Our Trip — new places, loved ones, and laughter. Lots and lots of laughter!

As I shared last week, we recently had the opportunity to go to Indiana to see family. We have a really, really small family, so we hold onto our family relationships with a fair amount of ferocity. This trip was a joy because it was just plain because we wanted to be together for love and fun — not for the sad times we have historically been together most often as adults.

In Indiana, we got to see small towns, larger cities, ball parks, football, schools of varying sizes, Amish farms and families, a town fair, lots of billboards, and trains, trains, trains. We don’t really do trains in Vermont, so seeing the trains with hundreds of cars was fascinating. We also saw billboards, which of course we have seen before, but you may not know that Vermont is the only state in the country which has never allowed billboards. Nope. We don’t have them. It ruins the natural beauty, and they were banned decades ago. So when we go somewhere with billboards, I spend a lot of time reading them. Some in Indiana were funny, some dull, some pushing religious views that made me uncomfortable, but all were interesting. Interesting, but I’m glad we don’t have them here.

Besides the billboards, I took a lot of photos. Many were family pictures, but some were of the scenery or things we saw. Here are a few:

The first was of all of us, soaked to the bone, after the Purdue football game. The second? A sign you don’t see in Vermont. The third, a gorgeous sculpture tucked in the heart of Fort Wayne.

 

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We went to see where the Tin Caps play, and had to stand with Johnny Appleseed, and then we got to see one of his (Johnny Appleseed’s) burial sites.

At the town fair, we wandered through a great shop, and saw this pillow, which made me smile as many years ago I was in Music Man, and sang that song night after night.

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As we traveled, we laughed, laughed, laughed — some times the tears were close behind as we were talking about loved ones who are gone now. But we laughed in a way that has been rather rare since Sam died — laughing until we couldn’t breathe, until my voice was squeaky as I tried to talk. What a great feeling that is, and one that I have missed a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomatoes!

Yesterday we spent the day catching up on chores after being away last weekend. The house needed a good cleaning, the coops needed to be cleaned, water buckets needed to be scrubbed, and the recycling needed to go to the town shed. After all of that was done, we had a great dinner.

Today, we needed to deal with our tomatoes. We spent almost an hour picking them, and in the end we had three five gallon buckets full of them. We washed, sliced and pureed them, now they are boiling down, so we can can the sauce tonight. The most perfect ones were set aside to be frozen whole, and that is done as well.

It’s funny, I was grumbling as we picked them today, not wanting to spend hours on tomatoes, but now that we have just the canning left, I am so glad we did it!

The Full Cover!

I am absolutely thrilled to share the full cover of Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude!

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The cover uses all of the original photo of Sam, taken by our amazing friend Allie, as part of Sam’s senior photo adventure. Normally, you’d call it a photo shoot, but since they climbed mountains, etc., it was more of an adventure.

The cover then shares the “blurb” of the book, as well as the back cover being graced by Sam’s favorite Tree of Life, the tree is the same one as we have in our memorial tattoos.

The blurb, in case you can’t make the image larger, says:

When your life is shattered in an instant, can conscious and deliberate gratitude and connection to nature help you find joy and hope again?

When Sam Francoeur died on October 9th, 2013 from an accidental drug overdose, everyone he loved was irrevocably changed. Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude shares his mother Kris Francoeur’s journey through grief from the first Facebook posts announcing his death through the next thirty months as she struggled to keep sane in her bottomless grief while trying to support the rest of her family and continue with her professional life.

At times raw and uncomfortable to read, Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude is a brutally honest first-hand account of the pain of losing a truly special child, and how the conscious practice of expressing gratitude, unconditional acceptance of others, and keeping a very active connection with nature helped bring light and joy back into Kris’s life. Her story helps grieving families feel that hope and joy will return, no matter how devastating and permanent the loss.

While Kris will grieve forever, Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude shows readers they can find light and joy again—no matter how great the darkness.

Fall

Fall is arriving in Vermont. We have had a warmer than normal start to September, now it is getting a bit cooler. As we drive through the local area, you can see the corn turning yellow. That is a sure sign that it will be chopped for animal feed soon. The vegetable gardens look droopy, plants ready for pulling and composting. Our garden plants never make it to the compost pile, the plants and vines go to the alpacas. Ellsbury loves squash vines!
 
As fall arrives, I look forward to the smell of the leaves as they decompose. I eagerly anticipate the smell of wood smoke as we (and our neighbors) start using our woodstoves. I can’t wait to visit the local orchard to get a bag of tart apples for snacking. Actually, the apples are a bit of a ruse. Really, I am going to the orchard to get some of their incredible cider donuts. I can’t wait for football games under the lights, bundled in a sweatshirt.
 
Soon the majority of the leaves will start changing their colors. We will have the fiery colors of the maple foliage — I can’t wait!

Remembering, always.

As I wrote yesterday, we recently returned home from a family trip to Indiana. Besides seeing great sites, laughing with family, great food, football, we remembered. We remembered a lot.

Our family has lost many members over the years, and we were a very small family from the very beginning. Now, as we age, we are getting to a point when there are fewer and fewer of us who remember those who have gone on before us. As we reminisced this weekend, we looked at family photos, and we talked about memories. Some memories were painful, some absolutely joy-filled, some mundane, but all important.

As a parent who has lost a child, a cousin who lost her oldest cousin, a niece who lost her only aunt and uncle, a grandchild who lost all of her grandparents by the time she was fifteen, there are a lot of memories that I hold. I hold them tightly, with love. After Sam’s death, I realized that I am absolutely terrified of the idea that someday there will be no one left who remembers him — I know realistically that happens to all of us, but the idea that would happen to Sam breaks my heart again. It made me realize that my aunt and uncle had to feel that way too, and that even though we don’t talk about it directly, I suspect my surviving cousin and my own children probably fear that for their lost siblings. So I hold those memories tightly, fiercely, and I share them.

This weekend we looked at photos, some I’d never seen before, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to spend the time going through them with my cousin and my husband. So many of those who are gone never got to meet my husband and my children, but he has heard about them all, and with these boxes of photos, he got to see some of them the way I see them in my mind. I fully admit starting to cry a couple times, but I also laughed until it was hard to breathe as we looked through the piles.

Now that I am home, I want to share a couple memories of those who are gone, and share their names, because I want them remembered — they deserve to be remembered.

My grandma (the real/first Anna Belle Rose): I remember her love of sitting on her front porch in the summer, listening to the Red Sox, keeping me company as I fell asleep on the trundle bed on the porch — never making me feel silly for being nervous about falling asleep alone when I was little.

My grandfather (Alfred Hogar): I remember how he would smile when I would come into the room as a little, little girl.

My uncle (John): we battled fairly often, but when I married a man with small children, he brought my new stepson the tool kit he had been given as a child, welcoming my new children into the family.

My aunt (Barbara): she painted her toe nails with me, met me in Manhattan to take me up the World Trade Center, once sent me a ham for Christmas. Even as she struggled after the loss of her own son, she always made me feel special.

My cousin (Michael): he taught me to love Saturday Night Live and the Boston Bruins, never minded my gerbils, taught us the Alka-Seltzer song, and would scare me to death when he would pull his bridge out of his mouth.

And Sam. Our Sam. The memories of him fill us all, spilling over sometimes in laughter, sometimes in tears. Today, I remember his love of seeing how many grapes he could toss up and catch in his mouth.

Tonight, I remember them all, as I do everyday, and give thanks that they graced my life.

 

Wow, just wow!

Over the last few days, we traveled to Indiana for a family visit. Lots of laughter, togetherness, great food, football, and trips down memory lane.

Part way through the trip, a couple of boxes of old family photos came out. More of those photos will be shared over the next couple weeks, as will photos from the trip, but one photo took my breath away.  This photo, well, wow, just wow!

 

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This is a photo of my grandmother. My grandmother who was the original Anna Belle Rose — and the namesake of my pen name for my novels. This was a publicity photo from when she was a professional dancer, and if you look in the lower right corner, you can see that she signed this photo.

My grandma is one of the most important women in my life. She has been gone for years, but every time I pick up my knitting needles, eat a bite of dark chocolate, or listen to the Red Sox, I think of her. She taught me to dance and knit, always believed in me, and never was too busy to listen to one of my crazy ideas. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that she had lived so much longer than she did.

This picture rocks. What an incredible find tucked in with the normal type family photos.

 

That Wedding Day

three boys at wedding

Yesterday I re-posted this picture on Facebook. I originally posted this picture seven years ago. This photo is of our three sons before their sister’s wedding, Sam is in the middle of the picture.
 
People have asked me if pictures of Sam make me happy or sad, and I always answer that they do both. But this picture? This picture reminds me of many good memories from that day, or that week in general.
 
That week was one for the history books in Vermont, and certainly one for our family. Within one week, Hurricane Irene devastated Vermont. Sam started his first year of college. My mom, in her late 70s, had her wisdom teeth removed. I started a new job. Phew! Oh, yeah, we aslo were getting ready for a family wedding…
 
The wedding day dawned hot and humid. We gathered at the Intervale in Burlington for the wedding, and Sam did a Sam. There were two young (child) guests who were both seriously socially awkward. Seriously awkward. And within minutes, Sam had a little entourage. Those two boys followed him around all day, sat with him at the reception, and invited him to go for a walk. One of them even asked Sam to dance with him that night, which he did. There was no looking down on these kids, there was just Sam being Sam, loving getting to know new people. He accepted them quirks and all.
 
After his death. both of those boys reached out to us, sharing their grief that their friend had passed away.
 
That day was full of beautiful moments. Love, acceptance, blending of families, seeing loved ones, getting to know new people. We sat with our former daughter-in-law as our daughter married her new wife. And it all worked, and it all showed love.
 
Now, I look at that picture and see our three sons, so proud to be part of their sister’s day, so full of love and joy. And the picture brings more joy than tears.

A story about Erv — well, maybe a couple stories about Erv…

When we first got alpacas, we had three males: Sabre, Chad and Marc. Marc was a small yearling when he arrived, Sabre a beautiful white male, and Chad was a rescue animal due to his having been very sick which made him weak and a bit wobbly.

About six months after they arrived, Sabre died unexpectedly, and the vets could never explain his death. A week after his death, we heard a strange noise on the front porch, and I went to the door to find the biggest, whitest, fluffiest alpaca standing on my porch. The farm where we had originally gotten our alpacas brought this new guy, Erv, as a gift knowing how devastated we were by Sabre’s death. Erv is in the center of the picture below.

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Erv was a character. Huge, with a big head, he towered above the rest. His gene pool was spectacular, and he should have been a champion, but it was like the best genes in the world combined strangely, and he wasn’t the “perfect” alpaca. His teeth grew so quickly that they needed to be trimmed twice a year. But what a guy! Erv liked to cuddle, could jump fences when bored, and always wanted to see what was going on around our farm.

About two years or so after he arrived, he was struck down by a worm that alpacas can get from deer. Normally, it is fatal. But Erv fought day after day, and survived. A little wobbly after, he still was the alpha of the little herd.

When we went away to Canada for a vacation, a bear attacked, killing one of our boys (the black alpaca in the photo, Jack Frost). Erv and Marc both jumped a fence that was more than four feet tall to run away, and were found almost a mile from our house.

After that, Erv decided to enjoy life more. It was like the near-death experience made him appreciate life more. He loved to climb up into the water bucket hanging off the barn wall to soak his feet. He only liked to eat grain if it was hand-fed to him — none of that eating out of a bucket for him! And he made us laugh a lot.

One day, we got a call that the shearer was coming. When the shearer calls, you drop everything and get ready to shear. So Sam, Ben and I went down to the pen to snag the three alpacas and get them haltered. We got them ready, then waited, and waited, and waited. Almost an hour later, having walked them around the yard again and again, we heard the phone in the house. Paul answered it, and came out of the deck to announce that the shearer wasn’t coming after all. I don’t know if it was because he yelled so we could hear him at the bottom of the hill or not, or if something else spooked him, but Erv jumped, and whacked his gigantic, bony, rock-hard head directly into my head.

Now Sam and Ben were there too, both holding well-behaved alpacas, while I had Erv. Later, they would say that when our heads collided, we both staggered back, almost crashing to the ground.

I got a concussion from that encounter, one that left me with a nagging headache for almost a month. Erv, well he clearly had one too. For weeks, he kept his eyes half-closed, and was slow in moving around, and even soaking his feet didn’t seem to appeal to him. Eventually, he bounced back, but it took us both a while to get over that knock to the head.

All these years later, when I hear of someone getting a concussion, I think of Erv, the concussed alpaca.

What about that gratitude thing?

For a long time after Sam died, I posted almost daily on Facebook about what I was grateful for in my life. Those posts became the backbone of my memoir Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude.

Over the last months, I haven’t posted online about gratitude much, not because I don’t still openly and consciously practice deliberate gratitude each day, but because I felt that some people were getting sick of my posts, and frankly, being so busy in the publishing journey, I didn’t find the time to write them down each day the same way as I have in the past.

So, very belatedly, here is an abbreviated list from lately. I am thankful for friends who ask how we are and wait to hear the answer. I am thankful for friends and family who openly remembered Sam’s birthday. I am thankful for my children, grandchildren, husband, parents and parents-in-law. I am thankful for cousins and nephews. I am thankful for our garden, our animals, the beauty of Vermont. I am thankful for trees and plants. I am thankful for hummingbirds and bats, and the cardinals. I am thankful for the friends of our children, who are as much a part of the family as any blood relative. I am thankful for young people with the strength of character to forge relationships with us when the situation is a bit odd. I am thankful for books to read and write, great music, love and laughter. I am thankful for technology that allows me to send a text day or night to tell someone I love them. And more than anything, I am grateful for love, love, love.

What are you grateful for?