Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mice are not Nice

I have about 2/3 of a lovely little blog post written. But what just went down pretty much preempts the former topic for a night.

For a few moments, I'm going to step away from the more frequent grief topics I've been talking about lately and cover some different emotions.





OK, now it sounds like an episode of Sesame Street. Sing with me now... "One of these things is not like the other..."

I hate mice. Maybe not quite as much as I hate snakes, but this is really a tough one to measure. I will completely freak if I ever see a snake in the house. If they are outside, I can run, and they will eventually go away. 

But a mouse in the house? Awww, no. When I've seen "evidence" (that's the polite word for mouse turds) in the house, it would creep me out to no end. Spot an actual mouse, dude, I'm doing something quite similar to my snake dance while whimpering out my own tune. 

This spring, Ghon told me I have to get used to dealing with them.


Alas, I figured out how to set traps and put about 8 of them around the house. I believe we caught about 4. And who emptied those traps? ME. Yep, that's right, I did. I put on rubber gloves, opened the trap, and dumped the bodies. To prove to myself that I could do it. And because Ghon had said, "What if I'm not here to do it? You need to learn."

Well damn. He was right again.

However, those were dead mice. We did come across 3 one day that appeared to be young and well, alive. Nope, nada, not dealing with those suckers, and thankfully, he was with the kids and I and did deal with them. One tossed outside with a broken leg but alive, and two more to a friend to potentially save. Because even the mouse hater I am, felt a tiny soft spot for these 2 little babies.

Not anymore. I'm living here. My kids are living here and damn it, I have two cats. Cats that Ghon and I got over two years ago when we thought we might actually move in. Cats, specifically to be mousers.

And still, I have mice. WTH?

We live on a farm, in the mountains, Ghon would say. There are going to be mice. No, there doesn't have to be. Seal it up. Lock it down. No mice required. No vacancy.

A few nights ago, I sat on the stairs, and thought I saw something scurry across the mudroom. But it was so quick, I wasn't sure. I didn't want to believe it. I finally gathered enough nerve to look around - and nothing.

Today, I come home with the kids, and Jonathan starts yelling "Mom! I hear a mouse! I hear something squeaking!"  

No, can't be.

Yes, yes it can be. In his room.

I start yelling - get the cats! Close the door! Don't lose sight of it!

Cupcake had it cornered, but just stared at it. Kinda pawed at it a bit. Mouse rolls over on it's back and plays dead. Yet, no, no it's not dead. It squeaks and tries to scurry off again.

I'd thrown away most of the traps. Hadn't seen any mice, why keep them? They don't bring me joy, so away they went. But I knew where two were... So I grabbed a trap, load it with peanut butter and calmly return to Jonathan's room. Lefty, wants nothing to do with the mouse or the commotion. Cupcake is interested, but not out for the kill. Genevieve and Jonathan are cheering the cat on like they were at a cheerleaders at a football game. I'm wondering if I have the right shoes on, cause if it touches my foot, I'm a goner.

Attempt one, behind the bedroom door. Mouse escapes. M1 - K0
Attempt two, corner of wall and Jonathan's loft. M2 - K0
Attempt three, cornered between a wall and Jonathan's toy shelf. Slide trap in. Nudge it with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sword. M2 - Kim Wins.

Now, I've caught the rodent, but, only caught it, not killed in. If you feel sorry for the filthy rodent - stop reading now. 

Why are you still reading?

Into a plastic bag went the trap, into another bag went that bag, and into the trash can it goes.

I remind both kids that this is why we do NOT take food upstairs and that we must keep our rooms neat and clean. Then, whip out the clorox wipes. Genevieve decides to dust mop the dining room floor.  She's not down there long, when I hear "MOM! I HEAR SQUEAKING!"

Aw, hell no. Not again!

Yes. Again.

She told me she spotted it. Then, I spot it.

"Go get Lefty and Cupcake!"

They attempt to find the cats, who are now hiding. They better start earning their keep.

I set another trap. The varmint went into a closet, so I set the trap inside and close the door.

Two. Two freaking mice in one day.

Yeah, disgust. Completely grossed out. Loathing. But pride? That took a minute to process. I didn't lose my cool. Which is helpful for both me and the kids. I got on the floor and trapped it. Well, let's back up and start with staying in the room. Near it. Trapped it. Picked up the trap with a live mouse in it. Disposal.

Not one tear shed.

Not one scream.

Not a one.

Proud. Yep, pretty proud of myself. And the kids. The cats - well, not so much. And the trap, it's still empty.

I need an exterminator. Stat.

As I finished this post from my bedroom, I hear a noise, then a squeak. I kid you not. Am I really sitting here writing about the freaking mice and hear one? I cautiously get up and go toward the hall and hear it again. I definitely can't scream now. The kids are sleeping in the next room. Oh dear Lord, what if it goes in their room?? 
Fortunately, Cupcake is trying to earn her keep. She's watching it. Pounces on it. I arm myself with a box, hoping to trap it. I look at my feet again. Flip flops. Please don't touch my feet. Lefty kinda watches, but lets Cupcake handle things. I look down, mouse is on it's back and not moving. Way to go, Cake!!  I grab a huge wad of paper towels and a bag so I can pick it up. When I come back, it's gone.
Huh. I didn't no mice played possum. It's still alive. Cupcake is tossing it around. Chases it. Pounce. Toss. Chase. I'm now her biggest cheerleader. Down the hall; into the side hall, into the bathroom. I close the bathroom door. Look at my feet again. Me, mouse, Cupcake. Lefty scratches, so I let her in. Let Cake have some more fun. It flips, stops. I muster up what little courage I have, lay the bag down, and use the end of a closet rod that was cut to flick the mouse into the bag. Shake it down. Tie it. Go downstairs and stick it in another bag. Toss it outside just in case mice can chew through all that plastic. Which I think might be possible.
I need to finish this post. Seriously. But I think I'm going to be up for a while. As I finished the section above, I heard a noise downstairs. Then a cat running. And more freaking squeaking. She's got another one. I paused from drafting this and go in for the assist. Cupcake is on fire. She throws a right, she throws a left. Pounce, toss. It still scurries. Got behind a box; a box full of books. A big heavy box. My turn. A few kicks to the box, and I emerge, victorious.

Three down, and I'm scared to go to sleep.

I need an exterminator and lots of expansion foam. Stat.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Step by step

For the next eight days, my kids are the same age now as my step kids were when Ghon and I started dating.

Let's let that sink in for a minute.

It's 21 years later. Eric will be turning 28 soon, and in four months getting married.  Say what?

Ghon was so happy for Eric when he got engaged. Eric used his grandmother's diamond engagement ring to propose.  It was the same ring his mom wore, and the same I wore for a time. A time, as on principle, I refused to wear the same ring once I was married.

Longer stories not worth going into, Ghon and I were not included in his daughter's wedding. It hurt Ghon to no end. He was looking forward to seeing his oldest son get married. He saw so much of himself in Eric and was happy he'd connected and found a strong woman to ground him, help him mature, and support him.

Sounds familiar.

I'd talked to Genevieve's dance teacher, and she was going to help us learn how to dance so we could attempt one coreographed dance at the reception.  Swing dancing.  We were looking forward to it. Jonathan is going to be a groomsman, Genevieve the flower girl.

When Ghon died, it was made clear to me that the kids were still a part of the ceremony, and I to attend.  That didn't change.

Now, a few months away, I know it's time to get ready to shop for a dress. Yesterday, I panicked. 

What the hell does the stepmother of the groom wear?

The night before Ghon died, we bought 6 wedding dresses. I joked with Caryn that I'd found my dress, and sent a picture of me in one of the wedding gowns. Radio silence.

Once she asked if it was a wedding dress, I said yes, but joking. The next night in the hospital, she told me I could wear it if I wanted. Recently, I was told to wear whatever I wanted, what made  me feel good. Just don't look better than the bride (well duh!).

But, do I wear a coordinating color? Who do I coordinate with? Bridesmaids, a mother of somebody? White is off limits right? It will be winter in the afternoon. Does that matter? I don't know if I'm going to be in pictures and don't wnt to wear a color that clashes or makes me stick out. I'm 40, but don't always feel that. I'm not trying to dress like I'm 20, but I'm not an old maid.

Then today, it hit me again. I'm the stepmother of the groom and as a stepmother, I should be there with the father of the groom.

Well shit. 

I mean, there is already a small concern with who I'll be sitting with at the reception. I'm not particularly friendly with Eric's mom's family. It's been roughly 4 or 5 years since I've seen his mom.

And now, I'll be there as the widowed stepmother of the groom. Am I still a stepmom? A family friend? Mother of his siblings? As if I wasn't already trying to figure out who I am, I add this to the mix.

I check out dresses online. Macy's, JC Penny's, Nordstrom, and Light in the Box. Do I want short sleeves, long sleeves, short, long, tea length? A jacket? Sheath, A-line, or other fashion terms I'm not comfortable with?

I don't want to wear white or cream. Orange, yellow and light green don't work for me. Red is too much.  I need blue or purple. The wedding color is plum. Mother of the groom is leading toward navy. I decide to consult with Jonathan's favorite problem solver - Google.

OK, Google, what does a stepmother of the groom wear to a wedding? 
  1. Let the mother of the bride pick first.
  2. Let the mother of the groom pick second.
  3. Don't match either.
  4. Don't match the bridal party.
  5. Don't wear white.
  6. Find out if you are a being treated as family, or as a guest. If family, the rules above apply and you dress accordingly. If a guest, be prepared to sit a few rows back and dress like a guest.
Um, well, I don't know. Good Lord, how do you ask that question? 

Eric knows that I have always been there for him. Well, at least I think he does. I mean, he does now, and I think he knew that when he was younger. Anytime he had an issue with his mom or dad, he knew he could come to me for a largely unbiased opinion. Sometimes I agreed with his mom, sometimes his dad, but I always tried to get him to see both perspectives and let him make his decisions. 

Despite this, we weren't the smooshie type, and it wasn't like I reminded him often that I did love him. We just didn't really go there.

Life, and death, have a way of changing you. So now, we go there. He has grown up and matured so much the last few years (remember that strong fiance I mentioned?) and strengthened his relationship with Ghon. He has been a great big brother to Jonathan and Genevieve. Eric, I feel, has likely put too much pressure on himself to be there for me, when he needs to grieve too. But that's his nature, always out to try and make everyone happy.

As the oldest of Ghon's children, I very much appreciated his support and opinions on the day Ghon died. God knows, neither of us wanted to take the path we did, make the decisions that we had to do, but I'm glad he was there to help me and support me. Jonathan and Genevieve may continue to ask questions about the day Ghon died and what happened, especially as they get older. As children, they aren't capable of making those decisions. As an adult, I wanted Eric to be there, understand, and help or support me in those choices. To understand what was happening. This was his father, just as much as Ghon was my husband. I never would want Eric to later question me and my choices. Whether he realized it or not, I drafted him onto my Ghon caretaking team. Time stood still that day; time flew by that day. We kept each other grounded. At least, I feel that way.

It's important for him to know that although Ghon isn't here, I will still be here for him. And Eric has promised to be there for me and the kids. We will continue as a family. It's what we do. Show the love, share the love and not worry about the naysayers.

But hell, that still doesn't tell me what type of dress to wear. I'm going with family, not guest. 

I do know that I will be wearing a smile. I'll be smiling for both Ghon and I. And I'll certainly be crying. Crying not for my baby boy; that will be for Jonathan's wedding. I'll be crying tears of joy for both Ghon and I as Eric and Caryn join together in marriage. I'll cry tears of sorrow, knowing that Ghon will not physically be there. I know he will find a way to be there spiritually, for he so looked forward to the day. 

And mark my words. If there is rice or birdseed to be thrown, Eric, be warned. Paybacks are hell. 

Anyone want to go dress shopping with me? 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Inquiring minds want to know

Last weekend when Jonathan cooked chili, he was pretty upset that he didn't place. He pouted for a while in the car, and hit every "I'm never cooking again" to "I'm only ever cooking here" to "I only want to compete in the worlds" to "the next time I cook" emotion there is. 

Which sounded just like his father.

He at first told me how he was going to keep the prize money. Then it was OK, a little in the bank, and a lot to spend. But a few days after, he said he was upset that he didn't win because he wanted the ski package, but, the cash that came with it, he really wanted to donate. When I asked him where, he said to kids who needed heart surgeries but couldn't afford them, and got a little choked up.

Later, I was able to piece it together. He thought Ghon died because of his heart problems. I didn't go into details with Jonathan, but told him Ghon had died after his heart was tired and stopped working. He knew about Dad's heart surgeries. He was looking to help others like his dad.

I'm not sure why I chose tonight, but perhaps because today marks 12 weeks since Ghon died. I asked Jonathan if he had questions about how Daddy died, and he said YES. We sat on our mudroom floor, as it was where we were and convenient, and talked. 

What do you want to know? 
Everything. Tell me everything you know. 
Like what? 
When was the last time that week I saw him? When was his surgery? 
Surgery for his hernia was on Monday. He took you to breakfast Friday, you all picked me up from work that night, and we went to dinner together. That was the last time. He died Saturday.
And so it continued. We discussed a rough evening timeline. What it meant when Mommy said "revive" on the phone. That he did die earlier in the day, but the doctors brought him back to life. That I agreed to give him blood (well, yea mom, why wouldn't you have?), to do another test (duh!), and that I rubbed his head (it was bald mom), and held his hand when he died. That no, he wasn't in pain, he couldn't talk and that the heart beats to push blood around the body and the body needs oxygen that is in the blood and the brain needs oxygen and daddy's brain didn't have oxygen for a long time and that... well that would make his organs not want to work, and yes, it would take his sarcasm away. And Daddy would never want that.

Oh, and where is his body? Where is the dust? The burned him? NO, it's not quite like that and yes, he's here in the house. Remember when mommy told you that this was Daddy's tattoo, Daddy is in the tattoo. You can always give Daddy another kiss. I do.

As I suspected, he now wants a tattoo with Daddy's ashes. Then Genevieve said she did too. I'll be hanging on to some of those cremains for a while. 

Jonathan wants a portrait of Ghon, and a replica of the bomber plane he had on his back on him. 

Genevieve isn't sure yet, and Jonathan thinks that I should get a portrait too. I'm down for a family matching tattoo.

Near the end of the story of the last day of daddy's life, I began crying. And I thought he was too, but wasn't sure. He was in my lap, facing out. Eventually, I did see the tears, and he mine. I have no fear in letting them see me cry. They need to know that it is perfectly fine to mourn and to cry. As Jonathan looked at the mascara running down my face, he asked, "what's that black stuff on your face? Is that dad's ashes?" No, no, no, just makeup my little man.

Handsome man with his new haircut. He told the stylist he wanted "Anakin Skywalker" hair.
We ended our talk with a reminder, that he could always ask me questions, whenever he wanted. 

I hadn't expected the ashes and tattoo talk so soon, but knew it would come sooner or later. He's such a smart kid, I knew he had to have questions about what exactly happened. And I will always do my best to answer them as truthfully and honestly as possible for an 8year old.

In case you missed it, or happen to read this blog and do not follow me on Facebook, I'm taking part in a research study. The focus is on people 40 and under that lose a spouse. It's termed "early onset" and they will be studying what type help is needed to best address help a window(er) from this type of loss.

On the house front, things are almost done! How exciting is that? It's really down to some details now. This week should bring the end of nightly construction. The final pieces of trim work and some grouting of tile in the mudroom should be done. I'm hoping by the end of the week, I can put away all the tools, at least away somewhere until I'm ready for them to be in a more permanent tool spot in the house. The last bit of construction to do after is doing something with the living room stairs, rather, the space underneath. I'm contemplating drawers. Or shelves. Or a dog kennel with a couple shelves above it. Just not sure yet. 

We had a friend visit Friday, and she brought along a butterfly bush for us. I'm excited to get that planted this weekend. I'd wanted one, and now I have one. I want a snowball bush next spring too.

There's still a good bit of stuff to move from my dad's house, and I mean stuff more than furniture. Stuff. Ugg. 

Until next time, got questions? Something burning your head? I've got answers. Ready, set, go.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Taking Care

One of the things Ghon and I struggled with is me time. And I don’t just mean ME, but HE and US.  With our work schedules and kid schedules, there really wasn’t enough time to focus on us, meaning us, or us as individuals. We struggled to find me time and us time. I often felt Ghon had more, especially once he stopped working. Sure, he was doing some work at the farm, but there was also a lot of photo work that at that point was purely creative and pleasure related.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like Ghon didn’t encourage me to get some time to myself; it was the execution of that time that was hard. I also hated to pay for a sitter so I could pay for me time and even more so when Ghon wasn’t working. He wanted me to take time off work so the kids were in school, but time off doesn’t always come easy. We didn’t struggle financially, but we didn’t have a lot extra, or any really, and I always put the wants of the kids and Ghon before my own.

I’d made him so angry once when he tried to get me to do something for myself. He made an appointment at a salon in Winchester for me to go get a cut and dye. I backed out of it. The dye job he set up for me was not something I really wanted, despite joking about it. I also didn’t want to put over $100 into a dye job that I knew wouldn’t last long. To me, it was a waste. I cancelled the appointment. It took months for me to understand how upset this made him. He wanted me to do something for me and tried to encourage it, and I fought back.

And when I would do things for myself, oh the guilt I would feel. If I got my nails done and it was a tight financial week, I’d take it out on myself that I money on my nails. If I hadn’t spent that $25, I’d have $25 for Ghon to give a model gas money, buy the kid the toy they want, go to a movie, buy more gardening supplies, an extra bag of chicken feed, or adding more money to the kids lunch account. I could justify clothes as I lost weight, I needed clothes. But I’d buy thrift because, well, I love a deal and I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on me. I can’t justify massage or nails. I couldn’t make time for yoga.

"He would want you to…"

There are things I’m doing now because I know Ghon would want me to. Sometimes, it’s because I want to. I try not to let the guilt that held me back before hold me back anymore. Sure, I didn’t need to buy that key rack or basket for the kitchen. But they were on sale, worked for the house and I wanted them. I’ve said before, I don’t know who I am anymore. I always put Ghon and the kids before me. Now, it’s me and the kids. I don’t want to spoil them. I’m not spoiling me. But we all need to be taken care of. I want to be comfortable doing things because I want to, not because he would want me to. And I don’t what to justify everything with, he would want you to, even if he would, because justification means I’m not worthy or trying to suppress guilt. And I’m trying to move away from the guilt factor.

Ghon wanted me to make more time for us. It was something we’d been working on doing. I needed more time for just me. We were working on that. But now, I think it’s even more important. Ghon was a good father, but he wasn’t always the shuttle bus, the planner, the grocer getter. And while he didn’t do much of that, I don’t have him now to even think about backing me up. And with him not working, the plan was to switch some of that from me to him. Now, I’m a parenting team of one. I get up, I take care of the kids, I go to work, I get the kids, do kid stuff, go to bed. Weekends, I’m with the kids.

Now, I doubt any parents will disagree with me, but especially moms; I love my kids. I love them even when they are little snots, because I know the happy kid is still there. I’m dedicated to raising them happy and healthy. But for me to do that, I have to be happy and healthy. If I don’t have my head at least on my shoulders, how in the world can I take care of them? I always warn caretakers of sick family – you have to take care of you to take care of them. It’s time I also take my advice, and the advice Ghon was giving for us. 

Two nights ago, I said something to the kids about being tired and wanting to go to bed. Jonathan tried to be my caretaker. He told me well mom, go to bed. Don’t worry about the laundry or the unpacking, just go to bed. I promised I would try, and didn’t do too bad.

I made a major decision for after school care, moving them from a caretaker, who is so much more than that to us, to a costlier after school program at Jonathan’s Tae Kwon Do studio because it is closer to my work and saves me over an hour and a half drive time at least three days a week. That time is important.  I’ve created a schedule of our activities and set a work schedule that works with it all and builds in an hour or two a couple days a week that I can run errands before I have to pick-up kids. When other random events or appointments don’t get in the way, it allows me to go to one yoga class a week. I’ve had a few massages. I carry all of my tension and stress in my shoulders, and getting them to relax and sit where they are supposed to is a challenge. When stress rises, I actually feel my shoulders rise. I actually joined a massage membership program, to ensure I get at least one massage a month, because I won't waste the money, and well, I love massage.

These things will help. A lot. But it still leaves my big house kinda empty. I can’t tell you how many times people have said “it just keeps going” when I walk them around the house. My kids are loud, the dog is a crybaby, and the two cats sound like a herd of buffalo. But without Ghon, there is still a big void. Yoga and massage are also AMAZING, but leave no real time for adult conversation outside of work. I have lots of friends, but we are all busy with work or kids or both, and only a few am I really close with. 

In effort to take care of me, I am going to try to plan at least a monthly mom’s night. Maybe it will be at the house and I send Jonathan and Genevieve out. Maybe it will be in town somewhere. Dinner, movies, an activity; something to get me with adults. Some time for me. And for you. :)

And if I’ve told you to stop by; come see the house anytime; I mean it. Major construction is now complete. I’m down to trim work and details and like I said before, moving the last of our stuff and figuring out where it will go. There might be a mess around, but that won’t be much different than my norm, no matter how hard I try.  I’m not always the best hostess; but this home was made to be lived in. It needs to be lived in. Come, help us live. Help us define life at Hummingbird Farm without Ghon. 

Help us remember him. Always. 

Random Clarity

I should be going to bed, but I have stuff on my mind.

It's that strength thing again.

It's trying to figure out how I am going to finish moving and when.

Why do I have a huge open space in the middle of my bedroom floor? Should something be there?

I should have read more about Fung Shui when designing parts of the house and laying out furniture.

I need to get up when the alarm goes off.

I wish I was making breakfast for the kids in the morning. I try, but they don't always want to get up or eat. At least I do know they are getting breakfast at school. And as long as I can afford that and am assured they are eating, does it matter if I make it or not? No, but I have fresh eggs damn it!

We need haircuts this weekend.

I need to figure out how to build the used shelves I bought. This is worse than Ikea. No words or pictures.

Am I going to have enough data on my cellular plan?

Put a chair in the car for soccer on Saturday.

Don't forget to put it back Sunday night if you take it out to move stuff.

Am I forgetting something on Sunday afternoon?

There, 11pm and I made hair appointments for all three of us.

I'm thirsty, but don't feel like getting up.

I need to hang some pictures on the wall. Do I need a 2nd coat of paint first?

Why is the cat staring at me?

How can I get Jonathan to sleep in his own room?

I'm glad I'm living here; I just wish Ghon would have lived here too.

I can't believe I have to go get his full body bear mount; and he never got to see it.

It's going to be over 90 this weekend and in addition to moving, I have to shovel out the chicken coop. I don't mind the work; but ugg, 90 and stinky.

There aren't enough hours in the day.

There aren't enough hours at night.

I need to get Jonathan some counseling. He's getting angry easy,

I need to go to bed.

I am in bed.

I need to go to sleep.

I got out of bed on time. No thanks to me, but thanks Jase for helping me up by needing to pee.

I am facebooking and blogging from the elliptical. On a laptop. Score.

Jonathan's lunch is packed, my lunch is ready as is  my breakfast (yeah overnight oats). Genevieve is buying. This is why I have to get up in the morning. Score.

I used WD40 on this thing yesterday and there are still squeaks. I must find the source of the noise.

I can see a picture of Ghon smiling from here. That makes me happy. Not as happy as if he were still sleeping in bed, but, happy.

I have laundry to fold. Probably one of my least favorite chores.


Replace single with widow. Or take it out completely. It doesn't matter. It's why I keep going. I have to get comfortable outside my comfort zone. Which means growth. Never-ending. Because as I push, it will become comfort zone and I'll need to go further. That my friends, is scary and exciting, all at the same time.

I don't think I'll do mechanical car work though. I'll save that for my friend Jamie.

I should practice changing a tire though. I have the understanding, just never executed.

I want to take yoga again. I need to meditate or clear my mind  somehow. It's always busy. Can you tell?

This post didn't have much to do with the farmhouse. Yet, it does.

Just keep swimming. Right, Caryn?

If you are reading or Facebooking from your bed or couch, get up and move. It helps. Exercise has been missing in my life. It will help you and a healthy you allows you to help others. PSA for the morning.

Thanks for following along...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

First firsts: Happy Anniversary

We never sleep in. Like, ever.  It’s either school or work during the week. Saturdays were for dance or baseball, and now soccer; Sunday brings Sunday School and worship. Not one of these is a bad thing. It just means we don’t sleep in. Ever. 

Until last weekend. Thank you, Labor Day!

Saturday was a prep day. Get ready for the chili cookoff, clean out the car, then take it to get washed inside and out, run a few errands, bring stuff to the house and finally, leave for Pennsylvania. We left later than I’d hoped, but I tried not to freak out much. We didn’t have to be there a specific time Saturday; I just wanted to be there earlier.

It had become a bit of a tradition that Ghon and I would always have dinner at Texas Roadhouse on the Saturday before the PA State ICS Chili Cookoff in Hanover. Our hotel was in the same parking lot and we both like steak, so why not? This year, I told the kids we were going there, as that was tradition. And they were cool with that. And they were cool with dining outside. I made them survive the entire 2 hour trip with no electronics (gasp!) and they were still pleasant at dinner. A winning situation! I thought it was kind of funny, that the night before I logged into Ghon’s facebook and saw the On This Day app – it was recalling a trip to Hanover and Texas Roadhouse from a few years prior. Dinner was not so relaxing. It was late, the kids were tired and cranky. Genevieve sat on Ghon’s lap the entire time. Spilled applesauce on him and I think his food. Ruined his meal and he refused to eat; boxed it up. It was an angry Ghon that night. Oh, how times change.

Sunday we were off to hotel breakfast. Me, alone, scrambling after two kids who insist they can serve themselves but need help opening the cereal box, pouring the milk, getting the butter packet open for the toast they did successfully make, and trying to let them know that no, they do not need more eggs. Or donuts. Finally, we get to the cookoff.

I said before, it would be harder to not be there than be there. And that was true. As with the day of Ghon’s Celebration of Life, the morning was the hardest. (Don’t feel bad reading this Dave…) From the moment I first said Hi to our friend Dave, who stepped in to be Chief Judge in Ghon’s place, I started to well up and get the lumpy throat. There it was, right up front, that this day was different. Ghon was not there. During the cook’s meeting, Dave shared a few wonderful words in remembrance, and asked for a moment of silence. It was then, that I knew Ghon was still with me. As a few tears rolled down my cheek, I closed my eyes, and lifted my head to the sun. I stood still, absorbing it’s warmth, and saw an abundance of red swirling in my eyes. It warmed me, and my heart. 

Then the wife and mom in me fought the urge to go wipe Dave’s emotionally charged dripping nose. (Sorry, Dave. :))

The Chairman of the cookoff, John Loose, never failed to remember that this cook-off fell on our anniversary weekend. He once again, presented me with anniversary flowers. As did our friend Laurie Ryffel. I’m feeling the love. As I passed out judging cups, I was wrapped in the warm embrace of many of our friends. It may be a hug to some, a simple offer of condolence to others, but those words and those hugs – they are what give me that “strength” everyone talks about. I’m an energy vampire, in a good sort of way.

Things went well the rest of the day. Typical, well run PA State Cook-off. Jonathan competed in the "Ghon Eckley Memorial Youth Division" cookoff, and was pretty upset when he didn't place. 

Genevieve served chili most of the day with Miss Laurie. And when someone gave her a $1 tip for being a good server, she later told me she went to the french fry stand and tried to buy fries, but didn't have enough money. 

Jonathan wanted Rita's Italian Ice early in the day. I was surprised, asked him what flavor, how much, and to see if Genevieve wanted some. They came back, I gave them cash and a bit later, they came back laughing so hard. He was so proud of himself for tricking me, and both of them getting fries rather than ice. I'm doomed.

Since our friend Miss Laurie knows the best ice cream spots, Genevieve asked if we could join her for ice cream after the cookoff. We headed out to Baugher’s in Westminster MD. I grew up going to Baughers, and Ghon and I had our first date there. When we could, we’d celebrate our anniversary there. We did for our 10th   and last year, since the kids were with another great friend for the weekend, we celebrated our 16th there, then went for a walk around my college campus and took a picture in front of the chapel where we were married.  After dinner, I took the kids for a tour of the campus, showing them where daddy got dressed for the wedding, where I’d worked and got ready, the dorms I lived in, where I had classes, the Western Maryland Railroad caboose, and Baker Chapel – where we were married. They were pretty excited for the whole tour, and Genevieve wants to go there when she goes to college. Which is subject to change because two days earlier, she declared she didn’t want to go to college. 

Baker Chapel
WM Caboose

Baker Memorial Chapel and Reflecting Pool

With the stops and the long ride home, I declared Monday, sleep in day. And that we did.  I think I woke up around 930, fell back asleep and finally got up around 10. Jonathan followed around 11, and Genevieve, well, she surprisingly slept until noon

I had the most relaxing morning. I made some breakfast for me, and ate on the front porch in my pajamas on one of our gliders. Jonathan came down and sat with me, as in, on my lap. We talked, I ate, and we heard little motors buzzing. 


We watched them dart around and hit a feeder. I quickly refilled an empty one, then we hung a new bird feeder together. The hummingbirds were busy doing their thing. It was great to see them around. Next spring, it's full on planting and getting them back in full force like I remember in 1996. 

Wow. That was twenty years ago. Not only was this our 17th wedding anniversary, but also 21 years together. Ghon liked to joke about the time we spent together and couldn't wait until I turned 38 - every day after, I officially spent more than half of my life with him. Sadly, I needed three more years to say that to him.

After we fed the birds, we put out some new solar lights I picked up for our walk way. I need to get another box or two. We didn't do as good of a job spacing them out as I'd like, and after seeing them lit, I think I want them down both sides of the walk, not just one. 

I'm just so tired of shopping at home improvement stores. They aren't nearly as exciting anymore as they once were.

Once both kids were up and fed, we headed to my dad's house to try to bring a load of stuff back. My goal was to finish Jonathan's room, and we came close. I was able to bring my mom's desk, kid recliners, and most of Jonathan's stuff. The other big move was 3 out of 4 pets. Monday night, we brought our cats and dog back with us.

The cats seem to be doing OK. I think they missed us; they are attached to me and haven't climbed on me that much in bed in forever. Jase is adjusting, but I think he feels out of sorts too. He'll get there, I'm sure. 

Lefty - lounging on my mom's desk
They say firsts are the hardest. The first year is hard because of all the firsts. There was the first PA State, and the first anniversary. I'm glad I went, and glad I had my friends there looking out for me and helping in the judging area (thanks Cindy, Chris, Doug, Jason and of course, Dave!). I was right, not being there would have been worse. And thanks to that very peaceful morning, and a little one on one time with Jonathan, the tone was set right for the day Monday. I was a little agitated near the end of the day and could just feel that I had to get home. But once I did, I was OK. Two down, a gazillion more to go.

Yes, I was pissed. But he paid for it. I shoved cake far up that nose!
September 5, 1999

This week, goal is to move Kola in, finish emptying Jonathan's room, master bathroom, and then perhaps some stuff that's already boxed and in the living room. I'd like to get my sofa too. Then off to Genevieve's room and the rest of my stuff. My room is hard. Between my stuff and Ghon's, well, I'm just not sure what to do with all of it. But that, well that is an entirely different post. 


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Labor Day Traditions

On September 4,1999, Hurricane Dennis turned northwestward and made landfall in Cape Lookout, North Carolina, as a strong tropical storm.

On September 5, I woke to torrential downpours after an evening forecast predicting Dennis would finish his life in the Atlantic. I ate eggs, made by my Dad, and sat in the living room in nervous anticipation for the day. The phone rang, and the voice on the other end asked if the event was still happening. I vaguely recall repeating yes, yes it is, then asking my dad to please talk to these people after asking such an absurd question.

I left the house with a Hefty trash bag over my head and rainwater ankle deep. I cancelled my afternoon ride arrangements and had to go to Plan B.

Roughly 7 hours later, I was Mrs. Ghon Eckley, riding to my wedding reception in a limo rather than a horse and buggy. 

Grandma Grace, me, Ghon, Grandma Genevieve
For the greater part of the last 17 years, Ghon and I have spent our anniversary weekend with our extended family cooking chili. I used to grumble about it some, but there was no point. We'd cooked this weekend before we were married, no reason to stop now. A few years ago, we switched from cooking to being the Chief Judge and Scorekeeper of one, and more recently, two events over the weekend. Ghon had suggested a few months ago that perhaps we chair and judge a third in Winchester. After all, it is a 3 day weekend...

As with any other weekend, there is a lot to do around the farm. I'm still trying to move furniture and stuff out of my dad's house and to the farm. The last round of oil should be going down in the living room so I can start moving a sofa in. I see what has to move and get a little overwhelmed. Evenings don't leave a lot of time to do much, and my kitchen counter has been overcome with boxes and such, waiting for me to assemble pantry shelves or a cat scratching post when we can finally bring our cats to live with us. A three day weekend would give me a lot of time to do something.

I knew after Ghon died that there were three cookoffs that we had agreed to judge at and would be scrambling. The first was just a week after, and fortunately, our friends the Violettes jumped right in and handled the event. Then, I knew I had to make some decisions about my double header anniversary weekend.

I opted to bow out of the Saturday event. And if I took on Sunday, I knew I'd need a Chief Judge. No one of course will be Ghon, but I can't wear both hats here. I sent my request, and once our friend Dave agreed, it was a done deal, I was going to Hanover. This event has often fell on our anniversary, and was on our wedding day. This year, it's the day before.

So tomorrow, I will spend would should have been my 16 year and 364 days of being married to Ghon at the PA State Chili Cookoff. I'll be scorekeeping, Jonathan is competing in a new event, the Ghon Eckley Memorial Youth Division, and Genevieve will be terrorizing, I mean helping, a few friends in their chili booths. 

I'm sure some people wonder how in the world I could do this. How can I attend the cookoff without Ghon? How can I still scorekeep without him? Why am I out having fun when my husband died just over 2 months ago? Why am I not sitting around in complete sorrow on my anniversary? 

My grief is my own. The stupid things make me cry. The big things make me cry. And while it may sound hokey to some, I know that Ghon does not want me sitting around doing nothing. He would want me out doing something. Chili cooking became his competitive outlet, but I introduced him to this world. And I've said it a million times, but my chili friends are more than friends, but are family. The emotions I felt at Ghon's celebration of life when I saw members of my chili family attend that were at our wedding. Amazing. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Not being at in Hanover on Labor Day weekend would make me think more about the void in my life by making that void even bigger. 

Attending this event - it gives me the opportunity to continue Ghon's passion and keep his memory alive. As we drove to Hanover, the kids and I listened to some of dad's favorite music, told stories, and ate dinner where we always ate the Saturday night before the cookoff. Genevieve remembered that 3 years ago, she had a fish in this room. If I was home, working on the house or building shelving, we would not be remembering Ghon the same way.

And I know, that if emotions run high tomorrow at the chili cookoff, I will have a sea of support. I won't be home alone, or alone with the kids. I have framily that know him, understand him and whether they loved him, hated him, or loved to hate him, appreciate who he was. Turning my back on my friends, when they have been there for me, is not something I can do. And I know, that they won't turn their back on me tomorrow if I need them.

Celebrating anniversary 16 in 2015 by visiting the chapel we were married in - after the chili cookoff.

So for tomorrow, I'll keep  our tradition going. Spending the day in Hanover PA, counting the hours till the rain comes, because it always does, and remembering Ghon. Especially that one cookoff where he went swimming in the flash flood. Or the one he dressed up like a viking. Or the one where.....

On our anniversary, Monday, I'll remember him. I'll probably cry. I'll feel overwhelmed with how much there is to do. I'll be angry that he isn't here to help. And I'll probably look at my wedding album and tell a story or two to the kids. Most of all, I'll reflect on a love that was never ending. Our relationship wasn't always perfect, but it was damn near. One thing I can never deny is the amount of love he had for me. I just pray, and remind him daily, how much I have always loved him, and always will.