Unchanged

As we’re blindly guided down these halls
Cheers for heroes echo off the walls
Chaos drowns our vulnerable populations
While compassion combines with innovation
We recognize ourselves in random strangers
And find more joys than there are dangers
As so many have had to die alone
Funerals taking place by video or phone
There is literally no place on Earth to hide
We’re all swept up in the Covid riptide
As the newness fades from this normal- a brand new fear reigns
That we all emerge
Unchanged.image

Lilacs in Bloom

From the depths of your heart to the top of your lungs
sing until every song has been sung

Collect your mistakes and wear them like medals
Breathe in the flowers and count all the petals

Smile til the wrinkles won’t fall from your eyes
Stand for what’s right til it’s not a surprise

Let the light enter where darkness has veiled
and hope against odds when all else has failed

Breathe it all in while the air is still sweet
And cherish each day with your kids at your feet

Write it all down so they’ll know what you did
Leaving a glimpse of the life that you lived

Tomorrow’s impatient, arriving too soon
There’s just today, while the lilacs are in bloom.

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23 Days to Say Goodbye

Recently, my aunt passed away after just under a year of the all too familiar “brave battle with cancer.” Even though she was 20 years older than my mom, up to the day she was diagnosed (and even here and there afterward), our family was convinced she would outlive us all. Certainly, she would at least make it to 100. She was sharp, active, and extremely health-conscious. She played tennis, for pete’s sake! It made no sense when she, a non-smoker, suddenly had Stage 4 lung cancer. The denial and bargaining started immediately. There must be a mistake. Maybe there is a cure. If nothing else, a miracle will happen, surely.

My aunt was one of very few Midwestern women I knew who made it through her adulthood without getting married or having children. As a child, I didn’t know what to make of that, but as a married adult with two daughters, I feel so grateful to have had her example in my life. I’m thankful my girls have someone they can point to and say, “Look! She did not need a partner in her life to feel whole.”

My aunt was independent, capable, financially secure, and completely confident in who she was. She sought comfort in nature, in a loyal pet, in traveling and gathering experiences, and most certainly, in connecting with her family, particularly my mom.

Throughout 2018, she had good days and bad days, but by the beginning of 2019, the good days became fewer and farther between. When my mom went to visit her in Arizona in February, everything was different. My mom called and said, “If you want to come, I think you should come now.”

My husband and I decided the best thing would be for me to take our eldest down for a long weekend. It was the right choice. At almost 8 years old, she was old enough to handle the trip, but still young enough to ignore a lot of what was happening.

We told her my aunt was dying, and she understood, but she also just wanted to go swimming and horseback riding and push my aunt’s little poodle around in a stroller. So we did. She made us laugh and gave us excuses to do things that were fun and pointless. She asked hard questions that made us think about our beliefs about death and Heaven and about what to teach kids and when. She broke our hearts open when she cried, and she let us be strong for her when we couldn’t be strong for ourselves. She was our saving grace on that trip, and she didn’t even know it.

We returned to Sioux Falls, unsure if we had just said goodbye to my aunt for the last time. As it turned out, she would fly back to Sioux Falls less than a week later. 10 days after her arrival, it became apparent she needed professional care around the clock. She entered the hospice house on a Friday and passed away less than two weeks later, 23 days after she returned to Sioux Falls. Sounds fast, right? It feels fast now. At the time, it was anything but.

I want so much to forget those 23 days in favor of happier ones, but I know those are the days that need parsing. Those are the days other people need to know about. During those days, I was looking for help, for support, for understanding, for a glimpse of wisdom from someone else who had been through 23 days of their own.

Search as I might, I didn’t find anything. There were no “how to” articles, no advice columns, no checklists for saying goodbye. How was I supposed to know how to act or what to say? How could I be sure I was doing everything I should be doing? We were all so lost.

Waiting for someone you love to die seems like God’s gift and cruel joke all at the same time. I wanted every second with her and wanted it to be over all at the same time. I wanted to press pause. I wanted to move forward. I wanted to take a leave of absence from work so I could be there, and I wanted to never have to go into that hospice house again. I wanted to have a really heartfelt goodbye, exchange the perfect knowing look, and tie everything up with a bow like in the movies. I wanted a do-over everyday. Every morning, I wanted the relief that she was still alive. Every morning, I wanted the relief that she had let go and was no longer suffering.

I wanted her to say something really profound to me that I could carry forever. I wanted to say something to her that would mean more than everything I had already said. I wanted her to tell me a secret she had never shared with anyone. I wanted to be content to know everything had been said. I wanted her to fight. I wanted her to feel the peace that surpasses understanding. I wanted to be there and hold her hand through her last breath. I wanted to be at home, and hold my husband’s hand when someone called to tell me she had passed.

Most of all, I wanted a miracle. She was actively dying, but I suppose once in a while, someone stops dying and gets better, right? It has happened before, I’m sure. It could happen now. People have been miraculously cured. Why not her?

But then, I’d pray for peace. Well, God, if you won’t give us a miracle, then give us peace, I guess.

When someone is dying, acceptance just feels like resignation. Giving up. How can you accept something devastating that hasn’t actually happened yet? And yet, is it healthier to come to terms with it before it happens? Did she?

She seemed so removed from the physical world. She didn’t care much about what was happening around her. She didn’t want to talk. She didn’t want to watch TV. No music. No nature. What was she thinking? Were there things she wanted to say? Was she afraid? Did she understand what was happening?

The hospice nurses and their brochures said “dying is a process.” And just like any other process, there were stages. But just like everything else in the human experience, it is a little different for everyone. It was really difficult to think of it as a process. This is the last thing she will ever go through, the end of her existence on earth, and we are using a sterile word like process? It just didn’t fit. And it certainly wasn’t comforting.

Then one morning my mom called me. “They say she is unresponsive now.” I met her at the hospice house later that day.

Each time she took a breath, I thought it might be her last. Part of me hoped it was. Being present for her last breath seemed like such an enduring act of love, one last way I could be there for her. But then again, I didn’t want to carry that memory with me. She had gone through everything in her life independently – wouldn’t it be more fitting for her to do this alone as well? She was never afraid of being by herself.

In the end, she passed in the early morning hours on a Thursday. Peacefully, we were told.

As we planned the memorial service, I counted and re-counted the amount of times I went to visit her in hospice. Did I do enough? Did she know how much she meant to me? Should I have poured my heart out? I still don’t know those answers. I guess I never will.

Now, 6 months later, I am once again watching a loved one die slowly. This time, a dog. Our 8 year old black lab has a large tumor on his liver that is eating up all his calories. We are trying our best to stay ahead of the tumor’s appetite, but Murphy’s ribs show a little more every day. The vet says he probably has a month or two.

He’s still happy as hell. He wants to play tug of war, chase the squirrels, have his tummy rubbed. But I know that will change soon, and I don’t want to go through it. I don’t want my husband and kids to go through it. But once again, I’m helpless.

I wanted to write this to help people going through this odd purgatory with someone they love, but I guess I don’t have advice, and I haven’t found a “how to” guide.

The best I can do is take a few pages from AA. Take it “one day at a time,” ask God to grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. I think that’s all we can do.

Each day, I see Murphy’s wagging tail and giant pink tongue, and I think to myself: Not today. Let tomorrow worry about itself, right? All we ever really have is today anyway.

Ride the Coaster

Like a lot of adults over 30, I did not get to choose how I spent my birthday this year. So, there I was, celebrating at Valleyfair in Shakopee, Minnesota, home of Wild Thing, a rollercoaster that goes as high in the air as it can without interfering with incoming aircraft, reaching speeds higher than most states allow on any interstate freeway.

I am not even remotely an adrenaline junkie. In fact, my idea of a rush is not wearing my life jacket on a pontoon ride. But instead of fighting against the tide of my family’s excitement, I tried to make the best of it while setting very clear boundaries.

More than once, I declared, “It’s my birthday, and I will not be bullied into doing anything I don’t want to do.”

A strong backbone only goes so far in the face of a begging 8 year old, so luckily, I had an even better excuse to refuse to ride – my 5 year old. She is the perfect size for the Planet Snoopy rides but just a couple inches shy of the minimum for the more intense rides.

“You guys go,” I said to my husband and oldest daughter. “I’ll stay with her.”

It made me feel like a good mom. The little one was happy I was with her. Dad and big sister got to ride all the rides they wanted. I didn’t have to do anything that scared me. It was a win-win-win-win. Or so I thought.

Every so often, they circled back with us, eyes lit up like matching blue fireworks, smiles plastered across their faces.

“Steel Venom is the best!”

“That’s my favorite so far too! Should we do the Rip Cord?”

“Yeah! But let’s not do the Starship again. That was boring.”

“We should definitely go on Delirious though, and the Corkscrew again for sure.”

The two of them were speaking a language I didn’t understand. I started to feel like I was missing out as they took off for more adventures.

I waved to the little one as she rode up and down on the Kite-Eating Tree, but my eyes kept wandering over to the coasters.

I used to like this stuff. Maybe I should just do it.

My heart fluttered. Butterflies started dancing in my stomach. I could hear my heartbeat as my breath quickened ever so slightly.

Nah, forget it.

How often do we as moms do this? We “opt out” to watch the little ones. We use our motherly duties as an excuse to not take risks, or do scary things, or get out of our comfort zones. And, many times, we do so happily, convinced we are doing what is right, what is expected, and something no one can argue with.

I’m calling B.S.

Not on sitting out at Valleyfair – on sitting out at life. We have to stop using our kids as scape-goats.

Of course, there are legitimate times we need to tag out. Nobody wants to see you run a marathon with a newborn strapped to your chest. But if you are beyond that mentally and physically consuming stage of motherhood, step back and ask yourself if you are using your kids as an excuse not to try.

Being a mom takes a ton of time and energy, but it also builds invaluable skills that are needed in every aspect of our world. If you are a mom, you are a peacemaker, a rule-maker, an educator, a caretaker, a quick-thinking problem solver, and a hell of a strategist. If you weren’t, there is no way you could hold your head up long enough to read this. We need moms – like you and me – to be out there following our callings, building bridges, uniting communities.

If we “opt out” and use motherhood as an excuse, what is that saying to our kids, especially our daughters? Be a mom OR… something else. You can’t do both. I don’t know about you, but this is not the message I want my daughters to receive.

I want my daughters to know you can be an awesome mom AND…

…have a career.

…compete in sports.

…volunteer in your community.

….advocate for something you believe in.

…do something for no other reason than you love it and it’s fun.

So how do you ensure they are receiving the right message? It’s not by reigning them in and never letting them leave your sight. It’s by doing. By setting an example. By showing them that you can be a mom, this magical person who cures all ills, AND.

We cannot afford to have moms sitting on the sidelines. We have to play the game. We have to ride the Wild Thing.

And I did, literally. I screamed…a lot. I giggled…a lot. I thought I was going to throw up for a few seconds. But I know I made my daughter proud, and that was worth every terrifying second.

The Lazy Composter

Do you ever put something off because you think it is going to be really hard, but then when you finally do it, it was actually not that bad? Maybe it’s working out, finishing a work project, giving birth (okay, that really is THAT BAD). Recently for me, it was composting.

I love the Earth. I know, we all do, right? But I’ve really been making an effort to be more green in lots of small ways. I try not to use one-time use plastic. I’ve quit buying disposable water bottles. I’m trying to push a green agenda at the office. And for several years now, I’ve wanted to start composting. We eat fresh fruits and vegetables like they are going out of style. Throwing away all those carrot peels and apple cores makes me feel sick. All that biodegradable stuff is just stuck in a plastic bag to go fill up the landfills.

So this year for Mother’s Day, my gift was a composter! I was so excited to have the whole family on board, especially my husband because (let’s be real) a lot of the work was going to fall on him. I’m the house spouse. He’s the yard spouse. It works for us.

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We ended up ordering this bad boy from Costco online. If you get this one, be sure to summon all your patience before putting it together. It’s a bit of a bugger at first. It’s 100% recycled plastic with two different bins so you can let one pile do its thing and still have a place to put your stuff. It spins, so there is no need to stir the compost once you put it in the bin. It looks like it would smell bad, but it really doesn’t. I mean, I didn’t stick my head in there or anything, but when you open up a bin of hot garbage, you would expect an odor. But, nope! It’s not bad at all.

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This one comes with two separate sides, so you can add to one side and leave the other side to “brew.”

For the house, we got this cute one gallon pail with a charcoal filter. Looks cute, works well, and most importantly – no smell and hence, no fruit flies. The inner black bucket comes out, so it’s easy to carry it out to the composter (or that’s what the hubby tells me). I’m kind of kidding. I have taken the bucket out there myself several times, and I certainly could do it every time. It’s just that he always seems to be going out there to do something anyway, so it just makes sense, right?

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The gallon size is big, but I find it the right size for us with all the veggie prep we do.

So, what do we put in it? Coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels and cores, egg shells, grass clippings (some), and sawdust. No meat, no dairy, no salad dressing, no fats like oil and butter. That stuff makes the bin smell bad and attracts critters. Our bin came with a really handy yes/no sheet, which we looked at 5,000 times the first day and not even once since then.

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Smell has not been a factor, but I also think coffee grounds help with that.

 

We decided to get a compost starter to get things moving a little faster. We just added a couple tablespoons of the microbes to the bin and gave it a few spins.

Composting is so much easier than I ever thought it would be. I am sad I waited so long to start, but I’m really glad I finally jumped in and did it. You could do it too!

Mediterranean Veggies with Basil Chicken

I was inspired to make this colorful and light veggie dish after having something similar at an organic café in Minneapolis. It was so easy to recreate and pairs wonderfully with a variety of proteins – chicken, shrimp, fish, garbanzo beans – or just by itself. I’ll describe how I made the chicken, but feel free to leave it out or substitute your favorite protein.

You’ll need:

• 2 chicken breasts, tenderized (i.e. pounded flat with a meat hammer)
• 2 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/8’s
• 1 bunch asparagus, cut in 1/2’s or 1/3’s
• 2 zucchini, spiralized into zoodles
• Feta cheese, to taste
• Butter or ghee
• Garlic, 2 minced cloves or 1 heaping tablespoon of pre-minced
• 1/4 cup water

Use to taste for both the chicken and the veggies:

• Dried basil
• Dried oregano
• Onion powder
• Salt and pepper
• Cooking oil

Directions:

1. Cook the chicken first. First, pound it nice and flat, then season the top with basil, oregano, onion powder, and salt and pepper. Heat cooking oil in a pan on medium heat, and place chicken into the pan. Let it cook halfway through, then flip it to sear the top side.

2. Once seared, flip the chicken back over, add a tablespoon or butter or ghee to the pan, and baste the chicken. Test for an internal temp of 165, and set aside to rest when done or very close to that temperature.

3. Heat oil in a stir fry pan, and sauté garlic. Once fragrant, add asparagus. Add 1/4 cup water to the pan, then cover and steam asparagus for 2-3 minutes.

4. Add in the zoodles and tomatoes, heating through until zoodles are at desired tenderness. While they are cooking, add in 2 tablespoons of butter/ghee, mixing with the garlic and natural vegetable juices to form your sauce.

5. Add in all seasonings to your preference.

6. Sprinkle feta cheese on top and let heat just briefly before serving with the chicken.

At Peace

Her face shrunken,
plastered into a restful seriousness,
wears an expression it never did
when she was alive.
I see no promise of her being at peace.

I can picture the tiny head
of my chameleon, Deacon,
his eyeballs bulged against
the lids that wouldn’t open
as hard as I cried.

Staring at his belly,
counting each breath.
His colors changed from
bright green to brown.

She brought me a blue box,
Anthony’s Jewelers written
on top in sprawling golden letters.
His tail wrapped to his head,
Deacon was laid to rest.

We both wore lipstick to the funeral,
her fancy shade of sunny mauve.
Then under our willow,
she said a prayer for
his precious lizard soul.

Now, her face fake and orange,
the sunny mauve matches
the casket lining too well, I notice,
as I lay my hands
on the shiny mahogany box.

The Queen’s Apple

If you think you know this one
Well, you just wait a minute
‘Cause stories can go many ways
Depending how you spin it

You’ve heard about a gal named Snow
And her seven little friends
But I bet you never heard the way
The story really ends

Snow was sure most beautiful
But she was also bright
She knew the forest inside out
And could put up quite a fight

Somewhere deep inside the woods
There lived a wicked queen
Who envied Snow in every way
Which made her act quite mean

And then one day that jealous queen
Pretended she was poor
She cried and said she needed help
Something Snow might fall for

But Snow was smarter than the queen
And saw through the charade
She knew that it was all a scheme
When she came by the old maid

But Snow felt sorry for the queen
And so she took the fruit
But as soon as she was out of sight
She kicked it with her boot

Through the trees that apple rolled
It’s spell still going strong
It came to rest next to a creek
Just when the queen came along

The queen, exhausted from her scheming
Dipped down to take a drink
And there the apple caught her eye
And she couldn’t help but think

“Why, what a lovely piece of fruit,
Such shiny, crimson skin.”
And before she gave another thought,
The queen just dove right in

It may have been her second thought
(Though clearly not her first)
That this, her lovely evening snack
The queen herself had cursed.

The wicked queen had always known
She’d pay for her life of sin
How fitting then that her demise
Was a dose of her own medicine.

Cheesy Broc-Cauli Rice with Bacon

Get ready- I’m about to up your veggie game in the most delicious way! This dish can be served as a side or eaten as a complete meal. It has all the requirements – protein, multiple servings of vegetables, healthy fat, and spice!

I’ve talked before about making cauliflower rice. You’ll want to do that again here, and also rice up broccoli in the same way. We tried this at home once, and now, that’s all we do. I call it “Broc-cauli rice.” Make it in bulk and store it flat in the freezer. When you’re ready to cook, just thaw for a couple minutes in cool water so you can easily get it out of the bag.

Ingredients:

Avocado oil – enough to coat the bottom of the pan
Garlic – 2 cloves or a teaspoon, chopped
Broccoli – 1 head, riced
Cauliflower – 1 head, riced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cheddar cheese – 1 cup
Cream cheese – 1 ounce
Jalapeño slices – 10-15, chopped
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Bacon – 5 slices (1/2 pound), chopped

Instructions:

  1. Heat a large pan and add avocado oil. Sauté garlic until fragrant.
  2. Add broc-cauli rice, mixing in garlic. Sprinkle in salt and pepper. Once heated through, broc-cauli rice will begin to soften.
  3. Add cheddar cheese and cream cheese, stir until melted and incorporated throughout.
  4. Mix in jalapeños, red pepper flakes, and bacon.
  5. You know what to do next.

 

 

 

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