On Monday I took Anne and James’ car into Hamilton for a recall procedure. I left the house at 7:20 am and navigated to the Subaru dealer in time for an 8:45 appointment. They told me that it was scheduled until 3:00 but would text me if they got done earlier.
I walked about half a mile to a nearby mall and spent the day eating, reading, and shopping. About 2 pm I got this text:
‘”Just to let you know we’re running a little late with your car and may need it til 16:00, let me know if that’s a drama.”
I cracked up. “Drama” conjures up so many other images in my head that an hour delay at the shop seemed pretty funny. Or even that he asked that way. I’m guessing Americans might be annoyed by the suggestion of drama.
But that is the Kiwi way: If you apologize for something, their typical response is “All good.” When you say thank you, they will probably respond with “No worries.”
Actually, though, No Drama pretty much sums up my time here in New Zealand. I’ve immersed myself in Annie’s life, the life of a Mum with two little ones. We get up, change diapers, play, eat meals, take naps, swim, visit the ABS lodge or Monavale, do bedtime, and go to bed ourselves, hoping for enough sleep before we do it all over again.
The only drama we experience is the 3-year-old or 8-month-old variety which may be intense but only lasts a short while and is easily forgotten with all the cute smiles and hugs.
I am getting a break from drama at home and from the drama of winter in the midwest. While Chicago went through a polar vortex, we enjoyed an Australian heat wave with temps in the low-to-mid 80s and lots of sunshine. One day there was a more than 100 degree difference between Chicago (-27 F) and Auckland (84 F.) I was happy to be on this end of the continuum. And I’m happy to be spending time with these sweet little girls.
1. Christmas mail. I love writing, sending and receiving Christmas cards, pictures and (most of all) letters. I wish it wouldn’t end soon after Christmas is over. I’m actually grateful to those few persevering souls who write a “New Year’s Letter” or send their Christmas greetings after the holidays. Keep ’em coming! A highlight of my Christmas season was when Kellen burst in the door enthusiastically praising my letter about the birds.
2. Christmas projects. I always seem to spend the last few days before Christmas (and sometimes afterwards) finishing up a Christmas project. This year I had three projects that all were finished around the midnight hour: I made two crazy quilt pillows out of my Mom’s wedding dress. I finished a quilt for Laura that I started at Stormy Lake the week we put our Elmhurst house on the market. I also finished a sweater for Olive in time for Christmas. A sweet spontaneous hug from her was another highlight.
3. Christmas baking. I don’t actually do much Christmas baking. This year I spent one day in the kitchen making dinner rolls and Sweet Rolls. I made some two types of non-Christmas cookies and some UPBC Hot Fudge sauce. Still, it was a pleasant way to spend a day.
4. Gift giving. I’m pretty sure gifts are one of my love languages so I enjoy loving others by giving gifts. Mostly I follow the suggestions given to me, but I especially like coming up with gifts from the heart (or my imagination.) I love to surprise others with thoughtful gifts. Earlier in December (after a gift wrapping session) I thought that others were missing out on so much by not enjoying the process of giving, but later realized that it more than likely has something to do with love languages as we generally love others using our own love language (which may not mean much to them.)
5. Traditions. I’m not big on decorating, but I do like pulling out the same things year after year–Christmas orneryments (John’s term for cute, meaningful ornaments,) my Father Christmas collection, Anne’s Nutcrackers, and lately, my tartan quilts in generally Christmas colors. I also like having Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast and oyster stew (which I never actually partake) on Christmas Eve. This year both Laura and Anne adopted my past tradition of making sweet rolls for their friends and/or neighbors and delivering them on Christmas Eve. That was kind of cool.
6. Family. Our family celebration doesn’t look the way I imagined it would, but I still treasure the time spent with family around the holidays. It was especially fun to have the Birkey family hanging out with us on Christmas Day. We were able to Facetime the Bruce bunch more than usual as they stayed home for the holidays. Since they are a day ahead of us, we called (or were called) on Annie’s NZ and American Birthdays (20th and 21st), NZ Christmas Eve (22nd), Our Christmas Eve/Their Christmas Day (24) and Our Christmas Day and their Boxing Day (25th).
7. Christmas Parties. Joy Peters hosts an annual Christmas gathering at her downtown condo made up of various past and present small group participants. After dinner we walk to a concert nearby and then return for dessert. Everyone brings something to share, but this is definitely not a potluck. Courses are coordinated with the main dish. This year Joy was in the early stages of a kitchen remodel and her oven didn’t work, so we had a pasta bar cooked on the stovetop. My other party was the annual EMA Christmas Party which is always early on a Friday afternoon. New and old employees are invited so it’s kind of a reunion as well as a fun time of appreciation and laughter. All the docs give speeches and one or two of them usually follow up with a second act, providing further entertainment. It is a lot of fun.
8. Christmas Bonus. I almost always forget this perk and love the surprise of a little extra cash at Christmas. This year I didn’t expect anything since I’d been treated generously at the time of my retirement but when they passed out cards and bonuses, I got one too. I held on to mine through the rest of the shopping season and today bought myself a used Apple Watch (with the help of my tech savvy and resourceful daughter, Laura.) Old folks remember when retirees received a gold watch for their years of service. Mine is a rose gold Apple watch 🙂 It probably won’t last as long as the traditional gold watch.
9. Christmas Legos. I wonder if we’ve ever had a Lego-free Christmas? We probably have, but Johnny has maintained a life long interest in Legos which stretched our Lego years much longer than normal. The grandkids are well into their Lego years. Last year everyone got a small set of classic Legos and we had a contest to see who made the best creation. This year Johnny bought the family a group gift of a 1969-piece Saturn V rocket that is almost 3 feet tall. Johnny, Papa John and Kellen spent several hours completing it. (Taylor helped his littles complete their Legos.)
10. The Hallelujah Chorus. When Kellen was three he loved hearing the Mannheim Steamroller version of the Hallelujah Chorus, asking us to play it every time we got in the car, over and over and over again. This year John sang a shortened version of the Messiah at our Elmhurst church and later that same day we heard the Moody Church choir sing it again. My favorite parts are when everyone rises to their feet as the song begins and that last pause before the final Hallelujah. Someday “every knee shall bow” and I can imagine that better when I watch an audience (especially a secular audience) rise at the first strains of the music.
When I started writing this blog, I didn’t know if I could come up with ten things that I liked about Christmas. I thought I might get to four or five and then would end with saying that the best part was when Christmas was over. I still breathe a big sigh of relief when it is over, but in writing this I found that there is more to like about Christmas than I thought.
I started the month of November and retirement with a list of goals and dreams. Retirement coincided with the beginning of my annual NaNoMo project, which seemed like a good place to begin. I thought maybe I’d complete a first draft of the story I’ve been writing–off and on–for several years, the story of my grandmother’s life.
I didn’t come close.
Mostly, I got bogged down in research and writing about writing. I completed my 50,000 words but didn’t write my story.
I also didn’t get my Christmas letter written, a normal task for the month of November. I struggled to find a theme that pulled together the events of 2018 and still was positive enough for a Christmas letter format. Here is the “blog” version of my Christmas letter. (The official Christmas letter will be quite a bit different.)
At the beginning of 2018, our pastors at The Edge encouraged us to Make Room for God, for ministry, and for miracles. I asked God for a miracle that day, beginning the year with high hopes for dramatic change in the life of our family.
Soon after, John, Lizi and I left the Chicago’s winter to experience our first New Zealand summer. We tried to prepare well for our absence, leaving a freezer full of organized meals, a morning dog-watcher for Luna, and a support system in place for John2. I even left my smart phone home with him to make calls easier. (We didn’t need three phones in NZ anyways.)
It didn’t go well in spite of all our preparations. We came home to holes in our walls, a broken bar stool, and a very unhappy son. Frustrated with the smart phone, he threw it out into knee deep snow and it was never found again. Only much later did I find out that he had invited two guys from Wayside to live here for three of the weeks that we were gone. We had a great time in New Zealand but coming home was pretty discouraging.
Life went on, as it always does. In March and April, our pastors preached on Fasting and I began a period of regular fasting. In April I decided to do a 21-day partial fast called the Daniel Fast. On the very last day I had an encouraging conversation about it with a patient/pastor during my work day. As I prepared to head home I got a text message about Johnny “freaking out” over something. I came home and began my usual calming measures but things escalated through the night and in the morning we called 911 for help. Johnny was taken to a nearby ER and much later to a local psych unit in Aurora, where he unhappily spent the next ten days, agreeing to do an outpatient program as a requirement for coming home. I got the “dramatic” that I asked for without the positive change I hoped to see. It did begin a process of change that is continuing, very slowly, but the results are still uncertain.
After that I struggled with my plans to go to New Zealand for the birth of a new grandchild. I was torn between the “needs” of my oldest and youngest. The timing didn’t seem right, but in the end I purchased my ticket and stepped forward in faith, leaving a week after Johnny completed the outpatient program, leaving John and Johnny home to work out the details of life together. Simea Areli was born at the end of my first week. I had a wonderful time caring for Charlee while her parents were away and the even sweeter experience of sitting around holding Simee for hours on end during the next three weeks.
Soon it was Papa John’s turn at grandparenting. He visited James, Anne and the girls for five weeks, mid September to the end of October, when he could help Anne during the beginning of ABS and also help with spring clean up and garden prep. He, too, had a wonderful time with Charlee and Simee.
While Papa John enjoyed his time in New Zealand, I worked a bit more than normal and finished up my 13-year late-life “career” in nursing on November 2nd. I started retirement with–as I said–lots of goals and dreams. It seemed especially important for Johnny and Lizi to find work. I had writing goals, exercise goals, and so on. I wrote “Au Revoir Octobre” in that flushed mood and as the month progressed, I kept thinking that my next blog should be “No, No, November,” reflecting my discouragement at the lack of progress.
This morning I spent time thinking about the year, again looking for a Christmas letter theme. Make Room? I remembered a Christmas carol that ended with the refrain, “O Come to my heart Lord Jesus. There is room in my heart for Thee.” When I googled it, I found another song by Matt Redman of Casting Crowns simply called Make Room. Hmmm. Its refrain is a bit different, asking the question, “Is there room in your heart? Is there room in your heart for God to write His story?”
“No, no November” is ending differently than I hoped. 2018 looks like it will also end without the miracle I hoped for. So here’s the question: Can I make room in my heart for God to write His story? Not my story or even my grandmother’s story.
I have a love-hate relationship with the month of October. I love all the October birthdays (including mine), Indian summer, and brilliant fall colors. I hate the end of summer, cold windy days, and Halloween. (It’s fine as a fun day for children but adults have wrecked it with ridiculous decorations, adult parties, and gruesome lawn displays. Can’t we just leave it simple for small children?)
But this October was a bit more love than hate.
1. On the first of the month I became eligible for Medicare, ending a two year period of paying for expensive COBRA coverage. Woohoo!
2. Turning 65 a few days later was kind of fun.
3. I also reunited with some of my West Sub classmates for a mini-reunion near Witchita, Kansas. It was really sweet to spend a couple of days with a fun group of friends, nurses, and believers while we laughed over memories and shared our current stories. Some of the women who came had either not been to a reunion for quite some time or ever. It was really fun to reconnect with each one. My friend and neighbor, Cheryl, and I took an extra day to road trip to the reunion, stopping at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and the Amana Colonies enroute.
4. And last but not least, I officially retired at the end of the month. My last day was actually November 2nd (today) because I signed up to spend one last work day with Dr. Cheff, my main doc for the first 9 years at Elmhurst Medical Associates. He spent the day teasing me about how awful retirement will be* and predicting that I will be back in 3-6 months. A lunch time potluck and lovely gifts and cards made it a special day. I came home with a full heart.
I chose the french spelling of Octobre to emphasize the “re” in both reunion (back or again+union = back together again) and retirement (back + draw (tirer) = to retreat or withdraw.) I like the play of words that defined this October for me.
* Dr. Cheff’s description of what I can expect in retirement is a huge, cold, dark, windowless and damp room with a slow sound of dripping water. Inside there would be absolutely nothing, complete emptiness except for John and I looking at one another. I insisted the room would be full of light, fabric, sewing machines, a loom, books, my computer and my grandchildren. (He did come back and say that maybe he was being overly negative 😉
Near the end of our summer visit, James took their lone sheep down the road to another farm “to get knocked up.” When I returned in winter, Merida still was living down the road, but one afternoon James and a neighbor brought her home, looking very pregnant. She spent the first hour or so in the paddock bleating loudly, as she missed her mates. Soon afterwards, I noticed James and the neighbor backing the trailer into the yard again with a second, smaller sheep.The bleating stopped.
I was really hoping Merida’s lamb would be born before I left. Our “little lamb” Simee was born six days into my visit and we purchased seven chickens and three ducks in the weeks that followed. I thought a lamb would make a perfect ending. It didn’t happen.
A few days ago, James found not one but two black lambs, a boy and a girl, that had been born during the early morning hours. Anne skyped me when they all went out to meet the lambs, a call I took sitting outdoors at a nice restaurant in Geneva, having dinner with a friend. It was a short, but fun call as I shared in the excitement. I got to watch Charlee hold one of the lambs (briefly).
Simee’s baby quilt has a “sheep” theme. Ever since my first trip to New Zealand, when we visited the Bruce family sheep farm, I’ve been drawn to sheep motifs.
I made Charlee a big girl bed quilt in a safari pattern to go along with the elephants and giraffes that decorated her room
and decided to make the baby quilt in sheep fabric with similar, though muted, colors. Here is her quilt, with Merida and Maudie in the background. (Maudie is also “with child” but probably wont have her lamb until October.
Here are the new lambs:
And some pictures of our other lambs (on Simee’s quilt, wearing hats I knitted for the girls and Charlee’s baby doll.)
The last part of my takeoff plan was to change into a pair of ankle boots for the flight. I’d put them in the car with my suitcases, etc. Only I didn’t: I dropped one of them on the porch as I was carrying things out the door.
Which meant I arrived in the middle of New Zealand winter with a pair of sandals and some cheap slip on shoes that were neither warm or comfortable. Last February I bought gum boots (formerly known as Petersburg sneakers) for a caving trip so these have been my winter attire on a daily basis.
Here I am starting out on one of my favorite activities: taking Simee for a walk in the buggy. Charlee and I also venture out frequently, for a walk down the driveway and sometimes on the road.
Charlee also has an issue with shoes and wears gum boots most of the time as well.
One day we wore our gumboots to help James clip the chickens’ wings. He spent the last few days enlarging the chicken coop and run to keep the chickens and the dog separated, as Obi has killed six of their chickens in the last few months and scared the rest so that they are no longer laying.
Yesterday we bought five new chickens and separated them from the remaining eight. Within hours the “old” chickens had all flown out of the coop, which is why we needed to clip their wings this morning. Charlee and Gramma held the chickens while James clipped and then we changed roles and I clipped some as well. We clipped the new chicken’s wings as well, so they start off not being able to fly.
The next day, we put on our gumboots to help herd the sheep into a new paddock. Merida and Maudie needed new grass, so we put up a new fence and then chased them through the gate (after several tries.) I’m still hoping Merida delivers her lamb before I leave.
Today, we wore our gumboots for a hike to the goat farm at the end of the road. We saw goats getting milked, billy goats, pens of baby goats (“the keepers”) and even watched one kid being born. What a smell–and what an experience.
Gumboot Gramma will be headed home on Thursday, leaving my gumboots behind. I will miss all these adventures (and my family here) but I will be happy to exhange them for a pair of sandals and six more weeks of summer.
Here’s a little grandbaby
One, two, three,
Cuddled in her gramma’s arms
What does she see?
She sees Gramma’s crepey neck
and a great big smile.
She sees her sister Charlee,
but only for awhile.
She sees her Daddy watching
eyes pleased and shining bright
She sees her Mommy resting
from the long, long night.
Here’s a little grandbaby
One, Two, Three
Laying in her basket
What does she see?
She sees the blanket Granny made
Hats and sweaters knit
She sees the soft warm lining
And tiny little mitts.
She sees the sheep quilt
made with loving care
She sees the soft warm sheepskin
Fuzzy as a bear.
Here’s a little grandbaby
One, two, three
Snuggled in her Mama’s arms
What does she see?
She sees loved ones gathered round
On Skype, Facetime, and here,
She surely will be blessed with friends
And family that will care.
She hears them say her name
You can call her Simee if her
name’s too hard to try!
I thought I would adapt my favorite New Zealand childrens’ book (PEEPO! by Jan and Allan Ahlberg) to announce the arrival of Simea Areli Bruce, born at 1:15 a.m. on Monday, June 25th weighing 6 lb 7 oz (or 2.91 kg). It’s full of UK-isms like “grandma pegging washing on the clothes-line to be dried” and references to cots and pushchairs. The gramma in the book also looks a bit like my Gramma Christie.
She was born after a long night and day–and second night of labor, moments before they were going to go for a c-section. At the last minute, they checked once more and found her ready to deliver! Simea was born fifteen minutes later–naturally. This has been a huge blessing for Anne as she enjoys recovering from a normal birth.
June 21 10:07 p.m. begins the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere. While you are all enjoying a long day (hopefully) of sunshine, I am waking up in the dark and eating supper in the dark (5:06 sunset.)
It is actually a fairly mild winter here on the North Island with daily temperatures in the 50s. Still, I slept the first night in warm pajamas, my merino (wool) poncho, and mittens! I dug the extra space heater out of the storage today and will fill my hot water bottle before going to bed tonight. Right now I’m sitting about 14 inches from the woodburning stove.
James and Anne were throwing off their covers last night and Charlee was running around in bare feet and a diaper this morning. I’m blaming my inability in handling the cold on the fact that only a few days ago I was enjoying a heat index of 105 F.
This winter solstice is odd in another way: the countryside is lushly green and there are flowering bushes along the roadside. Lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange trees are heavy with fruit, though Anne says the oranges will be sweeter in a few more months. I’m also going to plant garlic on the winter solstice. Apparently here it is supposed to be planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest day. My garlic at home was planted October 15 and should be ready to harvest when I get home.
Wikipedia says this: “The winter solstice (or hibernal solstice), also known as midwinter, is an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year.” I’m kind of liking the hibernal name. Getting over jet-lag means I’m doing more hibernating than usual. The cold is giving me an excuse/reason to stay in bed even longer. They are saying colder weather is likely after the solstice 🙁
Anne was born on the shortest day of the year, December 21, 1991 (northern hemisphere.) We’re expecting her baby to be born soon–maybe not on the shortest day of the year, but close. I’ll keep you posted!
It’s been a really long time since I last wrote a blog—an interval much longer than I usually go between posting. It hasn’t been for want of raw material.
When I last wrote John2 was coming home as our “guest”. He wasn’t thrilled with the concept, but was relieved to be home and accepted our conditions. One of those conditions was participation in an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) 9:00-3:00 Monday through Friday. We chose a program in Hinsdale which required early wake up times, almost an hour commute in rush hour traffic. He and I figured out how to make all this happen: a wake-up smoothie.
Overall, the program gave some structure to his days and helped him look forward to the next treatment phase, which is a DBT program involving individual and group counseling, as well as continuing work with his life coach. It also will include our participation in his counseling on a regular basis. (Previously he avoided groups and didn’t want us involved.)
I have had a couple of good conversations with his therapist. In one session, he recommended that I read two books: Anatomy of an Epidemic and Saving Normal. Both deal with the way we have over-diagnosed and over-medicated mental illness in America over the last few decades. They were scary books to read—and yet, hopeful too. Emotional Management, LLC, has worked with many people, helping them learn to manage their emotions successfully and in some cases, decreasing or getting off medications (a long, slow process.) I wonder if this is the “abundantly more” than I have been able to ask or think (Ephesians 3:20?)
The last six weeks have been difficult and tiring. John has been fairly cooperative, but his moods still went up and down based on circumstances, relationships and car troubles. I stayed up late and got up early, monitoring moods and medications. I also worked a bit more than usual as our staffing is really short at the moment.
I was also preparing for another trip to New Zealand. Knitting, sewing, shopping, and planning to be gone from home for a month. I finished quilts for Charlee and the new baby, diaper inserts, and a baby carrier for Charlee’s doll. I collected items on Anne’s wish list: Annie’s Fruit Roll-ups, Swiss Miss, REI socks, etc.
I am on my way—finishing up the first leg of my journey as I write; preparing for the long flight to Auckland. I’m traveling alone this time (which makes meeting weight limits on luggage harder!) and also traveling to winter (warmer clothes weigh more.) I dread the cold nights, but can’t wait to be there to help with Charlee and welcome a new grand baby. Anne had two due dates—ten days apart. I am arriving on the first one, hoping that the baby is born sometime in the middle.
I also left on Fathers’ Day leaving John with the “gift” of Johnny, whose name actually means “God’s gracious gift.” I’m sorry-not-sorry to be leaving home at this time. I really do want to support and help John2 in this transition, but respite is appealing as well. Please pray for John these next four weeks as he steps into a somewhat different role in the home.
Of course, I also want to help Anne and James. I’m not indispensable in either place and my heart is very much in both places. I’m so glad that my heavenly Father is present in both locations, caring for my family across continents and time zones.
As we were singing worship this morning in church, I was reminded of my Dad who in his later years would sit (not stand) in the pew and raise both arms to the Lord in praise. That was not his style until much later in life but I loved to see these glimpses into his heart and relationship with the Lord. Such memories are a wonderful gift. Happy Fathers Day, Dad. I’m so glad I got to watch you grow sweeter and kinder as you aged.
We have a new guest room in our home. This weekend we welcomed our first “guest”–Johnny.
He spent the last ten days in the hospital, following a particularly bad manic episode. We will spare you the details, but we still want to share our news so that you can join us in prayer for the days ahead. This week there will be several appointments and then he will start an outpatient program the following week.
We have renewed hope for Johnny’s future. Our hope is not in the programs, doctors, counselors or anything that John and I plan for Johnny. We’ve pretty much come to the end of our ability to trust John, ourselves or others for the change needed. Our hope is in the Lord.
May I tell you my story?
The first sermon of 2018 at the Edge Church challenged us to “Make Room” for God, miracles, relationships, and ministry in our lives and in the life of the church. Afterwards, I prayed with the ministry team, asking God for a miracle in Johnny’s life this year.
Later, as Lent was underway, they launched a series of sermons on the biblical practice of fasting. I began fasting and praying, specifically for John. In April, I decided to try a 21-day partial fast, called the Daniel Fast (no meat, no dairy, to grains, no sugar=basically a vegan diet. It wasn’t particularly difficult to eat less or skip meals, but coming up with a diet of vegetables, fruit and legumes was a bit challenging. I bought a spiralizer and two cookbooks, but most of the recipes still included meat or cheese so there weren’t a lot of options–and very little variety. I’m pretty sure I could never be vegan.)
The last day of my partial fast happened to coincide with John’s manic episode. John and I were up all night with him and finally called for help as the sun rose the next morning. I was more than a little stunned, but still sure that this was more than a coincidence. It is not how I imagined God would answer my prayer, but I was able to trust that somehow this would “work together for good” in spite of how things looked at the moment.
I woke up at 4 am the next morning and immediately thought of Johnny, now a resident of a chronic psych unit. I got up to pray for him and started reading my Bible. I’d been reading a lot of the lament literature–Psalms, Jeremiah and Lamentations. I was looking for verses about a “new heart” which had been my specific prayer for John–tho I often told God I wasn’t sure how to define a new heart. I noticed Ezekial 36, reading verses 22-38 and then read chapter 37, the Valley of Dry Bones.
I didn’t take it as a promise from God for John but as a beautiful picture of what God could do in his life. It was extremely encouraging in light of all that had transpired that day. You can read it yourself and imagine my encouragement, my hope.
John was, of course, miserable in the hospital. He begged to come home and for the first time we weren’t sure that we could let him return home. His counselor told us to clear out his room and make it into a guest room, so we spent a couple days doing that. Although we visited John when we were able, our best conversations took place over the phone. Gradually, we walked him through the events of that night (he doesn’t remember much) and then, through his goals and ours, long and short term. He had one short term goal and that was to come home, but we were slowly able to work through a negotiation process together. We talked with his counselors, doctor and life coach and the case worker at the hospital and feel confident that we’ve got a good plan in place. Even so, we know that unless God gives him a “heart of flesh” and his Spirit within, all the plans in the world will likely fail.
Will you pray with us? Choose some phrases from Ezekial 36 or 37 to ask God to fulfill in John’s life. Pray for us. Pray for a miracle!
P.S. One of my good friends told me this joke: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Three, but only if the lightbulb wants to be changed :-).