Friday, October 16, 2009

Tender Mercies

Such a sweet phrase... tender mercies. Elder Bednar made it part of every Mormon's working vocabulary when he gave this talk back in April of 2005. He defines a tender mercy of the Lord as "a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance" from the Savior, and challenges the assumption by many that these little blessings in our lives are the result of coincidence.

Apparently lots of people started watching for these little mercies in their own lives, but I was not overly aware of this phenomenon going on in my life – and I'm not proud of that statement. I loved the concept and his talk was my favorite of the conference, but once conference was over, it was back to "normal." Most days I was just too busy or too insensitive to realize on a personal level how intimately aware the Lord is of each of His children.

(And as I type that I am overwhelmed at the concept!)

But this year has been one of change and challenge for us. It seemed to start for me last Christmas season when I simply could not manage my usual Christmas letter to friends and family. I have written a fairly detailed update as a Christmas card insert every year for the past 29 years, mostly as a way to keep some sort of family record since my journal went the way of all the earth after I got married. I may have missed one other year, but never a banner year like 2008 was for us—the year in which our first two grandchildren were born and our only daughter was married! How could I let that pass?? I don't know. But I just could not find the energy to do it after helping my mom write and send her letter and cards, shopping for her and for me, wrapping for both of us, and so on. I just ran out of steam.

Then in January our kitties started having failing health and passed away within a month of each other. We were sad to see them go, but decided it was a sign that our home was meant to be filled with grandchildren, so we sanitized and moved on.

Then in May, my mom began to fail too. I've already written a post about that here. But what I haven't written about was that my husband lost his job due to downsizing the very same week. However, it was very soon evident that this was a cloud with the proverbial silver lining. Mom began needing more and more care and attention and Art was there, serving and caring for her when no one else was available. A tender mercy.

Once the funeral was done and life began to settle down, Art set about his job hunt with real focus—that focus being the end of severance pay in September! He had lots of interest and lots of interviews. He actually thought he had found The One by the end of July. But schedules kept having to be adjusted to make the final interview happen, and in the meantime, another (may I say really intimidating!) job interview came along. So Art prepared as though he didn't have anything else in the offing and he must have nailed it, because he got an offer the next day! And his start date? The Monday following the final Friday paycheck. A better job, better paycheck, better everything. Yup, another tender mercy. So grateful.

And I have been on my knees in gratitude, but the Lord had something else in store.... My brother Kevin and I have had our mom's Provo house up for sale. I've had really mixed feelings about this, as evidenced by my nostalgic post last winter. But for lots of reasons we decided it was time to let another family enjoy the mountains and views and blocks and blocks of wonderful neighbors that make up the tree streets. In due time a buyer made an offer and we accepted. But the buyer was from out of state, and final transaction schedules began to look like we would never meet the new person or persons who would "inherit" our family home. To make matters worse, the closing was planned for my mom's birthday - yesterday, Oct. 15. It was too much, and I started to come unraveled. I called my brother, talked to my kids, and just couldn't get my heart comfortable with giving up my nostalgia to a stranger whom I would never meet. So I called the real estate agent (the buyer's agent) and told her how I felt.
Fortunately, she was sympathetic and made arrangements for us to at least meet the buyer before Kevin and I were due to sign the papers on our end. We waited in the living room of this home of many memories and watched as the woman and her husband approached. She looked to be about 50, not too tall, and not too intimidating either. In fact, she looked very pleasant. Maybe this was going to be OK.

She came in with the agent and met Kevin first. Then I introduced myself. She said, "But you're a Dunn, aren't you?" How did she know my maiden name? Did I resemble my brother that much? Then she met Kevin's wife, and turned back to me and Kevin and said, "So you're Alice's kids." Wha-a-a-t?? Did someone tell her this was Alice's home? And then "You probably know my father...." Yes! Her father and step-mother lived not more than a block away from my parents for many years. She, in fact, lived there with them for a short time and knew our younger brother Scott. She knew our mom, and probably our dad. She had stories to tell about Mom's love of neighbor kids and how Mom handed out popsicles to her little brother when he stopped by and pulled a weed or two. Oh, relief! I could do this after all. I could let this lady have this home, rent it to her nephew, move in when she retires, whatever. She was Neighborhood! Mom and Dad would have been so pleased to know that all their love and care would be appreciated and indeed inherited by someone who had known and remembered them.

Today, the final papers were signed and as I think about it I choke up again, but not in anxiety this time. Rather in gratitude for the sure knowledge that somehow, among all the billions of prayers going heavenward, and all the people with problems so much greater than mine – somehow, He knew my own personal, private little heart and granted one more, ever so tender, mercy.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Passion and Raspbery Jam

So now it's September. And I last wrote in April when it was not quite Spring, and the month held promise of Easter and my birthday and a vacation on the May horizon. And then my world began to change, ever so subtly at first. My sweet mom began to lose her hold on this world, little by little, until it became obvious that we needed to arrange for more care for her. And arrange we did, and rearranged and rearranged, until we finally understood that she wasn't going to stay with us any longer. It came as a shock, as much to her, I think, as to us. And still she faded slowly, like the beautiful roses that she grew and loved all her life. When the final moment came it was so quiet that I wasn't sure what woke me, asleep in the recliner in her room. I just knew that she had gone, that somehow she had let me know she was going, and that now I was alone. She had gone on to find her own mother waiting on the other side of the veil sometimes so thin, yet still so impenetrable. Seventy-seven years since they had shared their last hug. What a moment that must have been. I feel sure my father stood back, urging LaRu to go first, to greet her only daughter. And then the sweet reunion with all the others Mom held so dear.

And here, we held a reunion of sorts ourselves. My brothers and I reminded ourselves that we were still family and always would be. I felt my focus begin return to my own immediate family, my husband, children, and grandbabies. And while Kevin and I still had (and have!) a lot to do to wind up our parents' estate, we are learning and reaffirming the importance of family and trying to put that above business concerns.

Funerals can be amazingly defining moments. I gave my mother's "life sketch" and Kevin gave her "tribute." Susan Warner, a neighbor, talked about Alice as the friend and neighbor she had known for 40+ years. And as we talked, my mom came into focus so clearly again. Not the frail little mom of the last months, but the confident, capable, energetic mom of my youth. And I remembered her passion for life – for cooking, for flowers, for people.

And then just a couple of weekends ago Art and I discussed over dinner his new-found passion for running – a sport he hasn't paid much attention to since he left the track team in high school. He loves how it makes him feel so alive, so vital. And I wondered... what is my passion? Do I even have one? I thought about it all night, upset with myself because I have let myself become so taken up with the "shoulds" that I have forgotten what any "want to's" are.

But the next morning was Saturday and I had two flats of raspberries in the fridge waiting to be made into jam and a promise to my kids that they would find homemade bread at my house later in the day. So I heaved a sigh and went back to my "shoulds." And then a strange thing happened. As I moved around my kitchen, measuring sugar, boiling the pectin, setting the bread dough to rise, I remembered my passion: I love "keeping the home." (And that term is another post for another day.) I love making good things to eat, organizing my cupboards, stitching, sewing, even laundry. And I remembered something else. This passion? It's a legacy from my mother, who blessed us all with her cooking and canning and sewing and cut flowers. So good to know that a small spread of raspberry jam on warm homemade bread will always bring her back.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Girls' Night In

It started like this: lots of years ago, when "the boys" – Art and Nick and Tim – would all go off on to Saturday night Priesthood session of Conference together, Sarah and I inaugurated "Girls' Night Out." It used to be simple. We'd go out for dinner and talk about whatever we wanted without snide remarks from the boys. Then, when Laura joined the family, she joined Girls' Night Out. Only then the boys started complaining that they wanted to go out to dinner too. So we started experimenting on other activities and saving the food for later. Pretty soon Aubrey joined us and I finally had all the daughters I was going to get. (YAY! three!) So we've made pottery and had pedicures. But this year, I had a brainstorm.

I've always said that when I retired I was going to quilt. I guess I thought I wouldn't have time till then. But then when I officially became an empty-nester last fall, I decided to move it up and start now, before I retire. So in February I went to a class, all by myself, to learn how to make a patchwork quilt top. I was shocked to find that the room was not full of old retired women and empty-nesters like me, but of younger women and moms, many accompanied by sisters and even 9- or 10-year-old daughters. What?? This hobby isn't just for old gray-hairs? And it's a family thing? I could have shared this with my daughter as she was growing up? And then it hit me! Girls' Night Out!! Perfect.

Only this would be Girls' Night In with 3 sewing machines and a cutting table and lots of advance work done.

So, last week Laura and Aubrey came with me to another class held at a quilt store where we picked out fabrics, pressed them, cut them, and Laura even started stitching!

Then, Saturday (April 4), when Sarah was free, she bought her fabric and joined the fun. While the boys were at Priesthood the girls were cutting, pressing, stitching, and chatting. Babies were playing the floor or rocking in my lap.

We're all about quilting now. Yep, all of us girls. There's just something about picking fabrics of every shade and hue, design, and feel to perfectly fit our personalities. Then we cut and match and pin and stitch. Quilting appeals to the perfectionist in us; the need for control and perfect outcomes; the delight of something unique and beautiful and totally individual. And quilting stretches across generations and cultures and stories are born with every quilt that's made.

Laura will tell her first daughter that this is the quilt she picked with a yet unknown child in mind.

And Aubrey has chosen her quilt for Maya, who loves both bright colors AND blankets – so what could be more perfect than combining the two?

And Sarah will remember her first year of marriage, her first home with her new husband, his eager interst in the colors she chose and the patterns she made.

Quilting isn't just about the past – it's about the present, and I'm guessing, about future too.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Tale of the Tree Streets

We moved there when I was six. They said it had once been acres of orchards, remaining now only in memory and a few remaining fruit trees here and there. My parents bought a small house on Cedar, and with that, gave me a lifetime of memories. Elementary school, junior high, high school. Then a newer home on a new tree street, and college. Later my parents built their final home on Locust where they welcomed grandbabies, watched them grow, and housed them when it was their turn for college.

Now the time has come to move family out and rent the home to strangers. How can we do that? They won't know about the first little house on Cedar. We had neighbors there, the Finlaysons, who had a traveling carnival every summer. And every spring as they cleaned and repaired their equipment to get ready for a new season, every child in the tree streets got a free ride on the ferris wheel. Sometimes going around and around for so long it seemed like hours, breeze blowing through our hair, popsicles melting and staining our shirts and shorts - time disappeared until one by one the mothers came out on their porches to holler their children home for dinner. And then after dinner, and dishes, we left again, screen doors slamming, to run through the neighborhood playing hide and seek, made all the more exciting in the darkness.

There were no fences then. We "cut through" wherever we needed to make the trip shorter; children were allowed this privilege. We all walked wherever we went, so why not? Even in high school I cut through the Crandalls, through the Bernhards, through the Bullocks, climbed a tree and hopped a fence into the Larsens' back yard where Sara, my best friend, lived. Then we'd walk the "long way" past the Clarks, her cousins. And back down Cherry Lane, past the Bowdens, and oh, so many more familiar names.

We rollerskated as kids with those turn-key roller skates - all the way south on Cherry Lane and around past theHeatons and the Hartvigsens, down the hill onto Apple. Scary corner. If you weren't in control you could fall, and nobody had helmets and knee pads. We just learned to head for the nearest patch of grass if we felt a fall coming on. And we biked up and down the tree streets and around the blocks and past the canal on Birch. Sometimes we even went tubing through the canal when it still ran through Heritage Halls. We could stop in to Carson's Market for a treat, but Mr. Carson didn't like kids much. We ran errands there for our moms, but didn't hang around.

When I married and moved away I loved taking my own children to visit Grandma and Grandpa on Locust. There they met their cousins and ran to play in the orchard behind the house. On the 4th of July we had a "cookout" with hamburgers and hotdogs and games, and then always sleepy children waiting impatiently in deck chairs as we looked toward the stadium, only a mile away as the crow flies, to watch the fireworks before heading home. When the oldest cousins were teens at one of these midsummer gatherings, they were trying out all the latest appreciative adjectives for each new display in the sky: Awesome! Rad! Sweet! We asked my dad, What did you say during World War II when you saw fireworks like these? His answer? DUCK!

And now he's gone and my mom is living close to me where it's now my turn to take care of her after all her many years of taking care of all of us. But how can there not be a Dunn, or a descendant of a Dunn, in the tree streets? We buried treasure there along ditch banks, thinking no one would ever find it - not even thinking, really, that we would ever grow up. But we did. And there is treasure there. But it's not buried. It's in every leaf of the maple trees that line the streets; every bump in the sidewalk that we walked, skated, and biked; every window that still lights with friendly light each evening. There is something magical there that will never leave.

It may be the end of an era for the Dunns, and maybe it's time to share that magic with someone else. But I know, and my mother knows, and my brother knows, and our children know that something special was ours for a while -- and really, always will be.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The End of the Cat Era

January - February were tough months around our house in some ways. My sweet Brindle, our torty-tabby female cat, had to be put to sleep on Jan. 2, just before we left for Costa Rica. She was having trouble breathing and it just got so bad she couldn't even sleep, eat -- nothing but struggle for air. Her end was peaceful and merciful, and we were thankful we still had one "healthy" diabetic, hyperthyroid cat at home. Rob and Sarah house and cat-sat while we were gone, and things seemed normal when we got back.

Sadly, within a couple of weeks, Tiger stopped eating too. He was vomiting and very lethargic. We took him to the vet and they said his kidneys were probably off and to see if we could tempt him back on to any food at all. So we bought his favorite Fancy Feast soft food and hand fed him until he perked up and we thought we'd beat it. But one night Art gave him his insulin at bedtime and Tiger chose not to eat during the night. He was in diabetic shock the next morning and was having seizures. He even lashed out at us which he had NEVER done. So off to the vet again. Not good news, but we asked that they put him on IV all day, just to keep him alive so that we could gather the kids. Tim and Aubrey joined us that evening as we kissed him goodbye also. We now have no pets and no kids in a great big quiet house. Very empty. It's been tougher than I would have thought, and we can't replace the cats because of Aubrey's cat allergies, so we're having to learn to move on. How do you do that?

On the positive side, my job is going well, I'm making my first patchwork quilt, and my mother is healthy for her age. Best of all, spring will soon be here, and my roses will bloom again. My grandchildren are the cutest things EVER, and the gospel is true. I give thanks every day for the good things. Believe me, I recognize that I am greatly blessed. I have some more nostalgia to share in the next post, and then "movin' on"!