Friday, March 26, 2010

Saying Goodbye

{Grandma and Grandpa with their nine kids; taken on their 75th wedding anniversary, November 2009}

For days after Grandpa's death, his memory took center stage in my mind: I could still hear his rough and cheerful voice in my head, still feel his soft, bony fingers, still feel the rough brush of his whiskers on my face when I kissed him. I could still see him, tottering around, his slippered feet shuffling along. I could still hear his chuckle, see the tears in his eyes when he talked about how proud he was of me, still feel the bones in his back through his plaid flannel button-down when I hugged him. It's slipping away now, and I find myself mourning all over again. The tighter I try to hold these memories, the faster they seem to fall through my fingers.

{Grandpa's saddle, hat, walking stick, and brand.  He traded the saddle for the walking stick several years back when riding became too uncomfortable.  He still chased his cows up until a couple years ago.  They called him the Walking Cowboy.}

I have mixed feelings about an open casket viewing, but Grandpa looked peaceful and just like himself. It was so odd to see him lying there, stretched out in a gorgeous pine wood casket, so still in crisp white clothes.  I found comfort in their subtle reminder of the resurrection, of faith, of the promise of reunion and eternal family.  In the same moment, though, I missed seeing his plaid flannel button-downs, his thick suspenders, his wrangler jeans, his cowboy boots, his cowboy hat.  I missed his large glasses and his watery blue eyes.  

{Grandpa, many years ago.  His hand got injured when a horse kicked it.  Ouch.}

Before they closed the casket, Grandpa's posterity took turns gathering around him in groups to say goodbye.  I touched his hand.  It was cold and smooth.  I missed his soft, seemingly frail fingers that had always gripped mine with firm tenacity.  

Grandma was the last to say goodbye.  I will always remember her, too sick to stand unaided, clutching his hand and the side of the casket, trembling with exertion as she tried to lean over to kiss him one last time.  My dad gently raised Grandpa's head and shoulders, and Grandma kissed the face of the man she had kissed a thousand thousand times before, now just a shell.  I could see how it pained her, and it pained me.  

{Grandma and Grandpa on their 60th anniversary} 

The funeral was beautiful. Truly. All of the thoughts and stories shared were in turns touching and laugh-out-loud funny. And some were random.  (Have I mentioned that my family is random? Apparently it's genetic.) It was great, though, because all of the randomness and the funny-ness and the sentimental-ness created a series of poignant snapshots from the life of this man who had brought all of us together. Time and time again, throughout the service, I found myself thinking, My grandpa is so cool. He really is. He was elected mayor of his town without even running--people just wrote his name in on the ballot. He drove a school bus when he was younger to supplement his ranching income, and that was how he met Grandma: she was a student on his bus. He only had an eighth grade education, but every one of his nine kids went to college.  He said, "My dad used to say, 'You can no more do that than go to the moon.'  And I have seen a piece of the moon."  As one speaker stated, there are two kinds of people: those who loved Grandpa, and those who didn't know him.  The meanest thing my dad ever heard Grandpa say was, "You old reprobate!"--and that was to a stubborn, sullen cow.  He and Grandma were married for more than 75 years. Seventy-five years! Theirs is an epic, yet quiet, love, not often demonstrated in fiery bursts of passion, but in the slow, steady dedication of a lifetime.

{19 of the 29 grandkids practicing for a musical number}

My dad was the concluding speaker. While everyone did a great job, it was his remarks that touched me the most. He is such a tender, good man.  My sister and I (along with at least half of the audience, I am sure) were a teary mess.  We were able to regain some composure during a beautiful violin solo by my cousin Stacia and some concluding remarks by my Uncle Gary.  I glanced at the "be strong and of a good courage" sticker on the back of my hand (as a sweet gesture, my mom, knowing how difficult it is to participate in a funeral, wordlessly gave a sticker to all of us who were on the program.  It may have looked silly, but I think it united and strengthened us).  Then Sara and I walked to the podium to sing the closing song.

For those of you who have not sung at a funeral before, it is an interesting experience.  You can't allow yourself to think about the deceased, to look at the people crying.  You have to step outside of yourself, to lock away your grief, to avoid thinking about what and why you're singing.  It is an undesirable privilege, a selfless act, a final gift.  

{Practicing before the service}

We sang a beautiful, fitting folksong called Homeward Bound.  It was not a flawless performance.  We sang a capella.  The song felt naked and raw to me, but it was pure and heartfelt.  Sara and I had each sung the song to our grandparents on various occasions, but the reason it made the program was because of my sister.  When Grandpa lay sick in the hospital, a day or two before his death, both Sara and I called my dad.  He held up the phone so Grandpa could hear us tell him we loved him.  Sara, always thoughtful, asked if she could sing for him.  So Dad put her on speaker phone and held it by Grandpa's ear and listened as she sang Homeward Bound.  The family gathered around the bedside wept at the fitting lyrics, the haunting melody, and Sara's sweet sincerity, intact despite clipped bandwidths and poor speakers.  In an effort to recreate that tender moment, she was asked to sing it, a capella, for the service.  I sang with her.  Somehow, miraculously, we made it through without tears.  

{The pink roses represented Grandma; the red were for Grandpa}

After the closing prayer, we filed out of the chapel and drove to the cemetery.  I am using the term "cemetery" loosely, as it's actually just a relatively small, fenced parcel of land that used to be the burial plot for a now-ghost town.  Several ancestors are buried there, so that's where most of Grandpa's family has chosen to rest in peace.  It is a beautiful place, but also wild and untamed.  Surrounded by red, rocky foothills, sage brush and scrub oak, there are no manicured lawns or orderly plots.  

{The view from Grandpa's resting place}

{My family, minus Sara, at the grave site}

{Jay and I at the luncheon}

It was a draining, sad, difficult day.  But it was beautiful, too.  The weather that morning was dreary and dangerous--snow made the roads all but impassable--but later, the sun broke through the gloom, the clouds dissipated and the snow began to melt.  It was a beautiful reminder of the healing of souls and of the joy that follows a night of weeping, a comforting metaphor for our loss.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Midnight Snack

I had to commemorate the first sweet strawberries of the season.

Costco, we love you.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Did you know cats in heat (and sometimes female cats in general) are called Queens? Well, consider Lucy dethroned.  

We've been meaning to get her spayed for a long time, particularly because her hormonal behavior makes her so unpredictable that she's a danger to herself.   We were finally able to make an appointment earlier this week--since it's my spring break, I would be able to keep an eye on her afterwards and make sure she didn't overdo it.  A hysterectomy is pretty major surgery, even for a cat.  

It was Tuesday morning, we had slept in a little later than we planned, and we rushed around to get everything ready.  Just as we were about to walk out the door, I turned to get Lucy.  She scampered away.  Thinking she was just playing, I tried to chase her around the house back into the living room.  She would have none of it.  She ran under the bed.  Five minutes later, both of us laying on our stomachs, arms reaching beneath the bed, Jay hauled her out, ruffled and disgruntled.  

My maternal guilt flared.  She knows, I thought.  She knows what we're going to do to her.  Jay and I ran out to the car--I, clutching Lucy to my chest--so that I could drop him off at school on my way to the clinic where they "fix" pets for a relatively low price.  I climbed into the driver's seat, holding Lucy firmly in my lap, as Jay began folding himself into the passenger seat of my compact car.  He reached out to close the door.  I relaxed my hold on Lucy as I reached to start the car.  Lucy, in an impressive feat of athleticism, leaped behind Jay's back and out his still-open door and jetted under the neighboring Toyota.  

She would not be coaxed out.  She ran from car to car, pausing under each one and gazing out at us with glowing green eyes.  She was taunting us.  We couldn't catch her, and she knew it.  Jay is fast, but even he was powerless to stop her.  I ran upstairs and grabbed her favorite toy to chase.  She wouldn't even look at it.  We had chased her down a line of at least 15 cars for at least 15 minutes.  All I kept thinking was, Great.  She's going to get herself knocked up on the very morning she's supposed to get fixed.  How would that be for irony?

She's never done anything like this to us before.  The one time she slipped out the front door, she just sat in the stairwell.  So what was going on?  Did she somehow know we were taking her to the hated vet (she may very well have sensed my guilt)?  Was this her hormones' last-ditch effort at fulfillment?  Or was this just a poorly-timed break for freedom and fresh air?  

She reached the end of the row of cars and raced into a set of thick bushes bordering the building.  We lost her several times in the thick foliage.  At long last, we caught a break.  She ran out the other side of the bushes onto someone's (thankfully unfenced) patio.  Jay somehow vaulted the bushes--quite a feat, even for his long legs--and grabbed the cat from where she was cowering under a small table.  

"Don't let her go!" I said.  "Make sure she doesn't wiggle free!"  But Jay's hands were steady, and his face was grim with determination.  He didn't let her go.  

We climbed, exhausted, into the car, this time making sure all doors were closed before releasing the cat.  She sat, subdued and shaking--from adrenaline or from fear, I'm not sure--in our laps for the rest of the drive.  Jay was late to school, and I was late to her appointment.  

We picked her up from the clinic later that evening.  She was groggy, and I cringed when I saw the large naked patch on her stomach surrounding a not-quite-inch-long incision.  She bumped into things as she made her way around the apartment, weaving as she walked, and missed rather spectacularly when she tried to jump up on things.  We tried to keep her from moving around too much, but she wouldn't have much to do with me or Jay, and I was afraid she'd never forgive us.

The next morning, after Jay was up, she pushed her way into our bedroom (our door, unfortunately, doesn't latch) and leaped onto the bed.  She pranced across the covers and snuggled into my arms, purring.  

We stayed like that for awhile, her and I, my "maternal" guilt finally beginning to unclench its fingers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Random Holidays

I've always wanted to be one of those people who could turn anything into a celebration. You know, like have parties for random holidays, commemorate historical events, or make foods or enact traditions from other cultures on international holidays. Stuff like that. As it stands, my kids will be lucky to even get Halloween costumes or Easter candy because I'm just not organized that way.

While I was on my mission, my mom and my sister were on a "no-sugar" diet. I don't remember now if it was just for Lent or if it was longer (I think it was longer), but they left themselves a loophole: treats were allowed on holidays. Unfortunately for their diet, "holidays" were not defined. Wasn't long before they "celebrated" every holiday. On every calendar. ("Hey! It's Rosh HaShanah! Let's go get ice cream!") I particularly remember them celebrating Benito Juarez's birthday (apparently he was a Mexican president). They looked him up on Wikipedia, sang happy birthday ("happy biiiiirthday, Benito Juarez"), and dug into a pint of Ben and Jerry's.

While Mom's and Sara's interest in obscure and/or international holidays may not have been purely inspired by a desire to learn more about other cultures or historical events, I think it's a neat idea. For example, I learned a lot (and had a great time) here. And what a fun way to teach kids: give a little lesson about how 350 years ago, Isaac Newton defined gravity, and then go drop apples off the balcony.

Anyway, I've been trying to get better about being randomly festive. I started by commemorating "Pi Day." (Get it? March 14 = 3/14 = 3.14 = the first three numbers of pi, and "pi" is a homonym of "pie"... Okay, so it's a bit of a stretch.) It's a "holiday" commemorated mostly by math nerds, and since my mom is queen of the math nerds, I'm afraid none of her children escaped quite unscathed (case in point--here's Mom's facebook status: "It's 3/14--Happy Pi Day everyone! We are going to eat some pie this evening to celebrate and, as we do we will contemplate, just briefly, the ratio of the circumference to the diameter. Mostly, though, we will just eat it."). Nerdy or not, I'm up for any excuse to eat pie. (I discovered after the fact that 3/14 is also Albert Einstein's birthday. We'll have to figure out a way to work that in next year... Maybe he had a favorite kind of pie? And 3/14 is actually my half-birthday. Can't think of a better way to celebrate!)

So I made an apple pie. We shared it with our friends, the Packards. We ate it with ice cream while we played games.

Smile! It's pi day! (Unfortunately, it was also Daylight Savings day, so I was exhausted. Stupid time change really messes with my system.) And, yes, I have received a haircut since this picture was taken. Your concern is duly noted. Thank you.

Ashley rocks. You can almost see the Packards' delicious homemade bread under the towel on the counter. Mmmm...

So glad you liked it, Kevin.

We love Pi(e) day!

Yesterday, of course, was St. Patrick's day. Jay wore his green scrubs, I donned a bright green shirt, and I even attempted a semi-Irish supper (chicken pot pie sounds Irish, right? ...Kinda?). I made soda bread for the first time, and it was delish.

Happy (late) Pi day and St. Patrick's day! If you have any random holidays or fun traditions, feel free to share.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Real" Job

I just had my first "real" interview yesterday. For my first "real" job. And I'll be honest--it scared the pants off me.

It was a telephone interview, and since my sister-in-law and her husband were in the living room, I sat cross-legged on my mostly-made bed, wearing slacks and mascara, hoping my professional demeanor would be evident over the phone. One of the interviewers asked, "Do you feel that your schooling and your internships have adequately prepared you for your clinical fellowship year?"

And I said, confidently, "Yes. I absolutely do."

And it's true--I think I am prepared--but I still feel like I know next to nothing. And there was a little bit of quaking underneath my bravado.

There was a long pause on the line before the interviewer cleared his throat and said, "Care to expound on that a little?"

And even though I was sitting there with a word document in front of me that listed all of my glowing qualifications and prompts for answers to a plethora of possible questions (the only perk of a phone interview), I hesitated. It was toward the end of the thirty-minute interview, and I didn't know what more I could say. I already felt like I had repeated everything at least three times.

So I again tried to answer in a way that (hopefully) exuded confidence and charisma and that conveyed the message: "I am awesome. You should hire me." But really, when I hung up the phone at the end, I was exhausted. My confident veneer was hanging off in strips and tatters. Because while I do think I'll make a good employee, I don't think I can hold my own against people who are surely more awesome than I am.

And yet, while I have rational doubts that I'll land this job, I do have high hopes that I'll get another one. Maybe even a better one.

I just hope it's soon.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lucy's Leap

{Lucy with her acne-swollen chin}

What with school and internship and the unexpected trip for Grandpa's funeral, I haven't had a chance to get Lucy spayed yet. So she's in heat. Again. (Or is it still?) Anyway, I actually kinda like it because she's super snuggly (as I'm typing, she's rubbing her soft little head against my foot, purring), though I am getting a little sick of her bottom going up in the air every time I touch her. Poor thing is slave to her hormones. Just how much she's addled by them wasn't truly apparent until Saturday.

A couple times a week or so, Jay will let Lucy out on the balcony. We live on the second floor, so there's not much chance of her escaping or meeting any "friends." She seems to enjoy it outside, pretending to pounce at birds in the tree outside our apartment or watching the feral cats that live in the storm drain below us (Jay often starts singing "Someday My Prince Will Come" in a feline imitation of Snow White as she stares longingly out the window). Sometimes she'll even go scratch by the balcony door to let us know she wants to go out. I was nervous for the first couple months that she would fall/jump through the bars, especially since she liked to stick her head over the edge and check out what was on the ground, but my fears gradually relaxed as time passed.

Yesterday, Lucy wanted out, so Jay let her outside and, it being a beautiful day, left the door open and cracked the window. We were both on the couch about ten minutes later, talking, when I heard a high feline scream, followed by a loud yowl. Now, due to aforementioned feral cats, an occasional cat scream is a relatively common occurrence, but I immediately jumped up and ran to the balcony. They say that mothers can recognize the individual cry of their child; I'm not sure if that's true for pet owners, but it makes for a good story, right? Anyway, I looked down from the balcony and saw Lucy sitting, legs splayed awkwardly, on the pavement a good 15-plus feet below.

"She jumped! She jumped!" I yelled, almost hysterical, to Jay. Bless him, he ran out the front door and down the stairs, quick as a flash. Lucy just sat there, vacant and stunned. I ventured back inside as he picked her up and assessed the damage--I couldn't stand to watch.

Thankfully, she's fine. No broken bones. She mewled in pain a few times as Jay poked and prodded and palpated, and she acted super shell-shocked the rest of the day and slept significantly more than usual. Later that evening, other than a sizable goose egg on her chin, she was none the worse for wear.

As for her motive, Jay is convinced that her hormones, quite literally, drove her over the edge. It appears she will go to great lengths to follow nature's urgings.

Hopefully she's learned her lesson, but for the time being, we're keeping our little adrenaline junkie off the balcony.

{Lucy performing acrobatics on her scratching post. I have yet to figure out why animals' eyes glow that freaky green color. And just FYI, the "red-eye reduction" photoshop tool does not work on them...}