Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It Pays to Know Your Limitations

A few weeks ago I got a speeding ticket.

It was one of those those "Do you know why I pulled you over, ma'am?" moments when the genuine answer would have been yes. Or, maybe I had a fair guess because the traffic in front of me had suddenly slowed and, accustomed to whipping through Winston-Salem with traffic at a higher speed, instead of slowing I changed lanes.

Apparently they knew something I didn't, because suddenly there were blue lights in front of me and a car pulling over and I breathed a sigh of relief because thank heaven they'd caught someone else, and I changed lanes to the left to move over, and suddenly there were blue lights behind me and I knew I wasn't as lucky as I thought.

E1 looked up from her Kindle game -- we were enroute to her occupational therapy -- and asked why we were stopping there when I pulled in behind the other stopped cars. I told her the policeman wanted to talk to me.

When he explained how fast I'd been going I had to say I honestly did not know the speed limit was as low as it was. By the time he returned with my ticket and license, E1 had asked once why it was taking so long, and I had given up on escaping with a warning. I apologized for ignoring the speed limit and he told me how far the limit extended -- past where I would turn -- and that it would decrease even further at that point.

I cussed myself for using cruise control on the highway and watching my speed through construction zones, only to get zapped on a city street, but there was little to be done at that point. I was grateful that he gave me a break with a reduced infraction, but already worrying about what its impact would be on my insurance.

I can remember every speeding ticket I've ever received and count them all on one hand. In fact, if I wind up convicted of this one, it may well be the first, although there is one from a decade or so ago in another state that I'm uncertain about. I'm not sure if I made a call and had it dismissed (at that time I could count the county prosecutor as someone I had once dated) or simply paid it because I know I didn't go to court.

I remember the first time I was stopped for speeding quite clearly -- although it was more than 30 years ago. I cried. Not because I hoped to get out of the ticket, but because I was out of work, 21 years old and had never been around police a lot. He let me go.

That changed when my career turned out to be one in journalism and I was on a first name basis with virtually all of the law enforcement types on my beat, often knew their wives' and children, and a host of stories they'd just as soon not have told shared by their fellow officers. The lone exception was always the State Highway Patrol, where their spit and polish demeanor kept most of them at a distance although there were a few I could count on for more casual conversation.

With that in mind, it had been an SHP officer who last cited me for speeding. He was correct, I was far above the 55 mph limit, but in my defense it was about 6 a.m. on a Christmas Eve morning and there were four empty lanes. Talk about putting a damper on my holiday spirit. A few short weeks later we were working an accident scene at the same time and one of the less reserved officers offered to shoot him for me. The charge was later dismissed because it was my first violation.

I haven't had much of an issue with speeding more recently. My last ticket was for expired registration in our "farm" truck. Way expired, as in about a month out of date, but then we don't drive the truck on even a weekly basis, so it had somehow been forgotten. I rectified the situation and the charges were dismissed.

This time, however, my resources aren't what they were five years ago. I have never worked in Forsyth County and don't know anyone with the Winston-Salem Police Department.

I have, however, received multiple offers of legal assistance in my dilemma -- something that didn't happen the last time I received a speeding ticket. The week after my ticket I received no less than eight offers to handle the matter for me. I took them on like a bidding war and held on to the low bid -- $50 and I don't even have to go to court, just pay whatever fines they assess.

If Forsyth County is anything like the other courts I've covered, and I'm sure it is, then it's probably easy money for the attorneys who wind up making many of the same calls I've had other people make in the past. Speeding is an easy drop to improper equipment, the court and county get their money (probably still in the neighborhood of the $200 I'm looking at if I just pay the ticket), and the attorney gets paid for his time. If I wanted to go to court, I could probably get the same deal myself.

At the same time, I don't think I'll be making an extra trip. It's probably worth $50 to avoid a court appearance and the hours that takes off your life.

I do know I'll be doing one thing different in the future, and that's setting the cruise control, not just for the open road where it's too easy for 65 to become 75, but for those long stretches of seemingly innocent city streets where 45 mph is the limit.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Finding Joy in a New Life Rhythm

For nearly five years, my weekdays have revolved around the schedule of a growing number of little people, and I was afraid last week would find me at loose ends by myself. The fact that it didn't, well, that was something to celebrate in and of itself.

My daughter's new work schedule means that one week I keep the girls on Tuesday and Saturday, while one week the only days I don't keep them are Tuesday and Saturday. Sundays the babies' daddy is off work and they stay with him and come to church, regardless of Mom's work schedule. Since she's working nights, I actually keep them the days after she works and on their daddy's schedule because of the overlap in work hours, and that gives her time to sleep, fix them dinner and spend time with them in the afternoon.

We've survived a week of each rotation now and instead of finding myself lonesome, I found myself catching up on some projects and beginning to realize what else I needed to do during the "off" weeks to come. I went to PiYo and Zumba two nights, instead of my normal hurried one. I didn't have to be inside or quiet during afternoons for naps. Although I don't want them not coming at all, and 5 a.m. is still an ungodly hour to be up for them to come, I think we are, for the most part, all happy with the change.

The fact that last week was also spring break for local schools and finally warm weather just added to what I had to do within the time constraints of the week so that when Saturday arrived I wasn't desperate to see the girls again, but I was glad to welcome them back and had plenty of moments of random joy to reflect on.

1. E1 launching herself from her daddy's arms to me, much like a monkey jumping through the trees, when I went out to help bring them in on Saturday morning. She yelled, "Ma!" and was obviously delighted to see me, wrapping herself around me for a big hug as I carried her in. Although she's enjoying time with Mommy, I'm glad to know that she wants to be with me as well. We spent Saturday morning at the local walk for autism doing Zumba and playing in the park, so it was a good time all around.

2. Letting the hens back into the fenced in back yard. The back yard was originally fenced for the safety of my smaller dogs (from traffic and the bigger dogs in the neighborhood) but more recently had been chicken territory to the point that the largely nonexistent grass was totally gone. Our deck rebuild, which has been on hiatus since last fall, meant I could not let them out of their lot to enjoy what weeds were springing up until new fence was built, but on one of those off days, I put up a temporary fence so they can enjoy eating greens again.

3. Finding a super buy on a bigger temporary pool on a yard sale page and meeting the couple who had it for sale. This summer we'll be going from the little inflatable ring, popup pool to a 16-foot circle, four feet deep. There will be room for more than one adult and three little people, without our bumping into one another in awkward underwater moments. Of course, now I have to get a larger section of the yard level and get it up (something to celebrate later). The saltwater treatment unit and new pump I upgraded the old pool to last year will fit it, and I cannot wait to get it up, filled and warm enough for swimming.

4. Finally getting a dusk to dawn, CFL floodlight on the back porch, which I've been meaning to do (is that a strictly Southern expression?) for ages. The light means we don't have to worry about remembering to turn the porch light on if we're out late and can still see to get up the stairs and open the door. It also shines down toward the chicken coop to deter critters and will mean a small monthly savings as we'll get the power company to come take down the big pole unit next.

5. Discovering a nest of chickadees. OMG! Those are some tiny chicks! My bluebird house is mounted on the pole for the above light, and we want it removed when they take down the light. Before putting in a call to the power company, I decided to check the bluebird house, even though I had not seen any bluebirds using it. Nothing flew out when I opened the front, so I indelicately reached in and probably gave mother chickadee a heart attack. Of course, then I had to get a ladder to see how far along in the process she was and discovered a small pile of naked pinkness that looked more like big grubs than baby birds. Needless to say, that means the light won't be coming down for a few weeks, but that's OK. I've fed the chickadees all winter and it's neat to have them nesting by the driveway, even if they aren't the bug eating pair that bluebirds would be.

6. E1 off to school and her two little sisters playing with what passes for peace on Monday after the long week of no babies. When nap time rolled around, since it was a gray day, I tended dogs, then joined them in a rare treat that did not keep me up all night as I feared. Of course, I dozed about 45 minutes, not enough to put a tired Ma off her sleep routine too badly.

7. A kennel full of dogs for the last weekend of spring break! Where have they been all month? My work is either feast or famine and the weekend was feast time. Not only had I had grooming to do all week, but suddenly I had a bunch of dogs and many needed nails or baths or haircuts, so I was busy and it was good. Most of the month has been slow and it's still my income, plus it was great to see people who had stayed home all winter and visit again with those who had not.

No, the week wasn't all ups and I was only spared losing it in church by the fact that I was in the nursery Sunday. When I watched some clips from service on line last night, well, I was glad for the distraction of children instead and the privacy of a computer screen while I wept.

So what brought you joy last week? Exercise your memory and choose to live happy.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Making Sunscreen -- Now We've Got To Try It

Our first beach trip in what seems like forever is a little less than a month away, and while I hope by then not to need any sunscreen (hush your mouth doctor), I've got a feeling three blue-eyed little girls, not to mention the work-indoors adults in the group are not going to be that tanned.

As part of my crunchy journey, I've not only become obsessed by how much other people have done, but super concerned about what goes in and on the bodies of the little people.

Once again, the world is our library and I could find plenty of things to concern me about what is in the sunscreen setting around the house. Not the least of which are the multiple parabens found in so many body care products, including sunscreen, as a preservative, which not only have been linked to hormone imbalances but actually found in breast cancers.

Conversely, I can find a number of articles saying that a do it yourself recipe for sunscreen won't get the job done, not because an individual cannot buy the zinc or titanium dioxide to make it, but because you may not mix it properly and cannot really determine its SPF.

Well, I may miss a spot applying sunscreen too, but those same professionals never told me not to use it because of an uneven application. And really, how much SPF do I need at any given time? Does that number mean a lot to me?

The tide of skin cancer is a rising one, despite the fact that most people have had it drummed into their heads to use sunscreen and we no longer see children with the peeling nose I had throughout my childhood -- you know, back in the dark ages before folks worried about sunscreen. It's also rising despite the fact that most people do not get a lot of sun and the fact that a fair number of people are suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency as a result. At the same time, my farm family neighbors, who spend much of the summer outdoors getting browner and browner as they work the land, are not necessarily suffering from skin cancer. They raise and hunt their food and eat a healthy diet, not the fast food and junk most of the rest of the first world thrives on.

Could it be that the sun isn't really to blame as the studies have indicated? Perhaps our crappy diets cause our skin not to process sun in the way it should? Perhaps the sunscreens aren't as great as we'd like to think? Perhaps there's another answer rather than blaming the sun? If only there were a pill for that, but I guess sunscreen is the next best thing -- anything other than taking a closer look at our overall lifestyles.

My favorite crunchy blogger Katie at Wellness Mama subscribes to that idea, citing her own personal experience with avoiding sunburn not by avoiding the sun, but by eating a healthier diet and gradually increasing exposure to the point she could be outside all day in Florida and not burn. Since she claims a fair-skinned heritage (as do I), I'm going to follow some of her advice this year. Besides, I've already had skin cancer and although my doctor preaches against the sun, I not only feel my early burns are more likely to cause it than any I may get now, but also feel better when my skin gets sun, plain and simple. He cannot promise I won't have a recurrence if I avoid the sun, so I do my best not to get burned or fall asleep in a tanning bed and consider that my part. (OK, I've actually not been in a tanning bed since discovering black soap for my bathing and addressing my winter dermititis with a healthier alternative than the UV rays that once stopped my itching.)

Instead of sunscreen she recommends avoiding processed foods, vegetable oils, grains and sugars, and eating lots of healthy saturated fats, foods rich in Omega-3s, leafy greens and tomato paste. She also recommends supplements, including Vitamin D3 (5,000 IU/day - some evidence shows that Vitamin D can have a protective effect against sunburn and skin cancer); 2000 mg Vitamn C, astaxanthin (a potent antioxidant which acts as an internal sunscreen, but not for children), 1/4 cup coconut oil melted in a cup of herbal tea per day - citing that the Medium Chain Fatty Acids and saturated fat are easily utilized by the body for new skin formation and are protective against burning, and Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil Blend.

I'll try to make the diet adjustments and after some research added the astaxanthin, which is very reasonably priced and a potent antioxidant, as a supplement (already had vitamin D3 and C), but the Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil Blend is really pricey and the one time I tried the coconut oil in tea I thought I would be sick to my stomach. Ugh. While I'm sure the actual oil is best, I may be forced to consider a supplement instead.

Still, even if I can manage my own sun exposure, early season and children will require some sunscreen in the immediate future and on vacation.

So, with the beach trip still weeks away I decided to make sunscreen and use it in a less crucial environment to evaluate it before the beach trip to make my own decision about what to use. Of course, the children's parents will also get to weigh in but perhaps we'll be able to come to a consensus.

After browsing through an assortment of recipes with hard to determine percentages for ingredients, or ingredients I did not have on hand, even after buying zinc oxide, I settled on the recipe for sunscreen bars from Wellness Mama. Having already made lotion and body butter (I'll write about them later), I had ingredients on hand and was ready for my newest crunchy enterprise.

Sunscreen Bar Ingredients:

1 cup coconut oil
1 cup Shea butter (you can also use cocoa butter or mango butter or a mix of all three equal to 1 cup)
1 cup beeswax (if you'd rather have lotion or body butter, leave this out and whip it as it cools)
2 tablespoons (or more) of Zinc Oxide
1 tsp Vitamin E oil to preserve
Optional: a few drops of essential oil for scent (do not use citrus oils as they can increase reaction to sun!)

You'll need to melt the beeswax, oil and butter in a double burner. I use a mason jar in a pot of boiling water and just use the same jar each time I'm concocting something because anything with wax is a little (ok, darn near impossible) to clean.

Having had problems with beeswax not melting as well as I thought before, I started with the beeswax alone. I got the pelleted version (everything came from Amazon) and it takes forever to become a liquid. When I made a lotion in one of my first endeavors, I didn't melt it first and I still encounter little wax pellets when using the stuff.

Once the beeswax was melted, I added the Shea butter and coconut oil. Coconut oil is not what we think of as oil. It melts at 80 degrees or so, but otherwise is more like shortening. When everything was melted and stirred together, I put it into a plastic bowl (my glass bowl was being used for sourdough pizza dough), then added the vitamin E oil and essential oils. I went with some citronella and lemongrass, both of which are bug repellent in the hopes that I can fight sunburn and mosquitoes at the same time.

The final ingredient was the zinc oxide -- not nano sized, which can be absorbed by the skin, but still a risk for breathing. I did not wear a recommended mask, but handled it carefully and didn't raise a dust either. Once it was stirred in the color of the concoction changed to a lighter color, and I put it into used baby food containers to cool. The bars are supposed to be solid below 80 degrees and rub on like a deodorant stick. We'll see.

So now that sunscreen is made, I'm ready for the sun to shine today and give it a test run. Little people will be hanging with me through the morning and the forecast is for sunny skies.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I Choose Happiness and Joy

Life to Ethan was like grief to me. Rare bits of joy in a seemingly endless pool of uncertainty and darkness.

That thought popped into my head while walking the dogs one morning not long ago.

Even when I don't break down and grieve for what it cost me, I frequently find myself wrestling with the question of addiction. I've struggled to understand how life was so hard for him that he had to escape it with drugs.

Leaving aside the idea of addiction, I enjoy the world God created too much to want to lose myself in one created by my mind to start with, so the whole idea of getting high on a regular basis escapes me. Yes, when I was younger I overindulged on occasion and could easily do so again during times of stress or as a poorly thought out coping mechanism, but just to set out to escape I simply cannot understand.

That questioning means there are songs, including one we frequently do our Zumba cooldown to (Beauty in the World), that make me want to cry. They are songs that celebrate life and the joy to be found in the world around us and within ourselves and I find myself wondering why Ethan could not have felt that way. I wonder why when he was just a kid struggling with the things all kids struggle with to one degree or another, he thought that some altered version of reality, one in which the blue of the swimming pool wasn't blue enough unless you could also feel it like jello on your skin, was better. Even knowing that he was at times unhappy with himself, or that his friends were traveling down the same path, I cannot understand why he felt that escaping life -- and ultimately losing it -- was the best choice he could see.

He formed a few close friendships in elementary school, a balance of good kids and bad. He liked writing stories, being the smartest kid in class, ironically winning the D.A.R.E. essay contest. In middle school he scored a 1080 on the SATs in the seventh grade and was disappointed if he wasn't the number one student. He was destined for college, scholarships and achieving his dreams. But he wore braces and he was heavy, the girls didn't flock around him like they did his friends, band wasn't a cool place to hang out even after he worried me to death for a saxophone that he never brought home to practice.

Somewhere along the way he decided he wanted to be someone different. In high school, not only did he lose the braces and transform his weight to height, but he made a choice not to be the smart kid any more. He dropped out of AP classes, just managed to pass the others, wanted to dress like a thug, and never talked about college. Perhaps escaping the reality of who he was with pills made sense within that context, but I still struggle with it.

Beyond that, I try to understand why, once he had experienced all the disaster that came along with drug use, he still couldn't admit it was a problem and get whatever help he needed to quit. I know that is where the question of addiction comes in.

I know that the first time he used dextromethorphan it took him to a place that he wanted to go again. Somehow his brain knew that this was special, something to keep a secret and protect from all of the sharing that he might do with people who wouldn't understand. He could talk about anything else -- smoking pot, getting drunk, losing his virginity -- but not this. His friends who managed to quit told me that it was incredibly hard to quit, partially because it made them feel smarter and like they knew so much that they forgot when they were straight. It was like the fruit of the tree of knowledge, the Devil whispered it would make him more than he was, but it actually delivered death.

A former cocaine addict told me when he was using all he thought about was the drug, when he could get it, what he had to do to get it. It didn't matter what he lost or who he hurt to get there. He was always searching for some way to get back to that high he remembered, even if it meant more drugs each time, even if his memory wasn't necessarily accurate and perhaps the high had never been as great as he thought to begin with.

I've read writings by a former addict who went on to study the brain that said the drug of choice, the one that triggers the chemistry for an addiction, takes over the brain's pleasure centers. Nothing that we think of as bringing pleasure, love, companionship, a good movie or video game, a delicious meal -- nothing brings them the pleasure that the drug brings them.

That brought me to the point of realizing how life for Ethan in his addiction must have been so much like it has been for me in my grief.

For months I've often gone through the motions, eating, smiling, laughing when it was expected, but the joy that was supposed to come from those moments, the pleasure my brain was supposed to be recognizing, wasn't really there. I imagined Ethan living for years that way, knowing that the pleasure he craved was just a few pills away. Seriously, there have been times that if I could have somehow brought the pleasure back to my life, I might well have been like the characters in "Pet Sematary" and risked the bad just for a chance to have what I missed so much. When I look at it that way, I almost understand that no matter how good it seemed his life was going, he may have been faking it as well. I almost understand how after months of being straight, working and rebuilding his health, he would convince himself that it would be safe to get high, just once, and begin the slide into wrecking his life all over again. Almost.

I know that because I cannot hug and talk to him, because I can't get that pleasure again, my "addiction" is fading over time just as my grief eases. I don't have to wake up to Dec. 16 again with a chunk of my life missing and beginning all over again, perhaps feeling to a degree like he did when he tried to be straight after indulging, knowing that something was missing that brought him pleasure and joy. I don't have to keep starting my journey back to "normal" again as he did every time he gave in and took the pills.

I don't have to choose between what I've lost and what I have now. He had to choose every day.

So my journey through grief has been a struggle much like his journey through addiction. Sometimes, there has been real joy and pleasure that pushed everything else aside for a while. I have been consciously taking the time to recognize it (thanks once again Annah Elizabeth, you've been an inspiration) and I think that doing so has helped me heal. I think realizing that there was real joy, whether it was from someone else's smile or managing a tough PiYo pose, has helped the joy to spread. I wish Ethan could have undertaken the same exercise because then, perhaps, he might have found life wasn't so bad after all.

Looking at my journey over the last four months, I think that was a turning point. I think for anyone coping with loss, addiction, grief, or even some depression, looking for the happy, the joy, the delight in each day can help make life seem more worth living, the things we've lost or given up more bearable to live without.

I've decided to live, seek out the happy moments, to hold on to the joy even when it seems the sadness will surely drown me.

I wish Ethan could have done the same.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

As Life Gets Easier, Joy Seems Less Random

For almost three months, since I discovered another blogger's search for what brought her joy, I've made it a point every Tuesday to think back on the past week and find things that brought me joy.

I'm still grateful to Annah Elizabeth at The Five Facets for inspiring that exercise with her blog all those weeks ago. I still remember one of the things that had brought her joy that week was a new microwave. I'm reading her book, Digging for the Light, after being awarded an autographed copy shortly after publication. There's a connection, that thread of loss that binds us, but at the same time means I can only cope with small doses of her grief at her first child's death shortly after delivery and the pain and heartache that follows.

It's amazing how often, especially when things are bleak, when we're coping with illness, or grief, or any form of depression, we overlook the bright spots in our lives. Instead of finding something bright to cling to, it seems easier to shroud ourselves in a gray fog that keeps the world at bay and allows us to focus on our pain.

Annah Elizabeth is a regular reminder not to do that, starting her blog this week with a saying she noted while traveling: “Happiness is not a destination; it’s a way of life.”

So even when my schedule is disrupted by the 5 a.m. arrival of three pajama-clad little people, who drift back to dreamland while I begin my day slumped over a cup of coffee and isolated from my favorite keyboard, I'm going to keep looking for joy.

Having finally made it to the computer, with little people on their way home for two days (this is our "short" week), my brain a little fuzzy still from lack of sleep, I'm looking for the joy that I found in the week gone by.

1. I'd have to start with the brief spring thunderstorm that just blew through, although it made outdoor work impossible, soaked the kennel laundry on the line, and probably caused a drop in temperature. The great thing was I had been walking dogs and made it back to the kennel just before the first scattered drops fell. Although this was not one of the window rattling storms we'll see later in the season, I still prefer to be indoors or in a vehicle when a storm rolls through.

2. Watching the big girls hunt Easter eggs at their other grandparents' home Sunday. The whole day was off kilter because my hubs was still home with the stomach bug that raged through the ranks last week, but it was nice to be included in a gathering of "the other half." The sweetest thing was watching E2 put eggs in her cousin's bucket. I swear, that kid is just a dose of joy most of the time. (Except today, when she was in whiny, drama queen mode.)

3. Getting complimented on my Jamberry nails when I stopped to get gas on the way home Sunday. I never do anything with my nails, but one of my doggy moms talked me into trying them. I don't know that I'm hooked, but it was nice to have someone notice my normally ratty nails in a positive way. Longevity will help determine whether I want to apply them frequently or not.

4. Surviving last week. It was brutal, let me tell you. Between the schedule change for my daughter's work, some extra tweaks for dental and school visits for the girls, the car-seat shuffle, a trip to Winston, a stomach bug and the holiday dogs in the kennel, it was a rough stretch of days.

5. Not getting the stomach bug. I'm beginning to wonder if it might be the same strain that E1 gave me for Christmas a few years back. I was so sick on New Year's Eve and the days following that I can still remember the misery three years later. The fact that neither I, nor E1, or her mom, all of whom had it then, have been sick this time (knock on wood), makes me wonder if it's the same bug and we still have some residual resistance because trust me, I've been exposed. Repeatedly.

6. A spring peeper in my garden pond. Ethan dug my first garden pond years ago after we tore down an old shed in the yard. Bullfrogs found the pond fairly quickly and the random tree frog has shrieked from the dogwood near the water virtually every summer. But I've never had a spring peeper singing from the vicinity of the ponds (there are two now) until this year. I know, they're tiny and it apparently takes them a long time to find a new body of water, but 15 plus years? On the other hand, the girls and I toted home tadpoles from the tobacco greenhouse where they've been known to sing, so it may be that I've raised my own resident peepers. Either way, hearing them sing the other night brought a smile.

7. A sweet dream about my son. The few dreams I've had about Ethan since he died have not been reassuring. This one was in that, somehow, I knew even before I woke up that he wasn't here any more and I still woke with a smile on my face. It was as though he'd come to me while I slept and told me a joke that I cannot remember the punch line to any more. It still brings me joy to remember rousing from a dream with a smile and a memory of him just a breath away.

Funny, this week, it's harder to find those standout moments of joy than it has been at other times. I think it's because life itself is feeling more joyful, day in and day out. The weather is warmer and I'm thinking of pools and convertibles, mowing the yard and using less lotion, a trip some four weeks away to the beach.

But I still think the effort and exercise is worthwhile, because once you've spent time in a really dark place, it's important to remember how you found your way out and it's important to not take joy for granted.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ethan's First Real Easter

Easter meant more to me this year.

Sometime back I realized that although we say we are not supposed to bury our children, God has quite often set our lives on just such a course -- not merely now, when we lose our children to accidents and illnesses, addictions and suicides, wars and crime. No, even in Biblical times we mothers have buried our children.

Mary buried her son, Jesus.

Yes, He came to her on miracle and she knew from before His birth that He was God's son. When He began His ministry, He was followed by thousands and performed miracles of His own. She must have been amazed that the babe she had held in her arms, a child who may have seemed fairly regular much of the time, had grown into the man He became. We have no inkling that God or His angels ever revealed to her the ultimate plan.

Mary didn't know when she watched Her son be reviled by her neighbors, crucified between two thieves, and then taken from the cross, battered and bleeding, still warm but without life in His body, that there was some greater purpose to her loss. During that most human of times between the time He was crucified and Easter morning, she was just as I have been for four months -- a grieving mother.

Surely during that time she questioned God, "Why?" Surely she asked, "Why work such a miracle to give me your son? Why spare Him from the soldiers' spears as a baby? Why grant Him the power to work miracles and minister to thousands? Why would you do all of that, take Him safely through so much, and then let Him be taken and killed? Why is my baby dead? Why is my son laying cold and lifeless in a grave during this holy time when he should be here with me and the people who cared about Him?"

Any mother who has lost a child, a son, has the same questions in essence. We don't wonder about the miracles, but we do wonder why they may have been spared one ailment, walked away from a car crash, made the right choices for so long to suddenly be just as lost to us as Jesus when they rolled the stone across His tomb.

Like I have been, she was surrounded by people who cared about her, people who loved her son, people who were as bewildered by how things seemed to have turned out as she was. None of them knew what was coming. Like me and my comforters, we had all thought things would work out for the best.

But I also realized this Easter how it was so much worse for them. I had thought, how wonderful that her grief only lasted those three days before the miracle at the tomb; how unimaginable it must have been to suddenly have Him back and be lifted from the pit of despair by His return. Then I realized how much darker those days were, not just because of the persecution and uncertainty, because they did not know the world had changed and that the impossible had become possible.

As several grieving mothers posted messages about their children spending Easter in heaven on Facebook, I came to a realization that had previously eluded me. Before Jesus, death and hell had not been conquered. When you died, had you not managed to live a spotless life, unless you were one of the old-time prophets who walked with God, the grave was an uncertain place. Had there been adequate sacrifices on your behalf? Had you broken one of the laws that your religion decreed were necessary to be just? Had you been good enough for a reward?

Even knowing how perfect Jesus was and that He was the son of God, once He was taken and crucified, Mary and those closest to Him must have doubted. Beyond all the questions about why His life had ended as it had, beyond the horror of those final hours, there had to be an uncertainty that went to the core of their beings. What now? I don't think they understood the gift they had been given and they had no way of understanding what was to come, even though they had been told repeatedly.

We don't have to have that now. I don't have to worry that my son had messed up and squandered the gift of his life, that he had sinned and that his eternity is in question because Jesus took care of that. He wiped the slate clean and kept wiping it clean every time he messed up. He does the same for me and for those who will call upon his name. When Ethan died and his body was subjected to an autopsy and then buried in the ground, I didn't have to worry about what came next. When I got the call that he was dead, I knew he was already in heaven. Although he was struggling on earth, his ultimate fate had not been up for grabs for a long time.

At the same time, I don't know how anyone gets through this without God and the belief that what He promised is real and that our time in these earthly bodies is just a brief part of our existence. I know there are people who find ways to cope and survive, people who are like the professor in "God's Not Dead," denying God's existence because they are angry at how life turned out, when they are actually angry with God. I've been angry with God as well, not just at Ethan's death, but at the turns his life took and sometimes at what has happened in my own life. Not understanding, being angry and hurt doesn't undo my faith.

So this Easter it was even less about baskets and presents and eggs and new church clothes. It was about peace and resurrection and new life and belief in the promise of the empty tomb.

It was about knowing Ethan was celebrating Easter with the one who conquered death and the tomb and made it all possible. That was, almost, enough to get me through the day dry-eyed.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Dogs Need Crunchier Living, Too

I really thought I'd make sunscreen this week, but we've been back below freezing several nights and it's raining, yet again, so I've not been really inspired.

Instead, I decided to look at my dogs and flea management after a post on my business Facebook page told me quite succinctly that garlic was toxic and the garlic I had just started feeding my canine crew for flea control was going to kill them. "Dogs shouldn't have can cause hemolytic anemia. Just a thought."

Wait, what?

I bought this from Springtime, Inc., which sells all natural pet and people products. It wasn't just something I dreamed up.

So I started researching the topic. And yes, that means on the Internet because I have an inherent distrust for the medical profession whether it comes to animals or people.


Well, because it seems that unless you can find a holistic practitioner, most would rather prescribe a pill for your aching knees than help you develop an exercise program to strengthen your joints and lose weight. Medication and better living through chemicals seems to always be the answer (like using sunscreen every time you go out and taking a vitamin D supplement instead because you're inhibiting your body's ability to produce its own vitamin D.) For years my doctors have nagged me about my high cholesterol and taking medication, even though when I looked at the numbers it seemed they were driven by high good cholesterol and my ratio said I was good. My most recent physician finally noted that and told me I was fine -- I never would take the pills.

When it comes to dogs, once you've looked at the corn-based food most sell as the best alternative for your dog's diet, well it seems a little distrust is in order. If I had the time and resources, my dogs would eat a raw diet instead of me shopping around for foods that actually contain no corn, wheat or soy and are meat based instead of well advertised.

Seriously, the best thing vets typically offer to control fleas is spot on treatments, most of which did not work last summer. I had clients, along with myself, who were spending a fortune on the big brand flea treatments, having to repeat them every two or three weeks, and still battling the little blood suckers.

Not only that, but flea treatments are pesticides, used on your dog's skin, and if you use any spray you'll see it includes the warning to wear gloves and/or wash after use. What about my dog? If it's not safe for me, what makes it safe for her? If I can absorb it and have a toxic reaction, what about her? If it's going to leave enough residue on/in her skin to kill fleas and ticks for a month, what happens to my grandchildren every time they pet her?

Think I'm overreacting? Five years ago the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) conducted studies about spot on treatments due to the number of cases of adverse reactions in pets. Those ranged from symptoms in skin and gastrointestinal, to nervous system and even death. The summary of the report called for more variations in the weight sizes especially when it comes to smaller dogs, better labeling and more testing, but the last time I bought any product, the weight ranges were pretty large. In fact, I just checked a website and the package for small dogs goes up to 22 pounds, that means a seven pound dog is probably getting three times the dosage he needs -- that's a lot of toxicity if he has any reaction to the ingredients.

So even though I'd already purchased the garlic chewables for my dogs, I did some more research. Yes, there are articles that say that garlic, as a member of the onion family (I already know onion isn't good for my dogs) is toxic. One of the easiest to find is from Veterinary Pet Insurance claims that even a small amount can be toxic to pets and that it is not a holistic remedy. That article uses the information that since garlic is more concentrated than onion and onion is bad, a much smaller amount of garlic is needed for toxicity -- as little as one clove. Onion can, in fact, cause hemolytic anemia, or at the very least a bad upset stomach.

Well, that is concerning. The article went on say even smaller amounts over time would be detrimental. But wait, this article is, once again, linked to veterinary medicine, or more precisely, medicine and chemicals.

I went back to the site where I purchased the chewables, called Bug Off Garlic. The website cited a study in Japan, where holistic medicine is more widely accepted, and which the company had no part in funding. That study dosed study dogs with 1/2 lb (equal to about 78 cloves) per 100 lbs body weight, obviously a force feeding situation, for seven days. Afterwards, microscopic examination of the dogs' blood showed no anemia, and only a small percentage had any damage to red blood cells.

Well, we know too much of anything, even a good thing isn't good, but once again, I didn't completely trust the source because after all, they are selling the product which contains air-dried garlic -- less concentrated not more so.

I quickly found three sites that recommended fresh garlic, in controlled amounts, as a supplement to help with pest control. None offered to sell me any fresh garlic and one Healthy Pets with Dr. Karen Becker does involve a DVM who practices integrated wellness for animals in her care. The other two sites are Dogs Naturally Magazine and Pet Guide. The common thread was that the chemical in garlic is not exactly the same as onion -- well, duh, we don't just substitute one for the other in cooking -- so it was not the same in the dog's body either.

The Healthy Pets site recommended flea combs and regular bathing, and offered additional suggestions:

"Essential oil sprays containing lavender, peppermint, geranium, lemongrass or citronella can be very effective as parasite deterrents. You need to purchase a pre-blended product or work with an animal aromatherapist to make sure you’re using safe oils at the correct concentration as dog and cat doses are different

"Cedar oil is a long-recognized flea eradicator, and products exist that are specially formulated for cats and dogs.

"Natural, food-grade diatomaceous earth helps to remove fleas and ticks from your pet’s body. (External use)

"Fresh garlic can be given to dogs and cats to prevent internal as well as external parasites. Work with your vet to determine a safe amount for your pet’s body weight."

The other two sites recommended dosages that varied somewhat, but agreed to start with 1/2 clove for dogs 10-20 pounds. Both also agreed one clove for 20 pounds and two cloves for more than 40 pounds. One suggested an extra half clove at 30 pounds and a limit of two cloves. The other went to 2.5 cloves at 75 pounds.

All sites agreed fresh is best, and that heat treating destroys the active ingredient, so since the product is air dried I should be fine. Dosage on the chewables, which half of my dogs take as a treat and half require bribery (peanut butter) or downright bullying to take, is 1 pill per 20 pounds, apparently the equivalent of a garlic clove. After my research -- and the fact that when I made food for "The Beagle" for about 18 months while we were dealing with a digestive issue and included garlic in the recipe with no bad side effects -- has me concluding that garlic supplements of the right sort and in the right amount are safe. Sure, I could dig and mash fresh garlic, but right now I don't have time and I'm not sure how I'd persuade any of them to eat it.

However, just in case we need a little extra help with the fleas, I went in search of recipes for flea spray and found a ton of those with various essential oils. Apparently the best essential oil is lavender, which not only repels fleas but will kill them on contact. One of the easiest I found was from We Live In A Flat.

The ingredients needed to make the spray are apple cider vinegar (ACV), lavender or chamomile essential oil and water. Combine 1 teaspoon ACV, 3-4 drops essential oil and the water needed to fill a small spray bottle (mine are six ounce). Combine and shake before use. Store in a cool, dark cabinet. How easy and healthy is that?

Several other recipes called for Tea Tree oil because of its natural antiseptic quality and some of the other flea repelling oils, so my mix (not yet made I'll admit, because I don't have a clean spray bottle, having dedicated all I had to my hair products) will probably contain oils besides lavender. And yes, I plan to get on that because "The Beagle" had a flea prior to this whole garlic debate.

While searching, I also found a sweet guide to making a scented, flea repelling collar from One Good Thing by Jillee. To make a flea collar, mix a flea repelling essential oil such as cinnamon, rosemary, wormwood, clove, peppermint, cedarwood or citronella with 2 tablespoons almond or olive oil (always dilute essential oils) and soak your dog's cloth collar with the mixture. Remove and let dry then place back on your dog. Reapply the mixture when you can no longer smell it, which should take about two weeks.

Oooh, no fleas and sweet smelling, you know I've got to try that as well. So I'm going to shove a garlic treat down my dog's throat -- seriously, she just won't eat them -- and see if I can find a spray bottle, or at the very least soak her collar. I'm declaring war on fleas without breaking out the chemicals. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Thank God It's Friday!

I accept that I am the root of all my children's weirdness and anything behavior wise that can be inherited. Oh! My! Gosh!

Despite the fact that I would appear to be in a state of constant flux with no real routine for getting anything done, I'm apparently not as happy go lucky as one would think.

My schedule, however, is my own and dictated only by my internal clock, not anyone else's schedule or the timepieces to which we frequently refer to determine what we need to be doing because this week I've been all to pieces. Welcome to the reality of my daughter's night shift.

Oh, I'm confident I will adjust, but Wednesday afternoon I was reduced to throwing plates. Yes, actual plates. Not at E1 as she later told her mother, but at the floor. I couldn't cope with anything else and coming in from fetching the mail out of my car to find that she'd poured a cup of milk out into plates, her sister's lap and the floor just pushed me right on over into crazy town. After I cleaned up the combined mess that she and I had made, I did apologize, but the memory of my bad behavior shamed me.

Then again, I'm guessing I can trace that back to my mother, who I can remember frequently opening and slamming cabinet doors when she was upset. Sorry, mom.

One of the struggles of the week has been its irregularity, although it will eventually fall into a pattern.

Monday morning I was up at 5 a.m. for girls to arrive. They went back to sleep. I drank coffee and watched them. I took E1 to school. Mommy came and got them when she woke up and we had lunch together before she left.

Tuesday they didn't come at all, but due to a temporary carseat shortage -- because three girls ride in three cars at various times, we need 9, not 7 -- I had to run my safety seats to their house so they could go to the dentist. I came home and shaved a dog. It was raining and not a great day for anything.

Wednesday up at 5 a.m. again. Repeat of early Monday. Then we all loaded up and went to Winston for E1's therapy. Little sisters and I went window shopping, eventually spending $2 at Target on a pair of safety scissors because we needed a second pair and E2 "loved" them. I need new patio furniture cushions, deep seat, at a reasonable price for my grandmother's wrought iron furniture. The weather and old cat have ruined the cushions I've had for several years. We didn't find any. By the time we got home, by way of Krispy Kreme, the girls were sugared up (I think I'll skip that step in two weeks) and didn't want lunch. We played outside until nearly 2 p.m. when they still didn't want lunch but I made them some anyway, and the milk incident occurred. E2 woke from her nap with an upset stomach. Not a good day, all things considered.

Thursday, once again no morning wakeup, although my husband who is also trying to adjust did kindly set me an alarm. I turned it off and went back to sleep in our chilly house (it was 80 Monday and maybe 30 Wednesday and Thursday, which didn't help). Up at my regular 6:30 a.m. and finally able to do my typical morning routine (blogging, networking, checking on friends I don't really see but care about). E1 had kindergarten evaluation, so Mom took off early to take her, otherwise I would have needed the alarm. Not a day off, not our typical day from before, and not quite what our normal days will be now either.

Today it's another 5 a.m. wake-up and Daddy, who brings the girls still in PJs and wrapped in blankets, will be picking them up as well. To add to the fun, E3 has thrown up on herself on the way over and repeats the performance an hour later. E2 now has diarrhea as the followup to her upset stomach of Wednesday and soils her pajamas. My husband has been up all night with a combination of the two. I'd like to pack up E1 and leave them to fend for themselves, but that's not an option -- besides its Easter weekend and my boarding kennel will be filling up for the weekend today.

Next week, it will be the exact opposite of this week -- I think -- and hopefully free of whatever stomach ailment everyone has, although we almost want to write it off to sinus drainage, in the kids at lest. In another week, perhaps, we'll be beginning to adjust to this back and forth and finding some balance in the on and off days, the early mornings and early afternoons.

In the meantime I've realized that my balance is much more delicate than it seems. While one day of disruption may not throw me, the total loss of what was familiar and comfortable and the tools I've grappled with to cope through a really hard four months, has made me feel fragile and on edge again. Most evenings I feel that a breakdown is lurking nearby, even if I manage to avoid it. I haven't even felt like watching television and I struggle to unwind. Apparently, I have a OCD person inside who plays by a different set of rules. Trying to figure out what makes her happy has made for a difficult week. Adding all that disruption onto what should have been Ethan's birthday, I suppose that I should not really be surprised that I've been a borderline wreck.

However, it would appear that we have all survived it. Assuming, of course, that nothing changes (I'm writing a day ahead because heaven knows I won't have time Friday). Other than the two plates, that is.

Next week, I'm sure it will be better -- not just fewer long days, but free of the emotional baggage this week had to tote as well. All the same, I'm truly thankful to God that it's Friday.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blessings In Disguise

The other night I sat looking at a picture of Ethan and thinking to myself how badly I wish this was all a bad dream. I wished I would wake up and it not be just some time briefly before Dec. 15 when I could have done some of the things I wish I'd done before he died, but long before, when I might have been able to see the damage coming and saved him from the path he took.

At the same time, I thought that I would want to take back with me this different person that I have become. Although I may often be unhappy with what I see in the mirror, feeling I look as tired and worn down as I sometimes feel, I am grateful for the changes in my heart and soul.

I can't say I'm thankful for what God has done to get me here, but I am thankful for who I've become.

Sunday morning, the topic of the bus crash in California came up at church. I could tell that, once it was mentioned, it made my Sunday school classmates uncomfortable. There they were trying to talk about good coming from tragedy and how could any good come from losing a child and they suddenly realized where the topic had gone.

Me, well I waded in as the discussion faltered. Losing my Sunday morning makeup as I talked, I told them how it could be exactly that.

No, when it happens it doesn't feel like a blessing. It feels like the world has ended, like you can't breathe, like you are the person who has died even though you're still functioning at some level. Four months later it still feels like that some days. The blessing is never the loss itself, at least to those of us left behind.

The blessing, the good that can come from it, is in allowing what has happened to change us, not with bitterness, but, through God's love, with compassion. The blessing is in realizing deep down how precious and temporary life is and how much of it is wasted on meaningless and self-centered pursuits. It's in discovering the deep well of compassion from other people. It's accepting that you aren't required to get through tragedy alone because there are people who care if you're vulnerable enough to let them. It's finding that same well of compassion inside and reaching out to a world you didn't really care that much about until your world was shattered.

The good isn't the loss or the tragedy, but what comes out of the people who survive -- what the people who are left to grieve and mourn do with themselves and their changed perspective that can be a blessing. I've noticed one of my fellow grieving mothers, a blogger I know only as Victoria is also becoming aware and appreciative of the changes in her life and sees them as ongoing blessings from the love she bears her son.

It's a strange place to be, knowing that this isn't the life I wanted, not the path I would ever have sought, one I would erase in a heartbeat, one that, because of tragedy, is both lacking an important element and still more rich than the path I would have taken.

I'm so thankful for the lives I've touched and the people that I've allowed to touch mine as well. We aren't just classmates at Sunday school, or Zumba, or even sometimes just people who like one another's comments on Facebook. We're people who care and share and hug and send cards and call and pray. If I had not lost Ethan, I would never have had this wonderful connection to the world around me -- a connection that was there all the time but one I never noticed or valued.

It wasn't my choice to make, this rich tapestry of lives intertwined or the singular thread that I lost. Had it been, I'm sure I would have clung to the thread of his life, but I wonder in doing so what other treads spreading out from mine might have been dropped instead. With a knitter's mind I see the loop of his life not dropped, but doubled with my own, while other stitches have been added which might have, instead, been dropped. It's hard to explain, other than to acknowledge how much I value these new connections, even if I would never have sought or found them had it not been for tragedy.

God made the choice of how I would move forward, tethered not by the one string, but by dozens.

It was the changed me with a thought of Ethan that stopped and blew the horn at a man with a dog on the side of the road yesterday, handing him money through the window. Had I not had two small people in the car with me, I think I would have liked to stop and talk with him a while. I wondered if he still has a mother who would like to know where he was, and I said a prayer for him and his dog, which was wearing a sweater against the chill.

Perhaps the only blessing from this loss was the money I pressed into the street person's hand and the "God bless you," I received in return. Perhaps it is the prayers and love that have knit a warm blanket of support around me. Perhaps it is the less calloused person I've found when I wake up each morning. Perhaps it is knowing that God's hand is in it all and that it was never up to me, dreams and regrets aside, at all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Think Back Tuesday -- Can I Find Joy?

Outside the window where I sit each morning to write, there is a dogwood tree that came up, uninvited, in the flower bed near the house. It's taller than I am now, although I can remember when it appeared and I debated pulling it from its volunteer location. Throughout this winter, it's been a companion of sorts when I've struggled for words and looked for inspiration.

For most of that time it's been a seemingly lifeless and silent observer of my efforts. Occasionally there has been a cardinal waiting his turn at the bird feeder. One morning the house wren that nests on my porch each summer serenaded me from a branch.

This morning it is almost covered in small green leaves, a rising tide of life coming up from the roots. The lower branches are greenest while those at the top are still small buds.

I'm looking at it this morning because the past week leading up to what should have been Ethan's 24th birthday has been a hard one. It has been much like the period leading up to his actual birth, one filled with anxious waiting, uncertainty and dread -- although 24 years ago I was dreading delivery and anticipating a happy outcome, while this year it was just a day to mark without the person I should have been marking it with.

So I sat down this morning to try to recall things that brought me joy this past week, and it was like looking out over a foggy landscape and being unable to make out the things I knew were there.

Then I saw the little dogwood and beyond it the hot pink blooms of what I have to call my "slutty" weeping peach, because everything else in the early spring has a more delicate color, and just over the kennel building, one of the larger redbuds is in full bloom with a delicate lavender color, and I know the joy is there and has been, and that yesterday was actually just another day that will always have meaning but should not be given any special power to wreck my life.

So the trees, the season itself, continues to bring me joy, even though I'm fighting allergies and the fig tree I planted shortly after Ethan's funeral still has not sent forth any leaves.

Where else did I find joy this week? It's time to think back.

1. Eating Krispy Kreme chocolate-iced, cream-filled doughnuts with my mom yesterday in memory of Ethan. Just like me, those were his ultimate doughnuts. We bought a dozen or two each month when I took him to his appointments in Winston-Salem, and now E1 demands one on her weekly trip as well. We ate them with smiles, remembering how much he liked them and how quickly he could devour them. I remembered sitting at the tables outside the Krispy Kreme in the sun, eating and talking with him with the sun on our faces. My son had a limited palate, but what he liked he liked in large amounts -- macaroni and cheese, bean burritos, pepperoni pizza, apples, doughnuts. Good memories creeping in.

2. E3 on her first egg hunt at church last week. Last year she was a babe in arms, and she only turned 1 a couple of months ago, but she quickly grasped the idea of grabbing up the eggs. When E2 bent over and accidentally tipped a few of hers in the floor afterwards, E3 was on them like a chicken on corn.

3. Taking E1 to school Monday. That's one of the occasional "joys" of the schedule shift. She was excited to show me things at her school and it was fun to see her shifting into gear for a different environment.

4. Discovering that the sippy cup I found under the car safety seats wasn't full of milk. I have no idea how long Baby's Hello Kitty cup had been under the seats and when I took two out as part of the early week shuffle to adjust to the schedule change, I was shocked to see it. I imagined a lump of soured milk, baked by the warm temperatures and well aged to the point that the cup was probably bound for the outside trash can. I opened it hesitantly and found -- water!

5. Mowing the yard for the first time this season. Yes, by fall that may be an exercise I'm so over, but I enjoyed it Saturday. Last year I didn't get to mow a lot because of the babies and the kennel, but schedule changes may shift it back to my category of responsibility. And we've set posts to give the chickens the area of the yard we don't walk in except when we're mowing, so it was a quicker job as well, even though we haven't put up fencing yet.

6. The first seeds coming up in my garden. Yes, it's supposed to be below freezing tonight and tomorrow (bleah) but they're the early, hardy crops and I'm not worried about them, although I will have to tote a couple of delicate potted plants in today. I can't wait for fresh produce and love that my daughter is trying her hand at gardening for the first time this year.

7. An afternoon outing with my soul sister. My kennel has been a blessing I would never have imagined in ways that reach far beyond any fiscal returns. I've adopted an extended family, connected through four-legged fur-kids that are beloved not just at their homes, but at mine as well. No, not every dog and family that I provide care for reaches that category, but so many have. One is Sis, who like a child comes for daycare because of her family's long workday. We've clicked at other levels and after church Sunday, her "mom" and I had a girl's outing that provided conversation, a break, and an Easter dress.

8. The first song of a spring peeper last week. I love that sound of spring and have frequently wasted my time trying to see the tiny frogs that I've only actually managed to glimpse once in my life.

There's more as once again I find myself on a roll after I begin, the flight of a pair of hawks, the flex of my muscles pushing two girls in a stroller up a long hill, climbing out of bed without being sore after a hard day's work, etc. I just have to flex my memory and I surprise myself that there was actually more brightness than I thought in the week. Maybe the blues that I thought had consumed me were just passing clouds after all.

Exercise your memory, look for joy. Have a better week ahead.

Monday, April 14, 2014

All That I Would Say

I wish you had come with an expiration date.

You know, like milk. A "Best if Used By" warning.

We all come with one, but we expect it's some 75 or 80 years away from when we're born, and the people around us who care about us have those same expectations.

When you were born shortly after midnight, 24 years ago today, I had no inkling that you would not be seeing the same 80 plus years that my grandparents had seen. There was no loaded genetic dice, nothing to warn me that you wouldn't see the time allotted to most of us these days.

I guess, in a way, it's fitting that our half-formed plans to get together yesterday to recognize your birthday were thwarted by the needs of the living -- a change in work schedule -- because the dead, after all, have no more birthdays. You're forever 23, like a dragonfly in amber from the Jurassic period. Frozen, never aging or changing, even as the rest of us go on stumbling through life.

But I find myself wishing, perhaps more often than anything else other than that you had not died, that I had known you were only around for a limited time engagement that would be up before my own.

There are so many things that I wish I'd done, so many opportunities wasted, so much unsaid.

I remember your birth so clearly, the long day of labor, the pain before the epidural, the fetal monitor indicating you were in distress and the rush to a cesarean delivery. There, hidden by a sheet from my view, I felt them pull you from my body and heard them count off the number of times the umbilical cord was around your neck. I was scared that you weren't alive, but soon they were showing you to me -- not the twin of your dark-haired sister that I expected but a big boy with fair features.

Still, I struggle to remember a lot of the years in between then and the phone call in December. They say our minds cling to the bad in the first stages of grief as a way of lessening the pain of loss, and perhaps that's it. There are days when it is easier to recall your rage than your laugh, your bitter words than your love, your clinched fists than your hugs. I wait for those better memories to return, for the balance to tip back, but perhaps I'm not ready to stand beneath those memories yet.

I do remember the preschooler who got up one night to go to the bathroom and instead peed in a trash can. Oh, that one haunted you a long time. Yes, it was about the same size, and I was in the bathroom and more than a little surprised to come out and find what you'd done in your half-waking state.

I remember you as the little boy who got a pony for Christmas, and swapped her to his sister for a video game. The middle schooler who discovered dirt bikes at a friend's house, but would never ride the one we went to Westfield to buy for you. Rushing to the hospital when you broke your leg on your skateboard and how desperately you needed a bath that you couldn't take for such a long time. The boy who alternately closed the door to shut me out, and called me at work needing me immediately. You were always at extremes -- overly cautious or a daredevil -- you never seemed to learn to live life within the lines.

We were so close, so alike, and yet there was that one glaring difference that I could not see through the male image of myself. While I was the brainy outsider comfortable with the role, happier with my books and dogs, you wanted so desperately just to be part of the crowd. I often thought your change from who you were meant to be to who you wanted to be was behind your discomfort with yourself.

I wish I'd understood your addiction better and been able to reach you, to show you somehow that life was worth living and that you were wonderful, special and beautiful beyond compare, without any mind or mood altering substance to change you. I wish I'd been able to drag you out of the cocoon in which you wrapped yourself to show you that life, stripped down and bare of anything between you and the world that God gave us, was worth living. I wish I'd called and beat down your door and somehow forced you to be with us more.

I wish I'd seen the work you did at church. I know it was great, but I thought you were on the right track and would be there longer. I wish I'd made you play your guitar for me. Made you share those things you kept to yourself. Talked to you and touched you and held you more. Made you live.

I'm reading a book written by a woman whose first child, a beautiful boy, was born dead, and it's fitting that I was reading that chapter this weekend. I'm so thankful that despite the pain of loving you and losing you, I had you for over 23 years. I'm thankful that while you were in the hospital after your wreck, all beat up and forced to listen, I told you that I would always love you no matter if you were an ass or not. I wish that had been enough to hold you.

I wish I knew you didn't want me in your final moments. That you weren't like E2 when she fell at gymnastics the other night and just wanted her mommy to hold her, even though the pain wasn't that bad. I wish I could have touched your wonderful hands and ran my fingers through your hair and held you and kissed you goodbye. Instead, I keep your old sweatshirt in a freezer bag so it will hold your scent, and I wear a few of your old t-shirts, loaded with memories and holes.

Last year, the family was together to celebrate and somehow I never got a good picture of you. I never thought when my mom asked for pictures of her family, to ask someone to shoot one of us -- me and you and your sister -- maybe because we've always been a broken family. I'm sorry your dad was such an asshole and never came around and honestly, staying married to him would not have made him a better dad because he didn't have it in him and that's one of the reasons we didn't last.

I think of a story a friend told me about a woman whose daughter told her that she had a sister, while the toddler was an only child. The little girl said her sister was with Jesus, but she'd be meeting her soon. The little girl drowned before her mother learned she was pregnant, with a little girl. I think you've gone back to the home you left 24 years ago today. You've returned to a bright, timeless existence and I'll join you again in what, to you, will be the blink of an eye.

It's hard down here without you, marking this birthday alone. Still, I'm happy for you, that I know you've found the peace that eluded you for so long. I feel you sometimes in a sunset or a song, and I know that just as you were before you were born, you're only a heartbeat away.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tossing the Anti-Aging Creams, Can I Go Crunchy?

When I started thinking about the strange chemicals I used every day that might be doing me as much harm as good, one of the first things that I thought of was my facial routine, especially at bedtime.

Although I washed with black soap or DHC Deep Cleansing Oil, which until I read the list of ingredients (I had to find them on-line) I thought was pretty good, I knew my after-wash night cream had to go.

What the heck is in the "anti-aging" formula anyway? Seriously, there's a lot of chemicals there that I have no idea what they should or might do. The fact that, like my shampoo, I tended to change formulas every time I needed a new jar, if not sooner, gave me a pretty good idea that it wasn't what I needed.

I couldn't just ditch it without an alternative though, so I started searching my favorite crunchy bloggers' sites. Several of them had facial creams, but most added a moisturizer that didn't sound too promising since, although most of my skin is dry, my face is oily. On my very favorite site, Wellness Mama, I found a Vitamin C Serum that sounded promising, mainly because I didn't have to buy a lot of ingredients.

Vitamin C, which we're familiar with as a good internal vitamin, is also good externally as it is supposed to help tighten and brighten the skin, increase collagen production, help the skin heal, and reduce the negative effects of sun exposures. Well, hey, sign me up,

Off to Amazon I went to find vitamin C powder (I wound up with crystals at $16.23 for a lb) and a dark glass bottle with a bubble syringe($5.49). Dissolving 1/2 teaspoon of vitamin C in 1 tablespoon of distilled water (local grocery store for about a buck) was simple, although the crystals were a little hard to dissolve. For dry skin, the recipe recommended only a teaspoon of water and two tablespoons of vegetable glycerin, which I already had, but I didn't use initially.

It felt funny essentially putting water on my face out of a syringe at night, and there was a slight sting from the vitamin C, which is acidic. After using it a few times, I decided a bit of moisturizer might not hurt and added a teaspoon or so of glycerin. Since there are not preservatives, it has a limited shelf life (one that is less than the amount of serum produced) and needs to be stored in the refrigerator, which adds a refreshing twist to the bedtime routine. I finally made myself dump it last week and make new.

Because I had experienced some tightness, I decided I'd go with the more vegetable glycerin based formula. Bad idea. My face felt greasy the next morning, but for someone with dry skin, I can pretty well vouch for it working. Because my investment was so small, I just dumped it out and made a batch of the original formula instead.

While I had the vitamin C out, I also decided to try vitamin C mask that I found on Pinterest, which is the greatest, or the worst, depending on how you look at it. This one came from DIY Beauty Tips and, like Wellness Mama, she has other ideas if you're interested. It was also super simple.

The mask is essentially a concentrated version of the serum with the same ultimate goals. Mix 1 tablespoon of vitamin C with 1/2 tablespoon filtered water and adjust ratios to obtain the right consistency. If your skin is dry, she suggests using pure aloe vera gel instead of water.

Apply to your face and leave it on for 10-15 minutes or until it dries, then remove with a warm wet washcloth. It does sting on application (acidic, remember?). Since I have a crystal form of vitamin C, removing it was almost a mini chemical peel as some of the crystals were still intact and abrasive.

Since I had bentonite clay on hand ($6.92 for a lb.) I have also tried a mask with two teaspoons of vitamin C and one of bentonite clay, which is supposed to draw toxins from the skin, figuring I could get twice the bang for my effort. The vitamin C apparently dissolved better in the wet clay as there was no abrasive sensation and less sting as well.

It's been probably six weeks since I used any commercial moisturizer or anything at all other than mineral powder makeup, which I have yet to research or replace, on my face. Previously prone to breakouts, (even at my age) I think I've had one angry pore. My skin feels good and I've had no qualms about going to bed without a "nighttime skin treatment" although I did cringe a bit when it came time to toss my Garnier BB cream, which I used during the day. For a while I argued that I needed the sunscreen, etc., but decided if I was going to go natural it had to go as well. Instead I've resorted to the mineral powder on the theory that at least it isn't in my skin, just on on it, and does provide some sunscreen as well as a little vanity boost.

While I don't wear other makeup often, I've not managed to naturalize it yet either -- baby steps -- but have pinned enough ideas that I'll get there. I plan on making my facial cleansers next and ditching the chemicals that may be hiding in that step.

My investment has been a little time and very little money compared to the cost of the products I was using. My crunchy experiments continue, the sun is shining, and this morning, at least, life is good.

Friday, April 11, 2014

I May Never See the World

I have never liked to travel and as I've gotten older, that extends to not liking for my family to travel.

So the fact that the 3Es and their parents are in Raleigh visiting museums and culturing it up makes me uncomfortable. Their trip last fall to Disney World was borderline excruciating. Occasional trips with the Baby Daddy family to California are painful.

When I was small I just liked my own space, my dog and my room. My dog was my best friend from the time he picked me to love when the stray had puppies under the old house. The other six puppies found homes but he was with me for 15 years, through adolescence, moving twice, marriage and a baby. I was devoted to him with the singular passion of a misfit child and hated to leave him, even for a week-long, road trip.

I'm not sure if my father was similarly afflicted by that stay-at-home need, or if it was the self-employed servitude, but during my childhood we only took two vacations. While I remember the wonder, I also remember how glad I was to get home, to see Hershey and familiar hills and sleep in my own bed under the south-facing window where the moon shone in. Since my Mom makes a lot of road trips, I tend to think the root cause of my homebody nature may lie with him.

My chosen career only made it worse -- not because of the desire to always be at home, but because of the fact that I learned life and death are simply so seemingly random. As a journalist, I had the task of chasing ambulances and would mentally run through the list of where the people I loved should be as I responded to a bad wreck. Eventually that fear subsided, but I became even more aware of how unexpectedly tragedy could visit a family with no rhyme or reason.

I stood on the side of the road on a Christmas Eve and watched rescuers cut a man I knew from his Jeep after he was hit head on by a drunk driver while he and his wife were returning home from delivering Christmas food boxes for the church -- he was the only survivor. When my daughter was a baby, I watched rescuers cut a family free of their car just a few hundred yards from their driveway after they had been crushed beneath a jack-knifed tractor-trailer, and only two of the four survived. A group of friends returning from a shopping trip missed a turn, and then a stop sign and plowed broadside into another car leaving death in their wake. A woman taking her mother shopping turned left in front of a car and never took her mother anywhere else. Vacationers from out of state fell asleep at the steering wheel and wrecked full speed on the interstate, leaving survivors bewildered and far from home.

In short order, I pretty much didn't go anywhere I didn't absolutely have to go. Even my trips back and forth to work were fraught with anxiety.

Over time that faded somewhat, but never completely went away. Matched with my inability to sleep on most beds (I'm chambered airbed sleeper, converted from water beds), my dislike of travel means I usually prefer to stay within a day drive of whatever I'm going to do or find ways to entertain myself at home.

Yes, my children and I went on beach trips, but they were generally two or three days and likely to include the family dog. I'm not prone to taking a drive just for the sake of shopping, although I'm working on that. Semi-weekly trips to Winston-Salem with its higher traffic volume and unfamiliar streets are a mixture of dread and exhilaration that I manage to push myself a little.

I also worked hard not to let my fears cripple my children. My daughter flew to California while in college with a dormmate who took a few friends home for spring break. She'll probably never know how hard that was for me. She transferred from Greensboro to Appalachian State and I moved her to a town I'd never previously visited. Her then-boyfriend took her to Vermont to propose and she's flown cross country and traveled more than I ever wanted to do.

Since Ethan's death, I hate even more to see the strands of my life scattered and at risk, so I suck it up when the big Es go to Boone for the weekend. I message her to make sure they've arrived. Check Facebook to see if I can see they're OK.

The whole family leaving, well, that pretty much wrecks me whether it's a relatively short drive to Boone, or a week-long trip hours away. I resist the urge to call, try not to imagine horrific interstate crashes, random small tragedies. But my heart sometimes stumbles in my chest until I get a call or text saying they're home.

So yesterday and today, I'm on edge, grappling more with my own insecurities than any real threat. Because I know as well as anyone that we don't see the threat coming and death sends no warning telegram. Still, I'm unable, at least right now, to feel any differently and am only truly at peace when everyone is home and the weave of what's left of my life is pulled tight again.

And I'm counting down the hours until they come by to pick up their dogs, until I feel little arms hug me and hear the stories of their adventures and I finally feel safe again.