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Babes in Toyland

December has been a blur – as is much of life at 59 – and we’re ending the month and year with an impromptu trip to Yakima. John’s little mother has fallen and shattered her hip and things are very grim.

The sadness is palpable in our house, yet as death approaches, life goes on. That’s the beauty of life and generations.

Most of the month has been good hectic, though (I’ll skip over the icky parts). For one thing, this is the year I bought Disney’s Babes in Toyland to show the kiddies. I saw it with my friend Kelly when we were 6 and loved it then bought the VHS when my kids were little. Liz has told her kids it was her favorite Christmas movie.

A full-fledged musical, Babes is both excellent and lame, depending on the scene, but Annabelle and Luke, who saw it Dec. 12 when I kept them, loved it. Sylvia and Jude liked it when they saw it here the next Friday night. (Sylvia loved the wedding scene, as did her mama when she was little.)

We kept them until around 1 Saturday, when their other granddaddy picked them up, but we kept Silas until Sunday afternoon. He and I made vegan gingerbread to take to Mother’s for Christmas at her house that day.

Since Si is so allergic to milk and eggs, all my baking (which was not much compared to year’s past) was vegan. In addition to the gingerbread, we had dark chocolate zucchini/cranberry loaves for Christmas Eve and pumpkin streusel coffee cake for Christmas brunch.

At Mother’s we had lasagna, too many sweets and present pandemonium. Mother outdid herself for a 79-year-old – in addition to gifts that thrilled the wee ones and pleased the adults, she had red “Peace, ya’ll” shirts made for all us women – said she wanted something “in your face” to make people notice the message.

Mother loves to give gifts, but she still gets as excited as a little girl about getting them, too.

Mother loves to give gifts, but she still gets as excited as a little girl about getting them, too.

I’d like to think she’s taking after me a bit in her older age, or at least that I’ve rubbed off on her some. I got her a “Coexist” bumper sticker for her car (she wanted one). We also gave her a CD copy of “Rubber Soul” – she always had to rely on my Beatles records, but now she has one of her own.

All the men got nice flannel shirts – but you can see a hint of little Johnny Hardy in this pic. You can't take the boy out of the man, can you?

All the men got nice flannel shirts – but you can see a hint of little Johnny Hardy in this pic. You can’t take the boy out of the man, can you?

Monday I was sick, of all things, right out of the blue (fever gave me an excuse to cuddle up and watch Kinky Bootswhich I’d been trying to fit in – you should see it, too), but by Tuesday, the day we learned about Doris, I was at work. Anita graciously sent me home to be with John and help him find us a flight – hard to accomplish this time of year.

Christmas Eve we closed an hour early and John and I scrambled to clean the house (construction mess + muddy dogs = super yuck) and get the food out before friends and family arrived. Brother Paul was in bed feeling puny by that point, so Cathy came alone.

Our friends Marsha and Lee picked up Mother. Our next-door neighbors/surrogate kids Alyssa and Matthew joined us, and my former coworker and friend of pushing-30 years, Helaine and her husband Dre rounded out the crew.

Christmas Eve conversation.

Christmas Eve conversation.

The dogs opened their gifts from Grandma,

Tess and Zuzu consult over their gifts from Grandma. Zuzu never touches a toy without permission from the bully big sister.

Tess and Zuzu consult over their gifts from Grandma. Zuzu never touches a toy without permission from the bully big sister.

and the adults posed for fun photos. It was nice.

C.Eve group

Not a bad looking bunch!

Christmas morning I got up early after staying up late and started baking the coffee cake, then we had our Christmas before the kids and grands arrived. What a marvelous morning/early afternoon we had.

The togetherness and how the little ones love each other was the best gift of all.

I could go on, but I won’t. At least not today. Maybe tomorrow.

I don’t feel very profound. Just aware of the joys and sadnesses that make up a good life.

’Til I can gain control again

So, I’ve lived long enough to realize we really can’t control anything except our actions and reactions – and even that’s only true for folks without chemical imbalances or other incapacitating problems – but since first falling in love at 19 with Emmylou Harris’s version of “’Til I Can Gain Control Again,” that’s the song I hear in my head when life goes a little crazy.

Life has gone a little crazy lately. Some hectic good, some holy-shit hectic.

Makes even more sense to have been hearing it recently in anticipation of seeing the great Rodney Crowell, who wrote and also performs the song, at South on Main last Thursday. Fabulous show, great seats right by the stage and wonderful company – Julia and Susan – barring the weird dude who was seated at our table but wouldn’t acknowledge our presence.

His deal, not ours.

Need another disclaimer here – “holy-shit bad” is a relative term, and anything I’m about to say pales in comparison to some of the things my friends have been dealing with, like an out-of-nowhere cancer diagnosis and double mastectomy. Like caring for a mother recently diagnosed with ALS – and finding the disease has worsened exponentially just since the recent diagnosis.

All things considered, my life is excellent.

So let me start with the good. We just had Marie-Noelle here for 10 days for Thanksgiving. As always, the time flew – if we still had clocks with hands, they’d have spun out of control during those 1o days.

John/Pop, his lookalike, our lovely Marie-Noelle, and Annabelle at Mother's on Thanksgiving.

John/Pop, his lookalike, our lovely Marie-Noelle, and Annabelle at Mother’s on Thanksgiving.

The Monday before she arrived on Friday evening, we lost a day of preparation time to an unplanned trip to Hot Springs. Had to go – we snagged a heckuva-deal Folke Ohlsson Danish Modern dining table and six turquoise upholstered chairs – perfect for our upstairs – that my friend Gwen Crownover Moritz found on Craigslist and shared on Facebook.

Three of the beautiful but stinky Folke Ohlsson dining chairs. The oval table, 6-feet that extends to 9+, also smells like smoke and is coated in nicotine. Pee-eewww.

Three of the beautiful but stinky Folke Ohlsson dining chairs we recently bought over the phone. The oval table, 6-feet that extends to 9+, also smells like smoke and the legs are coated in nicotine. Pee-eewww.

Let me just say that smoking is so far out of our frame of reference that it never crossed our minds to ask if the elderly couple who’d bought the furniture new 50-or-so years ago smoked. At least one of them did. Ugh – had to throw away the three otherwise-very-nice naugahyde tablecloths that came with the set. I’ve vacuumed the chairs once, mega-Febreezed them twice and wiped some of the yellow nicotine ick off the legs.

Now we’re trying Nag Champa bombing, which seems to help. More work to come, but it is getting better. At least they’re upstairs out of the way for now. Worst-and-probably-inevitable case, we’ll steam clean them. And that’s just an inconvenience.

Abracadabra

The five little grandkids on Halloween: Only agreeable Luke is in posing mode; the girls are too busy talking and Silas is just not having it. Poor Jude tried.

The five little grandkids on Halloween.

Halloween has come and gone – and was fun as usual – but the scary season remains. How I wish I could wave a wand, say “Abracadabra” and have this election cycle behind us.

Even if it turns out to be a liberal’s (even moderate’s) worst nightmare, at least it will be over. The negativity is palpable and seems to have taken residence in my neck and shoulder. Ouch.

Ever the optimist, though, I’ll remain Pollyanna until the last vote has been tallied and the official results are in. Good conquers evil, right?

Guess that’s the No. 1 thing keeping this grandmother from sleeping well at night lately.

The No. 2 thing is much closer to home.

Little Silas has a serious condition that weighs heavy on my heart, eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), also referred to as “failure to thrive” in little ones because they can’t gain weight. If I could wave a magic wand and make that go away – or take it on myself to free him from it – I’d use every ounce of strength I’ve got to do it.

He’s Epi-pen allergic to milk – as in, he can get life-threatening anaphylaxis from dairy products – and also allergic to eggs and peanuts. If he doesn’t respond to being off those and on baby Prevacid, he may have to go off wheat and soy, which showed mild reactions on allergy testing.

I’m not going to go into how bad it can be, but you can follow the link above if you want to read more.

Again, we’re super-optimistic (well, hopeful, anyway) that he’ll do well and outgrow some of it – if people don’t feed him the wrong things. And if the medicine helps.

He’s bright and beautiful and funny. When he starts feeling better, there’s no telling what he can do. I see The Tonight Show in his future. (Look out, Jimmy Fallon. Your replacement has been born.)

We’re lucky to have Dempsey Bakery close by; not only do they have fabulous vegan products, but they love to share their knowledge and help others. What a resource!

We’re lucky Liz and I are already vegetarians – makes it easier to adapt recipes.

Even my little 79-year-old Mother is learning to bake vegan-style so Silas can have Grammy-made treats.

Open-ended life

Human instinct tends to be to want to control things; we like to know where things are going and how they will end. But The Avett Brothers have got it right: It’s easier on the spirit to live an open-ended life and accept where that life takes us.

Easier on the spirit but often hard to do. Try too hard to control things  and you’ll strike out. Or burn out.

I’m battling that will to control at the moment. As usual, music soothes my soul and lets me relax enough to gain perspective.

John’s mother, far away in Yakima, Washington, has just been placed in hospice care. My instinct is to jump on a jet and get up there. Instead, we’re going sooner than we’d planned (which was August, for John’s class reunion), but not right now. Unless an emergency calls us.

I don’t like that. Makes me uncomfortable and is not how I do things. But, much to my continual surprise, I’m reminded once again that Laura is not the queen of everything or responsible for everything.

Deep breath. Ohhmmm.

No matter what, there’s an Elsa (from Frozen) dress to be made before i can go anywhere – Sylvia turns 3 on June 14, and that’s her request. I’ve also decided to make tulle capelets for the other little girls at the party. What the heck.

Little Silas has been diagnosed with severe allergies (milk is the worst, along with eggs and peanuts), and the next step is a scope and esophageal biopsy on the tiny fellow. By waiting to go to Washington, I can be here for that – but we’ll probably have to miss Jude’s 8th birthday party.

Tough choice, but as my wise mother said, “He’ll have other birthdays.” Doris’s time is limited.

Speaking of Mother, she’s digging her little house (mostly the view) and meeting more and more neighbors. We’ve gotten it pretty much together – much of my free time has been there getting art hung and other things how she wants them.

We cooked out on her deck Memorial Day and it was lovely. My stepsister Lisa was there – we’re so glad she’s staying part of the family.

Lisa and Mother chat. I made Mother a White Russian – she highly approved.

Lisa and Mother chat.

My vegan cupcakes met everyone’s approval. Maybe I’ll post the recipe later. Vanilla with salted caramel frosting. vegan cupcakes

Silas definitely approved.

Baby sis is looking good – having Mother situated and safe has been a big relief, and that fab yard (and deck drinks) had everyone feeling relaxed.

Baby sis is looking good – having Mother situated and safe has been a big relief, and that fab yard (and deck drinks) had everyone feeling relaxed.

One last thing – you may have noticed the blog looks different. I re-upped for another year, but the old template had to go. Time marches on and things change.

We’ll see where the next year takes us.

Golden slumbers

Though the insomnia monster hasn’t fully reared its head (he’s stirring a bit in hibernation), golden slumbers have definitely escaped me of late. When I do finally fall asleep, dreams are active, crazy, disturbing, tiring.

I have that sense of waiting for – something – again. Wears one down over time, being a psychic sponge.

Of course part of it is self-inflicted; I have a late-night reading disorder. When I was a child, it was under the covers with a flashlight. Now I have a husband who can sleep through almost anything, so I just leave my nightstand lamp on way too late. Many’s the time I wake up to turn it off; many’s the time I hit myself in the face with a book to wake with a start.

ToSayNothing The last two books that kept me awake were both time travel books, the mildly hilarious, delightfully written To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, followed immediately by Jack Finney’s classic Time and Again (though in between I did read a bit of Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography and will get back to it).

TimeAndAgainIf ever a book could make time travel feel real for you, Time and Again is the book. Its so good. But I actually preferred To Say Nothing  – so Lewis Carroll for adults. Last night I started John Ehle’s Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation, one I’ve long intended to read but the purchase of which was finally spurred by my interest in Melungeons and the 23andMe testing we’ve done.

More on that later.

But books aren’t the reason for restless sleep, though they do at times invade my dreams.

Part of the cause is that “April is the cruelest month” – as T.S. Eliot put it. For many people with pollen allergies, that rings extra-true. Then there’s the whole “It’s finally warm! Brrrrrr” issue that drives everyone nuts. For the Cartwright girls, April was the long hell month in which Daddy slipped away from us – and though that is offset now by so many loved ones’ birthdays, its always there.

But in addition to the usual April mental unrest, so much has happened, is happening. Our big April Fool’s trick this year was that my handsome, youthful, healthy husband suddenly wasn’t. He woke up feeling odd and by noonish called me at work to say he was headed to the doctor. We talked on the phone off and on and he made less and less sense.

Scary. Julia was in my office for a cornbread festival meeting, so we hurried that up and hauled it to the doc – she drove the Jeep home and got John’s prescription filled while I got him home and in bed. He had a raging infection, boom, just like that, that could have been potentially life threatening within hours. The doctor told me to watch him and take him to the hospital if he seemed to be getting worse.

That was about three nights of barely sleeping, before he turned the corner. He’s much better but on medication for another month.

Don’t take anything for granted. Things can change in a heartbeat – or lack thereof.

My birthday boy, two weeks after the health scare, with his sipping Scotch birthday present.

My birthday boy, exactly two weeks after the health scare, with his sipping Scotch birthday present. I love that man – we all do.

On April 15, Julia, Susan and I went to a free screening of Chasing Ice, a documentary about the decline in glaciers. Though I knew most everything we saw in the movie, things have gotten much worse so quickly that if something doesn’t happen soon, we’re tipping, folks. Please see it if you can, or look up James Balog on TED Talks.

Climate change is definitely on the list of things that keep this grandmother awake at night.

That same night, John and I stayed up late to see the lunar eclipse – the “blood moon.” Stayed up late until John checked my time zone calculations and we realized that, as usual, I’d gotten it backward. So after staying up late, we set the alarm for 3 a.m. and got up to see the most beautiful sight.

John ran in to get the camera but couldn’t find the tripod to hold the camera steady. He hates this shot, but I think it’s cool.

BloodMoon

Follow the bouncing moon and Mars, I believe.

The next day, Cathy called me at work about 12:30 – her doctor’s office had called and told her to get to the ER stat because her blood counts were dangerously low. Paul took her there and I finished up somethings quickly and flew over myself. Internal bleeding in our family is especially scary, since Daddy died so young of colon cancer – then watching what happened last year to our stepdad – but, thank our lucky stars this time, Cathy was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer.

Required a blood transfusion and staying until Friday mid-afternoon. Scared us all – and I need my baby sister. We’re both strong women, but we’re stronger together.

Cathy and Mother at Silas' first birthday party this month. Both have rheumatoid arthritis, which you'd never guess by looking.

Cathy and Mother at Silas’ first birthday party this month. Both have rheumatoid arthritis, which you’d never guess by looking.

We got our strength from our mother, who is losing hers at a rapid pace. Cathy’s horribly low blood counts, which required a transfusion, were about what Mother walks around with all the time. Poor little thing. I know how tough she is, but that really gives perspective.

And makes me want to cry.

We’ve been helping her prepare for her big move next weekend. She’s moving to a smaller place, closer to all of us and her church – and on a lake. She’s been a dervish of activity, doing most of the packing herself. My friend Marsha helped her one day, and Cathy, the kids, John and Paul and I have put in hours, but she’s a self-reliant dynamo.

Today was our last Easter at the house Mother and Bill built and moved into in 2002. Bittersweet. We’re grateful to have her but take nothing for granted.

Paul, a still-puny Cathy and tiny Mother watch the kids hunt eggs from the old deck one last time.

Paul, a still-puny Cathy and tiny Mother watch the kids hunt eggs from the old deck one last time.

John looks much better today than Monday – photos don't lie - especially in his birthday shirt from Liz with a birthday/Easter been from Ben.

John looks much better today than even Monday – especially in his birthday shirt from Liz with a birthday/Easter beer from Ben.

New Year’s Day

When you’re as old as we are, wishing away time isn’t wise, but almost everyone in my inner circle has never been more relieved to welcome New Year’s Day.

I don’t have triskaidekaphobia and had no preconceived concerns about a year with 13 in the number, but last year started off badly and ended badly and in between seemed to be the year that would not end.

Of course good things happened, too – Baby Silas arrived and thrived, our grandchildren are healthy and precious, I lucked into one of the most fun jobs imaginable, we’ve had massive progress on our giant live-in remodel job, and John and I acquired new friends – but in general, it will go down as one of the worst years in memory.

John's last project of 2013, which he quickly built just as the year ended, is helping with the downstairs overflow of books.

John’s last project of 2013, which he quickly built just as the year ended, is helping with the downstairs overflow of books.

The fallout will last forever in some cases, and the beginning of 2014 will still be tough.

But it’s time to look forward. Just recently I’ve developed the urge to purge and want to clean closets, drawers, cabinets. I’m feeling more like myself and less like a pretender Pollyanna.

Things have got to be better in 2014. Life will never be easy and each step of life brings new challenges, but at least 2013 is over.

Mother prepares pre-Christmas brunch for what will probably be the last holiday at the house she and Bill built, since she's decided to downsize and move back into town.

Mother prepares pre-Christmas brunch for what will probably be the last holiday at the house she and Bill built, since she’s decided to downsize and move back into town.

And we just had our black-eyed peas for dinner. I think I may have blown them off last year.

Never again. We could all use a little luck.

Here's to 2014 ...

Here’s to 2014 …

Jingle bell rock

2013, in its dwindling days, is officially the year that would not die for my friends and family. Though I’m ready for it to be over and my today my heart is heavy for ones near and dear to me, this afternoon I’ll focus on all the jingle bell rocking fun we had with the kids, grandkids, family and friends over the Christmas holiday.

We have so much for which to be grateful, and 2014 has got to be a better year.

And tomorrow I’ll be a better writer.

Today, we’ll just let photos and captions tell the tale.

Christmas mornings start early with the dogs opening presents. Tess particularly loves to open gifts.

Christmas mornings start early with the dogs opening presents. Tess particularly loves to open gifts.

Stockings! Who can get to the bone first?

Stockings! Who can get to the bone first?

Zuzu had to work hard to get her bone out – but in a meatless household, that's a huge deal and well worth her effort.

Zuzu had to work hard to get her bone out – but in a meatless household, that’s a huge deal and well worth her effort.

John's 2013 surprise!

John’s 2013 surprise!

How my husband sees me – I'm a lucky gal. I'm already teaching Annabelle and Sylvia to do Wonder Woman poses.

How my husband sees me – I’m a lucky gal. I’m already teaching Annabelle and Sylvia to do Wonder Woman poses.

Christmas afternoon, after the kids had scattered for other places, Cathy, Paul, Mother, John and I saw “Saving Mr. Banks.” Lovely movie for  a lovely day. That’s going to be our new tradition since Mother is alone now. (Ben, Liz and their cousin Rob used to do that for years as teenagers. Now it’s the old folks’ turn.)

That’s all I can muster for today, folks. Peace and love.