Sunday, September 10, 2017

You know that feeling when the adrenaline drops because your body senses the danger is over and exhaustion ensues?

It was like hitting the wall. As soon as we got the very good news that, while the tumor they removed from Ivan's kidney was cancerous, the tissue around it was clear, it felt like someone popped my balloon and all the air whizzed out. I could finally relax and, boy, did I! I found it hard to keep my head propped up, so I just laid the seat back, put my eye mask on and relaxed all the way home. When we got back, as soon as I'd put away all the clean laundry and things we'd taken for overnight, I climbed into bed and just laid there a while. I couldn't sleep but I couldn't move either.  I was completely immobilized.

Dinner was simple: roast chicken, green beans I cooked the other day and reheated, and a caprese salad made with tomatoes picked fresh that morning from Tina's raised bed garden. I couldn't have done more than that. My mind, which has been on overdrive for months now, is finally feeling like it can rest. This is a real problem for me. I'd love to be able to turn my brain off when I go to bed but I can't. I waste useless hours going over what has happened, thinking about all that might happen, completely overwhelmed.

That fizzled out feeling has persisted all weekend, and I woke up with a sore throat this morning. I'm gargling like crazy in hopes I can reverse the sore throat trend, and also keeping my distance from Ivan, who has a raging head cold. I'm not nearly as worried about me as I am about my sister-in-law. I can't help her if I'm sick, because it could literally be life threatening at this point in her fight against cancer. She really cannot afford to get sick!

So we are hunkered down today, resting and recuperating and praying for healthy bodies. Ours and others. Not just those we know but those we'll probably never meet. We're listening to reports of Hurricane Irma ramming Florida, while the news on the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana is still fresh. I'm reminded of how small we are in the whole scheme of things; how insignificant our problems, when others face such devastating loss. Who hasn't been brought to tears by the stories coming out of Houston, Port Arthur and other places? It's one thing to hear the numbers (which are staggering) and another to listen to the individual stories of people. It's one thing to hear an entire island is uninhabitable after Irma, but as the camera pans over the landscape of Barbuda, I wonder about the people who lived in those homes, most now razed to the ground. What is their life going to look like moving forward?

And my tired brain cannot even process what they must be going through. I've made two major moves in the past decade but had time to prepare for each of those. Gotta be honest, now feeling a little embarrassed that I whined about how hard it was to pack up and move in five months when we returned to the U.S. this last time.

I moved. They've been displaced. Their adrenaline is probably still pumping like crazy and it might be a while before their bodies sense the danger is over and they can relax, falling into exhausted heaps like I did this weekend.

Displacement. It's a word we're hearing a lot these days. I'd like to start a discussion on the topic, but broaden it to include what it means to be displaced for whatever reason: natural catastrophe, war, poverty, religious persecution... I know I don't have a ton of readers on this little blog, but I also know we come from a wide background in terms of politics, religion, geography. I'd like to maybe open all our minds a bit, to see what it means on a personal level, to be displaced. It's so easy to lump everyone into categories, isn't it? To put all "those" people in a neat little box, and assign them all the same beliefs, feelings, life. But it's not that simple. It's actually a lot more complicated and messy and beautiful and I'm hoping to find some people who are willing to share their stories with us. Because we aren't just numbers, are we? I promise to do my best not to get all preachy on you, and I'm asking you to keep an open mind and be a part of the conversation. Deal?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

My Medical Knowledge Is Expanding

Writing from the waiting room at Lutheran Hospital in Ft Wayne is a little surreal. It's a massive place and I've gotten turned around twice in the short time I've been here. Lots of comfortable chairs, TVs, tables and chairs, free tea or coffee, everyone so solicitous.

We've been in plenty of clinics over the past few years in Argentina as we chased a diagnosis for "all that ailed me" but the biggest could fit in a small portion of this complex. Although I think the real reason it feels so weird isn't due to the size of the hospital, but because this time it's Ivan who's the patient. My healthy "Energizer Bunny" husband hasn't been himself all summer. We knew his liver enzymes were up, but not why until an appointment with a specialist revealed his liver is big and fatty (like most Americans).

That alone didn't seem to warrant his feeling so run down though. We chalked it up to stress, and all the craziness that was our life... Ivan made a quick trip to Argentina in May to take care of some things, the primary one being a root canal and temporary crown. We helped mom move into Assisted Living. We were in the midst of trying to buy a house and, when that fell through, quickly moved into an apartment.

Then the day after we moved, Ivan experienced such abdominal and chest pain that we thought he was having a heart attack and went to the ER. They wanted to keep him overnight and monitor him, but he balked. I swear he got that same mulish look I've seen on mother's face many times, so I wasn't surprised when he began negotiating with the doctor. In the end we stuck around long enough to get a second round of blood work. Did you know you can have a normal EKG during a cardiac event? But the blood doesn't lie, hence the follow-up blood work three hours after the first.

My husband has a very high tolerance for pain so it took not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR attacks and another trip to the ER before he took it seriously.

(This all took place in the two weeks between we moved and our planned trip to California.)

That second trip to the ER didn't come any closer to determining the source of the pain, but it did reveal a small, fully encapsulated tumor on his left kidney. That, in turn, led to a flurry of appointments with various specialists.

Which brings us to this moment in time. They are currently doing laparoscopic surgery to remove the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue.

While I write from the waiting room at Lutheran Hospital in Ft Wayne, sitting in one of the many comfortable chairs, eyes straying often to the pager, eager for it to light up so I can gather my bags and make my way to the room where Ivan will spend the night. Where I can hold the hand of my beloved and listen to him make even sillier jokes than usual in his drug induced state. Although what can be sillier than his pre-op response to "Do you have any kind of reaction to anesthesia?"when he said, "I go to sleep."?!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

M-O-V-E is a Four Letter Word

I've sometimes envied those who grew up in the same house throughout their childhood, or lived in the same place their entire married life. That's not the life God chose for us. Both of us moved multiple times as children, and so far we've tallied 23 moves as a married couple (in 38 years). Four of those moves were in the past 15 months.

Now maybe you understand why M-O-V-E is considered a four letter word in our house :)

There's something to be said, though, for being mobile. We've seen and done things most people never have the chance to experience, and for that we're grateful. It's just that we're finding the older we get, the harder each move is, the more it takes out of us. Especially when it involves getting rid of 99% of what you own in the space of a few short months. At that point you're not concerned with whether you can sell something, you're just giving things away right and left, so you can be done with it. Because more important than the stuff is the people you're leaving behind. That's like a gut punch to your solar plexus, my friends.

The last two moves were done locally. In February, in the midst of mom's health issues, we learned we could rent a small apartment in the same retirement village. That killed two birds with one stone: we were within 100 feet of mom's apartment, making it easier to help her, and it gave us our own space while giving Alan and Sharon back theirs. It also allowed us time to find a house we wanted to buy and start the (very) lengthy process of applying for a loan.

And let me just take a moment here to rant, if you don't mind. Since when did the loan process become an endurance test? It took 2-1/2 months of gathering data and sending it in, again and again,  because apparently banks are not good at sharing between departments. And by the time we'd get everything in, some of it was "old" and we had to gather and send in the "new" data. Ugh. And all for naught. After all that time, money, and anticipation, we were turned down. Despite the fact that our credit is excellent and we had a little money for the down payment (enough for about 5% plus closing costs), none of that mattered because Ivan is self-employed. For those who are self-employed, banks require two years of W2s and tax returns from the new business, which we obviously didn't have. That means we have to wait until next year, by which time we'll have those two years of W2s and tax returns in hand.

This kink in the plans really threw us for a loop and left us scrambling to find a place to rent long term. The apartment in the retirement village was fine temporarily but it was very small and quite expensive. Plus mom moved into an apartment in Assisted Living (in the same retirement village) at the end of May, where they have round-the-clock staff to help her with whatever she might need.

We shared with a few folks at church that week about our predicament and within a week we'd looked at and secured an apartment owned by a family at VSF. Their last renter had just moved out and they were planning to remodel the bathroom before renting it again, but we assured them we've seen much worse bathrooms :) And we needed something pronto! Just a couple weeks later 15 folks from church showed up to help us move. Pretty sure it has to be the fastest move in history! With so many people (and vehicles), we were able to move everything in one shot. Boom! Done in less than two hours!

Of course, it took me the next two weeks to finish unpacking all the boxes and figuring out where things should go :) Actually, even though the boxes are unpacked and we are somewhat settled in, I want to go back through everything and see what else I can get rid of, because we have TOO MUCH STUFF. Maybe I'm gun shy, having disposed of an entire household not once, but twice, in the last decade, but I'm feeling a bit oppressed by all that we managed to accumulate in one year! And we didn't even buy the vast majority of it. People are so giving, and we took whatever they gave. Now that we're in our own place, we can see we don't need (or want) some of those things. It's kind of funny because I have a plethora of certain kind of kitchen ware but am lacking a simple nonstick pan. That's the way it goes.

It's not that we want to live a minimalist lifestyle, but we want to be very thoughtful about what we do own. I want to enjoy things that are useful and precious to me, but not be consumed with the care of them. Make sense?

I'll admit, it was a tough pill to swallow when we were turned down for a loan. I see people with bad credit and no money down being able to buy homes willy nilly. And we were so ready to be in a place of our very own! A place we could put down roots and maybe not think about moving for a few years (what a concept!). But already we've seen how God worked in that situation to spare us because He knew what was coming.

But that's a whole other story for a whole other post.

Meanwhile we are thoroughly enjoying our walk-out basement apartment that overlooks a beautiful yard and garden, in a very quiet and peaceful neighborhood. There's a screened in porch, where I spent a good portion of the past weekend, sitting and reading without fear of being eaten alive by mosquitoes. This winter we'll be oh, so cozy, in our living room with a working stone fireplace. There are three bedrooms, so one has been designated the study/crafting space/overflow guest room. I haven't had time to do more than put away my fabric and sewing tools, but I look forward to getting back into my favorite past time of quilting.

I'm a wee bit nervous about navigating the stone steps this winter and it took several tries to find a laundromat where I feel I can actually get my laundry clean (no hook ups in this apartment) but those are the only draw backs. We have a lovely, cozy apartment, great landlords/neighbors, and can relax for the next 11 months since we signed a one-year lease.

Who knows, maybe by next year this time I'll be writing from a completely different house, one that we've been able to buy ourselves. That would be lovely but would also mean another M-O-V-E, so it's not something we're going to think about right now, okay? ;)

Monday, August 28, 2017


Some months ago we began planning a trip to California for Adalyn's third birthday. The final plan was for me to go out August 1st and get some one-on-one time with little Miss A while her parents took off for a few days (to celebrate their 10th anniversary!) and then for Ivan to fly out the following week, in time for the birthday festivities. Some things happened right before, that almost derailed our plans (more on that in another post), but thankfully it all worked out in the end. Yeah!

I had a couple days with Jon, Nat and Adalyn first and it was fun to get to do things with them. Like go to the library for story time, after which Adalyn not only picked out books but also helped check them out:

That evening we went to the weekly concert-in-the-park within walking distance of their place. The park is absolutely beautiful and lots of people were out enjoying the lovely evening, the live music, food vendors and their neighbors.

Then Jon and Nat left and I got to enjoy hanging out with Adalyn and the pets. Adalyn is such a ham!

I shared a couple other photos from this time in my last post.

Ivan arrived the day after Jon and Nat returned, several days before the birthday party. Getting away ourselves for two nights/three days was part of the plan, made possible because Jon and Nat let us use their vehicle. We drove north to Sonoma and thoroughly enjoyed our first get-away in a really long time. I chose the lovely airbnb accommodations based on the photos of the back yard. We were not disappointed!

Mostly we just kicked back and rested, but we did wander into Sonoma for lunch the two days we were there. We'd been talking about how much the area reminded us of Argentina, but Ivan was really surprised to find a tree downtown with the Argentine national flower!

Natalie put a lot of time and thought into making a list of things we could do and see but time constraints (and the fact that we were just really tired) meant we only did one: a tour and cheese tasting at Achadinha Farm.
Ivan met a kindred spirit in co-owner Donna, and we stayed a long while after the tour talking about farming.

Back at Jon and Nat's we were excited to hit the Saturday Farmer's Market with them. It's the biggest one we've ever been to and I was thrilled to find a gluten free bakery stall. Oh my word! Weeks later I still dream of their cheddar rolls and drool just thinking about their chocolate chip rolls. *sigh* But the star of the market is, of course, the bountiful harvest of fruits and veggies.

Saturday afternoon was the long awaited for birthday party! Adalyn is obsessed with all things princess so she had to wear her princess tutu and each toddler got either a tiara or crown to wear. They were so cute!

They had the party at the Junior Gym which was great for the kids to run around and have lots of fun things to do (and release all that energy!).

Our last full day in California was Adalyn's actual birthday and we headed south to the beach. It was a little chilly and overcast, but to me that's perfect beach weather :)

We ended the day at Sam's Chowder House where we stuffed ourselves on seafood. I love this particular photo of Jon and Natalie. They are such nuts!

Our trip home didn't go quite as planned. A two hour delay leaving San Francisco meant we missed the last connecting flight to Ft. Wayne, so the airline put us up at a Hyatt hotel near O'Hare and we caught a flight out the next afternoon.

We're so grateful for the time we got to spend with Jon, Natalie and Adalyn! Living across the country is hard for this Nina and Papa who'd love to see them more often, but it just makes the time we do have together even more special!