Things I Never Said To My Parents…

“Mom, would you rather have your eyes gouged out or be killed?”

“If you had to die in a car accident but it would bring about world peace, would you do it?”

“Mom, which do you like better: leather armor or diamond armor?”

“May I log onto gmail to check something real quick?”

“Just to be clear, I’m getting out of the pool of my own free will, not because you told me to.” (This was said in a sweet, smiley way.)

And finally, when the Buster was asked why he was on the couch reading a book when it was chore time:

“I’m engaged in the period of laziness that must come before work.”

New Spaces

I’ve never understood feng shui, but the difference a lamp and a chair have made are intriguing.

First up was a space between a couch and the wall in the hearth room. The corded telephone sat on the fireplace, a floor lamp that only partially worked sat next to the couch, and a vast tangle of cords and the router cluttered the space. I mentioned to my friend Mike, a garage sale maven, the size of the space, and he said he had a $2 table he thought would work perfectly.

Tucked the table in the space, put a small lamp on it, and suddenly the space is inviting and cozy. It is now one of the favorite spots for someone curling up with a book in the evening.

Now it's cozy, not dark.

Now it’s cozy, not dark.

Second is the story of the chair.

I can not attest to the validity of the story, but as soon as I write it down, that has to make it true.

There’s a rocking chair that I remember snuggling in for naps when I was a very little girl. I remember it from the front room of the house where we lived before we moved to the new house in the country, which means I would have been younger than 3.

My understanding is that the chair was purchased for Dad’s first wife, Pat. Pat had it to rock in before she died. I obviously never knew Pat, but her picture hung on the wall in our hallway as I grew up. My youngest brother looks very much like her, and I always had a warm spot in my heart for her, this woman who loved my dad and gave my brothers to the world.

Buds and I have had the rocking chair since we bought our first home. Our cats did not treat it kindly, so I attempted to recover it in my novice way. That worked for several years until the pins I used to recover it, including straight pins, began to work their way loose and scratch anyone who sat in the chair.

Beautiful lines, poor, tired body. The seat cushion disintegrated a few years ago.

Beautiful lines, poor, tired body. The seat cushion disintegrated a few years ago.

Here in the new house, the chair sat in the garage until I could find someone with the skill and time to reupholster it.

When Mom was here on her last visit, she found the perfect fabric for the chair’s next few decades and we hauled it to Carl, the upholstery genius.

We’ve got the chair back, and it’s a delightful spot for sitting and reading.

Favorite spot already.

Favorite spot already.

Glad she likes it, but protective action must be taken.

Glad she likes it, but protective action must be taken.

Isn't the fabric beautiful?

Isn’t the fabric beautiful?

Now we can all enjoy it.

Now we can all enjoy it.

I’m so tickled with the little changes that have made our main room even more comfortable.

I’m off to read a book snuggled in my rocking chair. Try not to bother me.

Difficult Conversations

I’m writing this up as a blog post for a couple reasons.

1) I want to be able to easily find the resource I’ll link to.

2) Although we talk with our children about pretty much anything/everything, The Buster, especially, has a very fine line of dis/comfort on some topics. We still need to have these conversations, but it may be easier for him to read about this on the blog.

3) We’re raising our children with a village of folks near and far. I care about your children, and I know our children could come to you if they needed help. This is a topic we all must deal with.

Here’s my story: When I was about 12, a male friend of my parents asked me for a hug when there were no other adults around. I was babysitting my 4 year old nephew at home by myself. This was a person who had known my family for a very long time. A hug is no big deal, right?

Well, the hug lasted too long and the feeling I had about the whole situation was icky and uncomfortable, and I told my parents. I wasn’t even sure if it was a big deal, and maybe I was wrong, or shouldn’t trust my feelings about the situation.

My parents were fabulous. They quickly made it clear that I was absolutely correct in telling them, that my feelings were completely accurate, and that I should always trust my instincts to guide me.

My dad went and talked to this family friend and told him he was no longer welcome in our home, and that he should never, ever touch me again.

My relief and gratitude were boundless. I never saw that man again, and I was so thankful. This incident taught me a whole host of things:

1) My parents believed me…immediately. I knew I could trust them if anything would ever come up that was an even bigger than this issue.

2) I could trust them to stick up for me. A friend of decades had no power of my family. I counted for so much more.

3) I internalized those feelings of worth. I had an invisible shield of love.

This is not to say that children who also had loving, supportive families have not been hurt. There are adults who will take advantage of children and those unable to protect themselves, but, we can send the message to our children that they do not have to be a victim. If an incident ever does occur, our child is not at fault and should not hesitate to tell an adult.

This guide has some great tools for having the conversations: The Underwear Rule.

Final Iowa Thoughts

There were a couple funny/insightful/delightful moments that I want to be sure to recall later.

First, and most importantly, I want to remember how much I enjoy time with my mom. We have such a comfortable, relaxed relationship and the quiet and coziness of her home was exactly what I needed for a couple days.

Next, at the airport an announcement was made requesting that the owner of the forgotten “Wolf Dip” return to security to retrieve it.

Don’t know what “Wolf Dip” is? You probably aren’t an Iowan.

I’d like to remember my cousin Scott’s lovely speech at Aunt Coke’s luncheon about the power and importance of family and what an amazing group the people gathered were, brought together by our love for this woman, but kept together by our shared memories and heritage.

On a less warm and cozy note, in the airport restroom in Des Moines, I was reminded of the awkward word usement from a t-shirt I received from the CrossFit in Altoona several years ago. The shirt read, “The sport of fitness has arrived to Altoona.”

I finally gave the shirt away because reading it hurt me.

Then I saw this in the restroom:

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Okkkkaaaayyyy?? Fine sentiment, confusing execution.

Speaking of wordy, Mom and I also had wonderful dinners with both my brothers and sisters-in-law while we were there. Spending time with them is always a treat.

The comfort and kindness of Iowans is always a joyful reminder of the good people in the world. That’s most important of all.

End of School Celebration

On Tuesdays this semester the littles and I have learned how to do schoolers’ car line. We pick up cousins after school, then they come over to play until dinner time.

This Tuesday was our last after-school time, so we had a celebration of the fun we’ve had.

The boys and Monkey had a little screen time while the younger girls and I got the bonfire going in the fire ring. We nursed it along for quite awhile and finally had a splendid blaze.

A little air to move things along.

A little air to move things along.

Once the fire settled down into hot coals and small flames, everyone roasted up their dogs and enjoyed a few s’mores.

Gathered around the fire.

Gathered around the fire.

After people had been eating for awhile, the Buster turned to me with huge eyes and said, “Mom…BUBBLES!”

We had forgotten about the bubble bouncers.

They produced the same reaction they always do.

Bounce to it.

Bounce to it.

Blueberry attack

Blueberry attack

Then we were very excited when Uncle Buds walked in the gate. I hadn’t expected him to get home until much later, but there he was!

Buds always loves a good scrum.

Buds always loves a good scrum.

Great excitement ensued when three bird eggs were discovered in planters.

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After youngers and I ran cousins home to get ready for their last couple days of school, we zipped home to enjoy a little more time outdoors.

"Daisy" chains constructed.

“Daisy” chains constructed.

I love this smile.

I love this smile.

What a great way to cap off many hours of time together over the last months.

Rest in Peaceful Laughter Aunt Coke

We buried my dad’s sister Coke today. She was 79 years old. She and my uncle George were married nearly 61 years.

To try to put into words what she was like isn’t truly possible. When I say she was one of my crazy aunts, I mean that in the most loving, spectacular way.

Her obituary from the funeral home:

Carol S. “Coke” Umbarger

1431363160-30395

Newton, IA
Sep 20, 1935 – May 10, 2015
VISITATION SERVICE At the funeral home
Wednesday, May 13th, 2015
5:00pm to 7:00pm
FUNERAL SERVICE At the funeral home
Thursday, May 14th, 2015
11:00am
BURIAL SERVICE At Newton Union Cemetery
Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Carol “Coke” S. Umbarger, 79, of Newton died on Sunday, May 10, 2015, at Skiff Medical Center. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m., Thursday, May 14, at the Wallace Family Funeral Home and Crematory. The family will greet friends from 5-7 p.m., Wednesday, at the funeral home. Memorials in Coke’s name may be left at the funeral home.

Carol, the daughter of Carroll and Jennie Ruth (Dodd) Dickerson, was born on September 20, 1935 in Newton. Coke was united in marriage with George Umbarger on July 23, 1954 in Newton. She worked for many years at the Jasper County Courthouse. Coke was a member of the VFW Women’s Auxiliary and a long time volunteer at Emerson Hough School. Coke loved to camp at the Iowa State Fair and Diamond Lake. She was a loving wife, mom, grandma, great-grandma, sister, aunt, and friend.

Those left to celebrate Coke’s life are her husband, George Umbarger of Newton; children, Jane (Jeff) McDermott of Newton and Rick (Brenda) Umbarger of Newton; her son-in-law, Wayne (Kim) McCoy of Newton; grandchildren, Nicole McCoy, Nathan (Stacie) McCoy, Sean (Rachel) McDermott, Patrick (Mari) McDermott, Ben (Cari) McDermott, Colton Umbarger, and Grant McCoy; her great-grandchildren, Carter, Trent, Lainey, McKynna, Kinser, Carlee, Sofia, Ethan, Landon, and one on the way; siblings, Kathy (Chuck) Hewitt, Chuck Dickerson, Dianna (Murray) Dougan, Lloyd (Barb) Dickerson, Bill (Bobette) Patton, and Mike (Sharon) Patton; her sister-in-law, Barb Dickerson; many nieces, nephews, and good friends, including her best friend, Marilyn Lamb. She was preceded in death by her parents; daughter, Judy McCoy; and siblings, Everett, Bobby, Richard, Donnie, Leroy, Jean, Mag, Lois, Lela, and Penny.

The funeral and the time at the cemetery was lovely, although I suspect it was the first time Dead Skunk In The Middle Of The Road was played at that funeral home, but the time afterward at the luncheon was spectacular. My cousin Arica had been given strict instructions by Aunt Coke that we were to laugh and drink and have a good time, and Arica had a box of jokes and stories that Aunt Coke had saved for people to share at her celebration. Stories were told for hours by her family and friends.

One of the fascinating aspects to me was that many of the stories, which brought us to tears from laughter, were often stories of poverty and alcoholism, difficult childhoods and strict discipline. This family of 17 children lived through stress and hardship I cannot even imagine. They handled it, and shared stories about it, with grace and perspective. My dad didn’t want to talk about it, so I was grateful to hear these stories that others knew so well.

It was such a joyful way to remember this amazing woman who brought love and ribald humor to this world. There’s no one else like her, and if I bring half the love and laughter to the world that she has, then it will have been a life well lived.

I’m trying to figure out how I can be the “crazy” aunt to my dearly beloveds. It will be of a different variety than Aunt Coke because she was a legend, but I’ll think of something. Although if I ever latch on to your face and give you a big slobbery kiss, you’ll know it’s in her memory.

A Bouncy Blasting Mother’s Day Weekend

After weeks and weekends of having things to do, we made the conscious decision to make no plans for this weekend.

On Saturday, the youngers and Buds and I went on an early morning walk to enjoy the beautiful day, and to build up our Italy stamina. Buds went to CrossFit, then Monkey had some free time at home while the other four of us went to get groceries. After lunch at Costco, we headed to Aldi’s, our new favorite store.

Buds and the children were delighted to find these:

What's not to love?!

What’s not to love?!

They had to be tried out immediately as soon as we got home.

Blowing them up. (Yes, Buds does actually own shirts.)

Blowing them up. (Yes, Buds does actually own shirts.)

Yessa wrote a little “I am a blueberry” song to sing while she waited for The Buster to be blown up.

Then the bouncy battle began.

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High hilarity for all.

Here’s the video Buds posted.

Though I was dubious about this purchase, I will admit they have been used every day and everyone has joined the fun.

Good-hearted Buds went over to church Sunday morning to be sure there weren’t any children there who needed a Sunday School teacher, but once he got the all-clear he came home to be with us.

Sunday was a day of enjoying family, having a delicious meal, and blasting the crud out/off our sidewalks and brick walls. Z and A lent us their power sprayer, and it was the best Mother’s Day gift they could ever have given me.

Before

Before

After...

After…

I actually thought this was cement on the bricks...nope.

I actually thought this was cement on the bricks…nope.

Everyone wanted to try it out.

Everyone wanted to try it out.

Look at those long legs on that 11 year old.

Look at those long legs on that 11 year old.

The steps were pretty gross, too.

The steps were pretty gross, too.

Wow!

Wow!

Moving some stumps brought us into the skink living room.

Moving some stumps brought us into the skink living room.

When Yessa came out onto the front steps to see the difference she exclaimed, “Is this the color they are?! I thought they were painted black.”

Before

Before

After!

After!

The rest of my time was spent enjoying the gardens.

My shaded garden last year:

Before

Before

So tickled with how this garden turned out.

So tickled with how this garden turned out.

I didn't even know this plant bloomed!

I didn’t even know this plant bloomed!

Happy, happy strawberries.

Happy, happy strawberries.

First berry of the season...with a gardener's dirty fingernail for good measure.

First berry of the season…with a gardener’s dirty fingernail for good measure.

Sparkly sidewalk

Sparkly sidewalk

Even the birdbath got spruced up.

Even the birdbath got spruced up.

Vibrant pink.

Vibrant pink.

What a wonderful weekend it was.

Clara Is Our Blank Space

Friends from our Iowa Days suffered a horrific tragedy last weekend. Their 8 y.o. daughter, Clara, was killed in an accident.

It was truly an accident. There’s no one to blame. No one to sue. (Laura and Andy aren’t the type of folks to sue anyway.)

There’s only mourning to be done and a future to try and figure out when your heart is shattered into tiny slivers.

Clara loved Taylor Swift. Laura posted video of Clara singing this song: Blank Space.

They launched a campaign to get Taylor to record a message for Clara’s funeral, which was this morning. I don’t know if that was successful. It many ways it doesn’t matter if it was. It brought people together, people who didn’t know each other, but who wanted, in some tiny way, to find a way to help the grief of a family who is now forever incomplete.

I rooted through our pictures to find shots to share with Laura and Andy one day. I’m writing this post as a way of processing my sorrow, but also because I want to DO something. Only time is going to make a difference, and even that won’t fix things.

I’m hugging my family closer. Reaching out with more love and kindness wherever I can. Just as Schmilly’s death reminded me to live with joy, Clara’s reminds me to live with thankfulness and love for every. single. day.

There’s no reason for what happened. Now we have to create reason for a different world.

The pictures below are from 2007 when friends gathered at Mom’s after they spent days helping us pack our belongings into the moving van for the move to Virginia. Friends from all across our lives gathered to care for us by packing, loading, hauling, and finally, celebrating with us by being together.

Andy, Laura, and Lily and Clara are scattered throughout these pictures. We held them in our hearts then, as we do now.

We all know it, but sometimes life sends a reminder, that we never know what is in store for us. That’s okay. Simply live with love as best we can.

Always with love…

Big Sister L

Big Sister L

"L" with "Em" in the background.

“L” with “Em” in the background.

The Buster chasing "B" down the hallway.

The Buster chasing “B” down the hallway.

Dear friends becoming new friends.

Dear friends becoming new friends.

Watching Wii bowling.

Watching Wii bowling.

So many new babies.

So many new babies.

Howard and Jim learning about each other.

Howard and Jim learning about each other.

Snuggles.

Snuggles.

Always love...

Always love…

Aimee snuggling Yessa.

Aimee snuggling Yessa.

Jumping on the Annie bed.

Jumping on the Annie bed.

Visiting.

Visiting.

Jumping

Jumping

Young and old making new friends.

Young and old making new friends.

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Forever in our hearts...

Forever in our hearts…

Dear ones.

Dear ones.

Shortly after Clara’s death, another friend posted an article about what to say to someone who has lost a child. I’m linking to it here to remind myself to keep saying her name, and the names of children that other friends have lost.

We Attend The Symphony

Doesn’t that sound fancy?

Ice storms cancelled the February concert we were to attend, so late April found us at the symphony. I love that we knew right where to go and where to park, and Yessa was especially fascinated by the very long lines of school buses bringing “The Schoolers” to the free concert.

There were no tickets given out for the concert, and I was tickled when the woman told us we were to sit in “the loge boxes.” That meant we were seated on the side, in box seats, right up next to the stage. They were fantastic. The boxes have individual seats and little tables for holding your drinks. We loved it.

As we waited for the concert to begin, I turned to Yessa to say, “I wonder if Roger will be playing today.”

Roger is a friend from our church. He plays the oboe in the symphony, and he played at the last concert we attended.

At that very moment, Yessa hollered out, “There he is!”

Roger had just come out onto the empty stage.

We had a couple minutes to talk with him, and it turns out he was the MC for our concert!

Director of Education & Community Engagement Walter Bitner wrote a wonderful blog post about the creation of the special concert we saw. Roger played oboe and piano as well as serving as the MC for the day. It brought an extra connection for us.

I accidentally deleted my pictures of the day from my phone, except for this one:

Roger visiting with another homeschooler in our loge box.

Roger visiting with another homeschooler in our loge box.

But here’s one from Walter’s blog post of the wonderful musicians who shared their talent and sense of fun with us.

The performers.

The performers.

One final interesting tech note. I set our parking to have a text sent to my phone so I could put more money in “the meter” to extend our parking time if the concert went longer than expected. It did, and I did. So amazing, this world we live in.

Memory Boxes

Each of us have a memory box. The boxes contain artifacts from over the years that were favorites from childhood or stories I wanted to be able to share one day or cards or letters from those we love.

In the process of cleaning out the storage room, all of our memory boxes were out on the floor.

The children saw them and wanted to dive in.

At first I was reluctant.

“I’m trying to organize. The basement is already so messy. Something will get lost.”

Then I realized how I sounded and wondered what the heck I was thinking?!

The memory boxes mean nothing if they aren’t opened and shared and talked about and cried and laughed over.

So, out they came.

And it was wonderful.

The time Monkey was on the cover of Washington Post Magazine, attempting to lick the Hope Diamond.

The time Monkey was on the cover of Washington Post Magazine, attempting to lick the Hope Diamond.

Shoes from Chinatown in San Francisco in an attempt to replace the beloved shoes Grandma brought home from the REAL China.

Shoes from Chinatown in San Francisco in an attempt to replace the beloved shoes Grandma brought home from the REAL China.

One of Monkey's favorite dresses that Grandma brought her from Mexico. It used to drag on the ground.

One of Monkey’s favorite dresses that Grandma brought her from Mexico. It used to drag on the ground.

One of Yessa's snuggliest outfits. She was our only winter infant.

One of Yessa’s snuggliest outfits. She was our only winter infant.

Buster laughs as he reads the week-to-week chart of the pregnancy that was him.

Buster laughs as he reads the week-to-week chart of the pregnancy that was him.

Old cards.

Old cards.

More treasures.

More treasures.

What did you find?

What did you find?

How the basement looked, but instead of a mess I see the memories that need to be organized.

How the basement looked, but instead of a mess I see the memories that need to be organized.

The years of tiny little crocs.

The years of tiny little crocs.

It was a joy to relive these memories with this crew. I’m glad we didn’t miss the opportunity.