Tree trinkets! Plus, GRAND Social No. 282 link party for grandparents

Tree trinkets! Plus, GRAND Social No. 282 link party for grandparents

Tree trinkets!

My halls are decked, my tree is up, my gift-shopping is nearly done. I'm a tad early on all my Christmas tasks this year as Jim and I will be out of town next weekend — sharing Christmas joy with our grandsons! (Woot!)

Because much of my holiday prep is prepped, I've been fortunate to have a few spare moments in the past few days to sit and sip my coffee while adoring my tree. And I do adore it... despite it seeming to look exactly the same each and every year regardless of how many ornaments we put on it, whether sans ribbon or candy canes or a string of cranberry-like beads or not.

As I rocked around, er, nearby the tree Saturday morning, coffee cup in hand, I was compelled to snap a few shots of my tree trinkets to share with you. Because they make my heart smile.

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Farewell from the ranch

Jim's oldest sister lives on a ranch outside of Hot Springs, South Dakota. My sister-in-law's property has been the scene of many a family celebration over the past 20-plus years.

Last Saturday it was the spot as many extended family members as could make it gathered to celebrate the life of Granny, beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother to all who were there.

In between taking hundreds of photos of the family, I wandered here and there to shoot a few shots of the spot that holds so many cherished memories.

ranch life 

The expansive, history laden...

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Sad news, plus GRAND Social No. 221 link party for grandparents

Sad news

I have written about my mother-in-law many times since starting Grandma's Briefs in 2009, posts such as this one, this one, and this one.

My mother-in-law, whom I usually call Granny as that was the name my daughters — and oodles of other grands and unrelated children — best knew her by, was a shining light in my life, pretty much the best example to me of loving unconditionally, finding joy in joyless situations, and loving Jesus with all one's heart and soul.

Beloved Granny went to be with Jesus Friday afternoon.

granny 

Though my mother-in-law is finally free and whole and happy and surely pleased as can be to have moved to her eternal home, even though...

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Road trip to Granny, plus GRAND Social No. 130 link party

Road trip to Granny

Most of my weekend was spent in the car. Jim and I headed out early Saturday morning to drive up to the Black Hills of South Dakota to visit his mom — as well as his sister and brother-in-law, who graciously host us during visits. Sunday morning we hopped back into the car for the trip back to Colorado.

 boomer son and aging mother

It's a long and relatively uneventful (and butt-numbing) trip, but...

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Tradition, tradition!

In the box of papers, pictures, and greeting cards Granny saved that Jim and I took home after cleaning out the last of her possessions was a manilla envelope. Inside the envelope were original copies -- entire newspaper sections -- of the first articles I ever published. Nestled neatly among my first (Mosh-pit mom, Oct. 1994), second (Get this: Confessions of an online addict, Oct. 1995), and third (Stranger in our midst, 1997) published articles was a publication not bearing my words, but the published work of my then fifth-grade daughter, Megan.

The booklet treasured by Granny the past 16 years was a staple-bound school creation called Author Share: A journal for aspiring authors grades K-5 that Megan had sent her. In the "Traditions" chapter of this special "Holiday Issue 1994" was the following tidbit:

Traditions always have been, always will be an important part of our family.

An even more important part is Granny. Although no longer capable of rushing to the car to help with luggage, no longer able to participate in holiday celebrations at all, Granny continues to loom large in our hearts, ever so prominent in our Thanksgiving memories.

Today's question:

If you could magically have one special guest join your Thanksgiving festivities -- someone not already participating in this year's celebration -- whom would it be?

Somewhere in time

Sunday at 11 a.m., Jim and I settled into the car for a six-hour drive home from South Dakota. We spent the the first half of that drive, nearly three hours, without conversing, listening only to the iPod on the stereo. Mile after mile, we spoke barely a word to one another, both of us lost in thought, considering the weekend, absorbing what we'd learned.

We had left for South Dakota early Saturday morning, arriving that afternoon at the nursing home where Jim's mom resides. She was propped up in her wheelchair watching "Giant" on the tiny television on her nightstand.

We said our hellos, hugged her fragile body, taped together her broken glasses that had the lens inserted upside down, commenced a visit. "Giant" served as the primary focal point, fodder for filling awkward moments as Jim and I attempted normal conversation with his once vibrant, talkative, normal mother.

Our attempts were met with stories from Mom about her outings to various places from her past -- visits she believed had happened just days before, despite not having left the nursing home for about a year. She talked of how grand it was to have attended and be escorted down the aisle in her wheelchair at her brother's wedding, a wedding that took place more than 50 years before -- 50 years before the amputation that took part of a gangrene leg and committed her to a wheelchair earlier this year.

She talked about recently attending church at the church she and I attended together 20 years ago, when the girls were young and Jim worked on Sundays and couldn't go with us.

She talked about phone calls and visits from relatives who, in reality, rarely call, never visit.

She talked of how beautiful Elizabeth Taylor was in "Giant."

We wrapped up with a promise to return in the morning, to spend more time with her before heading back home after the quick trip. Then we went to Jim's sister's house. His oldest sister, his medically trained sister, his sister who visits their mother each and every day, his sister who best knows what to do about Mom.

My first question to her as we unpacked our bags was, "Do we go along with Mom living in the past?" Or do we call her out on such things, try to jog her memory, try to bring her back to reality? The latter was the original tack when Mom first suffered a stroke and mental impairment from violently hitting her head during the associated seizures. It no longer felt like the right tack.

Sue assured us it's not. "She's too far gone and that part of her brain will never return," she said. We learned it's best to play along, to not frustrate and confuse Mom. We learned it's best to let her reminisce about days when she felt happy, content and whole. Days now lost somewhere in time.

That's not all we learned during our too-short weekend trip. From the last boxes of Mom's personal items, the final remnants to divvy up between siblings, we learned of a few of Mom's prized possessions, things that mattered most to her.

We learned of hundreds and hundreds of photos Mom had saved in her cedar chest, many of them photos she rarely shared with the family. Treasured photos of her grandparents, her parents, her siblings, herself. Beautiful decades-old renderings of lives well-lived: births, parties, communions, weddings, new homes, new babies, new starts on life.

We learned teenaged Mom was an avid fan of the glamorous movie stars of the '40s, collecting -- and keeping -- old-time studio shots, postcards, autographs, from Dorothy Lamour, Lana Turner, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Gene Kelly and more.

We learned she still had Jim's baby book, achievement records, locks of hair.

We learned she had carefully tucked away the newspapers containing my very first published articles.

We learned she kept in a manilla folder in her desk every card, every letter, every thank-you note that Brianna, Megan and Andrea ever sent their beloved Granny.

We learned of these and many other things Mom held on to in hopes she'd never forget.

Mostly we learned -- during those hours of silence as Jim and I reclaimed the miles between South Dakota and home -- that we're not yet ready to fully consider the loss of Mom, of Granny. We learned we're not yet ready say the words that open the floodgates.

As we got closer and closer to Denver, we made comments here and there, turned up the radio a little louder. Jim sang. I whistled. Soon we were discussing the girls, the coming week, the never-ending to-do list.

We didn't discuss Mom.

Eventually we will.

Eventually we'll talk. Eventually we'll cry. Eventually we'll mourn.

Somewhere. Sometime.

Today's question:

What is among the treasured photos and papers you're saving?

Wheat, chaff and baby teeth

As I mentioned yesterday, Jim and I spent Saturday with three of Jim's five siblings plus a couple nieces and nephews clearing out the storage shed that held everything from the last apartment Jim's mom lived in, her last home and the place she resided when a stroke unexpectedly ripped her from her life and plopped her down in a hospital bed to wait out her days.

My mother-in-law was always a fastidious housekeeper, a truly tidy grandma. But the unexpectedness of the emergency medical situation meant she never had the chance to tie up her life belongings into beribboned bundles or to even discard such things as drawers full of hair-color conditioner tubes and expired grocery coupons. Which meant her kids had a lot of stuff to go through, a lot of work to do paring her possessions into piles to pass along to her children and grandchildren, honoring her by not pitching it all into the charity bin.

To be honest, it was a relatively quick task as Jim's mom lived a spare and simple life. And, as Granny prided herself on being ever the educator, the task indeed taught me a few lessons about getting my own things and my own life in order so my kids and grandkids have an easier time separating the wheat from the chaff once I'm gone.

Here are a few of those lessons:

Keep a notebook or journal -- placed in a prominent spot -- detailing which possessions you'd like to go to whom. There were thankfully no arguments over my mother-in-law's goods, but we all could only guess what her desire may be ... and I'm pretty sure we missed the mark on at least a few. A will may be the answer, but how many wills go so far as to say which kid gets the red afghan versus the white or the flowered teapot versus the striped?

Always label photos with the names of those in the pictures and the date. As we perused the hundreds of photos, we were at a loss again and again without Granny around to let us know which baby belonged to whom and why one wacky woman wore the getup featuring what appeared appeared to be a bikini-clad sumo wrestler.

Minimize the mementos from your children's early years. Mother's Day gifts made in preschool, unidentifiable art-class and woodshop projects and every scrap of sentimentality have their place, but it's a very limited place. Save only those that really tug at the heart strings, not every crayon-scribbled, glitter-pocked piece of paper.

Speaking of paper, get rid of (most of) it. There's no need to save every single greeting card, every single receipt, every single recipe that one may have intended to try but never did. A paper shredder -- of which we found an unused one in Granny's possession -- comes in handy for such things.

Same goes for toiletry samples and hotel freebies. As Jim and his siblings chuckled about the blue tube after blue tube of the Clairol conditioning cream that comes with the hair color but is far too much for any normal woman to use as directed on the tube, I had to fess up that I have a handful, okay a basketful, of the very same conditioning cream tubes in my own bathroom cabinet. I'll be pitching those ... soon.

Thank you for these lessons and more, Granny. I'll do my best to soon institute them in my life, my home, my piles of stuff. I'll do it in honor of you -- and to nip in the bud the giggles, grins and guffaws sure to come from my daughters if they were to one day discover the Ziploc baggie I have filled with baby teeth individually wrapped in tissues, all deftly pulled from under pillows by this grandma formerly known as the Tooth Fairy.

Today's question:

Which of the "lessons" from above are you most in need of instituting in your life?

Bizarre home story

As many of you know, Brianna's been househunting. She had a relatively small amount of money awarded to her (finally) after having been rear-ended by a landscaping truck several years ago and needed to invest it wisely so she'd have funds available in the event she needed another back surgery any time in the future.

The depressed housing market and the $8,000 tax credit incentive were working in her favor. But, like I said, her budget was pretty small, so very few homes were available in her price range, in a decent part of town and in fairly good shape.

After several months of researching homes online, Brianna narrowed it down to a few to look at. Together, with her realtor, she and I headed out one day last week to visit the top four choices on her list.

Three were absolutely horrid. Of those three, two were unbelievably structurally unsound -- one had a crack so large in the bedroom wall that you could see into the bathroom and the other provided a crazy funhouse effect, thanks to the sloping floors. The third horrid home was so filthy it made us want to gag but the unusable floor plan was the main reason for deletion from her list to consider further.

The fourth home we saw that day was the one. It was in a great location near her church, not far from work, in the same neighborhood as a friend. It was a HUD home and needed some work, but she and her realtor put in a bid. And she found out in less than 24 hours that her bid was accepted! She was getting a home for $30,000 less than its appraised value (an August 2009 appraisal). The inspection proved there were no major problems. Brianna will be a homeowner ... after all the HUD hoops are jumped through, of course. But being a cash deal with a completed inspection and appraisal, it's basically a done deal.

So why the "Bizarre" in the title of this post? Well, it will be a wonderful home for Brianna and Hunter, and I know that for a fact because ... and here's the "bizarre" part ... IT'S THE TOWNHOME JIM AND I BOUGHT FOR OUR LITTLE FAMILY IN 1984! Not just a townhome in the same neighborhood or the same complex where we bought our first home, but the exact same home with the exact same address!

This wouldn't be incredibly surprising if we lived in a small town where homes are recycled with families all the time, but the population of our city is creeping up on the half-million mark. So for Brianna to have this exact home basically fall in her lap, with nothing else even remotely close to being what she wants, in her budget range and the location she wants to live, is bizarre. To say the least. I think you'll agree.

It's the house where our two little girls ...

... became three.

Where stockings were hung ...

... and pumpkins were carved.

Where happy, vibrant Granny came to visit.

And Grandma, too. (When her grandchildren numbered five; it's now closer to 25!)

It was the first stop for Grandma and Grandpa Jerry just after their wedding ceremony.

And a great place for hanging out at the pool.

The fireplace was a prime spot for posing ...

... and roasting marshmallows, too.

It's where our little family was made complete. It was our home, in every sense of the word, for three happy -- yet humble -- years.

Now it's Brianna's. And there's something weirdly satisfying in that.

Brianna will make it uniquely her own, the memories of three goofy little girls getting their bearings there will fade. It's where she will get her bearings as an adult ... on her own ... with an empty canvas awaiting all her HGTV-gleaned ideas ... and no mortgage -- hallelujah!!

So she's got her car ... she's got her home.

Brianna's ready to roll!

A new role

Jim and I joined millions of other Americans and hit the road for the long Labor Day weekend. Our destination: South Dakota to visit some of his family.

Visits to "the heads" -- aka Mount Rushmore -- or Crazy Horse weren't on the agenda; we've done that tourist trip more times than we can count. Instead, we spent precious time with precious relatives.

We hung out at the ranch, where we were treated by Jim's sister Sue to heaping dishes of homemade potato salad, cucumber pickles (yum!), watermelon, cantaloupe, corn on the cob, juicy ribs, pork steaks, burgers and more, all served with a generous side of great (and sometimes goofy) conversation.

We visited with Granny, who took leave from the nursing home for a few hours each day and who, at times, looked a little more like the pre-stroke Granny we remember.

We were invited to an impromptu, BYOB garage concert by a band of jovial elderly guitar gurus, picking and a strumming away on tunes they've likely played for more years than I've been alive. The highlight of the show was when their young drummer, a gorgeous and soft-spoken gal of 21, picked up her own guitar and belted out songs eerily reminiscent of Janis Joplin. This slight little thing from small town South Dakota outperformed every up-and-coming musician I've ever seen or heard on America's Got Talent or American Idol. Keep your eyes and ears open for this sure-to-be-a-star named Kristen.

And we were surprised to find our relatives were fellow fans of HGTV's Design Star -- and we all gathered in front of the TV Sunday evening to watch another nail-biting episode and find out which of the wannabe designers would be the most recent to have their show canceled. (You go, Antonio!!)

But one of the main things Jim and I did over the weekend was get a little more practice at one of our newest roles in life. Because we'd taken the trip without any of our kids, we weren't Mom and Dad, we weren't Grandma and Grandpa. There was no child -- young or adult -- who was immediately related to us nor for which we were responsible for their well-being, happiness, contentment or questions. Nope, we were simply Aunt Lisa and Uncle Jim. And Great Aunt Lisa and Great Uncle Jim. In fact, with the littlest one there being the baby of Jim's great nephew, we were even GREAT Great Aunt Lisa and GREAT Great Uncle Jim.

 

And we loved every minute of it! We felt privileged to be a part of the holiday weekend goings on of Jim's sister and her husband, along with three of their sons and wives and families of youngsters -- which included a few of the teen and early adult variety, who probably wouldn't appreciate being called youngsters.

Our greatest joy in life is being parents and grandparents, but Jim and I are finding that it's also nice, every once in a while, to take a back seat and just be the background relatives, the ones that are not main players in a child's life -- but can still be a worthy competitor in a mean round of thumb wrestling. We don't always have to be the one answering to "Mom" or "Dad" or blowing out a sizzling marshmallow before it falls off the stick. Or keeping the tummies filled and the necessary naptimes on the agenda.

Of course, being ever the grandma, I did get a few pointers to add to my bag of tricks for that role, though. I learned from Grandma Sue that colored tin cups are great to have around when several grandkids visit at once so they each have one to claim for the visit and that mini boxes of breakfast cereal make super, portable snacks for the kiddos. And I learned from nephew Justin how to make a campfire starter from cotton balls and Vaseline so the marshmallow roasting can quickly get underway.

I hope you all had an equally enjoyable -- and enlightening -- Labor Day weekend!

What a difference a year makes

When Bubby was born, certain aspects of our family life were a given. One given was that my husband and I had decent jobs, making a decent salary, and we were able to fly to visit our grandson as often as our accrued vacation hours allowed. But then the winds of change rolled in. Six months after Bubby was born, my job was outsourced and I've yet to find employment. And my husband's job is set for outsourcing next month, with no new job on the horizon. Needless to say, money is tight.

But it's just money.* The more important changes in the past year have involved life and death. Lower on the scale of importance - but still heart-wrenching - was the death of our 12-year-old family dog, Moses. When Bubby was born, I envisioned Moses, a black lab/collie mix, being a major attraction for Bubby when visiting our home, with the two of them enjoying endless games of fetch. It wasn't to be, though, as Moses had an appointment in heaven and won't be around to befriend Bubby.

High on the scale of importance, though, is the loss of my mother-in-law, aka Granny, who, although still living, is "just not there" mentally or physically, thanks to several strokes. When Bubby was born, Granny was thrilled about her newest great-grandson. When she first met him, she kind of freaked out Bubby's mommy by continually stating, "This is MY baby," and refusing to let others hold the baby. Megan knew it was a joke, but she did worry about the way Granny clutched the newborn. It was just love, not lunacy. But Megan no longer needs to worry about that. Granny will never be the Granny we all once knew. She recognizes few family members, is unable to maintain a conversation, cannot walk without assistance, wears a diaper. And she will never cuddle Bubby again.

It breaks my heart that Bubby will never get to know Granny, never get to hear her too-oft-repeated stories about her son (Bubby's grandpa). He'll never get to listen to her sing hymns in a voice reminiscent of a wanna-be opera diva. He'll never be one of the lucky kiddos who knew they had a rapt audience in Granny, no matter how long-winded and rambling the child's story may be.

It sucks. It's sad. It's the worst change we've faced in the past year. And it's one that's not as easily remedied as finding new employment or picking out a new dog.

 

*It's easy to be blase in a blog, but the reality is that it's scaring the hell out of me!