Thursday, July 20, 2017

Fifteen Years

Fifteen years ago...

I married my best friend.

We might not look twenty-five any more...

But we are still best friends.

Monday, July 17, 2017

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

I've a little embarrassed when I read about the pity party I had a few weeks ago when thinking of our anniversary.

It is still a few days until our anniversary and already it has been very special.

Last week Ed's brother and family insisted on coming to our house to stay with our six children so Ed and I could get away overnight. I think the last time we had went away overnight alone (if hospital stays don't count) was over two years ago. And that was to attend a conference.

Not only was it a treat to go away as a couple, it was super nice not to have to make babysitting arrangements - or even pack up clothes for the children - and they even brought all the meals. The list of how we have been supported and encouraged the past months is extremely long by now.

And the details fell together amazingly. I was shocked that we were able to get our favorite getaway cottage on a Friday night, only the day before. It was one of those times that we knew God had made the arrangements for us.

And Ed felt GREAT. I'm still shocked that after a month of chemo and radiation Ed felt like having a romantic night away.

We had a wonderful time and it felt like a huge gift.

I'll share photos when I get them off the camera, but for now I want to share a song whose words I can't sing without being moved. I've heard that these words were written during the author's time of personal suffering. There is so much rich meaning and depth to these words that I'm not even going to try to write a commentary but let you read them yourself.

It is so true that the life given to God becomes fuller and richer than we can ever imagine.

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go
by George Matheson

  1. O Love that will not let me go,
    I rest my weary soul in thee;
    I give thee back the life I owe,
    That in thine ocean depths its flow
    May richer, fuller be.
  2. O Light that foll’west all my way,
    I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
    My heart restores its borrowed ray,
    That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
    May brighter, fairer be.
  3. O Joy that seekest me through pain,
    I cannot close my heart to thee;
    I trace the rainbow through the rain,
    And feel the promise is not vain,
    That morn shall tearless be.
  4. O Cross that liftest up my head,
    I dare not ask to fly from thee;
    I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
    And from the ground there blossoms red
    Life that shall endless be.
  5. Listen to a men's choir sing these words. (If reading by email you may need to click over to the blog.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Two Questions

There is two questions I've been asked in the last weeks.

The first question..."Do you mind if I ask about Ed?"

The answer? Not at all. I know that people differ in the way that they react to things like cancer. Some may not want to talk.

But Ed and I do want to talk. Maybe we need to talk. We don't mind discussing Ed's diagnosis, the prognosis, and his treatment.

To me, dragging something out in the light, looking it over, and discussing it with friends makes it less scary. Or maybe, if still scary, at least we have the comfort of knowing that others are standing with me next to scary things.

It has been an amazing experience to talk with friends who can remind us of God's goodness in the hard times. To be reminded that all of us face death sometime and heaven is going to be better than we ever imagine. No, it doesn't make it any more fun to face death at age forty. Or think of the pain of separation. But it does help us remember what is truly important in life.

And so, if you are wondering how Ed is doing, the answer is Very Well. Physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. He is nearly finished the fourth week of his six weeks of radiation and chemo. He is still driving to radiation every morning and then going to work. He gets tired in the afternoon and usually quits work at about 3:00 and comes home for a nap. But then he feels good enough to do something in the evening.

Like grill his awesome smoked pork loin. (Recipe found in an old issue of Cooks Illustrated.)

I expected Ed would spend most of the summer sick in bed, but we've been able to attend family reunions, church picnics, and so on. Ed does tire quickly so we haven't went camping, biking, or hiking, but as long as he can stay near his lawn chair, he enjoys staying part of activities.

(Above photos taken at Warrior's Path State Park on July 4th.)

The last few days he did start losing hair from the radiation. I don't think it looks bad, not worse than many other forty-year-old's receding hairline. But Ed is getting tired of shedding and threatens to shave the rest of his hair.

The second question is maybe the opposite of the first and definitely the most common..."I know you have other things on your mind right now, but do you mind if I ask you a question about _____________(fill in the blank with gardening, bread baking, homeschooling, etc)?"

My answer to that question is "please do." Again, I know that people vary, but I want you to ask how Ed is doing. I want you to show that you care about what we are going through right now. But then I want to talk about something normal. I want to know what is going on in your life.

In some ways cancer is now defining our life. But in many ways, life is the same as always.

I'm still a mom. (Who even with a cutie with pigtails, hasn't become Super Mom and still needs a double dose of grace most days.)

I'm still homeschooling and reading many books with my children. (We actually just began school last week with our crazy July to April school schedule!)

I still cook three meals (and many snacks) every day. In the few minutes I've been sitting here I've had two children tell me they are starving. Last week I actually baked a batch of bread which was the first in many many weeks. It took some of the joy from it since Ed isn't eating carbs, thus no bread, but my children appreciated it.

I still have interests in life. The other week I was able to meet three friends for lunch. We spent four hours talking about books, writing, and motherhood and I came away feeling refreshed deep down to my toes.

I still have a garden. On Tuesday evening, Ed actually joined the children and I in weeding. Most of our garden has been mulched with cardboard and grass clippings but the section that wasn't had a  carpet of weeds. It was the first time Ed has been in the garden since April.

Last week we had two inches of rain and the green beans, carrots, and tomatoes have never looked better.

There may come a time in this journey that all normal life will come to a screeching halt. We learned in May how quickly life can transform.

But we have also learned how God can carry us through both the normal and the tragic, the delightful and the devastating, and how grief can still be full of grace.

And even in the best of the normal days there are some things that are not so delightful, such as the infestation of Japanese Beetles on our grapes, raspberries, and green beans. So I'll end with two questions for you.

Do you have a solution against Japanese Beetles?
Do the Japanese Beetle traps actually work?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

One-Day Deal on Instant Pots

I just realized that today, July 10, is Amazon Prime Day.  The 8-Quart Instant Pot came down in price from $130 to $90 - more than 30% savings. This is the same pot that I bought a few months ago.

Back when I was waffling on whether or not to get an Instant Pot, I had considered waiting for the sales on either Amazon Prime Day or Black Friday. On both those days in the past, Amazon severely reduces the cost of the Instant Pot. And I'm always a procrastinator when it comes to spending money.

But my husband told me to just go ahead and get it. And I'm glad I did. It was nice that I had practiced using the Instant Pot early this spring. Now that my brain is often overwhelmed  by other details, I'm so glad I can drop food in the Instant Pot, set the timer, walk away, and let it cook with no further thought for me. In my distracted state, I would have burnt many more meals the past month if it were not for the Instant Pot. Not to mention just having late meals. The Instant Pot has become a valuable addition to my kitchen staff.

Some of you asked for more details on how I use the Instant Pot. I'll try to give you all more details in a future post but for now, if you have been waiting for a good deal on the 8-Quart Instant Pot, this is a good time.

To get the discount price you will need to be a Amazon Prime member. But you can sign up for the free thirty-day membership to take advantage of today's deals. Last year on Amazon Prime Day, the Instant Pot was the second best seller and Amazon actually ran out of the pots near the end of the day.

You can use this link to the Instant Pot. It is an affiliate link and you'll help support this site at no extra cost to yourself. Thanks!

You may also enjoy Five Reasons Why I Wasn't Going To Buy an Instant Pot.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bookmarks: Middle-Grade Historical Fiction Continued

Here is the continuation of the historical fiction list for middle grades.

Morning Girl by Michael Dorris
What was life like for the native Americans that met Columbus' ship? This historical fiction tries to fill in some details of life on a Caribbean island before the first white men arrived and tells the story of Morning Girl and her brother, Star Boy.

Nhuong loves the new family water buffalo. He is gentle as a dog and brave enough to fight off wild pigs and protect the herd. True stories of country life in Vietnam before the war. Boys will love this one. I give it five stars.

The Secret Valley by Clyde Robert Bulla
The Davis family left their home in Missouri to go to California to find gold. Though they don't find gold, the family finds what they really want. Sweet illustrations and short chapters make this a good introductory book on pioneer life. I've enjoyed every Bulla book I've ever read.

Song of Sampo Lake by William Durbin
Matti and his family dream of a new home in Minnesota, but working in the mine is not the new life they imagined when they left Finland. This historical fiction shows the determination of America's immigrants. Note: Contains some superstitious beliefs.

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
As Tree-ear hunted through the rubbish heap for food, he longed to be a great potter like Min. Into the fictional story of the orphan and his crippled friend, Crane-man, is woven history of the famous Korean celadon pottery. One of my favorites. Check out Park's other books for more excellent reading.

Jason's Gold by Will Hobbs
Jason joins the crowds headed to the Klondike gold fields expecting to find his fortune but instead he encounters freezing cold, wild moose, and multiple set-backs. An excellent historical fiction on the Klondike Gold Rush but some of the raw details may not be enjoyed by a sensitive child.

Nory Ryan's Song by Patricia Reilly Giff
Through Nory's eyes we see the beauty and hardship of her beloved Ireland during the potato famine of 1845. This book helps you understand why so many Irish immigrated to America.  Note: references to superstitious beliefs.

Seesaw Girl by Linda Sue Park
Jade is curious to see the world outside her family's Inner Court. Will she learn to be content? A sweet story from seventeenth-century Korea and another good book by Park.

When the Sirens Wailed by Noel Streatfeild
Three children are sent out of London along with thousands of other children to escape the bombing during World War 2. They face the uncertainties with pluck and creativity as they try to reunite their family again. Realistic details stem from the author's own memories as a volunteer worker in war-time London.

What are your favorite books for the time traveler? I'd love to add more to my list of favorites. You can find more of my book lists on the book page.

This post contains affiliate links.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Bookmarks: Middle-Grade Historical Fiction

At the beginning of May (which now feels like a year ago) I started sharing some middle-grade books that I had preread for my children. I never shared the last list and since unfinished projects bother me, I'm going to share it today.

Historical fiction is my favorite genre for my children to read because it is such an effortless way to learn about history. This is certainly not an complete list, just ones I've read in recent years that I considered high literary quality and excellent content. Choose a book or two for your child's summer reading.

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
Maine is a long way from Kansas and Jack is floundering both from the loss of his mother and his new home at a boy's boarding school. Then he meets Early, the strangest boy he ever met and the two boys embark on a quest to find a great black bear. Even with some unrealistic plot twists, I enjoyed this book set immediately after World War 2.

Early Thunder by Jean Fritz
Salem is in the middle of the conflict between the Patriots and the British and Daniel has a choice to make. By the end of the year he has decided which side he will join. My husband actually read this one and said it was excellent historical fiction from 1775.

Shirley arrives from China excited about her new home in Brooklyn. She loves America but wishes for a friend. Based on the author's childhood in 1947.

Sing Down the Moon by Scott O'Dell
Bright Morning celebrates the arrival of spring and the promise of an abundant harvest in the Canyon de Chelly. But when the soldiers destroy their homes and force the Navahos to march to Fort Sumner, will Bright Morning and Tall Boy find hope to rebuild? Beautiful written, tragic (but hopeful) story based on true events.

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan
The 1919 influenza takes Rachel Sheridan's missionary parents and leave her at the mercy of cruel neighbors. Will she be able to tell the truth and return to her beloved Africa? A fun fiction story about a missionary family in Kenya written from a secular perspective.

The Belonging Place by Jean Little
Elspet has already lost her parents, now her uncle wants to move from Scotland to the wilds of Upper Canada. Will she ever find a real home and a place to belong?

Danny had just moved to Hawaii where his mother served as a nurse. He longs to return to his home in New York until the day that the Japanese attack the island. Short chapters and large print make this a great first historical fiction book for young readers. This book is part of the excellent “I Survived” series.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Holling is the only one in his seventh grade class in Long Island who doesn't either go to Hebrew school or Catholic school so in his spare Wednesday afternoon his teacher assigns him to read Shakespeare. A peek into life in 1968, including the Vietnam War, Yankee games, King assassination, and school life.

This list is getting long. I'll share the rest next week.

My other middle-grade lists are realistic fiction and fantasy.

This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Sands of Time Are Sinking

All our plans are held loosely as we don't know how Ed will feel from day to day. He still gets tired but we are so grateful that even with radiation and chemo, he continues to feel well. We had a wonderful weekend and were able to enjoy a family reunion on Saturday and a full Sunday of activities. We spent the Fourth splashing in the Juniata River with friends at a nearly empty state park in the Pennsylvania mountains.

I'm not sure why I'm surprised that Ed is feeling so well when so many of you have told us you are praying. His blood count numbers have been excellent and, besides some dizziness and skin irritation on his scalp, he has no side effects at this time.

On Sunday evening we enjoyed a hymn sing at church. There were so many meaningful hymns shared I can hardly choose just one to share.

It may seem depressing to sing a song about death, but to me this song is joyful because its focus is the glory of God. The words are from a very long poem written by Anne Cousin, but most hymnals only list four or five stanzas.

The Sands of Time Are Sinking
(Also known as Immanuel's Land)

By Anne Ross Cousin

The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I've sighed for,
The fair, sweet morn awakes;
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But dayspring is at hand,
But glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.

O Christ! He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I've tasted
More deep I'll drink above;
There to an ocean fulness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.

O, I am my Beloved's,
And my Beloved's mine!
He brings a poor vile sinner
Into His "house of wine,"
I stand upon His merit,
I know no other stand,
Not e'en where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.

The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom's face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His pierced hand,
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel's land.

And here is a chance to listen to this beautiful hymn. (If reading by email, you may need to click over to the website to listen.)

Friday, June 30, 2017

It Is Not Fair

In July we will celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary. A few months ago I started brainstorming some cute ideas for a family photo shoot to celebrate the occasion.

But in May, on the day that we scheduled Ed's brain surgery, I realized that our July wasn't going to be normal. With images of shaved head, surgery scars, and chemo hair loss, I asked my friend Regina if she would come take our family photo the next day.

So the above photo was taken the day before Mother's Day, three days before Ed's surgery. Ed was feeling horrible, but willingly put on his best smile. I skipped any ideas of creative shots and was pleased with one pose on our house steps.

This week Ed and I were discussing how to celebrate our anniversary. Ed is still feeling very well and able to work but, since the date is toward the end of Ed's six weeks of treatments, most likely he will not feel as well. It is hard to imagine any fun way to celebrate when you are on a extreme diet and don't have energy.

Ed and I have always said that it is good we don't hold too much stock in how special dates are celebrated. On our first Valentines, Ed caught a terrible stomach bug. We've had anniversaries at unromantic occasions such as a funeral or a church conference. Other times I've been in early pregnancy without the energy for celebrating. Ed and I have always said that it is far more important how the rest of the year is spent than one day of our anniversary. I'll take 364 great days than one spectacular day in a mediocre year.

But even knowing that, thinking of our anniversary triggered a real pity party this week. I counted all the ways it was not fair that we can't even have the pleasure of looking forward to this anniversary when our years together are probably very limited.

I know, it is part of the grieving process, and there is nothing wrong with recognizing loss. But the next morning I could see clearly to recognize other truths that are also not fair.

It is not fair that I have enjoyed fifteen years of a joy-filled marriage when so many experience a marriage that brings them nothing but sorrow.

It is not fair that I live in a time in history and a place on the planet that allows access to medical advancements. So many in the world lack even  basic health care. Without brain surgery, Ed may not be alive today, and certainly he would not be able to communicate.

It is not fair that of all the religions in the world, I was taught from the Bible about the one true God who brings peace to our relationships here today and gives hope in the life to come.

I am blessed.

Monday, June 26, 2017

O God, Our Help In Ages Past

The more I think about God and His character, the more my trust in Him grows. I can hardly sing this song without tears. I'm so grateful for a God who has been faithful in the past and will continue to carry us through the future. 

O God, Our Help In Ages Past
by Isaac Watts

  1. O God, our help in ages past,
    Our hope for years to come,
    Our shelter from the stormy blast,
    And our eternal home.
  2. Under the shadow of Thy throne
    Thy saints have dwelt secure;
    Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
    And our defense is sure.
  3. Before the hills in order stood,
    Or earth received her frame,
    From everlasting Thou art God,
    To endless years the same.
  4. A thousand ages in Thy sight
    Are like an evening gone;
    Short as the watch that ends the night
    Before the rising sun.
  5. O God, our help in ages past,
    Our hope for years to come,
    Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
    And our eternal home.

I love this rendition of this hymn in the following video.

And here is another song, I think from the same cd, that I have listened to over and over.

(You may need to click over to the blog to watch the videos if you are reading by email.)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Scrambled Pieces

It is hard to describe a cancer diagnosis. Some days it feels as if I was in the middle of putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle and someone tipped the table over. I'm now picking up the puzzle pieces and sorting them in piles. Some of them look familiar, but I'm not sure that they will ever go back into the same position. I'm guessing the final picture will look different than what I started. 

There are many normal segments to my days.  As a mom, my every day life of cooking, cleaning, laundry, and childcare looks the same and we are finding ways to enjoy lovely summer weather.

I'm still the same Gina who enjoys a good book and a fun conversation. I was asked if I am having a garden this year. I said that if I had known, I would not have planted it, but since its planted, I'm caring for it. But then I walk through the rows, pulling a weed, pushing an errant tomato stem into the cage, and picking an onion for supper - and I'm so glad to have a garden this year. 

There is something almost therapeutic about the familiarity of dirt under my nails. I do enjoy gardening and this year's rain showers and sunshine has grown one of my prettiest gardens. (Or maybe the garden is always pretty in June before the bugs, drought, and neglect take its toll.) I've already decided that I'll be okay with wasted garden produce. I had a bumper crop of spinach and broccoli and missed picking some of it but that is okay. If I don't feel like canning tomatoes, I'll give them away or add them to the compost pile. 

Earlier this spring our boys had made a hut in the pasture with a few pallets and scrap wood. They worked independently and it wasn't fancy or square, but they have spent numerous nights in their hut. They were satisfied with a flat roof until they decided to build rafters and find some roofing material. One evening last week my brother brought them some roof metal left from his project and he helped them reinforce their hut. 

Ed's ketogenic diet is going better. The first week or two he felt hungry but by adding a few more calories and giving his body time to adjust, he is feeling more energy.  Because he is using the diet as cancer treatment, he is on an intense keto diet of only 2,000 calories and 20 net carbs a day. His body went into ketosis very quickly - just a few days - which I credit to specifically-prepared meals and the fact that he had already lost weight over surgery. The first few days he cheated a little, but now that he adjusted, he is sticking with the doctor-provided meals. 

But it is rough going to social events. We apparently don't know how to celebrate without food. It is just no fun to not be able to participate. But I suppose this too will become more normal with time.

Saturday was one of those times with the celebration of Ed's nephew's wedding. But I thought Ed did well in ignoring the food and focusing on the conversations. A few weeks before I didn't even think he would be able to attend the wedding so it was good to see him feeling well enough to enjoy it. Now he is hoping to continue to feel good for the next two weeks while his nephew is on his honeymoon since they work together in the same department. 

Since Ed's family was all around for the wedding, on Sunday afternoon we all went to a local park where our children and their cousins found the perfect activity on a sweltering afternoon.

But Ed was so tired after church that he decided to stay home and rest in the air conditioning. 

On Sunday night, Ed took his first chemo pill right before bed. He had been told that bedtime was a good time to minimize nausea. The doctor had told him to try the first chemo without anti-nausea medicine to see if he needed it. 

After a few hours of vomiting, it was obvious he needed anti-nausea meds.  It wasn't a glorious start to his treatments.

Ed postponed his first radiation treatment until later in the day on Monday until he was feeling a little better. His two brothers joined us at the cancer center to show their support. These two have went with us to many doctor's appointments the last weeks and their support on many facets has been priceless.

We can't go back with Ed into the radiation room so he had the tech take a photo for us on his phone. This mask was made to fit Ed's head so they can hold him in the exact same position for each treatment. Ed says he doesn't mind it and it only takes about 15 minutes.

We just stayed in the waiting room doing puzzles during Ed's radiation.

Since that first day, Ed faithfully takes anti-nausea medicine an hour before his chemo and he has slept all night with no effects at all. He is feeling great and driving to his radiation appointments early in the morning before going to work. Every day he gets a little stronger though he still tires quickly. We expect that as the treatments continue, he will feel more side effects and will be forced to rest more. But we are grateful for this good week. We don't take even one day of health for granted.

Thanks so much for your continued prayers. One friend emailed me to say that each morning she prays for us while she is in the barn cleaning up from milking. Unknown to her, that is the time of Ed's radiation treatments each morning.

We will never know what effect your prayers are having, but we do know that they are helping us trust that God will put the pieces of our lives into a picture that will glorify Him.

"That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 1:7


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