Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Aunt Irene

When I was twelve, the eighth grade at Dayton City School took a trip to Washington, D.C.  There was an essay contest beforehand to see who would lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.  There would be 4 winners chosen from the grade.  

I did my first draft, waxing eloquent about this fallen soldier in all the prose my middle school self could muster.  I proudly took it to my parents, sure they would weep for all the raw emotion of this tale of woe.  They wept all right.  They laughed so hard they cried.  Then they gave it back and told me to try again, maybe turning the emotional frenzy down a notch.

I was offended, but I learned something about writing.  My revised essay also won the contest, so I can't hold a grudge.

Until now, I haven't written about my aunt, Irene Lasley.  I could not quite do it yet.  I didn't want to be sappy and overly emotional.  I wanted to be real, but not dramatic.  I wanted the right tone and I was too raw to write that way yet.

My aunt, Irene Lasley, was one of my favorite people.  She was a cheerleader, a friend, and an ardent supporter of me, my marriage, my husband, my kids, my career, and our choice to homeschool.  She was a teacher for her whole working life, teaching second through fifth grade.  She loved my kids like they were her own grandkids {she called them "her grandbabies"}.  She was my father's only sibling and they were as close as can be.

There's your intro to my aunt.  I just had to go get another box of Kleenex because my tears were running into my belly button.

Aunt Irene is a constant presence in my memories.  Even when she lived in Virginia, which she did for quite a while, we would go in the summer and spend a week with her.  Her kitchen was covered in strawberries and her guest bedroom had a lava lamp.  She had trinkets everywhere and she didn't mind if we touched them.  She was the coolest.  

Aunt Irene was a prepper.  She wasn't a hoarder, certainly not like reality TV.  Her house was always neat and tidy.  She was no slouch.  But...if salad dressing was on sale, you'd better buy twelve.  Air freshener?  You probably need twenty cans.  She was savvy, but it was uncanny the things she stocked up on.  It was just another layer of who she was.

Aunt Irene faced hardships no one should have to face.  She lived with grace and kindness through ugly times, loving the unlovable and trusting the Lord to guide her.  She recognized blessings that most of us would have said were our due.  I have often marveled at how sweet and joyful and full of laughter she always seemed when I was a child with no clue of her circumstances.  As an adult, I marvel more.

Aunt Irene  was sick a lot this past summer with mono, so I couldn't take the kids to see her.  It just wouldn't go away.  In the fall, she thought it had reared up again, but it hadn't.  She had acute Leukemia.

She was gone in five weeks.

When she was in the hospital, I went to see her as often as I could.  She kept a journal by her bed to write all the blessings she saw while she was there.  She knew she probably wouldn't live and she accepted it.  She told me with a big laugh, "I don't expect a miracle, but I sure wouldn't say no!"  She was really only concerned about leaving my uncle alone.  He had lost his first wife to cancer as well and she grieved both losses with him.  She put on make up and jewelry everyday so that he would see her at her best.  She loved that man.

She wanted the time she had left to be spent serving her Lord.  It was the most important thing in her life.  She would talk about Him to every nurse, every doctor, every visitor.  The time was short - let's get down to business.  After she was gone, the nurses told my dad what an honor it had been to care for such a woman.

The services were hard, naturally.  The family told stories of her, some I didn't know.  I am named after her {Elizabeth Irene} but I actually didn't know that her first name was Emily.  How did I not know that?  

I know she's now whole.  I know she's in Heaven where she was excited to go.  I know the arthritis is gone, the cancer is gone, the pain is gone.  I know that she had no fear of dying because her Destination was secured.  I know that.  Still, when you have a memorial service, a graveside service, and all the activity that naturally comes along, you are on auto pilot.  Grieving, which I thought I was doing, had not yet begun.

It has been two months now.  The grieving process is in full swing.  Little things remind me of her, things that surprise me.  She didn't call Jack on his birthday a couple of weeks ago.  She always called and sang to the kids on their birthdays {Handsome Hero's and mine, too}.  It hurts to my very soul that those calls won't come now.

I did not post funny kid stories to facebook for awhile because Aunt Irene always saved those stories on her computer and sent a copy to my parents.  Each time I went to type, the words wouldn't come.  I just thought of how hard she would have laughed or who she would have told.  She took a lot of pride in these kids of mine.  That first post I was able to write was a very conscious decision.  Life does go on.  It needs to.  

I did not want to decorate for Christmas and if we hadn't had kids in the house, I don't know that we would have, but I'm glad we did.  The first time has to be the hardest, right?  I most especially did not want to do a tree.  Several of our ornaments were gifts from, or made by, Aunt Irene.  One summer visit when I was a kid, she and I cross stitched some of them for me to give to my family for Christmas {while watching Matlock or Murder She Wrote, naturally}. Of course we did get a tree, and Ella put on the first ornament.  It was a cross-stitched picture of a moose that said Merry Christ-moose.  The very first ornament she chose was that goofy one made by Aunt Irene.  I left the room to cry. But then we finished decorating the tree and it was a very good thing.

Now that Christmas is over, we've been working on some home projects, one of which is getting Nate's old nursery organized so that it can better function as a guest room/craft room.  Over the last two days I have gone through box after box of stuff, organizing, throwing away, separating into donation or consignment bins.  The last box was one I didn't remember having, stuck way in the back of a cabinet.  When I opened it, it was full of office supplies, and on top of them, one of Aunt Irene's many pairs of reading glasses.  

Those glasses!  You know how you associate people with things?  I associate Aunt Irene with reading glasses on fancy, jeweled chains.  Well, reading glasses and sequined sweatshirts.  Okay, reading glasses, sequinned sweatshirts and hand knitted dish cloths.  But always reading glasses.  I set the box down and cried and cried.  And now, long after the family has gone to bed, I'm continuing to grieve.

This time I wrote down my thoughts.  This time, I'm ready.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Cookies and Ugly Cookie Night

Recently, the kids and I made Christmas cookies.  I loved doing this as a kid.  My mom would make the shapes, and we would sit around the table with several bowls with different colors of icing and sprinkles and decorate away.  As an adult, I don't know how she did that.  I am not proud to admit that I am THAT MOM.  I don't like play doh, I don't like paint, and glitter has never entered the house to my children's knowledge.  I let them play with play doh and paint, but it is a conscious decision to let go.  The kitchen will be clean again.

And it really isn't any big deal.  Even when it looks like a rainbow threw up all over the counter and floor, it's never so bad that it can't be cleaned up in ten minutes.  When Ella recently found her missing silly putty by sticking her elbow in it, twice, it was no big deal.  Did you know that rubbing alcohol gets that stuff right out of fabric?  It was easy peasy and we did it together, and because I didn't get mad it became "that cool trick we learned together" instead of "that thing mom got really mad at me for but I'm not really sure why because it was an accident."

I'm improving.  Boys are helping sanctify me in this area.  They are sanctifying me through their pockets, one wash at a time.

Back to the cookies.  I made the cookies a day ahead and outlined them in white royal icing {which is the stuff that gets hard so you can decorate and then stack them once they dry} before the kids got them, so that the kids could fill them in with slightly less thick royal icing in different colors.  The more I worked with the thinned icing, though, the more I realized the kids wouldn't actually be able to use it.  It was too difficult {I'm sure it was the recipe I used}.  Ella would have figured it out, but Jack and Nate couldn't have, and this was supposed to be a family activity.  Instead, I pulled out all of my sprinkles, put a rimmed cookie sheet in front of each kid, and handed them one cookie at a time.  I had made gingerbread men, angels, snowmen, and trees.  We started with the trees. I put the green icing on them, and they added the decoration.  I didn't give them direction {I did have to look away a few times so they couldn't see my pained expression}.  They did what they wanted.

This was where all of my dread was swept away.  They had a blast!  As I said, the icing was hard to work with, so they had to wait for each cookie.  Something about that wait time and anticipation made each cookie special to them, so they decorated them more carefully.  Also, by the time we finished the trees, they were satisfied and didn't want to do anymore.  I put on a movie for them, and I went to town decorating the rest.  Like Superman.

He was my favorite.  But they were all pretty cute.

When I was finished, I had a few that were really ugly - I'm no pro.  I took the ugliest three cookies and put them on paper plates.  Then I took the last of each icing color and squirted them all over, covering them completely and with no rhyme or reason.  Finally, I took the sprinkles left in their cookie sheets and tipped them over onto the cookies I had just iced.  These cookies were so covered in icing and random sprinkles you couldn't tell what kind of cutout they used to be.  After dinner, Handsome Hero and I put them at their plates and declared it Ugly Cookie Night!  I was a little nervous that they would turn their noses up at them and want the pretty ones that were drying on the counter, but they didn't.  They were so excited!  They jumped up and down and grabbed their plates and compared their blobs and laughed and giggled and declared them the most delicious cookies they had ever eaten.

I had really dreaded this activity, but it turned out blessedly wonderful.  I didn't take any other pictures because I hadn't planned on writing a post about it.  I sent these pics from my phone to my mom, who encouraged me to share the story on the blog.  I've tried a few different crafts this season that I thought the kids would like, like paper chains.  We're never doing that again  It didn't go exactly as planned.  I really don't enjoy any craft that is heavy on the scissors.  Add in complaining kids and I'm out.  My favorite complaint was, "But, Mom, we're studying our COUNTRY!  These should be red, white, and BLUE, not GREEN!" 

But decorating cookies, a project that I thought would be horrible, that I put off and was dreading doing, ended up being such a joyful activity.  The kids have been able to show off their creations at two Christmas celebrations so far, and we still have some left over for Friday. 

I have no doubt that next year I will struggle with decorating cookies again, and it may turn out well, and it may not.  What I know will turn out well?  The tradition I'm sure will stick?

Ugly Cookie Night.