The Meaning of May

May 2019 started off so well. Along with a dear friend, I’d been part of my first literary panel, the weather was incredible, and it was time to start planting the garden.

Then May 7th arrived.

As I have written before, my life was divided into two clear parts as of October 9, 2013.  The first part of my life was everything up to that date, then Sam died. And I thought that date would be the big dividing line.

Then May 7th, 2019 arrived.

We went to an appointment in Burlington, knowing that something was wrong with my beloved husband, but we had no idea of how serious it was. On that day, the doctor coldly announced that he had ALS. Then he said that the average life expectancy is 6 months to a couple of years. The words were cold. The delivery was cold. It was pure and simple a message of “go home, get your affairs in order, and there is nothing that can be done.”

Now, I realize now, as I did then, that there was nothing that can be done to change the diagnosis. Nothing to change the outcome. There is no cure. But the delivery? It was cold, impersonal, and cruel. There is a huge difference between giving a realistic view, and being cold and cruel… No one should be given such a diagnosis in such a manner.

How did we react to that news? In shock, we got in the car and started to drive home. We had to pull off in a parking lot so we could fall apart. Over that next few days we did that a lot. We cried. We yelled. We swore. We figured out how to tell our parents and children. We got our “stuff” in order. We had those god-awful conversations that no one ever wants to have.

Then we found ourselves again. We decided knowingly and openly that we would live every moment to the fullest. We would not keep asking “why us,” and instead enjoy how fortunate we are. We have love surrounding us. We have incredible friends and family. We live in a place we love. We would do things we’d always wanted to do, and we would not take a single moment for granted. We did our research, we sought out both traditional and non-traditional treatments, and we have re-found (is that a word?) our gratitude.

It’s almost a year later. On the night of May 7th, 2019, I felt that my heart had been broken a second time. On this May 7th, I will instead celebrate how incredibly fortunate we are, and give thanks for every moment we have had in this last year.

 

Today in the Life on a Farm

Life on a farm, no matter how big or small of a farm, has rhythms to it. No matter what, you are impacted by weather, rain or drought, temperature, insects, wind, and so many other factors.

Right now, right here, we are gearing up for a new season of  gardening. While it is still cold in Vermont, so cold the wood stove is still going, we are almost to full garden season.

Already, we have two different rows that have lettuce, spinach, radishes, beets, kale and chard planted outside. One was started more than two weeks ago, one yesterday. Both rows are covered by small hoop houses to give the seedlings a little more warmth. Extra hoop houses have also been deployed outside to the spots where we plan to plant our next early crops, so they can warm up the soil a bit.

Inside, we are in full swing. We have four different kinds of sprouts growing so that we can add nutrition and depth to our salads. We also have seedlings for tomatoes, peppers, basil, zucchini and yellow squash, cucumbers and carrots all growing on our grow shelves, ready to go outside when the time is right.

As many of you know, this year we made the decision to use old seeds (seeds from previous years) for our garden rather than just throwing them away. So far, they are doing just wonderfully!

If you haven’t already done so, go plant something today!

So you want to start a garden?

Several of you have reached out lately about how to start a vegetable garden. Now, if you live in the northern part of the United States, overall it is too early to plant most things outside.

But what about inside? Yes, you can start seeds in pots now to have seedlings for the garden this summer. But if you aren’t ready for that sort of gardening, the best thing you could try right now is sprouting seeds, such as greens, in a sprouter. Amazon or your local farm supply store are likely to have counter top sprout growers, and most of them come with a small package of seeds specifically designed for growing in them. Don’t use packaged garden seeds for this, as they have been treated to go into the soil. You want to get seeds specific for sprouting. Then, soak them overnight, drain and put in your sprouter. A couple days later, you will have fresh sprouts for your salad or sandwich, and you’ll have the satisfaction of growing some of your own food!

For me, growing my own food gives me a sense of peace and safety that few other things do. Try it and see if it works for you too!

Social Distancing is LOVE!

Here is the thing, as many of you who know me personally know, I am mostly an introvert. I am happiest with my family, animals, my gardens, and in my writing. So social distancing and working remotely may not be as hard of me as it is on other people, as I can be with some of my family even more than normal.

But right now, regardless of whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, social distancing and staying at home is an act of love. LOVE! It is protecting not only yourself (therefore is an act of self-love), but it is an act of love toward the rest of humanity.

I have asthma. Most of the time it is managed pretty well. If I was to get COVID-19, I don’t know how my lungs would handle it, it could likely be very dangerous for me. My husband has ALS, and we need to protect his lung function on a daily basis, COVID-19 or not. So the people who love us are staying away from us. We are a huggy family — we normally hug everyone. We are together all the time. Not now. Now our daughter and grandchildren visit us only by phone and video, our oldest son stands more than six feet away from us outside to see us. Our youngest is isolating with us at home, not seeing his friends in person.

All of these are acts of pure love. Active, relentless love. Love that realizes and recognizes that protecting others is the greatest act of love there is.

Look, I know it is difficult for some to not be out being social. I’d love to run to the market to get produce today, and not worry about the safety of that choice. But if you truly care about anyone other than yourself, stay home.

Show your love by staying home!

When I Wasn’t Mom-of-the-Year (otherwise known as white privilege, or just plain old privilege, in the time of a pandemic)

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I am the mother of four amazing children. Four times I’ve endured the college application process. The first three kids, I was a super mom in the process. Applications were perfect, submitted early, it was just plain amazing. I was a true superstar in that process the first three times around. A superstar!

Then Sam died. About 18 months after he died, it was time for our youngest to go through the college application process. Now, this was a time when I was doing really well if I had on matching shoes when I went to work. Grief made me slow, emotional, and unable to think clearly. One day when I was at work, a friend who also happened to be his guidance counselor called me and reminded me that there was only one more round of SATs, and our youngest hadn’t taken them yet. I had completely forgotten the need for him to do the SATs while I grieved. With tears streaming down my face, I got off the phone and registered him for the test.

I felt like a failure as a parent. A complete and total failure. All the other senior mothers had made sure their kids were ready, all the boxes checked off in the process, and I (an educator!) had forgotten the stupid SATs. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and felt like a loser.

Fast forward to current times, and I am reminded of this time period in my own life. As I watch the current online social media posts about the wonders that some families are enacting in their own home school environments during school closures, my heart aches for many parents and children out there.

The perfect learning environments created at home for schooling? The creative daily schedules? The videos of the perfect creative lessons parents are enacting? Great if you can do it, but talk about making other parents feel inadequate and inferior. And their children? How many ways can they be told that their families and lives aren’t great? How many times can they be reminded of how they are somehow perceived as lesser in our society? How many times to they (and their families) need to see the perfect cooking lessons in other homes while they are waiting for a school bus to bring them needed food or they will go to bed hungry?

If you don’t have a parent who normally works at home, or is working remotely now, you are having to figure out how to do the best you can in your own situation. If you live in a tiny apartment (or a homeless shelter), you may not be able to create a “school room” for this duration. If you are grieving, have health issues, are financially stressed, all of those things are weighing on your mind, and seeing the constant reminders of how everyone else is doing it so well is not good for mental health in our communities. In a time where anxiety is rampant, we all need to do our part to reduce the anxiety around us instead of exacerbating it.

The ability to stay at home with your children, to create wonderful and meaningful lessons and units for your children, the money to buy supplies for projects or ingredients for recipes, having internet, being able to read and write yourself, the mental health to juggle everything right now, those are luxuries for many people. Luxuries that if you have them, you should be very, very grateful to have.

I implore us all to work on a sense of community and connection right now. If you are able to create an educational utopia in your home right now, that is wonderful. But do you really need to post about it obsessively, making sure your neighbors (and their children!) know how deficient they are in these areas?

Instead, I humbly suggest that if you want to chronicle what you are doing at home, make a scrapbook (hardcopy or digital) of images and videos and share them with grandparents or relatives. If you feel inclined to post online each day, post what you and your child or children did to help someone else. Did you call grandparents? Did you rake a neighbor’s lawn (with social distance of course)? Or post a picture or an inspirational quote to make others smile and feel hopeful.

One of the things that I carry with me each day is that Sam had the gift of being able to see well beyond the surface of people. He could see beyond poverty or illiteracy, see beyond wealth and privilege, and instead see the heart in people. In this challenging time, I ask us all to “do a Sam” and share love and acceptance, not drive the wedge deeper between us all. Love is all that matters.

Growing Things

It is a scary time right now for us all. If you are afraid of COVID-19, you probably are thinking of it all the time. As for us, we are all shopping and preparing, like we may be isolated for a long time.

For me, growing things helps with fear and stress. No, I don’t mean houseplants because I am awful with them. I swear that I am so bad with houseplants, I can even destroy a plastic one.

But vegetables and herbs? Those I can grow. Right now I have squash plants, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs all growing in the living room. Each time I look at them, it makes me smile and makes me feel hopeful for the spring. The bright green of those little leaves just gives me joy!

Ideas in the time of Fear

Right now is an unsettling time for us all. The word “pandemic” strikes fear in most people, rightfully so.

As a family, we are in the midst of two separate high-risk pools. We are so fortunate to have all four of our parents alive, and all of them are in their 80s with some health issues. They are at risk. We also have a member of the family with ALS, which means he is at a higher risk. While we are concerned, we are not afraid, nor will we stop living.

We will, however, be cautious and careful. No, going out to eat right now may not happen, because of our concerns about crowds. The mall? No. Grocery stores? Yes, when needed, although we have planned ahead and have staples so we can stay away as much as possible. Family meals together? Of course!

We clean surfaces. We wash our hands. We open windows when we can. We are being careful and planning for all possibilities.

But what more can we all do? What can we do to bring light and hope back to our own lives and to those around us?

  • Practice self-care, especially if you are caring for others. Take a walk, eat well, stay hydrated, meditate, listen to good music, do the things that are good for you and make you feel more centered and positive.
  • We can offer to go grocery shopping for those who are at higher risk. No, we don’t need to drop off the groceries and have a long in-person visit, but we can leave them on the doorstep or porch.
  • We can offer support to local small businesses. Don’t feel safe going there right now due to concerns about the outbreak? Buy your holiday gifts now — gift cards and certificates will help businesses stay afloat until things get more settled.
  • Don’t minimize the feelings of others. So you aren’t worried? Lucky you. But don’t make fun of others who are, or who are making choices you might not make.
  • If you have “stuff” that you have bought due to the situation, such as hand sanitizer, and you have lots of it, share it with those who don’t such as giving to the homeless shelter.
  • Canned goods? Buy them and donate them to food shelves. Those who are struggling to make ends meet as it is will need extra support at this time.
  • Know people who are self-quarantining, or are actually sick?
    • Do they have smartphones or computers? Video chat with them, send them funny messages, let them know they are loved.
    • Drop off books, puzzles, or craft projects to them to keep them busy.
  • Are you self-isolating?
    • Write cards or letters to people.
    • Do a craft project.
    • Call or video chat with those you love.

Wishing you all love, joy, good health and hope!

Love, Hila-style

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Yes, I did just post a picture of our Hila walking away from me. Why? Because that picture exemplifies love. Deep, unconditional, understanding love.

Hila has loved her human, Paul, since the day she came home with us. Lana, my sheep, has always liked us, but not with the intensity of Hila’s devotion to Paul. Hila would be happy if she could just follow him around all day or just sit with him. It is really funny to watch her be so gentle with him, then push Lana away if she wants to come in for cuddles too.

Why does this picture matter to me? Because it shows how a large, sometimes smelly, loud animal has the sensitivity and love to know how to take care of her human. She walks carefully beside him, making sure he is safe, and never letting him out of her view. She knows what he needs, and how to make sure she also gets the love she needs. What a wonderful way to live!

We almost lost Hila last spring to a neurological issue. Thankfully, she rebounded and came back with the same beautiful personality. Her love and devotion makes me smile on a daily basis!

A Tale of Two Plates

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If you are someone who knows us personally, or you’ve read Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude, you know something about why these two plates matter to me.

The plate on the left (with grapes) is one of our “date night” plates. As many of you know, one of our rituals as a couple has been a weekly date night at home. We have done it every week since we moved in together in 1992 with one exception — we did not have a date night the week Sam died. Back in the 1990s, it often was a simple and quick meal such as nachos. Over the years, the meals have improved, but the sentiment remains the same. Date night started as a time each week where we sat down together at the table, shared a meal, and remembered all the things about each other that caused us to fall in love in the first place. When it started, we had young children in the house, and didn’t have the money to go out, or the money to pay a babysitter, so the ritual of the kids having a special dinner (frozen pizza!) and a movie while we had our dinner was born.

A couple years into the ritual, I went into the local TJMaxx, and saw the grape plates. They only had two dinner plates and three salad plates, so I bought them all, and they became our date dinner plates.  Our children and their friends and our parents have all come to recognize that when those plates come out, we are going to have our time together as a couple. Time to talk, to dream, to mourn, to plan, to laugh, to cry, to look both to the past and the future, and time to bask in our love.

The other plate, the white one, is equally important in a different way. Our very first date was dinner at Boves in Burlington. Boves became our family restaurant. We celebrated report cards, championships, getting into college and so many other things there. The first place we went out to dinner after Sam’s death, almost three months after he passed, was to Boves. We laughed and cried that night as we ate spaghetti, remembering our first date, and all the times we’d been there with our children. We toasted Sam’s love of the wallpaper there.

When it was announced that Boves was closing, I cried. It was as if another part of our lives with Sam was leaving us. So I reached out to the owner, as asked for some plates, which now proudly live in our house. We only use them a couple times a year, but each time they come out, they exude love and memories.

These plates represent love, memories, hope and rituals. One of the things I have learned on our journey is that rituals that speak to your love of others helps keep you grounded and connected to others, and I am so glad we have the ones we do.

A Give-Away!

As the winter winds down, it’s time for a give-away. For every person who shares this post out, or shares the ones on Facebook or Twitter will be entered to win a prize.

What are the prizes? Three winners will be picked from everyone who shares or retweets the posts, and they will have a choice of a signed copy of one of my books, or a “Do a Sam” mug or pins. If you live outside of the United States, I hope you will still share the posts, and if you win, your prize is an e-copy (Kindle) of one of my books.

Please share away!

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