Monday, November 17, 2014

What Once Was Lost

     What once was lost, now is found.  
     It finally happened, only not quite the way I thought it would.  I thought I would get a call from the police or a kindly soul:  "Is this Stephanie?  We have your grandmother here."  I was prepared for that.  I wasn't prepared for a long, mostly sleepless night.  I wasn't prepared to wonder if she was scared.  I wasn't prepared to contemplate all the possibilities:  Will she stay in the car with the heat on?  Will she think to pull over and ask someone for help?  Will she/Has she been in an accident?  Has she had a stroke or another pulmonary embolism and may not be found until it's too late?  Where the hell can she be?
      The phrase, "Choose to trust," kept rolling through my head like a mantra.  The prayer of "I know you're here with me, and you have your eye on her, and that is enough" was repeated many times.  And, as always, Jesus came through.
     Last night my grandmother went out about a quarter to eight to eat at the restaurant she frequents.  I give her two hours of "You're not aloud to freak out, Stephanie" whenever she does this while I'm home.  The two hours passed.  Every other time I've worried, it's always been fine -- she went to visit with someone or she stopped somewhere for gas.  The third hour passed.  I sat in the kitchen, legs crossed with a foot swinging, arms crossed looking at the clock every five minutes distracting myself with a movie on TV.  The fourth hour came.  It was close to midnight.  She never stays out that late, even when she's playing Yahtzee at her one friend's place.  So I got in my car and drove by the restaurant.  I drove by other restaurants.  I drove by the post office.  I drove by gas stations, through my uncle and aunt's neighborhood, through the parking lot of her one friend's apartment complex.  She was no where.  I came back home and called the emergency room -- no one by that name had been through that night.  I called my uncle and aunt's.  By this time five hours had passed.  It was now near 1 AM.  Back and forth and waiting by the phone for another hour or so.  My uncle called the local sheriff's office.  The deputies came by, got a description, advised they had deputies scouring the (very tiny by the way) city.  
     Around 3 AM I crawled in bed wide awake.  The clock in the next room was tick-tick-ticking (me off), so I pulled the battery out.  I kept listening for the sound of my grandmother pulling into the garage or the doorbell ringing or someone banging on the front door.  I put on a movie and tried to sleep.  I got maybe an hour.  The sprinklers outside woke me at 5:15 AM.  I had decided the night before, no wait, correction, I had decided a couple hours before that I would go into work today.  Didn't want to sit around the house doing nothing.  Waiting.  There was still no word from the police.
     Driving to work, a raven flew over my car, and the spark of a little girl heart's dream flashed: oh that I did have the power to speak with birds; I would have them search all the land for my grandmother.  But then the Holy Spirit reminded me that he doesn't need birds; he knows right where she is, and again the prayer: "I know you're here with me, and you have your eye on her, and that is enough."
     After I'd been at work about half an hour, a call came on my mobile.  It was a woman named Susan -- God's answer to my prayer.  My grandmother had driven to a gas station.  Susan noticed something wasn't quite right and thought maybe this woman needed help pumping gas, so she went to the car and tapped on the window.  My grandmother told her, "I don't know where I am."  Susan asked if there was someone she could call.  "Well, my granddaughter, but she can't come get me; she's at work."  "I'm sure she'll come get you," Susan had said to her.  By God's grace, my number was in my grandmother's purse.  
     Susan gave me directions to the gas station, her cell phone number and said she would stay with my grandmother until I came.  I told her my grandmother had been missing since last night, and it was a good thing that she called me.  She had asked that, whether or not she had been right to call.  "Oh no, it's very good you called me.  She's been missing since last night."  She said she got goosebumps by that.
     So I went to pick up my grandmother who remembered going out to eat last night, but the twelve hours after she left the restaurant (according to the receipt she had left about 9 PM) are a mystery.  She'd told Susan (who was kind enough to give my grandmother some water even) she had left the house this morning to go on errands and couldn't remember how she got there or where she was.  I told my grandmother, "No, you went out to eat, and you didn't come home.  We had the police out looking for you."  She was baffled.  After making sure we were okay Susan left.
     My grandmother's legs were shaky from having sat in the car all night.  It took a few minutes before she felt strong enough to walk from one car to the other.  I drove her home where my aunt met us.  She waited for my uncle, and the two of them retrieved my grandmother's car.  Then we all went out for lunch.
     As I told the police, and my answered prayer Susan, this is the first time something like this has happened.  Thankfully, my grandmother is safe.  The redeeming part about her memory loss is she won't be traumatized by this.  As she doesn't remember what passed in the twelve hours of her leaving the restaurant and driving into the gas station, she won't remember if she was scared or cold or ashamed.  We've revoked her driving privileges, took away her keys.  She took that well, though she is a little put out she can't drive to see her one friend whenever she wants.  But, like with her medicine, that too will blow over.
     I am tired.  My head aches from tears I refused to shed.  But at least she is found.  And she is safe.  Thank God Almighty for that.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Downward Spiral

     She asked me about the dishes again yesterday.  "Are you taking dishes to work and not bringing them back?"
     "No," I reply.  "You have the same amount of dishes, give or take a broken glass, as you did when I moved in here three years ago."
     "I know that when I buy dishes...I should have twelve."
     A few moments later: "Do you think someone could have a key and is getting in and taking them?"
     She actually doesn't get all the way through this sentence before I interject, "No, Nana, no one has a key to the house."  Now I'm frustrated because I don't know how many different ways to tell her she's not missing any dishes; I have to practice my self-restraint to tell keep myself from saying to her that she's being paranoid.  So I try a different strategy:  "Call David & Leslie and see if they have any ideas."
     She doesn't.  So when David comes by to pick her up for dinner I tell him, "She's concerned," do not say "paranoid" because she is standing right there, "about her dishes again."
     Yes, again.  This is the third time she's asked me about dishes in the last month or so.  (Although in the past year, there were a few scattered times she believed she was missing Tupperware.)  I've lived with her three years -- the same amount of dishes exist.  Why now is she so...concerned about them now when she never was before?
     Dementia -- there really is no logic.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Obsession: Part II

Hearing stories from other people whose elderly relatives developed dementia, I gather that weird or unusual obsessions are part of the disease.

I've mentioned "the pills" before.  Well, this one is to do with the kitchen.

I've been living here with my grandmother about three and a half years.  All serving items (plates, bowls, etc.) have, for the most part remained the same in that time, with the exception of a few new mugs and a few "OK to throw away" containers.

Last week or the week before....

My grandmother:  What happened to all the silverware?
Me:  What do you mean?
My grandmother:  I had [insert number of] forks.  Some aren't there.
Me:  I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about.

This goes on for a little bit.  The self-restraint is hanging by a thread, and I flippantly say, "I guess someone came in and stole them."
My grandmother: They must have because I had [however many] of each and now there are only [less number than however many].

This past weekend....
My grandmother:  Are you taking glasses to work and not bringing them home?

[Okay, pause....I can't even begin to describe the absurdity of this statement.....resume]

Me:  No.  There are the same number of glasses in there as there always are.
My grandmother:  No, some are missing.  I had...just a minute.  [She goes to check to tell me just exactly how many are missing, like she can remember the exact number of each type of glass she has, but gets sidetracked by something else and forgets about the whole thing.]

(I realize that last bit is a little callous, but please permit me a little blazing honesty for a moment.  My self-restraint is temporarily broken.)

I checked a few minutes later, not mentioning the conversation, just looking.  All the glasses are there.

I don't know if this one counts as obsessional technically, or paranoid.  Either way....oy.  And since I don't remember to ask in the moment, because I'm too busy being stunned by whatever absurd question has been thrown at me: "Jesus, please allow me your strength in these moments.  Amen."

How Not to Kill Your Grandmother

I've become quite familiar with the emergency room.  How old is mine?, you ask -- she'll be 82 this month.

Last November (it was forever ago and it was yesterday) was our first visit.  I get home from work to find the house slightly amiss.  I walk around cautiously calling for Nana, praying I don't walk into a room and find her on the floor.  Her car is still in the garage, but her purse is gone.  I assume she's at the neighbor's. What really nags at me is the sight of my work number lying on top of the microwave, like she had the intention of calling me. I call Uncle David and Aunt Leslie to make sure Nana isn't with them (leave a message for both) before going to knit/crochet group.  Aunt Leslie calls me back while I'm at group.  She had gone to the house after she got my message.  She went to the neighbor's but the neighbor said she hadn't seen her.  Leslie went across the street to another neighbor's -- they happened to see an ambulance come pick up Nana.  So I go home.  We discover the hospital Nana'd been taken to.  The story finally comes out that she felt short of breath so she called an ambulance.  By the time the ambulance had arrived, she knew she had called them, but she couldn't remember why (a recurring theme with these ER visits).  It was determined she had a pulmonary embolism.  This visit marked the commencement of me being charge of her medicine.

The second visit is a Saturday.  I had planned a lovely day at the zoo with a friend and her son (me complaining is another common theme with these ER visits), but Nana said she woke with a pain across her chest.  By the time we even leave for the ER, Nana is no longer in pain.  We're at the ER -- a long, drawn out process, especially for the complaint of chest pain -- they run their tests.  Nothing is wrong, but they admit her overnight for observation.  During this visit, I discover that she and her one friend had chili dogs the night before.  The woman probably had indigestion.  This visit taught me that should Nana ever complain of chest pains in the future, I should ask more questions before jumping in the car.  (Please, for your sake and mine, do NOT state anything along the lines of "Better to be safe than sorry."  Really not helpful.)

The third visit I wasn't privy to until I came home from work.....thank you, Jesus.  She went in, nothing wrong, sent her on her merry way.  

Let me interrupt here to say, the thing about these ER visits, there's always the thought of "Is this the One?"  There's the worry regarding whether or not this one's very serious, like the first; whether this will be the last one because it's the one she won't come back from.  That thought is always there nagging.

And now for the fourth visit: today.  I am woken up at 5am.  "Stephanie.  Get up.  I need you to take me to the hospital."  I get up; I get dressed. I prepare myself to ask questions regarding what kind of chest pains she's having, is there shortness of breath, etc. -- remember the lesson learned from Visit #2.  I walk out into the kitchen.  She has a bag all prepared in case they admit her.  Before I can ask any questions: "Look at that."  She points to her feet.  She has a lovely bruise on one toe.  "I was lying in bed reading, and it did that."  A stubbed toe? I'm thinking.  Well, she's on coumadin [blood thinner].  Fine.  So we get in the car.  I'm so tired, my eyes are watering.  I didn't bring a warm sweater or sweatshirt because I clearly didn't learn a lesson about the ER being the same temperature as the Antarctic.  So we sit there in the ER.  I'm tired, I'm cold, I'm a little angry at myself for not saying, "Let's wait a bit; if it gets worse, I'll take you."  

A nurse finally comes in; this is when I discover that Nana did not want to come to the hospital because of a stubbed toe.  Oh no.  Here in paraphrase is what she told the nurse: "I was reading in bed.  My feet and legs felt tingly.  I looked down and they're blue."  She's showing her legs to everyone like we're all supposed to be impressed by something.  By her legs being blue, she meant the veins had shown themselves.  Like the veins in her ankles and on her feet -- you know, the veins all old people get for whatever medical/scientific reason old people's veins start showing off on the legs and feet -- were all new to her.  Just Saturday she was mentioning how awful they looked, and she doesn't remember it looking like that.  It does by the way.  All the time.

So, in my words, Nana wanted to go to the hospital because she felt new veins showing.  So here's "how not to kill your grandmother" in three easy steps.  Actually, there aren't steps, just three words: don't do it.

I am so mad and so tired, I have to turn my head to the side so she doesn't see tears running down.  I call my mom, who insists on staying informed on every hospital visit, and have Nana speak with her.  Mom wants to speak with me afterwards, but I can't.  I have to step out of the "room" (it's a cubby with a curtain) because I can't not full out cry.  Because that's what happens when one is sick or really upset about something -- you cry to your mother (or mother figure).  And when you don't want to cry, it's just disaster waiting to happen.

The doctor feels her feet and ankles -- good temperature, good arterial pulse, no unnatural discoloration, (she's fine).  He has a quick blood check done -- all well there.

By the time we're ready to leave a few hours later, Nana -- even though she's told everyone there without any prompting why she came to the hospital -- asks me, "Why did I come in?"  All I can do -- very little self-restraint left at this point -- is look at her and say, "Really, Nana?"

I took her home and went to hang out with a friend, which is often three times the worth of a month of professional therapy.  Thank you, Jesus, for Donna.

So the lesson from this fourth visit is like that of the second, and what is that:  always ask questions.  

Stay tuned for another brief post regarding my grandmother's obsessions.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Obsession and Confusion


     Fantastic.  Now Nana has an obsession with her pills again.
     Friday night -- six days ago -- I went out to dinner with her and David.  I mentioned to David that before Nana leaves, while she's on her trip, some of her medicines will run out, so we'll need new prescription orders.  Of course, Nana is sitting right there hearing this conversation.
     I get home from work yesterday to find she did take her AM medicines, however, on the chart "AM" was circled, and Nana had written "pills not out."  Ummm, what?  I thought perhaps she had taken her pills, forgot she had taken them and so thought I hadn't put them out.
     No, no.  Once again, she was talking about the big bottles.
     Last night from her one friend's house she called asking about [whatever the situation was in her mind that I could not follow] saying her pills weren't out.  She said she'd taken her morning ones.  She said she'd gone back to my room to look for her pills (she's referring to the big bottles, which I keep hidden in my room -- OMW).  When I told her I didn't know what she was talking about, she couldn't remember, but she knew there was a reason she was asking.  She became so mixed up with this one (obsessional) thought, she couldn't focus on my question of allowing me to check her bank account balance online.  She said we'd talk when she got home.
     Me:  "I'll be in bed when you get home."
     Nana:  "Well, you can wake me up in the morning."
     Me: (in my head) As I rush out of the house because, as always, I'm thisclose to running late, and you're half asleep because I just woke you up?  Sure thing, Nana.
     When I put her daily dose out this morning, there was a note: "Please put all my pill bottles out.  You said I'd run out of some.  I'll go refill them today."
     The reply:  "You have plenty of pills."
     I debated expanding on that but stuck with simplicity.
     It's been hard for her to relinquish control of her medicines.  Clearly.  I'd love, love, love to tell her the truth -- that she can't be in charge of them because she'd screw it up and no one would have any clue, and she may or may not die because of it.  But that truth is one of the things for which I must practice self-restraint.  And not telling the truth is HARD for me.


     This morning I find a note from Nana: "Please leave my checkbook out.  Thank you."
     Her checkbook is in her purse.  I take it out to write checks for her; I replace it when I'm done.
     So I pulled the checkbook out of her purse and sat it with the message and wrote a reply:  "Here ya go.  It was in your purse.  ?"

     I'm starting to get worried about her confusion.  Worried that it's getting worse.
     Dear Lord, what do I do about this?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Procrastination is quite catching

Nana is the best procrastinator I know, which is not a good thing.  In one post, I mentioned how it took her three days before she went to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy.  My latest quandary is her bills.  It's not really the latest; this has been an issue for a while, but since her procrastination has become worse, the bill paying issue has festered.  They pile up and pile up.  She's old fashioned and likes to pay her bills in person, so some of the local bills (cable, insurance, water, etc), she wants to wait and go to the building and pay them.  This would be fine -- if it got done; if she didn't get "sidetracked" in doing so; if she didn't put it off for the next day or until she gets dressed for the day and then doesn't.

I suppose I could look at my "control freak" nature as something of a blessing in this situation, though I struggle with going too far (or maybe not far enough).  I don't want to rip Nana's independence from her, but when things like paying bills aren't getting done...where is the line?  I have no problem taking control of areas that need it, like her medication for instance, even though it can hamper my own independence at times.  (That's the real rub of wanting control, the paradox; being "Miss Independent" in my own life, often hampers my own independence.)  I don't mind writing the checks for her, which, lately is what has happened.  But it all is a struggle.  

As for Nana's procrastination, I wonder at its roots.  I wonder whether it is the dementia causing her to put things off and then she forgets or if maybe it is depression.  I'm inclined to link it to the dementia since the procrastination has become worse as her mind has become more diminished.  There are other "chores" that she puts off as well; I've heard stories of other people with dementia where things didn't get done, washing dishes for example.  Just another step on the road.

And darn it if it isn't catching!  Normally I pay a bill as soon as I receive it in the mail, but lately, they sit there for a few bad.  Of course, Nana's primary care doctor (the one with whom I'm not very impressed) would probably call this normal -- according to his logic, we'll all have Alzheimer's by the time we're 80.

P.S.  I want to say that I don't write these posts regarding life currently for sympathy or to get encouragement from others, even though encouragement at any point in life is welcome.  I don't need sympathy or a shoulder to cry on; God is more than enough for that. Rather I write them 1) to get it out of my system, to get out of my own head and 2) in the hopes that someone else will read them and know that they're not alone and themselves gain some encouragement.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Revisiting My Childhood -- The Witches

     I'm watching again a few movies from my childhood (a surprisingly short list).  Grasping at straws, I suppose, trying to keep the fade from moving too fast.  Silly, I know.
     I watched The Witches tonight.  That movie scared the pants off me when I was a kid, and I hadn't watched it since.  There were three things from this movie that I've always remembered quite clearly:  the look of the Grand High Witch (in all her nasty, gory, glory), the boy's first encounter with a witch and the little girl in the painting.
     The Grand High Witch is still horrifying -- absolutely terrifying -- as is the little boy's first encounter with a witch.  Yeah, and the little girl who is stolen and placed in a painting to live out her days before fading away...(yup, I went there).  
     I guess the movie itself is no longer pee my pants scary since I'm no longer a child in danger of having my existence stamped out  by a witch.  Now that I'm older, there are a few fun things I observed:  the Grand High Witch meets a ghastly end by Rowan Atkinson (familiar to most as Mr. Bean); Downton Abbey's Mr. Carson plays the head chef; a little romantic tryst between the hotel manager (Atkinson) and a member of housekeeping -- not something I would have picked up on as a kid; the number of men who played witches (all witches in this story are female) -- that observation was especially fun.  Also, ironically, I believe this was my first exposure to Angelica Huston (she played that fearsome Grand High Witch) who, I think, is fabulous.
     There are two things I am taking from this viewing of The Witches: 1) I am no longer scared to watch this movie (seriously, I was very nervous, it really was horrifying to me as a kid) and 2) be wary of any large gatherings of women by the English seaside.
      Next on the roster: Troop Beverly Hills

A Toast to Self-Restraint

I've decided I need to keep some semblance of a written record of my life at present -- being a writer and all that, it might help.  Everything has been O.K., not so bad, but lately I'm starting to feel like Atlas with the world on my shoulders.

I'm a fan of the Property Brothers shows on HGTV (or Harlequin Hottie Heroes, as I like to call them).  It's often noted on the show how the little things "add up."  That's how I feel: the little things are starting to add up.  Under normal circumstances, it's not so bad, but when big things are in the stress cup, all the little things build and build.

Right now in my life I'm something of a caretaker.  That is not a little thing.  However, this thing takes up a lot of my stress cup.  I live with my grandmother who has dementia.  When I first moved here three years ago, she just had a bad memory, was a little absent-minded as she's always been.  Ever so gradually the bad memory became worse -- gradually as in I could see some change, some decline over a couple months.  Then that time span shortened; there were what I called "good days" and there were "bad days."  The good days she could make it through her day normally while the bad days she'd get confused and wouldn't be able to remember how things like the tea maker functioned.

Last November Nana went into the hospital with a blood clot, and the battle really began.  That was my "It all starts here" moment.

While Nana was in the hospital, it became clear she couldn't be in charge of her daily medicines.  For a while we kept the big bottles (this is how I will refer to her prescription bottles) in the kitchen as well as her pill case (daily doses).  Because of her growing confusion, this strategy didn't last long.  I had to hide the big bottles and case in my room.  I pop out her daily pills each day and set it out on the counter for her next to a daily chart to cross off each time she's taken her pills.

Her doctor's visits are handled by my uncle (her son).  If he can't go with her, I try to make sure her friend -- her one friend -- can.  Any more, Nana hardly remembers if she's even been to the doctor's on any given day.

So what was a gradual memory loss and lack of coherent thought noticeable from month to month has grown to a noticeable change from week to week, occasionally day to day.

My self-restraint is often tested.

When I was on vacation in July, Nana wanted to be left in charge of her medicines, which, of course, I wouldn't allow.  She was very put-out by this (a whole story in and of itself).  The trial of this week -- I needed more of the 1mg blood thinner.  So her primary doctor (of whom I do not have a very high opinion) wrote a prescription which my uncle picked up -- he picked up the RX orders I mean -- on Monday.  Tuesday I left a note with the RX order for Nana to pick up the RX from the pharmacy.  Both the note and the order were still sitting on the counter when I returned home Tuesday evening.  Nana was still in her nightdress playing on the computer.  "I was going to pick it up when I got dressed, and then never got dressed," she said.  It's "incidents" like these that are hard to forget, to let go of, to not throw back in her face -- "You want to be in charge of your medicines, but you don't show you can handle that."  Self-restraint to keep from saying these awful things is sometimes a daily practice.

These things I keep myself from saying, they're not bad in and of themselves.  The things I try hard not to say, which are often true -- really it is what the words would do to her that is awful.

So, everyone, lift your drink and say a toast: To Self-Restraint!

Slow Fade

It seems strange how slowly childhood dies.  Slowly it fades away.  Deaths and changes all around.  It all fades away like the color of a rug bleached in the sun over a long period of time.

Nana is no longer "Nana."  She's still a person, a human being that matters, important, but my Nana too has faded away.  And I'm not quite sure when it happened, when the last little bit left.  I wasn't expecting it to happen so soon.  Her memory is dying (deteriorating if you'd prefer a word less morbid), yes, but she still remembers who people are, still remembers where she lives and how to get home.  But she -- who she was -- is gone from me.

And all I want to do is curl up in Abba's lap and have a good cry about it.  I want to go to Nana and Grandpa's old house in Roanoke and sit in a chair, but the house isn't the same anymore.  Or go to Sue's house and curl up in a bed and have a good long nap, but it isn't "mine" anymore.

Gone.  All gone.  Lost.  

I cling desperately to every last memory and sensation, but it is gone.  And can be no more.

I've thought often lately of Neil Diamond's song "I Am I Said."  One line goes: "L.A.'s fine but it ain't home/ New York's home, but it ain't mine no more."  Making that line my own, I could say, San Diego's fine, but it ain't home; Virginia's home, but it ain't mine no more.

Like the Duplicitous Forest, my childhood screams but is not heard -- waiting for the Messengers to come and tell the story true, I suppose.  

I really must finish that story (cr "Heads or Tails" posts).

"Heads or Tails": Chapter One, Part One [Edited]

[Author's note:  This opening has changed rather a bit.  I decided that the opening I had originally written gave the wrong focus, the wrong impression.  The first major re-write of the opening had lost all the charm of the first draft; I've been able to write a little of that back, but not to the full measure.  I don't know that I'll post any more of the story unless requested, maybe a piece here or there, so enjoy.  P.S.  For those who've been reading these posts in order, Matt wanted to stay a Matt; Richard is gone -- for the most part.]
  "Heads we get married, tails we break up."  The goofy grin slid back on his face, and he raised his eyebrows.
   "What?" said Annabelle.
   "That's the opening."
   "How do you figure?" Annabelle Smith finally managed to stuff her arms into the cream-colored pea coat.  She grabbed the strap of her purse and stomped past Matt Jones, her friend and colleague of two years.  He'd been the one to get her this job – this fabulous job – her dream job of writing for the show.
Well, he didn't get her the job.  The Heads (as Matt and Annabelle called the producers) wouldn't have even considered her had she not some small ounce of talent or gumption; Matt simply brought their attention to her work via her blog.  The situation was most anomalous.  Annabelle, an American, often mused, Who knew that that one small (embarrassing) piece of fan fiction would land me here?  But here she was writing for one of her favourite British television shows alongside Matt Jones.
   And she would not allow him to keep her from her soft couch that resided in her cozy sitting room tonight.  It's been a long day already; Matt's borage of questions, his pulling the best of her out of her head to go on the page had left her exhausted.
   "You're just teasing me again, aren't you?" he said with his Northampton accent.
   "Matt, when have I ever teased you about this before?  Do you really think Vivianne and Richard would last as a married couple?  It would be like people insisting we be a couple."
   "Annie-bellie-wellie, I love it when you call us a 'couple.'"  Matt threw his arm around her shoulder and squeezed Annabelle to his side.
   "First, you goof, we are a writing pair, not a couple."
   "Ah, but we are a pair, my Annie-bellie-wellie."
   "A pair of cuckoo birds.  Don't interrupt.  Second, for the love of cheesecake, don't say my name like that."
   "Like what?  Oh.  Would you rather me sing it?  My dear Annie-bellie-wellie!" Matt warbled.
   Annabelle punched him in the arm laughing.  "Shut up."
   Matt's own laughter died down.  He clasped his hands behind his back as the writing pair walked down the corridor to Car Park A.  Annabelle knew her friend was muddling over an idea because his eyebrows gathered together.  However, she looked straight ahead and forced herself to charge forward.  "Seriously though – Annabelle – something needs to happen to really shake things up for our Richard, and maybe the act of marrying this Vivianne – remind me again, why Vivianne instead of Lucy or Amy or something?"
   "Because names are important, and this girl is meant to show Richard new life in some way; Vivianne means 'lively;' it fits.  You can't just go throwing names around, you know.  They're too sacred. 
In many ways, Vivianne is the hero Richard doesn't even know he needs."
   Annabelle knew she was probably being silly about the name thing, but it was an idea from which she could not shake herself free.
   "So Vivianne is the adventure Richard needs?"  He grinned the Matt Jones grin.  "Just like you for me, my Annie-bellie, my call to adventure."
   In spite of herself, Annabelle giggled.  "You are a marvelous man, Matt Jones, but I'm afraid it just wouldn't work between us.  I could never bring myself to worship cheesecake as you do."
   "Ah, I do love cheesecake."
   "You are what you eat."
   "Easy, Smith," Matt said as he held open the door to the parking garage.
   Annabelle stepped over the threshold and stopped.  She vaguely heard the heavy door shut behind her.
   "What is it?' Matt said.  She then felt him pause beside her.  "Ummm."
   "This isn't the parking garage," said Annabelle
   "A very astute observation.  No it is not."
   "Where are we?"  Annabelle turned.  The door they had come through was still there.
   "Suppose we've somehow managed to find ourselves on the set of a new show?"
   "Right.  So, they've moved Car Park A and built a set here?" 
   "Precisely."  Matt turned and yanked on the door while Annabelle threw her hand into her bag searching for her phone.  "Okay.  Don't panic.  The door is stuck.  And by stuck I mean disappearing before our eyes!"  Annabelle looked up.  The door literally was vanishing into thin air before the writers' eyes.  "Um, Annabelle?"
   "Yes, Matt?"
   He took her hand as she looked in astonishment at the space where the door to Car Park A once was.  "I think we're in trouble."
   "Oh cheesecake."
   "Don't take the name of cheesecake in vain."
   "Sorry," she choked.  Annabelle turned the other way to face what was supposed to be Car Park A but was now a forest of evergreens.  "I can't find my cell.  I must have left it on my desk again.  Do you have yours?"
   Matt patted the pockets of his pants and searched those of his corduroy jacket.  He looked at Annabelle regretfully and shook his head.  She sighed and looked back at the landscape before them.  They appeared to be in a forest of dense evergreens and some scattered oaks.  The trees hovered so closely little light filtered in.   The skirts of the evergreens were high enough to allow a grown person to walk, but the trunks littered the forest floor.  The limbs and roots of the scattered oaks were slung like ropes blocking entrance here and there.  Needles and leaves on the forest floor were scarce so that the dark dirt and oak roots could be seen.
   "So.  Shall we carry on?" said Annabelle. 
   "What?  You mean go through the forest of possible no return?"  Annabelle nodded.  Matt put on his too big smile – the one that meant, We're going to fail miserably, but at least we'll have fun doing it.  "I think that's a brilliant plan.  Let's do it."  He offered Annabelle his arm, and together they crept forward.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Wingfeather Saga - a Review and Word of Thanks

I've come to know Andrew Peterson through his music. His song "Faith to be Strong" from the album Carried Along was the first time I thought, "I know what that guy was feeling when he wrote that." In fact, Carried Along is my favourite AP album, if only because it was my first -- like when people usually name their first Doctor as "my Doctor" or their favourite Doctor. (I no longer have a favourite Doctor. I'm more like Mai who sees him as the same man, as he is, just different faces. You can read more about Mai here. Actually, don't. It's embarrassing.)

AP is a kindred spirit and one of the few musical artists who have helped define my journey through song; he joins the list with Jars of Clay (my first favourite band whose music I will forever love even when I don't), Audio Adrenaline, JJ Heller and Caedman's Call. There is a quote attributed to Donna Roberts: A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, [sic] and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words. That is what AP, through his music, has become to me.

And now there's a way for me to know the man better. ("Come in and know me better man!" -- Ghost of Christmas Present, Muppet Christmas Carol.) I had teachers in school (so long ago it seems now, though 10+ years isn't that long ago) who said but for my writing they wouldn't have known me because I'm so quiet. I got to know AP through his music and posts at The Rabbit Room, so reading this series was like reading the work of a friend, which I found encouraging, inspiring and an adventure, especially as I'm in the midst of writing my own book.

The Wingfeather Saga consists of four books: The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, North! Or be Eaten, The Monster in the Hollows, and The Wardenand the Wolf King. This children's fantasy series tells the story of the three seemingly ordinary Igiby children living in Aerwiar under the oppression of Gnag the Nameless. They end up on a quest to revive the lost Shining Isle of Anniera by searching for the Jewels of Anniera. (Hey, I just gave a decent summary in two sentences. Pat on the back for me -- brevity is not strong suit.)

Andrew Peterson is a fantastic storyteller. Throughout the whole series he wrote with escalating tension and foreshadowing that lead to an inevitable yet unexpected ending. The journey of the Igiby children is not soft; it is hard and full of harsh reality. AP made a brave choice for the story resolution, however, the ending is hopeful. The characters do not receive cotton candy happy endings full of sunshine and daisies, but those characters whom you find yourself cheering for do receive love in its richest and deepest forms.

There are a few things that I found distracting as a reader: 1) the use of footnotes when a notes section at the end of each book might have been a better choice as none of the notes were necessary to understand the story; 2) the overabundance of exclamation marks in some places; and 3) Oskar N. Reteep's habit of speaking mostly in quotes from books he's read -- his dialogue was an opera of quotes (without the actual singing). None of these, however, were enough to pull me away from the actual story.

In conclusion to my review of the Wingfeather Saga, if you enjoy children's fantasy or enjoy family reading time books, you'll really enjoy this series. If you find odd place names and quirky character and creature names tiresome, I imagine you're not a fan of fantasy, so you might want to skip the series, however, if you do fall into that latter category, I encourage you to try at least the first book because the story itself really is fantastic and gets better as you go along.

And if Andrew Peterson should ever find himself reading this: I'm thankful for your existence and glad you found your way all those years ago. Thank you for being brave and sharing a few stories.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Busy? Really?

        I read today's devotion, and again I am faced with that excuse, that explanation -- busy.  That same old, same old: "I have a busy life"; "I was too busy to notice..."; "I know we're all busy, but..."; "Thank you for doing that; I know you're really busy."  What is everybody so "busy" with???  I don't understand.  I don't get it.  
     However, as I read the devotion, it clicked.  The author of the devotion was encouraging readers to reach out to our fellow human beings because we never know who might need a touch of Jesus' love.  The author said, "[Often] I'm too busy to love people."  And then I got it.
       People aren't too busy.  They're not really all that busy.  Sometimes, yes, we have a lot going on (I know, it occasionally happens to me too), but it's not "busy" that keeps us from loving.  Really, in these situations, "busy" is another word for fear.  This clicked because I have mild social anxiety, and I as I read the devotion I thought about my neighbors across the street, particularly the woman, and how she looks nice and judging by how often her car is in the drive and the times it is, I'm guessing she's a nurse and how it might be nice to get to know her a little.  But what's keeping me from going over and introducing myself isn't "busyness" but rather fear.  That's when the busy excuse clicked.
       I'm all for calling a spade a spade.  Busy is an excuse that people far too often use instead of admitting fear; women in our society are especially prone to use this excuse as we're constantly fed empty misguided mush about being strong, to the point that the real meaning of being strong has been lost, and since we are to identify ourselves as strong, if that identifier has lost its meaning, then so have we.  So rather than bucking up and admitting fear, we throw out, "I'm just so busy."
       Those who know me, know about my blazing honesty -- for better or worse.  I don't tend to use the "I'm busy" line; if I do something for someone, and she responds with the "Thank you for doing that; I know you're really busy"  I respond, "No, I'm not."  What keeps me from loving, which is the only thing God asks of us, is fear.  Fear.  Fear.  Fear.  Cold-hearted, bald-faced, old-fashioned fear.  But there is hope for that:

"You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline." (Romans 8:9a and 2 Timothy 1:7)

"Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine." (Isaiah 43:1)

       All I want is for people to stop throwing out the excuse of being busy and admit that they're afraid, for only when we admit our problems (vulnerability) do we turn to God to fix us (humbleness).  And when we turn to God, we can see that we already have the fearlessness built into us.  He has already instilled in us a spirit of power (ladies), a spirit of love, and a spirit of self-discipline; we need to recognize these qualities and utilize them.  And again, women especially, we need to recognize the lie that we are not the wimpy, air-headed, vapid, useless (redundancies abound) "strong" that society wants us to label ourselves and replace it with the truth that we are God's.  That is who we truly are.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bee in My Bonnet: a PSA

      I have a bad temper.
      At home I have two drawers in the dresser of the spare room that my grandmother, whom I live with, said I am free to use.  Recently we've had visitors who used the spare room.  This morning, I opened the top drawer looking for a sweater and the drawer was empty.  After a couple minutes search, I finally found my things in the bottom of the spare room closet crammed underneath some pillows.  I was furious.  
     Why?  Because, one, someone touched my stuff.  This is a neurotic flaw of mine, a security issue.  I know I have this flaw and am able to push aside any "trespass."  Number one just sits packed down in my cup of stress like wet sand.  What really set me off looking at that empty drawer, having to search for my belongings, and then finding them stuck in a closet is number two:  you go for a visit to where someone resides, move that resident's things, and don't have the courtesy to return what you moved at your place of visitation back where you found it? 
     I was irate for fifteen minutes or so, but no one calms me down like the Holy Spirit for if most anyone else tries, it is like adding fuel on the fire.  After reveling in anger, I was calm enough to hear, "Be slow to anger," something which, believe it or not, I've been trying to work on.  Then I focused on God and who he is by listening to a song ("My Savior's Love Endures" by J.J. Heller).  And the anger passed
     This small experience brought to mind a, what I'm calling, philosophy that I've heard a few times lately:  What you think, your thoughts, affect how you feel -- change your thoughts, change your feelings.  The first time I heard this idea, I disagreed with it (which translated means I thought it crap, because I can be narrow-minded).  The first time I heard this philosophy explained, I was offended; well, not so much offended as hurt and a small bit shamed.  I've said before, guilt says, "You've done something wrong," while shame says, "There is something wrong with you."  The further into the explanation of the philosophy -- how we shouldn't be Eeyores because that "Thanks for noticing me" kind of thinking is what makes us depressed -- the more I felt the orator was speaking insensitively, and the originator of the philosophy or rather the philosophy itself is insensitive.
     My Thursday night Bible study group said the philosophy isn't saying, "Think positive thoughts, and life will be hunky-dory," and I agree (somewhat) with them that the intention behind the philosophy is not positive thinking leads to positive feelings -- or is it?
     The first time I heard the philosophy, I disagreed with it because according to this idea that our thinking has direct affect on our feelings, means I essentially don't have a chance, nor does anyone living with a chemical balance that causes depression, however mild.  Living with depression, you could be feeling fine when BAM you feel emotional pain or anger or sadness or anguish -- and for absolutely no good reason.  As blogger Allie Brosh wrote about feeling sad for no reason: "Essentially, I was being robbed of my right to feel self-pity, which is the only redeeming part of sadness" (Hyperbole and a Half).  Okay, so according to this philosophy that our thoughts control our feelings, I need to find the lie and replace it with the truth; don't be an Eeyore; take captive my thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5).  But what happens when there is no lie?
     I'll tell you a lie:  because I feel sad or horrible sometimes, I'm clearly not controlling my thoughts.  What a loser.
     To be fair, that was not the intention of the speaker.  If only the speaker had padded the words with some disclaimer like "I'm not talking about those who have a genuine problem..." whatever.  I've heard this done before, and I appreciate it.  But as the speaker did not, the words fell on a porcupine's back.
     The next time I heard this philosophy, it was in the context of emotions.  I'm sure the intention this time (as last) was: find the lie > replace it with the truth > have a little peace in your life.  But it wasn't explained that way.
     This morning's "incident" might be an example of that philosophy in a normal situation.  I thought some people had acted discourteous to me, which led to me feeling livid.  I turned my thoughts to God, and I didn't feel (so) angry anymore.
     I suppose then this whole thing can be called a PSA: when you're spouting a philosophy related to feelings, remember those whose feelings cannot be controlled outside of normalcy.  (I cringe slightly writing this because when I read similar "rants" I say "Lighten up people."  So, even if you're thinking or saying that, I'm glad you've read this post through and can say it with authority and not dismissively as one who read only one or two lines of the post.)  
     This entire post could be chalked up to courteous behavior.  My list of courteous behaviors is quite long (if you haven't guessed) and even I can't live up to my standards.  Go ahead, you can call it self-righteousness if you want, but any discourteous behavior I call someone out on, I call myself out on too.  And when I can't see that I'm being a jerk, for the love of all that is good and holy, please be me for me -- in a courteous fashion.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Money - The Giver of All Good Things?

Today at church, the sermon was about money.  And I’ve no idea why I was hearing it, but here it goes.

I grew up with money being an issue.  And I’ve had times in the past where I served this god that I thought was the provider of all good things.  I worried and worried over whether there was enough of this god for me.

Then I heard the still, small voice through the chaotic darkness in which I’d found myself:  Choose today whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15).

Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).

Hindsight is a bit of a cruel mistress allowing us to both suffer in our past stupidity asking “Why” and learn from that stupidity – to see things more clearly outside of the situation we were in.

As I served the god named Money that I thought was the giver of all good things, Lord God, Yahweh, was saying, “I taught you how to pray: ‘Give us this day our daily bread’” (Luke 11:3).

God will not provide all of us with “one hundred billlliondollars!,” but he will provide all of us what we need for this day.  What will he do about tomorrow?  Tomorrow, he will provide all of us what we need for that day.  God doesn’t always change our situation, but if we try and commune with him (“Hey, God, it’s me again…”), he will help us change our perspective.  “I don’t know where it’s going to come from, Father, but I trust you to provide it.”

This god called Money will not solve all our problems.  Point of fact, God in Heaven isn’t going to solve all our problems, but he is there with us always.  Money is not so gracious.

Money itself isn’t really the problem either.  It is our reaction to it.  First, there's serving it, as I did, treating it as the giver of all good things.  And it was and is a shaming god.  Shame says “There is something wrong with you.”  Shame is wrong.  God the Creator is not a shaming god.  He is a God of conviction who does prod with guilt; guilt says, “You’re doing something wrong.”  Guilt attacks our actions; shame attacks our identity, our being.

Serving money is one reaction to it.  Loving it is another – this reaction I flirt with, but recognize it more quickly and am able to fight it off.  1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”  As Ecclesiastes 5:10 states, loving money means you never have enough.  Just a little bit more.  The “one hundred billion dollars!” you received in ransom for the entire planet wouldn’t be enough.  Just a little bit more.  The paycheck you receive, you’re not satisfied with it – why can’t I make just a little bit more?  (This is the tease that gets whispered in my ear, and I have to put up my dukes.)  Just a little bit more.

What is between me and my God, as I’ve written before, is a relationship.  Religion is more a way to express one’s love.

When you fall in love with a person, you can’t get enough of that person – you want to spend every last second with that person, can’t wait to hear what that person is going to say next.  You can’t get enough.  Just a little bit more.

Just as one can be in love with a person, one can be in love with a god.  Sometimes it’s called being filled with “spiritual fervor.”

“Lord Jesus, I can’t get enough of you; I want to read more, I want to see more, I want more of you.  Just a little bit more.”  (It’s not always like this in a relationship.  Being “in love” is a feeling, and feelings cannot be controlled, only acted upon.  Love itself is an act and intentional.  But I digress.)

Money, money money “by the pound!”  -- Heck yeah.  Just worked Pete’s Dragon into this.  Excellent.  


“Money, Money, Money.  I love the way you speak getting me all the things (I think) I want.  All the things my heart desires.  I can’t get enough of you.  I love you.  Just a little bit more.”

In my previous digression (right before the Pete’s Dragon interruption), I said being in love is a feeling which can’t be controlled, only acted upon.  If you’re mad or hurt by someone, you can’t help feeling that way; you control how you act upon that feeling – punching the perpetrator in the face or walking away for example.

God may not change our situation, but he will help us change our perspective.  He rarely gives me more money, but he always gives me what I need for this day.

Money doesn’t make a very good god.  Why?  Because it is a thing, a possession, and, as I’ve recently come to terms with in my life (again), possessions are something that are owned.  We need to own our possessions, not allow our possessions to own us.  We are the owners of our money.  Pastor Phil’s really good line in today’s sermon: “Money serves us as we serve God.”

I am in possession of the money God has given me.  God calls me to be an indian giver, not for his sake, but for my own.  Giving back some of that money to God is an act of faith – an exercise of faith on my part, meant to strengthen my faith and my character.  When I give back to God – the church term is “tithe” – I’m saying, “God, I’m grateful for what you’ve given me.  I trust that you are generous and will continue to provide me with what I need for today.”  (This – tithing – is an example of religion being an expression of love.)  So, since I’ve been earning a paycheck, I’ve been giving a little back to God – I follow the 10% guideline (not rule) in the Old Testament – and I’ve never been destitute.  In fact, I’ve often been blessed to be able to give to others or to buy extras for myself, like whatever electronic my flesh desires at the moment.

And God, true to his word (Matthew 28:20b), has always been with me, even into the chaotic darkness I’d led myself into by choosing to allow money to control me.  Just the thought of that darkness is frightening, so I have to believe he is with me.  Always.  And another song from Pete’s Dragon because it’s not easy to find Someone like that.

Here is a link to Pastor Phil's sermon on March 30, 2014 "A Godly Perspective on Money":

(Other sermons may be found at

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Give yourself permission

So, I was giving some advice to a friend who said she has a story idea that she's been thinking about but doesn't feel she's a good enough writer to put it to paper.  The best advice I've read in the past year is give yourself permission to write badly.  I've been following this advice, I told my friend, for the last several months, and it has really helped.  

Then I told my friend the following:  First drafts are NEVER masterpieces.  They're a start, that's all.  First drafts are opening the door, stepping outside and seeing where your feet take you.

And that sounded so brilliant, I thought I would share it with everyone.  (Hahahahaha, and yes, I realize I sound like an arrogant sot.)

One thing leads to another

     I  thought my passport was lost to the abyss that is my storage unit in Roanoke.  I couldn't find it.  This saddened me because it's slightly less of a hassle to renew a passport than applying for a new one.  It saddened me mostly because it's my passport - I made it to the UK.  Sentimental reasons, you know.
     This week I read a Proverbs 31 devotion ( that I related to.  The author writes about how her "treasures" had become burdens and how she had somehow let her stuff define her.
     For several weeks now I've been thinking of dumping some things, but the idea remained a thought.  Then I read this devotion and felt I should just do it.  As God would have it, some people I knew in college are adopting (read their story here: and to help raise funds are holding a garage sale; they're asking for donated items.
     So Friday night before I went to bed, I asked God for the motivation and help to purge some things -- a very hard thing for me to do of my own volition. 
     I did pretty well.  I boxed up (about two boxes) some movies I don't really want, including some boxed TV sets I'll probably never watch again (The OC and Felicity).  I'm getting rid of some books I've read that I feel no need to keep.  I didn't bother going through the clothes in my closet this time or some of the older boxes in the garage -- gave myself a break there.
     I found a few things I'd been looking for too, things I knew were somewhere in the bottom of the those boxes in the garage that I couldn't bring myself to dig through -- my movie ticket "scrapbook" and my study abroad photo album.  Finally found my copy of Lady in Waiting -- one of the gals in my Bible study has been waiting for someone to bring her a copy.  And I pulled out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book to read.  Also found the Part One movie version of this, which I thought was lost.  Pulled out my old Britain and Ireland travel guide to look through as I'm planning a trip to London next late spring/early summer (anybody care to join me, seriously speaking?).
     I felt pretty good about the amount of stuff in the give-away pile.  Normally, as I told my Bible study gals, I attempt to purge and am very discouraged by the pitiful pile of "get rid" items.  But I did well this time by God's grace.  And it didn't take all day like usual either.  Well, it kind of did, but only because I stopped for breaks -- you know to eat lunch and all.  I watched This is 40, which really made me laugh despite the abundant overuse of the F-word.  It also made me appreciate my dad more.  Haha.
     So, overall, a good purge day.  I'm exhausted though.  Overslept this morning for 9 AM church service; thought, I'll go to 10:45 service.  Finally dragged myself out of bed into the shower.  When I got out the clock said 10:47; so I guess going to church today is a bust.  I'll do church at home today (i.e. find an online sermon).  I decided I'd go to Starbucks for an hour of writing, which has become part of my Sunday routine.
     As I was getting ready to go out, I picked up my old Britain and Ireland travel guide to take a look at the London neighborhood I want to explore next year, and there among the pages -- my passport.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Out of Love

I found myself at a loss last night.  One of my small group ladies asked what kind of dessert I might like at our dinner tonight; I said "eclair cake."  All three of the ladies standing there had no clue what I was talking about.  I had to describe what eclair cake is.  I was a bit flabbergasted as I'd never had to describe eclair cake before.  All my brain could remember as a description was creamy, chocolately goodness; a little taste of heaven?  I don't know!  What the heck is eclair cake made of?  I don't know!  I've never had to make it, I just devour it!  Ah!  This was all playing frantically through my head (hence the use of italics), while on the outside all that came out was, "Um, well..."

Coherency finally came: graham crackers, pudding-like middle, and a hard chocolate topping (actually describing the hard chocolate topping was interesting too).  One of the ladies did say it sounded familiar, but maybe she knew it by a different name (e.g. sticky buns and monkey bread are the same thing where I'm from).

Here is a link to an easy recipe with the chocolate topping as I think of it.  For all of the other deprived people out there:

You're welcome.

Love, Stephanie

Sunday, January 26, 2014


     Sometimes it bothers me that the greatest symbol of Christianity is a cross, be it an empty cross or a crucifixion.  It sometimes bothers me that our love for God and devotion to him is solely because Jesus died for our sins when that's not even the greatest part of the story.
     In the show Vikings, the vikings invade northern England for the first time and come upon a monastery; they see the image of a crucifixion and say "Their god is dead," when that is not the case.
     The greatest part of the story is not that Jesus God died for our sins but that he is alive!  Sometimes I see the image of Jesus with a crown of thorns and want to rip that crown off his head and proclaim "That is not the end of the story!  There is life!" *
     I love that G.K. Chesterton quote: Fairy tales don't tell children dragons exist; children already know this.  Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be defeated.  And in Christianity (the only fairy tale/myth that actually happened) Jesus God defeated the dragon that is Death.  He is alive and the battle is won, victory is his.**
     The greatest part of the story is God is alive, the dragon has been defeated.  And all of our struggles, all of our trials, the big things and little things -- all of our dragons and deaths -- can be defeated, and we will live.  Because of God.
     I've often lamented the fact that the image of a cross -- empty or not -- is a lot easier to replicate than the image of an empty tomb.

*Anyone else hearing a conversation between two Rivendell elves in your head right now?
**This line from John Dunne's poem "Death be not Proud" comes to my mind here: "And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die."