’s fire and the pollen from our spring that finally sprung created a need that I could no longer ignore.  I did a fair job moving furniture, dusting, sweeping and mopping.  There was no time to go deeper by washing curtains and windows.  That will have to wait.  I managed to get downstairs finished which is where Mike’s mom will stay if she comes.  Mike and I will move to one of the guest bedrooms upstairs.  We already use that bathroom because it is larger which will leave her the nice clean bath downstairs by the “master” bedroom.  Being indoors on such a beautiful day was about more than I could stand.  I kept finding reasons to pop outside for a few minutes.  I really wasn’t focused on housecleaning and was happy to at least finish up with downstairs. 

Most days now I need to leave off what I am doing multiple times during the day to take phone calls regarding my grandma.  In Laurel Fork, that is tricky because of our poor cell phone service.  Most of the time my brother has to text me and ask me to call him back and I have to intentionally find a spot where I can get a bit of service.  That requires me sitting in one place and not even turning my head once I have found that “sweet spot”.  If I have time to plan, I will drive a couple miles up the road to the Dollar General and sit in their parking lot where I have decent service most of the time.  If the weather is nice, I can climb to the top of our property which is a pretty decent hike and there I have good service.  Recently though Jimmy has been able to get through on Mike’s flip phone most of the time and then I find a spot where I can sit and talk to him.  Finding the best solutions for an aged family member is so difficult.  A year ago, I was not prepared for how difficult and I guess I can in part thank those folks that seemed like such a thorn in my side a year ago when they tried to “help” my confused grandmother and at the very worst accused and at the very least implied that the family was neglectful, pulling in the local preacher who went right along with the plan to thwart the family involvement and set up secret plans to “care” for our grandmother.  At the time, these perhaps well meaning (although I still question all their intentions) meddling people felt like they were ripping my heart out with their accusations, implications and subversive ways but the last year has made me one tough cookie when it comes to standing up and fighting for a loved one and not giving a damn what anyone else may think of our decisions to do what we feel is best.  And, due to the nature of Nan’s condition, I have also had a year to accept that in her confusion, there will never be a scenario that will bring her perfect peace because those days of perfect peace are gone.  That part of her beautiful mind that always spoke peace to others and translated into the perfectly calm, compassionate preacher’s wife has, ironically, been damaged and the anxiety she faces daily is something we can try to ease but simply can’t be taken away.  Knowing this and accepting this has given me the strength to move ahead in these most difficult days and realize that any hurt, anger, confusion or disagreement she might express can’t be helped and my task is to make sure she is physically safe.  Currently, my role is supportive, as my brother works on details there and we discuss things over the phone.  Nan no longer wants to talk in the evenings like we have done for the last five years.  She prefers to talk in the afternoons which cuts into my work and requires me to find a place to sit and talk, but she is worth every minute and I always make the time.  Days are better anyway.  She is happier in the day and not as confused.  There are days she calls me three or four times during the afternoon because she does not remember that she has already called me.  I just repeat the conversation as if we have talked previously.  The eight of this month marked the anniversary of my Pa’s passing and I wondered if Nan remembered it.  She did not mention it but then she probably wouldn’t.  She is from a different era and she presented herself with such grace and dignity throughout her life, perhaps trying to live up to her role as a preacher’s wife but in part I think it was just her nature.  One of our relatives traced the family history back on Nan’s side of the family (her paternal lineage) and found that the Armstrong family is linked to Scandinavian royalty many generations ago.  I have always thought that my grandma carried herself with the dignity of a queen.  I think that gene must have skipped me and I tend to be more like my Scots-Irish, mountain, ancestors on my dad’s side of the family: clannish, passionate, with volatile  emotions when repressed.  On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if that precious mind of hers just had more than it could deal with anymore upon my grandpa’s passing.  She sat at his memorial service posed and beautiful, a picture of perfect peace and never did we see a tear fall from her eyes the entire time we were at the funeral home for viewing or the grave side for the service.  She was dignified and gracious, greeting people, smiling and introducing folks to one another.  She had been the same when my mother died so many years ago.  I am sure in secret she poured her heart out and released the pain, but in front of the world she simply took over the care of her grandchildren and kept smiling.  But, she always had Pa and he took care of everything for her, giving her everything she desired to the best of his ability, and truly treating her like the queen she was in his eyes.  I will always believe that all that pain she held inside did as much to cause her confusion as the aging process. 

Still we try to make grandma’s world the best it can be and although we can’t indulge her quite like our grandpa did, we have a lot of help from a community of people who make it possible, in spite of limited finances, to make her as comfortable as possible both physically and mentally.  Two of my paternal cousins have played a huge role in this.  My cousin Teresa who works at the nursing home where Nan is receiving two months of rehabilitative therapy gives Nan preferential treatment and is behind the scenes for us with the doctors and nurses. When Nan doesn’t think she gets a fast-enough response using her call button, she calls Jimmy at home and has him call Teresa at the nursing home.  Teresa tells everyone this is “Her Nan” and although there is no blood relation, my grandma loves that.  I was the first to call her Nanna and shorten it to Nan later, but the world is full of people who now call her Nan and feel a bond with her like family.   My cousin Lou, who has been Nan’s part time care giver for over a year now, makes the trip to spend her days with Nan at the nursing home four days a week.  She is able to take Nan outside to the courtyard, be with her for doctor’s visits, take her around the home to visit with other patients, and just provide company for her.  Lou loves Nan dearly and has known her since she was a teenager and attended the church on the mountain that my grandpa pastored.  Lou and my mom were the best of friends during those teen years and Lou’s momma is my daddy’s sister.  In addition to Lou and Teresa, dozens of people have been sending cards and there have been gorgeous bouquets of flowers to brighten her room.  Still, even though we are doing the best we can with help from so many, grandma is struggling not only with frequent confusion but also because the doctors have told her that she is not going to be allowed to go home without 24-hour care for the rest of her life.  She told me she is “disgusted”.  I told her that I would be disgusted too and that her feelings are valid and she needs to feel free to express them at any time but that we were all working hard to make sure that she was going to have the best care possible with the funds that were available to us.  I explained that we were exploring options and didn’t quite know what the final decision would be at this time, but that she didn’t need to worry about anything.  We would take care of her.  In the meantime, the nursing home where she is currently taking rehabilitation tried to push us into committing her to stay there once her rehabilitation is over.  They called and said they needed a decision “today” so they could apply for funding.  Here is where the past year has made me savvy and stronger.  When Jimmy called a bit in a turmoil feeling like we were being forced into making a decision without any options, I told him to push back and tell them they didn’t need a decision “today” and that we were not going to sign over her care to them as a result of them forcing our hand.  We have options and we will explore them.  After a few phone calls, Jimmy had the support of the case worker from adult protective services who used her position to get the nursing home to back off and provided us with possibilities for assisted living rather than a nursing home.  We will not be rushed to make a decision and try to do the best that we can. 

May 14, 2018

The last few days have been so full.  I seem to say that a lot.  Better, I say to know the fullness of days than to feel like one is without purpose.  I wanted to finish cleaning the house on Friday but Mike asked if I would help him work on repairing the barbed wire perimeter fencing.  Neither of us like barbed wire fence.  It is hard to work on and can really tear up an animal that might unintentionally get caught in it.  However, at this point, replacing the entire perimeter fence is not an option for multiple reasons.  Previously, I have helped with all kinds of fencing except barbed wire.  This was a new experience for me.  At first, I was a little disappointed that I needed to be working on fence rather than accomplishing some other tasks I would have liked to accomplished.  However, once we got started, I realized it was good for me to see just how hard of a job it was.  The day was exceptionally warm for this time of year.  We found ourselves cutting back a lot of growth on the fence, removing broken limbs and branches from the fence line, trying to avoid the poison oak, and fighting the flies that were a nuisance.  A good portion of the fence in on section was down completely. We worked all afternoon but we still need several good days to dedicate to repairing the barbed wire fence before we can consider it strong enough to hold in the cattle.   It was hard work and I was exhausted when we got back to the house a little after five.  I grabbed a glass of sweet tea, sat on the porch and drank it, watching the humming birds for about ten minutes before heading inside to fix supper. 

Before working on fence, I had taken the time to plant some herbs and flowers.  I wanted to recreate the look of an old, country porch.  I remember when I was a kid that the “old folks” often had their plants in whatever containers they could find to put them in and would have them sitting around the porch.  The containers often included old enamelware, tins, cans, buckets and bowls instead of flower pots.  I began to rummage around looking for things I could repurpose.  I found vintage buckets, a red trimmed enamel bowl, a fruit crate which I lined with an old piece of burlap, and an old chicken waterer to name a few things.  I also had set aside a wooden crate that was used to ship a part for the loader.  It made a perfect raised bed for flowers.  A couple of old Luzianne  tea tins I found were rusted through the bottom but otherwise in fair condition and made the perfect containers for some of my herbs.  The tins were decorated with Audubon bird photos and look perfect sitting on the porch with a decorative bird house between them.  Having just a few moments to get my hands in the dirt as well as play with vintage cast away items that sparked a bit of creativity was refreshing. 

I fell in bed exhausted on Friday night and slept from 9:30 until 6:30 only waking up once around 4 am to walk around for a bit to try to get some relief from my aching hip.  That much sleep at one setting is rare for me and it felt good to work to the point of exhaustion and then sleep well.  There’s such a difference between physical stress and mental stress.  A good day of hard, physical work is rewarding.

Saturday, we had to get things done so that we could leave for Staunton.  We had Analia’s recital at 2:30 but Mike also had to leave early enough to meet some folks who were coming to look at equipment that we have for sale.  Mike decided just to take the interstate home, so after we made sure the chickens had plenty of food and water, just in case we didn’t return for several days, we watered the plants, loaded the car, locked up the house and headed toward Staunton.  Travel on the interstate in rarely good, but it wasn’t quite as bad as the last few times we have made the trip.  Traffic was heavy, but we kept moving, and we made it in reasonable time.  I typically go straight to the barn when we arrive in Staunton and check on my animals.  Afterwards, I go inside where I am attacked by the Little Girls.  Mike went directly down to the family farm to meet the folks who bought some equipment.  I brushed my teeth, ran my fingers through my hair, and Alissa and I left early with the girls to get to the recital.  I really didn’t think Mike would make it but bought him a ticket and left it at the door.  I was really surprised when he made it just as the show was starting.  The program was done very well and included multiple classes, ages, and degrees of talents.  The youngest of the dancers were only 2 (almost 3) and the little ones were so cute in their dresses.  All of the children did a great job, the music was good, and the excitement of the children was contagious.  We were so proud of Analia and how hard she worked this past year and all the things she learned.  It was an effort for us to be at the recital, but I am so glad that we were able to attend. 

When we got back to the house from the recital, I went straight to the barn and milked the cows.  Shar still has blood in her milk and while I know this is not a big deal, I have never had a cow whose milk persisted to be bloody for this long.  It is simply broken capillaries (not mastitis) and will clear with time but it is frustrating to have it continue for this long.  I simply discarded her milk.  I did milk Promise.  I had just been letting the calf nurse her because I didn’t want her to have reoccurring milk fever.  I felt like her body had been given enough time to achieve the balance she needed to ward off another episode.  She gave me about a gallon of milk, which is good considering we have not been milking her and the only grain she has had was the few times she was in the stanchion since calving.  She did well and her milk was good, mastitis free, and that beautiful creamy color. 

Alissa had made supper and we ate without Mike who had been at the farm (his mom’s) all afternoon since we got back from the recital.  I finally went to bed and he came in really late, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and went to sleep.  He was able to get a good bit done in a short amount of time, including getting his mom’s grass mowed.  His nephew, Sam, came by and helped weed eat and together they got things looking good there. 

Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, I got up early and went to check on the animals and give them food and water.  Alissa, the girls and I went to her church for a Mother’s Day breakfast cooked by the men.  It was good and I enjoyed visiting with some of the folks there.  I will admit, by the time the breakfast was over and Sunday School was beginning, my social skills felt taxed.  I was feeling a bit out of place but it had nothing to do with the people and everything to do with the fact that I was ready to introvert. 

After church, Mike milked the cows and I got our stuff ready to leave.  We had been in Staunton only 24 hours and it was time to head back south.  We had intended to stay a few days in the area, but the family decided to get together at The Homeplace Restaurant in Catawba, VA to celebrate Mother’s Day with Mike’s mom.  Some of the family wasn’t able to make the 1.5 hour trip but about 17 of us showed up.  It was a nice meal (homestyle cooking and served family style in bowls that are passed around the table).  We had been there a couple of times with Mike’s Dad and Mom when his dad was still living.  From Catawba we were about an hour and a half away from our home in Laurel Fork, so we decided to cut our trip to Staunton short this time and just go on back to Laurel Fork rather than return all the way back to Staunton only to come back to Laurel Fork again on Tuesday. 

It was a lovely day and I was glad that it was busy.  Mother’s Day used to be my favorite “holiday” and I still love being celebrated as a mother and celebrating all the mothers in my life.  While I do well now on Mother’s Day I am always very aware what a difficult day this is for so many.  I always think especially of those I know who were not able to have children and who wanted babies so desperately.  I don’t know that kind of heartbreak and cannot even begin to imagine it, but I have seen the difficulty some of my friends have on Mother’s Day when their grief of not being able to have children is compounded.  Personally, I am able to understand a different kind of grief, both the loss of a mother at a very young age and the loss of a child when my child was just beginning his adult life.  There have been Mother’s Days that I have not been able to get past the grief and have cried the whole day.  I am at a point in my life and in my grief journey that the day is joyous again for me, but a piece of my heart doesn’t forget the pain I feel and understand the pain of those who find the day difficult to get through.  I am glad that we can celebrate each other as mothers and grandmothers and these kinds of days are important to pause and be thankful for our blessings but it is important to me to stop and consider those whose pain won’t allow them to enjoy the day or who are still finding it difficult to do so.  In addition, there are families so estranged from one another, that the day is nothing but a reminder of all the pain of what a relationship is supposed to be and what it is not.  There are so many reasons why people have difficulties with holidays and while I can have a day full of joy and celebrate, I want to remember those who struggle.  It helps me to find balance in life and I suppose it somehow just my nature to always look at both sides. 

Waking up in Laurel Fork on a Monday morning is strange to me but it is good to see the sun come up over the mountains, hear the birds chirping, and the Tom Turkey gobbling just outside our window.  We slept with the windows open last night and could hear the stream babbling outside our windows.  The occasional car going down the road, reminded us that we are not as remote as we would sometimes like to think, bringing us back to reality and reminding us that life is not a utopia.  There was a time in my life when I thought (either by my own misconceptions or by things I was taught) that all the good things were God’s blessings and the unfortunate things that happened came about because God was trying to teach us a lesson.  As a kid, I wondered why God was so angry with me and thought I needed to learn so much.  Why was I so incomplete that God had to take away my mother in order to “teach” me something?  Later as a young adult, I wondered why after I had tried so hard and loved so much and lived in the way I was taught by the church for so many years that my husband would abuse me mentally and beat me down in the dust, flaunting other women in my face, and demanding that my duty to God and my children was to take the abuse.  Finally, when my son was taken from me in such a violent manner, I reached the bottom, and I realized that all the things that happened to me were not God trying to teach me something.  (This doesn’t negate the fact that we can learn something from every circumstance but I don’t believe God beats us over the head to teach us something.)  I came to see God as Love rather than fear what He is next going to put on my plate.  I came to see the terrible things that happen in life as just “a part” of life in an imperfect world.  Maybe I am simplistic but when one has been beat to the ground with grief and disappointment and finds their way back to love and hope, if it takes simple thinking, then so be it.  On any given day, there are people filled with joy and there are people filled with grief.  Living in such a way that one is able to recognize both and give grace when others are in a different place emotionally than we might be, I believe, is learning to be a mature human being.   Life is hard but Love is always victorious.