Thursday, December 31, 2009

...and continues

Our grandbaby is on the way!

This is likely my last post of 2009 .... if you're home watching the ball drop ... there might be an announcement here later!

the wait continues

No news ... our grandchild is in no hurry, it seems.

Will Dan and Jenny have a tax deduction ... or a first baby of the decade? We'll ring in the new year and update here when there's news!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

baby coming

12:37 p.m. December 30, 2009. The phone rings. Once. Bill calls, "get on the phone!" It's Dan, and he says, "Jenny is being induced soon!"

And so the waiting starts. We can't run to the hospital, 450 miles away. So we ...
  • take down the Christmas tree (oh, grandchild, you'll be doing this your whole life, celebrating your birthday while putting away Christmas trimmings) 
  • warm noodle soup 
  • write a few tardy Christmas cards
  • do laundry and
  • continue some closet cleaning started yesterday.

David just left for Evansville, Indiana to visit friends. I call him. He asks if the baby will arrive before he reaches Evansville, five hours away. I don't think so, I say.

I wait, pacing the house.
I try to pray.
Is it possible to be too excited to pray?
I trust God to bring my grandchild into the world healthy and whole.
And to bring healing and rest to Jenny.
Hold them, Lord. Give them courage and excitement for the hours ahead.
I want to pack my bag, get in the car and drive to Charlotte.
But I remember our plan to wait a few days and go when we can be the most help.
It will be hard, waiting to see
and hold
and nuzzle the fuzzy newborn head
of my early-birthday-present grandchild.
Maybe I should nap.
I wait. I pray.
God, hold me, too.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

a merry, garage-cleaning Christmas

There's a first time for everything, and I'm pretty sure this was the first year I helped organize a garage on Christmas Day. Here's how it went down ...

We drove to Charlotte to spend Christmas with our son Dan and daughter-in-love Jenny, who is due to deliver their first baby very soon. We spent the first couple of days eating, playing games, driving in the bustling Charlotte traffic and watching movies.

But I couldn't get my mind off the garage. Dan had mentioned needing to clean it out. And whoa, this garage was in dire need of cleaning bulldozing and organization. Knowing that Jenny was in no condition for the task, and won't be for oh, say 15 years, I rallied the troops to tackle the project.

First we broke down the mountain of cardboard boxes for recycling and bagged up newspapers. We filled a couple of garbage bags with trash. Impressively, about a quarter of the garage was soon filled with trash and recycling.

Armed with a ladder and drill, we set to work erecting shelves on one wall. My sons, while they might not admit it, were duly impressed with my knowledge of tools and construction, such as it was. In little more than an hour, the shelves were up and loaded with numerous garage-items: coolers, boots, tent, gardening supplies and bins.

We worked right up until our delicious pot roast dinner, set out by Jenny and Katie. By this point, my bones and joints yelled for a break, but Dan energized me to finish the task and wanted to hang the bikes. Back we went to the garage, measuring and estimating the ideal spot.

At last, about 8:30 p.m., we brought Jenny out for her Christmas 'surprise,' as if she didn't know why we spent Christmas afternoon in the garage sweeping, sorting, tossing and making countless trips into the house.

Merry Christmas, Jenny and Dan! It's one I'll always remember!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

O, come let us adore him,

O, come let us adore him,

O, come let us adore him,

Christ, the Lord!
Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

happy birthday, Dad!

Today my dad, Joe Matlock, is turning 85. Little did I know one year ago, when I wrote this post, how the year would unfold for my dad and me.

I'm grateful for my dad and his influence on my life, but I'm especially thankful for the time we had together during his recent health crisis.

Thanks, Dad, for being a man of integrity, humor, wit, and devotion. I like seeing a softer side of you, too.

(Dad has improved dramatically, but remains at a long-term care facility where his needs can best be met. I talk with him on the phone regularly.)

Happy, happy 85th, Dad!

(Dad shares his birthday with a long-time family friend, John Power, another wise and witty guy. Happy birthday, John!)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Joseph's Lullaby

As we await await the arrival of our first grandchild, I remember the profound changes in my heart as I had our children.

And with it being Christmas week, I think of Joseph. He, too, welcomed his baby into the world. While Joseph's son was destined to be the Savior of the world, for all people, for all time, Joseph was a man, a humble carpenter. I can't imagine his divided emotions over the arrival of this little boy. The group MercyMe expresses Joseph's situation beautifully. Take a listen. I hope it brings your heart closer to the heart of Christmas.

Go to sleep my Son
This manger for your bed
You have a long road before You
Rest Your little head

Can You feel the weight of Your glory?
Do You understand the price?
Does the Father guard Your heart for now
So You can sleep tonight?

Go to sleep my Son
Go and chase Your dreams
This world can wait for one more moment
Go and sleep in peace

I believe the glory of Heaven
Is lying in my arms tonight
Lord, I ask that He for just this moment
Simply be my child

Go to sleep my Son
Baby, close Your eyes
Soon enough You'll save the day
But for now, dear Child of mine
Oh my Jesus, Sleep tight

- MercyMe

Saturday, December 19, 2009

first snow

This is what I saw as I stepped out to get the paper this morning: the first snow of winter. In years past, the kids would be squealing and searching for hats, boots, sleds, mittens and scarves. Had I been an A-type, organized mother, all such items would be neatly organized near the back door in four little piles.

After the hour-long snow-gear search, the children would be running, snow-angeling, and throwing snowballs down each other's necks. Soon one would be crying at the door, all frozen or needing to use the bathroom. At which point I'd stop making hot chocolate to help undress, then re-dress the child. Twenty minutes later, I'd hand a tray of hot chocolate out the door for the kids, all soggy-mittened and red-cheeked. While I was putting throw rugs and beach towels around the back door to catch the snow, another child would be at the door, needing the potty.

Yep, that's what used to happen on first-snow days.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

giving life

Life. How can we give it?

1. Birth a child. Personally, I'm done with that one.
2. Give blood. Many do. Many don't. Some can't. Some won't.
3. Become an organ donor.

Far and away, #3 is the most painless. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's pain-free! Here are some staggering facts*:

- There are over 100,000 people in need of an organ transplant in the U.S. alone.
- There were fewer than 10,000 deceased organ donors in the U.S. last year. (That's a ratio of 1 organ donor to every 10 transplant patients.)
- In the time it takes you to shower today, one new name is added to the U.S. transplant waiting list.
- From the time you woke up this morning, until you wake up tomorrow morning, 18 people will die waiting for a needed organ.

It's an unfortunate fact that the holidays are a time when many will lose their lives in accidents. Please consider signing up for organ donation and make your wishes known to your family. And urge them to do the same.

* The above facts provided by Nate's wife Tricia is alive because she received her new lungs in 2008 from a donor.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

the Christmas letter

You know the letter. Mom brags on her fabulously perfect children who get full scholarships to Yale, or her husband who received three promotions this year. Or, her husband left her, her son's on drugs and she is awaiting word on a biopsy. I don't know why people write those letters and send them out at Christmas. Maybe the good stuff is intended to bring cheer and the bad stuff is intended to reveal real life.

Many years ago, I fashioned a new sort of Christmas letter. I don't really know what my intent was: maybe to be completely different than any Christmas letter ever written. I'm quirky like that. After a few years, our Christmas letter gained quite the reputation as "unusual," "hilarious," "interesting," "creative," and other such adjectives. I'm honored, but honestly, don't people realize there are libraries full of great literature, year-round?

Then, the other day as I crawled in the crawl space (what dumb architect ever designed such a space in a house?) I came across a bag of our old letters. I embarked on a trip of memories and laughter, dating back to 1991: a chronicle of the life and times of our family.

A few highlights:
~ We've had the same e-mail address for 10 years.
~ 17 years ago, I was thrilled to finish 10 years of diaper-changing. Next month, I'll be changing my grandbaby's diapers.
~ I shudder at a memory described in 2000: a trip to Gettysburg during which the kids behaved horribly. And so did I. They weren't even all that young, so I figure my behavior was justified.
~ Kids' ballgames, orthodontist appointments, kids' concerts and the like were prevalent themes for about 15 years. I miss the kids, but I'm enjoying the quieter evenings.
~ What a dramatic event: taking our oldest son to college! Now it seems as ordinary as a trip to the grocery store.
~ I've never again pulled into the garage with the Christmas tree still on top of the van: once was enough.

Even if the majority hates our Christmas letter, I will treasure them as snapshots of life as it used to be.

Do you write a Christmas letter? Do you love them, hate them, save them, toss them? Just wondering.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

the Christmas room

Snippets of conversation heard over the years from grandmotherly types, usually sometime in November: "Oh, I've finished my Christmas shopping: wrapping, too!" Or, in January: "oh, I'm getting a head start on my Christmas shopping."

Well how nice gag, I would think, gritting my teeth while roping in four rambunctious youngsters. That'll be the day.

Truth be told, I've never been a savvy, enthusiastic or efficient shopper. Get it all done in one day? Never. My feet hurt, my head spins, and I get exceedingly hungry and thirsty every two hours. And I'm terribly indecisive. Ugh. I. hate. shopping. Oh, I love Christmas and the amazing, wonderful entrance of Christ into the world, but the making of even a modest Christmas for four kids turned me into a stressed-out, snapping mom.

Whadya know, I have no children underfoot to test my sanity during December. I'm beginning to think it's not the "bad guy" commercialism that made me crazy, it was my own expectations and wound-up kids along with the million regular duties resting on my mom shoulders.

So. Seeing as how I almost AM a grandmother, I can now act like one. This includes designating a ROOM for Christmas gifts. Not a closet, not a corner of the crawlspace, not, as my mother did one year (I kid you not) the car-top carrier sitting in the garage, where we walked by every day. Sometimes moms are brilliant.

Today I lined up my few measly bags of purchases on the bed in the spare room. The Christmas room! And shut the door. No hiding. (my husband isn't a peeker.) Very easy. Very empowering. Very relaxing.

Apologies to my children. I love you. But you did make me a bit crazy in the month of December. (I just know some psychologist-type is going to comment that I ALLOWED the children to make me crazy. Granted.)

I doubt I'll be shopping for Christmas 2010 next month, but I'm definitely making headway.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

old dog; new tricks

Today I had a conversation with an acquaintance on the astonishing speed of technology growth. We laughed at how the early Star Trek shows used the precursor to a cell phone: ridiculous! We agreed that technology is pretty much outpacing our ability to keep up.

Then he says, "well lots of companies no longer pay for phone service. They use this thing called 'skype.'"

Uh, yeah. I've known about skype and get this - I have skyped - for well over a year. He seemed surprised that I knew anything about it.

Well. I give all credit to my young adult children, who have enlightened me to all manner of modern technology. I have frustrated them wildly, too, because I seem unable to master any new technological skill on the first go-round.

Whether it's cutting and pasting, scanning and saving, downloading (or is it uploading?) photos, or texting (don't get me going on that), I'd be somewhere back in the 1970's were it not for my savvy, weaned-on-computers offspring.

Look, when I was their age, the only phone in my college dorm was one that 25 girls shared. And it was attached to the wall down the hall. I took a typewriter to college, not a computer. As the student government secretary, I typed up the meeting's minutes and ran copies on a mimeograph machine. I spent hours and hours in a darkroom, developing film and printing photos for photography class. Whether accomplishing assignments or calling home, everything I did took lots more time. But it was all I knew, so I don't remember being particularly annoyed or impatient over what might seem to my children as slow-motion living.

I do think my past explains everything as it relates to learning today's technology. Our boomer brains grew up finding answers in encyclopedias, not online. We gabbed with our friends on a phone in the kitchen while our mothers cooked dinner, so conversations held no secrets. We took pictures and waited a week or two for the photos to come back.

If I must defend my technological inadequacies, let it be known that I didn't even touch a computer until after my first of four kids came along. So the computer revolution essentially blew by me while I was having and raising my children.

Bottom line, it can be challenging for an old dog to learn new tricks. But not impossible, given the desire and a few twenty-somethings with the patience to train their parents the new stuff.

Am I longing for the good old days? Not on your life. I won't be left in the dust. I'm gonna skype the bajeebers with my grandbaby!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

goodbye for now, pineapple man ... part 6

Wednesday, November 4

When I was little, Dad often took me on his Saturday errands. A favorite destination: Sears Roebuck. Dad might check the sales in the men's clothing and poke around the hardware department. At last we'd stop at the candy and popcorn counter. Every Sears had one: long, glass cases filled with tempting treats, all at a 6-year-old's eye level. Dad would buy us a big paper bag of warm popcorn to share.

Then it was back home to mom, my brothers and sister, and life as usual. How I wanted to continue on a long, exciting adventure with Dad.

Sometime around the age where I began to think, question and discuss the mysteries of life, Dad seemed to lose interest in relating to me. I ached for a closeness with him but it wasn't to be. It seemed he had no idea how to relate to me at that age. This perplexed me.

People have commented after reading these posts: "How great to spend that time with your dad. It reminds me to spend more time with my own dad."

You must understand: I spent the week forging a relationship that never was. I got to know my own father on a deeper, more profound level and in fact, I discovered a person I never knew. Our time revealed to me how much we have missed, and affirmed my resolve to build solid relationships with those I love.

As I helped Dad through his physical therapy, I ached, knowing I'd say goodbye to him at the end of today. Home and family called me back to Ohio, but some serious heartstrings had formed between the two of us. I felt protective of Dad, bound to him by all we'd been through over six days.

And I laughed, remembering another witty comment he'd made during lunch. A girl walked by wearing those funny furry boots. After she passed us, Dad said, "she looks like the tail end of the Iditarod!"

Oh, I'd have loved to race the Iditarod with pineapple man ... certainly an adventure far greater than Sears. But I'm grateful for this week, an adventure in itself and a sweet and perfect gift.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

many hands

Many hands make light work.

Its truth was evident at our house today. In fact, so many hands got to work before and after the meal that the dishwasher remained empty. All dishes were washed, dried and put away by three wonderful young women: daughter Katie, her friend Rachelle, and daughter-in-love Jill.

Hubby Bill and son Mark finished carving the turkey and put away the leftovers. I was kind of in the way, so I took photos as the "white tornado" zoomed through my kitchen.

Then again, there was a moment or two where too many cooks were about to spoil the proverbial broth, but remembering my Thanksgiving week challenge, I didn't complain.

A good and thankful Thanksgiving was had at the Hallers, though we did miss family who couldn't be here.

Wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving as well. And if you don't have "many hands" today, I hope you'll thank the One who holds you in His very capable hands, providing, guiding, and protecting you and yours.

Monday, November 23, 2009

the Thanksgiving week challenge

This idea, and much of the post, isn't original. By permission, it's borrowed from another blogger I follow, who challenged himself and his readers to re-set their minds to be thankful. I tend to be a grumbler and can definitely use this challenge!

The Thanksgiving holiday is one of my favorites ... food, parades, family, friends. But originally, it was meant to be a day to pause and give authentic thanks to God. Unfortunately for many, including myself, thanksgiving is more of a one-day holiday than a way of life. I don't know about you, but I've been blessed beyond comprehension, and even in the unwelcome moments of life, I have so much for which to be thankful.

What would it look like if I ONLY spoke words of gratitude the entire week of Thanksgiving?

If I went so far as to look at this dirty and cluttered house, a task I'd rather ignore, and instead think, “God, thank you for my home. Give me joy in cleaning it!”

When my grown children call late at night, “God, thank you that they care enough to call at all!”

I even get snarky when my husband gets in "my" kitchen space. Come on! I need to be thankful he's only trying to help.

How about if every time this week I see a person, I tell them why I am thankful they are in my life.

So, starting this Monday morning and going through this Sunday evening, I'm challenging myself to live an entire week full of thanksgiving.

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:4

Anytime I'm tempted to think/say/do something negative (filthy, foolish, crude or otherwise unthankful), I will instead choose, in that very moment, to give thanks to God for His blessings in my life.

If you'd like to join me, please leave a comment saying so AND repost this (in your own words, if you'd need to link me) on your blog or facebook and challenge your friends to do the same. Even if you're not reading this until after Monday morning, it's never too late to take up a good challenge. And, keep in mind that nobody who takes this challenge is going to make it an entire week without missing the mark ... so when that happens, let's just pick ourselves back up and start again!

credit to:

(And yeah, I'm thankful to GOD for abundant blessings, not the Indians, Pilgrims, pumpkins, corn or wild turkeys. If you disagree ... that's up to you. But this is my blog, so I'm not worried about political correctness.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

the good humor man (pineapple man, part 5)

Tuesday, November 3

I'd be omitting a part of this journey if I didn't write about the one-liners and humor that came from Dad every single day I was with him.

Whenever I travel, I like to wander, get my bearings and see what's what. This is what I did with Dad on his first day at Richland. I asked an aide to help get him in a wheelchair and off we went.

There wasn't a lot to see, but I stretched it all I could. Down each hallway. Reading bulletin boards and noticing the posted activities for the residents. Making conversation with staff. Then, outside into the gorgeous Tennessee autumn afternoon. Around sidewalks, across parking lots, beside a fountain, and finally a few minutes at a bench where dad's roommate was having a visit from his dog.

I think Dad thought it funny that dogs would pay a visit to a nursing home, but he kept it to himself.

Back in his room, Dad glanced at a paper taped on his wall. "Is that a tombstone? Because if it is, I want to change beds!" he said. How could a mind experiencing hallucinations and extreme mood swings also maintain a sense of humor? Or were his comments just Dad being Dad? He's always had a quick, dry wit.

I thought I needed to prepare Dad for my departure two days later. "I'm going to miss you when I go home," I said, tearing up again.

"You miss a headache when it's gone, too," he replied dryly.

Dad had dinner in his bed. I hoped he'd be up to getting to the dining room soon, but for now it was the two of us in his room. He had a hamburger, which I'd ordered as part of the paperwork the night before.

As usual, Dad's nose gave him trouble as he ate, and soon he let out a massive sneeze, hamburger and all. He was a bit embarrassed, but to divert attention he said, "it's like the wreck of the Hesperus!" And he proceeded to tell me about the Hesperus, a cargo ship that blew up in the ocean decades ago. Oh, dad. Funny dad. (Side note: I googled 'Hesperus.' It was indeed a ship, but possibly only in the mind of Longfellow.)

The next day we lunched together in the main dining room. The barbecue chicken was delicious and I finished first. Looking at my plate, Dad said, "your plate looks like a scene from Wild Kingdom!"

From there we had a discussion on humor. "How do you come up with so many quick little jokes?" I asked him.

"I always tie my joke to something familiar so the hearer can connect with it. And it makes people pay attention, at least, those who get humor." He told me this intelligently, as he always has.

I love humor and people who "get" it. At that moment I realized I must have received a humor gene from Dad.

I haven't spent a lot of time with my dad in recent years. Now, I wished it was more. I so wanted to talk more, hear his jokes, and witness the pineapple juice sweetening his spirit.

With a heavy heart I'd driven to Nashville six days ago, and with a heavy heart I'd drive back home.

Monday, November 16, 2009

pineapple man ... part 4

It was Monday, November 2.

While dad had shown marked improvement in three days, he still had a long road ahead. His manual dexterity was shaky. He needed two physical therapists to get him to a sitting position. It was all he could do to walk from one side of the bed to the other, using a walker. A victory was one hour in a chair beside his bed, eating his lunch. He may as well have run a marathon, he was so exhausted.

The day's focus was dad's next stop. As the afternoon wore on, word came that Richland Place had room for dad. As soon as the details, paperwork were complete, dad would go by ambulance to Richland.

Again, confusion reared its head. Dad asked me, "how far a walk is it to Richland?"

My stepsister Anne came by to update me of the details and encourage dad, telling him of Richland's amenities. "They have everything there, Joe. You can even get a manicure and pedicure."

"Real men don't get pedicures," dad responded.

The confusing babble of tests needed down the road, diagnoses, and dad's meds only served to overwhelm me. I could only think of how an ambulance ride to a new environment might further muddle dad's mind.

When the time came, about 5:30 p.m., and the E.M.T.s loaded dad on a skinny little gurney, I felt scared again. I was emotionally fragile by now, having witnessed dad's horrifying mental and physical decline. I squeezed his hand, kissed him and said, "see ya soon."

By the time I arrived at Richland, dad was already in his room. The staff, incredibly efficient and caring, barraged Anne and me with questions and paperwork. I didn't care about the stinkin' paperwork.

Dad's roommate, a spry and friendly fellow, contrasted starkly to dad's exhausted state. I tried chatting with dad for a few minutes, but it was apparent that he needed to sleep.

Half a dresser. A TV mounted too high on the wall. A tiny closet with no hangers. And dad's bed with a curtain pulled around it. This was his new home. A nice place for a care facility, but not nice enough for my dad.

I hugged Anne, unable to stop the tears. "It seems so final," I told her.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

day trip

It's become evident that to keep up with our growing family ... four grown kids, two daughters-in-love and a soon-to-be grandchild spread over four different states, we must become vagabonds of sorts.

Like today. We took a fine little day trip down to Oxford, Ohio to visit son Mark and his new bride Jill. Or, as we fondly call her, Jilly Bean. I don't know how that got started. Today I bought her some jelly beans (buttered popcorn: is there any other flavor as great when it comes to jelly beans? She and I agreed on that one) so the name fits.

Anyway. Calendar open for the day. Dog care covered. (Thank you, neighbor Sammy) Up early-ish for a Saturday, and westward we went.

We arrived at the adorably appointed newlywed apartment and had a tour. Cute, cute, cute. Funny how the mountain of wedding gifts all fit into the apartment so neatly and uncluttered!

Then, off for tour #2 of the fabulously new and expensive Farmer School of Business. I am impressed by the ways a college can spend our tuition money. Beautiful: see for yourself ...

Next up was a 2-mile hike through the woods and over the streams of Miami University's wildness: an area as yet unadorned by multi-million dollar buildings.

Lunch was enjoyed at Mark and Jill's apartment: how fun is that, to be fed by your children!

Next we headed to Hamilton, Ohio to check out Jungle Jim's. Beginning as a produce stand 35 years ago, Jungle Jim's is now a crazy gargantuan food store/international market/quirky place. I thoroughly embarrassed my son by shooting a few photos, but what the heck.

We even visited Jungle Jim's award-winning restrooms!

Finally a little Ohio State football and some pizza before we rolled on home.

A good day was had by all. Thanks, Mark and Jill!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

pineapple man ... part 3

My third day with dad marked one week in the hospital for him. My journal reveals a day dizzy with information from doctors and mental confusion for dad.

We came face to face with the decision of dad's next step. The choices: Vanderbilt, where his geriatric doctor practices, or a rehab center where he would work on mobility and basic living skills, most of which he'd lost in the hospital.

Thankfully, the decision was unanimous. Doctors, nurses, and family all agreed. As soon as an opening could be located at a reputable rehab facility, he'd be packing. I'm no doctor, but I surmised that until and unless dad could get out of bed and move around, his medical issues wouldn't matter much.

But all was not neat and tidy. I rode an emotional roller coaster this day, listening to dad's tale of an episode with a Ford truck. He assured me this had transpired down in the parking garage overnight. Next he pointed out a baby's head peeking out from behind my laptop.

Then, "did Bill go back to St. Louis?" He got my husband's name right, but the wrong city.

It was all a bit creepy to me, not knowing what lay around the next corner of dad's muddled mind. I tried to shake it off, but keeping dad on track was difficult. It was as if I walked a balance beam in gym class while some bully on the floor below gave nudges to throw me off.

Intertwined through our days were my amazing stepsisters Anne and Sarah and their husbands. Anne did the legwork of making phone calls, checking out rehab centers and making sense of insurance coverage. Sarah was Sally's errand girl, running for groceries and such. They both sat at dad's bedside, too, talking with him. Dad and Sally have been married for nearly 28 years, yet I'd never really gotten to know Anne and Sarah. After a week together, crying and talking and praying, it seems we are more like sisters and I count this as another amazing gift of God.

One of the physicians told me about "sundowning" in the life of an elderly patient, and I witnessed it in dad. At day's end, he often became more confused and fatigued, and much of the progress of the day seemed to evaporate. Then, I knew. Time for me to leave my "boy" and get some rest.

The thought occurred to me that sundowning was happening to me, too. Exhaustion and fear of dad's unknown future brought another wave of tears as I left his room.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

pineapple man, part 2 ... football

Given the events of the previous day, I entered dad's hospital room with a heavy heart, a dread more ominous than the day's date: Halloween. God carried me, yet I still felt the burden of spending another day with my fragile, weak, confused father.

I cried again. And so did he. I helped with his breakfast, though this time I let him feed himself. How would he ever re-learn the task if I did it for him? Slowly, shakily, he ate eggs and toast, spilling a part of it on his gown.

As a young girl, I often found my dad parked in front of the TV on weekend afternoons. I'd walk through the family room.

"Whatcha watching?" I'd ask, feigning interest.

"Football." Obviously.

"Who's winning?" like I cared.

I really only wanted a bit of my dad's weekend. A walk in the woods, a game of cards, an outing to get ice cream. And he did some of those, sometimes. But he worked hard, often travelling during the week. I now realize he must have been exhausted. But in my 10-year-old mind, it seemed football was of more interest to him, and I resented that. It's no wonder I have never, ever really liked football.

On this day, a Saturday, I scanned the sports page I'd brought for him. The Arkansas Razorbacks, dad's favorite team, were slated to play at 3:00 p.m.

"Dad! Guess who's playing this afternoon?"
"The hawgs?" he grinned weakly.
"Bingo! Let's watch it!"

And so we sat, dad in a hospital bed and me on the edge of a chair beside him, watching football. I cheered the touchdowns and pretended to understand the plays and strategies. His Arkansas Razorbacks, the very thing I resented so long ago, brought unity and focus between us. I didn't care two hoots about the game. But my feeble narration seemed to pull him back to me.

I cried. Again.

And I laughed at the irony. Only our great God could show such tenderness in this way: to build a bridge from the thing I care least about: football, to one I love so much: my father.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

pineapple man, day 1

Little more than two weeks ago, I planned on a long weekend in Nashville, Tennessee to check in on my dad and love-mom (I don't call her stepmother) Sally. She'd had surgery and dad was showing signs of forgetfulness. It seemed a good idea to lend some support.

I never dreamed of the week that would unfold before me. Now on the other side I realize it was the worst - and best - week of my life.

Two weeks ago, my 84-year-old father landed in the hospital after several hours of dizziness and nausea. The plan to stabilize him and send him home changed drastically into a 9-day hospital stay.

I entered his hospital room on day five around 8 a.m. He stared at me, a stare empty of the father I know. He looked vulnerable, scared. His hair spiked in all directions and he lay crookedly in his hospital bed, unable to straighten himself up. For that matter, he was unable to sit, stand or walk unassisted.

"Do you know who I am?" I asked, my throat tightening.
"Yes ... Barbara," he whispered.
I began to cry.
"You're crying," he said. "So cruel. Why do people do those things?"

His mind imagined all sorts of horrors.

In short, my dad was forgetting to take most of his meds at home, and coupled with the strange hospital environment and other medical issues, he tipped into what seemed a severe dementia.

I cried some more.

I acclimated during those first two hours to what the next six days would bring, none of which even remotely resembled the relationship I'd formerly had with my dad. Initially this scared me. Then, the two of us embarked on a sort of journey together. A new closeness took shape. Yes, even in the course of that first day, something changed between us.

He talked, I listened. I talked, he listened. Of memories, of God, of family and friends. I felt an urgency to talk as much as he could listen, to tell him things like never before. My mind raced, looking for words or memories that might connect and pull him back to reality. I stroked his arm, combed his hair, dabbed his tears. And talked. And laughed. And I listened, leaning in to catch his labored words, trying to make sense of them.

He'd say, "I'm lost, something's wrong with my mind." This terrified me. He seemed to be coming back, bit by bit. Then he'd slide away again. What if the slide continued? What if, what if?

Amazingly, dad's sharp wit was nearly intact.
A doctor quizzed him: "Mr. Matlock, do you know where you are?"
"I'm right here," he deadpanned.

His old gruff exterior seemed to soften. A child-like sweetness emerged. I told him he's like a pineapple, and that we all wanted to see more of his inner sweetness. That one puzzled him.

I held dad's hand, wiped his tears and his nose. It was the first time I'd seen him cry in 30 years. This day, he cried frequently. I warmed his oatmeal in a microwave across the hall and fed him spoonfuls. I held cups of juice and water for him to sip through a straw.

Giving him a first bite of scrambled eggs, I realized the bite was too large so I divided it. And suddenly I was feeding my baby, not my father.

He hallucinated frequently, pointing out cats, whales and bugs in his room. And I cried some more.

As medical personnel came and went, I forced myself to put emotions aside, to listen and formulate questions regarding dad's care. I look back in the notebook I kept. In it I scribbled possible diagnoses, various drugs, questions to ask and needed phone numbers.

Somehow I made it to the end of that first day. As I packed up to leave, it felt so wrong. I was leaving not my dad in that hospital bed, but my small child.

On the way to the parking garage, I was numb. What could God be teaching me? I could only pray, trusting he would carry me in the coming days.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

on hiatus

My blog-posting is taking a break for about a week. I've been called out of town for a "divine appointment." I'm journaling and at some point, I will share with you.

Thanks for waiting.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

licking batteries

To learn a little trick, hence the title of this post, you'll have to read - or skip - to the very end.

We threw the bikes in the van this afternoon and headed to Delaware State Park to pedal a few miles. A veritable ghost town, the park seems to be going into hibernation for the winter. Of course, I found a few photo opps...

My knight pumps up my tire.

My motivator!

Bikes, leaves, lake, me.

Now. Were it not for a little trick I pulled from the cobwebs of my mind, there would be no photos. Somewhere, sometime, someone told me that if your batteries are giving out, just give them a lick. Yes! Take them out of the camera, lick both ends, and put back in the camera.

Call me crazy...but it works.

new blog

Good news: my son David is now blogging. Good news because he's an excellent writer.

Check him out!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

autumn addendum

Gleaming sun, a sky so blue, and blazing yellows and reds converged for a glorious October afternoon. We took to the woods, Gallant Woods, as well as the village of Radnor on the way home. What better place to be than a landscape so perfectly painted by God?

Friday, October 23, 2009


Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. - George Eliot

It seems to me that autumn took its sweet time floating in this year. And now it seems to be in a rush to finish and give way to winter.

I follow autumn's lead ... yanking geraniums, cutting back long-dead ferns and storing the garden hoses.

How I love autumn. It stirs sweet memories of leaf-raking and luscious apples in my New England childhood. It offers a reprieve from the constant care of flower beds and thirsty impatiens. And autumn's explosion of colors is beyond compare.

Won't you linger awhile, autumn? What's your hurry?

(c) Barbara M. Haller

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Happy birthday, Jenny!

Our daughter-in-love Jenny turns 25 today. She's a little amazed by this milestone ... and I chuckle.

As I decided what to write on Jenny's birthday, I looked back at last year's post. It still holds, and then some. So here is the amended version...

Jenny is special to me and has been from the day we met. Things I like about her:

- She loves to laugh and has a sharp sense of humor. She just "gets" funny things that I get, so that's fun.

- Jenny has taught me a thing or two. Like how to peel an avocado. Stupid, you don't peel it! You cut it in half, then scoop it out. No, she never said that, she just kindly showed me and I was amazed!

- She really wasn't too overwhelmed by our family with three brothers, even when they are loud and annoying. That's a cool girl.

- Though she's always been the "little sister" in her family, Jenny has shown she knows how to be a loving and attentive big sister to our Katie. Very neat.

- She says things and we talk about things that boys just don't. She never seems in a hurry to finish a conversation.

- She has good fashion sense and I don't, usually, and is honest and tactful enough to gently help me in this area.

- Jenny loves books, coffee and God and what could be better than that?

- She is a giver of special gifts, time, friendship and love.

- Jenny loves my son Dan, and that makes me very happy.

- She is the mother of my first grandchild, so that puts Jenny somewhere around queen status, right? She is already a good mother by taking care of herself and her unborn baby.

- My other wonderful daughter-in-love, Jill, threw a baby shower for Jenny over the weekend and we ended the day with a mini-birthday celebration. Here's Jenny with her carrot cake:

I'm thankful for you and I love you, Jenny, and I wish you a most excellent birthday!

Monday, October 19, 2009

getting on the grocery bag bandwagon

While in Florida last week, I picked up a souvenir: a bright green earth-friendly shopping bag from Publix, the premiere grocery store of the Sunshine State.

Well. You must have noticed, unless you exclusively eat out or grocery-shop online or something. There's been an explosion of reuseable grocery bags. I am gathering quite the collection, and I notice others are following suit.

I jumped on the bag bandwagon with some heavy-duty canvas totes that I found in the hall closet. Then there's a bag from a city beautification conference, a gift from my friend Beth. A free one arrived in the mail. And finally the green Publix bag.

In the usual fashion, none of my bags match. I'm hopelessly uncoordinated when it comes to matching and such. To market I go, mis-matched bags flapping on my arm.

At our local grocery, Buehler's, bag-toters are rewarded with a 5-cent credit for every bag they use. Let's see. If I buy two bags of groceries per week (empty nesters, ya know), that adds up to about $5 a year. More than the cost of the bags. Not bad.

And oh. The guilt and shame when I step in the store and HAVE FORGOTTEN MY BAGS. How could I be so thoughtless? I resolve to remember next week!

What about you? Are you on the bandwagon? Do you have a collection, too?

Friday, October 16, 2009

the roadies, part 2 (Florida's east coast)

We traversed Florida on Saturday, with David at the wheel. These were more familiar stomping grounds, since we lived on the east coast of Florida as newlyweds...and brand-new parents.

The House of Refuge was exactly that at one time: a place of refuge for those who encountered storms at sea or other crises in Florida's earlier, wilder days.

I plan on applying for a job here at the House of Refuge...I think someone is needed to guard the porch.

These dudes look cool, but they were dripping in the 95-degree heat.

Bill and I first ate at John G's in 1978 and it remains one of our favorite restaurants. Ashamedly, I report that we ate there three times in 24 hours this trip!

Please don't leave this earth before eating an Hawaiian omelette at John G's on the beach in Lake Worth, Florida...

... and the cinnamon-nut french toast comes in a close second.

This trip held some nostalgia ... David was born at Good Samaritan hospital in West Palm Beach, so we included it in stops from our past ...

1983 ... a first trip to the Lake Worth beach. And now ... 2009 ... David and I standing at the same spot almost exactly 26 years later.

I imagine that anyone passing by wondered about this insane pose, taken at Good Samaritan Hospital. For the record, it was David's spontaneous idea... he dubbed the pose "born again." Hilarious!

And so ended the belated birthday road trip with David. It confirmed a truth I learned long ago when we had a passle of children underfoot: spending time with one child is a rare treat. Totally different. Totally fun. And totally worth it.

Thanks, David!